Honestly I’m not sure there’s anything more satisfying than finding a good shortcut. It's such a relief to when you turn a corner and realize you aren’t entering a new area, rather you’ve connected a previously unknown path. Oddly enough this has actually been a big theme in my most recent gaming experiences, and I’ve been trying to think of the best ways of discussing short cuts and how they can be used to leverage player experience. Today I’m going to be talking about Obduction, and The Surge… no real spoilers so you should be safe :p
Obduction is a new adventure game by Cyan Worlds, the folks who did all of the original Myst games. Within Obduction your character has been teleported to a strange alien world that the player must explore, and solve puzzles in an an attempt to find their way home. Obduction is what you’d expect from a modern adventure/exploration game, large interesting environments to navigate, searching for clues and items, with foreign machinery and codes to decipher… and a few sprinkled notes and textual clues to read. Upon entering the world of Hunrath, the first playable area, you can tell that the world is rich and deep. If you look carefully, the world has been designed to tell a story. A broken sign, a locked door, or even an object out of place helps establish the plot. After some exploration you’ll realize that this only one of many worlds you’ll travel to and that the worlds of Obduction have many layers and paths to uncover… backtracking through areas once you have additional info is highly regular in this game. So much so when you uncover a new area, the size of it may become daunting. Many times I’d unlock a new zone and have the feeling of “oh no, there’s so many routes to explore.” This is where our friend the “short cut” comes in!
In a game such at this, it can start to be a bit unclear if you’re making progress. At times there are clear indications that “the world has changed” or “this puzzle has been unlocked,” but often while you’re exploring it can feel as though you’re not making any headway. The clearest indication for me has been when I unlock a path to somewhere new, or more predominantly a path to someplace I’ve been before. There’s a massive sense of relieve as you realize that your world has become easier to navigate or just less confusing in general.
The Surge on the other hand is a sci-fi action role playing game, that takes place in a dystopian future where humans have used up most of Earth’s resources. In this future there’s an odd relationship between technologically augmenting people and the harmful effects of doing so… honestly still only part way through the campaign so I can’t quite grasp the entirety of the story yet. What I can say is that the game has you playing a paraplegic man named “Warren” who, through a sequence of events, gets a exoskeleton grafted to his body. This allows him to walk, augment himself, and perform impressive combat maneuvers. Warren is stuck in this “facility” with other augmented people, some seem to be sane enough and others are zombie like and try attacking you on sight.
Much of the game has you hesitantly exploring hallways, The Surge loves to place enemies just around corners in an effort to jump scare you at any time. Most of the environment could be described as maze like, and the further you progress the more stressful the game becomes. As you kill enemies you gain “tech scrap” that you use to level your character and craft items, but if you die you drop the tech scrap you’ve accumulated. So as you continue to go deeper, wasting resources like health kits and gaining more tech scrap, the risk of loss grows higher and so does the tension. In a game such as this, finding a short cut feels like a saving grace. As you explore you’re always asking yourself if you should push on in hopes of unlocking a short cut to safety, or turn back with your earnings.
It may feel a bit strange that I’m comparing a puzzle adventure game to a fairly hardcore sci-fi action role playing game… yet they are both using “short cuts” in similar definitive ways. In large part I find it’s because these games function as open world environments, without the definition of “levels.” While they have “areas” these are different as a new area isn’t always an indication of a clear next step like a level, often you may find something in a new area that allows you to interact with something in a previous zone… meaning in order to progress sometimes you have to actually go back to where you’ve been, unlike a traditional “level.” In these sprawling areas when you’re able to modify paths and unlock new routes, it feels like a clear “Achievement Unlock” moment for the player. I think that’s what I find the most interesting about this, as it’s a connection between level design and player experience/progression. Not only does the world have to connect in meaningful and logical ways, but also in a way that has the player advance at a tempo that doesn’t break the game balancing.
Short cuts allow for passive player progression in a way that doesn’t have to be indicated by a “you’ve leveled up” prompt. In an elegant way, even if your character isn’t stronger, by unlocking alternative routes to your objective the world has become more manageable. It’s the player leveling up in their comprehension of the game world and understanding how to navigate it more efficiently. Which is equally important for games where you’re avoiding blood thirsty mechanized zombies or just solving puzzles on alien worlds. I find this kind of relationship between level design and player progression has been toyed around with in the past, Dark Souls in particular, and I hope we can continue to see these relationships leveraged in future games.
I never thought I’d be writing about this of all topics… yet with my new job I find myself on the other side of the table and combing through stacks of artist applications. It’s been a really interesting experience, where I’ve learned a lot and realized just how much I personally wasn’t doing with my resume and cover letter. In today’s post I’ll be sharing some tips/thoughts that I’ve picked up while trying to hire artists!
I’m going to start with a bunch of things that I’ve seen, which you may not want to do when applying for a new job :
Now not all things were bleak during this process. I actually saw a lot of interesting ideas and unique way for artists to showcase themselves! While I can’t show actual examples from artists, I’ll try my best to showcase and describe these methods.
I’m realizing now that this won’t be a very long post, but I wanted to share some of the good and bad things I noticed while attempting to hire new artists. It’s been a learning experience for me and hopefully this post might give you some insights on your own job applications in the future. It’s definitely enlightened me to a few details.
Thanks for reading!
Little Nightmares is a game that follows a similar pattern in gaming that we’ve seen since 2010, if not longer. After having done a recent post on “Rogue-like” games, I can’t help but think there should a term that describes games like Limbo, Inside, and Little Nightmares. In today’s post I’m going to mainly be discussing Little Nightmares, but also it’s similarities to other games in the same family. I’ll avoid full on spoilers, but I will hint HEAVILY on the plot of these games… so you’ve been warned!
Let me start by saying that while playing Little Nightmares, I had little to no clue what the actual plot was. I had a vague idea what was happening, but after doing some research… I realize how little I actually knew. For instance, I had no clue that my character’s name was “Six,” which I can only imagine has a lot of different plot implications. In any case the story of Little Nightmares is centered around a girl named Six who is trapped in a place called “The Maw.” As the wiki describes it, the Maw is “a surreal resort catering to the whims of sick and powerful creatures.” Hunger is a pretty large theme in the game, as it’s implied that these “powerful creatures” are potentially trapping and eating small children. Not to mention that in late game missions they are seen as the epitome of gluttony as they are forcing food into their face. Six also struggles with hunger as she tries to make her escape, and there are several moments within the game where she’s weakened by this and has to find something to eat. The core of the game is about exploration, avoiding these large monsters, some slight puzzle solving, and trying to get out.
