DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS…. imagine Im having a Steve Ballmer-like rant (but less sweaty).
The significant decisions your game offers the player are the most important factor in game design. Of any type of game – tabletop, computer, or otherwise. I imagine a game as being a cannon constantly firing a stream of decisions at the player. When the rate of decisions slows, or the decisions become meaningless, then the fun stops.
By ‘significant’ decisions I mean those that have an impact on how the game plays out. Whether it involves success at ‘solving’ the game, or the direction of the narrative, or achieving certain goals, or just plain survival. This is the reason ‘game balance’ in conflict-type games is so important. If the game is too easy, or too hard, no matter what decision the player makes, it wont affect the outcome. They will win or lose no matter what choice they make.
So the best place to start when analyzing your game is to list the decisions that it forces the player to make, and when it does so. For instance, Dungeon Bash is mostly about making a constant stream of tactical decisions. Decisions about when to attack, when to run, do I use this now or save it for latter, do I group tight or spread out, order of march when in corridors of exiting a level, which character would benefit most from equipping this item, who should tank and who should flank, etc, etc, etc… Dungeon Bash is a turn-based game and it is at its best when one decision can mean the difference between victory and disaster.
Decisions can also lose their significance once the player becomes familliar with them. The first time a particular level in a puzzle game is played, it is new and the decisions being made cause the player to engage and think. But once the puzzle is solved, the replay value of that level diminishes rapidly.
In Dungeon Bash, decisions are kept fresh by providing variety – each time you play it offers a different team of three characters so that the player has to learn how best to handle that particular combination. Every level is programatically generated so the player cant anticipate the lay of the land. And there is a very large number of monsters to encounter, that will appear alone, in mixed groups, or swarms of the identical creatures. All of this is aimed at forcing the player to make significant decisions as frequently as possible, by placing the characters in an endless variety of tactical situations.
You should try to categorize and describe games in terms of the decisions it offers. Dungeon Bash is largely tactical and resource management. A puzzle game offers logical and spatial decisions. A story-based game should offer chances to affect the ongoing narrative. Multiplayer games involving alliances or factions revolve around making trust and communication decisions.
In analyzing your own game, you can look at your list of decisions and decide:
- Is this decision significant? If not, how can it be made so, or should I just get rid of it?
- Are there situations in the game where the player makes no significant decisions for long periods? How can I reduce the length of those periods, or introduce new decision-making into them?
Keep your decision-cannon firing big, bold decisions at the player as fast as it can!
Steven is a game designer and developer at at ARMPIT GAMES (game design blog)
currently working on DUNGEON BASH for IOS and Android mobiles.