Creating A Compelling Story Line in Multiplayer Heavy Games

Hmm…. think, think… How do we tell a compelling story in our multiplayer only game?

     Hey there travelers! Doctor Bambi here, back with another nugget of info to get those nerd juices flowing. With the new generation of consoles settling into their rightful place upon our tv stands, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on two of the biggest titles to hit next gen platforms and one common complaint shared between them both. The titles are Titanfall and Destiny. The complaint? Story line.

     First thing I’d like to say is that if you haven’t played either of these games, go do it. They are awesome and totally worth your time. BUT, if you were to go parooz the internetz for the reviewz, you’d find most people complaining about the shoehorned or impersonal story. So, how do you tell a compelling story in a game designed specifically for multiplayer?

     Titanfall tried to answer this question by creating the multiplayer mode Campaign. You’d get a short cut scene before each match began and then during the match, the characters would chime in with dialogue attempting to make you care about the moment to moment events. Of course it didn’t work… at all. When I’m wallrunning hundreds of feet in the air about to rodeo a titan and headshot that sniper off the roof, my last concern is the gabber that’s coming in over my radio. It’s like going to a movie and someone pulling out their phone and start gossiping about last night’s pottery class. It’s just super annoying. The dialogue should reflect the situation. Call of Duty has done this well for quite some time. Tell me pertinent information, like when there’s a sniper nearby or if a titan is about to crush my body like a rollie pollie. By forcing that story content into the heated gameplay, you make it near impossible for me to pay attention and I stop caring.

     Destiny does the same thing too. It tries to give you crucial information to the plot when you’re mowing down waves of enemies. This is not the time nor place. Plot moments that are epic in scale need a place for the player to really sit down and take in that moment.

     If you think back to half-life, when there was something of great importance that pushed the plot along, the game would essentially confine you to a small space where there was no threat of attack. This gave you the freedom to pay attention to the story unfolding before you.

     But of course these are multiplayer games, and when you’re with your friends, you’re less likely to be paying attention to the story anyway. Perhaps a truly multiplayer game like titanfall doesn’t need a campaign in the standard sense of the word. You have a gathering of real people, nothing will ever be more compelling than other humans. Give them the ability to make the story their own. Perhaps when you enter campaign mode, you are paired with a collection of people. There’s an area where you can all talk and get to know one another, make it personal, give this sense of being part of a team about to embark on something incredibly dangerous. Then have a branching path depending on whether you loose or win certain matches. Let the environment give a basic framework of the story, but let the system and the players discover their own unique moment to moment story along the way.

     More and more we are seeing the power balance between player and developer level out. In this new space where computing power holds few limits on our imaginations, game design cannot be constrained by factors taken for granted just a few years ago. With more time, developers will start to take better advantage of our connected world and build compelling content around that space. When we do get it right, it’s going to be awesome.

     Here’s to the future and what we make of it. Stay save travelers.

So You Want to Build a Gaming PC

Doctor Bambi’s back with yet another tech tip to knocks your socks off and keep your toes warm.

So, you think you’re ready to enter the dark and mysterious world of PC gaming. You’ve had a laptop that’s gotten you through school, but you’ve never been able to seriously game on it. The world of Steam, Origin and other services are vast lands of untapped territories ripe with fresh gaming ideas. Gaming on PC really is a new frontier if you’ve been on consoles since you were in diapers.

I recently built my first gaming PC and the purpose of this post is to talk about all the things you’re going to need and some helpful pointers I wish I had known going into this process. So with that in mind here we go! Take notes and get ready to embark on a quest many console gamers will never take. The desert is far reaching, but the promise land is waiting on the other side!

