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30 Jul 2014

Avoiding That ‘Grindy’ Feeling In Your Indie Game

One of the things you have to worry about when developing your indie game is to ensure that it does not feel like a ‘grind.’ Players hate grinding – especially when the grinding isn’t fun. It’s one of the things keeping me from replaying most of the Final Fantasy games over the years. Sure, they’re fun to play and certainly memorable, but the random, arbitrary battles annoy me to no end. It’s one of the reasons I prefer Chrono Trigger to any other Square RPG: you can see the enemies, engage with them if you wish, or bypass them (in many cases, anyway) altogether (not to mention the battle system is a lot of fun).

But I digress. Your gameplay, no matter what type of indie game you may be developing, should never feel ‘grindy.’ Grinding isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it’s done correctly, but that grindy feeling? Yeah, that’s bad. While players should gradually progress through the game by becoming more powerful while meeting harder challenges, getting there shouldn’t feel like a chore. It brings me to my first point:

 

Optimal path to victory must be enjoyable

Think about the most fun game you have ever played. For me, it’s the original Deus Ex. What makes Deus Ex so appealing (besides the awesome conspiracy/shadow government storyline that feels right at home in an X-Files episode) are the RPG elements of the game. Often, RPG elements feel tacked on, but not in Deus Ex.

Allowing players to gradually obtain and improve their augmentations (i.e. unique abilities of the game), players earn points that can be spent on purchasing/upgrading their augmentations based on how they play the game. For example, instead of running into a room guns blazing, players can earn points by sneaking through a ventilation shaft and silently eliminating their enemies. Moreover, players can also earn points by exploring their surroundings; thus allowing the player to find new missions, speak with new characters, read additional information about the world of the game, etc.

Believe it or not, but the entire game of Deus Ex is one big grind. Yet, the grind is optional, and even if you do decide to obtain as many points as possible and upgrade the most augmentations possible, it’s still a blast.

 

That’s the key to making grinding work for your indie game: it has to be fun. Deus Ex would be boring if I had to keep shooting enemies until I had enough points to earn an augmentation that would allow me to access a new area of a map, but because it leaves leveling up completely up to me, I can level up at my leisure.

It’s one of the many ways you can make grinding work for you, but just remember:

 

Risk/reward must be balanced

The risk/reward dynamic of Deus Ex isn’t that complicated. As stated above, by exploring the world of Deus Ex and tackling mission objectives in unique ways, you are rewarded by going out of your comfort zone. The risk factor comes into play by challenging you to think differently about how to approach each task. Again, instead of walking into a room and killing every enemy, you are rewarded by systematically figuring out ways to eliminate players quietly, explore areas you normally would never traverse, etc. The developers did an amazing job with not only enticing players to play the game differently, but also did a great job in helping them to upgrade their skills faster by playing ‘outside of the box.’

It’s a perfect example of balancing risk and reward.

 

Repetition for the sake of it

Arbitrary repetition: it’s the bane of every player on Earth. Rarely anyone enjoys playing a game that forces you to complete the same boring, repetitive tasks until you ‘level up,’ and are allowed to go to the next area of the game.

Notice the keyword here: boring. Repetition is fine – heck, you can barely avoid repetition. Yet, the trick is to ensure that repetitive gameplay is actually fun. Going back to Deus Ex for a moment, the gameplay is actually pretty repetitive: aim your weapon, shoot, and hopefully kill the enemy. Yet, it’s the context of the gameplay that makes it so interesting.

One moment I may be crawling out of a ventilation duct only to knock out an enemy with a taser. The next? I may be on top of a roof silently sniping guards so I can sneak across the map. The next minute after that? I may be shooting my assault rifle at a swarm of guards because someone saw me and sounded the alarm. Five minutes later? I may be blowing up rockets shot at me via an augmentation installed in my brain.

See what I mean? The gameplay at its core never changes, but the scenarios, the context – everything else about the game? It changes all the time. It keeps things interesting, and avoids the plague of repetitive gameplay.

 

Have any comments/tips regarding avoiding grindy gameplay? Let us know in the comments below!

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