Free-to-Play

Pokemon Go Initial Thoughts

Hey everyone,


I hope you've all been enjoying Pokemon Go this week. I know I have. I'll be writing an analysis of the game next week, but I was curious about what your first impressions were. My gut reaction sent me into an overwhelming flurry of joy, but, as the dust settles, I'm honestly feeling a hint of disappointment. I think my expectations were simply too high. It feels shallow without a definitive goal, outside of just catching them all, and because the gyms change hands so often, they seem pointless. Maybe once the initial rush calms down they'll be more interesting. That's not to discount my current Pokemon Go addiction. 

Like I mentioned earlier, I'll have a full analysis next week, but I'd love to hear your initial thoughts!

See you guys next week,

Scott

Disney Magic Kingdoms - Game Design Analysis

Welcome to my long time coming analysis of Disney Magic Kingdoms. I wrote this from a design perspective and hope anyone who hasn’t familiarized themselves with the app can enjoy the post. I start off outlining the mechanics and how the game functions, to familiarize the reader with the game. If you’re already familiar with the app, and are primarily interested in the most design heavy sections, skip to the “So, where’s the fun?” section. From there on, we get into the game’s economy balancing and how the designers promoted engagement. Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy!

What is it?

Disney Magic Kingdoms is a mobile game by Gameloft featuring a variety of Disney and Pixar IPs. The objective of the game is to clear out the darkness, which is threatening to consume the theme park. This is done via expanding your park and assisting Merlin in bringing back the magic so he can fight back against Maleficent.

How does it work?

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it. The game is all about resource management. There are five kinds of resources in the game: magic, gems, happiness, materials and time.

Let’s break them down:

·      Magic is your general currency. It is easy to obtain via doing quests, assigning tasks for characters, or just letting the attractions/shops create it automatically over time. Magic can also be purchased via spending gems.

·      Gems are your premium currency. This is a currency that players can receive in game, but is considerably more rare. The only standard way I’ve seen to obtain gems in game is by leveling characters up or leveling the player up. Gems can be also purchased for real world currency.

·      Happiness: Happiness is a little trickier. When a player boots up the app after some time, children will come running into the park with thought bubbles above their head. Players can “grant wishes” to the children via tapping on these bubbles and sending them to the activity that they are interested in. As a player grants their wishes, their happiness level will go up. Each of the four tiers grants the player an additional benefit.

o   Tier 1: Content – grants no bonus.

o   Tier 2: Cheerful – gives players access to parades

o   Tier 3: Joyous – gives players an additional 10% to magic and player experience earned.

o   Tier 4: Ecstatic:  gives a 10% increased chance for materials to drop.

Happiness decays over time, so players will have to continually grant wishes to keep their happiness level up.

·      Materials: Materials are used to level up characters. A player can get a chance to obtain materials via sending out characters to do tasks, through certain attractions that automatically generate materials over time, or by buying a parade.

We can see some of the example tasks for Mickey. The star, which represents player experience, and magic are guaranteed drops. The materials that are labeled as “rare” have a slight possibility of them dropping upon completing the task. The green numbers are bonuses I have for having a high happiness level. We also see how long the task will take, and if it requires another character as well to be carried out.

We can see in this image that, in order to level Goofy up, I’ll still need nine more Goofy hat materials. Character progression is built around players collecting enough materials and currency. Upon collecting the required currency and materials they can initiate the level up process, which will take time to complete. In Goofy’s case it will take him twenty-four hours to level up to level ten.

·      Time: Time is a resource because users always have the option to spend time or real world money.

o   A character needs to level up? Spend X hours waiting or X gems to level them up now.

o   Don’t have enough materials to level up or obtain a character? Spend X hours mining resources or spend X gems to level them up now.

o   Don’t have enough gems to obtain that one exclusive gems only character? Spend X time leveling up and collecting gems for free or buy more gems.

Character/Story Progression:

Characters need to be specific levels to do certain quests. For example:

·      Woody may need to be level 6 to go help Buzz find Zurg.

·      If Woody isn’t level 6, the player will be shown what materials will be needed to level him up. Players can then view the available tasks on other characters and see the possible rewards.

o   Notice I said possible rewards. Much like Destiny players have a chance at getting the item they need.

