Archive | March 2014

DLC, In-App Purchases, and the Like

When I woke up today, I was hearing that an alumni from my university, who graduated with a BS in CS: Game Design, started a KickStarter for a mobile game his team had finished. Earlier this year I actually asked him if he was hiring, but he said he wasn’t. In any case, the game looked pretty good, and I hoped the best for them.

When I looked at it on KickStarter today, I wasn’t impressed, to say the least; I was actually rather disappointed. Why? The game was designed around micro-transactions, a practice commonly used in modern games, most common in mobile games, to maximize profit at the expense of the quality of their game (more on this later). The game I originally thought it was in my mind crumbled, and instead I was looking at, yes, “just another mobile game.”

Before I start my thoughts, I’ll say that I do think the concept of DLC (Downloadable Content), which is usually brought up in conversations about micro-transactions, is good, but only if done right. What does this mean? I’ll give a few examples:

-New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS offers free DLC,¬†titled the Gold Classics Pack, for their Coin Rush mode which contains classic levels from the franchise’s history, including World 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. This game also offers three extremely difficult levels, titled the Impossible Pack, for hardcore gamers for $2.50.

The Binding of Isaac offers cheap (~$3) DLC, titled the Wrath of the Lamb, and contains more levels, almost double the items contained in the original, and adds in new, alternate rooms to explore on each floor.

These are two examples that I feel are DLC done right? Why, exactly? Let’s break it down; I’ll list what the original games have and what their DLCs contain:

New Super Mario Bros. 2

Original: 9 worlds with a total of 92 action-filled levels (a full game)

DLC:
-Free homage to classic levels in the franchise
-Extremely challenging levels that are too hard to put into the original game in fear of players quitting, so they’re offered as an extra challenge

The Binding of Isaac

Original: 5 floors of randomly-generated rooms with roughly 50 different types of monsters out to kill you (a dungeon-crawling, roguelike game) and 100 collectible items to help you get through them

DLC:
-98 new items
-A new mode: Challenge Mode – tackle 10 different challenges
-11 new achievements
-34 new secrets (unlockables)
-4 alternative floors to the first 4 floors, and 2 extra end-game floors
-6 new room types that could appear on each floor
-26 new enemies
-More stuff I don’t want to list

If you look, these games were complete before the DLC came out. The DLC is icing on the cake and is not necessary to fully enjoy the game. The DLC is extra content added for those who want it and wasn’t originally planned to be put into the game. Oh, and the DLC is priced at less than $5, so it’s not like paying the price of an entirely new game and getting less for it.

Now let’s go back to micro-transactions in most mobile games. I think they compromise gameplay at the benefit of making extra profit, and I think this is a bad thing. To start, let’s think about why people play video games. In most situations, it’s to get away from reality and explore someone else’s imagination packaged into a computer program. When you’re scrolling through the shops in these games and you see something cool, you check its price and then get bummed out because it costs you money in real life. Not only does this completely break immersion, reminding you about your reality, but it also makes you more hesitant, if not completely turn you off, from wanting to get that item/feature in the shop because it’s unobtainable through normal gameplay.

 

An example of micro-transactions in a mobile game. Note not only the ridiculous prices but how much emphasis is put on the real-world prices. The real-world prices are at the top and clearly stand out more than the in-game prices underneath. It looks more like you’re checking out items on Amazon than an in-game shop.

 

smurfberries-smurfs-village-micro-transactions

The same image as above except edited to remove the real-world prices on each item. Doesn’t it look much more like an in-game shop? These now look like items you have to actually earn through gameplay. Such a small change makes such a big impact on how the player perceives the game.

 

As a game designer, why in the world would you NOT want your players to obtain something you programmed and made art for? Imagine creating an exciting game mode that took you months to make, only to have very few of your players actually experience it because you wanted some quick cash for a part of the game that¬†was originally planned on being included. It just doesn’t make sense to me at all. If you want quick cash, do something else; feeding off those people that always buy everything isn’t exactly the best way to represent yourself either. In fact, it actually sounds JUST like a scam and that’s because it is indeed one. The worst part is this is happening right now in one of the most dynamic mediums ever: video games.

A couple of days ago I played Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage (SNES) and the day before I played Sonic The Hedgehog 3 (standalone, Genesis). I played one playthrough of each game to completion, and I never got up from my seat until I was done. I was completely immersed into the games, and it was a great feeling. I didn’t have to worry about not being able to obtain something unless I shelled out money for it; what I saw is what I got. Everything IN the game is what is accessible. With micro-transactions in all these mobile and Facebook games, what you see is not what you get. What you see is MORE than what you get, and that’s just dumb and stupid.

Childish remarks aside, it really is disappointing to see the game industry go this way. What’s worse is that people support this direction by paying for these things that frankly, they should already have when they buy the game. Micro-transactions seriously go against the art of game design, whether the games themselves are free or not, because they kill immersion and limit access to their game’s features.

That’s why I’m making any possible DLC in Streets of Peril 100% free, and I said “possible DLC” because I’m including everything I’m planning into the game. If any ideas come to me after the game’s release then I will gladly work on them and offer them as free DLC. After all, why pay for something you already bought?

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New Feature – Bonus Status Effects

Hello again everyone! I’ll just let you know that the subjects of my posts may be all over the place sometimes, so unless I mention it on another post then the next post won’t be on a particular aspect of game design or even Streets of Peril.

Anyway, onto this week. I finished my finals and presentations for my senior project and I have over a week off from school. I spent the past few days working on a new feature that I think will prove beneficial for Streets of Peril.

