Recently I’ve been mulling over the subject of variety in games. Generally speaking, more variety is probably better. After all, no matter how good your core gameplay mechanic is, eventually players are going to need a break. And given that the last thing you want is for your players to put down the controller, this means adding in extras.
The problem is that when it comes to variety it IS possible to go too far, like with certain minigames.
Don’t get me wrong, minigames are a great way to introduce variety. However, I always find it important to remember that the player didn’t “sign up” for that minigame when he or she bought your game. They bought your game because they want your core mechanic, more than anything else about it. If your game is a platformer, they bought it because they like jumping around. If it’s a shooter, they want a gun in their hands as much as possible. If it’s an RPG, they want to be getting XP and advancing… and so forth.
Every gamer is familiar with this feeling: You’re playing along, happily destroying things, jumping around, sneaking, or going through dialogue trees — and then all of a sudden you get stuck in some “stupid puzzle” that gets you stuck. Then all of a sudden the controller is flying through the room and striking your cat in the head.
So the question is: How does a designer include minigames to keep the variety, but still keep the players from feeling mad that you’re taking them away from the gameplay mechanic that they signed up for?
One way is to make them easy. A good maxim for any minigame is this: If you can’t make it fun, make it easy.
This isn’t the perfect solution, though, for several reasons. Firstly, some players really like hard puzzles or minigames. They like to take their time and figure things out, get better, etc.
Another problem is that designers don’t like to make things easy “just because some lame players can’t take the heat.” To those designers, I say ‘suck it up, buttercup’ — but it is a problem, nonetheless.
Another solution is to make the minigame tune itself to the player so that he doesn’t fail enough to get frustrated. This isn’t entirely ideal either — especially in the case that your players figure out what you’re doing and hate you for it.
So what do you do?
Well I always like to strike a compromise. My rule is basically: “If the player did not sign up for it, it shall not block his critical path.” However, I will definitely put my more fiendish creations in the game — I find that these things are perfect for hiding secrets or concealing alternate paths.
This way the players who like that sort of thing (and those players who are completionists) get to experience the harder content, and the more casual players get to go through and experience all your critical path content without having to hurt their cats with a misfired controllerang.
Seriously… think of the kittens.