Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Drebin #1: Asynchronous Time

Drebin #1 is perhaps the most revolutionary design concept out of all of the Drebin points. It is a design innovation that applies to games that are played in real time. By taking the progression of real time and breaking it down in specific contextual ways, a new level of game design can be reached. This is the essence of asynchronous time, or async.

time is only relative anyway

Async fixes pacing and perspective issues by freeing the game design from a locked, singular POV. By designing a game with async, at any moment (depending on the context of the action in the game) the player can experience additional perspectives without advancing through the game time. The same thing happens in movies when the bomb is about to go off and the movie cuts back and forth between the timer ticking down and the hero making his/her escape. In most cases, if you try to count down with the timer, you'll be off by quite a bit of time. This is because the action in the movie has be desynced in order to gain the double perspective of the hero and the timer simultaneously. What's most impressive is the viewer has no problem putting the desynced images back together in their minds. Adding additional perspectives and stretching time in this way can alleviate many pacing issues with action games when it is necessary to communicate a lot of information at once.

Async fixes the stress on input timing especially for complex motion controls. Gamers today are used to hitting a button and having a corresponding action occur on the screen with practically no delay at all. When we hit the jump button, we expect Mario to be jumping. When we pull the trigger, we expect our guns to be firing. This reveals the inherent issues with buttons and action games. Because buttons are either on or off, the game waits in complete darkness until all of a sudden the button is pressed calling for some kind of action. With buttons there is no warning or heads up for the computer processing. Therefore, to maintain the sense that the player is doing the action, the majority of actions in a game activate quickly after the button is pressed to virtually eliminate the gap between the action of the button press and the action in the game.

Unfortunately, buttons have begun to display their limitations in action games. Very complex actions like Ryu Hyabusa's ninja attacks are not only activated by simple button presses, but the attack animations end very quickly. This leaves little time to add in variance and complexities to the attacks via the controller input.

Games like WiiSports and WiiFit are already proving that expanding the complexity and variance of the player inputs can create deeper gameplay experiences. Swinging the Wiimote like a tennis racket is more complex than simply hitting a button. By combining a more complex and more intuitive input method, gameplay experiences can be much richer than they would with simple button inputs.

Motion controls naturally take longer to execute. An async design can give a game more breathing room. Even in WiiSports golf, after one's swing makes contact with the ball, the power of the swing can be altered in the follow through. This mechanic doesn't obey the laws of physics, however the developers thought it was necessary to take the additional time to read data from the player's swing beyond the point where it makes contact with the ball in order to reach an appropriate level of complexity and variance. Example such as this are small steps toward full async gameplay.

Async stretches the possibilities of action and reaction. When a fast paced game is running in real time without slowing, the visual capacity and fidelity of the game becomes stressed. In the lightening fast action game Ninja Gaiden, battles can be so fast, and chaotic that players are forced to blindly attack their enemies and react to sounds. In these situations the screen becomes cluttered with increasingly more information, yet the game speeds along.

This isn't a problem for the gameplay in Ninja Gaiden Black/Sigma. After all, those games are basically last gen titles. But, I expected Itagaki to address the bad camera issues, invincible frames, and other cluttered design elements for the sequel Ninja Gaiden 2. From the looks of things, the next gen Ninja Gaiden still has all of its last gen problems. Because the series stayed true to its fast pace and button inputs, Ninja Gaiden 2 is looking dated. Swords pass through enemies, yet they can still stand and fight. The player's sword attacks don't clash with oncoming attacks. And physics, momentum, and matter don't react realistically at all. My issue with Ninja Gaiden 2, is not a matter of it not being a more realistic game. It's a matter of reducing the clutter from previous iterations. It's a matter of good game design.

There is no way for Itagaki and his team to fix such serious problems with the Ninja Gaiden series without addressing the drawbacks of the fast pace and input style. If the game's pace were slower, or even if they incorporated asynchronous design elements, Ninja Gaiden could achieve new kinds of interplay. Perhaps swords would clash, or the character bodies could react more smoothly and realistically. In order to successfully play on such a detailed level, more information and time must be given to the player. At least with async, the pace of the game can still be fairly high and achieve such a level of detail. Just imagine, Ninja Gaiden with Wii Sports quality design.

Async fixes lag online. When real time multiplayer gameplay incorporates async mechanics, the game gains the flexibility to bend and stretch time as necessary to keep the gameplay smooth and fair for all the players.

