Game Concepts – Great ideas of Genius

There are those among us who feel games are becoming increasingly predictable – a marketing dominated creative process where developers simply take elements from other successful games, try to throw in some token new thing and call it a day. So I thought I’d just throw out some slightly different ideas, just for the hell of it. If a butterfly flapping its wings can truly destroy the universe (as my people believe) then maybe this article can, uh, take down some butterflies.

Ashes of Destiny: The Cricket Saga

Okay, so you take a sport that everybody loves (Cricket) and you combine it was a genre that everybody really ought to love (RPGs) and this is what you get. I may also be liberally borrowing from the film Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, but I can make it different enough to stop the lawyers from getting involved. →  Read the rest

A Tale of Two Revivals

Lately Capcom has been one of the best all around publishers in the business. Their games have mostly been of high quality, and time and again they prove that they listen to and want to please their fanbase. The strange twist to all of this is that Capcom is legendary for relying on sequels and familiar franchises, yet two of their recent success stories have come from sequels (of sorts) to two of their oldest franchises, both of which were deemed risks. I am referring of course to Bionic Commando: Rearmed and Mega Man 9. These games are two different takes on the retro revival, and each demonstrate the successes and difficulties that can arise when trying to sell them. Is one better than the other, and which is more likely to be imitated in the future? →  Read the rest

A design element that deserves to die: The time limit

Ahh, our old enemy the time limit. Is there a lazier way for a designer to increase the difficulty of a game?

The latest object of my scorn due to this lazy design element is Star Fox Command on the Nintendo DS. Before you get to the Star Fox part of the Star Fox game, you plot out flight paths for Fox and his allies on an overhead map of the planet, keeping in mind enemy squadrons that approach the Great Fox, cities that need liberating, and objects on the map that may assist you in your quest. The caveat? You have a limited number of turns in which to accomplish the planet’s mission objective. You can increase the number of turns you have remaining by liberating cities under enemy control. →  Read the rest

Pieces of a Perfect Game: Koei’s arduous slip into mediocrity

Good strategy games can be hard to come by on consoles. The only company that reliably produces games in the genre is Koei, and, as I’ve noted before, their recent track record is not so good.

Koei is now widely known for their willingness to recycle old work in the form of Dynasty Warriors – to put it more nicely, they haven’t fixed anything that isn’t broken in a while. Their lesser-known, but longer-running, Romance of the Three Kingdoms series is now on its eleventh iteration. I haven’t gotten the latest one yet, because by now I’ve figured it out (took me long enough): Koei has a secret recipe for the ultimate officer-based strategy game, but they insist on releasing it a piece at a time.

You don’t even have to look within the series itself. →  Read the rest

What happened to competition? From arcades to gamerscores

Remember high scores. You don’t see them around very much, though they still pop up in some of my favorite new games. But why exactly did they begin to disappear? We generally hear explanations involving the rise of story based games and other such nonsense, but when three of the most popular games of the decade are Halo, Madden and World of Warcraft, it is tough to accept this as an era of Single Player. There must be another reason.

Before we look for that reason, we should start from the beginning and look at the nature of the high score. There were surely hacks and exploits available in some classic games (as any Street Fighter fan will know), but I would like to think they weren’t commonplace, and that more often than not the list of high scores in an arcade cabinet was the honest work of skilled players. →  Read the rest

Fillet Mignon with a side of Pork Rinds: Awesome games and their stupid minigames

The average gamer supposedly plays 7.8 hours a week. That’s an ESA study so I think they rounded down to make gamers seem less crazy. Other studies show more like 20-30 hours a week, which makes more sense to me. For us hardcore gamers, I’m sure the number would be even higher.

So while we waste our life away playing video games, it has become painfully apparent to me that, like most products in our corner cutting capitalist society, video games have a lot of filler. A video game, especially an RPG or MMO, is graded on how much of your time it takes to beat. In most cases, a game with short playtime is over quickly and generally unsatisfying (much like sex with me). Longer games are considered better. One of the first questions people ask about a new RPG is “how long is it?” →  Read the rest

Some thoughts on “presentation”

I don’t want to brag, but when I’m not writing fantastic and thought-provoking articles on vl, I spend the rest of my time as a game designer at a video game company (which is awesome, btw). And as such, I try to expand my knowledge on the subject of game design as much as I can. And today, a surge of information flooded my cerebrum after giving the Assassin’s Creed Sampler OST a listen.

