Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Pinball design - part 3: Let the game birth the rules

There are always some chunks of rules that have to come from flipping the game.

After flipping a game for the first few times you begin to realize that certain sequences of shots are fun, just kinetically. Therefore it’s really clear to me that you have to build at least some rules around the player performing that sequence.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation it was clear from flipping the game that there needed to be a special rule for shooting the left orbit followed by the left ramp. Thus the Picard Maneuver was born.

Terminator 2 is an example of a game that was largely birthed from flipping. When Steve Ritchie, Doug Watson, and I first started flipping the whitewood, it was plain that shooting the left and right ramps back and forth should be a big part of the game. Shooting that whitewood for the first time was lots of fun because it has really good flow.

Clearly when you shoot either ramp the goal should be to then shoot its counterpart. Each alternating ramp shot would build a ladder of lights until you reached the top. Also it was more fun if you did it quickly. So I added incentive for shooting the counterpart within a few seconds with the million plus rule.

But what should happen then? PAYBACK TIME! At first payback time was only awarded on the ramps. The thinking was you got here from being in a groove and shooting the ramps over and over. The rub came when people would miss their first 5 MILLION ramp shot and then flail and not get control of the ball for a length of time. Then the time would run out. So again the rules were changed / created from flipping the game; we made it so you could collect Payback Time from more than just the ramps.

Today games are more complicated. A great deal of the design work is done in team meetings and on paper. We often don’t have enough time to let the game tell you what the main rules will be. Once we get a whitewood a large percentage of the core rules have to be somewhat thought out.

Although, it’s not a good idea to completely design a game without flipping it. If you start flipping certain shots or sequence of shots and it is not easy or fun? Then you are stuck you cannot put in the rules you have mapped out there.