Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pixel Junk Eden Demo Review & Repair

Eden. The unknown garden where players can guide their Grimp through space and along what can only be describe as some kind of plant like structure. Monocot, dicot, or any other known classification is completely lost to the plant like elements of this world. And yet, as I swing from stem to stem, suspended by my own silken string and dream like sense of momentum and gravity, I make my way to the glowing goal. The Spectra. I'll excuse the Pollen Prowlers I destroyed along the way some other time. I think I'm drawn like the pollen to a destination out of view. Like an innocent child's eye I follow. For in this world, sometimes plants grow down and away from the sun.

PixelJunk Eden (PJE) has the kind of look that instantly attracts my attention. Everything is composed of flat colors and simple shapes that layer together nicely to sit somewhere between LocoRoco, Victorian patterns, and the tail ends of a couple of illegible signatures. It's quite apparent that this game has a strong sense of style and a sound scape to match. If Pixel Junk Eden was just about the visuals, I'd probably have to paint my walls to match the various looks and levels in the game. Existing on the verge of a free internet flash game or indie games, Pixel Junk Eden has broken into the world of the Playstation Network, a place where smaller budgets, fresh ideas, and perhaps more concentrated efforts can be pushed into our consciousness.

Many have played this game and in their sleepy stupor tried to describe it as being sucked into a trance or dream like state. I can't say that I had any such experience with the game, but in my now wakened state I can say that Pixel Junk Eden is a platformer. Now that the genre has been identified, it only follows to identify the game's mechanics, game elements, and design choices that attempt to bring everything together to create the gameplay. If you have a PS3, download the demo and play the game for yourself. If you don't, watch this video before moving on.

Eden: unknown garden = setting of game
Grimp = player species/character
Pollen Prowlers = pollen filled balloons (level element)
Plant Seeds = plants that bloom when filled with pollen and activated (level element)
Spectra - collect to complete level goals.
Crystals - to keep Oscillator tuned = time extenders
Oscillator - level timer

Mechanics, Elements, and Clutter

The primary functions of Pixel Junk Eden are STRING JUMP, SWING, and RELEASE. The secondary functions are MOVE (while traveling through the air), REWIND SILK, and ATTACK. The basic idea in PJE is to move around the environement by creating silken lines and releasing them from either a SWINGing or JUMPing state. The Grimp, player character, can stick to surfaces allowing players to platform to increasingly higher areas in the level.

The plant like level elements are the platforms the player needs to utilize to progress through a level. When a plant is not available, players can grow new ones by filling plant seeds with pollen and touching the seeds directly. In this way, the plant seed design encourages the use of the primary function to transform the level by creating new platforms. Another type of level transformation comes from gripping to the tip of a flexible stem or leaf. The Grimp's body weight weighs down the leaf drooping the leaf and other leaves that may be attached to it.

For a game that's so simple, there is a high amount of clutter in the core design. The clarity in the relationship between the player and the level elements is weakened by the player's ability to grip to or pass through the level elements. AT any given time, the player can interact with the level in one of these two ways. For a platforming game, this means the function/interaction with the platforms can be turned on or off at any time. By oscillating between these two states of interaction, PJE fails to create a strong sense of stability from the platform arrangements. Instead of being a distinct, solid, even brick like element for the player to maneuver around, the platforms in PixelJunk Eden are more like clouds; unstable, whimsical, and muddled. Because the plant platforms doesn't effectively limit how the player can platform but where they can in a general sense, the difference between platforming one way or the other is severely diminished. In other words, without a sufficient level of restriction, variability and difference become diminished and therefore expression is practically non existent.

The Search for the Minimum Degree of Difference

The function of plant like platforms, or the lack thereof, makes it difficult to pin down the minimum degree of difference for PixelJunk Eden. Where Mario is quantified by the brick unit, PJE is much more analog. The Grimp SWINGs in a fluid circle, STRING JUMPs through space in smooth arcs, and grips to curved plants that sway listlessly back and forth. If it's difficult to draw distinct lines to quantify the primary mechanic because of how organically curved the design is, then trying measure anything accurately when platforming from the vague clouds of distinction that are the plant elements is nearly impossible.

Perhaps what makes finding the minimum degree of difference in PJE the most difficult is the lack of variation in the primary mechanics. Remember how Mario's jump is at least 2 brick units high and at most 5 brick units high? The range of 4 units between the players options and variety to the mechanic that allows them to efficiently make jumps, over shoot, undershoot jumps to adjust their platforming and timing. The levels in Super Mario Bros. are designed around Mario's range making the gameplay experience smooth like clockwork. In PixelJunk Eden, the speed and height gained from a STRING JUMP is equal to the height from a SWING and RELEASE. Without a range of variation, the minimum degree of difference for PJE becomes the full STRING JUMP itself. And with only one type of move to build a level around, the range of possibilities is reduced to one especially considering that the plant platforms don't limit space. In essence, designing a level/game around a primary function without any significant variation is like writing a song with only one note. No matter how many ways you mix up the rhythms, the song can't go anywhere.

The environments in each level are vast. As the player moves around, the camera follows along zoomed in enough so that the player character is about the size of a fly on the TV screen. When SWINGing on a silk line, the camera will zoom out. Unfortunately, even at the zoomed out level, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the surroundings. Because the distance traveled from a single STRING JUMP is quite large compared to the screen size, the developers arranged many of the plant platforms far away from each other. I'm quite aware that the art style and level design were closely woven together to create a garden where plants can grow and hang about in mid air. But, because the function of the plant platforms are partially divorced from their forms, the new form that is established for the plants leans close to the side of "anything goes." In a "normal" game, when plans function as platforms they also often indicate where the ground level is.

As we know the plants in PJE are far from normal. The plants in PJE don't have to connect to the ground or grow upward to indicate which way gravity is pushing. With these plants anything goes. And if at any time, the essential level elements in a platformer (the platforms) can be up, down, sideways, floating, non interactive, or solid, then how can a sense of foundation of normalcy be established? Clearly, the function of the platforms was created as a direct result of the artistic style. In the world of art where anything goes and artists are free to do what they please. But, in a game world form, function, rules, and mechanics are more important than aesthetics. For all these reasons, the level design in Pixel Junk Eden feels very inorganic. Perhaps the inorganic design is supposed to hearken to the dream like quality of the game. Still, even dreams make their own kind of sense.

If this is how big an area is....
Then this is how limiting the camera view can be.

The camera brings enough problems to the core design on its own, and the multiplayer camera puts an even greater stress on the core design. Like PJE, other games like Super Smash Brothers Brawl are design so that the camera follows the main player and teleports the secondary player to the main player's side if they move off the screen view for too long. When PJE brings the players back together, it costs players a deduction of collected pollen.

If a player SWINGs around too long on a silk line, the string will break jettisoning the little Grimp off into space. Before the line breaks, players can either RELEASE the silk line or REWIND it to where they can grip safely back onto the plant. Once back on the plant, the player is free to SWING again with the only penalty being that the combo count is reset. Because the penalty only involves the the abstract combo system, and the player isn't able to effective chain their combo from one SWING to another, the silk string breaking function creates negative space. It's just one more routine that players will naturally gravitate to because there isn't an alternative.

Interaction, Momentum, and Flow

The open level design in actuality limits the gameplay in PixelJunk Eden. The pollen prowlers seemingly float around randomly throughout the garden. Because of their random nature, collecting pollen involves a little luck with being in the right place at the right time. The pollen, as well as the rest of the level elements, don't interact with each other. Pollen prowlers float through plants and many other level elements.

