2021 Best VR and MR Devices Review

TL; DR
Best Virtual Reality (VR) Device: Vive Pro
Best Mixed Reality (MR) Device: Microsoft Hololens 2

Personally, I have tried before multiple VR/MR/AR/XR devices in a previous recent internship experience. Here are my favorites as well as a quick survey of other devices.

VR: HTC Vive Pro

I have used a variety of VR devices like the Occulus Go, HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro. The HTC Vive Pro has given me the best VR experience. Another main reason why I will choose the HTC Vive Pro is because of it’s versatility to run SteamVR games and other PC app.

The HTC Vive Pro kit comes with the headset, 2 controllers, 2 external sensors. In terms of technical specs, it has 6 DoF, 4k, and supports a 5mx5m area

The main drawback will be the space needed and the setup. The Vive Pro requires a good gaming PC to drive the Device. Multiple wires are required for power and data transfer. The 2 external sensors have to take up their own space and power supply. In comparison, a similar grade device like the Occulus Quest is standalone and does not require a PC wired connection nor the 2 external sensor devices.

Since it is PC powered, the HTC Vive enjoys higher performance, especially if you have a good graphics card. You will also be able to play AAA game titles

In conclusion, while there are some drawbacks regarding the setup, it should not be too much of an issue unless you are traveling around with the device a lot.

MR: Microsoft Hololens 2

The Hololens 2 has enough power to be a computer on it’s own.

I have used it before and the voice and gesture controls feels a little unstable; There is a 60-80% chance of me able to get it to recognize the command I was gesturing or saying, which makes it a little irritating.

The device itself is quite lightweight and comfortable to wear, coming in at 566g.

https://hololens.reality.news/news/microsofts-hololens-2-team-answers-more-questions-about-biometric-security-audio-hand-tracking-0194712/

Other devices

Smart Glasses

In my own personal experience, AR smart glasses like the RealWear HMT-1 and Google Glasses have made me nauseous, perhaps due to the fact that the screen is at the side of my vision, or the small FOV the screen offers.

One should note that due to these devices being smaller and more lightweight, they will also have a much lower battery capacity and battery life. The processing power on smart glasses are comparable to mid to high-end mobile phones, which depending on your use case, might be sufficient.

Smartphones/Tablets

Unsurprisingly, your mobile device has AR capabilities too. Common social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram, as well as the popular game, Pokemon Go are apps that can overlay animations on top of your phone camera video. Vendors like ScopeAR and Vuforia offer solutions for industrial partners such as AR remote calling for remote assistance and AR for work instructions. While many of us will not have considered our mobile phones a full fledged MR device, we must still acknowledge that everyone owns one in their pockets.

Pokemon Go on the IPhone


Game Analysis: Return of the Obra Dinn

Game Trailer

Return of the Obra Dinn is a first person puzzle game created by Lucas Pope, who is also well know for his other game Papers, Please. It is the winner of the IGF Seumas McNally Grand Prize award in 2019. I first learned of this game from a YouTuber two years ago and have since always wanted to play it fully myself. A few months ago, it was on 50% discount and I finally decided it was time to buy and play it. After 10 hours of constant head-scratching and googling of hints, I finished this masterpiece of a game and am safe to say that it is now one of my favourite games.

Game Screenshot

The game is set in 1807 with the player assuming the role of an insurance inspector. The player’s goal is to determine what happened to everyone who was on board the ship Obra Dinn, which went missing for 5 years.

Game Website: https://obradinn.com/

Lens 9: Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics: You are equipped with a thick journal (containing a list of all the names and artist’s sketches of the crew/passengers, and the blueprint of the ship) to record all your findings, including matching everyone’s names to their faces. You are also given a magical pocket watch that can be used on corpses, which then transports you to the moment of the corpse’s death frozen in time. You will also hear a short clip of dialogue/sound effects moments before that death. While exploring moments of deaths, you can use the pocket watch again to explore even more corpses captured in that moment. This game’s mechanics are not just unique, but also really engaging.

Story: The story plays a huge part in this game. It is ultimately the player’s goal to piece together the story, from each person’s death, so I won’t be spoiling it. The deaths also aren’t shown to you in order. The first few corpses you find were the last ones who died, and from their moments of death, you’ll find more corpses from the middle of the ship’s journey, or even the beginning of the ship’s journey. Even though the pieces of story aren’t given to you in order, after piecing them together, the well-crafted story flows in a linear way.

Aesthetics: The game graphics uses a 1-bit monochromatic graphical style mimicking games on early Macintosh computers. (You can also change the screen to mimic to other old computer monitor colors in the settings!) Everything from the soundtrack music, the sound effects, the voice acting, the dialogue, to the appearances of the passengers, come together to give players the feeling that they are really present on a ship in the 1800s.

Technology: Since the graphics of this game mimics that of really old Macintosh computers, it is not very graphics intensive. It is supported on both Windows and Macs, and multiple console devices. This game only requires simple controls, like walking/looking around and keys to turn the pages of the journal and selecting the names and fates of each passenger.

Lens 8: Problem Solving

This game is filled with all types of problems that players have to solve in order to correctly determine all identities and fates of the 60 people on board, sometimes from really subtle hints like who this person usually hang around, or which room of the ship this person has access to. You sometimes even need the process of elimination. There’s really nothing more satisfying than slowly but correctly filling up pages in the journal after working out each person’s fate.

Lens 6: Curiosity

The game hooks players in and keeps them hooked using its gameplay loop: you find a corpse and replay their death, causing you to wonder questions like why did that person kill them? why are these people fighting? The only way to satisfy your curiosity is to keep playing, uncovering even more deaths, and more questions.

