A Few More Tweaks to the Game

If you’ve been following the blog, you’ve probably seen the little game I’ve been making in Clickteam Fusion. I’ve been taking it in baby steps, from a very basic time-survival game with some sprite centring issues, to a more entertaining little piece where enemies actually give chase and keep the player moving.

Here are the latest tweaks:

The changes this time include a few minor things like fixing that sprite issue, and altering a few speeds and sound effects. A test animation for the sword attack was made but not enabled due to issues getting the attack conditions to execute properly. There are a couple of bigger changes though; first, I’ve added larger, slower blobs, created when two smaller units collide. This adds a little bit of variety and surprise to longer games that keeps it interesting. Second, I’ve added randomly spawning hearts that give the player a life. This theoretically lets games go for longer, as well as giving you the option to play more strategically. Sacrificing a life to clear a path. Probably the most obvious change, however, is that I added some very basic floor and walls graphics so it wasn’t just white space.

I’m iterating right now, adding little features one at a time, and rebalancing as I go, but I think it’s a good idea to have a target “finished state” in mind. It’s a first project and I don’t want to get in the habit of iterating it forever. I’ll learn more getting the game to good state and then moving on to a new project. With that in mind, the ultimate goal is to include a basic attack for the character, replace all the stand-in art with nicer, animated sprites, and clear up a couple of the more fiddly issues like enemies spawning on top of each other and getting stuck there. Once that’s all complete, I’m going to stick on a title screen and a better looking high score table and declare that version 1.0!

And as usual, if you want to try version 0.3, here’s a link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ollkvdwjitu3k8f/TinyAdventure0.35.exe?dl=0

Lego Worlds – Seven Days Later

I’m still not ready to review Lego Worlds, I’ve been playing it for seven days straight, and I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface. (Normally this would sound like a good thing, but if you’d read my first impressions of Lego Worlds, you’d see I find the surface to be deeply flawed.) I promised myself I’d stick with the game until I unlocked the 100 gold bricks that unlock world creation, and so I will, but in the meantime it’s hard to forget how divided I am over the experience still.

I still hate the early game grind for gold bricks, but I blame myself a little more than I did last week. What seemed, at first, to be a ridiculous restriction nobody in their right mind could like, feels a little bit more subjective now. I’ve been streaming the game, so there are times I’ve had to force myself to stop hunting for gold bricks just because the audience is getting a little tired of it. In those moments the game starts to feel more fun. The quests are still shallow and tired, but requiring myself to stop and have a building session often creates my most entertaining moments with the game. It has left me feeling like maybe it’s my own interpretation of the questing that is at fault. If I’d just stopped a while in the first world and built, let myself feel part of the proceedings, maybe I’d feel less like the game was holding key features back.

The quests are still shallow and tired, but requiring myself to stop and have a building session often creates my most entertaining moments with the game. It has left me feeling like maybe it’s my own interpretation of the questing that is at fault. If I’d just stopped a while in the first world and built, let myself feel part of the proceedings, maybe I’d feel less like the game was holding key features back. Anyone can, if that like, stop and build in the Worlds you find. Questing isn’t essential unless you want to randomly find larger planets. I continue to believe the game disincentivises building, and presents a structured experience that isn’t reflective of the main body of the game, but it’s partly my own failing that I feel so uncomfortable removing myself from that structure and working with what it gives me.

Lego Worlds Xbox One

My worry is still that unlocking 100 bricks will take so long that I’ll have sunk a good fifteen hours into the game before I get there. Spending all that time on a treasure hunt just to unlock a free-form crafting mode intended to be the game’s centrepiece feels like a colossal waste of time, and brings back that paranoid feeling that maybe I’m playing the game wrong which we all know is impossible, but feels like a more realistic fear here than in most other games I’ve played.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the joy I’ve found in unlocking new characters and vehicles. The items are mostly a bust, as the game’s inventory UI is atrocious, but finding new cars and skeletons and stuff to bounce around with captures that toybox feel the game is going for.

