Category Archives: Game Impressions

Entwined, Impressions

Entwined is a rhythm game developed by PixelOpus for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.

Warning there be spoilers ahead! Read at your own peril!

Entwined’s gameplay can be broken down into two sections:

PowerUp

  • An on the rails experience in a tube game space with a fish and bird respectively confined to a half of the tube.

  • Each side of the tube has a PowerUp bar that is filled by the player collecting objects contained on that side.
  • Objects are collected through the player moving the fish and bird using their controllers joysticks.
  • When the bar is full the player morphs into a dragon and goes into the SkyWrite section.

SkyWrite

  • A freeroam experience where players use their controllers joysticks to fly around a fixed area collecting orbs till the sections PowerUp bar is filled.
  • Once the PowerUp bar is filled the player can SkyWrite leaving a persistant trail.
  • When SkyWriting is complete the player can proceed to the next PowerUp section to continue the game.

Like

  • Beautiful visuals
  • When the bird and fish come close together their color melds into a green, which is the same color of the dragon they later morph into.

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  • Little orbs used to direct player to fly interesting areas

  • Powerup system links into joystick controls well
  • Great tutorial. The developers employed practical examples with clear visual indicators in both PowerUp and SkyWrite sections.

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  • Good use of orange and blue which are strong color themes throughout game

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Heart of The Swarm, Impressions

Recently I’ve been playing Starcraft 2 Heart of The Swarm, a military science fiction real-time strategy video game developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment. The following are my notes:

There be spoilers ahead, read at your own peril!

Like

  • The Hyperion mission! Having to manage one unit with a continuous stream of battling non playable characters takes away the added task of micro management and lets me enjoy a feeling of ‘distinctiveness’

  • How ‘cutscenes’ meld into gameplay e.g when saving Raynor, Kerrigan’s Leviathan arms smash into the prison ship which then transitions into the game level

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  • Evolution missions really helps players understand how an evolution works and how to use it

Dislike

  • After Kerrigan’s battle with Narud, I felt she recovered too quickly. It drew from the gravity of the fight. She should have been in an injured state for the Leviathan section where characters could comment on her fight. Then by the next mission having recovered, there would be a contextual piece of dialog about it

Continue reading Heart of The Swarm, Impressions

Dyscourse, Impressions

Recently I’ve been playing Dyscourse, a survival adventure video game developed and published by Owlchemy. The following are my notes:

There be spoilers ahead, read at your own peril!

Like

  • Effective non playable character ‘humanization’
    • Text – One character makes a reference to the main players clothes
    • Actions – Passing around of water bottles scene

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  • Warm colorful storybook art style
  • Characters reflect ‘character’ through facial expressions, walking style, and speech which conveys the characters emotion
  • ‘Torchlight Talk’ mechanic, it makes sense that the fire goes out over time making talking limited

  • Time based events with clearly conveyed state e.g combo sequence required to defeat boar

  • Color coding for character dialog messages

  • Slight shine on wooden planks to attract players attention

  • Choice confirmation points that give a player a chance to again consider

  • Rewind feature, which allows player to go through the story again and try get the outcome they actually desire

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An Impression of 140

Melding music and game play is an interesting area of game development which games such as Crypt of the NecroDancer, Beat Buddy, and Guitar Hero, have explored. Whilst exploring my own shamefully large collection of untouched games on Humble Bundle I happened upon the game 140 which makes its own contribution to this area.

140_game_logo

With lead designer Jeppe Carlson, (co-designer of the well know title Limbo) 140 was created by Carlson Games. Paraphrasing Jeppe, he describes 140 as an old school platformer, where the challenge is in syncing up your moves, and jumps to the music controlled elements.

After a short time with 140 I thought to briefly note my impressions of the game.

Disclaimer – This is not a  thorough review, but notes of an impression based on approximately 20 minutes of game play. Everyone is fallible.

