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The Art of Game Design vs. Tycoon games

  • Just finished the Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell and i loved it. I would like your thoughts on how you see it applying to Tycoon/Management Sim type games. I find it very difficult to apply many of the principles (lenses) to this type of game. Games like Sim City, Patrician, Tropico, Capitalism 2, Civilization etc., often don't have a very clearly defined end goal, don't really feature a meaningful story, have very complex game mechanics and seem to fly in the face of many of the books teachings about what makes a game fun for players. Yet, I love playing them and I know I am not alone. Indeed, some of them sell very well. What is your take on that? What would you change about these games to make them seem like more fun and less like work?

  • I'm not familiar with that book but some thoughts stuck out when reading your post:

    Civilization definitely has an end goal. Yes, there are several different options for victory but it is definite.

    A lot of the other games you listed I have not played but know the type. I have played SimCity and other tycoon games and the "not clearly defined end goal" is probably a huge draw for most. Meaning you are free to pursue the goal of your choice. I remember starting cities in SimCity thinking "this time I want to build a city like this". So yes they do not have a story and some do not have an ending. But they are not about resolution but creation. You get to create a city or a civilization. At the end of a story game it is the same for all players (same ending). But at any point in a creation game you can show a friend and say "look at what I built".

    Complex game mechanics:

    From what I've heard about game mechanics the key is to introduce at an appropriate rate. So yes those games may have complex mechanics that a newbie would be lost if jumping into someone's saved game. But the way most of those games are started slowly introduce the mechanics. Think of any of those you mentioned. I would guess you usually start with nothing but a few resources. You are really only given one option to get started (build a power plant first. Use your settler to found your first settlement). The next elements of the gameplay are not allowed until you get to a certain point. Although from a players perspective that point may seem arbitrary I'm sure it was chosen by the developers as the point where you can be sure the player has grasped the previous mechanics.

    Interesting post. I'm sorry I am not familiar with the book. If you would like to mention some of the other taking points of the book I will gladly give my thoughts or respond to any questions on my comments.

  • Interesting post. I'm sorry I am not familiar with the book. If you would like to mention some of the other taking points of the book I will gladly give my thoughts or respond to any questions on my comments.

    Thanks for your input. I invite you to download the free companion app to the book on the Google Play or the App store. It has all of the important principles arranged in some sort of card deck.

  • Thanks and I will try to remember to take a look.

    But I will doubt I will read it all then remember to come back to this post, so that is why I left it open for conversation if you wanted to bring up another point.

  • No problem, here are a few that I find are generally not very well implemented or not at all in most Tycoon/Management Sim (Patrician, Sim City, Tropico, Capitalism, etc.) type games:

    • Lens 4: Surprise: is your game filled with interesting surprises?
    • Lens 11 & 12 : Theme and Resonance: Your game should be built around a unifying resonant theme, that touch players deeply.
    • Lens 21& 38: Flow and challenge: does my game provide a steady stream of gradually increasing and varied challenges.
    • Lens 29: Secrets: Hiding some information from the player makes things interesting.
    • Lens 32: Goals: Does the game have a well defined end goal and short and long term goals?
    • Lens 42: Head and Hands: Does the game provide a good mix of mental and physical challenges? Are there places where the player can relax their brain, and just play the game without thinking? Can I give the player a choice; either succeed by exercising a high level of dexterity, or by finding a strategy that works with a minimum of physical skill? If "1" means all physical, and "10" means all mental, what number would my game get?
    • Lens 43 - 45: Competition and Cooperation.
    • Lens 46: Rewards: Are they varied in their type and frequence? Are players excited about them? Do they understand them? Are they related to one another?
    • Lens 47: Punishment: Punishment make games more meaningful but them must be fair and well balanded with rewards.

    Lens 48: Simplicity and Complexity: Is there a way for elements of innate complexity to be turned into emergent complexity instead?

    Lens 57: Pyramids: can I have a hierarchy of ever more challenging puzzle elements, gradually leading to a final challenge?

    That's enough for now, I will add more as the discussion unfolds.

  • Just finished the Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell and i loved it. I would like your thoughts on how you see it applying to Tycoon/Management Sim type games. I find it very difficult to apply many of the principles (lenses) to this type of game. Games like Sim City, Patrician, Tropico, Capitalism 2, Civilization etc., often don't have a very clearly defined end goal, don't really feature a meaningful story, have very complex game mechanics and seem to fly in the face of many of the books teachings about what makes a game fun for players. Yet, I love playing them and I know I am not alone. Indeed, some of them sell very well. What is your take on that? What would you change about these games to make them seem like more fun and less like work?

    We are in the process of building a civilization-like game. The primary motivators that these types of games access is ego, community, and control. In my experience, ego and control are the two big ones though. The fastest way to piss someone off is to tell them that they have no choice.

  • I think that the success of those games, is in giving the player a chance to make their own stories. Tropico gives a clear setting, with plenty of ambiance. Civ allows the player to lead a nation with enough options to make every play through feel distinct. Minecraft lets the player do one thing so well, that they will make sprawling cities all you have to do is give the players the tools, and they'll come up with the stories.

