Monday, 21 February 2011

Greedy Bankers for iOS: Designing Accessibility and Complexity

When I first came up with Greedy Bankers in June 2010, my intention was to create something simple to pick up, but with a depth that keeps you playing and trying to discover new strategies. I had been exploring real-world strategy games in the months previous to producing the first prototype, and desired to create a game where the player could explore deep strategies from a simple set of building blocks.
Beginning work on the iPhone version of the game, I knew I wanted to maintain the drive for complex gameplay, but realised I had new opportunities to make it even more accessible. The touch screen offered the potential for an even more intuitive interface for new players, and I hope to build up a community and a gentle sense of competition between players trying to maximise their scores.

Designing for Accessibility and Simplicity

The sliding-tile control system had been successful in my earlier Shifty Trains, which had proven popular with new gamers, so for the Windows prototype it made perfect sense to build on that. Using only the mouse, and avoiding the use of buttons, reduced the need to learn a control system. Translating this to a touch screen made it even easier for players to get to grips with, as players could use a single finger to play the entire game, and it resembled physical sliding-tile puzzles even more. Testing out the iPhone beta on new players was an exciting experience, as it was obvious how easy to pick up and explore the game was.

he basic rules of the game were fairly simple, with few mechanics to learn. Like-coloured gems merge together and become more valuable, rubble blocks your board and must be destroyed with a large gem, and the robbers steal anything they come across. The very first design was based around a stock-market system, where different coloured gems would change in value as the game went on. But when I added the rubble into the prototype, I realised that was all I needed to build up a layer of complexity. Merging gems and clearing space was actually quite therapeutic.

Designing for Complexity

Complexity, as I mentioned above, first started to appear once the rubble was added in, adding a layer of space-management to the game. This created a clear need for the players to compromise. Gems need to be cashed in early to get rid of the rubble, but also need to be made as big as possible to for any significant return. Players need to balance their need for different kinds of gems, investing in clearing rubble quickly and investing in building up the funds demanded to clear the stage.

The higher targets force players to concentrate on larger gems, raising the pressure. The early stages are actually very easy to beat. New players shouldn't be intimidated by the early targets, but experienced players should get through them fairly quickly. An interesting strategy emerged from players of the PC prototype, some who used the early stages to build massive gems due to the low risk, and others who would build gems specifically sized to maximise the clearing of rubble.

When players started developing these kinds of long-term strategies it was clear that I had created something special. But I wanted to add in something extra to expand on the risk factor and bump up the pressure. That is where the robbers came in.

The robbers move around the board and will steal any gems they come across. If you have an already big gem, do you cash it in now to avoid it being stolen, or do you build it bigger and face the risk of losing it? This kind mechanic keeps players on their toes and forces them to make snap decisions.

Simplex: Complexity Emerging from Simplicity

Complexity emerging from simplicity has become a great focus of my game designs, and I tend to refer to it as simplex for short. This is something I sought to achieve in Greedy Bankers, and hope to push even further with my future projects.

To see this kind of design, look to Puyo Pop Fever, Kongai, or Super Smash Bros., all learnable in a few minutes, but all exhibiting competitive scenes striving to maximise players' performance and uncover new strategies. Real-world games like Go and Poker are borne from simplexity, as are sports such as Squash and Football (minus the offside rule, of course).

So where to next? I still have plans to expand Greedy Bankers. Game Center score tables will be added in the first update, to encourage a sense of competitive play that will encourage new play-styels. The above examples are all multiplayer games, and Greedy Bankers is set to join them. The HD iPad version will contain local multiplayer on a shared device, and I hope to introduce Game Center online multiplayer, as a free update, later in the year - watch this space!