It has been a long road for us (especially Mr. Tofu!), but we have finally reached the last mechanics change in the rebuild of A Tofu Tail. The final stage in each world was originally envisioned to be a “boss stage” to further challenge the player and shift gears a bit, but something was missing…
The Old and Tired
Our original intent with the boss stages was to provide a different type of challenge to the player, as well as gradually introduce the new game mechanics. The boss stage was made up of a set number of randomly-generated “mazes” that the player had to traverse before the time limit.
After implementing this and actually play testing it with people – we dejectedly noticed that… these levels were not only frustrating, but they were kind of boring!
Why was this?
Thinking about it, these boss stages were really just a string of standard levels that had to be completed before the countdown timer expired. And the thing that seemed to make this more difficult for the player came up in a strange pattern that we noticed with many of the play testers: they were actually trying to cover every tile on the stage! o.o
The players’ real goal should have been to get to the end of the section as fast as possible; but some odd compulsion with “completing” a level was causing our players to do
In addition to this, we were trying to add a new game mechanic (that usually hindered a player’s ability to complete the stage in a timely fashion) that the player had to learn and understand. This made the whole experience very stressful, and in a detrimental way, and didn’t allow the player to learn the new mechanic in a controlled environment.
The “high-intensity” boss stages were not the place to teach the player new things about the game. This was a terrible design choice that frustrated the player, caused distress rather than eustress, and really provided no substantial challenge.
Taking a Step Back
Our hodge-podge of ideas and mechanics obviously was not working in the old design. So we ultimately decided to scrap all of the problem elements in the boss stages: the procedural-generation, time limits, and introduction to new game mechanics.
Having done this, though, we now had no idea what we wanted for a meaningful boss stage.
We needed to take a step back.So like our approach to redesigning the puzzle mechanics, we listed our goals for the boss stage, and brainstormed some potential options based on those goals.
Goals: how do we design the boss stages to provide…
- A sense of urgency and eustress?
- Structurally different level design from the standard puzzle levels
- A themed tie in to the narrative with theKitsune and their Soulgems
- Player with a greater sense of accomplishment and finality from this single boss level above that achieved in each individual standard level
Ideas / potential options to pursue:
- Auto-scrolling level in which the player needs to stay on screen or within a certain boundary
- Procedurally-generated sections with checkpoints
- A structurally linear path with multiple puzzles along the way
We felt that the third option would be the easiest to understand (as well as prototype – so an added bonus!). So we set out to create a quick and dirty prototype of the new idea with some adjustable constraints and parameters.
A New Perspective
What we found when we examined the prototype boss stages was pleasantly surprising! We noticed that we could easily provide multiple paths at various intersections along the path to the boss stage finish – some that require less moves than others.
This allowed us to force the player to make multiple path choices along the way.If they end up taking too many moves (by traversing the longer paths), they trigger the losing condition on the boss level – enforced by dropping rows of tiles after so many moves are taken.
Overall, the new boss stages had a different feel from the standard stages. We could also focus on testing the players learned skills with the puzzle elements that were introduced in this realm’s standard levels. While retaining an adequate level of increased intensity, we were still able to place any failure of the boss stage on the player’s choices rather than their ability to learn on the fly or the randomness of the levels.
Mr. Tofu is now more pleased that he has a fighting chance against the tricky Kitsune, and he knows he won’t be bored!
Next time we are going to wrap up our Game Design Deep Dive looking at the game mechanics changes and reflect back on what we learned. Don’t miss it!
Until then, keep on ploppin’