Vlambeer Scale: Weighing Fish

POV: JOURNALIST.  DIFFICULTY 2.  LEVEL 2 - 1 POV: JOURNALIST.  DIFFICULTY 2.  LEVEL 2 – 1

Game feel is a general term for the techniques, tips, and tweaks developers use to enhance engagement with interactive systems. It includes everything from how mechanics are calibrated, to  controls, to sound effects, to visual flare. Game feel comprises the details that make players take notice and pay attention. It’s a bit of science, basic art technique, and a chunk of style. Who doesn’t want their games to be interesting to play, watch, and listen to? This is the goal that all designers strive for. And all designers do it a different way, which is exactly why talking about game feel is so difficult.

Now we can use the Vlambeer Scale of Quality as a tool to find some answers. Perhaps there are no two better games to draw a comparison between than Ridiculous Fishing and the game many consider to be a copycat, Ninja Fishing. Ridiculous Fishing was made by Vlambeer while Ninja Fishing was made by Gamenauts (co-developed by Menara Games). Both games have identical gameplay structures featuring dropping fishing lines into the water, avoiding fish on the way down, snagging fish on the way up, and destroying the haul as it’s flung into the air. Yes, the games look the same, but they do not feel the same. Using the Vlambeer Scale of Quality and a quick game design break down, let’s uncover the truth.

See for yourself in this video side-by-side. Which game looks more interesting to you? Which game do you think scored higher on the Vlambeer Scale of Quality? How big do you think the score difference is?

Here’s a breakdown of the Vlambeer Scale of Quality.

Ridiculous Fishing Ninja Fishing Ridiculous Fishing Ninja Fishing
Basic Sound and Animation Yes Yes Camera Position Yes Yes
Lower Enemy HP Yes Yes Screen Shake Yes No
More Enemies Yes Yes Sleep Yes No
Muzzle Flash Yes No More Bass Yes No
Faster Bullets Yes Yes Super Machine Gun Yes No
Less Accuracy Yes No Faster Enemies Yes Yes
Impact Effects Yes Yes More Enemies Yes Yes
Enemy Knockback Yes Yes Higher Rate of Fire Yes No
Permanence Yes Yes Meaning Yes Yes
More Permanece Yes Yes Camera Kick No No
Camera Lerp Yes No Total 20 12

Here are the questions we’re still thinking about:

  • Does the genre and visual style necessitate the use of specific game feel techniques? Does choosing pixel art push a developer towards also developing Vlabeerian game feel?
  • Is a touch screen interface its own kind of game feel where the sense of touch and audio feedback gives the necessary feedback?
  • Does game feel matter most to gameplay-oriented players because the techniques give feedback critical to making gameplay decisions? Is there a different set of game feel tips for interactive experiences that are less action-based and less skill-based?
  • Does Vlambeer’s game feel highlight the quality design of Ridiculous Fishing’s gameplay and other features? In other words, is game feel all style or does it hint at and highlight substance?
  • How do players and critics interpret good game feel? Is it mostly conveyed in the tone of their response? The look on their faces? Or is it reflected in how a game’s other features are described?

I don’t doubt that the game feel of Ridiculous Fishing makes a difference, but the question is to whom and how much of a difference does it make? For the record, Ridiculous Fishing looks like a much more enjoyable game to me.

To close, I’ll leave you with some quotes with tone words bolded.

“Playing Ninja Fishing and Ridiculous Fishing in quick succession illustrates what a difference it makes to care about your audience. The concept may be similar, but Ridiculous Fishing outclasses its would-be competitor in every way.” JC Fletch engaget

“As you master the precision tilt controls, you’ll go from snagging a fish accidentally almost right away, to weaving in and out of a living minefield. The dense but logical organization of fish makes the learning curve satisfying every step of the way, and embodies the ultimate iOS commandment: make the player feel like they’re doing a hundred epic things while only asking them to do one or two.” Eli Cymet Gamezebo

