Monday, December 5, 2016

On Game Design



The concept behind Audiosurf is that you play as a levitating vehicle, navigating through a colorful, multi-lane highway, akin to the gameplay and style of games such as F-Zero. The player collects points by collecting colorful blocks, and can gain additional points by stacking the blocks behind the vehicle. Achievements can be made through certain conditions, such as eliminating all blocks from the racetrack, or by eliminating all of a particular color. The defining characteristic of the game is that music determines how the level will play out, as it affects the track, and the placement and number of blocks. This music is not originally composed: the player is able to choose any mp3 files on their hard drive, or anything in an inserted CD, to use in the level they play. Any conceivable piece, from "Dies Irae" to "Fly Me to the Moon" to "Three Little Birds", can be brought into the game experience with a few clicks. There is a high replayability rate to this game, as critics and players have cited, due to the innate and immense variety of experiences the player can have, and the dynamic, yet simple nature of the gameplay. The blocks are assorted in a way to match the beats of the song, and helps to engage the player in the game world, through a visualization of music. Songs with differing tempos, genres, and tones thus will present different challenges to the player. A bombastic and frantic rock ballad will be more challenging to a player who wants to catch all the blocks in their level, in comparison to a calm, smooth jazz piece. This diversity of gameplay options keeps the experience fresh for the player. Giving the player this opportunity to customize their experience also has the potential to establish a more meaningful connection between the player and the game, as they can theoretically play the game to the backdrop of their favorite music. There are also a number of "characters" (different vehicles) the player can select, which alter the gaming experience in some way or another. For example, there are characters that utilize two vehicles, or only collect blocks of certain colors. These add little augmentations to the gameplay that solidifies Audiosurf's replayability.


Portal's primary mechanic is self-evident, the player character being tasked to solve increasingly complex puzzles utilizing a gun that can create up to two portals at the time. This primary mechanic proves dynamc in the puzzles the player is faced against as the game progresses, and forces the player to think critically about where the player character, or an object, will go according to the portals, and how much momentum either one will have. The game is linear, and it engages the player through not only the challenge of the puzzles, but also the inherent fun that can come through the freedom the player is given to experiment with portal technology. For example, the player may align two portals parallel to one another, at the floor and ceiling, and have an object or the player character go into a perpetual state of falling. This, of course, can be broken by a well-timed firing of the Portal Gun, and this highlights the attention to detail the team at Valve gave to iron out as many potential game-breaking moments as possible. As the player continues, there is an increasing challenge to the puzzles as where a portal may be placed is made less clear, with complicated factors such as having to redirect a ball of energy to hit a mechanism that will open a door, making parts of the floor and the ceiling impervious to the effects of the Portal Gun, and having to avoid or defeat enemies (being gun-toting drones). There is a sense that, as the player progresses, the game adjusts to the skill level they are building up. Balance is established well, in that there are no unpleasant surprises or conditions that severely interrupt the flow of the gameplay; the enemies and the increasing challenges are eased upon the player, and are presented in a manner that encourages problem-solving. There is a distinctive flare that is added to the narrative and characters of the game through the writing, which serves to not only distinguish the game, but also has the potential to greatly entertain the player. The player character is instructed over intercom by a computer called GLaDOS. This computer's voice recalls text-to-speech and personal assistant programs such as Siri, and its statements portray a quirky, narcissistic, and sarcastic character that is crucial in developing the style and feel for the game. Dark comedy is present throughout the game, and can be further seen in the comments drones make when defeated, saying things such as "I don't hate you" or "Goodbye." By incorporating a unique mechanic to solve puzzles, and keeping the player going through a steadily more challenging gameplay, and entertainingly witty tone, Portal serves to be an engaging game.


Another World 

The 1985 sidescroller Another World has been lauded for its cinematic storytelling, and distinct art style, and would go on to influence games such as Ico, Metal Gear Solid, and Silent Hill. For the sake of witnessing an interesting entry in the history of video games, Another World is worth playing, but its experience as a game can often be frustrating. There is an issue with balance, communication to the player, and arguably checkpoints. Much of the game's challenges are trial and error, as the player will unexpectedly run into poisonous gas, one of the members of the large alien species that populate the planet they are exploring, carnivorous plants, and disintegrating lasers. These at-times surprising deaths do seem fitting in the setting of an unfamiliar and perilous planet, but for a present-day gamer, the setbacks that can be had from continuously dying in the same fashion may read as excessive punishment. The game often gives the player to process sudden threats, yet they must respond quickly to avoid the death of their player character. If not approached with the right mindset, the player may find themselves frustrated at a game where, if they are not careful with their surroundings, their character could die very quickly after reloading at the previous checkpoint. Furthermore, considering the potential the player character has to perish, certain checkpoints are set back so far that the player may risk finding themselves in a situation where they are continuously repeating a particular section of the game, but end up being set back by a sudden death for their character.

