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,
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.