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Ten games every designer should play

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Partly because of some the comments on a thread about innovation in games, and partly because I think it would be helpful to people. I thought I would start this topic. What in your opinion are ten games every game designer should play? and why? Here's my list in no particular order: 1) Civilization 1 and 3 - PC - By far the best 4x earth based games ever made. Containing just the right amount of micromanagement to allow you develop in the manner you see best but not enough that you are bogged down in details. Well balanced play and a definite sense of progress allow you to easily measure your performance against your opponents. 2) Masters of Orion 2 – PC - The finest example of a 4x game ever released, while it has a different focus then civilization it is defiantly superior in many ways. A tech tree and the freedom to design ships as you see fit allows you to create numerous successful battle strategies. By further allowing the player to customize their race, and expand at their own pace and still achieve one of the various victory conditions make it must play by anyone’s standards. 3) Spellcross – PC- An excellent blend of tactical combat and strategy that falls into the strategy category somewhere between X-Com and Masters of Orion 2. What makes this game particularly interesting is the each game level or area is divided into different territories each representing a separate mission. Each territory once captured produces a set number of resources for a set number of turns, the player then controls how to divide the total resources they receive between cash and research points. Cash is used to by new units, equip units with improvements, and repairing damaged units. This strategy aspect makes from interesting play as it adds a logistical aspect which is lacking most strategy games. 4) Darklands – PC – A great game set in Europe. While it would technically be considered an RPG its nothing like your typical rpg. You create characters by choosing a family background and then deciding which occupation they will pursue over a 5 year interval which determines how many skill points you get, how many points you can place in each skill, and points to certain stats and skills. Certain occupations also provide other bonuses such alchemic formulas. You can have up to character in your party at a time and if one dies you can make another at any town. Equipment has a quality rating which determines how good it is and quality can be reduced when a character is inquired. Add to this complete freedom to explore the game world, random events that allow for different player responses based on what equipment and skills the characters, and no real objective then to gain us much fame as you can. Make it a truly enjoyable experience. 5) Persona 2 eternal punishment – PS1 – An excellent rpg that bares the unique status of one of the few rpgs set in the present day. One of truly interesting aspects of this game is the ability to converse with enemies and convince them to provide you with some kind of aid rather then just killing makes for an excellent change of pace. Has an interesting story as well surrounding rumors become true, which the player can use to create various in game changes. 6) Quest for glory 1-4 – PC - These enjoyable games are an excellent blend of adventure, rpg, and humor. With 3 different character types each possessing there own path through the game and methods for overcoming obstacles, make a lot more then you standard adventure game or rpg. Add to this the fact that you can bring your character along from one game into the next and you have one of the most enjoyable game series ever made. 7) Final Fantasy IX - PS1 – This particular installment of final fantasy franchise had a number of interesting and noteworthy features. First was the pure the nostalgia factor the moment you first see the cute little Black mage it brings you back to long past days you spent playing the original final fantasy game, with several other reference to the original game throughout it makes for a really nice touch for any long time fan. Numerous story related mini games it makes for good break for the normal repetition of things when the game enters one of the many little mini games, this was a nice feature that was sorely underused within the game, it could have benefited greatly from a larger number of these non repetitive mini games. Another feature that should be common place in rpgs was an attention bubble that appear over the characters head when they where near object they could interact with, whether it was a chest to open, a hidden switch, or secret item. That is defiantly one feature I would like to see used more often I don’t like the idea of missing things in a game because I didn’t spend the time pressing the interact button in front of everything. 8) Tekken 3, 4 and tag – PS1 and PS2 -The Tekken series is an excellent series of games that does it job very well. It has easy to use controls, intuitive moves, plus a larger variety of different characters, and moves to learn and use. All and all it is well balanced game, with no obvious flaws and is good place to look if you want to see what a well polished game should look like. 9) Counter strike – PC - What makes counter strike such a successful is fps even after all these years has to be it faced paced player vs player game play coupled with the frustration of waiting for the next round to start before you can start playing again. It keeps people playing again and again hour after hour, despite the various other similar games that technically superior people continue to play counter strike. 10) Fallout 2 – PC – An excellent rpg in every sense of term. That combines an interesting story and setting to explore, with an excellent set of game mechanics to explore it with. A character system that allows the player design a character to fit any role they choose and a game design that accommodates the place style of nearly any kind of character the player chooses to make, show just how you should go about designing a nonlinear rpg.

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Definately play some of the great SNES RPGs if you want to make an RPG. Crono Trigger, Final Fantasy III, Earthbound and Super Mario RPG would be my recommendations. These games all have an engrossing story, and are all very long (which is in my opinion a strength for an RPG.) Not only that, but they have tons of items, bosses, and things to do. Definately check them out.

