Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wall of text crits you for 10k

Well, the year is almost up and I am quite sure that I won't play any new games before the year's end. The exception might be the possibility of playing Little Big Planet, but honestly that can wait. Although I may give Guitar Hero: World Tour a go, it really isn't anything new in terms of gameplay and therefore not worth discussing at this point.

So, what's the point of this? Basically this year and especially in the last semester I have been rather occupied with uni work. As the purpose of this blog has changed and because of the various real-life distractions, I have not had the opportunity to document some of the better gaming experiences I have had in the last 11 months. That is of course until now. As the holidays are coming and because I leave for NZ in a few weeks, I find myself with more free time than I ever have had in the last four years. Because I plan on working in the gaming industry in the future, it is probably a wise idea that I at least critique the (new) games I have played completely (or enough to form a decent opinion on) this year. These shall be done in order from best to worse gaming experiences.

Left 4 Dead
By the far the most enjoyable game of the bunch, Left 4 Dead has united (at least) my housemates, both old and new, to form a squad of elite 'infected' killers. I say 'infected' as your targets are not classified as zombies, per se. Some shit about an airborne pathogenic virus similar in effect to an aggressive form of rabies. Whatever. The point is you shoot shit that runs at you with a group of people. You REALLY need to work together if you want to stay alive, which is where the fun factor gets interesting. It's not about killing the most infected or doing the most damage (although the stats do exist), but more about simply surviving the onslaught and reaching/achieving game objectives. You cannot do it alone. Versus mode online makes things even more interesting, playing as the infected. Perhaps even more cooperation is needed in this case. Honestly though, nothing beats spawning as a Boomer (big fat infected), spewing on a group of survivors from a balcony and watching the remaining horde literally rip them to pieces.

A problem with L4D however (and really not a problem at all) is that it is not very 'noob' friendly. By this I mean people who are still struggling with the basics of FPS games, such as circle strafing and snap-aiming. As my housemates and I play on Advanced/Expert difficulties, it gets rather difficult when beginners join our matches (games can be hosted publically). Carrying your weight in the 'squad' is critical to success and not doing simple things such as covering a reloading team mate or dispatching attacking infected quickly (without causing friendly fire) can be very detrimental over the course of a game. The lower difficulties do make this significantly easier and much less of a problem, but honestly the challenge aspect (i.e. surviving) is completely removed when you dumb it down. You want to play this game on hard-mode, with semi-competent friends who enjoy the challenge of surviving and helping each other out.

Below: Left 4 Dead - Flying Hunter Exposed

Crysis: Warhead
Purchased for me as a late b'day gift by a good uni friend Mr Hayes, Warhead was quite enjoyable. Although short, it was action packed and as beautiful as I remember it being in Crysis, over a year ago from now. What I love most about the Crysis games is that even today, nothing beats them visually in the gaming market. A beast of a computer will be crippled by this game on max settings which in my opinion is a positive thing. After all, it is games like Crysis which are pushing graphics technologies further.

Single-player in this game is pretty much the same deal as the original. You are a nano-suit equipped super soldier who is capable of turning invisible, jumping really high, moving very quickly and taking lots of punishment (though not all at the same time). You kill a percentage of the Korean army, then you kill some alien invaders (?) and then you kill both at the same time. The story is straightfoward and compelling enough, often revealing the darker side of the main protagonist Psycho, one of Nomad's fellow squad members from the original. Multi-player is a different ball game however. Now, I usually classify myself as an average FPS gamer, but seeing the online community that has developed around Crysis was quite astonishing. The average skill and creativeness of the players was far greater then I expected. Never had I been so pleased to be owned as much as I did in my first few online sessions. Though this could be related to the average age of the Crysis player being higher then that of most FPS games (it's an expensive-to-get-working game after all) it is good to see that at least some games today are not stagnating with immature incompetent fools. Yes I am looking at you Halo.

Below: Warhead GPU comparison (little difference)

Far Cry 2
Perhaps slightly less visually appealing than Warhead, but offering much more freedom gameplay wise, Far Cry 2 is the 'biggest' FPS game I have ever played. Covering nearly 50 square kilometres of African wilderness, FC2 puts you in the eyes of a mercenary hired to assassinate 'The Jackal', a foreign arms dealing warlord creating unrest amongst the various armed factions.

Anyways, to put it quite simply, FC2 was rather enjoyable to not only explore the various locales of the game world but also to greet the many denizens with hot lead, explosives and/or flames. The destructible environments (usually foliage and small wooden huts) are a benchmark in gaming, as never before have I seen fire modeled as realistically as it is in FC2. Affected by the revolutionary weather system (also a benchmark), fire sometimes becomes your greatest ally and most dangerous foe. Overall, FC2 was a relatively enjoyable shooter offering exactly what I had been looking foward to: open ended chaos in a fresh and beautiful environment.

There are some annoyances with the game though, particularly the case where EVERYONE wants to kill you. This can get irritating if you need to get somewhere quickly, or have gotten tired of culling the human population for awhile (which does happen). They chase you, on foot or in vehicle until you are dead. Your only option is to kill them. This gets repetitive and frustrating at times.

Another problem in my opinion is the re-playability. Having finished the game and been satisfied, I wasn't looking forward to going through once more on a harder difficulty and having to unlock everything again. Considering you only accessed some of the better equipment in the later stages of the game (big sniper rifle ftw), having to play the game with inferior weapons once more would be unbearable.

Below: Far Cry 2 - Meet the Pyro

WoW: Wrath of the Lich King
Perhaps the biggest game of the year, WotLK continues where Warcraft 3 left off in terms of story and lore. Having experienced the fruitless time-sink that was Burning Crusade, I was keen to get back into parts of the game that mattered and were familiar. Arthas, the Lich King, kicking his heels back in Northrend for the past few years has finally decided that he needs to take a crap. On his way to the much less glorious frozen throne of the toilet, he decides to stir even more shit up and declares war on the rest of the world. In a counter-attack measure (it's a trap you fools!!!) the armies of the Horde and Alliance decide to invade Northren instead, so you end up on a new frozen continent culling wildlife and stealing their clothes once more. You also get bigger, by 10 levels in fact, and get to slap some Deathknights in the face (as well as the other way around).

Now I am currently playing WotLK on and off as I type this so my experiences at end game are yet to be revealed. However, after three years, I do believe the WoW curse (if you could call it that) may finally be wearing off. As much as I enjoy both the PvE and PvP aspects of the game, I don't really think I am interested enough to take the game seriously anymore. Serious raiding has always been a big 'sif' to me as relying on other people to perform in that game is quite unbearable (some serious noobs play WoW). It also takes far too much time, scheduled time which I am not willing to commit to. Also sif. Casual raiding has always been a 'maybe', but considering the amount I did in BC (almost none) I don't see myself doing much of it at 80.

Below: WotLK - Laizar and Jerziah (Jeremy)

Arena is something I am sick of, not only for its trivialness but also for its still ongoing imbalance between classes. You hear the phrase "Wow is not balanced around 1v1" constantly as well as "WoW PvP is balanced in large groups", so I find it hard to understand why people are rewarded so tremendously for organised dueling in small groups in a box all day. As for battlegrounds, well I will just have to come to terms that the glorius days of BGs are over. They have become merely an honor farm fest for sub-par mediocre gear that no one takes seriously. Therefore a large number of people playing them are completely clueless with absolutely no idea of the strategies, tactics and teamwork that made them awesome of yesteryear. Personally, I blame the bloodelves.

