Sunday, November 17, 2013

Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 26 – An Epic Evening with Dennis

Hehehe... Ready for a 2.5 hour podcast?  Enjoy!

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When we invited one of the co-founders of Hope This Works Games to our weekly podcast, we weren’t really sure what to expect. Sure, we knew we were going to talk about what we had been playing, and we knew we were going to discuss the risks and rewards of indie game development. But none of us could predict an over-two-hour podcast with topics running the gamut from the PS4 launch, to Battlefield 4, to Go Go Dancers, to Beer that tastes like Wood, to Diablo 3, to Self Mutilation fetishes. Lots of great game talk was had, and it’s very clear that Mr. Dennis is a passionate and hilariously angry man when it comes to video games. Epic Friday? Epic Friday. Game Over Retry.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 25 - Think of the Children!!

I've just realized that this really isn't a "word of the day", but this works just as well as a topic.

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On GOR025, Harold once again comes bearing gifts, which is likely a result of a motion-game driven endorphin high. In this episode, Harold shares his experience with Star Wars Kinect and Wii Fit U, Jon complains about the downsides of Battlefield 4, and Jason plays more online poker, but not the game Harold assigned him to play. We wax deeply on designing for younger audiences, and get into the thick of it. It’s a heady episode, but a great conversation all the same. Or to put it another way … it’s a long one, but a good one (that’s what she said). Special thanks to John Kooistra for submitting this topic!
A few addendum:

  • Star Wars Kinect is still pretty bad.
  • Wii Fit U is decent, but the quick swap of accessories have greatly changed my usage cases: I end up choosing whichever activities that have the same accessory setup as the previous game.
  • The end conclusion about kids games, or games and instructions in general, is that maybe perhaps, as an industry, we've been doing casual/mobile games all wrong.  Think about it, the bulk of games out there right now are just instructions and menus, telling you HOW to have fun.

Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 24 - Unleash the Beast!

Again late to the party... here's another topic that I was more silent than I should be.  What's a genesucks game? :P

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On Game Over! Retry 24, Jon, Harold, and Jason try to dissect the classic Sega Genesis game, Altered Beast, in order to come up with ideas for a modern-day remake. We try to figure who’s a nerd, who’s an ‘anti-man’, and why Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was such a classic title. Plus, Harold shares his experience with Hotline Miami on the PS Vita, Jon does a show and tell with his new gaming mouse (and yes, I’m aware I said DPS when I meant DPI – jc), and JW schools us with his classic Sega knowledge. All this, and then some on this week’s Game Over! Retry? podcast!
Games Referenced This Episode:
  • Forza Motorsports 4
  • Hotline Miami
  • Battlefield 4
  • Razer Ouroboros
  • Team Fortress 2
  • Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker
  • Altered Beast

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 23 - The Harold and Jason Show

I have to disagree with the headline (I blame this on Jon entirely).  You can tell which part I spaced out on (all of the social stuff), and yes. I physically rolled my eyes when it came to the whole Facebook stuff.

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He’s back! This week, Jason Wilson makes his glorious and triumphant return to the podcast after many many strikes, and some game dev crunch time. In this Rolling Start episode, Harold comes bearing gifts, Jon tries to get the podcast to do his Kris Kringle design dirty work, and Jason goes board game with Munchkin. For our Design Exercise, we roll Looting, Point & Click, Shooter, and Destruction… with obvious results… at least we think they’re obvious. But ultimately, it all boils down to Harold and Jason ignoring Jon, creating a hilarious series of awkward pauses.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 22 - Reunited and it Feels so Good

Oh, and while I totally forgot to be posting these, we totally took a break too!

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After a two week hiatus, we get back to our old ways. Harold finally gets around to playing a little more GTA5 and Jon, having been out of town, got to spend some quality time with Fire Emblem: Awakening. We segue (terribly) into tutorial and intuitive UI discussions as Harold shares his first impressions of Pokemon X/Y, and Jon sneak attacks Harold with some quick Splinter Cell: Blacklist multiplayer analysis. Ah… it’s good to be back.
    Oh, and once again, also behind on Pokemon, surprised?

    Sunday, October 27, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 21 - Copy Cat Killers

    Wow, I'm so late on reposting these.  Life has gotten too busy, I hope you've figured the drill by now and was downloading these directly from the RSS/iTunes!

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    How many times have you played a game and threw down your controller in disgust, thinking “This is just a clone of X”? This week, Harold and Jon wax about the difference between inspiration and just plain copying. We make comparisons between Playstation All Stars and Super Smash Brothers, why one is more successful than the other, and run through some of the major differences between Dead Space and Resident Evil. Of course, we also talk briefly about our impressions of GTA5, Harold wishes he was a puppeteer, and Jon tries to escape a Cave of repetition.
    Have I gotten further in GTA5 since then? A bit.  Puppeteer? Not at all! :(

    Sunday, September 29, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 20 - Returning to our Homeworld

    I think I'm a week late to this, but since the last week's episode isn't up yet, this is still "timely".  Enjoy,

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    Episode 20 WOOOOO! This week, Harold revisits Lumines with Electronic Symphony, Jon lightly gripes about Payday 2′s updated economy, and we both get deep (like deep space deep) about bringing back Homeworld. We make attempts to conceptualize controlling a strategy game in three dimensional freespace, and end up biting off more than we can chew. We eventually get to the larger problem of axes of control with limited inputs. It gets hairy.
    Games Referenced This Episode:
    • Forza Motorsports 4
    • Lumines: Electronic Symphony
    • Payday 2
    • Call of Duty (Series)
    • Homeworld
    • Freelancer
    • Terminal Velocity

    Thursday, September 12, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 19 - Rolling Start: Good Game Hunting

    With Jason out of the picture this week, I was free to talk about whatever I want, but then we did this...

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    Harold gives Jon a gift … his Essentials Edition of Forza Motorsports 4. We discuss the nature of change for change’s sake with the upcoming PS Vita and 2DS hardware revamps. And when it comes down to the Rolling Start, we roll Hunting, Driving, Physics, … and Real-Time Strategy. Harold applies his love of weight transfer to an animal-driving game, and Jon mixes in a little line-driving approach. We come up with a fairly decent base concept, but end up putting it all on hold for Harold’s epic idea: People of Walmart: The Game.
    Games Referenced This Episode:
    • Forza Motorsports 4
    • Little Deviants
    • Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
    • Trine 2
    • Motorstorm (Series)
    • Assassin’s Creed (Series)
    • Donkey Kong Racing
    • Metal Gear Solid 4
    • Bushido Blade
    • Fight Night 3
    • Wipeout
    • People of Walmart
    ...wait, People of Walmart isn't actually a game yet, is it?

    Friday, September 6, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 18 - Range of Motion

    I would have preferred calling this Rage in Motion, but yes, this "week", we talk about a bunch of motion based stuff...

