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10 Game Design Process Pitfalls

May 7, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 5 Next

5. Not Taking Advantage Of Placeholders

Placeholder assets and code are used a lot in this industry, yet placeholder use often greatly diminishes once production starts. It is understandable. If a developer is working for a publisher, it's very important to show progress. Going from a nice shiny vertical slice to builds filled with jerky animations and flat-shaded backgrounds can look like a step backward.

Internally, team members, particularly artists and animators, generally prefer working on final assets than low-quality ones that will have to be replaced later. Producers generally prefer something done once rather than twice. Unfortunately under-use of placeholders reduces final game quality and slows down the design process.

The basic scenario goes like this: a designer wants to see an asset in game -- be it a 3D model, an animation, a gameplay mechanic, etc. Rather than wait a few hours for a placeholder, he must wait a week for the finished asset. If what he receives isn't as fun as he had imagined, that will be a week of work wasted.

To avoid this from happening, long approval processes are often implemented with the intention of weeding out all but the best ideas. In practice the approval process can shear off all but the least risky elements of the idea until it's lost its originality.

So now instead of trying out an idea with a placeholder and moving on, the designer must wait a week to receive a final asset that is often far less interesting than what he would have discovered through experimentation with placeholders.

Working without placeholders wastes time in many ways. Levels made up of hundreds of 3D meshes take longer to load and test than those that are made of simple BSPs. They take much longer to modify because they're made of 100's of pieces instead of a few simple shapes.

Finally less experienced mission designers will waste time showing off their interior decoration and lighting skills when they should be focusing on making fun gameplay. Some flat-shaded textures, a pool of placeholder 3D objects, and a watchful eye of an artist to make sure things are architecturally sound should be all a mission designer needs to make fun environments.

A placeholder-heavy game design process requires a lot from a lot of people. It requires a studio that can shuffle artists to other duties while the design team settles on what they want for the "final" level.

It requires faith that the higher-ups (be they an external publisher or an internal studio head) are not as superficial and can appreciate the value of a fun, if ugly, level filled with placeholders. If you don't have this faith, outside playtesting can be used to quantify the "fun" in lieu of showing polished graphics.

6. Allowing The Story To Control The Game Design

In television and film a writer writes a script and hands it off to a producer. The crew then uses the script as a map for telling a story to the viewer. This process can work for video games so long as the main purpose of the game is to tell a story to the player.

Games such as those in the Final Fantasy series as well as many JRPGs and adventure games can succeed on a great story alone. If the main purpose of your game is put your player into the middle of a highly interactive experience, than this method is inappropriate.

If your game is Halo, Call of Duty, or God of War, the script should be shaped around the gameplay and not the other way around. Things such as level design, play mechanics, and pacing are the most important factors. If these things aren't solid, no amount of storytelling can pick up the slack. This is not to say story isn't important, but rather the writer should be flexible enough to change the story based on what presents the player with the most compelling interactive experience.

Giving the story priority over other elements of game design can lead to trouble. A classic example is the 2003 title Enter the Matrix.

The plot of the game and its live-action cutscenes were made to weave in and out of the movie The Matrix Reloaded; the movie's creators were heavily involved.

The result was levels that made sense from a story perspective but had no purpose from a gameplay one. Furthermore the dev team was stretched thin creating three different game types -- in car, on foot, and in hovercraft -- because the story demanded it.

I once worked on a third-person action project with a script that was handed down to us by a Hollywood writer. While an interesting story, it conflicted with a lot of the gameplay elements that had been designed. The script called for levels in intimate locations with a handful of enemies when the game mechanics were set up for huge firefights large cover-filled locations.

The game had been designed with a partner in mind that the player could give orders to, but the script demanded that the player should be alone for a large part of the game's second half -- destroying the learning curve. The cancellation of the project was largely due to the design team being forced to follow the Hollywood script.

The story of an action game should be the responsibility of a game writer. A game writer is someone who's written for games before or at least is a gamer himself. A game writer will be with the team full time and understand why his story needs to be reworked continually.

He won't get flustered if the design team decides the airport level makes more sense in the beginning of the game rather than in the end. Writing for games is not the same as writing for films. Simply cutting a Hollywood man a check to deliver a script is not the way to go.