I did sort of a deep dive in my exploration of main themes between Little Nightmares, Inside, and Limbo and found four common criteria I could use to compare these three games:
Stressful moments where the player has to run or are forced to move forward due to danger.
New or returning dangers are introduced.
Plot beats or foreshadowing moments.
Major change of character, big reveals, etc.
From here I used walkthroughs to begin mapping out these key events in the three different games. I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible but I’m sure there are some discrepancies in my exact timing of events. Below you can see my findings based off of these criteria :
There are a few things that I found interesting while going through this process. Namely the differences in how the games divide themselves. Little Nightmares has 5 clearly distinct chapters with an obvious flow implied. Inside actually has 12 parts, relies heavily on puzzle variety, and leaves little hints as to the game’s ending along the way. Limbo is a tightly packed sprint of puzzles and events, yet is divided into 39 parts! Each of these parts can last quickly as 30 seconds if you know what you’re doing. As I see it, Limbo is the most puzzle driven of the three, Little Nightmares is the most narrative driven, with Inside in the middle but slightly leaning more towards puzzle content. I expected to see more rhythm or clear intent to these key events among these games, yet I think we can see the intent pretty clearly with Little Nightmares. There’s three evenly spaced narrative beats, each time getting more darker for our protagonist, before a main twist moment and then sprint to the end. I also found it interesting that running moments were often at the end of a chapter, kind of closing it out. I think the way these key moments are spaced out we can see the rise in tension within the game, climax within the Guest Area, and then conclusion. Whereas Inside is a bit more of a slow burn, with fast moments, until a major twist and then free for all rampage ending.
I went into this exploration wanting to find the similarities between these games, and ironically enough I found the differences. While these games maintain similar mechanics, protagonists, and overall mood... The game play intention varies between these games. Is this an argument to say that these games don't belong in the same family? I don't think so. Similarly to my post about survival games (Survival games and Survival Games 2), I compared games of the same genre and isolated how they modify their mechanics for different driving factors for players. This is thematically similar, sort of on the spectrum of puzzle gaming vs story. I'm not completely positive that we can start defining these as "Limbo-like," there may be other games that fit within this criteria that even pre-date Limbo that I haven't considered... Yet I think it's an interesting gaming trend that I hope to see more of it.
I'm keeping this one relatively brief, even with all of the research work I put in on this one. I hope that this was interesting! I've been wanting to do an analysis like this for quite some time, and have even considered doing this on some horror games... to compare the beats... Yet these games were short enough that I was able to compile this data relatively easily. In any case if you haven't picked up Little Nightmares yet, I highly recommend it! It's a pretty great gaming experience. Also I'm happy to see that I'm not the only one feeling the strong Coraline Vibes :
I’ve been wanting to write about Night in the Woods for quite sometime now, but I’ve been really struggling with how I wanted to approach this game. I don’t really want to do an opinion piece, but I think that’s what this is going to turn into… What’s striking me about Night in the Woods is just how mature the game feels, in a world that’s simplistic and “cartoonie.” I already wrote about “Emotional Investment,” and how simplified visuals can sometimes carry more emotional impact. Yet Night in the Woods goes a step further in it’s writing, character development, and world building that makes the game’s story feel more relevant and impactful. In today’s post I’ll be talking about the narrative within Night in the Woods, although I don’t think I’ll get too spoilery as I’ve yet to finish the game myself, and compare it to other games that I feel have a similar vibe.
In Night in the Woods, you play as the character Mae who's returning home from College. Home is a town called Possum Springs, a town made up of anthropomorphic animals that largely represents middle to lower class, small town America. Upon returning home Mae realizes that both the town and her friends have grown since she’s left. What comes next is her struggle to cope with this change, existential crisis about her life, and uncertainty about her future. There’s a lot more to the story in Night in the Woods, but really Mae’s internal crisis is so familiar… that it’s hard to ignore. While exploring Possum Springs you discover that there’s a deeper history to this town and to your own character, even references to past events that aren’t always spelled out for the player. This lack of exposition facilitated dialogue that felt much more natural and really helps the player fall deeper into the character of Mae. It’s also worth noting that Mae is also a flawed character… something I think we’ve become quite addicted to in gaming. Mae is selfish, she can be quite cruel, and come across as very entitled. As a Millennial myself I think I can get a free pass by calling her a Millennial stereotype. Bea is a character that resents Mae for her opportunity to go to college, and even more so that Mae dropped out because “it wasn’t working out.” There’s also the implication that Mae did something “bad” at some point in high school, which has labeled her a “bad apple” among the community. I think if you allow it, this story is more poignant because we’ve all felt that transition into adulthood… the awkwardness of change and uncertainty of the future.
I was trying to think of another game that I felt had a similar tone, character depth, and quality of dialogue and I couldn’t help but think of Oxenfree. In many ways Oxenfree shares a lot of similarities with Night in the Woods. In both games you play as a witty young adult, you have your overly enthusiastic best friend from high school, antagonistic female friend who you inevitably become closer with, there’s quirky local history, and always a dark mystery to solve. Although Oxenfree’s dialogue system is more immersive than Night in the Woods, by dynamically allowing players to interrupt conversation with their own dialogue choices… and even not responding is at times a response. In any case these story tropes are probably replicated elsewhere, I’m not completely familiar with Life is Strange… I suspect we might see some of these similar tropes represented in that game as well. From the perspective of immersion I nearly mentioned Firewatch or Virginia, but these really don’t represent the familiarity of being a young adult dealing with the growing pains of life.