Lens 87: Character Traits

Each of the 60 people is designed down to the minute detail. Each person has a unique face, name, dialogue, voice (accent), role on the ship (eg. captain, passenger, gunner), country of origin, all accurate to the time period they are in (1800s). This allows players to identify the identities of everyone accurately.

In conclusion, this game definitely deserves every praise it receives. I really look forward to more games from Lucas Pope.

Game Design Analysis: Samsara Room

Samsara Room is a point-and-click (and drag) mystery escape room game in the Cube Escape series. The player has woken up in a mysterious room and has to find a way to escape. The game encourages the player to explore the environment as much as possible to discover hidden secrets and ways that game objects may interact with each other.

Game: http://www.rustylake.com/room-escape-games/samsara-room.html

Elemental Tetrad:
Story:
Samsara, the title of the game, is a Sanskrit word that means “wandering” or “world”, with the connotation of cyclic, circuitous change (from Wikipedia). The game integrates this concept into the story well, with the player travelling between different interconnected worlds, while partly transforming into the creature that represents each world’s theme.

Mechanics:
The mechanics are quite simple: Point and click with dragging. Unlike most other escape-room games and other games in this series, this game allows the player to drag some items. Players are also able to click on some items to store them into their inventory to use them later.

Aesthetics:
The game has a simplistic but stylised art style which is reminiscent of paper cutouts. Each element of the scene feels like it belongs and the look of interactable items is well integrated.

Technology:
The game was created using Adobe Flash and is available on PC, iOS and Android. It doesn’t require other special technology.

Other Lenses: (Lens numbers are based on the app)
Lens 2: Essential Experience
The essential experience of the game is to explore the world and solve puzzles to unlock new areas. The player can understand the aim of the game through the image of the cycle of worlds that appears at the beginning of the game and at many times throughout the story. After solving the first room, the player can make the connection through the picture that the goal is to find the four items that unlocks the portals and allows you to explore the five other rooms and eventually escape.

Lens 8: Problem Solving
Each object in the scene can be interacted with in some way. If the way of interaction is not immediately obvious, the player is led to assume that it is a puzzle with an answer that can be found somewhere else. Most puzzles require interacting with the items in a realistic way. For instance, later in the game, there is a squirrel which is holding a feather, which the player needs to move on. However, clicking on the squirrel does nothing, so the player would just move on and solve other puzzles. Later, after collecting other feathers, I realised that I had a sunflower seed, and I could make the connection that I needed to give it to the squirrel to get the feather. This style of puzzles makes solving each one feel satisfying and in my experience, there are no puzzles where the player is confused about the solution or that could be solved by guessing.

I used the knife to open an envelope

Lens 62: Transparency
In my opinion, the game conveys its mechanics to the player well. At the start of the game, unobtrusive test boxes near the top of the screen tell you that you can click to move around, interact with objects, and use inventory objects, and drag certain objects. The first room contains both puzzles that need clicking and dragging, ensuring that the player does not forget about the dragging mechanic, which is uncommon in similar games. Later on, if one mechanic doesn’t work, the player is able to instinctively try the other in order to be able to progress.

Lens 94: Atmosphere
Like other games in this series, Samsara Room has a creepy atmosphere, but doesn’t have many overtly ‘horror’ elements. It creates a sense of suspense with moving or flickering elements, such as the player’s black reflection, and the music, which also contains ticking noises to create a sense of urgency and dread. At certain moments during the game, the player’s click or action may cause a shocking item to appear, such as an arm, or a moon with an eye. As I knew other games in this series had more shocking images and even jumpscares, I felt tense whenever I knew I was about to solve an important puzzle, so I was immersed in the atmosphere even when what actually happened was not that scary.

Game Design Analysis: Tekken 7

Introduction

Tekken 7 (鉄拳7) is a two-player fighting game developed and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment, and was released back in 2017. In this game, the player can choose to match against other players or AI opponents in various game modes, and try to best their adversaries with a character of their choice within one minute.

Gameplay Demo

Essential Experience (Lens# 2)

Tekken 7 offers its players a very thrilling experience.

Because of how players are competing against each other while racing against time, both players play pivotal roles in determining the flow of combat.

Players can either choose to play aggressively into their opponents by attacking relentlessly and not giving them a chance to strike back, or defensively such that they throw out big moves only when capitalizing on the opponent’s mistakes. Thus, by playing a combination of the two strategies, players are consistently kept on their toes so that they are better prepared to respond to their opponent’s actions and playstyles.

The nail-biting experience that Tekken 7 brings is especially evident when it comes down to the last few seconds where both players are critically low on health, where any one mistake would cost the player the game. The creators of Tekken 7 were very well-aware of this very experience that it wants to bring to its players. As such, in order to enhance that experience even further, they introduced the slow-mo mechanic (which does not exist in previous titles of the Tekken franchise) to really accentuate the thrill and exhilaration in that short tense moment.

Below is a video that demonstrates the slow-mo mechanic.

Elemental Tetrad (Lens #9)

Mechanics

Movement

Unlike some of the other popular fighting games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros, Tekken 7 sets its players in a 3D environment, where players can not only move horizontally and vertically through conventional movements such as walking, running and jumping, they can also move into the foreground or background by sidestepping. Sidestepping at the precise time will cause the opponent’s move to whiff, which leaves him vulnerable to follow-up attacks.

Combat

Every character has three broad types of attacks – Low, Mid, High. Each of them can Counter hit an opponent that is in the middle of an attack animation, which can inflict special behavioral properties on the opponent.

Each of these attacks can have different properties – Throw, Launcher, Power Crush, Screw Attack, Wall Bound.

