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Games. Tech. Musings.

Games offline and online. Technology. Random stuff.

Friday, November 30, 2007

How to design a game

I'll spare you the pain of trying to find anything via the impenetrable Gleemax interface. My favourite game design ninja, Brian Tinsman strikes again with a series on how to design a game.
Mostly more relevant to meatspace game design than computer games although at the end of the day, both have the same primary aim: provide entertainment for players. Pay particular attention to the sections on emotional rewards - this is a really key area I don't think most designers think about in such concrete terms.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

TF2: Playing the Spy and Pyro

The two most confusing classes for a newbie (like me) in TF2 are the Spy and Pyro.

So here's a couple of nifty videos on playing the Spy and Pyro by EvilDaedalus, who is clearly some kind of TF2 ninja compared with me.

The main thing I picked up from these that I didn't know previously was for the Pyro: using mostly hit-n-run flanking tactics and copious use of the shotgun. I'd thought of it as a hide-round-a-corner-and-go-boo class, which may have been why so far I've sucked whenever I slipped into something more rubbery and haven't played Pyro much at all. As for Spy, well, there always seems to be a sneaky guy on the team already and I like to fill in the roles that the team isn't covering at the moment.

Mmmmph mmmmmmph!

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Team Fortress 2 Initial Impressions

I played my second night of Team Fortress 2 last night. It has the important advantage over Guild Wars PvP that if the baby wakes up mid-game it's not a major disaster.

Valve may have taken their sweet time getting this game out, but clearly they spent a good amount of time polishing it. It's surprisingly forgiving for an online shooter - unlike Natural Selection, Quake Wars or the Battlefield lines, where noobitude is punished heavily - I felt that I was actually helping my team despite being terrible.

Art direction is excellent throughout and the game design is solid. I'd say my major criticisms are:
  • I prefer the capture-the-flag mode over capture-the-point, but there's only one CTF map.

  • There's a bit of a dearth of maps all round. I assume Valve is relying on the game community to fill this gap.

  • No bot support means no lunchtime games at the office.
For what it's worth, right now my favourite class is the Demoman - in a world where capture-the-point is the most common game type, area denial via sticky bombs and grenade spam is clearly strong. Quick caveat here: given that I only started playing, any tactical insights I have at this point should be basically ignored.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quake (Office) Wars: Initial Impressions

I noticed a pile of new graphics card boxes sitting in a cube at work adorned with a sticker saying they included a free copy of Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. I asked the IT guys if that meant they had a few copies hanging around that noone wanted and sure enough, they did.

Turns out to be a pretty good game. It's a lot like Battlefield and certainly draws a lot of "inspiration" from the Battlefield line. I've only been playing it at lunchtimes at work since my free time is nil at the moment, but it's well suited for that.

Here's the "lunchtime game" assessment.

1) You only need 1 install disk for a LAN game (although we have several).
2) The bot support is decent and certainly playable.
3) The games are capped at 20 minutes for a map, so you can get in a game without manager-types getting all upset (however, campaign mode is more like an hour).
4) Due to (2), you can play a game with only a few people - with, say, Team Fortress 2, you'd need a bunch of people for a reasonable game.

1) Learning curve is a little rough. There's no in-game tutorial at all, so it just drops you in and slaps you on the back. I could give you a (lengthy) list of all the stuff you need to know, or you could just go watch GreasedScotsman's excellent tutorial video series. However, the videos are pretty long, so if you'd rather read something on the subject this is the pretty much definitive source.
2) You will need bots to play unless you are playing on a pub Internet server or have a lot of friends (at least 5-8+ per side).

As for the actual game itself, well, it's good. I like it more than BF2142, which is the most recent Battlefield game I've played. The games progress in a series of objectives rather than just capture points, with different classes having useful inputs at each stage, which helps to concentrate both sides on single areas at a time. Deployable buildings add tactical depth and varies the gameplay from round to round. Dropping an artillery gun and then sighting it in with the Field Ops laser sight was particularly satisfying.

I suspect that playing it online won't be as fun for me just because I don't have time to get actually good at it and historically the Battlefield games have been rough going for me. I tend to die from sniper shots across the landscape and not even really know what killed me, which isn't terribly exciting. But playing with people in the same skill ballpark was enjoyable.

