Last week we did something that possibly doesn’t happen often enough during game development. We rolled back an entire facet of the gameplay. Why? To get at the vulnerable design underbelly. It’s important here to differentiate this from ‘culling a feature’. This is different. This is the recognition that one design element was clouding (even hindering) the growth of another, and needed to be “out of sight out of mind” for a little while.
In our case, the ‘base helper robots’ were blocking us from figuring out exactly what is and isn’t fun for the player to do. While playing we continually ask the question of, “Is what I’m doing fun?”. The helper robots though existed on the presumption that the player wanted to delegate certain tasks, rather than doing it themselves. We should have been testing if those gameplay elements were really that cumbersome at all, before jumping to the conclusion of, “We need to alleviate unnecessary player micro with some helper robots.” It’s now become relatively easy to see exactly what underlying core tasks the player has to do to maintain and defend their base.
For example, one type of helper robot was carrying raw energy from mining stations to a power station where it can be converted into usable electricity. That was all great but, no-one felt thankful yet and they were muddying the balancing process due to their automation. Cutting them for now has let us focus more on the electricity in general and how the mining station outputs energy in the first place, while we’ve just left the manual labour to the player.
The message for other Game Designers is, “temporarily removing an entire design element can often give you clarity on another”. The lesson to be learned here would be, “don’t rush for the easy gameplay straight away” that you already know will probably be fun. You might be rushing past some gameplay gems in the process, if only you’d taken the time to peel back a layer or two and polish them up.