Category Archives: Weekly Games

Pick Your Poison: Status Ailments

Knees weak, palms sweaty, blood on your shirt- poisoned spaghetti.

You take a step- green flash. Another step- green flash. Suddenly your thief is unconscious while in the middle of the dungeon.

Status ailments are one of those really cool things that can be implemented in games that will always annoy your players to hell and back. It forces them to actually think about their own well-being and stop- Antidote Time. Mainly due to not actually being able to feel pain in video game (Physical pain. As for emotional pain- maybe), just throwing enemies at your player gets rather boring after a while, so things like poison gas clouds, pits of quicksand (be careful not to lose your handcarts), or flame-spewing pipes are different ways to harm your player while not necessarily  dropping them into combat.

Of course, status ailments during combat is also a fun way to kill your player. Poison aside, there’s the good ol’ slow status, rendering your players helpless as hordes of enemies line up to smack them.

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You can probably tell things didn’t work out very well.

Of course status ailments can also be added to players’ arsenals too, to give those enemies a taste of their own medicine, or vice versa. Nothing’s more relaxing than slowing a room of enemies down to a snail’s pace all while chopping them down one by one.

 

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Things got kinda busy, but here I am. Kevin out.

No OSHA Compliance: Cliffs, Pits, and Ledges

People in both the past and future really must’ve had a hard time keeping their kids safe from ledges, since a lot of times they just aren’t there. Or did someone just happen to remove all the railings in the general area? Well either way, workplace safety wasn’t on a lot of people minds I guess.

In addition to keeping an eye on your enemy, player also must pay attention to their health. Sometimes, there another thing to keep track of that’s throw in: the battlefield itself. In this post, ledges and the like.

Sometimes a giant wall (visible or invisible) just won’t get the job done (or make any sense in the setting) and this is where pits and ledges and cliffs come into play. In real life, you wouldn’t want to jump down a hole without knowing where it’s going right? It offers a more “dangerous” (I don’t really have the correct word right now, Walmart’s out of stock) barrier than some static brick wall, since if you fall down a hole, it’ll probably hurt.

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Make sure to take into account the sliding when you try to stop

This is also where you can fufill the “dangerous” aspect of ledges. Damaging or outright killing the player character as a way to say “Hey, don’t go here”. As said earlier, these dangerous ledges can affect gameplay by punishing players too focused on one aspect of the game, whether it be the enemies, or their health, if the players aren’t wary of their surroundings they might fall off the edge or step into a trap. Platformers being the most obvious example, some non-platformers include Hyper Light Drifter (above), Bastion, and Lost Planet 2.

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Falling off a ledge is just a simple setback for the Tenno…

Sometimes the game is full of ledges and some other times having the character die from a simple fall doesn’t make sense. Whatever the reasons, in this case ledges aren’t necessarily deadly, but turned more into a kind of nuisance players to try to avoid (ex: Mario Kart games). These kinds of ledges simply take the fallen player and put them back on the map after a short delay, which then could have them get killed or lose 1st place.

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…who always land on their feet

In the game pictured above, Warframe, when falling off the various ledges of the map, the screen goes black and resets the player back at the last spot they stood at before falling off, playing the landing animation as if they fell from a great height, but entirely unscathed.

Either type still allows for the player to make errors, but one simply carries out the effects (partial or full) of falling off very high ledges. Both serve as a way to tell players “Watch Your Step” much better than an invisible wall can.

Oh boy, ‘ledges’ doesn’t even sound like a word to me anymore.

-Kevin

KIA: Killed in Animation- Healing

Sometimes you can’t inhale a thousand carrots and apple pies in a split second, or down tens of health potions in one go like some other heroes can. Sometimes, you have to take a break from the action to inject yourself with some green syringe or spray some kind of herbal extract on your face. Then there are those times where the action doesn’t give you a break to heal and remorselessly slaughters your character when they try to.

It’s a nice touch of realism, but if it’s only just for that then it’s rather pointless- you’re better off going with the whole inhale-six-roast-pigs route like in Skyrim. This isn’t just limited to healing alone, it could apply actions like using a lever or getting up. These little animations that leaves gaps in your defense encourage (or force in some cases) players to be aware of more than just the enemy, they’ve got to be aware of their health too. In addition, it could be a case of timing as well.

