Tuesday, 15 December 2009

What size do you like your monster?

I've been playing around with Unity for some coursework and I'm making a short game (more of a tech demo actually). It's inspired by the finale of Shadow of the Colossus; skip to 6:40 in this video to see what I'm talking about, but watch out if you're spoiler-sensitive!

Anyway, I've been trying to decide on a size for the monster/player character. What are your thoughts?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

L4D2: Miami Campaign

I recently started the early planning stages for a new campaign for Left 4 Dead 2. I'm working on it with Kosire and it's set in down town Miami and its surrounding areas. I've decided to use this blog to document its progress, so I aim to be showing the maps in their early stages right through to the final playable versions. For now, here's some initial level plans with concept images and the rough block layout in Hammer.

Very early stuff as you can see! More coming soon.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Eurogamer Expo 2009

Yesterday was the first day of two days that Eurogamer Expo took place in London, and of course I attended. I played a good selection of games there but I'm just going to talk about the ones that really grabbed my attention.

First and foremost, I'm a huge Left 4 Dead fan and so I was excited by the prospect of playing the sequel's Scavenge mode at the expo. The new mode sees the Survivor team racing against a countdown timer to collect gas cans, which they must empty into their tank to earn points and precious extra time. Meanwhile a team of Infected players will be trying to make their task harder, before switching sides to try and beat their score. It was an interesting new twist on the regular L4D gameplay which forced survivors to make some quick decisions; do you save your team mate who has been carried to the other side of the map by a Jockey, or do you grab that nearby can and just score a quick point while you have the chance?

That brings me on to the new Special Infected that players can control. This was one of the highlights of the game for me as I've been itching to see how they handle since they were first announced. The Jockey was a lot of fun as you can cause some real chaos for the survivors if you grab someone at the right moment. He would probably be more useful in a map with some inconvenient height drops, which this map unfortunately lacked. The Charger was also a thrill to use as he dashes in and scatters his targets. My only complaint was that his health seemed a bit too low considering how massive he looks. My personal favourite was the Spitter, a support class she-beast whose toxic spit can cause location-based hazards for the other team. I had a lot of fun spitting on incapacitated survivors, bringing a quick death by preventing their team mates from reviving them.

All in all, Scavenge mode seems more solid and less chaotic than Survival and the new Special Infected are a blast to play. They're a very welcome addition to the existing three classes and I can't wait to see some of the devious tactics people will come up with in Versus mode.

Other highlights of the expo for me included God of War 3, the game that needs no introduction. To be honest there's not really a lot to say other than it's more of the same winning formula that was perfected throughout its first two iterations, not that that's a bad thing by any means. Kratos' moveset is pretty much the same except he now has some large lion-head gauntlets that he can pummel enemies with. The new lighting engine is particularly noteworthy, beautifully demonstrated by the illuminating light emitted from Helios' severed head. Good old God of War.

Heavy Rain was another game that I've been anticipating for a long time and it was great to finally see it in the flesh so to speak. The two scenarios on show were ones that I'd already seen in previews (the scrap yard and the grocery store) but it was interesting to see how different players progressed through the branching events. Seriously, anyone who has any interest in games as a storytelling device must check out this game.

Finally I have to say a bit about the indie games section. There were some great games on show this year, highlights for me being Joe Danger and Cletus Clay. The former is a deceptively complex alternative to Trials HD, offering more emphasis on stunts and showing off with dangerous tricks and a clean, almost Pixar-esque look to it. The latter is an amusing 2D platform game with graphics made almost entirely with stop-motion animation. It definitely looked far nicer in motion than it did in screenshots so I'd urge you to check it out if and when you get the chance. It was a pleasure talking to some of the indie developers and I wish them all luck in releasing their games.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Making Shadow Complex: Donald Mustard Speaks

Excellent Gamasutra interview with Donald Mustard, creative director of Chair who recently released the highly-praised Shadow Complex on Xbox Live Arcade. It's a great read with some very useful tips for the whole game design process.

I'm currently working my way through Shadow Complex and have enjoyed it very much so far. I intend to do a big write-up soon!

