Lost Races’ Artifact Recovery: Coroner’s Report

Posted by (twitter: @elibrody)
December 24th, 2010 4:35 am

or, A Million Ways to Ruin a Good Idea

nice pants, shorty

Last Things First – The Conclusion

This game (“Lost Races’ Abandoned Artifact Recovery“) failed. It is not fun (actually rather boring). It fits the theme, but not in the way I wanted. It does not transmit the information intended. It is not very funny, either.

In short, the game does not live up to any of the goals set. Let’s go over why.

The Concept

This is the only part of the game I am proud of, even if it is not reflected in the finished product in almost any way. You take the role of an exploring astronaut, scavenging old, abandoned machines and technologies left behind eons ago by advanced races (now extinct). This mechanic alone may have been interesting, but there is another twist: whilst you are busy discovering and cataloging these machines, another technologically-advanced race is monitoring YOUR progress.

I was struck by this model of double-discovery as a good take on the theme, and something that would probably be rather original. The game wouldn’t explicitly tell you that you are being watched, rather it would become clear as you played. (Also, if your actions arouse too much attention, you are destroyed.)

I decided to go with a mechanic that requires the player to upset a random distribution of “glowing stones”. As the player organizes stones around focal points (the artifacts), they are unwittingly making their presence known. I show this by using a minimap in the lower right-hand corner, which actually represents what the aliens see on the planet.

Daniel recommended using negative entropy as a measure of organization (defined here), which worked very well. I built a quick proof-of-concept in MATLAB. It’s like a poor-man’s pattern recognition algorithm, and Flash was able to do it reasonably quickly.

For the same number of points, entropy is reduced as they are clumped up

Another thing that spurred me forward: I don’t know of any other game in which the minimap plays a key part of the mechanic.

The Riddle

This is my fourth Ludum Dare competition. This compo marks one year since I made my first game, for LD16. If so, why, oh why, do my tilemaps look like this:

I know retro is in, but Windows 3.11???


The Failure

Ultimately, despite the good concept driving it, the game failed to communicate what was necessary.

The scary voices I added were ambiguous to the players. Along with the “alien” writing (Wingdings), they were meant to correspond to the interest level of the aliens, ie. how organized the playing field is. Similarly, the minimap was not recognized for what it was, and I was asked “why doesn’t the player appear on the map?”.

The graphics were very, very ugly (except maybe for the astronaut’s helmet, which I liked).

Evidently, the algorithm failed as well. Depending on the random starting layout, entropy would drop at different rates as clumpiness was achieved. Also, I couldn’t account for different player styles, so maybe clumping differently had an impact on the measurement. In any case, people could play through the game without losing and without knowing about the Overwatch aliens. To these players, it was a boring, repetitive game with no point and no reward.

Random distribution - no alien threat

After player "organizes" the stones near artifacts - high risk

To players who lost, I doubt they understood that if they redistributed stones after discovering an artifact, they could avoid the aliens’ attention.

Ironically, I thought of a great way to improve it, after the competition was over. Instead of piling stones on top of artifacts, the player should uncover them from beneath mounds of stones. This is more intuitive, and might be coupled with a physics element to provide a less “grindy” feel. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to test it out.

Dear Eli: For Next Time

  • Try to make a SIMPLE game that does ONE THING and does it WELL.
  • Don’t bother with forced artsy concepts that hold up an entire game. Maybe these concepts need to be built, but maybe they don’t need to be in game-format. Maybe it’s the wrong medium. Maybe.
  • If completing the game does not provide satisfaction, there needs to be something more than a title screen that says YOU WON!!! on it.

Hope I do better next time. Thank you for reading and I apologize for making another non-fun game.

By the way: if you have read this far, then YOU WON!!!

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4 Responses to “Lost Races’ Artifact Recovery: Coroner’s Report”

  1. ThatSnail says:

    Interesting concept, though include me into the pile that had no idea what was going on. I actually ignored the minimap completely, didn’t hear the voices until the last few artifacts, and didn’t redistribute a single stone (still won, though).

    Going to read up on that negative entropy thing, been looking for that algorithm for awhile. Good luck!

  2. vede says:

    It is a nice concept. It actually reminds me very (very very) much of books by the author duo, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

    If your favorite thing about your game was the concept, I really recommend checking out some of their work (assuming you haven’t already), especially Noon: 22nd Century and Roadside Picnic.

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