Videogames 101: games that make you better at playing games

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sweep

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#1  Edited By sweep  Moderator

Keith Stuart has written an article over at The Guardian titled "The five things you need to know to get better at videogames". The article is transparently aimed at newcomers, and is deliberately written to be accommodating and vague. You can check it out over here.

What caught my eye was the footnote, written in italics:

Certain games are great for teaching the rules and conventions of design. If you want to get better at all games, play Tetris, Legend of Zelda, Street Fighter, Quake and Gran Turismo

Which is a pretty solid list, though I'm not sure if that's currently the most approachable list for someone new to the medium. A lot of those games are now pretty old, and their modern iterations are relatively convoluted. It got me thinking about the games I've sunk the most time into, and which games I'd recommend to someone who was looking to expand their understanding of videogame design. I'd probably swap out Gran Turismo for Forza, with it's racing lines and simplified UI, and Street Fighter can be very intimidating as oppose to something like Super Smash Brothers - though obviously there are arguments to be made for both.

I also keep forgetting that, objectively, these games aren't being recommended because they'd be enjoyed, but because they would teach you the most. It's also in no way suggesting that these games are the only games that should be played. I'm interpreting this as a masterclass; they may not be the most approachable, or enjoyable, but they do the best job of demonstrating the scope and fundamental design principles of the videogame spectrum. Whenever I think "They should add a jrpg to the list" or "Metal Gear Solid should be in there somewhere" I realise that the core elements of each, exploration and narrative, pattern development and inventory management, are already covered on the existing list.

Can anyone think of a better combination of games that could better demonstrate each of these core principles (as laid out in the article):

  • Designers want you to explore
  • Patterns are there to be broken
  • Everything is telegraphed
  • Spatial awareness is more important than speed
  • Asset management is more important than raw skill
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MooseyMcMan

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You know, I feel like modern game design in most games today isn't really based around those core principles in that article. Not all of them, at least. I know I love exploring in games, but do you really think the designers of Linear FPS #999 really wants people to deviate from the intended path where all the explosions happen at the right moments?

No, I don't have any examples of better games.

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TwoLines

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Man, I don't think there is a better introduction to video games and their rules (like camera handling and pattern recognition) than Ocarina of Time.

They tell you every freaking thing about how to play the game. Even targeting and strafing, you know, basic things, it's all there.

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Justin258

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#4  Edited By Justin258

Deus Ex Human Revolution might cover all of those, actually.

EDIT: OK, except in boss battles.

If I wanted to get someone into gaming proper - as in, playing more than phone games and a handful of Call of Duty matches at a friend's house - I'd introduce them to Minecraft and/or Skyrim. Frankly, Skyrim might be the best teacher of how to play video games out there - it has fairly simple versions of most modern mechanics and it takes place in a pretty great world. Independently controlling camera and movement? Check. Leveling and perks system? Check. A few different approaches to combat? Check. Inventory management? Check. Some sort of crafting system? Check. Shops? Check. Dialogue systems? Check. Sidequests? Practically the entire game. Aiming? Check.

I can't really think of a basic video game mechanic that Skyrim can't introduce. They will not be mastering anything with Skyrim, of course, but I wouldn't expect a new gamer to understand why Skyrim's mechanics are basic and not always well-implemented. Strategy RPG's and 4X games might be a little far off from Skyrim, but I don't think that a new gamer wants to mess with Disgaea or Crusader Kings 2 quite yet.

Minecraft is a little more abstract. If they needed someone to play with them, I would probably use Minecraft instead of Skyrim. Having someone lead you along as you put together your first little house makes sliding into Minecraft's pretty vast number of items and uses a lot easier and a lot of fun.

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TwoLines

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#5  Edited By TwoLines

(Duplicate comment, can't delete for time being)

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rmanthorp

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#6 rmanthorp  Moderator

Spelunky made me better at all things.

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gatehouse

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It might be a very harsh teacher, but Dark Souls really does demonstrate those core skills. The game encourages you to explore your own path, always puts enemies in the same places, with clear attack patterns that are clearly telegraphed, requires you to be aware of your surroundings and requires you to thing about your items.

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DeadpanCakes

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#8  Edited By DeadpanCakes

I always thought that something like The Stanley Parable, Antechamber or Bastion could be a great place to start for newcomers. They all encourage and reward exploratory and experimental behaviors in very friendly ways.

Stanley Parable basically begs you to contradict the narrator, but never tells you "this is how you explore in a game," allowing one's experiences in testing barriers to apply to other games.