Below: WotLK - Flying Mount and Arthas

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, WotLK. My experience with this expansion is still ongoing, but so far it has been alright. Although people have left, some have stayed. Mr Hayes has achieved DK status and is slowly leveling one, as well as another uni friend hitting 80 last week on her druid. A UQ friend will also be coming along soonish, possibly on a hunter..... so I'm not alone. Yet.... :(

Satisfying my need for speed, Grid fit the role perfectly. Not since NFS:U2 have I played a racing game that was original but also provides the adrenaline rush experience of frantic racing challenges. A significant shock from this game was the damage system. No longer could I use other vehicles as bumpers around corners, or shrug off vehicle damage without a hitch. Because your vehicle takes almost realistic damage to all components (steering, wheels, engine etc..) learning to drive properly but also pushing it to the limit is not only essential to playing the game, but also where the challenge factor lies. Success in the game means you get to know the brake very well and using it incorrectly will cost you dearly in the Grid campaign (reputation/money).

Below: GT5 Vs Grid Comparison

Speaking of the Campaign, this game is not bogged down with unrealistic and poorly implemented car 'upgrades' that you magically slap on to increase performance. No, instead you buy a vehicle that has its own set of characteristics that are required to be eligible for the races you are entering. Taking a souped up Ferrari to a Sunday cup is impossible, which is a good thing. The game does not focus on your ability to tweak your vehicle to pefection, but more focused on your ability to drive and drive properly. This is perhaps demonstrated better online when you see both the noobs and pros at this game either crashing into walls (and each other) or powersliding to victory.

Crashing is also insanely amusing!

Dead Space
Now I havn't finshed Dead Space, but I have played enough of it (and seen a housemate play it) to form a well versed opinion. It should be noted that when I do eventually get around to finishing it, this game will probably climb the rungs of this list (slightly). In any case, the sum of the story of the game is that you are an engineer investigating a mining ship that has lost communication (very similar to Alien/s and Event Horizon). On board this ship is a horde of alien-humanoid monsters, setting a very dark and scary setting for your simple engineering protagonist.

What's different about this sort of game is that you are not a hulking space marine decked in enough weapons to blow up a planet. Instead you are just your average joe blow trying to figure out what the hell is going on and how to get the hell off the ship. This said, Dead Space (so far) has not been as frightening as some of the other games in this genre I have played (F.E.A.R and Doom 3), but is definetly as creepy in a rather foreboding sort of way. Because you are not confident you can take down anything that you encounter, you seriously dread every corner and audio spike in this game as you know it could mean your death.

According to my housemate the game is relatively short, hence my reasoning to drag out my play time. Visually and audibly it is excellent, but I have noticed some of the texture samples seem a bit low. This could be due to the fact it was created alongside the console versions of the game and therefore suffered graphically because of the compensation for inferior video processing power/memory. Only a small quip, but sometimes it does detract from the immersion of the game when that rust scar looks like spilt tomato juice.

Below: Dead Space - Obviously its a screenshot of Deadspace

Probably the most impressive aspect of Dead Space is, funnily enough, dying. Having watched a development video about creating 'dread' in the game, it is quite true that "If you are gonna die (and die you will) then we might as well make it as damn enjoyable as possible". That said, getting your head ripped off and entrails dragged from your kicking corpse is quite shocking but at the same time rather awesome.

Also the lack of a HUD is unique and helps immerse the player quite well.

Gears of War 2
Unfortunately the console games that I have played this year just didn't cut it as well as the PC games. This has nothing to do with consoles as a medium, but more so the sort of games that I enjoy or want to play on them. Being over the childish platform games of yesteryear (pulled off incredibly well on consoles), my tastes in gaming have moved onto more serious and gritty genres. Gears of War is an example of such a game. By now you have either played the original or not, but what most people realise is that Gears of War is pretty much your standard space marine shooter. Yes, it does lack a decent story and well characterised protagonists, but if you are honestly playing this game for those reasons then you need to get your brain checked. This game is all about the combat, pretty much a Call of Duty game set in the future from a 3rd person perspective. Throw in lots of blood, a dash of guts, a few explosions and mix it with some frantic tactical shooting and chainsaw sculpting and you pretty much have Gears of War.

Mindless fun. That's it. You cannot really call Gears of War an equivalent shooting game to something like UT or Quake as it is far simpler and does not require even 1/2 the strategy. You run, you shoot, duck for cover, help your team mates and survive. That was the formula of the original and it hasn't changed a bit since, which is a good thing.

Below: Gears of War 2 - Chainsaws are excellent for solving arguments

Although I have not finished the game yet or played it on Xbox live (preparing to get dominated) I can say that it is a fun game. Perhaps not genre redefining, but it offers the experience I expected and is quite the blast with a friend in coop. Definetly not the thinking man's shooter, but that's not what you play this game for anyway.

One annoyance with this game, besides the inaccuracy of aiming with a controller, is your tendency to die instantly. This is usually caused from a rocket or large projectile travelling towards your arsehole which is unexpected due to the fact that you cannot turn around quickly.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
Now MGS4:GotP is a great game .... narratively. The amount I played of it was enjoyable enough ... story wise. But that's really as far as I can praise it. Being a fan of the original on PSX and the sequels on PS2, I pretty much knew what to expect and what the game universe was set around (big machines that launch nukes). However the major problem with this game (despite being primarily narrtive driven) is unfortunately the revolutionized control scheme. In a way, this is not really the game's fault but more that of the average console controller.

I have said this countless times before, but you cannot (and should not) play these sort of games on console. Any game that requires you to aim quickly and with precision should by default be played on a PC with a keyboard and mouse (or alternatively on Wii). The exceptions of course would be GoW and Halo, possibly because they are pulled off better (read: simpler games). Holding down 4 buttons to aim and shoot a moving target from a distance using analog sticks is almost sickening. It isn't that difficult, per se, but it requires so much more unneccessary bull crap to pull off it is almost not worth it. The accuracy levels are more than halved and even though you can get good at it (I did) it just simply does not beat the simplicity and precision of keyboard and mouse.

Getting back on track, MGS4 suffers from this aiming aspect rather heavily. I usually know my way around a controller quite well (extensive past console gaming background), but the frustration of fighting the game instead of playing it was too much. I ended up trading this in to help pay for GoW2, such was the extent of my enjoyment. The game is a great looking game with well established characters, excellent audio and (as mentioned) a very in depth and compelling plot, but all of this is meaningless if the game is unplayable as it was for me. I don't know, maybe it's because I have gotten too use to the superiority of aiming with a mouse but I cannot transition back into the dark ages with any sense of comfort.

Below: Metal Gear Solid 4 - Aiming = chore

Well, there you have it. Probably the longest post I have done being a summary of the gaming experiences I have encountered this year, as well as my opinion of them. There have been others (Spore, World of Goo, Fallout 3, Red Alert 3 etc...) but I havn't experienced enough of them to form an accurate opinion on.

We shall have to wait for next year when Starcraft 2, Diablo 3 and Mirror's Edge (for PC) come out. At the moment however, there is simply nothing exciting.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yeah that

Yes, well, I'll keep this short. The last half of the last semester of the final year of my undergraduate studies at uni has been an absolute bitch. During this time I had to learn how to program DirectX shaders (lol) as well as make two games, one in Blender with Python script, and the other in Torque using C#. All up I have probably wrote almost 6000 lines of code. Oh the horror!!! I still see code in my dreams....

