What has worked as a good analogy for me as to what a game is has been to look at the game not as a standalone product but as an engine. Ultimately, it is not the game that people enjoy but the experience the game presents. The game does nothing if there are no players to play it. So as an engine, a game must take inputs from its surrounding environment (the players, current events, cultural phenomenons, historical events, etc.).
Based on the framework established by the MDA paper mentioned in the last post, I’d extend the analogy to mean the physical engine is comprised of the mechanics of the game. They dynamics is formed as the game is being played. An engine needs fuel to power it and oil to keep it running smoothly. Putting in different kinds of fuels and oils can change its performance. Some engines only run on diesel fuel. In a way, this is sort of how there are target markets for games and how some players will like certain games but not others. Just like an engine has a “taste” for certain fuels, so do players have a taste for certain games and it is important to identify what exactly your game delivers.
Furthermore in what inputs an engine takes, different players will act different from one another. A game being played by extremely competitive players will play different than a game being played by cooperative players. A robust game can create a fun experience for both. If not, everyone’s in for a bumpy ride. Ensuring different paths to win, a well balanced game, and a well paced game can help make a game very robust. There’s no single right way to accomplish all of these and in the end, it just comes down to elbow grease and time to find out what works together best. A single component or mechanic may seem to outshine the rest but ultimately, it comes to each part doing its job and working with all the other parts smoothly.
In Maze of Monsters, I’ve discovered longer games (in terms of time) are more fun. In longer games, different elements of the game have more time to be understood and to come out to create a unique and fun experience. If the game is too short and players are only looking for a very small amount of gold, everybody just splits up and searches for gold and once they have enough, they race towards the exit. Few players have much of a chance to use their abilities to their advantage. The game is over before even half of the maze is explored, and some players are still learning some of the mechanics. The monster player hardly has any chance to lure and ambush all of the explorers.
In terms of balance, it’s necessary to make sure no single character can outplay all of the rest under any circumstance. Balance has been a very tricky item to attain in Maze of Monsters. The different abilities, distribution of skill points, and concealed information creates an asymmetrical balance where individually comparing odds of winning become a fruitless attempt at evaluating balance. Instead, the task has been to find a statistical balance where in all manner of strategies employed, each character has a statistically equal chance of winning and the winner is decided by he or she who best employs their own abilities, negotiates with others, reads the intentions of others well and best assesses the risk and rewards associated with each action taken.