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Sequels!

May 24, 2010

Whew intense, is how I’d describe the last week!

Now for some more thoughts and design!

Sequels

Break out the poppers, your first game was a hit, and now you have the hankering to make another, so how about a sequel?

Nothing is written that a sequel will come out worse than the original. We have plenty of examples which prove this. As well we have many examples that show us how the abuse of our sequels can also ruin a great game.

Halo, Half-Life, Mario, Gears of War, these are just a few games that have made a hook in the market, whether its for fan boys, for nostalgia, or because its earned its right to stand proudly in the Games Hall of Fame.

What are the benefits of sequels?
An already built engine for one, and one that can be recoded to offer better graphical enhancements, better A.I., offer more poly’s on screen and a whole new campaign for one to join in upon.

What most need to know is how to appraoch such a thing. The most obvious is generally the worst; remaking the originally plot line and merely replacing enemies that are their with something else.
Sure some games have this successful ingredient happening over and over again. This is merely a lot of developers who want to play it safe and go with what had worked before.
Look at the Movie Alien and Aliens for example, in one we have Ripley who must deal with the nasty xenomorph, in part 2 they go from the lone wolf formula to adding a team of marines and explosive combat to complete the movie.
Then there is the Matrix which seems to play upon a “What If” scenario, many feel that only the first movie mattered and all the others were merely there to see cool fights and special effects.

Also bigger = better is not always true. This brings us to our second danger with sequels.
As designers, we should note that an identical rehash may appeal to the hardcore fans, but it won’t bring in new customers, especialy when those customers already have settled themselves to a different base. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (gasp!) players won’t all move on over to Halo Reach, just as many of the Halo fans wouldn’t go to a Modern Warfare 3 (small chance of that game now that infinityward is more or less gone).
We run into a common problem with this, generally a major part of the game will be multiplied upon exponentially, the AI must be better, the Graphics must be cleaner, the lighting must burn your eyeballs out of your head!
It looked cool on Gears of War, we’d better make Halo look brown, rugged, and dirty to satisfy those players, or lets make Mirrors Edge, run and jump from roof top to roof top to exceedingly clean utopian cities with its blinding atmosphere and sunshine.

Now I’m not calling these games bad, but as you may note, when one game comes out with a concept, expect another to expand upon it, or to go the complete opposite direction of its style.

Sequels needs its own identity. If you have to make a sequel, think about how you write it, you should treat it as though it were a very brand new game with no attachments to it. Now I’m not saying ignore all those strings that it carries along form its prequel, but write the story with lots of respect towards the characters and of course your audience.
Don’t hop into a bandwagon just cause it seemed like a good idea. Think about it and take your time before making an effort to follow behind other games, or go along and make your own.
This game must stand on its own, it must represent the old while offering something new, different and exciting.

Luckily much work has already been done for us. We merely add new textures, and a few more polys to our characters, add in new shaders, better scripts which offer smoother gameplay and challenging A.I.
If you have bullet time, merely take it and tweak it a little, don’t break what isn’t broken.
As well, as writers, we know our returning characters, and we can welcome the opportunity the sequel gives to expand upon them, add more depth to their characters, but remember that a character should follow their original personality, sudden changes should only be done if a reason is their for it to be done, we don’t want to confuse our players by showing a hardcore character become an whiny little kid.

We know what players enjoy from our first game, we know this by hitting the review boards, reading magazines. From here it is our duty to give them more, plus making sure the game is strong by itself and entertaining.
Remember, we want players to reminisce about the previous game, not play it all over again!

So till next time gamers, take care and GAME ON!

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Those obligatory moments

May 19, 2010

Those obligatory sounds…or scenes that just happen to fill a story, are they important, or are they the mere ramblings of a story writer wanting to add to the story?

How often have we seen scenes that we felt truly made a difference due to a change in perspective. If children were telling the story and suddenly we see the same story from the fathers perspective for a mere moment, it may seem game breaking, but then it may help to portray an action that is taking place in the story.

Obligatory Scenes, their a scene that must be written, or else our gamers will feel extremely dissatisfied, as though we built up a momentum of foreshadowing, merely to let it vanish into the plot holes of the game.

Foreshadowing sometimes brings us to a climax that doesn’t involve the actions of the character, but affects them nonetheless, and we don’t want to waste this powerful aspect of storytelling.

Where as a horror game tricks a player into anticipating something to happen, here in this instance, we want to satisfy the players anticipation, if that makes sense.

If much foreshadowing is shown about a showdown between the player and an antagonist, don’t completely ruin it by creating a lack luster encounter, or a plot hole that proves only fatal to the story.

