What Type of Future Tech Could Make Better Games?

Do you think that there there any technological advances that have yet to happen that could enable better video games? Or do we already have the capability to make games as good as they can be?

That’s hard to predict. I’d guess that we’ve hit the point of diminishing returns. There will certainly be improvements in computing technology in the future, which will enable more complex calculations, for graphics, AI, physics, etc, but as to whether these will enable better games or simply different games, it’s hard to say. We’ve hit on a standardized style of controller design that I don’t think there can be significant improvements in.

We might invent new technologies for input, like improved motion controls, or mind control, which will solve issues like 3-axis movement (current input devices can only operate on 2 axes) or allow us to operate more than 2 interfaces simultaneously (buttons + axis control usually).

Video Games currently are very much about controlling whole bodies, rather than gross or fine motor control and this is reflective of our means of input. Motion control games with 6DOF inputs have allowed us to explore gross motor control slightly more in video games, but we’ve had a hard time making games that match this control scheme, in part because of the lack of force feedback.

Games have suffered from graphical limitations in the past, which limited which types of gameplay were feasible for an assortment of reasons, but most of these limitations have been lifted in more recent times. I think almost any fundamental unit of gameplay that can be achieved now has been achievable for the past decade. Graphics do allow for more objects to be visually represented than before, which is a big deal for MMOs and RTS. Future improvements in graphics that enable new gameplay technologies will probably manifest themselves as improvements in softbody physics, fluid simulations, or other dynamic effects that were previously difficult to simulate. It seems unlikely to me that these will become widespread however.

Newer networking technologies, and the rollout of higher internet speeds could potentially have a massive influence on MMOs in the future, a genre that is harshly limited by bandwidth and response times.

But largely in terms of developing better video games, I think we’ve largely hit the point like traditional 2d animation did where we have all the tools we need to deliver high quality products, and significant technological innovation isn’t really going to fundamentally change the nature of the process anymore. It comes down to using the tools we have better rather than developing new tools. Of course, I’m not psychic, I don’t know what’s coming next, but we’ve seen a mostly steady state since generation 6, and almost completely since generation 7. Gen 8, which we’re on now, isn’t really that different from Gen 7, and it seems unlikely that Gen 9 will be either. There’s a lot more that can be done with the tools we have, but in terms of technological innovation, I don’t see nearly as strong a potential for a revolution that will change the entire industry.

Fighting on Pad vs Stick

What kind of fight stick/gamepad do you use for fighting games, and why?

I use a Dualshock 3. I mostly use it because it’s what I used when I started playing fighting games (although technically I first used the Wii Classic controller for SF2 Hyper Fighting and Guilty Gear XXAC), and because I really like having a good Dpad in the top position.

Pad means my inputs are mostly silent, and I have very good control over my movement, but not quite as precise control over my directional inputs as I might get on stick. It also means that I have difficulty pressing square + triangle or cross + circle and need to bind macro inputs for those usually, as well as R1 + R2.

If I had a consistent way to, I’d ideally use a dualshock 2 controller. Unfortunately my converter is spotty, so that’s not really a viable option (which sucks, because the converter I bought is known for being reliable too). Probably the biggest downside of the DS3 controller is the analog trigger. It doesn’t feel very comfortable, and it’s difficult to know what distance actually triggers the actuation, but I have gotten used to it over time. The DS4 trigger is much more comfortable, but the actuation distance is further, so it throws off all my timings when I use a DS4 pad. Dualshock 2 has a digital button for the trigger, which is highly preferable. Both the DS2 and DS3 have very rough Dpads, and I have actually rubbed my thumbs raw multiple times playing fighting games. I eventually sanded down the dpads to get a smoother surface to play on. The DS4 starts out smooth, avoiding this problem.

