Game Design Analysis – Overcooked! 2

The game that I have chosen for this assignment would be “Overcooked! 2”. “Overcooked! 2” is a co-op game where 2-4 players prepare and cook different recipes in various themed restaurants while facing a multitude of various obstacles. Links to the game’s website and a short gameplay demo are described below:

In this write-up, I will be evaluating my gameplay experience accordingly to the various lenses listed in “The Art of Game Design – A Book of Lenses”.

Lens 9: The Lens of The Elemental Tetrad

The story revolves around the Onion King, Kevin and the Unbread (bread zombies) that have risen from the dead. The role of the player is to hone their skills in cooking, so they can satisfy the cravings of the Unbread in the final “boss level”. Once players complete the final level, the game ends with a dialogue with the Onion King that summarises how the Unbread are not dangerous anymore and peace has been restored in the kingdom. However, I felt the story was not really integrated well with the game. It just seemed to serve as a means to introduce the game to new players and to wrap up the game after the final boss level, but the storyline was not mentioned anywhere else between the other levels. There were times I felt bored during the dialogue and I tend to skip past it as well.

In terms of technology, “Overcooked! 2” is supported on various platforms (Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation and Windows platforms). For this assignment, I’ll be focusing on the Nintendo Switch. Players control their avatars with the Joycon controllers to carry out the various actions of chopping and holding ingredients, to dashing in the kitchen.

Additionally, the aesthetics of the game is such that the whole game revolves around 6 differently-themed kitchens. Some examples include wooden rafts and an enchanted castle. Relevant animations are also played based on how the player interacts with the world. Each world comes with their own themed background music, as well as their own unique set of obstacles that behave differently (i.e. portals only appear in the enchanted castle levels).

This brings us to the mechanics of the game. It includes preparing ingredients (e.g. chopping, mixing) and cooking the food (e.g. boiling it in a pot/frying it in a pan/baking in an oven) before serving them. Players can also throw “raw” ingredients over obstacles to their teammates or dash to facilitate faster service in the kitchen. Obstacles may also behave differently based on the varying difficulty of the level (i.e. stationary portals progressively develop into moving portals in later levels). This results in a gradual increase in difficulty as players progress in the game.

Lens 8: The Lens of Problem Solving

There are many different ways of overcoming the obstacles in a level or obtaining a higher score. Players would need to devise strategies and decide which is the “best one” to overcome them accordingly and obtain the highest score in that level. However, there are also hidden problems to solve that arise based on the number of the players. For instance, the difficulty of all levels remains the same regardless of the number of players. As the score is linearly related to the number of orders served, it will be more difficult for 2 players to obtain 4 stars compared to 4 players. I usually encounter this problem as I only have 2 Joycon controllers (i.e. only 2 players can play at any time). However, my sister and I would try to formulate various strategies in order to solve and overcome this problem. Though it can be challenging at times, it does make the game fun and engaging as you sometimes find innovative ways to make use of certain mechanics to process orders faster.

An example of a “hack” where players stockpile ingredients at the side to pick up the ingredients more efficiently

Lens 44: The Lens of Cooperation

Secondly, players would have to communicate and cooperate effectively in the game in order to excel as a team. Since playing on the Nintendo Switch requires players to all be together in one physical location, players have enough opportunity to communicate. In order to beat the clock, the most effective way would be for players to delegate tasks among one another (i.e. one player focuses on chopping, one player focuses on cooking and serving). Players need to communicate well in order to know what strategy they want to adopt, and what each member is doing to serve orders efficiently.

Despite it being a co-op game, it is ironic that there are also times when my sister and I get frustrated at each other while playing the game (especially so when one of us gets “lost” while rushing out the orders/keep “dying” from the obstacles in place). This is probably attributed to the fact that the game gets more stressful as we try to beat our previous highscores. However, managing to overcome the levels together always feel satisfying, especially if the level was a difficult one.  

Lens 55: The Lens of Visible Progress:

Thirdly, the player’s progress is clearly displayed in each level, as well as their overall progression in the game as a whole.

Within each round, players earn points that corresponds to the number of orders they served. Points serve as a way for players to see whether they have improved or not when trying to solve a level. A breakdown of their score will be given in the end card, as seen on the image on the left. Highscores for each level are also tracked accordingly.

As a whole, the player’s progress in the game can be benchmarked by the number of stars they have earned in total. Players earn stars according to the number they have earned in each level, with a maximum of 4 stars to be earned on each level. As players progress further into the game, they will realise that a certain number of stars also have to be collected before they can unlock and play some of the higher levels which are more difficult. This progress is visible on the map, as exemplified in the image on the right. However, there is also some hidden progress in the form of hidden “Kevin levels”, which are bonus levels that are unlocked and revealed to players once they have acquired enough stars. This is highly related to the next lens, The Lens of Flow.

Lens 21: The Lens of Flow

Lastly, the game provides clear goals to the player, which is to progress to higher levels until reach “final boss” level. The game provides a steady stream of challenges to the player – difficulty of the game adjusts slowly according to how players progress through the levels. Doing so gives players time to get used to the game’s mechanics when they first start playing, as well as improve their skills the more they play. By gradually increasing the difficulty to accommodate to the players’ improving skills, this allows them to keep engaged and stay in the state of flow. This is something that I experienced when playing “Overcooked! 2” and I find that it helps keep me engaged and not get tired of the game too quickly.

Conclusion

In conclusion, various lenses contribute to the player’s experience when playing “Overcooked! 2”. In a way, the game tries to simulate the real world as well – communication and cooperation between players (chefs) are integral in the game, which is akin to working a professional kitchen. Overall, this assignment has helped me to glean more insight into how the lenses can be applied when considering how to design a game that value-adds to the player’s experience, which is a skill that could be applicable and relevant to our group project.

