King’s Field and Shadow Tower: Some Mini Reviews of Fromsoftware’s PS1 work

So when I hang out with my friends, I usually waste time in between chatter playing old games. Often odd or old things I wouldn’t normally bother which but might be of some interest to me from a more… academic perspective. And this usually ends up with me finding new games to love too.

So when I loaded King’s Field up, I expected to be put off by it’s horrible combat and ugly aesthetics immediately. Instead I found myself immediately compelled. I find myself now, having worked all the way up to King’s Field: The Ancient City on the PS2, with a translated copy of Shadow Tower: Abyss waiting to be played after it. So here are my thoughts on these crazy games that I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. RPGs aren’t really my thing anymore but the first person movement gave me just enough tactile feedback to get really into these games.

As usual with these kinds of reviews I do, I’m not going to summarize stuff like the basic plot or how the game works. You can use wikipedia or youtube for that. I’m mostly just gonna focus on the stuff I have thoughts about.

King’s field 2

I’m going to be using the Japanese numbering for this (basically KF2 is KF1 in US and thus 3 is 2 and so on and so forth), even though I didn’t bother to play King’s Field 1. A cursory reading about King’s Field 1 made it clear to me that King’s Field 2 was the best of the PS1 offerings and that it pretty much did everything the original did better.

King’s Field 2 is an ass ugly game. The biggest visual improvement from KF1 seems to be the use of different floor textures…. most of the time. Still, the game was immediately compelling. You start out shipwrecked on the island of Melanat and despite the game the crude graphics. The sharp outlines of everything tried their damnedest to convey the sense of A PLACE. Right from the start you have watery pits to fall in, a huge boss kraken thing you won’t fight for another boss or two, a waterfall and cave filled with skeletons, a lighthouse powered by fire magic, some creepy looking fisherman NPC, a pirate cove filled with traps and treasures and a more forgiving cave.

The combat is terrible but somehow works. You circle around things to avoid the attack and hit them with your slow moving first person sword swing. Positioning and enemy management matters a lot in this. The attacks FEEL awful but the amount of interaction makes it tolerable. Magic also helps a tad. MP starts out as an incredibly rare, precious resource to the backbone of your offense.

The enemies in this game look unbelievably stupid and crude, but somehow in a way that captures the awkward weird joy of later Souls games. By the end of King’s Field 2, I found my self in love with those stupid looking Watermelon Head Eater Things. It’s infectious. The whole game is infectious. While technically a dungeon crawler, I feel the need to reject the label. Far from the more abstract dungeons of most games like this, Melanat. It has personality. It’s internals wind together and intersect. The more you play the game the more you feel that you understand it. In game maps were useful for exploring new areas, while old areas were almost immediately committed to memory. In many ways, it’s stage design was mimicked by the original Dark Souls, constantly surprising you with how areas intersect and being navigable by memorable rooms. Given the rough nature of the graphics, memorable could be anything from “Cool castle entrance” to “There is a hole”. But it all works.

“It works” Describes a lot of the game and it’s aesthetic. Crude NPCs lend a creepy atmosphere to the game, their textureless heads turning slowly to speak with you. It’s unnerving but the mood of the game is unnerving. The music is… strangely offputting, but in a good way. Like Demon’s Souls, the game’s ugliness becomes part of its charm. This is a game that should be tedious and boring yet it dragged me through it’s entirety with excitement. While not a game I would recommend without warning, it became a game I unabashedly love. Beautifully thought out world design is my jam and this game has tons of it.

The game has some fascinating mechanics, many you see show up in later games. Crystal Flasks might as well be estus. You find them or construct them out of crystals and fill them up with wells. You eventually find wells that heal MP instead and eventually find both (which seems to be something that shows up in DS3 from what I’ve heard?). The warping mechanic is great. Instead of having fixed warp points, you can leave a ‘key’  at a save to use a corresponding ‘gate’ item to teleport to. You find up to 3 sets of these by the end of the game. The flexibility to set your own warp points allowed for just the right amount of backtracking to make me love and understand the world. You could balance convenience against repetition and by the time you have all 3 sets and understand the island, it becomes a non issue. The perfect flow. There are weird things in the game, like an NPC who magically pops up in random places from time to time who identifies your items. You can’t know when she’ll appear. Maybe not the best choice, but an interesting one. Many doors are textured like walls. They have frames to tell you they’re there but it makes it easy to miss stuff. This is something that fortunately goes away in King’s  Field 3. Oh yeah there is also a minecart ride that kills you 90% of the time and rewards you with basically nothing if you survive. Which is… odd.

