GameDev Protips: How To Properly Design Compelling Core Mechanics

Making your core mechanics feel balanced is an important part of any game. Every set of game mechanics has two aspects: objectives and skills. An objective is a task that must be completed by the player and a skill is a thing the player must used to complete tasks. Balancing objectives with skills will expose the depth of your mechanics. Too many objectives that require too few skills will make players get bored after a while — too few objectives requiring too many skills could make your player feel at a loss for direction and guidance. They may feel like your game doesn’t provide them with adequate support.

An activity statement is a simple solution to this problem. It provides the objective and the skills in one simple sentence. It could read as could as complete X challenge with Y skills and gain X amount of cash and X amount of experience. This way, your player knows exactly what they’re getting, what their challenge is, what they need to be successful and how their performance will be rewarded. Activity statements should be easily accessible, but unobtrusive, if the player doesn’t need any help.

During gameplay, players should be allowed to develop their skills gradually and logically. Remember to avoid ambiguity as much as possible. Make sure that your instructions are clear, especially for complex tasks. On the same note, try to limit emphasis on very basic skills, as players like to be challenged with more complex tasks. Prototype and iterate these changes and playtest profusely when done.

However, sometimes making a mechanic deeper will not always give your game more depth, it could just add unnecessary complexity. Also, making your game deeper might not fit your core audience? Maybe you should consider if your audience even want depth at all, perhaps they’re casual gamers looking for quick and easy gameplay. Be careful to balance depth and complexity so that they do not conflict with the desires of your audience.

Balance is everything when it comes to designing a great core mechanic. You want your player to develop meaningful skills and complete objectives, but they cannot be too complicated or your player may give up and quit. Very basic skills, with the right game could be fun, but it can easily become repetitive and one-dimensional. Having clear objectives and skills can be the distinction between a middling game and a great game.

Important Takeaways: Core mechanics are the actions players take in your game. These must be balanced between objectives, which are the tasks the player is assigned and skills, which are the things players need to do to complete tasks. Too much emphasis on skills will make it hard to complete objectives, thus making players confused, while too much emphasis on completing objectives with minimal use of skills will make players bored.