I own a Hori RAP4 fight stick. I tried using it, but didn’t stick it out or put the time in to really get good with it. I hold the stick with the same grip as Daigo, from the bottom, between the ring and pinky fingers. I have a lot of difficulty canceling into 2QCF supers or shoryukens on stick. I still hang onto the stick to let other people use it, and I’ll probably learn to play on it so I can play on arcade machines someday.

I think 360 inputs are probably the hardest input to perform on pad relative to stick. Sticks are much better at half circle motions in general, where I think pads are better for DPs and QCFs. Some older games (like 3rd strike, and older versions of guilty gear and blazblue) only count the cardinal directions as valid for their 360 and half circle motions, so if you miss the down input in a half circle back, (6314 instead of 63214), it won’t read your input. (624 does count as valid, it does not care about the 3 or 1 directional inputs) This can happen by doing the motion too fast on pad, where on stick it’s basically impossible. I learned how to do 360s in 3rd strike only after I went into training with input display and realized this was the case. My technique for doing them on pad is to do a half circle back, then tap up and punch, greatly improving my consistency. Modern games like SF4 and SFV let me churn the butter without needing to worry about inputting the cardinal directions accurately.

Is Difficulty in Games Exclusionary?

What do you think about Skip Gameplay buttons and Difficulty being a means of excluding other people from being accepted as real gamers?

The thing I have to say on the recent “Difficulty is Exclusion” topic is, a big part of the art of games is their challenge. Challenge isn’t some arbitrary wall that exists to restrict you from experiencing the entire product you paid for; That wall is literally a part of the product you’re paying for, part of the desired experience. People pay to get walls like this set up in front of them that they can test themselves against and work to improve at and overcome. Games are a type of structured play that entertain us by allowing us to overcome challenges, a drive that’s built into us as humans. The design of these challenges is varied and artistic in its own right, not simply a gating mechanism for experiencing the other art present in the game. Having a system that is constructed to only allow access to successive challenges if you can beat prior ones is a unique type of experience that a lot of people intensely value, and they’re not wrong for desiring and valuing experiences that force them to “git gud”. This plays on a natural human instinct that is highly cathartic.

I don’t have a problem with “tourist” or “pacifist” difficulty modes that allow people to stroll through the game without resistance. I don’t have a problem with games having an easy mode, or a skip button for gameplay. However, not all games should have these things. Games should be allowed to exist and thrive for not giving the players an easy way out, for not even presenting the option. There isn’t an objectively correct way to do difficulty, and some people intensely value games that force them to put their nose to the grindstone in order to succeed, just as other people don’t value those things and intensely value the other aspects of entertainment software. Games should exist to cater to both these tastes instead of uniformly insisting that every game is hard only, or that every game allow you to skip gameplay. Games should be free to occasionally not give you a choice. This isn’t exclusionary, it is the nature of the art itself, as much as color is part of the nature of paintings. Not everything needs to be for everyone. It’s okay to cater to the individual tastes of a niche. “git gud” is another way of saying, “Try a little harder, you can do it, and you’ll see why I enjoy this game too.” It’s a way of ending toxicity from people who blame the game for their failure instead of themselves.

The concept of a skip gameplay button draws a kneejerk reaction from a lot of people, including myself, because having that in a game can feel patronizing, can allow us to cheat ourselves, and not having the option to do that brings a type of certainty and reassurance. It’s okay to let people skip things sometimes, but it’s also worth recognizing the value in being forced to achieve with no alternative. The advocation for the ability to skip any challenge is seen by many people as a sign that journalists just don’t get what so many people love about games. That they don’t get a fundamental part of the medium, from tabletop games, to sports, to video games. These people aren’t exclusionary (usually), they want other people to enjoy the same thing they enjoy, without removing or altering the thing they love most about it.

