Frame Data Patterns that Game Designers Should Know

Startup, Active, Recovery, Hitstun
Advantage, Disadvantage, Combo, Unsafe
Frame Trap

This Dustloop page is a helpful companion to this article.

Every attack has 3 phases, startup, active, and recovery. Startup is time before the attack has a hitbox out. Active is the time that the hitbox is out. Recovery is the time after the hitbox is out before you return to idle.

Attacks inflict a stunned animation on those that they hit, either hitstun or blockstun. This stun animation will interrupt whatever animation is currently playing, even if that animation is stun. In most games, the hitstun and blockstun animations are different durations, with hitstun being longer than blockstun.

If the hitstun animation is longer than the recovery frames of the move, then the attacker will be able to act first, before the enemy who was stunned. Frame Advantage means it’s your turn, and the amount is how much of a head start you get.

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Mirror’s Edge Review

This is part of my 5×5 review series. I’m going to try to review every game in my 5×5, available on the About & Best Posts page. Photos courtesy of Dead End Thrills and gifs courtesy of CabalCrow from my discord.

Mirror’s Edge is one of my most-played games because I used to speedrun it. My best time was about 55 minutes, which isn’t that impressive, but in the process of learning to speedrun it, I learned a lot about what makes an interesting speedgame. I also had a massive amount of fun learning the various techniques involved in the game, from the easy to the hard, and refining my run.

On this blog, I define a game as a “contract” that the player agrees to play under, either a contract with themselves or other players, as in a multiplayer or co-op game. With this in mind, the game isn’t necessarily the software you play with, but rather how you choose to use it, and different players can play different games with the same software. Speedrunners are playing their own game with the software relative to everyone else. For that reason my blog doesn’t tend to focus on the “speedgame” for a piece of software, but rather the “canonical” game that represents more of the lowest-common-denominator idea of what the public thinks the game is, which is usually something closer to what the developers intended than anything else. What’s possible in the speedgame sometimes can influence the “casual” game (what speedrunners call the more default ruleset), but it’s very situational per-game. Continue reading

Are Fan Expectations More Important Than Quality? ft. Durandal

Editors note: This article was co-written by Durandal and I. We each contributed a number of paragraphs and edited back and forth to make the final product.

If you stick around gaming discussions long enough, you might hear the phrase: “it’s a good game, but it’s not a good [franchise/genre] game”. Meaning: while the game might be fun, it does not fit the identity or expectations of a particular franchise or genre. A game not matching expectations is a valid reason to dislike a game, but there’s a tendency amongst fans and reviewers to treat not meeting expectations as an objective flaw with the game’s design. So when there’s a new game which breaks the mold of its genre/franchise, many would criticize the game’s design for not meeting their preconceived notions of how a game in said genre/franchise should play.

This can happen when a game tries to take a classic genre in a new direction, such as Ikaruga. During location tests it got mixed reactions because it didn’t play like any other shmup at the time. Most arcade veterans liked shmups for their straightforward appeal of dodging bullets and blowing everything up. But here the polarity-switching mechanic gives you a shmup that makes you rely much more on strategy and routing over reflexes, making the game more puzzle-like than your average shmup.

Instead of judging Ikaruga in a neutral light from a fresh perspective, many people judged it purely through the lens of what they think a shmup should do. But being a “puzzle shooter” doesn’t make Ikaruga worse or better, just different. Instead of acknowledging that the game is not up their alley, they view the game’s design as objectively flawed. Only how objective can said flaws be to someone with no experience with the genre/franchise?
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What does Agency mean in a Game?

Sometimes people refer to features as affording the player agency. Agency is held up as a value intrinsic to games. Many games enshrine the concept of player choice and consequence. This value mystifies me because it doesn’t seem to map to a distinct thing in video games. Agency in the real world represents power over your circumstances, but in games, your circumstances define what power you have in the first place. When the rules are defined, all the possibilities that can ever be are defined as well, unlike the open-ended real world. Can you have agency when you’re just following rules?

In the real world, agency is your ability to affect the world. Money gives you agency by allowing you to invest, buy things for yourself, move from place to place, seek different jobs, and so on. Your health gives you agency by allowing you to move unaided, lift heavy objects, guarantee your personal security against others. Your connections allow you to call in favors, delegate tasks to others, get information you wouldn’t know yourself, get additional financial aid, conduct work remotely, or change policy for other people.

