Preventing Goals

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Goals where the objective is to prevent a completion of another goal.

Games typically provide players with goals for winning or making their actions feel meaningful. To do so, these goals need to be challenging and one of the easiest ways of making goals challenging is to provide somebody that is actively working against that goal being completed. Players or other agents with the goals to hinder others from completing their goals have Preventing Goals.


The goal in Backgammon is to move each individual piece to the inner table and one can prevent the other player from achieving this in two ways: by hitting the opponent's piece when moving one's own pieces or by blocking the piece by placing two or more pieces on area of the game board. The first case directly affects the opponent's piece as it interferes with the game state (the position of the piece) defining the opponent's goal. The second case indirectly prevents the goal as it does not affect the piece but may block future moves of the piece.

The goal of the goalkeeper (and other players) in Soccer is to prevent the opposing team's players from score goals. Similar Preventing Goals exist in the Team Fortress series and Capture-the-flag variants of First Person Shooters such as the Quake or Unreal Tournament series. Protecting and attacking enemy bases in Defense of the Ancients and the StarCraft series are also similar.

The team-based variants of the Left 4 Dead series and Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory build gameplay around one team trying to progress through a level and the other side trying to stop them.

Using the pattern

Preventing Goals are typically introduced into games to provide challenges, Conflicts, or Enemies in a game. It can also be introduced to hinder Cooperation or make it impossible.

The main point with designing Preventing Goals is identifying a target goal that is to be prevented and selecting those that should prevent it. The target goal needs to be an Interferable Goal, and examples of such goals include Alignment, Capture, Eliminate, Evade, Guard, Reconnaissance, and Rescue. Construction or Herd can also be used if they are Agents with different Construction goals regarding the same Construction space or if the entities to be herded are Agents. Survive can also function as a Preventing Goal as long as a player or Agent has the appropriate Eliminate goal.

The basis for Preventing Goals can also be created from identifying forces opposed to groups a player or Agent should have Loyalty to. However, it should be pointed out that Preventing Goals can be Player-Defined Goals, that is, players can easily make up their own Preventing Goals in any game that has other Agents with Interferable Goals in it. One example when this can occur is when players receive or take on Ephemeral Goals in Multiplayer Games since other players can then take on clear short term Preventing Goals.

Completing Preventing Goals can be made easier by giving those trying to prevent the target goal with Perfect Information or Game State Overviews. Time Limits can both make them easier or harder by either requiring that the target goal must just be hindered from being completed within a certain time or by requiring that it must permanently be stopped within a certain time.

Preventing Goals are likely to change how players perceive Non-Player Characters regardless if it is the Non-Player Characters that have the target goals or have the Preventing Goals. The most likely effect is that they will be seen as Enemies.


As goals that work against other goals, Preventing Goals give rise to several other patterns. First, the target goal and the Preventing Goal are Asymmetric and Excluding Goals which are Incompatible. Second, Preventing Goals are Continuous Goals until the target goal no longer can be fulfilled. The presences of some Agent actively working against one's goals is also likely to lead to Limited Planning Ability.

The presence of Preventing Goals in a game is likely to create Conflicts and make other Agents seen as Enemies. Perceiving Conflicts may be even more likely for games with Algorithmic Agents since they typically cannot have social interactions outside gameplay actions (although this may be Indirect Conflicts in cases regarding difference in how to use Creative Control). In games where these have diegetic representation in the form of Non-Player Characters, the Conflicts can easily lead to actual Combat if this is possible.

While Preventing Goals make their target goals more difficult to complete in general, some types of target goals are affected differently. Conceal may be pointless as goals without Preventing Goals since they cannot be failed. Survive can be a balance between active forces trying to Eliminate one and passive forces (e.g. starvation) which means the design of Preventing Goals related to this need to consider the balance between these forces. Negotiation may become more difficult when Preventing Goals exist related to it but as long as some parties don't only have Preventing Goals the Negotiation can still be successful to all involved.


Can Instantiate

Asymmetric Goals, Conceal, Conflicts, Continuous Goals, Enemies, Excluding Goals, Incompatible Goals, Limited Planning Ability, Loyalty

with Algorithmic Agents


with Algorithmic Agents and Creative Control

Indirect Conflicts

with Non-Player Characters

Conflicts, Combat

Can Modulate

Negotiation, Non-Player Characters, Survive

Can Be Instantiated By

Alignment, Capture, Eliminate, Evade, Guard, Interferable Goals, Player-Defined Goals, Reconnaissance, Rescue, Survive

Agents together with Construction or Herd

Ephemeral Goals together with Multiplayer Games

Can Be Modulated By

Game State Overviews, Perfect Information, Time Limits

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Preventing Goals that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.