Game Design

Breaking Down the Design of Final Fantasy 6

On Google+, Todd Barchok (thedaian) shared a link to a critical analysis of Final Fantasy 6 (or Final Fantasy 3 for those of us who played the SNES version and refuse to assign it a different number out of stubbornness). The author also held a successful KickStarter to critically analyze Chrono Trigger earlier this year.

Years ago, Greg Costikyan wrote Game Criticism: Why We Need It and Why Reviews Aren’t It. It was an article in response to the idea that game reviews (“they give you three stars. Good or bad, that’s all that reviews are concerned about”) and game criticism (“an informed discussion, by an intelligent and knowledgeable observer of a medium, of the merits and importance (or lack thereof) of a particular work”) are the same thing.

Reviews are about making you an informed customer. Do you want to purchase this game? Is it worth your time?

Criticism is more than whether or not a game is a good purchase. Costikyan says that there are many valid ways to critique a game. You can compare a game to others in the same genre. You could compare the game to others in its series. You could think about the game’s mechanics and whether or not they succeeded in the way the designer intended. You could analyze how the mechanics support a certain play style.

As Ian Schreiber says in the Game Criticism and Analysis level of his online Game Balance Concepts course he ran in 2009:

I have mentioned before that an important game design skill to have is the ability to critically analyze other people’s games. I think about half of the reason why I am as far along as I am in my career, personally, is that I have the ability to play a game and offer direct constructive feedback that is useful to another designer.

When I play a game, I find great enjoyment in pulling back the curtain and figuring out how it was put together. I’ve learned that I should make sure that the person I’m playing a new board game with knows this beforehand. Otherwise, it can be very frustrating for them as I nitpick and dwell on the “Why?” of a particular rule. To my wife: once again, I apologize. B-)

The last major analysis I did was about Jason Rohrer’s Gravitation as an artistic game back in 2008. It helped me not only appreciate the game more, but helped me see just how purposeful a game’s design can be.

I enjoyed reading Well Played 1.0: Video Games, Value and Meaning since it was full of articles discussing about games done well . The book is a series, and I realize now that I should buy the next two volumes.

When was the last time you critically analyzed a game?

One reply on “Breaking Down the Design of Final Fantasy 6”

It’s interesting you highlighted the Chrono Trigger Reverse Design as one of the better critical analyses out there. As luck would have it, I worked on with Patrick on it. (I did all the word usage statistics.) As far as recreating such a large amount of work — 35 hours on my end alone — again, well, it’s that simple: it takes a huge investment of time.

That’s part of the problem too. The review-cycle moves very fast. And often it’s a matter of saying a few hundred words about if a game is worth someone else’s time or to share an experience you had within the game. Then off to the next. Time is quite precious and ever fleeting.

That said, I’ve found the best criticism comes from spending time trying to breakdown a system into its parts, as you said. Picking apart a game and then, at least for me, trying to re-create parts on my own gives me a great appreciation for the skill involved in making even the seemingly simplest games. Coming from a programmer background, I always promote learning more about design and coding for those who might write about video games.

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