Nov 122013
 

So I’ve been replaying Final Fantasy XIII. First it was as a joke (torture myself for the Extra Life marathon), but then it was because I was honestly enjoying the unique battle system that the game has to offer. FFXIII’s battle system offers a fun evolution of the earlier Final Fantasy games’ ATB battle system.

However, Square-Enix made a major mistake with the combat – they didn’t take everything to its logical conclusion.

Final Fantasy XIII’s combat is all about switching your party’s AI via class changes. There are 6 classes, each of which has a very definite role to play. There’s a tank class, a healer class, a debuff/ailment class, and a buff class. Finally, there are two classes for direct damage – one boosts the enemies’ damage multipliers and the other class deals massive damage once those multipliers are up.

Each of these 6 classes have a distinct role to the point where the player can feel largely useless controlling someone manually since the AI is quicker (no need to fumble through menus) and has few choices to make since once a class is chosen, what you should do with that class is usually obvious. The key is deciding which classes to use and when to switch them, not on how to use them.

What Square-Enix should have done is removed the whole concept of a main character & manually entering commands all together, in favor of a greater focus on controlling the entire party in real-time. In short, get rid of the micro-management and expand on the macro-management.

Here’s what I would do.

Change to a 4-6 person party (with less micro-managing, we’re free to add complexity elsewhere with a larger party).

Several menus adjacent to each other, one for each character. Each menu has a list of all available classes for that character. By moving up & down, you change the current class (no need to press a button), while left & right allow you to switch between characters. This would allow for quick control of the entire party’s AI at all times without the need to limit yourself to a handful of preset layouts.

L1/R1 move the enemy cursor between enemies, determining which enemy will be the focus of the party’s attacks.

L2/R2 move the player cursor between your characters, determining which character is currently the focus of the party’s buffs, heals, and support.

Face buttons are assigned to up to 4 equipped summoned monsters which can attack if they have enough energy. Tap the button for a regular summon attack, hold it for charged attacks (slower, more powerful, more expensive). Unlike traditional FF games, summon attacks do not pause the game so the player will be encouraged to use them to create combos with the actions of the party.

This system would focus more on the strengths of the current FFXIII battle system, while increasing the scope (larger parties, more enemies) and complexity (more classes & combinations). Finally, the summon attack system helps to make the player feel involved and compensates for the lack of micromanagement over individual party members.

Thoughts?

 Posted by at 3:32 pm
Sep 102013
 

The Wonderful 101 is one of the best games to come out this year & is arguably the first truly killer app for the Wii U (though NSMBU was a lot of fun & Zombi U had some interesting ideas). It is also currently averaging around a 78% on Gamerankings.

There are many things that the developers of The Wonderful 101 could have changed to make the game more inviting to the press & general public for that matter but ultimately games like The Wonderful 101 are a poor fit for the gaming press.

The press is well-equipped to handle experience-focused games: i.e. your typical AAA single-player game these days. Play through the game, ooh & ah at all the pretty sights, and then write down your impressions. Easy stuff.

The press is even relatively well-equipped to handle competitive skill-focused multi-player games as long as they’re grounded in a well-established genre. Got a FPS to review? Jot down a list of features, compare its level of execution to the most popular games in the genre at the time, and you’re good.

Where it gets to be a lot more hit & miss is when the press is faced with a skill-focused game that doesn’t easily fit into a pre-established category. These are games designed to be played over a period of months, honing your craft & improving your scores & times, not rushed through to see what happens at the end of the story. And if the reviewer doesn’t even realize that this is a skill-focused game and instead thinks that the game is an experienced-focused game because it’s single-player and has a story? Heaven help the developer of that game who is hoping for a good metacritic score because they’re not going to get it.

