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Opinion: When Borrowing Mechanics Is A Bad Idea

In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, programmer Poya Manouchehri examines scenarios when mechanics from other games seem inspiring but might not fit the concept of your project.
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, programmer Poya Manouchehri examines scenarios when mechanics from other games seem inspiring but might not fit the concept of your project.] I recently bought a new laptop that's pretty decent for gaming. Ignoring the fact that I had to (soon after getting it) send it for repair, I got a chance to install StarCraft 2 and have been playing quite a bit. I then started watching some actual StarCraft tournaments and found it quite fascinating. I didn't quite realize how big the StarCraft e-sport scene really is; with proper commentators and large live audiences. Following one of these commentators, I found a great game review YouTube channel. It's called WTF Is…. Here is what I like about it:
  • The reviews are done by a funny, funny British man.
  • Given my schedule, I can't spend too much time playing games, but this way I can actually get an idea of what's out there both in terms of gameplay and also graphics.
  • The reviewed games are really varied. They range from small indie games to well known AAA titles.
  • Did I mention the reviews are done by a funny British man?
Now the reason I bring this up is that watching some footage from different sorts of games (or better still playing them) can actually be a great kick-start for creativity. Every time I see something fresh and different, my mind starts wondering about how it could be used and extended in another shapes or forms, and perhaps for an educational game. I have however come across a bit of a dilemma. Allow me to explain: the majority of the games that are coming out both in the indie and commercial scenes, are … tactile… for lack of a better word. What I mean is that either they involve some form of combat, or you are controlling the movement of some entity (a person, a car, a ship, etc) and the game is about how well you can control that entity. Even pure puzzle games where you are simply thinking and making choices, are pretty rare these days. My question is: are such mechanics appropriate for an educational game, specifically one that is focusing on moral values? Let me clarify further with an example. A little while ago, I played the highly addicting Plants vs Zombies game. "Tower defense" games seem to be pretty popular at the moment on various platforms. I think it's definitely a very attractive mechanic for many indie game developers because once you have the basics done, you can create a lot of levels and content without too much effort.
So I was thinking, what about a tower defense game centered around giving, and helping people? So you have some sort of station (maybe it's an office, maybe it's a home, maybe it's planet Earth), and people (or aliens) approach it with various problems. our weapons, in this situation, are no longer guns or peashooters, but it's objects or things that would help the incoming people. YThis could be money, food, specific items, a hug, a kind word, etc. Again, the details I haven't thought too much about, but you get the picture. I think it's an interesting concept, but I'm still not sure if it's quite right for the purpose. What's fun about a tower defense game is timing as much as anything else. There are lots of things coming at you and you are trying to attend to them as fast as you can. Does such a mechanic allow you to think about the choices you make to help people? Or will you be so busy trying to hold, that you will miss the "educational" purpose of the game? I don't know. Perhaps. Perhaps it'd make sense if each person with a problem could be helped in multiple different ways but some more effective than others (the same way different plants have different effectiveness against different zombies in the example above) so the player would have to make more informed choices. This is something that I also noticed with my Extremes game demo. Especially regarding the actions that are present at the bottom of the household UI…when I watched friends play the game, they hardly read what was there and make informed decisions. Rather they'd be clicking as many things as they could, as fast as they could. Obviously if the game is trying to encourage the player to think about a certain concept, the mechanics of the game needs to not only allow for that thinking and decision making to happen, but encourage it. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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