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I'm Just Here for the Minigames...

Are the minigames we see within "core" titles becoming a subspecialty in their own right? Or are they just glorified "casual" games?

It’s almost a guilty pleasure isn’t it?  I mean, with the noisy part of the industry so focused on the super high end of the newest and niftiest technology that can be cranked out by the brilliance of our programming teams, one of the core components we are seeing are minigames. 

Minigames have been around forever, but now we seem to be seeing them more and more, not just as elements that might earn you an extra gold coin or a shiny hat, but as elements that, if you can’t play them almost as well as you can shoot zombies, have the potential to affect the overall outcome of the game.

Now, I consider myself a “core” gamer, but there is a dirty, dark little piece of my geeky soul that *likes* these minigame breaks in the shooters, sometimes almost as much as the zombie-stomping room-clearing action itself.  They’re like a guilty pleasure, I can get a puzzle-solving fix without having to go onto one of the bazillion flash gaming sites to find a casual game to play.

As a game designer, I have to wonder though, at what point to the designs of these games come into play?  The core game is obviously going to be where the vast majority of the Game Designer’s time and sanity goes, and many of these minigames seem to be variants of a select few casual games. 

For example, there is the “flow” game we see in Bioshock that handles the hacking aspect of the game.  Did the original design document simply read “Minigame here”, or did the designers have a concrete idea of what type of minigame they were going to use from the outset? 

We see versions of the flow minigame in other titles as well (even in one of the recent Barbie titles) so the meme for that particular minigame design seems to be a popular one at the moment. 

A badly designed minigame, particularly one that can restrict a players access to a needed resource, could be a game-killer, so I have to wonder are we seeing the start of a new specialty?  Perhaps a “Minigame Designer” being hired to design and execute the production of these types of minigames while the “Game Designer” takes care of the macro-level design work?

I know everyone’s got their own way of handling things, but if any of you Designers out there have a moment, I’d love to know where these elements fit into your overall Design pipeline.

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