Posts Tagged ‘Mobile


Terra Battle


I’ve spent the past few weeks playing Terra Battle, a free-to-play game from Mistwalker.  Aside from Mistwalker’s previous games, Terra Battle caught my interest because of the involvement of contributors from some of my favorite game series, including Final Fantasy and Drakengard.  Even with the caveats of free-to-play game design, there was little to lose in loading this on to my phone and trying it out.

To my knowledge, this is the studio’s first attempt at a mobile game of this scale.  While many of those on the project have considerable experience designing games for consoles, I wondered how such an experience would translate to a touch-based system, or if this would be something entirely different from what I might be expecting.  From what I’ve seen so far, Terra Battle mixes elements from console RPG titles that have come before it with mobile puzzle games.  Let’s take a closer look.

Terra Battle’s gameplay takes place on a 6 x 8 board where your party, enemies, hazards, and power-ups can be placed.  Every turn has you moving a character around the board, and then any enemy with a turn counter of 0 can take a turn.  You move the character by dragging them across the board.  Enemies will block your character from moving through the board, but enemies and power ups will swap places with your character as they proceed through the square.  In this way, you can arrange multiple characters in the same turn.

Once you have arranged characters such that two have been placed side-by-side with one or more enemies in between them, you can execute an attack with those characters.  At the same time, any allies that are adjacent to the characters performing the attack (without an enemy in between them) will be activated and will execute certain skills (heal, buff) or add strength to the attack.  Similar rules apply to enemy turns, but there are options for them to execute attacks without lining up allies in the same way that you are required to.

So here, we find one of the tried and true role playing game mechanics: min/maxing.  You have a timer that depletes as you move your character.  They can move as far as you can drag them, but as soon as the timer ends, the character is placed and attacks are executed.  Your job is to arrange as many characters as you can in as little time as possible to maximize the number and potency of attacks in a turn.  It can be a bit of a mind-twister, but pulling off attacks that dispatch many enemies at once can be very satisfying, even if sometimes it’s not entirely clear why you have.

Outside of the core gameplay system, you are given a series of zones to clear on a map.  Each zone contains a set of 5 to 10 battles, and each battle has about 4 or 5 sets of enemies that have to be dispatched.  You can recruit generic characters using coins you’ve collected in battle, or rarer unique characters using “energy” which is given out sparingly in the game, usually when you’ve completed a zone.

Energy can also be purchased.  And here’s where the paywall comes into effect.  Each battle requires use of stamina in order to initiate it.  If you run out of stamina, you must wait to proceed, or use energy to replenish stamina.  I’ve only found myself running out of stamina on rare occasions, as I only play for short sessions.  More often, I find myself burning through energy to collect rare characters. Terra Battle does offer qualities similar to a collectible card game, though it does not lend itself to impulse purchases to serve that end (speaking for myself anyway.)

If it’s not clear yet, Terra Battle is a complex game that’s almost forced through a simple interface.  There’s a lot to dig in to, but given its complexity and chance in recruiting characters, the level design is not steep or uniform.  It offers a consistently low bar for quite a while that does not challenge you to form unique or novel strategies.  You can certainly still do this, and it is rewarding, but you’re not going to be stopping very often and racking your brain for strategies to complete battles.  This may something that becomes more important further along in the game, but I can say that it’s not a large part of the experience for the first half-dozen zones – a time where the game should be carefully teaching and reinforcing its vocabulary.  There’s plenty to do and learn, but not a whole lot to motivate you to do so.

Ultimately, the game offers some great music, art, and interesting ideas.  And initially, at the price of free, there’s little to stop you from trying it out, but there’s not a whole lot that’s going to keep you around either.  I’m eager to unlock more challenging zones, and collect more characters, but I think Terra Battle would be a better game if it had a more focused experience.  This may be a trade-off for its business model, which would be unfortunate.  I’ve enjoyed my time with the game though, and I hope that continuing development on the title only improves its value.


Dark Souls as a Mobile Game


Mobile games are here to stay, and they’re big business the world over.  It’s a new market that’s rapidly expanding, and publishers are racing to stake a claim in this new frontier.  It’s easy to see the similarities between mobile games and their console brethren.  There’s a lot of pressure on console game publishers to control as much of that space as possible since it (at least in part) eats away at their console gaming market share.  Console gamers also feel that pressure, at least indirectly, when publishers try to bring them along for the ride.  And, it can often be the case, that these games are cynical cash-ins on core gaming audiences.  You don’t have to look any further than to Square-Enix and the Final Fantasy brand.  In some instances, ports of existing games have been effective.  But then there are examples like Final Fantasy: All The Bravest.

