Friday, March 25, 2016

DOCPLAYS: Right Click to Hack


Right Click to Hack
Let's Play!

You can get Right Click to Hack at https://mechabit.itch.io/right-click-to-hack

Transcript:

So this is Right Click to Hack. It was made by three people in less than a day for the Nordeus Hackathon 2015 where it won the Technical Complexity prize and took second place overall. The hackathon theme was "squad based puzzle platformer," and for this game, they have a robotic facility with several different bots with different abilities, and you need to make them work together to get through to the mainframe. I like it a lot, and it does some interesting things I'd like to talk about.

So, first the game has to teach you its mechanics. You can't get past the opening screen unless you hold the right mouse button to hack - and it turns out you've hacked a security camera. You can look around, but you can't move. But you can see a robot here. And if you mouse over it, a reticle pops up, indicating that it's a valid target, and a progress bar appears just like on the opening screen - so you can hack this robot. And if you do, a couple of things happen.

First, your perspective changes to the robot, and you can see its leads in your field of vision. Also, some music starts playing. It's an optimistic tune, conveying a mood that this is the little robot that could. And this robot can move around. So you can take it into the next room where you can see a large closed door and a small panel next to it. The panel uses the same click iconography that we saw in the opening screen, but this one is telling us that left click equals electricity, and that you should apply it to the panel. It's teaching you this robot's ability. By left clicking you create an electrical charge, and if you do that to the panel you can open a door.

In the next room, we can see another robot. You can tell it's a robot because it has a face and when you mouse over it you get another hacking reticle. You can also see that this robot can block lasers, which is useful since our progress forward is blocked by laser walls. So let's hack this robot.

Now, you'll notice that the music changed. This robot has a different theme song. It's much heavier and slower, which befits this robot's abilities. With the faces and the visual design of the robots, as well as their movement speed and the way their abilities and musical themes support each other, it's really easy to project personalities onto the robots despite the fact that there's no dialog and the robots only do exactly what you tell them to do. It's indirect characterization, and it's pretty effective, I think. And it also helps you remember what each robot can do and therefore what tools you have at your disposal when you're trying to solve puzzles.

Take this seesaw physics puzzle for example. You can't just take the first robot up the ramp to the door, because it just tilts down in the other direction. But the design of the other robot, the laser-blocking robot - its appearance, its music, its slow movement, and the fact that it can block lasers - those all suggest heaviness. And indeed, if you use this robot to weigh down the ramp... the first robot can now walk up it to the door.

In the next room, we find another obstacle. There's a gap in the floor and there's lasers running in there, so we probably don't want to go down there. But here there's another robot. This one's flying and holding a small crate, telegraphing its ability as an air-lifting robot. Correspondingly, its theme is very light and airy.

Now, I do want to comment a bit on the crate that this robot is holding. So far, every movable object has been important, so it's kind of confusing that this one isn't - especially since it's also the only red object that isn't either an indicator of your goal or an obstacle between you and that goal. You actually can't do anything useful with this crate - it's not big enough to bridge that gap in the floor and let the door-opening robot walk over, nor is it heavy enough to weigh down the seesaw so that the laser-blocking robot can climb up. Now, you don't actually need it for either of those things because you can just use the robot itself to airlift both of the other robots to the door. But it's a bit of a problem that the game's design so far suggests that you need the crate. In my first playthrough, I tried for a few minutes to find a use for it, and therefore didn't see the obvious solution of just airlifting the other robots. I think in a more polished version of the game, you'd need to drop the small crate somewhere obvious as part of the puzzle - maybe to activate a pressure switch or something - enough to demonstrate that the flying robot can pick up and drop objects and to move your focus off the crate since it's served its purpose.

Anyway, in the next room there's a bunch of larger crates. These naturally create some apprehension or even claustrophobia. Previously, rooms have been wide open and you could easily see the paths and obstacles in front of you. But now there's a bit of a maze. But in this maze, you find another robot. So what does this one do?

Well, this robot has sawblades and an energetic, rocking musical theme. That's all it takes to telegraph that this robot can clear the room of the crates. It's not a very complex or difficult puzzle, but it's cathartic to exert some power over the environment and destroy all of the anxiety-causing obstacles.

So, once that's done, we see there's a new puzzle that combines elements of previous ones. There's another laser-filled gap and a laser running across the room after it. We're gonna have to use several bots to get across this. And this is what I really like about this game's approach to the "squad based puzzle platformer" - it's not a situation where there's just one character that's useful and fun to play as and you're using that character to clear a path for the other less useful, less interesting character. Instead, because of the hacking mechanic, you're controlling each robot in turn and they all have something interesting and useful to do. And they all have personality through their design - visually, mechanically, and musically. It's pretty cool.

Now the physics do get a bit wonky here - I'm sure that's just a result of the fact that this game was made so quickly, in less than a day. And if they'd had more time to polish, I'm sure they would have cleaned it up. Some of the jankiness here though is caused by my edits; I did cut out some pieces where I was just going back and forth but I left in enough so you could tell what I was doing to solve the puzzle at least.

Now, even though the saw bot isn't needed to destroy any more crates, it's still useful as a hacking relay since you can only hack things via line of sight. Once we use all four bots to clear this puzzle, we open the final door and access the mainframe. But we're not done quite yet - we need to use the game's signature mechanic one more time and hack the mainframe.

We won! So yeah, that's Right Click to Hack. The puzzles are decent, if a bit standard, but what I find most interesting is the way the robots themselves are handled. They're all useful and fun to play, they all have a specific ability that's telegraphed to you ahead of time, and they all have personalities expressed through their design. It's a fun little game, and I'd love to see it expanded and polished.

Thanks for watching!

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