Saturday, September 29, 2007

Game Feature: RPG Boost Wagers

So I promised you a game idea, and I have one. Of sorts. It's actually a feature that any RPG could use, but for my sake let's say it relates directly to one of my other console/non-linear RPG ideas. So I don't sound like a big liar.

Boost wagers are specific tasks given to you once you level up which, if successfully accomplished before the next experience level, may give you an additional bonus to a specific stat or even a new ability (or even strengthen an existing ability). You get a short list of randomly generated tasks and challenges which you can try to fulfill before levelling up again. I have a few ideas about what these tasks may specifically ask you to do, but they will all fall into one of two general categories: Digital or Analog.

Digital boosts will have a simple "yes/no" victory condition behind them, where you either reach it or you don't. Killing a certain number of level-specific enemies for example (or killing a number of any kind of enemies in a certain way, like shooting them with a bow). You can either reach the target amount and receive the boost, or you don't reach it and get nothing. Analogs are a little different as the victory condition for those will be on a sliding scale. For instance, if you're told to take as little damage as possible for a boost, you will still receive the boost (probably to HP) for getting hit a moderate amount, but it won't be anything like the boost you'll receive for barely getting hit at all.

These boosts won't matter a whole lot to the actual game's plot, being as they are randomly generated, but it will certainly make proceedings easier and will give you a healthily competitive character to use for online contests. The tasks will always be possible for characters of that level and they won't start getting really taxing until the higher levels when the player is a little more experienced and the boosts can make the difference between the game being a challenge or being a cakewalk. Obviously, the strongest bonuses for each level will also be the hardest to achieve. A list of the current boost wagers available (keep in mind that old ones get deleted - whether you achieve them or not - once you reach the new XP level) will be kept alongside the regular Quests and Side-Quests in the game's log/journal or equivalent.

The reasons why anyone would want to adopt this system are twofold: First, it gives the player different ways to play the character. If they want to raise their character how they choose they're entirely free to do so, but if they're also given varied tasks to do for additional boosts it may be worth their while to factor in a style of playing they're unfamiliar with so they can net those boosts. If they're a distance whore, keeping back and taking everyone down with arrows, a significant strength boost wager for taking out enemies in close combat could come along and may convince them to change tactics for a short while. It'll certainly allow them to get more out of the game and stop it from being too repetitive (at least in the "how will I fight these guys?" respect). The second reason is so the type of players who want to be competitive and have a character that far exceeds its peers can actively chase down every one of these boost wagers before levelling for all the potential benefits out there. Plus, that same gamer can start over and have a completely different set of boost wagers to follow for the new character. If they get a character with a super-rare or super-powerful ability that takes a really difficult and esoteric boost wager to achieve, it'll be like a trophy for them and will certainly give them an edge in any kind of online competition that the game might have.

So there you are. Boost wagers. Entirely optional, but entirely worth your while to chase after.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Random Update: CDGs

Dang, haven't updated this in a while. Ol' idea well's still burned out (though there will be one next week for certain) and I can't really follow reviews with more reviews.

This does give me an opportunity to go over one of the increasingly prevalent design features of RPGs in recent years: Character Development Gimmicks (using gimmick to mean a device in this case).

In the olden days, when your RPG characters approached a new experience level, there were two basic systems in place. The first of these is the "you get what you're given" system; where you were arbitrarily handed new powers and stat bonuses upon reaching milestone experience levels. Several games that have low memory and/or deal with many player-controlled protagonists at once (Pokemon is an excellent example) will use this system to keep the level-up bonuses mercifully simple, though at the cost of removing all player interaction with their character's continuing development, besides simply not getting them killed between levels. The second usual system was giving the players a choice of options upon levelling, which were generally reliant on the character's profession and current skill level. The D&D system is well-known for this, especially with the introduction of Feats with the third edition. Even something as minor as rolling your new hit points created a perception of being directly responsible for the character's growth.

