Monday, April 30

Aspects of Too Human

Too Human recently recieved week-long coverage at IGN. Also, lead designer of Too Human, Dennis Dyack, was interview by Gamasutra today. This surge of news has revealed many details of Too Human that as a game designer I'm more than willing to dig into.Too Human is in development at Silicon Knights exclusively for the Xbox 360. The game is actually the first in a trilogy, but for now, the only details Microsoft and SK are revealing are on the first entry. This will be Silicon Knights' first game for the 360, having broken off from Nintendo in 2005. Though two years may seem long enough, Too Human was originally designed for the Playstation, and then moved onto the N64 before scrapped again in favor of its newest version. The game has change much since its beginnings, though, and is one of the most anticipated 360 titles due to release this year. There is plenty to discuss about Too Human, but there are two things in particular I wanted to mention pertaining to game design. One is the camera system; the other is the crippling of gameplay.Lets compare movies and games for a moment. Movies have automatically controlled cameras, not during filming of course, but what viewers see is what the director intended for them to see. Furthermore, viewers don't have to worry about the camera. They can watch a film and simply be present experiencing it. Obviously games are different, they're interactive, and thats the point. However, in 99% of games, players must split their focus. Players must pay attention to playing the game, controlling it and succeeding at the game. But, most of the time, players must also focus on keeping the camera centered on characters, targets, and goals. Camera control is part of gameplay, but in a way it also detracts from gameplay.

Camera is usually second in importance to playing the game. Players have to deal with the camera only because it is necessary to play, not because it is a necessary part of the game's enjoyment. The underlying problem is that developers rely upon player-controlled cameras because, when done right, they can work, but more so because player-controlled camera is the most successful and common camera system and, it seems, the only option. It is simply too difficult to predict what players will want or need to be looking at at any given moment. Thats why developers give players control over the camera, so they can look at what they want, when they want to. This is by and large achieved through the right analog stick. But Dennis Dyack and the team at Silicon Knights are bucking this trend. For some of Dyack's thoughts on game camera, please see an earlier post discussing this issue. What Silicon Knights has done is take the camera control out of the players hands.

Too Human features a completely automated camera. The camera will dynamically track the player's and enemies' movements to get the best shot of the action. At least in theory. The system seems to work well in practice also, according to previews and videos. Allowing the camera to control itself removes what could be called a burden from the players' hands. At least thats what the team believes. IGN interviewed creative director at Microsoft Games Studios Ken Lobb. He had this to say:
As our audience gets bigger and bigger and bigger, having all of our games be dual-analog where the right analog stick is controlling the camera is something that's not super easy, especially if you want to see a particular scene from a different angle. If you want to make something more interesting from a camera perspective, having the player control that becomes even more complex....we get this cool what you might consider a normal third person camera blended with room cameras, cameras on splines, boss cameras, and more.
Cameras are complex. Unless you have split screens, there can only be one camera shooting from one perspective at a time. Silicon Knights is doing their best to find the optimal camera, it seems. The flip side of an automated camera system, is that the right analog is free for use. Too Human's combat system is played almost entirely with the right analog stick, adopting the dual-analog scheme also seen in EA's upcoming Skate. This has been done before, in games like Grabbed by the Ghoulies, Jet Li: Rise to Honor, and even Geomotry Wars (all Xbox titles, incedentally).

The player character of Too Human, Baldur, will attack in the direction dictated by the analog stick, according to the camera's viewpoint at the time. The right and left triggers in conjunction with the right analog stick shoot the primary and secondary ranged weapons, respectively. The game has a lock-on system, too, that will auto lock depending on which way the stick is being pointed. So, really, everything is based on the analog stick, which is quite different from most games out there. Whats most interesting though, is how the auto-cam and combat system work together. Lobb sums it up well:
It gives you a nice fluid ability to switch quickly between targets on the screen without having your camera jump all over the place. It all works together. . . .When you add a layer on top of that of, "We have some pretty cool stuff you can do with the sword with the right stick," it kind of disallowed the ability to give players control over the camera at all times.So it's a nice mix of creating an experience that's more like watching a movie, making a camera that's more accessible and developing a new control paradigm around combat with the guns being on the triggers and the sword being on the stick so that you can quickly switch between guns and sword. It's all fit together nicely
Silicon Knights is aiming for speed and fluidity. They want players to be able to kill and combo enemies quickly and efficiently without worrying about controlling the camera. Too Human takes camera control away from the player and replaces its normal input method with directional combat. This way, players can free-form fight enemies while the camera smoothly follows the action. Requiring the player to control the camera would A, not allow for directionally-based combat, and B, slow down the action. People can only focus on so many things at a time, removing the camera from the players hands allows them to focus solely on ripping through enemies. The design is unique and looks to be effective as well. My only question is what came first, using the right analog stick for combat, or having an automated camera? The answer is probably both simultaneously, thats how complementary they are.

The second aspect I wanted to touch on quickly was that of crippling gameplay. First, read this previous post discussing this very issue. Second, watch the seamless cinematics video of Too Human showing off the interactive cut-scene. Keep in mind the player has full control over Baldur during this flashback scene.

Did you notice anything? The player, Baldur, cannot run, only walk. Why? For cinematic effect. I love what Silicon Knights does in this scene (and likely other scenes as well). Baldur will only walk seemingly regardless of pressure applied on the analog stick (which is analog for a reason). Some may think thats counter-intuitive, I call it art. This small aspect of design shows me how much thought and care is going into the creation of Too Human, and how small decisions over gameplay can completely change a player's experience.