In this instance I bring up an old GameCube Game. RARE’s Starfox Adventure, it has the major flaw of presenting an antagonist, and at the moment of climax, it removes this antagonist and replaces it with a completely different antagonist who for all intents and purpose, had no point in the story itself.

Sorry RARE, after many great games I couldn’t let a travesty like this go unnoticed!

Continuing on, no moment in our story should fail to support the theme,, the story, the character, or all three at once.

However, some scenes are far more important than others, and we do note their absence when they aren’t shown.

Has there been a time when you all have played a game only to feel lost because the most important part of the story was merely shown through text, or a passing conversation rather than a cinematic?

If we take the time and trouble to create foreshadowing for critical moments in a story, we’d better deliver it.Two opposing characters had better clash.

Take actors for instance, if Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis were to be in a movie together, would we not expect to see them constantly clash? Sure a buddy buddy system could be in the story, but we’d rather enjoy the confrontation the two would pose upon each other via opposing opinions.

As well this is why many movies based upon books take the time to modify some settings to introduce two characters into a scene when according to the book, it should be physically impossible. This is a major use of plot holes, and one that would be looked down upon, but in the interest of satisfying the audience, its done so that they may get a rise of excitement form the coming confrontation between characters.

These scenes should be rather easy to spot. They’re the high points of drama and conflict in the story. These very scenes can also benefit by not being completely what the audience expects. Above I mentioned how we play towards their anticipation, and we let them feel half right, but then we twist such meetings to create more powerful pulls of emotion. Just don’t violate the respect that you should have as a writer for your story.

I hold here for now, let you all enjoy this little snippet as the day comes to a close.

Till next time GAME ON!

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Making a dynamic conversation

May 17, 2010

I come back again to talk about return visits!

We see it in games, we do it in our game design, but we dread it, or at least see it as a necessary evil!

One of the many problems with games is when it comes to interaction between players and characters.
Players don’t always know when they’ve exhausted an NPC of whatever they could provide them, whether it be quests, or information, or just plain chatter.
They learn rather quickly though.
Something that we do, is to apply a single end phrase to our NPC, this being the final piece of the puzzle to let the player know that the NPC is no longer useful.
It can also be seen as immersion breaking. Better yet, if you know players are to return through an area, change what they say to reflect the players current situation, this way they don’t feel as stagnant as they would have if they had a single phrase to utter every time they were bothered.

In most games, we offer simple repetition. Some have little variety built into a few characters, but offer a few canned speeches. These simple little variations don’t add much to the disc space, or production. It helps to make the game feel more believable as well.

A nice trick though, is to choose a generic series of remarks, hopefully related to the character or situation, but one that doesn’t require specific game-affecting responses. Choose a generic series of responses to the type of remarks chosen. Mix and match these in any number of ways to give players the illusion of small talk.

Imagine it as a deck of cards, you hold in your hand the red deck, I hold the black deck, anytime you pulled out a card, I reply with a card pulled from my deck. The conversation method should be so balanced that no matter what topic or “card” is chosen, the response will always fit.

Write down the responses and counter responses, see what works with all responses and what doesn’t.
Then be sure to shuffle the stacks that you’ve made. Sure at one point the player will hear repetition, but till then, they are fooled by thinking the character is having a conversation.

Think of it like character animation.

We develop each movement to end on a neutral pose. The reason behind this is we want our character to be able to fluidly move form one pose to another without hesitation.

So true it is with our conversation, our person says “A” and the other NPC responds “X”, or “Y”, or “Z”.

Obviously its not a full and proper conversation, but it is one that removes the linear conversation, or the “I’m done with you, get along now.” conversational clinchers.
It isn’t that difficult to write is the beauty of it, and it lets you the Game Designer add more life to the world via giving something similar to a dynamic conversation.

As well consider this. If we solve a problem for an NPC which gains us a necessary clue or item, or experience, game play may be satisfied, but narrative generally isn’t. Once a puzzle is completed, there should always be respect given to the player at some point so that they know their task was heard about, rather than the concept of “Jimmy crack corn and no one cares.”

Remember this, respect our players and our world!

so till next time GAME ON!

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Lighting in rendering!

May 13, 2010

Right so something special for you folks today, its a little bit on Lighting!
Since I deal with it enough at work, I guess shedding some thoughts for you all here wouldn’t hurt!

So over all, when it comes to our games and lighting, were all about interactive cinematography, where as basic cinema is a linear, non-interactive story from start to finish, our games are an interaction that has the ability to make a difference from beginning to end, depending on how in depth we make it.

To help make 3D rendering better, its best to understand many of the concepts and techniques from other visual based design. These include professional cinematography, general photographers, and traditional visual art.

So lighting, what makes it work? Just because a bulb sheds light into our room, how do we know if the amount of light it gives off is enough? What about ambient occlusion, or color temperature, reflections, etc etc.

