Jun 232015
 

Robert here, recently returned from E3!

The Playstation Press Conference was first up on the itinerary (day before the show floor opened) and was great. I was on one of the far sides so I couldn’t see half the side screens, but on the plus side, I could read the teleprompter. Audience reaction for The Last Guardian and the FF7 Remake was something to behold. Like many people, Horizon was my favorite new game announced there. During the conference, there was a moment where they had a collage of several indie game screens running simultaneously on one of the side screens – it was pretty trippy to see Cosmic Star Heroine up there. I don’t think you can see it on any of the recordings though (they focused on the main screen then).

Since I had an exhibitor badge, I was able to get in the hall earlier than most people so I took advantage of the time to scope out the place. Our booth was on one of the edges of Sony’s area, near Nintendo’s booth & close to the Atlus/NIS booth (it was mostly Atlus with a tiny corner for NIS). Atlus had a stage where you could dance with Atlus staff & a Teddie mascot in order to win prizes – always a long line there. XSeed Games had a really nice booth a little further away where they were showing off a bunch of games. Was great chatting with various XSeed staff, both at their booth and ours.

Sony had a nice cafeteria area hidden towards the back of the hall, free for everybody associated with them. Besides a breakfast and lunch buffet, it also included a soft serve ice cream machine with an assortment of topping choices. Was also great for grabbing water bottles throughout the day.

Didn’t have much time to play games but I did play Yarn Yoshi, Mario Maker, Heart Forth Alicia, the Amplitude Remake, and Trails of Cold Steel. All were fantastic and are definitely games I’ll be sure to grab when they come out.

Met a lot of backers which was great! Also met tons of developers (both indie and otherwise) and general fans of RPGs. I was very pleased to meet Hitoshi Sakimoto, one of my favorite composers behind the soundtracks of such great games as Final Fantasy Tactics, Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter, and Gradius V. Vic Ireland (Working Designs, Gaijinworks) stopped by and we talked about CSH, Summon Night 5 (their current project), and RPGs in general.

Was surprised to have David Jaffe stop by the booth and to discover that he’s a huge RPG fan. We talked RPG mechanics (he was very pleased to find out that we’re trying to build upon the classics rather than just copy them) while he watched somebody play the demo and then he played it himself. Afterwards, he raved about the game on twitter and even went so far as to say it was his favorite game at E3.

Kat Bailey from USGamer stopped by the booth to say hi and try out the demo and then later write some very positive words about the game, “Cosmic Star Heroine is their magnum opus, though. It is miles beyond anything they’ve done before, with lovingly crafted cutscenes and an atmospheric soundtrack; and in terms of presentation, it stands with anything I’ve seen on the SNES.” You can read the full article here. She also told her colleagues that they had to be sure to check out the demo, with positive results.

A team from RPGamer stopped by the booth and had some very positive impressions and also shot a video of the game. Jesse Woo from RPGFan also stopped by and wrote about the demo. And Kylevito from RelyOnHorror loved the demo: “I was immensely impressed by the game. The art, the UI, the music, how skills and battle work–it was outstanding.

Overall, E3 was very tiring, but it was great to meet so many people and to see a lot of enthusiasm for our game. We would definitely like to thank Sony – not only did they cover our E3 & hotel expenses (and since I live close to LA, travel expenses were minimal) but they also had several awesome people on the floor to help out and to cover the booth during breaks.

We got some good feedback watching people play the demo. Because of this, we’re going to be changing how the desperation system works in the game.

Old Version:
If a character has at least 50 style points when they would take a fatal blow, they lose 50 style, their HP can go negative, and desperation mode is activated.
Characters in desperation mode die at the end of their next turn if their HP is still negative.
Certain abilities and equipment give additional bonuses to characters in desperation mode (generally more damage).

Basically, desperation mode gives characters a last ditch chance to defeat an enemy or heal themselves before perishing. And in fact, I even saw one person at E3 win a battle with 1 desperate character and everybody else dead – a great moment indeed.

Here are the changes we’re planning on implementing:
Desperation cost & requirement is 100 style, not 50.
Desperate characters regain HP slower than normal (i.e. healing effects are less effective on them).
Characters have an innate 50% bonus to damage when desperate (in addition to any other damage bonus effects they may have).

We feel these changes will help reduce the potential for abuse, better create those awesome last minute win and last minute save situations, and just generally work better in the context of the combat system.

