Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tails the Fox

Artwork by FireRai

When people think video game side kick, the first thing when tends to pop into people’s minds is Luigi.
However, I think Luigi isn’t that great.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no beef with Luigi, I like him more than Mario (as Mario has zero personality), but I think he is just a gloried re-colouring with Mario not just in terms of visuals but also mechanics and story.
They’re brothers, so they basically look the same and thus practically play the same and really are the same.

But Tails, now Tails is a proper side kick.
Miles “Tails” Prower is the side kick of Sonic, but you already knew that.
So what’s so special about Tails? Well in that era of gaming, side kicks or second-player characters tended to either be a literal or glorified carbon-copy of the protagonist.
On the base functioning level, Tails is more advanced than Sonic. He can’t run as fast (although he can get pretty close as he’s always behind), but he can fly.
Tails being able to fly almost alone justifies his existence, being able to sick up and move Sonic around the level, to greater heights or to save him from falling to the bottom of the screen, his flight makes him different and gives the two of them an instant dynamic.
His flight doesn’t just end at his own personal two-tail’d ability, he also has a plane which serves the narrative throughout the entire franchise.

Personality wise, Sonic and Tails also have a dynamic which I don’t think has been topped by any other video game duo.
The 2003 Sonic anime got super-dark towards the end.

While I dig Master Chief and Cortana/Arbiter, it can feel a little bit wooden at times.
But the connection between Sonic and Tails just fits so well.
They’re not blood-brothers (clearly not, they’re two entirely different species), but the relationship between them often is pitched more as one of brotherhood than just simply best friends.
Tails feeds off Sonic's confidence and Sonic feeds off Tails intellect. Tails is taken from his pathetic wimpy form to one with self-confidence thanks to Sonic.  Sonic is humbled and is allowed to feel emotions when he is with Tails. While not seen in the game mechanics, story wise Sonic can’t swim (because someone at SEGA Japan thought Hedgehogs couldn't swim and didn't bother to research into it), but Tails can.

Sonic is often shown as either cool, cynical or even at times rather cold when it comes to how he deals with other characters, good or evil, but rarely has he ever seen to get angry or frustrated at Tails, even when Tails screwed up (like in Adventure when he basically gave Eggman a chaos emerald by accident).

There is a deeper sense of care and love between the two, even when Sonic games are at their most awful (and they can be awful *cough* Rise of Lyric *cough*), the writing of those two stays about the same.
The comics of course take a lot deeper, but I am not here to talk about comics as it would take forever (although they’re awesome).
When game characters so often have the chemistry of a dusty wooden spoon, it’s always nice to know, that a fox and a hedgehog will always remain true.

Oh and he's super cute.

Maya sizzle

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Story in Games: Thomas Was Alone

We are living in an age where story creators have never had more tools at their disposal to make stories in games, then how come most of them fall flat despite motion-capture photo-realism.

For me the classic example of a game not needing all this, is the 2012 indie title Thomas Was Alone.
The entire graphics of the game is simple shapes and colours, with the story being told by narration accompanying the gameplay.
When explaining to someone who’s never played or heard of the game, it to them often sounds like the most pretentious and ridiculous statement to make that Thomas Was Alone profoundly moves many who play it.

Despite the references and the often light hearted humour, it manages to create a bond between you and the characters.

Each coloured block is a character, the title character of Thomas is the red rectangle, he is joined by Christopher (orange), John (yellow), Claire (blue), Laura (pink), James (green) and Sarah (purple).
There’s also other characters along the way and the in DLC, but I am going to focus on the main ones.

Each character is a different gameplay mechanic, Thomas can jump and is the average character. John can jump really high and far. Clare is slow and can’t jump well, but she is able to float across water and take others with her (each of the other characters dies as soon as they touch water), Sarah can double jump, Laura acts as a jump pad, James plays like Thomas, only he is upside down. Chris, well he’s small and doesn't do much.

First and foremost, Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle-platforming game where you need to get the characters in the level to a slot, once every character is in their corresponding slot, the game progresses to the next level.
As the game goes on and gets more complicated, you’re required to constantly swap between characters in order to use them together to solve the puzzles.

An example of a level from the game.

These won’t be the most challenging game you've ever played, in fact I feel confident in saying that if you’re used to 2D platforming games, that you’ll won’t be stuck too long on any particular puzzle.
That’s not to say there’s no challenge, there certainly is, just a manageable level.
(Excluding the DLC which is stupidly hard and could very easily make one rage.)

But the puzzles are not why Thomas Was Alone is acclaimed, it’s not even its mechanics or its stellar soundtrack.
It’s the narrative and how it weaves itself into every aspect of the game, the one word I would use to describe Thomas Was Alone is polish.
Polish from start to finish, but I am talking a bunch about vague descriptors here, let me try to get a bit more detailed.

The voice over narrative is voiced by Danny Wallace and is triggered at specific points during a level, often in reaction to something you've done or something you’re about to do.
Otherwise it’s talking about the characters, their thoughts, their past, their emotions and how they related and interact with each other.
For example at the start of the game John sees himself as some kind athletic superstar (due to his long and far jump), he concludes that the other characters are there merely to observe his skill and to enhance his reach, however as the game progresses he becomes more humble along the way as he sees the skills of other characters (particularly Sarah’s) and how he can’t get to specific places without the aid of others.

