Feature: All The Small Things

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We like words here at The Irish Gamers, preferably organised into a nice feature article like this one courtesy of Cory “Lukasa” Benfield. Cory is a student physicist and avid player of games, most notably Team Fortress 2 and Sins of a Solar Empire, but he managed to drag himself away from both to pen a little piece talking about the huge importance of “the little things” in games. Take it away Cory.

The modern gaming world is a varied and wild one. In any month tens of new games are released, for all different sorts of platforms, and most gamer buys at least one new game a month. Somehow, in this veritable jungle of gaming variety, in these floods of new hours of gaming each month, people need to decide which games they love the most. Gamers, like any hobbyists, are incredibly dedicated to their chosen champions: you can find evidence of this by looking no further than the heated arguments about the quality of the Halo series of games. It is rare to find a gamer who has a neutral opinion on a game they’ve played; in general they either love it or they hate it. With all of this in mind, what is it about games that draw people to them? How do people decide which game they like the most of the games they own?

We can establish a general baseline: the game must be competent. By this I mean that it must do the basics correctly. Gamers rarely have the patience to work through a game that does not have an adequate control scheme, or, even worse, that does not allow the re-mapping of controls. It must have a certain graphical standard and a certain quality of gameplay that mean that your average gamer will put in at least some effort. Obviously, these standards change through time, which is why many games are remembered nostalgically; at the time, the graphical standards were lower, and so on.

With this out of the way, what makes a game that a gamer will remember? I feel as though I should say that the games which do things the best are the ones that gamers remember, but in reality, this is rarely the case. These games could be labelled ‘strongly competent’. The best example of this is the Civilisation series. In general, the Civ games do all the basics excellently well, and they have high production values and run well. However, very few gamers feel any major nostalgia for these games, and they rarely appear on lists of ‘favourite games of all time’.

My theory (and it is just that, a theory) is that what really makes a game memorable, what makes it a favourite, are the small things. Once the big things are done to at least a competent level, it no longer matters how well they are implemented. What the game needs is something to set it apart from the others; something that, when gamers talk about it, will cause them to go “Oh yeah, that bit! That was great!”. And when you think about it, this seems to be backed up. Consider Company of Heroes, as opposed to Command and Conquer 3. Both games have a solid grasp of the basics of RTS gameplay, and both are solid enough games. But people remember CoH, because they remember the first time they saw their soldiers take up covering positions of their own accord. This was the first time they’d ever seen that, and it sticks in their head. It certainly does in mine.

Similarly, Crysis made an impact because of its graphical prowess, Team Fortress 2 for its cartoon hilarity and World of Warcraft for its size and depth. And upcoming games gain attention based on the likelihood of that “Oh wow!” moment: Fallout 3 for its breadth, Empire: Total War for its ocean combat and Spore for its sheer uniqueness. The attention a game gathers is directly proportional to how unique it is likely to be, combined by how well it is publicised. Any time there is really big hype about a game, you can guarantee that people are expecting to see something they’ve never seen before.

So to all you big-time game developers out there: walk into that EA or Viacom boardroom and tell them that you want to do something that’s never been done before. And when they inevitably tell you that they don’t think it can make money, force them to look at The Sims. Force them to look at Alpha Centauri. Force them to look at the Total War series. Because what we gamers want isn’t safety, it isn’t security, and it isn’t predicibility. We want to be shocked. We want to be surprised. We want to be amazed. If you can do that, you’ll win our hearts, and where our hearts go our wallets shall surely follow.

Absolute rubbish? Powerful commentary? Dispense your opinion in the comments section below. If you think you might like to write something for The Irish Gamers, be it feature, rant or reasoned response, get in touch at theirishgamers{AT}gmail{DOT}com

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