One final aspect that I really wanted to talk about was the relationship between two character with Night in the Woods. Mae’s best friend Greg is dating a guy named Angus. What I really appreciated about this aspect of the game was just how casually they treated a same sex relationship. Gay relationships in gaming is certainly not a new concept, but often it’s represented by stereotypes or mistreated in general. For example I started doing research on other gay relationships and gaming and completely forgot about the notes you could find in Firewatch. Within Firewatch you can discover the story of a character named Dave who is gay and has a crush on a very clueless Ron. It’s a story of unrequited love with the heavy implication that Dave either commits suicide in the park or is otherwise dead… I believe this trope is often referred to as “Bury your Gays,” where typically gay characters are not allowed happy endings and must die. Some games have been a bit more mature about their gay characters but tend to really hide their sexuality until pressed to reveal by the public. In Mortal Kombat X, though subtle dialogue is hinted that a character named Kung Jin might be gay… It wasn’t until later that the cinematic director confirmed theories about Kung Jin’s orientation on twitter by posting “I see people are picking up on the subtle exposition contained in Kung Jin's flashback. Glad we have observant fans!” The point I’m trying to make in all of this is that I appreciate how lack of fanfare about the relationship between Angus and Greg. There isn’t additional dialogue options questioning their relationship, when Mae talks about Greg’s boyfriend to her Mom it isn’t highlighted or weird, and these characters are merely represented as two dudes… rather than some gay stereotype. To be fair I’m not finished with the game… so there’s still room to ruin this but I’m hopeful!
Night in the Woods is a familiar romp through our young adult expectations, and fear of the future. It’s a very casual experience where it’s mechanics aren’t necessarily it’s strong suit, but it’s experience is what will bring you in. While it’s all colorful and cutesy animated, I find it to be an extremely mature game at it’s core. It’s a refreshing respite from other media that, in comparison, is written in an extremely clumsy way. If you haven’t already, definitely pick it up! Try not to get too addicted to the “roguelike” game on Mae’s laptop… and try not to rush through it. Also if you haven’t played Oxenfree… that’s another winner ;)
While playing Horizon Zero Dawn, in one of the first moments of gameplay I paused the screen to check out my game options and discovered that it had a photo mode. I didn’t know that Horizon had shipped with such a feature, and decided to check it out. I was pretty blown away… I immediately got very into pausing my game at any moment, and playing with the camera settings to get the most cinematic screenshot possible. If you have me on instagram, you’ll notice that I immediately took advantage of the new multiple photo upload feature and inundated my feed with images from Horizon. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a photo mode used in a video game, and so this got me wondering a bit more about the history of this feature. Today I’ll be exploring the Photo Mode in video games, it’s history, and how it’s evolved.
My first experience with the Photo Mode was in 2007 while playing Halo 3. I remember being able to access a recent recording of either my campaign or multiplayer game, and within the “Theater mode” be able to rotate the camera and look around. This was a really neat feature at the time, and allowed players to get a closer look at all of the game models and effects… not to mention great bragging material for when you could take a pic of that perfect headshot. Yet this wasn’t the first game to introduce the Photo Mode. In 2004, from what I can tell, Gran Turismo 4 was the first game to release with a full fledged Photo Mode. After that point it took quite some time for video games to really adopt the feature and have it be more of a standard features in certain video games. Oddly enough a decade after Gran Turismo 4’s release, the industry experienced a boom of games featuring a Photo Mode. In 2014 there were 8 game titles featuring a photo mode, the highest in any year to date.
Upon digging deeper I was pretty shocked to find that many of the Photo Mode features in Gran Turismo 4, are still prevalent in today’s games. I was expecting to see more of an evolution of this mode, but honestly it seems as though Gran Turismo set the benchmark for this feature within the industry. At most I can see that the mode has evolved out of a “replay” setting and instead now games can pause the action live and allow for the player’s to enter this mode immediately.
The biggest difference I can see with Horizon Zero Dawn and these features is both the ability to play with the Depth of Field, as well as change the time of day…. Which I’m not sure other games provide that option. All that to say it’s pretty impressive to see that through all of the changes within the industry, a simple mode such as this hasn’t evolved all that much.
While I enjoy playing around with this game mode, I wonder if there’s any real value with the commercial applications of it. From an artistic point of view, there’s certainly value with a feature like this. Perhaps I’ve been working on Freemium games for too long, and so my instinct is to question how a feature like this might be used to increase player acquisition. Honestly at this point it may be more prevalent of a feature, than it ever was in 2004. With the rise of social media, and how easy it is for users to create and share media… a feature like this could be leveraged heavily as a “free” marketing tool. I believe this is referred to as Earned Media, or publicity gained through efforts other than paid advertisements. If we could find ways of making it more accessible for users to share this content, potentially by linking directly to their social media accounts, and then link this user generated content to your game through the appropriate hashtags… it could make this a very powerful tool for game awareness.
In any case, I this looks to be a short blog post today! I hope you enjoyed this brief snapshot into the history of the photo mode in games! Pun intended!
Tattooing has been practiced as early as 12,000 BC, and has influenced cultures across the globe in a variety of ways. In more recent years we’ve seen tattooing grow from a subculture to be more mainstream. Tattooings impact on pop culture has had me wondering more about how they are used in video games… Yet this question on it’s own opens up a bit too many avenues for discussion, and so I decided to refine my search more into a game progression point of view. In which ways have games used tattoos or other markings for facilitating gameplay? Today I’ll be exploring just a few of the many different games that are using tattoos as a core part of the gameplay experience.
The Fable franchise took to tattooing as a way of not only adding personal expression to your character but also as a way to modify your character’s attributes. Within Fable the player can find and unlock new tattoos in their journey, these tattoos then can modify your character’s alignment, attractiveness, and scariness. In this way these tattoos have a direct correlation to how villagers and other people may treat your character upon meeting them. Modifying your alignment in Fable will also change how your character physically looks. Good characters have blue eyes, bright teeth, and a sunny disposition… whereas Evil characters have red eyes, rotting teeth, and can even grow horns. While there are many other aspects to this alignment system, tattoos help shape your character and it’s interactions within the game world.
Oddworld is a franchise I didn’t expect to be discussing in these posts, but what I found is extremely relevant. Abe, the main protagonist of most of the Oddworld games, is one of the oppressed Mudokons and is tasked with freeing his people from the tyrannical rule of the Glukkon. On his journey there have been different markings added to his body that grant him supernatural abilities. During “Abe’s Exoddus,” Abe is given a large chest tattoo by “The Three Weirdos.” With this chest tattoo Abe is able to heal Mudokons from the addictive properties of “Soulstorm Brew,” a substance developed to Glukkons in order to keep the Mudokons under their service.
