My plan for this week’s post was to write an account of our play testing we had earlier, but my body decided that wasn’t going to happen and went ahead and got sick so here we are. I don’t think it would be fair to write about something that happened without me so this week I want to talk a bit about a feature I fully designed that ended up getting cut from the final game. Why? I’ll talk about that later.
Booyo Park is designed to be an open-ended experience, allowing players to decide what they want to do and how. There are no explicit goals, objectives, or missions in the game; only a handful of rules and interactions that handle how game objects behave and interact. This is why the team refers to the project as a “virtual petting zoo” and not really a game. However, this doesn’t mean that players don’t want goals to try an accomplish, as that’s one of the most common pieces of feedback we get during playtests.
Earlier in the project, we decided on the open-ended design of the experience after trying and failing a couple of mechanic heavy concepts. The issue we had was that we would have to teach how to accomplish them in a very short amount of time in a completely new environment, mixed reality. We were given advice from our contact in Hong Kong that we should focus more on an experience rather than a goal, which is what we set out to do. Here we are now, and the most common thing we get from players is they want a specific goal to work towards or some sort of player agency.
This had us a bit stuck. We originally had a laundry list of interactions the player could have with a Booyo but this was all in service of the open ended nature of the experience. By implenting a goal it breaks our design wide-apart. We knew that if we were going to implement a new system, it would have to work hand-in-hand with our current design instead of against it. We hashed out some ideas, came up with a new character (who was also shortly scrapped) and came upon the idea of colour mixing.
Most of the interactions, with the expectation of resetting, are all natural gestures that are based in real world interactions. If a player grabs a Booyo, then the Booyo in turn would follow the player’s hand while they move it around screen. One idea that we ran with was mixing Booyo colours when you merge them together. Most people are exposed to how colours mix when they are very young. However we knew it couldn’t work exactly how it usually does as eventually players would end up with a gross, muddy colour, so I came up with a new mixing system.
It’s more or less your standard mixing system, mix two primary colours and you get a secondary (red + blue = purple), but now if you mix a secondary and a primary, you get that primary back (red + purple = red), mixing a primary that didn’t make up the secondary will get black (purple + green = black, more on that later), and mixing two secondaries will get the primary they both share (green + purple = blue). Black works like a cloning colour and will take on any colour that mixes with it. I wrote up how the system would work in our game design document and followed it up with a quick table to show how the combinations would work
As you can see, all the pieces were in place, the mechanic was all set to go. All that was needed to go was to actually implement the feature into the game. Two weeks later, it was scrapped.
As the person behind the system of the feature (which mind you, aren’t all that complex), you’d assume that I’d be upset that my precious “mechanic-baby” was denied access to the full game, yet it’s far from the case. I was the one that suggested we scrap the feature, so why?
First, and probably more logistical, is that by the time this mechanic was planned out, it was only a few weeks before the game was officially in gold state. Now was not the time to fix design challenges by throwing more mechanics and systems at it, it was time to reduce. Priorities fell on different tasks and this one didn’t hold nearly as much weight towards the final project so we scrapped it. Lastly, it just didn’t add anything to the core experience of the game. Sure it was a neat addition and definitely added more player agency to an otherwise open experience, but it took the focus away from interacting with the Booyos and now shifted the focus on finding all the colours. It felt like it worked separately from the rest of the game as opposed to working with it, so it was scrapped.
When arriving at design challenges, it’s important to remember that adding more mechanics is not always the answer. It’s often tempting to add things that might enhance, improve, or engage but what tends to happen is that adding mechanics can threaten a game’s scope or make a game feel a bit unfocused. Sometimes a better solution to a problem is taking away instead of just adding. The best part is that the mechanic ended up evolving into a planned design to have Booyo’s change colour based on where you find them, which addresses the initial design challenge we relieved back in September. The great thing about ideas being quick to produce is that they are also great to reuse.