Choose Your Own Adventure

October 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

I look up at my screen, down at my mouse.  I count the enemies, and my men.  There’s no two ways about it, someone isn’t making it out alive.  I look at my Rookie, one kill for the mission, his first time in the real world, and I look at my Captain, battle hardened, scarred, and ready.  If this were a movie, the Captain would do it.  If this were a movie, my men wouldn’t have died while hiding behind cars.  If this were a movie, everything would be heroics.  But this wasn’t.  So my Rookie runs out, he takes a glancing blow while running over.  He fires on one enemy, killing it.  My captain advances safely, and guns down another.  Two more advance, surrounding the rookie.  The Captain sighs, reaches down to his belt, and pulls out a grenade.  Live bait is always the best.

There’s something wonderful about watching a story unfold before you.  One where you’re more of a puppetmaster than a bystander.  You pull the strings, constantly fighting against gravity, the wind, and children-in-the-audience-who-throw-sticks-at-you.  It’s still a play though, a plot written by someone else, though with details of your own devising.  And it’s this sort of story that shows the strength of games.

When you go to a movie, you’re not seeing your own story.  What you see, and what the guy next to you sees, are both exactly the same.  This promotes discussion.  You stand by the water-cooler, talk about how great this scene was, or how hot that chick looked.  You talk about the same things, and you compare what you thought of them.  Your standard, blockbuster game is the same.  You go through the set-piece, you slip on the hill, and Soap grabs your hand, saving you from death.  This too, can be discussed.  There’s a small amount of storytelling, in the way you got from point A to B, but there won’t really be much variance.

With XCOM or FTL, it’s interesting to see the return of player driven storytelling.  In a procedural world, A and B are still created by someone, somewhere, but the path between them can be winding, or direct.  The equipment you have, the people there with you, all will be different.  These aren’t games where you discuss what happened.  These are games where you tell.  You share your story with others, and they share theirs.  These games appeal to the tellers, not the listeners.  And there’s something wonderful about that.

+6 Str, +3 Dex, +5 Sta, -4 Int

October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Given I kind of liked my idea from last week for an RPG, I sat down and started thinking up a few ways to make it work.    The idea of a more or less traditional turn based RPG has stuck with me, it’s accessible, simple enough to understand, and as a huge benefit to me, easy enough to design and create.

From a theoretical basis, I decided that you should have a main character(which the story follows), and disposable little side minions, who you need to pay the upkeep for.  I want to keep the main team small, with everyone fielded at once, as you’ll primarily be fighting single, powerful, opponents.  The primary factor in terms of attacking order will be a speed statistic, not dissimilar to that of Pokemon, and your choice of moves will be taken at the start of each turn.  Obviously, if I simply kept it in this line, it wouldn’t be very interesting, so I though I’d bring something in that’s more or less a combination of the Paradigm system from Final Fantasy 13, and the types from Pokemon.  You’d attune yourself to different elements, which would change your spells available, spells would be mana cost free, as I’ve never been a huge fan of mana systems.  Spells would vary in terms of power(I’m currently running off an assumption of 2 spells per attunement), with some support, some straight offensive, and so on.  Spells would, for the most part, do magical damage, and scale off an intelligence statistic for damage, which is what helps to differentiate them from normal attacks.

The normal attacks would have a base amount, scaling off a strength statistic, with an additional amount of bonus damage, which is attuned physical.  Each enemy would have separate statistics for physical and magical defense, which should help you choose what types of abilities to use, and this would help prevent any sort of “god” stat, or ability.  As well as buying attunements for yourself, I imagine you’d have a chance to buy them for your followers, this, as well as equipment or similar for them is currently slightly problematic, given their disposable nature, though if things were bought cheaply for “x” turns, then I’d probably be able to get out of that trap.

While there’s still a whole lot of thought that needs to go into this, and there’s also a whole lot I’ve left ambiguous, hopefully this should give you some sense of what’s going through my mind as I think this stuff through.

My own time

October 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve come to realise that there’s a problem or six with how I do this thing.  I’m not just thinking this because I failed to update my daily updating blog two days in a row last week, thought I’ll admit it has factored into this, it was also partially inspired by the recent launch of the Potaku website.  This is a blog that I will hopefully contribute to, if I ever have anything worth saying in the future.