In a game, the concept doesn’t really map, because what would be described as agency is either an illusion or completely non-applicable. What agency do you have in rock paper scissors? What agency do you have in tic tac toe? Tetris? Soccer? Which game has more agency, checkers or connect 4? If we go back to the definition of agency, power to affect your circumstance, we can see you are afforded choices in how you play the game, and some games have a larger branching factor than others, such as Go (361 starting moves) versus Checkers (4 starting moves). The problem is, does it make sense to call this agency, when we could just say branching factor, or state space?

In narrative games, such as Mass Effect, you’re allowed to make choices that affect the world. You choose which characters live and die. You choose which missions to pursue. You choose the fate of the government. You save the galaxy. These actions seemingly impose agency, because in real life, if you could choose who lived or died, travel wherever you wanted, overturn the rule of government, and be responsible for the fate of the world, you’d have tremendous agency as a person. However lets imagine you had no choice but to save the galaxy. Lets say you had no choice but to kill or not kill certain characters, no choice in what happens to the government, and followed the missions in a linear order? Do you still have agency when you’re fated to do all these things?

Lets play a game. Please choose whether the following characters live or die: John Cena, Mike Tyson, Oprah Winfrey, Shigeru Miyamoto. Please choose which order you’d like to visit these places in: Mojave Desert, Shibuya, Dubai. Please choose one form of government: Democratic Republic, Communal Anarchy, Anarcho Capitalism, Fascist Dictatorship. Please choose a color: Red, Green, Blue.

Okay, across these options, there were 1152 different possible combinations of choices you could have picked (2 * 2 * 2 * 2 * 6 * 4 * 3). Across 3 turns of Go, there are 46,655,640 possible combinations of choices (361 * 360 * 359). This is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison obviously, but agency is frequently used both to refer to large storyline choices (“you have the agency to affect the world around you”), as well as the styles of play afforded to the player (“You have agency in which path you’ll take through the level”), and level of nuance players are allowed to express in their actions (“This jump lets you control how high and far you go, giving you more agency over how you fly and where you land”).

I think every use of the word agency for video games is kind of nonsense. I view all choices in a game as being a branching point, whether they’re storyline choices, or where you place your piece on a board. These choices and the resulting states are a fungible currency across games, and the word “agency” doesn’t really correlate with them, or match any real world sense of the word. If I hack my Mass Effect save file before transferring the data over to Mass Effect 2, am I expressing agency over the world of the game by flipping a few bits? If you don’t have a save file, you get asked a few questions at the start of ME2 about what happened in ME1, which retroactively determines what possible ME1 events will be reflected in ME2. Is this agency?

Mass Effect 3’s Red Green Blue ending was derided for overriding player agency, funnelling a few hundred choices down into a single 3 pronged decision that ignored all of them, but are any of those choices, or even the sum total of all of them, really that deep? When you have a conversation with someone in real life, think of all the things you could possibly say to them. Think about their internal emotional state and yours and how it contextualizes everything you say. Think of how you could stutter, misspeak, say the same words with different intonation, creating a different meaning. Think of your body language, your position relative to them.

Agency is a concept that works in the real world, it’s useful for understanding how different people have power over their lives, and how to gain more power over your own life. Agency works because the power you have can be contrasted with a hypothetical lack of power, where in the world of a game, there is only what you’re given, no more, no less. Agency can be fictionalized, represented in stories by fictional characters, and the feeling of agency can be a pillar for a game’s theming, but on the level of game design, agency isn’t a real thing. There are choices, and there are states. It’s better to deal with these directly instead of appealing to a more vague concept that doesn’t really map.

Don’t Diss a Genre You Don’t/Refuse to Understand

I said I wouldn’t review any more videos of other critics, but I couldn’t stand to watch this one and say nothing. I’m reposting here, mostly because I think it goes a ways to explain the differences between traditional fighters and smash. If you’re a smash player, please play other fighting games too. Please stop sticking to one insular franchise.

