Thursday, November 26, 2015

I Hate It! or An Elaboration on a Simple Yet Overused Personal Phrase

"I hate it!"

It's something a lot of my coworkers, friends, and family have probably heard me say numerous times, particularly when referring to various games or up-and-coming developments in the game industry.  This phrase, when I use it however, is extremely nuanced, and I wanted to write about this and explain the various and different ways I use it and why.

If only I were a cat...

Why the explanation?

A few months ago, a coworker gave a talk on why game developers shouldn't use the word fun -- or any subjective word that can mean almost a variety of things.  Essentially, because the word is simple and can mean so many things, we should take the time to elaborate and choose better words such as engaging or challenging or thought-provoking or whatever fits the game we are creating outside of fun.
In the context of games, the phrase, "I hate it!" is also a similarly short and overused phrase I use to describe feelings of displeasure or dislike or disdain.  Anyway, here are all the different things I may mean, either exclusively or in combination, when I simply say, "I hate it!"

This came up when I searched "nuance"  I guess this has a nuance of like...madness to it...

I Hate It:  Frustration or Boredom

I feel like I've used this before, but it's such a good stock image for my attitude
This is probably my most common reason I use the phrase "I hate it!"  When I use it for this, I mean that the game I'm playing is either frustrating, boring, or a combination of the two.
To elaborate further, as a working adult, my free time is very limited.  I play games for a variety of reasons but to be bored by either an uninteresting narrative or yawn-inducing and overly repetitive gameplay or frustrated by challenges that are too difficult, take hours to complete, or have little to no reward are not the reasons.  So when a game wastes my time or stresses me -- and I'm taking stress from frustration -- more than I was before playing, a strong disdain exists, and I HATE IT!
Here are some games or gameplay aspects I've played that have made me say "I hate it!" and mean it in this way:

  • BlazBlue:  Chronophatasma:  The gameplay is fun to a degree, but the Story Mode had such poor pacing, I was bored and didn't even finish one character entirely.
  • Final Fantasy X:  Grinding for hours on end was extremely boring, and dying to the same boss five times because you didn't grind enough was frustrating.
  • Dead Space:  Stop generating enemies behind me!  And if you're going to have a complicated enemy killing system, maybe supply more ammo?
  • Halo 2:  I'm just not good at shooters; I haven't picked one up for a long time because whenever I do, I just get frustrated, and with so many games out there, why bother with a genre you are pretty sure you won't like?
  • Online Multiplayer:  Frustration from connection problems or from playing against strangers of varying skills, eventually becoming boring because there's no real goal.  I discuss this a bit more in a post about my love-hate relationship with modern fighting games.

I Hate It:  Disappointment

Screw it, I'm using this again!  Because it's just so perfect!
Another reason I'll sometimes hate a game is that it's been overhyped.  Whether by my own expectations or the marketing campaign, there have been times in the past where I've been very excited to play a new game.  One time I remember having a dream about a game before it came out -- I was that excited -- and the dream version was hundreds of times better than the actually released product.  I get a dream version will always be better, but it should only be a little bit better, not that much!
Well, when my expectations are smashed, especially due to false advertising, I HATE IT!  Also, I think a lot of players hate this as well.  I feel the more aggressive gaming advertising gets, the more hatred from disappointment occurs.
This doesn't happen a lot lately, to be honest, but there are some games I'm trying to be weary about to prevent it from happening.  One example of this is Street Fighter V.  I'm excited for Street Fighter V, but I've been trying to avoid getting too hyped about it, and I've avoided playing the now infamous beta (though if its first iteration had worked this might be a different story).  Overall, I want to be excited for the game, but know if I get too excited, there's a risk that the disappointment will turn into disdain, and I'll quickly stop playing the game.
This sort of happened with Mortal Kombat X.  I had really liked Mortal Kombat IX due to is strong single player; however, Mortal Kombat X, though it has remnants of it, definitely wasn't as deep, leading me to get bored of the game and giving up on it before all 4 of its initial DLC characters were released.

I Hate It:  Exclusion or Shame

It's Mother Angelica.  I kind of have to use it...and somehow she's still alive?!

This reason for loathing is a bit similar to the previously mentioned, but has it's own characteristics.  Instead of having the game hyped up by marketing, it's hyped up by other players, sometimes close friends.  You then play the game, and for any number of reasons it doesn't live up to your expectations or you end up hating it.
There's then the next weird part -- at least for me -- and you almost feel embarrassed or ashamed to not like it, like you're some sort of weirdo because you don't like "game X".  There's lot of flaws with this logic, but it's particularly irritating when playing a game with friends, and you can't stand the game -- probably due to being frustrated -- but this gets compounded by the feelings of shame and that eventually turns into resentment for the game.
The biggest example of this for me is Super Smash Bros.  I can't stand this game.  I'm just not good at it especially when approached from the Final-Destination-No-Items style.  I could be rude and say the game is overrated and bad, but in reality, I'm just bad at it, and the journey and time I would have to take to improve doesn't feel worth it nor would it be enjoyable.  Yet, when I see coworkers play it, I sorta wish I could join in more often, but instead, my resentment for the franchise grows.
One friend said I'm just a contrarian, that the moment anything becomes popular I resent it.  Subconsciously, this might be true to a degree; however, I think part of it comes down to the fact that I don't want to play it and actually dislike it and then feel weird about it, so I end up just avoiding it all together, sticking to games that I know I'll most likely enjoy.  A good example of a game I've been avoiding is Undertale.  I hear tons about it and see loads of fan art on Facebook.  Sure, I'll eventually play it, but I'm hesitant because it feels like it's a game I won't really enjoy that much, particularly the humor.  I have a weird sense of humor admittedly, and I'm afraid Undertale will feel like a big inside joke that I just won't get and ultimately not enjoy or the emotions it's trying to convey will just not resonate.  I'll feel embarrassed and ultimately resentful.


This doesn't quite get the onomatopoeia across that I wanted, but sure...

