Thursday, November 30, 2006

PS3 vs 360 Graphics Comparison posted a graphics comparison video for Call of Duty 3:

I watched it carefully once and paused it at points. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the 360 and PS3 graphics are that the PS3 graphics are brighter (which actually detracts from the feel, in my honest opinion).

Sony consoles are notoriously difficult to design for, so I expect the PS3 will have more of a graphical edge in its shared games a year from now, when developers have a better handle on the hardware. But for now, this seems to confirm a point I heard made a few weeks ago: when games are designed for both the 360 and PS3, few developers will do more with the PS3's additional power than simply polish the graphics a tad at the end of the production process. The extra power will rarely be used for anything other than graphics and Sony's graphical edge will only shine on its exclusive games (and there are precious few of those right now).

So either Sony had better start churning out exclusive titles or they had better hope Blu-Ray wins out over HD-DVD in the home movie market.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cereal Games

So I open a box of Cocoa Crispies this morning and what do I find? a video game.

That's right, it's a little microphone-shaped console with an Xbox label, an on-off switch and a four-point control pad. The game is basically the old game of Simon. There are two dancer figures on the small screen, one being my avatar. The game is about watching the other dancer's movements, the lifting of a leg or arm, and imitating that with my dancer (the control pad's like the original Nintendo's turned diagonally).

The world is certainly turning. Between this and the Burger King showing up on my Xbox 360 arcade, I really can't imagine where video games will be in 10 years.

I should add that this is very smart of Microsoft. They're getting kids too young for the big console into games and familiar with the Xbox brand.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Delays and Ports

A couple random thoughts...

I noticed that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is now scheduled for an early January release. When I first learned about it, I was really interested, but a year's worth of release date delays has allowed that intial enthusiasm to wane to the point that I'm no longer watching it. Had they waited until they were done to publicize a release date, I probably would have been caught up in the game's novelty and purchased it impulsively.

That's a common mistake, and I really don't see the upside of starting one's advertising campaign more than a month before release. Afterall, what good are word-of-mouth results if the effect has so long to fade into distant memory?

And then there's the F.E.A.R. port. Coming out so long after the original PC release, it suffers from the same thing. But there's one additional problem. It's so long after the initial release and has been modified so little that I've never been able to shake the bitter feeling like I'm being offered someone's leftovers. I'm a PC gamer more than a 360 gamer...I have no rival feelings against the PC, but the game still feels somehow cheapened by being offered to 360 gamers after such a long delay. I don't think it's a rational feeling, but it's a factor in my buying decision nonetheless, and I'm inclined to think there are probably others who feel the same way. This might be a significant consideration when releasing something cross-platform.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Weapon Foleys

I was just watching some gameplay videos of Hellgate: London. You can find them at Hellgate has been one of the games I'm most looking forward to for a long time now, but there's one thing about the videos that disappoints me somewhat: the sounds. Some of the weapon sounds are good, but many are weak and uncompelling.

Truth is, I'm not sure what there is to say about this subject, because I would think most concerns would be fairly obvious, but here's a ramble anyway.

There are two parts to the sound of most weapons: launch/swing and impact.

Just focusing on the impact sounds: In gameplay trailer 3, the ammo of the first gun shown sounds like weak or distant firecrackers. The fire-jet weapon sounds like a soft aerosol. The rebound-splash weapon sounds decent in that the explosions have a "thud" quality providing a feeling of true impact, but it is still unexciting. The sword with a shock effect seems to create only a shock sound with the sword's impact being completely nullified. And so on.

When making weapon foleys, there must be a feeling of violence/force. That feeling should be related to, but not entirely dependent upon, the weapon's appearance and animation. If the sound doesn't provide excitement by itself, when you close your eyes and it's not associated with any immediate cause, don't think it will become exciting once added to a visual event, because it won't.

So, for example, here's how I would change those sounds in trailer 3: In addition to the popping gunpowder sound of the first gun, there's should a sound of those bullets exploding flesh apart (a dull, wet sound). The fire-jet should be mostly fire crackling and roaring, with only a touch of the aerosol effect. The rebound shot should have some sound when the shot rebounds, and the explosions should have a searing sound added to the gunpowder pops. The sword should be heard in addition to its shock effect.

If a weapon has any sort of elemental or magical effect, be it fire, electricity or dark energy, the sound of that energy alone is not enough...there must be a sound representing what that energy is doing to the enemy body. The sound of hitting someone with a ball of fire should sound different than turning on my gas stove. The sound of bashing someone with an electrically-charged warhammer should be different than simply turning on an old buzzing TV.

Even if you're making a new fantastic sort of weapon, the sound of impact is important. If your weapon launches a screaming spectre at your foe, make a sound to represent its dissolution into or passing through the enemy's body.

The sound of the launch/swing is also important, of course, because it is a sound more immediate to the player's avatar; it more represents the character's actions. In his movies, John Woo demonstrates the powerful impact of guns cocking and clicking. Sounds of exertion are great. If I'm bringing a warhammer crashing down on the enemy's head, it's much more immersive if, instead of merely hearing the impact, I hear my character shouting or grunting with violent exertion. The tension of a taught bowstring adds emotional tension for the player.

Anyway, hopefully Flagship will revamp a lot of their sound effects to make Hellgate a much more immersive game. As demonstrated by those scenes in war films where the sound drops out or the music takes over, sounds play a huge role in how we perceive visual events. Nuances of sound lead to nuances of emotional appeal and interpretation.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Draw-style Controls

If you played the PC game Black & White, then you're familiar with the game's control system for enacting miracles. The player holds down the left mouse key and draws a symbol, with different symbols activating different avatar powers.

