Monday 14 January, 2008
In my second session, I completed the five bonus challenge stages. Two of these stages required a minimum score once the orange pegs were cleared, another two added more orange pegs than normal, and the fifth requires that all pegs be cleared. The most difficult, for me, was surprisingly not the clear all pegs stage, but the more difficult of the two high-score stages. Even after I managed to find a way to reliably make a super-slide on the first drop, I was unable to clear the challenge until, by chance, the ball fell into the center bucket during extreme fever (it's worth 100,000 points, as compared to 10,000 or 5,000 for any of the other buckets). The additional orange peg challenges also felt chancy - pegs and bricks are of fixed position, but which pegs are which color is randomly generated at the beginning of the round, except for the one bonus point peg, which is randomly selected before each shot. The randomly moving purple peg is especially important on points challenges.
I also played a few rounds of duel mode with the computer - I set its difficulty to medium and was treated to an absurd shellacking - the computer never failed to tag an orange peg (duel mode penalizes you for that) and frequently timed the ball to fall into the moving bucket at the bottom of the stage. I did win one round, by making a rather difficult shot to take the Extreme Fever.
Peggle incorporates the three main design elements common to most, if not all, of PopCap's games.
1. Simple rules and interface: Peggle can be played with only a one-button mouse. It is sometimes advantageous to use the arrow keys to fine-tune a shot, but it is not strictly necessary, even during challenge mode. The core rules of Peggle are clearly visible to the player in the course of play - after the first ball has dropped, all that really needs to be explained is that you have to clear the orange pegs to win. Due to the simple ruleset, most of the designer work necessarily goes into level design.
2. Blurring the line between luck and skill: Although the course of the ball is strictly determined at the time of launch, to actually work out that course beyond one or two bounces is beyond the ability of reasonable human beings. This sort of design is fundamentally advantageous to the AI player, which can precisely calculate the course and travel time of its shot. Furthermore, the game randomizes the color assignment of the pegs, which prevents memorized "solutions" - a sequence of predetermined moves, determined by painstaking research, that solves the puzzle. (Or at least requires that these solutions remove every peg on the stage, and not rely on special abilities or extra lives from high-scoring shots).
3. Family Friendly art: PopCap's art follows an aesthetic not entirely unlike that of the Carebears. The cast consists of talking animals, one of whom is a unicorn, a rainbow features prominently in the extreme fever sequence, ect. Peggle Extreme, as noted in the summary, imports art from Valve's distinctly darker aesthetic. The result is aptly summarized by the image that graces the menu screen: Bjorn, the talking unicorn, standing with his face obscured by a headcrab impaled on his horn.