Anyway, I won't talk much about these games as I actually think they are pretty crap (by my standards anyway). I am a little annoyed at myself about certain aspects of them (code efficiency), but also annoyed at my team mates who I think didn't quite pull their weight in making them. It sort of wasn't really their faults, at least for 017 and especially early on when I was led to believe that Blender did not allow people to all work on the same file at once. This turned out to be false however, as I could easily import content from other .blend files when I tested it (not sounds/textures though). This made the delaying of content even more frustrating, considering it could and should have been done weeks before. Torque game wasn't much better, with team mates only really getting into gear towards the end (and it not really working out too well).

Anyways, enough brooding (terribly unhealthy for your mind and soul). Here are some screenshots of the two games I have been working on. I would upload videos of them on to youtube, but I don't think they deserve to be. I will let the pictures speak for themselves (cbf discussing them).

Below: Booyah - Forklift resource game

Below: Metal Fury - Network multiplayer tank shooter

Also at some point this semester I apparently made this video. Seems so long ago. Warrior... bladestorm etc...

Below: Deaded Mage - Bladestorm.

The new Left 4 Dead demo has also been a blast. Housemates and I have been waging war on the zombies of the apocalypse with much enthusiasm (although we could use a fourth player). The action based survival horror is quite the contrast to Killing Floor's much slower and foreboding doom like qualities (which is still fun in its own right). I believe I shall be buying this game as it is the sort of game that I have been busting to play for pretty much the last four years (or whenever Serious Sam lost its appeal). The number of humorous and downright awesome scenarios that take place are limitless. Well... there probably is a limit.

Below: Left 4 Dead- Lolwut?

Below: Left 4 Dead - Zoey is purty...

I would ideally like to talk more about the games I made this semester, as well as the others I have played recently (Far Cry 2, Dead Space) from both critical games design and technical perspectives, but I am still rather burnt out from uni and basically don't even want to think about it. Maybe next time...

Also, I have apparently finished my undergraduate studies. Whether I do honors next year or not still remains a possibility.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

It's Over 9000!!!

I've always had a strange relationship with the game World of Warcraft. For the most part, I enjoy the game. It provides a gaming experience unlike that of any other games or game genre that I currently play. It's fun, the combat is mobile, it runs smoothly on nearly any modern (ie. last 3 years) computer. The ability to perform fun activities with friends and accomplish stuff together is engaging and rewarding. Having had a slight addiction to it in the past, I do (when my account for it is active) currently classify myself as a casual WoW player. To hardcore, no-life players of the game, the term 'casual' would coincide with the term 'scrub', and it is for this reason that I hold my mild interest and enjoyment with the game with a certain pride and satisfaction.

However, sometimes I absolutely hate it. The PvP system is broken with trivial organised duels (arena) being the epitome and highlight of PvP achievement where two factions engrossing an entire world should be killing each other on epic battlefields. It doesn't have the emphasis on 'war' that I expected between the Horde and Alliance (unlike a recently released MMO) and in general, certain classes are significantly better in PvE and PvP than others. Sometimes I believe Blizzard have entirely lost scope on what they plan to do with the game and it is frustrating to see them make changes that are either illogical or make efforts or past accomplishments redundant (well not really the latter).

So the 3.0 PTR pre-WoTLK patch came out the day before my account became frozen, which means I have unlimited access to it until it goes live. Fortunately that means that I can't actually play on live servers as I should be doing uni work anyway. I did a few things, dps tests as destruction, affliction, fury, titan's grip fury, bladestorm, bladestorm titan's grib (lol!) and prot and was generally satisfied with the outcomes. PvP (ie. dueling) was a different story and rather laughable, people popping their new I-win buttons (including me) and seeing imbalance displayed in all its glory and numbers. While some of these are generally bugs, others, such as ret paladin burst dps (6 crits in a row with 483 resilience?) are apparently balanced and are quite possibly staying for live. Giving toddler's ferraris to drive is always entertaining, however.

Below: PTR warrior 41k+ autoattack bug

Below: Laizar and Razial's new looks in WotLK (maybe...)

But despite all this, the minor WoW activity I have engaged in after a few weeks break from it has got me thinking: how long will I be playing this game for? Already I have two friends who have both put foward their disinterest in the upcoming expansion, with another uni friend who, while keen, is generally not too concerned. I even find myself generally not overly excited, visiting forums less and less and generally not caring about whether locks/warriors are getting X and/or Y. Playing WoW just doesn't seem like something to be engrossed in anymore, or even something to consider a worthwhile time waster.

I don't think it's because I'm growing out of games. I think it's because my interests in the medium are shifting slightly, possibly towards more of the technical smokes and mirrors side. The technology you could say. On paper, WoW is an excellent matrix of mathematical precision, but visually it is ... just an average game. Not that there is anything wrong with that (hardware requirements anyone?). During this last semester of my last year, having to make two games and doing some (really bad) Direct3D coding has possibly shifted my interests towards a more technical perspective, which I think may be a good thing. A maturing, if you will.

So maybe when I try WotLK in November, as I certainly think I still will, I won't be as interested in obtaining the best PvP gear I can manage without being annoyed, and just play the game or not whenever I feel like it. Although there is nothing wrong with being hardcore and the best, or casual and average, I think being casual and average at WoW is a title that not even I want anymore.

After all, the only reason why I started playing it to begin with is to do something with friends and if that's not even going to happen anymore..... then sif.

Below: Jerziah and Laizar after a SM run.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Well then. After a very long break, I have decided that I will keep this blog thing going as it could be useful not only for expressing ideas and interests, but also as a viewable medium of work and critique by potential employers (if I ever decide to work in the games industry).

Several weeks ago now, I once again interested my housemates here to play a UT2k4 mod called "Killing Floor". Now, zombies are cool. I think you would find few people who disagree (and if they do they are crazy). Shooting zombies, on the other hand, is even better. Shooting a never ending horde of zombies with a group of friends, delaying your inevitable demise is perhaps one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences you can encounter. What is great about killing floor is that you really do need to work together to stay alive (reloading, healing, welding doors shut etc..) as well as providing enough tension, fear and action into the mix to not ever get sick of it.

Below: Killing Floor - Curiosity killed the zombie.

However, what is interesting from a game play perspective, is that Killing Floor is rather slow. You move slow, you aim slow and (surprisingly not frustrating) reload slow too. You have no crosshair (sticky tape on screen with dot kgo) and status effects such as disorientation, bleeding and/or getting mauled by a zombie all effect how accurately you aim and move. Usually I do not care for these sort of games that attempt to mimic realistic qualities of human biology and limitations. A game is a game and if you want realistic games then I suggest you walk outside for awhile. But, in Killing Floor, these qualitites only enhance the gameplay experience. If you can imagine a limping team mate desperately trying to reach the safety of your teams temporary barricade while you are steadily running out of ammo shooting past him at the advancing horde of undead, then you can understand the very panicy and tense gameplay situations Killing Floor offers.

Below: Killing Floor - Anticipation is everything.

Also, retreating to an escape route elevator after being overrun in a corridor only to have a zombie with a chainsaw emerge from it when the doors open creates the most interesting team mate reactions and profanity you can possibly bear witness to.

Anyways, leaving off with a zombie zerg feel, I present a Left 4 Dead trailer, a new game being patented and soon to be released by Valve. It should be pretty epic.

Below: Left 4 Dead - 28 Days... now.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Mission accomplished.

