Saturday, March 31, 2007


Yeah, I haven't really been keeping up with the weekly blog update, but that's because I've been working on Design Documents for both the Simpsons RPG idea and the Hammerspace idea. Expect to see both sometime later this evening. Be warned: They're around 6000 words each and rising.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Online Design Documents

Update: I finished Final Fantasy XII at last. I guess my comment referring to a giant dragon boss with a dozen healthbars in the last update occured to me unconsciously from a boss in FFXII called Yiazmat: A bigass dragon that takes several hours of fighting just to whittle down its massive HP count. I guess it's this obsession with finishing everything that can be done with a game that makes me reluctant to try MMORPGs, since I'd be stuck in an endless loop of conquering every little bit of new content that is added. That, and the persistent bugbear of spending the price of a new game for the same one each month.

What this update is actually about, besides just bragging about beating a game, is an idea I have to upload some Design Documents somewhere for people to read if they're interested in the nitty gritty of all these game ideas. As it stands, I barely scratch the tip of the iceburg with these blog entries, even though they are often the length of a small novel. What I may start doing now is drop the word count by about half and just introduce a few concepts with the game idea, and then have a link to where I've uploaded a Word document (or just a .txt file, since I won't be doing too much with the presentation at this point) with the vast amount of detail I have in mind for the game at this stage and then keep updating that document whenever something new strikes me or I want to add a table of potential enemies or power-ups or something.

With this system, any visitors to this blog can just skim through the game idea posts a lot quicker. If the idea sounds intriguing, you can read further by following the link to the .doc . If not, skip it and read the next one. If you're able to read twice as many of these "nutshell" posts during a lunch break or what have you, it would help the chances of finding one that interests you. In time, I hope to translate these documents to browsable websites with different pages for each section (characters, features, playing stages) of the game idea.

There are a few problems with this that I can see so far:
1) I may need to rewrite the 20+ game ideas the blog has had so far for this shorter format. I think the best thing would be either to delete the old ones and have new and improved re-writes, or just leave them and use this new short-post system from this point onwards. I will, of course, make design documents for my older ideas too at some point.
2) It will take a lot longer to produce full game ideas, since I'll be investing more time in them. Thus, when a new game idea is on the blog the design document for it will be pretty short, because it hasn't been around long enough for a lot to have been written about it. I figure between new game idea posts on the blog I'll also do a "what design documents have been updated this week" round-up, mentioning what has been added to which document.
3) There's always the threat of plagiarism by putting largely developed game designs out there instead of short blurbs, but my low self-esteem assures me I have nothing to worry about there.
4) Storing doc/txt files somewhere on the internet. Obviously size isn't important, since the bigger ones will still only be about 300k at the most, but finding somewhere that'll host them for free.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Design Genres #14: Scrolling Fighters/Beat-Em-Ups

The Beat-Em-Up genre is one that has grown old and retired, now reliving its golden years on various online virtual arcades available on the Wii and XBox 360. Though it did make the transition to 3D, sort of, with games such as State of Emergency, Hybrid Heaven, Dynasty Warriors and others - these games are all classed as "action/adventure" and therefore do not really fit the bill of that classic 2D genre. However, there are still plenty of great scrolling fighters available for the handheld market, which is the last true outpost for the 2D generation of games.

While it is safe to say that Final Fight, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and Double Dragon are perhaps the best known of the "traditional" scrolling fighters, we shouldn't overlook the Konami classics of The Simpsons and TMNT, Technos' other great scrolling-fighter River City Ransom and Treasure's phenomenal Guardian Heroes, which still counts as a scrolling fighter. I guess, technically, we could also include Castlevania titles. Viewtiful Joe is perhaps the last scrolling fighter to do something new with the genre.

Before I start, I should mention that I've already created a B-E-U (boo!) game idea in this blog already, as part of the "Spam Fighter" series of games comprised of content generated from online junk mail, but I sort of wanted a proper Design Genres for these games since I played so much of them as a kid.

My idea starts out like any of the above series: You control a street-smart fighter out to recover his girlfriend from the criminal gangs of the city you reside in. Cliche enough premise you might think, but it's important to keep this aspect deliberately old school initially as you'll soon see. You can have up to four players, learn attacks and gain health bonuses like any other games. You can find objects and use them: but the twist is you have to "learn" how to use more complicated weaponry by training, and you can also learn how to do more damage with more mundane items. Enemies drop money and sellable goods (treasure, in other words) like River City Ransom.