Too Much?
How would you feel, preliminarily, if Too Human was controlled with the tradition scheme of button pushes and analog camera control? Why or why not would this be preferable over the actual system Silicon Knights has employed?

What do you think of developers crippling your mobility in a game? Particularly this scene in Too Human, would you rather run? Why?

Thursday, April 26

Wii: Invalid Arguments versus Actuality

OK, so I lied. I'll be posting on Warcraft III this weekend when I have the opportunity to mess with it at home. Today, I post the rant I spoke of earlier in the week. Enjoy.

There are a lot of differing view points on Nintendo's Wii. Some love it, some hate it. Some think Wii innovative, others gimmicky. One of the most controversial issues related to Wii is its lack of graphical prowess or computing horsepower relative to the 360 and PS3. At the same time, many people say graphics are irrelevant when Wii has such an innovative controller, a remote that promotes supposedly more fun and innovative gameplay.

But, you know, people too often mistake Nintendo. Many tout the remote as having massive potential for great gameplay, but what most do not realize is that marketing verboseness and great gameplay potential do not equal great games. In the end what matters is not the potential for gameplay, but the actual gameplay present in the games themselves. People can claim Nintendo to be superior to their competitors in that they are focusing on the supposedly superior aspect of video games (gameplay as opposed to graphics), but what matters most is that the games for Wii, and DS for that matter, play well.

The Wii remote is really quite amazing. But designing games for the remote is not easy by any means. In fact, a large majority of Wii's games, I think, do not play particularly well with the remote. The term “shoehorn” is thrown around a lot concerning Wii games, and much of the time the criticism is valid. Too many Wii games are ports with motion-lite remote implementation. There are a few great games that make fantastic use of Wii's potential, however. Wii Sports in particular is quite awesome, Super Swing Golf is great, and WarioWare: Smooth Moves is like a smorgasbord of fun. The game isn't out yet, but Heatseeker also looks like an interesting use of the remote, the pointing function specifically.
Here is my problem, too many people claim Wii as the king of all game systems because of its innovative remote. Graphics be darned, gameplay is all that matters. But so many of these statements come with conditions. Saying graphics aren't important is a lie. Of course they're important, we are, after all, speaking of video games. Even the most die hard Wii proponents can;t possibly be willing to put up with muddy graphics. Besides, Wii's graphics aren't bad per se, they just can't compare to the competitors'. As a side note, it is for this reason that we will see many cel-shaded or more intentionally unrealistic Wii titles over the consoles' lifespan. It is easier to make them look good on Wii, as opposed to photo-realism. The last thing I wanted to say is about the remote itself. Innovative is how most people define it. While this may be true, a more apt description is different. The remote automatically makes Wii gameplay different from that on 360 and PS3 due to its motion and pointing sensing capabilities. But more importantly, the remote has potential for better gameplay. Therefore, the better-different games will by nature be innovative in their use of the controller. The dichotomy is important; it's not so much the remote that is innovative, it is the use of the remote. Wii is a piece of hardware, a medium defined by its software. Any console is only as good as its games. Wii's power is wasted without games that creatively and effectively use the remote's capabilities.

The next time someone says to you, “Hey the Wii is so amazing, its really innovative! Who cares about stupid graphics?” Say back, “First of all it's not the Wii, it's just Wii. Secondly, your right, kind of. Wii does have a rather awesome controller, but the console is obsolete without games that fulfill its potential. Thirdly, graphics are super important, and just because Wii's graphics can't compete with the 360 or PS3 doesn't mean they're bad. Don't fall prey to PR speak, kid, and you'll grow up just fine.”

Wii logo image from Wiisworld
Controller image from Nintendo
Heatseeker image from IGN

Wednesday, April 25

Warcraft III World Editor-Visibility

The Warcraft III World Editor is a fascinating tool. I personally love using it and have spent many, many hours creating maps, or mods. I generally create hero style maps, where each player takes control of a single unit to fight with or against the other players. The interesting thing about this type of map is the issue of visibility and attack. I've been wanting to do a feature on this for a while, and now I am. So here is a rundown of all the visibility and attack things that need to be balanced for this type of mod.There are a number of things you need to note for the map in general and for each unit.

List Get! With, accompanying images. Please not the differences between each screen capture, including the lists of what is and is not present in each.
  • black mask
    • this causes everything not within player visibility to be black until explored.
  • fog of war
    • enabling fog causes areas already explored to disappear in window and in the minimap when a player unit is no longer present.
Notice how the explored area around the unit shows the ground, but no units. The black masked area to the left does not even show the ground.
  • camera distance
    • this sets the distance or heigth of the camera, other modifiers can also affect it.
  • sight radius-day, night
    • this is how far a given unit can see. 100 is very small. 1000 is rather large.
  • acquisition range
    • this is the distance a unit must be from an enemy unit to "acquire" it as a target. Units cannot auto-attack other units until they have come within their acquisition range. Even if the attack range (see below) is higher, a unit will not attack an enemy unless it is within the acquisition range.
  • attack-range
    • this is the distance a unit must be from an enemy unit to attack it. In game, when hovering over the attack type icon of a unit, the "Range" is actually the least range available to that unit. Whichever is lower, acquisition or attack is the number that will show. Also, a unit will not attack another unit that is either in a black mask or in an area covered in fog of war.
  • minimum attack range
    • this is the area immediately surrounding a unit that an enemy must be outside of to attack it. I frequently use this for ranged units, like archers. They have a far attack range, say 1000, but cannot units attack within a range of 200 or so around themselves.
  • cooldown time
    • this is the amount of time that must be pass before a unit can attack again. A low cooldown means a unit can attack very rapidly. A high cooldown means a unit must wait a while before it can attack a second time.

