Extra Credits – TransGaming

Link: Extra Credits – TransGaming

Apart from repeatedly calling CCP’s upcoming PS3 game Dust 514, Dust 541 while showing lots of images of the game’s logo! This week’s Extra Credits is required viewing. Seriously go watch it now!

This is because it touches upon what could be one of the next big trends in gaming, trans-gaming. Which is something I have always thought and imagined could be a cool thing at some point but now that it is really starting to happen it has really got me excited. Like really excited. It is the sheer amount of possibility behind the idea that is amazing. Like your partner playing Bejweled to repair your armour in an RPG example from the video. It is so simple but mind-blowingly cool.

My fiancé has been happy playing the crap out of Angry Birds Space but what if her 3 staring of a level contributed to my Galactic Readiness Rating in Mass Effect 3? Kim has no interest in Mass Effect as a franchise, it sadly doesn’t appeal to her tastes, but if playing Angry Birds, a game she loves could aid my saving of the galaxy then she would be all for it. We would be working for a higher goal together via two separate paths. This doesn’t have to be a one way street either. What if in my hastily put together example, that my gathering of resources with Mass Effect 3’s scanning planets gameplay gave Kim more birds to use in Angry Birds Space? I would scan every planet possible if it could help Kim in her quest to kill some green pigs!

Mass Effect 3 already has some very basic trans-gaming elements to it with the two iOS apps; Datapad and Infiltrator, and the multiplayer component to a certain extent. Each gives you things to use in aiding your single player experience and stuff like the messages from in game characters in the Datapad App keeps you engaged with Mass Effect 3 while you are far away from you console or PC. All that needs to be done is to take these initiative further and make them on a grander scale.

A lot of it is all pie in the sky stuff at the moment but I am looking at Dust 541 514 with great interest to see how well integrated and impacting the PS3 FPS will be for the MMO side of things and vice versa. EVE is a game I have only really touched the surface of with the odd thirty days here and there but Dust 514 could see me playing it a lot more or at least make me feel like I am having an impact on what the players of EVE can do.

I love it when Extra Credits covers topics like this, it really gets the creative juices flowing!

Weekly Update

It has been a very productive week for me even with the ever present distraction that is Mass Effect 3. I’ve managed to make some headway on all three projects so things are starting to look up! (Yay for me!). It have been a week of game mechanics and prototype planning and it has got me back into the groove of game designing. (Double yay for me!)

Project Superman:

The past three or so weeks of working on Project Superman can be summed up as, “OH MY GOD WHY DID I CHOOSE TO DO THIS?!” then proceeding to do little to no work on it. This week however I sat down and went through everything I have and have done for the design and remembered that it is actually a damn good idea!

So in an effort the get back on track I have started organising my game mechanics in various categories and fleshing them out in my note book ready to begin visually representing them via one page designs. I have also made a lot of progress in the most tedious part of the design, the character boards. While they look fairly simple it is taking a surprising amount of time to get the right images together and on the page. I’m just thankful that there is so much imagery out there for me to use to help get my ideas across. So I’ve managed to get the boards for, Clark Kent, Lex Luthor and Jimmy Olsen done and dusted this week. 


While tedious, doing the character boards has also lead to some good gameplay ideas being derived from the characters. I think I have cracked what I am going to do with the Clark Kent gameplay and I’ve come up with more things to show Lex Luthor as the bad ass I know he can be. As for Jimmy Olsen…..well I have big plans for Jimmy and they are going to be awesome!

Time Travel Game:

I haven’t made any additions to the Wiki this week because I am still slightly ahead of schedule on it, so I took this week as an opportunity to start trying to figure out how to get my gameplay prototype up and running in UDK. I’m using the ‘Bill and Bob’ tutorials by the Underground Game Design Course on YouTube (the playlist of which can be found here) as a starting point. This is because the switching mechanic in the Bill and Bob tutorials is similar to what I will be doing and it is a far easier way of tackling the problem than making the game physically rewind itself. So while it is not a perfect solution to showing off the game mechanics it is fine for this proof of concept prototype. The only problem is getting it to work as I want and need it to. If I can’t get it working in a reasonable amount of time I am going to have to resort to showing the mechanics off via a video. Which is the easy option at this point. While it is not what I wanted it will make a good Plan B incase I cannot get the mechanics to work in the prototype.