I’m still going to push for the 100 gold bricks first. I’m in the 70s now and it seems silly to stop the quest so close to completion, but I’m wondering if I couldn’t have found a more satisfying approach right from the start. At times I feel a little cheated by the game, like in its quest to offer freedom, it accidentally led me to believe I had this huge limitation, that isn’t really a limitation, and that I’m free to dive in whenever I like. Then I start to build and remember that until I can make my own worlds, these spaces are just temporary and I’ll soon be hopping to the next.

The game never discourages me, and it’s the path the tutorials sent me on… Who am I to argue. Anyway, that’s where I’m at with it right now. I’ve still got a lot of gold bricks to grind through before I can free things up, so for now I’m basically holding on to the hope that the game changes completely for me once I’ve unlocked that world creation.

I Updated My Super Simple Game

I posted yesterday about the first little game I made with Clickteam Fusion, a super simple little top-down piece where a random hazard blob is placed every seven seconds and the player has to survive as long as possible without bumping into them. (Thanks very much to everyone who gave it a little playtest, by the way.) It was a really positive experience making the game as, despite its simplicity, it was a complete little project with a scoring system, a way to lose, a way to track your success etc. The only catch was that it wasn’t that much fun since a pretty good strategy was to just stick around in the same spot for as long as it took for the random number generator to drop a blob on you. Well, the project isn’t over yet, and TinyAdventure 0.2 is here!

The first thing I did was sort out a new character sprite. The first sprite was a little lop-sided. It had the consequence of making the game a little unpredictable, making collisions where the player didn’t expect them. I’ve made the character a little bit bigger which I’m a bit uncertain about right now. It makes the character more prominent and personable, but it makes weaving between the blobs trickier. I might shrink the blobs a bit more to compensate, but we’ll see how it plays out.

The next change was much more important. Now, every 12 seconds the game will spawn a red blob which exhibits basic hostile behaviour, chasing the player instead of staying in place. This changes up the whole game and I think it’s a drastic improvement, staying on the spot is no longer an option. However, the game isn’t necessarily more overwhelming early on, because you can play blob against blob, trapping the red behind blues and so on. It gives an element of strategy to it, despite the basic feel.

Lastly, I balanced out the elements a bit by making blobs destroy once you’ve hit them. It isn’t a method for clearing the board as you’re still limited to three hits, but it stops a tricky spot sinking you on the same blob twice.

I’m learning a lot about game design here. It’s only a few small changed from the first version, but I already feel like this is a much more entertaining game. The principles are still really simple, but the way they play out together is genuinely entertaining.

Once again, if you want to try it for yourself, here’s a download link:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/bxseg0xfwgy5ftr/TinyAdventure0.2.exe?dl=0

 

I Started Making My First Game

As you guys know, I’ve been working with ClickTeam Fusion lately, and after trying to find some good tutorials, I’ve been taking more of a project approach. Making a game from scratch, and research example for the specific techniques of game mechanics I need. I’m already finding the experience more challenging (and liberating) than just following the rote tutorials, but it’s a very satisfying process.

It hasn’t taken long for me to have my first project to a stage where it’s a very basic game in its own right.

At the moment, I’ve given it the almost certainly taken moniker of TinyAdventure, and it’s incredibly basic. The player controls a top down little person with 8 directional movement, score accumulates until you die, and every seven seconds the game spawns an enemy blob at a random location. The blobs don’t currently do anything, but running into one three times means game over. The longer you play, the more the screen fills up. Once you die, you’re taken to a high-score table, where you can restart the game if you choose.

Like I said, basic, but all the elements are there. An open-ended structure, a goal to obtain the highest score, a lose condition, some element of saving one’s progress, and the ability to start again. What I want to do now is iterate gradually, by playing the game and seeing what feels unsatisfying and add things one at a time. Immediately, the biggest problem is obvious. The game is incredibly easy and can last for ages without the player ever moving. I’d like to change this by adding blobs that pursue the player next. That would already be a dramatic change.

