The Obvious (07)

When I was in college, I did a game pitch as part of a game design class in front of a fake board of directors. I had to act as CEO, answering design and marketing questions from this board. Our game was a Cowboy Bebop meets GTA meets Crackdown that took place on the moon. Now that I’m a teacher, I realize how “student” that idea is, but I digress. One of the board members asked how we would use the moon’s decreased gravity as a gameplay hook. It was something we hadn’t discussed. Since I thought they were trying to lead me into a trap, I made up something about how artifical gravity made the world act like Earth.

What? Epic fail.

It’s an obvious gameplay element. If it’s on the moon and if your bounty hunters have jet packs and stuff, why aren’t there crazy low-G jumps? There’s no reason not to. My example became a what-not-to-do for the next class. It’s like Chekhov’s Gun for video games.

I’m playing the graphic novel DS adventure thing 999. Besides being incredibly slow and contrived in many aspects, it violates this primary expectation. In the game, the various characters have to use these hand scanning devices to enter a room and then if they do not find the matching scanner on the other side of the room in eighty one seconds, a bomb in their small intestines will explode (yes, really). But how does the game handle these sections? Do you get 81 seconds to run through rooms looking for a hidden item?

No, the exposition happens automatically. You are told how stressful it is, but the characters automatically find and disarm the bomb every time. It’s like the game is trying to eschew any interactivity at all. They display the gun and never let you use it. I’m flabbergasted. Give me something to play!

You win

So, have you seen Space Funeral? Probably not. It’s an indie RPG beatable in about an hour. At first it looks like a kind of punk random-for-the-sake-of-offending-the-senses aesthetic, but there is some really smart/funny bits in there and a fun ending with great music throughout. I’d rather not spoil anything, so I’ll leave it at that. Better than many/most of the $30 DS JRPGs I’ve played.


Degrees of Separation

One of my first get-out-of-the-cubicle-and-see-the-Industry events was E3 2006. I was sitting in the hotel lobby (the expensive hotel of which EA shareholders were gloriously paying for me to inhabit) and I was waiting for a friend to come down to walk to the show. This was a kinder, simpler time when people didn’t fill every spare second looking at their iPhones and ignoring their surroundings. I was absent-mindedly perusing the free E3 newsletter thing that was dropped off at every hotel room when Will Wright sat down on the chair across from me, clearly waiting for someone too. I glanced up long enough to make visual recognition and then focused intently on my paper. I didn’t want to be that guy that was all like OhmygoditsWillWrightSimAntfreakingchangedmeasapersonandmademewanttobeadesignerheycanigetapictureandanautographandahairsample? So I just played it cool and a few seconds later, his colleague appeared and they walked off.

Now that I actually know people in the industry and am a bit less green, my Facebook “People You May Know” keeps suggesting all these legends that are two degrees away from me. It’s a bit surreal, and I doubt that I would ever Add As Friend unless I knew them.

It’s one of the neat side effects of the socially-connected decade we are in. In 2006, I felt that Will Wright was this inaccessible celebrity. In 2011, I’m invited to contact him. How strange.

Clash HD

Capy is having a great month. First Sworcery, now an Xbox-Live and PSN version of Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. I played the DS version until my fingers were numb on many a subway ride last year. I’m hesitating pulling the trigger on this because I just don’t have the time to replay it! If you, however dear reader, did not play the original, knock yourself out.

Switcheroo (06)

I tweeted about Dead Space 2’s final boss in frustration last night, calling it ‘bullshit’.

Let me elaborate. Mechanic, not story spoilers follow.

The Dead Space series pushes survival horror in an interesting direction. Whereas the traditional survival horror game only uses combat sparingly as a means for an outgunned character to ward off foes, Dead Space increases the emphasis on combat. Precise “dismemberment” shots are required to succeed. But Dead Space doesn’t veer into Gears of War action territory as the limited ammo and health makes the risk-reward calculus of just how to fight always present. The tactical depth of the game factors weapon type, enemy type, environment, stasis and alternate fires along with health and ammo to create very satisfying combat gameplay in an otherwise tense and focused experience.

The final boss battle contains the following:

– Insta-kills (with long, unskippable gore cinematic).

– Enemies that break established rules on vision and location.

– Constant need to run and gun rather than tactically using cover.

– No use of the dismemberment mechanic.

– No use of “blowout” or “zero-G” techniques.

– No tactical use of weaponry (unless you were prescient enough to bring one particular gun).

I’m not entirely sure if I should comment that the level of difficulty drastically increased, because it is hard to tell. The previous twelve or thirteen hours was an entirely different game with consistent mechanics, so is it fair to say the final boss spikes the difficulty drastically?

It’s not necessarily bad for a boss to change up the mechanics. Many games have done this successfully. I’m thinking of Metal Gear Solid for one. But if you are going to try this, it probably should still be mechanically congruent to the rest of the game. As it is, this final boss fight sours the whole experience which was up to that point quite excellent, if a little (a lot) hackneyed in setting. I won’t attempt to pass it again. Whatever happens to Clarke, et al, happens. I won’t be there to see it.

7 Wonders Scorekeeper

Have you played the new board game 7 Wonders yet? It’s a clever little mix of civilization-building and Magic card drafting that scales effortlessly from three to seven players.

In the tradition of the Dominion Card Picker (which has been used over 300,000 times!) I wrote up a little script so that you wouldn’t have to waste sheets of paper calculating the score at the end of the game. It auto-scores and randomly generates a Wonder for each player for each game. You can ignore that if you wish, or ignore the side given, or whatever your house rules require.

On iOS devices, you should get the numeric keyboard when in the red row and the telephone keyboard in every other numeric row. It also has a home screen icon if you want to save it to your iPhone or iPad home screen.

Try it out, hopefully it saves some time and paper.

I’ll be tweaking it as I go.

Parking Wars Bricks

I’m in the closed beta for Parking Wars 2 and it’s all the Parking Wars you know and love plus some bits. I thought the original was one of the most dynamically interesting social games ever created (and three years later, it still is). The new one has this item called, simply enough, the Brick:

Using the brick allows you to zero out the value of any car anywhere, parked legally or no.

But I’m kind of at odds to the purpose of the dynamic behind the brick. You can use it to hurt a friend, but why would you? It doesn’t move the car, it doesn’t give you anything and it doesn’t help you in any way. As far as I know, you don’t get the accrued money when you brick a car. The only way you would want to use a brick is if you were in a money race with someone. But in that case, since you can brick anyone anywhere, as long as you have mutual friends where you park, there’s no way to defend against the brick.

The Green Car is Bricked

When I was designing a Facebook game last year (unreleased), we had a similar mechanic where you could “steal” a neglected resource from a friend. But I added a bluff feature where you could tag a resource as bait and if a friend tried to steal it, they would get caught. That manages the friend dynamic in an insightful way, as would some sort of brick defense. There is currently no risk to using the brick and no reward besides schadenfruede.

For a game that’s largely about social engineering where success depends on being lucky and insightful (knowing when a friend won’t be on to move their cars or something), it seems like a cruel bludgeon.

Ideas for the Brick:

  • It would be interesting if the Brick could only be used to “ticket” illegally parked cars on streets that aren’t your own.
  • Or if there was a “Security System” you could buy for your cars that prevents against bricking and punishes brick-hurlers. In that case, there would have to be some reward for being a brick-hurler, perhaps that you collect the lost value.
  • I’ll stop here because I could easily come up with about 200 ideas for mechanics for PW2.