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The 5 Commandments Of Clicker Games (and why Tap My Katamari fails it)


By now you've probably been well informed by multiple sources that Tap My Katamari is a great big turd topped with mustard (it's FRENCH mustard). I'm three days in, and it occurred to me that it presents a good opportunity to look at how to fuck the dog on an incremental game, how not to fuck the dog on an incremental game, and how Tap My Katamari fucks the dog when it comes to incremental games.


(You will laugh, because that was witty)

1) The presentation must be immediately engaging

Cookie Clicker fills the screen with falling cookies, particle effects and strawberry milk. The black and white minimalism of A Dark Room is instantly fascinating. Adventure Capitalist is a buffet of flickering progress bars, crack cocaine to anyone who ever got stuck for an hour watching their hard drive defrag. The player in an incremental game will spend a lot of time doing not much, so the game has to either feel like candy to just look at or be arresting in another way.

This is the only thing that TMK manages to nail. The art style and music are spot on, and any fan of the series will feel immediately at home.

2) Clicking must make you feel good

Cookie Clicker is pretty much the cock of this particular walk. The clicks feel and sound crisp and satisfying, and there's an obvious and immediate cause and effect between what you're doing and what's happening on screen. This should be THE EASIEST THING IN THE WORLD to get right. Everybody likes pressing buttons. Have you ever taken a red clicker switch out of an electronics toolkit and spend half an hour just clicking it? It's built into every human.

A staggering amount of incremental games get this wrong, and end up with a user interface that feels floaty and disconnected. The comedy waifu simulator Ten Billion Wives is a good example of this - the playfield is an endlessly looping field of sprites drifting past the screen, with no visual feedback for interacting with them.

This is where the wheels start to come off the bus with TMK. Your Katamari ploughs along when you touch it and crawls along when you're not, sure, but the only difference being made is to the numbers on screen. There's no real sense of progression or power up. And speaking of which:

3) It can be a grind, but it can never be a slog

Balancing an incremental game is a very delicate matter. You need clearly defined wins early. The new player needs to tinker a little and be rewarded big, then tinker a lot, hit a hump and be rewarded for overcoming it. If the player doesn't receive a clear demonstration of how good it is to overcome those small and medium sized humps very early on, they'll look at those enormous humps on the horizon and go "Ehhhh..." and at that point your game is DEAD.

TMK is goddamned useless in this regard. There's really no clear feel of progress. The size of the Katamari and the rate at which it enlarges just feels wrong to anyone who's played the games. The skills you buy don't seem to have any effect. The cousins you recruit don't really seem to ever make your ball speed up to any appreciable amount (three days in and the damn thing is still ambling along). Nothing so far has ever felt like an achievement or a step up.

Incremental games are something you have open in the background to avoid doing work. A clicker game that feels like more work is a very dead clicker game.

4) Unless the game is very, very good, there has to be a metagame

Cookie Clicker is, bar none, the best example of this point. Even when you get bored of the clicking, there's still a darkly hilarious horror story going on in the background (to say nothing of the fact that the game has some very real things to say about how everything that's really important that you get now becomes almost immediately trivial).

In TMK, you can turn your ball into a star in return for a present. In Cookie Clicker or Adventure Capitalist, that means you blaze through those delicious, delicious milestones faster. TMK? I haven't got there yet, but I don't imagine doing a whole lot of nothing at a faster pace is going to be any more rewarding.

5) Don't be evil

In TMK, instead of fighting bosses like you would in, say, Clicker Heroes, you perform time trials.
Each time trial has a random chance of knocking one of your power-ups out for four hours unless you pay money to get them back.


(Update: I first submitted this article just as Destructoid went down for server migration. In the two days it has taken to come back online, my save file has corrupted and is now telling me it is eight thousand minutes until I can use my special skills again. In the immortal words of Yahtzee, BROKEN GAME GETS TO FUCK OFF.)

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About Dalek Sexone of us since 3:11 PM on 02.27.2013

Z list internet comic. I have worked on stuff for podcasts like What A Fool Believes, We Are The Lolocaust, The Monday Movie Show and The Gamescast. I named myself while I was blogging for Tachyon TV. There is a Dr. Who character called "Dalek Sec," only I made it a penis joke. Witty.

I have a Youtube channel where I play terrible mobile games. Sometimes I write and sing funny songs, like the Tailspin theme I rewrote to be about Jonathan Holmes.

Every print magazine and most of the websites I have ever written for have collapsed pyrotechnically within months, making me the Typhoid Mary of games journalism.

I used to write and manage the front page of Encyclopedia Dramatica when it was still good (pre-2008).

I got fired from NTSC-UK once.