If you’d like to try the game, it should run on most versions of Windows and there’s a link here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/rmryqakpl0mddz3/TinyAdventure0.01.exe?dl=0

Let me know what you think!

Lego Worlds Is Kind of A Mess

Lego Worlds seems like a no-brainer. Everyone loves Minecraft, Minecraft is a bit like Lego, make a Lego game a bit like Minecraft and watch the dollars roll in! Except I’ve been playing it for a couple of hours now, and it feels like a directionless sprawl of empty content. I’m going to stick with it and give it time to grow on me, but here are the current concerns I’m having.

Creating your own world is locked behind a HUGE progress wall.

This is the biggest issue. Lego Worlds is, at its core, a procedurally generated construction game. Picking a seed and generating a random world and then setting out to shape it is fundamental to the genre, but for some reason, Lego Worlds places this central feature behind a sort of loose, randomly generated campaign to collect Golden Bricks. You don’t get to just make a game of your choosing from scratch until you get 100 golden bricks. I’ve been playing for a few hours now, and I have 20. Assuming this pace continues, one would need to play Lego Worlds for the length of some games’ entire campaigns just to unlock the ability to make your own worlds.

Prior to this, you have to gradually unlock larger and larger procedurally generated worlds that will usually be conceived around a theme (Junkyard area or Prehistoric, for example.) Each of these worlds will feature quests you need to undertake to get your precious Gold Bricks. Which leads me to my next point…

Gameplay prior to finding 100 Gold Bricks neither requires nor rewards, creative building.

Sure, there’s plenty of game to play before you can create your own worlds, and as you unlock larger maps the variety increases. A play could easily just plant themselves on a map they like and go at it. The problem with this is that free building on one of the maps the game makes for you means getting off the road to progression and delaying unlocking future features. It also goes against what the game itself seems to be pushing you to do; unlock new tools, get new gold bricks, rank up. You can start using your skills immediately, but it means consciously taking yourself out of the gameplay loop established. It’s awkward and the knowledge that you’re prolonging your stay in a limbo between tutorial level and full access to the game’s features is a miserable experience.

Worse still, none of the quests needed to progress really require much building. Occasionally you will be asked and encouraged to build something creative to progress but more often than not most quests for bricks involve leading a bunch of cows to a lonely woodsman or give monkeys fruit until they cough up the bling. You can hunt down chests or more lucrative quests, but progressing faster means hopping from world to world, leaving behind any builds, and reinforcing the idea that each world is essentially transitory and unimportant. You never really feel like you inhabit any of these spaces.

Ultimately you’re left with the worrying question of who would like this setup? People who want to build will feel frustrated and delayed. People who like the early gameplay loop are investing all their early game time into unlocking a game mode that abandons this structure. It feels symptomatic of a game that wanted to be one thing but decided very late in the show that it needed to be something else.

Even if you choose to build, you won’t have a lot of bricks for a while.

You can build brick by brick as soon as you finish the first tutorials. Technically it is possible to let loose and build away, even if you don’t find the game’s progression structure and limited early worlds off-putting. You probably won’t be building too much of interest, however, because the early selection of bricks is incredibly small, and quite an odd arsenal. You are given, for example, a smooth circular tile, but no variety of decent sized rectangular bricks. If you’d like more, you need to find them by hunting down little monsters who appear randomly, or by finding hidden chests. Doing so will allow you to unlock the vast array of Lego bricks available in this game… one at a time.

It’s a baffling choice that seems to conflict with everything the game sells itself on and is totally at odds with the more limited early levels. Restricting space might make sense, restricting bricks might too, restricting both leaves you scratching your head, wondering exactly what fun develop Traveller’s Tales expects anyone to have.

It has Minecraft stuff in it… but in a really half arsed sort of way.

