Archive:Toys and Games

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  • Published: 21 June 2000
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor

The Designer Diary

Part Nine: Toys and Games
By Paul O’Connor, Senior Game Designer

Last month I wrote about two of the most important items in the game designer’s toolbox: pushes and pulls. Pushes are things the player wants to avoid, while pulls are things the player wants to attain. I described how we use varying degrees of push and pull to provide structure for our levels—then kicked over the table by saying you could safely ignore all of our pulls and most of our pushes.

How is this possible?

Well, in a game, it isn’t possible. Without objectives, challenges, and obstacles, you really don’t have a game. You might have an activity, but you don’t have a game. So if it were true that you could play our game without paying attention to any of the pushes or pulls, then we’d have a pretty rotten game on our hands.

Fortunately, Oddworld’s titles are more than games. They’re also toys.

There are plenty of differences between toys and games, but for our purposes we can distinguish between them by the degree to which they are self-directed. A game sets objectives and obstacles for the player, while playing with toys is self-directed and need not involve obstacles at all. We think it’s important to have both toy and game elements in Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. That’s because we hope players will think of Munch’s Oddysee as more than a game—we want it to be a passport to Oddworld itself.

To achieve this goal, it’s been necessary to go beyond the bare bones of level design. Munch’s Oddysee is backed up by systems that simulate the LifeCycles of Oddworld and all its many inhabitants. Every decision the player makes has an impact upon the world. Increase productivity at a Flubco Fuels Facility and you may pollute a lake. Purifying a polluted lake may create an overpopulation problem for an otherwise dormant wetland species.

The choice is up to you—and by providing lots of choices, each with unique consequences, we hope to create an environment where you will slow down and just play with stuff, like you would a toy. Sure, you can just go directly from one gameplay challenge to the next, if you desire, but you can also spend as much time as you like in any given region, exploring the world and interacting with its inhabitants.

Think of it as a theme park. The rides are the major gameplay elements—the quests you must complete and the obstacles you must overcome to complete the game. The toy aspects of the game are everything in between the rides. You can jump right from one ride to the next, if that’s how you feel, or you can take a little detour and poke around in some of the less-frequented areas of the park.

And if we’ve done our jobs, you’ll find the self-directed toy aspects of the game every bit as compelling as the more-conventional gameplay elements. After the game comes out, drop us a line and let us know how we did.