Back from the Dead

You-Died-Screen

I’m back! I know it’s been a while, but better late than never amirite? Well I still have things to say and I hope you guys are still willing to hear them. To fit the occasion, I thought it appropriate to talk about death and respawn in games.

We’ve all played countless games, lived hundreds of lives and surely died a thousand times, but in a game, death is rarely permanent. For a while now I’ve wanted to share my thoughts on the way different games deal with player death. By that I mean the way games explain how it is possible for the player character to come back from the dead for a retry. Now I’m sure there are many games worth mentioning that I will forget so feel free to comment about them.

Some games try to give an explanation to why the player is able to respawn and others simply put you back at a checkpoint. The latter aren’t what interest me so let’s look at the former with some examples. (Please keep in mind that most of the incoming explanations are my own and might not be what the developers had in mind)

Dark Souls

Dark Souls

In Dark Souls the player character is an immortal “undead” and thus can always respawn at checkpoints. This explains why the player’s death isn’t permanent and also why all the enemies also respawn when the player rests at a checkpoint (except for bosses). This is all good and logical (for a game) but if the player consumes the souls of his enemies, how can they respawn ? Unless the souls the enemies leave behind are not their own, just as the player leaves behind all the souls he has upon dying.  Where are all these souls coming from? Let’s leave it there.

Assassin’s Creed

This is one of my favorites. In the Assassin’s Creed series the player is presented with the idea of genetic memory and a machine that allows the user to tap into it. As Desmond Miles a descendant of Assassins, the player is able to relive the memories of his ancestors. Dying prematurely, failing missions  or committing acts such as killing innocents is considered inconsistent with the ancestor’s memory and as such causes the player to “de-synchronize” and return to the last point where the player was “in-sync” with the memory. I haven’t been able to find any holes in this explanation yet, so hats off to Ubisoft.

World of Warcraft

Spirit Healer from World of Warcraft

As many other MMOs, WoW has a problem with death. When a player dies his/her spirit is resurrected by a spirit healer saying “it is not yet your time…etc.”  The player would then have to run back to his corpse as a spirit to return to the material realm or ask the spirit healer for a resurrection on the spot that comes with a penalty. Alternatively another player could resurrect a fallen player using specific spells. The problem is, while the game treats the players as heroes who can’t be allowed to die, NPCs that are heroes to the player can die. Enemies that respawn and boss fights that are endlessly repeatable make the concept of death a bit strange in MMOs (Lets not even get into the Undead race). I wonder how WoW would change if it got rid of spirit healers and corpse running and used the method of simply teleporting to a waypoint that is present in Guild Wars 2. Then again the spirit healers are kind of cool.

The last thing I’d like to mention is funny moment in Bastion when you fall off the edge for the first time and the narrator who speaks throughout the entire game says “and then he falls to his death… I’m just foolin’”.  To me that was fantastic and fit the game so well.

I hope after reading this that I won’t be the only one thinking about this every time I die in a game. Also if you haven’t played this already, try out the game You Only Live Once. As always, if you have any thoughts don’t hesitate to comment below.

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Diablo III is Awesome BUT…

Alright so everyone’s been going crazy playing Diablo III since it’s release  over a week ago, and everyone’s been having loads of fun myself included. Instead of talking about how awesome it is (and it is pretty awesome) I want to talk about how it could be a lot better if certain things were maybe different. I’ll mostly be talking from my own experience playing a demon hunter (lvl 45 in nightmare at the moment)  so I might be wrong about some things, so feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments.

Lets start with the skill building system. So far I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting with different builds and I like how the skills and runes are gradually unlocked, but I think some things are a bit off with that system. first of all, why isn’t elective mode explained anywhere!? elective mode (which can be turned on in the options) enables you to put any skill in any slot you want which allows for more advanced builds. Sadly u’ll have to figure it out for yourself. the second problem I have is with skill switching. Why are there increasing cooldowns on abilities once switched depending on the difficulty you’re playing? Is it because they want to make switching skills in the middle of fights more risky and difficult ? is the fact that you have to open a skill window that blocks most of your screen not enough to make it dangerous to switch in a fight?  Why does the system not allow you to save builds to switch between them more easily then? it seems that having long cooldowns and having to pick out each skill is just redundant.