There seems to be a decent about of lore, but I couldn’t say much about it. The last boss, Guyra, a one eyed black dragon, is clearly the inspiration for Kalameet. Seath is treated like a holy figure in this.  Granted, it’s not the same Seath, but it’s interesting to see these ideas revisited and adapted.

In the end, it’s hard to even say why King’s Field 2 is great. So much of it is crude as hell and really shows it’s age. But there is just a lot of brilliance in the game too. I’m left with a fondness for Melanat that mirrors my love of Lordran. By the end it kinda… feels like home?

King’s Field 3

King’s Field 3 is like the Dark Souls 2 of King’s Field. It improves the game in so many ways and is far FAR more ambitious. You start out with a giant field, filled with buildings and NPCs. The Headeaters are now venus fly traps. That made me sad! Fortunately the old ugly ones return later on. Anyways the game is now sprawling and its level design more literal and sensible. The game looks infinitely better. Screenshots might not truly capture it but the environments look so much more involved and the enemies look… Still ugly but much much less so. It’s also important to remember for this and KF2 — these are seamless games with no load times. So some ugliness is to still be expected.

The game gives you an automapper somewhat early on. While not necessary for KF2, this is much more necessary for the sprawling maze like levels of KF3. KF3 gets even closer to the dreaded “Dungeon Crawler” level design and dungeons play more like Legend of Zelda-esque areas than actual parts of the world. You go in, you clear the area, you leave. Compared to the interconnected nature of KF2, this was a huge let down to me. Verdite lacked the sense of “place” that Melanat had, despite having much better visuals. The music too is a lot more… on the nose. Not bad, but lacking the same personality.

Combat feels better. You know more clearly if you hit something and enemies at least TRY to counteract you spinning around them. You get magic faster too, which gives you much better options faster. Warping is greatly simplified, with 4 items to find for 4 preset gates before allowing you to warp everywhere by the end. Warping everywhere by the end is good but it was sad to see the system from KF2 leave, even if it would have been terrible in a map this big.

The game has a ton of lore and I couldn’t even begin to explore it. You get an mirror item that tells you about every area, every enemy and every NPC. All lines of dialog are saved for viewing in the menu. So you could comb through this game for tons of info if you wanted.

The game has some cool, crude visuals and works FMV cutscenes in it, sometime on top of gameplay (where you’re few will suddenly have compression artifacts because it switched to a video). You could tell with this game they were trying to go all out.

In the end the game is way way more playable than  KF2 and has many clever ideas, but it just missed the same spark. It felt more… typical. Much like Dark Souls 2, it spreads itself out and tries to be grand but that grandness makes it ultimately more ordinary.

But hey at the end you get to fight Giant Gundam Seath and that’s pretty cool?

Shadow Tower

 OH BOY SHADOW TOWER. This might be the most interesting game of the three. KF2 might still be my favorite Shadow tower is a fucking slog of a game, especially early on. It’s also d
eeply miserable without maps. And there are no in game maps. But with them, the game and it’s horrendous draw distance becomes playable. Because the game is dark. Darker than it even needs to be. But god damn does it look better. There is a color scheme to things. and the textures play nice and the enemies look great. And there are so many of them. This game has 160 monsters and they almost all have absolutely crazy designs. This is the true start of the Demon’s Souls aesthetic. Dark, grimy and depressing with awkward looking monsters that are so goofy they roll around to scary. Demons that hop on their tongues, weird wiggly glow in the dark tree plants, muscular monsters with heads that are like blooming meat flowers. They’re great.

