Game design is as much a science as it is an art, and Snoman Gaming has been taking a look at some of the core principles at the heart of great games. This time the focus is on players growing stronger, silent storytelling, and hidden rewards. If you missed the first three principles, check them out here. Head past the break for the latest three you should consider when building your own games.
1. Growing Stronger
Playing through a game’s story is often just enough to make players feel like they’re making progress, but there’s a better way to create — or at least add to — that sensation: help them grow stronger. This is often used with a “come back later” mechanic. You can’t reach a particular area or kill a certain baddie because you’re not strong enough, don’t have the right weapon, or haven’t found the right item. Once you’ve stumbled upon it, you’ll come back and take care of business. If you’ve played Super Metroid, Zelda or Pokémon, you know the feeling well.
Zelda, for example, makes the stakes high with its story, and sells it by building Link up from an unassuming character to a hero who explores new areas and takes down increasingly-stronger enemies with new items, skills, and weapons.
2. Silent Storytelling
“Show, don’t tell,” is advice often given to writers, but it’s something game developers can benefit from, too. Telling story through a cut scene, text, or a narrator can get the job done, but a more compelling narrative can be built by making players experience the story without spelling everything out for them. For instance, Shadow of the Colossus starts out with the death of the main character’s love interest, and players are left to piece together the rest of the story as they play the game. This helps players get emotionally invested in the game as their suspicion builds and they come up with theories about what’s happening. When major story events occur, the shock and emotional response has more impact.
Indie game Gone Home does a stellar job by conveying the bulk of its story through notes and items found throughout the player’s house. Check out the video above for a detailed analysis, but beware of spoilers.
3. Hidden Rewards
Bonus levels, easter eggs and other hidden goodies are staples in video games. If done well, these rewards aren’t just cool bonuses, but parts of games that increase enjoyment, a player’s feeling of accomplishment, and deployability. Take the Donkey Kong Country games for example. Secret stages, hidden bananas, and bonus rooms create an atmosphere of exploration and a feeling of accomplishment. In a way, finding everything in each level creates a metagame, which is just as rewarding to play and complete.
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