Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Game Idea: Godhood

This idea is strongly focused around the (hopefully somewhat novel, though I'm not as well-read as I sometimes appear) plot, below:

In the fantasy world of Miret-Nida, the creators left behind an edict that all "caretaker deities" (of infinitely lesser power to the creators) be selected to guide and assist mortalkind with their ventures. Although blessed with fantastic power, well beyond human understanding, they are themselves mortal and eventually perish after several thousand years or through continuous, sheer exhaustion of their powers - usually a combination of both.

This is understood by all living creatures of the world, as is the prophecy that all Gods must be replaced upon death by a mortal of their choosing. Resenting that the choice of godhood is out of their hands, several evil elements plan in secret to usurp the transfer of godly power between the dying god and chosen vessel and use that channelled power to choose their own deity. These cults spring up as soon as a God is chosen and continually build their membership through the eras as their patron God edges closer to their demise. This is where you come in.

You are (kind of obviously, I suppose) the next to receive the powers of the Sun God, who is currently a quick-witted but kindly old man who has visited you since you were a child and is generally beloved among his subjects. A man that you treat almost as a grandfather. His true nature had been concealed from you until he eventually dies saving a grand city (one entirely devoted to the Sun God) and their just ruler from a mighty evil armada (one united with the God of Storms), part of an ongoing war that is the backdrop of the adventure. Despite being told of your immediate boost in power and ascension to Godhood, you instead receive a maddening burst of information and images which just as quickly disappears. It is enough to warn you about a mysterious cult and a group of assassins that are on their way to kill you in your sleep, and so you make preparations and escape your home. You head to the above big city for answers.

Now, the game itself: I'm sort of pitching it as an Action/Adventure with elements of Point & Click and RPG-esque power-gaining. You are a regular citizen of the world with no acquired martial training (though you are eventually - and quickly - taught how to use a sword) but you do have a subdued amount of divine power that the cult (your antagonists throughout the game) could not siphon from you in time. This small amount of godly power increases upon the death of cult members and the acquisition of artifacts on their persons. You discover that your power, being too much for any of the priests of the cult to handle alone (being unworthy as they are) have been channeled instead into solid gold objects - gold being the preferred conductor of sun energy. Occasionally, you'll fight monstrous bosses created through sun energy-enriched objects (such as a golden tiger statuette coming to life), and defeating them will rechannel the power used to create them into yourself giving you a huge boost.

Initially, all you have are visions which are small bursts of your godlike omniscience acting on you. Not only can you effectively predict the future with these, but they can also give you entire lessons and techniques of any kind of discipline almost instantaneously. This comes in useful during parts of the game where you suddenly need to know how to fight effectively hand-to-hand or drive a chariot, either of which would be difficult enough without trained assassins on your tail. You'll also acquire RPG-like stats, including the ubiquitous Health Points, Strength and Speed stats which raise from "regular human" to "trained human" to "superhuman" and beyond as you gain in power.

Throughout the game, you'll have your spiritual advisor (that is to say, a spirit that advises you) in the form of the previous Sun God to assist you with Godlike duties and powers and will also help somewhat in investigating where your powers went. He'll also provide much of the humor to the plot. Like a wacky ex-God ghost sidekick advisor guy. Maybe.

I'm also hoping to incorporate some Dragon Lair/Shenmue/Fahrenheit-like fast button modes for the times when you need to deftly avoid attempts on your life by various agents of the cult, using a sort of slow-motion "omniscience mode" as you predict or calculate sword attacks, arrow trajectories, precarious furnishings about to hit you (such as columns falling on you) and other disasters while you either escape or take down your pursuers.

For the overall visual style, I want to go for a sort of "Aztec at-the-peak-of-its-civilisation" feel to match all the Sun God and golden treasures narrative elements. The allusions to the enemy fleet being Spanish Conquistadors, only assisted by divine storms instead of modern technology (for the 1500s anyway), could work out pretty well too. However the setting may be moved around if the project ever becomes too much like Fahrenheit/The Indigo Prophecy (since that also used Mayan mythology). It is a fantasy world, so it wouldn't be a stretch have an Aztec city full of warriors with styles from medival England or ancient feudal Japan (since the cult assassins may end up using both). Thank gods for fantasy universes where nothing needs to be geographically logical.

Monday, January 29, 2007

My Top Ten (Part 1)

I was loathe to do this blog entry, simply because it exists in so many forms with better writers than I explaining what their favorite games are and why they were chosen. I figured these games were mostly responsible for how I approach game ideas and will probably explain a great deal about the ones I've created in the past, which is why I decided to put this list together. Like a "Behind the Scenes" feature, almost.

lly, though, in most other cases I hate lists like these. A regular player has no reason to trust my opinions more than anyone else's (especially their own), a fact that seems to go over the heads of the general population of game reviewers out there. The inception of this whole idea blog was to bring something new to the internet besides more opinions that the world of gamers couldn't care less about (and instead have game ideas that the world of gamers couldn't care less about), so I'd only recommend reading it for the background thing I mentioned above and to at least try these games if you haven't before. My advice has always been to try out any game you like the idea of, or if the graphical style grabs you or if you've been a fan of games from that series or genre in the past. Common sense, I suppose, as is telling you to rent things before buying. I'll stop insulting y'alls intelligence and move on then, why not.

