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Shane C

Gameplay vs. programming abilities

19 posts in this topic

I once had a bit of a debate with someone I knew. They debated that having better programming skills would lead to making better games. I debated that having programming skills doesn't necessarily mean you can produce a game with good gameplay. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Really I don't think good programming skills do a whole lot for making games. Because there are some workarounds to not being a good programmer and that's all you have to do. You still need programming skills to make a game, but I'm talking novice vs. expert programming skills.

While we're at it, I have another question. In what order are aspects of a game important, in your opinion? Here is how I would list importance:

Good gameplay
Good art
Bug free
Good concept/storyline
Good music
Good sound effects

Sorry for such controversial, potentially subjective questions, but sometimes you can't ask questions beneficial to you without opening a can of worms.
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Each system complements the others. No one is really more important. And of course, an expert in any field (including programming) can certainly make things happen that a novice can not. This can certainly enhance the gameplay experience - sometimes by a very large factor depending on the situation.

 

Music

Story

Major-bug Free

Gameplay

SFX

Graphics

 

Just sayin'

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My opinion about that question is that with high programming skills you are not suddenly able to develop a game. because next the to the ability to code in generally you need more skills. It's not only important that you have good art/concepts/storyline/etc. ... You have to know how to present all that stuff in a combination the user like. And the ability to do that or better the experience how you do that are not connected with your programming skills in general.

 

I think for example who is used to programm database systems would not be able to create a very good game because of his leck of experience in the field of game programming. So it is not the question about how good your programming skills are it's more a question how much experience someone had in that field or how much passion he have for that field.

And also  you cannot be good in anything is a reason to why high skills are not  enough

Game development is similar to generic software development. All parts of the whole software must have decent quality to be good software. For example, very good software with terrible GUI will be always less used then good software with good GUI.

 

Apply this to games - you need good software, good art, good interface, good music, etc. - being terrible in one case means that game will be considered worse.

 

I can only agree him !!

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I once had a bit of a debate with someone I knew. They debated that having better programming skills would lead to making better games. I debated that having programming skills doesn't necessarily mean you can produce a game with good gameplay. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Really I don't think good programming skills do a whole lot for making games. Because there are some workarounds to not being a good programmer and that's all you have to do. You still need programming skills to make a game, but I'm talking novice vs. expert programming skills.

While we're at it, I have another question. In what order are aspects of a game important, in your opinion? Here is how I would list importance:

Good gameplay
Good art
Bug free
Good concept/storyline
Good music
Good sound effects

Sorry for such controversial, potentially subjective questions, but sometimes you can't ask questions beneficial to you without opening a can of worms.

 

I'd say good programming/math/problemsolving skills are essential for some games but not all, it depends quite a bit on the mechanics you need, how important and complex the AI is, if you need to make a custom engine, etc.

 

Games that are content/design/story/enviroment heavy (RPGs, Puzzles, Adventure for example) tend to put a lot less pressure on the non-engine programmers than games that are AI or mechanic heavy (management, simulation, strategy, etc).

Edited by SimonForsman
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A lot of the work in a game only requires programming skill. But IMO, anything involving player control, timing, AI, etc. should be done by a programmer-designer. Most people who go into the game industry do so because they love playing games, and thus usually have a little design sense. But at least from my own observation, really good gameplay programmers are fairly rare. Not as rare as programmer-artists, though. But those aren't needed very often.

 

Programmer-musicians are nice to have sometimes too.

 

And then there are the crazies like myself who attempt to develop all of the necessary skills to a high level.

 

As for order of importance, in general I'd say gameplay design is most important. But most games are just knockoffs of a few different basic designs, and since they've all been done very well several times already, nowadays it's highly unlikely you can get by on gameplay alone. The order of the other elements depends on which base design you're starting from. e.g. story is much more important to an RPG than it is to a racing game.

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I think a lot of the skills that allow someone to be a good programmer are the same ones used to create a good game.  To me, most programming tasks are like puzzles.  I feel like there is this idea of programmers needing to be borderline autistic, socially awkward to be "good."  I think programmers are actually MORE creative than so called "creative" people.  Just think about some of the insane hacks required to get stuff to work.  Some great gameplay ideas that I have had have resulted from coming up with programming solutions to problems.

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I would say having better programming skills raises the complexity of the game you're able to potentially create. And it might also help the game, by the virtue of a better programmer generally having fewer bugs than a worse programmer. I would at least assume this is statistically true.