You can also limit the camera bounds so the player cannot pan it, and get rid of the minimap, so the player can only click in window. This creates for very restricted gameplay. I attempted to use this method in one of my games once, but it turned out to be too limiting. The most difficult part of any hero-type game is balancing all of these aspects, especially if there are multiple unit types. Tomorrow I'll post on the newest mod I've been making that deals with this issue.

Which types of Warcraft III mods are your favorite, and why?
Have you played a mod where the balance of these aspects of visibility and combat range was off, or dead on?

Tuesday, April 24

TrackMania: Sunrise-Ghost Cars

TrackMania was released for the PC in Winter of 2003. The sequel, TrackMania: Sunrise was released May 2005. Now a free expansion pack is available, dubbed eXtreme. All were developed by Nadeo. A future TrackMania title is also in development, this one called United. Named so because of its unifying online features. But for now lets talk about Sunrise and eXtreme. First though, watch this TrackMania: Sunrise eXtreme trailer, featuring the awesome song Final Countdown by Europe.
Go Speed Racer! Go!

Now that you've seen the awesomeness that is TrackMania, lets talk about its design. The game is multiplayer, you may have noticed. You also may have noticed that all cars are ghosts. There is absolutely no collision detection for any car, meaning you can't hit, run into, or bump other racers. Think about that for a moment and make note of your opinion. Lets us read a quote from a review, shall we, from GamersHell:
The biggest flaws with Trackmania Sunrise are, like its strengths, in its gameplay. Not being able to bump into other racers during a match is highly irritating, and with some of the insane tracks you'll come across during your playing experience this borders on criminal: These tracks were MADE for insane multi-car pileups and arrogant mid-air bump offs, but you'll never see either in this game. A gigantic opportunity lost, and easily the biggest flaw in the entire game. Racing is not, and will never be a solo affair, and putting the other racers in as non-interactive ghosts is pointless – Why even add them at all? Just race against a list of times, which is essentially what you are doing anyway.
Do you agree with this statement? Hit detection would give TrackMania a slightly more Burnout flair. But I actually disagree with this concept, and therefore like the direction Nadeo has taken. Trackmania is a fast paced game, and, there were at least 16 racers on that track in the trailer, all bunched together. What sort of chaos would ensue from collision? And, to what degree would collision effect a car? Would it bounce far, or only nudge it? But for TrackMania specifically, there is one big reason I'm fond of ghost cars. That is the focus on skilled driving and course maneuvering. The tracks in TrackMania, are, well, manical. The whole point is to drive way to fast on unrealistic roads, taking insane curves and flying off of jumps and loops. Car collision would halt this flow of speed. Furthermore, racing online is a test and challenge of course competance and racing skill compared directly against other players. I also disagree that TrackMania's online is the same as time trials. The sense of racing against real people in real-time commands nerves that a ghost replay cannot offer. Put simply, it is fun to race other people, comparing moment by moment who is winning, always worrying about the next curve, knowing you have to take the turn just right. Plus, there are always bragging rights post-the checkered flag.
I have a soft spot for tail-light streaks
Sources for Information and Pictures
Download the TrackMania: Sunrise demo at the official Nadeo Site
( really, its awesome).


How do you feel about the lack of collision detection in Sunrise?
How do you think other racing games you've played would play differently with ghost cars as opposed to hit detection?

Sunday, April 22

Devil May Cry 4: Graphics

New Devil May Cry 4 screenshots have surfaced. Devil May Cry 4 is in development by Capcom for the PS3 360, and PC. and will be released this fall. These screenshots have proven one point to me though, that graphics really can make a difference. First though, let me say that I am by no means a graphics-nazi of any sort. I love all styles of graphics in video games, cel-shading, realistic, and everything in between. I think the best looking games ever are Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Okami, Super Mario Sunshine, and Half-Life 2. I also am quite fond of Lost Planet, Viva Pinata and Metal Gear Solid 4. Realistic graphics are not the only way to make a game, and do not a good game make. Graphics are only part of the equation, and these days, a big part. However, if a game does not have good gameplay, then in the end the graphics are essentially obsolete.

That said, we have to keep in mind the first half of our favorite past-time, video games. Games are played on screens, which means they have a ver important visual element. We cannot just deny graphics in favor of gameplay, that would be questioning a big part of what video game are. Again though, focusing on graphics exclusively is denying the other part of what makes games so great.

Now that thats over, good graphics can be pretty darn awesome. Especially with how promising Devil May Cry 4 seems to be gameplay-wise. So without further ado.

It's pretty amazing how closely the game resembles its concept art.
The fire effects are incredible, as is the motion blur.
All screenshots, of which there are more, are from GamePlanets. Gameplanets is a blog that posts screenshots and videos exclusively. I'm gonna start heading there more myself, in fact.

I started a big rant about graphics versus gameplay, but figured I'd save it for another post. For now, just enjoy the fricken heavenly screens and ponder the importance (big or small) of graphics in game design.

I have Visual
Graphics versus gameplay is a heated topic in the games industry, especially this generation with Nintendo and Sony and Microsoft at opposite ends. What do you think? Which is more important to you, is either?