A last note: I've never claimed to be one of those aficionados - "hardcore" in the collector's sense - that have played a lot of $200 games for systems that were only around for 3 months before sinking or were only released in Japan (looking at you, Castlevania X: Rondo of Blood). So keep in mind that until I've played every game that's ever existed (unlikely), this list is not final.

10. Space Crusade
Gremlin Graphics
Amiga 500+/Atari ST 520+/C64

Space Crusade was the first major Warhammer 40k game ever created that perfectly encapsulated that epic board-game of strategic warfare. You were limited to a squad of five marines (with a powerful Commander leading the charge) and were assigned missions on various creepy derelict ships or "Space Hulks" that had become host to various malevolent forces, sort of like the creepy spaceship from Event Horizon. While often generic and repetitive, these missions frequently challenged players by randomly assigning their stock of enemies over the stage, and the players could be easily taken down by approaching a force they are ill-equipped to deal with. Enemies could randomly appear in a corridor as you walked into it, or would ambush you in rooms as you passed. You had the ability to scan for lifeforms, but these lifeforms would then immediately know your position and hone in on you from all corners. Add to this Xenomorph-esque Soulsuckers (which are usually called Genestealers in WH40k), who would often drop down from just above you, and you have a game with the type of atmosphere that survival horrors and their ilk continually strive for to this day.

What I credit the most to this game was how it started my thing for strategy games, especially the squad-based ones like FFT or Vandal Hearts (both are well into my top 50, which I won't be covering any time soon). The fact that your men - though well-trained and genetically modified - were still human meant that they were frequently no match for some of the greater dangers that came your way. The only real way to survive was to act like a squad and approach danger methodically instead of charging in. Your strategy became all the more involved when you use the other two marine "chapters" (there are three in total), whom have different equipment and require a completely different approach to missions. Best of all, a friend (or two) could assume these other rival marine squads and be pitted directly against you, as you chase down each other as well as the mission objectives. Suddenly a small game (it only has 12 missions, a lot of which are interchangeable) becomes a huge game, simply through brilliant design and a desire to continually challenge the dark and unknown.

It had an expansion pack too, called The Voyage Beyond.

9. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
Sucker Punch Productions
Sony PS2


Although a militant Nintendo fanboy, I have to grudgingly pass the crown to the Sony PS2 for the previous generation of consoles. Although plagued with faults with the technology and frequent crashes and system failures (my PS2 has yet to be affected, though it lost its drive cover a while ago), its game library has always been its biggest strength. Since multi-platform games tended to look better on the other two systems, what set the PS2 apart were its uniques. No other console put quite the emphasis on Platformers and RPGs (my two favorite genres), and the number of excellent PS2 Platformers is renowned.

The first Sly Raccoon was an excellent game in its own right. Some fans still prefer it to the two sequels. Although slightly generic with simple puzzles and a slightly forced stealth element, it was a solid gaming experience with some beautiful cel-shaded graphics which they, along with the overall comic book noir style, gave it a very distinct character - always a plus for a genre inundated with soulless child-pleasers. The sequel, in my eyes, blew it away.

You follow Sly Raccoon, daring Master Thief, and his two cohorts Bentley ("the Brains") and Murray ("the Muscle") as they plan a series of robberies to prevent a group of criminal masterminds from resurrecting the antagonist of the first game. Gone are the linear, straightforward levels of the first game and replaced with massive free-form stages with various points of interest to explore. Each stage starts with a reconnaissance level with Sly spying on the said points of interest (usually the weakest point of the level, since it involves nothing but hiding and photography), and relaying the information to Bentley who forms the master plan. The rest of the level involves putting the genius heist to work through various steps, possibly by finding some way to turn off the alarms or freeing a character who will come in useful later. The level then ends with the daring heist and getaway, in which you see all of the previous stages of the plan come together wonderfully. Each of these chapters of the game is a full game experience in of itself, and there are five or six more chapters like it to follow.

8. Shadow Hearts: Covenant
Sony PS2

The thing that impressed me the most with Shadow Hearts: Covenant is how vastly it improved on the sequel. Because of the nature of video games being half artistic vision and half technological competence, a game's sequel can (and often does) end up becoming much greater than the original, something almost unheard of in the movie/book world. Although the story's creativity suffers from what is essentially a repeated tale (though SH:C does a good job tackling a completely new plot by building on the original and expanding it), the game is significantly larger with many plot twists to become a more "complete" vision of what the designer(s) had in mind for the first game. A sequel that far exceeds the original (even if the original was already excellent, as is the case here) is something I (and I suspect everyone else) always loves to see.

