Game Mechanic notes

It's like a scrapbook I guess?

4 notes &

Rogue Scratcher, a lotto hack n slash

After my previous post about using gambling gaming mechanics as video game mechanics I decided to challenge myself to see what I could do with lotto scratcher tickets. I decided as a constraint to attempt to make something that could actually be playable as real scratchers for real money and succeeded! The above images show my “design document” as a sample already scratched ticket and then 2 playtests (the first one ended rather abruptly!) using the simple core mechanics and half-size index cards (looove those!). I definitely plan on tweaking the rules and odds a lot. Below is the rudimentary design as used in the playtest.

Design v1 - Ruff prototype

Initial setup -

The scratch area is basically a grid of 4x8 scratch-off “tiles” divided into 3 areas: Monster combat (3x4 pink/orange tiles on the left, divided into 4 columns of 3), Treasure (1x4 green tiles underneath the combat area), Dungeon map (4x4 green tiles on the right).

Basic gameplay -

"Gameplay" consists of "moving" around the dungeon map by scratching off adjacent tiles starting from your STARting spot (the star tile). What happens depends on what tile you scratch off.

  • Empty tile: Empty room, nothing happens.
  • X tile: Non-existant room, can’t go this way.
  • Question mark tile: Scratch off a treasure tile (see tweaks to try at the bottom of this post for how this might go away) to acquire that treasure.
  • Skull tile: Combat with a monster commences, see below.

Treasure -

There are currently 3 types of treasure (may be reduced to 2 by further playtesting):

  • Money (in gold pieces for virtual currency, possibly real money prizes for a physical scratcher)
  • Health potions (lets you survive a failed monster encounter)
  • Exit stairs (represents exiting this dungeon floor to a lower level, may be represented with the real life scratcher by giving you a free ticket of the next level and might also be required to collect prizes)

Dying in combat (losing a monster encounter without a health potion to save you) invalidates all prizes.

Combat -

Combat is a sort of mock rock/paper/scissors represented by 3 rows (Aggressive attack, Defensive attack/Magic) in 4 columns, 1 per monster encounter. When you encounter a monster you choose an attack type and scratch off the tile in that row for the column of the monster (go from left to right, ie first monster encounter is the leftmost column, fourth monster is the rightmost column). If the revealed tile is a checkmark you defeated the monster (and may receive treasure depending on the tweak results mentioned below), if it’s an X then you are defeated and unless you have an unused health potion then you die and all prizes are invalid and the card is now “trash” (feel free to scratch the rest off to see how things could have played out though). For every health potion you have revealed from treasure tiles you can have 1 combat X without dying (ie if you have 2 revealed health potions you can lose 2 combat rounds but would die if you lose a 3rd).

"Winning" the scratcher -

The game is conceptually similar to Roguelike’s and other dungeon hack n slash games where your purpose is to fight monsters, collect treasure and go to ever deeper levels (via the stairs). While nothing is really carried over between cards (ie if you have a health potion revealed keep fighting until you use it on that card) there is a sense of life and permadeath in that getting and using the stairs will give you a free ticket (to continue your adventure) and let you cash in on the prizes won via treasure. The free ticket may be one of a harder “level” if that system is implement, see below.

Ticket “levels” -

Scratcher lotto tickets are often setup to have varying costs, play styles, odds and prize amounts. In a similar vein there can be multiple levels of dungeon tickets, each representing a “deeper” level of the dungeon, with higher cost, worse odds, possibly slightly varied play style and bigger prizes. If the odds and calculations are done correctly then it should be financially feasible to give out a free ticket of a harder level to anyone who successfully escapes down the stairs of a ticket, allowing a sense of progression and increased risk. For example a player may buy a $1 level 1 ticket, then successfully escape down the stairs and receive a free $2 level 2 ticket, escape again for a $3 level 3 ticket but then lose due to the increased “difficulty”. That player would still receive the prizes he acquired at levels 1 and 2 but not level 3.

It’s hard to see in the pictures of me testing but the first playtest I lost on my second tile reveal due to a monster defeating me right away, sucks but thats the nature of lotto and roguelikes! The second time I made it all the way to escape with some treasure to boot! Had to use my health potion to survie and definitely felt the pressure of having already used it so I took my leave while I could!