Invisible Studio: Blog Header

I took some time out to create an image header for this here blog. You may have noticed. The reason there is a big space below the image, is because the original text header is still there, except now the text color matches that of its background. The reason for this is because, apparently, the header text is a big deal with search engines, so invisible studio may not even come up if the header wasn't still there. I know its ugly, I'm working on. But for now bear with me. I also know my image design isn't very good, so if you have an idea or even want to make your own, please let me know.

There were a few sites that helped me a ton in figuring out how to get this header up. The site that helped me most though was Testing-Blogger-Beta. Check it out if you want a hyperlink image as a header on your site too.

Thanks Much. Enjoy the site.

Friday, April 20


This fall, Electronics Arts is publishing a new ip for the 360 and PS3. This game is Skate. Skate is in development at Vancouver by EA Black Box, developer of Need for Speed Underground and Need for Speed Carbon. Activision's Tony Hawk games have been the only truly sucessful skating games for the past several years. The only other contenders regardless of their sucess were Disney's Extreme Skating and Go! Go! Hypergrind! EA has finally realized this gap of competition in the skating genre and is creating what looks to be a fairly worthy contender to the throne. The comparisons stop there though, as Skate differs from Tony Hawk in most every way. The game's title, as a matter of fact, is representative of Skate's gameplay, it is a shift in focus to the roots of skating.

Skate has completely mo-capped animations

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series are obviously skating games but aren't exactly simulation. Like the Burnout series, Tony Hawk falls into the arcade-type category. EA's Skate, meanwhile, attempts to simulate the skating experience as closely as possible. Black Box is attempting to achieve this in a number of ways. A primary method is the attempt to emulate the emotions felt by skaters. There are two very important emotions skaters thrive off of, these are a sense of being humbled, and the feeling of accomplishment. Black Box is emulating these emotions through what else but the controls and physics engine.

Many EA games from the past few years share a common feature, what EA dubs “All-Analog Control.” Tiger Woods has it, Fight Night has it, NHL on 360 has it, even Def Jam has some analog input. Well, Black Box has adopted this control scheme for Skate now too, and you know what, it appears to work very well for what EA is trying to accomplish with the game. In general, the left analog stick controls your skater's body, the right controls your feet. Here is what Gabe Graziani at GameSpy describes the controls:

If you want to do an ollie (the industry standard for getting air), you just hold back on the right analog stick and then quickly punch it forward. The right analog stick is an analog, so to speak, of your feet, so by pulling the stick backward, you shift your weight to the back of the board in preparation for an ollie. Then when you flick the stick forward, your skater will pop the board up with his back foot and slide his front foot forward to execute an honest-to-goodness ollie, just like a real skater would. . .these are not just canned animations, but actual physics calculations being done in real time

As Graziani says, the left analog stick controls the foot work. Also, since it is an analog stick, it allows for analog input. Flicking quickly will do a short ollie, whereas holding down then flicking will ollie higher and further. Ollie's are obviously not the only move in a skater's repertoire. Kick, heel, toe flips, and others, are also handled with the right analog stick. When beginning an ollie, push the right stick to the left or right a bit to move the skater's foot to that corner of the board. Flicking the stick back to the right direction will then begin a more complicated ollie. Holding the stick when pushing up, instead of flicking by letting go, will cause the board to spin, allowing the player pull-off a kick flip, for example.

Everything in Skate is within the realms of possibility. Even that.

The left stick controls skaters' movement, essentially by shifting their body weight. But unlike Tony Hawk, players will have to actually push their board to build up momentum. This is done by pressing A or X. The A button pushes with the right foot, the X button pushes with the left. Rapidly tapping the button will get you nowhere, however. As Graziani puts it, a rhythmic series of long button pushes is need to really gain speed. The B button will slam the skater's foot down, allowing him or her to break. But if players are holding the left stick either left or right, and then hold the B button, the skater will skid and switch the board into the opposite direction.

Pushing forward on the left stick causes the skater to crouch, giving greater precision over the board. Tony Hawk forces players to push a button to grind, Skate does not. Players can grind simply by ollieing up to a rail, ledge or step. The approach to the rail is the most important. Along with the left analog stick, the approach will dictate if and how you grind. One the skater is grinding, the left analog stick will balance him or her, and the right stick will perform tricks.

When I was your age, we had to Skate to school with no trucks, uphill both ways.

Manuals are also analog based. Simply tilt the right stick up or down to manual on the front or back wheels. Grabs are performed with the shoulder buttons. The right and left triggers grab the board with the skater's right and left hands, respectively. When in the air, the left stick can be held left or right to rotate the board, for sick 1080's and the like.

One final note is that the skater and board will automatically readjust to match the ground. So player's will not have to worry about landing, similar to how snow boarding games work. For example, when players ollie into a bowl, the skater will automatically push forward on the board to meet the angle of the ground.

All of these controlled are physics based. The analog sticks will shift the board and the skater's body and feet based on how long, far and hard the stick is pushed. Every gaming editor who's tested the game says its harder then Tony Hawk, and indeed its control scheme is harder to immediately master than many games, which is a good thing. But thats the point. Once again Black Box is trying to simulate real-life skating in a video game, and guess what, skating is hard. Executive producer of Skate, Scott Blackwood had the following to say in an interview with IGN:

We're aware that we're running that fine line between realism and what works best for a video game but from what we've seen so far everyone seems to be "getting it." One example - we've heard time and time again that the un-natural hyperdrive speed of other skate games has made the monumental feats of real skateboarding seem trivial, so one of the biggest things for us was to create a groundbreaking physics engine that would allow us to really sell the 'feel' of skating to a non-skater. The first time you hit a gnarly grind or succumb to physics by bombing a big hill, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Tony Hawk had an arcade feel, and that's part of the point. You can do things in games that you can't do in real life. Or is it? That is the beauty of game design and indeed any art form. Freedom. Designer's and developer's can choose to make a game any way they like. Video games are a diverse art, just like paintings. You have Picasso, but you also have Davinci.