We then come to the intermediate systems, where players are encouraged to be actively involved in what characters learn which skills and abilities and when. A rudimentary example would be the AP (or JP) that various console RPGs use as a separate experience point tally. They either go into the currently selected job class (FF5, Blue Dragon), a weapon with an innate ability to be learned and used by the character (FF9, Vandal Hearts 2) or the points can be used by players to "buy" the abilities they like the look of (FFT). Certain games will level up the skills and weapons you use the most, offering an incentive for players to focus on what they'd like their characters to excel in; a system used by the Grandia and Elder Scrolls series and many others.

Then there are the advanced, slightly convoluted and always initially daunting systems that games spend a lot of time during the design aspect of development in producing. These tend to be unique and are especially made (at a reasonable expense one supposes) to give the game an equally unique character. Final Fantasies, after VI, tended to make systems as purposefully confusing as possible, reaching a zenith with FFX's Sphere Grid (after which they kind of cooled down a bit).

I'm not sure which is the best system to use, as a designer. Obviously you want the players to have as much control over their characters as possible, but on the other hand you don't really want players to be spending 10 minutes going over options every time you level up. Especially if there's like three rooms left in a dungeon and it's getting close to 2am or something. RPGs are beginning to fan out into different sub-subgenres within their already under-established subgenre-classification system: such as the confusion with what exactly makes a Console RPG/PC RPG, when you have Anachronox on the one hand (a PC RPG that uses common Console RPG traits) and Champions of Norrath on the other (a Console RPG series that's very much in the Diabolo/Rogue PC RPG mold). Perhaps one day we'll see an additional "complexity" score in the reviews of these games--along with graphics and longevity and what have you--to help those who want an in-depth character-development-driven RPG and those who just want to hit something and see numbers fly off them to let off some steam figure out if the game's for them.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Buncha Reviews

OK, back on Fridays now and after that long, arduous peregrination through the realms of creativity, I'm kicking it with some reviews instead. Usual Supertacularness review system: I only care about the game features. Pretty much anything else (sound, graphics and so forth) you can figure out yourself from looking at a screenshot or watching the trailer.


Flavor of the month, current Big Daddy doing the "best game evar" rounds. System Shock 2, only underwater and in the '50s.

* Easy come, easy go Ammo system - A common institution in most FPS games, sure, but somewhat of a rarity in the realm of the "scary shooter", where you're told constantly to conserve your ammo and just run/sneak past the hordes of enemies. This game makes even the most powerful ammo fairly common, if you know what vending machine to hack.
* Plasmid/Tonics/ADAM - Provides the game with a neat collection thing that directly benefits the player with various power-ups, both Active (Plasmids) and Passive (most of the Tonics). They can be generally bought by harvesting the ADAM (sort of like XP/AP building points, where EVE is the MP needed to use them) from the rather unsettling "little sister" enemies. Other power-ups need to be sought out through detours, which gives the game a neat exploration angle that most FPS games eschew.
* The Setting and Atmosphere - It's obvious that someone went to a lot of trouble with the plot and setting of this game. I wasn't really into it all that much, but as a Designer I can respect when someone goes a long way into describing every little thing (through a series of optional audio diaries) without really needing to.
* This shouldn't really matter, but the Achievement scheme for this game is about perfect: You can get half of them just by playing through the game, giving you a nice amount without really focusing on it (which can often detract those on the first playthrough). The diehard completists will still take their time to get the full 1000 available. I suspect that soon, if not already, the difficulty/design of a 360 game's Achievement Points map will become an additional factor to consider when purchasing/renting said game.

* The length of the game is pretty short, despite the various side-missions and collectibles. Can't really be helped due to its FPS nature, but it doesn't really have much replay value either if you got everything the first time around.
* Respawning enemies are a pain. It does make you wonder where they're all coming from, since people appear to be trapped in separate areas of the city by an almost defunct bathysphere transportation system.
* Likewise, the various cameras and turrets get tired fast, especially when there's several crisscrossing a wide area. Being able to hack into them and turn them against your enemies almost absolves this though.
* The hacking minigame is fairly uninspired. I played it back when it was called Pipe Mania, and I also played it as a hacking minigame back in Anachronox.

Blue Dragon

An RPG, made especially for the XB360 by a team comprised of RPG aficionados, with Final Fantasy's creator Hironobu Sakaguchi leading the pack. Traditional "bunch of kids save the world from ancient terror" scenario.

