When you're bogged down in interface nitpicking and deadlines and cost-benefit compromises and project management issues, while under constant pressure to come up with a brilliant design on the spot, it's easy to find yourself thinking of games as nothing more than the sum of their parts. You don't see the rapture you felt when you first discovered the zen loop in Pac-Man, or the giddy look-at-me-now thrill of running World 4-1 of Super Mario Bros. in a dead sprint. You see messaging issues in the color of the "HI-SCORE" text. You see meters, gauges, ratios between player resource expenditure and strategic gain. You see points where the scaling risk-reward mechanics from Galaxian can intersect with the scaling risk-reward mechanics of unit specialization in Starcraft. You see pipes. Lego pieces. Playmobils. Prefabricated pieces to be combined, smoothed out, streamlined, made efficient, according to well-understood rules. You know vanilla tastes great and why it tastes great; you know chocolate tastes great and why it tastes great. Your job is to make a better chocolate, a better vanilla, and find new ways to make them swirl.
If you get to this point, the magic is gone. The process of game design has ceased to be a creative endeavor and has become a mere feat of engineering. When you catch yourself building games like this--and I'm sure even the best among us do--you're not making games anymore. You're just making software. You're architecting your game the same way you're building a web platform. And of course no one cares if the newest version of a web platform is exactly like the one that came before it, except easier to use and with some interesting new features--in fact, users prefer it that way. But you know what? Web platforms don't require novelty. They generally aren't designed to be fun.
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