Players often rely on being given designer created goals when playing games. They are usually given a clear set of instructions and have an understanding of the win and fail states. Some games give the player more agency than others to complete their tasks but ultimately all players will push towards the same goal.
Most games are designed like this so playing a game without clear goals and objectives presents a dilemma for the player. How should they spend their time and how do they feel like they are being successful or progressing?
The game Minecraft is currently in alpha, which may explain its lack of goals and objectives. The game is an open sandbox in which players can destroy and build the landscape with their bare hands. Without any instructions or guidance the player is dropped into this world and expected to get on with it.
To be honest the lack of any instructions is a hindrance at the start of the game (one which I am sure will be rectified). However after consulting one of the many beginners guides I had quickly constructed a small house and was ready to take on the world. The player must deal with a number of obstacles from finite resources which must be dug up from the world to a dangerous night time filled with zombies and skeletons.
Even with all this the player is never given an end goal or structure to their play experience, leaving them to ultimately decide why they are playing.
Perhaps their goal is to explore as many nearby caves, build a tree-house or find as many diamonds as they can. All of this is up to the player and the game itself will not track or reward these player determined milestones with any form of achievements or recognition.
As described earlier, night time is when monsters come out and if you are not in a well lit barricaded area you wont survive long. This day night cycle is used in many games, usually resulting in a closed shop or just a darker landscape. Here it clearly breaks up how the game must be played, forcing the player into a different style of playing.
I found that the open nature of Minecraft and the day night cycle forced me into creating routines and short term objectives. I would create my own goals during the day, such as planting trees, collecting wood or exploring my local area.
At night I would dig underground or fix up the inside of the house. The day night cycle kept me changing how I was playing, stopping me from sticking at repetitive tasks as well as adding some time pressure to what I was doing.
Asking the player to create their own fun is putting a lot of expectation on the player and may alienate some. However given the ability to express my creativity through creation I found it liberating.
There is certainly a place for the heavily scripted and linear adventures such as Uncharted but giving the player a range of tools and freedom to explore can be a much more compelling experience. I don't need a carrot to tempt me forward just a game that lets me create from my imagination whilst still giving me secrets and mysteries to explore.
I wonder how other games and genres could look to bring some of these ideas into their design to give the player a more open environment to express themselves. Would a game like GTA work if it wasn’t built around following a story and set missions?
Could you create other kind of worlds were exploration is the main reward? I would be interested to know what other games have really let you feel open to explore the world and create your own objectives.
[Check out my blog Heaven Twiddling for more games design highlights.]