Mindless fun

I’ve been recently showing some old game prototypes to some new faces, and I’m recognizing a pattern.

It’s fairly easy for me to make gameplay that lets the player get "into the zone", and just play mindlessly for a while. BUT, I know a game can’t rest solely on that kind of mindless "pick-up-and-play" gameplay; there has to be something deeper, doesn’t it?

Everyone’s going crazy for….the new Boom Blox game for the Wii. That has the mindless fun of fiddling with a bunch of stacked blocks in a 3D physics engine. Then, to round it out, the developers created a huge library of game modes (knock down the castle, DON’T knock down the castle, knock down multiplayer castles, etc).

One could argue that the GTA series started with the mindless fun of driving around an open-world city, and then layered on a whole bunch of game modes and "missions". If so, then this post is also about a game design method that I’ve remarked on before, where the developer starts with a basic gameplay mechanic, like driving around, and then layers on a bunch of gameplay modules, like shooting or gambling or changing clothes. Aside from GTA, I also noticed this structure in Animal Crossing.

If so, what’s the best (and most efficient) way to add that extra depth? Once you’ve got a game that is a hunk of mindless fun, do you just add powerups or special zones or game modes until completeness is achieved?

And how important is the extra stuff? does a hunk of mindless fun constitute 50% of the whole game? 20%? 90%?

Thanks for helping me puzzle this out.

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