I feel like roguelikes and scratchers were an interesting fit for how they both put a lot of importance on the “reveal” and the feeling of harsh fate and bum luck! I do think scratchers could benefit from players feeling like they have choices to make (even if they have nothing to base those choices off of, its still fun feeling like it was your fault rather than just dumb luck). Overall this was super fun to design and I look forward to further testing (I will keep these 32 half-index cards in my back pocket and see what other people think too, how easy is that!?).

Tweaks to try for the next prototype test

  • Remove the question mark items, make the treasure instead be rewards for defeating the monsters.
  • Add a stair card to the dungeon tiles instead of making it a treasure card.

0 notes &

Designing for different play styles

Mos Speedrun for iOS does 2 things really interesting: it’s a very minimalistic art and level style, almost a prototype look, and it’s designed to support 3 different kinds of players for every level. It’s the second thing I want to focus on.

Mos Speedrun is essentially a straightforward get to the end of the level platformer and as you can tell by its name, it’s designed around that simplicity to facilitate speed running. Each level has 4 kinds of awards which help you unlock the next level, each of these correspond to a different way to play the level but it’s possible to get all 4 in just 2 plays of each level. I doubt most levels could facilitate getting all 4 at once (you can easily get 3/4 on the first play however) and its this mentality that encourages reply of the level with different styles.

The first award is the simplest and you can’t really get any of the others without inadvertently getting this one, it’s the award for making it to the end of the level. All the other awards require you to make it to the end of the level to collect them but providing it as a separate award at least throws players a bone if they are having trouble with the others.

The next award you’re most likely to get is for collecting all the coins in a level. This supports a mix of a collector mentality as well as explorer, much like the next award. The coins are often placed along the obvious path to the end of the level and encourage thoroughness more than exploration.. This award is usually pretty easy to get and makes for a nice bonus award on a first patient playthru of a level while you learn it’s layout.

The next award, which combines nicely with the coin award is for collecting the “hidden” crystal skull in each level. Sometimes this skull is hidden on the other side of nonblocking walls, other times in a hard to reach vertical spot. This encourages some exploration off the obvious path and may even lead to developing better navigational or maneuvering skill.

Last but not least is the titular award, speedrun time. Each level has a sort of “par” time to beat to get this award which combined with the ghost images of your past runs contributes to the competitive or perfectionist player always looking to shave time and learn new tricks. The first 3 awards can serve as a nice warmup to this one and give you a chance to learn the level as its unlikely you’ll get this on your first run without some crazy luck.

Not all the awards are required to progress, meaning players who don’t enjoy speedrunning but enjoy collecting or exploring can still have a good time with the game. Something I wish more games explored!

I recommend playing it on the iCade for the best experience if you get a chance as that will give you better odds of success and is just that much more fun.

Go download the lite version free and buy it if you like it!

Designing for different play styles

Mos Speedrun for iOS does 2 things really interesting: it’s a very minimalistic art and level style, almost a prototype look, and it’s designed to support 3 different kinds of players for every level. It’s the second thing I want to focus on.

Mos Speedrun is essentially a straightforward get to the end of the level platformer and as you can tell by its name, it’s designed around that simplicity to facilitate speed running. Each level has 4 kinds of awards which help you unlock the next level, each of these correspond to a different way to play the level but it’s possible to get all 4 in just 2 plays of each level. I doubt most levels could facilitate getting all 4 at once (you can easily get 3/4 on the first play however) and its this mentality that encourages reply of the level with different styles.

The first award is the simplest and you can’t really get any of the others without inadvertently getting this one, it’s the award for making it to the end of the level. All the other awards require you to make it to the end of the level to collect them but providing it as a separate award at least throws players a bone if they are having trouble with the others.

The next award you’re most likely to get is for collecting all the coins in a level. This supports a mix of a collector mentality as well as explorer, much like the next award. The coins are often placed along the obvious path to the end of the level and encourage thoroughness more than exploration.. This award is usually pretty easy to get and makes for a nice bonus award on a first patient playthru of a level while you learn it’s layout.

