Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Video Game Basics: Frogger

"Why did the frog cross the road? Well, just because!"

What does a video game, like any idea, need before anything else? How easy is that for us to define? What kind of list could you make to point out the main ingredients a video game needs, and we are speaking here from a basic fundamental standpoint. We do not need to go into specific highlights and say "Oh look! We need boost pads for our speedy character to go fast!" or "Hey! We need a ball and chain for our brave warrior to use so that he can look cool!" No. Before we get into those kinds of details we need to remember what we are aiming for when we first start building a video game from the ground up.

The game that I want to use as an example of basic gameplay fundamentals is a classic game that many people by now have played at some point. Frogger is a simple game at heart. There isn't much to grasp when you engage in a game of Frogger because the levels are presented to you right away in their entirety. There isn't too much going on and that is a good thing for this game. At the time all you needed to do was to guide Frogger across the street and then across a river to reach any one of five holes and you didn't even need to press any buttons (as in A, B, X or Y) to move Frogger.

What do we find out right away when we play Frogger? Aside from the fact that it is a simple game at heart, Frogger is a game that is provided with a basic concept and a basic objective. These two things are well defined and jump out in the heat of gameplay. It has the concept of a frog crossing two sets of obstacles to reach its goal and the objective is to have all five holes filled with frogs to advance to the next level. That is basic enough. There aren't any twisting loopholes for the player to go through and there aren't a bunch of side objectives the player has to achieve. It's straightforward with a purpose. Frogger is a game that is easy to understand.

Ever so often there will come a few games that try too hard to be gimmicky or flashy and while these games will have a certain cosmetic uniqueness to them, they sometimes won't be able to provide the substance of truly compelling gameplay simply because they disregard the basics of gameplay fundamentals. If this flashy game has reoccurring problems that involve a concept that stretches out all over the place and an objective that changes colors like a chameleon, then chances are gamers are going to pick up on such errors. Gimmicks and flashes only help a video game if there is basic substance to back it up. In game development there are certain themes that you want to hit and there is a concept that you want to build around. The objective must be clear and it must be enticing and motivating enough for the player to invest in achieving.

What is one thing to remember here about Frogger? The concept and objective are both identifiable. The simple fact that you don't keep the player guessing as to what he or she needs to do in a game to progress is a plus because you are showing gamers that your game has an identifiable structure. It is that identifiable structure that gamers will remember when they come back to your game and play it again and again. Along with replayability value, I believe this should be an integral thing that game development teams always need to keep in mind. Before your game can become something memorable after it's played, it must be able to stand on its own two feet in development before it's played. If the game is hobbling on one foot, or worse, dragging both feet then it won't be long until gamers and critics start picking apart the flaws.

Let's consider the character of this subject, Frogger. This character is a simple frog who just wants to make it home. That is probably the most basic description of a video game character that I have ever gotten to know. When you are building a game around a character as simple as Frogger there is no need to do so much to the character. If any changes are made to help the character then there shouldn't be any drastic changes. Slight changes would be more ideal. Frogger doesn't need extensive features such as a wide variety of power-ups, whereas in comparison Mario, Sonic, Kirby, Crash Bandicoot and the like would probably need many power-ups to keep going in their adventures. If you a character like Frogger then the attention doesn't need to be on the shoulders of the character in this context.

The objective of the game doesn't require Frogger to add anything to himself. As long as he reaches one of five holes at the opposite end he will be good to go. Frogger is limited in what he can do when it comes to jumping. Our beloved Italian plumber Mario can jump a great distance and he is able to crush enemies under his feet. The rules are different for Frogger and his jumping. Frogger can't defeat any enemies or obstacles by jumping onto them. If Frogger jumps into a car on the road, then that's all she wrote. Squish! Splat! Frog waffles for everyone! If Frogger jumps into a wall between the five holes at the end, then he's done right there. He can't make a heroic wall jump like Mario and others. If Frogger jumps into a hole that is occupied by an alligator or crocodile, he can't defeat them by jumping onto them. Frog buffet! If Frogger jumps into the river then he will sink like the Titanic. No swimming allowed in this pool!

Structure in games begin with the most simple things such as jumping and structure comes with established rules for the gameplay mechanics.

Structure begins with Point A and then goes to Points B, C and D. Even with simple games such as Frogger there will be at least a few obstacles thrown in to challenge the player. The challenges can't be left bare or else we have no game. The movement of the obstacles in Frogger are key to what makes the game great, at least in my opinion. On the road some cars go slow, some cars go in moderate speed and some cars will go fast. The same principle is applied to the logs and lily pads in the river. If all obstacles went in one speed then it would be that much easier for the player to tell when to move Frogger forward. That is why players have had to stop and judge for themselves when to move forward, when to stop and when to move back. That is pretty much the essence of Frogger.

In closing, having a basic foundation and structure for your video game isn't a bad idea because in some cases it is the most practical and reasonable thing to do. A series of a single video game franchise rarely ever starts with things that are complex in the first game. Things are added into the franchise as it goes along in later installments after it has proven in the first game what it wants to be. Everything that I have mentioned in this article sum up some of the issues that I am noticing in the Video Game Industry today.

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