Thursday, 21 December 2017

Game Design : Week 11 - Additive and Subtractive Design

Not all video games are perfect, some might be, but not all. Some games are downright terrible and some have potential but aren't quite fully realized and just need to be tweaked.
And that's where additive and subtractive design comes in. Through the development of a game, several prototypes are built and tested, to see if the game works, and the games design is altered as a result of this testing, through this you can add or take away from the game to hone in on the experience you want from the game. This is in essence what we are talking about, but to add and remove content from a game doesn't have to be exclusive to during development or testing.
Due to games having greater online connectivity than ever before games can be updated and developers can even create "DLC" aka DownLoadable Content (I don't get it either). While updates are used mostly to patch bugs and correct errors, and DLC is to sell bonus content that often doesn't effect the mechanics or the way the games plays overall and is usually new avatars or levels.
But of course there are some exceptions to these rules, games like Overwatch and MOBA's like League of Legends, are constantly being re-balanced and tweaked in their updates in a constant attempt to keep the game as fair as possible, and not everyone agrees they make the right decisions, so some of these choices they reverse. Warframe and Rainbow 6: Siege are examples of two games that succeeded only because of changes made to the game well after launch.
That does not leave this adaptive design in purely the hands of developers, it can very often manifest in three more ways that are driven entirely by player involvement. Games such as Halo offer many in depth options for customizing and altering game types, objectives, weapons, vehicles and even maps in some of the later games, several fan made gametypes have also been later integrated into the series by the developers making them official gametypes, such as infection a mode where each player has to survive as long as possible and infected players attempt to infect the survivors, where the infected have modified movement and only close range weapons, and Griffball, where two teams have to place the bomb at the other sides post, much like assault, but within a small square arena and only using melee weapons to resemble games similar to rugby or gridiron, the person carrying the bomb also turns yellow to resemble the character from the Rosterteeth webseries
 made as a Halo machinima,  Red vs Blue, Griff.
Another way players can make the later alterations is through modding. Modding refers to players making modifications to a games raw files, whether its assets or code and so on in order to change the experience, for prime examples of this look to any of the recent games developed by Bethesda as they are famous for near limitless mod support. Modding can include stuff as simple as cheating in extra items, to stuff as complicated as your own worlds, stories and possibly even your own game within a game, the potential is endless depending on you ability to make such a thing happen and the support the game offers for those mods.
The final (and most fun) addition (or subtraction) a player can make, are their own homebrew rules. People are most familiar with this idea showing itself as drinking games. Everytime you die, take shot. You must finish your drink before you finish the race, and your kart can not be moving while you drink. Every shot with a power weapon is a shot you must take at the end of the match, every kill you get reduces a shot. This is what I mean by homebrew rules, they don't have to be alcohol related, it's just making up rules on the spot, to make the game more interesting or leveling the playing feel to give weaker players an advantage.
You can add and take away from a game at any point and generally it is a good idea to do so, just don't forget what the core of the game is. Keep it balanced and keep it fair, in the end the player is just gonna screw it up and find a way to get plastered while playing it anyway.  

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Game Design : Week 10 - Social play

Games and what they are to people has been up for question for many years, but they have undoubtedly existed as one of two things, individual and social experiences, kind of obvious since they are the only two possibilities on that scale. But you would be mistaken for assuming that the social side of gaming is only a recent development along side modern multiplayer and large consumer focused conventions, and assume that aside from the odd Mario Kart and MMO that before 2001 games were purely a solo event.

