Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Game Theory Versus Making Great Games

At Ubisoft it has become apparent that there is a French held ideal of putting the theoretical as the pinnacle of game creation. That is to say, you come up with a theory and you try to apply that theory so that all your games fit within that theory. Of course, most of the theories I’ve seen are applied to the game after they have been created instead of used as an underlying principle of how the game should be created. What’s worse, is when they try to force the application of the theory to another game that has nothing to do with the first game.

Let me give an example…

Let’s say you made a 2D side scrolling shooter, like Contra (you all know Contra, right?). Contra did very well, so you make a theory that Contra did well due to the number of inputs the player puts into the game. For example, you can shoot in any direction by pressing the D-Pad in that direction, giving you freedom to shoot at any 45 degree angle (up, upright, right, etc). Therefore, it is important for every game to have similar inputs to Contra and you must make a document showcasing how your game demonstrates a similar behavior in order for them to consider it a good game.

So you’re making a new version of Tetris and you’re given a game design document asking you to show the number of inputs for the game to prove how awesome it is. Well, you write the document and you only have 3 basic directional inputs. Move the piece left, right or down. This upsets your bosses who say that you don’t have enough directional inputs in order to compete with Contra and games like it, since they have proven successful, your game will not be successful.


Yeah, the French can be weird.

posted by CommanderHate at 6:36 am  

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  

Friday, January 23, 2009

Is it better to innovate, or imitate in games?

I’m asking myself this one because it has come up recently in my work.

When you look at the successful companies in the game world, what you end up seeing are a lot of imitators who just happen to do it the best or at least better than the rest. Blizzard wasn’t the first to make an RTS, but they did it very well, and then they continued to improve on their previous models. No doubt Starcraft II will be a serious improvement over Starcraft I, but will it be an innovative game?

I think people get stuck on the idea of innovating. Of making something from absolutely nothing. The truth of the matter is, we as humans have been building our knowledge based on old knowledge since we started. To have a truly new thought that has no basis on anything before it is actually quite impossible. Everything we do is based on something that we have already learned or been taught. Even if you could actually come up with something like that, no one would understand it, and no one would pay you to make a game out of it.

So what it comes down to (for games at least) is how much should you push for innovation over imitation. The truly successful companies don’t innovate much. How different (really now) is Gears of War compared to Doom? If you look at all the things that came between Doom and Gears of War, you’ll see that GoW really is only about 3% innovation. The rest is built upon hundreds of established (and obscure) games.

When something truly new comes out, almost no one plays it. Where is the game built upon the foundations of the arguably very innovative Facade? I want to do that, but damned if I can find a company willing to let me (or anyone willing to fund me). Most companies shun innovation on a large scale. In fact, most innovations are afterthoughts that come from sudden technological inspirations (Endwar’s voice commands for instance came in during the last few months of production).

Blizzard in particular has made an empire out of copying the best things from all its competitors and cutting the things that aren’t fun. Practically no innovation comes out of Blizzard, yet they are the number one PC game maker in the world (I think).

Is it the consumer that doesn’t value innovation? They cry out for something new, but when it comes time to make a purchase will they buy a game based on Facade that they may not understand, or will they buy Starcraft II? My money is on Starcraft II. =P

Of course, it’s funny how many game companies I’ve been at that don’t understand the very simple Blizzard model. Most companies can’t comprehend how amazing games can come from simply stealing all the good things your competitors have done. Maybe they think that innovation really is the way to get more marketshare, but I know that’s a fallacy. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Innovate too much and the consumer will run away screaming. But take everything they like from other games and package it together, they’ll buy millions of copies. That’s why I’m working on the ultimate version of Solitaire combined with Minesweeper.

So is it better to innovate or imitate in game design? Well that depends on how much money you want to make… ;D

posted by CommanderHate at 8:44 am  

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

More Shanghai Notes

I have yet to see a single “squat pot,” anywhere in Shanghai. I was told that all bathrooms would be squat pots here, but that’s not even close to the reality.

None of the apartments have carpet. Everything I’ve seen has been hardwood or tile floors. I miss my carpet. =P

The fastest cable modem speed in Shanghai is 2M. I miss my 8M connection in California. =(

posted by CommanderHate at 5:29 am  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The rumors and my truths!

I start work tomorrow and as I get into the swing of things I’ll return to game related posts, but for now I hope you find my Shanghai observations entertaining. =)

So, obviously, I made it to Shanghai. It wasn’t easy… I had a flight delay cause me to miss the connector to Beijing so I was stuck in San Fran for a day, but I was fortunate enough to have a very very kind friend let me stay with her for a night. Thank you Super Power Up! =D

So, I wanted to go into some of the stuff I was told would happen to me when I got to Shanghai, and what has actually happened to me so far.

1. You will be pickpocketed.

I have yet to be pickpocketed or even have someone attempt it. I’m being safe and keeping everything important on inside jacket pockets, but having walked around the busy streets on a Sunday, I haven’t even seen someone who looks like they would want to.

