Supporting Goals

Supporting Goals

Completion of a Supporting Goal helps the player achieve the other, sometimes specific, goals of the game.

Many games have goals that cannot be solved, or are very difficult to solve, before a number of specific other goals have been completed. These other goals, Supporting Goals, can either give information, provide game elements, make new actions available, or simply provide more resources, all of which help or make possible the completion of the main goal. Noah Falstein has described similar goal designs of Supporting Goals as a part of his Crisis Structure [Falstein99], while Kreimeier introduces a similar concept, weenie chains [Kreimeier02], to solve the problem that players "might loose their sense of direction with respect to how the game world unfolds." Although not defined as goals, these weenies act as information carriers to inform players what goals exist in the game.

Example: In the case of Chess, the subgoals of capturing the opponent's pieces can be seen as Supporting Goals for the higher level goal of checkmating the king. They are not necessary to achieve the checkmate but make it easier to complete.

Example: Getting the power pill in Pac-Man can be seen as a Supporting Goal for the goal of taking all the pills as the ghosts cannot capture Pac-Man during the time he is affected by the power pill.

Example: Real-time strategy games, such as Age of Empires, have many Supporting Goals, from identifying and collecting resources to building defenses and scouting enemy territory, all of which support the goal of defeating the opponents. Much of the skill in those games lies in balancing the struggle towards the different Supporting Goals so that the chances of succeeding with the overarching goal are maximized given the particular circumstances of a specific game instance.

Using the pattern

Using Supporting Goals usually starts by defining a higher-level goal and continues by breaking that goal into smaller goals that are fairly independent of each other. In some cases, e. g., when the goal is to travel to a specific location, the Supporting Goals can be incorporated into a Progress Indicator as landmarks or road signs indicating the remaining distance.

Another way of using Supporting Goals is to provide Rewards in a currency that is central to making the completion of other goals easier. One way of doing this is to provide a chance of gaining experience points or money in roleplaying games or providing ammunition and health packs in first-person shooters. In these cases, Supporting Goals often take a variety of forms, and several Supporting Goals can be chosen independent of each other. For example, if the goal is to defeat a Boss Monster, Supporting Goals might be to find more powerful weapons, ammunition, or Gain Information about the Boss Monster's tactics or its Achilles' Heel.

These different ways of creating Supporting Goals do not necessarily require that they have to be completed to fulfill the high-level goal, i. e., they can be Optional Goals. Typical Supporting Goals that are not obligatory are to provide New Abilities, Improved Abilities, or Resources by acquiring Pick-Ups or Area Control. In the example of traveling to a location, it may be perfectly possible to reach the final destination without seeing any road signs, but not following them may lead to the player becoming lost. In the second case, completing the Supporting Goals can make it easier to kill the Boss Monster, but it may require more time, which might be a risk in a game with a Time Limit or a Race between other players.

The main aim when constructing Supporting Goals for balancing skill requirements is to spread the goals between different types of challenges. An example of this would be an adventure game with one goal requiring Dexterity-Based Actions, a second goal requiring Puzzle Solving, and a third goal requiring Memorizing. If these goals can be completed in any order and completing one of them makes it easier to complete the others, the net effect is to balance gameplay between different play styles.


Supporting Goals are always part of a larger Hierarchy of Goals, where completing a set of Supporting Goals is needed to achieve the next level subgoal, and then these next level subgoals can support each other forming a nested goal structure. For example, when several players have Excluding Goal s that can only be fulfilled by actions at a certain place, Race becomes a Supporting Goal to the primary goals of the players.

Supporting Goals are typically Optional Goals and force players to make choices---based upon Risk/Reward and Tradeoffs--- of whether to spend time completing the Supporting Goals or working on the main goals. This allows players to select what they perceive as their own Right Level of Difficulty.

The different playing styles and skills of different players make some tasks difficult for some players and easy for others. Supporting Goals, when designed in such a way that the skill sets or the playing styles required for the goals are different, can make the game more enjoyable for a wider audience and, at the same time, provide Varied Gameplay. This use of Supporting Goals in Multiplayer Games has the potential side benefit of supporting Player Balance since the players can choose tactics and strategies according to their skills and playing styles, and it may lessen the Conflict between the players.


Instantiates: Progress Indicators

Modulates: Hierarchy of Goals, Player Balance, Risk/Reward, Tradeoffs, Right Level of Difficulty, Varied Gameplay

Instantiated by: Pick-Ups, Achilles' Heels, Gain Information, Race, Improved Abilities, Optional Goals, New Abilities, Area Control

Modulated by: Resources

Potentially conflicting with: Conflict, Red Herrings