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Shane C

Gameplay vs. programming abilities

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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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Ironically last night while walking outside an ex-coworker told me he had just read a book written by the last God of business in Japan, the owner of KDDI who single-handedly bailed out bankrupt Japan Airlines and has been an International Advisor of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.

My coworker said Inamori used to be technical so his writing is very logical to programmers, and he stated the formula to success as a function of 3 variables: Enthusiasm, Skill, and Philosophy, and the result is all 3 multiplied together.

Which means if any of them are 0, there is no success at all, no matter what the scores of the other 2 are.  A programmer with 0 enthusiasm has the same value as one with 0 skill.



Enthusiasm and Skill range from 0 to 100.  Here is the catch: Philosophy ranges from -100 to 100.  Terrorists have high skill and enthusiasm, but a negative philosophy.


So where am I going with this?


This question is far too simplistic as stated and has absolutely no value in even being answered in its current form.

As the question is stated, it deserves nothing more than, “I like programming so I think programming is more important,” and vice-versa for the design side.

It’s not even a subjective question, it is simply a false dichotomy. A trick question.




Looking first at the most common situation, in which a programmer and a designer are working together, it is intuitive that either one of them, with the wrong philosophy, will drag their combined scores (which are added) down.  And a designer with 0 Skill is by himself more valuable than a programmer with 10 Enthusiasm, 10 Skill, and -30 Philosophy.


Moving on to the situation appropriate for this topic, in which it is just a single person making a whole game, which will be better?

Easily answered, because no person is the sum of only 1 part.

Instead of summing the abilities of 2 people the same 2 abilities are summed within a single person.  The person with the higher overall score wins.

A good programmer (for instance [60, 84, 70] programming scores) may drag his or her own self down with a design score of [60, 64, -1].

A designer without good design Skill may end up being a better package than a programmer with a good design Skill but a negative programming Philosophy, even if that designer has literally 0 programming skill (in other words, some things are better off not being made).



If this question is meant to make one ponder whether a programmer alone or a designer alone will make a better game, it is nothing but a false dichotomy to assume that one manifests as only a programming ability and one only as a designing ability.  With only one ability or the other, and no mixing between them, they are equally useless.

Each of the people in this thought experiment will use the sums of their skills, which may also include something in music and art.



The answer is: There is no answer; it is up to each person…as a person.  Not as a programmer or designer.



L. Spiro

Edited by L. Spiro

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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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