Without giving too much of the storyline away (it's a vast, sprawling tale that continues from where it left off in the last game) you resume the role of a Japanese boy named Yuri who is blessed/cursed (depending on who you ask) with the power of "harmonixing", which is basically taking the demonic power from creatures you defeat and using them to change shape, in a story set in the middle of World War 1. Borrowing quite heavily from Christian/Aramaic/Japanese mythology and occasionally authors such as Lovecraft, the game is like a twisted view of world history where demons and angels directly intervene with the Great War and untold horrors lurk directly beneath the dying soldiers of the Somme, waiting for the mortal world to tear itself open to let them out. Despite the apocalyptic foreboding, however, the game is also rife with humorous interchanges and memorable bit players and recurring roles.

The greatest strength of this game is the Judgement Ring, which effectively takes the stolid "mash the X button" battle systems of similar RPGs and turns them instead into challenges of skill. The damage you give and receive is based on a timing-heavy mini-game, allowing you to play it safe (clicking a wide "hit" area allows you to give normal damage) or risking it all for a critical strike (which is a much smaller "critical" band of red after the "hit" area) by pressing the X button on a spinning clock as accurately as possible. As you get better, you can change the Judgement Ring in various ways to provide greater challenges with better awards. Likewise, many of the status effects of the game will directly affect the Judgement Ring instead of the character directly, either by shrinking it, making it faster or, worse still, making the "hit" areas invisible to you.

7. Katamari Damacy/We Love Katamari
Sony PS2

A good year for video games, you might say. To be fair, this entry is actually for We <3 class="blsp-spelling-error" id="SPELLING_ERROR_29">Katamari
, since the original was never released here, but I included the original in the entry since they're practically identical (I've been told the original had better music too). Where to start with Katamari? The basic goal of the game is to roll up a "katamari" or sphere by steadily increasing its mass by hitting objects that are smaller than the katamari itself, thereby collecting them in the katamari's gravitational field (from what I can understand, though it could just be the Katamaris are sticky). As it increases in mass, it is able to pick up larger objects, which boosts its mass further still. You could start with paperclips and build up to VHS cassettes and then soccer balls and then household pets, people, trees, houses...

As well as the goofy premise, you're also provided with a set of intuitive controls regarding the control of the sphere, allowing you a range of maneuvers such as rolling it to the side or reversing the direction on the fly if you so choose. The stages are timed, forcing you to find the best route through the cluttered settings to build up the katamari to the goal height as quickly as possible, piling on the bonuses for getting it even bigger than necessary. Add to this several catchy tunes, a large dose of insane humor, a collection subquest with an inventory in the thousands and you've got something that I personally couldn't put down for weeks. But then so much has been said about Katamari Damacy and so many people have tried it already that any further exposition on my part would be moot.

6. Secret of Mana
Squaresoft (now Square-Enix)
Super Nintendo

Secret of Mana was the first ever Console RPG I ever played, so there is some element of nostalgia regarding its appointment to the sixth spot. To say I was hooked would've been an understatement.

The second of the Seiken Densetsu series of games (often just called the "Mana" series over here, due to the word "Mana" being in most of the titles of the English-language releases), Secret of Mana followed a party of three different characters as they fought an evil empire in an effort to save the world. Sort of a trite storyline by today's standards, but the 1993 version of me was blown away by the vastness of the story, as it took you all over the world in an effort to gain the powers of the Mana Spirits and prevent the resurrection of the Mana Fortress, a giant flying mechanical castle with unimaginable power. In fact, in many ways I would say this game was inspired by the Hayao Miyazaki movie Castle in the Sky, but that would probably just be me being a nerd.

Forgoing the standard turn-based RPG combat of other, slightly more famous Square titles around at the time, all the battles in Secret of Mana were real-time, meaning you had to be cautious and strike when the timing was right. Though Real-Time combat is now a popular design choice in later RPGs (most notably ChronoTrigger, which I dropped from the top ten in favor of this entry), Secret of Mana was one of the first proper Console RPGs to try it, and they nailed it perfectly. The gameplay was solid, grinding spell/weapon levels was rewarded but usually unnecessary (as it should be) and the 3-person multiplayer element made the whole experience even more fun. A perfect introduction to what would later become my favorite console genre.

OK, so, this thing's rambled on enough. If I ever get the notion to continue the list (that is to say: if, like this week, I'm unable to think of an idea in time) I'll reveal the top five games that I consider to be gaming crack. Until then, more nonsense about game ideas. Probably.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Game Idea: The Ultimate Showdown

This game idea assumes the reader is acquainted with this flash movie:

I won't go over its popularity with the internet crowd or the quality of the animation or anything like that, I'll just state that the satirical humor of the animation and song are based on the nature of the numerous internet sites that take the concept of "who out of popular culture would win against who" and debate it long past the point where it stopped being funny. Or healthy, for that matter.

But could a game version really exist? Logistically, no. There's way too many copyrights to keep track of and the sheer number of combatants of varying power, size and ability taking part (if we use all the ones in the song) would be too much for any advanced game engine (or computer processor) to cope with at the moment. But what the hell, I'll give it a shot anyway.

