I haven't been home where my PS3 and 360 is for over a week now, so I've had to make due with my DS and the iPhone, so I thought I'd write a short post about what I consider to be some of the great iPhone games I've been playing and what they make right. I've chosen only to include games that have one thing in common; less is more. And just to make clear, this isn't a list of the best games ever for the iPhone.
Doodle Jump is a success both in sales and when it comes to reviews. You control it by simply tilting the device left and right and you can fire at enemies by touching the screen where you want to shoot. It's very simple and even people that can barely be called "casual gamers" can master is. A session takes anywhere from couple to 10 minutes, depending on how well you play. My longest game was about 6 minutes.
Rat On a Scooter XL
Yeah, that's what it's called. You're a rat on a scooter out to score by grinding and getting cheese. The entire game is played by touching anywhere on the screen to jump. The strength varies depending on for how long you press it. A game takes a couple of minutes. It's one of many brilliant extremly simple games from Donut Games.
One of my favorite games I've ever played on the iPhone. You're a little dude swinging through levels with a grappling hook. You just touch where you want the hook to latch on and a level takes a couple of minutes to complete.
Dance Dance Revolution S
DDR for the iPhone is just like the DDR-games for consoles and a dance pad but you touch pads on the screen instead. Arrows fly across the screen and you gotta get the timing down for hitting the right direction out of four. "Easy to learn, difficult to master." One song takes a few minutes to finish.
It's a puzzle/action game if you can call it that in which you control a ball by simply tilting the device. The controls are extremly good and very exact and the level design is very interesting. Outbreak Studios is developing the sequel. A few days ago I had my girlfriend, her sister and the sister's fiance try out the game, and all of a sudden they were all playing it at the same time, loving it. One level takes a few minutes to finish.
Now, there are many more games I like but these are a few of them. As you probably noticed, two things are shared among all of them.
They're extremly easy to control and more importantly the game is over after a few minutes, which result in people having an easy time to play just "once more" a million more times.
I like games like Rolando and Asphalt too, but I rarely play them because they feel like they "require" me to invest more time and effort into them. I can play a song in DDR any time. Yesterday when I was out with my girlfriend and she started trying out clothes in a store, I played some Doodle Jump and Rat On a Scooter. 'nough Said.
I think many developers get that part wrong.
Last year (http://arcadeberg.com/game/christmas-games/) I complained about there not being any real christmas games except for indie stuff.
I'm still not completely satisfied, but I must say that I'm not as depressed this year. With the explosion of iPhone-games and how easy it is for developers (and in the end, the consumer) to update them, I've seen a bunch of games becoming christmasified.
As an example, I'll show you Doodle Jump. A great game (my currect highscore is 58'000 points) that's usually not very christmasy at all.
But a little while ago, they released their update that makes the game more in rythm with the holiday spirit. The same game, but new graphics. And you can still turn them off if you want to.
I think it's great!
Now, I want bigger games on PSN and XBLA to do the same. But the relase of an update is no walk in the park, unfortunately. But still, this is a great step in the right way.
Will we see a Doodle Jump with bunnies and eggs during Easter?
But now; Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas!
Remember Bob Came In Pieces, the game made by Ludosity Interactive?
Well, it was released today so first of all, go buy it! It's only about $9, so it's worth it.
But second of all, guess what, I'm in the credits! Who knew? Well... They did. I didn't! I'm thankful, so special thanks to you guys over at Ludosity!
Yesterday, I made a Chocolate Flavoured Sponge Cake. It wasn't all that hard, because I was following a recipe, telling me what ingredients to use and how much of each. It even told me in what order to implement them.
I knew somewhat what I was getting, even before it was done. I expected a sweet, smooth taste and it was what I got. After all, it was a Sponge Cake and after all, I was following a recipe.
There's a new Zelda game out; The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks. I'm expecting a boomerang, bombs and a bow. After all, it's a Zelda game and after all, it's following a recipe.
I haven't played Spirit Tracks yet, but I've played a bunch of the previous titles on the NES, SNES, GB, GBC, NGC, N64 and the Wii. (No, I haven't played the CD-I.) And it's a fact that the Zelda games are all cooked using the same tried and proved recipe each time. Sure, there are variations in the spicing and and presentation, but overall, it's always the same amount of eggs, exploration, salt, bombs, sugar, chests and baking powder.
I'm not in any way saying this is a bad thing. Heck, it obviously works and based on the reception of each game, people still love it.
But what I'm thinking is this: How much is gained and lost when using an old and expected recipe for a game?
