The 5 Golden Rules Of Good Game Design:
1. Fun First
2. Keep The Controls Simple
3. Never Waste The Player's Time
4. Innovate Always
5. Don't Drag It Out
Yep, that's it. If you do those five things, your game has a good chance of not being bad. Now let's take a more detailed look as to why this all matters below.
If you're making a pure aught video game, you are first and foremost creating a piece of interactive entertainment. So if your piece of entertainment fails to be entertaining, it has failed its mission in life. If I'm forcing myself to play your game, you did something wrong. I should be missing sleep because of how fun your game is, not falling asleep because of how boring it plays. I should never once think in my head "well maybe it will get better if I just keep going". If your players ever think that, you screwed up. Figure out the primary aspect of your game that is fun, and make sure the players are getting to do that fun thing as often as possible. A game can also not be fun if it's simply too hard. I appreciate a solid challenge, don't get me wrong. But anytime you add something extra challenging to your game, ask yourself if it really makes the game any funner. I promise you, players would rather have breezy fun than be tortured by a game designer's ego. You better believe players know the difference between legit challenge and pure sadism. Don't be boring, don't be punitive. Always put the fun first, everything else comes second. A game that is not fun is like a shiny car without wheels. Pretty useless.
2. Keep The Controls Simple
Take a look at the modern controller, the wireless DualShock 4 for example. It's got 4 action buttons, 4 triggers, a Share button, an Options button, a PS button, two clickable analog sticks, a d-pad, integral three-axis gyroscope, a capacitive touch pad that also clicks inward as a button, a headphone jack, a USB port, vibration support, a mono speaker, and a light bar with three LEDs that illuminate in different colors that's compatible with both the PlayStation Camera and Project Morpheus. This thing probably has other features I'm forgetting! WHY do we need such a complicated device to play games with?! It's because most modern game designers are terrible at creating intuitive simple controls. If more game designers would bother with a simple concept called context sensitivity, we wouldn't need such a complicated controller fit for an octopus. The same button that lets you shoot can also let you open a door, just make your game realize the situation the player is in. Learn how to utilize a radial menu, it's perfect for an analog stick. If your game has complex gameplay, integrate it with NUI methods. And please don't use every button on the controller just because it's there! If I come back to your game after a week of not playing it, and I have forgotten how to control it, your controls are unintuitive and too complex.
I'm sure most of Ardent's readers have played a modern Zelda game by now. And I'm sure every one of you have winced after the twentieth time you were told how many rupees a red rupee is worth. There's no reason why modern Zelda games can't have an option in the menu to disable redundant messages. The only reason is that the developers don't mind wasting your time. Other games do this in their own ways. We all love unskippable movies in our games we're forced to watch every time we fail, right? NO. No we don't. And how many times have you had to replay an entire stage just to fight a boss that kills you in two hits? Is there any reason why you can't just continue at the boss? You've already proven you can beat the prior stage, it's not fun to do that over again. It's just a waste of time. Too bad the designers don't mind wasting your time. It's just demeaning, belittling, and aggravating to play a game that treats your precious free time like it's worthless. So if as a game designer you can't make a game challenging without it being terribly redundant, or needlessly punitive, then guess what? You are a bad game designer, and your games don't deserve our free time, or our disposable income. Listen up game designers, don't be like that! Respect your players' precious time and they will respect your game in tow. Lastly, progress should be saved at least every fifteen minutes in your game, full stop period.
If you are a game designer, I sure hope you see games as an art form. And if you do, you should always be looking for ways to further evolve it. That doesn't mean that every new game you create must reach for the moon with its holistic forward thinking design. Honestly if you work for a studio beholden to a large publisher, that's probably off the table already. However, you can follow at least one simple idea. Make sure your game does at least one new thing that no other game has done before. I'll give you an example of this. I played The 3rd Birthday on PSP, it was a third person cover shooter. A genre that's a bit played out, for sure. However, this game let you do something I had not seen before. It let you ghost warp around the battlefield in real time, possessing your allies willy-nilly, adding a whole new frantic dynamic to the experience. Because of that, what could have been a generic experience became something clever. So strive for at least one unique twist with every game you design. You're doing the whole industry a favor when you do.
If you're in the gaming business, you've probably heard of How Long To Beat by now. If not, well, it's a website that tracks how long games take to beat on average. You might think at first this is something players want to track as a point of pride. Look at how many hours I sunk into Skyrim or whatever. The truth more often than not is the opposite. People want to know how long it's going to take to beat a potential game out of anxiety. I have seen time and again people on forums deny trying a new game simply because of how long it takes to beat. So here's the big secret game designers; QUALITY NOT QUANTITY. I understand you might have a suit breathing down your neck saying your next game needs to be 45 hours long because focus group demographics. It's just not true. Most players do not appreciate pointless exposition in game length. Your players would rather have you invest those extra 20 hours of bloat extension, instead towards polishing 10 hours of awesomeness. I promise no matter how wonderfully epic you think your game is, it does get boring if it drags on too long. Protip: Always leave us wanting more, that way we'll actually buy the sequel.