Part 1 Botanicula is a “relaxed game perfect for hardcore gamers, their partners, families and seniors”; A point and Click adventure by Amanita Designs, who already won our hearts with Machinarium.
I’ve had the chance to test this game with two teenagers: Joe, a core gamer, Alex, a casual gamer and Robin, a 5 year old little girl, a 66 year old grand mother and a zen-game loving mom. Here’s some highlights of their player experiences.
Tested on PC/Mac
Guiding the player through the story
The game is introduced by cute and explicit cutscenes that clarify the game’s context and goals. Repetition is used to teach the player the important aspects of the game. It manages to convey complex information by using meaningful animations. Funny thing is, the core gamer was the only one to explicitly be able to tell your goal was to plant a tree. All others focused on exploring by trial and error to progress and see what happens.
The game attracts the player’s attention on the storytelling and important information by darkening the rest of the screen.
For example, here, the creature is telling how the spider stole its head, when the player gives it back to them. The level around the animation sequence gets darker, to guide the player’s attention.
Naturally, the player’s attention will be attracted by the movement of the animation, but the darkening effect strengthens this, and ensures there is no competition with animations that might loop in the scene. Usually, scenes with storytelling are also more minimalistic, they have less elements in them, interactive or not.
When the narration is finished, the game view goes back to normal, as seen in the second screenshot. Colors are more bright, and the player understands he can resume his exploration.
When players discover new creatures, they are added to a card collection.
When that happens, the first time, it is explicit, but later, only a small part of the cards becomes visible at the top of the screen. This feedback clearly indicates to the player that he has a new card in his collection.
Our hardcore player decided to go through the game a second time to find more creatures than during his first play, clicking and teasing anything that looked a bit different on the screen during the second playthrough to make sure he found everything. Turns out, he’s still missing 6 creatures.
Arrows mean “click here” to players
Arrows are a widely understood sign that clearly give directions, literally, pointing at what the player should notice, see, pay attention to, think about.
In Botanicula, arrows are used for a variety of meanings.
Arrows to click work well
- By default, an arrow is shown to Skip a cutscene, the word skip will appear next to it on mouse over to clarify the action.
- Arrows appear on the edges of the screen on mouse over when the player can walk that path towards another screen.
- Arrows in the game screen mea “You can also stand here”
- Arrows point at each character when the player needs to choose one to perform the action in their own unique way.
This is all nice and consistent : see an arrow, click. Simple. Small issues can arise, but not blocking or very frustrating ones.
- When arrows point at the characters to encourage the player to pick one. One player thought it told him what he already had tried, or what was left to try. He was confused, but it didn’t prevent him from succeeding.
- Players did not always think they could change screens immediately, since the edge arrows only appear on mouse over.
But then, there’s one last type of message conveyed by arrows.
Arrows to show confuse
- Arrows point at missing items in the screen or problems that need solving, to explain why an action is impossible.
Most players had trouble understanding this. They understood the arrows only as “Click here” and never as “Look, this is missing?” As a result, at the start of the game, they clicked repeatedly on the creature missing wings, instead of figuring out they needed to collect the feathers that the arrows were pointing at. Watch this player get confused:
They figured it out when they gave up trying to click, tried to explore randomly other areas, and gathered the first feather by interacting with anything they can.
Only the gamer Joe knew what to do by experience. The Mum also had less trouble with it because she did not notice those arrows at first and left the screen immediately.
It was not blocking for anyone though, and nobody expressed frustration, but it did take away some of the pleasure of feeling smart you can get when you understand what the game is trying to tell you.
Better ways to show missing items
Later in the game, arrows are not consistently used to convey this “missing item” message, as seen on the previous screenshot.
The creature simply “shows” the missing item as a “thought”, visually standing out from the rest of the set, and that worked for everybody to understand the creature wished for this item, and they had to find and bring it to them.
Another process used in the game, that was explicit for all players was gathering blue flowers to grow eyes on a creature. The first flower is in the same screen as the creature, and when interacting with it, it moves directly to the creature, instead of staying in the player’s inventory first. This way, the player knows immediately what those blue flowers are for, and knows what to do with them when he encounters them later in the game.