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Corn of the Dead (beta)

The first beta version of my Left 4 Dead survival map Corn of the Dead is now available to play. Find it along with screenshots and installation instructions at l4dmaps.com. Servers should be active soon, or please let me know if you can provide a server.

As always, comments, questions and criticism are encouraged no matter how positive or negative. Hope you enjoy it!

Thanks to Text_Fish for the name suggestion and Adam "Supernorn" Riches for the poster template.

Monday, 20 July 2009

L4D: Barn Survival [WIP]

Here are a couple of screenshots from a work-in-progress version of my new Survival map. The survivors find themselves stranded in a tall barn on a farm that has suffered the infection in solitude. With wide cornfields in all directions, they have no option but to take up defensive positions in the barn and hold out as long as possible.

This map features a three-tiered building, each level having its own strengths and weaknesses in defending against the horde. The main layout is pretty much done and all that's left is adding detail and play-testing (resulting in tweaks). Playable beta should be available this week! :D

Oh yeah, and I need to come up with a good name. Any suggestions?

Update: new screen

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Review: Heavenly Sword

I recently had the chance to play Ninja Theory's Heavenly Sword, one of the PS3's proud exclusives in its early days. It was a short affair (I managed to finish the entire game in just two afternoons) but one that certainly did not feel short thanks to its grandiose scale. Comparisons will automatically be made with God of War and as the combat follows many of the same patterns, the main difference being the lack of a block button. I found this decision to be quite frustrating, as to block enemies' attacks you have to be not attacking.

Call me crazy, but when you're surrounded by a mob of highly trained, blade-wielding fanatics, all gagging at the chance to put your head on a satay skewer, asking the player not to press the attack button is somewhat short-sighted. You are given a brief coloured flash to indicate what kind of attack the enemy is about to perform, but I found it was often too late and I was already locked into an attack combo, leaving me no choice but to take damage. The dodge ability ended up being far more useful, but unfortunately did not allow me to witness the game's pleasing counter-attacks. Speaking of which, the combat animation is all superbly polished to the point where you can sometimes forget that it's you that's pressing the buttons. I guess you could call it a button-masher in that respect.

heavenly sword,nariko,battle,ps3

The game's strongest point is easily is cinematic presentation. Andy Serkis (also known as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings movies) played a heavy role in the story side of things, acting as writer, motion capture director, and of course voicing the gloriously grotesque King Bohan, the game's main antagonist. The professional edge really shows. I am usually not one to advocate the use of cut scenes as I feel they betray the core essence of what makes games -- well -- games, but these performances were so brilliantly displayed that I could not help but enjoy every minute of them. Some other outstanding performances came from Anna Torv as the feisty heroine Nariko, and Lydia Baksh as the childish-yet-determined Kai. These interesting and often hideous characters all interact in ways that set the scene instantly, aided by some truly groundbreaking facial animation despite the game being nearly 2 years old now. This is something all story-based games can learn from.

heavenly sword,nariko,battle,ps3

Eventually I found that Heavenly Sword became somewhat repetitive. The dramatic archery and cannonball-guiding sections were used too many times and with too little variation, and combat was reduced to mashing the same buttons over and over again. I actually managed to beat the end boss by using little more than the triangle button, and the finale was a little anti-climactic as a result. With this in mind, the game's short length probably acted in its favour as much more would have left me growing weary.

All in all it's a fairly standard by-the-numbers affair, but it is executed with such style and finnesse that its flaws can be overlooked for a short while; just long enough to see it through till the end.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Twitter bug

Yeah I had to go and do it didn't I? Just how many personal pages do I need? I'll probably Tweet more than I update this, and reserve the blog for long rants, reviews and debates.

Oh yeah, I'm also working on updating Union with voice acting and more. See the ModDB page.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

2 Down, 1 To Go

Second year of university is over. So much free time now. :D

I've got a few projects in the pipeline. Not sure which one's I'll focus on first, but watch this space.

This post is so short it could almost be on Twitter.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Dear game story writers...

