Tuesday, April 29

Designing to a First-Person-Shooter

Update May 01: Wii
This is an update, or extension, to the proceeding paragraphs.
My friend brought up the issue of designing an FPS for Wii, as it was not discussed in this article. Essentially, I feel designing an FPS for Wii is the same as designing an FPS for any other platform: the design must be specific. The Wii pointer is not a perfect emulation of a PC mouse, nor do the remote and nunchuck perform similarly to a keyboard. Though there are similarities, per pixel tracking in particular, designing for Wii possibly requires the most specific attention of any current platform. The Wii interface is still new, and though many an FPS has been developed for Wii, many have also failed to work well on the system. The game design industry is still experimenting and learning about Wii's capabilities. It will likely be a whiloe yet before we have the Wii interface fully figured-out. Many Wii games reviewed are labeled as "shoe-horning" in the motion functionalities of the remote or nunchuck. These are the games that are not taking advantage of the Wii interface but instead ascribing traditional controller functions to a completely different control method. As with any other platform, we need to look at what the Wii controller offers, what does it do, what does it not do, and think about how these controls will best fit a game, and how a game will best fit these controls.

Original Article
Last night, my friends and I had a long conversation about the first-person-shooter. It eventually turned into an argument, or at least a debate. Which was really nice, actually, because we discussed a very interesting topic with widely differing view points.Eventually, the topic turned to PC FPS versus Console FPS. This is a big debate for a lot of people. Some hate console first-person-shooters, some love them. Some are indifferent. My friend's basic stance was that the console controller analog stick will never match the precision of a mouse. And, therefore, the console is an inferior platform for first-person-shooters.

While I completely agree with his first sentiment, the latter point I do not.It would be naive to assume that an analog stick can match the precision of a mouse. The way analog sticks are currently configured, it is simple not possible. At least in my opinion. The mouse tracks per pixel, and the targeting reticule follows the movements of the player's hand. Analog sticks cannot emulate this. Not that they don't have their own merits. I personally find the analog stick very tacticle. In fact, the mouse of a PC can sometimes feel too accurate. Fortunately, most games offer sensitivity adjustment for both platforms.While the mouse may always be more accurate than the analog stick, that doesn't mean the analog stick is unsuited for first-person-shooters. It just means the analog stick is unsuited for the PC first-person-shooter.Do you see the difference? A first-person-shooter, like any other game, must be designed specifically for its intended platform. A PC first-person-shooter must be designed with a mouse and keyboard in mind. The mouse and keyboard is the use interface, the means by which players will interact with the game. Naturally, therefore, the first-person-shooter should be designed to implement the PC interface. The console FPS, likewise, must be designed specifically for the console controller and even more specifically designed for the exact console on which the game will be played. The console FPS must be designed differently than it would be for a PC. The fact is, players will not be interacting with the game via mouse and keyboard. Players will interact with the game with a controller.Which platform is more suited for the first-person-shooter is not the question we want to be asking. This question occurs when people begin to ascribe one platform design to the other. The PC first-person-shooter will not work as well on console. A console first-person-shooter will not work as well on a PC.

An example: Halo, when ported to the PC, was maligned for its slowness of movement in comparison to its speed of aiming. Halo was designed for the X-box. Bungie, knowing the ability of analog sticks, designed Halo to play well on console, movement was intentionally made to be slow because the analog sticks lacked the precision required for tracking the quick movements of characters in PC staples like Quake or Unreal. Hence, when Halo was ported to PC, the character movement speed remained the same, but the sensitivity of aiming was adjusted to match the per-pixel accuracy of the mouse.You cannot expect a PC first-person-shooter on a console. You cannot expect a console first-person-shooter on PC. They are two different platforms, two completely different interfaces. Therefore, you cannot design a PC FPS for consoles. And you cannot design a console FPS for PCs. True, the console controller will never be as accurate as the mouse. But that is really not the point. When designing a console FPS, the designer should know this fact and design an FPS for play with an analog stick, with all its strengths and limitations, and not for a mouse. There is a reason Halo is so good. It was designed to be played with a controller.

That said, I've come to learn that there are many people who will always prefer a PC FPS to a console FPS. They just prefer the precision, regardless of the design of any console FPS. I came to this realization when playing Mario Kart Wii, oddly enough. I played Mario Kart Wii with the Wii wheel for probably a couple of hours spread out over a couple of days. I do enjoy the unique feel the Wii wheel offers when steering karts. Its fun and works pretty well. This is because Mario Kart Wii was designed to be played with the Wii wheel as its primary interface. However, I still felt off playing the game. I just couldn't figure out the control; most problematically, I would frequently drift into walls.

