Size Doesn’t Matter Day Part 2

Yesterday was Size Doesn’t Matter Day, organized by Jamie Cheng from Klei, when game developers talk about how the length of a game is or isn’t important relative to its other merits.  First Alex wrote his thoughts, now Anthony Flack now has his say. We’ve included links to more blogs at the end of this post.

So, it’s “Size Doesn’t Matter Day” today? A worthy topic of discussion for a game designer, if ever there was one. I don’t think I would ever say that it doesn’t matter – I’ve probably spent more time over the last ten years pondering issues of game size and game scope than any other design element – but if there is one message that I would like people to take from this discussion, it’s simply that BIGGER ISN’T NECESSARILY BETTER. A game’s size should be appropriate to the game’s form, and what constitutes an “appropriate” size may often be smaller than you think.

One of my favourite games of all time, and a game that has influenced me a lot in terms of its design, is the original Sega Rally, the first major game by the brilliant designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Space Channel 5, Rez, Lumines). This is a game that I have sunk dozens of hours into over the years, trying to find ways to shave another half-second off my time in order to finish each race, then to finish the game in first place, and finally to gain enough extra time to finish the bonus Lakeside course and unlock the elusive Stratos. At various times over the last 15 years I have found myself hooked on the arcade game, the PC port, the Sega Saturn port, and finally the PS2 re-release. Sega Rally is like digital crack to me.

It is a game that manages to be exciting and rewarding to novice and expert players alike, without ever needing to resort to crude measures like difficulty settings, or (god forbid) rubber-banding AI. And yet, from start to finish, Sega Rally is a game that takes about five minutes to play through. The genius of it is that it makes you want to play over that five minutes again and again, obsessively, until you are intimiately familiar with every nuance of every moment of that five minute experience.

Another game I got hooked on a while back was a little indie game called Tower Of Heaven ( This game only takes about 10-15 minutes to complete the first time around, but after you have got to the end, the game then challenges you to go through again and try to set a faster time. When it was released there was a little speedrun competition held on the TIGsource forums and I spent an entire day playing it over and over, looking for ways to get to the end just a little bit faster. It was seriously intense! In the end, the winning time was, I think, 2:18 to complete the entire game – my best time was a few seconds longer than that. I definitely didn’t expect such an intense experience to come out of playing such a small, simple game.

Now, the point I’m trying to make isn’t just that big things can sometimes come in small packages. The point is, neither of these games would have engendered this kind of obsessive replaying if they were significantly longer games. I would never have speedrun Tower of Heaven over and over for an entire day if it was going to take an hour to get to the end each time. No way. And I would never have gained the mastery necessary to really appreciate Sega Rally’s perfectly-tuned gameplay if I had to memorise thirty different tracks (a point that seemed to be entirely lost on the makers of the bloated and clunky Sega Rally 2008). The games’ small size made the challenge manageable; made it appealing and enticing rather than overwhelming and exhausting.

And now, I find myself thinking about size again, as I am in the process of designing my own “micro-game”, Cletus Clay Cow Patrol for the iPhone/iPad. The entire game, from start to finish, clocks in at around 16 minutes, and you don’t even have to play through from the start each time. Alex and I are currently in discussion as to whether that’s long enough, or whether we need to extend it and put another few levels in. People love to accuse games of being too short after all – they seldom complain about games being too long, even though they quite frequently are. But this is a game that has been designed with competitive high-scoring in mind. I want people to play it over and over, to find ways to squeeze those extra points out and beat their friends’ scores. If I can achieve that, then it might not matter so much if the game is short.

More than that, if high-scoring is the aim it might actually be BETTER to keep it short.

Jamie Cheng

Jamie Fristrom

Alex Amsel

Steve Swink

Quarter To Three thread started by Chris Hecker

Rob Jagnow

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  1. Xiaou2
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    Btw – I have to add that I didnt like Sega Rally much at all. There was little in the way of control depth, and it felt slow, clunky, and clumsy.

    Daytona USA however ranks as one of my favorite racing games. Even though I come in at like 20th place, and am really bad at the game… I have tons of fun playing it.

    In fact, in the Arcades, SegaRally didnt do very well. But Daytona USA always had
    people playing it. Their sequels to Daytona were not as good as the original, and
    had poor earnings comparatively. Sega recognized this, and put out a complete
    remake of the original Daytona USA, years after its release… and it sold out Again.

    Plain and simple, most people do like the extra difficulty, control, and realism
    that the game gave.

    Even Virtua Racing was better than Sega Rally, Imop.

    Other Driving Greats:

    1) Ridge Racer 1 – For its awesome Power slide control system. Required a developed skill in timing and precision to master. Very fast & fun game.