Bad internet connections happen to all of us whether it's our fault or the people we play against. When playing a game with others from around the world, the speed of their connections really matter. Some games like FPSs and other shooters opt to keep the game speed the same for each player. Unfortunately, when the information travels between all the players, some of the timing inevitably falters. I've played matches in Gears of War online where when I fired my shotgun into a wall, seconds later (after I had already moved away from that spot) I saw the bullets hit. Even though all the players in the match appeared to be smoothly running around, there were significant delays between the actions and results.

Other games simply slow down the speed of everyone's game to match the slowest player connected tot he match (Super Smash Brothers Brawl/Super Mario Strikers).

Async is the happy medium between these two options. Even with slow connections, the game can appear smooth. Yet, when the timing between two player's actions becomes important, async mechanics can be shuffled around so that the two players are interacting within the same "time" even if all of the other player are still operating on a different time layer.

At least it's not this complicated...


Videogames already feature design elements that play with the flow of real time. In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, hitting an enemy with an attack briefly pauses the game. The overall effect is nothing more than a more visceral, solid hitting attack.

The same delay effect can be found in the multiplayer game Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Making contact with any attack on another player causes both players to pause briefly. This effect is crucial for letting both players know that the attack connected. For attacks that are a series of rapid hits, the brief pause is extended to a small moment. During this time when both of the characters are "frozen in time," other players are free to move about in "real time." This is another example of how certain levels of asynchronous gameplay exists today.

In Drebin#1#2, I designed the versus mode with a variable about of asynchronous play. Because I wanted the players to focus on the technique of their sword strikes over the speed of the strike, I designed the versus mode to reward the player that strikes with the cleanest technique instead of the fastest strike. After the first player strikes, the second player has a small window of time to finish their sword strike. If the second player doesn't do anything, he/she loses. However, if they complete their strike within the time window, the technique of each strike is compared. If both players struck with equal technique, the faster strike wins. What is most interesting is, the small window of time afforded to the other player is determined by how fast the first player strikes. The faster they strike, the smaller window the opponent has to complete their strike.

Because the motion controls designed in Drebin#1#2 are significantly more intricate and complex than a single button input, async was necessary to keep the game focused on technique and to detract from frantic, panicked sword swings.

Async mechanics work best when there are complex inputs and a variety of information to be communicated to the player. Drebin#1#2 goes as far as possible with async due to the limitation of having no graphics. Because the versus mode is reduced to a single encounter with no on screen character, there is a limitation to how far async can stretch time. Without a visual system to communicate different effects and stages of asynchronous time, the game is stuck at layer1.
  • layer 1: no graphics
  • layer 2: graphics with all players sharing the same screen/audio-visual-outputs
  • layer 3: graphics with a screen to each individual
In future Drebin points, I hope to reach layer2 and layer3 of asynchronous game design. It's a long and complicated process, but I feel that it is a necessary and worthwhile one.


Unknown said...

Looks like an awesome game design. I really like the use of a history of inputs to test the quality of the swing. I think all of the Wii games I've played so far have used only the current inputs.

I'm also impressed by the use of asynchronous time to focus on swing quality over speed.

My main concern is that the players get adequate feedback on the quality of their swing as they are still swinging. If its auditory, how do you tell the two player's swings apart. I guess I'll have to try it out.

Lastly, I love the idea of using Asynchronous time to solve lag problems in online action games. I see a shifting action period where players have control during the last half of the opposing player's previous turn and the first half of the next for that.
For example, with length representing time:
|First |First |First |First |

The key here is that the second player wouldn't do anything while the first is still entering their inputs, and vice versa.

Adding more players would require more divisions.

KirbyKid said...

@ Byran:


Adequate feedback is one of the most important elements for async game design. Each step of the swing has a different audio cue. If you swing without completing the 3rd step (for example) the sound is distinctly different from the full 4-step perfect swing.

Also, the first and the second player have slightly different swing sound effects.

Technically, you can play Drebin#1#2 game without looking at a screen. The sounds and the physical motions both players must go through can tell it all.

I'm impressed that you picked up on the importance of such factors.

Judging from your online async lag break down, it seems like you have a pretty good grasp on the basics of async.

The cut and shuff model (as you described) is the most straight forward example. It's also simple because it involves two people.

The next levels of design include specific actions that stretch or reduce the time the other player has to respond. Also, depending on the action, time can be altered, view points can be changed, or sounds can be repositioned to cut and paste time/reality together in new and interesting ways.

The power of Async is far beyond static time because it turns time into a mechanic. Something to be manipulated, understood, and used to one's advantage.

Unknown said...

Based on your description of the Asynch time, I see a couple of potential game designs here. The designs here focus is on structuring the asynch time over the timeline of a game while allowing players to counter other players actions.

