When Newton meets Temple Run

I have been addicted to Temple Run ever since our focus group kids said it was their favorite game last year. I have also learned a lot about game mechanics, and player retention from this game.

Why do I keep playing Temple Run? I like its ease of play and pulse racing excitement of the quick action, but there is more. First off, when I die in Temple Run, the easiest button for me to start is the restart button–it is calling for me to restart. But also as I am seeking my next objective or next milestone in points, I am gaining coins for each run. Even when I have a crappy run and die early, it wasn’t a complete waste of time because I earned coins along the way.

I can spend those coins on swag – but these aren’t only new characters and backgrounds – but also boosts that help me do better in the game. It is definitely a rich get richer scenario, but it is a game, not a government.

Temple Run is influencing the design of the Leveling Up games. We have created a new game we are calling “The Particle Game”….the kids suggest “impulse” which is a contender. Anyway, this game is basically an exploration of Newton’s laws.  In the first set of levels, particles move around in an ambient that has no gravity or any other forces between particles or in the ambient field. The motion of the particles is governed entirely by the impulse of the player’s click. This impulse is imparted “spherically” (in 2-D) so it affects all the particles around them equally, depending only on their distance away from them. The game sets up the challenge to get one particle to a goal while avoiding other ambient particles.

In the first set of levels, the player must deal with the effects of the impulse on particles of a variety of masses. The red ones are lighter than the blue ones so they accelerate much more when given the same impulse. The ratio of the red mass to the blue is set great enough so that players will clearly distinguish the different behavior of the particles, but not so great that the red particle becomes a frustrating part of the game play.

The gameplay is dealt out in levels that are intended to allow the player to explore one concept at time, developing mastery (within the game context), and then layering it with another facet of the overall concept.

For instance, the first particles that are introduced are all the same mass as the player’s particle. Thus the only difference in how the particles react to the impulse is based on their distance from the impulse. Players are expected to figure out that if they click too close to the particle, it may result in a too fast (out of control) particle, while if they don’t click close enough the impulse cannot move the particle.

Players are then given increasingly complex levels of this activity – with more and more blue balls to navigate around but still the same mechanic, and still all having the same mass.

Next a new layer is introduced – red balls with less mass. It is anticipated that players will distinguish the behavior of the two balls and say that the “smaller” ones feel the impulse more than the bigger ones. We as designers need to make sure the player understands smaller means lighter in this case – we will try to do that with artwork and transitions. We will also introduce a heavier “larger” particle to drive home the point of F=ma. Well, that is my language. I would never expect a player to come up with F=ma (unless they are relating it to Physics they may have already learned elsewhere – but I am guessing that will be rare). But I do anticipate that by repeatedly contending with increasingly complex situations that model good physics (oh did I mention, in later levels we introduce gravitation and electric forces between particles – yeehaw!), players will gain intuitive understandings about physical concepts that can help their learning.

We are going to add other particles that serve like coins in Temple Run. In our focus group, players suggested that we use those coins to earn swag like shields that will allow players to collide into other particles without harm for 5 seconds. This way as you improve you get to deal with harder and harder situations, but you have some protection along the way.

We are wondering if that addictive quality of game play can drill a deeper and deeper intuition of physical phenomena, while encouraging players to find new strategies to achieve their goal in the context of those physical phenomena.

We’ll see….

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