Too Much Talking Episode 1

This is a little test podcast to test interest. I don’t think the conversation went anywhere particularly interesting, but maybe some of you will disagree. Next week we’re looking for an issue where we’ll have a little bit of discourse. Still, take a listen! Some of us talk about the games that got us deeper into gaming.

Featuring: Kayin, April, Aintaer, Eric

Too Much Talking #1 10/30/10

We’ll try and keep this weekly. Audio comes from my laptop mic and if things go on awhile, I’ll look into something a little more decent. If you leave any questions as comments, maybe we’ll answer them next week! If you have any topic ideas, please share!

RSS Feed

I like making Games but sometimes I can’t

So I’ve been a big fan of Scirra’s Construct, but I haven’t released a game since IWBTG. Why is that? Well Construct 1 has this crippling bug that makes it that whenever I added anything to the new IWBTG project (yes it’s real, but hasn’t gone anywhere in forever), the game slowed down as a whole. Like, not if I make a stage bigger, the game gets slower (obvious side effect)… I mean if I add a TITLE SCREEN to the game, the overall FPS drops. Sadly Construct 1’s codebase is a mess and Construct 2, whenever it’s released, will probably be great. But Construct 2 will probably not be mature for another 2 years, if it’s even released by then.

So I’m getting a little antsy. I’m not a real programmer, so 2d games in Unity or XNA are out of the question, let alone working from scratch. So with Flash and MMF2 being joke options, and Construct being a crapshoot for any big project…. that leaves me with Game Maker. Good news is, while I can’t program like a proper programmer, I can script, so not only is text code doable to me, it excites me. So I’m probably going to give it a test run since it seems like it’s become a much stronger platform over the years. So I wanna ask if any of you kids have Game Maker experience that could tell me some of the limitations of it are. For example, could I remake Symphony of the Night with it (tacky 3d effects, big environments and neat shader effects — okay sure SOTN didn’t have those, but I’ll wanna use them) and, effects aside, would the game RUN WELL? Performance is very important to me, since IWBTG sucked so hard in that department. If I were to consider GM for Brave Earth eventually(though I think C2 will be the restarting of that project), would it be able to run well? Actually, what are the prettiest and most graphically intensive games made in GM?

Just trying to crowd source a little research here.

Minecraft and the DDoS

I have an inner fantasy. An inner fantasy involving assholes on the internet and baseball bats. Also faces. If one person believes they have the right to fuck with someone elses shit because they can, I can equally argue that I can do whatever I want to their face. With a bat. Because I can.

Anyways thats an inner fantasy and no one is getting a bat to the face ever, as much as it pains me. Still, sometimes maybe DDOSs are “justified”. They’re never a mature response, but people have DDoSed child porn rings, agencies that were trying to DDoS torrent trackers, the RIAA(because they’re dinosaurs), whatever. But some kid decides to DDoS minecraft because it “isn’t being updated enough” and to “stop notch from profiting from an unfinished product.”

Hey dipshit, I bought the game for 14 bucks because I was happy with how it was at all, and now you are making my game worse but preventing me from playing online? Fuck you and your high horse. I am suffering, because you’re a whiny bitch. What argument do you even have to stand on? If I got all that money, you know what? I’d keep updating the game, sure, but then I’d be done and out. Notch is INVESTING in minecraft. He is starting a BUSINESS around it and hiring PROGRAMMERS and ARTISTS and you whine because he’s taking a month or so to sort that out ALL WHILE PROMISING A HUGE UPDATE IN A WEEK? You have no argumentative legs to stand on and if I had my inner fantasy, you’d have no kneecaps to stand on either. The fact you will go on without consequence disgusts me.

Now I’m even Sadder about Trophies

I just realized that the Shadow of the Colossus collection will be forced to have trophies. I hope they find a way to weasel out of it in a nice way (for example, an option to delay all achievement messages until you go to the title screen or pause the game or something). I still continue to be amazed that people are still actively against this.

