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The Power of Game Design

Mar
05

1GAM February: Incomplete

Posted by Patrick under 1GAM, Game Design, Game Development

So unfortunately I’m going to have to chalk up one in the “fail” column for my February ‪#‎1GAM‬, which was to be titled “Enter the Catrix”… I had until this evening to get it submitted, but after over a week of computer problems (complete drive failure) along with some Unity quirks that waylaid me, I’ve decided that despite a last drive for completion I am not comfortable releasing this thing.  It just wouldn’t be something I want people laying hands on at this point.

It’s a shame really… It took some effort to turn a couple of cats into the animated characters, and then casting them in this point-and-click combat system. The idea was for the player to choose between slower free movement on the floor and speedy movement from “perches” as he maneuvered the ninja to the right angle for slaying the robot cats.

Takeaways

The original concept for this thing was simple…  Make a fast, mobile combat experience with some flavor similar to what we created in X-Men Legends…  dashes, knockbacks, walls getting destroyed…  Of course I knew what I could get done in a month would be rough, and I’d be at the mercy of the animations I created, but I still thought I could capture some of the mobility I was after.

One of the core ideas was the idea that the map was filled with “perches”…  These were ninja-style balance points that the cat could hop on crane-style and move quickly from point to point, hopping down for a quick fight.  This provided the possibility that the player could dash to these points for a quick maneuver around the back of an opponent, but these points were not always available, requiring the player to hop down and run around instead.

My choice of perspective was one of my first problems…  I needed objects with height to be perches, and yet I wanted some really fast horizontal movement when on the ground.  For an easy point-n-click interface it was okay, but making things look tall and having them easy to hop onto was a bit of a pain that could probably have been solved with time, but was non-ideal since it forced me to move the camera more to a 45-degree angle rather than using a simple top-down perspective that worked with my 2D-animated characters.  I got the characters to orient properly to the camera, but I didn’t manage to get the collision and controls to quite feel like they were going exactly where the player wanted them to.

In a more practical sense, I also wanted to use a modern or future city, or perhaps an industrial complex, merely because of my use of “robot cats” as enemies.  (I didn’t want to create a game about my cats actually killing each other, as you might imagine).  However, I didn’t manage to get a lot out of the Unity store, so I was working with a lamp post, mailbox and a fire hydrant as perches and not much else…  Not a great method of immersing the player.  Briefly I just littered the world with Iron Monkey-style poles and assumed it would just be a natural part of the world, but tall objects failed pretty hard.

I would have loved to consider this point-n-click method for iPads and touch devices, although I did use a right-click mechanic for throwing shurikens.  However, I needed to make those more important for specific situations, so that melee, maneuvering and projectiles all had a part in the combat tactics.

Anyway, I don’t think this particular experiment is just a dead end, but I’ll need some time to re-explore it.  With only a month to create the whole thing, I didn’t create the robust animation state machine that I really wanted, nor the proper input and physics…  the push to finish resulted in more prototype-y things which can fall apart easily.  I hope to work on it later and get some more crisp systems that I can leverage into games at a future date.

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Jan
29

January Complete: Battle Row is live on 1GAM

Posted by Patrick under Uncategorized

It’s been a fun month.  I’m both relieved and saddened to have to put my pencils down on this one and move on.  Perhaps I’ll create a new version with networking a few months down the line but for now looking forward to fresh stuff in February!

 

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Jan
28

1GAM January: Weekend 4 Update

Posted by Patrick under 1GAM, Game Design, Game Development

Considering I’m supposed to be doing these games rough-n-ready, I probably shouldn’t taken advantage of how far along I was and just taken an easy pace…  It would be hard to keep this up for a whole year.  My worktime is still cobbled together from a beefy weekend day and some late evenings, but some playability and quality elements still bug me.

Click on the pic to see where I’m at —->

Most importantly, I added in an enemy helicopter with some rough AI.  This was a necessity not only to bring the threat directly to the player, but also to make antiair units and bunker capture meaningful.

In addition, I revised most of the sound effects with better ones culled from Freesound.org.  Before this I was using some other 100% free sounds that I didn’t need to credit, but they were terribly edited and seemed to be 8-bit recordings culled from 1950’s movies.  That is, I swear one explosion was what you hear when Wile E. Coyote blows himself up.  To use these new sounds I’ll have to add a credits page to my website, but it was worth the somewhat improved quality (although I’m hardly a sound designer).

I also added the concept of repairing your helicopter and replenishing bombs, since they are very powerful weapons in the game.

Just a few days left, and all I’ll do from here on out is add a score tally and some stats displays to the Win and Loss Screen.  I’ll probably also revise the title screen to provide directions and a bit of flavor.  Then it’s on to next month…  Looking forward to it.

