Sunday, December 23

My Game Story Launched

Hello everyone,

Today I launch my new website, My Game Story.
This is not a replacement for Invisible Studio, not at all.
In fact, I fully intend on continuing making posts on Invisible Studio as much as possible.
However, My Game Story has been floating around in my head for a while now. I've been really anxious to publish the site, just because I think its such a good concept. I will be writing for My Game Story a bit, but primarily, I will be acting as story finder, poster, and editor.

I hope you enjoy the new site and continue to come back to Invisible Studio. This site isn't going anywhere. I love writing about game design.

Plesae read the Welcome message at My Game Story to get started.

Tuesday, December 18

Ubisoft Montreal and ZBrush

CGSociety has a cool video feature about Ubisoft Montreal and the use of ZBrush in Assassin's Creed and Rainbow Six: Vegas. The video is a little flashy but its still interesting, aside from the fact that Ubisoft Montreal is my favorite development studio. ZBrush is also a really cool tool used for sculpting and painting 3D models. I played around with it once and its really intuitive and fun. Check out the video atCGSociety. 8 minutes long.

The Next-Generation of Animation

This isn't technically about video games, nor game design. But it seems relevant enough for posting. Endorphin is being used in video games, after all. I will also be writing a follow up article about Euphoria. So expect that soon as well.

The 21st century is upon us, and with it an era of technology. 3D graphics, animation, and artificial intelligence are becoming more and more prominent in our society. Computerized animation has all but replaced pencil and paper; and the modern, Pixar-pioneered, Disney is a far cry from the founder's original flip-books. What's more, our culture is constantly expecting grander sights and sounds from film and video game media. However, the industry is having a tough time keeping up. The creation of satisfying 3D graphics is swiftly becoming a time consuming and expensive endeavor, sometimes requiring hundreds of programmers, modelers, and animators to complete a project.Thankfully, innovation is at hand. A company called NaturalMotion is working to alleviate these issues of graphical animation. In an interview with NewsFactor.com, NaturalMotion CEO Torsten Reil describes the essence of their work:

"Unlike other animation techniques, the characters have a simulated body, simulated muscles and a simulated brain to control the muscles. What you see on the screen is not a computer graphic of the character--it is the character."

Reil is describing NaturalMotion's premier product, Endorphin. Endorphin is an animation tool for 3D characters that functions, arguably, via a revolutionary method. Endorphin is different from traditional animation tools, much different. Whereas systems like Maya or 3DsMax construct and animate lifeless moldings of polygons, Endorphin is populated by intelligent, seemingly living, three-dimensional characters.

Endorphin's impetus, the steam beneath its engine, is a system NaturalMotion calls "Dynamic Motion Synthesis," or DMS. The characters in Endorphin possess highly advanced artificial intelligence; they've been designed to function as human. They are formed of muscular systems, neural systems, even a cerebral cortex. These characters have a sense of well-being.
Towards the turn of the century, the zoology department at Oxford University conducted extensive research on the control of human and animal body movement. NaturalMotion is the progeny of this research. Initially, Oxford sought to develop an intelligent robot, one that could learn through experience, teach itself. They began with a computer model, a simple biped whose sole purpose was to walk. NaturalMotion's website explains:

"The process starts with random walkers, none of which can walk properly. The best ones (those that make at least one step without falling over) are allowed to produce offspring, which are again selected according to how far they walk. This selection is repeated over a number of generations. At the end of [the] process the biped can walk without falling over."

Humble roots lead to revolutionary systems. NaturalMotion was founded in 2001 as a "spin-out operation," Oxford's attempt to commercialize their research. They were successful, needless to say. NaturalMotion is now a full-fledged business, producing multiple software products for commercial sale to animation studios worldwide.

One of NaturalMotion's customers is The Mill, a visual-effects company that, primarily, creates high-profile television commercials for high-paying customers, including Honda, Pepsi, and Inspiron. One of their more recent commercials was "Music Machine" for Guinness.

The advertisement takes place inside a glass of Guinness beer, the tag line being "its alive inside." The spectacle of the commercial is hundreds of CG acrobatic stun-men launching and bouncing off gigantic Japanese drums, sliding down harp chords, and twanging guitar strings. Though all of the stunt-men look perfectly realistic,every one was animated with Endorphin as derivatives of the original motion-capture generated actors. The Mill used Endorphin to create variations of the mo-cap data, characters that moved, acted, and reacted naturally, as humans would. The characters exist and function according to both bodily limitations and physical forces like gravity.


Juan Brockhaus, senior 3D artist at The Mill and visual effects supervisor of the Guinness Music Machine commercial said:

“Endorphin has created a new way of using animation, without it, we would not have been able to create the naturalistic movements of the CG stuntmen in the time we had to produce the commercial.”

And it's all possible because of Dynamic Motion Synthesis. Traditional animation relies on the animators themselves to create believable actions and poses via meticulous keyframe character positioning. Endorphin takes a completely different approach. Powered by DMS, these characters are virtual actors; tell them what to do and they animate themselves. Animators are now directors.

"You know," says Joe Butler of the Motion Picture Company, "you just direct the guy and give him a kick in the back and push him off a building and make him wave his arms. Set the behavior to, you know, writhe and die as he hits the floor, and you get the result that you're looking for."

NaturalMotion's official user-guide for Endorphin states that "At the heart of Endorphin are its adaptive behaviors." This statement couldn't be more true. Animating in Endorphin is like directing a stage performance. Behaviors are all the various actions that can be requested of Endorphin's characters. The broad range of behaviors allow for near infinite animation possibilities.An example is "Arms Zombie," which tells the actor to stretch its arms out straight. Or there are conditional behaviors, like "Stagger," which directs the character to swing its arms and take preventative backwards steps to balance if it loses footing. And yes, you can actually direct the characters to "Writhe." Each behavior itself is fully adjustable as well, containing a large set of parameters. With "Stagger," for example, animators can set the speed of arm swinging or the minimum number of steps they want the character to take. Animators can also create their own behaviors. "Active poses" are completely defined by animators and instruct characters to attempt to achieve any given pose at any point in its animation run.

Even given this customization, the behaviors remain dynamic. Not even the animator knows what exactly a character will do when first simulated. Animators achieve their desired run through trial and error alone, constant tweaking, and repeating simulations.

I say "simulate" for a reason. Because that's exactly what Endorphin is doing. The virtual actors that reside within Endorphin are far from the standard conglomeration of nurbs and vertices--they are artificially intelligent bodies. Their torso region alone is constructed of eight collision objects. The characters' arms contain ten different joints, including clavicle and forearm twisting. And they have a brain. The characters understand the meaning of each behavior and how to perform them. But just like real life, the characters are bound by gravity, physical limitations, and obstructions. Endorphin characters are physically reactive to collision, and will fall, for example, from the pressure of impact. What this all boils down to is the emulation of reality. NaturalMotion is doing its best to reconstruct the human form within a virtual world.