So I’ll just say it. If you’re against this feature, you’re a moron. No and, ifs or butts. If you can’t understand why someone might not want this crap, then I’m not sure you deserve to post stuff on the internet.

Valve, TF2 and DOTA 2 (and some Zynga)

So the MANN-CONOMY update dropped not to long ago for Team Fortress 2 and I am pretty much done with the game (No you can’t my items, it might get better again randomly)! Before I go onto things any more, if you’re wondering why someone would not be thrilled about the update, lemme say two things. First, it wasn’t THIS update alone, it’s been the direction of the game for awhile that was bothering me. Second: Go back and listen to the developer commentary. Go read the development blog about the careful decision making that went into the game — the game was a beautiful example of minimalism and reduction from the original TFC model.

So what do we have now? Maximalist, crazy design. Now, I won’t lie, I got into TF2 sometime before the Sniper/Spy update. The whole ideas of unlocks was kinda dumb to me at the time, but they seemed fairly careful. The whole ‘farm achievements’ nonsense was also painful. That alone was new, horrible design to the game. The weapons were theoretically fine, but the unlock system was both tedious, encouraged bad play and in many ways, undermined the purpose of an achievement system

Through all the class updates, there was other problems, including the drop system which was the dumbest system conceived by man ever (Someone should be fired), balance and…. well, basically those two things. The game was also getting crowded. The game had more design space then what was left in the original game and they were exploring it. You could argue either way if the game was better or worse without alternative weapons, but I’d say either way, the game was reaching it’s bursting point. In my perfect world they’d have finished the last class update and end there. Instead, they did something that made me feel worse than anything else.

community items D:

For the most part, each weapon for each class was carefully conceived. Sometimes they were duds, but you could always see that Valve was trying hard. I didn’t have nice words to say about everything though (stuff like passive bonuses against certain damage with the targe rubbed me the wrong way — also more ways to instantly die), but clearly they were trying. But the community items were clutter. Passive bonuses, slight tweaks. Tweener nonsense. MMO gear. This stuff added almost nothing interesting to the game. New and interesting strategies didn’t come to be with the community items — they just were there to tweak things. Now every class wasn’t an immutable, easy to recognize identity. Now they weren’t one of two different things. Now they were…. a bunch of random crap surrounding a base concept.

So the Mann-Conomy update? God damn, this stuff hurts. But there are two things more than the rest. First, the class hats. Sure you can craft them now, but crafting a hat costs a ton. So not only are hats that do something super expensive, but if you’re using all the items in a set THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON NOT TO WEAR THE HAT. It isn’t a trade off or an alternative. If you happen to like the two class weapons in the update, you have ZERO REASON NOT TO ALSO RUN THE HAT. If you don’t run the hat, you are weaker arbitrarily. So why go through this nonsense? Why keep the dumb drop system? Why not make them cheaper at least?

Oh wait, THE SHOP. Now, a pay shop for a game is not inherently evil. Adding a pay shop to a game is PROBABLY not inherently evil. Adding a pay shop to a game like TF2, which had no gear or anything ot begin with though is absurd. Whats worse, is it encourages them to do the wrong thing design wise. Don’t get me wrong, months ago I’d pay for unlocks, but it’s clear to me that what they want to do now is just fill the game with crap. The one thing I don’t want them to do they are now encouraged to do. More items, more money, worse game! Things like the hat — they may have thought “Hm, maybe make them nice a cheap so it’s fair” “No way, then no one would BUY THEM”. With the inclusion of bullshit such as the Zynga-esque crates, Valve clearly is interested in milking this for all it’s worth.

The best I can do now is never buy another multiplayer Valve game. Not even as a boycott, I am just literally 0/3 on my Valve multiplayer games. DWP nonsense in CS, TF2s updates and uh… Left 4 Dead is entirely made up of fake team work (well, Versus as infected takes team work, but that sucks for different reasons). But theres a little bit more to say.

