2010/03/10

Flydrill and Logistical Gameplay

Want to know why I haven't written a blog post in two months?

I've been making a game.

It's called Flydrill.

Explore an infinite dream world. Survive an endless nightmare. How far can you fly?

On the 23rd of October, in 2008, I had a dream where I was this little abstract flying thing like the flier from Flywrench. I was in a maze of square tiles, and I could drill to the right. Little swarming dots chased after me. When I woke up, I decided to turn it into a real game.

And so, more than a year later, I did - with a bit of help from some helpful people, an exceedingly helpful game engine, and some "inspiration" from Canabalt, Left 4 Dead, and Pac-Man Championship Edition. Though I've only ever played one of those games. I'll let you guess which one.

But I'm not here to go on and on about how I made this game. I've already done that, in this thread on the Flixel forums. And I'll probably be posting another blog post, soon, about how to get Flixel and Mochi Live Updates and the Newgrounds API all working nicely together. But this isn't it.

Every time I release a game, I discover new blind spots in my understanding of game design. This latest game is no exception. The feedback I've gotten on Newgrounds and Kongregate has led me to some interesting new hypotheses about the basic principles of Flash game design.

Here they are.

...but first, a screen shot!

I've become convinced that Logistical gameplay is the single most important factor in predicting a Flash game's eventual success or failure. Of secondary importance is the Tactical gameplay. Flydrill is the first game I've made where the Tactical gameplay is really solid - in fact, I think it's better than most Flash games in this regard - but it has no Logistical gameplay to speak of. And the player response shows it - great reviews, but a mediocre overall rating.

If my hypothesis is correct, then adding Logistical gameplay to Flydrill should make it a very successful game in terms of portal ratings and popularity.

So, what is "Logistical gameplay" anyway?

I first came across this term in the book 21st Century Game Design by Chris Bateman. Corresponding to the four personality types in the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, he identifies four categories of gameplay skills: Strategic, Diplomatic, Logistical, and Tactical. My own analysis is based on the research in the book. Read it if you want to learn more.

According to Wikipedia, "Logistics is the management of the flow of goods, information and other resources, including energy and people, between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet the requirements of consumers."

What does this mean for games? When it comes to Flash games, at least, Logistical gameplay often means lots of upgrades and items and achievements to serve as the requirements for in-game resources, and various ways to convert player time and skill into these in-game resources, whether experience points or virtual cash.

But logistics isn't just about grinding for an achievement. All gameplay revolves around choices.

Logistical gameplay (read more) revolves around choosing how to allocate your resources - which upgrades to invest in, how much to spend, how much to save, and how to manage your time and effort effectively for the greatest payoff. The pleasure of Logistical gameplay is not in simply doing something, but in doing it well - optimizing it to perfection. This is why achievements are so important. They give the player a reason to excel, which creates Logistical gameplay.

There are many Flash games that focus on Logistical gameplay. But the best example that I've found is a little game called Toss the Turtle. Actually, it's not little at all, it's big - packed with items and upgrades to buy, achievements to earn, and tons of variables to tweak and improve on the way to the perfect turtle toss. You can see this formula repeated in many top-rated games, from Learn to Fly to Infectonator : World Dominator. Why? Logistics. Each of these games is heavily Logistical, with a bit of Tactics thrown in.

But what is Tactics?

Tactical gameplay (read more) is about the choices you make from moment to moment in the midst of action. This can be anything from dodging bullets to matching gems - in general, reading the situation of the moment and responding in the most appropriate way.

In Toss the Turtle, the Tactical gameplay consists of choosing when to shoot your turtle for extra height, and using the arrow keys to slightly adjust the turtle's trajectory. It's not much, but it gives players some non-Logistical skills to work on between trips to the upgrade shop.

But the purest example of Tactical gameplay that I've seen so far is the ingeniously simple Particles. All you do is avoid the bouncing balls for as long as you can - no upgrades, no story, no fancy graphics. But the gameplay it creates is very effective, and very Tactical - reading and responding to constantly shifting patterns of safety and danger.

