East Vs West

Do you really believe that eastern devs are better than western devs? if so what brought you to that conclusion? What is it that eastern dev do differently?

Y’know, yeah. I do think that. I mean, I think it because Japanese games tend to be good more consistently, and the majority of my favorite games (and the games I believe are the best games) are Japanese.

There’s some indicators of what they do differently in articles like these:

“I’m stereotyping, but in the West, scope, visuals, and features are the main attraction. For example, when we used to have Kojima Productions L.A.—we had an office in Los Angeles—we would get proposals for new games, pitches. It always started with: “This is the world you’re in. This is the experience I’m going to give you.” And gameplay was relegated to page 5 or 6 or 10. It was always about who you’re playing, who is the character, what’s going on, but not the “how,” how am I playing this?

In Japan, a pitch is a page, maybe two. The first page you write what the game is about and how you play it. And the second page, maybe you need an illustration. We don’t care about who, or what the story is, what the game world is, all of this doesn’t really matter.”


“Halo 2 and Half-Life 2 were developed in foreign countries. Perhaps foreign gamers simply like to play in realistic environments but I feel like there is something else to it. I think that American gamers have a stronger feeling that they themselves are the character in the game that Japanese gamers don’t feel as strongly.

Both of these games are FPS titles which have become very popular lately. I don’t think they necessarily rose to popularity because people simply like the genre or because the United States is a gun society, but rather because FPS is a genre that lends itself to really feeling like the character in the game.

An example that comes to mind is hearing a female gamer from overseas say that she thought it was awesome that she was able to become Dante when playing Devil May Cry. Overseas developers also spend a lot of time talking about how their games are immersive and feel realistic. Even for games that are in the same genre, if one uses cel-shading and the other doesn’t, the one that feels more realistic will probably be better received. This might also be a factor for why Final Fantasy games have taken on a more movie-like feel.

I think the feeling of actually being in the game world has become very important. It might be fitting to describe it as a Hollywood movie you can play. When looking at games in the west, that seems like a fitting description.”


“Sakurai: I think 3D games give American gamers a more immersive feeling. Japanese games are more of a fusion of 2D and 3D, or rather the visuals are 3D but paired with 2D game elements. I feel like there are a lot of those types of games. I don’t think that’s necessarily good or bad though. There is a gap between the, ‘I’m truly in the game world so this is natural,’ and the, ‘a game is a collection of systems,’ ways of thinking. This gap is changing the way we think about what makes a game feel like a game.”

I think that Japanese developers simply think more thoroughly about the game systems and how they can be used to challenge the player. They put a lot of polish into those where in the west we have more the AAA model, which focuses very heavily on superfluous details as well as unskippable cutscenes/tutorial sequences which drive me up a wall. Japan’s system-oriented approach turns out to be better for fostering the things I consider to be important in the final outcome of the product. Nintendo with the Mario games tend to mash together ludicrous ideas and characters to make certain mechanics work. It’s why Koopas are a turtle, so you can have that visual metaphor of the turtle going into the shell, then kicking the shell. It’s why you have Cappy and hat-wearing enemies in Mario Odyssey.

Although interestingly, despite being less game-oriented and more movie/simulation oriented, western gamers prefer higher difficulty levels than japanese gamers. I have two indicators of this:

“Western gamers like to challenge things. If a game is very difficult, they view beating it as a triumph over a sort of foe. Japanese gamers will quit if a game is too hard. They want an RPG where you never die. If you play an RPG correctly, you should not die. That is the point. Most RPGs are not concerned with raising your skill, they are concerned with raising your EXP – Experience. I think that Japanese companies are slowly losing the ability to make hard games that still appeal to Japanese users, and this is evidenced by the decline in sales of action games as Japanese users lose interest in challenging higher difficulty levels.”

And the feedback from the Nioh beta, Japan was not as happy with the difficulty and game balance as the West was. It’s kind of interesting that we’re split this way, but it would explain why the highest difficulty mode in western games is frequently challenging to the point of actually constricting depth instead of carefully drawing it out as tends to be the case in japanese games. As one person put it, “Built for no one, and playtested by no one.” I wish we stuck with the difficulties in Quake and Doom where more/different enemies are added instead.

nioh demo survey results.jpg

In the feedback for the Final Fantasy XV demo, we see a similar discrepancy between NA and Japan.


