I’m not going to create entries based on every bit of news in the gaming industry but I’m going to have to make an exception with this one. As of this week the creator behind the Ninja Gaiden, and Dead or Alive series Tomonobu Itagaki has not only quit Tecmo but is suing them for not paying bonuses promised to him and emotional distress caused by Tecmo’s president.This comes after two recent entries I did, one on the action genre and one on the importance of game designers and royalties.

In my entry regarding the action genre I placed Ninja Gaiden Black on top of my pedestal as the best designed action title I’ve played. Now I do believe that there is no I in team when it comes to creating a game, but you cannot deny the involvement Itagaki had on the franchise and the structure of the game. Like I mentioned in my entry on style, we all have our own way of doing things and this gets translated into the games we’re working on. I’m now left to wonder how this will effect future games in the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive franchises, even after Tecmo released a statement saying Team Ninja (Itagaki’s team) will continue making games. Which is even more distressing when we look at his status in the industry.

As I mentioned in another entry, game designers are our industry’s celebrities and the high profile ones are really the face of our industry. Itagaki has always held a rock star like persona, he’s known for being very candid about his principles,design decisions, and competition. We also know that he is not exactly a well mannered person, news reports of him gambling, drinking, and even a sexual harassment suit have been released over the years about him. I’m not going to defend his actions or manner as my only experience with him are the games I’ve played that he designed. Asking if designers should adhere to some moral standing for the industry is something way too big for one little entry. With that said however he has since the release of Ninja Gaiden become the face of Tecmo, and without him will no doubt strike a huge blow against Tecmo in the coming months.

I’ve read comments about his departure on both ends of the spectrum, some are sad that he’s leaving and hope he finds work and gets compensation from Tecmo. Others are glad he’s gone and are slamming him for his various vices. I don’t know where I stand on this, as a gamer(and hopefully future game designer) I am sad (and quite frankly shocked) at this turn of events, but I don’t know him enough personality to defend him. Other reports have said that he has been out spoken about his company and has really developed a massive ego due to the success of his games which translated into him talking over the head of Tecmo. Which is abit odd as I’ve never read anything about that with designers over here (or those stories were never leaked). I am wondering if his ego will stand in the way of getting work and how much will a new company tolerate from him? He is one of the few designers thanks to the Ninja Gaiden series to back up his huge ego, but he has built up a pretty bad reputation for PR. Still, for fans of Tecmo or the Ninja Gaiden franchase in general this is a huge deal and something to keep your eyes on for awhile.

Josh

06/07 update: At the end of this week it was reported that Tecmo is already feeling the blow from Itagaki’s departure, as their stock dropped $10 in price this week. Which leads me to wonder what else can happen to Tecmo in the coming weeks.

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So my friend Corvus has started his round table for June and I’m going to chime in on it. Unfortunately it would be too easy to just discuss how great ICO was at character relationships, so I’m going to go in another direction. When a game designer forces a relationship onto the player otherwise known as *drum roll* the poorly designed escort mission.

The escort mission which is primarily seen in action titles (although I’ve seen a few in RTS games) goes as follow. You must protect a person or group of people until an objective is met, sounds easy right? Some times we’re given the suicidal warrior who loves to charge into groups ahead of everyone else. The only positive is that he/she can hold their own in a fight for a short time which is more then I can say about option two.

Next we have the complete weakling who cannot fight at all and their only discernible talent is opening a door and sometimes no talent at all . Some games your required to carry him/her while enemies are tearing into your expose side, other times they just move really slowly towards the goal as you play the role of body guard. Bonus points to game designers when they make the weakling as suicidal as the warrior minus any and all combat prowess. Extra points to designers when the partner can be harmed by your weapons as nothing says “Doh!” more as killing the person while trying to defend them.

Recently in God of War 2 you needed to guide someone to an altar, and after he gets there you need to protect him while he performs some task. The problems arise when you realize that his health does not regenerate meaning any lucky hits before you reach the goal could leave you screwed, and his presence spawns enemies so no going ahead and clearing the path first. Of course this person has no combat abilities whatsoever and I don’t think he even had a name. For those that viewed my entry on the action genre and remember when I talked about God of War 1, yes this already annoying section in 2 features enemies that can spawn new enemies just to make life worse for you Finding a game that did escort missions right is a challenge but there is one that always comes to my mind.

One game did escort missions right (ironic as the entire game was an escort mission) was ICO. A good reason why it worked so well was that combat in ICO was toned down compared to other titles with escort missions. No need to worry about long range attacks or cheap shots, and a lack of any health bars means I don’t have to worry about not having enough health to reach a checkpoint. Also the game does an excellent job of making Yorda (your partner in crime ) more then just a stupid suicidal AI follower as seen in other titles. While your required to guide Yorda across the length of the castle , you can still leave her alone for a period of time before she is automatically snatched by the monsters after her which allows you to go on your own and not worry about her There are a lot of emotional scenes and mannerisms in ICO but I think someone else can do a much better job of talking about them .The game does an admirable job of providing the player with new environments (and at the same time new puzzles) to explore. Sometimes however you need a partner who can do more then just stand there when things go south.