The interactions are limited between the player and the basic type of pollen prowlers. SWINGing into these pollen filled targets doesn't affect the player at all. The impact doesn't slow down the SWINGing momentum, speed up the SWING, elongate the silk string, or anything else that would feed back into the primary functions of the game. So when pollen prowlers inevitably float by, players will SWING, catch, and repeat without fear of running into anything. The possibility for PJE to reach high levels of emergent gameplay or counterpoint is continually squashed due to the lack of interaction between nearly every game element. Functionally, the basic pollen prowlers are more like coins than Goomba. If a game element isn't a threat to the players health or their ability to reach the goal, then that game element is not an enemy.

Momentum is created when player mechanics layer and/or link into resulting states that create opportunities with a higher amount of risk/reward. Flow is how a game accelerates or creates forward momentum. This factor of gameplay isn't necessarily about speed. More specifically, it looks at how a game's interactions feed back into the player's options/experience like a snowball rolling down hill.

Jumping for the filled plant seeds is the most structured "platformy" part of PJE. By taking careful aim, players test their platforming skills with this all or nothing challenge. Successfully activating a plant seed kicks the player off into a sort of auto-jump similar to how landing on a Goomba JUMPs Mario rebounding him back into the air. It is this kind of interaction/interplay in PJE that I find the most interesting.

But where Mario's rebounding jump is tied to his momentum and direction, players can choose any direction for the rebounding jump in PJE eliminating the link between the STRING JUMP mechanic and the resulting rebound. Without this link, the momentum is reset back to zero. With the limited string SWINGing time and the grip and re-SWING being the primary movement system, Pixel Junk Eden suffers from start-stop flow. Because players have to grip to interact with a plant platform, all of the player's speed and momentum is stopped. Without a way to continually move through the game world, PJE's flow is arrested in this very small, very shallow repeated mechanic cycle.

On top of the shallow mechanics and inorganic level design, PixelJunk Eden features an abstract combo system that rewards players that snag 3 or more pollen prowlers in one SWING. Unfortunately, because of the start-stop nature of the core design, one SWING and the optional RELEASE is the only opportunity the player has to act in the first place. In the same way that the minimum degree of difference of the primary functions limits PJE's platforming possibilities, the string breaking mechanic puts a fairly inflexible limited on the combo system. Additionally, because the pollen prowlers arrangements are random, the combo limit has an element of chance.

The Primary Mechanic Can't Do It Alone

Back when I first discussed mechanics on this blog, I defined the primary mechanics as the mechanic(s) that the core gamplay is designed around. The primary mechanic holds the most unique and/or most essential functions in a game. All the other mechanics (secondary/tertiary) are typically designed to support the primary mechanic. In Mario's case, RUN and DUCK layer together with JUMP resulting in greater jump range vertically and horizontally, a more compact jumping size for Big Mario, greater control of one's momentum, and a way to organically adjust the game's difficulty by increasing the pace. This isn't even mentioning how RUN and DUCK layer with each other to create SLIDE, the only way for Big Mario to move forward in a compact size. Because Mario can't slide very far or achieve his maximum ranges without running, these abilities are directly connect to the level design. Without enough running room, Mario can't gain reach running speed. So, keeping Mario moving at top speed, not only increases the speed of the game but creates a flow from linking the possible paths from runways, clearly over obstacles, and onto platforms.

The problem with PixelJunk Eden is that the secondary mechanics don't support the primary mechanics by increasing the range of effects for the primary function or expanding its definition. Let's take a closer look at the mechanics.

STRING JUMP: The set jumping speed takes away from this mechanic's direct quality. Because the same button is used to STRING JUMP, RELEASE, and spin the Grimp to avoid gripping to objects, this mechanic is not individual either. The lack of clarity between SWING JUMPING/SWINGing through level elements and gripping to them eliminates the intuitive quality. The added momentum from STRING JUMPing off of swaying plants is nullified by the level design somewhat diminishing this mechanic's dynamic quality.
SWING: Direct. Because the string isn't affected by the level, and the Pollen Prowlers don't affect the string or trajectory of the SWINGing, this mechanic is not dynamic. Also, gravity isn't a factor when influencing the swing using the analog stick. This makes the mechanic counter intuitive.
RELEASE: Direct. Not individual. This mechanic is as dynamic as it can be.

Out of the three secondary mechanics (MOVE, REWIND, ATTACK) only REWIND layers with any of the primary mechanics. By pulling in the silk, players can reduce the radius of the circle thus increasing their rate of rotation. But even this secondary support is weakened by the overall lack of interaction with the silk string and lack of significant physics based platforming. PixelJunk Eden is like taking away Mario's WALK, RUN, and DUCK mechanics so that the only way to move is by JUMPing and moving forward in the air. If JUMPing was the only way for Mario to get around, then Super Mario Bros. would get very old very fast. This trend shows that adequate support from secondary mechanics is more important to the overall gameplay than the quality of the primary mechanic alone.

From what I've played, the core design of PixelJunk Eden doesn't contain enough solid design for me to spend any more time with the game. PJE's mechanics are shallow and cluttered, level design and style is counter intuitive, and the lack of meaningful interactions keeps the flow and counterpoint potential down. With so many design choices holding the game back, I seriously doubt that any additional game elements featured in later levels will somehow mask, address, or fix any of the issues raised.

To the Repair Shop: PixelJunk rEden

  • The first change involves the project attitude. Gameplay needs to be prioritized over graphics and sound. Form fits function and by extension function creates form are the two design tenets that must guide a game like PixelJunk Eden.

  • Primary mechanic can use physics to increase the mechanic's dynamic quality. Check out this video from an earlier version of the game. The platforming/primary mechanics look much tighter. And the floatyness of the jumps is gone, which would help the flow. The changes that were made form this video were for the worse.
  • There needs to be a way to conserve at least some of the momentum from a SWING JUMP.
  • The STRING JUMP mechanic needs to be significantly smaller than the SWING and RELEASE style jump. Doing this will give the platforming jump more range which will give each jump a distinct and clear function.
  • Add the CRAWL mechanic. This mechanic will accentuate and work very well with the organically curved style of the game. Being able to crawl along the plants will allow players to carefully and accurately move into position instead of having to awkwardly adjust their position in quick jumpy spurts. In the same way that Mario's WALK mechanic enhances the JUMP mechanic, the CRAWL mechanic will give the player a greater sense of control over the environement.
  • Make all level elements solid. Without the ability to swing through the plant platforms, the arrangement of the plants will have to be much cleaner ie. less wild branches (see grey picture above). Fortunately, the new CRAWL mechanic will allow the player to crawl around to reach positions with more SWINGing room.
  • Make the silk string interact with the level/enemies/player elements in dynamic and intuitive ways. The Grimp and silk should achieve a playful function like performing yo-yo tricks.
  • Take out the string break mechanic.
  • Add a way for the player to make their string longer. Not only would this increase the difficulty by allowing the Grimp to swing in wider circles and thus increases the potential for interactions with the string, but it would allow for more complex yo-yo style string tricks and bigger, bolder platforming. Perhaps use the Drill Dozer system where the length of the string increases with every Spectra collected. In this way, the levels can have a greater level of forward momentum and flow.
Flow/Combo System
  • The combo system doesn't create layered gameplay /counterpoint. Also, it's not a very good system because of the limitations of the SWING time. Instead of employing an abstract system, it would do the game a world of different if the combo system was based on concrete elements. In the same way that Mario can keep his momentum and combo jumps off the backs of his enemies, PJE's combo system needs to be organic even at the sacrifice of points and online leaderboards. With a new organic combo system, the string break mechanic is no longer need to limit the player.
Level Design
  • Make much more concrete, and design some solid levels to accentuate the mechanics. For example, the bending plants and swaying branches should significantly affect the momentum and swing trajectories of the primary mechanics. In this way, the level elements provide ways to dynamically shape the platforming while creating momentum and flow at the same time. Focus on Bros.3 style bite sized chunks instead of huge confusion open worlds of nonsense. Then, find ways for the bite sized chunks to link together dynamically to create some truly innovative and original levels.
  • The enemies need to be simple like Super Mario Bros. enemies. Also, they need to interact with the level and the player mechanics in interesting ways. The more interplay the better. Perhaps an aphid like creature could crawl along the plant platforms. Players could use their silk to trap and eliminate these creates like spiders.

