Creating ‘new’ through mini games

In Brief

  • Mini-games can provide a strong motive for exploring levels.
  • To be effective, they need to follow seven principles.
  • Although mini-games require new assets, there are several techniques to reduce the costs of implementing them.
    • These include reusing assets and test-levels.

Mini games are another key way of creating a new experience. When hidden within the level, they provide a suitable reward for exploration.

Seven principles needed to make mini-games irresistible

To be irresistible, mini-games should contain the following seven elements:

Challenge Mini-games need to offer a balanced challenge. If the challenge is too easy, the game will be mastered too quickly and irresistibility will be lost. If the challenge is too hard, the player will lose interest in the game.

Reward A suitable reward is needed to motivate the player to complete the challenge.

Time limit The player should not be able to spend too much time playing the mini-game.
A long time limit will:

  • make it easier to complete the challenge
  • over-expose the player to the mini-game making it less desirable.

The time limit does not necessarily have to be a ticking clock and can consist of a device that gradually forces the player out of the game.

Consistency The mini-game should not deviate too greatly from the main play mechanics to avoid alienating the player.

Imagination The more imaginative the mini-game, the more the player will want to play it. However, too much imagination can cause a game to alienate a player. A mini-game should strive to be ‘fascinatingly unusual’ – the unusual quality will add imagination and the fascination will ensure that the player is not alienated.

Gamble The mini-game should allow for gambling situations. This adds suspense which makes the game more irresistible.

Integration The mini-game should not disturb the flow of the main game. It should encourage the player to explore the main levels to find methods for accessing the mini-game.

Examples in action

An analysis of how the principles are used in the Sonic 3 bubble gum mini-game.
An analysis of how the principles are used in the Sonic & Knuckles pinball mini-game
An analysis of how the principles are used in the Sonic Advance switch mini-game

Development costs

Developing mini-game naturally requires the creation of specialist assets (particularly specialist code) that won’t be used elsewhere in the main game.

Costs can be reduced by:

  • Re-using assets: This is particularly easy if the game is based around assets that are prominent in the main game. For example, the Sonic 3 bubble gum mini-game uses springs and bumpers, which are occur frequently in the main game.
  • Reusing test levels: Development studios often create test levels to tryout game play concepts or get experiment with new coding routines and tools. These test levels can often be converted into mini-games with minimal expense.

Although the cost is somewhat high, when used properly, the provision of 2 or 3 well designed optional mini-games can increase individuality and provide the player with an irresistible motive to explore levels and complete certain optional tasks.

Quality over quanitty

Quality over quantity is the key to mini-games. Sonic Advance 3 has seven variations of its mini-games. The core concepts of these games, however, are uninteresting, so it is unlikely that players will make the effort to play all seven versions. The time spent on developing these games would have been better used to refining the main game.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles contain considerably less mini-games.
However:

  • The mini-games are much more fun to play
    • As a result, they enhance the main levels (by providing an irresistible motive to explore the levels to find rings to access the mini games).

Conclusion

  • Mini-games are slightly more costly to develop.
  • However, if used effectively they can create much irresistibility.
  • They can provide the play with a strong motive to seek out all the optional content in the game.

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