Game

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

 

Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Unselectable Boots!

In the process of making games, it is easy to overlook issues, which seem small, but by doing so the small issues can compound into something much larger. This is the case with Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishment. Today we are going to talk about the fun in this game. Where is it? What is it? And how did the developers accidentally bury the fun?

Side note: As I mentioned from last week, I started to stream a little bit of the games I am going to write about. I have uploaded a full version of this stream to youtube if you have an hour and a half and you wish to watch the entire thing. It can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uo0xWtiZUH4 . If not, that’s not a problem as you can still enjoy this article without watching the stream.

Where’s the fun?

When you think of Sherlock Holmes, what do you think of first? Solving mysteries? Making deductions? Maybe you think of his hat and famous silhouette that is plastered to everything involving him? Regardless of what any one person may be thinking, we can agree that his name brings the thought of mysteries and solving cases. In Sherlock Holmes C&P, this is where the fun lies. The player is given a mystery to solve and they must explore a variety of environments to find clues to solve the mystery.  Sherlock even has a “Sherlock Vision”, which will highlight details the inspectors may have missed.

Notice how the footprints are highlighted and easier to see in Sherlock Vision mode.

Additionally, he can question other people for information and make accurate assumptions about them based on their appearance.

Ah ha! A rosary! She’s religious!

But all this pales in comparison to making connections. In Sherlock Holmes C&P, there is an interesting system resembling brain synapses that connect pieces of the mystery together.

image.jpg

This screen shot is from a little bit later in the game so you can get a better idea as to how they connect. 

Players can select these and make connections, which will then influence their choices in the mystery.

The player can select two concepts and try to link them together.

After linking them sometimes they will be given the option of more than one possible conclusion to search for.

By using these mechanics, players are able to make connections and solve the case. This is where the fun lays, and my god; it is a lot of fun.

But sadly all too often in games we can see excellent mechanics like these buried under subpar camera and movement controls. As a designer, I know it can be easy to get caught up focusing on a couple of mechanics, making it impossible to notice other issues.

Side note: Don’t believe me? Look at my game Captain Bitz. I was so focused on the mechanic of reflecting enemy attacks that I didn’t notice the glaring issue of all the enemies coming from only two spaces, both on the right side of the screen. This is one of the reasons why now I always get as much feedback as possible as early on as possible.

Let’s take a look at this scene shall we:

Now here we can see a number of objects to interact with.

That is, when the player approaches them.

This is consistent throughout the game. You might say this isn’t that big of an issue. And it isn’t, if the objects were placed in a way that would make it easy to cover the room and make sure we have highlighted everything there. I’d like to turn your attention to this chest in particular:

Moments ago, it was closed. I walked up to it and was easily able to open it due to the prompt appearing while slightly tilting the camera down.

Now I am looking for a pair of boots, and I happen to notice them in the box.

But there is no prompt. This led me to believe that these boots were for whatever reason unimportant. So I’ll continue on searching the rest of the cabin and not think much of it. After doing a lot of searching around, it seems like the boots are finally selectable. If you’re watching the video, you’ll notice a brief flash of the prompt when I look down after I’ve searched the room. The boots are now officially important and I should be able to select them. But I missed the prompt because I wasn’t looking at them at the time, because I was still under the impression that they are unimportant. Later, I begin to get frustrated and crank the camera all the way down into the box. Only then does the prompt appear for me.

This is problematic because I was already under the impression that the boots were unimportant. I wasn’t looking for those boots specifically, and I have to crank the camera so far downward, to make the prompt appear, that they are incredibly easy to miss.

But Scott, part of the fun is discovering these items to help you progress through the mystery.

This is true! It is! The key terms are “discovering these items” and “progress through the mystery”. If you’ll turn your attention to the following clip, you’ll see my frustration at knowing where the boots are but not being able to bring them with me to check the size. This is all due to the information that the designers gave me leading me to think this pair was unimportant, alongside the camera control issue.

 

What I’m getting at is, that as a designer, it is part of our job to try and anticipate what a player will be doing. Now it is impossible to anticipate everything a player does, like in Halo 2 flipping the tank in Zanzibar to exit the map and snipe players from a safe spot, but simple actions such as this shouldn’t be hard to miss. It could have been easily remedied by adding a cursor on the screen. Or maybe if the player pulled the left trigger it would show all the nearby prompts.

 

Pulling the left trigger to see this could have saved me about 10 minutes of running in circles.

Tapping on the right bumper gives Sherlock the ability to notice things that are particularly amiss, so this isn’t far out of the realm of possibility. The way they did it made me think they were attempting to have a similar feel as one of those I-Spy apps on iOS. The only issue being that in the I-Spy apps there is a stationary camera and a player just taps on the screen to activate the items. Here, due to the 3D camera, it is making it difficult for players to activate the objects they wish to.

Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments is a lot of fun, especially for someone like myself who loves a good mystery. Unfortunately, camera controls and prompts that only appear after the player has dismissed that option create an insanely frustrating experience. This is not to say that it is not enjoyable. If the player is willing to be patient with the game, they will find themselves in the middle of a mystery even Sherlock would be proud of.

Thank you for joining me in this look into Sherlock Holmes Crimes and Punishments. As of this writing, it is free on Xbox One, and I think it is worth trying out. I hope with this post I got you thinking about the little actions in your games, like camera angles, and you’ll be able to catch them before the players do. Next week I’ll be updating you on my personal projects as I have selected one to really push forward with.

I’ll see you guys next week,

 

Scott

P.S. For anyone who is interested or who wants to join the conversation while I stream these games, my twitch is http://www.twitch.tv/mrf1n3/. I usually stream a couple of nights a week, but I’m still setting up a permanent schedule. When I’m not streaming games for my blog posts, I might be streaming just for fun, namely Trials of Osiris or whatever other game I’m playing at the moment. I hope to see you there!