Analysis: 99 Bricks

99 Bricks, on Kongregate

Let’s talk about 99 Bricks, a fairly recent game featured on the web. The inspirations of this game are pretty clear to almost anyone, but it’s formula is fairly fresh and easy to get in to. The basic premise: using 99 tetris peices, build the tallest tower you can. In the most basic sense, it is identical to Tetris in concept; both games are concerned with stacking blocks up, one piece at a time, and keeping the field under control. Where Tetris clears single lines at a time, and is in essence only concern with a set number of lines and an unlimited number of bricks. 99 Bricks, however, is a limited number of bricks and an unlimited playing field.

99 Bricks is a great example of a mechanics heavy game. It’s concerned with a simple task; building a tower. There’s a foundation 8 spaces wide and flat.  Functionally, the field is infinitely tall. There’s a limited amount of space left or right of the platform to move the blocks, and anything below the platform is a disposal area. Pieces that land in the field stay there, pieces that fall off are destroyed. The consequence of loses blocks is the only solid penalty that the game provides — since the number of bricks is limited, and the goal is to build as high as possible, losing a brick means you best possible top score (height) is immediately reduced.

Before we go on; the most important element of 99 Bricks’ mechanics is that it uses a physics engine (Box2D, I believe) to try and have the bricks react to gravity and friction, to a limited degree. Ultimately, this is the vital element to the game, as building a lopsided or unstable tower will cause it to collapse — the chain reaction of tumbling bricks can knock out large portions of the tower and can cause your efforts to be ruined.

What’s next most important to consider is that the game doesn’t let you directly interact with the physics. When you move and drop blocks, you can only move them left or right in half block increments, and you can only rotate at 90 degree angles, even though blocks will routinely displace and rotate differently when they are out of your control. It’s sometimes troublesome when you want to shift blocks in to careful, small spaces, as once the block you’re controlling touches any other block or the foundation platform, it’s out of your control and gravity, friction and collision with other blocks.

Ultimately, this disconnect, between the player’s rough control over the blocks and the physics’ fine control, is what makes the game challenging. The better you plan, the more stable the structure will be and less trouble it will give you as you place later pieces; eventually when the tower is swaying you have to clumsily aim your blocks to the right spots and your mastery of the limited control is what makes or breaks a great score.

While there’s a lot more to say about 99 Bricks, and Tetris as well, there’s one final point I want to address, and that is the innate nature of 99 Bricks. While Tetris is essentially a test of endurance — the game is unending so long as the player plays perfectly — 99 Bricks is a game about striving for perfection. 99 Bricks has a technically ‘best score’. I can’t say what, but I’m sure it’s quite predictable from the game’s code, and each time you play your score could be calculated as a percentage of the theoretical maximum. While it is not a game that you ‘beat’, it is potentially possible to beat it, by achieving that maximum score. This is something worthwhile to keep in mind.

So, with all that out there, here’s some questions to ask yourself when playing 99 Bricks:

  • What functional differences are there between 99 Bricks and Tetris?
  • How do those difference affect the way the game plays and the way it feels?
  • The two games have very similar flavor, but there are distinct differences, like backgrounds, framing and music — how do these differences affect the sensation of the game?
  • Do the differences in flavor effect the interface at all?
  • How does the ‘reaching perfection’ style of goal affect a player’s interest in replayability? Are there any changes that could be made to improve the game’s replayability?
  • What elements of 99 bricks are absolutely necessary to retain the essence of the game? Could anything be stripped out without changing the essence of the game? 

I invite you all to discuss this in the comments — beyond that, enjoy 99 Bricks!

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