Tuesday, June 15, 2010

healing grenades

As you might expect, I'm reading and watching a lot on E3 news. I might offer some impressions later. For now, I've got two words for you:

healing grenades!

Dynamics are the name of the game, so why not make healing a bit more interesting? Imagine a grenade or vial of healing potion that you must smash against the ground. Throw it down at your feet and it heals you. Throw it by some allies and all in the area of effect are healed. But throw it too close to an enemy... and your enemy is healed.

This creates opportunities for many memorable moments. If your fellow player or AI companion is toe-to-toe with an enemy and hurting, you can try to aim your throw behind your ally so it heals him and not the enemy as well. If the fighters turn at just the wrong moment, you might heal the wrong person, or both of them, or neither. There might even be a possibility that the grenade can be batted while in the air... flying across the battlefield to land who knows where.

Even more, healing grenades might react differently to different objects. They might burn particular enemies. They might explode when they touch a particular metal, hurting friends or foes alike. If two healing grenades hit one spot simultaneously, the healing effect might be exponentially increased.

The basic idea is that, like the sticky grenade in Halo, there are countless possibilities that make each counter feel fresh and potentially surprising. Healing grenades might not fit a particular game, but all games should include at least one dynamic like this.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

digital dictionary

How many word games exist today? Hundreds. Why do they all use different dictionaries?

Is it really too much to ask that all developers use a common word bank?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

cheap trust

One reason I'm looking forward to another Deus Ex sequel is the possibility of trust gameplay that's actually meaningful.

Too often, players are put in situations where the protagonist is asked to trust a character while being all but certain that character is indeed trustworthy. There's no real question that the character is trustworthy. There's not even a possibility that circumstances might remove power from the character to keep his/her promises. The character just says "trust me" and player automatically answers "sure".

It's nice to be surprised by betrayal sometimes. Players have to feel like they're really taking a chance in order for those decisions to trust to seem important.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

leave it open

I just finished Mass Effect 2. Excellent. Bioware fixed problems, introduced some cool new dynamics, and cranked everything up a notch. A very memorable game, and one I'm anxious to play again with different choices.

But (an observation, rather than a complaint) I again ran into situations in which the "right answer" I hoped to choose was not among the dialog options. And, this time around, that situation came right at the end... at the most important decision my character makes in the game.

It wasn't the choice of action that disappointed me, but the reason behind it. Sometimes it's good to leave characters' motivations unstated so that the audience can inject his or her own. This is a game, afterall, so the player should have as much control as possible over the protagonist's implied thoughts.

If you're curious how I was disappointed at the end of Mass Effect 2, the explanation is below.


Shepard has the options of destroying the Collector space-station or keeping it for research. Research could provide valuable insights into Reaper technology and play a pivotal role in defeating them. But that research could also be used by the Illusive Man, apparently devoted to protecting and advancing the human species, to gain power for Cerberus alone and either act as dictator over everyone or aid only humans so that other species becomes subordinates.

I chose to destroy the station. And all my crew, whose loyalties I had earned, agreed with me. They all recited the above reasoning back to me... that the Illusive Man lacked the wisdom to wield such power generously or that other species would suffer, and so on.

But that's not why I chose to destroy the station. Whatever the dangers of giving the Illusive Man that much power, I agreed that researching Reaper tech could prove vital. I thought saving the station was worth the risk; better to ensure survival and fight for justice later. But I chose to destroy it because I thought the danger of the Reapers still holding sway with their indoctrination ability, despite the Illusive Man's proposed radiation sweep, was too much to risk.

In other words, I would have given Cerberus the power if I was certain its researchers would be beyond the Reapers' mind control. Unfortunately (but understandably), I wasn't given the option of that motivation for Shepard.

Oh well. I actually think the dialog options, on a whole, were much improved in the sequel.

I'd say Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games on the 360 now.

It will be interesting to see next time through if I can earn my crew's loyalties and complete every mission using the neutral dialog choices, as opposed to paragon or renegade choices. I'm a pretty even-keeled person, but it is fun to shoot a criminal in the foot now and then. :)

It will also be interesting fighting without the soldier's ability to slow time. That plus the Viper sniper rifle plus cryo ammo was a lot of fun.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

unlimited achievements

I'm not far into Mass Effect 2, but I'm very impressed so far. One thing Bioware did right was adding an in-game achievement system in addition to Xbox Live Achievements.

Console game developers shouldn't limit themselves to XBL Achievements, Avatar Awards and PSN Trophies. Design as many as you can, because gamers love them.