On the other side of the spectrum, you see a game like Dark Souls, which holds the continuing respect of many core gamers as an example of a modern game that captures the essence of a core, console gaming experience.  It’s not hard to believe that Namco Bandai sees the brand’s popularity as an opportunity to capture a part of the mobile gaming market.  Digital Spy recently interviewed the publisher’s director of global strategy, Alex Adjaj, and covered just this topic.

We’d like to bring Dark Souls to mobile, but it’s very difficult because the guys at From Software are very much console oriented. … To change their mind about it, it takes quite a while. … But definitely it’s something we could bring to mobile in a very successful way.

Read more of the interview here.  To take the interview at face value, you’d have to assume From Software is being a bit stubborn in not being flexible in how to design their games.  They are narrowly focused on being “console oriented” and that makes sense when you’re approaching this from a business standpoint.  Adjaj makes it clear that Namco Bandai needs to make inroads in the mobile gaming market since it has the largest install base in the world.  And Namco Bandai has a chance to enlist the support of the Dark Souls franchise’s fans to help them to that end.  From Software is right to be wary of a mobile entry in the Souls series this.

The leads on Dark Souls are saying we don’t want to do mobile because the controls would have to be changed, and therefore it won’t be Dark Souls anymore.

I think there is a need to redesign the way you reroll in the game to make it a bit more casual, so with shorter sessions.

Now, I don’t have any problem with casual games, or mobile games.  What strikes me about the assessment of Dark Souls’ value on a mobile platform is to the degree by which the experience must be compromised.  Adjaj points out that developers don’t want to compromise on controls, but there are many other fundamental changes that would need to be made with the game’s formula.  While console games and mobile games are both fully digital experiences, the difference between the two platforms can be more like the difference between console games and board games.  They fundamentally interface with user in differing ways.  From is absolutely correct to think that the experience would cease to be Dark Souls on a mobile platform.  It would make more sense to come up with an entirely new game that carries a similar spirit as the franchise, but better suited to the needs and expectations of the mobile gaming market.

I’m sure that Alex Adjaj has a great deal of respect for the development team, but I think it says a lot when a publisher is trying to secure a brand for use in the mobile gaming market rather securing the talent behind a franchise to come up with a gaming experience that’s unique on that platform.  It also comes across like Namco Bandai is seeking From Software’s blessing to utilize fans of the franchise.  In any case, I’m happy see Dark Souls firmly planted in console landscape, and not suffering the same fate as Final Fantasy with games like All The Bravest.

PROTIP: The PC edition of Dark Souls is available for $5.99 right now during the Steam Holiday sale.



TNNS is a curiosity.  Upon starting it up, I promptly lost in the single-player mode and felt terrible at video games.  The game just keeps flowing though.  The music doesn’t stop and failure is just a footnote, so I just keep playing and playing.  What is TNNS though?


TNNS consists of equal parts pong, breakout, and pinball.  The player drags their finger across the bottom or side of the screen (depending on how you orient your mobile device) to slide a paddle around the screen to ricochet a ball across the screen.  Dragging the paddle after hitting the ball will cause it to curve in the direction you drag.

The player’s goals aren’t explicitly defined aside from keeping the ball from flying past the paddle.  Stars can be collected when the ball collides with them and collisions with a star block will change the level entirely.  And speaking of levels…


TNNS gets interesting as you switch between levels.  The first level will always be the same when starting a new game, but after that they are randomly selected.  Levels can consist of static blocks, moveable blocks, moving blocks, breakable blocks, stars, power ups, and arrows which redirect the ball.  All of these elements appear in both single-player and two-player modes.  Levels vary in difficulty and it’s mostly left to chance what you’ll encounter.

TNNS is a playground for Action Button and RABBX’s riff on pong and it’s hard not to be hypnotized, and it’s hard to put down.  It’s flashy, it beeps, and no two games are ever the same.  It’s not going to knock your socks off but the foundation is solid and satisfying.


Your primary score is how many stars that you can collect without losing the ball.  Changing levels will net you an additional handful of stars each time and when you eventually lose, you will be awarded even more stars based on the goals you have met (e.g. complete 15 levels.)  At first, this would seem to distort the meaning of the score however, stars also represent a currency which accrues across your games and can be spent on player triggered power-ups.  These allow you to trigger multi-ball, setup barriers, enlarge the paddle, or skip levels, just to name a few.  It adds a whole new layer to the experience and allows players to strategize and tailor the game to their preferences.  And if all else fails, you have the option to spend real cash to tune up the game, right out of the box.