Zeno Clash

The game of Zeno Clash, a first-person fighting game based largely in fistfighting, is set in a distinct fantasy world, has responsive controls, and is fun to play due to its unique combat mechanics of picking up, headbutting, kneeing, and either lightly or strongly punching opponents. As a player, my issue is not with the game as a whole, but rather its opening level. After the game tutors the player in how to handle the combat mechanics, the player character is immediately thrust into a scenario where they have to fight three formidable opponents at the same time. For a starting level in the game, this lacks balance for the player, putting them in a scenario that seems more fitting for a later point in the game. When the player is trying to pick off one of the first opponents, their character is left vulnerable to attacks from the other two characters. This can lead to the undesired death of the player character, perhaps even at a point where they have almost defeated the first of the three opponents. Guns are also utilized in this first section of the game, which can be severely disadvantageous in the aforementioned situation. Following this level, the game begins to progress more smoothly, with a better balance with opponents, and a supporting NPC being present to fight alongside the player character. It must be admitted that I myself have not completed the game, due to time constraints. Zeno Clash itself is a well-developed game, but its problem lies in its harsh "hit-the-ground-running" first fight, which may overwhelm new players, and is of a difficulty that seems inappopriate for the point the game is at.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

On the Topic of Interfaces


  1. Traffic lights
  2. Crosswalk signs
  3. GPS
  4. SMS notifications
  5. Keyboards
  6. Geiger counters
  7. Speedometers
  8. Heart monitors
  9. Clocks
  10. Weather forecasts
Civilization V deals with complex information: the economic and cultural state of the player's empire, the money reserves available to the player, the diplomatic state of affairs of the world, what technologies are being researched, what building projects are being undertaken, and what units are active, and need to be moved. All this information is readily presented on the screen, without having to press any additional buttons. Checking whether all units have had their movement is integrated within the 'Next Turn' button. At the top of the screen, a number of color-coded and marked statistics shows the state of the empire the player is managing. What is also helpful is that, for the segments focused on such things as culture points, the amount is shown of how many more points need to be acheived for the player to upgrade the policies of their country. The loop of interaction is found in that the player can see positive or negative results of their management, through evidence of either rising or dwindling money supplies, vibrant or stagnant scientific progress, burgeoning or tepid cultural flourishing. The game maintains effective communication with the player, and the player may then respond by adjusting their strategy, if the results they find are not to their liking. Of further note, is the integration of the information in the UI into the game itself; when the player clicks on a city belonging to their country, each tile displays its contribution to input of agriculture, science, production, or gold, and the current and maximum borders are made visible.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, while an excellent example of an easily modded game, with an initial engaging open-world, first-person layout, suffers from a UI that serves to be clunky on both console and PC. Within the character customization menu at the beginning of the game, sliders can be used by the player to alter the face, hairstyle, skin color, and race of their character. The sliders themselves have small increments, which make for a tedious and prolonged experience by the players in customizing their characters. The menu to access armor, weapons, spells, and miscellaneous objects the player character has is unwieldy in how it lists information. The stats and icons of the objects at hand are minimal, and fail to capture the attention of the player. It can take longer than desired for a player to determine which spell or weapon is most effective for their combat situation, which objects they have are most valuable to sell, or which food items will most recover their character's hit points. There is a slight delay in moving between sections on the menu, i.e. from Armor to Spells, and such a difficulty in accessibility can pull the player out of the immersion they would otherwise be having with the game. For PC players who utilize a keyboard and mouse, this menu proves even more difficult, as it demands extensive usage of the mouse to be navigated; the menu itself was designed for use in the console versions of the game. A feature that is present in the game is damage to weapons and armor; after a certain amount of usage, armor or weapons break. No information is given, while immersed in the game world, of the health of such equipment, which can prove fatal and frustrating in the middle of combat. There is a lack of information on the UI within the game itself to keep the player aware of that particular detail of their gaming experience.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

