Friday, June 26, 2009

The Flaw of Luminary: Weak Core Gameplay Mechanics

Some consider the core of Luminary to be its economy. I disagree.

The core of a game is not what works the best, but what, at the lowest reasonable level of abstraction, the player does the most. This does not mean “clicking the mouse”, it means, at the most concrete, attacking an enemy. Games that focus on the economy have a second important facet of core design: the crafting and gathering actions. If you don't make these core actions fun and engaging, it doesn't matter what your more abstract mechanics are.

Let’s look at the core processes of Luminary one at a time:


Choose to attack an enemy. You auto-swing until either you or the enemy is dead. The only action you take during combat is drinking potions to restore mana or health.


You can AFK gather. That’s good, because it’s the least exciting of the three (and that’s not saying that any of them are at all exciting, mind you). I haven’t done this myself, but I get the impression that it’s a matter of clicking what you want to harvest and waiting for it to be harvested. This isn’t much different from other MMOs, but I have issues with the standard MMO gathering system anyway, so this wins Luminary no points.


Luminary’s crafting seems to be it’s best core mechanic. It’s a bejeweled clone. But it’s not even a well-implemented bejeweled clone. It doesn’t have a twist or any special way. It’s just match four (or three? I forget—doesn’t matter) same-colored gems and they’ll disappear, new gems fall in from the top to replace them. Great! Well, if only I didn’t have to play it for minutes just to make one item. That turns it into a pretty brutal grind.

The Problem

These activities are all boring! The designers didn’t spend more than twenty minutes working on ANY of them. This is ridiculous. The three fundamental actions you do in game all vary between being brain-dead simple and a step below doing ninth grade math. I don’t care if the more abstract features are great—if I’m going to be spending most of my time in this game engaging in these three activities, I don’t want to play the game. If you’re not giving me an opportunity to make intelligent decisions in two of the three principal activity of the game, you’ve relegated the game to being a slightly dressed-up Progress Quest with a market, anime graphics, and a voluntary mock UN.

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