If there's one thing I think many developers need to learn, it's to keep games accessible. No, I'm not talking about making a game "easy" -- I'm talking about making it available to as many different players as possible. This means making a game that can run on many different PC setups and does not require a degree of some sort to play. Yes, there is a time and a place for uber-realistic, theory-crafting, nerdy-wonderland games, but bear in mind that good design does not automatically translate into complicated design.
As I played through MilMo this week, I realized how much potential this new generation of browser-based games has. The new engines, Unity in particular, give developers the ability to make beautiful games that can be accessed directly through the browser. I was surprised to find a good-looking "kid's game" that presented plenty of challenge and fun for kids of all ages (including 36-year-old game writers like myself).
Read on for more details.
First of all, I think it's safe to say that I am absolutely charmed by the very idea of a compact world running in a browser window. Games like MilMo feel like a toy to me -- plastic and shiny. Add in the fact that customization is pretty good and that the characters have great animations and you have yourself a formula for winning me over. Of course, a lot of the really great customization options are in the cash shop, from suits to weapons. The prices seemed reasonable enough that I plan on buying a better sword soon.
The world looks just as good as the characters. My favorite art style is one that allows for all items and places in a game to have a flow to them. I don't want to see sudden, harsh textures on the ground butting up against lovely floral patterns. Many designers often make the mistake of thinking that "realistic"-looking graphics are somehow better-looking, when they actually tend to draw attention to the fact that what the player is seeing is not real. Games like MilMo are just fine with looking like cartoony wonderlands -- and they should be. Games are wonderlands, so you might as well own it and have some fun.
No, I am not saying that all games should look likeMilMo. I am simply saying that the designers behind MilMo made a wise choice in keeping their game accessible and fun to look at.
The game starts off with a bang (quite literally -- think cannons) but does slow down, especially when you find yourself scratching your head while lost. In my week of playing, I found a series of islands and a linear main quest line that, at first, seemed to be the only choice of activity. It was slightly frustrating when I couldn't find a certain clue or couldn't figure out where to go after finding said clue, but then I reminded myself that children have already figured it out. Sure enough, with a little patience, I would stumble across the hidden item or figure out where to go. It even started to seem as though the developers planned the quests out and fully expected players to do some head-scratching -- go figure!
"It was clever to lead me around like that, because I am not sure that the combat and customization alone could hold the game together. Without the story and wit, the game would be just a platformer for children."
When I grew a little tired or frustrated during questing, I would search for exploration tokens on each island. Each area has eight of these tokens hidden throughout the landscape. Once all are discovered, players receive a title or even parts to a special weapon. While combat mainly consists of Vindictus-lite action, it was fun enough that I would go around smacking crabs and rhubarbs to collect additional gems. All together, the activities in MilMO are fun, challenging enough, and not too repetitive. The quests and story kept me guessing as well, which gave the game a spice.
The real question for me was: "How deep does it go?" I ask because at the end of almost every play session I would find an additional clue or hidden door and would wonder, "What happens now?" Even in its basic, accessible form, MilMo maintains a sense of mystery. The website talks of an epic storyline, and I'm beginning to see the truth behind that statement. While the story and interactions with NPCs have been toned down to "kiddy" levels, it should be noted for what it is. The different islands can be seen as dungeons or chapters that are unique but still connected to the main story. I would go to one island to find a key, only to find a hint that led me back to the locked door on an earlier island. It was clever to lead me around like that, because I am not sure that the combat and customization alone could hold the game together. Without the story and wit, the game would be just a platformer for children.
So, "AAA" designers take note: You don't have to spell everything out right from the beginning, not even in a "kids" game. Simple, solid and smart design will get you just as far, if not much farther, than asking your playerbase to own supercomputers and a math degree. Want to create a feeling of awe or wonder? You can do it with story and with subtle, hidden areas or quests. MilMo uses all these tools to make a world that is enjoyable, active, fun, complex and accessible for kids of all ages. The game is a perfect choice for families, grandparents and grandchildren, or for a break from all the noise and hype of the current "adult" market.
It's good to have fun once in a while, right?
Next week we will be looking at a game that I have been wanting to get my grubby paws on for a long time: Linkrealms. Now, this is a special case for Rise and Shiny, being that the game is currently in a closed beta, invite-only testing phase. Go ahead and sign up and cross your fingers, but bear in mind that I am wanting to "review" it only because I do not do reviews -- just first impressions. This game needs some attention. My first few moments in it were already wonderful. Let's see what the next week brings, though. Now, go log in!
Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. We meet each Tuesday night at 9 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. PDT); the column will run on the following Sunday. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email, or follow me on Twitter or Raptr!