Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On My Mind: The Problem with Numbers

The problem with numbers and statistics can be used to show anything that the study wants you to see, and people should a)read between the lines, and b)think about what the implications of such numbers mean. I'll give you an example (and extract some of the points that I'll discuss):

The 2011 PopCap Social Gaming Research survey, as conducted by Information Solutions Group and commissioned by PopCap, noted that, in comparison, 81 million people play social games at least once a day. In terms of spending on social games, the report explained that 31 million players have spent money on in-game purchases, up 86 percent year-over-year.
  • What is the definition of Social Game here? Is it strictly a game on Facebook? How about on the iPhone games that are networked? Where would something like Farmville on iOS and Facebook count? Without this context, it's much harder to understand what's the demographic that makes up this audience.
  • 81 Million is a pretty impressive number, but what would be more interesting and useful is, how many different games do they play (or is it just one)? If all these people only play one game, and never migrate, then the market isn't really as big as it seems (You can see this in WoW, MMOs are huge if you count WoW, if you take WoW out of the equation, you'll realize that the player pool is relatively small).
  • 31 Million Paying user, now that's a much more accurate title for the article, but I guess it's not as splashy as 81 million active users. As for spending; is the question phrased as: "Have you ever spent money on a Social game?" If so, then the percentage will always rise! Better questions would be "Have you spent money on a social game in the last 6/3 months" or "What was the most you have spent in a game?" If 31 million players only paid 99cents for an item once, then 31 million income looks pretty bad for a 81 million Active User. Most social games rely on the freemium model, and the idea that the small group of paying users pay to cover the operating and profit cost for everyone else; knowing the breakdown of how this money is spent, and where it's spent is important.

The survey also looked into the ages of social gamers, and showed that 30 percent of social gamers are under 30 years of age, compared to 19 percent in 2010. 20 percent of all U.S. social gamers are over 60 years old, compared to just 7 percent in the UK.

The breakdown of the makeup of player base is also interesting: Gaming have long been stuck as a "toy" category, and many were glad to push the percentile out of that category as it was perceived that the middle age group (especially Single Male demographic) spends disproportionally large amount of dollars for entertainment (and the recent release of Skyrim, MW3 and other countless collectors edition validates this). While reaching a wider audience is nice, it's questionable about their willingness to spend: an active user is relatively meaningless to your game if they never spend a dime on it.

ISG explained that the social games surge is a "newer phenomenon" in the UK than in the U.S., as 38 percent of UK social gamers have been playing social games for more than 2 years, compared to 51 percent in the U.S..

The word "surge" and "phenomenon" should start scaring you right about now. Consider the recent valuation of Zynga and Rovio, with the latter being the most interesting. A company with one title scoring that much valuation? I'm not going to bother predicting gloom and doom now, but just entertain a thought: Would the audience leave en masse? And what would happen?

In some ways, it's no different than the Wii. Remember the Wii "phenomenon", where millions flocked to Wii Sports? They stayed with that game, not needing any other experience, and never picked up anything else. It's somewhat scary to see the parallel between Zynga and Facebook; Rovio and Mobile; Nintendo and Wii: It may be profitable if you are the company in the driving seat, but good luck if you're coming into the market behind them.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Administrative Stuff: Dare to dream stupid big

At somepoint in 2001, I was still in high school, working on a yearbook for the graduating year. At that time, we wanted (and got everyone) to write something besides their pictures. It's all too cheesy now to even revisit, but one interesting thing I did back then was to stamp down a date 11-11-11. I didn't predict or call out Skyrim back in 2001.

I think back then, I said I'd give myself 10 years, to make something interesting. Back then, I didn't know much about games other than playing a lot: 10 years, to become lead design on some game, and have it ship on that date, "wouldn't that have been something".

Things never turn out the way they should, oh well. Now here I am, sitting at a Starbucks, hacking up some XML datastruct for a hobby project...

I dreaded that date coming, only because it was pushing ever closer to that "failed goal", but it also made me work that much harder to ship what I'm working on now (yes, I'm still working on it, I blame feature creep).

Eyes bigger than my stomach? Maybe, but you won't get there without dreaming stupid big.

So, see you again at 12-12-12?

Friday, October 21, 2011

On My Mind: What is a game designer?

While I'm still on my job search process, I've start to notice something really wrong with the games industry, and more specifically, how we define roles within the industry.

What is a Game Designer?

I've had this happen to me many times: relatives, friends, or other general acquaintances would find out I "make games", and I would go on and give them the 30 second explanation. It's often half assed, and just covers a general overview of what I could be doing, like "yes I make the stuff you see on screen" (WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN). I'm not sure if this post is trying to set the record straight (and I'm sure I'll get stuff wrong), but at least some of my observations (mostly anecdotal):

1) A Game Designer has to do everything and nothing at the same time

In a very broad stroke: A Game Designer has their hands in every point of the game development. They're the people that define the look and feel, the experience that the player interacts with, yet they also don't deal directly with any of the actual complexity that exists in the game. While it is true that great art and technology is what the players will first see or use, it's pretty much up to designers to make those first impressions last with a fun and interesting experience.

Depending on the size and scale of the project, a designer could be coming up with the overarching idea, how players interact with the game, the player experience, the general visual design, right down to the minor details of timing and visual feedback. Yet without programmers or artists to support and implement their ideas, they're just that: ideas. You put 5 designers together in a room, and at best is you'll have the world's greatest theoretical game idea. In this light, a game designer is very much like a project manager: ideas are like project requirements, and it's the designer's job to come up with new solutions to solve problems as they arise. Sure, it'd be great if they can predict all possible problems and avoid them ahead of time, but able to change course when problems happen is also a much needed, yet often not talked about skill.

You'll know you have a good designer when they appear to not do anything, yet get everything right in a game. A game can have great artists and great programmers working on it, but if you have lousy designers, no one will care how visually stunning or technically amazing the game is.

2) A Game Designer wears multiple hats at any given point

Most people outside of games think Game Designers is this fancy job where they sit around and just play games all day, which couldn't be further from the truth. However, the idea that all Game Designers do nothing but just come up with ideas is also pretty off-base. It's also interesting to note that this idea of what designers do isn't limited to people outside of games either.

It's interesting to note that the Japanese term for Game Designer typically is "planner", as their job covers issues like schedule management, bug tracking and workflow organization on top of actual game design. While the typical western design won't have to deal with scheduling (job of the Project Manager) or bug tracking (that's for QA), Game Designers still don't get a free pass in terms of just sitting around and coming up with ideas.

