Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Achievements in Games

Remember back then when you played your good old Starcraft, Baldur's Gate or, for those super old schoolers, Asteroids or Rogue, achievements were defined by you and those around you. Back then, winning was the only goal of the game.

Possible History of Achievements?
Along the way, some genius thought that to keep their games going, player-defined achievements and goals are not enough. So this guy, whoever he is, went ahead and place achievements in his games. Then suddenly, consoles have it compulsory for every game to have it. It wasn't until I got my X360, and a couple of "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED"s popping up to make me feel really really good, when I realized what an elaborate trap it was.

Achievements are like drugs
That year I was rather hooked onto achievements. It tempts your inner perfectionist self. If you are a casual player, seeing your first virgin "ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED" makes you curious. It's like a hook; you might search all the possible achievements and when you look at ALL the empty spaces, something inside you will feel empty as well. It's like a hook. Casual or not, you will be tempted. If you fall into temptation, suddenly you will leave your life behind and join the ranks of the hardcore players. Thinking about it, it's no different from drugs, just that they shove the cocaine right in your throat before you can start protesting.

Networking made it worse. From a board perspective, it's like an MMO. You achieve -> you show someone -> that someone acknowledges it -> you feel GOOOOOD. As far as PSN or XBL is concerned, well, they saved everyone the trouble since achievements are stored in their server, so everyone can see what everyone else has achieved at all times. You might think they are simple-minded. Well, I would say you are just jealous, elitist or couldn't be bothered. It's natural, not all products are for all consumers, but heck achievements are something most people in the world like. It's like a luxury item...just that it's not so material, so it might not get gals for you. Maybe give gaming a few more decades to grow and we'll see how that turns out.

Utilizing the power of Achievements
I looked through some games' achievements. It became obvious that some games do not fully utilize the system. Ninja Gaiden 2 or Devil May Cry 4, for instance, have almost all their achievements ridiculously hard. It is obviously catered for hardcore players, which is what I don't get. The game is catered to (semi) hardcore-players, so why must ALL the achievements follow suit? Achievements are the easiest bait to draw in the casual audience. Just set maybe 1/3rd of the achievements to be relatively easy to obtain and you are probably set to draw them in. Tweak them a bit (like making all your achievements progressive, or separating them into easy/medium/hard to get) and you are good to go. The opposite can be said for hardcore gamers. They want challenge? Let them have some, but not ALL. Idealistically, this will merge the casual and the hardcore audiences.

The system is so powerful, yet so underused. At this point, I believe that a video game designer should seriously take a look at 'Achievements'. Even better, reward them for it. Rewards are soooooo powerful. EVERYBODY loves to be rewarded. "You killed 1000 orcs, now you get +5% bonus to kill orcs!". Think about that. Would a hardcore player be tempted sink time to kill 1000 orcs? I would. Would the casual players be tempted? They would be tempted. At least they would be tempted. Better than NOTHING. In psychology, this is called 'Positive Reinforcement'. Suddenly those stupid orcs you probably randomly designed as some random encounter would become a key creature to your game. From here, there is another dimension to explore about a designing creature.

And it's not just creatures or mobs alone. Levels, items, weapons, NPCs can all do the same thing. "Talk to NPC_X 10 times? You unlocked a mini game!". This example makes player feel that the world is bigger and more interesting. "Hit 9999 times with a cursed weapon that drains your health? It's now upgraded to a super item!". The possibilities are endless. Knowing this, I do not how FF13 came about in this age and time but that's another story for another time.

My thoughts on an interesting read
Here's an interesting read which talks about how to design achievements:
The Cake Is Not a Lie: How to Design Effective Achievements, Part 2

To dumb it down, the designer who wrote this broken achievements down to two kinds: Unexpected Achievements and Expected Achievements. Basically Unexpected Achievements come about as a surprise to players, especially new players. This is precisely the type of achievements needed to draw casual audiences in, the 'hook' that I mentioned at the beginning of this article. From there, you might want to lead them to easier 'expected' achievements and subsequently harder ones.