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Dave Endresak
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Very good summary, I think.

I'd like to offer a bit of disagreement with #6, though. Aside from games where the focus is challenge (puzzle games like Tetris, for example), story is absolutely critical to me as far as a game is concerned. This view includes action-based games such as FPSes or RTSes as well as platform/action type games. Obviously I've posted several times about my preference for Japanese games of many types including their adventures, visual novels and simulations, but the focus on story is a true need for many gamers even if they are not Japanese. Half-Life became a huge success in the English market due to the focus on story; if it had not had that element, it would not have been anywhere near as successful. Doom 3 was widely criticized for lacking a compelling story despite its technical quality. The reason story (and character development, etc) are so important is because many audiences are willing to tolerate a certain lack in play mechanics in order to experience an excellent story just as they tolerate a lack of technical sophistication to experience a great film. Conversely, excellent gameplay will not compel anyone to finish a game that has a lackluster story or, even if they do finish it, the experience will seem more like a task than an enjoyable experience. To use the film analogy again, Hollywood might make a very impressive (and expensive) action-filled blockbuster, but it's not going to make a lasting impression (or win many awards) unless it has a compelling story and characters. This is why certain games such as Gears of War are nothing more than an expensive tech demo as far as I am concerned (and I guess I should repeat that my experience with electronic gaming goes back to the days of Pong, so that type of analysis and evaluation is not based on unfounded, inexperienced views).

That being said, I completely agree that writers must be flexible. The point is that designers must also be flexible with respect to the needs of the story. Many hardcore English market gamers find popular Japanese games to be boring, or even claim that such products are not even games at all. This type of inflexibility doesn't help create a successful market or product. The same is true in reverse, of course; many Japanese gamers may not want the focus on challenge and difficulty of certain popular English market games, but that doesn't mean that one approach is better than the other, nor does it mean that all Japanese gamers don't want such elements.

These are just examples, but my main point is that there must be a far better collaboration and acceptance of diverse needs in the marketplace between designers and writers. Even in Hollywood, script writers usually understand that they may have to accept changes in their script due to production issues or other matters that come up after it is accepted. Good directors understand that they are not dictators, too, and that it's important to accept input from writers as well as actors and other people on the production team.

E Zachary Knight
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This is a great article. Reminds me a lot of "Bad Designer, No Twinkie." (Still waiting on that next one Mr. Adams)

I think that #'s 1,5,7 and 8 are some of the most important. Prototyping is an extremely underdeveloped tool in the games industry. I remember Nintendo talking about why 3rd party Wii games suck. They said it was because they were not prototyping their concepts and instead were running full steam ahead.

To have a truly great game, you need to make sure that it is fun before running with it. It hurts the company to waste 1-2 or more years and millions of dollars on a game, just to find out that it is not fun to play. It would have been better to find out after only devoting 3-6 months on it. Same goes for art assets and level design.

I will have to agree as well on #6. If you plan on making a story based game, the writers need to be on the design team and their input be a part of the process from start to finish. Their input will help design not only story and art but also gameplay elements. The whole world will be more seamless at that point.

Eric Carr
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Placeholders are great. I would say you can go so far as to not even bother making them. I've used placeholder art from previous games and animations ripped right from the internet. Then if the system doesn't work them the only time I've wasted is mine.


"excellent gameplay will not compel anyone to finish a game that has a lackluster story"

Nonsense. Super Mario Bros. has a terrible story. Excellent gameplay can make up for a lot.

Michael Foster
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One barrier to placeholder art is often the artist. From my experience artist hate releasing art into the world that is not their best work, which is understandable but sometimes frustrating.

Tim Lang
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Great article Ian! I think I might agree with every one of these, and have certainly run into each of them at least once in my career. I don't know how many hours I spent at the water cooler waiting for a programmer to write a script for me I could have easily done for myself, or waited for assets from an artist who was working on a hundred other things more important than my tiny little, essential asset.

I think it all boils down to barriers. As designers, we should be trying to remove the barriers of fun for the player,...and what I get out of your article is that the dev team should do their best to remove the barriers that keep the designer from getting to the fun zone.

Mike Lopez
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Very nice article. Well done.