Now if someone buys a game like this and doesn’t immediately get it, what are they going to do? Well, they have an investment in the game (the money they spent and their desire to enjoy the game) so they’re going to put in the effort to try to get something out of the game. They’ll keep at it until the game’s systems click for them, or they’ll look online at gameplay videos, ask questions on forums, check out a FAQ, etc. Some of them will eventually end up deciding that the game is bad or just not for them, but many of them will eventually end up enjoying the game. And if they end up enjoying the game, they may stick with the game and compete on the leaderboards, try to 100% the game, get all the achievements, etc.

Contrast this with your typical reviewer. They’re pressed for time so they’re unlikely to really master any of the games that they have to review. They’re unlikely to connect with other fans of the game or look up hints & strategies (and for that matter, hints & strategies may not even exist online since they may have the game pre-release). In short they have no incentive to try to get the most out of a game. In fact, they may even feel like putting any extra effort into a game may taint their “unbiased” viewpoint.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not saying this to badmouth the gaming press. Skill-focused games that don’t have an easy analogue in a pre-existing genre are hard to get into for a lot of people. Not having that community support structure online to help makes things even harder. But as someone who loves new experiences & loves a good challenge, it’s frustrating when many of my favorite games, games that I think are expertly crafted (except for, perhaps, not doing a good enough job teaching the depths of their gameplay) don’t get the respect that they deserve. And it’s frustrating because by not understanding these games & by reviewing them negatively, we’re actively discouraging creativity in game design.

And this is not just a “Oh, the game is too hard.” Hard games can get good review scores… if they’re firmly based in a reviewer’s background knowledge. Like take Dark Souls for example. Dark Souls is expertly crafted & has a lot of creative ideas, but it’s firmly grounded in the Action/RPG dungeon crawl genre. It’s not wildly creative; they took a well-established idea, added some neat ideas, and then did a fantastic job with everything.

Compare that to something like The Wonderful 101. If you had to stick it in one genre, you could call it a highly technical Brawler/Adventure game like Devil May Cry. But then you add shape-based controls. And transformations. And minor RTS elements. And level design that completely changes everything on a regular basis the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the NES Battletoads. And then you add a focus on perfection & improving your score like you’d see in a hardcore bullet-hell shmup (the game gives you a score & a rating every few minutes) and it’s no wonder that a lot of people are having trouble mentally parsing it.

Or take one of my all-time favorites, Mirror’s Edge. It’s a cross between a racing game & a platformer which is a combination that you hardly ever see. Then they gave it a first-person perspective (which is never used in platformers and is only sometimes used in racing games). And then they gave it level design that on the surface feels more like a FPS than either a racing game or a platformer and yeah, the resulting chimera takes a while to get used to… but once it does, it’s amazing. I love to say that the story mode in Mirror’s Edge is all big one tutorial and that after you’ve completed it, that’s when the game really opens up and becomes a ton of fun, but I’m afraid a lot of people played through the campaign and then figured the game was over, instead of just beginning.

And don’t even get me started on Siren or Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter.

Okay, enough ranting. Now for some constructive criticism.

Developers, make better tutorials. Hold the player’s hand at the beginning long enough for them to understand the proper way to play the game & give them the tools to progress further, and then get out of their way, and let them play the game & grow on their own.

Reviewers, make an honest effort to find the fun in games. And if it’s easy to miss that fun, either through a poor in-game tutorial or by mismatched conceptions going in, then help others find that fun through your review. You could even link to great tutorials like these:

 

And everyone, please buy The Wonderful 101. The industry needs more games with this level of craft & creativity.

 Posted by at 2:51 pm

Did XSeed Games Just Announce Trails in the Sky 2? EDIT: Yes, they did!

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Sep 052013
 

XSeed Games just put the following teaser on Twitter.

And somebody on Neogaf offered the suggestion that the teaser image could match the following Trails in the Sky 2 artwork.

After 2.5 years since the first game came out on the PSP in the US, could XSeed Games finally be ready to officially announce localization details about the sequel (a sequel that all fans of the first game have been eagerly awaiting since the first game ended on quite the cliffhanger)?

Oh and in case you’re interested, here’s the review I wrote of the original game.

