Thursday, September 29, 2005

Save Yourselves

There simply is
no time at all anymore.

Only a Game has a post about saving. I agree with many of the sentiments expressed.

So, since I've been far too busy lately to think up my own topics, I'm gonna run with this one.

Chris mentions "bookmark saves." An interesting concept. So far as I understand, you save the game, are allowed to continue from that save and then it deletes itself -- to prevent the player, it seems, from reloading over and over again.

Here's where I see the flaw: The player is going to know that the save will delete itself. So as soon as they load a bookmark save, they move an inch and re-save. Meta-gaming is not thwarted - it is only made even more annoying.

I like saving anywhere because my time grows increasingly limited and I like to jump into a game and jump right out if I want to move onto something else. Or if I have to go to sleep. These are the same reasons that I want games to have skippable cutscenes that can then be accessed from the main menu in case I actually, for some bizarre reason, want to subject myself to a videogame cutscene.

So . . . give the player a limited number of bookmarks . . . and you may as well just have a checkpoint system. Because I really don't want to play the "decide whether it's worth it to waste a save" game.

As for checkpoint systems, I've seen them done right. And very, very wrong.

Metroid Prime. I got to the first boss. It killed me. The game did not pick up again right at the boss fight, no. I had 10-15 minutes of re-playing a whole section just to get back to the boss -- and got killed again. Fucking bullshit.

I suppose the saving issue comes down to that old cop-out: What type of system best fits the game? Banal, I know.

I'm not sure that only agon (competition) benefits from being able to save and load anywhere -- though I'm only basing my counterargument on one example.

Far Cry was a game in which I quicksaved and reloaded constantly, not merely to progress (i.e., win), but also to play out scenarios in different ways. I would launch an assault from one side and then, regardless of the outcome, reload and attack from a different angle. Or skip the battle entirely. Or start a fight and run away, struggling to evade.

Later levels became so linear that my "what if?"-style fun went away. And the game became so incredibly difficult that my save-load habit became a Sisyphean task.

But those early levels were wonderful in fostering a play-and-play-again approach.

Autosaving isn't a bad idea. Most platformers save after you've collected a grommet or nutsack or whatever.

And this works for many platformers, so long as they stick to discrete, branching levels. In that case, little progress is lost.

There is a danger to autosaving, however. You could end up sticking a player with what they view as a "botched save." Then you're giving them the option of continuing with a sub-optimal game state (which could result in them not continuing at all) or going back to an earlier save (assuming you've provided them that option) and re-doing everything in a "better" way (which could, again, lead to them dropping your game like it's a basket of snakes). Of course, they might re-load anyway, depending on how significant the changes are they wish to make.

Depending on the game, a solely autosave element can be a detriment for certain types of players. Consider an FPS (typically save anywhere games, but just for the sake of argument). You enter a room, fight a bunch of creatures with your OPW (Obscenely Phallic Weapon) and move to the next room. You're killed. The autosave takes you back before the first room. Enter room, kill creatures with OPW, move on, die. Again. And again.

So, in the interest of "preserving your narrative", you've actually interrupted the durn thing, over and over.

It has been suggested by certain developers that allowing the player to save anywhere destroys the finely-crafted narrative flow. They're kind of right. And kind of stupid.

But I also feel the impact is negligible. If a person has been "abusing" a save/load-anywhere feature to beat your game, then at least they've played your game.

If you've made, say, a checkpoint system in order to preserve 'tension' in your levels and then you've made those levels annoyingly frustrating to get through (say, a sneak level, with "being seen" a failure condition), then you have to ask: By not allowing the narrative of the level to be broken, are you creating enough extra tension to justify losing all those players (like myself) that will try the level twice, get pissed at having to start over constantly and ditch your game like a tornado's on the way?

Now, having said that, if then that player were to complain about the game being far too easy and not fun because of the save/load system, then that player should shut the fuck up. I'll deal with that in an upcoming rant concerning exploits.

Why is this issue important at all?