First; I’ve seen a lot of people defend facebook games recently in game design circles….

“Hey, just because YOU don’t like farmville doesn’t mean it’s BAD. Let people HAVE FUN”.

But really thats not it at all. What is it is…. when a game becomes concerned with tricking you into giving additional money and hooking you in, rather than just giving you a great experience, then the game suffers. Farmville for example isn’t designed to be fun, it’s designed to be addictive, so they can trick money out of you. In TF2’s case, the pay system is encouraging them to do bad things for the game. They will add more sets. They will come up with more gimmicks. They will beat the game until it collapses under it’s own weight…. Just in time for DOTA 2. Now, I’m exaggerating a bit. I’m also sure Valve is trying not to be all out evil about this, but from the crates alone you can tell that they can’t stay totally honest. Now, TF2 is a game for the ADD crowd that can only be entertained by more stuff. The long term players have been robbed — some will quit, some will keep playing, but few of those players are excited.

So before DOTA 2 was announced, a lot of people I know assumed the pay system was a test bed for a DOTA 2 pay model… or perhaps with Valve implementing such a model for it, the TF2 team just made use of it first (possible, Valve seems to have a boner for IceFrog)… Seems odd since I haven’t read anything about a shop for DOTA 2, but I’d be shocked if they didn’t plan to eventually do something similar to the League of Legends model. In fact, my assumption was that it’d be such a Free to Play game. Oh well, things can become more apparent or change, so we’ll see.

Still, Valve has lost a lot of my trust.

Quick bit on game immersion in relatively non-immersive games

God I hate this screen

Since the whole screen looks like a chapel this ends up feeling okay
Doom guy, prancing around.... E1M1? A.. Science place?
Duke, in a bar, with a bitch and some beer, watching the OJ Simpson chase

So immersion in 2d games isn’t a particularly important, is it? Nope, not really. You can do stuff with it, or ignore it. That said, it’s easy to do it wrong.

An Over the Top Exampe

Imagine you’re playing Super Mario World. You’re running around a place called donut bridge. Everything is abstract — this is not a structure meant for people to use, it is an obstacle course that exists in a nonsensical reality. There are clouds and some wood tiles. It’s somewhat bridgy, but only enough to add a cute atmosphere and some context. You readily accept this, as you should. Now you wak a little farther and there is a billboard for 1Up Cola.

Wait what?

Now that feels out of place. But what, does the Mushroom Kingdom not have BEVERAGES? Surely they have their drinks of choice and it is only obvious that they would be ADVERTISED. Adding this could only make the game more immersive! Now, obviously this is an absurd example, but I find absurd examples help us see whats wrong so we notice it on smaller examples. So what is wrong? The sign makes me ask a lot of questions.

*Hey, now that you mention it, where are all the people who live here?

*I don’t see an infrastructure! How odd! Where do they make these things? The only buildings are castles and haunted houses!

*In fact, who would put a sign in such a deadly place? No one would possibly see it!

The sign destroys the abstraction of the environment. It makes us consider what we’re seeing in a more realistic light, which immediately gets in the way of suspension of disbelief. Now, it might not seem like theres suspension of disbelief in a Mario game, but it exists! It exists in the sense that we ignore all the nonsense because the game never makes us look at it in an serious way. So obviously Mario didn’t really do anything that stupid, but there is one example that keeps bugging me.

I Hate Metroid Fusion(‘s Vending Machine)

