Rozovian’s Music Log

Archive for October, 2010

Doing it wrong

Posted by Ad on October 28, 2010

I saw a YouTube comment a while back, in which someone stated having grown up on the modern RPGs but felt the older ones (snes-era, according to the video commented on) were just… better. The graphics were 2d, no voice acting, low-resolution sprites, menu-driven combat in many of the games, static monster sprites in many of the games, etc.. So why are these games “better”?

I’ve been thinking of what makes for a good game, what about a game that makes it enjoyable. in board games, I’m pretty sure it’s the opportunity to screw things up for other players. Quarto, chinese checkers, rummy, even games as  simple as four/five-in-a-row have that. More advanced games like Illuminati is also about screwing things up for other players (tho often through threats diplomacy). One of the games that has seen the most play among our gaming group would be Blokus. For this very reason. Our Uno games tend to be competitive. Our adapted rules to other games make them more competitive. More opportunities to screw things up for other players.
So what about video games, esp. single-player RPG games? I had a short list in my head, a list of the most important features of a game, but have forgotten some of them. Oh well. Here’s what I do remember:

1. Controls. If the controls are sluggish, the game sucks. If thinking about a direction causes the character to spurt head-first in that direction, the game will be annoying. If the character won’t even move until you shove the stick as far as it goes, the game will be annoying. Some RPGs have a run button. Some don’t. And don’t get me started on menu-driven combat.

2. Exploration. Not applicable to all kinds of games, but my favorite part of a Civ game is when most of the map is blank and I can just head in whatever direction I want, see what’s there. Many RPGs have a huge world, whether or not you ever get to see a world map. Aquaria is a great example of games based around exploration. If new areas aren’t interesting enough, exploration isn’t a reward enough to keep ppl playing. if there are no new areas, your game is small, and it better have a good focus on other important elements… like investigating a mystery… Oh wait, that’s also a form of exploration.

3. Story. Yes, you kind’a need a story to justify the gameplay. No, you really don’t need much. Mario and Zelda are just going to rescue the damsel in distress by defeating the bad guy, right? That’s actually a pretty deep story for a game, it has TWO objectives (albeit accomplished at the same time the same way). Then there are stories that are long and/or thick, but still not very deep. And then there’s the worst kind, the ones that stop the game to tell a story you either already know or don’t really care about. I mean, at the start of Monkey Island 1, what would we need to know about Guybrush Threepwood besides that he wants to become a pirate?

4. Icons. A guy in a green tunic and a silly green hat? Red cap, mustache, red and blue clothing? Yellow/orange space armor with big shoulder thingies? A blue hedgehog with red boots? Classic video game heroes. As tech advanced, we got more complicated appearances for the characters, but this didn’t make them better. The good ones are iconic for their simplicity, they’re archetypes and their appearance somehow reflects this. More recent successful characters would have to include Master Chief. Why? Archetype with an easily identified appearance. Kratos? Sackboy? Whether or not the characters themselves are iconic, something in the game must be. The design of Portal and the archetype GLaDOS represents? The design of the world of BioSchock? The design of the world of Aquaria?

5. Mythology. Related to icons. By this I don’t mean a creation myth, gods and giants, and the source of life, magic, and everything. I just mean a set of rules that the world design abides by. Maybe numbers, shapes, colors, locations, maybe these things represent something, making things identified through their association with whatever is referenced in their design? If the bad guy has horns, and we all know it, other characters with horns will be perceived as bad guys, right? How about the color red, or black? How about a pitchfork? Goat legs? Silly tail? Red or black eyes? If we establish this as the face of evil, all these attributes will be associated with evil. Goatherders, farmers, and emo kids beware. How about pale skin, fangs, and cape? How about suit and tie? How about the blue water people, the brown mountain people, and the green forest people? All identified as iconic in the Zelda series, but the mythology goes deeper than that, as evidenced with a few characters in Twilight Princess, where mere colored dots under some characters’ eyes identify them as tied to one of these peoples/locations, depending on their color.

6. Freedom. Tied to controls and exploration. Sequence-breaking was one of the main features of the Metroid series, at least before being constrained to a 3d gameplay and/or a more story-driven gameplay. This freedom has been enjoyed by lots of gamers. Is it weird that a game which unintentionally includes abilities to skip entire sections of the game is so enjoyable because of such an oversight on the designers’ part? Maybe. I don’t care, I just like being able to go places. Linear exploration is like sitting in a bus, whereas freedom is having your own car. In keeping with that analogy, Aquaria had a car, and I want cars in more games. And stories that take cars into account, plz… or at least doesn’t get in the way.

7. Direction, parallel of freedom. As much fun as a sandbox game can be, without a clear story the freedom comes off as lazy game design. Huge world, somewhere something to do that moves the story forward, but no incentive to go there and not a lot of clues pointing that way either. Either make the story as free as the world, or don’t make the world so free. As much as invisible walls and seemingly arbitrary restrictions bother me, I’m more bothered by being far from my objectives because the game never told me where I was supposed to go. I would of course prefer to be able to go anywhere, and the story would adapt, give me the story of where I am, not of where I should be, plz.

8. What else… NO GRINDING! Okay so I played through game X last year, now I wanna play it again. I don’t want to have to run around area X for an hour, again, to level up so I can beat the boss. How about we do away with all this exp crap and just let ppl play on skill and knowledge? Battles back in the day were limited by tech, but they weren’t limited by loading times and long attack animations, so the grinding was a lot faster then. Still annoying when you play the old games, but nowhere near the wait it takes to grind in modern games.

