Friday, February 27, 2009


Games don't have to choose between making resources either plentiful or scarce. No resource has to be supplied in steady stream throughout the game -- be it ammo, mana, health, gear, or other.

My religion, like others, includes an annual time of fasting. For forty days, we make especially difficult sacrifices to remind ourselves of our reliance on God. A game's players can similarly be called to fast; to go without something they normally have access to. The fast can be forced, encouraged, or merely suggested. The player might even be given the choice of what to sacrifice. There's a variety of possible benefits.

The general idea of a fast has been implemented many times before, but I believe there's still plenty of room for innovation.

The most common form of fasting in games is temporarily forcing the player to use a particular weapon or category of weapons. Bioshock, for example, occasionally removes the player's guns so that plasmids must be relied on exclusively. Many shooter games remove players' preferred weapons from time to time.

Another form is lack of aid resources. Left 4 Dead's AI director sometimes makes first aid kits unavailable to increase difficulty.

The form of fasting I find most compelling is reliance on persons or characters. This might be more common in games than I can recall right now, but I'm sure much more exploration is possible.

As in my religious example, such reliance might be constant throughout one's experience but reinforced in a particular moment. People tend to ignore what they are used to, so the momentary emphasis is important. For example, the player in Deus Ex is constantly dependent on NPCs to understand the what's going on (the plot), but it's not until the player realizes he has been lied to or manipulated that he becomes actively aware of that dependence.

A couple shooter games I've played included moments when the player's wounded character is firing at enemies while being dragged by an NPC ally. Left 4 Dead is fully of dependency caused by temporary inability (such as being pinned beneath a Hunter).

What other forms might fasting take in games? and to what purposes?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

pots vs chests

Apparently, Blizzard developers have at least had internal discussions about treasure chests and keys. It's not a debate that must be limited to fantasy games. Lockers, desks, and ammo crates often perform the same role in realistic FPS games. The essential question is this: When loot is part of gameplay, is it better to control supplies by distribution or by access?

Keys and hacks are methods of access control. The player might be able to see where the loot is stored, but he cannot access that loot because the container is locked. Supply is determined by skill (such as hacking ability) or by meta-loot (such as keys).

Unlocked or open containers are methods of distribution control. If the player can see it, the player can get it. Supply is determined by the frequency and locations of containers.

Which would you use? or would you use a combination of the two?

Fable 2 has locked chests requiring silver keys to open, with silver keys hidden in fixed locations around the gameworld. This has two benefits: (1) the player is encouraged to explore, and (2) anticipation is allowed to build before loot is acquired. Unfortunately, I don't recall any loot in those chests being that spectacular, so the lack of access is more disappointing than exhilirating. And searching for silver keys rarely, if ever, leads to other rewards (even aesthetic rewards, like a striking view).

Diablo 2 has both locked and unlocked containers, with keys acquirable by drop and by purchase. The main problems here are: (1) keys are so common and cheap as to be mundane, and (2) locked chests don't always provide better loot than unlocked containers. Again, keys don't seem to be much fun.

Fallout 3 and Oblivion make unlocking loot containers a skill. The result is that loot frequency becomes an important variable to overall gameplay -- if you can't or won't pick/hack locks, then your character must make do with far less equipment and money. This is a better use of access control. Bioshock also uses this system, though in a more fluid way (allowing skill-augments to be swapped out).

I prefer distribution control. Diablo 2's gear and loot system, overall, is less about maintaining needs than discovering wants. It favors spectacular finds over mundane acquisitions.

Can an access system, like keys and hacks, be spectacular?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

pay-to-play events

It seems strange to me that DLC always takes the form of permanent content... always as objects, rather than events.

In the case of MMOs, it would be hard to charge for events after so many years of including that service in the subscription package. But I'm surprised games like Call of Duty 4 and Rock Band 2 don't have pay-to-play events.

It could take any number of forms. Tournaments could offer real prizes, which were bought with entry money. Music games could offer songs as temporary downloads (surely, record labels would make more songs available then). This stuff could be offered for pennies.

Monday, February 23, 2009

offline play isn't going anywhere

Apparently, almost half of the gamers with an account on Xbox Live don't pay for a Gold membership (which would give them access to online multiplayer). This makes me even more certain that online play and multiplayer are not, as they are sometimes touted to be, the future of gaming. They are merely options, with offline play and single-player games remaining very popular.

