Archive for the 'General' Category

Cacodemon’s Score Mechanisms

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

There are few things I never seem to get over with. One of them is the Cacodemon’s score mechanism (previous post on the subject) and the other one is Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I started rewatching the season one again).

Actually this is more of a very dry game design theory post about how different score mechanisms affect games. Cacodemon just happens to be the practical example. So if you haven’t downloaded the game already, you can download it from here. And click here to download the examples for this post (a zip file that includes three test exes). Download them now, I’ll wait. While your downloading you can study the highly scientific chart of how the different game modes have different skill vs score rates.

A highly scientific chart

Now we can begin the boring theory part of this post. We’ll begin by examining how the score mechanisms affect the game in general. I agree with Danc of Lost Garden that score mechanism are a meta game mechanics that’s layered on top of the core game mechanism. The core game mechanism stays unaltered but a scoring mechanism can adjust the balance of the game and enhance both the fun and intensity of the core mechanism. A score mechanism can also punish players when they play poorly, but punishing players can easily make the game too difficult and frustrating for the players.

In Cacodemon terms this means that what ever the scoring mechanism is, the player still can spin and bounce the kitties (the core mechanism). Even if there wouldn’t be any kind of scoring, you could still punish the kittens from the bottom of your heart. You just wouldn’t get any kind of score from it, but you could still do it.

The Original Simple-o-Scoring System
In the original release of Cacodemon (the cacodemon.exe) there is the simplest reward mechanism possible. You score by throwing the kitties to the wall or by spinning them. You also get some points if you throw the kitten into the oven. There is no punishment if you happen to drop a kitty. You have ten cute kittens to go and the game ends when you run out of kittens. The kitten count is reduced if you drop a kitten into the pit bellow but also if you throw them into the oven. Only difference is that you get some points if you throw the kitten into the oven.

Because both the oven and the pit reduce your kittens the optimal way to play the game is to just bounce and spin the kitten for maximal points avoiding both the oven and the pit.

The funniest thing to do in the game is to whack the heck out of the small cats and this scoring mechanism encourages player to do that. But the game lacks suspense, because the scoring mechanism doesn’t really punish the player for failing. You don’t get that “Damn, I almost had it” -feeling, that you get from a more intensive gaming experience. And I feel that that’s the biggest short coming of this otherwise good and beginner friendly version of the game.

The Punisher System
During the development of the game I already tested this scoring mechanism and decided to go with the player friendlier system. In this game mode (cacodemon_test1.exe) you also get points for plucking and banging of the kitties, but you can only cash in those points by throwing the kitten into the oven. If you fail to do that (the kitten slips and plummets into the pit), you get a zero score for that kitten.

This scoring mechanism is surely going to bring some intensity into the game. The game gives the player the change to risk it all for a greater score. Keep on bouncing the kitten and it’s possible that you don’t get any kind of score or play it safe and throw the kitten into the oven the first change you get. I think it’s a nice risk to give to the player, because in the end they can only blame their own greed for their failure.

The problem with this scoring mechanism is that in practice it’s frustrating at least for the new players. A series of games with a zero score is surely going to depress even the most enthusiastic player. Even for the player who has been playing it for a while, the game can be a bit too difficult. Especially if they don’t take the risk consciously.

The Score Multiplier System
So if my original version was newbie friendly and the second one was for the hardcore players, wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way of combining the best of both systems. I think I came up with one and I also realized that I wasn’t the only one to use this system.

In this mode (cacodemon_test3.exe) there is a score multiplier that increases every time you throw a kitten into the oven. And it resets back to one when you let a kitten slip to the pit.

This way there is also the risk from the second system, but the punishment isn’t so cruel. Usually the new players don’t even bother with the score multipliers. But for the more experienced player the multiplier system gives a nice boost of replayability. And it also makes the make more intensive to play.

At least I hope it makes the game a bit more intensive without making it too difficult for the new players. I thought of adding this mechanism to the next version of Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party in Hell. So let me know what you think of it.

Cacodemon Test Builds

Saturday, December 16th, 2006

Pluto's Nasty Emperor Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party in Hell is on the verge of a new release! But before I release a new version of the game I’d really love to hear your comments about few gameplay tweaks that I have done. These tweaks where born from the great discussions on the Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party post. So big thanks to everybody who commented.

New players ahoy I need your opinions and feedback. If you haven’t played Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party I really need you to test out the game and tell me what you thought of it. I’d really appreciate it and you get to influence the gameplay of Cacodemon by your comments. If your a new player I want you to run the “cacodemon_test1.exe” or the “cacodemon_test2.exe ” first (the download and installation instructions are below). And after you’ve tested it please let me know if the game was too easy or too hard and any other suggestions and ideas that you came up with playing the game. You can test the original game by running the “cacodemon.exe” and let me know which one them was the best and why.

