Archive for July, 2011


Torment Me No More

Well now, looking back it seems like I’ve been too nice to Dead Space 2, so let’s get that caustic hate machine within warmed up and ready to go. And I have just the thing to talk about, event battles! For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, Event Battles are fights that take place on highly scripted rails, usually to try to increase the tension by making a fight seem more ‘cinematic’ and forcing the player to react in certain ways. Really bad versions of this are just quick-time events, literally hit ‘X’ or whatever in time or you die, and that’s it. In Dead Space 2, the event fight isn’t that bad, but it’s close… The boss even has a fitting name: The Tormentor.

I'm looking at you, jerk.

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Map Awarness

(Note: The following is mostly relevant mainly to PvP maps. In a Player vs. Environment situation, you can be sure the enemies won’t exploit every advantage and will perform in a fairly predictable pattern, in turn letting more varied landscapes thrive. In PvE, the world exists as a stage for the play of the characters life. In PvP, the world is merely the arena one choose to kill or die in.)

Alright, the last in this weeks balance set and we’ll be taking a look at maps. This can be the make-or-break moment for any game, as playing on unfavorable 1-sided maps can lead to bad games and lost battles just because the enemy spawned on the ‘right’ side. There are two main kind of maps, symmetrical and asymmetrical, and these are what we’ll covering today. This will probably be a short one, just because of the massive amount of variance between games. You wouldn’t play a game of Starcraft II on a map that was designed for Team Fortress 2, and you would probably be pretty bored playing a Team Fortress 2 map on a massive sprawling map were engagements are few and far between. Before we get into the two main categories, let’s cover the basics.

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Forging Balance

Now then, as I promised, today’s post is on weapons in gaming and the aspects of balance for them. Note these are equip-able items not characters that use weapons. We’re just talking about the thing that (usually) goes in the hand(s), be it sword, mace, shovel, or what have you. Mostly we’re going to cover the variety of types weapons come in and how they all relate, and can have a bit of uniqueness to make each weapon fun to use. Right then, let’s just jump straight in with the weapon types themselves!

Weapon Types:
This is the most obvious and basic breakdown in weapon diversity. Usually there will be a fairly large amount to chose from, but the choice will be fairly unimportant. I’m talking basics like Two-Handed Sword/Mace/Axe, when which of those three you pick is mostly for flavor. Sometimes you have other things play in, like Race X has a higher damage threshold when wielding an axe, so you see players going for that, but ultimately it’s down to what you prefer (Or in some sad cases, which ever animation is least terrible).  What it boils down to is 1-hand slashing, 1-hand blunt, 2-hand variants of the same thing, and then, if you’re lucky, piercing damage (usually a bow), with the actual weapons all slotting into One of those 5 categories.
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Right then. I know it’s a day late, but I’m hoping not a dollar short. It’s that bloody 12 hour car ride, I thought today was Tuesday. Well… whoops. Yes, tomorrow will be a regularly scheduled blog post, and of the normal variety. Today’s will be more of a discussion piece, hopefully getting some gears turning as you read. Back to back posts! I must be losing it to put myself through that. Anyways, on with the show.

Today is going to be a fun one, since this is something that can be found in virtually every game ever. That’s right, items! Various flavors and forms, items are the quintessential backbone of certain types of games, often being both the reward and means to an end. In order to make sure this post actually ends sometime this century, we’ll be mostly talking about items like potions and elixirs, and looking at how they can be balanced for the game in question with a variety of unique and engaging ways. Tomorrow will be the other side of the item world: weapons. For now, let’s get started with the most common potion variant: defensive.
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Upgrading!

Well, in between my intense suffering at my family’s hands and being dragged around everywhere, I have actually gotten to play a little bit of Dead Space 2 from time to time, and have gotten enough of a taste to really talk about one of my favorite parts in gaming: weapon upgrades. The Power Node/Workbench system is the primary focus, but there will be honorable mention to Fallout soon enough. And again, I would like to sincerely apologize, this post was supposed to go up yesterday, but once I got dragged out by the family I didn’t make it back until the wee-hours of the morning. I am truly sorry. Hopefully, this article will scratch that mechanical analysis itch some of you have!

