然而，有些已经被资深游戏设计师理论化的游戏设计思路，尽管听起来很明显，但在设计自己的游戏时仍然要牢记在心。我想从最有意义和最有效的一个游戏设计概念说起，它就 是流状态（Flow Channel）。《推箱子》运用这个概念产生了非常好的游戏体验。尽管通过玩大量游戏你也可以直觉地意识到这个概念，但我第一次看到它是在Jesse Schell的书 《The Art of Game Design》中。
这种“不规则流状态”非常适合《推箱子》。玩家很容易就理解和记住这种模式。所以，当谜题引入新机制时，下一个就会稍容易些，为了让掌握了新机制的玩家觉得自己变得更 强了。我还随机降低某些谜题的难度，这是为了让玩家觉得“这个谜题难住了，那就跳过去玩下一下，搞不好就过了。”这显然是一条潜意识的信息，玩家不一定会意识到，但管 用就行了。最后，这种“更容易的谜题”还让玩家的心态有所放松。在益智游戏中，心态休整是非常重要的，因为如果你觉得累，你可能就会离开游戏，失去对游戏“上瘾”的感 觉。
*奖励 vs. 惩罚
*休闲玩法 vs. 硬核玩法
一开始，《推箱子》是纯惩罚性的。也就是说，如果你解决一个谜题花的时间太长，你就会受到惩罚。使用撤销选项？要受惩罚。重新开始游戏？要受惩罚。硬核玩家能忍受游戏 中存在一定程度的惩罚。事实上，惩罚在一定程度上增加了游戏的内在价值。然而，休闲玩家讨厌被游戏惩罚。所以，《推箱子》必须“正能量”一点，奖励玩家而不是惩罚玩家 。
所以我增加了基于时间的额外奖励系统。游戏会记录玩家解开每一个谜题所用的时间。时间产生的额外奖励进入最终得分不是根据线性函数计算的，而是根据指数函数。这样，费 时多的玩家得到的额外得分往往接近，而费时少（几秒内就通关）的玩家得到额外分数的计算却精确到小数点第二位。所以，排行榜上的两名玩家几乎不可能得到完全相同的分数 。
《推箱子》中的Game Center像一根把一切串起来的绳子。一切都是相关的：步数与星星有关；星星与得分有关；得分与额外奖励有关；额外奖励与成就有关；成就与排行榜有关； 排行榜又与得分有关。
在之前的两篇文章中我们谈论了《New Sokoban》中有效的游戏设计元素。而今天我们将谈论一些应该更好地应用到《New Sokoban》的较复杂的内容，即游戏中的内在价值。
不幸的是，《New Sokoban》是一款非常简单的游戏。我们很难将所有这些机制带入这样的小游戏中。我尝试着通过提高某些任务的难度而提升游戏的内在价值。完成所有的3星谜 题并不困难，但是找到游戏中所有低于标准杆的解决方法却非常困难。我希望做到这点的玩家能够认为他们的进程是有价值的。
Game Design Theory Applied: The Flow Channel
by Toni Sala
I would like to start a series of articles about Theory of Game Design and how I applied (or tried to apply…) it to my projects. Usually games are made by inspiration and intuition. And this is not a bad approach because, at the end of the day, game creation is a deeply creative activity.
However, there are some game design aspects that have been theorized by experienced game designers that, despite sounding quite obvious, it is worth to keep them in mind while working on our games. I would like to start by one of the most interesting and effective concepts of game design: The Flow Channel. Applying this concept to New Sokoban had a very positive impact on the games experience. Despite it being an intuitive aspect of games that you could have learned while playing a lot of games during your live, the first time I red about it was in Jesse Schell’s book The Art of Game Design.
What’s the Flow Channel?
The Flow Channel is the state of mind that makes us to stay focused on an activity. When we loose the flow, we switch to another activity. So obviously our aim as game designers is to keep our players in the flow channel for as long as possible.
This concept applies to any human activity and the factors that make a person stay in the flow are different depending on the activity itself. For games, we are going to consider five factors: Challenges vs. Skills, Anxiety vs. Boredom and the one that balances them all: difficulty or difficulty balance.
Flow Channel States (from “The Art of Game Design” book by Jesse Schell)
On the above picture you can see all the factors in action. “A” is our player. The desired state evolution is from A1 to A4. When in A1, our player has no skills in our game because he has just started playing. So he feels comfortable with a low level of challenge (low game difficulty) because his skills are also low.
If the challenges of the game rise too slow our player will switch to state A2, which is the Boredom realm. Here, the player feels that the game is not interesting an is likely to abandon it.
