Taken from www.sleepy-genius.com
When I first got into game design, what constituted good game design was a much simpler concept.
The back story and characters were a rough means to an end.¬† In most cases it didn't even matter.¬† Just take the general gameplay and reskin it.¬† This is best shown in the platform game boom of the 90's.¬† Mario spawned it all and proved that backstory didn't need to be super strong to take players into a new land.
You are a plumber... who needs to save a princess... and you jump on turtles. What sense does that make?¬† The gameplay, oh the gameplay, made up for it in spades.¬†¬† At least the success of Mario made me believe that story wasn't important.¬† Gameplay must be king. Then as we moved forward, story became a bit more integrated into the gameplay.
* Sonic was a hedgehog granted with mystical shoes and the gift of speed.
* Mega Man was the only good free thinking robot left to stop the rogue robot apocalypse.
* Samus must stop the Metroid threat from overtaking the universe.
These games gave credence to the idea that story could enhance solid gameplay.¬† But still, my belief was amazing gameplay was paramount in making a major hit. Then there was a coherent meeting of both story and gameplay.
Two games in my memory melded both: Flashback and Metal Gear Solid.¬† Both amazing products that brought a new level of storytelling and how it can influence and motivate gameplay.¬† All of a sudden level objectives matched the narrative of the story.¬† That blew my mind.¬† And in the case of Metal Gear Solid, the presentation rivaled movie experiences.¬† A first for games.
What is most interesting to me, and point of this post, are the recent trend of "art" games.¬† The ones that jump to mind are Limbo, Shank, and Scott Pilgrim.¬† All visually stunning games.¬† However the gameplay of these games may be considered standard.¬† Passable, but nothing spectacular.¬† And yet, the press and anticipation for these games were high.
Ask yourself, would Limbo be a great game if it were not for the silhouette presentation?¬† Would the gameplay by itself be entertaining?¬† Could you replace the nondescript character with a fuzzy anthropomorphic critter and enjoy the game the same?¬† Probably not. Theme is so important to the success of these games.¬† Which then makes me look back at Mario.¬† Would Mario still be successful if we changed the main character and all his antagonists?¬† Probably not.¬† The eclectic mix of architecture and characters is unique and special to the world of Mario.¬† Any abstraction would diminish the charm and personality of the universe it has created.
However the art games are heavily steeped in theme.¬† And gameplay loosely supports the theme.¬† Not that the gameplay isn't good, but it isn't groundbreaking.¬† It is a means to selling the strong character and the world they live in.¬† These most recent games just remind me the importance of presentation and belief in the world we present.
We can't just concentrate on solid gameplay any more.¬† We must also think of how we present it to the player. It's the difference between a short order cook and a gourmet chef.¬† The former just places meat and potatoes on a plate.¬† The latter finds a way to adorn the plate as if it was art.¬† And as a game designer I need to learn how to plate our savory and sweet creations.