I meant to do so some blogging a couple of days ago but it got postponed. I then meant to do it yesterday, but yet again, I didn't have the time.
But I have a really good reason. I was crunching Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4!
I bought Batman: Arkham Asylum last friday but I decided not to play it untill I was done with Persona, as I felt I was closing in on the end after about 60h of play-time. Man... Was I wrong? For yet another 30h I felt like I was so close to the ending I could smell it. I was wrong.
91 hours and 51 minutes is what it took me to finish that beast of a game! And to be honst, the last 20h or so felt a tad annoying as I was longing for Batman.
Enough about me and more about the game. If you don't know the fundamentals I recommend doing a google about it. Rating over 9/10 on Metacritic and being the best JRPG I've played in many, many years it's something every designer with a huge amount of time to spend should look into.
I've never spent this much time with a Single Player Game before, and I don't see if happening again anytime soon. But what is the magic that holds the player for so long? Why can't you just say enough is enough and never look at the game again.
I think there are two main reasons for this:
- The constant passing of time making the player's progress in the game automatic.
- The continuing feeling of things progressing thanks to constant leveling and introduction of skills and Personas.
In short. Stuff always happens!
Just a little disclaimber-thingy. The game also has an exciting story, fun combat and fantastic characters. Of course just the two above mentioned reasons will not make for a great game by themself, but are indeed parts of a whole.
Persona 4 is played by making choices of what to do each day. There's the daytime, after school and evening. This may vary depending on special circumstances.
Anyway, you then get to do one thing each part of the day. Some things doesn't affect time, like shopping. But stuff like increasing stats, progressing the story and increasing your Social Links (part of the stat-system in Persona) will use up one "time slot".
Once the evening is over, the game progresses into the next day on the calendar. Special events related to the game's story happens on specific dates so it's impossible to stand still in the game, just increasing stats or whatever. The game will progress, wether you want it to or not.
This is brilliant! Because of this I know that for each and every choice I make, even if it's something as simple as to eat at a restaurant I get closer and closer to the end. It's impossible to get stuck in the game, similar to a movie if you wish.
In Persona you use magical powers with the help of "Personas". Think of them like Pokémons, because really, they're quite alike. You collect them by defeating enemies and by fusing together the ones you have. Each and everyone has different skills and looks. They each have their own level as well, just like your character.
The personas gain XP when used.
So when walking in a dungeon with four characters, three of which has one persona each and you, the main character with more than 10 personas. That's 8 enteties gaining XP per battle (4+4).
This means that there are not many fights apart when someone of them levels up, increasing stats and perhaps gaining a new ability.
In one hour, there's probably 5-10 level ups. This is a bit different from many games where you level up once every few hour. It makes you feel that you're constantly getting stronger in one way or another, increasing your chances in combat.
This along with the time that progress by itself, it's a race for you to "keep up", making a very interesting balance.
There's a million other things the developers have made very wise decisions about as well, especially when it comes to context. But I'll leave that for another post perhaps. Right now, after beating it, I don't want anything more to do with it for a while.
Persona 4 is one of the most cleverly designed games I've played, ever.
A thing that really caught my eye as a very interesting thing is Blizzard's new Editor in Starcraft 2.
It seems extremly powerful! Just think of all the great and creative stuff created for Warcraft 3 with a mediocre editor. It seems as if they'd really taken this into heart and created a truly wonderful tool.
I think it's a safe bet to say that there will be a lot of users out there as well. Which is not the case for, for example, Unreal Tournament 3. Ued is great and really powerful, but no one bought the game.
And apparently there's supposed to be some kind of store on Battle.net similar to Apple's AppStore where people can buy and sell mods/maps. Don't know much about it though.
Anyway, of course I don't know anything about using the new editor yet, but hopefully it won't be all that difficult.
Keep an eye out!
They show off more than just simple RTS-maps. A must see!
Back in October last year I wrote a post about what I think about achivements in games.
I was thinking about it today, don't ask me why, 'cause I don't know.
Anyway, in addition to what I wrote then, I'm thinking that I want to be able to turn off Achievements for the 360 and the Trophies for the PS3. They keep updating the Dashboard with Rating and stuff, so just add me the feature to turn off public display of my Achievements.
If I don't want to be part of this incredibly silly competition, I shouldn't have to. The problem is, as stated earlier, that if I'm in the competition (even if not by choice) it's hard not to compete.
So a really simple solution, give the option not to participate. Please Mr. Microsoft.