Next come the difficulty modes and multiplayer. The fact is, Diablo III’s campaign is not long at all, so the game relies on replay value with 4 difficulty modes and a hardcore mode to add challenge to each play-through, not to mention that playing each class feels different and gearing up your character takes a while (I’m not going to mention pvp because that’s not out yet).  While all of the things i mentioned are awesome and to be expected in Diablo, I can’t help but feel that the difficulty curve just shoots up through the roof when it comes to elite mobs. Nothing is more surprising than being suddenly one-shotted  by an elite after spending hours trampling through normal mode. So I go to the auction house and buy myself some better gear to cope, while my friend points out that on inferno people are assholes and item prices are too insane.

My follower (the templar) who was quite useful in normal mode, turned to a complete moron in nightmare mode. the fact that I can only equip him with a few items makes his damage less than insignificant and he seems to have lost the ability to taunt anything, not to mention that he is usually unaware that he is standing in poison clouds… its embarrassing to watch.  I decided the best thing to do since im nowhere near my friend’s level that I’ll simply open my game to the public, and together we will destroy all evil! It seemed to work when I did it the day before.

… Not so much. I kept soloing for about 30 mins before I was joined by a barbarian! “the minions of hell grow stronger”. He stayed in town for about 15 mins while I struggled with the demons before he left the game. Next I got a wizard that kept dying because he doesn’t know that it’s best to keep a distance between himself and elite packs. regardless we kept on going until we reached a boss. He died instantly for the same reason as before, but I managed to do some kiting and revive him. He died right away again, so I ended up soloing the boss with increased difficulty. Templar doesn’t look so bad now does he. At least he gives me increased regen and the minions of hell don’t grow stronger when he’s around…

I love Diablo III but I just wish some things were different. Why do I have to leave my game and lose some progress if I realize that maybe soloing is better right now (after the 3rd moron that joined my game). Why does the game have to turn to a grind fest when you simply reach a point where your gear is suddenly not good enough? people will argue that, this is what Diablo is, grinding is the only thing on the menu. But I thought there was gonna be more multiplayer co-op fun and pvp mayhem… NOPE! everybody has to grind fast to the top! we must reach max level asap and get some gear! maybe its partly our fault as players. Maybe Blizzard didn’t want this. Maybe they wanted us to take our time, play together and enjoy the game before they released pvp. What do you guys think? Are we part of the problem? I’m gonna go back to grinding, I mean playing… it’s still fun!

Guild Wars 2’s combat system : tip of the iceberg

As I mentioned before, I had access to the Guild Wars 2 beta last weekend since I pre-purchased the game. I have to say I’m quite impressed with the way the game is shaping up. Throughout the weekend I mainly played a Charr Ranger up to lvl 16, a Norn Engineer to lvl 6 and a Human Mage to lvl 7. Now today I’m mainly going to talk about the game’s combat system and what makes it different than your run of the mill MMO.

In essence the game’s combat system is about the player’s choices and skill. The player has a 10 slot skill bar that’s explained in the diagram below.

Taken from the Guild Wars 2 official wiki

The 1st five skills can be switched out in combat instantly by switching to a secondary weapon set for most classes (elementalist can also switch elements using F1-F4). Since these skills are determined by the weapon, the player’s choice becomes also about play style and not just the stats on the weapon. Some skills can be charged for more power and some skills have a chaining quality to them. Chaining is when a skill changes after you use it the first time (Ranger’s Hornet Sting leaps back away from the target after striking, it then becomes Monarch’s Leap which leaps back into combat crippling your foe when you use it the 2nd time).