A programmer skilled in gameplay, or in design in general, might have a better understanding of what would make the game better or more fun to play, but a more "general" programmer might be better suited to implement it in a robust and efficient manner.

 

In terms of rating various aspects in order of importance, I think that's mostly an exercise in futility, especially given how many of the things listed are extremely subjective -- what constitutes good music, for example. Reading reviews will often leave you with "person x really thought the music added a whole lot to the experience, while person y didn't care about it at all", which can be extended for most other aspects as well.

 

I don't think there is/will ever be a definite list to rule them all, both for the above reason, as well as games are fundamentally different from each other, as well as "gameplay" actually being influenced (more or less) by the other factors.

A story heavy game (e.g. The Walking Dead) has a lot more to gain from a good story and concept than e.g. a twitch competitive multiplayer shooter.

Music might be a lot more important in a music game like Guitar Hero than something else.

 

Even within a specific (sub)-genre, you can have the game's focus being on something different than the norm, shifting the priorities.

 

I would think the most general thing to have as a high priority would be a low bug countseverity. Mainly because this can limit the players from experiencing any of the other stuff. Who cares if you've got the best gameplay in the world, if the game crashes on startup.

But even in this case, there are clearly cases where fairly buggy games can achieve a high status, due to its other merits.

 

To me, it all boils down to being able to recognize what is best suited for the game in question. Although perfect marks in all categories is a noble goal, resources being limited will force the developers to have to prioritize. Given two games, their (correct) choices can be wildly different.

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If the game is buggy and assets won't load/crash/is not supported by the code, then the efforts made by the asset experts are in vain. This means that the game can only be as "good" as the programmer is. Also, a game can not exist without at least some code. A game with no assets (text-based) is still a computer game. 

 

As a result I think the programmers set the bounds in which the assets experts can operate. 

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Lack of programming skills can certainly have a negative impact on gameplay, but I don't believe that the converse is true.  Where good programming skills will help is in translating gameplay ideas to code, but being a good programmer doesn't necessarily make you good at coming up with gameplay ideas.

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There are many factors involved in what makes a fun game. The factors all multiply together, they don't add.

 

Also, they are subjective.

 

A so-so design would have a subjective quality factor of 1. It doesn't help the game, but it also doesn't hinder. If a design is great you might think of it as a very high factor, perhaps 5, or 10, or even 500 for an extremely compelling design. If the design is horrible that factor gets a very small value, perhaps 0.1 or even 0.00001. When that multiplies through it will hardly matter how good the other components were.

 

Mediocre game art may also have a factor of 1. Visually compelling, beautiful art can give a much higher factor, and ugly art can be a low factor. Again, this multiplies against all the other terms.

 

So a game may have a fun design (5.0) and reasonable graphics (1.5), but the audio may be a bad fit (0.5) and there may be horrible bugs (0.01). So on that subjective score the game may have been a fun game is ruined by bugs. Another game may have great graphics (8) and beautiful sound (5) and no bugs (0.99) but have such a horrible design concept (0.00001) that nobody is interested in playing it.

 

 

 

For the second half of the question, about the importance of each feature, it also varies based on the game and is subjective.

 

For an artistically-themed game the choice of art has its own additional multiplier for importance. In an audio game having a consistent selection of high-quality sound is vital. 

 

In spite of each element getting their own factor, I strongly believe that a solid gameplay mechanic is the most important feature. 

 

Games have been around for thousands of years. Symbolic games like Go, Mancala, Mah Jongg, Checkers and Chess all have solid gameplay mechanics that can be enjoyed even without music, art, or effects. People spend fortunes on beautiful game boards and pieces, but the gameplay is so solid that you can use bits of stone or cloth or paper or bone or buttons or any other symbolic marker and still have a great game experience.

 

Even in computer games, classics like Pong, Tetris, and Breakout are all very symbolic and are carried by gameplay alone. Other components improve the games of course, but the mechanics behind them are able to stand alone.

 

These days there is certainly a component for art and music and eye candy. They are also multipliers. Do them well and they will multiply the quality of your game by a factor greater than 1.0, drawing more players to you. Do them badly and they become smaller or much smaller than one, keeping players away.  But if you leave them out entirely, often they are not missed too greatly and the game does not particularly suffer, nor does it benefit. Leave them all out and the game stands on the mechanics alone.

 

So that would be my ranking.  Mechanics must be able to stand by themselves, and by itself is the base rating of the quality of the game. Everything else is just a multiplier.

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L. Spiro - I agree that I ask some poor questions. I've seen worse, but that's besides the point.

