Dec 29, 2014

DualMondays: Gone Soft

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things. It usually appears on Mondays -- only rarely on Wednesdays. And some times fortnightly.

It's one of the last days of this year and I have to say that bothering with a retrospective for this article did cross my mind a couple of times. But, instead, I'm gonna talk about game difficulty and how we've gone soft and have been treating the player as a little baby. Keep in mind, that I grew up in the middle of the SNES vs Genesis era and that may make me a little biased - a lot probably.

After watching a Teens React video about teens playing Megaman, I couldn't help myself but facepalm. The players were kind of expecting everything to be explained and pointed out to them, no matter how obvious, but mostly they were into this delusion that the game was going to allow them to make mistakes and not punish them for it. Even if this involved the task of comprehending a pattern of an enemy's projectile or movement, to devise a strategy against it. My main concern however, stood in the fact that given a controller of 4 buttons and a directional pad, the players didn't even bother to press all the buttons to see what they do.

As far as I'm concerned, Megaman sports one of the most common and widely celebrated setups for the NES Controller, and it is so, because it's highly connected to the logic of any player that has grabbed that kind of a controller in his lifetime. It really baffled me that some didn't know they could shoot. Still, the general consensus was that the game was unfair, though the players were complimenting themselves saying they did good for getting that far, when actually only one of them reached the boss of the stage. Something I did agree with the crowd, however is that I also find myself setting videogames' difficulty level to hard, and still being able to beat them.

As a gamer, I have this feeling that we're de-evolving skill-wise converting certain aspects in game genres towards a less interactive, more forgiving experience. While the introduction of cinematic elements in videogames is something I'm a huge fan of, both as a gamer and a designer, I feel like, in an attempt to grasp a bigger demographic, game design has ripped us of challenges to portray a weaker aspect, but not for the sake of story driven gameplay.

And that explains the success of titles created within smaller studios. Even if diametrically different, Hotline Miami, for instance, compared to Call Of Duty, is stylistic and more interactive, even if in comparison it's quite more unforgiving. But that's the addictive part in it. It beckons the player from the very beginning to think - hone his/her skills and strategies and upgrade them, in order to overcome the hurdles placed in front of him/her. It doesn't mess around; from the very beginning. It sports a sort of realism - a truth that this is not one of those games that will be beaten without effort. I correct my previous statement, it doesn't beckon, it demands that you become a better player. It gives you the possibility with its arsenal of tidbits to cut through its logic core. At the same time though, it disallows you to master it completely by ever-introducing new elements and forcing you to adapt to them again and again.

And that's proper game design in my book. This whole rant of mine isn't about the difficulty of a videogame - god forbid, a game doesn't have to be difficult to be entertaining. But it always has to remain challenging, like a wild horse. Otherwise what's the point, where's the pleasure?

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 17, 2014

Dual(Mondays)Wednesdays: Beta-love

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things. It usually appears on Mondays -- only rarely on Wednesdays.

Well, I've pondered about this a whole lot. This is a bit of a weird topic, but let's have at it. Let's talk about everything regarding properly testing your videogame. It may not be rocket science, in fact, I've checked, it's not, however that doesn't mean it's a walk in the park either.

As a developer, going through the testing phase of your project, you must not hasten to its completion by reducing it into a simple bug squatting pit. It should be the first step to shaping up the community that will surround your videogame.

Clarifying that to your head is vital in order to help you alter the focus from bug-finding to feedback. And specifically asking for constructive and detailed feedback from the beta testing team is one of the ways to go, and as a developer, if you respect yourself, you should make it so. After all, the beta-phase should always be about showing people your game and re-shaping it by going through as much feedback as possible. The lack of such, is and should be devastating for the progress of the game.

While the alpha version is about constructing the game based on self-feedback and testing, beta is about a private smaller group/demographic determining your efforts and helping you reshape them (if you're willing to accept the views of said group), before releasing it to the public. From this wonderful experience, which personally, as a developer, I adore the most out of the entire game-making process, you must learn to accept every opinion and be as open-minded as possible.