But, looking at it, it’s made me wonder why exactly I write.  Writing’s something I do on my own time, something I do for other people to read, even if I never spruik it.  I write it to  get things off my chest, so that I can talk about ideas. so that I can meander on and say things that have no point or purpose.  So mostly, I’ve given up on the idea of trying to update daily.  I’ll probably try to keep it up for the rest of the month, but realistically, I’ll probably give up again.  The aim of this was to motivate me to write things, something I have fun doing.  But if I spend three hours worrying about what I’m going to write, it’s not very fun.

So as with everything else I do in life, I’m going to chill, and see how it goes.  Because I’m slack like that.

Grinding away

October 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

As part of my continual efforts to never finish a series I start, I figured I’d look at something a little different today.  I’ve talked about Boss Battles before, but I wanted to look at the other part of an RPG, that is, the grind.

While playing Final Fantasy 13-2 today, I came to a rather harsh realisation.  I’m not very good at Role Playing Games.  I mean, I’ve known this for a long time, I’ve never been bothered to optimise my statistics, to research things in detail, to go the distance.  Instead, I’m far more likely to simply look up “Best solution for X” in google, and hope that it answers me.  While struggling with a boss fight earlier, I looked it up, and was dismayed to find that the average person attempting it was 20 levels lower than me(It only really, shows levels for main characters in 10 level blocks(I think)), and that someone 10 levels below me had blitzed through the fight without thinking.  I, on the other hand, had been juggling my paradigm’s, and still failed miserably.  What does this say for me?  Well, it says that I’m bad at games, but damn good at grinding.  That said, I don’t enjoy it all that much.  As much fun as it is to mash “A” while thinking about the universe, I figured there had to be another way.

So, could we have a game that is all about boss fights, and eliminates the grind?  The quick answer is yes.  Look at Shadow of the Colossus.  That game is all boss fights.  However, it’s also not really an RPG.  Yes, there’s a health stat, and a climb-o-meter, but at the end of the day, it’s reliant on skill, analysis, and implementation.  While the analysis is important in an RPG, and in something like FFXIII, with its ATB, skill is sometimes important, the implementation, where you hit the right button, isn’t actually a challenge.  There are games which are less reliant on the grind, Dark Souls, for instance.  In Dark Souls, while you do advance the traits of your character, the majority of the skill gain is entirely internal.  You, as the player, become better at the game, while your character very slowly advances.  The only way to get through a skill limitation in Dark Souls is to optimise your grinding, and even then it will take a very long time to have a noticeable effect.  So while grinding is entirely possible in Dark Souls, it’s not really an efficient way of playing, and it will only have a marginal effect on how well you do.

But I wanted to design something different.  A game which involved stat based boss fights, where your skill could affect them, but where you had the opportunity to “level” yourself up between them.  My simple solution, combine two genres.

Now, I’m sure this isn’t an original idea.  I doubt I’ve ever had an original idea in my life.  But so far as I can think, I don’t know of any games that have done this in quite the way I’m envisioning.  So, if I’m stealing someone’s idea, I imagine it’s only by accident, or coincydink.  So let’s start with the boss fights.  They’re something classic, maybe traditional Final Fantasy style, maybe more like the newer ones, maybe more Dragon Questy, I don’t know, details are hard.  Before each fight you have the option to distribute stat points, equip items, buy things, all that jazz.  You get all this stuff in a store(including buying stat points using the currency), and deal with it appropriately.  I imagine if you fail the boss fight, you have the opportunity to retry with what you have, or to go back and redistribute everything.

But how do you get this currency/point system things?  Good question, as you’d imagine, you get given some for defeating a boss.  Maybe there are minor rewards for completing it in certain ways, or in a number of turns, or something like that.  This encourages people to play the RPG side well, and think through what they do.  In between the boss fights though, you need to get to the next boss, and for this examples sake, you do that in a puzzle platformer.  Designed something like “N” you’d run from point A to point B, collecting currency, and using skills.  The reason I use N as an example, is that it has the fascinating pay-off between collecting gold, and getting more time.  This keeps the levels short, fast, and makes you question whether doing something is worth it.  By improving your time/collection in the skill based game, you get the ability to improve your character further.  What this allows for is people who are good at one element of the game to still play it.  That is, if you’re good at the RPG side, you’re still rewarded, but you need less reward to be able to complete the “boss fight” elements, and all you need do is get from point A to point B in the platforming section(which should be relatively easy).  Whereas if you’re good at the platforming bit, you can win the boss fights, due to the extra points you’ve gotten through all your platformingness.

Of course, this means that if you’re bad at both, persistence is key(or maybe just failure), and if you’re a glowing golden god, the game will become really easy, but sometimes positive reinforcement is a good thing.  Can I say unequivocally that this game would work?  No.  But so long as it’s designed well, I’d certainly love to give it a go.