It’s not a matter of you being entitled to all the content you paid for. A big part of the thing itself is the enjoyment of needing to work to see all of it, not because it’s exclusive, but because working hard and challenging ourselves is intrinsically enjoyable. It’s fun to improve and figure new things out on our own. Games are the artistic expression of different types of challenges. This art form of artistic challenges, including and especially intensely difficult ones, deserves to exist! It is as pure a reflection of human nature as any other art, and it should not be truncaded in a misguided attempt to deliver it to more people, without delivering the soul of the thing itself. Please make an attempt to understand why this is something people enjoy for its own sake, rather than assuming it’s the petty exclusionary amusement of a club of insiders. Please don’t dismiss it just because it is not to your taste and you cannot empathize with the concept of enjoying the process of learning through overcoming hardship. Games are beautiful, but this type of discussion is aimed at dividing people and turning them against one another, as members of separate tribes, rather than each taking a chance to understand and enjoy what others have enjoyed in the games they love.

Which Should be Faster? Players or Enemies?

Should an enemies attack speed be faster than the players? Or should it be the other way around?

The player’s attack should be faster than enemies. Enemy attacks should always be 20 frames or more of startup, assuming 60FPS. You can dip below that into the 16 frame range if there’s a setup where the player knows to anticipate it. You can dip into the unreactable range only if it’s guaranteed in specific scenarios, so the player knows it will always happen going into those scenarios.

Players should generally be faster than enemies so they can deliberately choose to attack to beat out an enemy’s attack. The downside of this is players can continually attack a single enemy to beat them, always counterhitting their attacks on startup, but that’s what you have multiple enemies and super armor or poise for.

Dark Souls was smart and decided, “What if player attacks were on the same timescale as enemies, or only slightly faster?” Which makes committing to attacks versus enemies risky. Even in dark souls, average weapon startup tends to be slightly faster than enemy attacks.

If you have enemies be uniformly faster than players, then the player needs compensation in some way, like superior range, or whiff punish ability, to reasonably compete with enemies.

Is there a Point to Unfair Enemies?

What do you think of bosses or enemies that are deliberately designed to be unfair? Or next to impossible to avoid taking damage to?

The Question is always, what’s the purpose of this? What skill are they trying to test? Is the skill they’re trying to test actually interesting under those constraints?

FPS games now all have unfair enemies. You can’t realistically avoid damage from them. This means they’re a game of attrition, and the player has regen health, which gives them the edge over the enemies. The skill is, can you get some damage out before you’re killed and pop back into cover before you’re dead. The end result is fair, but we’ve precluded a lot of possibilities from the system as a result and sometimes RNG shits on you and you just die.

RPGs have always been similar, you’re constantly taking attrition and trying to deal more attrition to the enemy than you’re taking. And sometimes RNG just shits on you and you die.

Sometimes I run into enemies or bosses that have some attacks or patterns where it’s unclear that there’s meant to be a consistent way to deal with them at all, like the Omega Metroid in AM2R or the original final boss of Axiom Verge, or a ton of the enemies in Axiom Verge. I consider these to be faults with the game. These enemies can just mob you and you don’t really have a way to get them off you and the solution is kind of just to kill them on sight, or from offscreen and that’s really dull. There’s no counterplay.

Some games are based entirely on this premise, like I Wanna Be the Guy, which basically has hidden stuff ready to kill you at every turn, breaking whatever rules it establishes just as quickly as it establishes them, and I wouldn’t call it good design there either. It works as a work of media mostly because the whole thing is kind of a game design joke. They deliberately fool you in all these different ways and it’s really funny to see how they’ll fool you next and once you see how it’s done, the game gets fair again as you understand the challenge, because usually these games are completely deterministic. I wouldn’t call it good design overall, because these games tend to end up rather constrictive and shallow, but it works well enough to serve it’s purpose, and it’s nice to have these types of games around for the sake of variety.

