Monday, December 11

Pogo Sticker

Hello, I just downloaded an awesome game. Its called Pogo Sticker and it was developed by Skinflake. You too can download the game at this convenient hyperlink.

Pogo Sticker is very simple, but really fun and challenging without being too insanely difficult. Featuring twelve different levels, your goal is to reach the end in a side-scrolling manner. But unique to Pogo Sticker is that you do so by bouncing. The character you play as is basically a three jointed pogo stick. His features include a bouncy ball foot, a big round body, and head wearing a very helpful helmet. You may also play as a taller green model with four apendages, making the game more difficult.

All Pogo (this is what we shall call him) can do is bounce, in fact, thats naturally what he is constantly doing. Bouncing is to Pogo as breathing is to us. You control Pogo by moving the mouse to his right or left, causing him to lean his body weight in that direction. Also, clicking the mouse will increase Pogo's bounciness. The more you click the mouse, the harder he will bounce. And, the level of bounciness will fade or drop over time until Pogo is bouncing as lightly sa he can again. The game features very fine physics that seemingly determines all of this. You are able to shift Pogo's weight in the air influencing his direction and tilt. Tilting Pogo is essential to getting him to land right, otherwise he will fall face first into the ground.

There are a couple of other things I want to bring up. There are two ways to lose. One is if you fail to keep Pogo bouncing. The other is by draining Pogo's life bar. When Pogo hits a surface with his head, his life will go down. The other thing is, when you click the mouse to increase Pogo's bounciness, bars will be added to a meter on the left hand side of the screen. This is certainly helpful for the player as it allows him or her to monitor its strength and adjust mouse clicks accordingly. However, what I wanted to ask is: Is this necessary. Now, I'm not saying the bar isn't necessary, as it is helpful. But lately games have been featuring HUDless (or minimal hud) gameplay. Without the bounce meter, players would be able to determine Pogo's bounciness just by looking at him and gauging his speed and time lapsed between bounces. Maybe that sounds complicated but really I'm sure it would be quite natural.

What do you think? Go and play the game, enjoy yourself, then come back and let us know if you think the bounce meter is necessary or not.
Im gonna go beat Pogo Sticker. Only two more levels!

Source: Skinflake.

Saturday, December 9

Cueing Player Action

Hello everyone, last night I saw a play at my school called Oroonoko. Besides the fact that it was a great play, I noticed something that all plays do: cueing the actors. But cues are not just effective on stage, they can be very useful in games as well. Signals can be given in game to "prompt" a player to do something. This happen all the time in probably every game you play, and is a big part of how you know where to go and what to do as a player.

When thinking about this, the first example I came upon was for a stealth game, not unlike Splinter Cell. When presented with crossing a narrow hallway with gaurds lining the walls, the player could be cued to act when the overhead light shuts off for a few seconds. Other examples are when gaurds speak with each other while the player is eavesdropping; "Hey Bob, I left the gate key in my locker, just pick it up there when you go on shift." An actual game example is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, where you know to use the baton evey time you see a tri-force symbol on the floor. There are tons of these to be found in probably every game you play, new or old.

In summary: Cues can be used to prompt the player. In most cases, a player should know where to go and at least an idea of what to do at all times. The game should accomodate this need by providing cues, which, off the player hints or whistle him or her into action. Its effective, necesary, and a great part of game design.

Monday, December 4

Form Baton-Categorizing Gameplay

Nintendo's Software Planning & Development Division is ready to launch WarioWare: Smooth Moves for the Wii, however, the team faced a difficult hurdle in the games development. As the fifth game in the WarioWare series, the team knew full well exactly what makes a WarioWare title play so uniquely and well. For those who don't know, WarioWare has players completing very specific, seemingly random tasks, at a lightning fast pace. The player only has a moments warning to understand how to solve a microgame before time runs out and their turned to the next game. Its like playing epilepsy.
What the team didn't expect for this iteration of WarioWare, was the challenges presented by the Wii remote. The team came up with many new microgames for WarioWare, but they had trouble figuring out how each game should be controlled, and more importantly, how the player will know what to do when each microgame is presented. The Wii has nigh infinite possiblities in detecting motion, but unspecified solutions to each microgame would prove impossible for a player to complete them. Yoshio Sakamoto, software planner for the team, put the problem like this.
It's true that the Wii Remote allows for any number of ways to play a game, and is especially well matched with the WarioWare series, but because of this players are faced with the new problem of not knowing exactly what they are expected to do. Conveying this information to them posed a problem for us. With WarioWare speed is everything, people have five seconds at most to grasp the way they have to play. How to best communicate this became the first problem we were confronted with.
But later Sakamato would arrive upon a fantastic answer that would solve probably every issue the team was experiencing thus far.
We had a tendency to play it safe, selecting ideas where the player could hold the Remote normally and not be required to perform really tricky movements. Then it happened, a solution presented itself. I thought, why don't we tell the players to: "Hold it like this!" before each of the individual microgames starts. We implemented instructions saying: "Hold the Remote like this" and "Next, hold it like this."
They called it the "Form Baton." And what it does is basically categorize each microgame into one of seven styles of play. The player is told to hold the remote a certain way before each game begins. This way, defeating each microgame becomes a reasonable, if challenging, request upon the player. Here are a couple screenshots from the game, the second one is a demonstration of using the form baton:

