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Give the players a break!

Programming is a field that requires extreme precision. There’s no emotional interpretation done by the compiler it will do exactly what you tell it. This, by default, doesn’t translate well in video games. Some games are authentic to their code, one pixel of a cliff boom your dead. Ninja Gaiden for the Nes is a brutal example of a game that required extreme precision from the player which correlates well with how it was coded. There are some exceptions, If you think of Super Mario Brothers 1, it displays more flexibility :

In this specific scenario, Mario “should” have fallen in the hole however, it was designed to cut the player some slack and allow them a margin of error. The benefits are obvious, you leave the player less frustrated and the experience becomes more enjoyable.

There are exceptions to this rule, obviously your targeted players could get bored if the game is too easy or too hard. Not all games target the same category of players. Recently released Deux Ex for example is definitely not your grandma’s Farm Ville. The skill level expected from the players is higher than your typical casual player. That said, it’s not because a game is super hard that it should not try to give a player some breathing room. Let’s look at vertical shooter, it is a category of game that is considered hard :

Ikaruga (shown in the picture) is not the hardest of it’s category but the game is trying damn hard to kill you. Dozens even hundreds of bullets are constantly being thrown at you that you must avoid or absorb by switching your ships colors. It requires a lot of coordination even to reach the third level in this game. The breathing room (may be hard to believe from the screenshot) is still present. In this case, the ship’s hit box is smaller than the actual ship :

As you may have guessed the bullets will only kill you if they touch the hitbox rather than the actual ship on screen. This has the chance to provoke : “WOooaaaaah! That was close!!!” reactions rather than “damn, dead again.”. I’m not downplaying the difficulty of these games, I’m rather trying to demonstrate that even the most hardcore games tend to try and apply that line of thought.

Games can be hard but they should never be impossible, give your players a break and remember that fun is part of the experience they are expecting from any game. Don’t let a compiler make design decisions, micro manage everything that’s going on in your game because once it’s out there, player will notice if you didn’t. To quote Futurama, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” If people enjoy your game without being able to explicitly describe why, chances are you’ve done something right.

26
Aug 2011
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Bastion

If you didn’t give Bastion a try yet, you should. Bastion takes place in “in a lush imaginative world, in which players must create and fight for civilization’s last refuge as a mysterious narrator marks their every move.” It’s absolutely gorgeous. The world gets created as you move around, it’s both technically and visually impressive.

On the downside, I wish they didn’t put in that narrator. As you progress through the world, a narration is done trying to give context to the story. It’s semi-humoristic and I was not quite sure where they were going with it. In my opinion, it doesn’t add to the experience, on the contrary it takes away from it. Still, it’s a small annoyance considering the quality of the game. Easily worth 15$!

23
Aug 2011
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Gesundheit!

If you own an iOS device, you must check out Gesundheit. It’s an action puzzle game that puts you in control of a snotty pig who needs to outwit a bunch of monsters. The game is incredibly well designed, the controls and the interface works perfectly, definitively worth your 0.99$ (for a limited time). You can get it here. Here’s a video preview of the game that should instantly charm you.

28
Jul 2011
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Mega-Cabaret

I’m still laughing just by watching this image. Maybe it’s because I woke up at 5:50am this morning but whatever, I think it’s a great piece that I wish I could have in my man cave!

found this on a fun (but French) website here.

23
Jun 2011
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Portal 2′s Amazing Game Design!


I’ve recently finished playing Portal 2 and I have to say that I had a blast. Although I would have liked the game to be a little harder I think it’s still fair to say that playing through the game is incredibly rewarding. I would consider the game widely accessible even to those unaccustomed with shooter controls; the learning curve is very well done. The game’s story and dialogues (more monologues really) will be enough to motivate you to complete the puzzles as quickly as you can to get more of the story that you’ll be craving within the first minutes you play.

As my title suggest, the thing I was most impressed with is the game design. One thing I’ve learned about designing games over the past years is that you have to ask yourself, “what am I expecting from the player?”. Portal 2 game designers obviously wanted the players to solve puzzles, that’s what was expected. Simple enough right? Well, we’ve all played games that included puzzle situations (crate pushing anyone?) that not only required you to solve the puzzle but also expected the player to be able to precisely move the character through the puzzle. There’s one specific game that comes to mind and it’s Crush for the PSP. Not only were the puzzles incredibly hard but the game controls were awkward at best. Portal 2 didn’t go there, and this is definitely something I appreciate from the game designers. Once you’ve figured out the puzzle, it never asks the player to execute the puzzle with incredible precision. The game designers don’t expect you to play like a Quake 3 pro, they expect you to go through their design easily in a 3D environment thus making the game accessible to everyone.

