Flow isn't just the direction of traffic, it's the glorious mental state where you disappear into your game, and you feel like you're doing harder and harder things, almost effortlessly. You're in the zone, and time dissolves into something more sublime. It's difficult to get into that state though, and even harder to design a game that can take people there. Some people wouldn't even try. But I would say, let's figure it out and see how close we can get!
Here's a chart with some lines on it:
So, did you try to figure out the chart on your own, or did you skip it, hoping I'll explain? Either one is fine, this is a game, and you have interesting choices! What the chart shows is how activities and games can have a range of challenge in comparison with the player's skill. Generally, most games have an initial challenge level that increases gradually along with the player's skill.
Let's say I throw you into a new game on level 10 without explaining its basic controls, let alone the best moves and strategies. You'll find yourself above Panic on the Challenge scale, and you'll probably throw the phone out the window! And if you cruise effortlessly through 12 levels and the level boss throws itself on your sword, you're probably experiencing Boredom. No, we generally want to be where challenges are matched to our skills, and both increase over time. That's the region on the chart between the green boundaries, the Flow Channel. Note this is not a guaranteed state of gaming bliss, but it's the region where flow is possible.
I think also it's important that the chart of any player's development isn't a strictly straight line. The purple in our chart here shows you swinging between ease and frustration, but not too far. The game throws obstacles at you, and you learn that earlier strategies aren't quite enough anymore. Then at other times, you can ease back a bit and enjoy stomping some lesser opponents with your superiority. This is another element of game design, variety. It isn't essential to the flow concept, but important on its own.
How do we do all this in Firecracker Fight? It's impossible to ensure that every player will have the same experience of ease and difficulty at every point. Some have played similar physics-based action games before. People learn at different paces. But we can design with intention for certain levels to be easy given what you had to do before to get there, and for other levels to introduce new classes of challenges, or multiplicative steps up in number or speed of enemy trucks and tanks.
If you need to be totally surprised in January when you encounter unexpectedly tough and delightfully easy levels of Firecracker Fight, you should probably stop here and have a nice day! But for a few notes about how challenge progression plays out in game design, venture onward.
Here is another type of chart:
Peeking behind the scenes here, I'm showing my intended difficulty level at each level of Firecracker Fight. Do I have a dial in the game I can just turn, and change a level from 1.0 to 2.0 difficulty? No! But I can definitely look at the number and type of enemies in a wave attack or precision scenario, and assess if it's half as hard or twice as easy as the one before it.
Also, I'm plotting these as expected difficulty given that you gained enough skill on prior levels to get to the next one. This drags in another important piece of game theory, that a player will absorb only enough of the mental model of the game's constraints to succeed at the current challenges. Normal people don't play level one over and over until they have memorized the timing of enemies and their every weakness. You move on, saying "What's next?" So again, no guarantee that your experienced difficulty will match my nerdy charts. But it gets us going in the right direction!
In the daily news, the team is working on building basic gameplay this week. From there, we'll build out specific levels along this challenge line, with the aim of delivering you the ideal experience of flow in mobile gaming. Or at the very least, the chance to blow up lots of hostile toys!
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