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    Sorry about last week. We had issues with … quality.
    THIS week is much better though. Jason Wilson is making himself a regular as he joins us once again to shoot the breeze. Harold tells us what he loved about Playstation Move’s The Fight (Danny Trejo), and that sends us down a rabbit hole talking about Motion Controls, and how they’re currently implemented into games. We tangent off into simplicity of input, but depth of gameplay with Divekick, describe absurd arcade dancing game moments, and Jon tries to describe Rymdkapsel to the best of his ability. Oh, and this week, we started drinking and podcasting.
    Games Referenced This Episode:
    • The Fight 
    • Wii Sports Boxing
    • Divekick
    • Just Dance
    • Dance Central
    • NFS Most Wanted (Vita)
    • Kinect Joyride
    • Mario Kart Wii
    • Dance Dance Revolution
    • Para Para Paradise
    • Rymdkapsel
    • Tetris
    • DDR on Crutches
    As usual, send feedback, complaints, and all other random messages if you liked it.

    Thursday, August 29, 2013

    Guest Opinion: What's a Famitsu 40 really worth?

    For many many years, before MetaCritic was ever a thing, Famitsu scores were the gold standard of game ratings. The Japanese magazine, which started print in 1986, had a stringent review system, which was notoriously picky in handing out perfect scores. It took five years of weekly publication before they even handed out a near-perfect, and it would be another seven before a game finally got the coveted title. 

    But things have changed. Perfect scores are now doled out at a rate which makes Famitsu seem like cheap punchline, a group of fanboys who are easily bought by huge corporations willing to dump piles of cash on decidedly imperfect games. Still, I grew up with mythos of the perfect score, and I wanted to learn more about how and when that all changed. To that end, I've taken a look at the list of perfect scores over at Wikipedia, and crunched some numbers. While I can't say I can make any conclusions, the data was interesting, and I thought I'd share it.

    (Note that contrary to many people's belief, Famitsu scores are not actually a cumulative value. The scores are actually given by a group of four reviewers, like old GameFan magazines. So when a "perfect score" is given, what it actually means is their four reviewers agreed the game was a 10. That means a 39 is nothing to scoff at, three reviewers gave it a 10 and the other thought it was near perfect)

    No perfect scores were awarded in the first decade of publication. Five were given out in their second decade. Fourteen have been awarded in the past seven and half years. Perfect inflation really took off in 2008, when they awared three perfect scores (to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Chunsoft's Japan-only Wii visual novel 428). The following year they awarded another four. To put that in perspective: in those two years, they awarded more perfects than their 22 year history up to this point. Inflation of near-perfect 39's also began around this time.

    Of the 19 perfects awarded, 2 are for third gen (PS1, N64), 3 are for fourth gen (PS2, GC, DC), and 10 are for fifth gen (PS3, 360, Wii). Portable games (NDS, PSP, 3DS) took 6 of the awards. The most perfects go to Nintendo systems, scoring 11 perfects over 5 different systems. Sony systems is a runner up with 8 perfects, and Microsoft has 3 (two of the games are multiplatform and were counted both under Sony and Microsoft. The remaining perfect went to 1999's Soulcalibur on Dreamcast. The Wii and PS3 are currently tied with 5 perfects each.

    The first perfect went to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's predecessor, A Link to the Past, had received the magazine's first 39. Every core Zelda game since  Ocarina (Wind Waker, Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword) has received a perfect score.

    While a big deal has been made about Skyrim being the first western developed perfect in 2011, there are a lot of western 39's as well, starting with 2008's Grand Theft Auto IV. Eight western games have been given a 39 so far, including two Call of Duties and a Gears of War.

    No Final Fantasy game received a 39 or 40 until FFX received a 39 in 2001. Since then, FFXII, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, and FFType-0 have all received some distinction.

    Leo Tao was raised in the wild by video games. He can be found spouting about games, art, Toronto politics, and good times on twitter at @chaicube

    Harold's comments:  Fascinating facts.  I actually don't have much to add, outside of pointing out at the scoring system: Leo is right in that the Famitsu score is done by a combination of 4 reviewers, each with a 10 point scale, but one thing to note is that the mix of reviewers are meant to be random and not guaranteed to be unbiased for or against the game/genre.  You may also take note that this scoring system is the exact one used Game Dev Stories, which took quite a bit of inspiration from how Famitsu operates.

    Friday, August 23, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 17 - Shoehorn Multiplayer!

    I kick off another segment by casting a wide net over "multiplayer games"...

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    We’re once again joined by Jason Wilson, who shares his thoughts on the implementation of multiplayer modes in single player-focused games. Harold tells us about his educational trip to the Ontario Science Centre, Jon reminisces about how he used to be good at Virtua Fighter 2, and we talk about player perspective in multiplayer campaigns, how drop-in-drop-out multiplayer affects solo experiences, and separating multiplayer experiences from single player experiences.
    Work’s been busy this week, so apologies for the lateness of this podcast, and also apologies for not listing all the games referenced this week. We’ll be back on track next week…hopefully.
    Just a note for listeners in Southern Ontario who'd like to check out the GameOn 2.0 exhibit, it ends September 2nd, and I highly recommend it.

    Saturday, August 17, 2013

    On My Mind: The Game Designer bubble?

    So during the season premier of Breaking Bad, this commercial showed up.

    I had to do a double take.  Wait, was I suppose to be a wizard?  Swipe code on a touch screen? Make 3D cars pop out from thin air?  Is this what people think game designers and game developers do?

    Sure, let's ignore the fact that it's a fantastical treatment of what "a game designer" do, just the idea that an aspiring game designer is trying to go to school with this magical tablet/laptop is just as absurd.  For every main stem of game development (design, program, art, sound), that type of tablet is pretty much the most useless device: it'll lack the storage and horsepower to do anything important, but push towards the gimmick of selling you a device they're trying to sell. (Yes, I'm aware that it's an ad, but follow along)

    Then there's this series of ads from Samsung:

    In this series of ads for the Galaxy devices, you see a "game studio" and the people in it interacting with each other and highlight the divide between the people who get technology and who doesn't.  Sure, I get the point of it selling a device, but the caricature of all the "developers" are just so rage inducing.  Pretentious, hipster, douchebag.  If I ever meet one of these people in real life, I would have punched them all in the face.  Sadly, this is the caricature that's being presented to the world: game developers are hip, savvy people that you all need to follow, because they know what they're doing, and you should follow their lead.


    What I'm highlighting is a question: is the "game development" role as viewed by the outside world completely skewed?  It's the "in" thing now, and everyone wants to cash in, and it feels kind of scary how much cashing in is going on, and whether that bubble will burst.  And this is most noticable within the "education" sector.

    As an example, on my way home at a subway stop, I saw this:

    ...wait, another school promising "game design" in Toronto?  At last check searching for game design schools in Toronto yields close to more than half a dozen: UOIT, Humber, Seneca, Centennial, George Brown, RCC, Trios, and now this.  (Sidenote: I'll leave the criticism of the actual programs out of this for now, but I think it's fair to say that some of them are somewhat questionable) I'm all for democratizing game development, but how many jobs are there really in this industry, and is the supply side over saturating the demand?  Remember, these potential graduates are also competing with artists and programmers from other degrees for similar starting positions.  So are these schools and degrees potentially training people for a "trade" that doesn't exist, leaving only broken dreams?

