Monday, September 29, 2008

Spore space tips

After a couple weeks of playing (not counting the week+ I lost electricity), Space stage still feels like the focus of Spore. And after three tries, I've finally found some strategies that prevent hectic overload and allow me to progress at a decent pace.

These tips are advantageous, but whether or not they equal fun depends on your own particular tastes. So think of these as strategies to try out, rather than the way the game is supposed to be played.

You don't have to make contact with every alien species you find. Whenever you make contact with a species, you can see every star system in their empire by toggling Empires in the bottom-left corner in the galactic view. Any inhabited stars outside the empires you see in this view belong to species you have not contacted yet.

By introducing yourself to new species deliberately and paying attention to whether or not each star system is already inhabited, you can control the pace of your game to suit your own personal style. It might take a couple play-throughs (different species of your own) for you to find the pace that feels natural to you.

Don't think you have to accept every mission that's offered to you. If a friendly species asks you to destroy the turrets of their enemy, an enemy on a planet you haven't explored yet or one of your allies, taking that mission might involve you in a war. Fight one war at a time, or avoid them altogether.

Be aware that your allies might go to war with each other. If they do and they call for you to save them, you can choose to ignore the request if you want to keep both allies. Ignoring distress signals will eventually lower your standing with an ally, but it won't break the alliance immediately (at least, not on the lower difficulty levels). You can make up for it by performing missions for that ally.

...which doesn't mean you should start the Space stage by blowing ships and colonies to smithereens (though you certainly can if you want to). No, I mean that once you start a war, stick to it until it's done. Otherwise, you'll keep getting called back from other things to protect one of your colonies or allies from invaders. Also, the enemy will expand its empire, thereby forcing the war to continue that much longer. Strike first, strike hard, and don't relent until the enemy's empire is eliminated.

As the great general George Patton once said: "Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man." The best generals always stay on offense.

Once you've got your terraforming skills up, search for a solar system with four or five planets and two or three types of spice (blue, yellow, etc). Terraform them all to T3 planets, place the maximum number of colonies on each, and raise each colony to maximum production by installing factories and homes (I add one entertainment building as well... but I've never had a colony revolt on me, so I'm not sure if this is necessary). When you're done, you can simply hop from planet to planet within that one solar system and sell their spices to each other to make money quickly and easily.

Yes, terraforming, colonizing, and building all this is expensive. But it's well worth the investment. My system has five planets with purple, green, and blue spice... and I can make literally millions in under a minute. With three colonies on each planet and all those colonies completely built up, by the time I've collected the spice from all five planets, the first planet already has more for me to pick up. Just pay attention to each planet's prices, so you know where to sell. The highest price I've seen so far was $60k per spice crate.

Sadly, your own people will charge you high prices for some or all items. My religious herbivore colonies charge me more for colonization packs than any of my allies.

Prices seem to reflect species specialization. A battle-oriented ally of mine charges me literally half the price for weapon and defense technology than my own people charge me. Take a few minutes to compare whole species in prices. Then, if you care to, you compare at the level of individual colonies. A colony's prices for spice do not always remain constant, so pay attention to price every time you sell.

If you missed my earlier Spore tips, you can find them here. As usual, I welcome any input. If you have any tips of your own, please share them in a comment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spore, in a paragraph

Spore's a good game, but not as good as many (including me) expected it to be. Its basic problem is that it's too straightforward. Players can design a wide variety of creatures and objects, but there's not much to do with them once they're made. The Space stage opens a decent number of opportunities, but it takes too long to get going. Maxis will certainly expand on the original game. Hopefully, those expansions will add new layers to gameplay at every stage and not just add new editor objects.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Iron Grip: Warlord closed beta

Isotx is taking applications now for the closed beta of Iron Grip: Warlord, their unique FPS/RTS hybrid.

I worked for Isotx very briefly and was privileged to offer a small contribution to the Iron Grip lore. So I'm excited to see the game start to reach fruition.

