Dead Cells: Analysis through Lenses

Dead Cells is a roguelike, Castlevania-inspired action-platformer, allowing you to explore a sprawling, ever-changing castle… assuming you’re able to fight your way past its keepers. To beat the game you’ll have to master 2D souls-like combat with the ever present threat of permadeath looming. No checkpoints. Kill, die, learn, repeat.

From the dead cells wiki

Elemental Tetrad:

Mechanics:

Dead Cells’ core mechanics are simple, move around the level and kill enemies, while dodging or parrying enemy attacks. The diversity of level layouts, environmental hazards, enemy types and equipment combinations make full use of the core mechanics to create a large variety of challenges and situations for the player to overcome. 

At its core, Dead Cells is a rogue-like. Players are expected to be defeated often, each time starting anew, but with more knowledge of the game and access to persistent upgrades that helps the player progress further through the game. At every corner lurks a new mechanic for the player to master, the game never feels dull.

Story:

The story in Dead Cells is rather light, the player plays as the Beheaded, whose goal is to travel through the levels to hunt the King. The player is not given any prologue or direction at the beginning of the game. Pieces of story and lore are drip fed to the player as they progress through the game, via short cutscenes from interacting with points of interests, or when the player defeats a major boss.

Aesthetics:

The game features grim 2D pixel art graphics and grungy level and enemy design that accurately signals to the user: this game won’t be sunshine and rainbows. 

Technology:

While this game is available on both PC and consoles, it is clear that the game is meant to be played with a controller. 

Lens of Problem Solving: 

A key component of performing well in the game is designing the right build (combination of equipment and skills). Newer players will often find their runs ending very soon due to a lack of damage output or survivability. Seeking out equipment and selecting skills that synergise with each other is a key problem that players will need to solve in order to beat the game, especially at higher difficulties. This game demonstrates good game design, by balancing the skills and equipment such that there are many viable builds. This encourages players who beat the game using a specific build to try out different builds, which lead to refreshing new experiences.

The Lens of Fun:

The core gameplay loop is simple – traverse each level and kill enemies along the way. Killing enemies is not a simple activity of mashing buttons, certain enemies have a special attack to watch out for and the player must dodge or parry at the right time to avoid taking damage. The controls were very well polished, which is essential for an action platformer title. The graphical and aural feedback were well polished as well, the enemies would explode with a satisfying sound when killed, and send bits of enemies flying across the floor. Important gameplay events such as boss fights and leveling up were accompanied with sound effects that gave the player a feeling of strength.

The Lens of Surprise:

The game employs a procedural level generation technique that randomizes the layout of the levels each time. No two runs will be the same. Players will be blessed with good RNG in some runs and encounter tough levels in other runs. 

The Lens of Curiosity:

The game has a minor story component, provided as points of interest scattered across the levels. Interacting with them rewards the player with interesting lore and tidbits about the world they are in. However, the story/lore is not very compelling and almost feels as if it were added as an afterthought and does not contribute very much to the appeal of the game.

Fortunately, the game is still able to intrigue the player’s curiosity. The game features a non-linear level progression, allowing players to explore different biomes on the way to the final boss. The different biomes feature different enemy types as well as a variety of environmental hazards. Furthermore, the game features a large variety of equipment, categorized into melee and ranged weapons, shields, traps, turrets, grenades and powers. Each piece of equipment has a unique effect that synergizes well with certain builds. The player starts out with only the most basic of equipment unlocked. The others are unlocked through a variety of means, including exploration of the game (think secret areas), feats/challenges, killing bosses, random drops etc. Personally, I found this to be the best quality of the game. During my first dozen or so runs, I would experiment with different combinations of equipment, and be excited to test out a newly unlocked equipment.

The Lens of Endogenous Value:

The pickups in the game all provide endogenous value – gold is used to purchase or upgrade equipment, cells are used to unlock new equipment and enhance drop rates of better equipment. Equipment drops are always a welcome sight, as they are scaled to the level and are usually superior to the equipment from a previous level. It is rare that a player will find collecting items to be pointless or a waste of time.

Songbird Symphony

Game Summary

Website: https://joysteak.com/
Demo: https://joysteak.itch.io/songbird-symphony-v02
Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3vmzG3kKbY

Songbird Symphony is a 2D platformer with a rhythmic twist.
Follow an orphaned chick, “Birb”, in his heart-warming journey of discovery, as he sets off to find his true origins. Follow this cheerful little bouncing bird who revels in singing, and guide him through this magical journey of stunning pixel art and gorgeous animation that shapes itself to your musical interactions!Chirp to activate platforms, and sing to the residents of the forest, learning new notes to aid you in captivating rhythm battles against the creatures of this sprawling, enchanting world.

Features

Aesthetics

One might say the biggest draw of this game is its aesthetics. Its beautiful, colorful and cute pixel graphics with adorable characters draw many players in to try the game.

Not only are the visual aesthetics excellent, the game also comes with its own original soundtrack, handcrafted to go hand in hand with the pixel art. The superimposed lyrics are rather meaningful and helps blend the soundtrack into the story.