As for criticisms, I think my main issue would be that the sides could be more asymmetric. While there are definitely differences between the Strogg and GDF, predominantly the classes have the same abilities with different flavours. It seems technically well executed.

One final note: if you have multiple monitors and a NVidia card, your framerate may well be terrible. If you have this issue, you'll want to tweak the driver.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

Delicious Portal (no spoilers)

I finally decided that the Portal spoilers weren't going to evade me forever, so I broke down on Friday night and bought the Orange Box.

I finished the main plotline of Portal last night. I think Yahtzee had it about right in describing it as "the most fun you'll have with your PC till they invent a force-feedback codpiece". A moist, delicious slice of awesome.

P.S. Best. Ending. Ever.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Guild Wars: Mind Blast Arena

Given that my computer has decided to melt whenever I try to play Bioshock, I was back in the Random Arenas last night. I was running a variant of a creative Mind Blast build I'd seen posted by Patccmoi:
E/Me Clumsy Mind Blaster

12+2+1 Fire Magic
10 Illusion
8+1 Energy Storage
Mind Blast
Glyph of Immolation
Liquid Flame
Fire Attunement
Imagined Burden
Flame Djinn's Haste
Resurrection Signet
I subbed Liquid Flame for Fireball and Glyph of Immolation for Mark of Rodgort, because I'd rather avoid 2s casts and the Mark wasn't sticking a whole lot.
Easy to play, decent damage and melee shutdown and the all-important ability to kick an assassin in the nuts. I'm not sure that you really need Fire Attunement but it doesn't hurt to have it. No self heal, so knowing when to run away is pretty important. For the most part, you can just load up with Attunement and a Glyph and then just alternate Mind Blast and Clumsiness on a hapless melee type, while keeping another one near-perma-snared with Imagined Burden.
Don't forget your high energy (+30e/-2r) equipment swap - very important for Mind Blast builds.

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Guild Wars: Metagame Shakeup

Well, the major skill changes I predicted came out last night.

By far the biggest change is effectively removing Light of Deliverance from the flagstand builds. The metagame has been balanced on LoD for quite a while now so I expect a period of turbulent flux while things sort themselves out.

I saw iQ's latest smurf on obs last night running condition pressure with traps, a Rotting Flesh mesmer and Ensign on an old-school Ether Prodigy / Heal Party runner. Here's Ensign's post on the subject. Personally, I think he may be jumping the gun a bit - it's been a long time since we've seen Martyr, for example. There are a lot of other possible previously second-tier options - e.g. Motivation Paragons providing small party-wide heals, Restoration ritualists - that may emerge. Right now Word of Healing is amazingly strong and clearly the best replacement on the monk that was running LoD previously. I saw Tommy had Heal Party and Mantra of Concentration last night on a WoH monk and apparently some Euro guilds are running dual WoH monks.

The idea of this update, as I understand it, is to make normal play more exciting than the block/protection metagame that's been around for quite a while - i.e. instead of all the bars staying static till a sudden collapse, a more dynamic situation where spot healing is important and not everyone is always at full (well, with the old LoD, 80%) health. We'll see if that actually happens.

In other news, Weapon of Warding is back, and Conjure Nightmare got nerfed. Yes, paradoxically it got nerfed by making it cheaper, since you only ever cast it when you already had Auspicious Incantation up. Healer's Boon is also looking pretty hot - in general, the Healing line as a whole just got a lot more important.

Splinter Weapon got a nerf so you can't destroy all the NPCs in one shot. It's still good, just not quite as ridiculous. There is a question of whether you can fit that character into a GvG build now though.

The recall change is clearly aimed at Hero Battles and I don't see it making a big change a lot in GvG.

Bloodspike got a nerf. Cry me a river.

And for the PvEers out there, watch out - Mhenlo in GW:EN is a LoD healer, so he'll be feeling this nerf where the sun doesn't shine. If you're heroing it up, you may want to bring a hero monk and skip Mhenlo for the moment.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I'm Meeeelllllttttiiiiiiinnnnnng

I got a chance to squeeze in 20 mins or so of Bioshock last night. The computer overheated twice in that time. At least, I think so - the symptom was that it hard froze and needed to be reset. I guess I need to spring for the optional 80mm and 92mm fans for the Sonata case I have.

