Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Back From The Dead

I can't believe it's been nearly two years since I last posted to this blog.  A lot has changed in that intervening time.  My wife and I now have a beautiful baby girl.  I won't bore you with too much baby talk, but suffice it to say she is the most adorable baby in the world.  She just turned 1 on December 29th.

Between a hectic work schedule and having a newborn in the house, blogging wasn't a priority.

However, as one of my many New Year's resolutions, I am going to be posting again the blog.  I did manage to squeeze some gaming into the past 2 years so I have lots of things to talk about.  There's also plenty going on in the gaming world with new consoles being launched this past fall so I should be able to find things to talk about on a regular basis.

In other me plus gaming news, I have joined up with a couple of friends of mine to form a game design discussion podcast.  You can check it out at Game Over Retry?

That's all I have to share for now.  I'll be back with a game design related topic soon.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

DLC - Downloadable Controversies

There has been a lot of discussion in the gaming sphere lately about Downloadable Content, otherwise know as DLC.  In particular the topics of "Day One" DLC and "On Disc" DLC have been hotly discussed.  By "hotly discussed" I mean that there has been a lot of hate and anger being thrown at the companies who have released these types of DLC.  Two recent examples of this controvery has been with Bioware's Mass Effect 3 and Capcom's  Street Fighter X Tekken

Players are angered because they feel that DLC that is either released "Day One" or is locked away "On Disc" should actually have been theirs to play without additional charge.  They feel that something that belongs to them has been taken away and they are being forced to pay an additional fee in order to get it back.  They see this as a bad trend for gaming as it's another example of greedy game publishers trying to milk more money from their players. However, I intend to argue that "Day One" DLC and "On Disc" DLC aren't really all that bad.

The major argument against these types of DLC is that "Day One" DLC and "On Disc" DLC were ready to go when the game was released so it should be included in the game from the start.  The additional content shouldn't need to be purchased and downloaded or unlocked.  This argument supposes that the content is something that's being excluded from the game. There is the image of a greedy game publisher picking and choosing content from an already finished game and making it DLC just to try to make more money from the player.  While money is certainly an issue, this picking out parts of the finished game is rarely the case.  With a few exceptions, this content is planned as extra from the beginning, worked on separately from the core game.  It is no different than an expansion pack, or any other DLC for that matter.  It cost the publisher additional resources to make and they have every right to charge additionally for it.  Just because it happened to be ready to go before the game launched doesn't mean it didn't cost any more to the publisher to make it.  The player shouldn't be entitled to receive more content than they paid for.

A further argument made against the "On Disc" variety of DLC is that it's actually present on the disc.  This argument I can somewhat sympathize with.  The digital age has definitely challenged the idea of ownership.  It seems logical that whatever is present on the game disc should belong to the player.  The common analogy used for this argument is being sold a car but having to pay an additional fee to unlock the brakes.  However, I don't think this analogy is accurate.  Let's play out a typical game buying scenario.  A player hears about a new game that think would be really fun to play.  They do a bit of research about what it's about.  Then they go into the store a read the back of the box.  They take the game home play it and finish the game.  The player got exactly what he paid for.  He was not in anyway prevented from playing the game as it was intended.  If the player so chooses he could buy additional content for the game, which in this case happens to be on the disc already, and enjoy that additional content.  Going back to our car analogy, this would be more like buying a car and then finding out that for an additional cost they could unlock rocket boosters that were already attached to the car.  The driver still gets a fully functioning car for the money he paid for, but he could get something more for an extra fee.  Even further, if the car was actually being sold with brakes that were locked out, as long as the driver knew this when he purchased the car, there was no wrong doing on the part of the seller.  The driver knew full well that the car had it's brakes locked out, so he got exactly what he paid for.  The fact that the content is already present on the disc is irrelevant.  If the player gets the game they expected to buy they are not entitled to that additional content.

Now I'm not saying it's always wrong to complain about DLC, but if the following criteria are met, I don't think you have much of a case:

1) Is the game you purchased a full and worthwhile experience and well worth the price you paid for it?

2) Is the DLC you purchased offer you content reasonable for the price you paid for it?

3) Did you receive the content you expected to receive when purchasing the game or DLC?