Story

Songbird Symphony has a heartwarming story which definitely engages the audience’s mood in one way or another.

Birb travels through the forest, exploring and learning new notes from other birds to help him in his quest to find his parents.

Gameplay

While exploring in the magical world of Songbird Symphony, we come across platforming puzzles that we have to solve to progress further. The player also engages in rhythm battles with other birds to either learn new notes or gain progress in their quest.

Songbird Symphony is a platformer with no death but instead focuses on adventure and solving not-so-hard puzzles. Even the rhythmic element was designed specifically to not have a lose condition.

Technology

Songbird symphony is developed in Unity, is very lightweight and has been released on multiple platforms.

Lens #81: The Lens of Character Transformation

  • Birb’s character
    • Starts of as a weak little chick thinking he is a peacock but just different
    • Finds out that Uncle Pea, the peacock, is not actually his parent and becomes extremely emotional
    • Figures out that he is a songbird
    • Becomes empowered by his mother after knowing what had happened to his mother which caused him to be initially abandoned
  • Owl’s character
    • Begins as a mentor to birb
    • Turns out to be the antagonist which wants all songbirds dead
  • The magpies
    • Is the initial obstacle in Birb’s quest to help Owl
    • Turns out to be helping Birb’s mother in attempting to stop Owl’s plans

Lens #68: The Lens of the Hero’s Journey

Birb’s story is certainly one of a Hero’s journey. Starting as an outcast from the peacocks, he journeys through the magical world and slowly figures out his origins, helping other birds along the way. Eventually, he rises up to take out the big bad Owl who caused his initial plight.

Lens #48: The Lens of Accessibility

The game was designed to have accessibility in mind.
Firstly, all the rhythmic elements in the game do not have a fail state, allowing the player to not frustrate over not being able to ace a level in order to progress.
Secondly, all platforming puzzle elements are of increasing difficulty where a puzzle always builds upon previous knowledge.
Lastly, the puzzles are designed not to be difficult as to encourage the player to focus on the story and adventure part of the story.

Lens #49: The Lens of Visible Progress

The player gains more notes as they progress through the game. These notes also increases the difficulty of the rhythmic element of the game. Additionally, optional objects appear throughout the platforming elements of the game in the form of feathers. Players can see that their collection of feathers slowly increase while they progress through the game, each giving the player a small bit of lore into this magical world.

Lens #58: The Lens of Juiciness

The game employs juice as one of its main ways to maintain player engagement. For example, in some sections of the game, the player is required to sync out key presses with the rhythm. The game rewards the player with ripples on the screen and on some occasions, screen shake. This is only one of the myriad of ways the developers of this wonderful game have juiced up the game.

Baba Is You

Baba Is You is a puzzle game that gives player the ability to manipulate the rules of the puzzle itself to solve the puzzle. Baba Is You also won the Excellence in Design and Best Student Game awards in the Independent Games Festival 2018, and was nominated a finalist in two other categories, including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize.

Website: https://hempuli.com/baba/

Gameplay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E24WWi9X8u0

Elemental Tetrad (Lens 9)

Mechanics

  • Rules: puzzle games usually come with a set of rules to dictate what the players can do. In Baba Is You, rules of the level is presented as movable blocks, which the player can modify and manipulate to win the level. To explain the mechanics better, we have to look at one of the levels. In the first level, as seen in the photo above, you can see four distinct rules on the screen. By conventional puzzle game logic, you might be inclined to move right to push the rock to get to the flag. However, if you take a closer look at the borders of the level, you can see that there is actually more space for you to move about. The rules themselves are movable blocks which you can manipulate to form rules like ‘ROCK IS WIN’ or dismantle existing rules, thus changing the win condition itself.
  • Controls: The game has a very simplified control scheme, with four buttons for movement, one for undo and another for wait. The wait button might seem to be quite useless but it acts as a mechanic to solve future levels. It is very satisfying to undo movements when the player almost got the solution but took a slightly wrong path.
  • World design: The overworld is split up into different worlds, some of which are gated to ensure the player understands the more basic rules before trying levels with a higher difficulty. Each world has a theme and introduces new words like ‘NOT’ and ‘HAS’. Within each world, the first few levels act as a mini tutorial to help the player understand the new words.

Aesthetics

  • I like the simple and cartoony graphics of the game, but I dislike the ‘wobble’ effect. Fortunately, the options allow me to toggle the effect. The music is calm and subtle, which goes great with the puzzling gameplay.

Story

  • There is no story in this game, and that is fine because the unique selling point of the game is its mechanics.

Technology

  • The game has simple controls and is not graphically intensive. Available on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Lens of Curiosity (Lens 6)

  • When playing the game, I always ask myself if an action is possible or a rule make sense. The game makes it easy to try out the different possibilities due to the compact size of every level and the ease of undoing undesirable actions.
  • The mixture of rules often lead to funny and unexpected outcomes. For example, if ‘KEKE HAS BABA’, ‘BABA HAS KEKE’ and ‘BABA AND KEKE IS YOU’, I become invincible because if Baba kills itself, Keke will appear as it ‘broke free’ from Baba and vice versa.