Warlord continues from Iron Grip: The Oppression, a Half-Life 2 total conversion mod that you can find here. What makes The Oppression a unique multiplayer game is that one side plays the game as an FPS while the other side plays as an RTS.

Warlord, on the other hand, is not a mod. It's a full commercial game that takes place in a different corner of the Iron Grip universe (which is huge) and follows the same style of gameplay. Isotx decided to revamp the graphics earlier this year, and it shows. The game's looking good:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Freaky Creatures

I've been pointed to a pretty cool game concept by Abandon Interactive that seems to include the sort of replayability I often talk about. There's a trailer for Freaky Creatures here.

I'm impressed by how unique the game is. Most of the game elements can be found elsewhere, but it's an interesting combination of features.

It's basically a PC-based 3D online fighter game (I'm guessing it's turn-based, but I could be wrong). The hook is that you create your own character through both visuals and skills.

Starting with a basic creature of your choice and a color scheme, you can cycle through a number of head ornaments, body ornaments, and select a weapon for each hand. Weapons have stats, so that selection is not just visual. Next, you select five skills from a list. Then, name your fighter and give him or her a themesong (how exactly that works, I don't know yet).

Finally, you enter a lobby and battle other players' unique creations. Victories win you Creature Credits, and your creature levels up.

You can create a lair for your creature and interact with it, if you want to. There's also a chat window. And players can form teams, too.

From the trailer, it seems the game is aimed primarily at kids, but I expect that's only reflected in chat moderation and lack of gore. I've never played a fighter game on the PC before. And this is unique as arena games go, so I'm curious how this will turn out.

Abandon says there are "over 3.2 billion creatures" possible, so my main concern at the moment is the game's pricing model. How vital are purchased add-ons to gameplay? The game comes on a reusable USB flash drive "bundled with collectible action figures" for 20 bucks, which makes me think of collectible card games.

The Freaky Creatures site has some browser-based mini-games up, including a fun air hockey game (with some cool, if rudimentary, dynamics added). That makes me wonder if players can interact through their creations in ways beyond fighting and chatting. Wouldn't it be great to play air hockey and other mini-games with the same avatar you use for deeper 3D gameplay?

If you're not familiar with the company (I wasn't), Abandon co-published Dark Age of Camelot. They're also behind the upcoming Max Payne and Alice films.

They're taking beta signups now. Abandon expects the game to release sometime next year.

Freaky Creatures might be worth keeping an eye on. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

back from Ike at last

Apparently, I just needed to leave town for power to be restored to my house. ;) After 10 days, the energy company finally got power to my street last night. I just got back from a day trip to Oklahoma, and it's nice to have air conditioning and internet again... and lights... and refrigeration.

Honestly, it wasn't that bad for me. I adapted to the lack of air conditioning pretty quick, and I was prepared with flashlights and non-perishable foods. I still had gas to boil eggs and cook sausages. Meat and bread have always been the core of my diet, but that's about all I was eating without electricity.

My relatives, friends, and I pulled through the hurricane alright. My side of Houston (northwest) got hit with 80+ winds, hard downdrafts, and tornadoes, so pretty much everyone had branches and trees to cut and clear. I lost a bradford pear tree in the backyard, among other things, but it fell against the fence. Four of my neighbors had trees leaning on or in their homes, and that was seen on almost every street in town. My sister in the Woodlands and her three immediate neighbors had eleven trees down, each at least two stories tall. A saving grace was that the winds tended to remain high, so they didn't toss around people and cars and such.

Needless to say, we were very blessed. The weather was a full 15 degrees below normal, and the humidity ridiculously low, for this time of year (we don't get seasons here... just summer and spatterings of cool weather from October through March). A friend of mine thought that was normal for hurricanes, but we had typical 90+ heat and 90%+ humidity after Hurricane Alicia in '83. It finally got back to 95 or so this Sunday, but it wasn't that bad if you had gotten your physical labor done before then. There's a lot more mosquitoes around right now, since the storm dropped over 12 inches of rain here in Spring.

