Monday, July 30

Project Offset Trailer

The newest trailer for Project Offset.


Saturday, July 28

Movement in Metal Gear Solid 4

Metal Gear Solid is one of the greatest game series' ever. Guns of the Patriots is the fourth and final entry in the tactical espionage action epic. As always, this latest Metal Gear is being directed by Hideo Kojima and his team at Kojima Productions.

Guns of the Patriots holds makes many changes and additions to the Metal Gear formula. One area I want to talk about in specific is movement. Compared to many other games, Snake has always had pretty limited options for movement. He can run, crouch, roll, roll into prone, and crawl. He can also lean against and sidle along walls. Later Metal Gear titles added the ability to hang off ledges and climb trees, amongst other movements. However, MGS4 offers without question the most diverse move set of any Metal Gear title yet. While this may immediately be met with much applause, it is very important to remember that Guns of the Patriots remain Metal Gear at heart.
"Do a Barrel Roll!"

Movement style is a signature of the franchise. As a series that helped to create and define the stealth genre, MGS4 must retain the heart and soul of the series, and not deviate too far from what makes it Metal Gear. To clarify, movement has always been a pivotal aspect of Metal Gear Solid. There's a reason Snake moves the way he does: his movement compliments the rest of the game. Metal Gear would be quite the different game if Solid Snake could move like Ryu Hayabua. Thats why its of paramount importance that Snake's movement repertoire doesn't compromise the feel of the game.

Kojima clearly wanted to expand Snake's move set, but at the same time, diversifying movement too much may sacrifice the feeling of a Metal Gear game. The key? balance.
Yay Crouch-Run!

Now let's talk about Snake's expanded range of movement. Or at least what we know of it. Everything I'll be discussing can be found in the newest MGS4 Gameplay Trailer.

Snake's New Moves:
  • Snake can now crouch walk. Previously, Snake was only able to crouch while staying still or sidling along a wall. Now, Snake can crouch and walk at the same time, much like Sam Fisher of the Splinter Cell series.
  • Snake can roll. Along with the traditional crawling, Snake can roll over left or right. This opens up another movement option.
  • Now Snake can lie on his back. This allows Snake to crawl backward on his back. He can now also aim and shoot in FPS mode while lying on his back.
  • Snake can now also lie very flat on his stomach. This allows him to play dead. It also allows Snake to very slowly, very.....slowly crawl forward. Like slithering. Its actually pretty sweet.
  • Snake can hang off of edges, just like usual. But now he sort of hand stands then flips onto an edge. This seems thus far to be more of an aesthetic effect than anything else. But its still awesome. Also, notice how when Snake drops from the edge he uses has the same falling animation as always. Classic.
  • The box of yore returns. Now also in drum can form. This proves to be a more resilient shield to bullets, and also allows Snake to roll over ground into enemies.
Lots of additions. But is it still Metal Gear? I would argue, yes. In my opinion, Kojima has expanded Snake's move set without losing the Metal Gear feel. Rolling makes moving around of the ground alot easier, and more realistic. Crawling forward slowly allows for less chance of detection. crawling at all in Snake Eater was almost certain to alert the enemy to Snake's presence. Being able shoot while on your back gives Snake a larger radius of attack. Before, it was necessary to look from first-person, swing the camera around, and then start shooting. Now players can just roll over and shoot away. The drum can is yet another weapon in Snake's arsenal. In past Metal Gear's, players were defenseless when cooped up inside a cardboard box. Now they can roll on through the enemy if threatened.
Back crawl into over-head grenade throw.

Most important to all of this is how Snake's new move set compliments his new battlefield. Snake is now in the middle of a war. An environment that is constantly shifting. Snake needs more mobility to cope with this faster-paced environment. Being relegated to his old move set probably wouldn't be enough to survive in Snake's new jungle. I'm positive Kojima was aware of this. Kojima designed a whole game. Not just a new move set. The environment needed to be considered along with Snake's movement. Everything must be designed cooperatively. Ingenious.

And now for something completely different. From the makers of the newer Appleseed comes Vexille.

Invisible Studio 100 Posts

Only nine months since Invisible Studio's inception and we've reached 100 Posts already. Thats on average a post roughly every 3 days, or 2 to 3 posts a week. This is a great milestone for Invisible Studio, and furthermore, myself. I have proven to myself that I can really work on and stick to something I'm passionate about. Most importantly, thank you. I am so grateful to everyone who reads this blog. It means that I'm not the only person who finds the things I talk about meaningful. I love learning about game design and finding things every day that teach me even about one little aspect towards creating great games. And I love sharing these things with you. I also want to thank David Mcmahon who helped me get my start with helpful blog tips and a weekly mention in his blog awards. Lastly, thanks to blogger which has a very streamlined posting and management interface. Now for some milestone goals: I am going to make my best effort to post at least once every other day. Its a reasonable request without bein overly daunting. My second goal is to create more of a community at this blog. Though I attempt to stimulate conversation in most posts, clearly my efforts have been in vain. I would really love to hear any ideas you might have for making Invisible Studio more discussion focused. Please let me know. My third and final goal is to improve my writing. This means spelling and grammer checking before posting and really focusing on making each sentence count.

Thanks again for visiting Invisible Studio. I hope you come back and help to make the blog as best as it can be.

And so was written posts one-hundred-and-one.

Wednesday, July 25

Gamasutra: Where's The Design in Level Design?

