Category Archives: Uncategorized

Treasure Hunting: Secret Areas and Items

As you finish the final cutscene and smugly sit there watching the credits roll by, completely content with finishing the entire game, you go to view your save file and what’s this? This isn’t a shiny, gleaming, 3-digit 100% on there! That’s a big fat 98%!

Yes, you’ve forgotten about the secrets and hidden items somewhere along your journey to defeat the evil demon lord! Looks like it’s time to start from square one again…

Hidden items and secrets in games are a small yet satisfying little diversion for players to complete (especially it it was a long and frustrating way to get it) that can extend the time they spend on the game. Small rewards like a special-yet-useless Inifinty -1 Sword or a Badass Scarf can be well worth it to players, especially if it means completing that variant outfit. Even little things like a simple extra life would do, for those little nooks and crannies where noone really looks would work.

Of course, the journey to such rare and optional items wouldn’t be the same without it’s own hazards. Like earlier posts, ledges, traps, enemies and the like can make the player work for their reward. And let’s not forget creating a shortcut exit for them… or not.

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Mastering The Meta

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While difficulty in  competitive multiplayer games is almost entirely based off each player’s relative skill and how they play against each other, there still is a slight nuance in difficulty that the developer has a hand in influencing for these games. In most cases of MOBAs (multiplayer online battle arena), the entire infrastructure is based on a team based game where players battle against each other in an attempt to destroy the enemy’s base. This involves a plethora of different characters that players can choose to control for each game, each controlling radically differently from the next with there own set of goals.

While players are free to choose their favorite champion and have fun playing them, there is often a metagame that determines effective strategies within the game such as that of League of Legends. The metagame, or meta for short, is often built around a set of strategies and a select few characters within the game that are determined optimal for the current state of the game. These are often seen as the best characters to play as, to a degree that they over perform and overshadow other characters. While largely the meta is influenced by the player base and in a game like League of Legends the meta is often dictated by the upper echelon of players in the professional esports scene, the developers, in this case Riot Games, have a very large acting say in what the game’s current meta is.

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Most developers, including Riot Games, shake up and alter this game within the game by periodically updating and changing the game through patches. These patches will often buff champions who are deemed weak by Riot, and nerf champions who are too strong. Although often times Riot will also tweak certain champions to try and slightly alter them, sometimes resulting in a champion who all of a sudden receives tweaks that make them incredibly strong. This along with the very infrequent changes to items that can be bought, alter the state of the metagame and determine what are best picks. For example in one of the most recent patches, 6.18 (the world championship patch) they made slight changes to the game with the goal of not shaking up the foundation weeks before a major tournament. As a result the meta that had developed over the past few patches stayed, resulting in a handful of champions being determined optimal for each position. Anything outside of these 3-5 champions per role are considered risky picks that can easily flop miserably.

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In a large part the meta influences difficulty on the player, as they may struggle with not being able to play or simply not being comfortable on the strong champions, requiring them to overcome a learning curve and engage in a matchup that is working against them. In a way difficulty in these multiplayer focused games comes directly from how well the player can mold and adapt themselves to fit the metagame, and their inability to do so makes the game that much more difficult for them.

-Michael

Quarter Muncher

any early arcade games were either endless with minor changes in courses or they were very short. In order to keep the player playing longer designers made very challenging games. Often bosses were near unbeatable in a single life, this of course culminated in the final boss. However designer saw that players would quit in frustration when they died so close to the end. But if the player died right before the final boss they would put in just one more quarter,one more quarter, one more quarter, etc… So many games during the golden age of the arcade benign making impossible levels right before the final boss.  For example,  double dragons featured a level full of instakill traps that are seamless with the background as well as a very small ledge space to get knocked off of and be instantly killed. watch this clip at 15:08 for a few seconds to see what I mean

These super challenging levels set a standard that Nintendo would continue with their Nintendo entertainment system.

