Thursday, December 30, 2010
Every December my father's family gather here, at my parent's. It's kind of a tradition and my mother asked me to organize a Treasure Hunt for the little kids. It was an interesting exercise of game design for children (between 4 and 9 years old), and these were the lessons I learned:
• Although there were 10 kids, the ‘alpha’ members (older kids, all of them girls) lead the way. As a consequence, only 5-6 really committed with the game and some of the little kids were left behind.
• The clues I wrote (in semi-poetry) were understood, but since some of the smaller kids could not read properly they felt left aside.
• Most of the little kids followed blindly the older ones in the search, I guess just because they saw the Treasure Hunt as a social activity.
• Some of the clues were hidden in the environment, some others were kept by individuals (my sister and one of my uncles). The kids found those hidden in the environment more difficult to find.
• Ergonomics were important. One of the clues was hidden over the roof of a doghouse, but still to high for 8 year old kids.
• Kids tended to look in the obvious places and if they couldn’t find the clue, they’d come back to the adults for help. They showed little creativity when searching.
• The attention span of little kids is limited. After 4-5 minutes if they couldn’t find the clue they get bored and lose interest.
• I suspect the kids could have found all clues without help, but older women around were eager to solve any problem they may find, which made the game too short.
• At the beginning of the game I asked them to memorize the key word “Fuentealvilla”. After all the clues and in order to get the prize, the first one to find me and say the key word would be the winner. However, the first girl who found me failed to remember the word. It was the third to arrive the one said the word correctly (but only because she suspected the game was almost over and so the key word was near to be used, so she asked her mother to remember her the word).
• Since all of them got a small present, they all felt it was a nice game. And the girl who won was delighted with her additional 20 euros.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Well, I've just completed Space Quest 1... 24 years later.
The game was originally released for PC on 1986, but it felt into my hands like 3-4 years later, when my cousin Pedro gave me his old computer with the game already installed.
I remember I spent hours and hours mapping the fucking game, making lists of actions that awarded points and things to avoid. And all for nothing since the computer was infected by a virus (we suspect it was my computer teacher, since all my friends got also infected) and I was never able to complete the game. Well, it was that and also that there was no internet or walkthroughs at the time, and I was blocked over and over.
I downloaded it recently from an abandonware site and yes, I've just completed it using a walkthrough. And even with that I've died 15-20 times. That gives you an idea about how unforgiving the game is. But hey, I finally made it!
Thursday, December 9, 2010
I've just 'finished' Diablo 2. That is, I killed Diablo and completed the 4 acts in normal difficulty, using a Paladin lvl 28. It took me 25-30 hours.
However, the game is far from being truly completed. Once you kill Diablo the Nightmare difficulty level is unlocked, and you can now play the whole game from the beginning. Even more, if you complete it, the Inferno difficulty is unlocked and you can level you character until lvl 99.
Well, not for me. Since I'm generally more interested in the game story I consider I had enough. Plus, all I really wanted was to ensure I had a complete view of the game mechanics.
The truth is I didn't really had much fun while playing it. I find the game flow repetitive, occasionally frustrating and the story quite dull. However, I have to admit that it was a huge step forward. In 2000, the year when Diablo 2 was released, games had little story, online gaming was an exception and the truth is the mechanics are esplendid for hardcore gamers and an inspiration for following games (in fact I think Diablo mechanics influenced World of Warcraft much more than Warcraft 3).
This game excels when played cooperatively. If I can convince some friends to play it, I'd consider to buy the upcoming Diablo 3 to play with them.
Friday, November 19, 2010
I found this interesting article about how the '10 minutes rule' could be applied to videogames.
Although the writer puts much effort to show how to do it from a narrative prospective, I think you can achieve the same results using gameplay mechanics: Showing some of your best gameplay features at the beginning, or simply creating an outstanding level design situation that makes the player feel 'Wow! I gotta keep playing this!'.
But anyway I do think you need a 'hook' at the beginning of the game or demo. Otherwise, considering the amount of leisure offerings that a standard user has everyday, he'll downgrade your product from the 'Must to' to the 'If I have free time...' and you're screwed.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
I've just finished the latest of the Professor Layton series: The Unwound Future. Although I briefly played the others, I found this one much more emotionally touching, and that's why I decided to complete it.
The gameplay is just the same: The plot leads the player through different brain teasers. Solving them allows you to advance towards the next chapter. However in The Unwound Future for the first time the main characters seem to have some depth (we're introduced to Layton's former girlfriend, and Luke is sorry because he has to leave Layton). Also, the initial hook (the time machine and its failure) is much more interesting than those from the other games.
