Efectos EspecialesRamblings, rants, musings, ideas and observations. Topics include (but are not limited to): programming (especially Python), books, games (especially CCGs and board games), astrology, design, writing, painting, etc.
#749 Brute beats die boemen
(Maybe 2005 will be the year of good CDs with stupid names. The new Styles of Beyond CD will be called "Triple Bitchin"... gah!)
Parenting is a thankless job...
#747 Wax at Gmane
Gmane is the preferred method of mailing list access, by the way. (It preserves threads, while some broken emails clients don't. Or so I hear. :-)
I am working towards a 0.3 release, by the way. It won't have many new controls (although it will have *some*), but I want to a lot of code cleanup.
#746 Winter in the Netherlands
#744 Baten Kaitos
This Gamecube game would be yet another RPG if not for two features: the graphics, and the battle system.
The graphics are quite good. Many objects and sceneries seem hand-painted. Except for some of the bigger monsters, that is, which look crude in comparison. Also, sometimes things aren't clearly visible because they are too tiny or are hard to see against the background. (Fortunately, if you are close to something "interesting", an exclamation mark will pop up, making it harder to overlook something.)
But the feature that sets it apart from other RPGs is the battle system. It's all done with cards, which are used for more than battle, actually. The "flavor" of this is questionable, but it works rather well.
Basically, everything is on a card. Simple weapons (like swords), food (to replenish your HP inside or outside of battle), spells, armor, but also other objects that you find in the game, like fire, water, stones, etc.
Rather than having a regular inventory, you have a set of specific cards, plus a set of blank ones. In many places, you can "capture the essence" of an object, and put it on the card. Where in a regular RPG you might grab a container, fill it with milk in the stables, and hand it to the cook, in this game you "imprint" the "essence of milk" on a blank Magnus (that's a card), then "unload" that card for the cook. Weird, but it works. What makes things especially interesting is that certain things are perishable or otherwise get old. The Bluebird you captured might die later in the game. The fresh food you acquired will get bad after a while. (This is not necessarily bad; fresh food will usually restore your health, while rotten food can be used as a weapon in battle!)
That's just how you get around though. Battle is something else. You have a deck of cards, not unlike in CCGs. The idea is to stock your deck with both offensive and defensive cards. You can also add cards that restore people's HP. (Note that it's easy to mistakenly play them on your opponents, and restore *their* HP!) You usually engage in battle by running into a creature (although it's often possible to avoid them). Then, you see random cards drawn from your deck. If you are in attack mode, you pick offensive cards, otherwise defensive. Time to do this is limited.
An example: I draw a longsword, bananas (!), a buckler, and a Dark Flare (spell). If this is an offensive turn, then playing the sword and/or the Flare will cause your character to attack with these cards. (The moment the cards are played, they are replaced with others from the deck.) If your opponent is still alive, they will attack you, and you'll want to play defensive cards before that happens... in this case, the buckler, or maybe the bananas to restore HP. Any offensive cards are useless in this turn. After this, you get to attack again, etc. It's possible that you end up with no offensive or defensive cards when you need them, although this shouldn't happen too often in a well-balanced deck. If you run out of cards, the deck is shuffled, which takes up a turn, which is rather annoying.
Some things are rather out of flavor, but that doesn't mean they don't work well. For example, to make money, you don't sell cards or objects you find. Rather, you have to take pictures of creatures, let them develop, then sell them at stores. For this purpose, there's a camera card, which you can stick in your deck. Taking a picture of a creature in battle counts as an offensive action (although it doesn't harm the creature, so this can be a bit risky). Another example: cards have "spirit numbers". In order to get a bonus (extra cards, etc), you must line up the spirit numbers in certain ways, so that you have a straight (consecutive numbers) or a pair (the same numbers). This is more reminiscent of poker or rummy, and feels quite weird (IMHO), but it doesn't impair playability.
There is much more going on, too much to discuss in a simple weblog post. But what especially piqued my interest, besides the card-based system, was that the game uses the names of stars. Baten Kaitos is the name of a star in the Whale, for example, and I recognized a number of other names. Also tying into this theme is a subquest that requires you to find the 50 missing pieces (constellations) of a star map.
[Update #1] Is that necessarily a bad thing, though? What if you have a complex, crufty system; is it so bad to build a simple, clean system on top of it? Sure, rewriting from scratch might be better... but what if that isn't an option?
#742 Two-player games
I just realized this... PCs are great for one-player games. They're also great for online multiplayer games, whether one-on-one or MMORPGs. But they *suck* at games that multiple people can play on the same computer.
Maybe this is because a PC is largely designed to be used by one person at the same time. Ditto for games. Back in the day, the C64 had two joystick ports, so it was perfectly possible to have two (or more) people play a game. These days, consoles like the PS2 and the Gamecube have no problem accommodating multiple players, either. But the PC is not designed for this.
I noticed this because I am designing yet another game, and realized it would be best if two people could play it against each other. But how? Sure, I could make it an online game, but adding robust network code isn't exactly trivial (at least not for me), not to mention all the security issues and all that good stuff. Alternatively, one of the players could be computer-controlled, but writing a decent AI player is even more difficult.
I suppose I could be naive and assume that the two players are going to use the same keyboard and/or mouse... but that just doesn't seem very realistic, and it doesn't make for an enjoyable playing experience. Joysticks aren't common for PCs; they exist, but I don't actually know anyone who uses them, and aside from that, I wouldn't know how to write code that supports them.
So, this is an "interesting" situation. Back in the late eighties, it would have been perfectly possible to write a two-player game, and people would have had no problem playing it. But these days, this doesn't work so well.
Maybe I should reconsider buying an Amiga, or something...
#741 Good and bad game design
(Metroid Prime for Gamecube)
Good: Having the first stage of the game double as a tutorial, so players can learn the controls and actions.
Bad: Following up that tutorial immediately with a boss.
Ugly: Putting a race against time immediately after that boss ("you have 7 minutes to leave the area"), with no way to save before that.
That's not all, though. The race against time is followed by a cinematic scene that suggests that you made it, but when it's done, the timer resumes. To make matters even more interesting, this part of the game introduces a new move, and forgets to tell you that you have to look up in order to use it.
I am well aware that I am not the target audience for these games. Maybe this is what today's kids want and have come to accept... I don't know. I've seen people engage in boss fights that took 30 minutes. Maybe they also think it's cool to have to play a significant part of the game over again. Note that there's a save point directly before the boss, which seems thoughtful at first, until you realize that if you don't make it to your destination in time, and restore your saved game, you have to fight that boss *again*. (Running back and saving after beating the boss is not an option, because the way is blocked.)
I will have to (bribe someone to help me) get past this point in order to find out if Metroid Prime is a good game or not. But design decisions like putting a boss directly after a tutorial, and putting a race against time directly after that, and having the player learn a new move with only a few seconds left on the timer... are awkward at best.
More later... (I hope)
[Update #1] Fortunately, the game designers made it possible to get past this stage, even for a lousy player like me. Hint: turning into a ball helps you move faster.
#740 New stuff
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