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Jan
20

1GAM January, third weekend update

Posted by Patrick under 1GAM, Game Design, Game Development
Click to go to Battle Row

Click to go to Battle Row

Getting close to finishing my work on Battle Row, my first 1GAM submission of the year.  I’ve got bunkers that can be captured by soldiers now, a win/lose state with proper game restarts.  I also put in the ability to load up soldiers and deploy them elsewhere on the battlefield.  There’s radar, limited bomb supplies, and resources are gained from picking up coins in the field (which wasn’t in Rescue Raiders but I wanted some more activities for the player).  Most importantly, we have actual sound using the Master Audio plugin I picked up, which had some pretty nice features for the price.  Some things I’ve learned lately:

Doing the 1GAM challenge to get faster at this.  I spent a pretty solid number of nights and weekends working on Battle Row, so I need to get in a groove so I can keep up the pace.  February should be a good test since it’s such a short month.  I also need to carefully choose my objectives so that I don’t get overwhelmed.

Also, I found that free sound libraries are terrible.  I found one online so that I could have SOME sound effects at least, but generally all the free sounds on various sites are from the same original source, which in the case of weapons is some grainy 1950’s movie.  I always respected the work of audio designers, but hearing the game sound like an old Mac Plus title is pretty painful.  I’ll see if I can get some new sounds in.

Since I’m more or less ahead of schedule this time, I think I’m going to take a stab at a helicopter AI.  It won’t be great, but as long as it challenges the player more it should help somewhat.  Finally I’ll need to adjust some of the costs, damages and health levels (as well as put a cooldown on the antiair turrets) in order to make the game somewhat fun to play and win.  It has some charm but I am not as engrossed when playing than I should be.

Check out the latest build of Battle Row HERE.

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Jan
13

1GAM January, second weekend update

Posted by Patrick under 1GAM, Game Design, Game Development, Other Games
Click to go to the Battle Row page

Click to go to the Battle Row page

It’s been a pretty busy week getting the first 1GAM game functional, both in feature sets and all the various times where I had to learn more of the quirks of Unity.  Since last update I’ve added home bases for both sides and a series of bunkers with anti-aircraft guns mounted on them.  I created the bazooka soldier who carries a homing rocket, and created a number of basic VFX and behaviors to support him.  There is now a resource system and a way to deploy units, and I’ve dropped in an UI for static screens, in-game tutorial text, and a HUD to show what units can be bought.  Finally, I’ve got a death and respawn system, and a camera that keeps things in view and doesn’t show things it shouldn’t.

I’ve posted the work-in-progress here:  BATTLE ROW  Note that while I have second-to-second activities, I still haven’t provided quite enough structure to give the player an objective…  You can’t win or lose yet:  That I’ve got to implement this week.

I still have bunkers to implement so they can be captured by soldiers, and given them machineguns that mow down incoming soldiers…  Then make it so tanks or helicopters can clear them out, requiring a two-step process to clear a bunker and giving tanks a more tactical role than a straight soldier-killer.  I think I’ll also need to implement bombs in addition to machineguns, like the original game had.

I’m glad I took something of a known structure for my first major game experiment in Unity, but as I move forward I am starting to appreciate some of the nuances of the original Rescue Raiders.  Given my limited time, I thought I could take parts of the whole and still make an interesting experience… but as I start to assemble everything I realize that the game relies on all these parts to create a compelling whole.  For example, while the original game depleted fuel and ammo, I was hoping to avoid limited resources on my helicopters.  However, without limits, players can fire constantly and hover around the enemy base.  In the original you can pick up and drop soldiers onto the battlefield.  Without this there can be some oversimplicity when combat only occurs on a single battle line.  Finally, the original pitted an enemy helicopter against your own, and writing a helicopter AI is really something I was trying to avoid because there are only two weeks left.  However, that would mean that bazooka soldiers wouldn’t mean much and player tanks wouldn’t have any kind of weakness.  The wild-card that the enemy heli presents is one that means that the battlefront isn’t completely predictable.

This is where some creative tweaking is needed…  If I don’t have time for an enemy helicopter, I think I’ll create a different type of flying enemy such as floating mines or drones.  I may also add some new abilities to tanks such as arced shots and the ability to shell players.  A few more units to buy (as upgrades to existing tanks and soldiers) could really make things more compelling.

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Jan
06

1GAM January, first weekend update

Posted by Patrick under 1GAM, Game Development

For my first game I dug up some scraps of code I had laying around and will work to combine them into a cohesive game.  Not long ago I was inspired by discussions I’ve had lately about the old game Rescue Raiders, which in a way was a precursor to modern MOBAs.  It was quite an achievement on the Apple II, and I’ve always wanted to explore something akin to its unique take on action-strategy.