The next award, which combines nicely with the coin award is for collecting the “hidden” crystal skull in each level. Sometimes this skull is hidden on the other side of nonblocking walls, other times in a hard to reach vertical spot. This encourages some exploration off the obvious path and may even lead to developing better navigational or maneuvering skill.

Last but not least is the titular award, speedrun time. Each level has a sort of “par” time to beat to get this award which combined with the ghost images of your past runs contributes to the competitive or perfectionist player always looking to shave time and learn new tricks. The first 3 awards can serve as a nice warmup to this one and give you a chance to learn the level as its unlikely you’ll get this on your first run without some crazy luck.

Not all the awards are required to progress, meaning players who don’t enjoy speedrunning but enjoy collecting or exploring can still have a good time with the game. Something I wish more games explored!

I recommend playing it on the iCade for the best experience if you get a chance as that will give you better odds of success and is just that much more fun.

Go download the lite version free and buy it if you like it!

1 note &

Are slots the new dice?

Between the fantastic new iOS “rpg” King Cashing and Panda Picnic (see previous post) it’s interesting to see slot machines being used in novel ways.

In traditional slot machines the focus is on bet amounts and “paylines”. In Panda Picnic you use tokens and smart moves to mitigate your luck. King Cashing takes things a bit further in the way you “equip” yourself for battle. You are provided two 3-slot systems, weapons and bonuses. Weapons affect damage but more importantly they have a specific % chance of coming up on the wheel, leading to a balancing act of damage vs odds (damage means nothing if they don’t come up). Bonuses provide an increased chance of certain things coming up (gold, xp, attacks, etc). The game completely eschews an HP system in favor of a fixed number of spins (based on cherries, which can be leveled up) which means your DPS (damage per spin) matters as you must defeat the monster before you run out of spins. There is much more depth to the game system then I’m touching on here and I highly recommend you try it, it’s pretty “addictive”!

Much like board games have gone through various phases of variability mechanics (dice, cards, auction systems, spinners, etc) I am happy to see old mechanics being repurposed in creative ways, even if they are just abusing our gambling buttons ;)

Are slots the new dice?

Between the fantastic new iOS “rpg” King Cashing and Panda Picnic (see previous post) it’s interesting to see slot machines being used in novel ways.

In traditional slot machines the focus is on bet amounts and “paylines”. In Panda Picnic you use tokens and smart moves to mitigate your luck. King Cashing takes things a bit further in the way you “equip” yourself for battle. You are provided two 3-slot systems, weapons and bonuses. Weapons affect damage but more importantly they have a specific % chance of coming up on the wheel, leading to a balancing act of damage vs odds (damage means nothing if they don’t come up). Bonuses provide an increased chance of certain things coming up (gold, xp, attacks, etc). The game completely eschews an HP system in favor of a fixed number of spins (based on cherries, which can be leveled up) which means your DPS (damage per spin) matters as you must defeat the monster before you run out of spins. There is much more depth to the game system then I’m touching on here and I highly recommend you try it, it’s pretty “addictive”!

Much like board games have gone through various phases of variability mechanics (dice, cards, auction systems, spinners, etc) I am happy to see old mechanics being repurposed in creative ways, even if they are just abusing our gambling buttons ;)

1 note &

Is energy gating really necessary?

One of the current tropes of Facebook gaming is energy gating, that is having some kind of energy or action meter that determines how much you can play a game at a given time. This model of free to play ends up similar to shareware in that it’s time trial nag ware, the kind where you can use the product for free if you don’t mind putting up with nags to buy it and time limits to use it.

Gamers like overcoming unnecessary obstacles but gating mechanisms that cap on game actions aren’t like level gating mechanisms which are a metaphor for player skill, they are just an arbitrary limitation imposed to fit a business constraint.

Action (usually “energy”) gating per time duration is an idea that goes back to the old bbs door games like Legend of the Red Dragon that games like mafia wars draw liberally from. Back in the bbs days it made sense to cap play because only a finite amount of people could play on a bbs server at once, usually determined by how many phone lines the bbs had.

