Tuesday, August 28

Designing to a System: FPS Ports

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

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

Monday, August 27

Halo Wars: Staying True

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 24

Play Motivation

IGN tipped me off to a survey the University of Amsterdam is conducting entitled "Motiviations for Playing Video Games." The survery takes about 15 minutes and is well worth your time. What is most interesting about the survey is how you're forced to question your own motivations for playing. This isn't a simple Q&A, its a search into your soul: Why do you play video games. The most fascinating question, to me, was this:

"While I am playing the video game, I think about how much I enjoy it."

Do you? Answers are guaranteed to be different for different people. Think about this for awhile and then get back to me. I want to know what you guys have to say. After you've come to some sort of conclusion, think about the same question from a designer's perspective. Do you want players to think about having fin while playing a video game? If so, then how do you go about designing a game to achieve this?

Take the Survey
Picture Source

Also, IGN has a great interview with Demiurge Software's director of development about Brothers in Arms: Double Time for Wii. He basically talks about the importance of desiging to a system. Valuable information indeed.

So Much For The Mopping Now For Some Justice!

Hey everyone, I'm back home alive and well. For vacation, the family and I went driving all around Nova Scotia; hills, beaches, it was great. Much has happened with gaming in my absence. Primarily, the release of BioShock and the Liepzig event. I'm dong my best to catch up and get back to blogging regularly. I'm also starting my fall semester on monday, so I'll be heading back to school this weekend. Thanks for being patient over the past couple of weeks.

And here is a return present just for you.

Pretty darn sweet. I actually found this originally at GamePlanets, which has a really awesome DivX version that darkens your screen. Check it.

Tuesday, August 7

To Infinity, And Beyond!

Hello. As I mentioned yesterday, I'm going on vacation. I leave in a couple hours for Novia Scotia with family in tow. Should be fun. Essentially this means no posts for a couple weeks. Immediately after I return from vacation I go back to school for the fall. Don't fret though. I'll be back to posting by the end of the month. Enjoy life and read alot about game design. Sorry to leave you hanging. I'll be back in a couple weeks.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Blogger,

Saturday, August 4

Blocking in Action Games

First of all, I want to apologize again for not posting for a week. My brother got married and most of my family was here for a few days and it was hectic as all get out, but a ton of fun. As a warning, I'm going on vacation for a while with my family in a couple of days. You should expect new posts by the end of the month. I'll be making a more official post about this soon .Sorry again, hope you enjoy the post.

There are a lot of action games out there: Dynasty Warriors, Ninja Gaiden, The Legend of Zelda. All of these happen to be close-combat based, swords, essentially. Three other games, two yet to arrive and one already available, are also close-combat action games. These are Fable 2, Heavenly Sword, and Okami. Whats amazing is that each of these titles has a completely different combat system, and, more specifically, different systems for blocking.Fable 2 is Peter Molyneux and Lionhead Studios' upcoming 360 masterpiece. It is innovating in many ways, including combat. Fable 2 features a one button combat system. The X button is devoted to attacking with a short-range weapon, like a sword, and Y and A are devoted to bow/arrow and magic use. But today we're just going to talk about short-range combat. All attacks, throws, and combos while using a sword can be achieved with the X button alone. To attack simply press the button. To combo, players must tap X at varying intervals in tune with a beat. Players can perform finishing moves with a counter by tapping X right when an enemy attacks. The X button is also devoted to blocking with a sword. How? Just hold the button. Holding X allows player characters to block most attacks automatically. And thats it. Tap X to attack. Tap X at the right time to counter. Hold X to block. Its a simple system but becomes progressively more complex as players learn the combo system, Molyneux contends. He even once said that players will be able to beat the game no problem simply by mashing on the X button. Yes, Molyneux condones button mashing. But is there anything wrong with that? I don't think so. It makes the game simple for novice players while remaining appealing. However, he says that if players so desire, they will be able to exploit a deep combat system, all with just one button. Long story short: block by holding X.

Our second featured game is Heavenly Sword. As the beautiful Nariko, players will embark on an epic journey, and all the while slaying countless clone-faced foes. Developer Ninja Theory has invented an intruiging combat system for players to fight with. Nariko has at her disposal three combat stances. Standard is speed, hold L1 to switch to ranged mode, hold R1 to switch to strong. Meanwhile on the controller face, the triangle and square buttons allow Nariko to attack and counter. The shoulder buttons act as modifiers. They change Nariko's stance, and therfore attacks, but they also change her block.

Blocking in Heavenly Sword is fairly unique for video games. Nariko's blocks by not doing anything. Sitting there and not pressing anything allows Nariko to block any standard attacks. However, different enemy types will attack Nariko as well. Stronger blocks will blow right through Nariko's standard block. As will arrows and other projectiles. But switching to the respective stance allows Nariko to block these attacks as well. The enemies and their respective attacks come in three different types too: standard, strong, ranged. By tapping triangle just as the enemy attacks will make Nariko counter, assuming she is in the right stance for that enemy type. Ninja Theory, I think, has created an interesting and balanced combat system. Three different enemy types, three different attack stances, three different means of blocking. Players must constantly be switching up their stance to deal with the varied enemies and incoming attacks. Nariko blocks automatically. However, she will have to be in the correct stance to block the different enemy types. The other fulcrum of balance, if you will, is the players choice to attack or sit still. If you attack, you risk the chance of being hit. If you sit still, you'll be more likely to deflect an attack, or at least more focused if the need to switch stance arrives, as it will often.

The third game is Okami. This epic is the only game discussed today that has already been released. Clover Studios, unfortunately disbanded, was the developer behind Okami, and also created classics like Viewtiful Joe and Killer 7. Okami has gameplay very much like The Legend of Zelda. Which means adventure over an expansive fictional land. However, the great Ameratsu's combat style differs greatly from Link's. First, players can use brush techniques to help defeat enemies. Second, Okami has multiple weapons that she can switch out to serve as primary or secondary. The primary attack works as you might imagine, just tap the button to attack repeatedly. The sub weapon serves varying purposes depending on the weapon itself. At the beginning of the game, Okami has no means to block. She can run around, and jump, and dodge eventually. But before players cannot block until they get a weapon of the type Reflector. Equiping the reflector as a sub weapon and pressing triangle in combat will bring up a large round shiled in front of Okami. But the shield will not stay up. Regardless if the players tap or hold triangle, the shield will only stay up for a second. After the shield comes down, Ameratsu will be momentarily defensless until she overcomes her shield lag. However, the shield will only lower if nothing hits it. If the shield does block an attack like fire, it will remain up and continue to block Okami until the attack subsides. Sometimes long, constant attacks will bombard Okami, like fire or poison. Bringing up the shield before the attack hits will block the entire attack stream. Also, pressing triangle right in front of enemy will make Okami grab it and pile drive it into the dirt. Its awesome and does a ton of damage. I think its an interesting way to form a block mechanic, the shield is there when you need it but gone when you don't.

These are not the only blocking mechanics nor combat systems to be found in action games. They are a sampling, they represent a diversity of systems present in a single genre of video games. The point is, there are millions of ways to achieve something. Look at something as simple as blocking, even this can be designed in a variety of ways, as we have just seen. This is true across all of game design. Everything can be designed in different ways. This is how whole genres are born. When designing a game, dont just rely on one system or mechanic. Just out of sight, hidden in your labrythine mind, there may be a solution or superior alternative awaiting discovery.

Who do you think is coolest: Ameratsu Okami, Nariko, or Peter Molyneux?