The game has no music. Silence. It’s off putting. The visuals are often bleak. You start on ‘top’ of the shadow tower, a tower that has sunken into the ground. The areas of the game have ominous names. “Human World: The Forgotten Region” or “Death World: The Lingering Curse Layer” or “Beast World: THE SCREECHING AREA” (these are area names you do not want to see). The visuals area bleak. This clean, brind cylinder extending up and down seemingly into infinity. You see stairs and can make your way to a number of doors into areas around the tower that have sunken underground. But you keep coming back to the tower, lower and lower. The map design is at its weakest here overall, but the constant return to the Shadow Tower gives the game the hold it needs to give a sense of progression.

The survival aspect horrors of the game are strong. Weapons degrade, and fast. The items to repair them are rare. Smithys are also rare. The currency they use to repair? Your health. Health Potions? Also a finite resource. Fortunately you can trade broken or obsolete items for them. And thankfully they always grant full health. There is a very clear economic circle here and it is a tense one early in the game. Nothing is renewable until much later in the game so you constantly feel like you’re falling to pieces. There is another currency, cunes. Also a rare item — there are, as I understand, 99 in the whole game? And the shop is the same shop everywhere, so the items you see at the start are the items you see at the end. I saved up for a helmet that restored MP over time early on and it was game changing. “Infinite magic!” I thought, until I realized casting spells degraded my rings. Oh well, can’t have everything.

The NPC interactions feel very Demon’s Soulsy. A demon in a doll body asks you to kill a man who trapped her. a knight being crushed by a boulder begs you to sacrifice a sword to save his life (and remember, SWORDS ARE IMPORTANT AND LIMITED). Some gnome things curses you over and over and begs for his life like a coward when you corner him. Also there is a fat mole who is totally your bro.

As you go from the more human world to elemental planes the game starts feeling real surreal. There is just tons of atmosphere. It just suffers from the fact that the game is so initially impenetrable and the map design that doesn’t work with the super dark game. Getting around without a map is an almost impossible chore. I’m not sure even KF2’s map would have worked under these lighting conditions. The automapper from KF3 would have been a massive improvement, where you could know where you were going while not quite spoiling areas immediately by checking maps.

Funny thing is when you beat an area, it lightens up. So they could have gotten away with it. I assume the darkness was to mask enemies spawning in (which they do, unlike in the KF games). This looks weird in illuminated areas, but not so weird as to be a bad tradeoff. The enemy spawning is interesting though. There are a finite amount of enemies in the game. As you kill enemies in a room, replacement spawn elsewhere, often in the same room, but sometimes not. You’ll return to an area you thought you cleared out, sometimes to find a horrific surprise. Often this can lead to cool items being dropped though, so you have an incentive to clear things out. Killing enemies also I think… basically IV trains you, like pokemon? There is no leveling in the game. Beating stuff up and killing certain enemies raises your stats. It’s interesting and kinda works?

The game is linear in nature but it does some clever things to disguise it. There are sometimes multiple ways to get down the tower and sometimes you can even jump down to a set of stairs you can only barely see.  You often still end up covering the same areas or coming back later, but it makes the tower feel more like a space you’re trying to conquer than a completely abstract area.

The game also has NG+ (I think? Or maybe you’re just back at the top of the tower to clear it out?) and a rather… Soulsy ending. A flawed gem that was only a few changes away from being truly great. and the game with the  strongest aesthetic ties to the Souls series. It makes me more excited for Shadow Tower Abyss than King’s Field 4 and I hear KF4 is AWESOME.

While I can only recommend KF2 with some reservations, I can only recommend Shadow Tower with a LOT of reservations. But it’s interesting and if you want to play a game as a curiosity and see some of the evolution of the Souls series, Shadow Tower is AWESOME.

“Video Games shouldn’t be Work”

I hate that saying. Hate hate hate hate. Right up there with the very similar “Video Games should be FUN”. Not because I think games should be work or should be unfun. But because it makes some big assumption about leisure time.

