Student Area

Reading response: level design lesson: to the right, hold on tight

I really enjoyed the reading by Anna Anthropy about level design. I think that old term games like Mario aren’t often thought of in the context of good game design, over shiny new games that have innovative new ideas – as opposed to older games that created the ideas we now think of as baseline.

Anthropy’s way of walking the reader through each conscious design decision and the minutea of how cleverly disguised the tutorial segment of Mario is was very easily read and digested. I found it really interesting and inspiring how much the game both trusts the player to come to the right conclusions, and cleverly disguises small tutorial aspects to help the player come to the right ideas of how to play the game.

The part that really struck me was when Anthropy was talking about the mushroom’s first appearance in the game, how it’s movement, lack of animations, and all these small details showed it to be a different sort of item than the threatening goomba. And also how Mario at that point would be specifically positioned that his likelihood of catching the mushroom is really high – therefore teaching the player how beneficial encountering the mushroom is over the goomba.

I think this article showed a lot of detail and meditation on game design and provided lots of things to think about and references on how to approach game design.

Reading Response: How to prototype a game in under 7 days – Giada

As an art major student, after reading this article, I was thinking about the  standard to judge whether a game is good or not. Compared with artistic works which are very hard to judge their value. There seems a universal direction to define “a good game”.

Fast prototyping, for me, is not only new but also very charming concept. Compared with traditional process of making art works, fast prototyping provide more possibilities to creator for checking whether the idea is work or not. It’s more efficient and more practical undoubtedly.

However, from my perspective, these kinds of workflow strongly decrease the creator’s personality which players can feel during playing. When game designers start focusing on mechanics and agency of game rather than inserting their experience and thought to their products, does it represents parts of the limitation of game design?

Reading response to “to the right, hold on tight”

I found this to be a really interesting reading. I have never played past the tutorial level in the NES mario game, and so for me the tutorial level has been the whole experience. It is so well crafted that I didn’t realise it was a tutorial at all. Anna Anthropy carefully dissects the anatomy of the level. The sheer depth of the design is incredible. The thing that caught me the most was the jump – giving the player a harder but nonfatal/unstaked challenge to practice on, and then following up with a jump over real gap that is almost visually identical (and would probably be to someone playing for the first time) but slightly easier than the just seen practice. It made me think to games I’ve played they have had possibly similar set ups. I feel Kirby’s Adventure had this, although probably with less agonised over level design. In Kirby’s Adventure, the various levels of “hidden” shortcuts makes the player feel clever for working out the various environmental effects of the abilities they can gain from the enemies, and this is then necessary in the far more nonlinear later levels.

Homeplay: Pole Riders

Pole Riders is a pole-vaulting polo game for two players only. Vault up to kick the ball into the opposing player’s goal, or kick your opponent off their pole.

Pole Riders is one game in Sportsfriends on PS platform. Sportsfriends is a compendium of four highly acclaimed local multiplayer games. All of these games already exist as playable prototypes, and have been exhibited around the world at festivals and parties. The original Super Pole Rider is made by an indie-game designer, Bennett Foddy as an web Flash game.

spr1

Original Web Version

Die_Gute_Fabrik

Die Gute Fabrik (which is German for “The Good Factory”) is a small games studio based in New York City and Copenhagen, Denmark. They take classic play forms from the past – be they physical folk games from the playground or adventure games from old consoles – and breathe new life into them with music, 21st century technology, and our own sense of style and storytelling.

Style: Hand-crafted, Synaesthetic, Offbeat, Personal

 

Reception

SportsFriends was well received, being awarded a 9/10 from Polygon, 8.7/10 from IGN, and a ⅘ from HardCore Gamer.

The game also received awards at IndieCade for Impact, Technology, and Audience choice (though this was not Super Pole Riders, it was for games sold within SportsFriends.

 

Read a review

Sportsfriends is praised by IGN for its flexibility in catering to partygoers and in-depth gamers alike. A low barrier to entry is set with simple controls and clear goals. For example, Super Pole Riders displays a glowing ball and two opposite targets. With simple, intuitive controls like jump and swing, anyone can pick up a controller and try a match or two.

