Platformer Mechanics

Platformer Mechanics

Some of what we do as we think about Mystic Riders is try to answer the question, what does an MMO look like in 2025? What is the next step in the MMORPG experience? Games such as World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV, and Elder Scrolls Online started the “mount” system for MMOs that is becoming more and more standard.

So, where do we go next?

In Mystic Riders, we want to use a more three dimensional level platformer gaming type of experience that Guild Wars 2 is flirting with in their jump puzzles and huge battle arenas. Make the map of an MMO a more dynamic exploratory experience and use magic and mini-games to enhance the experience.

Games like Sly Cooper, Ratchet and Clank, and Okami allowed the player in a single player mode to explore the map and reach places in varying ways. Sly Cooper can climb ladders and pipes, and sneak along ledges. While Ratchet and Clank gave the character the ability to swim and gadgets to fly, walk on magnetic surfaces, and even change the state of liquids to solids (and back.) In Okami, the player used magic to cause the wind to blow up banners, become small, or even slow down time so they could make that tricky jump.

A platformer by definition has the game set up as a series of ‘platforms.’ So, I’m not going to say that we aren’t going to crib from these games in places, because why mess with what works.

The easiest use of a platform mechanic is to provide places for players to jump between. Whether this is across rivers or up in the mountains or in the marshes.

The next step is because we have a dedicated mount system is to merge these platformer style mechanics with the different racing mini games. Instead of the races being on flat ground, they maybe be more three-dimensional. Having the player doing a dressage routine, but that routine as they turn takes them up a hill or down into a pit.

They don’t want to mess up the routine, because that means they fall and falling is going to hurt.

Or maybe they’re in the mountains on a pony and there is a very thin gully that they have to get through in a set amount of time. This gully could be set up as a clover leaf pattern going up or down or it could be a pole bending pattern where the player has to move quickly in a zig-zag shape.

Or, they’re in a marsh on their draft horses and parts of the marsh are too deep even for their drafts to traverse and instead there is a show jumping race in the middle of the marsh to get them from point A to point B.

There are also other standard platformer game options, like rebuilding bridges. (We have a puzzle game for that.) Unlocking different doors in various ways. Or you might have to own a specific type of horse in order to move the tree that blocking the path. (That is if you don’t have rot/disease magic.)

Using platformer mechanics in the environment will give the player something to puzzle out and more places to explore once they gain more magic and unlock districts than simply riding from point A to point B and hope for some hills or mountain paths.

Now how can we utilize magic in our platformer mechanics? For this, we need to look to Okami and Ratchet and Clank. You can lower and raise water. Turn water from liquid to a solid. Use the wind to turn a windmill and move bridges. Summon lightning to power a door or a dam. You can use magic to grow plants and make a ‘natural bridge.’ You can use magic to lift and lower rocks. Or to grow big and small. Or even to tame a pegasus and glide between extra long platforms.

The possibilities of how to make a map more dynamic with magic and mini-games really in only limited to the imagination of the game devs. Having different areas of the map only accessible if the player has mastered certain types of magic will hopefully encourage the player to explore the map multiple times.

They never know what they might discover and the secrets they could unearth.

Even if that means they have to become tiny like a bug or tame a pegasus.

The Games Within the Game

The Games Within the Game

Mini-Games. I have touched a lot on mini-games while talking about every other mechanic thus far in the game! Part of our vision for the next stage of MMOs is incorporated mini-games inside the game itself. The biggest examples I can think of is the different hacking style mini games in Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank. The biggest mini- games that most MMOs have are their fishing mini-games. (Almost every MMO I know about has a fishing mini-game in it one way or the other. The original Guild Wars being the weird exception to this.)

Our target demographic, being female, really enjoy smaller style app games like bubble shooter, connect three, and puzzle style mini games. Women love hidden object games as well. When a single player game is made for little girls like oh, Tangled, or Disney Princess Adventures, a huge part of the gameplay is integrated mini-games and puzzles. We want to take this out of the single player game and put it into the MMO style game.

