Good Game Design is Like Music – It Has a Rhythm That Players Can Feel
Good games rarely have non-stop action constantly due to the fact that gameplay is generally considered more fun when it’s balanced and has a natural-feeling ebb and flow. Fast paced and slow paced sections are mixed together, more difficult and less difficult gameplay is spread throughout each level for variety and to keep players from getting bored or fatigued. Also you can use the music of the game or even sound effects to make an actual rhythm that players can hear and feel. There are several games that are musically based, like Guitar Hero or Rockband. These games actually incorporate real music into the gameplay and have you interact with an input “instrument” that lets you play notes in the rhythm of the song.
That’s an extreme example of having a musical flow in gameplay but you want your game to have that some of the same characteristics of good music: steady pacing in each section, various elements (instruments) interacting in different / interesting ways, emotional content and sections of varying intensity. Let’s look at each characteristic mentioned.
Steady pacing in a song is crucial and if the timing is off and there is awkward silence or lack of action the audience will notice this and perceive it as negative. Eliminate dull areas. Songs often have several different musical instruments making sounds that come together to create a melody, but many of the songs also use the same instruments and sounds in several different ways in each section of the song. Each different combination of instruments results in a different melody and all of the combinations together in their specific order are what make the experience of the song. You want to mix and blend your game elements (enemies, obstacles, hazards, mechanics, etc.) to create different gameplay sections with their own “feel” that combined together create the experience of your game.
Emotional content in songs like an intense guitar solo or a tearful ballad are effective ways of getting the song to resonate with fans and have them not only remembering the song but wanting to hear it again and again. You can use this to your advantage in your games and create all kinds of intense emotionally engaging situations that the player will remember and want to come back to. Think about how some great songs are balanced out with there being sections of soft and light melodies mixed in with other sections of fast, intense instrumental or vocal performances. You need to use this same balancing principle in your games to give the players a memorable experience. You never want the player to say “man this is boring” or ask “wow, will this game ever let up?”