There is definitely some psychological factors at play when it comes to the power of limiting gameplay, it can always leave a player “wanting more” and as such not get burnt out on extremely repetitive gameplay as quickly. Rather than actually use it to achieve this goal (the way WoW provides special bonuses that recharge by taking a break) it instead is focused on getting players excited to play the game and then hoping they will trade impatience for cold hard cash.

Everything in the typical Facebook free-to-play model seems to revolve around paying to not have to wait for things, often to the point where you are essentially paying to not have to play the game but still get the rewards of your hollow “success” such as a well decorated farm.

I bring this up after playing Zynga’s latest Facebook game because the energy gating is so ridiculously bad I actually had to quit playing a game that actually started to feel more like a “real game” and was even a little fun! As you can see in they cap your energy meter with a really low ceiling and the recharge time for a single energy point is 8 minutes. Yes that means I have to wait at least 8 minutes to click JUST ONCE, and thats assuming the action only takes 1 energy! On top of this they made your energy represent your health as well so when fighting snakes you spend energy to attack and also lose energy from them attacking you. Often this means 2 energy/attack and they often take 3 attacks. This means you can only fight one snake every 48 minutes! If that doesn’t sound too bad, keep in mind the expeditions you go on have time limits, often 1-2 days and one of the early ones is all about an expedition of snake fighting. It takes about 3.6 hours to recharge your meter completely which means unless you pick up lots of bonus energy or use energy reviving powerups you are realistically only going to be able to play a few times a day and those play sessions will probably only last on average 5 minutes at best. So lets do the math here, you have expeditions that require you to complete them within 24 hours, yet assuming you sleep 8 hours you can only realistically play for a grand total of 22 minutes a day, and thats only if you return every 3.6 hours to use your whole energy meter and don’t spend the majority of your time fighting snakes!

Lets compare this to another gating method that I think its much more interesting and is used by Kixeye in their RTS-ish games (backyard monsters, battle pirates, etc), resource capping. The way this works is much like in normal RTS games. You have buildings that generate a resource which you can harvest. Rather than have some kind of crop spoiling effect or making you plant things, the buildings simply stop producing more of the resource when they are full. As soon as you come harvest them you empty them out and they are free to continue producing resources until they fill again. You can have multiples of each of the buildings that produce the resources and you also cap out on how much you can store of resources that you’ve harvested. This makes for steady upgrades on both how much resources you produce but also how much you can save, making management that much more interesting. Rather than resources metering your clicking or actions, they are instead spent to build, expand, recruit, etc in typical RTS fashion. This usually means there are actions in the game you can take without spending any of your resources and spending resources is often done to expand your capability to generate and store resources, leading to a nice surplus of action possibilities if spent wisely. The games still do introduce additional delays on top of the resource generation, in the form of building times but of course, you can pay real money to fast forward these.

There’s definitely room for some other good alternative ways to nag a player into paying real money that i’ll get into another time, but in the meantime, Zynga get your act together and fix Adventure World before Indy arrives k?

0 notes &

Radical fishing = Upgrade Complete in disguise?

Funny how much Radical Fishing is kind of what Upgrade Complete was satirizing. You have one single gameplay mechanic and then spend your points to upgrade to better ways to get more points in a vicious cycle but one offering some branches and variety along the way. 

The fun of playing seems to revolve around a couple of things:

1) Cashflow optimization - Strategizing about the best upgrade choices and fishing 
decisions to maximize your upgrade speed.

2) “Trying out” new upgrades. The novelty effect which usually only lasts 2 rounds but considering how often you get to upgrade generally leads to a continuous “just one more game” cycle.

3) The Dodge/Reverse Dodge core mechanic of the fishing itself.

I can only imagine they could easily tack on a few more tropes like Achievements (Jammin’ - Caught 5 jellyfish in one pull!, etc) and Leaderboards. Maybe throw in the option to trade facebook credits for in-game money to skip to the upgrades quicker! So you can…earn money quicker? Definitely a compulsive road to a nowhere endgame! Ninja fishing for iPhone which is a sort of clone (that also clones fruit ninja a bit to add to the mix) or “remix” is the same road to nowhere albeit with a longer list of upgrades but still upgrading the same set of variables (max depth, starting point, line strength, fish killing weapons, fuel capacity, speed, etc). Perhaps some Borderlands style procedurally generated “lures” and “lines” could be more interesting? Could be fun to build a basic clone of this in Game Maker or Stencyl and get people to do a few remixes to see how the longevity could be increased without being trite!

