by Stuart Urback
If you spend more than 5 minutes with me you'll probably discover me flipping a pen in my hand, absentmindedly clicking a clicker, or twirling my wedding ring on my finger. I might be addicted to fiddling with objects; I even love the sound of a book page turning. One of the reasons I love phone games, is because of the inventive ways designers use the limits of the phone to create immersive experiences.
When people talk about realism in digital spaces, they often attribute this to a visual - 3 dimensional - rendering of reality. The closer the visuals are to “real life”, the more immersive the game will be. But there are other ways of generating feedback, and creating joy, with digital games. Small phone games don’t immediately have the benefit of beautifully displaying those visuals.
Because phone games often lack the same tactility that the physical world presents as well as being unable to display a photo-realistic simulation, designers have to get creative with how they manage that feedback. Zach Gage’s Pocket Run Pool is one of my favorite examples of a game that uses tactile and auditory feedback to create a sense of immersion.
Pocket Run Pool uses generous interface elements, sharp audio/haptic feedback, and a clever interface trick to reinforce the concept that you are “playing pool”.
When you fire the cue stick (the stick that hits the ball), you don't just tap a button, instead, when you go to hit the cue, you pull the cue back, and then flick it forward, hitting the cue in real life. And, there's the benefit that how hard you swipe impacts how hard the cue ball will hit the cue. It would have been possible to recreate this with a simple tap, but dragging your finger down across the screen and then flicking it back up, mimics the motion of pulling the cue stick back and then pushing it forward.
Because the game gives you clear feedback, even hitting the ball feels right, and sinking a ball (putting it in the proper pocket) is gratifying. After you flick to move the cue stick, you will hear the cue stick hitting the cue ball, the cue ball colliding with other balls, and finally a higher pitch beep, notifying you you were successful, followed by the thunk (and a phone vibration), suggesting the ball has fallen into the pocket.
The game also has a generosity with its UI elements. When you rotate the cue stick to aim, a large set of circular arrows appear to let you know which direction you are rotating in (which can be surprisingly challenging to remember on a phone). And when you do line it up, there’s a literal line that extends from the cue ball, to where it’s going to end up. It’s easy to imagine how this game could have withheld that information to “reward skilled players”, but the game is still suitably challenging, and the extra help made me feel secure.
The goal of Pocket Run Pool is to get the highest possible score. Each time you sink a ball, you’ll score a point by combining the number on the ball, with the multiplier on the pocket (10x, 8x, 6x, 4x, 2x, 1x). So a 4-ball going in the 10x pocket would be worth 40 points.
While the highest possible score is 800 points, don’t try to worry much about that your first time through. I found the game sufficiently challenging just to make it to the end without running out of lives. (Each time you fail to pocket a ball in a shot, you lose one of your 3 starting lives, once you’re out, you run ends).
When I played Pocket Run Pool the first time, I went out of my way to make sure to pocket the 8 ball last. (In many traditional games of pool, if you pocket the 8-ball before the end of the game, you lose). I’m happy to report that this was not the case. When you sink the 8-ball, the location of the multipliers on each pocket gets randomized, so if you were setting something up, that might get thwarted. It keeps the risk of the 8-ball, as it can screw up a perfect run, but without the punishment of ending the game.
Pocket Run Pool has a ton of extra play styles that you can explore even after you have beaten the main game. However, I think this is an interesting place to talk about how the game makes money and adds replayability. Where Candy Crush creates a crafted but randomized level system and then adds the concept of lives (eventually you run out and have to wait for your set to replenish, or buy more), Pocket Run Pool allows you to play the base/randomized game forever. Instead, it offers two other play options, one of which that requires "buy-ins".
The paid mode, High Stake Pool, has a buy-in, similar to the concept of gambling. You start with 10,000 coins (which you can buy in sets for 99 cents per set). Each buy-in has a minimum of 1000 coins. However, you can increase the buy-in to increase the potential payout. The higher the wager, the larger the potential payout. There are also different "challenges" thrown in which increase the payout, like no lives, or different sized balls. What's so neat about this is if you want an extra challenge, you can play for a while before having to put money in, but if you win you might make coins on the game, and thus extend the amount of time you have to play before putting money in (or watching an ad). Thus, it's using randomized reward sets (the "payout") to make it less likely that you'll have to pay money.
One of the coolest parts about Pocket Run Pool is that all of the elements of the game, from the design, to the mechanics, to how the game makes money are thoughtfully laid out for the player. It’s one of the reasons I’m quick to recommend this game to anyone who’s looking for a new, fun experience.
The opinions in this post are expressly the views of the author and do not reflect the views of their employer(s) or any entities that they might otherwise be affiliated.
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