Aug 25 2010

Post GDC

GDC and gamescom were both great! gamescom was huge, and our school had its booth in the same halls as Blizzard, EA, Square-Enix among others! We only had one computer, at a sort of bad spot, but it worked. Our most important lesson from the event was that some In-Arcade help is probably needed! You can’t really expect people at a place like that to play through the tutorial… :P

Some people actually did, though, and the vast majority of those who learned the game really enjoyed it!

My three personal favourites of GDC/gamescom was (in no particular order):

1. Don Daglow

Don Daglow (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Don_Daglow)‘s session about how to target a game was extraordinary in many ways. Not only was it informative and inspiring, but Daglow is also very funny. Seriously! Some parts of his presentation was almost stand-up-material, without compromising the integrity of his message.

2. ArenaNet and Guild Wars 2

I had a late encounter with the first Guild Wars, and quite liked how it stood out from all WoW-clones out there. When I heard there was a sequel in the making, I got really curious. Since then, ArenaNet has made several bold announcements on how they’re going to approach the design – no regular quests, no “evil vs good”-player factions, scaling encounters and so forth.

Some of these choises either didn’t quite make sense to me, or made me worry that they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Looking through the schedule for the GDC sessions, I noticed ArenaNet would have an hour for explaining the design behind the Dynamic Event system, for which I quickly reserved some free time.

The session was very interesting, and was not just some defense speech, but a detailed walkthrough regarding the design process. Eric and Colin explained the reasoning behind certain decisions, their method of iteration and discussed issues that arose as well as their solutions. The first thing I did when gamescom started (and all the exhibitors had the place for themselves), was to try it out. To make it short: it really works. If the huge gamescom demo was any indication, Guild Wars 2 will be one badass game!

3. The Parties

The four hours each day on the floor was compensated by great parties pretty much every night! What was great about these was not the frequent open bars (which was pretty sweet too), but rather the chance to talk to some really interesting people! Robin is one hell of a mingle master, so we managed to strike up good conversations with lots of cool people, including a live-producer from BioWare, and Eric & Colin from the Guild Wars 2-team!

All in all, it was a great trip, with lots of fun! A tip if you want to save some money when there: buy water as far away from the fair as possible! On site you can buy water for €7 / litre and eat at Subway for €10, or you can take a free tram ride and have a monster kebab with drink for €5, and then buy 1 litre of cool water for €0.25! :)


May 21 2010

Tutorials revisited

A while back, I held a little monologue about educating the player to play your game. As you won’t remember, since you didn’t read it, I ended it by proudly pointing out that we would have a very useful in-game-manual with videos and stuff explaining game concepts instead of having players go through tutorials.

Well, as it turns out, some people actually really, really want their tutorials! I guess this is why beta testing on a variety of people is useful. While us pr0gamers are too proud of our m4dsk1llz to go through a silly tutorial, casual players seem very fond of the concept. Since Dwarfs is a game that pretty much needs to appeal to the casual crowd as well, we had a change of heart!

At the moment, we’re working on implementing the campaign. Here is a screenshot of a prototype, pretty much only polish away from being fully functional. What is seen is from the first “mission”, which briefly explains the controls and how quests work.

En kaktus

A prototype of the campaign... subject to changes!

Needless to say, the Campaign Mode will be very different from the Arcade Mode! The missions will be divided into smaller quests, and it will play… sort of like traditional RTS-campaigns. Apart from being entertaining, we also hope that playing the campaign will inspire players to compete against friends, family and complete strangers for the highest score in Arcade Mode!

Oops, blog time is up. Back to crunch!


Apr 29 2010

In-game tutorials and exploring alternatives

The vast majority of all games out there requires at least some form of knowledge in order to play them. Some games, like the popular indie title Canabalt (http://www NULL.adamatomic NULL.com/canabalt/), require only a single line of instructions. Other games might not be adequately explained with over a thousand. Even games that are only slightly complex face the problem of having to educate new players — at least if they care about faring well with the casual crowd.

There are several ways of doing this. Back in the days, it was usually done by a physical manual that came with the game. That way, any in-game explanations could be omitted to save time. Many games even went so far as to expel the entire story to the manual. This approach is no longer viable. Especially for digital distribution, requiring players to refer to a separate manual (even if it’s a PDF) is madness. It simply won’t happen. Thus comes the need for in-game education.

A classic approach to this is tutorials. In their rawest form, these are the things that demand such ridiculous things as moving the camera or scrolling in order to progress. When done horribly wrong, they are an unskippable part of the actual game. Some tutorials are well-made, teaching things in a sensible order, and allowing the player to skip through parts. True to most tutorials, however, is that people simply won’t go through them!

I often find myself pondering on whether or not I need to go through the tutorial before playing a game. Usually, I actually decide to go through the tutorial, but that ship usually sinks about the time when they ask me to move the camera around. This is quite unfortunate, because even experienced gamers are likely to need some guidance in most games. I know I do, but going through excessively banal tutorials is simply impossible for me.

Another way of teaching the ropes is to disguise the tutorial as part of the actual game. When done right, this technique is really good. Batman: Arkham Asylum (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Batman_Arkham_Asylum) is a good example of how to weave tutorials into your game without giving much of an impact at all. Today, I think most games that bother with tutorials are integrating them like this, with varying results. In some cases, instead of cleverly tricking the player into doing your tutorial, game makers ruin the early parts of their game by dumbing it down for too long!

In Dwarfs, we’re trying to go for a slightly different approach: The Codex. It’s not a new concept, but we’re attempting to kick it up a notch. Our vision for it is a single place where you go if the tooltips are not enough. Instead of just having some text about random things in the game, as many such in-game encyclopedias, we’ve integrated short video tutorials on many entries. For a demonstration of both basic and advanced techniques, the player can click on the thumbnail to start a narrated video demonstration. Genius! We’re certain to receive at least one Nobel prize for this one!

OMG U CAN'T SEE THIS OMG LOL N00B

The "Awesome" entry would have a picture of this recurse into infinity!

As is apparent from the screenshot, the Codex is not yet complete, but the foundations are all there — including a couple of diggers dancing as a wide-screen feature! We think this will work great, as it will be a breeze to look up anything that might have slipped your mind, as well as learning new concepts and game mechanics. We’re really thrilled to see how it turns out, and if it works as well as we hope!

Of course, everything is loaded from an XML-file, in order to facilitate the inevitable translation into all languages in the world!

Until next time, folks!