Parts you’ll need: First things first

  1. Motherboard
    1. The foundation of any good pc. Everything branches out from the Motherboard.
    2. Keep in mind your case specs and your CPU format and brand.
  2. CPU/APU
    1. The brains of your pc. You’ll want to find something with a spec around 3.5 GHz for processing speed.
    2. An APU is a CPU and a graphics card integrated into one chip. This makes setup easy and space efficient at the cost of processing power.
  3. RAM
    1. Your computers ability to multitask. You’ll want no less than 8GB to keep up with the latest games.
  4. Graphics Card
    1. This will make your games look pretty. You’ll probably want, at least 1GB of VRAM. Expect to drop some money on this. I’d spend no less than $150 if you want to perform on par with the current generation of consoles.
  5. Cooling
    1. This one is going to take some research. You need to make sure you have, at least, one fan directly on your CPU (Your CPU will usually come with one) and two other fans somewhere in your case. One will pull air into the system, and the other will push air out of the system. Some cases come with fans already built in.
  6. Blu-ray/DVD Drive
    1. They may be on their way out, but you’ll still find a need for a good disk drive. And they’re not too expensive these days.
  7. Storage Drive
    1. For storage you have two options, HHD or SSD. HHD is cheaper but slower, SSD is faster but definitely more expensive.
    2. Make sure to get one SSD drive for your operating system. This will help keep your computer running smooth.
  8. Power Supply
    1. Gives your computer the ever needed life. I would find something with around 500 Watts. You want to make sure you have enough power to run everything smoothly.
  9. Case
    1. Pretty self explanatory. Make sure it matches your motherboard size. I would suggest getting a bigger case with lots of room for expanding.
  10. Operating System
    1. I would go with Windows 8, but you can also do Linux or Steam OS.
  11. Other Equipment you may already have.
    1. Monitor (keep in mind your TV can be a monitor)
    2. Keyboard
    3. Mouse
    4. Speakers

And that’s all you should need to get up and running! But here are some things I learned after building my machine.

There are basically two routes you can go, AMD or Intel. I personally feel that you get more bang for your buck going the AMD route. Go ahead and kill any concepts in your mind of building a compact desktop PC. I tried to do this and as a consequence, I have already run out of space for expanding my computer’s abilities. Custom built PCs are modular in nature and they’re are not space efficient. Chances are you can find a nice corner for it where it’ll be out of the way anyway. I went with an APU for my setup. I thought this would save me some money, but it ended up biting me in the butt. The integrated graphics are not enough to game on today’s level. Don’t be afraid to use HDDs. SSD are SUPER expensive. It is not feasible, at this point, to build a machine on only SSD, find a harmony between your SSD and HDD. You will run out of space faster than you realize. You can expect to spend about $800 to build a quality machine. Newegg.com is your best friend, get an account and sign up for their newsletters. They have deals all the time.

I think that about sums up this tech tip. Hope it’s been helpful for you. Leave a comment if I missed something. Stay safe travelers!

Using the Playstation Move Navigation Controller with a Mouse

Doctor Bambi here with another tech tip to knock your socks off.

So I’ve been a console gamer for most of my life, but recently, I’ve been getting into the PC scene and I have to say, aiming with a mouse is a lot more intuitive than an analog stick on a controller. Juxtaposed to that is the keyboard which feels like trying to ride a bicycle with square wheels. I have trouble getting my character to move how and where I want them to.

How could I get the best of both worlds without it being awkward as hell? Well, the other day, it hit me, the Playstation Move Navigation controller. No, not the one with the glowing ball on top, the counterpart to it. It has an analog stick, a bumper, a trigger, an x and o button along with a d-pad. I was shocked I didn’t think of it sooner. And it’s incredibly easy to set up on you PC. Note here, I didn’t try this on Mac, but it should work just fine, actually it’s probably a lot easier. But for us PCers, there is a process seeing as how PC does not natively support the playstation controller.

There are a lot of ways to go about this I’m sure, but this one seems to be the best I’ve seen. Just watch this video posted by Wilshire Tutorials https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpSaOJJIun8 but instead of hooking up your regular ps3 controller, hook in your Playstation Move Navigation controller. And… That’s it. Pretty simple assuming you make it through the tutorial without a hitch.

I tried out a few games to see how practical this set up would be and the results were…. mixed. First I tried Dishonored. After readjusting some mappings, I was up and running and it was great. The best way to play in my opinion. Next I tried Metro 2033 and this is where the set up fails, sadly. You see, it technically worked just fine, I just ran out of buttons for all of the actions I needed. This is, in part due to my mouse. I don’t have the fanciest mouse on the market. It has a left, right, and mouse wheel that clicks in. It also has two buttons on the side generally used for moving forward and backward between web pages. So I have 5 buttons to work with on that side, the move controller has the trigger, bumper, the analog stick clicks in like most modern controllers, x and o, and the d-pad for a total of 9. All together I have 14 buttons to work with. That seems like it would be plenty, but most games have a serious limitation. You can’t map the buttons on the controller. You might be able to choose between a few different preset mappings, but this will undoubtedly cause some overlap between the controls you set on the move controller and your mouse.