For animators this couldn't be better. Instead of slowly keyframe positioning characters with other animation tools, they can build their own in Endorphin and give it life within this virtual reality. Time and expense are steadily ramping up as 3D animation becomes more prominent as an art medium. Endorphin is the evolution of animation, a response to the steep production costs of animating computer characters.

Not only does Endorphin create more realistic animation than traditional systems, but it is both cheaper and faster to work with. Endorphin has already taken command of the commercial world of animation; where else for the product to go but the education system. Don't worry, they're catching on quick. Late last year NaturalMotion founded an Academic Partner Program which is rapidly gaining popularity amongst universities. Media institute Full Sail signed onto NaturalMotion's program this past June and the Games Academy of Germany licensed Endorphin for academic use this November.

Sources
NaturalMotion
Dynamic Motion Synthesis
NewsFactor
The Mill
GameDev

Further Research
NaturalMotion's download page has lots of awesome tutorials. Seriously, watch the tutorials. I highly recommend numbers 2, 10, and 13. The PDF userguides and tutorials are also veyr informative and interesting.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article then please DevBump It. Much appreciated.

Tuesday, December 11

Aquaria Released

Aquaria has been released. You may remember that Aquaria was the grand prize winner of the 2007 IGF competition. The game was developed by Bit-Blot over the course of many years. You can read all about its development on the official site, where they recently did a 7 day lead-in to the game's release. The game goes for $30 but Bit-Blot was kind enough to release a demo as well.
You should definitely go play it. I've played the demo for a few minutes but haven't had enough time to really delve into the waters yet, so to speak.

Here is the final trailer for Aquaria:

Let me know what you think.

Monday, December 10

What Are We Missing? Slides

Raph Koster recently did a presentation at GDC Prime in San Diego. Along with his speech were numerous slides, 101 to be exact. Thankfully, Raph's a nice guy and edited the slides to include some of the audio comments he made during the actual speech. Whats more is that the slide presentation is totally awesome. Its about the new media world we're living in today. Koster says some fairly eye-opening stuff. Or at the very least its enjoyable to simply progress through the slides and realize its meaning while pondering its importance.

And here is the moral of the story:I think he's right, really (and maybe you do too if you're one of his multi-thousand visitors). Games are quickly becoming much, much bigger than the small box in which we strive to define them. Facebook applications, for example. What I get out of this is . . . this: We need to start broadening our perspectives to account for multiple forms of media and game design. Nobody's telling you to disregard Halo 3 as a video game, let alone that it is a good, successful, or exemplary video game. Halo 3 is anything but insignificant. But just because Halo 3 is important to you, and me, and many, many others, doesn't mean facebook applications can't have their place as video games or media, too. Games aren't so mainstream anymore, and thats a good thing; we just have to embrace the changing face of video games.


Via: DevBump
(go there. its a great resource.)

Passage

I just spent the last five minutes playing through Passage. Passage is, quite simply, an amazing game. It is the third game designed by Jason Rohrer for the Kokorami GAMMA 256 Event. As many things in life, games are best experienced first hand, especially something like Passage. Go play it. Afterwards, please read the authors motivations behind its game design; quite enlightening.

Roher also writes his own blog.
Found Via: Rock, Paper, Shotgun

Saturday, December 8

Team Fortress 2 Statistics

Now here's something awesome: a series of graphs and maps showing statical analyses of Team Fortress 2. I haven't had a chance to play yet, unfortunately, but the information is fascinating nonetheless. For example, the Scout is the most played class. More interesting, the final graph shows the team balances of each map. Your not the only blue player getting owned on dustbowl. There is something I'm curious about, though, how does the Sniper have the most points/hour, but not the most kills, captures, or assists? Do headshots warrant extra points? Let me know. Also, if, like me, you don't know every detail about the game, check out this expansive guide at Custom PC.

Kind of makes me want to take a statistics class. You?

Team Fortress 2 Statistics

Tuesday, December 4

2008 Independent Games Festival Finalists Announced

The 10th Annual Independent Games Festival is coming soon, and the finalists for main the competitions have been announced.

They are as follows:

Seumas McNally Grand Prize:
  • Audiosurf
  • Crayon Physics Deluxe
  • Hammerfall
  • Noitu Love 2: Devolution
  • World of Goo
Best Web Browser Game:
  • Globulos.com
  • Iron Dukes
  • Tri-Achnid
Design Innovation Award:
  • Battleships Forever
  • Fez
  • Fret Nice
  • Snapshot Adventures: Secret Of Bird Island
  • World Of Goo
Excellence in Visual Art:
  • Clean Asia!
  • Fez
  • Hammerfall
  • Synaesthete
  • The Path
Excellence in Audio:
  • Cinnamon Beats
  • Fret Nice
  • Audiosurf
  • Clean Asia!
  • OokiBloks
Technical Excellence:
  • World of Goo
  • Goo!
  • Audiosurf
  • Axiom: Overdrive
  • Gumboy Tournament
Also, take a look at the lists for the Student Competition, and the full list of entrants.

They all look pretty awesome. My computer has very limited processing power (among other things), unfortunately, but I'm going to try and play as many as I can. You should to. Then come back and let us know your opinion about them.

Seamless Presentation

When Michelangelo sculpted The Pieta, he chose to make the figure of Mary larger than that of Jesus. This decision by Michelangelo was that of a specific presentation. Michelangelo is showing Mary as prominent over Jesus, literally, through her size. This unique presentation of a classic Biblical relationship leads admirers to reflect upon The Pieta's meaning and the significance of Michelangelo's decision.Game design encompasses the same issues of presentation and meaning. Like sculpture, painting, or music, game design is an art open to possibilities and options. Presentation is one aspect of design that is increasingly paramount in importance, and only limited by designers' imagination in terms of all the forms it can assume. As with all aspects of game design, a game's presentation must be designed in cooperation, or along with, the remainder of its elements. While there are countless ways of presenting information to players, the zeitgeist of gaming is shifting towards a more seamless approach. This shift reflects the western gaming culture's expectations of next-generation gameplay. Seamless presentation, as opposed to other approaches, is unique in its pursuit of an ideal immersive gameplay. These terms are synonymous; the choice to present a game seamlessly is the desire to create a highly immersive gameplay experience. Seamless presentation is by no means the be all, end all, of game presentation, but it is certainly a viable approach that is rapidly becoming more and more popular in the design community.