My brother recently pointed me to an interesting Gamsutra article entitled "Where's the Design in Level Design." Written by Tito Pagan. The article comes in Two Parts: One, Two. The first part is admittedly more interesting than the second, which focuses more on how to develop levels rather than the design aspect. A good summary article comes from the first page, actually, where Pagan writes:
A well-designed level takes into consideration a whole set of requirements, such as user interaction and navigation, which are inherent to the purpose they serve. How will the spaces control and direct the player throughout the explorative and interactive experience? What sort of directional and responsive feedback mechanisms will be provided to assist the process? How will all of the elements tie together to form a cohesive environment that is well understood without compromising aesthetic appeal? The level designer must also consider the impact of particulars such as sound, space, lighting, pace, and scale.
The article is worth reading, the first part at least. Pagan talks about wall orientation and window design that is interesting enough in itself, not to mention its application to game design.
Check it out.

Tuesday, July 24

Mario Party 8: Koopa's Tycoon Town

Mario Party is a fun series. There are plenty of people who would disagree, in particular gaming journalists. But I know that at least I've had a lot of fun over the last nine years playing these games. The eighth edition was released a couple of months ago for Wii. Like the last couple of Mario Party games, each board features a different goal. The standard version is to get as many stars as possible by navigating the board, getting lucky, and buying as many stars as you can get your hands on. One of the alternative boards in Mario Party 8 is Koopa's Tycoon Town. This plays similarly to the Windmill level in Mario Party 7, and more familiarly, like Monopoly.
That there is a one-star hotel.

Koopa's Tycoon Town tasks players with running around a city and investing in seven hotels interspersed throughout the board. Once again the goal is to have the most stars when the final turn comes, but in this board players earn stars by strategically investing in hotels with their precious earned coins. What makes this board interesting is the investment system itself. At first it seems pretty simple. Walk up to a hotel and the koopa hop will ask you if and how much you would like to invest. Invest any amount and the hotel is yours, complete with street side logo and a free star. Things get more complex once players start stealing hotels from one another through out-investment. This is how it works. Essentially, the highest bidder is the owner. While you may be the first or even second owner of a hotel, you are not necessarily the last, and the last is all that really matters.

You have to be careful not to help out your opponents. The reason is that stars have three levels of quality. All hotels (with an exception I'll get to shortly) start out as one star. As players invest in a hotel, the coins accumulate for an acquired total coin investment in that hotel. Once the total investment reaches 20 coins, the hotel upgrades to a two-star. 50 coins bear a three-star hotel. The level of a hotel is determined by the accumulated coin investment from all players, two players can each put 10 coins into a hotel and it will become a two-star building. Regardless of star rank, the hotel will belong to whomever has invested the most coins.
Luigi upgrades to a two-star hotel.

A hotel will only ever give three stars to players as it is upgraded. When one players out-bets an opponent, all stars previously awarded are transfered to the new highest bidder. This means that if a player had 26 coins invested into a hotel, and a second player personally invests 27 total coins, then the hotel now belongs to player two. The original owner is stripped of his or her two previously bequeathed stars, and two new stars are awarded to the newest owner. If the second player invested 50 total coins or more, then the previous owner loses all of his or her coins, and the new player is given three stars as the hotel becomes a three-star itself. A hotel will not take more than 100 coins in total investment. What this means is that if a player invests more then any other player into a hotel, and caps the total at 100, the player will be given all three stars and will never lose them. Something else interesting is that if a player invests a certain amount of coins so as to upgrade a hotel, but does not invest so many coins as to surpass the current owner, then the star from the new upgrade will be given to the current owner, not to the most recent investor. The last trick is that there are two special hotels, reached by a special board space, that are already set at three stars. Any coin investment will award that player with all three stars. But if another player comes by and invests more than the owner, then all three stars are transfered to the new investor.
This here car takes you straight to a special three-star hotel. Except in English.

I was pretty intrigued by this system. What seems complex at first becomes much simpler as you learn the mechanics. However, there is also a certain strategy required on part of the player to get the most out of each hotel. Players must balance where and how they will spend their coins, and when. Furthermore, coins are far more important on this board than with the standard rule set. What this board eventually boils down to is earning lots of coins. And that means being good at and winning mini-games. So in a sense this board requires more skill from the player as well. I enjoyed the board. If you've player Mario Party 8, let me know what you think of the game or this board or any other interesting design mechanics that may be present in other boards as well.

Sunday, July 22

You Shirk it at Your Peril

Game Designer Ernest Adams writes a frequent column for Gamasutra titled "The Designer's Notebook." His latest entry is subtitled: "Why Design Documents Matter." Its a really interesting article explaining why game design documents are necessary to have a successful game development. My favorite part of the article comes on page 3, where Adams describes how "design documents turn generalities into particulars."

The process of writing a document turns a vague idea into an explicit plan. It’s one thing to say “Harpies will be flying creatures” in a meeting, but that’s nowhere near enough to build from. In fact, there’s not even any point in writing it down if that’s all you have to say. What the developers need are details: How high can they fly? How fast do they fly? Are they affected by the weather? Can harpies land? Can they land anywhere they want to? Can they also move on the ground, and if so, what sorts of terrain and how fast? Are they more, or less, vulnerable when in the air or on the ground? And so on and so on, and it all needs to be written down so that everyone on the team has all the information they need to build the product.

It would be nice if game design consisted of sitting around with your feet up and daydreaming about cool content and features, and I’ve met some designers who thought that was the whole job. It isn’t; they were slackers. The vast majority of design consists of figuring out the details.

Although you’ll always change those details later in testing and tuning, you have to start with something. In a real sense, the process of writing documents is the process of design, because it is then that you turn abstract concepts into concrete plans. Even if no one reads your document at all, an idea written down is a decision made, a conclusion reached.

