Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chaos Game Design

Started a Tumblr page to keep track of changes and prototypes created for the Chaos Game.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Star Wars already has 8 Million Registered Users

Just announced today, Star Wars MMO has already surpassed 8 million registered users. John Smedley said the company was thrilled with the success of the game when it originally got to one million users. Smedley said, "LucasArts continues to be an excellent partner, giving our team unprecedented access so that we can continue to create a virtual world that expands beyond the storylines ... in fun and creative ways."

He said that the company was happy and said that he "looks forward to seeing our community and games continue to grow..."

Read more over on Gamasutra.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Punishment in Videogames

At some point in many videogames you either no longer feel threatened or the punishment for death becomes meaningless. In Super Mario Bros. it was when you were able to generate near infinite lives. In Final Fantasy X it’s when you unlock each character’s ultimate weapon, and can finish the last boss in one hit. In Grand Theft Auto, it’s when you turn the game into a sandbox by cheating.

At these points, when the game crosses the threshold of no longer having consequences, a few things tend to happen. Some players use this as a time to feel liberated. They have fun being able to run around, explore, and generally not worry about “running out”. To use an MMO example, this is a level 85 tanking all of Scarlet Monastery for a lowbie friend. It is an exultation of power. By itself though it can become boring very quickly.

This boredom sometimes comes first until the player figures out how to have fun with it. Essentially the game is now a sandbox. This means that players can simply practice, explore, or make up their own challenges. Another way to reach this point is through mastery, as mastery can result in similar situations and feelings as becoming overpowered.

The other side of games becoming too easy is games that become too challenging. In this case, the player may end up simply quiting the game. If they do keep playing, they may or may not increase in skill to get to the next level of mastery to surpass the challenge and continue play. At the same time, there are games that are essentially about punishment (rogue-a-likes) and at that point the game is about player versus designer, where good players begin to be able to predict the designer’s horrible evil plot to kill them.

With all that in mind, what are the positives of punishment in games?

1) It adds risk to gameplay. This means is essential to taking a concept from learning to mastery. Things like complicated wall jumps over spike pits, dangerous enemy combinations or bosses that require use of the player’s different skills are examples of this.

2) It adds value to certain resources. Risk makes safe zones, health kits and super mushrooms things that the player seeks out. Suddenly using a health kit is can be an interesting choice, especially if part of the heal will be wasted if you use it too soon.

3) It makes victory feel more fulfilling. Especially if the game is in a high flow state where the player is meeting the challenges and struggling just enough. The risk of dying or of losing a large combo multiplier versus the risk of not successfully accomplishing a goal is an example of this.

On the other hand, punishment in games can easily be overdone. Probably more easily than many other design choices the game maker decides on. It can make players give up at one extreme and it can make players too cautious and averse to exploration on another.

In one of the Fable games, the game would scar the player if they lost. This can lead to quick game resets, where players would rather lose part of what they have done rather than suffer the punishment of scarring their avatar. Punishment can devalue a player’s actions and choices, making the game less satisfying. This makes it more likely for all players to follow a guide rather than explore the game themselves. For example, in WoW, they player’s punishment of not doing enough damage happens when they do not follow predetermined “correct” gearing and talent choices.

One of the greatest forms of punishment, is shaming. This is why in Fable 2 players would reset their game, and why in WoW certain players will do anything to not be called a noob. I remember in Ridge Racer Evolution on the Playstation, the announcer would insult the player the moment they started doing poorly. At the age of 14 that game left me in tears of rage and shame.

Punishment can be used to control player economies, by creating money sinks (I’m looking at you armor repair cost). Resource depletion is one of the most common forms of punishment. This includes ammo in FPS games, or lives in quarter-cruncher style games. Games where there are a time limit, the punishment is often loss of time. For example in Mario Kart, the Lakitu takes a while to reset the player back on the track.

In games where lives are no longer an issue, the punishment is in the form of lost time, or prevention from continuing. In these cases, light shame punishments (You Lose) may be required to create tension for the player.