Rage Mode becomes available when a character falls below a certain health level. Under this state, the character has damage amplification for all moves and gains access to Rage Art and Rage Drive.

Story

The development of Tekken’s lore occurs over Tekken 1-7. The video below summarizes what happened in Tekken’s lore.

The lore of Tekken 7 is largely irrelevant to the experience that the game wants to bring to its audience. A player can essentially not know anything relating to the story of the game to enjoy the experience that it intends to bring to the player.

Aesthetics

The game has amazing aesthetics as evident from the appealing 3D design of the unique character models and also the environment.

Character animations are also fluid and together with amazing particle effects, they make combos look impactful and visually appealing .

Technology

The game was developed using UE4, and are primarily designed for arcade joystick inputs.

Overall

Although the game design uses all 4 elements of the elemental tetrad, the story element is the element that I feel is largely lacking and definitely needs an improvement to further bring value to the Tekken 7 experience. Otherwise, the other elements of the game are very robust and bring a cohesive touch to the overall Tekken 7 experience.

Novelty (Lens #24)

This novelty aspect of this game is evident. Because as previously mentioned, today’s conventional fighting games usually restrict players to 2D movement, but Tekken 7 introduced the concept of ‘Sidestepping’, which allows players to move into the foreground and background, which gives players room for more creativity in their playstyle.

In addition to adding one more dimension of movement, different attacks have unique properties that make them well suited for different kinds of scenarios. This means that every action in Tekken 7 should be deliberate, and carelessly jumping or throwing out unsafe moves will result in a swift punishment by the opponent.

Because of these unique features, Tekken 7 is a novel addition to the fighting game genre.

Skill (Lens #34)

Everything that was mentioned so far is just barely scratching the surface of what Tekken 7 has to offer. There are still many aspects to the game that was not touched on simply because of the staggering complexity this game entails.

In order to really perform well in this game, players will have to be aware of the different tools that are available to every single character in the game, so that they are prepared for whatever comes their way. Not being familiar with the match-ups will lead to a player being hit by the same move over and over again, not knowing how to counter it.

In addition, players will also have to be familiar with something called the Frame Data, so that players can effectively capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes with moves of their own. This game is also exceptionally execution -heavy, which requires a combination of precise hand-eye coordination and button inputs.

Overall, I feel that the game demands the right level of skill from its players since it is designed to be a very technical game that requires lots of in-game knowledge to win.

Game Design Analysis – Invisible, Inc.

Official Site: https://www.klei.com/games/invisible-inc

Invisible, Inc. is hands down my favourite game of all time. It is a singleplayer turn-based stealth rougelite, developed by indie studio Klei Entertainment. Players assume the role of a remote operator for an espionage agency, controlling a team of agents and an AI, to hack and sneak in and out of rival corporations.

Lens 9 – The Elemental Tetrad

Invisible, Inc. review - A thrilling blend of high-tech stealth and  strategy | Articles | Pocket Gamer

The Aesthetics of Invisible. Inc are beautiful, but more importantly, minimalistic. The graphics are also very focused on relaying essential information to the player in an intuitive manner. You are able to identify hazards and valuables at a glance. If that’s not enough for you, the game even has an inbuilt tactical view that shows only the barebones strategic information that the player needs. All of this contributes to setting the player up to feel like a master strategist, making their actions feel ever more intentional and rewarding.

Technology in Invisible. Inc was nothing too special. It was heavily inspired by XCOM, and as such, most of the technologies used have already been seen before. The one thing that I would like to point out would be its random map generation that I believe is unique to this game, as the maps required for this genre of game have very specific requirements: they have to be “solvable”, varied enough to encourage replayability, all while still looking like a natural floor plan. This was one of the keys to the game’s success as it essentially defined the level design of the game.

There are many Mechanics that contribute to the satisfaction of pulling off a high stakes heist on every level. The most prominent of which would be the security level, a counter that increases every turn and when you get spotted. At fixed increments, new threats will then be introduced. This is the core of the game’s tension, as the player can no longer take their time to gain intel and play safe, they will have to take risks and make exciting decisions like whether to keep looting or to escape. To go hand in hand with this, the game’s difficulty also increases with each level completed, thus applying pressure on the player to improve and to take bigger risks for bigger rewards at every level.

Another important mechanic is the AI that you control. Although rather disconnected from the stealth aspect of the game, hacking the mainframe with the AI adds exponentially more complexity to the game, especially later on when more threats are introduced. The AI also gives the player unrealistic foreknowledge of the level, such as guard patrols and hacked cameras, which all contribute to the fantasy of being an omnipresent strategist.

Last but not least, the Story of Invisible, Inc. is mostly conveyed through engaging voiceovers and cutscenes. The concept of this game was actually inspired by heist movies, which explains its very unique gameplay. The interesting thing about this game is that the best story experiences actually come from the gameplay itself, whether you pull off a clutch escape or lose an agent, these are the moments that you as a player will remember the most.

All in all, the four elements work in harmony to really sell the common theme of espionage and stealth, making it the exciting yet deeply strategic game that I love.

Lens 13 – Infinite Inspiration

Invisible, Inc. was originally inspired by XCOM. In its early development phase, agents had health and ammunition, and combat was the central mechanic of the game. However, the designers at Klei decided that this did not give them the feeling of espionage that they wanted. Eventually, this whole combat system was scrapped in favor of the stealthy gameplay that remains. The designers actually drew inspiration from heist movies, where the protagonist finds themselves in unwinnable fights, unarmed and outnumbered. They will have to overcome the odds using their wits, gadgets, and whatever is present in their environment. This led to the exhilerating underdog experience that players face in the game today.