I have a cul-de-sac across the street from me, and all of my neighbors met there each night for dinner while the power was out. At its peak, we had about 30 folks eating brisket, burgers, and whatever else had to be cooked before it went bad from lack of refridgeration. We even got a firepit out there and camped around the fire as we ate and chatted.

Of course, not everyone had it as good as us. A friend of a friend lost his 10-year-old son during the cleanup after the storm. He's a professional tree remover/trimmer, but as he was cutting a loose branch down in his own yard his son suddenly ran into harm's way. One of my neighbors tried to juggle funeral plans that happened to coincide with the hurricane. Others I know had significant damage to their homes (I just got a little water seeping in around the fireplace), but the boy is the only life I know was lost near me.

In all of Galveston, as in areas around Houston, street signs and stop signs are down. Considering that the homes there were also devastated, I can't imagine how the few residents allowed back into the city are finding their ways around. I had clean water and gas -- they didn't, and still don't. Those coastal cities were annihilated. You have to expect that sort of catastrophic damage from time to time if you live anywhere on the Gulf Coast, particularly on the barrier islands and deltas, but I still sympathize with all the folks who can't even go back to their home city yet. It's one thing for your home to be destroyed. Imagine your entire town being unrecognizable. Rita was worse for Mississippi, of course (there wasn't even debris left then), but Ike was pretty terrible.

There will be a lot of talk over the coming years, similar to the talk surrounding New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, about how much help Galveston and the other coastal cities should be offered from the rest of the nation. Please keep in mind that there is no part of the country that is free from natural disasters. The Northeast suffers from terrible blizzards. The Midwest suffers from tornadoes much bigger and stronger than the ones we get here. The Southwest has droughts. California gets earthquakes and mudslides. Hawaii and the Northwest live under the shadow of volcanoes (they don't strike often, but they do blow; the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was lucky as pyroclastic eruptions go). All of the West is under the threat of tsunamis. Also keep in mind that humankind has always built cities along the water. I'm not suggesting all this means Galveston must be rebuilt with federal tax dollars. I'm just saying this should be part of your consideration.

And even fools and idiots, like the shocking number of Galvestonians who chose to remain in the city during the hurricane -- in fact, especially fools and idiots -- should be treated with charity. A lot of people need your prayers and aid right now. Many of them don't deserve it, but please offer it to them anyway.

I'll get back to normal posting next week.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

hurricane update

I'm using a friend's internet right now, so I'll keep this short. My family and I are alright. But my power is still out and the energy company doesn't expect to have it back on until Thursday. So I'll start blogging again sometime next week, hopefully. I'll tell you more then.

Friday, September 12, 2008

hurricane hiatus

I live in a town called Spring, just outside the Houston city limits to the northwest. For the moment, it's looking like my area is going to get hit by the strongest part of Hurricane Ike, the northeast corner of the eye. That could change, of course. Hurricanes are mostly unpredictable.

I'm not too worried for myself. I've got a strong brick house that's never been flooded. It's heavily wooded here, so I'm sure we'll get trees and debris smashing cars and windows, messing up roofs. But that's minor stuff. I'm far enough inland that I don't have to worry about the surge, and that's what's going to kill people and completely destroy lots of property. We could get tornadoes here, but there's no point in worrying about something you can't predict.

But the storm will almost certainly knock out my power and perhaps other utilities for a few days or more. So I'm giving you the heads up that I probably won't be posting for a while. I wish I could say my posts have been sporadic this week because I was preparing for the hurricane, but it was more laziness than anything, haha.

Anyway, no need to worry about me. Pray for the folks closer to the coast. This hurricane might not be strong, but it's big and the storm surge is going to devastate many towns. Already, houses are starting to be torn up in Galveston by the waves, and Ike hasn't even landed yet. Pray for those people. You'll never know just how powerful those prayers are. God bless.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Spore tips

Here are some random tips based on my own Spore experience.

Save the game! It doesn't automatically save, not even between stages (which seems strange to me), so be sure to save often.

