Nicewrench, a new game prototype, has been posted.

Nicewrench Screenshot

In 2007, the indie developer messhof created FLYWRENCH, which I felt was a very interesting game. I recommend that all game designers play it. You can download FLYWRENCH here.

In February 2008, I created a game prototype called Nicewrench, which was about experimenting with FLYWRENCH’s design: what happens if you take a game that is about mercilessly killing the player, and remove the possibility for player death?

You can download Nicewrench on my game prototypes page, here.

Both FLYWRENCH and Nicewrench were shown (and played by a room full of attendees) in my presentation at Nuances of Design 2008.

There’s more in the way of design musing in the README, which is also copied here, after the fold.

This is version 0.01 of Nicewrench, a game prototype.

Nicewrench was created as a riff on the design of FLYWRENCH, a game created by the independent developer messhof. I recommend playing FLYWRENCH before playing this. As of this writing, you can download FLYWRENCH at:

I found FLYWRENCH to be a very original and compelling game. However, I also found it very frustrating to play because it is so brutal. I began to wonder what the game would feel like if it were much more forgiving -- if there were no way to die at all. In a way this was a tiny follow-up to Braid: one of the many lines of thought being pursued in Braid is, what happens when you take a game that is traditionally very player-death-oriented and make it so that the player cannot die? How does the design change, and how do you keep the game interesting?

The goal of FLYWRENCH was just to reach the end of each level, but when you can't die, this is not nearly so interesting. Perhaps because I was still in the Braid "wander a world and find collectables" mood, that's what I did here: you fly around and collect stars. Some of the stars you just have to fly through, and you can get them at any time. Some of them, though, are precariously tied to the colored beams; if you fail to pass through the beam on the first try, these stars are lost.

Whereas I think this was a good experiment that I learned a lot from, I do not feel Nicewrench is a very successful game; FLYWRENCH is much more compelling. Nicewrench feels clumsy; the player just ends up bouncing off things a lot, and flailing through the level, which is not very fun.

At the same time, though, this prototype highlights some interesting gameplay situations that were not possible in FLYWRENCH (because they involve the player bouncing off walls and beams). That's part of the reason I feel it was successful. Another reason is that Nicewrench lent itself to a bigger, more-sprawling level layout, and it was interesting to explore that (even though I did not spend much time on level design, given how quickly this prototype was made).

If I were to make Nicewrench 2, which may happen sometime, I think I would try making it a racing game where the player is trying to reach some end-goal and every second counts. The player would not fail to pass through beams if he is the wrong color, but they might disrupt his course and speed. This might permit an even-more-open world in which there are many viable courses, the player choosing the one that best fits his flying style. Hopefully this would bring back some of the intensity of FLYWRENCH, and remove much of the clumsiness of Nicewrench.

There are also some basic tweaks I would make to the movement model. When the player is green in Nicewrench, he is mostly inertial but has a little bit of air friction. This causes a lot of bad-feeling situations where the player is trying to drift across a green beam but can't quite make it (though it does feel good once he crosses the beam and is accelerated by it). I think I would make the green mode accelerate the player up to some equilibrium speed if he is moving too slowly, which again may remove some of the clumsiness and stickiness from player motion.

This game was written in 2 days or so, during February 2008, while jetlagged on a trip to Copenhagen -- so don't expect much in the way of audiovisual niceness.

The latest version of Nicewrench, as well as other prototypes, can be found at:

-Jonathan Blow
5 July 2008
San Francisco, CA

7 thoughts on “Nicewrench, a new game prototype, has been posted.”

  1. The original got a bit too punishing for me to get through the last level, so this was nice to tool around with.

    This made me think about how the axes of “intrinsically satisfying core mechanic” and “reward/punishment relationship” (difficulty curve in more conventional terms) intersect. For some games you can change the goals, rewards and punishment significantly, and there’s still a game there… those things are ultimately just excuses to have engage with the core mechanics. So finding another goal – even a simple one – that keeps the game interesting isn’t very hard.

    On the flip side, you have something like Etrian Odyssey (a Wizardry-like RPG) or Shiren the Wanderer (a roguelike), both for DS. Normally, RPGs where you level up mindlessly bore me to sleep, but the way those games ratchet up the difficulty makes every decision tactically significant, so you’re not grinding for its own sake so much as grinding to stay alive. Still not the sort of design I’d aspire to, but they’re interesting to contrast with something like Nicewrench, in a (1, 1) to (-1, -1) sort of relationship along those axes.

  2. Unfortunately I just get an error when I try and open it; “Nicewrench.exe has a problem and needs to close” etc etc.

  3. While certainly less of a punishment than Flywrench, I still found it too much of a struggle with the controls. I could never stand Asteroids back in the day for the very same reason, anyway.

  4. No crash on my eee. Gameplay was cool, flow was there. I really appreciate “sandboxes games” like Nicewrench, life’s hard enough you know.
    I loved the pacing I think it’s pretty hard to set up and you did it very well.

    You guys (Petri too) give me the willingness to prototype!

  5. I tried both FlyWrench and NiceWrench. I have no interest in games that kick my ass so I prefer NiceWrench. I also noticed in NiceWrench that when white, my character glides. If the level was large enough I think I’d have fun simply launching myself into the air and gliding around.

    To make NiceWrench more “gamey” you could have players navigate a level but they have to collect either red or white stars which are always moving in the opposite direction. Players must choose which ones to grab and must be the same color. Perhaps grabbing more of one color changes the abilities when in that colored mode, not sure… as I said earlier, I’m more interested in the experience of it all rather than a challenge.

    It reminded me of a flash game, Dolphin Olympics where your character is a dolphin and your goal is to gain speed to jump out of the water, do tricks and collect speed boosts. It’s a great experience because the sense of speed is really fun and you have to position your dolphin for reentry into the water just right or you lose speed. If you make it high enough into the air you get fireworks.

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