“I also love to fill my games with small systems no one will notice but that create some sort of meaningful background noise and add to the mystery of the game.”
- Reigns lead developer François Alliot
Reigns took the world by surprise last month when the little text-driven Tinder-meets-monarchy simulator rose to the top of the App Store charts on the back of its simple mechanics and witty dialogue.
If you’ve been wondering how its developers cracked the Tinder-as-game-design formula, lead developer François Alliot took to Polygon today to explain some of the secrets to the games’ success.
It’s an amusing read, mostly honing in on how Alliot aimed to satirize the way western society sometimes simplifies highly complex political situations. Alliot in particular hones in on the recent calamity of Brexit, where the country he resided in chose to decide its entire fate in a simple up-or-down vote, the kind not too different than what you make in Reigns.
But Alliot’s breakdown of Reigns’ development is also worth reading for some of the UI and branching narrative tricks he slipped into the game. In particular, Alliot says the randomness of the cards was important to add meaning and the potential that something could go off the rails at any moment.
“For the game systems, this meant sprinkling the game with hints that the apparent randomness of the cards was hiding something with a lot more depth,” Alliot writes. “When that sort of trick is pulled three or four times in a session, it creates the sensation that every single card is potentially a meaningful choice, with a lot more going on behind the scenes than what the eyes can see.”
And that small system that Alliot says “no one will notice” mentioned up above? It’s a blinking mechanic that secretly warns the player if their advisors are getting angry at them.
Be sure to read Alliot’s full op-ed over on Polygon for more of his design tricks, as well as some of his thoughts on marketing a premium indie game in 2016.