Koogel


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Rating: 3.5/5 (29 votes)
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PsychotronicKoogelThe theme of Casual Gameplay Design Competition #4 was "ball physics", and you can tell that Monsterkodi (author of the excellent 3D puzzle game Kiki the Nano Bot) was taking it seriously. So very, very seriously. You see, in Koogel, you're using six medium-sized balls to indirectly manipulate a bevy of smaller balls, in order to light up a collection of even smaller balls. This all takes place on the surface of one huge ball, displayed on a screen you are watching with your eye-balls. Meanwhile, you're living on a giant ball named Earth, which is rotating around the Sun, which is also a ball. You might even be having a ball, or be tempted to bawl, like Lucille Ball. It's enough to make your head explode, man. And if your head (which is shaped kind of like a ball) is still in one piece now, it will surely detonate when you try to process Koogel's instruction screens, which are written like the directions for assembling your own NASA satellite.

No sir, Koogel's rules are not very intuitive, and the visual layout doesn't help. Every entity in the game is a mono-colored sphere, and the three numbers in the corners of the screen don't tell you anything about your goals. You could be playing an episode of Talk to the Abstract Wart-Headed Creature and it would look exactly the same. But there's an intriguing game of color-matching skill hiding behind Koogel's poker-faced exterior, and it's worth getting into, so I'm going to spend most of my time here just explaining how it works.

You control the Koogel, a screen-sized sphere festooned with smaller spheres of various purposes. Six large spheres of different colors are distributed equally around its surface. The position of the mouse pointer controls the Koogel's rotation, and that's how you move the big spheres around. There are also a number of smaller spheres which you must knock about with the big spheres in order to meet the goals of each level. The small spheres move independently of the rotation of the Koogel, and they can't move around to its back side, where you wouldn't be able to see them. If one is about to travel out of sight, it instead bounces off an invisible boundary and returns to the play field.

The game rotates through three different types of level, which the Koogel will indicate by turning three different colors. The three variations have totally different rules, so I'll explain each in detail. I'm putting these guidelines in spoiler tags, so if you want to play around with it yourself, or try to puzzle things out with the in-game instructions, you can skip right over them.

Gray Koogel:

  • Your goal here is to link all the small spheres together. They will only link up if two of the same color touch. If you hit one with a big sphere, it will change to the big sphere's color. On the first gray level, all you have to do is make the two small spheres the same color (any color will do) and knock them into each other. On higher levels, it gets more complicated, because only the spheres on the end of a chain can form new links. Once all the small spheres are united in a single chain, you win the level.

    If two small spheres of different colors collide, both of them will change color, according to a consistent system. A red ball will always turn blue, a blue ball will turn gray, and so on. The cycle is Red, Blue, Gray, Yellow, Purple, White, and then back to Red. But it might as well be random when you first start playing, because it's almost impossible to remember, and there's no on-screen reminder. If you're trying to pass the level with a low hit score (the number in the lower left keeps track of how many times you hit a small ball with a big ball) then the color order is important, but if you're just trying to pass levels, it doesn't really matter.

Red Koogel:

  • Your goal is to light up all the little gray dots between the large spheres. For example, if there's an unlit dot between the yellow sphere and the blue sphere, you need to first hit a small sphere with the yellow sphere, then with the blue sphere. Then the dot will light up so long as the small sphere was blue when the large blue sphere touched it.

    Each time you hit a small sphere with a big sphere, the small sphere changes color, according to the same rotating system as in the gray levels. So if you need a particular dot to light up, you may need to hit a small sphere several times with your first large sphere until it's the same color as the second large sphere. Once all the little dots are lit, you win the level.

Green Koogel:

  • Again, your goal is to light up all the dots. The gameplay mechanic here is sort of a combination of the other two levels. When two differently colored small spheres touch, they bond together, and then light up a dot between the two appropriate large spheres. For instance, if a red small sphere links up with a black small sphere, the dot between the red big sphere and the black big sphere will light. Change the small sphere's colors by hitting them with the big spheres just like in the gray levels.

    Dots only light up when you form new links. So usually, you'll have to break the small spheres apart a few times, which you can do by hitting them with other small spheres of the same color. If all your small spheres are already linked together in formation, you can separate them by smashing them against the invisible horizon of the Koogel.

Analysis: The fact that it took so long to write those rules out (and that it probably didn't clear things up at all) is an indication that playing Koogel isn't a matter of instinct. The goals, gameplay, controls, and interactions are all very cerebral. You won't succeed at this game by just moving stuff around randomly, no matter how much you try, and that's seldom good for a casual game.

That's especially unfortunate because Koogel can be quite absorbing, once you understand it. You're always in direct control of six moving objects, keeping track of a dizzying number of variables and vectors, and eventually it all feels miraculously natural. But the learning curve is painfully sharp for what is essentially just a simple game with really solid physics and a unique premise. To make this work for more people, there would need to be a straightforward and visual tutorial, and much more helpful on-screen indicators. There especially should be a clear reminder of the color cycle that's so important on the red stages.