TT shouldn’t need to pretend Minecraft has had an influence here, we’re seeing Mojang’s monster influence all kinds of established franchises lately. (See Dragon Quest Builders, another game that tried to be Minecraft but not enough.) It’s hard to move into the Procedurally Generated Construction genre without addressing the comparison, but Lego Worlds feels like a game that started off a lot more like Minecraft and then got scared at the last minute. I didn’t play it in early access, but the word was it started much more like Minecraft’s creative mode and received complaints that the game was too empty, like it was just a big toy box.

Throughout the game, however, there are design choices I like to call “Like Minecraft, but pointless.” My favourite examples are the Skeletons and Zombies that pop up on certain worlds at night. They’re here, just like Minecraft they spawn in once the sun goes down and attack, and just like Minecraft you can get a variety of equipment to take them down easier. Except there’s no wider goal.

Mobs in Minecraft force you to adapt to the day and night cycle. You’ll need food to heal, shelter to protect yourself from the monsters, a bed to sleep through the night, and armour to keep going. You are in the world, and if you die, you might lose some progress. Monsters might always destroy your home or interrupt a vital build that will make the next day more difficult.

Lego Worlds has no continuous presence. If a world has too many skeletons at night, I can hop to the next one. Or I can just run around in a circle faster than them and do all my quests at that speed. Who cares, I’ll never need to stop and eat or work. Worlds isn’t a survival game, and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it seems to think it should be. As if “be a bit like Minecraft” was such a brilliant guiding philosophy that pinching the night-spawning mobs works even with the rest of the survival mechanics. I guess that brings me to my final point…

It’s a good core game but feels very insecure about itself.

I like the game… a bit. I know I just rambled on about everything frustrating, but it’s hard to put it down and hate the game. It’s well polished, it feels like a big budget title even if it’s lacking on content, but for every positive, there’s a great big negative that seems to have come from a publisher anxiety.

Lego Worlds wants to be the next big Sandbox game, it wants to take the Lego name and make it as associated with creativity in video games as it is in toys, and it had an engine that is almost good enough to do that. Then, step by step, feature by feature, layer by layer, it works to lead you away from this vision. Tries to squeeze over a tight and agonisingly dull structure that seems more like Little Big Planet than Lego. It wants you to hop from little one self-contained bubble to another, sharing little builds and swapping bricks. Not necessarily a bad structure, but a poorly executed one, that comes at the expense of everything Worlds does right.

But Little Big Planet was never very successful, and never really very much fun.

 

What 2016’s Doom and Batman: Arkham Asylum Have In Common

The latest entry in the Doom franchise was a critical and commercial success last year, bringing the series back to its roots for a lot of the die-hard fans who weren’t as sold on Doom 3. It’s easy to see why, with its focus on pressing forward, and fluid gameplay that felt almost like an arcade game at times, Doom took the best of modern design and augmented it with a core of solid, mechanics driven play. It’s a violent, exhilarating experience, where you’re likely to be attacked repeatedly by rooms crammed full of demons ready to tear you apart. It should be overwhelming, frustrating, hard to stay on top of, but it never is. And I suspect Batman: Arkham Asylum is the reason why.

The Arkham series is about as far from Doom as you can get, the games are very story driven, thematic experiences, that deal more with psychology, character, and set pieces. Arkham Asylum is probably one of the strongest video game narratives in the modern era. But I want to talk about the Free Flow Combat System.

Free flow Combat System

Free Flow was introduced in Asylum and while it has been copied elsewhere, it’s only the Arkham games that seem to have a good feel for it.

Oh, and it’s sort of amazing.

See, the crux of combat in these games is that Batman needs to feel like a martial arts master capable of taking on five, maybe even ten guys, at once and without breaking a sweat. The problem with that is how to give the character this proficiency without expecting the same proficiency from the player. You could just make the goons go down really easily, but that wouldn’t be satisfying. Enter, Free Flow.