  • To create true multiplayer co-op gameplay, there must be interplay with the player's mechanics (preferably the primary mechanics). Co-op isn't very cooperative if both players can simply "do their own thing" and completely ignore each other. Being able to interact with one's partners is essential. In Super Smash Brothers tournament level team play, everyone plays with friendly fire on. For us, watching out for our partners, accidentally hitting them, and the ability to save them is far more interesting than not being able to.
  • In PJE, players should be able to CRAWL on friend's silk lines in addition to creating a silk line off off their friends swinging body. The physics involved in such a scenario is beyond exciting. See image below.
Yellow is swinging to the left, while pink is swinging upward.

  • With the new momentum based platforming, stringing, SWINGing and JUMPing off of partners will be easier and more effective than ever.

I believe the write up for PixelJunk Eden is so long because it's a strange game that is so close and yet so far from greatness. Fully explaining why PJE exists in this awkward space, required lots of word space. And to think, all of this from only playing the demo.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bite Sized Updates

Drebin Factory
I've been working in the Drebin Factory. That's just my fancy way of saying, I've been developing working models for a few Drebin Points. If you don't know what Drebin Points are click here. This time around, I've busted out my electronics kit and I've been tinkering around with IR LEDs and GBA carts. Let's just say that there's an RPG like GBA game that I have no regrets destroying in the name of Drebin. Sorry Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. I was guided by the spirit of Johnny Lee. I finally got his Wiimote programs to work on my PC. Expect great things from great minds like his.

Mechanical Upgrade
I wasn't sure where exactly to put this information, so I'm putting it here as a bite sized update. From now onward, I'll be putting the single words or small phrases that describe gameplay mechanics/function in ALL CAPS. For example, the primary function in Super Mario Brothers is JUMP. And one more just for kicks. The primary function in Ikaruga is ABSORB.

Just A Little Fixin'
Personally, bad games upset me. But what may be worse for me are games that come close to greatness only to fall further and break something upon landing. I find myself thinking, "if only they knew to fix this or take out that, this game would be far better." Part of understanding my own propensities, proclivities, and preferences is figuring out what I would have done differently if I were "in their shoes" so to speak. I run this exercise in my mind for books, movies, games, and any of my other hobbies/interests.

So in the spirit of the games that are so close and yet so far, I'm introducing a new segment to the Critical-Gaming blog: The B.E.S Repair Shop. To put it simply, games go into the shop and come out better. The areas that need attention will be explained using the deep analysis that has been established here, and the solutions will also be backed by critical thinking.

Transcending Space and Time
And finally, I played Soul Calibur 4 today. I haven't really played a game of this caliber since Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast. Though I have SC2 for the Gamecube on my shelf, I only played it at parties and in one tournament that I somehow took first place in.

All in all, I'm still just a noob at Soul Calibur. The only character I know well is Link. And by "well" I mean I can do about 10 of his moves consistently.

My lack of knowledge, skills, and experience didn't stop me from taking out a few challengers online today. All I can say at this early point is it was very fun and the online experience was pretty smooth. I'll be sure to have more impressions, thoughts, and insights about the game in the coming days. Who knows, you may even hear from the other member of B.E.S. Also, I have a friend who is a high level Soul Calibur 3 player who may have even been the best in Texas at some point. Getting into a Critical-correspondence with him over Soul Calibur 4 and fighting games in general may get heated.

Keep a look out.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Overused Words?

Recently on a GFW podcast, Rod Humble talked about the words he felt he couldn't/shouldn't say when talking about the Sims games just because they're overused in the video game industry. The conversation reminded me of when Garnett Lee on the 1up podcast expressed how much he hated the word "gameplay." Because of how "gameplay" was misused or overused, Garnett developed a negative attitude for the word.

These are just a few of the "problem" words.

Now NeoGAF is addressing the same issues. Based on some of the responses, it seems there are some who don't understand how language works. In efforts to express ourselves, we create words with definitions so that when we say one thing, its meaning is distinct and separate from other possible meanings.

So without words like gameplay, intuitive, and emergent it would be very difficult or tiresome to explain these ideas.

Perhaps the issue stems from the lack of real critics in the games industry; critics who know how games works, who can employ the language necessary to discuss games, and who can hold others accountable for what they say.

In the meantime, don't get upset about the words. Rely on the definitions, theories, and design principles covered on this blog and we'll actually be able to talk about games instead of acting like the majority of this industry.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Organic and Inorganic Design

By using concrete forms video games can bridge a game fictional world with the player's experiences from the real world to create a deeper sense of immersion and greater ease in the learning process. We've already covered organic amd abstract mechanics. Inorganic design is very similar to abstract design. Abstract mechanics often influence level design that diverges from organic forms, mechanics, and gameplay.The main difference between inorganic and abstract design is that inorganic design is made up of concrete/organic game elements. How these elements are arranged create artificial environments and more restricting gameplay. Now it's time to cover level design.

In order to figure out where a game's level design falls on the organic spectrum, you have to examine the game elements at work. The form of each game element must be compared to the forms of the surrounding elements. Seaweed, bubbles, fish, and squid all belong in water environments. Unless the game's fictional world is explicitly defined as one where such water elements can exist in non water environments, seeing them on the land would be an example inorganic level design. In the examples below, I've highlighted a few strange combinations of level elements from Super Mario Bros. Fortunately, the form of the CheepCheep and the fire chains support their placement in the levels and their functions.

Fish at this altitude? Good thing they're flying fish.

Fire underwater? Really?
Well, Mario's Fireballs work underwater. And the fire chains are made out of fireballs.

This is pushing it. A football player dancing on a block in the sky.

Beyond the forms of the game elements, the arrangement of "native" level elements can be inorganic. Take the bricks/blocks from Mario as an example. According to the fiction of Mario and the trend created from the beginning levels of the game, bricks/blocks are used to build structures. Whether the structures are flat platforms, stair steps, or walls, the bricks/blocks in Super Mario Bros. are organically arranged to stack on top of each other complying with their form. Additionally, the levels in Mario are created out of these structures while leaving plenty of room for Mario to walk, run, and jump around. This creates the sense that these levels are places that a person could have actually built and or traveled through.

This is normal. Everything is stacked together nicely.
I could take a vacation to world 5-1 and walk around.

This is pushing it. As you can see, the gap distance exceeds 6 bricks.
What kind of a world is this?
Certainly any realistic world wouldn't be mostly pits.

Due to the mass popularity of the Mario platforming games, there have been several mods created out of these games. Some mods show off the game's lighthearted physics as examples of vibrant gameplay that sort of plays itself. Others take that same idea and create music out it. Others still design ultra difficult mods that turn the gameplay from focusing on freedom and expression to being a strict, linear progression requiring a mastery of the most nuanced techniques and glitches.