Hunters of the New Dawn:

This week for Hunters of the New Dawn I have mainly been thinking about how the physical prototype will work. This has involved writing out the mechanics and gameplay elements I want to show through the physical prototype and thinking about stats. A few weeks ago I talked about the class set up and focuses (go here for a read!) this week I have been looking at those stat focusses and working out how they will effect damage output, defence and health. I’m trying to keep the number of stat types to a minimum because while I am a fan of multiple stats they can be incredibly overwhelming to people starting an RPG. Also I am using a whole simple surface level/complex optional depth idea for all of Hunter’s game systems. So I am applying the K.I.S.S. method to the games stats then having things like weapon and skill modifications being the complex layer for the stat effects. I’m trying to keep it down to three at the moment but that might grow to four depending on what happens in the next week or so. I am setting my limit at five though because any higher an I have failed in my design goals for the game. 

Games I have been playing:

At this point I would go into detail on how much I am enjoying Mass Effect 3 but I have nearly finished the game I’m planning on doing a full write up once I have reached the end of the credits. I am also planning on doing another write up on thegamecompany’s latest game, Journey which is just one of the best games I have played in the past few months and possibly the best PSN game I have ever downloaded.

So expect to see my thoughts on them soon!

Extra Credits – Mass Effect 3 DLC

Link: Extra Credits – Mass Effect 3 DLC

Another week another episode of Extra Credits. This week sees a welcome return to the done in one format of the show as it tackles the issue of Day One DLC and in particular the Day One DLC attached to Mass Effect 3.

While I have already expressed my opinion on the arguments for and against, the Extra Credits team comes up with some more valid arguments for it in particular the diminishing number of players who will actually buy it, shown by this handy graph:

This argument is made along with the; it keeps the team working and gives you more content points that are equally as valid in my opinion. Mostly they highlight the positives of the practise and very much come to the conclusion that it is becoming a necessary evil. They do however show the worrying side of DLC which is the attachment of it to merchandise.

It is very much a grey area at the moment and something I have actually had to look into recently for the Franchise Development Doc for one of my projects. Currently this merchandise DLC is almost throwaway content like the Collector Rifle that comes with Mass Effect 3 Razor products but it is becoming more and more popular. It urges consumers to buy both the game and the merchandise for the game. It is something I caught myself doing with the Mass Effect 3 merchandise. While the DLC is very minor part of me on a very small level equates it to improving my Mass Effect 3 experience. It is a reward for buying the T-Shirt, bag, controller, etc. and that is the worrying thing. Because as Extra Credits points out this could easily turn from small inconsequential bonuses to the equivalent of the From Ashes day one DLC. So if you think paying an extra £7 for day one DLC is expensive imagine having to pay £60 to buy a bag that comes with that DLC instead. 

It is unlikely to happen but it is still a worrying thought.

Extra Credits – Western & Japanese RPGs (Part 3)

Link: Extra Credits – Western & Japanese RPGs (Part 3)

NOTE: I accidentally posted this to my other blog so if you see another version of this floating around do not panic! It is just me posting things incorrectly!

I haven’t linked to Extra Credits for the past few weeks because they have been doing a three part series on Western and Japanese RPGs and I wanted to see how it ended before passing judgement.

The first two parts of the series (Part one here and part 2 here) deal mainly with defining what RPGs are and why Western RPGs and JRPGs are actually two different genres. They are worth checking out because they raise the question of why we define game genres the way we do, after their main mechanics rather than overall content. It is good food for thought when you take into account the spread of game mechanics into different genres that has been happening over the past few years. RPG mechanics in particular are present in most AAA games that sell in their millions.

Part 3 is where the traditional Extra Credits style commentary comes into play. It further defines the gap between Western and Japanese RPGs and shows why the western games are experiencing their current success while JRPGs just….well…..suck for the majority. There are several points about JRPGs that hit home for me because back in the days of the PSOne and PS2 I loved JRPGs. There were loads of them around and plenty of them were really good games! I can honestly say I haven’t truly enjoyed a JRPG since Final Fantasy X. I’ve played a few in the past few years but they have been a tad boring for my tastes and poorly put together. 

If you look at Final Fantasy which is arguably the poster franchise for the genre that everyone points to and says, “That there is the JRPG in a nutshell.” Final Fantasy XIII was a really bad game. The combat may have been interesting but the design and pacing was very poor. Just one long corridor with a different slap of paint every now and then. It just boiled down to the point made by Extra Credits, Square spent to much on making it look pretty and as a result sort of forgot to make a good game with it. 

JRPGs played a huge part in my gaming life and made me want to see the big, epic stories they delivered in other types of games. Now that other types of games are doing that regularly and arguably, better than JRPGs. They have sort of fallen by the wayside for me and many others. The video ends with a discussion on what SquareEnix could do with making next instead of more Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest games. Kingdom Hearts 3 was mentioned. I loved the first two games and four to five years ago even the slightest whisperings of KH3 would make me excited. These days? I am not interested in the slightest. This is because I look at the endless portable Kingdom Hearts games Square have come out with over the past few years and I realise that I was left behind by that franchise a long time ago as it spiralled down into itself. That makes me unbelievably sad.