MMO games don’t have to be 100% fetch and escort quests, and drag and drop items into glowing sparkling fields. Because, that gets tedious. We know it does. We’ve all been there playing a game for the story or hoping to get to the end game for the PvP battles and been stuck endless grinding in fetch quests in order to level our characters and get new gear. And even in a combat MMO where there are NPCs around that want to hurt you, this gets mind numbing. (And so does the combat depending on the mechanics.)

And horse games, well, the type of horse games there usually are include mini-games such as currying your horse, cleaning the hooves, mucking the stables, and sometimes you get washing your horse and styling your horse with different mane and tail styles and fancy gear.

Feeding and watering your horse usually isn’t involved enough to be turned into a mini-game. With many of those horse games, that’s actually all there is to the game at all! (Which is so disappointing.)

So, here are some mini-games we’re thinking about for Mystic Riders.

Trace the Pattern/Connect the Dots

On your screen would be a pattern, or a set of dots. The player uses their mouse to trace the pattern or to select the dots in the right order to complete the pattern. Examples where this can be used: casting magic, doing hair in the hair salon, sewing a garment. Magic is the biggest place where we expect to use the trace the pattern mini game.

Bubble Shooter

The player has to shoot groups of bubbles in the right order to clear the screen. Mostly for magically locked places, such as the Mirror World.

Puzzles

Find the pieces in the area and fit them together. Good for making bridges, restoring artwork, or putting furniture and musical instruments together.

Pattern Match Mini-Game

The player is given rows and columns of items. There is a pattern, set number of items they have to match in each row. They need to move the items around before they’re put together at the bottom of the screen. Good for cooking and brewing, possibly cloth making, and so on.

The Slide Bar Mini-Game

The player watches a bar on the screen with a slider that goes back and forth. When the slider is in a specific spot of the bar (often a different color) the player clicks the screen to stop it. Useful for anytime that timing and accuracy is important. Could be used for forging, archery, and fishing.

Light Pattern Mini-Game

Sometimes, things just need to be a certain color. Whether or not it’s a set of lamps keeping a gate closed, or a group of Christmas Spirits that got caught up in the fun of Halloween, they need to be changed. Make the lights the right color, doors may unlock, secret places may reveal themselves, and Christmas can be saved.

Falling Objects

The sky is falling! Oh my. Oh, it’s just fruit and nuts you say. Well, carry on then. In the falling object game, the player runs around the screen to catch items before they hit the ground or direct falling items to specific spots. (These games should be easy. Easy I say!) Usually there is some sort of catastrophe going on. Or maybe the farmer needs your help to catch their apples before they hit the ground.

Pet Puzzles

The player guides their pet to go through mazes, push levers, press buttons, and sit on different pressure points in order to unlock certain gates and doors. Pets don’t do that you say? Well, this is Astranar and there’s magic. Mostly for having a good time with your pet, or Mirror World people don’t think the same we do about locks.

Clean the Screen

The player has to clean the screen with their mouse to reveal what’s under the dirt and grime. Mostly for archaeology.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of the mini game options that are available to us as game devs. These are the ones that we think would be the most entertaining and make the most sense. For mini games such as horse brushing and hoof picking, I’d want to consult with experts to make them more “realistic” and also make them completely optional.

Without a combat system, it is imperative that we give the players a variety of ways to advance the game, so they don’t become bored with what they are expected to do to continue the story. Thus, our answer is mini-games.

A Single Player MMORPG

A Single Player MMORPG

Game Dev Becca and I want Mystic Riders to be a Single Player MMORPG. Bear with me, this isn’t an oxymoron. It comes from both of our experience playing games and the type of games we enjoy, plus, some game marketing research I discovered about solo players.

The common thought around MMO player games is that they are designed to be social games that are played cooperatively where players form groups to complete tasks that are usually “defeat this mega boss.” Personally, I think this is a rather limiting way to view the MMO experience. And my desire for a MMO game that I can finish by myself drives this opinion. Especially since I play for story!