    Remember to tighten up the graphics on level 3!

    Thursday, August 15, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 16 - Licensed to Sell

    This week, on the still unnamed segment, we explore the world of creating a game based on an existing license, and take MANY tangents to the conversation.

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    A Design Exercise takes a wild tangent as we and our guest Michael Surya make an attempt to discuss a Pacific Rim video game. We jump from quick opinions about Dishonored and Bioshock Infinite to terrible segues involving basketball games. We ended up diving into a broader conversation about designing a game for an existing license. We recall how it’s done well (X-Men Origins: Wolverine), and what happens when external pressures come into play (James Bond: Bloodstone). We also discuss game licenses that are targeted toward specific generations, and the pressure of and purpose of developing licensed games. 
    We get distracted by bathroom breaks, Mikey plays Guacamelee, and Harold checks on his town in Animal Crossing. It’s business as usual on Game Over! Retry?
    Jon's covered everything pretty well... so download, send feedback, etc.

    Friday, August 9, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 15 - Not Enough Coffee

    ...needs more coffee

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    In this segment of Rolling Start, we make crazy attempts to generate concepts for a game that combines aspects of Rhythm, Deck Building, Melee, and Platforming. You decide one of those things didn’t belong. Listen to this week’s Game Over! Retry? to find out which one! 
    Despite Harold’s brand new Coffee Shop in Animal Crossing, we end up expending all of our energy in this segment of Rolling Start. This week’s Dice Roll produced the following traits and platform: 

    • Rhythm  

    • Deck Building 

    • Melee 

    • Platforming 

    • Mobile/Smart device 
    We ran down the way each trait might interact with the others. We determined that Rhythm and Deck Building were very different components, as Rhythm is about timing and reaction time, and Deck Building is about careful planning and decision making. They work different parts of the brain. We eventually made our way to a card-based deck building game where players could construct melodies and chords based on cards with music notes on them. It’s more interesting than it sounds, at least, to me. By the end of the podcast though, we simmered down to a near whisper, partially because I think we were both tired, and we ran out of steam. So, apologies. 
    Enjoy the show, and rock on.
    I was really stretched in terms of mashing the ideas together, so yeah.  Sorry about that (trying to come up with the ideas on the fly never sounds right). Download, send feedback, etc. Have a good week!

    Tuesday, July 30, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 14 - So many games, so little time...

    I'm honestly surprised how early this episode was posted up.  Really, this is hot off the press.

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    My hard work pays off as we get to take our brand new recording studio for a spin on our 14th episode of Game Over! Retry?. After giving myself a crash course in professional audio recording, I managed to outfit our newly renovated work space with a semi-pro/pro-sumer recording setup. I won’t go into too much detail now, but at some point, I’d like to share the new setup with anyone who’s interested. I’ve mentioned many times that our previous recording set up was Harold and me hovering over a stereo mic, delicately balanced on a folding table. 
    We shoot the shit with the zany and intellectual Adam Blanchard, another Game Designer on the edge of the industry. In this free form episode, we discuss what we’ve been playing, including Sol Survivor, Reus, Alan Wake, Kentucky Route Zero, Borderlands 2, Dishonored, and Magic The Gathering. Harold’s been on a video game speed run kick (, and we briefly discuss the merits of speed running through games. Once again, we’re all over the map… but you didn’t expect anything different, did you? 
    Games Referenced this Week: 
    Sol SurvivorgeoDefenseDefense GridOrcs Must Die 2Dead IslandReusBlack & WhiteDishonoredAlan Wake
    Max Payne
    Kentucky Route Zero
    Alan Wake: American Nightmare
    Borderlands 2
    GTA: Vice City
    Magic: The Gathering
    Dota 2
    So yeah, it's a mishmash of all sorts of different topics, and this week we're trying out tagging the thread with all the games and topics we've referenced.  Download, send feedback, etc. Have a good week!

    Friday, July 26, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 13 - Word of the Day: This episode is worth 10 points

    Welcome to another episode of Game Over! Retry? This week, we try out our last new segment: "Word of the day", and I'm sure this week's word, "Achievements", will make some of your blood boil.

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    Apologies for my tardiness. It took me a while to get this production out the door, mainly because I’ve been working hard to build a sex dungeon — I mean a podcasting studio. Up until now, Harold and I were recording Game Over! Retry? over a folding table and some bar stools. I know, I know. We’re kings of glamour. So immediately after recording this session, I took it upon myself to repurpose a room as a semi-pro lab and studio, where I could work and record podcasts, and not feel like a teenager living in his mother’s basement. 
    In Episode 13, Harold and I discuss our “Word of the Day” (which is really a Term of the Day), “Achievements”. This, of course, was inspired by the recently finished Steam Summer Sale, where Valve put their card achievement system into full swing. We went off on many a tangent (which is kind of the point of this segment), discussing the value of achievements, and how they’re used to gamify commercial business, and how they’re exploited in Social/Freemium games. Also, I accuse Harold of being a coke addict. 
    We wander off into many tangents, so be prepared for many angry rants into random topics.  If you listen to the end, you get a badge!

    Wednesday, July 17, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 12 - ???: We ♥ Pokemon Snap?

    Continuing our trend from last week, we introduce our second segment...

    ...crap, we don't have a name for it yet.


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    Hurray! We’re celebrating our twelfth episode! Okay, not really — I’ve just decided to start tagging our episodes by number instead of date. What the significance is, I’m not sure. Anyway, this episode marks another game design segment we like to call … we don’t know yet. But the premise is essentially this: Harold and I have a running list of old IPs and games that we haven’t seen in some time (some time = 4 or 5 years?). In this design segment, we freely discuss a potential sequel to be made for one or any of the games on the list. 
    This week, we chose to discuss Pokemon Snap, Katamari Damacy, and Fatal Frame in some detail. We debate the merits of cameras being ubiquitous in mobile technology, along with the effects of socially-powered gaming for our version of a Pokemon Snap sequel. We get into the puzzle and physics aspects of Katamari, and try to squeeze in our thoughts on horror in Fatal Frame. 
    Get set for another Game Design segment on Game Over! Retry? … and if you’ve got any ideas for a name for this segment, be sure to throw your suggestions at us, either here, or on Twitter! 
    So yeah, give us name ideas?  The ones we have are pretty non-existant.  And of course, while we've compiled a list of games we could talk about, send some in if any pops into your head!

    Friday, July 12, 2013

    On My Mind: Play vs Game - Can you play a game wrong?

    Warning: This post dives into a really weird place of Ludology, and you may find it quite a bit like my philosophical discussions: quite a bit of self-wankary with a whole lot of hot air.  It's something to think about, but I'm not sure what it really leads to.

    One of the things that I've been thinking about recently is whether you can play a game wrong.  By most definitions, the act of "play" can't be wrong: it's merely experimentation, exploration and for enjoyment; "game" on the other hand, may have a "wrong" state: games have rules and structure, and there's definitely room to interpret "wrong".  The problem I'm trying to get at is where these two intersect, and how is this defined in games.

