Aug 22, 2011

Stuff Stuff Stuff

Hey everyone,

It's been a hazy month.
Lots of work (hopefully soon I'll be able to share), been looking for a new apartment, found one, gonna move soon, got a couple more jobs, a ton of new games released (Bastion is friggin awesome! BIG thumbs up to supergiant games!) - tomorrow Deus Ex: HR is released and I'm completely PSYCHED for it. Even though I probably won't have time to touch it until sunday.. which is a big bummer as you can probably imagine.

Well, Just trying to keep this place alive - I'll be more active towards October, and afterwards, since I'll be starting my 3rd year in school and work on an animated short during almost a year after that.

Well, not much to share other than that. Hopefully soon. :)

-AT.

Aug 14, 2011

The gates of burning hell open!

http://eu.blizzard.com/en-gb/company/events/gamescom2011-activities.html

I'm 100% SURE this means the beta is going to be available at the 16th of august.
I mean, there's nothing else this could represent!
Though, you know, it could be just a joke on our backs. And then it would suck.

Every cell in my body is going crazy for this game.

Crossing my fingers to get a key...
I need a key...
I gotta get a key...

[EDIT Aug 16th]
So, no beta today. Kinda sucky. Also I guess being 100% sure can sometimes fail too.
But Bliz did not disappoint and the gates to Diablo's burning hell DID open:
http://www.diablo-3.net/diablo-3-strasenmalerei-aktion-und-pressekonferenz-am-rudlofplatz/086577
That is so freakin awesome. Reminds me of this great street painting I saw once using Stumbleupon. Wish I'd have kept the link to share it now.

Check out this link. And if you want to read more about it, in English, and you don't like google translate, you can always check out www.blizzplanet.com - they never fail us. :)

Either way, I DO hope the beta starts sometime soon. At the very latest one week after Deus Ex: HR releases later this month, since that's about the time it'll take me to un-glue myself from the screen after playing it nonstop for friggin DAYS. This game looks sweet.

Right now I'm playing Deus Ex, the original. It's amazing how much you learn about games by playing an older game. It just more strongly proves - it's never the technology, people, it's only the designers (and we'll forgive Mr. Spector for the horrible Deus Ex 2...)

Until next time, peace all.

-AT.

Aug 8, 2011

Defense of the Ancients

DotA.
I have a lot of mixed thoughts about DotA.

For those of you who don't know what DotA is - first of all, shame on you. If you're gamers that is. :)
Second - It's a strategy/rpg/something game, in which you play a hero in a team of 5, against a team of other 5 heroes. You have a ton of different heroes to pick from at the beginning of a match, each has unique skills and different strengths and weaknesses. Once the game starts, you go out to the battlefield, push your way through waves of monsters coming from the enemy base, killing the enemy heroes, in hopes of breaking the defenses of their base and destroying their main citadel.

Your goal is, basically, to never die. And get a lot of money by killing your enemies and their minions. And getting great items with this money. And not fall behind on your level, because u gotta stay as strong as your enemy. Etc.

It's a great game. Really. It's competitive, it's deep, it's complex, it's friggin HARD, it's unbalanced as hell, and yet if you know what you're doing you can always get out of trouble - it's everything a gamer wants.

And yet, I never managed to ignore a very irritating effect that occurs in the game, like so many other great games. I call it "the juggernaut effect".
Every so often there comes a game, usually a game where you have the option to level up, get stronger with time, and skill, and knowledge. Basically, if you do good, you get better. Capitalism.
There's one flaw with this concept. If you got better, you're stronger than everyone else. They can't beat you, but you can beat them. You still profit from beating them, since that's the goal of the game. What happens is, that once you've managed to skillfully open a gap between yourself and others, there's a very slim chance for them to recover - and that chance gets smaller and smaller as time goes by, because if the game rewards you for success, and you're stronger to begin with, then you keep getting better, since you keep doing better and getting rewards for it.

As a way of life - it's cruel. It's freedom at it's best, but it's cruel. That's why there are capitalists, and socialists. You could argue about the validity of such a system in real life.

But in a game, a capitalist system that reward you for success, makes you stronger and makes it easier for you to beat your enemy, who's the one you beat to get to this point to begin with - it's just bad design.
And before you flame me over this, let me explain why.

Yes, you SHOULD be rewarded for being more skilled.
Yes, in a game where leveling up, getting money and items is a goal - you SHOULD be rewarded with money, experience and items when you do better than your opponents.
But as game designers, we have to take into account the fact that once a big enough gap has been opened - there's no point in continuing the game. People have no chance against you, since you're so strong, and instead of fighting a pointless fight - they'll either move on to the next game, or in a worse case, they'll think "screw it" and quit your game altogether.

DotA suffers from this symptom insanely.
A typical DotA game lasts somewhere around 20-30 minutes. But as early as 10 minutes into the game, or even sooner if you're playing against people far less skilled than you, a huge gap could be opened in level and items, which will ensure your victory no matter what. Unless you suddenly begin to suck.

That causes people to just quit the game (thus people really hate "leavers" in the DotA community), because they died once too many. Many give up on DotA completely, since it's very unforgiving. But more importantly - it causes them to quit the game before its ended. Instead of sticking in and fighting the whole 20-30 minutes, they quit after 10, 15, because they believe they can't win. And even worse, many times people quit when they can still win! they're just so used to quitting when a "juggernaut effect" is beginning to take place, that they don't even try to fight. Once it's started, they quit on the spot.

In Heroes of Newerth, a standalone DotA based game, they solve this issue by allowing a losing team to concede, raise a white flag, so that everyone can move on to do better stuff with their time instead of sticking out, watching themselves lose, or winning an incredibly easy fight.

