Weekly Update

This week has been a mixture of high productivity and extreme procrastination as I have had to meet a couple of deadlines. One for one of my Uni projects others for secret things that I am working on, that I can’t tell you about because they’re secret!

To keep the initial post length down I’m putting the Hunter of the New Dawn update and Games I have been playing sections after the jump. Please check out the Hunters section because it what I have worked on the most in the past week!

Langstroth Game Design:

As you can see I have changed things up a bit around here. The website has a new and better look which is something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. The new layout should be a bit easier on the eyes with all the key info you need readily available. It also looks pretty slick I think.

You may have also noticed that there are more posts popping up relating to wider game design ideas and theory beyond the stuff I make and post about already. Future posts like this will mainly be in the form links to news articles, blog posts, videos, other people’s ideas and whole websites centred around game design. I am doing this for two reasons. The first is so I can easily re-find and go back to game design related web content I find interesting by just going through this site’s archive. The second is because I have had a surprisingly good response to what I have been doing with this site recently and this is a way of taking the site further to bigger and better heights. 

Project Superman:

The alternating of working on this and the time travel game continues this week as Project Superman takes a back seat. The work I have done on this is fairly minimal, just getting things ready to turn into the various boards. In the coming two weeks I am planning to make major headway in this design because I really need to just to keep on top of things!

Time Travel Game:

I spent a lot of time yesterday reformatting various sections of the wiki to make them easier to navigate. I also added a bit more content to the Time Travel explanation page. Which I should get finished, proof-read and locked off later today or tomorrow afternoon. The plan for the rest of this week it to get all the key information pages finished and to begin work on the main event, Key Sections, and in particular the game mechanics. Then once that’s done everything else should start falling into place.

Hunter of the New Dawn and Game I have been playing after the jump.

Hunters of the New Dawn:

Most of my time this week was taken up with finishing the IP Statement for Hunters of the New Dawn which the above image is showing off. The final document can be found by heading here. It is also worth your time to check out the preceding Market Research Document to get the context for how the idea behind the design came about.

As ever with any documents I share, if you want permission to download or reproduce it please let me know and I will give you the relevant permissions.

Completing the document has given me a very clear picture of how Hunters will work as a game and I now have a good plan of where to go with the idea which is all good. It all fits together well and the idea of simple surface level of gameplay with deeper core gameplay hidden underneath works well as one the underlying ideas behind the game. It should also work to achieve maximum appeal for the game and IP as a whole. I also decided to include and expand upon the idea of free form character customisation that I came up with for a project last year.

The basic idea behind it is that customisation is staggered and has various levels of depth to it. Initially you have almost free-reign to make the character look and play how you want. Then in the opening sections of the game you are free to change the genetic and cosmetic features of your character as and when you wish with only things like class choice being locked in place. Then once you have finished the starting area/tutorial the genetic customisation features are locked off as your character’s physical look is set in stone. This leaves you with the cosmetic features of your character being free to change as and when you wish.

Cosmetic features include:

  • Facial and body accessories (tattoos, piercings, etc.)
  • Hair style and colour
  • Clothes editing
  • Accessories
  • And more!

This type of customisation should serve as a work around to the problem I have with many games that offer character customisation, your character not fitting in with the game world. It is very easy in many character editors to make a character that looks great during the initial creation but when you start the game you realise that they just do not fit in with the NPCs of the game world or are out of proportion (for example, having a head that is too small). The only solution to this problem is to restart the game which completely breaks the flow which is so crucial to the opening sections of a game. Some games offer you a re-edit chance at the end of the tutorial but there is not really an option to road test your creation in the game world.

As the genetic customisation options are locked off you are left with the cosmetic features being free to change for the rest of the game. This is because people change their clothes, “look”, hair style and more on a regular basis and it is something that should be represented during the length of a game. Particularly if the game is set over multiple years like Dragon Age 2.

Dragon Age 2 does indeed have a re-edit option built into the game but it is in there as almost an afterthought. It is part of the Black Emporium/Project $10 content for the game. Which is badly implemented into the game and many players who buy the game second hand can only access it by paying extra for it and at an extortionate price too. The results are that many people’s Hawke ends up looking the same throughout the whole game which is set over multiple years. With only the equipment they are using changing.

Giving the player more choice and chance to make the main character their own can only serve to immerse them further in the game. It also paves the way for alternate revenue streams for the game in the form of DLC customisation packs which would negate the need for things like online passes and content systems like Project $10. Optional items and character flourishes as paid content work well for many Facebook and Free 2 Play games so why not try to make it work for a core console experience?

So all that is in the IP Statement for the game because it is one of the key features that would be used across multiple titles. With the idea that your paid customisation options are carried over into sequels (think of it as clothes instead of tracks for Guitar Hero/Rock Band). The IP Statement also covering topics such as the setting for the game. How combat will work and the basic structure for the environments and game as a whole. 