Please stop using revenge as a primary motivation for your protagonist as it has become somewhat overused. It is also something I cannot identify with as the death of my family/loved one/dog would not cause me to stock up on weapons and go on a killing spree. I would probably just become a gibbering wreck instead, cowering in my room and crying myself to sleep at night.

On seconds thoughts, that wouldn't make a very entertaining game.

Stick with revenge.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Persistent Timescale

I'm going to explore a concept I will call Persistent Timescale. This is not for any particular game design but more just a design concept in general. I'm really just looking to bounce ideas of people, get a bit of a discussion going and see what people think about this topic.

I was watching some videos of a play-through of Resident Evil 2 and began thinking of the idea of time scale in games, that is to say whether or not the game events occur entirely in real-time or whether they include cuts ahead (or even back). Here are some FPS examples: you can play through Half-Life from start to finish and will never miss a thing that Gordon Freeman personally witnessed. You are present in every single moment of his life (save for a few instances where he loses consciousness for a while). Compare this to a Call of Duty game in which, between levels, the player is taken out of their character's shoes and returned in a new situation, probably on a different day, in a different place. This is the difference between a game with Persistent Timescale (HL) and one without (COD).

My main interest here is how it can affect the player's perception of the game world. As I watched the events unfold in Resident Evil 2 I felt as if I was observing someone in real time on CCTV, following their every move in a constant, real situation. Of course, this might have been a fairly different response if I had actually been playing the game but I think the idea still remains.

I think the whole issue relates to the player's concept of space and location as they are able to see the transitions between different places, rather than just jumping to somewhere else. I often find that when that new level loads on Call of Duty I have to spend a moment getting my bearings before I can press on. Is that one moment crucial for the extent to which the player remains immersed in the game world?

Not only this, but I think Persistent Timescale allows the player to experience a greater sense of achievement as they progress through the game. Every yard they advance is directly linked to the next, allowing them to constantly be touching new ground and making progress. When I look back over the journey I have taken in Half-Life I can remember that I have walked 10km (for example) and I can see exactly where it has got me and what I faced along the way. In Call of Duty, well, I walked about 2km and then there was that bit where apparently I was in a helicopter for a while, but I didn't see any of that. Then I walked a bit more, and then I was controlling someone else in Russia!

I find it very jarring and for a short while it really takes me out of the game. Thankfully it is only a short while, but I wonder how damaging it can sometimes be for the player's experience. How do you feel?

I am also posting this on GameDev.net forums.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

OnLive: the future of gaming?

Just announced at GDC '09 is OnLive, a brand new technology used for gaming which basically allows you to play high-quality games through any PC or even a TV. As far as the user is concerned, it works in a similar way to television streaming systems like 4OD and BBC iPlayer. What actually goes on behind the scenes is that your input is sent to a central bank of high-spec PCs which will essentially process and run the game for you, then stream back to you a video output of your game session. The quality and resolution of the visuals is directly proportionate to the speed of your internet connection.

Of course this technology is very new and I'm sure it will be riddled with bugs and latency issues to begin with, but after a little while I can see this seriously catching on and becoming the 'next big thing' as far as gaming platforms are concerned. The next Steam? It could be! They've already got 9 major companies signed up and it looks like games such as Crysis and Mirror's Edge could be part of the initial library available.

But what does this mean for indie game developers and modders? Obviously existing methods of gaming will still remain and OnLive Inc have fully acknowledged this, but will mods be available on this system? If so, can we play any old mod or only the ones they give the green light to? Also, with this technology there may be a significant drop in sales of high end PCs as people will no longer need them to play their games on top settings. That means that hardware prices are likely to go up and this will have a knock-on effect for people like me who need those powerful systems to make maps and 3D models. But then what if OnLive is extended to incorporate game development as well? What if we eventually just have the most basic systems in our homes and everything is handled in vast processor farms in some big factory?

