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7 simple but proven game mechanics to prepare you for the 360idev Game Jam 

A week from now, we'll have just finished the 360idev 12-hour Game Jam, and I'll no doubt be writing about the results right here.

In anticipation, I thought I'd put some thought into simple base game mechanics and mechanisms that could be easily built upon in a tight time frame to meet the objective of presenting a working prototype of a game in a yet-to-be-decided theme.

This will be the first time we've participated in the event, and we're honoured to also be sponsoring it along with a bunch of awesome iOS developers - see links to each at the end of the post.

A few months ago, TechCrunch published SCVNGR's game mechnics playdeck. While there's a good amount of duplication and a lot of reasonably obvious stuff, it seemed like an excellent starting point. So, the 7 mechnics below (and their definitions and examples) are taken striaght from the original 47 in TechCrunch's article. I've added some Game Jam-specific uses.

1. Achievement

Definition: A virtual or physical representation of having accomplished something. These are often viewed as rewards in and of themselves.

Example: a badge, a level, a reward, points, really anything defined as a reward can be a reward.

Potential Game Jam use: Implement nothing but the achievement system. Have a series of achievements with associated names, scores or artwork that are awarded for completing an otherwise mundane task. A ramdomly generated field of coloured shapes, for example, could require the player to repeatedly pick shapes of the same colour - sucessfully getting a certain number of a certain colour would award an achievement. Achievements themselves could be linked back in to the game itself (i.e. the unlocked items become playing pieces in the game itself).

2. Avoidance

Definition: The act of inducing player behavior not by giving a reward, but by not instituting a punishment. Produces consistent level of activity, timed around the schedule.

Example: Press a lever every 30 seconds to not get shocked.

Potential Game Jam use: give the player a fixed amount "health" or score and have them complete tasks to avoid being punished. Sucess in the game could be measured by the period of time the player manages to survive.

3. Behavioral momentum

Definition: The tendency of players to keep doing what they have been doing.

Example: From Jesse Schell’s awesome Dice talk: “I have spent ten hours playing Farmville. I am a smart person and wouldn’t spend 10 hours on something unless it was useful. Therefore this must be useful, so I can keep doing it.”

Potential Game Jam use: endless building games seem to be the obvious striaght-forward implementation. A tongue-in-cheek implementation of a Farmville-like mechanic would likely work well. An endlessly expanding cabbage patch springs to mind for some reason.

4. Countdown

Definition: The dynamic in which players are only given a certain amount of time to do something. This will create an activity graph that causes increased initial activity increasing frenetically until time runs out, which is a forced extinction.

Example: Bejeweled Blitz with 30 seconds to get as many points as you can. Bonus rounds. Timed levels.

Potential Game Jam use: repeat the same basic play over and over, each time with a reduced amount of time available to peform the core actions. Tapping critters is an easy one - the intesity of the experience is held by a careful, balenced reduction in time available to get each critter.

5. Ownership

Definition: The act of controlling something, having it be *your* property.

Example: Ownership is interesting on a number of levels, from taking over places, to controlling a slot, to simply owning popularity by having a digital representation of many friends.

Potential Game Jam use: local multiplayer (thinking iPad-specific here) split-screen action that somehow involves removing "pieces" from the opponents stash. Obviously there has to be complexity in retaining one's stash whilst also diminishing that of your opponent.

6. Status

Definition: The rank or level of a player. Players are often motivated by trying to reach a higher level or status.

Example: white paladin level 20 in WOW.

Potential Game Jam use: a simple domination-of-like-and-lower-level characters with an experience and levelling mechanic and some random generation of enemies at appropriate levels.

7. Appointment Dynamic

Definition: A dynamic in which to succeed, one must return at a predefined time to take some action. Appointment dynamics are often deeply related to interval based reward schedules or avoidance dynamics.

Example: Cafe World and Farmville where if you return at a set time to do something you get something good, and if you don’t something bad happens.

Potential Game Jam use: things that require attention in the very traditional Cafe World/Farmville cast - can be applied to any context or theme, just figure out something a: great and b: unfortunate/funny/bad to happen when the play meets or misses the timers. Very similar (in fact really an extrapolation of the Countdown mechanic).


Just in writing this up I've a few generically-themed ideas that we could easily build on top of the component architecture we've using for the titles we currently have in development.  Looking forward to next week.

As I mentioned above, we're one of a group of indie devs (links below) who've gotten together to sponser the Game Jam - it's open to all (whether at the conference or not). Hope to see you there.



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