With all this in mind, the main thing that makes punishment more of a fun thing as opposed to a negative in games is control. The player must not only be able to prevent the punishment, but they must be able to understand why it is happening.

This is one of the major issues players have in PVP against stealth opponents. They feel that they have no control over the attacks. This is where skill shot based attacks do better than target attacks (the difference between casting a Blizzard spell and a Fireball spell in WoW). The skill shot allows for the player to predict the location of the hidden opponent and hit them. The more control the player has, the better they feel when when they lose. Because then it is something they can fix or improve, rather than the game simply being unfair to them.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cardboard Box Assembler Review

My son is usually a source of what is fun for me. That said, he has a way of finding interesting flash games online. One of them that I fell in love with, and would love to see expanded upon is Cardboard Box Assembler (distributed by Adult Swim Games). I played the game through the Armour Games online portal.

CBA (Cardboard Box Assembler), is a game where you play a guy running around the outside of a box. The game is a kinetic puzzler to get all the items necessary to open the portal and head through the exit. Movement is fluid. Jumping and running feel visceral, and has weight to it.

New concepts are introduced simply and by themselves before being combined with other aspects of the game. As you run around, you can see the other side of the box, which sometimes can hint at how to get where you need to go.

With that in mind, there is no hint system. If you are stuck, all you can do is skip the level. With that in mind, there are simply not enough levels in the game. The game would require more levels to be a full release to a console or portable device. It also feels that the character should be able to do more. Despite looking agile, the character can not wall jump, or do any other agile movements other than jump and run.

The 3D box effect is what first drew me into the game. It is amazing for a flash game, and reminded me of an old Atari game called Rubick’s cube. The storyline is throw away, and should be ignored, vigorously. I was trying to find out who made the game, and the best I could come up with was that it used to be called Cubesome. I suppose that adding the story is what made it an Adult Swim game, but honestly it would have done better to have chosen a better storyline.

There’s a lot of directions this game could go in, and I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about it expanding beyond a flash game. It is an amazingly fun little flash game that could easily become something more. Especially as a downloadable game on the 3DS or PSP Vita. The game could do more, like having more movement choices for the character, more levels, and more complicated structures (other than just cubes). The storyline is a severe issue though and should be dumped and recreated before release (as it manages to be both not funny and stupid).

Thursday, September 8, 2011

4 Role Class System

To begin, the goal of this system is for the player to choose the roles they want to participate in, and from there give them a list of classes that fit that role, either strongly, or weakly. I understand that this is similar to what Rift did, but the concept here is that you are actually encompassing two roles directly, and the variety of possible classes allowed covers the entire spectrum of primary roles.

Secondly, I’m a strong advocate of leveling up multiple classes and allowing the player to mix certain abilities from each. In this sense, I’m thinking more of Final Fantasy Tactics or Final Fantasy 5. The idea is that each class provides certain abilities, and the player can choose to include one of those abilities in their build.

For now, we simply focus on the classes and not their abilities (as such things are more likely to change depending on the kind of game that is made). Roles were generated from the D&D4e Player’s Manual. They are Defender, Controller, Leader and Striker.

While Defender’s are often seen as meat shields, the better ones are almost never hit by on level enemies, meaning that they require little to no healing in normal combat situations. Defender’s role is to punish enemies that don’t attack them. They often lead combat and do better the more mobile they can become.

Controllers function best as damage prevention and improving positioning. They help by forcing enemies to scatter, since their attacks are often AoE. Scattered enemies are less likely to be able to focus on any one particular target, easing the incoming damage that everyone is receiving.

Leaders are a bit like healers, but they also act as a buffer/debuffer. Leaders also focus on team positioning, and can help move players into better situations.

Strikers are the epitome of what it means to be dps. The purpose of a striker is to do as much damage as possible, and finish targets off quickly.

Part of this requires a bit more AI from the enemies. They need to react to damage similarly to how players do. They need to get out of the fire. They need to fear crossing a wall of fire. This also implies a slower game.