As the game gets on, it starts becoming weird. For instance, entering an underground subway to take a shortcut to enemy territory (it's a popular destination for games like Final Fight) puts you head-to-head against sewer zombies and all manner of evil subterranean creatures. As you emerge, you find out that the criminal gang has somehow been able to summon demons to take over the city. But it doesn't stop there, as after you enter the tower that the criminal gang has taken over, they start transporting you to various dimensions they've taken over. You end up having to take out robots from the future, medieval dragons and knights, and a hellish dimension of colossal Cthulhu creatures - all of whom bear the symbol of the criminal organisation. You find out that the criminals are actually an incredibly powerful secret sect that has been planning the apocalypse for millenia and taking your girlfriend was the final step; yet no matter what they throw at you you're able to beat the crap out of it with "video game kung-fu" moves and a headband.

The game is sort of both a spoof and an homage to all scrolling fighters. You frequently take on opponents many times your size and strength, and have to figure out the best way of kicking it in the face. While also keeping the gameplay simple and layering on the epicness boss fight by boss fight, there is a degree of RPG-esque development for your character: You can extend damage dealt, health and defensive power by earning "XP" from opponents. This XP is frequently flowing in from the hordes of creatures you're fighting. As well as the above augments, you can also make yourself "luckier" (increase drops), upgrade and modify combo attacks as well as purchase "summons": an additional fighter controlled by the computer who will fight on your side for a limited duration. These summons may be related either to older scrolling fighters - Abobo may show up therefore - or simply kickass warriors in general from all sorts of media. Having the T-800/Conan/Bruce Lee/Rocky/whoever on your side would help out a lot.

Because the game wants you to keep moving and not worry about levelling yourself, you can decide a general path for the XP to go in, letting it choose your next power-up for the sort of fighter you're suited to. If you like mindless tanks that wade in and clobber everything (and who doesn't?), the game will aim for power-ups that increase defence, health and attack power and ignore some of the more technical stuff. If you want to be a technical fighter though, it'll attempt to integrate more special attacks and combo modifiers in lieu of flat-out stat bonuses for the advanced player. You do of course have the option to keep track of what power-up you'll next receive - all XP goes towards one new power-up at a time, and you can assign which power-up should be the next one you learn - but if you have three other friends playing along this system can be set up to be entirely automatic in order to avoid long pauses during the fun.

The intention of this game is to start with beating up thugs on the street with five inch health bars that say "Slick" or "Morris" on them to massive bosses like giant skeletal dragons called "The Terrorwyrm" with seven or eight full screen-length health bars that go down just as rapidly as the thugs' did as you pummel it with atomic spin kicks. Awesomeness and lack of any kind of intelligent stimulation is the aim of this game, and I hope to design something like the above that will deliver on this front.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Final Fantasy XII

I promised myself I wouldn't do any more game reviews for the blog for two reasons:

1) Opinions on the internet.
2) Going on about how great other games are sort of highlights the amateur status of my own ideas.

However, my month-long obsession with this title warranted an article, simply because I've been unable to play or think about anything else. As a huge fan of all the Final Fantasy titles, I can safely say that this is my favorite.

Rather than go on about the graphics (amazing, but FF games are always top notch in this department) or music (again, amazing, especially the epic boss themes) or even the story (which is pretty standard) I'll concentrate on what makes this FF stand out above others.

First of all I should mention the battle system. While the manual introduces the game's combat as "the brand new Active Dimension Battle system", it's actually more a progression of Vagrant Story's strategic real-time combat and the real-time battle systems of a few other FF titles, notably FFXI (and many modern MMORPGs in general come to think of it) and FF:Crystal Chronicles. Making the game considerably more interesting than the usual endless chain of random encounters, players are now allowed to go where they want and take down the opponents they choose. You can often just go exploring the entire continent instead of following the next story goal, levelling yourself up to become inhumanly powerful and finding all sorts of hidden bosses and areas. You can follow the game's Hunting subquest which rewards you for taking down powerful monsters, or look for secret Espers (monsters you can summon) or even kill specific amounts of common enemies to learn secret information about new items, background on the areas/maps in the game or just jokey anecdotes in and about the world of Ivalice. Non-linearity of this scope in a Final Fantasy game is a new and welcome change.