I was writing about this over the course of a few days, and I realized, I should probably get over myself.  The other two types of hate stem from two negative emotions:  jealousy and fear of change.  The biggest change I fear -- and despise -- lately is VR; I'll write a separate post on that later.  I'm coming back to this on the eve of Black Friday 2015 and feel I should be thankful for a few things:
  • I have no obligation to ever finish a game.  If I don't like it, I can easily quit.  Sure, I might feel a bit ashamed for quitting, but I'll get over that.  And if the story was particularly intriguing, I can probably watch a playthrough on YouTube -- a part me thinks playthroughs are problem with modern game development but another part of me think they are blessed time savers.
  • Every game, even if I hated it, is a learning experience.  Mostly recently, I attempted to play Dead Space, and by Chapter 5 gave up.  I had crossed the challenged versus frustrated threshold, but learned a few things.  The node upgrade system inspired me a bit, but there were things I learned that probably aren't good for design -- albeit the game is 7 years old and the developers probably learned for the sequel.
  • I can afford to play games.  This is probably why I should buy more games, even just to try them.  Sure, maybe I should never buy Call of Duty or any other FPS, but spending 10 dollars on a game on Steam, even if I end up hating it, isn't a big deal, especially if I learned something from it, and maybe by taking the risk, I'll found something new to enjoy.
Anyway, I'm thankful for these things, and should probably stop being so negative.  Sure, I'll probably still play a lot of games that I'll end up hating, and I can write about them here, but it's probably better to at least experience and know I didn't like them than fear the risk of a dissatisfying experience altogether.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Emerging Love-Hate Relationship With Modern Fighting Games

How I (and sometimes my hands feel) about fighting games currently.

For years I feel like I could say "I love fighting games" with confidence, but lately, I'm not so sure.  Ever since I attended EVO in 2014, I've been having this feeling that maybe the genre that influenced me so heavily, that made me want to get into the game industry, isn't quite what I thought it was or maybe it has changed into something I no longer find attractive.  Another thought is that maybe I've been playing them the wrong way or with the wrong goals this entire time; however, saying that someone is playing a game "incorrectly" is audacious.  You could argue that most Smash players aren't playing the game the way it was designed or originally intended -- but that would be blasphemous. 
What a silly image, BUT HEADS UP!

Before I start, I want to write a quick disclaimer that these are just my opinions and reasons that I personally don't get as much enjoyment out of the genre that I used to.  This is not me dooming the genre or up-and-coming games like Street Fighter 5.  Instead, it's a slight explanation as to how I approach the genre from a design perspective, albeit it is rather atypical.

What I "Hate"

More frustrated or bored than hate to be honest (also, that's not me).
  • Bland single player experiences and over emphasis on online multiplayer
  • Weak narrative and even weaker delivery of said narratives
  • Repetitive theming
  • No more surprises
Now, the items I listed are actually all extremely unimportant to what a fighting game actually is and probably needs to be.  I know this, but I feel like there was a time when fighting games at least attempted these features; however and again, I feel like they no longer do because they don't have to.


 Bland Single Play and Online Multiplayer

I almost forgot about Soul Calibur 3's Night Terror, which was a terrifying surprise.
So before "good" online multiplayer was possible, I felt a lot of fighting games, at least more prominent ones, had a lot of extra modes.  Soul Blade's Edge Master Mode comes to mind.  The problem now is that a lot of games usually do substandard jobs with this.  There's arcade, training, a few challenge combos and survival maybe, and that's about it.  If you weren't very social or didn't have opportunities to be social, you were stuck playing the CPU a lot.  To me, at the time, this was fine, especially with modes like EMM that created variety.  I feel modern fighters offer so little that eventually going through arcade with each character feels like a chore, especially with the reward -- which I'll go into later.
When online multiplayer became possible on consoles, I appreciated that some games such as Tekken 6 and Mortal Kombat 9 provided fun and unique single-player experiences but noticed that some games like Street Fighter and Soul Calibur were sorely lacking.  And when I first played online modes -- I want to say Dead or Alive 4 was the first game I played online -- I had fun for a bit, but frustration started to take hold from losing so often that I no longer was having fun and I had to ask myself, "Why am I doing this?"  Someone made the analogy to me that it's about the fight not the fight results, similar to the concept that it's about the journey not the destination, but I couldn't help to feel like I was just playing strangers and had no destination in mind.  I wasn't really improving or enjoying myself.  It felt more like wandering aimlessly than enjoying the journey.
But why?

Now you could simply shout, "Well get better!" or "Train harder!" but at my age -- I'm "old" in the eyes of many fighting game fans -- and with the number of games out there, it's just like "Why?  Why keep playing this game I'm not enjoying anymore when I could easily pick up something new in minutes?"
Recently, newer games are showing they are going to have a heavy emphasis on this; Street Fighter 5 and Rising Thunder come in mind particularly.  And you know what?  This is fine.  This is what the audience wants; it's the closest thing people have to the days of the arcade, but you know what?  It still isn't the same as playing in the arcade -- though I'm curious if anyone will make a VR port of Street Fighter 2 where you stand next to an arcade machine and your opponent is next to you in the VR environment.  I think my attitude would maybe be a little bit different if I wasn't a game developer and/or there was a strong fighting game scene in Pittsburgh.  I mention game development because a lot of my free time is spent developing my own games so even if there was a scene, I doubt I'd be able to dedicate a lot of time to it.  I will say, however, that the most enjoyable moments I've had playing fighting games have been playing with people in person, especially friends -- unless I or they hate the game cause then everyone is miserable.
We've all been to this gaming night at least once.

I guess, going back to my design choices comments, because I'm not huge into online multiplayer, I ultimately decided to not include it in Battle High 2 A+.  Okay, the main reason is I have nearly zero online multiplayer experience, but if I really wanted online multiplayer, like CRAVED it, I would have probably either done it myself or sought the resources to do so and been researching how to do it from day one, which I didn't because doing so didn't really interest me.


Weak Narrative and Even Weaker Delivery of Said Narratives

How many more times do I have to turn the page to get to the next battle?!