For now I’ll hit on the basics that were used to in a 3D world. Direct, indirect, spot light, sunlight, skylights, and Omni.

Direct Lighting or directional light, is generally called a “Key Light.”

Its purpose is to simulate the sun, or moonlight. Rather than being focused, like a spot light, it generally overshoots the focal area, letting its light cover more than a pin prick of an area.
Generally these lights are considered “Parallel Lights.” The distance between the Direct Light and the target is so vast that all rays of light reach the object equally. The intensity is constant.

Spotlights are the most commonly used for scene lighting both in rendering and in game engines. We drop a light and allow it to focus on specific areas. It gives us a wide variety of controls and effects, whether its sticking a glow to it, ambient occlusion, area fog, or color.
When I say spot light, most people would think of a stage light cast down upon a single person, but it has more potential than this, it can be used for a variety of environments, helping to add to the ambiance of the atmosphere.

Omni lights, simply these are spotlights, but rather then directing its focus in a single direction, it emits its energy in all directions. Great for quickly feeling in simple details, and with the addition of spot lights to back it up, it can quickly speed up scene building.

Most other lights, sunlight, skylights, are all flavor, they are determined by the engine.
Skylights can take skybox information, or picture information and apply it to a scene, giving the scene the general atmosphere required, from overcast to bright and clear sunny days.
Sunlight is generally connected to rendering programs, they have a coordinate system and timer. This can be adapted to real life locations as well, over all its just a basic direct light that is cast upon the scene.

With all this we then look at illumination, specifically global illumination.

Its Illumination that takes into account light transmitted from other objects.
A light upon a ceiling, in general terms of 3D, would make a lonely spotlight upon the ceiling. With Global Illumination, the floor, furniture, and anything else in that room, would have light reflected upon them from the ceiling.

Generally the problem most of us run into is hard lighting. It takes plugins, or careful tweaking of our lights to give of a softer effect.

Different kinds of Global Illumination effects the scene as well, radiosity, photon mapping, and caustics.

Radiosity
Light is transmitted between surfaces by diffusing reflections of their surface color. It can be calculated progressively so that the illumination can bounce as many times as necessary to create an accurate simulation of real lighting.
More oft then not, this is an issue for 3D render programs, more than gaming, but with the processing power of computers today we see more and more of these calculations being applied within games.

Generally we get a problem called bleeding from radiosity. Its where one objects color bleeds onto other surrounding surfaces.

Photon Mapping
This is another style of light calculation.
All objects in a scene are given a separate data type called the photon map. It stores information for the current scene, adding the calculations for global illumination to the solution.
The more accurate the photon-map is, the higher the number of photons emitted from the light itself.
Lower photons create a speckled render while higher numbers create smoother, softer lights. Generally seen in many architectural renders opposed to animated renders, all because of the amount of time that goes into the calculation.

Caustics
This is the result of specular lights. Reflections form specular sources like water in sunlight, creates a shimmering pattern which many of us are used to seeing in the bottom and walls of swimming pools.
They are however a much more significant and broader category of effects than just the shimmering of pool water.

Caustics are often the bright, and most noticeable part of indirect lighting in a scene, as well caustics sometimes used just by themselves.

Imagine a light reflecting off a glass object, it shimmers, scattering the lights reflection in odd ways, all based on the curvature of the object.
This works by calculating the more focused light. This is actually rather straightforward and is much faster to render than a full global illumination. Hence why so many simple renders use caustics to add a shine to it.
Almost as addicting as lens flares, this effect is used to gives us a series of effects.

A light refacting through a lens is generally a caustic effect.
Beams of light off a mirror or disco ball.
Extremely shiny surfaces, such as a chrome covered car can give off a highly specular surface, creating caustic effects when out on a shiny day.

You can probably see where such lighting is used just by the few examples I’ve presented for you all.

So how does this compare to a games rendering system? Why are such things necessary for us to know?

I’ve found that knowing the hard things in life helps make the easy things easier.

By knowing how lighting works and how each type of light can be utilized, we have a better understanding of where to apply it.

A room is easier to light with an omni light, allowing it to spread its lights to all surfaces.
A cars headlights are better represented by spotlights.
Day light is generally a type of direct light, more often than not, its the ambient light setting in our games along with the help of added effects such as HDR.

Simply put, the more we know about our tools, the faster it is for us to build a scene. Knowing the wheres and whens to use our tools better helps with the production flow.

Also, think of your fellow map makers, if you put a light in the scene, and you have the ability to tag it, please tag it, give it a name.

I’ve seen enough maps where “Omnilight-2837″” was an all to common theme.

Hope this little foray into lighting helps, and even more so, I hope some of you take the time to go and read up on the topic!

