Catch ’em all

Between bouts of snow, I’ve been playing Great Dungeon in the Sky, a retro-style game Web game of fantasy adventure. I really enjoyed it. It’s simple, clever, and rewards mastery early and often.

The game contains 314 characters in all, which you unlock for play by killing them in the regular game.* Kill a speardwarf? Now you can be a speardwarf.

Eye tyranny

In this screen shot I’m a pixely beholder, flying above some primitively-rendered yetis.

However, speardwarves are not everywhere, and thus the game enters a collectible phase with a rarity scheme.

Normally I am immunized against “collectible” achievements by having what’s called “other things to do.” But the snow drove me into my cave, and I found myself compelled to unlock every character.

And hating myself for it. When a game reaches this point, where you’re trying to complete all the side quests or catch all the Pokemon or whatever, it is imperative to keep the game fun to play.

Otherwise, you’re playing a whole different game, and a significantly less fun one. It’s a game of endurance, a game of spite. You plow through the mechanics, a race against patience.

These aspects of games are popular enough that someone must be enjoying them, but a designer could do well to make that repetitive endgame more playable:

  • Provide accompanying game play. I found myself still enjoying Mass Effect even as I tried to complete everything in the game because there was still an exploration element to flying out to different star systems and driving around on planets. This can be resource intensive, but it kept me playing the game.
  • Create visual novety. In another game, you could mix existing art assets in “unreal” ways once the primary objective is met and the game is 95% complete. Kick it into dazzle mode.
  • Leave difficulty alone. The hard part at this point is finding the will to turn on the game one more time. Making every enemy 20% harder doesn’t help me meet my achievement goal. It only hinders it. (Happily, GDINTS doesn’t do this.)

What would you do to make unlocking achievements more fun?

*or by winning the game and getting a free unlock.

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