I don't want to criticize the narratives of fighting games too much, because I know that Battle High 2 A+'s isn't the strongest, but lately most fighting games narratives just don't feel that compelling, and when they are, they are poorly delivered.
BlazBlue comes to mind mostly.  BlazBlue has an interesting story -- I won't say it's good or bad -- but it's delivery was PAINFUL to get through.  Having to lose every battle in Story Mode in Calamity Trigger was bad, but then the 20 minute "cutscenes" in Chrono whatever the hell were even worse.  Narrative moments can help give the players of action-heavy games a break; however, I feel they have to be proportional to the content they are intersecting, and BlazBlue just failed at this.  Actually, this is why I didn't player Persona Arena, as I heard it has from similar issues, that and it's an ArkSys game which I always want to like, they look so good, but I just suck at them, but I digress.
Again, Soul Edge and Soul Calibur did a great job with their stories.  Each character has an ending, but also longer bios that you could choose to read when unlocked.  The narrative still isn't tied into the gameplay well though.  And Street Fighter's endings and unique intro scenes are interesting, but the fact you can't rewatch them is a bit frustrating.  I know, from an engineering perspective, it's a minor feature that was probably the first to get cut, but from the animation perspective, it probably sucks knowing these won't be viewable -- at least in game.  Thank, YouTube!

Admittedly, watching Resident Evil 6 cutscenes on YouTube saved (and waste) a lot of time
One game that I felt attempted to do this interestingly -- maybe not successfully -- was Battle Fantasia, another ArkSys game I sucked at!  They had special battles in one mode where you have to perform a unique task to affect the story's outcome.  Some were silly like throw the opponent six times, and they didn't always result in the biggest reward, but I liked the attempt.  I would love a game that tied it even more into their gameplay.

However, narrative doesn't matter realistically in the genre.  Sure, it helps breathe life into characters and probably would affect the popularity if omitted entirely, but knowledge of the narrative has no outcome on the fight and most games' fights aren't determined by unique actions such as performing six throws.  When I brought up narrative once, someone replied that the players in the competitive fighting game scenes create the narrative.  When I watch fighting games on Twitch, I find this interesting and sometimes exciting, but as someone who enjoys writing to a degree, it's a little depressing knowing that most of the will most likely be ignored.
Now when it comes to delivery, I at least attempted to do some of this with Battle High 2 A+.  There are bios, and players can watch the endings if they desire.  If I get the chance in a future update, I'd love to add a deeper story mode, one that maybe has some aspects of Battle Fantasia's story mode in it or in my next game, a deeper mode where what you do in battle actually matters more.


Repetitive Theming

Oh great, another scientifically impossible, genitalia-less clone of the main character as boss
Lately, the most popular fighting games themes fall under a category I call 20XX.  It's kind of like now, but some technologies are more advance.  Tekken, Dead or Alive, King of Fighters, Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, and probably more that I can't think of fall into this category.  It ends up making the thematic landscape of the genre just feel bland.  I feel a few years ago, theming was a lot more varied.  Samurai Showdown, Primal Rage, Star Gladiator, Darkstalkers, all games with unique themes but never really caught or have fallen into obscurity.
Now, not every fighting game is like this.  I applaud games like SkullGirls, BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, and the fledgling CereBrawl for doing unique themes; however, theme, like narrative, doesn't really matter.  Well, it doesn't matter to the actual game itself, but I do feel that theme has a underlying, almost subconscious effect, on the popularity of a game series.  I feel that if f the theme is good, players will more likely be attracted to it initially -- like a book with a good cover.

A track from Cerebrawl.  I mean, that witch character looks so neat!

When I bring this up, my mind goes to Smash Brothers.  If Nintendo decided, "We don't want our characters beating each other up," and decided to make a 100% original IP for Smash Brothers, would it be as popular as it is?  It's impossible to prove either way, and you could argue that the lackluster popularity of similar games like Playstation All-Stars supports the argument that ultimately gameplay is important (or use it to say that nobody likes Playstation IPs that much).
As for my games, I definitely want to branch out in theme.  Admittedly, Battle High doesn't have the most unique theme; it has Rival School and Avatar:  The Last Airbender influences, and you could argue it's borderline 20XX.  Regardless, I definitely want to try and stray away from that in my future ideas, whether it's a fighting game or not.


No More Surprises

Look what you've done, data miners!  You've opened all the presents early!  You're still going to get them but it won't be as fun to open them.

Now before I go into this, you could argue that each fight is its own special surprise.  Sure, to an extent you're right; there are definitely surprising moments on streams during certain events, but I want to experience the surprise on a personal level, not vicariously through another player or have it spoiled before I even can preorder the game.  I think a lot of newer games are guilty of this, but fighting games, especially Street Fighter 5, have been pretty bad with this.  I am no marketing expert in any way shape or form, but I'm not a fan of slowly revealing characters and leaving almost no surprises -- or having a campaign that makes me think there won't be any.  To be honest, the Street Fighter 5 data mining incidents makes me feel that some people feel similarly.  Even worse, the information mined was future DLC!  (Unless it's all a very elaborate ruse.)
There are probably a lot of reasons why characters are revealed at big gaming events; it maintains hype, and there are probably marketing deals made between the event and the game publisher -- thanks, James Chen for that knowledge bomb.  To be honest, the long haul part doesn't bother me that much, it's the fact that you know everything upon getting the game.  There are no secrets or surprises really.  People have been streaming the game, all the characters get revealed.  It just takes the excitement out of it -- for me.
This is a rather weak complaint, because, despite my feelings, I know from a competitive aspect, secrets and locked content and surprises are actually problematic.  Could you imagine if there was a character select code for a character that no one knew about at an event like Capcom Cup?!  People would lose their shit!
Anyway, the most prevalent real world example is Shinnok from Mortal Kombat X.  I forget the tourney, but it was almost right after the game's release, and not everyone had taken the time to play Story Mode to unlock him -- because not everyone cares about that -- so a few matches were delayed because they had to find a console that had Shinnok unlocked.  Personally, I'm still a fan of locked content as a reward if said content is unimportant to gameplay such as character colors or costumes OR if players can buy the content without having to do whatever has to be done to unlock the character.


