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Old January 19th, 2013 (9:04 PM).
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twocows twocows is offline
Pretentious Intellectual Jerk
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Well, obviously the most important thing is always going to be gameplay. All other things come after that and should either contribute to or stay out of the way of the gameplay. If the central gameplay mechanic isn't fun, the game's not going to work. But let me qualify that. For a game like, say, Planescape: Torment, the combat's pretty awful, so someone might be inclined to say that the game just doesn't work. However, I'd argue that the combat's secondary and that the central gameplay is more about your actions and how they influence the outcome of the story and other things in the game's universe.

Also, the player should be constantly doing something fun. Walking from one end of the planet to the other, for instance, is generally not fun on its own. There should either be something interesting along the way or there should be some sort of distraction for the journey. Ideally, though, you want the player to be actually engaging in the central gameplay mechanic most of the way.

After that, things that aren't mandatory but can sell me on a game really fast if they're done right:
Atmosphere. If a game nails its atmosphere and really makes you feel the way the developer wanted you to feel, that's something I love. Think Metroid Prime.
Characters. If a game is trying to tell a story (not all games do or should), the characters should be well-written. Saying what constitutes a well-written character would take many, many pages, so I'll just leave it at that. Well-written characters are a big plus in a game. For reference, I really liked KotOR 2's characters.
Music. Depending on the game, this may or may not tie into atmosphere. Either way, a good soundtrack helps make a game really memorable. Metroid Prime had a great soundtrack that tied into the atmosphere. Sonic Generations is an example of a game with a great soundtrack that doesn't really tie into the atmosphere too much (it does a little).
Graphical style. This does not mean graphics. This is an example of a game that isn't a technical masterpiece graphics-wise but has a fantastic graphical style. There are plenty of games with good aesthetics, from Bastion to Crysis and everything in between. Basically, the style should fit the game and enhance the atmosphere. At the very least the graphical style should not get in the way of the gameplay. A lot of "retro-style" indie games fail at producing a good graphical style and instead use it as an excuse to not work on graphics at all. Minecraft is an example of a game that uses "retro" as an excuse for looking like crap.
Learning curve. A game should start off easy so the player can learn how things work and gradually ramp up the difficulty so that the player still has something to overcome once they've mastered the basic concepts. Super Mario Bros. 3 has a good learning curve. Nethack does not.
Well-implemented difficulty modes. Higher difficulties should add complexity in some way, not just require more hits on the enemy while buffing their damage output to absurd levels. For an example of how not to do it, look at Skyrim.
Story. For me, the story's always been a means to an end. The story is there to move things from point A to point B or to explore some sort of interesting topic. The story should never be the goal, it should be used as a device for making the game interesting enough to keep playing. As long as it maintains its focus, the story's usually fine. The original Deus Ex had a great story; you were always aware of why you were doing something, both for individual tasks and the level as a whole. It was almost always interesting enough to keep you moving forward, and it explored an interesting topic.
Exploration. This is something that only a few games should really have to begin with. For those games, it needs to be implemented well. You should want to explore the game's world; the environments should compel you to explore. And the exploration itself should be rewarding: you should be shown even cooler environments, you should be shown secrets about the world and what's going on it it, and of course there should be actual, physical benefits for exploring. Metroid Prime does this perfectly. Skyrim utterly fails at this, which is kind of surprising to me because almost every other game published by Bethesda manages to make exploration at least somewhat interesting.
Focus. This might sound vague, but I couldn't think of anything better to call it. A game's development needs focus. If something doesn't serve to enhance the core experience, it shouldn't be in the game. For example, a multiplayer game should not shoehorn in a single player campaign, nor should a single player campaign have a tacked-on multiplayer. If the two are going to be tied together, it needs to be in a way that makes sense and is well-designed (Dark Souls does this well; alternately, co-op can be a great way to tie the two together if it fits). Example of this particular thing done wrong: Spec Ops: The Line. The multiplayer actually undermines the very good single player campaign. It's blasphemous that they actually put multiplayer in the game at all and was an obvious cash grab on the part of the publisher.

That's all I can think of. As long as a game has decent gameplay and doesn't lose focus, it will probably be at least decent. None of these other elements should be tacked on, they just need to be implemented correctly if they are necessary. That's what's important to me.
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