If all those things are true than you really don't have anything to complain about.  You got everything you paid for and you aren't entitled to anything more than that.  If one or more of those things are not true, than you should complain about that.  The timing in which content was made and how the developer chooses to distribute that content is really not cause to complain.

In conclusion, I believe that both "Day One" DLC and "On Disc" DLC are not as bad as they seem.  Next time I intend to argue that this DLC trend can actually be beneficial to the player.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Justin Time!

Last night some friends and I went out to see the new Justin Timberlake movie 'In Time'.  The movie itself was a decent Sci-Fi Action Thriller, but what intrigued me the most about the film was it's underlying premise of time as a currency.  As a game designer, this of course got me thinking about how I might apply the time as currency premise to a video game.

If you think about it, this isn't an entirely new idea in video games.  Time has been treated as a type of currency, to varying degrees, in a variety of games.  You could make an argument that any game where you are rewarded points for remaining time on the clock is treating time as a currency.  The player is attempting to balance the speed at which he completes the level, for points related to time, against other means of gaining points.

There are also games where time itself is a reward for doing well in a game.  Arcade racing games like Daytona USA give the player a certain amount of time to complete the race, but also rewards the player with time extensions for reaching check points or completing laps.

However, in the world of 'In Time', time is treated more literally as a currency, in that it is used to purchase goods and services and can be earned through working or other means of income.  Time is literally money.  The amount of time a person has left to live is determined by how well they manage their time.  The rich, or those who manage their time well, can live indefinitely, while the poor, or those who manage their time poorly, live very short lives.  My self imposed design challenge was to take this concept of time as a currency and apply to a game.  This is what I came up with.

To start out I thought of a game similar to Geometry Wars.  The player is a lone spaceship fighting off wave after wave of enemies in effort to achieve a high score.

However, not only does the player have to worry about avoiding enemies, they also have to keep an eye on their clock.  If the clock times out, the game is over.  To make things a little more interesting, powerups in this game will consume the player's time.


  • Bombs (Cost: 30s) - A screen clearing bomb attack that can be either used as a panic button when the player is overwhelmed by enemies, or as a way to earn a large amount of points.
  • Multi Shot (Cost: Double Time) - The player can fire a wave of bullets instead of the usual single stream of bullets, enabling them to defeat a greater amount of enemies, but at the cost of time accelerating.
  • Shield (Cost: 30s) - Makes the player temporarily invincible to enemies.
Powerups would be available at the press of a button, so at any time the player can choose to sacrifice a bit of their time for the powerup's ability.  To counter balance the cost in time for these powerups, the player can earn additional time by reaching different point thresholds (10,000 points, 100,000 points, etc.).

I think this system of using time as a currency for powerups results in interesting choices for the player.  If I use this powerup, will I be able to earn more time before time runs out?  Will the points I gain using this powerup now be greater than the points I could gain with the time I'm consuming?

Obviously, this whole system would need to be tweaked and balance before it could be considered a final product as I'm just pulling numbers out of the air, but I think the concept would have merit if pursued.  Maybe one day I'll make some time for it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Communicating Challenge and Super Mario Bros. Challenge Mode

A number of years ago, while goofing around with the classic Super Mario Bros., my brothers and I decided to up the challenge factor of the game by forcing the player to constantly hold both the run button and the D-Pad right, so that Mario would be forced to continually run.  This left the player with only the options of jumping or ducking.  We dubbed this new variant of game, Super Mario Bros. Challenge Mode.

This way of playing the game made it much more difficult but at the same time it was a lot of fun.  We kept passing the controller around to see if we could make it further in the game than the person before.  I later introduced Super Mario Bros. Challenge Mode to some friends at the office, and they too found it quite fun to play.

It got me wondering, what was it about this way of playing the game, that even though it was much harder than traditional Super Mario Bros., it was also tons of fun to play.  As I played and I found that whenever I would die, I could instantly see what I had done wrong and how to correct it on the next try.  I was blaming myself for my failure, not the game.  As I continued to play the game and get further with each attempt, I could feel myself improving and this was the root of what was fun about the game. 