Where this controller set up really shines is when playing the Walking Dead by Telltale. Being able to move your character around with the analog stick while clicking on parts of the environment with the mouse is absolutely, hands down, the best way to play this game. It was almost as if they’d designed the game with this setup in mind. I’m interested to try out XCOM: Enemy Unknown next. So far it seems that when this setup works, it’s incredible to use, but when it fails, it’s to the point you won’t be able to play the game as it was intended.

Some last thoughts, if you are thinking about doing this set up, you will want to make sure your mouse has as least 5 buttons, and that really isn’t enough to play every game out there. There are all kinds of mouses out there with all different kinds of button layouts.

Anyways, hope this information has inspired you and stay safe travelers!

Under the Microscope: Metroid Prime > Part 2

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Welcome to Under the Microscope with your esteemed host, Doctor Bambi! Under the Microscope is all about walking through great games and dissecting elements of the level, game, and sound design. As an aspiring game designer I thought this would be a good way to learn from the best and also contribute to the community.  I’m sure there are points I’ll misstate or perhaps you have more you’d like to add, so feel free to speak up if you feel so inclined. If not, sit back and enjoy the ride!

So today we begin the opening scene. The first text appears on screen telling you why you’re here. A distress beacon picked up on a space pirate research facility. Oh man, we’re just asking for trouble. What horrors could await us?? Cue eerie music. Fade up on space. Then we pan to a planet. And then…. Samus’s ship zips into view. The music picks up as she moves in and docks. Popping out from a porthole atop her vessel, she does a completely necessary quadruple front flip and busts a move up onto that platform. We hear the familiar soothing music sting as the camera swoops into Samus’s visor… Brace yourself, for it is time.

So one thing to look at, is why did they have her do that dramatic entrance? I believe this is the first exposure we’ve had of Samus in 3D. Also, at the time, Gamecube graphics were absolutely amazing. I think Retro knew that if they were going to get players engaged and excited about controlling Samus in 3D, they needed to convey just how much of a bad A she really is. When she hits the deck, there’s an audible thump that gives off a sense of power and presence, you definitely don’t want to get in a bar fight with this lady.

Now we should take a moment to address the heads up display, cause who doesn’t love a great HUD and this game definitely has one. In most games, I hate a lot of information on the screen, blocking me from the important moments unfolding before me. In the case of this game though, all of the HUD elements not only feel good, but they actually help immerse the player in the role of Samus. She most definitely would want info on her visor. Also, all elements are at least slightly opaque. In no time your brain will have adjusted to them and, for all intensive purposes, be moved to the back of your conscious. Also also, when you turn your head, the display lags behind for a split second, which just feels awesome.

So the first obstacle that we run into is a force field. It’s quite apparent, the developers want us to understand how shooting is going to work in this game. Four glowing targets are to be shot before you can proceed. This teaches you how to lock onto targets and how to fire. I found it interesting that you absolutely cannot jump back onto your ship at this point. There was no plot point to explain this and it feels a little impractical. But I think they didn’t want the player jumping up onto the ship where a collision box is set up, firing the save menu. Something kind of Easter eggish is that you can shoot the chunks of rock floating overhead and they’ll explode into tiny pieces. A very nice touch.

Well, I’ll have to leave it there for now Glen Mates. There’s so much to talk about at every step of the way. Hope you got something out of it. If you haven’t already, you should head to my facebook and give a like there and share with your friends. 🙂 Okay, okay, next time I promise I’ll actually get to playing the actual game *audience gasp again* and dive into the depths of this space pirate research facility. Those danged pirates!

Facebook Did What Now?!?!

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It’s official, Facebook is in the process of buying out Oculus VR. Both sides are totally fired up about this, but WAIT WAT?? I need to collect the bits of my brain that just exploded all over the walls. Can this really be a good thing?? Is Oculus founder Palmer Luckey smoking crack? Is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg smoking crack?

