Thursday, January 29, 2009

Joint account idea

As the world spirals into recession, I've been thinking of some ways that would allow MMO companies to make the cost of their services more appealing to the penny pinchers (like myself).

My idea is to have a joint account, where two people with separate logins share the same MMO account. Both players can be logged in at the same time and be playing different characters, but they share the same storage and gold. If the game had limited character slots, then that would be shared as well. The cost of the subscription or the upfront cost of the account would be slightly higher than what it would be for one person, but a lot less than the cost for two people. For example, for WoW you would pay a $20 US sub fee instead of $15.

I think this kind of deal would be very appealing to couples who are both gamers. Who knows, it may even bring them closer together :)

I don't think that this idea would be too much of a target for abuse, because it would require having complete trust in the person you were sharing with. This would hopefully eliminate the majority of random internet people sharing accounts to save money.

There is potential for a customer service nightmare, especially if couples separate or friends split up, but this could be circumvented with the option to split the account at any time for a small fee (of course). The gold would be split evenly and the items would go to the account that initially placed them in storage.

Honestly, I think this idea would work, and would be very popular. I'll add it to the pile of great idea's that will never see the light of day (it's a very big pile)...

Teh 100th post

Woot, finally got there!

I was going to say something intelligent about blogging milestones, but honestly I'm just amazed that Melf and I made it to 100 posts.

Now for a funny fact. Did you know I originally named this blog "Da Teh Leetsauce Ninjazor" (seriously), but then later on decided against it. Plus the URL looked a little funky:

Probably for the best ;)

Cheers to everyone who reads this blog.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Achievements - the irony of the gaming industry

I'm not sure what the opposite of an achievement is, but the gaming industry has certainly reached one with their willy-nilly adding of 'achievements' into every game released these days.

This fellow is suggesting that achievements are the best thing since sliced bread and can be added to most any game of any sort in any way to make it more fun.

I can not begin to express what pure essence of fail that sentiment is. 'Achievements' in their standard implementation are awful game design, rewarding idiotic tasks that every single player will achieve, usually accidentally while failing at the actual game itself. They're not fun, instead bringing out some obsessive-compulsive-addictive, completely ugly side of all of us.

That's not to say that achievements couldn't be fun in certain ways. I for one used to set goals for myself in games long before achievements became popular - complete on the hardest difficulty, without dying, with weak characters, solo, without anything beyond the basic weapons, etc - the purpose of this was to challenge myself, since overcoming the challenges was fun. There are a precious few achievements similar to those I've listed above in modern games. The other 95% are meaningless drivel that present absolutely no challenge and just aren't fun.

Cardinal rule of game design #38: if the achievement can eventually be obtained by a blindfolded monkey mashing the keyboard/mouse/controller, it's a crap achievement. Bad, bad developer, now go and stand in the corner.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jonathan Blows

So, I've just come across these two interviews with Jonathan Blow, the creator of Braid.

This guy seems to be the master of saying a lot without really saying anything at all. After reading this giant wall of text, I can sum up his position with "people focus too much on making games fun, without giving them meaning".

So what? Games are supposed to be fun. I know it's in vogue right now, but I really don't give a foozle's right nut whether or not the latest blockbuster from my favourite AAA developer has ethical quandaries, or veiled political commentary, or completely invents some obscure new type of gameplay. All I care about is that I enjoy my time playing it.

I haven't played Braid. I don't have a 360. When Braid is released on PC, I will at least try the demo. And I will probably like it, and buy the full version. In a similar way to the way I liked World of Goo, an indie game of comparable fame/fortune/critical acclaim. It gave me several hours of fun, and I felt like I got my money's worth. Did it change my life? No. Was it in the top 10 most enjoyable games I've ever played? No. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely.

In summary: just because your game has meaning doesn't mean that I'm going to enjoy it, which is the primary purpose to playing a game. Just because you're an indie developer who's released one good game doesn't mean you're an expert on game design.