Wait, so do you like fighting games?

Replace lift with play fighting games, and I think the analogy works?  Maybe?  I don't know, I'm tired.

I do.  I think a combination of things have affected my love of the genre, one being that I realized don't like what the typical player of the genre likes.  I tried to think of what I really liked, and I thought of this concept of repeated performance with goals.
A lot of games involve doing the same thing over and over with mechanical changes over time while working towards an ultimate goal.  Some games allow for more improvisation and experimentation than others, and I definitely felt like fighting games were a genre that exhibited this.  It definitely is doing a lot of the same things over and over, but there's variety -- brought on through the characters and game's mechanics -- that I found really enjoyable.  When changes were made to a game's systems such as in Edge Master or the Mortal Kombat 9's Challenge Tower, there's even more variety added, and these modes have definite goals.
Maybe sometimes I want a break from the Rat Race in my hobbies.

Now, notice that I didn't say competition is not my favorite part.  And maybe I have been playing fighters incorrectly because I haven't been seeking that.  Maybe I'm just a filthy casual that shouldn't even play fighting games.  Based on my concept of repeated performance, why isn't playing online with new people enough?  Again, one issue is there is no real goal I'm working towards besides the intangible "bettering myself" -- or decals for my user accounts.  Even as small in-game rewards, the varied modes mentioned previously do offer a goal of some kind, they end.  Also, online, the mechanics of the game don't change and though humans definitely offer a different and more difficult challenge when compared to AI, I do find a lot of repeated tactics, characters, etc., and with no real goal it just starts to feel pointless if not frustrating.


Unknown Future

That's a little foreboding, isn't it?
Overall, I still want to support fighting games and its community.  I'm going to go into Street Fighter 5 with some enthusiasm for the competitive side -- if I play enough I won't have to pay for the DLC characters anyway.  I'm really intrigued about the future of the genre.  Rising Thunder's business model haven't been released yet -- to my knowledge anyway -- and I simply wonder if it'll work at all.  Street Fighter 5 is going from a product model to a service model, promising no more Super, Ultra, Omega, etc. Street Fighters.  I think it's an interesting time, and could really spell out the future of the genre.
If Street Fighter 5 isn't well received or Rising Thunder is a failure, how will publishers and developers approach the genre?  Will they go back to more classic models?  Try new ones?  Will it be a low point in the genre where publishers and developers are afraid of it?  Even worse, will companies like Capcom pull a Konami and quit the genre entirely?  My biggest fear is that not all players will switch over to a new game just because it's new -- and this isn't a valid reason to do so.  The gameplay itself, the feel, has to be good, and there are some people who aren't feeling Street Fighter 5 so far.  And Street Fighter X Tekken, though new at one time, didn't even come close to replacing Street Fighter 4 and was forgotten almost instantly.  Heck, people still play Melee!
People won't abandon Melee, but they will abandon their CRTs in the hotel lobby. (This isn't from EVO, but this is how one area of the hotel look the day after the tournament when I went.)
And that comes down to what I think has to be the most important part of a fighting game, and though I love the story and theme, the gameplay has to feel good.  This concept is so subjective and so hard to describe and so many things that need to be done well.  The input has to be responsive.  It has to be intuitive but not boringly easy, combos should be exciting but not too short or long.  You have to not mind playing the game over and over again.  It's such a difficult thing to get right, and some games just mess it up so badly, and I won't even say Battle High 2 A+ does it well -- though I hope it does to a degree for some!
Actually, this entire post has been about that.

Going back to the initial question about liking fighting games, the gameplay aspect has always been a part I really liked.  It's more varied and challenging than a simple platformer but cleaner and more focused than a brawler.  There's something about the feel, variety, improvisation, and more, that when done well, I can play for hours against the CPU and though I'm not really improving myself, I'm still enjoying the game, and more importantly, making the time I put into the game, time I won't get back, feel worth it.


It's not you, it's me

I like the foam but they are adding less; the espresso is still good though.  DEEP.
In summary, many aspects of fighting games that I really like are polish-level things.  I don't want to pompously sound some special person because of this perspective.  If you feel similarly, I'd love to hear from you, but I'm pretty sure that my feelings, likes and dislikes, are in the minority-- and not a vocal one.  These aspects aren't really that important in the long run, so now that fighting games are focusing less on them, it's fine.  Sure, I'm not overjoyed, but I'm not going to boycott Capcom or anything. 
And there are certain areas that if I were willing to get over like find a community or just focus on getting better or approach the genre with a different mindset, I could maybe find more enjoyment, but sometimes change isn't easy, especially when it's not really necessary.  So in a way, it's not you, fighting games, it's me.
Regardless, the most important part is that developers need to make sure the games feel good, but this is SUCH a hard thing to get right.  Sometimes it just seems like luck (and a lot of hard work).  If the game doesn't feel right, even the most competitive players will pass it by, which is way more problematic than me doing so.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Current Update and Thoughts

I didn't write a post all October, and I didn't write about Unite 2015, the annual conference Unity holds every year.  A lot of my time had been occupied trying to get Battle High 2 A+, the slightly updated Xbox One port of Battle High 2, approved.  I can happily say that the game has been approved and will be released on as a downloadable Xbox One title mid December!
That being said, I thought I'd write a few things down, some things I'd probably elaborate upon in future posts.