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MMO means massive multiplayer online, and that doesn’t mean that players should be forced to be social and form groups to cooperatively figure things out. It simply means that there are a lot of players online in the game at the same time. The idea of standard cooperative play comes from the popularity of one of the first MMOs, World of Warcraft. Everyone (sans a couple of games) has jumped onto that cooperative MMO play model because WoW did it and was so successful.

However, even in the original MMO gaming experience, there were 8 types of players. (Some even defined 16 players.) They were labeled free spirits and consumers. They were looking to get the most out of the game on their own with as little interaction as possible. And as MMOs and Games as Services have taken over the gaming community as each MMO tries to grab as much of the fanbase as possible. There has been a backlash over it. Remember this Meme?

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People want single player games. (But I doubt the industry is going to give up on MMO Games as Services any time soon.)

Girls prefer narrative play. In an MMO geared towards girls, it simply makes sense to have the narrative story option of the story be single player. They can still form groups and play and experience the story together, but that is optional. A game that has done this quite successfully is Star Stable Online. (Though there are some players that want cooperative play and the day they do that, is the day I stop playing SSO at all.)

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But there are other reasons why having a story line that a player can finish by themselves without help from others is better than a cooperative story function. And this deals with those free spirit and consumer type gamers. Since, in an MMO, a person who wants to be a social gamer will be able to be a social gamer no matter if the story is “single player” or not.

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1. People have less time.

Kids. Adults. We’re all over scheduled. We don’t have time to sit down and coordinate with our “friends” all over the world when we’re going to get together and run a dungeon. Mystic Riders is geared towards teenagers. Teenagers have school work, after school activities, and hopefully friends they’re hanging out with face to face. Having a single player story mode lets them start and stop the story whenever they need to get off and have dinner without worrying that their leaving is going to inconvenience someone else. If you have to schedule your gaming time, it becomes work. And no one really likes their fun becoming work!

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2. Communities are Toxic.

MMO communities in games that force grouping also come with the huge downside of people simply being cruel and mean to one another. There is a lot of gate keeping. People who aren’t as good at the mechanics of the game get bullied. When you’re going into a game to relax and have fun and find the community hateful, it’s not fun. It’s not relaxing. Forced socialization turns people off. With a single player story mode, players can figure the mechanics out on the their own. They can take the story at their own pace. See everything they want to see. And they can shut out the community if they want to for their own peace of mind.

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3. People Have Anxiety/Don’t like Strangers.

Some folks aren’t extroverts. Somewhere along the line, society has determined that being an extrovert is “normal.” Well, no, it’s not. Being an introvert isn’t a bad thing. Being an introvert is normal too! Socializing is stressful for some gamers. When they play a game, they don’t want to socialize. They want to have fun! So, in a game designed for a younger audience, having the ability to monitor your child and see who they are playing with or even turning chat off so they don’t have to interact with strangers if they don’t want to interact with strangers. (Or you don’t want them interacting with strangers.) Is simply another tool to have peace of mind that you’re going to have a fun, safe experience in a game.

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4. It’s more immersive.

Playing by yourself allows you to take the story at your own pace, to explore the world and discover the lore at your own leisure. There is no pressure to get through someplace quickly or have more mastery of the game mechanics than you do. If you want to craft, you can craft. If you want to decorate your house, or change your avatars clothes, you can. It makes the world more alive.

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Players who are loners in the game often play because they want to really be in the game’s world and MMOs offer a variety of activities (questing, crafting, farming) and customization options that single players simply don’t, everything from avatars, to clothes, to housing. Forcing players into groups is restrictive and really limits the amount of players that will play your game long term.

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Social players will always find a way to group. Solo players will give your game a pass if forced to group up.

All pictured comments in this post are from a GDC Video about Loner Players in MMOs. The video was nonsense, the comments were enlightening, including that 70% of Black Desert Online’s player base (an MMO known for it’s grind and endgame PvP) were Solo players and didn’t care about grouping or end game PvP content. It’s time to stop catering to the 30% who get to the end and cater to the 70% that make up the core of the game’s players. Let’s make video games better!