Ranger in the middle of a chain attack

When you press a button on your skill bar, your character is going to swing the weapon. Whatever skill that button is, it’s going to fire off and go on cool down whether you have a target or not, and it is going to hit any viable target in its path. This means that if an enemy is standing between you and your target, that enemy will take the hit instead. Some skills’ damage is based on the distance to the target (such as a longbows long shot or point blank shot).

Some skills in the game have something called a combo-field quality to them, meaning that they can interact with other skills. The simplest example of that is a Ranger or a Warrior shooting an arrow through an elementalist’s Flame Wall, imbuing the arrows with fire as they touch it (check the video below at 1:20 to see this in action) . This emphasizes the importance of movement and positioning and adds another layer to player interaction and cooperation that goes beyond each player just doing their job in the “holy trinity”.

The game also introduces a dodge mechanic. Double tapping a direction key will cause your character to dodge roll in that direction to avoid damage. This uses up points from an endurance bar that recharges overtime, which means that you can only dodge about twice in a row before having to wait.

All these mechanics -and others that I didn’t manage to get into during my time in the beta weekend- help create a very engaging combat system that keeps you active all the time and gives a feeling of satisfaction in a good fight. My experience with the ranger left me quite satisfied when I was switching from a longbow to a sword and axe when an enemy gets close, Dodging out of strong attacks when I saw them coming, using “Hornet’s sting” to leap out of combat when things got too hot to use my heal and leap back in to finish the job. The bottom line is, it never felt stale. Like a breath of fresh air after all the “WoW clones”.

There’s a lot more to it than what I just talked about and I’ll probably return to the subject later when I’ve gotten to experience it more. I’m out!

Diablo III Beta Impressions

I checked out the Diablo III open beta weekend last week and here are a few thoughts I’d like to share about it what I thought.

Right off the bat, it was impossible to login for the first few hours. Now I know this was the first open beta of a highly anticipated game (not to mention that it was meant as a stress test), but it made me think about Blizzard‘s decision to force online connectivity for Diablo III. This brings up the discussion about the game being mainly a single-player or multi-player game, and people usually start talking about Diablo 2, duping and so on. What people seem to miss is that while this is a sequel, it’s still a new game and blizzard is trying new things and it shows in other aspects of the game. During the beta I started playing alone but at some point I noticed I could open up my game to the public. Within a few seconds I had a bunch of  people running around in my game destroying shit as they went along. It was certainly a quick way to go through beta area, but at times I felt it didnt let me experience the game well since I didnt want to fall behind. I could definitely see myself having fun with a bunch of friends though.

Blizzard also implemented the auction house that should allow players to use real money or in game gold. Now there’s a lot to say about that and it deserves it’s own post, but I just wanted to mention it since it’s another motivation for the online decision. Without dragging this on let’s just say that while I can see this being an issue sometimes when you don’t have internet access or servers are down (knowing Blizzard this wont be too common), it probably won’t be a reason to not buy the game if you’re a fan.

On to gameplay! controls were pretty simple; click to move, right click, left click for main attack skills, 1 2 3 4 for other skills and Q for potions. You unlocked skills as you leveled up and every skill slot you have has a few possible skills you can assign it. This limits the number of skills you can use at any given time and allows for different builds and character customization. each of the skills also has runes that enhance which you also unlock as you level up which adds even more customization. I enjoyed trying out different combos and I hope that all options will be viable and that no builds emerge as the “Best” the same way it often was in WoW.

Loot was abundant. I used the stash a lot to gear up all the characters I made, and it’s obvious that this game makes it easy for someone who is usually lazy when it comes to alts. The crafting system seemed a bit too simple. one thing I didn’t like was that some classes could equip weapons that they couldn’t use, and the only benefit would be from the stats. It seems a shame to turn some cool weapons into simple stat-sticks. I mean come on, a demon hunter can’t swing a sword to save his life? not cool…

Art style is great as expected from Blizzard. Same goes for story, dialogue, music and voice overs. I saw a lot of people complain about the graphics not being that good. I thought the graphics were as good as they needed to be to support the art direction while making sure the game runs smooth on most machines.