Magical Tattoos also played a role within the storyline of The Last Guardian. Within the Last Guardian, you wake up in a cavern, covered in mystical tattoos, and sitting next to a large mythical creature. As you progress in the game, you find that the tattoos seem to glow and react when in the presence of magic or magical items. It’s uncertain if the tattoos actually grant the player any abilities, but I believe it’s implied that these markings may have enabled the player to use certain magical items that are found along the journey… but that’s just me speculating. If you’ve played the game, you know that the boy received these markings after being… more or less swallowed and regurgitated by Trico (the large mythical beast within the game). There’s a lot of speculation online as to if there's a larger gameplay mechanic at work in regards to the tattoos. Players have noticed that at the end of the game, they boy doesn’t always have the same tattoos and perhaps decisions within the game changes how the boy looks. While it’s unconfirmed, there is a possibility that the more exposure that the boy has to magic, the more tattoos he ends up having at the end of the game. I also found this article that breaks down the potential meaning behind the tattoos, and cultural significance.
I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up Shadow of the Colossus, which also used a large tattoo like symbol as the main means of recognizing an enemy’s weak point. Within Shadow of the Colossus, you play as a character known only as “The Wanderer,” tasked with traveling the land to slay sixteen giant Colossi… in hopes of resurrecting his dead girlfriend. When approaching these behemoths, you’ll find “Magic Sigils” located at a weak point on the body. They are typically in hard to reach locations and glow when pointed at by the Wanderer’s lit magical sword. The player has to shoot or stab these Magic Sigils in order to kill the Colossi on their journey.
I also found a few games that used tattoos and glyphs as slotted items that give characters additional buffs or bonus abilities. Within the game Planescape Torment, tattoos are equipable items that are unlocked as you progress into the game. These tattoos provide pretty standard buffs, i.e. +1 Dexterity, 15% Magical Fire Resistance, etc. I found that Castlevania uses “Glyphs” in a very similar way, where they are found and equipped onto the character. From a lore perspective these Glyphs act like tattoos and appear on the body as well. When equipped, these Glyphs provide the character with bonus abilities, abilities like flight, or increased movement speed. In both instances I do not believe equipping these items change the actual physical look of your character, even though they are meant to from a lore perspective.
While researching I found that there are many games using tattoos or different markings for both a lore and game mechanics point of view… far too many to be covered completely within this blog post. While I wasn’t able to cover everything, I hope this post gave you a small but thorough sample of how tattoos are being used in different ways within games. As tattoos increase in popularity, games will continue to find unique and interesting ways of incorporating them. Thanks for reading!
While doing research for this blog, I’ve often come across games being referred to as “Roguelike.” Even working in the gaming industry, I haven’t encountered this term used all that often… so I decided to do a bit more research into what is Roguelike? What I found was a lot of drama and controversy surrounding the term and it’s usage. In today’s post I’ll be exploring the origins of this term, it’s usage, and a bit about the debate surrounding it.
Before getting into one of many definitions for the term Roguelike, it’s best to start with the origin of the word. Roguelike is actually referring to a game that was released in 1980 called Rogue : Exploring the Dungeons of Doom. In Rogue, players explore procedurally generated dungeons looking for treasures and fending off monsters. Rogue was notable for not only having procedurally generated dungeons, but also permadeath and turn based mechanics within an environment generated with ASCII or other fixed character sets. Rogue was inspired by text-based computer games, such as the 1971 Star Trek game and Colossal Cave Adventure. Rogue was popular in the 1980s among college students and other computer users at the time, inspiring similar titles such as Hack and Moria. Both of these games brought forth a family of improved versions and clones over the next several years, and led to a wide number of games in a similar flavor… only increasing the popularity of the original “Rogue” game. Games which generally featured turn-based exploration, combat in a fantasy setting, procedurally generated dungeons, and permadeath are often referred to as “Roguelike.”
Looking for a modern definition of Roguelike can lead to some discrepancy. Wikipedia offers a broad definition of Roguelike, defining it as a “subgenre of role-playing video games characterized by a dungeon crawl through procedurally generated game levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, and permanent death of the player-character.” Although looking deeper into the article, I found many of the modern reference only include some of these elements and not necessarily all ingredients. I decided to dig a little deeper, and what I found was a lot of conflicting opinions. The first, potentially official, source I found was something referred to was the “Berlin Interpretation.” Honestly I was a bit shocked to find something so official sounding, but what the Berlin Interpretation refers to an agreement made at the International Roguelike Development Conference 2008. This discussion defined both High and Low value factors of what can be used to define if a game is “Roguelike” or not. If you’re interested in learning more about these low and high value factor definitions, you may want to check out this link. Although in an article about “PDL,” or Permanent Death Labyrinth, I found this interesting chart that both highlights the factors from the Berlin Interpretation… and challenges it a bit :
Meanwhile there still seems to be two very different trains of thought, both of which actually disagree with the Berlin Interpretation. The way I will define these two camps are the Purists and the Progressives. The Purists believe in a strict interpretation of the term “Roguelike” and believe that, in order for games to be Roguelike, games need to adhere to a strict criteria to be considered similar to the original game. Meanwhile more Progressive believers feel as though the term Roguelike needs to be modernized and adapted to a more loose criteria… one that may fit more modern games.
I'm not arguing that any of these are "Roguelikes," these are images pulled from games that are tagged "Roguelike" on Steam.
There are those who believe the entire use of the term Roguelike to be too ambiguous, and argue for a new term be used called “Procedural Death Labyrinth” or PDL. They argue for a more concise definition that can be easily applied to games of this genre. The name by itself contains all the information needed for someone to understand the gameplay style.
For me, it feels as though there too many different mechanics at play within the definition of Roguelike as a genre. When we examine other genres they typically refer to very few concrete game mechanics… For example :
“First-person shooter (FPS) is a video game genre which is centered on gun and projectile weapon-based combat through a first-person perspective; that is, the player experiences the action through the eyes of the protagonist.” - Wikipedia
“A Platform game (or platformer) is a video game which involves guiding an avatar to jump between suspended platforms and/or over obstacles to advance the game.”- Wikipedia
There’s very little room for debate when these game definitions are in play, and within modern gaming you can definitely have a platformer that is also a FPS. It feels awkward to associate the term “Roguelike” under the same family of game genre definitions, where the definition could mean one or many possible gameplay mechanics… depending on who you’re speaking with.