This what happens to people after they've been mo-capped, they become ridicuslously realistic looking in-game avatars. Stop mo-cap, save people. This message brought to you by Jack T.

Back to the emotion the game is trying to tap into. Blackwood spoke on that as well.

One of the biggest limitations in reality is the fear and danger of injury. There is an absence of any real fear in the game that let's you take 100 tries at a trick with maybe only one successful landing. There are risks and injuries in the game, but it wouldn't be fun if they resulted in 'game over' or if the game was locked for weeks due to an injury. So we will see many attempts at crazy tricks and successful results where in reality nobody ever would have tried it.

Skating can certainly be frightening. But you can't exactly break players' ankles when they fail a kick flip. Furthermore, skating is all about failing and experimentation, and trying the same stunt again and again until you succeed. This is what Black Box wants players to feel with Skate. Players will learn the control basics, then roll out on the pavement to just have fun exploring their board. And really, I think this is an awesome idea for a game. It brings back the trail-and-error gameplay that resides in so many arcade games from twenty odd years ago. And won't it feel great when you pull off that 900?

The last thing I wanted to talk about was another feature of Skate that differs so greatly from Tony Hawk. And that is character progression. In Tony Hawk, characters would upgrade stat points through purchase, or through actually performing the move, depending on the game. Skate has none of this. Its not about the character. The character is an avatar. The character is you, the player. Just as people get better at real skating through practice, players gets better at Skate skating by tricking their hearts out. There is no character progression, the character's ability will remain static the entire game. It is the player who will improve upon his or her skill. I think this is awesome, really. Again Skate hearkens back to arcade games of yore.

GameSpy Preview
Gamespot Preview
IGN Preview
IGN Interview
1up Preview
Team Xbox Preview

Images From:
The Gamer's Gallery

Their is also a gameplay video available that I will be embedding as soon as the site allows. Check it out here.

Push It
How do you feel about the gameplay and emotive concept behind Skate versus Tony Hawk's proven skating game design?

P.S. The Gamers Gallery is a really fantastic new site that features watermark-free screenshots of games. Their screen gallery is small, but they are building momentum quickly.

Monday, April 16

Orisinal Games: Cats

Ferry Halim is like the Robert Frost of video games. His games are about nature and beauty and, cute things. Orisinal games are very soothing. Lets talk about one of my favorite Orisinal games, Cats. If you have not played Cats, please do so now.

What is so awesome about Cats? Well, lots of things. The game is very simple, you must order every cat to copy the leader cat, which is either sitting or standing. The cats could be walking either left or right, and sitting or standing. Aesthetically, Cats is very simple and pleasing. White Cats against a black background walking on white lines. Thats it. All Orisinal games have a single repeating song. Each is charming while somehow never becoming annoying. There are two things in particular, though, that are really very cool about Cats. One is the simple but demanding gameplay. The second aspect is that of randomness. If you played long enough, you'll notice that more and more levels of cats show up for you to deal with. And darn it, they just won't do what you ask for more than three seconds. I tell you what, this game is addictive. There is something very satisfying about ordering your cats to sit or walk, then watching as they obey. That is, until one misbehaves. "Sit!" These cats have massive ADHD if you ask me. The gameplay is very intuitive and also flawless. If a cat is walking, scroll the mouse and it shall sit. Need a cat to get off its tail, lo and behold it will with a simple touch of the mouse. The randomness of Cats is what makes it so captivating. "OK, all my cats are walking. 34,35,36. What the? Get up lazy." Then the leader cat will switch suddenly and you will be all over the screen ordering the cats to follow their newly appointed leader. Its great.
The last thing I wanted to discuss was the concept of endless games. Pretty much all of Orisinal games are built on endurance. It only takes moments for players to learn the skills required to play a given game. Then, therefore, gameplay boils down to just how long players can keep it up. Why does this work? What is appealing about doing the same thing over and over. I've pondered a couple of reasons. One is that they aren't entirely endurance based. The gameplay is simple, sure, but players strive to truly master the skill it takes to play the game well. Secondly, endurance itself is a skill. Why do you think players engage in thousand mile races in Gran Turismo (auto-driving aside)? Endurance is a show of prowess. Playing for a long time says, "Hey, I just scored a xillion points in this game without breaking a sweat." Because of its unpredictability and more skill based gameplay, however, Cats is somewhat of an exception.

Do you like Cats? Why or why not? are you an anti-animal robot!
What do you think of endurance based gameplay as opposed to skill based?
What other Orisinal games do you like? Why?