If there's one word that sums up what a Game Designer would do, it'd be this:


In addition to coming up with "the kick-ass" idea and the "nitty gritty details", the primary job of a designer should always be communicating with the rest of the team: relaying programmers concerns to the project managers that more time is needed to finish a feature; relaying artist's need for better tools to programmers, working out solutions to focus on certain features to satisfy manager's timeline, etc...

In this sense, a Game Designer would practically be a part of all the teams: they would need to be able to talk to programmers, understand a general sense of the code, and translate that back to the manager; or be able to talk to artists and understand how animation works and relay info back to the programmers. It's not just, "hey it'd be cool to have explosions here, here and here..."

3) Game Designers with the same title can mean different things in different environment

My last job title "Game Designer" was probably the most generic and boring titles out there, and it also doesn't tell people a whole lot about what I do either. This "problem" isn't specific to just "Game Designers" either: a quick search on what Level Designers do ranges anything from event scripting, stage and geometry design(level blocking), to even the visual design of levels. What's scary about this is if you as an professional puts down "Level Designer", you better be prepared to cover the entire spectrum of topics like level flow and movement, to path traversal, environment blocking, to even visual design or event/AI scripting within the topic of level design.

These can all be considered level design, so what's a level designer expected to cover?

This inconsistency potentially leads to many problems: A combat designer on a 3D action game (like what I did before) won't even share the same language and understanding as someone who's a combat designer in a FPS: both designers would be concerned about "timing", but their priorities and concepts won't directly translate to the other.

Where this annoys me the most, especially during my job hunt, is realizing that even if I say I've worked on combat design, depending on other people's understanding of it, could mean completely different things. It's quite possibly the only branch of game development that faces this issue: You ask programmers and artists what their title is, and you'll have a fairly good understanding of what their speciality is - an UI programmer's role and job description will never deviate as much as game designers; Someone who is a user experience designer on one game will wildly differ in experience to others with the same title.

4) Not all Game Designers work with the same scope

A full game production is a fairly large task, and there's a huge difference between different design scope. The above picture of SimCity and The Sims is a pretty good representation of how big the gap can be.

I recall a conversation once with a few designers on who works well with which scope, and I found that discussion very important in identifying everyone's strengths. Not everyone is going to be great at looking at the big picture of the game; nor will everyone be great at looking at the nitty gritty details. As an example, you want someone who understands the nuisances of ammo capacity and reload working on game balance than someone who doesn't understand it.

I'm not suggesting the idea that you pigeonhole someone strictly in their own specialty, but don't confuse idea contribution with idea implementation: everyone is entitled to ideas and opinions, but having a macro designer implement fine details and vice versa can only result in frustration all around. Someone who focuses on the Big Picture may just brush off minor details as unimportant, and would only suggest sweeping changes when things don't feel right; someone who fine-tunes details maybe over-specific on the big picture, which doesn't work well with the ever-changing dynamics of a game project.

?) A Game Designer "should" have a general understanding of all types of games

Here's one that I thought about putting down, but I don't know whether this is true at all. Personally, I think I try hard to "cover" as much ground as I can, but I know that I can't possibly know it all. I know I don't play enough RTS to say anything too meaningful in a development environment, so I wouldn't dive head first into it if I was given a choice. I feel that a good designer should always "know what they don't know, and know where to get help".

However, this also runs directly head-on against what a game designer needs to do in a production environment: be the person that has all the answers, ensuring everyone understands the direction even if it hasn't been determined. I hate to think what kind of projects have run into this issue, and what the results could have been.

Here's a thought experiment that I've repeated over and over: let's assume you as a designer was dropped into a project of X genre, how well would you fair? What kind of decisions would you make? How comfortable would you be with telling people your ideas? Here's an example:

With the recent launch of NBA Jam and upcoming NFL Blitz, what if EA said: "hey, let's get working on Wayne Gretzky 3D hockey" again (or better yet, Midway's "NHL Hitz"). What/how would you approach it?

Obviously, the quick and dirty answer would be: know the sport, know the history of the series, the expectation of the genre, what fans expect from it, and built upon that... seems to easy, right? Well, maybe not: How much rubberbanding should the AI have so that the game still feels interesting without feeling cheap? Is having power-ups within the game too "gamey" and not true to the sport? How much of a role should checking have in the game? As an arcade game, how much complexity should the control scheme have? Suddenly, a simple idea of a game balloons into something much more complex and much less defined.

Sure, personally I know what an RTS is, what mechanics are involved, etc, but I know I don't know enough to make a gut call on anything about people's design choices other than being the casual observer. I think I can say the same thing to many other genres, and I sometimes get a good chuckle from others who think they have all of it covered. As much as Miyamoto is an awesome guy who's done great things with games, I highly doubt he can make Halo. He can "make" an FPS, I have no doubt, but will it understand the nuances that people expect from shooters if he hasn't made one before (or is immersed within the genre itself)? There are reasons why certain dev teams dedicate themselves to a specific genre: you retain the people with the knowhow in that genre.


I'm pretty sure I've rambled on for too long, and I still probably wrote stuff that doesn't make sense. I hope I've clarified some of what I do (or did). Feel free to add comments or ask questions and I'll see if I can append to this.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Designer Notebook: Inverted control

For those who don't know, Inverted Controls is the idea that the look/move operation is done inversely to the control input. Some have likened it to the idea of a camera rig, where pushing upwards is pointing the camera downwards. It's not a control scheme for everyone, but once you're stuck with one, it's very hard to unlearn it. Tons of people also debate about the validity of it, as if it's some sort of crazy holy war where one side is correct: both are valid, stop bitching, and just live with it.

People are usually surprised that I use inverted control (apparently most console gamers don't), I guess my early exposures to PC Flight sims (and an unhealthy amount of Independence Day) have really trained me to think that way (sidenote: I use normal for PC shooters, don't know why, but it makes more sense to me). Yet sometimes this causes issues in games that I want to play.

The recently released Splinter Cell HD caused quit a bit of outrage as the game didn't support inverted controls, and I know I won't even bother giving the game a chance unless it's patched in. In a game where looking and shooting are essential, I know I will be infinitely frustrated by the fact that I will fumble more on the control than the mechanics themselves.

Another example: I was trying out the Yar's Revenge demo, a third person shooter where you control both the aiming reticule and the craft. The game supported an invert aim option, but I was still messing up as I always end up jamming the craft to the bottom of the screen. The lack of invert option for both craft and aiming might seem like pointless whining, but that was the dealbreaker that prevented me from buying the game.

