One Reason Why D&D RPG Can Provide a Realistic Combat Experience

I remember when we first tested Rune Quest pen & paper RPG. The game had different hit locations (arms, torso, head, legs), and hitting certain locations might make the limb useless. Also, the game provided a “realistic” system where your skills improve based on which skills you use. This was totally different after Dungeons & Dragons RPG.

There was just couple of issues with Rune Quest’s system, perhaps biggest (to us) being:

The hit locations didn’t make the game “more realistic” experience or more fun. Okay, perhaps the fighting was slightly more realistic for the characters in-game, but it also mean that tracking hits and locations and shit just took more time, and made the combat “less realistic” experience for the players. In D&D you could blast fireballs, calculate damage quickly and continue killing more orcs. Okay, there was dice rolling involved but it was fast & quick.

In some sense, this was more realistic. If you think of “experiencing the fight”. I could immerse in the world and imagine myself throwing those fireballs while my fellow combatants would help killing the damn dragon, with everybody’s hands sweating (like in a real fight against any dragon). Rules didn’t get in the way of the experience, and “realism” happened in the mind of the players.

In Rune Quest, the fights took longer and there was more planning involved (should I hit that guy in the arm… or maybe go for the head for double damage?) and this made the experience less realistic for the players. Now you were more of thinking “what my character should do” instead of “what should I do?”

In a way, the more complex system becomes (in a game where computer cannot do the calculations) the less fun it becomes (unless of course you happen to like calculating combat results, I know there’s people who like that a lot). The fights will take longer: tracking of hits, movements and whatnot is more realistic for the game characters (since you take into account fatigue and everything)… but for the players, the experience is less realistic.

In pen & paper RPGs the so called “more realistic” (complex) systems are less realistic for players, while in more simpler games where combat is fast paced, the players can get better immersed in the world and experience a more realistic (or more fun) combat experience.

I’d follow Einstein’s advice on this:

Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Works a long way.

“200 New Features”

I’ve played the NHL ’11 demo a few times, and I had some mixed feelings about the whole game – and thought how “new versions are made in the big world”.

One major difference to indie world is that if NHL ’11 would be done by indies, it would have been published as a patch or as “an expansion pack” (or “paid upgrade”), and it wouldn’t be a new game that costs 50 euros (or whatever the new AAA games cost).

To me it looks like NHL ’11 is the greatest ice hockey game in the planet, and I’d give it 90+ points if I was to write a review…

…but I’m still not buying it.

Why?

  • As cool as the new hip tackle (and other tackles in the whole games) is and no matter how cool is to see broken ice hockey sticks, it still feels an upgrade to the previous version. I would have no problem paying 20ish euros for an upgrade, but since I’ve already got NHL ’10 I feel that I’m not getting this new version – I’m waiting to see NHL ’12
  • Plus: from game developer’s perspective I’m almost guessing they haven’t improved the online multiplayer version in certain ways that I’d want – but of course that’s left to see (since couldn’t test that in demo). I’m talking about making it impossible to take away goalie (since people can ruin the game by randomly taking it off), more balanced matchmaking (based on ranks or something), possibility to change position mid-game (for example, if somebody leaves the game, you could take his position), even balancing the game to favor the losing side (I’d make it so that the team who is losing would get bonus for goalie skills, or perhaps to losing side player skills would be somewhat improved). If technically possible, I would make it so that people could join the online game during the play, and also would make so that players could turn ON a “bot mode” for a moment (if they need to stop playing for a moment). I know some of these are big design decisions and something that won’t be easy to accept, but for example balanced gameplay wouldn’t perhaps be “realistic”, but I’m very certain that it would be more fun.

I think EA has done a great game. I think they’ve made some great improvements. The physics change is a biggie for example and the game just feels (once again) more polished that it’s a no-brainer to get it (unless you already own NHL ’10).

They have put 200+ new features.

They’ve made the world’s best ice hockey game.

Yet, it feels like an “upgrade” to me.

I’m about 110% certain that EA will make tons of more money this way (selling it at 50ish eur price point instead of 20ish eur upgrade), but In the indie world things would be different.

Indies would give those 200 features for free (or as an add-on pack), and people would be amazed about this.

Not sure if that would be sensible for indies. This is just some food for thought.

What you think?