But what exactly are designers looking to present anyway? The answer is everything. For truly, presentation is a continuum. For the purpose of discussion, though, I've divided presentation as a whole into three parts: information, theme and story, and interaction. I will briefly discuss each of these points individually, then expound upon these basic explanations with specific examples from modern video games. As rivulets flow together to form rivers, once these three elements are presented in a similar seamless manner, they mesh and cooperate with one another to create a whole, immersive gameplay experience.Players need information to play a game. The style of presentation is the form in which any given information is fed. The most common form of information conveyance is the HUD, or heads-up-display. Generally, the HUD includes things like resource statistics, the ammo of a firearm, or the health of a character. And even simple information like these can be presented in varying forms. Take for example a vehicle's speed in a racing game. Designers can choose to feed this knowledge to players with a speedometer, or through a more simple numerical count.

But rudimentary information is not all that needs presenting to players. We all know games are more than just lives and top scores. Games evoke emotion. They have stories and plot lines and themes. Games have characters, landscapes, and environments. All of this must be presented to players. The original format for story presentation was the text-scroll. “All your base are belong to us” was as effective as it got back then. But technology has improved. And with it, game design. Since the days of text-scrolls, the continuous arrival of superior technology has inspired new opportunities for different kinds of presentation. The next-gen systems offer previously impossible or unavailable possibilities. Seamless presentation is profiting the most from these advancements.

The last area of presentation is interaction, which many would likely argue is the largest contributory element to gameplay. The presentation of interaction refers to how, or in what ways, players effect, manipulate, or respond to a game through control. Video games have always been about interaction. But just like other aspects of the medium, interaction can be presented in various ways. As we delve deeper into the next-generation of video games, a more immersive seamless approach to interaction is beginning to take hold.
The HUD or user-interface has been around since games were invented, but video games are increasingly presenting this very same information in a more seamless manner. One example is Lionhead Studios' Fable 2. The game is yet to be released, but already it is apparent that most everything the RPG has to offer will be presented with immersive gameplay in mind. This presentation includes seemingly basic information like player location and navigation. In Fable 2, players assume the role of young boy during his growth into hero or villain. During the game, players are accompanied by a pet dog to train, play, and fight with. The dog is more than just some superficial addition; governed by complex artificial-intelligence, dog and player can complete realistic and intelligent interactions. In his 2007 Game Developer's Conference presentation, Peter Molyneuax, head of Lionhead Studios and lead designer of Fable 2, demonstrates and discusses the dog as a functional aspect of gameplay.

“We ask what is his job here. What sort of gameplay can we get out of this dog? His job at this stage, he stays in front of me. That's very important. Quite often with co-op characters in games they stay to the side of you, or behind you. He's in front, he's scouting, he's looking for treasure, he's looking for new things. That's very important.”

“You'll notice that something is missing in this [television] screen. And what is it? It is, it used to be here [pointing to the top-right of the game screen], the mini-map. God I hate that thing. I hate the fact that in Fable 1, you could play the whole of Fable 1 with the mini-map. The millions of pounds and hundreds of hours of work that we put in the world were worth nothing cause you were playing the whole thing on the mini-map. Can we get rid of that mini-map? Can't he be your guide [pointing at the dog]? When you come to a junction like this can he point you down there? Now he's not a complete solution, but he's a partial solution.”

The mini-map is a standard piece of game presentation. It shows players their relative position, their surroundings, and usually their destination as well. And it serves these purposes nicely. But as Molyneuax suggests, the mini-map is so convenient, it actually interferes with a players' immersion in the game world. The dog in Fable 2 achieves the same purposes as the mini-map, but presents them in a much more seamless fashion. Instead of a mini-map showing a bird's-eye view of nearby paths, the dog will run ahead of players and actually trace the paths out and, to the best of the AI's knowledge, dynamically lead players to their destinations. Moreover, the dog, being a dog, has heightened senses and will recognize the presence of nearby enemies, and as any good hunting dog would, will bark and alert players to their presence. This is contrasted with red dots representing enemies on a circle in the corner of the screen. The dog is just one example of Fable 2's seamless presentation. The dog immerses players in their surroundings through player-interaction and the emulation of a real-life creature. At the same time, the dog is seamlessly presenting to players vital gameplay information with its behavior.

A second game offering seamless presentation of information is Valve's soon to be released Team Fortress 2, an online-multiplayer first-person-shooter. Team Fortress 2 is all about class-based team competition; players join opposing teams to fight as any of nine different character classes. Each class plays differently, possessing several inherent strengths and weakness that deign them either prone or resilient to other character types. Therefore, it is essential that players immediately acknowledge who are their allies and also who are their enemies. Team Fortress 2 is a fast paced game, players need to process player-class identity quickly to tactically adapt to any situation. To achieve this end, Valve employed a unique, pervading art direction which was fully-integrated with gameplay. In an “illustrative rendering” video featurette, a Valve team-member discusses the art design of Team Fortress 2:

“Through very intentional art direction, this goal was supported by designing characters with distinct silhouettes that can be easily identified even with no lighting cues. The body proportions, weapons, and silhouette lines were explicitly designed to give each character a unique silhouette. In the shaded interior areas of the characters, the clothing folds were designed to echo silhouette shapes in order to emphasize the silhouettes as observed in the commercial illustrations which inspired our designs.”
The individual character models are directly incorporated into the game world and gameplay, making for a seamless presentation of meaningful information. This art direction is not limited to characters alone but is indeed applied to the game's entirety, including an allowance for quick discrimination of team color and map location:

“For the architectural elements of the world associated with each of the two teams, we defined specific contrasting properties. While the red teams architecture tends to use warm colors, wooden materials, and angular geometry, the blue teams buildings are composed of cool colors, industrial materials, and orthogonal forms.”

By designing gameplay around a united art direction, Valve is immersing players more fully into Team Fortress 2. Valve's greatest achievement is their integration of gameplay with visuals. Every aspect of the game works in concert to both immerse players and give them the information they need to play well.

As we discussed before, information is only one area of game presentation. Our second type is equally important: theme and story. An excellent example of this is Shadow of the Colossus, an action-adventure title designed by Fumito Ueda and developed by Sony's SCEI studio. Shadow of the Colossus is about self-discovery, and more importantly, is about self-discovery through gameplay. Several themes are presented to the player via seamless means; among these are solitude and compunction.