Impression Notes

  • On launching 140, the first thing that hit me was its minimalist art style. Its distinctive color scheme made it easy to identify puzzle patterns, and game elements.
  • In 140, music is at the heart of its game-play with appropriately pulsating background, and game elements used with rhythm based mechanics to make interesting puzzles.
  • 140 relies on players exploration of controls as I noticed no traditional tutorial which can be fine. Although some helpful information based on monitoring of the game state is good e.g explain to jump or move if a player hasn’t moved for a long time.
  • Like other titles in this area 140 suffers slightly from issues of repetitive music. This issue I believe essentially stems from player progression which is something hard to control. I felt this game handled this issue well by splitting music into short levels.

140_game_elements

  • The difficulty of the game quickly ramps up, likely making it less accessible to the casual gamer. On the other hand though, this meant 140 presented more challenging puzzles, which is delight for some. It’s good that the creators of 140 realized the game difficulty, and employed frequent checkpoints through out the game.
  • 140 bravely deviates off a more traditional pattern of game mastery by transitioning to a hail shooter from a rhythm based platformer at the first boss fight. I found the hail shooter boss encounter to be a disproportionately high increase in difficulty from the challenges before. The encounter left me frustrated (maybe I just sucked bad). Perhaps an easier encounter, or a series of checkpoints through the boss encounter would have been preferable.
  • Raph Koster said ‘noise is patterns we don’t understand’, and so it felt appropriate that the ‘death blocks’ were static noise. 140s creators took this concept even further during the first boss fight as static noise breaks down into music.
First Boss Fight
First Boss Fight
  • Like other titles in this area of game development, 140 suffers from issues of repetitive music. This issue I believe essentially stems from player progression which is something hard to control. 140 tackled this issue well by shortening levels, and splitting up music into those levels.
  • I liked how the levels key (item objective) was innately tied to the next level through music. When hearing the keys music was excited thinking about how it would later manifest itself as a mechanic.

Conclusion

All in all I enjoyed 140, being a nicely designed little gem it was a happy little surprise. Budding game designers should definitely give it a play as its a game well focused on how to meld music, and game-play.

Shogun 2s User Interface, Center

The central area of the Total War interface receives the highest attention from the player. This post will look at a number of the elements that appear there.

Total War Encyclopedia

There are many pages within the encyclopedia. A look at one page gives a good understanding of the user interface (UI) element given the consistency used throughout the encyclopedia.

Encyclopedia Page

  • Light Blue – Main Subject Categories.
  • Dark Blue – Scroll Bar.
  • Green – Navigation Buttons.
  • Light Green – Part of Page Description.
  • Orange – Topic Navigation.
  • Pink – Relevant UI Image.
  • Purple – Page Title.
  • Red – Main Title.
  • Yellow – Browser Breadcrumb.

Notes

  • The scroll bar (Dark Blue) is not themed, resulting in it looking quite out of place. Perhaps this area was not given as much priority which is understandable as perhaps players don’t use the encyclopedia so much? From my experience I didn’t, and that is a sign of good game design.
  • The designers used the encyclopedia icon next to the UI elements main title (Red) likely to subtly have a player associate the image with the words Total War Encyclopedia.
  • The cancel button, and the navigation buttons are grouped together (Green) in the top left. For this area the designers have used the Main Menu button for the Home Button in the encyclopedia, they rely an understanding of ‘importance’.
  • The use of bread crumbs is good for players to quickly backtrack when navigating (Yellow).
  • The on hover underlining used for the main page categories is more link like (Light Blue).
  • There is a further reading tab located at the bottom of the page (Orange) which makes sense since the read is likely to look there. At the bottom of the page, the left and right topic options are displayed based on related topics in the manual.
  • For the main article they used topic headings, text descriptions with images, and icons which prove to be very helpful (Pink & Light Green) in conveying the point of the article.

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Shogun 2s User Interface, Bottom Left/Middle

The Bottom Left/Middle Area of Shogun 2s Campaign Map User Interface is an elegantly designed, helpful popup filled, context sensitive area that displays key information about a players Navies, Armies, Agents, Construction, Recruitment and Battles options.