Infrequent Update

I’ve fallen behind on the Weekly Update Schedule for the past couple of weeks because I have been crazy busy. Busy with work for business modules, a deadline for one of my game design modules and playing Mass Effect 3! I’m still a bit behind so this will be a short update.

The past two weeks have been spent working on a few things for business that I won’t detail here but just know they are time consuming! The other thing I have been working on is the Franchise Development document for Hunters of the New Dawn that I have polished off and handed in today.

At this point I would throw up a link to the final document but I am currently looking for a new secure work holding solution due to iWork.com planning to close down this year. So the sooner I switch the better! So I will link to it in due course once I have found a good alternative. 

The document itself was interesting to write. It made me feel a bit evil looking through and writing out plans to get gamers to continually hand over money for products related to the IP. While the reasons behind the practise are sound the morals of some of it can be sketchy at best. Still it was fun to come up with all these plans, product lines, spin-offs and tie-ins. It is something I will be considering with 90% of the games I design from now on by asking three simple questions:

  1. How can we take the game/IP further? 
  2. What are the opportunities for expansion beyond sequels?
  3. How will people respond to it and does it fit with your target market?

If anything it will work to making my game designs more focused because there is always the temptation to throw any and all of your ideas into a project rather than tailoring your ideas for the specific game being designed. By expanding the horizons for an IP a bit you can really work on what is at the core of your idea. For Hunters the setting of the game and potential stories that could be developed became a strong focus alongside the gameplay. It was a very worthwhile exercise I say.

The next step for Hunters of the New Dawn is getting the table top prototype sorted and to begin testing it heavily in the run up to the final submission. For Project Superman and the Time Travel game I am now officially entering a self imposed crunch on those to get them back on track from this coming Monday. It will cut into my Mass Effect 3 playtime (/sadface) but it needs to be done! So I am expecting to be a gibbering wreck in a week or two. It should be interesting for the people around me to watch at least…..

Mass Effect 3 “Day 1 DLC” Controversy

While this could be worded a lot better and not in the “Shut the hell up with your complaining!” way of talking about this issue it still proves its point.

The argument is that day one premium DLC keeps a lot of the main production team in a job and working on the game for longer. It also allows them to continually generate new DLC content as a persistent production cycle for the support time for the game. Which is all good in my book. It give me more Mass Effect to play at the end of the day.

The only problem I have with the From Ashes DLC is the price. 800 Microsoft Points is £6.85 according to XboxPointsConverter and the DLC is also included in the Collector’s Edition package for the game, which is the one I bought. Not a bad price when you look at it but I think it should be cheaper for a number of reasons:

  1. This is day one content. The people who have bought the standard edition which this DLC targets have already paid up to £49.99 depending on where they got it from and if they are crazy enough pay full RRP for the games they buy. This is an additional cost that many feel they will have to buy (rightly or wrongly) to get the whole Mass Effect 3 experience.
  2. EA/BioWare can not argue that the price allows them to quickly re-coup the production costs for the DLC. This is because of the game’s use of booster packs in the multiplayer. The booster packs can be bought with in game earned currency or with Microsoft points at 80MSP (69p) or 160MSP (£1.37). The cost of producing the From Ashes DLC have already been quickly recouped by people buying 2-3 booster packs. The booster packs are also pretty much pure profit for EA because they were produced alongside development of the game’s multiplayer as an integral system. This isn’t an extra addition that adds more content to the game this is a main aspect of the multiplayer for ME3.
  3. Scarifying a week’s worth of profit from the booster packs to make the From Ashes DLC cheaper and in the 400MSP (£3.43) range would have gone a long way to avoiding all these people shouting at EA and BioWare for making the game they wanted to make. Player’s would be more likely to buy the content if they were told, “We made this but we have purposely kept the price down so you can all buy it with your copy of the game.” EA would still get their money because there would still be profit in the 400MSP price point along with all the money made from the booster packs.

Like the above image says modern game development is complex but it still does not mean that EA are allowed to charge as much as they want for the privilege of playing the game and all of its content wether it is on the disk or not. Also behaving like a child and throwing your toys out of the pram over it is not the way people should be dealing with or complaining about this issue. It doesn’t help anyone when you reduce an issue to base name calling and slurring. Just saying!

Do Japanese Games Suck?