I am a huge proponent of formal Design processes (see my own articles) and believe our industry will not be able to mature until they are accepted consistently throughout the industry.

In my 17 years of Design experience I am continually amazed at how even highly talented, pedigreed and experienced teams fail to correct #8 (Entering Production Without Something Fun), even teams I have been on and have fought unsuccessfully to correct that. So often Producers and even all Team Leads will agree to a schedule-based end of Pre-Production (i.e. "if we have 22 months then Pre-Pro should end after x month"). The result is often heavy throw-away content and rushed production with little time for polish. In the worst case the levels are kept and the fun is never achieved.

The solution of course is to get each team lead to agree to his top discipline goals and agree that full production does not begin until those are met. Getting all key systems, AI and mechanics to a "usable" and "fun" state should be the top priority for any Design Director/Lead Designer and if that process takes 50-66% of the entire project then so be it; the reality is that any level/mission production work done before that goal is achieved will be complete throw-away in 95% of the cases (that was the case of our entire world on Scarface). If that leaves less time for full production then the content should be more focused. As a result the level/mission content will surely be of much higher quality and more predictable as a result and should give more time at the end of the project for polish. The challenge always comes in resisting the urge to jump the gun and ramp up the team before the fun is known and the the key systems and mechanics are usable.

As for #2 (Placing Too Much Importance On Paper Designs), it should be pointed out that the opposite is also a pitfall (not enough emphasis). The process of the paper design forces the individuals to think through and solve many of the problems they will encounter which is always faster and cheaper on paper. It will also give them a target to shoot for which is immensely valuable even if they iterate and evolve the actual implementation into something different and better (which I have always supported with designers I have worked with).

Maurício Gomes
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Altough I do LOVE story-based games, I must disagree with Dave and agree with Eric and Ian, a game is a GAME, not a MOVIE... A Movie (or a Book) should tell a tale, a Game should be playable...

I think that your view that games without story are bad, that results in the problem six, that I actually saw MANY times (I am a student, we were tasked to make a game each semester, since the most obvious way to make a game about a certain theme that the teachers asked, like mithology or allan poe, is to retell the story, everyone just do that...), and I must say that unless you are awesome like Valve or Blizzard, to make the story interwined finely with your gameplay, DO NOT force too much story on your game, it is preferable to make a thing that is good but more or less disconnected without hurting gameplay (Braid anyone?) than to make a kick-ass of a story and a bad game (the mass of adventures when CD was invented are good examples...)

Lack of prototyping is a SERIOUS problem... I wish that I learned how to make prototypes before, my games would not suck like they suck (ie: I ended finding the fixable gamedesign problems after the game was done...)

Robert Farr
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On the whole story controlling games problem, I feel that really the choice of if and how much story goes into a game is more a question of whether that level of story is appropriate for the game. Certainly, the nature of adventure games where its best to lock of most of the games locations and have key puzzles (That unlock further areas of the game or cause a permanent transition to a new set of locations) means that they are often very well suited to strong usage of a story, you can even build the location transitions into a 3 act structure - Syberia does this very well for example, locking the game into 3 stages yet still having a mobile phone that allows several off screen characters to impact on the story and player/player-character.

To put it another way, sure, its better to have a playable game than an unplayable story (At least in games), but that doesn't automatically mean we can't have a playable story.

Kirill Yarovoy
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Good article! Thx)

when i feel that i know everything already, im learning something new everyday)

Today i learned about importance of placeholders, but in other side there are some situations when whole scenelevel fun-factor depends from quality, and as more jerky animation, blocky untextured models and soundless dialogs we have, as less enjoyable this placeholder look like, so potentially good scene could be cut off, because we decide that its bad when was looking to placeholder, but if only it would be more finished an opinion could be better.

David Boudreau
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I have to agree with Dave Endresak on #6 (story vs. gameplay). Certainly, gameplay is important but story can be as well- and having recently played through Enter the Matrix myself, that was one of the worst examples to make for point #6. Enter the Matrix was hardly lacking in any gameplay element, and definitely not lacking in any sense of integration of gameplay with storyline.

If I can recall, there might have been a minor issue with the controls (Xbox version), but the integration of story with gameplay? That was one of the best I've seen in any game. I'm not a big Matrix fan or anything, but if I were I would definitely consider that a must-have in the series just like any of the movies.

