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Column: Design Lesson 101

Design Lesson 101 - World in Conflict

June 4, 2008 12:00 PM |

worldinconflict.jpg['Design Lesson 101' is a regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week we take a look at Massive Entertainment's PC real-time strategy game, World in Conflict.]

The majority of real-time strategy games on the market follow a similar formula: collect resources, build a base, pump out units, research upgrades, demolish enemy, win. Resources are at the core of the strategy in these games. Given two similarly skilled players, it can often be expected that the player with the most resources will win the game.

These systems rely on divvying up the resources among the players in the game. One player gathering resources reduces available resources for another player at any given moment. When there is a fixed amount of resources on the map, it reduces available resources for other players permanently.

Massive goes a different route with the resources in World in Conflict and is able to create a more intimate experience because of it.

Design Lesson: World in Conflict minimizes resource management, allowing the game to concentrate on constant action through tactics rather than large build times

World in Conflict has a simple resource management system. The player is given a fixed amount of resources to obtain units with. Shortly after you requisition units, they are air-dropped into the game, eliminating the need for building bases. Immediately, this leads to a unit-centric, tactical feel to the entire game.

Design Lesson 101 - Frontier's LostWinds

May 29, 2008 8:00 AM |

lostwinds.jpg['Design Lesson 101' is a regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week we take a look at one of the first titles available on Nintendo's WiiWare service, LostWinds, created by the David Braben-helmed UK developer Frontier Developments]

Original IP is always a tough sell in this industry. According to the NPD, in 2007 the only original IP to break the top ten in sales in the United States were Wii Play and Assassin's Creed. It's debatable whether or not Wii Play even classifies as original IP. The launch of services such as Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and WiiWare have been heralded as the impetus for the gaming revolution, with lower budgets allowing for more experimentation in gameplay.

While this may not be the great revolution many predicted or would like, it is hard to ignore that there are some genuinely unique titles available on these services. One such title is LostWinds, for the Nintendo Wii. By utilizing the Wiimote's motion capabilities to move the player character, Frontier Developments is able to offer a unique gameplay experience in the familiar setting of a 2D platformer.

Design Lesson: Changing the method of input can make a familiar genre feel like a unique experience

LostWinds strength is in its usage of the Wiimote. The game places you as a young boy named Toku. Early in the game, you gain an ally Enril; oh, and Enril is the disembodied Wind Spirit. That's right, Enril (and the player) can control the wind, which become the major mechanic of the game. Toku may be the main character of the game, but the star is the wind.

Instead of just pressing a button to jump, LostWinds has you make a motion with the Wiimote to create a gust of wind. This gust will push the player, objects, and enemies in the world in any direction. Gusts will often affect even the backgrounds of the world. While there is no gameplay behind making bushes and trees sway and rustle from gusts of wind, it makes the player feel in control and like he is directly affecting the world.

Design Lesson 101 - Boom Blox

May 20, 2008 12:00 AM |

-['Design Lesson 101' is a regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week we look at Steven Spielberg's first foray at an original game for the Wii: Boom Blox]

The name Steven Spielberg is synonymous with big Hollywood movies, such as Jaws, Jurassic Park, and Minority Report. When it was revealed that he signed an exclusive contract with EA to produce three games for the next-gen consoles, it was assumed by most that all three games would be like his films: huge blockbusters. So, like many others, I was very surprised to find out that his first title would be a simple physics-based puzzle game on the Wii.

Don't let appearances fool you. Even though the production values aren't epic, Spielberg's Boom Blox manages to produce a very entertaining set of puzzles that can appeal to gamers of all ages. Part of the reason is the fun, kinetic style of play that does a great job of utilizing the Wiimote's motion features. Additionally, Boom Blox does an excellent job of setting regular, small goals for the player, which is the focus of this design lesson.

Design Lesson 101 - Rez HD

May 13, 2008 4:00 PM |

rezcover.jpg ['Design Lesson 101' is a regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week we take a look at Rez HD, a port for Xbox Live Arcade of the Dreamcast rail shooter.]

On the surface, Rez is nothing more than a simple on-rails shooter. You cannot control your avatar, only what you shoot. The levels are finite, the enemies predictable, and the mechanics simple.

However, the developers (headed by original designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi) have utilized a number of visual, aural, and tactile elements in the game to create a surreal experience that can often defy explanation. This is an experience that goes beyond just pure gameplay.

Design Lesson: It is possible to layer and intertwine simple aesthetics with each other in order to create a more engaging player experience.

Before I start talking about the game, I feel it's important, more than most games, to have some understanding of what this game is like. If you have not played it, check out this video on YouTube or any of the other videos of the game available. It doesn't replace actually playing the game, but at least you'll understand the game on a basic level.

