Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Don't include unsupported stuff. Don't hint at stuff that isn't there.

I just now completed Microbe Kombat. Spoilers ahead, insofar as this game could have spoilers.

This is a game similar to 'Feeding Frenzy' - avoid larger microbes and eat smaller ones. Red dots appear at regular intervals and whomever eats this - freind or foe - grows larger.

In the tutorial, the game mentions the 'extra abilities'. Most - stunning nearby enemies, being able to kill larger enemies or extra speed or size for a brief time - are obviously useful.

Two, however, seemed to have an interesting risk/reward system - splitting into 2 (diminishing your size whilst doing so) and exploding one microbe to destroy nearby enemies.

Suffice to say that I became increasingly disappointed that there never seemed to be a great time to use these abilities - I was eagerly awaiting some clever tactics to be necessiated, somehow involving multiplication of microbes and explosions.

If these abilities had never existed, I believe the game would have been improved. Rather than eagerly awaiting tactics that never appeared or hoping for challenges that never arose, I would have at least enjoyed what was there.

By their mere existence, these 'unsupported' mechanics simply draw attention to what's not in the game.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Game Design Challenge: Make Monopoly Fun (other folks' entries)

Well, having read the entries by others, I was slightly surprised by a few things:

- only one player proposed a winning objective
- Many of the proposals changed the game beyond what I'd consider 'Monopoly'.
- Where numbers were asked for, folk didn't even make a stab at a starting value - just calling it 'a number'.

I was actually kinda worried that everyone would do the same as me but even within the tight constraints, there was little overlap. Maybe because folk think differently? Or maybe others felt more compelled to stray further away from a game they dislike (or just wanted to show how far outside the box they felt)?

In any case, I shouldn't have worried so much about my ideas being 'unoriginal'.

Also, I shouldn't have worried about getting numbers etc. correct and should have just gotten whatever I had thought of into an e-mail. Now I'll never know if I could have been an 'honourable mention' or even a winner.

I'll take a stab at this week's effort though. Got an idea, it may be shit, but I owe it to my future self to spend at least half an hour sketching something out (unless aliens attack or something).

Game Design Challenge: Make Monopoly Fun (a non-entry)

I actually found out about a 'Game Design Challenge' - to 'Make Monopoly Fun' last week, a day before the deadline. I came up with some ideas in the subsequent few hours, but then never actually typed anything up or sent anything in.

This is my attempt to at least get myself in the habit of typing stuff. Next time, I'll do this quickly and send in whatever I have, rather than trying to get it to be better (or waiting when I could have easily made the time there and then).

For the record - the post declaring the winning entries has already been posted, though I haven't read it.

These aspects of the game need to be changed:
* the game has a very large amount of luck involved
* games go on for a very long time
* once a player has lost the game, they have nothing to do while others play

Only 3 new rules/rule changes


Ways to reduce length:
a - impose mandatory time limit (already an option in rulebook. Can feel 'artificial' and introduces 'meta-play')
b - introduce winning condition (as opposed to losing conditions)
c - begin game in mid-game
(e.g. hand out 'free properties' as suggested in rulebook's alternate rules. Or auction off a bunch of properties before the game begins - reducing luck slightly.)

Ways to reduce 'dead time' for losing player:
a - one loss is the 'ending condition' (as suggested in rulebook)
b - Give losing players some way to influence the game (can it still be interesting?)
c - have a 'winning condition' rather than losing condition

To increase application of skill:
- Introduce more reasons to NOT buy a property outright.

- Further necessiate trading, maybe by auctioning selected properties.

Currently, there are 3 major types of decisions to be made in Monopoly - whether to buy a property or not, trading and when to upgrade. The former is currently a non-decision. With the starting sum and our income from passing Go, it's practically always correct to buy whatever property we land on. Maybe introduce less money?

Decisions regarding private trading are where the heart and soul currently lie. When someone's able to collect a set without trading, the game is often won by them - even the first set, when fully upgraded, puts the unimproved rent of the blue set to shame. Maybe auctioning selected properties would help? But unless at least two of each set is auctioned off, we can't guarantee that no sets are collected through chance.

Auctioning off every single property before the game begins makes for an interesting game - though it doesn't 'feel' like Monopoly. It lacks any 'build up'. Also, it makes for a relatively long game.

