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Article - 'Getting More Replayability' by Angroth

An item about Game Design posted on Oct 21, 2004

Blurb

An article about how to make your game more replayable and fun.

Body

Introductory Stuff

When you complete a game sometimes you’re glad you finally got through it and never have to play it again, or maybe you do like it but there’s nothing worth replaying it for. In some cases the game doesn’t even keep your attention for the whole game and you just won’t go back to playing it at all (half way through or near the end). Now all of these we definitely want to avoid when making a game. Ideally we’d all like people to play the game, finish it and then like it so much (or have something worth playing it for again) that they will go back to it.

That’s one of the differences between a good game and an excellent game. The latter will be one that will keep bringing you back. After all, if you spend money or download a game and it’s only a one play wonder, then it’s not as much fun at all. In some cases you might even feel you’ve wasted your time.

Now, there are 2 main kinds of replayability in games (at least in my mind there are). From Grand Theft Auto: Vice City to Soul Calibur 2. In the first instance we just see a game that doesn’t end not too dissimilar from The Sims series. These kinds of games also include MMORPGs and their replay rate focuses on all kinds of things including developing your character(s) and all of this takes place over a long period of time (infinity). Even in Vice City you can increase your health and armour stats and a bunch of other goodies. So basically this concludes the first type of replayability.

The second kind is where you unlock lots of different modes, options and features (whatever you’d like to call them). Soul Calibur 2 would be my example but most games have this in some way or another. Whether it be unlocking characters, new gameplay modes, extra secret options, levels, moves it always involves unlocking stuff. Clever games will merge these two together (like the recent PS2 Sims game) where the game will be indefinite but you also unlock things (new items for your house and extra body parts).

There are pros and cons to both kinds that we need to know before we progress anywhere.

Pros of Unlocking: Unlocking stuff has always been fun, you know it, I know it, we all know it therefore by default they are fun. These games can push you to get certain unlockables and keep you coming back for a long time. They often spice up the game a lot after you get them, making it more interesting and more possibilities.
Cons of Unlocking:Too much of the unlocking can get tedious and only lasts for so long, one day you’ll have everything and the novelty will wear off. So games make you unlock really stupid stuff and this can be disappointing.

Pros of Indefinite Games: If one catches your attention you can get hooked to it for a long, long time. They also provide a good medium for people who only play occasionally and people who play all day long. They’re handy because you can leave them for a long time and pick up where you left off easily.
Cons of Indefinite Games:One day you’ll just stop being bothered to play it, maybe you’ll come back in the future. If you find this, it’s because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Things to Get More Playability

You probably already have a good idea about what kind of features you can have that will make people come back to your game, but either ways I hope some of the following will inspire you for new ideas or make you recollect and old idea you forgot about.

Extra Game Modes: This is in quite a few games, unlocking an extra game option. For your game it would never hurt to add an extra gallery option after you complete the game where you can go and view different cool pictures about the characters or areas of the game. In fact, maybe one thing allows you to unlock it and by completing other parts of the game (like meeting a certain character or beating a certain boss) you can open up those pictures within the mode, so you can see them slowly add one by one. Which would be more rewarding.

Of course besides the gallery / artwork you can always have a secrets option whereby you can access cheat type features. So you can increase your money, have all abilities, max level, invulnerability and so forth.

Something I don’t see in amateur based games is an alternative option where you can replay the game but as a different character, or maybe the lead villain. I always thought that would be a great game mode to have but I’ve never seen it before. I suppose you could have a character select screen if you wanted to get ambitious, unlocking characters as you completed more of the game. But if you’re making an rpg, character select probably isn’t a particularly good idea.

Maybe you could unlock a battle mode whereby you can challenge to duel any of the bosses in the game that you’ve currently defeated (but possibly don’t gain experience and skills for it).

Another game option you might want to think about which is almost always featured in non-amateur games is difficulty setting. It’s not necessarily a good option to have because alone it can’t help with getting people to replay your game, but when combined with some other good features it will give your game a little more depth and more for people to do; maybe they want an extra challenge and decide to go on ultra hard mode.

Also, a final extra game mode you could include in your game is a mode that allows you to access and replay all / any of the mini-games that you might have played (or might not have played) earlier in the game. This way you can make full use of anything nice you’ve implemented into the game.

In-Game Stuff: One thing to spice up your game is to make in game decisions, a few games do this and I think it’s a great idea. Whether you’re choosing which character to venture into the dungeon with or which people and how many you’ll leave protecting the princess whilst you go to kill the dragon, it’s all good. This could be simple and force different battles upon you or maybe even be more critical and decide small (to large) storyline paths. Even if you only have a few different choices throughout your game, it will add an extra element to bringing a player back, they will most likely want to check out what the other possibilities are (providing they enjoyed the rest of the game). The bigger the outcomes of the player’s decisions, the less linear and more replayable it should be.

Mini games are also another good thing to include. Most RPGs have their own mini games in some form or another. These can be especially handy if your game has a thick and serious plot, they will aid in dispersing the monotony and give a good extra boost of fun. Everyone likes fun and mini games always help keep the player attached, especially if they aren’t one off mini games (like a “Catch the Running Chicken” game) and have RPG elements in them themselves (like a “Fishing” game whereby you can get better rods, make record catches etc). These kind of games sometimes don’t particularly fit in to the story, the more they do the better but if they don’t fear not; you can throw them in almost anywhere and they should work (with some exceptions obviously). A good way to make the mini games more worth playing you can use them to gain new items and abilities (FFVII Gold Saucer) or somehow help you out later in the game if you’ve done well in them. This will cause some extra motivation to play them, as if they weren’t fun enough in the first place! Remember though don’t let your mini games go to waste! Make sure you can access them in a menu or different place at some point, otherwise you will have wasted coding time and there will be less point (and time) involved when playing it.

Another goody that some people favour more than others are side quests. These guys can offer money, item, experience and a whole bunch of different rewards, which will in turn entice the player to do them. I would say that too many can bog the game down but not necessarily, as seen in Summoner 2 (sub quests was a large role here) it worked out fine. As long as they aren’t all crucial to complete, otherwise a player could get annoyed that they have to do all of the sub quests to advance to the next area. This can be good though, it depends on what your agenda is. You can also use certain completed sub quests the ability to open more advanced ones, if you wanted your player to work their way up no matter what. Side quests, unlike mini games are always linked to the game in some way; whereas a mini game can be unlocked in the main menu a side quest will have to be based on a special person or item you might come across. Remember to reward your players somehow, otherwise sub quests are just a put off.

Finally, hidden items are a good thing to include. If you don’t get everything on the first play through, you might play the game again to get certain weapons, armour or maybe just a special item that unlocks a new mode / game option. Whether these items are merely hidden in bookcases and chests or hidden in secret areas that the player must carefully search for (trap doors and caves), it’s never a bad idea to include hidden items. In conjunction with everything else mentioned above this can be a nice additional touch.

The Conclusion

Well all of the above are just general ideas I can think of, I’m sure there are more. But make sure you use combinations (or all) of these to make your game bigger, more fun and more playable. Hopefully people can go back to your game time and time again. If they want to, they’re going to rate your game as a classic.