Several gaming websites are reporting on what happened in the Q&A session for Indie Game The Movie last night at GDC. A Japanese developer stood up and asked the panel what they thought of modern Japanese games seeing as the majority of indie titles coming out of the west are typically influence by retro Japanese games.

Phil Fish, creator of the upcoming and awesome looking game, Fez replied with a simple “You’re games just suck.”

Queue the shouting, debate and further clarification on the comments by Fish and others at the panel via twitter and reported email!

Eurogamer has a write up here

Soon both sides started drawing lines in the sand with ignorant comments like the following on 2ch: 

“Has Canada ever had a famous game or game maker?”

From the following Kotaku write up of all this.

Seemingly forgetting or not realising that Canada has one of the fastest growing game development sectors in the world. With hugely popular franchise like Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed being made there. This ignorance isn’t one sided though, with many in the west forgetting recent successes like Demon/Dark Souls and the ever present Japanese franchises that we all love (or at least acknowledge) like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy and in-house developed games from Nintendo.

Still it gave me some food for thought. I thought about the list of games I am looking forward to this year and there is only one being made in Japan and that’s Resident Evil 6. While there is Phantasy Star Online 2 (PSO!!!!!) but that still hasn’t been confirmed for western release yet so for now it is just vapourware for me. Then there is Monster Hunter for the Vita which is being listed on Play.com but that is a purchase out of curiosity more than being excited for it. I have never really tried the Monster Hunter games and I want to see what all the fuss is about.

I think the big thing is that the Japanese games industry is currently going through a state of change. It is stuck in the awkward position of trying to keep its local customers happy while trying to get that valuable western market at the same time. So you see things like Dynasty Warriors which is iterated to death because Japanese gamers love it and if western gamers buy it then yay for Koei they get extra money. You also see situations like Sony with the Vita launch appearing. With arguably the only launch title that had appeal to the Japanese market being Everybody’s Golf, with all the other titles having a distinctive western feel. We are also seeing the growing trend of Japanese publishers farming out their IPs to western developers (Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City for example) or investing in western gaming (SquareEnix buying Eidos).

Fish’s comments come out of the viewpoint that Japanese games are very much copy and paste designs. Just look at series like the Tales of games. I have played a couple and each one is the same! All that changes is the story and characters. Every Mario game is the same as the last with a few changes here and there. The same goes for Zelda. etc. etc. The big difference is that Japanese developers and gamers are happy playing/making the same game and just changing the glue that holds it together. While in the west we have the trend of everything needing to innovate all the time lest it be labelled that dreaded word, derivative. Sure not all Japanese games are like that just look at the work of Team ICO or the odd leap Japanese franchises make from time to time like Resi 3 to 4 or Mario Sunshine to Mario Galaxy. It is just a lot of the Japanese industry is still looking inward rather than outward at the global market. They would rather make games that are hits on their home turf and be niche titles elsewhere. Which is perfectly fine in my book. 

I’m not on one side in particular. Japanese centric games are interesting to me and they are the games I grew up with. They are fun and easy enough to playthrough most of the time. Not all of them appeal to me but when they do they are unique experiences because of the Japanese perspective on life. Western games are the games that made me think and change my perceptions of the world around me. They are the games that I played in my teenage years onwards, developing in complexity alongside me. Western games are the ones I resonate with best because they are more likely to be a reflection of my culture. It is as simple as that really.

And while a lot of crap does come out of Japan a lot more crap comes out of the west. America and the EU make so many shit games it is crazy!

What say you? Are Japanese games good or bad?

Updated Honours Project Deliverables

Like I said in my last Weekly Update some elements of my Honours Project have become to time consuming or taxing for me to reasonably complete them to my high standards in time for the final deadline. So I have gone through my Deliverables for the project and changed them a bit. The final schedule is remaining pretty much the same but the documentation has changed somewhat. Mainly the Superman game GDD which I have turned from a one page design only document into a visual document made using Keynote for Mac while still having several one page designs to display key aspects of the game. 

The other major change I have made is to the assessment part of the project. It was originally going to be a summary of this blog and the design process for each game but that never really fit in with the idea of trying out two different and new (to me) approaches to GDDs. So I have changed it into a document or series of documents that will look at the good and bad points of each design process and weighing them against each other before coming to a final conclusion. It is a more analytical approach to the documentation that I am actually looking forward to because there is a lot to write about each type of documentation. 

The full updated deliverables are after the jump.

DD3992 – Honours Project Deliverables Form

Name: Callum Langstroth

Key Project Deliverables:

  • A game design wiki
  • A prototype level
  • A visual GDD with several “one page designs” to highlight key aspects of the game
  • Documentation detailing the two design processes
  • Maintaining a blog to track the design process as it happens

Further Deliverable Details:

Blog:

  • A website that will be used to track the progress of the project
  • To give me a space to quickly throw up ideas, notes, research, etc. etc.

