Thursday, June 25, 2009

Office Casual

Yes, it's a lazy photoshop, the summer heat is starting to drain me.

I've been playing a lot of Plants vs. Zombies lately. It's a shining example of casual game design and has really hooked me in:

Jump in and out
Like most people my age (23 at the moment), I don't have the same time to commit to gaming as I used to. Getting home from work after staring at a screen all day long doesn't make sitting in front of another screen for hours at a time an attractive option. Playing for a few minutes while I wait for dinner to cook or riding the subway to work is usually the most zen time I have to play games.

Plants vs. Zombies not only supports this (as you can drop out of a game mid-level), but encourages it. There is a feature called a "Zen Garden" where you tend to a set of plants and meet their demands in real time. My routine this week has been to get up, water the plants, and arrive at work to see my Purple Marigold needs to be watered again. It's little things like that that make dropping in and out more satisfying (ignoring the plants carries no punishments either, only rewards!)

Core Mechanic
A staple of good game development is to prototype a core mechanic/concept, and build your game around that feature. You can tell from a mile away that that's exactly the approach the developers took. Every Level, Mini-Game and Puzzle is built on the same idea, strategically choose defenses to counter a threat in a given environment with given resources. I get the feeling the designer wanted to make something rather gritty and "military defense" but had to reshape it to fit Pop Cap's Casual market (you have to play it to see what I mean). I like the game for how it plays, but I love it for it's charm and addictive nature, even if it does turn into a bit of a grind later on.

I'll also say, this game has a TON of content despite the deceptively simple gameplay and price point (~$20 at the time of release)

Epic Boss Fight
Of course, what game wouldn't be complete with a nice climax to cap it all off? Unless you've played the game, you wont know what I'm talking about, but causing a hailstorm of fruit and veggies to rain down on an evil zombie-robot brought back that long lost "oh-snap!" gaming moment I haven't felt for a very long time. Good job Pop Cap, or at least, good job to your amazingly small development team on this project!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Fallout Frustrations

The final comic from Penny-Arcade's contribution to Fallout 3 promotions. I'll own up to the fact I didn't play the original Fallout 1 and 2. I wasn't much of an adventure gamer, I spent most of my early years in the Eastern market playing the (at the time) Squaresoft and Capcom titles. However, I know the worlds they are set in, and anything post-apocalyptic is my bread and butter.

Fallout 3 is a great game with very strong connections to it's adventure/RPG roots. However, there are still crippling game design problems that drive me batty when trying to play it:

Loading/Saving features are a fundamental game design problem, strongly evident in many RPG, FPS and Action/Adventure titles. While the two latter genres have (somewhat successfully) overcome this problem with checkpointing and crafty level design, non-linear RPGs have a much tougher time. I'm against gamers quicksaving/loading to ensure a perfect performance yes (because of the disconnect with immersion), but I am for putting a certain degree of freedom in the gamer's hands because no game can have a perfectly shaped experience. It's very dangerous territory to tread.

I certainly don't enjoy being forced to live with certain consequences, because I love to experiment with certain actions. But, I really hate being punished by losing an hour or two of progress because I simply forgot to dislodge myself from the immersive grasp of the game and hit a few arbitrary buttons in the main menu.

Console FPS Controls
This problem mainly applies to the xBox 360 version

I'm deeply afraid of the day those kids that were raised on Halo using sticks, will beat out the ones raised on Counter Strike. First person shooters on the console (using dual-analog sticks) are tricky to play, especially for newcomers. A lot of tricks and "hacks" have been put in games to assist players such as adding camera decay or auto-aim features. Unfortunately, Fallout 3 has nothing of the sort, at least not that I've seen.

It's very frustrating to not be able to shoot a guy hitting you with a bat because you can't put a reticle over top of him, whereas in real-life you would just point for the nether regions and unload. The shooting controls are clunky and annoying and just not that fun, especially for a game that puts combat fairly high up on the feature list.

Maybe I should just get the game for PC?

I love the atmosphere and world that Fallout is set in, there's just so much in the way of me actually connecting with it, and enjoying it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Sorry, nothing funny today, just a quick post.

The ending "gameplay" to Condemned: Criminal Origins is brilliant.

That is all.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Old Skool RPGn'

Oh, did I ever mention what a Final Fantasy addict I am/was?

I really fell in love with the job system in the 5th title of the series (Which I'm replaying through right now). While it could have used some balancing and possibly a more dynamic way to gain abilities through job selection, it was still excellent for it's time. I love how the elements of character customization was directly linked to the core gameplay, if only the concepts of jobs was just as linked to the game plot.

I'd really like to see some newer JRPG titles released today with a splash of updated 2D art without sifting through piles of indie crap. A side project I'd like to explore in the future is creating some episodic content for an RPG style game using the RPG-Maker "Engine". The one major design focus I'll be investing time in is how to improve the existing combat system from a stat war (which I find are all often poorly done since the balancing is a nightmare) to something a little more polished and involving than choosing from an ever-growing list of actions.

Creating a brand new combat system from scratch is certainly an option, but I like challenges, and I like constraints even more. Using Jesse Schell's advice, my problem statement would be:

"Using a traditional Turn-Based JRPG model, how do I keep combat interesting and challenging while keeping the number of action options per turn to less than 5."

Why 5 actions? I find that when there is a large number of options to choose from, players quickly become overwhelmed, and those evil optimal strategies appear far too often. With a limited action set (likely dynamic and uncertain which will be available per turn) player's are forced to get involved and think every turn rather than hitting "Fight Fight Flare". I think a type of card/deck system might be in order.