In Shadow of the Colossus players become a man known only as “Wander.” The player's only mission is to resurrect a girl named Mono. To complete his quest, Wander must destroy sixteen different colossi, gigantic living stone creatures. With the help of a horse named Agro, players explore and traverse an expansive world to individually locate and defeat each beast.
In their search, players are meant to feel alone, isolated. In addition to the main character's name, Ueda presents this isolated feeling in a few ways; all of which are very simple but highly effective. In all of the game world there are only two characters aside from Wander and Agro. This in itself makes for a feeling of loneliness, being unable to interact with other people. A second effect is the size and desolation of the game landscape. Wander is dwarfed not only by the colossi but by the environments as well. The environment is constructed largely of big rock cliffs and deep, long valleys, presenting to players a sense of barrenness and emptiness. The third technique is silence; there is never music playing while Wander and Argo are traveling the land. Only the sounds of hoof beats and wind are emitted. These elements of desolation are naturally integrated into the world, seamlessly presenting a feeling of isolation to players.

Another game that has fantastic presentation of story and theme is Irrational Games' (now known as 2K Boston) recently released BioShock. BioShock takes place in desecrated underwater city called Rapture. What was intended to be a paradise has been destroyed by greed and madness. During their exploration of Rapture players must find a way to survive while searching for the reason behind the city's fall.
Players are wholly immersed in the world of BioShock. Visually, aurally, and interactively, players experience Rapture as if it were real. The story is presented to players primarily through audio-clips, being one of the most advanced pieces of technology available to Rapture. These audio logs were recorded by individuals of Rapture and are strewn throughout the game world, waiting to be discovered on desktops, dead-bodies, and enemies. Players are able to play each tape they find and as they do so learn more and more about Rapture's history. The varying denizens of Rapture offer differing accounts and perspectives of the city, allowing players to formulate their own opinions. This piece of story presentation is both functional and natural, immersing players in the game world while at the same time conveying necessary and interesting information about it.

As players explore Rapture they discover the primary theme of BioShock: no place is perfect for everyone, there is no eden for all. Players realize this theme through personal experience simply by walking through Rapture . Rapture is falling apart, ethically societally, and literally. Rapture was built to last forever, underwater and separated from other imposing societies. But in the cities negligence and metaphorical implosion, the beauty that was has been all but destroyed. Statues of grandeur once lining the walls are now nothing more than heaps of broken stone. Paintings are torn, wood is splintered and burning, the entire city feels forsaken. Even worse, the walls are leaking. No matter how well contained they build Rapture there will always be leaks.
The world of Rapture and this play experience serves to reflect the game's themes. Levine and the team at Irrational Games are presenting to players a world of moral corruption by allowing them to directly and representationally experience the effects of Rapture's greed. BioShock immerses players in Rapture with immaculate graphics and sound effects, seamlessly presenting players the story of Rapture and the themes and messages meant to be taken away.

The final point of seamless presentation is interaction. One title that has become very popular this past year exemplifies seamless interaction quite well: Wii Sports. Nintendo's Wii was specifically designed to be highly interactive and Wii Sports takes advantage of this goal quite well. Wii Sports is actually five games in one, featuring simulations of sports titles tennis, golf, boxing, bowling, and baseball. While some of these simulations are more successful than others, they all were designed with the same principle in mind: immersive interaction. With Wii Sports, Nintendo is presenting an alternative to analog sticks and buttons; they are presenting interaction that is more involving and in effect more seamless in its emulation of real-life activities.
In the tennis side of Wii Sports players swing the Wii remote as if it were an actual tennis racket, and similarly in baseball mode, swing the controller like they would a bat. In golf, players tee-off and putt as if holding a club. The remote becomes a virtual ball in bowling. And in boxing players grip and punch the nun-chuck and remote like they are truly throwing hooks.
Naturally, each of these games require different input methods or swings to play. But Nintendo designed the game to be simple renditions of each sport. Nintendo chose to present the games such that players can intuitively grasp the means of interaction. A controller pad as an interface does little to imitate playing tennis; swinging a remote, however, is physically fairly close to actually swinging a racket. By closely emulating reality, and requiring more active input on part of players, Wii Sports avoids the seams of button configurations and instead allows players to become immersed in their gameplay experience.

My final example of seamless presentation, and of seamless interaction, is Okami. Okami was released this time last year and developed by now disbanded Clover games. Players of Okami become sun goddess Okami Amaterasu in the form of a white wolf. The fantasy world of Okami has been invaded by a demon named Orochi and infested with a dark substance, polluting the land in a purple haze. Like Team Fortress 2, Okami was designed with very distinct, pervasive art direction inspired by the sumi-e painting style. The world's landscape is like a painting of its own, formed of large brush strokes and colored with pastels. Amaterasu exists in a living painting. Though this is cool in itself, the amazing thing about Okami's art style is how it crosses the gap from being purely aesthetic to wholly interactive.
As Amaterasu, players possess whats called a celestial brush that allows them to interact with and directly effect the game world. By holding R1 the screen becomes a canvas for painting. Manipulating the face buttons and analog stick, players are able to maneuver a paint brush and interface with the canvas as they please. Brush strokes from a finished canvas are transposed into the game, assuming form, shape, and function. Painting a line through the ground, for example, will create a stream of flowers, while painting a dot will plant a seed that quickly sprouts into a tree. Throughout the game, players learn new brush techniques which allow for new and helpful interactions. Painting a circle in water will create a large lily pad for Amaterasu to stand on; painting a spiral will create wind that blows out fire; and filling in the broken gap of a bridge will repair the damage.

Clover has synergized art-style with interaction. The celestial brush not only matches this feeling but is integral to gameplay, allowing players to naturally transform their painted world as needed. Okami is not special in allowing players to interact with the world, but rather is so for its presentation, the style by which players interact. The immersion as a player is derived from painting on a world that looks and feels just like a painting. Okami allows players to interact with the game seamlessly, using a paint brush as a means to affect a painted landscape.

Presentation is the form in which information is appropriated to players. Seamlessly presenting information is to do so in an immersive manner, allowing players to feel more absorbed within the game. I could go on about the dialogue system of Mass Effect, or the free-running or Assassin's Creed, or the minimalistic style of Defcon; but if we simply open our eyes we will see more clearly how many games involve players more completely and bring about a rich, enthralling gameplay experience for them. By seamlessly presenting information, story and theme, and interaction, we can immerse players more fully into our games and come that much closer to meeting, even exceeding, our definition of next-gen gameplay.

