Thursday, February 4, 2016

Battle High 2 A+ Version 1.1.0.0

So it's been exactly a month since I last wrote about Battle High and the current version on Xbox One, Battle High 2 A+.

But I'm happy to say, the first update for Battle High 2 A+ has been approved!  Like I said in the schedule, it's a rather minor content update, but I wanted to go over the features quickly:

Bug Fixes



My bug fixing approach has essentially been this:



Therefore, I found (or was informed about rather) and fixed a minor bug involving Jada's Elemental Super.  It  was very strange, only occurring when Jada hit her opponent during certain frames of animation, causing the final kick of the Elemental Super to miss, but the character to stay locked.  This was pointed out very early, but fortunately, wasn't a big problem and a rather easy fix.

New Features


Besides displaying the version number of the game in the lower-right of the Main Menu, I added a few new features to the game:

Stage Swap


Some reviews mentioned that they didn't really care for the updated 3D backgrounds.  Again, I'm proud of the work involved to produce these; however, I decided to add the ability to swap between the old stages and the new.  Just go to Options and under "Stage Type" press A to swap between 2D and 3D.

http://mattrified.tumblr.com/post/136793684572/decided-to-put-the-2d-stages-back-into


Music Configuration


Another feature I decided to add involved the game's soundtrack.  Throughout the life of Battle High, there have been 2 songs produced for every character (except Lucio); however, I decided to make this a feature.  In Options, you'll see Music Configuration.  This will take you to a screen in which you can preview and switch between songs on a character by character basis.  A new song for Lucio was even produced, so enjoy the new and old soundtracks.

http://mattrified.tumblr.com/post/138003219516/battlehigh2-a-gamdev-indiegame-work-in


Easy Reversals


Did you know there are Reversals in Battle High 2 A+?  No?  Well now you do!  The problem with Reversals is that they were rather hidden in the game.  Requiring 1/3 of the Elemental Meter, Reversals could be performed while blocking or getting up by performing a specific special move for each character -- which one?  You'd have to find out!
Finding that even I was having trouble performing some of the Reversals, I thought to myself "Why am I making them so difficult?"  I couldn't answer the question, so now, all Reversals can be performed by pressing the Overhead button while blocking or getting up! (They still require 1/3 of the Elemental Meter though.)

Achievements!


So I heard many requests to change the Achievements.  As previously mentioned, they are a bit difficult and repetitive since they are identical to all of Battle High 2 A+'s Journal Entries; however, my request to make these easier was denied since some players had already received all 1000 points, and changing the existing achievements would be unfair.
That being said, I was allowed to add new achievements, so I did just that!  Now, there are 17 new Achievements, totaling 500 additional Gamerscore points!  So good luck and enjoy!


Thanks to Brian Moseley for quickly banging out artwork for the new Achievements!

Updates On Other Features


Non-ESRB Region Release


Unfortunately, I haven't made much progress on getting Battle High 2 A+ rated for release outside of the US, Canada, and Mexico, or regions that use the ESRB for their games.
I did do a little research about additional regions, finding that it would cost me several thousand (possibly) to release in Europe, so I may have to put this off for the time being, and I sincerely apologize.  I'm hoping one day that Xbox One downloadable games will be able to be released and only require an IARC rating -- a free (or low cost) rating system used by many mobile and Windows 10 games for intentional release.

Fightsticks

Just send the inputs to your home!

I put in a bug report for this issue to Unity3D, as I believe the issue is with their Xbox One module; however, I have no heard any updates on this issue, so again, I apologize for the inconvenience.  Hopefully it'll be fixed eventually or I eventually can dedicate a couple of days to try and see if I can solve the issue more directly.

 

Future Updates

Firstly, I just wanted to thank everyone who bought the game and (hopefully) enjoyed it.  I appreciate the feedback as well as it will help only make the game better.
I hit my goal of early February for the first content update for Battle High 2 A+.  Next, by the end of May, I'd love to add Battle High 2 A+'s first new character, as well as additional content.  As usual, I'll keep you posted!

In addition, if you have any feedback, balancing notes, even just fights recorded, let me know!  I'd love to see what everyone is doing with the game!

Thanks!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Battle High 2 A+ Updates: January 2016

So it's 2016; Battle High 2 A+ was released on December 16, so I thought I'd write about it!  That's not the real reason, but I thought I'd write about some of the possible changes to come -- hopefully sooner rather than later.

 

OUYA and Razer Cortex Update?!

If you haven't heard, OUYA was recently bought by Razer who have their own Android Microconsole, Forge TV.  I made a minor update a few months ago, around October, and was told that because I made the game for OUYA -- and performed a minor update -- the new build would work on the Razer Forge TV.  I think everything still is, but someone on twitter informed me the game's iconography was amiss, so I made a quick update fixing it as well as a small minor bug.
However, still unfixed is an issue where I'm using the Forge TV's home button as a pause button.  On the OUYA, last I checked, this is okay because you can just press it once and it's fine, only double-tapping returns you to the main menu.  Unfortunately, this is not the case on the Forge TV.  Essentially I would need to remap pause to a different button on the Forge TV, but this might mess up the OUYA version, so it's something I can't really take care of at this time.

