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.