The UI element as a whole is thematically suited to the time period, incorporating a Japanese battle banner, appropriate color scheme, and style to complement the rest of the UI. In addition a neat feature of this UI area is that depending on the context of a players selection this UI area will change. For example when a player clicks an empty space on the campaign map it is hidden, if an army is selected army information will appear in the form of a Tab.

All these design decision make this UI element a screen space efficient, compact, informative, aesthetically pleasing part of the campaign map that ‘fits’ well into its surroundings, and help build the experience of a general during the Sengoku Jidai..

Army Tab

Army Tab
Army Tab

The Army Tab displays information related to the selected army. The UI element is made up of a Dial and a Banner.

Dial

Army Tab Dial
Army Tab Dial

The Army Tab Dial can be broken up into the following sub-elements:

  • Red – Clan icon.
  • Teal – Army leaders name.
  • Dark Blue – Arrows allowing cyclical cycling through units of the same type, in this case army.
  • Purple – Army leaders image.
  • Yellow – Disband button.
  • Green – Chat.

Considering this element:

  • The layout of the dial is interesting being somewhat symmetric, and the dial art asset has a shine at the top of the dial which may attract a viewers eye.
  • The Purple and Teal elements are not necessary, but are welcome as a thematic elements for a player.
  • Functionally the Dark Blue, and Yellow elements allow a player to quickly jump from army to army, and disband them if necessary.
  • The other side of the campaign map, the bottom right, features a stylistically similar dial.

Banner

Army Tab Banner
Army Tab Banner

The Army Tab Banner is jam packed with vital information that can be broken down in the following manner:

  • Orange – Used for unit replenishment indicators, where a:
    • Green circle with a + means units are replenishing.
    • Green circle with a red slash means are not replenishing.
    • Skull which means units are suffering attrition.
  • Light Green – Unit experience.
  • Dark Red – Unit portrait with color coded background (Radious’s mod added this I believe).
  • Dark Green – Special Attributes e.g Accuracy, Improved Armour.
  • Yellow – Unit Rank.
  • Purple – Unit Strength. If the unit is being replenished a dark grey area will appear with a visual indicator of the new strength at the next turn.
  • Teal – Unit Type Icon.
  • Dark Blue – Recruitment Tab. This only appears when a general is present in the selected army.

Looking at the banner in totality, all the information fits neatly, and succinctly conveys a lot of information to the player with great use of clear icons in a consistent format.

Continue reading Shogun 2s User Interface, Bottom Left/Middle

Dawn of War 1

Recently I’ve been playing titles from Warhammer 40Ks Dawn of War 1. I’ve returned to these games multiple times now, and I have wondered why? My conclusion is that its the well designed battles.

Dawn of War 1 has taken many hours from me, and with this piece I think I’ll take something back.

Factions

Given the rich history of lore, previous video games, and an existing tabletop game there is plenty of meat for a game designer to sink ones teeth into during the design process.

By the end of Dawn of War 1 Soulstorm there were nine playable factions with varying mechanics. Each faction had a distinct identity, strengths and weaknesses. One faction I will briefly look at is one of my favorites, The Imperial Guard.

dawn_of_war_1_imperial_guard

Imperial Guard

Known as the Emperors Sledgehammer, The Imperial Guard are neither the Super Soldier Space Marines nor the Mystical Eldar Warlocks. The Imperial Guard are the common human, seemingly weak in strength, and spirit among the denizens of the universe.

Yet only seemingly.

dawn_of_war_imperial_guard_ingame

In Dawn of War 1 the core of the Imperial Guard are its Guardsmen. Imperial Guardsmen are numerous, and cheaply replaced. They are initially weak, their morale easily shattered facing slaughter at the hands of heavier infantry units. Their limitations can however be overcome.

With thematic enhancement options such as propaganda, decrees, equipment upgrades, and squad leaders. Guardsmen can be significantly augmented to become fierce fighters able to withstand, and even overcome opponents they were initially unable to.

Perhaps I’m reading into it too much, but I enjoyed how its designed that the common human with determination, equipment, training, and leadership. Can unlock their potential, can rise up, and defeat their enemies.

Still the common human has much more to offer.

Continue reading Dawn of War 1