Game Design Analysis

Pokémon Go: Gym Battles!

In the last blog post, we talked briefly about the battle system. In this post, I want to dive a little deeper into it. We’ll talk about how it works, how the designer’s messaging to the player is displayed, and the pros and cons of how this battle system works. In the interest of brevity, we’ll be discussing pokémon locations in the next post. I’m trying to shorten these just a little bit. If you haven’t read my broad overview of Pokémon GO, I recommend checking it out first. It can be found HERE. Without any further ado, let’s dive into the battle system.

Very brief review from last week’s post:

·      Player takes six pokémon into opposing teams’ gyms.

·      Player takes one pokémon into their team’s gym.

·      Pokémon strengths and weaknesses have an effect on damage received and damage output.

·      Concept of CP is similar to a pokémon’s level from the original games.


Now we’re in the battle, our six pokémon are prepped and ready to go. The battle begins.

The player has a few different options:

·      Tap the Screen: Weak fast attack

·      Tap and hold the screen: Slow very powerful attack

·      Swipe the screen: Dodge attacks

These controls really help Pokémon Go’s battle system to be successful. Because they are built around mobile devices, using inputs that most players already understand, anyone can play and enjoy the gym battles.

To see what a battle is supposed to look like, I recommend checking out GameXplain’s video:

You'll notice that when Raticate would attack, the screen would have yellow flashes around the boarder of the screen.

This Gif image was taken from the above GameXplain video.

It also would lunge forward immediately after the flash. The yellow flash messages to the player to swipe to dodge. The Raticate lunging forward is when the actual attack hits. Although these are only on the screen for a split second, they are broadcasted for the player. This allows the player to dodge. Unfortunately, that’s it. The enemy pokémon can’t dodge the player’s attacks or even move.

Let’s take a look at the flow of how a battle is suppose to work:

Chart made with Lucidchart

As you can see, the player is constantly watching the enemy attack and responding to them to minimize the damage against the player’s pokémon. The best Pokémon Go players follow this flow and are able to take down gyms that are considerably more powerful, because they use their skill to compensate for their weaker pokémon.

Now that we’ve taken a look at how the battles are supposed to work, let’s take a look at the flow of how 99.9% of players battle in Pokémon go:

You’ll notice that players don’t swipe to dodge or use the more powerful attack.

Why don’t players dodge or use more powerful attacks?

Most gyms I’ve seen will have maybe three or four pokémon in them. So going in, I’m at an advantage because I’ve got two more pokémon than the gym. I can simply overpower them by pure numbers. The other reason is that I can attack so quickly that I can take out their pokémon typically before mine even hits half. The slow attack makes me vulnerable for a few seconds, which almost guarantees that I’ll take a hit. Why would I use an attack that does forty damage every four seconds, when I can dish out eighty plus damage in the same amount of time by simply tapping the screen as quickly as possible?

Additionally, the AI always follows the same pattern:

·      Attack with a weak/quick attack every X seconds

o   If pokémon falls under one-third health, use slow/strong attack every X seconds.

Usually I can eliminate that pokémon before they get their strong attack out. And even if I can’t, it won’t last much longer because it has no way of avoiding my attacks.

While I don’t think the designers intended to have a shallow battle system, it seems as if it is due to how players play the game. The only way I can think of to fix this is to create a cool down for player attacks. This would force the players to actually dodge the opposing pokémon and think more strategically about combat. The other way to fix it would be to either force players to only have the same number of pokémon as the gym, or make it even easier for teams to fill up their gyms with six pokémon. These tweaks would even the battlefield a little bit more and require the player to have a little bit more skill to take a gym down rather than a fast tapping finger.

For the next post, we’ll be talking about the pokémon spawn locations. I know there were some requests for me to rip on the game due to the absolute terrible server issues, which nullify the point of the designer’s messaging in place. But as that is technically not part of the game’s design and actually a bug, so I’m going to leave it alone. I hope you enjoyed this post.

I’ll see you next time,


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 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,



The Dark Zone Versus The Prisoner’s Dilemma

Today we’re going to spend some time talking about The Division, more specifically the Dark Zone. I recorded some of the game play in the Dark Zone this week. About an hour and a half in total, if you’d like to view it, it’s available here:

Don’t have an hour and a half? No problem! My post is built so you don’t have to watch the video if you don’t have the time. If you'd like to watch me go rogue, just jump to the fifteen minute mark.

Backstory: In case you haven’t heard of The Division, it is a cover-based shooter with RPG elements. Imagine if you will, the mechanics of Gears of War but with a leveling system, which has an effect on how much damage the player will do. The Dark Zone is the PvP (player vs. player) area of The Division.

