Saturday, December 15, 2018

i'm ping pong king, an analysis

Daring Fireball uncharacteristically recommended a game for mobile called "I'm Ping Pong King" and it is indeed pretty great - incredibly minimalist in both game play and presentation - yet compelling, and very easy to pay in small but satisfying doses. I've been thinking about what it does right, and how it compares to some previous similar games --

It's Ping Pong stripped to an almost absurdist minimum - if the ball lands on the left side of the table hit left, if it lands on the right side, hit right. (There's a visual telltale, a little "X" that emerges from the where the ball strikes) Despite the seeming triviality of that, game play is still compelling - I haven't quite worked out if it's the "body language" of the opponent and the motion of the ball before it hits the table that sometimes fools me or what, but this game finds a great place on the fine line between too easy and too reflex-demandingly hard.

(Of course in my history, I'm a big fan of games with a Ping Pong / Pong mechanic and a minimalistic control scheme - my own Joust Pong for the Atari 2600 (later renamed FlapPing to avoid Atari lawyers who claim to exclusive naming rights involving "Pong") is similar in that regard, using a single button to let the player maneuver into ball-returning position.)

Swinging back to what makes a popular mobile game - the "single button the flap against gravity" mechanic of JoustPong was later reinvented for the infamously difficult Flappy Bird. There the single button lets the player push the bird up through gaps between (or more often, directly into) big pipes. This game was difficult enough to be considered "masocore" (masochist + hardcore) but was still ragingly popular for a time.

The simplified control scheme suits mobile well. The other thing Flappy Bird and I'm Ping Pong King have in common is a demand for focus - if you are not concentrating, you will lose quickly. IPPK is a bit more forgiving, though, since a match is "first to five points", thus offering a chance for redemption.

I'm Ping Pong King has a meta-match structure that Flappy Bird lacked - you work your way through a series of 50 opponents. In theory each one might be a bit harder, but maybe that only matters in the last ten, and even then the game never gets crushingly difficult. (At least for a guy who has spent too much of his life playing games, but might be getting slower in his middleage) That sense of progression adds a lot to the package, along with great aesthetics of the motion of the ball and the character.

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