Learning Game Design

with Arcade Berg

Bunker – Aced

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Yes! I finally aced the Bunker level in LittleBigPlanet. Probably took me 3-4 hours and one play-through of the level is no more than 10 minutes… All I got was a crappy helmet.

Written by Arcade

November 18, 2008 at 10:34 pm

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SmallLargeCelestialBody

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[Disclaimer: I’m sorry. After writing this I realise that it’s a lot of words… It’s just that I got so much to say. I even left some parts out. I’ll try and keep it shorter in the future.]

Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet is my new drug. The sensation will most likely wear off but heck, right now, I can’t stop thinking about it.

First of all, let’s get this out of the way; the game isn’t perfect. I wanted it to be, but it really isn’t.

The gameplay is focused with a great scope. The controls are really user friendly making this very close to being a pick-up and play title. The plattforming gameplay only requires one analogue stick and two buttons to be used, the rest of the buttons are used for emotes and placing stickers to unlock some secrets.

The friendly approach towards the player is, if you ask me, a wise decision but it can however turn many experienced players off. In an earlier post I described the physics as being part of a moon landing and I’ll stick by that claim. It’s all very… floaty. The plattforming isn’t like Mario, Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet & Clank, Mega Man or any other plattformer you think feels good. LittleBigPlanet is just… slow. The controls can be quite unresponsive because of this and some precision jumping can get you killed because of what you as the player might feel isn’t your fault.

However, the more you play it the more you get used to it and starts adjusting your timing accordingly automatically. It’s more often not a problem for me nowadays.

Because everything is physics driven you’ll probably encounter what I think is the gameplay experience’s  biggest flaw. Sometimes your (adorable!) sackboy will have a hard time keeping his feet on the surface beneath him. The problem with this is that when you’re trying to jump you just… might not. This is because if the sackboy isn’t actually standing on something, of course he can’t push away from anything to jump. A great example in the game of this is an early level in which you stand on a (mechanical) bull’s back and you have to jump off at the end to reach a plattform. Because the bull’s back keeps moving, aswell as his neck, I most often needs several tries because actually making what would in any other plattforming game be a very easy jump.

There are, as I see it three parts of the game; the Story Mode created by Media Molecule themself, the community aspects and the creation of new content.

I’ve finished the Story Mode playing by myself and I’ve replayed quite a few of them with friends and with randoms on the Internet. The story is about as deep as a puddle of water but that’s okay. Actually, it’s more than okay, it’s great. This is the kind of game that shouldn’t take itself too seriously when it comes to narrative and epic story-telling.

The Story Mode is really fun and all but the reason I keep playing is because there are hidden treasures all over each level, giving you more stuff to use in Creation Mode and the fact that Media Molecule’s own levels are truly great examples on what you yourself can create. It serves as inspiration like no other if you don’t already have many hours spent on the Creation Mode. Let me tell you this; the guys that made this game are quite clever fellows!

Now, playing alone is jolly good fun but playing with friends, local or online, now that’s where the fun really takes off! It’s hard to make a game boring if it includes co-op, but it’s even harder to make a game this much more fun when played with buddies!

When I feel that I want something else than the bundled levels, I can go online and try out all the user-generated content and that’s where the second part of the game takes place. There are hundreds, maybe thousands (I don’t know) of levels created by other players out there. Let me be honest with you guys… You can keep a secret, right? Most of the community levels sucks… Big time! But hey, that’s to be expected and while there are some worse than any episode of Days of our lives, there are also some simply amazing ones. Some levels beat Media Molecules levels in in ingenuity, some in art and some in pure fun to play!

I really recommend trying out the levels World of Color and Super Tank (both videos avaliable 15/11-08).

One thing I think is really cool with the community levels is that the creator can choose to share things he or she builds as prizes on the level. Either by having them as a pick-up in the level or as a reward for finishing the level with a pre-requirement fullfilled. Thereby community levels are just as much worth playing as an official level.

The game’s Trophies are even encouraging playing both the Story Mode aswell as the community levels. Thumbs up Media Molecule! 

The third and final part of the game is to create your own levels for others to play.