There are other types of gameplay that tend to be less critical for success in the Flash game market - namely, Strategy and Diplomacy. But these can be very important for long-term success, because these are the deeper skills valued by hardcore players.

Strategic gameplay (read more) is about imagining solutions to complex problems, and this skill is most often catered to in Flash by puzzle games. Fantastic Contraption is the perfect example of this. Its commercial success may have something to do with the fact that it is based on Strategic rather than Logistical or Tactical gameplay - as I mentioned earlier, Strategic gameplay tends to be favored by more dedicated players, who are perhaps more willing to pay for the experience.

But also important to mention is that Fantastic Contraption also supports Logistical gameplay, because each puzzle is predefined, and the solution can be discovered by trial and error - in other words, Logistical optimization - if no ingenious Strategic insights come to mind. This means that all the players who prefer Logistical gameplay will still get some enjoyment of the game, rating it highly and sharing it with their friends, even if they don't like it enough to pay for it.

Diplomatic gameplay (read more) is about understanding and reconciling differences while preserving individuality, a skill that is rarely catered to by Flash games. We just don't know how to make Diplomatic games - not yet, at least. But there is one genre that begins to approach Diplomatic gameplay - in a very rough and rudimentary way, but still, it's Diplomatic more than anything else. Can you guess what it is?

No? I'm talking about spot-the-difference games. The gameplay in these games is not Strategic, Logistical, or Tactical. It's about finding the discrepancies between two different points of view, and resolving these differences. Diplomacy, abstracted. Difference games often support interesting artwork or involved storylines - see Dream or 4 Differences for example - which can provide players with a sort of imagined Diplomacy of conflicts to resolve and different characters to empathize with, even if it has nothing to do with the actual gameplay.

So that's some interesting background information. But why would I say that Logistical gameplay is the single most important factor in predicting a Flash game's eventual success or failure?

On page 91 of 21st Century Game Design, I came across a table citing this study on the distribution of the Myers-Briggs personality types across the general US population.

Here's what I found:
  • 50% of the US population prefers Logistical skills (SJ)
  • 25% of the US population prefers Tactical skills (SP)
  • 15% of the US population prefers Diplomatic skills (NF)
  • 10% of the US population prefers Strategic skills (NT)
No wonder Logistics is so essential!

If you make a game that focuses exclusively on Logistical and Tactical gameplay, you will automatically capture 75% of your potential market. If you focus exclusively on Tactical gameplay, as I did with Flydrill, you will capture only 25% of players. Oops.

Hmm, that explains a lot.

Tower defense games effectively combine Logistics and Tactics into a single package, which helps explain their popularity and continued success. Puzzle games combine Logistics and Strategy. And the only reason we don't see more Diplomatic games is that no one knows how to make them. Difference games are the closest we've come.

So there you have it. If you want to make a Flash game that appeals to the majority of players, you must be sure to include some excellent Logistical gameplay. How to do that, of course, is the subject for another blog post. ;)

Until next time...

awesome score yay! :D

15 comments:

David Barnes said...

I've been giving this post a lot of thought. The 4 gameplay styles are very interesting.

I don't agree that Flydrill is pure tactics. In fact, I wonder if one of the difficulties with it is that it exposes too many gameplay styles right from the start.

You have the immediate tactical need to dodge moving things. Then you have logistic decisions about whether to drill through walls or go around things. There's also some "diplomacy" if we take that as the need to understand the game world -- there's some "mapping" involved.

And so on... right from the start, it's sophisticated game play.

The main lesson I'd take from the 4 kinds of gameplay you mention are:

- At the start of the game, expose players to simple tactical or logistical play only -- most people will be naturally disposed to this style of play
- Then introduce some extra tactics or logistics
- Later introduce the need for strategy and diplomacy as the player becomes more sophisticated

If you take a game like Plants vs Zombies, you start off needing only to worry about logistics (having enough sun to grow plants). Then you need to be more tactical, making sure you plant pea shooters in response to oncoming zombies, and keep building as pea shooters get overwhelmed.