In short, it’s called a Bonus Status, and it grants the player a positive status effect when the player performs well. The main inspiration for this was one of my all-time favorite Beat ‘Em Up games, Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage for SNES (there is a Genesis version too but I think they’re mostly the same). They have a special bonus move called a Power Hit, which is an extremely powerful attack, and it procs when the player has high hit accuracy and doesn’t get hit too often. Your health bar will blink faster as you get closer to obtaining it.

So, I implemented something similar that will better utilize Status Effects in my game. I always thought that something was lacking in the core gameplay, and I knew it had to do with Status Effects because those are the main unique features in Streets of Peril that influence combat.

How it works is the following: every time you kill an enemy, you get closer to obtaining the Bonus Status, and every time you take damage you get further from obtaining the Bonus Status. When you’re close to reaching it, a small generic Status Effect icon will appear above your Status icon (or where it would be if you have no Status Effect) and start blinking. As you get closer by killing more and more enemies, it blinks faster until it finally stops blinking, in which case you’ll receive a positive Status Effect. If you currently have a Status Effect when you’re supposed to receive it, it’ll be put on hold until your current Status Effect is finished. You don’t know which Status you’ll receive until you get it. I don’t want to go into all of the details regarding which Status Effect you end up receiving, but the Status Effect the enemy you killed currently has and the possible Status Effects that enemy can spawn with heavily influence the choice.

Here’s are pictures of what it looks like:

The Bonus Status icon on the upper left side of the screen. It is represented by a gray arrow. I finally learned how to upload images onto WordPress!

The Bonus Status icon on the upper left side of the screen. It is represented by a gray arrow. It is currently blinking, but you can’t see it because it’s just an image. I finally learned how to upload images onto WordPress!

This is what it looks like when you already have a Status Effect and can't receive the Bonus Status; the gray arrow remains above your current Status Effect icon until the current Status is over.

This is what it looks like when you already have a Status Effect and can’t receive the Bonus Status; the gray arrow remains above your current Status Effect icon until the current Status is over.

Overall, I think it adds a little more flavor to the game and keeps things interesting by properly rewarding the player for performing well. I was always fond of seemingly-simple systems in games that have hidden complexity, so to have one of those in my game was icing on the cake (the cake being the feature itself, of course).

Well, that’s all for now. Until next time!

Streets of Peril – Then to Now

Hey everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve been busy with my senior project in college, but I’m back. Unfortunately I don’t have videos ready of Streets of Peril’s development, but I do have some screenshots:



These are some early HUD designs for Streets of Peril. The first one shows the level and time at the top with player information on the left. The character icon and name are at the top with the health under them and lives to the right of the health. Under those are the current Status Effect, with its remaining duration under it, and the score to the right of it. The little icon under that is the character’s oxygen tank its health, which are present only in underwater levels. If your oxygen tank takes damage, it loses health; lose all of your oxygen tank health and you lose a life. Note the special icon for Status Effects: in this build, it would display one even if you did not have a Status so I ended up removing it because took up unnecessary space.

The second picture is more recent; the score is at the top, with the character’s Status Effect, icon, name, and lives under it. Under those are the amount of times left to heal from a Healing Over Time (HoT) item and the player’s health. The “Clam Shell” text you keep seeing is the temporary HUD that displays underneath a player’s normal HUD when interacting with an object. The Clam Shell item grants the Defense Boost Status for 10 seconds, which explains the character’s bluish tint.

The third picture shows all 4 players on screen in Versus mode. The score and lives have again been moved down and Wil’s special Free Bullets are to the right of his name. Since Wil’s offensive and defensive special attacks involve the use of his gun, he is granted free shots that regenerate every minute or so without using a special. Any shots that hit enemies after they’re used up will damage Wil like special attacks normally do for every other character.

Here’s the recent build of the game: http://i300.photobucket.com/albums/nn38/Kimimaru4000/HUD.png

One obvious thing you notice is that the window size is much smaller! Since this game is made in XNA, the default window size is 800×480, so I stuck with that for a good bit before finalizing other aspects of the game. The switch to this 416×320 size was rough to say the least. I was forced to utilize all the space I had as efficiently as possible, but the result was great in my opinion. Here we’re in Versus mode with all four characters. You may notice that there’s no bar showing how long a Status Effect lasts, and that’s because all of these Statuses will last indefinitely. If the Status Effects lasted a certain amount of time, the icons wouldn’t move and instead there’d be a small bar under them like in the third screenshot (which showed the bars even with indefinite Status Effects). The score has been moved underneath the name, and the character icon rests vertically in between the name and score. Wil’s Free Bullets have been moved underneath the health, and to the right of those would be the Oxygen Tank icon (which now turns more transparent the less health it has) and the number of times you have left to heal from a HoT item. The temporary HUDs now work properly and display more limited information when interacting with other players. Overall, I think this design is great, but it may need a little bit of tweaking in the future.

You know, looking at all these pictures just shows me how far I’ve came. I’ve focused on so many small details, even ones that aren’t important at all or weren’t planned, and let my creativity run loose so I can deliver a polished, enjoyable game to players. Every little thing counts in game development. You may be tempted to ignore the little details, but putting just as much effort into them as the core mechanics and visuals differentiates good games from great games. Look at some examples of great games and you’ll see the same trend: Super Mario Galaxy includes an entire backstory that has nothing to do with the core game, but it gives it that much more charm; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time allows you to change the tone of the notes you play on your Ocarina when in reality you need only one (this gives players the freedom to do cool things like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDN40Az8hQ0). The Halo series is famous for having super secret hidden Skulls and Easter Eggs which contribute little to gameplay aside from aesthetics and a sense of accomplishment (Halo 2 Scarab Gun, anyone?).

It’s these intricate details that blow players away and show them how much effort you really put into your game. And we certainly know that people love it when they use something they know was made with love, passion, and devotion to the art. Game development is no exception, so if you’re an inspired indie developer, don’t compromise the quality of your product and make something truly great.