Friday, March 14, 2014

We didn't start the fire - Twitter version.

Every few years, I feel compelled to write a song to the tune of 'We Didn't Start The Fire?'

Why ? Because it's so easy, even I can do it. Twice.

Last time around, it was a generic desi version.

This time, I thought I'd make it about a subject we all love to hate. No, no. Not Arvind Kejriwal (though he does make an appearance). I'm talking about Twitter.

So, without further ado, I'll just leave this here :

Rahul Gandhi. Kejriwal. NaMo and Kapil Sibal.
Katy Perry. Justin Bieber. Who'll end up trending?
@rameshsrivats just logged in. @jhunjhunwala and @sidin.
We'll soon know. They'll decide. On them we're depending.

Where the hell is @krishashok ? In an airport telling joke.
Hashtags lose their zing. @anantha is amazing.
@diogeneb is the king. Of anagramming everything.
Superman. Remap sun. Anus perm. A Nu Sperm.

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.
We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

@bigfatphoenix disappears. Yawn. And then he reappears.
Boromirfaramir. Twitter Afridi.
Oh look! There's someone to blame. Let's gang up and bring the shame.
Scapegoat biryani. Twitter Bakridi.

Tedx. Wikimedia. Sounds little seedy ya.
Situation's getting hard. Better change my business card.
Too late. Getting trolled. Story being told.
Don't tell @kiruba. Konjam summa irubaa.

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.

We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

Crack a joke. Make a GIF. @onejubb and his #machanif.
Who is your best matey da? @chuck_gopal or @raytida?
Everyone's a plagiarist. @AaruC does not exist.
What did you eat for lunch? @i_r_squared's name rhymes with lunch. 

#Paam-Pa-paam-pa-paam. #Paam-Pa-paam-pa-paam.

@prempanicker sparks debates. @sidvee plain intimidates.
T20. Test match. Outrage over dropped catch.
Ponting or Tendulkar. Which player do #youprefer?
Virat Kohli scores a ton. @cornerd likes badminton.

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.

We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

You missed an apostrophe. WHAT A GREAT CATASTROPHE.
grammer nazi's, strike again. Grammar nazis strike again.
Hard to be grammatical. Simply isn't practical.
When limiting fctrs. Is 140 chrctrs.

Demonstrate your sparkling wit. Or just say some random shit.
Do your best or do your worst. But @rameshsrivats did it first !

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.

We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

I just gained a follower. Your life must seem hollower.
[Fist pump]. [Tummy tuck]. I rule. You suck.
I just changed my DP now. Followers are saying 'wow'.
Lo-res hotness. #winning. Oh, yes.

Influence. Need some more. All about my Klout score.
Got RTed. Yesterday. What else do I have to say?

We're the folks on Twitter.
We don't go to parties.
We just count our RTs.
We're the folks on Twitter.
Its sure contagious
how small things outrage us.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Android Game Recco - Card City Nights

Card City Nights is a wonderfully imaginative, addictive, and rather odd little card battling game that offers a lot more strategic depth than its goofball graphics suggest.

The game starts you off as a newcomer to the city, and very quickly has you meeting some pretty nutty characters, battling them to win cards, and setting you off on a quest to find the eight 'legendary' cards to win the game. The story, of course, is nonsensical and doesn't really matter, but the writing, should you choose to pay attention to it, is witty, charming and funny.

The core of the game is, as it should be with card battlers, fighting card battles, winning new cards and building the most powerful deck possible. The battle system itself is pretty unique and fun - you lay out cards on a 3 X 3 grid, trying to string together 'combos' to attack your opponent or raise your own defense. It's a lot more challenging than it initially looks. The first few battles are pretty straightforward, but pretty soon you'll discover a wide range of cards, combos and strategies - primarily by the time-tested method of getting your ass kicked by the game's 'bosses' who use said strategies. Soon, you'll be winning tons of new cards and putting together powerful new decks with specific strategies - I've got an attack heavy deck, a defensive deck and a generalist deck already, and I'm only about two hours in.

It's a fun, challenging and rewarding battle system - I say this as a fan of card battlers in general, and MTG and, more recently, Hearthstone in particular.