That’s all I can think of atm, but I’m sure there’s more to it than this. I’ll probably revise this at some point, post a new version. These are my thoughts today. The main problem with newer games is that they’re still doing what the old games are doing, except prettier and slower. I don’t think Metroid: Other M’s story, or most modern games’ for that matter, is half as bad as some of the direction and tech behind it makes it look like. We’re years ahead of the snes, why are we still designing games as if they’re nothing but a graphical 3d upgrade of those games? With the interactive nature of video games, why are the stories still so linear?

Games like Civ and Illuminati end up as a modular story that’s based in the game mechanics. I don’t see why RPGs, shooters, and others couldn’t do the same. Anybody know anybody who does this?

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I thought this was a game

Posted by Ad on October 27, 2010

I wanna talk a bit about cutscenes. I’ve been thinking about the kind of decisions I’d make if i ever got to make a game, and the kind of things I’m advocating in the game I’m involved in (tho only in charge of the sound).

I tried to think of games where I enjoyed cutscenes. FFX came to mind as an example of having annoying characters say annoying things to other annoying characters, and occasionally Auron or Kimahri would grunt or something (which captured my feelings about the other characters quite well). As annoying as these überproduced modern FF games are, the older ones handled this so much better, despite being far simpler in design. On that note, playing through Seiken Densetsu 3, there’s a lot of cutscenes. How come these don’t bother me?

Granted, there were cutscenes in FFX that I enjoyed. The spectacular ones, the ones that showed you a world rather than showed the characters I didn’t care for steal the spotlight and ramble hormone-induced whines and conceited rants that stem from a sense of entitlement. Seriously, Tidus or Seymour, which one was more annoying?

Another example of games with cutscenes that don’t bother me would be from the Monkey Island series. While the dialogue tends to be interactive, even the parts where it isn’t don’t bother me. Why? Because it’s funny. Much like a terrible ad can really irk you, a funny ad both serves its function of making you aware of the product but can also be enjoyable and thus memorable. This is why I’d much rather use 020202 than 0100100 as my go-to service for finding ppl/places (in Finland at least). 0100100’s sponsor message got REALLY annoying when you’re watching a show like Lost and it cuts to the sponsor message… which is LOUD!

Metroid: Other M’s cutscenes give us information we either don’t care about or that we already figured out. There are a few scenes that, at least in retrospect, were good. The killer rabbit scene is one, tho it feels as if having to stop the game and have a “Where’s Waldo” minigame in order to see the cutscene is the wrong approach.

With Bobby Kotick thinking of making movies out of cutscenes in games, and a lot of big games treating cutscenes as their sole storytelling device in their games, I can’t help but wonder if we’re heading in the wrong direction. We already have cinema, and it’s _so_ 20th century.

If I could call the shots? if the cutscene isn’t spectacular or funny enough, don’t use a cutscene. portal’s storytelling is done within a fully interactive world, the game never stops the game to tell the story, never takes control away from the player, never has the story running in like a clown into an operating room shouting at the surgeons: “Hey look at me, I’m here and I’m explaining what you guys are doing and why! Hey! Listen!” Tho if I were a surgeon, I at least have the choice of going after the clown with a scalpel. I think the Hippocratic Oath has, or at least should make an exception for situations like that.

Yes, there are things that you need to stop the game for to explain, but as useful as cutscenes are for telling the story, the story should never be a clown in an OR. You can tell that the patient in surgery is important by having guards outside the OR, or somewhere else where we can see them. We don’t need someone stopping the game to tell us that.

Cutscenes can also be used as a reward, but then they’d have to be enjoyable. When they’re overused, you get a “success” jingle and a cutscene that shows you what happened. While it’s useful to somehow cue the player’s attention to whatever they just achieved, grabbing and turning their heads and pointing to whatever they just made happen is a really annoying way of doing that. I mean, we have stereo sound, we have particle effects, we have all kinds of stuff. Just widening the field of view and moving the camera slightly would be enough. You don’t need to stop the game to tell us we did something. (this is where I grab and turn your head and point to the Metroid Prime series)

It’s much more rewarding when it’s either funny or spectacular. When it’s not, it a break too short and unpredictable to be a snack/toilet break yet long enough to break immersion. And the more often it happens, the more annoying it gets. Just imagine if ever sentence you typed correctly would result in a jingle and a “nice work” screen that would last 5 seconds. Unless you’re the kind of writer that makes really long sentences or simply don’t write a lot of them you’ll get annoyed. Fast.

I think the big problem is that the visuals now rivals that of the movies, so game directors think they’re movie directors. That’s when we end up with games that play themselves while we wait for an opportunity to do something. If this evolution keeps going, all the video game industry will have accomplished is to make actors obsolete. Oh and players, too.

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Posted by Ad on October 1, 2010

No, this is not about my eating and exercising habits. Shut up. 😛 I’m just thinking this blog isn’t gonna get a lot of posts unless I actually expand and not just talk about the music I should be making, but also the stuff I wanna be making music for.

In other words, I’m gonna complain about Metroid: Other M here, I’m gonna revive the whole Eberts “games aren’t art” thing (or at least Frankestein it for a little while), I’m gonna talk about storytelling, I’m gonna talk about the music industry, I’m gonna talk about the entertainment industry, I’m gonna talk about awesome indie projects and less than awesome big-budget projects…

I’m gonna talk about stuff. Not entirely sure what stuff I’ll bring up, and when, but I’ll talk about stuff.

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