References:
Images obtained from Google Images

Game Design Analysis: Civilisation VI

Epic Games Store Releases Civilization VI As Latest Free Mystery Game |  Geek Culture

Description

Civilization VI (cvi6) is a turn based strategy game. It was published by 2k Games. First released on 2016 on Windows and macOS, it was later released on most other platforms. The game was based on real history of mankind and contains many famous leaders of the world, world wonders and natural wonders.

link to game: https://civilization.com/

Link to game play: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pczrASkYGSo&t=1368s

Lens 9: The Elemental Tetrad

Aesthetics

  • 3D game, top down command view of the map with detailed and breathtaking game graphics of human civilization through history.
  • Very engaging audio and sfx, there were distinct sounds for each buildings and characters.
  • Beautifully crafted animations for different interactions.
  • Realistic reflection of light in many parts of buildings/ water bodies in game, also in part due to the tech used.

Technology

  • Only 1 interaction at a time, reducing computation burden on the system.
  • Fps is insignificant in a turn based game, setting it at 20 could allow for finer and more detailed textures and game objects in the game on low spec systems.
  • Seamless cross play between steam and epic games users with just a room code. Such feature is not supported in other games.
  • Advance and realistic simulation with seemingly infinite outcomes.

Mechanics

  • This is a turn based strategy game.
  • There are 4 types of resources the player would generate per turn
    1. Science
    2. Faith
    3. Gold
    4. Culture
  • These resources would determine the actions player can take.
  • Each turn, a player can take multiple actions
    1. Build new cites
    2. Build buildings
    3. Train troops
    4. Move troops
  • Well planned actions would allow the player to advance their civilization towards the 5 victory conditions.
  • There are 5 victories, achieving any counts as a victory and you would be the leader of the greatest civilization in mankind.
    1. Religion, convert every civilization to your worship your civilization’s religion.
    2. Science, beat the science race by having high amount of science.
    3. Domination, conquer and hold all the civilization’s original capital by force.
    4. Cultural, be the most cultured civilization by having huge amount of artworks/wonders which grants high tourism to your capital
    5. Score, have the highest score at the game of the game.

Story

Only the strongest civilization writes human history. Hence, as the leader of a human civilization, the player must carefully develop their cities, with the goal to be the greatest civilization by being the first civilization to complete a victory. Build as many world wonders as you like, research as much science as you like, just be really good at something and your civilization would be the greatest amongst them all.

The game had a slow learning curve which was easy to pick up and uses a very hands on approach. Playing with the lowest difficulty is very useful to learn to slowly pick up the game and explore the endless possibility to advance your civilization. However, also due to it’s endless possibility, the game is also challenging at high level allowing players to repeat levels without beating the game easily.

Lens 8: Problem solving

The game poses many problems for players at different skill level, ensuring civ6 always pose new problems for the players to solve to be bring their civilization to great new heights.

  • Placing buildings in civ6 have different bonuses.
    • As a beginner who is starting to learn the game, the most basic bonuses are overlaid and shown to the player when placing buildings. Though it’s not the most, the different values at differ tiles would probe the players to ponder about it while learning the game.
    • As the player became more advance, they would realized there are hidden bonuses from their leaders/ buildings, if well planned would allow the player to squeeze out all the bonuses it has to offer.

Lens 79: Freedom

As a leader of a great civilization, players can do anything they like. Though there are only 5 ways to victory, the path to victory is never fixed. The player can focus on anything they like or are good at, and use those aspects to drive their civilization’s development.

For example: Player going for science victory in civ6 can still go around conquering other civilization if they are very advance in science. There is no fixed path to victory.

Lens 6: Curiosity

Civ6 does is very limitless, there’s lots of hidden details and bonuses for the players to uncover. The game strongly adopts a show, don’t tell technique to arouse players interest in any area. It always shows just enough information to the player. If the player first discovered a new item, the player can visually see it, but it will not prompt the player to act on it, this would allow the player to be continue their tasks at hand and come back again later if they are curious. But if it didn’t pique their interests, when other civilizations are using it, it would prompt the player to investigate it further. Having a encyclopedia called civilopedia also helps aid users to easily investigate their interests.

Lens 55: Visible Progress

As a turn based game, there are often downtime while waiting for other players to take their turns. Hence, players can view their progress towards each of the 5 victory in civ6. There is a world ranking board which allows the player to keep up to date with the latest progress of everyone in the game. This information allows players to prioritize their game play depending on other players progress. Players would be able to adopt different tactics to be the best civilization.

Lens 59: Control

The game provides a guide perimeter for players to know how to control and move their character. Meaningful UI allows the players to act in control and to check their understanding of the characters movement. It is easy to master since clicking on troops only moves or attacks a object and nothing more. By being easier to control and more predictable in the characters’ movement, it allows players to feel powerful. Also, the controls does not feel outdated like a normal 5 year old game would.

Game Analysis – Sayonara Wild Hearts

Introduction

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a self-described pop album video game developed by Simogo and was released on the PS4, Nintendo Switch, Steam and Apple Arcade in 2019 and Xbox in early 2020. Its description further states that it is “dreamy arcade game about riding motorcycles, skateboarding, dance battling, shooting lasers, wielding swords, and breaking hearts at 200 mph”. An unorthodox description for a unique game that changes up the typical rhythm genre.

Experience

Sayonara Wild Hearts invokes a magical experience from when you launch the game and manages to sustain it until the end.

Lens 9: The Elemental Tetrad

The Elemental Tetrad considers four basic elements of games, Story, Mechanics, Technology and Aesthetics, and Sayonara Wild Hearts does a great job in harmonising these elements.

Story

The story is linear and relatively simple on its surface, but filled with depth. The setting of the story is established by the narrator and the main character sets off on her journey to find her purpose after suffering from loss. On the surface, the main character navigates through a course where she eventually meets her enemies and defeats them one by one. However, when we look deeper into its meaning, the levels represent an emotional struggle within the main character, which are inferred through the use of Tarot Cards. It is a storytelling experience that enthrals the player but leaves some intrigue for the player to search further.

Mechanics

The goal of each level is to navigate a course and collect hearts to increase the score, which will be graded on upon completion. It is simple to clear each level but challenging for the player if they want to obtain the highest rank. Each level flows smoothly and manoeuvring the character feels good and precise that there was never a moment of frustration in controls.

Technology

SWH is built upon the Unity 3D engine, which worked well for the developers to achieve their vision. The game is played a standard Xbox/Playstation/Switch controller or with the Touch Screen, depending on the platform.