Also for what it's worth- while Super Mario Bros' story never appealed much to me personally, many cite it as noteworthy for it's story, even back to the days of "... but our princess is in another castle".

There was a good documentary that touched on this topic that followed the development of a particular game, Crimson Skies, and how an RPG board game designer working on it tried selling the lead on gameplay over protagonist character/story element (like, Is it Indy's fedora hat and whip, or is it that he hates snakes and pulls out the handgun to the swordsman" etc).

Michael Rivera
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The story shouldn't control game design, but conversely game design shouldn't ruin a story. If you are making a narrative-driven title the game mechanics and plot should complement each other rather than fighting for control.

This is the reason why HL2 succeeds where other FPS games fail. If you ruin your story for the sake of game play your title is going to be just as bad as if you simplified game play for plot purposes. Better to just get rid of your story entirely than do it half-assed.

Eric Carr: Super Mario didn't have a bad story; it had no story whatsoever. The developers wisely realized that a simple "Save the princess" works much better than trying to instill a plot about a mushroom stomping plumber with pathos and intrigue.

Toby Hazes
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story versus game design: the article says it exactly right, people!

"This process can work for video games so long as the main purpose of the game is to tell a story to the player."

Some players play for the story, so for them it works to design this way, no matter the genre.

For others it's about the game, so it works the other way around, no matter the genre.

Maurício Gomes
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Seriously, Enter the Matrix SUCK, it SUCK BAD ASS, it EVILY SUCK... Specially because its gameplay is awfull to fit in the story...

In fact, most movie games suck because of that...

Someone posted two or three weeks ago here on Gamasutra that the best games are the ones with IP created on the game media, mostly because when they are created on other medias, if they are not adventures the gameplay is awfull (of course, there are exceptions, but usually that is the rule, altough I can not remember any exception right now...)

Maurício Gomes
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I just remembered the exceptions! The lego games, where the story is barely told... And the gameplay is awesome... Man, how I love the star-wars ones...

Stephen Etheridge
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"Half-Life became a huge success in the English market due to the focus on story. [...] Doom 3 was widely criticized for lacking a compelling story despite its technical quality."

Half-Life was partially lauded for its focus on a story arc, but if we're talking about the first one, really the story has very little to do with it, in terms of narrative, that is. How many characters are there in Half-Life? How many lines of dialogue or text? The story is basically an excuse for the player to go on a journey, it's a very original excuse, but in Half-Life, as opposed to Half-Life 2, there's very little verbal story-telling. I would actually say that Rainbow Six or Goldeneye (released in 1997, the year before Half-Life) had more prominent focus on storytelling via narrative: before each level you knew why you were there and how it was linked to the previous missions. You might have chapter titles in Half-Life, but really the game is more of a mise en abyme (or 'story within a story'). The story is set to begin with via some introductory dialogue, you have a conclusion at the end when you meet Gman, but the only thing in-between is some brief comments from mostly unimportant characters that are more to do with gameplay elements than the story (such as introducing the tentacle boss).

The major unique thing that Half-Life did that virtually no other game had done up until that point was to physically link each level to one another. The quote I just made ("before each level you knew why you were there and how it was linked to the previous missions") is also true of Half-Life, but because instead of text-based introduction and linking, Valve made it physical; you could even go back through the load screens to the previous area.

The main reason Half-Life was praised was because it stood out in terms of its gameplay. The level-linking was technically a story element that hugely enhanced gameplay. If you want to make the argument that Half-Life focused on story, it did so by being an experience-based story rather than a story-based experience. Generally speaking, the player lived the story rather than being told it. Valve crafted an authentic journey from start to finish without cutting from the action. I'd compare it to the film Russian Ark: a 90-minute film shot in one take.

Virtually every other FPS until Half-Life had been a hardass shooting aliens or monsters: Doom, Quake, Heretic, Hexen, Dark Forces, Duke Nukem, Shadow Warrior, Blood. Storywise, Gordon Freeman was no hardass to begin with. He wasn't the macho government agent, he wasn't a supersoldier, he wasn't a rogue fighter; he was just someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Marathon, Strife and System Shock are examples of semi-FPS genre games with a bigger focus on story. Half-Life wasn't the first.

