Making Games with a Casual Mindset

So earlier blog posts attempted to nail down what we mean when we say “casual gamer”. My conclusion is that the casual games we find on portal sites have two things in common:

  • They are engaging rather than outright challenging
  • They can be played in short bursts (20 minutes or less)

This is probably not surprising news if you’ve played a few casual games. :) But let’s look at a few ways to actually take these guidelines to heart:

The “Retry” option

Several games now have a “Retry” option whenever you lose. This lets you immediately restart your game right where you left off. This feels “cheaty” to people who are looking for a challenge — because it removes a lot of the challenge! But that’s the whole point: engage, don’t challenge. Here’s what Elemental’s retry screen looks like.¬†Extremely simple: it’s just the normal background with a couple of buttons stuck on it. Luxor 2 has a similar screen, if I recall correctly.

I added a Retry screen to my upcoming game, Starcrossed. I added it at the last minute, though — for some reason, it didn’t occur to me to add one, even though I’d seen it elsewhere. One of the beta players mentioned that they wished they had a Retry option, so I hacked it in. Next time, I’ll plan on having a Retry option right from the get-go.

The “Short Session” Metaphor

Most casual games can be played in short bursts, but it isn’t always obvious to users how to stop playing when they want to. This is something I wish I’d done a better job of in Starcrossed.

The traditional approach is to bring up an “End of Level” screen that shows statistics, and lets the user save and quit at a nice stopping point. This is good, but games like Galapago take it a step further. The main menu of Galapago is also a level-selector screen. (Here’s a screenshot. Only one level is unlocked in this shot, but as you unlock more, additional little squares light up all across the island.) Each time the user beats a level, they are returned to the main menu, where they can now select a new level. This also gives them a great opportunity to stop playing, should they want to. It’s very intuitive. I wish I’d done this for Starcrossed! I’ll likely use the idea in the next game.

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