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.
April 14th, 2015
As is probably evident by now, I’m currently on a writing hiatus. I’ve stopped writing since September last year and will probably remain inactive for the near future. I’m currently doing a masters so that I can teach Mandarin in Australian schools. I’m also taking advantage of the opportunity to improve my Mandarin and bring it up closer to a native speaker level. It’s the right time for me to be taking these steps, so I’ve had to put writing aside for the time being. Such is life.
The good news is that I still have time to play games and take notes as I play. I’m also sitting on about three issues of copy for the new zine project, Adventures in Games Analysis. Daniel (Stolen Projects) and I were ready to release the first issue a bit less than a year ago, but I had trouble banging out the preface (which I’d left to the last minute) and decided to put it on hold as I stew over the direction of the series. The problem was that in the time between writing the original copy and being ready to publish it, I published GDC: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4, edited the Starseed Observatory, designed The Cave of Atman, and had been working to support a small group of critical gamers. These engagements changed my perspective on my own writing, and that change wasn’t reflected in the first issue of the zine. The actual analysis in the zine is great and doesn’t require much modification. Rather, I just need a few weeks to sit down and make some sensible cuts, additions, and tweaks.
Speaking of content and copy, here is a list of everything I’ve finished or have in draft copy for the first few issues:
- a breakdown of arcade racing and top-down racing fundamentals
- a comprehensive overview of Wipeout’s racing dynamics, weapons, and game modes
- a design-focused photo diary of God of War: Chains of Olympus
- an exploration of the social sim aspects of Animal Crossing
- collected insights on Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story
- a technical breakdown of DK: King of Swing’s unique mechanics
- a comparison of Other M and the original Metroid
- a Let’s Play take on The Graveyard
- a comprehensive breakdown of Syphony of the Night’s combat system
- a look at a small, but hugely destructive weakness in Wario Land 3′s metrovania design
- a 300-word review of Trauma Centre 2
- a 300-word review of Bit.Trip.Runner
- lots on Uncharted 2 and education and mastery
- an experiment in designing games in Twine
- a post-mortem of some of my best classroom games
- a discussion on learning and the path of least resistance
- a poem on LocoRoco
- collected insights into Super Monkey Ball Deluxe
- a deep dive into Crossword design and the augmentations of Crosswords DS
- a complete analysis of classic Resident Evil design through the lens of Code Veronica
- a complete analysis on Mario and Luigi: Dream Team Bros, including map, progression, battle, and RPG design
And there’s a few more things that are in various stages of completion. Just typing out this list makes me super excited to get back into the writing game. I’m doing all that I can at the moment to make my transition into Chinese teaching a smooth and successful one. The way I see it, any effort that I invest now is going to go a long way in freeing my time and energy in the future, so it’s worth putting in the hard yards now.
If you’re absolutely dying for your fix of games analysis, though, I recommend checking out Joe Rothenberg’s game Nobody Said it Was Easy. Joe studied Game Design Companion: A Critical Analysis of Wario Land 4 and then applied the concepts to his own game. Each level is short and communicates its ideas succinctly, so playing with a critical eye is a great way to review your understanding of the concepts covered in the book.
See you soon,