The big difference was true to its name, the game split itself in two: half of the game was spent fighting, half was spent puzzling. There was a mix of action and downtime, the game had pacing. Now, pacing exists in narrative, but this was really one of the first examples of gameplay pacing. Most other games were focused on giving the player constant swarms of enemies, much like the 2D shoot-em-ups that came before them. Half-Life was more about carefully scripted 'action sequences' that punctuated the other gameplay mechanics of puzzling, exploration and, occasionally, narrative.

In terms of puzzles: you have navigation puzzles (such as jumping or hazards including underwater sections), interactible puzzles (such as push-buttons, trams and assigning air strikes via a terminal), few combat puzzles (such as finding an enemy's weak spot). In terms of combat, the scripted sequences and AI seen in Half-Life far outweigh the simple 'spawn-track-attack' combat of previous FPS games.


As for Doom 3, most criticism I've heard was not for the lack of story -which most players wouldn't expect from a Doom game- it was the poor and repetitive 'monster-in-a-box' routines. In short, it was criticised mostly for its graphics-over-gameplay inclinations, not for lacking a compelling story. It's true that most reviews do criticise the story, but there is much more ink spent criticising the gameplay, such as the predictability of the level design (notably the scripting) and major annoyances such as the flashlight debacle and crucial keycodes hidden away on one of many terminals and datapads.

Giordano Ruffaldi
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In my opinion the first rule have a great possible pitfall:

having game designers "brain washed" by other titles will push them to design clones.

During the concept phase, I always suggest to my collegues to avoid thinking to other titles and use their immagination instead. This is a good way to obtain solutions that really fit your needs.

Once the concept and preliminary have been set, then it's useful to play similar titles to confront ideas. You'll be suprised how your seletion of similar titles has been changed from the beginning.


Giordano Ruffaldi
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Oh I forgot! I really appreciated your article!

Aaron Casillas
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Agree with everything sans the game writer should write the story. The story in my opinion should offer the "context" to why the player is in any space and should be linked on the meta with each other. The "what" the player does is then conntected to the "why" context of the space and overall game. Its really important to get the overall story of not only the game but for each scenerio from the designers first, polish can be done by a game writer later. In every case that I've worked with a game writer they could never be intimate enough to keep track of every dialogue change that occured in every level; I swear designers should get writers credit.

As an example, I've had to put a ww2 atomic bunker in a forest 1 month before ship (lots of trees died to make this bunker) and also created a game with a lot of great individual scenerios but not linked; but were the result of not nailing down the overall meta story at the start of the production. In both cases, if we knew the context before building the levels we would have made a better quality product.

Maurício Gomes
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I think that is better to do the inverse...

That is, actually intentionally copy other game, not to make a rip-off, but like sci-fi artists create vehicles with kit bashing, I noticed that a great way to make a game is to game-bash (Sometimes with non-game things too!)

The best "creative" games, like Myamoto ones, are still just ideas mashed there...

Michael Rivera
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@ Stephen Etheridge: "If you want to make the argument that Half-Life focused on story, it did so by being an experience-based story rather than a story-based experience."

All good narrative-driven games should be "experience-based stories". That's part of the reason the whole Half-Life series is as well regarded as it is. After all, if you don't find a way to integrate plot and game play, the two can start becoming entirely separate entities, leading to a very schizophrenic-feeling game.

I actually think this is part of the reason why JRPGs have dropped out of the spotlight in recent years. As good as their stories are, I think most people recognize the value in playing through the plot (as in Mass Effect or Fallout 3) rather than watching it through cut scenes.

Victor Bunn
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I've played too many games this generation asking the question...? "Did the development team even play this? It sucks! How could they not see that this isn't fun?" When I was in college I worked on a game design that was nothing more than a Doom clone for the then life support stricken, now dead, Amiga. That was the first time I realized that development teams miss the point far too many times by thinking what sounds great on paper is going to be great in reality. By copying popular concepts from games or franchises sometimes it's possible to copy the worst aspects of them without grasping what made them appealing in the first place. Prototyping should be standard practice.

Miyamoto said something to that effect about a game concept that was mentioned in a Retro interview if memory serves... he said.."It's not fun." Case Closed.