I'm currently in the progress of doing some research for how to design a good close combat fighting mechanic for a 2D Sidescroller. It's actually not for any game, I just want to design a system, as is.
But I'm need of some references for games with good and/or interesting fighting mechanics. It might be solely thanks to tweaking, or because of some great "twist". Heck, I even check out games that have bad fighting, because they're doing something wrong. But what?
Right now I'm thinking of taking a closer look at Viewtiful Joe, Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier, Shinobi 3, Castle Crashers, Castlevania, Ultimate Spider-Man (NDS), TMNT: Turtles in Time and a very none-2D game Batman: Arkham Asylum.
There's so much to think about and so many, many tools to use when designing fighting mechanics, it's incredible. Just to name a few of my list:
- stun state
- create oportunities
- downed state
- handle multiple enemies
- switch place between enemies
- beating downed enemies
- build up damage
- weak, strong, special, grab, ranged
It's not often I ask for comments, but this time it'd be nice. References and/or tools/tricks.
What are your thoughts about fighting in games?
I don't care if you're a designer or gamer, your opinion is just as important anyway.
I know the RTS-genre is huge especially with games like Starcraft and Warcraft III (Go Blizzard!) but I have one major beef with games like that; the input.
Real Time Strategy. I love the concept. Control a vast amount of units, having them execute strategic manouvers to overcome the resistance of the enemies.
But I don't have the über-micro (micro management of the units)... I can, in my head, decide what I want each and every single unit to do. Where they should go, what they should attack and how. But I can't execute by clicking like a madman with the mouse and using hotkeys on the keyboard.
That's not what I'm looking for in a strategy game. For me, the appealing part is ordering my units, not the actual physical process of having to successfully select them and click on things.
I know that a lot of people like that aspect as well. "The micro is what makes the game fun!", "It's what seperates the skilled from the n00b.". Too bad, I say.
Since that is the case, I suppose there should be games just like Starcraft, where micro is power. But I want a strategy game where someone has drastically reimagined how to control it. I'm afraid I don't know how. If I did, it'd already be working on that game on my spare time.
Since I know what I want to do, I don't want to have any problems doing it. I think "standard controls" does nothing but thwart me.
So someone, preferably a Game Designer for an upcoming RTS, create a strategy game I can enjoy to the fullest!
A couple of weeks ago a reader on this blog, gutek, recommended using a tool called yEd.
I have, and I like it!
yEd is a very powerful graph editor that can be used to quickly and effectively generate drawings and to apply automatic layouts to a range of different diagrams and networks.
yEd is available as a free download with unrestricted functionality!
I decided to do a flowchart for a game I'm working on and thought I could just as well try out yEd in a "live project" instead of just trying to play around with it. I usually use Visio for this kind of thing.
And after just 20 minutes, I loved it. It's super easy to use and has a friendly interface. It's definately worth the price of 200 nothing.
So if you're about to work with a flowchart, a diagram or something similar, I highly recommend yEd.
It's now part of my game design toolbox!
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Earlier this week, I went to my storage and noticed that I've had a break in. Someone, has stolen my entire video games collection I had there. NES, SNES, PSX, Nintendo 64, and the Dreamcast games. Over 100 games and several consoles with additional hardware.
So... That kinda sucks.
What bothers me in addition to losing my valuables there is that the remaining part of my collection, the GBA, NDS, GCN, 360 and PS3 feels of "no use", except for the actual gaming fun.
The collection is ruined anyway, right?
Thanks Mr. Grinch.
Games via digital distribution is both great and aweful for this. The games I own from Xbox Live, PSN and Steam; I can't lose them. That is, untill the services are shut down. And that WILL happen. I hate thinking about that. Not because of the money I've spent there, but because I'll lose the games eventually. The PS3 HDD will crash eventually and if there is no PSN to get them from again, what will I do? I suppose there will be "some way" to get them, but still...
The bad thing about the games you get via digital distribution is that they don't actually have any collector's value, if you ask me. Just downloading a bunch of zeroes and ones without any limitation in availability. Not by numbers nor by location.
I had a Sonic 10th Anniversary release imported from Japan via China, gosh darn it!
Okay, I've complained enough now. I guess I should try and squeeze some game design into this by using a crowbar.
Now, got it! Don't take away from the player, because you risk having them being upset. It's allowed to kill the player in game, of course. It's allright to drain some mana if he casts a spell. This is simple economics; having the player pay for something.
