Author Archives: John C.

Manage Your Anger

Chuck has three apples. If Chuck needs half a cheese wheel to defeat the Nameless King, then where did Jesus hide the prune juice? All these are very valid questions pertaining  to Dark Souls but more importantly, they represent resources that a player can manage to ensure the greatest reward. Although, in Dark Souls, the best outcome is probably just survival and to escape from the endless humiliation of the “You Died” screen.


In Dark Souls, the player is given three resources to manage during combat, it consists of health, stamina, and mana. While both health and mana are both depletable the stamina bar recharges with time, but when the stamina bar does deplete the player goes into a pathetic limping state of  being that couldn’t dodge the broadside of a moving tortoise. Dark Souls balances ease of combat with punishable restrictions that discourage reckless spamming of the attack button. As I posted in my last piece, Dark souls series are all about timing and smart decisions. Screw up and pay the price. However, it doesn’t mean the game doesn’t give the player the necessary tool to finish the job at hand. Health is depletable but items to restore health is abundant. They balance this mechanic by making the items also depletable until the player reaches a checkpoint, enemies hit hard, and the player starts the game with very limited health recovery items. This teaches the player the necessary skills to survive but forcing them to be cautious and gaining the tools to avoid, or diminish, the damage taken. FromSoftware goes even a step further because the health recovery items can be recharged the game doesn’t want to reduce the challenge so all the enemies you’ve slain are revived with the exceptions of bosses.

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Blue Flask restores mana. Orange Flask restores health.

Balancing the tools given to the player and the gameplay makes Dark Souls a true experience that not only challenges but stay fair in its mechanics. Furthermore, the game realizes if the whole game consists of swinging your weapon of choice, it would be both boring and a waste of their fantasy genre tag. Therefore, with the addition of the mana bar, the game can introduce a whole other set of tools for the player to incorporate into their own personal playstyles. Once again, FromSoftware balances the player’s actions by limiting their usage of special abilities in a certain amount of time frame before they require a mana recovery item. Like the health items, though, the mana recovery item is also rechargeable. Mana restricts melee orientated players on using their weapon’s special ability and creates an opening for enemies from the relentless assault of the magic orientated players.

Dark Souls has a system in place that required the players to manage their resources wisely or face the heavily punishing consequences. Of course, managing the increasing levels of frustration from losing over and over again can be considered a game mechanic, but it is more likely the player just needs to stop and take a break. Go smoke a cigarette or something. You’ve been cursing for hours now and I think your neighbors are calling the cops because of their pretty sure that you’re beating your wife and you know how the last time a police officer showed up at your doors when you beat Dark Souls 1. Anyways, see you all next post.

Signing off,

John

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By the Skin of Your Rotten Teeth

Chances are high that before the invention of toothbrushes the mass majority of the human population had teeth like swiss cheese and breath like moldy cheese. I can not even begin the imagine rancid hell that is the breath of every boss monster that resides in the dungeons that have been around since the dawn of time. Now imagine dying then reviving from your grave countless times but each time you lose a little more of your humanity/sanity, and your teeth comes just a little bit more rotten. God, the Dark Souls’ universe must just smell like the worst parts of the collective butt sweats of every living being in the entire universe combined. But I digress.

Perfect timing. It is a measure of how long a player should wait before executing the right movements/actions to gain the best outcome for a dire situation. When your mother screams at you for not cleaning your room, the perfect timing would be to wait until your father comes home so that your mother’s mood alleviates before you start mouthing off. Chances are lower that your mother would lay the smack down on you for speaking out with your father around. Dark Souls is similar in that sense but with fewer uncountable variables that might change the situation. When a boss does a move set then a player, after experiencing it, should understand where it will move, swing, or grab next. These actions are premade therefore should not deviate from their original patterns. Grab. Dodge. Swing. Parry. Move. Attack. Simple, right?


