The Pitch

On Wednesday I drove down to The Mix to pitch my game idea to them. I was pitching to Suzanne, Ryan, Lucy and Tom. It went fairly smoothly, there was some moments of nervousness but it actually went better than expected. I began by telling them what I had researched, specifically the target market, what games they like playing, what about them that makes them so popular and what I believed was possible to make in the time frame we have centring around puzzles and a pick up and play design.

“Master the shape in this shape shooting mayhem”. Not the best logline but it got a warm response. ‘Shape The Mix’ which I didn’t think was too bad for a working title. I took on a point to say that it could be used as statement to say ‘help shape The Mix‘ something which would encourage them to find out who or what The Mix is. I then went on to the specifics starting with the goal and leading on to what the player will first understand and the fundamental rules of the game system being the player input, how the cannon works, how X’s are placed, and how the player knows what shape to make. I spoke about the key features which consisted of the mechanics and how those mechanics emanate choices.

I had prepared a Non-digital version of the game which I invited them to play. Ryan kindly accepted and we started playing. Tom put some 8-bit tunes on in the background which gave it a superb atmosphere. We were playing the game with just its core mechanic so that everyone could get a feel for the game and the dynamics. We used pieces of Lego for the colours which was very effective.

Everyone loved the idea which was fantastic to hear and it all just worked really well. Afterwards we sat down and discussed details on how together we can make this game. What feedback is needed and how everyone can help. We left with a clear and positive understanding of what we need to do. For the first stage they are going to be looking into creating mood boards, defining the art style and colour schemes whilst also seeing if anyone else could be interested in some of the animation. For the next two weeks I will be doing further research into how best to display information on a mobile, creating a design document and a formal proposal along with a timeline so that we all hold a clearer vision.


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Non-Digital Playtesting

I wanted to get a feel for how the game plays and what decisions the player would be making and also to see whether Dave was right to be concerned over whether eventually the player wont be able to recover from having too many X’s on the screen.

I wanted to test the core mechanic. Swiping the target shape. I ripped up a bit of paper into 40 peices. These were the colour X’s, 10 for each colour. I ripped up some more paper, these were the target shapes, there were 3 types. I also made the board, I’m starting with a grid 5×7.

The game was simple. The player is presented with a colour and the current shape to make along with next shape. The player has to lay down a colour closest it can be to the top without being on top of another colour. After which the player is given another random colour to lay down and they have to try to make the shape with the same colours. When they make a shape the colours would be removed and all the other colours below would move up into an available space.image1

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When play testing I soon realised there was a much more prominent mechanic inside than I had originally anticipated. Sorting the colours into different columns was the main thinking process the player was going through. “Sorting is the pleasure of matching” (Trefry, G., p.102). The player had focused on a particular colour they were doing well on and were close to making the shape so all the other colours were being sorted into the other columns. 2 columns out of the 5 were being used to get the current shape and the rest were being used to sort, usually another 2 columns were for one other colour and then 2 colours had to share a column. This proves the player has the ability to create a strategy, and is helped by the fact you can see the next shape that will need to be made which gives purpose to why they are doing it. “Sorting makes for natural casual game play because it doesn’t require the player to develop a new skill. Rather it leverages mental skills the player already possesses.” (Trefry, G., p.101). The player is not required to do this, they are just acting upon information and they do not need to learn anything new.

I also found that there was great reward when the player wasn’t doing so great and building up quite a few colours when suddenly they managed to make the shape they were after, and then being able to make another shape that was already there. Makes for a nice negative feedback loop.

Another thing that I wanted to play test was fail states. I need to know whether its enough to make the player lose below a certain level or by a timer. I timed each shape and it became clear that it was very inconsistent and that was partly to do with having the shape already there after swiping the one before. It was ranging between 8 seconds and 40 seconds so this idea will be ditched so I can focus on the X’s getting below a certain level and getting the balance right.

Another idea was also to only match a shape to the specific orientation but it became clear that it would be much too difficult to achieve and would span over to the minutes for any one shape which would be much too long to keep the attention of a 11-19 year old.

The core game play in this non-digital version was matching and sorting. However there are many other variables that haven’t been included, such as aiming the cannon, and positioning it ready for when one fires out as well as jumping from this to actually swiping the shape which will take time, so the player need to be aware of the angle of the cannon before going to swipe a shape.

The conclusions I pulled from this was that the game was fast flowing (as long as I could give the player a new colour quick enough) and generally had a positive play experience. The matching mechanic had brought out a new level of decision making, that being where to place the un-needed colours. The grid size seemed to work perfectly. 5 columns worked really well with 4 colours and shapes that spanned over 2 columns. There is much play testing still to do and my aim is to get a prototype working as soon as possible with aiming and shooting so that I can get young people to provide me with vital feedback.