This is a cheap solution. It's not really a solution, it's just a system that allows you to quit while making sure everyone is as frustrated as you and want to quit as well - and then, you're not a "leaver". It's no solution, it's not a gameplay solution. It's just treating a symptom of bad design. There are also all sorts of other cheap solution, like diminishing returns. Which is sort of like a solution, but again, it's a cheap solution. The higher you get, the slower you go up. The bigger the gap between you and your enemy, the less you gain from beating him. It's only fair, yes, but it's not enough since it only slows you down - it doesn't help him improve in any way.

I think there IS a solution. There has to be. And no, it's not a "socialist" solution that will reward losers because they lose. Also it's not just one solution, there are numerous solutions, I'm sure. But nobody seems to care, since so many games suffer from the juggernaut effect...

In order for a player to stick out and give it another shot, he has to feel like there's SOMETHING he can do. No matter how hard, how complex. He also HAS to have something to do to get out of the situation, if you want a game to remain a valid game once a big gap has been opened.

First, control the gap. If in a game of 5v5, 1 player can become strong enough to kill all 5 opposing players single-handed, maybe your game leans too much on items, and levels, and not enough on skill. You could try to reduce the effect of items and how skills and raw damage scales up with levels, balance it out so that a player can NEVER beat 5 opposing players - no matter what. A skilled player must be able to respond to everything, no matter how far behind he is - because he has skill! If he knows how to play, there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to respond. Yes, higher level items and skills should give you an advantage, and they should give you a considerable advantage as well - but getting to a point where 1 can beat 5, that's just too much.

Second - reward for other things. Give players credit for success that's beyond the most basic requirement of the game. A possible solution for DotA, for instance, is encouraging people to play in a style that's more useful in tight situations. For instance - in order to bring down a level 15 hero, when your team are all level 10, you best option is to group up. So, when an inferior team groups up, and plays well together, they'll be rewarded with buffs. Let the game reward your players for playing the way they should be playing in certain situations. So a group of lvl 10 players will ambush 3 level 15 players - in today's DotA rules, they have a very small chance. But, if the game would recognize this team effort, and give them all a "+1 to all skills and +10 to all stats", they just might have a chance. Of course, this is not necessarily the balanced suggestion, it's just random possible numbers.

Another possible solution - wildcards. Every player, or every team, can acquire (or begin with one, and only one for the entire game) - different wildcards. Those could hold an effect, like +exp for all players, or higher experience from monsters, or faster money regeneration, or a free high tier item for all players, or whatever else. These wildcards will work only once per game, and deciding to use them has to be under certain conditions - a player who died too much, a player who's X levels under the highest player in his team, or Y levels under the lowest level in the opposing team. Team wildcards that can be used once the team has total of X deaths, or when a player has an average item tier that's 2 tiers under the average item tier of everyone else in the enemy team. You could also make these wildcards hard to activate, by requiring the player to go through dangerous areas, places where he might be seen by the opposing team, or close to their lines of defense - and reward him with the wildcard for succeeding.

These are not perfect solutions. They're just possible solutions. I'm not sure I'd implement any of those specifically into a DotA game of my own, if I ever make one. But I do think that the juggernaut effect is a game killer, it's a bad design choice. It has to be countered by SOME element, in order to make the game scale better to later tiers. I know that if I ever made a DotA game, or any game that scales in a similar way, or any game that rewards you permanently for success for that matter - I would put a lot of thought into solving this "juggernaut effect", because without a solution, I would never release the game.

-AT

Aug 3, 2011

A gaming one

With all the talk about Diablo 3 lately, I became worried.

Part of what I love in Diablo 2 is the total freedom of character creation.
I'm not saying Diablo 2 had a lot of variety - it wasn't balanced enough and some skills were "other-worldly", meaning that they felt out of place within the context of the game (Whirlwind, Guided Arrow, and more) - but what I AM saying is that Diablo 2 gave you the FREEDOM to do whatever you liked.

There were many ways to customize your character. All classes could equip all gear, there were runestones which you could apply into anything that they fit into, Charms which didn't care what class you are - they just gave you the buff. You could stat and gear a necromancer like you would a barbarian (apart from holding a 2-handed weapon with 1 hand of course) - nobody would prevent you from doing so.

What I've always hoped is that Diablo 3 would take that freedom and potential depth, and build upon it to create a game that gives the player both the freedom to do whatever he wants, and also the balance of not being forced to use only one skill throughout the whole game because that skill is so much more powerful than everything else the class has to offer.

Blizzard is definitely good enough to create such a system. I have no doubt about it, of course, but maybe they think it would be too complex for the average gamer of this decade. Whatever the reason, I'm really worried for this game. I grew up on Diablo and Diablo 2, Those are among my favorite games of all time. I love many of the things they've done with Diablo 3, and I can't wait for the game. But I can't ignore the fact that it seems like right now, there's a general feel of them sacrificing character uniqueness for the benefit of having a more accessible, simpler, easier game. I don't see why there shouldn't be a check-box for manual stat distribution. The stats exist, so why shouldn't I be able to freely control them if I want to?

In general, I'm not a fan of dumbing down entertainment because I believe in my audience and I believe people will play a good game, no matter how complex it is (well, to a point anyway. Take a look at online Starcaft 2, a very deep game with a huge fan base).

I do believe Diablo 3 will have incredible depth, in it's own way. But I hate to see the things that made Diablo 2 so great for me, being compressed into almost nothing.

But, I guess you can never judge anything until you've actually put your hands on it. So I'll stay optimistic until I get my hands on the game.

P.S.
I'd like to mention World of Warcraft had a much more "free" system when it was released, and with time they "killed it" in favor of a simpler, more limited character system. I don't really know the reasoning behind these changes, but I like to hope they're not a result of trying to make the game accessible for nubs. I find it hard to hope for that, though.

-AT.