Puji Full Analysis & Depth Clarification
Wednesday, September 8, 2010 at 11:54AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Depth & Complexity, Indie, Puji, Review, Skill

I've covered many games on this blog that are very complex and/or deep. I define and use these two terms very specifically. To say that a game has a lot of complexities means that it has a lot of game rules, which includes move properties, level elements, and other gameplay rules. Complexities can be grouped by their importance to the core gameplay based on their relevance. Obviously rules like "reload with R," "examine with E," and "you have a double jump" are more helpful to a beginning player than "attack #3 from character #7 has 8 start up frames of animation." To an aspiring master or pro gamer, all complexities are important because knowledge is power. Furthermore, I propose that most games have approximately the same proportion of key complexities to the more nuanced complexities. 

To say that a game is deep, however, isn't as clear of a statement. In "The Depth of Interplay" series I covered gameplay depth in great... detail. In it I explain that there are several different types counters, and that these counters make up a game's interactive depth. The more counters bounce back and forth between players or between the player and the game, the deeper the gameplay. The deepest games have many ways that the pendulum of counters can swing back and forth. It is here that I must make a clarification. 

It is is important to consider concepts like depth and interplay from the base level, which is gameplay mechanics or actions. The player uses mechanics to interact with the game, and it is emergent use of mechanics that compose tactics, strategies, gambits, and matrices. Unfortunately, the descriptor "deep" can refer to a game with a a single core loop of interplay, a game with many loops, a game with many mechanics that counter each other naturally, or a game with many back and forth counters. So to clarify, I will use the term "deep" for games with many back and forth counters only. All the other levels of depth must be described in more words.

To be clear, "back and forth" counters describes encounters when mechanics, tactics, or strategies are used initially to achieve some kind of functional advantage and then used to counter the opponent (and visa versa) without repeating or resetting the gameplay conditions back to the state defined by the initial conditions. Only applies to reactionary counters.Decay and cause & effect counters provide some of the clearest examples back and forth depth. This is why many understand Chess to be a very deep game. The turn based design facilitates back and forth gameplay to begin with. Additionally, when pieces are captured, the whole game changes. ie. the available space increases and the viable strategies shift for both players. Elaborate traps, setups, and checkmates that take many turns to complete are possible because of this design.

Many gamers love many popular multiplayer games because they require lots of skill, feature many complexities, and are fairly deep. Street Fighter, Call of Duty, Star Craft, Smash Bros, Halo, Team Fortress, and Mario Kart are all examples of such games. Gamers put in the hours of practice, teach themselves how to play better, and compete on that next-level that's far beyond the imagination of less dedicated players. From a critical perspective that takes advantage of every lesson and facet of game design covered on this blog, we know that it's possible for a game to have a high skill ceiling and be fairly deep while featuring very few complexities. Puji, an indie game by Alexander Jhin, Matt McKnett, and Pat Kemp, is a perfect example. (You may remember Pat Kemp from my analysis on Station 38)

 

The following is the full analysis of Puji.

The basic rules are very simple. They're so simple, in fact, that I'll simply show you the in game instructions. 

 

Here are all the game's complexities that I bothered to measure roughly ranked in order of importance:

 

That is not a lot of complexities. Puji has the following skill spectrum categorized using the DKART system.

 

DEXTERITY

KNOWLEDGE

ADAPTATION

REFLEX

TIMING

 

So with so few complexities and a skill spectrum that mainly stresses reflex skills what does the interplay look like for Puji? Surprisingly, there's a lot here. Counters and strategies listed below:

 

 

Warning: We love to scream when we play. 

Also, watch with annotations. 

Puji is a surprisingly deep and strategically interesting game. Puji shows us that efficient and elegant design is what makes games so interesting even through the rigors and stresses that multiplayer puts on a game system. With so few complexities Puji challenges players to use a unique range skills and strategies. Because the dynamic moving monk "cover system" is the product of random AI, every match is different and all players must adapt. The biggest drawback to Puji is that by holding down different combinations of keys you can lock out your opponent's movement and STRIKE mechanics. I call this keyboard locking. This is without a doubt a game breaking feature. If Puji was a tournament game (in some kind of hilarious yet still interesting alternate universe) there would probably be a rule forcing participants to play with a single finger to prevent keyboard locking.

On a final note, another group of indie designers are creating a sort of 3D version of Puji called SpyParty. Already this game features more complexities than Puji and is taking years to program. It's only 2 players, and from the look of things, it'll probably be less deep than Puji. Only time will tell. 

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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