On Mechanics of Balance

    A notable challenge to the game, regarding balance, is on handling our main character (the dog) against threats such as wild wolves, and pound workers. Speed, and damage dealt, are factors to take into consideration for hostile NPCs, However, as they will be computer-controlled, leveling the playing field will be incorporated for the wolves, and their number and ferocity will be intended to create a tense and alarming tone for encounters with them.  The AI for the wolves may need to be programmed in a way where an attacking pack wouldn't overwhelm the dog in a way that the player would not be able to process the hostile NPC and escape. 
    As a way of keeping the gameplay fresh, and the player engaged, different parts of the game will have different threats that will demand adaptations of the player. For example, in the suburbs there will be no dangerous wild animals, but passing cars and watchful pound workers will mean the player must keep an awareness of their surroundings. In the forests, particularly at night, the player character risks being hunted by fast and cunning wolves, which will demand approaches in which the player may use combat, stealth, or stamina. The intent is to create an experience where the player must carve for themselves a path to surviving on their own.
    Our team has yet to fully define how we will establish meaningful choices for the player that will affect the game, beyond gameplay. Some ideas of what to implement include giving the player freedom in addressing a challenge or obstacle in the game, playing and interacting in a way that is most comfortable to them. For example, if the player character finds another dog with a bone, and wants that bone, they can negotiate through socializing, or may aggressively try to take the bone from the dog. How exactly our team will actually implement choice is a work in progress.
    It is unlikely there will be excessive chance in the game, as patterns will ideally be recognized by the player character from hostile NPCs, so that they may find out how to avoid them, and the gameplay as it is imagined will rely more on the player's ability to keep their dog alive, and have him overcome the situations that the game will have in store.
    As the game is on a keyboard/mouse control scheme, and intends to have its strengths within its presentation rather than its action, the player will be asked to think a lot more than they will be asked to mash buttons. The goal of reuniting with the family the player character will be separated from at the beginning will serve as the motivator for the player, and thus survival and adaptation will be crucial components to the gameplay.
    The game we are working on will not be multiplayer, and thus cooperation and competition do not have much room for discussion. Whether or not interactions with friendly or neutral NPCs will occur in the game, the player may have the option to help or overpower the particular NPC, on their quest. This mechanic hearkens to the example of meaningful choice given in the 3rd numbered segment.
    The game will be open-world, and will not include time limits, or scorepoints. Its format will be inspired off more naturalistic indie games, such as the PS3 title Flower. The game's length will not be too long, due to technical, time, and manpower constraints, but its length will be intended to be sufficient enough that the player will make an emotional connection with their player character, while it will be compact enough so that it does not begin to bore the player. To help expedite the story and the game, a directionary mechanic may be implemented, which would help guide the player if they get stuck in the game.
    The prime reward for the player will be get the dog they play as to find and return to their family, and  so completion will be the dominant reward within the gameplay.
    In our game, if the player character is caught by the pound worker, they will end up in a pound level, confined to a cage alongside other dogs. This punishment, however, will provide an opportunity for the player character to escape the pound, set free other dogs that could serve as temporary companions, and add a sense of adventure and surprise for the player, through changing the setting and the imminent challenge. The threat of setback will be used as a means of motivating the player to stay alive in the face of lethal threats, such as vicious wildlife, cars, and possibly the elements. The implementation of the latter may not make it to the final product, depending on the time and resources that can be developed.
    The game will intend to tell a narrative story, and thus will have some linear aspects, guiding the player and focusing the game. The challenge arises with combining the more open, adventurous, decision-based aspects of the game with this storytelling. A solution may be to implement aspects such as the pound level, and interaction with other dogs, in more structured and linear ways that the player would have to experience, rather than just have the choice of experiencing. The choice of the player to address the challenges of the game through their own preferences of gameplay would need to be balanced, if implemented at all, with the more solid structure the game will take.
    The complexity of the game will be built more from the perspective of elegance, going somewhat off the Pac-Man model, While the endgame is to reunite the main character with their adopted family, along the journey there will be "sidequests" that help in keeping the player engaged, expanding upon gameplay, and helping in establishing an emotional connection with the dog the player controls. A premise of returning home, and taking a journey to get there, will serve as the template, through which the game can be further built upon with its gameplay and story.
    High-end graphics are not a necessity in this game, as it would be an unnecessary weight on the system, and the settings the game will be set in are familiar, being in suburbs and forests. The art style of the game may even take on a more painting-like look, for purposes of artistic character and dialing back on realistic effects. Whether this will be able to be acheived within the time our team has been given is yet to be seen. As the game will progress,if done properly, the player may begin to emotionally project their beloved pet dog, if they have one, onto the player character, and any memories or feelings they have may be used as a way of imagining the character and the backstory of the dog they play as. Communication between dogs is intended to include natural communication, such as barking, rather than talking. This is being done for purposes of atmosphere and emotion, relating the interactions of the dogs of the game world with those of the real world. The intent of

Monday, September 19, 2016

My Designs

My basic scene for Unreal went through numerous stages before settling. In the first iteration, I had been playing with the Landscape tools, in a project that included the Starter Kit, and sought to create a scene out of science fiction, with a quaint cottage on a mountainous alien world. I scaled back and ultimately shelved the idea, realizing I had gotten off track.

Above, and to the left, you may see a glimpse of the world I was haphazardly crafting with my newly discovered abilities to create mountains.

