Clipping

Can any artists (or art managers) in the audience talk about your process for graphic fixes? Comments and links appreciated.

For example, clipping is a frequent issue in games. I think of City of Heroes/Villains, which had a variety of capes, robes, and flowing garments; a variety of spikes and big shoulderpads; several weapons, which might be held or sheathed; and of course a wide variety of animations that combined them all. A martial artist in spandex had few problems, but a swordswoman sliced through her cape every few seconds, and often just with the running animation.

Players would sometimes find that annoying or amusing. As an artist on the team, you probably would have found it infuriating and spent days fantasizing about fixing it. But maybe it was a limitation of the engine, and definitely there were bigger priorities, and always your manager has something else you need to work on because his manager says the new content must ship on Tuesday.

We spend a lot of time on mechanics here because that is how I think. I would like to hear about how these things happen on the art side, if anyone would like to take the microphone.

: Zubon

[TT] Interaction

Eurogames are frequently distinguished from American games by being more abstract (focused on mechanics rather than theme) with less conflict (competition is often indirect, players are rarely eliminated). Zombie Dice and Dungeon Roll are dice-based “push your luck” games with no interactivity at all. Gameplay is no different as a single-player game, and the endpoint is arbitrary.

Zombie Dice puts you as the zombie. The dice can give you brains or shotgun blasts. You want as many brains as possible, but too many blasts mean you get 0 brains this round. Keep going until you either “bank” your brains or get blasted. Other players can cheer or jeer, but they cannot shoot at you.

Dungeon Roll has more complex gameplay involving a starting pool of resources, variable and growing opposition, and accumulated resources between rounds. Still, you are entirely in competition with the opposition dice, rather than another player. Officially, another player “plays” the dungeon, rolling the black dice against your white dice, but that player makes no decisions and it makes no difference if you just roll the dungeon dice yourself.

Zombie Dice ends when one player gets 13 brains. Dungeon Roll ends after everyone has 3 turns. This is where you get a mote of interaction: you can see what the others’ score is and adjust how much you are willing to push your luck accordingly. If Alice has banked 12 brains and is going next, Bob might as well keep pushing his luck because he either wins now or almost certainly loses next turn. Similarly, if Bob’s last dungeon run left him at 21 points, Alice might as well risk being eaten by a dragon if she only has 20 points, because losing by 1 or 5 is the still losing.

How do you pick the end point, other than boredom and time consumption? For Zombie Dice, it is entirely arbitrary whether you reset the score after someone reaches 13. For Dungeon Roll, because there is some power accumulation between rounds, it makes more sense to have a fixed endpoint.

: Zubon

[LoL] Doom Bots of Doom

League of Legends has added the Doom Bots. All the champions get souped up abilities; if you can beat that, they start getting passives from other champions (or others’ abilities as passives); if you can beat that, they get more and changing passives. Tibbers bigger than a tower with AE attacks? Sure, and Annie also sets your towers on fire. Veigar’s Dark Matter meteors? How about a ring of them falling as a passive, and he can cast a ring of them, and his Q is area effect. Fear on every one of Fiddlesticks’s abilities, plus AE health drain, plus phantom Fiddlesticks ults popping out of the brush? Okay, fear on his bouncing crow was nerfed back down to silence.

Watch a full game here. The doom bots are not as terrifying as I had expected, since you can work around them and the limitations of the AI, but the video does feature continuous streams of profanity at various points.

It’s fun ridiculousness. I want players to have access at some point, just to see how those games go. ARAM URF Doom mode – go!

: Zubon

Browser Versions

At IMGDC 2.0, Gordon Walton said (paraphrase) that Star Wars: The Old Republic should be the last MMO (or perhaps online game) made with a standalone client. His logic was that everyone has a web browser, and the web browser does not require a multi-GB download. As a developer, every barrier between your customer and the game costs you customers. (Back to that post from Gordon Walton: you, the self-identified “gamer,” will work hard for a bit of fun, but most paying customers will not.) As a player, I have lost interest in the time it takes to download, install, and learn how to play. As an observer, I would attribute some of the rise of flash and mobile games to the convenience of automated downloads, streamlined installation, and the business brilliance that is the modern app store.

Maybe it takes more than six years for that idea to spread, but there are definitely reasons why you might want a standalone client: the need for gigabytes of content, security controls, and (most importantly to me today) a uniform development platform. “Web browser” is not one thing. One of the drawbacks of developing for the PC (not consoles) is that PCs differ widely in terms of hardware and software, and web browsers create more levels of differences. Are you using Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, or something else? Maybe still using Netscape Navigator? Which version are you using, both major and minor? There are dozens of different ways users could have that one thing configured, and your game needs to work in all of them, with every other hardware and software configuration that goes along with the browser. I can see why you might want to say, “Our client, our world, under our control.”

I spend some days playing tech support for an online system. Some users genuinely have a problem with our system. Others could not remember which password was for our system, remembered the password but had typos, forgot the password for their Windows logon, had trouble with an internet connection, had trouble with Internet Explorer, had trouble using a function that worked slightly differently in Internet Explorer and Chrome, or needed the finer points of using a mouse explained. And those are the questions I remember off-hand from one day. When you are supporting a product on the PC, you are supporting the entire PC. At a previous job, our FAQs included how to update browser settings and how to troubleshoot problems with printer settings. Their printer problems were not our fault, but they were our problem if we wanted customers to make full use of our site.

