Design Choice: Badges

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.

hatintime_badge_preview

 

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.

loadout_menu

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!

15 Comments

  • kjul
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this detailed insight!

    It’s really awesome how much effort you are putting into this game and specifically, the gameplay.

    Really looking forwar to the beta :)

    Stay awesome guys!

  • cartoklanto
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    This sounds awesome, good work!

  • Theo
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    It’s really cool how much thought and effort you’re putting into the design of the collectibles of the game. It’s certainly appreciated.

    While I agree that the coin and music note collection mechanics of the games mentioned didn’t serve an intrinsic ‘value’ to the owner, it did serve a couple other purposes for the game designers.
    1) They highlighted alternate paths that were potentially non-obvious. When first entering a level, they draw attention to the many paths and options to let you choose which way you could go beyond the obvious road in front of you
    1b)It also helped you to notice areas that you normally wouldn’t have thought accessible. Ex: a very tall bookshelf or rooftop with no clear way to scale it can go unnoticed. A very tall bookshelf with a collectible at the top tell the player that ‘you can get up here somehow’, encouraging either further exploration or just persistence with the move-set available.

    2) They gave confirmation / reassurance that you were ‘on the right path’ or hadn’t explored that portion of the map completely yet.

    3)They acted as a small achievement – if you successfully follow the path / string of collectibles in the desired motion profile, you’d get them all and get the small feeling of ‘I did it (right)!’, vs. missing one and having to try again.

    4)They acted as a big achievement. While sometimes used to open up roadblocks further into the game, the main satisfaction came from the joy of the ‘I found them all!’ moment, knowing that you explored most every nook and cranny the game developer wanted you to discover.

    All that being said, it looks like you’ll still have the capsules to cover the same mechanics, with the badges being the bigger reward pieces. Unless you’re subtly saying you’re doing away with capsules / swirly red balls?? That would be sad, as I really liked the charming xylophone noises as you picked them up.

  • ChaosChao
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    This is really interesting insight. I can excuse the notes in Banjo-Kazooie, however, because I feel Rare was experimenting with how they could make their own IP stand out against something like Mario 64. I feel they actually got it right in Donkey Kong 64, of all places, with the regular bananas. They are secondary collectables, but they yield some of the primary collectables by getting enough of them (bananas medals and access to the level’s boss to get the boss key). Banjo-Kazooie and Jak and Daxter did something a bit similar to that with the Jinjos and Scout Flies, respectively: find all of them in a level, you get a Jiggy/Power Cell.

    This is a really interesting insight and, to add a bit of my opinion on the matter, I feel the reason a lot of secondary items fall flat in 3D platformers is because they didn’t yield a primary item needed for the game or an option to change the route you take to finish the game (example: in Jak and Daxter, you need 72 Power Cells to reach the last level. You can get any 72 Power Cells of your choosing, sort of like Mario 64. The Mario Sunshine blue coin example is perfect to show that those primary collectables mean NOTHING unless you are going for 100%.) or they were used in such a way in which exploration goes from exciting and interesting to tedious and annoying (Banjo-Tooie’s way of doing notes and what they were used for I felt fall under this).

    • wwwarea
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      Hmm are you saying it’s better to only make the exact amounts required only exist and it would be better to take the ‘extra’ objects out?

      In Super Mario 64, you could get 120 stars, but you only needed 70 to beat the game. However, all the “extra” stars were there as an alternative/non-linear way of beating it. They were not needed to beat it, but it served many other things including that it also made the game feel bigger.
      Unless you meant something like that.

      Notes in Banjo Kazooie had nothing to do with the primary objects, but I could offer that they were needed to unlock the next area of the game (An event?), so aren’t the objects valuable for that? It was also used to unlocks secrets, which I found actually worth it. xD

      Just my offer, if you still feel that it’s unneeded, then oh well. Not trying to start a argument I think. Haha

      • ChaosChao
        Posted November 17, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        What you said for Mario 64 is exactly what I meant. Also, yes, the notes were important for progression. I was just stating that the note system in Banjo-Tooie made exploring tedious after a while since they were in clumps of 5 in a nest (or 20 for the Treble Clef), which, given the size of Tooie’s levels, made them very annoying to look for in the later levels, especially because you needed notes to get new moves from Jamjars.

  • Jack
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    I am interested in this Badge concept. In Mario 3 you could only use a power up once until you find another one. This made collecting power ups important and caused the player to think about when you should use them. So when collecting badges, can they only be used once and would you have to collect them over again? How would you go about collecting them?

    In the Sly Cooper series you had to collect a certain number of bottles to unlock a new move, creating a desire in the player to explore the world. Would collecting these badges work the same way as in you would need to collect a certain amount of something in order to unlock them, thus creating a desire to explore the world?