Bastion constantly provides feedback for the stuff you do through the narration, whether what you're doing is choosing your loadout, bashing boxes for three minutes straight, or avoid falling off during an auto-scrolling sequence. Without idols it's also fairly tame in terms of difficulty, and helps with recognizing tells.

Antechamber is constantly questioning the way you approach problems from a spatial standpoint. There's also no fail states, so it isn't super hectic or anything. It's a game designed around deconstructing assumed rules and adopting new ones, which I think can help one recognize diversity in mechanics from one game to another.

I also wanna mention Dark Souls or Monster Hunter in regards to "everything is telegraphed", but I'd imagine they'd be absolutely cryptic to somebody new to games (I mean, they were cryptic to me when I first tried them)

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sweep

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#9 sweep  Moderator

It might be a very harsh teacher, but Dark Souls really does demonstrate those core skills. The game encourages you to explore your own path, always puts enemies in the same places, with clear attack patterns that are clearly telegraphed, requires you to be aware of your surroundings and requires you to thing about your items.

Moreso than Zelda? I think Dark Souls has even been described as "Zelda for adults".

By the misinformed, obviously.

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fattony12000

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#10  Edited By fattony12000
Introductory CourseAdvanced Course
PongRockstar Games presents Table Tennis
Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario 64Super Mario Galaxy
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsThe Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Mario Kart 8Forza Motorsport 3
DoomQuake III Arena
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chumley_marchbanks

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I've been playing Pikmin 3 this week and I feel like that game does a great job of representing those principles, particularly those last two. It's got the core elements of an RTS but without the execution barrier, so you're learning about unit types and resource gathering in a environment that rewards good play rather than penalising bad play.

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EuanDewar

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@gatehouse said:

It might be a very harsh teacher, but Dark Souls really does demonstrate those core skills. The game encourages you to explore your own path, always puts enemies in the same places, with clear attack patterns that are clearly telegraphed, requires you to be aware of your surroundings and requires you to thing about your items.

Ridiculous as it sounds I don't actually think Dark Souls is a bad shout. It plays by its own rules and as a result is kind of a level playing field that doesn't discriminate based on how much experience you have playing games. Obviously if you've built up fast reflexes from hours of playing Starcraft or something you're going to have a bit of an advantage over a newcomer but I do think DS really does it's best to present a challenge for every type of gamer.

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sweep

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#13  Edited By sweep  Moderator

Introductory CourseAdvanced Course
PongRockstar Games presents Table Tennis
Super Mario Bros.Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario 64Super Mario Galaxy
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between WorldsThe Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
Mario Kart 8Forza Motorsport 3
DoomQuake III Arena

That's not particularly diverse. It also excludes fighting games, which represent basic combo control and timing. I'd say both Mario 64 and Zelda is overkill.

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gatehouse

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@euandewar: Celebrity Dark Souls obsessive Peter Serafinowicz always claims that he knows people that love Dark Souls that have never been into gaming before. I think it’s because the game has its own set of rules as you say. To clarify, I don’t ever think it should be an introduction to gaming, but I think it’s a more advanced exponent of the points the Guardian article raises.

@sweep: I'll be honest here, I've only ever played a single Zelda game, and that was Twilight Princess (I've never owned a Nintendo system, but played most of the good stuff on my housemate's Wii at university), so I'm rather uninformed about the challenges and complexities of other Zelda games.

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peacebrother

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#15  Edited By peacebrother

@sweep said:

  • Designers want you to explore
  • Patterns are there to be broken
  • Everything is telegraphed
  • Spatial awareness is more important than speed
  • Asset management is more important than raw skill

Dark Souls. This is Dark Souls. There are few games I've played over the past 10 years that exemplify those principles and ideas more than DS does. Though I'd imagine it wouldn't reveal itself as such to a videogaming "newcomer", as it took even the larger gaming community a few years to "get it".

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syz

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#16  Edited By syz

The general rule in the mid/late 90s was that Quake players were the best at everything.

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fattony12000

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#17  Edited By fattony12000

@sweep:

Introductory CourseAdvanced Course
Ultra Street Fighter IVZero Divide
SkullgirlsTekken
Street Fighter III: 3rd StrikeFighters Megamix (you can play as the car)
Tekken 3Nettou Toshinden

I know a lot about fighting games.

