Feature: 'Game Design Essentials - 20 Mysterious Games'

Following three previous charts - for '20 Unusual Control Schemes', '20 Open World Game', and '20 Difficult Games', respectively, Gamasutra's 'Game Design Essentials' series looks at the design lessons from titles in which 'the player must solve mysteries' - from finding secrets to wrestling with algorithmically generated content. Columnist John Harris clarifies that by "mysterious" he's referring to games that hide some aspect of their play or workings from the player, making unraveling some hidden knowledge an essential part of the game. He explains: "There are two major ways to do this. The most common is to include a lot of pre-made content the player must discover. This is, by far, the most common method, and nearly all games do this in one way or another. First-person shooters only reveal the portion of their territory which is visible to the player's camera. Even simple games like Pac-Man could be termed mysterious, in that the behavior of the monsters is algorithmic, but difficult to figure out during a game." Of course, as Harris points out, defining the category too broadly means that any game could be called mysterious, so he focuses on those that deepen the matter beyond just the unveiling of new content. Super Mario Bros. 3's "white block" secrets are an example of this type of mysterious game design, citing the way that title turned searching for secrets into a core part of the game's design. The takeaway? "In a way, it's the ultimate dumb trick. There is really no way to know ducking for several seconds on a certain spot in 1-3 will lead to one of the game's most valuable treasures. But the hint is there, and the trick is known. And although it's only one trick in a game with many, it's obscure enough that it makes the player wonder about the entire rest of the game." The use of algorithmically-generated content can create mysteries for the player, also. Though he clearly quantifies all the way in which random level generation can remove mystery elements -- the only obstacle to exploration at any given time is monsters -- he explains the design lesson that makes Diablo a model for similar games today: "The incentive for playing the Diablo games primarily comes from finding random loot. The games' dungeons are a bit less interesting than loot-hunting because of the lack of consequences for the act of exploration. There are no traps on the floor, there's no food, and there's no randomly-appearing monsters. For a single-player game this is less interesting, but for multiplayer it works better. Perhaps this is why Diablo's system is basically the template upon which most MMORPGs use." The full feature includes 20 different games that turn discovery into a crucial gameplay feature, with in-depth design lessons from each example (no reg. required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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