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You probably shouldn’t heal right next to an enemy

You wouldn’t try to heal in the middle of a crowd of zombies, right? That newly regenerated health would be taken away faster than the computer gives it to you.

There are of course, other ways to have your character take a break from going guns blazing. Take for example Warframe‘s method, if you don’t have healing abilities, you can always craft some healing items… that when used are placed on the ground and emit 5 pulses of healing energy to any player near it. It’s great for defense missions, since you’ll be stationary, but also makes your player take cover in a more mobile mission while still allowing them to fight back.

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Comes in 4 fun flavors: Health, Energy, Shields, and Ammo!

You could even just go with more mix-and-match ways for the player to recover health. Lost Planet 2‘s healing system required the player to hold down a button to heal, that also reduced movement speed and made them unable to fight back. Combined with it’s rather fragile characters (no super soldiers or legendary heroes here).

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The green glow on you means it’s working

Whatever the game, if there’s a healing mechanic there’s always ways you can tweak it to fit the game to add in challenge. Of course you can also just opt to have your players hide behind a chest-high wall and wait out that pesky red filter on their screen.

Well, I guess that’s enough of that. Kevin out.

Board Changer: Keeping You On Your Toes

So you’re playing a match-3 game like Puzzle & Dragons, and you get to the boss. The fight is going smoothly then- wait, what this? They’ve changed some of the orbs on the board!

Combat in PAD is based around the puzzle aspect of the game, where matching orbs is equivalent of attacking with your team. When a board change comes along, it can throw you off, for example the picture below.

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Left: What you see after matching. Right: What you see after the enemy’s turn.

This particular boss not only changes your board, but also blinds you. Changing the board is a relatively cheap trick on the computer’s part (but not the cheapest, especially for PAD), but also keeps your players attentive, since you just messed up their plans. Lots of times, it’s not necessarily a big deal, but there are also orbs that hurt the player if matched. Example: Poison orbs. You’ll either need lots of health to take the hit or match up some heart orbs to counteract the effect.

A really easy way to throw a wrench into a player’s plan, board changing can catch you off guard if you’re not prepared and can even cause you to lose if you’re not prepared.

Ace Up Their Sleeve: Enemy Specific Perks

A lot of times, if you pit a player character against an enemy, both with equal stats and equipment, the player will almost always win due to being controlled by an actual human being instead of the computer and a set of code. One of the ways to more or less even the odds is to give the enemies special perks.

A notable example of a game using this method for balancing is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Unlike the previous installment in the series, the random bandits and marauders across Skyrim don’t have their equipment scale to the player’s level, which makes sense as it would be rather strange for small-time highwaymen to possess equipment much better than the Empire’s Legion.

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Not a very intimidating bunch after killing dragons and yet…

At the other end, a decently high level player can easily be killed by a bandit chief wielding a rusty iron battleaxe for some strange reason. Partly for realism and practicality, giving enemies these ‘Extra Damage to Player” perks prevents one from running around slaughtering bandits across the land and selling their armor for easy profit. Of course back to the previous point, getting killed by an iron axe is rather shameful and frustrating for high level characters, especially ones that are practically wearing dead dragons. This is kind of relieved by having different types of bandits, with the really weak ones dying with so much as a breeze blowing on them to the tanky chiefs who can take a greatsword to the face multiple times.

It could be called an unfair advantage, but could you really say that if you’re the human here? Special perks for enemies isn’t the best solution- I certainly don’t have any alternatives to offer- but it works fine.

Village Militia or Skilled Commando?

The generic untrained mook or the experienced veteran? This question is always there in games for both the enemy and the player. This is no different for Dungeon of the Endless, with it’s collection of heroes and monsters the player will encounter on their runs.

As mentioned in my previous post, healing and leveling up is achieved through the use of Food, with the cost of both scaling up with the heroes’ level. As with normal RPGs with each new character level comes increased stats and new abilities. Three main categories for heroes exist: Crew, Prisoners, and Natives.

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Crew and Prisoners focus on “quality” defensive and offensive roles respectively, and leveling is mid to high cost for them. Native focus on the “quantity” side, having low costs and being generally lackluster until they’re at higher levels, which then they can fill a number of jobs instead of focusing on one role.

Sometimes when encountering a hero in the dungeon, hiring them doesn’t necessarily mean better chances of success, as more heroes potentially means splitting up healing. This is emphasized in situations when they might be spread throughout the floor, dividing up not only the player’s Food stock, but also their attention.

