What makes a great game: Part 1 – Simplicity

Before I look at what the experts have to say on what makes a great game I’m going to give my opinion on it. Not that I think that mine should come first but more that I want to see how far away from the truth I am. I imagine quite far!
 
As we’re considering the main mechanics for our game I’ve been going through a list of my favourite games (not just electronic) and looking at what makes then special. The first one I thought of is the simplest and is an electronic game that was made for the Atari 2600 [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atari_2600] some 20 years after that console had dropped out of the market. It’s called Man Goes Down and it was made in 2004 by Alex Herbet who literally published it onto the web forum Atari Age. The original post is here: http://www.atariage.com/forums/topic/53689-my-1st-atari-2600-game-man-goes-down/page__hl__man%20goes%20down
 
The game is quite incredible in its economics. You play the eponymous ‘Man’ and your task is to go as far down as you can by avoiding getting pushed to the top of the screen by rising platforms. There is fruit to collect and some objects to help (or hinder) your progress. Your score increases as you collect the fruit and stay alive. And that’s it. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s incredibly addictive. It also has something that might not be measured by an evaluation matrix, it has ‘charm’. Where the hell does ‘charm’ come from?
 
You can see it here:
 
With what is presented to the user on screen, it is an incredible achievement. It’s not completely unique and does borrow a little I feel from Imagine’s Jumping Jack but what it presents to us is a masterclass in what makes a game great. 
 
The graphics are important but don’t get in the way of the game.
The game is very simple to understand.
The play is short, focused and has a gentle difficulty that accelerates as you do
The game punishes your mistakes in a way that you understand that they are your mistakes i.e. not through poor design or implementation
The game has a great introduction screen and music theme, a great middle and a nice summary on game over.
It wants you to have another go.
So you do.
Again and again.
And again.
 
So back to the experts, how do you go about doing designing that, it’s not through serendipity is it? 

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