1.) The asynch time time runs in parallel asynch time for both players. Rewards are abstracted from one match to the next. (Rewards might be a win for that match, health, item bonuses, score bonus...). This corresponds to Drebin#1#2. Players may be allowed to perform multiple moves, but extra time is only given to counter opponent's moves, not to make additional ones.

2.) My previous proposal for shifting the time periods but maintaining equal time periods. This removes problems with countering the opponents actions.

3.) Players switch turns and perform actions which do not overlap with the opponent's turn. Opponents prepare counters during their turn which are activated indirectly, such as by the player. Games I see this style are X-com and the Worms series. It has the advantage of allowing time expansion without causing many problems. X-com does this by giving faster characters more time than others, I believe.

4.) Players can modify their actions at any point in a game's timeline. I've never seen a game do something like this, except allowing you to modify the last few seconds (Recent Prince of Persia games). I've never seen a multiplayer game do this. It actually sounds crazy, and I have trouble envisioning what it would look like. It would probably be similar to a board game, with clearly defined actions and clearly defined consequences. Countering wouldn't be a problem because you can modify your own actions to counter their modifications. Adding the indirect counters like in X-Com would be good too.

5.) Some games adjust the rate of the players actions, so that the slowed players are more vulnerable but still able to counter a little. Games like this include Max Payne and Super Smash Brothers Brawl with the timer item. Also, any game with a speed power-up or ability could be considered to fit this category.

Of course the most important part is in the implementation. There are probably a couple of other options, and you can combine some of my ideas.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the compliment about recognizing the importance of feedback.

I have read several game design blogs, but this is the only one with a reasonable analysis of what makes a game good in the first place (Classical game design).

Most blogs focus on game design problems and how Publisher driven design is bad, especially for licensed properties, but don't get to the core issues you address.

Anyway, this blog is great. Keep up the great work!

KirbyKid said...


Wow. Once again you've written a lot in your comments. I've been thinking about your comments throughout the day, and now I'm ready to respond.

Your progression with Async design is very thoughtful. 1) and 2) have already been discussed, so I'll start with 3).

Non-overlapping moves is what I've been thinking about when trying to approach designing a fighting game engine with Async that focuses on realistic hand-to-hand combat and body mechanics. If you watch any Asian martial arts film (especially with certain fighting styles like Drunken Boxing or Northern Shaolin Style) the characters combat using a series of traded moves and counters.

This naturally creates a "push-pull" relationship to their interaction. While one is pushing the other is pulling. It's not too hard to think of this model like trading non-overlapping moves. Perhaps pushing is the advantageous position and a counter would be turning the tables around so that your opponent must pull.

Once again, sharp eye for reaching the same conclusions.

As for number 4), I actually came up with a matching scenario 6 years ago. I imagined a fight between two characters that had the power of time travel. They're duking it out, but at any time, either fighter can zip back in time and mess around with history (so to speak). Right off the bat restrictions must be put into place to prevent the fight from spiraling into infinity, or having someone kill the other guy's parents/grandparents.

So there are a few limits on the situation. Every time a character jumps back in time, they create multiples of themselves. The new versions can't simply say "hey! don't get punched in the face" and have their original self hear it and dodge. In order to change time, they have to do change the environment.

Here's the catch, each character (even the duplicated ones) have a limited perspective. The more times you alter time, the more elements and chaos you add to the battle which makes it harder for each individual-YOU to fight/move/defend. Losing the fight isn't a matter of not being able to travel back in time to fix things. It's a matter of the battle becoming so complex that all the time in the world wouldn't help you figure a way out. In other words, time doesn't have a limit, but human perspective and understanding does.

Here's the part that brings everything together. Though you can't affect your time copies directly, your opponent CAN. This means the battle between you and the opponent can exist at multiple times in multiple ways at once.

I hope all of that made sense.

As for number 5), this isn't Async as much as player speeds. The beauty of Async is that players can be interacting at different "speeds" without having one side be in slow motion of any kind. Time is relative. Speed is relative. Both are largely affected by perspective.

Well, I've said enough for now.

Thanks for the compliments. Hope to hear from you again in the near future.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, pretty interesting.

I really am interested in seeing exactly how your design pans out. unfortunately Megaupload doesn't work for me, so I suppose I will have to wait. But for now, I'd like to submit a few reactions to your spiel on Anynchronous game design. They do not add or subtract from it- if anything they prove that as far as proper design goes, you are most likely on the right path. Seeking not the wisdom of the wise, but what they sought...

