What makes a game epic?

This is something I've been thinking about lately. What is it that makes a game truly great? What is it that most games lack but a few (I'd personally say mostly older games) do have? Or is being great just a lack of bad stuff? I'd like to hear your opinion about this.

Now let me clarify something. I'm not talking about what makes a game "fun". A game can easily be fun without being epic, as a matter of fact a lot of games are. The most obvious example of this is the worms series. Whilst being fun (even though some will disagree with me on that fun part) it is by no means "epic". In the end it's just a game, nothing close of a piece of art.

First let me give my own views and ideas, starting with a game most people will agree is truly legendary: Half-Life 1.

I was talking with a friend of mine about this game a while ago and he said something like this: "It's the introduction were you ride that train and see the whole base with everything happening and the voice talking to you. It's very movie-like and sets the mood for the rest of the game." I think this is true, and not only this, after the introduction things are still calm, you walk around, find your suit, go to the lower levels, push a cart with orange lightning and then oh noes! a movie starts playing. So you got a bit accustomed with your surroundings before starting to smash everything up. The themes of the intro also carry on during the remainder of the game. Apart from the great intro there's another aspect that makes HL so great: the calm way in it "tells the story". In the beginning the only thing you can do is to get the hell out. Then later you hear the military is coming, presumably to aid you. In the meantime a charismatic mistery-man appears and seems to just walk about calmly. So everything goes very slowly and if things aren't clear they are left in hidden completely.

I'm going to compare this with a game I've recently played, prototype. I personally feel prototype, while fun, is totally brainless. You start out with your full set of powers and abilities and just smash some things up with no explanation whatsoever. Also the story and the tutorial happen at the same time, this is very visible and leaves a feel of "functionality over coolness".

Then there's the way the story is told. While in both HL and Prototype you have absolutely no idea what's going on, in HL nobody does! (not even the developers actually) while in prototype (spoiler warning) a virus in mentioned a few times as well as some town called "Hope" and that there was a virus there too after which they bombed it and poof! a collection of random garbage memories is enough to make your character understand and know everything… (end of spoiler) this really, really creates a distance. Not only this but the story isn't about really anything in the end.

Now I know there's more about being an epic game (or perhaps less). Take timeshift. I think most people will agree this game is not epic. At the start I thought it was a half-life 2 rip-off. Since I liked HL2 I continued playing. It pretty much follows what I said above about half-life and what made it good. And I think when it comes to gameplay it even came close to epic, it was simple, time bending was really cool and it had an interesting setting. Unfortunately however it was very fragmentary and unclear.

But enough of my mumblings, what are your ideas about what makes a game epic/legendary/art?


A game that you really get drawn into is epic. If you feel almost like you're a part of it.

As you mention a game can be fun without being epic. Many times games that are designed to be fun, or designed to be really playable all the time are not epic. They're fun, and playable. But life doesn't work that way. It's not alway fun or smooth.

Epic games draw you in to their world and you become engrossed… it doesn't matter if you have a big smile on your face while you play because it's an experience unlike anything else.

These games must be believable within their own parameters, interesting enough for you to want to know more and expansive enough that you don't feel constrained.

Allright, I think immersion is indeed a good point.

However the question remains how to achieve this. In HL it's obvious, from the beginning to the end the camera never shifts from 1rst person viewpoint of Gordon Freeman and everything happens real-time.

But there must be other ways to generate this "immersion" or "epicness". Take RTS games as an example. As far as I'm concerned both Starcraft and Red Alert 1 were epic. Red Alert had an advantage of course as it was a prequel to a post-apocaliptic game timed at it's "origin". Starcraft however had no such thing and it even had different viewpoints! (terran, zerg and protos). However when I look at the concepts/gameplay trailers for SC2 I can't help but feel it's a toy, not a game. The terran battle ships (forgot the name, sorry) that can travel from planet to planet and whatnot are about 5 times as big as a human… it was ok in the original but in this new version it's just silly. In 3D it just looks dumb. So I guess here the criterium would be "seriousness". This in turn leaves me wandering is Overlord 1 can be classed as epic.