Lens 37 – Fairness

From a player vs environment perspective, the game is intentionally unfair, starting every level with no intel and vastly outnumbered and surrounded. But as previously mentioned, this just adds to the rewarding feeling of progressing through the level and eventually conquering it as an underdog.

From a skill level perspective, the game is extremely accessible, providing a whole host of options to customise the game’s difficulty, including turning off the turn counter, and making guards get knocked out for longer. Conversely, for those who crave a challenge, the game has a New Game + option with a whole new set of mechanics to make the game harder, as well as a Time Attack option for players who don’t like to sit around and think.

Lens 42 – Head and Hands

As with most turn based strategy games, Invisible, Inc. is 100% a mental game, which requires no physical dexterity to play at all. While this significantly limits their target player base, this makes the game much more appealing to players of this genre. To compliment the mental grind, the game makes sure that actions are very predictable, and that you can take an indefinite amount of time to take any action, so that the player always feels like they are in control.

Lens 69 – Interest Curve

Being a very tactical game, Invisible, Inc. encourages players to think ahead, often leaving players interested in something they have even yet to see. I wonder what’s around this corner? What new threats await me in the levels ahead? By constantly rewarding players with new and interesting mechanics and experiences, the game slowly ramps up the players interest throughout.

The true beauty of the interest curve lies in the individual levels, where the player starts of calm, with very little information and choices to make. But as the level progresses and gets more chaotic, the player gets more and more invested into the level, eventually reaching a climax when they make their grand escape. This is the ever so rewarding interest curve that really sells the replayability of the game, constantly bringing players back for one more level.

In conclusion

I love this game so much like you don’t even know fam.

Game Design Analysis: Pokemon (core series)

Game: Pokemon

Pokemon is a series of role-playing game (RPG) developed by Game Freak and published by The Pokemon Company and Nintendo. In the world of Pokemon, players embark on an adventure to explore the world as Pokemon Trainers, befriend mysterious creatures, save the world from the schemes of villainous gangs and undergo trials to become a Pokemon Master. The main mechanics involve catching Pokemon using special devices and commanding them in battles.

Thoughts and feelings when playing the game

I first played Pokemon about 20 years ago. As a wide-eyed little adventurer, I was immediately attracted the design of the adorable creatures and the concept of discovering the world of Pokemon and I’d be brimming with excitement when i reached new locations, encountered new species and when my Pokemon got stronger and evolved. I would spend hours training my Pokemon and battling with my friends. While it was frustrating to lose sometimes, it challenged me to never give up and develop better strategies for the next battle. Pokemon is truly a video game I’ve always enjoyed playing even until now.

Lens 9: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

Technology:
Pokemon is released on Nintendo consoles, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, DS, 3DS and Switch, with the newer installments only compatible with the newer consoles.


Mechanics:


Pokemon started off with relatively simple yet novel mechanics. In the overworld, players are free to travel anywhere as long they have the necessary requirements. They can talk to NPCs and interact with objects to unlock new locations/progress the story. Wild Pokemon can also be randomly encountered and added to the player’s team.

In battle, the player calls out a Pokemon, who can be commanded to attack, or switched out for another Pokemon in the player’s team. Each Pokemon has 6 stats – HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense and Speed, has up to 2 types, can learn up to 4 different attacks and each type has weaknesses and resistances. All these play a part in determining how much damage a Pokemon deals/receives. Players win a battle by knocking out (reducing HP to 0) all of the opponent’s Pokemon. Some Pokemon can even power up during battles (Mega evolve, Z-move, Dynamax), which is not only cool to behold, but can turn the tides of the entire battle! While the mechanics are rather straightforward (simply choose a command every turn), battles are extremely intricate and require sound predictions and decision-making.

Story:


The core series of Pokemon games typically follow the same flow – you start out as a Pokemon Trainer, travel the region, prevent the world’s destruction and eventually becoming the Champion, or the strongest trainer. While some people play Pokemon for the battles, I’d say that the story makes the games far more interesting. The stories in the games feature plots to explore the relationships between people and Pokemon and occasionally challenges our philosophies and outlook in life. This not only makes the gameplay more enjoyable, with clear goals to work towards, but also makes the games more relatable and breathes life to the Pokemon, as we see them for more than creatures humans use in battles.

Aesthetics:


Pokemon started as a game with simple 2D visuals, which is honestly not that great, but it provided the space for players to imagine a Pikachu zapping opponents over a Gameboy. Over the years with newer installments, graphics improved drastically. The music used in later games also improved drastically and had much more variations, greatly enhancing the tones and moods in the events of the games, making them way more engaging.

Lens 55: The Lens of Visible Progress

Within the story mode of all the core series Pokemon games, there’s a clear way to track your progress and a Trainer – via the official Pokemon League Gym Badges/Island Pilgrimage Stamps from defeating powerful Gym Leaders or Island Kings/Queens in battle. These in-game tokens are a testament of a trainer’s abilities to overcome difficult battles. Trainers then work their way up to beat the Four Heavenly Kings and Champion to become the strongest Trainer in the region. In the post-game, there are even more difficult opponents in facilities like the Battle Frontier and Pokemon World Tournament and triumphing over them upgrades the Trainer Card, further attesting to a Trainer’s skills.

Lens 83: The Lens of Fantasy

Part of the great gameplay experience of the Pokemon games could be attributed to the co-existence with its anime. The anime counterpart of Pokemon focuses much more on storytelling, the presentation of each unique Pokemon and the battles. Different Pokemon have different biology and characteristics that they use to their advantage, some Pokemon are cunning, some clumsy and absent-minded, each have different behaviors and preferences etc. All these, coupled with the human characters and the interactions and relationships between them show us how fun it could be in the world of Pokemon. As players play the game, they can then project the vivid adventures and visuals of the anime onto the game, making the game come to life!