I also agree with Fallout 2, which is one of my favorite RPGs. The original ain't bad either. In continuing with the RPG theme of this post, I'd say play Final Fantasy VII, which is one of my all time favorite games.

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Yes i agree chrono trigger and other SNE RPG's are what make the genre. Also I would suggest playing contra 3 and the castlevania series for mentions of side scrolling action games, and Doom and Wolfenstein 3D, as well as Duke Nukem 3D (which the source code for is readily available for online through current GPL licences "go figure").

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Aww man! You left out one of the most important games. StarCraft! I do not have 10, and you did ask for opinions, but one of the 10 I'd say is StarCraft. Why? They used the K.I.S.S. model flawlessly. That game is so simple that anyone can learn, but so complex that it still provides a great challenge to any vetern. I don't want to get into a long post to why I think SC is one of the best games there ever was, but it is one that I feel should be played for innovation. I think it is the 'ideal' RTS.

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Grand Theft Auto 3, Vice City - Why? Freedom and fun. I get lost in these games just fooling around and experimenting for hours, much like I did in Sim City back in the day. It's like a big urban sandbox. Also, I like the way that there are no breaks in the gameplay. If you die or get arrested, you just get dropped off at the police station or the hospital, and keep playing. If they had random missions generator to unlock after completion of the main game, they'd would be perfect. :) Also, they are packed with tons of other things to do to keep you busy. I wish more games allowed for free roaming and just playing around the way these games do.

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I would have to agree with Drew Benton - just about anything from Blizzard should be considered a case study. The fact that StarCraft initially looked like "purple orcs in space" but then was redesigned to what it became - and even the WarCraft Adventures to Warcraft III story - are compelling case studies.

I thought Project Eden, from a design and play stand point, is one of the coolest games I have seen in a long time. I really wish co-op multiplayer would start to embrace these types of concepts (even by yourself it was enjoyable).

Prince of Persia on SNES would get my vote for a console game.

Deus Ex (PC), the first one, I thought was incedible desgin wise. Very well thought out plot, interesting characters, good character and plot development, etc..

The Thief games are very interesting as well. I think there is still some headroom for the ideas that were in those games.

Just mt 10 cents...


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These are also in no particular order, and skipping any that have already been mentioned, such as the FF games.

1) Super Metroid
2) Vagrant Story
3) Yoshi's Island
4) EVO: The Search For Eden
5) Creatures 2 or 3
6) The Sims 1 or 2
7) Sanitarium
8) Warcraft II (Starcraft doesn't have trees, which I thought were a great strategic thing.)
9) Myst
10) Any Harvest Moon

Non-Computer games:
1) Fluxx (CG)
2) Once Upon A Time (CG)
3) Magic The Gathering (CG)
4) Fortunately-Unfortunately (storytelling game)

Does anybody have an opinion about whether or not Dungeon Keeper 1 or 2 should go on a list of this sort? I've never played it, but it was recommended to me, I'm trying to decide whether it's worth the effort of tracking a copy down.

[Edited by - sunandshadow on March 10, 2005 6:32:57 PM]

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Pac-Man: One of the few perfectly designed games ever.

Halo/Halo2: The gold standard in things like play-control, sound, weapons, health system, etc.

Knights of the Old Republic/KOTOR2: Light/Dark system. Fantastic dialogue system, very accessible cRPGs. 2 is also extremely noteworthy for having the absolute worst ending of all time.

Katamari Damacy: Simple game concept goes a long way.

Dance Dance Revolution: So simple. So fun. So many fatass gamer lives saved.

Metal Gear Solid: Um, duh.

Tetris: Right up there with Pac-Man in perfection land.

Zelda 3: Best top-down adventure

Super Metroid: Best side-scrolling adventure

Mario 64: Should be the starting point for any 3D game.

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1. StarCraft - as close as possible resembling "Perfect RTS"
2. C&C Series - see above
3. Dungeon Keeper 1 - Best one on the Dark Side of this world
4. Chrono Trigger - Great story and plot
5. MechCommander - Great narrative, good story, cool weapons
6. Eye of the Beholder series - Great RPG
7. Lands of Lore 1 - ...
8. Legends of Kyrandia - Nice graphics (even now), excellent story
9. Deus Ex - twisted storyplot, excellent gameplay
10. Heroes of Might and Magic 4 - ...

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Seeing as I have played perhaps 3 of all the above mentioned titles, I have some work to do.

