So last week I picked up Guitar Hero 3 (well it was more for the guitar to tell the truth), for those not in the know Guitar Hero 3 is the first one in the series not created by the original designer Harmonix who have gone onto Rock Band. I’ve played the hell out of Guitar Hero 1 and 2 and upon starting up the game I could tell within seconds that this was not the same as those titles, something felt off. This feeling that something wasn’t right got me thinking about the different styles we all have and how it applies to designing. We all have our own way of doing things, from being organized to what we’re good with, so it goes without saying that this could also be applied to game design. Playing Guitar Hero 3 after playing Rock Band and previous Guitar Heroes you can just see the difference in style. Graphically Guitar Hero 3 looks last gen against Rock Band, and in terms of game play the note charts in Guitar Hero 3 feel very mechanical and designed to punish rather then entertain.

Moving away from Guitar Hero to the industry you can see these differences from the various gaming gods and expert design houses. Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima are friends and two legendary designers, and yet the games they design and challenges within couldn’t be further apart. When you start playing a Mario game you can just feel the craftsmen like touch applied to the level design from Miyamoto, or the cinematic style of Kojima in the Metal Gear series. I believe that it is this style that defines some of the best games of our time and the designers behind them.

With the recent discussions about whether voice actors should receive royalties for their contributions to games, I’m all for people getting a bigger cut of the profits but to me voice actors are on the bottom of the totem pole for royalties. Creating a game requires the cooperation of everyone , from the designers to the artists and of course the programmers and they should be rewarded for their hard work above everyone else. Game designers ( or creative directors what ever the official title is) are really the celebrities of our industry, we all know who Sid Meier is, or Brian Reynolds and each one of these people put some of their style into the games they design. Imagine for a second if the next big budget Mario Game was created by Hideo Kojima without any involvement from Miyamoto and the next Metal Gear game was created by Miyamoto without any involvement from Kojima, do you think each game would be the same style as the previous ones in the series? I’m not asking if they would be good or bad, but I bet that something would feel different when playing them.

I bet that once I become a game designer at some point I would have my own style for my games, and that I hope it will be a welcome touch added to any games I get my hands on.

Josh

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After replaying one of my favorite action titles I’ve felt inspired to start writing up a game document for what I feel to be an excellent action game. For this entry I’m going to talk about what makes a good action title and what can make it into a button mashing mess(try saying that 10 times fast).

The action genre is one of the oldest genres and is about one thing, kicking ass and taking names although I don’t think enemies have unique names. Story for most examples is kept on the side lines and the combat system takes center stage. To even start a discussion on action games we need to talk about the recent highs of the genre : God of War, Devil May Cry 3, God Hand, and Ninja Gaiden Black (or Sigma if you have a PS3).

God of War if I remember right was the first one released of the games I’m going to look at here. In it you play Kratos a painted bad ass with two blades chained to your arms and your set against just about every mythological beast ever mentioned. Combat is button mashing 101, combos are quick strings of buttons which result in limbs and blood flying all over the place. Of the games listed here the story and setting are the strongest. Some of the backdrops are pretty amazing to behold and the game does throw in a bit more puzzles then the usual action title. I rank GoW as the lowest as combat really does get repetitive and the game throws in very cheap fights for the player. To define “cheap fight” for this entry is a battle where the game mechanics are used against you to create difficulty instead of creating something to test the player’s skills.

Some fights in GoW have you fighting against enemies that can constantly re spawn enemies an infinite number of times which forces you to attack the second combat starts or your screwed. other times the camera itself is zoomed out to the point that it’s hard to gauge enemy attacks to block and counter them. Then we have the horrible protection levels that have you defending a weak person while every enemy in the area targets the person. Due to the nature of Krato’s attacks you can’t easily target multiple enemies and add in enemy spawning enemies makes life unbearable. Playing on the hardest difficulty of GoW is about being masochistic at best, enemies are given attacks that can kill you within a few blows, and those protection levels become an exercise in frustration.