Essentially, the game would have to be online (simply because it wouldn't work without dozens of fanboys controlling their favorite characters on a server). That suggests something like Quake or Counterstrike, with a FPS interface and high turnover of casualties per game session. The Timesplitters series specifically is renowned for having many different character types and models - most of which are ridiculous and completely ineffective choices - competing in an FPS arena. Now here comes the many problems with this set-up (and how I've decided to tackle them):

Difference in Power - Simply put, the biggest problem is the fact that some of the participants are clearly stronger and more invulnerable than others. Take Indiana Jones, who's a pretty competent treasure-hunter and gun/whip user. Compared to Optimus Prime though, he's just a tiny squishy human. Rather than go on with reductions in height and power for the stronger characters, I've come up with a Life Expectancy Rating for each character, based on how likely the character is to survive a given "showdown" scenario.

As such, your overall score will not only factor in the the number of kills but the length of time you were able to survive. A person controlling Godzilla (who is practically indestructible compared to the other characters) would have a very high L.E.R., which means that he would be score very lowly upon surviving one game regardless of how many other characters he manages to defeat. This should dissuade power gamers (the ones that are in it for the scores and prestige) to choose the strongest characters and rule over the weaker ones. Instead, that privilege goes to the 14 year olds who are mad at their parents and want to take it out on a bunch of anonymous internet users.

Without going into too much detail about who is stronger than whom, there will be around three or more L.E.R. categories any given character could belong to. If you're playing a weaker character, therefore, you may end up with a multiple modifier to your kill count. As such, here's an estimate (since it would need to be tweaked constantly for balance) about how this modifier would work:

Playing an Overpowered Hero (Godzilla, Superman, Chuck Norris*) - x1 Modifier
Playing a Superhuman (Batman, Shaq**, Zombie Lincoln) - x2 Modifier
Playing a Competent But Entirely Human Fighter (Indiana Jones) - x3 Modifier

*This is the Internet Meme Chuck Norris, as opposed to the real one. You know, the one that has various axioms such as "Chuck Norris doesn't sleep. He waits."

**This is "Shaq Fu" Shaq, the one who knows martial arts and can fire flaming basketballs at people as seen in the (ahem) hit video game Shaq Fu.

...and so on. Weaker characters will be taken out faster, but if they can kill a couple of opponents beforehand the choice will have been worth it. Some of the weaker ones may be designated "runners", which means they'll avoid all confrontations and go for a survival bonus - which would be a fixed score based on the timer, which is also affected by the bonus modifier. For example, a five minute game could give you 3 points for surviving the full five minutes, giving a weaker player 3 x 3 = 9 points for doing nothing but evading attacks. Therefore even if the player controlling Godzilla takes out 8 other characters, he'll still lose to this runner on the score table.

Difference in Height - There will be no shrinking/growing of certain characters to match a uniform height. Instead, there will be at an alternate playing map for players using characters that are gigantic (such as Godzilla or Optimus Prime). The map would just be the map everyone else is using, just shrunk down to match scale. Similarly, all the other characters will appear on that player's map as smaller models too, making them harder to hit (but easier to kill). The technology of FPS games has progressed far enough to allow for massive character models (though there would still be massive slowdown, unfortunately) which is how these
characters will appear to everyone else. Such an obvious target would be in a lot of trouble if the whole playing force gangs up on it.

Different Fighting Styles - This would be a pretty big problem, since all the characters fight differently and would need several unique modes for all the forms of attack they're capable of. For instance, Batman could use Batgrenades, Batarangs, Grappling Hooks and Martial Arts. Shaq would use Martial Arts and Flaming Basketballs. Godzilla would have his Flame (Radiation?) Breath attack, and so on. Programming all of these would be a hassle, so it would be easier to simply give each character a ranged attack and an alternate firing mode (a hand-to-hand attack most likely). Characters who don't use ranged attacks can have a primary hand-to-hand and an alternate hand-to-hand mode. Though limiting the characters to only two attacks would be limiting their fighting potential (since Batman alone is one who is reliant on his clever gadgetry), it's the only way at the moment to cut down on the amount of memory needed to store all these different attacks.

Popularity of Certain Characters -
Can be handily solved like other games with a similar problem: Alternate skins. If two people want to play Godzilla, the second one could play in a Mecha-Godzilla skin. As long as the other character is perfectly identical in every other way (abilities, L.E.R., etc.) there shouldn't be too many disagreements - besides choosing the cooler looking skin, of course. Boundaries may have to be set though since the skins could also take up a lot of memory, so possibly a four person limit for each character would be enforced.

Finally, I'll just mention that each character would have a "Top Trumps"-esque readout for how effective a fighter they are (or how ineffective - allowing for a higher score by surviving in spite of their limited abilities) on the selection screen. Here's two examples:

Optimus Prime -
Armor Rating - HIGH (armor rating would measure immunities to attacks. Optimus wouldn't feel a regular bullet, so his armor rating would need to reflect this.)
L.E.R. - x1 (since he's so overpowered)
Size - L (so he would be on the smaller-scale playing map)

Optimus Ray - 60
Optimus Charge - 75
(These are the two attacks Optimus has: a ranged ray attack and a hand-to-hand charge. The damage they do is relative to a character with Medium armor with 100 Health. So, hitting a character with medium armor with his ray would remove 60 of his 100 HP instantly. A different armor rating would increase/decrease the damage done. Most of this data will be worked out 'behind the scenes' as it were)

Score This Session - x
Total Points Scored With This Character - x
Preference - x%
(These values will be personal to the player choosing the character. Like in Smash Bros and other fighting games, a second player viewing the account can see this player's character preferences and how good/bad he is with certain characters (Player 1 may have won a lot of games by using runners, for example). The second player can then adjust their tactics accordingly.)