David Boudreau
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@Helder - Maybe I'm just easy to please, but I was happy with Enter the Matrix after playing through both storylines. It stayed very much in-tune with The Matrix storyline (as advertised), and the bullet time/focus worked pretty well as a central game mechanic. The theme of The Matrix was well represented. If that is considered a bad example of a game (exploited licensed IP to sell despite "bad" game/game mechanics) then I'd say games based on movies have improved a lot over the years. Recently I've been playing through Crimson Sea... that has one of the worst storylines I've ever seen (the gameplay is pretty good, as an action game). Crimson Sea's cutscenes are just painful to watch- no one in their right mind plays this game for the horrible story.

btw I was standing in a DVD rental store years ago, trying to decide on a good movie, and I remember deciding to pick The Mummy over Tomb Raider (similar Indiana Jones themed films). My reasoning, at the time, was because Tomb Raider was based on a licensed IP from a completely different medium, and therefore probably really bad. I really liked the _game_ Tomb Raider 1, having had played through it multiple times, but I just assumed it would be a bad movie for the simple reason it was based on a different medium. So I rented The Mummy instead, starring Brendon Frasier, the worst actor of all time in what I discovered to be one of the worst movies of all time. A year or so later I saw Tomb Raider and it was much, much better than The Mummy.

Chris Proctor
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@Eric "Super Mario Bros. has a terrible story. Excellent gameplay can make up for a lot."

Super Mario Bros has a perfectly appropriate story for the gameplay and target audience. If it was the plot of a movie (*snickers*), then sure, it'd be terrible, but in context it's excellent, and doesn't detract from the game in any way (which should be your focus!).

Ian Fisch
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I really appreciate all the feedback on this article and I'm glad so many people enjoyed it. Thanks for the kind words.

I'd like to clear up a little confusion regarding my comments on Enter the Matrix. I never claimed that the story was not well integrated into the game. Quite the contrary it is integrated very well and generally seems to correspond to what the player is doing.

My criticism is that the story basically, from my point of view, drove every other part of production. The game fit the story because the story was basically the master telling the game what to do. I think the game's lack of focus (guns, cars, hovercrafts, on rails shooting) and wonky level design is a result of this. If Shiny had been free to just "make a matrix game" without interference from the Wachowski's, I believe they would have created a much more solid, maybe even classic, experience. We're talking about some very talented people and a generous development time period.

Theo Tanaka
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Really great article, congratulations! It's this type of article that makes me want to work with game designing even more. Just a quick question: What is a vertical slice?

About #6, if you look at Call Of Duty 4, it has one of the greatest stories told through a game, and it really fits with the gameplay. Of course, it's a war story, so it really fits the FPS genre. But if you took the story and tried to create a film, it could be something really interesting.

If I may put my two cents in, the Games medium is like any other medium in my opinion, a way of communicating an idea. I think that any game that is considered to be fun also accomplishes to communicate something to the player, like an idea, a story, a sensation, etc. And any of these were the game designer main base used in the creation of the game.

dan schmittou
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Great article Ian! As an aspiring designer I found much of the information insightful and reassuring of my own thoughts on game design.

I couldn't agree more with the importance of Placeholders and Playtesting. Both have been tremendously useful in my own level designs, and also team projects. I know when I first started designing levels for school projects I was so eager for the final shiny level that I would design/construct in almost one pass, without much "fun testing". Then ending up redoing parts of the level, and art when they weren't as fun as initially thought. It's a great learning process though.

Carlos Mijares
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Thanks for the article, Ian! Many of the issues you mentioned are things that we always keep in the back of our heads, but never bother to take time to solve them. It always seems like there's a more pressing issue at hand. Other times we just don't have the power to make these processes work, especially for those that are working on licensed properties where story must take precedence over game mechanics. For example, you may think it's cool if the player in a Superman game had a choice to hurt civilians in his own videogame, or destroy the city and rule it under his thumb, but DC would probably jump through walls in desperation if the idea was ever presented to them. In this case, as in many others, a potentially enjoyable game mechanic is put aside simply because "it doesn't fit the character."

@ Dave Endresak

"Obviously I've posted several times about my preference for Japanese games of many types including their adventures, visual novels and simulations, but the focus on story is a true need for many gamers even if they are not Japanese."

