Category Archives: game design

I had a few negative reactions (not many) to some of my early screenshots and videos of Gratuitous Space Battles 2 Screenshots like this:

dread1

Basically people didn’t like the ship designs and colors. The colors were too gaudy, and they hated any hint of a checkerboard pattern because it makes them think of placeholder textures. This amused me, because actually the designs are based upon the artist chriss foss, who I liked as a kid. He did some really distinctive spaceship designs. Some people may dislike them, but in a world of identikit spaceships, his stood out.

So much for blocky color patterns, but the other criticisms (that the designs were not good) is more relevant, and serious. It is, of course, entirely a matter of personal opinion. For contrast, here is a few ships from GSB1:

gsb1

Some of you may prefer that. So this blog post is here to make you feel better :D.

Firstly, do you know who designed the spaceships in all the GSB2 screenshots and videos? It was ME. ME!!!!! And I don’t have much of an artistic eye, or patience, or time. The basic components are done by the talented GSB1 artist, but then my totally clueless hands have been let lose on them, using an unfinished space ship designer, so this is what comes out. In other words, people with more of a sense of style, more patience, more time, and finished editor…should turn out MUCH nicer stuff. I’m also toying with the idea of actually paying someone to design the initial enemy ships for this very reason, although I’d love to try it myself…

The thing is, I am vastly more of a fan (as a player) of stuff that lets me put my mark on it. Sim City is great, but it’s even better when you have the building design tool. One of the appeals of minecraft is surely building things. People spend a crazy amount of effort just designing their clam logos for Battlefield 4. Give the player a ‘customize’ option, and you will lose them for an hour or ten. Even spore, a game that people rapidly dismissed as bad (despite earlier promise) had a huge number of high quality creature designs. And the ultimate example of people designing awesome spaceships so far is probably galactic civilizations 2, where people have clearly spent hours and hours designing the ultimate space battleship.

Yup, we may not all be experts, but I’ll take a ship I’ve customised over a ‘stock’ ship any day. People like to stand out, they like to create, they like to ‘play’. And this is where I like to think my games often cross the line from what people call ‘games’ into toys. I have never been a fan of scripting in games, or linear experiences. We have books and movies for that. Games give us freedom, freedom to experiment, to define our own rules, to invent, or at least they could…

fpsmap-650x519

FPS Design over the years…

Back when I first started gaming, a lot of games gave you a sandbox experience. It was frankly easier and cheaper than level design, and limits of file sizes mean you simply couldn’t fit 200 hours of RPG backstory onto a floppy disk. This resulted in incredible free-form strategy epics like Lords Of Midnight. I really miss those times, and that encouragement for free-form experimentation. Kids these days do not really ‘play’ games. They ‘compete’ at them, to ‘win’, or to ‘beat’ them. This feels weird to me. I’m always playing to have fun, not to go along with what a designer has decided I will do that day. In the ideal Star Trek MMO, I’d just tend a ferengi bar, but the designer no doubt wants me to go ‘questing’…

Democracy is probably the most free-form of my games so far, but they all have a hint of it in them. Kudos didn’t really have a proper ‘end’ as such. there was no boss to beat or princess to rescue. It was a toolkit, a toy, and bunch of things to play with, woven together as a functional simulation that let you play out ‘what if’ scenarios.

That’s what GSB2 is. It’s a big pretty spaceship battle toolkit for you to have fun with. If anyone complains that they’ve ‘beaten’ it, or Democracy 3, then they haven’t understood the purpose of the product. A game is not a challenge from the designer to the player, but an environment created so the player can experiment and enjoy themselves. That’s why there are customizable spaceships in GSB2. It’s not about the designer, or the artist, but about the player, and I believe in giving the player as much control as possible.

 

 

So I thought I’d put together a video showing what I’ve been doing on gratuitous space battles 2 since the Eurogamer show. I’ve also been recovering, and doing under-the-hood engine stuff and bug fixing. Enjoy… (& share/tweet post to websites etc :D)

And on the topic of developer videos.. check out the big pharma dev blog video below…

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I’m currently playing 3 games. Tropico 5, Company of heroes 2 and Battlefield 4. When I’m playing Battlefield 4 or COH2, I feel like I’m achieving more than T5. Why? Stats and achievements. I know…It’s crazy. When achievements first started, it didn’t seem like a bad thing. game designers would use them to do some fairly clever stuff. You can encourage people to replay a level 9and get more fun from it) by having a special achievement to play it a certain way. You can suggest people experiment with unloved or new and experimental game modes and styles by tying achievements to them. This is a great idea.

Also, slightly spookily, you can use achievements tot rack player progress. Some players get upset if the game tells the develop every move you make, but if it can do so as it tracks your ‘achievements’ we don’t mind. For the designer, this is awesome. You can see if everyone gets stuck on level 6, or not that the best players all use the same gun, so it may need nerfing…

The thing is, F2P designers have taught the paid gaming designers how to use achievements to encourage players to keep playing again and again and again and again… And although to a lot of people that’s no bad thing, it can have drawbacks. here is my BF4 stats overview (just 1 screen of about 50 showing my play stats).

stats

The thing it doesn’t point out is that I’ve put in 92 hours of time on that game. 92 HOURS. And in terms of unlocks, stats, awards, leaderboards, achievements, prizes, battlepacks, rewards, and whatever else there is, I reckon I’ve ‘unlocked’ or ‘achieved’ about 5% of it. I might suck at games, but even so, raw calcs suggest I need to spend 1,800 hours to ‘finish’ the game.