Lens 8: Problem Solving

This player is basically using arguably one of the weakest Pokemon of all to beat a team of monstrously strong Pokemon.

One of the most exciting things in Pokemon is the battles! By connecting to the Internet, Trainers can battle each other all over the world. There are virtually endless combinations of teams one can use in a battle, and arguably, the challenge starts even before the battle. A trainer has to consider the strengths, weaknesses and synergy of a team they put together. During battles, trainers have to keep tabs on the possible threats in the opposing team and think of strategies to outmaneuver them. Using different Pokemon teams and facing different obstacles across various battles, then coming up with strategies to overcome them is what make Pokemon battles so fun!

Lens 5: Fun

As mentioned in Lens 8, Pokemon battles allow trainers to unleash their creativity by putting together a strategy. That’s right, even the most ridiculous of strategies can work. “What if I do this with this Pokemon?” is a question that trainers often think of and before long, we rush to try our newly conceived strategies out. While the mechanics are simple, new strategies and optimization are always being conceived, allowing for fun limited only by our imagination.

Conclusion

Aim to be a Pokemon Master! Pokemon is a game that is straightforward to play, yet extremely intricate from the sheer amount of options and strategies available. The lighthearted concepts of adventures, dreams and friendships with Pokemon, combined with character designs, storylines and musics are also highly appealing, making it suitable for all players, young or old, competitive or casual.

Game Design Analysis: Subway Surfers (Space Station)

Subway Surfers is a single-player game where the player seeks to collect the most coins in a highly dynamic and fast-paced environment where there are trains and obstacles to avoid. The gameplay gets faster as the player progresses through the obstacles and time passes, making it a fun and challenging experience.

This new version of the game is in a space station backdrop, as observed in the design of the gameplay background and props. This analysis will examine how the different game design lenses apply to Subway Surfers.

Lens 1: Essential Experience

The essential experience of this game is to collect as many coins. However, an interesting secondary objective to enable this essential experience is the need to escape oncoming trains, which becomes more challenging as the game goes on. In addition, there are also barriers which act as obstacles which the player can slide under, and the option to climb onto the top of the trains, where there are often coins available for the players.

Lens 6: Problem Solving

Interestingly unlike many other games, the idea of complex problem solving is not applied in this game. Problem solving is often used in games to give players a sense of accomplishment. In contrast, this game does provide players with a sense of accomplishment primarily through the timing of their actions to avoid the obstacles, which enable them to go a further distance and have more opportunities to collect more coins.

This singular focus throughout the game makes the game extremely addictive in the short term, with players able to grasp the basic concepts and mechanics of the game very quickly, motivating them to persevere to achieve a better score, which is then highlighted in the game user interface as displayed in the image below when the player achieves a high score. Conversely, the game is likely to not be able retain a big number of users as there is little variation to the game, resulting in less incentive for the player to explore further and continue playing in the long term.

Lens 7: Elemental Tetrad

In terms of aesthetics, the game’s aesthetics are well-designed and appealing, with the combination of the immersive design of the space station coupled with the sound effects. In particular, the jingle sounds when the player collects coins acts as a positive feedback mechanism and encourages the player to continue to strive to collect more coins. This inherently also acts as an audio cue for users to understand the objective when learning the game.

The mechanics of the game applies basic physics, especially with regards to the jumping and landing of the character when he seeks to avoid the oncoming trains. In terms of the story, there is hardly any plot development, and the player has a simple aim of collecting the coins, as mentioned in the analysis of Lens 6: Problem Solving.

Technologically, being aimed in the smartphone market, this game creates an addictive gaming experience and is played in the portrait orientation, which is highly suitable for the display of the oncoming trains.

Lens 48: Simplicity

The simplicity of the controls makes the game highly accessible to all ages. This game encompassess three simple actions

  1. Swiping up: to jump
  2. Swiping down: to duck under obstacles
  3. Swiping left/right: to change between the three lanes of the track

The intuitive game design makes it a simple gaming experience and one that is easy to learn. This explains why it was especially popular with youths in the initial release of the game due to its simplicity and yet addictive objective of getting a better score than their peers and friends.

Conclusion

As a whole, Subway Surfers is a game that is simple yet extremely addictive. Interestingly, the simplicity of the game is what makes the players want to keep playing to achieve a higher score. Although it does not have intricate problem solving challenges, the simple mechanics of the game make it addictive in the short-term and create an accessible gaming experience for all ages and individuals.

Game Design Analysis – Overwatch

Description

Overwatch is a First Person Shooter (FPS) game, where players get to choose a hero they want to play from a particular selection. Each hero generally has unique abilities that differentiate themselves from one another. Working in a team of 6 players against another team of 6, the primary goal of players is to capture points or escort what is known as a “payload” to a destination, whilst trying to kill the enemy team to aid this process.


Below is a link showing some plays from various Overwatch professionals collected into a montage. They show what the UI of the game is like and the general gameplay as well:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB_Dd9WZwNk

Lens 9 – Elemental Tetrad – Aesthetics

The game primarily has 2 major items which aesthetics play a rather major role in. The first being the maps in which the players play in. These maps are generally designed based off real life buildings, as seen in the picture below.

The art is designed such that players will feel more of a mental model connection with the buildings you see in real life. For example, the buildings can act as shelter for a player to take cover from enemy fire, and the open areas outside of a map generally signal to a player that falling off there would lead to certain death. 

