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?

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