The title also features some extra non-plot-related puzzles you can solve independently, and the production values are higher compared with previous games (lots of cutscenes!). All things considered, I had that nice feeling of playing a game that is worth much more money than the one I actually spent. And that's always great.
Saturday, November 6, 2010
While watching Richard Bartle’s lecture in the GDC online, I came to think how many game mechanics and design features are here just because no one has thought of changing them since the beginning of videogames. It’s just easier to repeat them over and over.
Bartle uses his experience as the designer of the first MUD (the grandfather of the current MMOs) to highlight how certain decisions they made back in the seventies have been re-used by designers without really asking themselves: Why not do something different?
Bartle remembers how they modelled the game world using English folklore with the today overused dwarves, elves, etc. They also implemented leveling and the beginning of the holy combat trinity (Tank-Healer-Dps). Since then, we’ve seen that formula repeated over and over without much questioning.
But there are many others, most inherited from the design of arcade games:
- Start screen: It was the ‘Insert Coin’ screen in the arcade games. It was useful because it featured a nice loop of game footage to attract gamers. Today most games don’t need it at all. Some single player games have even removed it completely, and they load the last saved game as soon as you put the disk into the console.
- Game length: I recalled this point while reading about one of the most interesting features of LMNO, the failed Spielberg project for EA. They tried to create a 2-3 hours long game, with lots of replayability. Why games must be 10 hours long? I’ve been playing Professor Layton and the Unwound Future lately and the game has obviously been stretched to make it longer, despite the fact the plot stopped being interested hours ago.
- The use of Lives: Back in the old times you bought Lives with your coin. Every extra coin granted a fixed number of Lives. Today is not really needed. In fact most games allow players to revive endlessly. They paid for the whole game, after all.
- Old RPG parameters: Why on earth every RPG game needs to be based on AD&D parameters (dexterity, stamina, etc)? They are confusing, mathy and takes hours to master. Roleplay is based on immersion and stories, not on using the calculator everytime you acquire a new item.
Friday, October 22, 2010
I just uploaded a new version of my website (mainly useful as an online resume) to update several sections and add some more info about my level design skills. However, only minor changes and several images to add flavour.
For some unknown reason one of the sections looks ok in Dreamweaver but once uploaded the format is gone. I'll see if I can fix it in a future update.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I bought Emergence in Games in the 2008 GDC at San Francisco. Now that I have the time I eventually read it, and here are my thoughts:
Emergence and its applications on games have been a recurring theme among developers from a long time, particularly since GTA was first released. Many see a potential Holy Grial on it, and there are countless lectures and papers about the subject. At a certain extent this book goes in the same direction. Quoting the author: 'Emergent games are the next step in game development'.
My personal feeling goes in a different direction: Except for some (and succesful) games based on emergence such as The Sims, the majority of games can take little advantage of emergence, except for supporting mechanics such as creating realistic city traffic flows or setting grassland on fire dinamically (Far Cry 2). Furthermore, I don't think the bulk of players are willing to spend time experimenting with the tools the game provides. The majority just want to be challenged, beat the computer and that's all.
So you could say I'm an skeptic about emergence. In order to achieve the industry standards about spectacularity, I think scripting is a much productive way for developers. But who knows, maybe I'm wrong...
Friday, October 15, 2010
4 days ago I completed another game, Nyx Quest - Kindred Spirits (PC, Steam). It was developed by Over the Top Games (a group of ex-workmates from Pyro) and it's remarkable because it was made by 4-5 guys but the production values and the scalability of its design.
It was originally created for the Wiiware, and as far as I know it's doing fine (money-wise). I admire the bravery of these guys to open their own studio, and how they created a really nice experience with little elements. The level design in particular offers new challenges in each level, and even some replayability elements. Considering the time and the people needed to build it, it's kind of amazing.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
On my September post Heavier Rain I mentioned I took part on a Gamasutra / Game Career contest. You know what? I won! Click here. However, if you read the other contestants' proposals my victory makes more sense. They didn't include any image, and focus mainly on different settings instead on gameplay.
Anyway, it's always nice to win something (although there is no reward at all, just the inner satisfaction).
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
In the last book I read the author included this quote from Vicente Verdú, a sociologist and writer (the translation is mine):
“Fiction is an increasingly important dimension on the life of many people. Reality is not anymore a fertile territory where to build an interesting life or, in any case, it’s absurd to content yourself only with that existence”
Most people nowadays don’t accept this, particularly women. Some that I know find challenging and exciting enough just to create a family and dedicate the rest of your life to it, and they’re probably right. But for me I need something else.