Returning to a blank slate on Friday, I toyed with the possibility of creating a spaceship, until I happened on staircase objects. I got an idea, then, to build a stairway to heaven. The problem with this was how to alter the shapes of the staircases so it didn't look inconsistent. In a sudden burst of imagery, I chose to create a monument-type object: a stretched pillar, topped with a narrow dome, wrapped in a spiral staircase that halted at the top. It took a good few hours out of Friday afternoon to go through the process of scrapping the 'alien landscape', and then starting anew. I played with spotlights and with blotting out exterior light and sky colors, to a pleasing effect that made the monument object look like it was glowing.
Whether I will choose to build on this further, down the road, is to be seen, for I find a potential to expand on this work.

Here is a look at the 'glowing' effect I felt like I achieved with the monument, titled The Spire. Its look is actually reminding me of potato spirals.

 I am not sure if this is what Professor Erlebacher was asking us to do with setting up a camera, but regardless it makes for a lovely candid shot.

Above you get a glimpse into the oddly satisfying challenge of making sure spiraling stairs connect seamlessly with one another.

Here is the executable, within the folder.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

First Meeting

Claudine, Nhi, and I successfully met on Hangouts to begin discussing our game project. We agreed that electronic communication will be the best form, as Christina lives far off campus, making personal meetings a considerable difficulty.
Three game ideas were discussed, in the following order:
  • A platformer where the player assumes the 'coin' role of a Mario-type game, and must avoid being collected by the 'Mario-type' character
  • A horror game where the player is a "monster under the bed" dwelling within a haunted mansion that a new family moves into
  • A story-driven action-adventure game where you play as a stray dog seeking an adoptee, while evading the clutches of a malevolent pound
             Two art styles and atmospheres were discussed: A cartoonish and comical game where dogs communicate through thought bubbles, and which would feature a more light atmosphere , or a more realistic, artful game where the dogs would communicate through barks and growls, and the art style would take inspiration from the PS3 game Journey or the PC game Shelter.
Following the meeting, which was cut short by poor Wi-Fi signals on my side, Claudine set up and imvited the team to set up a forum on Slack where future material can be coordinated and posted.

We have also agreed to meet at least once a week, so that we can check up on our progress as we begin to develop the game.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What I Have To My Name, And A Few Games I Enjoy

This image, freshly created from GIMP, as my first successful attempt within the software, is titled "Cosmic Calligraphy", with my name written in the Persian language of Farsi, and accentuated and decorated with designs intended to evoke imagery of traditional calligraphy in the Arabic script, and intergalactic clusters. The name Erfaan Mahmoodi in Farsi reads as عرفان محمودی.
As the language is read right to left, the first name starts on the right, and then continues from there. 

And now for some games that hold a special place in my heart.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a first-person cyberpunk action RPG. The aesthetic of the game is interesting and unique, in how it manages to capture a world that is as troubled and unstable as it is technologically advanced.
The gameplay is diverse and thus heavily engaging: you can choose to run-and-gun through a level or sneak through the vents, you can hack computer systems to gain goods and disable security cameras and turrets, you can affect the outcome of a conversation through the dialogue you choose, and you can customize the cybernetic augmentations of your character to improve stats or unlock new abilities. There is a relatively open world to explore, rife with sidequests, visuals, and manuscripts that serve to flesh out the dystopian setting.
Additionally, the subject material is compelling. The game's story addresses themes of transhumanism, corporate power, what it means to be human, and the dangers inherent to advanced technology.
Deus Ex is a strong example of a 'thinking man's game', and is a refreshing take on the action RPG genre.

Sid Meier's Civilization V
Civilization V is a strategy game that gives you the opportunity to play as one of a number of historical civilizations, and win through global conquest, outstanding scientific achievements, diplomatic dominance, or cultural influence. The appeal of building Wonders of the World, expanding your empire and exploiting its resources, and creating your own in-game history is strong to me, as I am enthusiast of history and of learning of other cultures. The PC exclusive strategy game can also be modded, and hundreds of user-created civilizations, maps, conversion mods,Wonders of the World, technologies, and gameplay mods are available to spice up and refine the gaming experience.
With friends, the online gameplay, while spotty, lends a fun experience just on the historical civilizations alone. There are few franchises that can match the joy of playing as Achaemenid Persia and nuking the Mongols in the year 1764.
There is also some truly wonderful music, unique for each civilization you play as, to play in the background as to plot your rise to global dominance.

A Visual, Audio, and Verbal Introduction

Good day! As I am writing this it is the evening of September 7th, and I have successfully grasped how to operate OBS. Now for an admittedly awkward introduction video. The initial one was many minutes longer, but its size proved too great, and the upload time was too long. Thus, I created something that was a bit more to the point. Hopefully the video quality is fine, considering I am new to operating OBS.

The video includes a short introduction of my name, my desktop, and current activity in my browser. Attention is drawn to the Stranger Things OST piece in the background, and the three tabs opened that involve Blogspot. In the closing seconds of the video, I remark on my wish to not have a video that takes too long to upload, and thus I cut it short.