The Infamous Noob

October 14, 2010

Continuity of Performance

Filed under: Design, Games, World of Warcraft — infamousnoob @ 10:31 am

The big gaming news lately is, of course, World of Warcraft’s patch that signals the onset of another expansion. The big problem that I’ve had with it so far (just with respect to my warrior) is that I feel like I’m behind the curve already because of the changes that have been made.

To me, this highlights the delicate balancing act that has to be continuously performed in order to keep a game at its peak. Where I feel subpar as a warrior, my druid is one of the few classes that was (supposedly) increased in power, though I have yet to test it. The relative power of the classes was significantly disturbed, and this had led to all sorts of complaining from the player base.

The solution, ideally, is to either increase or decrease the “power level” of all characters at the same rate. While this is quite obviously impossible to do in a real situation, it should be kept in mind while making changes, anyway. As a point of reference, my warrior went from being in the top 5 on damage done to being just above the tanks with the patch. Some of that is because I still need to learn the mechanics of the new abilities and re-gem/re-enchant/reforge gear to “optimize” it, but some of it is simply a balance issue. The focus of talents/abilities being at the upcoming new level cap is fine, but the problem arises when the current level cap is kept for an extended period of time (longer than a week).

Being the kind of nerd that I am, I enjoy the discussion that Mr. Street is having on the forums quite a bit more than I would enjoy being “teh best deepz” in-game, but I can also fully appreciate that this is a very bad situation for Blizzard to be in.

So once again, continuity plays a huge role in game design/upkeep. The world is continuous in this case, but the gameplay is not. If the changes to classes/gameplay were kept to a smaller magnitude, they would seem more fluid instead of huge breaks. Of course, this also requires that the changes be made almost constantly so that a bad situation is not prolonged when the solution is known. If I recall correctly however, this was the original plan for the current World of Warcraft team, and too many players felt that the changes were coming too fast and that they didn’t have time to get accustomed to them before they were changed yet again.

My personal stance is still that small, very frequent changes will make for a better play environment.

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August 15, 2010

Believing in Magic

Filed under: Design, Games, Real Life — infamousnoob @ 7:27 pm

What makes a game transform from numbers and letters on bits of paper and cardboard into something that has a dedicated and fanatical following? I think it can be boiled down to a belief in something magical. If a game (or anything for that matter) can draw you into its world and be self-consistent enough that it always makes sense, then you believe it.

I think this extends beyond the realm of games and into everyday things. People (in the U.S. at least) associate certain events with monumental changes in life: high school graduation, college graduation, marriage, new jobs, having kids, etc. In reality, however, these events don’t necessarily cause a change in lifestyle. But because there’s this expectation that things will magically change, we unconsciously work to shape them into what we expect.

This belief is what keeps the game world turning. As long as there is an expectation that certain things will happen, and that expectation is never directly contradicted, then people are happy. For example, if your game allows every player to win as long as they do an arbitrary amount of trivial things, then as long as there is an available path to win, they won’t care if they actually do. This is particularly evident in MMOs. Everyone has the opportunity to be an “endgame” player, but most aren’t. They know how to be one, and the pieces are all available, but they simply don’t utilize them. The same is true of single player games that people just don’t get around to finishing.

Immersion is the key to keeping an active player base. Create a world that is complete in every way, and as long as it’s consistent, it will be popular.

June 13, 2010

Under the Mountain

Filed under: Design, Dwarves with Swords — infamousnoob @ 4:38 pm

The setting that the board for Dwarves with Swords will attempt to convey is a vast underground world inhabited by all manner of creepy-crawlies and, of course, several clans (or kingdoms, I haven’t decided yet) of dwarves. In order to ensure that the game doesn’t just boil down to who can cover the most territory or move the fastest, the different locations on the board have to carry inherent benefits (or detriments) with them. In other games, the usual suspects for this kind of mechanic are resources that can be gathered from the location (either once or periodically) or combat modifiers while in the location. I think that both of these are quite good ways to encourage the taking (and holding) of various places, so I’m initially inclined to use them both. However, with a set of resources being gathered there has to be a way to spend them, so that introduces its own set of problems.

Combat bonuses are probably the easiest thing to balance, since there is a finite number of possibilities for how they can be applied and the design can therefore be brute-forced if needed. Additionally, all of the unit stats can be tweaked in small ways to compensate for a ridiculously good environment bonus, so there are lots of degrees of freedom there.

To further the “creepy-crawly” angle of the game, a detriment that can be carried with a location is the possibility of fighting a neutral army that’s determined by card draw or other random means. Since I would like to institute a player hand of cards for one-time-use actions/events/bonuses, adding another deck of NPC-type things shouldn’t be too bad.

So there are my thoughts for the game since the last time I posted. I’m still slowly updating the classes, but for the moment I think they’re fleshed-out enough to play through a prototype so I’ll be working more on the other mechanics (and maybe art!).