So why do we care? I couldn’t help but ask this question as I dug deeper into the topic. Was this just pure nerd rage fueled by nostalgia? Are we seeing this term used more frequently because it’s just a marketing buzzword? I don’t believe there’s one right answer to this question, yet I found this quote that I think describes why people might be so passionate about defining these games :
“The random nature of a roguelike means that you're not trying to perfect a pattern, but that you're using your understanding of systems to cope with the unexpected events. Each time you use your knowledge to survive a little longer or do a little better. So a roguelike is not about mastering one situation, but surviving many situations and doing better each time. That's the appeal for me.“ --- CaptRobau -- Reddit
Under this logic, Roguelike games encourage users to master the systems within the game. There’s a euphoria that exists when you become flexible enough to manage the randomness that a game throws your way, which is different than memorizing a pattern. I believe the passion that follows this feeling, coupled with the urge to differentiate this style of gameplay from others, has fueled this debate. In any case I’m not here to push an opinion on this topic, yet I found it really interesting once I discovered so much debate regarding it!
I’m sure there’s probably more depth to this topic that I have yet to discover, but for now thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed!
Last December I wrote a post on survival games, within we looked at the ingredients that make up this genre and discussed how games were using the equation in different ways. We discussed The Long Dark, No Man’s Sky, Don’t Starve, and We Happy Few. I’ve been playing three new survival games and thought it would be interesting to revisit this topic and dig a little deeper into it. Today I’ll be discussing The Forest, Rust, and The Flame in the Flood. There’s not going to be any major spoiler territory here, especially since two of these games are still in early access.
The Forest is a first person, open world survival game. It’s still in early access and so what I say here may not be the same when the game finally gets it’s release. In the first moments of The Forest, you find yourself surviving a plane crash and waking up in the aft section of an airplane torn in two. You’re immediately introduced to your main resource management areas: hunger, hydration, health, and exhaustion… as they are all initially very low. Yet there’s a lot to scavenge nearby and the player can find themselves on their way fairly quickly. The Forest onboard’s it’s players fairly quickly with an intuitive controls and un-intrusive hints to the player. The player soon finds themselves exploring a densely thick forest, scavenging for supplies, clues to what happened to fellow passengers, and avoiding enemies. Honestly there’s a lot that could be discussed when it comes to The Forest, the intuitive AI, unnerving cannibals, etc… Yet what what really stuck out as it’s strongest pillar was it’s crafting system, which isn’t to say that the other areas weren’t strong… this game is doing a lot of things right… but as I’ve been playing many survival games I found the inventory management and crafting system with the Forest to be really innovative.
first person view. This will grant the player a “ghost vision” of the object until it’s constructed. What I also found interesting was that as you found resources to contribute to your construction, you see pieces being added onto your building until it’s completed. It’s also worth noting is that cutting down trees in The Forest is probably the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had for chopping down trees in a video game. It’s odd to think about how much time players have probably spent chopping down trees in various video games… In The Forest as you chop away at the tree you start to see where you’re striking and once you’re through, the tree actually falls in the most satisfying way.
Your inventory is treated in a realistic and similar way, when you open it you see your backpack and an open tarp with all of your items. In this way it’s really neat to see all of your items laid out in front of you… although I could potentially see this as being overwhelming once you have a lot of items stored. I’ve already had a few instances where I had a hard time finding something, yet it felt no different than when I search my own bags for something that I know is there. To craft/upgrade items you place them on the center matt, at times this can be a bit of trial and error, as you place ingredients on the matt hoping that they’ll combine. My only complaint might be to allow the players to understand more of what ingredients are required for certain upgrades, yet I still didn’t feel frustrated by the experience overall. The true icing on this features is that when you’re choosing to upgrade an item, like an axe with a feather (which increases attack speed), you can then place the feather on the axe exactly where you want. I do not mean that it has specific slots to place items, the player is allowed to rotate around the item and place the added object wherever they want. This level of customization allows for high level of player ownership and investment into what they are doing.
There are so many additional layers to The Forest and I’ve only begun to creep through them all. While survival is definitely always on the player’s mind, I found myself coming at it completely from a builder’s point of view. If I craft this wall I’ll be safe, if I improve my axe I’ll be more efficient, if I build a drying rack I’ll be able to store more food for longer, etc. The Forest is definitely a game that continues to surprise me and while I’m excited to explore this game more thoroughly… I’m also terrified at what it will throw at me next. If you haven’t yet, pick this game up! I also recommend playing this game coop, I found it really adds to the overall experience.
Rust is a game that is only similar conceptually, but completely different in execution. Rust is the equivalent to an MMO version of a survival game. While it’s still in early access, Rust thrusts players into a procedurally populated world. Players are concerned with very typical resource management areas; i.e. Health, Hunger, Hydration. There are some minor additional elements to be concerned about, being wet, cold, etc, but mainly the player is faced with the main resources. The dynamic that makes Rust completely different than other survival games is it’s community. Within Rust you can randomly bump into other players on the server, who can easily murder you and take your stuff. When you log off, your character remains in the world… sleeping and vulnerable to anyone passing by. The social drama within Rust is what quickly becomes it’s main driving factor.
Rust can feel more like a social experiment, than a survival game. When you create a new character in Rust, you are assigned a random gender and ethnicity… I also believe that your physique is also randomly generated. You start the game naked, with a torch and a rock and you have to survive. Seeing naked people running around in Rust is a pretty typical dynamic to the game. Within my first moments, it was easy to see that social dynamics were paramount to the game’s driving factors. I quickly stumbled upon a naked woman talking to a naked man, and as I approached I could hear a voice chat between two indian men. They were having an argument in which one person was accusing the other of attacking and stealing items from their home. “We had a peace treaty! Why would you do such a thing?” was stated at one point during the conversation… I can honestly say that within my recent run at survival games, no others had these types of ideas or moral concerns.
