Mobile Game

Finding the Fun: Archero Part 2 – Progression

Welcome to part two of my look into Archero. This time we’ll focus on the long-term progression and how that contributes to the fun. If this is your first foray into this series, I recommend starting at part one, which you can check out HERE. Let’s dive in!

Chapters

Chapters are sets of stages. The player must complete every stage in one run in order to complete the chapter and progress to the next one. Each chapter introduces new more difficult enemies with slight variations to the movement and attack patterns, and additional abilities which can be selected.

This infusion of content helps to keep the game feeling fresh. The developers drip feed the players new content to reinforce new challenges in each chapter. Once the player has mastered those challenges, items, and abilities, they move on to the next chapter.

 
Img_ChAbilityUnlock.JPG
 

Gaining Gold

Players gain gold by killing enemies and doing spins in the wheel of fortune style minigame at the beginning of each run. As previously mentioned, the wheel of fortune style spinner increases in rewards based on which chapter the player is in. This is a useful catch up mechanic if the player is behind in leveling up their talents or wants to grind their level. Even if the first encounter is too difficult for them, they are guaranteed some progression just for trying.

 
Gif_Intro.gif
 

The gold dropped from enemies is only received once the room is clear. This increases the risk in tougher chapters. If a player is barely surviving and there is gold everywhere but still plenty of enemies left it increases the tension making for a more stressful situation and enjoyable victory.

 
Img_GoldEverywhere.JPG
 

So why does gold matter? Let’s get into it in the next section.

Talents Vs Abilities

Last time we discussed abilities, which are short term power ups that last until the player dies or completes a chapter. Talents are permanent stat upgrades. The player spends gold and receives a random talent upgrade. These are things like increasing max HP, general damage, attack speed, or so on.

This works great in the sense that every player’s character is different. Every player’s experience is a little bit different as well. But, as with all things completely random, it falls into the same pothole. What is the most frustrating thing about RNG? Getting the same useless item repeatedly. And while I would argue that none of these are particularly useless, some are clearly better than others. I think this would be fine in a casual game like a clicker or business management game. In tougher chapters though the difficulty skews away from casual at which point having some control over the character’s talent build would go a long way. When I make a mistake because I built my character wrong, that’s on me, and that’s not too frustrating because I can try to do something different. When it relies on RNG and there’s nothing I can do outside restarting my progress or grinding out of necessity rather than desire, it gets frustrating and pushes players away.

 
Gif_TalentUpgrade.gif
 

Equipment + Scrolls

Equipment is like a permanent upgrade, but one the player has more control over. They receive equipment sometimes in game, more often from gacha boxes (a.k.a. loot crates). The player gets one gacha box for free,or when watching an ad, once a day and a better one once a week. These can also be purchased for gems, the premium virtual currency that can be bought with real money, at any time.

There are four types of equipment: weapons, armor, rings, and spirits. The higher the rarity, the higher the max level it can be upgraded to and the higher stats it will have. The player can equip one weapon, one armor, two rings, and two spirits at a time for a total of six pieces of equipment.

All equipment increases in level by the player leveling them up using their designated scrolls and gold. For example, a weapon will require X weapon scrolls and X gold. Scrolls are received commonly through playing the game.

As I mentioned before, there are various rarities for each of the weapons (common, great, rare, epic, perfect epic, and legendary). Though rarities in this sense would be closer to ascending an item to a higher form. All common items could one day become legendary items. This is achieved through fusing; the player can fuse three of the same items with the same rarity to create a higher rarity version of the original item.

Okay, that was a lot, but here’s what’s so brilliant about it. All that information is displayed in an easy to understand format across maybe two or three screens.

The equipment screen displays all the players equipped and owned equipment in an easy to read format.

The equipment screen displays all the players equipped and owned equipment in an easy to read format.

The fusion screen is clean and easy to understand.

The fusion screen is clean and easy to understand.

The locking out of unusable equipment makes this very easy to understand and use.

The locking out of unusable equipment makes this very easy to understand and use.

The player can discern all this information (except for gacha boxes and where scrolls come from) from spending maybe thirty seconds inside this menu. The scroll locations players will learn from seeing them drop while playing the game. The gacha box information they learn from the gacha screen when they receive a notification for a free box. No hand holding tutorial needed, just playing on their curiosity. This is some excellent UI and UX design. It’s easy to understand, it’s quick, and it doesn’t get in the way of players getting back to the game.

How does this further increase the fun?

How does all this fit together? It fits well into the games loop of fight > get rewards > improve.