Let me just get this off my chest:

Include Keyboard and Mouse-support! Create a patch now and give me some decent controls! I want hotkeys, Ctrl-Click, Mouse-based camera control, Ctrl-Z (Oh god… How I want Ctrl-Z…)! Give me! Gief! I want it! I crave it! I’ll even pay for it on PSN! Just… Do it!

…Phew.

When I was to create my first stuff in the Creation Mode I made one big mistake. I got in way over my ears! “How hard can it be? Let’s build’s some mechanical robot-thingy.” … Well, let me tell you; I failed. Oh man, the first night I was fiddleing with the editor, I got furious. Nothing worked, things kept falling apart, my levers and switches didn’t do what I wanted. I got to bed irritated that night…

The entire next day at work I pondered on each tools functionality, I read up on some forums (avaliable 15/11-08) (during breaks, of course) and once I got home, I sat down and started creating some simpler stuff, one step at a time and suddenly I felt enlightened. It all worked. Godrays lit on me from heaven, I had been chosen, I was now one of the creators.

God said: Arcade, damn you’re cool!
I answered: Thanks dude, you’re not so bad yourself, creating the earth and everything.
God: A mighty fine world I might add.
Me: Yeah, but sorry to dissapoint you. I’m gonna surpass you now. I’m gonna create a world in which everyone is happy. And once I’m done, I won’t take a day off to relax.
God: Impudent child! I’ll stop you!
Me: You try and do that. Watch me!

It’s on! So let’s see who’s gonna win. Me or God? 

Creating, now there’s my drive. It’s what I love to do and it’s what I’m usually good at. I find the tools in LittleBigPlanet to be very limiting and they offer a very slow working environment which at times make me a less than super happy boy with stunning looks. 

Yet, I love working with it. Right now, I’m longing for it! I’ve been away this weekend, and during the time on the trains, I’ve been sketching ideas for one of my two level projects. At work, I sketch. It’s like a drug!

I’m such a LittleBigPlanet sucker that I’ve bought all their extra in-game clothing available on the PSN-store. One measly T-shirt, only for sale during the first week cost 45 Swedish crowns (4.5 euro or 5.7 US dollars)! Luckily it as the only thing ridiculously expensive.

The game has overall been getting some really great reviews. During the first few hours with the game I thought maybe they were a little too positive but now I see that they were right. This game deserves all the great reviews it gets!

So, I’ll see you in LittleBigPlanet?

PS. God, prepare for humiliation!

 

Say hello to my LittleFriend!

Say hello to my LittleFriend!

Written by Arcade

November 16, 2008 at 9:24 pm

Reason of absence

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So uhm… I haven’t posted anything in a while and I’m not sure my excuse is adequate. For the last week and a half, pretty much all I’ve been doing except from work is gaming.

Usually, I don’t game that much because of lack of time. But really, this fall is too good to pass up. I figured there is a part of the 24h-cycle I haven’t fully made use of; the night. So listen to my symphony of the night! I’ve stocked up on energy drinks and when I get tired I’ll drink some. Of course, this isn’t a valid method for long but right now I have both Fallout 3 and LittleBigPlanet so drastic measures are needed.

Though, let it be heard that I haven’t forgot about the blog! I’ve secretly been writing on a couple of posts (one on graphics and one on the “magic circle”) and shortly I’ll post my thoughts (not reviews!) on Fallout 3 as well as the happiest game in a long time; LittleBigPlanet.

Oh, one more thing! I just gotta share this with you guys because I laughed out loud at the office while watching this. (Not that I watch YouTube at work! … I saw it on Gametrailers…)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpzAAgtZ7V4 (avalible 14/11-08)

Written by Arcade

November 14, 2008 at 6:09 pm

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LittleBigPlanet – First Impression

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LittleBigPlanet, the game with a following resembling a religious cult in which I’ve been a member since the early days.

The game finally had its european release today but I was fortunate enough to have it waiting for me with the rest of my snail-mail when I got home from work.

I played for about 4 hours yesterday before going to bed. Unfortunately the servers were all down for maintanance so I didn’t get a chance to try out any of the online features or any kind of multiplayer.