Care Bear -
Armor Rating - LOW
L.E.R. - 3x
(suggesting a good runner character to use, if a little ridiculous)
Size - S (This simply refers to their size compared to human-sized characters. A small character will still use the medium-sized playing map)

Care Bear Stare - 30 (AR is N/A) (A care-bear stare does as much power to one
character as it will do to any other regardless of armor due to its magical nature. This makes the Care Bear one of the few smaller characters to damage the huge armored characters like Optimus Prime, above)
Care Bear Hug - 5 (Unlike their powerful Care Bear Stare attack, this attack is almost completely ineffective, as it requires them to hold onto an opponent long enough to give them (minimal) damage)

Score This Session - x
Total Points Scored With This Character - x
Preference - x%

This is another of those game ideas I don't expect to ever get made by anyone, ever. I'm simply using it to stretch my design-power muscles and get around all these problems the best I can. It'd still be a pretty neat project for one of these internet fanboys proficient in coding to put together though.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Game Idea: Super Mario RPG Suikoden

OK, bit of a silly idea this, but not one that's completely out the realm of possibility. Essentially, it is the combination of Nintendo's Mario RPG series (chiefly the original SNES game) and Konami's Suikoden series. Just to be clear, here are the defining gameplay elements of both series:

Mario RPG:
* Closely linked to the famous platformers in terms of characters, worlds, enemies and general graphical and musical style.
* Player Characters have triggers and tend to have powers related to the platformer games.
* In most scenarios, someone other than Bowser is responsible for the current crisis happening to the Mushroom Kingdom. Bowser is usually seen as one of those incompetent recurring bosses, and sometimes even as a Player Character.
* Crisis is usually linked to the Stars (starmen and such) and Mario is required to seek their help/guidance.

* The basic plot tends to follow a "Hero is an important member of an Empire", "Hero falls afoul of a coup of some kind on the Empire", "Hero spends rest of game finding followers to help fight said Empire", "Hero finds a headquarters to stage wars from", "One of the True Runes is found to be responsible for everything". All of these, besides the True Rune part, can be worked to fit into the world of Mario.
* 108 Characters. Some of which are important to the Plot and others are secret. Most of them are fighters you can use in your party (of six) and the rest just help out some way by selling items, leading troops or providing services for your HQ.
* Game has three separate combat modes: A real-time war strategy mode, a normal RPG attack party comprising of six characters, and a one-on-one duel that the Hero occasionally has to fight against a major enemy character (or sometimes to a friendly character to prove your worth).
* Game also follows a "rock-paper-scissors" system when it comes to warfare and duelling an opponent.

Both of these lists are actually compatible. You could theoretically therefore make a Mario RPG Suikoden game without compromising too much of either series and disappointing fans of either camp.

Because it is Mario, there will be less swords and arrows and things of that nature, which will be replaced by common Mario attacks such as using fireflowers, stomping on enemies or hitting them with hammers.

So for instance, the Suikoden war system of Arrows > Cavalry > Infantry > Arrows could be turned into Spiky Units (those with spikes on their heads, a clear indication not to jump on them) > Jumpers (like Mario, characters that jump on enemies' heads) > Hammer Units (jumpers can avoid thrown hammers, and Hammer Bros are usually vulnerable to being jumped on) > Spiky Units (since they have nothing to protect them from getting hit with hammers). There would be additional "special" units and attacks too, which fit within the above scheme but with several benefits (Mario could use a Fireflower to hit the enemy without worrying about counterattacks, for instance).

If a real-time strategy war game with entire units of hammer-wielding Goombas and Lakitus for air support sounds as awesome to you as it does to me, read on.

The plot of the game will follow the classic Suikoden blueprint: Mario is a well-regarded hero in the Mushroom Kingdom who is good friends with the current ruling monarch Princess Peach. However, some unspeakably malevolent force drops from the skies and stages a coup of Peach's Castle, kidnapping all the senior members of staff and turning the nearby Toad Town into a prison camp. Mario and Luigi barely escape from this catastrophe and must convince the otherwise apathetic neighboring kingdoms to lend their support against this new menace before it is able to gain any more ground and become truly unstoppable.

The game then follows the adventures of Mario and a group of friendly characters as he goes to various kingdoms filled with classic enemies and convinces them to help liberate the world of Super Mario from these evil extraterrestrials. As well as other Toad-populated cities, you can recruit Goomba populations, units of Koopa Troopas (though getting Bowser on your side will be a game-long hassle because of the shared animosity) and even getting the mischeivous Boos to help with their innate stealthy abilities. The player will also be exploring dungeons and the like with his adventuring party to assist potential allies with their problems, find out who these enemies are and how to fight them effectively. He'll also be taking part in various war campaigns to prevent their near-innumerable forces from taking over any more territory.