Composed by Jesper Kyd, Assassin’s Creed is steeped in Persian aural stylings. If anyone has ever listened to or played Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, you can understand what Assassin’s Creed will sound like. It’s a little more orchestrated, and keeps the hummable melodies to a minimum, but it’s essentially the same thing.

The music really got me in the mood to play the game, to experience what Ubisoft is going to do with expressing the Middle East during the Crusades. →  Read the rest

Turning up the difficulty

In my last column I talked about mindless games and whether such a concept actually makes sense. Today, we talk about something else that stems from this debate. Usually when I read a review of a “mindless” game that I myself have played, the first thing to come to me is not “they’re kind of right” or “they’re kind of wrong”. The question on my mind is “did they play it on hard?”

When I was a kid I didn’t play games on any sort of difficulty – few NES games actually had a difficulty setting; you played against whatever they threw at you. When difficulties did start popping up, it was always Easy mode for me. This was because I only got two, maybe three new games a year, so there was no concept of being stuck and putting it away. →  Read the rest

Lost in Space: Looking for a worthy 4X Game

I love the 4X genre. It’s most likely a combination of the fact that I’m a huge geek and love space, and the fact I was beat up a lot in middle school and high school and didn’t kiss a whole lot of girls back then (see the first two reasons of my 4X love if you’re unclear on why that is). My love of the genre started on the old Mac II with Spaceward Ho, a game that lives on today in Palm Pilot versions (which are quite badass). Then came Pax Imperia I, followed by the graphically enjoyable but gameplay poor sequel. I tried other games along the way, such as Hegemonia, but nothing really stuck. Like every player of the genre (except for the ones who fail at life) Master Of Orion 2 was my lord and savior. →  Read the rest

Our favorite game settings

If a game has a good setting, you don’t forget it. You may even end up referring to it as if it were a real place – “I wonder what the weather’s like in Midgar this time of year…” However, setting hasn’t really been a prevalent factor in our games until the modern consoles, both due to a loosening of size constrictions and the advent of 3D graphics. Most NES and SNES games had little setting to speak of outside the instruction manual. But developers have been getting better at creating alternate realities, showing us worlds that we swear are real. With more than enough amazing settings in games today, videolamer decided to list some of our favorite examples.

This list does not factor in level design. That topic is easily complex enough to warrant its own list. →  Read the rest

Bad Design 4

It’s nobody’s favorite time again, time to be anal retentive about game design! This column is usually filled with great games that messed up in a few spots. Today’s entry is different because two of the three games are barely tolerable.

Hell hounds? More like heck hounds!

Heroes of Might and Magic 3: Lack of Interesting Conflict — Heroes 3 has the same problem War Craft 2 had. You either win a tremendous victory, or get your ass completely destroyed. There is very little middle ground in the game and even fewer turn arounds. While it may be just because I suck at the game, I never start a game losing and then slowly make a come from behind victory. I build a massive force and crush the enemy quickly, get devastated, or slowly lose more and more ground with each battle. →  Read the rest

Let Us Cling Together: The joy of playing games cooperatively

Imagine you’re delving into a dark labyrinth. You’re exploring the endless hallways, looking for a path leading deeper into the ruin when you’re ambushed by a dozen demons both ahead and behind. You’re certain this is the end… but then you realize your partner was trailing a ways behind you, and by now she should blasting her way through the enemies attacking from the rear. Thus assured, you unsheath your sword and charge on ahead… This is the magic of cooperative gaming.

I find it hard to get into any competitive game (with the exception of Smash Bros). The idea of playing against other people just isn’t as fun as playing alongside them. I tend to find cooperative games much more enjoyable, but it’s a much under-appreciated genre. Before the release of Half-Life, Valve promised cooperative play in the game but never delivered, instead creating only an online deathmatch mode. →  Read the rest

Ten years without a new genre

A decade is a long time.

A few days ago in the comments to “Houston, Wii have a success story“, I made a rather old-fogey remark about re-hashes of games that I’d essentially been playing since 1992 or thereabouts. This got me thinking…when I complain about developers making the same game over and over, what I’m really complaining about is the fact that they’re making games in the same genres. Do you remember the sense of anticipation when you first played Wolf3D or Dune II? It didn’t just come from what you could do within that game – it was a realization of what that particular game meant for the future…because its underlying gameplay mechanics were simple enough and yet deep enough that they moved from being differently quirky games to inspiring an entire genre of development and expansion. →  Read the rest

Thoughts on immersion and graphics

Is immersion really dependant upon graphics? In a recent piece, Craig theorized that this rationally follows from the assertion that attention to detail creates immersion. I think his premise is correct, but ultimately graphics and immersion are not as tied together as we would assume. Expectations are hugely important and cannot be left out of the equation.

