We gave the Studio 1 games development students a quick exercise to get them into the swing of things. The theme of the unit, the skills they will be aiming to develop and a bit of a rude awakening as to how much is expected of them from this point onwards.
The brief was come up with a concept in 1 day that could be played for 10 years that can be prototyped in 1 week. Students struggled with the idea of 10 years, this was expected and intended. I expected them to be looking at the basics of game design, which they should all be familiar with by this point. This should include, Theory of fun, Player types, 4 keys 2 fun, modes of play, etc. Then determine which of these most easily lends themselves to longevity. Many students, without seeming to realise it, focused on novelty. They were very adverse to their game ever feeling the same one play to the next. I’d partially attribute this to the semi-recent resurgence rogue-likes or PDLs (Procedural Death Labyrinths).
Anyway the point of this post was to briefly talk about the tactic I would take with this brief. Many of the games I played way too much of are not rogue-likes. Tetris, Doom, Mario 1 and 3, Goldeneye, Counter-Strike, Half-life (1, 2 and ep 2), Sim City 2000, Batman Arkham series, Picross and so on but you get the idea. None of these fall easily into the chess basket, games of skill built around competition, there is always more to learn and always a challenger to face. In CS I spent more time playing against bots than people, partially because I’ve never loved pure competition, partially poor internet connection at the time. They are not Poker or Solitaire either. To me they all have fairly well defined systems, they are predictable and most important, I think, they allow zen. When you can play the game without actively thinking about it. Like playing a song on guitar or piano you learned many years ago or how you can prepare one of your favourite meals while still holding a conversation or the weird and kind of terrifying moment when you pull into your driveway but don’t really remember driving home. They’re games that are really good at flow.
For me this state doesn’t require a strong hour to hour gameplay loop. It requires that the second to second loops are physically and mentally taxing enough to trap my brain and then minute to minute that varies the stress level so player’s don’t become so overwhelmed that they have to stop or so detached that they become bored. Some sort of rhythm mechanics would be my starting point.