Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fixing Games : No Man’s Sky

I recently completed No Man’s Sky (or at least, as much as you can complete it). Spoilers will appear in my design analysis so you are forewarned. This is a new series in which I pick apart the bad components of games and attempt to fix them through my knowledge of game design.

Review
No Man’s Sky is a Minecraft styled planetary resource collection adventure game. You collect resources, turn them into upgrades that make you more efficient, and then explore the galaxy. The primary goal is to get to the center of the galaxy, and if you succeed you are rewarded with another galaxy to explore. That is effectively where I stopped playing the game. There is a side story about Atlas, which allows you to create a new star, but otherwise seems to tell you that following the path laid out by the developer is a fool’s errand… However, I haven’t fully translated the Atlas’ words yet. I plan to do so on my next play through in the new galaxy.

Atlas Eye

An incarnation of the Atlas.

Progression
One of the main problems with No Man’s Sky is that the sense of progression that makes the early portions of the game so compelling, quickly falls apart once you have the majority of upgrades and complete your 48 slots of inventory space. These two things effectively cuts down on 70% of the fun exploration aspects of the game. Buildings become much less important (only trading areas where you can sell goods off are still needed), and it makes exploration much less fun.

20160814152034_1

Upgrading Inventory.

Progression – Sub-space Home
The most important thing missing, and the one that actually had me baffled when I never got it in my playthrough, was a place to call home. A place where you could store critical materials you wanted for later, as well as capture and place creatures and plants you had found on your journey. The whole time I was seeing crazy things on planets (and taking screenshots), I kept thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if I had a house to decorate and I could grab these plants and animals and put them there? Then allow other players to tour your home for that sense of achievement and sharing that is sorely lacking from the game. Add on yet another layer of building and creating inventory space in the home and you have another 10+ hours of good times for the player. Just require the player to be outside a planet’s atmosphere to access it (same as the warp drive), and you have plenty of reasons for them to fly in and out of planets for the additional storage.

Like this, but more expensive.

Like this, but more expensive.

Inventory Fix – Progression
The easiest and most obvious fix for this is to add tabs for inventory space on the player. If they had simply done that, the players sense of progression and the need for Units (the in-game currency) would remain throughout. For example, if they just added one tab and made each new slot cost 2 million units, people would be very interested in gathering money and filling in those slots. Continue the cost increases on the inventory slots, and you effectively maintain the sense of character progression for at least one entire playthrough. Add up to 5 tabs and I doubt anyone would ever complete their inventory in years.

Maximum character inventory.

Maximum character inventory.

Upgrades Fix – Progression/Variety
For a game that relies so heavily on procedural generation of planets, animals, and perhaps even galaxies, it’s bizarre to me that they wouldn’t look for procedural variation in their itemization. They have all the variables needed to do so, and it would have added many many many hours of additional gameplay for people who like to collect things. So for example, instead of having a Sigma, Tau, and Theta that is an incremental upgrade of your mining beam’s ability to destroy rocks. Why not have a Sigma, Tau and Theta version that varies in where its stats are focused. So you might find a Beam Focus Destruction Sigma, which destroys chunks of a resource faster as you are mining than the Beam Focus Spread Sigma, which increases the area of the resource being destroyed. You could have individual variation within that where you expose the stats, and see that you found a Beam Focus Spread Sigma that affects 50 to 100 cm more than the other Beam Focus types, and thus you now have variation and incremental periodic upgrades for players to be seeking. If you wanted to cheat, you could even check what they have on their multi-tool and put a leash on the range of what they find next (e.g. they have the 60cm version, so when that type drops again, it’ll be 61cm to 70cm). All of the upgrades can be generated in this way, adding a significant amount of replayability (as people change tactics from one to another), as well as keeping that feeling of progression throughout.

Imagine variations that did fire, poison, or frost damage when bounced...

Imagine variations that did fire, poison, or frost damage when bounced…

Upgrades Recipes – Progression/Variety
Along with the Upgrades Fix I mentioned, you could maintain the recipe building by adding a secondary pop-up window during the construction process where you get to tweak your variables on the thing you are creating. However you can only tweak them to the degree that you have found that level of upgrade. In the prior example, if you build a Beam Focus Spread Sigma, you can only build one with a spread up to the number of cm of the upgrade type you have found. Alternately, you could forego building anything and require players to find these upgrades in the world and then apply them to their ship or suit. Either would work, though the latter would require a bit more work, and the former would have the player’s recipe menu explode to gigantic proportions. Allowing the player to tweak the variables once they’ve “absorbed” a recipe that allows for it feels right for the game to me though.

