Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Still Alive

After a brief hiatus, I think it's time I get back to posting on here. I'll probably be doing less of the themed posts, but I'll be trying to do more of the random little updates here and there; talking about games I've been playing lately or maybe a movie I caught and talk about what I think of them. You know, journal-type stuff.

So what's all happened in the past month... Well, I got Scribblenauts. It's an interesting enough game, though after a while the puzzle-solving aspect of the game runs a little thin when you learn that a lot of puzzles have the same basic themes and can be solved in mostly the same ways. The game starts out feeling very interesting and unique, but it quickly fades. The free-play mode still maintains a little entertainment value. It's actually kind of a good idea in that the title screen doubles as the free-play mode. You just start-up your DS, wait about 30 seconds, and there you go, create stuff and mess around, no menus to deal with unless you want to jump into the actual game. Over-all I'd say it's not a bad game, but it's definitely not something you'd play on any hardcore level. A fun little time waster on the side. Also, the game includes a lot of internet memes, so you gotta tip your hat at the developers' sense of humor. They weren't kidding when they said they wanted to include everything they could.

Majesty 2 was released this month as well, which came as a nice surprise to me because I didn't hear about them making a sequel to the game until it was put on Steam with a package that would give me Majesty and the Expansion for free if I pre-ordered the game. Sure I already have the first game, but it's a free package with a game I was already gonna get, and now I don't need to worry about losing track of the discs because I can just download it on Steam now. I'll probably do a review for Majesty 2 to a little more into depth, but as a quick preview: I'm happy with the purchase despite a few drawbacks.

I also finally got around to re-buying Tetris DS after losing my cart for it a few years back. Funny thing, turns out I got a bootleg copy. It's a good thing I still have a regular DS (Lite), because apparently the bootlegs don't run on the DSi. Still deciding on what I wanna do about the situation. On the one hand, I could easily get the seller in a lot of trouble since selling bootlegs over eBay is illegal, but on the other hand the game does work just fine for me, so it's not like I have an obligation to screw him over for giving me something faulty. I'm also not sure if I want to go through the effort of getting a legit cart... cause after all, if it works it works.

Still playing WoW a lot, lately the guild's been getting into ToC, but unfortuneately our current raid group isn't serious enough to do the harder content that's available to us. Creates a wierd situation where I want to cut-down on my WoW time, but I'm torn between the 10-man run with my friends and the 25-man group with the guild. The 10-man is more successful because it's made-up the more serious raiders from the other, but at the same time I feel obligated to stick with the 25-man since it's the guild raid. Regardless of which group I were to cut I'd be letting my friends down since they're in both runs, so it's kind of a matter of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. I want to cut-down on the amount of time I'm playing WoW, but at the same time I don't fully want to step out of either raid group.

I went to see Pandorum the other day, it was pretty good. Not fantastic, but good. One of my friends warned me that the ending was terrible, and without giving anything away I'll say this: His argument is fair. He's right about his gripes with the ending to the movie, but his points are (for a lack of a better term) nerd gripes. They're the really technical kind of thing such that when he was telling me about them, I couldn't help but picture the stereotypical cartoon nerd ranting them off in my head. To each their own I suppose, he didn't care for the movie, I thought it was good. The plot was fully explained, and everything gets wrapped-up. Outside of those few technical things that don't really make sense, the story is actually a little bit better than I would have expected out of a horror film.

Whelp... I think that'll about do it for this post.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Good Game Design Rule II: The Balance Between Challenge and Fun

Last time I talked about the theory behind how I feel a game should be designed, I went over how anything that is included into the game should be something that's worthwhile for the player to use if he so chooses. Otherwise it was a waste of development time to include it. Today I'll be talking about Rule #2, which covers the difference between a game that's fun and challenging, and a game which uses what I've come to call "pseudo-difficulty".

Now, a game doesn't automatically need to be hard, that isn't quite what this rule is about. If you want the game to be very simple and easy to play, that's great, you can mostly ignore this rule then. It's when you decide that you do in fact want your game to be hard, or have sections which are challenging to get through. Making a game challenging is a thing of finesse. Anyone can make a game difficult by just pumping everything upto the max, but without careful attention to the details of what you're doing, then it can be very easy to cross the line from making the game challenging and fun, to making it simply difficult and frustrating.

