Reblog: Swordy by Frogshark

Swordy is a local multiplayer physics based brawler. Harness momentum, physics and timing using analogue controls to send your opponents to their colorful deaths. Emergent combat offers nuance and mastery while being very accessible and easy to pick up. Twin stick genre reimagined with unconventional melee combat.

Richard Says: Swordy reminds me of Super Monkey Ball’s Monkey Fight, one of my favorite party games of all time. I use the term “party game” not to disparage Monkey Ball. That’s the official name for Super Monkey Ball’s super legit multiplayer games. Swordy features top down, multiplayer, melee based action. I love the colored, stylized blood. The dynamic size of the colored rectangles reflects the variable force of the attack according to the physics-based engine. The real time lighting and shadows coupled with how far the camera can pull back makes the action appear too small on the screen.

Mike Says: This reminds me of Hammerfight. Swing your big, inertia-rich weapon around and try to bash the other guy’s mushy bits while avoiding their weapon. The momentum of your weapon gives a kind of strategic commitment to your movement that other action games don’t have. Plan out where you’re gonna be in a second or two because all you can do is make minor adjustments once you start swinging. Those small adjustments can be the difference between your soft innards painting the arena or narrowly parrying a spiky ball of death. Cool mechanics and a nice aesthetic. I look forward to playing it.

Vlambeer Scale: Weighing Fish


Game feel is a general term for the techniques, tips, and tweaks developers use to enhance engagement with interactive systems. It includes everything from how mechanics are calibrated, to  controls, to sound effects, to visual flare. Game feel comprises the details that make players take notice and pay attention. It’s a bit of science, basic art technique, and a chunk of style. Who doesn’t want their games to be interesting to play, watch, and listen to? This is the goal that all designers strive for. And all designers do it a different way, which is exactly why talking about game feel is so difficult.

Now we can use the Vlambeer Scale of Quality as a tool to find some answers. Perhaps there are no two better games to draw a comparison between than Ridiculous Fishing and the game many consider to be a copycat, Ninja Fishing. Ridiculous Fishing was made by Vlambeer while Ninja Fishing was made by Gamenauts (co-developed by Menara Games). Both games have identical gameplay structures featuring dropping fishing lines into the water, avoiding fish on the way down, snagging fish on the way up, and destroying the haul as it’s flung into the air. Yes, the games look the same, but they do not feel the same. Using the Vlambeer Scale of Quality and a quick game design break down, let’s uncover the truth.

See for yourself in this video side-by-side. Which game looks more interesting to you? Which game do you think scored higher on the Vlambeer Scale of Quality? How big do you think the score difference is?

Here’s a breakdown of the Vlambeer Scale of Quality.

Ridiculous Fishing Ninja Fishing Ridiculous Fishing Ninja Fishing
Basic Sound and Animation Yes Yes Camera Position Yes Yes
Lower Enemy HP Yes Yes Screen Shake Yes No
More Enemies Yes Yes Sleep Yes No
Muzzle Flash Yes No More Bass Yes No
Faster Bullets Yes Yes Super Machine Gun Yes No
Less Accuracy Yes No Faster Enemies Yes Yes
Impact Effects Yes Yes More Enemies Yes Yes
Enemy Knockback Yes Yes Higher Rate of Fire Yes No
Permanence Yes Yes Meaning Yes Yes
More Permanece Yes Yes Camera Kick No No
Camera Lerp Yes No Total 20 12

Here are the questions we’re still thinking about:

  • Does the genre and visual style necessitate the use of specific game feel techniques? Does choosing pixel art push a developer towards also developing Vlabeerian game feel?
  • Is a touch screen interface its own kind of game feel where the sense of touch and audio feedback gives the necessary feedback?
  • Does game feel matter most to gameplay-oriented players because the techniques give feedback critical to making gameplay decisions? Is there a different set of game feel tips for interactive experiences that are less action-based and less skill-based?
  • Does Vlambeer’s game feel highlight the quality design of Ridiculous Fishing’s gameplay and other features? In other words, is game feel all style or does it hint at and highlight substance?
  • How do players and critics interpret good game feel? Is it mostly conveyed in the tone of their response? The look on their faces? Or is it reflected in how a game’s other features are described?