This to me stood in contrast to what is commonly believed in some game design circles, that a difficult game is inherently frustrating to players.  I came to the conclusion that it was not the difficulty alone that causes frustration, but the lack of understanding of what causes failure.  If the player understands why they have failed and how to not fail in the future, difficulty can in fact be fun.

I think this accounts for the popularity of arcade games like Pac Man or Space Invaders.  The games were designed to be difficult to force players to spend their quarters, but the reason the players kept coming back was because it was easy to tell what they had done wrong.  This type of difficulty design has seen a bit of resurgence in retro style games like Geometry Wars and Super Meat Boy, however, I think this lesson can be applied to all games.

In the end, game designers need to better communicate the challenge in their games.  If the challenge is communicated properly players will not be frustrated by it and will in fact enjoy it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Assassin's Creed II - DLC

Like always, before reading this you should probably read my general disclaimer on game analyses.

It's been quite awhile since I posted my last blog on Assassin's Creed II, and although I had a lot more to say on the subject, I think it may be best to move on.  However, there was one nagging thing that I wanted to discuss before I do, and that is the Downloadable Content (DLC).

During the story of Assassin's Creed II, once you are about to enter Sequence 12 of Ezio's memories
there is some kind of error with the animus and the player is forced to skip ahead to a future sequence.  The resulting missing sequences of 12 and 13 can be filled in with purchased DLC.  This approach to DLC has given me somewhat mixed feelings.

The designer in me admits it's clever way to sell the player on DLC.  The game's story makes a "sales pitch" within the universe of the game by telling the player there is something that they've been forced to skip over.  The player is left wondering what it is they missed in Sequences 12 and 13, and the only way for them to find out is to buy the DLC.  Without these sequences the game wraps up the story and the player isn't necessarily missing out on any relevant details, but there is still a sense of incompleteness since the player knows that something is missing.

It's this sense of incompleteness that gives me pause and as a player I feel a bit cheated.  In most other games, DLC is used to extend the experience.  If I, as a player, really enjoyed the game I can purchase additional content to extend the experience beyond the basic story.  One could argue that the DLC for Assassin's Creed II does the same thing, but it doesn't quite feel like an extension of the experience, it feels more like a completion.  This is simultaneously the thing that is most clever about it and the most fiendish.

This doesn't seem to be a fair way to sell the player on DLC, but I may just be making a big deal out of nothing.  There aren't many games that could pull off this type of DLC, since there aren't any other games that have the animus to explain it away.  Ubisoft didn't continue with this method in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood either, so it may just end up being an isolated experiment in DLC.

Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Been Awhile - Part 2

So much for more frequent posts from me.  It's been two months, shy a day, since I last posted and I have little to show for it.  Well, I guess technically, this two month break is "more frequent" than my last break which was four months, so let's acknowledge at least that bit of progress.

Well I'm back, again, and I am planning on making a much more concerted effort to post to my blog.

Today's update is more or less administrative.  I've added a Links page to store links to friends' blogs and other stuff on the web I find interesting.  If you'd like to be included on the Links page, let me know by either commenting below or sending me an E-Mail.  I've also created a Twitter @jasonwrwilson, which is probably insane, since I can't even keep up with a blog.  Feel free to follow me, and I'll be sure to return the favour.

Anyway, that's all for now.  See ya' next time!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's Been Awhile

So it's certainly been awhile since I've done a blog post.  Things got a little hectic over the last few months and unfortunately the blog kind of suffered for it.  The good news, however, is that the hecticness was primarily due to getting married to my beautiful wife Daniela.  You'd be surprised how much work is involved in planning a wedding, especially in the final months leading up to it.  It was challenging and not without it's fair share of ups and downs, but in the end it was all worth it as I now have a beautiful wife to show for it.

After the wedding we embarked on our honeymoon to the beautiful Mayan Riviera.  Beautiful beaches for her, beautiful ancient ruins for me.  I definitely would recommend it for anyone seeking a mix of sun and culture.

Now that I have some free time again, I'm looking to get back to some neglected projects, including this blog.

So that's my update for now.  My next post will be much more gaming related.  I hope to post much more often so keep a look out for that.  I will return to Assassin's Creed II soon, as well as touch on some of the other games I've played through recently including Portal 2, Uncharted 1 & 2, as well as Darksiders.