Yet, as the two of us played multiple rounds, we began to discover the idiosyncrasies of gameplay. Letting go of your swing earlier gives you a higher jump. The angle of your mid-air orientation can send the ball farther. The pole can not only be used for swinging, but for blocking, too. I can’t help but agree with IGN when they note “once you master using your pole … there’s plenty of freedom to playfully troll your friends.”

 

What worked what didn’t?

What worked for us was the simplicity and hidden tricks of the game. Sure, there were no AIs or high scores or new levels or character unlocking. But, there was a learning curve to climb which intrigued us enough to bounce around between games and continue to learn new tricks along the way. Additionally, the play on sound was a positive touch to the user experience, where music would start and stop as the player went mobile or stalled. This way, your movement added to the intensity of the match.

However, what did not work for us was the lack of replayability. Though there were new skills to learn and sharpen, scoring occurred as often as it does in soccer. And with games lasting up to five minutes, of the same mechanics relentlessly repeated over and over again, the pole vaulting became tiresome.

IMG_9930

Jake Bittner & Giada Sun

Homeplay – Ultimate Chicken Horse

“Ultimate Chicken Horse is a party platformer game where you build the level as you play, placing traps and hazards to screw your friends over, but trying not to screw yourself.”

There is no single player mode for this game, and the developer really want to focus on creating an experience with a group of people. For every level, the players can each place down one optical (ex. blocks, traps, hazards, etc.) on the screen to make it harder for the others to reach the goal which is a red flag somewhere on the screen. A player can only get he.she made it to the flag and yet at least one of his/her friends didn’t.In addition, there is also trap points so that a player that couldn’t reach the goal can still gain points by trigging certain obstacles. However, If no one gets to the goal then none of them can get any point.

The process is then repeated multiple times and every time the players are starting the level gain, they get to build upon what they had for the previous round. Thus the game becomes a lot crazier, harder and more fun with more and more rounds are played.

Key Features

  • Unique game flow: move between crafty level designer and skilled platformer
  • Huge library of blocks to create an infinite variety of levels
    Online Multiplayer
  • Customizable game modes, block options, round options, and more!
  • Sweet funky soundtrack

Classic Competitive Mode

  • Take turns placing blocks in the level and running through it individually, and watch your friends attempt your level before trying it yourself
  • Pick the blocks you want to place from an extensive inventory
  • Best for 2 – 3 players
  • Great for designing levels with a specific plan in mind and for tighter competition

Party Mode

  • A Party Box opens to reveal a random assortment of blocks to use
  • Players pick and place all the blocks at once
  • Everyone runs at the same time for maximum chaos. No collisions between characters… yet
  • Best for 3 – 4 players
  • If two or more players tie, sudden death kicks in and you need to race to the flag, first one there wins!

 

Level design lesson – Reading response by Annie

It is really interesting to see how the author arguers that the idea of giving out rules explicitly with clearly written words is in itself problematic. For me personally, this makes a lot of sense, especially when the game is not in my native language, I have even less motivation to actually read thorough every detail. Thus I never plays anything other than mini games simply because memorizing all the detailed rules is a cumbersome process for me. And sometimes, it is not even that I don’t want to take the time to learn the rules, but the cognitive processing it takes to actually understand the rules before playing takes too much brain power. Moreover, when I actually start playing the game, it is often the case that I still need to go back and refer to the rule book along the way. As a result, most of the time I don’t even bother to look at the rules before I play.

On the other hand though, if a game designer had already thought of the experience that a user like me could have with game rules and thus decide to build a little tutorial into the game itself (like super mario) that would’ve been great. I have to say that it was a supervise for me to see the author to use super mario as the example for a good level design because even though I had played this game many times, I’ve learned the rules so effortlessly that I have never even noticed that. I agree that super mario is an extremely successful game largely because there is almost no learning curve and every rules that the game has just naturally come to the player as he/she is starting the play.

How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days: Matthew’s Opinions

As someone who often has game ideas, tries to execute them, and falls a bit short, this article is right up my alley. It might as well be called “How to Have the Superpower You’ve Always Dreamed of,” and it would pretty much be the same article and I’d have just as much interest. The logic is sound, the creative process is solid, and if it’s been tried and tested by Jesse Schell, then I’d be a fool to disagree with him.

It also gives me peace of mind to see these ETC students come up with games, start to make them, realize they suck, and move on, since whenever I make a game and I start to realize it’s not great, I feel like this is something that only happens to me and that I must salvage it before anyone notices. Their honesty about their failures is appreciated.

