Wednesday, 19 May 2010

XBIR: A Robot's Conundrum

You are a robot. You are capable of flying, drilling Lode-runner-style when on land and pushing one block at a time. You must push a box to the target area, at the bottom.

The simplest lessons involve filling holes with another block, working out a route so the box only falls the permitted distance and taking notice of unstable platforms.

level 4 had me stumped for a minute until I realised what I was meant to do. I was forced to take notice of an 'ability' I had had all along but thus far overlooked - something I always love.
Unclear graphics. Until you learn to study the screen, bullets blend into the bg and the unstable platforms look similar to the bg.
Level 3 involved skipping half the level - something that irritated me. It seems like wasteful design to have only a few extra 'unneeded' elements. If the designer wanted to confuse us with extra elements, I feel that they should have gone all-out. Half-measures, like a stylisation that applies to only a single letter in a typeface, are more likely to look 'messy' and like mistakes.

I'm tempted to buy this (since it costs 80 pts, not the 200 alluded to in-game) but would like some assurance that the later levels will reach a reasonable difficulty without relying heavily on trial and error.

Lesson: (Level) design is much an art of subtraction as it is of addition. Unnecessary elements will only irritate.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

XBIR: A Perfect Massage

Not perfection, but maybe as good as the 360 pad can offer in terms of a 'massage'. Realtime control and 4 programs. Better than the '360 Mega App Pack'.

More direct control over the motors.
Some variance in the 'programs'.
...(For what it is, I don't really have any criticisms.)

Though an OK novelty, a 'real' massage seems massively superior.

Some things just aren't for me. Other folk may like them. That's OK. I wouldn't want a world full of identikit people.

Monday, 17 May 2010

XBIR: A Kitchen Sink War

Spacewar reskinned to feature overly large kitchen utensils (and a lamp...) in a sink. After a player is killed, each has the option to purchase different weapons. £ successful rounds make for a winner.

Differing abilities in the different weapons adds some potential for strategy.
Terrible conveyance of information. Hitboxes are near-impossible to work out based on the shape we see. The fact that the plug 'absorbs' projectiles is counter-intuitive. The 'weapon purchase' screen doesn't give any indication of what we may purchase until we buy it, then fails to tell us how it will behave in-game (something that could have been done using iconography) until we start the next round using that weapon. I couldn't find any indicator of ship health and it was never clear whether hitting an 'asteroid' was actually harmful.
No 1-player mode, despite what the summary says.

Ultimately, this just feels like someone made a few arbitrary changes with the purpose of distnguishing their game but there was no clear focus nor any deep understanding of what would make this genre work. Nothing suggests to me that there are any deep strategies to be found here.

Lesson: Computer games, by their nature, can be completely opaque in their rules and mechanics compared to, say, boardgames or sports. Better signalling and hence more transparency is nearly always desirable.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

XBIR: A Killer's Dream

Watch a video. Occasional letters and symbols flash onscreen. You must 'guess' the killer by remembering the letters - only those used in the killer's name will flash up.

Tests quick recognition of lettershapes. This is something that no other game - to my knowledge - does.
No evidence of thought given to escalation in difficulty, variation in activity or anything else that might make this game fun for longer than the first game.

The trial is somewhat insidious - allowing you to 'play' the game (watching various videos) until you choose to guess the killer. Only purchasing the game will let you know if your guess is correct or not. This seemed - to me - such an egregious practise (preying upon your compulsions rather than trying to offer something of value) that I'm deterred from purchasing any of the company's other games - including one that I expected I would soon purchase.

Lesson: Though some may be suckered by psychological ploys, some will be turned off. Of course, Farmville suggests that the power of compulsion makes the first group stronger. This, if course, in turn raises various questions regarding one's own ethics and morals.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

XBIR: A Game of Tennis

Pong. Many 2p options exist. 2 1p modes: either play 'first to X' or 'how many points can you get before the CPU attains X'. X is definable.

The main-menu bg is kinda pretty.
The ball's trajectory can't be changed by either your paddle's speed or relative position. So you can't actually do anything to increase the chances of the opponent losing.
When the computer missed, it seemed to be for no good reason rather than because of my own skill. I think that in a 2-player competitive game, having your opponent make a random mistake just validates your own skill and attests to your superiority. And no-one minds that. But in a 1player game, assuming you're playing what is allegedly a game of skill - random mistakes by the computer opponent just make your score feel arbitrary.

Lesson: CPU flaws need to lie in their limitations. Not in random screwups.

Friday, 14 May 2010

XBIR: A Game for Alexander

A toy. Moving the left stick causes a circle to move, trailing same-coloured particles. Pressing X, A or B causes the colour to be said, turns the circle that colour and flashes that colour in the entire bg. Pressing Y makes rude noises. Bumpers do something unknown.

Really, this is the kind of thing that I'm only mentioning for the sake of completionism. But since I am: I certainly respect the idea of a 'game' that is more about getting to know the buttons than overcoming any extra challenges. However, I'm not sure that the 360's pad is something that is important enough to merit training a baby for. I think that I would rather give my actual niece or hypothetical future child a physical toy since learning about real physics seems more worthwhile. Or when she's old enough to benefit from computer games, maybe a physical rhythm-based game or a simple 2D platformer would be a better starting point.

I think that ultimately, I maybe just disagree with this dude in when children should be introduced to videogames (specially looking at the picture). I applaud the broadening of the medium though.

Saying 3 of the colours out loud could help them be learned.
It seems a bit arbitrary and generally unexciting for the right analogue stick, d-pad and the triggers to do nothing.

Lesson?: Not everyone thinks alike. Some people have totally different opinions. Maybe all opinions are justified.
(Alternative lesson): some things are better in our real environment rather than being turned into a computer game. Like childrens' toys - so many interactions are possible with 2 plastic bricks, let along 5 of varying sizes! Or like cycling.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

XBIR: A Frog Game

Press A to make the frog jump along a predefined path between two points. Assuming you also remember to click a trigger, the first fly encountered is caught. Jumps must be timed so that a fly is in the area that will result in its capture. You can either play a timed game lasting 17s or a game that involves catching a certain number of flies.

Utterly disposable pap.

The music made me smile.
Why click to get the frog to stick its tongue out? It seems we can only stick its tongue out once per jump and the tongue doesn't retract, it seems that you're as well off always clicking a trigger just after A. This adds an unecessary complication.
Opaque scoring. The scoring described in the rules seems to be a vague hint as to what the 'real' scoring method is. Jumping without capturing any flies clearly detracts points but what exactly brings about the higher points given for successful captures? Some sort of on-screen counter for your combo or any other relevant stats would have helped a lot to make thi all intelligible.

With random introduction of flies, the score seems mainly constrained by luck (a constant stream allowing for constant jumping and thus maximum points). I had a serious issue with this and I think my beef is that the game FEELS like it should be a game of skill. The basic mechanics encourage this line of thinking and in the end this will probably please no-one. It seems like the developer wasn't sure exactly what kind of game it should be - just realising the mechanics and settling for the first incarnation.

Lesson: Even in the simplest games, further simplification and better signalling is important.

Lesson2: A good game should probably have a clear focus: on how much skill it requires, what mood is established and where the fun comes from. Then everything should probably follow on from this focus.