As a final thought, I’ve been wondering what are the things you would all like to see as an article, now that I’m going to be submitting to the Unity Magazine, I’d like to know what to direct my attention too!

Till next time GAME ON!

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Making an entrance and knowing how to leave!

May 12, 2010

right back on track with story telling!

Little bit on character entrance and exits.

As we all know, timing makes a good impression. A little note from Aristotle unities is Time, Place, and Action, and the affect they have on our entrance and exits.

So beginning with Time. We don’t just begin a conversation and end it. We may choose to bring it up, or walk in on the middle of a topic, pick it up later on or drop it completely, go off on a tangent about the topic, any number of things.
To show these in game, we identify natural entrance and exit points, paying attention to the details with the passage of time, as the player experiences it in game. Sure, compromises should be considered, it is difficult, more so is the concern for the art of covering these possibilities.

-The player concludes a conversation, then immediately reopens, whilst having done nothing at all.
-The player does a few actions in between conversation, this includes briefly leaving and returning to an area.
-The player is gone for some time before returning.

What I’ve just listed are actions by the player that can occur during conversation.

Very simple when you look at it, it goes on pretty much all the time in games, unless the game cinematic itself stops the player, they merely play a waiting game, hoping for the dialogue to finish up before continuing on with their quest.

A Place is the location which affects our meeting, it can be static, or mobile.
Things such as blocking line of sight could allow a player to sneak up upon an npc, the npc could jump from surprise, or turn at hearing the sound of the players approach. Depending on the situation of the location, the npc could be courteous, such as a shop owner, or loud and panicking, such as a sergeant in the middle of a trench.

Last is Action, if the meeting between player and npc goes well, the pc could earn friendly goodbyes. If it goes poorly other consequences may come about, exile, banishment, hate, or threatening gestures/attacks.

All of these are simply examples of character interaction, specifically those based upon characters who know their surrounding.

If a monster is around the corner, you wouldn’t want the npc to shout his head off, less the story directs for it. You’d want the npc to be quiet but slightly panicked.

How often in life have we seen someone make a great exit form the middle of a conversation. Its good to take note of life and see how people leave a conversation, some get up and go, others excuse themselves, carrying on the conversation till they have left the premises, and others merely give a polite excuse me, or a rude curse to stop the little chat and go off on their own.

As well an entrance is just as important, coming in with a serious tone suggests something to be worried about, while a more jovial expression brings something more lightening to a conversation. You wouldn’t be laughing and happy if you were to tell someone the news of their parents death.

Course all this is sticking with some fairly basic characters, someone without tact could very well break the sad news of a friends death in the most unfriendly and possibly cold attitude.
Someone overly happy might not know the news they bring is really bad and foreboding.

As well, character professions give offer us much of how they could enter or leave a small convo. Things such as a soldier marching in and giving salute is enough to give pause to two people conversing, followed by what ever the third member has to say before saluting again and leaving. A hero could move in and bellow his great deeds, a bar maid can lay a jug of beer down for a lone wolf of a hero and start a conversation, leaving with a healthy tip and maybe a stolen heart.

Hopefully I’m able to pass of the importance of timing, the location, and the action the player or npc does to make the story immersive.

Remember as the saying goes, Timing is everything. As murphy’s law goes “Anything that can happen, will happen at the worst possible time.”

Well a bit of a short post for now, till next time, GAME ON!

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Psychology of Misdirection in video games!

May 11, 2010

A little more fun in the world of psychology, that is the change of decision according to the suggestions or choices from those around us.

If you were given a red ball, it would be red would it not?

If a hundred or a thousand people came by and complimented you on your “Blue” ball, you’d feel a little awkward.
Would you then begin to doubt what you see as being a red ball?

This can be seen in schools, even today. When enough people agree to an objects style or an opinion, those who would normally be against it, might find themselves more lenient towards the wrong answer.

It isn’t difficult, the less educated a person is, the easier it is to influence them on what is and what isn’t.

Things like rain and lightning were considered to be the anger of the gods, where as today we see it as a scientifically proven act of moisture and charges in particles creating the rain and storms we see.

So in game, how can such actions affect our players to accidentally make the wrong choice in order to push them down a new path in a story?

Simply by building it upon their subconscious. TO put it simply, the “Bad guy,” is a bad guy, correct?
Not always, we’ve seen plenty of games where an antagonist isn’t a bad guy, but really an ally, or an ally who is using the player to their own means and once attained, they break away and run off on their own path whether for good or bad.

So lets hit on the theory behind a decisions, specifically affecting our player with external influences.