That’s it for E3! Now back to finishing the game!

 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Feb 022015
 

Rami Ismail of Vlambeer fame recently wrote an interesting article talking about the failures & success of the game industry. There’s nothing particularly new in his article but it serves as a good summary of the current state of things.

We live in a world where it’s never been easier to make video games. One-person & small teams now can make a video game, release it digitally, and hopefully find success without the need for a publisher. With that freedom & ease comes competition. In a world where everyone can make a video game, sometimes it feels like everyone IS making a video game.

You can’t directly get rid of competition. You can’t make people stop making video games.

So what are you to do in a world where everyone is making a video game and you’re up against all of the classics of past years? There are basically three routes to success.

1 – Make a better game than everything else. We see this a lot in the AAA sphere. If we take one of the best games of the past & spend even more money on graphics & technology, the end result should be even better, right?

2 – Make everyone think that you have a better game than everyone else. Market, market, market. Spend a fortune on marketing, get celebrities to endorse your product, and try to buy your way to success.

3 – Make a different game than everyone else. We see this a lot in the indie sphere. If your game is the only game of its type, than everyone who wants to play a game of that type is yours, assuming quality & price matches up to their requirements. Most people don’t make 100% original games, but making games in less crowded genres or with unusual premises can have a similar, though less absolute effect.

It’s not enough to make a good game. It’s not enough to make an excellent game. When I was at Playstation Experience 2014, I wandered around the indie section and pretty much every single game I saw looked like a high quality game. Despite that, I’m sure some of those games will not be financially successful.

Quality isn’t enough. If you make a quality game that’s similar to a thousand other quality games, you’re still competing against a thousand other quality games.

The way to be successful as an indie who doesn’t have the money to brute-force their way to success via marketing or better technology is to STOP COMPETING WITH EVERYONE ELSE. Make something that stands out. Make something that’s different. Make a game that gets people to think “I want this game and no other game out there is an adequate substitute.” Make something that’s worth buying. Make something that’s not “yet another” game. Make something that’s glorious. Make something that’s yours.

There’s room for more success in the game industry than we’ve ever seen before, but we need to all stop fighting over the same little pond with the same kind of games. Let the big companies duke it out over a few scraps; in the mean time, there’s a vast ocean awaiting us.

 Posted by at 10:22 am
Dec 262014
 

Since I’ve noticed some confusion on the subject, here’s a quick primer.

This is a screenshot of an 8-bit RPG (Dragon Quest IV, NES):

dq4pic

 

This is a screenshot of a 16-bit RPG (Final Fantasy VI, SNES):

FF6pic

Notice how the two screenshots are very different in detail & number of colors used?

I would include a 32-bit RPG example as well, but in the 32-bit era (Saturn, PS1), there was much greater variety in visual styles with some games using 2D but with more detail, animation, and effects than in 16-bit RPGs (Breath of Fire 3-4), some games using a mixture of 2D & 3D (Grandia, Xenogears), and some games using 3D characters on top of prerendered or FMV backgrounds (FF7-9, Parasite Eve 1-2).

Feel free to bookmark this page & refer to it when you’re not sure whether to refer to a game as an 8-bit or 16-bit RPG.

 Posted by at 8:57 am
Dec 232014
 

I was asked to do another Game of the Year analysis this year, but I was having a hard time coming up with a Top Games of 2014 that was both accurate to my tastes & interesting to read. I mean, I enjoyed inFamous: Second Son & Mario Kart Wii U, but I’m pretty sure nobody cares that I thought that they looked pretty & were fun to play.

So instead, I’m going to take a look at some of the 2014 JRPGs I played this year and discuss some of things they did well and some of the things that they could have improved at. This article will be focused on gameplay mechanics and will largely ignore other aspects that a game may have done well or poorly on like story, characters, visuals, music, etc.

Note, even though I’m going to be discussing flaws with all of these games, I greatly enjoyed each one.

—Child of Light—
Yes I’m well aware that Child of Light wasn’t made in Japan. I don’t care; it’s obviously a JRPG in style.

The Good:
Child of Light borrows liberally from Grandia’s battle system (aka one of the best turn-based battle systems) around. For those unaware with the Grandia system, by using certain abilities on a target right before their turn, you are able to interrupt them, pushing them back on the turn bar and delaying the time until their next turn. Child of Light takes this one step further by giving all attacks interrupt capabilities & by giving the player more control over when the enemy will be in interrupt status via a helpful ally that can slow down enemies while the enemy is targeted and a button is held down (but only while the ally’s meter has charge).