Upgrading weapons is a time-honored trope in gaming, and can be viewed basically anywhere, in any game. World of Warcraft and MMO’s like it have enchanting, giving bonus stats or effects to your weapon, Dead Space 2 has Workbenches which can be used to upgrade weapons in a variety of ways, and Fallout: New Vegas has weapon mods which allow for personalized touches to your preferred weapon. Like always, I’ll start with the poorer ways this mechanic is used, and then highlight the good cases.
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Updating!

Yes, I know there hasn’t been anything this week. I am very, very sorry. Mostly there has been a bunch of annoying family stuff, not the least of which is a wedding in about a day (Not mine, promise) so updates have been slow. I’m going to try to have something up by Saturday if I can get internet in my hotel room at a reasonable cost, but if not, I have some big things planned for next week. It’ll be a week long three part segment on community mods and ideas, and just to give you a little teasing glimpse…

 

Item Creation: Tuesday’s article, dealing with what items you can have in your game. Everything from weapons in a first-person shooter to potions in a role-playing game, I’ll set some guidelines for making the best items you could possibly have for a blooming game, along with a few balance examples. All in all, it should be the least complicated article, and I hope a fun one to read.

Balance: Yes, you read that right. I’m going to be assaulting the biggest problem in content around, the tenuous art of balance. This one will be more in-depth, and will mostly focus on things like spells and abilities for various games, and how balance is very, very rarely a cut-and-dry problem developers face. Terminology may be a little thick, but I’ll stick to spelling out acronyms whenever possible. This one I’m also hoping to inspire a little discussion or thought by example, and maybe we could add to the article about specifics that some enjoy.

Map Creation: On of the hardest things to create, maps are the life-blood of any multiplayer game. Without enough variety, a community can slowly deplete until the game can no long support players. This is where fan-made maps come in, and we’ll be looking at a few of the pitfalls common to both fan made maps and dev-maps, like total bias and an unbalanced map. But you’ll have to wait until next week to see everything.

Anyways, that is my update and my future plans. I really regret not bringing you guys any content so far this week, and will be pushing to have something fun to read Saturday if I’m able. I hope you will be looking forward to next weeks segment, and can forgive a poor, lowly game critic a couple days of rest before going back to the grindstone. See you all very soon!

Living World

Today’s is going to be a bit of a short one, mostly because it’s not something that needs much elaboration, just a little better implementation. All I’m asking for a little better weather, and that’s all! Think about it, when was the last time you saw weather being used realistically to heighten a sense of immersion, and not as a cheap pull to set up weak atmosphere. So, we’ll do this in two ways: One is how weather is used poorly, and the other in how it could be used better.

Poor Use:
First and foremost, MMO’s and other genres that use a realistic 24-hour day/night cycle, I’m calling you out. The worst offenders of this have a grand total of three weather effects: Day time, Day time with rain, and Night. This is only made worse by the fact that rain falls for, at most, about 30 minutes.  In an entire day. Guys, I know people make fun of gamers for not going outside often, but can we not prove that by having ‘realistic’ rain that lasts a half hour? It was raining here at my house almost three days straight last week, then nothing until this morning. I know you want some kind of ‘consistency,’ but I’d rather have a more believable world. If that means having rain at night and a five-hour storm in a zone  or whatever, I am perfectly fine with that. It helps breath a bit of life into the zone.

Maybe if it rained more, some places wouldn't be dead.

Speaking of rain, can we stop using it as this cheap knock-off horror-hill style effect? The worst thing in the world is running towards your new quest area, and then it starts raining. Back up and it stops. Why not just scrap the whole thing and save your programmers some time, just insert a sign that says “Warning: Evil Ahead.” You’d accomplish the same thing without wrecking immersion or making me sit around all day enjoying the one place in the world that got all the rain. Why not through the player for a loop and actually have a bright sunny area where crap is getting real? Or, better yet, nothing out of the ordinary until you get underground/inside/whatever. Pacing people, pacing.

The other thing that bothers me, where is the rest of it? The world is not a binary Rain : No-Rain world. There is snow, gusts of wind, overcast days, sandstorms in deserts, extreme rainfall in tropical areas. Why does near everything have the same amount? The only time you ever see snow is if the one zone takes place on either the top of the mountain or the top of the world, and it’s never an actual snowstorm like you’d expect from that. Sandstorms never happen unless it was some gameplay mechanic involved.  The sky is usually cloudy, credit where do, but very very rarely in games do those clouds have an effect on the ambient lighting.

