September 5, 2013 3:17 AM | Staff
"Movies and books are often named as an inspiration for video games, but there is so much happening in fields such as product design or motion graphics for instance as well, that it would be a waste not to draw inspiration from them."
It was this act of looking outside of the usual sources of inspiration that led Geert Nellen, Thijmen Bink and Roy van de Mortel at Dutch indie studio Digital Dreams to explore the idea of infographics as video game design.
"We noticed that infographics were starting to become an art form, and were slowly increasing to appear in mainsteam media," notes lead designer Nellen. "We thought that it would be fun to use them as an aesthetic in a game."
This line of thought led to the creation of PS Vita platform puzzler Metrico, and its 'Input Morphing' game mechanic. Essentially, as players move their character around Metrico's world, the bar charts and visual aids shift to match elements of your movement. It's then all down to experimenting with which movements make what happen.
After the first prototype was built during the Global Game Jam, the Digital Dreams team began exploring what could be done with infographics and video games.
Says Nellen, "We made several prototypes before going into actual development. In one of these prototypes we tried to very closely weave a narrative with the level design. Unfortunately this had a terrible effect on the cleverness of the puzzles, and it often gave away too much of the solution. We decided to focus on level design first, and anything else comes after."
What has made Metrico development so interesting is that each person on the Digital Dreams team has a completely different approach to designing puzzles. This, says Nellen, has led to a great amount of variety in the puzzles that the game has to offer, as each person has managed to make their mark on the game's conundrums.
You're barredAs mentioned, experimentation through trial and error is what Metrico thrives on. It's quick and easy to restart a puzzle from scratch, so fiddling around with each to discover how your movements are affecting the current puzzle isn't optional.
"The rules are consistent throughout the game," Nellen notes, "but it's not like every bar diagram will go down on jumping, and every pie chart will fill up by walking left. That would become stale within five puzzles. If it is that predictable, you'll end up making just another action puzzler, but with different visuals."
For the Digital Dreams, Metrico needed to feel much more unique than that, and offer an experience unlike any other. "Metrico's mindset is like that," Nellen adds. "We just like players to explore and experiment. We want them to think outside of the box and feel smart after they've figured everything out themselves."
For Nellen and his team, experimentation in video games goes hand-in-hand with trial-and-error gameplay -- and reducing the penalty for failure to its absolute minimum is essentially to breeding that desire to experiment.
"We don't consider the player to be failing as long as they're finding out new things about the puzzle - and that includes dying," he tells me. "As we see it, everything you do in a game could just be numbers. That includes 'dying'; it's just a number. The player should be able to experiment all the time until a possible solution is formulated. Once the correct solution is clear to the player, it's relatively easy to complete the puzzle, unless maybe it is very action-oriented."
It's all about ensuring that there's a way to restart the puzzle easily, he says, such that the player can better concentrate on the task at hand.
"If there are too many different things happening at once, the concept of the puzzle becomes confusing and you're more likely to frustrate than intrigue the player," he continues. "And we don't want to confuse them or punish them in any way. We just want them to stay intrigued and feel rewarded for their experimentation and curiosity."
Metrico is due for release on the PS Vita in early 2014.
[Mike Rose wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]