If Game Is “Too Short”, You Know It’s Great

Several other fellow indies are blogging about quality over quantity. Cliff Harris writes about “size doesn’t matter” and 2D Boy posted a blog post about Too Short.

This reminded me about one thing: when after finishing a game I think “this game was too short”, I’ve always have been thrilled about the game. Full Throttle was said to be too short adventure game. I think it was awesome game, something that I wanted to keep playing more. Same happened with Max Payne.

And same happens more and more.

If the game is “too short”, it just (probably) means you’ve enjoyed playing it “too much”. So to speak.

Short is good.

Too short even better.

I don’t need 40+ hour gaming experience. I want solid 15 minute snack that I can enjoy over and over when I want, if I want. And maybe end playing after few hours.

In fact, nowadays I feel that my time is so precious that I deliberately avoid playing games that are long. If somebody wants to sell me their game, they should make darn sure that I can finish it in 2 hours. I have no time for 40+ hour epic adventures.

First Board Game That Felt Like Video Game (Space Alert, Anyone?)

I bought a board game called Space Alert and there’s one thing that made the game feel bit like a video game. Realtime cooperation under a deadline.

In Space Alert, you have a crew of people (players) protecting a space ship and keeping things running. In the game session, you also need a CD player since mission info is played on CD. Each mission lasts exactly 10 minutes. It was strange how using real time (typical for video games) aspect in turn-based environment (typical for board games) turned the whole thing upside down. Since there is a time limit and new unexpected things happened, it felt much more like I was playing a video game rather than a board game.

Kind of works as an example that thinking outside the box and loaning a thing or two here and there can make gameplay totally different.

What Star Wars (Episodes IV-VI) And Indie Game Development Have In Common?

One Finnish tv channel was broadcasting Star Wars Episode V, and I chose to watch it again. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it (probably a few times I think) and don’t know how many years it has been since I last saw it.

What I found pretty interesting was that: even though that ice yeti (not jedi, yeti) monster in the very beginning looked like crap (I was thinking something like muppets when I saw it) and the visual effects cannot compete with today’s technology (except of course the cool light saber effects, ahh…) the film was still pretty darn good. I had no problems watching it again. It was a retro trip.

Sure, it is old as hell but it’s sort of like so legendary thing that you just gotta watch it and amaze how Lucas & those other chaps pulled it together.

It’s just amazing how good movie series can be without super duper special effects.

Sort of reminds me ideology behind indie game development (at least if you look from today’s perspective). Episodes IV to VI beat I, II and III – yet they had smaller budgets, smaller crews, smaller effects and so on.

With smaller budget, you simply don’t have the resources to create something utterly stupid as Jar Jar Binks.

I rest my case.

It’s also quite legendary that Star Wars brand is so… huge. I don’t know how much money Star Wars stuff generates but since they are selling Darth Vader costume replicants for $600+ (yeh, just see here) you know you are witnessing something huge.

This part of Star Wars didn’t remind me about indie gaming…

How Come Conflict In Video Games So Often Means Shooting Brains Off From Anything That Moves?

Shooting. Combat. Kicking. Punching. Fights. Bombs. War. Violence. That’s how conflicts are created in video games so often.

And I’m not talking about zombie games here. I’m talking about games in general. One way or another, it’s so often that some form of violence that takes place in games in order to conflicts. Even Osmos is sort of combat where you need to eat other cells. In co-op games, there’s usually something that needs to be killed for progress to be made. (Sports games being sort of exception)

For my own project, I have done some progress in this area (but not necessarily enough…) as I intend to get different options for co-op. I’ve dotted down ideas ranging from “fixing/repairing objects”, “building (defenses)”, “fetching/moving objects (like fuel)”, “using objects” – desribed here in quite general terms and these will (most likely) bring some conflict, when there’s counter force (who can try sabotage repairs, hide objects, refuse to use them). Strangely, for some reason my mind is constantly about to suggest “yeh, repairs is nice… now, what about adding some shooting there?”

What is it in video games that makes us (well, at least me…) think violence when we intend to create conflict?

Principle On Choosing The The Right Theme For Your Game

Bit over two years ago I wrote about choosing core values for game projects (after hearing this from somewhere). In this week, I used this principle to help me find a good theme for my traitor game project.

The principle is quite simple: choose theme that support the core gameplay.

