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I am working on a prototype game with several funny/visual effects that the player can trigger. The player can be quite creative in the way to use or combine these effects but it seems impossible to make detect/evaluate this creativity by the computer.

So, from a game design perspective, I wonder what could be the features to drive the players to be creative (experiment various combinations).

For the moment i think about "Draw something" where the result is evaluated by other players. I think about levels designed by "Little Big Planet" players but this aspect is out of the core game. I think also about "Minecraft" but I do not understand really how this game encourages the people to be creative (except of the open world).

Please tell me if you have any ideas, articles or references that could help me coping with this problem.

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4 Answers

The simple answer is you don't evaluate it.

Look up this phrase: "Emergent gameplay". Basically the idea is you give people a toolbox, and the interesting side effects of the interactions between complicated pieces gives players an avenue for creativity.

The end result is what some people call "user stories". That is to say, they're experiences that people want to share as a result of their decisions and creativity in the game but aren't necessarily what the game designer is forcing the players to do. Open world games with physics are notorious for having great user stories. Everybody who has played minecraft has their story about what decisions they made and how they ended up dying.

A lot of games, like Draw Something, have started including the ability to share these user stories as part of the critical flow. Several AAA games have started including screen-recording tools as part of the game as well. A great example is the Skate series.

And of course there's the "add a level editor" aspect to it a la LBP, Trials Evolution, and Portal 2. The barrier to entry for those creative outlets is probably too high for the casual user, however.

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People are creative. Just generally, whenever. This can be traced back to when we started wearing loincloths and drawing on the walls of caves (my theory is the loincloths making static in our brains, though these days we have nicer loincloths).

There is one requirement for creativity to really flourish among the masses: freedom.

If you give people the freedom to be creative they'll be creative. So your major feature should be freedom. It doesn't have to be evaluated by the program itself. That's one reason Minecraft is insanely successful. It allows people the freedom to be creative!

Now, don't be thinking that freedom is an easy thing to achieve. You have to carefully craft the freedom. It has to be accessible and easy with complexity buried within. People need it to respond the way they expect and it has to do so consistently.

If you really want to add fuel to the creativity fire, allow people to share their creativity easily. Sharing with other people spurs people on to amazing amounts of creativity. Depending on your game, this can either be via screen captures, videos or sharing the save game files for other people to open up and explore.

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Sometimes creativity comes also from constraints. See for instance what come out of game jams with tight time constraints. So it might be a subtle mix of lots of freedom with some good constraints. –  Laurent Couvidou Jun 12 '12 at 19:10
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Gameplay is about rewarding (for example: allowing to play the next level) and punishing (for example: having to restart from the beginning of the level). So the question kinda is "How can one reward the player for beeing creative?".

Well, it's not so easy because the computer can't "judge" how "creative" you are. First of all, loosen those rules, give a objective but give freedom on how to archive it. The less precision the game requires the more room there is for creativity. Next make "construction" a goal, it doesn't necessarily "requires" creativity, but it's connected to it to quite a degree. (Example: Terraria, build rooms->get people, people drive the game forward.) Another idea is to give the players problems that have no obvious solutions and thus require the player to think, and to get creative, about it. (Example: Clonk, the settlement scenarios you often have to face such situations, be it a cave flooded with Lava or a big granite wall). Last but not least: social interaction, when more than one human is involved there is an additional social "reward" for being creative: you can show it off. "Hey dude, look what I build!"

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Be mindful of what you cannot do, and accept it. Namely, one cannot write a program to judge something as complex and abstract as creativity. Don't try to force the issue and create a convoluted scoring system that people will learn how to exploit anyway. If your goal is to encourage creativity, there's much better ways of doing it.

The first is simply to provide users with the means to put their creativity to work. Provide them with an environment that minimizes the effort required for them to translate their creativity into in-game results. A friendly user interface for a game like LittleBigPlanet can go a long way. Additionally, the user needs a world to actually interact and play around with; the more interesting you make the world, the more likely the player will be enticed to be creative in it. Giving the player the ability to disguise oneself as the enemy, for example, instantly opens up all sorts of interesting opportunities.

Another way is to allow users to share their creations with the world. A large reason LittleBigPlanet became a hit was the fact that users knew that the levels they designed would be experienced by people worldwide. Be wary of rating systems, however: if the experience becomes too focused on these, then players may lose interest when their beloved creations are rated poorly. Numerical ratings should be used more for players to find others' creations, not for a player to judge their own work's worth. Qualitative ratings may be better for the latter.

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