Blocking is Cool Actually

It is easy to focus on a myopic view of skill in video games as pushing a button to hit a tight timing window. It’s a common skill test. It’s a very obvious demonstrable skill. Most laypeople can easily recognize that it takes skill. However, there are a lot of other skills that are common in video games, and the purpose of these skill tests is not just to test skills in a vacuum, which is easy, you could go hop on human benchmark and do that all day, but to create a larger system of choices and interactions that test a variety of skills at once, and creates variety in the way each skill is tested. Continue reading

How Fighting Games can Retain Players

Fighting Games don’t attract a lot of new blood. The majority of people who will buy any game are people who will never attend a single tournament for that game, never post about it online, and never interact with the community in any way. This means for a game to be successful, pushing a competitive scene isn’t very effective advertising. The success of a competitive scene is tangential to the success of the game overall. Magic the Gathering went through a similar transition when they catered to pro players, and the game was slowly dying. They ended up revitalizing themselves by building their product, the cards, into a stronger IP, and decreasing their investment into the pro scene, which was not the product they were actually selling. Wizards of the Coast called the non-competitive players, “the invisibles” because they can’t be observed because they don’t participate in the broader community, yet they make up the majority of the consumers, and this is the case for every game or media product. The majority of fans will never ever participate, but they’re the ones who are the backbone of your sales.

Changes of this type, making games more appealing to the average consumer, is usually associated with dumbing a game down. We’ve seen a lot of recent attempts to dumb fighting games down or constrain their complexity in order to make them more appealing to the average consumer, such as Street Fighter V, Marvel Infinite, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Blazblue Crosstag Battle. These have had mixed success, with only Dragon Ball really prospering and SFV holding a middle ground. DBFZ and BBTag both did a good job of scaling complexity so the games were really simple to play at a lower level, but still had difficulty advanced techniques for higher level players. However the ease of play didn’t appear to make these games any more or less popular than any of their competitors. Tekken 7 did not include any ease of play additions compared to its forebears, yet is performing comparably to DBFZ (which has more sales momentum) and outperforming SFV. The popularity of each of these games seems to have no correlation to the ease of play, and a much stronger correlation to the quality of service for the game, and in dragon ball’s case, the strength of the IP. Continue reading

FPS Boss Fights Don’t Have to Suck Ft. Durandal

Editors note: This is another guest post by Durandal, though I wrote most of the paragraph on encouragement/discouragement and push/pull. If you’d like to submit a guest post, contact me on discord.

Boss fights involve fighting against one or more enemies that are usually harder than what came before in the game. Story/gameplay-wise they’re an effective way of setting the climax for a level or chapter, which is why they’re so widely used. Many genres like beat ‘em ups, platformers and shoot ’em ups all often feature great boss fights, like Credo in DMC4, Death in Castlevania 1, and the Battleship in Contra 3. But then you have bosses in first-person shooters.

In the 28 years since grandpa Wolfenstein 3D, there has been no truly good FPS boss fight. Instead you get playing peekaboo with (hitscanner) bulletsponges (such as Hans Grosse in Wolfenstein 3D and the 2009 reboot, the final bosses of Wolfenstein: TNO, TNC, and Youngblood, Makron in Quake 2, Tchernobog in Blood, the Battlelord in Duke Nukem 3D and Forever, Splitter Crow in TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, The Destroyer in Borderlands 1). You get the inoffensive bulletsponges which you circlestrafe to death (the Overlord, Cycloid Emperor and Cycloid Queen in Duke Nukem 3D, the Skaarj Queen and all Titan fights in Unreal Gold, Fontaine in Bioshock 1, almost every boss in DUSK, AMID EVIL, and the Shadow Warrior reboot). And at worst you get puzzle bossesthat play nothing like the rest of the game and expect you to figure out a puzzle to beat the boss (the Spider Mastermind in Doom 1 when pistol starting, the Icon of Sin in Doom 2, Cthton and Shub-Niggurath in Quake 1, the final bosses in Serious Sam: TFE and BFE, Nihilanth in Half-Life 1). Continue reading

Reworking DMC’s Controls

I think you’ve already expressed your dislike for Chain Combos, and while I understand where you coming from, I can’t imagine a way to totally get rid of them in 3D Beat em Ups without making the controls an abomination to use

Does DMC4 count? Or is that an abomination?

I’d say God Hand is a reasonable example too, it has 1 chain on square, then command moves on X, Triangle, and down + X/Triangle/Square. Plus it has hidden contextual moves on triangle that are just direction + button, and dashing attacks. Since God Hand lets you assign any move to any button, you have a fair number of moves that you could potentially assign. A chain + 5 command moves.This obviously isn’t the most in the world, but it’s a fair number of moves with no chains required. Continue reading

Balancing Parries for Single Player

How are parries treated in fighting games? Specifically in comparison to single player games where once you get the timings down, it can trivialize enemies.

It depends on the fighting game, but I largely covered this in my last article on parries. Parries in fighting games can be beaten, unlike parries in single player games. In 3rd strike, you have to parry high or low, and the two zones are more separated and exclusive from one another than blocking (so moves that you normally could block crouch blocking might have different parry zones). In other games parries usually have a recovery time. In practically all fighting games, parries can be thrown.

This means parries have weaknesses, they can be mixed up, either with timing, or by choosing options that beat parry. In a single player game, this isn’t really feasible. Everything needs to be reactable in order to be fair, which means if everything is parryable, then every problem can be solved with parries. Some measures you can throw in to prevent this are having unparryable attacks, force the player to respond differently to those. You could have different parry zones too, so they need to parry differently depending on the incoming attack, but this amounts to basically just giving the player shit instead of solving the core problem, which is that parries hand players a difficult but simple solution to any problem where they are applicable. It’s not a question of, “would it be better to attack or defend now?” It’s just “If I can do it, parrying is best.” And you might have different types of parries or unparryable attacks, so players have a bit more trouble reacting, but the fundamental problem is still there in a way that it isn’t for parries in multiplayer games. Parrying isn’t the best solution to scenarios in 3rd strike all the time, since it’s not always rewarding (parry into throw) and requires commitment for the number of parries you’re gonna attempt and the followup. It is in Guilty Gear, but it also costs meter in Guilty Gear, which is a limited and precious shared resource.

Oh yeah, maybe that’s the answer. Bloodborne limits parrying by tying it to bullets, but that just restricts the amount of times you can parry, bullets aren’t really used for much else of consequence. Imagine if parrying in dark souls cost you literally your entire stamina bar, requiring the bar to be full first, and you don’t get it back after a successful riposte. Hell, make stamina a bit negative even afterwards. Perhaps you could balance parrying by limiting the conditions for it, and having it cost you significantly otherwise, so you can only use it occasionally, and by sacrificing something else important.

Building a Boxer

Dont know how much you know about boxing.But is it possible to have a beat em up action game centered around boxing? I have hard time seeing a deep boxing game in 3D. Like how can you fight multiple enemies at once for example. For me boxing make sense 1v1.

Nah, don’t really know anything about boxing. What elements of boxing do you not see so clearly in a video game?

My thought is, isn’t God Hand pretty similar to boxing? You tend to punch forwards, you have the weave dodge, sidesteps, and a lot of the attacks are punches. ARMS seems like another example, you can control your fists as they go even, and move around the punches of your opponent.

Perhaps an interesting way to make a boxing game would be to copy god hand’s tank control scheme, and right stick dodging, but move all the punch buttons to the shoulder, so you have right hand on right shoulder buttons, left hand on left shoulder buttons. The buttons could be light punches, the triggers could be heavy punches, and you could have different tekken styled strings based on the order you press them in. Instead of a ninja sidestep, or a full backflip, maybe have dodging be more like a sway, displacing your hitbox, and full invincibility to the opponent’s fist on the opposite side (sway right, invincible to their attack coming from the left, like their right handed hook). Weave dodge would probably have to be reworked to fit in, because if the enemies only use their fists, then there’s less lower body attacks, and the point of weave dodging was that it could beat any number of high attacks, but lost to lower attacks. Not sure how to fix that and keep the same appeal of the original weave dodge.

If you haven’t played God Hand yet, I highly recommend it, of course.

High Risk, Low Reward

What do you think of fighting game reversals?

They’re cool. They’re a very rare feature of games, something that’s high risk, but low reward, however still being a critical part of a rock-paper-scissors triangle. You get to beat the opponent’s attack or throw, but if blocked, you take more damage than you ever would have dealt.

It’s your only want to beat an opponent’s meaty in a wakeup scenario, the only way to really hurt the opponent instead of just sitting there and taking pressure, but it also carries a big risk.

The downside of conventional reversals, DPs, is that only some characters have them usually, so the rest of the cast just needs to sit there and take it when pressured, and they’re kind of simple. They either beat a meaty, or lose if the opponent blocks. Not the most nuanced range of interactions. It would be cool to see more investigation into other reversal options, like reversal tech rolls, reversal counters, etc. Some games like Blazblue and Smash have more options on knockdown to make their wakeup games more complex, which is also cool, but also feel like they dilute the wakeup game a bit from where it sits in street fighter. I’m not really sure how to balance this honestly.

Still, it’s neat to have something that sits in an unconventional place on the payoff matrix. (as long as it’s not low risk, high reward) It’s rare to see things that are so specialized in that way.

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.

Rebuilding Bam Ham Combat

How would you fix Bamham’s combat?

I don’t think you can really fix it. There’s nothing in bamham’s combat that really stands out to me as interesting or dynamic or worth keeping. You could obviously replace it with something better that is loosely themed the same, but that’s not really fixing it.

So the loose aspects of bamham’s combat are, you have attacking, and you have counters, then you have a few special actions that need to be performed before attacking certain enemies, like stunning them, jumping over them. Enemies that get hit enough get knocked down, and need to be knocked out, which takes time, but if you have a long combo chain you can do a special input that knocks them out immediately. Your combo chain builds faster if you press normal attack with good timing. Combo resets if you get hit. Occasionally you get to throw a batarang for extra damage and combo points. The attacks are built so there’s a ton of different attacking animations, but they all have sort of the same framedata. Some enemy types are slightly different, the big ones really, but otherwise the only difference is that some enemies need a button pressed before you can attack them.

This all kind of adds up to something resembling DDR. You attack with the right timing to build up combo points. You press counter when an enemy winds up an attack to avoid having your combo get broken. Then you press another button before attacking certain enemy types so you can attack them. And you have additional opportunities to press another button to get extra combo points. Like, there isn’t a strong decision-making process, the most dynamic thing is just where enemies are positioned and where you’re positioned, which is why later games added some crowd control options in the form of bombs and such. You’re kind of indirectly being prompted to just follow this sequence of button presses and you can do better or worse at that, but there’s no real trade-off between doing one thing or the other, it’s always just a matter of keeping up your button presses.

Though there’s one pattern there that kinda works I guess. You gotta take time to knock enemies out after knocking them down, but other enemies can interrupt you. So this means that knocking an enemy out in a group encounter is about crowd control. You gotta make sure none of the other enemies have access to you as you knock that enemy out. This also incidentally means that individual enemies are totally trivial. So if you wanted to spice up the bam ham combat system, this would be the dynamic to target.

Since combat is trivial with one enemy, it would also be smart to make sure setting an enemy up to be knocked out doesn’t remove an enemy from combat in the process, like disabling them currently does. One idea I had was doing something like knocking their soul out of their body, then performing the disable action on their soul, while their body is still attacking you, so even versus a single enemy, you still have to manage their access to you while knocking them out.

Obviously the whole “knocking the soul of their their body” idea doesn’t fit the batman theme unless you cook up a bunch of new story elements that don’t really fit Batman in the first place, but just examining the combat system in abstract that seems like an obvious move.

So from there the things to accentuate are the enemy behaviors in having access to you. For sake of simplicity we’ll say that if they’re set up to attack you, interrupting the knockout animation, they have a connection to you. The goal is to break their connection to you long enough to knock an enemy out, and then set up the next enemy to be knocked out. So to make this goal more interesting, you could add environmental objects and enemy behaviors that affect under what circumstances they have a connection to you. Two obvious conditions for having a connection to you are being adjacent to you, or having line of sight to you. Obvious examples of environmental objects that could modify these conditions are physical barriers that block enemy movement and line of sight, patches of floor that disable line of sight while standing on them, patches of floor that slow movement, or one-way barriers.

Then you obviously would want to give batman abilities that allow him to affect enemy positioning and movement such as to prevent them from having a connection to him. Obvious examples are ones that push enemies away, that stun enemies, or that create environmental objects like above. These could be melee, they could be ranged, they could be remote activation. Abilities that also allow him to affect the location of the target to be knocked out are also sensible.

And of course back on enemy behaviors, you might want enemies to have a connection to you based on keeping you within a certain range, like maybe a certain AOE, or within a ring that is a certain distance away from the enemy, or just simple line of sight, or maybe they use projectiles that have a more complex relationship of connection to you, or they could switch between having a connection when adjacent and a connection based on line of sight at fixed intervals or under certain conditions.

Their movement patterns could also stand to vary. The most simple is just moving directly to you. They could move slowly without line of sight and faster when they do have line of sight. They could try to maintain a specific distance from you. They could try to center themselves in an open area, moving closer when you’re in their range. They could have a movement towards you like gravity. They could move in a preset pattern across the room. They could move in a bouncing pattern off environmental objects. And of course they could switch between these behaviors based on what you do.

And by this point it really doesn’t sound like Batman anymore, but whatever, these are a bunch of ways of playing with that one dynamic.

Megaman Prime

How would you design a Megaman game with the gameplay of a Metroid Prime game?

That’s such a mindfuck. Like, Metroid made some degree of sense in its transition to Prime. The exploration and powerup aspect translated really well. Megaman by contrast is basically about jumping to specific heights and shooting. Megaman games through their enemy and level design basically require you to aim your weapon at enemies that you need to move around because you can’t aim up or diagonal, so you need to get on the same horizontal line as them through movement. Megaman as an FPS would probably be like Doom with a jump button and no auto-aim up or down. It would probably have fairly linear levels focusing on combined enemy and platforming challenges. Maybe be a bit like action doom? (I didn’t play action doom, I only saw a video of it once). Continue reading