This is a challenge we are currently facing at Loopycube; we’re working on a line of sight puzzle game. You have to steal a piece of art from a museum while avoiding the guards’ line of sight. We’ve been working for a couple of weeks on fine tuning the difficulty level of each stage and also trying to work on the learning curve. The first version I tried had this issue where we not only required the player to solve the puzzle but also asked them to complete it with extreme precision. At this point you have to step back from the game and ask yourself, “do I want to make an “action like” puzzle game where I expect the player to brute force is way through or go back to a more puzzle type game?”. We’re all learning this stuff together at Loopycube and having quite a blast at it as well. That said, I’m convinced the level designers faced that same issue with Portal 2. To me, it’s no coincidence that the game doesn’t include challenging platform scenarios and the like.

So what do you think? Do I have this impression based on the fact that I am used to playing shooters or would you agree that the game goes to great lengths to  focus mainly on the puzzle solving aspect and not requiring extreme precision that only the most adept gamers would have?

This was a triumph!
20
May 2011
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FF IV, One Last Time… Again

Square Enix sure knows how to pull my strings. Last week they released Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, which I must definitely own, since it has to be the RPG I’ve played the most since it’s first release on the SNES (titled Final Fantasy II back then for those keeping score). This game was a landmark in my early teen years. I thought the scenario was brillant and I was captivated by all the unexpected plot twists. I simply adored the mystery behind Cecil’s dark knight mirror image fight amongst other thing. Of course, I was 11.

One thing that remains great is the musical score used to carry the story line. It was simply amazing back then and still is amazing today. Perhaps the musical score is one of the main reason why I held such an emotional attachment to this game, I could barely read English when I was 11 so it had to be something more than just the dialogs. This is one thing I hope they don’t touch.

For me, the down side to this release is the fact that it’s being released on the PSP. I don’t like the PSP; it’s not comfortable, especially for a game that will require long hours of gameplay like a Final Fantasy game. I wish they would release it as a downloadable then I could at least be spared from the spinning noise of the UMD. It still beats playing an RPG on a phone though so I guess I should be happy it’s not an Android or iOS-only release.

This will probably be the last game I purchase on my PSP before finally putting it to rest. You suck PSP and I loathe your battery life, easily scratchable screen, noisy UMD, slow load times, incredibly fragile device. You really, really sucked. Hopefully, this will also be the last time I play Final Fantasy IV, there’s too many great games out there to justify replaying these old ones again. I also didn’t enjoy the After Years all that much on the Wii but perhaps this version will improve my experience. Time to see Cecil get screwed by Kain one last time…

You can watch the cheesy trailer for this release here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndcGaUhiTnc

02
May 2011
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Back!

I’ve been incredibly busy and/or out of the house recently. I had the chance to go to Cuba for a week of family vacation and then Las Vegas for work. This is why I’ve been rather quiet on my blog recently. During my travel time I got the chance to play some 3DS, which I got a day before leaving to my trip to Cuba. I got Street Fighter IV, Shadow Wars, and Pilotwings. THE game I’m most looking forward to is Zelda OoT. Rumors have it that Nintendo decided to hold off its release to give other developer the chance to sell their titles, but that’s a different story. I’ll try to post my impressions about the console and the games as soon as possible.

Besides the 3DS stuff, there are a few games I’m looking forward to but the main one on my radar is Portal 2. I simply adored the first one and I’m looking forward to this sequel. I’m worried that they may try and over do it and over complicate things; Portal was great because of it’s simplicity and it’s success, I’m sure, came as a surprise. I’m hoping they haven’t changed the formula too much. Quite a few on my twitter feed are excited about Gears of Wars 3; however, I really didn’t enjoy the first two. I gave them a reasonable chance but it felt like a unending game of hide and seek so I will pass on this one.

I’ve also been playing a bit of World of Warcraft again with friends again, but this time with a new character and I’m enjoying the revamped content quite a bit. I’m curious to see how 4.1 will be received because it feels like people are already getting bored with Cataclysm. I’m also very interested to see if this will cause Rift players to go back to WoW. A great test for this new MMO.

So much to talk about, it’s good to be back!

20
Apr 2011
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Dragon Quest IX

From old-school to 2011, the Dragon Quest series manages to evolve in a great RPG game while keeping the old-school charm of the series. I’m currently 7-8 hours in and I’m having a blast with it. Contrary to most 3D games on the DS this one manages to look good for the dated system. It uses some cell shading that somehow manages to hide the low resolution of the device. The game designers also decided to keep some of the sounds original to the series (stairs sounds, attack sounds, etc…); however, if you are unfamiliar with the series you might just find this to be weird. Overall, it looks and sounds great so let’s look beyond the artsy factor.

It’s predecessor (Dragon Quest VIII) was a lot more tedious to play. Every single time you switched zones it meant grinding for a couple of hours. There’s no merit in a game taking 80 hours if more than half the time you have to grind your way through the game. Dragon Quest IX is far more balanced and won’t force you to do as much grinding. The game also allows you the flexibility to create your own party, which is something new to the series; however, it does mean less personality to your party as little to no scripting will be involved. I personally like the character of Jessica in DQ, for example, which added to the charm of the game. Now your party consists of 4 mute characters, which is a bit of a shame. That said, you can pick from multiple classes, which also offer multiple talent trees to pick from and that contributes to a great variety of groups you can form. I’ve decided to go with a classic party of Warrior, Priest, Rogue, and Mage. I figured it was a safe bet that wouldn’t require me to go back later in the game to change my party. The game also offers a multitude of online features that I have yet to test. A few hours into the game you will have the option to “visit” other worlds with other players. A feature that I’m looking forward to test.

