Friday, August 28, 2009

Building a Better Fallout: Tag! You're it!

Another problem with Fallout 3's stat system is that the Skills are very bland. Part of this is a very lacking participation from the SPECIAL stats, and another part is that tagging skills does nothing more than add 15 points to those skills. So for picking three "specialties", you don't get anything that you couldn't have gotten from gaining a few levels. It's boring, it's bland, and it makes you wonder why the game bothers you with it. Below, I'll list what could have been done when tagging any given skill to make the system seem more worthwhile.

Barter - 10% bonus to prices when buying/selling
Kinda boring, and still arguably useless, but lowering the amount of caps that can be found randomly about would make it more worthwhile to consider. Anytime you're running low on caps you'd be thinking to yourself, "If only I'd tagged that Barter." Another possibility would be modifying any Speech Challenge that involves talking about a price. After-all, your guy is supposed to be good at bartering prices, so why shouldn't he be good at convincing someone that he should pay you more caps to do a job?

Lockpick - Less stress on Bobbypins, and a 10% bigger "sweet spot"
So picking that lock becomes slightly easier, and your nimble fingers means that when putting torque on the lock in the wrong area, you aren't putting as much pressure on the Bobbypin, giving it about double the durability before it snaps.

Medicine - Added effect for most Aid Items
This would primarily effect chems, but also Rad-X, Rad Away, and of course Stimpacs. Tagging Medicine would of course be an option mostly for a player who plans on popping chems frequently. It would be a static addition per item, like +10% Health from Stimpacs and an extra 5 DR when using Med-X, rather than a blanketed percentile increase for all effected items.

Repair - More flexible repair options
Basically, this would enable the Repair ability that should have been there from the start. Without tagging Repair, it would work as-is where you need an exact dublicate to repair an item. When tagged though, you would have the ability to repair a gun using another gun that's of a similar class. You could tear apart a Laser Pistol to get a part needed for your Laser Rifle, and so forth.

Science - ?????
You know, I'll be honest. I'm completely stumped on how tagging could influence the Science skill. The only idea I can think of is going back to the bonus I proposed that Int could give to Science where it highlights options that would match the the chosen words.

Sneak - Enables silent running.
Simply put, it feels a little off that a stealth-based character needs to wait until Level 12 until he can do what his character is meant to do: Sneak. Even at 100 Sneak skill, your character will make too much noise and be easily detected unless he's moving too slow for it to matter that you're hidden. Thus, I'd propose to get rid of the Silent Running perk and simply make it the bonus for tagging Sneak.

Speech - Adds 10% success rate, and increases rewards for succeeding.
This one took me a while, and I'm not completely satisfied with it, but it's at least something. So when tagging Speech, it's easier to convince people you're right, and they'll give you more money for pointing it out. Say with Megaton, disarming the bomb rewards either 100 caps, or 500 if you win a Speech challenge, OR 600 caps if you win a Speech challenge with Speech tagged.

Weapons Skills - Adds 10% Damage when using weapons of that category, and...

Small/Energy Guns - Increases accuracy in VATS.
These two weapons types are similar in that they're great VATS weapons. Many of them have fairly low costs in VATS, so how else can they be improved but to make them a little more accurate? Something subtle enough that it isn't game-breaking to not have it, but noticeable enough that it can edge-out that low hit rate into something a little bit better. 10% sounds about good, makes that 75% chance to hit into about 82%. On top of the aforementioned damage increase with all weapon skills (and a few Perks that further increase accuracy), and you've got some good VATS damage coming.

Big Guns - Reduces the reload times by half.
The big problem with the big guns is that many of them are single-fire with a lengthy reload. A character who's going to focus on Big Guns though will be able to deal a lot more damage with his Missile Launcher than a character who didn't Tag the skill simply because he'll be able to put missiles into the air more frequently, with each one hitting slightly harder as well.

Melee/Unarmed - Enables a dashing attack that deals extra damage.
This one almost needs no explanation. As a melee-focused character, you'll want to close the gap with your opponent. Not to mention that the enemies already have these attacks, so it would have been easy to program-in the ability for the player to do them as well. To show when you can do the dash, perhaps an indicator would appear on your cross-hair. You would have to be far enough back that specifically backing-up to dash in would not increase your damage, but when dealing with enemies that are running away a lot, you'd be able to close the distance more easily with a hard hit.