I think frob provided me the kind of answer I was exactly looking for, though. He took a mediocre question like my own, and provided a thoughtful answer which either taught me something or made me think in a way I hadn't before.

I appreciate your post though, and am familiar with some of the concepts you've discussed.
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Although I tend to speak directly, you needn’t take it as an attack on your ability to ask questions.

Many have pondered it before, and my goal was to make you and anyone else wondering about it to look at it differently.

 

 

L. Spiro

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Hi, I've thought about this a lot, and got to a conclusion that I think lots here will agree. It is pretty simple, it depends on the game.

 

For an example, I surely remember Fallout 2 for its storyline and hilarious dialogues, awesome gameplay design, fantastic game intro... but certainly not for the dozens of bugs, unfinished quests spread all over it, or its musics or even its not-that-awesome graphics...

 

Also, I really loved Castlevania Symphony of the Night. Specially for its music, graphics, fast gameplay; even considering its story, that isn't that great, its bug list or its shortness.

 

On the other hand, I have played Counter Strike GO, and never got to see a single bug. Its engine is really well built and the gameplay is action-packed enough for me to get tired fast after 1h of intense playing. Its graphics are not nearly as good as the games coming out on the same period.

 

 

So, yeah, If I want to make a game, I think of what's more important on a per-case basis. If I'm going to make a 2D shoot-em-up:

It will need awesome graphical effects and music, fast paced gameplay (even if somewhat repetitive) and guarantee there are no bugs on the controls or collision systems.

But, its fast-paced nature allows me a weaker (simplistic even) AI and the genre for a not-that-great story.

 

That doesn't mean I should actually neglect these on purpose, if the game is good on every aspect, its good.

And on top of that, even for great graphics, it is necessary to have good programming. Or else, great sprites would be wasted on bad rendering/animation. I just would not say programming is the most important part of a video game, which, I think, is the gameplay concept itself.

Edited by dejaime
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I dunno, in my experience the programmer sets out to simply make something, in most cases the programmer doesn't directly affect the "fun" of the game unless they mess something up. For instance if your job is to create a side scrolling platformer and you follow the design and make everything operate smoothly and relatively bug free, and perhaps even well performing, what does that do to the gameplay?

Well, logically it doesn't do much, it makes the gameplay exist, the programming isn't really an option it's like building a house based off a rough blueprint. If the architect messed up, then the game is already on track for issues, but if the builder wrecks the house they can certainly detract from the fun.

I would say the design and overall meshing of game assets and elements are what make things fun, for indie developers in particular the programmer may be the designer or may at least contribute to the design, so in that way they may be affecting the "fun level" directly, but from a pure code standpoint you can't really make things more fun by just making what was planned to be made.

In that way, being a good programmer means you want to do the best job possible, you want to push the code to go above and beyond the call of duty, and in that regard you probably avoid a lot of frustration from users and make a lot of people happy, but in big teams in particular the fun factor of the game may not be much in your hands to control.
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That's like asking "Will a Mechanic will be able to think of a better car, the better his skills as a Mechanic are?".

 

The mechanic may never have to deal with cars in his lifetime. Much like programmers don't necessarily develop games.

The mechanic may be a mechanic due to a natural interest in building cars, but this is not a given.

The mechanic may spend some time fixing sewage control plants before getting interested in cars. Does his skills carry over, and how much?

 

I'd say that the part of developing games that exist within GAMES && PROGRAMMING will improve as long as one works on GAMES while working on PROGRAMMING.

Also, I think that if you get an interest for games out of the blue, after several years of programming other things, there may still be some rare topics existing within both sets
that will take some learning. But obviously, if the programmer did audio synthesis for hearing aids, 3d rendering for ct scans and graphs for whatever solution,
he may be well on his way.

 

But it is a very vague question, and I think it depends a lot on many different things.

Edited by SuperVGA
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I like all the answers given here but in my opinion: If you don't have a good Story/Concept where do you come up with your gameplay, or your art design or the music that you'll use, etc...; once you package all that then programming skill makes it all come together.
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 When you think about what makes a game a game, you actually don't need any programming skills at all to make a good game.

 
I am speaking of Card games and board games. So the order of what is important to a good game starts on this level.
 
1) Good concept/storyline (Speifically the CONCEPT/IDEA)
2) Good gameplay (Mechanics)
 
 
All below apply to computer games:
3) Bug free()
 
These can be interchanged as they all fall under ART:
4)Good art
5)Good music
6)Good sound effects
 
Note: 4-6 and 3 can be interchanged. 
Edited by Tutorial Doctor
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