Hey everyone! This is Jonas from Gears for Breakfast, I’m the game’s sole designer and programmer. Today I want to share one of my many design choices on A Hat in Time; as a result I may bring in examples from other games, and point out things I consider design flaws. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I don’t like the game I make an example of, or that I don’t find endearing aspects in that particular design choice. Some of my favorite games have an overwhelming amount of design flaws, and it’s only when you’re passionately interested in a game that you’re able to find this huge number of design flaws. With that said, moving back on topic!
As many of you may know, A Hat in Time features a unique collectible: badges. Despite A Hat in Time being inspired by games like Mario 64 / Mario Sunshine and Banjo-Kazooie, I made the decision to deviate from those games by introducing an entirely new type of collectible.
The aforementioned games, Mario Sunshine and Banjo-Kazooie, share a common collectible with a very specific purpose. In Mario Sunshine it’s the blue coins, and in Banjo-Kazooie its the music notes; these collectibles are spread and hidden in the environment. While their rewards are technically different (although their direct contribution to the player’s progress is not) they’re both designed to incentivize exploration.
These two games were of the firm belief that the player is by default interested in exploring your game’s environment, and that the player only needs a little push to go from interested to eager. A Hat in Time shares this particular design agenda, and as a result the first world the player enters is fully open right from the start.
However, it should be pointed out that blue coins and music notes are not actually rewards, and this is what I think makes a substantial difference in how the player approaches these collectibles.
- In Mario Sunshine, you can trade 10 blue coins for a Shine Sprite, the game’s primary collectible. However, these Shine Sprites do not progress the player closer to the final boss; a particular set of unrelated other specific Shine Sprites provide that. Instead, these Shine Sprites are only a roadblock in the player’s journey to obtaining all the Shine Sprites for the “real” game ending. The collecting of the blue coins has no value in itself, as there are no specific game actors or events attached to the individual blue coin; they are merely laying around or popping out of paint with little challenge on the player’s part. The designers provided the blue coins as a means to increase exploration, but did not account for whether the player would be interested in collecting these. As a result, the player would directly benefit from having the blue coins removed, as they provide no value to the player, at the cost of the player’s time. I feel this is a design flaw.
- The music notes in Banjo-Kazooie were similarly added to incentivize exploration, and the reward for collecting a specific number of them is access to a new area of the game. These also suffer from the same design flaw that the blue coins did; the player would directly benefit from these not being in the game.
The blue coins / music notes (secondary collectibles) are different from the shine sprites and jiggles (primary collectibles); the primary collectibles do contain value by themselves as they have game actors and events attached to them (challenges, boss battles, etc.). In summary, the problem with secondary collectibles in previous titles has been that they are of no value to the player.
In Super Mario Bros. 3, they introduced various new powerups for Mario to use. I think an interesting design choice was the addition of the frog suit; it’s introduced very late in the game, is considerably rare, and with only a handful of water levels it’s almost entirely useless. But it doesn’t matter if it’s useless, the player still considers it a valuable powerup as it provides a slight variation on the existing playstyle. The player also put effort into getting the powerup, it’s now *my* powerup, and I earned it through skill by getting to it.
In A Hat in Time, I decided to introduce badges. Badges are items that provide Hat Kid with new abilities, and I designed them with this very specific Super Mario Bros 3 mindset. Through skill, the player can gain access to them, and experience a slight variant on the existing playstyle. Whether it be throwing chemicals, teleporting or running faster. Badges are collected in three parts, and for each part collected the player gets a tease about what the badge performs. This will further incentivize the player to collect a badge that he/she thinks is interesting. Through this design, the badges become valuable to the player by themselves; not only is our player now more interested in collecting badges, he/she is also more interested in exploring our environment, all without us forcing him to do so.
Hope this helped give some insight into our designs! I realize this is a rather large post on a relatively small subject, but it should also give an insight into how much effort goes into game design.
We’re still working on the beta, and can’t wait to show it! We’ve got a lot to show, but it’s still not quite clear to us when it’ll be ready, we’ll make sure to announce when the beta is ready!