Explosives - Allows for better throws when using Grenades.
I always did feel that Grenade-type weapons had a very short range in this game. Tagging Explosives would allow you to throw Grenades further, and at the same time would increase your accuracy in VATS when using them.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: BlazBlue

Another day, another fighter. That's what I think about most Fighting Game releases. Seems that Fighting Games these days basically fall under one of two categories: The Streetfighter "everyone's move is down-to-toward punch" styled fighters that feature a generic charge meter for your super moves, and the occasional game that wants to be Soul Calibur. BlazBlue falls under the former category. The majority of characters have the same "down-towards" input commands, and the characters all have a Heat Gauge that they can charge in order to unleash they're special attacks. I don't think I could yawn long enough to emphasize how many fighting games use that same style.

But enough with first impressions of the game. Unlike most fighters of the Street Fighter model, BlazBlue has an amazing amount of depth. The first of which is the "Drive" attacks you can use. Doing away with the boring (and clunky on a 4-button-faced controller) system of having 3 varying strengths for punches and kicks, BlazBlue simply gives you 4 buttons to worry about. Weak, Medium, Strong, and Drive. The Drive button works like any other attack button, except that it has a completely different property for every character. One character can use health-draining attacks, one can magnetize his opponents to grab them from across the screen, and one character's Drive is an ability that my friends and I have dubbed "Push the green Skittle, get a combo".

Unlike most fighters where how fast and how hard your character hits are just about the only variance between two characters, the Drive attacks in BlazBlue essentially mean that both players are effectively playing two completely different games with the only common ground being that the goal in both games is "deplete your opponent's health bar". So you'll have a match where one player is controlling the wind to assist with attacks (or deter the other's), and the other is more focused on controlling the screen by filling it with bugs and other obsticals that need to be dodged around in order to attack him.

If there was any reason for someone to not buy this game, I would have to say that it has very fast-paced combat that might be unfriendly towards someone new to the fighting genre. If you're new to fighting games and playing this against people more familiar with the genre, you're likely to have a much harder time figuring-out how everything works. So if you want more of a "Fighting Games 101" course, there are better options out there, but you'll definately want to come back and pick this one up once you have the hang of things.

My only other gripe with the game is the Story Mode. Now, unlike most fighters, this game actually has a fairly interesting story, but that isn't the gripe. The way the story mode is set-up is you pick a character and then play through his/her side of the story. You get in a few fights, you pick a few branching paths, and of course there's different endings depending on your choices. To complete each story, you need to work your way through having done 100% of that character's story. This means viewing all of the sequences... including the losing ones. So if you aren't careful, it tends to lead to situations where you have 2% left to go, and you could swear you've already lost to everyone, but now you have to play it through multiple times to lose to everyone again just to make sure. It comes-off as pointless busy-work when you consider that there's rarely anything of interest to be seen in the losing sequences.

To sum it all up though, BlazBlue is a very fun, and very well-balanced fighting game. There are probably about a dozen other things that I could rant about that attribute to the game's greatness, but at the same time I feel the review is long enough as-is. If you're a fan of the fighting genre (especially 2D fighters), then there's no excuse for not playing this game. If you've never played fighters but are looking to get into them, don't forget to come back and pick this one up once you think you can keep-up with more fast-paced combat. BlazBlue is not a game to be missed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Good Game Design Rule I: Everything has a Purpose

It's one of my pet peeves when I'm playing a game, is when I see something that I would really like to use (be it a stat or a weapon), but it was implemented into the game (or something else was implemented into the game that renders it useless) in such a way that you have to bend-over backwards to find a use for it, and even then it's very weak at serving it's purpose. So why did the developers take the time adding that item when they could have spent a little more time on other aspects of the game? I'm all for things being included for the sake of novelty, but sometimes it's less obvious that the thing you're aiming for is a novelty, so before you know it you're at a really high level in an RPG, and you find-out you've been pouring your points into a stat that is completely useless or has a much lesser effect later in the game than you'd think it would.

A lot of times I chalk this up to a lack of play testing. Many times when playing a game that lets you allot stats to your (mostly RPGs of course), there will be that one stat that looks very tempting. Upon putting points into the stat, you find that you like the effects given by this stat, say Magic as an example. So you spend your time playing this game putting all of your points into Magic (most of them anyway), but then you run into a problem. Closer to the end of the game you're having a much harder time playing the game, possibly even finding it impossible. So you decide to research it, you find some forums that discuss the game, and low and behold, everyone giving advice says to stay away from Magic because it becomes highly useless at the end of the game due to a large number of enemies that have a high resistance to Magic.

This is actually a true story, to some extent. Diablo II. In this game there are 8 classes to choose from, and each class has 3 skill trees you can work down. In theory, this leads to 24 possible character builds to choose from. In reality, you have roughly 20 potential builds that are great for the first stretch of the game, and a handful of builds that can continue to be as useful when playing in the higher-level content. So why bother with those 20-some other character builds? Why put them into the game? For flavor? Well, that's great, but now I have to start a new character because I've hit a sudden road block where my current character just struggles too much to get even one enemy down, and he spawned with 10 friends all right next to him that I still have to deal with.

