Breaking Down Fun Pedantically

Posted by (twitter: @coderTrevor)
September 19th, 2013 5:15 pm

Fellow LD’er VDZ  has been helping me understand why my games aren’t more fun. One thing he said was that my latest entry, Pro Crastinator didn’t present enough clear challenge, reward, or risk.

If I’m going to make games, they should really be fun! So, I’m trying to better understand what VDZ is trying to teach me.

To that end, I did some “Homework.” I took it upon myself to look at some of the top-ranking LD games in the fun category, and try to figure out what makes them so fun. I tried to pay particularly close attention to the concepts of challenge, reward and risk. I thought it would be useful to share here, so that you guys can “Grade me.” :)

Trevor Thompson

Ludum Dare 09/19/13

6th period

Understanding Fun


There’s a very simple game mechanic:
you shoot, you pick up gems.

  • On top of that, there’s a risk: die if you don’t make it to the potion in time (and lose your progress)
  •     On top of that, there’s another risk: you lose the opportunity for gems if you get the antidote too fast

Challenges include getting further in the dungeon and getting as much $ as possible (or higher than last play / higher than your peers). [It could be improved by clearly showing the amount of cash picked up upon death, like Coin Rush does]

Rewards come in the forms of seeing new dungeons, seeing and hearing effects of the gun, destruction or shuddering of enemies / objects on shooting, seeing shiny gems pop out, hearing sounds of gems hitting the floor, hearing sounds of picking up gems, seeing indicators that your money is increasing

Every ten seconds a window washer falls to his death:

Movement is difficult but fair; player has just enough control to not feel frustrated, but not so much that the job is easy or boring. Player has to decide what area of the screen they should be in and also manage their velocity in order to do so (subtle decisions need to be made regarding bouncing off the edges vs changing direction).

Challenge is to get the building clean(er than last time)

Risks come in the form of leaving a washer unattended for too long, leaving birds alone for too long, and not catching falling washers. The player is allowed to manage those risks themselves. The scream sound and splat effect reinforces with the player that the risk is “real.”

Rewards come in the form of audio and graphical indicators when a washer is saved or when a bird is kicked. It is perhaps worth noting that it’s not as “rewarding” to the eyes and ears to focus solely on repairing the ropes.

Proletarian Ninja X:

(Frankly, I think this one is more frustrating than fun)

Challenge is to move through the levels. Hitting multiple enemies with the shuriken is a challenge the player can set for themselves.

Rewards come from killing enemies in the form of a screen flash, sound effect, and spawned blood and guts.

Risks come from being seen, having corpses be seen and the ticking clock. Player is allowed to manage risks, to some extent, by choosing when and in what order enemies can be killed. The shuriken mechanic adds another layer of choice for the player.

PUNISHMENT(!) comes in the forms of a bright, fast screen flash and a grating noise.

Clockwork Cat:

Good ole’ platformin mechanic. Tight controls.

Challenge is to make it to the next section before time runs out.

Rewards include seeing more of the level and completing the story, hearing the noise and seeing the hands move when you are reversing time.

Risks include running out of time and falling to your death. The player feels like they have a certain amount of agency over their risks, because they can often run back and rewind time as often as they like, until they feel ready to move to the next section.

Coin Rush:

Again, a good ole’ platformer.

Challenge comes from wanting to get the highest score, or a higher score.

Rewards come in the form of the enemies bouncing off the screen, coins popping out, sound of coins hitting floor, sound of picking up coins, counter increasing when enemies pick up coins, watching your score increase and getting bigger coins when the enemies have multipliers in effect. The player is able to manage their reward, to some extent, by how many coins they let the enemies pick up.

Risks come from touching enemies and having enemies run away with your hard earned loot. Again, the latter is left up to the player to manage, to some extent.


I think it is quite clear that some patterns are emerging with regards to risk, challenges and rewards.

One thing I didn’t mention is that all of these games, if I recall correctly, have great music. However, I don’t know much about what makes great music or what makes great music for a fun game.

One Response to “Breaking Down Fun Pedantically”

  1. Atmospherium says:

    Thanks for taking time to write this up. I’ve been doing a lot of post-compo analysis of my own game, but haven’t really spent time looking at what caused the stronger entries to succeed. It should be obvious (but somehow wasn’t for me) that it’s a good idea to look at the strengths of others instead of focusing so much on my entry and its shortcomings. The challenge/reward payoff was completely absent from my entry, and this post very effectively demonstrates why this is an issue.

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