Steph Thirion, Barcelona, 2009.05.02

The Shadow Over Eliss

To those in a rush who just want to know the details of the 1.1 update, you can skip to “Enters Eliss 1.1”

So following my previous post, the critical response to Eliss has been very positive. The most recurring statement is that Eliss is nothing less than the best use of multi-touch on the iphone/itouch so far. Some compared its freshness with the release of classics like Pong or Tetris. I’m being invited at all the cool parties and Hef has been insisting that I spend a few days at the mansion. But not all has been a whipped cream strawberry cake for Eliss: a dark shadow has been laying over it, and it’s not hot chocolate. It’s its difficulty.

If you have tried Eliss, you know it’s challenging. It’s fast and precise, and you need to put a good deal of concentration into it. I wanted to make a game that you’d feel proud of progressing into. So when reviews and comments started popping over the internet, the challenge was a frequent topic. And while some people appreciated it, others seemed really bothered by it. But that didn’t worry me too much. I thought that it had to do with multitouch still being very new to players, and also with the fact that we’re kind of getting used to be babysitted through games, and Eliss doesn’t do that. So I thought people had rushed into their own conclusions without really trying. But then I saw that some folks were putting my head for a price on internet. And I got some hate mails. And I was asked some funny questions like: “Did you actually finish your game?”

So I gathered the gaming statistics I had recorded so far, and this was my reaction to when I first saw them: “uh oh.” According to the stats, many, many players were spending way, way too much time to beat certain levels. I was consterned. Challenge is fun only until you want to rip your own skin off. But I was also puzzled. I honestly believed the controls worked, they were fun, and the reviews and comments just confirmed it. Why was there such a huge gap between players?

And then I realized that there’s a special skill involved in the Eliss gameplay. And it’s not just about the fact that you can use up to five fingers at the same time.

If we look at other multitouch games, like say Touchgrind, Sway (and kudos to Illusion Labs for their multitouch controls) or DropShip, we see that multiple fingers are used to control one object. In Eliss, on the other hand (no pun intended), multitouch is used for multitasking: you control one independent object per finger. It’s not just about synchronizing multiple fingers on a surface, it’s also about using your brain to orchestrate multiple objects at once. And this is a skill that takes its time to grow in you. I had just spent five months of development doing it, and it had become so natural to me that I had completely lost touch with the idea that this could be hard for a beginner. So I let the difficulty curve increase pretty fast, without really giving people the needed time to forge their multitasking skills.

Again, the curious part, is the huge gap between players. Some grasp it right away, while others need much more time. This is speculation, but maybe certain users have done specific activities that have somehow prepared them to this kind of multitasking. For instance, I observed that some people that know how to play a music instrument might grasp Eliss’ controls faster than others. And if we think about it, playing an instrument is a type of multitasking: we keep track of multiple notes, a very often these notes are crossing themselves at different paces - during the sustaining of a couple of notes, a couple of others might have the time to change three times.

Anyway, the problem with the original version of Eliss, was that it roughly showed the basics, and then it took the clueless players on a chopper and parachuted them right into the heart of the action. I wanted to avoid babysitting players through the game, and it resulted in the other extreme. Players needed a better training.

Enters Eliss 1.1

On the first update to Eliss, which was released today, the original 20 sectors have been modified into 25 sectors, to have a gentler difficulty curve and to allow a better learning progression. And some specific levels that were too hard have been tweaked down. Don’t get me wrong, Eliss is still challenging, but in a way that is better balanced, less jumpy, more user friendly.

For those who progressed far into the game, let’s get some details down. On the original group of sectors, there was a serious jump after sector 2. Too many new things were introduced on sector 3, there was no time to get prepared for them. To fill up that missing space, four new sectors were added in between those. None of these sectors brings anything truly new compared to version 1.0, but they allow a better pacing. I also moved quite a few sectors around, to make a more logical difficulty progression, and did some tweaking in specific sectors. In the process I also added a little bonus, sector 14, which is a new thing. Also, the suns' appearance has been modified to be spotted earlier, making the much dreaded sector 10 (which has been moved to sector 20 by the way) easier to beat.

I’ve tried to save your progress the best I could. So when you’ll update, your progress will be at a position that makes sense in your logical training. Perfect levels are also saved (they will move to their respective new positions). But if you want to restart from the beginning, to go through a better paced training, there’s nothing wrong with that.

I know I announced in a few places that Eliss would have difficulty modes. I even implemented half of that, but then I abandoned the idea. I don’t think difficulty modes are right for Eliss. There should be only one path to the ending. Of course, how you walk that path, is up to you.

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