The Essential Vitamins of Games Part 3

The Essential Vitamins of Games – Part 3/3

Part 1 –

Part 2 –

This is Part 3 –

Vitamin C Complex

The last form of Vitamin C to mention is Vitamin C Complex, which happens when a game uses something more complex than the usual level progression method. The champion of Vitamin C Complex is quite clearly the Zelda series of games, with only Metroid coming close. The process works like this:

  • You complete a level and receive an item
  • This item can be used in some mechanism, which eventually accesses the next level
  • This process repeats throughout the game

What makes this different from the usual simple progression method is that the level completion reward is not an arbitrary ‘unlock reward’ but a persistent status or item, usually part of the player’s arsenal, and also can be used for puzzles other than unlocking the next level. Indeed, finding what is unlocked is an important puzzle device of the game.

The complexity of the progression method adds to the fun of the game, and creates anticipatory Vitamin C:  e.g. you can see Level 3, but it’s blocked and you need an item from Level 2 to reach it.

Having a physical item also adds to the illusion of progression massively: saying “Yeah, I’ve beaten the boss and now I have item X’ means more than “Yeah, I’ve beaten the boss and now I can access the next level”, even if they may from a high-level point of view be the same thing.

It also creates the interesting possibility that the player might be able to skip levels entirely if they think up another solution to the puzzle – sometimes intentionally by the game designers, and sometimes accidentally (Google for ‘Sequence Break’ for examples of this!). All of these possibilities are interesting to the player, and so Vitamin C Complex is more fun than the simpler forms of Vitamin C.


In summary then, I believe creating a good game means excelling in three important areas:

  • A – reward for achieving “nothing”.
  • B – reward for achieving something (like defeating a single ‘grunt’ enemy).
  • C – reward for achieving long-term tasks (such as completing a level or the entire game).

Each of the areas can be subdivided into graphics, sound, presentation and playability, but these are clearly interlinked.

The Internet

This essay deals with classic game design before the Xbox Live era, and doesn’t go into the possible Vitamin C that can be created via online game communities and MMORPGs. This is obviously a massive area!

The Vitamin Doctor

As a final part of this essay, here is a kind of reverse list of problems and causes.

If a part of a game is not fun for some reason, it is usually because of a problem with one (or more) of the Vitamins. This is handy during development in order to find out what to focus on.

NB – Vitamin C in particular is quite hard to measure during development since most areas of the game will be open to testers, so there is almost no sense of progression. Testing Vitamin C properly has to be done by people completely new to the game, with a Master build and no cheats available.

What the Testers say Which Vitamin is low
…looks rubbish / unrealistic Low Vitamin A
It’s annoying to Low Vitamin A
It wasn’t my kind of thing Low Vitamin A
I got bored Low Vitamin B
There was no feedback Low Vitamin B
There’s not much happening Low Vitamin B
There wasn’t much point Low Vitamin B or C
I wasn’t sure what I was meant to do Low Vitamin C
I didn’t feel I’d achieved anything Low Vitamin C
I was just going from one level to the next Low Vitamin C
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