First off if you don’t get that reference, then you are too damn young. Anyway, what has become a Halloween tradition for me in the last few years is to watch replays of horror shows in the 90s aimed at children. I would argue that shows aimed at children these days are more creative then shows for adults, but we’ll save that for another entry. Two of my favorites are Goosebumps and Are you Afraid of the Dark (or GB and Dark for this entry).
Growing up I was an avid reader of the Goosebumps series, during elementary school R.L Stine was my hero. When the series was translated into a T.V. format I thought it managed to capture the variety of stories shown in the books. One element of GB that I find unique for a horror series is that some of the episodes had a comedic twist ending. In which we either see the bad guy (or thing) point of view or that the whole experience didn’t happen like we assumed.
Moving onto Dark which was one of my favorite shows growing up, didn’t go for a comedic ending to its tale and had many episodes end badly for the main character. The premise was that a group of kids get together and tell scary stories, like GB each week had a new tale with a new cast of characters. However the kids who tell the story show up at the beginning and ending and were the main cast. As the series went on some of the more eccentric characters would appear in other stories.
Since the shows were aimed at children, there wasn’t any gore, but similar to the Twilight Zone each episode dealt with a different plot line each week. This gives me an idea for episodic games, a horror series in which each month’s title is a completely new story. I could picture an adventure game format with the player trying to either escape or defeat the baddie and with a new situation each month should keep things from being too stale. We’ve seen episodic game play bring back the adventure genre thanks to Sam and Max, now I would like to see it go further. The recent Alone in the Dark tried to do episodic game play, but it focused on one story instead of multiple different ones. So how do I know that this could work for the adventure genre? Because I played the Are you Afraid of the Dark adventure game way back then. I got far and almost beat it, but I kept on getting caught by that evil crazy bitch (oh yes there was one in this game).
With Halloween one day away, I think this will be my last entry on horror titles, so enjoy and have fun this year.
Last week I caught one of my favorite types of shows, ones that focus either on the technique of martial arts or the science of it. The show was “Fight Science” and it dealt with the science and technique of using various martial art styles and weapons. I find it fascinating to watch as they explain the science behind a man being able to inflict over 2000 tons of force on a concrete block with his body. There was a smile on my face as I watched a master demonstrate the techniques behind the Bo staff. The reason I find all this interesting is that I want to apply the distinctions between the various styles and weapons to video game combat.
My action title focuses on realistic combat, allowing the player to fight multiple enemies with either their bare hands or a weapon. I want to do for the action genre what the Virtua Fighter series did for the fighting genre. From that I developed a list of rules regarding combat that will be applied to my game, and that I feel should be applied to the genre as a whole.
1. The combat system should be fleshed out to the point that the player can fight and survive a battle against multiple opponents at once.
2. The combat system will allow the player to easily fight one opponent at a time.
3. The camera must be zoomed out enough to see all combatants at once, yet zoomed in enough to be able to focus on fighting.
4. The player must always have a way to avoid damage without moving (IE block, counter).
To elaborate on points 1 and 2, some games give the player a move set and abilities that they can only fight one opponent at a time. God Hand while one of my favorites is guilty of this, which makes multi person combat next to impossible without relying on cheese tactics. For point 2, some action titles give the player attacks that are slow and sweep in front of the player, to catch multiple enemies at once. The problem is that when you’re fighting just one opponent it’s all too easy to get stuck in a combo chain that completely misses your opponent or it’s too slow to hit the opponent. The God of War series has this problem; I can’t count the number of times I completely miss with a combo and had to follow through with the chain anyway.
I know that this next statement is going to be a contradiction, I want to get away from one button combat, yet I really want to play Fable 2 for its combat system. The idea of having a simple control system (such as one button for combat), but add onto it with timing sounds very interesting. I enjoyed the Maximo series for its two button combat system, although the camera did get in the way a lot. A few weeks ago I commented on watching footage of the new Golden Axe title and predicted that it would fail just from the combat system, turns out I was right after reading several negative reviews. I would also like to repeat a statement I keep saying every time I talk about action games, the foundation of a great combat system in my opinion is one that the player will want to fight every enemy; not run away from boredom.
Besides Fight Science I also enjoyed watching Human Weapon, which I’m hoping gets another season. Also for any game designers reading this, I would love to see an action title focused entirely on Drunken Boxing, which would make me very happy :).