However, think long and hard before punishing the player. What will happen? I for one, for example, don't think it's okay to take away score from the player, if the game is about getting on a highscore-table.
If the player has worked hard to gain something (like me with my collection...), it's not okay taking it away. That's why I don't like when role playing games steals XP and levels. I can get it back, but all it takes is time. The same thing goes for score in a highscore game.
If it's possible to get a star on each level by completing it fast enough, the player should never be able to lose a star, as a consequence for doing something bad. If I've gotten a star on 38/50 levels after a lot of hard work, and I all of sudden lose 15 of them because I died on a Star Stealing Boss, the remaining 23 won't feel as valuable anymore.
It's never okay to punish the player and thereby making the game feel boring or too irritating.
Okay, enough obvious complaining and forced game design.
GRIN are closing their doors in the main office as well.
"It is with a heavy heart we announce today that GRIN has been forced to close its doors. This as too many publishers have been delaying their payments, causing an unbearable cashflow situation."
It feels weird; the company that got me into "the biz" are shutting down.
It was a learning experience with both ups and downs and I don't regret taking a job there. Heck, I was lucky that there were people there at the time, seeing potential in me. I got to do a work sample like everyone else and sure, I think I did good but still, it was all about what they thought and what I did just happened to be what (at the time) the Lead Design in Gothenburg liked.
Oh yeah, I should post my work sample here.
I left GRIN over a month ago, but it was still nice having the name of that company on the resume. It sucks that they are closing for several reasons, one being that my CV is less heavy with a company that has shut down.
What the higher ups are gonna do now, I don't know. But hopefully they'll start some new company; helping Sweden keeping a good reputation in the game industry.
To all the people I worked with at GRIN:
Thank you all and good luck in the future!
[I'm writing this the last, after reading my post. It suppose this post is just as much about allowing different approaches to challenges in games, like in Deus Ex or Fallout, as it is about what to think about when releasing a demo. Well, I still hope you can find something here of interest.]
A few days ago, a playable demo of the game Batman - Arkham Asylum was released. It is the best demo I've tried in a very long time.
I'm not saying that simply because I think it's fun, but partly because it makes me THINK the complete game is, without actually knowing.
In the commercial industry, a game demo has one purpose; to get people to buy the game. But for many indie developers, that's not necessarily true. I might be, but it's not a necessity.
An indie developer might release a demo to show the world how fun of a game he can make and leave it at that.
I'm wondering, what approach should one take when creating a demo. Should they differ between when trying to sell and when just trying to show your stuff?
- Should you show a lot or just a small part of what the game can offer regarding gameplay?
- Since it's a demo, should we tell the player "This is what you can do", or should we risk it and let them find it out by themselves?
- Should we try and deliver "the complete demo experience" with one play-through, or require several ones?
I don't know the answers for these questions, but I intend to discuss them. I'll discuss them one at a time to finally compare it to the Batman demo, trying to give an example where it works. And of course, these are just my opinions, so think of them as you wish.
1. Should you show a lot or just a small part of what the game can offer regarding gameplay?
Personally, I think, especially for commercial purposes that you shouldn't give it all away. It's hard, but it's better to give the player some tools to play with yet hint, that it's only a part of a grander plan that comes with the complete product.
An indie might feel differently, since it's perhaps not likely that "anyone" will buy the game (if sold) but the indie dev still wants to show the player a fantastic product.
All I "need" to experience in a demo is the basic gameplay and what kind of additional mechanics they add up on it. Are there power ups in the game? Then at least let me try one or two, but don't give them all away. Are there very different enemies in the game? Then let me try and fight at least a couple.
This is hard for indies and some industry companies, because one wants to show how clever one is.
2. Since it's a demo, should we tell the player "This is what you can do", or should we risk it and let them find it out by themselves?
This is a tough one. Players are likely to be willing to spend less time and effort with a free demo than with a complete game he paid money for. By clearly telling the player what's possible to do in the demo, we can be sure that all players get a chance to experience it. Experience the game "as good as it can be". However(!), the problem is that we lose the sense of achievement a player feels when discovering things. I'll discuss this exact example in Batman later.
I think this boils down to a risk vs. reward scenario actually. Do you dare to to risk the player not finding out some stuff that might have the player love the game. Things that if you tell the player about, he might not feel so excited about? The greater the risk, the greater the reward.