Aesthetics

SWH has eye-popping aesthetics that immediately draws you into its world. The visuals complement the story and gameplay well, dropping the player into many beautiful locations. These locations represent a certain emotion within story and are pleasing to travel through. Being a pop album rhythm game, music plays an important role too. Each level has a specific song tied to it and their meaning are also representative of the story. Furthermore, the soundtrack is a blast to listen to outside of the game.

Lens 4: Surprise

SWH’s unique gameplay was a pleasant surprise. Never before had I play this type of game and it immediately captures you with its bright visuals and lively soundtrack like a fancy arcade machine. The trailer easily captured my attention and it was an interesting experience playing this game.

Lens 5: Fun

Due to the fast-paced nature of the game, the game was fun to play, albeit short. It puts you onto a speeding motorcycle and you ride your way through a mystical forest, narrow tunnels, a scenic highway and many more. You battle enemies to the beat of the song. Energetic from the start to finish, the game keeps you engaged and never loses its steam.

Lens 48: Simplicity/Complexity

SWH is simple to understand: move your player left or right and collect as many as hearts as possible. Although on paper, it might be present itself as too simple but it is anything but that. There is complexity to the design of the levels that is challenging for players to obtain the highest rank, which requires an almost perfect run. This means that the game is easily accessible for anyone and provides a challenge for those who are looking for it.

Lens 93: The Nameless Quality

The reviews of SWH, including my own, can attest that the game feels special and wonderous. The summation of every aspect of their design shows that the world and its design is very much alive and screaming at the top of its lungs. It is boisterous, flamboyant and ensures that you are in for a good time.

Conclusion

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a masterclass example for indie games. It is beautiful, well-designed and everything a video game should be: immersive and enjoyable.

Game Design Analysis: Kingdom of Loathing

Description

The Kingdom of Loathing is a turn-based, comedy/satirical Role Playing Game (RPG), played on the browser. The game’s slogan is “An Adventurer is you!” and this reflects the free-spirited nature of the game – you are an adventurer, and what you want to do on your adventures is up to you!

Website: The Kingdom of Loathing
First quick look: Kingdom of Loathing Gameplay – First Look HD – YouTube

The main interface of the Kingdom of Loathing (KOL)

Every real-world day, the player is given 40 adventures, and the player spends their adventures by clicking on the many locations within the many areas on the island. Adventuring at places could result in battles, or certain events happening which could let the player find items, gain status effects or complete quests. Additionally, the player can also craft items, smith weapons and equipment, and cook food and mix booze, and consuming drinks and eating gives the player additional adventures for that day.

Baking Bat wings and dry noodles gives batzle (I just found out!)

While the player is free to do whatever they want with their adventures, there is a more or less linear storyline the player can follow, which involves completing quests given out by the Council of Loathing, starting from simple quests like searching for mosquito larva at the spooky forest to creating and ending a war between hippies and frat boys, culminating in the final quest – to defeat the Naughty Sorceress.

After defeating the Naughty Sorceress, the player can then continue to adventure, growing even stronger, or can choose to ascend to Valhalla, where one receives karma for various good deeds they did in their life. The player then can choose to be reborn from level 1, in a new class, and take up various ascension challenges in their next life, such as being unable to access their inventory from previous lives. The player can use the karma they earn to bring skills they learnt into their next lives. Ascension and reincarnation thus effectively offers the player infinite replayability, and the developers occasionally release new ascension path challenges that keep the game fresh.

The Elemental Tetrad

Technology: The game was released in 2003 and its interface has not changed significantly since then. Images are mostly static and each click refreshes the page. The use of the universal platform of the internet allowed the game to be played on any device with a browser, even feature phones. However, there is no doubt that appealing to the lowest denominator may cause the game to lose appeal with those who desire more interactivity and better graphics.

Mechanics: The game mechanics are extremely simple and uniform. Every adventure involves clicking through choices, even battles (choosing whether to attack, use skills or items, or run away). Crafting involves attempting to combine any set of items in your inventory together. However, this lends the game a lot of flexibility as the possibilities from these open interactions are endless. A large part of the fun is figuring out what interactions are possible using logic, figuring out textual clues, or accumulated knowledge over multiple ascensions.

Story: The storytelling in the game is a major element that makes it interesting. While I mentioned that there is a linear storyline, how you go about finishing your quests is left for you to discover. The council sends the player on extremely random quests with hilarious motivations, which gradually unlocks more and more of the map. However, they leave it to the player to go and adventure, figure out what needs to be done and choose how they want to solve it. For example, in the Frat boy/Hippie war, do you side with the Hippies and defeat the Frat boys? Or the other way around? Or do you calculate exactly how many enemies to defeat on both sides so that they wipe each other out? There are also side stories in addition to the main quests. Ultimately it is up to the player to write their own adventure.

Aesthetic: The game has an extremely unique aesthetic which appeals to some and not others. The images are all either static or simple gifs, and are mostly hand-drawn stick-figures, which some may find funny, while others lazy. Some may enjoy the many subtle puns and references, while others may find it too noisy.

The Lens of Fun (#5)

This is the key lens underlying the experiences of this game – it is meant to be fun, and not taken seriously. There are few serious consequences in the game – even if you lose all your HP, you merely receive a “Beaten up” status and spend some adventures resting at your campsite. Casual players can simply wait to the next day to receive more adventures and continue their journey, and slowly enjoy the many jokes and references peppered throughout the kingdom. Examples:

  • The currency of the game is Meat, not gold, since the creator felt that it was nonsensical for monsters to drop money when defeated
  • The classes. Your character can pick from 6 classes which follow the wizard/warrior/thief archetypes. Except the classes include Pastamancers, who wield pasta magic and whose Nemesis is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Seal Clubbers, warriors from the frigid north, which is poking fun at typical Northern “Savage” warrior classes such as Vikings in other RPGs.
  • The Penultimate Fantasy Airship, an adventurable area, is a parody of Final Fantasy, where one fights trope-y enemies like the Protagonist, Spunky Princess and Quiet Healers
  • The Palindome is another area where all adventures involve palindromes. Even the boss (Dr. Awkward) is a palindrome.
Some of the palindromic adventures to be found at the Palindome (taken from the kolwiki)

The Lens of the Puzzle (#58)

There are many unexpected possibilities in the game, in crafting, or in quest completion.