If possible (or if it becomes too hard to find 108 playable characters using the Mario series alone), other Nintendo game franchises like Zelda could be included as a "neighboring" kingdom, though it would make keeping the game coherent somewhat difficult (since Zelda characters look and act a lot different from Mario characters).

While I doubt anything like this will actually get made, I still submit that it is not impossible. Especially when you consider the original Mario RPG was made with the help of Square (now Square-Enix) and the Mario series' pattern of experimenting with genres outside of the original Platformer format. Of course, if it ever does get made it'll be by two expertly-staffed Japanese gaming giants so there's no way I'll get to work on it in any case. But I'd still like to play it someday.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Design Genres #13: Fishing Mini-Games

I don't precisely know why there's such a big focus on fishing mini-games in various titles, but I have my theories. The first is Japan's great admiration for the sport/procedure, since most of their gourmet meals (notably, various types of sushi) and exports come from fishing. I suspect there's a great deal of cultural focus on it.

The other theories tie into the games they appear in themselves. In many RPGs (and Zelda) the fishing mini-game is a mainstay and the benefits tend to be from using the fish you catch as restoratives. Depending on the game, there are also auxiliary prizes in the form of miscellaneous items fished up from the water, as well as useful prizes (like money or equipment) from fishing contests and the like.

For this update, I plan to look how the fishing subgame is handled in some sample games. In fact, since instances of this minigame are so varied and multitudinous, they're practically their own genre. Within a genre. I've separated the three "types" of fishing game I'll be demonstrating by their pacing, from slowest to fastest.

Dark Cloud 2 (SLOW) - One of the greatest factors of this amazing game, and potentially the thing that saves it from the heavy amount of randomized dungeon crawling, are the strength of the extra-curricular activities. All manner of minigames and subquests prevail in this game, and are a welcome break from the oft-times tedium of bashing your way through corridors of cartoonish enemies. While Spheda (the golf game) is undoubtedly the king among these side areas, the fishing game is excellent too.

The minigame itself is fairly slow-paced, especially when compared the action-packed dungeon floor you just cleared, and so the game emphasises on this facet allowing it to work in its favor. When a dungeon is complete, the temperamental battle music that pervaded the stage disappears and is replaced with a relaxing tune. It is at this point when all the minigames for the floor are unlocked, and the player is free to explore the floor without worrying about any dangers. The fishing game works well with this relaxed tune.

The game itself is fairly simple. You choose your rod and bait (both of which are found as treasures or bought like any other item in the game) and choose a nice spot and cast out. Then it's simply waiting a while until you have a bite, a momentary few seconds of button-mashing to fish it up and you have a fish you have various uses for. You can fry it, turning it into a healing item for when you need it. You can place it in an aquarium and breed it, or build it up for competitions. Or you can simply sell it for a cash value relative to its rarity.

For another "slower", strategic fishing minigame, see: Breath of Fire 3.

Ocarina of Time (MEDIUM) - I had to mention one of Zelda's fishing games in here. While not as in-depth as some RPG fishing games (Zelda games focus less on items that aren't crucial to solving puzzles or exploring dungeons), there are the occasional fishing minigames within the world of Hyrule that manage to capture the game's energy and peerless gameplay. I use Ocarina of Time, though the limited version as way back as Link's Awakening (the older Gameboy version, thought by many to still be the best Zelda game on any console) is still oddly compelling.

The fishing game starts slow, but then speeds up considerably once a fish is hooked. It then becomes a battle of wills with the fish, and not one you're always going to win if you don't stay on top of it. You have to follow where the fish goes to let itself tire out before reeling it in.

I suspect the Wii's Legend of Zelda, Twilight Princess, to have an even more elaborate fishing game to capitalize on the controller's motion sensing capabilities. Unfortunately my opinion on it will have to wait, as I am still waiting for a Wii to arrive (like thousands of other people..).

Suikoden V (FAST) - OK, I'll admit to this being the main inspiration for this journal entry, since I'm currently playing through this fine addition to the Suikoden series [which I may cover in a review piece if I ever get around to it] and am hooked on this otherwise superfluous minigame.

This game, unlike the other two examples, is a bit more frantic and competitive, as you're directly pitted against three of your fellow Stars of Destiny in a fishing arena of sorts, with many fish swimming around in various directions. Instead of fishing at your own pace, you need to quickly fish up as many of the bigger fish as you can as your score is measured by the total weight of your catch. To mess you up, the larger fish shadows (i.e. the ones that look like they'll be worth more points) are more often than not booby prizes, completely worthless to the competition (but are often valuable items outside the minigame). The smaller fish shadows, though, are more likely to actually be fish, giving you this risk factor as you choose either to hunt for the smaller "sure things" and let your score slowly add up or keep going for the very rare larger fish which will no doubt land you a victory if you're able to find them.