There are people in this world, who work full time jobs, go home, go into their work room and build furniture -for fun-. They are being carpenters. Often amazing, meticulous carpenters doing something that is someone else’s full time job. This is their leisure time.

When I hear about people grinding in MMOs or in pokemon or whatever, I’ll be honest. That sounds like work to me. But for other people, it’s their chance to shut off and just relax. When I tell people getting into Fighting Games that they need to go into training mode, they complain that they don’t want a second job. They’re not wrong to feel like that, but for a lot of us, that IS fun. That’s super fun. It’s almost like the skill building version of grinding. Low stress repetition.  Some people want hobbies, some people want their media to be consumable. Some get off on being in that ‘flow’ state and enjoy intense, skill building activities, some want relaxation. And some of these might sound more virtuous than others, but that’s a silly way to look at it too. Different people might need different things in their life. Someone working a rote, boring 9-5 might desperately want challenge and excitement in their life and a brain surgeon might just want to relax playing Candy Crush. They have enough stress in their life.

When you say “games shouldn’t be work” or “games should be fun”, what you’re actually doing is chastising people for how they choose to enjoy themselves. “Oh I don’t get it, so it’s wrong”. And it’s fine to joke about that with friends (“Oh yeah Kayin hates fun”), but often people say this stuff very seriously! I’ve been seeing this a ton with people arguing about difficulty in Dark Souls and whether an easy  mode is appropriate. I don’t have an opinion on that, but it often feels like both sides don’t understand each other. The people who don’t play because of the difficulty assume other players want all the fun locked away behind arbitrary barriers and the people who are into Dark Souls assume, because of their preferences, that the challenge is essential to the fun and without it, everything else crumbles.  Regardless of the truth (probably somewhere in between — something will be lost without the challenge but less than a lot of DS players assume), the clear gap in understanding is rather staggering and sadly a disservice to the different ways people choose to spend their free time.

Brave Earth: Prologue – Difficulties

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything let me talk about what I’ve been working on lately. Difficulties!

Brave Earth contains 4 different difficulty setting: Beginner, Easy, Standard and Advanced. The difficulties don’t simply change things like the amount of damage you deal or take, but also things like the amount of pushback you receive from being hit, enemy placement and even on Beginner, geometry. So the stated goals of each difficulty go like this.

Standard: To be a complete, fun but challenging experience for the average player with fun but fair enemy placements and a thought out difficulty curve. Intended to be the first difficulty, even for players familiar with the genre.

Easy: To provide a gentler game experience for gamers who are perhaps a bit lacking on platformer experience. Some hairy situations have changed or removed enemies. The goal is to make the game easier without insulting the player and to provide a gentler difficulty curve, with most changes being earlier in the game. Player takes slightly less damage and knockback.

Beginner: To give hope to those with very little experience in general. The goal is to still provide highpoints and difficult situations for the player, just on a much simpler scale. Damage is drastically reduced and the player receives no knockback from enemies. Filler blocks are used to fill in many difficult platforming segments.

Advanced: In advanced, the goal is to add elements to standard to make a more challenging and fresh experience. Difficulty curve is thrown out the window in favor of interesting enemy encounters. Player also receives additional damage and pushback.

Anyways I’ve set up some examples.

normalplatThis is an easy segment from stage one for the player to get introduced to some jumping. There are pits, but the game assumes most people playing this will have some level of platforming experience and don’t need super introductory platforming early on (Their is also a tutorial stage for that).

easyplatBut on Beginner, these holes get filled in to help new players through it. Not every hole is filled in Beginner, but the exposed pits are chosen much more carefully.