Any cinematic you don't want to watch can be skipped by hitting the Esc key. This includes growing up from a baby to an adult after death.

I'm not sure exactly how Spore populates each play-session, but it obviously gives preference to whatever is in your personal Sporepedia. So if you want a lot of variety between playthroughs, be sure to hop online with your Sporepedia and download lots of stuff.

Find buddies. The other day, I told a friend that one of her creatures kept stealing my tribe's food. Being able to share funny stories like that with friends makes the game much more enjoyable. If you add me (hallower), I'd certainly love to hear what mischief my creations are up to in your game.

Object orientation is often about finding the right camera angle from which to adjust.

If you make only a few changes to your creature at each evolution, then your creature's History timeline will be more meaningful.

Stay far away from Epic creatures! There can be more than one per planet, they like to wander, and they can even attack spaceships if they have a ranged attack! I lost a ship that way.

Numbers matter! Always keep your pack full. This will often be the difference between success and failure, life and death. Even if you're completely outmatched by an attacker, you can always leave your mate as a convenient decoy as you run!

If you're going to form a pack, choose an Alpha as your mate. Your nest won't always have an Alpha (leader), but look for one. Alphas are tougher than the rest of your species.

To socialize with other species, try to isolate members or find loners. If you start to socialize near a group, then you'll have to compete with that whole group's combined social power. The socializing bar will move faster for whoever has mates helping.

If your creature is social, be sure to create alliances with other species. I once had three of my species in my pack, plus four of another species, plus two of yet another species all travelling together. This small army made converting other creatures to my side a breeze.

Keep in mind when you're finalizing your creature before Tribal that you'll want free space to fit clothes on.

Killing an epic creature will keep your tribe well fed for a good while. My tribe of 12 returned to carve out more meat over and over.

In Tribal, you can domesticate animals even as a warrior tribe, but you must have extra food to offer them initially.

In a typical RTS game, you can choose to build your empire slowly and finally make your move after you've built up. That's not an option in Spore. You get upgrades by conquering or forming alliances with other tribes, so try to hop on this quickly. I only take my guys out to harvest food once and fill my tribal population before making my first move against/for another tribe.

To enter Civilization and save your game once you choose to progress from Tribal, you must design a city hall and vehicle. If you need to take a break from the game, remember that you can go back and edit your building and vehicle, or create new ones, later.

Turrets are cheap. Build up your cities' defenses and you won't have to worry as much about invasion while you're off doing other things.

As I said yesterday, don't spread yourself too thin. Space stage offers a lot of room for personal strategy, but it's easy to become overwhelmed by trying to do too many things at once or exploring too quickly (assuming you care what happens to your former colonies). The money you spend money on ship upgrades can also go to colony development or defenses (turrets). If you explore many planets quickly, like I did, then you might have to deal with more civilizations and planets than you have the resources and time to handle easily.

I'll add more tips if I think of some.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

PR filters

My response to this post by Tami, who is herself a PR person (and a good one, in my experience):

Some executives are more capable of public relations and marketing than others. In some cases, the executive should say nothing without the PR manager's approval or nothing at all, if such an arrangement is agreed to by the company owner(s).

But it's both great and possible for some executives to relay their own goals and values. Walt Disney is a great example, particularly considering how enormous that company was before his death.

In this particular case, Jacobs blog article seems professional and perfectly alright. His article is a criticism of common behavior, and any criticism in our modern culture can mean lost customers and more yelling at the customer service folks. But if he's representing a company standard of expecting people to be civil, then the article didn't need approval. The mere mention of his company's recent service difficulties isn't improper, though he's certainly inviting trolls to his blog.

PR folks are usually a company's faces and communicators, but that's not the only efficient possibility. They can alternatively be used as advisors for researching and informing the CEO or other executives before those leaders take action, as well as relaying the executive's PR decisions to local audiences.

Through her work for Areae, Tami represents another potential role for PR folks. When someone joins the Metaplace community, she's usually there to greet and help the person immediately. Walmart smartly mimicked churches by making greeters a stand-alone job. Making any one personal connection to your company available to each and every individual is extremely effective marketing and PR. It's a difficult task for companies with large customer bases, to be sure; but worth pursuing to any extent.