Image Sources
The Pieta
GRAW 2
Team Fortress 2 Characters
Team Fortress 2
Okami
Fable 2
Bioshock
Wii Sports

Thursday, November 15

Jungle Beat Game Design

I've been playing alot of Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat as of late. Jungle Beat is a title for the Gamecube developed by Nintendo EAD, the very same studio behind Super Mario Galaxy, as a matter of fact. Jungle Beat is an amazing game. Besides the fact that its just plain fun, the design behind the whole thing is nothing short of genius. Playing as Donkey Kong, players employ a bongo peripheral to roam through a series of side-scrolling levels. The game is divided into seventeen kingdoms, each represented by a different fruit. Each kingdom is divied into three levels that must be played in consecutive order to complete the kingdom as a whole. The first two levels of each kingdom are side-scrolling, platforming stages, where DK must reach the fruit at the finish of each stage to move forward. The final level of each kindgom is a boss fight.
This is an outdated screen. The bar along the top is actually in the bottom-right corner, in a much more aesthetic form.

The goal of the platforming stages is to earn "beats," which itself is achieved by collecting bananas. Bananas come in single form or in bundles; however, the quantity of beats players earn from bananas is determined via a combo system. And the combo system is entirely skill-based, and robust. For example, bananas net greater beats from being clapped than being touched. Also, players can string together combo points by chaining together aerial tricks; the bigger the combo chain, the greater number of beats will be awarded players per banana collected while the combo is in effect. After each stage is complete, players play a minigame to collect as many bananas as possible in a short time limit before the next stage begins.The final level of each kingdom is a boss fight. Here is where the game changes, and becomes so fascinating: no bananas and no beats can be earned from boss fights. Instead, the beat count from the previous two stages coalesce into a health bar for DK. The entire goal of the boss fight is to win without getting heart. Because each time DK is damaged during a boss fight he loses health, and therefore beats.When the boss is defeated and the kingdom complete the final beat count is tallyed. This final tally awards players a rank for that kingdom, given in the form of crests, of which there are either bronze, silver, gold, or platinum. Simply finishing the kingdom, one beat, awards players a bronze crest. 400 earns a silver crest, 800 a gold, and 1200 a platinum.

The crests serve to unlock new kingdoms. Kingdoms come in sets, four kingdoms to a set. Completing a set unlocks a new set. But crests unlock kingdoms within the sets. It may take 16 total crests, earned by completing multiple kingdoms, to unlock a higher kingdom.

The moral of the story is this is genius game design. The gameplay has a progression, which can be seen as follows.
  1. Player Skill
  2. Beats Earned
  3. DK Health Bar
  4. Boss Battle Skill
  5. Final Beat Count/Player's Score
  6. Crests Earned
  7. Kingdom Unlocked/Award for Player Skill
Thus, we can see that the player's skill in the core game feeds into everything else. Players who use the game's combo system and fight bosses effectively are awarded with a high final beat count, which doubles as a representation of their gameplay skills. Players are awarded with crests for playing well, and subsequently awarded with new kingdoms to play in. And the cycle begins again. See? Genius.

And this is what makes Jungle Beat so awesome. It focuses on what video games do best: gameplay. It utilizes a system both relient upon and rewarding of player skill. Therefore, players feel compelled to play well, for reward and for the satisfaction of that ever-elusive high score count. You can always play better.

Which brings me back to the beginning. All of this would be moot if Jungle Beat didn't have a robust combo system in place. The whole reason this progression system works is because the gameplay is so deep. The combo system is highly functional. Beats are reflective of player skill, and "skill" only exists because the gameplay was specifically designed to be dynamic, to allow for variance in play and play style.

Oh! And for the record this creates amazing replay-value, which people seem to value so highly these days. For some reason.

p.s. Sorry about the image-quality. All Jungle Beat images online are of this terrible quality; its the best I could do.

p.s.s. For more information on specifics of Jungle Beat please see Jorik Mandemaker's FAQ. Or just buy the game.

p.ssssssss....Can you believe the L-Block won!

Friday, October 12

Puzzles, Learning, Shifting Gameplay Dynamics, and Design Limitations

Do you like Half-Life 2: Portal? Of course you do; you'd be crazy not to. The team at Armor Games loved it so much they created a flash version, for all of you who don't have computers good enough to run the real deal. Obviously the flash game was created as a port of sorts of the first-person-shooter. Even so, Portal: The Flash Version stands on its own as a fantastic game. You should definitely play it.

Another awesome flash puzzle game is Launchball. Launchball almost has an edutainment feel, it teaches players about physics and power sources and all sorts of cool stuff. The goal is to get a ball from its launch point to the goal in a series of levels. Players must use a specifc palette of blocks to achieve this goal. The blocks come in the form of springs, wind turbines, batteries, and any number of other forms. Whats cool is that all the blocks interact in realistic ways, some having to due with force, others with power. The game is seriously fun.

Both of these games are fun, worthwhile investments of one's time. What makes them so fun, like all good puzzle games, is that genuine, powerful feeling of accomplishment you receive as a player as you work your way through the levels. Good puzzle games are, at their core, about learning. And learning is fun. Portal gives you a basic explanation of the portal gun's functions. Launchball gives you basic explanations of each block type. Its up to the player to figure out everything else. I will always argue that experimental learning is the best type of learning. From experimental learning is derived the greatest sense of satisfaction. In Portal players learn the properties of momentum and how concepts like right and up have to be percieved in a completely new way. In Launchball players learn how all the block types are interconnected, how they effect one another; then they must apply this knowledge to judge the placement of each block.

This is the beauty of these games. The process of learning. The games are fun for those "aha!" moments, when you figure out exactly how to use your knoweldge, and you think, "I'm a Friggen' Genius!" And you are. Good puzzle games make geniuses out of all of us. And thats an amazing feeling.

Before I let you while the hours away playing awesomeness, there one more thing I want to say about each game. Critiques, if you will.

Keep in mind I am discussing the flash version of Portal throughout this article, not Half-Life 2: Portal. As the levels progress in Portal (I'm on level 28, currently), a new gameplay dimension is introduced, requiring another set of skills on part of the player aside from critical thinking and problem solving. Later levels of Portal require timing and dexterity. This gameplay addition is interesting for a couple reasons. One, by the time you get to these speed required levels, you have mastered everything else the game has to offer. If mapped out, the game difficulty would look something like a snake curve: there are peaks of difficulty, then dips of simplicity. These valleys in difficulty result from players having already learned the concepts needed applying to the levels. Eventually, the game has taught players, or rather, players have taught themselves, everything they need to know about velocity and gravity and portal jumping. When the levels requiring problem solving alone reach their peak in difficulty, Portal introduces another dimension of gameplay, dexterity.