A good example of above excerpt is Warcraft III, which actually has several types of Harpys in game, and to which most of the above questions apply. As a matter of fact, there are many, many types of creeps in Warcraft III, it would be nigh impossible to have designed all of them without a document at hand.

I have taken to writing design documents for my own game concepts. It really is quite fun. When I think about a game I'm creating, ideas pop in and out of focus and also change over time. Remembering all of those ideas is basically impossible, not to mention extremely stressful. At first I write down notes on a legal pad I carry around, pages of notes. I write down every idea that comes into my mind, and all of the variations and potential forms of those ideas. Then, when I feel comfortable enough with where I'm going I take to a word processor and type all of my notes to the hard drive. Then begins the process of refining and organizing and deciding. Its really cool to see how the game develops over time, even conceptually as all of my games do, because eventually you have whatever number of pages of ideas that you can print off and show to people and say, "Hey, this is a game I'm making, what do you think?"

I imagine you go through a similar process. How do your game design ideas develop over time, and how do you keep track of them?

Thursday, July 19

Eternal Sonata Combat

Eternal Sonata is in development for the 360 by tri-Crescendo (also rumored to be in development for the PS3). Or was, depending on how you look at it. The game was released in Japan a month ago under the name of Trusty Bell, and is currently being localized for the United States with a planned September release. This is not tri-Crescendo's first title, that belongs to Gamecube RPG Baten Kaitos. But it doesn't take too hard of a look to notice aspects of that earlier title within the newest (namely graphics and music). However, not one to rest on their laurels, tri-Crescendo is once again innovating combat within the RPG genre.
The vertical bar on the left is the timer. Only .20 seconds remaining!

Eternal Sonata's combat is both turn-based and real-time. Players have a party of four characters at a time. Combat is either single-player or multi, as Eternal Sonata supports four-player co-op. Regardless, as in many other RPGs, one character acts a time. Both ally and enemy characters take turns moving and attack one another over the course of a battle. This is where the real-time part comes in, mostly. In RPGs like Final Fantasy, players act via menu selection, and take as long as they please to do so.

Eternal Sonata
is different. For one, characters can move during a fight, and in fact, stratgeic movement is integral to the combat system. Second, players don't select actions from a menu. Instead players can run their chararacters around with the analog stick and use the face buttons to attack, defend, and cast spells or use abilities. This makes for a feel much more reminiscent of Tales of Symphonia than Final Fantasy. But rememer, only one character can act and attack at a time. If the game is both turn-based and real-time, then how are turn length or limits constructed? Good question. And the answer is a timer.

Towards the beginning of the game, players have a 5 second action timer. But as the game progresses, that time is reduced to 4 (and possibly lower, in so far as I know). But the time limit isn't static, not at first. tri-Crescendo is using the timer to pressure players and force them to play more strategically. As opposed to just making harder and harder monsters, this time limit manipulation serves to inflate the combat difficulty. Combat at the start of the game allows for more thought and planning in making decisions. This is because the timer only ticks down when the player is acting. If the player just stops and sits still, so too will the timer freeze. But when the player moves, attacks, or acts in any other way, then the timer ticks down. As we all know video games work in animations, so when players perform an action, such as attacking, then the timer will count down for as long as that animation lasts.I love tihs because it so neatly combines turn-based and real-time. Players can sit and think as long as they want about what type of action they want to take. Do you run in and perform and attack, attack, attack? Or, do you run in and attack, then run away again so the monster won't attack you come its turn? You may change your mind half-way through, and thats ok, because you can just stop acting and reevaluate the situation, then adjust your tactics accordingly. Unlike in turn-based games where players move through grid spaces, Eternal Sonata's system is free-form and allows for 360 degrees of movement. Its more like Warhammer than Chess.

But eventually this system might get too easy, or at least tri-Crescendo feel so. Who needs all that time to think and plan and stuff? The answer is irrelevent because players don't have a choice. Eternal Sonata gets harder. At some point in the game, the player loses the ability to pause time. Now, when the player stops acting, the timer just keeps on going anyway. When a character's turn starts, so does the timer, and it doesn't stop until time is up (therefore ending that character's turn). Players are thereafter forced to think and act much more quickly than at game's start.
Let it be known that water wheels are awesome.

The combat of Eternal Sonata has a whole lot more to it then what I've discussed, including a shadow/light mechanic, combos, and more. The active timer is a really awesome system. It is like the confluence of two great rivers: real-time and turn-based, and it is good.

IGN Pre-E3 Preview
IGN E3 Preview
Gamespot E3 Preview

Tuesday, July 17

Project Gotham Racing and Frame Rate

You may remember a post from a while back about Forza Motorsport 2 and its physics and frame rate. Basically, Forza runs at a constant 60 frames per second. This is because the physics in the game need to update as fast as the player is driving. If the frame rate were at 30 per second, then the physics of a players' car would be lagging behind whats happening on screen. Meaning the physics are basically null because the car is moving too fast for the physics to update.

The reason I mention this is because today I read a short but interesting article over at Gamasutra. This article talks about Forza's main competition, Project Gotham Racing 4. A large difference between the two games is that PGR4 is running at 30 frames per second. But even though that sounds like cow dung compared to Forza's frame rate, developer Bizarre Creations has their own reasons for doing so. Because the whole article is pretty much all quotes from PGR4 producer Adam Kovach, I'll just give you the gist of it. Kovach explains the decision to give PGR4 an fps of 30 as opposed to 60:
We looked at that, we debated for a long time... we looked at what we would be giving up if we tried to go to 60 versus 30 frames a second. We don't want to lose the visual fidelity... we made a conscious decision that 30 frames plus all the effects in the game was far more important than having a pure 60.
The environmental weather effects in PGR4 are very important to Bizarre.

