(Lack of) Level Design in Stylish Action Games

What do you think of the level design in action game arenas? Specifically how most fights that occur in games like DMC/Bayo are pretty barren. I get that fights should be engaging regardless of the level but I don’t see why arenas like this aren’t more common.

I mean, those games just don’t work with level design very well. Have you played the platforming sections in DMC3 and 4? They’re pretty awful. Platforming in Bayo and MGR is pretty bad too. All these games have character motion that makes characters very difficult to line up on a specific spot in comparison to platformer games like mario. All these games have jumpsquat animations and jumps that lock you in specific directions and don’t give you much air control, if any. This works really well in combat, it means you need to commit and choose options relative to your opponents, and you barely notice it there because all your actions are deliberate and straightforward, but for navigating geometry, it’s hell. Have you tried playing a fighting game which didn’t design its jumps this way? Like Super Smash Flash 1, which used more conventional jumping controls? In Super Smash Flash 1, unlike real smash bros games, when you press jump, you jump instantly, and you can switch your facing direction at any time during your jump.

DMC3 actually had a number of arenas like that. Like, there was this one hallway with corkscrews on the walls. Another with multiple platforms of different height that rotated. DMC4 had fights with enemies on disappearing platforms (I think that one worked rather well actually).

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I think that detailed level design actually works against these games’ best attributes, because of the way they chose to specialize in their character controls. Other games, like Dark Souls, have better integration with their level design, which they can afford because of the different, more close-up control style of those characters. It’s a bit tricky for me to distinguish exactly what attributes make it this way though.

I think arenas like the above from transformers devastation aren’t more common because coming up with subtle level design elements for games like these, that add a twist, but don’t ruin things, is hard. It’s like trying to make additional tournament legal stages for Smash Bros or maps for Starcraft. You gotta follow a certain template or things get gimmicky and frustrating. Of course there’s probably room for more experimentation in the future. These games have good enough combat systems to let the combat alone carry the game in the absence of level design, which generally tends to work out.

Making a Fair Doppelganger Fight

What sets Devil Hand apart from the other kinds of doppelganger fights? (i.e. Dante) Or does it just show how good God Hands moveset is that it can also work for a Boss?

Well here’s the trick, God Hand doesn’t use Gene’s actual moveset on Azel or the Double God Hand Gene at the end of the arena. All of their attacks are reactable, and unlike you, they have the ability to block like common enemies, and even have a few new attacks. When you use roulette wheel moves, they’re effectively instantaneous because time slows for the cinematics. When they use it, it’s all in real-time. Continue reading

Leveling the Playing Field for Unskilled Players

Is it possible or necessary to level the playing field in fighting games between skilled and not skilled players?

Nope to both.

The only way you can level the playing field is by making skill less influential on the outcome of the game. You can do this either by reducing how difficult the optimal outcome is to produce, or by reducing the amount of advantage conferred by the optimal outcome relative to the least optimal outcome. Or you can do this by having randomness be a much stronger determiner of who actually wins the game.

Of course, all of these things will piss off skilled players. You might have some limited measure of success depending on the implementation though. I’ve been arguing that randomized bullet spread has been bad for years and should be replaced with damage dropoff relative to distance to get the same effect and I don’t think anyone agrees with me on that.

Since the difference between skilled outcomes and random outcomes are difficult to distinguish, especially when the two are combined, randomness seems to help some games out, like Hearthstone, Call of Duty (Red Orchestra devs once called CoD out for this), maybe SF2 (never been explicitly called out for this, but it is the most mainstream popular SF game, so it’s possible the randomized damage and stun had a role), and Smash Bros with items on. Randomness mixed with skill tests allows weaker players to feel good about their skills when they occasionally win, possibly adding to the overall “stickiness” of the game for a wide audience, while still allowing players to build consistency overall.

