Updates Tuesdays and Fridays.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Game day: Pokémon Y

The 3DS came out awhile ago, and I wasn't really paying attention. 3D Ocarina of Time came out for it, and I didn't really care - I've bought that game about six times already, 3D didn't do enough to make it worth it again. Starfox 64 came out for it, and I didn't think my old ears could deal with Slippy's mewlings long enough to make that satisfying. Nothing else really piqued my curiosity.

Then: Pokémon, in 3D, with lots of cool new features and moves and everything. All pretty. Welp.

So, I picked up a 3DS XL, and Y version, and I think my housemates think I'm dead now? Or at least the part of me that isn't playing Pokémon. After a little over a week of it, I'd like to weigh in with my impressions.

TL; DR: It's super effective!

First: It's hard to oversell how pretty the game is. For those of us who patiently waited through five generations of still or mostly-still images of our dueling monsters, it's pretty cool to see them coming to life in battles. It's no longer just "oh, that's a neat design"; the Pokémon are actually quite cool looking. As my fiancée has been saying over and over, "It's the way I've always wanted to play Pokémon," from the spectacular (in the most literal sense of the word) battles to the ability to, y'know, walk diagonally. It feels like it could be a console game.

Plus you get to rollerblade around everywhere, which is sweet.
Much is getting made of some of the new additions to the game, like Mega Evolutions (which are basically Super Saiyan mode, letting select monsters temporarily evolve in battle into an even stronger form) or the first new type since Gen 2, Fairy Type, with many classic Pokémon (like Clefairy here) being retconned to the new type.

It seems that most - but not all - pokemon from Gen 1 are now Fairy Type. Maybe they're rolling it out in phases, and eventually all 700-whatever will be Fairy-Type? sure looks that way
These features are neat, but they kind of feel like the business-as-usual changes to the game required to keep core play feeling fresh. The past 2 or 3 generations haven't seen too many changes past this, and suffered as a consequence. Even a couple tweaks to breeding - which cut breeding time for a high-power, competitive Pokémon by about an order of magnitude - feel a little more like a bug fix than a major shift. The impact they'll have on the competitive scene (where your options used to be hack, cheat, waste hours of time breeding, or lose) is significant, and may substantially reduce hacking, but many casual players won't even notice the change.

To me, the best changes to the game are how accessible the global community has become. In past iterations of the game, it's always felt as though other players were kind of tricky to come by - especially as my peers grew up and I didn't. The Player Search System lets you interact with friends and strangers alike, allowing easy trades and letting you give little boosts to other players, like earning more money or catching Pokémon easier. My personal favorite feature is the Wonder Trade system, which lets you trade a Pokémon for a another completely random Pokémon that someone else is Wonder Trading. Obviously you get a bunch of level 3 Caterpies this way, but sometimes you get cool stuff - I've gotten a couple of starters and other rare Pokémon this way, alongside some that I simply wasn't far enough in the game to get. When Pokémon start coming in from Japan or Australia or France, it really gives you a sense of how huge the game is globally - and when you get something valuable or rare, it feels like a generous gesture from a complete stranger.

This is how I feel, all of the time.

To me, Pokémon X and Y feel somewhat like the advent of Netflix streaming years back (I swear to God I'm going somewhere with this). When that happened, it felt like the product had been engineered for just such an occurrence: the framework had been established, and once the technology - bandwith and storage - became widespread enough, it was easy for them to transition into a streaming system that made a lot of sense for most customers. With X/Y, it feels as though everything is in place: the player base, the community, the IP, and now they've connected all those players and made the whole experience feel a lot more friendly. You can go to Reddit for news on the game, or to find people to swap friend codes with for trading or battles, and it's easy to add them into your game. The game rewards this behavior by giving you access to some unique Pokémon for each new friend code you add, and as I said you and your friends can give each other minor boosts that are a nice perk.

If you strongly dislike the games in general this may not be the one to sway you, but if you're a fan who skipped or was disappointed by recent entries, this is definitely worth looking into. To my mind, each iteration of the games has improved on the formula, with tighter gameplay and finer graphics, and the change up to X and Y is probably the most dramatic yet.

For my part I ain't even beat the Elite Four yet and then I still got hella Scythers to breed so I might weigh in on this again next week. Meanwhile, let's get some friend codes goin', I got some good stuff to trade.

