Zen Of Design

The design and business of gaming from the perspective of an experienced developer

Month: October 2007 (page 1 of 2)

Guitar Hero III First Musings

Played just a little bit of Guitar Hero III last night. Played it unlocking stuff on easy (wife wanted to play, and her wrist is still not up to 100% from her surgery), so your mileage may vary.

The new wireless guitar is awesome. It feels good, it’s responsive, and has the most accurate ’star power’ detection since the first guitar from the first game. So at least in this one area, it’s an improvement. The song list is also mostly good, although there is one tier where it seems your entire song list is 70s songs I could care less about.

Things I didn’t like:
1) Whoever thought it was acceptable to ship a rhythm game where activating star power causes a notable framerate hitch, throwing off your rhythm, needs to be taken out back and pummelled.
2) I was expecting to be shocked and disgusted by the ’strip club’ level – or at least be forced to pretend to be so for my wife’s benefit. Turns out, I got one entirely clothed dancer who … danced bored. Really, we’re playing Rage Against the Machine, and she’s dancing like she just downed a bottle of valium. I was actually insulted – because I could have sworn my rocking deserved better than that.
3) I think my wife counted 15 fonts used in different places. It felt like a bad MySpace page. Somewhere, an art director needs to be hit with a clue stick.
4) They replaced my beloved Pandora with a Japanese schoolgirl? Are you kidding me? God, she was awful.

And then we get to the boss fights. It turns out they are exactly as non-fun as I thought. Even worse, they are anti-fun. If these boss battles ever came into contact with actual fun, the universe would fold onto itself. This is a clear example of a place where design should have iterated on the idea, and then afterwards gone to a bar and shared a beer while talking about how collossally bad a game design decision it turned out to be. Instead, they shipped it.

 

Original comments thread is here.

Subverting the Paradigm

Like many others around, I’ve been playing a lot of Puzzle Quest lately. I had already bought it for the DS, and really enjoyed it, but to be honest, I’m not a huge handheld guy unless I’m spending a lot of time on airplanes. Playing it on my big screen TV turned an enjoyable experience into an utterly addictive one.

What’s interesting to me is why its so addictive. After all, the core mechanics are just a less polished version of Bejeweled, with a couple of snazzy abilities. The easy answer is the RPG elements (and funny, how other game genres are trying to incorporate them while MMO players beg us to reduce them). But there’s something else interesting going on. Continue reading

CSI in Second Life

Oh, hell yeah! You just KNOW I’m tivoing this shit: CSI: NY in their partner episode with Second Life.

“Log off!”
“I know what I’m doing!”
“Log off! Now!”
“I need an ambulance!”

Dear god, the trailer alone makes my brain numb. And I’m somewhat of an aficionado of idiotic media treatments of gaming.

This is already the second cop show with a Second Life twist to it – SVU earlier this year had an episode about a fictional game called “Another Youniverse”. The plot was (*spoilers*) a killer kidnaps a college girl who is also an ageplaying virtual hooker so he can lock her in his basement so she can… ageplay a 14 year old girl from him IN GAME all the time (being in college, she’s too old and busted for him IRL).

Fortunately, SVU used their cunning detective work to find her, since the kidnapper was foolish enough to shape his virtual land to have exactly the same geographic features as to where he had kidnapped another 14 year old years previously in real life. Which is good – you’d hate for the kidnap victim to have to resort to anything crazy like send a ‘tell’ command to another player. Apparently, he had never considered this possibility in his incredibly convoluted plan. Sadly, he killed her by accident before it occurred to her (and I suspect, shortly after it occurred to the writers).

Meanwhile, I don’t want to alarm anyone, but Second Life’s now typically counting 45K users simultaneously, which is roughly four times what it was about a year ago.

 

Original comments thread is here.

Games of the Year

This year’s game of the year, without a doubt, is Portal (remember this awesome trailer?). It’s three hours long and has one of the best endings I’ve ever seen. If you profess you love games, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. To quote the normally hateful Zero Punctuation, if you don’t like it, you’re stupid. (Also, for those who beat it, here is a link to the sublime ending)

As a side note, much of the writing was done by Chet and Erik of Old Man Murray fame. They are possibly most famous for their ranking of games based on time to crate. This is funny, because one of the key ‘characters’ in the game is the Weighted Companion Cube. Continue reading

Fansy the Bard Interview

The Escapist has tracked down Fansy, who was famous for breaking EverQuest’s original no-rules PvP server with a level 5 kiter, and interviewed him. The overly grandiouse headline: “How One Player Ruined Everquest”.

Of course, Fansy wasn’t just a Bard; he was a level five Bard. According to the hard-coded game mechanics, he wasn’t yet eligible for PvP combat, but monsters didn’t care about player level. In fact, the tactic of training monsters worked even better than even Fansy could have imagined. “I thought up the invulnerable exploit and planned to train low-level monsters. I didn’t know I’d be able to train a sand giant [a particularly high-level monster], until I tried it! It was glorious. I was invulnerable and could kill anyone. It was a great feeling. I giggled the entire time and rolled around in my underwear. That’s how God must feel when he kills people.”

Gypsy Punks

Last night, I saw Gogol Bordello live. Now, THAT was a truly impressive show. I’m not sure when the last time I’ve seen so many people having so much fun in such a small space. Go see them, if you get a chance.

 

Triage and Extrapolation

Ryan has a bold statement, a new rule of MMO development. Like many of his rules, I don’t fully agree with it:

A game is only as strong as its weakest feature. Games are more often judged by their weaknesses than their strengths, just like anything else. Any incomplete feature or complete but crappy feature will leave a bad taste in players’ mouths. Reviewers will dwell on anything that isn’t up to par in your game far more than they will dwell on all the positives. Do not be afraid to get rid of features, even if you’ve already implemented them. This goes for more than just features: If a quest sucks, fix it or get rid of it. If a zone sucks, fix it or get rid of it. If anything sucks, fix it or get rid of it. It may make you shed a tear for all that lost work, but it’s better than leaving it in.

Well, for a single-player game, sure. A reviewer will certainly see the whole game in his review experience. Continue reading

Mass Effect Goes Gold

Lost amidst other news is news that Mass Effect has just gone gold. Congrats to my compatriots up in Edmonton.

I haven’t gotten my hands on one of their builds for quite a while, but what I’ve seen has been seriously very, very cool. I look forward to seeing how its received by the teeming millions.

 

XBox Achievements Lead to Higher Review Scores and Sales

My boy Geoff has been busy: his new company has put out the following story.

Electronic Entertainment Design and Research (EEDAR) has just released a revealing new study based on the Microsoft Xbox 360 Achievement System. The study concluded that, in general, game titles that have a higher volume of Accomplishments correlate with both a higher Metacritic Metascore and higher gross sales in the United States. The data also indicated that not all developers are utilizing these design options. In fact, 29% of all Accomplishments are Completion Accomplishments; one of the easiest to develop and integrate – leaving way for additional opportunities within the Accomplishment categories.

Continue reading

Update on Fantasy Sports Law

Some time ago, I linked to a story about how fantasy sports owners were being sued by Major League Baseball, claiming that only MLB had the rights to the stats that come from Major League Baseball. Briefs in support were supplied by virtually every major American sports league, including the NFL, the NBA, the NHL and even the WNBA (there’s fantasy women’s basketball? I’m sure there’s a joke about porn that could go here, but I digress) Anyway, a year ago, they lost.

Yesterday, the case finally wound its way through the appeals process. End result: MLB baseball lost again. One viewpoint: Continue reading

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