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How games like Undertale attract players

Photo by Joseph Rosales on Unsplash

“What happens if I just shoot this?”

“Does this open if I step on it?”

“Can we try to outrun these monsters?”

“What’s next?”

Hold on a minute, what do these questions have to do with any lens in game design? And I would say, read on and you’ll see why asking a bunch of questions as a game developer can help you build the right elements in your game.

There are so many questions that one may ask when playing a game, the questions above are just some examples. But obviously, the next immediate action is always to do what he/she just asks about. Don’t know what happens if you shoot this? Shoot it and you’ll find out. Don’t know if this will open up if you step on it? Step on it and see for yourself. Don’t know if you can outrun those monsters? Time it and start running, try again if you fail the first time.

Because we ask these questions all the time when we play, and then go on and find out the results ourselves shows that we are eager to get to the bottom of everything involved. Here lies the beauty of games where most changes happen internally. Genuine curiosity is the keyword. Once we get sufficiently curious about something, we will go out of our way to seek answers.

And so, as game developers, what we should do is simple and straightforward. Get players to be curious about your game — in whatever part of it! What I have learnt from the book The Art of Game Design is that we as game developers should first be curious enough about game design in order to ask ourselves these questions:

  1. What questions does our game put into the player’s mind?
  2. What can we do to make them care about those questions?
  3. What can we do to make them invent even more questions?

Basically, the more questions we are able to make them ask, which means the more interest they show in our game, the more they will get immersed in it to find the ultimate answer. To make things slightly more obvious, the goals we as game developers have for the game are not the same as the goals players have when playing the game, so instead of just focusing on the goal of “making a first-person shooter”, I now know that I have to stand in the players’ shoes and ask myself questions as I build my game. These questions somehow don’t have to be explicitly expressed, most of them only occur internally anyway, so really, as we design games progressively, there should be more questions to be answered.

One interesting example that I came across in the book was the way a worker was timing his actions of a simple task and after every cycle he would ask himself if he could do it in less time. Believe it or not, that was the reason he could repeat the same task for 40 years! But the way I see it, he was able to turn a boring job into a fun one because he was curious. With curiosity, he basically made a game out of his job and then it was an endless loop until he found the answer.

Think about the game Undertale. In it, you as a player control the heart and progress through the story. You have a choice to make every time you encounter a monster, but before you make any decisions, you ask yourself a question. “Do I press the KILL button?”, “Will sparing him help me win the game?”, or “Does he keep repeating the dialogues?”. These are some of the questions that you might have in your head over the course of the game. Precisely, curiosity helps you make decisions because only when you ask questions, you try to answer them in-game!

From this, I learnt to ask myself what kind of questions Night at the Clownville puts into your mind or whether we are doing enough to make you care about these questions. After all, I’m curious to know if you are interested in our upcoming game, Night at the Clownville! If you are, definitely follow for more updates because we have a lot coming your way.

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Ray

Ray

Embedded Software Engineer and Indie Game Developer