On the other hand, if the challenges of the game rise too fast our player will switch to A3 state, which is the Anxiety zone. Here, our player will feel that the game is too difficult (despite we may think that his skills are too low… just kidding :p ) and is also likely to go for another activity.
Mental note: if a player feels that your game is too easy or too difficult it is always your fault as game designer. Player is always right, because he is an expert about what he likes and he doesn’t and about his own flow channel. It is your task as game designer to fit the game into the flow channel of the maximum number of potential players.
Both anxiety and boredom drives the player to frustration, and this is the worst word that a game designer can hear about his games. You need to avoid making the player to feel frustrated about your game, no matter what. Frustration makes the player leave the game and probably never coming back.
So, our aim is to make the player stay on flow as showed in the picture below.
Flow Channel Line (from “The Art of Game Design” book by Jesse Schell)
However, Jesse Schell tells us in his book that this is the naive approach. No doubt that in the picture above the player is always in the flow. However, he suggests a better way of being in flow:
Flow Channel Wave (from “The Art of Game Design” book by Jesse Schell)
This is much more interesting. We are not only keeping the player in flow but also offering him a much better game experience. In this last picture, the overall game difficulty is always increasing at a right pace keeping the player in the flow. However, we are slightly decreasing and increasing of difficulty in a fixed rate that makes the player feel both comfortable and pleased with our game.
It is better understood with an example: in a shooting game like Halo you start with a basic arsenal and the enemies you encounter are easy to defeat with your initial arsenal and your basic game skills. However, as you keep playing, you eventually will get a new weapon that will make you more powerful. The naive game design approach, according to Schell, would be to immediately increase the power of the enemies to offer new challenges according to the new state
of the player.
However, according to the waved Flow Channel picture we should not increase the power of the enemies for a while. In doing so, the player will enjoy a short period of time feeling powerful and the feeling of progress will also be reinforced. However, after a while, we need to offer more challenges to the player to avoid him to enter the Boredom realm.
So, with the waved Flow Channel we are keeping the player in flow and, in addition, we are rewarding him simply for playing. And if just playing our game is rewarding for the player, he will keep playing for the eternity! Epic win for the game designer! :p
Obviously it is not that easy. Actually, keeping the player in a Waved Flow Channel is very very difficult. However, I have tried it for New Sokoban. And it was not that bad.
New Sokoban Flow Channel
If I’m proud of one thing about New Sokoban, it is the puzzle design and the overall difficulty balance. You can read a little bit more about this on this old post. I have spent tons of hours fixing the difficulty of each puzzle and balancing the overall difficulty curve.
And I also tried to apply the Waved Flow Channel concepts described in this article. The current version of the game has 50 puzzles organized into two worlds (two more worlds are planned). Every world introduces a new main feature that makes the player rearrange all the skills and mechanics that he has learned so far.
Obviously, the very first puzzle is much easier than the last one. However, for example, the puzzle number 22 is not necessary easier than the number 23. On the other hand, when a world is completed and the player moves to the next one, the difficulty is decreased a little bit because he needs to understand the new world rules. I repeat this pattern along the 25 puzzles of each world and also for the worlds. It is a kind of fractal pattern for the difficulty curve. If we zoom into the Waved Channel Flow for New Sokoban we would see something like the picture below:
Fractal Flow Channel, extended from Waved Flow Channel
So, in some sense, I follow the Waved Flow Channel in each world. However, from world to world the difficulty curve is suddenly decreased during 2-4 puzzles that serve as tutorial for the new world and then immediately increased when the player gets it.
This kind of “Fractal Flow Channel” has worked very well for New Sokoban. The player easily catches and interiorizes it. So, when a puzzle introduces a new mechanic, the next one is slightly easier, just to make the player “feel the power” that the new mastered game mechanic has given to him. I also decrease the difficulty of a given puzzle arbitrarily, just to say to the player: “Hey! If you get stuck in a puzzle skip it. Maybe you will be able to solve the next one.” It is obviously a subliminal message, the player is not necessarily aware of that, but it just works fine. Finally, this kind of “easier-puzzles
” also make the players mind to take a rest. Mind resting in puzzle games is important because if you feel tired you will probably leave this game session and loose the feeling of being “addicted” to the game.
As you can see, the Flow Channel theory has been very important for me and for the development of New Sokoban. When I first red about it in Schell’s book I thought that it was an obvious concept that I had been practicing for my whole live while playing games from others. However, it is important to think deeply about it and understand it fully to be able to apply it correctly on your games.
