William and Sly

I played a game called William and Sly 2 and it was pretty neat. Got interested in checking out the prequel, and it’s a strong contrast that shows how much the creator learned between the first and second game.

Here are some of the things that changed from one to the other. Because I’ve recently been reading Game Feel I’ll classify the changes in terms the book might use.

Most of the game feel remains the same between games. The graphics are changed, and feel a little more polished. I didn’t notice any dramatic changes in the motion or input. Both have this lovely bounding motion, which feels very free and joyful. The biggest changes were in things I’d classify as rules changes.

Multiple quests vs. One main quest

In both games, you play as a fox named Sly, and William is a human who gives you a task to perform. In the first game, it is to restore 13 runestones that can be used for teleportation. In the second, it is to gather the 25 pages of a journal.

Each runestone requires that you collect 5 fairyflies to activate it. Each journal page can be collected simply by running over it, but some are hidden in some hard to reach places.

In the second game, in addition to William’s journal pages, you can get three more quests by praying at temples where a hooded figure will appear and give you a more or less cryptic request. The map is smaller, but I think by having multiple quests like that, you’re pushed to explore it more thoroughly. And since you’re doing four shorter quests instead of one long quest, there’s more variety. (On considering this, I’ve thought of a related metric to discuss, but I think it needs its own post.)

Hunter vs. Gatherer

Most blatantly, the first game had a boss battle, which feels kind of at odds with most of the game. It also had creatures that pop out of the ground and try to steal your fairyflies. The second game dispenses with these monsters. Removing the monsters I think puts more emphasis on exploration. When there are monsters, you move just a little more cautiously. When there are monsters waiting to attack you, you’re as likely to be punished for exploring as rewarded.

Of course, the monsters were still very mild. They would never kill you, only steal your fairyfly magic, which you could replace. And removing this risk might at first blush appear to lead to a game without challenge to it. But there is still exploration, and joy to be had in the way this fox bounds through the landscape. It’s a gathering game, rather than a hunting game. And it’s not entirely without challenge. There are some things frozen in ice, that in order to release, you must race to with a flame before it burns out. And searching for all the hidden items has something challenge to it; there’s a reason why hide and seek is so popular to children.

The fairyfly respawning has been changed. I think in the first, the fairyflies respawn at a constant rate, while in the second, it’s been tweaked so they will be plentiful when you have few and rare when you already have many. This prevents you from hording them or being stingy if you have to use them. Gathering them when you need them doesn’t become a grind, but you don’t end up with more than you could possibly use.

I think comparing the two games is a great study because it highlights the value in these changes. Lucas made some good choices in designing the first game, but those things that he changed for the second game feel like the decisions that he made on autopilot for the first game. Of course there are monsters, don’t most games have monsters? Of course fairyflies should spawn at a constant rate, what else is there? It’s a difficult thing to force yourself to make every decision for a reason, it’s very tempting to go with the “obvious” choice, so it’s a huge demonstration of how he’s improved to make these changes for the second game, and it’s an excellent example we could all learn from.

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