Games for Learning about Depth

What games would you recommend for learning game design and depth in different genres (games for FPS, Action, Fighting, Strategy, Puzzle, RPG, etc.)

I think you gotta play a little of everything, good and bad. It pays to see games that screw up too. I think analyzing Nier was interesting in part because it’s so clearly flawed.

Doom (great enemy variety, great level design, alright weapons), Blood (one of the best doom derivatives), Quake (3d successor to doom, awesome movement, so-so weapons and enemy variety, but still good compared to modern shooters), Unreal (I dunno, supposed to be good), Serious Sam 1 & 3 (good enemy design in the absence of good level design), Tribes (cool movement system, amazing emphasis on large maps), Desync (great enemy/weapon variety, very focused on combat encounters, weapon combos), Crysis Warhead (best in the series, nice suit abilities, nice levels, decent enemy AI)

SF2, SF3, SFV, KoF 98, 2002, XIV, Garou, Last Blade 2, Guilty Gear AC+R, GG Xrd, Marvel 2/3, Skullgirls, Vampire Savior, Melee, Divekick,

Pokemon (lots of configurable parts, every monster you encounter is made from commonly accessible parts), Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne/Digital Devil Saga (press turn system is brilliant, strong emphasis of buffs/debuffs), All the Mario RPG games (Timed Hits yo, and a couple other nice things), TWEWY (alternative approach to RPGs from the the ground up, tons of interlinking systems), Penny Arcade RPG (unique approach to ATB systems and realtime action queuing), Zeboyd Games RPGs (interesting choices at every step), Tales of Symphonia/Abyss (I think these are the best in the series, I don’t really know, action combat with a fighting game inspiration), Megaman Battle Network (deck building, unique grid based combat system)

RTS/tactics: (I’m weak in this category and haven’t played a lot of the games I’m recommending)
Starcraft Brood War/Starcraft 2 (I recommend brood war because it’s good, though unless you have someone who knows how to play that you can springboard off of, you won’t get much out of it, 2 for contrast and because it’s also good, but less so), Supreme Commander Forged Alliance (I believe this is the best version of supcom, I’m currently playing this), Company of Heroes 2, Dawn of War, Dungeon Keeper, Warcraft 3, Warcraft 2 (for contrast, the two games are significantly different), Age of Empires 2, Homeworld, Command and Conquer (Red Alert 2 or Generals), X-COM, a fire emblem game, advance wars.

Thief 1 & 2 (great emphasis on lighting levels and floor surfaces, great level design, slightly collectathon-like regrettably), Metal Gear Solid 3 (the deepest stealth game), Mark of the Ninja (one of the most versatile stealth games around, second deepest perhaps), Monaco (gets the interesting part of running away from guards completely right, does alright at everything else), Hitman (disguises), Splinter Cell (I dunno).

Mario 64 (has a ton of different options for movement and levels that allow you to take advantage of them), Mario Sunshine (Same, but slightly different), all the mainline Super Mario Bros games (1, Lost Levels, 3, World, NSMBW) Yoshi’s island, Kirby Canvas Curse (unique as hell, one of the best kirby games), Ducktales, STREEMERZ, Bubble Bobble, Sonic (pick one), a donkey kong country game, Megaman 2, 3, 9 (solid design), Megaman X1, 2, 3, Megaman Zero (I don’t know which to recommend), Castlevania 1/3 (great level design with simplistic limitations), Order of Ecclesia (nonlinearity and complex melee platformer combat), Ninja Gaiden 1-3 (great simple fast design), Cave Story, Kero Blaster, Demon’s Crest, Metal Slug, Contra, probably a dozen NES and SNES games.

Metroid, Super Metroid, Metroid Zero Mission, AM2R, Ori and the Blind Forest (tons of movement mechanics that all have interaction with each other), La Mulana, Battle Kid 2, Megaman ZX, ZX Advent.