2. The taxi drivers will either drive you to a remote location where you will be mugged, or they will overcharge you.

Nope, after exiting the airport there’s a clear designated Taxi line where legitimate licensed taxis will pick you up. The guy used a meter and did not attempt to overcharge me, so I gave him the change as tip which he was very grateful for. No one even attempted to coax me into a shady taxi or anything like that.

3. Women will accost you cause you’re white and try to sleep with you to get you to give them a better life.

Nope, not yet anyways. I just don’t see that happening though. I think that’s primarily an “english teacher” thing, or a predatory white guy thing.

4. The tap water will kill you and is full of bacteria.

Yeah, it’s pretty bad. It smells like river water or something. I’m definitely not going to drink it and I try to keep it out of my mouth and eyes when I shower, but I think it’s chlorinated to say the least, so bacteria likely isn’t the problem. I’m told there are heavy metals in it though.

5. Everyone is rude.

This one is no more true for Shanghai than it is for New York. Some people can be rude, but the majority of people I’ve talked to have been at least decent, if not incredibly nice to me. Of course, the majority of people I talk to are providing me a service so they kind of have to be nice, right? =P

6. Everyone is short.

No, there are some tall Chinese here. Some are taller than me. I’d say on average they’re a little shorter than Americans, but not by much.

I think that’s about it as far as stuff I was told about Shanghai.

While I’ve only been here for less than 24 hours, I have noticed some interesting stuff. Like the traffic lights seem to cover every situation. There are U-Turn lights and Bike Lights. Many of them have countdown timers to let you know when you’re about to be screwed or when you’re about to get a green light. Traffic is a little crazy as people sort of wander around the lanes. It’s not as bad as I was lead to believe and I think I could probably drive here if I were so inclined.

The city seems to be divided into themed areas. For instance, when I walked down one street from the hotel, there was a lot of clothing and mall type stores that sold watches and bags and other stuff I don’t care about. When I walked down a different street it was primarily food. A third street seemed to be homes. I don’t know if it’s on purpose or just happened to get layed out that way, but it’s interesting.

The police are not as threatening as I thought they would be. Their primary purpose seems to be to warn people when they’re about to do something really stupid. Like today I was waiting to cross the street and someone decided they were just going to wander into the oncoming traffic. The cop blew their whistle and got them to get back out of the way of death’s headlights. Another interesting thing about police here is that they seem to have their own show. I think it’s a gameshow where the cops demonstrate good cop qualities and win prizes or something. I wish I could understand what they were saying because it seems fascinating. It’ a little awkward to watch because the two hosts are extremely upbeat and happy, but the audience (which seems to consist entirely of police are VERY somber.

There are random points on the highways where your photo will be taken. I don’t know why or what is done with them, but you’ll see periodic bulb flashes while you’re on any of the major highways if you drive down them long enough. There’s a predominance of cameras in the shopping districts, but I guess that’s just part of security.

Some tips if you’re planning on coming to Shanghai from America.
1. Keep your boarding pass with your passport and DO NOT LOSE THEM. When you get to Beijing they will be checked four times before you can get on the plane to Shanghai. FOUR TIMES!

2. If you’re traveling around this time of year, dress for VERY cold weather. It was 0 degrees Celsius when I exited the plane in Beijing, and they make you wait on the tarmac for a bus. I was lucky I had my jeans on and a warm jacket, otherwise I would probably have gotten hypothermia. Keep gloves in the jacket of your pocket along with a scarf, just in case.

3. If you have electronics you want to bring with you, check the plug. If one of the prongs is slightly wider than the other, you might as well throw it away. There isn’t a converter that I can find that will work with it. If it’s the three pronged type (grounded) or has two prongs of the same exact size, bring it. There are power converters for it that you can get at Best Buy or Gome.

posted by CommanderHate at 2:51 am  

Monday, January 5, 2009

Shanghai Bound

I am headed off to Shanghai, China. My flight leaves Thursday and all my paperwork is in order. Pending some disaster, my next post will be from there (unless they censor it). =D

posted by CommanderHate at 6:37 pm  

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Busy busy busy… More ebay!

I’m still preparing for my trip to China so there’s little time to post… But hey, check out more of my ebay auctions!

A WW2 knife.

Oddworld Inhabitants memorabilia.
A lot of Magic the Gathering Cards.
Knights of the Dinner Table comic collection.
Sega Dreamcast with games!
Nintendo Gamecube.
TiVo Series 2 Dual Tuner.
A Toyota Prius… Yes, my car!

posted by CommanderHate at 9:55 am  

Monday, December 22, 2008

Selling My Geeky Stuff

In order to scrape some cash together to make ends meet and hopefully not get another foreclosure on my records, I have opened up my store of incredibly geeky stuff for sale on e-bay. I’ll be putting up many items for the next week or two and if you know of any websites that might be interested, please spread the auction love in their direction.

Almost all the items start at $0.99 and most of them will have 10% of any profit go to Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play charity.

Battlestar Galactica Episode 1, “33” signed by cast.
Transformer’s Jetfire.
Robotech Masterpiece VF-1J.
The Crow – Brandon Lee Trading Card.
Dragonstorm Figurine.

posted by CommanderHate at 10:01 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.


