Game design Toolbox – User time investment
How is the user or character investing its time?
I found it useful to define early what the goals are on what we expect the user to focus his time on at different points of the game.
For example even within the same level of a Red Alert 2, Brett Sperry and Mark Skaggs understand that the player will invest his time in a different way. Here is a small diagram I made up to explain what is going on:
The more the user plays the same level, the less the user needs to explore. Because he has the map more and more in memory. This frees a dramatic amount of time, and makes the player better. So by just “learning” the map, the user is getting to be more efficient, and without changing any parameter in the game, the level is getting easier.
Sometimes, you control the way the user spend its time by driving different levels of efficiency in the simulation. In SimCity, you have to pay great attention to the RCI balance at the beginning, but towards the end of the game play it is less of a challenge. In “The Sims” you have to take care of the Sims happiness at the beginning, but the more objects you have, the smarter the Sims get about happiness, and the game play shifts towards the social interactions between the Sims.
Here is a spreadsheet made by Roxy Wolosenko, a famous Maxis designer, while designing SimsVille. It shows the activities the Sims have to invest time in. This shows how we would expect a Sim to spend its time in a town where all the stores would be a low, medium or high efficiency. This was done prior to programming any store, and is used as the main guideline to get the game to start around making the Sims happy, and moving the center of the game towards a larger scale soap opera.