I Like Games

I Like Games

“Two hours in,” I tweeted, absently, “and Bastion isn’t quite clicking with me. I think I’m dead inside.”

A wide spectrum of responses followed – some agreeing with me, others claiming I was an idiot for not succumbing to the game’s various charms.

“Enjoy it for the art,” tweeted regular Kotaku contributor Adam Ruch.

“And the amazing voice over,” continued my buddy Klutar.

“Maybe you need a break from gaming,” claimed another tweet.

I thought about that one for a couple of seconds.

No, that can’t be it – I love video games. In fact, that might just be the problem…

I like games.

Instantly I was reminded of an interview I did a couple of years back, for the release of Skate 2. In that interview the producer regaled the way in which the concept for Skate and its ‘flick-it’ controls came into being.

It began as a rapid prototype. The stripped back foundation that became Skate was initially nothing more than a bleak visual representation of analogue stick movement – at this stage character models, animations, and environments were months from fruition. Within this framework the team began inventing the analogue movements that would make up the various tricks in the game – a down-up flick for a simple Ollie, movements to represent shove-its, kick flips. Everything that was to be added to Skate was brainstormed and built via this simple, stripped down system.

And when the team realised how much fun they were having – simply flicking the right analogue stick in this featureless, barren environment with no reward or feedback – that was when they realised they were on to something.

Ultimately Skate was not a Skateboarding sim. It was a game. It was an awesome game. It had a strict set of rules, it had mechanics that were fun from the very second you picked up the controller. Mechanics that had depth; that rewarded practice. Skate had one of the most successful demos in the history of Xbox LIVE for this precise reason – Skate was instantly fun and remained fun for as long as it sat snugly in your disc tray.

Skate had great visuals, but I didn’t have to enjoy the game for its art. Skate had some of the best audio design I’ve ever seen in a game, I could feel the squeak of the wheels, the clank of the trucks when they hit the rails – but this only served to enhance the experience I was having with the game’s solid core mechanics. Art is not a game. Sound is not a game.

A game is a game.

It’s an age old argument, but too often whilst playing ‘AAA’ titles I get the distinct impression that the game mechanics are some sort of unwieldy burden that I, as the gamer, have to bear. Something I’m supposed to endure whilst waiting for the narrative to kick in, a diversion designed to kill time. Eventually I’ll care about this character but, for now, here are some buttons I should be pressing.

L.A. Noire was like that, for me at least. I feel bad for picking on that game – and Bastion for that matter, since it really is such a beautiful game – but creating a flimsy foundation and expecting it hold the overbearing weight that surrounds it is fundamentally unfair. Your core must be solid. Your core must be unassailable. Only then can the features you build upon that foundation – narrative, art, sound – enhance that core in a beautiful and meaningful way.

Halo had its 30 seconds of fun. That’s the hook. That’s the game. Braid, for all its pretence and bluster, is a remarkable puzzle game. Metal Gear Solid, minus its self-indulgent cut-scenes, is Pac-man – a game in which the hunter becomes the hunted and vice versa. That’s the core reward. That’s what makes it fun. Everything else is icing on the cake – literally.

Sometimes games, in the absence of that core, feel hollow. I like stories. I like cool voiceovers and I like gorgeous art. I even like 20 minute cut-scenes now and again.

But more than anything I love games, and I want to enjoy playing them.


  • Well said, there is a lot to be said as to why “apps” are succeeding. Simple games, with simple stories and simple game play, but with a core structure that speaks to the lowest common denominator makes them the annoyingly enjoyable thing that they are. This works all the way from Flash games right up to AAA titles. but you know what they say, You cant polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter.

  • Quite true, Mark. MGS is a great example of a “game” game, as you’ve said/tweeted before. Everything has a rule and a purpose, and you have the tools to exploit them. Not all video-games have to be “games”, I guess, but I think enjoyment should derive from the act of playing them first before anything else – ie art/sound design etc. Guitar Hero style games nail this on the head by integrating the gameplay and sound side of things – even though you’re not really creating anything, just hitting the right triggers to make something happen.

    • You know, it’s quite funny. Dance Dance Revolution back in it’s hay day was meant to be played with the dance mat controller. After mine had worn out from all the stomping though, i still got just as much enjoyment out of playing it with my ps2 controller.

      Simple game mechanic: trigger a button in time with music. Regardless of how that button was triggered it was still a lot of fun to play.

  • Agreed. That distillation down to the simplest level – rules, objectives, obstacles – is what really grabs me. Funny, that I don’t play skating games, but I did get the demo of Skate, and really enjoyed it, for those reasons.