Well then. It is done (for the moment). Overall I thoroughly enjoyed having this blog as it has allowed me to express and communicate ideas and opinions about games design, as well as explore the field in various ways. Before reading the 16 additional blog entries required for part 2, I would like to direct the reader to a post made a few weeks earlier stating the information contained within:

Blog Post Criteria heads up

This post basically just explains the situation of the posting format I have chosen and invites the reader to take each post as one of many possible criteria variations.

The 16 posts making up part 2 range from the post "Decisions decisions" to the most recent "One Frag Left". Everything prior to this group was for the previous part.

I am considering keeping this blog alive and continuing to fill it with ideas and/or general opinions on games and the future of the franchise in the years to come. We shall see, however.

Below: BOOOM!!!

One Frag Left

Righto. Officially this is the last post required for this Journal before submission, so I decided to do something a bit different and simply mention some games that deserve being brought to attention. This post will therefore fall more into the industry examples/theory and own ideas section than group participation.

As anyone reading this blog could no doubt guess, I enjoy playing video games. There are games and even game genres that simply do not appeal to me, but for the most part I enjoy almost all types of games. I believe strongly in playing a game first before forming an opinion about it, therefore the variety of games that I at least endeavor to try is usually rather broad. As you can see from the contents of this blog, some games evidently stand out. WoW, Crysis, TA, TF2 and UT are all examples of games (and game types) that I play and enjoy playing. I try to be fair and judge these games with a critical eye, not only to avoid fanboism (previously mentioned) but simply to distinguish where these games could possibly have been better designed. As a potential future games programmer (AI, networking, engine etc..) understanding the intricacies of this is very important to me.

So if you can understand my awe when I came across the game Rez developed by SEGA entertainment, you could probably assume that it is something pretty awesome. Well it is. Rez, originally developed for the Dreamcast in 2001, is a very abstract, music themed third person shooter where the player's character undertakes some form of 'adventure' within a computer mainframe. The general idea is to shoot incoming objects, which in turn generates the music track you are listening to and enhances the players abilities. What is interesting about this process is the fact your character undergoes evolution, in a wire-frame world very much evolutionarily themed. Taking into consideration the theme of the game, the blend of evolution and technology is both unique and aesthetically pleasing.

Below: Rez - A true work of gaming art

Another slightly similar game worth mentioning was an old PSX game called Omega Boost (Polyphony Digital, 1999). This game was, simply put, fun. You controlled some big high-powered, intergalactic traversing robot that had enough firepower to run the next world war, and probably the one after. You basically flew around and blew the living crap out of everything. The death of this living crap was pulled off in such a way that you could do it for hours without ever getting sick of it. It was an abstract game in a meaningless world where nothing mattered unless it was within your field of view. A modern arcade shooter, it is one of very few games that I actually believe grasps the concept of mindless fun and doesn't drown it out with unnecessary information, narrative or complexity.

Below: Omega Boost - Do a Barrel roll (in style)!

Both Rez and Omega Boost have distinct similarities which I think are important for game designers to at least acknowledge. Both are extremely easy to play and abstract enough so that they remain entertaining in a somewhat alien sort of way. They do not really require any form of major concentration to perform well in, nor do they expect it from the user when the levels get harder. They are just simply engaging, immersion in probably its most raw form.

And then there was Homeworld (Sierra, 1999). I cannot believe I have not once mentioned that game or its sequel in this blog. Homeworld and Homeworld 2 have probably been two of the most influential games for me as a growing adult. As a space strategy game, it had an excellent story, beautiful theme and style, as well as the introduction of movement on all 3 axis, a feat only pulled off by few strategy games. Not only was this original, but for me it opened a completely new level of strategic game play. If I could describe the game in one word, it would be 'Epic'. I shall let the game speak for itself.

Below: Homeworld 2 - The space enthusiasts dream game

What does this do for me? Despite immense puzzlement in how one would actually code some of these games (especially Rez), the idea of abstraction, immersion and fun combined in a game is very interesting. Recently, the only game I can think of that combines these elements is Audiosurf, which has become insanely popular since it became a Steam client game. I am seriously considering designing some kind of game (or at least the basic engine of one), for the Major project coming up next semester. The freedom that is available when making a game such as this is something that may aid our team, considering the tools that we may have available.

Only time will tell...

All you man (are belong to us)

Manuals. This week's lecture about game manual's and documentation has quite some relevance to a piece of assessment due for this unit, the game manual for Crusaders. Although the lecture was more of a pictorial demonstration, it was clear that the variances and effectiveness of various manual designs can help or hinder the success of how easily a game can be played. To further illustrate this point of view, I will explore 3 game manuals that I currently have access to from 3 very different games. All three are equally effective in their design regarding the type of game they are related to.

Below: World of Soul Reaversis

World of Warcraft, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and Crysis are all games that I own and played at some point in the past. Soul Reaver, undoubtedly the oldest (being a PSX game) has a very methodical layout of the content, relating very closely to game elements that would be uncovered during the course of the game. Controlling the main character moves logically towards enemies encountered and special abilities, with a brief history and rundown of the world and associated vampire clans. It lists relevant information earlier on in the manual with other less important data closer to the end. While the design is simple, it is an easy to follow and understand article that only gives out details when you require them.

World of Warcraft's manual is also very similar to Soul Reaver's, the main difference being the fact that is about 5x more comprehensive. This monolithic game manual includes in depth break downs of class roles and abilities as well as the narrative and lore behind the game environment. It could surely pass for bedtime reading for someone without anything else better to read. Blizzard leave no expense when they attempt to deliver as much information to the player as possible, which while convenient, may be daunting or confusing for someone looking for a simpler answer. However, the scale and complexity of a game like WoW really does require a large enough manual which in all honesty, only brushes the surface of the game.

Crysis on the other hand is a bit different from both of these games. It is very straight forward and direct, clear instructions with a very linear design (both navigationally and visually). "This is a gun", "shoot it by doing this" and "follow triangle on map" are derived objectives you will naturally get from skimming this type of manual design, which probably appeals to the slightly impatient nature of FPS gamers. Crysis is an action game, and reading is for wussies!

Below: If only you could combine the three...

Anyway, what does this mean for our manual? From what our group has discussed, our manual will probably follow a style very similar to all three of the ones mentioned. It will follow a chronological explanation of game play mechanics and the possible situations players will encounter, listed in the order most likely of occurrence. It will have the narrative and historical aspects of the game possibly listed later in the document, with the earlier information more related to the actual game play itself. These former sections will be very succinct and to the point, delivering information in an easy to comprehend and minimalistic, need-to-know manner. The style will quite possibly be in the form of some olde-English design, reminiscent of the era where the actual Crusades were taking place. This was also my intention for the use of the figurehead (i.e. a Crusader), however it wasn't a well received item by the rest of the group for some reason. Maybe we should change the name of the game.... :S.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

It's just a flesh wound...

Yes, more play testing has, over the last week and a half, been performed on our game Crusaders. I'll keep this relatively short and simply discuss and reflect on my participation in this recent group work, as well as the new ideas and rules we have implemented.

First of all, we have a new board design consisting of hexagons placed concentrically around the central hexagon. Although we tried prototyping it before, this version is more accurate and probably the design we will use for the final version. It differs from the circular board as it has 6 nodes on the highest tier, 12 in the middle and 18 on the lowest, most outer tier. We originally thought this design would be a little confusing and tedious for new players to traverse, however because of the way the hexagons connect, it gives a much clearer idea as to the spaces available to you when you are moving up a tier. The extra space also gives room for up to 6 players to play the game. We have not tested the game with 6, therefore this may remain simply as speculation and not a feasible game play possibility.

