Opinions

Opinion – What Makes a ‘Game of All Time’

A recent interview occurred with creative director at Platinum Games and well-known industry professional, Ken Lobb, regarding their upcoming game “Scalebound”.  While next-to-nothing is known about the game aside from what was revealed at E3 last year, Lobb claimed that “Scalebound is very real and very awesome, and I think when people really understand what it is we are building, they’re gonna be shocked. It is definitely big. AAA” (see Gamespot for the full article). What was more interesting about the interview was that he said Platinum Games has “an opportunity to make a ‘Game of All-Time,’ as lots of people like to call it. Yeah, it’s special.” While we cannot see what the game is yet, and thus cannot make any claims of how good it is, I would like to discuss what makes a ‘Game of All-Time’ different from an excellent game.

 

 
 
Before we delve into what makes a ‘Game of All-Time’ and what that exactly contains, we are going to look at what makes a bad game… for the opposite of what makes a bad game, in theory, would make an excellent game. A bad game would include poor game play, uninspiring graphic design, little to no replay-ability, low difficulty, little to no purpose, bad characters, bad story, the game itself being broken at launch, inappropriate subject material with no purpose, shallow concepts, bad level design, bad world design, bad sound design, bad AI, not many features… I could go on. The point is, bad games are shallow, with the game feeling underdeveloped, with no purpose, and lazy. A game is like a movie, if little effort is put into the creation, the end product will be underwhelming. No matter how much potential it had.


Now, if that is what makes a bad game, what makes a good, or even excellent game? In theory, the exact opposite of a bad game. But there are many games that operate very well on many of these aspects, and while a game does not need to fire on all of these cylinders it does need to fire well on the ones it is designed on. You can’t blame a race-car driver for being bad at dancing, but you can blame him for being a bad race-car driver. Excellent games are ones like Halo 3, where it just was very good at what it was supposed to be. Or a better example – Uncharted, where it did not re-invent the adventure genre, but it did bring it to a new generation. Or an even better example, Destiny. It introduced a massive, deep and intricate new universe with plenty of potential… but nothing groundbreaking, with many reviewers and players alike claiming it was too much like other games. It did not change gaming like it claimed it was going to. This can also be seen in nearly every iteration of Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Assassins Creed. 

 
So, what makes a ‘Game of All-Time’ different from an excellent game? One could claim it is one that changes something fundamental in a certain genre, something that sets a new bar for quality and design, or one that brings something completely new to the table that other games follow. It does more than just be good at what it sets out do do. A game that can stand the test of time and remain relevant for decades to come. If we take that, I can name a few games off of the top of my head that have met this criteria. Super Mario 64 completed changed gaming in that it brought a 2D gaming world into a 3D one. Mega-man brought  an unprecedented standard to level design, game play, and difficulty. Halo changed the world of first-person shooters, and brought them to consoles. More recently, Minecraft brought a whole new level of freedom and creativity to the gaming world. And Final Fantasy VII completely changed the RPG genre and brought JRPGs to the North American market in mass appeal.
 
What do we make of this?

An important distinction is that a game of this caliber does not need to be perfect. It is arguable that there is no such thing as a perfect game, as there is almost always something that could be altered or improved to make the experience better. These ‘Games of All-Time’ are not perfect, they just turn the industry and its genre on its head, or set a new standard that all other games will begin to follow. And lets not forget about immersion – a key element for many of these games… you find yourself getting lost.  Hours go by, and you are still playing, having just as much fun as when you started. I describe this relationship with the following:
 
Power + Reward – Time  Invested = Quality 
 

Early on, you may not feel powerful and the rewards may be small in any given game – but this is ok because compared to the amount of time you have invested you are still enjoying the game. As a game goes on, often you become more skilled, the rewards become greater, and depending on the game your character may even become more powerful, as would your enemies. Your time invested is also more, but in comparison to how much power and reward is also increasing the game is still balancing out. The idea here is to never feel like your time is wasted, that the rewards are not gratifying enough, or that you are too powerful. The equation above is purely for display purposes only. It is just how I like to look at a good game.

A good example of this is Borderlands 2. Early on in Borderlands 2 you do not have many skills, you have weak weapons, but the enemies are also weaker. As time goes on, you become much stronger, get insane weapons, but the enemies also become more difficult. This keeps the player coming back because while there is always challenge, you always feel like you are becoming more powerful.

In a different example, Halo keeps you feeling like a super-soldier (depending on the difficulty played on). As the levels go on, the situations that the Master Chief finds himself in become more and more difficult, and crazy. The stakes become higher, enemies become more numerous, environments become increasingly not in your favour, and the mission objectives and goals become more complicated. For example, Halo: Combat Evolved starts with just the objective of escaping the ship… then when you crash onto the Halo ring your mission is to rally some marines. Then you take on a covenant cruiser. Then you discover the flood. Then your mission is to explode the ring you are fighting on. You feel powerful the entire way through, but the game feels like you are always progressing and becoming better. There is also a good story, that can  drive games that are a little more linear such as Halo. A well-told story can keep a player playing for as long as it lasts, alone.

 
 
Some games are basically interactive stories, and try to sell you on just that aspect. 
 
A ‘Game of All-Time’ would have to be talked about for years after its release, as I am doing right now with the titles mentioned above. It does not matter how much it is talked about before release, such as this game. No amount of hype can claim a game will be a ‘Game of All-Time’ and in my opinion that is a very confident phrase to say when describing a game that has not even come out yet. It would be like inducting a rookie hockey player, albeit drafted in the 1st round, into the Hall of Fame because he was drafted 1st overall… It has yet to be seen how he will even perform, or in our terms, how good the game actually is.
 
So, what makes  Ken Lobb claim that Scalebound has the potential to be a ‘Game of All-Time’… does it set a bar for quality? Does it introduce something completely new to gaming? Only time will tell. If it is going to be a game that stands the test of time and does something to completely shake the gaming industry, I would be surprised.

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