    An example: Baseball.  Throwing a baseball, swinging at bat?  Definitely in the realm of play.  Swinging at a pitch, running bases, using the predefined rules of baseball?  A game.  The the question is, if a team decides to only bunt for every player at bat, or move all their outfielders inwards, are they "playing wrong"?

    For those who are familiar with the GDC Design Workshops, this may sound familiar to some of the questions and points addressed with both Marc LeBlanc's MDA Framework, Nicole Lazzaro's 4 Fun Keys or even Jason VandenBerghe's 5 Domains of Play. I'm not sure if this is some sort of regurgitation of all of those, or some broken analysis, but please go ahead and take a look at those if you're interested in this sort of thing.

    On the surface, you could argue that a team that only bunts is "playing wrong" because that's easily the worst way to try to score, but that's not an entirely accurate picture.  You can definitely point that such a team is "not optimally" using the rules of the game to their benefit, but they're definitely working within the rules of the game.  Similarly, you can look at a team that has only home run hitters: are they as a team playing it wrong if all they can do/want to do is home runs?

    Taking this idea of analyzing play vs game into the video game realm: is someone who refuses to use the run button in a Super Mario game playing it wrong?  Well, at some point, when you have large gaps, then maybe.  How about someone who is avoiding the enemies?  Or getting the most coins?  Or finding all the secrets?

    Once you start deconstructing what is a game into the rules within the game, the content within the game, and the player's possible actions to act within the world, you start to realize that "you're playing it wrong" suddenly becomes a much more subjective statement: Telling someone they're playing it wrong can mean anywhere from "that's not what the game wants you to do" to "that's not how I would have approached it".

    With this in mind, a pretty interesting problem arises for game designers to tackle: player agency vs designer intent.  As designers, you may come up with mechanics, setups, and ideas to nudge players to experience specific events, emotions and challenges; but all those gameplay tools also influence player's choices and actions within the world.  In a game like Bioshock, players are dropped into this atmospheric environment where they're experiencing the story and atmosphere, and the intent was that players interact with the enemies and environment in this fairly serious tone; in direct contrast, because of it's weapon/health system, most players act like rabid scavengers, clicking and scouring through garbage bins, dead bodies, benches, stores, etc.  Think about how that looks like from an outside perspective: you're the protagonist going through this harrowing experience, and the most frequent thing you ended up doing is picking up from bins looking for loot.

    In the above case, it's not even "playing wrong", because the world and the rules established within the game suggests that this is what you want to do.  The above is another facet of this "play vs game" discussion: player intent and how that can influence a game.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 11 - Rolling Start: The Zombie MMO Experience

    We're going to start mixing up things a bit, and here's the first of the newly planned out segments, titled "Rolling Start"

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    Howdy y’all. This episode marks the start of something fun. Well… fun for me and Harold, I’m not sure about you folks out there. Anyway, this episode is the start of a segment we like to call “Rolling Start”. 
    In this episode, Harold and I splinter away from our typical conversation which was based on existing game design and development, and get into a richer design exercise. We call this exercise Rolling Start because it involves the use of dice to generate game ideas, which we can then flesh out in conversation. If you’re a game designer, or looking to get into game design, this is a good exercise to start brainstorming, and understanding constraints, at least from a broad sense. I’ll write up the process in a separate post. 
    In this week’s Rolling Start, we were charged with brainstorming a game with a Zombie theme, that had Looting and MMO components. 
    While a portion of this discussion was solely the definition and conventions of Looting and MMO’s, we did come up with two (very broad) game ideas. It only gets more interesting from here on out, so enjoy this episode! 
    PS. I’ve quickly written up the process we used for Rolling Thunder here. 
    There might be some awkward dead air, but I think that's pretty much expected as the process of thinking and designing live seems to directly contradict the act of filling airspace.  Tell us what you think, and try out the idea yourself!

    Friday, July 5, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 10 - Driver: Sans Driving

    It's another rainy day in Toronto, so why not listen to a podcast:

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    We made it to our Tenth Episode, WOOOOOO!!!! 
    It’s a Driver: San Francisco-heavy episode, as Harold wraps up his playthrough and poses some interesting design questions. This week, we talk about bringing context to unique game mechanics, the difficulties of mapping control inputs, and what happens to games when their online communities shrink. 
    Sorry folks, it's an hour long talk mostly about Driver: San Francisco.  We do end up covering quite a bit of grounds in other aspects of design relating to Driver (and other FPS) but yeah, it's about Driver...

    10th episode!!!

    Friday, June 28, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 9 - The Last of Bugs

    Another week, another podcast.  Just an early warning, we did go through the first hour or so of The Last of Us, so skip ahead if you don't want that hour spoiled:

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    Apologies for the late podcast this week, I didn’t want to post this episode so soon after the last … okay, no, I just got lazy and have been playing Battlefield 3 Premium. Aaaaanyway… 
    This week, we’re joined by Animator and Artist Brian Paquette, who was an integral part of our action team back on Warriors: Legends of Troy. He brought The Last of Us for me to try, where I broke this great looking game, and we go into a little detail about our first impressions of the game. Harold describes the strangeness of Driver: San Francisco, we chat briefly about Guild Wars and MMOs, and Harold gets really quiet because he owns a 386 (with turbo!), and Harold and I get into game balancing by statistics, and we completely alienate our guest. All this awkwardness, and more on this week’s Game Over! Retry? 
    It's interesting to note that Jon was almost correct in his writeup: I had a 286 with Turbo, and I had played Blockout on it. Seriously, it's a real thing...

    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 8 - Requires tablet to function

    E3 has come and gone, and we tried to do an episode immediately, but decided to give it some more time (and I had a bunch of other things to do), but here it is:

    iTunes Subscribe:!-retry/id653554634
    Join us this week as we stumble through a late session of Game Over! Retry?! No seriously, this week we just gargle around our E3 reactions. We tried to avoid doing a typical post-E3 news round up episode, and shot the shit about what they saw at this year’s E3, the potential and caveats of socially-reliant gaming and tablet controls, I get cynical about game trends, and Harold is still on Animal Crossing: New Leaf. 
    The best part of this episode is that before we walked into this recording session, we hadn’t heard that Microsoft had renounced their stance on DRM. Talk about worst timing ever. But, last week we DID call the whole megaman thing, right? I guess you win some, you lose some. 
    Man, this feels like a podcasting hangover.
    As always, send feedback to us through the usual places, thanks!

    Tuesday, June 11, 2013

    On My Mind: The level headed, 20/20 look at E3 from a game designer POV

    So, the major press conferences happened.  What did you really think?

    So after all that hoopla about MS, Sony, and this morning with Nintendo, and with your typical internet  hyperbole narrative in "needing to decide a winner" (and as far as I can tell, everyone online is agreeing that it's Sony), I think I should step in and throw in my two cents from a gamer and a game designer perspective.  And before I go any further, let's make this very clear:

    I'm a fan of games.  My allegiance is to all of gaming, and not any particular platform.