Lens of Problem Solving (Lens 8)

  • Most levels contain fixed rules that cannot be changed, and they are strategically positioned at the corners of the level which the player cannot manipulate. This forces the player to work with a small set of rules sometimes to get the desired outcome.
  • There are some unspoken rules to the game, like if ‘ROCK IS NOT MOVE’ is already present, forming the rule ‘ROCK IS MOVE’ does not negate the effect of the first rule. This is shown visually by the crossing out of the two rules and the prompt to undo the move.
  • The game contains over 200 handcrafted levels, and the developer has stated on his blog that he is working on a future expansion for a level creator, which the players themselves can create new levels to challenge one another.

Lens of Challenge (Lens 38)

  • Despite some mind-blowingly hard levels, the game is scaled well. The game always provide mini tutorials when it introduces new words to help the player understand the mechanics and slowly build up from there.
  • It is easy for new players to play the game. I often ask my friends for help when I get stuck on levels. Even though they might not have heard of the game before, after explaining the core mechanics of the game, most of them understood and were able to help me.

The Sims 4

The Sims 4 (taken from https://www.ea.com/games/the-sims/the-sims-4 )

The Sims 4 is a single-player life simulation game. Players can customize their characters and houses. Players can also control the life of the characters and explore the worlds in the game. Game-play includes household development, careers, emotions, traits, aspirations and more.

Story

Lens of Story Machine: The Sims was especially mentioned in the Lens of Story Machine, and for good reason. There was no fixed architect of story line which could be a negative for the game as it can get mundane playing the game. However, the sims being a long time game has a huge community of players who will come up with stories or challenges for other players to try. An example will be the rags to riches challenge where the player will have no money and residence for the character, wherein the player will have to figure a way to get their character rich. These player induced stories add more potential and fun for the players in the community.

However, The Sims 4 itself does not have a story arc. The game does not impose conflict and character development is minimal. There is little repercussions for actions in the game. For example, characters that have a bad relationship can still chat amicably. The lack of a story makes the game boring and “too easy”. This results in a heavy dependency on player induced stories when playing.

Mechanics

The Sims 4 has a rich pool of mechanics incorporated into the game as it was big scale life simulation game. For example, there are friendship and romance level for relationships between characters, there are career paths and aspiration with defined tasks to complete to get a pay rise or a promotion. Other than these, there are many more interesting mechanics.

Lens of Essential Experience: The Sims 4 also brought mechanics for University into the game through the Discover University expansion pack. The game focused on the dormitory and roommates, where players are most excited about. They made attending classes a rabbit hole as these are the repetitive and mundane aspect of university that do not add much value to the experience. Focusing on the roommate aspect can also be extended to other areas of the game as the game can now have roommates not just in the University pack but also in other residences of the game world.

Lens of the Toy: Other than mechanic for story making, there are also different ways the sims can be played with: Character creation and house building. As The Sims 4 provide a well-defined mechanism for character creation, many players spend their game-play on making their characters. Challenges like creating characters to suit a color series or to create a character similar to a celebrity spun from these mechanisms. Similarly, for building lots, the players can not only build residential lots but also public lots. With the addition of the latest Tiny Living stuff pack, many players tried to challenge building a small lot.

Aesthetics

The visuals of The Sims 4 is hugely made up of the characters and builds in game. In every released expansion packs, the developer team spent a great effort in creating new styles of clothes, hair, accessories for characters; and furniture, wallpapers for builds. They also tried to express diversity by adding different skin tones and religious clothing like hijabs. As with story and mechanics, the Sims community also created custom character and build content for the aesthetics of the game, some with a different art style. The art style of The Sims 4 is a huge improvement from its 3 predecessors. However, some players find the art style too cartoonish and prefer custom contents with more textures for more realism.

Lens of Imagination: The Sims 4 has its own made up language that players call “Simlish”. Whenever the characters communicate, they speak gibberish and have dramatic expressions and movement. This leaves the players space to imagine the conversation the characters are having. In a lot of Let’s play videos, the players make up the conversation themselves from the characters’ body language. However, some Simlish phrases appear often that players can guess the meaning, making the game more immersive.

Technology

Having so much content, The Sims 4 will have to consider how to allow the game to run on different hardware. The Sims 4 releases expansion packs with different content, users buy the content they are interested in. This keeps the game-play and content of each player simple and efficient enough to meet their needs; also keeping the game profitable. The pre-built characters and builds are also kept as simple as possible to ensure smooth run of the game for more hardware.

Breath of the Wild

https://www.zelda.com/breath-of-the-wild/
   https://www.zelda.com/breath-of-the-wild/

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the latest videogame of the Zelda series. Released in 2017 for the Wii U and Nintendo Switch, this game introduces an open world action-adventure game which lets the player decide their own paths to achieve different goals, reach different places or just explore the game’s world. 

Game trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zw47_q9wbBE

Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics: Breath of the Wild is an open world game which lets you go wherever you want in the map. The mechanics are taught at the beginning of the game and they are:

  1. Exploration and reaching different locations.
  2. Solving puzzles.
  3. Finishing missions.
  4. Obtaining equipment such as weapons, food, clothing, special abilities.