Eventually, I decided to try playing with a Gamecube controller to see how it felt. As soon as I did, I immediately felt better. The game opened up and I was finally driving with some skill. Then I realized: at least for Mario Kart Wii, I will probably always prefer the GCN controller, even though the game was designed to be played with the Wii wheel. And I understood where the PC FPS players were coming from. Given that, I will probably still play with the Wii wheel because I enjoy the novelty and appreciate what the developers are attempting. I want to support the innovation; plus, its more hardcore.The console FPS can be just as good as the PC FPS. However, if the console FPS tries to be a PC FPS, it will likely fail. The console controller is equally as good as the mouse and keyboard, in that they both have inherent strengths and weaknesses. Console FPS's should not be designed to be played with the precision of a mouse; they should be designed for and to the controller, and specifically, the analog stick. The analog stick is a wonderful interface. It has plenty to offer as a means of control, as evidenced by the multitude of quality games released for consoles. Though the first-person-shooter was founded as a PC genre, the design can be adapted for the console, and has been successfully. We just need to look at the console controller and think, "what does this interface offer and what does it not? What are its strenghts, what are its pitfalls?" Then, we should approach the design of this FPS game for the console. Forget the PC first-person-shooter and design for what the console has to offer, and how the FPS form can benefit from the console interface.

Images from Kotaku, SlipperyBrick, GameSpot, TheManRoom,

Prince of Persia and Graphics

The above are in-game screenshots. Yes, really. When I first saw them, I almost cried. This game is so unbelievably good looking. This is the new Prince of Persia. Rumor has it the game is called Prodigy, according to a recent trademark filing. According to a press release at Kotaku, Prodigy will be released for PS3, 360, and PC. Another Prince of Persia game is also in the works for the DS. Most importantly, Prodigy is being developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the same studio which developed the Prince of Persia trilogy for the previous generation, and also my favorite developer.

Below is more concept art and renders from Prodigy.

The video game medium is a graphical medium, hence the "video." Our technology, is nearing a peaking point. Thats not to say, however, that in ten years we won't have more realistic graphics; indeed, the potential for realism in ten years will be uncanny. But right now, our present technology allows for a broad range of graphical expression. We can have graphics as realistic as Metal Gear Solid 4, as cartoony as The Simpons Game, or as beautiful as Okami. That said, I think our industry is sometimes afraid to break away from realistic graphics.

There is nothing wrong with emulating reality, if that is what the game calls for. Half-Life 2, in order to relay its story, to convey its message, is best suited with realistic graphics. Using the same engine, Team Fortress 2 possess graphics that represent its own themes explicitly for the purpose of gameplay. Not all games need to be so graphically defined. In fact, we are normally just fine with graphics that fall somewhere in between. And thats a good thing. In the same way that it would be shame if all games featured realistic graphics, it would be sad if games either had to be completely realistic or completely "cartoony."

I think we need to be wary of defining our games by their graphical aspects alone. Okami is downright gorgeous, but its gameplay, its story, and its themes are also commendable elements, to say the least. Part of why Okami succeeds as a game is because each of its elements work copperatively to form a cohesive experience.

That aside, assuming these screenshots are truly representitive, I think that Prince of Persia is the best looking game ever made. Just look at them. When you see these screenshots, I can't help think "what have we been missing." Prodigy continues in the footsteps of The Wind Waker, Okami, and Team Fortress 2 to demonstrate exactly what video games are capable of graphically. Graphics have progressed to a point that allows us to visually express ourselves in nearly any way imagineable. Prodigy looks like a comic book. The fact is even more profound when we consider that Ubisoft Montreal's other two franchises, Splinter Cell and Assassin's Creed, are highly realistic graphically. I've already expressed my love for Ubisoft Montreal, but you've got to hand it to them, they are some talented folk.

Screens from Joypad via Pro-Gamers
Character screen from Recenzeher

Tuesday, April 8

Chronicle of Studio Shutdowns

If you read gaming industry news regularly, you may have noticed that an unusually large amount of developers have been shutdown recently. What is the cause of all of this? I'm really not sure; I'm not an economist. However, I do see the shutdowns as a fairly sad series of unfortunate events for the industry as a whole, and for the individuals within the studios. This post is a chronicle of the recent development studio shutdowns.

