Is Innovation Necessary?

Is innovation neccessary in game design? does a game or sequal need to do something new in order to be good? or making a game that is well thought out and well designed is imprtant?

I stand by the statement, “A clone of a good game is still a good game.” Innovation is nice, it’s good for games categorically, but I don’t think any individual game needs to innovate in order to be good, and I don’t think innovation makes a game good by default.

Innovation helps games improve on their forebears and create new possibility spaces, but by default it does not make those possibility spaces deep.

I said this with regards to all the first person melee combat games recently, they’re not great yet, but they show that something is possible with first person melee combat that hasn’t been developed yet. This future development of really good FPS melee might just be a matter of putting together existing pieces correctly, or some future work of innovation, but what exists right now is pretty neat, but not amazing. Continue reading

Reviewing Mario Maker & User Generated Content

How would you go about reviewing a game like Super Mario Maker?

That’s tricky. Ordinarily for reviews of games, I’d say that user generated content is off-limits, because you’re ostensibly supposed to be reviewing the content of the developer, not the users, because user content can be variable depending on the userbase. However Mario Maker brings that contradiction to the forefront because there’s almost nothing but user generated content. The thing is, Mario Maker technically isn’t a game, it’s a tool for making games, or rather, making levels for a game. The ontology gets a little weird there. Should we consider each level its own game? Should we consider there an abstract generic “Mario Maker” game of which there are many user generated levels, each an instance of this concept of a mario maker game? We can definitely say that the 10-man mario challenge, and the 100-man mario challenge are games within the broader mario maker software. 10-man uses pre-made levels that Nintendo themselves created specifically for you, so if you wanted to evaluate the game of Mario Maker entirely from the perspective of developer generated content only, you could evaluate these pre-set levels and nothing else, and you might end up with a fairly poor opinion of Mario Maker. They’re not very impressive levels. If you wanted to evaluate 100-man, then that gets extremely variable. It’s possible to make tons and tons of different types of levels in mario maker, from auto levels, to kaizo levels, to puzzle levels, to troll levels, to creative themed levels, to more general mario-style levels. That and unlike say Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden, Mario is a game that is heavily defined by its level design. There isn’t a generalized set of options you always have access to and enemies don’t have a wide set of options they exercise against you, your options are very heavily defined by what’s present in the level and the interaction of various level elements.
Continue reading

Review All Games as if They’re New

We should have a consistent set of standards for games that doesn’t change over time, a change in our standards reflects that our standards were wrong. There’s this saying that in art you learn the rules before you break the rules, but if you can break the rules, then that indicates that those weren’t the real rules, there’s an even deeper and more universal rule. Einstein disproved newtonian gravity, but he replaced it with special and general relativity. Disproof of something we regard as true means there must be a deeper truth beneath it, that encapsulates everything we already knew about the previous truth, but also includes the exception within the same rule.

When we say a game was “good for its time”, what this should probably be recognized as was, the critics of its time were outright mistaken about the quality of the game. Probably the best example of this was Half-Life 2, a game that wasn’t as good as its immediate prequel.

Right now Zelda: Breath of the Wild seems a lot like the type of game that we’ll look back on 5-10 years from now and say, “it was great for its time, but it hasn’t aged well” when other people make games in a similar style, but better gameplay. We should be recognizing instead that it’s a good game which doesn’t fully live up to its potential and has a number of flaws, which I think many people are actually doing, perhaps because we’re more jaded than in prior generations. Continue reading

Comparing Old Games to New Games

Is it wrong to compare the gameplay of something old with the gameplay of something new?

Personally, I don’t think so. I think a lot of old games hold up. There’s very different design principles at work between older and newer games. Older games tended to be more about the relative positions and movement patterns of objects, where newer ones are more about animation states. We’ve lost some stuff from old games, and games nowadays have more mechanics at the expense of not making each individual mechanic as deep as it could be. Plus 3d free cameras that orbit the character impose a lot of baggage on games.