Are there other ways to encourage trading? I think I need to remove the possibility of getting a set by fluke. Maybe just disallow buying properties without an auction?

Improving properties is a matter of risk assesment - upgrade as much as possible, whilst ensuring we remain 'afloat'. Seems fine.

Possible rule changes (numbers might change)

- Start with less money
- less money for passing go.
- no chance to buy properties outright. (Maybe formalise auctioning to give the player who's landed there a slight advantage?)
- winning condition - get £X?

Less starting money:
- reduces luck (by getting rid of the 'non-decision' involved with buying properties outright). If auctioning is compulsory, though, maybe this is nullified.
- increases luck (increasing effect of randomly landing on a bought unimproved property)
- I'll skip this.

Less money for passing Go:
- reduces luck (reducing advantage of high dice-rolls)
- might shorten game slightly, getting rid of 'slow deaths'
- would maybe lengthen game slightly and introduce a 'minimum length' for a game with a 'get £X' winning condition
- Maybe £100? Should be an amount that still feels like a 'reward' but is low enough to allow for a large 'minimum number of turns' before someone might have the winning amount of cash and isn't a significant factor in winning, compared to income from rent.
- Or maybe just 0? Advantages - simplicity, no memory issues. Disadvantages - folk can feel 'gypped' compared to old rules, though this will pass. - With no money 'entering the game', but money 'leaving the game' (due to tax, selling bought stuff) a winning target could become impossible.
- To increase rental income, maybe there should be 'dummy players', which just go round the board, giving players income from the bank. Could be complicate though and would need another new rule.

Sum should be > money lost each round so it can be a 'small' benefit, on average. Chance to land on tax place is about 2/7. 2/7 chance to lose £150 on average means £43 is lost on average, each turn. I think Jail loses £4 a turn on average. £50 might be fine, but this really needs to be played out.

No chance to buy properties outright:
- increases skill (increasing relevancy of auction-decisions and trading-decisions)
- If the required increase between bids is relatively high (e.g. 20%), then there could be some strategy in picking a value that others won't want to beat. Also, it'll ensure that auctions don't go on ridiculously long.
- Some people are bad at maths though. Maybe make it 10% so it's easier, whilst retaining some 'forced speed'?

Winning condition of 'get £X':
- reduces chance of 'deadtime'
- reduces length of game, killing the slow end-game
- The value should be high enough to ensure 'doing nothing and just collecting money from passing Go' is NEVER the best strategy but low enough so games don't go on too long and that the target is reachable.
- £2500?

Final Thing
Rule change 1 - Players collect £50 for passing Go.

Rule change 2 - When a player lands on a property, it is put up for auction. (The player who landed on it does NOT have a chance to buy it outright.)

Auctions proceed as follows - starting with the player who landed on the property and going left, each player calls out a bid. Bids must be AT LEAST 10% more and £5 more than the previous bid. Once every player has passed the bid, the last bid is successful and the player must buy the property for the bid value.

Players may not bid more than they can afford.

Rule change 3 - If a player is valued at £2500 or more at any time, they win. This includes cash on hand as well as the full value of existing houses, hotels and unmortgaged properties.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Why I called myself a casual gamer

My first memory: My brothers put a cassette into a box. On a screen in front, horizontal lines appeared, flashing and scrolling. Eventually, this gave way to a white screen with black lines - my brothers were somehow controlling lines on the screen! This was a simple drawing toy on the Spectrum and I went on to enjoy the games I was allowed to play and saved up pocket money to buy one of my own.

My first console was a Megadrive, bought late in its life from a schoolfriend and I own every 'successful' console from NES to Gamecube, excluding xBox. Dreamcast and Gamecube were bought within 2 days of UK release (and GBA within a week of Japanese release).

I've stayed away from the current generation, though I'm interested in buying an xBox360 for Dead Rising, various xBox games and Braid and would love to get a Wii for Warioware and Super Mario Galaxy - which I successfully know next to nothing about - but money and time conspired against it. (Ironically, I currently spend too much time on certain flash games.)

I actually found Dead Rising's save system added significantly to my enjoyment of it (having played it for maybe 20 hours on a friend's console) yet I hate games that ask me to redo elements with no variation - a reason I stopped playing Resident Evil.

I admire brevity in games, but if I find one I love, I can find myself playing levels hundreds of times or replaying the game once every so often.