Despite the fact that certain points being voiced will not be ones to keep, every other point that you cannot logically or game-wise argue against can be considered as valid and actions towards its suggestions can be taken. In simpler words, it's up to you to bother with and filter every single remark and comment about your creation. Don't be afraid or disheartened, but rather see everything as an opportunity to get better. The mistakes you've made so far have no impact on the end product, for this is the juncture to alter the result, kind of like having a time machine. Don't distance yourself from the testers, they're not a bunch of freeloaders, they're people who are willing to devote their time and energy to playtest your game and send you back a report containing various findings - wonderful things, that you've been accommodated to their presence, managing to ignore them in the same way you ignore the fact that you're breathing.

The testers don't bash your game when they speak of it, but rather, they judge it and criticize and hope, unlike reviewers, that you improve upon their findings. And exactly that, you should do.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 8, 2014

DualMondays: Point And Click Jam - Aftermath

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

Well, normally this would have been another philosophical rambling about some topic, but today, I felt the need to bother you with the very recent and wonderfully successful Point and Click Jam. Of all the jams I watched closely or participated in this year, this one seemed to out-polish them all. There were absolutely no amateur entries here. It felt like a bunch of veterans were against each other, fighting for the first spot. This may be a correct first impression, however, upon closer inspection, that is not exactly the case. 

The majority of the contestants, hadn't even done an adventure game before (some I believe haven't even made a game!), so why does this not feel as amateur hour (pointing at the Pewdiepie VS Indie Jam)?

Because, there's no way to pull off certain genres with half-arsed efforts, which explains the duration of this game-making competition and any other adventure game competition. Think about it! Even OROW (abbreviation stands for One Room One Week), that is about making an adventure game in one room/screen, lasts a week. For it is quite known and obvious to all developers, that you could make a platform game in a matter of hours, but as a genre, adventure games are focused on the story and atmosphere, and it's rather hard to set up pacing, flow, story arc, character design, interface, puzzles within the span of a day, let alone in a less time than that.

It's a genre that begs for lots of hours of work, but also for quality. Arguably and regardless of the design of your game, polishing it is a vital element. For adventure games in particular, it works on every little part they consist of, making it something you simply have to do with. And here I am two paragraphs in and I'm already transforming back into Plato.

Anyhow - about the Point And Click Jam.

It was organized by the good people down at GameJolt, and the rules were quite simple (and a bit on the annoying side too). In 15 days you had to make an adventure game of the point and click kind, whereas the interface was left open for developers to either make one that had already been famous from games of the era or construct a brand new one. The resolution was forced to 320x200 so that you could get that "1991 feel" and you could work on your story before the jam begun (but just the story!). The ultra annoying bit for me, was the palette restriction. To make things more challenging and closer to the Lucas Arts / Sierra Era we all loved when we were growing up, the rules stated that you had to use a certain palette (a number of colors) to make your entry.

That was of course set to maintain a retro feel, along with the rule that also made clear that you're not allowed to make use of a technology further developed after 1992 or so (contemporary technologies in making the assets of your game had to be used). While this did help create quality entries in a weird masochistic way, I found it rather unappealing. The jam should have at least broadened the restrictions by allowing the use of transparency, if not alpha channels on sprites.

Regardless I consider the jam to be highly succesful, as, through it, wonderful games such as "A Fragment of Her", "Max Greene", "The Exciting Space Adventures of Greg And Linda", "Void And Meddler", "There Ain't No Sunshine", "A Cosmic Song" and others, spawned. I highly suggest checking all the entries, but the ones mentioned are worth an extra bit of attention. Wait, aren't adventure games dead? :P

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Dec 5, 2014

The Watchful Indie Watch #5.12

Having criminally failed to provide you with a Watchful Indie Watch last week I decided to a) get myself thoroughly spanked and b) make it up to you with this particularly hefty round-up of news from the indie gaming world. 

