Barrel Blast Design Breakdown

In this post I’ll be breaking down some of the approach I took and lessons I learned from working on the design for a GameJam project called Barrel Blast!

You can download it here. (25meg RAR file. Just extract it and run)

This was a project developed over 48 hours using Unity 5 by a team of 5 people. Misti, Thomas, Carson, Rim and myself. I did the gameplay and puzzle design, along with a chunk of the gameplay engineering, but everyone contributed in equal measure to the final product as a whole.

BarrelBlast

First off, The premise!

You’re aboard a massive freighter that’s adrift on rough seas. Bad dudes are trying to find you in the dark, cavernous hold below-deck. And you’re a… guy who can make certain oil drums explode at will, with a little delay.

It’s a puzzle game that was birthed by the theme “Chain Reaction”. The ship tilts back and forth, making some barrels roll along the floor. You can click them, and after a moment or two, they detonate.

You clear a level by killing all the dudes, which you do by exploding barrels next to them. Since only some of the barrels are clickable, you have to create chain reactions. The image above is the first level where the mechanics are tutorialized.

BarrelBlast2

This is level two. Note the splitting paths. The idea here is to illustrate two things: The position of other elements in the level matter, and a single explosion can lead to more than one chain being triggered.

This level, like the first, is simple in the sense that detonating the barrel in the right spot is all that matters. But, there is another element to consider here, phase.

BarrelBlast3.png

Rolling barrels actually have two characteristics to their patterns: position and phase; where they are and whether they’re moving left or right. Level 3 introduces this element to the player. The first barrel will be in the correct spot twice during its pattern, but won’t trigger both the cascading chains when the barrel is detonated while rolling to the right.

BarrelBlast4

Level 4 makes the player consider both concepts, but on a longer level, and from a different perspective. It also introduces the idea that walls block explosions. The player’s margin of error for an “optimal” solution on this level is very narrow, but they have additional barrels for a less-than-perfect clear.

BarrelBlast5.png

With Level 5 we introduce a new type of barrel has a completely different mechanic: it’s steerable, but doesn’t have any power of its own. So, the player has to navigate through the level, using the tilt of the ship to give it them momentum to get where it has to in order to start off the chain.

This gameplay is more tactile and less about puzzle-solving. Note the affordance of the solid-red spotlight, which was introduced in level 3, guiding players to the optimal detonation location.

Levels 6 and 7 are explorations of that same idea with different layouts and more labyrinthine paths.

I enjoyed the experience of making this game as a while. Here are some conclusions I reached.

The Good

  • For a quick project, the team was able to present something quite polished! 48 hours really isn’t that much time.
  • The gameplay quickly becomes intuitive, with the feedback and payoff being quite clear. Players engaged with it rather well, became frustrated at the right points and with the right intensity — more “grrr, gonna get it right this time!” instead of “meh, too hard. Laters.”
  • The combination of elements leads to a surprisingly wide design space. There are a lot more possibilities for new entities that detonate and can be detonated.

The Bad

  • In order to allow the player to consider more than one rolling barrel, they need to be able to always see it in relation to all the others. There is only so much depth a level.
  • Furthermore, the only real effect of additional rolling barrels is to narrow down the “optimal solution” window without really increasing complexity. This leads to the wrong type of frustration — the one that comes from mechanics rather than puzzle-solving.
  • Phase and position are questions answered quickly. The depth of the complexity of rolling barrels on their own is limited.
  • Didn’t have time to explore the whole design space.

Whut I durn learned

  • Experimenting leads to unexpected results. The steerable barrel, for example, was a bit of an accident.
  • Design aids, like a display that shows a designer the radius of a barrel’s explosion speeds up design and iteration considerably. (Thanks Carson!)
  • Good versioning is absolutely crucial for good collaboration.

 

 

Game Fundamentals

Game design, as I understand itGame Scales

I’ve been thinking about some of the concepts behind game design, boiling them down to their most basic parts. The metaphor that keeps bubbling up is the image above, a scale. The game the image suggests is as simple as I can imagine a game to be: the point would be to use the square in order to bring the ball as close to the fulcrum as possible, and keep it there for as long as possible. In my mind, a game is essentially a balancing act, wrapped in art and presented as multiplanar choices where scales are stacked on top of scales.