I also have an example of enemy placements for one segment…

standard

This is from the middle of Stage 1 and is a difficult segment for new players. The Zweihander soldiers are real jerks and the bandit enemies come from both directions. The player can trick the second zweihander soldier (a doppelsoldner, for the record) into the pit to spare themselves a difficult encounter.

easy

Easy has a small but significant change. The first Doppelsoldner is replaced with an archer, who still provides a challenge in this situation but is less overwhelming. With that and reduced damage, this section is slightly more managable.

beginner

Beginner has a significant reduction of enemies, removing bandits who ambush from the above and rear. The bottom encounter is completely changed — a mad bomber over flat terrain. Challenging, but with the player’s reduced damage, not a real threat, hopefully providing some fun. The hole has also been filled up.

advanced

Advanced is… tricky. Two archers have been added. Archers below you can fire up to hit you, so now the player has to dodge the lower archer while dealing with bandits above and both Dopplesoldners have firecover now. This segment is completely handleable by an experienced player and not so different from encounters found later in the game. In advanced though, it can happen in level 1 because that’s what advanced is for.

So hopefully with these difficulty options I’ll be able to both give a level of accessibility while at the same time providing a good, challenging harder mode for those looking for a challenge.

Tetris TGM1 Grand Master rank!

Finally achieved something I’ve been working on for awhile. I’ve been playing TGM clones on and off for a bunch of years now (from heboris, to texmaster2000 to nullpomino). Deciding between switching to TGM2 or trying to better my time.

Tumblr Roundup

Posted a bunch of BE/Game Dev related posts on tumblr recently, so I figured I’d link them here, if only to help me find them later but also to share them.

I’m very active only tumblr so if you’re interested in BE stuff but also don’t mind me mostly posting Evangelion pictures and bad memes, tumblr is a great place to follow me. I’m definitely the most glib and open there. Even more than on twitter. Generally I try and save this blog for real complete thoughts, but sometimes fun content ends up elsewhere. Anyways…

Post about my earliest games (MZX stuff is super proto-BE stuff)

Quick Roundup of Naomi Idle Animations over a Decade

Sprite Making Process

Level Design Process

How to Ask Game Design Question

I saw two posts on a forum that I vaguely sometimes follow (despite my better judgement) that encapsulated a lot of what I see beginning designers do wrong with questioning design. They ask questions like these two… (No offense to these two posters, you just made good examples)

“Do fighting games need chip damage?”

“Are dizzies in fighting games good?”

These topics got good answers and discussions and asking them as is was better than not asking at all, but I believe this is the wrong way to ask these types of questions. The question shouldn’t be if something needs something — nothing needs anything (okay not strictly true, but whatever). Good is intensely subjective. The question should more be along the lines of…

Why do fighting games have chip damage? What does chip damage DO?

This is step one for any other question! “Oh, chip damage forces people to act rather than block forever (usually against keep away characters) in situations where throws aren’t a threat.” yeah you could say more about what chip damage does, but this works here. From here you can ask the other two questions! Is this good? Well doing nothing in a game about doing stuff is one of those things that is usually bad, so nah, this is good. But you can imagine situations where this question isn’t cut and dry. For example “This mechanic rewards players with higher APMs in RTSs”. Depending on who you ask you’ll hear differing opinions on whether thats a good feature for a game to have . The goals of the designer and of the game will decide if that is good.

And now you can look at “do they need this” in a meaningful way. Do you want to support those features in a 2d game with distance zoners? No? Well maybe you don’t need it. But at the same time, it is my understanding (though this is an area outside of my expertise) that most 3d fighters have chip damage on everything (And soul calibur 5 might even have it on throw breaks? Not sure). Those games, due to the timing and recovery of attacks, usually have more risks associated with attacking (since you can more easily be punished). so chip damage is another way to help force action and allow players benefits from using the longer attack string sequences 3d games are designed with. Okay. But lets say you hate chip damage! You can replace it with stuff! Guard breaks, intense meter gain for the attacker, a Guilty Gear style RISC bar (GG still has chip damage but I’d say it doesn’t NEEEEEED chip damage. Even if it benefits from having it). You can do a bunch of stuff I’m probably not thinking of. But you have some idea the shape of the design piece you’re taking out of the game design puzzle and what you’d have to replace it with for things to work.

You can get good answers from a poorly framed question and bad answers from a well framed question, but asking the well framed question helps you more likely get the information you need and frames things in your mind to tackle the issue in a more thoughtful and useful way.

Brave Earth: Prologue Update!