Trefry, G. (2010) Casual Game Design: Designing Play for the Gamer in ALL of Us, : IGDA Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.

Game Feedback

After finalising the core mechanics of the game I set up a meeting with the lectures to get their opinion.

The idea is to create the target shape by positioning X’s of the same colour and swiping them all. The X is a key part of The Mix’s logo and branding and I thought it would be a good idea to use this as a component in the game.

However one of the points that Dave made was that it didn’t look or feel right connecting these shapes together. Although I don’t want to lose this he gave me ideas to make it clearer such as having a small lightly opaque circle in the middle of the X to make it more obvious to the player what part to connect. I also need to make sure that when I show what shape to make on the right of the screen, its in the same dimension ratio as the others. For example I cant show a single straight line shape using 3 X’s horizontally underneath a square shape that only needs 2 X’s. I would need to display it vertically.

One of the main points he said was the mechanics could inevitably doom the player. Suggesting that it could become impossible to swipe the shape needed because of how unlucky the colours were coming out and the player would have to put them in places they don’t want to just to avoid them touching the bottom. This will require vigorous play testing to find out. There are ways to avoid this such as reducing the amount of colours or coding clever ways in the probability that one colour will come out more likely than another. One of the things he suggested was having something like a bomb that would help clear the board. I really like this idea, it could be used as a reward after so many shapes made, and would give some tension and release on moments of struggle keeping above the line.

I mentioned an idea how the player can flick their finger to be able to shoot out an X quicker than what it would be doing normally however similar to the particle beam rifle in Halo it would be unable to perform rapid shots in quick succession but instead of it over heating the cannon would jerk both ways firing out an X at a random angle. I think this would give a good moment of uncertainty and is where I want the player to keep a rhythm with a rate of fire. However Dave asked why would I want to punish the player like that for. I see his point, I’ve given the player an option to shoot more frequently so why am I punishing the player for it. This is something I will need to certainly iterate. I do really like this idea because it enables the player to play at their own speed and I could implement points and create massively rewarding multipliers for shapes being made within 5 seconds of each other. I can also add cannon upgrades by shortening the time gaps between the rate of fire.

I spoke to Rob and we discussed the mechanics in detail. He was generally pleased with the idea and that it was utilising the mechanics we’d learned last year. Its also simple and doable to a polished standard. Its a bit like reverse Tetris, instead of placing the shape down your trying to remove the shape. He also said it was a very good idea to use something like a bomb so that parts of board can get reset if needed and would extend the playing time and increases the chance of re-playability. What I now need to focus on is the core mechanic which is swiping X’s to make the shape.

I had a word with Chris about how difficult making the game would be. Everything like shooting the X, aiming the cannon, deflecting the X off the walls, randomly generating the next colour and next shape would be fairly simple. The trickiest parts are the shape recognition, snapping the X to the closest position and what happens next after swiping the shapes, all the others would need to move up.

When I start prototyping the game the first thing I will be doing is snapping the X to a position and then being able to recognise the shape being drawn. Chris said a set of rules will need to be made for each shape, the problem being is I think there would be 4 ways of drawing each shape. For example to draw a square you would start at one and would move Up, Down, Left or Right to begin. To give you an example of a square it would be Up, Left, Down and Right. For an L shape, it could be Left, Up, Up or Down, right, right or Even down left left. To make all this work it would require where the first position was and the next position and making sure they are of the same colour and the direction between them.

This is definitely what I will be working on in the next two weeks.

The Game Idea

After a good 2 months of trying to come up with a game idea with no luck I finally made a break through. I’ve been able to think about it for just over a week jotting down quick notes and possible features as I go which has really helped with ideas and creating a mental image in my head of the type of interaction the player will have in the game.

Coming up with a game idea was fairly difficult because i set myself certain criteria such as appealing to the target audience and picking a genre that is appealing to both male and female whilst also thinking about mechanics and how it will work with gestures that are easy to learn and enjoyable. All this creating a rounded experience that is in theme with The Mix. I wanted to make a puzzle game that included elements of action and rhythm, I thought a combination of this would be quite unique.

The game that has influenced me the most has been Dots. Its a wonderful little game connecting dots to dots with the same color by swiping your finger to them. Its simple and works well.

I liked the idea of swiping something to something else, its simple and it works really well with puzzle games. I also wanted to have a bit of action, something which the player has to do before completing a puzzle.

The Goal 

The goal is to swipe as many shapes as you can by shooting X’s out of a cannon and aiming the same colors next to each other. 