The other major item is the characters (or heroes as they are termed in Overwatch) themselves. Fine details are made to the skins of each character, such as having shurikens as weapons, which is used by a character that has the background of being a ninja. In addition, the game has many skins that the player can earn and use, so that they can see the weapon that they use in the most aesthetically pleasing way. 

Lens 9 – Elemental Tetrad – Mechanics

Each hero is generalised as having a primary way of attacking, using the weapon that they are holding. Some heroes have an alternative way of firing their weapon (also known as secondary fire). The most unique part is the abilities that each hero has, which are generally kept within 2 to 3, along with an Ultimate ability that the player charges up to use.

The general mechanics of the game is quite simple to understand. Attacking the enemies and dealing damage provides charge for a player to use their Ultimate ability, and each of their regular abilities have a cooldown. Killing the enemies are generally the best way to progress to their objective, which is to capture the enemy’s points, or push the payload to the enemy’s territory. This enables a wide range of players to enjoy the game itself. 

Each of the heroes, given the wide variety available, then has different mechanics and skill ceilings based off the heroes abilities and general recommended playstyle. This allows players to find the hero that they are most comfortable with, or challenge themselves to play a hero that is more mechanically demanding, making the game more interesting.

Lens 9 – Elemental Tetrad – Story

Overwatch lore and backstories for each of the heroes is something that has been present since the early conception of Overwatch beta. However, even though the game has made Player vs Event modes before that touch more and expand upon the Overwatch storyline, it is safe to say that most players are playing an FPS game more so for the action rather than the history. It is worth noting however that this is not necessarily a bad thing, as the initial introduction to the lore can help serve as a starting point to attract players to try out the game, and hopefully convince them to stay through the mechanics and aesthetics portion.

Lens 9 – Elemental Tetrad – Technology

One of the points about technology that makes Overwatch stand out is the overall capability of being able have such a fast paced game without giving up a lot of performance. Based on the Youtube link in the front part of this analysis, you can tell that Overwatch has a lot of different unique models, coupled with complex effects that come from the player weapons. Some heroes even have the ability to teleport or move at rapid speeds using their abilities. Yet, somehow the game manages to give the players a seamless experience when playing, which is something I felt was very important for a game like Overwatch to succeed. Sure, you can compare it to other FPS’s like Quake or CounterStrike, but the quality of art and design in Overwatch is relatively much more vivid compared to those games.

Lens 34 – Skill

Overwatch mainly requires players to have the skill to aim and shoot. In terms of practicing, the players are able to train in the practice range against bots and such, but they are also able to play general games against other public players, using a hidden MMR (Match making rating), so that players of generally equal skill values are matched up against one another for an overall better game experience. 

The player is also required to have the skill to discern what they should play based on a multitude of factors, such as the enemy’s team composition, the map itself, what their teammate’s are playing, and so on. This skill is relatively hard to acquire and requires much practice and playing in order to develop a sense for the game, but having such a skill helps to set apart the players who are exceptionally good, which can give them a sense of overall achievement in the game through competitive game modes.

Lens 37 – Fairness

As touched upon briefly in the Lens of Skill, the general public game mode that most players engage in is called “Quick Play” and it involves the system using a hidden “Match making rating” to put the player alongside 11 other players that have a similar rating, in hopes to provide a better and fairer game. The more the player plays, the more statistics that Overwatch has to come up with a rating that is as close to the player’s skill level as possible. In the competitive mode, this rating similiarly applies, but it is a publicly shown value instead.

Lens 44 – Cooperation

In each of Overwatch’s game modes, players who are in the same team as one another can enter a voice channel and communicate, so that they can time their attacks and usage of abilities together with their teammates. In addition, communication in Overwatch is considered one of the key aspects needed in order to raise one’s chances of winning the game, as timing your attacks with your team helps to bring down the enemy quicker and faster, instead of operating as a solo minded player.

However, sometimes the team can be a group of total strangers, where 6 solo players are grouped together. In that event, Overwatch does not contain any form of avenue for these players to try and get to know each other first, which is understandable since this can waste the time of the players when they want to play as many games as possible. Another seemingly bad point is that Overwatch has no particular roles when it comes to communication, hence there can be situations where the communication channels are overloaded with information, or filled with silence. Either way, both scenarios are generally considered bad and hinder teamwork.

Lens 87 – Character Traits

This lens could possibly be the most defining aspect of Overwatch, since the traits of each hero are very unique, and are usually very strongly tied to the hero.

For example, there is a hero called Genji who is supposedly a ninja. His weapons consist of shurikens which is generally what ninjas are perceived to use. His abilities include deflecting the enemy’s attacks, showcasing the swiftness and agility of a ninja, as well the ability to dash across a given distance. These abilities and actions that the hero has are usually created based off the hero’s traits, which is something I found to be very unique and helps given our mental models of certain heroes. 

Conclusion

Overall, Overwatch has succeeded in being a very popular game, with many Overwatch professionals having a successful career in the Overwatch League.

This can be attributed to the way the game easily allows players of various skill levels to enter and play, without much regard for their previous gaming experiences, and yet ensuring relatively balanced games each time. In addition, the way each character is so uniquely developed helps to ensure that each game is relatively fresh and new. Finally, the overall aesthetics in this fast paced game rounds up the quality of the gaming experience.

Although the game quality can be quite hectic and bad when communications die down during a competitive match, those are still relatively few are far between, given the usual player’s drive to win. Hence, I feel that Overwatch is a game that I not only enjoy, but which many others do too.

