Monday, July 14

Hype! Day Zero

As you may know, E3 2008 begins tomorrow. In fact, it has already, with Microsoft and EA's respective press conferences complete.
Here is something to get your Hype! week started. The resolution is 1280 x 1040.

I'll be in the Lively chat room as often as I can to discuss anything and all E3. Second, I'm trying to launch an initiative of sorts on Bestuff. It's the Best of E3 2008 category; I'm looking for people to join and cast your vote. Of course, you may vote for multiple stuff, otherwise would be cruel.

And now for a word from our sponsors:
Game Trailers
-considering that Game Trailers has officially partnered with the ESA this year, Game Trailers should be your first stop for all things, well, trailers.

-per usual for GameSpot, extremely comprehensive information, impressions, and media.

-More impressions and media.

-Weakened by the fact that GameSpy and IGN have officially merged media hubs (less variety), but strong regardless.

Sunday, July 13

Flagship Studios Shutdown

UPDATE: Flagship Still Exists, Owns Properties
Flagship studios has been shut down.
More information.

All of the Flagship and Ping0 employees have been laid off. All of the employees were given thirty days of full pay out of the pockets of their superiors. The maintenance of Hellgate: London has been passed to Comerica. HanbitSoft now has the rights to Mythos. This is unfortunate news, though a former Ping0 employee does a good job of explaining why it happened. I just started playing Mythos closed-beta this morning, ironically, and I really enjoy the game. The game feels very much complete; I hope that it is finished and released and not turned into vaporware.

image from filefront.

Thursday, July 10

The Wind and the Caribou

Last night, I saw an episode of Natural World about the great caribou migration. Each spring, the caribou trek 3,000 miles from their winter calving grounds through upper Canada to reach their summer homes. The episode was about not only their migration, but also the wolves that live in the region, and their dependency on the caribou for survival.

The caribou gather in droves during their migration, merging herds to reach a population in the thousands. The sight is quite beautiful. The wolves also give birth at this time of year. Mostly, the mother must stay with the pups to protect them. The father of the pack must be the bread-winner and bring back food for the mother and pups. And by way food, all the wolves have are caribou. However, since the newborn pups are still too small to travel, the wolf packs are rooted to their respective birthing territories. Though the adult wolves can survive weeks without food, the pups lack fat and will die of starvation shortly after their mother stops lactating if they are not fed meat. Therefore, it is up to the father's to venture out and intercept the caribou migratory herd.

The problem is, the caribou's migration route doesn't always pass near the wolf pack's homes. The caribou are constantly being pestered by mosquitoes. And not just a few. We're talking billions of mosquitoes harassing thousands of caribou, constantly. For us, with safe, walled-in structures, mosquitoes are an annoyance. For the caribou, however, who are always on the move and who have only meager food available, blood loss from sucking mosquitoes is a deathly problem. So bothered are they by the swarms of mosquitoes, the caribou dictate their walking direction by the direction of the winds. The caribou will walk into the wind to keep the mosquitoes away. Since wind is an ever-changing element, the caribou's migration route shifts each year with it.

One wolf traveled 400 miles in 10 days searching for caribou, only to return to his den with nothing. The winds chose the route of the caribou, and, by chance, the route passed too far from this wolves den.

Thus, each migration season, the wind decides the fate of two survivalist creatures: the packs of wolves littered across the tundra, and the caribou trekking to their homes each migration season. The wolves need favorable wind for the caribou to pass near by, so they may hunt the caribou and feed their pups. On the other hand, if the wind does pass near wolf dens, some caribou will likely lose their lives.During the TV program, the narrator quoted an Inuit saying: "Who knows the way of the wind or the caribou?" He is talking about is chance and dependency.

The wind is a random, outside element that dictates the actions and favor of two players. Do what they may, both players are certain whims of lady wind. However, the wind does not completely determine the win or loss of either player. Either player may act how he or she pleases, and, ultimately, it is how the players act that will determine their fates. The players may strategize, taking advantage of the winds favor or else fighting its contempt. Both player are equal in terms of potential, but the outside element, the wind, is what tests their skill. The wind is a wrench, a challenge to the players' skills. Come wind or hell, the more skillful player can prevail.