I’d also love to hear from the old savvy Cacodemon players, what you think of these new gameplay modes and which of the plays the best and why.

So here are the test builds and installation instructions.

1. First you have to download the Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party (5.2 Mb) (release 1).
2. Then download the Cacodemon_testpack.zip file (includes two .exes) and extract it into the same folder where the “cacodemon.exe” is located.
3. Then run either “cacodemon_test1.exe” or “cacodemon_test2.exe”.

The test #1 was actually released originally in the Cacodemon’s original blog post’s comments. It has the per kitten scoring enabled. Meaning that you only get a score if you manage to throw the kittens into the oven. This was enabled after the discussion that the oven was basically useless in the game.

The test #2 has the time released kittens mode coded into it. Now the kittens are also released after twenty seconds. So it’s possible to play around with multiple kittens at the same time. And you’ll get a double score for doing that.

In related news I have been working on the high-score list and it will be included in the new release of Cacodemon’s Barbecue Party in Hell and Pluto Strikes Back. The bad news is that when I’m not doing rapid game development, the engineer in me pops up and I end up over engineering my code. So the high-score list feature turned into a obsession of updating my game engine to handle it’s resources in a smarter way. I was a little afraid that something like that might happen. Good news is it is almost done, the bad news is that I’m really busy next week.

In the other news grapefrukt has just released his new cool game called Eater Of Worlds. You should check it out.

Kloonigames @ Pjio.com

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

I’m in the middle of development, so just a quick note. I’ve uploaded all my games to Pjio.com, so they can now be played online. I hope that I can find some new players for my games, since from now on you don’t have to download and extract the zip files. Even though Pjio.com requires for you to install a plug-in I think it’s a bit easier for the not-so-tech-savvy players.

Here’s the links to my games on Pjio.com:
Pluto Strikes Back
Slimy Pete’s Singles Bar
Jimmy’s Lost His Marbles

In the Pjio.com related news, the founder of Pjio.com, Tim Fisher created a fun experimental game in 4 days called Part One. Check it out, it’s a fun take on the swarm shooter idea.

Quick Update On Pluto Strikes Back

Friday, November 17th, 2006

The feedback on Pluto Strikes Back has been surprisingly positive. So I thought I’d write a little bit about what’s up with Pluto.

Pluto's Nasty Emperor There’s a new version of the game (Release 1.5). It fixes the “endless” score bug and makes the game a bit easier to gasp. It also makes a lot of the content modable. The new version can be download from here. Or if you only want a quick patch download this file and extract it on top of the older version of Pluto Strikes Back.

When you have downloaded the new version I recommend checking Pluto Strikes Back’s first mod by Felekar. You can download it from here (just extract it on top of Pluto Strikes Back). It changes the game by increasing the gravity of other planets. The end result is very fun and very different Solar System to play in.

Pluto Strikes Back can now also be played online. Thanks to pjio.com. So if you haven’t played the game already go to pjio.com and try it online for free. I’ll soon be uploading all my games to pjio.com (I’ll try to do that on Monday).

There’s also a gameplay video of Pluto Strikes Back on Youtube.com (Thanks to Seebee). So everyone who doesn’t want to download or play the game online can see what the game looks like in action.

Another Bunch of Articles About Rapid Game Prototyping

Friday, November 10th, 2006

Some time ago I published the Articles About Rapid Game Prototyping post. When I wrote it, I didn’t intend to write a sequel. So I didn’t hold back any links. After I published it I stumbled upon few new resources. The list quickly grew into a bigger one (thanks to Lost Garden) and now I think I have enough to justify a new post.

Last time the articles where mainly about software game prototyping. There where only two articles that touched the delicate subject of paper prototyping. Even if your not interested in paper prototyping or board games I recommend reading the articles about them. They contain a lot of useful information for anyone creating a game prototype in any material.

Casual Games Design – Building A Prototype
http://www.casualgamedesign.com/?p=17#more-17

A very good article about why you should prototype and what kind of different prototyping options you have. I tend to go for the Program a Prototype -section, but I’m starting to get more and more interested in “paper” prototyping. The only type of prototyping not listed there and probably the most used in the (casual) games industry, is the Prototype With an Existing Game -type. In which the game designer plays some over-1-million-copies-sold type of game to prove that the game mechanism works (or at least sells well).

Board Game Designers Forum – Prototyping
http://www.bgdf.com/tiki/tiki-index.php?page=Prototyping

I know that your all wondering why I listed a board game prototyping article here. The reason is that in this small article is the best answer I have read to the question of why graphics matter in prototyping and why they don’t. Generally from what I have read there seems to be two extremes in the prototyping guides. Other end says that prototypes don’t need graphics, because it takes more development time and doesn’t replace missing fun. Other end says that the prototypes live longer and are more useful if you put in the extra hours for the graphics. The small article cleared my head and explained to me the good and the bad of graphically intensive prototypes.
I recommend digging trough the Board Game Designers Forum, there’s a lot of good information directly related to computer game design and prototyping. For example read the Design Process part. It’s the best written article, that I have read about iterative design.

