September 25, 2012

Developer Theory

One of the beautiful things about games in their raw form is how the seem to create themselves after a certain point. There are many things to be said about art and a lot of which art says about itself, and make no mistake that games are indeed art. A classic quote which I believe is attributed to Michelangelo is that inside every block of stone or clay is a soul, a sculpture waiting to reveal itself, as if you were the tool being used to break itself free. There's a lot of this idea present in various forms of art how the artist doesn't make the art rather the art makes itself or the artist.

I would say making a game is a lot like a new girlfriend, substitute your preferred partner naming convention the idea remains the same. Just as you keep secrets from them so do they keep secrets from you. As you open yourself to them they shall reveal their secrets to you. In game development it's similar as buried within every game idea there are things that simply belong together whether or not they're obvious is a different matter though. Often from what I've seen is after you have some core ideas put together there's a gap where an obvious piece should fit to speak metaphorically, and then it becomes a search to find the secret your game has made for itself and reveal it. It's a maze of puzzle pieces creating themselves and itself without even realizing it. Of course referring back to what I said about revealing yourself to it also applies heavily. Often it's easy to see a personality in programming, you can understand what a person is thinking and their general mindset when you see their code.

All art stems from some derivative of love. Even the violent and deadly forms of art such as war and assassination for example come from a place of love, even if it's a perversion of ideal loves. Each game you're involved in making is like falling in love for the first time all over again. There's a real passion in making a game and it shows. You can tell a lot about the people who make a game in the finished product. To analyze it in relationship terms you can tell if the game was like family to the developers, or if it was a girlfriend, a wife, a mistress / concubine, or something else. For a lot of movie based games it's the love you have for a cheap hooker it's all about the money and the love for it only lasts briefly and insincerely, then you worry about catching something and regret it. Meanwhile Triple A titles typically range from your best friend since you were a child to the deity you worship. Some games can be really fun like those college experimentation days when you would try just about anything, and others can almost make you feel dirty for playing them. In the end it's a cumulative effort that shapes the end result more than any direction set.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that inside every core game idea there's a multitude of features and other games waiting to break out, and that a little pieces of the developer/s are in every game. Without an understanding of the love and dedication necessary to make a game you can never hope to make a good game. Respect what you love and love what you do and you can't go wrong.

September 14, 2012

Resident Evil

Just finished seeing R.E. Retribution and I must say it was completely undersold by the advertising I wasn't expecting nearly what I got, it was REALLY good. Thinking about it though aside from that is how you make a movie based on a game, a note which all directors should take and film students should learn in class, is that any media popular enough transitions in to another media which is something I hadn't considered prior. While you may think it's high hopes or fantasy that something I make might one day sell in the rank of the various AAA series titles the question comes if that were to happen how would I maintain control over official books and movies? While I have the inherit rights to these things surely I would benefit from allowing these things to be made. Though obviously I would want them to remain true to the core of my material which becomes difficult. Though Silent Hill proves it can be done with an absolute control over who does what and how considering the movie sequel was postponed  because the director was in prison for 2 years yet the contract was so tight only he could make it, something worth looking in to.

So to consider what Resident Evil aka Biohazard did right and wrong over the years and what we might learn from it is also worth looking in to. I remember the early days on ps1 playing with the different control scheme and the real selling point was more the story and the ambiance than the gameplay facts driven home by the fixed camera keeping you from really knowing what's around the next corner and the painful axis based movement. While I may not have ever understood why you needed a key for a wooden door you could break down any number of ways the puzzles themselves were usually clever. The resource management and inventory coupled with the hard to find resources made you value every item you got really convincing you it was a fight for survival and the best option was to always be careful with everything you do because one accident could make the game unforgivably difficult for you. The different perspectives however also made the game something you were bound to play more than once by going through the story as chris or jill and their partners. While the mansion itself is almost a character in its own right it also feels like home after a while. When the first RE movie came out I thought for sure we'd be seeing more of the mansion instead it seems we followed bravo team on their way to their deaths which if you remember were all over the mansion when crhis and jill came in. This is how I knew the RE movies were going to become an amazing series, filling in gaps from the games and remaining true to the core while telling their own story rather than carbon copying the games, just that small freedom makes the movies good in their own right and as additions to the RE universe.

