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Archive for the ‘game design’ tag

Thoughts on Tutorials

Posted on 24th Sep 2011 at 11:16 by Iain Farquhar with 26 comments

Iain Farquhar
When I was offered the chance to review the upcoming game Men of War: Vietnam, I initially leapt at the chance, but with the disc came a warning:

These games are bloody hard,' Harry said loudly, repeatedly, while looming behind me and staring at my laptop screen. 'Probably the closest thing to digital masochism I’ve ever seen.’

But I was determined to impress the office with my analytical skill and unbiased opinions and, besides, I had never come across a game that I couldn't bend to my will after a few hours. With anticipation in full flow, I started the game and prepared to give my best.

Three hours later, I still hadn’t completed the first mission. The first mission. I tried lowering the difficulty settings. I tried different approaches. With a mounting sense of failure and humiliation, I considered downloading the demo of the original Men of War so I could practice at home before a second attempt. And it was at that point I realised something...

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Developer Blog: Frozen Synapse's Singleplayer

Posted on 31st Aug 2010 at 12:03 by Mode 7 with 6 comments

Mode 7
We’ve just started work on the single player campaign mode for Frozen Synapse. Although the core of the gameplay is about two players trying to outwit each other, we’ve known from the outset just how important single player is for a strategy game.

A lot of strategy fans have an aversion to multiplayer; they like the sedate pace of singleplayer and the ability to immerse themselves in strategic decisions without the pressure of competition. Indeed, in this interview with RPS , the Gollop brothers talk about how a lack of single player hampered their turn-based strategic epic Laser Squad Nemesis.

Despite the fact that we tend to focus on multiplayer, we’re big single player fans at Mode 7. Personally, I’ve always loved the immersive narratives in classic PC games like Wing Commander and Terra Nova.

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Developer Blog: Making the AI Work

Posted on 11th Aug 2010 at 10:31 by Mode 7 with 10 comments

This week I'll hand over to Frozen Synapse's Lead Designer, Ian Hardingham, who has just had a breakthrough with creating Frozen Synapse's pathfinding engine... - Paul Taylor

I'm pleased with myself today.

The pathfinding in FS has always been atrocious – experienced players pretty much have to use shift all the time to bypass it. It’s a pain in the ass. Here’s a great example of it going wrong, below.

Developer Blog: Making the AI Work Developer Blog: Interface Design
Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity

The reason pathfinding sucks so much is that my algorithm for it is terrible – it splits the levels up into a grid, each square about the size of a unit. It then checks each square for obstacles. It’s a really innaccurate representation of the level.

This weekend I was reading up on advanced pathfinding stuff, and considering using some kind of Navmesh with movement polygons. Then I was hit by a flash of inspiration – the only thing that matters in FS is corners. If you ever want to make a path in FS, you only ever use the corners to get there – the only points I need in my nav-graph are the corners! Here’s my code for identifying the corners in action...

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Developer Blog: Interface Design

Posted on 6th Aug 2010 at 10:24 by Mode 7 with 6 comments

Mode 7
I’m going to step out of my chronology of Frozen Synapse this week and talk briefly about what’s going on around here at the moment.

One of the major difficulties with the game is giving the player a vast amount of control over his units while still retaining a clear and clean interface: it’s something we’ve struggled with throughout development.

Our first real stab at tidying up the game came when we took it to the University of Reading for some focus testing. We had a batch of brilliant (and very patient) Computer Science students play the game for a few hours while we watched and talked to them about the problems they were having. It was encouraging that they all rated the game very highly, but there’s nothing like observing someone struggling to make a unit do something to bring home the fact that you need to make some changes!

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Thoughts on HUD Design

Posted on 31st Jul 2010 at 15:06 by Joe Martin with 32 comments

Joe Martin
Heads-up displays are, to me, a far more contentious issue than some of the other more bandied-around topics in modern game design. Everyone cries about regenerating health and how many weapons a player can feasibly carry, but HUDs seem a lot closer to the real, underlying complaints these other issues hint at. Instead of worrying about whether players have regenerating health, what about considering if the player should even know how much health they have left?

The issue of how health and ammo should be presented though is only secondary to the far bigger question of if they should be presented at all. Whereabouts do you draw the balance between accessibility and realism? In most shooters there's no logical reason why your character should have an ammo counter in the corner of the screen. It's only there because the player needs that information in order to get the most out of the game. As players we just take that info for granted.

