Zen Of Design

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

Category: Design Reviews (page 1 of 5)

Mad Max: It’s All About the Thunderpoon

It is the near future.  The world has been ravaged by drought and disease, leaving the human race a broken, fragile thing.  Bands of survivors are forced to abandon their lives of luxury and ease, and fight to subsist in a land of famine, violence and constant feudal warfare.  And yet, their worst fear is the psychopathic killer who seems intent on exterminating the human race, eliminating settlements one by one, committing mass genocide in order to claim their collections of hubcaps and postcards.

You are Mad Max.  You are this psychopath.

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Design Features I Love: Saboteur

The first single-player open world game of the post-Playstation era that I ever loved was Saboteur.  I realize that may seem to come a little late, but to be honest, if you’re used to the wide open worlds of MMOs for your entire career, GTA and the like actually seemed kinda … empty.  After all, MMOs are massive open world games, but with people saying awful things about your mother. Saboteur, on the other hand, hit a primal chord with me.

On the surface, the game design is simple: it’s a GTA-like, but set in occupied Paris, where you play as an Irish race car driver turned French Underground sympathizer.  So you can still steal, rob, and blow stuff up, but most of the time, the innocent victims were Nazis, which nicely solved the whole ‘feeling human empathy for the computer-AI driven cops you are running down’ problem that GTA has.  Also, you drove a lot of period race cars, and the car radio played cool, period jazz pieces.  Which was awesome.

But what grabbed me was the chance they took on the color palette.  You see, when you played the game most of the time, it played out in a very Schindler’s List color palette – black and white, with reds and yellows as splashes.
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Endless Legend Revitalizes the Civlike by Rethinking the City Expansion Game

Well, when Civ:BE failed to grab me, what I reached for instead was a different 4x game that was recommended to me: Endless Legend. This is a Civ-like set in a fantasy universe, similar to a Masters of Magic. And man, does it scratch the Civ itch in ways I find new and different for a Civ-like.

Endless Legend’s fantasy setting means that the game still has emotional resonance, even though the tech trees still have magic and other non-realistic advances. They lean on fantasy tropes quite a bit, but manage to stretch the lore in some new and interesting ways, particularly in the creation of their alternate races, many of which play almost entirely different games due to the nature of their mechanics. The exploration aspect of the game is ramped up – similar to what you see in CBE. Military is both viable (i.e. it doesn’t drag the game too much) and (in many games) somewhat dodgeable if you prefer to turtle and just build a great society.

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Civilization: Beyond Earth, and Resonance’s Role in Game Design

I won’t lie – when I was planning on when my last day with Bioware would be, the idea of coinciding it with the release of Civilization: Beyond Earth was pretty damned serendipitous.  I expected to go into a six month Sid Meier coma of one-more-turn up until the money ran out and my wife demanded I shower, get a job and start bringing home bacon again.  But I’ve found I’m not just reaching for the game.  Instead I’m reaching for Endless Legend.

CBE is a fine game, and in many respects it is an excellent evolutionary step to Civilization 5.  The game balance still has some flaws (trade is ridiculously overpowered, for example).  Right now, Civ 5 + Expansions is a better game.  A lot of that is just because Sid games seem to require at least one expansion to get all the kinks out, which is fine.  I strongly suspect CBE’s first expansion will move it from ‘Fine’ to ‘Excellent’.

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“Framed” Design Review (and the concept of Design Space)

“Framed” is a brilliant experimental iPhone game, built on one incredibly genius design idea, but appears to run out of room quickly.

First off, I love the look and the style of this game.  The character design is strong, given the room for detail is so light given their art style.  The character animation is incredibly well-done.  The music is incredibly appropriate, and often queues off of game events – play this one with the sound on if you can.  The art style is fresh, with cool pastels that are totally appropriate for the game and make every screenshot identifiable at a glance. Continue reading

I Watch Anita Sarkeesian So You Don’t Have To. But You Should.

