I see colors in the sky.
One of the main problem with the mechanics proposed in Dark Recon is the color differentiation skill each person has. Of course, a particular skill, in a particular game regarding a particular person always will be the central problem. How do you balance a challenge in order to be fun enough to a very heterogeneous group of people that might (or might not) share a common skill; that’s the question you are always looking forward to answer. In the case of Dark Recon that skill is pattern searching regarding color, or color differentiation as I call it. (Color recognition might as well work as a name).
To put this into context, let me share the inspiration behind Dark Recon’s mechanics:
Victor Vasarely was an hungarian artist mostly known by his Opt Art paintings. He was one of the biggest influence in this kind of artistic expression, and one of my favorites artist of all time. My Alma Mater is decored with some of his works:
I’m not going into to much detail, but one Vasarely’s contributions was something he called the Alphabet Plastique, a series of basic shapes that under different permutations can be arranged in a quite big different manners, leading to a universe of compositions. See it by yourself:
So you know where this is going.
Dark Recon’s mechanic is the answer for two question: the first one, how can I manage to seamlessly put together two different experiences, is the one I had talk about since the beginning of this series; the second one is, how can I put into a game mechanic Vasarely’s Alphabet Plastique?.
The answer for the second question had to be as elegant as the alphabet itself: something simple enough in order to allow and almost infinite shades of variation, easy to understand and to implement, and of course, something fun. Pattern recognition was my answer, in the form of color differentiation (at least for now).
Color differentiation is the skill needed in order to separate a pattern from another based in shades of colors.
The pattern highligted in yellow in the big grid is different from any other contiguous 4 color pattern, in terms of the reference pattern outside the grid, in two ways. The first one is color variation: no other set of 4 contigous color has the exact same color shading as the reference pattern, that’s color differentiation. The second is the rotation with respect to the reference. That’s pattern rotation. I use this particular image to show how different skills can be tested with a single idea: color differentiation and pattern rotation are two of those skills. In our game, pattern rotation is a skill putted in practice in a very passive way, you have to ignore rotation n in order to look up for pattern matches. On the other hand, color differentiation is a very active skill: you have to check every single color to look up for a pattern matches.
Other skills we are looking forward to include are shape recognition (the patterns don’t have to squared), and unit recognition (see Vasarely’s composition, they are created from a set of binary chromatic units taking into account shape and color, or in other words, you have to look up not only for squares, but circles and other shapes as units), pattern translation (pattern recognition under motion), and even pattern aproximation (how similar is a pattern to the reference when they are not the same), and so on. The pattern recognition skill is so simple, but at the same time so general it allows for a very elegant and big set of variations, and we are not even talking how this mechanic could interact with the shooter experience we want to deliver. The set of variations in that case is not only bigger, but very interesting and beautiful.
What kind of problems do we have with this particular mechanic? I talked about the first problem in the third post of this series, how to teach the mechanic, but that is always a problem regardless the game you are making. The second problem is how people approach to color differentiation. See, I have a bad time recognizing color patterns when the contrast in the composition is low. I assumed that as the general situation. It happens is not. For example, my sister is in the other side of the shore: she has a bad time recognizing patterns whe the contrast is quite high (as the picture above), specially if the number of color is high as well. There is no general situation here, based in our playtesting (with a tiny sample, I must say) there is a tendency for people to recognize patterns more easily when the contrast is high (my case), but the complementary case is not that uncommon; actually, is not uncommon at all. And there is more, there are people that can tweak very easily between one skill an another: they can recognize the pattern no matter how the general contrast is.
One observation here is that there is some threshold: in some point, no matter whether low or high contrast is important to the player, the number of pieces in the puzzle will make irrelevant that feature. It will be equally hard to find the pattern no matter the contrast is in the general composition. I don’t know how to measure that threshold, but it exists.
Designing having in mind the contrast situation is a problem. A game design one. How do you managed those kind of skills in a single experience?. And that’s only one of the problems.
We are currently proposing a solution, but more on that in the next post.