Of course, after all the hype and all my intense daydreaming the first 20 minutes or so wasn’t “all that”. It felt great, for sure, but it wasn’t the naïve religious-like extatic super wow-feeling I somehow had come to expect. But it grew on me, in less than an hour I was completely sold.

The moon-landing physics when moving around felt a bit weird at first but once I got used to it, it worked like a charm.

I still haven’t tried and built anything so I can’t comment on it except to say that it fear that it’ll feel a bit tedious to use the pop-it menu.

I’ll be gone for the weekend so I won’t have the chance to play it more untill next week or maybe sunday night, but once I’ve tried out the level building tools, the community and of course the local and online multiplayer I’ll let y’all know what I think.

Problem is… I still haven’t finished Fallout 3 either. So little time…

Oh, by the way! Right now my Sackboy looks totally rad in his giant sombrero and long manly moustache!

Written by Arcade

November 7, 2008 at 5:50 pm

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Grim Puzzle Doc

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The Puzzle document for Tim Schafer’s classic adventure game is now avaliable for download from:

http://www.doublefine.com/news.php/site/just_one_more_grim_thing/ (avaliable 6/11-08)

We didn’t have the last puzzle designed when I wrote that document, so I wrote two nonsense paragraphs and then overlapped them in the file so it would look like the final puzzle description was in there, but obscured by a print formatting error. That way I could turn the document in by the deadline. As if anybody was going to read it all the way to the end anyway. Ha ha. Obfuscation triumphs again! I delight in Evil!

– Tim Schafer

Whether or not it’s a good reference if you’re thinking of doing something similar is up to you to decide but it’s an interesting read nonetheless.

Grim Fandango is one of my all time favorite adventures and I’ve even done an in-depths analys of the game while studying Game Design at the Univeristy. It was about if the then new GrimE-engine was an estethic improvement for the player only or if 3D was required to execute some of the puzzles. I sure wish I had this document back then…

I have to give a shout-out to Jesper Bylund, a friend and fellow designer because I found the link on his blog.

Written by Arcade

November 6, 2008 at 4:39 pm

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Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia

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Last week Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia from Konami showed up for the DS. I’m about 5 hours into the game and I think it’s great!

It’s well adapted for the Nintendo DS plattform by allowing for very short play sessions without leaving the playe unsatisified and annoyed which I feel is the case in many DS-games. I mostly play it on the bus to and from work and sometimes during the lunch and that’s about it.

Making me feel that it’s okay to spent that little time per play session is a fantastic acclompishment and something that shows that when done right; handheld gaming can be great fun! I often feel that handheld games still require me to invest a lot of time per session if I am to get something from it.

The controls in this Castlevania is just like all the other in the 2D-series after Symphony of the Night (which by the way still is THE best Castlevania game and should be purchased by all via XBLA or PSN) and it’s just as responsive as ever. If I die, it’s because I screw up; just like in the Megaman franchise. Personally I’m very happy that they don’t require the player to use the stylus or touch screen at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the touch screen. I absolutely love Nintendo’s Kirby: Power Paintbrush (aka. Kirby: Canvas Curse, aka. Touch! Kirby). In fact, it’s one of my favorite games for the DS. However I don’t like it when I’m required to change my grip on the console, going from a “classic” D-pad + face button grip to a stylus grip like they do in Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow.

The bosses seem as far into the game as I gotten have been tremendously hard untill I figure out a good tactic after which I can overcome the obstacle with great success. The challenge overall can seem a bit too much for casual players but then again, Castlevania has never aimed to please them anyway. For Castlevania-fans, such as myself the difficulty is just about right and quite similar to the previous games.

And the art, oh, the art! The game is beautiful! As always with the series, the sprites are wonderfully animated and there is never a “cheap trick” to it. If you’re wearing a rapier in your left hand and a mace in the right, you can be damn sure that’s how it’s gonna look in the game when Shanoa (the game’s avatar) starts bashing away.

If I could play this game on my TV instead, I would.

The downside of the game for me is for one the monotomous sound effects that after a while can get a bit annoying but at the same time, it’s pretty much the same effects they’ve been using for several games now so it’s pretty charming.  That is however no excuse.

If you’re a Castlevania-fan, odds are that you’re already well aware of this game and need to hear nothing more. However, if you’re just a gamer looking for a good DS-game I’d highly recommend this. It’s not for everyone but I think you at least should check it out, it’s worth that much.