One point I have to admit to the west though is, the west has always been better at FPS and RTS games. Japan has never really tried to compete there, presumably because Japan is not very big on PC gaming, and both genres need a mouse to really be effective. Although, our glory days in both genres are long behind us.


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.

Open World Travel Time

How much of a problem is extended travel time in games? For example: lack of fast travel in the beginning of Dark Souls, or traveling to a location in an open world? Is it just filler?

I think this is a false premise.

Travel time can be a pain, but I think the better metric is, time spent without a challenge of some kind, or even more accurately, time spent without an interesting decision, because obviously things like configuring equipment, leveling up, and other such clerical tasks aren’t challenging, but they involve interesting decisions.

I have stated many times that I really like that there’s no fast travel at the start of dark souls. I like that you need to pathfind your way around a complex series of areas that have new connections opening up as you go, so trying to find the optimal route is an interesting decision in-of itself, and you need to do things like fight enemies on the way there which is an interesting series of decisions, and given you’re pathfinding, you end up generally going through the areas in an order you didn’t go through it the first time, so it’s slightly different each time, rather than just repeated content.

I think open world games suffer a little more in this respect because the world is not dense enough with challenges. Traveling from place to place takes a lot of time, and you don’t do much along the way, which can be boring. This is where lessons from platformers or racing games could probably factor in more.

What genre, if any, do you think benefits most from an open world?

The open world genre.

I mean, open world is kind of its own genre at this point, right? Among the big entrants we have RPGs, like Skyrim and the Witcher 3, “Stealth” like Asscreed and MGSV, and a ton of 3rd person shooters, like Just Cause, Watchdogs, GTA, Far Cry, MGSV, Red Dead Redemption, plus a lot of others, and we have sandbox games like Minecraft and No Man’s Sky.

I don’t think any genre benefits particularly more than any other genre from being combined with open world. It’s just a content presentation style really. Probably games that are more sandboxy like minecraft or breath of the wild benefit a bit more, but I mean, being sandboxy comes with being an open world game to a degree.

What Makes a Good Speedgame?

I sometimes like to watch SpeedRuns, one thing that I noticed is that Sonic doesn’t appears as famous in the speedrun community as I thought it would be, It is somewhat popular but its really small compared to Mario and Zelda. Its a design thing or its simply due to the overall quality and sales?

This raises an interesting point, the distinction between what makes an actually good speedgame (game that people speedrun) and what people think correlates with a good speedgame.

People tend to think of what would make a good game to speedrun as being a game which involves speed and has a fairly linear track, much like a footrace, or a car race.

The games that tend to work out best for speedruns are more like an obstacle course or a playground, things with multiple possible means of approach. Mario and Zelda tend to be a bit closer to this generally speaking than Sonic games, which tend to be a bit more straightforward, usually. Of course it does help that Mario and Zelda are more popular games overall.

I was more specifically referring to Classic Sonic. Modern Sonic is more a linear track, but Classic Sonic have multiple paths that intersect and have physics that encourage experimentation with both the paths and physics to get the optimal route, at least on paper that’s how I viewed it

I was including classic sonic. I’m aware of the multiple tracks thing, but I don’t think the classic sonic games are amazing speedgames (though they are good ones).

Oh, and to add onto the previous post, a good speedgame isn’t necessarily fast or slow in its pace; instead a good speedgame has a lot of opportunities to apply skill to go faster than the normal means of progression, and a lot of different possible progressions that affect one another in an intertwined relationship, making total optimization of the game extremely difficult, both to attain skill-wise, and to discover routing-wise. It’s about allowing players to demonstrate a range of competency at the game, rather than simply going fast in a time pressure scenario (literally running with speed) as some people tend to interpret it (like mario maker level creators, or people who intentionally try to build games that cater to speedrunners, but don’t understand what speedrunners actually enjoy).

Is it impossible for a Linear 2D game be an excellent game for Speedrun? I can only think of 3D games or 2D games that let you choose at least the stage order. I don’t really remember any 2D game that is populer to Speedrun but uses a linear stage order

Super Mario Bros is probably the biggest example of this, but it has warp pipes, so you may not count it. Similar for Super Mario World and the other 2d mario games.

