Name Our Game Competition!

Turns out we’re terrible at thinking up names for our latest game. The working title “Colour Park” was never going to fly. So instead we’re having a competition to see who can come up with something better!

Anyone who thinks they have a good name for our game has until 23rd November to submit their entry to our website to be in with a shout. After then, the top 5 entries as picked by us will receive a free copy of the game and go into a public vote to see which of them will forever adorn our game.

Enter the competition here: http://www.crystallinegreen.com/competition/

The game itself is an on-rails motion control game for Wii U, and is scheduled to be released in the first half of next year. To celebrate and inspire people, we’ve created two new videos to show off different aspects of the game:

In single player ‘rhythm’ mode, players glide gently through the air in time to relaxing music, using their Wii Remotes to match coloured objects along the way for points and high scores.

In local multiplayer ‘race’ mode, players match colours using their Wii Remotes in order to gain speed boosts, collect powerups and choose different paths. The closer you match the colours, the faster your boost!

We will be adding more levels and environments to the game prior to release, from underwater coral reefs to dune sculpted deserts, as well as additional playable characters.

Finally, those who wish to play the game for themselves can check it out at Insomnia 53 Gaming Festival, at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry, UK, where we will be exhibiting it from 21st November to 23rd November 2014.

Mixed Opinions: IndieCade Feedback

Back in June, we submitted a really early version of Colour Park to IndieCade. The game didn’t get nominated as a finalist, but did get feedback from a number of jurors. Interestingly, they all had different things to say. Note, the jury system is anonymised, so I’ve instead labelled them as Juror #1, #2 and #3 respectively:

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Juror #1:
This was obviously very early in development, but it shows potential for being something good. It took a few minutes for the concept to click, but once it did, it was easy to get the hang of it.

I don’t feel like there’s much meaningful feedback I can give at this point, as the game only has the very basics in place right now. I would like to see you take this further and resubmit next year.
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Juror #2:
I think the attempt to make a motion control game that uses the motion to map and match a color felt unnatural. I am aware that this suppose to be what the creator actually wanted to experiment with and make unique in the game, but it doesn’t seem to work well. The game plays like racing vs. guitar hero, however the motion controller is not a tight input like buttons, which makes controlling the game very hard, often hard to control tightly, and therefore frustrating, I also expected that such a game has progressive and dynamic music that follows the gameplay.
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Juror #3:
Game has interesting presentation and is relaxing to play. As a tech demo, it runs well and shows potential.

Goal should be more compelling, if there was any depth beyond matching colors it was unclear. Multi player gameplay did not seem to add much. There was no way to attack other players or interact.

There should be better feedback when users ‘hit’ or ‘miss’ their color. Soundtrack was interesting, but got repetitive after a couple of minutes.

I understand this is an early demo, and has an interesting idea (using the controller to find colors), but you might want to iterate on the concept and try out a couple of other ways to interact with the world, and other players.

It’d be easy to dismiss Juror #2 as simply “didn’t get it”, especially after reading the first Juror’s comments. However, the game has garnered similar feedback in the past from others. That they are fighting against the controls the whole time, and that makes the game frustrating.

The suspicion is some players are performance optimisers or perfectionists. Not a criticism I might add. As any sports person or musician will tell you, when your fingers pluck the wrong string, or the tennis ball hits the edge of the racket head, it feels off, and that registers long before you hear the accompanying discordant twang or see the ripple of the net. In guitar hero, you know unambiguously whether you’ve hit a note or not, both from on-screen indicators, and simply because you felt your finger press the wrong button. On the surface, Colour Park looks a lot like guitar hero and similar rhythm games, so it’ll both naturally attract those types of players, and potentially annoy the hell out of them.

Since the version submitted to IndieCade, the game has had effects added to show whether the player “hit” or “missed”. Even that is misleading though, since it’s a continuous scale: The closer to a colour match, the more points, or bigger the speed boost you get. The next step will be to reflect that on screen. The closer to a match, more particle effects go off, the more individual particles each effect produces, the brighter those particles, the faster they move, the longer their lifetime, and so on.

The rest of the comments from IndieCade just back up the experience from a couple of weeks ago. The game needs more layers of depth to keep people playing once the initial challenge of mastering the controls has been accomplished.

Insomnia Takehomes

There’s nothing like testing with real users, and demoing Colour Park at the Insomnia52 Gaming Festival highlighted a number of unforeseen issues

Last weekend, I demoed Colour Park at Insomnia 52 Gaming Festival in Coventry. Top of the list of things to test were the colour blind modes. Whilst something in the range of 1% to 5% of men are colour blind (it’s very rare in women), the degree can vary between individuals, all the way from some colours being slightly weaker, all the way to being utterly unable to distinguish between certain colours.