Oh, and I leave you with this from my picture search for the article:
Whyyyy. ;__;

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Linking story and gameplay

For my first blog back in awhile I'd like to talk about Candlelight, the game I've been making, because it's been on my mind and it's a nice way to ease back into things. Specifically, I'd like to talk about the relationship between story (/atmosphere/mood/theme) and gameplay (/mechanics/rules/abilities).

Our game is, at least at present, pretty darn opaque about backstory. We haven't provided information about the characters, their relationship, or their purpose, and that's deliberate, so information we impart about the characters needs to be done through gameplay.

We give hints about our characters through their abilities, which are differentiated according to their personalities. For example, our boy is given the use of a lantern whose light changes the environment:


This ability is central to how the boy plays, and to his character as well: he is first of all perceptive, able to see things that others can't. Underneath this are related personality traits: creativity, imagination, thoughtfulness. When exploring a new area it makes sense to traverse it thoroughly with the boy to uncover hidden secrets.
At the same time, his lantern sometimes reveals obstacles:


He's creative, but also a little stubborn or even pessimistic, constrained by imagined (if not imaginary) problems that only he can see.

Meanwhile, our girl is able to jump a little higher than the boy:

This may seem a little less dramatic than the magic lantern, but at its base it shows off the girl's athleticism. Moreover, the levels are designed to give her a lot of places to jump to that the boy can't reach. Together with the fact that animals are more likely to interact with her, this means that she spends a lot of time interacting with the level, exploring corridors that are inaccessible for the boy, coaxing animals into helping solve puzzles, flipping levers and pushing buttons to help the boy progress. These reveal more about her personality: curious, energetic, friendly, enthusiastic.

These abilities also inform the characters' relationship with one another, while at the same time illuminating one of the main themes of the game: separation.

Between the lantern creating paths and obstacles, and the girl's extra mobility, many of the game's puzzles require that the characters separate from one another to proceed. In the puzzle below, the girl and boy are separated when the girl opens a door for the boy that she cannot follow him through:

Then, in order to keep the girl from running into the spikes on the ceiling, the boy has to create a path for her to walk through:

Insert light-related pun here
Very often, the edge of the lantern forms an important boundary; the boy is always encompassed by it, and for the girl, finding the correct side of it to be on is important to moving forward. Sometimes this means that the girl must create an escape for the boy from an obstacle created by the lantern; sometimes, the boy must cast his light on a lever that will open a door for the both of them. The characters proceed by separating and reuniting, with puzzles structured to create a feeling that each character is helping the other, showing them things they aren't able to see on their own. 

The above are provided as examples of a concept that I feel is important to game design in general: using the gameplay to inform the player about the story and about the characters. When I spoke to playtesters about the game, I found that many of them became quite uncomfortable at the moments of forced separation; they felt like the characters belonged together, and tried to reunite them as quickly as they could. This feedback has informed other design choices: tweaking levels so that no character may progress too far without the other, changing the display so the characters can see more when they are united and changing the sound so that music fades or becomes more sinister when they separate. 

The more text or cutscenes used in a game, the more emotion or mood can be conveyed using voice acting, or word choice, or animation. However, even in a game using these tools, gameplay is an important way to help the players feel involved and invested in these stories, and ensuring that your mechanics and controls inform the player about the world they're inhabiting is an excellent way to make that world more attractive to spend time in, and more memorable. 

Friday, October 25, 2013


Hi, all!

After months of silence, I've decided to start doing a little bit of writing again, now with New and Improved format!

The last few months have been incredibly busy for me - lots of work-related tasks, and I've still been making Candlelight in my non-work hours (lunch counts as non-work). I've certainly missed writing, though, and am trying to find a way to work it back into my schedule. So, starting next week, I'll be back with new updates! I'm looking at a 3-day a week format:

-Tuesdays will be Dev day. I'll be discussing some aspect of games from the developer's perspective - either some insight I've seen about my own game's development, or something about design in general.

-Thursdays will be Other People's Games day. I'll be writing something about either a game I've been playing or a favorite game of mine. This might take the form of a review, or it might just be something pretty I enjoy and a couple reasons why. I'm always a dev, so I always think in a dev-y way, but I'll try to prioritize the gamer experience for this section.

-Saturdays will be Play day. I'll sit down with whatever game I've been playing and just livetweet the hell out of it. Just, whatever comes to mind. This will be more for fun, because games should be fun! I'll also be happy to answer questions or chat in general during this time. I'll try to make this happen at a set time each Saturday, or post the tweets on the blog for posterity, or both.

So! Expect posts, starting Tuesday. If you've got a game you'd like me to play, or talk about, or promote, let me know.

Looking forward to being back!