Tuesday, March 30, 2010

They don't make em like they used to

Or maybe they do, but I was playing Total Annihilation with my wife last night and it was remarkable. Here was a game produced in 1996 that surpasses any real time strategy game Blizzard or EA has made as far as customizable controls, selecting hundreds of units at once, holding a button and giving your units a lengthy list of their own AI commands, or using and abusing the terrain around you. Some major love went into this game and it shows. It wasn't built just for profit, it was built with love. Then another stark lesson popped into my mind from this game. As much of a success that Total Annihilation was, the sequel by Cavedog, TA Kingdoms, was awfully done, and pushed out long before it was ready or very fun. This caused Cavedog to lose all face and bomb off the face of the earth. Blizzard, though the original Warcraft wasn't even close to TA, did an ok job, and on their second attempt did something ten times better (funnier and better story, still not a very complex RTS but oh well) Then they did and even better job on the story for Starcraft and Diablo and so on. The character development and creativity and masterful artistry has done well for Blizzard. Each game they make they try to do ten times better than the previous iteration. If you want to flourish with sequels this is what you gotta do. I still say their RTS's are simplistic and not as good as TA or its later version, Supreme Commander. But I'm just talking about mechanics and tactical options and coolness. In many other regards, (story, characters, lore, art, music) Blizzard takes the cake.

Gameplay Inputs

Gameplay input refers to the game taking some kind of data from an exterior source. Gameplay inputs are the essences of what allow us to play games. Understanding our options when designing games can be all it takes to create more unique experiences.

The most common form is a boolean input. A button press is a boolean type data...an on/off type of data, if you will. If playing with one button, the only way to enter data to a game is by pressing and depressing it. You can still make a lot of variation by using patterns, rhythm, by having the player hold or tap for differing lengths of time. By adding multiple buttons, you allow them to do button combinations, or hold down different buttons simultaneously. By arranging the buttons in a different configuration, such as the up-down-left-right buttons, they take on a meaning to the player.

Another type of input is the analog input. Joysticks are analogs, but so are the velocities of the different axes of a wii remote for example. The position of the mouse cursor on either axis might be considered analog. Analog refers to a control that always sends the game a number within a range, rather than simply being on or off.

Some interesting things to note about inputs is that the way they are collected can completely change the experience. Such as taking data from the accelerometers in a Wii remote versus detecting how far a joystick has been pushed. The game machine takes this data in as numbers in either case, but the difference can be billions of dollars of sales. The important thing is, creating unique experiences with satisfying controls that come intuitively to the player.

There are many other types of inputs, and I wonder how many others we can discover. Consider for example, database input...Facebook games draw input from user profiles. This alters the game, linking content to your profile. I have seen some games that analyze wavelengths of mp3's to generate custom content. World of Warcraft uses a real-time clock to determine what time it should be in the game.

It's amazing to me to see how many ways buttons and joysticks have been used. When you think about it, we take for granted what you can do with buttons. (How many of you knew for example that the PS2 controllers' buttons are actually analog...they can sense how hard they are being pressed, not just boolean information). What types of inputs are underused? How can we arrange or change existing inputs to create new types of games? There are so many possibilities, and games have barely scratched the surface!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Who do you play with?

When you're looking for a game, WHO do you have in mind? Some games I buy so I can play them myself, but I often choose a game to play with my wife, or my son, or to play online with a coworker, or a buddy from high school...

When I got started playing Neverwinter Nights, something rather interesting happened. I convinced three friends to buy the game even got a second copy for my wife to play. None of them actually hung around, even though they all tried it out. But their participation was long enough for me to find a great server and make a dozen friends through the game itself.

NOW, I count each of these people I met online through the game as friends and I play with them regularly. Now, it's intriguing to me that I started out trying to play a game with people I know, and in due time, I ended up meeting new people to play with. The game itself only carried this process so far. All things considered, it was friends I wanted to play with in the start, and now again in the end.

How often do you actually buy games just to play yourself versus buying games to be enjoyed with others? And who do you have in mind to play them with most of the time?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Everybody go see How To Train Your Dragon

This is the most adventurous, fun adventure I've seen in a CG film since The Incredibles. I'm usually not that big a fan of Dreamworks Animation, but I was excited about this film so I saw it tonight. I was not disappointed!

The Wizard 2!

No, they're not making a sequel.
Instead, I was musing over this writer's conclusion that The Wizard is more than a 90-minute commercial for Nintendo games. It is a historical snapshot of the culture created by Nintendo in 1989. A culture which I was a part of myself.
But this made me wonder about what a snapshot of today's video game culture would be? If they were to make The Wizard 2, what do you think the plot would be?
Here's one of my ideas: They could cast...the SAME ACTORS. People who played video games in 1989 were about 10 years old. People who play them now, are about 30. In other words...It's still heavily us.
But instead of finding a hidden warp zone in Mario 3, the 2010 version might feature WoW Cataclism...And now, Jimmy has to travel to California to compete in the pre-release contest to see which guild leader can take his guild through the level 85 content first. Every gamer's dream now, right? Or...Hmm...Maybe I'm off on this...
...What film could be made now to embody the video game culture of 2010? Preferably something we could laugh about in 20 years...