Game Design Analysis – Dota 2

The game I will be analyzing will be Dota 2. Dota 2 is a MOBA game by Steam. 2 teams of 5 players will control a hero each and try to take down the enemies’ ancient. Below is a link to the a game from TI 9 Grand Finals (actual gameplay start at 12mins):

A runthrough of the game:

The game starts with a hero selection phase where the 2 team picks their heroes.

Afterwards, they spawn at their base and the game begins. They will try to upgrade their heroes while vying for objectives and resources. Inevitably, teamfights will occur

until a team wins the game!

Lens 9: Lens of Elemental Tetrad

Of the four, the most important aspect of Dota 2 is its mechanics. The basic mechanics of the game is rather simple and can be picked up quickly. However, there are many subtleties to its mechanics and various interaction between the hero skills, items as well as environment mechanics. All of these takes years to master and fully understand as the gameplay can get very deep. To become “good” at the game, the player must understand all of these mechanics, many of which is not told explicitly by the game and have to be learnt through experience, ranging from how the AI of in game units, to environment interaction to various gimmicks and tricks. Apart from the depth of the mechanics, it has to be balanced across its many heroes and items so as to allow a diverse and competitive gameplay experience.

With regards to story, Dota 2 does not really have a proper lore. It tries to build a lore but it does not really make sense and does not tie to the game itself. However, this is understandable as story is not the focus of the game and is just a bonus.

Dota 2 does have decent aesthetics and compared to the other MOBA games, it is darker in nature and have a more realistic and gritty vibe to it. However, it has a rather clear UI which is important to the gameplay experience. It does feature in game cosmetic that do make your hero look much cooler than default but does not affect the gameplay.

In terms of technology, Dota 2 is available on PC, Mac and Linux. It is exclusively on PC and uses a mouse and keyboard primarily. It features voice chat so you can attach speakers to it.

Lens 43: Lens of Competition

The game features a matchmaking system which is dependent on your matchmaking rank, a measure of how good you are at the game.

Players have a numerical number and a medal which was added quite recently 2-3 years ago. This makes the game competitive and many players (myself included) spend thousands of hours into the game, playing matches after matches in an attempt to get a good rank. While this makes the game highly addictive, it can also be a detriment as it can cause the community to be toxic and elitist towards lower ranked players.

Lens 44: Lens of Cooperation

As a team game, cooperation is very important to the game. A team that cooperates well have a much higher chance of winning. This is because of the nature of the game and the various mechanics that the game uses. Many skills and interactions relies on your team for its full potential to be unleashed. Furthermore, one man is not able to do everything by himself and players in the teams usually have their own roles to fulfill. Communication is very important and the game features a text and voice chat as well as pings and indicators for players to signal their intention with other players.

Lens 6: Lens of Problem Solving

There are a myriad of strategy a team and player can use. Even from the start at the hero selection phase, the player have to think about what hero they should pick in order to best counter the enemy picks, while synergizing with their own team picks. During the game, players have to consistently device strategies and plans to allow them to outmaneuver the enemy and to counter their current strategy.

Lens 5: Endogenous Value

While the ultimate goal of the game is the destroy the opponent’s ancient and win the game, over the course of the game, the players can do many things to improve his character, improve his gear so as to improve his chances of winning. Take the core mechanics of last hitting for example.

In the initial phase of the game, the players will usually go to the lane to farm gold and experience. This is done by killing creeps and in the case of gold, dealing the final blow to the creep. This incentives players to last hit the creep to get gold which will allow them to buy better item and improve their heroes.

Killing the enemy heroes too does provide rewards. Other than the in-game announcer announcing the player’s kill streak, the player gets gold and experience from the kill.

Godlike streak (10+ killstreak) announced!

This also punishes the dying player as he has to wait for a non negligible amount of time to respawn while being unable to do anything, and lose gold at the game time.

Lens 98: Lens of Community

Finally, one of the reason of Dota 2 success is its community. While it does have the reputation for being extremely toxic, a lot of people play the game because of their friends and peers. It is very enjoyable to play Dota 2 with your friends late at night after school or work. Competitions are also supported by the community with the annual International Dota Tournament being largely funded by the community. The previous TI, boasts a prize pool of 33million USD, mostly crowdfunded by the community

Outside the game, there are also twitch streams, youtube videos and forums where people discuss Dota 2 and their experiences, while exchanging strategies. This is one of the reason why after 10 years since its initial release, there are alot of people still playing Dota 2.

Game Design Analysis – Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 (RCT2)

Name of the game

Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 (Playing the OpenRCT2 open-source adaptation of the game)

Short description of the game

Released in 2002, Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 (or RCT2 for short) is a construction and management simulation game developed by Chris Sawyer. The game is second in the Roller Coaster Tycoon series and it was all designed and programmed by Sawyer in assembly language.

RCT2’s main mode of gameplay consists of different scenarios where players have to manage a theme park and meet certain objectives by a deadline. It also has a sandbox mode where players could create their own scenarios and rides without constraints as well as having scenarios which modelled after the real-life Six Flags Theme Parks. With its unique gameplay, it is considered one of the pioneers of the simulation games genre.

The open-source adaptation of the game, OpenRCT2, was created by a group of volunteers to make the game compatible with more modern versions of current operating systems as well as adding more control and options to the game.

Links

OpenRCT2 download: https://openrct2.org/ (Requires the original RCT2 game which can be downloaded on Steam)

RCT2: https://store.steampowered.com/app/285330/RollerCoaster_Tycoon_2_Triple_Thrill_Pack/

Gameplay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATvnpazWFPU

Preamble + How I felt upon playing the game

Before I dive into the analysis of the game, this game was my childhood and I would play it ever so often during my primary and secondary school years.