Sometimes you get attacks like this in not-joke games, there’s an attack that you can only counter if you’ve seen it before, but it adds an interesting dynamic to a fight that you couldn’t get otherwise. An example I was discussing in my discord recently is DkS3’s Lorian, who has an attack where he teleports directly on top of you and helm breaker’s your ass. The attack has a clear tell with both an audio and visual cue, you can identify it reliably every time, but if you’ve never seen it before, you’re gonna get hit 100% of the time, unless you’re very lucky and happen to be running. I think the attack is a very valuable addition to the fight, and that’s worth the cost of it being unfair the first time you see it. Good feedback is really important, but designing everything to be perfectly understood the first time you see it is restricting, preventing some dynamics from being possible. Sometimes trial and error is the only option, but you end up with a net gain you couldn’t really get otherwise. It is kind however to add a training antepiece to help teach you the thing in a safe environment before you gotta do it for real though.

Would a Harder Zelda be as good as Dark Souls?

Do you think that the difficulty is important in defining the level of quality in a game’s combat? For example, if the Souls games were a lot easier, would the combat’s simplicity become more of a problem? Is the average Zelda game’s combat the equivalent to a much easier Souls game?

The average 3d Zelda game isn’t really equivalent to the Souls games because even if you run a 3 hearts challenge in Zelda, the game won’t get any deeper. I did this in Breath of the Wild, and the additional penalties aren’t bringing out more efficient use of alternative options, the base combat system largely lacks alternative options.

Souls did something super smart by having attacks from the player come out slower, it put the player on the same pace as enemies. It then has other factors like stamina, which help connect the system together, requiring you to manage that factor over time in addition to the complexities of combat. Stamina also discourages shield use, makes the shield system actually work by giving people a reason to not block. Dodges have iframes instead of purely being evasive. Etc.

You can’t just make Zelda games harder and end up with something like dark souls, you need to make the enemy designs more complex, and the design of each move more multi-faceted.

Difficulty is important for making players pursue the higher efficiency of using all their options, but it’s not everything. Difficult games aren’t better by default, and making a game too difficult can end up making the game extremely restrictive, eliminating depth from the game.

You want to encourage actual use of the widest array of options. Which means first, those options need to actually exist, and second that the difficulty needs to be high enough that they’re necessary, and not so high that they’re rote.

Further reading: https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/is-depth-not-enough-if-its-not-stressed/

Clicker Games & The Hedonic Treadmill

What do you think of “idle” games like cookie clicker? Do they offer anything of value?

They basically play on the hedonic treadmill to foster addiction. They’re like a game you can’t ultimately lose and you can’t ultimately win. I hesitate to call them games, but I think the description is appropriate, because I think they stimulate similar centers of the brain. You have an inconsistency between consistent growth and explosive growth. They’re dangerous like gambling, and only safe in that they eventually peter out.

So basically, there’s this thing called the hedonic treadmill. We have kind of a base level of happiness and it’s high or it’s low. It largely depends on genetics, I think, to a lesser degree environmental factors and upbringing. As long as our settings remain consistent, we pretty much default back to this base level of happiness no matter how good or bad things are. Before clicker games were more basic idle games, like Progress Quest, which was basically, wait a long time and stuff grows. Candy Box then was like, “Hey, what if we made it so you could buy things that increase the rate at which stuff grows?” Then Cookie Clicker took that idea and made the entire game about it.

So just clicking the cookie is kind of boring, you can click, maybe mash pretty fast, but you’re just gonna get cookies at a consistent rate, and maybe you’ll do it long enough to get a bunch of cookies, but that’s extremely boring and eventually you leave. So then you can buy things using the cookies you’ve earned that increase how many cookies you get every click. So you buy one, and suddenly your clicks earn twice as much, and you’re back to the amount you just lost way faster than you took to get there the first time, and it’s like, “Whoa. This is cool.” Then you add auto-clickers on top of that to automatically generate revenue, but clicking the cookie itself is still the most profitable thing. The whole concept of the game is growth on top of growth. You earn money, spend it on things that improve your growth, and there’s always things over the horizon that take your growth and create an even exponentially higher amount of growth on top of that in a runaway cycle of positive feedback into more positive feedback. And this is crazy addicting because you cannot acclimate to any particular level of growth, it just keeps preempting the set-in of the hedonic treadmill again and again.