P.S. I don't harbor feelings of hostility towards this fellow like the title implies, it was just too good to pass up :p

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Village of the LANed

Just recently I went with a mate to visit his grandfather in a retirement village (nice word for a nursing home). I really hate those places. To me it feels like a bunch of old people waiting around to die. The whole time I was there, I couldn't help thinking how much better it would be if the entire place was LAN enabled. It would be like one giant LAN party. How awesome would it be playing network or MMO games with the 100 other old folks in the place? I think gaming would be the ultimate retirement past time. You don't have to worry about going to work or preparing meals. You can just play games with your mates until you die (seriously). Who knows, the mental challenge might even prolong their lives.

As the gaming generation gets older, I really hope this becomes a reality. I'd certainly look forward to being shipped off to the old folk's home if it was just one big LAN party. I'm sure my family would be grateful too ;)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Universal Gaming Subscription Initiative

"I had a dream. The value of all video gaming entertainment was made equal."

My idea is that you pay for one subscription fee (e.g. $20 a month) and you can choose whatever MMO game you want to play. You don't need to have purchased the game before hand (i.e. no upfront fee), you just pick your game and download it if necessary, then play. The download client would work very similar to how Steam works at the moment (including DRM). You would have one account and all games would be included. At the end of the month your subscription fee would be divided between the different gaming companies depending on the percentage time you played their game for that month. For example: If you play WoW for 15 hours and Guild Wars for 40 hours in the month, 27% of your $20 would go to Blizzard and 73% would go to ArenaNet.

I think this type of pricing model would be very appealing for the casual gamer. They wouldn't feel locked into having to play the same MMO all the time. They could check out new games without having to flip a large upfront fee.

The ease of game swapping would cause increased competitiveness between MMO companies. They would be forced to provide incentives like new content and special events in order to hold onto their gamers. The general MMO gaming experience would ultimately be improved.

Game companies would also benefit from this pricing model. There would be no need for demos anymore. The costs for distribution and marketing of their game would be greatly reduced. Gamers would be encouraged not to do illegal in-game things which would lead to an account banning, as an account ban would mean being locked out of all games for at least a month (all longer depending on the severity). It would also open the doors for smaller game companies, allowing them to compete with market giants.

The difficulty I foresee, would be getting such an initiative off the ground. The industry fat cats would definitely not want to share their subscription fees with the smaller independent companies. It would also be difficult getting a bunch of competing companies to join forces under the one pricing model :(

Oh well, I guess I can always dream...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Left 4 Dead review

Look at that, I haven't posted in so long that I got bumped off the main page by Crimson's various ramblings. We can't let the average post quality be diminished for any longer, so here I am back again! Also possibly related, I had to work like a dog throughout Nov-Dec to submit my PhD thesis (about something boring) and accordingly didn't have much time to post, only to troll other people's blogs as usual :p

Anyway, Left 4 Dead. I have been playing it. It is 9 kinds of awesome as I mentioned previously. Reasons:

1) Awesome post-apocalyptic setting with lots and lots of zombies.

2) You get to PLAY zombies, not just kill them. And not the shambling braaaaaiiiins ones. The super-duper, special powers, fly screaming above the roof-tops, car-throwing, face-munching, uber zombies. This is so much fun that I have been known to switch teams when it's my turn to play the humans, except my computer loads faster than most which sometimes leaves no people on the human team, causing the zombies to automatically win :/ Anyway, zombies are awesome.

3) The 'Quick Match' feature. This saves you the typical FPS mini-game of searching for a server with an adequate ping, the right game type, right number of players, etc. At first I thought it was crummy because sometimes it didn't find me games, and so I discovered how to access the actual server browser usually included with Valve games (in case you're wondering, find the developer console under options, enable it, and then hit '~' and type 'openserverbrowser'). I then realised that a lot of the servers were simply full because there are a ton of people wanting to play this game, and also realised that the Quick Match feature was finding suitable games a damn sight faster than I could.

Long story short: after loading the game, you can be in a PvE or PvP game with literally 2 clicks, and zero dicking around.

4) The game design is awesome. The game revolves around the Survivors working together as a team, because the Zombies get some crazy powers that can easily incapacitate a lone survivor foolishly wandering off on their own. I have never, ever, played a game that promoted co-operative play so well.

