Tag Archives: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

On Game Design: Difficult vs Frustrating

I was thinking a little bit about video games this morning and the differences between a game that’s difficult (or even extremely difficult to where it’s almost impossible to finish without the help of Game Genie or save states or anything like that) versus games that were just arbitrarily difficult because they wanted to just fuck over the player.

Like, the difference between something like Ghosts ‘n Goblins that’s arbitrarily difficult for the sake of being arbitrarily difficult because they just do things to make it arbitrarily difficult throughout the entire game and then when you finally finish the game–if you finally finish–you don’t actually finish the game! You have to start over and then there is an item that you have to collect somewhere in the game that you don’t know about and you don’t know the whereabouts of it and it’s entirely random where it shows up and you have to get that and you have to finish the game again and you might get the good ending because it depends on how you played the game originally.

I feel like that is not the mark of good design. It’s not the mark of a good game, and–especially at the end–it’s not at all rewarding! It’s just been so frustrating to get to that point that you’re rewarded with a simple “Congratulations” screen and that’s about it! It’s like “No no no no!” I mean, at least give me a credits crawl or something! Maybe rudimentary animation? Give me something to be proud of!

Of course, this is the earlier 8-bit era games, and this franchise–especially being a port of an arcade game–is meant to be extremely difficult. These games are meant to eat quarters, but there’s a difference between being just arbitrarily difficult and being difficult in a fun way that encourages replay. I don’t believe the NES port of Ghosts ‘n Goblins encourages replay. It’s a frustrating game that is not fun enough to play again; however, the later ones are okay–like they’re fun diversions. The arcade version is actually kind of fun to play through, but the console versions–by and large in my experience–have just been arbitrarily difficult and they’re set up to be that way so that you play them for a long time. In my experience, though, it just means they get thrown into a corner (or traded or sold) and never touched again by that player.

Contrast this to something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original one that everybody hates but I actually enjoy). Everybody loves to hate that original Turtles game, but I love it. I think it’s a lot of fun, it’s unique, and it’s more interesting than the beat-em-ups that came later. Granted, I do love Turtles IV on the SNES because I think that’s a beautiful port of a really fun arcade game and the console version actually adds to the arcade game. Of course, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade was ported to the NES asΒ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game and it was amazing when it came out and it was a lot of fun and it was great to play to be able to play the arcade game at home but it and its successor The Manhattan Project just don’t grab me the way the first one does.

Maybe it’s because I had the first one and I really enjoyed playing it a lot, putting a lot of time and effort into playing it and getting good at it. Maybe I’m different because I never felt that the dam level was all that difficult? It seems everybody hates swimming under the dam and doing the bombs, but I’m like, “That didn’t take me long to learn and get through it!” It’s difficult, but it’s not so difficult that it becomes frustrating and has that arbitrary feel to where it’s just full of “gotchas”. Ghosts ‘n Goblins is full of gotchas, but Turtles is just a genuinely difficult, skills-based game. It’s not a memory-based game where the difficulty lies in simply memorizing all the patterns and knowing exactly where the enemy is going to be before it appears on the screen.

Turtles, like many well-designed games, is a game where you really have to develop certain skills in order to progress through the game. You have to learn how the dam works. You have to learn to lay out of the dam. You have to learn the swimming mechanic. You have to learn the map of level 3, And yeah, that’s a little bit of memory work, but there is there’s a Metroidvania-like discovery mechanic, and there’s a lot of skill-building involved where you’ve got to start getting good at using the individual turtles to your advantage because they all have different strengths and weaknesses and you have to be able to play that. Then there’s certain jumps that you have to make, and you have to make them a certain way, and you make them with the certain turtle (because of his weapon).

There’s a lot that you have to learn and a lot that you have to know, but there’s a lot that you have to actually be able to do versus something like Ghosts ‘n Goblins which is just run and gun and know where the bad guys are going to pop up. It’s not like you can watch the screen and time it, you just have to know before it happens, and that is the difference: You have to know before it happens.

If you can’t look at the screen and see what’s going to happen as it’s happening, and instead just have to know it’s going to happen before you see it, that’s a mark of bad design.

There have to be visual cues in order for the game to be fun. When you can see the visual cues, you can learn them. Then you can apply that to other places in the game versus just having to know where everything is and memorize the whole game in order to be able to beat it. Visual or auditory cues are the key to good game design. You don’t want to spoon feed anybody like modern games do, but you don’t want to leave them without any way to figure out the problem. It’s a delicate balance, and some games do it really well while some games do not.