It is, in fact, a ridiculous way to fish. And, thanks to the tilt controls of the fishing line, you look ridiculous playing it! Regardless of its appropriateness as a bus pastime, the tilt controls are natural, responsive, and extremely quick – unlike, say, Ninja Fishing, which has a noticeable, irritating delay on every tilt. JC Fletcher engadget

It’s been a long and frustrating journey for Vlambeer to bring Ridiculous Fishing to the market, but for gamers it’s certainly been well worth the wait. John Bedford modojo

And the moral of the story? A great game design can always be ripped off, sadly, but talent will out in the end. You can’t cut-and-paste the artistry and attitude that Vlambeer has brought to this extravagant bit of disposable nonsense. You can’t copy a true original – even before it’s out. Oli Welsh Eurogamer

Reblog: Balancing Multiplayer Competitive Games by David Sirlin

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 1-1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 3.  LEVEL 1-1

Sirlin’s classic primer on game design through the lens of multiplayer games (with a heavy focus on fighting games).

Marcus Says:  A great introductory piece to the world of game balance and a great example of how to deliver a message successfully without having to tease out, elaborate, source, and prove every detail. Which is something we note here at Design Oriented. Transitioning from Richard’s blog, Critical-Gaming, which featured a technical writing style to DO has been a learning process. Often times we feel as if we must tell the complete story on any topic least we sell the “truth” short. But as this article shows, there is a time for detail and there is a time for clarity. Some definitions in the article might seem a little inadequate to sticklers and some of the “tools for a better game” might seem a little too self-help-bookish for the people who have or are currently in the thick of game development. But who cares? That isn’t the point of the article. It’s meant to get your feet wet. There are links on the side where Sirlin goes into greater detail if that’s what you’re looking for.

Yomi is a great term for describing the Rock Paper Scissors competitive process. It’s punchy and able to be yelled in an energetic cry. It passes the cool-enough-to-be-an-anime-technique test. I can imagine a plucky young lad who hits a rough spot in his game of Rock-Paper-Scissors cry “YOMI!!! LEVEL 2!!” to power up and conquer his foe.

Mike Says: Balancing competitive games is one of the hardest things to do in game design. Sirlin’s take on the matter is informed by his own extensive practice and relative success in the field–he’s beyond qualified. But Sirlin’s definitions in the first and second page are unsatisfying to me because they often are delivered from a hindsight-rich perspective. I’m left with questions like: How does the fact that balanced games last years and years through competitive play inform my ability to judge and adjust balance now? Having a goal is great, but goals that can’t be judged for another five years are far less useful. Maybe they’re what we need, though, to keep our focus right, though I wonder who would design a hardcore competitive game and NOT want it to last a long time.

His advice to gauge your balancing efforts by categorizing asymmetrical factions/characters into tiers based on their current relative power, and encouraging the production of tier lists among playtesters, is great concrete advice. I’d like to see a lot more iteration on techniques for introducing the kinds of self-balancing systems he mentions into more genres of games, or identifying such properties of systems and getting a better grasp on them.

Sirlin’s reliance on intuition and deep understanding of the cognitive factors involved makes him highly qualified and effective as a designer, but the substance of the advice ends up being “playtest a lot and be careful, also get good at some game at some point” which is advice I’ve read just about everywhere in game design. The road to being a great game designer is incredibly long and arduous–the road to consciously understanding game design seems to extend into places far outside of where our feet have carried us.

Richard Says: Those diagrams do a pretty great job of showing the different outcomes of a double blind game scenario. You probably have to have Street Fighter knowledge to understand though. It’s still one of the best documents out there that talks about balance. Years ago, this pdf sparked a lot of content on my old blog Critical-Gaming.

Pac-Man Design: Hallways and Turns Level Analysis

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 4.  LEVEL 3 - 1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 4.  LEVEL 3 – 1

A handy way to analyze Pac-Man’s maze design is to count the number of hallways, 3-way turns, and 4-way turns and then to consider their relation to each other. Turns are important to Pac-Man because every turn is the exact point in which the most meaningful decisions are made for Pac-Man and the Ghosts. In the same way players express agency with their turning and pathing choices, the Ghosts show their AI personality through the turns they take and the direction they move.