What's sort of glossed over in that description is how fun and intuitive they've made the controls. Another factor most fishing games share is their relaxing slowness, which this minigame chose to distance itself from. While I've championed the slower-pace in the Dark Cloud 2 example above, I also greatly enjoy the faster, frantic version here. Both are fun additions to otherwise fine games in their own way.

For more examples of a "faster" fishing minigame, see: Mario Party 4 (and various other Mario Party titles), where a frenzied, competitive grab for the biggest fish is also the main focus.

I guess I can't end this update without mentioning actual fishing games. The ones that focus entirely on fishing as the main game and tend to be entirely too serious about it (like most sports games come to think about it). To be frank, I don't see the point in them when perfectly functional fishing games exist inside otherwise excellent games from other, more entertaining genres. I don't have much experience with them either, to be fair, with the exception of Sega Bass Fishing for the Dreamcast. That was only so I could try out the fishing controller that came with my eBay Dreamcast bundle, however.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Design Genres #12: Console/"Japanese" RPGs (Part 2)

If you haven't done so yet, go read Part 1 of this update. Or don't, since there wasn't much new info in there.

The following are just a couple of ideas for the type of RPG character that could appear in a Console-based RPG. The characters themselves won't be too developed (that way, it would be easier to insert them in an RPG setting of my choice further down the road) but I'll be as detailed as I can with regard to powers and abilities.


Most RPGs like to play around with the concept of elements as a form of "rock, scissors, paper" (well, "rock, wind, water, fire" at least) system for sharp players to pick up on and exploit. A boss with an obvious affinity for ice therefore would be a perfect target for fire-based spells and weaponry. With this character, I'm taking that elemental theme several notches up into the crazy zone.

On your initial meeting, the character will have just completed monk-like training to use their innate powers of the respective elements in a martial art similar to the Chinese Tai-Chi, what with its focus on balances and such. Therefore, the character would be a skilled hand-to-hand fighter with various elemental spells at their disposal.

The strength of these elemental spells are boosted by wherever the character happens to be fighting: So inside a volcano it would be much easier to get to grips with your fire element. The trouble therefore being that volcano monsters are affiliated with the fire element too, which is why most of the spells for this character will be supportive (fire element spells could boost attack for instance).

As your party of heroes travel the world, the character will have opportunities to meditate around strong elemental sources. Keep in mind most of the character's training will have been around the lakes and mountain of their master's home, so visiting a glacier for the first time, for instance, will help that character unlock even more powerful Ice-like abilities.

As such, the elemental growth system for this character will be in three steps per element, with the new powers and abilities listed next to each:

1) Basic elemental mastery. The character starts with this once they have completed training and join the party. They can "equip" an element at any point (even during battle) and they gain two or three low-level spells of that element and a slight resistance to that element (though they also suffer a slight penalty to the opposing element).

2) Intermediate elemental mastery. The character will learn this during an event at some point along the first half of the game, during its "linear" stage. They gain more spells, gain a higher resistance to the element and also gain a direct bonus to statistics based on that element (fire would boost the character's attack power).

3) Advanced elemental mastery. The character will need to take a detour to a specific, "bonus" elemental dungeon and descend into its depths to discover the ultimate form of the chosen element, and meditate in front of it like with the previous levels of mastery. At this level, the character can actually assume an elemental-like appearance of whichever element they're equipped with. So with the 3rd form fire element mastery, they would become a being of living flame. Not only does this increase spells, resistances (to the point where they now absorb their element, healing them instead) and stats further, but it gives them almost godlike powers over their element, manipulating the surroundings with their willpower alone. There may even be various previously unpassable areas of a dungeon (a path covered with lava for example) that the elementalist character can now go through, allowing the player to finally reach a passed over treasure chests or the like.

Psionic Archer

This character trained as a regular archer for their local kingdom's army. At some point around their turn to adulthood, they acquired various psionic powers such as telekinesis and pyrokinesis and was able to cause much more damage with far more accurate shooting than a human would normally be capable of. However, for some reason or another, they can only effectively do this with smaller objects like the arrows they shoot as opposed to swinging a sword around or a giant rock with the power of their mind. Their godlike aim allowed them to be promoted all the way up to the monarch's (or Duke's or whatever) personal sniper. Depending on if the boss they work for is evil or not, they either tire of assassinating innocent people for the evil boss and attempt to defect to the heroes or they're assigned to help the heroes that are working for the benevolent monarch.

Their basic skills involve being able to hit targets accurately and in areas of maximum damage. They acquire "weak point" experience by attacking certain classes of enemies: For humans, the "weak point" is already given (since the character has vast experience with shooting human targets). Ditto for local beasts. Monsters like dragons or elementals, being rarer and much less human-like, require quite a few encounters before a weak point is learned. Or, the character can simply read up on a creature class's weak point by reading books at various points of the adventure.