I desire simplicity of rules and controls, yet want the game to spin them into varied settings and if puzzles and other challenges remain simple for a long time, that bores me.

I prefer experience-orientated games rather than goal-orientated ones.

I've never been able to beat Street Fighter 2, but could beat Samba de Amigo on the secret 'Super Hard' mode, sometimes getting 100% hit rates.

Back when I was working at the cash'n'carry, I was willing to spend hundreds of pounds to fund my videogame entertainment.

I long to work within the games industry, yet when I answered Chris Bateman's questionnaire, I decided that I was 'casual'.

I believe that I want simpler, more immediate games. I can only thank those who choose to make their game shorter, rather than padding out the length - Luigi's Mansion and Pikmin seemed perfect to me, despite the slight backlash at the time.

Maybe it's a modern-day ADD-ish nature but I want a game to clearly tell me what it's about. I don't want to spend 3 hours immersing myself into a new world, only to find that I don't enjoy the mechanics. Let the start of the game clearly relay the ensuing experience.

Perhaps that's why I play so many flash games - they maintain simplicity of control and immediate feedback about what the game will be like. Brevity is the rule, rather than the exception, with many taking 20 minutes to complete.

I guess that's why I consider myself a casual player - I want simplicity, brevity and focused intent. Some quirkiness - to differentiate it from other experiences - is essential. To me, these seem to be things that 'hardcore' games are forgetting about, with sequels packing in new controls or features rather than refining those that exist (or even removing superfluous ones) whilst the industry as a whole tends towards iteration, tweaking existing ideas rather than risk time and money on previously unseen mechanics.

Lack of difficulty or a forgiving nature aren't strictly necessary - if I'm playing with novel mechanics and realise why I failed - with success remaining a definite possibility - I'm happy to fail 20 or more times before success. Cirplosion's final challenge and Unirally's Gold-medal stunt tracks are testament to that.

Simplicity, brevity and a clear focus on something new. Sorry for the lack of the 2nd in this post.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Unnamed Fast Game.

The origin of this comes from indecision about who would play first in a 5-player card game. I vaguely remembered a game in which a 0 beats a 5 and any higher number beats a lower number, but my memory obviously had gaps. (Anyone have a clue what game I faintly remember?)

In the end, I took advantage of the confusion and declared myself the starting player. It didn't really matter, anyway.

But for future, I thought it'd be good to have a game that can establish these things more 'fairly'.

These were the meta-rules
1 - the game should have a definitive winner with any number of players
2 - it should take under 10 seconds to play and determine the winner.
3 - it should be simple to explain
4 - turn order should not exist or be irrelevant (if you needed to establish a turn order, we'd be back to square one!)
5 - toys should include nothing that needs to be carried - only language, our bodies and such. (Otherwise, rolling a die would have sufficed.)

These are the rules
- On the count of 3, everyone reveals a number of fingers. Thumbs don't count!

- If anyone has revealed a unique number, whomever revealed the lowest unique number wins.

- Otherwise, everyone who revealed less than the maximum number shown is eliminated and there is another round, only including people who showed the highest number.


Entry into subsequent rounds has a goal opposite to the winning condition - this should avoid stalemates.

The game will break if you ever get to 2 remaining players. At this point, you can play Rock Paper Scissors. I didn't entirely meet the first objective, given the possibility of draws (requiring multiple rounds) and the break-down if you reach 2 players. I'd give myself 3/4 marks for that one.

Hypothetically, there could be infinite draws, but given the theoretically small chance of this, I'm giving myself 3/4 marks for the 2nd objective too.

Objectives 3, 4 and 5 are a complete success. 4.5/5 - good going! Still, this design is obviously not 'perfect' so tell me if you know a game (or can devise one) that meets these criteria more fully.

I've not actually played this, but am recording it here as I can't see any issues with it and don't know any other game that fills this niche. What does everyone else do when deciding player order between 3 or more players (other than roll a die)?

If you're having trouble deciding player-order for a game with over 2 players (or need to nominate a winner for any other reason) and don't have a die handy, give this a go.

I know I will.

More Analysis
If you consider the hypothetical numbers shown by everyone else, you can determine what should be the highest number you should show.

I think it's foolish to ever show more than:



(i.e. divide the number of players by 2, round up, then subtract one from that total.)