The aural component is possibly the most significant of the three senses stimulated by the game. Each level of Rez is based around a trance music track. At the start of a level, a very basic beat is established. As you work further into each level, the music itself becomes more and more complex. The basic beat always exists, but now there are additional phrases of music that are more up-tempo and fast paced, ultimately creating the final musical track of the level.

Design Lesson 101 - Crysis

May 6, 2008 8:00 AM |

crysis1.jpg['Design Lesson 101' is a regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week we take a look at Crysis, the most recent PC first-person shooter from German developer Crytek.]

I've always been an advocate of choice in games. Performing the same action over and over in a game can be monotonous and boring. This is probably why I enjoy RPG games so much; by their very nature they often offer the player a multitude of different things to choose from.

Shooters, unlike RPGs, usually offer only one thing to do during the entire game: shoot. Yet, even in this genre there is a growing amount in variety of actions that the player can perform. Halo showed how integrating vehicles into portions of the game could make for even more frantic feeling to the game. Duke Nukem 3D showed how various different, unconventional weapons in a game could radically change the feeling of combat during the game.

Whether choosing what weapons you are using or what strategies you will use to fight the enemies, shooters do offer small amounts of choice. As technology advances, we are seeing more and more meaningful choices being offered in games. It's not enough to just give the player a choice, however.

COLUMN: Design Lesson 101 - Grand Theft Auto III

April 29, 2008 8:00 AM |

- ['Design Lesson 101' is a regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week, with the release of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto IV imminent, we look back at its predecessor, Grand Theft Auto III.]

Design Lesson: The ability for landmarks to sufficiently guide the player around the game world dramatically decreases as the size of the world increases.

Grand Theft Auto III is considered by most to be a landmark in video gaming history. It was one of the first, and certainly the most successful, 3D open-world action game at the time of its release in 2001. By moving away from the 2D world of the previous games and moving to full 3D, Grand Theft Auto III ushered in sets of new interactions that could not have occurred in a 2D setting. It also ushered in a complexity in navigation, which would not exist in a 2D setting.

The game world of Liberty City spans three large islands, with each island having multiple districts, such as Chinatown and the Red Light District. Each district has a number of distinct visual landmarks to help navigate you. Seeing a familiar, distinct landmark in-game (such as a casino or airport) is a fantastic way to orient the player to their surroundings and help navigate them, all the while sensually immersing them in the game. In fact, landmarks are a large part of how we navigate in real life (at least for those of us without fancy GPS navigation systems in our cars).

When you consider that the three main islands of Liberty City connect to each other at one point each, it becomes even more important to know one's location when trying to get to a new area in the game. Getting lost can be frustrating and take up valuable time. So the landmarks should fix the problem, right? They should help orient the player and get their bearings straight when they are lost, no?

Not quite, unfortunately. The landmarks help to an extent, especially the ones near high traffic areas such as your safehouse and main mission givers, but the world is just far too large to navigate just from landmarks. Think about driving around a new city. It's usually not hard to figure out the major highways and how to get to and from your house. Everything else, however, takes a while to learn. In games, we don't have time for the player to take a while to learn. If we frustrate players early, they may never come back and play the game.

COLUMN: Design Lesson 101 - Condemned: Criminal Origins

April 23, 2008 4:00 PM |

- ['Design Lesson 101' is a new regular column by Raven game designer Manveer Heir. The challenge is to play a game from start to completion - and learn something about game design in the process. This week, we look at Monolith's 2005 first-person horror game Condemned: Criminal Origins.]

Design Lesson: Combat in an action game should complement the atmosphere and feel of the game being created.

Combat is the core of an action game. This fact necessitates the need for the combat in an action game to be the most important part of the game. The combat style alone can completely change how a game feels. Imagine Doom, but instead of futuristic shotguns or plasma cannons, you were using old-time muskets and black powder rifles.

It would completely change the complexion of the game, just by the nature of how long it took to reload the weapons and how inaccurate the weapons would become. Not to mention that there would no longer be a rocket launcher! Doom is about fast-paced action, so the weapons support that style of play with their rate of fire, damage, and ability to kill multiple enemies at once.

In Condemned, the player uses melee objects that inhabit the world. You can rip pipes off of walls, pick up wooden boards with nails through them, and even use the back end of a shotgun to kill your opponents. There are pistols, shotguns, and rifles in the game but they have extremely limited ammo.

I would estimate that you spend a good 85% of the time swinging melee weapons at your enemies over shooting guns at them. All of this is done in a first-person perspective, which is very different from most games.