Category Archives: Video Games

Fantastic Friends XV

I just want to eat with them.  I want to sit around a campfire and talk.  I want to run around and explore and spout witty one-liners and grab their hands just in time so they don’t fall off of a cliff.  I mean, fighting is cool too, but combat… Continue reading

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Nothing: The Hidden Input

sonic_bored_9701
_movementState = MovementStates.Idle;

I’ve been working on a side project in Unity, and I wrote that line.  You probably don’t need to know anything about programming to know what it does.  There’s a character, and it’s not moving.  It’s idle. Continue reading

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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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No More Relics!

Gonna be completely honest: I’m freaking out right now.

The semester is winding down, and it’s go-time for Fortune Hunter.  My team has been working for weeks on refreshing this old game for the OLPC  laptops.  I’m the artist, which is a welcome change of pace and an awesome way to increase my game designer well-roundedness, but I’ve come to a horrible realization.

You see, when you write code, you may have your own style.  However, code is code.  You don’t perceive it in the same way as art.  If it works, it works.

Art is different.  Style is hard to imitate.  You can get close, but the point is that it’s difficult.  I would hate to leave this overhaul incomplete.  It would be a tremendous disservice to whoever decides to pick the project up in the future.  In fact, it would be worse than doing nothing at all.  It’s discouraging.  It’s taunting.  I hate finding art relics, and I refuse to perpetuate this nonsense.  It’s the least I can do.

So, tl’dr: I’m going to finish this art overhaul even if it kills me.

Feel free to peruse the repo too.  Some of my stuff is already up. 😀

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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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Round 1 – The Opression of Being Dominated

This is the continuation of my campaign for better fighting games, hopefully culminating in a project of my own.  I’m making this up as I go along, and trying to be transparent with it all.

Nobody likes losing.  I know I don’t.  Even if you are of sound mind and calm countenance, losing is still a negative experience.  But does that mean it can’t be fun?  Losing is simply a matter of mechanics.  You lose because the rules say you lose.  The rules don’t say you shouldn’t have fun.

Losing

Losing

This means that the mechanics of the game have to be crafted such that there are still meaningful choices to be made while losing.  Basically, if I’m getting beat down, do I still have stuff to do?  Continue reading

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Time to Stop Complaining and Fight

Humor me for a few lines, reader.  Imagine a game.  Not just any game, a highly-nuanced, complex game; a competitive game.  This game has next to no tutorial yes requires large amounts of precision and timing for even moderately skilled play.  At high levels, this game necessitates using glitches and exploits to combat its own complicated systems.  The game has no internal progression and makes no effort to teach the player, even through a simple challenge-curve.  Are you disgusted yet?  This is a problem, no?  I mean, the controls could be tight.  It could be a pretty game.  All of the window dressing could be perfectly in order.  And yet, here we are, with a frustrating game because it does nothing for the player at all.

“But Jon,” you say.  “This game isn’t even real.  Who would make a game like this?  Who would play it?” Continue reading

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The Tandem Bike Theory: Guild Wars 2 X Mathematics

Train boarding

Aaaaaall aboooooooooard!

Have you ever been on a long train ride?  If so, what about it do you recall?  What were you doing?  Perhaps you were talking to a friend, reading a book, or eating a sandwich.  Maybe, after those options were exhausted, you briefly looked out the window because there was nothing left to do.  Were you concerned at all with the intricacies of the train?  Did your glances outside provide you with meaningful information about your location?  Did you speak to any other passengers?  For me, train rides are passive experiences.  I just find it hard to care.  You get on, try desperately to amuse yourself, make a transfer or two, then you’re done.  All the while, you follow the instructions of some disembodied conductor who you probably never see.

So, why all the train talk?  Well, to understand where I’m going, let’s talk about MMORPG’s.  I’m not being specific, so just think of the most generic one you know.  In my experience, these games are boring.  No matter what role you choose, group play boils down to a chore.  If you heal, you spend your days staring at bars and trying to keep them full.  As a DPS-er, you spam hotkeys for damaging skills.  For such a seemingly team-oriented activity, it ends up lacking interpersonal interaction and more importantly, fun.  These types of games are trains.  You hop on, do your menial task, and somehow end up at the end.  Continue reading

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Board Games and Thingifying

Board games are kind of awesome.  They are pure, complete packages of game design that communicate an idea in a beautifully accessible way.  Don’t believe me?  Check out Shut Up and Sit Down.  It’s an awesome show that sheds light on some great game design gems.

Realizing that I love board games was easy.  Coming up with a concrete reason why was the hard part.  Luckily, I think I’ve done it.