    Trackmania and Xmoto have the same appeal for me. Fun interaction, tight rules, clear objectives.

    I like these opinion pieces!


  • When I read a book, I hope for it to provide extra insight and narration that would be cumbersome in another medium.

    When I watch a movie, I hope for the visual and audio feast that I am denied in other mediums.

    When I play a game, I want it to provide what the other mediums lack, which is exactly what you’ve just described.

    That’s the thing I think can be missing from a lot of AAA titles, they’re trying too much to be another medium instead of embracing the awesomeness that the medium they’re using has available to it. It also allows me to justify my typical reaction to long cutscenes of “meh plot!”

  • An interesting point of view and one I certainly agree with at times. I loved Bastion but I totally agree that the core of it isn’t spectacular, lots of combat rolls and numbers flying around, solid beyond a doubt but not spectacular or mind blowing. But I’ve played a lot of games (as I’m sure you have) and I really don’t expect every game to blow my mind. If a game can offer me something unique and interesting, in any regard be it graphics, sounds or gameplay then that’s often more than enough to keep me playing.

  • There were a few games for me that I didn’t play for the game. The World Ends With You and Disaster: Day of Crisis both had gameplay that didn’t really appeal to me (the latter is more guilty of this), but I kept playing because I was honestly hooked into the story. I just kept playing to see what would happen next. With a slightly less interesting storyline, I would’ve tossed those two games aside within the first 30 minutes. (DDoC in 10 maybe)

  • I agree, but it also depends on what you find fun.
    While LA Noire wore on me a bit, I enjoyed chasing the criminals and pitting my wits against the system’s facial expressions and exploring the story, especially as the threads started to come together.
    In Deus Ex it was the predator, augmenting my sniper rifle, rationing inventory space, trying to be prepared to take down big stuff and small and stealth my way in without anyone realising they were working in an empty facility and no-one would come even if they reached the alarm.
    In Portal it was stringing a series of portals without touching the ground ot finding a new way to use the basic mechanic.
    In Portal 2 it was fun exploring the world behind the white walls and seeing the face of GlaDOS.
    Fun, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Though I haven’t played Bastion yet, I completely agree with you on idea. It’s one of the reasons why games like Minecraft/Dwarf Fortress have so many fans, and why people still enjoy Tetris.

    If the underlying game is that good, it can stand the test of time.

  • A game is a game, yes.
    But sometimes I just like to sit back with a controller in my hand, not think too much and just enjoy the sensory effects that some games provide.
    I think for it to be truly memorable, yes it has to have some form of underlying simplicity to the core mechanics that are enjoyable.
    But sometimes, I just like to treat my hedonistic side to some simple pleasures.

  • I agree with you 100%, but Bastion had that. Power shots, the perfect blocking, sending out an arrow at exaclty the right moment…

  • There’s something which really irks me about using the word “mechanics” to describe gameplay styles/techniques. I can understand the use of it, and I can’t suggest an alternative, but I’m left feeling cold when I see it used that way.

    Sorry, this post is a little off-topic. Just had to get it out of my system.

    • I agree. To me, looking at the mechanics of a game is like stripping away the magic and reducing it to a set of action/response systems. The term “mechanic” only serves to reinforce that. The best games are more than just the sum of their parts – graphics, sound and game play.

  • …you can keep Bonestorm, I’m more into this cup and ball now.

    But seriously, you’re totally right. This is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to Gears 3 and Arkham City so much. They tell interesting stories with pretty visuals sure, but the core mechanics are solid as a rock, and as a result, very fun.

  • I had the same experience with Bastion early on: at first I thought it offered some pretty standard hack-and-slash gameplay with a narrator being its sole point of difference. As I got further in and unlocked more of the weapons and became attached to all the characters and pets, I was hooked.

    Bastion has a lot of hype behind it. So it’s understandable that if you’re not clicking with it straight away, that you feel as though the product was oversold. Give it a bit more time and it should sink its hooks in.

  • Good article. Get the GAME right first, then you can spend as much time as you want wanking around with all the other stuff. My two easily most played games are Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends. Both games invest heavily in the actual gameplay – everything else is secondary.

  • it’s a shame you couldn’t get into it. I love Bastion. Granted it doesn’t have a core gameplay diferentiator like Braid or Skate……but I should stress that it’s not that type of game. There are games out there for all kinds of people – Bastion is one for me. I personally thought Skate was infuriating and it’s core ‘flick-it’ mechanic being too finicky and hence being the reason why it failed for me as an enjoyable game.

    Different strokes for different folks.