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Games You Don't Think About #8: getting the audience to join in

Your voice.
An audience.
(recommended: Words of persuasion)
(optional: other musical instruments)

The volume of the audience during the chorus (or repeated sections).

none I can think of

Time to play:
2-12 minutes (basically, slightly more than the length of the song)

tip1 - if the audience sings a section that you DO NOT (maybe echoing a portion or maybe a chorus that you shut up for)
tip2 - it can help to quickly reinforce the idea of crowd participation before your song. Some people aren't sure if it's OK.

Good points
Pleasure of pleasing others.
Different audiences make for different play experiences.
Audience can give surprising responses, necessiating quick thinking.

How well this goes can depend heavily upon audience. A room full of musicians is nearly always more eager to join in.

Games You Don't Think About #7: Licking a knife

A sharp knife, covered in some tasty residue (e.g. tomoatoey bits).
Your tongue.

Winning Condition:
The blade appears clean and your tongue is not cut.

Only your tongue

Time to play:
20 seconds

I recommend licking at a slight angle, to avoid accidents.

Good points
A feeling of slight rebellion.
Tasty goodness!
A slight feeling of danger.

Chance of injury.
Soon becomes easy.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Developing Card Game 1 (v0.2)

Inspired by Chris Bateman's recommendation for current or budding game designers to make games with traditional playing cards, I decided to do just that.

This game isn't very good but it's something. And that's better than nothing...

A standard 52-card deck (no jokers)
other players. (Might be best with 5 total players)

Winning Condition:
Have 5 cards in your hand, all one suit, with a total value of 25.

Numbers count as their face value. Aces, jacks, queens and kings count as 1.

pre-game setup:
Deal 5 cards to each player.

The starting player (the player to the dealer's left) draws 2 extra cards from the deck.

The game progresses by players taking asynchronous turns.

Each turn begins with the player being passed a card. They now choose to either take the top card of another player's discard pile or draw the top card of the deck. (Skip this section for the starting player.)

The active player then chooses and discards a card into a personal discard pile and chooses a card to pass left, beginning the next player's turn. At this point they should be back at 5 cards and may declare a win.

Time to play:
5-20 minutes? I'm still unsure...

This game was inspired by a 'Boardgames with Scott' review for 'Lost Cities'. I liked the idea of needing to work out what your opponent is after and ensuring you don't give them those cards so copied the ability to draw from discard piles.

My original game had a base hand size of 3 (increasing by 2 when it's your turn) and needed 11 points to win.

The game often ended with both players needing a single card (or one of two cards) and just drawing until they got it - a long drawn out version of rolling a die. Furthermore, once one person drew a visible card, it was generally already too late to prevent them from winning.

With 5 cards, there's actually some time between it being beneficial for a player to draw a face-up card and them winning - leaving time for players to worry about the cards they put down in front of them.

I feel I need to actually pinpoint what the fun element is and then hone in that.

The fun activity I was aiming at:
choosing what card to pass left and which to expose to the table, with SOME knowledge of what your opponents may be trying to do - avoiding helping them.

Is even that activity fun? Should there be a way to force reveals - giving more information to make the choices more meaningful?

Goodnight. I'll sleep on it.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Games You Don't Think About #6: balancing a bottle

Your hand
a bottle (I recommend a plastic one, personally playing with the type used for tonic water though any long cylindrical object may work OK)

Your score is the length of the game. Longer times are better.

Before the game begins, place the neck of the bottle on the palm of a chosen hand, so the bottle is standing vertically.

Once the game begins, nothing may touch the bottle apart from the palm of that hand and the hand may only touch the rim of the neck.

The game begins when the bottle touches something else or is no longer in contact with the hand (usually due to falling over).

Time to play:
2 seconds-4 minutes

Good points
Constant immediate feedback - both visually and through touch.
Very 'juicy' - a tiny input (hand movement) has a massive effect on the game state.
Rapid/constant changes in game state. Results in constant excitement.

Several successive short-lived games can be demoralising.
Game lacks any progression - game state never progresses beyond where it may have started.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Signalling etc.

Computerised games are unique in that their mechanics and the current game status can be hidden from the player with bad design.

Board games and card games - by necessity - assume familiarity with the rules and mechanics before the game begins. Once it's in full flow, though, any hidden information will be as a result of cards being deliberately hidden or game-pieces being hidden in a bag.