Always love seeing how these very minimalistic games can toy with ideas around the core mechanic.

0 notes &

This game “Panda Picnic” has a really interesting take on multiplayer puzzle bobble in a few ways:

1) You take turns playing into the same field instead of separate fields with bubble dumps.
2) Instead of going for points you are trying to collect certain fruits to fill out your checklist.
3) Your 3 moves are determined by a slot machine that offers the ability to spend your tokens (which are earned by certain kinds of moves) to mitigate your luck.

All 3 of those make for a pretty unique (albeit clunky) experience. I especially enjoy the slot machine with luck mitigation to determine moves mechanic and the fact that you play on the same field means you might unwittingly help or hurt your opponent in dumping your unwanted pieces or trying to block moves and setup your own future moves.

This game is not that great on execution but neat on mechanics. Now that it’s popular lets see if clones pop up with better execution!

This game “Panda Picnic” has a really interesting take on multiplayer puzzle bobble in a few ways:

1) You take turns playing into the same field instead of separate fields with bubble dumps.
2) Instead of going for points you are trying to collect certain fruits to fill out your checklist.
3) Your 3 moves are determined by a slot machine that offers the ability to spend your tokens (which are earned by certain kinds of moves) to mitigate your luck.

All 3 of those make for a pretty unique (albeit clunky) experience. I especially enjoy the slot machine with luck mitigation to determine moves mechanic and the fact that you play on the same field means you might unwittingly help or hurt your opponent in dumping your unwanted pieces or trying to block moves and setup your own future moves.

This game is not that great on execution but neat on mechanics. Now that it’s popular lets see if clones pop up with better execution!

3 notes &

Compelling daily facebook gaming through rewards

I’ve noticed two prevalent mechanics for encouraging daily playing of facebook games.

  • Pick a “card” / Random item bonus
  • Chain bonuses (5 day max)

Pick a card

With this mechanic you are given a choice of crates/boxes/cards/doors/etc to pick from in a lotto scratcher hidden-but-predetermined-“random” fashion. The hidden items are random in both order and items themselves. It’s usually a mix between common not very valuable but still a nice bonus (usually a small amount of in-game currency) and uncommon or even rare/powerful items. Some games (such as Tyrant, shown) even put some of the pay-for only secondary currency in the mix.

Example games: War Metal - Tyrant, Global Warfare

Chain bonus

This mechanic rewards you with increasing bonuses for logging in on successive days. Each day provides either preset or small choice of (such as Army Attack, shown) items with the value of items increasing each day in the chain. It usually maxes out at 5 days with each successive day after that rewarding the day 5 bonus.

Example games: Army Attack, Zombie Lane

Which mechanic to use?

I don’t know what the metrics would show (assuming someone has actually done A/B testing on this) but I personally find the Pick a “card” bonus to actually be strongly compelling and the Chain bonus weakly compelling. I think this is attributable to a couple factors:

  • Slot machine/Lotto loot systems trigger a much stronger response with our dopamine system then an easily predictable reward (see B.F. Skinners “random scheduling” methods for more info on why).
  • Breaking a chain lends itself to pessimistic feelings to cope with the feeling of “loss”. A combo/chain system in something more real-time like Guitar Hero lends itself to feelings of eustress as we attempt to keep that “edge”, knowing that at some point we will likely lose it whereas an appointment system missed appointment feels like failure and loss because of how much more difficult it is to make up for than a simple real-time “retry”. This is something I’ll address more in a post about appointment gaming “crop spoiling”.
  • The chance of getting buy-only currency for free feels like a jackpot and provides a nice way of continuing to play without pay even when there’s pay-only currency gating.

I’d love to see some actual metrics or research on this but I suspect random scheduling trumps appointment gaming in compelling behavior.

Then again, -ville games have built their fortunes on appointment gaming…

Filed under fb rewards