Category Archives: Curiosity

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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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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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.


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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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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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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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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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Exploring Exploration

Exploration. It’s simply something gamers do. Sometimes it’s searching every area of that huge castle in town, even when you know there’s really nothing there.  Other times it can be as simple as looking around for extra coins or orbs or whatever else your game keeps telling you to get more of.  To me, exploration occurs when a player purposefully moves to an area that the game did not specifically tell him to go to.  I consider myself to be an explorer.  I always seek “unnecessary” NPCs and my “to-do” list usually ends with the main story objective.  Sometimes I even forget what the main objective is.  That being said, I had an experience that challenged my definition of exploration in video games.

Recently I had the privilege of playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  I thoroughly enjoy this game.  It rewards players for exploring.  Each area has a route that is obvious, and the developers award extra XP to players who search for alternatives.  This usually means crawling through an air vent or stacking objects to reach high places, but some areas require more creativity to access.

Ladders usually lead to alternate paths.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with the exploration in DE:HR.  Why not reward observant, creative players?  It just seems like the right thing to do.  Limiting curiosity feels wrong, but is it?  Later that same day, I played a completely different game.  It was Riviera: The Promised Land, an RPG published by Atlus.  In this game, players accumulate Trigger Points (TP) based on how well they perform in battles.  Battles that award TP are limited in a given area.  TP is required to explore points of interest in a room.  Logically, this means that a player has limited exploration.

Hopefully the grass isn't a waste of TP

Is this a good thing to do?  At first I hated the system, but only because it sounded like something a designer shouldn’t create.  However, after a few hours, I discovered the play style that the mechanics of the game wanted me to use.  Exploration wasn’t a challenge of observation anymore.  All of the explorable stuff is clearly marked, and the story based events never require TP.  Instead, exploration became a challenge of prioritization.  “I see flowers.  Are they important?  Maybe they’re magical….nope, not magical.  I just wasted 1 TP.”  These situations forced me to learn from my mistakes and take risks based on what I already knew.

Riviera: The Promised Land taught me that sometimes limiting players is the best thing you can do for them.  It forces players to be intelligent, which I think is amazing.  This system doesn’t belong everywhere, but I’d love to see more games limit actions that players take for granted.

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