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.

    Designer Notebook: Exposing the flaw

    Recently I've been on a XBLA binge, beating a bunch of games like Age of Booty, A Kingdom of Keflings/World of Keflings, Dead Rising: Case West, and Zombie Apocalypse. While most of it was enjoyable, one thing really struck me was the unlockable mode in Zombie Apocalypse: 7 days of hell.

    Let's first explain what Zombie Apocalypse is: basically, another twin-stick shooter in the vein on Robotron 2084 or Geometry Wars, but with a zombie themed settings. Players face insurmountable odds mowing down waves of zombies with limited weapons and powerups randomly scattered on the stage. For what it's worth, the basic gameplay is sound, with enough hooks that seems like a good fit for a smaller scaled game (going for high score, some unique ideas such as environmental kills, etc).

    The issue arises halfway in the game (and especially in the 7 days of hell mode), where the game essentially runs out of new ideas or elements to present to the player, and decided to increase the game length/difficulty by increasing the number of enemies (wave length) and their health. While a typical early stage game would give players ~50+ zombies to kill, the first day in "7 days of hell" is ~2500.

    Increasing the number of enemies, reducing player's weapon power and increasing the amount of hit points isn't new within games (many still rely on such tried-and-true mechanics for harder difficulties), the problem is that this doesn't necessary create a more intense and interesting experience. In some games, increasing the enemy health or adding more enemies just artificially increases the length of each section of the game; in the worst case, it creates unnecessary repetition, and hence, boredom, which is exactly what happens in Zombie Apocalypse. Worst off, since dying isn't an issue (imaging an arcade machine with unlimited plays), getting to the end of 7 days is a test of patience, not of skill.

    What's worrying about including such a mode is that it exposes the flaw of the game design in the first place. Zombie Apocalypse's twin stick shooter mechanics were sound, and tolerable in small doses, but extended play quickly shows that a) the game lacks variety (only 5 main types of enemy), b) lacks strategy (weapon upgrades are temporary, so the core game is still crowd control and player movement) and c) lacks difficulty (end game boils down to spawning more enemies to the point of just overwhelming the player. Once a player realize these points, they're going start establishing play patterns, which makes the gameplay routine and a chore, hence, boring.

    Sometimes, creating a mode/play based on certain characteristics of the game can increase the playtime and variety, but it can also point out frustrating issues within the underlying game. Be careful when thinking about adding a mode and think about why it's fun before adding it in.

    Wednesday, July 6, 2011

    On My Mind: The Top Ten Lists

    Recently I had an interesting conversation with someone after they found out I made games: they wanted to know "What is my perfect game?" It's interesting because I then spiralled out of control giving a non-sensical 10 minute answer about why it's not possible. Yet within the answer I told him one of the processes I had really liked when talking to people about games: A Top Ten List.

    Most gamers have an attention span of a fly, and if you ask them on a game they really like, they're most likely to gravitate to something they've played recently, only because they remember it more. Phrasing a question "What is your 10 most favourite games of all time?" paints a much better picture of that person, more importantly, for me as a designer, it gives me a much clearer idea of what this person sees in games, and what kind of things they look for in the entertainment they enjoy. Let's try a few examples (some of you may know where this came from :P) :

    Person A:
    1. Gran Turismo 3
    2. Need for Speed: High Stakes
    3. F1 2002
    4. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
    5. Team Fortress 2
    6. NHL 07
    7. Burnout Paradise
    8. Project Gotham Racing 4
    9. Carmageddon
    10. Twisted Metal Black
    A very heavy sense of driving/racing games right? I think that's the most obvious thing out of this list. Wolfenstein, TF2 and Twisted Metal Black can sort of be lumped together, and one can assume this person would be interested in team based combat games.

    Person B:
    1. Mega Man 2
    2. Super Mario Bros 3
    3. Mike Tyson's Punch Out
    4. Super Mario Kart
    5. Mega Man X
    6. Sonic 3 & Knuckles
    7. New Mario Bros DS
    8. Rock Band
    9. Team Fortress 2
    10. Street Fighter 4
    This one is also pretty obvious with platforming dominating the bulk of the list.