Top down 2d action:
Zelda, Link to the Past, Link’s Awakening, Oracle of Seasons, Ys Origin (like a 3d zelda), Ys 1 & 2 (Bump system!), Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (tons of unexpectedly 3d object interactions), Hotline Miami (stealth and mixed action),

Beat Em Up:
Devil May Cry 3/4 (command moves for days, tons of recombineable moves), Bayonetta (Dodge offset, great enemy designs), Ninja Gaiden Black/Sigma/2 (enemies that want to kill you so hard, great use of blocking and dodging in one system), Transformers Devastation (culmination of everything platinum, 3rd person shooting, unique vehicle dodge system and vehicle attacks),

Mario Kart DS (my favorite mario kart, best physics), F-Zero GX (deepest racing game), Wipeout, Trackmania, Need For Speed (dunno which one)

Antichamber (metroidvania puzzler with a funky layout, and nice unique puzzle mechanics), Portal 1 (lets you place portals in a ton of places, has multiple solutions to every puzzle, great speed tech), Professor Layton (just a ton of nice puzzles of all different varieties, not really deep necessarily), The Witness (interesting approach to puzzles even if it doesn’t work out all the time)

That’s all I can think of. Notably this is not just a “my favorite games” list.

21 thoughts on “Games for Learning about Depth

  1. Mastu Denton August 11, 2016 / 4:43 am

    Did you mean KoF XIII? Since XIV isn’t out yet.

    Also, have you played The Talos Principle? I would think that deserves a spot in the puzzle section, one of the few games that could stump me on a regular basis.


    • Chris Wagar August 11, 2016 / 5:41 am

      You’re right. My bad.

      I haven’t yet. It’s been on my radar for a long time and I got a copy of it only recently.


  2. treeghettox August 11, 2016 / 10:42 pm

    Um, Contra? Always thought of it as very constrictive rather than “deep.” Is your argument that the (slightly) different weapons add depth?


    • Chris Wagar August 11, 2016 / 10:47 pm

      No, more the movement around enemies and the enemy variety and attack patterns. It’s about micro-positioning, same as Zelda 1.

      Depth doesn’t just mean the explicit stuff.

      Also I meant the Contra series, not just Contra 1.


      • treeghettox August 12, 2016 / 8:33 pm

        By your own definition, I’m not sure how these don’t qualify as “redundant states.” Can you give an explicit example to illustrate your point?


        • Chris Wagar August 13, 2016 / 3:39 am

          Here’s two asks related to this, I think the first one is probably more relevant here.

          I count them as partially redundant. I can’t get an exact measure of how redundant they are or are not, it’s a matter of interpretation.

          Different games emphasize the differentiation between these tiny state differences more than others through the way they set up their movement, they design their enemies, they design their environments, and other dealies.

          Probably a great example would be street fighter versus smash bros. Looking purely at how many moves are possible, it would seem obvious that street fighter is plainly deeper. You have 6 standing, 6 crouching, and 6 air normals, plus 3 versions of each special move a character has, their unique attacks, and target combos. In Smash bros you have 4 ground normals, 5 air normals, and 4 special moves that sometimes vary between the ground and air version.

          However Smash Bros has that factor of DI and midair movement control. Even though on the surface it might seem simpler in terms of sheer variety, you have these factors that make every single hit many times more complicated than the equivalent in street fighter. Some of these state differences won’t lead to significantly differing outcomes, and can said to be redundant, but identifying which is practically impossible.

          Analog board games have a tougher time simulating these factors, so state differentiation is more easily determined.

          I think the key to classic games, such as those on the NES, is micropositioning. They can’t model a large number of animation states for characters, so they made the games deep by making it so there are a lot of different ways to move around enemies. Lots of different places you could shoot enemies from, that projectiles could fly across the screen, ways you can weave between them. That’s depth on some level. Offering a greater granularity of movement is depth, having that fine granularity be regularly stressed by the player, requiring the player to move well in different ways and offering them different options in movement through the level design.

          It’s unfortunately something that can’t be neatly interpreted like all the possible combos in street fighter can, which I admit is a limitation of my philosophy, and renders a lot of judgments about these types of games open to subjective interpretation. Like, how much are these states really differentiated when they all seem to overlap all over one another?

          Though if you look at good NES games and bad NES games, the difference seems a lot clearer.

          Here’s a page with really good platformer TAS on NES, and a page with all the less entertaining ones (doesn’t necessarily mean bad games, but usually it does).

          I think it’s really clear that there’s a lot less going on in say Cheetahmen II than Contra 1, or Castlevania 3, or of course Mario 1.

          Same for say Jungle book, which happened to catch my eye.

          Here’s their Warpless Walkathon of Mario, which I think conveys much more complex concepts than either of the above games could hope to.

          If these subtle state variations were truly redundant, then the differences between the different jumping systems that I elaborated on in my 5 games 5 jumps article would be pointless.


  3. Papa Salty August 24, 2016 / 9:55 pm

    How could you forget God Hand? Boy, what’s wrong with you?