Moving on we have Devil May Cry 3(haven’t played 4 yet so I can’t comment there), which has spawn many Internet debates on Dante(the protagonist) VS Kratos. In DMC3 combat is about high flying maneuvers and quick reactions. Dante can switch between 2 equip able weapons at will allowing you to create some amazing combos. The action is fast and enemies can quickly swarm around you. Combat while still button mashing requires you to learn the combos which are more about time delayed presses then button memorization to get through the game. Bosses become the focus of your frustration as they are challenging fights requiring mastery of the combat system to survive. DMC3 allows players to choose multiple styles for Dante that affect his combat potential, such as a close range mastery, gun mastery, acrobatics etc. The idea is sound but it does seem like handicapping the player to increase the already high level of challenge. Higher difficulty levels makes enemies more durable and hit harder, but the combat system is diverse enough to give players a fighting chance. The only downside in DMC 3 is the camera which makes fighting long range enemies frustrating as it stays off of them. I’ll be going into discussion of the camera in action games later.

Now we have God Hand which is the game that inspired me to come up with an action game idea. If meaningful story is your reason for playing games, well… then you might want to skip God Hand. In it you play Gene who after getting his right arm cut off by demons gets the God Hand or the right arm of God and is now out to save us from these nasty demons who look more like those punks in Final Fight. Quoting an advertisement in a promo video “It’s a ball bustingly hard game”. Even the basic grunts will wail on you and kill you within seconds if you let them. Many enemies can grab and do nasty things to you that deplete your health bar fast. Actual demons can randomly spawn after a fight that will destroy you fast unless you play one (or both) of your trump cards which I’ll get to in a minute. Boss fights are something else, you will fight 2 very homosexual stereotypes, a nymphomaniac, and perhaps the worse take on the power rangers yet.

So then why do I love God Hand? Because the combat system is simply fantastic. Instead of having preset combos, you can choose from numerous attacks and place them in your combo trees. The square button is just pushing square you activate, but you can put anything you want there from a backhand slap, leading to a roundhouse, kick leading to foot sweep and so on. This allows you to create your own style of combat which you’ll need to survive.

The difficulty is something else as well, you have levels 1 ,2 ,3 and DIE. As you fight and avoid damage and kick ass your level will go up which affects alot. Enemies will soon counter your attacks, move faster, use new techniques and new stronger enemies will appear in the place of weaker enemies. The higher the level you defeat enemies,the more money you will earn at the end of a stage which is used for upgrades and new moves. If your getting your ass kick instead the level will gradually (or sharply if you die) drop to lower levels making things easier. I will admit that it’s not perfect, fighting an enemy to have the level raise making it harder isn’t exactly fun. However you have a few ways of evening the odds.

Gene can “unleash” the God Hand to do increased damage and become invulnerable allowing you to make quick work of enemies. Also using “roulette” orbs Gene can activate an over the top attack such as summoning a base ball bat to send foes flying. This allows you to try to fight bosses “fair” just using your regular attacks, or go all out and finish them within seconds.

While I love God Hand there are some faults with the combat system. Enemies can attack through enemies and due to the nature of the camera and controls makes it almost impossible to successfully fight multiple enemies. The difficulty curve is high for this game as you’ll need money to get better moves and upgrades, but to do so you’ll have to fight at harder levels to do so. My first successful completion of God Hand clocked me at 75 continues used. I considered God Hand to be the second most balanced action title release which leaves you know what as the first.

That’s right it’s Ninja Gaiden Black time, considered by many action fans (including yours truly) to be the pinnacle of action titles. Ninja Gaiden Black is about making the player feel like a bad ass, and making every enemy in the game even more of a bad ass. Death comes quick in Ninja Gaiden, in fact many people were unable to beat the first level of it on normal. There is no such thing as being invulnerable after getting hit, and enemies can quickly reduce your health bar to zero in a flash. To make up for this, Ryu ( the protagonist) is an absolute warrior. He moves very fast, is responsive and can fight enemies coming at him from all directions easily. Each weapon he can use changes his attack style dramatically, from slow and powerful to fast and crowd control. Boss fights are over the top grudge matches with enemies that have un blockable attacks and will use any means to kill you. Unlike God Hand there are no trump cards to play in Ninja Gaiden Black, you have magic powers that can be used but none of them do alot of damage against bosses leaving you to your combat skills to survive.