Keep in mind though the movies started long after the first few games had already come out. The sequel to the first game RE2 introduced leon and claire which we didn't see in the movies until much later, leon I think didn't even show up until retribution, and jill disappeared between apocalypse and the end of afterlife though if you've played the games the time slot is filled and we know what happened, and claire showed up in extinction so we did eventually introduce all the main characters. Back to the game it was an evolution of everything presented in the first which really stood out as making clear improvements across the board in a sequel is surprisingly difficult apparently.  In particular it was nice how the survival became more apparent as you suddenly slowed down and held your side while you move because you're in critical condition after a zombie horde attack and then as you strive to find health spray and ammo you're constantly on edge about not running in to any surprises which when they happen can instill terror as you fear for your survival for many different reasons in particular is having to revert to your last save. Thankfully they had the sense to keep the same controls which as annoying as they were just added that slight level of difficulty and more importantly made the game easy to pick up for people who played the first, as having to learn yet another control scheme would've been annoying, this is also true of RE3. Though in fairness while the control scheme itself is the same the controls in and of themselves are refined, more so in RE3 which leaves an impression that they were trying to make everything more fluid.

RE3 brings back a familiar face in a familiar setting but in a completely new perspective as you make a desperate run to escape the city while facing a constant barrage of zombies, the umbrella henchmen sent to deal with them and you and the ever terrifying nemesis mutation constantly hunting down you and your fellow stars members. I found it interesting how they decided to include nemesis in RE apocalypse, something which really gripped me as how they make these connections with the game and draw you in. The game also introduced the ever addictive mercenary arcade mode though I fear at the cost of your standard second character as the game this time is only played from jill's perspective. Carlos doesn't count! Though it's worth noting that the story itself is also substantially improved upon and making an alternate perspective on this may have proven either too difficult or too time consuming to be a viable option for the game which was already spread across multiple discs.

These core games while they stand alone as great games they're made giants by the fact that at the time they were also in direct head to head competition with another giant Silent Hill another great survival horror game competing for the better story and the customers. This competition I'm sure drove devs to push harder and make the games better knowing that they had to beat the competition.

Then there was the big risk of RE4 which proved to be well calculated. The risk was the fact that capcom was basically severing ties with everything you knew about RE up to that point. No longer were you dealing with the T virus and it's effects, the controls and design were changed and while improved the controls were still a little lacking, the story taking place in a completely new environment with a new threat, the only think they really kept was the main character. This drastic change should've almost been a new title however considering the work put in to build a story and a universe around the previous games seemed a waste to just throw away. Sadly not much from the game ever made its way to the movies. Thankfully they at least let you kick doors in this time. One important concept introduced though was a thinking horde zombies that did more than just sluggishly walk and moan about now they're wielding weapons and thinking a little. Though to compensate they had to make a change of camera from fixed position to third person which took away from the tension but in order to allow the player to fight effectively. I for one would've liked to only see the third person in combat relevant situations though in RE4 it's fitting that they kept it persistent as otherwise you'd always know when that may be taking a bit of the thrill out of it. The addition of the action worked well to balance the combat compared to the difficulty it had before along with the survival horror part of the game so you no longer had any reason to blame anything other than yourself for failure or death. Though it also had quicktime events, which is something you should know about me, I absolutely hate quicktime events with a passion. Additionally in this iteration they shifted from simply surviving at all costs to more about just surviving the horror, which may not make sense at first but to give it some context I'll say it's a shift in methodology. Before your survival was based on how well you used your few precious resources now you had quite a repository of resources and it was more about tactics than strategy. It didn't matter how many bullets you had if you didn't know where to shoot making your skills necessary where as before you didn't really need them you just had to know when to shoot rather than where to shoot. This is also reflected in the inventory as you needed to decide what you were going to take with you and how important it was to have, picking the tools for the job so to speak as a poor decision in this area would easily be reflected, even more so in the upgrades. This is also one of the first times the RE series or Capcom itself has had a real technical achievement as the prior games didn't innovate much on what could be done with hardware. RE4 showed really what the gamecube's potential was which admittedly up until that point wasn't much.