In the article, he mentioned having delayed feedback, as players become more experienced. This basically means you should not spoon-feed all your achievements. Give them some, let them work for the rest.

He does raise a good point about games that cause people to 'zone' though, or in my words, enter Flow; a state of mind where an individual is so focused on his task that he forgets the world around him. It really depends on the game. The article mentioned temporary achievements like DOTA's "MONSTER KILL!" which actually doesn't break the flow of the game. On the contrary, the feedback is integral and builds up adrenaline of the player, building up on the state of Flow the person is in.

Aside from that, the others DO break the flow. I still feel that Starcraft 2 shouldn't inform the player of the achievement they unlock in-game; it should be done AFTER the game is over. Immediate feedback, as the article mentioned, is not always good especially for experienced players going for greater challenges. And as far as I know, PS3 lags a bit when an trophy is unlocked while playing MVC3 and that's annoying as hell.

So when do you show the feedback? Does it break the flow of my players? It is annoying? Is it helping? Are they really needed? What am I trying to obtain with them? What message am I conveying to the players? Is it too hard? Too easy? How do I draw players in with that achievement? Is it placed at the right place? Am I expecting the player to achieve this at this time? The questions just go on and on. These are important points to consider when you design achievements into your game. There is so much you can do and if there's one thing I learnt for the past 2 semesters about making a game, is that the most important ingredient in a game is FEEDBACK.

And this one simple flash game simply illustrates some of my points:
Achievement Unlocked

Cheers and happy designing.

EDIT: fixed some grammar @ May 12th 2011

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: "Patapon 3 "

There are quite a few mixed reviews about Patapon 3 as many people do not like the direction it's taking. No longer do you command a horde of patapons to battle in Patapon 3. Instead, you command 4 (only 4, don't look at the trailers) really beefed up patapons, one of them being your main character. Some patron fans dislike the change, but honestly not everyone wants another Patapon 2 grindfest. Patapon 3 also attempts to delve into the multiplayer aspect of the game, so it sensibly elaborated and enhanced the heroes from Patapon 2, as well as porting over Patapon 2's multiplayer gameplay to single player. This makes alot of sense since both modes will no longer be treated differently.

There isn't really much to bash about the game. In a way you can say they made the game more mainstream, in a good way. Basically each character you control now has an archetype and depending on which archetypes the are, they will gain access to different classes. You will select your main character's archetype at the start but you can access other archetypes once your basic archetype's class hits level 15, so essentially you will get to try out all classes in one playthrough.

That is the main change in Patapon 3. There are other small changes like architems. Once you level an equipment past level 10, you will choose it's type to be your architem. Architems can leveled past your blacksmith level (which starts at 10). Once you get an architem past the next ten levels, you blacksmith level will increase, allowing you to upgrade your other items to that level. One thing to note is that if you want to change architem, it's level will drop to your blacksmith level. However you can go to your friend's blacksmith and upgrade the type of weapon he has choosn as his architem without suffering any penelties. Sounds a little complicated, and I didn't really get it the first time either. An example: you choose spear as your architem and upgrade it to level 27. Blacksmith level is now 20 because you hit the 2nd tenth milestone. All your items can be upgraded to level 20 until your architem hits 30.

If you skipped the wall of text above, you probably made the right choice but it was necessary to at least have it there because it's one of the important changes to the game. Aside from that, they removed a all of those mini games from Patapon 2. In fact, I can safely say that Patapon 3 is not the same as its predecessors, so there are bound to be people who hate it, and those who have a newfound love for it. Multiplayer becomes a key factor to the game much like Monster Hunter or other raid-based MMOs out there. Sure you can solo your way through, but higher level dungeons are multiplayer-only and to experience the whole game, you HAVE to play with your friends. Period.

As far as plot is concerned, Patapon 3 writes its scripts in comedy to the point where its almost like those random Cartoon Network shows. You will laugh a bit, raise your eyebrows a bit and sometimes facepalm but it's enjoyable all around. Patapon 3 really narrows (again, not a bad thing) its scope to the individual Patapons and that makes the game enjoyable in a different way.