What I want now is a new great 2D Castlevania-game for the PS3 and/or Xbox 360!

 

Box art

Box art

An early boss fight

An early boss fight

Shanoa; the protagonist

Shanoa; the protagonist

Written by Arcade

November 4, 2008 at 8:51 pm

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Achievements

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I have 167 Achievements and 2830 Gamerscore on my Xbox Live account.

I have 13 Trophies making me a level 2 user on my Playstation Network account.

I have 15 achievements from Team Fortress 2 on my Steam account.

Achievements ruin the fun and freedom of playing for some, including me.

I’m not saying a game is bad simply because of achievements. I’m merely of the opinion that achievements aren’t a good thing per default. They can be used as a powerful tool to enhance games but unfortunately it’s a double edged sword and I don’t think everyone is wielding it just right.

I’m not offering a solution for this. All I do is trying to define some of the problems while also noting some of the positive aspects as well.

The word

The phenomena of which I speak, the “achievements” has many different names depending on the community. Being it Achievements by Microsoft or Trophies by Sony, the fact remains that they are all the same thing; a pseudo-trophy of accomplishing something in a game that is predefined by the developers. The trophy is then connected to your registered profile of the present community.

In this text I’ll continuously use the term “achievement” as a union of all different communities reward-term.

Player Types

Richard Bartle writes in HEARTS, CLUBS, DIAMONDS, SPADES: PLAYERS WHO SUIT MUDS (http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm, available 29/10-2008) about four different kinds of players. His text and classification of players are focused on playing MUD; the types however are applicable on many kinds of games. The text is also used in several Computer Game Development educations, the one I studied being one of them.

The player types are Explorers, Socialisers, Killers and Achievers. I think what I’m about to present is mostly valid for the last one; Achievers.

Achievers regard points-gathering and rising in levels as their main goal, and all is ultimately subserviant to this. Exploration is necessary only to find new sources of treasure, or improved ways of wringing points from it. Socialising is a relaxing method of discovering what other players know about the business of accumulating points, that their knowledge can be applied to the task of gaining riches. Killing is only necessary to eliminate rivals or people who get in the way, or to gain vast amounts of points (if points are awarded for killing other players).

          Richard Bartle

One important thing to note if you haven’t and will not read Bartle’s text is that a player is seldom 100% of anything. It’s an interest graph in which each player is leaning one way or another.

Playing for rewards

What is the goal when playing?

When playing, you want to play in the “most rewarding” way. Especially achievers. What rewarding means goes from having fun to acquiring achievements and Gamerscore. Achievements are just meta score that doesn’t really mean anything except for self confirmation, aka. E-penis.

Simply put, E-penis is a measure of how much power you have on the internets. E-penis can be from power from controlling a BBS, chat room, ISP, live journal, message board, website, or wiki. It can come from being powerful in a game (whether from wasting their life away to gain skill or by cheating). It can also be from the old-fashioned past-time of mailbombing; maybe even Denial of Service attacks over IRC (large scale DoS get you sent to prison). Pretty much, the larger your E-penis is, the less you’re really worth in real life. TRUTH.

          Encyclopedia Dramatica
http://www.encyclopediadramatica.com/index.php/E-penis, available 29/10-2008

Okay, so maybe that quote is a bit extreme but you get the point.

The most rewarding way of playing is for some the way that gives me the most achievements. Let’s use the term achievers for this kind of player.

Another thing that makes the meta scores lose some of it’s’ value is due to the increasing amount of different achievement communities. Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Steam and Blizzard; for each new player base that initiate an achievement system all the other are affected in something very much like inflation.

The E-penis Utopia would be if all games were to share one system. But then again, not all games have achievements. I believe Sony has made a bunch of Playstation 3 owners grumpy about this.

The Problem

And here comes the problem with achievements, they direct the way you play the game. The keyword here is being restriction.

Normally you can’t get all the achievements in a game by “simply playing it”.

Take Bioware’s Mass Effect for the 360 as an example. There is an achievements for gaining enough Paragon points (gained by playing as “good”) and another for gaining enough Renegade points (gained by playing as “evil”).

