The Brainy Gamer is one of those blogs that scares me. On it there's a post about keeping on topic when designing / creating / building a game. In it Patrick Lipo, a video-game somebody, shares his ways to keep the design of a game focussed on its objectives. I agree with the spirit of this post and wholeheartedly support a game that achieves what it set out to do. This statement is a contradiction of my first Holy Grail quest post, kinda. If you didn't click (and we both know you didn't) then that post advocates a kitchen sink approach to game design, kinda. Actually this statement is erroneous, you really should probably read my post...
Let me attempt to illustrate with an example.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is an excellent example of a game that achieves exactly what it sets out to do. I suspect that if someone on the inside of Naughty Dog (the developer) read this they'd have a good old chuckle. Anything that might be missing from the game (as far as intentions go) is not apparent from my play perspective.
The game itself can either be described as a cinematic game or an interactive movie. The concept of linear play is defined here. Every detail scripted. Gameplay is principally a third person shooter with a cover mechanic, it is very robust and moderately intuitive. There are also platforming elements, an on rails shooting sequence, and two jetski based driving sequences. Hmm, a little more kitchen sink than I had realised.
I had a lot of fun with this game, and for no good reason. You see I don't really like the 'shooter' genre of games as a general rule. Too repetitive. Uncharted is no exception. I prefer games that allow for a variety of approaches to problem solving, and Uncharted is very inflexible here. I like games that give me freedom, that let me explore and play and manipulate. Uncharted is asphyxiating-ly rigid. Looking at the individual elements doesn't really offer understanding on my entire experience. This game was more than the sum of its parts, thankfully.
The story, while not particularly original, was well written. It was very mature, not mature in a ratings scale sense, but mature in that it knew itself and how high to pitch, the delivery and context of the material had just the right mix of serious tone and humour that existed on a level that reinforced the core design aesthetic. It was a game pitched at young adults, and it was pitched perfectly.
The pacing of the story and game elements were excellent. Not perfect, sure, but extremely well wrought throughout, action sequences and their structure (level design) were reasonably well contextualised to the mood and atmosphere of the story. The story's development, such as it approached its climax dictated the gameplay, level design elements and vice versa. It wasn't perfect, but it was probably the best example of the integration of these elements I have ever seen.
Lighting was used both as a literary tool and as a mood enhancer. As the game progressed toward its climax, the ambient light of each set reflected the character's (player's) progress through the game and story. Yes, all the corny elements were there too, finishing on a sunset, I mean, please! I am not kidding about this, they really did consider every single element of the game and how it contributed to the agenda.
Characterisations and dialogue were strong, I'd even go so far to say excellent. They were plausible, well animated, well voiced and well written. The language used was mature in that it fit the tones and themes of the game very snugly. I am comfortable admitting that I had an emotional investment in these characters (Nate and Elena anyway) and I cared about them.
While the game was fun, and it kept true to its agenda, it let me down too. I wanted more, I wanted variety and I wanted the chance to explore the designer's vision with the lens of my own experience and expectation. This game didn't allow that. So heavily committed to its original idea of what it should be, it didn't allow for any real deviation from that vision. Mr Lipo might well call that a 'win', but I want it all.