Anyway, not every public statement should be filtered. Customers want to deal with human beings, not abstract formalities. Thus, keeping business personal is an effective marketing strategy (and morally right, of course). Strict bureaucracy is not conducive to that strategy. It's difficult to trust anyone who can't say anything without consultation.

For the same reason, the platform for public statements should not always be arranged. Always restricting the PR setting signals to customers that the speaker has a business mode from which personal considerations are shut out. Again, trust is damaged.

Don't kid yourself. Business is always personal.

Spore early impressions

After a couple days of playing Spore (way too much), here are some semi-random impressions. I numbered them for reference, but they aren't in any order. Overall, I like the game a lot and will probably continue to enjoy it for many months, but it definitely has significant problems.

(1) The Spore series will sell comparably to The Sims series, and might even surpass The Sims. It's basically a solid and polished game with mass appeal. It doesn't begin immediately with as many options as The Sims. But it doesn't look like a dollhouse game and the setting is accessible to a much wider range of audiences, including kids. So I'd say it has some advantages over The Sims and might see better sales over time. Spore will appeal to non-gamers and semi-gamers more than most games.

(2) It's a surprisingly linear, streamlined experience through the first four stages. The cell stage doesn't have many options, plays like Pac-Man without a maze, and you'll probably finish it within an hour (if not half an hour). There's no reason to linger on the stage once you have access to the next, because you can't journey to new territory or encounter new creatures. Stages get progressively longer, deeper, and more dynamic, but there's little or nothing to do aside from tackle the strictly defined goals and progress to the next stage when possible.

Space stage is considerably more open and self-guided. One could argue that Space is really the meat of the game.

(3) The Creature Creator is more polished than the other editors. Because not every object has the same adjustment tools (the angle ball, the rotation ring, etc), placing and adjusting things in the other editors can be extremely frustrating at times. The CC offers significantly more adjustment options than the other editors.

On the bright side, Paintbrush mode in the building editor is a very nice surprise; it's comparable to the "Fill" tool in old MS Paint. If possible, I hope Maxis will add this to all Spore editors in a patch.

(4) Populations are disappointingly repetitive. I've played three games up through the Creature stage, and one into Space. The Maxis-made Brawgle has shown up in all of those. You don't have to be a statician to realize that with over 10 million creations to date, the odds of a repetition like that are ridiculously low without some sort of preference being given. Surely, the game could find a comparable creature to fill that gap in the ecosystem.

The creatures in the Cell stage are the same Maxis-made creatures every time. The Creature stage is much better in this regard, but I hate seeing so many Maxis-made creatures. No offense, Maxis, but why should your creatures get any preference before players' creatures in the drawing? I want to see more of the community's creativity.

The Brawgle isn't the only creature I've seen in multiple playthroughs. I can understand why Maxis would make the player's own creations tend to show up as AI characters (though I wish they'd allow us to adjust or toggle the frequency), but too much repetition undermines one of the cornerstones of Spore is exploration (the other cornerstones being creativity/customization and indirect sharing). I liked seeing one of my CC beasts as an epic monster, and hunting my first CC creation to extinction with my new and improved predator. But even seeing my own creations scattered throughout the game when I expressly did not select a theme at the beginning can be annoying.

(5) L33t speak is in full effect. Spore might not be an MMO in the traditional sense, but the frequency of tongue-in-cheek names and uncreative creations is saddening. Thankfully, I haven't seen anything obscene yet.

(6) It is a good teaching tool for kids. I wrote about this before, but now that belief has been verified by hands-on time with the game. There are even some realistic elements in the game that I did not expect. For example: as a predator, preying on the weak is the most effective strategy for survival, and you can cut off an animal from its herd through maneuvering and intimidation. Normally fearful animals are brave and vindictive when it comes to their eggs and young. And I even saw an animal going to water to drink once.