EDIT: Confirmed! Trails 1 coming to Steam this Winter. Trails 2 coming to Steam & PSP next year. Carpe Fulgur (Recettear) handling translation duties; XSeed Games publishing.

 Posted by at 5:22 pm
Aug 282013
 

Lots of big surprises in gaming news today so let’s get started!

The most relevant to us is Unity’s announcement that Unity will have much better innate 2D capabilities sometime this Fall in the next major update (which is free to existing owners). I don’t know if these new tools will be easier to use than what we’re doing already (2D Toolkit) but if nothing else, it sounds like 2D games in Unity will have improved performance & lower requirements so that’s great.

Nintendo made some announcements. First up is a new model of the 3DS called the 2DS (yes, I’m not making this up) that is basically the regular 3DS model but with no clamshell design, no 3D capabilities, and mono speakers (which shouldn’t really matter because if you want to hear music on a portable game, you should be using headphones anyway). It’ll be $129 which is a good $50 less than the regular 3DS and $70 less than the 3DS XL. With the release of a new Pokemon & new Zelda this holiday season for the 3DS, I can see the lower price being huge in attracting the tween & teen crowd into buying the system.

Also, Nintendo announced a much needed Wii U price drops. They’re dropping the basic model, moving the Elite model to the basic model’s price ($299), and adding a new bundle for the same price that instead of containing Nintendoland, has a digital copy of the Zelda: Wind Waker HD game & a digital ebook of the Zelda art & history book they recently released (Hyrule Historia). This was a much needed move for Nintendo though I’m kind that they aren’t do a peace offering for early adopters like they did with the 3DS and even more annoyed that the “launch window” games that I was really excited about for the system are just now coming out, nowhere near launch. On the plus side, the Wii U is looking very solid this holiday season with a new Sonic, Rayman, Mario, and Donkey Kong Country, along with Wonderful 101 & the Wind Waker enhanced port.

Finally, Steam announced today that 100 games have been greenlit. This is by far, the biggest batch of games greenlit in one group (previous groups were around 15-20 games, I believe), so I’m guessing this means will see more and more frequent greenlights than we have in the past.

 Posted by at 12:29 pm
Aug 222013
 

I’m a big fan of random loot-based RPG so I thought for today’s article, I’d discuss the pros and cons of some of the major ones out there at the moment.

Diablo 3
+Great visuals.
+Even better audio.
+Interesting abilities.
+Best combat feel.
+Life-Up Power-Ups & Potion Cooldown make HP matter
+Easy to try out different builds since build choices aren’t permanent.
-Loot system is poor. At higher levels, you generally need to get most of your loot from the auction house rather than from drops or crafting to stay competitive.
-Online-only so if your connection or their server has problems, you can’t play (or have serious lag).
-Lack of permanent choices can bother some.

Path of Exile
+Excellent loot system allows for lots of crafting & customization.
+Skill system ala FF7 allows for customizing abilities with various supports.
+LV-Up system ala FF10 allows for immense customization opportunities.
+Free! And actually free unlike most freemium titles (you can’t buy gameplay advantage even if you wanted to).
+Clever potion system
-Online-only and lag & desynch are far worse & more common than they are in Diablo 3.
-Combat itself isn’t very interesting. Slow & lacks flash.
-There are too many things to take into account for the best gear (appropriate requirements, good stats, the passives you want, a high number of skill slots in the right color and all linked together) which makes it very hard to progress past a certain point.
-Skills are item-based which can make it frustrating to get all of the skills you want (and some of them can only be acquired from random drops or trading with other players).
-Can be overwhelming with all the permanent build choices that need to be made.