The two new much-lauded features of FFXII are Gambits and the License Board. Gambits are a brilliant way to introduce configurable AI strategies for your characters to automatically follow in the field. It ranges from simple commands such as attacking the closest enemy and healing when low on health up to those such as casting Cure spells on undead enemies, using Potions on characters if you have more than 10 left, casting high-level black magic on your own characters when they have Reflect on them... The system allows for some amazingly complex planning and allows you to sit back and watch your stratagems go to work. Best of all, the game frequently introduces new Gambits as either treasures or buyable items, allowing you to test the waters with the simple modifiers before diving right into the more complex set-ups. Or you can ignore the Gambits and direct the characters manually if you so choose.

The License Board is less innovative though. It's basically FFX's Sphere Grid dumbed down a little using the old standard of Ability Points to direct your characters' developments. Like the Sphere Grid, you can choose the direction of how you want a character to grow; either using the old job system as a rough guide (a "warrior" character might acquire weapons and strength boosts and forgo magic) or abandoning it altogether. Unlike the Sphere Grid, all six playable characters start in the same place pretty much, so right at the start you have full command over who should become the short range fighters, the healers, mages, thieves and so on. Special areas of the License Board allow characters to learn Summonings and unique moves called "Quickenings" (nothing to do with beheading Immortals), these squares are then removed from everyone else's boards forcing you to develop your characters uniquely so they can all work towards acquiring their own seperate Quickenings at the edges and corners of the License Board.

Quickenings (which are the game's version of Limit Breaks - a classic FF staple) are controlled in a fast-paced mini-game of sorts where you quickly (hence the name?) follow one Quickening attack with another, and continue the chain for as long as possible. Damage is usually random, so one or two Quickenings may end up doing far less damage than even a normal attack and since they drain all your magic away such a result would be very bad indeed. Of course, getting a chain up into the 10s and 20s may end up destroying the boss in one hit, so it's a choice you may want to consider. Again, this make-or-break super-attack system is another example of FFXII giving players choices, instead of making the Limit Breaks mandatory if you want to take down a particularly difficult boss like with previous 3D FF games (spamming Renzokuken with Squall in FF8, for example).

I guess I'll finish by saying how the world of Ivalice is really starting to become a welcome "home" for the FF universe; the races and history of the world are fairly constant but the games are all different enough to stop it from being too overplayed. The new Summons are all bosses from FFT (a game I love which has a lot in common with FFXII) while the old summons (Shiva, Ifrit et al) cameo as the names of the gigantic airships of the token evil empire. FFTA is closely linked with this game too, bringing that annoying moogle commander Montblanc and most of the game's inventory across.

It remains an indefinable pleasure that FFXII is trying new things and a whole new battle system while still maintaining that innate FF charm and playability. I suspect I'll be playing it for quite a while longer.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Game Idea Stage 2: Simpsons CCG/RPG

Refer back to the Design Licenses: Simpsons article for the foundations of this game idea.

When I wrote about the Simpsons game idea last time, it seemed a little unfocused. Well, moreso than usual. This is an effort to expand on that idea. This article is keeping the ideas that A) the entire town of Springfield is obsessed with a new electronic game fad, which kind of half resembles Pokemon and half resembles Megaman Battle Network [I'm sorry it resembles anything, really, but comparisons always help illustrate an idea better] and B) that it involves 1-on-1 battles with various citizens of the town.

You play as Homer, Bart and Lisa in alternating shifts, challenging people at the new craze that's sweeping the town: BattleBlitz, an excessively violent competitive video game that stages versus battles between two players in a turn-based RPG style. You follow each of the three Simpson family member's days as they find friends, co-workers and other Springfieldians to battle with their own unique characters, which grow develop as they win matches.

Homer is the Kwyjibo, a burly ape-like monster that focuses on strength and a lack of any kind of subtlety. Bart plays as Bartman, the hero he made up to enter a comic-con for a discount price, whom focuses on speed and Batman-esque techniques and gadgets. Lisa is the Blues Mage, a magician that uses a saxophone to cast all manner of spells and therefore relies primarily on intelligence.