The whole gameplay experience of Pac-Man is a loop of deciding to turn or not. Figuring out the pros and cons of one turn versus another stresses knowledge about the game’s rules (complexities) and understanding of the current state of the maze, enemies, and items. Hallways (straightaways or paths with only 1-way turns) provide a nice contrast to 3-way and 4-way turns as the decision making while in a hallway is simpler (keep going forward or turn back). But keep in mind the potential to become trapped by Ghosts is higher in a hallway as there is only one entrance and one exit.

The Pac-Man Arcade maze has the following features:

4 4-way turns
22 3-way turns
26 1-way turns
15 longest hallway(measured in dots)
240 Dots
4 Power-Pellets

The relationships between the numbers described above give the original Pac-Man level its maze feel and well-tuned gameplay. Notice how most turns are 1-way and 3 way. The abundance 1-way turns makes it so that the player’s fingers are rarely idle. Though moving through a 1-way turn doesn’t involve much decision-making, it does require timing. If players don’t give a MOVE input at a 1-way turn, Pac-Man will just sit there and waste time.

The abundance of 3-way turns means players will frequently make a relatively simple choice; turn into path A, B, or turn back around for path C. Because players are typically being chased by at least one Ghost and the goal is to move forward through all the dot lined paths of the maze, a 3-way turn is mostly about choosing path A or B. While it’s easy to pick the option to avoid running into a nearby Ghost, planning ahead even a few seconds into the future is increasingly complicated. Accurately predicting Ghost movement requires understanding the AI mode timer, current level of difficulty, each Ghost’s AI personality, and a few other special rules discussed in part two of this analysis. In practice, the player chooses quickly, moves swiftly, and watches the results of their turning decisions unfold before their eyes.

Here are a few other details about the original Pac-Man maze:

  • Power Pellets are placed near the corners of the map, in hallways, away from warps, and surrounded by a combination of 4-way and  3-way turns.  This placement ensures the most decision making when going for the power-pellet and the most escape options for Ghosts as they retreat in the frightened state.
  • There are empty areas of the map (leading into warps and around the Ghost House). This design keeps the warps optional while giving the bonus fruit an area to spawn that Pac-Man wouldn’t be incentivised to travel through otherwise.
  • When Ghosts switch to the scatter AI mode they move to their home corners on the map ignoring Pac-Man. This movement also means the Ghosts go on patrol in the areas around the power-pellets. So even when they’re not chasing Pac-Man, Ghosts naturally protect Pac-Man’s greatest weapon against them.

 

4 4-way turns
20 3-way turns
19 1-way turns
17 longest hallway
(measured in dots)
270 Dots
5 Power-Pellets

The Google Doodle Version of Pac-Man (play it here) does a pretty good job creating interesting gameplay.

The biggest problems I have with the Google Doodle maze design is the concentration of turns and the placement of the Ghost House. Creating a maze out of the Google logo involves a lot of horizontal hallways. The Roman alphabet tends to create horizontally-oriented blocks of shapes. Hallways are great as a reprieve from continuous Pac-Man turning, but not as roughly half the maze paths. Basing the maze design around the Google logo also is why the Ghost House is made out of the lowercase “g” instead of the yellow “o”. The Ghost House functions best in the center of the maze so that the ghosts have the shortest distance to travel to Pac-Man once they exit. When navigating the left side of the maze in the Google Doodle Pac-Man game, consumed Ghosts are less threatening as they take more time to travel to the Ghost House and back to Pac-Man. When this happens, the gameplay experience becomes dull.

Real-life roadways, however, are not designed to challenge our brains. In fact, most streets are designed to be as simple and as straightforward as possible. This is great for modern living. It’s terrible for Pac-Man maze level design. Straight hallways in Pac-Man are death traps because they allow for very little decision-making while inside. Real-life roads are generally spaced apart from each other, further reducing the concentration of corners and turns, limiting how often Pac-Man can juke ghosts to buy more time.