These are done by the player’s abilities: climbing, running, swimming and paragliding all limited by stamina. Also, attacking, which is enhanced by the weapons you carry and cooking, which increases your health.

Story: This game is a post-apocalyptic game that happens 100 years after a calamity occured. This story is told at the beginning but elements that help you uncover more about this story are the ruins present in the landscape, finding places where you obtain some memories back and talking to NPCs who tell you more about the past and life in the present. The game has a lot of places, so you always find yourself searching for clues about the past.

Aesthetics: Ruins and abandoned places add to the post-apocalyptic story of the game and overall drive to explore of the game. Also nature and landmarks make the player explore and find places. Sound design includes for example only some piano notes that add to the feeling of not many people being present around you and add up to the drive of discovering unknown places or just admiring the landscape.

Technology: The portability of the Nintendo Switch lets you play the game wherever you want, therefore if you have not that much free time you can just continue exploring or walking without any compromise. Also some puzzles require tilt control offered by the Switch. Other features include vibration and sounds which increase the feedback to the user when he is attacked.

Lens of Time 

First of all, Breath of the Wild features a clock and a weather indicator on its main game play screen or Graphical User Interface. In my case, sometimes I check the time and weather to know what type of things to equip for a certain weather, decide parting times for a mission, wait until the sun sets to accomplish a sun light related mission or just see a nice view. 

The game itself and almost all of its missions are not restricted by time, even the main storyline can be accomplished in less than 24 hours. In addition, if you get bored from a mission you can just change it and head towards a different direction in the map. This lets the player feel that they always have something to do in this open world game and it having no time restrictions creates a feeling of freedom in the player.

Furthermore, the passing of time and changing in weather in game changes its dynamics. For example, on cold weather you lose more life if you are not wearing warm clothes, or different enemies appear at night time. This lets the player experience the game differently at exactly the same locations depending on the time.

Lens of Goals

Since the beginning of the game, you are given the main mission to “Destroy Ganon” and this mission always appears at the top of your goals list. It’s easy for the player to understand that this is the ultimate goal of the game. But, there are also a lot of extra missions and quests that add more goals to the list, even the player gets to decide which goal to do next and focus on it. 

Goals range from long term to short term goals. Sometimes when I get bored of a long term goal or don’t know what to do next, I just find myself changing it for another one, or just exploring the world and having more things to do and accomplish. This lets the player feel they always have something to accomplish even if they failed or get tired of their last mission, which lets them never get bored.

The game also features sightseeing towers that let the player see the different geography and locations in the game. Moreover, the player is able to put map markers so that if they decide to visit or revisit one place they can just follow their markers. In other words, the game lets the player decide their own goals, that can be as simple as climbing a mountain or reaching and unknown location.

Lens of Atmosphere

Breath of the Wild is a post-apocalyptic game. It is set 100 years after a great Calamity happened and destroyed the major villages,  landmarks and killed hundreds. Even if the game has beautiful cartoonish graphics, the landscape lets you know the places are not as they once used to be. The main example is the Hyrule Castle Town ruins that is completely destroyed. Therefore, the game has a post-apocalyptic atmosphere, in my case this made me feel sad as the player gets to know the main characters failed to protect the Kingdom and you can no longer see or experience the places as they once were. 

A calming atmosphere is also created in the places were mostly nature is present. The world in Breath of the Wild feels alive, in the sense that many things resemble the real world. For example the movement of the grass, the wind, weather, water, the trees moving, there are animals and insects roaming around, even the sunsets are beautiful in game. In addition, sound design is important as most of the music is just separate piano notes and chords that just add up to the relaxing atmosphere. This made me feel as if I could just stop for a second and hear the sounds in the place I am exploring or watch the sunset from the top of a mountain and relax.

Lens of curiosity

In Breath of the Wild the player is always filled with curiosity, as that is what keeps the player on exploring. This is achieved through the placement of objects in the world. There are many distinct landmarks that are easily seen and that drag the player’s attention towards them, resulting in them wanting to explore and get to know what’s there. Also the maps don’t have a lot of information, but just seeing the drawings lets you wonder what could be found in those places.

In my case, the ruins placed throughout the game awaken my curiosity as I begin to question what they were. There are also ruins with different designs, which lets the player even sort them into different time periods. Another feature is that some of those ruins resemble places in past games; therefore, this lets the player imagine and wonder how this places came to be what they are now. This adds up to the feeling of wonder and exploration the game creates in its players.

References:

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zw47_q9wbBE

[2] https://www.zelda.com/breath-of-the-wild/

[3] http://www.sg4adults.eu/files/art-game-design.pdf

[4] http://deck.artofgamedesign.com/#/menu/0/?lang=en

Stardew Valley

Opening screen
(Picture taken from https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/12/stardew-valley-my-familys-2019-game-of-the-year/)

Stardew Valley is an open-ended country-life Role Playing Game. Player starts with a few basic tools and has to farm, mine and fish to obtain more resources while helping to restore the old town. The player is also able to talk to NPCs and maintain a friendship with them by giving them gifts and in turn, receives items and other benefits.

