Every once in a while a new game emerges that I think is worthy of a closer look. Recently I downloaded Pik Pok’s Giant Boulder of Death (GBoD). As with one of their earlier titles, Flick Kick Football, the key to the game’s appeal is in that nagging “if I just have one more go I’ll improve…” dynamic. It really does work a treat.

Flick Kick Football is a tight game. You can launch and be playing within seconds, the controls are very basic and the challenge is enormous. A perfect game experience in every respect.

Giant Boulder of Death Giant Boulder of Death Giant Boulder of Death Giant Boulder of Death

GBoD is the same. Well almost. It takes just a little longer to start playing and the adverts and in-app purchasing breaks are a distraction. This aside though and the game is just too perfect to ignore.

Note: I initially titled this post Great Boulder of Death – a study and blueprint for making fun, challenging and market friendly games.

So what is this game?
Well essentially it’s a love story between two boulders. Man boulder sits high atop a mountain rock whilst woman boulder sits as an ornament in the village at the foot of the valley. A man with a chisel hacks the woman boulder in to tiny pieces and from afar man boulder seeks to exact his revenge by rolling at pace down the mountain destroying everything in its way.

This game is just loaded with tiny elements that go to making a wonderful challenge and overall experience.
As you hurtle down the mountain (itself an extremely satisfying experience) the town mayor orders some defences. Spiky walls, spike ball hurling contraptions, giant spiky robots… the more you unravel the game the more you will see.

To steer the boulder you tilt your device. I play on iPad Mini. It works a treat. To leap over stuff you tap the screen.

Initially your tilting effectiveness is pretty minor. As is your ability to jump. But the more in-game coins that you earn the greater your ability to “pay” for upgrades. As with all good games that use this model you don’t have to spend a single real-world penny. You can just play the game. The more you play the better you become and the more dib-dobs you earn. Spending your money wisely results in improved control, reduced adversaries and an overal greater chance of obtaining rewards.
The balance is perfect. No goals seem too distant. There’s always an upgrade within reaching distance.

My own experience developing Distant Orbit showed to me that achieving this balance is not the result of guess work. It takes a tremendous amount of testing to get the right balance of challenge to reward.

So the game is essentially an exercise in swerving around obstacles, destroying targets (sheep, ramblers, cars, horses, houses…) and accumulating enough coin to upgrade and make future games fractionally less challenging and therefore more fun. The carrot that is dangled by suggesting that a few more coins could increase the speed or height at which your boulder can slide or leap is enticing. The thought that you could reap even more destruction on the world by spending hard-earned game currency is a real thrill.
And that is also a key factor in the game. The process of actually playing the game and taking on the challenges is fun. Why? Because you are destroying stuff. Whatever could be more fun?

By combining speed with destruction and injecting a liberal amount of chaos the developers have, I’m sure, tapped in to what we as humans crave – total control and a little bit of madness :)

I should say right here that this game is not easy.
Dodging spike bombs is hard. In fact maddeningly so. You are left with a sense of frustration that it wasn’t actually humanly possible to avoid certain obstacles. In some scenarios the seemingly random nature of the object generation really does conspire against you. I’ve never encountered a dead end – let’s face it that would be a fairly neat way to hack someone off and never see them again. But I have encountered situations where an emerging pathway is suddenly blocked and only the mightiest of leaps would get you through.

But this is nit-picking.

Where GBoD succeeds is in its tying together of all of theses wonderful elements.
As a gamer I’m left with that holy grail of gamer emotions – just one more go.
I love games that focus on the score and on the importance of achieving as high a score as possible.
Some of the targets in the game focus on achieving high scores. This has to be the ultimate in “if I have one more go I’ll beat it”.

I’d really like to include as many elements from this game as I can in my current project. My current project is the start of a series. I’d like the gamer to feel that the first game in the series sets a precedent. I’d also like to leave the door open for in-app purchasing should any of my publishers require that feature.

In almost every conversation I have with clients these days in-app purchasing features.
I have code written to handle this but it’s my code. Integrating with 3rd party APIs will of course differ from solution to solution (assuming they’ve not gone the route of plugging in one of the off-the-shelf solutions).
I don’t like in-app purchasing models. They’re not a gamer’s solution. But I have to support them.

In-app purchasing is probably another post. For now I urge people to go and download Pik Pok’s impressive Great Boulder of Death.

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