Inventory Fix – Buy/Sell/Trade
One of the most annoying oversights, and the easiest to fix, is to simply add a button or modifier key that allows you to increment or decrement excess resources by 1 inventory slot worth of that resource (250). Each inventory slot on the character is 250 resources, so having a modifier that allows you to instantly set your selling of a good to 250 makes perfect sense. It would have cut down on probably the most annoying aspect of selling resources in the game, and it’s undoubtedly an easy fix.

Why you no take increments of 250??

Why you no take increments of 250??

Main Story Spoilers Below
The Path of Atlas – Story/Progression Fix
What a horribly missed opportunity here. I can’t even fathom why they would build this unique space, screaming for a boss fight, and then simply not do one in it. Not only that, but the main point of Atlas seemed to be to indicate that the player following the path the developer set out for them was enslaving themselves to the developer’s will when they should be out exploring on their own and doing what they want. I got it… I got it. I still have to get enough Atlas words to translate the full text of what Atlas was saying (as opposed to what the narrator was intimating), but I doubt the gist of it will change too much. That said, if the point of Atlas was to make the player feel enslaved and like the path was pointless, tack on a bunch of a normal tedious questlines into the Atlas. For example, you go to Atlas 1 and it looks at a planet in the system and tells you to go get X Venom Sacs (or Gravitino balls, or whatever) and bring them back to it. Maybe it tells you to go to a nearby planet with animals and to name them all Poosnake. So many things could have been done to add hours of gameplay onto that main path, but I did the whole Atlas series in probably an hour just jumping from one to the next. No boss fight, no real sense of loss (hell those Atlas stones made me a ton of units), and an obvious somewhat ham-handed message that I was trapped in a simulation. Meh.

Jaded intellects indeed...

Jaded intellects indeed…

The Ending – New Galaxy Fix
To be fair, this actually was my favorite part of the game. What??? If you don’t know, what happens when you reach the center of the galaxy is that it pans back out to the edge of the galaxy and then you find a new galaxy, and you are crashed on the surface there with every system on your ship and multitool wrecked. So you have to dismantle to get iron to rebuild your mining laser (cause you can’t mine since it’s destroyed), but yeah, you’re starting from square one, exact same start as when you first begin the game. Is there more to it than that? I don’t know yet, but I get the point. It was the journey that mattered, and now you’re starting over in a new galaxy. With another opportunity to gain more Atlas words before you deal with the Atlas quests… But this time you have already got everything that made the early game interesting. You just need to get lucky finding proper resources and make your way off the planet. It’s somewhat fun, because rebuilding all your systems is quite the epic quest, but overall, I’m not feeling that compelled to play again. Which is why I think they need to add something on here that makes it something more… Maybe a new Atlas? A new voice that’s taking over the Atlas? Something, anything so it’s not just the same thing over again…

You can watch the ending:

 

Procedural Planets Player Markers – Player Generated Content Fix
Because all the planets are procedurally generated, you find a lot of crazy missed opportunities. Deep crazy looking caves that lead to dead ends with nothing in them, underwater secret coves that have nothing in them, every planet is rife with disappointing areas, caves, and buildings. So, why not give players tools with which to make them cool? Let us build and place boxes, put things in them (animals we’ve found, resources, tools we’ve built, etc). Let us place down signs, change terminal text, or even make voice recordings. Yeah, I know, this would spiral out of control pretty quick, but there is no disappointment greater than landing on a discovered planet and finding that literally NOTHING is different from any other planet you’ve found before. There’s no indication a player was ever there. Not so much as a mined resource (and I ran into plenty of named systems and planets near the system core, so I know it’s not a fluke). I’d say that is the greatest disappointment I had with the game, because I knew when I saw no marks from other players anywhere other than system names, I knew that all the effort I had made naming things on other planets and systems was effectively useless. I never saw another player outside of a spaceship, and I could never confirm for sure that any spaceship I ran into was a human (they traded the same even when I thought they behaved oddly). Nothing disappointed me in this game more than knowing for sure that all my efforts to leave a mark had been in vain.