As you advance, the tactical and resource management play becomes more sophisticated. In the later stages you need to think strategically too -- figuring out the best way to organize your plants so as to combine defence and attack.

It also occurs to me that Pacman is a brilliant combination of tactics (running away from ghosts) and logistics (finding an efficient path to cover the whole maze), which might be why it has an enduring appeal with casual players.

axcho said...

Hmm, you may be right. I still think the biggest problem with Flydrill is the (relative) lack of Logistical gameplay, but I know it also has a very chaotic introduction, as opposed to games that present one simple idea at a time, in sequence, until the player gets it.

Though there are some logistical decisions in Flydrill, I would argue that these are not the kinds of logistical decisions that are very satisfying to players looking for Logistical gameplay. They are pretty minor. Drilling through walls or going around things is still very tactical - more about "reading" the situation than planning investments, since your choice has little consequence after a few seconds.

Pac-Man does a lot of things right. Another advantage it has over Flydrill is that it constantly rewards the player as they gobble up dots every second, while Flydrill saps the player's life force until they finally succumb. Not everyone is going to like that.

I really appreciate you thinking about these ideas and taking the time to write such an in-depth reply. And thanks for the post on your blog! :)

A few points I feel obliged to clarify, however. I am male, first of all. Though being female is cool too. Also, I generally prefer the name "axcho" to be completely lowercase, not capitalized. Like the 'i' in iPhone. Not a big deal though. Just thought I should let you know. ;)

David Barnes said...

Sorry about getting your name and sex wrong. You can tell how bad I'd be at diplomatic games.

Elsa said...

Barnes, axcho, regarding your disagreement, I think it might be important to should distinguish between a "hypothesis" and "philosophy". A hypothesis can be tested, scientifically, whereas a philosophy might be defended on fuzzier grounds, usually semantic in nature. Anyway, I think arguing that anything is "purely this" or "purely that" makes a more difficult case of it. Extremes are hard to defend.
Anyhow, axcho, I think you bring up an interesting point regarding the timescale of the decision required by a player in your game. While the decision to "drill" or "penetrate" may be of crucial importance, given the timescale of these even over the entire game the overall efficiency of your outcome is probably not effected as much by logistics or diplomacy (in some "reflexive" sense of the word) as it is by tactics. In short, I agree with ms./mr. axcho.

~ Elsa

P.S. - And my original comment before I saw this thread -- LOVE your imagination. I've never been so inspired by a dream. It's somewhat prophetic in a way :)

KirbyKid said...

Excellent post. It gave me things to think about.

Krystian Majewski said...

Good observations!

But watch out, following structures like Myers-Brigg can be a dangerous thing. They are actually not quite as scientific as they appear. Check out the Criticism section of
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myers-Briggs_Type_Indicator for starters

"However, neither the Myers-Briggs nor the Jungian models offer any scientific, experimental proof to support the existence, the sequence, the orientation, or the manifestation of these functions."

That doesn't mean that your conclusions are false. But it can mean that they are not the only way to improve the design.

The thing I was missing was a more clearer definition of the role you play. In Canabalt you are a guy fleeing from danger in a catastrophic Sci-Fi scenario. There is immediate and obvious motivation. In Flywrench I know what to do (go right) but it is not clear why? When will it end? Who am I? How do I know if I went far enough? So I find that I run out of motivation to continue playing quickly, especially as the game offers little resistance at first. Creating a clearer sense of the player's role could also simplify communicating the game to your audience.

Remember that even Flywrench has scraps of embedded narrative. Even if they are cryptic. Actually, the cryptic ones often turn out to be the most motivating ones - see the TV Series LOST.

axcho said...

Late response, but yes Krystian, I think you're right about the clarity of role (goal and actions) being at least as important as Logistical gameplay in this case.