…. But now this got me thinking. Up until the past few years, the consensus on virtual reality has been that it’s gimmicky. We’re finally starting to break that mold, but who has been the targeted audience for VR up to this point? Hardcore gamers? Arcades gamers? Possibly the military? Have we all been looking in the wrong place? If VR can find a killer app that caters to every demographic, it might have a chance at sticking around. But it’s gotta be so cool and interesting that every single person that hears about the concept says, “hey I gotta get me one of those!”. If Grandma is using it, you’ve won. The hardcore video game audience is not large enough to sustain VR, but if VR is not dependent on hardcore gamers, it has a chance to make a real profit and a real impact on society and culture. It can’t be just an added feature to an already existing product, it has to be an experience you can get no where else except through that headset. So perhaps the team up will be a great thing. If they can find a use for it, which I think they already have, Oculus could be set to impact the millions upon millions of facebook users an interesting ways. From there, Oculus will have a solid base to jump from. Movies, games, and everything we haven’t dreamed up yet are all on the table and that is a very exciting thought indeed.

I’ve used the Oculus Rift before, and I think it is an absolutely incredible piece of tech. The level of game immersion is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, but I know not everyone feels this way. If you are skeptical of the hype for the Oculus, I have a story to tell that might help describe what it’s like to use.

So one of my friends decides to try out Minecraft using the Oculus. He has a natural fear of heights, and there can be some pretty extreme hills in the game. He’s never had any problems just playing the game on a monitor. But when inside the Oculus, he couldn’t get up the courage to go near steep drop offs because it triggered his natural fear of heights. It’s a good example of the power of the Oculus, because we’ve all experienced that disconnect in games when falling to our deaths. But inside the Oculus, your brain will have such a hard time deciding what is reality and what is not, that it will trigger your natural response to dangerous situations. It really is incredible.

Of course, this is just an example of using VR in games, an obvious use case. Even then, it’s still tacked on and adds very little value to the actual game play. Once the wow factor has died down, you start to notice all the problems. The things that’ll make you use the device less and less until it ends up in your closet collecting dust for all eternity. The headset is unwieldy, and a cable has you tethered to your computer. It’s not social, once you have it on, everything going on in the room is essentially irrelevant to your brain. In most cases, you have to be sitting down while wearing the device for any extended amount of time. It doesn’t look very attractive, in fact it looks down right creepy. You certainly wouldn’t want to take this thing on the subway with you, or use it at a party. Just imagine a train full of people wearing headsets, sitting there, expressionless, while the government pumps out propaganda messages- okay I’ve gone too far.

The main point I wanted to get across here is that VR and social applications could provide the platform VR needs to survive. And on the other hand, VR has some real issues to tackle before it can embrace that social mantra. Cheers to the future!

Under the Microscope: Metroid Prime > Part One

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Today is the start of something special!… Or at least I hope it is. :0 I’ve had this idea bouncing around in my head for a few months and finally decided to put rubber to the road! Welcome to Under the Microscope with your esteemed host, Doctor Bambi! What lies in wait for you is adventure and things! My vision for this is pretty simple. I want to walk through great games and dissect elements of the game design, just to see what I can find, and share them with you! ^__^ As an aspiring game designer I thought this would be a good way to learn from the best and also contribute to the community. Hopefully we’ll all learn awesome things and discover some core principles that make a great game great! I’m sure there are points I’ll misstate or perhaps you have more you’d like to add, so feel free to speak up if you feel so inclined. If not, sit back and enjoy the ride!

To start off, I’d like to make you aware of some names and give you a better feel for the people who made this game in particular possible. To start we probably all know this game was published by Nintendo. It was collaboratively developed by Retro Studios in Austin Texas and Nintendo Co. in Kyoto Japan. The names I’m about to get to can be found on this URL: http://www.giantbomb.com/metroid-prime/3030-15473/credits/ I wish I could talk about every individual, but these were the key people who had the final say on what made it into the game.