Individual characters have few abilities in Child of Light, but character can be replaced with one of your many reserve characters mid-battle. Frequent use of character swapping is essential to success in the harder battles.

The Bad:
With a character limit of 2 allies & 3 enemies, a lot of the battle situations can start to feel the same over the course of the game. The game only has 2 difficulty levels which roughly translate out to “Hard” and “Embarrassingly Easy” with no good medium level for those who don’t want to steamroll the game but also don’t want to spend a lot of time on every single random encounter (reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings JRPG although it had the 3 difficulty levels of “Embarrassingly Easy”, “Easy,” and “Tediously Difficult”). The LV-Up system is far less interesting than it could have been – characters tend to get all of their abilities early on and further levels merely serve to upgrade their abilities & give them higher stats. Between the repetitive encounter design and a low number of non-combat areas & activities, the game felt like it was in an awkward position as far as overall time goes – a little too long for its depth & variety.

—Bravely Default—
The Good:
I’m a big fan of job systems that allow you to mix & match abilities and Bravely Default has a great one, born from years of making Final Fantasy games. The Brave & Default system that the game uses (which allows you to store up turns for future use or unleash up to 4 moves in a single turn) makes for some great boss encounters. The game also gives the player control over things like random encounter frequency to allow them to fine-tune the game to fit their own playstyle. The game also has a fun metagame in the form of a town reconstruction project that’s reminiscent of some freemium schemes but doesn’t require real money to use.

The Bad:
The Brave & Default system that is so good in boss encounters turns out to be incredibly broken in random encounters with most random encounters being possible to beat in a single turn, often without the enemy taking any moves at all. Certain combinations of abilities completely trivialize the game, enabling the character to become perpetually invincible, or generate a large number of extra turns. Being able to adjust random encounter rate feels like a bandage trying to cover up deeper design flaws like making sure that battles are engaging & properly paced out. Having the player repeat the game works in a loot-focused RPG like Diablo since the main goal in playing is to gain power & to acquire powerful equipment (which has a random element); in an otherwise traditional JRPG, having to repeat the game over and over feels cheap & tedious.

—Persona Q—
The Good:
Persona Q gives all of the characters except one the ability to gain a certain amount of temporary HP & MP. This temporary HP & MP is restored at the beginning of each battle & encourages the use abilities in each battle while still allowing for longer-term resource management (any MP used beyond your temporary pool is lost until you return to the infirmary or use a rare MP restoring item). Attacking enemy weakpoints puts characters in an enhanced state that allows them in the next turn to act first & use abilities free of cost – this is a very rewarding bonus while being drastically less broken than the bonus turn systems that Persona 3 & 4 used. And in general, Persona Q has a very solid ability set as it’s based on both the Etrian Odyssey & Persona series and includes useful ailments, binds, buffs, debuffs, tanking abilities, and more.

The Bad:
Instant kill abilities are too good and allow the player to trivially win most random encounters when properly built for. Persona games limited instant kill spells via MP requirements (you’d eventually run out of MP) and by character restrictions (in Persona 3, the two types of instant kill spells are divided between two characters. In Persona 4, the ally with the great instant kill spells only joins up fairly late in the game & has other weaknesses to compensate for). These limitations could be overcome in Persona 3 & 4 with proper planning & effort but they’re relatively trivial to overcome in Persona Q thanks to the temporary MP system and the greater flexibility in character building & customization. The other major weakness with Persona Q is that with no world map & no real town (the safe area in Persona Q is just a menu for selecting different shops & talking to party members), the game lacks the more pleasant ebb & flow of pacing that a more traditional RPG structure would give.

—Some Lessons to be Learned from these games—

Make sure that your battle system works for both regular & boss encounters. And if it doesn’t, maybe you don’t need regular encounters – hey, it works for many Strategy/RPGs (which often carefully design each and every battle).

Something that works well in one game’s system might turn out to be incredibly broken or unpleasant when transplanted into another system.

Offer difficulty options but try to make sure that in making the game more difficult that you’re not just making it more tedious.