Also, the wind is a natural element. We sometimes have the tendency to want to control each minute detail of our games. This isn't natural. The world is in constant motion, nothing is static. Rules do exist: gravity, light. But it is the natural element that brings our world to life: the wind or the rain. We need to ease our grasp. Let our games breathe. Make some rules, not too complex, mind you, but rules that will both benefit and challenge our inhabitants, make them want to stay around for awhile and see what life has to offer. Then let's blow some wind and see which way the caribou walk.

source: and
image from thelon.

Wednesday, July 9

The Witcher: VERSUS!

The Witcher: Duel Mail was first launched a few months ago. But that was just a beta. Today, CDProjekt and one2tribe launched The Witcher: VERSUS!, the full-release version of the originally titled Duel Mail. Also, everything from the beta was reset, so everyone has to restart their characters from scratch. I played Duel Mail when it was first released; in fact, I was rather obsessed with it. And for good reason. The game plays itself.

The Witcher: VERSUS!
is a free, in-browser, flash-based multi-player game. The characters and mechanics are, naturally, all drawn from CDProjeckts 2007 PC title, The Witcher. The gameplay, however, is anything but. Players choose to play as one of three character classes: a witcher, a sorceress, or a frightener. From then on out, gameplay revolves around setting up one-on-one duels with other players. Below is a screenshot of the primary menu screen.
The left column is a list of duels that have taken place. The middle column is challenges I've either sent or received. And the top right is stats on my character. Players can both initiate duels or accept challenges initiated by other players. Actual duels function similarly to rock-paper-scissors. Players fill slots in two separate bars with sequences of attack and defense maneuvers. Skills are split into four types: strong, fast, magic, and special. Generally speaking, each type is a counter to itself. Strong-type attacks will be blocked by strong-type defense, fast-attacks by fast-type defense, and so on. As characters gain levels, though, skill points can be allocated to upgrade current skills or purchase new ones. New skills offer special abilities, passive buffs, and additional damage or defense bonuses. Half of playing this game well is carefully planning your path down the four skills trees. The other half to winning is predicting your opponent's moves.
The battle screen.
Once the attack/defense sequences are slotted, players push "Fight!" to initiate the duel. If you have accepted a challenge, the duel will play-out immediately, showing with fairly impressive graphical representation, the duel and thereafter the results. Watching is intense, to say the least. Characters take turns attacking and defending in the sequence order previously arranged. Nothing is real-time. "Everything must be planned beforehand," as the loading screen often prompts. So much of winning depends on guessing what you're opponent will do and hoping that your respective battle sequences pan out in your favor. Winning is glorious. Your opponent dies, and suddenly you come back to your main screen where you discover you've gained a level. Losing, on the other hand, is the very definition of disappointing, especially when you realize your win/loss count is being tracked for all to see. My win/loss record stays at a fairly consistent 50/50 ratio.

The best part of the entire VERSUS! experience is that it plays itself. Or at least that's how it feels. When you challenge an opponent, the duel is stored away until the opponent accepts your challenge. When the challenge returns with the results, it appears in the left-hand bar as a question mark, teasing you with a video of the duel. But the downtime after challenging an opponent is extremely exciting. You can go off, do homework, mow your lawn, whatever. And all the while you know that, when you return, one of your challenges will have been accepted. So the game keeps itself on your mind, often, if your on the Internet already, begging you to compulsively check your challenge results. And so begins the cycle of Internet game addiction. However, with the whole "our game plays itself when your not here" aspect, The Witcher: VERSUS! manages to remain fun, addictive, and minimally time consuming. That's what I call good game design.

The Witcher: Versus! is a very well executed game, especially considering it was made with flash. It's seriously fun and you should check it out asap.

FaceBreaker, or, How to Insult Your Opponent

Update: Controls Informational Video

Original Post
FaceBreaker was announced a while back. In development by EA's Canada studio, FaceBreaker is a humorous, comedic take on recent string of more serious boxing games. Unlike Fight Night, FaceBreaker attempts a more arcadey take on boxing, targeting a more casual, "fight for fun," audience. Most disparately, FaceBreaker eschews Fight Night's highly successful analog swing control system. Instead, FaceBreaker takes it old-school functioning with a more traditional button and trigger control system. As GameSpot explains (for PS3), R1 button blocks, X punches the torso, and square punches the head. Also, as GameSpot and IGN further explain, players can parry attacks by simultaneously holding block and whichever face button you predict the receiving punch will be. If you chose incorrectly and, say, try to parry a head punch that turned out to be a punch to the gut, you'll be hit hard, rather than parrying or blocking at all. Therefore, you can block guaranteed, or you can risk the parry and turn the tables on your opponent.

