‘Robot Unicorn Attack’ meets designer’s criteria for addictive game — not that I’d know

There’s this game I rediscovered lately, mainly since it has been re-released for the iPad and is a lot less chunky. It’s an incredible game that both my stepkid and I love. However, the name of the game and certain points of gameplay are kind of embarrassing and will get certain people to poke fun at me, so I’m not gonna talk about it.

"I don't always design video games. But when I do, I make sure they are addictive. Stay twitchy, my friends."

See, I like hardcore, ultraviolent games with explosions, armies, weapons, tactics and gory gore. That’s how I roll.

Instead, I found an interesting report on Wired.com about the five things every video game needs to be truly addictive. In “Designing the Five-Second Game,” designer RJ Mical (at right) spoke at a Game Developers Conference and broke down what makes a game great:

  • Simple interface: The less complicated, the better. Take, for instance, Robot Unicorn Attack, available on adultswim.com and for the iPad. There’s a jump button and a dash button. The robot unicorn stays fixed on the left side of the screen, so all you have to worry about is making jumps and smashing stars.
  • Simple strategy: You should be able to learn the rules and the goal of the game in 5 minutes, Mical said. Again, Robot Unicorn Attack provides a great demonstration of this: Make jumps, smash stars. The genius is figuring out HOW to make jumps and smash stars, with hair trigger timing.
  • Short levels: Besides being convenient for players if the levels are short, knowing that the game’s levels are broken up into easily absorbable chunks of gameplay might convince players to game more, Mical said. Even though Robot Unicorn Attack has only one “level,” it gets progressively faster and faster. When you reach high speeds, the score gets bigger, more and more happy dolphins dance and jump at the bottom of the screen and the action gets intense.
  • Models the physical world, at least somewhat: Though Robot Unicorn Attack is in 2-D, the physics of jumping make sense (except for being able to double-jump from mid-air, but that’s cool, not lame).
  • Great sound effects: Robot Unicorn Attack has some great sound FX, from subtle twinkles and harps on the double jump to loud explosions when charging through metal stars. The sound actually becomes an important part of the game. And throughout the game, Erasure’s “Always” is playing.

Wait, you don’t think that great game I rediscovered is Robot Unicorn Attack, do you? P’shaw! That’s not how I roll. I’m totally playing Robot Unicorn Attack Heavy Metal. It has skulls, pentagrams, Blind Guardian singing about medieval warriors and a robot unicorn with a mane made of FiRE, not a dumb rainbow. METAL. Yeah.

Still, the rainbows are kinda cool…

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