Now I don’t want to hate on Fusion much more than I have, but this is what made me think about all this. SO one of the things I DO like about Fusion is the tileset for the space station main deck. It’s very vibrant, detailed and has a lot of depth for a GBA game. But one thing always bothered me. GOD DAMNED VENDING MACHINES AND POTTED PLANTS (As displayed on your right). Now people always respond “Well, it’s a space station! People gotta get snacks”! The problem here is that the vending machine causes us to question the overall structure of the space station. What makes this worse is that it’s not even framed correctly. SOTN’s chapel (second picture) did it right. The whole room looks like a chapel and has a sensible layout. In fact the whole area kinda does, because it’s so simple. Some staircases up, a chapel, then a bunch of bell towers that never bang “THIS IS A REALISTIC CHAPEL” over your head ever again. You get a cute little touch in a scenario where it does not stand out. In Fusion, it stands out as a misfit element. SOTN frames out expectations a bit more. We see a lot of areas that reflect reality in a subtle, but cartoonish way. We also see it poke fun at these elements (Random dresser in the caverns, for example). It plays a balance. A vending machine and potted plants in the middle of no where does not play a balance. If the area was drawn up as a cafeteria or something or more living quarters were inserted, the element would feel less like a misfit. You do not want elements in the background to stand out unless they’re set pieces. In fact, this is the second difference between the chapel and the vending machine. One is supposed to be a small little background touch that stands out like a sore thumb, and another is an impressive set piece in a reasonable context.

Man, imagine if Doom had bathrooms? You can look at Duke Nukem 3d and see the difference in level philosophy at the time. Duke 3d made levels that looked like places. It had to make sacrifices in level design to make things flow well and be believable, while Doom could do whatever it wanted. Places in Doom had a theme, but no other logic. Both have their merits — a lot of people in the time thought Duke 3d was THE SHIZZLE because it looked like there were real cities. What Duke rarely did was let this illusion slip. If it needed to have unusual locations, it did it in caverns or alien places. It put a lot of effort into that illusion.

The idea to keep in mind for ones own work is to avoid these misfit elements and decide how far you want to work for hints of realism in your game. Some games are even more abstract than Mario, while others make everything look vaguely like something. It’s all good, as long as you can make the gameplay fun within that space. But avoid misfit elements. Keep a tone and try and stick with it. Tone can dictate a lot of this too. In SMW, you do see Yoshi’s “house”, for example. It’s kinda stupid, but it, in a sense, is kinda cute. In a more realistic feeling game, it becomes a “Wait, what?” — such as a bathroom in Doom. Again, not a ton of analysis here, but just some thoughts to keep in mind if you ever find your self working on a game environment. Modern games generally have to always keep some degree of plausibility, but when doing indy work you have a LOT of leeway to make stylistic decisions.

Symphony of the Night Retrospective

No Idea what Item this Is

Orlox's fountain turns blood red
Featuring amazing Platforming technology
Freaky background images are everywhere
So I recently replayed SOTN after a fairly long time. Unlike Super Metroid, which I can emulate easily whenever I want (before I go further let me state I absolutely do own Super Metroid and SOTN, but I like playing games on my computer. Also my SOTN disk is pretty trashed), extremely easily and PS1 era games are more finicky to get up and running with all that bios and plugin nonsense. Conversely, if I want a castlevania fix, theres the hand helds. So finally I got sick of this, set up EPSXE and replayed the game again. Oh my goodness, my memory of it was quite different from what it was. I remembered it as ‘The Metroidvania that was actually good’ and associated it with being like Super Metroid. It’s more like the OPPOSITE of super metroid.

Why is it different?

Symphony of the Night is probably the most nonlinear Metroidvania (at least commercially). Super Metroid is more broken open with sequence breaking, but SOTN lacks much sequence, especially in the second castle. After you get the blue key from the library, you have no direction. You can wander. Sure, you have to get a bunch of stuff, but there isn’t the flow like there is in Super Metroid. You’re pretty much guided in Super Metroid all the way to the grapple beam before you to make a leap of logic to return to the surface. And this is probably intentional, since going back up allows you to get loot you couldn’t get the first time through. Early in Symphony of the Night, you’re free to just do whatever. The clock tower is off limits, but you can literally -skip the clock tower- and the boss in there. Or skip Scylla, or Granfaloon, or if you’re an asshole with a good memory, Orlox. You can skip all the ferrymen BS. You can also do a bunch of stuff relatively out of order. The inverted Castle? Forget about it. You have to kill 5 particular bosses out of the 9 available there. You literally just do whatever you want.

