Reblog: Flip by Ryan Juckett


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.

Tweet us by clicking the bird below and tell us about games that also feature “traversable territory.”

Reblog: Game Internals – Straightening Out Final Fantasy X’s Sphere Grid


Chad Birch breaks down the Sphere Grid, a foundational aspect of character customization and growth in Final Fantasy X. He found is that what appears to be a sprawling, diverse web of options is actually several linear paths with very limited opportunities to branch. The UI makes the simple system look complex influencing the player to feel like they are making more decisions than they actually are.

Mike Says: It’s a great exercise to separate the mechanics and systems of a game from its UI so we can get a real glimpse of what’s happening under the covers. Graphics and good interface design can obscure certain potentially negative properties of systems and lead the player into enjoying a game more than the bare mechanics would indicate they should. It’s great that Chad did the legwork to show just how much obfuscation was going on with the Sphere Grid. He shows how important UI design can be to affecting players regardless of the reality of the systems beneath that UI.

Richard Says: In my experience RPG tech trees and leveling systems like the Sphere Grid are not designed to be deep in themselves. They work best as a way of foreshadowing progress in clearly defined, ability based steps. I wish Chad presented an actual critique or argument about these systems. As it is, he doesn’t say much about game design or UI design. On a final note, I love the graph work Chad did. Nice and clean.

On “Perfect Imbalance”: Memorization and Balance


In their video “Perfect Imbalance” Extra Credits mentions that a problem with balanced games is that there’s often a lot of memorization involved in learning to play them well. They suggest that because Chess is perfectly balanced, players can memorize openings and gain significant advantage from knowing early-game optimal play. By briefly examining why and how players memorize strategies, we can see that balance has nothing to do with memorization being so effective.

“ [Chess is a great game] but it does suffer from the standard problems that perfectly balanced games build up, namely that a collection of fixed strategies end up getting established over time. If you’ve only played casual games of chess at home it’s great. There’s thousands of interesting strategies to discover and try out, and your tactics will evolve over the course of a match. But if you’ve gone a step further and really look at taking your game to the next level you’ll find that there’s a lot of a rote work to do. There are a great number of established strategies and play sequences that you have to memorize before you get to a high enough level of play that you’re really experimenting with anything new again or are once again able to start crafting your own strategies. The set of canonical strategies has built up to such a point that one can spend years if not decades of one’s life studying chess without really getting to create new plays or develop your own stratagems.”

What properties of Chess allow memorizing strategies to be so effective?

In order to use plans that you memorize, you need to recognize that you are in a familiar position. No position is more familiar to a Chess player than the starting board position, since it’s the same every game. It’s an easy and useful starting place for elaborate acts of memorization and recall.

Since you know what the board’s going to look like, you can start thinking about what you’re going to do and what your opponent is going to do in reaction based on this stable foundation. As the game progresses, you’ll be able to know the positions of all the pieces at all times, since Chess is a game of perfect information. All moves in Chess are perfectly reliable, so the only obstacle in the way of predicting a whole game’s moves is your ability to analyse the position and predict play accurately. What makes Chess an interesting game is that its broad possibility space means that it takes practice and a high level of mental skill to hold all of the possible viable moves in your head and think through the different possible outcomes for even the next 5 to 10 moves.

Because of all this reliability and the repetition involved in the opening position, you’ll start memorizing brief runs of play in the early-game that you’ve noticed lead to better positions more often than not. Over hundreds of games you’ll pick out more of these patterns at different common board positions throughout the game and commit them to memory. Broadly, this is not atypical of the learning process required to gain skill in all turn-based strategy games. No matter what game you’re playing, you need to at least memorize enough game rules to be able to imagine what the next few turns might look like in order to determine what you should do this turn. This process of picturing the next few turns and developing short-term strategies gets more efficient and effective with practice, in part because you’re memorizing snippets of strategy and patterns of play that lead to certain outcomes, then reusing them.

The rules of Chess don’t place any obstacles between calculation and memorization. Any time you calculate the right move for a board position, you might as well memorize it and reuse it next time, since there’s no way it could turn out differently–unless your opinion on the right move is actually incorrect! Considering how many people play Chess around the world, and the extensive database of past games logged and commented on by experts, it’s more likely than ever that you’ll find out you’re incorrect without even having to play your way into that realization.