Overall regarding the beta, I hated the lag, hated people rushing through the game, hated getting disconnected with different errors all the time. If we look past all that, Diablo III looks like a solid game as expected. Personally, playing with friends is gonna be a huge factor when it comes to when I get the game (yea I didn’t pre-order) and how much time I’ll spend playing it.

This weekend I’ll be playing the Guild Wars 2 beta with some friends on the EU-Underworld server if anyone out there cares to join us. I’ll post character names later. I’m out!

Betas! Diablo III and Guild Wars 2

Just a quick post today. There’s a Diablo III open beta this weekend starting tonight around 9 PM if I’m not wrong, so I’ll be playing that this weekend. I’ll let you guys know what I think of it in my next post, and if you try it out yourself we can talk about it more in the comments section. you can create a Battle.net account, create a BattleTag and download the client here.

I’ll be spending next weekend in the Guild Wars 2 beta, which you’ll have access to if you’ve pre-purchased. I’ll report back with details afterwards and I hope that the game meets my expectations.

If anyone wants to join me, I’ll probably post the name i’ll be using in both betas somewhere in the sidebar to the right. For now I’m out!

Transactions of a Micro nature!

man-free-sign. From TenTonHammer.com

For a while now I’ve been thinking about games using the free to play business model. When I read Marcus “Notch” Persson’s thoughts on the subject on his tumblr and more recently in relation to his new game announcement in which he states that free to play is a “scam”. He thinks that free to play should be called “as expensive as you want it to be” since it essentially puts no cap on how much a player can spend. Now all of that is essentially true, but I’m one of those people who think that free to play could be a good thing for both developers and players, IF done properly.

Now while gathering my thoughts on this topic I realized that it is too big to cover in one post, so I’ll try to break it down a little. So for today I’ll talk about the engine in the free to play machine, Micro transactions. Cause let’s face it, developers need to eat too. Micro transactions are those little payments you make in-game on various things like items, characters, extra content…etc (lets call them “items” from now on) . What makes micro transactions good or bad is what you sell, how it affects the game and how much it costs.

The general guide line for using micro transactions well is to sell items that are purely cosmetic and don’t sell items that give players advantage over others. You don’t want to split your player base into people who pay and people who don’t. Getting into a pay to win situation is something all games should avoid. Take Flight Control Rocket for example. The game offers you to continue your game if you pay for it, so you can get as high a score as you want provided you can pay for it. If you wanna read more about how that game tries to take your money, read this article by Ben Kuchera.  Another pitfall is implementing micro transactions in a finished game by simply locking content and offering the players the option to buy it. What this does is give the entry level player -who doesn’t want to pay yet- an incomplete game, which makes them feel forced to buy something. That’s not a good way to get people into your game.

League of Legends

League of Legends (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lets take a look at a game that used this system successfully and see how they did it. League of Legends is the game I chose since it seems to be quite popular these days, and I’ve played it enough to understand how it works. for those of you who aren’t familiar with the game, League of Legends or LoL by Riot Games (I know it’s ridiculous) is a Defense of the Ancients-style online multiplayer RTS that uses micro transactions as a source of revenue. I believe they went the free to play way because they wanted to convert players of the original DOTA who haven’t payed for that game since they bought Warcraft 3 (DOTA was a custom map in WC3). Here’s a gameplay video.

The game uses two currencies: Influence points or IP, which you gain by playing matches (you get more for winning), and Riot points or RP, which you buy with money. What the game offers for purchase are 4 things:

  • Permanent access to in-game champions.
  • Cosmetic Skins for the champions.
  • Runes that very slightly enhance your stats or abilities.
  • Boosters that allow you to gain IP faster or to level up faster for a period of time.

