The Edge Archives: Ten Commandments of game design
This feature was originally published in October 2003
If Edge was God, and it’s a rare day when it doesn’t wish it were, these would be its commandments. This isn’t game theory. These are rules that Edge believes are universally and inarguably applicable to all and any games. That some of the laws listed here may seem mundane doesn’t diminish their potential to make a great game good and a bad game unplayable.
But although Edge stands by its proclamations, it also expects that in another ten years, this list will look laughably obsolete. Hopefully, half of the things on it will have been rendered irrelevant by advances of gaming technology, and the other half will have become so deeply enshrined in game design that no one even thinks of them.
I The first cut is the deepest
No Player, under any circumstances, should be forced to sit through the same cut-scene twice. Even if it’s really, really pretty. But by the same measure, no cut-scene should be designed so that a player can skip it inadvertently. Edge proposes a system that solves both problems: the first button press pauses the scene, and brings up a menu which offers a choice of skipping or resuming.
II Knock three times
Crates should only ever take one hit. Edge isn’t quite sure whether crates should still be a staple of gaming, but it’s certain that when they do occur, they ought to be more readily batterable. Hitting a crate isn’t interesting or skilful or fun, it’s a way of telling the game you would like the crate to open. Making you do it more than once is downright rude.
III Please, make it stop
When a game saves, what it saves, and how often it does so are some of the most critical tools a designer has to control the pacing and challenge of a game. Edge isn’t asking anybody to mess with that. But it should be possible to suspend a game at any point, and pick it up from the same point the next time you play. Edge appreciates that this is far from simple to implement, but as games become bigger and gamers become busier, it needs to become the norm not the exception. Game Boy games that ship without the Sleep mode implemented are especially vulnerable to Edge’s wrath.
IV Cruel and unusual
Don’t punish failure with frustration. One of the signature features of a good videogame is that defeat re-doubles your determination to succeed. Every knock out, spin out, time out or wipe out ought to ignite in the player a desperation to try again. So why put 17 menu selections between them and a restart. One button press – possibly two – is the most Edge is prepared to tolerate between itself and a second chance of victory.
V It’s behind you
Or rather, it isn’t. If you give camera control to the player, don’t require them to be cinematographic perfectionists. They may want to perform sweeping 360 degree shots, they may want to peer round corners at acute and sneaky angles, but mostly they want to see where they’re going. Let the centre the camera behind them with one reliable click.
VI The sound of silence
Game music has the potential to convey atmosphere, emotion and information to the player. But it also has the power to infuriate, enrage and bore. No matter how good, music will always wear thin before the game itself does, because even the most fixed of gameplay patterns is altered on each occasion by player action. The song, however, remains the same, and so the player must always be able to turn it off.
VII Choke chain training
The point of tutorials is to provide an opportunity for experimentation and familiarisation within the gameworld. Edge doesn’t appreciate being hectored and bullied and harassed. Don’t time players, or penalise them for trying out a few extra buttons, or force a restart just because a player dared to deviate from script.
VIII Out of your hands
One of the most delicate tasks a game designer faces is configuring an ideal control scheme, but Edge can see no persuasive argument for denying players the chance to tweak it for themselves. Games that put select where you expect cancel or that offer 16 useless presets are shooting themselves in the foot. Or, more precisely, games that don’t give the choice of whether or not to invert are most likely shooting players in their own foot.
IX Previously on Edge’s sofa
There’s nothing more frustrating than having to give up on a game simply because you left it for a week or two, and can’t remember where to go next. Games should always offer a way of refreshing your memory of your last few in-game accomplishments. Edge would like to make clear that this isn’t the same thing as a flashing, shrieking nagbot that you can’t switch off and won’t stop telling you where to go even when you’re already going there.
X The ten commandments: the final proclamation
Edge has had it with colons, and the simpering subtitles that trail after them. No more Bland Franchise Follow-Up: The Verbing Of The Noun. One game, one name – a simple enough equation and one which there is never any justification to break. If a sequel is fresh enough to deserve a name of its own, then give it a name of its own. If it’s loyal to its originator, then proudly trumpet the fact with a number and leave it at that.