Games I have been playing:

After finishing the IP Statement for Hunter of the New Dawn I was feeling a little burnt out so I spent the next couple of days doing little bits of work but mainly playing games. During this time I managed to complete not one, but two games!

First I completed my playthrough of the sublime Metal Gear Solid. Which is a lot harder to complete than back in the day. It can be so unforgiving at times but it works because when you overcome the game’s tougher challenges you get a great sense of accomplishment. I would recommend that anyone with an interest in game design plays the original Metal Gear Solid. Just to see how much things have changed in the relatively short time since it came out. I have since moved onto MGS2 in the HD collection and just gotten to the opening of the main Big Shell mission for the game with Raiden, the Metal Gear character that everyone loves to hate!

Playing the Mass Effect 3 Demo (more on this in a bit) got me off my lazy gaming ass and made me finally finish my Insanity playthrough of Mass Effect 2. It was tough, tense and as ever fun to run through the Suicide Mission again, especially with the higher difficulty. During the playthrough I managed to make near enough all the same choices I made the first time around and managed to have everyone survive at the end. So I am now totally ready for Mass Effect 3 next month with a great save file that should give me a few bonuses when starting the game.

I have also been messing around with the ME3 demo. I have only run-through the single player part once and enjoyed it. The changes and additions work and while the game looked a bit rough around the edges I’m putting it down to it being the demo and not indicative of the final game. The multiplayer though has been a big surprise. Initially I was optimistic about the addition of multiplayer to Mass Effect, unlike the rest of the world that seemed to scream, “THE HORROR! THE HORROR!!!!!” at the mere mention of if. I am happy to say that my optimism has been rewarded because the multiplayer is good. I am surprised though that it is really good! It is much more than your standard horde mode. Mainly due to the progression systems built into the experience. There is loads to do and unlock from individual characters to bonuses, weapons and weapon mods. It has legs as a game mode that will work alongside and complement the main, single player experience. Download the demo and check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Weekly Update

This week has been fairly busy and productive for a change, so yay for me! Also I am putting the Games I have been playing section behind a read more jump for this week because it is fairly lengthy but worth a read if you are interested in the original Metal Gear Solid and how games design has changed since it came out.

Project Superman:

Progress on the Superman game is still slow despite taking the approach of just getting stuff up on the various one page posters and worrying about refinement later. I’m currently putting together character boards like the above Lois Lane one which I will then stitch together to form a larger character poster. These mood board should hopefully set the tone for the characters and the game itself. Also even though I have included some images from the various Superman films and TV Shows as a point of reference I’m trying go for a more comic inspired look to the game. This is turning up a few interesting character points. One thing I noticed from spending a couple of hours sifting through various images of Lois Lane is that artists and actresses/directors like to have her chewing on the end of a pen or pencil a lot. It is an interesting little character detail that comes with all sorts of connotation which I have never picked up on during my many years of reading Superman comics!

The aim for the coming week is to finish the main batch of character boards then to start work on the combat boards so I will start getting the major game mechanics laid out. From there I will decide wether or not the project needs to be scaled back any further so that I can hit the deadline. I think as long as I have the characters of both friend and foe variety, major mechanics, the combat, a basic story and metropolis sorted then the rest, if needs be, can be detailed in documentation. 

Time Travel Game:

This design has taken a back seat this week as I have been concentrating on Project Superman. But I have managed to find the time to sketch out some mechanics ideas in my notebook which I will be adding to the Wiki in full detail soon. I’m finding it odd that I am finding this game the easiest to design currently. Ideas are flowing fairly freely and it is starting to come together fairly quickly. The only time consuming aspect is getting all my notes, ideas and research up on the Wiki. You would think that dealing with the complexities of time travel would be a major headache, and to be fair at first they were, but now that I have got the ground work for the set of rules I will be using I am quickly generating ideas and mechanics for the game. Some good game mechanics too I think!

Hunters of the New Dawn:

Apart from working on my IP Statement which is due in on Wednesday, (I still have so much to do for it!) which I will show off once it has been handed in. I have started thinking about how my tabletop prototype of the game will work. Taking the basis of KISS (keep it simple stupid) for the RPG elements I am thinking of the game only having three main stats; Strength, Dexterity and Will/Intelligence/Spirit (whatever you want to call the magic stat). With all the other stats deriding from these three main stats. D&D does this with its modifiers system so I have been looking at that and seeing how it could work with Hunters. 