The Point And Click Jam, the best jam ever for us adventure lovers, is live and happy to provide you with 23 mostly excellent point-and-clickers. Everything is freeware, varied, cutely retro and very, very lovely.

Incredibly promising survival RPG NEO Scavenger has made itself available for Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam's Early Access. There's a demo for you here and you will definitely be reminded of the Superhero League of Hoboken.

Gorgeous arcade adventure The Deer God is also available for early accessing at Steam and is looking gorgeous indeed. It's available for Windows, Mac and Linux and you should at least watch its new trailer.

Oh, and brilliant political strategy simulation Neocolonialism has finally made it to Steam. It's turn-based, clever and playable on anything reasonable contemporary with a keyboard and a mouse.

Speaking of geopolitics, Viktor is all about becoming the Emperor of Austria-Hungary while simultaneously remaining a jolly, cartoony and rather wild boar. The adventure is currently being crowdfunded over at Kickstarter. Here's the demo.

There's a trailer that teased me on forthcoming adventure game Unforeseen Incidents and you should watch it. It's teasing. And intriguing.

To overcome the teasing, well, you could always play freeware platformer OverPowered. It was released as part of GameJolt's Indies VS PewDiePie Jam which you should definitely check out too -- there are hundreds of great freebies in there.

Polyology is a smart and freshly released puzzler you can try out with a little help from its demo. You can also grab it here and, possibly, vote for it on Greenlight.

Oooooh, look! It's a wild west cutesy RPG and it's called Boot Hill Heroes! From what little I've played it seems a pretty excellent game and one that's available via Steam for Windows.

And if you are into both the imaginary wild west and retro visuals, you'll also care for Thief Town; yet another Steam release for Windows, Mac and Linux. It's a multi-player, stealth, backstabbing thing.

Medieval-loving, hack-and-slashers, on the other hand, could do worse than help KRUM - Edge of Darkness hit its incredibly humble funding goal on IndieGoGo. Yes, obviously, it's a RPG.

Keeping with the holiday spirit, here's this year's Advent of Indies. It's brilliant and festive as ever and provides you with a hand-picked freebie and a suggestion for a great game each day.

If you loved Mudlarks, which you probably did, Cloak and Dagger Games have released a new freeware adventure for you: A Date In The Park. Expect a mystery, puzzles and lovingly digitized graphics.

Dec 1, 2014

DualMondays: Fan Service

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

"Currently, I have to admit, I'm a bit swamped with work, cause we're planning a wonderful patch for Primordia", is what I wrote a week ago to save myself from writing last week's article. Though this means I just abused this webspace for personal promotion, I promise I'm not going to reference the game on this article again. It's not even what the article is about, it's only but a spark. But, returning back to it, why would anyone bother with something released over 2 years ago? Doesn't that make you wonder? What are the reasonings behind it? Well, the answer is not logical in itself. But let's take things from the top.

In anime and manga any material added or adjusted to please the audience intentionally is clarified as Fan Service. In the weird cultural differences between the Western world and the Japanese, fan service could even mean about having a long shot of a woman's body and/or generally gratuitous nudity. But it's not just about that. Prolonged scenes, extra violence, references to other shows are also deemed as fan service. But what is this term I've been throwing at your face actually about?

It is about servicing the fans, if you will, providing the audience with the premise that was initially hinted at or directly promised, or somewhere in the process deeply desired. For its about giving your fanbase, regardless of size, what they want, to put it bluntly. As it has been said before, it could be fixing an annoying issue, fixing a crash, it could be adding content, adjusting previously existing content, it could be virtually anything. 