Colour.. It’s in the name

In the case of Colour Park, and it’s dependency on colour, some people who were just a little bit colour blind/deficient actually preferred the full-colour modes. Whereas others who I tried on both colour-blind and non-colour blind modes, were clearly benefiting from the colour-blind-friendly palettes. Whilst not especially scientific, the testing confirmed my view that letting people choose their own colours (with properly set up defaults / presets) was the way to go.

tritanopia_test2Tritanopia – One of the rarer forms of Colour Blindness

I also had some really useful discussions about a different way to solve the problem. Specifically replacing the blocks on the track with arrows, pointing at the angle the player needs to rotate their colour wheel to.

Not only does this remove the total reliance on colour in the game, but makes the game easier as well, giving more cues to the player about what move to make next, versus only going by what colour the approaching block is.

Easy…Right?

This should hopefully help with my second big observation, which is that the game was too hard! In particular, I’d set people up to play race mode, and with settings that ramp up the speed (and thus difficulty) quite sharply. Once the player gets a few blocks in a row, they really start to zip along.

That’s great for giving the game a sense of flow and adrenaline pumping action. Less so for kids. The  game requires both fine motor skills and quick reactions, neither of which kids under about 10 or 12 years old have.

Also up for consideration is introducing a “Super-easy” difficulty setting, which has just two colours on the colour wheel. The problem is that the game’s premise hangs on motion as an analogue action, which has a full, continuous range of inputs: The closer you are to a colour, the bigger your speed boost and the more points you get. With just two colours, players can just push the Wii Remote to one extreme or the other. It removes a large element of the skill from the game, making it a simple reaction game that could probably be played with any old regular digital controller (press button A for green, B for blue).

30 Minute Challenge

At the other end of the spectrum, teenagers and adults were largely able to get the hang of the game, and generally responded really positively to the game, often offering up that they really enjoyed it (or at least liked the concept).

However, I’d set the game up to have a run time of about 2 or 3 minutes for a single race to the end of the track, after which the game would declare a winner and points score. Typically, after just one or two play-throughs, people would put the controllers down satisfied that they got the idea of the game, and then wander off to see what other games were on offer.

Compare that to the other indie games in the area around me, and people would sit down to play them for stretches of 30 minutes or more. It’d be easy to dismiss that as down to the nature of the different games, with the puzzle platformers or FPS games around me somewhat demanding that players get to the end of their respective levels.

In reality, the game is not engaging enough. Part of that is down to the way the game was set up. Players would spend the first minute or so learning the colours. Then there would be maybe another minute of play – just enough track for them to get good at the controls and the game produce a satisfying sense of accomplishment when the end arrived.

Leaving rhythm mode aside, the race mode needs more to compel people to want to play again. A fixed track (as opposed to a random, procedural one), with splits that allow players to take different paths should give players an extra layer of information to learn, and give them more choices in the game. Equally, having the track as a loop, with races over multiple laps, will allow players to correct mistakes (e.g. from taking the wrong path last lap,) within a single race, rather than having to wait for the next one.

Other things, such as indications of whether a player is 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc, and ghosts of the other players zooming past them on the track should make the game feel more competitive. Having sections without blocks, so players can take a breather, will also help, as they can take stock of how well they did in the section just completed, and also compare their progress against everyone else.

There are other options, such as multiple “lanes” on the track, which players can switch between using the buttons on the Wii Remotes. Though at that point, the game starts to look like it’s wholesale ripping off Audio Surf, rather than just taking inspiration. For now, the target will be to have people playing 30 minutes or more over multiple races.

Games Industry and Quality of Life platforms

I should preface this by saying I’m coming from a purely games industry perspective here. I have no insight into health and fitness industry or related products aside from my own experiences as a consumer.

According to recent reports, Nintendo are planning a new “Quality of Life” platform. Quite what that means is a bit vague at the moment, but here are a few examples of the sort of problems/people/products that Nintendo (or indeed other companies in the games industry) can solve in the health and fitness sphere:

Elderly

In rich, developed countries, there is a huge demographic shift towards ageing populations, and it’s already well under way. The “baby boomer” generation, born after World War II are reaching retirement age. Improvements in healthcare mean that they will live longer, and so be a bigger drain on pension funds, government social welfare programs. They will also be spending more on those increasingly advanced healthcare systems that are keeping them alive.

At the same time, they hold a larger proportion of the wealth than younger generations, who in turn are smaller in number. The tax receipts generated by the working population is going down at the same time that costs are going up.

This trend is most accute in Japan, and as a Japanese company, Nintendo will be aware of the anxieties around this issue in the general population. But it also afflicts countries like Germany, with it’s declining birth rate, China with it’s only-recently relaxed one-child policy, and in countries like the UK, where it is only recent waves of migration that are masking the effect.

From time to time, here in the UK, we see on the news a feature about a new kooky looking robot from Japan, which claims it will be the care home worker of the future. Whilst it’s easy to get cynical about such ideas, there is definitely a huge market for products that will help the elderly in some way. Whether it be straight up monitoring devices, devices to keep the elderly active (and so healthier), or a combination of both.