  • I think that the success of those games, is in giving the player a chance to make their own stories. Tropico gives a clear setting, with plenty of ambiance. Civ allows the player to lead a nation with enough options to make every play through feel distinct. Minecraft lets the player do one thing so well, that they will make sprawling cities all you have to do is give the players the tools, and they'll come up with the stories.

    The author seems to make the same argument in the chapters of the book that deal with the linear property of a strong directed story vs. the open world concept and the replayability factor. It's interesting that the way you described those games make them sound more like game toolboxes rather than actual games. The same way a sandbox is not really a game but kids make their own games inside of them. I guess it is mostly a question of control; does the player control the experience or does the game designer.

    I think the real challenge is to strike a balance between the two. For the player, control for control's sake doesn't necessarily equal fun. I noticed one thing with this type of game and my way of playing them: I often don't finish a game. Why? At some point mid to late game there is no excitement left. No uncertainty. I know I built a lean, mean, (killing/money making) machine and there is nothing the CPU players can do to change the outcome of the game, yet I still have many turns or minutes/hours of play to actually see this through and all I get for drudging through the rest of the game is a lame ass "you won" kind of screen or animation that I have already seen a dozen times on previous playthroughs. I'd like your thoughts on that. Is it also what you (or others) experience when playing this type of game? Can you think of good ways to fix this without breaking the game (taking away too much control from the player)?

  • I wouldn't necessarily describe them as tool boxes myself, I just think there's more then one aspect of gaming, and that sometimes you can be relaxed on the story aspect, if you have something else (such as building, or exploration) to take its place. By focusing on those mechanics you can leave the story to a quick intro, and outro, with other more ambiguous bits sprinkled around the game, all while leaving how they fit together up to the player. Don't starve is a good example of that.

    As for games getting boring in the middle, there are tons of ways to improve that, from simply giving the play a new and interesting way of shooting the enemies, to a setting change. I think the game that is best at offering ways of keeping it fresh would be fallout 4. If you're getting bored of the main plot, there are hundreds of side quest available, all with their own story arcs. Getting tired of the same part of Boston, pick a direction and go exploring. Wish there was a giant, cyber-punk-esqu, leveled city in the middle of the wasteland, build it. Just want to shoot waves of bad guys, walk for a minute in any direction. That is a game that knows how to keep it fresh.

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  • As for games getting boring in the middle, there are tons of ways to improve that, from simply giving the play a new and interesting way of shooting the enemies, to a setting change. I think the game that is best at offering ways of keeping it fresh would be fallout 4. If you're getting bored of the main plot, there are hundreds of side quest available, all with their own story arcs. Getting tired of the same part of Boston, pick a direction and go exploring. Wish there was a giant, cyber-punk-esqu, leveled city in the middle of the wasteland, build it. Just want to shoot waves of bad guys, walk for a minute in any direction. That is a game that knows how to keep it fresh.

    Interesting. How would you implement this in a game like Sim City or Capitalism or any kind of business/management sim ?

  • First of all, the article/book you read seems to be targeted towards certain games, not all. Puzzle games for example don't align with those topics. Clash of Clans and World of Warcraft, two games that topped their category, didn't have definite endings. So it may be good advice but may only apply to certain games.

    I wanted to comment on the 'surprises' topic. A lot of those games you mentioned do have some surprises in them, but they can't be surprises that throw the game too much either way as they are strategy games. For example Civilization has the little barbarian huts or native tribes where you can gain a technology or get ambushed. SimCity for SNES I remember had "gifts" where if you were doing well you would get a special building.

    As for your recent discussion I agree that these 'sandbox' type games which you are referring to allow the player to create their own story in a way. You may not have character dialogue and that detailed focus but if the player gets attached to something in the game then there can be drama. For example, if you are playing SimCity and have something planned out in your head then a fire comes along and ruins it. It becomes the story of your city. Or in Civilization there could be plenty of twists: you plan to take over a civilization but while your forces are out you get surprise attacked by someone else. You don't need to lay out a narrative for the player because the player guides it—whether they want to be risky or safe, etc. etc. Some players really get into that but some don't.

  • Well I don't really think story is the main appeal of those game, since they mostly focus on resource management, creativity, as well as just how cool it is to make your own towns, but I'd have to say any story elements to them would be mostly subconscious. The joys watching your villagers go from job to home in banished, tells a bit about their daily lives. Watching them drop from starvation, is a great way of instilling the horror of knowing you are responsible for the virtual catastrophe. While a rebel group in tropico lets you know the islanders hate you, their dictator.

    Also there are plenty of other examples of games with implied, or just no story to it whatsoever. The original nazi zombies mode in world at war, only really hinted at a vague story, and it was a huge success.

  • I just noticed your other post and had a few ideas for mechanics that might add a bit of story to the game you want to make. Just pm me if you want to brain storm.

  • I don't think this book is the be all and end all when it comes to game design, in my opinion what makes strategy games fun is the sense of accomplishment when you win a battle etc or where you are rewarded by being able to level up, not just in your stats (although that can definitely work) but in what units and such you have access to.

  • The essence of game design:

    "Propaganda Games: Sesame Credit - The True Danger of Gamification"

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