Games, essentially, are systems the players influence in a set of prescribed ways with both inherent and arbitrary limitations. The game’s rules describe the ways players interact with the system, in the positive and negative sense. The space left between the boundaries of the negative rules on the plane described by the positive rules contains the legitimate actions a player could make. That space is explored by players, more often than not finding and using moves the game designers never anticipated – bumping pinball machines just short of triggering the “tilt” sensor is an example of player creativity that is later embraced as standard gameplay. As for stacking scales on top of scales, imagine the same scales in the image in the square, where control of the square itself is mediated by the scale within it.

Take a game like League of Legends: the breakdown of the system would be a two-deep stack of scales. The first level would be the players controlling their hero, using their skills to limit the amount of gametime and control their opponents have over their own heroes. This would be inside the square of the game that occurs around the players, in which the team that destroys the opposing team’s palace. There’s a question, in my mind, of the game that’s actually being played here. A team could win, potentially, without ever engaging the players from the opposing team. The same could be said for “conquest” mode in the Battlefield series; the point of the game isn’t to kill the opposing team, it’s to deplete their tickets by holding the capture points throughout the map.

These “scales within scales” games are stacked this way in order to encourage players to engage one another, and to make their engagements significant, while de-emphasizing the players’ skill. A brilliant player could dominate the opposing team whenever he or she comes in contact with them, but they wouldn’t win the whole game easily. The brilliant player can influence the larger-scale game, sure, but he won’t be the only factor. He’s only a fraction of the weight on that side of the scale.

The flip-side of this sort of stacking is that players’ actions are increasingly removed from the outcome of the game – making sure players feel like they have agency within the game, that how they control their square actually matters, is another balancing act, but that is a game the designers play.

I’m sure none of this is new to better-versed game theorists. It’s merely my perspective.

Sim storytelling, tools and methods.

Since the single-player episodes were announced, I started thinking about the problem that the combination of the genre with the episodic format. Episodic content that keeps bringing the players back has certain requirements that have to be addressed. Simulators haven’t been structured in the past in a way that can fulfill them.

The usual flow simulators have had in the past is simple enough: Cinematic -> Briefing -> Hangar -> Game -> Debriefing. The tasks the player carries out in each of those stages is specific focused on the Game task. The challenge here is to insert the story content in such a way that this flow is preserved.

The Episodic Format

Stories told in an episodic format rely heavily on their characters; the emotional bond that the audience develops with the cast is one of the essential motivators that compel them to return to the tale for the next installment. In order to form those bonds, in order to involve the players in the tale the game is trying to tell, the player has to be immersed in the world as well as amongst the characters.

However, games of the simulation genre have to focus narrowly on the experience they’re trying to depict. While franchises like Wing Commander and Heavy Gear may tell stories, their narrative isn’t part of the main experience. If you were to break those games into an episodic format, the story would have no cogent structure. And while the discrete structure of the missions would fit neatly into the format, the unmoored storyline would result in a less compelling experience.

However, given the necessarily narrow focus that the game needs to have on the experience they’re trying to depict, simply shoe-horning the story and its structure into the game can be disruptive. The end result of a story interrupting or breaking the simulation will lead to, again, a weaker game.

How can the story to reinforce the appeal of a game in episodic format co-exist with the strict simulation that should be the true focus of the game?

Seamlessness

Off-the-field interaction, such as what the bar was for in Wing Commander could be an answer. However, placing the story in its own container makes it a sidecar to the game, and is also detrimental to the emotional bond the episodic format needs. The story has to be an integral part of the game, engaging the players in a narrative that will bring them back when the next episode is released. The relationship that the player builds with the characters has to be front and center, rather than constrained to its own area and to non-interactive FMVs.

However, there are ways where this type of emphasis on the storyline and its characters can be made into an asset to the game’s flow rather than an interruption the mech simulation. Now that the mission briefings, gear bay and other areas that used to be menus can be part of the simulated environment, we can bring the story into the simulation in ways that were not possible before.

Manipulating the environment has been done before, but the impact with today’s tools can be much greater. Rather than simple background changes, the game’s Briefing/Hangar/Debriefing stages can exist with the simulated world. As such, they can contextualize the action by placing the player in the simulation from the moment they load the game.

This allows the player to exist in the simulated world to a greater degree than a menu-driven interface.

Pushing this idea to the extreme, it would be possible to interrupt the player while they’re in one of the other stages of the game’s flow. For example, a player could be in the hangar modifying their machine when something crashes through the far wall, making the simulation intrude into the other task and forcing the player to respond to it.

