Today, I had a chance to partner with a classmate for a Game Lab, in which we played and observed the partner play some video games. We played the games for 5 minutes and discussed the game in the MDA viewpoint (Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics). In a total of six games, I played three of them, including This is the Only Level, QWOP, and Canabalt. In this blog post, I will discuss three games that I played, the connection between the first two games, and the experience between playing and observing gameplay.
First, This is the Only Level is a simple game that has ever-changing mechanics. The basic objective of the game is to move an elephant-like character from the starting point on the left side to the tunnel on the right side of the platform. The spikes are the only obstacles that I need to avoid. The most interesting point in this game is how the layout of the game stays the same (except for the color theme), but the mechanics change differently. For instance, in the first level, I can just use the arrow keys to move left and right, and the up arrow key is for jumping. On the next level, the direction of the keys is reversed. One of the other levels makes the character jump automatically very high, and another one you cannot use the arrow keys at all but to use the mouse to click and drag the character. This implementation of changing mechanics keeps the game interesting and challenging simultaneously. Based on the gameplay, I can categorize this game as Challenge, in terms of aesthetics.
Second, QWOP has very simple mechanics but is extremely difficult and crazily fun. I played as a runner that I controlled his thigh with the Q and W key and calves with the O and P key. The objective of the game is to control his legs to run forward as far as I could. However, I could barely make the character progress on the track and ended up making him pose very weird (fall facing down, stretching legs, splitting legs, and so on with anything you could think of). QWOP can be listed as Challenge and Fantasy.
Third, Canabalt is a fast-paced running game with a beautiful pixel art style, as if you are in an action movie. The objective of the game is to keep the character running on buildings’ top and sometimes moving through the buildings, as long as possible. The character runs and speeds up automatically. The only mechanics is to hit the C or X key to jump. The jump mechanic allows the character to avoid the obstacles, which can slow down the character. If the character hits a wall, the game will end immediately and tell how far the charater ran. Its simple mechanics and endless outcome are the factors that make the game addictive. From an aesthetic viewpoint, this game can be categorized as Challenge and Fantasy.
Comparing the first two games, This is the only Level and QWOP, they have both similarities and differences. The main similarity of these games is their aesthetic viewpoint, as both can be considered as Challenge, in which the player overcomes the games’ obstacles. Also, the objectives of the games are similar as the players try to progress as long as possible. Dynamic-wise, both games give me some moments of frustration, for some mechanics make the game seemingly impossible to move on. They also don’t focus on the narrative but on how the players try to be more skillful in the game.
Both games use only a few buttons to progress, but the mechanics are very different. While This is the only Level has ever-changing mechanics in each stage while QWOP only needs four keys to control two thighs and two calves. Although I did not finish both games, This is the only Level appears to have checkpoint mechanics, where you can respawn after death and restart at the current level (not from the first level). Meanwhile, QWOP uses an endless run and best-high-score mechanic that, if the player is highly skillful at this game, the character can run forever on the track until he falls. Whenever he is down, the players restart the game from the beginning. From this mechanic comparison, QWOP is similar to Canabalt.
My classmate and I both played and observed the other play the first two games, and I noticed a few differences in the experience. Observing let me see my partner take control and make the decisions in the games. When I play the games myself, I have a full sense of involvement and have stronger emotions (frustrating, exciting, curious) that the playing experience brings about. Also, for observing, I can focus more on analyzing how my classmate reacts to a certain point or mechanics in the game. Meanwhile, when I played the game, I focused more on how to control the character and to progress through the game. To me, observing a play is similar to a game developer’s perspective while playing the games myself can be considered as the player’s perspective.