With sports, there is almost no potential for hidden information. The status of the few toys that exist - position of other players, position/velocity of the ball etc - and maybe even their can be seen simply by looking in the right direction.

Conversely, with video games, the toys are merely works of fiction, brought to our imagination and recorded via computer processes. It actually takes effort to show the status of the toys. Furthermore, it can't be expected that players will have already familiarised themselves with the rules - as the computer plays the role of referee, there is often no need and in fact certain games - like Wario Ware - centre the entire appeal around unfamiliarity with rules.

In this environment, it is down to the graphics and sound - the two ways the computer 'talks back' - to not only give us all the information we need about the status of the toys, but also to explain the rules whether by using symbols with pre-existing meanings (Aliens are scary! Avoid! Lasers hurt! Avoid! Lasers kill! You can kill!), by simply developing an internal logic (all identical graphics behaving identically, groups behaving similarly - all food healing your character in many 8/16-bit games) or through other means.

An enemy can be shown by depicting something scary or perhaps by simply showing the movement of something chasing you. If it chases you, we may infer that it should be avoided!

In 'Candyland', a one-level platformer, we begin by jumping over a block and collecting lollipops. Ice cream also increases our points. A cake seems a silly symbol for an enemy, when it resembles the collectibles' theme so closely and has no distinguishing marks to show its sentience. (Though it moves, this isn't immediately obvious given the lack of either parallax scrolling or other foreground objects.)

Then we see a bomb with a jester cap. Despite floating in mid-air in an identical manner to other collectibles and a fairly innocuous appearance, it kills us instantly (as do any enemies).

Had the cake possessed macabre eyes and the jester been a ball of spikes, the signals would have been more effective in giving us the information they should.

Specially with Flash games that take 90s to complete, it shouldn't be expected that we begin by reading the rules and familiaring ourselves with arcane internal logic. Using the vocabulary of existing symbols that we have built up should be a natural move.

Games You Don't Think About #5: Pondering symmetrical numbers on a digital clock

- Knowledge of a digital clock face with a seven segment display (an actual clockface of this sort can be used as a reference, but is not required)
- pictures in your imagination.
Winning Condition:
- decide how many possible time configurations exist on a 24-hour digital clock (with a 7-segment display) that possess symmetry.
- none
Time to play:
- 1-5 minutes
- consider both reflection symmetry and rotational symmetry
- 1
Good points
- requires visualisation to complete - a moderately unusual thing
- multiple routes to completion. With multiple numbers possessing symmetry but various rules (governing time) dictating what numerals may appear where, it's up to players to consider and apply these rules as they see fit to their mental model.
- no confirmation of success. Means answers must be double-checked and requires some confidence in the answer.
- like all genuine puzzles, it can only be played once
- no confirmation of success. Can result in uncertainty and a general uneasiness.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Games You Don't Think About #4: reach a top-speed on a bike

- a bicycle
- some sort of working speedometer (can be bought for £5) that shows the top speed and has been reset at the start of the game
- legs
- terrain
Winning Condition:
- your score is your maximum speed reached
- you may not attach an engine to the bicycle - speed reached should be thanks to legpower and terrain.
Time to play:
- a game can range from a minute to a few days
Good points
- exhilaration from sensation of speed and wind in your face
- method of improvement is obvious (pedal faster/get bigger muscles)
- variance, in the form of changing terrain and wind conditions
- immediate feedback of score (the speed being near-instantly relayed)
- constant feedback of all other important factors (we can see the terrain changing or oncoming dangers; feel the wind or our muscles tiring)
- possibility of death or injury, depending on location and lack of care taken

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Games You Don't Think About #3: Balancing a ball whilst upside down.

