The Three Elements That Make Games Compelling

Games like the new Need For Speed (Most Wanted) will be the inspiration of many rants that I will be posting. There is something about this game that I have to complain about nearly every time I see some news regarding this game. I've already vented about Criterion’s obsession with hypersharing to the degree of projectile vomiting (eerily enough, a producer for Criterion lashed out some words against Facebook games for essentially doing the same thing). So, you might (but probably not) be asking "what makes you complain now?"

I’ve recently seen some gameplay videos of the earlier parts or the game. After about 3 videos, the game gave me the same feeling I got when playing Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit; the same bad feeling after beating it and eventually getting a Platinum Trophy for it; This game is shallow. This game is almost bone dry when it comes to being compelling. It’s just a bunch of fast-paced bleh, from the completely uninteresting city down to the voice of the narrator. Sure, it looks nice, but in the same way that a really beautiful man or woman looks great but would be a really boring life partner. I’m not sure what there is to enjoy about this game that is unique from any other game.

I know what question will come next; "What does make a game compelling to you, Mr. Ork?" I’m glad to pretend that you asked. Analyzing a great game’s core qualities is hard, especially considering that the modern video game industry has a myriad of them. As a result, these concepts can seem a bit meta. However, I think that these elements encompass it all and can answer the question of "Why should I play this game?" That’s not to say there aren't others; they are just mechanisms used to express these 3:


It will be Push You to Become Your Best0_medium


This is probably the most obvious of the 3. The single argument that "pros" like to have with "noobs" is the difficulty a player plays on. Some use challenge as a way to brag to others about how great they are. However, deep down, nobody likes the easy route, not directly because people always like to challenge themselves (though many do), but that people always want the achievement of a challenge - Why else do you think that Achievements and Trophies are so popular in modern gaming? The feeling of accomplishment is a deep desire in all of us, and according to Abraham Maslow’s "hierarchy of needs" pyramid, that feeling is embedded in our need to have self-esteem and confidence. Without that sense of accomplishment, we may fall into a state of deprived self-respect. We take challenges head on because we believe we can be better than any difficulty curve, and we look down upon features that sacrifice challenge for any other aspect, such as… oh, having every car in a racing game available at the beginning. No, getting an achievement for finishing the first chapter of any random adventure game is not as rewarding as getting a Ph.D. Yes, the use of achievements and trophies is overkill to the degree that they try to reward you for ever single step you take in a game. The system itself isn't perfect, but it's purpose is felt.

However, that doesn't mean I want to be thrown into a dungeon with a fully-armed robot with nothing but a butterknife and "Eye of the Tiger" playing in the background. A lot of games, especially fighting games, abuse the sense of challenge in the opposite way that developers do with achievements and trophies. The challenge becomes so difficult that skill isn't necessary what is needed to complete that goal, and the sense of accomplishment doesn't really work out. This is insanely difficult, but this isn't a challenge. It’s a game putting you at unrealistic odds just for its own sadistic pleasure. This challenge is given because it thinks it can’t be done, and that’s not compelling for a lot of people (especially when the only way to beat it is to spam the same combo the entire time).

My Biggest Challenge in a Video Game: Downtown Lap on Burnout 3: Takedown

This is the event in Burnout 3 that turned novice drivers into fully grown experts. Not only is this level by far the most challenging in the game; it’s probably the most challenging task I've ever had to do in a video game. You have to be, as a walkthrough described, "beyond perfect" to win this.

Also, that’s not the actual challenge. That’s the much easier first Preview Lap on the same course with a much slower car - yes, that car has a context in which it can be "much slower" than anything (the challenge I took required a time of 55 seconds for Gold). I wasn't joking when I told you Burnout had lost its sense of speed.


You will Adore It



To me, this is probably the most valuable of the three. A game with a challenge can still bore you after a while. It’s just going to last you a bit longer. Just as with people, no one likes a bland and regular game (I refuse to use "granola" and "vanilla" metaphors because both are awesome, especially when combined). We need flavor, and the spice of charisma can really make something that is normally decent become great, and something great become a classic. Even if it doesn't have some of the things that many people would consider most valuable, a great atmosphere can compensate for a lot.

Unfortunately, this is the part that a lot of developers tend to leave out in modern games. If you’re wondering what that lack of character feels like, allow me to introduce you to a genre. That aside, imagine how bad games like Just Cause 2 would have been if you couldn't act like a physics-defying fool. Imagine PC Gaming without Minecraft or The Sims. Personality makes them stick out in the retrospective view of gaming, where only the legendary games may stay.

My Favorite Game Personality: GLADOS in Portal

Portal is the first game to come to my mind that really could be considered "perfect." It had it all in a very sweet package that caught the entire gaming community by surprise. It’s most compelling aspect, however, was its truly witty antagonist. I’m not going to be another one of her obsessive fans that will spend the rest of this post talking about cake, so let’s accept the greatness and just move on now.


It will be One with You



I hope you guys and girls have realized by now that I've spent quite a bit of this post comparing finding the ideal video game and finding the ideal life partner, because this is the the most literal "bonding" part between the game and the player. I was thinking about treating these aspects separately, however (1) my poetic license prohibits me from breaking something down into more than 3 elements, and (2) mechanics and features really should sing together in harmony. Why bother with a great feature if it isn't implemented properly for you to use? Take Gran Turismo 5, for example. Yes, the Red Bull x2010 (and newer models) is an amazingly fast car that can take sharper turns than most humans can without passing out and can go from 0 to 200 mph in under 8 seconds. However, it's so ridiculous that there is almost no hope in trying to tap into it's full potential with a controller. A great feature without great implementation is like trying to be in a relationship with a beautiful person that lives 300 miles away. Sure, it could work, very much like how the Statue of Liberty could float across the Hudson River (meaning yes... but you wouldn't trust it if, say, a hurricane hit).

I'll be honest, the Paradise-ripped idea of a menu that you can access without pausing the game is a great idea, and I'm glad that Criterion implemented EasyDrive into Most Wanted. The problem is with the execution. It won't be often utilized aside from a quick way to restart the race... and a quick jump into Multiplayer. I'm not going to change my tires halfway through a race completely on concrete, especially when the odds of me crashing into a wall while using the menu are about 2 to 1.

A great control scheme that makes sense and is easy to master can really keep a player coming back. It sure did for me with Skate 2, alongside...

DiRT: The Game Controls alone keep me reeled in



Until I played the demo for DiRT 2, I wasn't sure what "good" controls really were. I had been used to the idea of game controls occasionally going superbly wrong on me, always having something to complain about when things went wrong. I knew that my skills were on point and would just have to go on.

After that demo, I was put in my place. It was the first time I really felt one with the controls and that every single button I pressed and every slight nudge I gave to the analog sticks was perfectly replicated on my screen. If I crashed, I never yelled. I just knew that I had to concentrate harder. It was right on my level 100% of the way and felt as fluid as gaming controls ever did, despite the fact that mastering it requires crazy levels of precision.

Sorry, I've somehow lost my point into all of this... oh yes, Criterion could have tried to make Need For Speed involve at least one of these 3 aspects down. One, please. Most games don't need all 3. In fact, barely any ever do, and it isn't really the bar minimum for a good game. Yet, here I am with a dissapointing IP year after year because none of those elements are ever apparent.

(...and here is the obligatory reach-out for an audience). So what do you say? What is the biggest challenge you've faced in a game? What personality attracted you the most? What concepts did I ignore completely and you think I should have mentioned? Leave a comment bel... ahh, nevermind.

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