Creating ‘new’ through abilities

In Brief

  • New abilities can act as a useful reward mechanism
  • They do not have to be very a complex
    • A simple abilities that makes a certain task easier, will hold much appeal for players.
  • New abilities work best when they are temporary.
    • Temporary are not taken for granted.
    • As the player has to re-collect them, they work as a rewarding mechanism over a longer period of time.

Special abilities provide a ‘new’ experience, as they change how the player interacts with the game. They can offer suitable rewards for finding secret routes or complete challenging paths.

New abilities do not have to be complicated to be appealing - the secret is that they should make it easier to perform a certain action.

Example: The lightning shield in various games gives Sonic the ability of magnetism, which causes rings to automatically gravitate towards him. This is a relatively simple ability, but it makes it easier to collect rings as the player no longer has to direct Sonic towards the rings.

New abilities work best when they are temporary (that is, when the player can only access them for a limited time before having to re-earn them). A further analysis on the benefits of temporary abilities can be found here.

Development costs: Low-to-Medium
Creating a new ability incurs some cost, as programming code is needed to make the ability work and art assets (such as animations) are needed to visually depict the ability. However, these assets can be reused through out the game, especially if they are only temporary, which makes them a cost effective method for creating irresistible optional assets.

The importance of temporary abilities

New abilities work best when they are temporary. For example, in Sonic 3, the shields allow Sonic to gain one of three new abilities. The ability is lost the moment the player takes damage (as this destroys the shield).

classic_good.png This adds ‘value’ to the ability, as the player needs to ‘work’ to protect the shield (by being extra careful not to take damage). The added ‘value’ makes the shield more desirable and irresistible.
classic_good.png The added irresistibility additionally gives the player a strong motive to search the level to find the abilities.

Sonic the Hedgehog (For Xbox 360/Playstation 3) revived the concept of optional abilities.
modern_bad.png However, the abilities in Sonic the Hedgehog lack irresistibility as they are not temporary. Once the player acquires them, they are always be readily available.
modern_bad.png This reduces the ‘value’ of the abilities, as the player is over-exposed to them.

modern_bad.png The optional abilities in Sonic the Hedgehog also fail to motivate players to explore the levels. The abilities were received in exchange for a certain amount of rings. These rings were not collected in the main stages, but awarded for player performance in completing a mission. The higher the player’s performance grade for the level, the more rings s/he would receive. As even the lowest grade would award at least 500 rings, the player could collect the desired number of rings simply by replaying each mission a few times.


  • Modern games need to:
    • Make new abilities temporary.
    • Include them through out the levels
  • This will give the player a strong motive to explore the every route of the levels to find the abilities.
    • If the abilities are permanent, the motive for exploration is lost.

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Creating the ‘new’ in level design Choice from the Perspective of Developers Creating the ‘new’ through mini-games


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