What helps clarify it as such, is the fact that you've went out of your own way to provide a version of the product closer to the desires of the fans. A direct nod of appreciation, to show the bondage between you and the audience. Every remake of a game, every remastered version of it, despite being approved for profit reasons is also falling under the rule of servicing the fanbase.

A big example of that, are the Neon Genesis Evangelion (Shin - Seiki Evangerion) movies. Categorized as a fan service because they are created to satisfy the fans desire for a better (perhaps alternative is a better word) ending to the series. It's even stated on last addition to the saga, Evangelion 3.33, You Can (Not) Redo, that the movies have been partly if not entirely for the fan's satisfaction, as they will continue till the fourth movie gets released. The original television series first airing almost two decades ago (October, 1995), ended rather philosophically and abruptly. 

The finale itself, mostly abstract in its nature (containing concept drawings, unfinished sequences, real-life stills and voice-over dialogue), has being heavily criticized by critics and fans alike, who considered even the possibility that the ending was forced from budget cuts. Thus, the creators have embarked on a quest to satisfy the thirst of the fanbase (cult, would be more appropriate) for a proper closure.

Fan service is a weird kind of love, nobody gets it, except the parties involved. Then again we could rule it down to explicit sexual content, but that's not what it's about. It's not logical, it's not even always good for business, it's the opposite of value-per-time-spent, but it's a wonderful thing we do, a silly anniversary to form a wonderful relationship.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Nov 21, 2014

The Watchful Indie Watch #21.11

It has to be the weather; it really has to be it, as I frankly cannot find any other explanation for another incredibly intriguing week filled with lovable, hugable indie gaming news. I do of course choose to ignore all those silly holidays rumours. Well, obviously.

Let me start off then by suggesting you at least try the demo of Super Sec Soccer. It's an utterly stylised football thing with a frantic pace and some of the best local multiplayer since Sensible Soccer.

Generally speaking of things of the frantic variety, anyone interested in freeware, mostly great, fresh and at times experimental FPS offerings should definitely check 7DFPS out. It's a game jam and it's packed with 145 games.

Interested in something more procedural? Well, the equally rich Procedural Generation Jam 2014 is also live and packed with many hours of random fun.

Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the original Maniac Mansion team, have promised us one classically fresh new point-and-click adventure with all the verbs we could ask for and are seeking funding via their Kickstarter for Thimbleweed Park.

Fredrick Raynal, the creator of both Little Big Adventure and Alone in the Dark, is crowdfunding 2Dark. A most intriguing and quite shocking horror thing.

Courier of the Crypts, a rather brilliantly themed puzzle RPG of sorts, is also appealing to the generosity of gamers over at IndieGoGo. Happily, it looks very nice too and promises a ton of deadly traps. I love deadly traps!

Kelvin and the Infamous Machine is yet another promising adventure game and another project to support via Kickstarter. Happily, it looks glorious in its cartoony way and offers a brilliant little demo too.

Oh, yes, and the pretty excellent Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork has launched for Windows and Mac. The game, by Pixeljam and comic book artist James Kochalka, fuses platforming with shmups.

I have only scratched its surface so far, but Lords of Xulima (Windows, mac) is a fantasy RPG that promises over 100 hours of fantasy adventuring and looks great. Loving it so far.

Nov 17, 2014

DualMondays: Did you cry?

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

Talking about TV series with my brother yesterday, the conversation took an interesting turn: "Have you played The Walking Dead video-", he said, but was briefly interrupted by my nod. "This may sound weird to you, but I cried at the end", he exclaimed. This created a wonderful discussion over which videogames have made us feel sentimental in the past. Anyhow, as I started to wonder, I felt a nice warm feeling recalling the games I was connected to in such emotional way.

For a moment I got lost into a philosophical journey. In movies it's somewhat easier to cry and generally share or be overcome by certain sentiments/feelings, because the usual behavior we have while experiencing a story is to attempt to relate to it. But with games that's usually different, mostly because we have full (or at least the illusion of such) control over the protagonist's actions and the protagonist in most cases serves as a vessel of ourselves.