June 1, 2010

Lower-Middle Class

Filed under: Design, Dwarves with Swords — infamousnoob @ 7:59 pm

Following my call on FaceBook for ideas of class identities, I figured I should have some sort of example of what I’m looking for. What I’ve come up with so far is just what I think dwarves should be — especially in an RPG-type setting. So here they are:

Classes

Earthmover – Defensive support

– Can cause a “Bottleneck” combat state anywhere

Sword Shooter – Ranged combat

– Can use Bows and Ballistas

Short (Ha!, pun) Swordsdwarf – Melee combat

– Can use one-handed swords

Broad (Ha! Again!) Swordsdwarf – Melee combat

– Can use two-handed swords

Brewmaster – Healer

– Carries a mobile still for on-the-go booze

The attempt here is to weave in the silliness that dwarves inherently have with the mechanics of the game.  Once I’m done, there shouldn’t be any part of the game that doesn’t make the player smile at least a little (or groan. . . whatever). The abilities and specific details can be worked out and balanced as the game comes together. The important part is to have all the pieces in concept form and then put them together in the best way, rather than have completely developed ideas that don’t really fit together well.

May 27, 2010

Make Way for Short Drunken Men

Filed under: Design, Dwarves with Swords, Games — Tags: , , — infamousnoob @ 12:32 pm

I’ve hit a wall in my game. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve come to the part of it that requires more eloquent thinking than I can simply dish out on demand, or because I’m at a crossroads and don’t know which direction to follow. Probably the best thing for me to do is just pick something and push forward with the development. This would keep me thinking about it in new ways instead of letting it stagnate like I have been. I’ve made excuses to myself about how I’m too busy, or too tired, or too something else to really dive in and get this done, but the real reason is that I’ve just been too lazy.

So now that I’ve cleared that up and gotten it out of the way, it’s time to dive into the work that I’ve so coyly been avoiding. Here is Dwarves with Swords:

Prototype is a board game, so turn-based strategy (instead of RTS or akin).  The rules that have been swirling through my skull dictate that the “units” manipulated are, in fact, groups. Each group can have up to 5 members of different classes. Each slot in the group provides a slot bonus, and an additional bonus if matched to a particular class. Each class has unique abilities that it provides to the group, and the stats of all group members combine to form the final group stats that are used in combat.

Additional mechanics that I have been trying to work in are the use of special, one-time-use effects in the form of cards drawn from a deck every turn or some such thing, and the incorporation of booze in every facet of the game. Dwarves love them some drinkin’, you know. Mostly, the humor that goes into it is what will drive the fun. Anyone can walk to the local toy store and pick up a strategy board game for less than $20. Uniqueness is how I can be “more fun” than everyone else.

Anyway, I’ll list the classes and their respective abilities/stats once I have them in some sort of working order. (I think this is what’s known as a teaser :P)

May 25, 2010

New Beginnings

Filed under: Design, Games, Real Life — Tags: , , — infamousnoob @ 12:50 am

I finally got organized enough after the recent culmination of my higher education to apply to what I imagine to be my dream job: Game Designer for Blizzard Entertainment. Even though this has almost nothing to do with my extremely expensive piece of paper proclaiming my qualifications, I’m very excited at the prospect of it. I’ve been preparing for the interview that probably won’t happen by reading, listening and watching everything I can get my hands on by famous game designers.

The latest installment of this endeavor was a lecture by Brenda Brathwaite given at the GDC about how video games are a powerful medium to convey emotion. She talks a lot about her game Train that attempts to convey some idea of what happened to Jews in Germany during the 1940s. It’s very interesting (titled “Train: or How I Dumped Electricity and Learned to Love Design”), but I think that it plays too much on political charge. Her other projects currently in progress are about how the Irish were driven of the island and how the American Indians were relocated to Oklahoma. All of which are very much the same vein of politics, if not exactly the same events.

The secondary point that she makes is how design is not about writing lines of code or anything like that, but more about imagining a complete experience and using a corollary to Sid Meier’s “interesting decisions” in the form of interesting designs to elicit a particular response from the audience. I think that this is the more important part, though she doesn’t spend much time talking about it. I hope to be able to get enough practice to become deft enough at wielding game mechanics to tailor the response I want to get a more refined emotion that just “happy” or “angry”.

May 22, 2010

Huh? Who are you?

Filed under: Games — Tags: , — infamousnoob @ 1:18 am

So, the world is a-changin’. Not only is this year filled with lots of high profile game releases (StarCraft and WoW: Cataclysm), but there are tons of things moving and shaking. What I’ve noticed most is what’s available on Steam.

I downloaded Steam a couple years ago to play around with some of my brother’s games and test drive some demos and whatnot, but never really got “hooked”. I recently took a second look at it, what with all the DRM fiasco that is Ubisoft and the required internet connection, and really liked what I saw. The ‘Buy This Now Cuz It’s Cheap’ weekend sales are awesome, and I picked up both Civilization IV: Complete and Torchlight for $10 each instead of the usual $20+. This is the studio’s response to used game sales, and it’s great for everyone. Except used game sellers, I guess.