Games have been primarily a social affair for majority of their lifetime. The first experimental computer games were nerds killing time and showing off what they can do with the ridiculously costly university computers. In arcades you'd be crowded around friends giving you advice, because if they were good they'd be playing. Controller swapping in Super Mario Bros. Split screen in Mario Kart. Online multiplayer in early RTS's and early shooters. The creation of the MMO with Ultima. Console LAN parties in Halo. There is a visible progression of social play, and all of it is dearly important to the overall experience of the player.
Strategies of playing against a human instead of a computer change, players are on an even field, same advantages and disadvantages as you, they are unpredictable, every action wilder and crazier than the last, or cunning waiting for you to make a mistake before striking. The nothing resembling the gameplay of punchout where they follow an exact pattern, no matter how well you know the opponent. There is real ever changing challenge to the game.
But there is more to it, that wasn't as heavily mentioned in the reading material, bonding. To sit down with a bunch of mates, an esky of drinks, a plate of nachos and the smallest tv you can think of cut into four even smaller segments. Those are some of the best memories I have playing games, and aside from a few instances I can barely recalled what we played, because it doesn't matter. The design of the games, aesthetically and mechanically, didn't matter, it was irrelevant, who cares if the maps/tracks/levels were designed for that amount of players, or if the balancing was right. All that mattered was that between myself and those friends that I have had for a decade we had fun, and that's all that matters.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Game Design: Week 9 - The three player problem

Have you ever been playing a three player game and noticed that the better or more successful player is set upon by their opponents in unison.This is a symptom of the three player problem, the three player problem is simply referring to the extreme difficulty one can have in balancing a three player competitive game. This particular example of two players teaming up on the lead can result in a stalemate as the pairings rotate to account for each new player taking the advantage or if the game is limited by time or score than one player may make the decision to sabotage someone else's victory rather than pursue their own.
This is why most competitive games are made for two or four or more players, as when the number increases each players individual actions make a smaller effect on the game as a whole and thus either everyone would need to collaborate to bring down the lead or risk teams breaking out.
Sometimes a game might just work better with only three players, so the challenge is for the designers to find a way to around these pitfalls.
Sometimes something as simple as the type of game can completely negate this effect, take a first person shooter for example. Say its three people playing what ever your favourite shooter and they are playing the deathmatch mode and two players have agreed to team up on the leading player, not many shooters are made with three people in mind so many maps are too large for you to really control when and where you are going to come into contact with one of only two other players so the the leading play is likely to never be outnumbered in a gun fight, so all that has effectively happened is that the teamed players have limited their potential scoring options by refusing to attack each other and have created a more efficient pipeline to get shot in the head since they are hunting down a player we are assuming is potentially better than them. This creates a scenario where you are better off taking an 'every man for himself' stand and just kill whoever you see. To counter the attitude of those who just choose to sabotage an opponents win, how can they? If you are that bad to be that far behind you can't hope to hunt down and repeatedly beat one of the other players, and it's pointless to just run around let the other guy kill you, there is no fun in it and secondly you are likely to give as many points to the leading player as the person they wanted to.
So sometimes the answer to this dilemma can be simple, or at least accidentally solve itself through coincidence. But that shouldn't be relied on, solve the issue if it comes to fruition, but don't fret over it if it ruins the game. Trios may be a film quote but you should really have more than two friends.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Game Design: Week 8 - Simulation through Games

Simulation is a game genre that has no specific mechanics, aesthetic design or a shared purpose. Now that I think about it, simulation is more of an adjective than a genre. Forza is a racing simulation but has more in common with need for speed than Sim City. This genre/adjective is less about how a game is played and more about why a game is played; the generalized reasons people play them outside the standard reasons for anyone to play anything, might mostly boil down to, some more grounded fantasy or just wanting to see what would happen if you tried some really stupid stuff but there is some greater uses of simulation games than just seeing how long it takes your sim family to set themselves on fire.

Depending on the level of simplicity the game applies to any given scenario, a scenario should be able to reflect reality if such a scenario were to really play out. In racing simulators such as Forza or Gan Turismo, the cars supposedly behave as realistically as possible in any given scenario; if you and a friend is arguing about which of your dream cars are better, race them. Games like Sim City are supposed to show you vaguely how to run a city, minus a lot of red tape of course. Military sims such as Arma give players are more refined and realistic experience than a shooter like Call of Duty, instead of mowing down every Russian, German or Middle Eastern in sight like an Arnold Schwarzenegger knockoff, you can't aim to save you life, all of your equipment is too complicated to use in a gun fight and you are cowering in a tool shed hiding from six guys from a morally ambiguous nation state and praying to god back up gets there soon, just like the real military.