This could be big news, so I'll be keeping an eye on it. Meanwhile you can watch GameTrailers' interview with Steve Perlman (head of OnLive Inc) right here.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Killzone 2 impressions

Killzone 2 is a game I've been highly anticipating since that early 'target render' trailer and is even a game that I considered buying a PlayStation 3 for. It seems to have subscribed to the ever-increasing list of games that will finally elevate the PS3 into the #1 spot in the console wars.

Well anyway, I finally got the chance to play it with my girlfriend at the weekend. Please take this with a pinch of salt as admittedly we only played a couple of levels, but it seemed enough to form a fairly valid opinion. That opinion is that Killzone 2 follows firmly in the footsteps of its predecessor in being thoroughly mediocre. Yes, the visuals are jaw-dropping, blah blah blah. We all know that's not enough for a game to stand the test of time as visuals will inevitably become outdated. What doesn't deteriorate with age is a memorable experience and that's something that Killzone 2 failed to provide for me. The backdrop of the epic battle of Helghan seemed perfect for an intense rollercoaster ride through war-torn streets and bombed out buildings, but it almost feels as it the game was shipped before they finished scripting the events. We played the game on a 32" HD TV and yet every experience felt sub-par, like Call of Duty 4 had already done it better with bigger fireworks and more emotional engagement. I've heard many others say the same thing, but Killzone 2's characters appear to be little more than your typical meat-head US marine type. CoD4 had those characters, but it also had characters you genuinely cared about (who, incidentally, were all British!).

Moving more on to the gameplay side of things, Killzone 2 lacks substance in its combat. Sure you have the odd 'down the helicopter' scenario, the regular 'turn the crank', you even get to drive a tank around, but these are all things we have seen countless times before in a FPS. For me the game failed to provide either fresh new mechanics or interesting twists on old ones, so it all felt somewhat redundant. On top of this the weapons felt a little weak which was partly due to the sound effects and partly the often unclear visual responses given when hitting enemies.

All in all I felt that Killzone 2 brought very little new material to the table that is first-person shooters, and certainly not much more than the first game in the series did. I would definitely play it again to form a more fair opinion, and it's a solid game which is worth a try but don't go expecting the killer app Sony was hoping for as you may be disappointed.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Portfolio is live!

Yesterday I bought my first domain name; how exciting! So far I'm actually hosting my portfolio on the free Yahoo! Geocities, but that's just temporary until I set up my homepage space with the university. So expect to see that ad bar disappear shortly.

Anyway, it's located here:


Game Concept: The Evacuee

Here's a concept for a game I've been mulling over for a while. It's yet another World War II game, but this time with a twist!

The player assumes the role of a 10-year-old boy who I'll name Michael for the sake of this article. Michael lives in a fairly built up town in the south of England, 1940, which happens to be the site of several important military factories. Because of this fact, his town is set to be the target of a German aerial bombing.

We begin the game during Michael's relatively undisturbed life with his mother (Dorothy) and father (James), who is unable to fight in the war due to physical injuries. One night the air raid siren begins to howl and the family rush to the local shelter. Michael and Dorothy make it safely inside, but James doesn't make it because of his injury. Hours pass (not real-time) before the bombing run actually occurs and the people emerge later to find their town severely damaged. Michael, assuming his father to be dead, begins to wander aimlessly through the ruins.

Eventually he comes across a group of German soldiers hiding in a protected building, who are talking to none other than Michael's father! Michael suddenly discovers the shocking truth that his father has been a spy for the Germans all along, and must come to terms with this betrayal whilst on the run from the enemy soldiers.

In contrast to every other WW2 game on the market, this game would involve a minimal amount of weapon usage and combat. Instead the player would have to rely on Michael's skills in hiding and finding small gaps to squeeze through, using the environment to sneak past, distract or knock out soldiers, and eventually find his way to the countryside. Certain sections could be played in cooperation with Dorothy who could provide logical solutions to problems that only mothers can fix!

I envisage the game to be fairly short and probably only set in the one town and its surrounding areas. It would probably be a good length for a mod, but unfortunately I don't have time to work on it at the moment so I'll leave it for a rainy day.