I don't know, but it's something I've been thinking about for a few days now. Let's continue with Zelda as our subject. At the moment, I'm playing Phantom Hourglass, because I haven't finished it yet and I don't think I should start playing Spirit Tracks before I have.
Even at the beginning of the game, I "knew" I was gonna get the boomerang. When I saw open eyes in the walls, I realised I would probably need a bow and arrow to shoot it, before the game had actually told me that such a thing exist. This is because it's nearly always the case in Zelda. Whenever I see a crack in the wall, I know I'll need bombs and I'll now I'm gonna get them eventually per default.
Again, this isn't a bad thing, per se. It makes me excited and makes me wanna keep on playing so I can break those walls. It makes me feel comfortable and enjoyed while playing.
But a lot of the "Wow-factor" is gone when I get these items. I'm not thinking "Wow, bombs! Awesome!, I'm thinking "The bombs... Finally.". Not to say that I'm not happy when I get them, I'm just so much more happy when I get something new for the Zelda franchise.
Zelda isn't the only game. Of course not. I heard a new Mario game is out on the Wii. Does it have a fire flower? I thought so. I wonder if there will be huge enemies, chests with magical orbs and quick time events God of War 3? So, played Metroid recently, how about those missiles? And let's not forget the morph ball.
I realise you can't change a game completely when making a sequel, of course developers should keep what's good and of course they shouldn't mess with the foundation.
But I can't help but to wonder what is lost when doing this?
If you apply for a job within the game industry, it's very likely that you'll get a question at the interview asking what game impresses you the most regarding the area you want to work with.
I actually don't remember if I got that question when I had my interview before getting a job as Level Designer at GRIN, and if I did, I don't remember the answer anyway.
However, if I were to get that question today I know exactly what I'd answer and I think it'd be a shocker.
The game I think has the most impressive level design is Valkyria Chronicles.
Not a FPS, Third Person Shooter or a Platformer, but a strategy game!
I'm a bit behind on some games so I didn't get Valkyria until a few months ago, but after beating it, I can't say I'm anything but amazed of how fantastic the execution of each level is.
Once again, it's a strategy game! A genre that has never had me raise an eyebrow because of its level design before.
I think it has somewhere around 20 missions (levels, maps, whatever) in the main campaign and what's so interesting is that each and everyone really is unique. It's often a line on the back of the cover with little to no meaning, but in this case it would be perfectly true.
There is no "one tactics" that always work on each level. You're encouraged to play different missions in different manners and they're extremely varied while at the same time never going astray from its core. They never feel weird, out of place or "forced".
Every now and then they present one new level feature. That's what I choose to call it. It can be stuff like trenches, mortar attacks (explosions covering a large area of the level), train carts you can ride, etc. The new level feature open up new possibilities for the level design and they take full advantage of it. And as you progress, there are more and more features and tools to combine to create great levels, different from the previous once, but still familiar enough for you to be able to play right away.
Putting story aside, each level make me very committed to finish it and I feel very involved. Of course, gameplay and presentation are huge parts of this as well, and it's pretty much impossible to ever differentiate game and level design to a great extent but each of the three really merge into something great.
Well, enough rambling for now. My point is, I think you should really have a look at Valkyria because of it's great level design. It's a game that shows that even genres like this can stand out in areas such as that and I think techniques they use can be of great inspiration for any kind of level design. With that, I mean how they use a little to make a lot and the respect of the game's core while introducing new features.
A perfect object for an in-depth analysis if you have the time.
Today is a good day for Ludosity Interactive (http://ludosity.com/, 10/12/2009). Ludosity is a game company founded by a bunch of my friends back from the University and they've made some small games. Both "gaming games" and "serious games".
For a long time I've been visiting them about once every two weeks to check up on them and see how far along their awesome game "Bob Came In Pieces" was. It's been a joy to see it develop and it's been great fun to be able to give some feedback along the way.
They've just released a trailer and the response has been great and they're popping up all over the Internet! Not bad for a little indie game.
(All URL worked 10/12/2009)
It's a physics based puzzle game and I really enjoy playing it! You should definately have a go at it when you get the chance.
And btw, it's made using Unity3D which I've been writing about every now and then.
So here's a shout out for my friends over at Ludosity Interactive! Fun game and good luck!
Here's another "just thinking out loud".
I'm one of those guys who like to watch anime. I recently watched the Eureka Seven series. It's 50 episodes, each spanning around 20 minutes. It took me less than a week to finish. After that I watched Clannad After Story. It's 25 eps and took me three days.