But I must add a favorite of mine which I think has done a far better job of rewarding players and motivating them to explore than any game I have come across: Diablo 2.

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/Agree, Blizard makes very well designed games and are well known for their quality and standards.

1. The Elder Scrolls Series: total freedom and the ability to define your role in the world, i really liked owning houses and collecting rare artifacts. ;D

2. Star Control 2: Best adventure game i've ever played, exploration, resource collection, and arcade fun wraped into one.

3. Ultima Series: Some of the best games, they broke ground on alot of dungeon crawl concepts (also check out Arx Fatalis, the prodical child of Ultima Underworld).

4. UFO Enemy Unknown: Possibly one of the best isometric squad based strategy games ever made, I liked killing the snakemen the most. ;D

5. Out Of This World: Very unique style and simplistic gameplay, really fun.

6. Little Big Adventure 1&2: Another really great adventure game thats well worth the look.

7. Blackthorne: A solid side scroller that's alot of fun.

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I think the list of games should consists of different type of games, from RTS to ARPG to ....

here it's go

1) Starcraft - i think it's a must, for what it has acheive
2) Final Fantasy 6 - the reason it's obvious
3) Final Fantasy 7 - the first few 3D RPG games
4) Winning Eleven series - probably the most realistic sport game made(i feel as least)
5) Street Fighter - the first few arcade VS games that sold big time
6) Knight of valour(super heroes) - a chinese arcade action game
7) Rockman/Mega Man
8) Ragnarok
9) Dance Dance Revolution

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Ten might be a squeeze, and I haven't really planned this, but here goes.

1. Zelda: A Link To The Past - For an example of how to use keys and locks to empower the player by degrees, rather than restraining them. Also, for the implementation of a wonderful mechanic in the light/dark world which has never been bettered.

2. Super Mario 64 - For its perfect solution to navigating in 3D space.

3. Halo - Doubly important if you don't like it, don't "get" it, etc. A lot of folk swear by it, and there are good reasons why. Find them: the crosshair that subtly slows when covering a target is the best auto-aim device I've ever seen, for a starter.

4. Civilisation - for the reasons already stated above.

5. Starcraft - almost certainly the perfect RTS. Sunandshadow: does too have trees! Not very many, but there are trees and they give infantry cover.

6. Half-Life - I've not got around to 2 yet, but this is a good (in fact the best) example of how to tell a story without "story" as such.

7. Tetris - until you're blue in the face. Every variable in Tetris is subtly tuned, and changing them even slightly breaks the game. It's so compelling that I know of three people who were addicted to it, yet didn't realise the objective of making lines. They just built walls with holes.

8. GTA3 and its chums - well, it's wonderful, isn't it? Partly because certain parts of it are horrendous, but the whole is so good that poor out-of-car control and gun aiming are forgiven.

9. Katamari Damacy - because anything that gets you grinning from ear to ear from the moment you pick it up to the moment you put it down is special.

10. Rez - for its tight integration of music and gaming, which I reckon should be a much more explored area.

If there's one other non-computer game I think all designers should play, it's Diplomacy, and I don't trust anyone who disagrees.

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In no particular order...

DeusEx Innovation, design and ideas
Final Fantasy VIII (8) RPG elements, structured storyline, soundtrack
Tekken 3 Playability, Simulation of realistic movements
Dancing Stage (aka Dance dance revolution) User interactivity
Half-Life (and mods) Ability to mod
Warcraft III Strategic elements, A good internet game
Sonic 2 and/or 3 Playability, audience targetting and marketing
Little Big Adventure 1 and/or 2 First examples of 3D adventure games, puzzle solving
Black & White Open landscapes, population control
Lemmings The classic, remind me why it was so popular

EDIT: hmm it appears you cant use the <table> tag

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Another vote for StarCraft.
Two games not already mentioned that should be on the list:
Grim Fandango -- this is the best adventure game I ever played. Excellent story telling, and beautiful graphics in an artistic sense, rather than a technical one.
Unreal Tournament 2004 -- there may be a better example of this out there, but this game demonstrates the right way to integrate vehicles into a 3D game. The vehicles have convincing physics, are as easy to control as a character on foot, aren't laggy (as opposed to say, half-life one vehicles (shivers)), and are generally just a lot of fun. The mutator idea is also a really good one; it greatly extended the life of the game for me.