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sweep

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#18 sweep  Moderator

I think something along the lines of:

IntroductionAdvanced
TetrisTetris
Wii SportForza Motorsport 3
Legend Of ZeldaDark Souls 2
QuakeTeam Fortress 2
StarcraftDota 2
Super Smash Bros MeleeStreet Fighter 4

Covers all the bases in both columns, giving you the original classics that best demonstrate the core principles and then an advanced, contemporary equivalent.

I put Tetris in there twice because it's pretty much the perfect puzzle game and it's timeless.

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Ares42

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For a modern version of the list I feel like games like Diablo 3 and God of War 3 should be on the list. They are both very straight forward, newbie-friendly and lays the ground-rules for RPG and action-adventure gameplay. They also don't have any camera control, which is easily one of the hardest things for new gamers to get used to.

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Brendan

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@gatehouse: Dark Souls is great because it hides a lot of its systems and doesn't explain much, which is thrilling for an experienced player who wants convention flipped on its head. It's terrible for someone new to video games because they have to learn the basics of levelling up and managing growth without any idea of what any of it means.

I think Zelda: Skyward Sword is actually a great teacher. There are better Zelda games but if we're trying to compile a list of modern games that would be easy to find on shelves it covers all the principles in the OP and introduces them very slowly, which is probably at a new players speed.

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gatehouse

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@sweep: Sorry if I'm being a dunce here, but I don't see the connection between Wii Sport and Forza. I can see the connecting tissue between Mario Kart and more simulation-style racers, but not between those two.

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cyberfunk

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Metal Gear Solid?

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sweep

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#23 sweep  Moderator

@gatehouse: I was focussing more on the principles of direct competitiveness and timing. This isn't about having a game that's easy and hard, it's about showing the core design aspects - Quake is a great shooter, but Team Fortress 2 develops this into class/group based gameplay with focussed objectives. Super Smash Bros has 2D fighting, but without the structured and layered combination system and focus of Street Fighter.

If anything I think Dark Souls 2 is almost too similar to Zelda to be included, but again you could argue it either way.

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Sinusoidal

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Where's Punch Out!?

Punch Out! is literally nothing but pattern recognition and exploitation distilled into its purest form.

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Video_Game_King

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I feel like I've either played or posted a blog about a game recently that does just this. I just can't remember it. The original Final Fantasy opens up at a really well measured pace, so that might be a place to start.

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FinalDasa

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#26 FinalDasa  Moderator

Playing Guacamelee, currently free for Xbox Gold on Xbox One, reminds me of a lot of older gaming conventions. A lot of paths blocked off until you unlock certain moves/powers. A lot of exploration is possible but the level design does a good job of funneling you along towards your objective. And the game is not punishing (meaning dying or failing doesn't punish the player) but does get harder and rewards the player.

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Dalai

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#27  Edited By Dalai
@sweep said:

I think something along the lines of:

IntroductionAdvanced
TetrisTetris
Wii SportForza Motorsport 3
Legend Of ZeldaDark Souls 2
QuakeTeam Fortress 2
StarcraftDota 2
Super Smash Bros MeleeStreet Fighter 4

Covers all the bases in both columns, giving you the original classics that best demonstrate the core principles and then an advanced, contemporary equivalent.

I put Tetris in there twice because it's pretty much the perfect puzzle game and it's timeless.

That's a solid lesson plan, but I would split Wii Sports and Forza and add Mario Kart in the intro column alongside Forza and perhaps Madden in the advanced column next to Wii Sports. Mario Kart has always been pretty simple as racing games go and Nintendo has often dubbed at least the Wii version as a "bridge game" which means it's easy for newcomers to jump in, yet appeals to us masters of video games. Wii Sports is rudimentary in nature and even grandma can learn to play, but Madden compliments that by adding layers of strategy and structure that Wii Sports doesn't quite have on the surface.

With that said, Zelda games normally cover all the bases in that article and are perfect for newcomers who are looking to become more avid gamers. Exploration, patterns, skill over speed, it's all basically there. And yeah, we complain about the hand holding a lot around here, but that extra guidance is helping somebody out there who is new to games.

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BeachThunder

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#28  Edited By BeachThunder

First you need a game that is all about learning patterns: Super Hexagon.

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csl316

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Original Tomb Raider seems to hit those 5 core principles at once.

I had played games for years before, but as my first Playstation game it taught me all I needed to know for third person 3D games. Exploring a world, combat, puzzles, how terrifying a T-Rex can be.

The original has its nostalgic charm, but Anniversary would be a better entry point for people that didn't experience PS1 graphics back in the day.

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jimipeppr

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I remember feeling like Geometry Wars 2 made me better at first person shooters on consoles... analog stick control or something.