Chris's post refers to casual games. But what of casual players? I consider myself a hardcore gamer, but not player. That is, I don't stick to any specific type of game. But I do know I'd prefer that a game be too easy rather than present insane challenge, especially if the cost of failure is re-trying without being able to actually change any of the conditions under which I previously failed.

I speculate that the save systems that become adopted for casual games will filter into other games. Not necessarily by designer choice. Once a standard gets set, it can often override what the game wants.

That is, it may develop into a situation where there becomes a set way of treating a save system, whether a game warrants it or not. The people with the purse strings could see that the casual market doesn't want to concern themselves with saving, so they demand it be automatic. Marketing, you see. Companies like Microsoft already have hefty certification guidelines, and the Live functionality for the 360 is going to dictate even more necessary functionality (note: this is not a gripe).

My final analysis:

Save systems should be as intrusive as necessary, but no more.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Nearly Forgot

When going through
my highly-anticipated games, I can't believe I completely neglected to mention Gun. The premise seems to be Grand Theft Auto meets the Wild West.

Which is a fucking awesome concept. And judging by some of the new gameplay trailers out, it looks like they might nail it.

Western games have been, to put it mildly, sub-par. There have been one or two to stand out. The most compelling one I've seen to date (but never got a chance to play, thanks to the dead X-Box) was Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath.

Red Dead Revolver was okay, play-wise. A bit repetitive -- and peppered with annoying boss fights.

Still, Gun's way up on the list. A little of the old ultraviolence. I'm not looking forward to the public outcry when some clueless parent realizes they bought their ten-year-old a game in which they might speak to prostitutes -- and never mind the scalping.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


I don't seem to be
happy with any videogames lately. I'm having trouble sustaining any kind of extended play sessions.

I picked up Metal Arms: Glitch in the System. It's a nice looking platformer. Needs an auto-targeting system. Didn't grab me the way Ratchet and Clank did.

Also got Malice. It's . . . strange. Uneven. Interesting bits of plot, very quirky "humor" . . . nothing clicks, the controls are wonky, the levels are self-contained and you can't repeat them. For some reason, there's no way at all to change the controller settings, not that I can find. I'll still play the damn thing -- at least until it sinks to the level of I-Ninja.

Got a small dose of Burnout: Revenge. An outstanding game, an airtight design. I especially like it because with all but the measliest crashes you still get a sense of satisfaction from all the mayhem you wreak.

X-Men Legends II. Great game to play with your friends. It's really just a dungeon crawl, not sure if it's something I would play solo, but recommended if you've got a few more to join you in the rousing beat-em-up action. Tip for the next one: Skip all the dialogue bullshit and central hub -- cooperative play demands quick action. Just string a bunch of linear levels together, let us to run around when the crazy-ass villain speeches are happening and figure out a way for players to level their characters simultaneously.

I'm sure I'll get through my itchiness to play . . . something. Not sure if there's an itch not being scratched or just that I need to take a step back and play some guitar for a week or two until I build up a craving again.

Games I'll check out in, oh, about a year, once they hit the discount racks:

Okami. Gorgeous trailer. A game and a work of art. Liquid visuals. Drink it in.

Bad Day LA. Edgy and topical. It looks like it might contain actual satire - a rarity in games.

Bully. Rockstar has yet to disappoint me. They make the games they want to make - and damn the controversy.

The Movies. A Molyneux game that doesn't appear to have been overhyped to the point of setting completely unrealistic expectations. It looks like it works the way they say - and the way they say it works sounds phenomenal. Time to buy a bullhorn and some spats - Action!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Which Comes First?

The game mechanics, the technology or the story
(assuming there is one)?

By game mechanics I mean the system(s) used to run the game, the rulesets that determine legal moves, transactions and their results.

By technology I mean how the game is physically modeled, whether that's a set of dice or a PC.

By story I mean any narrative elements assigned to the game elements. Saying that an animated circle is Pac-Man and he chases ghosts is perfectly valid for this argument.