So, here you have a very useful mental note:
Mental note: The Flow Channel concept is a very powerful one. Try to use it in all of your games.
Today’s article is the second one in the series “Game Design Theory Applied”. You can find the first article of the series here. Today I would like to talk about game rewards, and how I applied them on New Sokoban.
Game rewards are a very important concept in game design. Actually, in some sense, players play games to be rewarded. It is a human need. Players need to be evaluated favorably. That’s why a well designed ad balanced game rewards system is key in any game, even for the simplest one.
There are lots of kinds of game rewards that could be included in a game: praise, points, prolonged play, spectacle, powers, resources, completion… In general, you should include as many rewards as you can. However, never forget that game rewards must be balanced. You need to give the right reward, at the right time and in the right amount.
When designing New Sokoban I tried to include different types of game rewards. However, I focused on two more general issues that drove the design process of the rewards system of New Sokoban:
Rewards vs. Punishment
Casual Gameplay vs. Hardcore Gameplay
A layered rewards system design
So, my aim was to offer a game reward system that included rewards for both casual and hardcore players while avoiding punishment. To achieve that, I designed the game rewards system in layers. A layered rewards system design means that the player initially only sees the obvious objectives and gets the obvious rewards (the firsts layers) but after playing a while, he starts to discover that there are some more complicated challenges with more satisfying rewards.
The idea is not to overwhelm casual players with tons of “impossible” game rewards to achieve but at the same time give the opportunity to hardcore players to discover the hidden layers with the more rewarding challenges. Actually, discovering the hidden layers is a reward itself for a hardcore player.
So, the player starts by encountering the basic objective: solve the puzzle. Simply solve it. This is the first layer. The reward is the satisfaction of completion, the praise in the rewards screen, the score and the following puzzle that is unlocked.
At this moment the following layer is presented clearly: if you solved the puzzle with less than 3 stars you will see unfilled stars on the rewards screen that claim to be filled. That’s layer two. Moreover, if you wait a moment, you will see all the bonuses you earned and how they add to your final score. That is rewarding for hardcore players as they always want higher scores.The bonuses system adds some more layers. Every player will pay attention to the bonuses he is interested on. Casual players will just skip this screen after seeing the number of stars achieved. Hardcore players will examine all the bonuses earned and wonder if they could improve their score based on the score system of the game. Understanding the score system is an interesting challenge for a hardcore player with a great satisfaction reward when it is achieved.
So, only after playing a few puzzles every player has established his own objectives based on the game rewards he wants to achieve. Casual players will keep just solving puzzles. With 1 star, doesn’t matter. Some other players will go for the 3 stars for every puzzle. Others will try to maximize score, others will fight for the first row at Game Center leaderboards… Actually, theoretically, all the players may go throughout all theses phases eventually. Ones earlier than others.
The “hidden” layers
So, to say it short, the casual player “only” needs the game to be fun. Most casual players are satisfied simply solving some puzzles (and skipping others). So, you “only” need a good game to satisfy casual players.
However, hardcore gamers need more. Obviously, they need a fun game but also a challenging one.
Next, you have some of the most interesting “hidden” layers of New Sokoban.
The bonus system
Initially New Sokoban was pure punishment. You take too long to solve a puzzle, you get punished. Used the undo option? You get punished. Used the restart option? You get punished. Hardcore players tolerate certain level of punishment in games. Actually, punishment enhance endogenous value in some sense. However, casual players hate to be punished by games. So, New Sokoban needed to be “positivated”, rewarding players instead of punishing them.
The advantage of positive balancing (rewarding) is that nobody hates it. Both casual and hardcore players love it. There are some types of games that need a minimum level of punishment to make sense. For example, games based on “lifes”. If you fall down you lose a life. If that mushroom touches you, you lose a life. However, New Sokoban is not that type of game. Actually, New Sokoban can be designed without any kind of punishment. And that was the way I finally followed. New Sokoban went from hell to heaven!
And the bonus system was born. All punishing features were reconverted to bonus ones. So, when you complete a puzzle the rewarding screen informs you about all the bonuses you acquired: time bonus, no undo/restart bonus, etc. And all the bonuses are translated to points that are added to your final score. The bonus system worked really well.
Moreover, the bonus system may be easily ignored. It can even be partially ignored. You decide which bonuses you are interested in and forget about the others.
The under par system
The under par system was added in the final stages of development. Hardcore testers were claiming for more complicated challenges with really satisfying rewards. And the under par system was created for that. Believing that 3 stars is the best possible solution and then discover that you solved one puzzle under par is very satisfying for a hardcore player.