Patapon 3 is different, 'nuff said. There will be haters, but looking it as a solitary game, it's definitely worth giving it a try before making any rush conclusions. It's still grindy as hell though, just not as much as Patapon 2. Below is a gameplay footage (walkthrough really) found on YouTube so click at your own risk as there much be spoilers. I just wanted to show the dialog of the characters mostly.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: "Portal 2"

Short version of the review:
Portal 2 rocked!

Long version:

More Gameplay Elements
We shall observe Portal 2 as a consumer, a game designer and a game developer. There are so many things done right that I could not possibly list them all out. But first, we must talk about what are we to expect from a sequel of a game which revolves around one and ONLY one mechanic: Shooting Enter and Exit portals. From a game designer perspective, one mechanic can only entertain for so long. The question is not how to find new ways to use the mechanic (it's nigh impossible, too much effort for possibly a dead end), but how to make the mechanic act on other gameplay elements (the easy, fun way out).

So rightfully, as a consumer, one should not expect new ways of using the portal gun as it is. One should look forward to more elements to use the portal gun on. As far as this aspect is concerned, the Portal 2 team came up just enough to entertain us. From the gravity beam, the 3 different gels to the catapult thingies, it's more than enough to mix and match and come up with puzzles that will entertain us.

But of course, just having elements is not enough. Elements are just that: elements. Once an engine is up, elements are easy to implement. In fact, only the level designers and possibly the QAs are having headaches over it. So much more can be done and the team indeed delivered.

The team proceeded to create a more engaging storytelling. Back in Portal 1, it's basically no different from a flash puzzle game only that it is in 3D FPS-style with Glados randomly talking crap at the background. There's no character development at all. Now, in Portal 2, the characters you interact are more alive. Glados suddenly had a history, developed over time and her speeches are more engaging to the character. Same for the new Wheatley character, whose role provided an interesting twist to the game (alright I will not spoil). Even your character received some kind of background.

The team also broke away from just going room to room. There are quite a number of areas that are outside of the testing chambers. Basically, from a designer point of view, the consumer was given another environment to play with. This might seem to be a small change, but it affects the player in a huuuuge way. For one, he does feel that he was given more freedom, and more freedom, fake or not, in any designer or consumer's books, is a bloody good thing.

Anyways, I'll go as far as to say that Bioware has a thing or two...maybe A LOT to learn from these guys.

The final thing to note is the graphics. Again, there isn't much I can type about graphics in the blog, but I can say that Portal 2's graphics is amazing. Seriously when you get the game, before every room just look at the surroundings. Dynamic soft shadows, shattered glass, water dynamics, the gel mechanic's decals on different surfaces, light, etc. The best thing is that they wasted no time in showing off their graphics. Right from the start of the game, you get to observe how light and shadow changes around you when things fall apart. It's no joke man.

Overall, Portal 2 is a great game. I can't wait to actually try to co-op mode, which is a brilliant add-on and another ball game by itself. It's really nice to see a novel idea go this far in the games industry. It gives me, and possibly other aspiring developers out there comfort that such novelty is Still Alive, that the game industry isn't just filled with the same old FPS, RPGs and Facebook games.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Semester 2 is DONE!

At last, semester 2 is done and over with. It has been really tiring throughout the semester; my professor saying that I'll be busy this semester is really not kidding at all. So finally it's time for an update.

Firstly, I have updated my ABOUT section a bit as well as my Reviews list section if anyone even found it. It's up there in the navigation bar when you mouse over one of the tabs.

Secondly, the 2011 election. It's finally time for me to vote what I feel is right for my country. This election is gonna be huge; I saw videos of very strong speeches made by the opposition as well as from the People's Action Party. It does look like change is FINALLY coming to this little island. I won't rant on about politics here, but I do hope that the outcome will give all of us a better life.

Given the week off, I'm hoping to do a quick physics system for my next semester's game project as well as get started on Arcanum (the troika game) and of course finish off with Portal 2 and wrap it up with a review.


Omg George R. Martin, it's about TIME =D