Its been almost a year since I wrote an update. Might start posting more too as things get closer (NOT CLOSE, CLOSER) to potential release.

I’ve made a lot of progress on smaller stuff that really helps the game come off as ‘a game’ and not a distant dream. So what do we got?

Saves Games

Saves!

Obviously BEP was going to have saves, but having the system in place and having progress saved did wonders for how I felt about the state of the game. Yes, you have to enter names with your controller, no keyboard inputs. :P

Oh also the menu options are probably close to settled. I had a whole bunch early on but now things are way simpler and mostly focused on visual options.

bepupdate_0000_Layer-6

I might have more ‘retro’ options in the future but Construct’s shader support is a pain. Still, if anyone ever bothers to make a great CC shader for emulating retro stuff, I’d put it in as an option. I don’t care too much about this stuff, personally, so I’m not going to bother writing anything crazy about it. But still, lazy scanlines, yay.

Button config has some recommendations now too!

recommended

BEP is, like a modern game, hands off with saving. Everytime you hit a checkpoint or die, your progress saves. I played around with suspend saves for quitting mid level, but Construct Classic was not having it one bit. Still, you never need to worry about saving your game. So speaking of progress!

Map Screen

Map1

Yeah there is a map. Originally there was this abstract hub level thing going on that gave me all sorts of anxiety because it was abstract and hard to explain and forced the game into a sorta ‘post retelling’ framework, but… well, now I have an awesome map, game is simplier and awesomer looking at one go.

bepupdate_0003_Layer-3

The map updates the conditions of the world as your progress. Sweet! Not a big deal, but a nice detail I think.

bepupdate_0002_Layer-4

The map will also inform you when you unlock characters or extra. Speaking of which, things like the bestiary and other fluffy bonuses are hidden in the world. I figured “kill the enemy to get its entry” was a little silly in a game where you would kill everything at least once getting through it. The book entries are staggered in a way that you can actually find previews of whats to come if on other character’s paths and if you find the books at the right time. There will probably other details too (Like I have a neat continent map that is entirely superfluous but I figure ‘why not’?).

The Hub area still exists as a “Level 0” but it serves a more exploratory, fun purpose and could even be mostly ignored.

library

Here is the Library of the hub level! Sinlen is reading in the back ground. You’ll probably be able to talk to other NPCs there too (Both before and after the game) to sorta get some more plot details if you care about those.

Ugh, a Tutorial I guess

bepupdate_0004_Layer-2

Totally skippable, but its there and describes mechanics or all the characters. Hooray.

As for stage stuff, here’s the intro to Trevor’s first stage (the last part is unfinished and this is an older build, but all the better. You can see it full and proper when the game is done.

Also here, for the heck of it, heres me messing with indoor lightning effects

So What’s left?

Too much still! About 4ish stages (out of 9 already done), which could definitely take a while. Or it might not. Not all the stages are necessarily going to be massive or have complex bosses. In fact I think I need to throw in a few simpler bosses for my sanity. Cutscenes, which are an issue too. I need to work with Neolucky to get some nice, very reusable assets. That’d make life a lot simpler. There are some extras I want to do but I might cut those and throw them in a patch later. So yeah. Game isn’t dead! I’ve been working on it constantly but often I just don’t wanna update about every little thing. Once it becomes time to put the game on greenlight (I really should do that now, but I don’t wanna bother until I have a trailer and I don’t wanna make a trailer until I have enough cutscenes to also draw from).

So no update on release date don’t even ask me. BUT WE’RE GETTING THERE. This is happening.

Learning from Guilty Gear XRD’s Story Mode

So this might not be “GAME DESIGN omg ludology” game design but this is definitely relevant to actually, you know, making and finishing a game. For those of us who make (or want to make) games with stories, how you go about it in an effective way (both ‘story telling’ effective and resource effective) is a big problem to be solved. While XRD’s Story Mode isn’t really a game in any sense (it’s like a movie/choiceless VN), it does use techniques that would be effective in many 3d games… and even has some overlapping with 2d games.