If a player begins the story and is told that a book is always right, they will believe it, and when that is suddenly proven to be wrong, they would then begin to doubt the very tool they have been utilizing. Even more so, what if we had our players hit a conundrum, a book that was always right, proves to have false information, yet they come to a puzzle which requires the book.
With enough influence from party members, or npcs, the player could find themselves not trusting the book and thus a tool becomes both a boon and a detriment to the player. Can it help? Will it help?
These are things we want our players to continually think about.

In the same vein of this topic, I talked about heroes who are really evil, or villains who end up being friends, and not in the holding hands and dandelions kind of way.
Properly placing plot points and information throughout a game can truly affect the players decision, but as well we don’t want players to feel cheated.

Enough information should be represented in the game to let them have a chance at learning the truth for themselves. Doing so will give them a real sense of accomplishment, and when those big decisions are dropped onto their plate, they will feel better about the choice they make.

Again playing the other side of this coin, we can also place false information which leads the player to having to make their own deductive reasons in order to solve the puzzle.

Deductive reasoning, a term best coined by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his character, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes along with Watson, would venture and use deductive reasoning to find an answer behind why things are happening as they are. It wasn’t magic, it has an answer, and science proves it.

We don’t have the backings of science behind us when it comes to games. We have the rule of our gameplay mechanic, but even then it can get difficult to lay our information about to ensnare the player. Magic, steam technology. Fantasy is just that, fantasy, no matter if its is science fiction or fairy tale.

Keep in mind that writing your plots out and then giving filler between each plot helps the most. The more information they have based on foreshadowed events, the more the player has to work on, as well the more they feel like they are truly immersed within the game.

How often have we felt that a game truly ensnared us, we read everything, learned all its secrets just so we could understand the world we were in?

I would hope all if not most of us, because it is what many of us as Game Designers want to offer to our own players, less so with the simple casual market but more so with the expansive and epic stories.

TIll tomorrow, enjoy what I’ve written folks.

Till next time GAME ON!

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Fear in a game!

May 10, 2010

Psychology, specifically, Fear!

What makes us afraid to play a game, is it the monsters in it, the atmosphere, or the unknown that inhabits the story.

I know that I am not the only person to have sat through Silent Hill (2 for that matter) and not felt a chill up my spine!

What makes us afraid? I’ve known friends of mine to quit WoW all because it had spiders, and he found himself unable to overcome the fear of something that is a 3D insect and not an extremely realistic one at that.

Others I’ve seen get terrified by computer game heights, one such person played Mirrors Edge and nearly fainted from looking out over such a vast horizon from atop a tall skyscraper.

Can such fears increase a games immersion? As well, when can such a thing scare off our viewers to the point that they do not want to take part in the game.
In WoW’s case, their isn’t much they could do to benefit my friend, many quest lines offered involved spiders as these things were integral to the quest, and like life, spiders are more or less everywhere.
How bout those with fear of water, heights, claustrophobia?

The key elements in many horror games is claustrophobia and the feeling of abandonment, or being alone. Silent Hill, earlier Resident Evil games, Alone in the Dark, they all offered a game where were truly the lone wolf, sometimes you met other people but once those people vanished, you felt forever alone again, a feeling that many of us may not enjoy.

First let me start by saying, fear is a label. That’s correct, it is a label that is placed upon those things that make us and others feel uncomfortable. Water, blood, touch, smell, abandonment, and more, these are all things that can adversely affect our choices, or quick thinking, and our survival instincts. Even in game, we utilize a fight or flight instinct, when something uncomfortable happens we run.
With the benefit of multiple lives, those same games and their threat become less and less an problem and more of just another stone to hop over.

When you think about your game, think of the feelings you want to express form this game, and expand upon its strengths. Creating something claustrophobic? Don’t begin by thrusting the player into a tight corridor, rather work them slowly, maybe that first room is a nice big arena, the next becomes a long hall way with plenty of are space, the next after that is a simple room, on and on you continue till you allow the player to realize that they are trapped in a confined space.

Give your fear a purpose, don’t just use it for cheap thrills, make it work for its audience, if water is the main aspect of the game, work on inducing a feeling of hydrophobia to the player. Some players who aren’t hydrophobic might actually find themselves feeling rather freaked in situations where their avatar can drown.

I remember a case of this back on the ol’Genesis, running sonic through the water when low and behold, the music changed to a quick tempo, a timer appeared, all these elements added together made me begin to panic as I tried to look for a pocket of air.

Make your players learn from their fear, it not only keeps them in the game, it makes them feel better for playing. Someone who doesn’t like heights may feel better when they defeat this fear, and to help them along, give them safety nets to catch them, what I mean by “safety nets” is someone or something they can interact with to keep them both on their feet and with a clear head.
NPCs are great in this instance, the player may feel worried about the heights they must deal with, but the NPC (especially a well written one) can do much to earn the players respect, giving that player compliments and goading them into doing what is necessary to complete a challenge.