(7) Spore is not about survival of the fittest. It's about domination. The difference is that a creature can be fit and not be at the top of the food chain or pecking order. Unlike in the Cell stage, creatures in the Creature stage apparently do not earn points for merely eating, breeding, and avoiding violent death. If you're a carnivore, you get points for hunting species to extinction. If you're an herbivore, you get points for making alliances. Survival isn't enough.

(8) The history feature is brilliant. Throughout the game, you have a timeline which shows every evolution and creation of your creature as well as deaths, alliances, extinctions, and other important events. This feature is great, not only because it encourages players to view everything as one great adventure, but because you can see how decisions and events shaped your being into what it is today. I hope there's a way to save and share histories in the future.

(9) Spore has three difficulty levels (Easy, Medium, Hard). If you choose one of the higher difficulties, expect your designs to fail on occasion. Death means simply being reborn. In the Space stage, your spaceship will be recreated with all your previous inventory and upgrades.

I recommend trying Easy difficulty at some point, even if you're a more challenge-oriented gamer. The higher difficulties seem to discourage variation in creature design. For example: not giving your predator arms will deprive it of an extra attack (Strike), thereby making it less able in a fight.

(10) Spore has plenty of fun surprises. In the Creature stage, you might hear a ruckus, see animals running, and wonder what's going on. Then you see meteors crashing into the land around you. If the music suddenly takes a sci-fi edge, it means there's a spaceship flying in the atmosphere above. The first time I saw this (a very exciting moment), the spaceship just passed overhead and flew off. The second time this happened, the spaceship was abducting creatures all around me and following me around (even more exciting!). I don't know if I could have been abducted, but I'd guess that it would have simply started me with a new creature as if I'd died.

(11) The music gets annoying sometimes. How frequently this happens will vary greatly from player to player, but I expect that every player will be annoyed at least on occasion. Perhaps that's just the nature of procedural music.

When you reach the Tribal stage (or is it the Civilization stage?), you can create a musical theme for you civilization. You create this theme by selecting a Beat, an Anthem, an Instrument, up to four Ambiences, and adjusting the notes provided (the Anthem) by moving note icons up or down within an octave or so. Yes, that's a single beat and single instrument, so don't expect to make anything lengthy or complex with this editor. As a lifelong songwriter, I was hoping for much more, but it's still very cool.

In Space stage, you'll hear a civilization's theme anytime you hover over one of their cities. So other players will presumably hear your theme. With that in mind, I don't understand why my musical theme shows up in my personal Sporepedia but cannot be uploaded to the public Sporepedia.

(12) The Space stage stands apart from the other stages. In addition to overarching goals, you're encouraged to take missions from the colonies of other civilizations and your own. This is actually very similar to the typical MMO system. Mission types include eliminating diseased creatures to save an ecosystem, aducting citizens or creatures for delivery, scanning a planet's flora and fauna, conquering a planet, and learning how to do things.

Terraforming and colonization require limited resources. You can buy or discover permanent spaceship additions which allow you to do things like raise or lower terrain. But changing a planet's atmosphere or installing a colony require expendable purchases. You must buy each colony before you can place it. You must buy and drop a machine to change an atmosphere, then purchase a new one. This is good in that it introduces a strong amount of strategy to gameplay, but many players will be disappointed that they won't be able to terraform for a long time.

Even on Easy difficulty, the Space stage will challenge some players. It's easy to spread yourself too thin. Or you might spend money on ship upgrades which should have gone to colony development or defenses (turrets). If you're eager to explore, like I was, then you might have to deal with more civilizations and planets than you have the resources and time to handle.

Here are my creations. The Kreppel are my first and only civilization so far to take to Space. Needless to say, they're dark and vicious predators. I had to make alliances with inferior beings early on to protect my colonies from a couple equally vicious invaders, but planet-hopping alone to the center of the universe. The Phemos is my social herbivore. It can glide pretty fast with those wings. The Sphinx is a failed attempt to make a scary building that looks like a beast.