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Games by the Dozen

There are more than enough games to play. When I was in elementary school, it seemed like everybody played Super Mario Bros. Everybody played Castlevania. Everybody played Metroid.

Now...things are different.

There is no one game that everybody plays. We have options. A LOT of options. Every video game fan has a list of a thousand dollars worth of games that they wish they could play, but can't. And it's only partially because of the thousand dollars. We just can't play that many games in one lifetime.

These days, if I discover a friend has played the same game as me, it's a surprise.

I quit Allods almost as soon as I started. Not because I wasn't having a great time--I just got busy. After 2 weeks go by and you realize you haven't played a game, you wonder why you should bother going back at all. This happens to me a lot lately.

It's not really a bad thing. We have options. Personally, my opinion is...with so many games out there, and so little time...that means we don't have to spend any of our precious time playing anything but the most fantastic games at the lowest possible price. It's a great age to be a gamer. And it will only get better.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Multiplayer Single Player RPG's

I've just realized something. Almost every RPG I've ever loved, I never played by myself. Even single-player.

The first time I "played" Final Fantasy 7, I was actually watching it with 3 other friends, all huddled around the tv together, while one friend played and the rest of us watched and even read aloud the lines of different characters.

Most RPG's I've played in the last 6 years have been played while my wife was watching, or at least sitting by me. Some she even participated, but lately she folds laundry or something and watches.

We will all remember Secret of Mana, that classic which actually focused and thrived on its being a 3-player adventure. I think the 3-player formula works wonderfully. And nothing beats sitting in a room together.

Last Saturday I got together with 2 other guys at one of their homes and I watched a friend play Parasite Eve (PS1) for 2 hours. Why was that so fun? I realized I never could have sat through that game on my own, but we had a blast.

I got into MMO's for one big reason...it's very difficult to meet at friends' homes any more, since I generally put my son to bed every night and I wouldn't want to leave my wife alone any evening when I already spend so much time working out of the house. So it fills that friends gap. Still, if there were a way to make the experience even more like sitting around with your buddies in an MMO, I'd welcome it. A co-op game like Secret of Mana playable online would be great. In fact, I don't think any offline games have come close to that 3-player co-op experience since.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Role Play or Roll Play?

I think people confuse Role and Roll in Role Play.

Role means...a part in an enactment, such as a character in a theater.
Roll means...to tumble...such as tossing a die.

Much of Role Play in games has been reduced to Roll Play. Random number crunching based off of statistics. True Role Play involves immersing one's self in a character or at least learning his part in the situations he is presented with within the Role Play.

Role Play Gaming is often credited to Dungeons and Dragons. Interestingly, Dungeons and Dragons has many elements of Role Play and Roll Play. However, the Roll Play aspect has a Role Play purpose...While pretending to be a different person in a different world, you have to know how your character differs from yourself. Thus, you might Role Play a character that is smarter than you. So how do you play a character smarter than you? If you want to try to do something smart, you have a stat that allows you to know how smart your character is, and using that stat, your character could pass a skill check that lets her do something smart. The introduction of stats was a great blessing to Role Play games, but it seems to have been blown out of proportions and lost some of its purpose in most games.

A Roll Play game can be fun. I think every MMORPG fits into this category by their very natures. You cannot immerse yourself into the MMORPG environment or character because MMORPG's don't let you make decisions with any impact on the environment. It's all about finding stuff, killing stuff, and collecting stuff. This is fun, and their worlds can be very glorious and alive because of the art and populations.

It's hard to find great Role Play out there, though. I have immersed myself in Neverwinter Nights as a Dungeon Master. Several skilled Role-Players join my games regularly.

I have found they enjoy simple adventures not because of the world I created, but because they enjoy interacting in-character with each other. As they play together from week to week, their characters are developing...Not just personally, but also they seem to develop relationships. One character will start to anticipate the actions of the other characters. There's something built there that's not a statistic, and if it were reduced to one, it would lose everything that's enjoyable about it.

Role Play also has Consequences which are not stat-related. The best consequences are founded on players' decisions. As Dungeon Master, I have the chance to place characters into difficult situations. The classic example is that of Spiderman. The Goblin kidnaps Spiderman's girlfriend, Mary Jane, and also captures a busload of elementary children. Now Spiderman faces a difficult choice. He can rescue Mary Jane, or the Children, or he can attempt to rescue both. The attempt has a chance of failure, but the other choices represent a type of moral dilemna.

