Juggle! in the Making (Part Four)

Game, Juggle! | 1 low in fat comment

SETTLING OLD SCORES
Scoring’s a funny thing – red hat funny. It’s easy to measure: you play and check your score and trust your gut. If the score feels wrong – too small or even too big in relation to what you did – then the score is wrong.

Your score is a convenient summary of how well you played. The scores need to reflect how hard it is to play, so you score more for being more skilful. The scoring in Juggle! isn’t explained. I like the idea of feeling adequately rewarded without knowing exactly why; of wanting to know how the scoring works and trying to figure it out. Too much information in play proves confusing so specific scores are never revealed.

It was clear with a little thought and play what should contribute to the score:

  • It’s harder to juggle more balls at once.
  • It’s harder to juggle smaller balls.
  • It’s harder to juggle faster balls.
  • It’s harder to juggle balls at shallow angles – but necessary to successfully juggle multiple balls. (I didn’t bother with this in the end; it felt like too much detail.)
  • A point per second of survival is also awarded to add some fragments to the mix.

One thing that became clear through playtesting was that you’d score more for focussing on a single ball rather than juggling, which wasn’t desirable. The reason was obvious: it’s because a straight multiplier for the number of balls in play doesn’t adequately reflect the skill involved in keeping balls in play. So that multiplier became the sum of the sizes of the balls in play – the combined ages of the balls. Result!

As Colin noted in his blog post, the scoring feels like it’s working so well; it feels right and you clearly score more for juggling more small balls for longer.

SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Ever dedicated to detail, we researched the period to get in the right frame of mind. Google threw up some real doozies for moments, food, fashion, toys and more. We also played some classic games by way of refresher. We even dressed and acted the part for a day, which was kinda freaky.

To make sure the title was authentic enough I took a look at arcade game names from the era (thanks, arcadeflyers.com) and noted obvious patterns, of which there were three:

  • Ronseal names like Hockey; Rally; Soccer; Table Tennis.
  • Quirky names such as Pong; Gotcha.
  • Electronic names like TV Tennis.

Ronseal names included Juggle and Keep-Up while quirky names included Juggly and Batty and electronic names included TV Juggle and Video Juggle.

We all favoured Juggle! (although I do still have a soft spot for Juggly for some reason).

LOOK YOUR AGE
Andy and I explored many different forms throughout the five chosen years. Themes included juggling wild animals in the jungle; juggling people and vehicles in a city; juggling asteroids, meteorites and planets in space; on an island with sharks in the water below waiting to eat your balls; juggling in a volcano over a fiery pit… There were alternative paddles such as a trampoline, seesaw and hands; alternative balls such as fireballs, balloons, fruit, heads, happy fat people…

The suggested setting makes quite a difference. Space or underwater, for example, change expectations of how the toys behave.

Not that that mattered with the first version we chose to focus on: 1972. The aim here was to take the basic block look from the era and the prototype and to make it feel more than just clean pixel chunks – to give it some character.

We experimented with an assortment of screen effects such as a simulated screen flicker, emphasised scanlines, stippling, screenburn, LEDs (which was pretty groovy) – even static.

At one point there was a bubbling pit at the bottom of the playscape to reinforce the danger, but it just felt too invasive.

The inspiration for the final look came from pictures and video of old arcade machines in use. Everything seemed to have a suitably ghostly glow to it and a blue hue. Andy topped that off with a lovely stylised scanline effect and the overall look was complete.

During our investigations we found that too much visual detail proved too confusing, intrusive and distracting in action, so all that had to be minimised. That meant minimal playscape features (like backgrounds) but also restraint with visual effects such as distinctive impact flashes, particle sprays and ball trails. But there had to be a reaction to balls hitting the paddle, so what we have is a nice pulse effect: the paddle pulses when it hits a ball – just as the balls do when they hit the paddle or playscape sides – but they glow more when the hit is your doing.

MUSIC TO MY YEARS
I like a balance of the audio, visual and tactile as soon as possible, even when placeholders are used. Juggly started life with a classic BOP and BIP – a BOP for a ball hitting the paddle and a BIP as a higher-pitched echo when the ball hits the sides of the playscape.

But as the rules of play evolved, so did the audio requirements. The shrinking ball clearly needed to make smaller sounds – an increase in pitch for example. When multiple balls were juggled the noise was quite intense. To make this more pleasant I tried a staple: broken C major chords across a few octaves, with each size of ball making its own note and multiple balls typically creating chords as they hit the paddle and playscape sides.

Colin suggested trying a pentatonic scale to create a more melodic effect, which it did, but there was something about the C major chord that worked best. Juggle! ended up using broken G major chords over three octaves. The highest note starts to do your head in after a while, especially as you get better at playing and the smallest balls are in play for longer, so Colin used a softer chord rather than a single note, which works well.

Colin tried dozens of different sounds – percussion, vibraphones, xylophones, glockenspiels, a variety of basic waveforms: square, sine, triangle, etc. I was sure I wanted to build on basic sounds more fitting of the time, so stylised simple synthesis won out.

The best sounds were the punchiest – the ones that gave a real sense of solid objects impacting. A hearty echo was definitely the order of the day. It improves the sense of place and adds to the overall sense of substance – not to mention creates a certain trippy quality.

Colin and I are big fans of Spheres of Chaos, partly because you make your own music of sorts, and it was a consideration here because that sometimes happens in Juggle!

We couldn’t quite make ambient audio work in the form of a simple rhythm and some more abstract sounds – it tended to feel misplaced, never quite in sync enough with play; it also moved too far away from 1972 for my liking.

As cool as Colin’s audio is, I can also recommend playing Juggle! to different types of music, from punk (the pogo action seems appropriate) to rock, dance, trance, alternative (To Rococo Rot works for me) and classical.

Previously: Refining and iPhoning

And Finally… Juggle! Sociability

One low in fat comment

IanK says:

Awesome Gaz I love reading stuff like this. Don’t hate me but I actually prefer several of these mockups over the final style you settled on!

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