This article on game design has been brought to you courtesy of John Garrison.
Format refers to what the player sees, or the basic point-of-view, while playing the game. Most formats imply a specific style of play, which will be refered to as genre on these pages. Let's categorize formats as: platform, top-down, scrolling, isometric, first person (3d), or text. Although some games use more than one format, the primary action is typically from one of these viewpoints.
Platform or Side View
The platform game has a long and successful history, starting with games like Miner 2049'er and Donkey Kong, and continuing through current releases such as Toy Story. These games typically feature a side view with a number of floors (or platforms) upon which the player's character walks, runs, jumps, and avoids the bad guys.
A long time staple of the console market, side view platform games are losing ground to the flashy 3D graphics of the new generation consoles machines. Large numbers of uninspired, often low quality, licensed titles have also dampened enthusiasm for side view games. Even so, a few titles like Yoshi's Island and Earthworm Jim show there's still market potential for innovative or well designed platform games. Nintendo hasn't given up on the platform game as demonstrated by Yoshi's Island for the Nintendo64. Also, Nintendo's Mario64 implements platform style play in a third-person 3D environment.
Top-down views have long been a staple of war games, simulations, role playing games (RPG's), and shooters. Except for shooting games, they traditionally use simple graphics as a window into complex game worlds. Civilization, Ultima I-III, and almost all war games take this approach.
Even the newest versions of Civilization and Ultima use isometric or pseudo-3D views. The expectations of today's gamers are generally too high to be satisfied by this style of graphics.
This is really a sub-category of top-down style games. They are typically shooters in which the view mercilessly scrolls forward, whether the player is ready or not.
This is another category which has been over done, especially in the console market. Also, the game play in most current releases is more complex than mindlessly scrolling the screen.
These games have the mechanics a of top-down view, but use a few tricks to give the view a 3D appearance. There are two ways "3/4 perspective" games are implemented. The first, which games like "Command and Conquer" use, is to use 3/4 perspective animated sprites and 3D-looking backgrounds to achieve a 3D effect. The other is a "true" 3/4 perspective view, as used in "Syndicate" and "Crusader: No Remorse", which gives them a distinctive angular look..
This format can deliver high quality graphics that today's gamer expects, and isn't that much more difficult to implement than top-down or platform games. The recent top sellers "Crusader: No Remorse" and "Red Alert" show that this is still a popular format.
First Person and 3D
Long the domain of blocky flight simulators, the computational power of today's desktops and new 3D hardware accelerated consoles have made the "up close and personal" view point a favorite among gamers.
Fortunately, the flood of Doom clones is subsiding. Most gamers were unwilling to shell out more money to essentially play the same game again. So, while first person shooters are in remission (Quake never really generated much enthusiasm), 3D games are still in demand--just ask anyone who tried to find a Nintendo64 this christmas. The demonstration N64 a local Toys R Us had a big sign on it, "NOT FOR SALE --DEMONSTRATION UNIT ONLY".
There's gold to be mined in the ruins of this commercially dead format. The development of text adventures, or interactive fiction as they're called now, has lead to a large body of work in issues like branching story lines, interactive story telling, and creating believable computer controlled characters. Since these issues are increasingly important in today's games, the interactive fiction resources are worth checking out.
There are still some free, 'fan fiction' games still being released.