Play-Log: 30 Second Hero #1

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I was drawn to 30 Second Hero because of its potential to be targeting me: someone with a taste for casual gameplay and limited time; someone who liked RPGs and their conventions; someone who could appreciate a design  built around a sarcastic nostalgia for old-school games.  Though the execution has some real problems, 30 Second Hero  largely delivers on that promise.

Read on...
I was drawn to 30 Second Hero because of its potential to be targeting me: someone with a taste for casual gameplay and limited time; someone who liked RPGs and their conventions; someone who could appreciate a design  built around a sarcastic nostalgia for old-school games.  Though the execution has some real problems, 30 Second Hero  largely delivers on that promise.

I first flipped through the guide, as I often do because I bought the game well in advance of when I could play it.  I like the flippant approach to RPG conventions.  Instead of a party of four heroes, 3SH has four *games* featuring one strong and particular character each.  Rather than an epic story that goes from a foundling in a village to the ultimate battle between good and evil on the moon, 3SH features ridiculous stories that supposedly play out in 30 seconds each.  Rather than spend 120 hours in a game, there are four radically different games, each taking at most a minute at a time.  It's the ultimate casual RPG with a sense of humor about itself.

However, there are some real flaws in the execution, which I discovered ... well, okay, more  than 30 seconds in.  In the eponymous mini-game, you play a hero out to defeat the Evil Lord who is casting a spell that will destroy the world in 30 seconds.  Your whole quest, from overland movement through mini-battles to the final showdown, must happen in 30 seconds.  The first round went well, and I averted catastrophe, watched the credits roll, and found myself in 30 Second Hero II.  As a veteran of Retro Game Challenge, I smiled and readied myself for the next game.  

The next 'game', though, level 2 really, I couldn't beat after 3 or 4 tries, and I'm not sure that I will beat it, for anticipation of a punishing mechanic.  See, you've got 30 seconds to get from point a to b to c to the boss.  The first problem is that the controls are finicky, and I find myself wandering back and forth (for several precious seconds) trying to stop in the one point where I can enter the town or the cave or what not.  Secondly, the way that you get more time in the game, which this level seems to require, is to pray at a statue and make a donation.  The patron deity rolls back time a bit to give you an extension-- but the money that it requires increases every time you ask.  The game and the booklet are painfully clear about this.

So I'm stuck in anticipation of a negative feedback loop - the more I can't control my character, the more I need to pay, the more I need to pay next time.  I'm on a trajectory where I expect to find myself stuck having to grind more and more in a game that I'm having trouble with already in level 2.

So forget that, and let that be a lesson to designers like me who tend to forget the learning curve when presented with a clever mechanic.


(mouseover text reads:"He came to a level where you just keep dying with no way of predicting
I've tried another of the minigames, Princess 30, and it is much more my speed.  This is a scrolling shooter with some clever conceits wrapped around it-- the princess has a 30 second curfew.  She runs out on missions to get things to heal her ailing father, but must do so within the curfew.  She's carried out on these missions by a retinue of loyal knights; as the player bumps the mass of knights into harm, the knights are injured, leave (slowing the palanquin) and come back after some time having incurred medical expenses that the princess must pay.

It's packed with attitude, as well.  The princess likes the magical crossbow her father gives her, and gets into what the court calls 'crossbow mode' where she's insanely gung-ho about her missions.    She's loyal to the knights, naive about the world (it *is* a 30-second curfew),  The story is ridiculous, teasing, but plenty fun enough for the mini-game.  

And, critically, the mechanics are balanced.  There were some levels that I had to try several times, but my failures were always something I could change my tactics to fix.

I haven't tried the other two mini-games yet, and am looking forward to them.  One is an RTS where I'll play a beautiful evil lord tormenting the unbeautiful and unworthy populace (grin); the other sounds very different but I'm not clear on it and it isn't unlocked at the start.

The quick lesson I got from this first play, because I like to get lessons, apparently I am paying not for a game but to be schooled, is that you may have to be careful about communicating how difficult something will eventually become.  You can turn something that isn't actually punishing into a brutal and doomed strategy in the players mind even if it isn't actually so in the game (or won't be for a long time).  I saw a version of this in playlists for the Gamelab games Downbeat and Out of Your Mind.  If you give a player too much advice against dangerous-but-not-deadly strategies before they understand the game well, they don't have enough information to properly assess how dangerous the strategy is, and they may avoid it altogether.  Tell a child that swearing is sometimes bad, and (self-assertion aside) they will not use that word at all.  They don't know enough to understand the nuance of 'sometimes.'

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This page contains a single entry by Scott Price published on May 15, 2010 11:25 PM.

Why Am I Here On This Blog was the previous entry in this blog.

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