    This may not be very apparent in the past though, and you can easily skew my previous purchasing habit to shape whatever narrative you want.  If you look through what I own, the past generation is fairly lopsided to MS:

    • 350+ XBox 360 games
    • 140+ Wii games
    • 60+ PS3 games

    So you can easily paint me as a 360 fanboy with that.  But wait, you can also ask, "holy hell there was 100 Wii games that were even worth your time, N-bot?"  And then you realize, oh wait, that's still 60+ PS3 retail disk games, and that's way beyond the 2nd or even 3rd deviation of your average PS3 owner.

    My point is, whether it's because it's work related and I bought games for reference and research, or that I'm just curious about what's fun and interesting, I'll buy it, so it's not really a platform "fan".  Of course, there are other reasons why I will put certain purchases on one platform over another (be it online, multiplayer, controller preference, bonus stages, etc).


    With that out of the way, do I want to declare who won out of those three (or five if you count Ubi and EA)?  Cheesy answer: We did, gamers.  There's so much new games, and new ideas, how can you NOT get excited for these games.  Let's separate the the marketing hype, the pretend-smack talk, and some of the lameduck showings of mediocre ideas (Ryse, I'm looking at you), and look at what was there (for all of them), and the things that spoke to me as a designer looking at things:

    • MGS being the first major Japanese designed game to tackle open world, how will that differ?
    • Forza 5 with the "drivatars" can be game-changing on how AI works in games
    • The smartglass integration on XBox one (Ryse seemed meh, but Project Spark seemed WAY more integrated)
    • NFS:Rival merging in multiple single player games into an MP game (and that lighting model, wow)
    • Tablet usage in Battlefield 4
    • The Crew reminds me heavily of Fuel, Test Drive, Burnout Paradise mixed in together, and the level of online integration will be interesting to watch (and whether the lack of online could be handled gracefully with such a design)
    • Rabbids using Kinect? as a pseudo-TV show like interactive game and entertainment looks and sounds interesting (and yes, it totally reminds me of that sesame street kinect game that I have)
    • The Division mixing in different genres and play styles together (another tablet integration, looks like you all need to get a tablet first before diving into next gen gaming)
    • Rain looks like a fantastic idea from a gameplay mechanic
    • That indie representation at the Sony conference
    • Destiny as a persistant MMO like game, and handling the multiple ways of play/integration (although what they showed feels like Borderlands, in space)
    • Mario 3DWorld being a 4 player 3D game, which in my mind, will have all sorts of crazy camera design "problems"
    • Smash Brothers having a 3DS and Wii U version and having cross platform play
    Yeah, that's a lot of game (and interesting game ideas to dig into as a designer) even if you want to have to pick console allegiance.  Yet that's kind of my point: why pick?


    I know that for some, buying all systems is a financial issue, and that's fine.  But realistically, if I can afford it, I will eventually have to get all three, only to see (and to play armchair designer) on these platforms.  As a (former)designer, it's still somewhat important for me to see what people are doing, how creative ideas are pushing the envelop of design and play.  Sure, I can choose to downplay the Wii U because it's lacking in horsepower, but I will end up missing out on Nintendo's next take on racing (and hey, anti-gravity track design, how do you convey that to casual players who may not get it?).  The same can be said with XBox One: how will that drivatar work for Forza, how will adaptive AI change the way games should be designed?


    For me, as someone who has to play the dual role of game player and game designer, there are two ways to take conferences like this: I can just be just a consumer, cheering on what will be best for me (and yes, that does mean cheaper systems, more games, and more pro-consumer policies, hint hint); yet I can also be the designer, looking at all the ideas and innovation coming out from everywhere, and furiously jotting notes down and re-examine what I know and reevaluating where everything is going.  No matter how you approach this, it's an exciting time to be a gamer.


    Aright, I'm done rambling on.  If you feel like commenting, leave me a note.

    Sunday, June 9, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 7 - The Pre-E3 Extravaganza

    We lied, we did another episode REALLY right before E3:

    iTunes Subscribe:!-retry/id653554634
    As promised, Game Over! Retry? has officially gone weekly! Join us this week for our non-E3 E3 Podcast with our special guest and old friend and colleague, JW, aka Jason Wilson . This episode, we shoot off on a bunch of random tangents as we try to get Harold’s attention away from Animal Crossing: New Leaf, JW describes his own experience of playing Monaco with players of varying gaming experience and skill, Jon recalls dickery in MMO’s past, we contemplate the upcoming generation of hardware, how to reboot classic games, and look back at what we feel defined this closing generation of gaming. We’re also joined by a studio audience … of one silent character. JW makes a bold statement … rather a bold joke, but you can quote him on it. Did you get enough of us this week already? No? Then click the Play button below and get listening! 
    All this and then some, on this week’s episode of Game Over! Retry?
    Yes. I downloaded Animal Crossing last night.  Pro-tip: don't start the game at midnight.

    As always, send feedback to us through the usual places, thanks!

    Friday, June 7, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 6 - Rambling on and on and on about tutorials...

    Hi folks, just in time for the weekend, and right before E3:

    iTunes Subscribe:!-retry/id653554634
    People. People who need people. Are the luckiest people… Jon confronts Harold about how long it’s been since they last talk (which wasn’t that long ago). In this episode, the duo discusses single-player co-op campaign gameplay (Battlefield: Bad Company), digitized pen & paper mobile role playing (Knights of Pen & Paper), simplified input context and cognitive relevance (GIRP, QWOP, Heavy Rain), and typical gameplay tutorial conventions (Uncharted, Bulletstorm, DOTA 2) 
    All this and then some, on this week’s episode of Game Over! Retry?
    I think I had briefly talked about XBox One at some point, but it was merely a "as a designer, new hardware and possibilities are exciting".

    As always, send feedback to us through the usual places, thanks!

    Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    On My Mind: Go play mediocre games!

    Longtime friends and colleagues of mine have know my eccentric taste in games, and sometimes those games borderline on being unplayably bad.

    Now mind you, I've often advocated playing these terrible games because you'll learn quite a bit in what not to do, but that's sort of like shooting fish in a barrel: imprecise controls, shoddy health regen system, or bad level direction/AI is easy to spot and easy to suggest fixes for.

    What I suggest, however, is to play some more "middle of the road" games: not the 10/10s of the generation, but rather games that serve just the niche they target, and see why they fall short of greatness:

    Oh wow... did I just prove a secondary point that all these gritty, dark, games have been doing terrible? Let's balance it out with some non-gritty, colourful "mediocre games":

    ...second corollary: it's easier to name mediocre, non-gritty games on the Wii.

    Getting back to my main point: mediocre games are great reference work because they are usually mostly playable (and sometimes enjoyable), but are flawed in some ways that makes them fall short of being a great game.  

    It's also important to note here that mediocre games falls into two different categories: games that have some critical flaw that broke it (like the case of SSX Blur or FlingSmash, where the controls were directly interfering with the potential enjoyment of the game); and B-games: designed to be serviceable and cheap fun with no ambition to be anything more (Wanted and Eat Lead are great examples of that).  In the latter case, these games actually serves as a great template on what "can be fun' in a game because it does everything else just so mediocrely.

    Thursday, May 23, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 5 - With Special Guest!