A lot of my play experience settled around building a shelter, trying to fortify it before logging off… and inevitably by the time I’d log back in, my shelter would be ransacked and my character either looted or murdered. In one playthrough I actually found out that I had a neighbor and tried to befriend them. Even venting about having just been murdered and the murderer trying to steal my home. Upon logging in next time into the game, I found the neighbor not only killed me and ransacked my house… but left a picture on my wall that read “LOL.” It was a bit disheartening.
Interesting social dynamics to the side, I generally found the inventory management and crafting systems to be a bit confusing. While Rust does provide more information on how to craft specific items than The Forest, there are many elements that are hard to figure out initially. For example knowing that you have to use wood to first craft paper, and then use the paper to craft a “building plan.” The Building plan then acts like a tool, allowing the players to place specific building pieces… yet you have to hold the right mouse button to open a radial wheel, which then shows you the options of what to build. From this radial menu, you might expect that if you highlight an item to select it, but you actually have to left click on the item you’d like to build… It’s really not intuitive and I am guilty of often mis-clicking. Once you have your first structure down, you then have to create a wooden mallet and use this to upgrade pieces of your new shelter. This uses the same right click radial wheel structure for players to select the level of upgrade they are looking for. Yet as you hover over pieces of your home, it’ll look highlighted in red… often leading to the misconception that you cannot upgrade, which isn’t always the case. I also find the classification of objects to be really confusing. I would not expect to find sleeping bags, a furnace, and a fish trap to all be under the same “Items” tab… these things just don’t fit with one another.
Rust is both interesting and incredibly harsh due to the social dynamics of the game. My problems with the controls and UI aside, the ability to interact with other players provide unique and interesting scenarios. After getting killed so often, it’s easy to feel justified doing the same to others on your travels. That being said, unless you have a good group of people to play with, the game can easily become frustrating and uninteresting to play. It often feels like you’re building a sandcastle, only to have someone come kick it over when you’re not looking.
In an effort to diversity my review of survival games, I thought I’d give The Flame in the Flood a chance. This is a pretty interesting game for both it’s decidedly different artistic direction, but also it’s unique outlook on a survival game. You start the game as a young girl, with a dog who finds her. What happens next finds the player traveling down river on a raft, looking for resources, safety, and potentially other survivors. The Flame in the Flood exists, in what I can only assume, is a semi-post apocalyptic world where most of the land is flooded. The player is presented with pretty standard resource management mechanics; Hunger, Hydration, Fatigue, and Health. The player is challenged with navigating hazards on the river and finding spots where they can go ashore and look for items to aid in their survival. Much like The Forest, the player has a book that offers them information on crafting, their stats, and quests.
For me the main difference in The Flame in the Flood is the nomadic nature of the game mechanics. In so many other survival games, I believe it’s instinctual for a player to make a “home” for themselves and stay put. Even when I know I shouldn’t, I always try to make a fortified home in any survival game… and try to survive. Yet within The Flame in the Flood, you’re forced to be constantly moving down river. I believe that resource do not respawn in a certain area, and even if they did… most areas do not have many resources to begin with. The point of the game is to travel down river, and if anything your raft is your home. By forcing travel onto the player and coupling it with an neo-folk soundtrack really lends itself well to the feeling of being on a road trip… or some indie movie. In many times the game made me think of The Road, the general feeling of continually moving forward through a harsh landscape.
The only other notable difference between this game, and others I’ve played lately, is having to unlock tiers within the crafting tree. In most other survival games you’re only ever restricted by the lack of tools you may have at any given time, not an actual quest objective. Within The Flame and the Flood, they limit their users to the recipes available to them until they’ve unlocked specific objectives or waypoints. I found this just to be a bit annoying, in an otherwise fantastic experience. The general sense of progression, going down river, upgrading your tools and your raft… is very rewarding. I’m excited to explore this game further as I accidentally ruined my save while trying to do research for this very post… so I’ll be starting over once I finish.
I’ve been really struggling to find a good way of truly illustrating the difference between survival games in a quantitative way. I have a lot of opinions on the difference between these games, and what pillars I believe they rest on, but I wanted to find more data to base my conclusions on. So I decided to compare some different statistics… The first value I started to evaluate was something I defined as “Time until needs,” meaning under average circumstances how fast does one of my main resources run out and I have to address it. In some games this means hunger, in others it’s cold, but what I’m measuring is after having your stats at full, how quickly do they typically deplete. I wanted to compare this with how often resources replenish in the game environment. I’d like to compare how fruitful the environment is, but I found it easier to compare how fast survival items respawn or regenerate. During this research I also found a lot of information about how long game days were, in real time, and thought it interesting to include in the analysis.
I was shocked to find The Long Dark having such a long day at 100 minutes, and within those 100 minutes the player’s average “Time until needs” is 8.5 minutes. That coupled with the lack of a respawn rate of items really forces the player not only be hyper aware of resource management but also be on the move to find items to keep themselves alive. Games like Don’t Starve seemed to have found an appropriate balance between resource management, exploration, and crafting. It was interesting to see the “Time until needs” to be very similar between Don’t Starve, The Forest, and The Flame in the Flood. With having a slower or no respawn rate of survival items in both Don’t Starve and The Flame in the Flood, forces the players to continue exploring in seek of additional items to survive. Within The Forest I based my values on how often trees and other elements regrow in the environment, yet I have a suspicion that some survival elements may spawn more frequently than the values I’ve provided. By having an abundance of resources, and a moderately balanced resource requirements, this allows the players to focus on other elements of the game… namely being the crafting system. In the same regard Rust has such a slow “Time until needs” in comparison to other games, as well as frequently spawning survival items, allows the players to worry less about resource management. Depending on the player I’d gauge their time would probably be more divided between crafting and social drama, than worrying about finding food for their character.
I hope this has been interesting! I continue to find it compelling how survival games are using fairly similar metrics in different ways to provide vastly different experiences to players. It’s hard to gauge a lot of these differences without being bias, but I hope I’ve been able to provide some interesting insights.
Recently I played Dishonored 2, and I was really impressed with the overall level design and structure. Then I got to thinking… the design intent of these levels were very similar to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Both games provide the user with multiple points of egress, objects to interact with that changes the way that players accomplish their goals, multiple hidden paths, etc. Both games also offer the player abilities, one being supernatural and the other high tech. While there are many similarities that can be drawn, what then makes these games different?? Why were the levels more rewarding in Dishonored versus Deus Ex? I’ll be exploring this, and more in today’s post! There might be some pretty considerable level spoilers for both games, if that is a concern turn back!
