What makes a good computer game?

You could say that computer games are simply games that you play on a computer.

But there is more to it than that.

In the UK, computer games are a multi-billion pound industry. There are games for all age ranges and interests. You can play games on lots of devices including mobile phones, tablets, computers and consoles.

Designing games

All games come from a basic idea that is then developed into a game.

One of the earliest computer games was called Pong. Pong simply allowed you to play a game of table tennis on a computer. It was very popular from the moment it was launched.

Coming up with an idea

So the first thing to do is come up with the idea for your game. You could start with a pirate looking for lost treasure, a vet caring for animals on a safari park or a spaceship captain exploring an alien galaxy.

When you are coming up with your idea you can ask yourself questions. For example, what is the objective? What are the rules?

Genre

There are lots of different types of games. These types are called genres. Different genres include: racing games, adventure games, puzzle games and platform games.

Once you have your idea and have decided on a genre you can start designing your game.

A sketch of a computer game character next to the final design on a tablet.
Who will be the hero of your game? You could sketch out your character and think of adventures to send them on.

What makes games fun?

Everyone has their own opinion about what makes a good game. But a game usually needs good graphics, interesting stories, characters and nice music to make it enjoyable. Other aspects that are important include:

Gameplay

How the game plays is very important. While the look of games has changed a lot over the years it is gameplay that makes you want to play a game. Games must be fun and entertaining.

Difficulty

Challenge is really important in games. If the game is too hard you might become frustrated with it and give up. If a game is too easy you might finish it too quickly and find it boring. Games need to balance these two extremes.

Feedback

Giving the player feedback is also important. This could be a simple score or unlocking skills or extra levels for players who do very well.

Learn about computer games with Sameena and Claire Miller in this short video.

Games keep us coming back

Computer games have a few methods of keeping players coming back for more.

Games will often increase their difficulty and introduce new game mechanics to keep the player interested. The difficulty will normally change as you get further into the game. Enemies might become harder to defeat or the speed of the game might increase.

New mechanics can be introduced as the game progresses. This could be adding new powers like a super jump or skills to open locked doors.

Tutorials

A tutorial is a section or level at the start of a game that shows you how to play. Tutorials are common in modern games.

A computer screen with a spaceship sprite
As you progress through a computer game the difficulty will usually increase.

How can you program a computer game?

Games sold by companies use complex code. Often there is so much code that it has to be ‘decomposed’ (made into smaller parts or elements). Each of these smaller elements can then be programmed.

Simple games can be programmed using programming languages like Scratch, Kodu or Project Spark.

If you want to make your own computer game you might need to think about:

  • How will a sprite move across the screen? (A sprite is a computer graphic such as a character.)

  • What rules control the world your character lives in? Is there gravity in your game?

  • How will enemies behave and move?

  • What happens when the world, the sprites and the enemies come into contact?

Answering these questions is part of the development process. It will give you an idea of how your game will behave, which will help you make the best game you can.

An illustration of a monitor with a computer game showing a rocket shape sprite.
There is a lot to think about when making a computer game. Each sprite will need to be programmed. This space ship is being programmed to move when the arrow keys are pressed.
Two kids playing a video game