a series of interesting choices thoughts on game design from paul sottosanti


tiny adventures: the end game

Tiny Adventures was a content-based game, which was a risky decision for such a small team on such a short schedule. In Nik Davidson's original pitch, the adventurer was sending back postcards to let the player know how she was faring. We all thought this was an evocative way of letting the player interact with their character, especially given the strength of D&D and other tabletop RPGs in telling compelling stories. In the end, it required a creative coordinator, an editor, and a small stable of contract writers (plus other members of the team pitching in heavily) but we managed to create almost a novel's worth of stories that accommodated the hero's gender, class and weapon.

Of course, the scourge of all content based games was still a factor. We needed a plan for the end game. No matter how efficiently you create new content, players will devour it more quickly, even in a game with built in delays like Tiny Adventures. What do players do once they reach maximum level? Fortunately I had been playing a game recently where the player retired his adventurers and each one passed on a single item to the next generation (can't remember the specific game, unfortunately). This seemed like a perfect fit, and thus we sidestepped the classic end game problem by removing it in favor of repeat playthroughs of the main game.

There was only one remaining question, and it concerned me greatly: why should players keep playing?

  1. To see all of the content. We had two plans here. First, we tuned the leveling curve so that we had more adventures, encounters, and items than a player could see in a single playthrough. Second, we added rare encounters and rare artifacts so that even once a player had seen all of the common content, there was still more out there.
  2. To try out the different classes. The classes were decidedly similar at this point, but they did differ in terms of their primary stat and weapon/armor proficiencies, which made them want different equipment. We also added some differentiation with a system that I'll talk about below.
  3. To try to get a high score. More on the scoring system later in the week.

Yet, this still didn't seem like enough. We wanted to add rewards that would stack up as the player retired more and more characters. The simplest solution would be to allow people to take an additional item each time they retired, but this would've quickly made most of the content trivial and would've diminished one of the most exciting aspects of the game (item upgrades). Any system that reduces the number of times a player can find an upgrade has a high bar to cross before it should be added.

The proverbial ace up our sleeve was the generations system, a series of unlocks that were linked to the number of retirements. We added a page that showed the unlocked bonuses and the points at which you'd receive your future unlocks, so that players were always anticipating something. We then designed two abilities for each class that would unlock at the 3rd and 6th generation. The first one was usually a simple attribute boost or heal, and the second could change the game somewhat and allow you to take advantage of advanced knowledge.

The original plan was for the unlocks to extend up to generation 25 (with significant gaps in between), but we never found the time to implement a couple of the later ones. Still, the system seemed to be a success, and was a strong contributing factor to players sticking around through many different characters. The sense of overall progression that it gave was perfect for ameliorating the potential negative feelings from forced character retirement.

Takeaway: With a small team, don't build a content based game if you can help it, but if you do, give the game a definite ending and give players compelling reasons to play through again and again.

Next topic: Female character options.

Comments (3) Trackbacks (1)
  1. So sad. What a fun little ap this was.
    Tiny Adventures could of EASILY generated more revenue for WotC than the actual paper product.

  2. This was a great one. I actually designed Tiny Adventures 2 and Tom made a flash demo of it. Unfortunately it will probably never exist.

  3. I’m still stunned that WOTC/Atari flopped & pulled this game. Was well-done (albeit quite limited in options for ‘real’ gamers) and had a ton of potential.

    Wonder how regretful those 2 co’s will be when a similar game takes it’s niche and then launches some huge startup?

    FB needs a similar game (! w/more room for players to ‘play’) ASAP!


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