My project team this semester, Team Athena, has been developing a turn based strategy game on the iPad for 7-11 year old boys studying at Colonial School. Along with Elaine Fath, I am the co-game designer and coming up with levels has been an important task for our game which is very level and strategy-focused. However, for our team, the paper prototyping started all the way back in week 1.
While brainstorming, we utilized paper prototypes to highlight our ideas in a more visual way rather than just use words and gestures. Infact, I feel without the use of paper and poker chips to show buildings, a cat to show the player and dice to show the enemies, we wouldn't have understood the otherwise very complex mechanics of our game. Now, another worry was how the children in our client's school would respond to this game. In an unprecedented manner, we went with our paper prototype right in the first week and made the children play the game. Due to simplicity of the "world" and it's "look", we got a lot of useful information on how the game plays. There were also added bonuses like the children adding in their visuals and sound effects as paper prototyping leaves a lot to the imagination.
In the next week, we went to the school again, but this time, we also had a basic digital prototype for our tentatively named game "Smash", along with the paper prototype with added levels for the children to enjoy with. In this playtest, we also learnt that this game would not be fun to play as a multiplayer game since the children found it boring to play as the AI enemies.
Our first basic levels were designed, as you can see above, using just poker chips and die. However, the board game format really help both our children demographic and ETC playtesters understand what is going on. Infact, during our early weeks of development, we found it very difficult for the digital version to match the paper prototype in terms of juiciness, immersion and enjoyment. However, using visuals, animations and sound, we have managed to transform THIS......
Infact, our team has been using this method for iterating on levels designed as it proves to be a fast way to playtest with people with the option of putting the levels in and testing proving too tedious. This method has also helped us understand the various paths the player can use for beating a level.
To those interested in understanding more about Smash, visit us at http://www.etc.cmu.edu/projects/athena/ or in our room in 2420 in ETC. Below is our gameplay video from our build from April 15th.
In the last week, I have been playing a lot of Wii U to give me a break from all the Fire Emblem I have been playing on my 3DS. Legend of Zelda: Windwaker has been one game which really has stuck in my mind since I bought it a couple of months ago and I finally have got my opportunity to play it. On first glance, this game DOES NOT look like any other Zelda game I have ever played with a very different more cartoon-y style. However, I was in for a treat.
THE GOOD! : First thing first, you are NOT in Hyrule! You are a young boy from Outset Island living with his grandmother and younger sister, along with other quirky people in your village. The new "Link" so as to speak has a very expressive face compared to his predecessors who were very one dimensional and reminiscent to other previous silent heroes like Red from Pokemon. In the second dungeon of the game aka Dragon Roost Cavern, in the cutscene before the dungeon mission begins, Link glances and looks out for weak links in the walls, and the expression alone shows what is going on inside his head.
If there is one thing Nintendo is the master at, it is teaching the player a skill rigorously such that the player actually masters it during the tutorial. One primary example is the rope swinging in Tetra's cabin, which is a skill required in the entire game ahead. The cabin boy ensures that you cross the entire length of the cabin before you can get the treasure he promised. However, even you fail, there isn't lava or flames below to consume you, it's just wood. You can click the buttons to get the platforms up again and restart the entire process. This is very good game design as it teaches the new incoming player a skill without being harsh and punishing the player with death for failure.
THE AWESOME!: The exploration in this game is insane! There's no boring overworld map for you to travel from one island to another. The player travels from one island to another with the use of the King of the Red Lions, which is a living and breathing boat. Using the wind direction, the player is guided indirectly to his next destination. However, this process is so much and never gets old and really shows off the glorious artwork and true beauty of this game.
What's a Zelda game with out extensive and detailed dungeons to make you feel lost? I am proud because I managed to beat this game without using a single walkthrough although I was tempted to on many occasions. Dragon Roost Island was honestly my favourite dungeon to beat alongside Forsaken Fortress. The maps had so many layers to it, along with a lot of tracking back after getting a certain item and mistakes were punished pretty heavily. In the end, however, that feeling of satisfaction of beating the boss is still the best feeling ever!
THE AWESOMEST! : Since the original release of the Windwaker for the Gamecube, critics and fans alike have been split on the art direction for this game. The more conservative Zelda fans were really incensed that the game went for more of a cartoony- look in order to pander to the younger players. The fans also believed that Nintendo was doing a disservice to the hardcore fans by changing the setting and art of what was already working with the Zelda franchise. However, over time they have come to appreciate the game and it has become a cult hit within certain branches of the Zelda community. The art is so detailed and just plain drop-dead gorgeous!
Last but by no means least, the music! MY GOD, this alone turned the opinion of many fans who disliked it on first sight. I spent over two hours on the Dragon Roost Island dungeon solely because of the music. The music was very much like the old Zelda with European music used as an influence much like the Gerudo Valley theme from Ocarina of Time(had a very mariachi feel to it). In fact this game's soundtrack is so legendary that there have been many covers dedicated to it. Just check out Smooth McGroove's acapella take on the Dragon Roost Island theme!