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Thoughts on Regenerating Health

Posted on 22nd Jun 2010 at 10:01 by Joe Martin with 54 comments

Joe Martin
My first thought on the concept of health regeneration in games was something along the lines of “it’s rubbish”, though with more swearing and waving of fists. With a bit more consideration though, I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps there just isn’t a good way of presenting a character's health to players.

The matter of presenting player health has been one of shifting standards, with each new format being initially unpopular before it became the convention. Back in the good old days (TM) of the Spectrum pretty much every title employed a system of Lives or Sudden Death, where suffering one hit would kill your character or avatar, and you had three or five strikes. Then along came the likes of Wolfenstein which presented health as a percentage and, for a while, people hated it. Then it became the standard.

Now regenerating health is starting to supplant that format and people hate that too, claiming that it takes the fun and challenge out of a game as you can just hide behind a rock to recover from a headshot. Regardless, it’s already become a standard for many styles of games – though there are exceptions to every rule, especially at such a general level.

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Splinter Cell Conviction PC is a sell out

Posted on 16th Jun 2010 at 16:38 by Harry Butler with 43 comments

Harry Butler
When Joe reviewed Splinter Cell: Conviction on the Xbox 360 he thought it a highly entertaining spy stealth ‘em up that was, like main protagonist Sam Fisher’s victims, stunningly executed. On PC the game has also received plenty of similar acclaim but after playing it through myself, I can’t help but disagree.

For me, Conviction is Splinter Cell dumbed down to an infuriating degree with much of the stealth and careful approach of its predecessors chucked in the bin for a bodycount that even Jack Bauer would be impressed with. In short, I think it’s sold out everything that made the franchise special. Here’s why - with spoilers.

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STALKER: Call of Pripyat, I Forgive You

Posted on 10th Jun 2010 at 11:25 by Richard Swinburne with 63 comments

Richard Swinburne
I've had a rocky relationship with STALKER. I loved the original, broken though it was. I even managed to tolerate Clear Sky, mainly by distracting myself with the chance to upgrade weapons and equipment - a feature which, cynically, should have been in the first game. In short, I loved both of the first two games, even though neither had the polish I had hoped for.

Call of Pripyat and I got off on the wrong foot though. Tantrums ensued. I especially didn't like that it started you off in the middle of nowhere, with no clear objective or gear - it made the already formidable difficulty curve even more of a problem. Also, I'd like to be told how to manage basic functions when I start a game - GSC still has to buy the book entitled "101 of game design", it seems.

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My iPhone told me what to have for lunch

Posted on 27th May 2010 at 10:42 by Alex Watson with 16 comments

Alex Watson
We have a tradition here in the bit-tech offices, long held and deeply cherished, and it's called Burrito Friday. Its origins are shrouded in the mists of Harry's hunger, but we celebrate this joyous occasion every Friday by going for burritos at the excellent Benito's Hat.

Little gets in the way of Burrito Friday - until I started using a service called Foursquare.

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Thoughts on Cutscenes

Posted on 12th May 2010 at 12:40 by Joe Martin with 48 comments

Joe Martin
I’m playing No One Lives Forever at the moment and, while it’s an undeniably great game and one that I’ve played many times, I’ve found myself getting increasingly infuriated with it for one simple reason. The cutscenes are far too long. They break up the flow of the game far too much and the mission briefings are often so padded out with needless dialog that it’s impossible not to get distracted.

What makes it all so much worse is the fact that much of the information you’re being bombarded with is repetitive, as well as flabby. You spend ten minutes listening to Cate Archer being berated for being an incompetent woman in the male dominated spy industry of the 1960s before the supposed mission briefing even tells you what you’ll be doing in the next mission. Then, when the cutscene is all over, it’s all summed up for you in a objectives and story screen anyway. It’s a massive flaw in an otherwise striking and superb title.

Length isn’t the only issue with NOLF’s cutscenes though – they are also rendered dull by how static they are with just three characters standing and talking, unmoving. Monolith obviously tried to liven things up by throwing in some interactive bits where you can choose how Cate responds to her superiors, but it’s too little and too late.

What really bothers me though is that No One Lives Forever isn’t by any means an exception. Almost every game imaginable has problems with cutscenes – it’s a well documented theory that Valve shot itself in the foot by deciding to always have Half-Life told from a silent first person perspective. In the short term it definitely increases the immersion, but with the story that Valve is telling it’s unbelievable that Gordon should be so stoic and static.

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