Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tedious learn as you play + suboptimal try-before-you-buy platform experience = FAIL

I tried a few Xbox Live Indie Games the other night. There were some hits and misses. I talked about Trino the other night (great game). This time I want to talk a little but about the XLIG platform and my experience with Blow.

First, the XLIG platform really needs to come up with better try before you buy options for its games. I’m tired of having some arbitrary timer expire, causing me to instantly quit out of the application back to (essentially) the desktop. It’s a suboptimal solution no matter how you slice it – and not having options means that game developers have a tough time putting their best foot forward for games that require more than a few minutes of game play.

That said, developers must operate within the constraints of the platform. As it turns out, Blow kind of missed the boat by not tailoring the try before you buy demo to the XLIG constraints. The entire time was spent in rather tedious and boring tutorials. As soon as the player was able to engage in some of the core game play, the timer expired. The tutorial was NOT optional, so it meant that even if I loaded the game again, I would have to waste most of my time repeating the same tutorial. Whoops.

The actual game seemed like it could be interesting in a kind of Impossible Machines way. But I couldn’t help but wonder “why does a game that is about something as simple and delightful as blowing bubbles require such a long and tedious tutorial?” The basic mechanics are simple (place fans, watch bubbles float, adjust fans). Feedback is straight forward (bubbles go where you want them to, or not). Instead of having multiple text-heavy billboards within one level, a nice sequence of simple boards could have brought new players up to speed in pleasant and engaging ways.

I really felt like I needed about 5-10 more minutes of free play to make a decision one way or the other, but sadly both the game (inability to skip the tutorial upon second load of the game) and the platform (outmoded demo rules that uses time instead of content to govern the trial experience) conspired against me.

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