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