This design decision makes sense. The game has nothing new to offer, nothing new with wich to challenge the player. So, when critical thinking has already been mastered, the next obvious design choice is dexterity and timing. Players must now time their portal jumps to coincide with the flow of electrical fields and react quickly enough to avoid spiked walls. These physical challenges become more nad more difficult as the levels progress. My issue with this gameplay addition is that, once it hits, we're playing a completely different game. The challenge now is not to figure out how to solve the level's puzzles, you've already got that down; the new challenge is to portal jump quickly enough and at the right time, and to make sure you land on platforms correctly. What was once a game of learning mechanics and using them to solve each puzzle, is now a game that requires players to pass through the hole at the right time, and to jump and run the right distance quickly enough. You no longer have fun figuring out how to solve a puzzle. Now, you may or may not have fun trying to time a jump correctly. Regardless, the game really isn't the same anymore. I feel like this change completely alters the gameplay so much, that its really not even the same game anymore. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? Or is it neither? The game could have potentially thrown more criticial thinking problems at the player and then finished. But what the game did instead is to offer the palyer a new challenge. Weather or not you like this new face of Portal is, perhaps, a personal thing.

Launchball's gameplay does not change throughout the game, like Portal does. But Launchball has its own entirely different issues. The problem is that each block has a specific function, a very specific function, and usually a single function. Not only that, but the function is explicitly explained to players. Furthermore, the level layout sometimes lends itself to fairly obvious solutions. If there's a gap inbetween blocks you pretty much know where to put your spare blocks. Though the blocks are all interconnected, each only functions in a specific way, so if you have a wind generator you know you need to blow a wind turbine on it to work. Essentially,what makes the game so unique and fun, also limits its challenge. I think the game is awesome for its educational elements, and for its experimental learning. But sometimes the learning is hampered by the blocks functioning in such obvious ways. These games are awesome, but as a blog about game design, we want to look at how the games function, why certain things work, and why others don't. And then we need to learn from playing these games, learn what makes them successful, or otherwise, and apply them to our games.

But don't let me get you down. I've had so much fun, so much fun playing these games the last few days. I have no doubts that you will also. Open up some tabs and tear away at Portal and Launchball.

Source: Kotaku

Thursday, October 4

Indiegames.com Launched




The CMP Group has launched the official Indie Games Development website. These are the same peeople behind gamasutra.com, the Independant Games Festival, and Game Developer Magazine, so we know the site is in good hands. The site already has a good start so be sure to check it out.

Via Kotaku

Burnout Paradise+Remix=Awesome

Earlier today I was watching this trailer for Burnout Paradise and I immediately noticed something very familiar. The music playing is the same as the intro music from Burnout 2: Point of Impact.



Awesome, no?
The act in itself of booting up Burnout 2 is fun. Because as soon as the Criterian logo hits, BAM, the music starts up and your in the game. Besides the fact that Burnout 2 is amazing in most every respect, that opening music does more to get me hyped than any other game I've played. (Its also possible that this song is featured in Burnout 3 or 4 or one of the other versions, but if so I havent played them enough to hear it.) I get a similar sensation when playing Metroid Prime or Ocarina of Time, the respective music and video introductions set a fantastic mood before the games even begin. Pretty sweet. Are there any games that have a similar effect for you?

Tuesday, October 2

Echochrome: Principle-Based Design

Echochrome is about playing with perspective. The game is currently in development at SCEA Studios Japan for PSP and the PS3 Network. Echochrome isn't the first game to play with perspective, another recent title, Crush, featured a similar play style. But perspective as a play structure isn't really what we want to look at today anyway, instead we want to look at perspective as a function of game design. Echochrome features a simple but highly effective design schema: principle-based design. Many, and indeed, possibly all good video games use this very same design method. Alot times people want to make video games far more complicated than they need to be, which in the end just makes them convoluted piles of confusion.Principle-based game design, to eschew the non-descriptive title, can more easily be defined as a style of designing games around a set of guiding principles. The beauty of principle-based game design is its functionality in gameplay. Echochrome is a perfect example of principle-based game design because it really strips the term down to its most basic roots.

Watch this video:


Echochrome has one overarching principle: what you see is true. The gameplay is governed by five principles, all of which rely on the same method of control, which is perspective. The five principles are as follows:
  • Subjective Translation
    • Connect pathways to create new avenues.
  • Subjective Landing
    • The character will land on what appears to be below.
  • Subjective Existence
    • Cover over gaps to form a continuous pathway.
  • Subjective Abscence
    • Same as Subjective Existence. Cover up holes to make it as if they aren't there.
  • Subjective Jump
    • The character will land on what appears to be above.
The game is run by these laws, or principals. Once the players understands the laws, all that is required from them to solve the puzzles is critical thinking and the use of this knowledge. More broadly, designing a game with principles for gameplay allows designer's to build the game around those laws, kniwning that players understand the rules by which the game is governed. And really, this is how most games are played. You learn a game's mechanics, then you use them to overcome the game's challenges. Obviously there are plenty of other factors, like skill and chance, but truly, principle-based game design is an excellent foundation.

Here is another demonstration of Echochrome's principals taken from an earlier development state.

Saturday, September 8

Shadow Monsters

Shadows are very, very near and dear to my heart. Thats why this concept is so cool. Its called Shadow Monsters. The hand shadows are actually being changed via the projector. The system was designed by Worthers' Original.

What is really interesting, is as I was watching it I began to look for consistency. Its quite possible you did so as well. You can actually see diagrams of the projectors functions in the background of the main website. I think its funny I looked for its inner workings so quickly. A big issue in video games as of late is the consistency of a players' input. In particular, this is mentioned for Wii and PS3 motion control quite frequently. When analyzing the video, I was looking for consistency. "Ok, how do I make an eye, how do I make teeth?" Why valid questions, I soon realized I was looking at the game the wrong way. It doesn't matter how specific images or sounds are generated. Thats not the purpose of the game. The purpose of the game is to have fun creating awesome-crazy looking monsters that bark and wail at each other. And laughing. I'm sure the projector does determine these effects somehow. But its besides the point. The game really just wants you to have fun playing around with shadow puppets and watching them morph and interacting with the changes. Its awesome.

Kotaku
Shadow Monsters

BioShock, Choice, and Emotion

Kotaku the other day linked me to an article over at Sexy Videogame Land, a blog by Leigh Alexander. The article is entitled "The Mechanics of choice," and reads about the recently released BioShock from Irrational Games (now 2K Boston), emotion in videogames, as well as choice. I would entreat you to read the entire article, it isn't long, but I will quote for discussion purposes regardless. Alexander starts off her article with a fantastic statement:
I've heard a lot of discussion about how much choice there is (or isn't) in BioShock on the matter of the Little Sisters, and in gaming in general. People have been saying for years they want more choice in games, and they want to see the gameplay reflect their choices. We want consequences both foreseen and unforeseen; we want the opportunity to make a moral decision without knowing exactly what we'll get out of it. We don't want, as some gamers have called it, a mere "cost-benefit analysis." In other words, at the core of any gaming experience, no matter how intense, it's still a game; you are still an explorer, a combatant, and you have a protagonist with stats to manage. In the end, choice in games may simply come down, at least historically and at present, to what gains you want for your character and what you're willing to trade. It's not a moral issue at all, then, but the simple exchange of boost for penalty, choice being a factor only insofar as you can decide which bonuses you want and which you can do without, and perhaps which cutscene you'd rather see, which ending you'd rather get.
I think she's right. But before I go on, I implore you, read the entire article. Alexander says so many interesting things, and so very well, I couldn't possily replicate her argument if I tried. Plus it will get your minds working and put you in the right mindset to continue reading this post.
Finished? Fantastic. Let us contiue. We are offered choices in video games, particularly RPGs, but what do these choices amount to, and, what governs our decisions?

