Category Archives: Thoughts

Netrunner: Moving Beyond Infatuation

The title should be enough, but yeah.  Netrunner.  It embodies everything I could have asked for in a trading card game.  The distribution format eliminates the stupid randomness of booster packs that saps my wallet dry and leaves me drowning in a pool of common cards and disappointment.  The game itself isolates its core mechanics and shields them from the cards themselves.  You can always bluff.  You can always take risks.  You can always do big plays.  The cards just facilitate the action.

I haven’t been playing for more than a few weeks and I’m hooked.  The cyberpunk aesthetic is captivating and it’s woven into the mechanics so well.  It’s quite telling when a game compels you to teach it to all of your friends.  That’s the mark of greatness.

But I’m not just here to praise Netrunner.  Quintin Smith of Shut Up and Sit Down already has that covered. 😉

No, I’m writing this post because I’m a game designer, and I think that there is a lot in Netrunner that applies to video games.

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Bonus Round: Let’s Talk it Out

This is still kind of part of my series on fighting game problems, but since this post isn’t really about a problem, I’m considering it a Bonus Round.

I was inspired by a guest lecture in my FOSS class given by Cissi Ovesfotter Alm, a professor here at RIT.  She was speaking on the topic of Natural Language Processing, and the early bits of the lecture caused the strangest chain of events in my brain.  She said that conversations are cooperative, with both parties working to advance the conversation.  She also broke down language into its elements.  This initially got me thinking about dancing, particularly tango, mainly because of a friend of mine.  The artistry of partner dancing comes from cooperation, but on a technical level, everything a dancer does is a series of moves that can be broken into component parts.  But, how far is cooperation from conflict?  After all, can’t a conflict appeal to the eye in the same way as a piece of art?  I think so.

And besides, we’re not here to dance.  That’s not what this series is about. Continue reading

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RocPy 11/19/13: The Day My Brain Melted

I thought I could program.  After a few years of studying games and writing code, I assumed a bit of competency on my part.  Call it pride if you want, but it is what it is.  Yesterday, I went to the Rochester Python user’s group meeting: RocPy.  Python isn’t my forte, but on that day it really wasn’t my forte.  The topic was database management in Python.  I’m not particularly good at database anything, so it was already difficult.  Throw on an explanation of ORM’s and my head starts to hurt.  Finish it off with a comparison between SQLAlchemy and Django and you can consider me humbled.

I needed this.  I was too big for my britches.  The true programming masters are the ones who know what they don’t know, and I learned exactly what I don’t know: a lot.

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Making 2D Dogfights Interesting

Oxymoron?  Yeah, probably.  Basically, I’m noticing yet another issue with my current project, Project Fly.  The issue: aerial dogfights seem to suck in 2D.

In Ace Combat, aerial dogfights are awesome.  In 3D, you have so many options for movement and getting the enemy off of your tail becomes much more interesting.  In 2d, it’s either left or right.  Boring.  That’s what I thought at first anyway.  Then again, why can’t left and right be interesting?  In Ace Combat, you can move in MANY directions, but only in ONE way.  All you do us shift your angle by altering pitch and yaw.  Weak-sauce, this is 2D-Town and we do whatever we want.  Heck, this is a fantasy game, we can take whatever liberties we want with anything.  The player has an energy bar used for firing weapons, why not let the player use energy to make movement more interesting?  There are quite a few options.

For example, the player can use energy to execute an instant 180° turn.  This totally takes an enemy by surprise, and works well if the player sees an incoming enemy on the map.  Of course, this maneuver also requires some guts and determination to be used well.

There could also be a side-shift maneuver like in the newer Wipeout games.  This allows for tighter turns or quick adjustments to avoid enemy fire.  It wouldn’t cost very much either.  I can envision players constantly side-shifting while being pursued by enemies.

Thinking about the possibilities just makes my brain giggle. Anything from quick boosts to backward teleportation. I’m sure that these maneuvers are the spice that 2D dogfights need.

THIS IS RELEVANT

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Desire-Based AI

So I’m learning that none of my previous video game AI work is relevant anymore.  Project Fly (my team’s current project) is in real time, so I need to approach AI in a new way.  I pulled out a lot of hair, and finally had a thought.

Yes, one thought.

“What does an enemy want?”  Before this game, I always worked with turn-based AI.  It was all very “computer-y” in the sense that the enemies were interesting to compete against (sort of, but they achieved this state in a way that is very non-human.  For example, in The End Begins, my previous game, the enemies categorize player actions and react based on their running list of player tendencies.  This fails in real time and isn’t how most humans play.  On top of that, the AI in The End Begins doesn’t really change much between enemies.  There’s hardly room for variety.

So back to my epiphany-question.  Why is it important?  Well, I think that humans play this way.  See, I had the issue of enemies in Project Fly either being useless or too perfect.  They either had hardly any AI or followed the player perfectly, so I thought “what makes it so that I can shake a human player off of me?”  It has to do with conditioning.  No, not the hair kind.  If I let my opponent pursue me and get close (assuming they want to be close), he will become complacent and his reaction time will become dull.  Then, I pull a sharp turn.  My opponent is taken by surprise and I escape pursuit.

