Wednesday, December 11, 2013

My Personal Process of Game Development

While I love playing games and analyzing the decisions developers might have made when developing games, I myself do enjoy attempting to develop games. The truth behind it is that no matter how much I love a certain game, it will never be perfect for me. There are certain features I wish could be different, more refined, or approached differently. In the end, I still appreciate the games I play. I do understand that developers are not making games for my 100% pleasure. My endeavors on developing games come from the sole motivation that I wish to create a game that is perfect for me, that is to say not that it always favors me, but the design structure makes sense to me and offers the most entertainment I could pull from it.

I know of a few games that include many features that I find most ideal, but the way it approaches some of these is not exactly how I would like them to be. One of these games is Crusader Kings II. Crusader Kings II heavily explores the medieval feudal structure and dynastic dynamics. These two core features already drove me to love the game. However, there are certain ways I dislike about the game, such as how warfare is handled and a lack of jure uxoris.

Recently I've been playing a game called War of the Vikings, a Third-Person Slasher which involves a lot of heavy melee combat. Players go online and are pitted against other players, like an MMORPG, only it plays more like conventional First-Person Shooters, such as the lack of emphasis of a level progression system and more on personal skill. The game is currently in its Early Access phase and should include player customization, which allows you to alter equipment and personal perks, almost like RPGs. However, there are some things I disagree with, such as the general animation where actual combat looks clunky when you're viewing it as a spectator.

Back when I played MMORPGs, I use to play this game called Vindictus. It was a heavy action based game that too relied on personal skill, more than character stats and properties. Another thing I liked about the game is this particular "loadout" system, where before you enter a dungeon, you must be sure to organize what sort of limited equipment you are taking in, because you will not be able to pull random equipment like in most RPGs. However, the game was highly restrictive in terms of character customization, classes were restricted to certain genders and races, and I was never a fan of Baroque-esque fashion.

To be honest, I know there are limitations to the practical side of game development. I understand that I cannot smash everything I like into one game, such as taking the property, title, and dynastic management from Crusader Kings II, yet including a free roaming experience where you can conduct melee combat like that in War of the Vikings and Vindictus. That is too crazy and has too many features. I'd rather stick to one concept and build upon that.

The current game I am developing is a pen & paper RPG. MDA Framework states that developers tend to develop games by starting with the mechanics, while players are drawn into games by their aesthetics. When I sat down to brainstorm a game project, I only listed aesthetics, certain features or attitudes I would like to see in the game. And from that route, I go down to dynamics and then mechanics.

I started with aesthetics simply because, as a player, I look for games that appeal to me. So first I am thinking about what sort of appeals do I want from this game? I wanted intense, tactical combat, character customization, and a way to portray the game like a "shounen" genre (shounen is a common genre in Japanese anime and manga that usually deals with action and other elements). There are plenty of games out there that already deal with tactical combat and character customization. It is the shounen aesthetic that I think will make it original, but even then I like to approach different ways the intense, tactical combat can be rendered.

After understanding the aesthetics I wanted, I made a list of features within the game, those are the dynamics. I believed starting with the combat aspect was vital, since character statistics will derive from that, and hence character customization. I needed numbers that can portray a character, and what sort of combat statistics will be used. At first I played around with the idea of Mutants & Masterminds, which doesn't use the conventional hit-points system. Instead, when a character is damaged, that character must roll to protect himself from harm. Failing to do so will result in consequences or incapacitation. Sometimes the character will roll high enough to suffer no consequences, but whenever a consequences is earned, a penalty to further rolls to protect oneself is added. Then I thought that was too complicated for the average player, maybe. I rather liked the conventional hit-points system anyway, so I stuck with that.

One thing that I utterly hated in Dungeons & Dragons is the union of a character's ability to dodge attacks and resist damage. I always preferred a separation of the two. This also, to an extent, means that a character's ability to hit a target and to damage are also combined. Personally, I always thought it was stupid. So I created the four basic offensive and defensive combat statistics for characters: Attack which measures how well a character can land a hit on a target, Damage which measures how much HP is deducted from the target if the character is hit. For the defensive statistics, there are Defense which measures how well a character can avoid being hit, and Protection which measures how much damage is reduced.