  • Crafting anticheese + goat cheese = goat, and anticheese + cottage cheese = cottage
  • There is a monster called the Fancy Bath Slug, which can only be defeated with an item called fancy bath salts

The game gives sufficient hints so one need not always refer to the wiki for clues.

The Lens of Challenge (#38)

The regular gameplay is very simple for casual playthrough, but there are always greater challenges for more serious players. For example, one may challenge oneself to complete a full ascension within 1 day – this requires serious planning, strategy and efficient use of resources. There are also special seasonal ascension challenges, such as “Bees hate you”, where one cannot use, eat, or wear anything that contains the letter ‘B’.

The Lens of Community (#98)

While the playthrough may seem to be mainly single-player, players can chat with other logged in players via chat in the side panel, buy and sell items via the Marketplace, or form guilds and clear guild dungeons together. Furthermore the developers are highly involved and often introduce world-wide events, such as Crimbo (KOL’s Christmas), where on one occasion, players had to work together to save Crimbo from mutant elves and the penguin mafia. Overall, the non-serious aspect of the game fostered a fun and helpful community where people could give advice to newer players and share knowledge. This is very important for a game full of Easter Eggs like Kingdom of Loathing.

An Objective Analysis of Stardew Valley’s Design

Stardew Valley is a farming role-playing game (RPG) developed and published by ConcernedApe (Eric Barone). Released in 2016, it has been featured in Independent Games Festival (IGF) 2017 as a finalist for the top prize (Seumas McNally Grand Prize) and an honourable mention for the Excellence in Narrative prize.

Stardew’s official website is at https://www.stardewvalley.net/. We begin our analysis by looking at the game’s “elemental tetrad” – aesthetics, mechanics, story and technology.

Aesthetics

Stardew adopts a pixel art style with a focus on saturated colours and strong outlines. Colour is one tool used heavily to highlight differences, from villagers’ hair colours to quality of items.

Spending time with Vincent in town.

For example, for the different seasons:

  • lush greens with pastel undertones for spring, the season of renewal
  • warm yellows in summer, the season of activity
  • wistful browns in autumn, the season of nostalgia
  • gloomy greys and pale whites for winter, the season of dormancy
The different seasons in Stardew Valley.

The aesthetics serve to give the game an unrealistic, cutesy appearance, which gives the game a fantastical and detached tone, almost whimsical.

Mechanics

Some key game mechanics are the management of energy and time, as the player is given only a finite amount of energy per day. Energy is required to engage in some activities. Time is an important resource to manage since crops take several days to grow, and only grow in certain seasons.

Running out of energy is a bad idea.

Most activities that require energy generate resources of some kind. For example:

  • watering crops and tilling land → fruits and vegetables
  • fishing → fish, treasure, artifacts
  • mining → stone, ores, gems
  • chopping down trees and stumps → wood and hardwood

Movement, interacting with villagers, cooking, crafting, and processing raw materials with machines all do not require energy, however.

Leah needs help to pick a fruit.

Overall, the game’s mechanics influence different players in different ways. To some, they serve to keep the game slow-paced and relaxing, a reprieve from the external world. To others, they create a preoccupation for the player, crafting a calculated strategy to make the best use of the limited resources.

Story

The game’s main story revolves around the player, who has a responsibility to his/her deceased grandfather to maintain the farm. The player also plays a crucial role in improving the town, which is run by an arguably corrupt mayor.

Grandpa leaves us the farm as inheritance.
Grandpa revisits Stardew Valley as a ghost.

Other than the main storyline, each villager has his/her own story which they will tell in cutscenes and dialogues when the player gains friendship points with them. The stories are diverse and explore a surprisingly wide range of topics.

Leo tells the player about his life.
Emily and the player go camping in the woods.

Although the storyline is one of the highlights in the game, it is completely up to the player to decide whether to pursue friendships or not. Getting to know the villagers’ individual aspirations and regrets in life does help the player become more emotionally invested in the game.

Technology

Stardew uses relatively simple technology. It was originally designed for keyboard and mouse input but has been ported to mobile and consoles. The 2D graphics are easy to render on all devices.

Leo is entertained by a clown.

Multiplayer co-op was added in a patch after the game’s initial release. Although on this front the game is not too adventurous, the simple technology may have allowed it to reach a wide audience.

Conclusion

Overall, the “elemental tetrad” creates a game which appears deceptively simple on the surface. After the initial “hook” into the game, complexities emerge which keeps the player drawn to the game. Now, let’s look at Stardew’s design through other lenses.

Lens of Surprise (4)

Chatting with Granny at the Feast of the Winter Star.

Unless a player searches the game wiki, many cutscenes in Stardew with the villagers come about unexpectedly, triggered by parameters unknown to the player. The game is wired to slowly release content across the first two in-game years, as well as unlock big chunks of new content whenever milestones are reached. This keeps the game fresh and exciting.

Lens of the Toy (17)

Gameplay of Junimo Kart, an arcade game.

Apart from the main gameplay, Stardew includes other small arcade-style minigames like Journey of the Prairie King and Junimo Kart.

Placing candy canes on the farm.

Players can also design their own farm layout and decorate their farmhouse with dozens of specialised furniture objects. This gives players reason to return to the game even if farming is not their thing.

Lens of Time (27)

As mentioned earlier, time is a fundamental mechanic. Crops grow on a fixed schedule, villagers move about on a fixed schedule, and seasons and weather determine what one can do on a given day.

The Skull Cavern is only unlocked when the town’s bus is fixed.

Some activities are only unlocked after a certain amount of time in the game. This gives the game a slower, possibly more manageable, pace, though impatient players may lose interest.

Lens of Secrets (29)

Buried treasure!

There are many secrets hidden in the game, from hidden areas to items only unlocked at a specific time and position. “Secret Notes” are a rare item in the game, which are texts that hold a cryptic hint to unlock one of these secrets.

