Thursday, February 27, 2014

[Ludonarrative] DeconstructionCraft.

These are exerts from the full article found here.

"Games do not necessarily need text, cut scenes, music, sound, or visuals at all to tell stories. They simply need a player's input and some unspecified means to show reaction to player input to articulate the game space and scenario. The process video games employ to tell stories, or describe what happens, is fundamentally in their mechanics. "
        "In the very act of playing we automatically assign narrative to actions. In board or card games traditionally not associated with story, the very rules are in fact bits of narrative that help players understand the theming, the pieces we assign narrative by naming them, and which functions as the story to their specific characteristics in play. Think of the game of chess in which the objective of the game is to capture as many of your opponent’s pieces and put them in a position to force surrender. A war game, a military theme, we've given meaning to moving small carved bits of wood around on a board by assigning a narrative. The rules dictate the manners in which the players can move their pieces. This piece is a Bishop and so it can move in this certain fashion. The narrative of the Bishop is in its name and its place on the board, these are used to explain its actions on the board.
            In video games, this is even simpler. There's a shape on the screen, and to explain its inter-activeness within its virtual space we assign it a name. The name explains to the viewer why it acts within the space as it does. This is a car, a soldier, a robot, a blob, a gun, a superhuman. Games help the player by contextualizing this narrative by other communicative forms of exposition through interaction; voices, pictures, text. It's important to note these are means of the process but are not the process itself. Similar to how literature uses letters, words, punctuation, thematic devices, and yet narrative cannot be found explicitly within any of those things. Narrative lacks an empirical component."
" It is through the action of the player through the avatar upon the world that allows the player to continue projecting a narrative upon the virtual space and the objects and characters within. "

Friday, February 21, 2014


Typically a 35 dollar value GameMaker Studio is free to download.. Like right now. I'm no pro at GameMaker, but I've downloaded it an it's on the list of program walkthroughs I'm going to do. Get Studio now if this one catches your eye, if you're ever interested in investing in something it's always better to do it when it's cheap, and if it's free you should just do it incase, seriously. For those of you who roll there eyes at these programs and just want to get into the ground up programming world of game making, I do getting into Java and JDK eventually. Soon as I'm proficient enough with coding, but for full disclosure that really means as soon as I'm not juggling upper level courses with work.

Update on the game stuff. I'd love to say the first engine is complete, but it's not. It's simple a matter of understanding the rolls of in script functions and how they function (which is kinda funny in itself). Quality tutorials for Construct 2 are a little more difficult to find, I'll be putting up the resources I've used and a in depth of the game development soon. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

THIEF - Launch Trailer Thoughts/ Discussion on Stealth

In all honesty small response bits aren't my thing, but I figure as my commentary on design and production come from my personal experience with games I enjoy and making games I'd enjoy I thought it'd be good to include that other end of the spectrum. Traditionally indie development blogs showcase the creator's specific thoughts or commentary on whatever aspect of game creation they're currently working on, but they can also showcase examples of successful handle..ings of whichever specific content. The thief series is one of those good examples in a number of different design aspects. One of my personal favorite where it shines is "How to deal with open world without having the npc's become background fodder." or a little more face value "How to make engaging stealth." We're going to look at the latter for now.

One of my favorite aspects the stealth game -especially one of the former Theif series-  provides is this sort of player distinguished challenge. In stealth games the player has the option to wait and avoid detection, even if combat is imbalanced or the ai is boring, the ability to wait completely changes the dynamics of the player within the game environment. In the first Halo, on the snowy level there's a room right before the bridge where most of the enemies are asleep(I'm siting this from memory if details are off I apologize). Now, while most of the Grunts are asleep there are two patrolling Elites that upon spotting you will yell, fire their guns, and wake up the rest of the enemies in the room. Halo does not have refined stealth mechanics, it is not considered a stealth game; but as ai is triggered of line of sight, there is a crouch that aids avoiding being spotted, and gunfire triggers enemy agro, the game sets up scenarios that enable stealth gameplay. You could argue that every shooter has this and yet we don't consider every shooter to be a stealth game.. And I agree with you, the focus of using Halo is to break down stealth into it's fundamental concept without any refined polished mechanics so we can focus on the dynamics that occur in gameplay.

The first thing to note about this dynamic that results in a game being labeled a "stealth game" or having "stealth elements", is entirely dependent on the level design. Someone could just as easily take a Mario platformer -or any platformer- and design the level layout and the enemy placement to completely change the way the mechanics are used and turn it into a stealth game. This brings us back to the waiting element. The ability to avoid detection in itself is considered the most important element, the make-or-break, feature that decides the classification of a stealth game, but in truth it is only a half. When creating "stealth" mechanics the ability to avoid detection is only as good as the manner the game's layout presents waiting. These two elements are often treated as the same and in an aspect cannot be separated, but to better diagnosis the success of a games "stealth" they must be understood independently and viewed side by side. Like the chocolate chips, and the cookie, experienced as one and the same, but very different.