Each class would naturally concentrate on one of the stats over the others and use its main stat to work out its damage output. Currently this is what I have come up with also bare in mind that I’m still thinking of class names:

Fighter/Warrior:

  • Main Stat: Strength
  • Secondary: Dexterity
  • Weakness: Magic

Thief/Duelist:

  • Main Stat: Dexterity
  • Secondary: Magic
  • Weakness: Strength

Mage/Tech Wizard:

  • Main Stat: Magic
  • Secondary: Strength
  • Weakness: Dexterity

That should give things a fairly even spread in combat when you take into account things like defence and health are derived from the Strength stat. Also making Strength the magic class’s secondary skill will allow for them to take a bit more punishment that they are traditionally allowed in RPGs. 

I have also been thinking of how the combat will work for the prototype. I want it to be fast so the prototype can be run quickly and with as little fuss as possible. I am currently toying with a beat of three system similar to the one used in Phantasy Star Online. So each weapon/ability/spell would have a beat that the player would have to perform in rhythm to pull off successful combos. It also means you can keep combat simple in the final game with a button for each type of attack (Melee, Ranged, Magic) then the complexity comes from keeping up the rhythm and using the different types of attack together. In the end the combat should be a healthy mix of Phantasy Star Online and Fable’s. For the prototype this will be represented by the player rolling three dice in quick succession. 

Go beyond the jump for my thoughts on Metal Gear Solid for the PSone.

Games I have been playing:

After receiving the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection last week I mentioned that I was planning to playthrough them all in order starting with the PSone classic, Metal Gear Solid. While I would prefer the Twin Snakes remake that came out on the Gamecube which brought a host of new and updated features along with re-recorded dialogue and up to date graphics. Sadly that was a joint venture between Silicon Knights, Nintendo and Konami so the chances of it ever being updated and re-released on any console apart from a Nintendo one are super slim. Anyway, I was happy to find I had £15 in my Playstation Network Wallet so I took the plunge and bought the digital version of Metal Gear Solid.

I haven’t played this version of the game since my original copy of it snapped in two inside my PSone, disk one I think it was (it broke from over use and my first PSone having a tendency to break disks towards the end of its life). So it has been an odd experience to go back to it after all this time, probably over ten years! Boy do they not make games like they used to! Which is both a good and a bad thing. So let’s start with the good reasons why they don’t make games like the original MGS then move onto the bad!

The Good:

  • I decided to go through the optional briefing before starting the game so altogether along with the opening movie when you load up the game and the opening cutscene itself it took me well over 45mins to actually gain control of Snake. I think there is a sweet spot for how long you can make a player wait until you let them do something. Usually 10mins max. MGS breaks this rule completely even without me doing the optional stuff beforehand! Breaking up the opening a bit would have worked better. Intercut the SDV with the full briefing while letting the player control it, avoiding all the underwater mines and laser beams. Then have a big exposition dump if needs be once Snake gets to the opening warehouse. Still it was a different time and all that.
  • There is a lot of waffle…..A LOT OF WAFFLE. MGS as a series is known for this (as I went into detail on last week) but there is so much unnecessary dialogue and exposition in MGS 1 it is crazy! So many needless lines, re-treading of story points and information it is can get annoying. Say what you will about the more recent MGS games but they don’t have you experience the same conversation told in different ways five times in a row.
  • Controls have come a long way. The controls in MGS are fiddly at best and frustrating at worst. I have been spoilt with modern control schemes and pressure sensitive buttons. The number of times I have accidentally grabbed a guard and flung him over my shoulder instead of choking him is beyond count. (You have to get in exactly the right position to do it.) Also I keep finding my thumb naturally moving to the left thumbstick for movement control, usually in times of panic during combat or when an alert goes off, and being very confused when Snake just stands there being shot at. Finally don’t get me started on the aiming and shooting which is a minefield of twitching and pure luck at times!

The Bad:

  • There is a huge amount of extra material on the “disks” for Metal Gear Solid. You have the optional briefing that gives the game more context and background. Summaries of the previous 2D Metal Gear games and when you reload your save file you get a nice little summary of what has happened and where you need to go next. You also get the VR Training Mode which if released today would come under DLC that would be released in packs over several months. Ten missions for a fiver and all that. None of this stuff is mandatory it is just there as added extras. They add an extra level of depth to the game. The VR Training is there to show what they are on about in the main game when they talk about how the soldiers are trained and conditioned. The briefing gives you a better idea of the kind of man Snake is and who his support team are. The summaries of the previous games fill in the backstory if you want to read them, giving the finer points of the story more impact. It is something a lot of games could benefit from.
  • You are encouraged to take your time. MGS 4 is a fairly comprehensive game and the stealth elements are more advanced in what is on offer over the original. But you are constantly moving forward. Always heading into new areas. The enemies are constantly getting harder and bigger. In the first game the enemies remain near enough constant throughout the whole experience and their patrol routes are long and slow (like real patrol routes!). You also have to go back on yourself quite a few times either intentionally or to head into previously locked optional rooms and areas. You are rewarded for going back to earlier points in the game to see what else you can uncover and do. Which is something rarely done in modern games. The last one I can think of that did it well was Shadow Complex for Xbox Live Arcade. 
  • Story constantly happens. Even when you are exploring optional areas you know you will find something helpful for the immediate or long term problems you are facing. Even though there is no strict deadline, only the time limit imposed by the story that only counts down at specific plot points. Everything is pretty much happening for a reason. Plot points are dangled in front of you then pulled away for exploitation later in the game. Your original mission gets expanded as you hit each objective. It is one long mission rather than several smaller ones. You can take the time to get to know your support team via the Codec conversations. Learn their backstories and motives. If you have no idea what I’m talking about look at it this way, the story is broken up into these three categories:
  1. The immediate: What Snake needs to do in the here and now, sneak past a guard, have a shoot out, use an item, etc. This is a very basic form of emergent gameplay that is used in almost all game, as it is your successes and failures that define the “story” of what is happening.
  2. The room: Each area is divided up into rooms of the Shadow Moses complex. Each has it’s own look and feel, a set number of guards and items to find and come back to get later. You have the immediate short term goals of “beating” the room then the longer term ones of how it is used in the story and if you need to come back to it at any point.
  3. The long term: the over-arching story for the game, broken up into distinct acts. The immediate and the rooms add to this to give it more depth. At it’s core you move the story along rather than the story happening around you which is a popular approach taken by modern games (mainly of the FPS and action variety). Finding a specific weapon or item allows you to advance the plot or finishing a certain area will give you the next major bit of story.

I still have to finish the game but these are a few things that have stood out during the time I have currently spent playing through it. So while it is a bit clunky, crummy looking by today’s standards (like most PSone era games) and archaic in it’s sensibilities it is still a damn fine game worth picking up again or trying out if you have never played it before.

Weekly Update

The past week has been surprisingly productive! Some projects more than others but that can all be addressed in the coming week.

Project Superman:

Project Superman has been my least worked on design for this week. I have just been finishing off the title cards for the various one-page designs. The coming week will be filled with stuff to do for this project because I am starting to fall behind on it.

Time Travel Game:

I have made the most progress on this game by far. I have got the wiki up and running properly now (head to: http://editthis.info/time_travel_game/Main_Page to check it out). All the relevant sections are there and I have started filling some of them out. All the others just have the basic details of what will end up on there in the coming weeks. So while it may not look like a lot just know that it took aaaaaages!

Wiki editing while starting out with a bit of a learning curve has quickly become second nature as I speedily add, change and mass edit the whole site. I have also found a way around the image size issue that plagues many wikis. I am hosting the images externally via my public dropbox folder and then embedding them within pages. This overwrites the image size rules for the wiki and allows me to show things in the sizes I wish. While using Dropbox isn’t the perfect solution in the long term, for now and for this project it should be ok. I will just have to clean up and delete a lot of things I have on my whole Dropbox account as I approach my storage limit. 

Hunters of The New Dawn:

Apart from adding more things to my IP Statement documentation I have been planning ahead a bit with the prototype I will be building for the game. I have found my old Warhammer kit so I have a huge pool of paints and older miniatures from both the Warhammer and 40K games to use in my prototype. Many of these need repainting and I am still missing a few key figures to add extra flavour to the prototype. The ones I currently have and a few others I have purchased in the past week should do the job but if I see any more futuristic fantasy style model kits or figures I will grab them. So after a morning of gassing myself due to base coating all the models with spray-paint I am now ready to start painting them! I’m going to be doing it at a per model basis rather than batch painting, mainly because batch painting takes a lot of time and effort to keep track of. Also while painted miniatures look great they are not a necessity for the prototype to be a success. It is very much an extra thing I am doing outside the time I am allotting for this project.

Games I Have Been Playing:

This week I haven’t really had the time to play much. The only game I got any real hands on time with was Metal Gear Solid 2 from my fancy Metal Gear Solid HD Collection for PS3 (because Metal Gear on the Xbox is just weird!). While the controls take a bit of getting used to after all this time (they are very fiddly!) the game still holds up very well against modern games. I only played for an hour or so because I’m planning on doing an epic series of playthroughs of all the Metal Gear Solid games soon. Starting with MGS1 for the PSOne (sadly I no longer have a Wii or Gamecube to play The Twin Snakes version of the game) from the Playstation Network. Then working my way through 2, 3, then Peace Walker (which I have never played!) and finally MGS4 for the PS3.

I am a big, big, BIG fan of the Metal Gear games. I love the gameplay, the crazy and overly complex plot, cheesy stock characters and lengthy cut-scenes. In other games lengthy cinematics put me off but in Metal Gear I am oddly fine with them. Mainly because I, like everyone else, associate MGS with really long cutscenes, so my brain goes into the game expecting not playing for up to half an hour at a time. It is an interesting aspect of the game and is the main reason MGS as a franchise is a love it or hate it type deal for many.