Lens of Juiciness (64)

For every action in Stardew Valley, there is a corresponding sound effect and animation which gives an instantaneous reward to players. Walking on dirt kicks off small dust clouds, while walking amongst planted crops causes the plants to wiggle.

Sparrows and squirrels run away when the player approaches.

Animals are often startled when the player walks past, scampering across the map to hide.

Conclusion

Stardew Valley may not be the most innovative game out there, but its attention to detail in all aspects of game design has drawn many fans (including me). Sometimes, incremental improvements to a tried-and-tested design results in an exceptional product!

Game Design Analysis: Celeste

Madeline peeking over the edge, as we too peek into Celeste.

Description

Celeste is a 2D platformer created by Matt Makes Games (now Extremely OK Games). The player controls the playable character Madeline, as she climbs her way up Celeste Mountain. The game features simple yet tight controls, vibrant environments, and a soundtrack that helps further the player’s immersion. To top it off, the game’s story centers around anxiety and self-doubt, fear of failure, self-acceptance, and the determination to grasp seemingly unattainable goals – something anyone can relate to.

Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad

Mechanics

  • The player surmounts obstacles using a simple set of actions: move, climb, jump, and dash.
  • The controls are very reactive to player input, giving players a sense of control over Madeline’s movements.
  • All field/interactable objects in the game all respond to the actions in one way or another. Walls can be climbed, “Kevin” blocks (brown block in the screenshot) move in the direction the player dashes into them in, and spikes kill you.
  • Low skill floor, high skill ceiling: The controls are easy to learn, yet can be combined by advanced players to execute special moves (eg the wavedash recharges the dash). Interactable objects also have special effects (eg jumping in the direction of a “Kevin” block’s movement propels the player).
  • Honourable mention of Assist Mode: It provides players with customizable aid like extra dashes or spikes not being lethal, thus allowing anyone to experience the game.
Old Site (Ch2A): Part of You (aka Badeline) reprimanding Madeline


Story

  • Simple and linear story: Madeline, a girl who is NOT a mountain climber, wants to scale Celeste Mountain. Celeste is a fictitious, the story is otherwise set in modern-day Canada.
  • The game uses mountain-climbing as a direct metaphor for striving to achieve goals despite fear of failure, as well as the struggle to overcome (or live with) mental conditions. It’s a very personal and relatable story for some, who gain comfort and inspiration from the game.
  • The tension mounts, as each subsequent chapter has Madeline increasingly doubting herself, while the mountain’s trials also grow tougher. This culminates in a fall to the mountain’s base, only for the player to push onwards and climb to Celeste’s summit despite the setback.
Mirror Temple (Ch 5A): Now with an eyeball monster chasing you!

Aesthetics

  • Beautiful and vibrant pixel art environments. Each of the 9 chapters have their own theme, ensuring the visuals never become stale.
  • For example: Forsaken City (Ch 1) has cool ice blue and grey of a ruined city. Mirror Temple (Ch 5) is meant to be a place that enhances the inner anxieties of those who enter, hence it has unnatural reds and purples, and staring eyes to boot. The Summit Climb (Ch 7) has a sunset as its backdrop, echoing the sunrise of Chapter3 and also to signify the end of the main story.
  • The soundtrack sets the mood for each chapter, changing according to events (Old Site (Ch 2) starts out soft and dreamy, as players explore this unknown location. Then when your Part of You begins chasing, the beat ramps up).
  • Interactable objects are unique and immediately identifiable, while also having identifiable sound and visual cues.

Technology

  • Celeste can run on a potato. The pixel art doesn’t need much GPU power, the game also requires minimal processing power.
Farewell (Ch 9): The blocks blocks all but a narrow view, until your dash pushes them aside

Lens #6: Curiosity

  • Platforming solutions are not always immediately obvious. They may be too large to fit on a map, hidden by false walls, or simply covered by a giant pair of moving spike blocks.
  • Interactable objects are not introduced via a tutorial. Players must experiment to understand how they work, and then experiment further to perfect the nuances of execution.
  • For chapters 1 to 7 there is a hidden collectible – the Crystal Heart. All Crystal Hearts require exploration to find and get, including unconventional solutions (eg. Chapter 2’s abuses how dashes recharge upon changing screens to let the player climb up a wall).

Lens #32: Goal

  • The immediate goal is to complete the stage’s platforming puzzle.
  • Players can solve stages using methods other than the “intended path”, giving rise to not only flexibility to be creative with the solution, but also extremely optimized paths for speedrunners.
  • Optional goals like gathering collectibles or speedrunning stages encourages replayability.
Old Site (Ch 2A): The Golden Strawberry, when picked up, will force players to restart the whole chapter on death

Lens #47: Punishment

  • You only have one “life” per attempt. Touching spikes, falling into lava or a bottomless pit immediately “kills” you.
  • Death is a quick restart to the beginning of the screen, reducing the impact of failure and encouraging improvement through iterative learning and experimentation.
  • The game checkpoints at the start of each new stage, further reducing the impact of failure.
  • For additional challenge, players can attempt to no-death entire chapters, enforced by having a death restart the player at the beginning of the chapter.
The view from atop Celeste is wonderful, as is the sense of triumph

Lens #1: Emotion

  • Players experience satisfaction upon clearing stages or chapters (or any other challenge), which then drives them to keep going.
  • Madeline’s struggle with anxiety and self-doubt is relatable to some players, and pitied by others. Both emotions push players to continue her climb.
  • Chapter 5’s soundtrack features muttering voices and harsh warped sounds that heighten tension and stress in the player.
  • Chapter 7’s summit climb walks the player through environments and mechanics of the past six chapters. There is joy in seeing these familiar sights again, and great satisfaction in trumping their challenges; realizing how much one has improved.

Appendix:
Celeste site: http://www.celestegame.com/

Insaniquarium (2002)

Background

Insaniquarium - Wikipedia

For this game review, I will be writing about the PC game, Insaniquarium. Insaniquarium was a winner of the Excellence in Design category of the Independent Games Festival (IGF) back in 2002. It is an old PC game, and when I first got the game, it was on a CD. The game was build on PopCap Games’ proprietary game engine. It was developed by Flying Bear Entertainment, and published by PopCap Games

Here is a picture of me with the Insaniquarium CD

Insaniquarium does not have it’s own official website. Here is an embedded video of a sample of the gameplay.