Game designers should be very concerned about this. Sure, you may find the controls acceptable, but offering the option so that other people can play it seems like an obvious no-brainer. I recall a conversation I once had with a designer who will not be named who said "inverted is stupid", and "people who use it are retarded". Huh. Way to think about your potential customer.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On My Mind: Design: Art or Science (Abridged Version)

It's been a while since this topic was mentioned and I forgot where or why it popped up, but I felt compelled to write something about it. I recall being asked a few times whether design is an art or a science, and I'm sure you've all seen the endless debates on which one is correct or more important. So I might as well throw in my two cents here:


(Thanks Adam.)

Monday, September 19, 2011

On My Mind: Design: Art or Science

It's been a while since this topic was mentioned and I forgot where or why it popped up, but I felt compelled to write something about it. I recall being asked a few times whether design is an art or a science, and I'm sure you've all seen the endless debates on which one is correct or more important. So I might as well throw in my two cents here:

Why does it have to be a binary choice? Design should be both art and science. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn't doing their job properly.

(Note: I'm going to put a few pictures to get my point across: I'm not saying these are bad games, in fact, I actually liked these games a lot...)

Design is Artistic: any designer who tells otherwise are terrible designers who would only make cookie cutter, boiler plate ideas that caters to no one but a spreadsheet.

Sometimes, a game can still get by with just the bare minimum, hitting all the bullet points that people expect to have in a video game: Oh, it has online multiplayer; Oh it has co-op; Oh it has a ranking system, etc... But then is this really a game, or merely another manufactured clone of something else you would have rather played? It's especially worse when you realized this game you're playing has all the parts lifted directly from another game. Sure, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but you have to ask whether the people on the other end really cared about the product they're making.

I liken a game designed on paper as something without a soul: Sure, it may be technically competent and without fault, but it comes off bland and manufactured. Even as the game conveys emotions through it's characters or setting, it feels so contrived that you can already tell that the designers looked at "the demographic of the audience" and planned their game around it.

You may or may not like where EA as a company is right now, but a long time ago, they had put out an ad with the headline "Can a Computer Make You Cry?"

I'm not sure if they had made that question their vision back then, but I think it's a pretty noble goal even today. If a game isn't there to create player emotion, then you might as well be just doing your everyday menial tasks (and grinding out your level caps). Other "entertainment medium" elicit emotions like joy, fear, sadness and anger; if games are about entertainment, then they should strive to do the same, which means staying away from designing strictly from a mechanical standpoint.


Design is Scientific: any designer who tells you otherwise are terrible designers who wouldn't understand player feedback when someone tell them the game "isn't fun to play".

Until very recently, the more artistic endeavours from the likes of Suda51 (Killer 7, Shadows of the Damned, pictured bottom) and Tetsuya Mizuguchi (Every Extend Extra Extreme, pictured below) were a rarity in gaming. Their games often have flaws, but still receive high praises for their creative look compared other games outside. However, typically, the games always suffer from terrible sales, driving publishers away.

The quick and dirty answer that everyone can understand is that these games are going to be harder to market: People want comfort food, they want games they are familiar with, and huge deviations can scare people away. In some sense, it's why "Scary Movie" is a summer blockbuster: people like the familiarity, even if it's unoriginal, forced and manufactured.

However, another cause I like to point out is getting proper, 'scientific' feedback. A lot of times, you'll see some of these games commit the most obvious mistakes, as if no one actually played through them. Sure, the creative process is sometimes about 'gut feeling', putting in what feels natural and makes sense, but other times, doing proper 'scientific research' can yield much more favourable, more refined experience. It's the difference between "I think this weapon should have 0.5 seconds to reload" vs "Our test shows that 0.5 seconds is too long and players are not choosing the weapon".

Take Limbo (pictured above) for example: while the game is about trying and dying, and the player's journey through the experience, there were a handful of places where the only way players will get by if they've died multiple times to learn what not to do. Sure, it may be the experience that the developers intended to give, but it's sure to alienate players who are frustrated with such mechanic (and goes against the idea of games as a mastery of skill, not mastery of guessing what the developer wants you to do). There were points in the game where you see obvious attempts at placing hints to show players what can happen, and I wonder if those sections were even more difficult before proper testing and feedback.

In fact, if you were to analyze Suda51's last few games, you'll realize that his games have gotten better and better at smoothing out the rough edges yet still retaining some of his absurd ideas. You put Killer7 and Shadows of the Damned next to each other, and you can still tell it's from the same creators, but Shadows clearly have had more refinement in terms of managing and meeting players expectation. In a third person shooter, people expect fluid, direct control (Shadows), not point and click wonky interface (Killer7). Some would argue that Suda's games have gotten more bland as of result, but as a tradeoff for a more playable game that reaches a wider audience? I think it's a decent tradeoff.


Personally, I know that I tend to favour the scientific side of doing things. If I can get all the info about how people are playing my game, why wouldn't I take it to improve up on it? Yet I understand that design should not be entirely based around player feedback, and sometimes it's worth it to go against what is expected to make a more interesting idea work. I hope other designers would take a look at where they fit in that spectrum, and be mindful of how they look at the other side when they create stuff.

Friday, September 16, 2011

On my Mind: Emergence Gameplay

One of the most talked about "new" ideas in game design in recent years has been "Emergent Gameplay". In short, it is the idea of gameplay behaviour based on the rules and mechanics established by the game. While emergent gameplay were often unintentional, there is a strong focus today for designers to "plan out" ways to allow emergent gameplay to happen.

Sometimes, these ideas are entirely planned out: take for example, NBA Jam in contrast to traditional basketball games:

The hot spot mechanic changed the way people would focus on scoring: instead of taking open shots, players would risk for the more dangerous and covered 8 or even 20 pointer. Basically, people evaluated the risk/reward factor and decided that it's worth the risk.

Some notable examples of unintentional emergent gameplay include things like Rocket Jump in FPS games, or combos in fighters (first done as an error in Street Fighter).

So, what happens when emergent gameplay creates oddities like this:

Well, let's explain a little of what's going on here first: In Gears 2 (Hence the "emergence" title, HARHARHAR), there's a XP ranking system that allows you to earn extra character skins in Gears 2/3. The XP system is based on points obtained within all the multiplayer modes, giving out different rewards based on how good the players were in the game. To get to level 100, players need to accumulate ~6.8Million points. An average game of Horde nets 200 points, whereas an average game of other games are dependent on your score, but usually no more than 3-4000 points.

Obviously, getting to 100 would take forever, so people started looking at ways to "boost", and what you see above in that video is the end result. If you do a quick search online, you'll find plenty of explanations of how it's done, why it's the optimal one, and what happens in it (like here: link). What's interesting about this is that since it requires players to be playing in a "social match" (no private rooms), interesting player behaviours occur. Let's detail a few here:

1. Since not everyone is going to be on a mic, or refuse to talk on a mic, people have devise a pretty interesting way to signal that they want to boost: prep the grenade, and swing it around. People who are in for boosting stand around the circle and wait till everyone is in (or start shooting at people who aren't in).