... What if it was snowing?

Good Use :
Now, the good news is, a lot of these effects actually are in games. Quite a few show up as either special mechanics for a single area, or as ambiance in a single zone. The entire world would be immersive and beautiful though, if it was a living breathing entity. Let sandstorms rage in the deserts, and the monsoons storm across the plains from time to time. Let the stop of the world be a cold, hateful place where the snow and wind beat out the living. Let the world come alive, and let the player become lost within. Games these days like trying to splice in varying environments, make them feel alive.

As a final note, anyone have a game to add where they feel weather was used exceptionally well?

Why Pokémon isn’t a very good game

Kana’s Note: Due to massive amount of spam this post attracts, comments are disabled. Sorry about that.

 

Pokémon. I don’t even need to say more. Everyone knows what it is anyway, as it turned into a legendary worldwide phenomenon that has flooded the world with more Pokémon merchandise than we could ever need. To the chagrin of many.

This article will be about the original game series, more specifically, it’ll be about what changes could be made to these games to improve them as the formula is really starting to wear thin.

The reason I think any kind of improvement is in order is that the main Pokémon games have stuck to the same formula since the very beginning. It obviously works since Nintendo rakes in insane amounts of cash for each game in the series, but I still think that changing the concept might re-ignite the series and draw in more new customers.

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Lucid Madness

Today is something I’ve actually been waiting to talk about for a little while, and that’s the sanity mechanic in video games. I mean Sanity in a major, game-defining way, so simple instances like Yogg-Saron from World of Warcraft won’t apply so much as, say, Daniel’s experiences in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Sanity is often handled poorly, either in aesthetics or in a gameplay sense, so to start off let’s look at what sanity bars do wrong before looking at a sanity mechanic that was done properly, way back on the Gamecube. Let’s see if you can guess the game I’m referring to before that time. Got a hunch on that game yet?

Sanity: The Broken Mind
The sad thing is, Sanity is often added in as a mechanic to either provide a story line mechanic or as a way of making the game more immersivewhile often wrecking that sense of immersion that the game was trying to achieve in the first place. The thing about it is, it’s basically the game dev saying “You should be scared now!” without attempting to make that fear personal. Sometimes they do manage that, like in Amnesia, the multi-hour heart attack game, but even then Sanity has it’s downsides. Unless you sit down and stare at a candle, your screen will distort, warping as your sanity drains. Why is that bad? Well, it isn’t really, except for a simple reason. Just one, tinie-tiny thing. It hurts the eyes. I complain about it, some friends have complained, and some haven’t, the kicker is, it hurts me on a physical level, outside the game. The longer it happens, the more tension and fear die as I realize that I’m not actually in any danger, I’m still just playing a game. A game that is hurting my eyes just because the character has a minor fetish for candles and/or lanterns.

"Shiney...."

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Startling vs. Unsettling

Ah, time for another delve into the world of madness and terror. You had to know this one was coming after playing any amount of Vampire: The Masquerade again. But, we won’t be talking about that game this time. Oh no, we’re going back into Dead Space and it’s sequel, to see just how horror can be handled and the effects it creates. Needless to say, there will be spoilers in here, so read ahead at your own peril. Of course, there could always be something worse just lurking in the darkness…

Dead Space: This is the most blatant offender of the startle that it serves as the perfect place to start. If you’ve never seen or heard about it before, the basic jist is Necromorphs = Space Zombies x Xenomorphs (of Aliens fame), and like to pop out of vents at you. And play dead occasionally. But that’s basically it. After the first few times, it becomes routine, predictable. See a vent, line up a shot, nail the stupid space zombie for doing the same thing every other space zombie did. The actual fear wears completely out, and is just replaced by a startled sensation. I was startled when the family cat jumped in my lap once, that isn’t the same thing as being terrified and looking over my shoulder at every turn. Likewise, ‘cat-scares’ as their sometimes called have extreme diminishing returns when overused. Emotions quickly swing from being genuinely afraid, to just startled, to neutral, then things start getting bad for you. Even more use swings into annoyance as monsters repeat the same action and the player is forced to keep ‘falling’ for the same trap without being able to attack first or really prepare when they know it’s coming. More and more the emotion pendulum swings into anger and annoyance as the same thing keeps happening. This is why jump out scares should be used rarely to maximize their effectiveness.
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