Grading Aerial Assist, First Impressions
I don’t envy the FIRST Game Design Committee. It is extremely difficult to come up with a successful game year in and year out. As Kickoff 2014 approached, the GDC was coming into the season on the equivalent of what we would call “a winning streak”. Ultimate Ascent and Rebound Rumble were two of the best games created since Aim High. With the bar so elevated, the question arises…can they do it again? Lets take a closer look at Aerial Assist and run it through our grading system to get a preliminary idea of how they did!
Aerial Assist is flat out gorgeous! Big colorful game pieces. The structure is simple, sleek, and menacing all at the same time. This year, lights are a thing. Visual cues are all over the field to give you clues to game state, aid in autonomous, and control the flow of the “cycles” that will be dominating the gameplay. Simple rule: blinking lights make me happy.
The nice thing about Aerial Assist is that everything is big. The balls are big. The goals are big. The truss in the middle of the field is big. Big is good in a game because it is easy to see from a distance. The one big advantage about this game is the fact that the majority of the round will be spent with just two balls on the field. Two balls means two points of focus. What this does is allow you to follow the action of the important parts of the game without feeling like you are going to miss something important going on in a different part of the field. The audience will know where the play is, and will see it develop each time. That is a win for everyone. The only drawback is that the scoring grid is so confusing that someone off the street will come into the arena, see a ton of cool things happening, and not realize that half of them are scoring big points. Overall though, its a major success.
Aim High, Rebound Rumble, and Ultimate Ascent were all very successful games that involved objects flying through the air into a hole above the driver station. It would seem that the GDC has realized that this formula works and so they decided to stick with it. Passing game objects from one robot to another was once a neat game trick used by teams to gain a strategic edge in a round. Now, doing so will be a necessity in building a successful winning strategy in the game. The assist element of the game is creative, but the rest of the game is very recycled from the shooting games and Overdrive.
Cycles are the rule of the land. This game will quickly become one of speed. How fast can robot A pass the ball to robot B, who in turn passes the ball to Robot C, who then lofts it up (or down) into the goal, and we start again. The question that will probably dominate a good majority of build strategy sessions over the next couple of days will be over the viability of the midfield toss and catch for 20 points. Is it worth it? There is no obvious swing element in the game this year, which means it is going to be straightforward offense vs defense to decide who wins. What this usually means is that a blowout will be a blowout, but the close matches will be edge of your seat theater. Finally, did you notice that FIRST tacked on an extra fifteen seconds of play time per match, and then cut five off of autonomous? I have to believe that giving enough time for an extra half a cycle or so was a good move.
Strategically, I love this game. Finding a balance between teamwork, proper defense, and flat ability to score is going to be a major factor in success of FIRST teams this year. The age old question of “What do you do when your partner can barely move from its starting position?” carries a huge extra weight for game strategy in general. My absolute favorite thing about this game is the wildcard of the goaltending position. A legitimate goaltender could be a huge difference maker in a game where every second counts. On the fly strategy, outwitting your opponents, fast paced action will make this one of the most enjoyable games to play in recent history.
Aerial Assist gives a very promising first impression to those who are ready to play it. While the scoring grid can be confusing, the game is going to be a crowd pleaser, especially to those who understand it. Can you picture the crowd roar when a robot lofts a ball that just squeaks past an A+ goaltender for a 30 point swing in a match? That very scenario is something that could make each set of elimination matches memorable for years. It will be fun to play, it will be fun to watch, and it will continue the winning streak for the GDC for yet another year.