2. Games go up to 120 points, so there's often a very gentleman's rule of backing out of the circle to 115 so that the other team gets just as many points. When you see it in action, you'll realized that these people may not know each other, but will cooperate to the same goal (of more XPs)

3. When there's an anti-boosting player in the game, both teams signal each other on where to take them out. They end up leaving in frustration.

4. When both teams get to ~115, then it's suddenly a free for all, almost a John Woo-isk scenario where everyone starts firing away for the win.

Players may not understand the real reason why it happens: but they've internally evaluated the meta-game goals (XPs, Levels) were worth more when they cooperate with each other, and are more than willing to grind through hours and hours of this just to get a higher score. Can they do anything to dissuade people from gaming the system? Probably, by lowering the level reward/score. Should they?

Is this the right way to play the game? Or better yet: What is the right way to play a game? If I never use cover in Gears, am I playing it wrong too, and should I get less score from it? Interesting things to think about.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On My Mind: The price of Freemium

One of the most prominent discussion about games in the last year or so have all revolved around the viability of the current business model, specifically: Freemium Games. The wiki definition is a pretty solid description:

Freemium is a business model that works by offering a game, product or service free of charge (such as software, web services or other) while charging a premium for advanced features, functionality, or related products and services.

In the video game world though, there's been very strong debates on what constitutes "advance features, functionality, related products and services". By the most basic definition, even basic DLC can be considered "freemium", as it offers new content for a premium fee (other than the base game not being free at all). In fact, some companies have tried approaching this model with traditional retail games (see MX vs. ATV Alive) with less than impressive result.

It's hard to say whether this model actually works or not given there's only been one attempt. Guess it's something we'll never know.

This post isn't about mixing in freemium with traditional retail game model, but rather the strict "free" model. In addition, games that sell "content packs" that isn't repeatedly re-purchasable in a solo play setting (IE, extra modes/levels) don't technically fall into the same discussion. While they are proper "freemium", no game balance issues occur, as players are at worst only locked away from additional content (which technically works like DLC). What I'm after is specifically anything re-purchasable: in game currency/"energy", in game stat boost (both temporary and permanent), and any freemium content that changes the balance of play in a competitive game.


The concept of in game currency/"energy" is probably the model most familiar to people. You may have seen it in pretty much all of Zynga's games (or practically most Facebook social games), and it's starting to trickle over to iOS games. My latest obsession on iOS, Tiny Towers, uses this model as it's entire revenue scheme (how successful though, is another debate).


Tiny Towers

And truth to be told about this model:

Two interesting points arise, especially from a designer standpoint:

a) The games were designed with breaks in mind, and by implementing such a feature to "allow" players to play by paying. This "time for money" model in theory hurts no one, but I often question whether it ends up playing into people's OCD instincts, the need to "complete" rather than the need to "play". I look at Tiny Towers and I often ask myself: "why is it fun and why do I keep coming back"; certainly, there's some management aspect to it, but it's so minuscule it's inconsequential. All I have is the want of "filling up my building with people", which isn't that good of a "gameplay hook" but rather a "addict hook", triggering the compulsive need to collect and complete.

b) While technically there is a competitive aspect (via seeing your friend's progress), there is no direct competition, which softens the blow if and when someone decides to pay up to speed up progress? Your friends paid money to grow faster? Great, you now can feel wonderful knowing that they paid for something virtual, like getting an extra 500 points. (Here, have 500 points, don't you feel wonderful too!)

In this freemium model, games aren't "unbalanced" by someone throwing in a wad of cash; then again, there might not be much of a game to be "unbalanced" to begin with. For a game like Tiny Towers, I've yet to feel the need to pay for more (which should be a concern on the dev's part). I'm indifferent to games using such a model, and I'm sure there's been well done implementations of it. The only concern I would have with this model is when the business side creeps over every design decision. One example would be Let's Golf 3 by Gameloft: I'll let this review do the talking:

While I think that being able to earn cash (and thus, energy) by playing well is a good gameplay mechanic, the fact that you can only passively earn one unit of energy per hour is ridiculous. In other words, if you’re not that good at the game, you’re going to be punished rather harshly by either having to wait a long time for energy or shell out money to play. Meanwhile, someone that’s better at the game might be able to play significantly longer (and level up faster) by earning more cash in-game and converting it to energy. I personally had no problem scoring birdies and earning enough cash and energy to continually play, but I just think that the energy cool down is way too long for most gamers. It’s definitely going to alienate a lot of players who simply don't have any in-game cash and aren't going to pay or wait an hour to play one hole.


While I had wanted to write something about Freemium for a while, this article about BigPoint is really what triggered me to finish it. In it, Philip Reisberger has some amazing insight on how to charge for in game content, especially in light of game balance:

"In a nutshell, EA doesn't understand it," he adds, referring to EA's insistence that a Battlefield 3 pre-order bonus containing advanced weaponry would not give players a competitive advantage. "It wouldn't ruin the game. If selling an advantage ruins the game, you haven't done the balancing right…EA and Ubisoft, for example, they're both trying, but they're not really there yet.

Note the bolded line: If an advantage ruins the game, then it isn't balanced.

But wait. If it's balanced, how can it be an advantage?

OK, but if there's no advantage, then what the hell am I selling to people to actually give them an advantage?

OK, let's say I do come up with an advantage, but then is it still balanced?

We've reached a paradoxical issue: If you sell freemium content, how does it affect game balance? Can you truly call it balance if someone can buy their way to an advantage? The examples I've seen are truly frightening: "sell more ammo", "carry more items", "faster respawn". If you take a sports analogy, it'd be the Yankees paying the ref to get an extra out for an inning, or everyone getting aluminum bats for their next turn.

I don't want to say that it's impossible, but every time I read someone say "you aren't fully exploiting what can be done with freemium", I would worry about every other gameplay issue they haven't thought about.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Administrative Stuff: I'm still here, I have not turned into Joaquin Phoenix, yet. The last month has certainly been interesting as I started crunching for content. No, I haven't exactly completed it yet, but it's been interesting to go through the process of slashing content to cut down on dev time and get something usable.

...Yet I still missed my PAXDev/PAXPrime self imposed deadline on shipping something...

...On the other hand, I've got a bunch of new material to write about, so hopefully I'll resume writing starting next week.

See you then.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Administrative Stuff: Crunch Time

I'm going to be taking a two week break from posting. It's a self imposed crunch as I try to work on my project and hopefully have something by PAX. Yeah, it's a lofty goal, but you gotta start somewhere.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Designer Notebook: Are we all jumping over to mobile games too?