It is that focus on combat that makes Ninja Gaiden Black so amazing and satisfying, to walk into a room of 6 demons and know that you can kill them all easily (if your good anyway) without breaking a sweat. This is the game for the player who likes to be challenged and even with all the times I died I never felt that it was the game’s fault. To makes things better (or worse for newcomers) each difficulty level re writes the game. Item and enemy positions are changed, new bosses are added, and new species of enemies are thrown into the mix the harder you make the game providing a fairly fresh challenge with each play through. Master Ninja which is the hardest difficulty is regarded as one of the hardest modes in just about any game, I managed to get half way into it before throwing up the white flag. With all these games as sources of inspiration it’s time to talk about my idea.

Since my first play of God Hand over a year ago this idea has been brewing in my head. For my game like the successes of the genre the meat of the game will be it’s combat. The player will have 4 buttons to use for combat, representing each hand and each leg. From there pressing the button will result in a low attack (hands will aim at the chest for example) holding will result in a high attack. Enemies will learn if you constantly attack low to block and counter those attacks, requiring you to mix it up. Every attack in the game can be customized onto your combo tree, from which running attack you want to grapple moves. I think 3 difficulty levels will suffice, the lower you play on the less likely enemies will dodge and counter, and like the movies groups of enemies will take turns attacking. The harder the level you play at enemies will attack you at the same time requiring strategy of attacking them. Unlike God Hand the difficulty can be changed on the fly as I think giving control to the player is important. Beating enemies on higher levels will give you tokens ( I think a simple bronze, silver, gold will do here) certain upgrades and moves will require a certain type and will reward the player with better moves and such for playing the game better.

One problem that I have with action titles is that many don’t provide the player with complete attack coverage. In God Hand you can’t fight enemies that get behind you, and groups are impossible to fight. In my game you have 360 degree coverage around the player, and are able to attack any one around you at will. This allows players to successfully fend off foes from all directions, and I will damn make sure that enemies will not punch through each other. The other issue I’ve seen in most action titles is the camera. Many games like the camera in a cinematic view which is great for screenshots, but makes fighting difficult. For this game the camera needs to be close enough that you can see the various attack tells of enemies , yet far enough that the player can see all around the character. I’m thinking about a side view or almost over head view for this game, in all seriousness I would have to see this action before making up my mind.

Two ideas I’m thinking about including in this game are a fully regenerating health bar and a stamina bar, more on stamina in a little bit. One constant problem in any action title is never having enough health to continue in a level. In this game, your health bar will regenerate while not in combat and slowly during combat as long as your not taking direct damage. This serves two purposes, first it eliminates the need to place objects solely for smashing to find health items. Second it frees up the designers to create truly challenging and interesting situations knowing that they won’t need to worry about the player arriving at it with too little health to continue. There are far better ways to have challenge in a game without forcing the player to restart because they took one too many hits in the last section.

The idea for the stamina bar figures into the defense options that are coming up. Many action titles can become button mashers and I have come up with a nifty solution to it. Every attack in the game will have an attack rating and a stamina rate. Stronger blows will reduce your stamina meter faster and without stamina you will be unable to attack or perform advance defense maneuvers. This will also allow players to balance out including attacks that can knock out enemies in a few hits, for lighter attacks better for long fights. Your stamina meter will be recharging whenever your not dodging attacks or performing attacks to keep it from becoming too much of a crutch. If you keep pushing the same button you’ll perform the same attack that will do less damage but drain less stamina requiring the players to mix it up.

Another important factor in action titles is defense, and I have some ideas in mind for my game. There are five different ways to avoid damage, starting out with the standard block. The regular block costs no stamina to use and will reduce damage taken in combat, of course certain attacks cannot be blocked and this is more of a last choice situation. Next is evading, pressing the block button before any attack connects will allow the player to evade the attack and set up for a counterattack. The act of evading however will cost some stamina keeping the player from exploiting it. Next which I’m still debating about having is the classic evade roll in other action titles to get away from large groups of enemies . I’m still not sure if I want that in there as it seems abit too arcade like for this title. Next are more advance techniques which may have to be unlocked in the game. First is using your attack to block another one, such as using your hand to stop a punch, you have to press the attack button before the attack connects. This sets up a foe for a powerful counterattack but costs a good amount of stamina. Lastly is the grab counter, you grab the opponents hand or foot to prepare for a powerful grapple attack. Costs the most stamina but will do the most damage. Another idea is to have clothing that effects stamina drain and resistance to damage, heaver clothes will reduce damage but will cause the stamina meter to drain faster.