The SPDD team came up with a very effective design response to their issue. By categorizing gameplay, or different styles to play each microgame, they could then implement the various control schemes into their many microgames. Plus, the Form Baton adds to the chaos that is WarioWare, forcing the player to go through just one more step each game. The solution may be simple, some might even say contrived, but theres no question that its effective.
What do you think of the Form Baton? What about categorizing gameplay?
What other examples of categorizing gameplay can you think of?
Please post any thoughts you have in the comments.
And thats the day numero two.

Source: Nintendo Europe: Iwata Asks

Sunday, December 3

Dynamic Infestation

Natural Selection was an extremely popular mod for the original Half-Life. The team behind the game, Unknown Worlds Entertainment, is currently working on a remake to NS with Half-Life 2's Source engine. However, Unkown Worlds is looking to add some incredible new features to spruce up Natural Selection's gameplay. One of these is what they're calling "dynamic infestion," an incredible feature that could really upend the tea table. Dynamic Infestation, as explained at the Unkown Worlds blog, works alot like creep from Starcraft. The bacteria in the original Natural Selection was a static piece of the maps texture. But in NS2, the bacteria will grow and spread procedurally as the game is being played. The bacteria spreads dynamically based off the aliens' occupation of the map. As the alien team takes control of a level, the bacteria will grow to cover the floor, walls and ceilings. But this effect is not just aesthetic, the bacteria actually infests the level. Here is an excerpt from above link:
For example, you could have a computer console that shuts down when overrun by infestation and causes the lights in the room to go out. If the marines clear out the room and fight back the infestation, the system comes back online and the lights flicker on to fill the room. What about abilities and technology which only function when players are on their home turf?
They haven't got it all in code yet, but the team hopes to have this working for the games' release. Their website contains a video of the infestation in effect, you should check it out, its sweet.

How does the bacteria contribute to the game? What does it contribute to gameplay?
Heres what I think. Firstly, if implemented well, this should be an awesome visual effect, while also being empowering to the aliens, and perhaps frightening to the marines as they see their entire level overrun by creep. Secondly, the concept of literally affecting gameplay, while done before, is brand new to the first-person-shooter genre, in so far as I know. It could hypothetically give the aliens an edge by not only enhancing their own abilities, but maybe by slowing the movement of the marines or handcapping their abilties, even if it cut off something as simple as flashlight use. Something else this could effect, then, is game balance. If overpowered, it could give the aliens a definite edge in battle. Even so, counter weapons could be added. What if the marines had a grenade that when thrown at a patch of bacteria, will shock all aliens touch it? Of course its a ways off before we know how this will all work out, but the concept itself is really quite awesome, and if it works, the implementation technically impressive. What does everyone else think this addition to Natural Selection? How about in other first-person-shooters? Also, try to look at it secluded from both of these entirely, the idea of territory and visual representation and the effects that such blatant occupation can have on a game. And thats the design aspect of the day. P.S. Today's letter is L.

Source: Unkown Worlds Entertainment Blog


Monday, November 13

Welcome to Invisible Studio

Welcome to Invisible Studio, a game design blog. I am constantly fascinated by game design and its various aspects, which is why I'm dedicating a blog to this field. There is so much that goes into game design, so many little details that have to be weighed and balanced and observed from a variety of perspectives. When these details are brought together they fuse to create a video game that was created with care. Each day I will post at least one aspect of design on this blog. Believe me, there are many, many more to discover on this thing we call the intranet, but its much more beneficial to focus on a single aspect at a time then barrage a person with a metric-ton. I hope readers of Invisible Studio will take the time to experience each post and reflect upon its meaning and usefullness, then post their comments. If the comments prove insufficient for your needs, you can head over to the pared-down Invisible Studio forum at the following link:
I look forward to discovering new aspects of game design and sharing them with everyone here, thanks for coming and I hope you enjoy each day.