Now, when I played through Mass Effect I started playing as a Renegade doing things my way, the badass way. I started fights, I insulted people, I stole and I slaughtered. Heck, I even committed genocide. My Renegade points just kept coming but a bit into the game the “Should I solve this the “good” or the “evil” way?”-dilemma was gone for me. Since I knew there was an achievement for gaining enough Renegade points, I kept choosing the “evil” way of playing at every opportunity I got. If I were to choose a Paragon-approach I would all of a sudden work against getting the achievement, since I figured you can’t get both in one play-through.

In Mass Effect there is also achievements for defeating X enemies with a Sniper Rifle, another for defeating Y enemies with Tech Ability Thingymabob, another for defeating Z enemies with Biotic Ability Watchamacallit and so on…

The problem? “Forced” play-style.

My character became a great sniper early on in the game as it was the weapon I felt most comfortable with. Unfortunately after a while I got the “Sniper Achievement” and thereafter I felt I shouldn’t use the Sniper Rifle anymore (except during hard sections where I simply had to ignore the achievement urge) because there was no “reward” by doing so in comparison to other weapons in my inventory. Therefore I started using pistols, shotguns and assault rifles instead, even though I often felt some of them being of very little use compared to my beautiful long-distance-one-shot-one-kill-divine-sniper-rifle-of-gorgeousness!

Is Achievements a selling point?

At the time this is written; tomorrow is the release-day for Bethesda’s Fallout 3. I pre-ordered the Collector’s Edition a while back. I just can’t resist the bubble-head Pipboy! I knew I didn’t want to order it for the PC because I prefer playing in the couch with a controller staring at my TV but there was still the decision of whether I should get it to the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3.

I finally decided on the 360-version because of the promised exclusive downloadable content being released for PC and 360 and not Playstation. If it weren’t for that I’d gone with the PS3-version due to the fact that I then wouldn’t have to bestow the achievements a single ounce of consideration. In short: the gaming experience wouldn’t be affected.

Let’s just hope that Bethesda’s isn’t mean to me and that I can have some self control and just ignore the achievements and play the game for what it is alone.

I can’t deny that these meta scores are a success. A lot of people choose the 360-version over the PS3-version for multi platform games because of the achievements. I don’t. I’m kind of the opposite.

It aint all bad

But let’s not get all depressed about achievements now. As mentioned before, they can be used as a tool of good as well!

Achievements can enhance gameplay or at least replayability by a great extent.

I have finished EA’s Army of Two four times, once with the A.I. and the rest with three different friends. More than just playing on different difficulties I also found some extra enjoyment in earning some of the achievements by, just as in Mass Effect, defeating enemies with weapon X, Y and Z, using the shield-bash technique, etc.

I know this is in a way a contradiction to what I’ve previously stated. Why am I enjoying it when I hated it a few paragraphs ago? I think I’m excused because I (and many others) don’t usually play through the same game four times. I gained these extra achievements mainly thanks to the amount of time dedicated to the game.

How it should be used

If there are to be achievements, I’d rather see progress based and game mode encouraging only.

Progress based achievement is a great kind feat for a reward; the motivator for playing some more is still there. I want to play more, to get more achievements. It’s the same psychological urge for getting confirmation of my worth, but it doesn’t dictate how I should play except for “more”.

If we only use only progress based, I can still brag.

”I’ve finished more games than you.”

“I got more score than you.”

But it only means I’ve progressed more in games. Not that I’ve played according to the game designers whim. I can still progress my score, I can still “level up”. My e-penis still grows.

In addition to progress based I think achievements that promote trying out all the game modes in a game are great! Cheering the player to try out the Multi-Player mode in an otherwise Single-Player game, perform a race in Time Trial Play in a tournament racing game and so on. Requiring the player to win a match online is also fair enough as long as the achievement doesn’t dictate pre-requisites of winning. “Win 20 online games”, sounds good enough. “Win 20 online games utilizing only the knife” is bad.

Why can’t I just don’t care?

Some might say I’m just silly, since you can just discard the scores all together, but somehow I find it difficult to do.

I want to play for fun!

Written by Arcade

October 29, 2008 at 11:00 pm

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