With those bases covered , customizable attacks, defense, attack coverage, and proper rewards I think this title would be an excellent action game. And following in the foot steps of many action titles the story isn’t going to be the reason to play, but I do promise a better ending then going out to get a cheeseburger with the president.

Josh

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One genre that I’ve never been a huge fan of is the Stealth genre, I’m not much for hiding in the shadows. The only series I do play is the Metal Gear Solid series which I will be getting into detail about later on.

Before we actually had a stealth genre, it seemed to be a prerequisite in every action game. A level that if the enemy sees the player the entire level will have to be start over, forcing the player to learn patrol patterns and halts progression for awhile. Another “feature” is the removal of all weapons you have so even if you did want to pick off enemies you couldn’t. After the release of Metal Gear Solid the genre took off and we started to see games created with just stealth elements.

Splinter Cell is most likely to be the second recognizable stealth series, and I’m not a fan of it. To me Splinter Cell represents the worst aspects of stealth game play. You the player are forced to follow a specific path thru the levels and have to remember that an enemy will walk by corridor 3 every 5 minutes. The entire game is about shooting lights and getting spotted means you will be easily gunned down by the opposing forces. From impressions I’ve read these aspects have been toned down in the later iterations, but it’s not a game I like to play. I have similar complaints about old school adventure games where your left to not deduce the logic of the game world, but the crazy logic the designer came up with. Still from looking at the genre I can see how hard it is to create a stealth game.

There are certain factors that need to be taken into account when creating a stealth game that I can see from my own thoughts on creating stealth games. One idea I have is a stealth game where the player has access to all kinds of abilities, cloaking, enhanced strength and agility, and a few others and has to use it to fight super natural creatures. A defining moment has the player sneaking thru a town while a werewolf is stalking them. The problem is how powerful should the player be? Linking to the title of this entry, it’s hard to find a need to be stealthy when you have a rocket launcher in your hands. Take the Hulk (not counting being Bruce Banner), would the Hulk at any point need to stick to shadows and stay out of sight? Then there is the factor of the character itself, should the main character be able to survive an encounter? If the player can just fight and win every fight there goes being stealthy as well. This is one of those reasons that I can’t get into alot of the games in the genre, if I’m supposed to be some kind of bad ass super spy why can’t I survive one fire fight?

Going back to my comment on the Metal Gear series I’m going to go into detail why I like them more then other stealth games. There are of course the interesting characters and cut scenes (Psycho Mantis and The End were awesome), but game play is that right balance between stealth and firepower. Snake is a bad ass and can survive and win most fire fights (with the new camera introduced made it easier), the challenge is that ammo is hard to find and enemies will keep coming. Unlike other stealth games when it feels like one encounter and I’m screwed for the remainder of the level.

Recently Assassin’s Creed has taken the stealth idea in a different direction. Altair is a bad ass and in a one on one fight will win every time, but when surrounded there is no hope. Also I love the idea of blending in crowds as a stealth tactic. I haven’t played it yet (no job = not splurging on alot of video games), but it sounds right up my alley. Also from watching it in action gave me inspiration for my own take on an open world game with stealth.

I don’t like to create game ideas based on licenses, which I’ll probably create an entry about later on, but one license I would like to work on is the setting of Robin Hood. The game loosely follows the myth of Robin Hood, after a brief tutorial during the crusades you arrive back in England and are given an open world to explore. You basically create the myth of Robin Hood, if you want to be a killer and go after the guards and such you can do that. If you want to only wound and steal from the rich and give to the poor that’s possible too. You can of course hide in the crowds and perform Errol Flynn inspired feats of agility. I want the player to be able to sneak into castles at night to try to steal from the coffers, disguises can work and the player can shoot a rope arrow onto almost any surface to create a path. In terms of power the player can fight probably 2 characters at once, any more and you must flee unless you can pick them off with your bow and arrows. I think this could be an amazing game and a great step in the right direction for stealth game play.

In my opinion the idea of a “stealth” game is over and done with. Just having that one element feels bored and uninspired to me. Instead I want games with a strong stealth element but with more options. Take Assassin’s Creed and my Robin Hood idea, both games have a strong stealth element but it’s not just the only option available. MGS 4 is also looking to be another interesting take on the stealth genre, and it sure as hell beats shooting out lamps to get thru a level.