However Luck can still be beneficial from a business perspective. This talk by one of the famous designers of Magic: The Gathering basically makes the argument, “Luck is really good at attracting players, introducing more luck into a game angers existing players, so you should start out with as much luck as you think the game needs, then reduce it over time as the playerbase matures.” And it presents the case of Team Fortress 2, which followed his pattern of high luck early on and reducing it as the game grew older, which was pretty successful for TF2.

Smash Bros Melee had a natural release valve in this way. The default modes and stages have items and other random effects, but the game offers options to turn these off, so as the game matured into its competitive format, players had the ability to turn off most of the randomness and get serious.

So to build a successful game, randomness helps to attract an audience, but it should probably have patches to reduce the effect of the random elements over time, options to mitigate the randomness that are made low-affordance on purpose so the community can slowly discover how to mitigate or remove randomness, or variant rules to remove the random elements.

The Pain of PC Fighting Games

What do you think of this? Should fighting games move to PC to get the sponsorship bucks and move out of the kiddie pool?

There’s an additional issue he didn’t address, the difficulty of setting up controllers on PC. Individual users don’t tend to notice it, because they’ve set up their PCs to run their controllers just fine, they’re not having a conga line of people over to each individually plug in their controller of choice and somehow make it work with the operating system and then with the game. Continue reading

Hard Games vs Journalists

Can a review still be trustworthy even if the reviewer is bad at the game they’re critiquing?

I’d say that someone’s skill at a game is directly related to their ability to comprehend the game. There are certain insights that will only reveal themselves to you as your skill at the game improves.

That said, it is still possible for someone who is bad at a game to develop these insights, it’s just unlikely. If someone is good at a game, that is a weak indicator that their insights will be good. If someone is bad at a game, I’d say that’s a strong indicator that their insights will be bad.

I take the position that reviews should be written well/descriptively enough that you do not need to trust the reviewer to agree with their conclusion. From this perspective, it should not matter if someone is good or bad at the game, their review should be descriptive enough to be useful regardless.

So basically, if someone is bad at a game, don’t expect much from them, but also don’t discount their words entirely. Listen for whether what they’re claiming seems plausible or implausible. Listen for whether their claims seem to be dependent on their level of skill. A good reviewer (but bad player) can theoretically extrapolate beyond their own level of skill to deliver accurate insight, I just think it’s unlikely.

In this case, this video is shameful. They originally titled the video, “Cuphead: It isn’t easy”, but have since retitled it to what it is now. The tutorial is especially sad, when the guy cannot figure out he needs to jump off the block and airdash, and spends 2 whole minutes running into a wall.

I don’t understand not just how someone can be so incompetent as this whole video, but also how someone like this would become a games journalist. I’d expect that people with a high enough interest in games to become a journalist would be capable of putting 2 and 2 together.

We keep seeing footage like this slip between the cracks, previously with Polygon and Doom. Expect to see less footage from journos now that this happened.

Looks like that Cuphead guy made a redemption video or something. Not sure if there’s much to be said about it, but any thoughts?

You can tell he replayed the tutorial level until he got a good take, because there’s no coin at the end. Still pretty poor coordination, and doesn’t really excuse that he didn’t get it the first time, because it’s the type of thing that the average person wouldn’t take nearly as long to get their first time if they had played practically any other video game before, or had a reasonably long history of playing games. Pretty sure Arino from GCCX wouldn’t struggle as much.

I’m kind of surprised the cuphead guys didn’t update the tutorial with a barrier that can only be passed with an airdash, without jumping (such as a gap with a ceiling above it to prevent you from jumping across), then a barrier that requires both jumping and airdashing at the same time.

You can tell his ability to switch from one button to another is still pretty bad, and he kind of goes on auto-pilot when moving and shooting at the same time, like he can only manage one thing at a time in his mind, but he’s also not playing panicky and running back and forth without purpose and running directly into obstacles anymore.This is still below the skill level of what I’d expect of a grown adult, much less someone who has covered games for 22 years. He seems like someone who has a hard time moving while dribbling a basketball.

https://www.patreon.com/posts/cuphead-it-still-14270750

I think George makes a good point in this blog post.