A farming game, but like, with fishes

The game is set in a fish tank. You buy and feed fish. When the fish grow to a substantial size, they will begin pooping out coins, which you have to collect. You can have up to 3 special pets in each level in the tank as well, and each pet has a special ability that helps you in maintaining the tank.

Once you have amassed enough money, you can buy upgrades, such as better fish food, more creatures that poop out diamonds that help you earn more money, etc. In essence it is a farming game, where at every level you have to begin farming from scratch.

The ultimate goal of the game is to buy eggshells to create a full egg to unlock special pets.

The challenge in the game, is to keep clicking to keep the fishes fed and alive, and also to kill any aliens that spawn in the tank. They spawn at any random location in the tank, and if they may eat or kill your fishes upon touching them.

Gameplay

This is a short bullet point of my gameplay experience playing 1 level

  • Feel anxious when the music fades and the alarm sfx comes on when the alien comes
  • I feel very frustrated when the aliens eat my fish
  • When aliens eat the prince fishes (fishes that turn blue after a long time of being alive) I feel devastated
  • In the harder levels, I feel stressed when multiple aliens come out and the fishes blindly swim towards the aliens to their deaths
  • I feel relief when the level ends when I finally manage to buy all the eggshells
  • I feel curious, excited and motivated at each level to unlock the new pets

General Analysis

Lens #1: The Lens of Emotion

Alien shoots rockets to target fishes, need to click on rockets to eliminate them.

First of all would be the lens of emotion. This game employs it a lot, and I definitely felt it when the aliens come out and start targeting my fishes. There is anxiety and frustration, but also a sense of relief and satisfaction after you kill the alien and see it explode with the sound effects.

Lens #4: The Lens of Surprise

Loud alarm bells play while a warning that an alien is coming flashes at the bottom of the screen. The alien can spawn anywhere in the tank.

The lens of surprised is used also in the alien spawning mechanic of the game, the alien spawns randomly and you have no idea where it will be, so you’ll always have to be on standby to click and blast the alien away from all the fishes. This element of surprise makes the game more exciting and challenging.

End of every game unlocks a surprise pet

While surprised is used in the challenging aspects of the game, it is also used in rewards. At the end of each level, after collecting each eggshell, the egg will hatch into a surprise pet that you may employ in your tank in future levels. The surprise lies in seeing what the pet looks like, and its special abilities (being able to feed fish, being able to help you kill aliens faster, etc.)

Lens #9: The Elemental Tetrad

Considering aesthetics, technology, mechanics and story…

The game gets a 10/10 for aesthetics, I feel. The movement of the fishes are very realistic, and the art style of the fishes, aliens and UI of the game are consistent. The animation is smooth, and really gives the feeling that the fishes are swimming in water.

For technology, as the game is very old, it does not require a lot to run the game. The game could even run on a raspberry pi. No controllers or other gear are required, as the only control in the game is by clicking using a mouse. As the game is relatively simple in graphics and does not have any insane installation requirements, there is not much to say on how the technology used by the game helps to enhance it.

The mechanics of the game revolve around protecting your fishes and keeping them alive, because the more fishes you have, the more money you will earn as the fishes are constantly pooping out money. The motivating factor for this, is the many upgrades and new aquatic creatures you can purchase in each level. Higher level aquatic creatures may eat your fishes, however in exchange they poop more expensive items such as diamonds or pearls.

Gaining more money as fast as you can can allow you to buy more eggshells to complete the egg and end the level. Players are motivated to continue on to complete every level, in order to complete the full collection of pets.

While the mechanics are great for making an entertaining game, there is a lack of story in the game. The end goal is just to collect all the pets, and there is no storyline. There is a final boss at the last level of the game, but there is no mention of the origins of the final boss, or even why there are aliens spawning in the tank. While the game is already good without a storyline, having a story in the game would give more meaning to the end goal of the game.

Lens #23: The Lens of Motivation

Game shows number of shells pieces left to completing egg, beside amount of money amassed

The end goal of each level is to get 4 eggshells that help to make one egg. Once you get the egg, the level is complete and the surprise pet is revealed. The game shows and motivates you towards your end goal by showing your progress in buying the eggshells, right next to the amount of money you’ve collected in the game.

Lens #39: The Lens of Meaningful Choice

Choosing 3 pets before every level

Before the start of every game, you are prompted to choose 3 pets from your collection of pets, to have in your tank in the next level. Each pet has a special ability, and based on the tank and types of aliens that may appear, you have to make an informed choice: Which are the most useful pets that’ll help me get to the next level in the most fastest and efficient way? It depends on your play style, and priorities (time, being less stressed about aliens, earning more money ASAP, etc.)

Upgrades available and their prices

In the middle of the game, upgrades can be purchased. With limited funds, players have to make an informed choice on what upgrades to purchase that’ll help them advance further in the game. The decision making is important as some upgrades are less productive than others. Ultimately, it’s about buying the eggshells.

Conclusion

There are a lot of good lenses used in this game, that help to make the game more interesting, as a farming type of game. There are more that I have not mentioned here due to the page limit, however as good as this game is, there are still some things lacking. That’s why nobody plays this game anymore and it’s considered dated.

One of my gripes with this game is that, there is really only one barely visible goal here, which is to collect all the pets available in the game. There is no story, while there is a final boss, there is no mention as to why we have to defeat this boss, before I reached the final level I never even knew there was even going to be a boss.

As a kid, I never thought much about all these things, which made this game the best game ever to me. Looking through the lenses of game design, while this game has interesting and exciting mechanics, it’s not something I would play again once I’ve defeated the boss.

Game Design Analysis: VALORANT

Description:

Valorant is a free-to-play multiplayer tactical first-person hero shooter developed and published by Riot Games and was officially released on 2nd June 2020. In the main game mode, players are assigned to either the attacking or defending team, with each team having five players on it. In each round, the attacking team will have to plant the ‘spike’ at designated areas on the map, while the defending team will need to stop them from planting, or to defuse the spike before the time runs out.