The first thing any developer should ask himself when making his game hard is this: What's fun about this game? After-all, if the challenge in your game is focused around one of the less entertaining aspects of the game, then it's no fun to over-come the barriers and just leaves the player annoyed when it's finally over. Once you've figured-out what aspect of gameplay is the most entertaining, and thus what you want to focus on, you need to look at how that method of gameplay is played. What weaknesses should the player have to over-come about this gameplay? How can it be made challenging, but still interesting?

As an example of one game in particular that got this wrong, I'm going to cite Prototype (or Protoshyte as I've come to call it). The first half of Prototype was amazing. It was fun learning your new powers and experimenting with how they work, leaping around the city all willy-nilly, doing the mini-missions. The problem comes at around the half-way point when your character is (literally) stabbed in the back. At that point, the missions become more and more tedious, and the bosses a complete disaster.

This is where we get back to that Pseudo-difficulty I was mentioning earlier (and note the difference between my uses of the words "challenge" and "difficult", as I consider them two different things in gaming). See, when Prototype wants to get hard, it basically just floods the area with enemies. Battles against the military involve you having to dodge salvo after salvo of explosive weaponry. You never really get more than a couple seconds to stand still and actually attack enemies, which basically breaks the second question from a couple paragraphs up. Using your powers was the funnest part of Prototype, yet the difficulty revolves around forcing you to dodge and weave around attacks that knock you around like a bowling pin if they connect.

The bosses are just as bad, if not worse. The first bad one involves a boss which attacks by either spitting rocks at you with pin-point accuraccy (even if you're dodging to the side as they launch), or spitting-out a bunch of slow-moving globules that track with flawless accuraccy. If you get in close enough to punch and kick, the boss has tenticles that it can flail about to knock you away. On top of all this, the boss has a massive attack it can use with NO WARNING (another boss no-no) that will deal roughly 75% of your health in damage, so if you've taken any hits, it will just kill you flat-out.

The only way to fight the boss is to basically run around the corner absorbing a bunch of minor enemies, then running to the boss to unleash a couple super attacks quick (IF the tenticles don't knock you away and deplete your meter, forcing you to run away and re-recharge without doing any damage to the boss), and then it's back around the corner to recharge. It took me nearly an hour to kill this boss, and about 10 minutes of that was spent actually engaged with the boss itself.

The other boss was basically the same way, except that he actively charges you, so there really aren't any corners to hide behind. The fight is a little quicker than the other boss, but it was still terribly designed because I spent over 90% of the time in the fight dodging and evading the boss trying to absorb health from random enemies around the area. Now, I'm not saying it's bad when you fight a boss without actually being engaged with him. Plenty of games have done that (especially Platform titles). The difference is that while you're dodging around the boss, you can still do something fun. In Prototype though, there's really nothing fun to do while dodging enemies, it's a necessary evil, but should be kept to a minimum.

In the end, Prototype is never truly "hard". The game is pseudo-difficult. It makes you think a particular segment of the game was hard, but the reality is that it was really very easy, it was just annoying to do. You want to have fun while playing the game, so when you try playing the game in a way that's fun, you die over and over because that segment was designed in such a way that you have to play the game in a way that's less fun. In Prototype's case, it's pseudo-difficulty comes from the fact that the challenge in the game is designed so that you have to spend a lot of time dodging around enemy attacks. This means either the developer didn't know what was fun about his own game, or that while he was dodging to the side he was having WAY too much fun with it.

Rather, the challenge in Prototype should have been balanced around your powers. Which arm weapon is most effective for this boss? Which combos work the best? At what times does he have an opening so I can do the biggest combo, and when should I do smaller combos or even single hits? The first boss in the game was like this. He would counter-hit you if you got too close, so I quickly switched to the long-range Whipfist and pegged at him from a distance. Dodge an attack, launch one of my own. Eventually I learned how to read him and what he was doing so I'd know when to charge for a bigger hit. The fight was fun, but sadly the fight also marked the start of the downhill slope for the rest of the game. The game might as well have said "Congratulations, you just beat the game as far as the developers had ideas for, but we still have a lot of story to cover to brace yourself."