I'm guessing those "types" don't include the very relevant Japanese shoot-em-ups and fighting games, do they?

"Half-Life became a huge success in the English market due to the focus on story; if it had not had that element, it would not have been anywhere near as successful."

This statement reads more like how you feel about Half-Life. However, if what you say is true, then why are games like Street Fighter II, Resident Evil 5 and Devil May Cry 4 among the best-selling Capcom games of all time, while the story-heavy, character-rich Okami is nowhere to be seen in their top-selling charts (It also sold poorly in Japan!)?

That's a rhetorical question, so don't answer that. There is no connection between the in-game story and the game's success, because we've seen enough examples of the opposite happening to render the whole argument useless. That is to say, there are many games out there that have shit for story and are some of the most successful games around, both critically and commercially.

"The reason story (and character development, etc) are so important is because many audiences are willing to tolerate a certain lack in play mechanics in order to experience an excellent story just as they tolerate a lack of technical sophistication to experience a great film."

In order for a film to be a good film, it needs characters and a story that the viewer is interested in. For a game to be a good game, it needs great game mechanics that the player enjoys interacting with. Play mechanics in games do not equal technical sophistication in movies. Whether or not masochistic gamers decide to wade through a bad game for the story is their own business. Our job as designers is to craft a great game; that is, our job is to craft a game that plays great.

"Conversely, excellent gameplay will not compel anyone to finish a game that has a lackluster story or, even if they do finish it, the experience will seem more like a task than an enjoyable experience."

That's a stupid statement. How is playing the game not an enjoyable experience? You are PLAYING a GAME. How do you justify people replaying Ninja Gaiden (Xbox) on the hardest difficulties, downloading every map pack and buying every minor upgrade to the game (Black, Sigma)? Do you think it's because of the compelling story? Nonsense!

"To use the film analogy again, Hollywood might make a very impressive (and expensive) action-filled blockbuster, but it's not going to make a lasting impression (or win many awards) unless it has a compelling story and characters. This is why certain games such as Gears of War are nothing more than an expensive tech demo as far as I am concerned (and I guess I should repeat that my experience with electronic gaming goes back to the days of Pong, so that type of analysis and evaluation is not based on unfounded, inexperienced views)."

Then you seemed to have learned nothing from that experience. You are using the characteristics that make a great film and shoehorning them as the characteristics that make a great game. If a game has an excellent and amazing story, with deep, believable characters that many can relate to, but the game mechanics are horrendous, then the game is a piece of shit by any meaningful account, and should have been released as a book or a movie instead, where a story can be enjoyed without the interruption of the game. (It seems that's what you're exclusively into, so you might want to try those instead).

And this is all coming from someone that loves games like Metal Gear Solid, Okami, Phoenix Wright and other games where the story is a big feature. If any of those games were not incredibly fun to play, I wouldn't waste my time on them.

Robert Zamber
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ooh.. everyone got a little touchy in regards to Daves comments, a little defensive if you ask me. Anyway, I dont think anyone is, but I can relate to what he is getting at.... SUBSTANCE and STYLE. Yes, at the end of the day, the game has to be fun to play, otherwise we could just have read the book or watched the movie, and not been bothered with all the shooting, jumping, finding, and exploring sprinkled over the story. From my experience, I think the player feels cheated in either situation. I know I do. A bad story, lame dialog, and lame character design (aesthetically) can completely break immersion for players (Oblivion anyone?). I tried, and tried to play the game, but the writing was so lame I just could not get immersed in the world. A case where some style and substance would have been appreciated.

The truth of the matter is, we, in the US, have not achieved a mario, zelda, MGS, FF, SF, Pokemon, Dragon Quest, AA, Ninja Gaiden..etc...the list goes on and on. These are all world class IPs, that are popular in all regions, crossover to other media well, and adapt well on multiple platforms, big or small. All while keeping their core audiences satisfied. These are not the products of Epics, Unreal Technology. These are the products of REAL design work, where writing is not undermined and compromised. They all have well designed and crafted stories, worlds, and characters that complete the experience and give these IPs some soul (substance and style). Without compromising mechanics!

Art of War anyone?