MMOs a (Female) Gamer’s Perspective Pt. 2

MMOs a (Female) Gamer’s Perspective Pt. 2

(This post was originally post on Ginny O’s blog on March 22, 2018. All thoughts in this post are Ginny’s opinion.)

tumblr_pm2fzvRXrc1uokf2mo1_1280Last week, I discussed four of my priorities as a female gamer. And there ended up being eight of them and the post got out of hand. So, I handily was able to cut it in the middle. Last week I said that when it came to MMOrpg style games, my first four priorities were story, world building, customization (oh pretty!) and a simple user interface. The rest of these don’t have a weighted importance and are more considerations that I take into my gaming experience equally.

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MMOs a (Female) Player’s Perspective Pt. 1

MMOs a (Female) Player’s Perspective Pt. 1

(This post was originally posted on Ginny O.’s blog on March 15, 2018. All thoughts in this post are Ginny’s opinion.)

kurtzperson1One of my favorite game genres to play is the Massive Multiplayer Online preferably RPG or Role Playing Game. There is something about being able to run about in a huge (aka massive) world as a three dimensional character effecting the outcome of the story. (And flinging about magic, I won’t deny it.) It’s probably the same reason why my other favorite genre is the platformer. Games like Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter and I-Ninja put the main character as the focus of the game. Their hero journey is as important as the game’s overall story.

And apparently so do a lot of other people, as games such as World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 2 and Wizards 101 have large player populations all over the world. There is something about completing quests, learning new skills and defeating bad guys that is extremely satisfying to many people. There is a science behind this and to an extent that science is why so many people get addicted to these types of games.

So, what keeps the players of these games playing (beyond the scientific feelings of validation as tasks are completed and numbers go up?) What makes up a good MMOrpg? The following reasons are my own opinion. Others opinions may vary, but these are the opinions that keep paying for and playing a game.

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Get to Know Your Devs: Top Fav Games

Get to Know Your Devs: Top Fav Games

Today we’re going to talk a little bit about what our favorite games are, and what you can see they mean for Mystic Riders as a whole. Why? Because our favorites are (inevitably) going to affect what sort of features we want to see in the game, and the kind of stories that we enjoy.

So to start with, Becca’s list is a little…all over the place. The most obviously vintage of the group is Barbie Riding Club from 1998, a PC game that in many ways started the girls’ gaming phenomena but is sadly no longer replayable. (Because yes, she would play it again, Becca will play any game she loves multiple times.) It was the best substitute for owning a horse a girl could have. There’s also Jak & Daxter, which is a console game of the fantasy, chosen one type variety, that she wasn’t able to finish due to the game mechanics being not in her favor. She grew up with the Legend of Zelda franchise, but the first one she played and her favorite still is Windwaker–it gave the characters such great expressions and had a story that was outside of the norm for the game while still being within the box that is Zelda. (And the new Princess Zelda from Breath of the Wild drove her bonkers.)

She has a hard time picking her favorite Pokémon game–Yellow was her first, Crystal was the first to let her actually play as a girl and has all of her favorite legendaries, Stadium 2 had the best mini-games ever, and Moon lets the Pokémon actually interact in the outside world more–but her favorite remains X. She just loves the world building too much, the region easily being her favorite with its French roots, and it was the first that allowed customization of the avatar to really let the player express themselves. Her last on her big list of favorites is Professor Layton and the Curious Village. While there are frustrating aspects to the game and some of the puzzles are harder than others, she enjoys the way the story winds through the characters and the “twist” ending that while mildly surprising, isn’t a complete shocker for the player either.

Ginny’s list is more easily nailed down to a theme (though Becca had to do some meshing to make this list, lol). With Caesar IV, she gets to make her own city and make it as pretty as possible (such as all the roads and the pattern tiles), as well as optimizing the layout to make everyone happy. Cooking games like Cake Mania gives her the satisfaction of getting the high score under the time constraints to unlock all the extras, and Cake Mania is particularly good about it because there aren’t a ton of micro transactions hiding in the levels. Roads of Rome gives her the satisfaction of doing things in the right order, especially since the later levels will punish you if you don’t, and the fact it’s repairing things rather than combat.