Thier psionic abilities are where they become truly formidable. Besides general telekinesis to improve their aim to near-unmissable accuracy, they can also extend it to several arrows fired at once. So if they fire three arrows, the arrows would fly off in different directions but would converge on a single target with the character's telekinesis. Pyrokinesis would set the arrows on fire shortly before impact, doing additional damage. The character could also psionically move the arrow while it is still inside the enemy, doing further damage. Those last two abilities would work with a trigger, meaning the player would have to quickly press a button between the arrow being fired and the arrow hitting its target to set it alight. The player would have to press the button again for the short duration between when the arrow embeds itself in the target and when it vanishes (since non-crucial items like loose arrows don't stay on the screen for long)
for the next damage bonus.

As the character's mental mastery over their arrows continue, they might be able to do even cooler stuff, like send an arrow into the future by a few rounds so they can focus a massive attack on the enemy the moment it lets its guard down. So for instance, if an enemy's pattern is to block twice and then attack (leaving it defenceless), the psionic archer can fire arrows into the future in the two guarding rounds and attack with one of the other psionic abilities for the third round, hitting the enemy three times when it is at its most vulnerable. They could also fire an explosive shrapnel arrow straight up, and psionically focus on all the shrapnel shards to converge on the target. They might even be able to target an enemy's equipment or coinpurse and bring the arrow attached to it back, effectively stealing the item (though there would be a size limit).

To be honest, the folk that work on D&D modules are always cooking up new characters based on the flexible d20 rules that govern the game. As such, it would be far easier to design a unique character set once a ruleset is established (especially when considering damage and defence stats and things like distance). The two ideas above could be configured to work with D&D or any Console RPG, but if I ever design more characters I think I'll either have to use an existing ruleset for the character to adhere to (or bend the rules of) or create my own system. That way, not only will the characters have cool-sounding (or at least in my head they are) abilities and whatnot on paper (or... internet text.. whatever), but they could also be implemented to work in an actual game scenario.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Design Genres #12: Console/"Japanese" RPGs (Part 1)

That's enough holiday procrastination for the time being methinks.

There is an inherent danger when promoting your idea of a Console RPG on the internet. That's because almost every internet nerd everywhere has their own idea for a Final Fantasy-esque RPG. There are various toolsets all over the 'net for just this purpose. Instead, for this Design Genres, I'll just focus on one of my favorite aspects of this genre: Jobs.

Now, I don't just mean the games that allow job-switching and base the game's main strategy and problem-solving on which jobs for which bosses [something that is incredibly hard as a designer to balance by the way. If you have a truly diverse range of powers to choose from, a boss can end up being ridiculously easy or ridiculously difficult if the right/wrong jobs are equipped respectively. Incidentally, I've decided to start using square brackets for when I go off on a tangent like this.] but simply how a character's profession in an RPG that tends to focus on the character's personality itself rather than any predetermined generic fantasy role.

For instance, a fighter template is simple enough. Uses many different types of weapons, can equip armor, high attack power, low (or non-existent) magical power and so forth. The original D&D rules, the basis of many of today's RPGs both Japanese and Western, expanded the fighter template out somewhat by including offshoots like Barbarian (sacrifices high defence for more attack power), Paladins (limited amount of clerical power) and combinations with other classes like Mage or Thief. Eventually these classes were expanded further still to account for any kind of character, be they an evil warlord (various intimidation techniques and strategies that include unscrupulous tactics like sacrificing your own men to do the most damage to your opponent) or a dashing swashbuckler (uses all sorts of charm/humiliation techniques to overcome the opponent's greater fighting skill). Like any DM will tell you, this kind of specialization is the key to making a well-rounded player character, complete with weaknesses and strengths to play to.

While fighters and healers are sort of omnipresent in every RPG (due to them being critical in any combat strategy) and subsequently fulfill the vocations of the main character and main heroine respectively more often than not [which also explains why the plots are always stereotypically centered on the tough, good-hearted rebel falling for the kind, gentle princess], the other player characters are free to follow whatever role they wish, albeit with limited usefulness depending on the current situation. For instance, magic-users tend to vary in power from game to game (or sometimes within the same game, since they often take a while to "power up" to their full potential) and, likewise, thieves aren't that useful to a game unless there are a lot of items to steal, chests to unlock or traps to uncover.

These jobs can get weirder still. A series like Final Fantasy has a number of "unique" career choices, such as a Blue Mage (a magician who can learn enemy magic, but only if they survive it when it is performed on them) or Dancer (someone who can distract the enemies with various status-inducing dances). The mysterious Mime/Mimic can copy anyone's last attack, creating all sorts of opportunities to repeat difficult to master abilities with ease. These jobs usually surface in the job-switching titles mentioned above, like FFIII, FFV, FFX-2 and FF Tactics, and can turn a difficult encounter into a breeze if you prepare for it right.

For some reason, many Console RPG characters use guns. And they're nearly always the ones built up to be incredibly cool, dispatching huge monsters with a casual, over-the-arm shot or a flurry of bullets. While somewhat out of place in most RPG universes (though there's always an evil empire that seems to use thousands of guns against your swords and axes come to think of it), I cite it simply as a demonstration of how a character's fighting style reflects that character's personality and actions in the downtime.

The intention of this update was to introduce a few ideas for these idiosyncratic and highly stylistic fighting-styles and the accompanying characters that use them, but this update's gone on long enough. So I'll make this a two-parter.