Critical Play: Factory Balls Forever – Krystal Li

Factory Balls Forever (FBF) is a puzzle game created by Bart Bonte, that is based off his game developed on Flash Player “Factory Balls,” which was initially released in 2008. The game is available on Bart Bonte’s website, as well as on Steam, iOS, Android, and Windows. FBF gameplay primarily involves decorating a ball according to a designated pattern. As the game progresses through different levels, the pattern gets more complex and difficult to replicate. As Factory Balls Forever increases complexity in its puzzles, the game maintains a gradual build that amplifies a player’s sense of achievement and enhances replayability.

As a player completes an FBF puzzle, the next challenge either builds on the pattern in the last level, or adds one new way to create patterns. For example, in level 2, the player learns how to use goggles to create a specific pattern with the paint. Then, in level 4, a new larger pair of goggles is introduced, and the player builds on what they’ve learned from level 2 to complete this new puzzle. 

(Images depicting Levels 2 and 4 of FBF. Level 2 introduces small goggles, while Level 4 implores the player to continue using these small goggles as well as larger ones to create the pattern needed.)

This building complexity in puzzle mechanics creates the optimal sense of challenge as players are constantly needing to learn new techniques to recreate patterns. The puzzles continue automatically, creating a flow state without the player needing to click to the next thing. With this design choice, the game also taps into abnegation as it is designed in such a way that the endless levels allow the players to lose their sense of time. There is also a sense of discovery as it is exciting to see the next pattern come out and figure out what resources are needed to recreate it. 

(Image depicting Level 20 of FBF. The game’s feedback for a correct pattern is moving you directly to the next one, encouraging the user to always stay engaged with a new pattern.)

These puzzle mechanics combine to both preserve and enhance a player’s sense of fun. The next puzzle is always slightly more challenging in a way that is not too difficult or new such that the player feels the need to give up. This helps to increase a player’s sense of achievement and makes them more likely to continue playing as the levels increase in difficulty. Similar to how the tutorial section of a game is able to draw on a low-level of commitment from a player to hook them in for the long-term, this strategy continuously helps Factory Balls Forever maintain replayability. Players are consistently interested in the progressing complexity and building understanding  that allows them to keep moving forward.

The simplicity of the UI adds to this sense of achievement as there is no countdown and no way to learn more information or gain hints. The player has full autonomy to figure out each puzzle on their own time. There is no “failing” as you can leave the game and return to the level you were on to keep trying, increasing a player’s desire to return to the game and enhancing replayability if a user wants to return to a level they had trouble with. 

(Image of opening screen, which allows you to return to the level you left off at to replay, or revisit levels you’ve completed to practice.)

At the same time, Factory Balls Forever gameplay can be considered non-inclusive as it is not designed to allow for play by color-blind users. Even as I was playing, it became hard to differentiate some darker colors, so I imagine it would be almost impossible to play with a visual impairment. Many other color-dominated games, such as Two Dots, are able to fix this problem by adding increased color contrast or patterns to distinguish certain colors. FBF could benefit from employing such tools to allow for color-blind or visually impaired players greater access to this game. 

Moreover, because FBF has very repetitive gameplay, some players may eventually get tired since there are only so many ways to increase the difficulty of the patterns without making it too hard for players. A possible solution to this problem is allowing users to create their own patterns and ways to create them. I believe this approach would allow users to tap into their creativity and expand from the typical tools and patterns that the game designer initially created for the game. Since FBF doesn’t currently rely on friendship-building or any interaction between players, this addition would be beneficial as user-created puzzles would be highly shareable and help to draw more players to the game.

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