Saturday, April 14

The Umbrella Chronicles-Reloading

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles was informally announced a long time ago, but Capcom finally officially announced the title at their Gamers Day Event. Umbrella Chronicles is a first-person-shooter for Wii similar to TimeCrisis or House of the Dead. Players aim a targeting recticule around the screen with the remote pointer. The viewpoint can be moved with the nunchuck analog stick to look around. However, the game is completely on-rails and therefore movement is predetermined and timed. As in any other arcade-shooter, players must manually reload their guns. Reloading in arcade shooters has tradionally been another layer of precision and timing required by the player. Umbrella Chronicles plays to this tradition as well, but to a variety of responses. Yesterday I read about five or so previews about Umbrella Chronicles from various acclaimed game websites. Some of editors like the reloading system, others don't, even when all are basing their judgment on the same reason. To reload any given weapon, all players have to do is shake the remote. Lets start off with the opinion of Chris Kohler, from his "Wired" blog, GameLife.
When the circle runs out -- or preferably, before it does -- you'll want to shake the Wiimote to reload. It's a great mechanic that feels really good, much like aiming off the screen to reload in traditional light gun games -- because just like in real life, reloading forces you to take your gun away from the target and lose your aim.
I love his last statement about losing your aim. Just based on this, shaking the remote to reload seems like an effective yet strategic gameplay mechanism. But lets read other sites opinions.
We also noticed that the controls need tuning, as the reload doesn't work as often as it should, and the reticule bounces around the screen a bit much.
On paper, everything sounds good, but in practice it was obvious that they still had a number of kinks to work out. Reloading weapons with low ammunition was quite laggy, and when you need to reload a pistol or shotgun quickly there was a noticeable delay. When you have a number of hungry zombies homing in on you, this proves to be quite frustrating. Sure, shaking the remote to reload is one way to accomplish this action, but there are ways that could make this easier and responsive. Our ultimate control scheme would be for Capcom to map the scrolling of weapons to the Nunchuck buttons, and pressing down on the d-pad for reloading. The gameplay is quick, and we want to be on top of everything.
All you really have to do in the game is point and shoot, but the hardest part about grasping Umbrella Chronicles' controls in our early test was unfortunately the most important: reloading. Flicking seemed to be the best option in our play session (shaking didn't work too well), but we also tried pointing the Remote down for a brief moment a la traditional light-gun games. It worked, but that was a bit too slow for the quick pace of the game.

Essentially, most people feel that reloading simply isn't responsive enough. However, Kohlers comment still rings true in that the current system forces players to lose their aim. Another things about the control is that it is difficult to steady the pointer. Once again Kohler is the optomist saying that this is the whole point behind arcade-shooters. If shooting is all you will be doing, then shouldn't the aim be as realstic (difficult) as possible? Kohler contrasts this with Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition. RE4 is an action heavy game where players must run around frantically avoiding ganado. The Wii Edition, therefore, has a more steady aim than Umbrella Chronicles. There is also a gameply video available for viewing at IGN if you so desire.

Reloading Chronicle
What do you think of the reloading mechanism in Umbrella Chronciles? How about RE4: Wii?


There is something to be said for style and aesthetics. A website called Orisinal features only stylistic flash games. Ferry Halim is the creator of the website and every game on it. Every flash game on Orisinal has several unifying themes. They are simple, peaceful, intuitive, and pretty. Every game is simple to learn, yet complex enough that there is great joy in discovering what each game is about and how each plays. Then you start figuring out strategies to play better. And you want to keep on playing because you know you can do better. Not all flash games can make this claim. But Halim's games are immediately understandable and enjoyable, yet oh so addictive. I played Cats for at least an hour straight. Also, many of the games are fantastical like things we'd dream of or like playing childhood fairytales. They're really quite awesome. I will be discussing specific games in further detail in the near future. But for now, go have fun experimenting with the games. Be sure to play Cats , Winterbells , and It Takes Two.

You can also find a description of every game at Milk and Cookies.
Though, I recommend you simply play and explore.

Wednesday, April 11

ICO: Pacing and Emotion

Pacing is an important aspect of game design, but probably doesn't recieve as much attention as it should. I recently played ICO for the PlayStation 2. ICO was designed by Fumito Ueda and developed by SCEI back when the PS2 first launched. SCEI has more recently developed PoPoLoCrois and Shadow of the Colossus, which was also designed by Ueda.

ICO is one of the greatest games ever made, and part of this is because of well-designed pacing. Pacing is difficult to define. But it partly refers to the balancing of time-played with gameplay intensity. Pacing also has to do with how often story sequences arrive and how much gameplay is spent between them. Most games probably use both fast and slow pacing, switching between them to strategically affect the player. ICO has incredible pacing. If you haven't played through ICO, you may consider the following a spoiler. Also, go play ICO now. What's wrong with you?

The pacing in ICO is mostly very slow. Players slowly work their way through the puzzle environments while occasionally fighting shadow enemies. Every once in a while, though, a story sequence will show up that feeds players information, and pushes them forward. Additionally, the entire game is kind of like one big story sequence. During any given moment, players are exploring the castle and understanding its structure while contemplating its purpose. More importantly, players are constantly fighting for Yorda, players want to save her. The emotion, effort, and feeling towards Yorda grow more and more as players work their way through the game. This is all very important for the end of the game. The game is reliant on players feeling for Yorda to drive the story and create an emotional gameplay experience.When ICO and Yorda are split when crossing the bridge (I'll be posting more on this in the near future), all of the emotion for Yorda culminates within the player. This creates an intense drive to save Yorda, even if its the last thing you do. Did you notice, that players cannot save after the bridge scene until the game is finished? Their is a very important reason for this. Fumito Ueda intentionally forced the player to continue playing until the end. The reason is simple: Ueda wanted all of the emotion from the bridge scene and from Yorda being taken away to still be present in players through the end. Ueda wanted players to feel a rush of emotional energy, and wanted that energy to fuel their motivation for saving Yorda. If players were allowed to save after the bridge scene, chances are the emotional impact of that event would have disipated when the player came back to the game to save Yorda again.