* Lord help me, but I loved all the searching. You can search practically anything, for various rewards that get less impressive as the game progresses. You can quite literally spend an hour in a new town or city searching every single pot and item. Best of all, the game has a secret subquest that gives you various powerful items for all the otherwise disappointing "Nothing"s you find, which is such a great idea that I'm going to steal it one day.
* The Job System, liberally stolen from FF3 and FF5 (but that's coo' since the FF dude is the one in charge), has been polished to reduce the amount of jobs one can train in for the benefit of more powers and abilities to unlock for those jobs. Some of these abilities can have a distinct change to the tactics you employ, as they all start to become very powerful.

* Very, very cliché. This was intended to give the game a nostalgic appeal, similar to what Final Fantasy 9 was meant to do to that particular series to recover from Final Fantasy 8. There's nothing really wrong with repeating the same instances over and over, per se, especially for those new to the genre (or gaming in general, since it is aimed at a younger audience). But for the type of genre fanboy (hi there) who would likely buy this game it'll probably be a disappointment.

Rogue Galaxy

Sci-fi planet-hopping RPG from the makers of Dark Cloud 1&2, only a bit more traditional than that iconic series.

* Those boys haven't lost their taste for side-quests, which a whole bunch more that almost triples the game's playthrough time. As well as following your mission objectives (which are handy little star indicators), you can also fulfill bounties (optional bosses and specific totals of lesser enemies), compete in an "Insectron" tournament (which parallels the fishing minigames of the DC series) or create new items in a factory simulator, which mixes Pipe Dreams (a lot of that going around lately) and the Georama system of the DC series. In fact, if you liked that game (as I did), you'll probably like this too.
* Continuing the comparisons, the battle system is also heavily based on DC's: You have to fight in a real-time environment, using either your main or sub weapons and a bunch of powers you unlock through something called a Revelation Chart. This power-up system is sort of similar to the License Grid of FFXII, only you need to trade items instead of XP points, with rarer items unlocking stronger power-ups (the items are subsequently unavailable until later in the game).
* The teleporter system makes getting around a breeze. You can travel to anywhere you need to within seconds, though the transporters all need to be unlocked first. Most games use a similar system, but I found Rogue Galaxy's to be extra convenient. Plus you can save and heal at them too.

* If it shares DC's plus points, it must also share its negative points too. The most significant of which is the amount of tedium one can feel by traversing the large dungeons that are scattered throughout the worlds you visit. Added to which is the decision to use random encounters (of the "they weren't there a minute ago" variety), which occur often when trying to move between places.
* To be fair, a lot of the subquests above are less intriguing this time around. The Insectron Tournament in particular, since catching the things, spending the time and cash to raise and breed them until they reach a respectable level of power takes hours and hours to accomplish. Similarly, trying to defeat 30 particular instances of a monster that NEVER EVER SEEMS TO SHOW UP can be a little frustrating. They are optional, and I appreciate that, but for the diehard completists (another shout-out to you guys) it isn't as great. A bit of time to mark certain areas as hotspots for otherwise rare monster encounters to alleviate the waiting time for those who care to seek these areas out would've been a nice touch.

Back to ideas next week. But only one at a time. I've had enough of lists for the time being.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

100 New Game Features X

Whoa, Game Features X. Gives it an impressive-sounding aura. Soon dispell that.

091. Ancients
This game is based on that age-old Jap RPG premise of an ancient civilisation wiping itself out from its hubristic attitude concerning its devastatingly powerful technology. You are a high-ranking official of this ancient (currently present) government, plagued by nightmares about the extinction of your way of life, and struggle to convince your peers about the dangers that lie ahead. Unsure of what will fail first and how, you decide to put together a squad of highly trained and capable agents and put them into a deep stasis, far enough below the Earth to survive the imminent calamity that will burn the world to cinders. When the agents awake, they are to discover how exactly the world fell (by finding the now ancient ruins of their world and checking for clues left behind) and to broadcast back in time to the official, so that they may somehow prevent it from happening. The game is split into two modes: a standard RPG system that follows the agents on their trevails in the post-apocalyptic future and that of the official, as they use both legal (using their governmental powers, which will slowly shrink in stature the more they interfere with government sectors that don't concern them) and steathier illegal (which is the faster and, soon enough, only) means to prevent the disasters that the agent team in the future are able to identify. It always seems odd in these games that a civilisation that can do anything are always powerless to prevent their own destruction, so this game aims to give them a fighting chance for once.

