Golden Game Barn

Creators of Fine Digital and Dice Based Games

Month: May 2015

Games Gone Good: Fire Emblem Awakening’s Support System

Games Gone Good is a series that tries to identify exactly what makes a game great, and celebrates games with interesting and exciting designs. This week, I look at Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Image by Blazemaster97 – Click on image for his deviantart.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is a Fantasy Strategy game by Nintendo where you pit your army of characters against a computer controlled army of characters. Characters weld swords, axes and spears to attack each other, and knowing which weapon beats another weapon is an important part of the strategy. Another important idea in the game is permadeath. When a character dies, they can never be used again. This forces you to carefully consider each move you make, because it could get someone killed, causing you to either keep playing without that character, or reset the game to try that level again.

One highly praised part of the newest game in the series, called Fire Emblem: Awakening, is the support system, which will be covered in detail today.

What is the support system?

Players can have characters stand next to each other, to increase their chances of winning a fight through the other character providing an extra attack or blocking a foes attack, or pair up, which buffs a character and provides a chance of an extra attack or block, but leaves the player with less characters to move and attack with.

All rights Nintendo

After each battle, the support rating of a pair can “level up”, and players can watch a small vignette of the two characters talking to each other, often in hilarious and heartwarming ways. If a male and a female reach the highest rank, they marry and their child from the future will join the team after the player completes that character’s level successfully.

What does the support system do to improve the game?

The most obvious improvement is to replayablity, because players can create new pairs each game and discover stronger pairs, ways to make the children characters stronger, and new character interactions.

All rights Nintendo

The next improvement is a little bit higher level. The connection of the player to the characters and the story in the game increases because players are choosing who to pair. This leads to more player investment in  the story because player’s choices matter, and there is more emergent story / gameplay because the game reacts to that player’s choices.

How was this done?

The most important thing done to make this work was having the gameplay favor characters in pairs. Pairing two characters for an extended length of time leads to massively superpowered characters. Having the story be about friendships and “ties that bind” really hammers home the point to the players that they really should be thinking about how they position and pair up their characters. There’s really no feeling like having your super powered assassin husband and wife team unleash 4 criticals in a row on some poor bad guy, all while music is blazing in the background (it rises in intensity using variable mix when your characters battle) and they are shouting their battle cries with conviction.

One nice touch is that who you pair up determines a little about the child that is created. The female parent always decides which child is made, but the male decides the hair color.

I had to.

And the final way this was done was with lots and lots of writing! There’s 3-4 interactions between just about every adult character and every child character, and even some interactions between parents and their children. Here’s a FAQ for all the interactions for the main character. It’s huge!

Ways to improve the system, and get more involvement in story

While I think the system itself is already perfect, I can’t help but feel that there could have been a little bit added if there was time. If partners could react to their spouse dying (which unfortunately can happen) with some barks or flavor text, that would add to an emotional scene for the player. Maybe adding a buff because the character is outraged or a debuff because the character is crestfallen could be a good idea? So I guess that would be one line for each character with a name placeholder, and some new gameplay to set up. Could run the risk of annoying a player since they wouldn’t know how a character would react to their spouse’s death, but when you have a game with trapdoors that open with enemies and allow them to kill characters immediately, some randomness seems to be allowed.

The ending does react to the way couples are set up, but it would be great to have seen more reaction to it, in scenes where all the characters encourage Chrom, maybe they could have been paired up in their couples. That’s probably a heck of a lot of extra writing, but might have been worth it?

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes this a good game mechanic, or what you think you would do to add some extra spice to the mechanic.

Games Gone Good: Super Metroid’s Introduction Part 2

I’ve decided to take note of great games, along with what the game does to make it stand out as the gem it is. This time, I’m writing about Super Metroid and it’s introduction.

In the previous blog post, I wrote about the introduction to Super Metroid, and how it involved the player in the introductory story to immerse the player deeply in the game. This blog post with be about the introduction to Zebes, and how it makes the player really feel the sense of isolation.

Picture this, you’ve arrived on a alien planet after fighting and running for your life, and you’re ready to kick alien butt.

image from NeoGAF. All rights Nintendo.

However, apart from acid rain and an ominous music track, there’s no one else to be seen. You’re all set to start blasting everything in sight, but the game has completely slowed the pace down. Now it’s time to explore.