Torchlight 2
+Colorful art style
+High loot drop rate
+Fun combat.
+Only $15
-Feels rather unbalanced
-Even unique equipment tends to feel like just a bunch of random abilities

Grim Dawn
+Interesting multi-class skill point system (same basic setup as Titan Quest)
+High loot drop rate
+Well designed loot
+Improved Combat from Titan Quest (which was rather slow paced & bland ala Path of Exile)
-Not finished yet

Borderlands 2
+Change of Pace (FPS + RPG whereas most games like this are top-down)
+Great art style
+Humor
+Tons of weapons to choose from
+Coming to the Vita next year
-Lack of non-gun abilities
-LV-Up choices limited compared to most games of this style

Conclusion
Out of these 5 games, I’d say Grim Dawn is shaping up to be my favorite. It takes all of my favorite parts of Titan Quest & improves everything. Unfortunately, it’s still a long ways from being finished – right now, it’s in alpha with only 3 of the 5 planned classes implemented & only the first act of the game playable (which is about 5-6 hours, I’d say).

Of the games that are actually finished, I think I’m going to have to side with Diablo 3. Yes, the loot system is a mess and the always online-requirement is a pain (although apparently the console version won’t have that problem), but the actual moment-to-moment gameplay in Diablo 3 is vastly superior to its competitors. Path of Exile is a lot of fun to theorycraft but Diablo 3 is actually fun to play. Torchlight 2 was decent but never really clicked with me. Borderlands 2 is really good as well, but I’m just not that big of a FPS player. Therefore I declare Diablo 3 the winner… at least until Grim Dawn is finished.

Now if they could only port it to the Vita…

 Posted by at 11:32 am
Aug 132013
 

I’m generally more of a fan of turn-based battle systems (as evidenced by the games we’ve made), but so far, I think Tales of Xillia may be my favorite RPG this year.

I think a big part of it is that Tales of Xillia feels like the complete package:

It’s on the PS3 and had a decent budget so it has pretty graphics (unlike most RPGs I’ve been playing this year which have been for the 3DS and so are inherently limited with their visuals).
The music is good & voice acting is well done & plentiful.
Combat is fast-paced & a lot of fun.
Story isn’t anything amazing but the characters are enjoyable (even if they are mostly archetypes).
LV-Up systems are plentiful (your characters, your overall player rank, and the shops) & entertaining (the character LV-Up system feels like a less intimidating version of the Sphere Grid).
Maps have a good amount of variety & are chock-full of secret treasures.
There’s a clear linear core story path to follow, but there’s also plenty of optional content that you can do.
Frequent character skits & cutscenes help to add variety.
And I assume the game will have good replay value thanks to the dual protagonist system & the typical Tales New Game+ options.

In contrast, most of the other RPGs that I’ve enjoyed this year have had one or more major issues that dragged down the overall experience. For example, Ni no Kuni was a blast… until I got additional party members and had to deal with some of the worst ally AI I’ve ever seen in an RPG. Shin Megami Tensei IV has some great gameplay & an awesome soundtrack… but the story & characters are incredibly boring and the game doesn’t feel as tightly balanced as other games in the series. And so on.

How about you? What’s your favorite RPG of 2013 so far?

 Posted by at 2:19 pm

Big Vita Game Sale & Possible System Price Drop Soon?

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Aug 122013
 

As anyone who has followed us for a while knows, I’m a big Vita fan. It’s a fantastic system & though the library of games isn’t the largest, there’s a lot of quality to enjoy there. Persona 4 Golden, Gravity Rush, and DJ Max Technika Tune were some of my favorite games last year & I’m really looking forward to Ys: Celceta, Tearaway, and FFX HD Vita later this year.

Since I’m such a big Vita fan, I’m pleased to share a few key sales this month.

First up, apparently Target is going to be selling all Vita systems for $200 next week (based on a leak Target ad). This is a pretty good deal in general (although with Black Friday coming up in a few months & last year’s BF deals being awesome, you might want to wait anyway) but there’s also the possibility that this signals that the Vita is going to get a permanent price drop since next week. Gamescom is that week and Sony has a big conference planned so a Vita price drop announcement would make sense.

