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The formula for a good game

Brandon Erickson's picture
Call of Duty 4

The great film director Howard Hawks once said that "A good movie has three great scenes and no bad ones." Lately, I've taken to pondering how this sentiment might apply to video games.

When I think about big cinematic games like God of War, Resident Evil 4, Call of Duty 4, and Metal Gear Solid 4 (damn, that's a lot of games with "4" in the title), I think the formula holds. These are all games that, for me anyway, never really had any bad parts, and had at least three great segments that really stand out in my memory. I can still vividly recall fighting the giant hydra, clashing knives with Krauser, getting hit by a nuclear blast wave, and riding a motorcycle through an eastern European city. I'm a sucker for games that give me only a few amazing moments, even if the rest of the game never rises above being merely not bad.

This probably explains why Call of Duty: World at War didn't do a whole lot for me. I only played through about half the game, but at no point did it ever seem to rise above or fall below the level of good. None of it seemed bad by any stretch, but none of it felt truly great either. Come to think of it, the same goes for Far Cry 2.

By now, I'm sure that most people reading this are starting to mentally poke holes in my argument, and that's fine. One might ask how this formula applies to something like Tetris or Burnout. Well, the answer is that it doesn't. In fact, the more we start branching into games without large narratives or big boss fights, the more the whole three great scenes and no bad ones standard starts to break down (or for games maybe it should be three great levels/boss fights/etc?). Games are too diverse, and they can't be painted with a single brush. But I think it makes a lot of sense when we're talking about those big cinematic games like the ones I mentioned above. I don't think those types of games are ever going away, and I really believe that great moments make great games.

So what are some of the greatest moments in games? And do any of them come from games that were otherwise just okay or perhaps even bad? Is it better to have a so-so game with a few outstanding parts? Or is it better to have a game that's consistently good, but never great?

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Platform(s): Xbox 360   Wii   PS3   PS2  

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Great games, Great Scenes

After recently playing through Twilight Princess and Metroid Prime 3, and currently working my way through Galaxy, I can't say I've been overly impressed by either game, perhaps because of the theory you quoted. There were not many events from TP that stuck out to me that made me feel like this game is the one, nor did that happen with the time-efficient Metroid Prime 3. (I wish Corruption was longer and more thorough.) Though both had nice cinematics, only the opening scenes of TP and MP3 stuck with me. What followed was good, but seldom were there great moments in either gameplay or cinematics, which is unfortunate. I suppose my level of expectation is too high, considering my own game industry ambitions, but I believe there may be some credence to that statement you made. This is part of what I'm hoping out of Galaxy: some memorable and reflect-worthy moments above the good gameplay. Give me the excellent gameplay and even just okay cinematics, and this will satisfy me.

For me

it's always about the good aspects vs. the bad, and whether or not the former can make up for the latter. A game might have a few stellar instances but then be garbage otherwise, thus bringing the good parts down with it. High points can certainly help overshadow flaws, but I wouldn't say they're necessary for a game to be considered great.

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