Below: The ants go marching one by one hurrah, hurrah.....

We have also included a new 'alliance based moved to the game. Both Jeremy and I felt the need to strengthen the allegiance potentials of the game by including a move where to allied armies could move as once, but could only move on a 1/2 dice roll and one of the players would skip a turn. This implemented feature has turned out to be a pleasant success, often turning the tide of the race/battle quite severely. It is an excellent risk vs reward strategy that requires a bit of tactical play as well.

Below: Do it, and let the English see you do it.

Also, just today, we have been messing around with the idea of one use 'powerups' that players can use at any time during the course of play (applicable to them). This idea borrows from the FPS origins we are basing our game from, where items such as Jump Boots and Quad-damage amplifiers existed for resourceful players. Double move and double dice roll abilities were found to an interesting catchup options for trailing players, Mel even managed to beat a node reinforced by all 3 of my armies with only one of his. An 'immunity' option is also being tossed around, which I considered to be game breaking especially from a catchup, last ditch attempt attack on a leading player. We shall see.

Overall I am happy with the success our group is making and can be pleased with my and my team mates involvement in the group. We all have a very good idea of how the game works and the various strategies you can employ to be successful. This is mainly due to all of our concentrated involvement in its production. Very shortly we will be discussing and implementing the games material construction, something that should be quite interesting.

Also, check out the possible figure head for Crusaders...


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Crit Rocket!

While play testing any form of interactive product is an essential design methodology procedure, perhaps the most important factor to understand when designing a game is that people new to it are not going to have any idea how to play it. The designers and programmers of the game will always have a far greater understanding of not only how the game works, but also any rules, tactics and/or exploits that can be achieved within the game environment. Usually. I say usually as though something like bunny-hoping in many Quake engine games (eg. Quake 3) are originally considered physics exploits, they can later be considered to be an actual gameplay 'feature'. Such is not the case for Quake engine's cousin Half-life (heavily modified Quake 2 engine) where bunny hoping was considered as game breaking and later patched to be removed.

Below: Quake 3 Bunny hopping - Fly me to the moon...

Jumping rabbits aside, the need for developers to receive feedback during all stages of production is something that should be seriously considered, especially considering the eventual success factor of the product. A good example of this taking place can be seen in the currently in production expansion for Blizzard's game World of Warcraft. Wrath of the Lich King, scheduled for release sometime at the end of this year, is currently undergoing an Alpha stage testing phase, available only to families and friends of Blizzard. A very secretive process, the game which is only partially completed is already undergoing tests concerning zone/level/quest progression and general aesthetic design and feel.

Below: WotLK Alpha - Nerf inbound!

Much like The Burning Crusade before it, it will eventually go into a Beta testing phase for several weeks prior to release when the content is deemed playable enough by mass audiences. The feedback they get from this stage of testing will determine the class balance and group mechanics (dungeons, raiding) which makes the game so popular today. The reason why Blizzard can so successfully and comprehensively perform these testing phases is partly because of the medium they have chosen and the platform with which they can update it: the PC and mass internet access. Feedback is prompt, if not live, with player testers able to communicate directly with developers while the content is being explored. It is a powerful development ability, especially concerning the varied demographics and interests associated with the game.

However, not all companies have such great success or resources for play testing. Auran's Fury was considered to be a flop primarily because of the limited play testing that the game received. Although the game did go through several open Beta phases, the game really only interested and addressed a niche community of avid MMO PvP fanatics. While the idea may have been brilliant and may have been enjoyable for the people who tested it, to the masses the game had a flavor that was not entirely appreciated. Another similar PvP MMO example Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR), also coming up, was not so recently returned to an Alpha stage of production (having gone through an open Beta testing phase). Opinion as to why this happened was rumored to stem from both the undesirable results that Fury brought as well as gameplay results when contrasted to its primary competition (i.e. WoW).

Below: WAR- Apparently coming...

Anyway, getting away from MMOs and computer games altogether, play testing in our game is definetly something we as a group have considered. We are completely aware that our involvement in the development of the game has severely enhanced our concept and understandings of it, which may not be comprehensible to other people. Inviting several uni friends to come and playtest the game has been raised, and may go ahead this week if time is not an issue. If the game is not easy to understand, it may be necessary to both simplify the gameplay and/or interface slightly to avoid confusion and misinterpretations. This sort of minimalistic reconfiguration may lead into such areas as the discernible rule set and game manual, however this is a topic best left to discussion after next week's lecture.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Where's the 'any' key?"

"Be not deceived with the first appearance of things, for show is not substance" - English Proverb

Yeah that. There is perhaps nothing more irritating in a game than bad interface design. Seriously. If there is one thing that has driven me off more games than I can count, it would have to cluttered, insensible and the outright confusing design of game interfaces and menus, something which should ideally be a walk in the park.

In this week's lecture we were given a brief run through as to what effective interface design means. Using both Nielsen's but primarily Norman's model of usability principles, user interface design was explained in simple generic terms where similarities were evident. Having gathered what was described in the lecture, I shall attempt to apply this knowledge and break down a user interface that has been bugging me (and many others) as of late.

Now, I am a big fan of Unreal Tournament, so it is important that the reader understand how much it pains me to have to draw criticism to its latest installment UT3. As much as I am a fan of the game, I will not attempt to shroud or even ignore some of the bad design decisions that this game suffers from. I attempt to avoid 'fanboism' as much as possible and this post should be evidence of such an action.

Below: UT3 - Menu

My most major concern with the design of UT3 is unfortunately the user interface. This interface is, as you can see, rather aesthetically pleasing. Its animated menus and general theme are both excellent. To be quite honest with you, I have absolutely no problem with the look of the menu interface at all. But that's the thing, its all looks. As a student of IT and programmer of very dodgy programs, I do not fall head over heels for how something looks, but rather how something functions. The problem with the UT3 menu is that it falls short in this area, especially considering the platform it is on.

The current UT3 menu design works quite functionally ... on consoles. It is in fact the same menu used in the console versions of the game, but it is not a port of the game. It was made concurrently alongside the XBoX 360 version of the game which the menu works perfectly for. However, for some reason Epic Games decided this menu would work well enough for the PC version, which is where they made their mistake. On PC, this menu suffers from terrible navigation and information errors, often taking up to 3 to 4 page transitions to get to a specific setting which simply has the option to be enabled or disabled. The nature of the PC gamer, which I must say I am primarily, is that the speed and accuracy of using a mouse and keyboard is something we take for granted. The menu is too large, too basic and does not make use of enough eye space that PC users generally have more of (i.e. closer to the screen). The need for panning options over multiple screens for the console version is unnecessary for the PC version. When you take into consideration that the PC version is in fact more customisable than the console, the plethora of additional options necessitates the need for a better streamlined and comprehensive menu design. Currently the navigation in the implemented menu design is too arduous for the average PC user, considering the tools and options available to them.

Further proof of community disapproval:
Beyond Unreal Forum Post
Beyond Unreal Poll

It also take a bloody long time to load. Since when did menus need a loading time?

Below: UT99 - Menu

Epic Games did not always have this problem however. As you can see in the original UT99 menu design, they had an excellent Uwindows theme going on which was basically perfect in every way imaginable. Everything, from video options to setting up matches was less than 2 clicks away and all available to the user at any time. The ability to do both at once was also possible, something which was continuously helpful when you were indecisive about preferences. Epic have even admitted that designing UT3 for both PC and console at the same time did hamper the individuality that the game should have on each platform, even though it was an excellent business decision.