That huge community, and the metagame it creates, makes a sizable contribution to biasing players towards memorization as a way of improving their skill. There are thousands upon thousands of publicly available recorded chess games to review. There are thousands of books about Chess strategy, many of which contain lists of common openings and the patterns of play that seem most effective against them. The depth of available material gives you an almost unlimited number of master-endorsed strategies to memorize if you’d like. This weight of accumulated knowledge can feel oppressive to a new player who wants to get good at game–this is exactly what Extra Credits is talking about when they say that Chess is stale due to memorization.

Notice that I’ve said nothing of balance so far, I’ve only talked about the properties of the system. Balance does nothing to increase the effectiveness of players memorizing strategies as a way to improve their performance. Even if Chess were a battle between armies with asymmetric capabilities, if those sides were used in every Chess match and perfect information were still available, the game would be just as prone to memorization, since asymmetry alone does nothing to change the conditions required to make and re-use extensive plans. If Chess were incredibly unbalanced (say white had all pieces replaced by queens and black had a normal set-up), memorization would be just as prevalent. Memorization would likely be *more effective* in unbalanced chess, because the imbalance would lead to the overpowered player often winning in fewer moves, thus requiring less memorization on average to produce winning results.

In summary, memorization is prevalent in Chess because

  • perfect information is available about the game state, so the players know enough to plan perfectly if they are mentally capable;
  • all moves are perfectly reliable, so that perfect plan will not have to be altered during the course of play;
  • and the game starts from the same state every time, so the perfect plan has a perfectly-reliable starting point.

Pitching a Nuclear Baseball

POV: Designer.  Difficulty 2.   Level 1 - 1 POV: Designer.  Difficulty 2.   Level 1 – 1

In a recent TED Talk, Randall Munroe shared his secret on how to effectively engage students when teaching science. The secret, according to Randall, is to relate science to areas of interest the students already have. For example, he asked kids to come up with answers to the “what if”s, “how much”s, and the “how many”s in the Star Wars universe because Jedi and Jar Jars got the kids excited about science.

Randall’s fanciful questions about Star Wars turned into absurd questions about anything. Randall’s attempts to answer these absurd questions led to a mild obsession, which manifested in the popular webcomic “xkcd”.  While the mission has a different header, the results are still the same. By answering questions with math and science, you can find insights to subjects you might not have otherwise considered.

In front of a room full of like-minded peers, Randall asks the absurd question “what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball at 90% the speed of light”. But unlike his science phobic kids, this room of techies and brainiacs used their excitement for math and science to spark their interest in the uninteresting subject: baseball. I can only assume most in the room would find baseball snooze inducing because most people in any room would find baseball snooze inducing.

Though baseball purists often butt heads when it comes to the notion of speeding up the game of baseball, Randall shows, theoretically, that speeding up a baseball to the level where Newtonian physics breaks down makes for a more interesting game. Pondering over the details of throwing a ball so fast that a nuclear explosion obliterates the stadium is my idea of  a good time, but the entire thinking exercise is just science with a coat of baseball paint. The real question is what does this scientific approach teach us about the game of baseball?

taken from Randall's XKCD. taken from Randall’s XKCD.

According the the Official Rules of Baseball a funny thing happens to the game when the physical world doesn’t function like we’re used to. As long as there is an umpire to interpret the rules, the game of baseball is able to be played in all sorts of abnormal conditions. This is not because the rules account for the unexpected but because they don’t! Apparently the rules check for a legal ball, a legal set up, and a legal pitch, so everything that happens in between the pitcher’s mound and the batter’s box is up for grabs. Broken sound barriers? Baseball doesn’t care. Rapidly expanding walls of plasma due to nuclear explosion? Baseball doesn’t care.

So the answer to the question “what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball at 90% the speed of light” is actually a question baseball can answer. As Randall notes, if a ruling could be made before the resultant blast vaporizes the city, according to rules 5.09, the ball (which would be in a plasma state) would make contact with the batter as the fastest pitch ever. And no matter how well thrown, making contact with the batter always results in a walk. So in this hypothetical game of baseball, the stadium lies in ruins, the ground is contaminated, the fans are a wisp of a memory, but as far as baseball is concerned, the batter gets to take a base.

The answer to the nuclear pitch is an anti-climactic, well-known fact of baseball; the batter gets to walk. As they commonly say when the destination is more mundane than expected, it’s not about the conclusion; it’s about the journey. The real value here lies not in the answer to the absurd but in the hypothetical, impossible space we needed to consider. Baseball doesn’t care about nuclear blasts because the rules of baseball have nothing that can interpret such a thing. But our minds can walk the space between explicit rules and grasp impossible concepts straight out of the plasma air; concepts like a near light speed fast ball. Even between an intentional walk and the next batter, there is space to wonder, learn, and reach for a star.