Now, I didn’t work on this game obviously and there may have been technical problems with some of the things I suggest I’m not aware of, but that isn’t so much the point as it is to figure out, even in theory, how things could be done better so we can learn from it.

Asset Value

One thing to think about when creating assets for a game is “how much is this asset worth”. Not so much the cost of making it (though that is relevant), but how cost effective it is. Super specific tiles for an area that get used once are low value. They can be worthwhile to create set pieces and memorable moments, but they’re not very ‘cost effective’. You need to choose your indulgences carefully. On the other hand, a set of tiles that can be combined in different ways to create different environments are very high value. Bastion shows this — while having only a small handful of actual tile sets, the ability to tint colors and mix up the shards allow for huge variety from a small pool of assets.

Guilty Gear XRD is 3d. While in many cases, ASW has said that 3D was just as time intensive as 2d, 3d assets have higher value. An individual 2d fighting game frame is pretty low value — it can be used only in one context. Sometimes it can be used in 2 (OR EVEN 3 OMG) but for the most part they serve one role and you need a lot of them to make one attack. 3d models and animations are interchangeable. Putting animation on other models allows for costumes variations while different costumes in 2d games is so inefficient it’s almost unheard of. You either have different costumes being different characters, or you’re Noel from Blazblue (and also your redesign is trash).

Models can be put in different contexts too. The value you get out of a good model is very high while the value you get out of a good sprite is low. So a huge advantage for XRD’s storyline is it could use 3d models to create more visually interesting story mode moments. Reusing different animations on different models also allows for things like Sol changing outfits halfway through (to his weird Pachislot costume).

Now this doesn’t just apply to 3d cutscenes. I usually try and consider the value I’ll get out of various cutscene pieces and facial expressions before I make them. 3d might have higher value, but if you’re not working in 3d, the concept is still important and you still need to choose your spots carefully.

Creating Movement

1408460861-6

A big failure of the XRD story mode is how static it is. Now, clearly the story had a lot of content and not nearly as much money to do things ‘perfectly’ but still, many poor, cost neutral choices seemed to be made to contribute to this problem. First is the ‘dialog’ setup. It often switched to your typical “codec” or “Visual novel” setup, with two characters facing off in different sides of the screen with a divider showing the setting/background and a dialog box under it. This setup I feel is awful. First, we are looking at both characters at the same time with no cuts. This creates staticness. This also requires both faces to move and respond at the same time to seem animated. Replacing this with a simple “Shot/Countershot” would have many benefits. You know, that simple thing they do in movies where they cut back and forth between people’s faces when they talk. This removes a static entity from the screen while also creating artificial movement. You also have less time to focus on the staticness of a scene. Think about a lot of anime and how they from simple stills to create movement without animation. You might go “Yeah but I notice that and it makes me sad!” but XRD is worse than THAT.

You can look at something like the Ninja Gaiden 1 intro for an extreme example. It’s basically 2 faces and 2 frames of leg animation plus the big wide shot and you get a TON of movement just by way of fast cuts. NG cutscenes also use a lot of pans and other minor effects to make the best with the little they had. On that topic, stock camera movements would do wonders and make the cutscenes still easily scriptable. You wouldn’t be adding much work for a lot of gain. Mass Effect uses a number of stock camera moves and animations to create the illusion of more content. While a lot of us notice this and get bugged by it, it’s still better than where XRD is. In fact, XRD could do less. Going off the anime example, less extreme movements and stock animation would keep the style while requiring less effort.

GuiltyGear-5Also axe the dialog box. It’s unnecessary and ugly. Treating it like a VN also makes the timing on many shots weird and have weird pauses. You don’t press A to advance so it’s not like it matters much. Kill all that and you get a much more cinematic look without much more effort. Now a lot of that might add up, but setting up that system might save more time elsewhere. Now you got something that looks more like a cheap anime movie which is… not optimal, but an improvement.

Also stop talking during freezeframes of attacks during action scenes that looks so gross. FAST CUT.

