The Imagination of Mimicry

Fireball: Matters Arising

Structural Issues

Last night, I conducted the first (informal) play trial for Fireball. It wasn't a blind study (that is, the player already knew a little about the game - equivalent to having read the game manual, perhaps) but the game isn't quite ready for blind play trials yet. Nonetheless, it revealed some issues:

  • The player will need to play about 20-30 levels at the Easy difficulty before they are ready for anything at Mid difficulty.
  • Many of the fields currently categorised Easy are very difficult for a beginning player to handle. There will have to be some recategorisation.
  • We desperately need the 'shadow' of the avatar - it's still very hard for players to know where the avatar is in the world. Fortunately, this is already in hand.

The difficulty issue has implications for the game structure. In order to get the player off the ground, we're going to need a lot of easy fields at the 'front' of the three Paths (Fun, Puzzle and Challenge) - or we're going to need a fourth Path (Novice?) which must be played first, to give the player a chance to get to grips with the basics of play, and to adjust to the controls.

An alternative would be to have a complete game in the original structure, but have the player play through first using only the Easy fields. Then, with the Easy and the Mid. Then a third time with all the fields. That will help extend the play time for the game, which would be an asset, and the player could use their knowledge of the game to score higher combos in the replays. But, the game through the Easy "projection" would probably seem ragged and incomplete.

A last option is to split each path into an Easy, Mid and Hard segment. So, instead of 60 fields in 10 x 6 field chunks, we'd have 20 + 20 + 20 fields (each 20 consisting of 4 sets of 5 fields). As long as the first 20 fields are all Easy, that should be long enough for the player to get a handle on the play (it wouldn't preclude having Easy fields later - just ensuring that the first 20 are all Easy).

For context, you may need to understand that the game is split into ten Stages (the stage codes are for internal use only - the player will not see them):

  1. Stage L: Leaf and Stone (inert) blocks
  2. Stage W: Wood and Stone (inert) blocks
  3. Stage LW: Leaf, Wood and Stone (inert) blocks
  4. Stage C: Coal, Leaf, Wood and Stone (inert) blocks
  5. Stage P: Plastic, Leaf, Wood and Stone (inert) blocks
  6. Stage CP: Coal, Plastic, Leaf, Wood and Stone (inert).
  7. Stage F: Changes the inert block from Stone to "Fire" (probably Magic in the final game)
  8. Stage M: Metal, Wood, Leaf and Magic (inert).
  9. Stage PM: Plastic, Metal, Wood, Leaf, Coal and Magic (inert).
  10. Stage S: all blocks; Stone blocks can be melted.

LW-style levels are the bulk of the fields in the game currently, so it shouldn't be a problem to put 20 Easy levels at the start of each path using just L, W and LW.

All of this implies some reasonably significant restructuring. Anyone sufficiently au fait with the design to comment on this, please do - I could use some opinions!

Blind Trials

At some point soon, we will begin blind trials. I could use people to run these trials from inside the Fireball pool. If you're already licensed, and have a machine that can run Fireball but haven't the time or aptitude for being a level designer, you could still earn a professional game credit by running some blind trials according to our (broad) protocols. Let me know if you're interested in this. Excellent experience for game students!


I feel the game is going to need a setting or back-story for the manual (it won't need it in the game itself) - if only to defend against the accusation that this is an "arson simulator", rather than a rather sweet and innocent platform-puzzle game. This is the complete text I intend to include at the start of the game manual:

Where does fire go when it dreams?

US Publishers

I have two publishers suitable for this project to meet with at GDC: Mastiff and Red Octane. If anyone knows of any other US publishers who (1) publish PS2 games (2) publish some titles at impulse price points ($25 or less) and (3) would be interested in games with expected unit sales of less than 250,000 (but probably more than 100,000) please let me know!

As ever, my infinite thanks goes out to everyone who has supported the Fireball project thus far!


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Structurally speaking, I think the simple three path idea has an elegance that shouldn't be underestimated. We can expect about fourty of the Fun path levels to be easy and fairly straightfoward. From what I've found letting people play, the best levels to start off on are the ones where there is open play. Players can try something simple, like catching a hedge on fire in a town level, and just watch in amazement as the fire spreads. A friend of my commented "oh wow, look at it, it just keeps going." I said, "yeah, its a fire." After a few moments like that the player should come to an intuitive grasp of what the game is about. The only really sticky control issue was the camera, which with a secondary PS2 control stick, would be greatly streamlined.