As I read your essay, it became clear to me that like all good ideas, this one has been in existence for a while, except perhaps not properly classified and documented. The relationship between gametime and realtime has been an issue in action games ever since the level of complexity surpassed that of space invaders and pacman.

In fighting games, complex patterns of asynchronous input and execution have been in use ever since street fighter ii's combo system. Commands can be buffered, and in the case of newer games like DOA4 and soul calibur, there are moves that can even be modified after the initial input is complete (for example, a PPPP button press may execute a 4-hit combo, but mashing K before the third punch hits in 'game time' will override the fourth punch with a kick. Also, in certain fast paced combat games, waiting until the onscreen result of an attack command is displayed may rob you of the opportunity to execute a follow-up.)

Aftertouch and modifiers have been in existence for a long time. And then there is the impact pause- Capcom has used this extensively in games like final fight and even okami.

Interestingly, the game you put forward as an example of poor design that could be solved by additional async elements, Ninja Gaiden, is not hailed as a masterpiece for frivolous reasons. Invincibility frames and instant reactions are merely instruments introduced into the game to reduce its already punishing difficulty. Honestly speaking, played properly, the camera angles are not an issue, and the apparent last-gen technical 'crutches' such as unrealistic sword damage etc are nothing more than the nature of the game itself. The improvements you suggest would result in a completely different game- Ninja gaiden is a 'farming' game and nothing more: the hack-and-slash exterior is mere veneer. You might as well say poker should be played with bronze busts of kings, jacks and queens.

All in all, interesting piece. Your blog has found a home in my favourites :-)

KirbyKid said...

@ Darkmanzero

First of all, thanks for the interesting and lengthly comment.

Zeroing in on fighting games (especially Street Fighter) is right on the mark. The way attacks can be buffered, and the way commands are inputted before certain attacks is exactly what I've been looking at in my recent research.

The hit-stun-pause as you described is part of Async's origins. Perhaps we owe a lot of Capcom for games like Okami, Street Fighter, and Viewtiful Joe.

I must say that my comments about Ninja Gaiden are relative. I do hold the game to a high regard. I beat Sigma and Dragon Sword for the DS, and wrote a an article about the two. However, neither are perfect, and Sigma is hardly a masterpiece.

My standards for games are pretty high. I don't fault Sigma for any of the elements of poor game design that I described. Like I said, for what is basically an Xbox title, the game is great. But I expect the shortcomings of a game to be addressed in the sequel. And, from what I hear, issues like the bad camera and cheap/cheesy old school game design have gotten worse.

I don't think design elements like invincibility frames and instant reactions were implemented to reduce the game's difficulty. These design choices were merely conventions of the times.

"When played properly" is a fault of the game, not any player's particular style of play. If a game allows the player to play in such a way that the camera goes haywire, then the developers should find a way to prevent that from happening. Players have enough problems learning how to play the game, do we really want them to learn how to properly manipulate a camera as well? Ninja Gaiden's camera unquestionably needs work.

I am aware that my suggestions would result in a very different game. But that's what I was hoping for. I say this specifically for Ninja Gaiden2. If this sequel isn't very different from Sigma in gameplay/grpahics, and they didn't bother to fix some of the game's biggest problems, then in my opinion, the game is a big disappointment.

Basically, the next gen Ninja Gaiden is a not-much-prettier last gen Ninja Gaiden. I guess every developer can't do to their series what Mario Galaxy did: Make a fresh, original game while remaining true to the spirit of the series, and implementing new tech/design that continues to reduce cluttered design elements and reinforce the powerful design tenets like "form fits function," solid controls, and counterpoint of ideas. But that's the standard I hope games up to.

Unknown said...


About idea 5.), I think I'm missing something important here. The way I see it, we have:

a.) Player interactive time - All time at which the player can directly interact with the game, at the rate the player experiences it. Since each action takes time, this may includes the results of the players actions in most games. Increasing player time relative to game time mostly decreases execution requirements, but doesn't affect strategy.

b.) Real world time - Includes Player interactive time from both players as well as time when neither player can interact, at the rate the players experience it. In some situations, this could increase the players ability to react but is mostly irrelevant.

b.) Player Game time - The amount of time that passes in game, with time passing at a rate relative to some in game standard. Increasing game time relative to player time would increase strategic options (longer game time allows more actions, more chances to react)

There are more distinctions, but I'll focus on these.

Idea 1.) and Drebin#1#2 adjusts player time and game time, by allowing players to slow down their strikes for better control. They each perform the same number of moves, but some moves can be longer than others.

Idea 2.) doesn't adjust either player time or game time and focuses on how time segments are stitched together.