    • DJaeger August 28, 2016 / 12:49 pm

      USF4 too haha. Granted, he listed a shitload of games, so forgetting a couple of them is no biggie (even if USF4 is not as deep as 3S or SFV imo).


    • Chris Wagar September 15, 2016 / 7:25 am

      I don’t think I forgot it. I think I didn’t include it because I felt like it didn’t have something unique enough to teach compared to its contemporaries.


  4. Gilgamesh310 October 20, 2016 / 6:49 pm

    Interesting what you refer to as beat em ups. I would have classed those games as hack and slash. But Godhand is a beat em up. You literally beat people up in it, instead of slicing them up.


    • Chris Wagar October 20, 2016 / 6:58 pm

      Hack and Slash refers to like Diablo, Path of Exile, Torchlight. I don’t think it makes sense to refer to these games as hack and slash because the weapon used is a sword, considering they all have a similar style of gameplay and control and the only difference is an aesthetic one.


  5. Gilgamesh310 October 20, 2016 / 7:00 pm

    What genre does Dark Souls fall into then?


  6. Shintai October 23, 2016 / 7:49 pm

    I don’t really agree that Symphonia is one of the best games in the series, but at least we agree that Abyss is. I think Symphonia is a very good game don’t get me wrong, but I feel that later titles improved on what it established greatly, including Abyss itself. I think Tales of Vesperia specifically is the most nuanced when it comes to combat in the style Symphonia created.

    Why Megaman X1-3 but not 4? Admittedly I am not very familiar with X2 or 3, but I love X1 and especially X4.

    Devil May Cry 3 and 4 are obviously great but I think people should play the original aswell, for how it laid the groundwork for many action games after it.

    I am very glad you specifically pointed out the Sigma version of Ninja Gaiden 2 over the 360 version. I will never understand how people can claim it’s better than the Sigma version despite that game being so clearly buggy, unbalanced and just fucking broken.


    • Chris Wagar October 23, 2016 / 10:08 pm

      I’m going off my knowledge and experience here. I haven’t played any Tales games besides Symphonia and a little of Abyss.

      I haven’t played X4, I don’t have good information on X4, whereas I’ve played X1, and I know X2 and X3 are good.

      I don’t think DMC1 teaches something specific about game depth like the other two do. This is not a list of good games.

      I was not recommending Sigma 2. I was recommending NGB, NGS, or NG2. Not Sigma 2, NGS2. Most people have major issues with Sigma 2, even if it was an arguably completed game. Issues such as reduced enemy counts, changed delimbing chances, and other things. I don’t know the full list. I have played NGS and NGS2. NGB is not significantly changed, and I did not like NGS2 very much, except for a boss that was also in the original version of the game.


      • Shintai October 24, 2016 / 11:52 am

        I see, I recommend playing some more games in the series. I was particularity impressedX4 is by the combat systems in Tales of Graces and Tales of Xillia. I also recommend Vesperia if you want something more like what was offered in Symphonia.

        X4 is pretty great, althought X5 was kind of lackluster. X6 and X7 were terrible and I’d say to just avoid them. X8 people seem mixed on but I liked ti well enough, certainly better than X6 and X7.

        I know this simply isn’t a list of good games, I just felt that if you’re learning about depth and you recommend DMC3 and 4, you might aswell throw in the first game to see where the foundations were laid.

        Looking at it again I think I must have misread it. I am sorry but I am going to have to respectfully disagree, I have no idea why you prefer the original version of NG2 over the SIgma version, Reducing the enemy count was a good thing because the game became ridiculously laggy as a result and the SIgma version never skips a beat aside from the unsightly screen tearing. It would also make sense to lower delimbing chances if there are fewer enemies don’t you think? That sounds perfectly balanced to me given the changes made. I think the original version of NG2 was pretty poor and I think a lot of people defend it simply because it’s really hard when in reality it’s just cheap bullshit.I am not saying that’s the case for you, it;s just what I see a lot.


  7. dwarfplayer January 13, 2020 / 5:59 pm

    I know you are not much into RTS games, but one game that I think was pretty revolutionary and had a dynamic and varied gameplay was age of empire 3. The home system is just so open for new strategies. The game is some 15 years old and people still found new ways to play it. Every patch seens to open more possibilities (Every esoc balancing and remoding is a candy jar). All of this leads to players trying to find ways to catch the enemie of guard instead of simply copying some pro youtube video (the player Aizamk has strategies which are about using bad cards, but surprising the enemy with it and therefore gaining some momentum).


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