Game design is tricky, and the art of crafting good games is a skill not everyone has. Still, everyone has an opinion on what makes a game "good," and the standards of one might not be the same as another. Games of vastly different genres and ideas have been created, and while their styles may differ from conventional designs, they’ve made their marks in gaming history. Below are a few stories of some video game geniuses who’ve left their mark on the world. While their ideas might have been unconventional, their achievements can’t be denied and serve as the perfect inspiration for those who feel their ideas are lacking.
A “Solid” success
One only needs to look at Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear games to know that his approach to game design can be somewhat unique. His Metal Gear games aren’t just some run-and-gun first-or-third-person shooter you can breeze through. Instead, it’s a series that's well known for its narratively complex, symbolism-heavy plot. It’s unafraid of combining its over-the-top elements of humor with its dystopian tale of shadowy political figures and wartime profiteers. All of this coalesces into an unforgettable experience of stealth, action, and fun.
Such a design did not come easy, though. The birth of the Metal Gear series came from humble origins, dating back to the 1990s when Kojima had intended to subvert conventional game design. As he was a fan of movies, he had been pushing for a more cinematic film quality to his work. While this was initially denied, he eventually had his way with the original release of Metal Gear for the MSX, which sold very well.
Image courtesy of Aaron Yip at HardwareZone.com
He was always pushing for this type of design, even to the chagrin of those around him. While he had intended to do more, the technology back then had been far too simple for what Kojima had planned. He found himself routinely frustrated by the limitations of the hardware, which would only find relief in the release of Metal Gear Solid on the PS1.
The shift from 2D to 3D gaming finally allowed Kojima to bring his vision to life. Snake punched, snuck, and shot his way to international acclaim in no time. It was brilliant and unforeseen, so much so that even Kojima himself did not realize how impactful it would be.
"Doom"ed for glory
Another unlikely success story comes from John Romero and the beginnings of his hit FPS, Doom. Doom is called the grand-daddy of FPS games for a reason: it popularized it to the world at large. Other FPS games had come before it, of course. Games like Wolfenstein 3D and Catacomb 3D (both also made by iD Software) were a few years older, but none would have the lasting impact Doom would have. It was Doom that changed how the world would view FPS games. It was Doom that pushed for future games in the genre to become faster, more intense, and more visceral in nature. Who would’ve guessed this all came about because of design disagreements during game development?
Image courtesy of user Jotokun at Reddit
The original concept of Doom was that of a sci-fi horror story, slow, steady, and creeping in design. Its initial incarnation had the player slowly unraveling the origin of Doom’s hellish denizens, all while the levels changed, warped, and grew twisted over time. While Romero had liked this initial idea, technological limitations and internal disagreements ultimately made him reconsider. Romero wanted a more personal, brutal feeling to his game. He wanted it to feel fluid and frantic and was so determined to make his vision come to life that he spent hours designing its most memorable levels over and over again.
Today, Doom stands as one of the most iconic FPS franchises to date, with its latest game, Doom Eternal, having been released in 2020.
Miyazaki’s “Soul” failure and eventual triumph
Few can doubt that Demon's Souls' initial launch was an absolute failure. To its audience in Japan, Demon's Souls felt sluggish and unfinished. Its characters moved too slowly, its combat far too clunky, and death too punishing for what it asked for its players. Sony's then-president had even tried it for himself and would later remark that he had found it to be unbelievably bad.
And who can really blame him? Game designer Hidetaka Miyazaki had such an alien vision for his game. He had wanted to emulate a difficulty level found in a bygone era of video game history. He wanted the game to feel like an actual struggle so those who triumphed would feel emboldened by having conquered an obstacle. To Miyazaki, victory had to be earned, and those who fought tooth and nail to win would find it sweet and intoxicating.
And he was right. Demon’s Souls was a punishing game, but for the few who persevered, that sense of victory kept them going.
Image courtesy of Playstation
Demon's Souls did not fare well in Japan and found very little success in its home country, but those who heard about it overseas were excited. It became a hit in the West, prompting its eventual sequel, Dark Souls, to reap the glory Demon's Souls did not get.
Like its predecessor, Dark Souls’ combat, world, and design shared that same vision, and people loved it. It had finally become a success, and the Dark Souls franchise was born, all because Miyazaki had persevered and refused to give up his vision.
Creativity left unbound
All these stories are successes beyond anyone's wildest dreams. These game designers have come to influence gaming and game genres through their unique visions, all of which came from their innate passions put into video game form. By persevering against all odds, these genius minds have shown that a singular idea executed well can still be enjoyable. Weird, difficult, or hard to understand, all that matters is that the mind behind them wanted to make it happen and found a way to make it come true.
These are the gaming industry's modern leaders, game design icons proving nothing is impossible. And if their humble origins are a sign of anything, it’s that those who have the will will find a way.
This article was written by Alexander Ryan Ong Cuaycong