Guide To Designing A Pet Game Part 13
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13. Minigames, Puzzles, And Other Combat Alternatives
While combat is the main activity of many games, other games do not have combat at all, or alternate combat with some other major activity. Changing-up the player's experience by alternating two major activities is done with the goal that the player doesn't get bored as fast. The entertainment value of any activity will last longer if a player only does it occasionally than if they do it for several hours straight. Non-combat possibilities for a major activity of a game include:
- Gathering and Crafting (Covered in an earlier section)
- Tending and Babysitting (Growing Plants, Raising Pets, Lemmings, Sims)
- Dexterity and Timing Games (Racing, Fishing, Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero)
- Speedpuzzles, Physics Puzzles, Adventure Game Puzzles, and Solitaires (Card Solitaire, Mahjongg, Memory, Tetris, Match-3, Angry Birds, and adventure-game-style puzzles)
Tending and babysitting are relatively simple. Each unit that needs to be tended has either a predetermined schedule of needs, a table of percentages from which randomized needs are generated, or a timer that determines how often a new need is generated. For example, in a turn-based sim where each player action is one turn or one action is allowed per pet/plant per turn, then each pet/plant which has had a need satisfied on one turn will display a new need the next turn. 'Need' is a loose term, it could include a “ready to compete” state or a “ready to be milked/sheared” state where the pet 'needs' to put out effort instead of taking in effort. If pets/plants age, age is typically determined by number of turns; some systems only count turns the pet/plant is interacted with, other systems count all turns, and some only count until the pet/plant reaches adulthood or until it reaches old age. Pets/plants which have age stages typically have different needs per stage.
In a realtime tending and babysitting game pets typically generate needs based on a timer (or they may not generate needs but instead walk across the playing field toward dangers). The pet/plant may have pre-set need requirements, or may have meters (e.g. happiness, hunger, health...) which fall over time until the player raises them by filling a need. If a need falls too low the pet/plant may run away or die. The same thing happens if a wandering pet encounters a hazard, like walking off a cliff or into spikes. The player's actions are scored either when the pet/plant changes age states or when the round of play ends. The pet/plant or round may have specific requirements or simply a required number of points. There may be multiple sets of requirements, which give the player different verdicts: failure/lowest possible stats/worst type into which the pet can mature, normal success/average stats/average type of pet, gold star success (achievement) /high stats/best type of pet.
Dexterity and timing games range from the very simple to the very elaborate. Occasionally they are too simple to actually be fun – one of the most pathetic excuses for a minigame I've seen, and seen more than once, is a cursor that bounces back and forth between two ends of a meter and you have to try to stop it as close to the meter as possible. This kind of dynamic can work fine as part of a larger game, such as pulling the plunger back in a pinball game or casting a fishing rod, but it just doesn't work as a game by itself. Now fishing on the other hand, there's a nice simple example of a minigame. Or at least it can be nice, when done well. There are several timing and dexterity elements involved – the fish's movement in the water (if it's the kind where you can see the fish before you cast), the force and direction of the cast, yanking the rod promptly after the fish strikes, and possibly angling the rod to counteract the fish's sideways pull or alternately reeling the fish in when it's not resisting and letting out more line if it resists a lot and the line tension gets too high.
Arrows-on-tracks games, such as DDR and Guitar Hero, are another simple, popular kind of timing game. They evolved from conveyor-belt speedpuzzle games like the classic arcade puzzle game Klax. You can see the arrows traveling toward you, so you can try to get ready for them, then you have to push the corresponding key or button when they get to you. In some versions all arrows travel at the same speed, in other versions different tracks can travel at different speeds. Sometimes there is an extra, rarely-used button that works differently (space bar or whammy bar) This kind of game typically has combos, like an arcade fighting game or rogue MMO combat. It's also pretty similar to pinball, oddly enough – they are scored in a very similar way, and pinball also requires using the paddles promptly when the ball gets to them, though pinball has physics sim elements that arrows-on-tracks games don't. Breakout is another similar game, it just adds some puzzle-elements to the paddle-and-ball dexterity challenge of a pinball game.
Racing and related games where you do acrobatic flying, show jumping, agility, jousting, skateboarding/snowboarding/stunt biking, slalom, &etc. are at the complex end of the spectrum of timing and dexterity games. Racing can be simple, such as a hurdle race where the avatar runs straight forward at a set pace and the player's only input is when to jump. But the complexities that can be added on top of that are what really bring the magic to this genre. Endurance meters, the ability to raise or lower the basic running/flying speed, a sprint ability that drains the meter extra-fast, curvy tracks which make jockeying for position and controlling speed important, an assortment of obstacles to jump over or duck under, and stars/balloons/bonus items to collect as a goal the player must balance their goal to get to the end as fast as possible, are all typical features of this genre.