I don’t doubt that the game feel of Ridiculous Fishing makes a difference, but the question is to whom and how much of a difference does it make? For the record, Ridiculous Fishing looks like a much more enjoyable game to me.

To close, I’ll leave you with some quotes with tone words bolded.

“Playing Ninja Fishing and Ridiculous Fishing in quick succession illustrates what a difference it makes to care about your audience. The concept may be similar, but Ridiculous Fishing outclasses its would-be competitor in every way.” JC Fletch engaget

“As you master the precision tilt controls, you’ll go from snagging a fish accidentally almost right away, to weaving in and out of a living minefield. The dense but logical organization of fish makes the learning curve satisfying every step of the way, and embodies the ultimate iOS commandment: make the player feel like they’re doing a hundred epic things while only asking them to do one or two.” Eli Cymet Gamezebo

It is, in fact, a ridiculous way to fish. And, thanks to the tilt controls of the fishing line, you look ridiculous playing it! Regardless of its appropriateness as a bus pastime, the tilt controls are natural, responsive, and extremely quick – unlike, say, Ninja Fishing, which has a noticeable, irritating delay on every tilt. JC Fletcher engadget

It’s been a long and frustrating journey for Vlambeer to bring Ridiculous Fishing to the market, but for gamers it’s certainly been well worth the wait. John Bedford modojo

And the moral of the story? A great game design can always be ripped off, sadly, but talent will out in the end. You can’t cut-and-paste the artistry and attitude that Vlambeer has brought to this extravagant bit of disposable nonsense. You can’t copy a true original – even before it’s out. Oli Welsh Eurogamer

Reblog: Balancing Multiplayer Competitive Games by David Sirlin


Sirlin’s classic primer on game design through the lens of multiplayer games (with a heavy focus on fighting games).

Marcus Says:  A great introductory piece to the world of game balance and a great example of how to deliver a message successfully without having to tease out, elaborate, source, and prove every detail. Which is something we note here at Design Oriented. Transitioning from Richard’s blog, Critical-Gaming, which featured a technical writing style to DO has been a learning process. Often times we feel as if we must tell the complete story on any topic least we sell the “truth” short. But as this article shows, there is a time for detail and there is a time for clarity. Some definitions in the article might seem a little inadequate to sticklers and some of the “tools for a better game” might seem a little too self-help-bookish for the people who have or are currently in the thick of game development. But who cares? That isn’t the point of the article. It’s meant to get your feet wet. There are links on the side where Sirlin goes into greater detail if that’s what you’re looking for.

Yomi is a great term for describing the Rock Paper Scissors competitive process. It’s punchy and able to be yelled in an energetic cry. It passes the cool-enough-to-be-an-anime-technique test. I can imagine a plucky young lad who hits a rough spot in his game of Rock-Paper-Scissors cry “YOMI!!! LEVEL 2!!” to power up and conquer his foe.

Mike Says: Balancing competitive games is one of the hardest things to do in game design. Sirlin’s take on the matter is informed by his own extensive practice and relative success in the field–he’s beyond qualified. But Sirlin’s definitions in the first and second page are unsatisfying to me because they often are delivered from a hindsight-rich perspective. I’m left with questions like: How does the fact that balanced games last years and years through competitive play inform my ability to judge and adjust balance now? Having a goal is great, but goals that can’t be judged for another five years are far less useful. Maybe they’re what we need, though, to keep our focus right, though I wonder who would design a hardcore competitive game and NOT want it to last a long time.

His advice to gauge your balancing efforts by categorizing asymmetrical factions/characters into tiers based on their current relative power, and encouraging the production of tier lists among playtesters, is great concrete advice. I’d like to see a lot more iteration on techniques for introducing the kinds of self-balancing systems he mentions into more genres of games, or identifying such properties of systems and getting a better grasp on them.