The game also features a bone breaker system, but what I would like to focus on for this article is the cool "completely insult the opponent sitting next to you on the couch" . . . feature. Fighting games have for long time featured stance-switching. A few examples my friend and I could think of off the top of our heads include the fighting system of the last-gen Mortal Kombat games, Christie in Tekken, Voldo in Soul Calibur, and Ryu and Lei Wulong in Dead or Alive.
FaceBreaker takes inspiration from these games in the most-awesome way possible. Holding L1 will cause your character to fight one-handed, literally, by putting one arm behind his or her back. Insulting? Most definitely. But this feature just highlights FaceBreaker's focus on fun, comically offensive brawling. And its more than just aesthetic, too. Fighting one-handed also switches fighting styles, if it can be called that. Characters will fight more insultingly; instead of punching, attacks can push opponents to the ground or (don't try this at home) deliver a solid crotch-kick.

I'm just a really big fan of this system. It sounds fun. Imagine the come-backs: one-hit 'till death,
opponent at full-health, and you bring the fight back for the win, all with one-hand tied behind your back.

Tuesday, July 8

Google is Alive

Just when I was planning on writing a series of posts concerning Internet games, here comes Google and launches a brand new web browser game. Google Lively was both announced and launched (as a beta) today. Lively is a free, in-browser, avatar-based chat service. And it is really cool.

You may notice a new addition to Invisible Studio's sidebar today, our own Google Lively room. I'll be in and out and feel free to drop in to talk about whatever, whenever.

But back to Google Lively. The service is really quite impressive. Users assume their own avatars, enter rooms wherein inhabit other avatars, and chat like we have since 1999. Essentially, Google Lively adds a graphical-user-interface to the standard chat system. Its been before, Sulake's Habbo being a good example. But where Google excels is popularity. Already, there are likely thousands using the Lively service. And for good reason; Lively is an excellently executed program. The interface is clean, easy to use, even intuitive. Which, for Google's intended audience, is highly necessary.
It's Alive

Customizing your avatar initially seems quite limited. But that's before you realize there's a catalog filled with a wide selection of apparel. Your avatar can be personalized pretty well, which is important for an avatar-based chat service. Aside from text chatting, users can speak to each other visually using emote animations. The animations themselves are quite expressive as well, exaggerated body signals. My personal favorite is "speak no evil."

Anyone can create a room and customize it how they please. The catalog also has quite a few furniture pieces. Users choose from a small set of "shells" off which to base their room, and go crazy from there. Rooms can be outfitted with furniture, fish tanks, plants, tv screens, and picture frames, the latter two of which can be embedded with pictures or youtube videos. Any object can also be given a hyperlink.

Google Lively is really a fun service. If you're going to be chatting anyway, and your computer and Internet connection can handle it, why not chat with a cool avatar in a room designed by yourself. The service is actually quite similar to what PlayStation 3's Home will be later this year.

All of this is to say that Internet gaming is becoming bigger all the time. In-browser games are the new fad. Look at Battlefield: Heroes, Legions: Fallen Empire, both of these are complex 3D games that play in your Firefox browser. The prospect of triple-A, in-browser games is attractive. Its easy, generally free, and from what we've got so far, fun. And they will keep on coming; the rush has started.

images from google and affordable housing

Don't Move The Tauren!

Why I think Don't Move the Tauren! is the greatest game ever made. Don't Move the Tauren! is a Warcraft III mod by LlamaGui, and The mod is actually pretty old; I played it at least two years ago. Even so, Don't Move the Tauren! has remained one of my favorite mods ever since.

Before reading this article, I would highly recommend you first play Don't Move the Tauren!, especially with as many people as possible. Of course, you will need a copy of Warcraft III.

Why is this game so genius? Because it explicitly defines itself. The title is, "Don't Move the Tauren!" And that means, "if you move the Tauren you lose." Players are confused, "Wait, what? So, we don't move the Tauren? Is that it? Am I missing something?" Are you? Beneath the blatancy is a most impressive subtext. Even though the title is the directions, people still doubt the gameplay. Not that their doubt isn't justified. Because the rules for the game are so inanely simple, players wonder if, in fact, they are the rules at all.