When starting this analysis, I had many ideas on how these games might be different from one another. One of my initial thoughts about how Deus ex may differ from Dishonored, was perhaps the frequency of alternative routes within the environment. I had some pretty lofty ambitions to map out the flows of movement through similar spaces, and pretty quickly found just how difficult that might be. Namely due to Dishonored’s ability to blink to inaccessible areas, drastically changes the movement around the playspace. Also once I started to compare the layouts between these two games, generally speaking nothing really jumped out as out of the ordinary. In the end I think it comes down to three general elements that I’ll be exploring : Movement, Visual Affordance, and Repetition of visual/movement cues.
To begin it’s worth introducing similar abilities between these two games. While there are many abilities, I’ll be focusing on the ones that are common between the two… more or less. Both of these games enable supernatural movement around the environment. Deus Ex provides the player with the ability to jump extremely high, and dash laterally across the environment. In a similar sense Dishonored players have the ability to teleport/blink great distances, allowing the players to access areas and nooks previously inaccessible. Both games also give the players a supernatural vision, that allows them to see through walls. While they act in slightly different ways, both give the players more insight into their surroundings. These two have the most impact in regards to movement around the level.
Dishonored on the other hand, leverages it’s teleport ability in ways that feel entirely unpredictable. Launching my character to unrealistic areas like on top of chandeliers, light posts, or any small alcove that would support me… provided a very organic feeling to the environment. While I’m sure the placement of objects were very intentional at times, it never felt as purposeful as Deus Ex. Perhaps this makes it an unfair comparison, as Deus Ex’s level design would have to have been limited to the abilities allocated to the player. Without such freedom of movement, would Dishonored feel more similar to Deus Ex? It’s possible but I believe there are other elements at play here.
I’ve discussed Visual Affordance a lot in previous blog posts, in this case I want to discuss how lighting, contrast, and other visuals cues lead the player. All games do this to some extent, but I found Deus Ex’s use of
While exploring more into Deus Ex I traditionally found elements like ladders, hidden alcoves, etc were all very well lit and meant to really make sure the player identified their options. To that end when you actually use the enhanced vision ladders, air vents, and potential hazards light up the screen. At that point it does feel a bit like easy mode for the player, as though the general visual clues weren’t enough. To be fair Dishonored 2 does light up similar elements in their “Dark Vision” mode. In Dark Vision you can see grates that if you posses a creature or use shadow walk, you can use these to access other areas… yet these are few and far between. You can also see enemies through walls and valuable items to collect… Compared to Deus Ex’s enhanced vision, Dark Vision feels functionally different and more limited. Using Dark Vision is good for identifying enemies and items to collect… yet with it’s limited range and the fact that it doesn’t light up other
color the way that Dishonored handles it’s use of visual direction. This is completely subjective though, and dependant solely on the player. As someone who plays a lot of video games, perhaps these types of hints are too obvious to me and more casual players would find these to be more encouraging. It all depends on what your target market is… but I’d bet that Deus Ex isn’t intended as a casual game.
Repetition of Cues
For me, this might be the largest offender to how and why these games are different from each other. When I began to compare player flows through levels, I realized there were fairly standard conventions to be found with Deus Ex… whereas Dishonored constantly seemed to turn it’s own rules upside down. When talking about these cues I’m referring to elements in the environment that the player learns to look for, and begins to be implied knowledge for the player. For example in Deus Ex, whenever I see a soda machine, I expect there to be a hidden air vent behind… because more often than not there is. In Deus Ex, after a while there are certain elements that you expect and come to look for within the environments. If an area seems too difficult to pass there’s typically an air vent, breakable wall, something to hack, or just a gas filled area that I can use to surpass the challenges in front of me. When I was trying to think of ways to quantify Dishonored 2, I realized just how varied their strategies were. While there are a few repetitive elements you may see from one level to another, I found that for the most part each level hosted new challenges and modified it’s own visual analogy. In these types of games it can be very easy to become complacent and comfortable within your style of play, I found that often Dishonored 2 would push me outside of my comfort zone. Each level seemed to introduce it’s own unique enemy type, that may require a completely different strategy to what you’re used to. Playing as Low Chaos and trying to incapacitate rather than kill my enemies, I was really challenged when a level introduced a mechanical enemy type. One that could see both in front of and behind itself, forced me to change how I played. While later levels introduce new enemy types in Deus Ex, many of them required very similar strategies, and never did I feel as though I had to rethink how I approached an area.
On top of new enemy types, Dishonored also completely changed it’s own rules in two of it’s levels in particular. Within the “Clockwork Mansion” mission, not only did they introduce clockwork soldiers, but also the entire layout of the mission could change at the hit of a switch. There were buttons and switches in the environment that would dynamically switch out rooms and modify the layouts, making it not only unnerving when it occurred but also difficult to truly memorize the playspace. “Aramis Stilton’s Mansion” was another mission that really forces the player to change their strategy. Within this mission, there’s “something” preventing the player from using their supernatural abilities… making it so we cannot teleport, use our special vision, etc… Dishonored then introduces an item that is unique and only works for this one mission. There’s two modes to this item, with one button a piece of glass appears and through it the player can actually see into the past. Doing so you can see how the layout has changed and guards patrolling the area in live time. The second mode allows the player to switch between the past and the present…. It’s truly crazy. Areas that are blocked off in the present may require you to go into the past, modify something, and unlock it for the future. Not only that but the past and the present hosts different types of enemies, requiring you to switch up your strategies on the fly… and don’t forget that you no longer have access to your typical abilities. While extremely challenging, and frankly terrifying at times, these types of restrictions create a truly dynamic play experience. I still believe it was incredibly bold for Dishonored to create this new mode and style of play, and use it for only one mission.
As I said above, a lot of this is subjective and dependent on players. It’s always important to note who your audience is, and create the appropriate experience for them. At times we do need to develop repetitive visuals cues and leave hints in the environment to aid in player’s understanding of where to go. Yet we have to be careful about creating the right balance between being too heavy handed and dropping players into the deep end. This kind of balance is extremely difficult and you’ll never reach the right balance for everyone, but hopefully you can create an experience that best facilities your target market. Perhaps I’m not the target market for Deus Ex, but I do hope that this analysis was interesting and potentially inspired some do's and don’ts into level design intent! Thanks again for reading!