  • The cannon is positioned at the bottom of the screen and fires X’s at a consistent rate to the top.
    • They can deflect off the sides.
  • Player can aim by panning around the area where the cannon is.
  • Player can decide to shoot more frequently by flicking their finger up, this also would control the aiming.
  • The shape to make is told on the right of the screen.
  • The player needs to position the same colour X’s to swipe the shape.
    • To make a square you would need to position the same coloured X’s by 2×2 then swipe all four of them.

IMG_2170infoThe key features at this point are:

  • Puzzle – Matching same colored X’s to swipe the shape
  • Action – Aiming the turret
  • Rhythm/Action – Flicking to shoot quicker.
  • Strategy – Knowledge of the next shape to make and next color coming out. This will help the player plan ahead.

At the moment I am torn between 2 fail conditions. The obvious one being having two many X’s and they get below a certain level and the game ends, but i also like the idea of being timed, so you have say, 20 seconds to make this shape. The only way to test this is by play testing it so making a non-digital version is the next step i’ll be taking.

Mobile Gestures

In this post I’m going to be taking a look at different gestures and how they are used.

“If game controls are not intuitive and easy to learn, or don’t respond promptly to players’ actions, players won’t enjoy playing that game and it wont sell much” (Scolastici, C., p.206). This is absolutely critical that the controls are intuitive and respond promptly. I’ve come across this in another game I’m working on that requires the player to flip tiles with a swipe of a finger. The first mock-up I coded had poor results, there was a significant time delay along with occasionally outputting wrong swipe directions. If there is any lag or miss-interpretation of an action it will be very frustrating for the player especially on challenging moments, if something goes wrong and the player fails you do not want them to start blaming your game system because they’ll simply stop playing.

The touchscreen is the natural evolution of the icon-based operating system and there are many gestures that can be executed with this form of input both singular and multi-touch. Most people have a common understanding of what should happen which is important to bear in mind so I don’t demand the player to perform a gesture that doesn’t feel natural to them.

Single Tap – used to select items, launch applications and to allow the user to start typing text

Double- Tap – used to highlight a word or focusing in on something

Long press – used to select and move items

Scroll – a simple swipe down allows the phone to display unseen content such as on websites

Spread and Pinch – spread being when you apply your thumb and forefinger and move them apart, pinch is the opposite. These two are used to zoom in and out perfect for maps

Pan – similar action to the long press. Apply one finger and move in any direction. Its used when an interactive area is larger than the screen such as playing a strategic or management game

Flick – used in most physics games, its when you move you finger across the screen rapidly

There are also multi-touch gestures.

Multi Finger Scroll – swiping up and down but with more than one screen.

Rotate  – this works by placing your thumb and one or more fingers and moving our fingers around your thumb.

A lot of the terminology is slightly different depending on the operating system used but all have the same functionality.

An article by Becky Torbochkin talks about what things to consider when using a particular gesture.

Timing – “How long is the difference between a drag and flick? How long does a tap last before it becomes a tap and hold?” The best thing to do is play test it early on to figure out the best usability.

How is the device held– Using multi- gestures with only one hand is fairly impossible. How many different ways can your device be held while playing? “How much you consider this and design for it directly impacts how easily people can play your game. And that impacts how often they will play it.” (Torbochkin, B., 2013).

Intuitiveness & Discoverability– How will the player learn the gesture? How common the gesture is with the type of situation.

Don’t get addicted– Its easy to keep adding and adding new gestures into the game but its important to analyse each effect it has, making sure with all of them that they are not difficult or hard to remember.

I think to begin with the number of gestures I want to include will be 2. It keeps it simple and restrains the ability to add too many mechanics at the beginning but also gives some diversity in what the player is doing. From the questionnaire I got young people to fill out, most people found rotating and dragging fairly difficult but most enjoyed tapping and swiping/slicing. Its worth noting this as i don’t want to include a mechanic that uses a difficult gesture that’s awkward to use. It needs to be pleasurable.

Scolastici, C. and Nolte, D. (2013) Mobile Game Design Essentials, Birmingham: Packt Publishing Ltd.

Torbochkin, B. (2013) Using Gestures in Mobile Game Design, Available at:http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/BeckyTorbochkin/20131118/205079/Using_Gestures_in_Mobile_Game_Design.php(Accessed: 22nd October 2014).

Wroblewski, L,. (2010) Touch Gesture Reference Guide, Available at:http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1071 (Accessed: 22nd October 2014).

Marking Criteria

After some time thinking about what I actually want to be assessed on, I’ve come up with a list of things that I think gives a good indicator on what direction I’m trying to head towards.

My dissertation idea focuses mainly on developing a game for Mobile so a lot of my effort will go towards the design and the purpose its build for, carefully identifying who will be playing it.

Here is a list of marking criteria.