Most people think it’s unfair to compare old games to new ones on the grounds that over time there’s technological progression that gives newer games better tools. We learn from old mistakes and hopefully don’t repeat them, instead indulging in a bevy of new mistakes that we refuse to learn from. Continue reading

Games Before Their Time

What are some games that would have been better if not for technical limitations?

Hard to say, most games don’t overscope that much. It’s easier to look at how games evolved as technology got better to allow for them. Like, before a certain technological point, certain genres of game simply weren’t possible. For example, there weren’t any twin stick shooters on the N64 or any system before it. I think it’s almost always possible to make a good game within the technological limitations you’re operating under, but making a specific type of game might not be possible. And I think if the game was made before the right tech existed, then it’s just too bad for that particular game. Continue reading

Multiple Enemy Fights are Fair

The claim that Souls combat is best suited to one on one seems quite popular, and even Yahtzee barfed it in his let it die video. ( http://www.escapistmagazine.com/videos/view/zero-punctuation/116981-Let-It-Die-Review ) What is the basis for this claim and how would you counter it?

Basis: When you lock onto an enemy, the camera points at them. You cannot lock onto multiple enemies at once.

Counterpoint: This is true in Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising as well, Nier Automata too, and nobody would say this horseshit about those games, even though MGR shits the bed in multiple enemy encounters by having the camera slowly push you into the wall. Continue reading

When to Use a Guide

Do you ever look up what to do to progress in a game if you have no idea what to do? Or do you 100% figure it out yourself?

A bit of both. It depends on the game. Sometimes I try really hard to figure it out, because the reward is really sweet when I do, sometimes I brute force it or look up the answer. If a puzzle doesn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the game then I’ll sometimes bypass it by looking up what I’m supposed to do.

I had to look up where to use the basement key in dark souls for example.

Very recently I played Dishonored 2 and got stuck in the very first room, eventually had to ask a friend who did the exact same thing as me how to get out. There were two windows that I didn’t realize could be opened, they looked like a part of the wall.

I think I looked up one of the light redirection puzzles in DMC3, at least the first one, because I flat-out didn’t understand what I was supposed to do.

I remember being really ecstatic about figuring out the video puzzle in Phoenix Wright 1 where you need to notice that the evidence locker light is still on. I had no access to internet and had to figure it out myself.

I’ve cheesed the dice puzzle in DMC4 almost every time (use devil bringer right when the die faces the side you want).

I beat the first 3 days of majora’s mask on my own, then basically used a guide for everything up to the water temple because I couldn’t be bothered to figure out what inane connections there were between everything.

I came up to the windmill in Brothers, and thought I had to jump from the windmill onto the raised bridge, not the other windmill, so I looked up a lets play to figure out what to do there.

I remember looking up the fight for the final boss of Doom 4, because I didn’t really understand how to avoid the blue mist and getting skewered on top of the platforms. The videos I found seemingly just had the guy get lucky.

Recently I played Dishonored 2 and got stuck in the very first room where you have control. I tried interacting with literally everything in the entire room, but couldn’t determine what the fuck I was supposed to do. I went out the open window, but there didn’t seem to be any way forward there. I eventually asked a friend who had played the game before me, and he pointed out I could open the other two windows in the room. I thought they were just set-dressing, not interactable.

In Nioh, I played one level themed like a bathhouse called, Trail of the Master. In that level, you need to find 3 tiles to open a door to the boss encounter. I found the first two tiles by beating one time encounters around the level, and slowly cleared the level out. I found all the kodama, I found a secret wall, I found one of those wall demons, I found paths on the banisters into other rooms. I thought there must be something I’m missing. The last tile was on a corpse I thought I had already looted, because if you loot a corpse and it has consumable items when you’re at max capacity, the corpse stays active across resets instead of the item being lost like in dark souls. So I scoured the level up and down and eventually looked up a walkthrough.

My stance generally is that if just knowing what to do ruins a section, then it’s usually not a very good gameplay challenge to begin with. You can’t make a dark souls boss any easier with a tutorial video (unless it’s bed of chaos, and even then). I’m not proposing this as a hard and fast rule, it can be fun to figure things out for yourself, but I don’t really begrudge using guides or such when you’re stuck and there’s really no clear way forward. Though I’ll also say that if the challenge is presented fairly and you do have all the pieces to figure it out, you should try your best to figure it out before resorting to a guide.