It all started with EA Chicago last November. EA Chicago created the Fight Night and Def Jam series'. They were develoing a Marvel Fighting Game when the studio was shut-down. The stuts of the Marvel Fighting Game remains unkown. GameSpot initially reported the studio's closing. Frank Gibeau, president of EA Games, said that the studio was shutdown because they were unable to meet "that standard," referring to game sales versus game development costs. Def Jam: Icon, EA Chicago's last developed game, reportedly did not meet sales expectations. According to Next-Gen, 350 people were laid off as a result of the closing. There is some good news in this. EA Chicago was also developing a new boxing game when it was shutdown, GameSpot says, called FaceBreaker. The game has since been moved to EA Canada, the studio behind, most recently, FIFA Street 3. However, apparently, FaceBreaker is still by-and-large being developed by the same team behind Fight Night, reports GameSpot also. The other good news is that lead designer at EA Chicago, Kudo Tsunoda, has moved over to Microsoft to work on "a future Gears of War title."EA Chicago's closing was a few months ago, but since January have six other studios been shutdown. First up was P2 Entertainment, formally known as Perpetual Entertainment. WarCry reported that their title, Star Trek Online, was being moved to another development studio. However, the company does still exist. P2 will now solely dact as the owners and licensors of their Perpetual Platform, which WarCry reports has been licensed to BioWare, among other studios.The next shutdown is, in my opinion, the most disappointing. Iron Lore gave word that they had shutdown as of February 17th. Iron Lore developed two games through completion, Titan Quest, and its expansion, Immortal Throne. Both games were recieved well by critics. Iron Lore was also co-developing the newest Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War expansion, SoulStorm. The reason for the shutdown was due to piracy, according to THQ Director of Creative Management Michael Fitch. Next-Gen reported on a forum post Fitch made at the quartertothree forums. There, Fitch states, "Titan Quest did okay. We didn't lose money on it. But if even a tiny fraction of the people who pirated the game had actually spent some god-damn money for their 40+ hours of entertainment, things could have been very different today." I think is very, very sad. Please don't pirate games. Games are an artform. But they are also commercial pieces of entertainment.The fourth shutdown in this rundown is StormFront. Gamusutra first reported their closing. Ironically, this was reported on April Fools, but alas it was no joke. StormFront, GameSpot reports [via GameCyte], had no title to move onto after completing their work on The SpiderWick Chronicles. StormFront is most known for their work on Neverwinter Nights, Stronghold, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. There is good news, however. GameSpot reported that, while all of the employees were laid-off, StormFront is currently in a state of "suspended operations." StormFront CEO Dan Daglow said in an interview with GameCyte that the studio is currently in talks with publishers to potentially develop a couple games.
The next near-closing was Castaway, initally reported as an SOS by GameSpot. Castaway was founded by a bunch of Blizzard employees in 2003. The studio reased a single game, Yaris for Xbox 360 Live Arcade. However, they did have another game in development, Djinn, made in the spirit of Diablo. A video of the game was uploaded to YouTube by vice president of Castaway, Stefan Scandizzo. Castaway closing was lack of money, mostly from recent publisher muergers effecting potential game signings. Since GameSpot's SOS, Castaway has been approached by various people and publishers, Next-Gen reports. We will have to see how this all plays out.

Djinn Gameplay Video:

The sixth recent closing was Psuedo Interactive. 1up first reported the shutdown. Pseudo developed the Cel Damage and Full Auto series of games, the first in the Full Auto series being a launch title for the 360. Next-Gen reports that Pseudo Entertainment "fell victim to a massive restructuring plan at SCi, which involved the company killing off 14 projects and laying off 25 percent of its workforce." Pseudo was reportedly developing a new Carmageddon when they were shutdown. When SCi chose to cancel the game, Pseudo eventually fell with it, having no other game to develop.The final (phew!) closing announcement comes today from Develop Magazine, Sega Racing Studios is being shutdown. The only game they had a chance to develop was Sega Rally Revo, a remake of the original. Next-Gen reported the reason for the closing:
The decision is part of a review of Sega's Western Development Studios to ensure that each studio is a profitable entity in its own right, and unfortunately the Sega Racing Studio’s 5 year plan would not result in a successful return for the Sega business moving forward. Sega would like to stress that there will be no changes within their other internal development studios.
GameSpot states that Sega Rally Revo "has sold a mere 44,000 units in the US across all platforms through February, according to the NPD Group."Its sad to see so many development houses falling down so quickly. They all work hard, do their best to secure publishing deals and make great games, but issues ranging from internal difficulties to external pressures to simply poor sales can really hurt a studio. Professional game development is risky business. Invisible Studio sends its well wishes to all of the people effected by these shutdowns.