    Person C:
    1. Phantasy Star (1, 2, 3 and 4)
    2. Lunar (Silver Star and Eternal Blue)
    3. Shining Force (1 and 2)
    4. Chrono Trigger
    5. Megaman X
    6. Virtua Fighter
    7. Street Fighter (2 and 4)
    8. Warcraft 2
    9. Starcraft (1 and 2)
    10. Diablo (1 and 2)
    Quite a few old school JRPGs, two highly revered fighting game franchises, and a bunch of Blizzard gams.

    What's really interesting with these lists, is that no two person will ever come up with the same one, and more importantly, each will paint a very interesting picture of what they are into. Someone who's list is made up of games entirely before 1995 will have much different taste compared to someone who would name all their favourite games as released within the last two years.

    For me though, this kind of list would be interesting when judging the person as a game designer. While this isn't the be all, end all way of judging who/what makes a good designer, these lists could be potential warning signs for someone who's too focused on a specific niche and may not work well in certain roles/projects. For example, if I was making a racing game, and I found a designer who lists nothing but racing games, then they'd be a tremendous asset. However, the same person probably won't be a great fit if I were to make something else completely different.

    An extension that I've started appending is a second list, of "10 favourite games of the last 5 years". When people think about their favourite games, they tend to gravitate to really old games, or something really recent; by placing a 5 year limitation, it forces people to really think about what they've enjoyed recently. If I were to ask a designer this question, I would expect a wide range of answers, from really popular AAA titles, to really niche/indie titles that no one has heard of. Even more interesting, is to compared the two lists, and see if the person's tastes have changed over the years, and what has changed.

    Obviously, this whole discussion is sort of pointless without example, and specifically, from me, so here's my list:

    Top 10 games of all time, sorted by release (including the platform and genre):
    1. Uniracers - SNES/ Racing
    2. Donkey Kong Country 2 - SNES/ Platforming
    3. Zelda Ocarina of Time - N64/ Action Adenture
    4. SSX3 - GC/ Racing/Sports
    5. Ikaruga - GC/ SHMUP
    6. F-Zero GX - GC/ Racing
    7. Resident Evil 4 - GC/ Third Person Shooter
    8. Peggle/Peggle Nights - PC/ Puzzle
    9. Ouendan 1/2/Elite Beat Agents - DS/ Rhythm
    10. Burnout Paradise - 360/ Racing
    Top 10 games of last 5 years, sorted by release (including the platform and genre):
    1. Burnout Paradise - 360/ Racing
    2. Portal /2 - PC/ Puzzle
    3. Peggle/Peggle Nights - PC/ Puzzle
    4. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 - XBLA/ SHMUP
    5. WipEout HD - PSN/ Racing
    6. Mirror's Edge - 360 FPS/Platforming
    7. DJ Hero - 360/ Rhythm
    8. Rhythm Heaven - DS/ Rhythm
    9. Art Style: light trax - WiiWare/ Racing
    10. Space Invaders Infinity Gene - iPhone/XBLA / SHMUP
    I think the most consistent things from both list is how heavy racing games dominate it (and probably not a surprise to most people who know me), I make no concessions about my love for racing games, and would definitely work on one if I had a chance. However, outside of that, it's pretty hard to draw any more conclusions. You can observe general trends: In the last 5 years, I've favoured smaller, download titles over full game releases; games that have a minimal visual design and interesting audio have also rated highly (Geometry Wars 2, Rhythm Heaven, Art Style: light trax).

    Can you spot what's common between these three games?

    I'm sure there's way more you can extract out of such a list, and I'm sure that expanding such to 10 games can be even more helpful, but I think this is usually a good enough starting point between any two gamers to start talking about commonalities they see in games.

    So, what are your top 10 games?

      Friday, July 1, 2011

      GameDevStories: App #4

      Hello again for yet another special interruption:

      Here's number 4:

      My design process for apps often revolve around something I do on a daily basis. When I first showed an almost final product to Jon last week, he was like "so it's the same sticky note you have on the computer, basically". The idea is that this allows me to keep track of what game is coming out when and how much. Pretty useful stuff when November rolls around and you realized you have 50 games to buy.

      Normal game talk post will resume soon. See you then!