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Hi guys! It's been forever since I've posted something.

I'm pushing to start my own game design company and I'm working on a game right now under my new label, MicroBrew Games. You can check out the new blog www.microbrewgames.net. We're working on a different game at the moment, but Captain Chronos is still in the works.

Update your RSS feeds, guys! And thanks, dieAntagonista for reminded me that people might still be looking here :D

-Aaron

Difficult Curve...

Once of the more difficult aspects to get right in a game is the difficulty curve. Start the game off too easy and the player loses intrest, start it off too hard and the player gets frustrated. Same thing happens if you ramp up too slowly, or too quickly. The trick is to slowly introduce new elements to the player as the level progresses, requiring them to think before the act, and to be more cautious.

Let's work on an example. Here's a list of gameplay elements:

Gameplay Elements
HAZARDS
ABILITIES
Bad GuysJumping
PitsDucking
LavaDouble-Jumping
Gun TurretsShooting
Falling RocksRunning

Now, throw all of those things in the first level, and your player is overwhelmed. Let's say we've got a game that have five levels. Five levels, five hazards, five abilities. Uh oh! I see a pattern :D Introduce the player to simple elements first, like the bad guys. He can jump on their heads and kill them a la Mario Bros. So great, level 1 we introduce the player to Jumping and Bad Guys. Level two, the Jumping and bad guys are back, but they're mixed in with Pits and Ducking (Ducking to avoid the new FLYING bad guys, of course ;) ). Level three, we still have everything else, but now we introduce Lava and Double Jumping. This continues until the last level where we have all five hazards and all five abilities.

It's important to remember to balance the hazards in a level as well. Let's look at level 5 in our example above. There's a lot going on there that requires the player to respond in different ways. If he's trying to jump over a pit, while dodging falling rocks that are coated with Lava and bristling with turrets that are shooting bad guys... he's going to get overwhelmed and the game stops being fun and starts being a chore.  Remember that each hazard is not a whole in and of itself, it is a part of a greater whole. I like to look at it like the level as HAZARDS. One set of Hazards. Each individual hazard works as a fraction of that hazard. So 2 fifths of the hazards are bad guys, another fifth is pits and lava, gun turrets make another another fifth, and the rocks make up the last. So mostly, you're fighting off baddies, but occasionally you run into pits and lava, rocks, and gun turrets, just to make your life a bit more difficult. This let's the player deal with one or two hazards at once, rather than all of them at the same time.

Start of by plotting out the easiest level, then plot out the hardest. From there, create a nice difficulty curve between the two. And don't be afraid to cut hazards and abilities. It may be the most awesome thing in the world to have an ability where you character can swoop down from on high, spewing hot molten lava from his bum, but if there's no place for it in the game, then it has to go. Likewise, it may seem vitally important to include a bone crushing baddy that fills half the screen... but if it doesn't fit, it doesn't go. Keep your list of features as short and concise as possible, that will help you to create a good level arc, and also help you ensure that the features you do keep are solid and polished.

Talk to you again soon!

The Elusive Beast: Emersive Gameplay

Probably one of the most sought after goals in game design these days is truly immersive gameplay. But what IS immersive gameplay and how do you achieve it? So often, game mechanics such as quick time events and lengthy story segments take control out of the player's hands and into the programming. I don't know about you, but I don't want to quickly tap X five times to defuse a bomb. Give me a minigame, dammit! And I don't want to sit through ten minutes of cut scene while I wait for my character to make a difficult decision. Let me make it! 

When things like that happen, the player is ripped right out of the game and sat squarely on their couch again. And you've lost them. The heat of battle, the mystery of ancient ruins, the allure of unlimited power... all of that is gone, reduced to pixels on a screen. So I started thinking about this beast today and how to tame it. Not surprisingly, it was HARD to really come up with solutions that truely gave control to the player. Here's a few of what I came up with:

Yin and Yang: The allure of good and evil is always an intriguing concept. Will you be the great good, triumphing over evil to free the innocent... or will you be the ultimate evil, triumphing over ANOTHER evil to enslave the innocent for your own means? By giving the player easy, play-line (what I call the normal running of gameplay) ways to make this decision, you can let them feel like they really own the character, rather than just playing puppet master. Don't kill these people, do kill these. Don't take this item, do take these. Don't say this, do say that, etc. Those are all very valid ways to do things. The old Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight game was great for that. Kill civillians, get darkside points. Take on Force lightning as a power? Get darkside points. There was no epic pause in the game play where the computer suddenly said, "DO YOU WANT TO BE A GOOD GUY OR A BAD GUY HERE?!" No, you killed an innocent person... you're bad. Keep on playing. No immersion lost, no time wasted, player is STILL in the game.


