Tools in my toolbox

Ideas.  That’s what I have in my Game Design Toolbox.  And like any toolbox, it’s subject to editing.  Old ideas that don’t serve a good purpose should be tossed.  Make room for new ideas that might serve me better.  A crafter is only as good as her tools.

Lately I’ve been thinking about…

an idea I learned from Borderlands; pull the player by constantly offering short, medium, and long-term goals.  In Borderlands, the short goal was shooting the enemy in front of you, the medium goal was leveling up, and the long goal was “the Vault”. Seriously, the NPCs in the game wouldn’t shut up about it!  But it made for a very compelling game.

I haven’t had a real chance to test this tool, though, and I’m not sure it’s well-crafted.  I sat down with Dan Cook recently, and amidst our talk came the concept of spirals through the game.  This echoed an idea I’d talked about with Mike Steele many years ago; that the most efficient path through content (from the MMO game dev’s POV, not the players’) was a spiral.  But I think Dan was focused more on building interlocking spirals through both content and gameplay.

And I love the idea that I could craft a complex, long-lasting game simply by building layers of simple gameplay that are designed to be played iteratively.  You play the shoot-aliens game over and over again, you play the upgrade-my-ship game over and over again, and you play the what-do-I-conquer-next game over and over again.  All together, as one game.

Anyway, right now I’ve been putting a surprising amount of time into MotorSport Manager, a game that lets you do everything with a racecar except drive the car.  It’s another wall-of-numbers game, so it’ll always be niche, but I’m having fun.  And it’s teaching me some new things.

It does a great job of interlocking spirals; there’s the race, and the practice session, and the car-upgrading, and the sponsor-management, and staff-management, and each season you make a new car and start again, and there are three outer levels of championships to aspire to.

But what I find new is that the game seems to ask me to SUPPORT the racer.  To set them up for success.  Because their success is my success.  Most games ask me to help set MYSELF (my avatar) up for success, of course.  but for a FPS, that’s just another interlocking spiral.  And in games like XCom (a squad-level turn-based tactical combat game) and Starcraft (an RTS) you must set your troops up for success in order to win.

So perhaps I’m just thinking that, when you ask yourself “what features can I add to my game”, you could restate it as “how can I set my units up for success?”  And then build that game functionality.