Another quick example I can also bring up is the ingame user interface in WoW. Not discussing damage/threat meters, item or location mods, the user interface in this game is considered by many to be lacklustre and even a bit excessively cluttered. I am constantly ridiculed for using this default interface, but there are many people like myself who still use it. The reason? It works. It is functional, and even though it may look unimpressive it does the job. It is because of this reason, the simple fact that it is functional, that I have no quarrels with it. Aesthetics are not my primary concern.

Below: WoW - Default UI

How does this affect my ideas? From a scenario such as this I can reinforce something that I have always believed in. No matter how good something may look, if it doesn't function well or ingeniously it is not worth much in the long run. Although the interface design for our game Crusaders does not need to be aesthetically or even visually pleasing, it needs to be basic but comprehensive enough for the user to understand. Interface such as the Google franchise of media (search engine, chat, email etc.) is a classic example of what we should be striving for. This sort of interface design is something we shall be undertaking in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

In a place called Ter, Resting.

Interesting. This shall be one of the posts discussed in the one before this, discussing my participation in group work, this time related to the testing of our game 'Crusaders'.

It works! It really, really works. All of our long discussions, theory crafting and debating have finally paid off as we collectively as a full group (Mel, Jeremy and I) played our game using actual dice and counters (purchased by Mel) to represent the forces. Although our first few tests were done using only 6 sided dice, when we finally brought the 20 sided dice into the equation, the results were marvelous. Although we are only using basic materials (2 dimensional notepad board, stapled paper as resources etc.), the insight and success the prototype testing gave us was quite good.

Below: Circular board and 6 sided dice prototyping

Although I shall try and avoid mentioning information discussed in both my peer's blogs, some points we uncovered should be discussed regardless. What we noticed with the introduction of the 20 sided dies was that the chances of beating a larger force or alliance were drastically increased. The chances of winning when two 20 sided dies were competing against only a single was slightly lower than when two six sided dies fought against only one. This is excellent proof of our theory as it encourages players to perform offensive rather than defensive maneuvers and tactics, something we originally thought would be problematic.

Something of concern however is the strength and relationship of alliances. The alliances themselves are loose by default as they should really only be established via communication between players, not forced or even suggested by any formal game rules. However, the ability to work together is slightly hampered. The suggestion of a unified move where two players could sacrifice their individual turns and roll 'together' was brought up and is still in debate. It would not go without consequences however, maybe only allowing 1/2 the dice roll number and giving the target player/s two dice rolls in succession afterwards (whether they win or lose). It adds a strategic and coordinated element on positioning into play as well as the risk of losing and giving your opponent a greater lead.

We also tried a hexagonal shaped board which was also quite successful. Originally the circular shaped board presented troubles with inequalities with resource distribution per tier, however the hexagonal shaped seems to overcome this problem to an extent (ie. fewer nodes at higher tiers, more at lower). One slight problem with the hexagonal board is that games could potentially become longer as well as confusing for multiple (6?) players. The board design is something that will be put under review for the moment, though the affects it has on the game is really only minimal.

Below: Hexagonal board and 20 sided dice

The ability to change an alliance during a counter-attack (ie. a defender who attacks an army gets attacked by an ally in the same region) was also brought up and thought to greatly enhance the possibilities of betrayal in our game, something we are striving to represent.

To reflect on my participation during this phase of testing, I would have to say I played my part at an equal beneficially competitive level. The three of us all managed to win the game at some point, all devising various strategies to uncover exploits and/or broken game mechanics. While Mel undertook an interesting ramp disabling tactic that skewed the 'time' game in his favour, I personally took a very defensive, turtle like approach, moving my forces as close together as possible and creating ramps in fast succession. Both were proven to have strengths and weaknesses, the roll of the dice being the number one deciding factor. I raised some interesting points (such as the betrayal aspect) and we discussed some ideas as a group that we think would help the game 'flow' better. Overall though, the testing was successful and the game had proven to be fun to play, something we were all worried about early on.

Blog post criteria heads up

Okidoke. Recently some criteria regarding the format of these blog posts has been released, explaining slightly more specifically what each should be about (3 different categories). Although my posts have been conforming to the latter two criteria, I do not really have too much demonstration for the first type, that being 'reflection on participation' in group work. Therefore, some of posts in the future will take on a slightly different format in order to fill this criteria.

Because I have been staying up to date with these every week, I have already completed 10 of the required 16 posts for section two. Instead of wasting time overhauling previous posts to better conform to one of the 2 specific latter criterias (ie. outlining and evaluating own ideas, identifying and evaluating theory) I shall simply say that there should be enough information in each of these previous posts to conform to one of the two, if not both. The format of each generally follows some type of discussion, whether fact or opinionated, about the theory and effects of commercial games. The posts generally end with a quick run down of my own ideas regarding the subject, as well as how they could be used in our game Crusaders. Hopefully this can be clearly seen in each post.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The truth that sticks

Another topic briefly discussed in the lecture that I found interesting was the concept of betrayal. Have you ever been betrayed in a game? I can honestly say that I find it difficult to come up with many examples where I have. Obviously there are times when another player could have clearly assisted you in something but didn't, but thats more a 'Good Samaritan' sort of situation.

Obviously there are plot twists and character changes in games (such as team balancing) where characters who are previously friends either become enemies (via narrative) or are pitted against you (forced via server settings). While this may be betrayal in a singleplayer mode or campaign involving NPCs, in multiplayer games it is not the same as given a choice, a player may actually choose not to. In multiplayer games, betrayal is not really something that is chosen, more a consequence of various conditions (for example, taking the lead in a racing game).

Probably the only instance of betrayal I have ever encountered in a multiplayer game was during a LAN in which we played Red Alert 2. Although you could form alliances at the start of the match, they could be broken later on during the game. It wasn't a big issue though, as changing of alliances usually required both parties to come to an agreement and that would not usually occur until both had substantial armies and defensive capabilities.

So will there be betrayal in our game? Most definetly. In a sense, our game is very much based around the idea of betrayal, what with the alliances and allegiance swapping involved. While most players will generally not team with the leader in becoming the King of the Hill in our game Crusaders, the breaking of trusts and alliances during the course of the game, even the course of an imminent battle, is quite possible. To describe a simple scenario, if a player arrives in an area occupied by two allied players and chooses to not engage, then the other 2 opponents can choose to attack. While attacking however, one of allied players could choose to sit out, or even support the invader, thus instantly severing the alliance and betraying their friendship.

On that note, I would like to leave the concept of betrayal with a short machinima video I created last Saturday afternoon, showing how betrayal can possibly be portrayed in game. It involves entities from WoW, compiled using a combination of a model viewer program, Fraps and Adobe Premiere Pro. Basically a blood elf rogue gets attacked by an undead warlock, something that is not actually possible in game as they are both part of the same faction.

Below: Nuked Elf - Green Fire

"Your mother!"

In this week's lecture we learnt about the intricacies of multiplayer gaming and the often unusual interactions that take place between human allies and opponents. Amongst the various activities, some mentioned at some point already in this blog, there were two interactions that stood out for me from the 'Actors + Counteractors' list. These were the actions of taunting/luring and forcing a player to do something detrimental or forbidden (seduction). While these two may have common links, they are something that really only applies to action between human beings, even in a virtual world.