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How to Make the Best Worst Action Game Ever

Making a good action game involves doing things like creating a variety of moves that each have a specific niche that they’re good at, but which other moves compete for their place, so choosing the right move for a situation is an interesting choice. Good action games have you use skill to perform moves by either remembering combo strings or finding ways to link different moves together with juggles or cancels.

Good action games have moves with different ranges, speeds, and areas of effect.

Good action games usually have at least 2 different defensive options with tradeoffs that make them easier or harder based on circumstance, and require some type of situational awareness, as well as different payoffs for success that themselves are situational.

In good action games, multiple enemy types are mixed and matched, so their overlapping attack patterns prevent you from just countering any individual enemy and locking them down.

A good action game has commitment, so when you perform an action, you are usually stuck performing that action when it is unsuccessful, so you can potentially take damage. When you are allowed to cancel your commitment or hedge your bets, it is usually costly, or forces you into a different type of commitment instead.

So how do you make a bad action game? Easy, just make everything uniformly functional and only aesthetically different, and give different moves clearly defined purposes that no other move can perform, like a specific key to a specific lock. This way every move is only good for 1 thing and it’s completely clear what that move is good for, and no other move will do.

Instead of making it so you perform different strings or combos through experimentation or skill, make it automatic. Instead of varying the properties of moves, make it so you play a paired animation with enemies and select the appropriate animation so your attacks always connect and always have the optimal followup. Randomly vary the combo followups so they look cool, but because it’s a paired animation, don’t have different properties in any real sense of the word.

Instead of having a few defensive options with varying rewards and situationality, add 1 defensive option that can beat anything regardless of circumstance and always leaves you in a good situation.

Instead of mixing multiple enemies that compliment each other with overlapping attack patterns, mix enemies that have functionally the same attacks, and limit them so only 1 enemy can attack at a time. Allow individual enemies to be locked down easily if there is no one else around to interrupt your attacks, and don’t let them interrupt if you’re in the middle of a paired animation.

Instead of restricting your ability to cancel moves or creating commitment to bad decisions, a bad action game lets you cancel offense into defense or more offense at any time, so choosing between different types of commitment is never necessary. To go further, allow the defensive options to cancel into themselves, or just give you a block against all damage with no associated cost that can cancel anything.

Basically, if you want to make a bad action game instead of a good one, make Batman Arkham Whatever.

Notice that doing this removes all interesting choices from the game and makes it resemble an easy version of DDR more and more as you continue to strip out everything fun. You’ll also end up with a game that is really easy to understand, and frees you up to make any type of cool looking thing you want happen without most of the technical hurdles usually associated with making that work in gameplay, like good collision detection.

So now your character could do absolutely anything as a paired animation with an enemy, and you don’t need to worry about positioning hitboxes and hurtboxes, coding complex state changes on hit, block, or dodge, or coming up with ways that different moves can have tradeoffs with one another while accomplishing similar purposes. Just animate really cool shit happening constantly, and you can have players mashing the button for it all the time.

Doesn’t that sound enjoyable?

How to Actually Change Someone’s Mind

Have you ever gotten in an argument before? A case where you had all the facts on your side and your opponent was clearly wrong and ignorant, yet they just wouldn’t give up, they only dug their heels in harder? Have you ever had that happen, and it turns out that you’re the one who is actually wrong all along? Can you bring yourself to admit you were wrong? Can you do it when the other person was mocking you? Lying to you? Do you feel like admitting fault would be like admitting weakness, like losing the argument? If you withdraw completely to avoid further mockery, do you think that’s cowardly, that you should let your points stand rather than be dishonored?

The finding from psychological research is, if someone has a strong belief about something, then being presented with real evidence their belief is incorrect they will not change their mind, rather their belief will grow stronger. When confronted on a belief, one tends to seek out reasons for believing what they do, and the belief grows stronger rather than weaker. We all individually think we’re rational, but we all make the same mistakes, even when we’re aware of those mistakes.
This is why debates on the internet tend to be acknowledged as going nowhere. The purpose of debate and argument is ostensibly to change the other person’s mind, but as one debates more and more, they find that no one is changing their mind. Since they aren’t changing their mind, why should you argue? Many people rationalize this as attempting to convince the bystanders, or that the other person will turn it over in their head and eventually change their mind, or do it for the purpose of refining their own ideas, or simply making the truth known and if the other person weren’t so thickheaded, they’d know good enough to change their mind, and if they aren’t, then they don’t deserve fair treatment anyway.

