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10 Must Play Games to Level Up Your Game Design

Updated: Jun 30, 2023



When it comes to game design, there's no teacher quite like experience. Now, I don't mean just the experience of designing games, but also of playing them. This might sound like an excuse to laze around all day with your console (I wish!), but there’s method to the madness.


Playing a wide array of games can give you a deep insight into mechanics, storytelling, character development, world-building, and more. By examining the work of others, we can better understand what makes a game enjoyable, memorable, and successful. So, I’ve rounded up a list of games that I believe every aspiring game designer should play to broaden their perspective and to inspire creativity.

 
Understand Player freedoM

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild


This game is a masterclass in open-world design and non-linear storytelling. It offers players freedom unlike any other, allowing you to approach problems and enemies in countless ways. Pay attention to how the game subtly guides you, encouraging exploration and experimentation.


Minecraft


For its sheer creativity and the power of user-generated content. Minecraft hands the players the tools and freedom to shape the world, providing an endless source of engagement. It’s an excellent example of sandbox game design.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim


Rather than other traditional RPGs, Skyrim offers much more freedom while slaying dragons. From the point you step in to the world you write your own story. You can roleplay as anyone you can think of. A wise mage or a filthy trickster or even all of the above.

 
Mechanics, Rules and Level Design

Portal


Play this for its innovative mechanics and well-crafted puzzles. Portal introduces a new gameplay mechanic and then continues to build upon it, combining it with other elements to create complex, satisfying puzzles. Its dark humor and compelling narrative are icing on the cake.


Dark Souls


Don’t be discouraged by its notorious difficulty level. Dark Souls offers invaluable lessons in level design and difficulty balancing. Notice how it teaches players to learn and adapt, and how it intertwines its world - something game designers refer to as 'connective level design'.


Super Mario Odyssey


A playful and creative take on platforming, Super Mario Odyssey constantly presents players with new mechanics and challenges, keeping the gameplay fresh and exciting. It's a reminder that games, above all, should be fun.


 
top tier Look and Feel

Journey


This indie gem by Thatgamecompany uses minimalist design and visual storytelling to create a profoundly emotional experience. There's no dialogue or text, proving that powerful narratives can be built through environment, music, and mechanics alone.


Ori and the Blind Forest


Ori and the Blind Forest brilliantly showcases the potential of aesthetic design in shaping the player's experience. Its hand-painted visuals and atmospheric soundtrack synergize to form an immersive and emotionally engaging world. From a game designer's perspective, it exemplifies how cohesive art style, music, and environment design can enhance narrative depth and elicit powerful emotional responses, thus forging a deeper connection between player and game.

 
Narrative Design, Character Development

Undertale


A fantastic study in how mechanics can influence narrative and vice versa. The choice to kill or spare creatures affects the game's story, showcasing 'moral mechanics'. Plus, it's a testament to how successful games can be made on a small budget.


God of War


This game offers lessons in revamping a beloved franchise and seamless narrative integration. Its 'single-shot' cinematic presentation and character development mark a new standard for narrative-driven games.

 

Remember, the key is not just to play these games, but to analyze them. Think about what worked, what didn't, and how you would improve them. Dissect their mechanics, flow, balance, and how they create emotion. I guarantee this will provide you with a wealth of knowledge and insight to apply to your own designs.


Keep gaming and keep designing, folks.


I’ll catch you on the next post.


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