A certain amount of over-poweredness via ability combinations is to be encouraged to give the player something to shoot for & discover. However, be very cautious to avoid combinations that prevent the possibility of losing (perpetual invincibility) and combinations that can be reused for easy victories regardless of the circumstances.

A constant string of battles can become tiresome regardless of the quality of the combat system. World maps to explore, safe areas, story-heavy sections, and mini-games help to break up the flow and make your battles that much more enjoyable when they do occur.

 Posted by at 10:20 am
Oct 062014
 

Of course, this isn’t the only way to make a multi-class system, but I think these are generally sound design decisions if you want to make a multi-class system as seen in many RPGs (like FFT, Blue Dragon, Bravely Default, Wild Arms XF, etc).

1) Use slots to equip secondary abilities & passives into, thus requiring the player to make choices rather than just allow everything learned to be used at all times (encouraging extreme grinding for ultimate characters).
2) Provide enough free slots to allow creativity and prevent feeling trapped into 1 or 2 best abilities.
3) Make it so that classes give all of their currently learned abilities and passives for free while currently equipped.
4) Ensure that classes aren’t useless at base level, thus allowing for late-game experimentation & emergency switching if the player’s planned strategy fails.
5) Reveal limited previews of future abilities to be learned thus allowing for planning. However, don’t do total preview to prevent the player from becoming bored with the job system early on (maybe just the next ability to be learned is revealed).
6) Give all characters innate attributes that distinguish them from other characters, regardless of class. Examples: stat differences (major stat differences, not just mild variations), unique usable items & equipment, exclusive jobs & abilities, etc.
7) Avoid making the innate character attributes & abilities too powerful – you want them to make each character feel unique, rather than invalidate the rest of the class system.
8) Avoid truly broken combinations – primarily combinations that render the player essentially invincible or able to take infinite numbers of turns or win every battle with no risk of defeat.
9) “Sort of” broken combinations, on the other hand, are to be encouraged since they make the player feel powerful & clever for discovering them.
10) Design unique classes – not just the standard Warrior/Mage/Healer generic classes.
11) Don’t overwhelm the player. If you give the player too many options, too quickly, they’ll just pick a few favorites and ignore the rest.
12) If equipment is class-specific, save class equipment load-outs to avoid having to spend too much time re-equipping.
13) Have fun!

 Posted by at 5:10 pm
May 212014
 

I’m only a couple hours into Transistor, but I thought it was interesting how many similarities it shares with Final Fantasy XIII.

Both games…

Feature a female protagonist with a big sword.
Take place in a futuristic dystopia.
Have a unique battle system that combines action with traditional turn-based RPG elements in a fun way.
Tell their stories primarily through datalogs and flashbacks.
Have impressive visuals & soundtracks.
Lack traditional RPG towns & exploration (i.e. very linear maps).

I’ll write more about Transistor after I’ve played more. Early impressions are that the combat is great (like a much improved Parasite Eve 1) and I love all the customization options that the game gives the player with the skills, enhancers, and passives, but I’m not a fan of the story or characters. Of course, this could change by the time I finish it.

 Posted by at 2:26 pm
Jan 202014
 

While most people who attended Steam Dev Days seemed to be mostly interested in the Steam Machine initiative (which hopefully popularizes cheap premade gaming PCs), the Steam Controller (intriguing but our turn-based RPGs don’t exactly require sophisticated controllers), and the future of VR (which I admit I didn’t even bother to attend any panels on since VR doesn’t interest me and I was feeling a little ill by the end of the convention), I found the most valuable takeaway from the conference was all the great marketing advice that was given. Here are some of my notes from the panels I attended that relate to marketing.

Marketing Your Game – Despite being the only panel I attended that mentioned marketing in the title, I found this panel to be the least helpful. It’s not that the advice given was poor or inaccurate so much as it was beginner-level advice (which admittedly, a lot of indie developers still really need to hear): stuff like use conventions to playtest & network, make sure your game has a unique selling point & sounds exciting when summarized in a single sentence, don’t pick a stupid name for your game, etc. The one thing I thought was really interesting was when the developer at Positech Games said that he’s gotten by just fine with ignoring conventions and instead has spent a fair bit of money on marketing, mostly on banner ads – he mentioned $75k but I didn’t jot down which game(s) that covered – and he’s done REALLY well for himself.

