Archive for the ‘Gameplay Design’ Category

The Adventures of a Noob – Star Ruler

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

The Adventures of a Noob is a recurring column in which I dive into a (potentially) complex game without reading the manual, FAQ, any help files, or playing a tutorial. I then catalog my first impressions and thought process as I attempt to figure out the game. This may end up being amusing, or it may end up being informative. Hopefully a little of both.

Note that in these types of articles, information in regular font represents my thought process/knowledge at time of first playing. Addendums in italics represent information I learned after the fact, inserted into the article to clarify which of my original thoughts were accurate and which were leading me astray.

Stuff I know going in:

Star Ruler is supposed to be huge, strategic, with lots of cool AI and randomization stuff.  Oh, and it's a space game with a silly name.  Yes, that's really about all I knew going in.  I don't even think I'd viewed the official page I just linked.


In Praise of the Greet Button

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

As you've probably gathered from previous posts, I've been playing a fair bit of Red Dead Redemption lately.  Similarly, as you may have gathered if you follow me on twitter, one of the features in the game that I find most rewarding is the greet button.

The rather brave decision to include a button on the controller dedicated (even partially) to something so seemingly superfluous must have been a tough sell to producers on the game.  While surely it would not take too terribly many man hours to implement the feature, and the few lines necessary were undoubtedly a drop in the budget bucket for recording sessions, the part that I imagine was difficult was convincing the producers that the impact of the feature would be anything more than negligible.

My experience with the game, though, has been made much more memorable by the services of that red B button on my 360 controller.  As I walk through town (cowboys don't run, even if it is faster), passersby will occasionally float a greeting at me.  This is no different from most other open world games, of course, with the possible exception of me walking rather than running.  In some of these games, my character will even respond to these floats (notably, I have a strong memory of CJ from GTA: San Andreas responding to civilian chatter, usually with something a bit insulting).

The simple inclusion of a button to control whether or not I respond ultimately drives what was initially a decent audio feature into a great tool for both immersion and even role playing for the player.  As I am playing with John Marston being an honorable fellow, I've been diligently using the greet button to maintain his polite character in the public's eye.  I do this despite the fact that greetings seem to have no tie into the honor and reputation system at all (missed opportunity?).   From a power gaming perspective, there is absolutely zero reason to bother with the greeting.  Yet, as I pass by a woman standing outside the general store, tip my hat, and say "Ma'am", I feel more like a cowboy than at just about any other time during the game.   Since I had to press the button to do that, it was an active choice by the player, so it makes me feel like a cowboy, not a person controlling a cowboy.   The difference is noticeable, and appreciated.

Gamasutra – Features – Evaluating Game Mechanics For Depth

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Another great article posted up on Gamasutra.  This one is written by Mike Stout, formerly of Insomniac.  It's really good look at how to fix mechanics in your game that seem to get old quickly, due to lacking depth.

Gamasutra - Features - Evaluating Game Mechanics For Depth.

At this time in my career, I didn't yet understand the important distinction between meaningful skills and too-basic skills. I didn't know how important clearly identifiable objectives were. And so, lacking experience, I decided to just start adding features until the mechanic was deep enough. If you're groaning at this, then I congratulate you. I'm groaning, myself, as I write this.

Besides moving blocks around, I decided it would be great if the player could grab and drag around a wacky robot (if you're reading this and thinking "oh, you improved the theatrics," you get a cookie). The player could then drop the robot on buttons to open doors. This didn't help as much as I wanted it to -- it just still seemed way to shallow.

So I forged ahead and kept adding features (groan).

Thoughts on Doodle God

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Recently, I played a game called Doodle God.

It's a simple game, and playable in your browser (assuming you've got a Flash plugin installed), so click the link if you want to check it out.  I think you should, but it took me some thought to figure out why I think you should.

Doodle god is a simple game, with a simple (but not unattractive) presentation.  Pretty much the whole game looks like this:Doodle God screenshot

What's going on here?  You begin with four elements, each in its own group.  Here I've selected the air group, with the short tutorial indicating that I should click on the fire group.  Doing so would make the left side of the screen look a lot like the right side, but with fire instead of air.  I could then select individual elements within the two groups (at this point, I have little choice, fire + air).  If they combine (they do), I get a new element (energy), which I can then use in further combinations.

And that's it.

You start with the four base elements, and through combination and experimentation, you reach the end of the game with over 100.  Each time you succeed at combining elements, you're greeted with something like this:

FirewaterYou get your new element(s) and a delightful little quote related to the process, or the result.  Some slight fanfare that isn't adequately captured via screenshot occurs, but it isn't anything worth writing about in detail.

The question is then, why is this game worth writing about in detail? It does a great job of tackling a key tool in the designer's toolbox:  experimentation.  Allowing the player to experiment in a controlled way is an excellent way to allow the player to feel as if they have freedom, and then to feel clever when they figure something out.   At the same time, the experimental process is rife with setbacks.  A quote attributed to Thomas Edison that gets bandied around often is  "I have not failed.  I've just found 10000 ways that won't work".   What this means for designers is that experimentation offers a built in ego crutch:  failure is less punishing than success is rewarding, which means that if the experimentation is implemented well, the frustration of failure won't drive players away.

Doodle God gets this right; it makes the player feel clever upon finding a neat combo, and provides a hint system that nudges players in the right direction for discoveries without actually doing the discovering automatically.  It has a nice feedback loop, in that each success creates more gameplay for the player (in the form of new elements to play with).

That said, it misses out on a key opportunity to combine that experimentation with a more rewarding learning experience.  That is, a successful (or failed!) combination doesn't actually provide any new information to the player that can be useful in future interactions.  Imagine the situation of a young child playing Pokemon for the first time.  They come across a fire Pokemon, like Charmander, and are having a rough time defeating him.  So they start swapping their monsters around until they use some sort of water Pokemon (Squirtle), and get the message that the attack was super effective.   The child learns that water attacks are strong against fire (which is basically a given to experienced gamers or firefighters, assuming it isn't an electrical fire).  Her experimentation with a variety of Pokemon lead to not only a positive result, but tactical information that can be useful in future battles against fire Pokemon (and indeed, inversely, against water Pokemon).   This is what Doodle God is missing.  There isn't any player-knowledge gained from a success, only new gameplay items.  While the player learns a particular combination doesn't work in the case of a failure, this provides no additional information beyond "don't bother doing that again", and after playing awhile, it's easy to forget what combinations have been attempted.


Game students: quick read

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

Patrick Klepak over at MTV Games has a great little blog post about watching his girlfriend (a casual gamer) tackle Left 4 Dead (her first shooter ever).  I've mentioned to some of you before that watching inexperienced gamers play games is both extremely educational and extremely entertaining, and this little write up captures that well.

GAD225 HW5: Word Games

Monday, December 1st, 2008

For this project, present the user with the option to play any of the following three games:

1. Hangman, pick a word from your wordlist. Display it with dashes in place of the letters. Allow the user to guess letters (or the complete word as a separate option). Give them a finite amount of guesses. After it's over, allow them to play again with a new word, or go back to main menu.

2. Scramble, pick a word from your wordlist. Display it scrambled. Allow the user to guess the word. After it's over, allow them to play again with a new word, or go back to the main menu.

3. Mastermind. Generate a four digit number using only 1-6 for each digit. Allow the user to guess. Indicate how many numbers are correct, and how many are both correct AND in the right spot.

You can make additional combo options of the above for extra credit.