It can sure be pretty though.

It can sure be pretty though.

Which seemed to be the core message the game was sending me at the end of the day. If you didn’t appreciate the journey, you just wasted hours of your time (in my case, 137 of them).

That's a significant investment of time...

That’s a significant investment of time…

posted by CommanderHate at 1:47 pm  

Monday, May 25, 2009

Resident Evil 5
Another Shitty Game

Five years… This took five years to make? I really don’t understand how a game that is basically Resident Evil 4 with a desert theme takes 5 frackin’ years to make. The only game company that can take 5 years to make a game and innovate so little is Blizzard, and Capcom, I’m sorry, but you’re no Blizzard.

How the hell did you spend 5 years making this game and end up making it WORSE? You can only buy new goods at level loads? What the hell is that about? Are my weapons being air-dropped from the sky? Why did you remove the trench-coat guy? The only annoyance was that he only had one line of dialogue for opening and closing his inventory screen. That was it! Otherwise it was fine. Oh wait, I know, you wanted the innovation of team play and you were too frackin’ lazy to program a way for players to interact with menus without disrupting the action… What are you stupid? Put the trenchcoat guy in a corner where there are no zombies…

I also hate your real time inventory management. What the hell is wrong with you? It is NOT FUN to have to deal with a clunky inventory interface when zombies are baring down on you. In fact, it’s the opposite of fun, it’s an incredible annoyance that has no place being in a video game. Which brings me to my major gripe about Capcom’s Resident Evil game design theory.

Making an interface or interaction in the game world difficult and/or shitty on PURPOSE does NOT enhance the “scariness” factor of your game. It enhances the ANNOYANCE factor of your game. Resident Evil 5 is a big annoying piece of crap with none of the innovation or interest that originally grabbed our attention in Resident Evil 4.

Don’t you get it?! Resident Evil 4 was interesting because it took the things that were good from previous Resident Evils (i.e. zombies coming at you, oppressive atmosphere, limited ammo/weapons) and added things that made it BETTER! Being able to properly aim, being able to run away without it feeling like a total piece of shit (though it still wasn’t perfect) and being able to upgrade your weapons. How did you frack this all up in RE5? Allow me to explain.

You added NO INNOVATIONS! Instead you gave us a moronic partner who we now have to micromanage and share assets with, a REAL TIME inventory management system which still sucks and is made all the worse by having to deal with it in real time, and a brightly lit desert world where we shoot Africans instead of Spaniards. Everything else is EXACTLY THE SAME!

Five frackin’ years to make a game worse! Let me know when you want to make RE6, just give me all that money and I’ll get you a team of texture artists to make the game in a snow environment. I’ll use the other 12 million to make a good game.


Resident Evil 5 – D+

    Pros:
  • Interesting take on oppressive environment.
  • Mostly the same as Resident Evil 4
    • Cons:
  • Shitty inventory management in real time in a horror setting, NO, BAD!
  • Poor storyline (but it’s an RE game).
  • Idiotic partner wastes your ammo, your herbs and bitches constantly.
  • You already played this game and it was more fun the first time.
  • posted by CommanderHate at 7:51 pm  

    Tuesday, February 3, 2009

    Resident Evil 5
    Quick Impressions

    Hey look, it’s Resident Evil 4 but the hot black chick hanging with you is more like the Spanish guy with the gun instead of the helpless little girl.

    Also, fuck the developers for not either getting rid of inventory management by moving it entirely onto set keys, or pausing the game while I deal with it. If the goal was to keep a real life intensity going at all times, you fail. Inventory screens are NOT something you deal with in real life. If you are in a combat situation you have a place for everything important on your person and you can grab it within seconds. You need to switch entirely to quick select with the d-pad.

    Or you need to pause the game when you bring up the inventory screen.

    I know why you did it too you cheap bastards. You don’t want to slow down multiplayer. Well it’s time to buckle down and find a proper solution with the quick select menu.

    Recommendation: Try Metal Gear Solid and see what they did… It’s not quite right, but it’s close to what you need.

    posted by CommanderHate at 7:20 am  

    Monday, December 22, 2008

    Commander Hate’s Best and Worst of 2008

    Seems like a good way to close out the year, yeah? Well, agree or not, here are my opinions on the best and worst games of 2008.

