Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who's a slacker?

It's me!

So, here's the short version - shooter got scrapped, I made a puzzle game, hit a brick wall trying to get someone to make graphics for it, and am now instead helping with programming on a fighting game built in Python.

Unfortunately the game is already some 30-40% finished, and HAS a designer, so I won't be doing design, but I figure the game programming experience (even though it's not a language I'd prefer) will be useful. This HAS convinced me that you really need at least two people to build this sort of thing. One-man teams tend to cause you to lose sight of scope, and of course there are the technical limitations you hit having only one skill set available.

So, recently (and by recently I mean "for the past year") I've been playing League of Legends, (there's an old post about it, that I may not agree with so much these days). I'm toying with the idea of throwing my own champion evaluations/changes up here, but I have to both get the time and stop being lazy when I do.

We'll see how it goes, but I just figured I'd do a "hey I haven't forgotten about this!" post, mostly to remind myself!

Friday, March 26, 2010

It begins!

I've dabbled very lightly in game development before, but I'm actually going to put a serious effort into building my own game this time.

I have a rough, top-down shooter concept in my head, but don't want to jinx it (or get ahead of myself) and starting going off about what I want to do with it. I'll try and provide updates as I go from noob to... slightly more informed noob.

On a side note, I'm FINALLY making my way through Bioshock, so there may or may not be a post on that coming! Stay tuned!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Real Gamers Don't Waggle

The Wii is a veritable gaming juggernaut. Selling some 70 million units, it is hands down the best selling system of this console generation. It has a huge market presence and is in several households that until now were console-free. So why, then, are the best selling games for it not grade A, quality titles, but shovelware mini-game collections?

This may seem like a new phenomenon, but it has, in fact, happened once before. Let's hop into the wayback machine and take a trip to the mid-90's. The Super NES was just starting to fade out, and the fancy new CD-based consoles were moving in, but there was another big system out at thie time: the arcade machine.

Yes, this was the golden age of arcades, where one was never more than 30 minutes away and they were packed with whatever the latest Street Fighter/Virtua Fighter/ Fighter was. People would come and put their quarters up on the machine to play next, and with quality online play still years away, this was the place to be for the gaming community.

A few years and Street Fighter variations later, arcades are having a hard time staying open, and a shift begins to occur. Instead of getting patrons to pay 25-50 cents to play a game until they lose, arcades began to fill with large, gimmicky machines. Racing games, shooting games, skating games, jet ski racing games, motorcycle racing games, boat racing games, and some game that was literally a small soccer net and a ball on a rope. Yes, for the low, low price of $1, you could play "kick the ball."

Essentially, gamers were just not a big enough market to keep arcades afloat anymore, and to pull in an average person who didn't necessarily want to invest time, money and effort into learning a game, the "games" began to pander to the lowest common denominator of gamers. Which is to say, non-gamers.

Now, I don't blame the downfall of the arcade on any specific party. Arcade operators thought they could print money and not bother with any sort of upkeep on their machines, console gaming becoming more powerful meant you could get near-arcade experiences at home, and rising prices of everything meant that a quarter to play a game just wasn't what it used to be.

That said, part of me fears that we may be treading down a similar road that arcades went. The Wii is tremendously successful, and that's largely reliant on the fact that non-gamers love it. This is not to say that gamers don't also enjoy the Wii - of course we do! - but we only make up a fraction of the Wii's sales, and we play it (mostly) for the same big reason non-gamers do.

Wii "games" aren't really video games.

At least not in the sense we've grown accustomed to. There's no story, no characters, no advancement, and in some cases, not even a way to progress the "game." These games are, essentially, a fun control scheme and a way to experience that control scheme. They are the home console equivalent of Big Buck Hunter.

In reality, it's nearly impossible to have a serious gaming experience using Wii's waggle controls - the fact that you're physically moving your controller around constantly serves as a reminder that you are, in fact, in your living room, and removes any real possibility for game immersion.

This is, of course, perfectly fine. Some people want to waggle. The Wii may even serve as a gateway console for potential new gamers. The problem is in its enormous market share. The Wii is the goose that laid the golden egg, and the fact that your average Wii owner/player is fine with a new mini-game collection and related peripheral every few months or so means that projects for the Wii don't take nearly the level of effort as other games do, and can still pull in a profit.

Because of this, serious gaming on the Wii is scarce at best, which is fine. Gamers looking for a deep, enthralling gaming experience can go to one of the other two systems available. However, with the announcements of the Playstation Move and Xbox's Project Natal, the big "gamer" consoles are trying to get in on the action.