Speedpuzzles are kind of a hybrid between timing/dexterity games and puzzles, but I think they fall more on the puzzle side of the line because many of these games have some levels/missions judged on speed but others judged on efficiency or accomplishing a specific goal; some also let you choose whether to play in a timed mode or a zen/relaxed mode. Speedpuzzles are usually about a stream of falling pieces or a screen full of pieces that you move to make patterns (3 or more in a row, 4 in a square, a complete row across the screen). The completed patterns vanish, and new pieces appear to take their place, often rearranging the other pieces in the process so you can get bonus cascades.
A minor variant on the pattern-making speedpuzzle is the shooter speedpuzzle, e.g. Frozen Bubble and Zuma. In this kind of game the patterns are created by shooting additional pieces at the constantly or periodically increasing mass of pieces in the level which will overflow (a loss condition) if the player is not quick enough to trim the back.
A completely different type of speedpuzzle is the time management game. In this kind of game you control a single worker you have to run around the screen as fast and efficiently as possible. The difference between this and a realtime babysitting game is that instead of taking care of emoting units, you are usually doing chores and interacting with machines; you set the schedule instead of simply reacting to the schedules set by the units. Combatless strategy speedpuzzles are related; these games focus on the infrastructure building part of a strategy game, and the goal is to gather resources and build up your infrastructure as quickly and efficiently as possible. Both of these games are crafting-like in that your mission objectives can easily take the form of a recipe, e.g., “Produce 5 tomatoes, 2 jugs of milk, and 1 chicken.” or “Produce 10 gold, 2 emeralds, and 2 diamonds.” It's easy to imagine these being crafted into a meal and a piece of jewelry, whether the game explicitly states that this is what they are intended for or not.
The physics puzzle genre has recently been popularized by Angry Birds and World Of Goo (one casual, one not), but this kind of game has actually been around a long time. These combine shooting or placing objects with the mouse where they will most disrupt the environment with destructible environments where falling pieces can contribute to (or block) completing the level's puzzle objectives. Magnets, mirrors and lasers, ropes and pulleys, weights and balloons, fire and explosives, electricity and lightbulbs, balls and ramps, and all sorts or rotating and revolving things are traditional elements in physics puzzles.
Adventure game puzzles typically consist of a set of objects which can be arranged into various positions or states, or interacted with in various orders. Usually there is only one correct pattern of positions, states, or orders that solves the puzzle. There is usually no time limit, and the puzzle is free and easy to reset/reattempt. This is because the player is intended to take multiple attempts to solve the puzzles, otherwise they are too easy. Adventure game puzzles should be exploratory – the player should toy with the objects and use deductive and inductive reasoning to figure out the rules by which the objects operate. Adventure game puzzles range from simple mazes, jigsaws, sliding block puzzles, and sudokus, through more complex puzzles like hopping games (peg solitaire, towers of hanoi, solitaire mancala), pushing blocks around obstacles and into holes, flipping/rotating pieces to align them, rearranging weights or volumes to balance them, or flipping switches and rotating pieces to complete a circuit. There is some overlap with physics puzzles, but those are more freeform while adventure game puzzles are generally more structured.
Solitaires are probably familiar to everyone; they consist of a standard set of pieces (such as a deck of cards or set of mahjongg tiles) laid out in a randomized order, and the player tries to eliminate or otherwise resolve the whole set by making moves within the rules of the game. The main distinguishing trait of this kind of game is that unlike other puzzles it is not scored only by perfect completion, but instead it can be scored by degree of completion, which makes it more useful for gambling systems than other puzzles.
Finally, there are many games where combat and puzzles are blended together. Puzzle-like combat is especially common in action adventure, tower defense, and strategy games. (Tower defense games are those where enemies advance toward your base, trying to destroy it, while your units can't move once placed because they are either passive defenses like moats, walls, and caltrops, or automatic defenses like sniper towers and other kinds of gun emplacements. Plants vs. Zombies is the closest thing I have seen to a pet tower defense game, because the plants in that game are animalistic and pet-like.) Strategy games commonly have mission objectives which the player must 'puzzle out' how to accomplish, often through multiple attempts. These mission objectives involve defending an area long enough to build or repair a specific building, taking a foozle or civilian to a target, or running a gauntlet without being able to build up your normal infrastructure. Action-adventure games use adventure style puzzles, minigames where play branches internally and you replay the game until you find the right branch to get a treasure, and bosses which aren't vulnerable to normal attacks or are only vulnerable at certain times.
- [Tending and babysitting, if the game includes this type of activity]
- [What is tended/babysat, how does this activity work?]
- [If there are multiple activities of this type within the game, describe each additional one.]- [Dexterity and timing, if the game includes this type of activity]
- [What kind of dexterity/timing activity is it, how does it work?]
- [If there are multiple activities of this type within the game, describe each additional one.]- [Puzzles, if the game includes this type of activity]
- [What kind of puzzle is it, how does it work?]
- [If there are multiple activities of this type within the game, describe each additional one.]