Unite 2015 & GDC 2016

The logo for Unite 2015 in Boston
Unite 2015 was held in Boston this year.  It was a great experience.  Sure, I didn't learn a lot, but I enjoyed it because, unlike GDC lately, there was a strong air of positivity.  The game industry is far from perfect; for example, one big issue right now is that games are having a hard to being discovered.  What Unity did is introduce their Made With Unity site.  Sure, it might not solve the problem entirely, but I liked that, instead of complaining or just pointing out the problem, they are attempting to fix it.  This attitude permeated lot during Unite and is reflected in Unity's attitude towards its engine and the industry, and I really appreciate that.
This being said, I'm unsure if I will attend GDC 2016 next year.  I haven't missed a GDC since I started going about 5 or 6 years ago; however, the last two GDCs, 2014 more so, have just been huge letdowns.  Not only did a majority of my talks or round tables just feel uninspiring, they sometimes felt downright depressing.  One big issue now is that for me, it's just expensive -- flying out to San Francisco, getting a hotel room for four nights, the conference ticket.  On the other hand, it is the 30th GDC.  Either way, I need to think about it; unfortunately, I don't have tons of time to do so.

Battle High 2 A+ on Xbox One

The splash screen for Battle High 2 A+ on Xbox One
As I mentioned earlier, Battle High 2 A+, the fighting game I've been working on for quite some time now, was approved and will be released on Xbox One in December.  I'm not expecting the game to do amazingly well, and I didn't go into this release with that mindset.  I'm don't plan on abandoning it; I want to try and add the remaining characters and other content, but for now, I'm happy just that I was able to get the game published through the ID@Xbox program and with the help of Unity's tools. 
I'm doing a few new things with this release.  I'm working with an indie marketing company and with someone to polish the website and trailer.  Usually I do everything myself, but I want to get in the habit to seek help more often.  Not only does this lighten my load, but it helps me get a task done by someone who would probably do a better job, and in some cases, allow someone to do something they may not get a chance to do a lot.  This is expensive at times, but if you equate the whole time is money aspect to it, the time saved having someone else do it, it's not that bad.
I do want to write a postmortem about Battle High 2 A+, but I don't even like calling it a postmortem as, again, there are updates I want to make, adding new modes and characters to the game in the game.

A New Game

As much as I enjoyed working on Battle High 2 A+ -- most of the time anyway -- I want to start a new game.  I'm between ideas, and it's hard for me to really decide where to go next.
I like fighting games, but I think I need a break from that genre.  Maybe not the gameplay of it, but the genre as a whole.  I especially want to wait until I either learn how to network program or Unity improves its network capabilities.
The one game idea is like Namco X Capcom, but the battles themselves are more fighting game oriented.  Namco X Capcom, though it had a mini-game battle system, was very simple, and I would want something more complex.  My big fear is that players might no like the mix or strategy RPG and action-based battles.  The other is just a 3D fighting game like Tekken.
Both games would be difficult to do in a short period of time.  One thing that is good about modern game development is that updating is very easy -- or at least a lot easier than in the day of cartridges and no internet connection.  My hope is that if I do the RPG game or fighting game, I can release with just a light amount of content and grow it from there with updates.  I'm surprised more game developers, especially indie game developers, don't do this, release a smaller game as a proof of concept and go from there.  I don't mean a prototype either, I mean a polished product, but maybe only a 2 to 4 hour experience, not an epic 30+ one.


I'm so much more similar to Andy Rooney than I'd like to admit.
I have a lot of opinions!  Alright, sure, who the doesn't?  However, I think some would be good to write about to explain myself for why I like or dislike something and gather my thoughts in a mature, well-written manner.  There are lot of topics I could do:
  • Why I dislike VR (but don't necessarily think it'll fail)
  • Is the hobby dead?
  • Why working on your favorite genre isn't always the best idea
  • The dangers of elitism in game development
  • The dangers of polished prototypes
  • Imbalances in the Tetrad of Game Development
That's just a few.  I also want to try and just write more tutorial and game development oriented things on my Gamasutra blog, but writing blog stuff often feels like a waste of time.  Part of that is I suffer from this awful desire to share my ideas but fear of backlash from sharing said ideas.  I'm slowly getting better at this, but it still something I need to get over.  This also ties into why I usually don't have a lot of screenshots or videos of my games early in development.  I'm usually hesitant as I don't want to lose momentum from early, negative feedback.
Anyway, that's all I have to say for now.  Hopefully I'll have some more to write in a future update, probably a lot more as Battle High 2 A+'s release date approached.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

And so the end draws near...

A few days ago, it was announced that Xbox Live Indie Games, the service ran by Microsoft in which independent developers could self-publish their games to the Xbox 360, has put a plan in place to shut its doors by 2017
The day I received this email, Twitter was ablaze with people discussing the topic.  At one point I sorta muttered to myself, "Geez, we get the point, move on."  I thought this because I definitely had moved on from XNA and the XBLIG marketplace.  I released an OUYA game and am nearing the completion of an Xbox One title; however, I have to admit, I haven't really moved on.  On XBLIG I released three games:
Since then I've written a programming book about GameMaker Langauge.  I've also released a game on OUYA and am bringing an update of that game to Xbox One.  That game?  Battle High 2.  Well, sorta, it's an update I'm entitling Battle High 2 A+.  Regardless, almost 4 years after its initial release, I'm still working on this game, so, it was a bit premature -- maybe even arrogant -- to push XBLIG aside and say I've moved on.
XBLIG helped me connect with a lot of talented individuals, a perk that I continue to benefit from as I work on my own games to this day.  The platform was special because it was the first time I was able to get something working on a game console, helping me realize a major goal in my career path, one that I wasn't able to accomplish at my full time job due to varying circumstances.
I guess the sad thing about XBLIG is it was sort of a precursor to a lot of problems the industry -- especially the indie avenue -- faces today:  flooding, substandard quality, cloning, sustainability problems.  But, and, I know this for my first game -- which was not well-received -- it still felt important and an accomplishment to release the game.  To realize an idea and finish it.  So though I am a full-time professional in the game industry, XBLIG gave me an opportunity to create games that I could call mine.
So, next for me is to finish the Xbox One port of Battle High 2 A+, and after that, I think it's time to really move on from XBLIG.  I want to start new games, my own IPs, my own ideas; however, even if I never release another game after Battle High 2 A+ on a console, I'll still remember XBLIG as the first place I was able to.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Calculating Jump Arc

"So how do I jump?" It's a common question I hear when I see people play a game with any level of platforming in it -- and often a desire in a game that doesn't.