-  There are a few tiers of item rarity

·      Common

·      Uncommon

·      Rare

·      Epic

·      Legendary

o   The more rare the item, the less likely the player will receive it. You can see why having maxed out happiness is so important.

You might notice a slight difference in the HUD for this image. I’ll get to that later

We can see that “Maintain Hydration” is a different color than the other tasks. That is because it is part of a quest line, and will need to be completed before the quest can progress.

So, where’s the fun?

The base layer of fun comes from players expanding their park. This comes in the form of adding characters, attractions, and just adding more space overall. A simplified gameplay loop looks something like this:

FlowChart made in LucidChart

The player getting to see their additions over time is rewarding in itself. When you add the Disney frosting, it becomes a prime addiction for fans of the parks much like myself. Getting to bring in Flynn Rider and Minnie Mouse is an absolute delight. Of course, if the sessions were longer than five minutes the game would quickly lose its charm. This is why it works so well on mobile where short play sessions thrive.

The Updates:

In the recent months, Gameloft continues to add content faster than I can complete the quests. Additionally, I’ve seen continual events/competitions every week.

Events:

Events occur on a weekly basis. Each event typically lasts a week. From what I’ve seen, there are two kinds of events:

·      Collect as many coins as possible in the course of the week.

o   Coins can be collected via assigning characters to do specific tasks or just allowing your structures to produces them over time.

·      Tap on enemies!

o   Players are tasked with clearing out their park of robots, crows, or whatever enemy it is that week.

o   X creatures respawn after x minutes

At the end of the week, players are ranked based on how many enemies tapped or coins collected against other players. The players are then rewarded based on how well they did with either gems or currency.

Personally, I prefer the creature tapping over the coin collecting. This is because the creature tapping doesn’t have any way to speed up the process. The players have to wait until the creatures respawn, where as in the coin collecting events the player can speed up tasks and the attractions producing them by spending gems. This creates a pay to win mentality, which can be exploited.

The Incredibles:

The most interesting event yet is the Incredibles expansion. In this expansion, players have to wait a week to unlock each character. The first week was Mrs. Incredible, the second Dash, etc. Having a new character which I get to spend time doing quests and gathering materials to unlock timed characters makes me come back to an app which was running out of steam.

As you can see, I’m attempting to unlock Violet at the moment. The quest line to unlock Mr. Incredible will begin in 5 Days 9 Hours. Frozone, Mrs. Incredible, and Dash have all been unlocked already.

While I haven’t let the characters time lapse, this info sheet makes it seem like I will only be able to get the Incredibles during this month long event, at least until the event comes back around again.

With the new expansion came a couple new tweaks. One of which is additional currency.

While I don’t personally mind the additional currency, I’m hoping this isn’t a reflection of the future of the app. Outside of beginning to clutter the UI, it becomes one more thing to keep track of. More frustratingly, now there are three major forms of currency: magic, gems and Incredibles currency (IC). Furthermore, the player will need to send their characters on special tasks to obtain IC. So now progression along the quest line, which focuses around the player collecting magic, has been dramatically slowed.

How did the designers deal with this issue?

They made the Incredibles tasks considerably shorter. For example, Daisy takes six hours to do the task that would give the player the Sully ears material. Or they can have Daisy do the task for Violet’s ears, which takes only eight minutes. Both items hold a “rare” rating amongst materials. The Incredibles tasks are considerably shorter. This makes the event actually plausible, because with longer times they simply wouldn’t have enough time to get the job done.

The mix of short and long times also engages players more often. Before this event, I was checking in the morning, setting up my tasks for the day and checking at night to set up over night tasks. After this event started, because the materials I need can be acquired so quickly and I can give my characters new tasks so often, I find myself checking sometimes twice or more on breaks, lunch, and even the bus ride home as well.

How else do the designers promote engagement?

