Monday, January 26, 2009

Crayon Physics Deluxe

A lot of interesting discussions have already gone on about this game, whether it's Brainy Gamer or PixelVixen707, the argument goes like this. People love it because it's an open game that you can do whatever you want. People don't like it because it's an open game where you rarely feel inclined to do much at all.

That's a really important problem in a free form game because as emergent narratives become steadily more popular, you've got to grasp what is creating the incentives to generate a personal narrative. Fallout 3 apparently pulls it off, with many people praising the game while denouncing the main storyline. When do you ever hear about people praising the sidequests of a game? Contrast that to Far Cry 2, which I enjoy immensely but have to admit that you get stuck in a rut. AK-47, Grenade Launcher, and submachine gun have been my weapon stock for a while now. Obviously the games are working with very different game designs, but is that indicative of the FPS not working well as an immersive game or that RPG's are the best game designs for emergent narratives?

I ended up comparing this to the whole Gordian Knot problem with Alexander the Great. You can either solve the puzzle with the sword or by carefully solving the problem. The dilemma, both in the story and in games, is when the reward is the same for either solution.

The refreshing thing about Crayon Physics Deluxe is that it captures the essence of the problem these AAA titles are facing in a totally different setup. It's a physics puzzle game where you can do anything and as a consequence many players get stuck in a rut using the same tricks to solve every puzzle. They get to the end, feel a little hollow inside, and can only fool around without the same goal completion to get much out of the game. How do you get the player to use their freedom for something interesting without it feeling like work?

I'm not sure this has all the answers, but it's a start.


Michel said...

A maxim I embrace is "Restrictions breed creativity".

Only small children are able to create fun and goals out of literally nothing. Adults, unfortunately, generally require boundaries and rules to encourage creative play or solutions. The more restrictions the better.

This is why we can give crayons to a child and they will have an incredible amount of fun, while we need a game, a set of rules based around physics puzzles, in order to attain a comparable level of enjoyment from the same tool (a digital version of that tool anyway). I haven't played Crayon Physics Deluxe yet but it sounds like the developers didn't go far enough.

L.B. Jeffries said...

Ha, my English Prof back in the day used to say Shakespeare wrote such great lines because he had to work around censors all the time.

He did make a patch that fixed all these issues by having stars awarded for getting around various restrictions, but I'm not really a fan of the whole badge mentality.

Ilie said...

Well, maybe by communcating to the player that more than one approach can be used for the situations or by designing levels (game segmenets?)where the most obvious solutions to the earlier problems are useless...

L.B. Jeffries said...

It's interesting you mention that, one reviewer pointed out that the biggest flaw of the game was uneven level design. The last 20 or so puzzles are really tough, forcing you to figure out all kinds of tricks for getting around them.

Spending 3/4 of the game breezing around and then hitting a brick wall was their major complaint. I suppose just figuring out the very basics of design for freeform games is going to take a while.