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Game elements that provide instant benefits or advantages when collected.

Many games contain Power-Ups - game items in the game worlds which as soon as players move avatars in direct proximity to them disappear and provide some benefit. The benefit is typically a new or improved ability for a certain amount of time, a couple of special attacks, or replenishing some resource.

See also the Wikipedia entry for Power-Ups[1]


Many Power-Ups give temporary benefits when picked up. The power pills in Pac-Man allows players to hunt ghosts for a limited amount of time, The fire flower in the Super Mario series allow Mario to shot fireballs until damaged, and the quad damage Power-Ups in the Quake series quadruples the damage caused by the players' weapons for a limited amount of time. Ammunition found in the Quake games, and also in the Half-Life series, are another form of Power-Ups. The Mario Kart series allows players that have received the Fake Item Box Power-Ups to drop traps that will roll opponents not noticing the slight differences between these and the other Power-Ups in the game.

Other Power-Ups are effectively ways to replenish resources, or affecting the amount of resources one can have. Heart Power-Ups in The Legend of Zelda series heal one health each, 1-Up mushrooms in the Super Mario series give extra lives, and ammunition cartridges and boxes found in the Doom and Half-Life series provide extra rounds for weapons. In contrast, the super mushrooms in the Super Mario series and the heart containers in The Legend of Zelda series increase the total health by one.

The experience points and money given as rewards in Ravenwood Fair and Zombie Lane are optional Power-Ups in that they function like these but if they are not picked up after a certain amount of time the game picks them up for the players.

Using the pattern

Designing Power-Ups need to consider some of the aspects of designing Game Items, e.g. their locations, but not how they are used since their only use it to be picked up and for this reason one should also considered the options concerning Pick-Ups. However, one aspect where they usually differ from other Game Items is that they may be spawn semi-regular in game areas as Environmental Effects. When not tied into the game's diegesis, Power-Ups become more like Geospatial Game Widgets than Game Items and can be instantiated as special cases of these instead. Regardless of how they are created, there are two main category of Power-Ups: those that provide temporary powers and those that replenish Resources (although those providing increases in a player's Score might be seen as its own specific category instead of a case of affecting a Resource).

Common Resources to increase through Power-Up pick-ups include Ammunition, Armor, Lives and Score. When applied to Abilities instead, Power-Ups commonly provide Temporary Abilities regardless of if these are New or Improved Abilities. This can most obviously be done through Time Limits but an alternative is to provide a very limited amount of uses of the Abilities, e.g. presented as a few rockets, bananas, or other items that enable the actions, which makes the uses into a Limited Resource. The use of these types of Power-Ups may cause problems with Player Balance since they typically give players advantages without matching disadvantages. However, Randomness can be used to make players not know what effect a particular Power-Ups has and this can instead be used, as for example it is in the Super Monkey Ball and Mario Kart series, as a way of achieving Player Balance by masking Balancing Effects that giving trailing players better Power-Ups. Power-Ups providing abilities can also open up for a specific type of Traps - those appearing similar to Power-Ups but having Penalties associated with picking them up (the Fake Item Boxes in the Mario Kart series are examples of this).

Diegetic Aspects

Given that Power-Ups disappear as soon as touched, they are difficult to combine with Diegetically Tangible Game Items. Since they have some little present in this sense in Game Worlds, Power-Ups can break Thematic Consistency due to the immateriality of them compared to other Game Items, Landmarks, etc. Further, Power-Ups are quite often indicated by Geospatial Game Widgets if they are not already themselves Geospatial Game Widgets, and this further makes Diegetic Consistency difficult. It is also quite common to add Geospatial Game Widgets to Avatars that have received a New or Improved Abilities from a Power-Ups, as is for example done when taking the quad damage in the Quake series.


Power-Ups are either created from Geospatial Game Widgets or are weak forms of Game Items, i.e. Pick-Ups that cease to exist when taken and thereby instantiate Game Element Removal. They give players Ephemeral Goals of Collecting when they appear; while they themselves are not Strategic Locations, the Resource Locations containing them are as is the location of Resource Generators that create them.

Even if Power-Ups make games have Game Element Removal, more Power-Ups are often introduced during gameplay through Game Element Insertion since it is quite common to replenish them semi-regularly; examples of this can be found in the Mario Kart series, Pac-Man, and death match modes of the Quake series.

Power-Ups often provide Temporary Abilities, and when this is done through Time Limits it can increase Tension if the usefulness of the Power-Ups depend on the success of other goals; Using the quad damage Power-Ups efficiently in the Quake series, for example, depends on locating and hitting enemies first. Power-Ups can for quite natural reasons give rise to Gain Competence goals, and since only one or a few players can typically benefit from these New Abilities they also tend to be Privileged Abilities. When Power-Ups provide Improved Abilities that are not static bonuses but active support in execution of those abilities, this can often be seen as Player/System Action Composites.

While knowing where Power-Ups are can promote Strategic Planning via Strategic Knowledge, knowing when to take Power-Ups or when to move to places where they are likely to appear are results of Tactical Planning which Power-Ups commonly instantiate.


Can Instantiate

Collecting, Ephemeral Goals, Gain Competence, Game Element Removal, Game Items, Improved Abilities, Pick-Ups, Privileged Abilities, Tactical Planning, Temporary Abilities

with Improved Abilities

Player/System Action Composites

with Randomness

Balancing Effects, Player Balance

with Time Limits


Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Geospatial Game Widgets

Can Be Modulated By

Environmental Effects, Game Element Insertion, Geospatial Game Widgets, Improved Abilities, Limited Resources, New Abilities, Randomness, Resource Generators, Time Limits, Traps

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Diegetic Consistency, Diegetically Tangible Game Items, Player Balance, Thematic Consistency


An updated version of the pattern Power-Ups that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[2].


  1. Wikipedia entry for Power-Ups.
  2. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.