Then I moved down to how these statistics are actually resolved. This is the core mechanic. I'm actually proud with what I came up with, I found it to work solidly after many tests. But first I started with three six-sided dice. You roll the dice and added up the results, and add your attack or defense to the result. After many iterations and inspiration from a certain online game called Card Hunter, I began using the d6 pool system. In the pool system, you roll one d6 for every point you have in an ability, and every die that rolls 4 or higher counts as a success. As I refined the pool system, I found that it was hard to find a way to not crowd the table with dice. However, after doing a little bit of research, I discovered that a certain game, that I never played but am familiar with called Shadowrun, uses plenty of dice on the table. I then thought it shouldn't be a problem so I stuck with the dice pool system.

I came up with different features the tactical combat can have, such as how flanking works, combat stances that gives you certain advantages and disadvantages, deciding on whether to use a grid, hexgrid, or no grid, etc. Even equipment will have properties, such as blunt, cutting, and crushing damage, which all should have different results when damaging a character. I wanted all of these features to force players to think about participating in combat, but at the same time I know I don't want too many features that make the game overcomplicated. I don't even see this as a compromise, because my ideal and perfect game shouldn't be overcomplicated.

After understanding the different features and statistics involved in combat, I felt I was comfortable with creating a template for character creation, and what sort of vital statistics were important for characters. But how those statistics were derived was the question. Most games have characters that have something called base abilities. Base abilities represents the core stats of characters that are involved in everything a character does. I knew I wanted the base abilities to represent the basic bodily abilities of a character, such as their physical strengths and mental natures. If there was one thing I hated from Dungeons & Dragons, it was the ability dexterity. I hated dexterity because it covered almost everything: Manual coordination, physical agility, and general skill for anything that involves using your body or hands. Instead I decided to have dexterity be more of a "skill", which I will get into later.

Early on, I settled on a trend number. This number will go on to be embedded in the rest of the game mechanics. I did this because I was sort of tailoring this game to fit a certain fantasy world I created for another game that I am still currently running. That number is 6. Six-sided dice, six-sided hex grids. And so I wanted 6 base abilities. Those abilities would be: Might, Vitality, Learning, Cunning, Attunement, and Resolve. 2 physical abilities, 2 mental abilities, and 2 abilities that practically represent the temperament of the character. All 6 of these abilities are, ideally, things that are not learned by naturally developed.

There are other features I'd like to talk about, but I want to go over the shounen mechanics. I had to do a little research on the common trends of shounen stories. One thing I noticed is the sliding scale of optimism and cynicism. Heroes tend to be over optimistic, always sticking to their beliefs, and believing that fighting for what you believe them will grant you victory. But heroes also want to be known, to be famous, to be the best there ever is, hence why they train a lot. I borrowed a mechanic from Crusader Kings II, a mechanic which measures a characters piety and prestige. A character's piety will represent how well a character sticks to his believes, and they can use points of piety to enhance their rolls. A character's prestige represents how famous they are, and they can use points to influence other characters. I believe  this one mechanic is the best way to represent the shounen genre. It's more of a little element, which doesn't make the game anymore shounen than it is not however.

That's all I have to share about my current progress. I can go into more detail about what I have and how things worked, but this post was only meant to describe my thought process and why certain features were added, not explain how they work.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

MDA Framework of Game Design

The MDA Framework is a proposed concept of game design and game experience. MDA is broken into three parts, that is Mechanic, Dynamic, and Aesthetic. The Mechanic represents the established rules within the game, Dynamic is how the rules interact with each other, and Aesthetics is the type of appeal the game is given as a result of its Dynamic.

MDA Framework explained visually.

There is apparently a disconnect between Player and Developer, as the two categories look at games with different approaches. For Players, they see the Aesthetics first, which is what introduces them to the game, in which they then experience the Dynamics and Mechanics. However, for a Developer, they approach a game on the opposite approach.

As an aspiring game developer myself, I actually find myself looking at the Aesthetics end first, but I think that may have to do with the fact that I am an unexperienced game designer. I first think about what kind of game I would like to play, but then I skip past Dynamic and into the Mechanic, where I attempt to come up with Mechanic that would eventually lead to the Dynamic, and thus link back to the Aesthetic.

CK2's Aesthetics pleases me so much that I attempt to break 
own one sort of mechanics can derive from it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Daily One Hour Studies 13/11/11 to 13/11/16

So this week's topic is my College Campus. Lately I've been stressing out over getting 7 paintings done a week, but due to time constraints, I have to skip a day or two every week. So, as a very Catholic Atheist, I think I'm going to issue a mandate where I must rest on Sunday. Or rather, get 6 paintings done a week instead of 7, using Sunday as my back up day for that one day I miss a painting.