(21 weeks)

Documentation:

  • To go through and summarise or link to relevant the blog posts
  • To go into more detail on the finer points of the design process for each idea
  • To argue the good and bad points of each design methodology

(5 weeks)

Visual GDD:

  • Presented in a long format presentation document with the key information presented visually via slides with further details, where necessary giving the the notes for the slides.
  • Several larger One Page Design sheets that cover key areas of the game design such as mechanics, characters, setting, etc.

(10 weeks)

Design Wiki:

  • A wiki site covering all the key areas of the game design
  • Organized in an easy to understand way while allowing quick and simple navigation of the site

(10 weeks)

Prototype Level:

  • A simple level design showing off a few of the key concepts and mechanics for the wiki game design
  • If due to time constraints or issues with UDK a video will be produced to show what the mechanics should look like in the final product

(6 – 10 weeks)

Physical Prototype:

  • A physical paper representations of the game mechanics and ideas behind the visual game design
  • The idea is to simplify some of the key points and aspects of the Superman game in order to quickly and easily define what the player will experience when playing the final game

(6 – 10 Weeks)

Note: There is a lot of overlap for each Deliverable, so on a given week I should be working on at least two things in relation to the project. Along with the blog.

Project Order:

– Research and learning new software, coding, UDK elements till Christmas

– Pitch documents for both designs by:

  • Week 4 for Project Superman 
  • Week 7 for the Time Travel game

– Pitch presentations for each design to be used to help define the ideas and to get feedback on them from the other students:

  • Week 4 for Project Superman
  • Week 7 for the Time Travel game

– Research for the key elements that make up each design (this is a constant effort from Week 7 onwards):

Project Superman:

  • History of the IP
  • Perception of the IP
  • other superhero games
  • other similar games

Time Travel Game:

  • The various rules of time travel
  • Which “set” of rules will be used
  • Similar games

– Week 8 start work on the prototype level for the Time Travel game

– Week 9 to start work on the one page designs and wiki site

– Week 12 start work on the physical prototype for the Superman game

– Week 14 have both the one page designs and wiki site in rough form (some room for omissions and unfinished sections)

– Week 17 start organising and writing documentation 

– Week 19 have; one page designs, wiki and prototype level finished

– Weeks 20 & 21 cleaning up documentation, prototypes, designs, etc. and making them presentable


Eurogamer Baldur’s Gate Retrospective

Link: Eurogamer Baldur’s Gate Retrospective

You will be seeing a fair few look backs at the Baldur’s Gate games as we approach the impending Steam release of the second game and this teasing website that promises future forays (or at least an update/remake of the first game) into the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons and Dragons. The two main Baldur’s Gate games made by BioWare are an important part of video game history, for me at least and Paul Dean who has written the Eurogamer article this post links to seems to agree with me on this too. 

There were the first games I came across where the world seemed to be an actual living breathing place. There was adventure and intrigue around every turn and no matter how long it took or how many quests you battled your way through it never got old. The brilliantly written companion characters kept things fresh and the attention to detail put into the games is still amazing by today’s standards. The you had the D&D rules of the time implemented in to some surprisingly solid game mechanics that have left their mark on RPG design ever since. The EG article is worth a read for a nostalgic look back and as an introduction to people who have never heard of the franchise. Baldur’s Gate is the blueprint for what BioWare has continued to do with every game they have made since. From continuing save files across multiple games to providing rich characters in detailed worlds with the majority of the number crunching common to RPGs hidden under the hood of the game quietly rolling dice in the shadows for you. Baldur’s was the starting point for all these ideas and they are two games worth playing no matter how old they are.

As for the teaser website that popped up this week? While a new game would be great, I feel that its magic might be lost among the methodology of modern RPG design. It will be a good game for sure but it just wouldn’t be the same. So I find myself rooting for a HD remake of the first game or both games updated and released as a single epic. Not just on PC mind because a game like Baldur’s Gate would work brilliantly on the iPad and maybe usher in an era of fully-fledged isometric RPGs for the device.

All I’m going to say is that the website was discovered this week and on the 7th March Apple are unveiling their fancy new iPad 3 and now that Steve Jobs is sadly no longer with us, Apple can concentrate of the games market a bit more aggressively if they wish. They need a game apart from Infinity Blade that shows the iOS as a valid gaming platform rather than a heaven for casual games and games “inspired” by popular core console titles, and Baldur’s might just be the game to do it.

Go check out the article and remember fondly the days of yore!