Community and Communication in Games-As-Service – This panel was a gold mine of good advice. Although the panel focused on free DLC/updates (specifically on Team Fortress 2), much of the advice is just as applicable to initial game launches. I highly recommend watching the entire panel once it goes online, but in the meantime, here are some of the major points pertaining to marketing. They found that large updates worked better for marketing purposes than smaller ones. A 5 day news cycle where you introduce the update in day 1 & then go into greater details over the next 4 days works well. Ignite speculation – tease elements so that the fans can have fun guessing what you’re going to do (and in fact, their guesses may give you more ideas). Movies are great for 3rd party sites, but screenshots, art, and comics can be effective as well and are drastically cheaper. Make sure to communicate clearly your cool new features (if you have many smaller features, try combining small features into logical clusters for better communication). Narrative outside the game proper can help to engage your story-focused fans. Leaks aren’t necessarily bad and can actually help you. Finally, bad communication is worse than none.

Is Early Access Right for You – The big marketing highlight here came from the debate between panelists on whether Early Access games should cost more, less, or the same as the “final” version of the game. Pricing early access higher than the final game is good for protecting early backers (like beta backers on a kickstarter) and for keeping your initial playtester pool small as you prepare for a “true” release down the line, but if you play your cards right with a quality early access experience, a low price can be amazing marketing as early access players become fans and help spread the word.

In-Game Economies in Team Fortress 2 & DOTA 2 – This was mostly about freemium business models, but again, there was some good general marketing advice here. Treat your customers well. Avoid moves that could cause purchasing regret (someone who regrets buying your game is unlikely to buy your next one). Focus on creating persistent value for your customers. Create positive externalities – how can you make it so that if one person spends money on your game, it has the potential to improve the game for everyone? Speaking of which…

Embracing User-Generated Content – User-created mods can be a great source of marketing for your game – just look at DayZ (Arma 2 saw such a huge boost in sales from the DayZ mod that they eventually decided to hire the modder to make DayZ into a full-fledged standalone game). However, user-created content doesn’t have to be limited to just modifying the game experience directly. Screenshots, fan art, music covers, fanfiction, cosplay – these are all forms of user-generated content that can help spread the word to potential buyers. By encouraging user-generated content, you can extend your reach far beyond what your development team can accomplish by itself.

And that’s it for my Steam Dev Days 2014 experience! I hope these notes will prove helpful.

 Posted by at 4:10 pm
Jan 082014
 

I’ve been a big fan of the Persona series since day 1, so since USGamer recently did an article about what they’d like to see in Persona 5, I thought I’d get in the act as well.

Offer Important Choices

In the original Persona, there were three major choices offered to the player.

1 – Who do you want on your party? This choice was particularly well done because it’s not presented all at once. Instead, you need to reject characters if you want to get a later character on your team. Moreover, there’s even a secret character that can only be obtained if you reject all others AND find all the story triggers involving that character.

2 – Will you do the main quest or the Snow Queen quest? Yes, Persona 1 included an entirely different playable plotline for the game.

3 – Will you see things to the end? Persona 1 and several of the later Persona games have instances where if you choose poorly, the game will end prematurely and you want see the final game content.

Now, with the cost of modern game development, including an entirely different second plot to the game like Persona 1 did is probably too much to ask. However, it wouldn’t be too much to ask for them to have some secondary characters who become main playable characters if you max out their S-Links (playable Yuko or Chihiro in Persona 3!). Or you could have a choice of one of three different clubs and depending on which one you join, you’d get a different character.

Likewise, rather than just have the game end early if you make the wrong choices in certain dialogue sequences, why not have alternate ending sequences all together? 90% of the game could be exactly the same for everybody, but the last 10% could be one of 2-3 different scenarios based on your choices throughout the game (Lawful, Neutral, Chaos).

Make Dungeons Interesting

Seriously, I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to make a huge randomly generated non-descript tower the place you spend the most time with in Persona 3, but it dragged the whole game down. Persona 4 was a little better with its themed randomly generated dungeons, but they were still pretty boring.

If you want to use randomly generated dungeons to help flesh out the game with optional content, be my guest, but please, hand-craft your main dungeons. This alone would make Persona 5 DRASTICALLY better than Persona 3 & 4.

Tighter Integration between the RPG & Sim Aspects

I see two ways to accomplish this one.