We can assume that many 360 gamers want to play online but either will not / cannot pay for it or they don't have enough free time to justify the expense. However, we can also assume that many gamers pay for a Gold account but don't regularly use it for online play (I'm an example). I expect those and other factors make the Gold/Silver accounts balance a less-than-perfect indicator of interest in single-player gameplay vs multiplayer, but it might be roughly accurate in that regard.

More importantly, though, we can look at the sales figures for single-player games. Bioshock, Assassin's Creed, Oblivion, Fallout 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Wii Play, Wii Sports, Wii Fit, and Metal Gear Solid 4 are all bestselling games that thrive on offline, single-player experiences. Other hits like The Sims, Spore, and Little Big Planet are essentially offline, single-player experiences in which online components work backstage. Single-player games are still very profitable and still among the most popular games around.

And yet, how much money is there to be had from downloadable content? That potential will skew the market toward online gameplay. Single-player games will always have a large share of the market, but I expect we'll see more and more games using the model of Oblivion and GTA IV: single-player, but with DLC that does not always appear simultaneously as hard copies.

Friday, February 20, 2009

ammo drops

Any fan of shooter games knows the frustration of looting an enemy only to find ammo you don't want. Perhaps you prefer a shotgun and you keep finding machine gun ammo. Or perhaps you love the sniper and you keep finding grenades.

Sometimes it feels like the game is plotting against you. "No, use this weapon!" it says. The game keeps trying to coax you into a playstyle you don't prefer. Of course, this is often just the player's wishful misperception.

In any case, it raises the question of how ammo drops can and should be handled. I don't think there's any best answer -- what's good depends on the specific game and the designer's goals. But let's explore some of the options.

(1) Keep the drop frequency of all ammo even. This approach can encourage players to mix it up by ensuring they run out of their preferred ammo. How scarce any ammo type is depends on the number of weapons in the game. The more potential weapons in an area, the more likely the ammo found won't be preferred.

(2) Increase the frequency of ammo for the weapon the player is currently using. This approach encourages the player to pick a favorite weapon, to choose a playstyle. If ammo drops in general are high enough, it doesn't prevent players from switching weapons according to whim or changing scenarios (such as environment).

(3) Frequency of ammo drops are relative to each particular weapon's cumulative use. This accounts for players having preferred weapon sets, rather than preferences for a single weapon at a time. If a player likes to switch between a shotgun and sniper rifle, then more ammo is found for those weapons than for other weapons. This also means that if the player is carrying a sniper but hasn't used it in a while, he won't get extra sniper ammo he doesn't need.

(4) Encourage specific weapons for specific encounters through ammo. For example, if a particularly tough boss is more susceptible to incendiary rounds, then that ammo type drops within the boss's vicinity. In subtlest for, this can be used as hints to the player.

(5) Offer multiple weapons per ammo type. This encourages players to select a preferred genre of weapons, like in Medal of Honor: Airborne (rifles use one ammo, machine guns another), or a preferred ammo style (anti-personnel, anti-armor, incendiary, etc).

What other options are there? Which do you prefer?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

local economies

Sadly, no matter how well a company is run, it will always be susceptible to uncontrollable influences and events. Governments and economies are two such influences.

From what I can tell, most game developers living in California are usually happy to live there. They enjoy the landscape and the culture, stomaching the high expense of living with little complaint. But the state's current economic situation and rumblings of higher taxes make me wonder how the game industry will respond.

I'm offering no political commentary; making no predictions. I'm just wondering what it means when the geographical heart of this industry happens to be the region most endangered by America's current economic troubles. Game companies have been hurting from the national economy for some time now. But to what extent are they hurting from local economies?

I found out today that some small portion of the "stimulus" bill will go to Hollywood filmmakers. Are game developers also expecting money from the bill? If so, would it be enough to offset unexpected costs? There's talk of numerous taxes in California being raised.

Might such raised expenses be enough to cause an exodus of game developers from the state? or enough to convince new developers to set up shop elsewhere? Are any states or cities handling the recession particularly well and attracting game businesses?

As I said, I'm making no predictions. But these are issues I'd expect to come up more often in the coming weeks and months. I keep reading articles about how the global economy is affecting the industry. I haven't happened across one yet discussing local economies. If you see one, please share it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

subtle settings

Does it seem to anyone else like most game settings have all the subtlety of a wrecking ball?

