Tiny Trees Post Mortem: How Math Helped Design a Game

An integral part of designing a game is following user-centric principles and iterating in order to provide the player with the best possible experience. However, some games have difficult components that are expensive in both money and time in order to iterate upon. This was the case with the game that I am the lead developer on that will be on Kickstarter later this year. Tiny Trees is a competitive Tree-building board game where unlike a large number of board games, it doesn’t lie flat on your table, but instead becomes a physical object in three dimensions. As you grow your tree, you have to try to earn the maximum number of points while also literally balancing your tree so it doesn’t collapse.

Building

The game consists of 42 hexagonal cards that you slot together in order to grow a physical three dimensional tree. It was extremely time consuming to iterate on these components since the prototype needed high quality cardstock and had to be cut out by hand and individually drawn on. As such, the design process had to be predicated more on math and statistics rather than continuous playtesting in order to not waste valuable resources.

We had to determine what arrangement of cuts in the cards we wanted. The very first prototype had cuts on all six sides of the hexagonal cards, but I found myself growing roughly the same tree every time since there was no restrictions on what I could grow. Additionally, if each side of the hexagon had only one slit to reduce complexity, each side would have only two states: cut and not cut, represented below with a six digit binary equivalent.

BinaryDiagram

 

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God of War Analysis: Impact of Level Design

The Impact of Level Design on Gameplay Within God of War 4

God of War released for the PS4 in April of 2018 to massive critical acclaim. It is one of the most sold games on PS4, selling over 3.1 million copies in its first three days (Quizilbash). God of War 4 tried to distance itself from its previous iterations, focusing more on story and exploration than its predecessors. In fact, Rob Davis, the Lead Level Designer for God of War 4, said in a lecture at USC that the game has three central pillars: exploration, narrative, and combat. Despite pulling God of War into a new direction, many elements within the game are made as concessions to the established audience so God of War 4 doesn’t feel too foreign. These concessions and usage of the three pillars are most evident in the level design, since the level design determines the affordances given to the player.

God of War 4 largely succeeded in creating a sense of exploration and providing incentive to explore. Comparing God of War to Horizon: Zero Dawn elucidates this success, as both games strive to create similar experiences in terms of the three pillars. The presentation of the two respective maps as shown below immediately elucidates the differences in the level design between these two games.

H0DandGoW SideBySide

Fig 1: World map from God of War 4 (left) and Horizon: Zero Dawn (Right)

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Overwatch Analysis Essay: Callois Within Overwatch

Callois Within Overwatch

Video games can be defined almost entirely by how their characters move. As Anna Anthropy said, “Verbs characterize the hero… Verbs are the rules that allow the player to interact with the other rules…”. As such, within nearly every game tutorial with the verb of “move” available to the player, that is the the first verb presented. Thus, the movement of characters within games is one of the most important aspects to how a game is received. For instance, Non Player Characters (NPCs) that you have to follow walk slower than the player’s movement speed, as otherwise even a minimal amount of distraction would cause the player to lose the NPC’s location. Getting lost would cause the player to get frustrated and not enjoy the gaming experience, potentially resulting in giving up entirely and ceasing to play. Another example within the game design industry, is “…a term called ‘coyote time’ for when the player walks off a… ledge… but the jump still works,” said by developer Chevy Ray. When a game lacks “coyote time”, the jumps feel difficult and frustrating, often leading to a player giving up on the game. However, movement often contributes to more than just how it’s received. In a game like Overwatch, the mobility of the heroes in such a diverse cast defines how the game is played.

As one of the most influential game theorists, Roger Caillois correctly identified that one of the integral types of play to be Ilinx, more commonly referred to as Vertigo. Players that enjoy this type of play “seek ecstasy by whirling about with movements” (Roger Caillois). This is the core reason that many games have physics that don’t translate accurately to the real world. For instance, nearly all Overwatch characters travel at 5.5 meters per second (SpriteGuy_000). In reality, the average person walks at about 1.25 meters per second, with running occurring at about 2.2 meters per second (Susan Paul). This means that the average Overwatch character moves at the speed of an Olympic Marathon athlete and never gets tired even without breaks (Michelle Hamilton). Despite this unrealistic standard, many characters within Overwatch like Lucio can even go much faster than 5.5 meters per second, easily reaching 11.66 meters per second. However, he is also capable of surpassing this 11.66 meters per second, as seen from the users on the LucioRollouts subreddit reaching maximum velocity with Lucio. This is achieved because when Lucio jumps off of a wall, he gets an additional speed boost that stacks if the jumps are chained together.

Lucios

Fig 1: The Overwatch hero Lucio in various skins

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