This may sound mean, but what were trying to do, is break our players kneecaps, then through the use of NPCs offer them a crutch that helps them recover, through use of good dialogue and visual clues, the player will be able to overcome the difficulties we give them. In the end they are able to stand by themselves without the help of the NPC.

Now for indulging upon our players fear, play upon their anticipation. Music cues can be used to throw them off the scent of the real danger. Shadows can cause a player to stand on edge.
When a player feels they are at their most safest is when they can be easily struck from behind, driving them into hiding.

Proof of such security has always been save points. Anywhere a player is, there will always be some checkpoint or save point for them. These safe houses have always helped keep our players mind at ease, and as a rule of thumb, we never use them against the player.

Now what if we abused it slightly, bent that rule. We choose not to hurt the player, but to freak them out when they are safest.
I’ll use hydrophobia here. The player is in a save room, they are safe, content, well equipped. Suddenly a crack is heard, a pipe bursts and begins flooding the room the player is in.
Right when the player feels that they might lose all hope, the flooding stops. They were never threatened in the first place, and only pure sillyness would have caused death (similar to using a rocket launcher in this tiny room, drowning isn’t hard to do). The player feels that the save room is now compromised, and they might feel that way for every other save room, but this feeling is what we want, to threaten them without always having to actually hurt them.

The further away we drag a player form their comfort zone, the more dangerous it can be for us to louse our audience. Remember to keep in mind that fear is the same thing as telling a good joke, if you keep repeating it, its going to get extremely old.

Corruption is a great psychological tool to show fear, seeing someone of such faith and goodness do something so dark and corrupt (least to the players morals) can make for quite a harrowing experience. The next time our player meets this person, they may feel a bit paranoid around them, not trusting anything they may choose to do.

Now as a closing I give you all the biggest secret to fear. Its not knowing that its there.
Let me better explain this!
If you see the monster, you hurt it, you learn that it can be killed, you don’t fear it.
If you never see it coming, but know or feel that its there, you begin to fear it because it is unknown.

What were doing is convincing our own players to believe in their own fear, or to place fear where ever they see it.If our player subconsciously feels that they are terrified by the game as they play it, they will feel more immersed into the horror aspects of the game.

Read anything Lovecraft, you’ll note that he has done more to describe a beast with as little as possible, the thing is always a shadow, a tentacle gives hint to its other worldness, or the sounds it.

Our biggest fear maker is our own imagination, the more we allow it to control us during a game, the more liable we are to panic.
As well panic is proof of fear, screaming like a girl doesn’t have to happen all the time. Watch a friend play a horror game, watch for signs of fear or panic, flaring of nostrils, short breathes or long deep sighs of relief, the jerky movement of the eyes, all these signs show when a player feels that they maybe under great stress.

Be on the look out for an extremely expanded article in the magazine based on fear, as well as a few challenges!

I’d like to hear a few things that caused fear in you all, what game, or book or movie. These are all different forms of entertainment, but they all share the same relation when it comes to playing upon our subconscious.

For now I bid you all a good day and till next week!

GAME ON!

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A little business knowledge never hurts!

May 7, 2010

I’m gonna take a little time today to discuss some Business constraints that happens when producing a game, something we designers should remember.

Now what is Brand Definition? Anyone? Bueller?

Brand definition directly affects the genre and target market. It is a clear image of what brand the game fits into. Its controlled by the target audience, the power of the system, the type of game genre, and the presentation.
Take Supreme Commander for example, on pc its done well, as with the XBOX its had some success, but if you were to put it on the Wii, it would have only a small market of buyers.
This is all based upon what our target markets owns and plays.
More RTS style games are found on the PC, more adventure RPGs can be found on consoles, and more action games have a balance on both.

Knowing the audeince requires research into the market.
www.NPD.com is an important site I would direct you all to as well as many more which you all can goolge for yourselves.
It is the National Purchase Diary Group.
Our gamers are typically male, though this gap is closing. The ages of our most hit upon market is generally between 15 and 45, more than not its also those who have a hole in their pocket so to speak.

When dealing with marketing you want to make sure that the target audience knows what you are offering, these “Key Features” are generally the selling point of your game, and you must keep true to these features if you want that audience to continually come back to you.
The features of our games are generally linked to their selling points. Features are en important element of a game and it makes our game more exciting, and interesting. We strive to make a new “innovation” a term i use lightly now because what we call innovation, may actually just be an improvement of an earlier creation.

Imagine some of the familiar features we hear all the time.

– Large traversal environments
– Weapons (either real or fantastical)
– Stylized graphics
– Realistic Graphics
– Intense AI
– Additional Game Modes
– Immersive Story
– Its better than Halo (I remember these days, was that really almost 10 years ago?)

