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Rant

rantCause the biggest pile-up you can in this quick-hit driving game. Use the cursor keys to race up the road and smash into the junction at the end. The more you hit, the better your score!

Postmortem:

Whilst messing about with an idea I had in my spare time, I ended up creating a basic AS2 physics engine for simulating masses and springs. It turned out to be just what was needed for the Rant game. Each car is two round masses joined together by a spring, with a car graphic pasted over the top. The resulting losenge shape isn’t really much like a car I know, but it is perfectly sufficient for the game as it stands.

Initially, I tried making the cars out of a box made from four masses and six springs holding them in position. This ran considerably slower as the collision detection had that much more work to do, and there were that many more springs to simulate. The results weren’t as good either, with boxes occasionally turning inside out and often wobbling like jelly. The two-mass system worked considerably better and was considerably cheaper on the CPU. All round win!

A typical game of Rant only lasts a few seconds. You race up the road, tap a few cars, get a score then it’s all over. It turned out in playtesting that the trick to making this addictive was to make it really easy to play again. So, spacebar to reset at any point (even before the game is over) was critical. Likewise, there’s no lengthy transition effect before you’re back in control. In fact, there’s not even a brief half-second transition – I found that it annoyed people to wait even for that when you can replay so rapidly.

Another way to reduce user friction was to store their high-score in their Flash Shared Object. I found that people got into a routine of restarting rapidly, and sometimes did so when they had a highscore by accident. Rather than lose the chance to submit it, I allow them to submit it at any point in the future after a game too. The highscore table automatically allows just one entry per person, so there’s no chance of one person filling the table when they’ve achieved a top score.

Ultimately, Rant is a game of luck. If you’re lucky, you can hit all three of the randomly placed speed boosts, catch a few cars just right on the junction itself and hit lots of parked cars for that magical score. The game keys into that ‘one more go’ trap that we’re all succeptible to, and a little bit into the semi-gambling gene that makes us play dice games like Yahtzee, even when there’s nothing other than a highscore at stake.

Lessons

  • Very short games can increase replayability and addiction, since people don’t have to invest much time in each go
  • … as long as there’s very little friction before playing again
  • When simulating physical objects, go for the simplest underlying representation that will suffice
  • You don’t always need a lot of gameplay to generate addiction

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