Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lessons from Casual Games

How often do game designers look to casual games for inspiration for design ideas? It's amazing how a simple arcade game can throw up valuable insights.

Take the wonderfully chaotic, whimsical Insaniquarium. You can get it here. A must-play for anyone involved in game development, and for lovers of gaming in general. It's a delightful little game that demonstrates the effectiveness of two core design values – simplicity and context-sensitive control.

The objective of Insaniquarium is simple – you need to buy little fish, feed them until they become big fish, after which they drop money. By collecting enough money, you can save up and buy pieces of egg – complete the egg and you complete a level. Sound simplistic? Somehow, almost impossibly, the designers manage to throw in food upgrades, carnivores that feed on little fish and drop diamonds, evil, scary aliens that attack the fish, weapons upgrades, oysters, swordfish, and more. By the third level, your screen is a psychedelic, swirling mix of fast moving, brightly coloured objects, to the backdrop of cutesy-pie music and classic arcade woo-bop-bing-bop sounds.

And what controls must you master to play this game that includes strategy, action, resource management and an economic model? Just the simple mouse click. That's it.

Click anywhere on the aquarium, and you drop food for the fishies. Click on an alien, and you shoot it. Click on treasure, and you collect it. Click on buttons to buy upgrades and more fish. It's deliciously simple, and insanely addictive.

The power of context sensitive control. By using this elegant solution, the designers have managed to reduce a reasonably complex set of activities the gamer must perform into a single control – the left click. This makes the game beautifully accessible – no need to figure out / remember a control set – just jump in and play. What a blast!

More power to games like this.


  1. so i have 2 main comments

    1st about how you start the blog

    "How often do game designers look to casual games for inspiration for design ideas? "

    Casual Games are also made by Game Designers, i think you wanted to say "How often Retail Game's Game Designers look to casual games for inspiration for design ideas"

    So the reason for commeting on this such a small thing was only cause i am a Casual Games Designer :) And by no means Designing a play mechanic for casual Game any easy or difficult then a reatial boxed game.

    2nd Point: Insane Aquarium is a pretty old game and yes it has a great play mechanic and game control..but suffers on replayability.

    But i agree this game makes my top 10 list anyday...

  2. Point well made and well taken. My bad - careless writing. Thanks for pointing it out.