As for the movie that was taking place in theory around the timeline extinction was too far away from the source material and it showed. Later in the franchise RE5 has tricell and the world clearly hadn't ended, with the BSAA and such it brings the question does the series perhaps in the upcoming 6 or later ever reflect and join the movie  from which afterlife and retribution are based on? Speaking of which Afterlife was almost a carbon copy of RE5 in truth yet was different enough that I was quite satisfied.  Sadly RE5 was more of a refinement than an evolution and the controls clearly aren't fitting in well with new generation games. While it might be  good game on merit it's a failure as a new iteration or sequel regardless of expectations from RE4 as truthfully it's more of an extension of existing material rather than the innovative next step in the franchise that it should have been. I prefer to look at it as an amalgamation of the past, a glorious homage to what was as capcom looks to the future namely RE6 which I hope will bring a much needed overhaul to the series to bring it not only into the present but launch it into the future. Hopefully they will also bring back the missing horror part of it which was strangely absent in RE5 while the story and design all seem to fit in, it was like RE extinction in a way, it deviated too much, was too bright and open, and wasn't scary in the least bit. It's one thing to improve combat, but a total shift to go straight from survival horror to combat needs appropriate compensation something which clearly wasn't present.

The core games really set the standard for the movies, not the spin offs so while I'll mention them I won't be quite going in to detail like the others, as their merits are based entirely on the core game. The quick rundown is code veronica, code veronica x which the two almost were worth being considered core games, umbrella chronicles, operation racoon city, revelations, outbreak, the mercenaries,  and any others I neglected to mention.

To review simple rights and wrongs: what they did right: design, ambiance, story, characters, inventory system, save point spacing, progressive evolution among sequels while remaining true to core concepts and story. What they did wrong: control scheme, inconsistency among spin offs and later sequels, color palette, shifting genre's without accounting for genre design differences.

For a spoiler to retribution type the konami code.

September 12, 2012

Progress of main title sep 2012 update

So for the last few weeks I've been really focused on the main title. Now that things are getting in working order and bugs removed I started swapping models for better looking ones adding some detail. I then have been looking at the multiplayer and upgrading that adding in the weapons I'd planned and making them work while balancing them. Then I finally broke down and considered a non team mode and a new team mode. The FFA deathmatch was surprisingly  entertaining while the new team mode clearly needed tweaks. Spawning in both modes was a problem so I calculated debris to adjust spawns, and calc enemy line of sight within a spawn radius, which was constricted in team. The idea was to make absolutely sure nobody would spawn right in front of an enemy player, I also put in a spawn denial radius for all players so you wouldn't spawn near an enemy regardless of sight. In all it went fairly well. The new team mode was basically a deathmatch without vehicles and would likely show up in rank 1 multiplayer, but it depends on how much people like it.

To review from prior there's 4 ranks of multiplayer separated by tech and artillery and special units. Players spawn in 2 vehicles determined by team. There's an additional multiplayer that used to be labeled rank 5 which was persistent world multiplayer however it's been modified into a unrestricted gametype and stripped of rank. Which is to say all tech artillery and special units are available at all times. It also supports more players to the tune of 64 so far though I hope for much more later on. I'm also trying to increase team size from 4 to 5 per squad however in the specials and vehicles squads it becomes a little unbalanced so I'm thinking about simply modifying overall squad size keeping the specials limited to 4 while increasing perhaps vehicles by 2 instead of 1 or putting the extra players on squads 1 and 2.
 In the new team mode since there are no vehicles the two teams merge their spawns. I'll be adding objective modes to this for testing over the next few days and testing for the next week.

Most of the weapons added were in rank 2 however one weapon I really liked was added in rank 4 creates a trail of fire behind the shot rather than mist and explodes on impact. It's more of a visual weapon than a serious damage dealer, while it's certainly powerful it's in the upper part of the lower tier in that rank, comparatively it would be in the lower part of the high end in rank 3. I also designed a similar shotgun type weapon I'll be adding in tomorrow which will likely be in the mid range. I'll also be adding it as an ammo type for some launchers and other shotguns among the ranks.