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I remember feeling like Geometry Wars 2 made me better at first person shooters on consoles... analog stick control or something.

I could see that, you have to be so on point with both sticks that it could really improve your stick skills.

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citizencoffeecake

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I'd second Spelunky and Dark Souls (to a degree). I've also recently started playing Cave Story 3D (I don't know how/if it differs from vanilla Cave Story) but it is quite good in a fundamental way that many games mentioned in this thread are.

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sparky_buzzsaw

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Super Mario World, Mortal Kombat IX, Ni no Kuni, Mario Kart 8, and Borderlands 2. I would disagree with anything that's too brutally difficult like Dark Souls or that doesn't contain a warming-up phase. I think the most accessible game of recent years is Wii Sports, so that would be my week one intro.

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@jimipeppr said:

I remember feeling like Geometry Wars 2 made me better at first person shooters on consoles... analog stick control or something.

I could see that, you have to be so on point with both sticks that it could really improve your stick skills.

Actually, now that I think about it, that was a hot tip that I received from a deaf gamer on a Halo community forum a few years ago. To stereotype, his other senses are stronger since he lacks hearing, so he probably knew what he was talking about.

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pyromagnestir

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If we're really starting from the basics, we have to start with learning the intricacies of the controller or keyboard/mouse. Though keyboard/mouse might not require as much an introduction, since that's how people are used to interacting with a computer. So something like Rhythm Heaven would be a good idea.

And even though I use a keyboard and mouse just fine for normal interaction with a computer I still ain't great with it while playing games so a few simple games just to get used to controlling games isn't a terrible idea. At some point last summer I actually sought to get more comfortable by playing a bunch of games and actually found Hotline Miami to be solid for this. 2D, simple controls, but ones that actually apply to lots of more complicated games. Might then move on from that to a simple to control 3D shooter.

A Fire Emblem or Advance Wars type turn based strategy game would probably be good for something.

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ajamafalous

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I'm not sure I'd personally include Dark Souls because a lot of the magic of that game is that it flies in the face of what's come before it. You have to unlearn years of genre and video game teaching and tropes so that you can start from the ground up learning how Dark Souls itself wants you to play. That's the a-ha moment for me, and you lose that if you haven't played a bunch of ARPGs before. Sure, coming into it without knowledge of other games means you don't have to tear it all down and you can just start from scratch learning the game, but that was one of the biggest reasons I liked the game as much as I did. That journey down into the valley and coming out the other side was half the appeal for me.

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SchrodngrsFalco

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If we're talking Newcomers, then Geometry Wars 2, like a previous user already mentioned. It helps the users learn how to manage 2 different aspects of control at once (movement, shooting [both reflex intensive as well]) while also making the user multitask 2 mental aspects (planning ahead, managing resources/enemies).

The game is a concentration of the core basics a newcomer needs to learn and get used to if they want to get into playing, especially the mental fortitude aspect.

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TheHT

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Tetris

  • Shape recognition
  • Asset management
  • Planning ahead
  • Adaptation

Super Meat Boy

  • Responsive controls
  • Maintaining control at higher speeds
  • Spatial awareness
  • Adaptation

Bushido Blade

  • Timing
  • Telegraphs
  • Spatial awareness
  • Adaptation

Counter-Strike

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Spatial awareness
  • Restrained control
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptation
  • Asset management

Hitman: Blood Money

  • Exploration
  • Pattern recognition
  • Spatial awareness
  • Asset management
  • Planning ahead
  • Experimentation
  • Adaptation
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Rowr

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There is a distinct lack of Pokemon being mentioned here.

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Hunter5024

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The list of core principles seems like a strange collection to me.

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Niceanims

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#42  Edited By Niceanims

@sweep:

Introductory CourseAdvanced Course
Ultra Street Fighter IVZero Divide
SkullgirlsTekken
Street Fighter III: 3rd StrikeFighters Megamix (you can play as the car)
Tekken 3Nettou Toshinden

I know a lot about fighting games.

Thanks for this

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#43  Edited By TobbRobb

As weird as it sounds, Dark Souls really does provide a vast array of mechanics and concepts to learn. A lot of which are absolutely necessary to survive. Maybe not the most friendly game to start with, but it's far from unheard of that stubborn people that are new to games start up DkS and finish it.

Other than that I think playing a shooter, and an rts/moba should cover a lot. Quake is a personal favorite of mine, but just playing matches of Call of Duty will teach you what the pew pew games are all about. And in many ways it shows what pewpew games are gonna be for a little longer, Quake gives an outdated view of the genre, even if I think the "dated" parts are some of my favorites.