 

Xbox One Updates 

Anyway, the Xbox version hasn't even been out for a month, but I've already been thinking about changing I'd like to make.

 

Minor Changes and Fixes

Soon after launch, someone found a rather minor yet annoying bug.  I fixed it almost immediately, but -- so people don't try and find it -- I've decided to just confidentially say that it is fixed locally.
Another minor change that I'll implement involves the reversal mechanic!  Did you even know there is a reversal mechanic?  Well if you don't, it's because I A.) don't really show it that well and B.) it's broken for some characters in the getting up state.  I'll either tutorialize or do a better job indicating its existence in the first content update I do.

 

Achievements

I've heard you, and first, let me apologize.  This is my first Xbox One game, so when implementing the achievements, I was just excited to get them working.  I realize now that making them mimic the journal entries in Battle High 2 A+ is superfluous and they are difficult to achieve.
I've inquired about changing them, but it seems like it may not be a possibility; however, in the future, I may be able to add achievements!  I promise that I will try and make some (if not all) additional achievements easier -- but not too easy -- to achieve.

 

Fightsticks

Another apology I'd like to issue is that apparently some fight sticks such as the Hori Real Arcade Pro V for Xbox One and Xbox 360 just do not work with the game.  I did some research trying to find a solution to this problem, but I believe it is due to the engine I used as I am not the only Xbox One game made in Unity with this problem (though I'm probably one of the few where it matters).  I've informed people at Unity3D; however, because it is such a niche problem, I can't say if / when there will be a solution, but I'm going to try and do a build with Unity 5.3 (the game is currently in 5.2) and see if this fixes the issue.
Currently, there is a plugin for XInput to interact with Unity.  XInput is an input library used for Xbox 360; however, Xbox One apparently uses something else, so if someone makes a plugin that allows Unity to communicate with that, it may work.  I, however, do not have the time or expertise to create such a plugin myself.  Again, I apologize and will keep you informed as this develops.

 

Artwork:  3D Backgrounds

This isn't a huge deal, but based on a lot of the reviews I read mention that one of the weakest aspects to Battle High 2 A+ is the 3D backgrounds.  From the reviews I received -- and thanks to anyone I gave a review code to who sent me back a review -- the 3D backgrounds, which again, I'm rather proud of, seem to be a "one-step forward, two step back" sort of thing.  They clash against the sprites and overall are rather boring.  Like achievements, I was excited to get them working, but they could have probably used a bit more polished and tender loving care.  In a future update, I would like to do some polish to these.

 

New Characters 

In a previous post I mentioned that there are two characters -- possibly three but the one character has very little work done -- that I have yet to implement into Battle High 2 A+.  I'd like to implement these two new characters in the future.  This, however, does require a lot of work:
  • Voice over
  • Music
  • Ending artwork
  • Background art
  • Design, testing, and balancing
Also, as to whether they or not they will be free DLC is another question.  I'd like to, but it'll depend on the cost of the previously mentioned bullet points.

 

Release Outside the US 

This is a question I didn't get a lot, but a rather unfortunate one when I do.  Battle High 2 A+ has only been rated by the ESRB so the game is only allowed to be officially released in the US, Mexico, and Canada.  Originally, I thought it was only allowed in the US.  I thought this because I thought I would have to localize the entire game into Spanish and French to release in those regions.  I was told, however, that I really only needed to do this localization to the marketplace data. 
To release in Europe, however, in addition to translating my marketplace info into other languages such as German and Portuguese, I apparently would need to get the game rated by a different rating board, and unlike the ESRB for digitial downloads, it is not free.
So to those asking about a release outside of the US, I sadly can't guarantee a time.  I'd love to do it sometime this year -- if at all -- though.  Again, I apologize, and hope to avoid this mistake with future titles.

 