Overall, I would say this is one of my favourite Zelda games ever along with Ocrina of Time! However, I have never had the chance to play A Link to the Past, which by many is considered th best. Looks like I have the next game I'll be playing!
Over the past three weeks, I have been playing one of the three storyline paths of Fire Emblem Fates ie Birthright and have managed to 100% it by beating all the main storyline chapters, the sidequest Paralogues and the DLC Xenologues. I have also maxed out all my units' stats and developed a pretty good base in My Castle. Playing this game for over 100 hours over spring break got me thinking, what changes made to Fire Emblem Awakening work in Fates?
Changes that work:
1) The game is more gorgeous than ever. Awakening really stepped up in terms of highlighting just how gorgeous this series really is after Shadow Dragon and Radiant Dawn. However, Fates blew it right out of the water with stunning cutscenes with a high quality anime style. I also loved the strategy to battle transitions with the battle environment mirroring the strategy environment perfectly.
2)Various classes and features added. Dragon Vein really added a great level of puzzle solving to the same by allowing the user to use one move of one member of the royal family to use their inherent skill of Dragon Vein to freeze the pond, plug up poisonous ponds etc. The game also added dozens of classes which are dependent on the characters' nationality and background.
3)This game is not playing around. People criticized the Hard mode of Awakening to be too easy and I must admit I was one of them. However, Birthright which is supposed to be the easiest path of the three was never playing around with the enemy units smarter and more lethal than I have ever seen.
4)My Castle: My god this feature is addictive. It is basically adding Animal Crossing to Fire EMblem with daily items to be collected and won, daily arena battles which allow you to win or lose resources. In My Castle, the private quarters also allows the player to bond with units from the army and understand more about the units' personality and backstory.
Changes that don't work:
1) Various skills have been nerfed. I was absolutely gutted that the skills in Awakening like Galeforce which allowed the unit an extra turn after killing an enemy unit now only gives an extra move if the unit does not have another unit adjacent to it.
2)The overworld map is very similar to Shadow Dragon and not at all like Awakening. Awakening had an awesome overworld map which allowed you to view the kingdom op Ylisse and it's topography but Fates doesn't have a proper map which doesn't let you see what Hoshido looks like.
3)The DLC! Awakening had awesome Xenologues with a grinding for experience map called EXPonential growth which allowed the player to train his weaker units. However, the grinding for experience map in Fates called Boo Camp is disappointing since the enemies are considerably strong for weak units and are always running away from the units hence not crediting the weaker units for the kill.
Honestly now that I have beaten Birthright, I can't wait for the intensely difficult Conquest and the reveal it all path Revelations. Fire Emblem indeed is one of the most powerful and strategizing RPGs I have ever played and despite some of my disappointments with Fates it has been a 9.5/10.
When somebody even mentions "sidescrolling platformer" during a conversation, our minds immediately picture the original Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros and Sonic the Hedgehog. These three games are the pillars and pioneers of the platformer genre with each game adding it's own spin to it. I still remember, in the old days of the NES, I spent hours and days trying to beat the last level of World 4 of Super Mario Bros and the level kept on repeating itself. I was very young so I was confused as to why this level never seemed to end. My elder brother taught me the puzzle that the level had to be traversed in a certain way in order to reach the final boss, King Koopa.
Sonic the Hedgehog added exploration and speed to the otherwise slowly paced platformers with the gimmick of the player being able to run so fast that Sonic can run around a loop like a rollercoaster. The game also offered the player the chance to gain a higher score by beating the level as early as possible and offering a grade for it. This scoring system wasn't implemented before since scores/grades weren't the real point of playing a platforming game. The game also had a crazy level design with the designers being able to get away with it since Sonic was able to access most places thanks to either Tails, springs or his high speed making every nook and cranny of the level accessible to him. Look at the crazy level below from Sonic Advance!
One of the most famous arcade games of the 80s and probably of all time is Donkey Kong. This game featured characters from two of Nintendo's most famous franchises of all time. The objective of the game was to jump over barrels and climb platforms vertically as we try to save Paulene from Donkey Kong who is the antagonist in the game. This game was a major hit among the youth and really brought the video game industry back on track after the crash of 1983.
According to me, in terms of difficulty and puzzle solving, two games which are side scrolling but involve puzzle solving are Mega Man and Super Metroid. Super Metroid featured probably the most atmospheric music and environment and very elaborate maze like levels which kept the user engaged as he/she tried to figure out where the upgraded weapons and items to be collected are and where the level boss is.
While Metroid used puzzle solving on an exploration level with the user eliminating each route which led to a dead-end, Mega Man used puzzle solving through the items available in the inventory which helped the player traverse through the 8 gruelling levels. The game also offered the player the freedom of choosing any order of playing the levels. The game had weapons like the Air Man's lift which enabled the player to reach high platforms which are inaccessible.