I would suggest a total overhaul of the visual presentation, except there's nothing exactly wrong with the minimalist look it has now. It's just unfriendly and distancing, which means that a lot of players didn't take the time to get to know this entry when the contest was going on. Give it another try. At worst, it will be just as confusing as the first time around, and at best, you'll discover a new and fascinating test of hand-eye co-ordination. It tickles a part of my brain that nothing else ever has, and that's enough for me to recommend it wholeheartedly.

Play Koogel

35 Comments

Holy moley this is difficult. I wish there was some sort of gravitational mechanic to attract two little balls together, even a little bit, because it's just so hard to do!

Very pretty, decent physics (although a ball will sometimes go flying if I just barely tap it), all in all a good entry!

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Anonymous October 5, 2007 3:08 PM

I can not figure out what's going on with this game.

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Somebody please tell me how to play this.

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Ben> Press "H" on the level you're stuck on and it will tell you.

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I think my brain exploded on the first level.

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I much prefer the levels where you just have to connect the big balls with the small ones. Trying to connect the small ones is too difficult and time consuming.

But once you get used to the interesting movement, this one is really good. So many brilliant entries so far, and there's still so many left... Good luck choosing the winners!

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Well, this has exceptional physics and a rather unusual idea, but I just can't deal with it. The first couple of levels are OK, but I don't have to patience to deal with 6 balls that all need to be connected, then break them apart and connect the same two colors again, then repeat for so many color combinations. The interesting dex puzzle quickly becomes a stamina test of how long you can do the same thing over and over just in one level, and do it twice as much the next time around. This one is not for me.

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Dan Black October 5, 2007 3:38 PM

It was a bit difficult to get into this one, but once you did it started to flow and you really got the hang of how the different puzzles worked, and what you had to do to keep up with it and get your number of hits down. I really ended up liking this one a lot. Different than anything I have ever played. Great job on this.

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I like that this game had such an original take on the ball physics theme, and I give the creator all kinds of credit for that, however, this isn't really my kind of game. A good effort though...

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littlebum2002 Author Profile Page October 5, 2007 4:03 PM

Really fun concept, but the controls are way too stiff. This would be a very fun game if it were played on, say a flat surface instead of a globe, where control over the balls would be easier.

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Not my cup of tea, but I think these are the most impressive physics I've seen thus far.

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The game looks really great with the 3D effect. I completed the first level, bit didn't understand what I was supposed to do on the second. Ill come back and have another go in a bit, but anyway it seems like a nice well made game. Original too.

Good job.

Ali

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jasonharper Author Profile Page October 5, 2007 4:23 PM

Maybe I'm just misunderstanding the instructions, but the green levels seem to be broken - once two small balls are connected, they just disappear, quickly leaving none to do anything with.

There needs to be a reminder of the color-changing order, in a corner of the screen perhaps.

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Awesome game. Great concept, good execution. Could have been improved by the addition of variable sensitivity for the controls. Still, like juggling in zero gravity, takes a while to get used to, but well fun in the end.

J

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The game was little difficult to get at start, but when you know how the puzzles work, it's really fun game. But isn't the game called Koogel, not Koogle?

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I don't get at all what I'm supposed to do.. good concept if I can work it out.

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This was a lot of fun to play - beautiful, simple original. I lost patience with the later levels, but until then had a great time moving the sphere around.

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kellyhalia October 5, 2007 6:43 PM

If the order that colors change in is supposed to be important, it might be helpful having that as a visual reminder during the level itself, not just in help.

Pretty graphics :-)

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INCREDIBLY cool.

By far the most physically impressive I've seen in this competition-- ball mechanics ON a ball. The sphere math makes my brain hurt, and that's awesome. Simple AND complicated.

I have a few suggestions to the author:

The color order is hard to remember. Either an intuitive progression (roygbiv) or even some kind of mnemonic would help.

It was not immediately apparent that the small balls bounced off the edge of the currently visible hemisphere.

I will note however that the difficulty curve might be JUST a bit high-- a little gravity between the balls might help a little to snap those near misses together.

Also, a message in one of the corners saying 'click for pause/menu would probably help; I was worried at first there was no reset for levels and that I would mess it up.

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Call me a moron, but I have no idea what and why to do... I guess the "general help" section is a tactical mistake: right at the start I'm bombarded with a network of rules and color-sequences etc. i found too hard to understand without picturing it and that spoils the possible fun before the game begins. Then the game begins and i see what the result of the mouse movements are, still it's just a mess in my head.

Sorry, I'm too stupid for this game.

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Fair is fair, I should have added that the idea is very good (well, as far as i understood it...) and has the kind of originality I lacked with many of the other entries.