Website: https://www.stardewvalley.net/ 

Game trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot7uXNQskhs 

What I do in one game day:

  • usual morning routine (watering crops, harvesting and/or planting, attending to animals, selling crops)
  • talk to NPCs, give gifts
  • mine/fish 

What I am focused on in the game:

  • the time, day of the week, date and season in top right-hand corner: different things occur at different times of the day and season
  • hotbar 
  • energy bar (and sometimes health bar) at the bottom right-hand corner: to monitor energy (and health) levels to decide what to do next

Elemental Tetrad 1 – Story:

  • Player may feel a sense of nostalgia or some kind of emotional attachment to the setting of the game as the plot of land is passed down from the player’s father where he used to live before moving to the city. The game maintains this “relationship” by the father continuing to send money to the player in the farm, and one of the NPCs sometimes mention the player’s father in his dialogue.
  • Different NPCs also have their own storylines, personalities and circumstances which adds to the depth of the game, makes the game more interesting as the player learns more about the stories of the different characters

Elemental Tetrad 2 – Mechanics:

  • Inventory management: player starts with only 12 slots in inventory, so the number of items the player can carry at any one time is very limited, forces the player to walk home to drop off stuff when player’s inventory is full
  • Goals: goals are set by the player himself and there are various ways the player can play the game thus allowing for many many hours of re-playable content
    • speed runs
    • complete “optional” main quests in the game
    • set own arbitrary goals
  • Time and energy management: each day has a limited period of time from 6am to 2am and player only has a limited amount of energy so time and energy is precious and player can only do so much in one day. Also, the player has to go to bed by 12am, otherwise there could be consequences (lose gold, wake up with less energy the next day thus hindering the player’s progress).
  • Other examples include health, weather, seasons

Elemental Tetrad 3 – Aesthetics:

(Picture taken from https://www.gamespedition.com/pc-games/indie-games/indie-role-playing-games/stardew-valley/stardew-valley-gameplay/gameplay-stardew-valley)
  • Game is very aesthetically pleasing. Made with pixel art and graphics look simple but detailed, with wide range of colours. When seasons pass, the scene/settings also change such as different coloured leaves.
  • Also very simple UI
  • Music is also quite well-done. Usually calming, relaxing and cheerful but can change when player is at different areas (at the town vs at the mines). There is also different soundtracks for different events that happen in the game. 

Elemental Tetrad 4 – Technology:

  • Not computationally or graphically intensive, able to play on various devices (PC/mac, console, mobile)

Lens 1: Essential Experience

  • Player can choose to do anything from a wide range of activities, endless gameplay
  • Limited time and energy forces players to think about what to do to conserve energy and make full use of the time and energy
  • “Social” (even in singleplayer) – NPCs are almost like real players as they move around the map, can be interacted with and have various different personalities, makes you feel connected to the characters and sympathise with them
  • Complete collections to rebuild the town to its former glory, instills a sense of achievement

Lens 2: The Lens of Surprise

  • Though some may find the lack of a tutorial to be a disadvantage of the game, I find that it adds on to the fun of it because sometimes the player can discover new areas, items as well as new ways of doing things, all on their own.
  • This encourages players to be curious and explore the game by themselves
  • Also encourages players to share tips and tricks with one another (via forums or YouTube videos), builds the community
One of the many in-game events that take place annually
(Picture taken from https://cheerfulghost.com/jdodson/posts/2055/stardew-valley-shaping-up-to-be-a-beautifully-unique-game)

Lens 39: The Lens of Time

  • Time is often of the essence in the game, having only a set and limited amount of time in each game day that feels short yet it is still long enough to complete a substantial number of activities and allows the user to feel accomplished. It still leaves the player wanting for more.
  • The current day and date that the player is in also affects certain aspects of the game such as farming and giving gifts.
    • If player plants the crops a day too late, it may result in one less harvest for those crops and player loses out on the opportunity to make more money
    • Players can take advantage of NPCs’ birthdays to give them gifts to gain many more friendship points than if gifted on a regular day, allowing player to more quickly max out the friendship points with NPCs

Lens 46: The Lens of Economy

  • In singleplayer, the player can buy and sell items to NPCs. Main source of income for players is from selling harvest and animal products.
  • As money is limited, players have to make mindful and meaningful decisions about buying items with the money that they have earned, such as:
    • buying seeds for the most profitable crops
    • buying seeds for less profitable crops but for other benefits
    • upgrading tools
    • equipment and armour
    • farm buildings, more animals
  • Items that players buy can go towards making more money and making more progress in the game or for aesthetic purposes
  • Crops or most of the items that the player can sell also have secondary uses and thus sometimes it may not be wise to sell all of them away and have to think through what they should sell and how much of it
  • As the player progresses, he/she will earn money more easily but items such as equipment and farm buildings will also progressively become more expensive to purchase, maintaining the difficulty of the game

Analysis of The Gardens Between

Short description of The Gardens Between:

The Gardens Between is an adventure-puzzle game that takes players through a story about a pair of friends, Arina and Frendt, and their precious moments spent together. At each level, we get to see a significant memory from their past.