The floating pinching enemies are just one factor that make this mod extremely inorganic.
It's hard for the sake of being hard.

The platforms on the right are moving up toward the fire chain.
To get through this section, the timing is pretty precise.
No chance for error. No opportunity for freedom/expression.

Just one look at these levels and it should be quite obvious that these mod were designed to be difficult at the expense of organic level design. Not only are the level and enemy elements inorganically arranged, but the gameplay is less organic because some of the techniques that are necessary for progressing through the level are abstract techniques that go against the information provided by the game's form. For example, in the Super Mario Bros. players can jump in mid air at the very start of level. Because Mario doesn't have a mid air jump normally, this hidden ability makes the required use of this technique quite extreme and inorganic.

The flow in Super Mario Brothers is completely broken up and replaced by route memorization in many of these mods. Players can no longer go with the flow as the scroll speed and game speed present them with the necessary information to progress without taking any blind jumps or inaccessible risks. In these mods, players will die over and over again because of the inorganic level design. With inorganic level design, everything feels like it's put in front of you just because. In such examples, you start to feel that the level is arranged the way it is only so that the player can complete it. In other words, the design doesn't create or sustain a believable game world/fiction.

Another example of inorganic level design can be found in games like Metal Gear Solid 4. Though Snake has a myriad of skills and abilities that help him traverse his surroundings, there are some small walls that the game won't allow the player to jump over. According to the forms of the game, Snake's inability to surmount a small wall seems awfully silly. Any kid 3 feet or taller can climb up and over such a wall, but for some reason Snake can't. The developers didn't include this ability for this particular area in Act 2 because they wanted players to worm their way up the mountain pass. Perhaps they should have found a more organic way of designing the level/scenario.

It's the same in RPGs when a chair or a small rock blocks you from entering an area. Many times, the characters in these games have the ability to cast earth shattering magic or summon creatures that can accidentally punch holes through buildings. Yet, a small obstacle blocks progression. In one scene the characters can't jump across a 2 foot wide river, and in the next they're sliding down tight ropes from an airship with ease as if they were barefoot surfing.

Being challenged or restricted by such minuscule obstacles is frustrating because of their inorganic nature. Playing through inorganic elements in general is a type of deconstruction. It's a shame when a game works hard to establish a fiction and a form only to take away from it by arranging levels that don't make sense according to that fiction.

Friday, July 25, 2008


Back when the Wiimote was first announced many came to the conclusion that the Wiimote would be perfect for a game like Pikmin. I find this comment a little strange. Sure, the Wiimote's pointer technology would make aiming quicker and more intuitive, but aiming was never a large issue in Pikmin. Generally, the player has plenty of Pikmin to throw at large targets. And after the Pikmin are thrown, they kick into auto pilot and take action to the nearest object. Furthermore, aiming and moving Olimar were two mechanics that were merged together. Like in Neo*RPG, the player aims and moves with the same pointing device which adds a bit of tension when moving away from danger and then turning around for an attack. For these reasons, I never felt the Wiimote could improve upon the design established in Pikmin 1 and 2 on the GameCube.

In order for the pointer capabilities of the Wiimote to significantly change how Pikmin is played, there must be more substantial targets to point at. This simply can't happen as long as Pikmin remains a 2D game. I know that Pikmin 1 and 2 are technically 3D games, but the top down perspective and flat level design makes the gameplay functionally 2D.

B.E.S is taking Pikmin in radical new direction. The 3rd dimension. Introducing...

  • Traverse through both natural and domestic environments, and understand how the two interconnect to create a burgeoning ecosystem.
  • Fully 3D level design. Slide under the floor boards. Climb up trees or drainage pipes. Sneak around canned food in the pantry. Drop down into shelves. The world is as much up as it is every other direction.
  • Features a slightly pulled back 3rd person camera for moving around, and an over the shoulder view for giving orders.

If this is Pikmin 1...

This is Pikmin3D.

Once again, Pikmin1...


  • Learn and use specific and intuitive Pikmin Sign Language by using the Wiimote and Nunchuck to give orders to your Pikmin.
  • Employs a wide range of dynamic orders including: Go. Stop. Throw. Hold. Grab. Pull. Lift. Fight. Dig. Build. Destroy.
  • Collect objects to help Olimar and the Pikmin master their environment. For example, a piece of string can be used as a bridge or a rope latter.
  • Pikmin now have the ability to climb/walk along vertical surfaces like ants. Olimar does not have this ability.
  • Completely organic level design. The world will no longer be a place that is so obviously constructed for Olimar and his Pikmin to romp through. The distribution and arrangement of objects/enemies will be as natural as possible.
  • Features an ecosystem of interplay. Mess with one species, and you may slowly realize the damaging results to the balance of nature over the course of Pikmin days.

These are just a few of the features of Pikmin3D. I'd like to take this opportunity to explain why Pikmin 3D is truly a 3D game both in the core design and the controls.

Pikmin3D is set in a game world that is split between the outside nature areas and the indoor domestic areas. Because these areas are designed with more realistic/natural geometry, the world will feature a lot of verticality. Unlike in Pikmin1 and 2 where the game world is mostly flat, Pikmin3D is designed to fully realize the power of volume.

With the Pikmin's new ability to climb up surfaces, large 3D obstructions can be interacted with in new ways. Though Olimar is limited to more traditional movement, for Pikmin walls become floors. This transformation of walls and space is analogous to how Super Mario Galaxy redefined 3D space by letting the player platforming around on what use to be untraversable areas.

Like in any real-time strategy game, positioning and moving through the environment is key. Because Pikmin can move in 3D due to the ant walk ability, Pikmin can be just about anywhere. For these reasons Pikmin3D is designed with full 3D definition.

By pulling in the camera close to Olimar, and even closer (over the shoulder) while giving orders, the perspective of Pikmin3D dramatically shifts to a smaller Pikmin-sized scale. This perspective gives Pikmin3D a level of scope that wasn't possible before. When the camera pulls over Olimar's shoulder, the player and Olimar's view points align. Because the newly designed 3D space also increases the draw distance of the game, the player is able to see much more of the environment at any given time. Due to the increased visability, Olimar is limited to only being able to control Pikmin that are in his direct line of sight. This means a low hanging leaf might obscure the Olimar's view and therefore his/her control over the Pikmin.

Remember how I described Mario Galaxy's acute definition of 3D space as being the culmination of 3 game elements (3rd person Mario, planetoids/objects/gravity, and the player's first-person starbit shooting) ? To achieve the upper levels of 3D space definition, the gameplay needs to revolve around the triangulation of 3 or more targets/perspectives. The more dynamic and various the triangulations, the deeper and better defined the 3D space.

The spatial triangle of Pikmin3D is composed of the Pikmin/targets, Olimar's perspective, and the pulled back 3rd person camera's perspective.

Bringing the scope of the game down to Olimar's level allows for the controls to be more precise and feature a greater range of effects. The Pikmin Sign Language is designed to utilize the true 3D controller that is the Wiimote and Nunchuck. Because well design motion controls are more dynamic and intuitive than traditional controls, Pikmin3D's Sign Language can effectively replace and expand the functions that were previously issued contextually.

The C-stick in the previous Pikmin games harbored quite a number of functions. By pushing it in any direction, Pikmin could be rallied to do battle, destroy objects, carry objects, build things, dig, or move into formation. As you can imagine, with all of these various functions on a single input the core design of the C-stick is cluttered with a significant amount of automation and contextual actions. When using the C-stick, you may often find that your Pikmin start doing one thing when you wanted them to do another.