When you run a hotel, you also get to explain to people how to find your hotel. If they cannot get to your service, they cannot use your service. The construction down the road may not be your fault, but it is still a barrier between you and your customers.

: Zubon

[GW2] Entangled Thoughts

Episode 2 of Guild Wars 2′s Season 2 came out earlier this week. They at least tripled the size of the new zone, Dry Top. There are a handful of new story instances, and there are two new weapon sets. Everything once again feels very tight and polished. The world has changed in bits. The world has expanded in others. All-in-all, ArenaNet’s sophomore production is going great.

Topping Off Dry Top

I haven’t really commented on the design of the new zone Dry Top. I don’t mean the fantastic art design, which is fantastic. The canyon that I saw near the new Uplands sub-zone is amazing. It looks artistic and real at the same time. Mostly it just looks impressive, and I feel trapped in it. The canyon leads to the first hints of the Maguuma Jungle, by way of Dry Top, and then south of that it turns back to windswept desert. There is also a secret place I’ll discuss next week. No, as usual, the ArenaNet map squad has done brilliant work. Continue reading

Loss Versus Failure to Gain

Game developers manipulate player desires by presenting the same options differently. Player reactions are empiricably testable with cash shop setups.

I frequently cite the example of having a “hunger” debuff versus a “well-fed” buff. These can be designed to be numerically identical, where the character has higher base stats that are debuffed by hunger or lower base stats that are buffed by food. You balance content around the higher number in either case. Players will complain about a hunger debuff but feel like they have been given something extra with a food buff. Even if the numbers are identical, humans are unhappy if you tell them you are taking something away from them, whereas they barely notice if they fail to gain something.

Many cash shops have some sort of lottery option. You can give the developers $X for a chance at items or whatever. What you see at least as often these days, because we would predict that it works better, is giving you a lottery ticket or prize you can pay $X to unlock. In the former case, you can play the lottery by giving me $X; in the latter, this lottery ticket is now yours, but you cannot redeem it unless you give me $X. Same lottery, same prize, same $X. If you doubt which implementation yields more sales, look at where the developers are betting. Team Fortress 2? Locked crates with keys in the cash shop. Guild Wars 2? Black Lion chests with keys in the cash shop.

Developers can make this more concrete by adding time pressure: the box/ticket expires in a week or after the event. Some players might still see a locked chest or lottery ticket as a failure to gain, but if it is going to disappear in a few days, they have definitely lost something, even if only an opportunity. The perception of scarcity also plays in here; you always have access to thousands of TF2 crates and GW2 chests for a few cents, so it is harder to instill the idea that you are losing any opportunities, while other games might make those drops less common (but still give the player frequent opportunities to buy things). Hence TF2′s time-limited crates, and doesn’t GW2 have occasional seasonal Black Lion chest items?

: Zubon

[TT] Advantage and Disadvantage Calculations

At Origins, I played in a couple of D&D 5th Edition playtest sessions, for a module and for the online tools. Two mechanics stuck out for me: the new system for preparing spells and advantage/disadvantage.

Advantage and disadvantage are simple to describe and powerful in their implications. If you have advantage, make the roll twice and take the higher number; if you have disadvantage, make the roll twice and take the lower number. Done.

3rd Edition had a similar intent with its “+/-2″ default rule. If the DM was not sure what sort of bonus or penalty something imposed, just go with “2.” That is a 10% difference on a 20-sided die. How does “advantage” differ?

Quite a bit. Several people have run the numbers (I think “enumerate the 400 possibilities” is a better method than running a simulation). As noted, the effect of advantage is small at the extremes and huge in the middle. If you are nearly certain to succeed or fail, advantage is +1 or +2. If you have a 50/50 chance, it is +5. Out of 20, that is really, really big.

Players will also feel advantage and disadvantage very strongly because of the perceived gain/loss of the second die roll. If you roll two 18s, “eh,” you say, “advantage didn’t matter.” If you roll an 18 and a 2, that’s a success with advantage and a failure wit disadvantage, and you can see fate hanging in the balance of that mechanic. It’s a psychologically powerful factor.

: Zubon

“Gaming”

I was recently in Las Vegas for a library conference. “Gaming” means something rather different in Las Vegas than in our world. One of the evening events was about (tabletop) gaming. I wonder how many people were disappointed after arriving at an event labeled as a night of gaming at Caesar’s Palace.

: Zubon

…and whether that was intentional.

Offline Idle Game

In one of the more unusual combinations of ideas, AdVenture Capitalist is an idle game that counts offline time. You do not even need to be idle.

Yes, you could just change the date on your computer to get trillions of imaginary dollars, but at that point, why are you bothering with an idle game?

: Zubon

In general, why are you bothering with an idle game?

[GW2] Gates of Maguuma Story and Writing

Hitherby Spoilers

There are 3+ new story instances in Gates of Maguuma, the most recent update and the start of Season 2 for Guild Wars 2. They are repeatable in that players can always go back to that instance through the new story journal. They also tell the story of how you, the hero, and all the NPC notables travel west to Dry Top.

I need to start with Bhagpuss’s thoughts on the Gates of Maguuma’s story instances:

The plotting now seems to sit somewhere around journeyman comic-book level (that’s a good thing) with the dramatics hitting a solid soap-opera groove (so’s that). No pretensions to be anything more than hokum but at least now it’s competent, professional hokum.

I disagree, and then I agree. His statement infuriates me, but at the same time I think it’s good. One can never tell with a crazy cat. Continue reading