At this point the fault has become embedded in the system, and people have found reasons to argue, despite it being completely ineffective at the original purpose. Instead of trying to find means that are effective, they’ve come up with excuses for why being ineffective is okay by moving the goalposts. They’re tacitly admitting that changing people’s minds is impossible, so the only option is to polarize undecided people to your side or theirs and hope you win by majority consensus. Being locked in a bitter cycle of disagreement is fine because next time you’ll get to disagree even more strongly than ever before.

So what’s the solution? Don’t make it an argument. If you argue, if you frame each other as adversaries, you’re already in the trap. This is counterintuitive. The simplest thing to do when seeing incorrect information is simply to offer a correction, but if the other person has a strong belief, they will correct your correction, and instead of reaching the truth, you both end up correcting corrections ad infinitum. People think they are being convincing because they have so much evidence, and they can explain it so clearly, and they’re being scrubs.
A scrub is someone who has the goal of winning but doesn’t play to win. They have an idealized version of how the game should be played, and rather than taking the path to success, they doggedly stick to their guns on their ideal way to play, even though it rarely, if ever, works. They undermine themselves and deprive themselves of the skills they need to win on purpose, then rationalize it with concepts like Honor. If you try to prove someone wrong, you’re a scrub. You are directly preventing yourself from doing the thing you want to do. You’re trying to take a shortcut to belief change, and you end up further from the destination than if you had never tried at all, while making yourself and the other person angry and bitter in the process.

The thing to acknowledge is, everyone thinks they’re right. Everyone does what they do for reasons they think are right, and everyone has a self-serving narrative about it. Everyone also thinks they’re better than that and more rational than to be self-serving and think their beliefs are formed by evidence where other people’s are not. We collectively don’t tend to recognize that other people believe what they do for a reason, and we tend to be uninterested in that reason, instead diving headfirst into proving them wrong.

The key is to establish an atmosphere of intellectual honesty. You need to admit fault where you are at fault, and you need to be willing to change your mind in response to what the other person says, or you can’t ever hope to get the same benefit from them, even if you are legitimately completely correct and they are legitimately completely wrong. You need to de-escalate it from being an argument, and instead make it a mutual discussion and search for the truth. If both of you are working together to find out what’s right, then one of you is more likely to actually change your mind, which is what’s important.

This means abandoning the older notion of winning or losing the argument. Nobody can win an argument, because all arguments stalemate with someone eventually backing down because they’re sick of it or have something better to do. What you want is to be right. To act in accordance with the truth. To make decisions that are reflective of the nature of reality . And this is more important than winning an argument. Thus the win condition isn’t just to change the other person’s mind, it’s to have your mind changed too.

Of course, having beliefs isn’t wrong. Arguing for your beliefs isn’t wrong either, but it’s worth double checking at every stage of an argument whether you’re actually right or not, or whether there is anything you could stand to learn. If you are presented with conflicting beliefs or people attempting to prove you wrong, it’s worth trying to re-evaluate your beliefs from scratch. We have the beliefs we do because circumstance has presented us evidence that we think makes them align with truth.

And sometimes you know you’re right and the other person is wrong, and you happen to really be actually legitimately correct, however you cannot act like this is true a priori, because you’re not going to get anywhere, and because there’s no telling what crazy off-chance there is that you might be wrong. If you want the other person to change their mind, you still need to be open to what they say. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will compromise with them or change any of your beliefs at all, but you still need to follow the procedure or you won’t make any progress. If someone comes at you swinging disrespectfully with insults, mockery, and falsehoods, you need to be level-headed and patient enough to de-escalate and ask them to explain where they’re coming from. This is legitimately hard and goes against our instincts as humans, but it is the only way that actually works.

Apart from just being open to their ideas and them to yours and avoiding an adversarial frame, the key is to ask the other person questions about their beliefs and have them ask you questions about yours. Establish a Socratic Dialogue. Asking questions naturally causes you to consider alternative points of view, and helps you understand why the beliefs in the other person formed in the first place. Be legitimately inquisitive and respectful of their beliefs, however much you’re opposed to them. Remember that everyone has a reason for believing what they do that looks legitimate from their perspective and experiences. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine that all the same things happened to you, you only knew what they do, and you think in their way. Then ask yourself if you’d come to the same conclusions as them. Generally, the answer should be yes. If the answer is no, then it’s it’s probably a really weird case, or you have issues with theory of mind and you should work on that.