The cards themselves are, simply put, quite insane. A madcap assortment of characters with crazy names and crazier artwork quite unlike anything I've seen in the genre makes it extremely entertaining to collect cards and build decks. 

Mobile and tablet gaming is increasingly taking up chunks of my time - offering deep and 'hardcore' experiences that are beginning to rival those found on traditional platforms. Card City Nights is another such title - I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a deep and satisfying strategy game experience on the go.

Card City Nights is available on Steam (PC/ Mac/ Linux) Android, and soon (or maybe already) on iOS - so you really don't have an excuse. Get it here.

The most important game design lesson I ever learned

While we designers rarely ignore the mechanics based aspects of what makes our games fun and addictive (aspiration, progression, balance, storytelling etc.) there's one simple rule that I've seen ignored time and again, and indeed have been guilty of ignoring myself.

This one simple principle seems to be a common thread running through every successful (and especially addictive) blockbuster game ever made.

Here it is :

The action that your player performs most frequently should feel like fun all by itself.

To elaborate - the one (or two) things that the player repeatedly does while playing your game should feel juicy, satisfying and fun enough so that just simply performing this action hundreds of times even without any additional context should not become boring.

Let's test this hypothesis by looking at some blockbuster games across genres :

Super Mario Bros - running and jumping
The famously solid and weighty physics behind Mario's basic run and jump make controlling him extremely pleasurable. Just running and jumping around a level with Mario, even without any enemies or obstacles would still be pretty fun.

Diablo - clicking on an enemy
The famously visceral feeling you got when attacking a monster in Diablo - the hugely satisfying crunching, squishing and cutting sounds followed by great death animations - meant that you could just click on enemies all day, making it one of the most addictive games in history.

Candy Crush Saga - matching candies
Love it or hate it - there's no denying that Candy Crush exploded in audio-visual delight every time you made a combo. Every sound and animation is just perfect, and they string together beautifully so that making a series of long combos is a hypnotic experience - regardless of the score, progression and other gameplay mechanics.

Halo - shooting
Halo (or any other top FPS) gets the shooting right. The simple act of firing any of its guns feels solid, punchy and satisfying - the sound, the recoil animation, the overheat animation, the needler trails, all work together to make just shooting a gun a fun experience by itself, even if there are no enemies at the other end.

Farmville - harvesting crops
The core actions in Farmville are another example of using sound and animation to make addictive fun. Harvesting a bumper crop in Farmville is almost a zen-like experience - huge bushels of strawberries or pumpkins or apples (and gold coins) burst out of your screen at every click, giving your brain endorphin hit after endorphin hit.

Angry Birds - launching a bird
Like Super Mario Bros, this one is also all about physics. The superb sense of weight when you catapult different kinds of birds to their doom, with the hilariously perfect sounds, lead to an experience that never gets old, however ,many hundreds of times you repeat it.

Minecraft - digging and placing blocks
The satisfying whack-plink-thunk sounds when you dig through different kinds of terrain in Minecraft, and the comforting thud when you place a block down make the basic actions of the game feel fun and enjoyable. So hours and hours of carving out the terrain and building stuff doesn't feel like a chore - in fact, quite the opposite. It's an addictive, almost meditative experience.

Hmmmmmm. Most suspicious, yes?  The truth seems to be, regardless of genre, that the most successful games make the core action as much fun as it can be. So much that, when you're in the thick of the game, it becomes a trance-like, meditative experience.

I actually learned this the hard way at Zynga when we shipped Hidden Shadows. While we focused heavily on making the hidden objects scenes look great, writing interesting stories, tuning the economy to feel right and suchlike, we dropped the ball on one important thing. In our game (like in many Facebook games), the action that the player performed most frequently was in fact clicking on buttons (in the quests, the game's various menus and dialogs and so on). We failed to make the button-clicking a delightful experience - and this made the game, in hindsight, less addictive. My gut still tells me that a better level of UI polish would have made Hidden Shadows a vastly more successful game than it ended up being. Games like Candy Crush Saga and Farmville 2 get it right - and are more addictive experiences as a result.

To anyone making games today, I cannot stress this enough - isolate the core action of your game, and polish the crap out of it until it feels like fun on its own. Test prototypes that have just the core action and absolutely no other systems built around it - and iterate until these feel enjoyable to play around with. Your game will be better for it.