The quality of stealth in a game is understood to be predicated by the strength of the game narrative of why the character must hide, the exact context of why the player is avoiding detection. This brings an investigation of the game's specific fail state. In our Halo example the failstate is clear, you've woken up all the grunts and now you have to chase them around to kill them where before they were lined up on the floor for you, obviously as well there were less enemies previously so there is the threat of death with a harder difficulty setting. In the long run, that extra work of crouching and moving around the room to avoid the Elite's notice, and sneak up behind them, then sneak around taking out the sleeping Grunts, to accomplish that takes loads more time and energy with a minimal internal reward (having not spent those bullets). In many of these instances the player is purposefully setting the bar much higher then necessary with no tangible in game reward, without any provocation from the game. When you walk out of that room there aren't any gamer achievements that pop up for "no shots fired" or "silent death", the challenge is presented the moment the player sees the sleeping Grunt and the patrolling Elite. The layout provided a kind of telescoped game condition, yes the immediate game is to kill all the enemies and survive, but now can you do it without anyone noticing? Mechanically it's just another shooter but the game play allows for conditions to be set on-top of that, it's the level design and monsters that can then add stealth elements. Again, not the fact that you can avoid detection alone, but the manner in which you wait while avoiding detection. Look at Grand Theft Auto, there are no instances where anyone would confuse it with a stealth game, even though the notoriety bar is by definition a stealth element. If viewed with that feature alone it could be said GTA is a stealth game about hiding in plain sight, but we don't consider it a stealth game. Probably because if we're on a empty rooftop then fire off a sniper round toward a playground two miles away and take out someone the police are still on your case in five seconds. I mean really, Oswald got more time then that; there was no way they could respond that quickly. The line of sight is completely bogus, where I should have been able to hide on the rooftop without notice, the cops should have logically been running around the streets and alleys looking for a shooter for a set of time. But that didn't happen, the manner of waiting and ability to hide are not set in a way that allows "stealth" gameplay.

Even more misguided on this manner (in my opinion) is the Assassin's Creed series. This is more to a broken sense of failstate then anything but in this case the open world doesn't help. To be clear, I have a love hate relationship with this series; I love half the things the games do, I love the subject matter, I hate half of everything they do and the way the do half the things I love. Example, why be able to pick up and carry weapons without being able to unlock them, or at least sell them at the stores to then turn around and unlock them, and on that note why the hell is there even money when the stupid homestead is going to be making it rain a third through the game? If the player never worries about their in game coin purse going empty then money has no worth and basically no point. While we're no the topic, if the player can kill people -especially the heavies- quicker and more efficiently unarmed then actually armed with all the big expensive weapons, then what is the point of buying the weapons or even having them? Yes the combat alone is fun, but by making the unarmed option more viable the game undermines the entire point. And if you can stake up bodies and bodies of enemies without much hassle, what is the point of hiding? Now there can be instances where patrol routes and hay stakes are cleverly placed, but often times there the reason for not being spotted isn't a manner of avoiding fights, it's just this is what you've been told to do. If you get spotted it'll just give you a failstate and start you over. This feels less like the "stealth" dynamic and more "wait until they've lined up with spot a to press x" which functions more quick time event then.. well stealth. Just.. just don't get me started on that series.

Thief does it right, they focus the environment and interactions around their stealth mechanics. Where sight and sound play key roles in coming into and avoiding challenging combat the player abilities are all based around manipulating the environments visibility or sound, the objectives are set up for multiple entrances and the ai designed provide a multitude of approaches. In an article (in GameInformer I believe) a designer commenting on the Thief series said they figured the best way to present a realistic challenge to a burglar was to have a "simulated environment", everyone is just going about their business. If they find someone knocked out and mugged in the street they'll get the law. If they find a door closed when they had left it open they'll open it and look through the room. If the light in a room goes out they'll become more aware and look around and listen to see if anyone is there. If they're not a guard or armed when they believe someone is there they'll run and get someone to come back with them. The player is presented a challenge strategic challenge in the number of ways they can approach and deal with their obstacles, all within the bigger goal of stealth. In another game not being found might be a lesser thing, but in Thief where you are not the hulking warrior and any hostile creature has the potential to kill you, it becomes an immediately bigger thing.

.. trailer analysis.