The reason I can finish them so fast is because it's passive entertainment that doesn't require much from my side. When I get tired at night, I can watch a couple of hours with anime before going to bed. This is of course true to any kind of show, and not just anime.
Another thing is that since it requires so little from me, it's easy for me to do it for extended amounts of time without getting "exhausted".
Here's what I'm thinking. Is it the same with games?
Games are a very active activity. It often requires me to stay sharp, think hard and execute physical actions, even if it's just with my hands. No game can be purely passive, but the things required from me can differ. I'd say that a Point & Click Adventure Game doesn't require as much activity as a Quake Death match.
Is it easier to spend time with passive games than active ones?
If I want to make a game in which player can spend many hours with without getting tired, should I aim for a passive one? I have no idea.
And how do I make a really passive game? Personally, when I'm tired and I'm still up for some anime (or Dexter, The Big Bang Theory, or whatever) even adventure games are too much. Hm... This deserves some thinking. How do I make an extremly passive game that's actually fun? Not only passive in actions, but also in mind efforts, while still not being too easy and boring.
Every now and then I bash other games' design choices, making it sound like I'm so much better (which of course, I am). And it's not like I each and every time give some examples of how to do it in a better way.
Anyway I thought it would be fun (for you, not me) to see some of my bad designs as well.
Back in the summer 2006 I wrote a game design document for a game I was thinking about trying to have developed as a spare time project. I called it Agumented as a project name and it was a top down shooter with some strategic elements in a Sci-Fi setting. I might have been a fun game indeed, but not earth shaking in it's innovations. In the end, I never tried to develop it.
Looking back at it, the "worst" part about it must be my mini-map.
How it works:
- It's in full 3D, formed as a cube, where each side represent a perspective of the level.
- The player wouldn't start with 100% of the map discovered, unless it's been acquired somehow in advance.
- The cube could be rotated by being controlled by the player.
- It would show your location as well as enemies within your line of sight or otherwise detected with various equipment.
- It would be placed in a corner of the screen meanwhile playing, so keep in mind that it's a mini-map and not a map reached from the Pause screen.
Have a looksie at the picture.
Why it's bad:
If I were to see this design in a game today, it would probably drive me crazy. I can really understand how I thought back then and in theory it works, but the problem is that I don't think it's easy to read at all. To actually understand my surrounding and what's going on, I would have to look at all three sides individually and then combine the gathered data into one piece of information.
Heck, I don't know. Maybe that's easy for a person to do, but if there's a complex environment with walls, stairs and the player's position along with five enemies, I think it would be hard to get an instant overview.
When using a simple top-down map like in most games, we can process the information instantaneously.
Any piece of on-screen-information like this should require an absolute minimum of time and effort to compute, if you ask me. Clearly, that's not the case here.
The mistake I made:
Unfortunately, I think the main reason for why "this happened" was because I wanted to make something new and interesting, instead of using something old that's proved to work. I'm not against innovative thinking at all, but I don't think it should be forced like I did here. I did it "because" even though the results were worse, which I didn't see at the time.
There you have it. One of my bad designs over the years. I hope enjoyed it, because I didn't...
If you haven't heard about Spotify already, it's a client in which you stream music from a huuuuuuuuuge library and it's available for a bunch of platforms, including Windows and iPhone. The biggest change for me after starting to use Spotify way back when, isn't that I seldom downl...erm... buy music nowadays. It is that I'm listening to stuff I never would have if it wasn't for the easy access to share playlists and link to songs.
With simple drag 'n drop actions from the Spotify Client to the Instant Messaging Client of your choice, you can send links to songs, albums, artists and playlists.
When I find something good I often send it to some friends, after which they click the link and starts listening within seconds. People around me do this all the time as well, They post it via IM, Twitter and Facebook.
Nowadays I'm a fan of over 30 bands I'd never heard about before. The reason I listened to them the first time around was because it was so incredibly accessible!
We need something like this for games!
A way to share gaming experiences within seconds with friends and other people! No download required and it'll "just work". It doesn't have to be complete games. Let's say I have the complete Modern Warfare 2 and want to make a friend test it, then I'd just send him the link and if he doesn't already own it, a demo will start.
It's somewhat possible with flash games at Flash portals like Newgrounds and Kongregate and that's great. But that's only for Flash games, I'm talking about "real" games (I hate myself for using that term right now).
Maybe GaiKai and OnLive is getting there. At least a bit. I hope so.
There are so many games I just want to try, but even more so, I want to play the games I don't know about or just won't go through the hassle to try them out.