There was a lot that she loved about Ratchet & Clank. From the story, to the fact the original game’s worlds were just the right size to inspire wonder without getting overwhelming, but the first thing she mentioned was the fact the game was set up to be about exploring and collecting items, as well as a few well-timed explosions. Kingdom Hearts hits the nostalgia, the comfort of familiar stories and getting to interact with them as well as taking something old and making it new. (It was also her first platformer game.) With Okami, she loved the concept of using magic to heal the world and the mechanics that let the player see the impact their actions were having. She also found the puzzles seamless in their integration, and that you had to think on them.

What about games the two game devs share? There’s two sets of them. One is Final Fantasy X and its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2. For Becca, it’s all about the story. The characters are great (okay, Tidus is a bit grating, but he gets better), and some of the best parts of it are the fact you can influence the story in small ways to really make your mark on it. Becca really liked the callbacks to X in X-2, but that it was being it’s own story at the same time. For Ginny, her favorite part of X is pretty limited to Rikku punching Tidus in the stomach as a greeting. For her, X-2 was what really hit the mark because it focused on Yuna and Yuna’s grief and feelings about her journey and the aftermath. It also presented three very different types of girl, with girls having agency in their own story. And then the job system is her favorite, as imperfect as it might be, she liked it the best by far.

The other is the Sly Cooper series, though there are some strong feelings on them, especially the last one, lol. Becca likes that it isn’t about combat, it’s about sneaking and collecting items, and the importance of history to the present. (Once combat started happening, it started irking her.) There is character growth between games too, which is great. She just wishes they hadn’t done a cliffhanger ending with no follow through and that Carmelita had gotten a better treatment. For Ginny, the third game, Sly Cooper: Band of Thieves remains her favorite. Sucker Punch really hit their stride with the mechanics at that point, including different mini-games depending on the situation that made sense and fit the game play so the player wasn’t confused as to why it existed. It was also really about Sly’s ancestors and start delving into the lore of the world. She did miss the “tink tink” of the first two games though.

So what does all of this mean for Mystic Riders? Well, between the game devs, there is obviously an importance placed on story, which you already knew, but not just on story being the focus. It has to give the female protagonist agency, it has to be about their story as much as it is about the side characters, as fun as they can be. The mini-games have to be fun, and yet mesh well and make sense with the world, which can’t be so large it’s overwhelming or too small so you don’t have enough to explore. While the player has some influence on the greater story, it is within reasonable limits and gives in to their expectations rather than being surprising just to be surprising or not making sense. And rather than combat, it is focused on puzzles and improving the world, with some elements of time management but not enough to drive anyone batty.

Think this helped you understand what sort of game we are looking to build? Let us know in the comics or on twitter!

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The Barbie Horse Riding Adventure Phenomena from Ernest Adams

“I used to work at Electronic Arts for EA sports, and about 1995 I went to one of the Big Shot Executive Producers at EA Sports. I said, ‘I’ve got a brilliant idea.’ I said, ‘Let’s make a game about horses. There are a lot of horse sports. There’s rodeo and dressage and show jumping and cross country and flat racing and all kinds of other stuff like that and if we do that, we will own every little girl between the ages of nine and twelve in the world. And he, of course the Executive Producer was a he, he said, ‘No, no, no. Girls don’t play video games.’ And I said, ‘They might play video games if there were some games they wanted to play.’ And he said, ‘No, no, no. We don’t like girls. We don’t know about girls. We don’t care about girls. We’re not interested in girls. Go away. Shut up. Do your job.’ And so that was the end of that. That Christmas what happens? Out comes Barbie Horse Riding Adventure. It is colossal, and one week it was the biggest selling PC game on the charts outstripping all the shoot em ups and everything else…”

~ Ernest Adams; “Girl Games of the 1990s: A Retrospective” GDC 2018