Link to website: https://playvalorant.com/en-sg/

Gameplay demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0wpgyoj7uM&ab_channel=VALORANT

Elemental tetrad:

Mechanics

  • Maps – Currently, there are 5 different maps in Valorant and every map has a different layout and mechanics. There might be ropes/structures for players climb on or teleporters for them to travel from one side of the map to another.
  • Gunplay mechanics – There are many different guns for players to choose from and each gun has their own stats(fire rate, range, spray patterns, recoil, etc) which will affect their effectiveness against opponents in different types of combat situations. The damage of the bullets will also vary according to the part of the body hit(head/torso/legs).
  • Agent abilities – The agents in Valorant are categorised under 4 classes – Duelists, Initiators, Sentinels, and Controllers. Each class has a different playstyle and each agent has their own unique abilities which can be used to support their teammates, scout their enemies or just to deal more damage etc.

Story

  • Valorant is set on Earth in the near future with futuristic tech, but not much is known about the storyline as nothing was told explicitly in-game. However, the developers at Riot Games revealed that there is actually a backstory for Valorant and they are trying to show – rather than tell – their story via player-character interaction.
  • There are currently 14 agents in the game. Each agent is designed based on a different country and players are able to read with a short summary of their origins in the game. They also have their own special voice lines that showcases their own personalities during every round.

Aesthetics

  • Valorant does not have the most impressive graphics or colourful designs when compared to other similar games, but it has everything needed to make the game work.
  • All the agents are distinctive enough and there are plenty of sound cues during the game which enhances the overall experience greatly.

Technology

  • Built using Unreal Engine 4.
  • To allow more people to play Valorant on their own PCs, Riot Games’ engineering team had to make several modifications to the engine so they could lower the hardware requirements for the game.

The Lens of Action (#31)

The basic actions in Valorant include running, walking, jumping, and aiming (accurately) at their opponents to shoot them. Using the agents’ abilities are slightly more complex as each agent has 4 unique abilities and players will need to learn how to use each ability to their own advantage. For example, agents with flashes can blind not only their opponents but also their own teammates and themselves when used incorrectly. Some can build physical barriers to block out enemies, while others can just use their abilities to jump over them. Players need to strategize and plan where and when to use their abilities, and the team will need both strategy and basic controls to win the game.

The Lens of Skill (#34)

Given that Valorant is a first-person shooting game, aiming skills play a dominant role in determining the outcome of each round, since every round the players either ‘kill or get killed’. There are already many other FPS games which were released before Valorant, so players who have played those games before are likely to be more skilled than those who are playing an FPS game for the first time. Coupled with the complicated agent abilities which takes some time to get used to, this discrepancy in skills could make the game feel unfair to the new players and this game is not the most beginner-friendly game to play. However, everyone can improve their skills over time, and the ranked system will also help to match players with others of similar skill levels.

The Lens of Competition (#43)

Valorant was built with two main focuses in mind: making tactical shooters and e-sports more accessible to new players and creating a game that would foster an intense competitive scene. Novices can download Valorant on their own PCs and start training their skills to have a shot at playing it competitively, while professional tactical shooter players, largely players who jumped from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, could finally put their skills into test by competing in large scale tournaments. Casual players will also be able to feel some form of satisfaction whenever they win ranked games and get promoted to a higher rank.

The Lens of Character Function (#86)

Although the agents in Valorant are divided into 4 classes with different types of roles, how the player decides to use them is actually entirely up to them. The role of each player in the team is quite flexible as most of the agents’ abilities can be used both offensively and defensively. None of the agents are significantly stronger than the rest, so players will get the chance to play with (and against) a different team of agents every time, which makes the game more fun and exciting.

Game Design Analysis – Arknights

Introduction

Arknights is a free-to-play mobile tower defence Gacha game developed by Hypergryph and Studio Montagne using Unity. It was released on May 2019 for iOS and Android.

The game is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, where the player takes the role as the commander of an armed pharmaceutical company. In the game, the player commands “Operators” as towers to defend against enemies from entering the player’s base.

Website: https://www.arknights.global/

Lens #9: The Lens of the Elemental Tetrad

  1. Mechanics
  • A combination of Tower Defense Game and Gacha Game: The player has to unlock new “Operators” (the towers in the game) by Gacha.
  • Some differences between Arknights and vanilla Tower Defense Games:
  • “Operators” are unique: the player cannot put two same towers in a game.
  • “Operators” can only attack against ONE direction, that direction cannot be changed.
  • The player can spend resources to level up his/her “Operators” outside a game.
  • “Operators” have two types: melee and range.

2. Story

  • The game is set in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world, where the player takes the role as the commander of an armed pharmaceutical company called Rhodes Island.
  • The world, Terra, is one with an extremely frequent natural disaster. The Disasters spread a valuable mineral, Originium, which enables the use of “Arts” (magic), and often infects people with a progressive disease, Oripathy, which is 100% mortal, and cannot be cured. Rhodes offers treatment to Oripathy by slowing the spread of the disease.
  • Arknights’ storyboard focuses on the discussion about humanity in its post-apocalyptic and dystopian setting, sometimes with tragic endings. Hence, it receives quite controversial and bipolar feedback from players.

3. Aesthetics

  • Just like most ACGN Gacha games, Arknights attracts players through illustrations, dialogues and storyboards.
  • For example, Operator “Phantom” is voiced by the famous Japanese voice actor Akira Ishida.
  • One interesting thing is that Hai Mao, the chief game graphic designer of Arknights, is the co-founder and vice president of Hypergraph.

4. Technology

  • Engine: Unity
  • Platforms: Android, iOS

Lense #23: The Lens of Motivation

Being a Gacha game in nature, the players of Arknights would not lack motivation – you never know which Operator you will get on your next draw. In addition, players would be motivated to farm the checkpoints to harvest the resources to strengthen up their Operators, which will unlock new illustrations and new dialogues and new stories.