The raw power of the Zombies creates a lot of tension. In one game Crimson and I were gunning for the achievement in which you complete a campaign on the hardest difficulty. This is no mean feat, and we were hobbling along to the rescue helicopter at the very end when Crimson was incapacitated by a horde of salivating brain-eaters. I was almost at the rescue helicopter, and although the thought of leaving him as bait to allow me to get away safely did occur, I instead plowed through the horde, threw a pipe bomb to distract them, helped him up and guarded his noob arse all the way to the rescue chopper. He was practically in tears with gratitude over voice chat. It was an emotional rollercoaster for us all.

5) Oh yeah - voice chat included in game. Gotta love it (except when you're paired with 12 year olds, which is embarrassing and leads to them quickly being muted).

6) It's not like a regular FPS. I can tell because I suck horribly at most FPS's, but in this game I'm fairly good, despite my sucky aiming skills and reflexes. Reason? A lot of the game is point-blank, there's very little bunny hopping possible, and it's pretty much all tactics on a slightly higher level than who-can-quick-draw-the-fastest.

7) The PvE campaign is really well done, thanks to multiple difficulty levels, the unpredictability of the AI director, some awesomely designed levels and scripted events, and the struggling-to-survive feeling that the game inspires. There is no story thrust into your face, but should you care the various writings etched on the walls provide some answers.

8) It's very hard to get lost. Heading into a new area, you have this oh-shit-am-I-going-the-right-way feeling, but you end up getting to where you need to go (there are shorter and longer ways of course - the point is that you don't need a detailed knowledge of each level to be able to play well).

9) The learning curve is very shallow. There are 4 types of weapons in the game (pistol, rifle, machine-gun and shot-gun), which can be upgraded as the level/campaign progresses by finding a stash along the way (ie dual pistols, auto shot-gun, etc). But only 2 weapons (pistol and one other) can be carried at a time, which limits the number of things you have to know the function of to be able to enjoy the game (compare this to an MMO).

The choice open to you at any given time is then usually shoot, melee attack, or move (there are other, less frequent options such as throwing a bomb or using a medkit). The Zombies are fairly similar but have even less options open to them. But there is plenty of skill and complexity involved in using these in the right ways at the right times. Simple and complex at the same time.... what all game designers strive for, but few achieve.

10) The PvP is perfectly balanced, as I mentioned previously . Swapping teams means that it doesn't matter if one team is more powerful than the other - it all becomes completely fair, which allowed the designers to clearly focus on the fun and not get bogged down in the details.

11) There are lots of little tricks to master in the game, that aren't required to win unless you're up against a very good team. For example, each area that features a massive zombie rush usually has a nearby location to shelter in that is easier to defend than others. A Hunter can run through fire (which kills them fairly quickly), but if they pounce a survivor their hits will do double damage. Propane cannisters sometimes found across levels can stun the ever-feared tank. Hunters who leap from rooftops get extra damage for the fall, and this can be maximized by aiming upwards before you leap. There are just so many little tips and tricks that you pick up, which help add to the depth of the game, but aren't so intrusive as to give it a steep learning curve. Extremely well done.

12) And finally, the fear. When you first play this game, if you're the type who scares easily at horror movies, you will get scared. The zombies come fast, unexpectedly, are rendered in fantastic graphics by the game, and scared the living shit out of my girlfriend, which was hilarious. I must admit that even when I first started playing the game, I was hesitant to proceed at more than a snail's crawl because the atmosphere was so bloody foreboding. This is a good thing :) Unfortunately I have been de-sensitized to all the gore and such after a fair amount of play-time, but on the plus side I should be pretty good to go when the inevitable zombie apocalypse actually hits Earth.

Well, I said it was 9 kinds of awesome, and as you can see above, it's even more than that. The game was an instant classic for me, and makes a great, casual change of pace compared with my typical MMO fare. It's available on Steam for US$50, although I managed to snag it on sale for US$37.50 (both of these work out much cheaper than the retail cost in Australia, although I gather that in other countries retail is more competitive). There's also a Valve 'complete pack' for $100 which includes pretty much everything of note that Valve have done to date, which is ridiculously good value.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Review: Defense Grid

Ever since my early Starcraft days, I've been a big fan of tower defense type games. Desktop Tower Defense, provided a nice lunchtime activity, but I've always been on the lookout for something more solid.