Starcraft might be a bit much, and it's a very high pressure game even for experience players. Though the campaign is actually very good, and teaches you a lot of things inherently in the design.

I don't know enough about fighting games to make very good judgement calls on it, but there is probably a place to have one on here. Street Fighter 4 used to be impenetrable tome, but I've kind of "got it" more recently, largely due to my moba experience oddly enough. But I can see the depth of that game and what it teaches you about patience,speed,timing,mind games,resource managment and spacing.

So yeah that's basically my trial by fire list. Perhaps not the easiest entry list, but with some dedication it will yield impressive results.

  • Dark Souls
  • Starcraft 2
  • Call of Duty X
  • Street Fighter 4
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nightriff

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I'm on a phone and not going to go to in depth but from reading/scanning the thread.... No Portal or Windjammers? What the fuck is wrong with you people?

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Fredchuckdave

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#45  Edited By Fredchuckdave

Skullgirls definitely has a much better set of learning tools than Street Fighter IV; and in general "learning" Street Fighter IV isn't really something that happens post the first year or so it came out. If you want a game for learning how to fight the computer you're much better served with MK9, if you want a game about learning how to fight other players then probably good old vanilla Street Fighter 2 is where you want to start; or just a random new IP that isn't overly daunting like Injustice (which also has plenty of learning tools available). Street Fighter IV's computer is exceptionally easy to exploit without actually learning anything in the process.

Vagrant Story, Super Metroid, Valkyrie Profile 2, Mario 64, Resident Evil 4, Front Mission 3, Builder's Block, Mark of the Ninja, Civilization 2, Europa Universalis IV, Hitman Absolution, Tenchu 2, any Blizzard RTS period.

I don't think there's a Diablo Clone that fits in the description.

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Bollard

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#46  Edited By Bollard

@sweep said:

I think something along the lines of:

IntroductionAdvanced
TetrisTetris
Wii SportForza Motorsport 3
Legend Of ZeldaDark Souls 2
QuakeTeam Fortress 2
StarcraftDota 2
Super Smash Bros MeleeStreet Fighter 4

Covers all the bases in both columns, giving you the original classics that best demonstrate the core principles and then an advanced, contemporary equivalent.

I put Tetris in there twice because it's pretty much the perfect puzzle game and it's timeless.

Ahhhh I think Starcraft as an introduction is a little crazy. Especially not Starcraft 1. Maybe the Starcraft 2 campaign would be an okay introduction to RTS games, but in all honesty I would move it to advanced, and put League of Legends in the introduction. MOBAs are basically simplified RTS games anyway, you only have to control one character. And LoL is easier to grasp initially than DOTA, because there's less mechanics.

Or maybe Diablo 3.

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sweep

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#49  Edited By Corevi

I know everyone had said those principles mean Dark Souls to them but there's one other game that I think hits all of them. Metal Gear Solid 3.

They make it super obvious that you should explore and when you do you get some pretty powerful equipment.

Guards have patrol patterns which have to be broken to complete the game.

The bosses are great at telegraphing their attacks, usually by overly dramatic gestures or yelling something, and all the traps that are hidden in the jungle are actually pretty easy to see once you know what to look for.

It's a stealth game.

You have to conserve bullets (at least for your big guns) and there's also the food system which while not particularly difficult to always be topped up it introduces another layer to the game.

Basically the entire introductory course would be easier games that have controls similar to MGS3 so they don't run away screaming when after 5 minutes actually trying to play it.

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Jazz_Bcaz

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#50  Edited By Jazz_Bcaz

@sweep said:

Can anyone think of a better combination of games that could better demonstrate each of these core principles (as laid out in the article):

  • Designers want you to explore
  • Patterns are there to be broken
  • Everything is telegraphed
  • Spatial awareness is more important than speed
  • Asset management is more important than raw skill

This is why people rave about Dark Souls so much. It's fundamentally encompasses all those core principles. Dark Souls isn't some special gem or maverick that completely abolishes all tropes that have come before it. Pressure plates and poisonous traps and dragons are all things we're familiar with in games. Most of the difficulty just comes from putting a bad guy on a narrow ledge. I honestly think it's one of the better games for someone unacquainted to gaming to try and pick up. We take it for granted that we have all these bad habits, and if someone is truly dedicated to trying something new, there's no reason Dark Souls would seem that difficult to them.

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