It doesn’t help that the warps are unintuitive due to the lack of symmetry between entrances and exits. Sometimes entering the same warp can spit Pac-Man out of different exits. The Power-Pellets are placed randomly it seems. Sometimes they’re in a hallway; sometimes at a 3-way turn.Since the abundance of hallways means players will have less ability to out-maneuver Ghosts, grabbing the Power-Pellet becomes either necessary for survival or a boring choice–there is no expedient way to maneuver around the Power-Pellet to save it for later. Ultimately, the Power-Pellet placement algorithm results in fewer Ghost chases and fewer exciting situations where Pac-Man barely turns the table on ghosts who are rapidly cornering him.

For these reasons, most of the Google Map Pac-Man levels I’ve played have given me little fun and much frustration compared to the original Pac-Man maze. Procedurally-generated level design is harder to execute well for games that have deep and complex gameplay. With mazes designed from road maps, the algorithms Google used to generate the Ghost House, Power-Pellets, and warps don’t produce levels that support interesting gameplay.

Reblog: Push Me Pull You

POV: PLAYER.  DIFFICULTY 1.  LEVEL 1 - 1 POV: PLAYER.  DIFFICULTY 1.  LEVEL 1 – 1

Push Me Pull You

Push Me Pull You is a four-player videogame about friendship and wrestling. Joined at the waist, you and your partner share a single worm-like body and must wrestle the other sports-monster for control of the ball. It’s a bit like a big hug, or playing soccer with your small intestines. With every action affecting both you and your partner (and mandatory shouting) PMPY combines the best parts of 2v2 local multiplayer with the worst parts of your last breakup.

Jake Strasser • Michael McMaster • Stuart Gillespie-Cook • Nico Disseldorp

Richard Says: I remember these guys! Always so friendly. Met them at Fantastic Fest 2014 and GDC 2015. They told me about the new mode of PMPY that features 2 balls, but I didn’t get a chance to play it. The animation and style of this game is great. Like Pac-Man, each player only has MOVE as a mechanic. However, I don’t understand how the game works, as in how players get good. In situations like this, I always look to the developers to crush new players to give me an idea of skillful play.

Marcus Says: I don’t know how to play or even how I should approach playing this game. Two players with a connected elastic body exerting two forces over a ball vying for position are the variables of a physics word problem I’ve never encountered. No matter what team formation my brother and I positioned ourselves in, our advantage in the game was always in constant flux. “This formation is great! It’s working! It’s……not working. What’s happening?” So maybe the first step to understanding Push Me Pull You is to never let our position and formation settle. Always moving forward, not backward. Upward, not forward. And always whirling, whirling, whirling.

Chris Says: This is one of the few videogames I’ve played that approximates the feel of playing team sports. Two heads. One giant body. Crazy teamwork. My wife and I played against Richard and Marcus at Fantastic Fest 2014 and we had a bunch of spectators watching us as we battled. Fun times.

Reblog: Descend Into Chaos

Downwell

By Ojiro : website

Feedback
Feedback

Richard Says: I see this game has the Shop Lift and Die system where players can steal from or attack shopkeepers to incur their wrath (1m30s). This game looks neat. It’s got some serious game feel going on. It also combines SHMUP and platformer gameplay like one of my favorites, Bangai-O Spirits for the Nintendo DS. I’m a bit concerned that the clarity of the action is lost among all the screen shake, bullet barrages, and bouncing red pickups. In the video it’s hard to tell what’s friend, foe, or foundation (fancy word for a platform. I had to go for the alliteration bonus).

Mechanics
Mechanics

I love me some stop-and-pop gameplay. Any time a game creates an asymmetrical relationship between movement and attacking, I give a tiny head nod in its direction. When you shoot in Downwell, your character hovers. Also, it looks like you can only shoot down. What a great way to accentuate the downward motion and platforming gameplay. Basically, you have to jump over things to shoot them. And when you shoot, you move differently. This design makes gameplay more engaging and more challenging. As the late, great R.O.B 64 once said… “good luck.”