The secret behind a well-crafted challenge in a game oriented around close encounter combat, like Dark Souls, is timing or more accurately the amount of room for error that is allowed for each player’s actions. Dark Souls takes these concepts to the max. Every action requires a nearly perfect reaction. Otherwise, the player would soon find themselves face first in the dirt. While the boss made cream cheese out of the player’s health bar. Creating these perfect scenarios requires the game to have hitboxes, areas where the game acknowledges the entity has been struck or not, where executing the perfect action grants the perfect reaction. These might leave little to no room for player error but Dark Souls is a game that wants its player base to learn. To breakthrough from their current skill level. Some interpret this as heartless or difficulty for the sake of hardship, but true satisfaction only peaks its glorious face from overcoming trials once thought impossible.


Timing is everything in Dark Souls. Unforgiving but fair. (Sometimes the game screws up but that is simply another story to tell your friends about) No other game does this better than Dark Souls. It dares to push the boundaries of how much a player seeks overwhelming challenges for a taste of that rush reserved solely for heroin addicts. Excuse me, I will not go attempt to experience the cheap thrills of Dark Souls once again.

Signing off,

John

Nameless, Pantless, Soulless


From the clue given last week, it should be no surprise at this point that my primary game for the following weeks will be about Dark Souls, the pinnacle of balancing difficulty with gameplay, and the dissection of where the game does right or wrong.

If you had the courtesy to watch the video linked about, it might have dawned on you that it does not represent Dark Souls the game at all. It barely resembles it. So, then what is Dark Souls?

In a nutshell, Dark Souls is the journey of a chosen individual call upon to slay powerful god-like entities for their delicious, delicious souls. Developed by the sadistic studio, FromSoftware, the game features a multitude of weapons ranging from kitchen knives to huge broadswords the size of Dwayne the Rock Johnson himself.  Each weapon type has its own stance, move sets, and secondary ability that help define the weapons’ individuality. If this blog wasn’t dedicated to the discussion of game mechanics, I could literally write about the Dark Soul’s lore for hours on end. However, this doesn’t mean the game itself does not offer a massive amount of perspective on how a good challenge can birth a whole new genre of games all by itself.

I will not digress any longer in this post so I can save the majority of the content in the next post. Before I stop, I do want to clarify that the singleplayer and multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls will be exclusive to their respective areas, so the problems I find in balance in Singleplayer does not necessarily transfer over to the multiplayer.

Signing off,

John

Hello Games? More like Hollow Games

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Without further ado, let us explore the finale of No Man’s Sky and how it all connects in conjunction.

A challenge, according to Merriam-dictionary, is a difficult task or problem: something that is hard to do. The key word here is “hard” folks. From these past two post, it should be clear that No Man’s Sky has a wonderfully built landscape and scenery, but ultimately a game still relies on its mechanics to be any good.

Simple Definition of challenge

  • : a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do

Mechanics, above all else, most hold two ideology close to its heart. It must run smoothly and it must provide some form of a challenge otherwise a player’s attention will drift faster than the movie, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Without these pillars to uphold No Man’s Sky foundation, it wasn’t much of a surprise to me that after 2 weeks the game’s player base dropped by more than 80 percent. Hello Game studio’s failure ultimately does not just end there because its shortcomings go deeper than that. Perhaps it was simply too ambitious for its own shoes, or perhaps it was the fact that the developers made the game too friendly towards it audience. Wonky fighting mechanics both in space and on land, unchallenging artificial intelligence, copy-pasted landscape and alien creatures, meaningless resources, outdated resource gathering, and the unwillingness to let the players struggle makes No Man’s Sky one of the most unusual releases this year. It had promise, but it also made many promises it never kept. Disappointing does not even begin to describe how this game made its audience feel.

 

 

Don’t get me wrong readers. I was not expecting the world nor its distant cousin but at least I wanted to see some of these ambitions come to fruition. Chances are high a game like this would not have made its audience feel so frustrated if it had simply shown no potential at all. However, No Man’s Sky still has these moments that shine, where the player base can just catch a glimpse of what could be and it is so, so cruel to have to endure this disaster when the game could have soared higher than any predecessor before it.

I hope the best for Hello Game studios. I really do. While the title of this article may seem like a childish attempt at a jab at the studios, and you would be half right, it is more accurately my segway on to my next big game to talk about. Ten bucks if you can tell me which game has hollows in it and does player challenge very well, if not sometimes a little bit unforgiving.