Recent Japanese game development trends have been interesting, with a range of notable Japanese developers leaving their current tenure over to mobile games, with the likes of Keiji Inafune(Mega Man), Yuji Naka(Sonic), Suda 51(No More Heroes), Yoshifumi Hashimoto(Harvest Moon) all jumping over to pretty sizeable mobile game announcements with DeNA. To put that into perspective, this is the equivalent of Miami Heat picking up James, Wade and Bosh in the off-season; or like getting Bay, Bruckheimer, Spielberg and Cameron on the same movie; it's gathering the biggest and brightest all under the same roof... for mobile games.

...are we on the cusp of something significant that we don't realize yet?

Mind you, this isn't a trend limited to these stewards of of gaming either, with developers like Bungie and Insomanic Games also setting up new divisions into this market. It honestly seems like everyone and their mother has realized that mobile gaming is here to stay, and they want a slice of the pie.

So, what does this mean for traditional gaming? Is it as bleak what Mike Capps of Epic Games has predicted (ironic for statements coming from him, as Epic stands to gain alot from Unreal on iOS devices). Will the triple A, blockbuster model disappear? Or will it further squeeze out the middle range developers?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Let's Make Up Achievements: Resident Evil 4 (Part 2)

One of the great things about Resident Evil 4 is the variety of different gameplay features buried within the core game. While most people remember RE4 for it's panic inducing over the shoulder shooter gameplay, the various boss fights and QTE sections actually changes up the ways players attack each section of the game. For me as a designer, highlighting these sections, and perhaps making players first look at those sections, and then suggesting that there are other ways to tackle the same problem would be a fantastic way of setting up achievements. It's interesting to note that outside of of the main game, the developers have ignored all the other modes that are ripe for coming up new achievements. Obviously there is other constraints that limits a developer, such as development time, and the cost of redoing things, but since I'm treating this as a strict design exercise, that isn't an issue.

Also as of note: I'm not going to be super creative with the names. While some of the most creative achievements are based on puns or other inspiration sources, some achievements are rather boiler plate and I rather not come up with them. Deal with it. :P

So how do we setup the categories? Joe had made a very interesting reply/observation in a previous post of mines, which identified 4 major category of achievements: Progression, Completion, Exploration, Skill. In addition to these groups, I also tend to add additional categories like "collection" and "multiplayer" if and when it's applicable. Let's start with those.


Surprisingly, in terms of progression, Capcom's list holds up pretty well in this regard, with fairly even checkpoints at the major intersections of the game:
  • It Begins With a Ring - (Complete first village)
  • Do Not Shoot the Water! - (Defeat the lake monster)
  • A Rock and a Hard Place - (Defeat El Gigante /or take alternate path)
  • Secure the Ballistics - (Rescue the president's daughter)
  • A Bloodline Severed - (Defeat the village chief in battle)
  • A Terrifying Assassin - (Turn the tables on Verdugo, the right hand of Salazar)
  • The Castellan Falls - (Defeat Salazar, and make your escape from the castle.)
  • The Ties That Bind - (Defeat Krauser, your former partner, in battle)
  • We're Going Home - (Defeat Saddler in battle, complete game)
The only concern about this list is that a)It might be too top heavy (First 5 are is for the village setting of the game, whereas each remaining settings only gets 2) and b)9 achievements maybe too many. We'll deal with that later.


With completion, we can address a few more things, most notably, the additional modes within the game.

Various mini games within RE4 that weren't covered.

For Assignment Ada and Separate Ways, let's just tack on a the boiler plate achievement for completing it. Since Separate Ways is considerably longer, let's also give a midway checkpoint
  • Complete Assignment Ada
  • Get Past El Gigante (which IIRC, right at the end of Ch 2)
  • Complete Separate Ways
The Mercenaries, on the other hand, offers a few more of potential completion based achievements.
  • Survive one round of Mercenries
  • Survive as all characters at least once
  • Survive all combinations of characters and stages
Additionally, one thing not included within the Progression set is some sort of marker for a hard difficulty run:
  • Complete game in Professional mode

Collection is a catch all for things that aren't exactly about completing a game, but other smaller features that helps give player feedback. While some people may think that this "type" of achievements are a bit self serving and over-obsessive, I personally don't think they're any different than games that hands out other rewards for completion of tasks. Let's go through a rundown of ideas that can better explain this:

With items:
  • Fully upgrade a gun
  • Purchased all guns - Owned all guns at least once
  • Upgrade the Attache Case (1/2/3 times)
  • Catch a Large Black Bass
  • Own all chicken egg at the same time (Brown/Normal/Gold/Rotten)
  • Medicine Man - Own all combinations of herb mixes at the same time
  • Own all Treasure Map (Main Campaign only)
  • Own a completed Elegant Mask
  • Own a Beerstein with the Cateyes
  • Own the Butterfly Map with Eyes
  • Own the Royal Insignia and Crown Jewel with Corwn
  • Own a Golden Lynx with 3 stones attached.
  • Have collected one of each treasure items
  • Collected 5 Ruby - By defeating the Dr. Salvador (Cainsaw guy)
  • Collect all memos
  • Collect all Yellow Herbs in the game
  • Fully upgrade Ashley's Health
  • Fully upgrade Leon's Health
  • Visit all Merchant locations

With all the boiler plate stuff out of the way, let's get to the fun ones: Exploration and Skill.


Since it's such a large game, lets go through it from start and sample some interesting ideas from each section. I'll add comments to them if they need explaining/or have cleverly worded description text.

Chapter 1.1
  • A Sign of things to come - Jump out of the first house's second floor window
  • Temporary relief - Lock yourself in both "safehouse" by boarding up the door and windows. It'll buy some time.
  • Camper's Refuge - Climb up the bell tower. You can be a pansy, we won't blame you.
  • Disarm Specialist - Disarm all dynamite within the Village
Chapter 1.2 - Nothing memorable

Chapter 1.3
  • Fully Complete the Blue Medallion challenge - Earn the gun by shooting all 15 medals
Chapter 2.1
  • Have the Dog assist you in fighting the first El Gigante
Chapter 2.2
  • Defend the Cabin with outthe villagers reaching into the second floor
Chapter 2.3
  • Pick your Poison 1: Choose the Left Route and get to the end (Village Route)
  • Pick your Poison 2: Choose the Right Route and get to the end (El Gigante Route)
  • Complete the Left route without sending Ashley hiding
  • Defeat the El Gigante before it reaches the end of the route.
  • Take out a village who are trying to jump onto the cable car mid-jump
Chapter 3.1
  • Defeat El Garrador with both bells destroyed
Chapter 3.2, 3.3, 3.4 - Can't remember if there was anything really memorable

Chapter 4.1
  • Clear the Lava Hall without getting burned.
  • Sheet Shooting - Take out at least three Novistador in the Novistador Dome
Chapter 4.2
  • Take out one El Gigante with the trap door
Chapter 4.3 - Nothing too memorable.