Upon playing the game, I experience a sense of satisfaction whenever I managed to build a roller coaster that has high excitement ratings. I also realized that at any moment in the game, I am always worried about my park rating as well as my finances and my eyes tend to be focused on this HUD a lot.

Nonetheless, this game really gave me a sense of nostalgia through the pixelated graphics. The clear animations as well as the sounds also made me feel like I am overseeing the management of an actual theme park.

Relate to elemental tetrad and 4-5 lenses

Lens 9: The Lens of The Elemental Tetrad

Technology: As RCT2 is a rather old PC game (2002), the original game was only supported on older versions of Windows such as Windows XP or Windows Vista. However, after the open source adaption was released, the game is now playable on Windows 10, macOS and Linux. Hence, I would say that the technology for this game has been well-managed now thanks to the adaptation.

Mechanics: The main gameplay for RCT2 is unique in the sense that there were not many games of the same genre back then. The gameplay involves a collection of scenarios in which each scenario gives the player the control of a theme park with certain constraints. For each scenario. the player is required to meet certain objectives whilst keeping in mind the deadline in order to complete it.

This challenge of managing a theme park requires a lot of strategic planning from players as there are many things that the player must take care of. This includes things like finances and loans, staffing, park rating and guest happiness which keeps the player engaged at any given moment in the game. The scenarios also progressively get harder as more challenging scenarios get unlocked with each scenario cleared.

The game also allowed players to express their creativity and encouraging the spirit of design as players are able to place scenery around the park to beautify it and think of how to construct roads/paths and rides that can navigate through the park environment.

Personally, I feel that the mechanics of the game is the reason why this game is considered a classic as it really engages the player’s creativity, imagination, and organisation skills.

Aesthetics: As an early 2000s game, the aesthetics can seem rather pixelated when viewed with a modern lens. However, at that time, the aesthetics of the game was considered amazing with how life-like the parks can look with clear animations of guests walking around the park and roller coasters darting about on the tracks. The audio of guests screaming as they enter a drop on the roller coaster is also a nice touch as it added to how a theme park should sound like. Although the objects in the game (such as the scenery) were of low quality, they were definitely detailed enough for players to distinguish between different objects in the scene and there was enough variation for players to create their own unique theme park.

Story: As this game is a simulation game, a story is not needed for it to be fun and addictive for players. Even though a well-constructed story could be effective in giving player some context as to why they are managing a certain park, it may be superfluous as the main appeal of the game are the mechanics which traps the player to carry on managing the park rather than a deep lore.

Lens 38: The Lens of Challenge

In each scenario, there are certain objectives that the player must meet to clear them. These objectives can include achieving a minimum park rating by a certain date or getting a certain number of guests in the park.

As the scenarios often have a tight deadline, the player must plan and imagine in advance how they would allocate their resources and go about expanding the park. For instance, the player might start with cheap and simple roller coasters in the beginning to attract more guests in the initial stages of the game or invest bulk of the money into advertisements in order to entice more guests into the park to meet a certain goal. The scenarios also progressively get harder with more constraints as the player advances through the scenarios which keeps the game interesting.

Lens 51: The Lens of Imagination

As the game was fairly limited in terms of technology at that time with regard to graphics, imagination plays a huge role in the game to immerse the player into managing a real-life amusement park. The game uses a lot of sound that is commonly heard in an amusement park (such as guests chatting, screaming upon a drop on a roller coaster, the splashing noise of water rides) which fills the gap in trying to capture the experience of being in a theme park. The objects in the game are also nicely and smartly designed (such as the roller coasters) to enhance the realism of the game. For example, the guest walking animations, although simple, has a lot of variation in the speed as well as going back and forth different sprites which can tell you if a guest in the park is happy/excited or sad/tired. This forces the player to imagine how a guest would appear with various moods by fitting the player’s mental model.


Lens 52: The Lens of Economy

Bulk of the game is heavily centered around managing finances as the player would want to keep the theme park running at a profit to expand the park. As such, there are a lot of choices that needs to be made by the player so that he/she is able to keep the theme park afloat.

For instance, a player might decide to only build smaller thrill rides in the beginning before spending massively on a huge and attractive roller coaster. On the other hand, another player would think that building smaller roller coasters would be more beneficial in ensuring a more constant supply of guests arriving to the park. Both approaches are indeed valid ways of managing the expansion of the park with the financial constraints and they each have their own trade-offs and benefits.

However, even though this game might seem fun for a problem-solver and strategy-game lover like myself, there are players who would find this constant planning of resources to be tiring and may find the game stressful or not as fun.

Lens 21: The Lens of Flow

Although the different scenarios have clear objectives set, the game (in my opinion) does not do a very good job in trying to keep the players fixated on them. In my experience of playing the game, I am often carried away by my imagination in building the best theme park that I can such that I forget what the original objectives of the scenarios were. This happens frequently to me as the game rarely reminds you of the objectives that you need to complete. Hence, the game does not really have a flow as there is no constant reminder of objectives which does not really hold a player’s focus.

However, it is also possible that this seems more like a feature rather than an oversight on how the game is supposed to be. Bulk of the reason why this game is considered a classic is because most players consider the fun in the game to be the actual building and designing of the park rather than the accomplishment of meeting certain objectives.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the various lenses play a role in helping to shape the experience of the player in RCT2. Even though the game may not necessarily have a defined story or objectives, it was incredibly addictive as it relies on imagination and creativity to keep players engaged (since no playthrough of any scenario would ever look the same due to the endless possibilities of design and management approaches).

Note: Images are taken from the actual game played (OpenRCT2 Adaptation)

By: Sim Jun Yuen, Darren (A0136233N) (CS3247: Game Development AY20/21 S2)