    The Best Games of 2008

    3. Professor Layton and the Curious Village. (Nintendo DS)
    I love puzzle games, and Professor Layton had fun little puzzles in spades. If I complete the game it’s either a testament to my stubbornness or a testament to how much fun I was having playing the game. In the case of Professor Layton, it was both. In addition it had a new (to me) and interesting art style that made it a joy to explore. I also consider this a great example of how adventure games on the DS can be very successful.

    2. Fallout 3. (PC)
    I also love RPGs and recently have had an affinity for RPGs with FPS elements in them. As much as I have disliked the Obsidian series, the leveling and customization features of Fallout 3 have made me very happy to play. Add to that a fascinating series of short stories to stumble upon while exploring a nuclear devastated Washington D.C. and you have a winner. The best part of this game is that no two players seem to have the same experience, even when exploring the same areas, making Fallout 3 a testament to well crafted design.

    1. Braid. (Xbox 360)
    This is probably always going to be one of my favorite games. It demonstrates so well what happens when you tell a story through the gameplay itself. Not to mention it’s my favorite use of using rewinding time as a game mechanic ever… EVER… And time rewinding is usually crap in games. Braid is the best game of 2008, so if you haven’t played it yet, go, now… play.

    The Worst Games of 2008

    I must preface this by saying it’s not my policy to play bad games. In fact, if I even get a whiff of awfulness from a game, I don’t buy it. So, since I’m only going to talk about games that I’ve actually played (since there’s no other way to have a valid opinion on the quality of a game), this worst list might include some people’s favorite games.

    3. Final Fantasy Tactics A2 (Nintendo DS)
    You dropped the ball Square. As much as I love FF Tactics, this game had the worst and slowest gameplay of all of them so far. The gameboy advance version had a simple way to speed through the boring parts of combat. Hit the shoulder button and it would skip through animations to the next action. WHY THE HELL DID YOU NOT PUT THAT IN THE LATEST VERSION OF THE GAME?! Seriously, I could have played through the game in 1/10th the time if I didn’t have to watch every stupid slow animation of every character doing things for the thousandth time.

    As much as I enjoy the gameplay and character building aspects, the story was unforgivable. We do not enjoy the whole “I’m a loner kid in school but I find this magical world and am forever changed” shit. It sucks… It really sucks. The original FFT had a hint of it, but was a very deep and involved story that had all sorts of revenge and death twist plot elements strewn throughout. Why don’t you go with the story elements that originally made the game a success instead of the one thing people didn’t like about the GBA version?

    Oh and your stylus controls that were made just for the DS? FRIGGIN FAIL! The only reason to use the stylus was if you wanted to be frustrated and angry when it totally misinterpreted whatever you were tapping with the stylus… FAIL!

    2. Warhammer Online (PC)
    I found almost zero innovation in this game. It was pretty much a clone of World of Warcraft but with really ugly art (even at the highest settings on a good PC). There was nothing special about the quests or the characters or the combat. Pretty much a yawn fest from day one. Been there done that, don’t want to do it again, thanks so much for trying, better luck next time. The game was so boring that I can’t even find the anger within me to get worked up about it.

    1. Age of Conan (PC)
    Another MMORPG, but this one promised to be different by having an in-depth fighting gameplay mechanic. For the most part, yes, good stuff… Unfortunately they rushed the game out the door a bit too fast and ended with an epic failure. Why? Because the animation speeds of women were SLOWER than that of men and caused HUGE discrepancies in damage per second values from one character to the next. You could have the exact same class with the exact same equipment but if they were female, they SUCKED compared to the male counterpart.

    What was the core of this problem? The animations were taking longer for women than men. How the fuck did this get by QA? This wasn’t just a balance issue, it was a complete cluster fuck of the entire game and made a mockery of PVP as well as level advancement since an entire gender had a SEVERE advantage. You cannot release a game with such a tremendous failing. You especially cannot release a PVP based game with such a tremendous failing of BALANCE!

    If you knew about this before you released it and chose to release the game anyways, you have no ethics and I seriously question your moral judgment.