Hitman Go was released in 2014 and was applauded for it’s innovative visuals, simple mechanics, and engaging gameplay. Eidos was able to take a franchise involving stealth, action, and assassination and translate it into a digital board game. In a year Eidos continued this formula by releasing Lara Croft Go. By modifying the visuals and tweaking the mechanics, Eidos was able to take another brand with decidedly different goals and create a uniquely different “digital board game” using the same structure. Just this past year Eidos released it’s third “Go” game using the franchise Deus Ex as the foundation. With the “Go” games now a trilogy, I thought it would be interesting to compare and discuss the differences between the Go games. How modifying mechanics and visuals can create a decidedly different atmosphere even within the same structure. Today I’ll be discussing Hitman Go, Lara Croft Go, and Deus Ex Go. This will be mainly about visuals and mechanics, yet if you’re concerned about seeing potentially spoiling visuals for these games… turn back now!
To start with I thought it would be best to briefly discuss these three franchises, their goals, and how are they different. Hitman is traditionally a stealth game, that has players exploring flexible levels that allow players to accomplish missions their own way. The games feel organized, strategic, and almost “James Bond-esque.” Lara Croft has players exploring ancient ruins and tombs, solving puzzles, and encountering hostile creatures along the way. Typically these games are filled with a sense of discovery, ancient environments, and a very “Indiana Jones” feel. Finally there’s Deus Ex, an action role-playing game that places the player in a dystopian, cyberpunk future. In this future the world has developed “human augmentations,” technology that can increase human attributes… run faster, jump higher, etc. These games typically center around conflicts between factions who do and do not believe in human augmentation. Deus Ex typically feels gritty, futuristic, and an almost “Film Noire” feel to it.
Visually these games change as drastically as they are different from each other. Hitman Go features an extremely elegant maquette styled environment. The environments feel small and look assembled, and the characters feel like board game pieces. Each level feels like a unique set piece, and the players are even able to rotate the level around to look at all of it’s details. A combination of expertly rendered ambient lighting, shading, and easily recognized materials (plastic feels like plastic, etc) helps create this effect. It’s also worth noting that while the set designs have extensive detail, the player set pieces are actually pretty simplistic. When you move your “hitman” over an enemy, there’s no combat animation… The piece just knocks over the other piece. It’s simple, elegant, and plays with our own innate understanding of board games.
Lara Croft Go has a shockingly different artistic direction. Whereas most of the Lara Croft franchise goes for a realistic visual style, Lara Croft Go goes for a geometric, highly saturated, almost cel shaded feel. In many ways the environments feel illustrative, almost like modern graphic design. This style feels like the polar opposite from the recent AAA Lara Croft games, yet works surprisingly well. Lara Croft Go sacrifices the rotation feature that Hitman Go had, and utilizes full character animations. In this way, while the mechanics still feel similar to a board game, the visual style pulls further away.
Deus Ex Go continues a step further by creating a visual style that’s simplistic, modern, and “low poly.” The franchise also makes heavy use of tessellated triangular patterns, stark black and white environments, and uses colors to pop important information. Using low poly geometry lends itself towards feeling “high tech” or futuristic. Deus Ex Go continues the same trend as Lara Croft Go and features full character animations. To top off the detective/Film Noir feel, Deus Ex Go has an extra layer of story added through character dialogue. While in a level, characters from the series will communicate with the protagonist. The style of writing and character dialogue, completes the Deus Ex feel.
Potentially the most interesting difference between these games are how the mechanics change between them. As you might have imagined, Hitman Go focuses on human type enemies for the player to overcome. Each enemy has it’s own unique behavior, that coupled with the level design, creates puzzles for the player to overcome. I noted that Hitman Go has eight different types of enemies…
While there are some bonus objectives, Hitman Go relies on the player to safely navigate their environment and eliminate their target. Lara Croft Go modifies this formula slightly, to create a different game feeling for the player. Within Lara Croft go, I noticed fewer enemies but also the addition of other obstacles or traps.
Lara Croft Go has 4 different types of enemy:
While mechanically every “Go” level is a puzzle, the traps introduced in Lara Croft Go really adds to the feeling that you’re exploring and solving ancient ruins. In many ways Deus Ex Go follows a similar formula to Lara Croft Go having fewer enemy types, but instead of having “Traps” Deus Ex Go introduces “abilities.
Deus Ex Go has 4 different types of enemies:
Deus Ex Go has two different types of ability tiles, each with two varying functions:
The Rule of Eight
While it may be a bit of a stretch in regards to Deus Ex Go, I think it’s interesting that relatively speaking there’s a rule of 8 for the “Go” games. There are 8 enemy types in Hitman Go, there are 4 types of enemies and 4 types of traps in Lara Croft Go, and there are 4 types of enemies and 2 abilities with 2 functions in Deus Ex Go. I wonder if there’s a correlation for how we as players understand levels. If for this type of game, having 8 elements to learn and navigate is optimal? I wonder if other board games or puzzle games like this have similar rule sets. It must certainly be optimal from a production standpoint to manage only 8 different kinds of obstacles, and allow design flexibility to create levels of varying complexity.
While creating massively different artistic directions is important for emphasizing each brand respectively, modifying the equation of obstacles is paramount to creating a gameplay feel that respects the brand. Hitman is about taking out your target and navigating your enemies, so it makes sense that it emphasizes on human type obstacles. Lara Croft is about exploring dangerous ruins and solving ancient puzzles… having a balance between enemies and ancient traps aids to this feel. At the end of the day Deus Ex is about using abilities to overcome your enemies, whether they be human or technological. For this having the appropriate balance between enemies and using your character’s abilities, makes the player feel like a powerfully augmented agent… instead of an assassin or tomb raider.
I’ll be curious to see if Eidos continues this trend with a fourth “Go” game? Thief maybe? We’ll have to wait and see what direction they take. In any case I hope this was interesting! I strongly believe that simple and easy to understand mechanics, in a structure that’s very familiar to most players… is a really effective formula. Often games tend to rely on complexity and at times can under deliver on the experience.
I make games, I play games... and sometimes I have some thoughts about that.