Idea 3.) doesn't specify, though it implies both.

Idea 4.) I'm really confused how to describe my time concepts in terms of this type of game. Player Game Time and Player Interactive Time increase the same for both players and at similar rates for each. However, there isn't a 1:1 correlation between the events in each. Some game time periods will get replaced constantly while others will be largely ignored. Spawning new timelines seems to increase the Player Game Time, but is almost exactly like creating new units in an RTS, which obviously doesn't create new time.

Idea 5.) This also increases / decreases player game time but keeps Player interactive time constant. I thought the focus was on adjusting the Player Game time of each player to allow strategic options. Adding Player interactive time reduces execution constraints, which you indicate is the beauty of Asynch. I agree ease of execution is important, but have difficulty seeing its importance as a game mechanic. This is still adjusting Player Game Time giving strategic advantage.

In your response to Idea 3.) you mention Asynchronous time with respect to fighting games. I see the effects of Block stun, hit stun, and Pressure strings creating a basic model of this. I'm not familiar enough with competitive play to know for sure though.
There is at least one turn based fighting game at http://www.toribash.com/
but I'm guessing it doesn't allow a string of moves each turn. I haven't tried it myself.

I do take Karate lessons and agree with you about the push and pull, at least in sparring. The first attacks are always blocked / avoided and rely on follow up attacks with proper yomi to be effective. That said, I don't get a lot of opportunities for sparring, so I'm not an expert.

Unknown said...

I had some concerns about your Ninja Gaiden as well.

From the article:

Ninja Gaiden 2 is looking dated. Swords pass through enemies, yet they can still stand and fight. The player's sword attacks don't clash with oncoming attacks. And physics, momentum, and matter don't react realistically at all. My issue with Ninja Gaiden 2, is not a matter of it not being a more realistic game. It's a matter of reducing the clutter from previous iterations.

1.) When you say "Swords pass through enemies, yet they can still stand and fight.", are you advocating adding one hit kills? Or is this a problem with the collision detection system?

2.) When you say "The player's sword attacks don't clash with oncoming attacks.", is this referring to the fighting game convention of "clanking" attacks of similar priority when they make contact? Or will some attacks be more effective at clanking than others? What happens when one sword has more leverage?

3.) When you say "physics, momentum, and matter don't react realistically", I think of many examples where physics are ignored or handled wrong to the benefit of a game. Mario's jump is a good example. Another one is how rarely games introduce rotational motion from external forces. Another one is instantaneous acceleration to the character's maximum velocity. What physics are you focusing on? Interaction with the environment?

My issues with those three are that if they break significantly from fighting game conventions, they may significantly increase the clutter by providing significantly different effects based on minor changes in positioning in an already extremely fast paced game.

Moreover, these effects are partially negated in real life by allowing more control over angles, power of sword strikes, and center of mass.

As far as invincibility frames go, I believe they were clearly marked. As far as their affect on gameplay, all I know is that they allowed you to cancel the damage from delayed attacks, like explosive shuriken, which sounds like mediocre but not horrible game design. Other uses, such as for approaches and space control, I suspect might be more interesting.

I didn't play all the way through Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox, so again, I might be off on these judgements.

KirbyKid said...

@ Bryan

I'm getting confused with what you mean by replacing/ignoring time periods and spawning new time lines.I think I may know where you're going, but I'll say this instead.

I've played some toribash myself, and have been studying it. It's very interesting.

About your comments about 5)...
Async can do much more than ease the execution of moves. In Level 3 Async design, the player's moves are connected to their perspective in which the game is being viewed. When each person has their own screen, async can decouple time, visuals, inputs, and even sound.

With all of these options open, new types of gameplay can emerge. Instead of pressuring an opponent in a fighter with a string of combo attacks, players can fight more organically by concealing their attacks, dazzling the opponents perspective, even throwing their perception off balance.

When Async opens these options and time is more flexible, the interplay of any gameplay mechanic can achieve new levels.


1) I'm not necessarily advocating 1 hit kills. But if you think about it, there are moves like this already in the game. Some attacks have a very high probability of lobbing off heads. That's practically a 1 hit kill, and it only makes sense when you compare the form of the attack to its function. In other words, if the attack strikes really quickly and with great power only at the neck level, then you can only expect that heads will roll.

