If Pepsiman were a developer, she'd be taking notes from these games.

Good games or bad, if I were ever to be in a designing position at a game developer, these are the ones on which I'd be taking notes. By no means is this a "best of" list, though; sometimes the greatest hits offer the fewest lessons because of how they were made. So while some beloved classics might make the list, they're not there for arbitrary reasons and likewise, oft maligned ones are there for reasons other than "THIS IS HOW TO AVOID MAKING TEH SUXXORZ!!!11"

List items

  • For story driven games, particularly RPGs, Persona 4 would be one of the first games I'd turn to with regards to the characterization department. There's a lot it does very well in just that area alone, especially with regards to using the Social Links as a means of realistic personal development, as well as a way of fostering better team work. Naturally, there are plenty of other things to learn from Persona 4, but if I could only take one subject out of it and apply it to my own work, characterization would, without a doubt, be my choice.

  • In this day and age, there's the fear that in order for a game to be good, its feature set has to be both diverse and "fully developed." Ico is a very vivid example that minimalism is not only a good idea from time to time, but that it can actually greatly accent an experience precisely by emphasizing the few things that are there. Ico gives you a simple mission with simple exploration and combat mechanics and it's a formula that still works well today.

  • I've never been one to fully jump on the Odin Sphere/Vanillaware bandwagon and here's why: both the game and its developer seem to always have potential in their ideas and executions, but never fully realize them. Make no mistake, there's definitely quality underneath it all, but when playing it myself, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was just something absent that prevented it from fully reaching greatness in every respect. Thus, from Odin Sphere, I'd learn how to both assess the potential of an upcoming game I'd be working on it, compare it to the potential of my own studio, and see whether the two were equal so that the product could come out in the best possible state.

  • Beyond the obvious lessons stating that playtesting is a bit of a necessity when searching for bugs, Cheetahmen II would teach me the value of abandoning an idea when things simply aren't bound to work out. I think most sane people will agree that the original Cheetahmen, the minigame for Action 52, wasn't exactly fantastic or overly original; the sequel should have just stayed on the drawing board. It may not have ever been released, but the fact that cartridges still exist tells me that too many people, at some point or other, actually believed in the viability of the project enough to give it development time.

  • Conformity within innovation; such is the main teaching of Rhythm Tengoku. By itself, it's a fantastic game whose innovation, even to this day, isn't in particularly short supply. It is, after all, one of the few rhythm games that doesn't rely on DDR or Guitar Hero-esque note streams to fuel the gameplay. But at the same time, it's still a rhythm game, through and through. It's greatest accomplishment may therefore be the fact that it still ultimately remains true to the genre's roots while putting so many of its conventions on its head. If I'm looking for a way to reinvent a gameplay standard or genre, I'd be sure to pay attention to what Rhythm Tengoku did and emulate its philosophies.

  • Essentially, experimentation is great, but when applying it to something known to be tried and true, the tweaks need to be applied in the right places in order for it be effective. In Super Mario Sunshine's case, none of the deliberate quirks are really broken or bad; they just feel unnecessary and muddle the overall Mario experience that people have come to be familiar with over the years. Change is good for a lot of things, games included, but the application has to be deliberate and done right. In Sunshine's case, the former seems to be true, but not so for the latter. There's a good game there, but there's also definitely a reason why most people rejoiced when Mario Galaxy was somewhat more conventional in certain areas.

  • There are a lot of things one can learn from the Halo games, both good and bad, and especially from the first installment. Personally, for the sake of originality, I'd try to learn how to make a game's universe feel cohesive and actually existent in gameplay. As a franchise, I think Halo's biggest issue from a storytelling standpoint is that a lot of the plot that fleshes things out and makes the series interesting is left to media that's completely separate from the games. It'd be one thing if the games didn't hint that the greater canon existed at all, but the fact that they do leaves a lot to be desired; some things out to be fleshed out somehow during the course of actual gameplay and not left to the books or graphic novels. There's something to be said for doing a Star Wars-esque thing and having third parties help tell a larger tale through different angles, but Halo seems to rely on that too much to explain even the most basic things about its universe.

  • A flawed game can still be a good one as long as it has the charm and integrity in the right places. In Vib-Ribbon's case, the flaws mostly lie in lack of depth; there's little in the way of the gameplay other than the obstacle course and while importing your own CDs can be greatly entertaining, Vib-Ribbon is still a game that can only really be played in short bursts. But to counteract that is the simplistically great art style and the charm derived from that. If you have a vision for a game, even if it's not going to turn out perfectly, then you might as well pursue it as best you can. There's something to be said to sticking to ones guns, even if the guns themselves are imperfect.

  • Bully isn't the best implementation of Rockstar's own formula for the Grand Theft Auto games, but what it does do is prove that the core mechanics-- the exploration of the game world, the combat, and the character dynamics-- can still work really well in an entirely different setting. This isn't some sort of gritty pseudo-New York City that Bully takes place in; it's just your seemingly average boarding school. The game has just the right tweaks to accommodate the setting, from the tamer, but more humorous weaponry to the dialog. Bully is, in that sense, the anti-Mario Sunshine; it shows how to go about bringing about legitimate changes that make a familiar experience still feel unique.

  • Fragile does a lot of things right. It has a good atmosphere, the environments are really well detailed, and you're rewarded pretty nicely for exploring. The reason this game is on the list, though, is not because of any of those things, but rather for its one main fault: trying to shoehorn a feature in when it probably doesn't fit in with what the original design was envisioned as being. In Fragile's case, it's the combat. It's functional, but it never gets any better than tedious, which is unfortunate, because it can often detract from the game's good features. The game knows what it wants to be, which is one of exploration and mystery, and not an action RPG, so it should have stuck to its guns.

  • Imagine's lesson is one of genre transcendence. As I wrote in my own review of the game, I think that there's definitely room for a great MMO that's inherently and uniquely Megami Tensei, it's just that Imagine wasn't it. It's because of instances like that that I'm of the belief that if you're going to transition a series into a new genre, you can't do it halfheartedly. If you can make the elements that make a particular series special work in a new context that's just as great, if not even more so, than previous entries, then by all means make it, but if not, it's probably best to drop it until something viable can be made. One only needs to look at other games in the same franchise, such as Devil Survivor, to see how well such transitions can work when they're done with the right care and attention to the respective series' soul.

  • Spider-Man 2 might have been a movie license and definitely had its rough edges, but as an open world game, it's hard to ignore what it accomplished at the time. It contextualized its genre in new and interesting ways that completely fit with what the Spider-Man property is all about. Instead of just confining the exploration and correspondingly interesting stuff to the ground levels and the x and y-axes, Spider-Man 2 made sure you took as much interest in things way, way above ground, giving you a chance to take in its setting in a way few games still replicate today. That's something not even newer open world games like GTA IV have really accomplished.