- a large ball. The one I used had a diameter of around 1m
- your feet
Winning Condition:
- If your legs are fully outstretched, you win.
- for a 'bigger win', raise your feet higher
- The ball must rest above the soles of your feet, touching nothing but the soles of your feet.
- Get no outside human help with the balancing.
- The soles of your feet may NOT be facing each other. (i.e. do not just 'trap the ball' between your feet.)
Time to play:
- about 1-2 minutes per game
- To begin, your back shoulderblades would be on the floor, with your legs bent in the air, soles facing upwards. Before the game begins, you may place the ball on the soles of your feet with your hands. Now try to straighten your legs whilst balancing the ball.
- Avoid doing this near easily-breakable things.
Good points
- very 'juicy'. A slight change in foot angle will make all the difference in whether the ball falls off or not, as well as what direction.
- Variance. Since the juiciness feeds into the win objective, it makes for varied games - even after winning once, future success is not assured.
- New skills to learn. I don't personally often balance things above the soles of my feet, so doing so meant I had to master a new set of skills, 'reading the sensations' to keep my feet angled correctly.
- Potential of breakages. (Though this hasn't happened with me yet.)
- Unsuitable for the old or infirm?
- A large ball isn't a ubiquitous item.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Integrating the manual into the game 2 (Penguin Diner vs Diner Dash)

Penguin Diner is an example of how NOT to present rules.

Penguin Diner is a simpler version of Diner Dash and yet, thanks to it loading us with all the rules before the game begins, it feels far more overwhelming.

Both follow the same general principles - customers are seated, orders are taken, food brought and finally money/dirty dishes taken.

Diner Dash employs a tutorial level - customers enter and a single instruction is given. As each step is completed, the previous instruction disappears and a new one enters. Completing each step is simply a matter of following the instructions on the screen - ensuring they can't be forgotten before having been completed - but this does nothing to limit the complexity of later levels, when familiar toys are mixed in at greater amounts and speeds.

Compare this to Penguin Diner - all instructions are given at the start of the game. If you forget what to do, you must muddle your way through. Even if you don't, you may fear you forgot the details (there's not even a way to refer to the rules between levels or when pausing the game).

Again, the moral of the story is to break down instructions into small portions and only give new instructions when appropriate. These aren't board games, after all so why feel compelled to give instructions all together in a non-interactive manner at the start of the game?

Text becomes more relevant when we immediately go on to practise those skills or explore those rules. By giving us instructions that may not become relevant for a few stages, you risk confusing players needlessly (and confusion about the rules certainly isn't the appeal of these games).

Penguin Diner doesn't suffer as greatly since it's a clone of an existing game and most the rules are familiar to the audience. But would Diner Dash have been a success if it weren't for the tutorial?

Games You Don't Think About #2: organising eggs

This game is most often played immediately after taking some eggs out of a carton to cook.

- a non-full egg carton
Winning Condition:
- If the positioning of the eggs is exactly symmetrical along the vertical axis AND the top half contains more eggs than the bottom, you win.
- none
Time to play:
1-5 seconds-ish
Good points
- results in an aesthetically pleasing win condition.
- when the winning condition is possible, deducing it is so simple as to not really be a puzzle.
- Very few iterations of the game exist and each game will play very similarly. Due to this repetition and lack of variation, it can become work rather than a game.
- Impossible to win with an odd number of eggs in a 12-egg carton, meaning that cooking another egg is necessary to win.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Games You Don't Think About #1: licking your plate clean

- a plate, covered with the residue of recently eaten foodstuff. The residue of a pudding with sauce (e.g. sticky toffee pudding) works well, as can the residue of a good Chinese take away.
- you also need a tongue.

Winning Condition:
- When no residue is visible, you win.

- In order to remove residue from the plate, you may only use your tongue.

Why I enjoy it:
- Perhaps it's thanks to me breaking social conventions? More likely, it's because I enjoy the taste of food and having it linger over a longer period makes for more satisfaction and tasty enjoyment. The tactile quality of the tongue-workout probably also has something to do with it.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Integrating the manual into the game

It seems that folk are finally cottoning onto the fact that having to wade through a block of text before playing a game isn't the best way to impart information. I'd like to begin looking at a few flash games, looking at how they integrated the tutorial into the game.

Solitair Hop

Solitaire Hop is a puzzle game testing both luck and skill. Level design is largely random, with the game resting upon its rules system.

Its rules seem complex, thanks to their unfamiliarity, but are presented all at once, in the form of 3 screens of text and diagrams before games begin. As these rules govern our basic potential moves and reactions, there was no easy alternative - they just have to be read before you begin.

And if you're conditioned to skip past instructions, you won't last long.

Most games' rules can be broken down more easily though.

Dropple is an abstracted platform-jumping, coin-collecting game.

Basic rules are exceedingly simple - it's the behaviour of the bouncing ball, various platform types and level design that provides any enjoyment you may glean.