How to Talk About the Feel of a Game’s Controls

When I play Project M I often think “these controls feel so good”. But how do I describe any game’s controls being good without using buzzwords like precise, tight, feels right etc?
Note that by controls I’m not only talking about buttons, but what makes what’s happening on-screen fun to see and satisfying to play. In PM/Melee’s case, for example, how the high gravity and the crunchy (here goes another one) sound effects make pummeling an opponent with repeated Marth’s utilt and uair feel so goddamn good. You probably know what I’m talking about, but how do I explain stuff like that in tangible terms?

First, you could try reading Steve Swink’s Game Feel. Second, try looking up the 12 principles of animation. Third, compare and contrast with similar examples that don’t feel as good, and figure out what the actual differences between them are. Fourth, consider how animations flow into one another, where the point where you’re allowed to input is, where each animation cancels.

It’s a lot of subtle things. Someone had a story once about a friend of his who made a side scrolling game where a dude shoots fireballs. Something about the fireball throw felt lame, but nobody could put their finger on it. Then the friend made it so the fireball was spawned a bit further in front of the character, and suddenly it felt great. Hearing this, I knew on the spot that it’s because there was a greater change between the frames, so it would feel like there was more force being applied in that moment.

In PM and Melee, when you attack in the air, your bottom collision point changes, so that you will collide with the ground further up into your body. In Brawl and Smash 4, this is not the case, so collisions with the ground feel abrupt and weak. In The Animator’s Survival Kit, Richard Williams points out that you can make a collision feel more impactful by adding a frame where the character is touching the surface before the collision happens.

You gotta watch for this sort of stuff. Another guy just linked me a Bloodborne review where the guy complains that attacks in Lords of the Fallen are so slow, but honestly they can be about as long in length or startup as a dark souls attack. The issue with them is that the weapon moves at a consistent speed through the whole animation, unlike dark souls where there’s that same “merihari” that Capcom described having to teach Ninja Theory, which Americans would know as slow in and slow out or easing. Basically, the actual active swing time of attacks in dark souls is really short, where in lords of the fallen it’s really long, even though the full animation is the same length overall.

Sound effects are not my forte, I’m generally a bit weaker when it comes to sound, but listen to what they actually are, compare with worse alternatives, look up some words people use to describe sound, like high pitched or low, tinny or bassy, etc. Do your best.

Though identifying this stuff is probably harder if you’re not an animator, because it’s harder to look for it if you don’t know what to look for.

How do I Determine if a Game is Good or Bad?

What is your method of approaching a game to determine whether it’s good or not. You hold depth and challenge as high points, but how would you use them to determine whether a good is game or not, like figuring out how good Street Fighter or Mario are?

It’s a matter of thinking about whether the game is getting you to make interesting decisions or not. Is the game pushing you to do something that is kind of tricky and uncertain? I don’t have a good word or term for this. I should probably coin one. It would be related to a “Dynamic” (a group of mechanics that have a relationship between each other and create a certain style of play). A good simple game is one of these, a good complex game is many of these dynamics stacked on top of one another.

Kirbykid and I have been going back and forth on “Discrete” versus “Raw” game design (his terms). He favors discrete design while I favor raw. Discrete is where everything is clear and spelled out for you, where everything has clear separations between states and few fuzzy values. Raw is where many fuzzy value evaluations are employed, and frequently change over time, or based on position, speed, or other factors. The initial appearance of a game like Punchout or Furi is that it’s very discrete, but if you dig deeper into how the game works, there are many raw factors that shake up what the optimal strategy actually is and create more interesting decisions based on situations. Raw games frequently have many complex overlapping factors that work together to deliver a unique reactive challenge, discrete ones typically have minimal overlap and less reactivity to the player. Raw games make more frequent use of randomness to vary the challenge. Raw games have more subtle ranges of success and failure, while discrete ones have very clearly defined measures of them.

It’s funny how him and I can have such similar views and goals overall, yet be polar opposites on this very fundamental point about what good design is.