Now I get it, that’s not the point, hardly anyone unlocks everything, but there are two drawbacks here.

1) If equipment is tied to unlocks, that means 95% of your players aren’t getting the full game. I have no idea what most of the weapons are like in BF4, I haven’t unlocked them. I didn’t even get to more than 20% in BF3 before BF4 came out…

2) Some people have OCD. I have it a *little bit*. When I see those greyed out and locked items, it DOES make me want to keep playing. I cannot imagine the life of a real OCD gamer faced with screens like these.

So I guess it’s a balance, I *LOVE* achievements and stats, I’m the guy who made getting a job and romantic relationships into a stats based game. I do wonder if sometimes, the designers are just overdoing it though. The stats screens for Company of Heroes 2 are definitely designed by someone whose wife ran off with an OCD sufferer. That’s the only explanation that makes sense.

I blog a lot about advertising. If you’ve read the books I keep pimping you’d know that modern advertising is fucking scary. Don Draper isn’t around any more, they test ads using MRI scanners. The hottest jobs in big business aren’t in engineering or finance or old-fashioned marketing. They are in neuroscience and psychology. People are getting *really good* at working out human behavior and forcing us to do things without us even knowing. I find some games pretty addictive, but they haven’t even got going yet. How addictive and fine tuned will BF5 be or BF6? We have already had people collapse and die after marathon gaming sessions. I suspect that’s going to become more and more common. Sadly.

 

 

A lot of GSB players are very hardcore. they have strong opinions on the cost/range ratios of beam lasers, and why wouldn’t they? this stuff seriously affects gameplay. This is why I’ve been asking their opinions on all manner of topics as I design the modules for Gratuitous Space Battles 2. I started a discussion on the old GSB forums here:

http://positech.co.uk/forums/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=19&t=9690&start=15

But in addition I thought I’d throw up the actual design doc for the modules here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1t3geRZ5goyFsRkFibBNTqRW7fNiTuxijjnmhTnZQVgo/edit?usp=sharing

So anyone can read it, and add comments ()but can’t edit the actual doc). Hopefully this draws in some really creative ideas and shoots down any stupid decisions I try to make. I’m also working on the spreadsheet of actual raw module data, which is the way I’ll be working (as opposed to the individual ini files of GSB 1), as this allows a much simpler way to balance costs and power requirements of modules, maybe involving actual equations to ensure stuff is balanced (yikes!).

GSB 1 had a LOT of modules when you take into account extra content from expansion packs. I’m hoping to make all of that content included in the base game for GSB2, without any DLC required, so all the old faves like the decoy projector and the smart bomb will be in there. There are also some wacky new ideas, Combat tractor beams (like the cultures ‘effectors’), remote propulsion projection, fuel tanks for fighters, and so on. This kind of spreadsheet-work makes a change from my recent few days of crunching away on optimizing the asteroid rendering for the engine. I’ve got it faster now, but not as fast as I’d like, and the multi-threading is a *bit* better, but still not making that much use of extra cores yet…

Formation orders in GSB sucked a bit. You had to select a ship, then a target and basically the order was ‘stay at this position relative to that ship’. This sucks in two different ways. Firstly, it means if the ‘target’ ship gets destroyed, the formation is instantly abandoned (yikes). Secondly, it is laborious to set up 32 ships into a formation.

The new system for GSB2 is simpler. You group select a bunch of ships and then add a formation order in one go. They then attempt to stay relative to each other, regardless who gets destroyed. Internally, the ships ‘elect’ a command ship, that has ‘free-will’ and the other ships will try to stay in relative position to that ship. That ship getting destroyed or tractored results in a new election. So far so good, and certainly better when it comes to ship destruction and setting-up GUI. However, it leads me to question a few things. Take this formation (coder art!)

form1

Just a simple line of 6 ships where randomly I’ve made the blue one the commander. If the commander heads to the right, then all is well. However, if he heads at an angle what do the ships do? Should they stay relative to the ship in absolute world terms, or in relative to the lead ships-angle terms? in other words, do we wheel?

form2

Obviously the two different behaviors are vastly different. It also brings up the topic of what to do if the command ship decides to retreat when damaged, does the formation follow? what if it’s just 1 damaged frigate… I’#m guessing they leave the formation at this point. In my mind, the reason behind formations is to keep ships trogether in the sense that they should be able to cover each other in terms of support, and shooting down incoming missiles etc. With that in mind, I reckon it would make sense to always elect the biggest ship as the commander, where viable.  Theoretically you could have a super-slow ship with the entire fleet locked into formation with it, effectively preventing anyone from moving.

What do you think? do I ignore angles and stick to world space, or pivot? and will the system of commander elections work ok? For reference, this is how fighter squadrons already work in GSB 1.