At its core, Free Flow is insultingly simple. One button to attack, one button to counter. Hit the attack button and Batman will trigger an move, wait until the game signals an incoming punch and hit counter. Follow these simple rules and, until pretty late into the game, most encounters will be solvable. Even the weakest players can master two buttons. But embrace the combat system and you find a world of flexibility that encourages you to think about fight differently. The goal is not to pull off the most intricate individual moves, but to plan how you’re going to string those moves together, and win the fight in the most incredible ways.

As you progress, Batman’s gadgets will get added to your combat arsenal, with each accessible from a simple quick-fire button; as your variety increases, the elaborate possibilities of the fight do too. What starts as a game of punch and counter soon becomes a rush to plot out a string of devastating moves. Punch, counter, stun, plant explosives, punch, dodge, detonate explosives, grapple enemy, throw batarang, finishing move. The game encourages you to approach each fight like a routine, winning isn’t up for debate, you’re Batman! What matters is how quickly, or cleverly can you do it. The more variety you throw in, the more XP you’ll claim at the end.

So what has this to do with Doom?

Well, Doom kinda does the same thing. Things are tweaked a little differently, of course, this isn’t a martial arts, super-hero game; the game wants to give the player a feeling of pure brutality. A lone super-soldier prepared to mow through these demons. And mow he does. While Doom is a shooter, melee executions play a huge part of the game. The marine will be surrounded by enemies in little arenas throughout the campaign, he will then be encouraged to hot swap weapons, take them out phase by phase, and stay alive. Health is scarce. It should be difficult, but play up to the mechanics and a familiar flow starts to emerge.

doom 2016 screenshots

Every time you weaken an enemy enough to stagger them, they become susceptible to an execution, performing the execution makes them drop health, you’ll need this health to survive the trickier waves. You’re surrounded by enemies, some tough, some weak, but focusing on the toughest enemy is rarely the best strategy. Often better results can be found by planning a route through demons, take out some mid-strength foes with a half decent gun, execute a tiny imp or two for health and ammo, aim your big guns at the biggest demon and if it damages you, harvest a few more imps. Like the Free Flow combat system, rarely is a battle in Doom about thinking about taking down one enemy, or firing the best gun until something dies. It’s about planning a path from one foe to the next, using mechanics intended to preserve the flow of the fight.

The two games doesn’t have much else in common, but this approach to combat is something I’d like to see more games try.

If you know any other games with similar systems I could add to this, leave me a comment. I’d love to know about them!

Dishonored 2’s Concept Art Looks Like Masterpieces From An Alternate-Timeline

Concept Artists are the backstage set designers of videogame design, playing a huge role in shaping the overall look and feel of a game, despite their work serving only as a guide for the final assets, frequently not featuring in the final product itself. They are often the members of the development team with the closest ties to the classical arts, creating incredibly detailed and time consuming works of art that might could never be seen directly by the public. Comparing a game’s concept art to the final release can be a go way of examining how projects change over time, or how a guiding visions takes shape. Sometimes they’re just cool to look at!

Last year’s Artbook, The Art of Dishonored 2, shows off some of the pieces made for that title’s development  and world building. It’s amazing work. The pieces seem to capture the art styles of 18th Century Romanticists like J. M. W. Turner or Constable. (Particularly Piotr Jabłoński’s astonishing Old Sea Beast) This is helped by Dishonored 2’s setting, a blend of Victorian social values and sweeping sci-fi landscapes. Many of the pieces are actually unlockable in the game as collectible paintings, adding to the idea that these are the product of a real living culture.

It helps show how Video Game design is often a collaboration between experts of different art forms coming together. Take a look!

Images sourced from The Art of Dishonored 2. (It’s a really great book.)

Concept Art

 

Art of Dishonored 2

 

Dishonored Sea Scene

 

 

Dishonored 2 Old Sea Beast
The Old Sea Beast – Piotr Jabłoński

 

Dishonored 2 Artbook