Friday, September 09, 2005


Title: Babala
Author: Pavel Richter
License: Freeware

Babala is wonderful present from one person to all us logic game fans. In each Babala level, you have to dispose of several enemies, called balabaks. In each turn, you can move, shot, and/or lay mines. Then the balabaks move. If one reaches you, you lose. Simple enough, eh? One problem is that you usually have a limited supply of projectiles and mines. You cannot waste ammo in this game. Luckily, there are often weapon caches sprinkled about. You just have to get to them to rearm before the balabaks get to you. Levels can also include dynamite, time bombs, explosive barrels, bomb catapults, teleports, and the always fun dragon's head.

Here is a sample level. I picked this level to show because it is the first one with which I really had trouble. You need to kill all the green and red balabaks. Green balabaks have a range of four. Red balabaks have a range of only three, but require two shots to be killed. In this level, shooting a barrel sets off a chain reaction which opens up a corridor which allows you to access the balabaks. This also opens up a corridor for the balabaks to access you. Every time I tried this level, the balabaks overwhelmed me. Then, I realized that with a few shots I could create a little cave to hide in and force the balabaks come at me one or two at a time.

The game includes a scoring system. The quicker you solve a level, the higher your score. For the first 50 levels, high scores and par scores are included for comparison. On the above level, my score was far below the par score. So, there must be some way to beat the level without creating the cave, but I cannot figure out how.

There are 200 levels. You have to complete each level in order to advance to the next. However, you can pay a 50 point price to skip a hard level. Roughly, this allows you to skip one in every four levels. The early levels are easy. The later levels can be quite hard.

Babala is currently in beta status, and I have some suggestions which might improve the game. First, the variety and pacing of the levels is not great. Some of the levels are quite similar. Editing out these near repeats would improve the game. Also, some minor reordering might help.

My next suggestion has to do with the high score list. Version 0.2 of the game contained 125 levels, but it contained par and high scores for every level. Version 0.3 only contains par and high score for the first 50 levels. Also, sometimes the par score is higher than the high score. I assume that these are oversights which will probably be corrected. It would also be nice if you could upload your high scores. In reworking my way through the early levels to get that screen shot, I managed to beat the high score on 20 levels. I want credit.

My last suggestion is to include the ability to go back and replay completed or skipped levels. This would allow you to take another crack at a level where your score is significantly below par. Or, for the hardcore, figure out how to match the high score. For the levels you skipped, maybe you could gain back 25 points of the 50 point penalty by solving it later.

There is one aspect of the game which I do not like. The movement rules of the balabaks are not always easy to predict. Even after playing through all 200 levels, I cannot always figure out how they will move. As best I can tell, the movement algorithm is to have them move one at a time starting with the closest one (how are ties broken?). I think they use some truncated version of A* algorithm to find shortest path from the balabak to the player if close enough and follow the first so many steps. But among equal length paths, which one is taken? Consider this level

where you have one mine to place. Should you place it to the right or down? And when then there is no path from a balabak to the player or too many obstructions, it is very unclear how they decide to move. The movement in this case is not random, but I never could never nail down the algorithm.

Minor complaints aside. This is a great game. Pavel, thank you for making Babala for us.


At 3:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree: Babala is the keenest logic game ever. I also like shareware gems Stone Collector and Pathfinder, and freeware Fire. Lost Idols is also pretty decent. Of course, Aargon Deluxe, YEAH!

But whoa, back to babala. You've misunderstood something Jimmy. First, there are par scores for all 200 levels! there just aren't any built-in high scores beyond level 50. And if the high score is lower than par, it's of no consequence, since those are just some token sample scores intended to be beaten... they are not actual hallmark achievements of any real human. As for uploading your own notable scores, the Babala website says that feature is to be incorporated in the next release. It's going to be done right, with full rigors: hashcoding and encrypting the score file to insure there's no tampering!

As for going back and replaying a skipped level, this is possible by creating a save point with the Save Game function. I don't know though; it gets kinda tricky when you think about it, how this should impact your score for a complete game sequence. It's problematic. Why don't you make your suggestions at the Babala site forum?

As for the question of how balabak will move when it's a 50-50 toss-up, you've answered your own question: it's a toss-up.

As for the level you depicted with the barrels, there is a better-scoring strategy... you just have to come up with it, ahem, on your own.


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