I also really responded to the constraints, since that is something I’m used to; if I feel a creative block, I often go to random fill-in-the-blank generators to get ideas, and seeing ETC students do that is very affirming.

sayers_PrototypingReadingResponse

I actually really enjoyed the prototyping reading, mostly because it reinforced and reminded me of some things I should do while prototyping.  In particular, I really liked the part about not just accepting your failures, but loving them.  The idea that you could show off a failure as something that was out there and missed was a good thing to remember.   One thing I hadn’t really thought of for group prototyping was the developing in parallel though.  I think its an awesome idea if the team can do a bit of everything.  I personally love being able to dabble in all parts of game creation, so it really appealed to me.

Homeplay: Overcooked

Overcooked is a 1-4 player co-op game in which you control a team of chefs to collaboratively assemble food in a frantic setting. The single-player campaign seems sad and lonely, so it’s really more of a 2-4 player game.

In my play-through of it, I played it with my friend Clelia from start to the end of World 3. The control system was very intuitive and easy to grasp, and the game itself is easy to understand and begin to play. The challenge and the fun in it is the deluge of tasks that you have to work together to have any hope of fulfilling in time. The mechanics that really worked for us were the adrenaline/stress of having to jump around and continually organise ourselves spatially. The surprising number of interactions and ways to cook/organise in the game were enjoyable too and it didn’t feel like there were artificial barriers to increase difficulty or create stress — apart from the levels. From the start the co-op experience is extremely fun, high-strung and stress-filled. It keeps you filled with adrenaline but is really well punctuated by relief at having completed a level. The levels mostly lend themselves well to quickly thought up strategy expressed through swearing and shouting and are fun to play, even if you end up doing terrible on the first run.

Some of the levels had gimmicky design that I felt more as a random annoyance or busywork taking me out of stress-fun-zone than being a natural ramping up of difficulty. However, Clelia feels that she “enjoyed the levels that [I felt were more gimmicky], although they might not stand up to repeated playthroughs”, but also that “the logic of the game is less visible when there are those barriers, which can turn the fun spatial movement into just running around for no reason”.  We also liked the first level being a tutorial without it actually saying THIS IS THE TUTORIAL.

I didn’t really get the scoring and it seemed to vary somewhat arbitrarily over the levels. Overall (neglecting the scoring), the difficulty of the levels seemed to be well set — e.g, it’s mostly possible to scrape or come just below a 1 star (the amount needed to pass a level) on the first try, on the subsequent tries if you plan and strategise during the inter-level wait it’s easily possible to do far better and get a 2 star, and to get the best rating requires practice and high-strung organisation to not make a single mistake.

Overall the co-op experience was really, really fun and energetic, and the difficulty and core mechanics of the game are well thought out. The graphics are very cute and the interactions are really well fleshed out, and there’s a ton of visual and gameplay variety to the levels (sans the gimmicks). The single-player seemed kinda boring from the very little I played of it, and some of the levels seem to have annoying mechanics that feel like artificial difficulty barriers rather than well thought out design, but the rest of the game-play still makes up for it.

Here is a video of someone else playing it:

Context & Reception

The developers are British, but there isn’t really a way to tell that from the game. The publishers are the same ones as the Worms series, so it’s really good to see that someone is keeping the local couch co-op torch lit. The critical reception seems overwhelming positive for the co-op aspect of it, and most people seem to enjoy the levels and the gimmicky aspects of some of them. The single-player seems mostly panned, and the developers themselves say that the first and foremost wanted to make a co-op game. It’s really sad that games having local co-op are rare now.

Homeplay – Push Me Pull You

 

Gameplay:

  • Weird fleshy naked body horror, but in a cute way
  • local multiplayer game for 2-4 people, separated into 2 teams
  • Each team controls a two-headed catdog like human and can determine when to stretch and shrink the body
  • There are different modes with different numbers of balls, but the general goal is to keep the ball on your teams half of the ring for as long and as continuous as you can

Authors:

House House

An Australian game company made up of four friends: Jacob Strasser, Stuart Gillespie-Cook, Micheal McMaster (art and visual design), and Nico Disseldorp. A hip artsy bunch.