Project Gotham Racing is more of an arcade racer than Forza Motorsport. For Bizarre, and for PGR, 30 frames per second is sufficient enough considering the amount of visual effects the game is throwing at the player. Especially when the weather effects are so important to driving in this iteration. You know, when I'd read about Forza a couple months ago, I thought that there was no better way to design the game. 60 frames per second was really the only way to go. But after reading Bizarre Creations' reasoning, I think that 30 fps is equally as valid a design, as long as it is conducive to the game, its gameplay, and play experience. Check out the whole article over at Gamasutra, its short and well worth reading.

What Comes First: Gameplay or Story?

When designing a game, particularly a role-playing-game, which comes first: the story or the gameplay? Think about any RPG, is the story more important or the gameplay? Regardless, which aspect is the primary design point?

In an interview with IGN, Eisuke Yokoyama talks about the development of Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings for the DS.
We did not set out to make a game that was connected to FFXII. In the beginning it was supposed to be a 'My first Final Fantasy' experience - that was the overall plan for this game. We had already created the battle system. It was ready to go, but at a certain point during the development and planning process, Toriyama's team started talking. FFXII had just been released and it was really popular, so it was more a matter of timing that it turned into this kind of game.
I was surprised to read this. I actually don't think there is any one order to design an RPG, or any game, for that matter. Whichever comes first comes first. If you come up with a great story that would work well with a video game, congratulations. But I think its probably equally effective to come up with a gameplay system and then build a theme and story around it. Both aspects are very important, however. Whichever comes first, in the end both need to be given equal consideration and development. An RPG needs both to be truly great. Personally, I almost always design the gameplay and control scheme before even thinking about anything else. But who knows, maybe one day that will change if an interesting story and world suddenly pop into my head. Both approaches are entirely feasible. Which foot do you start off with, gameplay or story? And do you think one approach is superior to the other.

Thursday, July 12

Burnout Paradise: Design Boost

Cue overused cool song from Kill Bill

For the first time in the series, Burnout is free-roam. Previously, Burnout has always been about racing around predetermined tracks, like in most racing games. But now, Burnout is breaking out of its shell, with 30 miles of road to explore. However, Paradise is certainly not the first racing game to be free-roaming. Need for Speed: Underground 2 was also free-roaming, as was its sequel Most Wanted, not to mention the completely franchise unrelated Simpsons Hit and Run. There may be more I'm remembering at the moment too. But that's all besides the point. Because this is Burnout, one of the best racing series of the last generation, and extremely popular since its reinvention in Takedown. Burnout is being reinvented once more, and all the while retaining and amping-up the awesomeness from previous iterations.Its just another day for Bob and Bill until a rampant car careening through the air causes massive damage to both vehicles.

Taking Burnout free-roam requires several changes to the series staple. Even so, most everything, in so far as I know, is coming back. This includes traffic checking. As long as its not a bus, players can hit same-way traffic from behind, careening them through the air. I actually didn't expect this to return, considering the new free-roam approach, but I trust Criterion and it will probably work great. Boost still fills in the same way it has since Takedown, by near-missing, driving towards oncoming traffic, jumping, and a bunch of other ways. Pretty much, as long as players are driving they can boost.
Bringing a racing game into an open world isn't as simple as making an endless, branching, track. Besides, that's not Criterion's style. Paradise is a fully-realized world filled with roads and jumps and cars and anything else you'd find in a city. There a big difference between a free-roaming world and a linear track. And that difference is the freedom of movement. In most racing games, past Burnouts included, cars drive forward, and stay that way. There is no need to drastically shift direction or reverse. Paradise takes this into account with the introduction of an E-Brake. Players are now able to pull the E-Brake to switch direction with a quick spinning slide. This may seem like a small addition, but in fact it is beyond necessary. The world in Paradise has been designed from all angles. As opposed to linear tracks, now players will need to and want to shift direction. And therefore it is necessary to give them the ability to do so at any given moment: hence the E-Brake. Simple, yet clever in that Criterion adapted to the new format by designing driving in cooperation the free-roaming aspect. Another cool feature of the E-Brake slide is a sort of mini-game called Power Parking. Gamespot elaborates:
another recent addition to the series is a little side game called power parking, which sounds like it will pop up any time you find two cars parked close together on the side of the road. The idea is that you need to whip your car around using the E-brake and slide right into the parking space between the two cars.
Sounds pretty sweet to me. Already, Criterion seems to be packing Burnout Paradise with a ton of stuff to do, and all of it in a seamless fashion. Crash has been changed a bit too. Unless the crash is serious, your car will not cut into aftertouch, but will instead keep on going, retaining the famage from the collision. Considering the number of crashes players are bound to start in Paradise, this seems to me very wise. Triggering dramatic crash slow effects and camera angles ever 10 seconds would break up the action too much. Only when the car is guaranteed to be totaled will the dramatic crash effects kick in.Burnout Paradise looks really, really fun. In a way, Criterion is bringing emergent gameplay into the racing world. With little seamless minigames to play like the Power Park, instant online play, individual road records, and awesome driving craziness quite simply makes for a boat load of fun.

Wednesday, July 11

Baldness Out of Hand

Whats with the baldness in video games these days? Its ridiculous. Bald generic looking male characters star in 100% of psychic action video games (most recently in Sucker Punch's inFamous). Its a Fact. Lets take a tour through the male baldness epidemic hitting video game characters everywhere.

Baldur from Too Human
Your Too Human because your Too Bald.

Shepard from Mass Effect
Well Shepard actual has a little hair. So we'll let him go easy.

