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Slime Rancher – Design Breakdown 5 August 2017

Having played slime rancher for a few hours by now and really enjoying it, I wanted to break down my initial impressions and analyze what has made it such a good game.

Core Mechanic

I’ve been told it’s good practice to break a game down into its core mechanic – the one (or two) things the player has agency in that produces the reward. Strip away the graphics, the audio, the UI, the theme, the story, and what do you have left? Player agency, a challenge, and a reward.

Reward -Plorts (aka Slime poop). Everything fun and exciting in the game depends on getting these gems. Either sell them for money to upgrade the farm, unlock new areas to farm, or upgrade your gear. Or you can use the plorts to make new slime combinations to farm, or use them to build/research things at the lab (I haven’t explored that content yet). Regardless, getting these plorts is the reward.

Challenge -Running a farm to collect plorts. You could completely play the game only by running around to collect wild plorts, but you can only carry four types of plorts at a time, running out and back home takes a long time, and you won’t find many plorts quickly. This is how the game actively discourages free-range plorts over farming.

Running a farm isn’t easy though. The challenge is all about examining the plots of land you have, determining what can grow there, what kind of slimes you can raise, and how many slimes to raise.

Agency – This game focuses on the strategy of building and maintaining an efficient farm. It’s up to you to determine how to build, maintain, and expand the farm. Do it well, and you’ll earn tons of plorts quickly with little maintenance. Do it poorly and you’ll get a lesser reward.

Core Design in Three Sentences

  1. Design and build a farm to raise creatures.
  2. Creatures poop resources, which are used to upgrade the farm.
  3. Balance between raising tons of creatures (more reward) and supplies to keep them happy and productive.

Those points are enough to make an interesting game. What makes Slime Rancher even better is how it utilizes the reward in multiple ways. Upgrade the farm or create new slimes or research new technology. It keeps things fresh since you’ll eventually hit a point where you have too much money.

Slime Rancher also introduces a bit of difficulty with the Tarr and having hungry slimes go feral, destroying your farm which can create a moment of panic and result in an empty farm. The game is so calm and relaxing that those moments of panic feel really engaging. It’s a great way to break up the game flow. Additionally, if all goes south you’ll still have all of your farm equipment intact. It’s a relatively quick reset back to a functioning farm! The only real cost is the player’s time. It’s an awesome way to introduce that feeling of “All is lost” without the penalty being so strong the player will give up. I give the development team a 10/10 for creating this design!

Additional Thoughts

Inputs – There aren’t many inputs and the game didn’t have to be in a 3D FPS-style. This game could be reproduced easily as a 2D top-down style, or an isometric style, or any style really.

Graphics – I love the art style so much. They nailed creating a consistent aesthetic. Everything about the game reinforces the theme of being extremely cute and happy. Even the scary Tarr monsters have a cartoonish Halloween pumpkin face and pretty rainbow colors.

UI – My favorite aspect is how the gun responds to the player’s inputs and game state. The little meter on it showing how filled the gun is, is pretty cool. It’s generally easier to look at the main HUD for information, but it’s a very nice touch. The HUD is functional, but nothing special. Similarly the menu UI is very basic. Most importantly though, it’s functional and clearly conveys the information it needs to. That alone brings UI to a 8/10. I just wish it looked a little nicer, but it’s a minor concern.

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