Meanwhile, the story has a much more flexible stage on which to occur, making the cast a much more tangible entity in the story.

The Cast

While working on planning missions or modifying vehicles, the other characters can wander about the player, talk about relevant subjects to the task at hand. The characters could share their stories with the player indirectly by talking to one another, or directly, if the player chooses to approach them. The work this particular type of content requires grows exponentially, according to the degree of interaction we would give the player. If, for instance, the player would be able to talk back to the characters, choosing what to say or ask, the work required to make it work grows. However, if done well, this type of content can return a huge payoff in player involvement. Well-written dialogue can prompt a player to play a genre they normally wouldn’t in order to get more dialogue and advance the story.

Dialogue is the most direct way to support an episodic format, but it’s highly dependent on design, and it can be constraining. Do you allow the game to kill the characters you’re developing? Do you save them in order to use them in scripted events throughout the campaign, either by breaking the rules of the simulation to protect them, by making their death a failure state, or by merely stating that they “ejected” or “returned to base” if their vehicle is disabled?

This isn’t a unique problem to HGA, or even computer games. The most notable example of a similar problem can be seen in the T.V. series Band of Brothers, where the emphasis to depict the horrors of war was in harmony with, and reinforced by, the story and the characters. Some of the characters out there were meant to die in the same episode in which they were introduced. This includes minor one-episode characters and hundreds of extras that may not have had a single line. With that example in mind, along with the unique advantage that the simulation focuses on the vehicles rather than on the people, there is a solution.

The main characters of the story wouldn’t have to be depicted directly; rather, they exist as part of a pool of ‘possible’ pilots for every machine that also includes all the minor characters and extras. The game can decide who was piloting a vehicle that is destroyed according to the needs of a particular episode. If the story calls for a specific character to die during the course of a mission, they will be amongst the first casualties. Otherwise, the pool of extras is tapped for fodder. This doesn’t mean that scripted events have to be discarded. Rather, they can be used sparingly so they have the most impact when they are used. The more tools the designers and writers have available to them, the better.

Determining the limits of what the player can do as far as interacting with the NPCs of the world would be a top priority as well.

Text

Another fundamental and oft-used tool would be general pieces of text. Text can be journal entries, battle reports, letters, or news stories. All these can be accessible to the player from the main work area. If the player is interested, they can pick one of those pieces of paper and read them. The ideal approach would be to have voice-overs reading the text the player glances at; reducing the level of effort needed for the players to engage increases the likelihood they will do so, as well as the impact of the material. It’s also the easiest and least time-consuming method to develop the world and plot of the game. However, it isn’t the most compelling, or the most accessible. And, since a majority of the players ignore such material, critical aspects of the story can’t be hidden in it.

The presence of these random pieces of text does serve to hook the players who do look for that sort of material into the world. From them, the game and the franchise can gain new followers. Given the relatively low investment it takes to place these in the world, especially without voiceovers, they can be an asset used to “flesh out” the experience.

Wildstar Online – Writing Sample 1

Treatment 1

Title: The Navarro Crater Fields

Concept: A web-post, written in Phineas’ voice, announcing the release of a new region

Text:

Greetings, consumers! Phineas T. Rotostar here, with another message for our valued Customers™.

Let me ask you, have you been feeling run down lately? Is bathing in the blood of your enemies and/or neighbors just not putting the same pep in your step? Need a change, but you don’t know what to do?

Don’t get a new haircut just yet — Come to the Navarro Crater Fields instead! Yes ladies, gentlemen, and shapeless protoplasms of all chroma, Navarro is the place for you. Out there, watching a scenic vista torn by centuries of meteor strikes and over-eager spaceship “landings”, you will find exotic specimens! Rare minerals! Profit! You can’t wrong!

But Phineas, you ask, what about my family? I say bring all the kiddies and unhatched egg-blisters along! Imagine the look of amazement on their faces and antenna when you bring them to a genuine galactic oddity, full of excitement and rare civilizations. They will come face-to-face with races we thought extinct, and some others we all wish were. It will be an educational experience on ancient history AND survival!