 November 11th, 2013: SJSU Event Center

 November 12th, 2013: SJSU Music Building

 November 11th, 2013: SJSU Tower Hall

 November 11th, 2013: SJSU Tower Hall

 November 11th, 2013: SJSU Student Union

 November 11th, 2013: SJSU Fountain

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Daily One Hour Studies 13/11/04 to 13/11/10

This week's topic was armor studies, but not so much in depth. I was trying to find images of armor throughout the middle ages, from the 11th century to the 15th century.

November 4th, 2013: Gothic Knight

November 5th, 2013: 14th Century Knight

November 6th, 2013: Hospitaller

November 7th, 2013: Pollaxe Knight

November 8th, 2013: Italian Knight

November 9th, 2013: Tobias Capwell

November 10th, 2013: Norman Knight

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Daily One Hour Studies 13/10/28 to 13/11/03

This week's topic: Armor designs from Game of Thrones I like. I realized landscapes were much easier than portraits.

 October 28th, 2013: Ser Jorah Mormont of Bear Island

 October 29th, 2013: Ser Vardis Egen

 October 30th, 2013: Westerman Soldier

 October 31st, 2013: Ser Gregor 'the Mountain' Clegane

 November 1st, 2013: Ser Loras 'the Knight of Flowers' Tyrell

 November 2nd, 2013: Ser Sandor 'the Hound' Clegane

 November 3rd, 2013: Brienne 'the Beauty' of Tarth

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Daily One Hour Studies 13/10/21 to 13/10/27

Another week of Daily One Hour Studies. At the suggestion of my mentor Owen, I decided to do less portraits and more compositions. All of these are from Kingdom of Heaven. One note I will mention now, is that I should do some smoke/gas studies.

October 21st, 2013: Siege of Jerusalem

 October 22nd, 2013: Siege of Jerusalem

  October 23rd, 2013: Messina

  October 24th, 2013: Battle of Kerak

  October 25th, 2013: Battle of Kerak

October 26th, 2013: Kerak Kings

October 27th, 2013: Terms

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Daily One Hour Studies 13/10/14 to 13/10/20

I suppose the theme this week was Kingdom of Heaven shots. I only wish I could make Saladin look so much better.

October 14th, 2013: Saladin
"I am not those men. I am Salahudin. Sala-hu-din!"

October 15th, 2013: Tiberias
"I have given Jerusalem my whole life. First, I thought we were fighting for God.
Then I realized we were fighting for wealth and land. I was ashamed."

October 16th, 2013: Balian
"What man is a man who does not make the world better."

October 17th, 2013: Baldwin IV of Jerusalem
"When you stand before God, you cannot say, 'But I was told by others to do thus,'
or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice."

October 18th, 2013: Hospitaller
"Holiness is in the right action, and courage on
behalf of those who cannot defend themselves."

October 19th, 2013: Imad
"Your quality will be known among your enemies, before ever you meet them."

October 20th, 2013: Godfrey
"You are not what you were born, but what you have it in yourself to be."

Thoughts on a Few Games

I played some games a while ago. Let me tell you what I thought about them.

Perhaps, my favorite game I've played from the selection, was Don't Shit Your Pants. While the game is simple, it prides itself on one skill alone: Critical Thinking. You might wonder how a simple game can involve so much critical thinking. It involve you selecting the write phrase to proceed trough the game. The game will punish you (and amuse you) for choosing the wrong words.

This Is the Only Level is another favorite of mine. The key ingredient in making this game is derivative design, where the same level has one feature changed just to make it a bit different, yet so challenging. I don't know how many derivations there are in the only level, but the game is quite addicting.

Canabalt was also a simple game, yet challenging. The only thing a player must do is hit one button, the jump button. However, it is a matter of timing. I suppose the key feature of this game is timing, understand when to hit the jump button. As the game progressive, the speed picks up, making it harder.

A very amusing game, QWOP, in which you control the thighs and shins of both legs and attempt to run. I always end up failing, and I guess the whole game is trial and error, and figuring out the physics.

