July 24, 2004
Bowman provides all the “Animated Blood” and “Cartoon Violence” (as the ESRB would call it) that I’ve been missing since The Bilestoad. Although I don’t think Bowman offers amputations, as The Bilestoad did.
I enjoyed fidding with the interface for a bit in “Practice” and figuring out how to work it, although perhaps it’s more obvious to some and there will be nothing to learn. Modifying the options can make the game more challenging. Thanks to Allen on ifMUD for the link.
July 26th, 2004 at 7:38 am
Thanks, Andrew! I’m embarassed to say I had some friends in junior high who used to play a real version of this. :-)
July 26th, 2004 at 7:41 am
Oh — whoops, I mean “Thanks, Nick!”
p.s. There was an old classic Mac game which was essentially about destroying stick figures in various ways. I think it was called Armageddon? Of course, the stick figure blood wasn’t red.
July 26th, 2004 at 5:37 pm
Ouch. I see that lawn darts improved the safety situation for some people.
I wasn’t able to track down the classic Mac game Armageddon, probably due to information pollution from the Bruce Willis flick. Anyone know of it?
I must say, I continue to feel the pull of this fine game Bowman. I think the sound design, the visual style, the simple interaction, and the limited but effective variations in settings that are possible all work very well together. Although perhaps it’s just my lawn-dart hurling reptilian brain that savors the experience.
July 27th, 2004 at 4:12 am
On the PC there was a similar game called Gorrilla – at least in DOS 6.0, maybe it was even in 5.1. You could play a gorilla on top of a city of skyskrapers trying to hit another gorilla with bannanas. King Kong with missiles basically. You also had to account for wind direction. The sound the gorillas made when they hit eachother was quite disturbing.
July 27th, 2004 at 12:00 pm
Tore: FWIW, I remember playing Gorilla on a PC running MS-DOS 3.x. It was a programming example for the built-in BASIC interpreter.
The “artillery”-type game has been around for a long time, but I can’t remember any specific instances earlier than Gorilla. It sort of falls into a class of games with Pong, Snake, and Daleks: they’re so easy to code that they’re used as programming exercises, making them almost ubiquitous, and it’s a thin line between ubiquitous and invisible. Still fun, though!
July 28th, 2004 at 3:50 am
I guess my young years are really showing, joshlee ;) Nice to know it was part of the BASIC interpreter for such a long time, though. And yup – still fun.
July 31st, 2004 at 11:01 am
More ways to kill stick figures:
Jay Bibby’s blog, more generally, is a really great find. Some really great flash games collected there…
August 3rd, 2004 at 6:48 pm
On “artillery” type games:
For a time (oh, about 14 hours), I had an unhealthy addiction to Worms (World Party). This event, and reflection on it, were the catalyst for my developing a theory of ludics (aesthetics of games). I’m currently writing it up (and elaborating it), and I’ll let y’all know about it when I’m done (it’s currently a horrible mess; I’m tentatively titling it Ludics 1) — for now, here’s a teaser.
The key questions here are: “why is Worms a better game than Gorilla?” (which I won’t answer — it should be obvious from the discussion, and is a good application), and “How does Bowman work?” (which I do answer, I think).
The core game of “artillery” games is very weak: if you’re given a distance and elevation to a target, it’s pretty easy to figure out an angle and velocity to hit it. One can derive a pretty simple formula or write a computer program to do this.
The key ways this is complicated are by adding: 1: wind, especially changing wind; 2: analog input; 3: hard to judge distance/elevation; 4: movement. Without changing wind or movement, once you figure out an angle/velocity that works, it’s just a matter of firing until the opponent dies, so unless you’re playing “first blood”, some such device is key. Devices 2 and 3 (fuzzy input, fuzzy distance) mean that the player’s judgement come into play — you can’t just “dial in” an angle, say. Movement means you need to change your calculus whenever the opponent moves, and unchanging wind (or, for instance, air viscosity/resistance) just makes the calculus harder.