The Siren Song of the Paper Cutter: Tips and Tricks from the Trenches of Paper Prototyping
http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20050913/sigman_01.shtml

Here’s a great introduction to paper prototyping by Tyler Sigman. It addresses the common problems of paper prototyping: how to build cards, tokens and boards. Even if the practical aspects of paper prototyping doesn’t create a huge urge to read the article I recommend checking it out for the chapters that deal with benefits of prototyping and playtesting. The information in both of these chapters is directly related and easily converted to software game prototyping. But on the other hand if your seriously interested in paper prototyping I recommend reading Tom Sloper’s Lesson #20 Board Game Design. At the end of the article there is a great list of resources for the paper prototypers.

prototyprally – Conclusion
http://www.grapefrukt.com/blog/conclusion/

Martin did game in a week for six weeks and published his games in his blog. There are some very interesting games, Hovercrafty is my favorite. At the end of his game design marathon he published an article that sums up what he learned. I highly recommend reading it, if you want to create a game in a week. On his blog there are also postmortems for every game he did. They are rather brief for my taste 🙂 , but there are some good insights in those blog posts too.

Game Design Workshop – a book
http://img.cmpnet.com/cmpbooks/pdfs/1578202221_excerpt.pdf

A book by Tracy Fullerton, Chris Swain and Steve Hoffman, that I haven’t read. But luckily for us they published the prototyping chapter as a preview. The chapter is more about paper prototyping and it’s a good guide to the world of paper prototyping. There is an interesting example on how to paper prototype a FPS. There is also a section called Using Software Prototypes In Game Design by Nikita Mikros, which is of more interest to us software game prototypers.
Lost Garden: Common Game Prototyping Pitfalls
http://lostgarden.com/2005/08/common-game-prototyping-pitfalls.html

This is an extremely good article about the problems of prototyping that no one wants to talk about. But I feel that I have to comment some of the solutions.

The infrastructure of prototyping is a concept that I didn’t even think about before I read the post. But it’s true. You have to have some kind of “infrastructure” before you can start prototyping. I don’t think this infrastructure is only the engine or framework, but also the skills to use the engine / tool. I don’t believe that you can just pick an off the shelf engine and start prototyping. Even an experienced programmer has to get himself familiar with the engine to be able prototype quickly. When prototyping the programmer can’t spend time learning to use the tool in question. Spending time on finding how to do stuff can easily kill the momentum. Simple things can sometimes take days to figure out, so that why I think it’s very important for the programmer to know his tools.

I’d also like to comment about the hacker, architecture, genius programmer thing. I believe that a good programmer can change his programming style to fit the project. When I’m prototyping I haxor the code together. When I’m building my engine I put (too) much effort on the architecture. Of course there are programmers who cannot change their style of coding, but when your prototyping it’s important the realize that your not going the reuse the code. The most important thing is to get code up and running in the fastest (possible the ugliest) way possible.

Lost Garden: Article: “How to prototype a game in under 7 days” on Gamasutra
http://lostgarden.com/2005/10/article-how-to-prototype-game-in-under.html

Here’s Danc’s take on the Experimental Gameplay Project gamasutra article. There is a good description of building the toy first and putting the game elements on top of that. I used this exact method when I did Pluto Strikes Back. First I created a simple physics model and played around and found out what where the fun things to do. Then I made a scoring system that gives scores when you execute those fun things. I also added the health bar so that it’s not only a simple toy but a “real” game. In the end the line between a toy and game is scoring system and a health bar?

Lost Garden: Space Crack: A gift prototype
http://lostgarden.com/2005/10/space-crack-gift-prototype.html

A very good post about how to evaluate prototypes. This is something I want to start doing with my own prototypes. Only problem is that I fear that I’m too attached to my own games to tear them apart this brutally.

Lost Garden: Cheap custom whiteboards for rapid game prototyping
http://lostgarden.com/2006/05/cheap-custom-whiteboards-for-rapid.html

Just as a last quickie a good, cheap and easy way of doing paper prototyping.

That’s all I for this time. If you haven’t already read the articles in Articles About Rapid Game Prototyping post I recommend reading them through. If you have read them then I hope that this post gave you a new dose of inspiration for your prototyping experiments.
Btw. If you happen to know any other articles that I haven’t listed, don’t hesitate to contact me either by commenting on this blog or by mailing my at petri (.) purho [ät] gmail.com.