Lead Designer: Mark Pacini

Mark is currently a game director at Armature Studio

Lead Artist: Todd Keller

Most recently, Todd has worked on Batman: Arkham Origins- Black Gate

Lead Programmers: Jack Mathews, Andy O’Neil

Jack is the co-founder of Armature Studio, also worked on Black Gate

Andy is now the president of Bluepoint Games

Lead Audio: Clark Wen

He is now working at Neversoft as their audio director

Alright, so to start this series off, lets take a look at the start menu. So the first thing that’ll probably jump out at you is the atmospheric music. The music in this game is absolutely incredible and the main menu sets an intense tone. Every time I boot up this game, I feel that deep immerse gravitas wash over me. I’m playing a Metroid game. The next thing that’ll probably grab your attention is the setting of this menu. Swathy fluids and and little bits and strange growths. Like looking at the internal workings of a living cell… under a microscope. ;D The imagery will create a subconscious note in your mind about elements that will unfold within the story. What are the space pirates doing? Growing metroids again and also genetically modifying various other space life. Dang pirates. When pressing the start button, you’ll notice the music picks up. The tempo increases and the overall tone of the song is more intense. Getting you fired up to jump in the game. After selecting your file, it’s off to the races. Metroid races that is. Oooo maybe that’d make a good spin off. Metroid Racing. Okay, forget I said that. Also the panning around the various objects in the background helps give each individual menu a sense of place in the overall hierarchy of the menu system. I don’t think there’s too much more to comment on that. Stay tuned for the next post where I’ll be actually starting the game! *audience gasp* Thanks for reading, glen mates!

Creating a Much More Imersive Gameplay Experience

I was playing Dishonored not too long ago, and I found something really interesting.  One of the many reasons this game is one of my favorites, is the deep customization of your HUD.  I wanted to do a little experiment.  I went through and turned off all items on my HUD.  What resulted was quite shocking to me.  The game felt more fluid and real.  Now instead of a graphic popping up telling me what to do, I just… did.  The game forced me to internalize the controls, which granted, can be kind of scary and frustrating at first, but once you get the hang of it (in about 15 minutes or so) you’ll find a much deeper and personal experience.  Now the developers aren’t spoon feeding you.  A sword is on the table?  I better pick that up.  As opposed to, *get close to table* *see pickup prompt* oh, I better hit “x” here.  There’s someone on the other side of this door?  I better peek through the lock to see if I can get past him.  As opposed to, *approach door* *two prompts appear* *”x” to enter, “hold x” to peek* I better hold x and see if a bad guy is in this room.  Just look at the difference of these two scenes and decide for yourself which one you think feels more natural:

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But what does this mean for game design?

Well, you have to realize how long games have been set up this way.  In fact, I bet a lot of hardcore gamers would have a hard time adjusting to the idea that you can’t see how much ammo is left in your clip.  The opposite side of the fence argues this: imagine your experience if you weren’t burdened with checking your clip status every 10 seconds?  Certainly, you do need time to figure out the controls, quite a bit of time in fact.  I performed this test after having played many many hours with Dishonored.  I know the controls like the back of my hand; this could lead to some biased results.  So, I plan to do a test with Bioshock Infinite, a game that I’ll have no experience playing.  By timing myself and seeing how long it takes me to learn the controls of a triple A title, we’ll see how plausible it is to take away a gamers HUD.

But how would you work around no HUD in your implementation of feedback?
The best and most realistic way to give a player feedback, is to have natural stimuli impact the character in such a way that grabs the gamer’s attention.  Instead of flashing a message on screen that you’re burning from a fire, just have an animation of the character model that implies, “hey, you are on fire, you might want to figure out a way to put that out before you burn to death.”

My Suggestion
I believe that there is a very simple answer to all of this:  start the player off with full HUD and tutorials and the like.  Then, as they progress through the game, slowly, one by one, remove each piece of data until there is nothing left between the person and the world they are exploring.  It’s great that Dishonored lets you adjust these settings, but many people hate digging through menus and tweaking the controls.  Let’s not destroy their chance at a deeper experience just because of that.

Game Career Guide

Found an awesome little site for anyone who cares about the video games industry.  gamecareerguide.com This place has everything you need to take that step into the industry and try to make a name for yourself.  There’s forums, challenges, and even a jobs board. It’s also closely affiliated with gamasutra.com which is an excellent source for video game industry news and events.