Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day 13: Part 2, Closure

I decided to try another Pax 10 finalist: Closure.

I made it to level 10 before getting stuck and having to go to for some walkthrough help. Man, what did we do before Youtube and

As a proof of concept, Closure definitely worked for me. I liked the basic art style of the game, and loved the fact that it's following the trend of Braid, Burn the Rope, and other games (I guess that Halflife really kind of started it) where you learn some basic controls during the opening credits sequence.

As a platformer/puzzler, it was engaging and managed to mostly walk the fine line of being hard and punitive (lots of player deaths) yet not so frustrating that I stopped playing immediately. One of the hardest user experience questions I have yet to find a satisfactory lesson for is: When is it OK to really punish the player (and have them learn this way) vs. when is it best to help the player grow and flourish through successive approximation?

The former technique can be immensely frustrating and cause people to quit the game before they even figure out to play. The latter technique can be really boring if the teaching is heavy handed and the player feels like he/she is simply being spoon fed game play solutions.

Some of the factors involved are likely: Player expectations (do I expect to get clobbered every time I fail? or is this just supposed to be a fun flow game?), how failure is handled (Liza and I have been having a blast with unforgiving physics based games because the failure-death sequences are so darn hillarious), and core game play goals (is the game more about mastering mechanics and using them to solve complex puzzles, or more about controlling my avatar in a quest to see, explore, and interact with new content?).

Although I did enjoy the first 10 levels of Closure, I'm kind of at a stopping point. I've got a number of puzzle games that I'm playing right now, and I kind of feel like I've reached the end of what I can learn from this particular game.

Some of the issues that detracted from the user experience:
  • I didn't get a chance to grok key concepts (like the difference between light and dark spheres) before being required to use them in advanced ways under time pressure. It's hard to develop deep understanding of abstract concepts while under stress -- and I wonder whether I would have been better prepared for level 10 (and beyond) had there been a few more intermediate steps in between that carefully (though not ploddingly or boringly) helped me discriminate amongst core game play concepts.
  • It was often unclear from level design and art style whether revealed paths were legitimate or whether they were graphical artifacts. Big budget action adventure/platformers use fancy art and lighting to make platforming elements look interactive. In this game, it was sometimes unclear whether I was intended to jump onto a jaggy edge or whether it was hostile terrain.
  • The game required me to make "leaps of faith" at several points. Sometimes I leapt and landed safely. Other times I leapt to my death. I wanted ways for the game to allow me to deduce when a given leap made sense or was suicide. Instead I felt like I needed to flip a coin.
  • The game shell (start menu) was a little cluttered and hard to parse. I was distracted by ads (and almost clicked on it by mistake thinking it would start the game) and the Begin button didn't look like an interactive button. Basically, the game shell needed to make super clear what the primary action was -- and then let the other options fade into the background.
All in all I enjoyed Closure. What I would love to do with this game is collect attrition data and find out where players get stuck and stop playing and then either refine those puzzles OR come up with interstitial puzzles that help players learn to master the required concepts/mechanics so that they can proceed.

[This represents 9 of 13... I'm catching up]

1 comment:

Dzamir said...

"The game shell (start menu) was a little cluttered and hard to parse. I was distracted by ads (and almost clicked on it by mistake thinking it would start the game)"
I think that this is done on purpose :-)