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Game mechanics and the sweet spot

First puzzle room for the matter projector

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avatar PeonofthePen
Level 10 : Journeyman Architect
When I was about 21 years old, I had the good fortune of stumbling upon a game that changed the way I looked at games forever. I was not the only one that saw it this way, the name "Portal" lives in infamy. Did your eyes just light up like mine do when you hear someone mention it? Good.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about why that is. The answer doesn't seem simple at first because the game has a lot to offer. First of all there's the comedic genius of GLaDOS, there's the stunning visuals of that sterile environment that hides a gritty reality, there's the anonimity of the main character making everyone think it could be you (took me ages to figure out it was a woman). But the very best feature, the very thing that made Portal Portal is that simple idea of orange portal in, blue portal out and vice versa. A very simple tweak to the world as we know it, anyone can understand the basics after one sentence. But not everyone can immediately see the endless potential of this idea. However, after a couple levels of Portal, if someone asked me which of the X-men I would want to be, I'd have to say: "Whoever it is that does this!"

That sort of game mechanic is hard to come by, just try to name one other game that made as much of an innovation as Portal managed to do. Portal 2, even though being a great game, didn't manage it. The liquids were neat, but by no means as life changing as the full control of that portal gun.

The reason I'm talking about this is that I've been trying to create some new and innovative game mechanics for a minecraft adventure map that rely heavily on command blocks. I've been borrowing a lot from games I've always liked to play. Think Legend of Zelda, Tomb Raider's older installments, Arcade games and of course, minecraft itself. But after stacking all these different puzzle and parcour rooms I was looking back and thinking; I still haven't created anything as rich and full of possibilities as the Portal Gun.

And so, yesterday, I took my first step in the direction of trying to get there. It is by no means as innovative as I'd like but I have finally created something that is fun enough for me to keep designing new challenges for it. I call it; the matter projector. I've renamed the item that, it is actually just an ordinary snowball.

What it does is very simple: you throw it and it builds a bridge along it's trajectory. There are some extra rules to this little gimmick. First of all, it only builds bridges in zones where matter projection is boosted as indicated by colored panels on the walls. The color of these panels also indicates the kind of bridge your matter projector builds. For instance, the red panels place simple stone blocks that turn to gravel after a few seconds. The lime panels create slimeblocks that start sinking into the void at a rate of 1 block per second.

When I first started playing around with this idea I found it a bit bland. After some more experimenting however, I began to see so many possibilities that I decided to make a room for it in the adventure map I'm working on. Then, I had to stop building the room because I was having too much fun playing with it myself. This happened in some smaller ways before, like doing the boss fight I designed a couple times, or trying variations of the space age frogger clone I shoved in there, but nothing kept me occupied for this long in the past.

And so I think I've stumbled upon the key to an awesome gaming mechanic: a simple idea with a lot of options. This is a snowball that builds bridges, this is a fishingrod that pulls walls, this is a bow that fires Donald Trump, this is a command block that works in real life... ...if only.

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