At the various game shows where I've shown off MODSORK to new players, one of the most requested features has been a UI element that shows if the two avatars are within range and can form a beam between them. There has actually been a visual indicator for that in the game for a long time: When in range, avatars are rotated 45 degrees. But nobody notices it, it was too subtle, especially in the heat of gameplay:
As a game designer, every time a new game console is announced, I'm excited to see what new types of gameplay and interactions the hardware might
facilitate. At the Switch's presentation, the detachable joy-con controllers certainly caught my attention with their instant local multiplayer potential and features like HD rumble.
However, what I enjoy the most is when novel input and output hardware like motion controllers and VR headsets is paired with game design that works around its limitations in creative ways. Enter ARMS:
MODSORK's system for abilities/power-ups has undergone some large changes recently. The objective is to have the system reflect and reinforce the
core of the game as well as making activating those abilities more viscerally satisfying.
How it used to work:
Previously, the player activated power-ups by zapping them on the playing field in the same way they zap frenemies. Additionally they had one ability that they triggered with a special input action, by holding both fire buttons at the same time until a paralyzing blast was released. Activating this ability required sacrificing some of their multiplier. The idea was to turn the multiplier into a resource and allow weaker players to use the ability more often if they needed it, at the cost of getting a high score.
In recent weeks, I've prioritized some unusual aspects of my game over developing gameplay features or producing content. Specifically, I've worked on:
- a swear-word filter
- a tutorial
Those are all things that usually tend to get taken care of at the end of production, afaik. The reason why I've chosen to tackle them early is that for MODSORK, my marketing strategy consists of exhibiting at lots of events and sending in the game to any competition I can find. ( I've written about the many other reasons for me to attend game events elsewhere ). Here's how this has driven the development of said features so early in the project:
Over the course of the last 6 months, I've had the opportunity to show off my current game project MODSORK at 6 events in 4 different countries. This included 3 consumer events (Fantasy Basel, EGX Birmingham, Madrid Games Week), a developer conference (gamelab
Barcelona) and 2 pitching events (Respawn Conference's Treasure Trove in Cologne and Pocket Gamer's Big Indie Pitch in Brighton).
I have compiled a loosely structured list of thoughts, observations and learnings from those experiences (there's pictures, too, a bit further down ;) ). Some of it is speculative as I try to find plausible explanations of what appears to be working (or not). None of it is rocket science, but game shows can be stressful events where it's easy to forget even about the simple things. I'll probably make a more game-specific blog post with learnings from these events soon. The following are more general:
Wait, should you even go in the first place?
Beyond the obvious benefit of exposure to a rather targeted group of potential players and press, game expos offer a lot of opportunities:
- Great for user testing and getting lots of player feedback
- Real-world events make your game seem more "real" and look nice on the game's website (e.g. "featured in the EGX 2015 Leftfield Collection")
- It's very motivating to see people smile as they play your game. Gives you milestones to work towards. You get to see awesome, inspiring games.
- Great practice for your pitching skills.
- Community building: how often do you get to talk with your players face-to-face?
- freebies, business; Just two recent personal examples: the offer of a free day of QA testing, as well as an opportunity to get on an android-based micro-console. There's usually also freelancers looking for work.
- Meeting other devs: they're usually a lovely bunch and you can get a different kind of feedback, learn a lot and network. At gamelab, Rami Ismail was checking out the indie game section and giving feedback; at EGX, Mike Bithell played my game for a bit. Though that kind of established dev might not have much time because they typically have some conference talk to give, or meetings, it's still cool to meet them and get their reactions to your game.
- Chances are your game looks a lot more interesting to a journalist or youtuber if there's a bunch of people playing it than if it's just another email in their inbox.
UPDATE: Well, that didn't last long...Next time they try this, it would probably a good idea to do it with a new game and to offer a less controversial revenue split.
So Valve now enables selling mods through their Steam Workshop. It's an interesting move that at first glance seems to run counter to the free-2-play trend in that it attempts to suddenly ask money for something that was always free. It is however very much aligned with current trends towards microtransactions and letting the players customize their experience and pay accordingly (to formulate it in a positive way). It's not entirely new, Valve has been monetizing user-generated content in Team Fortress for a while now, and iirc Nadeo has been doing it even before that with Trackmania.
