As one of the game design exercises I’m proposing myself, I’ll try to analyze the design of games in different styles. This time we’ll see a puzzle game that quite fast became big hit here in my place: World of Goo, form the indie dev
In World of Goo you to help the charismatic goo balls to reach a pipe located in the level. You do so by using the intrinsic ability of the goo balls that is to unite with and grow some sort of lattice structure or trellis. That lattice is subjected to a very interesting set of physics, such as gravity, wind and the tension between the goo connections. The game has a “lemmings feel” due to the fact that you have to drive at least some number of goo balls to the pipe and, although they usually don’t run to suicide, every time you use a goo ball to grow the lattice you spend it and that’s one less to be saved (most of the time), making the game a bit more…could I say, strategic?
That’s basically how it plays and personally i think it’s a terrific game with lots of fun, but what are the design choices that make World of Goo such a good game?
First of all it’s nice to note that this game is based upon a specific toy: The lattice based physics. One of the two game authors, Kyle Gabler, created a prototype for the Experimental Gameplay Project back in 2006 if my memory serves me well called Tower of Goo and it was a big hit! So he and his partner Ron Carmel naturally took this toy and expanded for the World of Goo. Kyle Gabler has also several other very interesting prototypes in his profile at the Experimental Gameplay Project, all of them with a visual style that, at least for me, is greatly appealing!
Basically the puzzles are solved manipulating the growing lattice, sometimes you have to cross a gap or overcome a hazard and thus build a bridge, in others you have to reach a higher place, thus building a tower of goo. Each node (goo ball) in the lattice has a weight and each connection between the nodes has a tension, So everything you build in the game is subjected to a physical law, as said before, but this kind of system has some great advantages in the design space:
- At first, the game has to tell the player only one rule: drag a goo ball with the mouse to attach it to the lattice. The rest, the way that the trellis will behave according gravity and the wind is easy to be infered by the player, since this kind of physical system behaves in a ubiquitous way for them. I mean, most of us have already made castles in the sand or played with some kind of Lego and we know that we can’t create a tower too high without a larger base. Since it’s natural to the player to understand the outcome of his/her actions in the system, it made up for a more engaging experience.
- Even if you don’t understand the physical system, you promptly see the outcome of your actions, since each action affects the lattice right away, you build and the game answers you, a nice loop
- The very action of building and playing with your structure is really fun, a toy per se. It’s so true that the game features a level for free goo-structure building, and people spends quite some time there.
- A physical simulation system is naturally a system with emergent behavior, another important aspect of engaging games, although you have a clear objective in each level, the actions you perform to achieve the goal are far from scripted (opposite to many puzzle games, specially adventure games). Another great game that uses a physical system for puzzles that comes to my mind now is Half Life 2.
- A reflection of this emergent behavior system is that each new goo ball introduced in the subsequent levels (the ones with new abilities) further increase the number possible outcomes for the structure. The final result of possible interactions and outcomes in the system is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Each new goo ability opens a lot of design space, such as the goo that inflates like a balloon, creating an upward force. In a moment of metalanguage, the “Sign Painter”, which is the game’s narrator, says something like “Across the distance they see lots of new goo species, the design possibilities are endless” 😀
- To finish a level, the player has to bring only a certain number of goo balls to the pipe, a number usually small compared to the population of goo in a level. But each extra goo ball you bring to the pipe ends waiting for you at the free building area, so there’s is a purpose for getting more goo balls to the pipe. What i like about this is that it creates a variable difficult level, controlled in-game by the player. You can choose an easy play and just bring the minimum number to finish the level, or work hard to make every move worthwhile so you can bring a greater number of goo balls to the end.
I think World of Goo is a great game, not only with a very nice design, but the graphics and sound do a great job creating an almost idyllic place.