Taunting, luring and/or falling for one's bluff is an interesting game mechanic that cannot really be applied to the methodical precision that an artificially intelligent opponent would possess. Part of taunting or luring is having your enemy know their mistake when it's too late to react or stop. Taunting can happen in many games, from my experience, alot of the time in multiplayer FPS games to enrage or frustrate your opponent (all in fair sport though). The psychological effects of taunting can be seen to be beneficial, if not to simply increase the fun factor of playing.

Below: TF2 - Pyro taunts

Luring on the other hand is a little more complicated. To lure implies that you have some sort of negative affect attached to a desired position or entity in a game. This could be vital strategic ground in an RTS such as Starcraft or Dawn of War, or simply a necessary corner to traverse in TF2 in which an engineer has parked a lvl 3 sentry. Luring sometimes may even involve taunting, irritating an opponent with small arms fire, provoking their interest in your demise and disregarding any potential threats. It is often considered that the Zerg race in Starcraft and the Necrons in Dawn of War are the epitomy of Lure and Ambush game play styles.

Below: Starcraft 2 - Zerg Assault in progress

Bluffing is again different. Without talking about card games and other such game types where honesty is involved, the mechanic of bluffing in many video games is particularly rare. I don't just mean running around a corner, only to jump out again in their faces, as such an action can be seen as beneficial maneouvre. Where actual bluffing is concerned, you are opening yourself up to potential threat or harm by performing it. Something like staying stealthed or shadowmelded around a BG flag in WoW, or feigning a fear/drain/heal are typical examples of bluffs that open you to harm if you don't manage them correctly (or indeed if they don't fall for them).

Forcing detrimental, negative or even forbidden play is also a different ball game. In football, if your defense or pressure is good enough, you could force the enemy team into making the mistake of performing long or risky passes in order to get around you. This sort of gameplay element can be translated into many games, such as applying pressure in WoW's Arena (forcing cooldowns) or simply bugging a resource collector in an RTS like Red Alert. Such tactics may force an opponent into a more defensive state, pulling back and restricting offensive forces and abilities and opening up weakness for you to exploit.

Most of these actions are performed unconciously by the player/s of many games.

So what does this mean for games design and our game? While our game does not directly have many avenues for taunting or luring, bluffing and forcing are possibilities when you consider the style of play involved. Disabling a ramp only to basically make it again in your next turn could force a friend or foe to do undesirable moves that could work in your favour. Pretending to aprroach and engage an enemy force could create tension as a player summons strength to the area, and relief or frustration when you simply move past him or her unconcerned.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Well, I don't really have much more to say about emotions in gaming, but criteria requires I create 2 blog posts a week about lecture material, which was rather short the week before. So for this post, and keeping the 'emotional' aspect of games in check, I have decided to talk about a scene in a game I have recently played that is both disturbing and even frightening from an realistic standpoint.

I wasn't that moved by the game, to be quite honest. The game, Call of Duty 4, while being a decent singleplayer shooter, was much of the same old thing in terms of solo play and AI assitance. There were some very tense scenes, particularly when you are caught under heavy fire or sneaking past an armed patrol in full camouflage that were very engaging, as well as some graphic depictions of executions and mass burials around certain parts of the world. It is by no means a bad game, it is in fact an excellent military shooter, both technologically accurate and believable, however at the end of the day its just not my cup of tea.

With the review out of the way, I would like to point out a section of the game that I found rather shocking, especially from a games design perspective. I am not going to care to much about giving the details and story away as I need to justify my position. In the mission "Shock and Awe" you become part of a massive assault into enemy territory to silence the terrorist mastermind and his supporting forces. You are not directly involved in the main objective of the mission, but rather a support force clearing the ground of anti-aircraft and rescuing random soldiers/pilots in distress. During the mission, constant radio messages of a radioactive device being present in the city are heard, arousing suspicion and the possibility of something going horribly wrong.

Below: CoD4 - Obviously someone was trying to rocket jump

Without beating around the bush, you as a player, well.... die. In a nuclear blast (well the outer rims of one). Your helicopter crashes, blacking out, only to awake later to the scene of a nuclear holocaust (radiation, debris) which has you crawling on the ground in a futile attempt to save yourself. The scene is very well done, but it was simply something I had never experienced before. Although you are not very attached to the character 'Jackson' that you play, the fact that you died, and it was an intentional game design decision, is very unique.

You also play an SAS member, so the game doesn't end there if that's what you were thinking.

Anyways, from a games design perspective this opens many new doors. Death in a game can be something designed intentionally without the player's intervention, making narrative exploration more interesting. The death of a character could allow you to play other characters in the same situation, or even the opposing faction. It doesn't need to tie loose ends, as you as a player didn't do anything wrong. You just died, and it's part of the game. You don't respawn, nor do you have another attempt. It happens, and life (of the game) will go on.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

QQ More Emo

Some games are quite emotional. Although I can honestly say I have never really been moved by a game as much as say a good book or movie does, however, as a piece of entertainment, games do have strong emotional components. These are not necessarily emotions derived from gameplay, such as frustration or joy. Emotions can come from the narrative aspects of games, heightening experiences of tense gameplay or adding meaning to saddening and depressing aspects.

Instead of simply ranting on about the various emotions a player can experience in games (like I would usually do), I would like to highlight only a few specific emotions that I have experienced while gaming. These few are quite unique in the sense that they are usually pretty strong and most of the time, only relevant to the one game or game type.

1. Getting Ganked (or gang killed). I have discussed this before in a post a few weeks ago, basically describing the sickening helpless feeling you can sometimes get when you get ganked in MMORPGs like WoW. I believe that this emotion is more to do with panic and surprise because if you are expecting to get ganked, you do not usually get too worried when it happens. World PvP dynamics in MMORPGs like WoW are usually very brutal systems where lower level or outnumbered opponents will receive the short end of the stick, sometimes multiple times. Initial impressions of PvP at an early stage can form the basis of an opinion later on, especially considering the whole PvE-PvP feud that exists in the game. Below is an old 'quitting wow' video created by a friend and I where we decided to go on a killing rampage and break our usual 'honorable' PvP attitudes (well sorta). It clearly demonstrates the complete helplessness that lowbies have when faced with unfair odds.

Below: WoW - One Shot One Kill

2. Victory Rush (racing games). Although I would not call myself a great fan of racing games, I do enjoy playing them at certain times. There is however, one aspect of racing games that is so stressful and intense that sometimes I think I am going into cardiac arrest while playing them. This rare sensation is the feeling you get during that last 20 seconds of a race where you are only just beating the car behind you by at mere car's length. Ridge Racer IV on the PSX used to do this quite a lot, though mainly due to the perfection at which you needed to drive. However the much more recent single player in Trackmania and especially Need For Speed games also deliver the same exhilaration.

Below: Trackmania - Yes, you can drive through that

3. Freaked out. Now, let me be the first to say that I don't usually find many games to be overly suspenseful or frightening. I am usually the one laughing my guts out at horror movies where everyone else is cringing in the corner. Horror/fear games just don't really do it for me. That does not mean, however, that I am completely immune. The first time I played Silent Hill (the original) I was genuinely disturbed, and it was the middle of the day. The scratchy radio that would increase in volume when enemies were close by was juxtaposition to the limited light source emitted from your flash light.... which drew the enemies nearer to you! Turning the light off didn't exactly help either, as bumping into enemies in the dark was usually not very healthy. This experience was akin to general freaky stuff I encountered in both F.E.A.R. (the invisible wall climbing dudes) and Doom 3 (floating corpses and deceptive mirrors ftl).