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My top ten concepts to watch for, as displayed in various games, no order

1.) The Metal Gear series. Specifically, evaluating the evolution of the series, from the original MG on MSX/NES, upto the current MGS3 on PS2. MG1 is distinctly unlike the rest of the series, and yet it is still quite similar in many regards. Once you play MG2, you will see that the series has not changed much at all, except in the overall emphasis of the series from stealth to story. MG1 and MG2 are essentially the only distinct games in the series. All the other games are better graphics slapped on top of the same play mechanics. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's very interesting to see how well the gameplay has stood up over time (MG2 was originally released in 1990, do the math). In fact, it has aged so well that MGS for the GameBoy Color (arguablly one of the best GBC games of all time, 10 years after the release of MG2) is almost an exact port of the MG2 game engine. The Metal Gear series show that gameplay truly is king.

2.) The Medal of Honor series, as a demonstration of the fusion of historical accuracy with fun gameplay. In fact, I wish more games took this approach. The games themselves don't portray actual events, but they stay consistent with the historical WWII framework. I often feel that overall impressions of historical eras is more important than memorizing dates and times. It's more important to know that the American Civil War was about State's rights than it is to know who was Pickett and when did he charge.

3.) The Super Mario Bros. series compared to the Megaman series. Quite possible the perfect platforming games, but with two fundamentally contrasting approaches. It's also interesting to note that the original versions of both series' are still quite brilliant, yet SMB grew as a series while Megaman has stagnated. Important lessons to learn about change and evolution.

4.) The original Asteroids, compared to Continuum. Another example of excellent gameplay mechanics evolving, yet staying the same. Continuum is a free, multiplayer space-combat game. The best way I can describe it is Asteroids on LSD. It's colorful, it's action packed, yet it's still all about turning, boosting, and firing.

5.) Age of Empires 2 and Command and Conquer: Red Alert. Two very different approaches to the RTS genre, and most every other RTS has copied their basic formulae in one way or another. Granted, these are the first or last games in their respectives series', but to me they represent the pinnacle of that particular series.

6.) Some of the original sports games on the NES were great. Today, our sports games are focused too much on simulation (though breaking from this mold will ruin your franchise). For a brief, shining moment, game designers could make *fun* sports games that were in no way reallistic because people did not EXPECT them to be realistic. I'm talking about Blades of Steel, Tecmo Bowl, and Bases Loaded.

7.) The Final Fantasy Series. An excercise in the perplexing nature of the market. The series has never been particular *good* and yet people still buy the games. It seems as if the interest of the market in the games is inversely proportional to the actual quality of the game. The most popular version of the series is number 7, a game riddled with bad translations, cheap gameplay mechanics, and cheap story telling mechanics on par with dime-a-dozen paperback novels.

8.) The Rainbow Series, the Gran Turismo series, and various flight simulators. Proof positive that pure simulation is fun.

9.) Ape Escape, as an example of unique approaches to user interface. Skip the sequels, they don't provide anything new in this regard. The game was one of the first to feature analog-only control. Off the top of my head it displayed atleast 12 different ways to use the analog controls in unique and novel ways.

10.) Duck Hunt and Tetris, for days on end, as a demonstration of how the user can become completely integrated into the gaming environment.

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My list would look something like this:

- Beyond Good & Evil or Little Big Adventure 1 or 2: Very cool, very stylish games with interesting settings, great stories and unusual gameplay
- Nights: Into Dreams: Well, just for being so damn unique, and one of the best games ever :D
- Any Grand Theft Auto game: For the freedom it offers players
- Half-Life: Obvious, isn't it? Unique way to tell a story, plus a very good example of what a FPS is supposed to be like. :)
- Sonic/Super Mario: Yep, need some good old 2d platformers on the list as well
- Lemmings: Yep, let's not forget various kinds of puzzle games.
- Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War: I know it's hardly old enough to be a classic, but it's one of the best examples of how to make a fun RTS without getting caught up in the usual resource management and copying Dune 2 or Warcraft.
- Deus Ex: Yep. Great FPS/RPG hybrid
- Fallout, Fallout 2: PC RPG's at their best. Very open, cool setting, lots of exploration and side quests to do
- Some kind of console-style RPG. Most people would probably say a Final Fantasy game. Personally I hated FF7, so not sure about that.

Other runners-up are Medieval: Total War, Pirates, Alpha Centauri, Diablo (or Diablo 2), Ufo: Enemy Unknown (Aka. X-Com: Ufo Defense), Doom (1 or 2), Monkey Island (one of them. Possibly another Lucasarts adventure game).

I'm probably missing a lot. A designer has hopefully played more thn 10 games. ;)
And there was no room on my list for Tetris, Pong, Pacman or any of the other *really* classic classics...

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Nice idea - I'm gonna take a shot at writing up mine, I don't know if I'll actually get to ten, but I'll try to be detailed, and give a little summary at the end of each.