092. Animal Cussing
OK, this isn't so much a game idea as just changing everything the animals in Animal Crossing say (nicknames for you and such) to swears. It's pretty juvenile. How about Animal Kriss Krossing? Including a Jump-Jump minigame and the option to wear pants backwards. Animiller's Crossing? "I can't live... I can't live out here in this little house in the woods! Like a dumb animal! Look in your heart!". Um, let's skip over this one.

093. Shakespeare Game
There aren't enough games based on Shakespeare's plays. Disregarding all the "hey nonny nonnys" and "oh shit, am I learning something? to hell with this game!" disputes for a moment, the Bard's plays are pretty darn violent and filled with potential XPs for the hack'n'slash crowd. A game would probably go something like Kingdom Heart's episodic nature, though far less cutesy of course, where you'd join up with a hero of one story to see it through to its proper conclusion and then move onto the next tale. And in the case of something like Hamlet, loot all the dead bodies before leaving. Plus, Kenneth Branagh can be a recurring boss!

094. Sinistar Remake
Man, just imagine this: A fully 3D space-sim based on Sinistar. Think how many times more menacing Sinistar would be as a gigantic ass skull space station thing in its full 3D glory. You'd be given an arena (more like a big cube of space to fly around in) like usual, filled with asteroids that you have to harvest the Sinisite crystals from to build your Sinibombs before ol' Skullface's minions can rebuild their master, who you'll be able to monitor mid-construction in the center of the little quadrant you're flying around in (complete with space-scaffolding and what have you) due to how friggin' massive the dude is. Like the uncompleted Death Star of Return of the Jedi, only even more pants-crappingly intimidating. Play with a friend to defeat Sinistar and his goons, or play against them as they help transport the Sinisite back to the Hungry One.

095. Special Wizardry And Tactics
A Fantasy-based SWAT team in other words (based on the one seen in the Hawk and Fisher novels. They're good readin') that take on dangerous illegal fantasy elements in all shapes and sizes. Have a group of werewolves barricading humans inside a building? Call SWAT. Some kind of mystical ancient being escaped from its eldritch bonds? Call SWAT. Escaped mental patient with a Wand of Turning Inside Out? Call SWAT. And a cleaner too, while you're at it. You'll configure and train your own SWAT teams, replacing casualties and making sure you're well stocked on fighters, healers and wizards to tackle any problem the city throws at you. And you thought the regular SWAT teams had it bad.

096. Consciences
This is something a satirical cartoon-based game could use as a mode of getting into small places to find a key or some other useful item. When presented with a small opening that the main character is unable to pass through, there's an option to ponder the morality of what you're currently doing. This causes two extra characters to appear: Your tiny "good" self, with halo and wings, and your tiny "bad" self, who wields a fork and horns. Your Good self can pass through the opening and use his extra jumping skills (thanks to those wings) to get around the passage and find what you need to find. The Bad self can't jump as high, but his attack power is considerably higher and he'll be able to fight any monsters that might be hiding in that small gap. Use whichever's appropriate for the type of obstacles you'll be facing. Plus, performing good or evil deeds will power up the respective figment appropriately, enhancing their stats and possibly giving them new powers to use.

097. FPS Spoof
This could be based on something like Hot Shots Part Deux or Sledge Hammer or a dozen other spoofs of overly violent shooter movies. Basically, everything seems to do way more damage than it actually should. If you shoot anything, it'll explode. If you shoot some dude he'll fly backwards 50 yards and spastically go all ragdoll on the way down. And then explode. You gain points for sheer carnage and eventually the plot evaporates in a series of non-sequitur cutscenes that vaguely point you in the right direction to the next series of explosions. You also get a one-liner generator to use, hitting the right function key for it at the right time after killing someone will deliver an apt pun based on the situation for bonus points. There's no ammo or reloading, since this is an action movie spoof, so fire away.