...(I've sort of run out of steam at this point, so I'm going to call it quits for now)


In regards to "skill" based rewards, there's quite a lot of examples in terms of item usage crossed with the environments, here's a few examples:

  • Boom goes the dynamite - Shoot a village who's holding a dynamite, taking out two other villagers
  • Off you go - shoot a village off a plank falling to their death
  • GET OFF MY ROOF - kick a ladder off with a village onboard.
  • Bait and switch - Lure a villager into a bomb trap
  • Take down the El Gigante by stabbing it
  • Flashbang three Plagas at the same time
  • Defeat El Garrador with both bells intact
  • Defeat Verdugo without the Magnum or Rocket Launcher
  • Defeat both El Gigante in the Molten Room without firing a single shot

  • ...
    A staple of Resident Evil fans had be "special runs" - basically gameplay restrictions for the game. These would make very difficult challenges (not impossible) that would make these achievements a badge of merit, such as:
    • Knife Run - Knife only (except for when a knife is unavailable)
    • Pistol Run - Only Pistol type weapons can be used
    • No Health Upgrade Run - Cannot upgrade health for either characters
    • No death run - No deaths allowed
    • No Health Kit Run - Cannot heal either character for the entire game
    • All in a day's work - Finish the game within 8 hours (the timespan of the other game)
    As you can see, there's plenty of room to be creative with such achievements, and there's definitely plenty of new ways to create additional replay interest in the game.


    A few games have featured two other minor categories of "achievements": Viral - a type of achievement that relies on players "infecting" others by communicating/competing against each other; and "Mark of Shame" - an achievement for something that players did that deserves shaming.

    Fortunately in Resident Evil 4, we do have a perfect "Mark of Shame":
    • At the lake, shoot into it and have to lake monster eat you before the fight even begin.


    Well that about wraps it up on this long post. I believe this list barely scratches the surface of what can be achieved (I had realized I haven't played the game in a long time, and the last third of the game has been completely lost on me now), but I think this goes to show that a) Capcom really didn't try that hard at all with this, b) some achievements come fairly naturally from just playing the game, and c) being creative with the achievement process can potentially increase player's incentive try out and replay the game.

    Friday, July 22, 2011

    On My Mind: Why game designers are both the most and least important piece of the puzzle

    Sorry, still not the second part of "Let's Make Up Achievements: Resident Evil 4", it's definitely taking up more time than I had wanted. So instead, let's extend my last post a little but more.

    Some people would say "don't shit on where you eat", and I'm about to do that in the following post. As a game designer myself, I would say that game designers are pretty much an unnecessary part of development. This fact finally dawned on me as I continue plugging away at working on an iOS game.

    Let's look at small, indie development. Let's say a 1 man team. What would you want? An artists? It's going to be difficult, but you can probably find really really basic coding tools. A programmer? You may suffer from "programmer art", but nothing that prevents from shipping a project. A Designer? Well, you're boned. Even when you scale up to a two man team, the dynamic of programmer/artist/designer still doesn't change. You're still probably better off with a duo of programmer/artist, programmer X2 or even artist X2 than any team that has a designer. In fact, even as you slowly scale up to bigger teams, as long as you have programmers and/or artists who has enough common sense, then you're still going to be fine.


    ...doesn't paint a pretty picture for my career of choice, does it? Well, yes and no. For the sake of argument, I'm strictly speaking about designer from a creative (and not management, scheduling perspective) standpoint, and there are still definitely points why designers are pretty damn important. While a project is on it's way to completion, you're artists and programmers will be fully immersed into their own field; your dedicated designer will be your best bet at catching issues, coming up with ideas and solutions, etc. Ideally, your designer should be someone good enough to see things and advise on direction before sinking resources into features.


    Sorry, I've rambled on as I'm pretty frustrated at the tremendous amount of work as a designer in a one man team. I'll go back to being a half-baked artist and a half-assed programmer now. See you monday, hopefully the actual Resident Evil 4 article you're looking for.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2011

    Designer Notebook: Why game designers end up buying so many games?

    Thought you were going to get the second part of "Let's Make Up Achievements: Resident Evil 4", didn't you? Sorry, not today, let's shoot for friday, shall we? It's taking a bit longer, and something, much more relevent to me came up.

    One of the things over the last 10+ years that's been really interesting observation study at my house. Specifically, the number of new systems and games that mysteriously show up...

    Exhibit A: This is only the 360/PS3 shelf, there's also a Wii shelf, and DS case

    I've bought an unhealthy share of games and new systems, and I often have justified this fact by saying that as a game designer, it's important for me to know as much and have played as much of everything out there. I've often told people that frankly, I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I don't know every quark and feature of new games, and even tech that's coming out. This is partially a lie, and a surprisingly good excuse for me to just buy and buy games. I did believe that knowing what others are doing is important, but, how important is debatable.

    My recent dive into iOS has been interesting and relevant, because it does show that it matters. While messing around with iOS 4 "multitasking" support, one thing I started realizing was some games implementing some sort of background task event, giving the illusion that the game is still running (noticed it on Tiny Towers). Since I don't have one of these fancy new phones (still on a 3G), I had almost forgotten this idea as a gameplay mechanic that I could include.

    Now this is interesting because I've always preached about why it is important to own and know the device you're working on. It's pretty damn hard to be innovative and relevant if you aren't in the loop of what others are doing on it, especially for a device like the iPhone, an always on, all in one device. I would say it's impossible to truly understand how people will interact with the game if you don't happen to actually use the device to in your daily cycle. Sometimes, design is entirely based around the platform you're targeting, and knowing the ins and outs of that platform would make a more relevant design that not knowing. It could be something like "oh, using a stylus interface while with the shoulder button and D-Pad on the DS/3DS may be too complex for most players" or "using WiFi access points to trade data like Peace Walker or TWEWY": an idea and rational explanation to a) what things can be done/are being done by developers, b) finding out ideas that people have reacted well to and c) understand the tech that can be inspiration to new ideas.

    Pretty good reason to keep on spending money huh? :P Now excuse me, I gotta go buy more games...