Sam Fisher and Friends from Splinter Cell: Double Agent
Alright everyone. Well, welcome to the third annual balding vigilante committee.

John Vattic from Second Sight
Lock and load! This new hair folicle treatment system will rejuvante your head in no time flat. psychic powers required

Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy by Midway
Anything you have to say to my head, you have to say to me.

Dude from Crysis
We can display vegetation like no other, but not human hair.

Agent 42 from Hitman
My name's Agent 42 and I've had hair loss issues since birth.

Lynch from Kane and Lynch
Noone honors the horse-shoe.

James from Manhunt
What did you say about my head?

Yes, even Niko will be bald before long.

Some Guy from Doom 3
Hey buddy! I'm down here!

The Agent from Crackdown
I didn't know my baldness could be so...powerful.

Also, $20 says Master Chief is bald too.

What gives? Nariko and The Witcher have plenty of hair.
Two whole cell processors are completely devoted to running Heavenly Sword's femme fatale.

For the record, I have nothing against baldness. But I do think its sad that so many developers are just letting their characters go hair free.

All non-labeled screenshots from The Gamer's Gallery.


I'll let the game speak for itself.
From Sony Japan for the PS3 and PSP.

Now is that not the coolest game ever made. If you say no then your wrong.

Tuesday, July 10

Evolution of Platforming

Platforming has come a long way, from Mario and Sonic to Prince of Persia. As the generations pass, new innovations are made in the platforming genre thanks to new technological opportunities and the precense of past titles to learn from. Two platforming titles in particular seem to represent this very well: Sly Cooper and Assassin's Creed.
Go Sly Go!

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus was released for PS2 in September of 2002. Developed by Sucker Punch Studios (also behind the newly announced inFamous), the game had the coolest title ever (and still does), and was met with much critical and commercial success. Assassin's Creed is being developed by Ubisoft Montreal, and is due out at the end of the year for 360, PS3, and PC. Ubisioft Montreal created Prince of Persia (the newer trilogy) as well, which was itself another evolution in platforming.
See the purple trail? Thats your signal to press triangle. It rocked.

Sly Cooper was really an amazing game, and personally both my favorite PS2 title and platforming title. You play as an athropomophic racoon that must sneak through various levels gathering collectables and avoiding guards. The game added a platforming element that had never been present in other titles of the genre before, and that was contextual platforming. Sly could jump and run, but he could also climb up pipes, sidle along thin ledges, and swing down ropes. All of these latter abilities were achieved contextually. When players saw a trail of purple glowing stars, all they had to do was press the triangle button and Sly would "snap" to the object. I tell you what, navigating the levels of Sly was downright fun. Jumping into the open air and pressing triangle to snap to a rooftop felt good.
Platforming ability is not determined by bump mapped textures, but rather in the physical models themselves.

And yet, platforming has evolved. Assassin's Creed couldn't have a more different approach from Sly Cooper. Instead of forcing players to follow and snap to the environment, Creed trys to make things more fluid. Altair, the main chracter (voiced by Holland from Eureka Seven, by the way), uses whats called free running, or parkour to traverse the open world cities. He can climb, grab, shimmy, and jump on, over, and across anything. Ubisoft has created a very dynamic system. If a model, such as a building, in the game world has a ledge that sticks out 3/4ths of an inch, than Altair can grab hold of it. No exceptions. This means that players can run around the world of Assassin's Creed fluidly and in any way they please. Additionally, Altair's animations shift to match the player's movements and decisions. So Altair really looks like he's jumping through the city.

These two styles of platforming couldn't be more different. Is one superior? Not necessarily. Obviously Assassin's Creed features a much more dynamic platforming system than Sly Cooper, but theres something to be said for the solid feel and strategic navigation of Sly Cooper's world. What do you think?

Burnout Paradise E3 2007 Trailer

Burnout Paradise is coming to 360 and PS3 later this year. The fifth entry in the series is developed by Criterion, per usual, and published by EA. Burnout 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, not to mention my favorite racing game, so it is with much eagerness that I await Paradise. The whole point of this is, a new trailer came out today and you ahve to see it. You really have no choice. Criterion has infused Burnout with alot of what made Rush 2 so good, and that is stunts.


Update: Haha! I solved it. You can adjust the height and width of the movie manually. I divided the numbers by 5 and then subtracted that number from the original.

Saturday, July 7

Rock Band: Additive Gameplay

Correction: I'll admit, I'm confused. Guitar Hero was published by, apparently, two companies: Activision and RedOctane. Which is the real publisher, or either, or both, or something, I'm not sure. I changed the information below to say RedOctane is the publisher.

Guitar Hero
came out in winter of 2005. Guitar Hero II was then released in winter of 2006. Both were developed by Harmonix and published by RedOctane. Seeing their success, RedOctane purchased the Guitar Hero license. But someone else saw the success of Guitar Hero as well, and that was MTV. They went one step further than Activision and purchased Harmonix outright. Now, RedOctane has sicked Guitar Hero III development on Tony Hawk team Neversoft, while MTV and EA are co-publishing Harmonix's next game: Rock Band. Rock Band is alot like Guitar Hero, times a million. Well, more like times four, which in effect makes the game a million times more awesome. Rock Band allows four players to rock out together in a style ripped straight from Guitar Hero, scrolling frets and all (keep in mind the developer of both Guitar Hero and Rock Band are one and the same). Players assume their personally created band members, and can play guitar, bass, drums, or vocals. Guitarists and bassists use the same peripheral, which is like an upgraded Guitar Hero guitar. Drummers play on a 3/4 size drum set including four pads and a kick pedal. The vocalist sings on a microphone peripheral.
The three vertically scrolling bars work like Guitar Hero. The middle is drums, the left bass, and the right guitar. The top horizontal bar is for vocalists.

