“Imaginability” in Game Design

I’ve been doing some retrospection on the design of SkyBoats and Militia, and I noticed that at least for me, Militia seems to be more appealing for me to boot up and play. Note that I’m not saying that SkyBoats is less fun WHILE playing, but that Militia has some factor that encourages playing it.

I’m thinking that it comes down to the fact that it’s easy for me to imagine playing the first few turns of Militia, and deriving some satisfaction out of it. For example, I can picture in my minds eye attacking a row of enemies including a captain in Militia, and how that might be a fun thing to do. In SkyBoats, most satisfying actions are very nuanced (involving specific setups of boats and wind patterns), and difficult to imagine when not actively involved in playing the game.

(It’s easy to imagine moves like this, and how they might be satisfying)

So I’ve been thinking a lot more about this concept of the “Imaginabilty” of games, and rating games on this axis. For example, It’s easy to imagine attacking with a bunch of creatures in Magic for lethal damage or pushing a ton of monsters into the water with Gale in Auro, but it’s more difficult to imagine what it might be like to play Agricola or Mount and Blade. (Note: I think this effect becomes mitigated as you become more familiar with a game).

Imaginabiilty requirements can be covered by even a small aspect of the full game, as is the case with last-hitting in Dota 2 (or League of Legends) or microing marines in Starcraft. The key is that the actions are:

1) Simple enough to be imagined in the minds eye and

2) Intrinsically rewarding in some way

Can you think of other examples of games with poor or exceptional Imaginability? Can you think of a better word for the concept? Let me know in the comments :).


2 thoughts on ““Imaginability” in Game Design”

  1. Hi Brett, not sure if I agree with yr “imaginability” value but I do often consider what characteristics imbue a game with “playability”, “replayability”, and “elegance”. Whatever some may be, Militia has them in good quantity, particularly in the realm of elegance. “Imaginability” for me, in terms of an appreciable element of independent v-games, is an open-endedness in game script, be there multiple endings/solutions or no. Sandbox-like quality, or the ability to make game play adapt to your own imagination (the ease of maintaining the illusion that the slate is blank and the only real game objectives that exist are the ones that are imagined by the player) is what I would call “imaginability”, and it’s something I value highly. Hand in glove with that would then be the engagement factor of the actual game objectives, are they interesting? different? engaging? Can they pull one along the actual game trajectory while maintaining the illusion of open endedness?

    Militia is certainly no sandbox, story-wise a kind of dungeon-crawler/rogue-like at best (successful format, replayable for a reason!)(attrition?). There is, however, a certain element to it that gives it a nice “unpredictability” factor. I chalk this up to the code, I’m no coder, but there are obviously some nicely elegant algorithms that make it a real “chess-like”. I do look down however sometimes and see a piece missing and curse the evil magic of it all, I swear that the red demons seem to break the rules sometimes and I’m not sure if this is by design or not. If it is, well done and subtle!

    To finish, level 12 is impossible? and thank you for the google-play option. I encourage you and all other indy developers to please give the public an option, any option as an alternative to steam. It’s a shame that you should have to slap and piss in the face of your most stalwart supporters of non-corporate creative v-games by opting to only offer such a repugnant and insulting platform as steam. I get frustrated finding these neat betas on gamejolt and elsewhere only to have them disappear into an unplayable steam-hole as they pick up, dare I say, steam.

    Militia is great, I’m sure the darkworld is too and as soon as I reach level 20 in the light world I’ll go ahead and spend money on an app for my phone. (never) But seriously, with the kind of success you’ve got with this type of gameplay on Militia, perhaps you should try your hand at making a card/board game?

    1. Thanks Ryan! I appreciate the detailed thoughts, and thanks for the compliment regarding Militia.

      May pursue tabletop game design in the future but I definitely have concerns about production issues and financial viability.

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