    Hi folks, another two weeks, another episode:

    Join us this week, with our special guest Darin Casier, UI Programmer at Bioware Montreal! He’s worked on both the Mass Effect and DragonAge series, and he was a teammate of ours back at Tecmo Koei Canada. He’s hyper knowledgeable and passionate about games, a huge trekkie, and probably the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. This week, he shoots the shit with Jon and Harold about Guitar Hero, Lego Lord of the Rings, Analytics in Game Design, and Harold’s lack of PC gaming experience.

    ...wait a second, is my lack of PC gaming experience that notable? I guess it's kind of obvious when somewhere down the middle I was pretty silent. :P

    As always, send feedback to us through the usual places, thanks!

    Friday, May 10, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 4 - Monaco, Making a game at TOJam, and more!

    Hi folks, another episode just in time fore the weekend:

    Oh, hey there. I know, we’re late. That’s all me. Harold actually came over this week to record the podcast on time, but I’ve been busy with personal endeavours and was distracted from my regularly scheduled program. Aaaaanyway, Harold and I sampled Monaco and discuss its merits and psychedelic tripiness. We also talk about game jams, and Harold shares some of his learnings from participating in TOJam 2013, Toronto’s iconic game jam.

    Now that we're four episodes in, we're hopefully looking at getting the iTunes stuff setup by our next one.

    As always, send feedback to us through the usual places, thanks!

    Wednesday, May 8, 2013

    GameDevStories: The #TOJam8 Retrospective - "Who needs a designer?!"

    Another TOJam completed, another post mortem from a designer perspective.

    This year's team is a mish-mash of ex-coworkers and friends, and same as last year, I was more than happy to bail out of programming if someone else was taking charge.  Personally, unless it's a system I fully understand, I don't know how useful I can be in a 3 day sprint.  Therefore, just like last year, I ended up "working" on a team of 5 as a "dedicated designer".

    The jam's theme was "uncooperative", and a series of e-mails were exchanged back and forth about what kind of a game we could make.  My approach to it was really laissez-faire, letting other people do the thinking and just filtering down what could work (and actually end up writing content for a few of them to see what they could go).  I guess for me, coming from a more technical side of design, my focus was on the constraints and limitations than the "what ifs"... here's a quote from my first two e-mail replies:

    b) What kind of limitations will you have/need (Lucky, Juan, Nozomi)? At least from my end, I'll be working with what you can come up with. No point in suggesting an FPS if you're hacking away at other things. Ditto with the art side, if there's a specific style or ideas you guys want to work with, might as well point that out.

    c) Ideas working with the theme? I'm all ears right now. The quick thinking idea that I have at the top of my head is a quick dungeon crawler/brawler, with a "inn/shop" between every stage. However, the "uncooperative" part is that the inn shop owner is a dick and sells you the wrong things all the time.

    If you take Castle Crasher as the example, then you're dealing with some form of layering even as a side-scroller. You may run into some sort of z-ordering issues, and more about how to define what looks right/is in context. 
    The final game "direction" was to go with a side-scrolling 2D beat-em-up with a "saboteur" mechanic: one player is a spy, in the game to sabotage the other three.  The game's combat and mechanics are in place to let them to hide their tracks.  


    On day one, many "up in the air" decisions were made, for better or worse.  We ended up with a strict 2D perspective (not multi-layered like Streets of Rage); some combat was decided, along with enemy types; a quick level editor format was decided (image with pixel coordinate indicating object/enemy placement); specs on UI, spawning systems, and logic were hastily thrown together, some with far reaching consequences (like the image below, where at one point, enemies can collide into players, applying a force so great that it crashed through the floor)

    The push to completion

    Unlike last year's game, where it was number heavy, almost all the hard "design" work was done, and the soft design work such as balancing and adjustment would have to wait until a playable version exists.  For quite a bit of the second/third day, I wasn't doing a whole lot, and actually began messing with Garageband for some sound effects.  Of course throughout all of it there were quick snap decisions for things that was being created/implemented, but nothing too critical.

    By the end of the second day, we started looking at the state of what we have and started quickly considering what can/needs to be dropped.  On benefit of writing a design doc with optional checkpoints is that you know which milestones are hard requirements, and which ones can be dropped without breaking things.  In the end, one of the key saboteur mechanics was dropped due to not having enough time.

    Getting away from the core

    Throughout the three days, there were numerous points where we kind of asked whether the game was getting away from the intended theme.  In retrospect, probably.  However, I also do think that in trying to fit such an unconventional theme, it's going to be difficult to get it properly working, playing fun, and be on point.  For most people who came by to test the game out, it was a serviceable brawler, with a somewhat confusing "saboteur" reveal.   It was hard to grasp what made the game un-cooperative outside of the friendly fire.  We had speculated that the game would need at least two playthroughs for people to get it and for it to be interesting, and in our last game where all of us knew our proper roles, it actually clicked.

    Lessons Learned

    Jason (the other programmer/designer) had jokingly (I think) said to "throw out all the design docs".  Sometimes I'm tempted to do so, especially at a gamejam because it's suppose to be organic, but at the same time it could lead to terrible breakdown in communicating the direction and specifics.  How much space should the HUD take up?  How many attacks do you need?  How should things get triggered?  I imagine that without a quick doc, we wouldn't have been able to start day 1 at full capacity.

    On the other hand, I've noticed that some of the initial ideas I had are still rooted in large systems.  One example of this was my initial idea of blocking out levels, and using it as a collision map and a template for the artists to fill it in.  On paper, this is a very standard way to make levels, but it also makes level iterations painfully slow.

    "Who needs a designer?"

    During the jam I've heard that line at least twice, and it pains me to hear that.  As a project scales up in headcount, the potential points for communication breakdown increases.  An artist may not know how the programmer is going to implement their assets; the programmer won't know what format they're getting, and that's where I honestly think a designer would come in.  A designer at a jam isn't about being "the idea guy" (and it's never the idea guy even in the real world), but rather the cleanup guy that fights fires as they pop up and keeps everything in check throughout the process.

    At least that's what I tell myself.

    Thursday, May 2, 2013

    GameDevStories: TOJam weekend

    So, TOJam starts tomorrow.  You may recall that I had attended it last year, and it was kind of hit and miss (project docs and work is somewhere, no final executable was stable), so let's see how this year goes.

    I should be doing daily updates here in case you were interested in the progress.  While I'll be doing frequent twitter updates (@HaroldLi), 140 characters will probably never be enough.

    GameDevStories: I've just released a new game (FREE STUFF INSIDE!)

    The last few posts on this wall seems to have all been just advertisements for other stuff I do with games, so how about just one more (I'll get back to writing about games soon, I hope).

    So this project has been a long time coming, and it's now here SingleServingGames - DeepSpace - $0.99 (Download Here).  It's a simple SHMUP, without the shooting part, which I guess makes it a dodging gaming.  I still have more stages planned for it, but had to rush it's release before the iOS5-pocalypse.

