The Subtle Differences: What Separates “Good” Games from “Bad” Games

The easiest way to determine a “good” game from a “bad” game is to ask yourself: “Am I enjoying this?”

The answer likely comes easily and you move on, either continuing to delight in your game or abandoning it in search of something more pleasant. But what factors play a role in that split-second decision? Some factors are obvious, such as players facing constant bugs, uninteresting narratives, and lack of creativity. Often times, however, the same features that make players love one game cause them to hate another. The following two examples should hopefully illuminate just how thin the line between “good” and “bad” can be.

Controls That Fight Back

Castlevania, released in 1986, is considered a classic by most. The game is incredibly difficult. It punishes players who, instead taking time to absorb and analyze the information on each board, rush ahead without a second thought. As Egoraptor (Arin Hanson) notes in his video, Sequelitis – Castlevania 1 vs. Castlevania 2, aside from the game’s well planned enemy placement, the controls fight against the player.

Simon Belmont’s whip has a time-delay between when the player initiates the action and when the character unleashes his attack. While it may seem like this feature would make the game less enjoyable, it actually adds to the experience. As the time delay remains constant every time the player attacks, players can account for and plan around it. This forces the player to take the time-delay into consideration when concocting a master strategy for conquering the board. This predictable delay adds to the game’s difficulty without making it impossible or any less enjoyable. However, attack delays are not always so well used.

Zelda’s Adventure, the 1994 game for the Philips CDI, also has an attack delay. However, in this game the delay is inconsistent, making it impossible to plan around. The player faces a state of confusion. They wonder why the previous attack occurred immediately when pushing the button but experience a half-second delay for the next attack. Zelda’s Adventure has more than enough other issues that making it a “bad” game. However, fixing the sporadic attack delay would have at least saved the players immense amounts of frustration and made the game slightly less impossible.

The Challenge

Difficult enemies and situations are not innately “bad,” however, the poor implementation of high difficulty can completely destroy a game. Games like Shovel Knight, Divinity, Soul Caliber, and Punch Out, just to name a few, all have challenging enemies. They also all follow a learning curve. This means that as a player becomes stronger, as in Divinity, or more skilled, as in Punch Out, the enemies also become more difficult to deal with.

Rather than starting players out facing an impossible opponent, these games introduce enemies that are slightly above the player’s initial skill level. They progressively introduce more difficult opponents throughout the game in order to match the player’s growth. This keeps the games interesting. It avoids becoming too easy or being unprecedentedly rage inducing, and gives player’s a sense of accomplishment upon defeating their foe.

Misuse of challenges often only lead to players fuming and inevitably hating the game. A perfect example is Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. This game immediately throws players into a world of utter chaos. They face mass amounts of enemies, often nearly impossible to perceive, and treacherous landscapes. Rather than slowly building up the player’s skill-set and understanding of the game, Super Star Wars ignores the learning curve and leaves players exceedingly frustrated and unhappy. Instead of using their ingenuity and cunning to complete a level, players are forced to memorize an entire stage for any hope of success. If the player does finally triumph and make it to the next level, they are left with a feeling of dread for what lies ahead and exhaustion from memorizing countless unreasonable enemy locations and environmental deathtraps; no sense of accomplishment or joy.

Appreciate and Respect

All games, whether deemed “good” or “bad,” deserve some level of appreciation and respect. Often times players feel they could make a better game. Regardless, the fact remains that somebody put effort into making what you play. With such a fine line separating a game from fame and infamy, one can certainly understand the difficulty of making an enjoyable game.

A game may turn out poorly in spite of how much effort the developers expended. Rather than bashing the creators of a “bad” game, I encourage you to respect their efforts. Offer criticisms on how to improve, but avoid discouraging them from making games in the future. If you really are convinced you could make a better game, do it! Game development software is abundant, so take all of your great ideas and put them into action! I anxiously await!

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