We could all learn a lot from a certain Italian plumber.
And no, not about how completely ignoring your profession leads to happiness, or that you should always get on board airships with strangers. Rather, the success of Mario can tell us a lot about the qualities of good game design.
One hallmark of highly successful games in recent years is discovery within the game. Every game should strive to make the player think in different ways, but just the game itself is not discovery enough. You need elements within your game for people to discover. At the same time, you can risk putting too many routes to discovery within a game and making it too complex.
So, how do you do both?
As I talked about in my last blog post, goals are a powerful design element. They provide direction, give you something to work toward, and make you feel good when you accomplish them. Overall, goals are a good thing.
However, goals also have a darker side. If they are poorly made, goals can end up harming a game.
Read more on The Dark Side of Achievements…
Almost every game has one or more major overarching goal. In Magic, your eventual goal (most of the time) is to reduce your opponent from twenty life to zero. In Clue, you want to deduce the details of the murder before anybody else. In basketball, you want to end up with more points than the other team. (Or, if the state of the NBA is to be considered, take more half court jump shots than the other team – but I digress.)
Sure, there are some games that thrive in open, sandbox settings. You only need to look to the success of games like Grand Theft Auto to see a game with very few established goals that has been highly successful. However, even within games like that, there are still tons of goals. There’s a reason why games like GTA, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft have been wildly successful despite lacking firm structure. Why?