Cookie clicker isn’t a particularly fun game considered in abstract, it’s just clicking a button over and over again, you’re not really developing any skills, and you’ll have explosive growth no matter what you do practically. However it hijacks the way we process rewards so heavily that if you start playing it, it’s nearly impossible to put down, even though at the back of your mind you’re not really enjoying what you’re doing.

Of course, if you know this is the case, you can get smart and choose to break the addictive cycle. It’s hard because, “oh man, I’m earning more than before, I’m making progress, lets keep doing this,” but it’s possible.

Hollowing/Embering in Souls

Any thoughts about hallowing/embering in Souls, especially how it’s handled in 2?

Okay, so, the whole system starts in Demon’s Souls of course. You have body form and soul form. In body form you have full health, in soul form you deal more damage the more white your character tendency is. Then you have the cling ring, which is kind of hidden, but it’s available in the first level, gives you 75% of your health in soul form. Body form is restricted to non-renewable resources, bosses, and stones of ephemeral eyes. How often are you really gonna kill a boss or pop an eyestone to get full health? So what’s the real default health that the game is balanced around? Realistically, the game is balanced around you having half health, and full health is a bonus. Soul form is actually easier than body form. You don’t need body form at all to beat the game.

And these forms have another effect, they control online play, limiting the ability of people to summon help for levels. The bonus to damage in soul form means that invaders are balanced out against people in body form. And then there’s another knock-on effect, deaths in body form affect the world tendency of a given area, making body form increase the difficulty even more.

So what’s the purpose of this? How does it affect the game? It means occasionally you get this bonus to health, nerf to damage. What does that do? What problem does that solve? Not really anything. Realistically, you’re gonna play most of the game in soul form anyway, and if you’re not in the know, you have the potential to use up all your eyestones, make the world tendency of every area pure black and make the game super hard for yourself. Playing around with world tendency is pretty fun for players in the know who do repeat playthroughs, but the idea behind taking your health away and giving it back sometimes doesn’t seem to have a real purpose, it’s just there for flavor.

Dark Souls dumped the concept, made humanity renewable, just had forms affect the online element.

Dark Souls 2 did basically the same thing as demon’s souls, made human effigies non-renewable, gave you a 75% health ring at some later point, and made the decrease in health extremely gradual, but still balanced the game around the 50% health mark.

Then Dark Souls 3 was like, “Okay, people don’t really get that the health is supposed to be a temporary bonus to add some variance because it looks like we took something away from them, lets show it as a bonus instead” And they made embers renewable.

The whole thing gets played up a lot as being bad game design, “punishing” players for dying, making it so bad players are punished even harder. I saw one guy call it “republican dad game design”. I mean, the exact same thing happened in WoW with the rested/unrested bonus/penalty.

And people know about this now and still say they like Dark Souls 3 better for framing it as a bonus. People are dumb, about all I can say.

What are Option Selects?

Can you define what option selects are in fighting games, what they do, and why they are useful? I looked them up on Google, but I still can’t seem to grasp the concept of them.

Sorry for answering late. An option select is when you input one thing that can have multiple possible resolutions depending on what your opponent does.

Probably the most common type of option select in fighting games is one where the move will situationally have two different effects depending on what happens. For example, in 1 button fighting games, you can either throw by pressing forward + attack, or with that same input, just get an attack. In KOF in particular, across every single KOF game, it’s always been possible to option select between throwing, and some fast close range attack, because either your C or D (KOF’s two throw buttons) has a close range version of the attack bound to that button which comes out extremely fast. So if the opponent is throwable, you get a throw, if they’re not, you get a fast and powerful attack.

Another common type of option select is inputting additional actions that will get eaten depending on whether your first input comes out or not. For example, in Guilty Gear Xrd, you’re allowed to Yellow Roman Cancel command throws, but not Red Roman Cancel them. This means if you do a command throw, you can input the cancel, and it will cancel if you miss, and not cancel if you hit. So if you can cancel them when they miss, this means you can do something else immediately after they whiff, such as jump and attempt an air throw, meaning you can run into someone’s face, and either get a grounded command throw or an air throw, you’re throwing them on the air and ground in extremely short succession, and whichever one connects will continue. This is effectively an unblockable.

Another version of this is inputting things during hitstop. Hitstop puts your character in a state where you cannot act. By inputting when this time would happen, you’re making it so you’ll get actions if you fail to hit, but won’t get actions if you successfully hit. You can use this to situationally follow up depending on whiff or hit.

Hitstop also has another function, acting as the cancel window for special moves. In some games, hitstop is actually different on block and hit. This is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS! If hitstop is longer on hit than on block, then people can precisely target that interval where hitstop is longer and try to time their cancel for right then, because on hit, they will successfully cancel, and on block, they will be inputting too late to cancel. This means you can commit to risky special moves only on hit, making your moves way more powerful without risking anything. In an earlier version of SFV, Ken had this issue. I heard it also existed in MK9.

In a way, special move canceling by itself can be viewed as an option select, since you’ll cancel on hit/block, but not on whiff. Once you realize this, you can poke with cancellable normals, and time your special move buffer on them so it’s done before the move recovers. Then you can use that special move slightly outside where your opponent is standing to catch them if they move forward and therefore cannot block.

Option selects can occur anywhere where one input or sequence of inputs can be interpreted as 2 possible outcomes. Learning to look for cases like this is very tricky.

These aren’t very common in Super Smash Bros, because there’s almost no cancels in Smash Bros, and moves tend to only have 1 consistent effect regardless of what situation they’re used in. The amount of hitstop on whiff, hit, and block are different, but this doesn’t tend to actually be useful for creating option selects in the smash series. There are cases that are very common however in smash bros where you can position yourself in such a way that regardless of what option your opponent picks, you can react to it and perform the counter option. Smash Bros fans call this option coverage. You sometimes see commentators mistakenly call it an option select, but it’s not the same series of inputs every time, it’s the person consciously changing which input they’ll use based on what they see.

One example of a true option select in Smash Bros is in Project M with G&W. Game and Watch’s throws are all identical in appearance, so you never know which way he’ll throw you. He gets his best followups off down throw, but you can defeat that easily by inputting a tech right before his throw ends. This means that regardless of whether he actually down throws you or not, you will always tech it.

Another one has to do with meteor canceling. There’s actually 2 ways to meteor cancel, jumping, and up B-ing. There is an 18 frame lockout window after being meteor’d and trying to input too soon will lock you out from canceling, but jumping and up B both count independently from each other, so you can try both instead of just one. So if you get meteored, you can input jump first, then up B immediately afterwards, and if you screw up the first one, the second one might work.

I hope this makes it more clear. Option selects can be really really varied across games. Guilty Gear Xrd used to have one where you could mash roman cancel during combos between 25% and 50% meter, and it would automatically cancel your combo if your opponent bursted out, because they were no longer counted as being in hitstun. This means if they don’t burst, your combo continues, but if they do burst, you instantly YRC, making you safe from their burst. This was later fixed.

Favorite Nioh Bosses

Surprised no one’s asked you that much of Nioh outside of general impressions, do you have any favorite Bosses?

In order of appearance, Hino-Enma, Tachibana, Yuki-Onna, Okatsu, Saika, and Oda Nobunaga. Plus of course the combination fights of Oda and Yuki, and Tachibana and Honda.

I think each of these bosses emphasized the core group of skills that the game was based on, had varied movesets that controlled different areas of space over different lengths of time, and were generally challenging. They’re some of the best bosses I’ve ever faced in a video game. Continue reading