Opinion: Five Important Game Design Features all Games Need
When it comes to game design advice and rules that games should always follow, there usually aren’t that many things that apply to the entire medium. I mean, saving wherever is great in some games, overkill in others. Level design and boss design can be fair in one genre, yet completely ridiculous in yet another and so on.
But here are five things, five game design features that all games need. No exceptions. Let the list, begin!
1. A Sound Test/Jukebox
First up, all games need a sound test (or some similar option to play the music in game).
This isn’t something that’s debatable. Seriously, I don’t think there’s a single reason why a sound test is a bad idea in a video game in existence, and I suspect no one on the planet really does think that say, Nintendo having a Jukebox in Mario & Luigi Dream Team was a bad decision.
So why is a sound test so important (other than the fact that no one disagrees about it being a good thing)? Well in my opinion, there are a few key reasons.
Like how in many games, you can’t listen to some of the best themes without sound effects because of obvious issues like a boss that’s trying to viciously kill the main characters, gun fire or other common sound effects or simply because the scene it’s played in ends before the song does a full loop.
A great example includes the boss themes for Boom Boom and Pom Pom in Super Mario 3D Land. Seriously, these themes are nearly impossible to hear properly because you can’t ever get them with sound effects. To the point even people on Youtube have had trouble ripping said songs at a high level of quality.
Another one is the ‘Stop the Knightmare’ theme from Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon. Or to be more accurate, both versions of it. It’s a great boss theme that sounds absolutely fantastic from what you can hear in game… with the catch that the only time it’s played is in battle with an army of heavily armoured knights who happen to make a ridiculous amount of racket in the background:
This means that there’s no practical way to hear the theme short of ripping from a game ROM or praying that someone at Nintendo decides the game is worth a soundtrack release. And that any attemped videos of the music on Youtube sound like a Doctor Who Cyberman invasion is going on in the background.
A sound test would completely remove this problem for everyone, both letting fans of the music hear it in game without being extremely annoyed by the random SFX and people wanting to use it for other purposes rip the music in a way that sounds somewhat clear.
But there are many other reasons for this being a necessary feature too. Like how a significant amount of game music sounds pretty decent and would just be nice to listen to without the worry of getting brutally ripped apart by enemies. Or how certain music from Nintendo games is only played in very short parts of the game where the full song is never use (the cut scene music from WarioWare and the invincibility music from SMB 2 are good examples here) or even just played in a very short part of the game in which you can never repeat.
Or just the fact that Nintendo and other companies barely ever release their video game soundtracks in all regions. So if you’re not in Japan, good luck getting a CD filled with music from a Nintendo game. And even if you are in Japan, then you’re still screwed over if it’s one of those ‘slightly less popular’ titles that Nintendo hasn’t bothered to release the soundtrack for. Have fun people who like the Donkey Kong, Wario, Yoshi or F-Zero series, you’ll probably never find a soundtrack CD based on your more obscure games ever again!
All games need a sound test option, no exceptions. Especially one that’s easy to navigate (via a traditional menu with no gimmicks like paying in game money) and that has all songs included, regardless of their obscurity.
Above: Although even Dream Team left out some songs…
2. Boss/Scene Replay Option
Yet another thing that all games should have (which unfortunately most don’t) is an option to replay any scene and boss battle of the game again at any one point without having to start a new save file.
For example, in the Zelda series (and the Mario RPGs as well), there should be an option to reset any ‘dungeon’ or ‘location’ to factory default settings at any time. This would reset all puzzles, revive all bosses and mini bosses, lock all doors and gates, put back any items unlocked in that specific area (while keeping any later things) and treat it as if you’ve only entered said place for the first time.
Because this would solve a lot of problems I have with games at the moment.
Like how there are often many great moments you play that end up being ‘lost forever’ once you beat them. For instance, look at some of the scenes and things in Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door. Doopliss steals your identity? Nice gimmick, so why can’t I experience it any time I want? Those Bob-ombs in Fahr Outpost shoot Mario and co to the moon with a ridiculous cut scene? That could be cool, why can’t I go through that again? Or about the dungeons in the Zelda series? Why can’t I replay the Forest/Fire/Water Temples from Ocarina of Time at the drop of a hat? Or experience things like the Wizrobe mini boss from the Wind Temple in The Wind Waker again?
Above: A fight you can stupidly never experience again.
Letting us replay a whole scene/’area’ again would fix this and let us experience the best parts of a game over and over as much as we want. That should be a feature of all games ever made.
Additionally, there are other reasons for this feature being a good idea too.
Like how it’d be a nice way to test out different theories/ideas/strategies and see which ones work and which don’t. Wouldn’t it be interesting to be able to play through the temples in Ocarina of Time in a different order whenever you wanted to? To see what happens if every partner is with you in every cut scene in the Paper Mario series? To see how all the different gear, badge and rank combos work in Mario & Luigi Dream Team? Something like this would increase replay value by a billion fold.
It’d also help fans promote these games to their friends and family. Because let’s face it, you’ve all had situations where people visit and you want to show them the newest game you bought, right?