Marcus says: This Polygon video of Downwell mentions Vlambeer multiple times. It turns out Downwell scored a 20 on the Vlambeer Scale of Quality, which is tied with some of the most Vlabeerian games we’ve scored so far. Could you tell just by looking at it?  

Just Shapes & Beats

by Berzerk Studio

Systems / Rules
Systems / Rules

Marcus Says: Last week I looked at some SHMUP (shoot em ups) bullet patterns for sale in the Unity Asset Store. Before I only saw patternless sprays of bullets in many SHMUPs. Now I can see that games like Just Shapes & Beats feature bullets in patterns of circles, 3-way, and a lot of random bullet spreads. Unlike most SHMUPs, I think most of the bullets in this game are a random. The website refers to these random bullets as “chaos.” I wonder if the titular “beats” will bring order to the gameplay or get lost in the chaos.

Richard Says: Mixing ordered (patterned bullets) with random spreads is a cool way to go. Reminds me of Ikaruga on Medium or Hard mode. Just Shapes and Beats may have too many bullets on screen to appreciate the blend of these two SHMUP bullet types. I’m most curious how the music-rhythm aspect may give the player a unique layer of feedback to better navigate the chaos.

Reblog: Eyes Through Time

Aboard The Lookinglass

Built from scratch for #3DJam
Created by Henry Hoffman
Voiceover by Matthew Wade
Source sound effects and music from Audio Jungle

Richard Says: This video was pretty captivating. I own a leap motion. Now where did I put my Oculus Rift? *Holds up right hand* oh yeah, it’s in the future. When I first watched this video (without sound) I couldn’t tell that the two hands manipulated time. I thought they were merely revealing different spatial dimensions. Though the game seems set in a sterile environment, the classic “potted plant” object would be great to show off the 3 different time zones (past/present/future – sapling/healthy/withered). Great idea to show the view of the planet from space so players can get a glimpse at what happened through time by using their hand-time mechanics. The panel puzzle looks very familiar. Now where did I put my copy of The Witness? *Smacks head with right hand* Oh that’s right, it’s in the future too.

Chris Says: The video was captivating… but I’m not sure how this game is improved by the use of virtual reality. Wouldn’t controlling the game by Kinect or Wii-mote achieve the same sense of player control over the game’s environment? Oh, who am I kidding? I want to experience this game!

Mike Says: This game has a strong “feel,” which surprised me because the actual environment appeared sterile and was representing largely unconcealed, inorganic puzzle design. The good sound design is the probable cause. I think that the hands-through-time concept was exploited for no particularly striking purpose in the simple introductory sequence–I wonder what clever level designs they can come up with to exploit being able to manipulate three interconnected and related levels.

 

Close Your

by Goodbye World Games

Richard Says: What a neat looking experience. Try not to blink too much or you’ll miss the best part. I wonder if the devs of this game have listened to this episode of Radiolab titled “Blink.” I wonder if there are moments in the game when you want to keep those eyes open for as long as possible, like trying to stay up late as a kid to catch the midnight anime on Cartoon Network. It looks like the Oculus Rift would be a great fit for this game, if the devs can figure out how to detect player blinking through the headset. Reminds me of one of my favorite Looney Toons jokes where Sylvester was in the hospital and he couldn’t keep his eyes open. He got whacked in that scene. Close Your will just hit you in the feels.

Pac-Man Design: What’s Interesting About Pac-Man’s Gameplay?

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 2.  LEVEL 2-1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 2.  LEVEL 2-1

Have you ever been afraid taking a closer look at a favorite and classic game might reveal that it isn’t as good as you remember? Have you wondered if your memories of a game are just a phantom, a collection of scattered thoughts you follow in an endless loop? Have you chased feelings of nostalgia trying to relive what once was? If so, then you probably can relate to the Ghosts in Pac-Man. For well-designed games, what makes them good back in the day is the same thing that makes them good today. Pac-Man’s fame is still recognized because of its polished, well-tuned gameplay. What makes Pac-Man great can be summed up like this:

Pac-Man is an action game that challenges players to move through a maze. The goal is to navigate through the twists and turns of the maze to consume each dot and Power Pellet. How you navigate is up to you: there are hundreds of ways to beat each maze. And where you need to go is easy to determine: Simply follow the trail. Playing Pac-Man would be a trivial challenge if it weren’t for the Ghosts. Avoiding, kiting, and turning the tables on the enemy Ghosts adds complexity and depth to the gameplay. The threat of running into a Ghost makes a simple pathing decision into a much more complicated one. Where you go, when you go, and why depends on the where the Ghosts are, how they’re moving, and how close Pac-Man is to Power Pellet.