The checkpoint-based setting also gives motivation, as the players take on challenges as the checkpoints become harder and harder.

Arknights is also exploring new mechanics to catch players. For example, recently Arknights added rouge-like mechanics to its gameplay in a limited-time event, which resulted in very positive feedback from players.

Lens #55: The Lens of Visible Progress

Being a checkpoint-based game, Arknights is very visible on its progress, especially that it takes advantage of the checkpoints by progressively unveiling the storyline to the player in the form of visual novels (similar with Fate/Grand Order) on completion of each checkpoint. Gameplay complement storyline, creating very dramatic effects.

Lens #75: Lens of Simplicity and Transcendence

Being a tower-defence game, the world of Arknights is as simple as it can get: No FPS, no RTS, no requirement on how fast you hit the screen. If your towers are at max levels, you only need to plant the towers on the map, and everything is automatic.

Being a tower-defence game also means that transcendent power can be generously applied to Operators: It’s a PVE game, after all, if the players want more challenging checkpoints, just buff up the enemies or debuff the towers. Actually, the Arknights team already have done that. In an experimental game mode, the players can select the buffs and de-buffs to increase the challenge and obtain award points.

Game Design Analysis: Hollow Knight

Description

Hollow Knight is a single-player 2D action-adventure game developed and published by Team Cherry. The player plays as the Knight, a small insect-like character that ventures into the ruins of a mysterious kingdom, Hallownest to uncover the secrets that lie within. As the game progresses, the player unlocks new abilities and upgrades in the classic metroidvania style.

Website Link: https://hollowknight.com/

Lens 9: Elemental Tetrad

The charms menu which allows you to customize power ups.
The Knight bouncing off the enemy to cross the lake of acid.

Elemental Tetrad 1: Mechanics

The game may seem deceptively simple at first as the Knight moves around the map to kill enemies by swinging his sword, but it quickly becomes clear to the player that it is possible to interact with the environment. For example, the player can bounce off the enemy using his sword to reach a greater height to unlock areas, or even exploit enemy weak points. There are also obstacles that can only be destroyed with certain spells and equippable power ups(charms) that interact with each other differently to give different effects. These complex mechanics ensure that the player is engaged in constantly trying to master the new mechanics.

Elemental Tetrad 2: Story

The story of Hollow Knight begins with the Knight descending into the ruins of Hallownest, and as the player progresses along the game, they learn more about the story of Hallownest.

Stylized map of Hallownest, with areas color themed differently.

Elemental Tetrad 3: Aesthetics

The aesthetics revolve heavily around the story, from the muted blue of the walls of the Forgotten Crossroads reflecting the ruins of the Kingdom, to the snowy peaks of the Kingdom’s Edge, and even the pitch black of the Deepnest, each area in the game holds a theme which is tied in closely to the lore. Enemies are also designed based on the theme of the area, thus allowing the player to be even more immersed in the story.

Elemental Tetrad 4: Technology

The game is not very graphically intensive thus making it widely accessible for PCs, allowing many players to play it even with low settings. It was originally designed for PC before being released for consoles.

Lens 6: The Lens Of Curiosity

The Temple of the Black Egg, a location the player will definitely stumble across in the first few minutes of wandering in Hallownest, making the player curious to the significance of it which is only shown to the player nearing the end of the game.
  • Apart from the first cutscene of the game, which shows the Knight entering the first area, the story of the kingdom is mostly told indirectly through subtle hints and pieces of lore as the player progresses in the game, with no clear objective markers and only a map to guide the player.
  • The player is left in the dark about the motive of the Knight in entering Hallownest and his goal/purpose in the game, as well as the reason to the Kingdom’s decline.
  • This along with the mysterious atmosphere of the ruins encourages the player to further explore the ruins and learn more, piecing together the story of the game themselves instead of being told directly from the start, giving the player a sense of accomplishment as they deduce the story by themselves and drawing them into the story.

Lens 74: The Lens Of Obstacle

An example of a lock: The Knight is unable to pass through the barrier until he obtains the Shade Cloak later in the game
  • Just like other metroidvania games, progression through the game is by lock and key.
    • Throughout the game there will be areas which are visibly inaccessible with the player’s current state.
    • This signals to the player that there is a need to explore other areas in the game to obtain the necessary power up to unlock the area, and even within the area itself there may be more obstacles that require further exploring of other areas.
  • Similarly, some bosses in the game may seem very difficult to the player, signalling that there is a need to upgrade the player’s weapons before they challenge the boss again, or even learn more about the boss so they can exploit it’s attack patterns.
  • These obstacles provide a goal for the player to work towards so that they are able to progress in the game and unlock the next part of the map.

Lens 40: The Lens of Triangularity

  • High risk, high reward play exemplified through saving mechanic.
    • With no autosave, the only saving mechanic in the game is when players find a save point(a bench) which they can return to save their games progress. Save points are located throughout the map. However, before the player explores an area, the map is completely dark until you explore the area, leaving the player uncertain whether the next save point is close or far away.
    • If the player dies once, he loses all his in game currency(Geo) and needs to recollect it by returning to where he died, meaning that the player will have to fight through the same wave of enemies to reach where he is currently. If he dies a second time without recollecting the money, it is lost forever, impacting game progress significantly as currency is needed to upgrade items.
    • This allows the player to choose either to continue the explore at the risk of losing all currency but with greater rewards, or to return back to the previous save point, keeping his currency and returning when the player is stronger, thus keeping the player engaged as such decisions need to be made often.
The Knight must kill the shade(shadow to the right) to recollect the lost Geo.

Lens 79: The Lens of Freedom

  • Although the game progression is linear for the first section of the game, once the player reaches a certain point in the game, the game dramatically opens up, allowing the player to forge their own path and explore the map on their own.
  • There are even optional areas which are not needed for the progression of the storyline, but allow the players to gain more powerful weapons and abilities.
  • Players choices along the way may also affect the ending of the game, with it having 6 different endings. Thus, the player is free to choose what actions to take in order to achieve their endings.
  • This freedom of choice makes each player’s experience a unique one as they would explore the world differently from other players, or even from different playthroughs, encouraging them to play multiple times.