My fear is that if they successfully break into the market, the lure of "free money" will cause publishers to drop developers working on new, interesting game concepts in favor of Shovelware Party 32. I know real gaming will never die, but I'm afraid it may become more scarce than we'd like.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Been A Long Time Coming

Ah, my poor, poor blog, how I've neglected you! You may be covered in dust and wrinkled, but still you hold your head up proudly, awaiting the promised time when I would return and gently caress you with my words of approval.

So I return! And would a return to Better Gaming be without a post about, well, better gaming? This time I'll actually touch on the reason I remembered this blog in the first place: League of Legends.

For the uninitiated, League of Legends (LoL, from here on out) is a MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena) game. It - for the most part - pits two teams of five players each against each other, in a bizarre version of a RTS game, where you are controlling only one champion. It's not an easy concept to explain, but if you're unaware of the game type and are curious, I highly recommend going to and giving it a whirl. If you're on the fence, I should add: it's free.

From here on I'll assume you're at least mildly familiar with the game, in which case it's time to get to the meat! I'm going to list out a few issues I've found with the game and some proposed solutions. Here we go!

The Snowball Effect
One of the big issues with the game is that a small advantage early on can very quickly turn into an enormous advantage. Often times the first 10 minutes of any game are by far the most important.

Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, as you want the early game to matter. If any team can come back at any time regardless of how they've played, the back and forth would remove a pretty big strategy element from the game. You definitely don't want to reward a player for losing, but an average game between two somewhat equally skilled teams should play out as such.

So how do we alleviate the problem? Well, let's look at the source - an early kill removes an opponent from their lane, and early on levels move fast. It's not unlikely for you to come back to an opponent 1-2 levels ahead of you, even if it's your first death, and the level difference only makes them more of a threat. Part of the problem here is that each level is a big deal - the difference from one rank of an ability to the next can be big enough to really push your damage over the edge.

Now, if we were able to start from scratch, maybe spreading out the curve from level 1 to max could work. If one level is 50-75% as effective as it is now, being outleveled isn't such a loss until the gap gets much larger, and it makes it easier to come back from a small deficit. Unfortunately this isn't the kind of change that's feasible to make once the game is solidified, so we'll have to look elsewhere.

So what else can we do? Slowing leveling down would work, but you never want to make a game slower. The only other dimension we can control for progression (besides player skill) is gold earned. A decent chunk of gold is given for killing an opponent. This, coupled with the fact that while they're respawning you get free reign to farm, can really get that snowball rolling.

So how do we keep the gap small without flat out rewarding the loser? I'm glad you asked, I happen to have a couple suggestions!
  • Increase the flat gold earned rate. Not a huge increase, but not a tiny one either. The idea here is that you don't want a game to be a steamroll unless one team is actually steamrolling. Here's a bit of math to show the logic, based on gold earned over the course of a game:
    500g (flat gain) + 1000g (minion/champion kills)
    1000g (flat gain) + 1000g (minion/champion kills)

    Now the numbers are clearly not to any kind of scale, and I know it seems silly and basic, but the idea is that instead of gaining an additional 200% gold from kills, you're gaining an additional 100%. You're not actually gaining any less from kills, so you'll still get your advantage, it just won't create as big of a gap. You will, of course, still have your levels - we're not eliminating an advantage for higher skilled play, we're just making it so that a couple mistakes won't cost you the game.
  • Allow "assist" gold on minions. When you attack a champion, if they die shortly after to someone else, you get gold for the assist. This is NOT the case with minions, and makes it harder to gain gold after being killed, as you have to be more careful about approaching the front line once your opponent has a level advantage. In this case, actually attacking minions without getting the last hit will hurt you, as it'll move the front line further away from the safety of your turret.

    Allowing assist gold on minions means that you can still be effective and earn some gold, without having to put your lower-leveled butt on the line. Now while the assist gold from a champion kill is 50%, I'd propose something much smaller for minions - 10% or so. Enough to keep you in the game, but not so much that you can come in, fire off an area attack and rack in the gold without effort.
I'm personally a much bigger fan of the first suggestion than the second, but if something must be done, I'd be okay with giving minion assist gold a shot.

This post has gotten far, far longer than I'd expected, so I'll have to save the rest for a sequel - which will hopefully be sooner than 6 months away.

Until next time kids!