Bioshock seems rough on the graphics card - since I got a new case fan I haven't had any overheating in Guild Wars. Maybe this is nature's way of telling me to play more Guild Wars instead of Bioshock.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Latest Gossip

Just a little gossip from the last week or so.

Helped out over the weekend with a TV shoot for the Tinsman's nifty AngelQuest game, along with the Rosewaters. Sounds like they'll get a segment and interview on a certain well-known TV talk show in a few months. No, I wasn't on camera, although my oldest son was.

Played some Winston Draft with Izzy on Monday night. I drafted like a total muppet - one of the worst draft decks I've ever made. I'm really out of practice. In my defense, I hadn't played with Lorwyn yet and I was holding a grumpy baby for some of the draft. But really I just sucked. Still fun though - I really love Magic even after all these years. If you're a Magic player and haven't tried Winston draft, you really should - it's the best 2-man Limited format.

The major mistake I think I was making was being too happy to settle for a pile with a playable card in my colours instead of being more choosy and skipping to try to find more removal. Izzy ended up with virtually all the removal and I only had one bomb (which I never drew) so it was a really savage beating. When you haven't played with a set at all, it's hard to gauge the average power level so you can figure out when piles are skippable.

On the GW front, I don't want to give away anything too exciting, but it did sound like the upcoming skill balance will really shake things up a bit. That, and some interesting pricing updates. We'll see how the community reacts. All of this is really making me miss Guild Wars PvP and Magic, I have to say.

The general community reaction to introducing shrines to the arenas seems to be negative, although I enjoyed it on the few occasions I've had a chance to try it in Random Arenas. The 20-point win total does seem too high for Random Arenas though - lowering it to 10 or having an auto-win condition for really lopsided matchups (as in Alliance Battles) would be sensible. I'm guessing Izzy will just take the shrines back out though.

Maybe now the baby is sleeping a bit better I'll try to get in a little bit of pick-up GW PvP. I do want to try to finish Bioshock and move on to the Orange Box soon though. I've desperately been avoiding Portal spoilers but something tells me I won't keep it up forever.

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Friday, November 02, 2007

Guild Wars: Shrines in Arenas

So apparently ArenaNet added Hero Battles maps to the Arenas rotation. It only says Team Arenas in the update, but apparently they added them to Random Arenas too. Not sure whether that's intentional or just a bug.

I'm curious as to how this plays out. Of course, I expect a lot of bitching right now no matter whether it's good or bad. Maybe I'll manage to get a few free minutes and check into the arenas this weekend. Oh, just in case you didn't notice the front page news, it's a bonus points weekend in the arenas too.

Update: according to Izzy, adding the HB maps to Random Arenas was intentional. It was the change log that had the mistake.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Guild Wars: Beating Costume Brawl

Since presumably Costume Brawl was pulled today at the end of Halloween, now seems like the perfect time to post a guide to how to win a lot. How2beet as the kids these days say. Well, I'm very lazy and Rex already wrote one, so you can go read his endless waffling instead.

My free time so far this week at home adds up to a grand total of nullminuten so I didn't get to play any more Costume Brawl. I for one think the Brawl will be back, so I'm not totally heartbroken. I bet the skill bars are different next time though.

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Games: Cascade

Felt curious and trundled round the Internet today for a bit of nostalgia. Turns out a little word game I wrote back in the day called Cascade (registration required) is still going, albeit displayed in the prime locked-filing-cabinet-beware-of-the-leopard placement I'd expect. The original site it was on was PlaySite, but that's changed hands a few times now and now it belongs to iWin. Cascade is certainly playable but needs a lot more love to be actually good. Still, when I left, it had had about 10 million games played and that was about 6 years or so ago now. I was sorry to see that apparently noone ever found the wacky intermittent tile freeze bug that cropped up occasionally.

Cascade is somewhere between Tetris and Scrabble. My wife was always a lot better at the game than I am - and some of the players out there have notched up 10,000 games or more and are amazingly good. My verbal IQ can be contrasted unfavourably with a week-dead badger's, so it's not very surprising I'm bad at the game.

According to Google, some other bright spark decided to put out a different game called Cascade (in 2002, which if I recall correctly was after when my game came out in perpetual beta) and since that's actually a money maker it hides all the entries for my little game. Alas.

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