Board games, by their very nature, tend to represent aspects of the game as physical objects.  Obvious, right?  In play, this isn’t that special because it’s pretty much a necessity.  But, as a part of the design process, it’s fascinating.  In order to design a board game, you have to identify what aspects of the game should become “things.”  For example, in a game about Roman conquest, should carriages be “things?”  Can players get them?  Yes?  OK, make some carriage tokens.

Board Game Tokens

Tokens: Endogenous Value in physical form (source: nohighscores.com)

Now here’s where things get interesting.  With board games especially, designers often make “things” at will.  In my Roman conquest example, I could have made “glory” a thing.  I could have made “appeasing the gods” a thing.  Then, I’d just make some kind of token and toss it in the box.  It’s not that video games don’t do this, but this is often one of the first thoughts when crafting a board game.  Video game designers can learn from this.

The theme of a game can be very different from what matters in a game.  Jesse Schell touches on this topic (“Endogenous Value”) in his awesome book.  I see so many video games that seem to tackle only the obvious facets of their theme.  When you’re considering what your game is about, try to be specific.  It’s about ninjas?  OK, what about them?  Stealth?  Fear?  Day-to-day life in Japan as an assassin for a daimyo? Board games are good at taking these often-ignored aspects and constructing entire games around them.  There’s no reason why video games can’t do the same.

I see all of these games about “modern warfare” that end up being about shooting.  What about survival?  Why do racing games have to be about driving?  The crazy thing is, these concepts have been explored successfully in games like Reccatear and Football Manager.  They took an overlooked/sidekick-ish aspect of a larger idea (RPG’s or Football/Soccer) and expanded on it.  In a world of clones and “safe” big budget titles, this is the way for small developers to really grab the interest of players.  By existence alone, these types of games make you say “Oh wow, I never thought of playing a game like that before.”

Don’t be afraid to play with what matters in your game.  Push the envelope.

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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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Enter: Project Fly

Ikaruga got Ace Combat pregnant, and my team is delivering the baby.

Top-Down-Fantasy-Flying-Dogfight-Action

Vampires+Mythical Beasts+Ghosts and Spirits+Eastern Mythology

AND Customizable ships

Oh yeah, we made a Prezi about it 😀

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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?

Continue reading

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Current Project: The End Begins

It recently dawned on me that I haven’t actually posted anything that has to do with my academic life.  It’s not that I feel like I have to prove that I’m a student or anything, but I do think that some of the things I do in my classes qualify as relevant content.  For example, I happen to be working on a game in my Game Software Development class.  I call it The End Begins.

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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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Just Press Play: Episode 0

Most people never read the “About” sections of blogs, so I’m going to assume that you don’t know anything about me.  I happen to be studying Game Design and Development at Rochester Institute of Technology.  Never heard of it?  Don’t feel bad, if it wasn’t for the nationally ranked GDD program, I’d be just as clueless.  However, RIT is getting some press recently due to a new initiative called “Just Press Play,” sponsored by Microsoft.  It’s being dubbed “a game layer for student success,” and it’s being beta tested by students in the School of Interactive Games and Media only.  The whole shindig launched on October 13, but I can’t start until October 17 because I need a “Play Pass,” which I’ll explain later.

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The Case for Co-Op

My brothers and I, we weep.  We long for the days when there was rage in the streets; days of entrusting the safety of our cities to a motley crew of heroes.  We punched hoodlums and kicked ninjas, all on the same city block.  Arcade machines sucked pockets dry as we mashed buttons.  Poor player three, he gets Hawkeye.  Poorer player four gets stuck with Vision.  Those were the days.  Just punch a trash can, there’s turkey inside.

If that all sounds like nonsense, you may not have much experience with the “beat ’em up” genre.  Games like Streets of Rage and Final Fight cemented my perception of what cooperative gaming should be like, and I know I’m not alone.  Yet, when I go to websites like Co-Optimus, I’m frequently disappointed.  The selection is so scarce.  Wanna play on the same screen?  Sorry.  Offline?  Pfft, good luck.  Oh, you want a cooperatively focused game, not a competitive online shooter with a crappy co-op mode?  Sucks to be you.  My major problem is that co-op is becoming a marketable feature now.  Players just don’t expect it as much, so it becomes a special add-on.  Are we so content with killing each other?  Are developers just to lazy to make AI that is challenging to a group of humans working together?  Don’t make me bring up Monster Hunter again…

Ninja Baseball Batman. There is nothing left to say.

Continue reading

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Monster Hunter: Why U No Want Hunt?

Japan loves Monster Hunter.  This is technically an opinion, but c’mon,  can you really disagree?  I love the series myself, and it always confuses me that Americans are not typically aware of the glory that is Monster Hunter.  I’ve heard arguments that it is the generic title, or possibly not enough marketing.  Some even say that the game is too hard for Americans (not sure if I’m offended by that).

It kinda looks like this...

