80579 is a quasi-random number.

Learning Lessons from Pokemon Shuffle

June 2, 2015 essay,Learning Lessons; Tags: ,

Pokemon Puzzle is one of the first (perhaps the first) free-to-play games I have spent time with. It’s a rather standard match 3 game. The Pokemon twist is that matching a particular Pokemon on the board may activate its special power.

As is a staple of these kinds of games, you can play without spending any money, but its design is heavily weighted such that you are enticed to make small payments to help you out or improve your experience.

But this Learning Lessons sort of article is not really meant to be a historical survey, or even a particularly deep discussion about the game and its mechanics. It’s about looking at some of the game’s design decisions and seeing how they might be applied toward game design more generally.

  • UI considerations
    • The most recent update made a simple change: it now remembers your stage position when switching between modes. Small change that is a simple reminder to make things easy on your players to get around your UI.
    • On a related note, you have several “levels” (groups of stages) and arrows that move you to the beginning of the next or previous level. As more stages are added over time, navigation by arrows is frustrating. I hope they’ll add a level selection menu.
  • I wish there were a practice/sandbox mode where you could test specific scenarios. This is because you have a number of special Pokemon abilities and very vague information on how they, and certain game systems, work. In lieu of accurate details, a sandbox mode would go far for poking the mechanics and rules. Naturally, the Internet has stepped in to fulfill some of these needs. It’s less than perfect, though, unless the creators are decompiling the game to figure out what’s going on internally. Otherwise it’s guesswork, experimentation, and observation.
  • Oh, here’s a lesson: if you’re going to give your players info, make sure it’s accurate and complete. Especially in what is ostensibly a “puzzle” game.
  • Similarly-colored Pokemon on your team is a bummer. It makes it hard to read the board quickly, and makes it easy to miss certain beneficial moves. I don’t know what, if any, solution is best here. Just a circle behind them with easily distinguishable colors?
  • I would suggest there are two kinds of progressions in this game, and most free-to-plays. The first is concrete progression. When you beat a stage, you can move to the next stage. As you attempt stages, your Pokemon increase in level. These are real benefits to playing.
    The second type is a perceived progression. There are over 200 Pokemon in the game, and not half of those will be your go-to characters. This is not a game where every character has a situational use. Nope. Some Pokemon are simply obsoleted by others. Many games, particularly free-to-plays and loot-based games, use a steady trickle of new items and bonuses to provide a sense of accomplishment or good luck. This helps to keep people attached to the game.
    The pessimist in me would learn the lesson that both types of progression are necessary in a game. Concrete progression might be a long-term system while perceived progression works as short-term. Flagpoles vs. coins in Mario 1? I want to believe, though, that an alternative is interwoven, concrete progression systems. (This may or may not apply to Pokemon Shuffle, though.)
    Shuffle may not even need all this fuss about progression, though obviously the allure of a Pokemon game has always been completing a collection. Shuffle is just a type of game, like most puzzle games, where the game itself can be fun. Match-3 games have certainly stayed a viable game type. But I would suggest Shuffle needs a new mode. Like a multi-match mode (a series of battles in a row, instead of the current one-off battles), or some means of a randomized challenge. Once you’ve moved through the game to the point where you’re just waiting for the next content update, you’ve lost any real reason to keep playing.
But you know, is a casual free-to-play game really a problem? Like, there’s no rule that you have to be tied to one game, and only one game. Maybe it’s okay to have a game that you can revisit briefly every day, or a few times a day. It worked for Animal Crossing, and you actually paid to play that. What’s different, then, about free-to-play?

Existing on the Internet as an introvert and (former?) artist

August 5, 2014 Uncategorized

When my time machine finally arrives, one of the priorities on my list is to go back to college-me and convince him to try harder to make and showcase his art. At the time, I had several things in my favor: free time, inspiration, and the encouragement of my instructors. What I didn’t have was the reinforcement of peers, a boldness to reach out, and a basic understanding of the substantive importance of such an initiative.

There’s a kind of energy that builds when peers group and bounce their thoughts and motivation against each other. As an introvert you can miss out on all that. I didn’t really carry relationships out of the classroom, which could easily be the second thing I nudge the longer-haired version of myself to do. I say this in a matter-of-fact way; I’m not bemoaning this fact or even blaming it.

When college ended, the roots that life had already planted had taken hold and it was time to watch them grow. I don’t know that I ever stopped making, but I certainly stopped completing. And that is enough information to set up a leap forward in time to now. Of the things I did and did not have back in college, the only thing I have now is that sense of how important it is to put art out into the world.

I met up with my high school art teacher recently, who urged me to take up my video camera and start recording again. I don’t have any inspiration anymore, I told her; I don’t know what to film. Just do it, she replied. This is where a network of peers could come in handy. When that motivation isn’t coming from within, it necessarily has to come from without.

So let’s talk now about the Internet. It has grown and matured since my college days during the turn of the century; within it exists both wilderness and civilization. But while it’s still open for anyone to stake one’s claim for little to no money, to showcase whatever one likes, the state of the population itself makes content creation a worrisome proposition to me personally.

Compared to the early promises of the Internet, its reality today feels woefully malnourished. At every tier there has been friction with bringing those promises to fruition. There have been political interests and corporate interests, but perhaps the greatest threat to the possibilities of the Internet has been the users of the Internet.

It turns out that, given an outlet to say anything, humans will overwhelmingly say the most asinine things. They crave the asinine; they consume the asinine; they expel the asinine back onto the Internet. The Internet became an all-you-can-eat buffet, and all we want is the fried chicken, the pizza, and the ice cream fountain; comments sections feel like the toilet stalls of this virtual restaurant. It isn’t healthy.

At some point I asked this question: what sort of content is better than this sea of the asinine? I wasn’t sure I could answer it. One thing that used to be absent on the Internet was a honest discussion about games as art. Smart thinkers have appeared since college to basically say the things I wanted to say, but better, and with that kooky thing called research to back some of it up. That left me with little reason to say much, and I was still without that free time, encouragement, or personal motivation to create art like I had before.

Thus my quandary with even having a web site: why do I have a web site? What am I doing with it; what will I do with it? It mostly exists as a bullet point for a resume. I can’t justify a full-on blog; I think that just adds to the morass of the Internet. (I specifically mean a blog from me; not blogs as a whole.) But at some point, as someone resembling an artist, the site has to act as a channel for my catharsis, which is essentially why I’m even posting this. There’s a delete button, right?

I’ve not given up. Things stay on the proverbial stove, moving on and off the back burner. When the time is right for me to say something, I am hopeful that I can find the voice and will to say it, and that it enriches the world instead of detracts from it.


July 15, 2014 Uncategorized; Tags:

  • the inability to sleep due to persistent thoughts about insomnia