    I actually still didn't get out of it in time, so the free, "Lite" version has just been resubmitted with iOS5 support because of the amateur mistake of calling it a "demo".  Along with converting to iOS5, I had to go through a bunch of cocos2d update, and found a few more showstopping bugs along the way.

    Either way, that's done now, so there's that.  And, "in celebration", I've put my two other paid apps on for free for a limited time (till tomorrow), so get them while their hot:

    SingleServingGames - QuickTap (FREE TILL MAY 3rd)

    Sometimes You Just Can't Win (FREE TILL MAY 3rd)

    Enjoy, tell your friends, and send feedback.

    Friday, April 26, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 3 - Walking Dead, Bioshock Infinite (+Bonus Bioshock notes!)

    New episode up, just in time for the weekend!

    Harold and I went back to the drawing board for our podcast title after discovering there was a Kiwi vidcast with the name “New Game Plus”. I freaked out. Harold came up with a solution. We’re sticking with it.

    This week, Harold points out a growing trend between Achievements and DLC in Forza Horizon, we discuss the shortcomings of Telltale’s The Walking Dead from a gameplay perspective, very briefly review my first impressions of Max Payne 3 (I’m only 20 minutes in), and take you on a 2-hour journey as we ramble on and on and on about Bioshock Infinite. Be warned that at that point, you’re in hard core spoiler town.

    If we had to give this podcast a subtitle … this one would be called “We Shit All Over Your Game of the Year”… We’re sorry. We also now have an official twitter account (@GameOverRetry), and a Facebook page (, so you know, professionalism and stuff.

    Grab a coffee. This is a long one.

    PS. Thanks Duy, for the awesome UG art 
    Throughout the entire thing, I had mentioned that I had written extensive notes on Bioshock Infinite as I was playing through it, so "would you kindly" read over them below?  They're pretty rough notes, shorthand interest points and other highlights I thought was interesting to write down.  Oh, and just as it was for the episode, if you haven't played Bioshock Infinite, DO NOT PROCEED!





     - Day 1


    • Intro -> The recall to Bioshock 1 with a lighthouse? 
    • The ballsy-ness of not doing any action for the first 30-45 minutes of the game 
    • The richness of content and asking players to look and listen to everything 
    • Setting up "2 mystery figures" to lead you questioning what is going on (is it the same people in the intro?) 
    • The heavy handed history narrative (outside of the US, would that John Wilks Booth statue mean anything?) 
    • So yeah, a 80's song reference. would that scene make sense without knowledge of that in context? 
    • Interesting to stick to "Bioshock Controls", sidestepping on genre convention for controls?
    • Skyhook controls - Interesting, and confusing at the start. 
    • Defining the new "vending" machine (in contrast to the first game)
    • Hiding upgrades to tonics on machines you may not discover? 
    Other design: 
    • God damn those menus are hideous and over designed, covering vital information that can be easily read 
    • Order of tonics obtained… "a way to cap levels"? 
    • "Gear" as a modded perks, but which screen is it on?
     - Day 2

    • Backtracking - the lack of gates allow for heavy backtracking, but it's a weird game devoid of enemies and things to do… yet...
    • …the Optional quests, and constant reminder of keys/safe pairings nudges people to backtrack obsessively if they've missed something
    • Directional change from previous Bioshock game, lack of "exploration map" and more of a funnel with narrow branches. The old style game would have been adequate for backtracking, but here it feels out of place
    • Still very much lacking in combat set pieces [Note: I think this was the immediate section after rescuing Elizabeth]
    • Only lightly sprinkle enemies in certain "expected" backtrack sessions. 
    • Holy batman Racism? I get where they're coming from, but the line between satire and "historical accurate" is very very blurry
    • The continued religious imagery, and it's closeness to Christianity? It's playing with a very fine line right now
    • Continued US history lesson, I had to look up Wounded Knee and Boxer Rebellion to see whether it was fact of fiction
    • The interplay between Elizabeth and Booker is interesting, and the story is at least paying off the problems that are arising with you killing plenty of people, and mechanics dealing with your constant thievery... even thought it doesn't do anything beyond laying the groundworks 
    • The imbalance of dual weapons vs many vigors at the same time
    • Skyhook combat: would most players get it? It's very cool (if not disorienting at first) if you get it, i don't know if it's something people get or just be disorientated with the 3d space
    - Day 3 
    • The way the game is structured "leave area" prompt encourages backtracking for optional quest even if it was unnecessary (second decode)
      • Game has done once where it was "point of no return", when a player experiences this once, they learn from it that any "leave area" could end a section
    • Low ammo is a nice way to force creative use of vigors and also frequent swapping out of guns
    • The game doesn't prevent you from playing like a traditional shooter, but should it try (is it the job of the game) to do that?
    • Time tears are an interesting way to tell story and also mechanics, but does this become too confusing to follow (resolves rather quickly, but still somewhat messy to follow if you aren't explicitly paying attention)
    • Achievement tracking in popups and not in a menu? what is going on there
    • The UI continues to be a god awful mess of small icons, text, and unleigable stuff 
    • Dynamic dialog, voxbox and other audio sources are overlapping at many times, causing loss of focus on what to concentrate on (the game's priority is on dynamic source first)
    • Since all visors share the same bar, outside of testing it out/trying it for achievements, there's no point outside of sticking to two favourites…(as if it needed separate bars)
    • Elizabeth's character arc and story is still consistent and fairly well written, but then it can contextually change to a different tone when she replies directly to your orders and requests… (I'm not talking to you… oh here's a dollar) 
    • Continually adding to the fabric of mysteries that you want to learn more is a nice way to string the game on forward, and the payoffs for finding the hidden info is interesting (your own voxbox recording from the other dimension, the twins story etc…) 
    • Comstock House 
      • Combat is starting to open up, with more large room, large scale combat, which is good, however, the trick seems to be relying on overwhelming players by numbers than being interesting in enemy movement. I'd set traps that enemies, unless scripted to charge at me, would never be used 
    • Once again, not fencing in the world and letting players explore way before they need to. it ruins the new/shock surprise when it's revisited
     - Day 4 
    • Is the enemy archetypes appropriate? (both Lady Comstock and the Boy of Silence(?) feels cheap) - similar enemy types in games like gears, does it force a specific gameplay desired?
    • The hail fire weapon is garbage, overloading press and release for a projectile weapon is confusing.
    • The time travelling is still very confusing, it may be meant to be confusing, but the more confusing it gets, the more I'm less interested in the story they're telling and waiting for them to explain it to me at a later point
    • Boy of Silence(?) feels like an initial gimmick that can be avoided, can it? I don't get them
    • Songbird is teased repeatedly, but is there a payoff? 
    • When rescuing Elizabeth -> a lock was marked as "Elizableth Busy"…. LOL
    • Combat is more packed in end game, with higher mix of enemies, which is good
    • Opening tears to choose which option to get in a stage finally pays off, there are interesting mechanics of going offensive and defensive…
    • The final setup for the airship finally fully utilize the skyhooks for combat.
    • Final major battle wasn't clear on objective until i saw the other bar which was depleting, which when i figured out, was too late.
    • Again, overmapping buttons to use, holding X to target was inaccurate and often mixed up with press X to spawn tears
    • Finally realized that you can't use powers when on skyhook, however, left trigger becomes iron sight? WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN?
    • Songbird felt lacking as a payoff… The entire game alludes to dealing with him (and players would expect combat), but never did… 
    • Also very brave to end the game on a downhill descent, holding combat off and just letting the story to play out 
    • ...PLOT TWISTS… the old age elizabeth, the multiverse, the reveal to Bioshock 1, who elizabeth is, the AD branding, the baptism, etc….it's interesting, isn't it?
     - End Game Observation
    • How did I now have so many keys? Can I use them anywhere? Why was I so starved for keys early on with unusable locks and so many at the end?
    • Nowhere close to getting all the infusion power ups, or upgrading any specific track, which felt really limited for experimentation (are any one of them weak to use in game? I don't know, never got to try them out)
    • Every gameplay mechanic eventually was undercooked/underused. Torches to set off gates? shock jockey for bulbs, did any other power do anything? Things that seemed interesting were at best used twice,then forgotten
    • The whole "amazing partner AI" is practically absent here.  She doesn't do anything beyond really good dialog and some really good idle animations 
    • The entire game felt somewhat short (even though it wasn't). Outside of the last sections of the game, it just felt like it lacked combat. I felt most of my time was spent looking at things, and it's the details that astounds me. 
    • So why tears that opens into modern world music? Is it because it's the easiest to recognize? the payoff seems to be nothing more than disorienting players 
    • So, remember that first gameplay demo? - The game is completely unrecognizable: none of it shows up…holy crap… wow… 
     - Begin Second playthrough 
    • With no new "revelations" and wonderment of exploration, the first section of the game seems quickly stale. attempting to try different combat works, but is limited by lack of cash, and old "mechanics learned" from end game doesn't apply here...
    • Lacking in New Game + makes it pretty impossible to try out late game items.  While there's definitely a concern for breaking game flow, this means that interesting powers never gets the full spotlight it deserves.