Nintendo saw a huge surprise hit with older people in the form of it’s Brain Training game for DS, which espouses mental stimulation as a way for the elderly to keep their minds active and healthy. The precipitous rise in cases of Altzheimer’s/Dementia is a particular worry for many older people and healthcare professionals, and traditional forms of staying mentally sharp in old age, such as chess or bridge, can all be enhanced by taking them into the digital age, even where frail individuals aren’t necessarily being encouraged to fling their limbs around.

On the monitoring side, there are simply less of the younger generation around to wait hand and foot on the elderly, make sure they are ok and generally look after them. A console-like quality of life monitoring device might not be able to dress a person, tuck them into bed, or help them go to the toilet, but it will help doctors and carers remotely assess patients needs.

Moreover, the scale of demand for these devices means it now makes sense to bring them out of the rarified world of medical equipment and into the realms of mainstream consumer device. Nintendo could offer, using it’s knowledge in mass-produced consoles, something people can buy from a regular department store, for hundreds, rather than thousands of dollars, easily and quickly install in their elderly parent’s home, and teach their relatives to use.

Fitness Enthusiasts

There is a group of people for whom health and fitness is a way of life. They are athletes, personal trainers or people for whom fitness is their primary passtime. Not only do they have the full gym membership, but in many cases, have all the associated gear at their own home.

Gamification has long been a part of the fitness scene, with devices sporting indicators of how many calories have been burned, or miles run/cycled, for decades. Today we live in a data rich world, with a profusion of sensors and devices recording a plethora of stats on our physical state and activities. A console-like device would make an excellent central hub for all this information; the “brains” behind a gym of interconnected devices.

The success of games like Wii-Fit and Zumba show that there is a huge demand for “interactive-lite” workout videos / games, and it’s easy to imagine giving them their own dedicated console device. Reskinning it to be purely health and fitness might further encourage purchases from consumers who don’t want all the baggage and associations that come with buying a device advertised as primarily for games.

I do however think that Nintendo will be making a massive mistake if they fail to embrace connected smartphones and wearable tech. Whilst right now, the smartphone is the weapon of choice for the joggers and sports-people when out and about, that could easily change with the arrival of Google Glasses. Consumers will fully expect seamless integration of their outside activity data with that generated in-home and at the gym. Any device that fails to do that job of pulling together all their disparate activities will fail in its primary mission of being the centre of someone’s fitness world.

For sports, it also makes just so much more sense to have a console-like base unit, onto which you can attach the specialist peripheral-sensors needed for the specific sport, and on which can be run whatever specific software / app that sport needs.

Nintendo have already been doing this with their wide range of Wii and Wii-U Fit extras, and there is definitely scope to take this approach up-market and sell direct to sports clubs, and professional and amateur sports-people and athletes. (In fact, Microsoft would have an advantage here were they to also enter the market with a reskinned/branded Xbox One plus Kinect, pitched as a Golf/Tennis swing analyser, for example).

The Guilty Unfit

Many people are aware their sedentry lifestyle of driving to work, sitting at an office desk all day, then going home to watch the TV or play video games isn’t healthy. But damnit, it’s cold and raining outside, and their favourite film is about to start on TV, and it’s already 8pm and dark outside.

The game Zombies, Run! is a fantastic example of motivating people in a fun way to get off the couch and go burn some calories, where the usual guilty feelings for not having done enough exercise, or overzealous fitness fanatics telling them to get fit for the sheer masochistic joy of physical exertion, just aren’t getting them to slip on their trainers.

This quote from an interview with the makers of Zombies, Run! really exemplifies the point:

“It’s just really surprising because we tell people about this at conferences that storytelling can be really valuable,” he said. “And it’s just…they cannot comprehend it. They get badges and they get points and all this other gamification stuff. But they don’t get stories, and that’s partly because if you are naturally quite fit, or you are quite fit, you don’t need a story–you just go and run. But for everyone else, it’s a bit different.”

Here, Nintendo has a real strength to bring to the table, in the form of it’s story-writing, world and character creation abilities. Key will be striking a balance. On the one hand, making fun and entertaining games first and foremost, that in turn encourage physical activity through their mechanics. As well, avoiding trying to gamify fitness by crudely replacing Wii-fit lady with Mario. But importantly, not trying to hide and deceive the players. Being upfront that this is a fitness game, but one that revels in it’s sense of fun.
Why care?

Each of the above probably needs a different product, (even if it’s the same physical hardware/OS underneath, but with different branding/marketing and selection of software). Right now, there is a big question mark as to which of those Nintendo are aiming for, or whether they are approaching a “Quality of Life” product from a completely different angle.

Obviously, if any of this takes off, many game developers might find themselves making the apps / games to go on these devices. At a deeper level though, it’s going beyond gamification, or the idea games are something everyone can enjoy. Rather, it starts to break down the usefulness of classing things in terms of “Game” or “Not a Game”, and in a much more tangible, real-world way than the academic-intellectual debate about art-games like Proteus or Dear Esther.

This is all a whole lot of if’s, but just could have radical ramifications for how we view our industry