Silk – Analysis of our game postmortem

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December 24th, 2014 6:06 pm

Our game Silk ended up really pleasant to sit down with to relax during a break. Self-promotion aside, I wanted to discuss in some detail why exactly it has that effect, and also outline some of the ways it could have been a more solid experience had we approached it differently.

ZenGarden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revisiting the game

I recently revisited it because I haven’t actually played much of our own game since it was submitted. I’ve thought about it quite a bit ever since, but my physical interaction with it was limited. Taking another look at it was refreshing, and really allowed me to appreciate all the little things that it ends up doing to make the whole experience flow. It also helps to decide what things break up that flow and where it could have been improved… or at least taken in different directions.

The design slows you down

This game works well in the Ludum Dare environment because it offers a change of pace to many of the other entries. It’s slow paced, there aren’t any time limits imposed and almost all of the design encourages the player to slow down… no, even slower than that…. take a deep breath… listen to the wind chimes. Everything from the sounds, to the animations, transitions slowly and encourages the player to react the same way. But after a while, it almost slows you down too much and this pacing can become tedious and monotone if the game drags on too long with little change in the mechanics. There’s a lull in the middle of our game where the mechanics start to get a little repetitive, and lack of contrast in design didn’t help this.

This idea works both ways, and fast paced experiences benefit from quicker reactions to user input. Of course this can be overdone also if there’s no contrast to the super fast action.

Simple mechanics

We really wanted to focus on using a very simple set of rules and exploring their potential. Each stone has properties which draw lines in a specific pattern when placed in the lighter sand. There are only two stones (therefore two patterns), and the only other variable that changes is the lighter sandbox’s size. This allowed for some interesting variations and surprises midway through development to find out certain scenarios were possible. We did hit some limitations with our implementation however, and so the game has a couple of levels around the middle that revisit similar scenarios. With some more experimentation they could yield even more complexities, for instance if the lines can’t cross each other how does that change the game? What if the goal was to put each stone in another’s lines? There are many avenues to explore with something that seems so simple, so it’s important to try and find all those little complexities and expose players to them. This game is by no means a full exploration of these mechanics, but I think it’s a good example of a nice starting point.

Example of stuff we cut from the game: 

staticRocksMockup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had some other ideas for stationary rocks (that you couldn’t move) which would need to be either sunk or raised depending on their type, but we ended up cutting them because of time and because it cluttered the design of the game with new and unnecessary mechanics (for its size). While the game may have been slightly more complex and interesting with these things in, we really didn’t have the time to experiment with all the possibilities and it probably would have ended up feeling rushed or created confusion if player’s weren’t sure what to do with them.

No user manual

We teach the mechanics of the game with the game itself. We never explicitly tell you what each stone does or even what you need to do with them. We let you play around with it and see how it reacts on your own. I think that helps to provide a more satisfying experience for people, especially when the mechanics are simple. This can be really difficult to pin down right though, and can easily lead to frustration if subtle clues are left out. We’ve gotten a couple of comments about the introduction to white stones in the game being difficult for some people, and I think that’s mostly due to how small the sandbox is and how the white rock’s full pattern isn’t fully visible when they are introduced. Since people can brute force those early puzzles and accidentally solve them, it can lead to some initial confusion when things ramp up a bit.


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