By giving each command its own specific motion, the awkward overlapping of intent and automation is cleared from the core design. Using the pointer and the Pikmin Sign Language, orders are issued without confusion. Because each command/order is individualized, the controls can be tailored to match each action. For example, if you want a specific Pikmin to move forward just a little, just point at the specific Pikmin then motion forward in 3D space. Using the 3D Wiimote controller, moving the Pikmin forward feels like pushing it along in real life because of how the game space parallels actual space .

In the end, moving Pikmin into 3D not only gives the game a fresh new look, but it gives the core design a lot of breathing room. I intend on creating images to better illustrate Pikmin3D's new features. Until then, take a look around and try to imagine the world from the perspective of a Pikmin.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

3D Control of 3D

Everyday I live the third dimension never ceases to amaze and boggle me. From a trash-ketball arcing into a waste bin to a nearly weightless piece of lint dancing in any direction it pleases, motion through volume is too advanced for most people to fully grasp. Sure, we live in 3D (let's ignore 4D for the time being), but that doesn't mean that we've all have a firm grasp of 3D space. Even in our favorite videogames, though the graphics are certainly rendered in full 3D, the gameplay and the controls may be something more deceptive and less dimensional. Could it be that promises of 3D gameplay is really snake oil? Is it possible that our control and understanding of 3D space is limited to how we interface with the game world?

Let's start at the beginning.

Wheel paddles. Arrow Keys. Joy sticks. D-pads. All of these input types are great for quantified movement and other such mechanics. Because these controllers can only send on or off (pressed or released) signals to the game, the range of input they can offer to a gaming experience is limited.

When the D-pad was all we had, developers created mechanics like "RUN," "DASH," and "SLIDE" to give players a bit more variety/control whiling giving the game designer a little breathing room. Even on a digital-pad Mario can walk along at a nice pace or use the RUN mechanic to speed things up. MegaMan eventually added the SLIDE and then DASH mechanics to increase a range and control of the character motion.

As the N64 jumped into the next dimension of games, the way we controlled games had to jump as well. Mario64 was the harbinger of solid 3D control design. Mario's Jump has always been analog since Super Mario Brothers: Hold the button down longer for a longer jump. You can read about the mechanic here. Now, it was time for Mario's standard movement to become analog as well.

In a 3D world, we can see everything from the inches before Mario's feet to far off into the distance. Instead of being able to move only left and right, players can move left, right, forward, backward, and everywhere inbetween. The D-pad at best can only cover 8 directions. If Mario64 controlled with a D-pad, movement would be quantified to those 8 directions which would instantly restrictthe freedom that the form of a 3D environment promises. The solution was in the analog stick, a controlling device that allows the player to point to any direction on a plane and have the game respond accordingly.

But the beauty of the analog stick comes from 360 degrees of control and the varying degrees of control at each direction. What I mean is, the analog stick can accurately tell if the player is pushing the stick slightly, all the way to the end, and everywhere in between. So, without any additional buttons or functions, Mario can now tip toe, quick toe, walk, power walk, and run. This is just one classic example of how the upgrade in visual technology and controller technology made the gameplay experience more intuitive and dynamic.

Since the launch of the N64, every console controller has launched with at least one analog stick (except the Wiimote... more on that later). Nowadays, it's rare to find a game with only 2D gameplay, and it's even more rare to find a game without any 3D rendered graphics. Such are are the times.

Shooters are popular. And on the console side of things, the vast majority of shooters are played with dual analog sticks. One for moving. One for aiming. With so many shooters flooding the market, dual analog controls have been refined as much possible. The problem is the first-person perspective and the nature of guns deconstruct 3D space into a space that is functionally more 2D. Aiming is essentailly moving a 2D reticle around on a 2D plane. Though the bullets travel in 3D space to hit their targets, because they travel so quickly and accurately the shooting mechanic functions like a light gun game: 2D gameplay. The button is either pressed or released. Hit or miss. On or off. Sound familiar?

Of course, throwing grenades and jumping in Halo are examples of 3D gameplay elements in a fps. Grenades in Halo realistically bounce off of the geometry of the environment. And jumping is similar to Mario64 in how it punctuates into the 3rd dimension from the movement on the 2D plane that is the ground.

Ultimately, the vast majority of cases 3D control design are merely an illusion of layered and largely independent 2D controls. As great as the analog stick is, it still only controls on a 2D plane. While we're on the subject of 2D controls, the touch screen is a much better 2D input device because of how the actual screen/input device can be dynamically adjusted according to the forms of the game and the changing game state. Instead of translating D-pad, analog stick, or even mouse inputs into the game world, interacting with a touch screen is interacting with the game world directly.

But what about 3D games? Once again Mario has taken 3D game design to the next level or should I say into space? You may recall the article I wrote about 2D vs. 3D where I paralleled the gameplay of a 2D Mario platfomer to Galaxy's planetoid platforming. Though it's true that the gameplay has this parallel, in Super Mario Galaxy Mario interacts in and with 3D space more than any other game.

Galaxy basically takes the 2D plane and wraps it around itself to create a planetoid. The analog stick still works great for moving around on this plane. But when Mario jumps, he not only enters the 3D space, but in Galaxy's case the 3D space is shared and made dynamic by the various gravities at work. Take a jump and you may be leaping into gravitational pulls beyond your control. The gravity's influence is clear because the pull is indicated by Mario's animations and the animations of free body objects in the game.

And if the gravity zones weren't clear enough, players can shoot off starbits that are pulled by the gravities they pass through. Because the starbits travel much more slowly than a speeding bullet, the player is able to understand the nature of the very space around Mario by the trajectory of the starbits. In this way, the 2D first-person aiming is transformed into a tool for testing the effects of the fully defined 3D world. The marriage of Mario's tight controls and 3rd person platforming with the 2D to 3D first-person starbits shooting is what sends Super Mario Galaxy leagues beyond the curve.

Perhaps unbelievably, Super Mario Galaxy isn't 3D enough. When I say 3D control of 3D, I not only require a fully defined 3D environment, but 3D controls as well. Even in Super Mario Galaxy's case, Mario's movement is controlled by a 2D analog stick and aiming with the Wiimote pointer is still very much in 2D.

Designing 3D games I've run up against the limitations of 2D control in a 3D space. In my sturdies, I've found few games/developers that have worked out solutions for these issues. To prove my point, do this quick test. Gather up 5-10 of the lasted 3D games you own (mentally or physically) and check for the presence of these shorcomings.
  • Bad Camera: The camera often gets caught behind objects or enemies. The camera can't keep up with the action. You constantly have to maneuver it to play effectively.
  • Poor representation of 3D space: Cases where the distance of elements moving through 3D space is difficult/impossible to discern. Generally due to poor camera position, the lack of shadows or other 3D tells, and/or the lack of effective camera controls.
  • first-person perspective: Though many claim first-person is more immersive (which isn't necessarily so) this perspective tends to confuse 3D space due to the lack of depth perception and peripheral vision. Melee attacks in first person are very confusing for this reason. This is why many games snap or lunge the character at their target when using a melee attack (Halo, CoD4). Also, because the gun models are rendered at a certain size, getting close to objects like walls or fallen players creates an awkward space where you realize that either your gun isn't in real space, or the space around your character isn't real. Scary huh?
  • Invisible Walls: Sections/areas that look like you can visit/explore, but you can't because there's an invisible wall keeping you out.
Getting around these issues was only a matter of designing a controller that moves in 3D. Keep in mind, a true 3D controller is far more that tilt controls. The tilting technology alone is simply another type of analog stick. (At least it worked wonders for Kirby Tilt n' Tumble.) Even adding a 3rd accelerometer to the mix doesn't change much. In the case of the Sixaxis, because the controller was designed to be held with two hands, the range of motion-control motions is severely truncated. It's no wonder nothing good has come out of the Sixaxis (MGS4 Easter egg included).

