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Friday Free Game, One-Button Edition: Air Monkey

As I continue to explore the idea of exploiting a simple user interface as a way of increasing a game's fun-factor, I've learned a bit about how the dynamic interaction between the game system and the player determine much about the fun of a game. It's not only about what's in the player's direct control; the way that the game manipulates the environment, presenting obstacles and rewards, is also a major factor.

Take last week's game, for example. If you haven't played it yet, you should. I found a larger version of the game on another site. Helicopter is about as stripped down as you can get. There's one goal: survival, and one kind of obstacle: the cave walls themselves. The movement of the helicopter is automatic: you scroll right and move down automatically. Clicking the button offsets the downward movement for a time, and the whole gameplay is based on how you balance your clicks against the pull of gravity. Now I also found an extremely similar game called Aeroplane, which adds a few elements: instead of simply trying to survive, you can pick up green gems and blue shields while avoiding the red bombs. It's a much nicer-looking and more interesting version of the same game, but at heart, the basic mechanics are the same: click to rise.

So why is Aeroplane more interesting if the mechanics are the same? The difference is not in what you can directly control, but in the way the the game itself manipulates the environment. The game determines the placement and frequency of the bombs, much like Helicopter's walls, but there's also the gems, which give you another goal. Since your score is not based on time in Aeroplane but instead on collecting gems, you now have a more interesting dynamic: where is the gem in relationship to a bomb? to the sides of the board? to the shield that you want to pick up? There's no penalty for missing the gems, but you can't get a high score without them. This presents the player with a hard choice, and as everyone knows making each option seem equally attractive is at the heart of creating the tension that makes a game fun. Peachpit.com has a sample chapter from Andrew Rollings and Dave Morris on the subject entitled "Achieving and Enhancing Gameplay in Game Design", where the authors address this subject in some depth.

One-button games have a real challenge in presenting the player with difficult choices. As we saw with Aeroplane as compared to Helicopter, one way of forcing these choice is by varying the proximity of rewards and obstacles. In Helicopter, since the reward was a constant (time), then the only way the game could challenge the player is by varying its obstacles. And Helicopter chose to do that in really two ways: stationary and mobile walls. Aeroplane, by scattering gems and shields around and placing bombs at strategic points, forced the player to choose whether to attempt to gain a reward, have to time his approach, and then have to execute by clicking.

But you can go further. This week's installment of the Friday Free Game, "One-Button Edition" features a game called Air Monkey. It's a particularly good counterpoint to the flyers because while it has arguably even less control than those first games, it's harder and presents more interesting choices.

Air Monkey's goal is fairly simple: help the monkey jump up the tree, swinging from vine to vine, in order to reach the treehouse so he can have a brew with his monkey pals. Simple enough, right? You're about to find out. Here's a hint: the monkey shifts on the vine as he swings, so timing is very important. Go check out Air Monkey. Next week, we'll review.

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Comments on Friday Free Game, One-Button Edition: Air Monkey
  Comment from Anonymous Anonymous at Friday, October 27, 2006 1:52:00 PM
Great post, fine game.

Here's another:

fillaminute.com/pages/games/game.php?gid=58

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The Red Bull Diary is the personal pulpit and intellectual dumping-ground for its author, an amateur game designer, professional programmer, political centrist and incurable skeptic. The Red Bull Diary is gaming, game design, politics, development, geek culture, and other such nonsense.