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Add a New Mechanic or Rule to a Game

September 24, 2008

Over the course of the average design, I bet I think of 20 or more features that could be added to the game all of which support its core. Whether or not they would be supported by the player or the game’s available budget is another thing entirely.

I use a third technique to decide if it’s worth adding, even if it supports the core and is supporting by the budget: adding a rule is, in some respects, like asking yourself if it’s worth stopping the fun to go ahead and teach it to everyone. Every single time you learn something new in a game, that’s precisely what happens. The educational gap may be brief, but it happens nonetheless. I think we’ve all faced the equivalent of educational walls in a game where we couldn’t figure out what we were supposed to do and it ceased to be fun, at least for a little while until we mastered a particular skill. I vividly recall some platformer moments where I felt as if I would never get passed this new skill (but I did, and lined right up for the next one).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2008 8:25 am

    In some cases, isn’t the rule learned at the start of the game? In that case, is the third rule insignificant, or does it change? Say, to “Is it worth *delaying* the fun to add this mechanic?”

    In either case, I’ve always been of the opinion that additional features = more possible ways the player can surprise you with innovation. And I’m all about the player being able to innovate based on my game.

  2. September 24, 2008 10:02 am

    Could you use similar logic when determining what content to add to a college course you’re designing?

  3. September 24, 2008 11:45 am

    @Schoon – there’s definitely a good amount of learning that goes on right from the beginning. Since it’s all pattern mastery (or puzzle solving), there’s learning going on until the end. At the beginning, I’d have to say, yeah, it’s insignificant though. I’ve been doing a lot of work lately in how we present stuff to the player and the rate at which we expect them to learn.

    @Ian – At the outset, no, not by traditional academic standards. Yes, though, by game-developer-turned-academic-ish-person.

  4. JCaskey permalink
    September 24, 2008 1:35 pm

    If you can implement it seamlessly or or in a way that doesn’t interrupt the player too much I don’t think there’s many reasons not to, and in the end may be well worth it.

    The cabs in GTA IV, for example. In previous games, they’ve just sorta been there. You could do the taxi missions, but you couldn’t ride one to your destination. They could have easily omitted the feature in IV to be able to choose a destination (and even set one yourself), though it has that slight learning gap you mentioned. But once it becomes second nature, it definitely adds not only to the atmosphere of the game (NY being a very cab-transportation-heavy city), but also to the fun since it makes it much easier to get places in a shorter amount of time.

  5. September 25, 2008 3:13 pm

    Another aspect to this point is how “stopping the fun” can be mitigated. For instance missing a bridge in a racing game and still being able to continue via a longer route. You mess up and can still have fun.

    Hints are a great way to do this, so long as they are not insulting and/or irritating on there own.

    At this point I’ll stop before rambling on about good and bad teaching methods.


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