    Played this game days on end on PS1, finally beating the game, and able to
    use car 13 🙂 Very difficult racer, but very fun & rewarding.

    2) Out Run – Very fast & Furious racer. Heavy traffic, hairpin turns needing fast
    reflexes / braking, Beautiful “oil-painting” like look / levels, Excellent soundtracks. Violent Shaker motor to top things off.

    Too bad the sequels never even came close to the originals Challenge & fun.

    3) Race Drivin – for its ultra realistic physics, funny replay wrecks, & superior arcade

  2. Xiaou2
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 5:30 am | Permalink

    You can take a game like Metal Slug, play it to the end… and then really never need
    or want to play it again. The artwork is great… but, the gameplay is too thin & not
    challenging enough. (infinite continues… & if continues were limited, it would
    probably be too difficult in proportion without gameplay adjustments)

    Take a Classic, “Robotron”. The game is infinite if you are superhuman… But,
    no matter how many times you have played this game, you will always want to
    fire it up again, and play for +hour blocks at a time. Why? Because the difficulty is
    so insane, that surviving each level is like an artform. Each second is packed with
    blood pumping fear and adrenalin as you narrowly escape death countless times by
    a mere pixel. This can often make you giddy with laughter as you wonder how the
    hell you even managed the narrow escape, and boost your own ego with how much
    of a God you were at that exchange! lol 😀

    Of course, if that game is downright too frustrating, with very little reward,
    many will bow out. Too easy? Then many players will get bored & stop playing.

    Take a game like Super Mario Bros. Even if the game had 12 really well
    designed levels, it would still have made a huge splash. The control is very deep
    due to the excellent jumping formula, as well as the addition of the Run speed.
    This resulted in so many possible outcomes, that it really added to the experience.

    A game like Strider isnt half as fun as mario, because the control is just too simplistic. Gameplay is fairly slow. Game isnt really that challenging on a consistent
    basis. (once you know how to beat it, everything becomes pretty easy)

    Ghouls and Ghost is somewhere in between. It really keeps you on your toes
    with constant pressure situations & fast projectiles. The enemies & patterns
    change as well, making it very unpredictable. However, G&G does have problems
    with high Frustration levels. Poor powerups you cant easily get rid of. Slightly slow
    character movement & limited control depth (no partial jumps, no fast run)

    Now… some like “Beat-Em-Ups”, but many of us really could care less… because
    most are more based on luck than actual skill. You cant easily read when a character will decide to punch, & there was no advance blocking system.. as well as too slow & clunky to dodge things. Just never felt anything like a real fight.. which
    is lightning fast actions & reactions.

    I could go on and on… but here are some key points:

    1) Speed

    Speed can turn a so-so game into a real gem. If SuperMarioBros didnt have the
    Run button, it never would have became as huge as it did. Speed levels up the
    difficulty, and possible outcomes, & keeps things fresh & fun. (and funny too)

    2) Control Depth

    The more control the character has, the more possible outcomes. The more
    challenge it creates.. and the more fun it can become. Defender was a big
    example of a game that most thought would be too many controls… yet,
    became one of the top earners of the time.

    Fighting games probably one of the bigger examples. The simple Karate Champ,
    just not cutting it compared to SFII for example. Of course, its very true that a game
    could be made to be too complex & a turn off to players not willing to invest.

    An even simpler example is Galaga -vs- Space Invaders or Galaxians.

    3) Reward

    An end to a game is fine. But thats not why we play it. We play a game to
    have fun… so, its more about the fun moments in the journey to the end, that count
    way more than anything else.

    The game could be 3000 levels or 3000 hrs… but if those moments were nothing
    spectacular, easy, boring…etc… the game will just be monotonous and tasteless.
    Similar to riding a bus and looking out of the window. Nice scenery, but… Meh.

    In Robotron, every second of time is an epic story of narrow misses, amazing escapes, glorious victories, or crushing failures. Even Robotron had an end to it..
    it wouldnt have much meaning to it. The real reward is the actual gameplay.

    You make a game that is consistently fun & challenging every moment, and it will
    be played over and over again… even if the player never sees the ending.

    4) Precision

    Does not matter how pretty or long a game is… If the game is clunky & has poor
    accuracy in player control.. it will more than likely bomb.

    5) Sounds

    Poor sounds & soundtracks can take the best game, and turn it to mudd.
    Great sound Effects & Music can turn a low-res black & white game into a
    real moving experience – far deeper than conveyed visually.

    6) Comedy

    Depending on the game, a little comic relief can really add to the enjoyment
    of the experience.

    7) Replay Value

    Hidden secrets, playing levels twice to gain access to other things, getting
    certain score levels to open up things…etc… all add to a games replay value…
    and hook people into replaying it over and over again, still having great fun,
    in the process of the extra challenges.

    Best of luck,

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