Category: Gaming Mechanics

Managing Resources

This is something I’ve actually been wanting to talk about for a while, mostly because of how insane its extremes can be. Resources can be literally anything, the most basic definition is “something you need that the game provides, in limited quantities.” This is anything between what a mana and health-point bar are to minerals, vespene gas, and unit cap can be, across any genre and skill-level of game. Labyrinth of Touhou, a personal favorite dungeon crawler that actually has an insane number of combat-based resources, is the game with the most amount of resources that doesn’t break combat down into a cluttered bombshell during ordinary game-play .

The systems at work in Labyrinth are actually massive and way beyond the scope of what I’d be able to squeeze into one-thousand words or so, so we’ll just be focusing on resources to juggle around once combat actually starts. The mind-boggling stats and item system will have to come at a later day, sadly. Even removing all of that, the list is still large. In total, there are six things to keep in mind; Health, Mana, TP, the ATP bar (also called the Active Gauge), position, and mana regen. That looks a little excessive, but the game helpfully breaks everything down. All of them are interconnected, but separate enough that not having an intimate understanding of the mechanics will lead to a party wipe.

This screen is something you'll see a lot.

Of them all, Health and Mana are the most basic resources to keep in mind, and are basically hammered into a gamer’s mind from the get-go. When health hits 0, that character is knocked out (or sometimes dies), and no longer able to fight. Losing everyone means game-over, but it’s possible to survive with one and run back to town to revive everyone. So keeping a party happy and healthy is the first concern. Second is where mana comes in (In Labyrinth, it’s referred to as “Spell Points,” or SP, but it’s only a name swap), and this is usually some of the fun parts of combat. You can see from the screenshot that there are multiple spells with different costs. Early in the game, casting something like ‘Royal Flare’ can utterly bankrupt a mage’s mana… but it can also be a party-saving nuke to clear out enemies. Managing just these two alone ratchets up the complexity as decisions now revolve around offensive and defensive actions. The player could go for an all-out spell… or use something cheaper that might do the job and have someone else clean up. Or the enemy may get a turn in, causing the decision between lost hp (from the enemy attacking) versus reduced mage power (from bigger spells draining their pool faster).
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Playing What You Got

Thinking about what I said before, I don’t really think I went into enough detail about how you can use each of your champions moves to better your play and to get the most out of any engagement. While this is still true for junglers everywhere, it is still important for everyone to know at least some of the ways they can use their skills in non-standard ways to benefit themselves and the team. Obviously, damage skills have their own catagory, and I can’t sit here and list off all the plays some ninety-something champions can do. So instead of looking over, say, Brands E -> Q stun, we’ll go into simply using your other moves better.

First up are actually not directly tied to champion skills, but are the spells each summoner chooses before the battle begins. Some have obvious utility like Teleport being able to blink you across the map, which allows you to split push/farm/gank from fog of war/whatever, or Ignite which deals a bit of true damage as a damage over time effect and a heal reduction effect. The most obvious and well-known summoner spell for being used in a multitude of situations, and the star example to start with, is the summoner ‘Exhaust.’ Exhaust lowers evenmy attack speed, move speed, and ability damage for a short time, and you can see people using it frequently in offensive situations (exhausting a target for an easier kill) or defensive ones (exhausting someone trying to catch you). What is primarily an offensive skill can be used in other ways to save yourself or a teammate.
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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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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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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.


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Grind House

Oh god, I’m not dead. Undead though, so close. Don’t worry, you’ll see what I’m talking about soon. I promise. Power outages and a little bit of life issues and blah blah, get to the game talk Kana. Alright me, sheesh, so bossy. Anyways… today, I’d like to talk about a certain mechanic that is present in a massive number of games, if not all of them. I’m talking about the horrid nightmare of grind, the act of repeating an action and and over to gain some kind of reward. Most of the time, when you hear the phrase “grind” it means slaughtering dozens to hundreds of a certain type or group of NPCs for a reward at the end, but virtually any repetitive action can be defined as grind. It’s all in how you perceive it that makes it good or bad. So today, we’re going to compare two of my favorite games and see if there is any way to make grinding more fun. One of the two I’ve already covered, my personal monster killing fetish fest, Monster Hunter. The second is a smaller game, based on the Touhou series called Labyrinth of Touhou. It’s a more-or-less standard dungeon crawler with an obscenely huge cast. Right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get started.

The main thing I want to get across is that I absolutely love both of these games. Over the course of a week or so I dumped well over thirty hours into Labyrinth, I enjoyed all of the characters, the music was absolutely beautiful, the mechanics were solid, and my favorite, favorite, favorite character from anything ever was in there as part of the recruit-able cast, and she played the ‘high-yield glass canon’ archetype, which is my personal favorite. The whole thing sounded like a dream, and it was right up until about the 30th hour of play. Everything came crashing down as little things that had previously annoyed me piled up and I ran into a massive brick wall. The only available solution? Grind levels. A lot of them. I tried, I really did, but I just couldn’t do it. Two levels later, I had to turn the game off. I came back later and played for another level, then another, then just… stopped. I couldn’t find the effort to keep going. The three main things that got me were character development, repetition, and a distinct lack of rewards. Now then, let’s compare how my monster-murder game compares and, in my opinion, does grind better.
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