I wrote an article about reducing the clutter in games. (http://critical-gaming.blogspot.com/2008/02/reducing-clutter.html)
One of the cluttered design elements I talked about was substituting a single attack with a string of attacks. Ninja Gaiden is very combo heavy. Hitting the buttons over and over easily creates a string of attacks. It irks me when I slash an enemy 10-15 times with a sword, blood flies everywhere, and yet they still stand up ready to kill me. One way or another, a sword should act more like a sword. If the enemies have tougher armor on, then there should be some kind of visual or audio cue to let me know. Otherwise, when the game world doesn't react appropriately, it makes me feel like I'm swinging around a ninja combo stick.

Cutting of limbs in Ninja Gaiden2, is a step in the right direction (at least conceptually). If I cut your arm, your arm should fall off. End of story.

2)Yes, I was referring to when two weapons meet and "clank." I only said this to communicate the level of interplay that I would like for the game to take on. I would like for Ninja Gaiden to reach a level where each attack is meaningful and deliberate. I think that intentionally using an attack to block an incoming attack is a high level of detail.

3) I certainly don't want Ninja Gaiden to turn into a ninja physics simulator. I embrace and encourage exaggerated physics. I wanted Ninja Gaiden to pay more attention to small details and nuances with their character/enemy interaction. I think these issues are easiest to see when fighting large bosses. Some of their huge swinging attacks, you can simply block. Even when they break your blocking stance, Ryu doesn't slide back from the force.

Sigma already has some of the interesting interactions that I'm talking about. For example, If you flying swallow Alma as she's flying around, she'll fall out of the sky. I simply want more interactions in the game that match the form of the game.

To be fair, my suggestions would be difficult to impossible to pull off with only minor tweaks to the game. In my mind, I imagine a completely revamped Gaiden. I would slow down the game and add detail so that each mechanic is as clean as possible and as dynamic as possible. The game would still be fast paced, Async would make sure of that.

My comments on invincible frames are the same about the nature of the game's interactions. Invincible frames are the easy way out. I would have liked for Ninja Gaiden 2 to explore some cleaner alternatives.

Good comments all the way down. Thanks.

Unknown said...


The multiple timelines was based on the spawning duplicates into the past. I assumed that since they couldn't communicate with their original that they spawned a new timeline. After re-reading your post, that's not the case.

For the replace / ignore stuff, this assumes that the ability to change the past is limited, so that players don't alter every single time step in the timeline. It follows that players will focus on time steps that are more interesting. This means that I might repeatedly send duplicates back in time to kick a bucket over, while my opponent sends duplicates to right it again. Here, I am focusing my time on replacing the actions previously performed at that timestep, while ignoring other less interesting timesteps.

Your example is interesting in that duplicates can go back in time to any point at some cost. Meanwhile, they move forward in time for free, but they can't adjust when.

About Idea 5.), I'll let this go then. I'm still interested in this, but it seems to be out of scope.

@kirbykid 2
My concern with cutting off limbs is that suddenly I'm worrying about hitting sweet spots on my opponent. This is common for bosses, which are large and slow and for first person shooters because I have fine control over where my attacks hit. Without that fine control, I have to rely on a combination of timing and position, to get the same effect. In contrast, traditional fighting game sweet spots are always on your own player. Also, fighting crippled enemies doesn't sound very fun. This seems like clutter.

The crippling part is only a problem because they can't defend themselves properly. Knocking pieces off an opponent is otherwise a very fun game mechanic.

You claim Asynch can fix this, which seems very believable.

I love one hit kills, but think that requiring multiple hits can go a long way to easing the difficulty of a game for new players. This is especially true if the enemies are be able to similarly damage the player.

I'm all for reducing the reliance on combos, especially if it gets replaced with the push and pull of real martial arts.

Anonymous said...

@kirbykid, thanks for the insightful response!

I just have a couple of points to make vis a vis ninja gaiden:

the decapitation has nothing to do with positional strikes or blind luck... it is part ofthe 'essence farming' game I mentioned earlier. In essence, a decapitiation move is introduced to add a 'geed' element to the farming game... enemies become vulnerable to a decap before they actually 'die', and even after 'death' (marked by a distinctive death rattle but NO visual cue) can still take additional hits to rack up even more essence. The essence counter terminates when either : (a) you execute a decap in the 'decap death window'
(b) you allow the enemy to reset to what would be a 'recovery' animation anytime after the death rattle has sounded.

The essence farming game of NG is a complex balancing of multiple elements, sometimes you need to get two guys into the 'decap window', then decap them both at once and use an 'instant charge' to immediately summon the essence and go into a UT to earn the 7x multiplier on an enemy that soaks up a particvularly large number of hits.

Soon youll realise that the game is more about positioning yourself relative to good essence obtaining opportunities and less about actually killing the enemies on screen. That a good essence farming routine usually results in the spectacular death of all onscreen enemies is a great bonus.