Then there are games like Fun House (NES) which is very much skills based, butΒ also memorization. In this title, you have to be good at controlling the avatar through its unique control scheme and you have to learn the layouts of every level! Meanwhile the designers did a decent job of placing cues and directing the player where to go. Once you’ve played a level two or three times you know how it works, but you’ve run out of lives and now you have to go back and you play it again, but there’s a fair “continue” mechanism that won’t set the player back too far and there are enough lives that troublesome spots aren’t detrimental.

A good design for a game keeps you playing; It has replay value. A well-designed game is just addictive enough, and it’s just difficult enough to warrant another try. Turtles is an extremely difficult game, but it’s also fun. Fun House is an extremely difficult game, but it is also fun. Mickey Mousecapade is ridiculously difficult! I’ve only beat it once (and I think I did that by accident), but it’s actually fun. It’s challenging–not something that is beyond your ability as a mere mortal–but just challenging enough to test your ability, and that’s the difference!

You don’t want games to be so difficult they’re not fun, but you don’t want them to be so easy they’re not fun either. I look at modern equivalents like I Wanna Be the Guy orΒ  VVVVVV and they’re just difficult for the sake of being difficult, but they’re also doing it in a tongue-in-cheek way and you go into the game knowing that! You go into the game knowing that they’re just fucking around with you and they’re playing against all these different tropes that came before–all these different conventions. So they set it up and they’re all tricks! Every design element is there to trick the player, but it’s specifically done that way and it’s more of an artistic statement, I think, in how can conventions can inform our decisions and how we can play off of those conventions to misdirect and I appreciate what they did. These titles may be arbitrarily difficult, but they’re arbitrarily difficult for a specific reason. They are arbitrarily difficult because they’re setting you up for failure on every screen and that’s part of the fun. It’s subverting those tropes and those conventions, and it makes for a very fun experience even though it is hopelessly difficult.

There’s a lot of commentary on game design in those pieces, and even though I’ve never felt compelled to play through either of those examples, I appreciate what they’re saying. These games fit into the gaming landscape much in the same way that films from Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker fit into the larger landscape of cinema. These are pieces that play with established conventions and techniques, and while not always considered “good” by critical standards, they know exactly what they are and why they exist, and they delight in deconstructing everything you thought you understood about the medium.

Building a Raspberry Pi Portable Gaming Device (Hack Like Heck: Matthew Eargle – TurtlePi)

If you’re going to build a retro gaming device, why not do it with a little style? The TurtlePi starts with a 1989 Konami Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles LCD handheld with a bad board and replaces the internals using a Raspberry Pi Zero W and Adafruit PiTFT screen to build a TMNT-themed handheld like no other! This video is the grand-prize-winning entry in Element14’s “Hack Like Heck” competition. Special thanks to Element14 and all of my friends, family, and subscribers who supported me in the contest!

Music by Anders Enger Jensen, available at http://eox.no

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00:00:04,549 –> 00:00:09,590
why don’t we have people send in short
audition videos and put them on the Element

00:00:09,590 –> 00:00:14,690
14 community saying hey here’s Who I am
here’s what I do and here’s how I would

00:00:14,690 –> 00:00:22,359
approach a raspberry pi affordable okay
and the ten best videos that we oh yeah

00:00:22,359 –> 00:00:26,900
what are you doing here we were battling
the shredder and old metal face

00:00:26,900 –> 00:00:33,019
destroyed my favorite video game ever I
need your help to fix it well why don’t

00:00:33,019 –> 00:00:37,370
you get it Donatello to do it nah he’s
busy working on some project for some

00:00:37,370 –> 00:00:42,140
Ben Heck guy whoever that is you think
you can look at it oh yeah this is a

00:00:42,140 –> 00:00:51,320
crush a I’ll see what I can do so
apparently Raphael is entrusted me with

00:00:51,320 –> 00:00:56,629
this vintage 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtles handheld game and well it’s kind

00:00:56,629 –> 00:01:01,119
of a one-trick pony though it’s a
rudimentary graphics rudimentary sound

00:01:01,119 –> 00:01:08,330
rudimentary gameplay but what if we can
take these design cues and upgrade the

00:01:08,330 –> 00:01:14,149
internals we’ll say a Raspberry Pi new
screen etc and we can build something

00:01:14,149 –> 00:01:19,939
that celebrates not only a beloved
franchise but retro gaming in general