Don't get me wrong, I love Diablo 2, and I even play a couple of those 20-some builds that are near-useless in the later game. The problem is though, I have to really dance around to make kills on those characters, meanwhile someone else will come along with one of those 5 builds and rips the enemies apart in mere seconds. If it's even a plural number of seconds. It's good to know that I'm skilled enough to play one of the lesser builds at a higher-level dungeon, but it's disheartening to be spending a good 10 minutes working on clearing my way through one hallway of a dungeon, then someone joins the game and they basically just walk through the place, barely breaking stride as the enemies seemingly drop to their knees in awe of his damage potential.

Which is basically what Rule 1 of my Design Philosophy is about. It asks the question when something is included into the game: "Who would want to use this, for what purpose, and is it a viable answer to that purpose to the same degree as other available answers?" If any of those questions cannot be answered properly, then it's back to the drawing board. Novelty is nice, but it should be saved for situations where it's more obviously a novelty.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Building a Better Fallout: You're SPECIAL Finale

Well, I've just gone-off on a big tangent about what effects I feel different stats should have had in Fallout 3 in order to make them feel like they have some more substance, but what does it all mean? Basically, it means that choosing the SPECIAL stats at the beginning of the game feels more substantial. As the game currently works, no matter how you modify your SPECIAL at the beginning, nothing really changes. There's little penalty for lowering a stat except for Intellect and Luck (and even Luck is debatable), and little bonus for maxing-out any stat besides having a nice and shiny "10" to look at.

Below is a little run-down of the more common builds of characters, the stats they'd like want to opt for, and what they would lose if they sacrificed other SPECIAL points to get those stats.

Stealth/Thief Build
As the game currently works, a Stealth-based character basically plays the exact same way no matter how you build his SPECIAL. A little more carry weight here, maybe a little more health, but nothing actually changes what the character can do. With the listed changes however, a Stealth-based character would have a little thinking to do towards how he plans to play the game, and what he's willing to sacrifice to get the points he wants.

As a Stealth-based character, Agility would be
hands down your favored stat. When crouched-down to sneak, your movement is slowed slightly, and having a higher Agility would compensate that a little. A melee-based sneaker wouldn't want to sacrfice anymore in Strength than he has to, though that's already the case. Most likely he'd tap into Charisma to gain access to a few more points that he can spread about unless he wanted to be a "Jack Sparrow" style of character, sneaky and suave. Perception would gel nicely with the theme of stealing anything he can find, especially if Perception were to play a roll in Lockpicking.

With less Int, hacking computers wouldn't be as easy, and they'd be able to repair their gear just shy of perfect. Without much Endurance, there would be more risk in popping Chems, especially if the addiction penalty was made worse. Luck would be a matter of personal choice, you get free crits anyway when making a Sneak Attack, but you might want the higher Crit chance when things get less sneaky, and you might find that slight bonus towards everything done to be attractive as well.

Heavy Weapons Guy
TF2 references aside, Big Guns in Fallout 3 are severely gimped beyond the repair of just modifying the SPECIAL stats. Simply put, the big guns don't hit much harder than the small guns despite having a lot of penalties tacked onto them. But that's a topic for a later BaBF. As a Big Guns focused character, your choices would come with similar drawbacks to what's listed in the Sneak character. The difference being that you would favor Strength and Endurance.

Now, granted that a character focused on Big Guns will already do that to some extent, however a high endurance would only be taken for that slight boost in the starting Skill Points, after that it doesn't actually do anything to help the character use his bigger guns. In Fallout 3, carrying a big gun comes with a movement speed penalty, so obviously you're going to want to change this if you're focus will be on Big Guns, thus you'll favor Endurance for lowering that penalty, perhaps even eliminating it completely when Endurance is maxed.

Strength is currently nice for a character of this build because it increases your weight allowance, but careful planning would probably make it just as possible to play an effective Big Guns character with a Strength of 1. That is, of course, unless Strength played a role in effecting the accuraccy of the weapons. Not to mention that as a big guns user, you'll probably want heavier armor, which under the assumed changes comes with a required level of Strength.

Melee Build
This build would make similar choices to the previous build, but for different reasons, and with one key difference. They would opt for Strength for harder hits, and a little Endurance for the sake of a more effective block, but unlike the big guns user, Agility would be more important for a melee-focused brawler. This is both because it would give him a better chance to dodge other melee-based characters, and because it would add to his movement speed, allowing him to close the gap on ranged enemies a little more quickly.