I may have some logic already set up but I figure in this first month I’ll have my hands full dealing with UI, audio, publishing and other aspects of Unity that I’ve never dealt with before.

During my first weekend I created some rough base art for the player’s helicopter, a tank, engineer van and a human soldier, and got them all working with some basic move and attack logic.  I animated the vehicles and even a human character (badly) with Mecanim, which was a first for me.  I wish I hadn’t spent as much time with the art as I had since I’ve got a long way to go and only three weekends left…  But considering I’ve never created a human skeletal animation before in my life, I can’t complain much.

I’ll work to get something posted that’s playable next weekend if possible.

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Jan
06

One Game a Month kickoff

Posted by Patrick under 1GAM, General

In the past few years I’ve started to really miss game programming.  It used to be second nature to me but nice years after switching to pure design, I miss the control over my results and the joy of experimentation.  I’ve tinkered in a variety of engines and codebases, but I’ve never devoted enough time to shake the rust off my coding skills and get comfortable again.

To facilitate this I’m joining the 1GAM movement…  which is simply a challenge (a dare?) for participants to complete one playable game a month, every month.  These won’t be pretty or polished, but hopefully they will be fun and regardless an opportunity for me to get my feet wet in Unity, which has grown impressively over the past several years.  Whether I can turn out something that has some long-term promise, or perhaps just explore some stray ideas I’ve been kicking around, it should be fun.

Keep an eye on my space at the onegameamonth website.  Hope I can keep the pace up.

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Jul
02

Weapons of Awesome Power – E3 2010 edition

Posted by Patrick under Article, Game Design, Game Industry

Recently I was looking at my old WoAP post and thinking about how the fundamentals of creating a good, solid-feeling weapon are evolving, and which basics are the same as they were 15 years ago.  Developers are definitely better at these things, but experiences are still all over the board.

I gathered more footage from games released in the last year in preparation of a WoAP section on this site (which is still locked for now), but I fell behind in capturing the newest of the new.  While that certainly won’t deter me, I did realize that I did have one source of state-of-the-art titles with readily-prepared footage…  E3 2010!  Sure the games are in-progress and the available footage varies in quality, but I thought it would be fun to see what the next year could be like in terms of nice, beefy implements of destruction.

As usual, I examined a number of elements to consider whether they contribute to a sense of power.  Check out the original article if you wonder, for example, why a real-world weapon still needs to follow these rules:

  • Gun Visuals: The visual effect of the weapon’s muzzle flash and bullet trail, and the animation of the weapon itself firing. It’s the first thing people think of when they consider how the gun looks and feels.
  • Sound Effects: How’s the audio, from the firing to the impact sounds?  This can be one of the hardest to get right, because the sound has to bear repetition thousands of times, and it has to compliment the rest of the arsenal.
  • Effect on Environment: Here we look at the visual impact of the bullet on a wall or floor, as well as environmental shifts such as lighting. We need these because the results of stray bullets give the player a sense of affecting their environment and with a potent weapon.
  • Effect on Opponent: This refers to the visual impact on an enemy, and how the enemy reacts to being shot, which is critical to give the player feedback that he is successfully damaging the foe.
  • Combat Effectiveness: I’m completely subjective here, which can be unfair when taken out of context, but it’s worth talking about. If I see a weapon limply pile bullets into an enemy with little sense of accomplishment, that weapon doesn’t get high marks.  Maybe it’s designed to be a pathetic weapon, I don’t know.

Each weapon is grouped with its general type:  They aren’t all identical models, weights or even technology, but each group of weapons fills a general role for players.  I found as much unadulterated footage as I could…  nothing from trailers or anything less than the game being played.  This is obviously not final weaponry, and I had to make adjustments for the situations where the audio or visual quality wasn’t the best.  Suffice it to say, they previewed their games to us and basically I’m previewing the weapons right back.  Wah.

I didn’t get footage from everyone I wanted (technical issues denied me Brink and Killzone 3), but there was plenty of material (in unbiased alphabetical order of course):

  • The Agency, Sony Online Entertainment
  • Blacklight: Tango Down, Zombie
  • Bodycount, Codemasters
  • Breach, Atomic Games
  • Bulletstorm, People Can Fly
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops, Activision
  • Crysis 2, Crytek
  • Halo: Reach, Bungie
  • Medal of Honor, Electronic Arts
  • Rage, id Software
  • Vanquish, SEGA

(Too many one-word titles that start with “B” this year…)

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