A key factor in what makes Pac-Man so fun is clear feedback. With all the level and enemy elements clearly visible at a glance, the player has all the information needed to make well-informed decisions. Though Pac-Man only features a MOVE mechanic, players constantly make decisions about where and when to move by leveraging this clear feedback. Especially when players are under pressure because of the speed at which events unfold, having such good feedback keeps the Ghosts movement from feeling like frustrating ambushes from out of nowhere.

FROM YOUTUBE VIDEO HOW TO WIN AT PAC-MAN- PROPER ARCADE VERSION BY STEVEPIERS FROM YOUTUBE VIDEO HOW TO WIN AT PAC-MAN- PROPER ARCADE VERSION BY STEVEPIERS

Perhaps the depth of Pac-Man gameplay can best be understood by considering how each aspect of the enemy Ghost elements makes the goal of eating all the dots and Power Pellet in the maze more difficult. Without Ghosts, the goal is easily obtained. Throw one Ghost in the maze, and crossing its path is generally the only thing a player would have to worry about. In fact, if the Ghost is constantly chasing the player, it stops becoming a threat as it will not be able to catch up to Pac-Man. One ghost is not enough. But throw in four Ghosts, and things get more interesting… at least initially. With a little maneuvering, the same problem exists. As long as the player can get all four Ghosts to follow in Pac-Man’s wake they will not be a threat.

The monotony of the chorale-and-run-away play strategy is shaken up by the Ghost AI personalities and AI modes.

“Ghosts’ movement patterns in the “scatter” phase once they’ve reached their home corner.” Image from the amazaing Pac-Man Dossier by Jamey Pittman See the Ghost switch from chase to scatter From youtube video How to Win at Pac-Man- Proper Arcade Version by stevepiers See the Ghost switch from chase to scatter From youtube video How to Win at Pac-Man- Proper Arcade Version by stevepiers

Each Ghost has a personality that determines how it moves through the maze. Yes, in general all the Ghosts appear to just follow Pac-Man around, but if we look closely only the red Ghost, “Blinky”, is completely dedicated to directly hunting Pac-Man. It always tries to close in on  Pac-Man’s exact position. In contrast “Pinky” prefers to move into the space that is a few squares in front of where Pac-Man is facing. What’s interesting is players generally interpret Pinky’s unique AI personality as being non-confrontational and easily spooked. Put Blinky and Pinky in the maze together and they often work together to head Pac-Man off and pin him from both sides.

Ghost AI modes shake things up in a much more obvious way. Ghosts will switch between “chase” and “scatter” modes on a timer. They’ll spend most of their time in “chase” mode and brief periods where they’ll “scatter.” Even if the Ghosts are closing in for the kill, when the timer goes off the Ghosts will ignore Pac-Man and retreat to their respective home corner. So even if a player manages to string the Ghosts along, it will only last as long as the AI mode timer allows. When Pac-Man grabs an energizer Power Pellet the Ghosts switch to a frightened AI mode, in which they will reverse direction and choose random turns as they run away. Between the automatic, timer-based modes (chase, scatter) and the player-activated mode (frightened), the apparent dominant strategy of kiting the Ghosts is minimized in effectiveness and players have to adjust to the constantly changing and partially unpredictable game state.