In Guitar Hero, you are the guitarist. If you don't play the notes then the game isn't going play them either and no guitar strings will emanate from the speakers. The same applies for Rock Band, except to everything. In Rock Band, you are the band. What you play is what you get. Therefore, what you don't play doesn't create sound. As notes scroll across the screen, players must hit them correctly to create notes or short sound clips within the game. Otherwise, no music for you. If the whole band stops playing, then the whole band stops playing. You are the band. This concept is something I call additive gameplay. In first-person-shooters, you add bullets and subtract enemies. No enemies will be subtracted if the bullets aren't added. But the canvas of Rock Band is more like white space. There is nothing to subtract, just add. Not playing will only leave more white space, or silence. Whereas, playing correctly will add music, in addition to on screen effects. Thats really what made Guitar Hero so much fun, if you miss a note then the note is going to be played. It was that drive to get it right that pushed people to play again and again. Rock Band will be like that, but amped up to 11.

Thursday, July 5

Army of Two: The Ties that Bind

Army of Two has been a long time coming, and it wasn't until this week that we knew all that much about the game, thanks to 1up's week long cover feature. Army of Two is developed by EA Montreal and was designed from the beginning as a completely cooperative experience. Whether playing with realistic AI or an actual human, with Army of Two, EA Montreal is set out to reinvigorate the cooperative shooter.We've discussed cooperative games before, in an overview, really, of what they're all about. EA Montreal's main goal was to create a game that required players to play cooperatively. In the 1up preview, Senior Producer on Army of Two explains their premise:
Gears has a really cool co-op experience, too. But what we've been really looking at is 'How do we take what those games have done' -- and I don't want to take anything away from those guys; they've done a really cool job, but it's always just been the add-on -- and figuring out 'How do we make a game where co-op is the focus?
Their solution is a game where in two players take control of two soldiers, named Salem and Rios, working for a private military corporation (PMC). The setting and story is actually really interesting and definitely worth reading about in 1up's various previews and interviews. The point, though, is that the two soldiers (players) must work together to make it through the game. How has EA achieved this requisite realiance on the other player? Well, a big part is something they've designed called the Aggro Meter. Aggro isn't new to games by any means. You'll find it MMO's most prominately, where monsters will swarm players who happen to cross they're path. But Chris Ferriera isn't kidding when he says we've never seen Aggro in a shooter before. This is how it works: players share an Aggro Meter that is displayed across the top of the hud. Its called a meter because thats exactly what it is, just like a speedometer or ticket meter. During the game, the meter pin will swing left or right towards one extreme or the other, each end capped by an icon representing either Salem or Rios.
The meter will swing based on a number of things, but primarily how angry the enemies are. The more attention a player draws to himself, the more aggrevated the enemies will act towards that player. If players blatantly run and gun towards the enemy, naturally, the enemy isn't going to be happy and will start focusing their fire on that character. The other player, meanwhile, may be more reserved in his approach, obviously the enemy will not be as concerned about the player that is seemingly less of an immediate threat, and will focus on fire on the other player. As a result, the pin on the Aggro Meter will swing towards the more aggressive player. Drawing the enemy's attention away allows the other player to, as an example, circle around and shoot the enemy from behind. Alternatively, both players could play aggressively and run guns blazing into the firefight. In this case, the aggro meter may be centered and the enemy fire will be focused on both players. In game, as a player becomes more aggro'd against, his character will glow red. As a character aggrevates an enemy less,on the other hand, he will become slightly transparent. This allows players to differentiate between the two characters' aggro state without looking up at the hud.

Their have been coop games before. But what EA is trying to do is make this a cohesive, neigh, central feature of Army of Two. The aggro meter is EA's answer to cooperative gameplay. The aggro meter is affected by more than just making enemies angry, Army of Two has a big customization system that plays into the meter as well. The game allows players to outfit and customize guns and equipment to great extent, just how the players customize their weapons is what effects their aggro draw, shall we say. For example, if players outfit a gun with a silencer, then shooting at enemies will draw less aggro than it would have without a silencer. A counter example, if players bling out their guns with gold plating, then the enemies are gonna get angry more easily thanks to the player's blatant arrogance. But thats good. For you see, players will have to communicate before each level to decide who will be taking what kind of equipment. One player may want to play stealthily, the other may want to play haughtily. And customizing characters to draw more or less aggro, on average, allows player to strategize about how they're going to cooperate later on, and eventually form their play experience.The aggro meter is a clear design choice that allows players to cooperate at their best. Players will constantly be balancing aggro by drawing and retreating from fire. Aggro allows players to manipulate the enemy to take them out. Working together and using aggro properly will be completely necessary to win each stage. I think that EA Montreal has a fine looking cooperative shooter on their hands, it will be fun to see just how well the aggro works come game time.

What is Next-Gen? The Further Adventures Of

Remember that next-gen post, from like, three days ago? A new preview of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is up at IGN. Editor Matt Wales wrote the preview and throws in his two cents on what the next-generation is:
While Lara is practically synonymous with vast, labyrinthine levels, Drake's trek from his landing spot to the wreckage of his plane in the early build we played is a strictly linear affair. Hopefully things will open out in later levels but, currently, there's something disappointingly old-school about your progress. Despite, expansive vistas and promise of all manner of explorable nooks and crannies in amongst the gorgeously lush terrain, you're essentially forced along one narrow jungle corridor, with fallen logs and boulders determined to spoil your fun.
Wales believes that next-gen is a non-linear experience. In other words, Wales would prefer that Uncharted had multiple routes to take with more explorable environments.
Your Thoughts?