00:01:19,939 –> 00:01:26,299
much the way that the SNES classic or
the NES classic does so here’s my idea

00:01:26,299 –> 00:01:37,670
we take said TMNT game which is very
poor part and should be able to fit a

00:01:37,670 –> 00:01:47,030
new TFT screen right here we’ll use the
original buttons if I can get some

00:01:47,030 –> 00:01:52,939
replacements we use the original buttons
here we use these function buttons we

00:01:52,939 –> 00:01:59,659
put a power switch here for the on/off
button and then we’ll just use some tax

00:01:59,659 –> 00:02:05,060
switches up underneath we’ll build a new
control set so the screen and a

00:02:05,060 –> 00:02:11,840
Raspberry Pi should just fit right here
may have to take much of this out just

00:02:11,840 –> 00:02:17,600
to fit everything in but we should be
able to have plenty of room here since

00:02:17,600 –> 00:02:21,439
we’re not
gonna use double A’s I should be able to

00:02:21,439 –> 00:02:28,280
get a lipo big lipo battery stick it
right in here and use this room for some

00:02:28,280 –> 00:02:37,579
extra eternals so this looks like it’s a
very viable project so let me order some

00:02:37,579 –> 00:02:43,340
parts and we will start fitting
everything together and see where it

00:02:43,340 –> 00:02:52,280
goes so I think my biggest concern here
is the way that the pie and the screen

00:02:52,280 –> 00:02:59,150
are gonna fit together inside the case
now of course it looks like they’re

00:02:59,150 –> 00:03:03,290
gonna fit so it should be okay but we’ll
know for certain once we get rid of all

00:03:03,290 –> 00:03:07,069
this extra plastic here so I’m gonna
mark off all these areas that we’re

00:03:07,069 –> 00:03:14,870
gonna cut and then once I have all that
now it’s time to dremel yes I actually I

00:03:14,870 –> 00:03:20,209
was afraid of this so the buttons don’t
fit right the screen and they don’t even

00:03:20,209 –> 00:03:24,370
line up right so we’re gonna have to
take those

00:03:36,780 –> 00:03:44,350
so here are the buttons that we removed
and of course you got a uh can actually

00:03:44,350 –> 00:03:47,320
see in here that they just they just
don’t line up right so we’re gonna

00:03:47,320 –> 00:03:56,140
actually create a new pad a new
controller to go in here now before we

00:03:56,140 –> 00:03:59,020
get building this thing we should
probably at least set up the operating

00:03:59,020 –> 00:04:02,830
system on the Raspberry Pi and since
this is a PI based gaming system we’re

00:04:02,830 –> 00:04:07,360
gonna use the tried-and-true retro PI so
we’re just gonna jump over to the retro

00:04:07,360 –> 00:04:11,620
pie website and grab the image once
that’s finished downloading use an app

00:04:11,620 –> 00:04:16,810
like etcher to flash it onto a bootable
SD drive disco now I’ve got to

00:04:16,810 –> 00:04:21,520
reconfigure this workstation with the
HDMI monitor the OTG cable and the power

00:04:21,520 –> 00:04:27,700
supply in order to set up the Raspberry
Pi for the first boot okay we’ve got a

00:04:27,700 –> 00:04:31,780
splash screen this is a good sign so
from here let’s go into the

00:04:31,780 –> 00:04:36,330
configuration menu and set up the Wi-Fi

00:04:36,630 –> 00:04:42,730
now we need to enable SSH so we’re gonna
go into raspy config then to interface

00:04:42,730 –> 00:04:49,150
options SSH and 1/8 now back in the main
retro PI interface I’ll go ahead and

00:04:49,150 –> 00:04:53,560
shut down the pi so that I can clear all
the stuff off my workstation now back on

00:04:53,560 –> 00:04:58,120
the Mac I’ll just fire around terminal
and ssh into hi now I haven’t changed

00:04:58,120 –> 00:05:01,450
the knee of the credentials yet but you
absolutely should do that as soon as

00:05:01,450 –> 00:05:08,320
possible now I’m gonna be using a two
fruits 2.2 inch pie TFT hat as the

00:05:08,320 –> 00:05:12,730
primary display so I need to enable
support using the script that they were

00:05:12,730 –> 00:05:20,320
so good to provide I’ll use option 6 for
the manual configuration and give it a

00:05:20,320 –> 00:05:25,990
few minutes for everything to install I
also need to set up a two fruits from

