July 14th, 2016
Watch a few minutes of the video above. What do you notice about the nature of the environment? And what effect do you think these things would have on the player?
Here are some observations I made whilst playing:
- The wall textures look similar throughout Tairon.
- There are many realistically modelled doors, but most are static textures.
- Tairon consists of a network of winding pathways which branch out in multiple directions.
- The large hall near Military Gate looks appears to be a hub, but isn’t.
- It’s possible to dash around the rooftops, yet only about half of the visible accessible elevated areas are actually accessible.
- Blood splatters are non-permanent.
- When you revisit areas, fallen enemies respawn anew.
The visual and structural design, as well as the lack of permanency, make it difficult to orientate oneself within Tairon. Because most rooms are narrow and bendy in shape, it is harder for the player to define the room as a simple shape, a technique which is useful when organising the town layout into a mental schema (for example, “the big round room comes after the narrow walkway”). The samey texturing and lack of landmarks similarly deny the player the visual resources with which they can make each room in their mental model of Tairon distinct from the rest. The constant respawning of foot soldiers every second time the player returns to a room prevents one from using the presence of enemies as a means of monitoring their movement through the environment. And, finally, the doors and ledges deceive the player into investigating unnecessary dead ends. Tairon, as a site the player must traverse in various ways throughout the adventure, is a somewhat sluggish stop gap that punctuates the otherwise linear and forward-moving sets of Ninja Gaiden Sigma.
July 9th, 2016
I guess my writing hiatus is officially over now, right? I’m currently working through old notes and drafts, and so some of the short-form pieces will find their way here. If you missed my tweets from a few months ago, I’ve written a 10,000 word chapter for an upcoming edited book titled Level Design: Processes and Experiences, which will be released at the end of the year. It was quite a project and I’ll have more to say about it later on. For now, a few bullet points on 3DS eShop shmup Nano Assault EX. This title was part of the second Nindies Humble Bundle, so if you bought in, then you’ll probably have it in your collection already.
- Shin’en deserve credit for the visually attractive 3D planetoids. However, the majority of game mechanics (moving and shooting) and elements (enemies, hazards, collectables) aren’t designed or arranged to make use of the unique dynamics of the curved spaces (for example, blindspots in the curvature, variable levels of elevation, and uniquely shaped protrusions).
- A natural consequence of the curve-shaped planetoids is that a significant portion of the player’s immediate surroundings is often hidden from view. The myopic viewpoint paired with the game objectives of destroying every enemy in play, can make the process of scouting out that one remaining drone needlessly protracted.
- Since enemy nests spawn in from the sky when the player enters a designated space on the planetoid and there’s no hints telling the player where these prompts are located, the lack of feedback can make finding that final nest feel like aimless wandering.
- The two previously mentioned issues are exacerbated by the realistic momentum (i.e. slower movement speed) when climbing the ends of the frequent bone-shaped structures.
- Fortunately, the map marks enemy locations on the pause screen.
- When moving along the spherical protrusions of the planetoids, where your view is most limited, it’s easy for bullets fired from “around the curve” to catch you out with very little response time.
- Some enemies spawn right on top of you too, which results in insta-death.
- In the tunnel levels, your movement and aiming are both tied to the circle pad. You slide the pad within a central bounding circle to aim and then push beyond that circle to move the ship. However, the lack of distinguishing tactile feedback blurs the inputs, making it difficult to aim more controlled shots.
- Also, because aiming is coupled with movement, you can’t move and shoot separately unless you’re aiming for something in the position you’re moving towards.
- As the camera is positioned behind the ship, your craft can often obscure bullets flying right towards you.
- Your bullets tend to be crowded out by the enemy bullets and explosions, sometimes causing the action to get muddled in the cross-fire. In so many of these hectic confrontations, I was caught out by a stray bullet.
- The spread spray option kind of neuters aiming. It’s more like you’re aiming in general directions as opposed to targeting enemies.
- The 3D harshly splits when you alter the viewing position slightly. I don’t think I’ve noticed this in other 3D games.
- With lots of objects flying towards the screen, it can be very distracting. Sometimes my brain tells me to duck when actually my focus should be towards the enemy ships.
August 25th, 2014
The Mario player uses the stick, buttons, and the Wii-mote’s gyro to run and jump their way from the start of a level to the end. The co-star player uses the Wii-mote as a pointer to point to stuff, pick up coins, grab and fire star bits, stun enemies, and execute various contextual actions. The Mario player takes the lead role and the co-star player takes an assist role. Where the Mario player engages with the 3D space surrounding Mario, the co-star engages with 3D space from the first-person perspective. Because the camera’s behaviour is based on Mario’s movements, the co-star player’s viewpoint is subject to the Mario player’s movement.
What this means for gameplay
- Although the two players are playing the same game, they’re engaging with it in entirely different ways. The Mario player is playing a typical game of Mario and the co-star is playing a rail shooter with motion-control aiming.
- Because the co-star can interact with the same world that Mario inhabits, the Mario player must be aware of, and be able to adapt to, any spontaneous actions that the co-star may make. Likewise, the co-star must be ready for any sudden changes in the perspective that result from the Mario player moving about. By interacting in the game world, the two characters organically alter the challenges for one another. This is similar to how the difficulty of New Super Mario Bros. Wii scales with additional players sharing the same space.
- In this way, to play well, the two players need to have a strong understanding of the game system as well as each other in order to predict and prepare for what will happen during play. The greatest joy that I got from playing Super Mario Galaxy 2 was having my wife, who rarely plays video games, come to better understand me as a player, learner, and person through our interactions in the game.
The dynamic relationship and interdependence between the player roles make co-star Mario Galaxy 2 a game about cooperation, communication and understanding. This is not unusual for multiplayer games, but Mario Galaxy 2 does it in a way where experienced and novice players can play together.