Still not convinced? Then let’s talk endorsements. Oh, I don’t mean from rocket racer extraordinaire Russ-Jodie Fiddlestein™ or good ol’ Market-o-tron 4000. No, no. Navarro is endorsed by none other than an ancient race of supreme power, the Eldan! How do we know they endorsed Navarro despite the fact that there are none? Simple, they put NavarroTower right there! Ten miles high, built at the center of the scenic crater fields and actively distorting the planet’s magnetosphere, it says “Hey, come to THIS place!” Drawing energy from an anti-matter device, it stays upright in defiance of the laws of physics!

So, what are you waiting for? This will be a trip your whole family won’t forget for the rest of their lives. Ferries are launching every hour, on the hour from all major ports. Hurry, buy your tickets now! Be the first in your quadrant to say “I went to Navarro, and I had an orbiting good time!” That’ll show your enemies and/or neighbors who is the better sentient creature. Don’t wait, act now!

Treatment 2

Title: The Fire Horse

Concept: An introduction to a new dungeon-slash-PvP-battleground, The Fire Horse, written in the voice of an old treasure hunter.

Did you really think there was nothing new left on Nexus? That you had seen every corner, nook, cranny and canyon on this demented dustball? That’s the thing about Nexus, innit? C’mere, take a seat, pay for the drinks, and let this old hound tell you just how wrong you were.

They found one of the meanest machines you’ll ever see. It’s as large as a Panthean dreadnought, so fast it’s a blinding red-hot streak when it goes by at night, like a nightmare set on fire. People have taken to calling it “Widow Maker”, “The Fire Horse”, or just “The Train,” saying the souls of the damned ride it down to Hell. I’m not one for superstition, but I’ve heard that thing coming. Now I think it may be true.

The Dominion woke it up. Now they’re sending a team of specialists to jump onto its back, like hook-ticks onto a Dagun. The Exiles aren’t going to let them have it, though. Not without a fight. They’ve gotten a crew of their own, and they’re loaded for bear.

Nobody knows where its tracks go, but I know they run deep underground. Guess whoever catches that ride will find out. Coming back… that may not be as easy. I’d wager the Eldan left some nasty surprises onboard as well. Hell, it may still have some crew left, and they’re not going to be happy about stowaways.

I’d be going after it myself but…  With the Dominion and the Exiles in on it, this one is too rich for my blood. I’m sure at least some of them won’t end up smeared on the wall, even if most will. It’d take a rabid, more-guts-than-sense treasure hunter to go after this one.

You know, if you pay my tab, I’ll show you where you can ambush the beast. Would I lie to the person paying for my whiskey? I don’t think so. I’m sure you and your friends can rein it in. What d’you say?

How Heavy Gear Assault can take the lunch money of its direct competitors

With the return of the Mechwarrior franchise and Hawken making a big splash, Heavy Gear Assault finds itself at a fulcrum where it can make use of this mecha-friendly moment in time and catch up with the competition, or where it may slip back into obscurity.

The answer is simply; be distinctive. Stand out from your competitors as they stand out from each other before trying to just be “better” than they are at what they do. Heavy Gear will be the last entrant to the mecha-game market with a terrific but obscure franchise. It cannot rely on its fan-base exclusively to generate interest, like Mechwarrior Online did, by presenting a reincarnation of a classic game with modern tech. It also can’t simply focus on action-FPS players, delivering a simple and fast experience its competitor, like Hawken.

From what you’ve said in interviews and your website, you’re aiming to make an FPS/Sim game that balances between action and depth. One of my concerns is that you’re aiming for an arena setting, which is cutting along the same lines as Hawken and Mechwarrior’s current incarnation. If HGA does the same, then all three games will be set in small-to-medium maps, with the environment playing a secondary role (I’m discounting the spectator participation feature you’ve mentioned, the ROI on that feature is just too low to survive the first round of cuts.)

With these choices, you’re limiting the type of combat that will occur as well as its durability. Machines will have to be repaired using a game-y mechanic like repair bots or regenerating shields (see Hawken,) or die/get crippled for the duration of the match if caught in an unfavorable situation (see MWO.)

You’re aiming for the eSports brass ring, so these choices are understandable within this context; you want to make the game fun to watch as well as to play. On that point I’d like to mention that eSports has not proven to be a successful venture for most games and leagues that have pursued it. Only a handful games have been successful at it, and they have a much wider audience your game will have. In fact, by doing so, you’re increasing your competition from MWO and Hawken to include League of Legends, Starcraft II, Halo, Shootmania… The list goes on and on.  Your answer to this criticism is that you’re aiming for the eSports prize within your niche, thus limiting your competition to MWO and Hawken again, but the deck is stacked against you there already. Why? Because you’re limiting yourselves to the choices they already made.