“The few “real journalists” I admire and follow in this business didn’t earn their reputations off of reviews, and the stories that made them big weren’t reviews. Ten years ago, Geoff Keighley made it big writing lengthy interview-driven feature pieces documenting the development of Half Life 2 and Portal 2 before they were even out. Four years ago, Danny O’ Dwyer was making flashy video essays boiling industry-trend criticism into common-person polemics on Gamespot. Last year, Laura Kate Dale released a string of infamous leaks revealing future Nintendo plans before the company could control the release of that same information. That’s what I consider “journalism,” and it has nothing to do with how good they are at games.”

There’s a lot to be reported about games that can be reported inerrantly without any sort of skill at games. You can report a lot of information that people want to know about games that has literally nothing to do with how games are played. And Dean Takahashi mostly does report that type of information. He has done roughly 2 reviews out of 14,000 non-review articles.Dean isn’t good at games, but for the vast majority of the content he writes, that doesn’t matter. He isn’t expressing opinions about how games are or the way games should be. He’s providing coverage about pretty much everything other than that, and that’s okay.

Cool Game-Related Anime

What do you think about game situation analyses in media like Hunter x Hunter and No Game No Life? I personally think they’re kind of cool, but do you think they misrepresent how games are actually played?

I ended up watching NGNL because my brother was really into it. On reflection, it didn’t really have anything to do with games, and kind of made up the rules of every game as it went. Continue reading

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.

Fighting on Pad vs Stick

What kind of fight stick/gamepad do you use for fighting games, and why?

I use a Dualshock 3. I mostly use it because it’s what I used when I started playing fighting games (although technically I first used the Wii Classic controller for SF2 Hyper Fighting and Guilty Gear XXAC), and because I really like having a good Dpad in the top position.

Pad means my inputs are mostly silent, and I have very good control over my movement, but not quite as precise control over my directional inputs as I might get on stick. It also means that I have difficulty pressing square + triangle or cross + circle and need to bind macro inputs for those usually, as well as R1 + R2.

If I had a consistent way to, I’d ideally use a dualshock 2 controller. Unfortunately my converter is spotty, so that’s not really a viable option (which sucks, because the converter I bought is known for being reliable too). Probably the biggest downside of the DS3 controller is the analog trigger. It doesn’t feel very comfortable, and it’s difficult to know what distance actually triggers the actuation, but I have gotten used to it over time. The DS4 trigger is much more comfortable, but the actuation distance is further, so it throws off all my timings when I use a DS4 pad. Dualshock 2 has a digital button for the trigger, which is highly preferable. Both the DS2 and DS3 have very rough Dpads, and I have actually rubbed my thumbs raw multiple times playing fighting games. I eventually sanded down the dpads to get a smoother surface to play on. The DS4 starts out smooth, avoiding this problem.

I own a Hori RAP4 fight stick. I tried using it, but didn’t stick it out or put the time in to really get good with it. I hold the stick with the same grip as Daigo, from the bottom, between the ring and pinky fingers. I have a lot of difficulty canceling into 2QCF supers or shoryukens on stick. I still hang onto the stick to let other people use it, and I’ll probably learn to play on it so I can play on arcade machines someday.

I think 360 inputs are probably the hardest input to perform on pad relative to stick. Sticks are much better at half circle motions in general, where I think pads are better for DPs and QCFs. Some older games (like 3rd strike, and older versions of guilty gear and blazblue) only count the cardinal directions as valid for their 360 and half circle motions, so if you miss the down input in a half circle back, (6314 instead of 63214), it won’t read your input. (624 does count as valid, it does not care about the 3 or 1 directional inputs) This can happen by doing the motion too fast on pad, where on stick it’s basically impossible. I learned how to do 360s in 3rd strike only after I went into training with input display and realized this was the case. My technique for doing them on pad is to do a half circle back, then tap up and punch, greatly improving my consistency. Modern games like SF4 and SFV let me churn the butter without needing to worry about inputting the cardinal directions accurately.