 

Here are more nuances and wrinkles to Pac-Man’s design that increase the challenge for players aiming for high scores:

  • Rules that determine when Ghosts leave the Ghost House
  • Bonus Fruit, an optional pickup out of the way of any necessary path
  • Blinky’s (the red Ghost) speed increase when there are fewer and fewer dots left on the field
  • Increasing difficulty of subsequent levels. Variables include Pac-Man Speed, Pac-Man Dots Speed, Ghost Speed, Ghost Tunnel Speed, Fright. Pac-Man Speed, Fright Pac-Man Dots Speed,  Fright Ghost Speed, Fright. Time (in sec.), # of Flashes
  • Warp tunnels on the sides of the map that Ghosts travel through more slowly

 

If you take all of these aspects into account, you can see how Pac-Man’s gameplay has enough challenge and complexity for players to spend years enjoying and mastering the game.

With relatively few mechanics, elements, and rules, Pac-Man achieves gameplay that is deep, challenging, and that dynamically changes with each play. Next in this article series, we’ll look at how Pac-Man’s design and gameplay hold up in the Google Doodle and the Google Map versions.

Reblog: Here are the First Nominees for the New World Video Game Hall of Fame

Over at the A.V. Club, Alex McCown calls attention to the new World Video Game Hall of Fame and the 15 videogames nominated for inaugural inclusion. According to the hall of fame’s website, to be considered for nomination a video game must meet the following four criteria:

  • Icon-status: the game is widely recognized and remembered.

  • Longevity: the game is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over time.

  • Geographical reach: the game meets the above criteria across international boundaries.

  • Influence: The game has exerted significant influence on the design and development of other games, on other forms of entertainment, or on popular culture and society in general. A game may be inducted on the basis of this criterion without necessarily having met all of the others.

             (Photo: Provided by the Strong Museum of Play)
             (Photo: Provided by the Strong Museum of Play)

Chris Says: The existence of a Video Game Hall of Fame is sure to set off the usual debates surrounding canonization in any medium – “Who gets to decide what’s included?” and “What criteria are appropriate for determining what belongs in the canon?” I’m not terribly impressed myself with the criteria the World Video Game Hall of Fame is using, but what do you guys think?

Marcus says: I think the criteria is fine. The World Video Game Hall of Fame is basically looking to immortalize games that have already outlived their respective technological eras by engraining the games in cultures around the world. Its not a big list of games to choose from.. Selecting the games on a gut sense would probably yield a similar list. What irks me is that Pokemon is the only game listed that isn’t a game. There is no game called Pokemon. If you want to nitpick, their criteria has no clear indication if the selections are games or game series, from what I can tell.

Mike says: I’m surprised at the exclusion of StarCraft. There’s not a single strategy game on the list as it appears now. I’d think the original Civilization would be in the running as well, based on the influence criterion. I don’t find the criteria surprising at all, considering halls of fame are usually about the most popular and successful big names. The criteria all echo that concept.
 

Richard says: I love StarCraft. But I have yet to see a Zergling toy in the grocery store. As great of games StarCraft and Civilization are, their icon status outside of gaming circles is nonexistent. I see Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, Tetris, and Pac-Man in the list. Looks good to me. “Influence” is the only category that considers a game’s design. I’m more curious about who will be on the panel of “journalists, scholars, and other video game experts.”

Three Pillars of Combat Design: Final Fantasy Tactics

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 2. LEVEL 1-1
POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 2. LEVEL 1-1

Seems like RPG-style reward and unlock systems are working their way into just about every genre these days. 2007 felt like a turning point to me; it was then that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit the market and showed just how addictive a multiplayer shooter can be when it has experience point rewards for effective play and a range of unlocks to spend the experience points on. Now it’s hard to find a mainstream multiplayer shooter without a persistent character progression system.

Playing a character who grows in ability over time, from a bumbling novice to a demigod, has been a trope of RPGs since the progenitor, Dungeons & Dragons, appeared in the 1970s. D&D’s tactical, turn-based combat system for the tabletop laid a foundation for a genre close to my heart; a genre that arguably started a decade later when the Fire Emblem series began in 1990 and became the archetype for what is now an established genre: the Tactical RPG (TRPG) or, as it’s called in Japan, the Simulation RPG (SRPG).