Wednesday, July 4

E3 2007 On Its Way

The 12 Annual Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) is coming, courtesy of The Entertainment Software Association (ESA). I went to E3 last year, is was basically pandemonium, while also really awesome. As you may have heard, the E3 expo has been revamped this year. First, the show is takiing place a full month later than usual. This is due to the fact that many developers start development on new games at the end or start of the calendar year. The extra month of development time means more complete and representative demos of games. This years E3 is precisely one week away. The show begins on Wednesday, July 11 and ends Friday, July 13th. Alot more has changed about E3 than just the date. The show is now in Santa Monica, as opposed to Los Angeles. The convention center still remains, albeit as a side note. E3 will take place in two forms: hotel suites, and the Barkar Hangar. The Barkar Hangar is more like the traditional E3, which the E3 main website describes as:
a software showcase where attendees will be able to casually test drive featured video games outside of the companies’ suites.
The company suites they mention is the new hotness, so to speak. You see, with all the insanity that E3 eventually boiled down to, publishers and advertisers didn't feel like they were getting their money's-worth in media coverage, considering the huge expense on demo development, booth rental, and game presentations. Now E3 is much more civilized, and in my opinion, for the better. Publishers now rent out hotel suites and meeting rooms where they set up their systems and demos and high-def televisions. Then, they invite all the real gaming media to come and see what they're fiscal year is all about. This way, the coverage on games will way better then ever before, as main-stream, professional media will have access and time to actually learn about and test the games we all can't wait to play.
E3 last year was more like a joke, honestly. Basically, you had your real media, magazines like GameInformer and websites like IGN and Gamespot. Then you had the other 99% of visitors, teenagers who borrow attendees cards and sneak in, or other teenagers who work for fanboy websites and end up giving the games they play no actual coverage. I'll admit, I was one of the latter teenagers last year, and it was totally worth it. But at the same time, E3 was extremely stressful, especially the waiting-in-lines-for-a-million-hours part. So now, its all good. The news pros who are serious about game coverage will be able to go to E3, with much less stress, and do they're jobs bringing back the news we're all waiting to hear.

Last, E3 has another split event that will take place in October. This is called the E for All Expo, and exactly as the title implies, it will be for anyone who wants to go. Attendees can buy tickets without having to prove they work for any media company, they can just go to have fun playing game demos and what not. That means you. This will be much more like the E3 of yore. It takes place in the LA convention center (like last year's E3) and will have booths by game publishers that people can walk around to and play. The E for All Expo takes place October 18th through 21st. You can look into buying tickets at the main site.

E3 Coverage
-What do you know, G4 actually does something right. Live coverage of the three main press conferences from Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony.
-This is GameSpot's highlight of the year, really. They pull out all the stops to give us the best event coverage on the net.
-IGN also does a great job of covering E3. They have a single comprehensive page for quick, easy access to any game info.
-Sure, GameInformers a magazine, and also the best. But they also have a pretty great website with a focus on interviews with developers, publishers and other members of the gaming business. They're bound to have plenty of exclusive interviews with developers come E3.
-1up is also an offshoot of several gaming magazines. But that doesn'st stop it from being a top notch gaming site, albeit a bit opinionated. They also have frequent exclusives.

Other Things
Barkar Hangar Layout
Further Description of new E3
IGN Big Games List
E3 Official Site
E3 Insider Site

Press Conference Times
-Tuesday, July 10. 8:30 PM PST. 11:30 PM EST
-Wednesday, July 11. 9:00 AM PST. 12:00 Noon EST.
-Wednesday, July 11. 11:30 AM PST. 2:30 PM EST.

Monday, July 2

What Does Next-Gen Mean to You?

As gamers and designers the "next-generation" of video games is a very important subject. Kind of like the space age back during the cold war era. The next-generation means alot of things to alot of people. Many people see next-gen as one thing while others see it as another entirely. Is next-gen better graphics? more refined gameplay? realistic surround sound? convincing AI? freedom of choice? social interaction? And thats just a few of the things that people define as next-gen. Cliff Bleszinski himself commented on the definition of next-gen in a cool looking note he wrote. You can click on the convienient picture to your left, but I'll quote it just for kicks:
Next-generation games are about doing a better job with what we're given to work with. How can we use the camera to immerse you more in the narrative? Who are you fighting and why should you care? How do we use context sensitivity to allow you to do all sorts of cool moves and, in general, switch between feeling frightened and being a badass?
CliffyB just wants to make cool games. Another way to look at next-gen is to say what it isn't, in other words, all of the bad stuff that the last-gen was. Speaking of Lair (from last nights post), Patrick Joynt at Gamespy said the following on next-gen gameplay:
The best I could hope for was to land on the bridge and set them on fire (after all, they're covered in fur), but that method relies on just hoping that they come close enough to be hit, but also not from a camera angle I can't cover. And is it really next-gen when you can't take out an overgrown bull unless you do it the one way the designers planned on?
Joynt believes that next-gen gameplay is freedom to tackle situations any way the player pleases. I don't really agree, but thats alright. Everyone has a different opinion on the next-generation. I happen to agree with Cliffy. The next-gen is taking advantage of the consoles power and abilities to achieve the best gameplay as possible. If that means realistic graphics to get a point across, then the next-gen consoles can do that. If next-gen means surround sound to immerse players more completely into the experience, then great. If it means allowing players to make their own decisions and discover new paths and suffer new consequences, then next-gen is that too. Basically, next-gen is about making better games than ever before by utilizing these new opportunities.

What is the next-generation to you? And im serious. I really want you to put some thought into this question. Then please come back and let us know what you think. I want to know what some other people think about next-gen, and I'd rather here it from you than anyone else.