1 – Break the rut. Players of Persona 3 & 4 typically will spend a few hours in dungeons & in core story-focused cutscenes and then a few hours in the social sim part of the game. Rinse & repeat until the game is done. By breaking things up with more optional RPG content (unlocked by your progress with S-Links), and the occasional mini-boss or micro dungeon, this will help keep things more interesting & less predictable than “Oh, it’s a new month? Guess it’s time to go through a 10 floor dungeon and help someone find their true self by beating the tar out of their evil alter ego.”

2 – Make the social game impact the RPG. At the very least, if you’re dating or are best friends with a character, that should impact their dialogue in the story scenes. Not doing this is a real immersion breaker.

 Posted by at 12:02 pm
Dec 172013
 

A look at five of the best (and most interestingly) designed games of 2013.

Path of Exile

First & foremost, Path of Exile deserves recognition as being one of the few examples of a game from a previously unknown developer that has managed to achieve great success through entirely non-manipulative form of freemium monetization. Whereas most successful freemium games have some sort of manipulation (like allowing the player to buy things with in-game currency but making it much more faster to use real money), Path of Exile avoids this problem entirely. All IAP are related to aesthetics (alternate equipment and ability visuals), guilds, or convenience (increasing the already high character slot & shared stash limits). Easy though it would be, there are no IAP relating directly to gameplay progression. You can get the full Path of Exile experience, devoid of any additional non-paying grind, for free.

But besides the exemplary monetization system, Path of Exile brings some other interesting systems to the table. There is no traditional money in-game – everything revolves around a barter system where forms of currency double as crafting tools. There are numerous forms of defense (HP, armor, evasion, energy shield, resist, endurance charges, and various special passives & abilities) making planning your character’s defenses almost as interesting as planning their offense. And with a massive LV-Up tree (reminiscent of Final Fantasy X’s sphere grid) and skill support gems (reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII’s materia), the player has tremendous freedom to build a unique character.

Path of Exile is not perfect. Desynch & lag problems can ruin an otherwise fun session, the skill slot system makes finding high level upgrades for equipment more difficult than it should be, and despite all the various support gems, abilities just aren’t as interesting as those that can be found in some other hack & slash RPGs. Still, the developer has been supporting Path of Exile with frequent content updates, so this is a game worth watching.

Lesson from Path of Exile: Non-manipulative freemium monetization can work with a game that respects the player, has frequent updates, and high levels of replayability.

Desktop Dungeons

Desktop Dungeons gained some recognition back in 2011 when it won the IGF Excellence in Design award, but sadly, its official release 2 years later has gone mostly unnoticed. This is a shame since Desktop Dungeons is easily one of the best games of the year.

Desktop Dungeons’ genius is that it takes the traditional hardcore roguelike RPG experience and condenses it into a more accessible (but still difficult) bitesized puzzle game. There have been previous attempts at combining puzzle & RPGs – Puzzle Quest and Puzzle & Dragons being the two best known examples – but these combinations typically just take a traditional puzzle game and add RPG progression & story to the mix. In contrast, Desktop Dungeon turns the actual RPG experience into a puzzle. You need to figure out how best to defeat enemies with your various equipment & abilities so that you’ll become powerful enough to defeat more difficult enemies and eventually defeat the boss (or bosses) of the dungeon. It’s incredibly involving and a great example of how a turn-based game can be fast-paced and exciting.

Besides polishing up the mechanics and presentation values and adding a macro-game of improving your kingdom between runs (which in turn gives you more options & challenges), my favorite addition to the game since the original alpha are a collection of hand crafted puzzles (usually, the game just randomly generates a dungeon for you based on various criteria). Some of these puzzles can get to be devilishly difficult and the rush when you finally figure out the trick to beating them is incredible.

Lesson from Desktop Dungeons: Sometimes taking a traditional genre and then subverting those genre conventions can result in greatness.

Resogun

Praised as being the best Playstation 4 launch exclusive from a number of reviewers, I’m afraid that Resogun’s status as a launch game has discouraged many reviewers from really looking deeply into this game. Yes, it’s a fun, fast-paced shmup with impressive visuals that showcases the PS4’s new hardware well, but it’s so much more.

Resogun’s genius is how it takes common problems to past games in the genre and finds solutions to them. Take the well known classic, Defender. Most players find Defender to be a game that quickly becomes overwhelming. You need to shoot aliens while simultaneously defending your humans who are scattered across the stage from being abducted. If you fail to protect a human, they turn into a powerful enemy, frequently causing a chain reaction where one failure spirals into total failure.