 
The overall loop of Archero along with actions that fit into each section.

The overall loop of Archero along with actions that fit into each section.

 

This loop resets itself every new chapter. When the player comes into a new chapter, they’re usually too weak to easily progress. They need to increase their talents and equipment levels to be able to better face the challenges of the chapter. While they are playing the game and getting the gold, items, and scrolls to improve themselves, they are practicing against enemies and learning the new attack patterns. Thus they are not only improving their stats but their skills at the same time. Upon completing the final boss and defeating the chapter, the whole cycle starts all over again in a new chapter. It’s fun in the long run just because of that simple loop executed so well.

The enjoyable moment to moment gameplay and a strong repeatable loop make for a very enjoyable experience for a long period of time. But how does this app make money? We’ve talked a bit about it in these last two posts and we’ll finish the series out answering that question next time.

See you then,

Scott 

Part three is up! Check it out HERE

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

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

Neko Atsume: My Collection of Kitties

This week, we’ll take a look into a very interesting App: Neko Atsume. We’ll talk about how it works, where is the fun, and whether or not it is a game.

How does it work?

In Neko Atsume, you decorate a room and attempt to attract cats. You can do this by setting out different “Goodies” (boxes, balls, bags, etc.) to attract them. Each cat has a favorite toy, and when you set up their favorite toy, they might stop by to play with it. But toys aren’t enough for the cats. You need to feed them as well if you want them to stop by. Once you’ve set some food and items out, cats will begin to stop by and visit. After they leave, they will leave the player with a gift , either silver fish or premium gold fish. These are used to buy more items to put out for the cats.

Here we can see the placement options for goodies as well as food.

Food mechanic:
Players need to stop by a couple times a day and set out more food if they want to continually attract cats. The cats can visit while the player is not in the app. If they do, they will still leave a gift for the player, but the player will have missed seeing them.

Side note: This is a nice little addition because if the player doesn’t get the reward of getting to see them, they will still get something.

Every time a cat visits, it will eat a little bit of the food. Upon all the food being eaten, no more cats will visit until the bowl is full. Because there is a free food bowl called “Thrifty Bits”, running out of money never becomes a problem.

Side note: So the food is like a timer. After so many minutes, a player will need to return to the app and refill the bowl if they wish to progress and receive more rewards. Because the food has no visible timer for the player to track, the player will need to check back more often to see more cats.

For anyone still confused on how this game’s systems work, this flow chart might help.

Chart made in Lucidchart

So, where’s the fun?
In Neko Atsume, there are multiple kinds of rewards. I like to call these direct and indirect rewards. Direct rewards are something that is given to the player that’s blatantly a reward. In Neko Atsume’s case, this would be the gold and silver fish the player receives from visiting cats.

Indirect rewards are more like cinemas, things that are rewarded to the players that are solely for their enjoyment. They don’t necessarily have an effect on a game’s progress, with the exception of story. In Neko Atsume’s case, this would be like getting to see the cats do absolutely adorable things.


Like hide in a box!

Or play with a ball!

Or even get their little fluffy butt stuck in a tube!

These moments where the player gets to see the cats be adorable is the reason players continue to come back. The direct rewards are more of a means to an end. They are in place to support the adorable cat reward. These rewards, combined with the hidden food timer, makes sure the player has a nice steady stream of cats to enjoy, all the while not letting them see all of them too soon and instead forcing the player to come back.

Side note: I’m pretty sure the developers knew this is where the fun came from and wanted players to be able to revisit the adorable moments that they have already experienced. So they put in a camera feature where players could take pictures of the cats and put them in photo albums. They also gave them names and stats to help sell the attachment players might feel for the cats. So while the player could have a goal to fill up this album, there is no reward for doing so aside from their own satisfaction.

My album is on its way!

So is this a game or what?
Typically, games have a win/lose condition. That’s kind of what makes them special. So I’d have to say no, it isn’t a game. That doesn’t diminish how much fun it is. It’s more like an interactive toy, because even if you fill up all your photo albums, the game doesn’t end, and if you do nothing, the game doesn’t end either.

In the end, Neko Atsume is an excellent app which is great at wasting a few seconds out of the hour. By giving players a variety of rewards, drip-feeding them new cats, and forcing their engagement through the food mechanic, they find themselves returning to this app again and again. I hope I got you thinking about how to make simple apps, which aren’t necessarily games but are still enjoyable.

Next week, we will be returning to our regularly scheduled posts/updates.

I’ll see you guys then,

Scott