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Let's Make Up Achievements: Resident Evil 4 (Part 1)

    As I've mentioned before on my Top Ten List, Resident Evil 4 ranks highly as one of those pivotal games for me as a designer. The execution and polish on the game still hold up extremely well 7 years after it's initial release. The variety of content in the game also makes it a great game to think about how to adapt such a game for the achievement generation; the fact that it's also getting a HD Remake, with it's own Achievement List also makes a great way to compare and contrast what can be done.

    Features: Single Player Campaign (~8-10 hours first play through), Competitive High Score mode (Merceneries Mode), New Game+ (retains items for additional replay)

    Let's get the first thing out of the way: The announced remake's achievement list is bland and completely uninteresting:

    *It Begins With a Ring - 50G
    Ring the mysterious bell. What happens after that, is up to you.
    *Do Not Shoot the Water! - 50G
    Summon the master of the lake. Don't rock the boat.
    A Rock and a Hard Place - 50G
    Outmaneuver the rampaging beast, El Gigante.
    *Secure the Ballistics - 50G
    Rescue the president's daughter, Ashley. Afterwards, the real fun begins.
    *A Bloodline Severed - 50G
    Defeat the village chief in battle.
    *A Terrifying Assassin - 150G
    Turn the tables on Verdugo, the right hand of Salazar.
    *The Castellan Falls - 50G
    Defeat Salazar, and make your escape from the castle.
    *The Ties That Bind - 50G
    Defeat Krauser, your former partner, in battle.
    *We're Going Home - 100G
    Defeat Saddler in battle, and escape from the nightmare.
    A Heart of Steel - 150G
    Clear the game on the highest difficulty.
    What Are They Worth? - 150G
    Acquire all of the bottle caps in the game.
    The S Stands for Stylish!! - 100G
    Acquire all of the costumes in the game.

    I've marked the (*) on the achievements that are progression based and unmissible in one runthrough of the game. Let's ignore the fact that this game only has 12 achievements (My quick guess, this game first started out as a XBLA port, which limited it to only 12 achievements), it's disappointing to see that there's absolutely no care when it comes to giving players incentive to play the game differently. 550G/8 achievements are definitely obtainable within the first run (Depending on how they count "Outmaneuver the rampaging beast, El Gigante.", this could potentially also be a progression based achievement), with the remaining 3 devoted to replaying the game to grind out remaining achievements. What's more disappointing is that no attention is paid to the Mercenaries mode, Separate Ways, the countless mini-games within the campaign mode, or any other potentially grinding or skill based achievements.

    With that out of the way, let's come up with some interesting ways to make the game more interesting. In the next post, I'll post a brainstorm session of possible achievements based on different categories; and in the following post after that, I'll take all the created ideas and reduce the list to the limit requirements set by Microsoft and Sony.

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Post Play Analysis: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (XBox 360)

    When most people think of IO Interactive, the obvious franchise that comes to mind is the Hitman series. I haven't played much of the Hitman games (the most I know of their games is Freedom Fighters, a squad based shooter), but I was onboard with the idea of Kane & Lynch from the start as a grimier, more darker take on shooters with slight squad based gameplay. After the review incident at Gamespot and average to mediocre reviews, I hesitated to get the game until a much later date. It took a while, but I did end up finishing the game recently.

    Cover Based Mechanics

    When people think about the creative process, they always think of great people coming up with absolutely original ideas that have never been seen before.


    That is absolutely not true at all. There's a pretty good vidoc on this called Everything is a Remix (I highly recommend watching it) which points to media and creativity as a reinvention of what has come before it, and while it focuses mainly on other, more "mainstream" mediums such as movies, it also apply to games.

    Shooting out of cover from Kane & Lynch

    While Kane & Lynch never bills itself as a cover based shooter, because of it's release date, players will always associate the gameplay with Gears of War, released over a year earlier.
    Cover in Gears of War

    ...which, of course, is predated by WinBack or Kill.Switch, depending on how you interpret "cover system as core gameplay mechanic".
    WinBack and Kill.Switch, with their early cover system ideas.

    The fun part of the history lesson is that a) No, Gears wasn't entirely original, even Cliff Bleszinski have acknowledged that he was inspired the earlier games and b) If someone's done it before it, steal it, improve it, and make it yours.

    More importantly, for Kane & Lynch, having such well known predecessors means that their cover system will be judged in comparison even if that was never the original intention. Kane and Lynch utilized a contextual "auto-snap" mechanic that automatically places players to a cover if they are in proximity. In theory, this streamlined process would make the action simpler, allowing players to focus on other tasks; in practice, it became a frustrating exercise in trying to figure out why certain things that look like cover isn't cover, and took players' attention away from focusing on attacking the enemy.

    In both Gears of War and Kane & Lynch, cover is a vital part of the mechanic, as players are strongly encouraged to stay in cover (no damage while in cover) and only attacking at certain opportunities. The problem with Kane and Lynch is that Gears of War came first (yes, this is a valid complain), which puts player expectation on how a cover system is suppose to work; when it doesn't work the way players expect, then it feels broken and unfinished. Too often I found myself wishing the cover worked better or not work at all, as the seemingly randomness of it made the game difficult to play. Context sensitive actions are great in theory in reducing the number of actions that players have to manage, but if it becomes a critical point of gameplay, it's probably a safe bet to hand it over to the player to control.

    It's interesting to note that Kane & Lynch 2 greatly improved upon this by COPYING Gears of War's cover system down to the icon prompts.

    Squad Based Gameplay

    What was most disappointing about Kane & Lynch was it's rather bland squad based gameplay. This issue was the most apparent late in the game when you gain control of your own army (of sorts)...
    So many guys in your command...

    ...only to have them die right away. The biggest sin of any squad based game is having useless squad AIs, where players are pretty much required to babysit the AI for long durations of the game. While making the AI too powerful means players don't end up worrying about the life and death of their AI partner, making them too weak or too unintelligent decisions (in this case here, not taking cover) makes the experience a chore. Other sections of the game seems just as inconsistent, where the AI is powerful enough that you never really have to do any work (there's even an achievement for it). Ultimately, the problems with squad based gameplay is that it's always going to be difficult to strike the perfect balance between tedium and excitement. Too much autonomy leaves little room for players interaction and decision making; too little, then it becomes an escort-like gameplay where it becomes tedious and possibly frustrating.

    One counter-intuitive way to make squad based gameplay more playable, however, is actually making the AI units even dumber. A good example of this is Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, where units do not make any decisions unless you explicitly instruct them. While unrealistic from a realism standpoint (if an area is clear, they don't get out of cover and catch up to your position), it makes for a much simpler, more clear gameplay mechanic that players can identify and work with. While the units feel dumber and less realistic, they give the player a greater sense of being in command, which is ideally what controlling a squad should feel like.

    Also interesting note: squad based gameplay was essentially removed/minimized in the sequel.

