The Illusion of Danger

First a little backstory on the game:

Rolling Sky is a goal runner. The player must navigate through a course while moving at a constant speed. They move their finger across the bottom of the screen to have the ball adjust its location along the x-axis. If the player makes it to the end of the track, they win.

I was playing Rolling Sky this week and I noticed something in the second level.

In the second level, you encounter these hammers which are swinging in a circle. They swing off the platforms and then back around to take up some space on a platform. If the player touches these hammers, they instantly die. The first one the player encounters swings inward when they pass it thus narrowing the path the player can travel on.

Then the next three pairs of hammers swing outward when the player passes them. I found this to be peculiar because the other three then can’t actually have an effect on the player as they are swinging over nothing and the player would have already died if they had traveled over to that space.

To clarify, this wasn’t the first time a player encountered these hammers. Upon reviewing the previous level, they were taught about them by the very first one encountered swinging outward then the next one swinging inward. So the player has time to learn how they function and prepare themselves for it.

We know that typically in games when players are introduced to a new threat, they often have a chance to observe it and try to figure out how to tackle the threat.  This can be in the form of scoping out a Dark Souls boss and dodging their attacks to learn their tells, or as simple as seeing some enemies attack something else in the distance. From that moment on, the players figure out how to take care of the problem. By solving the problem, they are able to refine their methods and become more skilled at fighting this type of enemy or completing this type of task.

But in our case, the hammers are harmless. The ones that swing out have no effect on the difficulty of the game.

That is of course unless the Designers intended to use them as a tactic to make the player freak out or distract them. This could be their goal; by psyching the player out, they have surely ensured their doom. 

We see something similar to this throughout these levels as well with the falling platforms.

The vast majority of these have no purpose, aside from making a cool ping noise to go with the music, since the player is moving at a constant rate and unable to stay on them for long enough for them to fall anyways. But interestingly enough, we see larger platforms later on that can actually let the player fall.

Here we can see the player touching the platform and the larger platform falling away, creating obstacles in the future which the player may not have accounted for.

The falling platforms fall into the realm of standard game design by showing the player how to deal with something before introducing them to actual danger. The hammers changing back and forth give us an interesting conundrum. Could going slightly against the standard rules of game design be used to throw off players? I believe so. Because there are so many excellent games out there that teach players how to think and solve problems in games, this could be an interesting idea to make a game feel fresh, although it can be difficult to implement. While the developers of Rolling Sky used this expertly, the rules of design are standard because they work.

Side note: I’d like to take a second to talk about the controls. Because the object the player is controlling is a ball, this could have gone a thousand different awful ways. (Tilt controls GAH!!!) But because the ball is tethered to the location of the player’s finger, it makes for an excellent experience navigating around tight corners.

Thank you for joining me in this exploration of the illusion of danger. I hope this week I got you thinking about ways you can break the rules in your games to make your games feel fresher.

I’ll see you guys next week,

Scott