Seems clear to me that the everyday life in western societies lacks challenges and thrills. The most exciting decision most of us make in our lives is to choose career, which eventually takes you to spend 40 years locked in one office or another. Honestly, it sounds boring to me.
Maybe that’s why I like movies, videogames and books. And at a certain extent I’ve dedicated my life to those areas. I sincerely think that videogames are needed to fill that gap most of us feel in our lives.
Friday, October 1, 2010
I've just replayed Portal, which I had finished on January 2008. No more reason than the fun of it. I wanted to see the ending again, and my save files got lost when I formatted the computer.
So I played it again. What a great game, really. This time only took me 5-6 hours to complete. There is a Portal 2 coming next year, and I'm really looking forward to play it.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
I've just sent a game proposal to a Gamasutra contest that I found interesting (Clicky clicky). You're required to create a new game using the same engine and gameplay used in Heavy Rain. I think it's important to test your skills regularly, so I sent a proposal you can see here (Clicky clicky). There is no reward as far as I know. It's just something that keeps your mind busy.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
Friday, September 3, 2010
I declare myself a defender of the ‘so-so’ games. Journalists have the tendency to highlight only the most relevant games of the year, and totally forget about all those games which (despite being acceptably entertaining) are not above 90 in Metacritics.
Star Wars Force unleashed (Wii) is one of those games. It has no critical flaws of any kind but instead a long list of minor defects that, if solved, would have turned it into the game of the year. But since that didn’t happened, I had a decent playtime and it became the first Wii game I ever finish.
Things I liked:
- The basic force powers work nicely, and you really feel the developers’ original intention of making you feel the force like you’d never done before
- The optional exploration challenges worked fine
- For most parts of the game I really felt like a semi-god
- The length of the game is perfect, at least for me (8-9 hours)
Things I disliked:
- Level design mainly based on endless ‘pulls’
- The plot has been poorly developed
- Too many force powers (but this is probably just me, since I’m not a fan of brawling games)
- Whenever you fought ranged enemies, things got too tough
- Frequent camera issues
- The difficulty curve was often badly adjusted
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
And another game bites the dust. This time Heavy Rain. The gameplay is kind of unique, since it’s totally based on the story. In order to progress along the plot, you need to perform constant and mostly repetitive Quick Time Events, and that’s pretty much all you can do aside from some exploration.
On the minus side, the character storylines are constantly cheating the player, since they perform certain actions that are inconsistent with their final true nature. Also, the developers made an effort to make them all look suspicious (the story is essentially a whodunit) and eventually many aspects of their actions remain unsolved.
Apart from this, I’m missing the player’s actions to be more relevant. Changing diapers is not particularly epic. Also, Jayden’s investigation gameplay seems completely out of key for its Science-Fiction look, the loading screens appear to be bugged when combined with the Trophees, and the letter font of the game is far too small.
On the plus side, I like when game developers take a chance on something new and risky, and Heavy Rain is a not-that-common experience. It’s heavily based on the story, which means the interaction is limited, but I’m ok with that as long as the plot is not shitty. And it is not. Ok, it’s not as original or engaging as an average movie can be, but for a videogame is rare to see. The difficulty level is well adjusted, and the quality of the characters and animations is remarkable.
So I’d say if you’re interested on videogame storytelling, Heavy Rain is a must-see. If not, then you should probably look for something else.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Yesterday night I completed Killzone 2 (PS3). My overall feeling about the game is very good. They’ve removed the character selection option from the original Killzone, and they’ve focused on making the level design more exciting. I suspect why: The creation of levels with compelling challenges for the different characters is something they didn’t excel in the first game. They decided to remove that feature, and enhance the levels instead.
For the most part I think they’ve achieved that goal. Killzone 2 levels and enemies are interesting and for the most part you enjoy the title a lot. My only concern is about the game mechanics. To tell the truth, there is NOTHING in the game I haven’t seen in other games. However, they’ve all been implemented nicely, they’re enjoyable and you master them easily. They’re not surprising, but they work. Also, the story is poor, but talking about videogames you get sadly used to that.
The game keeps a 91 in metacritics, but I’d say it’s overated. The user score of 83 seems more accurate to me. Since I bought a second hand copy of the game, I’m more than satisfied with it.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
I got a beta for the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, and I’ve been messing around with it in the last days, particularly leveling a goblin and a worgen.