There's the utter devastation of Fallout 3, Gears of War, and Resistance 2. There's the blatant fascism of Half-Life 2 and Bioshock. Overt alien invasions, war hotspots, monsters, tyrants, blood caked on the walls, bodies lying on floors and hanging from ceilings, etc.

It sure would be nice to occasionally play a game where the conflicts are under the surface, the enemies hidden in plain sight, the outcomes uncertain. Most great works of film and literature contain elements of mystery, complex and rounded characters, and questions left open.

Monday, February 16, 2009

the American hero

I watched the movie Die Hard for the nth time over the weekend. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that John McClane is like a modern John Wayne, and John Wayne is the quintessential American hero of our stories.

What defines the American hero?

First, there's rugged individualism, which is probably the most American trait. I feel the need to point out that rugged individualism is not the same as the selfish libertine attitude that modern Hollywood writers like to give protagonists. It's not individualism without a care for others, or doing things differently just to be different. Rugged individualism means stubborn self-sufficiency and a willingness to fight against any odds.

Most of John Wayne most memorable characters are polite and soft-spoken, but also no-nonsense persons who don't let law or manners get in the way of justice (if they were D&D characters, their alignment would be Neutral Good). Wayne usually ends up punching somebody. McClane isn't so polite -- definitely rough around the edges -- but he's similarly decisive in response to problems and quick to give jerks their due.

The American hero doesn't want to be heroic. He wants a quiet, ordered life; but he accepts a personal duty to protect the weak against evil and injustice. Incidentally, the American hero is in this sense very similar to the farmer-soldier of ancient Rome -- he does his duty, then returns to a quiet, humble life.

The American hero is humble (which is definitely harder to see in McClane). In the film McClintock, Wayne's character owns most of the land around town and is a sort of unofficial mayor, yet most of the townsfolk admire him because he's fair and respects the lowliest people. He's gives money to the town bum, despite knowing the money will be spent on liquor, and jokes around with the bum as a friend. He's friends with the same indians who put arrows in him years ago, and even represents them against his own government. The American hero is usually uneducated, relying on street smarts and a poor man's wisdom.

Which, perhaps, is another characteristic of the American hero: an open heart. He's friends with unlikely people... people who are very different from him. He might not even understand them, but he still travels with them, jokes with them, and fights for them. You see this with McClane, too, in the way he befriends a young, aloof limo driver or an eccentric airport groundskeeper. The American hero isn't multicultural. Wayne and McClane aren't worldly. They are proud of their own culture and not too interested in learning others, but they are accepting of people from any origin.

What else might be a characteristic of the archetypal American hero?

And can you think of any game characters that come close? I think the Master Chief in Halo and Marcus Fenix in Gears of War might.

I've asked my English friend, David, to describe who he thinks is the quintessential British/English hero from film and literature. His gut reaction was Sean Connery as James Bond. I'll be interested to see how American heroes compare to heroes of other cultures. My guess is that heroes cross-culturally are basically the same, but there are a number of significant nuances. Humility, for example, is not a virtue in all cultures.

Friday, February 13, 2009

overwhelming narratives

I watched an episode of CSI: NY yesterday. An interesting aspect of that show's structure is that there's two detective stories taking place at the same time, interrupting each other at a predictable pace.

This has two benefits. First, it doubles the writers' chances of picking a basic scenario that each viewer will appreciate. Second, each mystery distracts viewers from the other, thereby making it less likely the audience will figure things out... preserving the element of surprise.

The latter is a strategy game writers might employ. Unlike TV shows, games generally don't dictate pace entirely, and that dampens the power of distractions. Still, shifting the player's focus periodically can be a way to prolong suspense and make anticipation more difficult.

But I wouldn't blame a writer for not using this strategy. It's almost cheating, right?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Agency interview: part 2

A few months ago, Osbon and I published the first part of an interview we did with SOE Seattle's Matt Staroscik. Matt is Game Designer and Lead Writer for The Agency -- an interesting combination of FPS action, RPG-like character advancement, and classic MMO features. Here's part two of the interview.

Thanks again to Staroscik and SOE; and also to Osbon for inviting me to offer some questions.