I agree the first couple of Puzzle lists should be easy, so the player can get their feet wet with a bit of fireball analysis. If the puzzles or challenge fields are too tough they'll just go back and play another Fun list or two, until the feel they've got the basics. Forcing people through a Novice path or a Easy projection would only stymie a portion of the audience that are either hardcore or have already played enough to know the basics, a portion which grows over time as people play the game.

I like the setting text, something minimal like that is just about what we need. Maybe we could explain the Fireball's fruedian fascination with spikey exit orbs.

Just doing two trials with friends has been illuminating, what sort of things should we be recording for? What protocols should we follow?

I'd be interested in doing the blind trials (and maybe level design, but I'm not so great at that).

What specs are required for the pc to run it?
I've got a 1.6 Centrino laptop that is my best pc atm. It has a generico Intel graphics card though.

Would that be enough?

What's the deal with the licensing you mentioned?

that is all :)


Thanks for the feedback! I agree with just about everything you say here. Having reflected upon it for a day, I think as long as the first few field lists in each Path are Easy, we should be fine. The first four to six field lists in Fun should be no problem. In Challenge and Puzzle we can start with all Easy fields, then go to Easy fields with a Mid to close, then bring out the structures discussed in the documentation.

I need to modify the generic blind trial protocols for Fireball, then I'll send it out to the Fireball list. In essence, the trial limits how much assistance you provide to the player (to see what they struggle to understand on their own) and records emotional responses such as amusement, frustration and fiero.

The build isn't ready for blind trials yet, in my opinion, so I won't draw up the protocol just yet. I'm hoping it can be in the next few weeks or so.


I actually don't have the technical know-how to judge your specifications! :( I'm suprisingly rubbish with hardware! The licensing is effectively non-disclosure paperwork which states you won't violate copyright and confidentiality rights. Please find the "Want to Work on Fireball?" link in the sidebar, click the 'click here' section and scroll down to the email address link. Send a short email saying you're interested in running blind trials for Fireball, and someone will be in touch with the minimum spec and license paperwork. We won't be ready for blind trials for another few weeks, so there's time for you to sort this out, if it's viable. Thanks for volunteering!

"Where does fire go when it dreams?"

Sounds a bit too trippy dude. Problem with boxes is that someone has to 'get' your game concept to want to buy it, just from the box. At least that's my theory.

I'll try my best at a more descriptive, but poetic alternative, though I think I need to play the game first to get into the spirit of it.

"Fire, fire burning bright, make your path by choosing right"

You know what? Next time I make a suggestion, I'll shut up until my one's actually a better alternative. Still, I think the fact that it talks about fire, making a choice to find the correct path, and the fact it rhymes, is a good start.

Also, if a 'shadow' doesn't work logically (being as you are a ball or light/flame), perhaps a glow, or simulated glow would work? A bit like those 'texture shadows' used in Some PSOne platformers I can't remember. It's often a black cirlce that will scale in and out depending how far from the surface the character is jumping.

As for the novice courses, please consider an option so that people who can get into tougher games quicker can bypass these and go straight into the courses currently regarded as 'Easy', which aren't. For a Fiero weirdo like myself, it's very annoying having to play through very easy levels. It's actually quite choresome.

Perhaps mimic the 'Lemmings' structure, where you could choose the first level from each difficulty and only progress when that level was completed.

Again, I've not played the game, so I don't know how it feels or how tough it is, it's just that from experience, having to play through a mandatory number of very easy levels to get to the 'meat' is off-putting for players like myself.

My two pence,


Thanks for the input Dan! The setting text won't appear on the box, but in the manual. I agree it's too trippy for boxtext, which is important in convincing the player to purchase.

A projected glow is the solution we've been heading to for a while now. It just has technical issues which haven't been addressed quite yet.

It looks like we can avoid having to alter the structure. We just have to 'float' a sufficient number of Easy fields to the front of all three paths.


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