Graphical Optimisation, from a visual perspective pt. 1

October 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

(No, I didn’t post anything yesterday, but it was a public holiday, so I didn’t feel like it.  Hey, shut up, I don’t make up the rules, I just enforce them.  Wait, no, I do make them up, so HA, you’re not my real mum)

When it comes to optimising a piece of code, there are two main facets to look at, the underlying code, and its actual implementation.  The former is a relatively simple process, where you go through what’s written, and make it as easy to read as possible, and minimise or fix any points where the code is causing slow down.  The implementation side though, will often require a lot of lateral thinking, and repeated tests to ensure that what you’re doing is actually optimising.  For a visual example, think of a graphical effect, such as Screen Space Ambient Occlusion.  When you go to implement it, you’re left with a few options, pertaining to graphical quality vs. computational power.  Theoretically, the best quality option would be to have the most complex processing system, which takes into account as many light bounces as possible, and to render it at the full screen resolution(or its upscaled anti-aliased form, depending on what you’re dealing with).  Simple optimisations here are to use a simpler light bounce calculation, thus reducing the amount of processing power for each pixel calculated, and to render it at a lower resolution than your screen, with some form of upscaling.  You could run into problems if your upscaling required more power than it would take to render the whole screen, and you’re more likely to get odd artifacts from within the effect, but overall, so long as it’s implemented well, the difference to visuals should be negligible, while the performance would be greatly improved.

For a significantly more optimised form, we could look at what Sucker Punch Productions did for Infamous 2.  Given a normal pre-baked light occlusion system is efficient, but lacks good detail, and a normal real time one is inefficient, and often will fail at the “big picture” they decided to combine the two.  As such, they pre-calculated occlusion maps for objects, and then used a function to calculate when the maps should be shown.  This allows for great clarity within the occlusion, while also allowing it to be very accurate, and most importantly, optomised.  It has a relatively light-weight piece of code running on screen, and it would increase the amount of RAM required, by increasing the number of “textures” in use, it would also slightly increase developmental computing budget, but to a point that should be unnoticable in terms of a full retail game.  This system however was designed to complement the existing AO, rather than replace it, in particular its uses were for medium distance, static objects, due to limitations of the pre calculation system(Compared to the long distance, static for pre-baked, and short distant,dynamic of SSAO).  However, in theory, the work that went into making it a complementary system, could be significantly refined to allow it to replace any form of real time occlusion calculation, or at least to significantly reduce the amount of calculation required for a normal visual appearance.  Regardless of its implementation, such optimisation is an important logical step.

But I want to go a little further with optimisation, that is, to put it into the truly visual spectrum.  For this, it’s important to look at another piece of visual work that takes a lot of time to create.  That is, cartoons.  More specifically, I was looking at anime, which takes many of the tradtional cartoon systems, and further refines them, and it occurred to me that certain changes to how video game graphics are shown could be made, which may help reduce the amount of time spent making them, and the amount of time it takes to render them.  Obviously, this is not a be-all-end-all solution.  There will always be space for hyper “realistic” games, and their greys and browns, but this train of thought would work best with anything from the “Uncharted 2” level of stylisation, right down to El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron(As is stands, Uncharted 2 is an almost perfect example of what I’m suggesting.  Obviously, my ideas aren’t new, but I wanted to clarify them on paper).

Tune in at some point in the future, where I get into better detail, and am hopefully less tired, and so I write better.

Self Sabotage

October 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

You’d think it would be easy.  Type something, anything, once a day, for a few weeks.  It doesn’t matter if it’s crap, if it has no point, if it meanders about incessantly.  All that matters is that you hit that “publish” button.

And yet it seems to be so, so hard.  “Oh, I’ll do it later,” I say.  Or I forget about it completely.  I look at what I’ve written, and I don’t think it’s even worth an appearance on my 0 readership blog.

So, as per usual, the biggest enemy is myself, and that leaves you with this.

Anna’s Quest

October 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

This is a simple enough blog post.  This one solely exists to redirect anyone who has stumbled here.  Where, good friend, are you being redirected?  To Anna’s Quest.  Anna’s Quest is easily the best point and click adventure game that I’ve played in recent years.  It is an absolutely gorgeous game.  It is well written, well designed, and a lot of fun.

It’s also cheap.  So, you, random person who is reading this, I implore you to please go and look at it.

And I’m not just saying that because I helped test it.

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