(1) Game server - will there be just one game world, like EvE Online or many, like WoW?

There will definitely be more than one server. EvE’s approach is great for their game, but our world has its own specific needs.

(2) What balance of PvE & PvP content will be included in the initial release? Will PvP be optional for players & will there be specific PvP areas?

If we’re talking about the quantity of content customized for PvP vs PvE, PvE is definitely the leader. We’re very much a traditional MMO in that way, but we know our shooter-lovin’ audience demands a quality PvP experience too. We’re putting a lot of work into making great PvP maps and game modes to scratch that itch.

The great thing about PvP is that your opponents provide most of the variety. A few good arenas can go a long way towards a satisfying PvP experience, if you have well balanced weapons and skills to back them up. Everyone reading this article can probably name a few FPS PvP maps that they have come to love over the years. Hopefully, The Agency will add a couple to your list. (‘til then, maybe I will see you in dustbowl!)

Even though PvP is a critical feature for us to nail, PvP is never required in The Agency. We’re going to do our best to lure you in though, with good matchmaking and remorseless gameplay. We’ll also be putting bonuses for the PvE game into PvP spaces—like unlocking side quests. I expect that many of our players will split their time pretty evenly between PvP and PvE, and I’m very optimistic that even people who dislike PvP will have some fun in the arenas anyway.

(3) How much of the game world will be open to the player to explore on release & how much of this will comprise of instance-based areas?

The split between fully public and instanced space is about 50/50.

(4) Prague has been highlighted as one of the cities that players can explore as an open environment - how many other cities will there be like this? Can you name any?

While you can explore a good bit of Prague, I want to make sure that people aren’t expecting a GTA-style open world. The Agency is built on a hub-and-spoke model, where you have a large space that is connected via travel services to smaller spaces. So, you’ll run around in the embassy district looking for trouble, and then grab a limo to take you over to the red-light district, and from there maybe you will get into an instance. One other major locale that’s built in this way is Panama City.

There are many smaller locales, too—a couple of examples are Kiev and Cartagena. We want players to feel like they are traveling all over the world instead of spending all their time in a few cities.

(5) Will players be able to use land/sea/air Vehicles eg like 'mounts' in other MMOs? If so will there be vehicle combat?

I can’t talk much about our plans for vehicles right now. We have some really lofty aspirations, but we have not locked down what we’ll ship with. It’s better not to tease you…

(6) How often will new content be added to the game over time? Will new content always be DLC or are you planning retail expansion packs? Both?

The “Agency Current Episode System” (ACES) will expand on the main storyline that players experience in the PvE game with new, free missions. We intend to deliver new ACES missions every other week.

There will also be expansion packs, of course. Whether they will be downloads or in a box, I don’t know yet. I have a feeling we’ll see some of both.

(7) Will there be a monthly access fee?

Man, everyone asks that!

SOE is very interested in different models than the traditional MMO monthly fee for our next generation of games. What does that mean for The Agency? I can’t let that out of the bag just yet.

The Agency will probably be the first MMO I've played post-beta in years. It seems to have some interesting dynamics, a light-hearted and humorous style, and lots of fun allusions to popular spy and mercenary fiction. Here's a video from a year ago:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

iTunes for games

It seems foolish at this point for any game to not be sold in download form (though I think hard copies still make sense as well). Downloads have an inherent advantage: they're more conducive to impulse purchases.

Get gamers used to buying games online and you're all but guaranteed to sell games via impulsive decisions. In less than two minutes, a person can buy a game on a site like Direct2Drive. It's so much easier to coax a person into buying something momentarily than to get them to plan a later purchase.

The game industry desperately needs something like iTunes, one place where every product from every company can be downloaded. In fact, I no reason to settle for something like iTunes... start signing deals with Apple, and Amazon. Do that, and sales will increase exponentially.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

combining fun and depth

Keira points out that the deepest and most impressive literature usually requires more investment from the audience to get through. That got me thinking...

Relatively few people read classic fiction, literary masterpieces, outside of school. Shakespeare, Dickens, Poe, and Dante might be universally recognized as great writers, but their works are generally not casual reading.

What might that tell us about classic games? interactive masterpieces?