Moreover, under par solutions adds a great score bonus to the puzzle final score.
The whole score system. Discovering how to get the best score possible
Initially, the score was based on the moves the player needed to solve the puzzle. Then, I added the bonus system. However, I needed a way that players fighting for the first position on Game Center could differentiate from each other. A system based on moves, stars or fixed bonuses produced very similar scores from player to player.
So I added the time bonus. Every puzzle records the time elapsed to solve it in tenths of a second. The final time bonus score is not calculated with a linear function. Instead of that I used and exponential one. That way, the time bonus score for long periods of time tends to be the same but you have tenths of a second precision for short periods of time (a few seconds). So, it’s almost impossible that two players get exactly the same score on Game Center.
This kind of precision adds interest to the Game Center leaderboards and makes the whole score system (moves, stars and bonuses) take a bigger dimension.
Game Center in New Sokoban is the rope that tie everything together. Everything is related: moves are related to stars. Stars are related to score. Score is related to bonuses. Bonuses are related to achievements. Achievements are also related to leader boards and leaderboards are related to score again.
It’s a nice and elegant cycle that works really well.
I think that the time I spent designing the layered game rewards system of New Sokoban was worthwhile. The final result is elegant and almost every type of player feels comfortable with the rewards he receives.
Mental note: a very simple game with a sophisticated and well balanced rewards systems offers the best of the two sides: simplicity for casual gamers and challenge for hardcore ones
Today’s article is the third one in the series “Game Design Theory Applied”. You have the previous two here:
Game Design Theory Applied: The Flow Channel
Game Design Theory Applied: A Layered Rewards System
In the previous two articles I talked about game design aspects that I think that were well addressed in New Sokoban. However, today I’m going to talk about a very difficult and tricky topic that should be better applied to New Sokoban: endogenous value in games.
What’s endogenous value?
“The word endogenous derives from the Greek: ενδογεν??, meaning “proceeding from within” (“ενδο”=inside “-γεν??”=coming from)” – Wikipedia“Relating to an internal cause or origin” – Wordreference.com
“Proceeding from within; derived internally.” – Dictionary.com
“Having an internal cause or origin.” – Oxford Dictionary of English
So, endogenous value in games is achieved when some objects in the game or some part of the game have some kind of value to the player generated inside the game and only by game design means.
Giving endogenous value to our games
So, as you can imagine, giving endogenous value to our games is very interesting and desirable. Fun games are great, but fun games with endogenous value are better. It is more difficult to forget a game that has endogenous value, so it is easier for the player to come back and play again to increase that value. Even if it is not the funniest of the games.
So, from my point of view, there are two ways of giving endogenous value to our games:very difficult tasks and internal economies.
Do you remember playing a game that was extremely difficult to complete? Imagine that you lose your progress. That would be dramatic… In general, things that are hard to achieve have more value than easier ones. No fancy science here I guess.
Internal economics are a more powerful mechanic to gain endogenous value. However, creating a well balanced economics system in a game is a titanic task. When saying “economics system” I don’t necessarily mean involving virtual money or trading operations. Classic RTS games like Starcraft have resources based economy systems that works great from the endogenous value point of view.
However, I think that the best example for this kind of endogenous value are MMO games like World of Warcraft (no, I’m not working for Blizzard, but I like their games :p ). These kind of games generate an incredibly amount of endogenous value to players by having lots of objects, tasks, power-ups, etc, that have value in the game for players.
Players complete quests, kill monsters and bosses all the time, even when it is not fun! However, the value of the reward is so huge that the effort is worthwhile.
Mental note: endogenous value in games is not related with fun. Actually, in general, players perceive endogenous value from things that are hard to achieve and often not so fun to do. Unfortunately, it seems that we don’t perceive the value of fun. It’s a gaming paradox I guess. Or maybe a human one…
Forcing endogenous value
The result of forcing endogenous value is having no endogenous value at all but regularvalue. All FreeToPlay games are included to this category. You, as the designer, are pricing the objects and consumables of your game. That’s not endogenous. That’s just regular value.
So from my point of view, when real money is introduced to the equation talking about endogenous value has no sense.
Unfortunately, New Sokoban is a very simple game. It is very difficult (at lest for me) to introduce all these mechanics to a little game like this one. I tried to increase the endogenous value of the game by means of increasing the difficulty of some tasks. Completing all the puzzles with 3 stars is not that difficult but finding all the under par solutions in the game is very, very difficult. I hope that players that achieve it consider their progress valuable.