098. Instances
While exploring a new space phenomenon, your explorer/hero character ends up getting trapped within the phenomenon's considerable gravitational pull and he and his ship fall into this space anomaly. He emerges unscathed, only it appears he is now in six different areas of the galaxy, approximately the same distance away from the anomaly in six opposing directions (imagine faces on a cube to understand what I mean). All six instances of the hero are linked, meaning you control all of them sort of simultaneously (though for game purposes, you control one at a time). Furthermore, since all six ships are actually just the one, anything that happens to one ship will happen to the other five. You must shift between the instances and get them all back to the anomaly so they can merge together back into one entity. Ships in fortuitous conditions (like being in friendly-owned, explored space) can seek repairs for fixing the damage done in situations that less fortunate ship instances find themselves in (such as enemy space or some weird corrosive gas cloud). One ship in particular is flying near a black hole, distorting both nearby space and time, which means you're unable to free him from the vast gravitational forces holding him in place until the ship is upgraded. Focusing on an "easy" instance until it comes back to the anomaly and then switching is one plan, but if that easy instance is within the range of easy repairs and stock resupplies, it might be best not to call on it until its needed. Inversely, concentrating on one "hard" instance until he gets home (to get it out of the way with, sort of a common gaming thing) will make the game far more difficult than it needs to be, since you can help get him through his tough battles easier by finding ship upgrades with the other instances. Since they're all moving simultaneously, you will effectively pause one instance's progress when switching over to another. This example should hopefully explain how the game uses it's shared timeline to switch between instances: If you take instance #3 for 30 minutes and switch to instance #4, you'll be back at 0 minutes on the shared timeline since instance #4 hasn't done anything yet. If you want to go back to instance #3, it'll continue from the 30 minute point on the shared timeline. The downside to this system is that if instance #5 upgrades their weapon banks for more damage at the 3-hour mark on the timeline, all the other instances will only receive their weapon upgrade at the same mark, meaning they all need to be 3 hours into their journey back before it'll happen. So obviously, those in a difficult situation may need to go on the defensive until some other instance can get the upgrades needed to continue. You can fast-forward time at will to eliminate long waits, though keep in mind that having nearby enemies will make this feature potentially hazardous with frequent use.

099. Turn-based Powers Tennis
OK, so the first impression you might get with a title like that is "Huh?" followed closely by "Won't that be unbearably slow?". Well, the tennis in this game is slightly different. It follows a super-powered, RPG type of system where powerful serves and volleys are accompanied by various magical powers and special attacks. You need to find the best way to get to the ball, aim for the spot you want to hit the ball to, and let it fly. You get the choice between power (lowering the ability to return your shots), speed (getting to the ball quicker) and finesse (misdirection and things like spin), as your character will be superpowered in any of those three fields. You'll be defeating opponents like the Trickster, who can create illusionary balls along with the real one, forcing you to choose. There's also the Pyromaniac, who can set the balls alight, forcing to only return the shot once the ball's flames have gone out after bouncing once. The whole tournament will be crazy like this and you'll need to use your chosen character's strengths to progress through the competition.

100. Protagonist: The Ultimate Video Game
In this game you assume the protagonist from a great many classic video games, forcing yourself to evolve your graphics and become bigger, stronger, faster and more colorful and better rendered. You start as a pong bat and need to earn enough points to evolve yourself into an arrow, becoming the star of Asteroids. Or you can focus on your bat form and turn into the hero of Arkanoid. Further upgrades in the arrow direction will turn you into a crude spaceship for Galaxia/Galaga, while further evolutions of the bat form will allow you to become Snake, that long, apple-eating line that adorns many a mobile phone. You'll pass through the early arcade era, to the 8-bit era and the 16-bit eras and finally turn yourself 3D. You can stick with vehicles, passing through the arcade shooters and reaching various RTS and Space-Sim games, or you can evolve yourself to become a human being (or humanoid), and take part in early adventure games like, well, Adventure or Manic Miner, using Pacman as a bridge between "random shape" to "person on a mission". Any games you unlock through your transformations will be replayable and you can go back to any previous transformation at any point to try a new path, or to simply gather evolution points at a game you're good at. Find the ultimate evolution of each form, unlock every game and become the perfect video game protagonist.