He would likely end-up sacrificing a lot in the other stats to get this, most likely Int and Charisma, possibly a little into Perception as well, especially if he wanted to sneak a little crit into his hits with higher Luck. This would probably be the most varied style of character build from player to player simply because there are 4 really good SPECIAL stats for a Melee-based character to take under my changes, but not enough points to get them all really high without a lot of sacrifice.

Some people would focus on Strength and Luck, giving them the hardest hits in the game, others would probably favor more Agility or Endurance to give them a little more survivability, not to mention allowing them to pop chems more effectively.

High Perception for better accuraccy would be the first must with a Sniper-focused character. Beyond that, there's a lot of breathing room to make this another flexible build where different players would favor different things. A full-on Stealth/Sniper who plans to kill as many enemies unseen, close-up or long-range, would favor more towards Agility. If you want to pop some chems when things get thick, you'll want more Endurance to tough those situations out. Maybe you want high Strength so you can swing your melee weapons harder to make your character like the TF2 Sniper.

And thus, with a few changes to how the SPECIAL stats effect different things in gameplay, suddenly it's a bit more interesting to consider your options when planning your character build. Do you sacrifice some accuraccy to make your character a little more sneaky? How important are critical hits going to be for your character? Do you want to repair your gear more effectively, or will you allow NPCs to maintain them more? Do you like to use Chems, or are they mostly just a source of extra caps? Every answer modifies how you might want your character to be built.

As the SPECIAL is currently set-up though, there's little change from character to character. You can carry more, or you have more health, but really the SPECIAL stats do little to change how any given character is played. Even Agility, arguably a good stat for a VATS-focused character, feels bland when you consider how little it adds for AP. Meanwhile stats like Int and Luck feel a little over-powered as stats since the former gives access to Skill Points which actually matter, and the latter gives Crit which can't be gotten anywhere else.

Still on the schedule for Building a Better Fallout: Tag! You're it!, Undynamic World, and A Little Off-Balance.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Oh yes, there will be bees.

Just got back from chilling with some friends. Lately we've been playing a lot of BlazBlue, the latest 2D fighting game from the same team that made the Guilty Gear series. I never played any of their earlier works, though I must say that if BlazBlue is any indication, then I will have to add that to my list of regrets as a gamer. BlazBlue is just such a well-designed fighter. It deviates from the basic formula that most fighting game fans would probably be familiar with to the point where picking a new character renders him almost completely alien until you've had some time to practice him, and the Drive System is great in that everyone who plays as a different character is essentially playing a different mini-game to deal damage to their opponent.

I play as Arakune, with "BEES!!" being my battle cry (ala the flowchart on how to play as him). One of my friends plays as Jin, so naturally the phrase "Freeze the bees" arose, and is the counter-slogan to my battle cries whenever I fight him. I don't own the game personally, so I'm at something of a handicap when playing against my friends. Thankfully though, I manage to keep-up for the most part. My win/lose ratio could certainly be better, but one on-looker during one of my better matches questioned whether or not I own the game in secret (though not owning a 360 or PS3, there's no way I could). This is owed mostly to my natural reflexes, adaptability, and fast learning.

I'm far from the best Arakune player out there, but with that I'm capable of when playing as him as-is, people should worry what will happen if the day should come that I do own the game. And hey, Street Fighter 4 was released on PC, so who's to say that BlazBlue won't be. Well... you know, besides the people who made the game of course. :x

Friday, August 7, 2009

Building a Better Fallout: You're SPECIAL Part II

Perhaps I need to work on how my posts can come-off as being long-winded. In either case, here's the second part of how I feel the SPECIAL stats should have worked. Now, as people might notice from the first post, I have a few theories when it comes to designing a game: The first is that everything should have a purpose (this is indicated by my wanting Strength to be needed for more than just Melee-based characters).

I could go into more detail on it, but it'd probably turn into a tangent when you're here to read about Fallout 3 theorycrafting (though I'll make some posts explaining my different rules and theories for what makes a good game in the future), so I'll just jump right into it with the last 4 SPECIAL stats.

Hoo-boy... Charisma is a painful stat in that a lot of changes would likely have to be made to the workings of the game in order to make it feel like a really viable choice. The only difference that Charisma makes as a stat is that it modifies your Speech challenges (I've tested this personally, using the console command to test the success chance with the same amount of Speech skill with 1 and with 10 Charisma). This is well and good, but it feels very bland when people still generally treat you the same.