TRPGs are turn-based strategy games leavened with characters that advance and persist between battles. Though superficially similar to JRPGs in storytelling techniques and advancement systems, the desultory combat systems typical of JRPGs are replaced with  significantly more weighty TBS-style battles, which can take a half-hour or longer to complete. For the purposes of making analysis easier, let’s take a look at the iconic TRPG, Final Fantasy Tactics to lay the groundwork for future analysis.

Final Fantasy Tactics, like most modern TRPGs, features an overworld which mainly displays a battle selection screen. The menus accessible on the overworld allow the player to manage many of the persistent aspects of their roster of characters: distributing rewards granted during battle by unlocking new abilities and giving characters equipment. The character advancement system is complex: there are over a hundred unlockable abilities that the player can equip to characters. Character progression in Final Fantasy Tactics, as is typical of TRPGs, is complex in the sense that there are many characters to manage and/or there’s a complex skill tree toclimb per character. There’s also equipment restricted to only certain classes that can grant significant statistical advantages and new abilities.

Once the player is done managing their character’s growth and equipment, they pick a battle from the overworld map. Then the player must choose a team of 1 to 8 characters, in addition to the main character, to bring to the fight. Once the player’s team is locked in, they fight in a turn-based battle against enemy characters and beasts in an attempt to fulfill some victory condition, which is often killing all enemies or a specific enemy. Victory grants equipment and monetary rewards as well as unlocking additional battles, defeat means game-over.

The gameplay of Final Fantasy Tactics, and TRPGs in general, thrives when it features:

  • [Design Space] A variety of characters that provide different strategic options, both solo and in combination.

  • [Level Design] A variety of mission scenarios which require the mastery of many techniques using different characters and abilities.

  • [Upgrade / Economy] An advancement system where players can tailor their characters to fill different roles and take advantage of various combinations of enemies and terrain.

 

Final Fantasy Tactics is a very complex game that shows many of the benefits and pitfalls of character advancement systems and reward systems. Feedback loops between battle and overworld, combined with class balance issues and some level design decisions almost caused me to stop playing. In the next articles in this series I’ll break down the genre conventions that lead to these kinds of issues, while also diving into specifics about Final Fantasy Tactics dynamics that make the game so appealing.

Reblog: Flip by Ryan Juckett

POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 2. LEVEL 1-1 POV: DESIGNER.  DIFFICULTY 2. LEVEL 1-1

From Ryan Juckett’s website:

Flip is a fast paced, competitive 1v1 action game that I’ve been making in my spare time. It is played on a grid of black and white tiles where each player is restricted to either side. Players flip tiles towards their color to gain control and close in on the enemy. With every action changing the play space, each round evolves into a unique battle field.

Marcus Says: Indie games are a great place to find new, innovative, or quirky ideas. While there are some out there who insist there is nothing (completely) new under the sun, that everything we create now is a different take of something done before, finding something “new” that hits your brain and reorganizes your perceptions, is still pretty cool. Upon first seeing Flip I said to myself “wow, there is nothing else like this”. But after thinking about it, this Traversable Territory system/rule, has shown up elsewhere. You could even say it’s in vogue right now with the upcoming Splatoon. Flip does present the mechanic in a unique way. So I guess it is better to say “wow there is nothing else QUITE like this”.

Richard Says: Reminds me of Polarium, an old puzzle game for the Nintendo DS. Those black and white squares, yo. I’m a fan of the clean look, the slow bullets, and the crisp audio feedback. The game also has bullet to bullet interplay (bullets can clash). Such mechanics are somewhat uncommon in top down, shmup style games. 

Mike Says: I actually want to play this one. Nice simple and clear aesthetic. Seems like it’ll be a deep competitive game that rewards equal parts good timing and reactions, and on-the-fly planning. The maps wrapping around the screen can be a bit of a mind-bender when you have to process the action quickly to dodge a shot or cancel it with one of your own bullets. The way that bullets convert space to impassable for your opponent adds another dimension of interplay to the 2D space + bullets concept that I haven’t experienced before.

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