If we take a look at two tasks for Mickey, “Search for Friends” and “Research Magic”, we can see the following:

·      Search for Friends

o   Pays out 1 star (+1 For happiness bonus)

o   Pays out 5 Magic (+1 for happiness bonus)

o   It takes 60 seconds to complete

·      Research Magic

o   Pays out 7 stars (+1 for happiness bonus)

o   Pays out 40 Magic (+5 for happiness bonus)

o   It takes 60 minutes to complete

Now, if we do the math, let’s say ten minutes of engagement continually re-cuing the “Search for Friends” task.  The player will earn 50 Magic, or 55 if we’re including the happiness bonus. Now compare that to the 40 Magic the player will earn for setting Mickey on the “Research Magic” task. In fact, this trend continues across all characters with all tasks. The longer the task, the less magic and experience the user will gain. This is balanced though by the longer tasks frequently having rarer materials.

This graph shows each of Mickey’s tasks max reward if the player continually engages Mickey in the task over the course of 8 hours. We can see the rewards continually shrink, thus rewarding engagement. This trend is even more dramatic when compared to tasks, which involve two characters. For example, the task “Dance with Minnie (2h)” nets the player 400 Magic & 52 XP. If the player’s goal is Magic and XP, it would be more beneficial to have the characters work solo as each of them can net 300 Magic and 40 XP individually for two hour tasks, resulting in a total of 600 Magic and 80 XP. Thus, there is little point for the player to choose a longer task unless they cannot engage for long periods of time.

With that said, I am still glad they have the longer tasks so I can set my characters to work while I sleep. The game really adjusts to how the player wishes to play it.

This game’s success is built around a solid gameplay loop skinned with Disney characters. While I am enjoying the additions of the events, their flirting with overcomplicating the game does worry me. I’m hoping the talented designers at Gameloft are able to walk that line without falling off because I’m really enjoying watching my kingdom grow.

I hope you guys enjoyed this weeks post. I know it has been a long time coming. Hopefully you learned something more about designing for mobile resource management games. I know I did. 

I’ll see you guys next week,

Scott

 

Neko Atsume: My Collection of Kitties

This week, we’ll take a look into a very interesting App: Neko Atsume. We’ll talk about how it works, where is the fun, and whether or not it is a game.

How does it work?

In Neko Atsume, you decorate a room and attempt to attract cats. You can do this by setting out different “Goodies” (boxes, balls, bags, etc.) to attract them. Each cat has a favorite toy, and when you set up their favorite toy, they might stop by to play with it. But toys aren’t enough for the cats. You need to feed them as well if you want them to stop by. Once you’ve set some food and items out, cats will begin to stop by and visit. After they leave, they will leave the player with a gift , either silver fish or premium gold fish. These are used to buy more items to put out for the cats.

Here we can see the placement options for goodies as well as food.

Food mechanic:
Players need to stop by a couple times a day and set out more food if they want to continually attract cats. The cats can visit while the player is not in the app. If they do, they will still leave a gift for the player, but the player will have missed seeing them.

Side note: This is a nice little addition because if the player doesn’t get the reward of getting to see them, they will still get something.

Every time a cat visits, it will eat a little bit of the food. Upon all the food being eaten, no more cats will visit until the bowl is full. Because there is a free food bowl called “Thrifty Bits”, running out of money never becomes a problem.

Side note: So the food is like a timer. After so many minutes, a player will need to return to the app and refill the bowl if they wish to progress and receive more rewards. Because the food has no visible timer for the player to track, the player will need to check back more often to see more cats.

For anyone still confused on how this game’s systems work, this flow chart might help.

Chart made in Lucidchart

So, where’s the fun?
In Neko Atsume, there are multiple kinds of rewards. I like to call these direct and indirect rewards. Direct rewards are something that is given to the player that’s blatantly a reward. In Neko Atsume’s case, this would be the gold and silver fish the player receives from visiting cats.

Indirect rewards are more like cinemas, things that are rewarded to the players that are solely for their enjoyment. They don’t necessarily have an effect on a game’s progress, with the exception of story. In Neko Atsume’s case, this would be like getting to see the cats do absolutely adorable things.


Like hide in a box!

Or play with a ball!

Or even get their little fluffy butt stuck in a tube!

These moments where the player gets to see the cats be adorable is the reason players continue to come back. The direct rewards are more of a means to an end. They are in place to support the adorable cat reward. These rewards, combined with the hidden food timer, makes sure the player has a nice steady stream of cats to enjoy, all the while not letting them see all of them too soon and instead forcing the player to come back.

