Chains of Fate is an experimental Flash game. Like some of my other projects, it also uses the Flixel library. Using unique storytelling, I attempt to create a system of rewards vs penalties that is based off of the player's emotional attachment and moral feelings.
I feel that Chains of Fate was very much a success. By studying the behavior of players, I was able to answer a number of personal questions about how to reward and penalize players of a game, and how that system of penalties ties in with gameplay and motivation. Please read my overview of the results below the game.
I entered Chains of Fate into a game contest hosted by IndiePub, and then released it virally. You may play the game here (below), or on one of the hosting portals like Kongregate.
Chains of Fate Post-Release Overview
For five weeks early in 2011, I made
a solo endeavor to develop an experimental Flash game about player rewards and
penalties, titled “Chains of Fate.” In
the game, the player is tasked with solving a series of puzzles. Failure to complete the puzzles successfully,
results in the apparent death of virtual friends and allies. I entered Chains of Fate into the
Independent Propeller Awards 2011 game contest and afterwards released it
Initial Concept and Motivation
(From a document prior to development)
of late, there has been a lot of discussion in the game industry about
rewarding the player. People like to be
rewarded and hate to be punished, so when making a game for people to enjoy, it
makes sense to never punish the player for a mistake and always reward a player
for any accomplishment. I think that
while this system may work for a while, it tends to fall apart in the long run
when the player becomes aware that failure is impossible. At that point, there is no longer the thrill
of a challenge, and without a challenge, any accomplishment will feel
meaningless. So the question is, “How
can we find a balance in the positive and negative consequences to create an
enjoyable experience?” Also, we may want
to ask, “How could we present information about the consequences to the player
so that they are aware and cannot become disillusioned?” It is harder for a person to find the
motivation to persevere in a challenge when one does not know what it is one is
fighting for or is unaware of the penalty for failure.
game [Chains of Fate] seeks to explore the realm of consequences in
games and find the answers to our questions.
It uses emotional and moral ties to control both rewards and
penalties. In this case, success in
overcoming a challenge means saving lives, and failure results in the loss of
lives. But this isn’t some counter with
“1-ups,” it’s the lives of characters who tell the story of a man who befell an
The Set Up
game cycles through a series of scenes three times. The series start out with the player walking
the protagonist, Turin, through a
castle, while an authority character or judge calls out to the subdued
protagonist. The things the judge says
deal with the reason why the protagonist is a prisoner and why he is doing
approach scene ends when the protagonist reaches the top of the castle where
four friends are trapped in cages hanging from a height. The scene that ensues is all about telling
the game’s story. The friends each get a
chance to say something to Turin,
possibly being their last words. In a
round-about way, tell the story of Turin. The speeches from the friends serve an
additional purpose in that they are meant to make connections on a social level
with the player. The idea is to get the
player to think of the character as more than just pixels, and have a greater
the speeches are done, the game transitions to a puzzle. In the puzzle, there are four connections at
the top of the screen and four at the bottom.
Between these connections is a 7x5 grid of puzzle “pieces.” Each piece is composed of one or two pieces
of chain that enter from one end of the piece, and exit from another end. My moving the pieces around, the player attempts
to make a viable path from each of the top connectors to a connector at the
bottom. Each top connector is associated
with a chain supporting a caged friend.
The player has until time runs out to secure a path. Not all paths have to be secured, but failure
to do so results in a penalty in the following scene.
the scene following the puzzle, the caged friends are visible. After a moment, a clank sound is heard and
cages of any unsecured paths, plummet and crash at the bottom of the castle. As a last good-bye and to emphasize what has
happened, there is a moment of “slow-motion” as the cages fall out of sight. After a moment, the scene fades out to the
on the castle ground, the protagonist is made to walk by the place where the cages
fell. The destroyed fallen cages can be
seen, and this is meant to firmly sink the notion of “consequence” into the
player’s mind. The scene then fades to
black, followed by a philosophical quote of relevancy to the story and the
appearance of a moon and sun to signify a change of day.
the cycle starts anew with Turin’s
entry into the castle during a speech by the judge.
Effect On Gameplay
puzzles in Chains of Fate are non-random, so the outcome is purely based
on the player’s ability and performance.
That being said, the gameplay was not the same for all players. The variety in gameplay came from emotional
attachment and moral beliefs.
first puzzle is explained with a mini-tutorial, but it was very much
intentional that the player does a little bit more sinking than swimming
on the first level. The puzzle is not
excessively hard (it can even be completed in as little as three moves), but
there is certainly no walk-through on how to complete the level. In designing, it was my intention that the
player not complete the puzzle flawlessly.
Information about how the paths were connected and supporting the cages
was purposefully omitted, so that when one or more cages fall, the player is
shocked or stunned, creating a moment of suspense. This event was very successful in that over
96 percent of players had at least one cage fall after the first puzzle.
that the surprise had set in, and the player became aware that failure meant
losing a friend, it was likely that the desire to succeed became higher. The second cycle plays off of that and
possible sense of panic from the first cycle, by including children and a dog
among the caged friends. Whereas the
adults of the first cycle could have been considered “guilty,” or “had their
chance,” the children and dog on the other hand are undeniably innocent. After taking into account the “end factor”
(the chains on the left and right ends are generally secured more often because
they appear “easier” to the player), the crying girl was saved much more often
then the dog, boy, or woman. This is
because, as directly observed in testers, emotionally attached players make
saving the helpless girl a priority, changing their strategy for solving the
and moral attachment to virtual representations of people is normal and very
common. However, there are some people
who do not feel such connection, for whatever reason. Once such person even commented, “If you want
to tell a story, make an animation . . . if you are going to make a game, make
a game.” For this person, there was no
connection at all between the puzzle and the game story and characters. What this means is that without this
connection, the player will feel absolutely no sense of penalty or reward in
doing the puzzle.
To keep track of
various game events, I used the MochiMedia Analytics API. At the time of writing, the Chains of Fate
has over 7000 plays, and is hosted on most open Flash portals. The average session time is about 7
minutes. Most people saved 4 out of 12
people. The game has been played most in
China, followed by the United States. The portal from which, the game
had the most plays is Kongregate.
Something I found interesting is that Newgrounds players are much more
willing to give non-standard games a chance, averaging a minute or more in
session length than most other portals.