Sirlin’s reliance on intuition and deep understanding of the cognitive factors involved makes him highly qualified and effective as a designer, but the substance of the advice ends up being “playtest a lot and be careful, also get good at some game at some point” which is advice I’ve read just about everywhere in game design. The road to being a great game designer is incredibly long and arduous–the road to consciously understanding game design seems to extend into places far outside of where our feet have carried us.

Richard Says: Those diagrams do a pretty great job of showing the different outcomes of a double blind game scenario. You probably have to have Street Fighter knowledge to understand though. It’s still one of the best documents out there that talks about balance. Years ago, this pdf sparked a lot of content on my old blog Critical-Gaming.

Pac-Man Design: Hallways and Turns Level Analysis


A handy way to analyze Pac-Man’s maze design is to count the number of hallways, 3-way turns, and 4-way turns and then to consider their relation to each other. Turns are important to Pac-Man because every turn is the exact point in which the most meaningful decisions are made for Pac-Man and the Ghosts. In the same way players express agency with their turning and pathing choices, the Ghosts show their AI personality through the turns they take and the direction they move.

The whole gameplay experience of Pac-Man is a loop of deciding to turn or not. Figuring out the pros and cons of one turn versus another stresses knowledge about the game’s rules (complexities) and understanding of the current state of the maze, enemies, and items. Hallways (straightaways or paths with only 1-way turns) provide a nice contrast to 3-way and 4-way turns as the decision making while in a hallway is simpler (keep going forward or turn back). But keep in mind the potential to become trapped by Ghosts is higher in a hallway as there is only one entrance and one exit.

The Pac-Man Arcade maze has the following features:

4 4-way turns
22 3-way turns
26 1-way turns
15 longest hallway(measured in dots)
240 Dots
4 Power-Pellets

The relationships between the numbers described above give the original Pac-Man level its maze feel and well-tuned gameplay. Notice how most turns are 1-way and 3 way. The abundance 1-way turns makes it so that the player’s fingers are rarely idle. Though moving through a 1-way turn doesn’t involve much decision-making, it does require timing. If players don’t give a MOVE input at a 1-way turn, Pac-Man will just sit there and waste time.

The abundance of 3-way turns means players will frequently make a relatively simple choice; turn into path A, B, or turn back around for path C. Because players are typically being chased by at least one Ghost and the goal is to move forward through all the dot lined paths of the maze, a 3-way turn is mostly about choosing path A or B. While it’s easy to pick the option to avoid running into a nearby Ghost, planning ahead even a few seconds into the future is increasingly complicated. Accurately predicting Ghost movement requires understanding the AI mode timer, current level of difficulty, each Ghost’s AI personality, and a few other special rules discussed in part two of this analysis. In practice, the player chooses quickly, moves swiftly, and watches the results of their turning decisions unfold before their eyes.

Here are a few other details about the original Pac-Man maze:

  • Power Pellets are placed near the corners of the map, in hallways, away from warps, and surrounded by a combination of 4-way and  3-way turns.  This placement ensures the most decision making when going for the power-pellet and the most escape options for Ghosts as they retreat in the frightened state.
  • There are empty areas of the map (leading into warps and around the Ghost House). This design keeps the warps optional while giving the bonus fruit an area to spawn that Pac-Man wouldn’t be incentivised to travel through otherwise.
  • When Ghosts switch to the scatter AI mode they move to their home corners on the map ignoring Pac-Man. This movement also means the Ghosts go on patrol in the areas around the power-pellets. So even when they’re not chasing Pac-Man, Ghosts naturally protect Pac-Man’s greatest weapon against them.


4 4-way turns
20 3-way turns
19 1-way turns
17 longest hallway
(measured in dots)
270 Dots
5 Power-Pellets

The Google Doodle Version of Pac-Man (play it here) does a pretty good job creating interesting gameplay.