Side note: I’m pretty sure the developers knew this is where the fun came from and wanted players to be able to revisit the adorable moments that they have already experienced. So they put in a camera feature where players could take pictures of the cats and put them in photo albums. They also gave them names and stats to help sell the attachment players might feel for the cats. So while the player could have a goal to fill up this album, there is no reward for doing so aside from their own satisfaction.

My album is on its way!

So is this a game or what?
Typically, games have a win/lose condition. That’s kind of what makes them special. So I’d have to say no, it isn’t a game. That doesn’t diminish how much fun it is. It’s more like an interactive toy, because even if you fill up all your photo albums, the game doesn’t end, and if you do nothing, the game doesn’t end either.

In the end, Neko Atsume is an excellent app which is great at wasting a few seconds out of the hour. By giving players a variety of rewards, drip-feeding them new cats, and forcing their engagement through the food mechanic, they find themselves returning to this app again and again. I hope I got you thinking about how to make simple apps, which aren’t necessarily games but are still enjoyable.

Next week, we will be returning to our regularly scheduled posts/updates.

I’ll see you guys then,

Scott

Flappy Bird: Exploring Fairness & Fun in Games

Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get very different responses when asking, “Is Flappy Bird a good game?” From a monetization standpoint, it is an excellent game. Last I heard, the guy who made it was making 50K a day. From a game design perspective, I’ve heard a lot of, “It’s not fun. It just makes me want to pull my hair out.” Today we are going to explore why so many designers hate Flappy Bird. Additionally, we’ll try to figure out where the fun lies.

“I hate Flappy Bird.”

These words I’ve heard countless times. But when asked why, I usually get the response “It’s just not fun”. Well why isn’t it fun?

For the three of you who have never played Flappy Bird, let me elaborate on how the game works. The player taps the screen to accelerate their bird upward quickly in a short burst. After the burst from tapping is completed, gravity begins to take its toll and drags the bird down. This results in the player tapping the screen over and over again to attempt to keep the bird airborne. The player gains points via successfully navigating between pipes. Every pair of pipes cleared nets them a point. The pipes appear at various heights. If the bird touches any of the pipes on the screen, it falls to its doom and the game ends. Players earn medals based on how many points they earn.

·      Bronze = 10 pts

·      Silver = 20 pts

·      Gold = 30 pts

·      Platinum = 40 pts

At the ‘Game Over’ screen, the player can view their game ranking on a leaderboard or play again.

And that’s Flappy Bird.

So why do designers hate it? My guess is lack of depth. The game doesn’t really change as time goes on. It doesn’t ramp up and never increases in difficulty. No upgrades. No progression. It doesn’t speed up. There are no strategies. Just take deep breaths and focus. Really, there’s not much of anything.  It’s incredibly shallow. Arcade games from the 70s have more depth. It’s not fun to them because there is no variety. There is no challenge.

Side note: I'm not speaking for all designers when I say this. Just most of the ones who I have spoken to about this topic typically state their dislike for the game.

No challenge? The hell are you talking about this game is tough!

I’m sorry, that was poor wording. Let me explain. While the game in itself is difficult, there is very little reward. In something like Final Fantasy, the players will be rewarded by the feeling of power, seeing more of the story, and beautiful cinemas to watch as they progress through the game. They will defeat more powerful enemies and solve puzzles. But here, there is no reason to continue playing aside from beating your score. (Or your friend’s score) Within maybe ten seconds, players have already seen all that the game has to offer. This leaves no reason to continue playing. This brings us to the genius of Flappy Bird.

It’s fair. Because there are no surprises or variables which could change, aside from the pipe height (And even then the player can see it well in advance), there is no situation where the player could say, “Well that’s not my fault, the game cheated!” This helps to push the player to play again. They begin to think “Well, I made it through the first five. I’m pretty sure I can make it through one more.” So they decide to try again. When this concept is combined with the game’s simplicity and ease of getting back into the game, it makes it easy for the player to try just one more time. The player literally just needs to tap the play button from the game over screen.

Side note: The just one more try phenomenon is something hardcore gamers know oh too well. As well as the just one more level, and just five more minutes. But thanks to mobile gaming, a broader more causal audience can experience it too.