I am honest when I say 'played properly'. NG is a game within a game- and this is NOT a drawback, as its enormous hardcore and non-hardcore following attests.

Introducing things like arbitrary 1-hit kills, etc without balancing everything properly with the essence and karma systems will break the game irreparably.

Now, I am in o way claiming that NG is perfect. the fact that so many gamers complete the game (or not) without understanding at all how to play it properly is testimony to the fact that so many things could have been done better. My points are that:

(1) The solutions are NOT the ones you propose as they will change, rather than improve the game (at which point, caling it Ninja gaiden means nothing)

(2) The problems the game has are not the ones that may seem to be the most obvious, such as the camera.When the game is played properly, the camera 'problems' are completely irrelevant!

I feel if you take the time to discover what makes NG tick, and exactly why certain design decisions were taken for NG2, you will be better equipped to critique its approach and harness the power of its *good* aspects to produce something truly excellent.

For the record, I have completed NG twice on the original xbox, I quit sigma because it was too easy, and I am able to beat murai and Alma with consistency, and this is without memorising patterns... all organically. I also gave up on DMC3 because it was too hard, so I am NOT a superhardcore gamer- I cannot handle difficult games. I was just lucky to have a good teacher while playing NG.

Sorry about the lengthy, offtopic rant :-)

KirbyKid said...


"Soon youll realise that the game is more about positioning yourself relative to good essence obtaining opportunities and less about actually killing the enemies on screen."

The complexities in NG that you describe are only relevant to high levels of play. Though the game has a hardcore/non-hardcore following, you said yourself that some things could have been done better as many people couldn't complete the game.

Almost every game has nuances and high level complexities that will only be experienced by less than 1% of the people who play. Essence farming doesn't put NG is any special category.

Whether or not the heavy focus on the more abstract mechanics involved in essence farming is a drawback is up to the critic to decide and explain regardless of the fan following.

Also, the idea of 1-hit-kills isn't arbitrary. It's a logical result of the game design tenet "form fits function." In other words, if my sword looks like it kills the enemy in one hit, then it should kill the enemy in one hit. The suggestion was intended to make the game less cluttered, less abstract, and more concrete.

Obviously, I would never expect the developers to incorporate any of my suggestions without balancing it into the game. However, at the same time, when trying to improve something, it's good to be (at least) willing to let go of things like karma and essence systems.

1) Yes my suggestions would change the game. But change is good. And when you change things according to superior game design principles, the game is bound to be better.

Ninja Gaiden isn't a fast paced, Ninja, action game with karma and essence systems and all the other details found in the game. Ninja Gaiden is simply a Ninja game featuring Ryu Hayabusa. The 2D ninja Gaiden games were still Ninja Gaiden games and so would any game the developers decide to put the NG name onto.

Keeping and defining the cool spirit of the Ninja is what's integral to a NG game. If you're not willing to let go of what's been established/what you're used to and change everything, then you'll never get games like Metroid Prime, Mario 64, Mario Galaxy all of which broke free of the mold that their own game series had established yet are still 100% true to the spirit of their series.

2)You can't say that the camera isn't a problem. You may be able to avoid the issues, but 99% of the players can't. You implied that the player must learn how to avoid camera issues. I'm saying, forcing the player to learn such a thing is the problem. Controlling the camera (whether directly or indirectly) is not a mechanic of the ninja combat.

True, I haven't played NG2. All my comments on the game are based on observations and previews. But my critique on NG is based on the core of the game. I don't need to play the high level you describe to comment on issues that are at the game's core.

If I were in charge of NG2, then yes, it would be best of me to be able to play the game on the highest level. Until I do, my critique can only go so far. What I've said so far is how I currently feel, but it's not enough to write an article over. All in all, I frown on game sequels that are simply more of the same.

Thanks for the lively debate. I understand where you're coming from. Whether we keep NG on the same path and prefect it as we go along, or try and make a completely new and fresh NG game, making better games is what I'm after.

Anonymous said...


You know what?

I agree. I just re-read my post and your response and it doesn't take a genius to see exactly what is wrong with Ninja gaiden and games like it.

The greater the amount of buy-in required to enjoy a particular piece of entertainment, the lower the value of that entertainment.

Tecmo can get away with NG2 precisely because of people like me, who have bought into the concept before even buying the game.

Streetfighter is almost worthless nowadays because the modern gamer would pick it up, throw a couple hadokens, and toss it aside without even scratching the surface of its multifaceted, deep gameplay.