These are the Key Features that drive the games selling point, or rather examples of them.
A large risk with listing such features is not identifying them clearly or concisely. A game may end up looking like every other game if there is no underlying feature that should make it stick out amongst the rest.
This is a reason why effective product placement and advertising for big budget games is so important.
As garage gamers, or indie gamers we don’t have this budget, but we do have the idea of what we want our games to represent and why we are selling them or offering them out to the game republic to play.
Use the internet to great effect, thanks to the power of Unity we have the ability to present these games as streaming media for others to enjoy, I see the power of a future Gaming Medium in the future akin to youtube, maybe Gametube who knows. Proof of this can already be seen across the internet and it continues to grow, with flash applications, to in game programs like Unity.

Next we look at a threat, our competition.
We do a competitive product analysis, as business calls it. It involves reviewing all competing games in a genre similar to our own.
During this analyzing process, the designers create a grid of product features (or matrix), this can also include selling points and descriptions of which is important and why and how do they threaten our creation.

Say when were developing a game, the we should review how the products key features are implemented in our game, as well once implemented how can we better improve upon them.
If a game does not get better and improve in its sequels, its bound to fail, not always, but the risk of failure grows more and more.
Take Halo and Call of Duty, of course they would have taken the time to research each other, they are after all an FPS even if their theme is different, an alien with a plasma gun isn’t going to be any different compared to a soldier with a rifle, in the end the results are the same.
Compare the newest Halo game coming out, a pro of their studies is a game with multiple merges of other game play styles. The con of this is being to much of everything and not enough of being its own stand alone title.

Every game is suffering this today, all ust have co-op, all must have multiplayer, all must have adjustable characters, etc etc. This constant panic to satisfy every gamers wants and needs is in fact hurting the Game Design job market, so many gamers are being given so much eye candy and sweet treats that they continue to expect more and more. When such implementation fails, the marketer can be slammed fairly hard by both the critics and the gamers, so be careful when you decided to start merging other features form other games.

How about License Constraints?

Licenses are important to our games, they give us a unique connectivity to intellectual property, or the game itself becomes its own standing intellectual property.

Licensing for games or the use of other property licenses in games is very common and it can be lucrative ( though movies to games haven’t done so well compared to books).
It is common for game designers to use licenses to other brands and then to capitalize upon it. Halo has had multiple games from fps, to rts, and even fan made side scrollers, so much hype is built up over the game that players will look beyond its faults just to play the next game.

Remember these little tidbits of info!

As well, anyone out there looking for a game designer, I’m always open to join a group to help them sharpen the edges of their game!

Any who enough of my selfish advertising! I hope you all enjoyed today’s write up and till next time.

GAME ON!

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Character Dialogue: Some types of dialogue

May 6, 2010

So gaming wise, there have been many different systems developed for conversation between the player and the NPC(s).

These dialogue systems are rather simple in how they begin, person A or person B initiates conversation, opposing person answers, it continues till both are done talking.

How these conversations are potrayed is a different story. They range from non-existent such as Riven wheree you see other characters interact, to the more AI-Based systems which are common in todays rpgs, fps’s and more.

NPC Dialogue can be spoken, it can be written. More and more games on the pc use spoken responses compared to the console games, that is, it used to be that way. Today with better compression in technology we see more and more spoken dialogue between the two. RPGs still seem to value text in the Eastern parts of the world compared to the West.

Virtual worlds also use more text exclusively, WOW would be maddening to have every single character with actual audio, imagine the amount of disk space necessary to provide such entertainment, more than that, think of the development time to have to hire and go through thousands of characters speeches.

As well server and client still has a spike in its communication, lag, as great as our internet connection is getting, lag still persists, for many reasons, location, operating system, and if that network is also being used by others.

Lets look at some of the choices we offer or are offered as designers and gamers.

Canned Speeches >Sell by date included<
Pretty obvious, its the first step above not interacting at all, and is the easiest conversation system to utilize.

Zelda, Mario, Halo, Diablo: these and many more games use canned speeches. Player doesn’t speak, player selects the npc. Npc begins to speak, or a menu appears for the player to select different NPC speech options. NPC spouts their response, these responses can be a single speech repeated again and again no matter how many times the player clicks the npc, or a long winded speech.

If speech is in text, it opens in a UI, or it appears in its own window covering teh action and forcing players to pay attention.
The longer the speech the more implementation necessary to read it, scroll bars, pressing x to continuing.
Many games fall back on canned speeches for a reason. No one is going to devise a massive conversation system on for a game.
For others canned speeches are easier on them, these people are more or less the straight up designers who find having to write expansive stories a bit uncomfortable. Nothing wrong with it, if it makes it easier on you, don’t brake yourself just to make it seem more impressive, your writing will take a painful hit if you do.

