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  • Postmortem: Elimination

    [06.20.19]
    - Ahmed Khalifa
  • This is a postmortem for our game ELIMINATION (you can try it here: http://akhalifa.com/elimination/ on Browser, Android, or iOS devices) talking about the different design decisions during creating the game and the level generator and validating some of these theories using players' data. This post is an adapted version of our (Ahmed KhalifaDan Gopstein, and Julian Togeliuspaper that was submitted as a short paper for CoG conference.

    Using procedural content generation (PCG) in games, especially for core game elements such as levels, is a bit of an art. When it is executed well, it enhances the player experience and keeps the player wanting to play again [1] but any mistake in the system and the game could feel boring and repetitive and might lead to disappointment [2]. Just like game design, PCG systems are designed using designers' intuition and a trial and error process. Designers usually test the system on a group of players and based on the feedback they adjust the generator until it works as intended [3]. 

    The designers of successful games often write a postmortem about what went right and what went wrong during the development process to summarize the lessons learned and help themselves and others to better understand the underlying systems [3]-[5]. Few postmortems, however, are supplemented by player data to validate the design decisions and understand players; conversely, game analytics paper is rarely written by the designers of the analyzed game [6], [7]. In this paper, we will discuss the design decisions for the word puzzle game Elimination and its level generator. Our postmortem is complemented by an analysis of player data to validate our generation system and better understand the parameters influencing player decisions.

    The Design of Elimination

    Elimination is a word puzzle game that was designed during GameZanga 8 (https://itch.io/jam/gamezanga8), a game jam, with "Minimalist" as the theme of the jam. The game follows the theme literally by showing the player a bunch of letters and the player has to remove some of these letters so that the remaining letters form a recognized English word. In this paper, we are analyzing the final version of the game which was released on January 23, 2019, for browsers, iOS, and Android devices. The game supports three different gameplay modes: Infinite, Daily, and Levels. In this work, we will only focus on the Levels mode, which presents players with a fixed sequence of levels, as more people played it. It also has a fixed goal (beating the levels), unlike the other two modes. The game includes 30 levels with 10 challenges each, all of which are procedurally generated.

    Challenges

    An Elimination challenge is a string of letters which doesn't form a word by itself but removing some of the letters will result in a recognized English word. A challenge should have more than one word that can be discovered after removing a group of letters. The previous figure shows an example of a challenge in the game. The player is faced with 6 letters "HATDEL" (shown in the left image). The player can eliminate letters by clicking them. A solution for that challenge can be seen in the middle image and the right respectively where the player removes the letter  ‘D' then ‘L' to find "HATE". That is not the only solution as the player can remove ‘H', ‘D', and ‘L' to find "ATE". One of the incentives to lead the player to find a certain word than others is that the score depends on the length of the found word. Looking back on the example in the previous figure, "HATE" will have a score of 4 while "ATE" will have a score of 3 on the other hand.

    We also use bonus letters which are called the 2X letter to influence the player choices. The 2X letter multiplies the score of the found word by 2. For example: if the player found the word "TRUE" where the ‘U' is a 2X letter the resulted score will be 8 instead of 4. The 2X letter is a good way to influence the player choices toward certain words which could be used in creating easier levels for the player.

    Levels

    An Elimination level consists of 10 consecutive challenges where each challenge has to be solved before a timer runs out. A level ends either when the player finds the 10th word or if the timer runs out. The timer is added to make sure that the players don't solve the challenges by using brute force and listing all the different possible words and then pick the highest score. The timer also adds an element of pressure to a generally casual and relaxed game.

    The previous equation shows the time in seconds allocated for each challenge in the level where challengeNumber is the index of the challenge which ranges between 1 and 10.

    When the level ends (regardless of whether all 10 words are found), the game automatically unlocks the next level for the player to be played. We decided to allow progress to make sure the game is more relaxing and casual by not getting players stuck on a particular level. This will make sure that players who play the same level are doing so willingly and not because the game forces them to.

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