Super Meat Boy lets you pick which stages of a world you want to complete before unlocking the boss, but is otherwise mostly linear.

I’m not sure if Cuphead lets you pick stages, but it probably counts. (update, it lets you pick stages)

Shovel knight lets you pick stage order, but you need to play all the stages.I don’t think the 2d sonic games let you pick or skip stages.

Ducktales lets you pick stage order, but all stages are required.

The Megaman games are popular, but let you pick stage order.

Contra, Castlevania, and Ninja Gaiden all do not let you pick stage order. These are not among the most popular games, but they each have at least 100 players on speedrun.com, making them more popular than Wind Waker HD.

Metal Slug X has 50 players, putting it above Link’s Awakening.

Kero Blaster has 18 players.

I think the bigger question here is, how many linear 2d games that don’t let you pick stage order are there actually? Probably the most common would be arcade games, which I don’t think are that popular as speedgames. There don’t seem to be that many games that fit this description in the first place.

Bullet Bloom: An FPS Tragedy

What do you think of the “bloom” mechanic in FPS games?

I dislike randomized bullet spray in general, so naturally I don’t like Bloom either.

For those not aware, Bloom is when a gun’s bullet spread area increases over time as it’s fired, resetting when you stop firing. It’s supposed to encourage burst shots as opposed to spray fire. I don’t understand the intention of doing this, except maybe some sense of realism. It seems like whatever it accomplishes could be accomplished a different way than this.

In regards to “bloom” in FPS or randomized bullet spread, what would be your alternative? I assumed it was for skill purposes. My assumption was that instead of your gun being a laser beam, you now have to control the recoil in order to win the gun fight.

Bloom is not Recoil. It’s about the cone of fire expanding over time, not the cursor moving upwards over time.

Bloom does add a skill element, burst firing the weapon instead of holding the trigger down, but it’s questionable if adding a skill element like that is the actual intent of bloom, because that’s a pretty lame and linear skill element to add, requiring people to tap the button instead of hold it down.

My alternative would honestly be just having the gun be a laser beam, with a fall-off in damage over a range, so that you can’t use an assault rifle as a sniper weapon. Barring that (if you REALLY wanted it to look like a gun and have the bullets spray everywhere so it looks somewhat realistic), deterministic bullet spread, similar to Counter Strike, so that skilled players could functionally have the gun work like a laser beam anyway. Star Citizen is doing a neat thing with recoil based on procedural animations, but I don’t really expect that to be much different functionally than random recoil or spread.

If you wanted the minor skill element of pacing your shots, you could have damage decrease as you fire longer. There’s always a deterministic way to recreate these behaviors without introducing randomness, but for some reason I always get ridiculous amounts of pushback on removing this type of randomness. We happened to make these effects in mimicking real life weaponry, and post-hoc we’re defending the benefits of designing weapons this way. We could achieve these same benefits without invoking the random number generator, but people complain that it’s unrealistic, that players won’t like that type of behavior, that it won’t actually accomplish the same purpose, etc.

I don’t see the point in having some of your shots randomly miss, and therefore your DPS randomly being higher or lower sometimes. I don’t see the point in being able to compensate for this by pacing your clicks.

Honestly, I’d like to be able to just point the gun at people and hold down the trigger while keeping the reticule on the target. I don’t get why we need all these other things getting in the way of that. I don’t get why we need to randomly vary how much damage you do. I get that bullet spread makes shots less accurate over a distance, so you do less DPS the further they are, but you could do that just be reducing damage based on distance. It’s a very indirect method of accomplishing the objective.

Having randomized bullet spray, or bloom, or iron sights, or some such just means that you need to do some extra little thing to maximize your DPS, like burst fire depending on range, raise your sights, and it doesn’t add any significant extra layer of decision-making to the game, it just means that you need to do a slightly more complex motion to optimize your DPS, and RNG will come down and screw you over in varying amounts.

Is there a name for ‘reverse Bloom’? Weapons that gain accuracy from sustained fire? Can’t recall ever seeing it in a game.

I can’t think of any games that do that either, but it sounds like it could be cool, reward people for commitment. I still hate anything with randomized bullet spread though. Honestly, just increase the damage of the weapon over time. Don’t bother with bullet spread. There’s literally no good reason to add bullet spread to a game. There is no gameplay benefit achieved with bullet spread that cannot be achieved by deterministic means.