Tomorrow, I'll tell the story of my first creature, from single cell to galactic domination. I'll also offer tips.

Friday, September 05, 2008

the true heart of "casual"

N'Gai Croal (who I love to hear banter about games with Michael Pachter, by the way) wrote an article that inadvertently highlights the reason the "casual games" trend is a fool's errand.

GameInformer editor-in-chief Andy McNamara recently wrote (September 2008 issue) that the division between casual and hardcore gamers is an illusion. The same gamers who play Halo play Bejeweled. Quality, McNamara says, is what drives game sales. The industry is naturally growing beyond the borders of generations who grew up with video games, growing beyond its initial marketing and distributing limitations, and the major causes of that growth are being misperceived.

Croal's article points out why that argument holds water, at least to a limited extent:

"Every session that I have with one of these games feels like a complete experience – even when it’s interrupted – as though I’ve experienced a beginning, a middle and an end."

That's what "casual" games have that makes them so popular right now, particularly to new and infrequent gamers. They offer a "complete experience" immediately, at any time, and consistently.

Immediately means you don't have to work up to the thrill. The thrill begins when you start the game. MMOs are notorious for telling players "the real fun comes later", and they're shooting themselves in the foot that way. A game that gradually unfolds a story is fine, but there should be some other aspect of the game that is immediate and self-contained (doesn't require remembering what you were doing the last time you played). Fable 2 seems to be an example of a game that offers both a long-term experience and immediate experiences. The omnipresence of immediate experiences and short-term rewards is an important distinction between entertainment and the hardship of real life. Don't make players wait for the thrill.

At any time means the thrill doesn't come in spurts or need rebuilding after the game is paused. Cutscenes are often at odds with this by forcing the player to wait before interaction (play) resumes. Harsh death penalties can put fun on hold or make challenges feel more like work than fun. Pausing a game will inevitably disrupt a player's level of immersion, but keeping fun in all areas and all moments of the game allows the player to regain this immersion quickly and effortlessly. Simple, intuitive controls allow players to move from game to game and take long breaks without feeling frustrated by having to relearn.

Consistently means the thrill is there every time the game is turned on. An MMO, for example, might be inconsistent because its thrill depends on variables like how many players are currently logged in, which players are logged in, or the prevalence of lag. The degree of fun in each play-session is relatively unpredictable. Likewise, games that shift dramatically in content from one point to another, as Half-Life did (human weapons in a human environment --> alien weapons in an alien spaceship) and Assassin's Creed did (fast-paced exploration and combat in the Crusades --> slow dialogue and not much to do during the modern environment), limit their popularity by jarring many players and putting off potential players who don't see a focused game. Every time I boot up Puzzle Quest or Diablo 2, I'll face different challenges and enemies, but the basic style of gameplay remains constant.

Yes, people who are new to gaming or haven't gamed in years need simplicity to convince them they can handle games comfortably. Yes, these potential gamers are more susceptible to lower game prices, because they have not been cultured to accept the high prices of blockbuster games. But beyond that, the appeal of "casual" games is not out of reach of "hardcore" games.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

the flipside

Sometimes a lot of fun can be found by flipping the usual scenario on its head.

I was playing Saints Row yesterday, in anticipation of the sequel. It's a great game, better than GTA IV in my opinion, and has me wondering now whether I want to pick up Saints Row 2 before Fallout 3.

Anyway, there's one activity in that game that illustrates my point beautifully. It's called Insurance Fraud. Whereas getting hit by a speeding car is usually one of the quickest ways to die in the game, Insurance Fraud rewards players for doing just that. During the activity, the player will take no damage from vehicles as long as the impact is intentional (if the player hits a trigger first to dive). The player tries to surprise drivers and time his dives so that his body will fly high and far upon impact. There are bonuses for being hit by certain vehicles, like sportscars, UPS-size trucks, and civil vehicles (cop cars and ambulances). There are also bonuses for being hit near witnesses or cops.

It's so much fun. What are some other examples of a usual scenario being flipped on its head?