With nothing else around as you explore, you can’t help but feel alone. With each door you open, you hope to see something, anything! With each passing moment, it dawns on you how isolated Samus is.

Image from screwattack. All rights Nintendo.

When you get deeper into Zebes, you’ll see the original lair of Mother Brain, Tourian. Everything has become rusted and decrepit, as years of neglect has brought the area into disrepair. Little alien bugs react to your movements and watch and run away. Samus jumps through the base, and players that have played the first game will likely remember their final fight with Mother Brain.

All rights Nintendo.

Eventually, you arrive at the starting area for the first game. It’s still very quiet. Dark. You’re waiting for something, anything to shoot. Eventually you come across your first item, the Morph Ball. You quickly pick it up, and an alien security camera lights up and spots you! But still… Nothing is attacking you? Maybe the base is empty? The eerie high pitched noise of the scanner works together with the menacing music and the faces that track your movements to increase your unease and your immersion in the game. You continue further, still keeping an eye out for anything to shoot. You’re really being pulled into the game now, just expecting anything to jump out and attack you.

Eventually, you find some missiles, and another alien security camera lights up and spots you. By now you know it doesn’t do anything, but still surprises you. You can’t help but wonder if something is operating the camera. Portal does something similar in it’s test chambers that never have anyone in them. You expect there to be someone watching, at least once.

So now you’ve been playing for around 2-5 minutes without any thing trying to kill you. The sense of Samus being alone is truly felt by now. With no way to head forward, you trek back, not expecting to see any enemies, since there weren’t any previously.

Image from MetroidWiki. All Rights Nintendo.

When you get back to Mother Brain’s base, you are surprised by the lights all being turned on, and Space Pirates attacking you. You finally have something to attack, but it dawns on you that you have been watched the entire time.

I’ve heard stories of players being so affected by this introduction that they thought they could skip the Space Pirates appearance by staying out of the security cameras.

Isolation has worked to bring players into the game, because while the game doesn’t provide much interaction, the little interaction it does provide reacts to everything the player does. This amplifies the player’s immersion. By providing a deep descent into the planet without an enemy to fight, the player feels Samus’ isolation. The trick is used to similar effect in Silent Hill 2, where James has a 5 minute walk before he enters Silent Hill.

Hopefully this covers how to do an interesting introduction to a game, and how to make your players feel isolation. Thanks for reading!

Games Gone Good: Super Metroid’s Introduction

G’day there you,

It’s been a while, huh? In between the Kickstarter, writing out the story for Regeria Hope and getting ready for cute bubbakins, it’s been tough to get some thoughts onto a page. So it’s time to change that, and writing about other things should make it easier to continue writing the story for Regeria Hope.

Having received lots of feedback from people about Regeria Hope, I’ve realized how unfun it is to have someone write bad things about your game up on the internet. Having previously written about Gods Will Be Watching, I feel pretty bad about what I wrote. So instead, I’m going to look for things that games do extremely well and praise them, So to start, I’m going to start with the introduction to Super Metroid.

Image from wikitroid. All rights Nintendo.

Specifically, the section from when you power on the game to when you start seeing enemy’s other than Space Pirates. Let’s start with the introduction.

As soon as your turn the game on, you know you’re in for something special. A black screen. The Metroid screech. Cue creepy music. You’re trying to figure out what you’re looking at, as the screen zooms in on dead bodies and pans across the screen. Then the music builds, the camera zooms out, and BAM! The Metroid theme starts, with the baby Metroid from the 2nd game in an abandoned lab full of dead scientists.

Thanks to ErrentMind on YoutTube for the video. The first 35 seconds are the intro, the rest is the story retelling.

Right away, your interest is piqued. There’s a mystery – Why is the Metroid in a lab? Who or what killed the scientists? So you rush through the game menus and start the game.

At the start, the story telling recapping the first two games is a nice balance of opening monologue ( which I’m usually not a fan of, but in this case it’s typing logs on a computer terminal, which is a fast way to get new players up to speed) and flashbacks showing the action. You get the sense that Samus is replaying the past events in her mind as she’s typing out the logs, and you get to see what is going through her mind as the actions happen.

I usually prefer showing, not telling in action games, and showing and telling at the same time is OK too, especially with a character that has no other characters to talk to and bounce story beats off.