On any given day, you can choose to follow one, two or all three characters on a pre-determined series of events. So, for example, Bart would spend the day going to school on the school bus, having recess and trying to sneak in a few matches in the middle of class then going home after completing his blackboard punishment for being caught playing the game - each of these events have their own opportunities to challenge various opponents. During each "stage" of that character's day, you have a selection of opponents to play before moving onto the next "stage" (you can choose to skip the current stage if you've already defeated the opponents available). Whether you win or lose against an opponent during this stage, in either case you cannot play them again until you either meet them again in a later stage of that day or meet them the day after. Characters like Milhouse you'll meet several times if you're Bart (and occasionally as Lisa) since they're best friends. However, characters like Mrs Krabappel or Martin Prince are rarer, since Bart tries to avoid them as often as possible.

Beating a character in a duel nets you not only XP (which you need to level up your characters and get strong enough for more difficult opponents) but also "medals", which give a permanent boost to your character's fighter. These range from simple stat-augmentations to new special moves and other bonuses (the ability to always attack first for example, or an immunity to the poison status). Collecting as many medals as possible is the main focus of the narrative, as the Simpsons are attempting to become the regional champions of whichever state they live in.

At the end of the day, if you've finished playing as either Bart, Homer or Lisa or a combination of the three, you can swap medals (a medal won by Homer, therefore, can simply be given to Bart and Lisa without them needing to earn it themselves), train (if you use one family member more often than the others, you can fight amongst each other to raise XP for the weaker characters' fighters) and save the game. After which, the day ends and a new one begins. The game will use an in-game calendar, so that you'll occasionally have weekends come up allowing a "free-form" day of challenges; i.e. you can choose any family member and let them wander around town challenging anyone from the other two characters' sets of regular opponents, and even some special rare ones that are only accessible on weekends. This is a good opportunity to get medals from story characters that the usual family member that faces them finds them challenging to beat; for example, if one of Homer's opponents (say, Karl) is resistant against physical attacks, that opponent would be tough for Homer's purely-physical fighter but far easier for Lisa's magic-based fighter.

As the Simpsons' combined medal collection increases, you'll become far too overpowered for most of your regular opponents (though they level up as you do, to a degree) and so the game unlocks stronger opponents as you increase in ability, which had at that point had been hidden. An example would be Bart beating Nelson, who has a very strong fighter, and attracting the attention of Jimbo Jones for the first time, unlocking him as an opponent. After defeating the higher level opponents, the Simpsons will be able to fight in leagues with various Springfield personnel, eventually becoming the regional champions. And then I figure it'll be revealed that the whole scheme was a "Last Starfighter"-esque charade from Kodos & Kang. Or something. I'll iron out an end-game later.

Each of the opponents (and there are many, comprised of various classic Simpsons characters) has a unique fighter character styled on them, sometimes based on an in-joke, or on their personality or even from some kind of non-canonical dream sequence or Halloween appearance in the series. The idea of the game is that you need all three of your characters to face the unique opponents they individually meet, pooling the medals and becoming strong enough to defeat any challenger. Simply concentrating on Homer, for instance, won't allow you to defeat many of the opponents that come his way. Even if you level up on weaker opponents, the short supply of medals that Homer will have won't be enough to defeat stronger opponents.

Sharing even the most mundane or effortlessly won medals can be vitally important to another Simpson in particular, since each medal will have a different effect on each of the three characters: Lenny's medal may only give Homer's fighter a measly HP boost, but it could give Lisa's fighter a whole new special attack, for example. The reason for this is because BattleBlitz is configured to give bigger bonuses from medals earned from opponents that would be very hard for that style of fighter to defeat: Since Lenny's fighter could easily overcome Lisa's magician (maybe Lenny's fighter is immune to some forms of magic), Lenny's medal is more valuable to Lisa. Since the Simpsons members are sharing medals between their three very different fighters, a difficult opponent for one Simpson is "defeated" (by another Simpson) far more easily than they should be.

The original goal of my old game idea for the Simpsons was to create an idea for a Simpsons license game that allows, fully, the humor of "The Simpsons" to be showcased, and an in-universe competitive RPG game seems like a pretty open-ended way to give those characters a chance to shine, as opposed to making them trivial tertiary characters or cameos in the background. I'm hoping for a chance
to squeeze in a lot of in-jokes and references too, since - like many fans of the show - I can't stop quoting them. Don't judge me, dammit.