What a busy week it has been, with schoolwork, flu and general apathy. Haven’t played any new games lately, and I’m reluctant to jump in Witcher 2 right now. What I have been doing is mourning the fact that Quantz‘ soundtrack is not available anywhere. I played the game again a bit to hear the soundtrack, losing myself to the game. As I played it, I realized that it is a harmonious game. And that analysis bears some thought.
Fundamentals of Game Design, a book by Adams & Rollings, describes harmony as a state of being for a game. When every aspect of a game work together to immerse the player in the intended experience. It is an extremely delicate state, which is shattered by a single pop culture reference or a compromise in the gameplay. One cannot design a game to be harmonious, but one will know when it is. I must say that I agree with the writers: A game can transcend from being just a game to something greater. Yet only a few games do. I’ll try to list a few that I would say have achieved harmony.
Quantz. A clever little puzzle game with gorgeous visuals and soundtrack. The astrology theme, ethereal backgrounds, beautiful music, they all enforce the feeling of the game: A great journey through mysterious words brimming with magic. Nothing was added for crowd appeal; The designers had a vision and managed to stick to it. And the result is a wondefully coherent experience.
Shatter, as I have mentioned.
Geometry Wars, mostly for the same reasons as Quantz. The visual style is strong, the music melodious and good and gameplay works. It offers exactly what it promises: Blasting foul geometry.
Prince of Persia – Sands of Time. One of the best games ever made. The old 3d is masked by strong style, fluent animations and clever graphical tricks. The platforming is graceful and unfrustrating because of the rewind-ability. Combat has a distinct feel to it: One can feel the attacks connecting to sand monster flesh and being blocked. The maneuvers are awe-inspiring and the trick of having to use the Dagger to actually kill the monsters. Even the shell menus are thought out, with the game being Prince’s narration of the events that transpired. The later games, while still good, managed to lose that spark, though.
Portal. I won’t bother describing Portal for you. If you have found this blog, chances are that you have already worshipped the game to death.
Space Rangers. The game has a strong vision and it delivers. The game is not meant to be taken very seriously, which is why it can have all those silly text adventures and still feel coherent. And the translation errors do not bother me, since the manual states that it is the language of the future in which the game takes place. Brilliant.
Crimson Skies. I’ll just state one fact: The game’s manual was printed in the style of a faux-30’s airplane magazine. The best arcade-style flight simulator there is.
Uplink. Read the post.
Looking at the games, one begins to see a trend. Vision seems to be an important factor. Without a strong vision the designer won’t know where to aim. Just saying: “I want to make a flying game where you are a pirate and you fly a four-winged airplane” won’t achieve anything. There has to be a drive, something to strive to. “I want to feel like I’m in an Errol Flynn-inspired dogfighting movie, where I exchange quips over an old-school radio with sky pirates and pirate hunters. I want to fly upside down next to a bomber and highjack it in the air. I want to hunt for a great treasure, meet dangerous women and get mixed up in a story of great treachery and vengeance, without forgetting fun and adventure.” That is a vision. I think this is a reason many game projects by new designers fail: They had not a strong vision. They flail in the darkness, hoping that safe, tried and true methods will bring success and glory. Glory comes from the inside.
Feature creep evaporates harmony. Adding features “because they would be so cool” will never add anything to the game, provided that the vision is clear. If a game does not absolutely need a feature to transmit the experience it was meant to, then it is harmful to the whole. I think this a reason most large-scale projects fail: Features are requested by people who did not see the vision. People guarding the money vaults want to emulate the success of other games, and mistakenly hope that by leeching on their features will make the product more appealing. That might be true, but I assure you, dear reader, that it will not make the game harmonious. A caged nightingale does not sing.
I hope that by now you wish to create a harmonious game. Harmony requires two things: Elaboration and definition. When you have an idea for a game, think about it. Refine it. Elaborate on what you want the player to experience. Define the most important aspects towards that goal. Then execute them perfectly. Let nothing wave your conviction. And in the end, if your vision was strong enough, you will achieve harmony.