Context:

Dr. Doolittle’s pushmi-pullyu

Development:

Originally planned for release in 2014 and was exhibited at GDC 2014 and Play Station Experience 2015 before it was announced for the PlayStation 4 in November of 2015. It was released for PS4 in May 2016 and computers in July 2016.

Design concerns came up with issues of the tendency to identify characters/teams by their race since they’re so naked and fleshy. These were addressed by emphasizing team colors as opposed to skin tones in various UI elements with easily distinguishable colors and more ambiguous skin tones. More can be read about the design process here.

Reception:

Reviews are overall positive with an 8/10 on Steam and with critics giving it high marks for its strangeness, quickness to pick up, and fast pace. It’s a fun game to be played with a group of people every once in a while, but it’ll get old after a couple days.

Homeplay – Ultimate Chicken Horse

Ultimate Chicken Horse is a multiplayer platformer that combines Chicken (a game where players confront death by pushing their limits beyond their fellow players) and Horse (a game in which a player must win 5 rounds to win the entire game) into a fun, light-hearted experience.

Users play as like-able animal characters and have one goal in mind – making it to the flag. Players who reach the flag earn a point, while the others die in the process. Each player takes a turn adding a new piece to the level before they’re given a chance to run through it. If everyone reaches the flag, no one gains points. It within in everyone’s best interest that they make the level challenging, but still possible. The pieces the players are able to place range in complexity, from simple wooden platforms to flaming tennis ball shooters, and allow for the development of crazy, Rube Goldberg Machines.

The game was created by Clever Endevour Games, a studio from Montreal, Canada, and was presented to the Steam community as a kick-starter in April of 2015. The game initially had a single player mode, however, after it’s first release, the multiplayer and party mode became so popular that the studio decided to focus all its efforts on making the multiplayer experience the best it could possible be.

Regarding it’s reception, Ultimate Chicken Horse stands out against other platforming games for it’s unique turn-based system, in which the players decide the level-design and how they want to go about experiencing the game. The gaming community, and especially the Steam Community, praise the game’s ability to bring people together for competition, while still maintaining a fun, jovial atmosphere. Critics say the game still has room for improvement and would be better if players were given a wider range of items to place on the map and if the item-placing system was friendlier to new players.

Review by the escapist

Reading Response – prototypes

I found this article/blog post relevant to more than just games, but to creative practices as a whole. Forcing yourself to regularly crank out creative ideas is a good way to flex your creativity muscles but it’s hard and exhausting by the end. It’s obvious that one of the points of making things quick and frequent is that they don’t all have to be good, but embracing the possibility of failure is hard especially when you know if things start to go south, you have to kill the baby and start over. I want to be attached to my work because then it feels more meaningful but making everything deep and meaningful is also a hard thing to do.

I really felt the brainstorming point they made because whenever I try to sit down and come up with an idea early on in the timeline of a project I’m always stumped. I always want a great big and meaningful thing but coming up with big and meaningful ideas on the spot is near impossible for me. Sadly, like these boys, it usually takes the pressure of an approaching deadline to get my butt in gear and start making things, even if I’m not super attached to them.

Andrew Chang – to the right, hold on tight!

After reading this, I tried to think of successful games that had complex game mechanics but also a tutorial level with good level design that supported gameplay without throwing an overbearing button tutorial. I have two that come to mind (however they’re similar in some ways): Uncharted 4 and Metal Gear Solid V. I’ll do a very brief summary/explanation of both of the games’ intro levels to show how even complex games can benefit from keeping in mind the level design techniques that Anna Anthropy wrote about.

Uncharted 4:
Boat chase scene -> left analog stick controls movement, right analog stick controls camera. Vehicles can accelerate with right trigger.
Knocked off the boat -> X to ascend when under water. Swimming just like moving otherwise.
Back on boat but on foot -> Moving with legs still like moving in all other ways. O to take cover, and learn how to shoot and use cover.
Cut to Flashback when Nathan was a kid -> teaching, in order, climbing over obstacles, onto obstacles, slippery surfaces, sneaking.