3. Should we try and deliver "the complete demo experience" with one play-through, or require several ones?
Since a demo is often short, it doesn't require much time from the player for him to play it once again. But, then again, why would the player spend that amount of time playing nothing but a demo after already having established an opinion towards the product? I think that if the first play-through is good, of course, the player is more willing to play it again.
How do you make the first play-through good and the second one even better? By "saving things" for the second run, don't you then make the first one less good? Not necessarily. I can't give a straight answer as to how to solve this, but I personally think it's about playing on the psychological parts of a player and not just quantifying the gameplay in a game.
What about Batman?
As I said, I think the Batman - Arkham Asylum demo was great.
Not only because it was fun to play, but because it makes me think that the entire game is even more fun!
It started out, giving me the basics of fighting using swift strikes and counters. Before the demo had ended, the game had also taught me some other moves like gliding in the air, sneaking and beating downed enemies. This all by itself was a lot of fun.
I got to try out the Batarang, a piece of special equipment and I got to use a grappling hook.
So, all in all I got to try out an array of moves and equipments, but I still know there are way more to go. I can't imagine all the cool stuff Batman got in his Bat-belt and I really want to try them out! They could have given me so much more, but there was no need and I guess the developers thought so too.
Now, for the what the game tells you. As I said, the game taught me a handful of moves and tips, and that's pretty much what I used for my first play-through, using a quite brutish strategy to finish of the enemies in the last room of the demo. I glide kicked, swung around, jumping down and beating the enemies. It worked fine, but it really lacked finesse. Still, I enjoyed it, thanks to gameplay.
But while playing, even if the game told me to glide kick, I noticed I could just hang from the gargoyle I was sitting on. Instead of sneaking up on enemies, I noticed I could stun them with my (awesome!) Batarang. The game didn't tell me this, but I figured it out anyway.
What's good about this is, that even without discovering some of these things, there's still enough to do for you to be greatly entertained. Hence, I think they struck a good balance between how much they shoved up my face, and how much they'd let me find out.
Afterwards I shut the game down and this is when the interesting stuff happened. I started thinking about how I've handled the scenarios in the game. I got a set of tools (moves, items, abilities, environment) and the game offers a set of obstacles. I started thinking, what if I'd used some other "tools". What if this, what if that. Maybe I could have, and maybe it'd be cool to.
It kept popping up at the back of my mind, so the next day I started the demo again. And let me tell you, I enjoyed the game even more this time!
Last time, as I said, in the final room, I just used brute force to beat it. But this time, being more familiar with my tools.
I snuck up on the first enemy from behind, performing a silent take-down. Afterwards I swung up to a gargoyle, making it to the other side of the room without being noticed. From there I swung down from my gargoyle, grabbing an enemy, taking him up with me again, releasing him making him fall down a great height, while being tied to a rope.
I then immediately swung to another gargoyle while two other enemies ran towards to hanging one, to help him out. Once they'd arrived I stunned one of them with a Batarang-throw, immediately followed by a glide kick from high up on the other one. After this I quickly followed up with two take down moves, beating them both unconscious before they even saw me.
Once I'd taken care of those three, I could easily ambush the last one, since he had no one to help him out.
This play-through, I WAS Batman!
This, for one shows that I like the game, but more importantly, it shows how it's layered and how a short demo, only lasting a few minutes, can show off such a big part of the game.
It's a very long text for a very short conclusion. Great care should be put into creating a game demo. It's not just about taking a piece of the full version and having it as a stand alone. Love is required.
Of course, for a demo to be great, the chance of that happening is greatly increased if the full game actual is too.
It's 4am, I just got home and I'm not 100%...antything right now.
But, once again, like so many other times, I'm just thinking out loud. There's this expression "thinking outside the box". And the thing I'm thinking is, is that something that some people just have a gift for, or is there some way for every to do it? And I'm thinking, no surprise, maybe being drunk helps?
I'm not saying that having a drunk game designer will do the job, but I'm just curious. Maybe that's one way to get people to "think outside the box". To disregard current standards and just express their minds. There are many developers today that say that they're looking for that kind of people. People that can think outside the box, not drunk people.
I'm sure people are better at it than other. Of course, like any game designer, I want to believe that I'm one of them, but I might be waaaay wrong! But I think there are many techniques, including those without alcohol to stimulate this kind of thinking. I don't know what. Road trips? Isolating the designers in a cabin somewhere or just locking them into a cellar.
My point, and well, question is. What is the best way for a designer to "think outsside the box"?
Aw crap... G'night people.