I hate video games.  And I hate you.  That's why I made TNNS.

Anyone can pick up TNNS and appreciate the underlying game design.  It’s simple enough to please those who make impulse app purchases and forget about games after 30 minutes, while still providing enough content to keep more focused players occupied.

Download at iTunes or Google Play

Note: For more information on the context that I use the terms “verbs”, “spaces”, and “impressions”, please see the post titled I’m going to take the fun out of games.


Bad Piggies

For whatever reasons, I’ve refused to sit down in front of the TV and sink more time into the console games I’ve been amassing lately.  The action in The Last Story has plateaued and it’s been far easier to sit around and just watch Blackadder instead.  Games like Angry Birds Space and Bad Piggies only reinforce that tendency.  It’s a compulsive experience playing Rovio’s games.  I don’t necessarily feel accomplished when I complete them, but momentarily relieved.  Angry Birds induces a sort of gaming Tourette syndrome.  Flinging birds around with a slingshot isn’t something particularly noteworthy or interesting, but you will find yourself doing it constantly and repeatedly, even after you’ve told yourself you should probably be doing something else.  Bad Piggies follows in the footsteps of Angry Birds to make sure that gamers continue to fixate on their verbs.  Let’s take a closer look.

Bad Piggies distinguishes itself most visibly from Angry Birds in it’s verb set.  There will be no flinging, no birds, and no structures to demolish.  Instead, players must build contraptions around a pig which will transport them through a level.  Pigs will not “pop” as they do in Angry Birds, but contraptions are built from the same rickety materials you’ll be used to see falling apart.  Each level is completed in two phases: build and transport.  Players are given a selection of parts that can be used and a grid to arrange them on.  The game uses the Box2D library to handle physics, and each of these parts have different physical attributes which provide certain advantages and trade-offs depending on how they are used.  Once you can seat a pig in the contraption, you’re ready to try and transport it across the level.  Building the right contraption isn’t enough to complete the level though.  The player must pull the right levers and press the right buttons at the right times on their contraptions to safely navigate the terrain.  Some parts can only be used once and some times it makes sense to strategically break the contraption (TNT is one of the parts you can use.)  This is where the game can feel most similar to Angry Birds.  Even though you’re trying to preserve the pigs, interacting with this physics sandbox is very familiar.

Bad Piggies felt weakest in its level design.  They are broken up into two categories: ground based, and air based.  Earlier levels are very effective at demonstrating how you can use the different parts used in building contraptions.  The size of the grid implicitly puts key restraints on how you can build.  For instance, if a grid is only two blocks high, then players will have to choose between using balloons or wheels.  There are creative ways around some of these restraints, but rather than designing puzzles around them, I felt that later levels were just more complex.  There isn’t a difficulty curve to the game as much as a greater time commitment required to complete later levels.  It’s still fun to plow through them, but there isn’t a sense of satisfaction completing them either.

The game establishes it’s staying power through the use of the three star rating system.  While in Angry Birds it is used to represent how high your score is, in Bad Piggies it represents a check list of objectives that are assigned for each level.  By simply finishing one, you’ll receive one star.  However, other objectives can include collecting stars from optional areas of the level, traversing the level without sustaining any damage, traversing the level in a given amount of time, or transporting a king pig (which occupies 6 squares on the grid.)  It’s easy enough to get one star on most of the levels, and many times players will incidentally complete other objectives along the way.  So when you go back and look over your level progress, completing the other objectives encourages you to become a perfectionist.  It’s not a matter of mastering the game’s mechanics, but the compulsion to obtain all the stars for all the levels.  It’s not as aesthetically interesting as mastering a game, but it’s still a motivating reason to play.

Perhaps it’s games like this that are distracting me from playing full-fledged console or PC titles, or at least they are occupying a larger mind share of the gaming community. Bad Piggies and other titles like it definitely fill a niche and help broaden the impact of gaming in our culture.  If you’ve already been invested in Angry Birds, then Bad Piggies won’t disappoint you.  If you’ve never played anything like it before, then it’s as good a game as any to throw $0.99 at.

Note: For more information on the context that I use the terms “verbs”, “spaces”, and “impressions”, please see the post titled I’m going to take the fun out of games.

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