Golden Game Barn

Creators of Fine Digital and Dice Based Games

Tag: Game Design

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.

Shaken, Not Poisoned Initial Design

G’day there you.

So I think a good place to start is what the initial flash of inspiration that caused me to think of this as an idea.

Imagine you are a spy in a ballroom. You know that someone out there is going to be attacking you…

You keep your cool, dancing with your saucy dance partner, when suddenly, an evil agent comes out of the shadows and throws a knife at you!

You were dancing close enough to the buffet dinner to quickly grab a steel tray and block the knife from hitting you, grab it out and throw it right back, killing the agent in a wink of an eye, and nonchalantly resume your dancing.

How did that feel to read? These are the feelings that I’m trying to put into this game. In the game, the evil agents are the other players, all working towards the same goal. To be the last spy standing.

The main ideas I have here are:

– A circular board, made of several cards, such as a bar, a grand ballroom, a casino room, a server room, a research lab, a helipad,  etc.
– Your spy is infiltrating a mega-corporation while it is celebrating it’s 50th year anniversary.
– Your goal is to make it into the server room in the center of the board, grab the data in there, and make it out with out the other spies killing you by laying traps or attacking you directly.

…..

Even writing this out seems like it could be a very complicated game. A simpler version could just be within the ballroom, and the ballroom has a bar.

So each player has a male spy and a female spy, a target they are trying to take out, and two targets they are trying to protect.

If your target ends up being one of your own spies, you dont have to worry about being attacked that round.

All the spies are dancing in a circle.

Each turn,  players can choose to move one of their spies clockwise or anti clockwise to switch dance parties.

After all players have had their turn, everyone can make their attempts to kill spies next to them.

If a spy is dancing with their protector, the protector will block the attack.

When an attack is made, the player that kills the spy gets a point. If the attack is blocked, the player that blocks the attack gets a point.

After an attack is made, players return their target cards to be shuffled and redistributed.  The first person to 5 points wins.

I’m playing around with the idea of having spies go to a bar to pick up drinks as cards, and players can leave poisoned drinks in the card pile, but I don’t know how that would work so far. Maybe players have to pick up a drink when they go past the bar? Have a buffet dinner section that can block a certain number of attacks? Or does all this just detract from the game and make it more complicated?

Well, that’s all I have for now. Hope to hear your thoughts!

Playtesting After The Crash

G’Day you,

So after playtesting at both the Boston Festival of Indie Games and the Game Makers Guild in Boston, I’ve learnt that there’s still a long way to go to get After The Crash ready for prime time. I received some very helpful feedback from a number of people, and it was great to hear that people wanted to buy the game now, I want to make sure that the game is super tight, easy enough to pick up by using real life as a starting point, and tense and interesting enough to provide players with many replays of enjoyment. I also want each game to feel like a different experience each time.

So here is a list of the changes that I’ll be making to the game. Maybe the change you recommended is in here, if not, feel free to leave it below, and I’ll reply with my thoughts.

Changes:

General Remarks:

  • Less Plane cards. Only 5 now. I was seeing doubles of cards all the time, no matter how many times I played the game or shuffled the deck. Lighter, Crash Ax, Plane Food, Water Bottle, and Med-Kit. Each of these cards is super-powered, but missing one of them will make you wish you had it.
  • Less Forest cards. Only about 30 now, but now you can only pick up 10 before reshuffling. Difficulty level of the game will be determined by how many wild animals (wolves and bears) are in the pack.
  • Seems like the first day was a bit slow for one of the players. After you find a cave and water, there’s not much to do. I think making the players light a fire in the cave is the way to go, and I’m adding some extra work for the water. This could make it pretty tough for less than 2 players. At least the chances of one of the players getting a water bottle are pretty high now. And if they don’t get a water bottle, they will get a lighter, so making a fire should be reasonably easy.
  • Going to have double the wood cards, since wood is needed to make fire and spears, and fires are much more important now.

Trying to make the first day more interesting:

  • Adding a river area. Many people were asking about stagnant water rules. I’ll be adding rules for purifying water to drink. I think this will add more to the first day because you’ll need to find a shelter, somewhere you can forage, and a safe place to drink clean water, which is a lot to ask for the first day! All players will be able to use their clothes to create one water filter to make the water safer to drink. Bad water will reduce your food by 4 points to a minimum of zero and don’t affect your life points, and your water points down to 4 from full. Not sure which yet.
  • You need a fire in the cave you want to sleep in, or sleep in the hut without a fire. Players will lose one life point if they sleep in a cave without a fire.

Simplifying rules:

  • Exploring will now let you see everything in all directions around you, since you need to find drinkable water and shelter in the first day, and people kept wanting to see all around them.
  • Players and animals can now move in 8 directions. This means you can move further, but so can the animals, so packs of animals can get to you faster. And so many people were moving in 8 directions I figured I might as well.
  • Removing the flare. All the flare really does is make the game shorter if you are doing really well at it.
  • Thinking about removing the flint card, and replacing it with a rule that lets you create a fire with two rocks. This should simplify the rules a little bit, and people will have to juggle if they want to make a fire or make a spear, so a more interesting choice will appear. I never saw a flint card get used, since most games had a lighter, and fires were only needed for food. More rocks should make spears easier to make.
  • Spears don’t break, but axes give a +1 chance to kill an animal.
  • Need to figure out food, water, trading better. I’m thinking you can only eat and drink after everyone’s turn. You can only share food and water after everyone’s turn. You can trade at any time while you are on the same square. This means you’ll need to end your turn on a river or pond to drink.
  • Water and food will go down after every turn. The water meter max will be increased by one, and all food increases will increase by one. It was too hard to figure out when the meters should go down or not.
  • Group Fighting needs to be simpler – Have attackers and people without weapons can go on the same square. Attackers go first, multiple attackers decrease the amount needed to kill the animal, If anyone rolls more than the amount needed the animal is dead, but anyone who rolls less than the amount needed is hurt. After attackers roll and the animal isn’t dead, people without weapons roll, with the amount needed to avoid being hurt reduced by the number of attackers.
  • When cooking meat, you can cook as much meat as you want for your action.

Tightening rules:

  • Fire in a cave can stop animals – Animals can’t go inside caves with fires and huts, but can go on that square. Defenders can’t get hurt that round. Attackers can still attack. This was mostly because it seemed kinda weird to be cooking meat while a bear was attacking everyone in a cave.
  • Animal direction mechanics need to be tightened up. Maybe animals need to go in different paths to get to you, but they can land on the same square? Will need to work on this more.
  • On the last day when the helicopter appears, one wolf will appear on the squares furthest north, south, east and west of the crash site, and one or two wolves (depending on players) will appear on the crash site.

Interesting extra rules:

  • You can’t talk to each other unless you are on the same square.
  • You have to hide your cards from each other unless you are on the same square.
  • Everyone still keeps mentioning cannibalism. I know who I wouldn’t want to be in the wilderness with…. But this might be happening in an expansion, as long as this does well enough.
  • Could look at everyone having their turn at the same time. Maybe introduce a timer? Only two actions tho, so not sure how to enforce that.
  • Movement only moves you one space, but you can use one food point to move an extra space. Interesting rule, not sure how this would play out.

Wow, that’s a lot of changes. Hopefully you made it this far, and if you did, I’d love to hear what you think of the changes, or if you have any other changes you think would make the game better. As always, you can leave comments below.

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