Movement is very important in this game, and so it is reinforced in three ways (narratively and in gameplay): in a vehicle, in water, and on foot. All three control similarly and make clear the method in which players move (left and right analog sticks). Its cover system is important for combat and stealth and so there are multiple instances where this occurs. Traversing the environment, having taught the player the fundamentals of movement and cover, takes it to its final control tutorial: climbing and navigating difficult terrain. Having built the players confidence in moving, crouching, and using cover, the terrain navigation comes very naturally.

MGSV:
Crippled and weak in hospital -> extremely limited movement, left stick to move, right to look.
Some strength returns but some wild stuff happens-> now in crouch position
Threats appear, shooting innocents-> how to go prone, how to hide in environment
Route cut off and you’re discovered-> how to run, and when to run
More sneaking but with enemy movement -> enemies move, you must adapt your sneak accordingly
Injured-> how to fix injury, getting hurt can cripple you
Oh man, so many things but uhhh you have a gun now! Also the room is on fire please shoot the fire extinguisher -> how to shoot, you can affect the environment in interesting ways
Some enemies blocking a corridor -> can shoot and kill enemies, also you can switch guns but only carry two
Oh my god jesus so many things -> how to do a quick dive. Right before this is a large room with multiple threats. You have a silenced gun and a loud one, and the game lets you decide how you approach this encounter.
A flaming whale just swallowed a helicopter what -> this game is wild.

MGSV is a game primarily about sneaking and the game slowly teaches you how to traverse its environment without alerting enemies. You also learn that you can approach situations with a variety of methods. Also this game is crazy.

Both of these games are unlike Mario in the way that they have way more controls and many more ways to interact with the environment, however even with their complexity, good tutorial levels can be designed that teach the player how to play and aren’t obvious about it, levels that reinforce its gameplay slowly but persistently with carefully crafted encounters and environments designed to test the player a little bit more every time.

Reading Response – How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days (Bryan)

This is a very useful reading in my opinion. Last year’s game jam I did for the GDPPP class was one of my favorite experiences at CMU in general and solidified my interest in game design, and this article spells out how to capture that sort of creative space again. Looking forward to incorporating these tips into my design process.

Homeplay – Glitch Tank

Adela, Andrew, Ari

Glitch Tank: Gameplay

Authors

Michael Brough

Smestorp (personal website)

Glitch Tank (presskit)

 

Context

Released 22 December, 2011. The developer treats himself as an artist. Makes esoteric, glitchy little games with self-generated problems/constraints.

 

Development

Digital board game with randomized actions cards, and constraints

Inspirations: Shot Shot Shoot, RoboRally, Exuberant Struggle

For the iPad originally (?) Can be played on iOS, Android

 

Glitch Tank was developed as part of Kompendium, an album of small 2-player games (and is available for free on PC and Mac as part of that). But it turned out to be a much better fit for a touch-screen, so it was developed into a standalone game adding AI, different modes, and a variety of rare events and map features.” (Glitch Tank: Presskit)

 

Gameplay

IMG_6004 IMG_6006 IMG_6007

Modes: Real time or turn-based

2 players, or VS AI.

Somewhat randomly generated color scheme: confusing for your player/actions

Honestly everything is confusing for the first couple of tries. The game barely explains itself (it has a help page but it’s not very informative nor readable) however it speaks through gameplay.

Both players have access to four moves which are given randomly. Using a move replaces it with a new random move.

 

There is one rare move which allows a player to move two additional times.

There is one super rare move which allows a player to rotate the entire playing field 180 deg.

 

The most noteworthy move that you can be given allows you to spawn a mini tank. All mini tanks are affected by your moves the same way the main tank is. A mini tank can also spawn more mini tanks.

Getting the minitank move early is very strong, especially in real time.

In real time, if too much button mashing is being done, the tanks overheat. The developer is open to player suggestions about changing the occurrence of this.

 

5906 ERTH@$^U(DF_B)BI)$KP feature ???

 

Reception

10/10, however it was only downloaded 100-500 times on all platforms. It has 5.0 stars on the iTunes app store and 16 ratings across all versions.

Homeplay – Overcooked (Bryan)

Description

Overcooked is a “couch co-op” game in which players must work together to prepare meals as efficiently as possible in a variety of wacky and challenging kitchen environments. Gameplay is easy to understand, but mastering the challenges of the unconventional kitchens and maintaining efficiency is often a daunting task that requires lots of player communication and repeated playthroughs of levels.