With the creation and the world-wide success of Elite, a significant change to videogames occurred. An alteration to the rule that a score must determine the skill of the player and the player's involvement to the game must resolve around his/her attempts to get the highest score possible. With Elite we were slowly introduced to something far greater. The probability that games could "just" have a decent storyline instead of a score. And as time passed and technology progressed, it happened. The early nineties were mostly dominated by Adventure Games and RPGs, both primarily focused on gripping story arcs and featuring elements such as branches, depth, setting, character development etc.

Even if the adventure game genre itself  lost part of its shine and glory, it helped immensely in paving the way for other genres to evolve; genres that were mostly focusing on excessive button mashing. Action / First Person Shooter franchises such as Max Payne, Metal Gear Solid, System Shock, Half Life, Resident Evil disengaged from the brainless stereotype of exaggerated, rapid frenzy and reckless gameplay to a more delicate, realistic approach. As storyline became an new element in game design, cinematic elements have also been introduced, gradually transforming videogames into a new form of art (even though that could be a stretch) - an art we can interact with our own ways within the limits that are presented to us (visible and not).

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Nov 14, 2014

The Watchful Indie Watch #14.11

It's been a busy week this one, you'll be glad to know, and indie game devs have come up with more than enough intriguing things that are either already playable or will soon be so. What follows is a selection of the most intriguing stuff.

We all hate Cedric. We've hated him ever since the first adventure games started speaking. We've hated him with a furious passion. Thankfully, the time for revenge  is nigh. Just grab Owl Hunt and murder the bloody bird.

Cynically hilarious (and brutally tough) point-and-clicker Randal's Monday has been released and is available for Windows and Mac via Steam and GOG. It's a gorgeous, cartoony game too.

On further adventuring news, excellent lovecraftian series The Last Door has gone mobile and you can tap your way through it on both iOS and Android. Not surprisingly, it's the enhanced Collector's Edition that got ported.

And, yes, there's more adventure gaming news! The alliterative Vincent the Vampire is currently seeking crowdfunding support over on Kickstarter.

Necklace of Skulls is a choose-your-own-adventure type of interactive fiction thingy that comes complete with combat, lovely illustrations and promising words. It's already available for iOS and Android.

7DFPS, the ultimate solution in FPS indie jamming, is once again here. Have a stroll and enjoy all sorts of weird and brilliant first person shooter.

Interesting and apparently surreal puzzle platformer Mushroom 11 can now be pre-ordered for Windows, Mac and Linux via the Humble Store. The full game will be released sometime in early 2015.

Dragon: The Game, an impressive action-RPG about being, yes, a dragon, will also be out in 2015, but at least you can early-access it via Steam. It's a Windows, Mac and Linux affair.

Bohemian Killing, currently asking for your IndieGoGo support, will be a courtroom drama set in 19th century, cyberpunk Paris. I love 19th century Paris. Especially late 19th century Paris. I sometimes enjoy cyberpunk too.

Twitch-racer freebie Barrier has gotten itself a new web-based version here. Android gamers can also purchase this excellent avoid-'em-up via the Google Play store.

Nov 12, 2014

Eye^Game^Candy: Cruise For A Corpse

Though largely forgotten today, Cruise For A Corpse was a stunning, triple-A adventure game back in 1991 that launched on the Amiga, Atari ST and MS-DOS and was probably the first Agatha Christie inspired game I truly loved. Granted, the colourful graphics, unique setting (spoiler: everything happens on a posh boat), stunning backgrounds, interesting plot and rotoscaped animation were all I cared for, as I did resort to using a walkthrough and can't really comment on the quality of its puzzles. As for the good news, well, if you still have the game's files you can properly play through it via ScummVM.