The most basic thing I would have done that wouldn't have been too painful, would be to modify the random things that un-named NPCs say when you try to talk to them. Seems that regardless of the fact that I'm running around with 10 Charisma, high Karma, and that I disarmed the bomb, people in Megaton still regard me as a total stranger. It's a little thing, but it makes the world feel less dynamic when I've done so much for this little town, yet the random locals still blow me off when I talk to them. Yeah sure there's that one chick who gives me stuff, but she does that regardless of Charisma.

Beyond that there are other changes that could be made, mostly in the range of different things that characters say to you. Maybe even the possiblitity of some quests only being accessible if you have a set amount of Charisma. If the character who gives the quest doesn't see you as "likable" enough, they won't give you the quest. However, I wouldn't do that for more than one or two quests to avoid it feeling like a cheap gimmick to make Charisma "useful".

Admittedly though, Charisma basically requires that the entire game be made so that you can talk your way through it to be viable, and even in that situation, only a Speach-based character would really care. Even in Fallout 1 they had to specifically design the last boss of the game so that you have the option to talk him down rather than gun him down just to make speach a more viable thing to aim for. So I don't fault Charisma's short-comings as much as I do the other stats.

This stat probably got stripped-down the most since the earlier days of the Fallout series. Like with Strength, I have to go back to the roots for the first thing I feel Intellect should have effected: Speech choices. In Fallouts 1 and 2, you had more or less speech options based on how smart your character was, and his charisma effected how the characters reacted to those options. The two thus worked hand-in-hand if you wanted to build a "Speech Character", as you'd need high Int to get the options, and high Charisma to increase the chances the NPCs would care about what you're saying.

Expanding on that, I also feel that Int should play a roll in some of the Skills it's claimed to modify. As an example, when repairing gear, a higher Int should play a roll in how much you can repair. Let's just say that you maxed your Repair to 100. If you had low Int, you'd still only be able to repair upto, say, 90% of the weapons durability (as it is now, 100 Repair lets you repair upto 100% durability). It's a random number I pulled at the top of my head, but a general idea of how Int could become a more viable stat when wanting to repair gear to a higher level.

For Science, it would work something like this for hacking (I'm going to assume you know how the hacking works so I don't have to go into detail). At 6 Int, when you pick a word from the list, the game would highlight all other options that could match based on the number of similar letters. At 8 Int, it would also look at the second word and further eliminate options. Then, only at 10 Int would the game further narrow it down when you've selected a third letter. This would make Int a valuable stat for anyone who wants to focus on hacking computers by making it less of a squint-athon to compare letters.

With Medicine, it could factor into healing your limbs. First, I'd reduce the default amount you're able to heal the limbs to about 60% of the current amount. From there, Int would give a 5% bonus (multiplicitively) per point, upto a max of 50% when maxed, allowing for roughly 90% of the current limb healing amount (which is still really high mind you). This would make healing limbs a little more punishing for anyone who decided to slack on their Int.

Oh, and I would get rid of the Skill Points modifier, and just set everyone to gain 15 Skill Points per level. As the game is right now, Int is a little too powerful early-game when it can be used to get a lot of Skill Points, and completely useless the instant you reach max level since it doesn't modify anything beyond giving more Skill Points when you don't level up.

In the current game, Agility only modifies the number of Action Points you can use during VATS. This is phenominal for Xbox players, and ho-hum for PC players. One idea is to create a "Dodge" stat. Every point of Agility gives gives +2% chance for a melee-based attack to completely miss you, maybe even make it so using a ranged weapon cuts your dodge chance by some percentage. Perhaps a little less if gear or perks were to be added that can also increase dodging. Another thought is to have Agility modify your run speed slightly. At 5 Agility (considered average), you would be at the current normal running speed, and every point of Agility could add or subtract 2% running speed, putting you at 110% running speed when maxed, and 92% when lowered to minimum.

Honestly, I would leave Luck as it is. In the current game, people already usually try and get their Luck maxed for the Crit modifier, mostly due to a lack of anything interesting from maxing the other stats in the current game. So were the aforementioned changes put through, then Luck would be about on par. People would still want points in it, but at the same time they'd actually be sacrificing something to get that extra crit.

Perhaps one thing I would alter is that I would have every point of Luck give a 1% added effectiveness to everything else that every other stat can effect. This would make it so that a max of 10 Luck would be like having one extra point in each other SPECIAL stat, even if that stat is already maxed, kind of like the stat having a hidden 11/10 value.

That will do for now. Next week I'm going to wrap this up with something of a run-down on different types of common character builds, and how the changes I proposed would make for more interesting choices when choosing your SPECIAL stats at the beginning of the game.