Spell doom for your enemies.
Player rewards are a tricky issue in games. Jonathan Blow would tell us that if a game over-rewards players – like WoW (his example) or Peggle (my example), it’s just dishonest game design. It’s like adding salt and caffeine and deep-frying your core mechanic in batter – it may make players want to keep playing, but there’s no nutritional value there. You’re not actually improving your players’ lives.
So how does this apply to Wordsmith? Most puzzles in the Wordsmith demo provide you with three rewards:
A) Satisfaction. (you solved the puzzle!)
B) New locations. (most of the puzzles are about getting past some kind of spatial barrier)
C) New resources. (in each new location there are usually new creatures to kill with letters you haven’t got yet; in a couple of cases, just figuring out how to kill a creature is the puzzle.)
So yeah, I’m not as ascetic as Jonathan Blow; in Braid the only reward is A. (And maybe a tiny bit of B.)
More importantly, though, I’m concerned about C. Playing through the demo, you solve puzzles to get access to new letters, and use the new letters to solve the next puzzle, and so on. It’s not sustainable like this: the alphabet only has 26 letters in it. Just letting it run out, and leaving A and B as the remaining rewards is not practical either – when the player has grown to expect C, they’re going to be frustrated if I suddenly stop giving it out. (I guess WoW’s level cap is an example of that actually being done in the wild. It might work, I guess, but for now I’m going to steer clear.)
Fortunately, I think there are a couple more tricks I can try to carry on rewarding the player in a longer-form game. The first idea is a limited supply of wildcard letters – I could make certain letters (I’m thinking U and J) completely unobtainable… except that completing a “boss” puzzle earns you a wildcard. This is a one-use, non-refundable tile that can be used as any letter at all. A little taste of infinity. Use it wisely!
The second is “golden” letters – completing certain special puzzles (or completing them in a special way, perhaps) could earn you an endless supply of a particular letter. This could be rather game-breaking, so I think this would have to be kept as just an end-game completionist’s reward. Maybe the game world is divided in some way into 26 districts, and each district has a particular “gold letter” associated with it which you can obtain in some highly non-obvious way.
That’s all I have for today…