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Game Design Domino Trap

May 19, 2008

Think about lining up a nice long line of dominoes, and then flicking one so that all the rest fall in a nice sequence – pat-pat-pat-pat-pat-thwack – right to the end. There’s a certain delight in watching the dominoes fall exactly as you figured they would, especially if your pattern was a particularly intricate one.

But who knows if the dominoes are having any fun?

Seems like an odd question, I suppose, but this is precisely the problem that designers fall into (been there myself) when they are enjoying watching people play their game. As the designer, you enjoy seeing people go through your missions, explore as you figured they would, etc. Sometimes, however, the people are like your dominoes. They’re not making actual meaningful choices; they’re just doing exactly what the game is leading them to do. If they’re having fun, it’s only the newness that’s giving them that fun. You can expect that to wear off before the game itself is done.

As an example, imagine a “race to the end” game where it’s your job to go from pre-determined point A to pre-determined point B through a roll of the die. What exactly is the choice in this? The game would work well for young kids, but for adults that want to exercise some degree of intelligence in a game space, this spells boredom. It might be a blast to watch them, but ultimately, the dominoes are not having any fun.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    May 21, 2008 1:32 am

    To extend the analogy, I’d prefer a Rube Goldberg machine over a simple line of dominoes any day. Those gizmos and gadgets might still be going from point A to point B, but it looks different and in most cases each widget performs a unique function.

    Or for that matter, do dominoes even understand the theory of gravity? Does it make them happy?

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