It also opens the door for indie developers to get a game out in the market for cheap without confining themselves to a weird platform (I’m talking to you, iPhone). Especially now that Steam is Mac and Windows friendly (well, in the case of the Mac version they’re more like acquaintances, but these things take time) anyone with an urge to slap together something can immediately reach an audience of. . .a lot. Some very large number, I’m sure.

The point is that the environment is right for competition to spring up. Now, nothing’s going to come along and be a “WoW killer” or anything like that, but the only way to push any field to be better is to tell the team inventing new stuff that someone else will have it first. This is why Apple hasn’t really done anything new in 15 years, and Microsoft was doomed from the start. Neither one of them has any serious competition.

With the huge amount of money to be made in video games these days, it’s a safe bet that competition to be “The Gamer’s Game Company” will get pretty heated. In fact, I would say that the time is perfect right now for someone with something fresh to bring to the table to do it well and get the name out there. I’m eagerly awaiting the moment that I can say “Who is this new studio?! And how did they make such an awesome game?” – even if it’s not something I’m directly involved in.

June 19, 2009

The Joys of Whitespace: The Worries of Acceptance

Filed under: Design, Games, Real Life — Tags: , — infamousnoob @ 12:44 pm

I’ve been reading a bit about Python lately, and I like it. It will be what the back end of my game ends up being written in. I’m still debating with my cohort about whether the front end will be browser-based or downloaded, but in the case of the former, I have a sample game screen written in HTML/CSS already. In the case of the latter, I guess we’ll just Python more.

The whole process has been quite interesting so far. It’s something that very few people (I think few, anyway) ever do, but it’s given me a unique perspective on things. Most notably, when I see WoW patch notes, I think about what must have been the conversation that took place and I wonder what the other options were before whatever I see was decided on. Actually, now that I think about it, everything about design is simply a decision-making process. Ironically, that’s what my schooling has been about so far too, even though I didn’t know it for most of the time.

I think the thing that I worry most about, though, isn’t whether or not my game will be “good”. I know what quality it will be already. I won’t let it be any less, and I don’t think I have the patience or motivation to make it more. I’m worried about how it will be received. Even though I don’t expect it to reach more than a dozen people, I want them to enjoy it. I don’t even <i>have</i> a game yet, but I’m worried about what people will think of it. I must be going crazy.

What I really need now is a good way to store and retrieve the boatloads of information that I’ll be passing back and forth from server to client. I’m sure there are tons of very good methods out there already, but since this project is one of educational flavor, I think I’ll just start from scratch and see what I come up with. Maybe I’ll even get something completely new, and sell it to Google for a million dollars! And then go have a beer with Santa and the Easter Bunny and Jesus! Or maybe I’ll just learn what I can and then implement what’s already been developed by more knowledgeable than me. Either one.

June 9, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect (I hope)

Filed under: Design, Games — Tags: , , — infamousnoob @ 2:16 pm

I’ve been away from blogging for a while, but with good reason. I’ve been in hiding with the good Doctor trying to iterate through the game design process. It’s mostly an excuse for me to learn HTML and CSS and then segue into Javascript and Python. We’re working on a web-based app that might actually be fun at some point, but the main direction of it is to provide really good experience programming in those various languages so that next time around we can do even better.

The biggest problem that I’ve foreseen with this project is the graphical part. Neither one of us are artists by any stretch of the imagination, and the general public has come to expect a certain amount of shiny in their games. The stopgap solution that we decided on was to hire a starving art student to draw for food and see what we end up with.

In that same vein, I’ve come to realize that to make it anywhere, I really need to be on YouTube. The public virtually demands a face to put to a product for whatever reason. I’m not sure what my little talking head will be about on the magic box part of the internet, but I need to come up with something to cultivate an honest, personal, genuine interaction with millions of people simultaneously in a commercial and assembly-line manner.

So, once that’s all figured out, I really just have to have some kind of product for the masses to give me money for. Then it’s time to retire while I’m sill young enough to jump out of a working airplane and not die from the heart attack it induces.

May 20, 2009

User-Created Content: Yea or Nea?

Filed under: Design, Games, PEBKAC — infamousnoob @ 5:46 pm

Little Big Planet is probably the most famous user-made content source, but City of Heroes has been going through its share of publicity for adding a feature last month that lets users make their own parts of the game. The central issue is that players, given the ability, will always make content that amounts to a “loot pinata.” Whether the reward is experience, equipment, or wealth, allowing the creation of content without a limit on the rewards it can award degenerates the game into instant gratification instead of working toward a goal — and when players pay by the month instead of by the content, keeping them playing for more than an instant is key.

My proposed solution to this is to implement a rating system that would “unlock” the addition of rewards to content after it has been rated by either the game producers or the players at a sufficient level. However, I’m not sure this would completely solve the problem since I’m sure there would be enough users who like the idea of “free loot” to rate it up, and filtering everything through the game developers/producers seems like a good way to shut down any future “real” content from them.

I think that this exemplifies the problem (and the biggest strength) of MMOs: lots of people play them. This means you get people from every possible part of the spectrum, which guarantees that there will always be those who are looking to “beat” the game as fast as they can — even if it’s no longer fun at that point.

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