The genius of the Wiimote as a 3D controller is that it combines 2 (soon to be 3 with Motionplus) independent systems to give the player control in and over 3D space.

The first system is the pointer. If you haven't checked out my lasted invention, go ahead and do that now: The WiiR Cam and the games to go with it. By using the form of a camera, this unique controller communicates with the Wiimote on top of the TV to pinpoint and track the camera's position in 3D space. As you can see the pointer technology is highly versatile. However, it's limited in that it must be directed at the sensor bar/infrared light source.

Fortunately, the Wiimote comes packed with 3 accelerometers that can generate data to determine the angle the Wiimote is being held at and the forces that are exerted on the Wiimote in any direction. Now, players can swing their controllers, chop them, bat, box, block, steer, and even dance with them. By uniting the forms and actions in the game with the controls/player inputs, the Wiimote becomes the perfect controller for controlling 2D/3D space. Like how the touch screen is the perfect input device for creating a direct, intuitive, dynamic and independent link between the player and the forms of a game, the Wiimote does the same but in full 3D.

I can't design 3D games on traditional controllers anymore. They're just too limited and attract too many game design foibles that I feel we all should move beyond. With that said, I'll prove everything I've discuss in this article by sharing two games that I've been designing for the past week. Telling you the games now would be spoiling things, so you'll just have to wait.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The WiiR Cam Trio

Pokemon O-SNAP. Beyond Good & Evil Wii. Metal Gear Solid Stories. When I said that each of these games are worth picking up the WiiR Cam for, I was completely serious. But don't just take my word for here. Naturally, you might want some details before being completely convinced. I completely understand. So here are a few details about the games.

Pokemon O-SNAP

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  • Use the WiiR Cam technology to take pictures in a fully 3D virtual environment in front of your TV set. Get closer to get a closer shot. Lean to the side to change the angle. Kneel down to put yourself at eye level with a Pikachu.
click image to enlarge
  • Use the focus ring and other professional techniques to enhance the quality of your photos.
  • Work for different companies that need pictures taken for their articles and news stories.
  • Explore the vast Hoen region on foot by walking with a Wiimote in your pocket similar to the jogging game in Wii Fit.
  • Use the Wiimote and other Nintendo peripherals like the Wii Balance Board, to enhance the experience. Climb a cliff face or a tree using the Wiimote. Stake out for a group of Mankey to swing by by balancing on a tree branch or in the player's case, the Wii Balance Board.
  • The player only has Pokemon food and the cutting edge Pokedex camera hybrid at their disposal. Anything else that might be used to interact with the Pokemon or the environment must be procured on sight. Perhaps you can poke a sleeping Snorlax with a stick if you can find one lying around. You can even pick up a rock and throw them.
  • Unlike the previous Pokemon Snap, in this game the Pokemon won't be lining themselves up to have their picture taken as if they were part of some amusement part ride. The Pokemon will be organically distributed just as they would be if they existed in real life.
  • Each Pokemon is like a puzzle. To get the best shots, players will have to understand each Pokemon's nature, which includes their diet, nesting habits, habitat regions/locations, proclivities, and how they'll react to different stimuli.
  • To catch a group of Pikachu, you might want to venture out during a thunder storm. To snag a Grimer, visit the sewers of a city with rising plumbing/industrial waste issues. To track down a migrating Diglet pod, look into recent seismic activity.
  • The better you understand the Pokemon, the better you can find them and take pictures of them in their natural state.
These are just a few of the features that we at B.E.S have designed for the next gen Pokemon experience.

Beyond Good & Evil Wii

  • A retelling and reimagining of the adventures of Jade featuring an innovative and revolutionary method of storytelling centered around the most unique aspect of BG&E: photojournalism.
  • We're removing the heavy focus on combat. Though Jade won't be completely defenseless, there are far more interesting ways for her to battle than with a magical stick.
  • Telling stories through cut scenes is a crutch. The way we see it here at B.E.S the story and the gameplay should be one.
  • Jade and the player have to piece together their own understanding of the complex world and their role in it through their own journalistic investigations. In a world where people and their actions aren't ever completely good or entirely evil, the player must construct their own reasons to fight that exists somewhere beyond the two.
  • Are we allies just out of convenience, or what may be worse... ignorance? Are my enemies fighting for the same things I'm fighting for? These are questions that the player must ask. And they reference problems that can be investigated and sorted out all through the lense of their camera .
  • Use the WiiR Cam to take pictures like never before.
  • Gather images of people and create a database of evidence.
  • Communicate with the other characters in the game through the pictures you've taken. Present images of the characters doing the wrong things at the wrong times to persuade others to help your cause.
  • Explore. Make allies and enemies. Sneak around. Find the truth.
  • Will you end up fighting for what's right? Or is that whole question something that lies far beyond the realm of Good and Evil?

Metal Gear Solid Stories

  • Play as Snake and relive some of his most incredible moments.
  • Every action and interaction has be completely rethought, retooled, and reincorporated into the core gameplay experience.
  • Experience the visceral and tactile CQC fight system that takes full advance of the new technology brought to us by Wii Motion Plus.
  • Hold, reload, and aim Snake's guns like never before. Pay attention to the minute details of every gun like only a connoisseur of guns can.
  • Tend to wounds in real time using specific and contextual motion controls.
  • Listen to codex calls through the Wiimote or the DS in real time.
  • Take pictures using the new WiiR Cam in full 3D.

We hope that you'll pick up a WiiR Cam and all these great titles in Spring of 2009. But don't get too exicted just yet. It's time for some major IPs to show us why the Wii is the most next generation gaming system in terms of gameplay, freedom, and design.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

WiiR Cam

I'm excited and proud to announce a new addition to the Wii family. Actually, it's more like a new addition to the Wii and DS family. Introducing the WiiR Cam.

I know what you're thinking. "I already own Wiimotes, Nunchucks, the Wii Balance Board, the Wii Wheel, and even a Wii Zapper. Do I really need the WiiR Cam?"

I know. I hear what you're saying. But the WiiR Cam is different from all of those other controllers for a few key reasons.

  • The WiiR Cam gives players control of a fully 3D camera controller that allows the Wii to determine how close the camera is to an virtual object and at what angle the players is aiming the camera. Remember Johnny Lee's Wiimote head tracking experiments? This is the first product that was created from his inspirational research.
  • The WiiR Cam reverses the Wiimote and Sensor bar technology which essentially puts a dynamic censor bar in your hands. Because the WiiR Cam is simply a few IR LED lights and an electric current (provided by the Nintendo DS), we can package it with specific software for no additional charge in addition to selling it as a stand along product for 5$.

Notice how the WiiR Cam is pointed at the bottom left portion of the screen. By syncing with the Wii, the DS can display what the camera is seeing just like an actual digital camera. Shutter sounds even come out of the DS speakers!

The most exciting part of the WiiR Cam is the AAA software that is being designed specifically for it. Talented companies such as Ubisoft and Konami have joined us in designed software for the WiiR that is truly like nothing you've ever played before. Each title alone is worth picking up a WiiR Cam for.

The three titles are...
  • Pokemon O-SNAP (Nintendo)
  • Beyond Good & Evil Wii (Ubisoft)
  • Metal Gear Solid Stories (Konami)
I'll have more details about these exciting new games soon.