But this still doesn’t answer the question: Where’s the fun?

This brings us to the bigger question. Where is the fun in Flappy Bird? Before we get into that, let’s talk about fun. What is fun? This is an incredibly difficult question to answer. That’s because the concept of fun is completely subjective. Take Destiny for an example. There are various points of fun. The players can chase loot, explore the world, chase achievements, become the best in Crucible, outsmart the A.I. and defeat all PvE challenges, complete the grimoire, etc. In a game like Angry Birds, the player’s fun comes from figuring out each level’s puzzle and progressing through the game. Maybe even scoring higher than their friends. But you get the idea.

Side note: My personal fun in Destiny comes from exploring the world and spending time doing challenging activities with my friends.

Every single person gets something different out of every single game. This is where knowing your audience comes into play. When people have a common view of what fun is they can be grouped into an audience. When designing a racing game for the Forza audience, the developers are not going to put in Mario Kart physics and controls because their audience wouldn’t enjoy it.

So where is the fun in Flappy Bird?

My gut reaction is the difficulty. The game is insanely hard, and some people might enjoy the challenge. Unfortunately, the fun is short lived because there is not a lot of depth involved in Flappy Bird. So why do people keep playing a game which isn’t necessarily fun?

Friends.

The same thing that is keeping the Destiny community alive (and many other video game communities) kept Flappy Bird going for so long. One person tried it, failed miserably, and then their friend tried it, and people just began to pass it around. Then they started to compete with each other. People began posting their scores online to social media. It’s kind of funny that a game which lacks any depth and any assistance to connect to social media would do so well.

Side note: We can take a brief moment to think about Dark Souls, another incredibly difficult game. But while Dark Souls is difficult, it offers so much more. A combat system which feels rewarding to master, a world to explore, lore and a story to uncover, and so on.  This gives it considerably more replayability and engages players for longer periods of time. This also appeals to a larger audience. I played Dark Souls initially because of the fantasy setting. I wanted to explore it and learn about the creatures I would encounter through the story. I fell in love with it because of the lore/story telling, combat, exploration and co-op systems. But Dark Souls will be for another time. I know I’m going to get some heat because technically Flappy Bird has access to a larger audience. But this is because of the device it is on, not because it has various hooks to grab players in and retain them.

The only other reasons I can think of as to why people kept playing it would be the same reason people stare at car accidents. They can’t help it. A sense of morbid curiosity if you will. How terribly will I fail? Or how terribly will my friend fail?

Or

It’s a great time waster. If we think about the average engagement time for players on iOS games, we know that it is very short. This game gets players in instantly, and as soon as they lose, it is really easy to get back in again. The entire game is designed around players having the minimum amount of down time. If players can get back into the game incredibly quickly and are constantly engaged throughout, that leaves them with no time to leave the app. It might just be the perfect mix of short gameplay and minimum downtime.

Side note: From my own analytics I’ve been running, typical engagement is less than ten minutes.

Looking at this game helped me to realize that maybe a fair game isn’t necessarily a fun game. People play games for a multitude of reasons. Some like them for the story, others to feel powerful. But I’ve never heard anyone say “I play this game because it is fair!” Maybe someone might enjoy Flappy Bird because they want a challenge, but endless games quickly wear out their welcome. Especially if there is nothing to unlock. With this post I hope I got you to think about where the fun in games are, and where is the fun in your game?

I’ll be off for the holidays for the next two weeks, so I will not be posting a long analysis or updates on prototypes during that time. If I can find some time though I’d like to try a shorter, more bite sized, “Bonus Round” post. I’ll return January 5th. I hope you have a Happy Holidays!

I’ll see you guys next year,

 

Scott

Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade - Touching the Grim Dark Future

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war… and excellent touch controls. Freeblade is a lot of things, and I could gush about so many things it does right, but today I want to stick to the controls. Controls in iOS games typically fall into one of two categories: either they are intuitive and easy to use, or an absolute mess and frustrating.

