What would make a pachinko RPG? Last week, I wrote about how I’m sort of enamored with One Tap Quest’s tap-and-let-them-go interaction, which I think mirrors the play-style of pachinko. In pachinko, you have some control over launching the little metal balls, but once they’re in play, they’re on their own. This mechanism stands in contrast to pinball, where you interact with a single or multiple pinballs with the paddles, and cue sports (especially bumper pool), where you launch a billiard ball repeatedly with a cue.
As I said last week, I think the basic gameplay in One Tap Quest is interesting enough for a 10-minute session. But I’d like to take this concept and run with it, if you’ll let me. What follows are some concepts that, I think, extend the One Tap Quest pachinko RPG model.
As I conceive of it, a pachinko RPG is sort of like Wonderful 101. A changing stock of characters go up against an overwhelming group of enemies. Just like pachinko rewards players with more pachinko balls, worth real money, a pachinko RPG would need to reward the player with ever more—and ever more interesting—characters to bolster the stock and the player’s score. A given character can gain levels when unleashed on the board, a little more unique than generic pachinko balls. Perhaps characters added to the stock later in the game come at a higher starting level, sort of like characters recruited in later sections of Final Fantasy Tactics or Ogre Battle.
Procedurally generated “boards” could make a game interesting. Presenting a variable layout of enemies, terrain, and power-ups can challenge players who are already familiar with the basic gameplay. I don’t think that using roguelike elements, such as varying the effects of power-ups like potions in Nethack would work very well. However, incorporating a quest or narrative adventure framework above the level of boards could be engaging. Here I’m using the word level to refer to a conceptual level of hierarchical relationships, rather than an experience level or a stage in a game. I’m talking about the approach that FTL and the built-in 3DS RPG, Find Mii, take. Each “board” is a gameplay experience in itself, and the “boards” have a larger (in terms of conceptual scope) map that ties them together and gives the player a sense of progression or quest completion.
Obstacles on the “boards” that impair the movement of either player characters or enemies could add another layer of strategy. In effect these terrain elements could construct a puzzle that they player has to solve by starting their player character down the correct “lane”, and being lucky enough to gain the required number of levels to beat the “board”.
This approach to using obstacles to make puzzles would require some clever level design. A puzzle where there is a single right way to complete it would be boring, once you find it you simply wait until you get the required number of levels through sheer luck—pointless repetition without interesting choices. However puzzles where there are (or seem to be) multiple routes to complete the “board” can be interesting.
I think it might be cool to maintain control over the character after you launch. In a sense you would be an invisible hand, maintaining control over the pachinko ball as it rolls through the machine. This game would be sort of like an inverted bullet-hell shoot ‘em up. Rather than dodging enemies, you would guide your character toward them. It is probably worth iterating on this mechanic, because Monster Strike seems to use it with relative success. But I think maintaining control over the character would block out the cheering-your-character-on-from-the-sidelines aspect that I enjoyed in One Tap Quest, and would like to emulate.
As I mentioned previously, added depth of enemy behavior and power-ups could prolong the experience. I’m not sure exactly what this would entail at this point, but I think iterating on the basic concepts laid out in One Tap Quest could lead to some interesting variation. That sentence pretty much sums up my take on what would make an interesting pachinko RPG. Thanks for letting me spew some thoughts that are little more than design notes.