Top 5 Most Important Aspects of Your Game

So you’ve decided to plunge yourself into the world of game development, have assembled a team of mighty warriors to tackle all the big issues, and are ready to create the next best game in the industry... trumping WoW, Guild Wars… (you get the point). You’ve chopped up all your brainstorming and assembled some keen concepts for a storyline, and you’re ready to go. But amongst all the programming, character concepts, dungeons, and quests, what are the most important aspects of your game that will determine whether someone enjoys themself? Read on, and allow me to share with you what I think.


When we decide to take that plunge into developing a new game, there are five things you should consider carefully and pay great attention to. There are probably more of these that will hinder or help you along your way, and your ordering may be different than mine, but I always hold to be the most important. Over the next week, we will reveal each aspect, culminating with the complete article at the end of the week. Today, we’ll begin at the top with the number 5.

Number 5: Storyline

Some may balk at this statement, claiming that the storyline is easily overshadowed and unnecessary when you have intense graphics that make your fingers tingle or combat so low that you’re ducking out of the way from behind your monitor. There is no better inspiration for features and activities, quests, and dungeons when crafting your game than your highly developed and custom-tailored storyline. While these things contribute to an awesome game and can lead to a lot of excitement (in fact, they’re on the list, too!), they cannot make up for the lack of storyline. One thing many players crave, whether consciously or not, is a strong storyline that leads them into caring about the game – it entices you – and makes you feel as though your wildest dreams may be possible in this environment. The storyline can be simple and to the point while being so flawlessly done that it serves as the crux of the entire game (EVE Online: We’re flying through space, blowing people out of the sky…) and at the same time being so rich and deep with lore (the complexities in myth and story surrounding EVE is so great that it entangles even the most basic ships and inventory items) that it compels players to write their histories.


Not only does the storyline help players become engaged with all that you’ve slaved over and worked for, but it also helps you, the developer, along the way. If you’ve been smart and dreamed up an intoxicatingly deep history of your game setting from the beginning, it will constantly serve you throughout development. It will provide clues into what features want to be a part of the game, what doesn’t need to be included, and what does or doesn’t fit. When referring to the site analysis portion of architecture, an architecture professor once said we could learn much about what we should be building on the site by simply visiting the location and “envisioning the invisible building that wants to be built.” This is true in architecture, especially in developing and dreaming up your storyline/game setting.

The storyline may be important, but is it more important than a flashy game setting so vibrant that you are tempted to stay indefinitely? Well, maybe – just as long as your 3d representation isn’t bogged down by hundreds of thousands of nasty polygons or quads. Why in the world is Artwork important, anyway?

Number 4: Artwork

I’ve often heard that your game’s Artwork, 3D models, and characters won’t make or break things. I agree with this because it won’t make or break the entire game, but the artwork and professional-looking/feeling models help you out along the way. Think of any movie you’ve seen recently where the sets were incredible and stunning – one such example (although not necessarily as “recent”) is the Lord of the Rings movies. Rich and diverse settings abound throughout the entire set of films and help the immersion factor like you wouldn’t believe. Would the film have been “broken” by less awe-inspiring scenes? Probably not, because in the case of The Lord of the Rings, there were a lot of other incredible aspects. Did the awe-inspiring scenes make the movie that much better and give it more *more* to drool over? Yes, Definitely. The same kind of effect can be seen in the game industry. I play games with incredible graphics (EVE Online) and others that don’t (Dark Ages). I am addicted to both games for different reasons, but you can bet that the stunning environment in EVE certainly helps inspire its large player base.

Additionally, your Artwork can seriously affect the mechanics of your game. Many developers overlook a crucial aspect of their 3d models – the poly count… That’s to say, the number of triangles (or *shiver* quads) your game has. Many of the free 3D models you may find on the internet are gorgeous but are so incredibly detailed that using them on a computer, in a real-time environment, would not be wise because you are typically trying to appeal to as many systems as possible. Console systems have the luxury of (for the most part) assuming that everyone’s running on an even playing field. Those of us developing games strictly for the computer don’t have this luxury. Suffice it to say, it’s important to find quality, low-poly game content, and there’s certainly enough of it out there that there’s no excuse for you to be shoving your game full of characters that are in the 10,000 poly range (many online companies limit their avatars, or characters, to around 2500-5000 polys).