I have a different theory. Let’s think about what Monster Hunter is.  It’s a game in which players fight powerful monsters, monsters which are usually much more powerful than the player.  Players must make many calculations for things like weapons, armor, location, and monster hit-zones.  No, I’m not saying Americans are too dumb for this.  I happen to be one.  My point is that the difficulty of Monster Hunter is deceptive.

How about a story?  Everyone loves stories.  When I first played MH, I was absolute trash.  I couldn’t even kill the Giadrome, a monster which is so weak, it doesn’t even count as a boss monster. I could have given up, but I didn’t.  I turned to the community.  You see, the Monster Hunter Community is a sort of strategy guide in itself.  You can effectively google any monster’s name along with a weapon and find a video tutorial to help you.  Monster Hunter is hard, but it’s a community effort.  Eventually, I killed the Giadrome and its other “drome” cousins.  Now I sit at rank G3 in Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.  Thanks, MH community! 😀

Why is this so hard for Americans to understand?  Well, think.  How many games developed and released in America are known for extreme difficulty?  We are trained to expect difficulty in the form of skilled players.  As a Monster Hunter fan, I understood the game as something normal, but honestly Monster Hunter is weird.  No narrative?  No competitive multiplayer?  No leveling up?  All I do is kill stuff with friends?

NO ACHIEVEMENTS OMGWTFBBQ!?

Seriously, I now understand why Monster Hunter is so foreign to players.  It’s not a hard concept to grasp, just a hard concept to think of as “fun.”  This must be what it sounds like:

“Hey, wanna play chess against this super high level AI?”

“Um, no.”

“Aww c’mon, you can play with up to three friends!”

“OK, maybe.”

“But the board is different, so prepare for that….and the AI has more pieces than you…..and you don’t get a trophy or plaque for winning.”

“…”

What isn't appealing about this?????

But there is merit in the Monster Hunter system.  The game rewards skill, not the amount of hours logged in.  On top of that, there are so many weapon and armor options to choose from.  Players are encouraged to be self-motivated.  Most of all, Monster Hunter encourages cooperation.  I miss co-op.  People tell me it still exists.  I don’t believe them.

Monster Hunter is a startling example of multiplayer gold.  Maybe developers will see this and try cloning MH instead of Call of……

Nah, I doubt it.

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MMORPGs: Class is in Session

Point. Click. Wait. Does this seem familiar? This formula seems to pop up everywhere in the world of MMORPGs. I know this because I have played many MMORPGs. Now, don’t confuse this article as some sort of boredom-fueled rant about how the genre needs a revolution. I’m not going to yell at you in caps lock about how there are too many generic MMORPGs, too many three-kingdoms based MMORPGs, or too many games in the genre in general. I simply want to talk about one thing: potential.

When you play one of these games, you generally must choose from a variety of jobs or classes for your character. What are you really choosing? In many cases, your choice represents a series of armor sets. There are usually a dedicated set of skills for each class. Sometimes certain quests are only given to certain classes. After these distinctions, the differences become quite superficial. This system is easy to develop for. The classes all play in the same general fashion (click, spam hotkey sequence, repeat). This makes it easy for developers to create new content. The problem is that no matter how interesting the content may be, the gameplay is still the same between classes. Why create such an arbitrary choice? I don’t think the issue is that there aren’t unique classes, the tools are all here already. Developers can take the common MMORPG classes and make them truly interesting and different from each other.

Does it even matter?

Now, zoom out for a bit. Broaden the scope of your mind to include all genres. When I say warrior, what genre do you think of? I tend to think of the action genre, and I think about games like God of War. Kratos is a warrior, I would never doubt that. Warriors in games tend to care about certain things and handle problems in ways specific to them. Kratos would be a horrible Black Mage. Mages have different cares and concerns, and they certainly have different methods of dispatching foes.

These two could never switch games.

If we can agree on this, then why do the classes play so similarly in MMORPGs? Pointing and clicking works well for using magic, but if I’m a warrior, I want to attack multiple targets fluidly. It makes more sense for a warrior in an MMORPG to play like a warrior play in an enjoyable action game. What about summoners? It seems like they would be better off with the controls of an RTS. It simply makes more logical sense that way.

MMORPGs are virtual worlds. Character classes can easily become virtual lifestyles. So, what about professions? Do warriors care about herbalism? Maybe not, but I’m sure they have knowledge of weapon crafting and maintenance. Perhaps a rogue can tell you if that mushroom you’re about to eat will kill you or not.

I'd eat that.

Obviously this is a hard system to implement. It’s almost like creating multiple games. Developers would have to test new content individually for each class. Even so, this explanation is very extreme. Nothing stops a developer from taking a few extra steps to make the classes actually play differently. It would certainly open up the genre to a new audience. Players would choose a class based on how they want their character to live and move, not a set of numbers and animations.

Maybe playing a priest will finally become interesting….





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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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