I’ve been playing Dragon Quest since Dragon Warrior 1. Back then you could get it for free if you subscribed to a year of Nintendo Power. It wasn’t a great game but RPGs were a tad rare back then. The game gave you very little information on what to do next and most of the time you had to guess what you had to do to progress. Maybe I got this feeling because I couldn’t really read English all that well but either way, the translations were pretty bad. That said, Dragon Quest has come a long way since and so far it feels like this could be the best version since Dragon Warrior 4. Hopefully the game won’t disappoint me midway; however, if you’ve skipped multiple versions due to how tedious Dragon Quest usually are, it’s time to give it a chance one more time.

10
Mar 2011
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Wii Virtual Console – Faxanadu

Last week there was a surprise (for me at least) added to the Wii Virtual Console catalog; a NES game called Faxanadu. I haven’t played this game since I was 10 years old so the nostalgia factor kicked in big time and made me spend $5 for it. I’ve played a few hours and I’m almost at the end of the game, but wow, what a brutal experience this has been. I would much rather deal with my root canal next month than actually going through the game again.  And yet, here I am, replaying it for at least the third time since 1990.

I wish I could talk about some ingenious game design elements or clever gameplay but it’s a total mess. There’s absolutely no game design to talk about, monsters will always rush towards you no matter the obstacles, if they can’t reach you they go nuts and start shifting wildly on the screen, it’s really quite astounding. I can understand that coding an AI is complex but a few IF conditions in their code could have given the game a more “organic” feel. The game is filled with cheap shots, sometimes there are NO options and you will get hit by the monsters on the screen no matter what.

So why am I bothering writing about it? Because somehow, in some way, the game still was fun to play. As a 10 year old kid, you are way less critical about the world around you and even less with games. When I was playing this, I must have thought to myself “I must be doing something wrong” and probably gave the designers more credit then they deserved but again, I don’t believe there were any designers involved in this project. It feels like the game was probably mostly done by a few programmers and a pixel artist. I think this game may have, by itself, created the need for testers. Even one tester could have told him : ”On screen X when you are up the ladder, it’s impossible to get out because monster Y will just hit you and make you fall down over and over”. I think their idea of a solution for this issue was “Meh, they can always die and restart from the town”.

Still glad I spent the 5$ for it though. Faxanadu was a blast for me to play as a kid but now, it’s just painfully wrong in so many ways and yet, I’m still trying to find that last ring to allow me to get in ”The Evil Place”!

Also, the marketing team decided that : “Daggers and wingboots, mantras and monsters await you.” was a good slogan for the game, that says a lot.

01
Mar 2011
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Marvel Vs. Capcom 3

I caved. I went out and bought Marvel Vs. Capcom 3. I do feel cheated having to pay 60$ for a Street Fighter game but I paid the same price for games I know will be played even less. Still, a 39$ price point would seem more fair to me. As for the game, so far so good, I’m a few hours into the game and I must say it is quite impressive. The animations are incredible and the background stages are equally impressive. Some characters feel unbalanced compared to others, for example, I have yet to fight someone good with Tron and on the other hand, Dead Pool feels overpowered to me. It’s probably just a question of getting used to the characters.

Capcom should get a clue; this is no longer a game designed for the arcades. The single-player mode game offers too little. In previous versions it was understandable since Marvel Vs. Capcom were ports of an Arcade game; however, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is not. It’s a few battles between other teams and boom, Galactus. The last fight is ridiculous and does not bring additional fun to the game like it could have.  The game has another option called Mission that is just a hidden tutorial for each character. It’s nice, but it doesn’t cut it. In my opinion, it is pure laziness on Capcom’s part and this is an example where I expected more feature out of my game, especially if your charging me that much for a 2D fighting game. If you’re wondering what they could have done, you can check Street Fighter Alpha 3 or better yet, Soul Calibur, which manages to offer a compelling single player experience.

The game does offer a lot in terms of complexity; mastering a single character will require hours of practice. I’m also glad they moved to a 3 button layout when it comes to attacks: High Kick and High Punch are now a single High Attack. It works incredibly well and you probably won’t miss the extra buttons. They also added a “Special” button, which is basically the launch attack, and makes it easier to start your air combos. I’ve only played 4-5 hours so far but I can already tell that this is a game I will be playing for a long time. I wish I could tell you more about the online aspect but every time I tried to join a game I was dropped unexpectedly. Probably bad luck because reviews seemed rather positive about that aspect of the game.

Which team do you usually work with? I’m enjoying playing : Viewtiful Joe, Sentinel, and Wolverine for now. I’ll probably get my ass kicked online later this week, hopefuly the ladder system will allow me to have an occasional win. Feel free to email me if you want to add me on your Xbox Live account for a couple of fights! mattd1980 at mmmgamer dot com.

21
Feb 2011
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