The idea for a simulation game can come from two trains of thought, making a game more realistic for fun or for training. Now the simplest introduction to simulations for training, aside from hearing the american army has been playing games for years as a form of training (even making a Doom mod for it), would be the training simulations everyone knows about, flight simulators.
Flight sims weren't made to be videogames, they were made to train pilots without the risk of crashing a real plane, they don't even seem to use the same technology, even the ones the ADF use still look like crap, but they get the job done. The entire cockpit has been built to be the exact copy of some real aircraft so when the pilot in training enters a real plane, they know exactly what they are doing.
The idea of using simulations for training is not a new one; remember back to any war film where they are moving little tokens around a map to represent troops, well that's basically a game of risk. Using a form of board game to assess as many actions and outcomes is a form of simulation, of course its not a very accurate one as for it to work properly one would need to think like the enemy, which we all know would require some kind of mind swapping device like from a cheesy 80's movie.

In conclusion, the best movie ever would be a WWII Freaky Friday, Lindsay Lohan running around acting all like Hitler, behind the scenes it would just be her taking acid before stepping on set.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Game Design: Week 7 IP's

When talking about an IP or intellectual property, in the realm of games and media generally refers to a title or franchise, in reality an IP is really anything that someone thinks of and claims as their own, but in conversations discussing an IP they are generally referring two a specific game or series.
Pre-existing IP's are just games and franchises that exist already and usually have amassed some amount of popularity.
Working with established IP's has both advantages and pitfalls that can make either ridiculous amounts of money or destroy the franchise in the long run.

Working with an established and popular IP almost guarantees your game craploads of sales at launch and generally quite a decent amount of continuous sales later, for example, no matter how much everyone bitches about Call of Duty it still makes a ridiculous amount of money.
There is still one major obstacle with popular IP's and that is to keep the game popular with its fanbase. A sequel or even a spin off is supposed to remind people of why they love that game to being with and putting too much of your original flair in can and often will spoil that.
A pre-existing franchise can have years of built up history, lore and most importantly gameplay standards, and while it can be easy to create a cookie cutter sequel, people can get tired of that and the difficulty is in innovating the franchise. To change the game to much is sacrilege and to not change it enough is boring and stale, to hold you ground with a poor decision is a big fuck you to the fans, to cower and go back on the change shows a week. Are your changes your own ideas to revitalize a dying game, or put your own spin on it? Or are the changes soulless cash grabs from corporate owners of the IP?

Halo is easily one of my favourite video game titles ever, I am very biased I will admit that. I am good at it and I've put countless hours into it, I know what makes Halo, Halo, I also have common sense and can tell what destroys a games art direction and cracks the lore wide open. 343 industries though? not so much.
343 is supposedly made up of fans and former Bungie employees who worked on previous Halo's, now unless the games are built solely for money or each of these employees are selfish pricks who want to sign their name on something I am super skeptical of those credentials because 343 Halo's hit every pothole you need to avoid when you are working on an older IP.
The art style goes from a hard edge olive green not too dissimilar earth military vs foreign aliens to trippy sleek sci-fi vs trippy sleek sci-fi. The lore and the backstory of the series is re-written to events before anything in the games for the sake of slamming the series with new credits. And the gameplay and been completely re balanced for the sake of new trash players, hollowing out the game to reduce the skill gap and any achievement you feel for being skilled, all of the skills I've spent over a decade refining have been rendered mute but bullet magnetism, auto-aim and a button that lets you climb ledges of missed jumps.
Halo is the perfect example of what not to do with an IP and why it should be avoided.

