“Evergreen Games”

I’m becoming increasingly fascinated with “evergreen” games. That is, games that can “stand the test of time” by resisting solution and maintaining playability and interest over a long period of time.

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I’m talking about games of strategy, not necessarily contests of skill; you can find many examples of contests that date back to very early human history, like racing and wrestling, and more recent examples of video game contests with some level of staying power, like Street Fighter or Quake. As an aside, although you can point to examples of decision making in both Street Fighter and Quake, I would argue neither is PRIMARILY focused about decision making. There’s also a class of games that are primarily contests of luck, like many ancient dice games, and decision making certainly isn’t the primary focus in those games either.

ANYWAY, Common examples of very old strategy games still played today are Chess and Go. Less commonly known are games with Mancala mechanisms, and I think with the doubling cube, backgammon can even squeak in as a game with some long term strategic staying power.

It should be noted, I think that all of these games are multi-player games. This helps A LOT with strategic staying power, because opponents can provide a bit of depth themselves by performing moves that are sub-optimal in a broad sense, but have other benefits like surprise, and moving your opponent into unfamiliar game states (see: Donkey Space).

However, the neat thing about video games, is that the computer can provide unfamiliar situations for the player to tackle via randomly generated levels, or situations, or slight random aberrations in enemy AI, etc. etc. This is a cool thing about “roguelike” permanent death and randomly generated levels (the permadeath is just so you can’t use memorization). And as long as you keep the randomness constrained to mostly Input Randomness, you can maintain strategic depth without having the outcome become arbitrary (i.e skilled players will still perform better and be able to measure themselves against one other in a useful way).

This is ESPECIALLY interesting when you consider the idea of something like a “single player ladder”. With a solution like that in place, you suddenly have the opportunity to create a very new type of game design: an “evergreen” single player game. A game that can be played and explored solo, and yet can be used as a test of skill in a broader context. A few games are scratching at the surface at this kind of thing, and I think its a very rich and rewarding area of game design. 

We have the potential to create game experiences that can stand the test of time, and if they are single player, they can be considered, interpreted and explored both alone and with our game-playing peers.


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