Although outwardly similar to that classic game, Resogun takes a very different approach than Defender. Rather than having to defend all humans at all times, in Resogun, you only need to defend a handful of humans at once. And instead of having to defend those humans in perpetuity, you merely need to grab them and bring them to a rescue vessel before the enemy gets to them. Finally, failure results in missed opportunities for secondary power-ups rather than increased enemy difficulty. These various changes make Resogun much less overwhelming than Defender, but more importantly, it turns the game into an active one (defeat the jailors, grab the human, and deliver them to safety) rather than a passive one (prevent humans from being captured by enemies).

Even more interesting than Resogun’s take on Defender, however, is how it evolves the twin-stick formula made popular in recent years with the Geometry Wars series. Geometry Wars is a fun, franctic shmup, but it lacks the clear sense of progression that you might find in a more traditional stage-based game like Gradius or R-Type. Resogun keeps the non-descript arena & spawning enemies of Geometry Wars, but it takes a note from classic stage-based shmups and instead of spawning new waves of enemies randomly, they spawn in set patterns. Essentially, Resogun manages to combine the best of both worlds – you get the chaos of a twin-stick shooter with the sense of progression of a traditional shmup.

Lesson from Resogun: Even classics have flaws. By figuring out those flaws and finding solutions to them, an even better game can be created.

Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine

I wrote extensively on the genius of Monaco when it was new so rather than repeat myself, I’ll refer you here.

Lesson from Monaco: Some classic ideas & games (in this case, Pac-Man) can still be evolved in exciting new ways.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

The Legend of Zelda series has long been in a rut. Go to a dungeon, find a special item that acts as a key to the puzzles in that dungeon & also doubles as the dungeon boss’s bane, and repeat until you eventually beat the game. It’s a fun formula, expertly done as is Nintendo’s wont, but after many games, it’s gotten old. A Link Between Worlds breaks that rut.

Although Link Between Worlds is heavily based on Link to the Past (where the Zelda formula found in later games was first mastered), it also takes heavy inspiration from the original Zelda as well. The original Zelda was low on puzzles but strong on exploration and combat. By allowing the player to tackle the worlds in Link Between Worlds as they choose (thanks to the game’s new item rental system), that sense of exploration has been brought back to the series. Similarly, by increasing the usefulness of items in combat & removing the need for ammo (items now use a magic bar that recharges after a short delay), combat has become much more interesting as well.

As an aside, I find it disappointing that in a year where Nintendo has revitalized both the Zelda & Pokemon series with some of their best and most innovative titles in years, the Mario series is rapidly falling into the frequent sequel trap. There’s no denying that Super Mario 3D World and New Super Mario U are fun, well designed games, but they lack the wild abandon and creativity that we found in other system launching (and near launch) Mario titles like Super Mario World, Mario 64, Mario Sunshine, and Mario Galaxy.

Lesson from A Link Between Worlds: Too much of a good thing can grow tiresome. Even a quality series can use a shakeup every now and again.

 Posted by at 10:18 am
Nov 212013
 

With the PS4 coming out last week, the Xbox One coming out tomorrow, and the Wii U getting its biggest game of the year (Super Mario 3D World) tomorrow as well, I thought it would be fun to reflect on the previous generation as well as look to the future.

I started out the last generation with the Xbox 360. Although it’s easy to forget now, the system had a wealth of quality exclusive RPGs early on in 2007 & 2008. There was Blue Dragon & Lost Odyssey from Mistwalker, Eternal Sonata and Tales of Vesperia from Namco, and Mass Effect from Bioware, in addition to multi-platform games like Fallout 3. More importantly for us personally, in 2008, the Xbox 360 really kicked off the modern indie era with games like Braid & Castle Crashers along with the Xbox Live Indie Games Service which allowed anyone who owned a 360 to make & sell games for the system. This eventually resulted in the start of Zeboyd Games with some text games released in 2009 and Breath of Death VII & Cthulhu Saves the World in 2010.

I picked up a Wii as soon as I was able to find one in stock (which I did by stumbling upon an employee at Target who was carrying one to store in the display case). Although the Wii had many good games, there were few standout titles for me. I enjoyed the early controller showcases from Nintendo in the form of Wii Sports & Warioware and I LOVED the Trauma games on the system (with Trauma Team being a personal favorite) but games like Zelda: Skyward Sword & Xenoblade turned out to be disappointments.