Note how some games offer actual speech, Tom Clancy’s End War allows a person to control the army through speech. Same as Rainbow Six 3.

More impressive is the Natal speech system that was demo’s to many viewers, even if I found myself a bit creeped out by the kid the host was chatting to.

Anyway back to interactions and how we implement them.

If an NPC has many possible interactions, we can create a less muttled way of choosing rather than a pop-up.
Say, for instance, if the NPC is a static character, we can use the environment he inhabits. If he’s a merchant who also passes out quests, gossips, or trains, we can place hotspots on various objects in his shop which then initiates a selected conversation i.e. the sword is for buying swords, shields for shields, books for skills, etc etc.

This not only helps with making character interaction feel more real, in real life, we used to go to the clerk to ask for products, but today we merely browse, select what we want and buy it. Something similar to Dead Rising (though their isn’t much of a clerk to purchase said items from go figure).
How about quests, why not have it up on a notice board “Wanted Brave Adventurers” as soon as you acknowledge it, an NPC could start telling you about the troubles the town has been having and why you should sign up and help.

Canned speeches need every ounce of help to make them seem more immersive rather than game breaking, even more so since today’s gamers would rather move on without having to pause and talk to everyone person in town.

Story is generally presented via canned speeches, with little variation, and honestly it doesn’t have to be. If the foundation of the storytelling is non-linear, then even canned speeches can be adapted to it, course you’ll get to learn more on this further down the line.

Till next time GAME ON!

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Game Dialogue

May 5, 2010

So I spoke a little about dialogue, character interaction, all parts of what is considered a character encounter.

Things that we need to watch for is timing, on the one end, games are becoming more and more vast, and they offer better compression in video, audio, and scripts.
This doesn’t mean take advantage of this and put a player through multiple hours of dialog, what it means is utilize the tools you have to build a more immersive world.

For example, write your script and then get a stopwatch. Act out the monologue aloud, don’t just read it, ACT it, be the character, play the part. Note when and how often you pause for breath, also note that you do it more often to intensify other words, or precise moments that you feel need to be emotionally involving.
Separate your individual thoughts in the speech, each one being better comprehended by yourself, from here you’d clean your lines, improve the writing to shorten the speech but give more impact, making it easier for players to listen to and to understand.

As the old Simon and Garfunkal Song goes “People hearing without listening, People talking without speaking”
What this is is a comprehension of language, of emotion. You can talk all you want, but speak when you want to be heard, don’t just talk.
Same for you npcs, don’t let them babble on (less its their character persona to do so) let them speak as they should, as well players need to be able to listen to what the npc has to say, not just hear.
I hear noise in the background, but I listen to the distinct and more intricate sounds coming form all that noise, a bird chirping, a dog barking, even an intense conversation between two other people that I found interest in.

Knowing the difference between hearing and listening etc etc etc and all other forms of sight sound, touch and taste, it allows us to better understand what we want out of our character dialog!

What about accents, so many games employ an accent to characters, kids usually sound stuffy nosed, adults range from English, to Russian, to Scottish accents, and lets all not forget the English portrayal of the oriental folk!

Voice actors have a gold mine of voices, look at Mark Hamill, once known as Luke Skywalker, now famous for hes portrayal of the Joke. He has a multitude of voices he has done, and continues to this day doing so.

Michael Irons with his deep and serious tone also plays many characters and acts many characters as well in games, Sam Fischer, to Command and Conquer.

What they understand is that they bring an immersive accent to the game, in an oriental game, suddenly having one character speak with a Scottish accent would be a bit game breaking, this isn’t what you want (less the character is a Scotsman, don’t do it!)

Some people think it adds humor to the story, and it can, but as well humor can break a story, you need to know when its is justifiable to do such accents, and when to avoid it.

Also with accents, more games employ a false accent which is easily caught by the players, more often then naught they will actually complain about this. Stalker Shadow of Chernobyl has this problem, all the characters you meet speak with an Americanized Russian accent, where as the original game used true to life Russian dialect.

From all this we come to writing an accent in text speech for players to read. Is it a good idea? Notice how difficult players have it online when their trying to implement their characters accent in text. Sure at the table playing Travellar, DND, etc etc, its more fun living and adding to your character, but in a game, its harder to portray this, especially in text driven games.

We shouldn’t replicate accents on the page, though we should know about such accents or slang. Remember people fill in the blanks themselves. If they see a huge Scottish warrior, they’ll imagine it themselves when they describe the character.

Don’t be afraid of long speeches, just understand how to use them. The less mechanical it sounds the better the dialogue is.