Game Design Basics: Tests & Time

We can often think of games as a series of obstacles, or a series of “tests”.  The game tests various things to see if the player can get to the next area, level, etc..  Can you defeat the enemies without being defeated in turn?  Can you solve a puzzle?  Have you already collected the eight Macguffins?

Depending on the type of game, the tests can look for different things.

Many games test timing and dexterity.  Racing games, shooters, fighting games; these usually require the player to manipulate the controls to achieve their goals.  In order to get past these tests, the player needs to practice.  An interesting thing about these tests is that the player often enjoys passing a lot of very similar ones over and over.  However, some players may become frustrated if it requires a lot of practice to gain enough skill for the game’s tests.

Some games have tests in the form of puzzles.  The player has to figure out the answer to a question or riddle.  Games like this are traditionally referred to as “adventure” games; most interactive fiction falls into this category (almost all, in fact).  To get past these tests, the player needs an insight.  These tests have the characteristic of not really being able to be replayed.  Many players may get frustrated if they are unable to reach the required insight.

Finally, some games test in-game accomplishment.  Perhaps the player needs to “gain levels” to pass a certain challenge, or collect a number of randomly-appearing items.  This happens a lot in the so-called roleplaying games.  To pass these tests, the player needs to spend time.  This basic concept can be re-used a lot in one game.  This kind of challenge can appeal to the largest segment of players, as anyone who spends enough time playing can pass the test.

An interesting wrinkle occurs when one test can substitute for another.  For example, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night features bosses that may be fought in an action-sequence fashion.  Really manually-skilled players can defeat the bosses without taking damage; however, players willing to spend the time can “level up” and buy equipment to stack the deck in their favor.

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    […] Symphony of the Night is an interesting example in that it tests both player skill and time (as I’ve written about before). The player may wait until they have a character powerful enough to definitively defeat the boss, […]