I have not played BioShock, everything I know about the game is from what I've read, watched or heard. Everything I'm going to say concerning BioShock is not based on personal experience. What Alexander is arguing, is that though BioShock touts actual choice based upon emotion, when confronted with little sisters and big daddys, the choices actually do little more then affect your character's stats. Therefore, when playing BioShock, what decisions or what frame of mind is governing players' choices? Do players' make decisions with their conscience? Are emotions the motivator by which players respond to the game and make their choices? Or, is the game guiding players' choices? Is the in-game effect or result of a player's choices the true hand that sculpts that player's decisions? At what point does a game's functional reward infringe upon players' emotions? From Alexander's article:
Add in the fact that we're trained to predict what the game "wants" us to do. In the RPG genre, choice often comes down to which answer you pick to a question. . . .Could it be though, that we as players have been conditioned to look at our gaming experience as a cost-benefit analysis? What is it, exactly, that we're hoping to "get" from a game that offers us choices?....do values and identity really mean nothing because it's only a game?
Let's say a little sister is at your whim. Do you save her? Do you let her live because you think it wrong to harvest her adam? Wrong to kill her for your own benefit? Or, do you kill her, take her precious adam? And if so, why? Do you kill the little sister because you don't think she deserves to live? Do you kill her because you want her adam, you want your character become more powerful? Or do you kill her because you need her adam? You feel that without it, you will not be able to survive much longer in the destroyed paradise that is BioShock?

The beauty is: Every answer is correct. You, the player, are always right? You can save the little sisters, you can kill them, and you can do so for whatever reasons please you. And you know what, thats awesome. The choices that players make aren't what we're trying to get at, but rather why players make these choices.
The choice is yours.

I think it entirely possible, even probable, that players make decisions of their own accord. Some players will kill the little sisters, other will let them live. The only thing infringing on the players' free-will is when necessity governs their choices. In other words, if players feel like they need to kill the little sisters to complete the game, then I can guarentee you that's what they'll do. Here is the problem: If indeed the game necessitates players to kill the little sisters and harverst their adam to complete the game, then all potential emotional input is lost, null. If we as designers truly want emotion to govern play, then we cannot allow, under any circumstances, in-game results such as character ability or otherwise control players' decisions with finality.

But there is a margin. When does the game choosing for you, based on necessity, diverge from the players' actual emotional decisions? Lets say it is not necessary to harvest every little sister, or even a single one, to play through the game. It may be, I don't know. However, as we know, when players do harvest the adam, they are rewarded, in-game, with a boost in character statistics, skill, and ability. Which in turn offers new ways to play the game and approach its various situations. In other words, more ways to have fun. Therefore, we are now presenting players with true options, true choice. And these choices are governed by two things, primarily: more ways to have fun/character ability, and personal emotional impact. Alexander finishes her article as such:
After a while, I started letting the Little Sisters squirm a sec after I'd felled their Daddy. . . .Now, I chase the Little Sisters down. I want 'em. It's like I can't wait; I deserve that Adam after what I went through to get it. Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?. . . .I made some choices. And now, much to my surprise, I'm becoming something I hate. And I love it. Cost-benefit regardless, the choices in this game are beyond the mechanics. The merit of choice in games may not be what we get from it, but when done this richly, how it feels.
This is what games are all about. As Alexander says, regardless of in-game effects, she has made moral decisions and is reaping they're emotional effects. Games can impact people. We just need to make sure we allow players to choose and not force them to through in-game necessity. What BioShock can do is amazing. More importantly, BioShock represents how video games have the potential to effect people in real, tangible ways--and not just on the screen.BioShock teaches people that they can be manipulated. Some may argue, "but the little sisters aren't real, they're a collection of polygons animated to create the illusion of life." True, but in essence wrong. Its not the little sisters that matter, its is how they effect you emotionally that does.

If people can feel remorse for how they've interacted with a set of polygons, and learn something about themselves as a result, then video games really do have a power to effect people. When players decide, when they choose for themselves (hopefully without the game forcing them to do so), to kill a little sister, to steal her adam, then they are emotionally responsible for that decision.

We've been taught as human beings that killing is wrong. In choosing to kill a cluster of polygons for personal benefit, people are teaching themselves a real life lesson, and will therefore pay the consequences for their actions, in-game, and out. And thats a beautiful thing. It really is. This is part of what makes game design so amazing. Our ability to affect people. Designing a game around emotional choice, and pulling it off, is nothing short of extrordinary.

Remember that "What is Next-Gen" series of posts I made? The answer is emotion. Graphics, sound, multiplayer, all important in their own right, to be sure. But emotion coupled with interaction is the true hallmark of a next-generation game, andis whats going to take video games to the next level.

Artwork by Rahll
Screenshots from Official BioShock Website

Saturday, September 1

Halo Wars: My Opinion

I've done some thinking about Halo Wars since my last post. The question I posed to both myself and you readers was whether Halo Wars should be designed for balance in the tradition of an RTS, or more so in the tradition of Halo itself. I was undecided on the matter. I thought it important for Halo Wars to have balanced play considering its importance in the RTS genre. However, as Halo Wars is also a Halo franchise product, and not just an RTS, it should stay true to the style and feel of Halo, considering its genetics, so to speak. I was deliberating which was more important when it hit me: The answer, A, is that both franchise and genre are equally important, and B, that neither should have to be compromised for the other's sake?Going back to the issue that started this question, the warthog. The warthog in Halo Wars is like an invincible giant compared to the warthog of Halo yore. It does move like a warthog, true, but by no means does it, or its riders, appear to take damage like one would expect. In fact it seems that Halo Wars is merely a superficial skin on what appears to be no more a standardized RTS template. Maybe thats harsh, addmittedly my knowledge of the game is limited and the game itself nowhere near completetion. Therefore everything I say should be understood with these concessions in mind.

