Game Polish and the Little Things

When I play games, I hold gameplay highest. My favorite thing a game developer does is when they make something really clever that makes you wonder why people haven’t used that more often. Nintendo does a really good job with some of this stuff. Look at Earthbound, a basic-looking RPG, with a wonderful world and premise that I could talk about forever.This game doesn’t traditionally use the A button to talk with NPCs and interact with objects, it uses L. Using the L button for interaction is a super cool idea because you can maneuver around most of the game with one hand. The only reason to use the face buttons is in order to open the menu. However, I think that there is another reason they made L the interact button. The game came packaged with the Nintendo Power Player’s Guide for it, and it’s very hard to keep a book open and play a game. Unless, of course, you’re playing the game with one hand. It also makes grinding pretty easy as you can just walk around and fight with one hand. Now, this isn’t the only trick that Earthbound had hidden up its sleeve. It also has a very interesting battle system. Most RPGs of the time used random encounters, but a few didn’t. Earthbound was one of the few that chose to actually show the enemies on the screen. If you sneak behind an enemy, you get a free opening turn and vice versa. If you’re stronger than the enemies then they’ll run from you, exposing their backs for an attack. What’s really cool is that if your stats are high enough then you’ll instantly kill the enemy without getting into battle. This makes grinding even more easy as all you have to do is walk around with one hand on the controller. It’s little things like this that makes games so unique. Another way to make your game interesting is to add branching paths. Star Fox 64 is one of my most favorite games. In it, you can make a different path and visit different levels based on how you play. For example, on the first level, if you fly through a series of arches and make sure someone on your squad stays alive, you get to fight a different boss. Now, probably, on your first playthrough, you’re not going to get that secret route. However, when you go past the part where the path would branch off, you see a huge ship fly overhead. This tells the player that there’s an alternate path without explicitly telling them. Upon return to the level, you may try different things just for fun, like running through a series of arches. the fun part is, most levels have these branching paths. For the longest while, I didn’t even know that there was a submarine level, or that Katt was even a character that existed. I believe that some of that can be blamed on me not being good at Star Fox, but it’s interesting to see that these games have these branching paths. What makes Star Fox work is that all the levels feel great. I could go through Corneria a million times and it wouldn’t get old. That game still manages to feel fresh and timeless every time I play it. Games that are simple on the surface but have a lot of depth to them deep down feel really good to play. A lot of times that depth comes from systems and learning how to do things properly. However, when a game adds these little bits of polish, that’s when I believe it starts to shine. That’s when they stand out from the rest. That’s what makes them classics.


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