I had an interesting conversation (which you can read here) with Michael Charge of hntdaab.co.uk over IM, in which we discussed his upcoming XNA game, and I said “yeah” a lot. It’s a multiplayer game of tig, set in a primary school, so I look forward to that. One of things we talked about was his idea of allowing the players to scrawl on the screen while a game loads. This doesn’t really have much purpose, it’s just a quick diversion. This, I think, is also a really clever piece of game design. Games are about interaction, so any period in which you are forced to sit and wait without being able to anything is pretty much inherently boring to the player. That probably isn’t what you as a game designer is going for, so allow the player to do something while they wait. Drawing with friends is fun, not for very long, but long enough to load a level.
Now, colour-game is an extremely lightweight 2D game, so hopefully we can get away without having loadtimes at all. But I feel “useless” interaction has a place in actual play as well. If your super serious game with rigid goals and mechanics can also function as a mildly diverting toy, well, you’ve effectively doubled the scope of it, and probably made it much more engaging with a very minimal time investment. If you play the little demo of colour-game’s main mechanics we posted (Please do! Please!), I feel pretty confident in saying it’s got a certain charm. It’s fun. Not very, but enjoyable and interesting for a couple of minutes at least. It’s satisfying, just to affect the world around you and see how the rules change. This surprised me, but looking back it really shouldn’t have.
A game I feel does this much better than ours is Tag: The Power Of Paint, the IGF 2009 winning student project out of DigiPen. The basic premise is that the three colours in the world, Red, Green and Blue, affect the player in different ways. Red makes you run fast, Green makes you jump, and you stick to Blue, allowing you to run up walls and the like. These colours appear in the greyscale world occasionally, but for the most part you lay them down with your paintgun. The useful purpose of this mechanic is to get you to the end door, but it also enables you to do silly things like this:
Which is really half the fun. It would have been easy for the developers to streamline this right out of the game, because it doesn’t aid you in the basic “get to the end” aim. And it would have been a poorer game for it. I think that’s important to note.
EDIT: You can get Tag here.