Each characters own personal story works to create the overarching narrative of friendship, sacrifice and ultimately the meaning of life.
Of course there’s also a villain of sorts, commentary about humans creating AI, the nature of AI and free will.
This is where I am being deliberately vague as to avoid the all-important spoilers.

But to bring it back around to my original contention, I find it rather interesting that a game made by one man is able to move me and take me on a journey which the large budget studios could not.
All the writing teams, all the massive orchestras, all the motion-capture in the world often doesn’t seem to have an effect.
Maybe Thomas Was Alone’s inherent impression of simplicity aids it, maybe it’s lack of grand ambition makes it excel, it’s a simple game in many respects and I think that’s it’s greatest success.

The creator of the game is now working on a new game called Volume, but now with a studio and backing of Sony, I truly wonder if it’s larger scope will allow it to capture the same profound effect Thomas Was Alone did, it keeps elements such as Danny Wallace, but who knows.

Not even Kevin Spacey could make me interested in the story of Call of Duty.

But one thing is clear, you don't need gilts or glamour to tell a compelling story and to move players.
Ever since I found out about the game from a review on ABC's Good Game, I had to go out and buy it and I never regretted the $10 I spent.

Thomas Was Alone was created by Mike Bithell, more info at http://www.mikebithellgames.com/thomaswasalone/

Game is on PC, Xbox One and other platforms.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Design Document for concept game

I was challenged with designing a game which included these elements “Conquer”, “Race” and “Gambling”.

Racing and Gambling together make an easy combination.
It could be an E-Sports like game where there’s those who play the game and those who are watching, those who watch can make bets on the players.

The players race in the game, for the sake of fairness it needs to be as balanced as possible, a car racing like game would make sense but with fake cars, not quite a kart racer, but something in-between.
The results of the race directly link to the bets placed by the watchers, this can be done through a dedicated online account system.

To entice players it can be a free to download and free to sign up system, the matches can be streamed online via the client or website with a constant update of bets and placements online and with a companion app.

The player who wins will conquer and will get a cut of the bets.

I drew up some basic concepts of how a website, client and app could look like. You may have to open the image in a new tab in order to see some of the smaller text which I wrote.

It might not be the most ethically great thing in the world (gambling), but ultimately I think with the growing world of E-Sports, sooner or later I expect a game like this to come.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

My User Interface

The UI in games is very important ,as I covered on a previous post in more detail I said there's many ways to do it and it often depends on genres, it can make or break some games.

So I gave it a shot for the 2D game prototype I have been working over the last couple weeks.

Firstly health.
For health I just made a bar filled with red to indicate full health, simple but effective. Creating an unnecessarily elaborate health bar could mean the player needs to think about what they're looking at, the best UI is one where the player doesn't have to think about it but knows right away what it means and the current data being displayed.
Next to the bar is a heart, this is the classic symbol for lives, instead of putting up a heart per-live, I decided it would be better to put a number within the heart as it takes up less screen space and is easy to read and understand quickly.

Next is stars, this meant to be a pick-up throughout the game, an optional extra which isn't required to finish the level, but can unlock things. There are certain players who love to be a completionist and collect all the times, so having a the star icon with the two different numbers next to it I deem effective.
The first number is how many of the pick up the player currently has, the second number is the total amount of pick-ups that are currently within the level the player is playing.

Finally is time, I had considered maybe an overall score, but for the game I am thinking of the score wouldn't be some extra number but instead just the time with the rest being covered up pick-ups.
The top number (Time), is the players current time, this is constantly being updated per millisecond.
It goes Minute. Second. Millisecond, I haven't considered what if the player goes over an hour, it could be that the level ends with a a time-out.
The second number is Par, which is considered the best time to finish the level, either an average or something I decided. This will allow the player to compare themselves to the average.
The third and final number (Best) is connected to an online leader-board where it displays the fastest time it look someone to beat the level.
It's possible that an option could be changed in a menu where this could either be the best of your friends, best in world, best local or the best of the players own time.

I have put these elements into the example game which I have been working on, this is what it could look like within the game.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Sprite Sheet

This is my journey on my attempt to make a Sprite sheet, so I started off with a rough drawing of how the character could look.

After the rough design, I went onto further concept the character with a colour drawing with more detail.

 Using the computer I drew the character in line art form, spacing out all the parts in order to be able to do the basic animation for the Sprite sheet.

The next step was to colour in the character and clean up some of the edges of the line art (such as the hair).
Once saved as a TGA, it's imported into Maya and using 'planes' with binn, then the images were imported. Using the UV Texture feature, the parts were lined up with correct planes.

Then the animation could begin by moving the different body parts.

There is a render feature, once in the render I could export them into a file (I chose PNG) and then using an image program you can place them together to show how the animation could look in game.

I can then place the character into my scene which I previous made and see how it looks in a hypothetical game.


Hey I have a website!
Come check it out ^_^