“Angry Birds sucks!” I thought to myself as I read the assignment. Zen Bound 2, I choose you!
It was uncharted territory. I play my fair share of games on my iPad–Fruit Ninja, Geared 2, Solipskier, Cut the Rope, World of Goo, The Impossible Game, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Sudoku, Four in a Row, the list goes on and on–yet I never heard of Zen Bound 2. A few taps and touches later, the Apple App Store described Zen Bound 2 as a “meditative puzzle game of wrapping rope around wooden sculptures.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound very fun, but it’s either this or Angry Birds,” I noted, before I hit the “Download” button. Scrolling through the screenshots, my eyes grew wide. The models, the textures, and the backgrounds were all photorealistic. I had dabbled in Autodesk 3DS Max and Maya, software for creating three-dimensional models, so, naturally, I was impressed by the game’s attention to detail.
I quickly opened the game, eager to finish the assignment and head to my soccer game. In the menu, I spotted a “Tree of Introduction,” whatever the Hell that means, but I instinctively entered it, hoping to learn what this game was all about.
Numbered lanterns hung down a tree, with a tag depicting a bird hung between them. I scrolled up and down, left and right. This is a strange place. I touched the lanterned labeled “1.”
“Touch a hanging wooden tag to begin a level.”
A-ha! So now I know how to actually begin the game. Out of curiosity, I touched the number 2 lantern, which told me I needed to collect 2 flowers to light up the lantern. Cool, a goal I have to reach.
A beautifully modeled wooden bird sculpture laid before me, with a rope tied to one end. I rotated it around. Nothing. I rotated it some more. There was a nail sticking in the bird’s back. ”What the Hell am I supposed to do?” I said, setting my iPad down as I left to get a drink.
I continued on my adventure. Now, I noticed that, as I rotated and turned the sculpture, it changed from brown to a grey where the rope was contacting it. Weird. I rotated it some more, observing the percentage bar gradually increasing until 100%.
“Tie up the glowing nail to finish.” Ok. I did so and proceeded to the next level. Boring. For the sake of the class and discussion purposes, I powered through three or four levels. No challenge. I didn’t feel rewarded when I successfully wrapped an arbitrary object with rope. Perhaps the later levels added difficulty, but I didn’t care. A game has to earn a player’s affection from the very beginning; this one certainly didn’t.
However, as I looked back on my experience, I made a connection with something Koster said:
Traditionally, we have needed instructions in order to play a game. But now we’re often invited to learn as we go. We explore the game space, and the computer code effectively constrains and guides us. We learn how to play by carefully observing what the game allows us to do and how it responds to our input.
In this regard, Zen Bound 2 can be considered a good game. The lack of instructions really made me curious. First, I explored the game space in the tree, rotating and scrolling. The first lantern really set a precedent–I assumed that each lantern would offer me hints before each level, and I was correct. But as I got into the actual game, where the goal remains unclear, I still had no idea what to do.
But increasingly, the feedback systems are what we learn first. They guide us toward the goal and help us decode the rules. And that’s as powerful a motivation to play as any: discovering exactly what is possible in this brand-new virtual world.
Koster makes a valid point here, one that is applicable to my experience playing Zen Bound 2. As I rotated the first wooden bird sculpture, I thought to myself, “what is the goal of this game?” But as I progressed, twisting and turning the rope around the geometry of the bird, the percentage bar in the bottom left corner gradually increased. I assumed it was the percentage completion of the level, but how could I be sure? The game affirmed my thought when I reached a certain percent completion, by instructing me to “tie up the glowing nail to finish.” But there was another piece of feedback I was particularly unsure of, a measure of distance in the bottom-right hand corner. I soon learned that the amount of rope was a finite length. ”So there’s the element of challenge,” I laughed.
So what did I learn from this?
I learned that humans are pretty good at figuring things out without rules and a clear goal. Zen Bound 2 excellently demonstrates my point, but other examples, outside of games, seem to reinforce it. In fact, infancy perfectly reflects this idea. As an infant, there is no clear goal or set of rules (I guess you could argue, what is the goal as an adult, but I digress). An infant learns purely by feedback. He or she may think, “what happens when I push this button?” or in baby speak, “boo bee bah bah.” Parents reward their kids with feedback for positive actions, smiling and shouting, “good job!” This lets the kid know where to go in the future. Each time a parent praises their child, the proverbial Zen Bound 2 percentage bar increases, and each time a child does something bad, the parent takes a little more rope, or freedom, away from the child. It’s a way of saying, “no you’re not allowed to do that in the future.”
In this manner, one can see that a good feedback system is all a human being needs to understand rules and decode a clear goal. By playing Zen Bound 2, even if I didn’t enjoy it, I still learned something valuable, something applicable to the outside world.
via iPad Game (chosen by class).