So whats also rad? Little detail EVERYWHERE. People pumped love into this game. Not only does the game have some of the best background art in the series, little touches are everywhere. Why the hell is there a telescope room under the outer wall? Whats up with the confessional booth? Orlox’s fountain suddenly turning red? …. Infinite peanuts? The one way barriers each have a little memorable thing about them, the backgrounds are multilayed and filled with little details and oddities (The dead Behemoth in the Colosseum, some of the crazy paintings in the background, all of the catacombs). The game is filled with rich little graphical effects that are nothing but nice touches. Enemies have awesome death animations. Backgrounds often just somewhat hokey but still atmospheric 3d effects for clouds and such. Enemies do neat things, like the mourning Owl Knight, or silly things like drowning the pikemen. Also god damn, the items in this game. There are so many cool items with so many cool effects. Crissaegrim, sheild rod, sword of dawn, jewel sword, fists of tolkus, chakrums, nunchucks, the Marasama or any of the other QCF katanas, RUNE SWORDS…. Even some of the neat details on those. The Runesword writes out VERBOTEN when swung, which is ‘forbidden’ in German as an example.There are weapons that are trash but just contain a bit of fantasy lore in their names. Atop that you have the card familar system, Alucard’s spells, bullshit accessories and a bunch of other crazy nonsense, such as all the unique one time use items and such or capes you set the color of for some reason…. or shoes that make you taller!?! Where Super Metroid tried to be elegant and flowing, SOTN is maximalist and generally insane.

I also absolutely love how things are laid out. Right from the Alchemy labs, areas have platforming personality. There are some ‘straight corridor of enemies’, but MUCH less than in other Castlevania’s. Areas feel like mini stages, something Super Metroid does excellently. I also didn’t realize it when I wrote my little ecology rant, but SOTN I think has the castle with the most personality. Going down through the caverns, into the mines, into the CATACOMBS (we’re talking 3 layers of ‘underground’ here, something that most games only give one area to) really makes you feel like your crawling down to somewhere crazy. It makes it feel like it’s even deeper than it actually is and the change of art at the bottom to ‘totally manic’ really sold things for me.The center of the map is all internal castleworks, while the left and right side are air exposed structures. The only place that seems somewhat random in placement is the Colosseum, but I can get over that. Each area has silly stuff that makes it feel more like a place — such as the confessional, or the telescope room. I also like how stuff like the hues and details of stuff in the inverted castle change. I did not notice that until this playthrough!

Well it’s not exactly Perfect..

If I were to say anything about the game, it’s that god DAMN the bosses are easy (Galamoth not with standing, even though you win by cheesing him so he actually is pretty easy). I mean, I remember them being easy, but not ‘die in 10 seconds’ easy. I just hammered all of them with holy water and punched them in the face till they died. Once I got to the inverted castle I farmed a Crissaegrim and a runesword and ran around having a blast. Only bit of grinding I did my whole play through. It still would have been easy without those items. I used to use the Osafune Katana as my first inverted castle weapon because it takes no grinding and that is probably enough to kill everything (even Galamoth!). I also don’t like that Slogra and Gaibon are suckers in this game. They scared the shit out of me in Super Castlevania. I’d actually say most of the bosses were unimpressive overall. Clearly there were some awesome ones (Granfaloon, Galamoth, Orlox, Scyalla(visually at least), Beelzebub…) but there are plenty of super lame ones (Cerebus, the Griffin thing, the Raven thing, the 3d bat……. Slogra and Gaibon >:|). Later games, Especially Order of Eccelsia did bosses muuuuch better, though they lacked the overall charm SOTN has. I can look at it now as an alternative design philosophy to Super Metroid, as opposed to a similar one.

I know this was less analytical than usual and more “LOOK AT THE THINGS”, but I hope just pointing out exactly how much stuff was there and just how strangely open and laid out the game is brings some more attention to the design elements that make it cool