Speak your Mind: One of the things that impressed me about Mass Effect (360) was the conversation feature. Mass Effect had some great cut scenes that were relatively lengthy, but in almost all of them after a minute or two, you were given a prompt. "How do you want to respond to this?" Your options usually ranged from being a stick up your butt jack @ss, to being highly respectful and diplomatic. Your response to the world changed the worlds response to you, even in the midst of drawn out cutscenes. Right there, you're letting your characters tell their own story without losing control of the scope of your game and it's end-goal.


I Want To Be An Evil Undead Priest When I Grow Up: MMOs and RPGs have been letting the player determine what their character IS now for years. Probably the most widely recognized examples is WoW. From the start you can customize your race, your class, and your looks. You give your character a custom name (something intellegent and  witty, of course, like naming a Tauren Mage "Magic Cow") and then you're cast into a world where you can change what he wears, and what he rides, even who his allegiences are toward. This is an excellent way to really let the player create his own character. And it doesn't have to stop at the beginning of the game. Like the Yin and Yang point I made earlier, you can add play-line triggers to change the way a player develops as he goes along. What skills grow and change based on how he uses them, etc etc. But don't use some annoying pop-up window with little buttons and upgrade things. By making the improvements play line, you inherently allow the player to grow his character into the character he wants because it's responding to the way he plays. Player uses pistols a lot? Then after 1000 shots, he should be able to shoot the hair off a frog. Does a double jump every ten seconds? Then let the boy fly!


SENSORY OVERLOAD!:  I've talked a lot here about giving the player options, but there's one thing that's very important to remember: don't give the player too MANY options. That can be just as jarring as too few. Having to remember 10 different ways to jump, or a blue million stats can be extremely daunting to the player and leave him unwilling to do it anymore. And right there, you've lost a player. Just remember that your player is here to escape from reality, not to do complex mathematics.


In a nutshell, don't get so worried about telling your story that you make an interactive movie instead of a game! Your player is here to tell his own story, not yours. You just get to decide what he's up against. And you can be a cruel, cruel master, so long as you let the player decide how he deals with it!

Talk to you soon!

What exactly is a GOOD game?

Hi all!

Been a while since my last post. Holidays and work and all that jazz. I'm sure you all know how it is.

At any rate, I've been pondering lately, what makes a good game? There's three basic parts to a game: Graphics, Sound, and Gameplay. Do any of those individual parts make for a good game alone? Or do they all have to exist together? Well, I finally got around to breaking it down...

Graphics:  "Don't judge a book by it's cover," the old adage goes, but there's no doubt that magnificant meshes, terrific textures, engaging environments, and perfect particles catch peoples eye in a heart beat. The smallest detail can take a world from being realistic to ridiculous. Quality graphics can make a game engaging or annoying, but alone they can't make a game good. More than once I've been dazzled by the flash on the back of the box, snatched up the game and been sorely dissapointed when I realized that it was nothing more than smoke and mirrors to hide horribly underdeveloped game play. Still, if your world isn't attractive in some way, you won't keep your players playing, even with the most perfect of gameplay.

Sound: There's nothing like the clash of swords on shields or the rushing wind of a fearsome magical attack. And nothing can sweep you into the lore of an ancient story or the whimsy of a character's antics like just the right score playing in the background. Each game has it's own sound, some realistic some silly, but the sound has to fit the world. There's been many times that I've been playing a game or watching a movie and the score is just... wrong. Or the sound effects don't really do the job. It pulls you right out of the moment and right out of the game. But you can't hear the pictures on a box. You don't really know what you're missing until you buy the game, and even then, just because it sounds good doesn't mean it looks good or that it plays well.

Gameplay: And now the big daddy of them all... whether racing through arid desserts in fantastic vehicals, or bouncing a little square between two rectangular paddles, gameplay is what your players are REALLY in it for. It's the one thing that a perfectly quaffed visual show and the precise melody to emphasize the moment can't hide. If your game isn't fun, then your game won't succeed. Visuals and sound pale in comparison to this one. In more than one instance, a game has moderately okay graphics, and middle of the road sound, but the gameplay makes it something worth playing over and over, for example, games like Tetris or Breakout.