To summarize, for me, platforming action games are my favourite type of games. I am definitely missing out on many games like the Donkey Kong Country games which feature the best looking and interactive environments I have ever seen, Legend of Zelda 2 which added sidescrolling levels to the traditional overhead view of Zelda games, the NES Castlevania games which are the finest RPG/sidescrolling/action mix ever.
Animal Crossing is a real time simulation game with the games being released for the Nintendo Gamecube, DS, Wii and most recently the 3DS. The most recent title, Animal Crossing: New Leaf received critical acclaim from everyone due to it's simple yet addictive mechanism and interactions with the charming NPCs in the world.
The game also has different layers to it's design with each day having different tasks, items to collect, conversations with the NPCs to be had and challenges like keeping the town rating constant or getting it higher as well as making sure the town budget increases so that the player can start new town projects like bridges, police station and aesthetic projects.
Another major aspect of the replay-ability and addictive nature of this game is that it is catered for perfectionists since there are so many items to collect and badges(basically trophies) for various achievements like collecting all the types of bugs, furniture and fish. The game also has funny and witty writing which are evident through the hilarious conversations the player has with the villagers daily, depending on the villager's personality(Each villager has a distinct personality like Jock, Sloth, Bossy etc), their mood at the moment and external factors like the weather, state of the town or the events happening in the town during that time.
Personally, I spent over 500 hours on my 3DS playing this game and I had a drive to collect all the collectibles and get all the trophies as well as make my town beautiful and villagers content. I ended the game with my town being Lannister themed with a golden house, golden rose hybrids everywhere, Rains of Castamere as my village tune and lions as my villagers. The fact that the game offers the player the freedom to do whatever in the world while keeping him grounded through daily tasks and mission is really what makes this game completely addictive and replayable.
Another layer of the game which really makes it fun are the hints and indirect control for the player to look to the future for upgrades to come for their house, shops which sell items and even projects which can be built in the village. This allows the player to understand what new developments are going to happen in his town without his authorization. For example, Gracie the stylish Giraffe notifies the player when she is upgrading the Nook's Home Center to the Department Store within the next few days so the store would be shut. However, players who are not careful with the approval and beauty rating of the town, could find disgusting Rafflesia growing in their town as a signal that their town is in rough shape.
Another sign of realism which induces immersion of the player into this world is the change in the town overnight. For example, new items are available in the Home Center as well as in the Nook's store. The player can decide on times when he can meet villagers when they fancy wanting to meet you. This feature really destroyed my social life personally. If I had set a meeting with Kabuki at 8pm and was out of the house with friends without my 3DS at 7:55pm, I would run back home just to finish the meeting in my virtual town. This game really had that much of an impact on me.
Lastly, those who wish to check out my village, below is my Animal Crossing Dream Address as well as my 3DS Friend code. Do visit it, in your free time.
Below are also my badges record. Pretty decent in all the categories except for Streetpass collection since there aren't many Animal Crossing players in India.
Over the last month, since I got my Wii U, I have been hooked onto Mario Kart 8. Mario Kart has been a series which took the overly used racing genre and put a Mario spin on it with power-ups that can help you attack as well as defend yourself against other racers. Mario Kart is the pioneer of the “kart series” and was first released as Super Mario Kart on the SNES. One common aspect of Mario Kart since it’s inception are the use of environmental hazards incorporated in conjunction with the attacks made by other racers. So you better concentrate a LOT during these races!
Environmental hazards are a very useful of game design for players in order to encourage them to learn from their mistakes. For example, at the end of each lap of Rainbow Road, we have two Thwwomps alternately falling down which hurt the player when it falls down on the car. We have also have a leading ramp over a pit of nothingness which gives the player three options to choose while driving. The player in his first lap will learn the pattern of the Thwwomps and that the player should have a high speed before approaching the ramp to cross the pit. Over the course of the next two laps, the player will learn and then master the pattern and use the pit to his advantage by hurting other racers at his point.
In the Bowser’s Castle map, we have an active volcano in the distance which is erupting in the first lap. This visual indicator is excellent use of feedback as well as indirect control. In the second and third lap, we see chunks of rock and lava crashing onto the race track every time the volcano spurts a bit of it into the air. The first lap programs the player into noticing and later avoiding the volcano and the projectile it spurts out.
Another very good of environmental hazards as a way of setting up the interest curve to it’s peak In the final lap is through the use of music in each individual map. The music speeds up and becomes pulsating with the player realizing that it’s do or die. Rosalina’s Ice World is yet another excellent map where environmental hazards teach the player how to drive in different conditions. The first turn in Mount Wario has a descending cliff with many players falling into it because of the skidding the snow causes. The player either himself falling or seeing other people falling realizes that the snow causes skidding in this level, so he must drift cautiously. This is another excellent use of visual feedback and game design to produce indirect control over the player and teach the player the rules in the game.
These are three classic examples among many of Mario Kart teaching it's players to drive and learn the maps design through the design of environmental hazards.