Monday, July 20, 2015

Ludo-fundamentalism for the people

Chalo Chalo is a local multiplayer racing game in which planning ahead is more important than fast reflexes and skillful vehicle handling. You pilot a slow-moving dot towards a goal at the other side of an abstract landscape. Success hangs on your ability to figure out a faster route than your opponents.

We are Richard Boeser and Tomasz Kaye. Neither of us are prescriptive in terms of what video games should be, but when we’re making design decisions for Chalo Chalo we have our ludo-fundamentalist hats on. For us the game is primarily a contest between players that tests their skill at spatial analysis. We’re not striving for purity, but the space carved out for everything that’s not part of that core dynamic - such as the decorative elements, the suggestions of narrative and world lore - is shaped by the question ‘will this thing obscure the core mechanics of the game more than it clarifies them?’, if so then the idea gets dropped.

Transparency is very important to us. Chalo Chalo has a stark, minimal look. The game’s visual language is abstract geometry. Players and audience can see the whole race map from a bird’s-eye view. Any aspect of the game that could influence one’s odds of winning a race is made visible so it can be incorporated into players’ plans. Coloured trails make it easy to review the players’ routes, helping to understand exactly how the various terrain types affect speed and steering.

The control scheme is very simple: Any analogue stick to move. Any button to perform a context-dependent action. Likewise it’s quick to explain to a new player how to get started: Try to get to the goal first. You travel quickly on grass, slowly on tar, and ice is slippery. Don’t touch the lava!

We often see people who very rarely play video games ready to join in after watching only a couple of races. It’s very gratifying to see frowns of concentration followed by yelling - frustrated and then joyful - from people who apologised as we passed them the controller “I’m not very good at video games”.

We believe our approach avoids many potential barriers that could get in the way of new players enjoying Chalo Chalo. We’re keen to emphasize that we see this facilitation as a very different thing to design decisions that ‘de-game’ the project. For instance, we could serve up a series of flashy, superficially entertaining, events to enliven a race. But in our opinion the exciting moments of Chalo Chalo carry more emotional weight because they’re authentically the product of players’ struggle.

We’re designing Chalo Chalo as though it could be a sport. Aside from map generation, we don’t use randomness in ways that could affect the outcome of the race, minimising the importance of luck. We want the winner of a race to feel that they won in a fair competition, and losers have only themselves to blame for their defeat.

Encouraged by play sessions that attracted a broad cross-section of players, we’re respectful of the fact that non-gamer should not be synonymous with non-competitive or ‘casual’. We believe Chalo Chalo welcomes non-gamers while providing an experience deep enough for experienced players to also find a challenge in.

An appetite for competition and an appreciation for simple rule sets that allow a wide range of memorable play experiences are more widespread than contemporary game design might account for. It’s exciting to explore this territory as we make Chalo Chalo.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tomasz, played Chalochalo at Joe & Bex' this weekend. Congratulations! It's an amazing game. I'm pretty much a non-gamer (I only really like racing games and some multiplayer games. And Proteus) and was hooked. My wife (also not a gamer) declared it "her favourite game ever". It's such an achievement of game design. So much depth in it's simplicity and subtle touches of detail in the game mechanics.

    There were a couple of things I would like to suggest (I know: everyone's a bloody expert!). But I don't think they're criticisms as such; just some stuff I was talking to Joe about. One is, why not 2 player? While 3 player is definitely more fun, me and Joe played it 2 player (because we wanted to play more after Bex and Dana had gone to bed) with a null 3rd player and still found the game to be a lot of fun. 3 or 4 was obviously more fun, but this is pretty much always the case with party games, ie bomberman, Mario kart (double dash in my case), mashed/wrecked etc).

    Of course this would require some slight changes to scoring etc. We (Joe and I) also discussed whether it may be beneficial to put more power-ups in in a (theoretical) 2 player mode, I was of the opinion that it would give more opportunities to screw each other over in clever ways (which is always satisfying in party games and results in the most inventive insults) and also level the playing field somewhat when you find yourself in a position where even near the start of the level you know you have no chance of catching up because the other player has got the hole-shot, and allow more strategies for winning - we found this to be less of a problem in 3 and 4 player modes. Joe was less sure and wondered if doing this might unbalance the mechanics in the other modes. I get his drift, I think the benefits would outweigh the drawbacks...but in practice I could obviously be talking total bollocks.

    Another benefit of a 2 player mode would be to lower the bar of admission to potential buyers/downloaders; for instance my wife was like "can we get this at home?" and then was disheartened when we realised we usually wouldn't have enough players or controllers to be worth it without further investment in hardware/friends.

    Joe said you might be working on some manner of smartphone control system, this is a great idea! Everyone has them, and they would save on thumb fatigue for sure. But are there plans to port to android/ios to use on tablets plugged in to TV's? This is something that most people have and it's much less of a faf than plugging in a laptop when u want to just play (we have a shitty tablet plugged in all the time as a media server for instance). I don't know about the feasibility about using smartphones as controllers in this case tho, like I'm fairly sure you can't stream music via Bluetooth from a phone to a tablet (I had a fair whack at this myself and failed, and I'm moderately tech savvy) - but I don't know anything about Bluetooth protocols, could a phone mimic a gamepad?

    Anyway...the game is total genius, keep up the great work, looking forward to playing at home, if not on an android tab then at least on my macbook. And my wife concurs!

    All the best,

    Joe's mate Al

    P.S. Are you going to be doing some music for it?!