How can you break away from the pack without giving up on those choices? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Make your game have several ‘rounds’ per match. Make the combat as lethal, spectacular and fast as you can, but shape it around a round structure where both teams are returned to their garages. There, you can allow the player to repair and reconfigure their gear in a way that reacts to what their opponents fielded. This way you increase your player’s urge to buy weapons and gears, by making the meta-game a meaningful part of each battle. Neither MWO nor Hawken do this, and both games force the player to choose the theoretical ideal mech/playstyle as a result.
  2. Include a variety of game types. MWO still has a fairly straightforward TDM game mode with a base-capture appendix. Hawken has its siege and missile assault modes, but they’re not really game modes as much as they are combat-directors, in the sense that those game modes dictate where combat occurs without changing the core of the gameplay. HGA can pull away by following cues from the tabletop game.  There are plenty of workable examples in DP9s Duelist’s Handbook.
  3. Destructible terrain. Self-explanatory. Neither of your competitors is doing this. I don’t know the capabilities of UDK4, but this is worth pursuing as it opens up new uses for certain types of weapons over others.

The intent of this entire post is to offer you an outside perspective of where your game (potentially) stands vis-à-vis your direct competitors. You’re still in the very very (very) early stages of development, but you already have a plan, which is why I’m writing this now.

Your fans, meanwhile, are waiting for news regarding your kickstarter. Hopefully you’ll have more media to proper your game forward.

Remember, distinguish yourselves from the rest! And thanks for taking the time to read this.

 

Un análisis del juego XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Recientemente, hemos visto como la industria de los videojuegos ha vuelto a ampliar la gama de juegos que está ofreciéndole a su público. Después de perseguir el espectro de un juego que ganaría millones en ventas minutos después de su lanzamiento, la industria, tal vez exhausta, tal vez entrando en razón un poco, ha comenzado a explorar otros esquemas y géneros. En el caso de «XCOM: Enemy Unknown» , el desarrollador Firaxis y la distribuidora 2K Games han rescatado una franquicia que, aunque abandonada, no había sido olvidada. La serie «XCOM», creada originalmente por Mythos Games y distribuida por MicroProse, ha sido el deleite y tormento de sus jugadores desde 1994.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown es un juego de estrategia por turnos en el cual el jugador maneja a la organización súper-secreta que defiende al planeta Tierra de una amenaza alienígena que ha venido al planeta tierra con un propósito misterioso. Además de liderar a las tropas en el campo de batalla táctico, el jugador controla como XCOM, la organización súper-secreta, invierte sus recursos. El jugador decide qué artefacto extraterrestre investigar, qué armas construir y elige las misiones que su equipo llevará a cabo.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown es un juego complejo. Las decisiones que el jugador toma en una de las áreas del juego tienen consecuencias sobre las otras, y esas consecuencias pueden ser determinantes al resultado de la partida. Este entramado, en el cual todas  las decisiones abren y cierran posibilidades de manera significativa es una copia del esquema que fue definido por «X-COM: UFO Defense», el primer juego de la serie, en 1994. De hecho, XCOM: Enemy Unknown toma las características más importantes de ese juego y las modifica para que el juego sea más acorde con los gustos de una audiencia contemporánea.

Ahora bien, el juego de por sí no es exactamente igual a su antecesor de los noventa. Firaxis hizo un esfuerzo por simplificar y depurar la experiencia a sus elementos esenciales sin abandonarlos o diluirlos. Cosas tales como la simplificación del nivel estratégico y de la interfaz en el nivel táctico, y la adición de clases y habilidades específicas para cada soldado son algunas cosas que Firaxis cambió del XCOM original. Sin embargo, es claro que Firaxis también hizo un gran esfuerzo por ser fiel al espíritu y la experiencia del juego original, manteniendo la interdependencia de sus niveles, la destructibilidad del terreno, y el incremento paulatino del poder de la amenaza alienígena. Hay un aspecto en particular que me es especialmente atrayente, el cual existen en ambos juegos: la narración indefinida. El juego original en los noventa no intentaba contar una historia específica. No tenía personajes o argumento; todos los momentos narrativos ocurrían dentro de la acción del juego sin un esquema previo. Todos los personajes eran los soldados, creados de manera aleatoria, que el jugador comanda contra los invasores, que pueden morir en cualquier momento. El juego nuevo creado por Firaxis retiene esta característica.