And what begins as a noobish state of confusion quickly becomes a war of mind games. Chat messages are flung back and forth as players try everything in their power to convince their opponents that moving your tauren is, indeed, the way to win. My favorite is, "seriously, their is a win zone in the corner, run their without dying and you win. I just didn't want to be cheap because I've played before." Watching other players fall for your ridiculous antics is nothing short of hilarious. And that's why LlamaGui's Don't Move the Tauren! is the greatest game ever made.

image from Blizzard Fan Art

Monday, July 7

Design is in the Details

Paul Bennett: Design is in the Details
From 2005 TED Talk Conference

I really enjoyed this presentation. Paul Bennett is a creative director for IDEO, a design consultancy. The ideas he presents in this video are nothing short of genius. Bennett covers a menagerie of ideas, and I think many of them pertain to game design. From 5:30 to 7:00, Bennett discusses "looking with your peripheral vision." Cliffy B once said that the games industry is too "insular," that we are too inwardly focused and don't draw ideas enough from other sources.

Both Cliffy and Bennett have good points. Design is like life: the more diverse your interests or experiences, the more dynamic and enriching will be your life and ideas. Paint, build cars, sweep and scull, play games, and each individual experience will be better, for experience will enrich the others. Diversifying yourself lends you multiple perspectives of everything you do. Just like design. If we only play games, only read about them, only design them, then our games will suffer from, we will be drawing ideas from what is a very anemic pool. Bennett asks us to our peripheral vision. And part of using our peripheral vision has to do with taking initiative, seeking out new experiences and learning from them; then we will have a bigger pool of ideas, an array of perspectives that we can use to conceptualize and perceive our designs.

From 7:00 to 8:30, Bennett discusses a single design challenge, which is a two-handed input-device for nurses. Again, what Bennett has to say is directly applicable to game design, mainly, I believe, objective player observation and prototyping. Our ideas may not pan out exactly how we would like them. I know prototyping is nothing new for game development, but there is no harm in stressing the matter. Bennett is saying that we need to objectively and attentively observe our players, and their use of our design systems, before we charge headlong into something that, in the end, may not work as well as we had planned. Even before prototyping, we need to pause in our design process to review what we have done so far, and reassess the value and contribution of each design aspect.

At 9:20, Bennett is discussing how we use the world around us, specifically how, for convenience, we "wrap the tea bag string around the cup handle." Bennett says: "We're sort of using the world around us to create our own design solutions. . . . This is people designing their own experiences, you can draw from this." He continues about how we "co-opt our environment," how we take advantage of the environment itself or objects therein for our personal use and benefit. We want to take advantage of these observations, to use natural human responses to create better game experiences. I'm sorry, I don't have any specific examples. Part of a comfortable gameplay experience is ease, natural understanding of functions. We aren't making virtual reality, not yet. Players are kind of two steps removed from video games, separated by the screen and the controller. We need to work with these steps, so instead of barriers they become tools. Is a person more connected to nails with a hammer or with bare hands?

Another aspect of this topic is player expectations. Players, having lived in the real world, have expectations about how their in-game worlds should function. In a recent interview with GameTrailers, Will Wright discussed Grand Theft Auto IV, specifically the AI: "The behavior of the people is so lame compared to the graphics. You know, thats the weakest link by far. We have these people that look like fairly reasonable humans, but they act like staplers." I actually think we've made admirable leaps in expectations over the past few years, for example, with Oblivion or Mass Effect. Aside from NPC AI, however, simple things like menus are expected to function a certain way. The best way to find out how people expect these to function is to playtest, adjust, and playtest some more.

Part three, and the most important part, of Bennett's presentation is "unthinking situations." Essentially, Bennett talks about designing for your audience, not what you assume your audience to be. To discover who your audience really is, Bennett says, "put yourself in their shoes." He says its good to "re-frame the ordinary," or innovate." Innovation starts with an objective view of the intended design, or, a subjective view, as long as that view is from the eyes of your audience. I think sometimes its easy to forget about the players. Its so easy to think about how we're going to play the game, maybe we even describe well how the game will be played. But if from the get-go we didn't think, in a sort of selfless manner, of the other players, the ones who will be playing the game, then we the design may fail where we were so confident it would succeed. We need to remember that a human is behind the controller. We must take them into account: their emotions, their mind, their reasoning, the dexterity of their fingers. The game was designed well when players think that its so easy to play, it must have been easy to make.

image from