In a Role Play game, a choice like Spiderman's would have permanent consequences. The loss of the children might cause feelings of remorse. He may face outside consequences, such as hatred by the community. The loss of Mary Jane would have been obvious by the lack of her presence.

Can you imagine a choice like this in a game like World of Warcraft? The game's design doesn't allow for anything like it. The whole world resets itself for the next player. There's no consequence. It's just players going through the quests.

There are serious limitations to the way MMORPG's are designed these days. And it's obvious that the industry is stuck on it. For players to experience something truly fantastic, someone needs to find a way to make this work. Sure, there's always a place for a simple, fun, fight-the-monsters and get rewards gaming experience. But there is certainly also a group of people out there...and I bet it's bigger than people give it credit...that are craving for a more meaningful experience in their online games. Perhaps the next big hit in MMORPG's will be from the studio that distinguishes the lack of Role Play, not Roll Play, in Online Games.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mega Man 10 launches

Mega Man 10 is now available. As long as we keep buying Mega Man games, they'll keep making them! I love Mega Man like the next fellow but the last one left me sore. It was way too difficult, more so than the first one even. Somehow Anton got a lot farther than me in it too. Which just injured my pride. Fortunately Mega Man 10 as you'll see in this trailer http://www.gamespot.com/news/6252588.html has an easy mode! Now we can see the plot with training wheels on. Solid awesome!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Siphon Spirit Art Continued...

My Indie game Siphon Spirit is progressing. Here's a new demon monster. The final game will feature 120 levels, with 24 of those being demon bosses like this.
This is the actual art you'll see, since the game is based around particle effect gameplay, and the artwork is background eye-candy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

MMO For Raiders Only

When I started WoW 3 years ago, I continued playing for 2 years. From the outset, I wanted to raid with my friends.

Instead, I spent exactly 1 year hitting level 70, at which point all my friends left the game until Wrath of the Lich King came out. Then I played until Lich King arrived, leveled to 78, then got laid off and ran out of money for monthly fees.

I enjoyed the game, and I had 3 or 4 friends that I played with regularly. We had fun...but if what I really wanted to do was raid the whole time...why 70 or 80 levels just to do that?

I propose an MMO be created, designed for raiding from the outset of the game. If the whole game were based around a series of raids, some of which were accessible from the very beginning...would it really be a problem? I think if the game developers designed raids for beginners that didn't really require a lot of communication, then built up to more and more organization as you went, certain players would find it to be a good experience.

This wouldn't be for everybody, but most especially for the people who started an MMO with the intent of "getting to 80 so I can raid with my friends."

How would you design an MMO around raiding? What challenges would you foresee, and how would you deal with them?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Recent Adventures

enjoy! :) clicky on them to see them big.

Why We Play One Online Game

When you play a game on your Wii, you have to play it by yourself. When you play on PS3 or 360, you can see what your friends are playing and you can hop in and play together. When you play an MMO on your PC, you might become part of a niche group of friends who always play the same game.

I play a different game on Wii every time I fire it up. I only dream that I had a ps3 or xbox...but with Online pc games...I'm always playing the same stuff.

Two weeks ago, I got sucked into Allods. I was making new friends every night, I thought it would be great. And yeah, the game was very fun.

But then I DM'd another Neverwinter Nights game that Saturday (As I do every Saturday night), and suddenly my players got this renewed excitement about it.

The result: Now I have players instant messaging me on a daily basis. And they want me to DM pretty much every night.

Okay, Neverwinter Nights isn't exactly an MMO, but it has the main thread of an MMO that I'm pointing out here: Your friends list. I've been reading articles about how WoW keeps players playing using psychological tricks like intermittent rewards/drops...But I think even more compelling is the sense of community and the social pressure that goes on. Perhaps it is different for different people, but at least for me, I play games to have fun with friends. And if the people who are encouraging me the most are playing Neverwinter Nights...by golly, I'm playing Neverwinter Nights!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Volume 3 tonight

I finally ran Skumfil and got my minstrel quest in Moria done, in which you have to survive and army of like 25 to 30 elites cave claws charging you. I also got some of volume 3 done and I think the writing for the storylines has improved drastically. This bodes well.

Heres a pic of my adventures today:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Every MMO is the Worst MMO Ever.

I haven't played very many MMO's. Uhh...Only like 12.
But it doesn't seem like that many. I'm just curious, which is the worst you ever played? For me, it was FLYFF--In the early levels, which is all I really took the time for, there was really nothing to do but grind. You go to a hill, kill 5 of something and collect 5 something, and then go to the next hill and repeat.
A few hours of that, and I was done.
On the other hand, every MMO gets put down by somebody. I spend a lot of time talking about what makes MMO's great and what would make them better...I wonder what we would learn from identifying the lowest of the low.