The biggest problems I have with the Google Doodle maze design is the concentration of turns and the placement of the Ghost House. Creating a maze out of the Google logo involves a lot of horizontal hallways. The Roman alphabet tends to create horizontally-oriented blocks of shapes. Hallways are great as a reprieve from continuous Pac-Man turning, but not as roughly half the maze paths. Basing the maze design around the Google logo also is why the Ghost House is made out of the lowercase “g” instead of the yellow “o”. The Ghost House functions best in the center of the maze so that the ghosts have the shortest distance to travel to Pac-Man once they exit. When navigating the left side of the maze in the Google Doodle Pac-Man game, consumed Ghosts are less threatening as they take more time to travel to the Ghost House and back to Pac-Man. When this happens, the gameplay experience becomes dull.

Real-life roadways, however, are not designed to challenge our brains. In fact, most streets are designed to be as simple and as straightforward as possible. This is great for modern living. It’s terrible for Pac-Man maze level design. Straight hallways in Pac-Man are death traps because they allow for very little decision-making while inside. Real-life roads are generally spaced apart from each other, further reducing the concentration of corners and turns, limiting how often Pac-Man can juke ghosts to buy more time.

It doesn’t help that the warps are unintuitive due to the lack of symmetry between entrances and exits. Sometimes entering the same warp can spit Pac-Man out of different exits. The Power-Pellets are placed randomly it seems. Sometimes they’re in a hallway; sometimes at a 3-way turn.Since the abundance of hallways means players will have less ability to out-maneuver Ghosts, grabbing the Power-Pellet becomes either necessary for survival or a boring choice–there is no expedient way to maneuver around the Power-Pellet to save it for later. Ultimately, the Power-Pellet placement algorithm results in fewer Ghost chases and fewer exciting situations where Pac-Man barely turns the table on ghosts who are rapidly cornering him.

For these reasons, most of the Google Map Pac-Man levels I’ve played have given me little fun and much frustration compared to the original Pac-Man maze. Procedurally-generated level design is harder to execute well for games that have deep and complex gameplay. With mazes designed from road maps, the algorithms Google used to generate the Ghost House, Power-Pellets, and warps don’t produce levels that support interesting gameplay.

Reblog: Push Me Pull You


Push Me Pull You

Push Me Pull You is a four-player videogame about friendship and wrestling. Joined at the waist, you and your partner share a single worm-like body and must wrestle the other sports-monster for control of the ball. It’s a bit like a big hug, or playing soccer with your small intestines. With every action affecting both you and your partner (and mandatory shouting) PMPY combines the best parts of 2v2 local multiplayer with the worst parts of your last breakup.

Jake Strasser • Michael McMaster • Stuart Gillespie-Cook • Nico Disseldorp

Richard Says: I remember these guys! Always so friendly. Met them at Fantastic Fest 2014 and GDC 2015. They told me about the new mode of PMPY that features 2 balls, but I didn’t get a chance to play it. The animation and style of this game is great. Like Pac-Man, each player only has MOVE as a mechanic. However, I don’t understand how the game works, as in how players get good. In situations like this, I always look to the developers to crush new players to give me an idea of skillful play.

Marcus Says: I don’t know how to play or even how I should approach playing this game. Two players with a connected elastic body exerting two forces over a ball vying for position are the variables of a physics word problem I’ve never encountered. No matter what team formation my brother and I positioned ourselves in, our advantage in the game was always in constant flux. “This formation is great! It’s working! It’s……not working. What’s happening?” So maybe the first step to understanding Push Me Pull You is to never let our position and formation settle. Always moving forward, not backward. Upward, not forward. And always whirling, whirling, whirling.

Chris Says: This is one of the few videogames I’ve played that approximates the feel of playing team sports. Two heads. One giant body. Crazy teamwork. My wife and I played against Richard and Marcus at Fantastic Fest 2014 and we had a bunch of spectators watching us as we battled. Fun times.