Brief background:

Freeblade, at its core, is a 3rd person rail shooter set in the Warhammer 40k universe. The player’s robot follows a track, stopping every so often to fight a small band of enemies. The fun is found via expertly dispatching these enemies, and being rewarded by cool explosions and combat animations. A later reward for completing the level consists of medals and materials to be used to improve the player’s robot.

A typical encounter would look like this:

Side note: Yes, I understand technically the robot/mech is an Imperial Knight. As someone who played the Warhammer 40k table top game for well over 15 years, I understand the difference between Dreadnaughts, Knights, Titans, and the like. But I say robot to simplify the term, to not confuse anyone who isn’t familiar with the franchise. So please don’t crucify me. With that said, the Eldar shall live on! Forever! Not even the pathetic forces of man or Chaos can stop us! Muahahaha…. **Cough** Excuse me. MOVING ON!

Let’s dissect the controls & some mechanics:

The player is given a small arsenal to eliminate their enemies. Our first weapon is the standard machine gun.

When a player taps and holds the screen with one finger, this aiming reticule appears slightly above the player’s finger. The player can then easily maneuver their finger to direct their robot’s rapid fire. After a time, (designated by the machine gun icon just below the x1 and the orange circle around the aiming reticle) the player’s machine gun will slow its fire due to being low on ammo. If the player decides to continue firing, the weapon will over heat and they will be unable to fire again until it fully recharges.

Side note: The way this is designed encourages players to attack in short controlled bursts, instead of just holding the machine gun fire button down the entire time. This also makes the weapon effective against groups of weak enemies instead of larger armored enemies.

Next up, let’s take a look at the heavy weapon.

When a player places two fingers close to one another on the screen, and then spreads them, the view zooms in and the heavy weapon aiming reticle is displayed. This time it appears where the player initially touched the screen with two fingers. When the player removes their fingers from the screen, the heavy weapon is fired wherever the aiming reticle is displayed. It can be moved slightly after it spawned, when the player moves both fingers in a certain direction. We can tell how much ammo the heavy weapon currently has via looking at the heavy weapon icon on the left side of the screen, directly below the machine gun icon. (Notice the three rounds next to the heavy weapon icon) We can also tell how much ammo is available by looking at the aiming reticle. There are three marks below it, currently designating the three rounds we have left. After the player runs out of ammo, they will have to wait for a short time for it to reload.

Side note: These weapons typically are good for taking out large enemies. They do high damage to a controlled small space. Using this weapon will only kill one or two enemies at a time and it fires slowly. Thus this encourages the player to use it on tanks rather than troops. One of my few dings on this game’s design shows up here as well. The aiming reticle is orange, which blends into the enemies’ colors and the brown of the world quite a bit. When I try to figure out what the designers were thinking, the idea of it being un-obstructive and not something they want the player to focus on comes to mind. But as you can see in the above image, they went through a lot of work to show how much ammo the player has left on the aiming reticle and it’s barely visible.

Let’s take a moment to talk about the shield:

Occasionally, an enemy with a heavy weapon of their own will show up, typically within a group of enemies. So they might not be the first enemy the player shoots because they might not notice them right off the bat. These enemies are designated by blue parenthesis with arrows at each edge. The arrows slide along the parenthesis until they collide. This is when the enemy will fire. If the player taps the enemy before the arrows collide, they will deploy a shield. This allows them to take less damage from incoming heavy attacks. This is particularly useful when there is a group of them and the player has run out of ammo so they are waiting for a recharge.

Side note: I like this mechanic because, while not as exciting as combat, it continues to engage players and forces the players to do something different. So even if the player is shooting at another enemy, they may have to stop for a second to put up their shield to avoid the heavy damage from these guys. Because this also forces players to stop shooting for a second, it allows their weapons to recharge. Thus engaging them and not making them feel that they are only waiting for a weapon recharge.

And finally, my favorite close combat!

First the player must choose to engage in close combat.

This is designated via a red fist icon and some red parenthesis. What I like about this particular scenario is that I have a choice. Go into close combat and get an awesome combat cinematic, or Indiana Jones this poor guy and just shoot quickly with the big guns. For the sake of this post, and because we’ve already gone over the big guns, we’re not going to just shoot it. So, let’s say the player taps within the red parenthesis to engage in close combat.