On the more aggressive front, when you’re relatively certain you’re in the right, you can ask them questions that cause them to realize and themselves point out the issues in their belief. Figure out through questioning what their core values are, and show them a way of looking at your side that is more compatible with their values. Get them to commit to particular stances and use their tendency to be consistent with them to . Avoid attacking them or insulting them, because you want the other person to like you, and you want them to think you’re being fair, which affects whether they’re willing to actually change their mind.

This also means purging yourself of ideas about fairness. Belief change is unfair, and your only win condition is the other person actually changing their mind (or you changing yours). Stalemates are actually losses. Hold yourself to these conditions very firmly and play to win regardless of how unfair the circumstances might seem. Resist the urge to retaliate against the slights of your opponent against you. “Well he did it first, so it’s okay if I do it,” is an excuse to undermine yourself by arguing instead of questioning. It might seem like you’re losing when you turn the other cheek to offenses, but remember your real win condition, which is to effect change in the minds of other people. In the pursuit of that, you should be willing to take any type of abuse or humiliation, because that’s damn better than digging your heels in when you’re wrong, or failing to convince someone because you can’t stay calm over petty offenses. You might have the pure-minded ideal that someone confronted with the facts should have the dignity and rationale to change their mind when shown the truth, but in the same situation, you’d be just as unlikely to change your mind as they are, so you might as well stack the cards in your favor. This is a standard you should hold yourself to, but not anyone else. Always hold yourself to higher standards of intellectual honesty than anyone else and never be unforgiving of other people for failing to meet your standards.

One of the big advantages of this method is also that it usually avoids pissing other people off. Arguments make people angry, where this approach tends to have people end disagreements amicably, even if the point of contention remains by the end, because at least both of you understand where the other person is coming from, and hopefully respect why they hold that value. You can view this entire approach as a style of manipulation, because it’s more effective at changing other people’s beliefs than basically anything else, but on the other hand it also means practicing intellectual honesty, avoiding hostility, and coming to better understand the other person, which means you’ll probably make and keep more friends in the long run as well as learn more stuff and steadily increase the accuracy of your beliefs about the world. You have both the selfish and non-selfish reasons to do this, selfish because it’s the only way to actually change someone else’s mind, and the non-selfish reason of also creating a better community and getting along with other people better.

One drawback is this is time consuming. It takes a lot of time to ask questions, receive answers, and come to a better understanding of the other person. And it’s difficult in longer written formats instead of speaking to the person or text chat which is suited to both short and long messages. It’s much easier to just say why they’re wrong and move on. Unfortunately, this really is the only way I know of to actually get anything done. If it would cost too much time to change someone else’s beliefs about something, then let sleeping dogs lie until a better opportunity arises.

Another drawback is, this doesn’t work on people who are being intentionally intellectually dishonest. It doesn’t work on trolls. It doesn’t work on people who are lying and know it. My best advice for dealing with these people is either don’t, or get to what their real stance is. Remember, (almost) everyone thinks they’re doing what’s right, or at least rationalizes their actions as inconsequential, even if that’s being an asshole and lying to other people. Also don’t be quick to label people as being intentionally intellectually dishonest. That’s a dangerous tactic, because most people are honest with their intentions, even if they don’t have a strong commitment to the truth, and calling them out for something they’re not doing is an easy way to get them to dislike you and not want to listen to you.

You can occasionally get around this whole process, but only if both you and the other person have a pact with yourselves to absolutely accept the truth as truth regardless of how conflicted you are, close to total impartiality and commitment to the truth over reinforcing previously held beliefs. This is extremely rare, and even if you think the other person might be applying this level of intellectual honesty, you can never be totally sure, and it can break down if the conversation goes poorly. If you both trust each other to be truthful and impartial, and to accept the results of the debate when it is clear what the truth is, then you can get things done a lot more quickly.

