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Flinthook – Frustration & Game Design – 2

So in my last post I talked about the issues I have with the controls in Flinthook. No lets get to the other stuff.

Ships In Flinthook

Spikes and Cannons

I already mentioned how great the art in Flinthook is. Not all of it is used terribly well though. A major gripe are environmental hazards blending into the background. This is yet again very basic stuff. Any amateur game designer knows that interactive objects need to stand out. This goes doubly so for a skill based game like Flinthook. What I don’t understand is that the artists and designers were clearly aware of this principle. Enemies are bright and colorful. Purple is used to show that an enemy is invincible and champion enemies are bright green. So the only logical conclusion is that this was done on purpose. I can think of two possible reasons for this design decision.

The first is that it was purely the artists decision. That actually makes sense. If the ships are primarily brown and grey then cannons and spikes would have similar colors. This assumes that the artists are acting completely independent from the game designers though. This is a terrible way to develop games. At worst this issues should have been fixed after playtesting. But they weren’t.

Another possible reason would be a misguided attempt to make the game difficult. The problem with this thinking is that this doesn’t make for a satisfactory challenge. It isn’t really unfair, it just isn’t fun. Scanning every room when I enter it doesn’t make me feel like I’m getting better or playing more skillful. It makes me feel like the game is being stupid and me having to compensate for that.

 

Flinthook spikes original and edited to make more visible
Spikes? What spikes? Oh those….

 

Fixing this particular issue wouldn’t be too difficult. One could either make the hazards stand out more by using strong colors, or reduce the amount of objects in the background. The ideal solution might be somewhere in between. I’m not saying this solution would be great from a aesthetic perspective. I do believe that it would be more fun though.

Ship Design

There are other issues I have with the rooms in Flinthook. Unlike the problem with the spikes, which I believe to be a legitimate dealbreaker, these are more minor annoyances. Some rooms seem to be deliberately designed to fuck the player over for example. Spawning red shielded enemies around the platform the player is most likely standing on is kind of a dick move. Secret rooms being always the same is boring and I literally still don’t know what many ship variants do because they don’t seem to really make a difference. Some are pretty good though. During my research for this article I ran into a low gravity ship for the first time. That was pretty neat. Flinthook needed more of this kinda stuff.

 

Flinthook enemies around

 

The real issues lead back to the controls I examined in part one. The level design doesn’t seem to be done with the clunky controls in mind. This results in wildly different skill requirements room to room. I don’t know if Flinthook actually sorts possible rooms by progression. I assume it does. Yet it still happens way too often that a single room just isn’t worth doing because the layout feels much harder then any other room on the same ship. It doesn’t help that the chests usually aren’t really meaningful enough to care about them. All this sucks the fun out of the game. Flinthook just never feels like I’m getting something out of it. Which brings me to….

Upgrading, Sidegrading and Nograding

Making Progress

I should probably mention at this point that I’m not a huge fan of permanent upgrades in rogue-lite games. I’m not a big fan of Rogue Legacy for this very reason, although I give it some slack for being there before everyone and their dog started making these games. I did play the similar structured Dead Cells though and enjoyed it very much. In general I think that a game with strict permanent upgrades like health, damage and defense encourages bad play, since the player can just grind out upgrades until they eventually win.

One way around this is to rely on sidegrades instead of upgrades. Dead Cells did a great job here. All the fun stuff is unlocked relatively cheap and the strict upgrades are intentionally expensive so they serve mostly as  something to sink cells in when there isn’t anything else to unlock at the moment.

In Flinthook the vast majority of perks consist of strict upgrades. Pretty much every imaginable stat has a minor and major improvement perk. This isn’t fun. This doesn’t enhance gameplay or allows for different playstyles. It’s a grind. It’s not even that it’s impossible to use stats for fun improvements. The Binding of Isaac for example juxtaposes stats to great effect. Extremely high shotspeed but low damage or high health but low speed can make for interesting gameplay. Flinthook has a handful of perks that go in that direction, usually by punishing health for some benefit. But overall I would say that out of the almost 100 different perks there are maybe 10 which I would consider interesting. Most of those improve the movement options, like the dash ability.

Overall I’d say that boring perk design brings the entire progression loop down. The idea of slotting upgrades in and out before a run is cute, but if every run still feels the same there is hardly any point to it.

What Do I Get Out Of It?

Another aspect I want to examine is how Flinthook rewards players. Flinthook seems to think that the rewards it gives are better then they are. The relics are a great example of this. I’m the kind of guy who will reads the entire backstory of a game. I love scrolling through bestiaries for some flavor text. However, these things aren’t the reason I would play a game. They are a secondary reward. In Flinthook relics are treated like some sort of substantial unlock during a run. I didn’t care about it and none of the people I watched playing Flinthook cared about it. The lore is pushed in the foreground because Flinthook doesn’t have anything better to reward the player with.

In the same vein, getting more experience through perks and curses isn’t something anyone really gives a shit about either. I was baffled when I saw how many of those existed. The best reward for gameplay is more interesting and varied gameplay. It’s really as simple as that.

Please feel free to give feedback either by posting a comment or by mail at contact@gamedesignthoughts.com

Updated by E.L on June 7, 2017

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