The Future of Video Game AI

Do you think that AI in competitive vidya will ever get better at simulating playing against a human opponent? Is that even something that should be strived for? I’ve been getting into fighting games and am really realizing how entirely different it is playing against the CPU and other players.

That’s tough. I think it depends on the game. For fighting games, I think it’s hard to say if it will ever reach that point.

Sethbling did an interesting proof of concept here with neural networks being trained to copy his style of play, with the fitness criteria being how closely it matched the actions he’d take in a given scenario, so you end up with an AI that plays very similarly to a human player.

Of course this is a lot easier because Mario Kart is what I call an “Efficiency Race”. It’s a game about efficiency, more than a game about Rock Paper Scissors. There’s a tiny bit of RPS in the use of items and passing opponents, but not much.

I doubt the ability of AI to play like a human in that they can really play RPS in a complex game with multiple RPS loops and we the same way a human would. Or to be able to learn and adapt to a player over the course of a few games. I feel more like it would just have an expert policy and do the best thing each time, rather than play with the mentality of a human player. Also it’s hard to say if AI trained on imitating human behavior would really be capable of being “read” the same way as a human.

It would probably work pretty okay for FPS games, racing games, maybe RTS?

It’s hard to really say how this stuff will turn out, whether AI will develop patterns that can be read, and attempt to read your patterns in turn, or whether it could be programmed to play with a personality, like intentionally repeating the same move that the opponent loses to a lot.

Then again, there was Killer Instinct, which gave this a real shot with its Shadow AI System, which I haven’t personally tried, despite owning the game, but apparently it worked really well.

This isn’t a pure machine learning solution, a lot of the structure of the AI, and the tweaking of various variables was done by hand (essentially, the structure the AI learns by was designed by people who knew what it should look like), but still, it’s really impressive the types of results they got. It took very observant players to know all the tendencies they should copy for this. If we got this in more games, if these replaced the standard fighting game AI, then I think fighting games would be a lot better for it. I don’t know how hard that is, but this sounds from the talk like it was thrown into KI unceremoniously, as a cheap side-mode instead of a major developmental focus.

AI like this could theoretically be deployed to train new players. Imagine training an AI to do nothing but move forward and sweep at different ranges to teach players to punish on block? Or only throw fireballs and anti-air to teach them to beat that? Or only jump in to teach them to anti-air?

There’s a big potential here, but it’s hard to say if we’ll ever see a feature like this ever again.

Kingdom Hearts 2 Revenge Value

What do you think about the Revenge Value System on KH2?

Kay, so, Revenge Value is super simple. It’s a system that exists to prevent infinite combos, by allowing enemies to break your combos after being hit a certain number of times.

So how many times do they need to be hit to trigger this combo-breaker attack? It varies based on what you hit them with. Each type of attack has a hardcoded number that adds up when you attack the enemy, documented here:
And each boss has a hardcoded value that determines how much revenge damage is required to trigger their combo breaker attack.

So basically, you’re allowed to stunlock the boss for a set period of time more or less, and once that’s up, they get to attack you. Thereby you can’t just stunlock the boss forever and actually have to deal with threats every so often.

There’s actually a lot of systems similar to this in various games. The most obvious is Poise from Dark Souls, where bosses need to take a certain amount of poise damage. Or Yokai Ki in Nioh, where, once expended, you can stunlock the enemy, but it has a Ki Regenerating combo breaker attack that triggers after a bit, which has super armor.In fighting games, they just build the combo system so combos naturally end eventually. Skullgirls actually has a similar system to Kingdom Hearts, called Drama. Drama is built up every time a move hits in a combos, dealing more drama based on whether the attack is light, medium, heavy, or special.

By having values tied to attack type in this way, it means that combos in skullgirls and kingdom hearts can be optimized by trying to hit with moves based on their damage relative to combo breaker buildup. Each attack can be evaluated for efficiency by calculating damage/revenge value, then it’s a matter of building a combo that hits as many of the highest efficiency attacks as possible, and in Kingdom Hearts’ case, having a followup to hit the boss when revenge is triggered.

