Thesis: A New Look

Apologies for the late update! It’s been a week of coding, testing, and now more coding in response to the testing. 😉

You’ll have to forgive me for needing to sleep, but I leave you with a shot of placeholder art:

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Bonus points if you can tell how this boss fight works. 🙂

Playful: No Plan Survives Contact With the Playtesters

One of Playful‘s core ideas is a steady powering-up over the course of the game. The longer the hide-and-seek goes on, the easier it is for the knight to capture the dragon, and the more the dragon can do to avoid the knight. Since the player needs a final powerup to win, she has to keep the match going even as the stakes rise.

I was aware of one challenge that structure demanded I confront:

1. What should the powerups be? They need to feel powerful and rewarding, be interesting to work with, and yet not unbalance the game.

Frank Lantz brought another one to my attention in testing this evening:

2. How does the game feel without the powerups? In order to make the first powerup–a dash move–impressive, I had made the player really slow without it. While this had the intended effect, it made the early game miserable. Players understood very quickly what they were meant to do, but making it happen took an unnecessarily long time.

I’m grateful for the feedback; this is an issue I hadn’t thought to consider, but it’s vital to players’ first impressions of the game. I’ve now changed the first powerup to a smoke screen rather than a dash, which enabled me to give the dragon more speed at the outset. Hopefully that will improve the experience; of course, only more testing will tell!

 

Playful

There’ve been a couple of posts alluding to the current thesis prototype. Now it has a name:

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Playful is a game about hide-and-seek. Two little kids, who happen to be a dragon and a knight, are chasing each other through a forest. Since the dragon has some natural advantages (most notably the ability to breathe fire), they agree that the dragon can’t go for the win until the knight has spotted the dragon twice. If the dragon can avoid getting tagged in those moments of risk, it’ll be possible to breathe fire on the knight and win the game.

One of my goals with Playful was to explore a form of conflict that isn’t within the violent norm of video games. We as humans compete all the time, but only a very small number of those forms of competition appear in games. I’ve been enjoying bringing kids’ makeshift, balanced-on-the-fly competitions into video gaming.

Playful is also meant to capture the notion of engaging with the risk posed by an opponent rather than controlling the opponent to negate risk; a few of my classmates summarize the idea as “honorable competition,” and I think that’s a good way to put it. Again, this is something we routinely do, giving one player small advantages or imposing limitations to ensure that a game is fun for everyone. Capturing that negotiation has been a lot of fun.

I’ve enjoyed working on Playful enough to want to polish it into something releasable, even if just as an interesting proof of concept. That process is ongoing now. Look forward to it in the coming weeks . . . .

Little Lessons

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  • Maze-like levels get more interesting when there are plenty of paths through them. Dead ends create binary spaces where the only options are “there’s no enemy here, everything is fine” or “an enemy blocks my exit, I’m doomed.”  Interconnected areas invite maneuver.
  • If you want the player to interact with the antagonist, the antagonist must be where the player wants to be. Otherwise, the best strategy is always to go where the antagonist is not. In the picture above, the waypoints the knight uses for its AI pathing are not particularly close to the piles of gold coins the player-dragon wants to dig through; this means the player can usually dig in near-complete safety.
  • Even a little bit of power can be very exciting. It’s not necessary to immediately ramp the player to a balance-destroying level, even if the thrill of powering up is a goal.
  • Always keep in mind why you made a decision in the first place. When a technical problem forces you to revisit that decision, don’t jump to the most technically feasible option. Remind yourself why the design was as it was, and ask how you can get that same result.