In the Dark Zone, the player is tasked with collecting loot by killing enemies, and then making their way over to an extraction zone to drop off their loot. This is because they have to “decontaminate” the loot before they can use it. When they have loot, a little yellow pouch appears on their backpack to notify other players they have some loot. Upon reaching the extraction zone, they can call in a helicopter that can take loot from four players at a time. The helicopter takes about ninety seconds to reach the players. During this time, the players will have to defend against waves of enemies who spawn in and attack them. Once the helicopter has arrived, the players will need to make their way to the helicopter and drop off their loot by holding a button for a few seconds to secure it.

So, that’s the dark zone in a nutshell.

Wait you said there was going to be PvP?

Ah! Yes! Of course! At any given time, other players can find you, kill you, and steal all of your hard earned loot. In concept, this sounds like it could be a really cool idea. Let me elaborate on how the PvP works:

  • If a player attacks another non-rogue player (does X damage), they go rogue for twenty seconds.
  • If a player kills another non-rogue player, they go rogue for eighty-nine seconds
  • When a player has gone rogue, their position is alerted to all other players within a certain distance.
  • If a rogue player continues to harm other players their timer will increase.
  • Rogue players cannot leave the Dark Zone until their timer has run out.
  • When a rogue player is killed, their gear can be taken by anyone.
  • Players who kill a rogue player DO NOT go rogue!

I think the developers were attempting to create a version of the prisoner’s dilemma by creating this system.

For anyone who does not know it, here’s a brief Wikipedia excerpt about the prisoner’s dilemma:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of communicating with the other. The prosecutors lack sufficient evidence to convict the pair on the principle charge. They hope to get both sentenced to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the prosecutors offer each prisoner a bargain. Each prisoner is given the opportunity either to betray the other by testifying that the other committed the crime, or to cooperate with the other by remaining silent. The offer is:

  • If A and B each betray the other, each of them will serve two years in prison.
  • If A betrays B but B remains silent, A will be set free and B will serve three years in prison, and vice versa.
  • If A and B both remain silent, both of them will serve only one year in prison on the lesser charge.

For a further explanation, please enjoy This Place's video:

If we take this into account when looking at The Division, we can see that much like both of the prisoners staying quiet, if players leave each other alone or even work together they will get something. Probably not the best thing for either of them but something nonetheless.

If one player betrays the other and steals their loot, they have come out on top with more loot! And the other player comes out with nothing.

Sadly, it is impossible for both players to betray one another because one will go rogue. The killed player won’t be able to do anything to the player that betrayed them, unless they can find them again after they respawn but before the rogue timer of the other player runs out.

Went rogue… Didn’t end well.

This brings me to the issue with the mechanic. The punishment for going rogue is fairly severe, with every other player hunting the rogue without fear, while the reward is completely random. When the criminal decides to betray his buddy, he is banking on the other player not betraying them first. The developers attempted to create a similar feeing by having the other players be the great equalizers. So if you betray someone, you’re going to have quite a few other people coming after you.

While this does still give a light feeling of the dilemma, it’s like having the mafia waiting outside for the two guys, and if they only see one they know to kill him. And kill him they will.

Another issue with this is, it’s a response. In the dilemma, the prisoners are separated and neither can make the decision with any influence from the others. In the Dark Zone, players can talk to one another, which already allows them to try and lie or work together. This is a pretty cool concept, but it turns the dilemma on its head. So now our prisoners are instead being questioned together, and they can talk to one another in private without the police watching, and are then given a chance later to give their final answer, while separated, to the police. In this case, players talk about not killing one another, then one can change their mind without saying anything, and kill the other player.

So the player now has the mafia chasing them, not to mention the guy who he betrayed who got out of prison early on good behavior, as the player they killed can respawn nearby. I’d bet that nine times out of ten, players who go rogue with the intention of stealing other player’s gear don’t make it out alive.

Side note: There are groups of trolls who like to kill other players but eventually even they get overrun.

Not only do they not make it out alive, but they lose Dark Zone experience, Dark Zone funds and their own loot.

As you can see I lost my loot, 823 credits, a Dark Zone Key and 667 XP.

This brings me to the biggest issue with the Dark Zone Dilemma. There is no incentive to go rogue. Yes, you can kill a player and steal their loot. But even if you do, you have no idea what they have on them until they drop it, and more than often than not, the player is not going to have anything of value. Let me remind you this is a loot based RPG that means A LOT of weak items drop and only a few good ones do. So there is a high chance that when you do kill another player, they are going to drop something worthless.

Because of this, the prisoner dilemma is absolutely trashed. If I’m a prisoner and the police give me the option to betray my buddy, but they say “Eh, instead of locking you up for three years, we’re only going to lock you up for one to three years, but most likely still three,” I might betray him. A chance is nice! Not amazing but nice. But let’s think about if they are asking me to betray a mob boss. So the boss will go to jail and I could get out a few years earlier, but I’ll spend the rest of my life running from the mob that is constantly trying to kill me. Let’s be honest, they are probably going to be waiting for me the day I get released. Why the hell would I betray them? This is the biggest problem with The Division’s Dark Zone.