Josh

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For this entry I’m taking a look at Co-op style of gameplay while I’m not a fan of competitive multiplayer, co-op is right up my alley. There are many variations on co-op gameplay, but the basic rules stay constant. Two or more players play against the AI or in Splinter Cell’s case another team of players to complete objectives or beat a level. I have good memories of 4 player co-op in Serious Sam and the craziness that is 4 against 100 fights. Great co-op can be an amazing experience and a great way to introduce a new comer to a game. Another factor is the more skilled player helping out their partner and taking one for the team. Yet if Co-Op was so great then why doesn’t every game have it?

Co-op is a tricky thing to balance, recently with Trauma Center New Blood and the Halo franchise co-op mode was replaying the single player mode with an extra set of hands. The importance of this is that these two games modes were not designed first and foremost as multiplayer, which limited how interesting they can be by doing the same thing over again. Granted having a second player adds a certain level of expertise or insanity to the mix to each level which makes thing a bit different on a second play thru. In Halo enemies became stronger and more numerous to compensate , I don’t know if Trauma Center changed anything in multiplayer. There are examples however are games made for the co-op crowd.

Finding games specifically made for co-op play is a bit trickier . Lately EA attempted this with Army of Two but from what I’ve seen and read about it, the game didn’t succeed too well which I will be going into detail about the pitfalls of co-op design later. Resident Evil OutBreak was an interesting case, playing thru the world of Resident Evil as civilians teaming up to fight the undead. Splinter Cell which I mentioned earlier was the first I’ve seen to do co-op vs co-op and was a great idea. With the new GTA 4 game, there is a similar idea with Cops and Robbers mode which I bet is a blast.

Recently the game Crackdown allowed two players to exist in a huge open world city and let them go nuts. I think this is a fantastic start and would like to see this type of thinking developed further. One idea I had in a game was to allow 2-4 players inside a city GTA style, and allow them to split up or team up at will. Lets say that 3 players rob a bank on the west side of town drawing the police to that area, while the fourth player will hit the now lightly defended target on the east side. Or while two players rob the bank, the others can provide cover and suppression a building away to attack the cops from two fronts. I also want to get away from infinite magically appearing cops which will make things alot more tense.

With all the praise I have for co-op games, there are certain pitfalls that need to be avoided. One is the complete separation of players, basically making it so that neither player will ever come in contact with the other in a level is a bad idea. Since it turns the game into single player since there will be no interaction between the gamers. Next are the done into the ground co-op “puzzles”. Such as the exciting two players have to turn a key at the same time, or one player has to help another over a box to proceed. While Army of Two didn’t exactly succeed at co-op gaming there is a game that tried it first and failed even more at it.

Mark of Kri was one of my favorite titles on the PS2, a combination of Disney style visuals with over the top action. Which is why it’s sequel Rise of the Kasai was such a huge disappointment. The sequel had the player and an AI partner go thru each level. Each one going a different way, the problem is that the AI was not at the level needed for this game, and sometimes got stuck or even lost in a level. One time the AI partner would not step onto the the goal marker and I was unable to continue. The level design was also very basic, there was very little difference in being one character as opposed to the other and the game really just lack the charm of the first one. They basically bet the farm on the whole co-op mechanic and lost, but there are many ways of designing co-op levels.

When it comes to designing co-op levels from what I’ve seen falls into a few categories. One idea is to design a level almost in perfect symmetry , player A goes left player B goes right maybe they’ll come together for an important fight or one will help the other at certain spots. Eventually they’ll meet up and finish the level, which I believe is what Gears of War did. Next is two players together, similar to the Syphon Filter series. Both players need to stay close to each other and certain areas require both players or neither can proceed. This is based on the classic co-op style seen in Contra as both players need to be near each other to continue. What I want to see in the future is a more open world level design. Give me a huge area to explore, sprinkle in 3 or 4 objectives with multiple ways to solve them and let me and a partner go nuts. If we want to stay together and complete them slower but easier that’s fine, if we want to split up and go our own way that’s ok as well. Recently Halo 3 did up to 4 player co-op which in my opinion is great, the more players the better.

I believe the future for co-op games is in the open world genre, we already had a small taste of it in CrackDown and it sure beats dieing because my idiot partner kept the screen from scrolling causing me to fall into a pit 🙂

Josh

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