But lately, while working on Battle High 2 updates, I have been asking myself a particular question related to jumping: "How do I jump so that I reach this height and return to the ground within so many seconds?" It's honestly a mathematical question that would make ninth grade me laugh, but then I'd slap him and tell him that he couldn't comprehend any aspect of 3D modeling, but I digress.

Anyway, I just wanted to write a small post about this situation as it's something that has perplexed me during Battle High 2, and something I hope won't perplex me in future games.

Firstly, I hate using builtin Physics engines, at least for character movement. People don't often move realistically in games, so why should I use an engine that is trying to simulate realistic physics? In conclusion, when working in Unity, I don't want to let the physics engine move my character, but instead use my own velocity, speed, etc.

The most common setup that I've learned since college is simply as follows:

speed += gravity * timeDelta;
position += speed * timeDelta;

Essentially, the player's speed -- assuming we are only focusing on the vertical -- is increased by the gravity and then position is moved by the new speed. This works fine. There's probably a bunch of other ways to calculate these values, but I use this one.

The problem I was having though was, if I'm using this, how do I predict positioning? Whether it would be for networking or basic planning, being able to predict a jump arc is pretty useful.

So, after banging my head against the wall for awhile, I found this was the equation I wanted to use to do said prediction:

position = 0.5 * gravity * time^2 + speed * time

Honestly, it's a basic physics equation that can be found doing some searching or going here: . Here's some more information involving calculus concepts such as integrals and derivatives: . This being said, this still didn't help me if I wanted to know the best speed and gravity to reach a certain height in a given amount of time.

Anyway, the previous equation is a basic quadratic equation where

a = 0.5 * gravity
b = speed
c = 0

c is 0 because I know that I want to start my jump on the ground -- at 0 -- and end it on the ground -- also at 0. Anyway, going to a quadratic equation in standard form:

y = ax^2 + bx + c

I know three of the five variables: x, y, and c. So my issue was, knowing what these values are, how can I solve for a and b, my gravity and speed.

I also knew that I can graph any parabola as long as I know three points, and I did!

(0, 0)
(t, 0)
(t/2, h)

Assuming t is time and h is the desired height or apex, I have these three variables. At the beginning of my graph, I'm at (0, 0). I haven't left the ground yet. Then, when time has elapsed all the way, I'm back to the ground. Finally, at half the time, I'd reach the desired height. Knowing this, I knew I could factor the equation as follows:

y = (x - 0)(x - t) or x(x-t)

In factored form, however, there is a coefficient, which I'll designate a. If I solve for a, I should be able to find my gravity! So what I did, is I substituted t/2 into the equation and solved for a.

h = a * (t/2)*(t/2-t)
a = h / (t/2)*(t/2-t)
a = -h/(t/2)^2

Finally, I knew a. Problem was, a is not equal to gravity. a = 0.5 * gravity. So gravity = a * 2.

Now, knowing my gravity, I can solve for speed, which is equal to -0.5 * gravity * time:

0 = 0.5 * gravity * time^2 + speed * time
-speed * time = 0.5f * gravity * time^2
speed = -0.5 * gravity * time

So, I finally figured out the issue, an issue that someone in a basic physics class learns within the first semester, but I was still happy, and yes, there are probably better, easier ways to figure this out, but that doesn't change the difference that I'm proud of my work!

But, I soon thought, what if I'm not on level ground? Then what?! I was a bit stumped, but I thought about all the variables I know and how they relate.

g = gravity (or acceleration)
v = initial velocity (or speed)
s = starting position
e = ending position
t = time
k = height (I'll explain why I'm using k later)

So at first, I thought the following three sets would work:

(0, s)
(t/2, k)
(t, e)

I know (0,s) and (t,e) are true, but the problem is (t/2,k) isn't necessarily true. By having different starting and ending heights, my jump is essentially ending at a different point, interrupting the full arc jump. So now, I have to find t/2, which I will designate as h so I can use the vertex formula:

y = a(x - h)^2 + k

In the above, a is the same as it was for standard form, so 0.5 * gravity. h and k stand for the vertex of my jump arc. We know k, the height designated earlier, but we have to solve for h now, which was originally t/2.

So now, I have to solve for h. I do, however know two values, which can help for solving h.

s = a(0 - h)^2 + k
e = a(t - h)^2 + k

We are solving for h, but if we solve for a first, we can set the two equations equal to each other.

a = (s - k) / h^2
a = (e - k) / (t-h)^2

Because of this, I know now the following is true:

(s-k) / h^2 = (e-k) / (t-h)^2

Now, I can solve for h! I'll save you the trouble and give you the following. It's the quadratic formula:

In this formula:

x = h
a = sk - ek
b = -2 * sk * t
c = sk * t^2

The only change is that s-k and e-k have been replaced by sk and ek. So first, we should note that if the starting position and ending position are the same, we can't use this method. We'll be dividing by 0 which won't work, BUT this doesn't matter. If the starting height and ending height are the same, we can just use the original method where we know that t/2 is our halfway point. Anyway, now that we know h, we can use this method to solve for a by using the following:

s = a(0-h)^2 + k
s-k = a(-h)^2
a = (s-k)/h^2
g = a * 2

We know now everything we need to know for our equation!

a = (s-k)/h^2
g = a * 2
s = -g * h or -0.5 * g * h * 2

This is really just scratching the surface, so I'm going to end this early. Regardless, using the following equations, we can solve a combination of problems concerning jumps.

p = 0.5gt^2 + st
p = a(t-0)(t-(-2s/g))
p = a(t-h)^2 + k

I can write more later, maybe illustrate some of points. This is a lot more complex than I was expecting when I started writing. Regardless, being able to determine what speed and gravity I need to utilize so that a jump of a certain height can be accomplished within a certain amount of time is very useful.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Jam Week 2015: TetherBrawl

