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Information Access in Avalon Code

by on May.27, 2009, under Blog

Recently I’ve been playing a DS RPG called Avalon Code. It’s an action RPG where the world is about to end, and you’re the Chosen One who’s been granted the Book of Prophecy to populate the new world. It’s your duty to use the Book to gather information about all the things that will be in the new world by “code scanning” them, which you do by hitting them with the Book of Prophecy. (Apparently the new world is going to have a lot of monsters.)

When you code scan something, it adds a page to the book that describes the object and shows its “codes”. Codes are blocks of different shapes and sizes that represent various qualities, such as Fire, Snake, or Justice. The codes are arranged on a grid (the “mental map”), and you can “rewrite” the codes by swapping them around.

The Sword page and the 4 hot-swap code slotsThe Sword page and the 4 hot-swap code slots.

You’ll find item bases scattered through the game, and you modify them by swapping codes. The above picture shows the Sword base with one Fire code, making it a “Fire Sword”. There are also recipes for specific items, e.g. the set of codes you’ll need to make the Sword into a “Champion Gladius”.

Making the recipes is a painstaking process. You have 4 slots of “holding” space to transfer codes between pages — all other codes have to be on a page. So if you decide you want that Champion Gladius, you have to: (more…)

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Replayability in Video Games

by on Apr.14, 2009, under Blog

“Replayability” is one of the features that video game boxes trumpet, often with the word “endless” tacked on the front. It’s considered to be fundamentally opposed to “story” — games that brag about their stories, like those in the Final Fantasy series, aren’t replayable. Games like Tetris, are.

The most common way I’ve seen to make a game with story “replayable” is to limit the amount of content you can see in one play-through. Multiple endings, multiple character choices, branches in the story — these are all ways to restrict available content. Of course, games usually limit the impact of such choices, making the replay basically the same as the original. And some gamers don’t even bother with a second run, wasting the effort that went into producing the replay content.

I think the issue is that games with stories tend to have a lot of fluff — not exactly filler, but activities that are only interesting because of the crumbs of story interspersed. Sometimes even the crumbs are boring the second time through, so new content has to be added to entice people into replaying the game.

On the other hand, people re-watch movies and tv shows, and re-read books all the time. (I’ve certainly read my favorite books more than once.) Sometimes there’s new content, e.g. an extended edition of a movie, but usually not. There are two reasons this is more common:

  1. It takes less time to re-watch a movie than it does to re-play a game.
  2. You can skip to the good parts.

Number one I’ve seen addressed a few times in RPGs. The most common method I’ve seen is the “New Game+” mode, where you start the game over but keep your items, experience/levels, and/or abilities from your initial run-through. Since most of your time in an RPG is spent in combat, this speeds up the replay pretty well. In Chrono Cross there was even the ability to speed through cutscene text. (Although at that point I started to wonder why I bothered.) In adventure games it would be nice to have a “solve this puzzle” button available on a second play-through; I haven’t seen that implemented. I suppose walkthroughs fill that role.

Inability to skip to the good parts is what makes the time factor such a big deal — few people are willing to play through 4 hours of game just to get to a single 2-minute cutscene. To some extent you can get around this by making multiple saves; I know I had a lot of saves in Final Fantasy VII just before cool cutscenes or bosses. One issue with this method is that you don’t necessarily know before going in whether a section of the game will be worth seeing again later. Another issue is that it can take up a lot of space, although this is less of an issue now that modern consoles have more than 1 MB/15 slots of space for savegames.

Some games have skipping to the good parts built in. In the recent Half-Life games, once you’ve completed a section, you can choose to start playing from that point. You’re given a standard set of equipment/ammo, and the checkpoints are frequent enough that you can pick almost any part of the game you want to play again. Games in general seem to be getting better at this kind of replayability — Mirror’s Edge and Saint’s Row 2 also make it easy to re-play specific missions. Unfortunately, the games that really need it (i.e., RPGs) don’t seem to bother.

Replayability of the more-content kind is nice to have, but replayability of just-the-good-parts goes a long way towards encouraging me to revisit a game.

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Ada Lovelace Day: Emily Short

by on Mar.25, 2009, under Blog

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, and I’d like to spotlight Emily Short, who’s best-known in the interactive fiction (IF) community. She was involved in the development of Inform 7, a sophisticated tool/system for creating IF, has written several works herself, and created a handy guide to IF for newbies or people who want to explore. She also has a column, Homer in Silicon, in GameSetWatch where she says some very insightful things about narrative in games.