Tell Me A Story

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The recent trend for various developers and players alike has been that increased difficulty often leads to a better game. The more difficult and tiring it is to overcome a challenge, people seem to believe that it creates a much more fun game. While not entirely untrue that a good challenge is fun for the player to try and overcome, the trend to increasingly make things more and more difficult just because its possible is a silly notion. Games can still be a good time to the player even without a large difficulty spike (heh).

Most games have a difficulty setting where the player is asked to choose the difficulty of the story they are about to play. These generally range from an “Easy” mode to a “Hard” mode, with sometimes modifiers like “Very Easy” or “Very Hard”. Most of the time these labels don’t offer much of an explanation into makes the difficulty easy or hard, this often leads to the player defaulting to the “Normal” difficulty even when another mode may suit them better.

Also the terms Easy and Hard often have their own stigma surrounding them. Most players will naturally avoid an Easy mode because they are a veteran to video games and playing on Easy is below them. On the inverse, players can often be wary of a Hard mode for a first time run through of a game, as it is seen as a jump in difficulty that wasn’t the natural intended way for the game to be played.

Let’s take a dedicated look into the “Easy” difficulty mode, or how many developers have come to describe it as, the “Tell Me A Story” mode. In this mode the game’s challenges are severely reduced and made much simpler and easier to navigate through for the player. Essentially this mode is made so the player can advance from one plot point to another with little to no difficulty.

Why is this done the way it is? After all, aren’t most games intended for the audience to play through have fun and overcome some kind of challenge? Not necessarily. Many players in today’s day and age, dont have a large amount of time to work through and overcome a difficult challenge to get through a video game, but instead would like to spend their time enjoying the well crafted story that the game is trying to tell.

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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (A murder-mystery visual novel adventure game) developed by Spike Chunsoft)

But what if this takes away from the difficulty and fun of the game? A simple look into if this will take away someone’s enjoyment of the game is by referencing a similar game model in that of Visual Novel games like the above pictured Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. Danganronpa is an adventure game centered around solving the mysteries behind murders. In terms of gameplay, Danganronpa is centered around advancing through a story, engaging in conversations with various characters, and interacting with the environment in an attempt to find clues about the murders. Additionally in the game’s “Trials” the player must deconstruct arguments with evidence and contradictions to uncover the mysteries riddled within.

All of these elements within the game are interesting and fun mechanics for the player, but additionally add an element of a challenge within its storytelling. Many of these mechanics can be described as puzzles set up for the player to solve that are there in each of Danganronpa’s difficulty settings. The difficulty settings only change the amount of health and star power the player has in trials (health determines how many wrong answers/replies can be made before a game over, star power allows the player to slow down time to focus on arguments).

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Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, the sequel to Trigger Happy Havoc also developed by Spike Chunsoft.

Even with these basic mechanics and a more focused effort on telling a story to the player, Danganronpa is still held in high regards and has a very enthusiastic fan base. The first game sits at an overall 83% on Metacritic, and its most recent Steam release is sitting at an overall 97% positive rating. The sequel, which employs similar mechanics with a few new and reworked trial mini games, is also held in high regard with the original release being at an 81% on Metacritic, and the more recent Steam release also having a 97% positive rating.

The success of these two games shows that stripping the challenge from enemy encounters does not necessarily ruin the fun, as long as their is some substance behind it that the player can enjoy and experience. In most cases this is an exciting story that the player can enjoy, but just as well there can be smaller challenges that aren’t arduous and overbearingly difficult for the player in the form of some light puzzle solving.

All in all a mode that focuses on story telling is rarely a bad thing, as its just a separate mode that the player can choose to opt into and if not the existence of the mode doesn’t harm them. The recent resistance to such a mode has been quite perplexing, but its comforting to see more and more support for the existence of such modes.

