The simplest games can generate complex experiences. So goes the rhetoric behind Halo: ‘find a play mechanic that is enjoyable and then provide a context in which the player has reason to experience this multiple times’. However, long before Halo’s release in 2002, two little dinosaurs were proving the validity of this concept in the fixed screen platform game Bubble Bobble.
The main experience currency of the game was bob and bub’s bubble play. Their main interaction with the game world was by blowing, nundging, jumping on and finally poping bubbles. This simple mechanic enabled them to capture and kill enemies, ride air currents, climb walls and trigger chain reactions. Once understood this made even most basic levels offered interesting space to play and experiment with these moves.
The purity of this dynamic was always repsected even when offering enhancements to these abilities. A limited set of power-ups, much like the restricted weapon set in better modern games, altered the play without breaking it. A yellow sweet meant you could blow more bubbles, a purple sweet mean you could blow them further across the screen and a blue sweet increased their velocity. All the time the focus remained on the action of player and bubble.
The scoring system again focused the action back on the player and bubble. Points were awareded for careful popping of multiple enemy bubbles, for jumping on bubbles, for popping bubbles. This meant that even the time between levels became playable, as the players would use different techniques to rack up a few extar points.
The clean levels, viewed in one screen, quickly became familiar. So much so that strategies could be planned when away from the game ready for the next session. Repeated play also revealed another aspect of these environments, the air currents that could carry your bubbles around. This opened up new possibilities for quick completion by craftly postioned chain of bubbles.
In addition to all this, there was then the causal system of collectable items. Your action of dealing with bubbles and enemies triggers a string of power-ups. The realisation that you affect the game on this again makes the detail of how you perform your basic moves all the more important.
The play experience of these two little dinasaurs turns out to be no accident. The joy of a chain reaction, or the perfect bubble jump, or wall climb, or multiplier kill has all been intended from the outset. Evrything that may inhibit this experience has been cleared from its path, while features to enhance and focus the play have been carefully introduced.