Archive for the 'Platform' Category

Reality Gap

It is a key element of game design to define how best to imerse the player’s experience in the game world. The best interfaces dissapear as the player feels they are just interacting with the game environment. This enables the player to suspend their disbeleif and become emersed in the game.

A willing suspension of disbelief that accompanies a first-person simulation enables the person who participates to feel what it would be like to have greater personal power. – Brena Laurel

This obviously has echoes of the interface that Nintendo are trying to achieve with the wii. How often have we heard about the key turning moment in Metroid, that felt so solid and emersive.

Merely opening doors requires such a wide range of interactions it’s practically thrilling…It feels great. Exactly like opening a door!

It’s almost as if Nintendo have Laurel on staff, as their design echoes her desire to reach my hands right through the screen and do what I want to do.

dsgap1.gifThere is an interesting case we can discuss in relation to user interface in the recent Yoshi’s Island DS. A key aspect of the game is the ability to throw Yoshi’s eggs across the two screens of the DS. The designers have obviously looked at Yoshi Touch and Go on the DS which had a similar play-mechanic. However they have decided to present this interaction differnetly.

Yoshi Touch and Go - No gap.In Yoshi Touch and Go the space between the two screens on the DS did not exist in the game world. This had the benefit of eliminating any dead space that could not be seen bewteen the two screens. However it made it notoriously hard to fire an egg across the screens. You effectively needed to aim a little higher than it appeared to land the shot.

yoshi2.gifyoshi3.gifIn Yoshi’s Island DS the space between the two screens on the DS is preserved. Although this does mean there is some play area that cannot be seen by the player, you can aim an egg normally.

For me this delivers a much more imersive experience, as I am not jarred out of the game world to make my egg go where i tell it. This far outweighs the dead space between screens, as I can still see this space by looking up or down within the game. As put much more concisley by Howard Rheingold:

That part of a computer game that makes the user step outside the game world, that doesn’t help the user to participate in the pleasure of the game, but acts as a tool for talking to the program — that’s where distance comes in.

This approach has now been proven with good sales success of Yoshi’s Island DS:

We’re very pleased with the performance of Yoshi’s Island DS. DS is becoming a real showcase for great platform games.

Rainbow Racing

rainbow.gifThis is not an easy cash-in follow up, that would come later with Bubble Memories and Symphony. Rainbow Islands is a full reimagining of its forbears play mechanic with rainbows replacing bubbles.

The game allowed itself a denser and initially more awkward control scheme. Rainbows could be both walked along and broken over enemies, which meant a new player would often struggle just getting around the screen. The experience was not dissimilar to the first few outings with Gran Tourismo, spend pulling unintentional donuts around the track.

gt.gifLike the driving game, with time the simplicity and single minded design of the control mechanism wins out. The player realises that it works this way for a reason, primarily to give them a more open and flexible play experience. After a while many of the familar bubble techniques can be performed with the rainbows and the player can deftly traverse the playfield.

Once this play scheme is proven to be a success Taito have then taken a leaf out of Nintendo’s book and turned their attention to replay-ability. Unseen in the playfield are levels of interaction that, once unearthed, make repeated plays essential to obtain a truely high score.

Bonuses: In addition to bonus items awarded for each kill, the player soon discovers that each level is litterally strewn with hidden items that can be unearthed by dropping rainbows at ground level.

Power-ups: Much like bubble Bobble, there was a whole world of causal pipes delivering a complex hierarchy of power-ups.

Diamonds: The final stroke of genious, playing to the strength of their theme was the ability to collect rainbow coloured diamonds. Moreso once the player realises that the colours awarded can be controlled by a carefully placed kill, and that collecting them in order was the only way to finish the game proper.

These add up to a rich play experience, much as the levels of tuning and driving does in Gran Tourismo. And the genius of it all is that they exist in the background of the play, tempting mini-achievements that can be drawn on at will, but never intrude on the main mechanic of rotund-ex-dragon-hero and his rainbow.

On the Bubble

bubblebobble3.gifThe simplest games can generate complex experiences. So goes the rhetoric behind Halo:

‘find a play mechanic that is enjoyable and then provide a context in which the player has reason to experience this multiple times’

However, long before Halo’s release in 2002, two little dinosaurs were proving the validity of this concept in the fixed screen platform game Bubble Bobble.

The main experience currency of the game was bob and bub’s bubble play. Their main interaction with the game world was by blowing, nundging, jumping on and finally poping bubbles. This simple mechanic enabled them to capture and kill enemies, ride air currents, climb walls and trigger chain reactions. Once understood this made even most basic levels offered interesting space to play and experiment with these moves.

Power-ups: The purity of this dynamic was always repsected even when offering enhancements to these abilities. A limited set of power-ups, much like the restricted weapon set in better modern games, altered the play without breaking it. A yellow sweet meant you could blow more bubbles, a purple sweet mean you could blow them further across the screen and a blue sweet increased their velocity. All the time the focus remained on the action of player and bubble.

Scoring: The scoring system again focused the action back on the player and bubble. Points were awareded for careful popping of multiple enemy bubbles, for jumping on bubbles, for popping bubbles. This meant that even the time between levels became playable, as the players would use different techniques to rack up a few extar points.

Levels: The clean levels, viewed in one screen, quickly became familiar. So much so that strategies could be planned when away from the game ready for the next session. Repeated play also revealed another aspect of these environments, the air currents that could carry your bubbles around. This opened up new possibilities for quick completion by craftly postioned chain of bubbles.

Collectables: In addition to all this, there was then the causal system of collectable items. Your action of dealing with bubbles and enemies triggers a string of power-ups. The realisation that you affect the game on this again makes the detail of how you perform your basic moves all the more important.

halo.gifThe play experience of these two little dinasaurs turns out to be no accident. The joy of a chain reaction, or the perfect bubble jump, or wall climb, or multiplier kill has all been intended from the outset. Evrything that may inhibit this experience has been cleared from its path, while features to enhance and focus the play have been carefully introduced.