The question I keep asking myself is: whay can't Halo Wars be both Halo and RTS? And you say, "Duh! It is. Thats the point." And I totally agree. But not with the game in its current state. I mean why can't Halo Wars really be "Halo" and "Wars?" Their is nothing wrong with the game being an RTS, indeed it makes sense considering the franchise's history. But who ever said Halo Wars has to be built on the same basic RTS blueprints as every other RTS ever made? Noone (except for maybe Microsoft, who knows). My point is, Halo Wars should play like an RTS but feel like Halo.
I love how the warthog moves, and I love that it can jump huge gaps; its an awesome feature. But the warthog should be just as susceptible defensively as it always has been. As things stand now, the warthog is more like a tank, which it isn't. Hypothetically, it could zoom around and shoot at the same time, perhaps automatically, like airplanes do in Supreme Commander. But, really, Ensemble could do absolutely anything, anything they want. But whatever they do I think its necessitous to retain the Halo feel.

My opinions are premature, to be sure, and probably sound a bit more severe in writing than how I actually feel. But who cares? My opinion is moot, really. Yours, however, is not. What do you think?

Also, I should note that the date system in my blog is working incorrectly. This post was actually made on Sunday, September 2nd. And the previous post on September 1st. I've looked through all the settings and there seems to be nothing wrong. There must be something wrong with the code. Bear with me while I figure out what the problem is, thanks.

Tuesday, August 28

Designing to a System: FPS Ports

Oftentimes, first-person-shooters are ported from PC to console, or visa-versa. Some of these ports fit the boot, others don't. The problem is: if a game is designed for PC, it will have a harder time working for consoles. Likewise, if an FPS is designed for consoles, it may not play as well WASD style. Still yet, some console experiences may play quite differently when ported to another console. A quote from Gamespot's Metroid Prime 3: Corruption review.
If this all sounds like a lot of fun, it's because it is. Yet Corruption's focus on refined FPS mechanics and general sense of familiarity keep it from being as special as the other Prime titles. Just like Resident Evil 4 would have felt different--and arguably worse--had its controls been stripped down to a simple FPS scheme, Corruption loses some of its sense of wonder and strangeness on the Wii. Rather than being a true action adventure, it's hard to lose the sense that it's merely an FPS with trimmings. Its core control scheme is a revelation, but the resulting tempo adjustment and streamlining is missing some of the careful pacing that made Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2 so superb. Still, any fan ought to enjoy this outing in spite of those quibbles, thanks to a good number of awesome, involved environmental puzzles and delightful (albeit fairly easy) boss fights.
I don't know about you, but I find this fascinating. Just as Gamespot explains, some of Prime's wonder was its adventure genre focus in the form of pacing, movement, and action speed. I'm well aware that Corruption was designed specifically for Wii, but the Metroid Prime series was not. So what began as a slower-paced adventure series experienced some changes in its transition to Wii. The result, according to Gamespot, is an alteration of game speed and even mood, which they find negative in those respects.The control is better in Corruption, I think most people would argue, or at least quicker and more accurate. Or is it? Because the new control scheme does mess with some of Prime's core concepts, perhaps Corruption doesn't control better after all. However, it should be noted that Retro has significantly altered game difficulty for Corruption, taking into account Wii's pinpoint control scheme. Enemies will dodge and evade you, and the lock-on mechanism will fail when an enemy escapes your vision. So in terms of combat, Retro Studios has adapted Metroid Prime to meet its new console. Whether or not this is true for the adventure element is up for debate. Your thoughts?Another game entirely was also recently ported from Xbox to PC, this being Halo 2 of course. Lets read Gamespy's thoughts on the transition in terms of control:
The controls veer between great and annoying. Compared to the Xbox, both aiming and shooting feel a little bit better on PC. Being able to finally use the mouse and keyboard makes a huge difference for aim-intensive weapons; the mouse turns us into lethal machines with the sniper rifle, or even both the battle rifle and the Covenant carbine (when using the zoom scope in each gun).

As huge and awesome a difference that the mouse brings to aiming, there is an equal step backwards: walking feels extremely slow. We know that Master Chief is a hefty dude, but the walking speed on the keyboard makes it feel like the Master Chief is towing a Warthog jeep behind him everywhere he goes; hopping in a vehicle is a bigger rush simply because it's much faster to get where you're going than on foot.
I find this interesting as well. The plain fact is that Halo 2 was designed for the Xbox. The Xbox has two analog sticks that each control Master Chief's movement and aiming, respectively. Pc's meanwhile have a WASD/Mouse setup. Theres no question that when Master Chief plays computer he can turn much quicker than on Xbox. But the problem is that his movement feels that much more sluggish. PC players expect alot of precision in their FPS aiming. But FPS's designed for PC allow playes to move and jump much quicker as well. When aiming speed doesn't match movement speed, then playing suddenly feels unbalanced.What do you think of all of this? Especially if you've played either Metroid Prime 3 or Halo 2 on PC, let me know your thoughts. The moral of the story is that control is so fricken important to video games, that its essential that games are designed specifically for one control scheme or otherwise specifically designed with multiple control schemes in mind.

Monday, August 27

Halo Wars: Staying True

Ensemble Studios, the team behind the Age of Empires series, is working with Microsoft on another RTS based on a completely different franchise: Halo Wars.

Halo Wars is an interesting animal. Halo was originally intended to be an RTS, but in the end became an FPS, as we all know. Now Microsoft is dishing out the original goods with a new RTS based on the Halo franchise. While Halo Wars may seem like a perfect fit for the franchise considering its history, Ensemble is in fact designing one big juggling act.

What is more important: That Halo Wars stays true to Halo, or that Halo Wars is a good RTS. Its an interesting question and not one so readily answered as one might think. Watch the following video, and while doing so, think about this question.


Did you notice anything? What happens to a guy that decides to sit idly in a warthog? He gets sniped, instantly. Heck, warthog drivers get sniped just as often while moving. Such is the nature of Halo. But is it, or rather should it be, the nature of Halo Wars?

The thing about RTSs is that they need to be balanced. The thing about Halo is that people get capped nigh every second. That fact that how ever many covenant can't take out two warthogs, or at least their drivers, is completely absurd. For Halo. But as an RTS, maybe the over-powered warthog isn't so ridiculous afterall. How is it possible for Ensemble to retain the Halo feel in its translation to the RTS genre?I do not have an answer, nor an opinion at the moment. I shall reflect on it a while longer and let you know my thoughts. But what do you think?


On a completely different note: this screenshot from Devil May Cry 4 owns my soul. So does this parody on Rayman Raving Rabbids and Assassin's Creed. Except that it would technically be "Bunny's Creed."