  • Remember the role expectations play in all this. If you’re playing a AAA title and it doesn’t meet you’re own predetermined standards there’s bound to be disappointment.

    Frankly, Mark, maybe you should stop reading and writing about games so often and just… Play them? I know, I know… Games journalist, but maybe that’s the problem…

    • “Frankly, Mark, maybe you should stop reading and writing about games so often and just… Play them?”

      I could not disagree with you more. I’m not a games journalist and I can’t play a game anymore without thinking about it’s mechanics. Even without knowing it, I find myself thinking ‘why did they do it this way?’ or ‘I love the way they handled this aspect’.

      I don’t think anyone can really ‘just play’ a game. The interactive nature of the media requires you to assess whether the juice is worth the squeeze.

  • I hope you do the Objection article you were tweeting about earlier, Mark 😀 Getting a large range of opinions from a bunch of people would make for an amazing article/discussion.

    Like Trjn said above, I think a game’s novelty and strength come from tying traditional narrative/video effects/music with an interactive experience that is often fun and essentially characterises the medium.

    I’m conflicted: I hugely enjoy Halo’s 30 seconds of fun, and I can lose hours in addictive, simple gameplay – but at the same time I find myself enjoying it more if there’s a narrative behind it.

    There’s definitely a place for more ‘fun’ games, as well as games that aspire to be more artistic (is this a false dichotomy?) – I’m glad both varieties exist, in varying degrees, and they’re both entertaining and enriching in their own way.

  • Mark this is one of the best articles you’ve written. The concept or art of Bastion didn’t grab me at all – but my son saw it on Good Game and really wanted to try it so I got the demo – no less than 25 minutes later he’d turned it off out of boredom and put back on Plants vs Zombies!

  • nice one , mark. i’m not 100 percent agreeing, but it’s a solid arguement. sometimes i come for the cutscenes and stay for the challenge.

  • Oops. In my hurry to post my above reply I completely forgot to put on my fanboy suit and say this is easily the best article I’ve read on Kotaku.

  • Amazingly, I presented this very very during that article about how “singleplayer gamers are better than multiplayer”, and got admonished for it.

    However, it is the truth of the industry.
    In the software engineering industry, there’s a mantra of “Make it work, make it right, make it fast”, which is to say, first just make sure our concept works. Then make sure it works right (ie, follows industry standards for code quality and maintainability). Then, finally, optimise and make it fast.

    The game industry needs a similar mantra: Have a mechanic, give it context, make it pretty.

  • ” everything else is icing on the cake – literally”

    I dont know what games you are playing but I have never brought a game that literally had cake icing poured on top of it.
    unless you meant metaphorically but that cant be right because you literally wrote literally.

  • See, I disagree with this.
    I play games because they are, in my opinion, the greatest medium at doing what all mediums of ‘entertainment’ attempt to do, which isn’t only to entertain, but to captivate and conjure certain emotions. They can simply do things no other mediums can.
    The problem is, everyone’s realized that games are good at being fun/entertaining, but very few seem to realize that games are also brilliant at summoning feelings other than amusement, and as a result, people only seem to make/accept games that are ‘fun’ in the traditional sense. This is partially the reason why storytelling in games, with a few notable exceptions, is terrible, and why very few games are genuinely emotionally affecting other than the brief feeling of ‘hey, this is pretty fun’ (despite games essentially being films with the added layer of interactivity and films being able to do, emotionally, what games often can’t).
    Some games do it right and realize that games are better at doing stuff than other mediums, and as a result, are fabulously effective. Metal Gear Solid 4 for example – the ‘microwave hall’ is one of my favorite ‘scenes’ in any medium, because by simply repeatedly tapping one button, it manages to surpass emotion that even some of the finest films can bring (you know, desperation and that). Or Red Dead Redemption – if the *minor spoilers* arriving at Mexico scene wasn’t interactive; I doubt it would be anywhere near as memorable. Or games like ICO or Shadow of the Colossus – if you played them with the sound off, and with the pretty visuals sapped, you’d have some relatively boring games (well, maybe not SotC), but add in those elements to the interactivity and you’ve got yourself some of the greatest experiences you can have on modern technology.
    Long story short, games don’t always have to be ‘fun’ to be good (provided they’ve got something else going for them), and should theoretically be the greatest of all mediums in terms of emotive exposition. Games should evoke a broad spectrum of emotions, not just amusement.
    This is also why I hate i-Phone games (coz they’re shallow, basically).
    Anyway, sorry to come off as arty and snobbish but I guess that was the point. Yeah, my two cents…

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