Their starting zones are the finest in the game. They both fulfill their goals (being the horde’s ‘funny race’ for the goblins, being the ‘bad guys’ for the alliance), they’re epic and compelling (particularly the worgen) and there are multiple scenarios and challenges (heavily using the phasing tool).
I haven’t played the lvl 80-85 bracket much, but I have mixed feelings about it. Seems like the major changes for this expansion (new races and their starting zones, complete revamp of the low-level zones) can only be enjoyed while leveling characters. I already have a complete set of high level characters.
Well yes, there will be new instances and raid zones, but I’m starting to feel tired of all that. It’s like Groundhog day. I’m not sure if I’ll buy the expansion. We’ll see.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
And another game completed. This time Call of Duty World at War. If I remember correctly I bought it just because I was ‘hyped’ by the tv commercials, and now I regret of that decission.
Ok, it’s not a bad game at all. It’s more than decent. But you can’t compare it with CoD Modern Warfare (released 1 year before). The level design is just ok and relies far too often in adding more and more enemies mindlessly. The graphics are ok, with the exception of the faces who look all made out of plastic. Also the mechanics are fine, but some of the optional ones are far too frustrating (melee combat, mainly).
However, the main flaw of the game is the lack of innovation. It feels like Treyarch has followed the classic CoD pattern: No storyline, different locations with no relation whatsoever, reduced number of combat mechanics and that’s all. Not even some exciting new locations or combat situations. Although it was sold as ‘the war in the Pacific’ only half of the game takes place in that scenario.
Generally satisfying, I had several hard times while playing it because of the poor level design or the lack of information. I wouldn’t recommend to buy it, unless you’re a hardcore CoD gamer.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010
For some reason, one of the features I like the most in games is an original setting. I know I’m not the only one, most teams make an effort in the concept phase of their projects to create new settings to excite the player’s interest to explore it. That’s the reason why I like games such as Bioshock (Rapture) or GTA Vice City (Miami in the 80s). Since I’m kind of the ‘Explorer’ type of player (see the Bartle test), I feel compelled to visit those new and exciting places and see what they’re hiding. That’s possibly also the reason why I like MMOs.
In fact, that tendency of mine also affects my designs. Some of the game proposals I’ve made are based on the idea of exploring a unique setting that I find fascinating. I remember I created a concept design about a free roaming game based on the ancient Rome, where the player could wander around the coliseum, the emperor’s palace, and feel the beat of that bloody and exciting age.
It was rejected because it was too complex to be done, and the producer already had an idea of the game he wanted to do, and destroyed any other potential competitor around, but still I feel it was a good setting to play into.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Mission accomplished! Another game completed, but I’ve got mixed feelings about this one. My gut feeling is that it could have been impressive, but several minor flaws turn it into just a nice game.
These are the things I liked:
The level length: Each level comprises 5-10 min of gameplay. This is perfect for portable devices. In fact I copied this structure for my novel.
Level achievements: Each level contains 5 mini-achievements, so players are encouraged to re-play them.
Appropriate mix of gameplay elements: The game is mainly based on platform challenges, vehicle chases, brawling and ‘light’ puzzles. Much like any Indiana Jones movie.
Scenario variety: There are 6 different graphic themes, with lots of iterations. The production values of the concept phase were really high.
Unique mechanics: Some levels are based on unique mechanics, such as the catapult or the pendulum.
Things I didn’t like:
Story: It lacks of wow elements. Everything you hear and see is old stuff taken from the movies. Seems to me that stories which require characters to come and go often fit oddly in videogames, since you tend to forget them.
Scenarios: The Indiana Jones movies are somehow based on visiting exotic locations. The game features locations inspired or already seen in the movies.
More brawling options: Since much of the gameplay is based on brawling, some more variations in that mechanic could have been nice.
Failed characters: The girl has little function more than to please female players, Indy cares little about the integrity of the old stuff he finds in the game, Nazis have few weapons at their disposal and insist on fighting Indiana Jones with their fists…
Improvable graphics: Not the best PsP game graphics I’ve seen, strange if you consider this was supposed to be a great production.
Got stuck some times: And not necessarily on puzzles.
Anyway, this is one of those games that teach you a lot. Developers made a good work, but if you pay attention to those small design flaws you can learn a lot.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Now that I finished my novel, I’m gonna invest some time on playing all those games I left aside while I was writing. The first one I’ve completed is Bioshock 2.