On a completely unrelated note, Gamasutra recently announced their personal Top 20 Game Writers. It's a good read for anyone interested in the field.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Portfolio preview

As I'm planning to try and get some work experience this summer, it's about time I did something about it! So I've been working on a new portfolio to showcase all my work. Here's a sneak preview:


Sunday, 15 February 2009

Left 4 Dead: "Survival Mode" hopes

Valve recently announced that they would be releasing downloadable content for Left 4 Dead this Spring. One of the new arrivals in the update will be the much-awaited L4D support in the Source SDK, whilst another is the interesting mention of a Survival game mode, "where up to 4 players set records for the longest time surviving hordes of Zombies on over 12 maps". This got me thinking of the possible gameplay changes that could take place for this mode, so here are some of the ones I hope Valve will make (and the ones I'd like to mod in if they don't).


Non-linear, dynamic maps
Rather than getting from A to B like in conventional L4D maps, we will only have the sole primary objective of defending ourselves. This means we are going to be spending a lot of time in a single well-fortified location as this is the best defensive strategy. To prevent this 'fort' from becoming too familiar and stale, it should gradually deteriorate as the hordes attack (blocked exits being broken through, lights diminishing, doors being smashed in, etc.), forcing the survivors to find somewhere safer. This should be based around an element of choice, with multiple escape routes from each area leading into various other 'forts' that the survivors can hold up in.
Maps should allow the players to move find their own way around a large playing field such as a city block or woodland area. Starting positions could be random to force players into decision-making and forming strategies from the very start. This ongoing changing of the maps would help keep them seem more varied and different each time they are played.

Helicopter item drops
I envisage a 'No Mercy' situation where a helicopter pilot is circling nearby but is unable to land to rescue the survivors. The crew could have a supply of items (ammo, first aid kits, pain pills) which they could drop in crates for the survivors to grab (in exposed, open areas of course). The items would become increasingly more valuable as the well-being of the survivors gradually dwindles.
For an extra layer of complexity, the crate might take a short time to open (something like diffusing the bomb in Counter-Strike) so the survivors may prefer to drag it to a safe location before doing so.

If the above helicopter system was implemented, what might determine when and where it performs a drop? A simple timer/random system might suffice which could be controlled entirely by the AI Director, and/or it could be determined by the actions of the survivors. Scavenging empty buildings might result in finding the odd flare which could be used to request supplies, perhaps by launching them from mounted flare guns at pre-determined locations (which could again be randomized by the Director to keep the survivors on their toes).

Wave count
The infected hordes could attack in large waves which could be counted and available for the players to see. This would give a sense of progress and would surely also determine the difficulty.

I may add to this list in the future. Let me know what you think!

...Especially if you work at Valve.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Left 4 Dead, Chet Faliszek Interview

L4DMods.com have released this interview with Chet Faliszek, one of the writers behind the game (and also The Orange Box), which is heavily focused on the subtly-told story behind it and how it was developed. Watch the video interview here.

Left 4 Dead

I got Left 4 Dead for Christmas but for various reasons had been unable to really sit down and properly play it until yesterday. It's a great game and deserves all the praise it gets and I can't wait to see more from this talented team. I'm really hoping for a little bit more plot revelation in future updates and possibly some variations on the objectives. All four campaigns centre around the same 'get to the evacuation zone to be picked up' goal, but there is really so much more that can be done with the setting. Some of the developer commentary (great feature, by the way) states how players quickly get sick of the same cut scenes over and over again, but what about radio messages that we can choose to ignore if we're not interested? What about story told through actions and goals? Even just clues to more back story. How about replacing one of the 'escape this location alive' missions with a 'find a lost survivor' mission? The gameplay would be exactly the same, you could easily do it with hardly any extra dialogue, yet the objective and purpose would be different and certainly more meaningful. What makes this individual so important that four others risk their lives for him/her? How have they survived this long on their own? How did they come to be separated from everyone else? There are many, many possibilites and they don't have to be relegated to cutscenes which is what people seem to automatically assume when they hear the word 'story'.

Actually I've got so many ideas waiting to burst out. Now I just can't wait for Valve to update the Source SDK so we can start creating maps for Left 4 Dead.