    Fin

    So, there you have it, the best and worst of 2008. At least, in my opinion. Do you agree or think I’m an idiot? Post your comments and your own opinions on the best and worst games of 2008.

    posted by CommanderHate at 6:03 am  

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    Braid : Formal Review

    I did a short review before when Mr.Blow granted me the privilege of an early version of the game. How have my views on the game changed now that I’ve completed the final release version on XBox Live Arcade? Little to none. Let’s do a breakdown as different people like different things.

    Gameplay

    Braid is an exquisite medley of nostalgia and completely innovate new game mechanics, combined to form a sandwich entirely made of awesome. Seriously though, the ability to fast forward and rewind time has been toyed around with repeatedly in games of the past, but this is the first time where it actually fit perfectly and was implemented perfectly in the history of video games. Whereas most designers would immediately try to restrict or build costs into a time rewinding mechanic in order to make the game “fun,” Jonathon Blow has built a game around utilizing time rewinding without any sort of chains, backlash or other bullshit that made those previous time travel games a miserable failure (or at least not as fun as they could have been).

    Most game designers would immediately flinch and say the game is too easy because of the time rewinding mechanic alone, but they would be wrong. Deep thought must be put into every puzzle that advances progression, and time manipulation is the key that opens the locks. Each World of the game gives a slightly different way to manipulate time, and all of them have many brilliant puzzles.

    For those who have started playing and are getting frustrated or stuck, do not worry. I swear that every puzzle is completable and that despite their seeming impossibility, once you have finally figured it out you will be amazed by how natural the solution feels. All it takes is time, thought and effort. If you find yourself repeatedly trying to do something that seems absolutely impossible, reconsider your thought process and see if there’s a better solution that utilizes your time manipulation mechanic. If you’re thinking of giving up, do not. The end level is absolute genius, and to miss it is to fail at life.

    Art

    I’m not an artist by any means, but it is rare for me to play a game and be absolutely enthralled by the background images. Everything within the game is beautifully rendered in an ethereal way that fits in with the spiritual journey you go through as you push Tim towards reality. Art is often in games, but rarely have I thought of games as art. Braid, in all its ethereal beauty, is art in game form.

    Music

    The music suits the game well, and I am particularly fond of how it speeds up and slows down with the time manipulation mechanic. Hopefully it will bring a lot of new people into the realm of enjoying classical music.

    Story

    The story of the game works perfectly with the overarching theme, and more importantly, fits in with the gameplay perfectly. It’s all leading you to something, something brilliant and achingly sad. You can see it in the words as you progress and when it all becomes revealed, you feel it in your soul.

    My only criticism here is the writing itself. While the implied meaning of the paragraphs are quite good and perfectly set the scene for the levels you will experience, the writing itself feels mechanical and a bit placid. Perhaps this is the intention, for Tim seems to be obsessed with the mechanics of things. However, it is slightly out of sync with the elegance of the world within which he imagines himself. I would like to think that someone who can dream up worlds so achingly beautiful, would also have the words with which to accompany them.

    I also must admit that I did not fully “get” the final few books that I found in the world. I think I understand the general meaning of them, and while I did get some closure from it, I felt they were lacking in cohesiveness with everything else I had experienced. It’s almost as though they were written on such a high level that they failed to mesh with the very explicit meaning of the end encounter of the game.

    Overall

    The game has come together beautifully, and honestly, little has changed since I played the initial version. I think I may have found a few of the puzzles to be a tiny bit tighter in execution, but that could be my imagination playing tricks on me. Every puzzle completion was a moment of joy for me. It’s simply an exquisitely well thought out and executed game. If you have any interest in game design, you must play this game.

    Braid – A+

    Pros

    • Amazingly crafted gameplay
    • Best use of time travel ever done in a game.
    • Elegant and brilliant puzzles
    • Exquisite artwork that fits perfectly with the theme and gameplay.

    Cons

    • Slightly mechanical writing style detracts from the perceived overall theme.
    • Epilogue felt slightly disjointed at points from the rest of the game.

    There you have it, a perfect game in my opinion. The cons are totally personal feelings, but since rating a game is entirely about a person’s personal perspective, I felt obligated to put them in. Weighted against the whole, they are absolutely insignificant to me. Go get this game, now!

    WARNING: Comments may contain spoilers. I highly recommend you finish the game first.

    posted by CommanderHate at 1:29 pm  

    Powered by WordPress