When technical skills influence game design
by Maxence Voleau
This article is especially dedicated to students and junior designer like me, but it may interest others. The game prototype which is used in the following example is playable:
here for the old version
here for the current version
Recently, I worked on a prototype of a Match Three with a twist. I did several iterations to improve the core gameplay thanks to feedback from friends. But the other day, I had to face a big problem.
The “clearing phase”, when all the gems are destroyed, was too confusing: all the groups exploded simultaneously and so, the happening events were not clear for the player. The solution I wanted to do was to destroy groups one by one with a certain delay between two explosions. Thus, I thought the player could peacefully observe his performance and breathe a little.
Now that you have an overall of the game loop, I’ll detail how the clearing phase worked and which changes I wanted to do.
The score’s increment works thanks to two distinct variables. The first one depends on the number of groups destroyed in a row (it’s the one called multiplier in the figure above). The second is a classic combo depending on the length of the chains, the principle of creating new groups thanks to the repositioning of gems (it’s the one called combo in the figure above).
Thus, there is a better reward if the player provokes chains but in order to take the greatest advantage of that, you need to use multiplier too. This two-speed system helps the less skilled players by rewarding their direct performance independently of their anticipation. For, hardcore gamers, we have a system with a subtle depth (searching a balance between the increments of combo and multiplier)
Moreover, this simple multiplier helps less skilled player which cannot anticipate enough to provoke chains. Just arranging the game area in order to have a lot’s of groups is rewarded.
What I wanted was quite simple. Like I said earlier, it was just a question of pace. At this point, the first step of the clearing phase (the successive destructions) took less than a half second and the whole phase 1 second. So, I though I’ll just had a delay between two destructions in order to offer a break to the player, and the time to contemplate what he worked for.
Unfortunately, I didn’t succeed to implement this delay as I did not have enough skills in algorithm to rework my current system.
At this point, I had two choices:
1.Forget this feature
2.Find another solution even if it may modify the design.
In my opinion, and regarding to the game design, it was really important to keep this feature as my twist plays with the pace of a match three. Usually, they are games with a fast pace, intense and exhausting. You have to analyze the game area in an instant and find the best option immediately. The modification I made involves a two-speed pace. A short and intense preparation phase, a quick break, a short and intense preparation phase, a quick break… It’s quite similar to swimming: quick breath, short swimming session without breathing, quick breath, short swimming session…
If you delete the “quick breath” opportunity to the swimmer, he will surely die after a few sessions, and I was afraid that players will feel the same if I did not offer them a break. This break offers to the player both a visual reward (peacefully observing the destruction of the group he just organized) and the opportunity to analyze the game area in order to plan his next moves.
The simplest solution I found was to provide the following system in replacement:
However, by choosing this solution, my score system was a lot less interesting. The multiplier was useless. And that was not satisfactory, to say the least. My previous system was cool (IMO) because it helped less skilled player and offered depth to hardcore (Should I take advantage from the multiplier or the combo?).
I then tried to find a solution with a similar philosophy. The previous multiplier rewarded the fact of doing lots of groups without using the chain mechanism (the idea behind that was to reward the direct performance of the player). The only variable I could use to implement a system rewarding direct performance was the size of the groups. So, the new rule I designed was the following:
Instead of incrementing depending on the destroyed groups in a row, the multiplier is going to increment depending on the size of each destroyed group. Multiplier += Floor(group_size / 5);
With this system, it’s easy to increment the combo but the depth is now related to the multiplier. Should I do a huge group or several tiny groups? Moreover, the groups are destroyed from the left to the right, so the player has to take care of the gems movement caused by a group’s destruction. The game is now more difficult but the score system is also now more tolerant.
What all this blablabla means is that you are not limited by your technical skills! A game designer has to find a solution when he faces a wall. Skill’s limitation is one type which exists as well as device’s inputs.
The point is that whatever the problem is, you have to keep in mind what was the philosophy behind the previous rule/choice. Do not radically change your design because you cannot apply it as such (except if you find an awesome thing by experimenting). Be wise, and trick the computer!(source:GAMASUTRA)