One of the biggest and most respected Swedish game journalist, Petter Hegevall recently complained a bit about Splinter Cell: Conviction on his blog. He says he doesn't like the game holding his hand while playing:
Easy game control is a good thing. Well-done game mechanics is another good thing. But when Ubisoft removes much of the charm of being stealthy and sneaky by rewarding me with the function to be able to shoot all the bad guys I see with the touch of a button - then I wonder, was it really a gameplay related point of the reward?
It works like that, the new system of Conviction. A possibility to win by putting out a small red marker to kill a whole bunch of enemies by pressing a button. In my world it becomes more of a punishment, because I play stealth games to get to feel really über-awesome to sneak up on every enemy - and kill them silently.
This is surely wonderful for many when Conviction turns into a cool movie, complete with the Jason Bourne-influences and everything.
(Translated from Swedish) - http://www.gamereactor.se/blog/petter/#162263 (18/4/2010)
I disagree and I think he just doesn't get it. It's weird, really. I respect him and he usually writes good stuff, but this time I'm just no sure what he's thinking. He complains about the game turning into a movie instead of game, because of the feature to "mark" several enemies and execute them with a press of a button. I see it another way. All they've done is that they've moved and refocused the gameplay.
To be able to execute this technique you first need to perform special actions, like killing someone in stealth close combat, so the stealth gameplay is still very much there and heavily encouraged. The gameplay now focuses on preparation, placement of Sam Fisher (the avatar) and the execution/activation of a planned attack. That for me, is still a whole lot of fun, interactive and not in any way "automatic" or a movie.
Basically, they've just done the shooting aspect of the game more streamlined, which still isn't the entire game, thanks to the stealth, the gadgets and the maneuverability.
Sure, one could argue that the result is a less fun game if you're looking for a precision shooter. But I'm pretty sure the devs knew the game inside and out when designing the levels and scenarios, so claiming that the game became too easy just because of this it strange, because it's a result of many things.
If you apply for a job within the game industry, it's very likely that you'll get a question at the interview asking what game impresses you the most regarding the area you want to work with.
I actually don't remember if I got that question when I had my interview before getting a job as Level Designer at GRIN, and if I did, I don't remember the answer anyway.
However, if I were to get that question today I know exactly what I'd answer and I think it'd be a shocker.
The game I think has the most impressive level design is Valkyria Chronicles.
Not a FPS, Third Person Shooter or a Platformer, but a strategy game!
I'm a bit behind on some games so I didn't get Valkyria until a few months ago, but after beating it, I can't say I'm anything but amazed of how fantastic the execution of each level is.
Once again, it's a strategy game! A genre that has never had me raise an eyebrow because of its level design before.
I think it has somewhere around 20 missions (levels, maps, whatever) in the main campaign and what's so interesting is that each and everyone really is unique. It's often a line on the back of the cover with little to no meaning, but in this case it would be perfectly true.
There is no "one tactics" that always work on each level. You're encouraged to play different missions in different manners and they're extremely varied while at the same time never going astray from its core. They never feel weird, out of place or "forced".
Every now and then they present one new level feature. That's what I choose to call it. It can be stuff like trenches, mortar attacks (explosions covering a large area of the level), train carts you can ride, etc. The new level feature open up new possibilities for the level design and they take full advantage of it. And as you progress, there are more and more features and tools to combine to create great levels, different from the previous once, but still familiar enough for you to be able to play right away.
Putting story aside, each level make me very committed to finish it and I feel very involved. Of course, gameplay and presentation are huge parts of this as well, and it's pretty much impossible to ever differentiate game and level design to a great extent but each of the three really merge into something great.
Well, enough rambling for now. My point is, I think you should really have a look at Valkyria because of it's great level design. It's a game that shows that even genres like this can stand out in areas such as that and I think techniques they use can be of great inspiration for any kind of level design. With that, I mean how they use a little to make a lot and the respect of the game's core while introducing new features.
A perfect object for an in-depth analysis if you have the time.
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.
Once again; Suikoden Tierkreis shows some clever design choice. Konami's JRPG to the DS.
A very, very common problem with any games containing dialogue and dialogue options are that when you skip some lines you accidently make a selection of what to say in that conversation as well.
You know what I mean, you keep pressing A to skip the talk, either because you've heard/read it before or because it's just crap, but then all of a sudden you're presented with a number of options for you to choose among. By the time you realise this, you've already selected the first option, with no way to change that except for loading from an earlier save.
It happens to me all the time, most notable in Mass Effect.
It's a common problem, but really, it's not that difficult to solve.
The solution seen in Suikoden is that if you skip the talk with the action-button, once you arrive to a dialogue option screen, the game won't accept your input untill you've changed option at least once.
Let's say you're presented with two different options:
To answer No, you'll of course first have to press down once on the D-pad, then the action-button. To answer Yes, you'll have to first press down once to "activate" the option-marker, then up once to select Yes, followed by the action-button.
It might not be the sweatness of awesomeness, since it's three button presses to select the top option in which most games would have only required one. However, I have not once accidently chosen the wrong line! It's so worth it!
If you're skipping the conversation and making selections with the stylus on the touch screen, you're obligated to press twice in succession.
I was a big fan of Japanese RPG's during the SNES and Playstation-era, and somewhat during the last generation of consoles.
Today I don't nearly play them enough, mainly because I don't have the energy to invest that amount of time into one single game.
I was a Huge Suikoden and Suikoden II-fan. Suikoden II being one of my favorite games of all time. Therefore I've made sure to try out the new Suikoden game for the Nintendo DS; Suikoden Tierkreis.
An overall, what seems to be, good game. This far I've invested about 5 hours into it and I'm not bored yet.
One thing I greatly appreciate with this game is how it handles navigating in the cities. With menus! "Yuck", you might say. But I'm very pleased.
I hate running around in cities, villages and whatnot in games. The places where there's never any action. Sure, I admit that the very first time you visit a new town it can be exciting to run around in it and explore, but after that novelty wears off, it's just a plain bother to run around there, looking for the local weapon shop, inn and key-NPC.
In Tierkreis I just have a menu, with different choices depending on town and where you are in the story: Inn, Store, Alley, Town Hall, Exit Town, etc.
I say: Thank you!
This saves me both time and temper!