    Wednesday, April 17, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Difficulties of drilling down design for a design podcast

    So Jon and I have recorded 2 podcasts now (EP1) and (EP2), and while we've had quite a few technical difficulties (yes, the phone interference was probably my fault) and naming issues (we'll get a proper name next time), none has been more challenging for me than actual content creation.  It has slowly snowballed into much more work than I have anticipated of "two guys talking about games".  Let me expand upon that...

    Our basic structure is one similar to most other podcasts, covering what the last two weeks of whatever we've been consuming, and use that as a jumping point to talk about things relevant to it.  In most other podcasts about games, you may hear stray observations of what works and resonated with the player, but for me, a lot of observations done at this level is simple, high level criticism that doesn't add a whole lot, and would be a pretty weak basis for a design podcast.  However, in the attempt of generating better observational talking points, once again I start playing games not because they're games, but as work, writing down notes, researching reference points, pin-pointing their design stratagies.

    For example, in last week's episode on FarCry 3, I had questioned what the expected player progression in open world game design should be.  This led to a pretty big wild goose chase of looking at different open world games and how they approach loot collection, how maps and events are locked away, or just equipment unlocking/skill unlocking path.  I don't think we ended up going through all the various comparisons within the podcast itself (it'll probably take forever), but the research was done at some point and hopefully it did come out as more analytical.

    However, at the same time, this also made playing the game much more of a chore, "like homework" than ever before.  A heads up preview: I'm playing through Bioshock Infinite right now (don't spoil it for me), and I've had to stop at two different points just so that I can pause, take notes, do some research, just to resume again.  I know that I've purposely looked away from certain scenes just to see how the game handles player inactivity; trying to replay the same scene and trying different strategies to see how different it feels; trying to break it by doing unexpected player things.  I'm sure that's not how they had expected anyone to play the game.  


    One quick thing though before I end this post (about Bioshock and/or games in general): how much player knowledge/information should be considered relevant for any given game?  Using Bioshock 1 for example: does knowing Ayn Rand beforehand colour or changes the play experience?  Or how about games like Dead Space 2, where an entire stage is lifted from Dead Space 1, letting players recall their play experience and creating a twist on top of their past memories?  How much should a game expect players to know as knowledge, and is it safe to build upon that assumed knowledge to advance plot or mechanics?

    Friday, April 12, 2013

    Game Over! Retry? Podcast: Episode 2 - We had a name, then we found out it existed...

    So yeah, another episode of the podcast was recorded, and then we find out that someone is already using that name, so back to "unnamed podcast"!

    In our second episode, Harold and Jon figure out an appropriate name for the podcast, and yammer on about Far Cry 3, Need For Speed: The Run(s), Nimble Quest, and briefly debate the merits of visibly showing progress and growth in game interfaces.
    As with last week, send feedback and complaints this way, we'll take any help we can get (and hopefully a proper name the next time)

    Tuesday, April 2, 2013

    In The News: Richard Garriott thinks “most game designers really just suck”

    So Richard Garriott thinks "most game designers really just suck", it's a good read, so I highly recommend reading it.  But if you don't, at least I'll quote this:

    “If you like games, you eventually get to the point where you’d like to make one,” said Garriott. “But if you had this magic art talent as a youth, you can refine your skills and show a portfolio and say, ‘I’m a good artist, go hire me’ If you’re nerdy enough to hack into a computer, programming on your own, you can go to school and learn proper structure, make code samples and go ‘Look, I’m a good programmer, hire me.

    ’But if you’re not a good artist and not a good programmer, but you still like games, you become a designer, if you follow me. You get into Q&A and often design. 

    “And the most valuable part of creating a game is the design, which the programmers are technically executing. And they’d be happy to just execute some of them. But in my mind, most artists and programmers are just as much of gamers as the designers, and I usually find in my history that the artists and programmers are, in fact, as good of designers as the designers. They’re often better, because they understand the technology or the art. 

     You know what's funny?  What he described was basically how I ended up as a game designer, both "not quite good enough" but also having that technical background...let me explain further:

    When I started working at Koei Canada, I had hired as a programmer (with 4 others at the time).  I think within the first few weeks I knew that I was probably one of the weaker programmers (really, what I knew about programming and computer science is by pure brute force and endurance, not ingenunity), so it was no surprise when I was "demoted" to design.  We had joked about in the office that the incompetent programmers gets demoted to design.  I didn't care much for it, because for myself, design was the end goal, and programming was merely a stepping stone for it.

    However, it was also my programming background that helped in the design/project management process (of course we were also so shorthanded that I ended up coding a bunch on the PSP projects anyways).  Having a realistic understanding of how long certain technical hurdles would take definitely gave me a better chance of scheduling, and knowing certain memory limitations and restrictions prevented me from widely suggesting absurd ideas, both of which are vital to design.

    Going through this, I definitely see who a lot of designers have moved up from art or tech side, only because their background gives them even more information about what makes design works within the constraints of their field.  But at the same time, only pulling people in from these specialized fields also makes the end result "samey".  We want people in design because of their breadth of knowledge, we want designers to know everything and anything, so why just single out "programmers and artists are just as good as the designers"?