After the story exposition, you are sent off to Super Metroid’s training section: the lab. Here you get section to get used to the controls. The ominous music and the mystery provided by the title screen propel you along the lab, until you see something familiar… It’s the same lab apparatus and dead bodies from the title screen!

However, something is missing! The Metroid! Where did it go? Quickly, you rush to the next screen, and keep running until you find the Metroid, and it seems like everything is going to be OK. Maybe this is going to be a very short game? But something’s up, you can’t leave the room, and you can’t pick the metroid up. Suddenly, Ridley, Samus’ nemesis appears!

By this point, you’ve probably been itching to shoot something, but you weren’t expecting a boss as your first battle! It was very brave of Yoshio Sakamoto to put a boss battle here, but it shows that he know exactly what’s he’s doing in regards to pacing the game. There’s been a reasonably fast build up to this point, and he’s trying to sell the rest of the game to you.

There’s 2 important things about this battle:

1. It’s impossible to lose. Not that you know it during this fight. You’ll try as hard as you can to win the first time, but get your energy level under 30 and Ripley leaves. This means you’ll always feel like it was a close fight the first time you fight.

2. It’s possible to “win” this fight. This is important for replayable games, since seasoned players will want to test their skills. Shooting Ripley 30 times is enough for him to drop the Metroid, which means you won. It doesn’t change the outcome, since there would no game to play otherwise, but advanced players can do it for bragging rights.

So you finish fighting Ridley, and right after a tense surprise boss fight, the lab starts it’s self destruct sequence. A timer appears, sirens wail, and immediately you know you need to book it out of there. This section is doing a few things:

1. It tells you that self destruct sequences are a thing that Super Metroid does. The next time it happens, you won’t be as surprised.

2. It amps up your excitement in the game even more. You’ve got to get out of there now!

3. It gives you a chance to prove to yourself you’ve learned how to move Samus around fast enough to escape.

4. It shows you remembering areas you’ve been in will be useful later in the game, and you’ll be doing some backtracking to finish the game.

So why is the Ceres lab section in the game? Why not just say the baby Metroid was stolen and start directly from Zebes? Here’s why: The Ceres lab is basically a 5 minute summation of Super Metroid. You’ve got your exploration, your mystery, and your heart pounding boss fight and escape sequence right there at the beginning of the game. If someone was going to give that out as a demo and see if you wanted to finish the rest of the game, I’m sure the answer would be a resounding YES! You’ve played through the story the game was trying to tell you, the most exciting parts of the game have been shown to you, and you’re hooked. For all intents and purposes after playing that section, you ARE Samus.

It’s very important to make the player as engaged and excited as you can in the first 5 minutes, either through a mystery, which I try to do with Regeria Hope, or by making the player feel badass, which Super Metroid does and another Metroidvania, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night does by giving the player very powerful weapons at the start of the Alucard section. You’ll see many other great games make their first five minutes very exciting as well.

Ok, that’s enough writing for now. Next week, I’ll write about the introduction to Zebes, and how it draws the player in with immersion and creates a feeling of isolation.

April 2015 Update

G’Day you,

Wow, this month just flew by. Seriously, I blinked and now it’s May. Alright, big stuff for this month:

  • Baby Celeste was born! Celeste was born on the 23rd of April, so the past two weeks have been used to get used to having a cute little bubba in the house. She’s so cute!
  • I was able to do an interview on the Kickstarter process for Regeria Hope. Hopefully it helps out other people that want to do Kickstarters.
  • Initial storyline for episode 2 has been drafted, overall storyline has been pretty fleshed out.
  • Attempted to do new art for “After the Crash”. So far got the plains done, and looking to finish the other tiles soon.
  • Got initial designs for the Jurrita system created for Regeria Hope.
  • Got a bunch of playlists set up for development on Subsonic, let me know if you’re interested in listening to any of them. Pretty nerdy, but a good playlist can help with working.

Goals for May:

  • Submit Regeria Hope, After the Crash, and Shaken Not Poisoned to the Boston FIG.
  • Have some gameplay tests set up for the new Regeria Hope gameplay.
  • Try and have a blog post up once a week about something done well in a video game, like the opening sequence for Super Metroid, the support system in Fire Emblem: Awakening, music in games throughout the years, and more, at least for the month of May.

That wraps up the update for the past month. time to get back to making games!

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