The other big news is that Sony is doing some big Vita sales on the PSN this week & next. Some highlights (these are all the PS+ prices):

Aug 13-19:
Soul Sacrifice – $17.49
Atelier Totori Plus – $19.59
Touch My Katamari – $3.75
Silent Hill: Book of Memories – $7.50

Aug 20-26:
Muramasa Rebirth – $20.99
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection – $14.69

You can find the full list here.

 Posted by at 11:56 am
Jul 292013
 

There is no Internet War on Creatives.

Yes, if you make something popular, you will get your share of haters. But unless you’ve made some serious mistakes, the haters will be far outweighed by the supporters.

It’s easy to engage with the haters and hate back, but that just escalates the problem. If some says something negative, either ignore them or try to disarm them with a kind & humble response. You’d be surprised how often not retaliating and being kind can defuse an ugly situations. And if that doesn’t work, definitely ignore them – no point in wasting your life worrying about someone who is being irrational and trying to offend you.

“He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.” – Brigham Young

It’s easy to focus on the negative and ignore the positive. Don’t. When someone takes time out to say something nice about you or your work, try to respond back, even if it’s just a simple “Thank you.” You should spend most of your community interaction time with your fans, not your detractors.

Seriously, just be nice. It’s not always easy but it’s easier than the alternative.

 Posted by at 9:53 am

The Video Game Kickstarter Report – Week of July 26, 2013

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Jul 262013
 

Previous Kickstarters

Pinball Arcade: Terminator 2 – $62k. Finished.
Satellite Reign – £399k. 2 days left.
Warmachine Tactics – $1.02 million. 14 days left.
Liege – $59k. 2 days left.
Legend of Iya – $28k ($75k goal). 15 days left.
Project Ravensdale – $38k ($500k goal). 21 days left.
Precinct – $58k ($500k goal). 21 days left.
Codename Cygnus – $5k ($11k goal). 16 days left.

New Kickstarters

Chroma Squad – $37k ($55k goal). About 1600 backers. Sim/RPG where you run a Japanese Sentai (like Power Rangers or Ultraman) TV studio and go through TV episodes in an RPG fashion. This really caught my eye since I came up with a somewhat similar concept a few years ago – glad to see somebody’s making this.

Tom vs The Armies of Hell – $6k ($100k goal). About 100 backers. Top-down dual-stick Adventure/Shooter inspired by Ratchet & Clank. Cartoony cell-shaded visuals. Looks fun. Music by Danny Baranowsky.

CANDLE – $10k ($40k goal). About 380 backers. Platformer/Adventure. Seems a little too slow-paced, but there’s no denying that the visuals are gorgeous.

Crowdfunding Tip of the Week

The ideal time to launch a kickstarter is on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. The reason behind this is that you want as much publicity for your kickstarter at launch as possible and if you launch on or near the weekend, media outlets are less likely to cover your project (or if they do, it won’t be at launch). For the same reason, try to avoid starting your kickstarter on the same day as a major game release or during a gaming convention (unless you’re exhibiting at that convention, in which case, the cross-promotion can prove valuable).

 Posted by at 12:36 pm
Jul 192013
 

Previous Kickstarters

Megatokyo Visual Novel – $299k. Finished.
Soul Saga – $195k. Finished.
OZombie – $141k ($950k goal). Canceled.
Pinball Arcade: Terminator 2 – $58k ($59k goal). 2 days left.
Satellite Reign – £262k (£350k goal). 9 days left.
FRONTIERS – $157k. Finished.
Warmachine Tactics – $886k. 21 days left.
Liege – $39k. 9 days left.
Banshee the Game & Film – £14k. Finished.
Legend of Iya – $23k ($75k goal). 23 days left.

New Kickstarters

Project Ravensdale – $27k ($500k goal). About 1k backers. Contra-style co-op Action/Shooter with 3D graphics (but 2D gameplay). From creators of the recent Giana Sisters game/kickstarter.

Precinct – $44k ($500k goal). About 900 backers. Adventure game from the creator of Police Quest.

Codename Cygnus – $2k ($11k goal). About 100 backers. Interactive choose your own adventure/radio drama.

 Posted by at 9:37 am