Now, just to be perfectly clear, I'm not going to give any kind of straightforward answer. This is how I cover my ass when I say something contradictory three posts from now. Or a few paragraphs down.

I'm interested in the methods that people prefer.

Myself, I guess I would say, "It all depends." Sometimes I'll get some strange, compelling, kickass game elements in my head and I try and build up something around them. Other times a neat little story will pop up and I feel like it would work well as an interactive kinda thing. Or, y'know, I read about some awesome new 3-d engine techniques and start thinking about how they could lead to fascinating new game mechanics or support a narrative.

So I guess a little of everything.

Some designers definitely seem to favor one section over the others. Carmack obviously goes for the tech stuff first. Will Wright goes ga-ga for interesting little game mechanics.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

They Shall Return

Something is
definitely going on here.

Point-and-click style Adventure games seem to be building up toward a small renaissance.

I can't say for certain that this current wave will grow into anything substantial, but it would be good to see it spread out into a sustainable market.

And maybe avoid the ridiculously obtuse puzzles and tedious pixel-hunting that helped drop such games off the radar.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Other News

Going from
intern to full-time. So I can stave off homelessness for at least a little while.

In case any are curious, I'm working for Bethsoft. Pretty sure that little admission doesn't violate any NDAs.

Very exciting.

It's a pretty strange experience to have a job that I don't loathe. Or dislike.

That is, it's a new thing for me to really love and enjoy my job, even at its most irksome.

The commute still sucks, but it's been a great time to read. Finished the few pages in Book 9 of the Wheel of Time series. I'd hit a roadblock months ago. After all that time off, picking it up again really sucked me in all over again. Absolutely brilliant.

Also reading a book called Light Music by Kathleen Ann Goonan. It's staggeringly poetic, reminds me a bit of a more technologically-focused Bradbury. I guess the best surprise is the sheer emotion that inhabits every portion of the book, something I've found deficient in many science-fiction novels.

Touched the Game Boy DS today, tapped out a few simple commands on Advance Wars, and the damn thing gave off this siren song. Perhaps I can sell a kidney . . .

Marketing's On The Phone

Read This First

Read This Next

Now This:

"Johnny, baby, sweetie, got a little change of pace to throw your way."

"But we ship both games in two months!"

"Not a prob, got absolute confidence in you. Anywho, you know that Racing game you're working on?"

"Officially-Licensed Authentic Realistic Game with Cars, Turbo Edition?"

"That's the one."

"What's the change?"

"We need you to make it into a Racing-Strategy game."

"What? Why? Better yet, how?"

"I got the numbers right in front of me that say one hundred percent of grognards bought every wargame that came out last year. One hundred percent!"

"But wargames are only a small subset of the strategy genre. And their audience is just as small. Have you been huffing paint again?"

"But one hundred percent! That's each and every one. We need those kind of numbers."

"Small ones?"

"Sales, baby! You don't see this graph I got. It's a very convincing graph."

"*Sigh* What's the other change?"

"That stupid roley-poley thing you guys are working on . . . "

"The roleplaying game."

"That's the one. Yeah, we need you to make it a Tennis game."

"But it's got character development, a narrative and inventory management."

"Right, right, and pixels and voxels and foxels and woosels, I get it, lots of fancy eye-candy claptrap. You make it sing and dance, I'll figure out how to cram it down the throats of the masses."

"That's not it, it's just the whole focus of the game . . ."

"Look, just throw it in there. We'll even let your original title come first, we'll make it a tennis game ostensibly not about tennis. Fucking postmodern, brilliant! What's the damn game called again?"

"The Dragonite Chronicleers: Bastion of the Mighty."

"Okay. Right. We can work with that, no problem, we'll just call the game Dragon-what Chronoteers . . . Bastion of the Tennis Match. Simple, solved. Tell me how to make your day."

"Let me leave out the tennis?"

"Absolutely fucking not. The latest focus group says 'More tennis games! We eat, breathe and shit tennis, rarr!' "

"Who was in this focus group?"