Kind of the issue with Revenge Value, relative to Drama, is that it’s totally opaque. There’s no feedback telling you how much revenge value you’re dealing with each attack, or how much the boss will take before they retaliate. So it’s a matter of trial and error with each attack on each boss, then once you’ve mined all the values, it’s a matter of memorization. Drama in Skullgirls is a visible meter on the screen, and you are told the drama values of each attack outright in the tutorial.

So yeah, it’s a pretty cute system. It lets you have combos, gives you an optimization pressure, and keeps it somewhat challenging. I’d personally have designed the combo system to allow for shorter combos instead with more varied revenge attacks to make things more interesting. Probably also would have added additional constraints on what moves in combos link to make combo optimization harder, and vary combos based on their starter, so you have a more complex neutral game, but whatever. (also God Hand did it better)


Good Enemy Placement

What do you think makes for good enemy placement?

There’s a lot of factors that go into this. In abstract, it’s about placing the enemies in spots where it is tough for the player to deal with them, but where the player has a variety of options for dealing with them, without allowing the player an easy way out.

This means also building the level around what the enemy can do. If the enemy is good at pushing, put them next to a cliff. If they toss projectiles that drop down, put them up high. If they require the player to jump, put down something dangerous to land on. Continue reading

Good FPS Map Design

What do you think constitues good map design in a multiplayer Fps game? I hear the term “this is a good map” but very few people go in depth as to what that actually means.

That’s not totally my forte, but I’ll give it a shot.


Here’s a picture from Robert Yang, which I think is a good depiction of FPS level design in a nutshell.

Apart from that, a big concept in FPS level design is “Loops”. In FPS, your position determines your line of sight to other people. Line of sight is a connection to other people, a capability to attack them. In this way, use of cover is like blocking or dodging in a fighting game, so the ability to block or dodge enemy shots is dependent on level design. In a hallway, you don’t have many options for approaching an opponent, there’s only one line of sight. To make a level where both people can choose to move around one another and position effectively versus one another, you need to introduce loops.

Take a look at de_dust2, the best known FPS map of all time. Draw a line along all the central paths through the level. There’s a number of loops created. Only one path crosses over another path on the Z-axis, and it tastefully adds another way to access


Now compare that to de_dust. This has loops too, but they’re much smaller, and more detached from one another, the middle area of the map is more like a chokepoint, while dust2 doesn’t have any absolute chokepoints.


Good maps are very conscious of how they control line of sight, and how they allow players to move through the level, as well as where they offer cover. Given how important positioning is in FPS games, it’s important to give the player many different possible paths they can take through the level. A trend to notice with popular Counter Strike maps is, they’re usually 3 big circular loops overlaid on each other, with a few smaller loops inbetween.

Stealth games rely on this principle of loops too, you can’t have stealth in a single hallway.

And on the opposite extreme, if you offer too many paths, then you end up with maps that the Quake community call, “Guess maps” where someone could pop up from any angle and there’s too many options to reasonably predict any particular one. This is why the 3 circles pattern tends to work pretty well in CS.

Other effective paradigms and tricks are out there too, such as in classic maps like Halo’s Blood Gulch, which has a curving hilly landscape to obscure far-off combatants, and high-up side-paths that people can try to sneak along. This blog post has further elaboration and its own ideas for how to design FPS maps.

When you encounter a good map, think about how games tend to play out on it, and whether the layout of the map contributes to fun sessions or not.

Join my discord to discuss this and other game design related topics:94db9c3c1eba8a38a1fcf4f223294185

Mario Odyssey Review

Mario Odyssey is 3d Mario’s return to the sandbox style of scavenger-hunt play featured in Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine. It features many hundreds of collectibles, called Moons, to collect through its levels (called Kingdoms), allowing you to progress from each level to the next after collecting a certain number of that level’s moons.

There are only 3 functional buttons, jump, hat, crouch. They can perform a range of actions based on context. Like crouch does a ground pound in the air, and then pressing hat throw will dive or roll depending if you’re in the air or ground respectively. Crouch and jump will perform a backflip on the ground. It’s interesting that they were able to condense the functionality of the game this much, but it’s kind of a shame that they didn’t use their excess buttons to more directly access functions like diving, even if it feels nice to groundpound into a dive. It can lead to pressing Y too soon after ZR, causing no dive to occur. Continue reading