But there is a reason you should use old IP's over an original title, and it's a simple one, brand recognition. Effectively it's free marketing, even if the huge name means the rich publisher is gonna pay for heaps of marketing anyway. You could have the best game in the world but if it's original then you are really relying on word of mouth to get it out there, even reviews and previews are just a bunch of internet bloggers saying "trust me, its good" but if you hear about the new toilet scrubbing sim "HALO: Shit Sticker" you think "Well Halo's a good game, so this must be good too," of course the title doesn't speak to the games quality, it never can, it can convince people to try it though, even when they know it doesn't follow the same structure as the original game.

Honestly just go with what you think the game you want to make suits best, if it can slip in as a spin off, make the pitch and see what happens. If it needs to be original make it original you just might risk the initial sales, but if you make a game withing an existing franchise, please don't make Halo 5.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Game Design: Week 5

Full disclosure I'm not sure what I can really add here since this more of luck vs skill, though the readings did put me off playing Candyland.

Mixing Strategy and Randomness allows for more varied and exciting gameplay. On hand a game of pure luck is boring and technically no one wins except for one grinning tool who did nothing to earn what he got, kind of like life, and on the other a game of pure skill no matter how complicated has a "correct answer", there is a perfect way to play, the mathematically most efficient move for any scenario can be determined and if you and your opponent know them it will be boring. So the key is to strike that balance between them, which as I have previously mentioned is all preference, there is no right or wrong way to go about it, just avoid making a game exclusively about one or the other.

Randomness doesn't need to be on a linear scale of values that equate advantage to disadvantage like flipping a coin, rolling a dice or drawing a card, it can be much more uncertain or random in how this aspect of luck can effect you. It could be the layout of the game board or map for instance which will effect what strategies you should use going ahead and also provide you with a new scenario so even if there is a "correct answer" no one is going to know it if the boards layout is one in a hundred.

There are methods randomness that can be applied to a game that doesn't involve a strict good or bad connotation to and are just modifiers to the experience to suggest players alter their strategies to allow them to gain the upper hand from their own merit, which brings the pride in victory from a skill based game, but also brings the tension, excitement and anxiety from an episode of Scooby Doo luck based game.

Game Design: Week 4

When you play a new game the first thing you need to do is understand how to play it, or else you can't play it, no brainier huh. So I priority of a designer should be for them to create a product that can be understood rather quickly and preferably intuitively. Having a large manual or long tutorial accompanying a game isn't out right the wrong thing to do, especially when the game has many complex mechanics in it, but many simpler smaller details should be as intuitive as possible.

This can be achieved through association with other games and habits, for example thanks to Legend of Zelda whenever I see one section of discoloured wall I am tempted to blow it up, and quite a few other games have used that logic and thus have never needed to teach me what areas of the environment are destructible. How often does a video game outline that red barrels are destructible? Not many, do you shoot it anyway expecting it to explode? Of course. Sometimes it's just building mechanics that just make reasonable sense or just creating an obvious path, such as throwing a barrel of water onto fire puts out the fire which in Divinity Original Sin 2 is never explained, and in the Uncharted series when you can always tell what rocks and walls are climbable. The Assassin's Creed series even has some of it's own internal cues that repeatedly make appearances, such as where ever there is a white cloth or sheet draped over an object then that object is the beginning of a movement path, and even the locations of pigeons indicate you can jump to a hay bail from there.

Sometimes it is difficult to account for this, I can't even think of my own examples right now from board games that aren't just factors borrowed from other games, so it is not a cardinal sin to include manuals and tutorials, but the faster players can learn how to play the faster they can get into the game and the less frustrated they will be with the rules. There is also something satisfying of seeing  something in a game and thinking "what would happen if I did this?..." and discovering new interesting ways to play with clues that have been laid out for them. Honestly though, if someone isn't really willing to learn how to play a game whether it's through a manual or trial and error, they don't really deserve to play it.