From the origin of the roles, we can establish certain parallels and changes to fit a more active game type. One thing to note is that the Defender and Controller play very similar roles. This increases the amount of tank like roles in the game, as Defender/defender, Defender/controller, and Controller/Controller all fit similar functions.

The biggest change to fit an MMO is getting Leaders something that is not moving players around. While its okay to move enemies around, the current situation would allow for too much griefing. One solution is give movement buffs, shields and temporary protection from damage zones.

Combining roles would involve a primary and a secondary choice. Before locking the player in, they would be able to view all possible classes they could become with the choices they made. Unlike the Rift soul system, they would not be switching roles (dps cleric, or a tank rogue), but instead they would always function as, for example, a Defender/Controller, regardless of the class they choose. Though some classes would be a Controller/Defender the result would essentially be the same.

Some of the classes would also be just aspects of a class (like Defender/Leader getting access to the Death Knight tanking tree and the Paladin Tanking Tree, to use WoW as an example). Some combinations would also be more limited, (Striker/Striker or any choice where both roles are the same). This is scenario A.

Another way to take this is to allow for the player to choose a class, and then pick a sub role to perform, which works closer to how WoW works. This is scenario B.

Another way is to allow the player to switch how their roles fit, which in turn opens up a specific smaller set of classes. This is scenario C.

No matter the approach, the important function is that if a player is a Leader/Striker, or a Striker/Leader, they are enough to heal the team. This is another aspect of the game that needs to change from the typical MMO combat situation. It makes no sense for all enemies to focus just the tank. It also makes no sense for every swing to hit.

Essentially the proposal works better the further you get away from the WoW model, and the closer you get to the turn based model. Also, the closer skill shots matter, the better. This means that random hitting would have to be reduced, or accuracy would have to apply to spells and abilities that cause a scattered effect, therefore focusing more of the damage where it counts, versus scattering to points that don’t matter.

As for the actual class results, the changes can be made to fit different genres, but essentially would fit certain class type/styles.

Primary Defenders: Fighter, Paladin, Mage Knight
Primary Leaders: Priest, Shaman, Bard
Primary Controllers: Wizard, Ninja, Psion
Primary Strikers: Ranger, Monk, Rogue

Each primary role, then diversifies depending on what the secondary role is. For example choosing Controller/Leader would result in: Abjurer (Wizard) or Telepath (Psion).  The reverse, Leader/Controller would be: Invoker (Priest) or Minstrel (Bard).

So in the A scenario, the player would choose Leader/Controller or Controller/Leader and they would be able to pick from all four classes. In the B scenario the player would choose the Wizard, and have access to the Controller/Leader role of Abjurer, but also be able to switch to the Controller/Striker version of the Evoker, or the Controller/Controller Acranist. In the C scenario they would choose the Leader/Controller and choose between the Priest or the Bard versions, they would later on be able to choose different role combinations to gain access to different classes.

In the end, there are 12 classes, or 36 depending on how it is handled. Furthermore, the ability of the player to choose their function is diversified depending on the how it is handled. I believe that scenario A would be best, as it helps focus the selection, while still providing variety. The main thing is that the focus would allow for the player to be less likely to mess up on a build. At the same time, scenario C allows for the most diversity, and also allows for the player to invest in the one character instead of having to constantly make new characters.

Other possibilities, choosing a role and having access to any class that has that role. Scenario D would mean that a Defender would have 15 classes to choose from. This may have the best of both worlds between A and C scenarios, while functioning similarly to the B scenario. The issue here is that it would result in the Rift system, and therefore cause issues in which the role has no common ground, and every level results in a different combination that plays completely different. From what I’ve read, this is one of the downfalls of the soul system, where the character does not feel owned by the player.