Well, for one thing, I think of the literary masterworks that became popular in their own times. Those works excel on multiple levels. On the one hand, they can be enjoyed as casual entertainment. On the other hand, they involve enough depth, mystery, and open questions to warrant replays and slower, lingering enjoyment. The best stories (LOTR, for example) are shallow and deep at the same time, combining serious philosophy and commentary with simple jokes, quirks, and everyday events.

Monday, February 09, 2009


In college, creative writing instructors usually gravitate toward modern styles of fiction. Students are trained to write like 20th-century libertines, which is to say form is more strictly controlled than guts. Modern readers, we're taught, like subjectivity in their fiction; there are a hundred accurate interpretations for any given story. But modern readers don't like subjectivity in description. Every character must be painted to the finest detail, every motion and action described in documentary fashion.

This is a sadly limited approach to fiction. It's equivalent to suggesting that jazz is how music is done, while folk tunes and rock ballads are something primitive that sophisticated songwriters now ignore.

Fables are a form of storytelling which is commonly perceived as crude and antiquated. They rarely linger on physical description, focusing on ideals/forms rather than specific shapes and actualities. The author uses broad strokes to convey a very specific message. If there's a plot, and there often is not, the action is relatively subdued in its service to the theme; and the story might be punctuated by many small themes.

If you glance over the short story I posted on my fiction blog last week, you'll see some examples of what I'm talking about; and perhaps get a sense of how fables can be told in modern language and culture. Notice that the physical appearances of the characters are not described. Note how much direct telling there is. Fables usually involve commentary on the story's events, though the commentary is often masked in riddles and imagery.

Anyway, so why am I talking about fables? It is indeed a primitive storytelling method, but it's a good one. And I'm wondering how fables can look in game form.

Visual media play by different rules than literature. The film 300 is an example of a visual fable. Appearances are often meant to be representative and idealistic. The story is painted in broad strokes, skimming over details to keep theme front-and-center. Action scenes are filled with purpose, emphasizing the primary theme (courage and resilience). A fable-game can have all the same elements as other games, but the emphasis is different.

One last point: fables aim at truth. To say that they focus on ideals and representations is not to say they disregard reality. They are aimed at reality, but reveal it in a fundamentally different way. If plain, straightforward language was enough to illuminate our world, we would have no need of art. Fables use bare caricatures to communicate the essences which mathematical descriptions miss.

Sorry if this post feels incomplete. I'm a bit distracted today.

Friday, February 06, 2009

game theaters

Thinking about how the game industry's employment models relate to the film industry's models (I'm not sure the two are similar enough to use the same methods), I got to wondering if the game industry could make use of a theater system or something similar.

Ultimately, films end up on DVDs, iTunes, TV, etc. That's where long-term profits come from. But the film industry relies heavily on short-term sales in the form of movie theater tickets. Generally speaking, films are not available as ownable copies until after they have had a run in theaters.

Could games use a similar financial model?

Right now, games go straight from development to ownable copies. It could almost certainly be different, but should it be? What are the alternatives?

Theater gaming could work. Whereas 50+ people can view a movie in a theater, far fewer can simultaneously play a game (currently, anyway). That said, more and more multiplayer games can support 16-32 simultaneous players. I expect charging that many people for an hour or two of playtime on a giant screen in a dark theater (perhaps with rumbling seats, scoreboards on the back of seats or on the walls, permanent theater records, etc) before a game's release to discs and downloads could prove profitable. How many people would pay to join a theater tournament for a new game, ala Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4, for both the experience and for a chance to hold that particular theater's permanent records for that game's competitions? Many, I'm sure.

What are some other possibilities?

Anyway Tales

At different points in my life, I've written short stories and poetry. I even started a novel when I was a kid, but quickly realized what a pain in the arse that would be, haha. And of course I've long written lyrics for my music (I've been songwriting about 15 years or so).

Well, I've decided to create a second blog on which to post that stuff. Partially because I'm a reclusive introvert and little, if any, of it is likely to get published otherwise. And partially to coax me back into writing. I still write lyrics all the time, since I'm always making new music (I have too much), but I'd like to get back into making short stories and maybe poetry as well.

Anyway, I don't intend this new fiction blog to be as regular as the game blog. But maybe two or three times a week I'll try to post something. I'll probably have to write new stories and poems, since I either can't find or don't like most of my old ones. Of course, I just said that's half the point, didn't I? Lyrics I have plenty of, so perhaps I'll post a couple lyrics and one of something else each week.

