Agent Henrik


Bio: Henrik Pettersson is a Game Designer and Viking with a Licence to Thrill. While on a journey of digital loot and plunder, he travelled from Sweden and arrived on the sunny shores of Australia and decided that this was the place to explore his passion for games. He recklessly ventured forth and designed the hit indie game “Up Down Ready” which won the Freeplay “Best Game Design” award. After this mighty victory he joined The Voxel Agents. He proudly proclaims that gamers have much to fear from the paroxysms of fun they will enjoy while playing his creations. “Play at your own risk” he gruffly laughs.

The best art style for a logic puzzle doesn’t get in the way of a players ability to see and solve the puzzle itself.

Agent Tian and I researched what art principles were used in defining art styles for logical puzzle games. This information will be  relevant to other small development studios, as well as artists and students of game design.

We gathered data about the audiences of various games from the Facebook pages and user reviews of those titles. We found that Train Conductor 2, being a score based arcade game, attracts a much younger and tech savvy audience than is common for logical puzzle games.

Here are two typical sets of demographic data we’ve gathered from users interacting on the games facebook pages:
If you’re unfamiliar with Quell it’s a fantastic logical puzzle game that is performing well on Android phones. On their website you can read about the Making of Quell where you can read their development story.

Train Yards is a successfull logical puzzle game developed by Matt Rix. In his postmortem at GDC this year he talked about the difference between developing for casual players and harcore players. The slides are available for free here and you can listen to the full talk if you have access to the GDC vault here.

When developing a game for gamers you can skip several levels of teaching. With 10 years of gaming experience comes vast a priori knowledge of computer interfaces and how they usually respond to player input. For example, I’m sure you have, at some point in life, been completely mind boggled by the inability of an old relative to move files across folders.

We’ve seen endless cases, while playtesting with a casual audience, where the play tester develops the most obscure theories of what the game rules are. The cause of these theories is simply miscommunication by us, the developers. By stripping the game of unnecessary art assets we can greatly reduce this problem: less art assets mean less objects for players to develop wacky theories about.

We can see a clear connection between logical puzzle games that value graphical prettiness more than usability, and bad chart performance. We see the opposite effect when usability is considered first. It is clear that puzzle games that value usability over art outperform on the marketplace. Sudoku is a good example because there so many Sudoku apps (Appannie gives 823 results).

The players top favorite Sudoku game out of those 823 competitors is the example to the right. Their secret? They have the largest buttons possible.

The GDC talk “How to make your player feel smart” by Randy Smith (available for free here) gives advice about puzzles in games. He references the book “The Design of Everyday Things” and further emphasises the following principle:

Look at the example on the right. Though you might not be sure of the rules or the objective at an initial glance everyone will know how a car moves and player will try to interact with the element in that manner. Logical puzzle games that stick to this principle are clear favorites among the players. For example, see Traffic Jam & Cross Fingers

I will hold off with the remaining slides of the presentation. They rely heavily on statistics and I don’t want to bloat this post with pie charts. If you like that sort of stuff send me an email (henrikpettersson@thevoxelagents.com) and I can provide you with the whole presentation but you will have to draw some conclusions by yourself. I will publish the remaining data with descriptions sometime in the future.

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We’ve prototyped a lot of games over the last few months, some of them were made and discarded within 2-3 days, others had a much longer development process and Slingshot was one of those games. Since I previously posted a concept video of the game here on our blog I thought I do a Postmortem on the project.

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As we approached a decided on what prototype to bring into production we needed get a feel for it’s potentials, beyond the core and decided to spend a week trying out different variations. There were lots of ideas and almost twice as many new rules we wanted to apply. Most of them, unlikely to be a triumph on first go or even useful at all. This is the reality of a design process. There is always a heavy amount of tweaking and adjustments that goes into taking and idea and turning it into something that works.
We wanted to see many variation made in a short amount of time and even with two fantastic programmers on call and a level editor to use I can’t request adjustments on the fly. So with an old pair of scissors, pens and an wrist measurement for malnutrition I pieced together a cardboard level editor with a grid and compliant tokens and gamecards.

Getting away from the cursed desk is a massive relief by itself and moving gamepieces around with my hands instead of the using the mouse is like crawling out from the swamp of despair and walking on solid ground.

Need a new rule?

Bam! New rule.
(Link to The Prodigy – Firestarter for your convenience)

After only 3 days we had such success with the variations we felt secure that our game had plenty of potential far beyond the scope of the core. It was not the cheer amount of variation made but how surprisingly easy it had been to create very solid new puzzles.

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PLAY

This prototype is one in a series of time mechanic puzzles we’ve been exploring recently. Tian and I created this prototype and with some additional coding help from the other Voxels. It progressed from concept to prototype in just three days. While this concept as it stands will probably not be something we develop further, it has spawned some very interesting derivative ideas and creations.

I particularly believe in the navigation controls and we’ve been developing some quite special with them. Hopefully we’ll be able to show you this in the near future.

Time-Travel Treasure Hunt is a an observation-puzzle game where the players goal is to locate stars which are hidden in a scene. The scene changes over time, playing back a simple story, and the player can follow the events from start to finish or can reverse and scrub time however they please. As the scene unfolds, objects and patterns will collide and overlay each other to form a star-shape. The player must observe these shapes, and click them at the right moment to identify where they are hidden.

Here’s an example of 3 animated shapes dancing and having an absolute blast in the snow. Can you see when they align to form a star?

Click the link below to play the game! Rules:

  • Locate the stars in the animation and click on them when you spot them. We don’t mean the obvious stars in the night sky, but the hidden stars formed by shapes and patterns, as well as pink stars.
  • Use the scrubber to scrub time backwards and forwards, and use the arrow keys to jump a single frame at a time.
  • Pink stars will briefly appear for just a split second and it’s only possible to click them when they are visible.
  • Other stars have been cleverly hidden in the environment and take shape when objects align.

There a total of 10 stars. See if you can find them all. Click here to play:  Time-Travel Treasure Hunt [35 MB]

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‘Slingshot’ is a game concept that I worked on myself and it has not been made into a playable prototype (yet). With Slingshot I set out making a concept with complete focus on player input. The idea is to start designing something that feels good to play, where the motions makes sense and are designed for a touch device.

The first draft of this game idea was done on paper, trying to draw interesting puzzles and patterns to trace lines around – When the paper-prototype seemed interesting, I proceeded to put together a video to explain the idea to the other Voxels (you can see the video below). The next step is to build a playable prototype, and then from there come-up with an interesting theme and mood for the game. This is just one type of development process we’re trying, in another project it might go in the reverse order (Theme -> Gameplay vs. Gameplay -> Theme).  One of the great benefits in working at The Voxel Agents is that we get to find these things out as we go. I am given a lot of freedom and leeway in how I approach game design and prototyping.

Here is the pitch-video for Slingshot. Keep in mind that this NOT our next game but one of many concept we’re working on:

Music credited to: spoonybrad Song Title: Puzzler’s Block

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Tom Simon Tian Matt Henrik
In the last few weeks all Voxel’s have been hard at work bringing ideas to life. In normal fashion this is done by building a prototype of the game to test out the core mechanic – with a focus on playability and enjoyment. While we try out new ideas and games we’re also going to try dust off this blog and use the space to display some game concepts, talk about our development progress and quite simply be a bit more casual. Stay tuned.
 

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