In conclusion, No Man’s Sky is disappointing but there is really no one who suffers at the hands of its disappointment. Perhaps just an industry who has to watch on as its standards slowly degrade from its glory days. Mellow dramatic much, right? Until next time.

Signing off,

John

 

Shot Thru the Sentinel Heart

Without skipping a single step, let us continue on to the next segment of our discussion on No Man’s Sky’s combat mechanics but this time, we will be on foot.

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Innovation comes from passion. No doubt you’ve heard of a game called Call of Duty. Now if you haven’t perhaps you’ve reached this blog by accident.Most likely, now you’re wondering how you got to the public library and why you’re wearing a paper bag as a hat. These are all very good questions. Another good question is how a studio with no previous accomplishments could single handily change the face of the first-person shooter genre. I am most certainly talking about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (1 and 2) a shooter that introduced revolutionary shooter mechanics. Some would say they practically perfected it. So then another superb question is raised. How, in the world, can a developer screw up shooting mechanics so horribly when the template of perfection has been handed to them for the last decade. Where does one begin with this jumble of monstrosity?

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This is a case of flawed mechanics creating a challenge in the negative direction. When a player encounters a portion of a game that they do not like, it is natural for them to try their hardest to avoid playing any of that part of the game. Mind you the developers has to try really hard for that to happen. Floaty, disconnected, and wonky. Every attempt to free aim in this game makes the screen chug at a meter to a mile per minute. You push up and half a second later the game finally realizes that you inputted a command. Everything about it is wrong. I mean it feels like the developers realized this when they play tested it. Why else would they allow the players to a mod their weapons with auto-aim? If you thought the on-planet battles were poorly done before just wait until you have auto-aim, and suddenly everything becomes a breeze. No challenge from the enemy AIs. No challenge present in the shooting gameplay. No challenge seemed to be No Man’s Sky’s theme. If feels like the game wants the players to be bored.

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I understand that my assessment of the game can be perceived as almost cruel but this is a necessary evil. Or perhaps, this was simply a simple comfort for a fan who waited tirelessly for a game that never arrived. Some would say the developers shot me through the heart and gave the industry a bad, bad name. Just a thought.

Next post will mark the end of our great No Man’s Sky saga. A conclusion on how I ultimately perceive the game. Where it truly failed overall and why I will still hope for the future of space exploration games.

Signing off,

John

Shoot for the Stars

For the last chapter of my dissection on No Man’s Sky we will dive into the glorious technological achievement of combat. In our last post, I lightly brought up the fact on how challenge and fun should get hand-in-hand and this point still stands strong this week. Whether a player is answering the call of duty, commanding and conquering, or reliving an age of empires this basic assumption about challenge/fun echoes loudly in their design. With a game with so many mechanics, it is truly a marvel how all of them could be so awfully boring.

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Before you read on I urge you to watch this video about space combat: HERE. (Contains some NSFW language.)

If at this point, after watching the linked YouTube video, then you, the reader, might be experiencing higher than normal heart rates with a slightly damp forehead or palms. This is what we call getting pumped. Eve Online’s trailer captures numerous astounding emotions, it draws the viewer deeper and deeper, until they realize that their adrenaline as been turn to 11, and their pupils have dilated to the size of dinner plates. Space combat should be impactful and fast. A player’s space maneuvering skills should be constantly pushed to their limits. No room for compromise and no room for fatal decision making. These are the desired traits for making a space combat simulation. Call it the bible of galactic warfare if you like.