Side note: If the player doesn’t tap within the red parenthesis or kill the enemy quickly enough, the enemy will get a free close combat attack on them. So doing the Indiana Jones thing of just shooting them has its own risks.

A bar will appear in the bottom half of the screen and the player must tap the screen when the two white fist bars are within the green areas. If you have played Gears of War, think of the active reload system. If not, the white bars start on the edges of the “Hit!” bar. They travel inward simultaneously. The player has an area in which they can activate the attack to do normal damage (transparent green bar), and an area to do critical damage (filled in green bar in the dead center).

While the white bars are traveling inward, the two robots are chagrining each other.

If the player taps before white bars enter the green spaces, they will take a hit.

Ouch! Same goes for waiting too long and not tapping before the bars have passed one another.

Fortunately, it is incredibly rewarding to get a critical.

Oh yeah. Chainsaw sword.

This combat mechanic is simple. Due to the nature of touch devices though, it makes it feel good. This system allows for the combatants to get really close and fight. And the player is rewarded with a really cool animation if they win, or an even better one if they get a critical hit. A different system might not result in these amazing visual combat scenes due to how crazy the visuals of each combatant look. Don’t believe me? Look at the previous images without the combat bar. Sometimes it is tough to tell where one robot starts and one ends.

Side note: This particular reward of getting to see these robot fights is probably the biggest reason I don’t just shoot enemies as they are charging me. Although sometimes I will to try and soften them up before we engage in combat.

So back to controls.

We see a few themes in this game which are known across other excellent iOS games. The biggest point being the usage of touch gestures which are already commonly used in touch applications. To elaborate, separate fingers to zoom in and tapping on the screen with a player’s index finger are all examples of gestures we do every day just to surf the web with our smart devices. So players have been already exposed to all these gestures and they are easy to learn in game.

Wait a second you dinged another game for having buttons which the player must tap on but in this game, you are praising it for having enemies which the player must tap on as well.

Valid point. Let me explain. The games I dinged have buttons on the bottom of the screen. The buttons are away from the action and are not the player’s focus. Because of this it is easy for players to not notice when their thumb moves out of position slightly. Buttons work great for computers and consoles because players can use their sense of touch to tell exactly where the buttons are. On a touch screen however, players cannot. In Freeblade, when the player needs to tap a space (for example to put up a shield), where they need to tap is highlighted on screen and a part of the action. This means the player wont miss it. I guess an easy rule of thumb to follow would be this: Think about how we hold our devices. Think about what finger players will be using to tap this item. If it is their thumb, then there is a good chance it isn’t the focus of the screen and it might be a good idea to rethink it’s positioning. If they are probably going to tap it with an index finger, then it is probably safe.

Let me give you some visual examples:

This is Adventures of a Round Object. It’s a platformer where the player controls a ball in an attempt to make it to the end of a level. It’s also the first game I ever released about six years ago. Now think about holding your phone in landscape and trying to touch these buttons. It’s not tough to reach them, but it will be difficult to get the button precision required to platform effectively. This is because the player’s focus is not on the buttons, but instead on their ball trying to make its way through the level. In moments where a small misstep means life or death, those buttons need to be in focus.

Side Note: If I were to recreate this game, I might do something like: right side of the screen = move right, left side of the screen = move left, and center part of the screen = jump so I could get away with not having any buttons. This would allow the player to not have to focus on buttons because the area is so large, it is nearly impossible to miss.

Now in Freeblade, because the enemy location is different every time, the player will focus more on the location they need to tap. Due to that required focus players always look where they are tapping thus resulting in them not missing the mark.

I hope I inspired you to think more about how players are controlling iOS games. I know I am thinking about it even more now. All these screen shots were taken by me from Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade for iOS. Adventures of a Round Object used to be available on iOS, but I recently pulled it due to some poor marketing choices I made years ago. If you are interested in playing it, feel free to ask and I can send you a code to download it for iOS. Next week I will be doing a post mortem for an App I worked on not too long ago, NFL RUSH Zone: Heroes and Rivals. We’ll talk about what went well, what I think went poorly and maybe a little bit of the design behind it. Maybe if I’m lucky I can convince some of the other designers who worked on it to chime in as well.

I’ll see you guys next week,

Scott