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[What separates a good game from a bad one? Gamasutra contributor Josh Bycer takes a look and identifies several factors, ultimately diving into design, examining several different games and determining what made them winners or losers when it came to gameplay.]
Anyone who has ever played a video game has their favorite, and every year reviewers, fans, and journalists alike pick their favorite games of the year. However, while talking about why games are great is easy, what about bad games?
Why do some JRPGs score better than others even though they use similar game systems? Why do early Crash Bandicoot games get higher scores then recent ones? Could difficulty be a factor? If so, why do we praise the Demon's Souls series, even though it's one of the most challenging of the generation?
The short answer is that there is no one mythical factor that dictates whether a game is good or bad. The long answer is going to be examined in this article. There are several aspects that go into a bad game, which also relate to the elements of game development: Technical, Sensory, and Game Design.
Technical. Technical is the catchall for bugs and glitches in the game. Crashes, events refusing to trigger, controls not responding, abilities not working as intended, and so on. There are many examples of games that had great design, but suffer due to bugs that weren't caught. Thanks to post-release support, most technical issues are caught and fixed, these days, but the longer players have to deal with them, the worse the game looks in their eyes.
When Magicka was released in 2011, while the design of the game was praised, the game was full of bugs -- from frame rate slowdown, to problems connecting to other people, and, of course, game crashes. The problems with the game led to early negative reviews, and many angry users. While it was eventually patched up, for a lot of people, the damage was done.
Of the issues we're going to discuss today, issues of the technical category are the easiest to recover from (which says a lot for what's coming up in this article). Gamers are always supportive of developers fixing their games, and often help with crash reports or dxdiags to help zero in on where the problems are. Case in point: Magicka went on to huge success thanks to the team's willingness to communicate with fans and patch quickly and frequently.
In some cases, modders may release unofficial patches after the post-game support by the developer is done to continue improving the game, which is what happened with Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.
Another side of technical issues that have been coming into its own lately is issues from DRM. Games that feature DRM that requires players to always be online run the risk of alienating gamers who don't have a stable connection to the internet. Invasive DRM such as StarForce has also earned a negative reputation for causing problems with computer systems, and has led to gamers boycotting games that use it.
Sensory. Sensory issues relate to what the player sees, hears, or controls in the game. From characters clipping through walls, awkward dialogue and voice acting, to clumsy or complicated controls. Essentially, anything that breaks the immersion of the game falls here.
Even though graphics are a part of this category, it's hard to determine what are considered bad graphics, as this is a subjective topic. Some people find the gritty realism of games like Gears of War and Battlefield 3 to be excellent, while others think that the stylized graphics of Mario Galaxy or Team Fortress 2 are amazing.
Voice acting has become an important tool of immersing the player into the game. While the use of voice, as oppose to text, is preferable, bad voice acting can be worse than having no voice acting at all. Voice acting can affect the tone of the story, or affect the quality of the game.
A poor camera system can break a game, and continues to be one of the more difficult elements to get right since games moved to 3D. One thing is for certain -- the hallmarks of a bad camera system involve the following problems: the camera getting stuck on objects, giving a poor view of the action, interfering with perspective when making jumps, and more.
Awkward control schemes are getting rarer, thanks to customization options and the increasing standardization of controls across genres. The fact that the gamepad design for the consoles has become standardized (with obvious exception to the Wii) has also helped developers.