Random Cake is a jam game developed by Michael Hong for USC MEGA’s 24 hour game jam. Using borrowed art assets the game focuses on twitch gameplay that is both brutally unforgiving and frustrating. But brutally unforgiving gameplay is perfect for this game because it encourages the player to cheat the system. Take the opportunity to play Random Cake here (be sure to hit ‘r’ to respawn, you’re gonna need it). You’ll notice that in many instances it’s impossible to escape the impending cake; in other instances you’ll get one or two shots off before the cake inevitably catches you.
But what is one of my favorite parts of this game is exploiting the system. The cake travels in a curved path towards your location and, if you hide in a corner, it often can’t reach you. By hiding properly you’ll actually be safe for a single shot, after which a new cake will appear and make a bee line to your corner. It’s possible to continue shooting new cakes (and you’ll have to do so to avoid getting destroyed when they fly right at you), but the real fun comes from jumping out of a safe enclosure and into the fray.
Other games make use of these rest points in between action as well. For example, in Valve’s Left 4 Dead series players are thrown into the fray to fight off zombie hordes. Being a survivor you need to use constant communication, quick wits, and twitch reflexes to survive. These intense sessions of fleeing zombie hordes can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes, after which it becomes difficult to destress. At the end of these sessions however, players are able to reach rest points, referred to as safe rooms, in which they can settle down, wait for the next level to load, and chat with other players to unwind before being thrown back into the fray.
To hide in the corner of Random Cake would be considered exploiting the game. It’s a cheap way to win if you use it to boost your score. But the entertainment factor of the game will also be lost if you overuse the exploit. The game is twitchy, it requires fast reflexes. The fun factor in the game is jumping out in front of the cake and narrowly dodging it. But taking a quick rest to rethink your strategy is not exploitation, it’s a feature found in AAA games to either give the game time to load, or even just provide players with a moment to process the gameplay they just took part in.
Sometimes the gameplay mechanic you’re looking for is hidden in an exploit. In this case, the idea that your game should have rising and falling sequences of action is hidden there as well.
You can check out more of Chao-Ming’s projects on his site here.