Another thing is that these are all skills and procedures you can improve and follow. These aren’t things people are born with or not, though some people and personalities find it easier than others. You’re responsible for having more productive social interactions with other people, and you can get better at it if you notice what people respond to and why.

Building Deep Traversal Systems

how do you make deep traversal systems for 2D games? I was thinking about outland which has a double color mechanic where you switch them to phase through same colored bullet patterns, but it seems just monkey see, monkey do

The idea is, create different movement capabilities for the player with different physical properties, different niches, and design obstacles around those, without making the obstacles strictly about demanding the player use one type of traversal on it. Don’t make any movement ability a silver bullet for a particular type of obstacle.

You can see this a lot in good 3d platformers (all 2 of them), like Mirror’s Edge, or Mario games. You have a lot of different movement mechanics, but none of the obstacles specifically require you to use one, they’re more generic, like, get up to this height, move across these moving platforms, avoid these obstacles, and leave the rest up to you.

A lot of 2d games already have deep movement systems, like Castlevania Symphony of the Night (and many of the games following in that style), Super Metroid, Smash Bros Melee, Yoshi’s Island, Sonic, Gimmick!, Demon’s Crest, Wario Land 4, Megaman X (especially X3, which had a grapple and airdash), Ori and the Blind Forest, Megaman and Bass, and more.

There’s a lot that can be done with airdashes, double jumps, long jumps, slides, ground pounds, and more.

What are your favorite type of restrictions for challenge runs? (Stuff like no damage, X weapon only, ect.)

I like low% runs. Where you try to limit how much of an essential resource you pick up or use, or whatever. The Mario 64 ABC run is a great example of this, as well as Low% in a number of Metroid games. Min Captures, max moons in Mario Odyssey seems to be shaping up to be this too.

I like restrictions which force creativity. Pacifist runs tend to be cool too. It’s cool to see things that are technically possible, but the game simply wasn’t designed for.

The Problem with Console FPS

Is it possible for a console fps to be good? Or can a high quality FPS only be realized for pc?

FPS games are about pointing at things using a cursor and clicking on them. Console controllers are not very good at this, meanwhile keyboard & mouse are not very good at letting you press an assortment of buttons for different, easily accessible, common use, functions, and at moving a 3rd person character.

The example I usually cite is, have you ever tried using your console’s web browser? You know how difficult it is to click on things when your cursor is moved by an analog stick? Compare that to using a mouse to browse the web. That’s what it’s like to play an FPS game with a gamepad versus a mouse. Consequently, I think almost every FPS game is better served with a mouse and keyboard than a gamepad.

If you want to build a better console FPS game, then it’s probably a better idea to minimize the amount that aim factors in and emphasize other skills instead. Something that plays better to the strengths of the gamepad. A good example would be Metroid Prime, which used tank controls and sidedashing around locked on targets, as well as having morphball sections.

Probably a more realistic solution is to create it as a 3rd person shooter instead. Gamepads are better at controlling a 3rd person character than a mouse and keyboard is, so it naturally makes sense to have a shooter be 3rd person on console instead of 1st person. Some games that pulled this off successfully are Infamous, Vanquish, and Nier.

One exception I have found is this indie game named Hunternet I was asked to try out. In that game, there is a fixed turn speed, even for mouse players. It’s a spaceship dog-fighting game, so this is an integral part of the gameplay. This guideline may also apply to Descent and games in a similar vein. Of course, the enemies and other players in these games are bound by similar restrictions, so it is a game more about dog-fighting, managing your movement to line up for the shot than simply pointing at things and clicking on them. Descent, also designed for dogfighting, likely fits this mold as well.

Begin Blog Here:

Hi, I’m Celia Wagar, and I write a lot about video games publicly and privately. A lot of my content is stored privately, maybe 70% of it. This blog is an attempt to get more of that content public and in a presentable format.

Don’t expect stuff here to be my final word on a subject, a lot of my writing goes through various edits or gets completely scrapped as I refine ideas. Some of the posts here are going to be harvested from conversations or articles I’ve written elsewhere. I hope to produce more video content in the future, so writings here may serve as the basis of a video.

My first project here will be migrating a lot of my more interesting/worth remembering answers on my

I have a lot of information on assorted video game related topics, please ask me if there is something you would like to know more about. It may end up with me amending the article in question or writing a new article as an answer.