So all things being equal, gameplay is the most important of all. While graphics and sound play an important part in making a truly emersive world for your players to enjoy, if the world isn't fun they won't come back for more. When it's crunchtime, when it's choosing between tweaking that one graphic that still isn't perfect enough, or making that one game mechanic really shine... remember: make that gameplay SHINEY! :D

Tags:

More shininess

First the hero, now the ultimate evil!

Ladies and germs, I give you....

DOCTOR VON CLOCKENHEIMER!

Von Clockenheimer

Just like Cap, this is a very rough piece that isn't necessarily the final design. But I wanted you guys to know that I'm at least making progress :D

I decided to get involved in the YoYo Games competition, so I'm devoting my time to two projects right now, both platformers. My save the world themed platformer is coming along nicely and it's got a lot of fun features that I was hoping to incorporate into Captain Chronos. Hopefully, by the time they reach Cap, they'll be nice and polished from the Save the World game :D I'll give you guys some screens from that once I start getting it sort of squared away :)

More soon!

Aaron P

And now for something pretty..

Hey guys!

I've finally got something cool to show you :) Cap has finally made his way from the GDD and my head to a digital format. I present to you (a very rough sketch of) CAPTAIN CHRONOS!!!


Captain Chronos
Let me know what you think :) I'll post more finished images as I make them :D

Talk to you soon!

Aaron

Something to look into...

If you guys are in anyway wanting to get involved with Game Design, there's something you might want to check out. YoYo Games is running a design contest. They're run these from time to time to get the community involved and - this is the best part - they give away cash prizes! $1,000 for first place, $500 for second, and $250 for third.

You can check out their latest competition here.

I'm too busy with Cap to enter this one, but it might be worth a shot for some of you guys with the time and desire :)

Talk to you soon!

Aaron

Starting the Schedule

15th of November. That's the due date for the second Milestone of the project "concept art completed". I've set up three different tasks in my clocking it account to keep the game moving forward. The first is to complete a character sheet for Cap and Clockeheimer. For those of you who don't know what a character sheet is this is a great example. Clearly, not my work, but a well made character style sheet. The difference between this character sheet and the ones that I'll be making is that for the game character sheets, I'll be including a basic half-walk cycle to give an idea of what the sprite will look like.

I've got to do one of those for Cap, one for Clockenheimer, one for each boss, one for each enemy, and then concepts for incidental items like power-ups, Clockenheimer's time machine, and general level elements. They've got to be all in their final form in a little under two months. I think I can swing that. Of course, that deadline is very fluid, but I want to stick to it as much as possible so that I can actually get this game done in a reasonable amount of time.

Also of note: I did finally decide on Game Maker 7 as the engine. XNA is great, and I'm definitely going to be learning how to use it once I'm finished with Captain Chronos, but I'm already familiar with GM7 Script and with their drag and drop programming, so it's a learning curve I won't have to tackle on an already large project.

I'll show you guys some art as soon as I have it :)

Aaron

One Down, On to the next!

Well, it's official! The GDD is finished, and I'm on to working on the concept design art for the game. I'm going to spend some time finding the right flavor for the game. I want it to really have a fun feel to it, as well as having a fun game design. I'm trying to keep it as simple as possible for now. Six interchangeable common baddies, and six bosses, plus the main villain Clockenheimer. This is the part of game design that, to me, is really fun and rewarding. I've always loved making graphics and animations, and working on this part is where I can shine. Once it comes down to come to program... that's where things are going to get interesting.

On another note, I've recently started toying around in Microsoft's XNA Game Studio (http://creators.xna.com/) and I'm quickly falling in love with it. I think I might actually program through this application when it's all said and done, but I'm not really sure yet. Game Maker 7 gives me the option to use drag and drop coding, but that limits me to what I can do... XNA, on the other hand, gives me unlimited possibilties, I just have to learn C# (which doesn't seem too difficult to grasp).

At any rate, I should have some SUPER early art to show you guys sometime soon. Feel free to drop me a line if you've got any questions, or if you're curious about anything :) Talk to you soon!

Aaron

First Images from the game!

Okay, here's a little treat for you guys :D With the GDD nearly completed, I decided to try my hand at using The Gimp ( http://www.gimp.org ) to make some graphics. You'll see this image in the final game, but I wanted to let you guys get a sneak peak now :D

 
Appleby's Bran Crunch Cereal! It's Branny!

More to come! :)

Aaron