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Prototype 3 Design Challenge 1 – Pong Planet

 

Introduction

How much can change in a relatively simple game, with a simple loop and simple mechanic? Is it possible to create a new game experience from an old game, but still keep the same or similar player experiences, after adding an extra element to the game? In this essay, it is attempted to redesign an old game, Pong, for the purpose of analyzing the differences it makes to the game, in both it’s game loops, mechanics and possibly aesthetics, if one or more elements are changed in the game.

Why pong

When trying to find a game to make one or two changes to and prototype it, it was decided that the best way to get a good grasp on the redesign, was to take a relatively easy game to program. Secondly finding a game with a relatively simple core mechanic seemed to be easier to analyze, when changes was made that could affect the player experience as well as game loops, even aesthetics. Amongst the different ideas, like Pacman, Space Invaders and Minesweeper, Pong seemed to be the most simple in its loops and mechanics. It has broader possibilities for additional or core changes that could change the game completely, giving a possible interesting result. Pong’s loop is bouncing the ball past the opponent’s field using your platform to score and protect your own. In basic Pong the only mechanic available is moving your platform up and down to hit the ball, and depending on how you hit the ball, it would bounce faster or slower of the platform.

The fast way to change Pong, was to add multiplayer, but since Pong is already an Agon game , a competitive game (Caillois, 1961), it is already open for for such an addition and would not change too much. So instead of changing the way of the player, it was decided to try and change the way of the ball – its way of moving. The ball in Pong moves in a space like environment where there is no gravity and only constant movement in the ball. So trying to add gravity to the game would seem to have a possibly huge change on the game.

Reflection – Changes to the game by adding gravity

Since Pong exists in a field of zero gravity, the field could be kept simple in a square field. With gravity the stage has to change in order to keep the ball moving and as well as the goal field of the players. Since it would be most natural to have the gravity caused by a planet, the scoring field was changed from being in the outskirt, the frame of the game, to be in the middle – it became Planet Pong. With this, several changes came to be: The way the player moved was no longer straight up and down, but in a field of half a circle (if only 2 players are playing). This changes the feel of the player’s’ goal. In Pong it felt very natural where and when your goal field ended: From the top corner of the square to the other corner, and you could not go further since there were a wall. Having a fenced off part of the circle is not impossible to trace, but it does feel more awkward or unnatural that you are not able to go all around the circle – unless the player was no longer limited to move only in their field.

The scoring system does not seem to change, aside from the visual aspect, as the ball no longer passes through your field, but instead hits your end of the planet, making the other player score.

The trajectory of the ball though, changes immensely and so the behaviour. First of, the ball moves no longer in a constant speed once hit by a player, but varies as it moves in curves instead of straight lines. This could be more difficult to predict the outcome of the ball, but it may also be because we are so used to the way the ball moves in Pong – it is difficult to determine. However, it definitely offers a new way of play and strategy. The last thing to note about the ball’s movement is, now that its movements is based on gravity, the ball can go into orbit and become unreachable by the players. So unless the ball is tampered with so it either loses speed or resets, the ball can be locked in a constant movement around the planet.

The last major change was the sense of speed and pace in the game. In Pong there was never a sense of slowing down, unless the player hit the ball in such a way, but the ball never slowed down or speed up midway through its course. In Pong Planet, the ball constantly speeds up and slows down and it is often a repeating pattern. Whether the curving movements makes it easier or harder to predict or strategize around, it definitely slows the game down. In Pong it could easily go faster, suddenly slow, and then fast again changing the pace and kept you on your toes. While in Pong Planet you always have to wait in some way for the ball to slow down and speed up again, giving you more or less time to plan ahead or take a break from the tension. After playing for awhile it became very easy to protect your field and almost impossible to score, because it was not as easy to surprise your opponent with a quick and surprising move, since the ball always had to slow down first.

Implements to strengthen the playability

Pong in its gameplay does not have much of a personality. It can be given all sorts of different graphics, but it is not in the gameplay or mechanics that gives the game any distinct theme or context. With Pong Planet, having gravity and to goal centered around a planet has the possibility of creating a more distinct theme: two different sides of the planet are fighting each other and are now trying to attack the other by bouncing an asteroid over to their side with their reflection shields – just to give an example.

But the gameplay itself has definitely slowed down and needs additional elements in order to bring the sense of tension back into the game. Power ups is an element that could bring many different variations to the flow of the game: change of speed, change of size, more balls to play with, ect. Powerups that could support potential strategic planning, like adding a one-use rocket booster to the ball, that one player could use once to suddenly boost the ball towards the planet. Or perhaps giving a one-use grappling hook to quickly save a ball from hitting the ground. Perhaps giving the players a different goal to aim for other than scoring at the opposing player’s field, like trying to hit something orbiting around the planet. Since the ball moves at a slightly slower pace, because of the curve movement, giving the players other means of affecting the ball may give the players more ways to strategize their attempts at scoring.

Lastly the possibilities of multiplayer elements could be stronger in Planet Pong than in Pong. Pong for the most part seems to be limited to max 4 players (one player in each side of the square) at least without changing the format of the game. Planet Pong aside from allowing up to a seemingly endless amount of players on one planet, (although it will be rather cramped in or very small players on a very large planet), it has possibilities of more than just multiple opponents. Planet Pong could include a second planet, opening up for a different way of multiplayer experience, by trying to bring the ball into the opponent teams gravity trying to destroy their planet. Pong can have the element of multiplayer but the way its played is still the same, you just have a supporting partner to cover your field. With an entire planet, there could be some teamwork strategies, in trying to set up the ball and send it off to an opponent’s planet. However, this could also mean that the pace of the game would become even slower as players have to wait for the setup of the opponents. If this multiplayer element was added, the game would definitely benefit from having additional strategic elements like power ups.

Overall Concluding Statement

At least by adding gravity to Pong it seems to have change many things than just player experience and way of play. Although gravity does not change the game’s loop or even mechanics, it has certainly changed the way it plays. Even if it has made the game slower, it seems to have opened up for more possibilities with the game Pong. Before it seemed limited in its aesthetics and multiplayer possibilities, possibly because of its very squared structure. Planet Pong, if worked with further, could bring something more than what could have been done with Pong.

References

Caillois, R. “Man, Play and Games”, 1961. The Free Press of Glencoe, Inc.

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