There are, of course, many ways to look at game design - which Chris Bateman would be the first to admit. The Myers-Briggs approach is just one of many that I've investigated and described in this blog post. I collect these models of game design like some people collect Pokemon. ;)

Flydrill throws everything at the player in an undifferentiated, continuous mass of rules, tokens, and goals. It's too much to absorb at once, except for players with a lot of prior game experience. Looking back, I'm sure it would have been much more accessible with a structure of levels, which would each introduce one new element until the player understood the entire system.

Even more fundamental is the number of skills that the game involves. Because there are so many different actions to the game, despite the simple controls, it cannot be treated like a casual game. Unlike Canabalt. The simple structure of Canabalt is not really appropriate for a game as complex as Flydrill.

The lack of Logistical gameplay is just one of many problems with Flydrill. Still, I think it's worth discussing here, since I haven't seen it discussed anywhere else.

Elsa said...

You intelligence is sexy. We should finally get together.

Love,

Elsa

axcho said...

Uhh, thanks? :p You're not a spambot, are you?

Dagda said...

I keep meaning to say: This is some really good stuff. I've had a similar analysis of my own (No idea if you're aware of it, or whether I've even mentioned it on notgames), but it was limited to Tactics and Strategy as two ends of a spectrum, with the latter being a catch-all for long-term gameplay. Your concepts for Strategic and Logistical gameplay are much more interesting and effective ways of thinking about the systems involved.

I do think there's one major type of gameplay you're omitting, typically referred to as "action" or "Skill-based" gameplay- getting headshots in a rail shooter, landing where you want to in a platformer, and taking advantage of the full set of moves available to a character in a fighting game. Games that continue to provide engaging and substantive challenges even after you've decided on your course of action, by staking the ultimate outcome partly or wholly on the execution.

Perhaps more important, though, is the lesson I learned from Resident Evil 4. Consider the ridiculously engaging core gameplay of this title, which simultaneously offers substantive challenges on multiple interrelated levels- Skill (making quick, accurate shots against your enemy's vitals), Logistics (do I use one of my healing green herbs, or try to tough it out until I find the ingredient that combines with it to produce something more potent?), and Tactics (Okay, I think I can get another two shots off and still have time to dive out the JESUS CHRIST CHAINSAW).

So what's the lesson I see in this? Well-executed gameplay of a single type is like a delicious snack food- tasty and addictive in limited servings, but not something that'll hold you for hours upon hours. But give the human brain gameplay that simultaneously engages it in multiple ways/areas, and it's like a four-course meal; nutritious and delicious.

axcho said...

Thanks. I'd probably use the word "dexterity" to describe the type of skill that you're referring to. You could consider it a variation on tactics, though depending on the game it could make sense to put it in an entirely separate category.

I agree about engaging the brain on all four (or five) levels in the same game being the key to a wholesome, nutritiously balanced experience. I guess even casual games could do that...

jlouie said...

Hey Alex, I love this post it goes into the why game mechanics are setup the way they are, namely psychology behind games.

I got your name from Elpizo, one of your capoeira mates. I'm interested into getting into developing games and loved your posts.

Any chance you'd be interested in grabbing coffee?

Justin

axcho said...

Hey Justin, glad you liked the post. Send me an email and we can schedule something. :)

nadine a. said...

Interesting post! I have never heard of Logical, Tactical, etc. gameplay before. I'll have to read the book that you mentioned, especially I don't feel that I understand quite what Diplomatic gameplay is.

"Tactical gameplay" reminds me of Zoran constantly discouraging people from developing "twitch" games in our Capstone because it would alienate too much of the audience, for whom the fact thinking and reaction required by twitch games will just appeal to them the same way Angry Birds and Zynga's asynchronous games might. Then again, we were attempting the feat of creating social games that quarter.

axcho said...

I don't think even the author of the book really understands Diplomatic gameplay, actually. :p

Most social games I've seen are heavily Logistical. These days I make a distinction between "Dexterity" and "Tactics" in games, especially in the iPhone space. With this definition, twitch games like Doodle Jump or Fruit Ninja involve Dexterity, while games like Bejeweled or Flight Control involve Tactical gameplay.