You Have to Burn the Rope was also another interesting game. The game begins by telling you the rules and just lets you go to accomplish one single objective: Burning the rope. It's not even hard, but I suppose the art of it is the experimenting of being clear and concise with rules.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Daily One Hour Studies 13/10/7 to 13/10/13

So I finally decided to do some daily paintings or whatever. It's not entirely organized, all I know is that I must paint for at least one hour per day from photo reference. So far, the week begins on Monday and ends on Sunday, which is why I am posting this tonight. I may change topics every week, but so far I have all of these knight images in my folder that I want to paint, so I might just paint some more knights for a while.

The purpose of these studies is to train my observational skills and painting skills. I need to learn to paint efficiently to knock down shapes and compositions. What I have trouble the most I think is hue, I tend to undersaturate skintone. I've been doing my best to not pick colors, but depending on what I want to focus on, I may pick colors for an area I just want to knock in quickly. For example, for the chainmail studies I picked colors for everything else but the chainmail.

Anyway, enjoy what I have this week.

October 7th, 2013: Knight helmet.

October 8th, 2013: Dueling knight parts 1.

October 9th, 2013: Dueling knights part 2.

October 10th, 2013: Norman cavalry.
I chose this one because I like the Normans.

October 11th, 2013: Godfrey of Ibelin.
A screencap from Kingdom of Heaven.

October 12th, 2013: Mail coif.
Studying chainmail.

October 13th, 2013: French knight.
More chainmail study.

Monday, September 30, 2013

In-Class Game Testing

While I did not have much revision to do since the previous testing, other than the balancing of characters and rewriting rules for clarity, it was still important to test it again, even if that was something I was supposed to do in class. I paired up with Terry and we got cracking.

First off, for a pen and paper prototype, the rules were still quite extensive. I knew it was going to be hard to read it and understand it in one guy. The fact that Terry had to play as three different characters did not make it easier. Terry still had problems with understanding the rules so I just ran through the game a few turns to show him how it works. It was then that he got the hang of it.

Allow me to explain the core rules in detail though, which I neglected in the previous post.

Like most pen and paper RPGs, actions are resolved via dice rolls. The game system requires only the six-sided die, otherwise known as the D6. A character rolls a number of D6s equal to his ability rank. Instead of counting up the results like one does normally, success is determined by the amount of dice that rolled a 4 or higher. For example, if I had an ability rank of 4, then I rolled 4D6. If the dice results were 5, 2, 4, 3, that would mean I have a success of 2, the 5 and 4 counting towards my success count. The number of successes must equal or exceed a target number in order to succeed.

The second key feature of the game is the stamina system. Stamina is used as a form of combat resource, such as mana for most games with magic. Stamina recovers over time (2 points per round), and stamina is spent every time a character does an action. Some action requires more than 1 stamina. When a character reaches below 0 stamina, they go into the negatives and receive a penalty for every negative they have. This forces players to consider what sort of action should they execute. The kinds of action a character can do is move, attack, rest, and special ability. Special ability encompasses a grand list of different abilities, each will tell you what they do.

The last key feature of the game is the combat. The attack sequence of the game is pretty simple. It is broken up into 3 steps: attack, protection, and conclusion. When a character attacks another character, they roll dice and compare the result to the target number, which is mostly the target's defense value. If the attack hits, then damage is dealt to the target. The target is allowed a protection roll and each successful roll reduces the damage by 1. The difference is then subtracted from the target's health points. When a character reaches 0 health points, they are removed from play (i.e. dead.)

Here's an example of an attack sequence. An attacker attacks a target. The attacker has an attack score of 4D, the defender has a defense score of 3. The attacker rolls his dice, and he gets 3 successes, landing a hit on the target. The damage dealt is 5. The target has a protection score of 3D. He rolls his dice and comes up with a success of 2, reducing the damage to 3 instead of 5. The target now decreases his health points by 3. Now, onto the play log.

Terry seemed to be the kind of guy who likes to win so he was really thinking carefully on how to position his men and which abilities to use. He used the Shield Knight extensively to defend his other characters, but his stamina dwindled so low that he had to give him a break.

The glorious Shield Knight protecting his comrade-in-arms.

Unfortunately we had to end the game early. Time was running out but he knew how to play now. He described it as a hack'n'slash kind of game, which it sort of is. I suppose when somebody describes your game in a way that you agree means it's a good design.

That's it for now. I think I am going to focus on character progression and a list of equipment now that I have a reference point for dice rolls and combat values. The next test session might just be about character creation.