Nov 10, 2014

DualMondays: FFVI

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

You know, someone is cringing at the comments going like " Do you mean Final Fantasy III?", so let's settle this for once, I will call this VI, cause it happened to be the 6th game of the series. I can't remember a single game I've played for the sole reason that it had great music and I actually wanted to hear more of it. I've been influenced musically, stylistically, game-design wise, but most certainly, entirely by this installment in the series.

Dissecting its nowadays considered cult introduction sequence, the very one accompanied by the most memorable tunes ever to grace a game, the attention to detail is miraculous. Slowly helping new and old players realize the setting, and applying strong and firm points of interest by playing around a typical cliche, we're slowly immersed into a world of conflicts. As technology battles magic, deeper connections are created, making it harder to pick a side. Both are justified in their unique ways, engulfing the incredibly complex cast of characters into choices and situations undesired. 

Final Fantasy's story alternates around the same perspectives - it's about the end of an era, as much as it is about the beginning of another one. I refuse to tell you anything about the story, dear reader, but I will tell you this: In this part of the saga called Final Fantasy, an important choice was made. A choice that every technological probability of the engine that would sport the game, would be used to its fullest potential. From the very first minutes, the proof is presented to us.

Heavily utilizing Mode 7 functions and tidbits for cinematic and general purposes, even though released almost 20 years ago, the graphical quality of the game still holds up to both sentimental but also historically innovative (for the time being) standard. In case you're wondering what on earth Mode 7 graphic effects are, they're basically various graphical tricks where a two-dimensional image is taken and skewed/distorted in such way that it gives the impression of a third dimension, without that dimension however ever actually existing; thus pseudo-3D. 

Now, back to the topic at hand, besides the wonderful protagonist(s), there's Kefka, one of the most notorious videogame villains of all time. Terribly underrated and rather overshadowed by Sephiroth, I strongly believe the latter would a be at best a common lackey under Kefka's rule. The game's opera sequence/cinematic is also what is held most dear by its players, not only for the music but also for the unprecedented and unexpected depth and epicness it provides to the central plot as the story seamlessly peaked.

It's a terrible thing that the majority of the Final Fantasy fanbase was taken over by the luscious prerendered quality of the 3D graphics and the impactful death scene of Iris by Sephiroth, ever-forgetting this masterpiece. If it wasn't for the release of FFVII, this gem would be significantly more appreciated by the mainstream (because the press is doing its best to restore its value). But those who have had the fortune to spend hours upon hours on it, know it deep in their hearts and cherish it. And perhaps secretly wish for a proper remake or a sequel.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:

Nov 7, 2014

The Watchful Indie Watch #7.11

Let's skip the pointless intro and keep things brief this time around, shall we? Lovely, thank you so much dear reader. Here's what you need to know then...

Care to see an action adventure with stealth elements, assassins and glorious pixel-art happen? Good. You should probably support Aerannis on Kickstarter then, thus allowing a robot-run virtual world to exist.

Neutronized have released a new trailer for their forthcoming and incredibly cute iOS action platformer Drop Wizard. Watch it here.

The first chapter of the second season of lovacraftian point-and-clicker The Last Door has been released and it's none other than The Playwright. And, yes, you can play it for free or, better yet, support the devs a bit and get a downloadable version and all sorts of goodies.

Harebrained Schemes, the devs responsible for the excellent Shadowrun Returns RPGs have just announced their new game: Necropolis. A game about "brutal combat and survival, set in a magical deathtrap that shifts and reconstructs itself around you".

And if you are looking for a freebie to play right now, definitely have a look at The Illogical Journey of the Zambonis. It's got puzzles, looks weird and play ever weirder.

Excubitor, a fresh new shmup for Windows, has also been announced for Windows, Mac and Linux. You can try its demo here and, if you are feeling particularly kind, support it over at Steam's Greenlight.

Oh, and beautiful and incredibly clever explore-and-puzzle-'em-up TRI has appeared on Steam. You should probably do the wise and tasteful thing and buy it.