CliffyB Note from Joystiq


Yestarday, 4 color rebellion pointed out a really cool indie game called Masq. Masq is a free game for download from the official game site. In fact, even how you download the game is cool. Masq was created by development studio Alteraction in 2002. The game has no sound and little animation. But the game is so compelling, that I've played through it about eight times now. Why? Because Masq is an interactive story. Players take the role of themselves from first person. A slew of characters, interesting settings and an intriguing plot make for an awesome experience. The game is essentially an interactive version of Choose Your Own Adventure (which have been scientifically proven as awesome). But unlike the popular book series, Masq is certainly not for children. The game is adult to the core. From compex themes to language to nudity, Masq stops at nothing to present an interesting comic-style graphic adventure. Here is an excerpt from Alteraction's website:
Many names in the industry argue that stories and games do not mix, that they are completely different animals. This comes from the lack of deep understanding of how stories work. Stories have always been interactive. Interactivity is not about the number of times per second you click, it is about the active involvement of the audience's mind contributing to the experience they live.
Masq has a ton of replay value because there are so many options and branching storylines. You really never know what you're going to get, especially when you select completely different options from previous play throughs. As a game, Masq also accomplishes something that books cannot, the passing of time. Books aren't going to change no matter how long readers waits to continue. Masq, however, has a timer that is moving as players read and try to make decisions. Just like in real life, if players wait to long to take action, the game will take action itself and respond to the player "doing nothing." This usually means the characters getting angry with the player for not responding. What time adds to the game is tension, and pressure on the player to act. The characters aren't gonna wait forever for a response. I recommend this game to all, unless you are put off by explicit content. Play Masq. Also, the Masq Blog that give a couple of hints to endings you will probably never find.

Sunday, July 1

Lair: Camera Tracking and Control

I took this night's oppurtunity to look more closely into upcoming PS3 game Lair. Lair is being developed by Factor 5 and is set for an August release. Factor 5 is best known for the Turrican series, and more recently, the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series. Considering they're flight pedigree, Lair has recieved much hype from both the media and Factor 5 fans. But while Lair may be a flight game, it would be inaccurate to call it just another Rogue Squadron. Even while wrestling an unfamiliar, more powerful console, Factor 5 is infusing Lair with plenty of new concepts and techniques.

One aspect of particular importance is the game's camera. Lair is one of the first PS3 games to make use of the console's sixaxis motion sensing functionality. All flight control is handled via tilting the sixaxis. Save ground control, the analog sticks have been put on the backburner for "minor camera control," which means camera rotation. Really though, the camera system is automated. Before I say exactly how flying in Lair is controlled, think yourself about how it would control most intuitively, using the sixaxis motion of course. Finished? Lair's flight control is actually a 1:1 motion system. The angle at which players tilt the controller is the exact angle at which the dragon tilts in game, in real time. The dragon is tied precisely to the player's tilting, so as players tilt the controller, so does the dragon. However, the tilt control is limited to a certain extent, as players will not automatically perform 180's or loops. These are handles with motion inputs. For example, lift the sixaxis quickly to perform a 180 turn.
This form of control is more like holding the dragon in your hand, as opposed to a less responsive handling system where the dragon's tilting speed would vary based upon how far players tilt the controller.Factor 5 has created a very interesting camera system for Lair. Hypothetically, this is how it works. Players fly around while fighting and shooting off fire balls and battling dragons. When players see a dragon in the distance they want to negotiate, the camera will recognize which target the player is flying towards and lock the camera to said dragon. Then, players may close distance by dashing towards their target with a downward motion of the sixaxis. The camera will track and follow the dragon, leading players right to the desired enemy. I really like this concept. However, those of who have actually played the game have some seemingly sound criticizm of the design. In his Gamespy preview, Patrick Joynt has this to say of Lair's camera system:
Most importantly, there are some camera issues that need to be addressed. When you're in the air, soaring across the massive battlefields, and spot a flight of enemy dragons, the design goal is that through careful flying you can simply put yourself behind them, swoop in, and leap from dragon to dragon, tearing apart the entire flight in seconds. The problem is that even versus the easiest enemies, a crazy camera makes this incredibly difficult. Since you have to keep your camera on a foe in order to quickly leap to them, the camera going to random, unpredictable angles when you complete one of these swooping attacks means that you can't follow up on the next flight member. In fact, it's tough to do anything, because your camera is likely to be pointing in a random direction. Attempting to swoop down and grab Tauros (or horses) met with similar results, except that my camera was often then locked about an inch from a wall.
Similar statements come from a preview at IGN by Chris Roper:
All of this works fine in theory, though there are still a couple of kinks that need to be worked out, namely the fact that when a locked-on dragon passes by you the camera will follow it in an awkward manner and you'll have no idea where your own dragon is heading anymore. Once you flip back, you could very well be face-to-face with the side of a mountain.
Sometimes, ideas in concept fail in practicality. If you read game reviews frequently you see this phrase all the time. I haven't played Lair, I cannot comment to the camera system's feasibility. Regardless, I still really like the idea. The game knows where the player wants to go and makes it easier for the player to do so. With dragons flying every which way, it would certainly be difficult to keep a target in sights and track it down, especially with limited camera control. But I guess in the end, the gameplay is priority. And if the camera fails to function the way it was intended, then the line between concept and reality needs to be drawn. We'll have to wait until release to find out.

Lair still looks awesome, though. There are a few development diary videos over at the official site. I highly recommend them.

What are your thoughts on Lair? Do you like the control or camera system? Why or why not? Which do you value more highly: concept or reality?