Pace Yourself
Think back to the games you've played, maybe you've played God of War, or Super Mario Sunshine, or Guitar Hero. How was the gameplay in game paced?
-Did the pacing work well or not so well?
-What would you do differently to make the pacing better?
Also, Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

Saturday, April 7

Heroes of Mana Design

Heroes of Mana is a real-time-strategy title for the Nintendo DS. The game is set in the Mana universe but follows an original story. Square-Enix is publishing, naturally, whereas Brownie Brown is the development house. Brownie Brown also developed Magical Starsign for the DS, released last year. Heroes of Mana is arguably the first true RTS for the DS, meaning Brownie Brown had no previous template, so to speak, to work from. Regardless, the game supposedly has a good storyline, and does have very nice graphics, in my opinion. But the true concern is, as always, the gameplay. Fortunately, the team has designed Heroes to play simply and effectively, while still leaving room for strategy.

But first, I need to get some other information out there. Hereos of Mana contains all of the basic RTS necessities: a minimap, fog of war, base building, resource gathering, and of course, combat. Each player can have a maximum of 25 units at a time. Units on different teams are indicated by the color of their health bars above their sprites. Allied units are green, enemy units are pink, neutral are blue.

Units are divided into four types: ground, heavy, flying, missile. Additionally, there are special units and hero units. Brownie Brown has implemented a standard rock-paper-scissors system with the basic four unit types. Each unit type take half damage from another type, and deal double damage to a third. For example, flying units deal double damage to heavy types, but take double damage from missile units. Also, flying units only deal half damage to missle units. This system works throughout all four types. Its an interesting design scheme because some unit types will take eight times as much damage as they are giving. An example is if a flying type is fighting a missile type, the missile type will deal eight times as much damage as the flying is giving back. A balance will be required in building armies. Players will have to see what their enemies are building and counter with the stronger unit type.

On to control. Alright, this is how it works. Heroes of Mana is all touch controlled. Which is a very good thing for a genre designed for the PC. There are a variety of ways to select units. Here is a list of all the control inputs:
  • Tap a single unit to select it
  • The bottom of the screen has four indicators, one for each unit type. Tapping these will select all on-screen units of the designated type.
  • A "select group" icon is off to the right of the screen. Tapping it will allow players to draw on screen and lasso any specific units they want. Then players can command those units as a group, ordering them to travel or attack as needed.
  • A touch screen icon allows the minimap to be switched to the bottom screen for stylus input. As far as I know, units can also be manipulated using the minimap.
  • Heroes of Mana has eight super abilities that can be activated with touch screen icons. These abilites are automatic CG animations and will deal area of effect damage, among other things.
  • Base building is all done within the home base airship, called the nightswan. Buildings will not be physically present on the battlefield.
Speaking conceptually, I think Brownie Brown has created a great RTS for the DS. The game system is very simple compared to other RTSs, which is good for a handheld game that can only handle so much information, graphics, and doesn't have much screen space. However, the combat is still complex enough to allow for strategic gameplay.

Touch Design
What do you like or dislike about the design of Heroes of Mana?
What would you change, if anything? Why?
The rock-paper-scissors scheme, by now, could be considered cliche.
-Is this scheme still a valid methd to balance units?
-What other balancing formats could be used?
The game terrain is 3D, the units meanwhile are 2D sprites.
-Why or why not is this a good design decision for a DS game?


Wednesday, April 4

Defining Class: Team Fortress 2

Team Fortress was a first-person-shooter mod for the original Half-Life over 10 years ago. The game enjoyed much popularity and sucess, and apparently, still does. But with a second Half-Life already well established, Valve is re-creating Team Fortress for a whole new generation of gamers and PCs. GameInformer online recently ran a great three-part series of articles on Team Fortress 2. The Valve team first spoke to GI about Team Fortress Classic; the team seemed rather disappointed with the game's design. Their primary criticism (of their own game. It is important to look at one's past work objectively) was that there was not a clear definition between the player classes. The abilities and values of each class was of marginal significance. And at times, a class's intended skills could be outperformed by a different class altogether. Similar to the employment of categorization by WarioWare: Smooth Moves, Valve has approached Team Fortress 2 with a focus on class definition and differentiation.
Classes left to right: Pyro, Engineer, Sniper, Spy, Heavy, Demoman, Medic, Scout, Soldier

Every class is designed play differently from another. Robin Walker was a co-creator of Team Fortress Classic and is now a designer on TF2. Walker said the following of class differentiation.
With TF2 I think we’ve been much better about making sure everyone has those weaknesses. As a Soldier you really worry when that Scout starts jumping around you and you’re trying to hit him with your rocket launcher. I think we’ve done a better job through hundreds of small changes of ensuring that everyone has those weaknesses so that no matter what class you are, you have something to fear. You have this Achilles heel that you have to keep watching for, and making sure your core nemesis hasn’t shown up in some way. . . .We don’t internally think of it as rock-paper-scissors, we’re making sure that each class has well defined strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully they’re exposed well at every sort of level.
As Walker explains, the balancing is not so much rock-paper-scissors as it is a well-defined set of weakness and strengths. I don't believe in comparison, I like things to be appreciated based on their own merits. Even so, each class is best at one trait, and worst at something else. The Heavy will have hard time actually hitting the Scout, for example, whereas the Scout will be susceptible to the Pyro. The reasons for this are not so much class specific, as they are in ability. The Heavy aims slowly, the Scout moves fast, the Pyro has a wide range of fire (literally!). Valve is working very hard at creating an accute and fair balance. In addition, each class is marked at the selection screen as either offensive, defensive, or support. This is primarily for noobs, it seems, but the added "classification" is a most welcome feature. Balance in general is sensitive, but I feel even the most creative of players will have a hard time offsetting it. This is because of Valve's dedication towards clearly marking the territory that each class can make claim to.
Prepare. To Get. PWN3D.