Lets take the champions first. The fact that there are many champions to choose from is one of the game’s core features, but it is also one of the things that makes it hard for beginners to pick up the game. LoL makes a pool of 10 champions available to play for free at any given time, and changes them every week.  This make the choice of champion easier for new players and allows them to get familiar with the champions. The player can then decide to buy any champion he wants to play whenever he wants for a certain amount of IP or RP. The skins can only be purchased with RP. This makes the paying players feel distinguished without giving advantage, thus keeping the free player happy as well.

Runes can be purchased for RP or IP, but their use is based on your level which is determined by the number of games you’ve played. What this means is that even if you can pay for them, you have to earn the right to use them. As far as the boosters go, they just help you earn the points or level up at a higher rate to be able to use the runes, but you still need to play the game to get the benefit of the boost.

Now this system works well for many reasons. The rotation of locked champions becomes a way to ease the players into the game without being a feature locked behind a required payment. It allows players to customize without breaking the balance of the game. Most importantly it unites the players by giving them the freedom to choose if they want to invest their time or their money in the game. I mean let’s face it the people who can afford to pay extra for games are usually people who don’t have much time on their hands to play, but still want to get a match or 2 in at the end of the day.

What “business people” sometimes fail to understand is that online multiplayer games rely on a strong community of players to keep it fun and appealing (Not to mention opening up the e-sport possibility). That’s where even the free players come in as an asset to the game and it’s continuity.  You don’t need to make money off every player to turn a profit. I’m out!

Patent trolls…

So I read this article about a company called Worlds.Inc filing a lawsuit against Activision. They claim that both World of Warcraft and the Call of Duty franchise are in violation of one of their patents. This patent covers a “system and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space.” and is the same patent they based a similar lawsuit against NCSoft on (case was dismissed after a settlement). and all I can think of is What The Fuck!

So Worlds.Inc apparently has a patent on the Internet?  It’s just sad to see a system originally created to stop imitation and promote creativity, be used to stifle innovation and just make money off of retarded patents based on mediocre products. Somebody needs to stop this.

Lets hope Activision does a good job of squashing these guys for good. Maybe then they would try to do something useful instead of wanting money for inventing multiplayer…

DRM free and CD Projekt Red announcements

Yesterday I talked a bit about CD Projekt Red and mentioned that they had a few things to announce today. So I watched the stream today and here’s what they got:  The Witcher: Enhanced Edition is now available for Mac on steam for 9.99€. All owners of The Witcher 2 (physical copy or steam) now have a back up copy on GOG.com, which I thought was kinda nice. Their last announcement was about The Witcher comic which will be available as an interactive digital comic available April 17th on iOS for FREE.

As for GOG.com “Good Old Games“, they announced that they are offering the original Fallout for FREE. They also announced the start of bringing in new titles and indie titles in addition to the classic games they already offer, Starting with a promo offer on Assassin’s Creed and Heroes V (Links in Special Offers page at the top). All these games will be DRM free, which makes me want to talk about DRM and what publishers are doing to “protect” their property.

What is GOG.com

Taken from gog.com

First let me just get this out of the way.I think pretty much everyone can agree that DRM sucks. We saw it on audio CDs and iTunes..etc. years ago and I think we were all happy that ended. Bad news was that they moved on to games… we’ve seen software like SecuROM  using online activation and limiting the number of product activation on different machines. Lots of publishers are moving towards requiring online activation and in some cases requiring the player to remain online while playing with loss of connection kicking you out of the game. Blizzard Tie all their games to Battle.net and even though there was some uproar about Diablo III requiring a constant connection, that died out pretty quickly (Blizzard explained that it was to ensure no cheating/duping) . Ubisoft are using Uplay and EA are pushing Origin and even Steam is kind of annoying when it comes to playing offline.

While all of this isn’t gonna stop us from doing whatever we have to do to play the games we love, it’s a shame that publishers are making legitimate customers jump through so many hoops and limiting their rights when it comes to owning a game. Used to be that buying a game meant you could play it on your machine, take it over to a friend’s place and play it, let them borrow it and just do whatever you wanted. Thats why I like what GOG are doing. They give you the game DRM free, you can install it wherever you want as much as you want, the prices are decent and they bundle the games with extra stuff like soundtracks, artwork and so on. not to mention the free games you get when you first sign-up (some classic goodies).