The strength of the 4 Role system is that it allows for a great deal of diversity and as shown can accommodate both the WoW and the Rift versions of classes. It can also become highly specialized or completely diverse. From it all class combinations and roles can be derived.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Using Wisdom in a Video Game

If we count Wisdom as knowledge we have, and Intelligence as application of knowledge, then we can easily quantify these traits in a videogame. The gears that need to be in place is a format in which gathering in game knowledge has a benefit to the player. The side effect of this process is to get lore into the player’s mind, and allow them to earn their character interactions.
Now I the idea behind this goes as such: Information has a rating attached to it. Passing a certain threshold of intelligence, the character gains the possibility of gaining this information. With enough Wisdom that information can be strung together to form a conclusion. Lacking Wisdom means that the string is shorter, which means it may not be enough to actually accomplish a goal, and may just piss people off.

Does this mean that people would all play with intelligence and wisdom maxed out? The issue become with generating altering paths. The other aspects (such as Muscle and Strength for intimidation, Beauty and Charm for seduction, Chi and Spirit for Spiritual Guidance, etc) lead to different paths as well. The idea is that instead of having only one end game threat, you can instead cause an end of the world scenario through a combination of events. The player then creates their own path to an end, and by solving certain issues they can trigger a point where the world is not completely destroyed, or even most saved.
End game is then generated by recovery efforts in the parts of the world that were affected by disaster. Perhaps that might god coming down from the sky only destroyed one continent, the dwarves and merfolk warring destroyed another part of the world, and the ancient serpent underground is slowly eating through another. Thankfully you stopped the meteorite containing the demon prince from landing in your home continent. And you made peace between the amazons and the barbarians. Also you did stop the merfolk from also melting the north pole and flooding the surface world.
Now there are still problems in the world, but the disasters you stopped and the ones that made it through were based on your decisions, your stats, and what you tried to figure out. The option of failing at something now becomes possible. Perhaps as a designer I would make sure that no matter what at least one thing would go wrong. Or by allowing no disaster to happen, the player instead allows for an evil that would have been killed by the disaster to grow in power. An evil empire can being growing, and the player starts to begin hearing whisperings of war.
The power of a single player game to allow for the player to create their own story is incredible. But what about an MMO? How can you have so many people on a server and still allow a disaster to occur? What if different servers have different disasters? Suddenly the game is different for each server. People might switch just to experience the Cataclysm versus the Armageddon.
But back to the stats influencing the character decisions: It would be important to disambiguate the stats from the class. Instead of forcing warriors to focus on strength and muscle/beauty, we can allow them to derive power from chi. This is something that I liked about Champions Online. Though some powers are obviously improved by certain stats, the character can choose two stats that empower their dps. This way a brick can pick up survivability stats that in turn strengthen their dps.
The MMO would allow for players to arrive at certain conclusions based on their stats, and therefore their choices would affect the story that they experience. We could even allow an in game method for players to talk to each other, and pass information. Imagine a group of players exploring a mansion where a murder has occurred. Suddenly the defender’s intimidation is used to interrogate a suspect. The mage is piecing clues together, the cleric is talking to spirits. A dynamic instance is generated, and the information is shared and pieced together to solve the mystery.
Exploring the world can also lead to such fonts of knowledge. Global events can be solved, clues can be found, and then posted in a public board in game. As players attempt to solve the mystery, the goal is suddenly made clear. A way to find the tunneling worm is found, and a new instance is formed. The goal is to stick by the decision to allow servers to be different. The biggest issue I have with this is that the game is essentially being splintered into several games, each requiring its own team.
Perhaps that is the cost of creating a truly meaningful PVE MMO.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chaos Stats and Elements

Chaos has a unique stat system. Each Element is tied to a super stat, a sort of overview stat that is the summation of all stats underneath it. The super stats are Mind (Air), Body(Earth), Soul (Water) and Style (Fire). Each super stat is broken down into four stats: Mind has Reflex, Mana, Intelligence and Technique; Body has Fortitude, Initiative, Strength and Agility; Soul has Willpower, Chi, Wisdom and Spirit; and Fire has Coolness, Charm, Muscle and Beauty.