Design:

  • How well the game matches the target audience.
    • Using research to identify what has traditionally sold to the target demographic.
    • What gestures they like performing.
    • Mechanics they like playing and feeding all that into my design.
  • How enjoyable the game is that takes into consideration of it being a simple game with a few but refined mechanics.
  • Refining the controls so that they are easy to use and creates a fun action for the target audience to play with.
  • How the overall feel resembles The Mix.
  • How the game encourages to join or find out more about The Mix whilst creating a positive feeling towards the organisation.

Code:

  • How I’ve made the code easy to read using indentations and comments for another person to understand.
  • How I’ve used important techniques and limitations in code to keep the game running smoothly.
  • Creating a form to capture the users information that they fill in and be sent off to the right place for The Mix to use.

Communication:

  • Working in collaboration with The Mix being open about design choices.
  • How well I communicate with everyone and explaining tasks that may be undertaken by them.
    • Providing help where needed.

Game Mechanics and Mobile

Like all games, mobile games follow the basic MDA framework. The key components being Rules, Challenge and Interaction. The big difference between PC,Console and mobile are the input that the player makes and amount of depth in the design targeting either hardcore or casual gamers.

In this post I’m going to mention a few games and analyse why they’re so successful.

A lot of the most successful mobile games have taken advantage of this new touch control system and applied certain mechanics to them, physics being one of them. Angry Birds is an example and is all about ballistics, making the player calculate the angle and velocity needed to hit the target with limited visibility. “People are, as it happens, either very good at doing this or, given practice, improve very rapidly” (Jainschigg, J., 2012). Its a social game and the fundamental part being its easy-to-learn “that doesn’t require a large amount of time to play” (Mitchell, B.L., 2012). Games like this tap into our knowledge of the world around us, such as gravity which helps make them so easy to learn. A lot of the mechanics in the game are continuous meaning that there can be maximum accuracy allowing for any gradual transitions and high precision for the player to master. It also mixes these physical mechanics with strategic game play. “The strategy in Angry Birds involves those aspects of the game that are governed by discrete rules” (Ernst, A., p.12). Before applying any actions the player is making decisions such as which bird to use and looking for weak spots within the structure. This is something which I need to highlight when it comes to designing my game, making sure the player is formulating a plan, making decisions that are relevant and will effect the outcome.

Cut the rope is also another game that uses physics. The player needs to predict the pendulum motion and mixes it with twitch mechanics to slice the rope at the correct time. Its another easy-to-learn game and again is another thing that people do well or can train up quickly on. Candy crush has been a very popular game with over 42 million Facebook users who play it. The core mechanic is matching but there is more to it than that. I’ve been reading a post by Yu-Kai Chou who says the game has all of the 8 core drives of the game-design framework Octalysis built in to its mechanics which is what makes the game so addictive.

  1. Epic Meaning and Calling – Beginners luck, Destiny Child and other game techniques that make the player feel that they are highly skilled when you first play.
  2. Development and Accomplishment – tons of rewards, clear indication of progression and how to continue. Hints every 10 seconds so players don’t get stuck and pace is restored.
  3. Empowerment or Creativity and Feedback – Every game is different and allows the player to be creative with combinations. Sensory words after a cascade of matches lets the player know their doing well.
  4. Ownership and Possession – the use of virtual goods such as charms and boosters.
  5. Social Influence and Relatedness – Uses ways to get the player interacted with friends. Facebook invites.
  6. Scarcity and Impatience – Having to wait for more lives.
  7. Curiosity and Unpredictability – Candies are arranged in random order. Don’t know what special candies they’ll get.
  8. Loss and Avoidance – social embarrassment for being stuck on a particular level. “Last Mile Drive”, easy to progress through and player will feel like they’ve invested too much time to quit.

If I take these 8 core drives and implement them into a game that I will be creating I will stand a much better chance for players to stay motivated and relish every moment of playing. What I’ll need to look at next is how mechanics used on mobile games have worked with gestures and Inputs of the user.

Chou, Y. (2013) Game Mechanics Research: What Makes Candy Crush so Addicting?,Available at: http://www.yukaichou.com/gamification-study/game-mechanics-research-candy-crush-addicting/#.VEEAMtTF_Zg (Accessed: 17th October 2014).

Ernst, A., Dormans, J. (2012) Game mechanics : advanced game design, Berkeley: New Riders.

Jainschigg, J. (2012) Game Mechanics: What are some innovative game mechanics used in mobile games?, Available at: http://www.quora.com/Game-Mechanics-What-are-some-innovative-game-mechanics-used-in-mobile-games (Accessed: 17th October 2014).

Mitchell, B.L. (2012) Game Design Essentials, Indianapolis, Indiana: John Wiley & Sons.