The lower your poly count on your 3d models, the smoother your environment will run on the widest range of computers... usually. One thing to remember throughout this entire process is how your engine handles polygons and to find out what the ideal poly content is that you want to aim for characters and scenery. Higher character polys are usually more acceptable, with pictures (buildings, trees, etc.) lower in poly. Another engine-specific feature to remember is whether or not the engine supports Level of Detail (LOD). For those who may not know, LOD is a system where the machine will use shallow poly versions of a model if the player is far away, swapping the model in and out for high-quality versions the closer you get to it. As far as I know, almost every engine supports LOD, but some, like Active Worlds, do not.

Down the road, we go with Number 3: Music! Some may say (and argue) that music for an online game should be included in the category of “Artwork.” – while this may be true depending on how you look at it, music in a game is incredibly important *aside* from your 3d models and 3d characters, and so it receives its spot.

Number 3: Music

In many ways, music is the heart and soul of any environment you may create in 3D – it is the soundtrack to which events occur, players win battles, too, return home, etc. Music is a vital tool used to set the mood in any setting, and without it, your game will feel dead and like something is missing. In many ways, music helps to express the spirit of a specific area for the player. It enhances and emphasizes what you are relating to your player. Do you want them to feel sad, anxious, excited, fearful? Because hearing is one of our primary senses (seeing, smelling, etc.), one could argue that it is just as powerful in linking and creating memories. It should be one of your *top goals* to make people remember your game – making your game memorable is one of the tricks in making it enjoyable and something people will tell their friends about. Hearing and the music in your game are more subtle qualities that play a huge part in how an environment *feels*. Think about what your favorite movie would sound like without sound and music.

This highlights another important aspect that is a sub-category of music: sound effects. While music is the key to giving your environment some feeling and life, sound effects make the environment tangible and realistic. When a player can knock over a trashcan and, as a result, hear the clanging of aluminum and tin rolling down the concrete they’re standing on, they have an increased feeling of interaction with the environment. Please think of the effect and life the atmosphere takes on when a player goes from walking on stone, where their shoes may be clacking, to walking on dirt or mud, where the sound would naturally change quite dramatically. Making good games is about mastering small (but powerful) details that immerse your player.

Many independent developers may shy away from placing such importance on the music played in the game because, in some ways, it can be hard to come by for people with limited budgets. While pieces can be expensive (alright, no foolin’, it IS expensive) to have custom-made, you can find some great deals on royalty-free music online. These tracks are often professionally made and available for flexible licenses – either for independent folks or commercial studios. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to find 5 to 6 tracks on indie support for around $100. has some great deals on music and sound effects – the sound effects found there are a deal. You can find the page directly by visiting their content packages. also has some great resources relating to music in games and provides a nice directory of sites containing stock and royalty-free music. Check it out here.

Later, it would be nice to include a directory of some great music resources of our own. Look for that later. In the meantime, let us know what you think about music and sound effects inside of games you’ve played, whether you think they were effective and important to your gaming experience… And if you disagree, you can let us know that, too!

Now that we’ve covered much of the meat of your game (Storyline, Artwork, Music), we will delve a little further into game design and define the skeleton of your competition – the backbone. This thing ultimately keeps people coming back to your game day after day. Storyline, Artwork, and music are important things that will make your game feel complete and make it less likely that people will stand in your local village and wonder, “What’s missing?” But ultimately, when it comes to developing your game, we’re now getting into what matters. That brings us to today’s post…

Number 2: Game Flow

In today’s world, a game can follow three primary flow types regarding game design. What exactly is game flow? The game flow, or structure, is how players interact with it and storyline events, quests, missions, etc. It determines whether players can branch out and make the game what they want it to be or if they’re locked onto a track that guides them into their pitfalls and excitement. Appropriately, the three types of flow are Sandbox, Roller-coaster, and a hybrid mix of the two. In many cases, how your game engages people and forces them to interact with the environment, and progress will determine the types of players you attract to your game.

