What makes a good game good?
That’s a loaded question, but I will focus it further in order to be able to hold a discussion. I am talking about video games, mostly, given that this is the area where we see can visibly see most gaming innovation. Further, given that this year saw little originality in the big name blockbuster video game releases, I will focus on mobile video games - an area where, in my humble opinion, we have seen much innovation.
If we look at the top iOS games from the past two years, Reigns, Mini Metro, Lara Croft Go and Severed, I think the answer to the above question is glaringly obvious. They are all simple games, really, that are based around a simple core idea - a quality referred to in the industry as “game mechanic”. In Reigns you make yes/no decisions in order to optimally balance four contradicting factors; in Mini Metro you are constantly solving a more and more complex transport optimisation problem; in Lara Croft you play the classic game of Go with a twist, just as in Really Bad Chess (another great game) you play the classic game of chess with a twist. And in Severed you play “just another” RPG but with original graphic presentation and combat mechanics that work really well on a touchscreen.
My answer to the above question, what makes a good game good, is therefore: it implements a good idea well. And that is it, really; everything else is extra padding on top.
Which takes me back to the game that I probably liked the most this year, the aforementioned Human Resources Machine. I liked it because its well implemented idea was the gamification of machine code programming, which, in turn, brought back memories of the days when I used to do that very thing.
I like to think that the really great games earn their greatness through being more than good games; they are also good pieces of art. And it is that element of Human Resources Machine that captured me by making me think thoughts. It made me think “why not”; as in, I have done this [machine code programming] before, why can’t I do it again?
And it occurred to me that, while I have been away from the coding world for a long time, I can still do it. Languages might be different, environments might be different, but the concepts are still the same; technically speaking, I am able to produce a Reigns like game by myself with relatively little upskilling effort. The actual work would consume a lot of my time and require significant funding to achieve without my family starving as a result, though.
I even have some nice ideas to play with, too. I don’t think they’re Mini Metro good, no, but they sure pack enough heat for me to truly enjoy myself while at it.
And why not, really?