Last week, a fan of ours decided to play Fingeance using only his right hand. Surprisingly, he did very well throughout the campaign (albeit on easy mode)! It immediately dawned on me how much decreasing the skill floor in Fingeance has helped with approachability and accessibility.
— Escape Industries (@EscIndustries) July 29, 2016
In the past, Fingeance had somewhat of a split personality issue in terms of the skill levels we’re focusing on. We’d like the game to be a much more newbie-friendly shmup, but we also want a “shooter with depth” for advanced players. In our efforts to add that depth we crave, we sometimes added overly complex character abilities that turn off both newer and expert players. We’ve found that simplifying parts and lowering the skill floor had a dramatic effect in a user’s understanding and enjoyment of Fingeance.
Skill Floor: A Breakdown
The skill floor is a game design term used to describe the minimum level of ability a player must have in order to progress through the game and/or positively contribute to a team or competitive experience. For example, a game like Super Smash Bros. packs a low skill floor with its simple and intuitive controls as opposed to the comparatively complex Marvel vs Capcom 3. This term should not to be confused with the skill ceiling, which describes the amount of effort it takes to master a game/character/system.
For Fingeance, we aim for that elusive gold standard: a low skill floor and a high skill ceiling. Previous iterations tended to be high floor, high ceiling affairs. Oftentimes, we reach the amount of depth we’d like from the game, but with complicated and unfriendly character parts.
Keeping it Simple
Complicated parts are fun, right? You get to do a lot more with them than a simple part, which makes more interesting decisions.
Turns out, the cost of complexity in Fingeance was higher than we originally thought. See, the basic actions of Fingeance — dodging bullets and hitting enemies — has heaping helpings of complexity and depth on their own. Now, add to that powerful special abilities, and we have a game that’s quite hard to master indeed.
But here’s the problem: we were addicted to adding gadgets with weird, unique, and challenging uses. Here, take a look at a gadget we added a few months ago:
Finn’s gadget, Rally Cry, used to have two selections that you could pick from by moving in a direction. As you can see, while the menu is up, the player can’t actually move their sub. Instead, their analog stick gets mapped to the menu, freezing their movement in place.
Standing still for even a few moments to decide what buff you wanted to apply to your team made that gadget risky to use. The two choices had drastically different outcomes, making the best use case for them hard to determine. Also, newer players couldn’t figure out what Rally Cry even did, as they would press the button too fast to see the menu or would see it pop up without any obvious way to use it.
Here’s another example:
Dorsa’s Pickrocket had a similar issue. Aiming the part took a bit of time to adjust to, which is frequently time you can’t afford in a shoot-em-up. Occasionally, the part delighted a player on completion of a perfect shot. But mostly, it left the baffled or — worse — wishing they had another continue. We’ve made these parts easier to use by making them function as through one button press. No longer will players have to go through hoops to reach the skill floor!
Pumping in the Juice
For the two gadgets above, we’ve made big changes. For one thing, we’ve added lots of visual and audio flair. This gives players a better understanding of what they’ve done and how powerful the action is.
Finn’s Rally Cry replacing gadget is the Defense Formation, a powerful defensive boon that gives all players a large shield for 3 seconds when activated. This shield takes damage for them when until it reaches its health limit. To support this, we’ve pumped some serious juice into this part, making it a clearly momentous occasion. Finn players should feel good every time they use the gadget. Giving someone a boost to their defense isn’t nearly as satisfying if you can’t tell it happened!
Meanwhile, Dorsa’s Pickrocket was changed to a missile that explodes on impact, stealing the health of enemies in the blast radius. We’ve added a fancy explosion when it reaches its mark, and particles now come from enemies hit to all players healed from the life steal effect. Players just starting with Dorsa will now have a clear indicator on their effectiveness.
Playing as Finn and Dorsa feels much more satisfying with these changes, and future content will follow suit. How do you feel about the lowered skill floor? You can comment here on our blog, or reach us on our Twitter, Facebook, and IndieDB pages.