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"?