Saturday, October 29, 2011

Blog 11 And on it’s 11th Birthday, it Became About Game Design

Finding an excuse to put Rampart in here!

10/27/2011 Early

I’m an avid supplier of obvious statements because they require the least effort of Phoenix Wright-like gusto on the defense. I can simply drop them and walk away to construct other overly complex ledes with awkwardly worked in DS characters. Like so:

Games are not what they used to be.

Allow me to expound on that from the direction I think about it. There’s a gaggle of entertainment creators (because they are geese?) that I respect and can easily trace back influence to their most cherished stories in the chosen medium. Look at George Lucas (the classic one, GeorgeLucasClassicTM) and the original “holy” trilogy. He loved Kurosawa movies and older World War 2 movies with dogfighting in them. Gee, how ever did Star Wars come out of Samurai’s and people flying around in a void shooting at each other. He’s kind of like the Tarantino of movies before Tarantino started making movies. Same with his well-documented love of serialized adventure movies that birthed three Indiana Jones (I SAID THERE ARE ONLY THREE, YOU SHUT UP.)

I dare you to find where Jar Jar Binks came from in there.

Movies were the same thing in the Kurosawa days as the Star Wars days. Shot the same, told the same, paced the same—same thing.

I’ve seen JK Rowling namedrop The Chronicles of Narnia before. No surprise there, and how much has the novel evolved between Narnia and Potter?

If I were willing to bet, Justin Bieber would list “Michael Jackson” as one of his biggest inspirations. Actually, I am willing to bet, hang on a second.

Here, enjoy this hipster cover of Never Say Never while I google it up: 

(You see, they’re singing it ironically.)

The answers apparently are: Michael Jackson (thank you, thank you,) Stevie Wonder, BoyzIIMen (wait, what?) and Usher—or should I say, “Ursher?” Who also hired him, how inspirational!

Holy crap, my first blog where I talk about game design is this far in with no zero talk of games and I analyzed Justin Bieber as a serious artist. Mikey, you spoil everyone.

That was attempting to explain a very distinct point about influence and why we become entertainers. I can trace any one of the previous influences directly into the work of their creator from characters, tone, style, or structure. Games are different. They evolve faster than Lady Gaga’s uh, she crawled out of that egg once. That was pretty frickin’ weird. Wow, what have I done?

New sentence.

Games are different. They evolve faster than we can actually make the games, and the cycle from concept to shelf for a AAA piece of entertainment is only getting longer and more expensive. To illustrate, my favorite games as a child were (in no particular order, probably:)

-        Chrono Trigger
-        Dragon Warrior 2
-        Final Fantasy II (yeah, the one where they go to moon, eat it!)
-        Super Mario 3
-        Zelda II (this is going off the rails fast)
-        Lemmings
-        Contra
-        Adventures of LoLo
-        Trog (yeah, bitches, I put mother f---ing Trog on here!)

I posted these to point out two things. 1) Modern games are designed more as experiences than they are as traditional “games,” and 2) My influences are so outdated that I can draw only one obvious category to compare them on.

All of my older influences have a crapload of character. Suddenly all those pretty words I wrote on Brothers in Arms and Borderlands make a lot more sense. It was important in both series to make sure there are interesting characters plugged into every crevice of both incredibly different universes. Are Allen and Garnett that different from TK Baha? (I mean, they were both brutally murdered in the first game and then we scrambled to fit them into later installments in increasingly shoehorned ways. Wow. I should stop killing people.)

Unfortunately, that’s as far as the influences really go. The technology and the audience expectations evolve way too fast to think about anything but where design is going. You might be asking yourself, “Are Call of Duty and Contra really all that different when you think about it?”

This game is harder than you remember.

Yes. Yes they are. Contra is designed to provide a high degree of challenge where you can be killed at any moment while subtracting from a pool of three lives. They could give a rat’s ass if you finish it.

Call of Duty (SP) is designed as a roller coaster that you’re supposed to finish. Regenerating health, by design, is to allow the player mistakes that he can come back from in an effort to finish the roller coaster. Don’t get me wrong, there is a huge audience for the “experience” type games and I enjoy CoD a lot. I’m just using it to illustrate a point because they sell eighty four billion copies a second and they can take it.

Remember Game Over screens? Remember when we weren’t so scared of the player getting frustrated from starting anything over? Remember when you couldn’t infinitely respawn out of the same choke point therefore never losing any forward progress?

That happened this generation. In the last cycle we would at least drop you back to the beginning of the level if you failed out of the same checkpoint a few times. Is there anything wrong with that? Probably not. It’s just one more thing on the pile of AAA games becoming experiences instead of the traditions of our influences. “Meta-game” is the hot new trend that I’m sure will carry into the next cycle with us. Give the player a number, they’ll make that number go up.

I’m illustrating that aspect outside of Borderlands, by the way. That game was an RPG just as much as it was a shooter—you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would call Borderlands a well-paced roller coaster with no down time.

I’m also illustrating that I like that trend. It’s the first trend in a long while that isn’t part of an “experience,” that isn’t aping some scene in a movie. It’s putting the game part back into the game by allowing the players to compete against one another with XP gain.

When you think about it, it’s like we’re all competing for the high score, only the score doesn’t reset when we die. It just keeps adding up indefinitely. I can roll with that, kool aid.

So, here’s an added bonus. I thought it would be fun to ask Cliff Bleszinski what his favorite old school games were as well, to see if his would track into the game designer he is today. They are as follows:

-        Zanac
-        Tetris
-        Ikari Warriors
-        Heavy Barrel
-        Double Dragon
-        Shinobi

I’d be willing to bet there’s a less than hidden obsession with 80’s action movies starring muscley dudes and/or a superfluous amount of ninjas. If that didn’t evolve into Gears of War in some way, I’ll eat a shoe that’s made of waffles. And in the same way, the design of Gears is very modern, Epic still managed to include “Arcade” mode for us old schoolers that just like to watch points asplode out of people.

Tetris. Did not see that one coming.


  1. Jonathan Holmes Jonathan Holmes has some good insight for characters in modern games.

  2. Rampart! I freaking love that game. It was definitely one of my all time favorites, especially multiplayer. I got really excited when they released it on PSN, but they jacked up the controls pretty badly. It's basically unplayable. Balls.