00:05:25,990 –> 00:05:29,890
retro game scripts so I can quickly
assign the GPIO breakout pins from the

00:05:29,890 –> 00:05:35,330
screen module
we’ll use the hi girls zero settings for

00:05:35,330 –> 00:05:42,910
simplicity okay the initial setup is
complete and it’s time to do

00:05:44,620 –> 00:05:49,520
okay so I’ve picked up some bakelite
perfboard so I could build a custom

00:05:49,520 –> 00:05:54,620
controller without having to roll my own
PCB besides it’s quicker and easier if I

00:05:54,620 –> 00:06:00,140
just hand wire everything and I’m gonna
be better able to make adjustments and

00:06:00,140 –> 00:06:06,590
changes as necessary if so to start I
just need to lay out my buttons and make

00:06:06,590 –> 00:06:10,130
sure I have the correct spacing by using
the front panel of the game then I’ll

00:06:10,130 –> 00:06:14,560
press fit my pack switches in the board
and double check the spacing as I go

00:06:14,560 –> 00:06:31,600
once everything is lined up right it’s
time to solder

00:06:31,600 –> 00:06:35,150
now that all the buttons are soldered
place I’ll go ahead and trim off the

00:06:35,150 –> 00:06:39,980
excess bakelite so that the whole board
fits in the case nicely of course this

00:06:39,980 –> 00:06:44,090
is why I’m using bakelite instead of
fiberglass because well it’s I can cut

00:06:44,090 –> 00:06:47,330
it with scissors I don’t have to get out
the dremel and all the safety equipment

00:06:47,330 –> 00:06:51,650
so you know just to make a simple trail
I’m also gonna need to cut out a notch

00:06:51,650 –> 00:06:56,690
here to fit this big beefy power button
that I’m gonna install separately now

00:06:56,690 –> 00:07:00,490
let’s start working on this screen

00:07:03,590 –> 00:07:09,020
so the PI TFT hat actually comes with a
separate GPIO breakout right here below

00:07:09,020 –> 00:07:13,940
the 40 thin connector so that you can
easily attach control wires the cell I’m

00:07:13,940 –> 00:07:17,389
going to connect the buttons and I’m
just gonna use a two fruits default

00:07:17,389 –> 00:07:25,610
layout for their retro game script to
wire everything for now okay just a

00:07:25,610 –> 00:07:29,960
quick orientation check let’s get these
wires soldered to their Horace ponding

00:07:29,960 –> 00:07:36,839

00:07:39,690 –> 00:07:47,670
okay now moment of truth it’s time to
solder the pie to the screen module with

00:07:47,670 –> 00:07:51,470
all the wires sandwiched in between

00:07:57,530 –> 00:08:02,370
now the screen module and the PI are
married I need to ground all these

00:08:02,370 –> 00:08:07,560
buttons to a common line so I’ll just
run some ground lines create a couple of

00:08:07,560 –> 00:08:13,590
buses and connect all of that to one of
the ground pants on the GPIO now I need

00:08:13,590 –> 00:08:18,480
a couple of shoulder buttons and so I’m
going to use these little candy colored

00:08:18,480 –> 00:08:24,330
text witches because they’re going to
fit right into the top of these little

00:08:24,330 –> 00:08:29,820
shoulders here on the bottom of the case
appropriately enough so I’m going to

00:08:29,820 –> 00:08:34,830
need to measure the button cap okay
looks be about 11 millimeters give or

00:08:34,830 –> 00:08:45,999
take so now my stepper bit and you get
to chewing through this plastic

00:08:56,220 –> 00:09:07,259
looking good so now we need some onboard
audio okay let’s take our USB audio

00:09:07,259 –> 00:09:12,120
adapter and and tear off these three and
a half millimeter Jaxx’s we’re not going

00:09:12,120 –> 00:09:18,360
to need them instead we’ll just solder
the leads to our speaker directly to the

00:09:18,360 –> 00:09:22,920
pads where the headphone jack was it
doesn’t really matter which channel we

00:09:22,920 –> 00:09:27,209
use because we’re only going to output
mono sound all these old games did just

00:09:27,209 –> 00:09:31,019
fine with mono sound anyway I mean it’s
not like a lot of TVs back in the day

00:09:31,019 –> 00:09:36,629
had stereo capabilities anyway
kind of reminds me of the Etta reminds

00:09:36,629 –> 00:09:41,730
me of the old game boys you know
dot-matrix with stereo sound but only