ALSO EDIT THE DAMN SCRIPT. The script is bloated. I don’t even mean by storylines — by nature of being a fighting game story it HAS to be bloated and include everyone. That said, there is a crazy amount of redundant dialog. You have to record that dialog in two different languages and script it, even though it adds almost nothing. Lots of cuts would improve the pace not only over the overall story, but (and more relevant to this topic) make us linger less on reused shots and environments.

Make Only What You Have To

011

XRD’s story mode makes good use of billboards to create simple environments. This is nice because it’s like matte backgrounds in animation, but more flexible and you can sometimes get a few different angles out of one asset. You can also see which characters are drawn and which are models. Things like the Illyium soldiers get models because they allow for a great false sense of scale. Stuff like Chipp’s Ninja Phone Operator get a drawing because… well… Come on. The only real indulgence here seems to be models for the whole Jellyfish Pirate crew, but they’ll probably get mileage in the long run.

Some whole scenes are done with still drawings. This is a reasonable time saving measure that suffers only from the fact they go on for too long and dwell on the staticness for too long. Stuff like the Ken Burns effect can also be used to stretch some mileage out of those shots.

Of course you should invest when it counts. XRD definitely puts some time into its cinematics for certain parts. The climax plays off pretty well too. There still isn’t a lot of animation, but great use of camera helps a lot to create many memorable cinematic sequences. Definitely have to know when to indulge and overdo things or make one-shot animations that make the story memorable. Basically invest in your story beats.

Quick Summary

Make assets that can be used in multiple ways to get the most value out of your time. Make use of the camera, either 2d or 3d, to create motion and make shots more dynamic and engaging. Question if you are putting your work in the best light. Both cut corners and invest where you can to create a sense of scale. Both are applicable in different situations and identifying which is which is important.

Not included in the above, but relevant — if you’re working with cutscenes, think about movies, animation and film. ESPECIALLY animation and ESPECIALLY anime. Why anime? Because anime is done so hardcore on the cheap that almost everything made can help teach you how to cheat. CHEAT CHEAT CHEAT CHEAT and make more with less.

More direct comments on XRD’s story that isn’t relevant to the above but might still be interesting?

  • The assassin’s guild really feels like 3/4 people fucking around in the woods and that’s awful. Nothing is done to make it seem like a larger organization. For all we know, Slayer, Venom and Millia are all weirdass LARPers.
  • A big issue is there is very few ‘action’ scenes. Not fighting scenes, but scene where an action is taking place. We’re cycling through points of exposition and random dialog. Very little in the way of arriving, leaving, interacting, etcetcetc. The moments where that does happen flow better and benefited the story mode. More establishing shots would have definitely added cost, but would have made things a lot nicer.
  • Game used a lot of running scenes. Those worked pretty good for making motion!
  • Zepp had a LOT of random backgrounds and setpieces for the amount of screentime it had. Though we never saw the city proper.
  • Dr. Paradigm was on point.
  • TOO MANY MUSICAL CUES they got old so fucking fast
  • Elphelt’s breasts have twean frames when nothing else really does and it’s weird!
  • Sin is less obnoxious in this game than GG2 because now he more clearly looks like a god damned nerd and it just… fits better.
  • Oh my god Justice out of armor looks awesome.
  • I love when Ky got fucking shot that was amazing like fuck Bandit Revolver, Ky got Revolver Revolvered.
  • Leo looks like a total badass.
  • Gabriel seems like a Giant Robo OVA character
  • Where the fuck is Potemkin
  • Story mode made me like Faust more. So chill and helpful for a man with a bag on his head.
  • Pachislot outfits are in full force with Sol’s second outfit and Dizzy. Johnny doesn’t have a beard though and I’m glad. Where the fuck is my Johnny DLC?
  • I hate Ramlethal’s design like they couldn’t decide if she was a loli or this big meaty badass woman and she ends up somewhere in between and that makes me sad.
  • Chipp is a motherfucking President. Of Ninjas.
  • The storymode made me somehow not hate Bedman
  • Sol tries to talk out his feelings with Elph. When it doesn’t work, he punches a lot and that somehow works. I respect that.