Running Away is Deep!

Can having the option of fighting an enemy or running away be a form of depth?

Yes! Absolutely!

But more appropriately, the question generally tends to be, is having the option of fighting an enemy or running past them a form of depth?

NES games are the masters of this. Especially Castlevania 3 and Contra. Enemies in old games tend to have contact damage, they hurt you if you touch them. Then they’re set up in places where they block your way. This means that to get past them, you need to brush up against them, potentially hurting yourself. Continue reading

What Should be Prioritized in a Fighting Game?

What should be prioritized in making a fighting game? Is balance near the top?

The way I like to put it is, Balance is the least important thing that is still important. It’s way more important for the game to be fun than for it to be balanced.

In terms of sales success, I’d say it’s important to have a lot of characters and good single player content. Also looking good is a big factor.In terms of making the game good, it’s about making Rock-Paper-Scissors loops. It’s about making it so there’s a good web of these RPS loops going around everywhere, so you can beat everything in a couple different ways, usually varying by scenario. Continue reading

Beginner’s Traps

What do you think of beginner’s traps? Can they be interesting? Or are they just doomed to be frustrating for players?

I’d prefer that games don’t have beginner traps. I generally don’t think they’re particularly interesting.

One exception would be Undertale, where it’s used for comedic effect, where they mislead you in the ruins into thinking that it’s possible to spare enemies by weakening them, like pokemon. Then Toriel has an HP range where you’ll instantly kill her as you’re weakening her. So you’re set up with a false expectation, then it’s taken advantage of, ruining you if you’re going for mercy. Flowey will even taunt you if you reset and try again. This is pretty cute, and no big harm if people fall for it. Continue reading

Weird Controls are Good for You

What do you think of games like Octodad or Snake Pass, where most of the difficulty comes from dealing with odd controls?

What do you think of Call of Duty, God Hand, or Mario Odyssey, where most of the difficulty comes from dealing with odd controls?

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Learning new control schemes is fun thing to do. All the control schemes we regularly use used to be awkward or confusing when we first encountered them, what do you think of the first time people played FPS games with a controller? Or the first time they played with a mouse? Or the first time they played FPS games at all? Every game was that way for all of us at some point.

What makes these control schemes so odd really is just unfamiliarity. These games are modeling specific types of interactions, and are these the worst controls they could have chosen to do that? Or the best controls? If you want to make a game about slithering like a snake, about gripping objects and wrapping around them, how else could you possibly build it?

Mark Brown did a pretty decent video explaining snakepass, and something he showed rather well was the progression from being bad at the game to coming to a fuller understanding of it, which I really like.

Weird control schemes are a bridge to modeling new types of interaction, and creating new, unfamiliar systems to learn about and develop competency in, which is what games are all about.

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/

Using Advanced AI for Single Player Games

Thoughts on all the people saying they should put OpenAI and Deepmind into single player games to make the enemies smarter? https://www.theverge.com/2017/8/11/16137388/dota-2-dendi-open-ai-elon-musk

This entire line of discussion of is stupid. You can’t compare AI beating humans at multiplayer games with AI used in singleplayer games. The two are trying to accomplish fundamentally different purposes. AI in single player games is a Game Design issue, not a Technology issue. Developing AI that will beat players every single time at a multiplayer game usually isn’t a process of making the AI smarter the same way a human opponent can improve, it’s usually a matter of the AI having better timing, reaction speed, and knowing the best decision to make for each situation. AI doesn’t play the game the same way humans do, with our slow reaction time, our ability to only keep like 9 things in our head at maximum, our limited ability to simulate and predict what the game state will be. If you want to build a perfect AI that always wins at say, street fighter, you could just make it uppercut when you attack, throw when you block, and block when you uppercut, and the game is over. There’s already a number of bots like this at the top of the SFV leaderboards and the only reason they don’t win every match is because of netplay lag. Continue reading

Can Large Scale Games Foster Depth?

Is depth possible for big colossal games like destiny, beyond good and evil 2 ( https://youtu.be/M8IguhQqhAg ), and star citizen. Or depth can be only be done in small focused games like thief or DMC 4?

Alright, I’m sorry because I’m gonna be a bit pedantic here, because people keep asking me questions like this. I define depth as literally having states. The depth of a game is the number of states a game has that are not redundant, or irrelevant to play. A coin flip has a depth of 2 states. A coin flip is not deep, but it has depth, the smallest amount of depth possible in a game. Deep means that a game has a relatively high amount of depth compared to other games.

Big colossal games focus a lot of their attention on creating content. This means that level design typically takes a back-seat and you end up playing through very similar encounters. Another trend with these types of games is that the combat systems, which are the primary systems of interaction, tend to be below average. Continue reading