1. Prince of Persia (the original), and to a lesser extent, PoP2. This was a very elegant game design, and was very well implemented. Although the graphics weren't that great (if you look at them, they're quite pixellated), and only use 16 colours, but they're still very good. If you look at the characters, you can always tell what they're doing (I believe mostly thanks to the rotoscoped animation). The game has very few controls, and yet covers all the required actions of the prince. Also, the fact that a single game only runs for 60 minutes at most, succesful or otherwise. The time limit is a bit longer than an average player needs to finish the game, but short enough to provide a good challenge if a few mistakes are made. Also, the story, although quite stereotypical (rescue the princess from the badguy), is very well told, and doesn't interrupt gameplay excessively at any point. If you die, you are almost instantly returned to the start of the current level/section, so it doesn't interrupt gameplay too much.

Play this one for: simple, elegant design; well presented non-intrusive storyline; excellent use of rather restricted graphics capabilities.

2. Tetris. This game is based on a very simple concept, and anyone can understand how to play after only a very brief explanation. It's even quite easy for someone who's never played or seen the game before to figure out the objective simply by trying. It can be run on just about any system, as the processing, graphics and memory requirements are very low (look at the version that shipped with the Gameboy for example). When you lose, it's incredibly easy and fast to get back into a new game, encouraging players to give it 'one more try' to beat thier previous/highest score.

Play this one for: extreme replay value; simple intuitive design.

3. Pacman. Again, this game is very simple to understand, and anyone can learn to play within moments. It's a very hard game to master though, as at the higher levels it gets very tricky. The ghosts almost seem to work together, in a reasonably intelligent fashion, in spite of the fact that they're actually only following a few very simple rules. Once again, it's very easy to get started again if you lose.

Play this one for: emergent behavior among ghost 'characters'.

4. Starcraft. In my opinion, one of the best RTS games out there. It doesn't drastically break away from whats done in other games within the genre, so for an RTS player, the learning curve is quite shallow. As RTS storylines go, the Starcraft one is quite well thought out and interesting, and is nicely presented. The cutscenes and mission briefings don't overly detract from gameplay. As for gameplay itself, the three teams seem quite well balanced, but actually seem to play differently, unlike the stat-cloned teams presented in many RTS games. Each side has something unique to consider while playing as/against them. The protoss carrier tends to unbalance the game somewhat, but I must admit is a pretty fun unit. Through battlenet, multiplay is easily accessible, and through the regular updates, the game is kept pretty fair.

Play this one for: balanced gameplay; truly different gameplay mechanics for each team; well presented storyline.

5. Baldur's Gate (and BGII). A very well made CRPG. The controlls are quite complex, but an in game mechanism for learning these is provided (the little 'quests' and training within Candlekeep), and players can become familiar with the the interface and controls fairly quickly. Quite a large storyline is presented, mostly during gameplay, with only a few 'cutscenes' interupting the player. A wide range of spells and abilities is provided, and there are plenty of varied enemies, sometimes requiring slightly different tactics from the player. A large world is provided for the player to explore, with numerous side quests. Although this game suffers from many (if not all) of the problems faced by other CRPGs, it is an excellent conversion to computer of the AD&D game.

Play this one for: in game player 'training'; well presented large scale storyline; fairly good character development.

6. Worms (any of the non-3d versions). These games, although violent, present it in a very comical manner which is generally acceptable to children. A wide range of different weapons are presented, and different maps with different settings may require players to adapt a slightly different style. Excellent for 'hotseat' style multiplay, playing from a single computer. Unlocking special features encourages players to play the missions. Many players will never realise it, but these games cover quite deep/dark themes in a very lighthearted way, using the cute animations/SFX and humour to effectively cover it up. Controls are fairly simple, but allow access to a range of different weapons. Mastering this game is a great challenge.

Play this one for: fun, family friendly presentation of violent gameplay; well presented and somewhat unusual graphical style.

Hrm, and it seems that's all the games I can think of to list for now, I'll definately come back if I think of more though. Oh, and could we see some more of the reasoning behind your selections from those of you who havn't presented it if you have time?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Only one vote for Ultima series? Ultima 4 and Ultima 7 are absolutely amazing RPGs, better gameplay then any I've seen.

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Original post by Anonymous Poster
Only one vote for Ultima series? Ultima 4 and Ultima 7 are absolutely amazing RPGs, better gameplay then any I've seen.

Do tell what exactly you thought made the gameplay so brilliant then, I'd be quite interested to read it. I unfortunately havn't played any of the series myself, excepting Ultima Online.

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