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monsterkodi October 6, 2007 1:26 AM

first, thanks to all of you for the great feedback!

i wanted to answer earlier, but then i couldn't connect and some friends took me out for a drink. so, please forgive any mistakes in my english.

it's really funny for me that some of you are perceiving the game as a puzzle game, since it was meant to be a game of skill only. but i probably got the 'developers blind spot' disease somewhere in the process of making it.

maybe it was a bad idea to hide the menu in play mode or to make reading the general info optional. nevertheless, it's for sure not an easy game. especially not in the later levels.

my aim was to make a game with high replay value. therefore i concentrated on the highscore aspect. but when i added the display for the three highscore values i got the feeling that any more information on screen might be too much and distract the player. i thought, if anybody wants to compete for highscore entries, they might as well memorize the color order after some time.

but i honestly didn't anticipate the effect of having to play 50 games in a week. unfortunately, my attention span right now for all the other entries is lower than they deserve.

wow, i wrote way more than i am used to already and i don't want to waste screen space that might be better used for more comments.

i really love your feedback and will try to find a solution for some of the problems mentioned.

for those who like the game and would like to compete for highscores i made an online highscore overview:

http://www.monsterkodi.net/koogel/highscore

right now it's really easy to get into the top ten ;-)

anyway, sorry for the long post. and thanks a lot to jay (and team?) for the nice competition. really nice how you made the icon and intro screen from game screenshots.

thanks again for the feedback,
off to bed now, yours kodi

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lol... yeah, you'd think having to play 50 games in a week would be fun, but, it's made me more grumpy. I've had to stop myself from posting a few times because I was being too harsh in my judgement :P

This is a very pretty game, and it's fun to move the sphere around. My only complaint is that in the help screen, the font is too difficult to read... the words are squashed and too small for me to read. I think that's why I had to read the instructions several times before I understood the game. Maybe an animated help screen showing the action would be better.

p.s. your english is very good for a drunk german guy.

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Nice game, I think... Very original.

It would be helpfull to have an optional training level or two, so you can master the basics and get a feel for the game.

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ahhhh my brain is melting! this game is so cool and it looks really very awesome i just can't cope with it, i think it's above my intellectual level! very well done though, top 3 for physics so far :)

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I love this game although I still have absolutely NO IDEA what I'm meant to be doing yet but I love it!!! It's really tactile!

really great!! Well done, it's drawing me back into it to try and fathom what I'm meant to be doing (I find the explanation really hard to understand but that makes me feel it's really worth delving)

nice one!

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monsterkodi October 6, 2007 9:35 AM

thanks for the compliment.

yes, an animated help screen or a proper tutorial would have been really nice. but i hadn't enough time left for something like this in the end.
the font size is also a good point. it's not very readable.

yours kodi

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Anonymous October 6, 2007 5:34 PM

this game is a lot of fun once you understand what to do. some explanatory pictures in the instructions would help.
anyways, very creative use of the theme.

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I totally do not get this game... T_T

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The red round seems really annoying... I'm meant to be joining up the colours, but it seems to be random as to what colour the small ball changes to. After most of them are lit it's just waiting for two colours in a row to actually be a combination that you wanted.

Like the physics, but I wish the game was a little more controlled. And that the help explanations were clearer... programmers should not write help screens.

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The font which explains how to play is not readable. Looks nice but the font is a total turn off and so I quit before I even start. Not being able to read the font is one of those basic things that make you distrust the author.

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I didn't find the first couple of levels too hard to understand. Some explanation that "the koogel" meant the big sphere would have been clarification... but otherwise it was ok. The green level seems broken, though. When I join two, they vanish.

Increasing the contrast between the grey and white would also be good -- on the second level I had a great deal of "but I already did that!" confusion going on until I picked up the subtle contrast.

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Oh man, this game was just so incredibly difficult...

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The difficult part of this game is understanding it.

I think that actually, there's a lot you can do to reduce the complexity of the instructions if you use pictures instead of words.

Maybe it should explain the rules visually rather than in text. Animated, too, with lines to show the path the ball is following, so you can see how it's supposed to move around the koogel.

If you make everything nice and visually clear in the instructions, then the players can focus on actually playing the game and the skill-based element of it, rather than it being a work-it-out problem as well.

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Ezrabbit Author Profile Page March 2, 2008 5:56 PM

Great graphics and idea!
Just to echo everyone else, it is a bit hard to understand, but I got the hang of it after a few moments of, "Wha? Eh? Oh, right!"

Just to report a possible bug:

On the green levels if you slam a connected group into the border to break them up, sometimes the group goes nuts (they spread out across the koogle in the blink of an eye) and completely vanishes from the field of play. You then need to restart the level because nothing you do will make them return.

I'm on a Mac (10.4.11) using Safari.

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