When I showed off my zombie idea, one detail that caught some attention was the idea of having QTEs (Quick Time Events) in my game as a way of surviving attacks. There were a lot of negative reactions about this, and after some thinking I decided to remove that part from my design document. While I was deciding this I had an epiphany, not once have I ever enjoyed a QTE.
Before I begin my rant in full I want to define a QTE for the sake of this entry. A QTE is an interactive cut scene in which the outcome is determined by the player inputting a correct set of commands. I’ve been playing games with QTEs since Dragon’s Lair; now that I think about it the mechanic is pretty dull. Basing the player’s survival on a split second button press can be punishing, especially if it is random each time (I’m looking at you Resident Evil 4). This mechanic seems arbitrary to me, an excuse to make things more exciting and give the player more things to do. My complaint is that I’d rather just watch the character do something cool, instead of me pretending that I’m doing more then just pushing a random string of buttons. Thinking back even though I enjoyed Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair, it was less about the game play and more about watching the animations. I’m having a hard time believing that people like QTEs, if anyone can give me a good reason why QTEs should still be in games, I’m all ears.
Personally I think this mechanic has out lived its usefulness and like having to enter in multi character passwords to save games, it needs to go the way of the dodo. I’m at a lost of the reason why developers still use this mechanic; a cut scene means that the player doesn’t interact with the game, hence the word “cut”. I can just imagine the horror of having QTEs in the Devil May Cry series, every cut scene would be a button mashing nightmare. Before I move on I want to make one important distinction, having the player quickly hit a button to avoid attacks using a dodge mechanic during combat is not a QTE, the player still has control of their character and skill is a factor while in a QTE it isn’t.
The opposite of this problem are incredibly long cut scenes in which the player has nothing to do for 30+ minutes (I’m looking at the Metal Gear Solid series this time). I wouldn’t mind going into a rant about long cut scenes removing the player from the game world, but we’ll save that for another entry. So to make a long entry short, I’ve decided to remove the QTE in my zombie game, the action will happen automatically as the player was going to die without it happening.
A few years ago while I was playing Soul Calibur 4 they actually thought it was a good idea to introduce QTEs into the game, worse is that the commands were set up for the game play commands(attack 1, block, etc) and not the actual button presses . So instead of having to press triangle in a split second I had to press “attack 2”, I failed a lot of QTEs to say the least. QTEs seemed to have become a game design fad, in no small part thanks to the God of War series since then just about every action game has had them. The only example I can remember when QTEs were decent was in the last Prince of Persia game, where during combat they were renamed “Speed kills”. My complaint however still stands, during a QTE the player is given the belief that they’re doing something, but all it is really a pass/fail string of commands.
I’m willing to make a small concession in this matter for fighting games like the Dragon Ball Z and Naruto titles, where during ultimate attack cut scenes both players have to input a series of commands to either increase the damage or decrease it for the one who is being attacked. They play out more like small mini games during the rounds rather then a full blown QTE. I’m left to wonder what will be the next game design fad that will replace QTEs in the majority of titles.
While revealing my team based shooter on Quarter to Three, I received a comment regarding the fact that a third person shooter view is considered inferior to the first person shooter cam. Well thanks to that comment I got inspired to do another entry, about why the first person view isn’t perfect for all shooters.
A long time ago when I first thought up this idea I had to make the decision about the camera. At first I thought that the game could work in first person, but the more I thought about it, the more failings I found with the camera for what I wanted to do. Gun control and aiming are better with the first person view I can’t deny that, but there is more to this game then just shooting. The player needs to have area awareness, so that they don’t run into a wall or bump into their friends. With a first person cam, that is impossible to reproduce as the game camera can not replicate our peripheral vision perfectly. Yes a wide screen view could work, but it still won’t be the same as the real thing. Melee is another factor; I’ve yet to see a game with a first person cam handle melee realistically or accurately. The problem is that you cannot gauge the right length for swinging a weapon or fist, while a third person cam isn’t perfect it is better in this regard then the first person. Next is spatial relations to the environment, a first person cam cannot do this period. As the player can’t view their body in relationship to the world without having peripheral vision and the wider view we have compared to a PC monitor. Ironically in my opinion, the player can personify themselves with their character with a third person view better then in first person, as the player can see the character in great detail from that view.
I’m very interested to see how Mirror’s Edge handles these issues with the first person cam. An addendum, I have no problems with the first person cam and some of my comments are my opinion. There are just some things that can be done better in third person then in first person. Perhaps virtual reality will take off again and we’ll never have to worry about these problems again. Although having the machines rise up and imprison us in a virtual world would be a greater problem.