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, December 15, 2008

Games That Won’t Let You Die
Awesome or Bad Design?
From Kohyunu

Kohyunu was wondering something about the latest Prince of Persia game.

“One of the biggest thing I noticed was that you cannot die. Even if you deliberately try and fall off a cliff, Elika is there to save you. She even saved me when she was trapped and couldn’t move herself!

What’s your take on it? What was your initial reaction to the ‘No death’ design choice, and how did you feel when you played it? (If you played it that is 😛 )”

Well, to be quite honest I haven’t played the latest Prince of Persia so consider my opinion highly academic, but I have discussed the game with people who have played it and I’ve come to some conclusions about it.

First of all, not being able to die in games isn’t that uncommon. Some of my favorite games don’t always have a death condition. Particularly adventure games and puzzle games of a story nature (like Professor Layton, Myst and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney) don’t ever allow you to die unless it’s a story ending possibility (though those three examples don’t have that). Dying in those games doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as it just causes you some frustration and you never pick that option again. They’re like choose your own adventure books (my guilty pleasure as a child) where you would pick the option you thought was best, mark the page, peek ahead and if it abruptly ended the story you would pick the other option.

In fact, my favorite game of 2008 did not allow you to die. A game called Braid which was about time travel (and apparently nuclear weapons), and every time you died you would simply rewind time to a point before your death was imminent. Given that the game was about time travel and that rewinding time allowed you to try and retry the gameplay puzzles to your heart’s content, it worked perfectly for that game (and when gameplay also expresses ideas, it’s a true joy to behold). The Prince of Persia Sands of Time had a somewhat similar ability to rewind time, but it had a limitation on it to prevent the game from being too easy. It seems the latest PoP has done away with that limitation.

The first problem with an action game that doesn’t allow you to die, is that there is no challenge to the game anymore. The point of an action game is to develop your twitch gaming skills to allow you to advance through obstacles that may have been too tough only a moment ago. With an NPC basically dragging your ass through everything, you don’t really develop your abilities and as the game progresses in difficulty, you will continue to suck at it so you will spend more and more of your time being rescued by the secondary character. Not exactly heroic…

The second problem with an action game that doesn’t allow you to die, is that the primary reason to play has been done away with. If there is no risk of death in combat or skill challenges (because everytime you fall you are rescued), why are you playing? If the story is good, that’s great, but that’s a reason to watch a movie, not play a game. If you don’t have to work to get the next tidbit of story, what are you really achieving by playing? How can you take pride in your victory if you didn’t really accomplish anything to get it?

Well apparently the solution to this is to make the boss encounters reset everytime you would normally have died but are saved. What are the boss encounters? Well they’re sequences of button presses that are displayed on the screen. Probably the worst style of gameplay ever invented. This stuff came from the original Dragon’s Lair and is the subject of my rant on Quicktime Events in games.

To reiterate my points on that though, you’re basically forced to push a sequence of buttons which cover the screen and interrupt your view of the gameplay, and if you fail you have to try to push the same sequence of buttons again exactly. “But Commander, isn’t that in essence what every game is,” you ask?


In most games you get to choose how you solve a problem as well as exactly how you do it. There are margins for error in many directions in those situations. If the button presses are exactly the same everytime then there is no element of discovery, you’re just playing Simon Says, but not even a fun version of it. You’re told a button to push and you push it. It’s more a reaction time test than anything else, which can be fun for a few minutes but should never ever ever ever ever be the basis of an ENTIRE FRACKIN GAME!

Yes, I know, you Dragon’s Lair diehards are totally pissed at me now. I’m sorry but Dragon’s Lair at least he had the good taste to hide the button pressing gameplay within the game itself. It’s still a reaction test but at the very least you can still see the whole sequence play out without some stupid button appearing on the screen. Though to be honest, Dragon’s Lair was more a memorization test, because I don’t know anyone who had a fast enough reaction time to play that game without having done it at least 100 times before.

So, not being able to die in games is not inherently bad. I just don’t think it was the right solution for an action game like Prince of Persia. Between the latest Prince of Persia and Mirror’s Edge (in which you die constantly and must frustratingly start over and over and over) I think there’s a happy medium. Perhaps Prince of Persia Sands of Time got it right with their limited time rewind?

No, I take that back.

I think the correct answer for Prince of Persia is to come up with a more compelling reason to play. From what I’m hearing, continuing through the story is the only satisfaction you get, and the rest of the gameplay is the annoyance that’s in your way to that. You trudge through constantly being saved by your companion, but there’s no fun in mastery because there’s no chance of defeat. Perhaps what Prince of Persia needs is some actual thought provoking decisions to make during gameplay that aren’t just jumping puzzles or Quicktime Event boss fights.

I think most action games are missing that “something new” that will escalate their gameplay to the next level. We need a mixing of genres that will make all games more compelling. Right now, Braid is the only game to have truly impressed me as far as that goes, but I can’t help but think that if all these game companies would try to actually innovate in the area of gameplay instead of slightly improving what they already have, we might have a wonderful revolution in games.

Time will reveal all I suppose.

posted by CommanderHate at 7:46 pm  
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