Issue #4
Saturday, October 6th, 2001

Necessity or Accessory?

In the commercial world of gaming, much emphasis has been placed on the accessorial parts of the game so that the game can appeal and sell to the mass public. However, in the QB world of gaming, things are rather different. We have a limited number of programmers working on projects, and since most of us (if not all) take up programming QB as a hobby, we don't have much time to write a program at all. Thus, it is necessary that when we write a program, we place the emphasis on the necessities of the programs itself, and not on the accessorial portions of the program, so that the game itself is substantial and not like candy floss just before it becomes wet. Of course, there would different necessities in different gaming genres, so let's begin the analysis now.

1) Ease of play (whether you can play the game or not) This is an absolute necessity across all genres of game play, more so in the QB scene. If you do not know how to play the game, you are not going to play the game. Simple as that.If your QB game is a very simple one, a simple help file that tells you the controls and some miscellaneous things should be enough. However, if your
game is difficult to understand, or there are multiple things you can do in the game, you may need some helpful tutorial levels, or at least some in game help things. If it is an RPG, you can have some characters explaining the more difficult concepts in the game. If it is a First Person Shooter, you might want to throw in a tutorial level or two to let the user be used to how you play the game. If it is something like SimCity, you can allow the user to set the difficulty (or speed) of the game so that the user does not become overly frustrated when he starts playing the game.If all these things still result in people complaining that the game is unplayable, maybe you should change the program. Do you micromanage everything? Let's say you have a Warcraft-like strategy game. If every unit and building has its' own maintenance system and its' own skills, the game would be too tedious to play. Another factor that can result in the "unplayability" of a game is the programmer himself. If the programmer is anexpert in platform games, and he gives fiendish obstacle courses, no one but himself is ever going to cross the game. Therefore, no one but himself is going to play the game.

2) Graphics (resolution + quality of graphics) This one is a very subjective topic. If you asked me this question five years ago, I would have said that graphics leans towards the accessorial portion of game play. Now however, with faster computers and graphics cards and whatnot, people are demanding more pleasing graphical effects for themselves in commercial games. Although QB games are generally not commercial games, we can see more QB programmers putting in more effort in graphics in their games (or even having external graphic designers as part of their programming team) as the years past. Right now in the QB community, my opinion is that graphics are a necessity in most genres, and more of an accessory in a few other genres. What are these genres where graphics are a necessity? In FPS, you cannot deny the importance of graphics as well as the graphical effects. High resolution and fluid movements are the top priorities in any FPS you see. Graphics are a necessity in other kinds of Arcade games also. In space shooters, games such as Dynamic: The Colonization of Jupiter use the Future Library for the SVGA resolution as well as the graphical functions available. Also, Sasha has taken the graphics as one of the priorities as well, so we can see that graphics are more of a necessity. You would not want to play a shooter that has jerky movements together with jarring graphics because it is, to say the truth, unplayable. However, in RPGs and platform games, graphics are not that important. I don't deny that they are needed, by fewer people would mind if you decreased the quality of graphics in RPGs and platform games than if you decreased the quality of graphics in, say, arcade games. That is the reason why I chose to program The Heart Machine and Crystal, both platform games that only uses ASCII characters as graphics. This places the emphasis on other more important factors such as the fun factor and the strategy factor. If you positively think that you need better graphics in your program, you can post a message in any busy QB discussion board, requesting for graphic designers. Someone would volunteer. Trust me.

3) Sound / Music (the thing that comes out from your speakers) Compared to the other four considerations I listed here, sound effects and music is more accessorial in nature. In almost every genre of gaming, you can live without sound effects or music. Think about it this way: if you screw up the sound or music, more people are going to avoid your game than if you don't have sound, or have a mute feature. But not many people are going to play your game just because they heard that your game has great music and/or sound effects. So, if you are not sure whether your music or sound effects are good, chances are that they are not, and therefore be sure to include a feature that will allow the people to mute the sound. Worse, if the sound that needs to be produced is incompatible with the person's hardware or software, you may lose out on a significant portion of the market. (Think about Master Creating's Shadow of Power and the problem it had with onboard sound cards. Even with the new patch there are multiple problems with bosses and with talking to people) The only few occasions when sound is truly essential are in FPSs or in those "educational games" where someone says a word and you are required to type the spelling of the word down =).

4) Storyline (Once upon a time...) The value of storyline varies widely from different genres. This is the reason that explains why there was so much controversy over VPlanet's 35 point rating system, particularly with the part about the 5 points in "Story". For RPGs, the storyline is the lifeline of the game, as the game requires you to play a role in a story. Without the story, you don't even have a game to play with. The storyline is an absolute necessity in an RPG. However, you don't really need a storyline in arcade games or platform games, other than the silly addition of "you have to do so and so to save the world". Having a storyline in these two genres of games is acceptable, but not many people will notice it, as it is more of an accessory. The silliest genre to have a storyline in is the puzzle game. Imagine playing Connect 4 with the computer, and when you lose, you lose a portion of the amount of money you own. Adding a storyline to a puzzle is tantamount to adding a comedy in a World War 2 horror movie; it spoils the whole effect of the game. It is worse than an accessory; it is more like a curse. So, whatever you do, try not to add too vivid storylines to puzzle games. You'll be laughed at. If you cannot think of storylines, ask people for storylines. More often than enough, people are willing to come up with reasonable storylines just for your game. Maybe you can just put those "continue the story" posts in a discussion forum, and watch how the story grows after a day.

5) Fun + Replayability (Why would I want to play the game?) Finally, we come to the fun and replayability factor of a game. I lumped these two factors together because they are related: both contributes to the ultimate satisfaction of playing a game. Needless to say, both of these factors are necessities for successful games, regardless of genres. The definition of fun may be different with different genres though. As an illustration, compare the cutesy fun of Puzzle Bubble with the macabre fun of some violent bloody FPS. The reason of replayability, meanwhile, is the same: to attain perfection. Whether is it to obtain a high score, or to discover the secret formula of opening a secret level, we replay a game because we want really complete the game for what it is worth. And what makes us willing to complete a game is the fun it brings every time we play the game. Sadly, fun is a very subjective thing. What can be fun to someone is totally dead to someone else. There's no real way to determine "funness", except maybe to post demo and ask people for their opinions. This is about the same with replayability. It's just like the ease of play, where some of you find something easy,. but some of you find something impossible.

In conclusion, in the QB community, if you want to make a game that people play, you must make sure you hit the necessities. The accessories are a bonus, but only include them if you have the necessities.

This article was written by: Singsong - http://qbtalk.zext.net

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