I suppose a game designer interested in creating something fresh should not look to games like NG2 for inspiration, as they require previous experience with the game, or other games in the same category.

I suppose my defence of NG ends here. I still love the games, though... and I maintain that the improvements suggested earlier would destroy rather than improve the game. Since a modern ninja game would have to be VERY different from the emergent game that is spawned from high level (or should i say middle level, because the high level NG game goes beyond essence farming) NG gameplay, the solution for tecmo would be to abandon the NG idea entirely and come up with a 'spiritual sequel' that better embodies the spirit of modern gaming.

In a way, exactly how NG for xbox was such a huge departure from the original NES NG games.

Just a question before I leave... do you really think that we need more realism in games? I mean...reality without consequence is boring, even more so when abstracted to a handheld input and a two-dimensional computerised display. Do I REALLY want my character to die instantly when impaled by cervantes in Soulcalibur? Do I REALLY want a swordfight that looks like that inane, boring nonsense that passes for fencing at the olympics? DO I REALLY want to play a racing game without rubberband AI, where a single mistake or failure to practice a track 20 times a day for a month prior to the race means I will spend th last 19 laps of a 20 lap race 2 meters behind the guy in first place, with no exciting hollywood-car-chase moments?

Personally, I'm not entirely sure. Perhaps it will take the next wave of innovation in games to answer that quetion for me.

KirbyKid said...

This is the perfect place to end our lively debate/conversation. I'm glad you put up such a good fight.

The goods in NG are unlike anything else I've played. Regardless of the shortcomings, Itagaki put a lot of love into the game. He's one of the better developers. I put him on the same level as Hideo Kojima. Both create rich characters/game experiences yet they have some basic drawbacks that haven't been address in some or all sequels.

I look forward to NG2. I have to find a 360 to play it on though.

Now about realism...I think I'll give you my long answer.

First I'll talk about realism with graphics. I think Crisis looks neat. But all games that are going for realism can't be Crisis.

Personally, I grew up on picture books, paintings, novels, and cartoons most of which were about non-realistic events, characters, and art styles. Because of this, they required interpretation. Like any good poem or quality piece of creative writing, the words on the page are an invitation that invites the reader to a certain level of free interpretation. Some words allow for the reader to drift away filling in the gaps with their own experiences while others are quite clear and specific pulling the drifters back.

I feel that there is vastly more personality and expression when graphics aren't photo realistic. Just look at Super Mario Brothers.

Now for gameplay...

If you're building a simulator, then realism is a must. Otherwise, strict realism isn't very appealing to me.

Here's the catch.

"Form Fits Function" is probably the most important design principle a critical-developer can follow. Because 80% of human perception is based on sight (and videogames have the whole "video" part to their design),generally, 80% of what the player needs to know should be able to be interpreted from a game's visuals.

So, if you strictly make all the forms in the game match their functions, 80-90% of the game will easily be realistic.

I'm sure you're already familiar with this concept. After all, games are based on how real guns, humans, buildings, etc act for the most part. So when you say "more" realistic, you must mean beyond that 80-90%.

I say... it all just depends. Take Wii Sports for example. The game takes real world motions and simplifies the sports a bit to create deep, rich, intuitive gameplay experiences. The graphics and certain aspects of the simplified gameplay aren't realistic at all. But for many of the games, the amount of detail and variance in the input recognition greatly reflect the real life actions.

It's a beautiful thing when my dad (non gamer(until the wii)) can obliterate my score in Wii Sports Golf just because he plays real golf. And he even gives me advice according to real golfing technique.

The physical world is so incredibly detail and complex, that when games (like WiiSports) reflect even a small slice of realism, I think we're all the better for it. After all, I've categorized the mechanics in WiiSports as the highest level of game mechanic so far in gaming. (http://critical-gaming.blogspot.com/2008/05/mechanics-and-abstractions-part2.html)

Sure, adding more realism to more traditional games can be very dangerous. Maybe Cervantes shouldn't kill with every swing of his sword, but what if we don't take things that far.

For me, adding more realism into a game means adding more details that help the forms of the game match their functions. So if Cervantes gets a leg hit off, if we don't want it to de-limb the opponent, perhaps it should slow down their walking speed. Just an idea. The more details added like this to a game, the more organic it becomes.

Personally, my creative writing style is based on simple, stark, almost mundane everyday life realism with a single detail/character/story mechanic that's exaggerated beyond realism. Like with games, I feel that having most of the experience grounded in realism/familiarities and at the same time having that highlighted detail of the imagination, is quite powerful.

I hope I answered your question.

Until next time...