Here’s hoping we see less corporate greed and more faith in honest gamers. I’m out!

Witcher Devs showing lots of good will

With The Witcher 2 :Assassin’s of Kings “Enhanced Edition” (wow that’s a mouth full) coming out on April 17th, I can’t help but think of the reasons why I seem to feel a lot of loyalty towards CD Projekt Red. Aside from the fact that I loved everything about The Witcher 2, I believe that the fact that the developer continues to show so much good will towards it’s customers is what inspires this loyalty.

While many companies try to fight piracy using ineffective methods, CD Projekt Red announce that they will never again use DRM. The reason they state being that they feel that it doesn’t protect the game and causes complications for legitimate users.  I also love that when patching The Witcher 2 they added an arena mode, and with the release of the enhanced edition they are adding more cinematics, locations, characters and quests to the game (around 4 hours of content). Notice that they’re not calling it DLC and charging people for it. quite nice right?

Apparently CD Projekt Red are going to give away “a legendary PC RPG” for free on GOG.com tomorrow, which is also when they’re having their spring conference. From what I understood from this article, this will be available for anyone who already owns The Witcher 2 on PC or anyone who buys it in the future. I’ll update tomorrow when I know more.

Thumbs up CD Projekt Red for being good to their fans. For now check out this cool video, and go get the game 🙂 I’m out!

Here we go! Let’s talk used games

Alright so this is the first post in my new blog. I’m gonna be talking about gaming related topics here and just share some of my thoughts with you guys. So lets get right to it! Used games!

So there’s been some buzz about used games lately. David Braben of Frontier Development recently said that pre-owned games are “Killing single-player games”in an interview on Gamasutra. Denis Dyack took to the stage next and declared that used games are “Cannibalizing the industry!” in this article . The problem as these guys see it, is that the resale of games means that the only revenue the developers get is from the initial release. Most sales 2-3 months after release tend to be of used copies, which don’t benefit the developers financially. I agree with the last part, but that’s all I agree with them on.

If we consider the statement regarding single-player games, we can see that the industry has indeed shifted towards multi-player games in the recent years. Even single-player games are expected to have some sort of multi-player mode attached to justify the price tag upon release. This doesn’t mean that we can simply say that multi-player is what justifies the price tag. It is just a matter of player’s wanting to get their money’s worth. This can be delivered through multi-player modes, adding replay value, DLC, bigger/longer games, or simply making a game so good that you wouldn’t be able to part with it in-case you ever want to experience it’s awesomeness again.

How about a simple example! Go to your nearest retailers and see how many used copies of Skyrim you can find. I know I haven’t seen that many. Because it’s a good game! I’ve personally put at least 70 hours in it and I haven’t finished it yet. The last time I put the disc into my ps3 was about 2 months ago, but I still look over to the shelf every once in a while and think “Soon…” and I even fantasize about creating at least 2 more characters.

We could also take a look at digital distribution methods such as steam. Even discounted games on steam provide good revenue without having the player feel ripped off. According to Thomas Grip of Frictional Games (Penumbra and Amnesia) his company was kept alive for a while on sales from their own digital store and steam. Wolfire Games support themselves using pre-purchase at a reasonable price and offering buyers access to alpha builds and developer diaries.

Journey is now the fastest selling PSN game ever. Why? Great game, well priced.

Just goes to show you that people are willing to pay for games on release as long as they get their money’s worth. And we’ll keep games that are worth the money paid for them. We sell games to get some money back when the game isn’t worth it.

We’ve been trading, borrowing, buying and selling video games ever since we had them.  The game industry is obviously still here. I’m not denying that the market for used games hasn’t gotten bigger, but I do believe that the industry could evolve and maintain the balance.

Im not even going to get into the issue of the player’s rights as an owner of a game disc he/she has purchased… or maybe I should? some other time perhaps. I’m out!