While I believe the Dark Zone was created with these really cool ideas in mind, the lack of rewards versus high risk is not worth it. This has created a very polite Dark Zone where no one bothers one another. And aside from trolls who decide to go rogue and really have no actual desire to extract, or purposely move into another player’s line of fire to get shot and make that player rogue, no one goes rogue.

So, how do we fix this? We need to make it worth it to a player to go rogue. I think a system where the bag, which notifies other players you have gear, changes color based on the rarity of the loot inside will make players feel as if going rogue is worth it. If someone has a very rare item, like a purple rarity gun, change the bag purple. I feel like this will further increase tension on both sides and make players more likely to go rogue when another player has something really rare. While this could make for something like the end of The Departed, it would also make for some really intense firefights.

Side note: for those who haven’t seen The Departed, SPOILERS! This is the ending! There is some blood. You’ve been warned!

The second change I’d like to see would be to the punishment of the players who have gone rogue. Losing money, annoying but fine. Having a waypoint above their head that let’s other players easily hunt them down, fine. Losing experience and levels is not. If they must keep it, then let the player lose experience up until they would level down, and not lose any more experience or levels past that point. But I’d like to see them get rid of that punishment altogether. By the way, that same punishment happens to players who haven’t gone rogue. Get killed, lose experience. I’ve dropped entire levels from being killed a few times in a row. It’s insanely frustrating and makes you want to die even less, which further pushes me from wanting to go rogue because my chance of death increases exponentially. Remember, while rogue, everything is hunting you.

I hope this enlightened you to how the prisoner’s dilemma, one of the most interesting game theory concepts, can go so wrong in a game. I hope you enjoyed this post and I’d love to hear what changes you think would make the players more likely to go rogue without breaking the game. I’ll be back next week with an update on the Gardens of Eden, the game I’m working on in my free time.

I’ll see you guys next week,




Scott Fine Game Design 2015 Year in Review!

In this past year,  I started this blog to focus on game design and my own projects. Now that the year is coming to an end, I’d like to take look back on a few of my favorite posts.

Specifically, I want to highlight three game analysis/postmortems which I believe are my best articles of the year, plus one honorable mention that I felt should be included. I also want to highlight three posts about my personal projects and processes which I found to be enjoyable. If you have yet to check these out, I highly recommend them because I think they are excellent!

1. NFL RUSH Heroes & Rivals Postmortem

In this post, I sat down with an old friend who also worked on the NFL RUSH apps, and talked about what went wrong and what went right. It highlights some of the work we did and is easily the most popular of my posts this year!

Read it here!

2. In-depth look at - King’s Fall Raid series

I know I am technically cheating by counting these three as one post. In this series, I break down three of the toughest sections of Destiny’s King’s Fall Raid. I explored how the player learns to defeat each section, and eventually how they beat the raid.

Read it here!

3. Two Dots, Too Charming

A mobile game which captured my heart. My goal for this post was to understand why it was so pleasant. What are the core mechanics? How do they use the free to play model? What makes it so charming? What can we learn from this game?

Read it here!

Honorary Mention: Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade - Touching the Grim Dark Future

“Freeblade is a lot of things, and I could gush about so many things it does right, but today I want to stick to the controls. Controls in iOS games typically fall into one of two categories: either they are intuitive and easy to use, or an absolute mess and frustrating.” Excerpt from
Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade - Touching the Grim Dark Future

Read it here!

Personal Projects:
In my personal projects posts, I went for a less formal tone and more of a casual blog style than the analysis posts. I hope you enjoy them!

1. Choose Your Own Adventure

Here i’m going to walk you through a bit of my process. This is in no way how you should necessarily do things; this is just to show how I sometimes do things. I also discuss what I did programming-wise to bring this prototype to life.

Read it here!

2. Blog: Diamond Raven Games & Haunted Hop not quite a post mortem

Here I talk briefly about the process of bringing “Haunted Hop” to life, and eventually to the iOS app store.

Read it here!

3. Prototyping… I love it.

“I like to prototype. It helps me to figure out my thoughts and test the game mechanics to see if they are actually fun. Also I don’t have beautiful colors or great looking assets to cloud my judgment. It allows me to focus solely on the mechanics.” Excerpt from Prototyping… I love it.

Read it here!

Last but not least I’d like to thank you. By reading and giving me feedback on my posts, whether through conversations over coffee or in the comments section, I learn more about what I’m doing right and what I’m doing wrong. I’ve improved because of your feedback. And even if you didn’t get the chance to give me feedback directly, I’d like to thank you as well for using your time to read my ramblings. Thank you and I hope you had an excellent 2015!

I’ll see you guys next week,