  • The Sign Writer
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:32 am | Permalink

    I would like to point out that while certainly in sunshine and banjo-kazooie, the blue coins and music notes did seem rather unnecessary to collect in the long run. but specifically in banjo-tooie, the sequel to banjo-kazooie, they did make the change of music notes for good by having a number of them collected allow banjo and kazooie learn lots of new abilities, not unlike what is going on here with a hat in time. I like this mechanic here. :)

  • Dsssdds
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:48 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the update.

    I was wondering when the site would update,and seeing this is a delightful surprise.

    I am really loving this badge mechanic, it really is a great reward for exploring the beautiful worlds in this game.

  • wwwarea
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    There are some things I’ll like to bring out and I think you might not be as open to some exploration fans because some exploration fans might be different.. But I could be wrong!

    “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.”
    I have a question, are you considering this as a flaw? I’m confused. Using the notes to unlock a new area actually sounds good to me.

    For the blue coins, this sounds like the red coins from Super Mario 64.. I mean I don’t consider a style of collecting an actual flaw but most of the time, I always hated collecting red coins when all I’m doing is collecting them to get the real important item: A star. If this is what you mean, then I see a very good point from you I think!

    However, some objects that just opens a brand new room is actually rewarding.. For example: A Magical Jewel Key.
    The point of that is to unlock a really amazing room with a new power up and how fun the room is to explore.

    To me, while that key it’s self isn’t worthy as in power ups or other things, it was something I loved for the sake of unlocking a >>brand new room to explore<<.. The brand new room was the reward and the magic inside of it (To make it not empty too). So the object collected was still worth and needed in the fun and exiting way possible.
    Here is another very good example: If Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze rewarded you with a brand new bonus level after beating hard mode with the new ways of characters, I would of continued it because the idea of unlocking a new room after some hard work is actually a deep desired of me.

    I mean if everything was unlocked in the whole game at start, then it wouldn’t sound that fun.. That’s why I like to have certain collecting to unlock new progress. Like the notes from Banjo because they serve a purpose and it can be fun collecting them.
    (I like BT more better for some reason, though the power ups were something to reach new areas too)

    Incentivize exploration to me is actually something I enjoy sometimes because if every new exploration room was unlocked at the start, then collecting would feel pointless sometimes to me other than just having style and power ups.

  • EibboreanHero
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I want to hug the entire team! I love platformers so much and have certainly missed them in recent years. While we have games like Skylanders and Disney Infinity haphazardly filling the void, a true platformer with collectibles is needed. I’ve been following your development for quite some time and only become more eager to play it. At this point, I only hope you do bring your wonderful work of art to consoles. (Hint: I have a WiiU & PS4!) Thank you for sharing and keep working!

  • Jonathan
    Posted November 20, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Interesting!

    As I see it, the notes in Banjo-Kazooie actually served a very similar purpose as the jiggies. While on a more minitiature scale, they were also tied to some kind of action (going on top of a roof, going inside a man-eating treasure chest etc.)

    Also, I’m quite interested what will become of the red-orb-thingies. It would be cool to hear your motivation there too, since there does not seem to be a fixed number of them in each level, which is something that I recall liking about Banjo.

    A humble suggestion: since you need to collect three badges to get a power-up, maybe this should be reflected in the design in some way? Maybe something like a three-piece garment where you need to combine them to figure out what it does? Another suggestion: maybe it should be something that has a connection to the actions you’re performing, instead of something that just sticks to the hat and arbitrarily gives you powers? Another another suggestion: what about attempting to get more synergy between collectibles and world? Perhaps unlike orbs/notes/coins, since there are comparatively few badges maybe you could have them be something that is more linked to the levels. Just coming accross a random badge floating in the air is still cool, but maybe there’s a potential to have it be seomthing not just added “on top” of the levels, but instead something that is deeply embedded and can help bind together actions and world, as well as worlds with each other! (Makes sense?)

    Regardless, and more importantly, keep up the good work! :)

  • Andrew Moritz
    Posted November 24, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    In Banjo-Kazooie, the music notes are actually the primary collectable as they are needed to get to the end of the game while jiggies just let you get to more levels with more music notes. Also, RELEASE DATE PLZ

  • Cedric
    Posted December 27, 2014 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    To me badges is like notes in banjo tooie. They are used to improve your character! Which is a fantastic thing. No one wants to pass out on an upgrade. And as collecting red orbs I think it be cool it collecting them all would unlock a map of the level showing the remaining spots with something undiscovered yet. The more collectables the better. I really don’t care if your stretching the content, like a mmo stretch quests. We just need haven’t had any games even close to this since Donkey Kong 64.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Toparaman
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 4:51 am | Permalink

    I just learned of this game, and I want to thank you guys for trying to bring back 3D platformers! Good luck!

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