There is gameplay in the family of the Thief formula, (the sneaking climbing bits) but the other thing that's noticeable is what appears to be either one of those (not actual gameplay/looks like gameplay ) cinematic trailer, a taste of what we might expect for a cut scene (doubt it seeing as there were other blatantly cut scene bits that fit existing Thief formula), or -more likely- a cinematic with what we can expect from scripted parkour/timed run segments (reminiscent of Mirror's Edge). And that is has strange effect on me, on one hand I really liked how Thief didn't have scripted gameplay events, sure sometimes the best way was to enter from this door, but there was never timed running bits with quick-time-event-slide-over-tables bits or anything, it presented a kind of freedom. But on the other hand, I reeeally liked Mirror's Edge and felt it's timed run segments were compelling and challenging, you had to think fast and preform the movements exactly. While that doesn't sound Thief to me, that does sound like a fantastic marriage. If this is the case I'm going to be optimistic and support whatever union of sneaking thief and parkour Eidos and Square dream up, until it proves otherwise. From what we've been given, in my opinion, the game looks like alot of fun. I just wanna wish best of luck to the developers, and God please let it be as good as I want it to be.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentines DeconstructionCraft- Games and Romance

 (click to take me to article)
(click image to go to article)

So as this Friday-tomorrow- is Valentines day Kevin of NextLevelGamingOnline's DeconstructionCraft and I wrote a combined piece on romance devices as they're represented in video games. Unfortunately the site doesn't actually acknowledge two authors so we had to include that bit in text, but that's fine. My bit builds of Kevin's work and introduction but if you're just interested in skimming mine is the second half. Kevin references Final Fantasy 7 and 6, along with Second Life. I comment on relationship mechanics as they're used in the Sims, Catherine, DragonAge, Animal Crossing, Mass Effect, Harvest Moon, The Marriage, and Ico.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2014, The Year of Pies and Fingers.

With my first class of the semester just a few hours around the corner and a few elements of my platformer working I just wanted to take this time to throw out my game plan as far as game development goes for this semester.

I've decided to aim to develop three games this semester using the respective optimal programs for their development and record my progress and lessons learned here. One platformer, one rpg, one adventure game. Each using their respective suited creations software; Construct2, Rpg maker, and Ags. Each will only be using the most basic elements of gameplay from their respected genres that I can code without too much difficulty so I can focus on the design during development and come up with the most polished product possible.

Still, this is kinda nuts -for me at least- I'm a full-time student, have my game journalism column with Kevin along with my other duties at that internship, might help write for my friend's film journalism internship group, I'm getting a second part time job, and I've joined a band. But I'm still optimistic, second job is a every-other-Friday-or-third-shift kinda deal, my classes are basically condensed to two days through the week, with a one-class-easy monday/wednesday/friday, my other job is flexible, all of my classes are interesting, plus I've found awesome communities that can point me to tutorials and so far have been more than happy to give me advice and pointers on my work. The planets have aligned as it were. 

My aim is to learn as much as I can and develop my skills so that future design ideas can be realized more efficiently. The benefit of making a number of small games when first starting with a program to making one massive one is a stark contrast. When you spend half a year making a single(conservatively saying) big game it's going to take you much longer to distance yourself from the work and be able to reflect on it's flaws and missteps. You often hear developers talking about the benefit of having gamejams and having to fit some awkward random parameter in some genre they're new too. It challenges you and makes you think about the process and medium in ways you haven't before. The same way you hear writers often tell people the best advice they could give to a fledgling author is to read books that are out of their genre or style. Short projects that let you brainstorm on something completely new then see it through to completion without the time or luxury to spend time second guessing or last minute revising help build confidence, familiarity with working the crunch, and understanding of the development process.

And so in this fashion I'm going to be tackling a puzzle platformer, a turn-based rpg, and something in ags... just kidding it's going to be a point and click adventure game. I barely have the slightest knowledge of ags scripting and I don't have any Rpg Maker sofeware as of yet. But after fuddling around with Construct for a few days I spent today.. yesterday. Sunday, working on an engine and thus far I have

1. functional wall jumping
2. invert-able gravity 
3. button mashing type flying (broken double jump)
4. self destruct button (broken dash, soon to be fixed)
5. rotatable characters (no ai to have secondary character follow you around thus far)

But that's just one day. I plan on spending a week on each engine, getting what functions and place holder graphics I need working, and anything that's glitchy/unfinished/I-don't-like will be either removed or disabled from the code and I will use whatever I have to come up with a design. The design will be scaled on my remaining time, and as I plan on fitting these out across the semester the first two at least will probably be pretty small scale. There are really only two functional elements in the platformer right now but I'm getting a good arcade feel from it. Rpg will probably be a small mystery as that's a simple way to have a concise story wrap up at the end of a puzzle/dialogue session, it'd be rad if I had time to figure out a multiple ending sort of thing. And to be honest I have no idea what to do for the Ags and that's why I'm going to schedule it for last.

I'm not going to set any publish dates or anything like that for the individual titles. I just want to have a working beta of each by the end of the semester. There is the possibility that I will fall on my face and fail halfway through. I might end up with just three somethings that play kinda like games, but regardless of the physical product what I'll have learned through the experience gained as a developer will be immeasurable. 

Other great advice is have a good programming friend who can look at what you do and give you pointers, one I've chatted with mine and get those broken bits fixed I'll put up my links to the tutorials and include my own commentary on this platformer engine I'm making. I'm thinking something end product like Wario Land but with a gun.

Til next time, goodnight everybody and good luck with your projects.