Is Difficulty in Games Exclusionary?

What do you think about Skip Gameplay buttons and Difficulty being a means of excluding other people from being accepted as real gamers?

The thing I have to say on the recent “Difficulty is Exclusion” topic is, a big part of the art of games is their challenge. Challenge isn’t some arbitrary wall that exists to restrict you from experiencing the entire product you paid for; That wall is literally a part of the product you’re paying for, part of the desired experience. People pay to get walls like this set up in front of them that they can test themselves against and work to improve at and overcome. Games are a type of structured play that entertain us by allowing us to overcome challenges, a drive that’s built into us as humans. The design of these challenges is varied and artistic in its own right, not simply a gating mechanism for experiencing the other art present in the game. Having a system that is constructed to only allow access to successive challenges if you can beat prior ones is a unique type of experience that a lot of people intensely value, and they’re not wrong for desiring and valuing experiences that force them to “git gud”. This plays on a natural human instinct that is highly cathartic.

I don’t have a problem with “tourist” or “pacifist” difficulty modes that allow people to stroll through the game without resistance. I don’t have a problem with games having an easy mode, or a skip button for gameplay. However, not all games should have these things. Games should be allowed to exist and thrive for not giving the players an easy way out, for not even presenting the option. There isn’t an objectively correct way to do difficulty, and some people intensely value games that force them to put their nose to the grindstone in order to succeed, just as other people don’t value those things and intensely value the other aspects of entertainment software. Games should exist to cater to both these tastes instead of uniformly insisting that every game is hard only, or that every game allow you to skip gameplay. Games should be free to occasionally not give you a choice. This isn’t exclusionary, it is the nature of the art itself, as much as color is part of the nature of paintings. Not everything needs to be for everyone. It’s okay to cater to the individual tastes of a niche. “git gud” is another way of saying, “Try a little harder, you can do it, and you’ll see why I enjoy this game too.” It’s a way of ending toxicity from people who blame the game for their failure instead of themselves.

The concept of a skip gameplay button draws a kneejerk reaction from a lot of people, including myself, because having that in a game can feel patronizing, can allow us to cheat ourselves, and not having the option to do that brings a type of certainty and reassurance. It’s okay to let people skip things sometimes, but it’s also worth recognizing the value in being forced to achieve with no alternative. The advocation for the ability to skip any challenge is seen by many people as a sign that journalists just don’t get what so many people love about games. That they don’t get a fundamental part of the medium, from tabletop games, to sports, to video games. These people aren’t exclusionary (usually), they want other people to enjoy the same thing they enjoy, without removing or altering the thing they love most about it.

It’s not a matter of you being entitled to all the content you paid for. A big part of the thing itself is the enjoyment of needing to work to see all of it, not because it’s exclusive, but because working hard and challenging ourselves is intrinsically enjoyable. It’s fun to improve and figure new things out on our own. Games are the artistic expression of different types of challenges. This art form of artistic challenges, including and especially intensely difficult ones, deserves to exist! It is as pure a reflection of human nature as any other art, and it should not be truncaded in a misguided attempt to deliver it to more people, without delivering the soul of the thing itself. Please make an attempt to understand why this is something people enjoy for its own sake, rather than assuming it’s the petty exclusionary amusement of a club of insiders. Please don’t dismiss it just because it is not to your taste and you cannot empathize with the concept of enjoying the process of learning through overcoming hardship. Games are beautiful, but this type of discussion is aimed at dividing people and turning them against one another, as members of separate tribes, rather than each taking a chance to understand and enjoy what others have enjoyed in the games they love.

Option Selects are Kinda Lame

I don’t play fighting games but, option selects seem lame. Are they?

Yeah, kinda. I mean, you can cover multiple options with one input, lets you hedge your bets really hard. 3-way option selects are even crazier. For example, the command throw YRC/air throw option select in Guilty Gear Xrd is basically an unblockable, which is bad because unblockables are bad. Continue reading