Aside from ability, the other aspect of class differentation is graphical. It goes without saying that each class is distinct in their physical attributes. Walker explains more:
I should be able to, as a new player, look at the Scout and see that he’s weaker relatively to the Heavy Weapons Guy, just looking at him, clearly, that guy is much tougher and can take a heap more damage. Besides, his gun tells me something too. Everything about the game has to tell the player about those strengths and weaknesses.
Each class has a distinct height and apparent weight, clothing style and weapons loadout. Each class is even uniquely animated. It will be impossible to see other players with out immediately knowing the ability and limitations of their class, and whether or not to turn-tail and run. The flip side is that teammates will also know a classes specific ability, and will be able to formulate tactics on the fly. The graphics in Team Fortress 2 are completely integrated with the gameplay. Aside from the awesome art style, the characters and their skills are immediately announced with a quick glance. Also, the teamwork that will arise from this game will be extrordinarily interesting. People are creative, they will most certainly discover unique and effective class combinations with which to battle. See you in the Dustbowl (I'll be the one by whom you just got Sniped)!
Its going to be scary as heck to turn the corner into this behemoth.

Welcome to Class
What is the purpose of defining each class so distinctly?
How does the approach differ from most other multiplayer first-person-shooters?
-Do you think this approach is better than others?
What class will you be?

GameInformer Articles
Team Fortress 2: History
Team Fortress 2: Evolution
Team Fortress 2: Game Test

Sunday, April 1

Camera: Dyack and Kojima Speak

"It's Metal Gear Surveyor! Uh-oh! No Place to Hide!"

Camera is one of the most important elements in video game design. Camera is a huge factor of both gameplay and narrative. Camera is a big issue for 3D games, and unfortunately, oftentimes hinders gameplay rather than helps. Even 2D games come with a camera in regards to distance and scrolling. What makes for a good camera and good control to complement it? Two game designers have recently touched on the camera in game design: Dennis Dyack and Hideo Kojima. Dyack you'll recognize from Silicon Knights. He designed Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (ironically enough, considering Kojima is the other featured designer of this post), and Eternal Darkness, and is currently working on Too Human for the 360. Game Informer interviewed Dyack back in their January issue. Here is an one answer from the interview:
I think that when we transitioned from 2D games to 3D, we introduced camera control to the player and added a layer of complexity. I think we lost a lot of casual gamers. When you play Splinter Cell, you get really frustrated because you can't control the camera while you are trying to kill someone. We found that, if we control the camera for the player, it actually makes the game more accessible [referring to all Silicon Knights games, and inparticular Too Human]. If you look at Hollywood, there is a language of film; so we combined that language with good cinematography so you feel like you should not have to control the camera. We want to take it to the next step and we are going to keep working on it. Our philosophy is one of accessibility. We are creating interactive entertainment and it's got to be fliud and dynamic. But at the same time, I've often though that playing a video game like the old Tomb Raiders, where you are looking over the character's shoulder for 14 hours, can be incredibly boring.
Essentially, Dyack feels that camera control has never been precise enough, and is too frustrating to be implemented into any game well. This explains Silicon Knights's use of automated cameras. I must say I disagree with him in regards to Splinter Cell, in which I found the camera control simple and effective. However, I love what he says of fluidity. If the camera is cumbersome or in any way interferes with gameplay, then all flow and comfort is lost. But, the same can be said for automatic cameras too, which are often unrealiable. Too Human itself features a completely automatic camera that is also dynamic. Too Human is an action-heavy game, the player moves quickly and jumps to extrodinary heights. The camera is designed to follow players dynamically-matching their movements. At the same time it will give cinematic shots of the environment and action. Im betting the camera will work very well, it is apparently very important to Mr. Dyack.

Check out the particle effects, the final game is bound to look even better

Hideo Kojima spoke today at the G03 conference in Australia. His presentation was on the creation of Metal Gear and how the series has come to thrive since. Gamasutra has covered the presentation and wrote the following on a portion of Kojima's presentation.
Metal Gear Solid [for the originial Playstation] was named for its star, but also because for the first time the environment was 3D - it had volume, and was 'solid'. To create the feeling of being in this 3D world, a three-camera system was developed. First was the traditional overhead camera, same as the 2D games, and it was complemented by the first person view, where "the player shares Snake's view". The third camera, which Kojima considers "very innovative" was the "cinematic view", where the camera pulls down when you push against a wall, and allowed for some very dramatic gameplay set pieces.
The Metal Gear Solid series is sometimes criticized for its preset camera, and other times lauded. Preference depends on the individual player. Regardless of what people think, Kojima has an awesome concept for camera design, shared in this quote. Cameras do not have to be static or only shoot from one perspective. MGS's camera features varying shots, switching depending on the situation.

Which camera do you like better, automated or player controlled?
Think of games you've played in which you are particullarly fond of the camera. Why is it you -like this camera design? How is the camera controlled?