I have no idea if I’ve done these correctly so here goes nothing. :v
‘Approachable’ is one of those terms that often gets confused with ‘simple’ by both developers and by players alike, and making a game approachable is one of the hardest things to get right in game design. Making a game more approachable often times means reducing the complexity of a game and that’s often mistaken for making it simple or shallow. However, in reality, making something approachable just reduces the number of steps to get a point in the game whilst maintaining depth. An example of an approachable mechanic that still has depth would be Tropico’s wage management system. Regardless of what you think of the game as a whole, the wage management system present gives players the ability to influence employment across their city by adjusting the wages of labourers in specific buildings by clicking one of two buttons. That system is both easy to learn and has depth, and adding any more controls would simply intimidate most players.
Similarly, I will be aiming to ensure that every design decision I make for Small Gods will result in a system or behaviour that’s presented to players in an easy to understand way and whose implications they can grasp within seconds. Every time I make a decision, I will essentially be asking myself “Can the average person understand what is happening and where this will lead?”
Small Gods needs to be empowering and not just in the way that games traditionally are. As Small Gods is about well, gods, I need to ensure that the player feels like a minor deity while playing the game. Players will need to have fantastic powers which they can call on in order to alter the way in which the game is progressing or else they’ll feel less like gods and more like a mayor with a fancy view of their city. I will need to constantly ask myself “Does this make players feel like a god?” and “Is this something a god would do?” when designing systems and if they are then great, so long as they’re approachable they’re in. But if the systems don’t meet those requirements or they’re not approachable I’ll have to return to the drawing board.
Failure to ensure that Small Gods is empowering would make it just another city-builder.
When I say immersive what I mean is that I want players to feel as if they’re controlling the game not through the medium of a gamepad, but more directly. I want players to feel as if they are a physical presence within the game and not an outsider looking in and occasionally interacting with it. As Small Gods is being designed for virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift this is a pillar of design that I will need to put a lot of focus on as things like menus are doubly immersion-breaking when the player is wrapped up in a 3D world.
As an example of the things I will have to do, let’s look at changing the time of day. I could use a UI menu that players can bring up by hitting the B button and then navigating to the time-of-day section, then selecting the time they want and pressing A and waiting for the sun to move. Or I could let them look at the sky, press the A button to hold it, and drag the sun around by looking up or down. Because the game needs to be immersive, I have to go with the latter option as it feels more visceral and removes a lot of the abstraction present in the former.
Every decision will need to be looked at through the lenses of ‘Does this make the game more immersive?’ and ‘if not, can it be made more immersive?’
I will need to ensure that building and maintaining a civilization in Small Gods is a satisfying experience for players. While not a particularly shocking statement in and of itself it’s absolutely vital to do as players should be made to feel the desire to improve their civilization for its own sake and not just because it grants them benefits in other parts of the game. If I can ensure that building and maintaining cities is satisfying for players on their own then I can ensure that players remain interested in Small Gods for an extended period of time and that the game isn’t a one trick pony that can be discarded after people have had their fill.
When it comes to the city building aspects of the game I will need to ask myself whether or not the things I am adding add depth to the game, reduce approachability, power, and/or immersiveness, and whether or not they’re satisfying to manage. If it doesn’t add depth, detracts from previous design decisions, and/or is unsatisfying to manage then it cannot be included in Small Gods.
Small Gods needs to be challenging. It’s a game, after all, and games without challenges quickly become boring after the initial thrill of being in complete control passes. For everything I give to the player, be it god power or building, I will need to ensure that I give players a corresponding challenge to face. The challenge in question can be related to the thing given to them or it can be completed unrelated, it doesn’t matter so long as it’s a challenge that they can overcome through cleverness or effort. In addition, I will need to ensure that players are given challenges to complete at their own leisure should they encounter a period in the game wherein everything is ticking over as they wait to meet some goal (E.G they’re waiting for resources to build a building). In that case, I will need to give them a unique challenge that they can start at will and which will keep them occupied for several minutes at most.