When it comes to enemies in games, there are two extremes of having endless amounts of weak monsters overwhelming the player, or bosses which can just as easily (and more quickly) kill the player. Most games, DotE included, fall somewhere in the middle leaning one way or the other. The hardest part of creating enemy difficulty is probably finding the right balance of the number of mobs and how they individually work. DotE plays it safe with having the player combat groups of skilled enemies.

Floor 1 starts you off with the waves of enemies being a handful of weakling bugs or crystals, but slowly escalates into larger groups of more specialized module-destroyers or hero-killers and then into small armies of some mixture of them all. There’s even the popular “summoner” enemy in DotE, carrying out their task by breaking down doors to call in more waves.

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The “quality” enemies in games really sort of force players to prioritize and strategize when it comes to handling groups of enemies, focusing on those that buff or heal other monsters before taking on the smaller one. “Quantity” throws players in for a tedious grindfest of players going through the motions of killing the same monster over and over again, which eventually leads to player boredom. That’s not to say using only special enemies will prevent boredom or easy difficulties, but each game has to determine it’s own way of doing things, and DotE does its thing well.

-Kevin

 

There’s Never Enough Food

One of the most basic mechanics of Real Time Strategy games is resource management: food, metal, wood, gold, units, and whatever it is, there’s never enough. The constant state of supply-not-meeting-demand forces players to balance their production in order to fulfill their goals or objectives while maintaining enough on-hand in emergencies is what creates some of the tension and difficulty of these games.

This week I’ll be looking at an interesting game called Dungeon of the Endless, which describes itself as an “Old-School Pixel-Art Squad-Based Adventure Tower-Defense Roguelike-Like Role-Playing Strategy Game”. DotE blends a limited squad of up to four heroes with the resources of: Food, Science, Industry, and Dust (abbreviated by FIDS, or variations of) with other mechanics usually found in other games like tower defense and traditional RPGs. The entire game’s difficulty relies on the classic resource management aspects of an RTS integrated with more small-scale game types like RPGs and Tower Defense.

2015-01-21_00001Let’s get to the FIDS breakdown.

Food:Heroes require food to heal during fights, which usually costs a small unchanging amount, but can easily spiral out of budget, especially during a tough fight. Reflecting RPGs, one must level them up for better stats and abilities, which requires the player to use up upwards of hundreds of units of food. This costs increases with each level, raising questions on whether leveling up now is currently worth it, especially when you’re in a tight spot.

Industry: Used for building modules, which is divided into 2 types: major and minor. Major modules grant buffs or produce FIS, while minor modules act as the “towers” from a normal Tower Defense, attacking enemies or giving buffs to heroes in the room. building major modules however, need a little time to decide which one to build, as new major modules have increased building costs, so players cannot just build FIS modules everywhere due to the build cost vs the resource output.

Science: Every now and then, players come across an Artifact, which serves as a way to upgrade or research newer and better modules, with each project taking 3 turns to finish unlocking the chosen module. This 3 turn wait for the desired module is yet another decision making progress, as more than one of them might be needed like having to choose between getting a better Food Module or a minor module that lowers enemy defenses, allowing your heroes to defeat them faster.

Dust: Dust is special, it is the only resource to not carry over from floor to floor, it is only gained by opening rooms which then have a chance of giving Dust. Dust is used to power rooms, and in turn, power module to keep them running. Players must take care when powering rooms, because going to the next turn usually spawns enemies in the unpowered rooms. These enemies will usually go after the heroes, their modules, or the crystal they must protect. There will be few times where Dust is plentiful enough to power an entire floor, especially in the later levels.

DotE does not use a currency resource like gold, instead the FIDS themselves double as currency. Merchants can be found on occasion when opening doors, where they will deal in one of the FIDS for buying or selling equipment for your heroes. Spending FIDS in this way is generally recommended when you have an abundance of that particular resource they deal in or you have extra items you can trade in with. These can provide much needed items for getting through the dungeon or even resources during a severe shortage.

The interplay of classic RTS resources in DotE with other genres’ mechanics provide a challenging yet enjoyable experience that swiftly brings about the consequences of players’ decisions to where it can get to the point that simply opening one too many doors can result in a game over. This is captured succinctly with the game’s phrase “What’s behind the door?”

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That’s it for now

-Kevin

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