Designing a Level Progression

With a few exceptions like open-world games, just about all modern games feature some form of levels to offer structure, challenges, and rewards to gamers while they play. Levels are also an important way to introduce players to game concepts and controls, and to let them improve their skills over time. This is true for puzzle games as well, and is especially important in Grow Your Garden since we are educating players on the core concepts of arithmetic as they move through levels.

One of the challenges we ran into when brainstorming levels was making sure that they don’t get boring while also not overwhelming players with new tools and concepts. We followed a few core guidelines when designing the level challenges to try to achieve these goals:

  • Start simple.  Really simple – assume the player has never done this before.
  • Only introduce one new game mechanic at a time.  More than that can overwhelm players quickly.
  • Make sure players have mastered core concepts before moving on.  Each of our level sets features progressively more difficult levels using the same game mechanic before introducing something new.
  • Avoid “tricks”.  Since Grow Your Garden is an educational game, we made sure that every new challenge flows logically from the previous one instead of requiring a new “trick” to complete.
  • Positive reinforcement is key.  Every time a player completes a challenge, we reward them with a new plant graphic or object for their garden so that they feel rewarded for their effort.

There is, of course, much more to level design, especially in other genres of games. To see some of the thinking that goes into more complex game levels, check out this article from Critical-Gaming Network.

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