Finally, I picked up a PS3 a few years ago. Since buying the PS3, it’s become my favorite system with the most exclusive RPGs these days (like the Atelier series, Ni no Kuni, and later Tales games) and plenty of fun, quirky titles like Tokyo Jungle and Puppeteer. And with the addition of PS+, it’s redefined how I purchase games – before I would commonly buy games that I wasn’t sure about after they hit the bargain bin, but now I just wait for them to show up free in PS+.

So that’s the previous generation. How’s the new generation stacking up?

Not planning on getting an Xbox One at the moment. The flood of RPGs that the Xbox 360 received early on has long since dried up and it doesn’t look like it’s coming back to the Xbox One. Mistwalker abandoned the 360 when they canceled Cry On, Namco-Bandai is now firmly in the Playstation camp (Tales of Graces F & Xillia 1 & 2 on the PS3 and a recently announced PS4 Tales game in the works), and everybody else seems to have jumped ship to the portable systems or is making their games multiplatform.  Everyone’s got an indie initiative now (and in fact, the PS4 seems to be in the lead now) so they’ve lost that advantage as well. I do all of my TV watching via Hulu & Netflix (and we already have over half a dozen devices that will play both) & I’m not much of a FPS or sports fan so Xbox One doesn’t really offer me anything at the moment.

I got a Wii U when it came out and I’ve enjoyed it a lot BUT man the post-release drought was brutal. The Wii U gamepad is more of a gimmick than the Wii remote ever was (which actually was put to good use with certain games) but at least it’s hard for developers to mess things up with it. New Super Mario Bros. U was great fun (and I say this as someone who didn’t like the Wii game), Zombi U was an interesting experiment, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed (though not exclusive) was the best kart racer I’ve played in years, but then there was over half a year where big titles got delayed and next to nothing came out on the system. Now things are looking up – The Wonderful 101 is a great game, Wind Waker HD is the best version of one of the best Zelda games, and I can’t wait for the new Mario game on Friday – but third party support still looks grim. At least, Nintendo’s output this generation is looking to be of much higher quality than it was on the Wii.

Finally, I was able to get a PS4 at a drastically reduced price (aka Sony sent us a free one and we split the cost of a second PS4 between the two of us so we’d both get one) and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. The controller is a noticeable improvement over previous Playstation controllers (and unlike some people, I never thought previous Playstation controllers were bad), the user interface & Playstation store are faster & more aesthetically pleasing, and I absolutely adore how you can use headphones for all game audio (great for me since I do most of my console playing at night and don’t want to interrupt people sleeping). PS4 -> Vita remote play works really well with a direct wireless connection and I’m looking forward to using it for horror games so my daughters don’t walk in on me. Though it’s not really my thing, I can see how the PS4’s built-in streaming functions are going to be very popular and should help many games to go viral and sell more than they would have otherwise.

Most of the games I’ve played on it have been multi-platform releases – Contrast is okay but felt like a missed opportunity, Warframe (F2P co-op shooter) was kind of fun but looks like it’ll be REALLY grindy, and Need for Speed Rivals is fantastic. The one exclusive game I’ve played for the PS4, Resogun, is amazing. Calling it the next Geometry Wars is doing it a disservice. Resogun takes the good parts of the old classic Defender, eliminates the problems, increases the intensity, adds multiple stages & difficulty levels, several different enemy types, different playable ships, and wraps the whole thing up with some fantastic visuals & audio. Like any good shmup, Resogun makes you feel powerful when you’re doing well and makes you want to strive to do better when you fail. Resogun is the killer game for the PS4’s launch.

It might be too early to recommend a purchase of any of the new consoles quite yet though. The Wii U is great if you like Nintendo games, but not good for much else; the PS4 has a lot of potential but needs more quality exclusives, and the Xbox One is the most expensive of the bunch without having any killer launch games (though I hear Forza & Dead Rising are both pretty good if you like those series). In any case, this should prove to be an interesting generation to watch – will the Wii U make a comeback? Will the Xbox One succeed despite the high price tag? Was the gamer focus of the PS4 a wise decision in our new smartphone & tablet world? Stay tuned!

 Posted by at 10:31 am