Nuzzles: Not a Puzzle

CODE FOR DOOR C489 Kia or Welcon 58880

The Legend of Zelda and its imitators, Okami, Darksiders, God of War 2018, Beyond Good and Evil, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, have a particular style of “puzzle”, where you need to notice a switch somewhere and activate it. The developers of Darksiders coined a term for this, “Nuzzle”, short for “Not a Puzzle”. Nuzzles can be useful for teaching a player how to use a puzzle mechanic for the first time. Zelda style games tend to have items or abilities that you unlock which can be used to flip switches that cannot be flipped by any other means. When you get a new ability, it helps to have a simple example of what it can interact with and how it works. The Witness does this in each area that introduces a new puzzle symbol, by having a sequence of 5-10 nuzzles that demonstrate how it works in the simplest way possible, expecting you to learn how the puzzle symbol works via induction so that you can reason out puzzle solutions with deduction.

A nuzzle can be broadly identified as a 1-step puzzle, or a riddle. Nuzzles don’t test critical thinking skills, they simply test if the player is paying attention, or remembers what the switch operating mechanic is at all. Of course this is critical for tutorial purposes, new or inexperienced players need guidance to know how to solve puzzles, but the trouble comes in when Nuzzles are deployed broadly long after the basic puzzle mechanics are understood, as a replacement or filler for puzzles, which is what Zelda-like games tend to do long after puzzle mechanics have already been introduced (such as when you’re asked to light 2 torches in the final dungeon of the game, or hit a sequence of switches in the order they tell you when there are no enemies in the room, and no other confounding factors, such as time limits, or additional puzzle mechanics). Continue reading

What makes good combat?

Combat in a video game is good when you have a variety of options (discrete verbs that have unique animations, state, or use of unique entities) or sub-options (things like position, timing, rotation etc that modify the function of a verb) which have varied outcomes, and determining which option/suboption to use for a more/less optimal outcome in a given situation is unclear, but can be logically deduced.

If elements of your combat system are random (have output randomness, as opposed to input randomness), such as randomizing which attack you’ll perform when you press a button, then the best option for a scenario cannot be logically deduced. The same is true if the way that attacks function is unclear or inconsistent (like funky hitboxes producing drastically different outcomes with similar inputs, or the visuals not clearly communicating how the move works). Ideally the player should be able to visualize in their mind the outcome of different inputs, working it out like a math problem (“oh, I could have done that instead”). This makes a game fair and understandable.
Continue reading

The “Silver Bullet” Game Design Problem

A long time ago, I read an article titled, “Silver Bullet Combat”┬áthat was rather coherent about describing a common problem in game design. The article is now only available as a PDF and might eventually disappear, so I’m going to reiterate it in my terms.

So the gist of silver bullet style design is that Werewolves can only be harmed by silver, but once you shoot them with something silver they die instantly. A silver bullet is an option that can simply and clearly solve a problem that has no other (viable) solution. Part of game design is trying to differentiate the player’s options from one another, by making them good at different things. The easy way to do this to give enemies special resistances that can only be penetrated if you use a specific option. The trouble is that if a problem has a specific solution, then it’s not an interesting choice to solve it. There’s no tradeoffs, and no depth. Continue reading

Riddles, Puzzles, and Games

Something I’ve mentioned but not really explored is that I think puzzles aren’t actually games. I’m fine with the moniker, “Puzzle Game” as a misnomer referring to a collection of puzzles and I think “Action Puzzle” like Tetris are games, not puzzles (except in B-mode, where it becomes a puzzle)

Riddles puzzles games.png

Basically, there’s a spectrum of Riddles, Puzzles and Games, which each play on a similar root desire of, “Try to make the thing happen,” but with different emphasis. Puzzles and Riddles are subject to the spoiler effect. Once you know the solution, it’s not a question of whether you can beat it or not, you can always just produce the solution, unless you forget it. This also means that someone can tell you the answer and there’s no challenge anymore. Continue reading

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?

DWHfrf3VoAUM4Hs.jpg

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.