    Game Atmosphere

    For all the average and mediocre gameplay issues, one of the standout points of Kane & Lynch was it's atmosphere, and it's most evident in the nightclub section.

    While the game does it's best in delivering a diverse range of environments and settings (warehouse, another warehouse, a bank, office building, jail, jungle, etc.), the Nightclub stands out as one of the most memorable because of how much it actually changed the gameplay. Shooting enemies in the dark with just the strobe lights illuminating the environment was a pretty unique experience, and really worked in emphasizing the character's motivation and the situation they're in. For the first half of the game, you may enjoy the shooting mechanic, but the game does a very good job of reminding you that you aren't the good guys here.

    Die, Die and Die again

    Before I go, I must present this:

    One mechanic that Kane & Lynch relies on is the tried and true mechanic of "a boss fight", and it runs into the same issues that most "realistic games" run into: it doesn't make any sense, and it's absolutely frustrating. In the above case, you have around 2 minutes to defeat the dump truck (by precisely shooting out the driver) before it runs over your daughter. Why it's frustrating? a) You'll never figure it out unless you die a few times, b) It happens after a large firefight, and you may not have the right guns/enough ammo to do it, c) It's completely different to all the gameplay mechanics prior and d) Did I mention you'll die a lot trying to figure this out?

    The checkpoint before this section is a welcomed decision, but it still doesn't guarantee the player has enough ammo, and after repeated tries, players are more than likely to give up on the game entirely.

    Sequels do make things better!

    While Kane & Lynch was mediocre at best, the sequel managed to improve up on all the issues of the first significantly. I'm sure the issues I've pointed to above were probably raised during their development cycle, but hindsight is always 20/20, and it probably took public feedback for them to really look at how to make things better.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    GameDevStories: iOS Game Development

    It's no secret I've been working on iOS stuff. For the last little while, I've been pumping out apps as a way for me to get my bearings straight after years of not programming (get them here: Slow Clap Initiative, Friend Code Organizer, Who's Who & Game Budget)(think of them as practice). As of yesterday I've officially started working on a game (or at least pretending to be). You may have noticed that I've started occasionally tweeting messages with #SometimesYouJustCantWin, I'll leave it at that, you'll see more soon.

    Realistically, this game I'm working on is a personal project rather than something that can be a commercial product. However, the more I think about what's after this, the more it worries me. A while ago Tycho (you may also know him as Jerry from Penny-Arcade) tweeted this:

    Releasing a game on iOS is exactly like going to Vegas, except you ante with your lifeblood.

    As interesting as it sounds to be in the iOS space right now, and be independent, that statement really rings true, and it scares the crap out of me. Ignoring the big publishers who can push with advertising and lowball price tactics, there's also great startups with established brands out there. Even if you have a fantastic product, where do you go to get people to notice you or even pay money for your product?

    I'm also constantly reminded of Matt Rix's story on Trainyard's development, and I really wonder a)how many games fly under the radar and b)can you actually go all in on iOS development without any other secondary income. The more I think about it, the more I question how long I can go before I throw in the towel.

    Not exactly the best way to start a new project, eh?

    Friday, July 8, 2011

    On My Mind: Radical Directions (again)

    So around two months ago I had a post about "Radical Directions", basically questioning drastic changes for any specific franchises. Interestingly, I actually got a reply from someone who's working on the Ridge Racer game, suggesting that I should be more open to what's being done. Personally, I'm pretty open to major changes to game franchises (it's not like I'm that heavily invested in any of them), but when I blogged about those games, it was with the mindset of "what would the general public think". This is important, as most people aren't going to be as forgiving and as lenient in trying something new...

    Then we got Burnout CRASH. wait, what the hell happened here? My initial reaction was one of "what the hell", and "wait, what the hell is this". This isn't the Burnout, or the various crash modes that I remember:

    ...or the Showtime mode which was found in Paradise:

    ...let's back this up a bit, and actually explain the old crash mode, and play a bit of devil's advocate in explaining why it's actually like the new game.

    Burnout's Crash Mode (and Showtime) in a paragraph

    One of Burnout's main attraction as a racing game was the incredible crash physics/particle effects when it first launched on the PS2. Crash Mode was probably an offshoot gameplay idea to take advantage of this visual effect. Players are given a certain setup to crash into, creating a chain reaction of crashes: the more cars are involved, the more damage inflicted, the higher the score. Modifiers such as item pickups were scattered around the stages, and so were specific patterns of vehicles, making it a very strategic puzzle experience. Takedown and Revenge followed up with other additions such as crashbreakers and traffic checking. Even Paradise' Showtime follows a similar formula of having pre-determined traffic patterns at certain road sections, forcing players to strategically plan out their path of crashing.

    Why Burnout CRASH is exactly what we've been getting all along

    If you analyze what's the core mechanic, the "strategically placed" crashes into patterns of traffic, then you realize that all the crash modes are exactly the same. Paradise' Showtime mode works the same in principle, even though it does not have pre-determined crash junctions, and in theory can last forever. The core mechanic of crash mode is still "a puzzle game where you find the optimal point to crash into", with sequels adding "and find additional points to get even higher score". If you're willing to distill the game to that, then yes, all the Crash mode (even Showtime) is that same game.

    So why are people upset?

    A picture is worth a thousand words, so here's the first two results for "Burnout Crash" on google:
    Now compare that to Burnout CRASH:
    ... can you identify what's different?

    Perception is reality, and that really holds true here. Never mind the fact that this isn't the full on Burnout game that people've been waiting for, the fact that this "crash mode", at first glance, seems to be nothing like the games of the old will disappoint people. Sure, the core principles of the game is the same, but how many people who played the game was able to truly appreciate that over "IT'S THE CAR PORN OF CRASHING"? When a brand is established, to be of a certain type of game, it's very hard to get away from it. Imagine the next Call of Duty being announced as a side scroller or Halo as a racing game, and you'd get the same responses here. Even if the game is based on the same idea and plays fantastic, there will be a backlash from fans asking, "well what the hell happened"?

    Is there a remedy to this?

    ...outside of not doing something as drastic? I believe so, and in fact, I think Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light was the perfect example of how to do it.

    One of the first things the developers did here was name the game differently. People will still recognize it as part of the franchise, but it was apparent that they were trying to disassociate the game to the core franchises. The other (and much more important) thing was to be upfront about the fact that this is a spin-off game, it is intended to be different, and it's not about delivering the same experience as before. While branding is important, it also creates expectation that any drastic changes as a negative move.

    Like my other post, I honestly do hope that this new Burnout won't disappoint. I just hope they have a better plan to market this game to people who were expecting more of the same.