If Myspace or some other site will let me upload mp3s for free and embed those songs in my blog posts, then I'll show you how the music goes to the lyrics. I'm not a great performer, but I'm a good creator.

As it says at the top of that new blog, I welcome criticism. Little of this stuff has ever been reviewed by anyone, so I'm sure it could all be improved.

Anyway, you can go to the site at any time through my profile or in the sidebar links as my fiction.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

old fogies

Looking at that picture of General Patton in a previous post, it occurs to me that game protagonists are rarely, if ever, old. James Bond might be the only character over 40 that I've ever played as in a video game. Of course, I don't play slow-paced detective games.

It makes sense that the majority of protagonists would be young, just as they are in films. Young people have more mobility, sharper reflexes, room for new romantic relationships, more to learn and more to discover about themselves, etc. But is this lack of elderly player-characters an odd gap?

Some elderly traits could make for interesting story elements and gameplay twists. For example: long and tested relationships, a focus on younger generations, limited ability to flee or pursue, a patient pace, extensive familiarity with certain places and things, a value system at odds with current events and culture, preference for old tools and strategies, etc.

It's not that I think old people should be represented. I just think old protagonists could offer gameplay not possible with younger characters. It's a possibility to keep in mind when starting a new game.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

the graphical plateau

Pete wonders why he seems to care less about graphics in games these days than he used to. Here's my theory.

It's a natural response to industry development. Graphics in the beginning sucked. Primitive graphics are fine for some games, but detrimental for others. The higher the industry bar is raised, the more sorts of games that can succeed with standard or slightly-substandard graphics and the fewer games that require top-of-the-line graphics. At this point, the bar has been raised high enough that most game concepts are viable at the standard graphical level.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

matchmaking by values

Ah, the immortal hardcore-casual debate. Look, there are two kinds of gamers:

this guy

... and this guy.

Alright, so it's not that simple, but you get my point.

For many gamers, the greatest thrill is found in achievement; beating the odds, surpassing all obstacles, being better than your fellows, and (above all) winning. Such people don't just handle struggle, they embrace it. The harder the challenge, the greater the achievement.

For other gamers, like me, the greatest thrills are found in unexpected moment-to-moment experiences. While other folks are busting their butts for trophies and bragging rights, we're on the sideline enjoying hot dogs and cheerleaders. Sure, we're out to achieve goals to, but we're taking our time about it, going the scenic route, loving the distractions, and laughing as we tackle challenges in the most inefficient ways.

Why, oh why, do developers keep shoving us together?

Don't get me wrong. The best multiplayer systems capitalize on the existence of different playstyles by enabling cooperative roles suited to those playstyles. But it's ridiculous that matchmaking programs and other multiplayer systems rarely help players of similar gaming values to find each other.

Simply allowing players to check a box in your matchmaker for "hardcore" or "recreational" does not help, since everyone has a different understanding of what those labels mean. Simply enabling the existence of guilds for every type without helping players find the guilds that fit them is not enough. Sites like GamerDNA help, but only a fraction of your players will know about it or be interested in an account on a peripheral site.

I hate listening to another player tell me I'm suppose to play a class a particular way, complaining about the lack of coordination, bragging about what a badass he is, and so on. And players like that hate playing with people who don't stick to optimal strategies, who don't put in the practice to get headshots every time, who don't know all the slang and every scrap of knowledge about the game, people who laugh at defeat.

For Pete's sake, let us play with people we enjoy! When I log onto World at War on XBL and there are almost a quarter of a million people playing too, there's no reason we all have to be in the same match pool. More people would group in MMOs if they were not always having to roll the dice and hope this group won't be full of obsessive jerks or lazy idiots.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Godfather 2 interview: The Don's View

One of the more dynamic games of early 2009 is EA's The Godfather II, due out this month. The first Godfather game was an interesting mix of a GTA-style open world and RPG character progression; set in the Godfather universe, of course. I enjoyed it.

The sequel seems to have made many improvements. A major difference between that first Godfather game and this one is a new feature called The Don's View. Associate Producer Wes Culver answered some questions I had about this fresh aspect of the game.

How does the player defend his turf? Is it as simple as taking a cut in profits each day or week to hire guards? Is there any tradeoff involved?