Another thing I admire about Emily Short is that she’s clearly no stranger to the technical side of game development. There are a lot of people writing about games, but I like the kind of analysis you get from someone who programs.

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Let’s Shooting Love

by on Feb.02, 2009, under Portfolio

I participated in the first Global Game Jam in February 2009, a challenge where the goal was to produce a playable game in 48 hours. The theme was “As long as we’re together, we’ll never run out of problems.

Let’s Shooting Love is a Geometry-Wars-style arena shooter about a lonely robot looking for a girlfriend. It was created in Multimedia Fusion, which we decided to use since one of the team members (Sebastian Jansiz) was an expert in it and promised even faster prototyping than Flash.

I was responsible for designing and implementing the enemy behaviors. I brainstormed a lot of potentially interesting behaviors and played other arena shooters for inspiration. Then I had to figure out how to implement them in Multimedia Fusion, which I had never used before the Game Jam.

I created both enemies and enemy generators, setting them up so that Sebastian could easily adjust parameters such as speed, hit points, and generation frequency. I made a wide variety of enemies, including ones that travel in V formation, ones that circle-strafe the player while firing shotgun bursts, and ones that break apart into smaller enemies when defeated.

Links:

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Snowfall

by on Oct.18, 2008, under Portfolio

Snowfall is a game I originally thought of for a weekly game-making challenge at The Sims Carnival where the theme was “music”. After struggling with the limitations of the Sims Carnival game maker, I decided to take my idea and make it in Flash. I also used the opportunity to learn Actionscript 3.

Get Adobe Flash player

Move the mouse to move the sun anywhere on screen. Avoid touching snowflakes. Click to release a burst of warmth that melts snowflakes and earns points, but uses up a life. Play the game with sound turned on!

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Real Video Gaming Prototype

by on Oct.06, 2008, under Portfolio

The goal of the Real Video Gaming project was to create an interactive Flash prototype of a casino interface for a handheld touchscreen device (the Samsung Q1 UMPC). The intent was to allow casino patrons to continue gambling away from the physical tables.

The prototype presents three games: baccarat, roulette, and a slot machine. In baccarat and roulette, bets can be placed by dragging and dropping chips onto the appropriate locations. After the bets are placed or the slot machine is started, a video plays showing a casino dealer playing out the game. In roulette, the user can use the “Languages” menu to change the dealer to one speaking the appropriate language.

I was lead developer for the project. I researched and wrote specification documents, and created the class framework for the program. I also programmed the bulk of the project, excluding the slot machine and drinks menu.

The prototype can be viewed here.

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Basis Double Pong

by on Jan.06, 2008, under Blog, Lab

When I first told my friend about Double Pong, he thought that it would be a game of Pong with two paddles perpendicular to each other, controlled with one input. When I was thinking about a small project to re-familiarize myself with ActionScript, I decided to make his version.

Get Adobe Flash player

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Robot Finds Kitten

by on Nov.29, 2007, under Blog, Lab

After finding out about the lively Nintendo DS homebrew scene, I was determined to make something of my own. But first, I wanted to make something small to familiarize myself with the relevant libraries.

As a fan of both robots and kittens, I of course thought of Robot Finds Kitten, the “zen simulation” that has been ported to a multitude of platforms. I found an existing DS version of RFK, but its controls were sluggish, spurring me to write my own.

I used devkitPro and the PAlib text and input libraries to make Robot Finds Kitten.

Files:

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Endo Patrol

by on May.06, 2007, under Portfolio

This was a semester-long project course at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. The goal was to create a game that would teach elementary school children the basics of immunology, without resorting to military metaphors. (i.e., no “defending” against bacterial “attacks.”)

I functioned mainly as a programmer, implementing the user interface. I also composed music for the game and created and placed the sound effects.

Links:

Music:

These are the files used in the game, so they’re set up to loop.

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Don’t Forget the Lyrics

by on Mar.20, 2007, under Portfolio

The Don’t Forget the Lyrics Online Game was a project I worked on while at the Illusion Factory for Fox and RDF. Don’t Forget the Lyrics is game show where contestants are given the beginning of a song that cuts off suddenly; they are asked to fill in the missing lyrics.

The goal was to make an online version of the game show with new songs available every week. In addition, the game would allow players to upload videos of themselves performing the songs featured for that week. The video upload functionality was provided by Brightcove.

I was responsible for the overall structure of the code, as well as implementing the initial framework and several of the sections. This included the main game interaction of listening to the song and inputting the answer.

Play the game

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