What a great game. Again I had that feeling I didn’t pay enough money for it, and that’s always good. The story is once again superb, I value how they simplified some mechanics (compared with Bioshock), production values are even greater than the previous game and the music is amazing. I simply love that level when you play as a little sister. It could be easily one of the finest moments I’ve had playing videogames, and one of those rare moments where I feel no movie could take me to.
On the minus side, I’m missing some bosses like those in Bioshock, and the last level took a little too long for my taste. Somehow they broke the tension they created in the previous level. Not major issues, anyway.
Waiting for Bioshock 3!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Like many others, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons when I was at my teen age. When I became Game master that was the first time I ever was a ‘designer’. And it’s interesting to see the mistakes I made when creating my first campaigns.
I remember to create overly complex maps, with kilometers of content wherever you look, just in case players would choose to go into a different direction that the one they were supposed to go. Well, they never did and it was a waste of time.
Also, my first campaings lacked of a clear motivation for the players. I generally gathered them at any inn, and say ‘There is an old man talking about a dungeon not far away from here. There’s a princess involved. Will you go there?’. Sometimes my friends, just to see me get angry would say ‘Well, we won’t go there. What else do you have?’.
Another problem was to keep my audience’s attention. Being honest, I invested so much energy creating content to fill those kilometers of game space, that the content itself was quite dull: Monster after monster, all look-alikes; dark room after dark room; boring reward after another... My ‘level design’ sucked. No wonder my friends, after some time playing, got bored and started doing weird things like setting the whole place on fire, just for the fun of it.
After some unsuccessful experiences with D&D (I should also add that my friends weren’t really RPG gamers, just teen guys killing time until they grew up enough to chase girls) some of us moved onto Call of Cthulu. That game offered better tools to create misterious ambients and player motivations, and things improved.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Last week I was invited to a videogame congress at Madrid. Some lecturers were university teachers and some others were videogame developers, including me. It’s always an interesting experience to talk in front of an audience, but I’m getting used to it.
Somehow I feel the videogame culture is slowly getting into society. Hopefully someday we won’t be seen like nerds working on violent and mind-altering products that surely will destroy kids and ultimately the whole society, but professionals or even artists creating the leisure of the next generations.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
As happened with the previous DS Zelda game, I’ve enjoyed Spirit Tracks and again I had the feeling I should have payed more for the game. I finished the game, but (again) I missed some of the optional challenges (Train parts, Rabbits and Life Hearts, mainly).
The best: The truth is Zelda has not that many mechanics nor they are too complex. In fact designers use a limited amount of simple but effective features to make you feel the game is deep and complex, when in fact it’s not that huge. The key is to scale them wisely to always provide the feeling that you’re experiencing something new, and forcing the player to re-play certain features (Train driving, mainly) to increase the total playtime.
The so-so: For Phantom Hourglass I was forced to check an internet walkthrough a minimum of 20 times. In Spirit Tracks I only had to do it 6-7 times. Still too much, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I’d say that the difference between both games is not because the challenges are easier, but for the self-referenceness of the game: Once you know how the puzzles work in a Zelda, they’re pretty much the same in the rest of the saga.
The worst: Graphics. Particularly during cutscenes where the camera gets so close to the characters. I suspect they’re not using higher quality models in those situations, and they look really shitty. I know, the DS is not a PS3, but still...
Friday, February 12, 2010
I always thought online platforms for downloading games, such as Steam, are a good way to limit piracy while keeping a superior client support. But like anything else in life, you can ruin the best ideas by making them overcomplex.
Let’s take a look at the process I was forced to follow for playing Bioshock 2. I decided to buy a PC copy using Steam, but everytime I tried I got a different error message. There was a support service, but I had to create another account, this one only for the Steam Support Service.
Ok, I did it and I managed to send a report about the issue. On a reasonable time period (no more than 24h) I got a response including several potential solutions. I couldn’t make Steam work for the purchase, but I eventually bought the game using the Steam website.
Ok, now I own a brand new online copy of Bioshock. It took the whole day to download the code, but I finally got it all. Just when I thought I could start playing, another obstacle: If I ran the game without creating a ‘Games for Windows LIVE’ account I wouldn’t be able to save the game.
Why are they doing such a thing? I know why: They want a new user for their service, and they want to validate the copy to ensure it’s not a pirate one. But Hey guys, I’m using Steam to play the game. That should be enough. I eventually avoided creating a new one when my Xbox LIVE account was accepted, so I started playing.
In the meantime, some people that I know have been playing a pirate copy for days and free…