Friday, September 25, 2009


First off, I really dig this Kickstarter website concept. But secondly, I really love developers that create "games" with messages, with artistic and political intent.

One piece that originally opened my eyes to the power of games and interactivity was September 12th. The laziness of the bomb, the brightly chilling sound when you turn a mourning family member into a terrorist, and the simple but fascinating intro to the "simulation".

Also recently discovered was a game from years ago that was recently noted on TIGSource, World War 1 Medic, another game that is made the more chilling by its bright optimistic sounds.

Game developers have messages they want to get out, and the best games take a slice that hits you, whether it's due to amazing controls or chilling actions. That is the goal of a game developer, to make you feel. And I hope that The Unconcerned can make your actions mean something like in September 12th, or ultimately mean nothing, as in WW1 Medic, both games revelatory in their own ways.

Monday, September 21, 2009


How the hell do you make a multiplayer tutorial? I have been pondering this for a few weeks now, because I think that it is indicative of the delicate balance required for all the elements of a multiplayer game. I am working on a Team Fortress 2 map, and I'm finding myself continually reworking the level, knowing that the spacial layout is key. But I was also playing the game a bit and I really took notice of how different the learning curve is between single- and multi-player.

In a solo linear game, even in a nonlinear game, you can introduce players to each concept, slowly ramping up the difficulty and complexity of the scenarios/levels/missions. In a multiplayer game you are introducing a player to the game, explaining the basic concepts and then throwing them out to the wolves. Play Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty 4, or, heaven help you, the venerable Starcraft, and the multiplayer games will hand your ass to you several times over before you give up in frustration or finally catch on to a trick somewhere and then slowly climb the tree of experience.

Multiplayer has never been for the weak of heart, but often hardcore games do try and ease you into the challenge over time through different methods.

Firstly, many games have a singleplayer mode. Starcraft you can train by playing through the campaign. I faced as tough a time at the end of Brood War that I faced online. Then again I never surmounted either Brood War or multiplayer SC; instead I conceded defeat against such brutal opposition. With Call of Duty there is also singleplayer, and many major games place just as much importance on the woven yarn as the multiplayer arenas.

Other games have excellent Bot modes. Unreal Tournament and its sequels have always been favorites of mine because they have excellent bots that you can play through the game as if you were playing an online match, but instead you play against whatever skill level you wish.

And finally, other games simply have tutorials, videos, or text and images to tell you what you should do when you're thrown out onto the field of battle. But these are the least helpful, frankly. Team Fortress 2 works with such simple tutorials because every element of the game is so plainly presented in the game. When you are a pyro, you immediately know you're a frontline soldier, intended to torch the enemy, and that's all you really need to do. You can see a giant glowing enemy signal, go to it. Play the doctor and you know right away what to do because as soon as you enter the game someone is yelling for a doctor and an arrow is pointing toward them.

The more complicated the game, the more complex the introduction, the more effort is put into singleplayer. Indeed, as I ponder, I am realizing that a game like Counter-Strike can throw you right in, because there is a simple goal and a simple mechanic to CS, it is the balance, the delicate interplay of all the little pieces, that make CS such a joy to master. People play CS for the challenge and if someone does not like CS, they will know it right away.

Likewise, when someone does find a mechanic they enjoy, they will stick with it. It just has to get easier. A player has to get better at a game. They have to feel progress. That is the joy of learning a game: the growth of the player.

Therefore, a multiplayer tutorial needs to reveal a game's central mechanic and hint at the strategies untold. A tutorial merely needs to explain the central tenet of the game, and if you cannot do that in a sentence or two and a couple images, then perhaps it's not the tutorial that needs fixing. The player needs a revelation merely by grasping the main game rule. And once they say, "Ahh, that's a clever concept," or, "Yes, I want to experience that," then the game must have the depth waiting on the other side.

So now it's the other side of the column for me, so thanks for reading. Next up: I have absolutely no idea.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Amidst the fallout

I finished Fallout 3 a few days ago and thought it was a pretty solid ending. I will have to go back and play through things a bit differently, or realistically I will move onto another game and never look back, because I don't often return to games that I've actually gone to the trouble to beat. I am curious about the evil path (I always take the good path) so perhaps Fallout 3 will finally be the game to bring me round to a second playthrough.

Scratch that, there is another game I've played multiple times, possibly my favorite: Max Payne. Both the first and its sequel were immense pleasures to play and I reluctantly await round three. I've written previously about the location of MP3 and the attitude of the game, but I wait to see what they end up doing with it.

In other news the awesome Flixel Bros, Adam Atomic and Danny B, have released another awesome little time-waster. Canabalt is a simple procedural, six-tone game in which you're playing a one button, sidescrolling Mirror's Edge. All you do is jump obstacles and leap from building to building, crashing through windows as you gain speed, allowing you to leap the greater distances as the buildings grow farther apart. Fun for a short time or a bit more than that, I highly recommend the minute it takes to click on the link and get hooked.

Speaking of Mirror's Edge, I finally was tipped off by my girlfriend to a coupon that saved me half the cost of the ME map pack, so I grabbed the new time-trial maps the pack has to offer. They are slick levels, ditching the cities for giant floating boxes that feel like they should be designed by VW and Apple's lovechild. The levels are fun and challenging, just what I like, though I need to give them some more time to truly appreciate the $5 I added to EA's pockets. DICE did well, and I think that you should give Mirror's Edge a chance if you've never done so. [Factoid: I applied to intern at DICE, but this was when I had absolutely nothing on my resume that would make an international developer such as DICE recognize me as anything but ordinary. I still might feel that way, but my resume grows steadily, nonetheless.]

next week on []Musings: I discuss singleplayer vs. multiplayer tutorials.