"Well, to be honest, it was done at a local tennis club, very informal, when I was in the sauna, really. But everyone there really wanted more tennis games. They're a very focused group. So, write me up your new design proposals . . . "

"The designs have been written for three years."

". . . and shoot me an e-mail in the morning. Should be just a few quick fixes."

"Tennis. And Strategy-Racing."

"Right, you got it, big dog. Knew I could count on you."

To: (Soulless bloodsuckers) Marketing dept.
From: (Overworked employee) Ungrateful Wretch
Re: (Ludicrous marketing ploy) Necessary Changes

Here are the write-ups. May you burn in hell.

Stock Car Commander
Take control of a team of cars during several racing seasons. Recruit and train your drivers. You struggle to generate revenue for the different tracks by 1) spectacular near-misses and sometimes crashes 2) good sponsors and photogenic drivers and 3) good final standings for your entire team. You can parlay fame earned toward more sponsors and promotional events. Money earned from sponsors can be used to expand your available cars, upgrade them, train drivers, recruit new drivers, even purchase or build your own tracks.

When the race begins each of your cars has a tab on the upper left side of the screen. Left-clicking will center the sky camera on that car. Double-left clicking will zoom in, while hitting Spacebar will let you take specific control of that car. Right-clicking will open up a menu that will allow several tiers of orders, depending on driver stats, car capabilities, driver training and track conditions. You can queue orders to different drivers and even have them change their general driving stances for certain laps. Set the aggression of your drivers based upon their individual behavior.

Mighty Tennis Chronicle
Create your character - a teenaged tennis player. You've been playing for years, mostly at the behest of your parents. Your heart just hasn't been in it.

One day at practice the courts come under attack by strange creatures. Your racket glows with an eerie light. You lob a sharp serve at one - it deflects it back - you wallop a strong backhand - and with an unholy screech the creature dissipates.

Meet other tennis players to help join your fight against the creatures -- engage them in singles or doubles matches, so try and decide the best partners for the job. Collect new rackets, special outfits that bestow speed or power or control or agility. Gather tennis balls with awesome powers. Learn strange magics that give you control over the ball or your enemy or even the court itself. Grow into a tough and powerful tennis-warrior.

Travel your hometown, now mysteriously altered by the alien presence. Rescue your friends and family and seek out those that might have knowledge of the way to stop the onslaught. Track your enemies into their lairs, fight their generals on the way to the ultimate evil behind the attacks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Lists

Here are the boring bits
for my Round Table post.

The fried onion appetizer, if you will, before the thick steak.

Four genres. Strategy, Racing, Sports and Roleplaying.

I am going to make them have as few elements as possible. Very stripped down models, partly because I'm lazy and partly because it's easier to remain true to my framework by keeping things simple.

1. Focused on careful planning (strategy OR tactics) rather than reflex-based gameplay.
2. Must have a resource management component - acquisition and expenditure.
3. The player will be in charge of multiple units with none representing their specific avatar.
4. Unit interaction is primarily governed by the interplay of various stats rather than specific input by the player at the time of that interaction.

Racing - defined in my previous post, but to reiterate:
1. The greater majority of gameplay must consist of piloting some kind of vehicle.
2. The player must be in competition with at least one other vehicle.
3. The player must navigate some kind of course.
4. Time and/or position will be the factor in determining the player's final standing.

1. Must be a sport that has an established professional presence.
2. Contains no authored narrative structure, only the structure imposed by the typical sequence of competitions and downtime.
3. If a team-based game, the player must exert some measure of control over team and individual choices; If an individual sport the player must have direct control over that individual.
4. Must maintain the basic rule framework of its source sport.

1. The player must willingly take on a role or avatar used as a fantasy projection of their 'self' into the imagined worldspace.
2. There must be a progression of character abilities and/or skills and/or stats from simple/weak to complex/strong.
3. Must allow at least minimal customization of the player's avatar.
4. Must have an inventory system.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Setup

Laying Out the Basics

This isn't my Round Table post, not yet. But it explains in small detail the tack I'll be taking.