Todos los solados, con una bien nutrida variedad de rasgos y nacionalidades, y modelos 3D en el motor de juego «Unreal»  son creados al azar en XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Ellos y ellas son los héroes silenciosos de la historia que comienza cada vez que un jugador inicia una nueva partida. Ese silencio hace que el jugador se apropie más de sus soldados, ya que es el jugador que está hilando la historia, creando la narración en base con los sucesos que ocurren durante cada misión y decisión estratégica. Y como el combate es inmisericordioso en todos los juegos de XCOM, cada misión está cargada con tención.  De cierta forma, esta historia es más efectiva que una con un guion y un argumento inflexible. El juego se limita a sugerir una historia por medio de la acción deshebrada del juego, mientras que la imaginación del jugador, tejiendo una historia sorprendente y despiadada.

En general, XCOM: Enemy Unknown es una reinterpretación exitosa del clásico, en los ámbitos  del arte y comercial. Firaxis logró su propósito de traer esta experiencia a una nueva audiencia, mientras que retuvo a los aficionados del juego original. De este modo, Firaxis, con XCOM, confirma que las obras maestras nunca dejan de ser relevantes.

A brief look at Hawken, a mech game

Hawken, created by a small developer studio called Adhesive Games, is part of this revival Mech-centered games have experienced in the past year.
The Hawken team launched an announcement video in early 2011, showing bipedal machines engaging one another in highly kinetic, fast-paced combat in a science-fiction dystopia with guns and rockets. There was plenty for a Mech-head to like there, but there were several questions that arose from it: Will this game really convey the sense to the player that they’re piloting a machine, or will it feel as though the player is just someone in a robot rubber suit? Or is this game going to feel slow and ponderous? How will they make this game interesting to a wider audience other than the robot fans?

 

To answer those questions, the developers released a closed beta late last year. What we found is that Hawken mostly delivers as promised. Imagine Tribes with several-ton mechs and you get a good idea of how the game plays. The machines are nimble and responsive while they duke it out in a satisfyingly futuristic landscape without feeling as though they’re made out of paper. The game is focused on delivering a multimedia experience that conveys the power, speed, and size of its machines. The levels have urban detritus scattered on them. The sounds are heavy and industrial, and a lot of attention has been given to the graphics in order to portray a mechanical world. There is an aesthetic in play here, deliberately executed, that immerses the player into the pilot’s experience. When you combine that aesthetic with the gameplay we saw in the trailer. Hawken is indeed about fast-paced action, though with a flow that is closer to multilateral fencing than a shootout, with mechs that feel like futuristic, brutal warmachines instead of bendy epées.
Mechs in Hawken can walk or use their jets, which allow them to jump dash and dodge from side to side. Using jets takes fuel. It regenerates automatically at a good rate. Players have some customization options for their machines, though with a somewhat limited range of possibilities.

 
Right now there are 11 classes and 3 types, light, medium and heavy. Each class has a unique ability they can use to do such things as increase weapon damage, mech speed, transform into a slow-moving turret or cloak out of sight. Mechs have a primary and secondary weapon, as well as items, which they can deploy on the field. They also have “internals” that tweak the mech by trading a stat for another, such as armor for damage by a percentage. The mech type determines the amount or armor they‘ll have, as well as their acceleration and speed. This establishes a basis for a good meta-game, where players have to use different strategies in order to deal with certain opponents, as well as how they behave in a team setting.
Compared to other action titles, however, there is less variety in Hawken. There aren’t that many weapons, and the choice of weapons each class has is limited to three primary weapon types. The secondary weapon can’t be changed at all. Some of the items players can equip on their mechs also function as one-use weapons with a long cooldown, and that does alleviate the problem some, but not completely. The game team is adding more classes and weapons at a steady pace, so there’s still a chance that this issue will be resolved.

 

On the other hand, during this beta we also found out that Hawken will be a “Free to Play” game. Hawken uses two currencies, one ‘soft’ the game awards players for their performance in-game, and one ‘hard’ the player can purchase for money, as well as an experience system that gates certain weapons and add-ons. Players can use these currencies to buy Mechs at level 0, addons, and so forth. This is standard fare for F2P games on mobile platforms as well as facebook games, so this setup is nothing new. In truth, the system hasn’t had much of a negative effect on the game. It is an aggravating mechanic for players that want to face off without the leveling and cash systems getting in the way and this system’s influence can be felt in subtle ways throughout the game.

