Monochrome Heights Devlog #8 – Defying Player Expectations

I’m making Monochrome Heights, a 2D pixel art “tough-as-nails” platformer.

There are many ways a game can delight and surprise its players. People often come into a game with a set of expectations based on previous similar experiences. By defying some of their expectations, a game can exceed. However, by straying too far from convention, in too many ways, especially in terms of gameplay, one risks confusing or isolating their audience. 

I’ve recently been tweaking Monochrome Heights based on feedback from players in my target demographic. I’m currently running a playtest for roughly half of the levels in the game, which includes almost every planned mechanic. One of the goals for this playtest was to focus on difficulty, but another was to make sure that all of the mechanics worked well. 

Overall the playtest has been a success, and confirmed that the core gameplay and experience is well suited to the target audience. Of course, some aspects of the gameplay need to be refined and iterated upon and in particular a couple of mechanics and items stood out and were the subject of much of the critical feedback.

A screenshot of Happy the Robot sliding under spikes. IMAGE CREDIT: One Frog Games.

Two things in particular, the sliding mechanic for the player, and the flame item, were the subject of some criticism. Rather than be defensive, I’ve tried to listen to the high quality feedback from some of my testers. I understand that part of the problem is that the slide mechanic and the flame-throwing object (which I call flamers) appear very similar to pre-existing game mechanics in the Mega Man and Super Mario Bros. series, respectively. The sliding is borrowed from the Mega Man franchise, but I had the input and some other aspects of it operating differently. The flamers look and operate like burners in the Super Mario Bros. games, but I had them timed differently, and act differently.

I wanted to make both of these game mechanics be unique and not a straight copy from the games they’re inspired by. However, I believe that in this case, it’s best to modify them to be more aligned with player expectations. My target audience has played these games and the series they come from, and as such unless I spend a lot of time being very thoughtful about how to tweak and play with their expectations, players are just going to be frustrated and confused. 

My game has other unique selling points and creative innovations such that the slide and flamers should probably function more like a player expects them to. So I’ve taken this past week to modify those aspects of the game (along with others based on feedback) to better align with player expectations.

And now I can focus on where to surprise players in a positive way.

If you’re interested in following along in more detail, sign up for the Monochrome Heights mailing list here. You’ll get exclusive access to early demos and additional short updates. Until next time. Thanks for reading! 

Share any thoughts on the game in the comments below or come find me on the Boss Rush Discord.

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