A Note on Angry Birds Transformers

I was supposed to write something for the new year. A short retrospective on last year and something about this year, but that’ll have to wait, because I need to think through what I want to say before I can go into that.

Instead, this. I’ve been playing some Angry Birds Transformers lately, and there’s something that bugs me.

Well, there’s plenty wrong with the game from poorly balanced characters to absurd in-game pricing (which has lead to me not putting any money into the game as right now even upgrading a character would cost around 15 euros), but this is something very specific, which doesn’t seem to me like an oversight or misjudgement when tooling with the numbers. No, this is something utterly stupid.

There are missiles in the game. They are shot at you from the distance and you can try to shoot them down before they hit you, but they often come in such numbers, that being able to handle them all is very difficult, if not impossible, and while you are doing it, you are neglecting the game itself.

The thing is, the missiles don’t damage you. They change you into a washing machine for about five seconds. Your washing machine will hop along for the duration, moving you forward, but the problem is that you don’t have any control over the game during that period.

Why the fuck would you do that?

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do to your players, its taking away their ability to do anything. Games are supposed to be about interactivity. You get to make decisions, and react to things. For that five second period (which is repeated quite often) you can only watch and wait while you are being shot at by all your enemies.

Why would you want to frustrate your players this way. And if there is a good kind of frustration (like wanting to try something again because you feel you weren’t good enough the first time), this isn’t it. Sure, many games will limit your options. You’ll be slowed down or lose the ability to do something specific for a while, but just making you helpless for five seconds is just utterly stupid and something game designers should have gotten over a long time ago.

Take Magic: the Gathering. It used to have cards like Stasis and Winter Orb which let one player (fairly easily) take the other player completely out of the game. They learned their lesson and those haven’t been around for most of the games history. But that was 20 years ago. Game design was still in its dark ages, just beginning to find its way into the modern times. This is now, and the good people at Rovio are still making mistakes like that.

A variety of hazards is good, but this seems like something you wouldn’t want in your game. And its clearly overused within the game. Sometimes these missiles practically rain on you and sometimes they come from angles you can’t really predict. They don’t make the game better, so they shouldn’t be there.

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