Friday, July 18, 2008


The first game I'd like to unofficially announce comes from a unique entry from the DS library. Electroplankton is a one of a kind piece of electronic art from the colorful mind of Toshio Iwai. A small team of developers brought the sonorous, melodic, and sometimes cacophonous aquatic animals to life on the DS, and now I'm please to announce that we're taking Iwai's vision and inspiration into open waters. An ocean of water to be exact.

In ElectrOcean, players will be free to interact with a variety of musical "plankton" simultaneously unlike what could be done on the Nintendo DS. This time, players will be submerged into a 3D sound environment thanks to the implementation of our new "Dyanmic-Interactive-3D" sound design (Drebin #11). Instead of listening to paltry DS speakers, personal headphones, or even a home surround sound system, the sounds in ElectrOcean can be projected from a combination of such outlets simultaneously.

A 3D "Ocean" of sound

Gather as many controllers as you want and sync them up to the Wii. Once synced, each controller becomes an individual "plankton" or musical, interactive system. In ElectrOcean, a single Wiimote can become an Electroplankton that changes the music/tones it produces depending on which side of the Wiimote is pointing up. Waving the Wiimote around through the air then would create a variety of sounds and effects that not only make up the interactive system of that particular plankton, but can also interact with any other plankton systems that are set up. Anything that hooks up to the Wii can turn into a unique interactive plankton based on the controllers unique features.

  • Wiimote (speaker/buttons/accelerometers/IR light sensor)

  • Wiimote + Nunchuck (speaker/buttons, 2x accelerometers/ light sensor)

  • Nintendo DS (2x speakers/ buttons/ touch screen/microphone)

  • Wii Balance Board (4 weight sensors)

  • Wii Speak (microphone)

  • GCN Bongos (microphone/buttons)

  • GBA (speaker/buttons)

With the self contained systems (DS,GBA) ElectrOcean can potentially spawn an infinite number of plankton because the handhelds don't have to maintain a wireless connection with the Wii. The more plankton you spawn, the more players can join in the fun.

ElectrOcean is a simple idea coupled with a simple presentation that has impactful results that reach well beyond the interests of gamers alone. It's so easy to pick up and play, gamers and non-gamers of all types can get in on the experience with ease. ElectrOcean is everything Wii Music is trying to be. Except, without being tied down to simulating real world instruments and sounds, in ElectrOcean players are free to explore the 3D interactive world of sound via the Electroplankton.

Everyone should experience being submerged in sound. This is why ElectrOcean will launch today on WiiWare for 100 points. This is part of a new business model we're pushing where players are free to enjoy their Wii and the kinds of experiences that only the Wii can bring without fear. At just 100 points, I don't think anyone will ask for a demo.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Let's Do It All Over Again

Many gamers are hurting from the relatively disappointing E3 show across the board. Games were shown, but very little impressed or gave me hope of our gaming futures. Perhaps Nintendo had the most disappointing conference out of the big 3. Seeing Miyamoto's face not smiling was just about as much as I could take. So, I've spent the meantime coming up with this plan that just might rekindle our hope in Nintendo's future.

We're doing it all over again. It's time for...

That's right. Forget that Animal Crossing looks and plays like an N64 game. Forget that Wii Music made Miyamoto frown in front of millions. Forget that the new Call of Duty game looks like it's stuck in the past, and I don't mean its setting. Forget that we don't even know what the new GTA DS looks like (I realize this one may be the hardest to do). And Forget that Nintendo is releasing yet another Pokemon game that we don't care about.

This time, I taking over Reggie's job and presenting the games that should have been there the first time. And because the B.E.S. team has designed each of these games by hand, each example will be of the quality that can easily withstand the scrutiny of....well, me (or any gamer with the critical-eye).

Not only can I promise that these games/game ideas are of quality, but I will explain the design behind each as well as present diagrams and renders of what the game would look like. That's certainly more than an image of Mario and Zelda with the promise that the respective teams are hard at work. Keep in mind, I don't doubt that there are many hard working Nintendo developers cracking away at future games that didn't make it into the show. But there's a time for making games and a time for showing games.

It's just unfortunate that we have to travel back in time to fix things. Here we go!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Shawn White Snowboarding
  • What's with the weird tweening animations when the characters land from jumps. Looks like last gen or even last-last gen.
  • Hopefully the controls will be as good as Wii Fit snowboarding. My greatest fear is that the controls will be digital instead of analog when using the Wii Balance Board. If that happens, this game will have nothing.

Animal Crossing: City Folk
  • Extremly dissapointed.
  • Lazy Graphics.
  • Lazy gameplay.
  • Lazy Ideas.
  • This is why new people need to take over Nintendo's IPs.
  • I completely called the community mike though. But I figured Nintendo could use the DS mice as a community mic.

Call of Duty
  • The co-op mode is like Jet Force Gemini's co-op play.
  • Graphics look pretty good actually.
  • But the gameplay looks pretty old school/unappealing.
Guitar Hero DS: Decades
  • Song sharing is genius. What a great solution to fit the unique hardware situation.
Wii Sports Resort
  • The WiimotionPlus is looking good with the Frisbee game.
  • The jet ski game better have wave race like water wave physics.
  • From the way the hit stun looked, the sword game looks like it could be the next Wii Sports Boxing, which means it could feature far better and far more next-gen gameplay than most next gen games on any platform.
Wii Music
  • Using the Wii Balance Board for the Drum kick pedals was expected.
  • The accuracy of the musical playing is a little loose for my tastes. After all, I did create the GuitaRPG engine. Still, I'm not sure if it's good enough even for "casual" players.
  • The hand bell choir is an idea I came up with a few months ago. It even has a Drebin number: Drebin #4. I came up with the idea because I figured they would add it to Wii Music. We'll see if Nintendo design is better than my own.
  • Who knows what this game is about......
  • In true Rockstar fashion, we don't even get a screen shot of the game.
The New Pokemon Ranger
  • I don't care about this game.

I'm a little disappointed with Nintendo's conference this year. Maybe more will be shown/revealed later like they did with the Super Smash Brothers Brawl trailer last year.

At least I still have a few blockbuster announcements to make on Nintendo's unofficial behalf.

Stay tuned. And stay afloat.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wrapping up the Xbox

Halo Wars
  • video1
  • Many are hoping for Halo Wars to prove that a console controller can work for an RTS game.
  • The main issue I have with Halo Wars is tied to the source that created such hopeful people in the first place. Halo Wars, though designed for the 360 from the ground up, still looks like a PC RTS. The reason why so many other developers have struggled to adapt the PC controls to a console controller is because they're still trying to play a PC game on a console.
  • If Halo Wars is really designed for the Xbox360, then the developers would have created their own unique brand of RTS gameplay that would only make perfect sense using a console controller. I can't tell whether they did or not at this point.
  • Pikmin did it. Pikmin 2 did it again. Both of the excellent games feature the best console RTS controls around. Is it a surprise that the gameplay in Pikmin1&2 is some of the most unique gameplay in grand scheme of RTSs?
  • I will be watching Halo Wars in the future for its overall gameplay style and its controller scheme.
Fable 2
  • video1
  • The graphics are nice, but the combat looks really weird.
  • In the heat of battle the graphical clutter increases and the frame rate drops.
  • From what I know about the approach that's being taken with Fable 2's combat, it seems like the idea of simple (one button)/fun combat was taken too far. From what I can gather, it looks like after the combat was simplified, the developers sped up the combat while reducing the dynamic interactions between the elements in order to keep things "fun." This is very dangerous because it's far to easy to sacrifice weight, timing, commitment, and dynamics in the process.
  • The result is a game that is designed to feature cool combat on the base level instead of creating situations for the cool combat to emerge.
Too Human
  • video1
  • Looking better animation wise.
  • I don't have a 360, otherwise, I'd simply play the demo instead of watching videos.
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  • Looks a lot likeBioShock... especially with the menus.
  • The turn based combat looks a little too much like an RPG, which means it's bad.
  • Lock picking reminds me of BioShock's hacking.
  • The gameplay looks silly. Even the simple interactions within the action combat seem very unpolished and even laughable. On some levels, it seems like Fallout3 isn't taking itself seriously.
  • An open world means nothing if there's no "game" to experience it with.

