When I made the first prototype of The Botanist, it was a simple toy. You typed in a word to get a seed, planted it, and watched it grow. You could try to grow a garden of only blue plants, your friends names, or whatever you wanted. There was no objective, no achievements, just something to play with. It was a toy.
I strongly felt like this wasn’t something that anyone would buy, or take interest in, because it wasn’t a game. By that I mean you can’t win or lose, you don’t make progress and there is no challenge. Even games without a win and lose state, like Animal Crossing (one of my favourites) do have progression and very recognisable traditional game mechanics. You save up to get a bigger house, collect things, and it is very recognisably a game. This has been playing on my mind a lot since I made the game.
I spend a lot (most of the development time) turning The Botanist into ‘a game’. I added customers, challenges, unlocks and collectables, all the things that I needed to take it from an interesting toy to a game, so I could justify its existence alongside the other games on Steam. Did this make it more fun or interesting? Who knows.
I feel like No Mans Sky suffers from the same problem. The interesting part of that game is the procedural generation. It can make amazing, unlimited things to look at and explore. But (I’m completely guessing here), things like combat, trading, base building, and whatever else, was added in to make it look like a game. This makes sense, because they have to sell enough to justify the expense of their universe generator. But does it make the game better? I’m not convinced it does. The combat is bettered by any number of FPS games, same with the trading etc. You have to grind to get to new planets, because then it is a game, it has challenge, but I haven’t heard that it is a lot of fun to do.
I understand this, as without it, it was a toy, and I’m not sure it would have sold anywhere near as well as it did.
This is something that I can’t get out of my head, and I worry that developers are limited in what they feel like they should make, because there are certain expectations of what games are, and that there are so many new, amazing things that games could do, that we don’t explore because it doesn’t fit into this pattern.
I will almost definitely write about this again as I learn more about it and refine my thoughts. I’m sure I have missed things, and that I’m wrong about a lot of things too, but that is all part of learning. If you have anything to add, please comment!