Estimated Schedule

If I were to throw out a rough schedule for what I think updates for Battle High 2 A+ would look like in 2016, this is the best I can do:
  • Mid Jan. to Early Februrary
    • Fixes
    • Balance
    • Two secret features (just two small things adjustable in the options menu)
    • Possibly updated achievements
  • March to May
    • New Character One
    • Updated Background Art
      • Since I'd be adding some for the new character, I'd probably tackle fixing it all
    • Some new single player content
  • June to August
    • Second new character
    • New single player content
  • August to January
    • Make the PC, OUYA (Android Microconsole), and Xbox One versions identical (or as close as possible)
    • Release outside the US
  • ???
    • Online multiplayer
    • Fightstick patch
Besides the two secret features, you'll notice I put new single player content and put online under question marks.  I did this because I'm at a realization.  As much as I like fighting games, I'm not really equipped to work on them.  I'm essentially a one man team, so multiplayer games of any kind are a huge challenge.  I could try and spend time implementing online, but at this stage, I'd rather start on a new game, and if that is a fighter, then try online at the beginning. 
In addition, I appreciate everyone who has played and enjoyed Battle High 2 A+ so far, but it's not going to have a competitive scene -- or a real serious one like Street Fighter V -- not without a publisher or major sponsor behind it.  Because of this, I think I'd rather just add additional single player content to the game.  It's too early to tell what this would really be, but I've been thinking of a few things.  The biggest question is simply "Why?"  What rewards, if not achievements, would there be to gain from new single player content? 
Then the question of "Should I even bother?" comes up about the game as a whole.  In my mind though, almost all modern games can have characteristics of services, so, unless it doesn't make sense or can't be be afforded, not doing updates or new contents are almost a disservice to the games and its fans.  Though I should probably look at sales of the game to see if updates are even worth it, but I'll be honest about one thing.  I didn't really make and release Battle High 2 A+ with making a huge profit (or even a small one) in mind, so a part of me doesn't even care to look -- though another part of me is definitely curious.  In addition, there is a new game(s) I want to work on as well, so I don't want the entirety of 2016 to focus on Battle High 2 A+.
Anyway, I'll update again when I know more answers about achievements and as release for the first update comes out!  Thanks for playing!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The End of 2015: A Review

So at the end of each year, I usually write a short review of 2015, its highs and lows and my goals for 2016.

 

Highlights

Releasing Battle High 2 A+ on Xbox One may have been the highlight of my independent game development career in 2015.  Though the game wasn't accepted to showcase at EVO 2015, I fought with a lot of self doubt concerning the game, and the launch did not go without a few hiccups, I'm still happy I was able to get the game launched and released before 2016.

A Battle High 2-themed holiday greeting!

Also, I helped Schell Games launch Orion Trail, which I'm pretty proud of too!  Another professional highlight was going to Unite 2015; it was a great converse and energized me more creatively than the last two GDCs combined, which is why I have decided to not attend GDC 2016, but instead attend Unite 2016.

 

Resolutions

I could write about lowlights, but I would rather not dwell on them as we approach a new year, but I would like to write about resolutions.  My idea with resolutions is that it's okay to make a lot, but keeping in mind that you probably won't be able to achieve all of them.  Anyway, here is a short list of mine:

 

Continue Battle High 2 A+

Again, the launch of the game could have gone more smoothly, but I'm still happy with the results.  That being said, I want to update the game next year.  There's a minor bug I need to fix, many have commented that the achievements are too difficult, and the 3D backgrounds need some work.  There are also 2 unfinished characters I would like to add; in addition, I'd like to get the OUYA and PC versions as close as possible before 2017.  I also want to get the fightstick issue resolved as well as experiment with online, but I know those are stretch goals.

 

Start (and maybe finish) a new original game idea

I have a game I've been working on a bit, a tactics RPG similar to Namco X Capcom, that I'd love to finish before 2017.  Now that's rather ambitious but I think instead of finishing before 2017, I'd love to publish a playable prototype similar to what Indivisible did, even if it's just on itch.io.  Overall, I'd love to release another Xbox One game, but maybe that'll happen in 2017.

An early 3D character / shader concept

 

Knowledge Share & Interact with Communities More

Admittedly, I'm a rather introverted person and don't really put myself out there much.  I put my work out, but I don't make a lot of tutorials or streams or anything like that -- though I did write a GameMaker book.  This is something I'd like to change in 2016.  I'm not sure I'll do game streaming, but I'd like to do a few dev streams in the future; one night aspect of this, is that it'll archive on Twitch so even if no one comes, I can watch it later to make sure I don't forget things.

This is a face you can trust, right?  Also I swear I'm not that creepy; I was just being silly in a wedding photo!

 

Do my art!

I used to draw and 3D model a lot, but I haven't had the time lately.  Battle High 2 A+ didn't require a ton -- besides the 3D backgrounds, which my texturing skills were a bit lackluster on.  I have a Substance license for both Painter and Designer but I haven't really used either.  I want to change that in 2016; hopefully the previously mentioned game idea will require and allow me to focus on improving these skills.

 

Focus on ME

This sounds stupid and selfish, but here's the issue:  I work a full time job at Schell Games, and then I come home and work on my side projects for Mattrified Games, and the last few months of 2015, I sorta stopped focusing on me outside of game development.  I haven't been exercising as much as I should or eating healthy.  Personally the health resolutions so many people make every year are really life commitments and they aren't easy to keep up with, but I think it's important to remind ourselves of them every year and to try and improve, if even by a little.
Personally, I need to reschedule my time better.  I need some days where, instead of trying to cram in work, personal work, and me time, I just say "screw it, today I'm not working on Battle High 2 A+ or any games.  I'm going to exercise or play a game," and at the same time, I need some days where I focus on a side project and don't worry about anything else.  I just need a better work-life balance, a goal for 2016.

Anyway, that's what's on my radar for 2016.  I hope everyone has a healthy and happy 2016!

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.

RECORD RIP!

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.

Opinions!

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.