-Michael

 

The challenge of High Scores

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The dawn of the video arcade game was preceded by electro-mechanical games, such as Sega’s 1966’s hit  Periscope and 1969’s Duck Hunt. These games set the standard of a quarter to

play and had to print a ticket with your high score! Players scores were evaluated based on the number of hits. People would compete with each other to see who could get the higher score, making it much more challenging to beat friends when the base game was pretty easy to win.

 

The arcades and carnivals set the stage for Galaxy Game, Galaxy Game was a coin operated copy of Spacewar set up by some students in 1971, but electronic games didn’t pick up wide spread adoption until Pong!

 

 

Balancing D&D

Hello all! It’s CoCo again, and I just came back from a grand adventure in the world of D&D. After some friends and I popped open a couple brewski’s and gathered our sets of dice we set our eyes on the grand tournament being held in town. After being beaten by a comrade in the tournament i decided to comment on D&D’s balancing system.

To all who are unfamiliar, Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game where you and your friends get together and have a blast slaying monsters and telling great stories.
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It is the epitome of nerd culture and is something I recommend to gamers of all ages who wish to step into an amazing world of fantasy and freedom.

With this freedom however there are many Core “Rules”. Dungeons & Dragons is currently in its 5th edition since its start in 1974 and and each time a new edition is released, so are textbook-thick rulebooks, handbooks, bestiary’s and other resources holding revisions and improvements to it’s complex battle systems. It’s a great example as to how game balancing is a constant process, and is never truly 100% achieved.

Currently the 5th edition is receiving a very appraisal due to its simplification of old rules into overarching guidelines that are easier to remember and keep the flow of battle going smoothly.
As a new Dungeon Master (person who runs the D&D sessions) I’ll be making a transition to 5e shortly after attempting to read through the confusing and ultra-specific rule sets of both 3.5e and Pathfinder.

Stay tuned in for more D&D posts!
CoCo.

Bars, Builds, and Battle System

Half the fun of gaming is the challenge it can bring. Like climbing up a cliff face to stand at the top, victory in video games is as sweet as the difficulty. As an upcoming game developer, I see difficulty in video games tackled mainly from two angles, bigger numbers versus different strategies.

Enter The Division, A triple-A title released from Ubisoft across all platforms. The setting is set in post apocalyptic New York. As an agent of The Division, you are to secure order in the city, entailing shooting looters and stopping gang wars and restoring a sense of government for the city that remains.

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A major collective community complaint is the “spongy-ness” of the enemies. The extremely high health bars your enemies have create a dissonance against the level of graphical sophistication this game brings.

Imagine being immersed in a rich rotting New York set in the cold of Christmas, with your footsteps creating footprints in the snow. Now imagine unloading 10 buckshot shells from your fully customized M870 into the face of a scrawny looter rummaging through the trash only to have him shrug it off and kill you with a single bullet from his pistol. Granted, The Division is classed as an MMORPG-Third-Person-Shooter, an odd mix-up of gaming genres in and of itself that will come with some wonky combinations. Unlike World of Warcraft you aren’t battling giant dragons and goblins – you’re shooting regular people in Manhattan!

All in all, simply upping the number of hit points and damage an enemy has doesn’t create a challenge in an engaging way – causing backlash from the community.

Compare this to the Devil May Cry series and the recent reboot DMC…
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…a thrilling hack-and-slash type of adventure game putting you in the shoes of the demon killer, Dante.
Dante has a variety of weapons at his disposal from swords to scythes to shotguns and more – his kit was created for versatility! This enables the player to experiment with multiple combos and styles. With these weapons, the game designer can create interesting enemies to throw at the player which can only be completed in certain ways. For example, red enemies can only be defeated with demon weapons and blue enemies with angelic. As these enemies are numerous and their weaknesses narrows through the progression of the game, a engaging and creative difficulty ramp can be built – capturing player’s interest and successfully rewarding them.

To me, both higher health bars and a great battle system can be used to create great challenges in video games if executed properly! I love both of these games and spent many a night up late playing them.

Stay tuned for more difficulty rants!
Coco