 
In all, Hawken is fun. The meta-game and the aesthetics work well together to provide an interesting and dynamic challenge. It will be interesting to see where Hawken goes as its beta develops.

Dead Space 2, a review

Isaac Clarke, an engineer for the CEC, woke up from his medically-induced stupor to face, for the second time, the horrors of the Marker and its progeny.  Agitated, though taking the gory mayhem in stride, he runs from his padded room while still strapped tight in a straightjacket. He isn’t surprised by the corpses mutilating the living with extraneous praying-mantis-like appendages. He knows exactly what is going on as he tried to avoid slipping on the blood and gore of the nurses, doctors and patients. What he’d like to find out is why it’s happening again, and where his tools have gone to so he can fix it.

That’s Isaac Clarke for you. He’s an absolute workaholic.

Much like Ripley in Alien 3, he’s come to grips with the fact that this kind of horror exists. Not only that, he’s also come to accept that he is very closely linked to that devouring nightmare. Again, much like Ripley.  In Dead Space 2 we see Isaac confront that nightmare like he did aboard the Ishimura in the first game; armed with a plasma-cutter, his RIG exo-suit, and the fraying remains of his sanity. This time, you’re in the Sprawl, a space station built on Jupiter’s moon, Titan. The stakes are higher this time. Convergence is at hand, and it’s much worse than anyone imagined.

Continue reading → Dead Space 2, a review

*This* week at the Green Dragon Inn

Starcraft. Love it or hate it, most of you will know what I’m talking about when I mention it’s name. Starcraft, Blizzard’s first behemoth of a game, where the Terran, Protoss and Zerg armies clash with one another, fighting for galactic supremacy. Starcraft, the game that, after twenty-some years, is still one of the most popular computer games, ever. It had its own unique gameplay style, demanding strategic prowess, near-inhuman hand-eye coordination, and even an assertive, aggressive attitude from its players. Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty doesn’t stray far from its predecessor. It tries to do the same things the original Starcraft did, just better. For the most part, Starcraft II succeeds in matching the standards set in the original, while updating the game as a whole, rather than improving it outright.

Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is actually the first in three games that Blizzard plans to release under the Starcraft II title, with each game focusing on one of the three races. Wings of Liberty told the Terran story, using the same cinematic cutscenes with the incredibly high production values Blizzard is famous for. Here, you guide Jim Raynor and his forces in yet another struggle to save the human race and the galaxy from total annihilation. To be perfectly honest, the storyline and the dialogue are just not the strong points of the game. It’s perplexing to think that, after what was rumored to be a decade-long production cycle, Starcaft II’s dialogue reads like an unpolished first draft. It’s especially noticeable when Raynor and Tychus interact, which is unfortunately quite often. Nevertheless, that’s all glossed over by the extremely high quality of every other of the game’s facets. The game is just too good to be brought down by that one blemish.

There is one special aspect about Starcraft, and now Starcraft II, which sets it apart from other games of its kind.

Continue reading → *This* week at the Green Dragon Inn

Last week at the Green Dragon Inn…

This is me doing some catching up. This was last week’s post

The comm-channel is buzzing with conflicting reports of an enemy advance that’s threatening the forward base where you’re stationed. Time is running short; you have to get out there and join the fray before all is lost. As soon as you’re able, you choose our vehicle and equipment. Somewhere beneath you, titanic machinery spools up. You head down there along the gantries, and as soon as you round the corner, you’re standing in the shadow of the ferro-steel beast you’ll ride into battle. It’s massive, with laser capacitors that glow with devastating potential embedded into its shoulder and one of its arms, while the barrel of cannon yawns at the other side, fit to devour a tank. The bay doors begin to open as you take a jet-assisted leap at the machine’s back, climbing on top of it to the seamless hatch on its cockpit while the bay doors begin to open.

As that multi-ton herald of death is uncaged, the computer, with subtle, nearly motherly pride, announces: “Assembly complete in hangar bay one.”

The heavy Battlemech rumbles to life as you open up the throttle, stepping deftly out of the bay and out of the base, quickening its stride from a walk to a long-striding run into the battlefield, headlong into nuclear doom.

This is Mechwarrior at its best.
Continue reading → Last week at the Green Dragon Inn…