I've also been working on the skill system adding in new perks and balancing costs. The rings are now working like proper ellipses stretching in the appropriate directions instead of remaining perfect circles. I modified the actual layout to be more dynamic and add nodes and paths beyond the predefined based on the pattern I established. Thus the further out you go the more it may cost but the nodes themselves are worth more and the paths because of their increasing inner expenses make them viable options etc. I moved some existing perks around to be closer or further away, some on different tiers which as mentioned in a prior post were restricted by multiplayer rank modes. So for example the node required for you to duel wield laser pistols is on tier 4 because it's a rank 4 weapon, and of course in order to access it you must have bought a path to tier 4 access. Something which I also revised so now instead of having to buy the perk for dual wielding pistols on each tier you don't have to now you can just pick and choose which you want. I also added a core path to the upper tiers if you just want to move from the center out. Buying similar nodes will still give you the discounts mentioned in the previous post about the node system. So while you may not have to buy the duel wield node on each tier you might want to for a discount if that's something you use often. I also modified the system to allow selling of nodes now which I'd planned but hadn't gotten to, and they sell for the same price you bought them at regardless of current value so that way you can't buy two nodes for discounts then sell them in different orders for profit, same goes for paths. I increased the number of tier paths. I'm also considering a logic step in which if you buy the dual wielding pistol node once it works for all pistols regardless of type. Though the above examples would still apply in a similar fashion to what they represent.

I finally decided that I would indeed go through a plan I had before because I don't want bodies to simply fade away but they're too intense to keep lying on the ground after all I set up an animation in which the player who made the kill will have a small bot materialize go over to the kill and zap the body into disappearing collecting all that he had on him and giving the player resources based on estimated value of what the other player had on them. I also have map bots that go around and clean up some of the more random debris leaving large chunks but removing individual bricks from the ground. basically providing a reason for why things disappear off the map that need to for better overall gameplay.

Lots of other tweaks like that, they seem small but it takes time to get them done right.

September 04, 2012

In Air Combat

Tired of your plane getting shot down by a sneeze in the wrong direction? You should be. Attack helicopters and fighter jets are a lot tougher than you might think. While it may be true a good shot with a single rpg might take one out it's fairly rare and even so it usually just makes it unstable to the point it crashes rather than completely destroying it. It seems that most often in a game these days if you're in a chopper at any point you know it's going to crash it's inevitable. The truth of the matter however is that a skilled pilot and a decent level of luck can get you far. This as always is aside from the fact that it's terribly difficult to hit a fast moving target with a regular rpg. Of course that's why we have all the high tech tracking systems these days but still.

When dealing with things like stinger missiles which were designed for dealing with enemy vehicles in one shot, unlike rpg's which work for such purposes but are more effective against defenses and infantry, it's important to remember counter measures that most air vehicles have. Once all counter measures are exhausted and dodging becomes impossible most air craft are still designed  to remain as intact as possible during a crash and to retain as much control as possible in the process.

In the campaign of the man game there's a scene in which low and behold you find yourself in a chopper, and spoiler here it crashes. The point leading up to the crash however tries to reflect what I mentioned above. Your pilot survives 3 different rockets and getting shot at for quite a while before finally the fuel tank springs a leak as you might have guessed, and he still tries to keep control while you clear a landing zone which is under a timer until you're out of fuel. In the landing scene he gets shot and you have to take over to crash land anyway. Afterward though you realize how well built these things are and how intact it remains in spite of the damage it took. I attribute this to the resin that covers the metal, or at least it seems most likely. Often the windows or transparent orange coverings are made entirely of this resin, of which 1/8th of an inch can stop low caliber rounds with ease and not even a scratch on it.

This also translates to competitive multiplayer in which your air combat isn't a simple matter of who shoots first. The dogfights are difficult battles of skill and cunning which take place while trying to defend important targets. Your fighter jets protect your gunship and to some extent your heli while carrying out bombing runs. Your heli is used for transportation and cover, other ground assistance. Your gunship much the same is used in standard supportive roles. The gunship however is large and relatively slow by comparison making it a target which means it has to be defended from other fighter pilots, much the same as your fighters will try to take out enemy gunships. Once you're in a well funded pmc upgrades make worlds of differences. Your gunship will start carrying more guns and ammo so rather than one steady stream of fire you'll have 9, your counter measures will increase in number and efficiency similar to your actual armor. Your fighter jets will become faster and deadlier with greater fuel supplies and higher ammo capacity. Though as of yet I have yet to add much to the heli's other than armor and a couple gun upgrades, suggestions welcome.

When it comes down to it your aerial combat isn't just one dancer in a ballet it's a coordinated effort among a group. The group is also likely well experienced as you get to rate their performance and the best performers tend to get picked.