Nevertheless, there have been some intense reactions to this announcement, some people declaring it the end of the mod community as we know it. While I definitely see some challenges, I'm rather more optimistic.
When all the mods were free
For developers, mod support has been a nice way to increase the longevity of their game and fatten the long tail. Beyond that, for some games, the announcement of good mod support also had the potential to boost day-1 sales. But mostly it's been about soft (albeit important) factors like creating community goodwill and making happy accidents possible (such as the Day Z mod motivating a significant number of Arma sales). Last, but not least, most developers are passionate gamers themselves, so supporting the mod community is something that might simply be rooted in their personal values.
For players, on the other hand, the mod community so far has offered a fun playground that was free of the influence of market forces. In a time of f2p-business models and when even some triple AAA games will break your immersion and interrupt your game experience to remind you of their commercial nature as they try to get you to buy something or other (e.g. AC: Unity's locked chests), that safe haven is understandably cherished. Additionally, the fact that there was hardly any money to be made for the modders highlighted their passion and everyone enjoys being part of that, even if it's just as a passive consumer.
Recently, a PS4 Remake of God of War 3 was announced, eliciting some critical remarks from some of my facebook friends. What's with all the remakes? Where are the exclusives, the new IPs, or at
least true sequels? Where's that "next-gen gameplay"? There seems to be some discontent and some console owners question why they even bought the newest iteration of their favourite console
brand. While I understand where a lot of that is coming from, I believe some of those criticisms are a bit confused and unfair. Here's why:
1. Too Many Remakes
Some people seem to think that the perceived lack of new games is directly caused by an overabundance of remakes, that we're getting remakes INSTEAD of new games. I have my doubts about this, because I believe the resources required to remaster a game are not comparable to those needed to create a new game. While development resources certainly are finite, the amount that is funneled into remakes is too small to seriously impact development of other games. If I'm correct about this aspect, however, I see no other sensible reason to get upset about a specific game being remade, specially not the popular "Who needs that?!" argument: So you personally have already played that one before on a different console? Good for you, but maybe other people haven't and they'll appreciate its existence on their new console.
I'm currently about 65 hours into DA:I. It's a great game, the characters, the interaction with them and interesting, non-obvious choices being my favourite parts. However, I've found myself
dissatisfied and wondering about some User Interface aspects and how they might be improved. Now, obviously, a lot of work has gone into the UI and it's always easier to critique the work of
others than to build a coherent system for such a complex game from the ground up. Keeping this humbly in mind, let's have a look at some of the game's menus and possible
1. The Single Biggest Menu Issue: Switching Characters (PS4)
When you're in the game's numerous menus, switching characters can be incredibly sluggish. We're talking seconds, not milliseconds. Crucially, this is not just about loading character models, but
also affects updating the displayed item and abilities lists. C.f. the video below.
My last post focused on how design decisions about when to play music in a game can
reinforce a game's (or film's) themes. Today I'd like to share some examples of neat music choices in films and games that subvert the expectations we've built by being exposed to musical
conventions that go along with specific types of scenes. I'm sure you'll recognize and be familiar with some, if not all of these use cases. Still, it can be useful to actively call them
back into memory so next time you make a design decision, you might remember a broader spectrum of possible choices.
Omission of stereotypical non-diegetic music
Children of Men has a great action scene that completely skips the typical chase music we're so used to hearing in similar situations. In its stead there's only diegetic music from the car stereo
that doesn't match the visual action. The result is a gritty realistic feel (after all, in real life, unless we specifically picked it out for that purpose, music does not match our emotions,
e.g. an arguing couple in a supermarket with the typical happy shopping music compilation on the PA). This also means there is no acoustic foreshadowing (there's an orange in the
scene, though) and it's all the more shocking for it once the violence erupts. The fact that the audience can't rely on the music to warn it about what's going to happen next increases the
sense of vulnerability.