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No Man’s Sky, in a nutshell, fails to reach any of these desirables. The player’s ship feels like a toy gliding through space. No impact. No ability to outplay the enemy. Every ship, including your own, are equipped with homing lasers beams that automatically does damage as long as the target is in range. That is it. One can argue that the mining lasers can be used too, but the maneuvering feels so clunky and unsophisticated, trying to free aim shoot a moving target is like trying to play darts when your blind, deaf, and mute. The developers even weaseled out on how the ship recovers it shields! Instead of having to skillfully dodge, which you can’t with the laser beam’s instantaneous auto lock-on, and wait for the ship’s shields to recharge the player has to stop, open up their menu, and consume a set amount of elements. Where do I begin with this monstrosity of poor design choice? First of all, when the player is in the MIDDLE of what should be a heart pumping space combat experience the LAST thing that a player wants is to cease all activities to manually recharge their shields. The flow of gameplay has already been disrupted. Second, what sort of challenge is being presented when the pilot can fight off 6 enemy fighters by simply consuming a resource to gain all their health back? The challenge is necessary for fun to blossom in the hearts of its players. A challenge comes when the game decides to stop babying the player in every situation, but instead all this game does is introduce a mechanics, an environment to test said mechanics, and a reason to use these mechanics. It feels like the developers didn’t even stop to test out their own game to decide whether or not it was fun. It’s so straightforward, It has no depth, and it has no requirement for the player to be skilled. No Man’s Sky’s space combat commits the greatest video game design sin of all: it is unfathomably dull.

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This post is much too long already, so I will continue with land combat in my next blog post. Now where is that bottle of aspirin.

Signing off,

John

All that Ag and Au

Perhaps the most impressive set piece a developer can create for its consumer is by showcasing brilliance without the need to force the audience into their perspective. Many games do it, most not well, and for No Man’s Sky it is one of the better aspects of the ambitious game.

When you first load up the game there is no menu, no options, but just a start screen that takes you directly into the game. Standing among the alien environment with unfamiliar landscape stretching from all perspectives, strange fauna layering the land, and strange, sometimes comical, creatures lumbering throughout the planet imitated perfectly what exploration could be. Learning how the game functioned was amusing. The player is stranded on a mysterious planet with a ship laying in disarray. Elements gathered from the planet is required to fix the starship back into working order. Of course, the game doesn’t tell you this directly, it required the player to explore its surroundings. Seemingly endless elements gathered before your eyes and can be quite overwhelming, but honestly, that is where the mystery stops because once the player does fix the ship and leave the planet it instantaneously becomes clear how redundant it all was.

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HOLY COW! KILL IT WITH FIRE BEFORE IT BREEDS!

Among its three pillars, No Man’s Sky boasted its survival mechanic heavily weeks leading up to its launch, but does it hold on in actuality? The short answer is no. Resources are so abundant to the player that running out and dying from overexposure or lack of fuel would have to be intentional, or otherwise a glitch in the game’s programming. For example, there are planets that have extreme temperatures that threaten the depletion a player’s life support at an alarming rate. The only way to survival is to build a special modification for your suit especially for this one planet or continue to pour a single resource to recharge your life support back to full. This is meant to be challenging for the player, so they had to balance their greed for natural resources for their safety. In theory anyways, because while the game has the guts to strain the player life support, it does not, however, have the guts to limit the resources to recharges them. Therefore, any sense of peril is completely overridden by a cheap exploitation done easily by anyone with half a brain. Even without this trick the game’s alternative solution is laughable.

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This game is built with every mechanical in mind so they would all tie together. That is true. Since the survival aspect is boring than it really shouldn’t be surprising that it’s gathering mechanical has also been ruined. Mining in its essence is uninteresting, slow, and downright unfulfilling. The player mines for the sake of buying the upgrade to mine more to buy even better upgrades to further increase their resource gathering abilities. Now this might sound similar to an MMO. Probably because it is the same mechanic. In this case, however, No Man’s Sky provides no immediate threat to gathering resources, and when they do, they are afraid to press too hard in case the player might actually have to face a problem. So all the player has to do is stand there while looking at this giant chunk of whatever element and hold down a button to wait for the giant rock to disappear. Seriously, does this sound anyway challenging or fun? Challenging and fun should go hand in hand if a developer fails to capture both then their game will sink faster than the titanic.

Thank you, readers, for sitting through this jumble of the mess I claim to call writing. This rant of No Man’s Sky will continue next week with the dissection of their combat mechanic. And by dissection, I mean an absolute massacre.

Signing off,

John