Resident Evil 4 has the player guiding the president’s daughter (Ashley) all across a zombie plagued village. Unlike Yorda she doesn’t really serve a purpose in progression but she does have a few more brain cells. Firing into crowds of zombies is a frantic affair and it’s nice to have a partner smart enough to duck when a shotgun is pointed at her face. The real revolutionary game mechanic is the ability to stash her in a storage chest while the fighting is being done, and then call her out when the coast is clear. I can’t tell you how many games with escort missions I wish would have that feature. Still it’s not perfect, while fighting waves of enemies Ashley will just stand around waiting for someone to snatch her and I love having to use various switches and objects while defending myself and defending her, and all she does is stand there waiting for the work to be done. Now it’s time for doctor Josh to open up the heads of these idiotic partners and take a look in there to figure out a solution.

There are many easy solutions to the problem of bad escort missions, first just stop making them… ok I’ll come up with a few more. Giving me some form of control over my follower is helpful, such as ordering them to run away or head straight for the exit. Next is providing them with some way of avoiding combat, either the RE 4 stash technique or having the AI just avoid enemies while I’m busy. One mechanic that needs to die is the old spawn enemies around the player and AI at certain sections. Recently playing a TBS game called Rondo of Swords gave me an idea. Provide some kind of way of attracting aggro (MMO term for enemy attention) away from the weaker partner and have them focus on me. Another step in the right direction is giving the AI some usefulness by either helping with whatever I’m doing or actively avoiding the enemies. I think another problem with escort missions (or games that copy ICO) is that it’s hard to create original missions and puzzles for escort levels. Every game with an escort mission is obligated to have a puzzle where both characters need to stand on a switch at the same time or pull 2 different levers to open a door, so as designers what can we do?

This is a harder problem to fix, with advances in AI technology perhaps we could move onto games where the AI partner is a worthwhile ally. Smart enough to go on their own to solve puzzles and can still hold up in a fight next to the player. One way of cultivating relationships could be to have the player and AI perform actions together, such as advance combat attacks or having them both perform different tasks together. I just had an idea, the AI could coax the player into an impromptu race through sections of the level for no purpose but to build this sense of friendly competition between them. Imagine for a second a game like the Prince of Persia series where the player is being helped at all times by a partner as smart and agile as him, I think that could produce camaraderie between the player and the partner and provide gamers with challenges above stepping on two switches at the same time.

With next gen technology in place I think the time of the old school escort missions is about finished, I want to deal with intelligent realistic partners that follow me into deadly situations instead of brain dead lack luster idiots who follow me into deadly situations 🙂

Josh

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Like most gamers my first idea to become big in the video game world was to become an expert gamer. Overall I’m a good gamer I have two world records over at Twin Galaxies and I can beat most single player games I get my hands on. As time went on I figured out that high scores and competitive gaming aren’t my thing, I would rather design game ideas and mechanics which I seem to be better at. I’ve tried a few times over the years to get into competitive gaming, played in a Halo tournament, Smash Brothers tournament each time with failure. Since then I’ve come to realize that there is a huge difference between designing video games and mastering them on a competitive level.

Basically different skill sets are used in these two professions with some overlapping. To become a designer the key skills are being analytical, creative, attention to detail, critical thinking and what ever professional skills you’ve learned(ex: typist, programmer, writer, etc). However for professional gaming you would need these skills : attention to detail, excellent hand eye coordination, analytical, pattern recognition and an excellent memory for all those tactics you’ve discovered. I have the analytical skills to figure out patterns and such, but my mind works faster then my hands to keep up to perform all these complex patterns.

The other factor is something hard to describe, I wouldn’t say patience or determination, as that is present in both professions, but the ability to focus on a task like playing a game for many hours straight to figure out every single little exploit and bug you can use for your advantage. I play a lot of video games, but I really can’t play the same game day in and day out as it would become too derivative for me and it loses the fun. At the Smash Brothers tournament I was a great player among friends and people at the local Gamestop, but playing against people at the competitive level was something else entirely. There is a technique called “wave dashing” that I never heard of until this tournament which is considered a bug the developers left in that became some kind of exploit tactic used by competitive gamers. I do not have the patience to sit and play a game for 20 hours to find and learn all these little bugs to become a competitive gamer.

Still I would not ask MLG (Major league gaming) players to be apart of my design team. Like I mentioned earlier there is just a completely different skill set required for these positions that most competitive gamers don’t have. Designing a game is not about discovering every little bug and exploit to win at games but to create something new that people can play and enjoy. The difference is about being active (creating levels/ gameplay) against being reactive (going through a level to find all the best weapon drops that someone else created) .Let me stop here and say that I have nothing against the people at MLG or any competitive or high score gaming tournaments I’m just stating that there is a difference between what someone like Sid Meier or Shigeru Miyamoto does and something the FragDolls do (I’m really sorry for that comparison but their the only competitive gaming team I can remember off the top of my head). In all seriousness, if designing a game was the same as playing it, then shouldn’t Shigeru Miyamoto be the absolute King of Kong at this point?

The time I’ve spent learning about the industry and working on my own skills at design, have further cemented these ideas into my head. Playing a lot of video games is different then just playing Halo 3 all day long. I analyze games I’ve played looking for mechanics I like and dislike, good and bad interfaces , and see what I would change to make the games better. I don’t play video games to find that little tear in the wall you can use to climb a pillar to get into an optimal sniping position. The lesson for this entry is to rise to the top of either profession requires dedication specifically to it and nothing else. Which is also why if I ever do decide to get into professional gaming competitions I don’t think I would ask Sid Meier, Suda 51, and Brad Wardell to be apart of my MLG team 🙂

Josh

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