Saturday, February 7, 2009

Some gaming updates: Wii Fit, Guitar Hero, Conan, Bejeweled Blitz

First things, first.

I finally cracked 100,000 points on the Facebook app Bejeweled Blitz. I've been struggling for over a month to do so while some of my "less serious gamer" friends reached this mark with little or no struggle at all. 

I've been trying to figure out "what gives?" Many folks tell me "it's all luck". But I guarantee that I've played more rounds of BB than these friends, so that kind of rules chance out. What I'm left to believe that I was systematically pursuing strategies that were leading me to perform worse than chance.

As someone who spends his professional career breaking down core game play mechanics, this has been a very humbling experience. Now I need to see if I can replicate my success (as my other friends have done) and then analyze what I'm doing now that I wasn't doing before.

On another note, I just received a copy of Conan. I don't know much about the game, except that it's from THQ and I know one of the design leads who provided a lot of combat mechanics, balance, and pacing feedback to the development team. He wrote an article about it in Game Developer that was quite instructive. I'm curious to see how the "learn as you play" was structured and how the challenge ramp was built with the goal of applying some of those findings to other games I am working on.

And, just to take a completely different tangent, I also fired up Guitar Hero: World Tour and watched Liza play some Wii Fit. GH:WT has some interesting usability challenges associated with it. I only spent a few minutes with it, so haven't formed any complete impressions. It looks like the kind of game where the design intentions were noble (Quick Play mode; Tutorials; customer generated content sharing; "Beginner" difficulty level) but somehow along the way it crossed the fine line of "you're killing me with all this help". It's already a game about sensory overload (especially when you add band mates and beers), so the question becomes: How do you please everybody (and this is a game with a mass following of diverse gamers) without failing certain basic use cases (like easy to jump into party mode; co-op tutorial sessions; etc).

More thoughts to come.

The night ended with Liza demonstrating some of her new Wii Fit accomplishments and having a quick 27 minute workout. It's amazing how all of the sudden it hits you that you've done almost a half an hour of exercise. Yeah, there are problems with the trainers (they're creepy) and the challenge ramp (it seems like there should be at least one more step between Basic and Advanced for some exercises), this is one of those games that could probably change someone's life around. I'm excited about doing some of the stretching and balance exercises -- they'll be really helpful for hockey. And some of the strength exercises also look pretty darn useful.

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