I was just watching the new Conan trailer, and I'm wondering why similar systems are not often used for combat-adventure games.

For example, imagine your character is just some brute with a sword.

  • Overhand Slash. Hold down the left mouse button (LMB) and quickly draw the very general figure of a half-heart, (left swing) starting at the enemy's left side, looping up and to the right, or (right swing) starting at the enemy's right side, looping up and to the left. The character will swing the sword down from his left or right shoulder.
  • Side Slash. Hold down the LMB and draw a line (left swing) from right of the enemy toward the enemy's midsection, or (right swing) from the left of the enemy toward the enemy's midsection.
  • Upward Slash. Hold down the LMB and draw a line from the side and below the enemy toward the enemy's midsection (right or left).
  • Overhead Slash. Hold down the LMB and draw a line from above the enemy toward the enemy's midsection.
  • Stab. Click the LMB on the section of enemy you wish to strike.
  • Slash Block. Hold the RMB and draw a line from the character's midsection to the quadrant or side you wish to block.
  • Stab Block. Hold the RMB and draw a line from beside the character toward the character's midsection.
  • Punch. Click the RMB on the enemy's midsection. This will punch the enemy with the hilt or dull edge of the character's sword.
  • Slam. Hold the RMB and draw a line from above the enemy toward the enemy's midsection. This will slam the pommel onto the enemy's head or body.

What I've just provided is an intuitive system by which a player can perform over 20 melee commands with only the use of a 2-button mouse.

And there are countless ways to augment this system. For example, scrolling up or down on the mousewheel could switch the player's character into magic command mode, by which all the same commands now enact magical, rather than melee, actions. And different weapons could have equally expansive but intuitive draw-command systems.

Not only does this expand and naturalize the user interface, but it provides opportunities to further immerse the character and add new, fun nuances to gameplay.

How much more fun would archery be if, rather than simply clicking a button or holding one to draw the bowstring (and only pretending you feel the tension), you performed a sweeping draw move that mimicked the real movement of an archer drawing an arrow from his quiver, nocking it and letting fly?

And what if a gamer playing a magician had to learn to keep calm during frantic battles, because the command for his fireball spell is a drawn spiral and larger spirals mean larger fireballs (at a greater cost of mana)? As an unexperienced player, he would waste precious mana because the situation was intense and he lost focus. An experienced player, like an experienced adventurer in real life, would know the value of maintaining focus. This would certainly appeal to competitive and achievement-oriented gamers, and a system that wasn't unduly harsh would appeal to more relaxed, self-paced gamers as well.

Basically, I see draw-command systems (DCS) as a wonderland of opportunity for all sorts of games, and it's a shame they're not taken advantage of more often.

I realize that accuracy of the player's draw movements (their accordance with the ideal symbol...and thereby the game's ability to recognize the player's commands) is a concern, so that's why the movements I suggested above allow for a wide range of error on the player's part. Great precision shouldn't be expected of the player.

Also, though DCS would be harder to implement on consoles, with a smaller range of possible commands and wholly different needs for accuracy, I think console games could make use of such systems as well.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Expansion Content

A reprint of my response to York's latest blog:

In regards to pay-for-play, I’m not a “customer is always right” sort of guy, so I don’t think gamers are owed anything. The developer decides for themselves what they think is the finished product, and you either accept that as being worth your money or you don’t. If you don’t, maybe the developer is missing out on potential revenue like yours (i.e., it was an adverse design decision), but you weren’t cheated of anything if you were never promised differently.

The ideal add-on content is content that adds replayability to the whole game…as opposed to one more quest, area, or similar expansion which is quickly breezed through. The player isn't owed that sort of content, and it’s not necessary for expansion content to be profitable, but it’s simply a much greater value for the consumer, more cost-efficient for the developer and a much easier sale.

Diablo 2’s expansion included a new Act (hours of new areas and story to explore) and two new classes (whole new avenues of gameplay to enjoy from the very beginning of the game through). That, by far, is the most valuable expansion offering I can think of for a non-MMO (which I would say is a somewhat different ballgame). The classes are the main attraction, because they represent hours upon hours of fresh gameplay. Not only the players, but the developers also, got a lot more bang for their buck that way than if Blizzard had only added the new Act.

I’d venture to say that relatively few games disallow expansions of that nature…expansions which refresh the entire game, rather than merely tack something onto the end.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Pacing in MMOs

Pacing is vital in any game, including MMOs.

For one thing, an adequate pace keeps the player focused on gameplay and disallows them the leisure to pick apart every flaw of your game. You're unlikely to notice that clipping plane being slightly off while your attention is on the madman running at you with a bloody axe.

Of course, an unbalanced pace can be bad too. All but the most obsessive action-gamers need some small breather between battles. Slow points also can allow players to absorb their experiences, qualify them and encode them into memory.

Pacing plays any number of roles... but to what degree can pacing be controlled in a non-linear game, like an MMO? It seems to me that there are methods of soft control, like player-travel control through enemy placement and environment design. But are there any hard/certain measures of pacing control in games like these? What could be done to improve control?

I'm asking this with the belief that gamers frequently spoil their own fun, unknowingly most of the time, and that poor pacing is a key way in which that can happen. We shouldn't just leave it up to the players entirely.