Generous game design

In what I think was the only part of the film that talked about game design[1], Jonathan Blow talked in Indie Game The Movie about how you should make each mechanic you put in have multiple effects, multiple consequences. Anything else is just inefficient. Which I can empathize with, as a game designer who also tends to think in terms of systems.

And now I find myself playing Mother 3 again. I've just finished the first chapter, and it was as powerful as the first time I played it (I never finished it the first time, to my shame). And Mother 3 is a game overflowing with mechanics that aren't used to their fullest potential, code put in especially for single cases.

To take a few examples I've hit in the last minute or two of play: locked in a jail cell, you try the door. "The lock is rusty" the text tells you. But you can't do anything. But after a while, your son comes in. "I got you an apple", he says. "Make sure you eat the core, though it might be very hard". So you pick it up, and biting in find a file. I've not played through the rest, but I'm willing to bet that you never again need to use a file to open a door in the game. But it's such a compelling emotional moment, I could never consider it inefficient. 

or : If you find nuts, wandering around, you can take them to a neighbours house, and they'll make Nut Bread and Nut Cookies. These heal only a small amount of health, but knowing that I'm carrying around something made with kindness by a neighbour -- that makes me feel so much more part of the community. Again, I don't think I'll come across any other baking parts, or mini-currencies like this later in the game. It's a generosity that makes the game so much more. And ultimately, generosity is the most important thing you can put into your games.

And that's without getting into the amazing things that Earthbound did with one-off game mechanics and moments. There's a reason the logo for The Best Game Design is Ness riding his bicycle through a swamp. And, of course, the "Pray" move. I'm going to stop now before I spoiler anything, or just gush about how good they are for 2 pages. But they are so good!

14 March 2012