Below: Doom 3 - "Hellknight" means "brick-shit-house" in Tongues

Emotions in our game? Well Crusaders already will have a large amount of emotional content, considering the allegiance swapping nature of the game. Certain emotions such as betrayal, envy or even direct resentment for other players is sure to ensue for periods of time due to the nature of the game. The 'leader' will constantly feel like they are getting ganked, while the underdogs will undertake swift justice to the give themselves the edge. Through our prototyping, the game is already showing strong emotional content that is sure to be both enjoyable and engaging for everyone involved, no matter if you are winning or not (because you won't be for long).

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Needs Moar Epics!

Rewards in games. Best example of a reward based gaming system I can think of is WoW. The quest for better gear and weapons in this game is pretty much the reason for most people's addiction to it. Whether it be through PvP or PvE gameplay, Epic quality items are both highly sought after and (at the moment) quite easy to attain. These sort of rewards are very 'physical' awards, in terms of the game itself, as their contribution affect how effective your character is (or isn't) at particular roles. This sort of reward system can be both extremely pleasing (working towards gear and achieving it) as well as frustrating (not getting your drops) as well as the various arguments concerning hardcore and casual (scrub, apparently...) players. This sort of reward system is in my opinion, an excellent model for catering to addictive and repetitive play, especially if you constantly make the best items in the game redundant through high content patches.

Below: WoW - BC greens > Pre-BC epics

There are however other rewards, even in games like WoW. Games that give you titles, rankings or even just recognition for doing difficult or skillful based objectives can also be ... well rewarding. They don't really make you a better player (or person) and don't necessarily enhance the gaming experience, but they do give you a sense of accomplishment. Another example in WoW for me was grinding rank 11 (Lieutenant General) back in the day in WoW's old honor system. This was both an extremely time consuming and wasteful period of gameplay that I will never do again (or can for that matter). You basically needed to be in the best honor farming team on the server, sometimes pitted against the best of your opposite faction. This also required you to PvP for long periods of time and win successively if you wanted a shot at increasing in rank. You therefore had to be an above average PvPer, as obviously only the people who are on the top of their game were ever allowed in these teams.

Below: WoW - Razial: Lieutenant General

Moving away from WoW (a good game that is rather bad for you), there is also reward in the unveiling of the narrative of many singleplayer games. Series such as Final Fantasy and from my personal experience Legacy of Kain contain very rich story lines and history that is a pleasure to unveil during the course of the game. This sort of gaming experience is more akin to reading a book, though you are rewarded with the storyline depending on your ability to move through the content. It is the sort of gaming experience that is probably the most gratifying in my opinion, and something I would like to eventually get back in to (*prays for Soul Reaver 4*).

Below: Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver opening (1999)

And of course, you cannot talk about rewards without mentioning the personal achievement or pride based awards. Did you beat that game on extreme difficulty? Yeah? Did you get anything for it? No? Who cares! You still beat it on extreme! It's a way of measuring one's prowess at a game, much like saying you can beat godlike or nightmare bots in UT2k4 and Quake 3, and saying you can 100% 'Through the Fire and Flames' in Guitar Hero 3. It's a goal/objective you set for yourself, and even though you may never be able to do it again, at least you can say you did at one point.

Ideas? Well, the only type of reward you will be getting in our game is the reward of winning, so the reward is based upon the skill and tactics of the player themselves. However, there may be recognition in the game concerning the odds and outcomes of winning, which could be seen as rewarding as well. Rewards will definetly be something worth looking into, especially during consecutive games.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Killing Spree!

In the previous lecture, the topic of challenges and intrinsic skill was brought up concerning gaming. This type of skill is based on the player's own individual prowess involved during the stress and pressures of a gaming environment. Finer details of gaming were also discussed, describing in more detail, aspects of games that are either understood or become instinctive after gameplay becomes second nature. Some of these will be discussed in this entry.

Understanding the physics of a game is a simple example of something that, while not enitrely necessary towards achieving success, can skew the odds in ones favour. Game physics are used in many popular titles including racing, sports and FPS games, all having variations of a real life physics model (though some lean towards a more arcade style). Knowing when to brake and how heavy your car 'feels' on a certain track is often the key to winning in various street racing games, especially where a drifting style of control is preferred over a grip. Ridge Racer IV, probably the most stressful arcade racing game I have ever played on the original Playstation, severely punished the player for making mistakes. It was therefore necessary to maintain total control of the vehicle throughout all stages of a race if you wanted to even have a remote chance of winning. I can also honestly say that understanding the physics of a FPS game is probably the greatest factor contributing to success as everything, from ground friction, ballistics, weapon accuracy and jumping distance can all be instinctively learnt and benefited from. Hitting people mid air with a rocket in Quake is not dissimilar to reflex sniping with a handgun in Counter-Strike.

Below: Quake 3 - Intercept course in progress

Spatial awareness is also important. If you have ever played a new FPS title or witnessed someone else new or veteran-ish to them start playing, you will notice an uncanny knack for them to aim close to the ground. Even if you advise them to look up (to see incoming enemy fire) they will eventually place the crosshair on some form of horizon or on some ground based level to better get their bearings. This is not really their fault, and is quite understandable. Unfamiliarity with environments and/or levels generally result in confusion and helplessness if pushed too quickly. By effectively 'grounding' themselves in an area, a player can slowly explore their surroundings from all angles and understand the intricacies of it. The result of this can be seen on the opposite side of the spectrum, where hardcore FPS fans are completely aware of their surroundings and move their senses to other forms of identification. Having witnessed and been part of many online 1v1s in UT, you can begin to feel where the enemy is, rather than actually seeing them. Simply registering what you can and cannot see via line of sight, you can make a rough pinpoint to where an enemy is located in the level, especially if you can get to another place quickly and make further assessment. In my opinion it is this sort of hunter/prey instinct that makes 1v1 dueling in FPS games possibly the best example of competitive based gaming, as all the cards concerning player skill (both physical and mental) are put down on the table.

Below: UT99 - Stalemates usually occur when both people are equally skilled ... or equally foolish.

Youtube version:

But not all skillful gaming is the result of adaptation, accuracy or mental agility. Puzzle solving ability is an excellent example where imagination becomes more of the success factor than anything else. Having witnessed three people, including myself, get through Valve's recent game Portal, I was quite surprised at some of the methods people employed to progress further in the game. Certain places where I was lost were quickly overcome by my housemates, and areas where they had no idea what to do were rather frustrating to watch as they did completely the wrong thing. Having played various puzzle adventure games before, such as the Soul Reaver series (which added 2 dimensions of existence to the mix) I found I was better attuned to solving environmental problems such as getting a box from one point to another without being shot to pieces. Navigation was strangely an issue for me as several times I had no idea where I should be going, which is unusual as the game is rather linear. It is an interesting area to explore as it demonstrates both the strong and weaker aspects of people's play styles.

Below: Portal - "There's a hole in the sky through which things can fly..."

Own ideas? Well for our game there is not so much intrinsic skill as there is the chance of tactful play. While there is control over where and how you counter opponents moves, it is really based down to the roll of the dice when it comes to it. This is not a bad thing, as unpredictability is often an aspect of games that invites re-playability. Having little need for spatial awareness, and no need at all for a physics engine (lol), the skill factor of our game is really down to how well people work with each other and how well they manage their offensive/defensive resources in combating and/or becoming the king of the hill.