A gamer raised on Xbox games may find it difficult to get into an SNES RPG.

Expectations can exist internally and externally. Those internal to a game have already been discussed on this site and are important, but so are external expectations. A new gamer playing a particularly detailed Atari game may not be immersed now, but had they played it first in 1984, they may have been.

Graphics and immersion are often only related when examining games from different systems and eras. →  Read the rest

A brief survey of localiztions

Ever since the first text-based game came from Japan to American shores, those playing have wondered, “What did the original text say?”

…Well, I have, at least since I was old enough to tell the difference between “A winner is you” and real English. Hearing about and playing odd translations of games is a bit of a hobby of mine.

Thankfully, translations in general are getting much better. Voice acting is much, much better than it has been in the past, although it can still use some work. Let’s look at some localizations past and present as evidence.

Good Localizations

These games leave you with a good feel for spirit of the game. They rarely if ever have grammatical problems, and if there is any voice acting it is well-produced. The story has a feel that is consistent throughout the game. →  Read the rest

How we remember games

Our long-term opinion of a game may have little to do with how good a game actually is. How we remember games is almost as important as the games themselves. The way we remember any medium greatly shades our opinions, whether it be a game, a book or a movie. Games, unfortunately, share certain properties of the other two media that make each prone to being colored by memory.

First, I will explain what about books and movies are different from video games in regards to how we remember them. Books are highly personal experiences; no one can walk by and share some of a book with you. All of the action, drama, character’s introspection and so on happens in your mind and in your imagination. In this regard, they are different from both movies and games. →  Read the rest

Graphics over gameplay: is it really all that bad?

Whether or not graphics really add all that much to video games has been heavily debated in the last few years. And once the Wii and PS3 come out to steal the 360’s spotlight, we’ll surely hear about it all over again.

Though it may not seem like it due to the clever use of lighting and camera angles, the colossus is actually only an inch taller than you.

But, if we think about it logically, is there really a difference between the two? Some would say, “Of course there is! What are you, high? You can’t play with pictures!” And yes, they’d be perfectly correct. But what people don’t think about is the complementary effect that graphics can have on gameplay.

Take, for example, Shadow of the Colossus. Not exactly the prettiest title in some respects, but one cannot say it isn’t graphically intensive. →  Read the rest

The pros and cons of unlockable content

Congratualtions! You unlocked a new article. This one is on, you guessed it, unlockables and extras in games. They’ve been around for a while, but nowadays it seems that very few genres do not include some sort of rewards for the player to earn. Many gamers have respond kindly to this, so much so that a lack of bonus content may actually hurt a game in a review.

However, not everyone considers them rewards. There is a strong group of gamers who seem to greatly dislike unlockables, citing that a person who has spent hard earned money on a brand new game should have access to all its content without jumping through hoops. I’ve seen the debate rage on many times, but I’ve never been able to determine which side is right. →  Read the rest

Bad Design 4

Today I’ll be complaining about the excellent KoToR, the ancient Heroes III and the crappy Samurai Western. As usual, I lied last time when I said this entry would be looking at an issue in Final Fantasy X. Maybe next time.

Hit A. HIT A!

Knights of the Old Republic: Bad Immersion — The characters in KoToR (for the Xbox) make reference to your controller. This makes no sense whatsoever and derails any believability. It is the equivalent to an actor in a movie showing the script to the camera and asking the audience to take a look at line 36. Some comedies do this and even pull it off (Mel Brooks writes excellent jokes about the characters being aware that they’re not real) but in serious drama it should probably be avoided. →  Read the rest

Games that shed a tear

The issue of whether or not a video game can make us cry has been tackled several times in the past, but the issue has still not been given its due. Can video games truly impact a player with a fury of emotion, causing them to cry? Depending on the game, I say yes.

Many people say that games are wholly incapable of causing emotion in people, as seen in Margaret Robertson’s speech at this year’s Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival. She cites games that made her feel a lot of emotion, but states that video games as a whole are not emotional. They’re just ones and zeroes. The players are the source of the emotion, and that you have to tap into their emotion to get a response. She seems to paint a picture that designers are not adept at doing this just yet. →  Read the rest