So unlike Solitaire Drop, it becomes a simple matter to provide a new instruction before each level, adding an element at a time and ensuring no-one is confused.

The worst thing to do would have been to simply detail all the elements at the start - confusing and possibly alienating potential players - something that some flash games surprisingly do!

You Have to Burn the Rope

YHTBTR is a game completable within 2 minutes, that became an internet phenomenon thanks to its brevity despite the pomp. If you haven't already, I suggest you play it before reading on. Spoilers ahead.

Movement is controlled by the arrow keys. Torches are picked up automatically and weapons are fired with shift. None of this is detailed - the audience is expected to be familiar with games and so the arrow keys are surely expected to be the first thing tested. As weapons are almost irrelevant, a corridor to travel through and a ledge that must be jumped upon is all the 'tutorial' deemed necessary.

However, whilst walking through the corridor, we see large text foreshadowing the titular activity. Without this foreshadowing, the game would 'merely' be a laughably short game. With it, it becomes an anticlimax of astonishing proportions.

What's interesting to me is the way this preamble is presented. Had it been an unskippable sequence, displaying the text at the rate its currently revealed, I would have been frustrated, itching to begin the actual game. With a skippable screen of text, it would have been skipped by some others. Currently, though we only need to hold one button for almost all the time we move down that corridor, we feel as if we've been handed control and are already playing. To our impatient minds, that makes all the difference despite the lack of meaningful decisions present.


Shift is a game with a unique mechanic and simple 'puzzles'.

In the background of each level lies text, which - over the first 4 levels - spells out the basic rules and controls of the game, whilst the level exits are placed to ensure the information is understood.

Thanks to Shift's unique mechanic, instructions are vital and so showing them on the same screen as they are first used seems a simple and elegant solution.

Having rules present on the same screen as the game-world can break the 4th wall, reaffirming its abstract game-like qualities (not that most Flash games actually evoke much of an atmosphere, or shy away from abstraction) but Shift copies Portal's method of having the rules told' to us by a watchful computer.


Perhaps it sounds as if out-of-game instructions are a relic that deserves to be put by the wayside? This game confirms otherwise.

Metro.Siberia is a 'helicopter game' clone with fixed levels and nice graphics. Upon starting a level, an instruction to press space appears, with a typewriter effect. Whilst this catches the eye, by the time it has been read you may be already dead (as I was).

It seems that instructions can only be given in a safe environment. Whether that's before a level, in a corridor or during a level that allows you to stand still whilst reading.

The clear message is that being taught in a safe environment can be fun. Being punished before a relevant instruction has time to be understood is simply a turn-off.

Mr. Bounce

Mr. Bounce is a bat 'n' ball game, with a few twists including guidelines, height control and bullet-time-type-slowdown.

Though mostly familiar, a few introductions are necessary. With textual instructions, we'd still need to play with the mechanics in the first level - something that could lead to aggravation thanks to lost lives.

Thankfully, the 'tutorial' gives us a safe environment to practise. Relaying the bare minimum of information, a meter accompanies each instruction, which fills up as we press the buttons instructed. Once it reaches 100% we'll have surely seen its effect and the next instruction pops up.

Seeing this in effect simply reaffirms my belief that every game able should offer a safe environment for learning, whatever form that takes.

With a uniquely interactive medium, why not let us learn by doing?

The rules.

With any inaugural post, there's a tradition of trying to make some sort of manifesto.

The best blogs seem to begin with a post spelling out the intentions of the writer, what they hope to achieve and what might come later on. Almost like defining rules for the game we're
about to embark upon.

One of my passions is playing, experimenting with and thinking about games, but too often I find my thoughts in a muddle. This blog, as with everything I do, is primarily for me. I'll probably write about long-term stuff I'm working on, maybe do some post-mortems of my flash games, look at features of games I've played and write about game-related things.

I'm tempted to make some sort of promise like, "I'll post at least once a week", but then I'd feel bad whenever I head off and am unable to do so. Instead, I'll make these rules:

- If I want to write about something here, I will do so.
- If it's badly written, I'll try not to worry too much about getting it near-perfect. Instead, I'll just get the basic sparks down.

That's enough for now.

Friday, 18 April 2008

This is a test post.

Nothing to see here, other than this sentence and the title I suppose.