Some skills exercised: Firstly of course there’s internalization of game physics/mechanics — about how far do shots go?; secondly there’s memory of previous shots, and thirdly judging numbers that aren’t given (distances, how far shots missed by, wind, angle, velocity — if relevant). Note that the game remembering your previous shot (as “Scorched Earth” does, I think) makes this easier, as do tracers (so you can see the previous paths).
Emotionally, slow shots in artillery games help build anticipation: “Will it hit? Won’t it?”, especially if there’s obstacles on the way (will it get over the Bowman wall? will the Worms grenade fall through the gap?). Conversely, waiting for your opponent to shoot you (especially if they’ve already figured out how) creates tension. There’s also the basic satisfaction of hitting the enemy, especially if you’ve missed repeatedly (it’s an achievement).
How does Bowman work as a game? Firstly, it has elegant flash graphics and satisfying sound, and the menu UI is pretty cute. Further, it has a slick way of inputing the angle/velocity, which works very well with a mouse — note however that it’s a pain to get exactly the angle and velocity you want, which is often necessary. The angle and velocity are given as numbers, but the wind speed (when wind is active) is not, nor is the distance — which is hard to judge because you can’t see the whole screen at once. Without wind, it’s effectively a “first blood” game (as noted above), and without a wall it’s pretty easy to hit the opponent unless they’re quite far away. The wind effect (leaves blowing) and blood effect are also nice graphics, and the accumulation of arrows in a long match both makes the field look more interesting and provides a reminder of where your previous shots went (this is less useful with wind though).
At an easy level, it’s a fun “shoot each other/shoot computer” game, a bit above “wack the falling santa/penguin” but not too much (it is pretty elegant though). At a harder level, it requires very delicate judgement of angle/velocity (often only a very narrow range work) and tedious mouse jerking to get exactly the numbers you want. With changing wind, a high wall, and multiple hits-to-kill, it becomes rather drawn-out. I suspect that some wall/wind configurations are impossible (which is frustrating), and you need to wait for the wind to shift.
A possible change would be to make the tolerances more forgiving (don’t need to get exactly the right angle/velocity), and replace the exact numbers when aiming by just the line — or better, an arrow graphic (so you have to judge the length/angle of the arrow). (This wouldn’t make it a better game, just a different one.)
The AI is also very weak: often on hard levels it is useless (though it’s kinda fun watching it shoot the wall or the ground). Adjustable AI (easy/medium/strong) would help, as would (alternatively) dynamic AI: adjusted so it would be a bit ahead/a bit behind you (being hit occasionally would up the tension), and would beat you if you were playing poorly.
By comparison, in Worms World Party (henceforce “Worms”) you fire thus: you point your gun at some angle (no numbers, so you have to eyeball), and then you hold down fire and release when you reach the desired velocity (indicated by a growing bar, basically) — so you have to eyeball this and you can’t reconsider once you start firing (since you have limited time to move, the pressure’s on). It also uses the “can’t see whole screen at once” device, there’s multiple elevations and complex terrain, and players (and opponents) can move. There’s also shifting wind, which is indicated by a meter (which you again have to eyeball). (As most shots explode, it’s also more tolerant of imperfect shots.) It’s thus a rather more complicated and deeper game at the firing level (without being too difficult), and some weapons (notably the grenades) bounce in complicated ways: bazooka and grenade Worms is a rather compelling strategic and skilled game because of the fuzzy aiming/distance/etc. and the many possible shots to make (it’s by no means just a flat board) (there’s also “exploding sheep” Worms, which is a fun but less strategic game). One could also comment on Worms’ different art/sound style: it’s cute and cartoony, not elegant (like Bowman, say).
The point of this exercise is to give a close reading of the artillery genre and Bowman in particular, from the POV of mechanics and their effect on gameplay and fun — especially, to show how my perspective might help one understand the experience of a game and suggest alternative designs. Hopefully it’s interesting.
Oh, so I stopped playing Worms (I’ll play a game or two every few months) and instead started philosophizing about it — hopefully I’ll finish writing up soon enough.
August 3rd, 2004 at 10:13 pm
I love Worms! I’m not much of a gamer these days, but I love playing Worms. Good choice of a game to analyze.