00:09:41,730 –> 00:09:55,079
one speaker whatever now we should at
least make sure it works now comes the

00:09:55,079 –> 00:09:57,660

00:09:57,660 –> 00:10:06,810
I need to desolder these wires leading
to the USB plug because well this just

00:10:06,810 –> 00:10:11,280
isn’t gonna work
oh yeah and you might want to take note

00:10:11,280 –> 00:10:16,590
of where each wire is connected to
logistics anyway with the USB

00:10:16,590 –> 00:10:22,530
disconnected I’ll just cut a micro USB
cable that I have lying around and leave

00:10:22,530 –> 00:10:28,140
a micro plug and just a few inches worth
of cable strip it down and solder the

00:10:28,140 –> 00:10:33,390
individual wires onto the appropriate
pads add a little dab of hot glue to

00:10:33,390 –> 00:10:39,840
reinforce the connections and then we’ve
got as a micro USB audio adapter that

00:10:39,840 –> 00:10:49,860
should fit just like so now the last
component I have to build before we put

00:10:49,860 –> 00:10:53,280
this whole thing together is the power
supply now I’m going to use a two

00:10:53,280 –> 00:10:57,810
thousand milliamp power lipo battery to
power the thing with but I’m gonna need

00:10:57,810 –> 00:11:02,910
a way to charge it and to distribute
that power so for that I’m gonna use

00:11:02,910 –> 00:11:09,720
this a power boost 1000 from Adafruit
it’s actually pretty simple to wire the

00:11:09,720 –> 00:11:16,230
battery plugs into this little jack
right here and we just have to run a

00:11:16,230 –> 00:11:22,320
couple of wires from these terminals one
goes to a 5 volt pin and the other goes

00:11:22,320 –> 00:11:26,490
to the ground pin on the PI I’m also
gonna wire this little clicky button

00:11:26,490 –> 00:11:32,820
switch that I have that I’ll use to talk
with power now let’s get these things

00:11:32,820 –> 00:11:37,310
soldered up and that’ll be time to put
this bad boy together

00:11:39,279 –> 00:11:45,379
so I’ve run into a little bit of a snag
on assembling the speaker that I’m using

00:11:45,379 –> 00:11:50,029
is just too big to fit inside the shell
so I’m gonna have to find a smaller

00:11:50,029 –> 00:11:55,360
speaker driver to use now fortunately
the fine folks over at Ben Heck show

00:11:55,360 –> 00:12:00,500
happened to send me another speaker as
part of the build materials for Ben’s

00:12:00,500 –> 00:12:08,149
original bill okay let’s get this bad
boy put together we’re gonna start with

00:12:08,149 –> 00:12:14,449
the power boost unit wire that up to the
five volt in and the ground pin on the

00:12:14,449 –> 00:12:21,500
Raspberry Pi then we want a route ours
power switch into its appropriate

00:12:21,500 –> 00:12:29,209
position all right looking good now we
need to connect the shoulder buttons to

00:12:29,209 –> 00:12:34,189
the main controls we’re gonna start by
running ground lines from the ground bus

00:12:34,189 –> 00:12:38,029
on the controller out to the shoulder
buttons which I’ve attached to these

00:12:38,029 –> 00:12:42,889
small little pieces of perfboard that
I’ve glued into place then we’re going

00:12:42,889 –> 00:12:46,689
to connect our signal wires that we
soldered on to the screen module earlier

00:12:46,689 –> 00:12:52,100
all right everything’s fitting great now
we just need to add a little hot glue to

00:12:52,100 –> 00:12:57,769
hold everything in place and to insulate
our wires okay the last thing we have to

00:12:57,769 –> 00:13:02,110
do is Mount our USB audio so we got to
run the cable right around through here

00:13:02,110 –> 00:13:07,699
plug it in and cut a little piece of
mounting square we’re gonna tack the

00:13:07,699 –> 00:13:15,800
speaker right down on to the battery and
I think we’re actually finished let’s

00:13:15,800 –> 00:13:23,430
give it a shot
it works I’ve works it works okay one

00:13:23,430 –> 00:13:40,320
more thing I’ve got to do and always got
to sign our work perfect now I just got

00:13:40,320 –> 00:13:44,340
to get this back over to Raphael and
we’re good to go okay so the games

00:13:44,340 –> 00:13:47,940
intact but I’ve made a few modifications
that I think you’re gonna enjoy let’s

00:13:47,940 –> 00:13:57,830
check it out wow this is radical this is
way better than the game I used to play