By this logic, an enemy has its own unique set of things that it likes and dislikes.  For example, the Kitsune is an enemy in the game.  This enemy loves lower speeds and keeping its energy low (constant attacks).  Kitsune are easily agitated but also prideful.  This means that the way to beat one, you must play with it a bit.  Engage in a slower chase and let the Kitsune feel good, then pull an advanced maneuver and surprise it.  Its reaction time will suck and it will start to flee.  Now, this means it will go fast, which it hates.  This will cause it to become sharper and eventually go on the offensive again.  And so, the cycle continues. 😀

Reaction time will also scale slightly with health, so some enemies just naturally become duller (or sharper) as health declines.

I’m hoping that this system will be both effective and easy to implement.  Thoughts???

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Life-ification

Gamification is a buzzword.  I see and hear it all the time nowadays when talking about the game industry’s impact on other areas of society.  I hate buzzwords.  Now watch me contradict myself and call more attention to a buzzword. This one gets special privileges though, because I like the idea.

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Triforce Remix

So, Ganondorf is the bad guy.  That’s pretty set in stone.  He’s like Bowser, everyone knows he’s the evil one, just like Link is always the hero and Zelda always has a knack for being easy to kidnap.  Something about this bothered me.  See, the Triforce has three parts (duh): Power, Wisdom, and Courage.  Ganondorf represents power.  Ganondorf is evil.  Is power evil?  Can’t wisdom be evil?  What about courage?  I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with the way things are, and I understand why Nintendo isn’t messing with the formula.  The formula works.  It’s just that I can’t help but imagine a different Zelda universe.

I can see an evil Zelda.  She’s royalty, and that can lead to corruption.  What if she abused her power to gain control of….well, Power.  She could drain Ganondorf of his power and use it to extend her tyrannic reach.  Ganondorf wouldn’t be evil, he’d be a leader of a less powerful nation.  This event would cast him from his throne, and he would seek the only other individual with the power of the Triforce: Link.

Don't you just wanna hug him?

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Video Game Songs That Play in my Head #2

So I figured I’d justify the “#1” in the previous post by posting another VGSTPimH (next-level acronym, hater).  This one’s not a happy one.  I was woefully reminded of this theme as I attempted to register for winter classes here at RIT.  As a freshman, I was essentially a tertiary scavenger, below even the lowest of course-seeking vultures.  I scrounged for enough classes to barely qualify as a full-time student.  Even after acquiring a few classes, the ending was bittersweet.  I was left feeling powerless and defeated.

All the while, the song of failure echoed in my mind.  This track probably isn’t very well-known, but I remember it: the theme of mission failure from Front Mission 3.  It isn’t like other game over themes I’ve heard.  The game doesn’t try to forcefully drive home the fact that you failed.  Rather, the feelings of inadequacy creep in, slowly becoming more prominent as you watch your situation steadily deteriorate.

Sometimes life hits hard, and you lose.  Just remember to get back in your Wanzer and try again.

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Video Game Songs That Play in my Head #1

This happens a lot, hence the “#1.”  Sometimes my brain spontaneously plays a song for me.  I play an enormous amount of games, so it’s no surprise that many of these songs come from games that have had an impact on me.

This particular song plays fairly consistently.  It usually happens as I’m walking out of a classroom.  I feel the satisfaction of conquering another class.  My mind is swelling with knowledge.  Slowly, an 8 bit harmonica begins playing its tune (at least I think it’s a harmonica).  It is the ending theme from Megaman 3 aka “Protoman’s Theme.”  I don’t know why this song penetrates me in this way.  Just listening to it (which I am doing while writing this) makes me feel so cool.  In fact, I no longer even hear the original version in my head.  I hear this version.  This song is the ultimate epilogue to any session of hard work.

Maybe it’s stuck in your head now….

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The Genre-Swap Game (or something like that)

I’m noticing a trend in games which involves taking a franchise and “rebooting” it in a different genre.  Usually this means taking a beloved game or series and making an FPS out of it, but I’ll save my angst for another post.  What interests me are the possibilities for this kind of genre-swapping.

Like many of my ideas, this one was born as I was playing around on my computer, specifically in Visual C#.  I was thinking about games like XCOM and Syndicate, and decided to write a simple program to facilitate my thoughts.  I loaded some genres in and basically created the equivalent of a hat filled with genres to pick out of (fancy, right?).  Then, I thought of a game…

My first thought was obvious.  I guess I wanted to strike back at the thought of strategy games becoming FPS, so I chose Call of Duty.  The genre I got was Puzzle.  Call of Duty: Modern Tetris?  Puzzle Fighter: Modern Warfare?  There were a lot of other funny results as well, including a popular action franchise becoming a Japanese dating-sim.

I wonder if Ninja Gaiden: The Dating Game would still be crazy-difficult...

I remember putting “Cooking Sim” in there just for laughs.  It never came up.

Call of Cooking: Modern Mama.  I’d totally buy that.

Try it yourself, you don’t need anything fancy.  Mix up the genres in your favorite games.

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