Defense Grid: The Awakening is a highly advanced tower defense game with stunning graphics. I purchased it through Steam during the boxing day sales for $14.95 US, but it usually retails for $19.95 US.

The basic premise of any tower defense game is to prevent waves of units from getting from point A to point B. You do this but creatively constructing mazes of towers, which slowly eliminate the units. Eliminating units provides resources which allows you to build more towers. The units will follow the path you create through your maze, but if you block them they either attack or simply walk through the towers. There are usually multiple tower types which perform different functions. Strategic placement of the towers is essential to achieving victory.

In Defense Grid there are ten tower types, each of which can be upgraded 3 times:
  1. Gun: good bang for your buck
  2. Inferno: AoE type damage, but ultimately weak versus single units
  3. Temporal: slows down the speed of the units
  4. Concussion: another AoE weapon which can fire in all directions at once
  5. Meteor: a long-range slow firing high damage tower that comes with a price tag
  6. Laser: high damage to single targets, but expensive
  7. Cannon: long-range heavy damage, but can't attack up close
  8. Tesla: causes more damage the longer it charges
  9. Missile: an anti-air missile weapon (yes they have flying units)
  10. Command: a tower that increases revenue per monster killed and reveals stealth within its radius
There are many unit types in Defense Grid and they all require a different strategy to defeat. The game contains a 'story mode' which slowly introduces you to the different towers and unit types. I was able to complete the entire story campaign in a little under 12 hours. The last mission was by far the hardest, which took me about 15 tries and 2.5 hours all up.

The game has excellent replayability with almost all missions supporting multiple challenge modes, which include:
  • Story (need to complete this one first)
  • Story Challenge
  • Resource Limit (e.g. you only have 20k of spending)
  • Tower Limit (e.g. you can only build 20 towers)
  • Grinder (they just keep coming till something gives)
  • Practice (you can't lose!)
Defense Grid is linked into the Steam achievement system, which provides for even more of a challenge. I tried for the 'Gun Crazy' achievement last night, which reads: "Beat an advanced mission with only Gun towers". A lot harder than it sounds, believe me! There are 57 achievements in total.

Every time you complete a mission the game gives you rank in comparison to all other players in the world. This provides for another element of challenge to the game. I usually end up around the 2000 mark, but every so often I break the sub 100s.

Defense Grid was created by Mark Terrano, the lead designer of Age of Empires II, and for $20 makes for one hell of an awesome little game. Perfect for filling the gaps between MMOs and general time wasting. The Steam metascore for Defense Grid was 81 /100, but I'd happily give it 88. Definitely worth the price.

Monday, January 5, 2009

What have I been up to?

Well Xmas and New Years... obviously, in which I strangely didn't feel like blogging much. Spent my holidays playing games, drinking and going fishing. Sometimes all three at the same time ;)

Steam had a boxing day sale for all their games, which largely caught my eye. Melf thinks I've been putting the kids of the devs at Steam through college with my spending habits lately and I'm almost inclined to agree. I purchased another 5 games games in the Steam sale, which were:
  • Defense Grid: The Awakening - $15
  • Bioshock - $5
  • Ultimate Doom - $1
  • Doom 2 - $1
  • Bejeweled - $1
I probably shouldn't have mentioned the last 3, but meh... I like the old games. Actually the Doom package included the 'Master Levels', which I had never seen before and provided a few good hours of entertainment. It's quite funny playing a game that was designed for 800 * 600 resolution on a 1680 * 1050 monitor in full screen mode. Here's a screen shot I took (click to enlarge):

Luckily my computer was just able to handle it at an acceptable frame rate ;) I must admit, going from TF2 to Doom 2 and then back again was some what of an experience. Put your hand up if you're thankful for video game evolution?


I spent last weekend having a LAN over at Melf's house playing Left 4 Dead, TF2 and Guild Wars. L4D is a bucket load of fun (and zombies). If you haven't checked it out yet, I highly recommend it. TF2 is the ultimate PvP game, which is right up my alley... if only they could convert it's leetness into an MMORPG somehow...

So all in all it was a good holidays. I'll do a proper review of Defense Grid when I've finished playing it. It's by far the best tower defense game I've ever seen. Don't worry I'll spare you my Doom 2 review... for now ;)