This game is actually one of my personal favorites to bring to parties. It’s hectic and elicits a lot of frantic yelling, but it’s always a really fun time and players are usually very keen to give a level another try. Getting a 3-star rating is a very satisfying experience, and it keeps players focused on improving, communicating, and doing their best to become a well-oiled cooperative cooking machine. I highly recommend this game for anyone who is looking for a fun challenge with friends.

Development

Overcooked was developed by Phil Duncan and Oli De-Vine. It was the first title the two developed after forming their own company, Ghost Town Games. The game was initially developed with the idea of cooperative gameplay as a focal point rather than an afterthought, as they felt most games prioritized single-player experiences. The game was taken to many gaming festivals and conventions to gather player feedback, and it gained a lot of attention after Team17 offered to help publish the game and flew the pair out to E3 2016 to show it off. After release, the team worked on DLC that was later included in the retail package.

Reception

Overcooked has received generally positive reviews. Many reviewers have praised it for its dynamic, frantically fun take on couch co-op.

Reading response

The article that stood out the most was “How to Prototype in Under 7 Days” for its relevancy, relatability and creative insight. I like the idea of forcing yourself to finish in 7 days- i too can see how sometimes extending a deadline doesn’t exactly mean more quality in the final product.

Also I identify with the “more restrictions means more creativity” i feel like i need some kind of a basis, starting point, constraint or something to improve on to fuel my creativity. I’m not good at coming up with something completely from scratch with nothing to go off of.

Homeplay – Crawl

Crawl is an asymmetric rogue like local multiplayer game where 1 player controls the humanoid while others play as ghosts that can incarnate into monsters and traps.

I find the concept of monsters becoming the hero after murdering the hero interesting. It reminds me of Chinese folklores where monsters and animal spirits always have the assumption that human life is the best life, and regard the attainment of human form as their ultimate goal. It is also the reverse of the concept of the hero becoming the monster after defeating the monster, which might also be an interesting theme for a game.

The gameplay is overall fun, and I think the responsiveness contributes to the experience the most. All the visual elements are overreacting to the players’ tiniest commands, which feels morbidly satisfying. I think this is the same kind of “juiciness” one of the readings mentioned.

However I also found the display quite confusing at first, with everything moving around in different directions and I didn’t even know which thing I am. Since everything is pixelated and moving at high speed, I imagine the game will be very confusing for those who don’t play video games a lot.

I think asymmetry is an important element in the game. As the hero you just need to dash at and cut everything that moves. As the monster or trap you’re usually severely handicapped, attacking using some obscure vomit that never manages to hit. While all the monsters are sort of collaborating to kill the hero, they’re also sort of trying to betray each other by stealing the killing blow. When I’m playing other games, I often try to think in the AI enemies’ shoes about how their lives must have sucked. Crawl gave me the chance to actually experience it.

The game seems to be well-received by its audience, with “overwhelmingly positive” reviews on steam. However, I think that for local multiplayer games, players are playing each other as much as they’re playing the game. In other words, the game is merely a platform, a tool for friends to play each other. And thus the love of the game is partially a transference of people’s love of playing with other people.

Readings Repsonse: Play (Avi)

How to prototype a game in under 7 days by Kyle Gray, Kyle Gabler, Shalin Shodhan, Matt Kucic

First of all, I had no idea that Tower of Goo was CMU/ETC project! I definitely remember playing that back in the day. Overall I think the advice here seems pretty solid. Some of it is familiar to me, especially the “creativity needs constraints” bit, which happens all the time in this class as well as other art/design classes I’ve taken and am taking (for example, Acting for Non-Majors).

One major class of advice seems to be about productivity, and debunking some myths around team dynamics. I definitely agree with the point about “2x the time doesn’t mean 2x the quality”, that’s sort of like the Mythical Man Month concept from the software engineering world. Similarly, the process of gathering concept art reminds me of a mood board.

I strongly resonated with the “nobody knows or cares how you made it” and “forget great engineering” notions — that’s something I’ve seen first hand (and subsequently evangelized at hackathons over and over). As someone who’s programmed professionally for a while, it’s often hard to let the temptation to optimize (prematurely) go.

Finally, the “make it juicy” bit reminded me of this awesome talk (recorded with poor quality, unfortunately) from a game design conference: