Shark Shoals: Prepare to Dive

What if the souls series had swimming? Would it be a good idea?

Probably not. You’d need to make a totally new set of animations and mechanics for it and it wouldn’t really emphasize what the series is established on.

Now a new game based on swimming and underwater combat in the souls style, sure, that might be interesting.

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How would you design Deep Souls/Dark Swims?

Gonna go with the title: Shark Shoals: Prepare to Dive Continue reading

We’ve Gotta Murder Quake: Arena

Please tell me I am not the only one who is sick and tired of every single recent or upcoming arena shooter being a Quake 3 clone (or UT clone). We have Xonotic, Nexuiz, Warsow, Open Arena (though it admits being a Q3 clone), Red Eclipse, Toxikk, and Reflex. Almost all of these rip their weapon sets directly from Quake, about half of them have quake style bunnyhopping, with Toxikk having unreal tournament type movement. Points to Red Eclipse for coming up with some more original movement methods even if it does look a bit janky overall. And of course on the horizon is Quake: Champions, which aims to do the arena thing all over again.

Lets look to the future a bit: FPS games and mouselook shooter games in general are unexplored, they’re practically infants compared to other genres in terms of mechanical development. Sure, we have open worlds, cinematic set pieces, RPG elements, physics puzzles, and so on, but not a lot of games are really considering the more basic interactions, like how people shoot, or how people move, and what they shoot and move in response to. Rather than continually copying Quake 3 like it was god’s gift to FPS games, we should be copying its example and the precedent for what it did right rather than verbatim bringing back the same weapons again. We should also be looking outside the genre for things other games did right that could be replicated in first person. Continue reading

Improving Unwinnable Boss Fights

What do you think of unwinnable battles or battles that aren’t ment to be won like the first kishgal fight in Ys Origin, first Jetstream Sam encounter, first Vile fight from Megaman X, ect?

They’re kind of a waste of time. It’s a lot more rewarding when it’s a 1 chance battle instead of an unwinnable one.

Shoutouts to Demon’s Souls, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma for including these and giving special rewards for completing them (in NGS’s case, literally beating the game on the spot).

Shoutouts to Magination for taking this idea to its logical extreme and including a boss fight that is technically beatable, but ridiculously hard (kill 99 enemies in turn based combat hard in a game designed for only 4~ enemies per battle).

Unwinnable boss fights are better viewed as segments where the goal of the scenario is altered from other scenarios, but it’s not clearly communicated to the player. The new condition for progression is reducing HP to 0 or the equivalent, which is normally avoided. So instead of trying to kill the boss, you need to surrender as soon as possible.

Some people view them as “taking control away from the player” or “forcing the player to experience defeat.” I think this is kind of a misguided layman’s view.

This can be really bad in games where you have consumable resources which can be wasted in such a fight. If players don’t catch on that they’re not supposed to win, they might waste resources. Also bad is if players think a battle is supposed to be unwinnable, but actually isn’t. A lot of games don’t want to be honest about whether a boss fight is unwinnable or not, because they’re trying to tell a certain story and deliberately mislead you into trying your hardest and failing.

One solution might be to have a 1 chance battle, but at the end, the boss asks, “Do you give up?” and one choice progresses the plot, one choice triggers game over and you can retry from there.

Mostly I think they’re a waste of time because it’s not challenging to die, it’s inevitable, and it can be irritating to trigger the enemy to kill you, depending on how random they are (I get annoyed at this in MGR sometimes when Sam decides to just stand there).

Building More Complex Beat Em Up Moves

Do you think its possible to have an action beat em where can perform the complex movements of something like this? Where you perform those moves yourself unlike the batman arkham series?

Okay, so lets list off everything in that scene:

1. Pointing and shooting
Going with the obvious first, apologies

2. Climbing on walls
Games have done this before, like asscreed

3. Pulling people from below ledges
Games have also done this before, you can have a contextual prompt for it, then a canned/IK’d animation. Continue reading

Ideas for Unconventional Games

You talked about in one of your articles that there some things that we haven’t begun to explore in terms of gameplay. Can you share some of those ideas?

Mang, I’ve been sharing those ideas. I drop ideas all the time.

Here’s some random ones out of my idea file (some are obviously repeats of stuff I’ve said before):

A game entirely (or heavily) based on whiff punishes to get damage.

FTL except remade to be about all the mathematics you would learn at a real naval academy, practically applied to randomized situations. Make sure the ship doesn’t sink, explode, capsize, etc

Moving checkpoints, instead if going back to the checkpoint you just activated, you go back 2 checkpoints instead.

Parrying system that somehow integrates spacing more, like different attacks need to be parried at different spacings. Parrying system that needs a setup from the other game mechanics before it can be used, so parries don’t/can’t become the dominant or sole gameplay system.

Dragon’s dogma style magic system based on charging spells for long periods of time. Imagine you have 3 strengths of spell, light, medium, and heavy. Lights can be used pretty quickly, mediums have some startup, heavy are long and you gotta charge them. Big deal is, while charging heavies, you can’t use mediums, but you can use lights, and you take a hit to your mobility. So picture a dude with one hand in the air charging, zipping off little magic missiles to keep enemies at bay as he darts around them, then unleashing a typhoon when fully charged.

An overpowered super mode that makes you take/deal more damage and disables your ability to dodge, and takes a while in that mode before you actually deal tons more damage, so if you want to cheese, you gotta do it the hard way and survive to the point where you can wipe the enemy out.

Option to forsake bonus powerup type rewards in order to unlock hidden boss fights, content, endings, etc

An RTS with an overall health meter that is depleted each time a unit is destroyed, and when units are destroyed they are queued up to respawn at a certain point for free.

Vertical oriented “platformer” where you “jump” out to the left or right from a central pathway upwards, with gravity pulling you back into the center. Could lock onto other paths out in space and those become center of gravity.

RPG game about pacifism, where all your dialogue options deal damage to the opponent’s “will bar” and cause your character to shoot a stream of bullets at the enemy. See MSPA’s Sleuth Diplomacy and Listening to Both Sides of the Argument.

Rhythm platformer, you jump in beat with the music uncontrollably, automatically, without input. Gotta platform through levels by timing movements with when the jumps come in songs.

A fighting game that, as an on-going experiment, only nerfs characters to balance them. Imagine nerfing all of Melee to Kirby’s level.

Top-down twin-stick melee combat game.

Deep Mind on Starcraft 2: Competitive AI in Real-Time

What do you thinik of Blizzard’s collaboration with Google to developing sophisticated Starcraft 2 AI using Google’s Deep Mind?

I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited as hell. However I think they should try a version where they train it with the visuals on a 250ms delay, because unlike chess, this is a realtime game. Humans realistically operate with a delay between when something actually occurs, and when it reaches our brains. An AI playing a realtime game can frequently employ strategies that are not only better than human ones, but which are literally impossible for humans. My classic example is SFA Akuma, which will walk up to you, and if you press a button, shoryuken, if you block, throw, and if you shoryuken, block you and punish. It destroys the RPS loops that define the game. It’s effectively not even playing the same game arguably.

The AI in Starcraft itself is already way better than any human player (just way stupider), with up to 3000 APM depending on what it’s doing. It can operate every unit individually if it wants to, using units like Ghosts to hard counter mech builds with the lockdown ability fired from every ghost individually onto each individual unit, when in real starcraft, ghosts are practically useless because no human player can possibly micro like that.

You’ll notice that the lockdown ability didn’t return in starcraft 2 where ability units like the high templar are rigged to only have 1 unit cast the relevant ability when multiple of the same unit are selected, because it would have made the above tactic really really easy.

The point is, in realtime games, unlike turn based games like Go, computers are frequently able to beat humans in simple ways that don’t really reflect the way the game is normally played. A 250ms delay might produce something that looks more like optimal human play rather than play that is borderline rigged cheating.

Like, we want AI to beat us in playing roughly the same game we’re playing, ostensibly, but if you remove this human limitation, then it’s like you’re effectively playing poker without hiding your hand, not very interesting.

Improving Beat Em Up AI

Do you think the beat em up genre could do with a level of shaking up in the AI department? I find that the enemies mostly repeat the same moveset, and don’t act all the dynamic most of the time. Although the same could probably be argued about the enemies in a lot of martial arts films.

Here’s one big change: Record when the player deals damage, and perform attacks with inverse proportionality to where damage is taken. Keep updating this as the battle goes on. So if the player is only trying to deal damage during one particular cycle, or punish one particular attack, start using that attack less, forcing them to get damage elsewhere. This can help force continuous aggression from the player and improvisation instead of really safe play.

Beyond that, better AI is really a matter of thinking up specific behavioral characteristics. Making observably good AI is hard. Halo enemies dodge only after they’re initially shot, or if you throw a grenade or fire a slow moving shot. They can’t dodge pre-emptively or on reaction to your shots, so their dodging behavior is predictable instead of random. Continue reading

Stealth Game Distraction Tools

Stealth games need more distraction tools, here’s a list:

Old ideas:

Tap, bring enemies over to your position via sound, tapping on walls, or simply making noise in place
Coin, throw an object to make noise far from you

flash bang, temporarily disable enemies, but alert them. Can stun them during alert phase to allow for an escape.

Smoke Grenade, Obscures vision inside of and into an area temporarily, but alerts guards

Tranq, shoot someone from afar, they conk out after a delay

Sneak/Crouchwalk, move silently, but slowly.

blackjack, hit someone from behind/up close, they conk out.

Remote detonated noise maker, makes a noise, needs to be planted in advance

Water Arrow, shut off light sources

Moss Arrow, dampens sound on a surface

Decoy, guards will follow it when in alert if they can’t see you, will be drawn to it otherwise, dishonored 2 lets you swap places with your decoy and leaves the decoy to fight

Cardboard Box, move slower, but ignored while staying still, unless directly in guard’s path
Camouflage mat, like cardboard box, but must be set up

Fulton, dispose of guard bodies

Stealth Action Camo/invisibility potion, cannot be directly perceived, lasts a limited amount of time.

Disguise, allows access to areas granted by disguise. Certain suspicious actions may trigger an alert
Possession, like disguise, but possess a guard or animal, moving them around until they’re released.

Run Silent, removes the sound of your footsteps temporarily, allowing you to move fast silently.

Camoflage, blend into certain areas/surfaces, can be changed to match surfaces, octocamo in MGS4 changed automatically based on staying still

thermal vision/wallhacks, lets you see through walls, usually blinded by sources of light or heat, like grenades or flashbangs

Scouting Orb, see from another viewpoint, limited use

Lean, see around corners, making yourself slightly visible in the process.

Directional Microphone, Hear further in a specific direction

EMP/Chaff grenade, disables electronic sensors temporarily without alert

Magazine/stuffed puppy snare, lures enemies in and holds their attention, even when in investigation mode

Fake Death/Revival pills, Allows a player to fake being killed during an alert, then revive themselves, wait too long and die for real

Handkerchief, inconspicuous melee conk during disguise
Cig Spray, inconspicuous slightly ranged conk during disguise

Colored Smoke Grenades (Yellow, Red, Green, Blue), From MGS4, trigger enemies to laugh, get mad, scream, or get sad, then fall unconscious afterwards. Laughing has enemies kill those on their side, anger has them kill other non-allied enemy combatants. During these last two they’ll ignore snake. While screaming they’ll run around.

Bamboo dart, stuns enemy very briefly, causes them to investigate where it came from

Caltrops, stuns enemy when walked over

Blink, instant teleport to a position, ignoring everything between including guards and their line of sight. Can get away when spotted, ideally sets the investigation point to where you teleport to.

Swoop, move quickly across a short distance without making sound, limited by a recovery/cooldown time.

Bend time, slows guards, making it easier to move around them.

Stops guards, making it easier to move around them, or possibly through their line of sight temporarily.

Remote Drone/clone/spiderbot, can scout areas, sometimes using different routes and movement abilities than you, attack or interfere with enemies without risking yourself. Usually has limited environmental interactions, being incapable of completing some objectives

Patsy, accuse other guard of being a bad guy while disguised during a clearing phase

New Ideas:

Blur Ward, Place a small zone that when guards step into it, they cannot perceive anything outside that zone, but don’t realize something funny is up unless something egregious happens, or maybe the effect wears off based on how long they stay in there.

LIFE gun, Nonlethal tranq weapon that overheals enemies and buffs them for when they wake back up, so you can tranq people, but in the process you’re making them more powerful later

Holo-wall, an object that makes a detour guards must move around, can make hiding spots out of dead end hallways. Expires when passed by too much or after a period of time

Mass Mind Tuner, changes guard’s affinities towards certain objects, lets say red, yellow, and blue arbitrarily, so they patrol around these objects more frequently. Allows you to adjust the guard patrol patterns, but as a matter of level design, this opens up and closes different routes as well as forcing guards in the short term to move by you, so you gotta keep your wits about you (this absolutely depends on good level design and guard scheduling). Can have differing effects based on each guard’s distance from the affiliated object at the time of tuning, determining the direction they go, so the player needs to use timing and adapt in the moment.

Smelly garbage, makes guards adverse to moving near an area, might make them surround the areas around it though. (needs a better drawback, and a clear counter)

Reversi, Reverse guard patrol schedules, so they patrol backwards

Fake Grenade, makes guards rush away from a specific point, potentially onto the player’s position.

Slow Guard, makes a specific guard’s movements slower or stopped temporarily, broken by alert. Slow people while they’re in favorable positions. Faster to alert in this state, maybe wider peripheral vision

Caffeine Shot. Guard spends less time standing still, goes through patrol route faster. Speed people up to get them out of your hair quicker. Alert triggered more quickly, buffs enemies during alert.

Recall Point. Set a point that can be teleported back to, maybe takes time to teleport back to, maybe the point is conspicuous and can be destroyed.

Fear Gas, (inspired by the MGS4 green gas grenade) causes enemies to temporarily run in fear, ignoring the player while doing so, mixes up guard positions all over the place, potentially in good and bad positions, gives you a chance to move through enemies in the short term. Alternatively, you could need to hide while the fear effect is going on and take advantage of it afterwards.

Darkness aura, decrease guard vision cones in a limited area, triggers investigation and clearing of area. Like a less effective, but presumably larger radius smoke grenade.

Pretty Painting, draws guard attention, they don’t investigate it, but they can’t look away from it while patrolling, effect is stronger as they get closer to it. Won’t look over their shoulder at it though.

Position Swapper, swaps your position with a guard or other person. Makes them want to get back to where they just were.

Sleep gas but slow, temporarily makes a small area that will put enemies to sleep if they stay in it for too long.

Sleep poison, sets guard to clearing mode, gives them time limit to find you before succumbing to sleep, ineffective on alerted enemies

Shoulder Tap, causes enemy to turn around in your direction and look around for a bit.

Instant Barricade, throws up a wall behind you that enemies need to destroy or go around. Very loud.

Push, shunts enemies further away from you, making space to run. Obviously triggers alert.

Trip Wire, a wire that trips enemies who run over it, temporarily stunning them, ineffective on enemies in idle or investigating states, will be removed by those and trigger clearing. When Tripped, extra time can be devoted on knocked down enemies to easily knock them out.

ADHD Inducer, Guard in Alert or Clearing is temporarily forced down into doing an idle patrol of the immediate area. If they can directly perceive you when hit, they will only have a momentary lapse in concentration.

Swift Kick in the Shins, slows guards down.

Sonic Flashbang, deafens guards temporarily, also stuns for a brief period. Causes them to go into clearing or alert phase while still deaf.

Meme Machine: Change a guard’s memory so it remembers everything that they currently know as being in the wrong state

Amnesia: Wipe all current object state knowledge

Meme Virus, set a charge on one guard, have them pass it off whenever they encounter another guard, so it gets passed between guards one by one. Not duplicated, just passed. Then some effect on whoever’s holding it.

Block off doors, either with an adhesive tool, or by physically moving objects in front of them.

Recorder/tapedeck, record guard conversations and play them back in different places for an effect, maybe to keep people out of a room

Sticky floor: Slows down pursuers who walk through it. Useful in escapes.
Glue bomb/thrown object: throw at people chasing you to stun them briefly, giving you a chance to run away. Probably only stun for like half a second, because more than that would end the chase completely.

Constraints to think about:

Guard movement paths through levels, predicting and affecting it. How can you reward someone for predicting where a guard will be in the future? How can you reward them for predicting where multiple guards will be in the future? How can guard paths be altered strategically, how can this have drawbacks as well as benefits? Maybe tune guard affinities to inspect and patrol around certain areas?

Items targeted at interacting with different guard states (idle, investigate, clearing, alert, unconscious, dead). How can you interestingly move them from one state to another? How can you differentiate the states? How can you manipulate them while keeping them in the same state?

How can these be made to have varying effects based on when and where they’re used in relation to the guards?

How can the guards’ scheduling be affected?

Scale, how can you make people worry about future and past encounters more? Maybe a way of setting up

Affect guard vision, change what they look at?

How can escaping be made more interesting? Ideally in cycles of causing the alert, running away, and triggering more alerts as you go.

How can clearing phases be made more interesting? How do you force people to pick good hiding spots, then move from them regularly? How do you give people options when they’re cornered? How do you give people options to get the guards to not look where you are currently hiding versus the other hiding spots in the room? Rather, how do you make selecting a good hiding spot a fuzzy heuristic evaluation instead of a binary right or wrong?

Guard states

Idle: No perception of the player, purely following schedule
Investigation: moving slowly to look at something outside of patrol, small perception of player, not coordinating
Caution: Follows Alert and Clearing phases, like Idle, but skips investigation phase to go directly to clearing, and has more aggressive and fast patrol patterns.
Clearing: Moving quickly to check over areas, follows direct perception of player, but not currently perceiving player, coordinating together
Alert: Moving to attack player, directly perceiving player, coordinating together
Unconscious: Cannot act, revives after a timer, can be revived by other guards, triggers investigation or clearing
Dead: Cannot Act, triggers clearing
Injured: Can act, Actions impaired during active states

On guard AI: maybe enemies could have narrower vision cones during alert and clearing phases and more wide ones during investigation and idle. So they have the easiest time seeing you when idle, and the hardest time while alerted. This also incentivizes moving around more during clearing and alert phases, when players normally want to bunker up.

General categories of tools in Stealth games:

– Distraction

– Escape

– Information

– Self Obscuring

– Disablers (weapons)

– Mobility/Area Access

Enemy Ideas:

Eleven Men, an enemy that can split off and rejoin

An enemy that can see in all directions but not hear (dishonored 2 sort of did this with jindosh’s robots, but only 2 directions, which makes more sense than seeing in all directions, which is kind of dumb actually. narrower vision cones in multiple directions makes a lot of sense)

Enemy that is blind, but good hearing. (feel like this has been done before)

An enemy that can see extremely far, but tight like a laser beam

Enemies that function like pacman ghosts, alternating between investigation phase and sleep phases, regardless of what you do and whether you trigger them, so there’s always some enemies that aren’t just purely patrolling (and therefore function as simple timing puzzles), but are actively looking for you and thus need to be avoided.

Cultivating Creativity in Game Concepts

What is your thought process when coming up with game ideas? Do you think of the premise first? The game mechancs? The genre? All of the above?

I bounce all over the place. Creativity is the product of constant tinkering and recombining pieces. It’s about coming at things from different angles and being persistent about it. Sometimes I try to think about how FPS games can inherit certain desirable behaviors from fighting games. Sometimes I try to think up ways to counter common complaints with a genre (RTS is all about APM? How can we continue to incentivize APM, but limit its effect over more tactical play?) Sometimes I try to think of how to combine weird physics models with projectiles, or character/enemy behaviors, sometimes I see a really cool animated gif and ask if you could make a mechanic out of that. Continue reading

What Would An FPS Game by Platinum Look Like?

What would a FPS made by Platinum look like? Assuming it was made for a mouse in mind unlike Vanquish

Funny, I was thinking about how to build an FPS combo system this morning. I don’t think they’d ever make something like my idea though (involves a lot of subtle manipulation of hitstun values in a weird way no other game does). Suibriel, the Desync Dev, suggested it would be like Painkiller + Vanquish, which makes a lot of sense (though I didn’t play Pankiller yet, but I know it’s about fighting waves of enemies in arenas, much like platinum games).
Continue reading