The most “traditional” gameplay style, or rather the most frequently used in the past, has been that of the “Roller-coaster.” This type of gameplay is just as the name implies – users begin the game (get on the ride) and are carefully led through the build-up, the storyline’s climax, pitfalls, exciting twists and turns, and ultimately, the game ends with a rush of excitement. This could also be equated with the experience reading a book gives with a definite beginning and a definite ending of things. Many RPGs fall into this category, where your goals in the game are explicitly defined (conquer the evil demons of the sea and save the pretty girl).

While these games are a lot of fun, in some ways, this system doesn’t always work as well in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), where you have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people interacting with one another. This isn’t to say that there aren’t MMOs that pull it off (Guild Wars specifically comes to mind), and this isn’t to say that MMORPGs that go the route of the Roller-Coaster aren’t wildly fun (as Guild Wars is). This IS to say that in more recent years, people have begun to favor a newer breed of game where the options appear limitless, and if, instead of rescuing that pretty girl from the evil demons of the sea, you want to go and be an innocent farmer… more power to you!

Enter the “Sandbox” games. In recent years, there has been a big push for these sandboxes where people can do what they’d like. Like roller-coaster games, the name is synonymous with its real-life counterpart, the sandbox. The idea is that upon entering the game, you can do just that without any significant consequences if you ignore the overarching and present storyline (remember our pretty girl). This type of gameplay is sometimes said to appeal primarily to hardcore-style gamers, although I’m not sure I fully buy into that philosophy. Often, I’ve found many casual players in sandbox-type games who enjoy socializing with one another, mining together, exploring, etc., without all the insane time commitment of pursuing the major storyline events. Political and religious systems and various job occupations can be found in many of these games.

However, from what I’ve seen, these games tend to be far more time-intensive than roller-coaster games simply because of the time you need to pour into your character to forge your path (and be successful at it). While some may not agree with me here, I would say EVE Online is classifiable as a sandbox, as most of Eves’s content, gameplay, and activities are created and inspired by the players. GTA3 is also considered by many to be a sandbox game. That in itself is an important note: in sandboxes, you will normally find a wealth of systems run by the players themselves, like guilds and factions – usually, there is also an economy in-game that is facilitated totally by players selling their personally made goods.

Finally, recently, we’ve hit a time when some people are discussing ways to make what you could call a mix between sandbox and roller-coaster games. I have yet to come across a good example of how this has been done (or how someone is working on one); I’ve only heard slight mention of it here and there. From what I gather, though, there would be a few central overarching storylines taking place at one time, giving users their choice of how to proceed and, along the way, providing ample opportunity for players to branch off onto their paths while still allowing them to come back to the big storyline.

Some may again classify this primarily as a sandbox. Still, I would argue that if, at any time, there is a great deal of direction coming from quests, storylines, and developer-driven content, you begin to get more into roller-coaster elements. If anyone has run into what you’d consider a good example of a sandbox roller-coaster hybrid, please let me know! If you’ve ever read one of those “Choose your own ending” style books that plagued elementary and middle schools, you’ll understand what a sandbox roller-coaster hybrid might be like. While the player has choices (perhaps many, many choices!), things are ultimately “guided” by an overall storyline while leaving room for player-created content. At the end of the day, though, all that is easier said than done.


Alcohol scholar. Bacon fan. Internetaholic. Beer geek. Thinker. Coffee advocate. Reader. Have a strong interest in consulting about teddy bears in Nigeria. Spent 2001-2004 promoting glue in Pensacola, FL. My current pet project is testing the market for salsa in Las Vegas, NV. In 2008 I was getting to know birdhouses worldwide. Spent 2002-2008 buying and selling easy-bake-ovens in Bethesda, MD. Spent 2002-2009 marketing country music in the financial sector.