As prompted by The Elements of Game Design, Chapter 7:
1. What is the urgency in the game?
Ultimately I’m not sure that this game needs to impress a serious sense of urgency in the player at all times. I’m quite content with building a game that allows the player to play at their own pace. Thinking on this, I do wonder if there should be moments of urgency throughout the game, especially ones that can be triggered into existence by player action.
Since I have decided to start with the concept that the player begins with a treasure, we could easily see a sense of urgency being brought upon the player by enemies that would seek to steal the treasure. It’s not immediately clear to me why an enemy would like to steal the treasure, but perhaps this does not need to be clear. Just as players are satisfied enough to be shown something that is gold and to find it valuable, it should be fine for the enemies to find the treasure to be valuable for no reason that is explicitly stated.
It could be even the very opposite: the treasure is known to be valuable to the player simply because there are antagonists that wish to take it from the player and because the treasure being taken causes the player to lose the game.
2. What is the player’s job?
The player’s primary job is to carry the treasure across the game. In some sense we can think of the player as acting as a type of delivery person or mule. In any case, I don’t think the player character can be defined as wanting to complete their task out of spontaneity or for the thrill of giving the treasure away, but because they are in some way duty-bound to perform this task. I’d prefer to leave it up to the player to interpret why the player-character is on this quest. Why the player is returning the treasure is something that I think is best left to interpretation, but it’s possible that how the treasure came to be in the player’s posession is better made explicit. It’s possible that the player-character inherited the treasure, it’s possible that the player-character stole the treasure from a museum or a private collection. Both work, but there’s a very different (and more specific) message behind the game if this element of the story is made explicit. I think I prefer for the treasure to be a family heirloom.
3. What are the player’s inputs?
I expect to be targeting an Xbox gamepad, since that’s the gamepad that I have for testing and the gamepad with which I am most comfortable as a player. There is likely a version of this game that could work with a touchscreen input, in the way that Monument Valley works with a touchscreen input. I don’t see myself designing explicitly for a keyboard and mouse input system.
4. Are player activities extensible?
The core player actions are picking up the treasure, moving around, jumping, and putting down the treasure. There are a handful of ways to possibly extend this.
picking up other objects
It should be possible for the player to pick up other objects, and to use them throughout the course of the game to various ends. There probably has to be some reasonable limit on the number of objects that the player can pick up and manipulate, as adding interactable objects dramatically increases the complexity and scope of the game.
An old Zelda trope is huge buttons in the floor that only do something when the player or an object is placed upon them. There are many cases when having the treasure rest on top of a button or in a particular place could provide interesting gameplay moments, especially if switches may be located in places where a hostile enemy character could steal an unattended treasure.
The treasure may or may not be invulnerable. It may be the case that an invulnerable treasure affords many new gameplay elements. For example: perhaps there is a vent that shoots something hazardous like fire or poison, and if we place the treasure in front of it, the treasure can prevent the passage of the fire/poison/etc.
disc and rod
I’ve been thinking about the idea that with a disc-shaped treasure, the player will have a rod to go with the disc. In my mind, the disc is shaped like a manhole cover: wider than the player’s body, but not very thick, and very heavy. A manhole cover has a hole in it so that it can be pried open with a tool. (This tool must have a name, I just don’t know it.) The idea being that it would allow you to pick up the disk when it is laying flat, you could use it to push the disc (why not just use your hand?) in the way that children once did with hoop rolling, maybe you could put the rod all the way through the center of the disc and stand on it like pegs on a bicycle wheel, or maybe you put the rod into the disc just one way and push it with your hands. It’s also possible that you could lift the disc above your head horizontally on the rod but why not just carry it?
5. Are there three (or more) resource types?
If the treasure is a heavy object, and the treasure can be used to keep buttons depressed, it may be best to think of mass as a resource type. That is, your own body has mass, as does the treasure, as does potentially other objects in the game.
The treasure itself is a resource type. The rod is, too, if I include that. I’d prefer not having health, instead having small rooms with small penalties for death, similar to Celeste. Puzzles involving fire may have fuel, but I’m not sure if I’ll get to that. Struggling for a third resource type here.
6. Is there a defining rule?
Yes, there are a few. The most important rule is that you must not lose the treasure. At various points through the game, it should be possible for the player to become separated from the treasure. E.g.: the player could fall in a pit and die, the treasure could fall in the pit (counting the same as player death), the treasure could become unreachable to the player, the player could be left stranded without the aid of the treasure
7. What are you testing?
This is probably the most difficult answer to nail down right now, but I think in every version of how the game would work, I’m interested in testing the player’s ability to formulate a plan of action and then attempt to execute that plan.