The gameplay is minimalistic, with simple controls. Players can only choose to move forwards and backwards in time and interact with certain items in the environment using the spacebar. Nonetheless, the puzzles have a certain level of difficulty in them and only get more difficult with each passing level.

Website link: http://thegardensbetween.com/

Analysis of game:

Mechanics: As the game has very little controls, the mechanics behind it are simple and the developers have executed it well. Players only have one clearly defined goal, which is to clear each level by lighting up the gate. The only thing I got frustrated about was one level where we had to track which of the many cubes bouncing all over the map carried our lantern. As the camera cannot be moved by the player themselves, there are many times where the cubes are blocked by the environment and when they re-emerge, they have switched places. I later found out that if we pause at the right moment, we can just see which ones have switched just before they are out of view and predict their movement when they re-emerge. In hindsight, that might have been intentionally done by the developers to make the game more challenging and to encourage us to think of different ways to solve the level.

Story: The story in the game is like a puzzle in its own right. It is pre-scripted but there is neither narration nor dialogue between the two characters so players have to figure it out on their own. I, personally, found it rather enjoyable to guess the plot with each passing memory that the game presents us with.

Aesthetics: The game is visually stunning and won the 2018 IGF awards for Excellence in Visual Art because of that. I think the art style of the game inspires a feeling of wonder and delight to anyone that first lay their eyes on it. That adds to the effect of feeling like we are transported into a dream-like world every time we play it.

Technology: As the controls are simple and the game is not too graphically demanding, it is highly accessible, available on all major platforms and even on phones.

Lens #2: The Lens of Surprise: The game definitely has interesting surprises. As the player is given very little control over the characters themselves, a large part of the gameplay relies on pausing at the right time and changing the environment to proceed. The way one can change the environment varies every level and there is an element of surprise at every level. For example, in one of the levels, we had to power some lightbulbs. That particular level truly stumped me, I kept going back in time, and then forwards again just trying to see if I’ve missed something. In the end, I solved it accidentally by rewinding time, back to where the characters were trying to cross a bridge and wait there for a droplet of water to land between two open electricity pipes. I had not even thought that that droplet of water had any significance and all these puzzles really make me pay a lot more attention to the environment.

Lens #31: The Lens of Challenge: Like most puzzle games, the game gets increasingly more challenging as one progresses. Keeping in mind that the difficulty of a game is subjective, I think that the game is quite balanced (it is not too difficult that it makes me want to give up and search for the answer online and also not too easy that it makes me bored) and I like the linearity of the difficulty progression. There are no dramatic difficulty spikes, the levels build up in difficulty in a very gradual manner.

Lens #64: The Lens of Projection: The portrayal of the characters is realistic; they emerge into the dream-like world full of wonder and bewilderment which echoes the player’s feelings. They are fuelled by curiosity and constantly fiddle with random objects that are on their path, which is something that I feel players can relate to when they are thrust into a world like that. However, as the story is pre-scripted and there is only one way to solve every level, there is little players can actually do to manipulate and change the outcomes so it feels like one is watching the story from an outsider’s point of view. To add on, as the story is not immediately clear, it keeps the player guessing what each level represents. Because of that, I find it difficult to project my imaginations into the game.

Lens #77: The Lens of Character Traits: The characters in the game have personalities that are very distinct from each other. As there is no dialogue in the game, these personality traits are only shown through actions alone. When the characters move they do not always keep the same pace, the two characters get distracted by various things in the environment, they run when they are excited, they move much slower when they are walking over a precarious bridge, etc. all these make the characters feel more human. I particularly like how easy it is to tell their character traits like how Arina almost always leads the way but will often wait for Frendt when he gets distracted or too scared to move forward.  It makes it easy to associate Ariana as the brave one, while Frendt as the curious one which making them more impressionable to me.

Bravely Default — Review

Game: Bravely Default
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: RPG

Bravely Default is a spiritual successor to classic Final Fantasy titles, being inspired by the former’s aesthetics and gameplay.
The story is that of four, young heroes out to rekindle the dying crystals to save the world. Tiz, the main protagonist who loses his home village right as the game begins. Agnes, a priestess at the Wind Temple that was recently raided and destroyed. Edea, the daughter of the snow emperor who wants to dive into the rabbit hole of the empire she was raised in. And Ringabel, a mysterious man searching for clues to his past.

I followed this game since its original release in 2012, and I got to play it when in released in the United States two years. And I must admit, the wait was worth it. The version that released internationally made Bravely Default one of the most user-friendly games. While the gameplay is very reminiscent of classic turn-based JRPGs, there is a twist in its simplicity with the job classes and the Brave system. Below, I will go into the details.

Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics
As someone who believed that job classes were pretty much perfected in Final Fantasy V for single-player JRPGs, I can gladly say that Bravely Default brought the job system into the modern age. Characters are able to select any job they want at any time they want. This gives each character in the party an advantage or disadvantage during any particular battle.
While the turn-based battle system is relatively standard, as far as JRPGs go, the Brave system adds a satisfying aspect to a given battle. The Brave system adds a risk-reward to the mix. If you select Brave, you can attack more than once in a turn, but have to wait as many turns as they attacked. If you select Default, you can stack Brave Points to be used later.

Story
Seeing as this is an RPG, I can only go into the story so much without getting into spoiler territory. It initially starts off like a classic RPG, wherein the heroes are in search for the crystals to save the world from its demise while trying to stop an evil empire. While yes, the initial plot is very basic, how the characters react both to the situations, their own group, and the others that inhabit the world is what carries the first half of the game. The main characters all meet up pretty early on and have fantastic chemistry that you can see in the frequent party chats. There is are a number of wild plot twists that I do not want to spoil here, as this is a game I feel needs to be explored.

Aesthetics
All backgrounds are hand-drawn and painted, and they all look gorgeous. The characters and world map are 3D models, which look fine considering they are on the 3DS, but the backgrounds are beautiful. The aesthetics of the world vary depending on the town, having many anachronisms, but having an overall “middle ages” feel. My favorite areas are tied for the water town Florem and the sand town Ancheim. Not to mention that the orchestrated soundtrack is outstanding.

Technology
This game did not break any boundaries or push any limits for the 3DS. But what it did do was use the 3D to have a parallax view of the gorgeous towns.

Lenses

4) Surprise
The game lures in fans of classic Final Fantasy and other JRPGs, but gives classic fans a surprise with the later twists in the plot, well-established characters and their interactions, and a gorgeous parallax world.

21) Flow
The plot tends to flow very smoothly for the first half, with very clear goals communicated by the characters (save the crystal’s destruction, stop the empire, save the world). The “distractions” from the main plot usually tie in at one point or another, but they’re mainly there to expand the party, the world, or to gain jobs to enhance the gameplay.

40) Triangularity
The Brave and Default aspects to the battle system offers the risk-reward of the game. The job classes also help to expand the gameplay. The challenges to get the classes are arguably tough to obtain a good 40% of the time.

63) Feedback
The game has great user-friendly feedback and customization of gameplay. In terms of customization, you can speed up battles, turn off random encounters, and set your party to level 99 (max level). The feedback given during any particular point is also pretty good. There’s an on-screen map that shows where you are at any time, the characters will bring up where to go next, and even if you lose a battle, you know what to do the next time you go against them with a different strategy.

CS3247 Game Review: Crypt of the NecroDancer

Game: Crypt of the NecroDancer

Genre: (Hardcore) Roguelike dungeon, rhythm game/ 2D

Description: The player controls the protagonist Cadence to retrieve her heart that was stolen by the antagonist, the NecroDancer. On Cadence’s quest, she must travel through 4 levels, defeat various bosses and finally confront the NecroDancer. The player may only make moves with the beat of the music, using only arrow keys on the keyboard. Combat is turn based and is situated on a 2D grid.

Website: https://braceyourselfgames.com/crypt-of-the-necrodancer/

Screenshot:

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5198bVlANY

In my opinion, the game is generally well done, with some possible room for improvement. Probably not my most favorite game, but I believe it deserves a 8/10.

What was done well:

Elemental Tetrad: The 4 elements are well integrated. The mechanics of the game are executed with the music yet follows the rules of a roguelike dungeon game. The story is linear (and continuous for unlocked characters) and encourages the player frequently by showing part of the story whenever they progress into a new level. The story revolves around a Golden Lute, a cursed artifact that grants its wielder immense power, at the cost of their freedom (allured to play the Lute for eternity). The dungeon and the Lute are both created by a single entity that was working on necromantic experiments that involve infusing musical instruments with life, which explains the various enemies and the environment the player observes, making the game aesthetically consistent with its music theme. For example, the Minotaur carries a harp on its head like a pair of horns. The technology used was simple as the game was designed with a 2D screen experience, requiring no more than a laptop.

Minotaur image:

1. Essential Experience: Brings out the minimum axioms in both roguelike dungeon and rhythm games, yet make the combination synergistic. Requirement to follow the beat forces the player to act and plan carefully for the roguelike aspects (turn based grid movement, defeating enemies without being damaged). All enemies move/attack in a pattern specific to how they look, allowing players to gain an advantage through mastery. Bosses follow a more complex set of rules, possibly requiring the player to specially strategize to defeat them efficiently.

18. Flow: Players have a clear direction for stairs to reach and defeat the boss. Enemies gain HP and damage, attack in more complex patterns, music tempo increases with later levels, at a reasonable rate of progression. New traps are also gradually introduced. In each level, the player’s goal is to descend 3 floors by finding stairs, and defeating a boss at the end. The player is required to defeat a miniboss, a strong monster, every floor. The player is initially armed with only a dagger, having to defeat enemies with melee combat, and gradually gains access to more powerful weapons acquired through in-game currency of gems, which can be earnt from defeating bosses/finding loot in dungeons. Players also gain access to armor that generally reduce damage taken, and accessories that assist the player in various ways.