Last week I participated in Jam Week at work.  Jam Week is a week in which the entire studio gets to work on anything they desire -- within reason.  I, like I tend to do, worked on a solo project that I entitled TetherBrawl.  The following three videos are of the game's progress over time:

In TetherBrawl, the two players hit the ball, trying to get it through their hoop while moving in the correct direction.  Once the ball enters the hoop, a set of gems is generated that the player must collect; the amount of gems generated is proportional to the ball's speed upon entering the goal.  If the player is hit by either the ball or the opponent's attacks, they lose 10 gems that their opponent can then pick up.  After a minute, the winner is determined by whomever has the most gems.
I only did one character, a billiards player with an eyepatch, but my thinking for the theme was to create a cast of characters all based of sports that people don't deem as very athletic:  billards, golf, chess, bowling, esports, etc.  I do think the character proportions for the size of the screen work against it.  That character is probably around 7 heads tall; for a game like this, characters should probably be more cartoonish, around 5 heads tall, maybe even 4.
I thought it was a simple game, but a lot of people didn't quite know what was going on, at least on their first play through.  I think part of this is because I didn't get a chance to tutorialize it enough -- then again, when you have 4 days, maybe 4.5, tutorialization isn't your top priority.  Another is that I sort burned myself out.  I've been stressed lately trying to finish up Battle High 2 A+; finding motivation to work on it has been rather daunting.  So working on something in such a short amount of time burned me out.  Also, I realized about halfway through that most of my Jam Week ideas are extremely similar.  Two times I worked on GumTrix -- which is now available for iOS and Android -- and every other time, I've done some sort of 2-player, competitive game:  Two years were different fighting robot games and now this year was a competitive game.  I guess I sorta felt like a one trick pony.
Also, lately, doing solo work has been a little problematic.  I like working by myself.  There's a lot of good aspects to it, but I've lately found there are some negative aspects as well.  The most positive aspect is that there is a lot of ownership and control over the ideas.  No meetings to brainstorm or discuss or hurt feels when things are rejected or undesired compromises.  On the other hand, I find I have a hard time staying confident in an idea without working with another person, and sometimes, bouncing ideas can be beneficial.  Also, trying to do everything yourself is extremely daunting.
That was one area that working solo affected this jam week.  I tried to do everything myself when I should have cut some things.  For example, I made a character using Fuse and then animated it in 3DS Max.  This took a little longer than expected, the Max to Unity process being a bit clunkier and slower than I imagined.  Also, I thought I knew a lot more about Mecanim than I did.  I was able to get my animations and transitions working, but there were times were triggers always happened or when the game would wait for a transition before going to the next state.
 I think if I had went with a simpler, more minimalist approach to the art, I could have focused on the game's design more, maybe even getting a chance to make a strong tutorial.  Overall, I learned a lot, but I should have narrowed my focus during this year's Jam Week; given the amount of pressure I'm imposing on myself to finish the Xbox One port of Battle High 2 this year, trying to do a whole game in 4 days was a bit imposing, and after 3 days, I sorta stopped caring about the idea, as I just wasn't feeling it.  Next Jam Week, I'd like to avoid the two-player, side view game theme as well, but we'll see.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rejection and Finding My Place

So as EVO 2015 approaches, I recently found out that my game, Battle High 2, was rejected from showing in the Indie Games Showcase.  Well I didn't get direct word, but based on some Twitter chatter and the fact that registration for the tournament ended on the June 30th, I can only assume.  There are a several reasons I can guess as to why it probably wasn't picked:
  • Too traditional of a 2D fighting game, not helping really helping the genre or competitive scene grow
  • The game just isn't up to the standard of quality they were looking for
  • I'm too unknown of a developer
Regardless of the reason(s), I have to admit, I'm actually a little relieved it wasn't chosen.  I'm definitely not happy, but trying to get a build ready for the show as well as marketing materials and the like would have been a lot of stress.  And though getting feedback from fighting game players would have been awesome, it would have been like releasing a game through Early Access only to release the game in full a month later.  Would I have been able to meaningfully react to any feedback received?

At the same time, this rejection has sort of made me reflect on my work and my relationship with fighting games as a whole.

Do I Even Like Fighting Games?

It sounds silly, but I probably wouldn't be in the game industry if it weren't for fighting games, or rather, I wouldn't have wanted to go into the industry without them.  I enjoyed playing video games from an early age, but when I accidentally rented Mortal Kombat for the SNES from a Blockbuster Video -- I think my age is showing -- instead of the rage-inducing platformer, Plok, I found a game I really enjoyed.  I honestly don't even remember what it was, but eventually it went into more series:  Street Fighter, Tekken, Power Instinct.  If it was being sold or available to rent at my local Toys R' Us or Microplay, I was trying it.  I even remembering wanting a Sega CD JUST to play the Eternal Champions sequel.  And though my sketchbooks contained designs for Sonic and Lemmings levels, most of it contained character concepts for fighting games, a favorite of which was Slug McDog, a strange dog-slug hybrid with a human foot protruding from its sternum.

Anyway, as I became older, due to online technology improving, the genre changed, and I think I began to realize that I was never playing fighting games in the way they were intended.  They are competitive games, yet I rarely played them this way.  True, I played against the AI, but I rarely had friends over and never entered tournaments.  To be honest, I never even knew things like that existed, and by the time I got my driver's license the only arcades in the Lehigh Valley area were on their way out.  The clearest time in the genre's life that I really noticed this was the differences between Soul Calibur 3 and Soul Calibur 4.  Ignoring the gameplay differences and mechanics, from a single player perspective, in my opinion, there is a lot more to do in Soul Calibur 3 than 4.  Not to mention, there is even less to do in Soul Calibur 5.  Regardless, it now seems most games have abandoned -- or put off -- single player content to focus on developing better online communities, and you know what?  That's fine!  This speaks to how the genre was designed.  It's helping the genre grow in popularity and in ways I never had imagined, but at the same time, I just don't feel a strong connection with it anymore.