All input on the matter is apreciated of course :slight_smile:

I believe that everything from the title to the game play, sound, environment, story and how everything comes together with the story is what makes a truly epic game. Total immersion into the story is what makes it epic if the game can make the players feel as their part of the world and invoke their emotions based on whats happening. A game that has a memorable cast & characters(optional) terrains and story. Unique gameplay is what makes it fun and makes the player want to play it more. I think it really depends on the current age the game was created in and what everyones outlooks were during that time.

IMHO theirs no game that is epic just close to being it. Their are games that can excel at being memorable, unique or revolutionary which makes them close to being epic but none are truly epic.

While I agree (well I do somewhat) with what you said, I'd really like to discuss single things that make games "epic" or just really immersive. Things like the intro in HL. As you have pointed out (sort of) the "completeness" of a game is important too, and what many modern games fail at that. I believe a game has a much higher "epicness" value if every aspect of it is polished. The game-play, unit design, ease of use, story-line, special features, sound effects… everything should be finished and not left with something that feels like a filler. Unfortunately many games are rushed out, sometimes to be patched up later or (and I hereby smite EA) additional expansions are sold later on.

Two other things I think are of importance are simplicity and originality. I played a lot of mods and read/heard a lot of stories that were far over the top, much to complicated, any game that gives you a headache won't be worth playing to the point were it has reached it's epic state.

Originality might sound cheesy, and yes, it is. But looking back at what games I liked or even still remember at all, every one of them had something original: Age of Empires - first game ever played, Red Alert - different setting and "tech tree", Starcraft - Zergs, Half-Life - first "big" shooter, Rise of Legends - new setting, Portals - portals etc etc. I understand this won't make or break a game, but having something really new and unique (for the time being as other will surely imitate you) seems to be a must to be really memorable.

If anybody feels a particular thing in a game contributed greatly to it's great feel please do add to the list, so far I have:

  • Calm intro
  • Finished
  • Simplicity
  • Originality

    Thank you in advance :slight_smile:

My list has always been the big three:

  1. Story
  2. Gameplay
  3. Sound/music

    They have a sort of priority (as listed) because obviously a great game engages you as all good stories do, but unlike most stories (as in books, folktales, movies,etc) games are also interactive it should also be fun. Good sounds and a musical score also helps with immersion. All the great movies out there have memorable and fitting musical scores, meanwhile a bad soundtrack can ruin an otherwise pretty good movie. I feel the same applies to games.

    Of course, the reverse isn't true as mentioned with sound and music. Annoying sound effects can make a game ugly to play (unless if you turn off the sound). And horrible gameplay can make a game with a superb story absolutely not fun to play, whether they be repetitive gameplay elements or even worse - BROKEN game elements (this goes along the whole "completeness" idea). All three of these in my book make up the illusion of immersion, and whenever they distract the player to the point the player remembers he is playing a game, then that immersion's broken.

    There are some games out there that are fun to play even without a good story (some don't really have a story too), so just because a game doesn't have all these three big ideas (which can be broken into many smaller ideas mentioned here, e.g. some great gameplay elements are sometimes the simplest…and good stories are usually the most original!), doesn't mean they aren't fun games, just not epic. A game can just be a game and you get some enjoyment (competition, pass the time, etc), but the truly epic games…they leave you with some great memories.

Half Life in less than 2 houres… respect :wink:

I very much agree with points 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6. Tad less with the rest though I still think those are important.

About point 5 however, are there any specific things in a game that you think greatly contributed to that?

As for number five, you do get literature floating around dealing with the subject, however I cant think of any web resources right now. Topics are dealt with like 'why do people like round things' and 'why do people like shiny things' and 'why is skin so difficult to reproduce on media', you could have a look at photography books that cover wich areas the eyes look at first to set up 'scenes you walk in on' in games etc…

Haha yeah, I know.

There's just way too much literature and research about it and in the end, the only thing everybody really knows is that a hidden penis will greatly increase something's appeal.

What I meant to ask was more along the lines of examples from certain games.

One thing I really liked for one was the sound of something banging on hollow metal in HL before you encountered the 3 snakes/tentacles producing them.