Originally, players would roll 1d6 for each stat, and the combined result would go to the super stat, which would translate to what element they were part of. In the original the highest stats would also become the player’s class, or possible classes if they chose to multiclass at level up.

Now each super stat has a defense stat (Coolness, Fortitude, Reflex and Willpower), a resource stat (Charm, Initiative, Mana and Chi), and two descriptive stats (Muscle, Beauty, Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Technique, Wisdom and Spirit).

A quick aside to Coolness as a defense. When facing off against a Vampire trying to charm her, one player successfully defended against it. Was it willpower? No, she was simply too cool to be taken in by him.

Defensive stats are often used creatively, but can be standardized to deal with certain types of attacks. To do this, each attack type would attack against a defense type (vs. Fortitude, vs. Reflex, vs. Willpower). We could make certain abilities less effective by having Coolness reduce the effect. For example, an enemy casts a Fire spell on you, your Fortitude is what would resist catching on fire in the first place, while your Coolness would reduce damage and how long you’re on fire (because Cool people don’t catch on fire).

In the pen and paper, defense was an active thing. An incoming attack would be followed by shouts of, “block it,” and, “dodge to the side!”. To me this means that each defense needs a button or way of activating it (timed button press for fortitude, hold and move for reflex, timed tapping for willpower).

Resources are somewhat complex. They represented how much you could do, with initiative being how often you could attack (well it controlled how often you could attack). Since initiative could be staved off to wait for something to happen, I considered it a resource.  It could also be saved up to double up on actions (any more than that resulted in waste).

This sort of thing works in Turn based games, but imagining a real time game with it might be interesting. Perhaps stacking spell casts, so that spells can be used twice in a row is a possibility. But you would also have to stack active dodges and what not.

Quick aside: Though I still used the term HP, I went with the concept that HP was a combination of actual physical resistance and ego/determination.

Descriptive stats would sometimes affect character appearance. Muscle would increase how muscular the character would appear. Beauty could counter how much the muscle attribute affected the players muscularity. Agility would give the character a more lithe appearance. High Spirit would give the player a glow. This does not necessarily need to translate to a computer game (except to maybe do random characters that made sense).

Muscle and Beauty affected HP (physical and ego portions respectively). Strength and Agility affected damage. Intelligence affected spell power, and Technique affected accuracy and critical hits. Wisdom affected how much the player needed to remember versus what the character needed to keep track of (as in they could keep X number of pages of notes). Spirit was a borderline resource, as it affected how in tune with the supernatural the player was.

Some of these would change depending what kind of game they are being added to, but for the most part should be functional (especially Wisdom would need to see a change).

The stats also presented roleplaying opportunities. Things like charming an enemy with your Coolness, strength, muscles, beauty or intelligence. Sometimes you could get NPCs to join you, depending what they were impressed by. Charm spells in video games are usually temporary and for the location/fight that the player is in. To properly mimic the pen and paper system, the result would function more like Neutral Monster recruitment in Ogre Battle, or catching a Pokemon in the wild.

The stats combined with the elements can affect how people create skills (Fire is tied to Coolness, so setting yourself on fire could reduce how long negative effects stay on you). Not only that, but Ice is Water and Air, so Ice Elements could have high Spirit and Intelligence, letting them wield summon Ice Spirits of amazing power. Blaze Elements could have high Muscle and Intelligence, making them effective mage tanks. The possibilities and effects of the Elements and Stats are exponential. Adding to the variety are the possible classes/role combos that would be included in the game, meaning that a player could meet 35 other Fire Elements and not have a repeat of any class (this would be a low chance, but you get the idea).

Before exploring this further, I think I’ll talk about the 4 Role System. I’ll tackle that on another post.

Quick Guide:
Fire = Style = Defense: Coolness = Resource: Charm = Muscle = Beauty
Earth = Body = Defense: Fortitude = Resource: Initiative = Strength = Agility
Air = Mind = Defense: Reflex = Resource: Mana = Intelligence = Technique
Water = Soul = Defense: Willpower = Resource: Chi = Wisdom = Spirit