Let’s be frank: bad games abound in this industry. It wouldn’t be imprudent to say that most titles that come out are poor creations meant solely to win a buck and not advance games as an art form or a mode of entertainment. The mountains of mini-game collections for the Wii, the endless hack-n-slash ripoffs that come out for the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, and even the computer titles that–even though some are decent–are shipped broken, requiring patches to fix. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there, and for the casual gamer, it can be quite daunting.
This shouldn’t get anyone down down. Having an art form buried underneath a pile of schlock is the hallmark of Hollywood, the music industry, and television. It means that the mainstream has finally discovered video games as a means of telling a story, for better or worse. Which means, indirectly, bigger budgets, bigger stakes, and more advanced titles, which translates into more scrutiny and better storytelling.
Video games are about abstraction. The gamer takes a controller or keyboard and mouse and is suddenly put into the role of a superhero, soldier, or plumber downing mushrooms to grow big enough to take down a princess-stealing dinosaur. One can travel to distant galaxies or stick around at home, making life more comfortable for simulated humans with consumer products and love. There is a literal fourth wall—the screen between TV/Monitor—with a game on one side and a player on the other.
This is why controls are so important to a title. Good controls remove one more barrier between a player and the gaming world. Bad controls take a player out of a game, like seeing a boom shadow in a film. The illusion is shattered. Frustration replaces aspiration. It takes time to learn the controls of a game, of course, but if the design sensibility matches the learning curve, the transition becomes seamless.
SimCity came about in a rather roundabout way. Will Wright, working on a completely different title, discovered that he had much more fun developing the level editors for the game than the game itself. Believing (rightly so, as it turns out) that others might share his interest in civic management, he eventually created a game that, though puny by today’s standards, is the grandfather of all city-simulation titles.
Thus, a franchise and a genre were born. Soon, gamers would be harnessing all kinds of zones, ordinances, and utilities to create masterpieces of design. Theme parks followed, as did hospitals, ski resorts, prisons, and even schools. The classic top-down look has been little changed since then, but other forms of expression changed the flow to keep things from getting stale. Where would we be without the disaster button, filling us with the power of Old Gods to rain down our displeasure on the unwary Sims of the cyber world?