Mirror's Edge
  • video 1
  • walkthrough video
  • I'm afraid that Mirror's Edge will be like Price of Persia: The Sands of Time's platforming mixed with Assassin's Creed's free running. In other words, I'm afraid that Mirror's Edge will be all looks and no play.
  • POP's platforming is so strict, linear, and unforgiving that the game heavily used the rewind time power to cover up the substantial trial and error platforming. I've heard from 1up Yours that Mirror's Edge is very similar and that you'll be falling to your death a lot. When this happens the game resets you to the point before you died. Sound familiar?
  • Assassin's Creed's free running looks amazing. Unfortunately, Altier practically does all the work for the player. Such a high level of automation takes away a lot of the play from the player and the game.
  • How deep can Mirror's Edges puzzles be when the Runner's Eye turns important areas red?
  • How tight can the platforming be in first person? Hopefully we won't have to relive Turok on the N64 again.
  • So far the game is in first-person, features bullet time, and has the "yellow brick road" that paints the way to success. This game is going to have a tough time overcoming these design hurdles. Nonetheless, I'm rooting for this one.

Geometry Wars 2
  • Information
  • video 1
  • I own Geometry Wars: Galaxies for the Wii. After writing my article on clutter, I've been slowly realizing how limited the design of Geometry Wars is. Even in the Wii version's 40+ levels and with the addition of personality bots, , there is very little variation to the gameplay.
  • So now we come to Geometry Wars 2 for the Xbox360. And it's 4 players.
  • It was hard enough to see through the clutter of firework like special effects with just one person playing. Good luck with this game. Strictly from a design perspective, this game will probably be a mess.
  • Also, there's no word of online play. Because of the nature of Geometry Wars, there is a 90% chance that there will not be any co-op online play unless they want to slow the game way down.

It's been a busy day, and it's only going to get busier tomorrow. See you then.

Out of the XBox

Resident Evil 5
  • video1
  • video2
  • I'm not at all impressed with RE5 so far.
  • Looks like RE4 with a different main character.
  • The destructible environments look like graphical embellishments.
  • The co-op play looks stiff and forced.
Face Breaker
  • 360/PS3 version
  • Wii version
  • Oh really? What makes old school gaming so great if you don't mind me asking? Because form the looks of things, Face Breaker (Wii) looks pretty shallow.
  • Designing a game where players will get hit no matter how skilled one is or how inexperienced their opponent is, is a big mistake. From the looks of things, Face Breaker isn't a good game. I don't know why a developer would spend so much time trying offset the advantage a pro has over a new comer. Sakurai made this mistake and now all the Brawl players are suffering. Developing games is hard enough without fighting battles you should be involved in.
  • The 360/PS3 version looks much better than the Wii version gameplay wise. Two different teams are working on these games, and the Wii teams looks like they're far behind the 360/PS3 team.
Far Cry 2
  • video1
  • Flushing enemies out from places, and shooting them while they're going through any type of non aggressive animation has been done many times before. It's not deception as much as simply shooting enemies when they come into range. It's nothing special.
  • No matter how you mask exploding barrels, they're still exploding barrels. In this case the ammo pick ups and the propane tank are two new examples of things we've already seen many times before.
  • Putting bombs on things and detonating isn't as satisfying when the game practically tells you to do it. Perfect Dark, a first-person shooter on the N64, feature dynamic objectives and remote mine explosion opportunities. Far Cry 2 isn't as even as good as Perfect Dark. Nothing new here.
  • The enemy animation looks very questionable. With the upgrade to more realistic graphics, the enemies look like they're still a few gens behind.
Gears of War 2
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  • This game looks very impressive. Sequels are always at risk of being too similar to their predecessors, or adding things that diminish the game. RE5 is suffering from both of these pit falls. Fortunately, Gears looks like it's doing things right.
  • According to Cliff Bleszinski, the multiplayer options and balance have gone under considerable tweaking based on how the meta game of Gears of War's multiplayer developed. Paying attention to the community is always a good thing. But making the best design decisions is always best.
  • Aside from the new party based matchmaking options and adjusting the net-code to reduce the extreme host advantage when playing online, the cover system is being refined even further than the original gears.
  • The graphics and sound will all be there I assume. But the thing that has me most excited for this game is the interplay that's being added. Remember Gears of War's interplay?
  • Now players can pick up downed opponents and use them as shields. Downed players can also mash the A button to crawl away to a safer/hidden area hopefully unnoticed. Hopefully there are ways for you to break out of an enemy's grasp when they're using you as a shield. Once again, RE5 showed some of these same scenarios. In RE5 case, the animation and gameplay looks a lot less polished.
  • In addition to the interplay with downed players, bullets now have stopping power meaning, you can slow down your opponent by shooting them. Depending on how this mechanic is incorporated, the gunplay in Gears can be expanded. If leg shots are the inverse of head shots (trading off damage vs. stopping power), when coupled with the new cover system, a rich new level of play may be opened.
  • Gears of War already featured the familiar guns and then some. But the new weapons in Gears2 seem to be designed to work well with the new options that I've just described. One gun, as Cliffy B. described, is great when fired while holding an enemy as a shield and makes a great addition to game because of the unique space it fills within the range of the game's gun variation. With a game like Gears, with new abilities and properties should come new weapons that accentuate them.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
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  • I wanted to just say "yuck" and be done with this game, but that wouldn't be very "critical" of me. Ignoring the premise/conceit of the game, I'll say this...
  • The animations look stiff.
  • Why is Superman bleeding when he gets hit?
  • I thought the DC characters couldn't be subjected to fatalities because of some kind of agreement with DC. I wonder what happened to that.
  • It's not very nice to say that a certain game series is dead. Still, from the looks of things, this game doesn't help Mortal Combat.
Tom Clancy's EndWar
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  • This video was simply confusing.
  • RTS is a genre that has become quite complex and at times unnecessarily so. And this video proves that point.
  • I can't understand the mechanics of this game, so all I can say is there is a lot of attention put into little details in the graphics.
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  • The graphics and the style are definitely cluttered. Between all the dark tones and shadows, I can hardly see what's going on in the video. Throw on top of that the explosion effects and the physics based sharpnel and the focus of the game becomes highly unstable.
  • Manipulating the terrain creates some interesting potential for interplay. ie.using hills to create walls/cover on the fly can be countered by using borrowing missiles. In this case, the interplay is gunplay because the terrain changing ammo is shot out of the player's gun.
  • According to the developers, Fracture sounds like it's designed with simple/open rules that allow for unique emergent strategies.
  • From how the terrain changing mechanic looks, the game seems to be moving a bit to fast almost as if it's trying to mimic the gameplay of another shooter while adding terrain effects on top as a bonus. Hopeful these developers can focus on what's most unique about their game and let everything else (controls to game speed to graphics) support the core.
More Critical-Hits to come.