As online became more prevalent, companies focused on it more -- as they should have -- and less on single player content.  Fortunately, some series still do a great job such as Tekken, but others, I feel, have dropped the ball such as, again, Soul Calibur and Mortal Kombat X.  The problem I run into now is that, if I'm not going to play the game online or study and go to the lab aka experiment in training mode, for hours, what's really the point?  The rich stories?  Not quite.  In fact, I once mentioned I wanted better stories in fighting games and someone joked that the players are now the stories.  I smirked and then grimaced, because there was some truth in their answer.

Anyway, in the modern fighting game, my first big problem is that I'm not competitive.  That sounds so stupid, I know; the entire genre is built around competition!  I guess, when I first started playing them, I never really thought about it that way.  They were more like puzzle games to me.  They required quick thinking and problem solving but also performance and timing with some discovery -- how do I perform that, who do I unlock if when I beat the game, etc.  When I did try to play with friends, I was met with the all too common "Ugh, you're too good and it's not fun."  It's funny I mention that, because that's how I feel about my time online in most fighting games.  I feel fighting games are most enjoyable when you fight people around your level.  Fighting a beginner isn't enjoyable and getting demolished by an expert isn't either -- even worse when it's an anonymous expert.  Some people use their losses as a learning experience and try to figure out where they went wrong, but after "learning" 20 times in a row, some people probably just feel like dropping out.  Also, I often found myself asking, "Why am I doing this?"  I don't have plans to enter a tournament like EVO, so all this time spent online getting destroyed, I'd ask myself, "What am I working towards?"  This feeling becomes much stronger when it feels like my skills have plateaued.  I know that it's not about the destination, but the journey, but when you reach that skill plateau, it feels like the journey has stopped, and with so many games, there's little incentive to keep me playing.

To summarize, I'm a filthy casual who doesn't want to invest the time to git good!

My Place in the FGC

The Fighting Game Community, or FGC, is really something I didn't know much about until recently -- though I still don't know tons about it -- but when I found out about it I really thought, "Wow, there is a huge following for fighting games and I want to be a part of it!"  There are two problems.  One is I tend to be shy and a bit introverted.  I went to EVO in 2014 with a friend, and didn't really introduce myself to anyone new, but where I excel at is when someone ask me a question or has a reason to approach me, which is why I submitted my game to EVO in the first place.  Also, I've yet to really learn about a fighting game community in Pittsburgh, or even if I did, dedicate any time to it.  Fortunately, with the introduction of Victory Pointe, a new arcade / gaming center in Pittsburgh, I may, but again, I have to find time to go there.
The second problem is by the time I really wanted to be a part of it, I was already working and didn't have the time to become a major player in the community.  That's why I developed a fighting game to begin with.  I thought, "I'll contribute to this community by creating new games for it!"

Though as I started to develop Battle High, I realized that the desires for what players of the genre want is really out of sync with what I can / want to do in the genre.  I know very little network programming for example, so a good, competent online mode of any kind just isn't going to happen quickly.  I get to a crossroad; I could either invest an unknown amount of time to becoming an expert on the subject or just not do it and focus my attention elsewhere.  I've chosen the latter.  At the same time, do players even want new games?  I think the obvious answer is yes, but you have to be so careful, because if the new game isn't good, most will go back to what they know and like more.  For example, there is still a huge following for Smash Bros. Melee, which was released in 2001.  I think it's not so much that they don't want new content, but in a niche genre, being established -- whether it be through the IP or publisher -- really improves your chances of success.
So, with the rejection of Battle High 2 from EVO, I ask myself again, "How can I contribute to this community?"  In addition, I have to ask, "Do I even want to?"  Sure that sounds salty -- and it is to a degree -- but it's not really in a "HOW DARE YOU NOT ACCEPT MY GAME $*&(%&($&(#!!" kind of way, but more in a "Maybe this just isn't for me."

My Place as an Indie Developer

Indie development, in some ways, is similar to fighting games.  It's niche and competitive, and like the FGC, I don't really play a big part in it.  I'm slowly showing off more of my work in various forums, such as this, but as a whole, I just find that I'm way too busy to really contribute, but then I think, similar to playing online, "Why am I doing this?"  Now I know why I make games outside of my full time job, because I really enjoy doing it and if I weren't, I'd probably be bored, but someday I get stressed, I let the ideas of competition and worrying about what player acquisition or marketing get too overwhelming, almost paralyzing, and I just have to stop myself and ask, "Why?"
For one, I don't need to worry about these things.  I develop games on the side as a hobby.  Sure, it'd be nice to make money and have a lot of people like my work, but I don't produce enough of it consistently enough to have a following, but I'm not putting in hundreds of thousands of dollars into my games or have a team of 8 that needs to pay bills, so I don't need to make that much back.  I really consider myself now as an advanced hobbyist; I only add the word "advanced" since I'm trying to get my work on Xbox One, knowing full well I could just settle for platforms with lower barriers of entry.  Now if I were to go full indie, my feeling on this would change.  I no longer could call myself a hobbyist, but at the same time, I would have more time to focus on business and marketing and community -- things I don't have time to focus on or the skill to do well enough yet.

Learning from Rejection

Anyway, I'm using my rejection from EVO as a time to reflect and learn.  Maybe making a fighting game isn't really for me.  Maybe I need to stand back and figure out what aspects of fighting games I enjoy, and what can I take away from them to make a unique, story driven experience like I've been wanting lately.  Also, I'm still going to work on and finish Battle High 2 A+, but I'm going to do it my way.  I'm not going to do online and instead focus on new single player features.  I know this isn't the popular choice, but I think it's the right decision for what I can and what I want to do.  Of course, why even finish the game, right?  Well, that's just because I hate leaving projects unfinished. 
Overall, right now, as an introverted advanced hobbyist -- yes, I know that's a bit eyeroll inducing -- I want to find where I fit into these groups, if at all, but, knowing that both are hobbies, the moment either one begins to stress me out unnecessarily, I just need to step back and seriously ask "Why am I doing this?"

I've also posted this blog on Gamasutra.