But with a game with a ‘one time’ set up, you end up not really being able to do the title justice. Show someone a Zelda game you beat recently, and what can they do? Nothing. The world is basically ‘dead’ because you solved everything, killed all the bosses and mini bosses, took all the items, cleared out the dungeons, etc. All these RPGs and action adventures end up becoming a ‘run around aimlessly simulator’ because once you’ve done with the game once, you can’t really do much else on that save file.
Above: You can’t show your friends how good this is, because the temple becomes a ghost town when you clear it. Oh wait, that’d imply there were any ghosts left…
A replay option would fix this, and let you should people the ‘best bits’. Like how in Luigi’s Mansion 2 or Super Mario Galaxy, you can just cut to the best missions immediately and let them try stuff out for themselves.
There should also always be both a full boss rush (with EVERY BOSS in the game refightable) and a cut scene gallery (with all the cut scene videos rewatchable). That way, players can either replay a whole ‘chapter’, refight a specific fun boss battle or rewatch a specific ‘funny’ moment at any time.
Above: This would be a really fun boss to replay… if Bowser’s Inside Story let you refight ANY of Bowser’s opponents.
All games need to have a scene replay option, a boss rush and a way to quickly and easily rewatch cut scenes. No exceptions.
3. Enough Save Files/Save Functionality to be Practical
I also think games need to have a decent amount of save files. Because while Pokemon having only one makes at least some sort of sense (high amount of data saved and ‘one adventure per game’ feel in general), some other such save game designs don’t really seem too well thought out.
Such as Mario & Luigi Dream Team’s ‘two save files per game’ scheme. Not only is it a bit awkward if you ever have to actually share a single copy of the game with absolutely anyone else, but there’s also the minor issue of the game having TWO difficulty settings.
So if you want to try and play both normal and hard mode, then you’re either going to have delete your own main file (assuming you’re sharing the game with anyone)… or delete the other person’s file (which is going to down horribly in families with multiple kids and one 3DS). Would it really have killed them to add a single extra save file for this sort of thing? Or maybe four or so overall?
Still, it’s not as questionable a save choice as the save file number in the fantastic Wario Land 4 was. There, you had two possible save slots… and three difficulty levels. Better hope you don’t end up sharing that game with someone else (or just happen to grow fond of your Normal/Hard mode save data), because it has the duel issues of both really limited save slots and no possible (official) means of save data backup (the GBA had no digital copies of games).
Additionally, games should stick to a certain set of ‘expected’ functions when it comes to messing with save files. Namely copying them, deleting them and loading them (for obvious reasons). This helps players make backups of their save data in case the worst happens, something which the designers of Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon apparently forgot to incorporate in any way whatsoever (it somehow lacks a ‘copy file’ function):
All in all, games should provide enough save files for playthroughs on each difficulty level/new game plus mode, along with the basic tools required to copy or delete them. To not do this seems to me like plain poor game design.
4. Multiple/Remappable Control Schemes
Especially when the ‘primary’ control scheme is a gimmicky one based on the microphone, ‘waggle’ controls, gyroscope or touch screen. Or Kinect. Or heck, just about anything which has a tendency to fail at the worst possible time through no fault of the player.
So games really do need to have at the minimum a ‘standard controls only’ option and ideally some way of remapping them altogether. This way, if things go wrong (and a control scheme locks up or doesn’t properly), the player can use an alternative. Same if they just cannot get the hang of an awkward control choice like Mario Galaxy’s Manta Ray/Fluzzard/Sar Ball controls or Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon’s beam crossing.
Above: A fun battle… which would have been even more fun if gyro controls were optional
Oh, and Nintendo really needs to realise that games and hardware do not have to be tied together. You never had these issues with the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, Game Boy or Game Boy Advance, so why force people to use your gimmicky control schemes with the 3DS and Wii U?
5. No Demo/Disable Help Features Mode
Finally, there’s one last thing I feel pretty much all games ever made should have (that seemingly none actually do incorporat at the moment). And do you know what that is?
The nice option to completely switch off all forms of in game ‘help’ in any shape or form.
No AI exposition fairies commenting about a ‘99% chance that this is enemy is dangerous’, no ‘hey listen!’, no E Gadd calling you about every mansion’s latest traps and enemies… just an option to play the game without the annoying handholding in any form. All tutorials would then be removed (I was annoyed Dream Team’s hard mode didn’t just do this) and all Super Guide options would be permanently disabled on that save file (and so no annoying pig waving a white flag when you die five times on a level).
Is that too much to ask for? Are today’s game designers too obsessed with making games into movies to the point they can’t even consider a game playable without someone popping up every four steps with ‘how to play’ information? It’s not even like it’s just Nintendo that does this, pretty much every major game made in the last few years doesn’t shut up with the tutorials, exposition and unwanted ‘help’.
What these games need is simple; a nice option at the start which lets you say ‘I don’t want any tutorials, help or mercy for the next forty hours’. Maybe call it ‘second playthrough mode’ or something of the sort, since by the time someone’s playing a whole game again, they don’t really need all this assistance.
We need this feature. Desperately.
And that’s my thoughts on some features that all future games (Nintendo or otherwise) should have. There’s not really too much to disagree about here (unless you’re a hardcore game designer/student who thinks that asking for certain save features is somehow not letting the designer do what they want), but what does everyone else think? Do you all agree that most of these things would make Nintendo games (and those by other companies) much better? Would you play games more if they were implemented?