Lately I’ve been walking a tightrope. Literally. There’s this Slack Line that I’ve been walking across and getting better at. It’s simple overall, but it’s really fun. I can now do it forwards, backwards, stop in the middle and touch a knee to the line then continue to the end, turn around 180 while walking it forwards or backwards and finish, jump in the middle of the line and finish, as well as stop and maintain my balance while other people have lightly pushed me or shaken the line, or even walk to the end, stop, then walk backwards to the beginning. Actually doing all this stuff is somewhat tricky. Figuring out a good method took a lot of experimentation and practice. And actually doing it each time is not a surefire success. I need to pay attention in the moment and compensate for things as they happen. Need to pay attention to how my weight shifts, speed up or slow down, etc. Crossing the line is a simple action, but there’s a lot of subtle depth in actually doing it. I watch other people try it, and try to explain to them how to do it, and most of them can’t figure it out, none ever get as consistent as me.

And since then I’ve been super bored and tried figuring out how to balance blocks on my head. Foam blocks about the size of my head. I can do as many of 5 of those at a time. It took me only half an hour to figure out, though getting from 1 block to 2 took me maybe a whole hour or hour and a half. It seems impossible at first, but it has a similar dynamic to it. I need to be mindful of the balance shifting and simultaneously walk the direction it’s tilting, while rotating my head the opposite direction. Next project is balancing a ball on my head, that’s a LOT harder and I’ve only done it for 15 seconds at most, where I’ve done the blocks for several minutes before.

The question is, how actively does the game push you to think? How does this correlate with the complexity of the game? How many different states and outcomes can you envision based on your input and the game’s reaction? How does the challenge force you to be insightful? How does it force you to finely control the characters or elements that are under your control, stressing the solving of NP-Hard math problems, or fine motor control, or adaptation to specific situations, or reaction time?

How do you distinguish between a complex game and a deep game?

Redundancy and Relevancy.

Redundancy is about having elements in the game be distinct from one another, actually function differently. JRPGs typically have this problem the worst. They have a hundred weapons which are nearly identical except for stats being higher or lower. They have 40 magic spells which deal more damage, less damage, differently typed damage, but are still just, deal damage to target. Very similar in effect. No matter how much you level up or what abilities you get, the gameplay is still very similar. Attack, heal, attack, heal, and try to deal more damage than you’re taking. A game with redundancy has a lack of interesting choices and more clear sorting orders between options. Modern Military shooters, you trade up for the best weapon in its respective class, because most weapons function extremely similarly.

Relevancy is about having the potential for depth, but sabotaging it by having poorly balanced options relative to each other. Nier is a great example for this. It has a ton of different sealed verses. It has dodging and blocking. It has melee attacks and charged attacks, it has that ability to finish off enemies who are knocked down, but you don’t want to use most of these options. You really only want to stick to regular melee attacks, dark blast, dark lance, dark hand, and dodge. Those options are great, but a small selection of the total available to you. The Charge attack is especially sad, doing barely more damage than a melee strike. The number you can do during the time it takes to charge far outstrips its damage, so there’s really no reason to ever use a charge attack. Blocking is super pointless, it’s directional, and you walk slower while doing it and can’t change direction from the way you initially start blocking.

Another example of relevancy would be smash bros melee. There’s 26 characters in the game and only 12 are really relevant to anyone who plays competitively. There’s a large segment of depth that is locked off, where the same is not true in say Project M.

Or the hypothetical example, imagine a fighting game where there was 1 move that just wrecked everything and the game became about doing that one move and almost nothing else. Super Turbo Akuma might actually be a good example for this, his air fireball was broken as hell.

Deep games are complex, but complex games are not always deep (though some games might be deep and not appear to be complex because they do a lot with a little, like divekick arguably). Depth is about determining how complex the end product you actually play is, about determining the complexity of tactics and strategy. To that end, you need to assess the total possibility space of the game, eliminate the states that are redundant, then limit the search to only those relevant to the players. This can vary by community, and can change as the community comes to understand the game differently over time with the relevant segments of the game increasing or decreasing.