Traps can affect players, but can be also used against enemies:

55. Virtual Interface: Screen is neat, player health and items are shown above, music rhythm is shown below, visited rooms are shown on a minimap and monsters have their health shown directly above.

57. Feedback: All monsters hop when they move, and emit sounds when damaged/defeated. It makes the game alive, acting always and only with the flow of the music.

What may need improvement:

27. Skill: “Rather steep learning curve”/”may not be suitable” for most players, rules are harsh. Players get damaged easily when they miss a beat when trying to kill an enemy, or does not react to environment on time due to the fast tempo of the music. The player (and all monsters) may only make a move on each beat of the music, extra moves will be ignored, and missing a beat may be disadvantageous for the player in certain situations. Although the player can damage/defeat enemies with their dagger, they need to be careful not to get hit by monsters as these monsters move/attack in a pattern with the beat of the music as well. The game may boil down to a skill wall when the player is completely unable to cope with the new level’s enemies, or its fast music tempo, requiring the player to practice before gaining a single bit of progress.

Example (Red Dragon). This enemy has a powerful beam attack which many players may struggle to avoid:

A Short Hike – a journey full of cuteness

Claire finally reached the top of the mountain! The view is EPIC up there.

Description

A Short Hike, which received the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, is a relaxing 3D adventure and action game.

The main character, Claire, traveled to the Hawk Peak Provincial Park with her parents for a vacation. The player can explore the harmonious mountainside landscapes freely, chatting with people along the trails, hike, climb the walls, and even glide through the region, mingling with the wind. Walk around the island, chatting with others, discover coins, shells and treasures, and try to unveil the mystery of the island!

Game’s website: http://ashorthike.com/

YouTube gameplay demo: https://www.youtube.com/watchv=qsA5p0MKdoM

I would like to analysis the game with the following lenses:

Lens #7: Elemental Tetrad

  • Mechanics

There is a variety of actions that a user could perform. She can move in four directions, jump, glide in the air, pick coins or shells from the ground, talk with others, and climb the walls with limited stamina.

When the user equips with tools, she can perform special actions. For instance, when the user holds a bucket, she can fetch water and sprinkle a specific area of soil. When the user picks a stick, she can hit movable beach balls and even play ‘stickball’ with others.

  • Story

This game neither has a sequential storyline which requires the player to follow, nor having a leveling system which may cause changes in difficulty or modification of the environment, etc. The main goal of the mini-game is to reach Hawk Peak, which is the top of the mountain. The message is clear: When we reach out and explore the world, we can experience great things along the way.

  • Aesthetics

The pixel art style applied in this game creates a dreamlike, foggy scene, and the light background music mainly played by piano and violin. These facilitate the generation of a calm and delighted mood and a strong sense of serenity.

The music and the graphics form a pleasant environment which makes the exploration process full of joy.

  • Technology

This game runs on Windows, Linux and Mac OS. A keyboard and monitor are required to play the game with the best experience.

Lens #4: The Lens of Curiosity

Although the main goal of this game is reaching the top of the mountain, as the player wandering around the site, she meets different animals, and they might teach her a skill such as fishing, or even give her treasure maps and hints that there are other mysteries around this island. The players will have high incentives to keep travel around the island and unveil the mystery of the island, even after reaching the top of the mountain.

Lens #1: The Lens of Essential Experience

After playing the game, I would command it as a very relaxing experience. The light music and the pixel artworks with cute style made me feel like I am having a happy vacation and I revived my inner-child and made explorations in the game. The sense of serenity generated by the graphics and the music are essential factors that make the game excellent.

Lens #27: The Lens of Skill

There are only a few skills required for playing the game. Players only need to use the arrow keys, z-key, x-key, and the spacebar to perform all the motions for the character, including climbing, chatting, gliding, swimming, running, picking up an object, etc. Skills that are related to motions are dominant in this game since the main goal of the character is to climb to the top of the mountain, and these skills are helpful for the player to explore various regions. Since this is a sole game, no unfairness between players could exist.

The controls are simple and intuitive, and some characters will teach the player how to perform the motions. In my opinion, the skill level required is suitable for this simple, relaxing game.

Lens #45: The Lens of Imagination

The players can immediately relate their experience in visiting country parks to this game since there are a host of natural landscapes including hills, rivers, waterfalls, forests, etc. There is not much imagination involved in this gameplay in terms of the environment.

Since this is a pixel game, it is hard to show the detailed facial expressions of the characters. However, by using intonations in the character’s speech, the player can identify the mood of the characters. Some NPCs even give the player some hints that there are treasures located in this park, which inspire the player’s thoughts about heading to the unknown areas.

Lens #31: The Lens of Challenge

The main challenges involved in the game is trying to reach a certain part of the area with limited abilities. For instance, the player needs to climb up a wall with limited stamina, or the player needs to go across a broken bridge with a combination of skills, including gliding and climbing. The difficulty is just right, the challenges do accommodate a variety of skills, but the variety of challenges is limited since the game is only about exploring in a huge park.

If you want to be relaxed, meet cute animals and admire the beauty of nature, this game is for you!