That might seem obvious, but I believe that there’s games that do well and games that do poorly in choosing the theme. I think games like Saboteur and Thief did well – at least for some parts – when they choose their themes. Sneaking in nazi camp or having a silent thief sneaking in a castle supports the core gameplay (unlike the map where you had to kill zombies in Thief). A fun game called Trine did quite fine on choosing the fantasy theme, but one of the characters (the warrior knight) doesn’t fit so well in the “physics puzzle game” as his specialty is fighting & killing. In this aspect, this fine game is choosing partly a character (inside the fantasy theme) that does not support the core gameplay.

I guess there’s also themes which might be difficult to categorize, and it isn’t always necessary to have a theme that reinforces the gameplay. For example, in Meatboy game you control a meat boy that has no flesh… which makes the guy drop blood wherever he goes. I’ve yet to know if this supports the core gameplay (hardcore platform jumping), but it sure is fun and memorable.

But even then, I believe that well chosen theme that supports the gameplay translates into a fun gaming experience.

Some details about my own thoughts

In the very core of traitor game I can find keywords such as “traitor” (quite obvious) and “deception” and “paranoia”. The game is about “finding out who the traitor is” (or “infiltrating the group”, if you happen to be the infected in the group).

When I was thinking of themes, I got some great suggestions and had plenty of ideas. Here’s some of them:

  • Werewolf theme (one of the characters is a werewolf, disguised as one of the villagers)
  • Mafia (one of the characters is a rat, or undercover cop)
  • Rome – and the death of Julius Cesar (never really liked this idea, but it popped in my mind at some point)
  • Zombies (one of the guys is infected and becoming a zombie at some point)

And so on.

Some of these ideas were not quite practical, as in I could not figure out how the gameplay could work – and so that the game does not turn into too big in terms of resources needed. I thought that zombie genre could work, and it would somewhat make sense to have this infected “traitor” in the group.

But something didn’t feel quite right.

I felt that while zombies could be okay option, I felt that that it was lacking something.

I thought hard and came to conclusion that theme did not support the core gameplay/value (“traitor among us”) well enough, and thus after hearing the idea about “like in The Thing”, I somehow felt that this isolated place where one of the group is “infected” supports the traitor gameplay more. When we hear about zombies, I immediately think of “shoot them in the head”. The zombies have been “branded” much to be about headshots and blood, not about traitors.

For this reason I felt that “group of scientist trapped in Antarctica” might give a better setting to my traitor game. I believe this theme supports the core values.

Are You a Visual Developer?

I’ve mentioned earlier in my Dead Wake post mortem (part 2) that one should not buy stuff he is not going to use. (While developing Dead Wake, I believe I bought many unused art content packs – just for the coolness factor.)

There’s one tiny thing I must add to this hint…

… since I’m a visual developer…

…buying “useless” stuff can be good sometimes.

I can imagine the game in my mind, but before I have a game art ready, I take images from other games and use them as my desktop wallpaper to help me get in the mood as in “this is how my game is going to look like”. (No, I’m not using them in my game). Sometimes, buying that extra stuff (that one won’t perhaps use in the game might help get the game done and enforce the style).

When I’m purchasing some art, I’m taking one step closer to “this is the style” decision and purchasing something requires me to spend some donuts. I’m investing in something, and I believe that this has some sort of impact on what I feel and think of things. When I’m purchasing something, I’m also going closer to a goal.

And one reason I buy things early is simple: I’m a visual person. I like to see my game in action.

When I was doing a card game prototyping (just for fun), the first thing I did was that I took some DevianArt images, made them into a deck of cards and ordered the thing. After the arrival (took a few weeks, just for the record) I had my own deck of cards to play with. It made a world difference in testing stuff. (Yeh, the game was sucky but at least my friends like the cards)

I’m going the same way in video game development: I like having at least some art right from the beginning since it helps me build the game around a certain theme. I’m much more about gameplay than anything else (story, theme aren’t as important as gameplay in my thinking: great gameplay can save the game, but great theme… well, perhaps sometimes – in my opinion) but if great gameplay is the meat & bones, then theme/art/music is the skin that makes the game much more enjoyable.

(Meatboy of course being an exception here)

For this reason, I don’t like prototyping with red and blue boxes. I’d rather have something enjoyable (doesn’t need to be finished or perfect, but something) to watch while testing.

Early visuals for the game help me visualize the game.

Your take on this, you like boxes and cones?