I must make a few Postulates (I was tempted to call them concessions) in order to participate, and will do my best wherever possible to clarify terms -- to get at what I mean if I suspect my meaning might not be gotten.

The following are necessary to make a coherent argument, but do not necessarily represent a cemented ideology. If that's too muddy, basically I'm playing a bit of Devil's Advocate and trying to look through genre-stained eyes. I still think the term is pretty much bunk -- though possibly useful bunk -- and find myself more and more dissatisfied with its existence as a term the more I mull it over.

Postulate 1: Game genres actually exist; Insofar as elements are joined beneath a category, and that category is referred to as a genre. Said elements may include content, mechanics, core designs and other bits of a game that might not be enumerated in this list (but must be enumerated when establishing the genre).

The difficulty with defining game genre has been explored thoroughly on many other sites. My aim in this post is not to re-tread that ground.

Postulate 2: Once common elements are established and grouped, then the genre must maintain consistency. Other elements may be added, but the game must retain all of the originally-stated elements of its makeup to fall into its original genre.

For example, Corvus' DRPG rules lay out what a game must have in order to be considered under his created category.

If a game lacks even one element, the genre is deflated -- one could still make a case, but under the auspices of this postulate that case is nullified.

Postulate 3: Cross-genres will only be generated if it can be shown that there is significant overlap and transfer of elements from a core list. Slapping a level system on a military-themed shooter does not render it an FPS-RPG. In this case it would be an FPS with slight RPG-ish mechanics.

This requires clear rules determining when to consider genres "crossed":
1. At least 75% of the elements of one genre.
2. At least 35% of the elements from contributing genres.
3. Only elements which are not common to each genre will count toward the percentage (yes, this means "true" cross-genres might be extremely rare -- that's not my problem).

An Example: Heed me, naysayers. I don't care if you take issue with the following genre or its associated elements. I create the genre heading, I define the elements and thenceforth it becomes an impenetrable bunker resistant to your tut-tuts. I realize that my argument will only be true when arguing from my own definitions -- duh. That is the point.

--Racing Games--
1. The greater majority of gameplay must consist of piloting some kind of vehicle.
2. The player must be in competition with at least one other vehicle.
3. The player must navigate some kind of course.
4. Time and/or position will be the factor in determining the player's final standing.

That's the example definition. So using my own roles, if I wished to seed another genre with this one, I'd have to pick two of its elements. Seems reasonable.

Maybe this is a model I'll develop on the side. An alternative way to look at things. A rickety framework for hanging whatever I find on its crossbeams.

Stay tuned for the Round Table post, assuming it gets finished.

Perhaps the roaches will emerge and tap it out on my keyboard, like vermin-infested shoemaker gnomes; Except internet-savvy and willing to ghost-write.

Simply Unamazing

Yeah, Dungeon Siege 2
is an okay game.

I liked it better when it was called "Diablo and Neverwinter Nights have sex and produce a sub-par child."

When I want a clickfest, it does the job. There's still, in this iteration, no real investment in your character other than pure spreadsheet stats. Beefy.

I guess if I want to really hate a game, it must at least infuriate me with its horrendousness.

If you underwhelm me
, yeah, I'll play your stupid game, but it's not going to get talked about.

Which makes me wonder how much the ol' "No such thing as bad publicity" saw applies to videogames.

Anybody heard a friend talking about a stinker of a game and just had to give it a try, against all recommendations?

What about actually buying such a game?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


To regular readers and wayward web-searchers

The move went okay.

I'd like to thank Tetris for its role in developing the skills necessary to pack the back of a pickup truck with scores of household goods.

The move also added two hours each way to my work commute.

Yesterday on the Metro I saw a female with a katana - Kill Bill daydreams flashed through my mind.

There are roaches. They are infesting the fridge. I think of Bad Mojo - and crush the damn things regardless.

I will have something meatier on this site, perhaps, soon enough. There are many things on-deck (including the upcoming Round Table) and I hope to find time to whip some words into shape sometime in the near future.

That is all.