So, my Twitter feed has been full of people who believe that Anita Sarkeesian wants to corrupt my brain, and convert me into being an SJW zombie, thus ruining every game that I ever make.  Because I have no free will and am part of the politically correct machine, I watched most of her video-game oriented videos.  And I gotta say, watching these videos really made me angry.  Because she spoiled the ending to about a couple dozen games I haven’t finished.  Seriously, Anita, a spoilers tag is customary here!

Now because I want to save any of you from becoming sheeple who might be infected by an opposing view by actually watching and considering her work on its actual merits, I thought I would pull a USA Today and share what I found to be the four primary takeaways from her videos so far in easily digestable form:

  1. Games should show more women capable of strength, agency and power in your game world, instead of being relegated to simply being background props or quest objectives that could be replaced with a sock monkey.
  2. Game designers should be less lazy in reaching for the same, tired stereotypes – or merely xeroxes of male leads – but especially stereotypes showing women as disempowered, and find ways to depict more female characters in more interesting and unique roles.
  3. Game designers should keep in mind that a lot of people (and not just women) have a viscerally negative reactions to scenes showing violence against women (particularly as many have first-hand experience with it), so maybe we shouldn’t just throw these scenes in casually.
  4. Seriously, all the dead, spread-eagled naked women in games are kind of creepy.

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My Review(s) of Call of Duty 4 and Battlefield 4 Single-Player

It’s my own fault, I suppose.

CoD4 and BF4 both came out in Autumn of last year, but in both cases, I deferred my purchase of them to the Winter, in order to have a couple of other games to play on my XBone, therefore attempting to justify my decision to be an early adopter.  As a result, I played the two games’ single-player campaigns back-to-back.  There were two problems with this plan. Continue reading

Assassin’s Creed 4 Design Review: Oh The Random Directions You Will Jump

It’s odd, but the worst part about Assassin’s Creed 4 is the part that theoretically has gotten the most iteration and polish, which is to say the movement model of running, jumping, climbing, and attacking, which is oddly fickle and difficult to control.  I would say that, roughly, 80% of my deaths in this game are from missed jumps, such as attempting to leap from one mainmast to the other, and instead plunging onto the deck beneath my feet, having jumped in an entirely different direction.

This is especially frustrating because most of the game mechanics are quite good.  Killing people is fun, being stealthy is fun (although the lack of crouching seems odd), brute force is fun, shooting your pistols is fun, and exploring the world is fun. Continue reading

Design Review: Ryse: Son of Rome

Well, I had to get SOMETHING on launch day with my XBone because, as is well-documented, I’m a well-documented Playstation Hater.  In fact, one of my great joys about my shiny new console is that I will finally be able to watch Blu-Rays without using a PS3 controller (a controller that, I note, sometimes seems to drain itself if I watch 2 movies in a row, despite the fact that it does nothing but sit on the coffee table during that time).  So yay.

I chose Ryse because Crytek seems like a very good choice if you want to see how far a new console can go.  And for what it is, it is very good, if what you are looking for is a graphical tech demo.  And it is definitely a launch title – short, slightly buggy, and oddly enough, load times that alternate between being near instantaneous and up to 45 seconds long – sometimes for the same fight. Continue reading

Tomb Raider is Really, Really Good

Here’s a great example of me wondering if I’m having a contrarian opinion just to have one, but here it is anyway: I thought Tomb Raider was a much better game than Last of Us.

I know, Last of Us has a superior story. Tomb Raider’s story could be best described as ‘imagine if the writers of Lost explained what was going on!’  Also, while there were interesting goings-ons in the various journals and artifacts you found throughout the island, the characters with actual speaking roles were little more than caricatures.  Also, I realize that working at Bioware has morphed me into being a VO snob, but other than Lara herself, the VO in TR ranges all the way from ‘bad’ to ‘dear lord godawful’.  There is certainly no one with the writing and depth of Ellie from LoU. Continue reading

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