As a Don, there are several different ways the player can defend the businesses he owns (besides physically going there himself). First off, as soon as a player takes over a new business, he will immediately want to add guards to protect that business. Having guards allocated to a business will keep your rivals at bay, as an unguarded one is ripe for the taking.

When guards alone are not enough to ward off a powerful attack, the player can choose to send his made men to a business to defend it. Made men are much more powerful than regular guards, and you can tell them to defend a business whether it’s being attacked or not. If it’s currently under attack, they’ll kill off the enemy attackers. If it’s not, they’ll be ready and waiting for battle.

As with most things, there are tradeoffs involved with each method of defending the player’s turf. Guards cost money, so they will eat into your profits. Made men are free, but there a limited number of them and when one is sent to defend a business, that’s one less personal bodyguard for the player’s character.

Do different gangs have different general strategies, which the player will compete against?

Each rival family does have a certain set of traits that causes them to have varying strategies when competing against the player. For example, one family might be obsessed with money, so they’ll go after the businesses which generate the most income. Another family has a weakspot for prostitutes, so they’ll go after the brothels. The traits of each family are subtle, but they do add a bit of variety while the player progresses throughout the game.

How many cities does The Godfather 2 include? Do they all share the same types of rackets and such?

There are three different cities in The Godfather II and all have a pretty good variety of different types of fronts and rackets. Certain groups of rackets – called “Crime Rings” – will give you a significant bonus if you own every business within that crime ring. We focused on crime rings when deciding which businesses are located in each of the three cities. Some crime rings can be completed in a single city, while others may be spread across multiple cities so they’re harder to complete. All in all, I believe the variety is balanced well.

Your site states: "When taking over a venue in a monopoly all connected venues in the monopoly will be revealed to the player." Does this mean only that the connections between businesses will be revealed? Or does it mean that venues are not marked at all in The Don's View until they are discovered?

Businesses become “discovered” when the family that owns each are revealed. The way new families are revealed is by progressing through the story missions of the game. However, a player may run into the situation where he took over a business where related ones have yet to be revealed (because the family that owns it has yet to be revealed). In that case, those businesses will be visible, but additional information (like the actual location) may not be accessible to the player until the family is revealed.

How many different game perks are available to be acquired through controlling monopolies? Will the player likely control all of them by the end of the game?

There are a total of 9 different Crime Rings (monopolies was a term we used early on, but have since renamed them “crime rings”) and each carries its own special bonus. And yes, by the end of the game, the player will control every single one. The player will be one extremely powerful Don by the end.

Does the gameworld remain active while the player is in The Don's View? I noticed some buildings on fire in the screenshot on your site.

When you enter the Don’s View, the game world is not active. Buildings that are under attack or that have been bombed will have their own unique animations (such as being shown as on fire in the Don’s View), however, game time is actually paused.

Early on in the design process, we were considering both alternatives, but keeping the world active while the player is in the Don’s View ultimately led to too many complications and questions to be answered. Acting like a Don and using the Don’s View is already a robust system and we didn’t want to overwhelm people with too much complexity.

Can you offer some examples of different strategies you've seen players take when using The Don's View?

Throughout the development process, we had many potential customers come into our office and participate in focus tests by playing the game from start to finish like a player at home would. Each had their own way of attacking other businesses using the Don’s View.

As an example, some players love to go after the rival made men- take them out to weaken the families before expanding to much. Others would attack the businesses that provided the most money each day, so they would have more cash flow to hire guards and upgrade their character and family. Many also would specifically target a certain Crime Ring so they could get the bonus, so there is a great deal of different strategies each player can employ.

Here's a GameTrailers video of The Don's View:

As I said before, The Godfather II seems to be a dynamic game. Whether you go after the enemy's Made Men or businesses first, the order in which you take Crime Rings, the order in which you take businesses, the stats you give your character, the Made Men you choose and how you use them... all of these things combine to give each player a relatively personal experience and add replayability. I'm looking forward to the game.

My thanks to Culver and EA for the interview.

So what do you think?

Sunday, February 01, 2009


I decided to give Twitter a try. To be honest, I have no idea what to expect. I don't really know what it's about, but I'm guessing it's kind of like a delayed IM.

Anyway, feel free to follow me (username: hallower1980) if you have it, and I'll add yours from there. Any advice is welcome too.