Shantae for the Gameboy Color is an interesting beast. Not only is it one of the most rare games of all time, but it is also one of the best designed games overall. However, when you look at it, you might not see something that what many designers may have overlooked. Shantae is good, yes, but would you guess that the majority of its gameplay is taken directly from one of the most panned games of the time, Simon’s Quest?

                 One of the major features of Shantae is the Day/Night system, a system that Simon’s Quest used inadequately. In that game, the transitions were overly slow; it arbitrarily increased difficulty in certain sections, and led to a lot of waiting around in order to be able to use features of towns. In Shantae, the transition occurs during gameplay, changes music and screen tone, and, perhaps the biggest improvement, does not decrease interactivity of towns. Shantae does what Simon’s Quest needed for its day/night system to be usable, not good. This is because the whole concept was a very good idea, just poorly executed in CV2.

                This is an excellent opportunity to bring up towns themselves in Shantae, as well. In Simon’s Quest, the townsfolk were cryptic liars who would give you completely irrelevant information relating to the task at hand. In Shantae, the townspeople clue you in on what to do, not just in progression, but also to get money, how to use money, and other things that, if the player explores later on, going off of what the NPC told them, will lead to a reward for the player’s exploration, incentivizing not only exploration in the overworld, but also frequent speaking to the townsfolk. This is what Simon’s Quest needed in its towns in order to fix much of its conveyance issues. Speaking of conveyance…

                Another thing that Shantae does flawlessly is the conveyance on where to go. Funnily enough, Shantae could be a spiritual successor to Simon’s Quest with its overworld alone, as it’s laid out in an almost identical manner when compared to how they laid it out in Simon’s Quest. However, in Shantae, they fixed this problem by making the different areas that didn’t matter to the main game useful to the player in other ways, by giving them items and different pathways to travels. Of course, if you hit a dead end in both games, you would have to backtrack quite a bit to return to the main path, but in Shantae, it never works against the player, as usually this gives the player time to grind money while backtracking, allowing them to buy potions and other useful items from the shops, which are exponentially better than the random sellers of necessary-to-complete-the-game-goods in random towns. However, this all isn’t what makes Shantae’s conveyance a gem. What conveys where to go so well, however, is the story.

                The dialogue written for Shantae is probably some of the funniest and most cleverly written games I’ve ever had the fortune of reading and playing through. The game likes to sexualize the women in the game, even the protagonist, but it never feels unnecessary in Shantae, because of how the characters themselves deal with it. The characters never just accept the sexism, and instead scorn any man whom breaks down because of, the villain, Risky Boots’ charming looks. This helps to make the character designs feel like just part of the culture of the world the player is experiencing instead of being unnecessary sex appeals. However, I digress. Because the dialogue is so well written in Shantae, you’ll always be eager to read what the characters say next, and this is how the game tells you where to go so flawlessly. All progression is player-controlled, like in any good game, because the story only slips in where to go, but doesn’t force the player to go there immediately. This is how it makes the player want to proceed through the story, though. It makes the player want to see more of these characters, and this is how you add conveyance to a game that has this sort of world and story.

                Of course, the biggest difference between the two games is the music. There couldn’t be two more different sound tracks if you tried. Most of the music in Simon’s Quest is repeated, and many times, monotonous and repetitive. In Shantae, however, the composer took every opportunity that he could, and it ended up being one of the best soundtracks in 8-bit history.

                The bottom line is that the two games are so similar in initial design that it’s hard to tell the difference at a glance. However, it’s almost as if the developers took everything good about Simon’s Quest, magnified it, fixed the glaring issues, and then inserted the exemplary sound, music, story, and characters. Shantae got so much right with its perfect combination and balance of all of its elements that it’s hard to believe that most of its design choices and gameplay came from the single most panned game in the CastleVania series. 

(Was originally not going to post this, but oh well)

To just about every designer and programmer of Minecraft:

 

Minecraft is one of the most unique games that I’ve ever played. It revolutionized the open-world sandbox game genre, and it shows that there can be a game with no goal… or does it?

The funny thing about Minecraft is that it could only represent this slogan up to beta 1.7.3, before more adventure aspects began to get shoehorned into the game. Listen, I get it, okay: Minecraft was all about adventure for some people, but what about what the original idea represented?

Every version before the aforementioned 1.7.3 had design elements and aspects to make the player want to build. It would personalize the world for the player, and it would make losing your world feel that much more substantial. There was no goal in the game, because the game was still a set-in-stone definition of an open-world sandbox game, and it was literally serving as this definition of the genre for quite some time! … until survival was emphasized.

You might think that the hunger bar is a great edition to Minecraft, along with most adventure-gameplay aspects that beta 1.8.2 and versions beyond it have featured, but do you not realise that this breaks the original idea of Minecraft and makes things like building seem pointless? With all of the elaborate structured automatically generated by Minecraft’s world generator in newer versions, the game’s building system was simply left in the game without any changes to make it still relevant. At any point in the game, you have to have a base of operations, but only because of arbitrary difficulty with enemy spawning and AI, and not because you WANT to, necessarily. It loses something special.

I feel that the barren wastelands that the beta and alpha versions generated were a perfect fit for the building system, as they made the player want to make the world look amazing. You didn’t need to just walk 10 minutes in one direction to find a village or some other land mass that is generated automatically, ala the hundreds of mods that do the same thing, but the elaborate and gorgeous structures were left up to the player, giving the player incentive to build more structures. Once you’ve finished a long day’s work on a building project, you feel accomplished, because you chose to put in the hours, and you were addicted by how free the system for how much you could build was. Because of the barren landscape, it wasn’t difficult to literally build whatever you wanted, and this worked in Minecraft’s favor. However, when you add in something like a hunger bar, suddenly the game takes a different course, and this is ONLY the hunger system.

 

In any world in newer versions of Minecraft, you could start a world, then after a while, you’d have at least iron tools and armour, and enough food to last you forever. What’s the point of building anything at that point in the game? There are enough villages, towns, and temples that spawn where you can pretty much just steal a home for yourself. Yes, you CAN go after the bosses, but the Ender Dragon, while a very good quest for Minecraft, is very out of the way, and not to mention impossible to know about unless you’re going by a Wiki, which is pretty much necessary for Minecraft, but that’s for later. Back to the subject, the Wither boss is probably not only the worst quest in the game, but also the worst enemy AI I have ever seen. The “difficulty” in this quest is only arbitrary, by making the drop that is necessary for spawning said boss very low drop rate, and thus making needless grinding in a quest that really should have to have it. Ender Pearls worked because the drop rate was high enough to not be discouraging, but low enough to take the extra effort, and because you needed quite a good many of them, it made sense to make them common.

 

Wither Skulls are not this. Getting to the Wither boss is tedious, pretend-difficult, and in the end (pun intended), not even remotely worth it. You have a minimal chance of killing this thing because of it’s lazily programmed AI, and how overpowered it is, even fully powered up with enchanted armour, weapons, and potions, and while it grants you the power to make one, and only one Beacon, the Beacon is only aesthetic, mostly, since the effects are more potent when you just use potions, and the difficulty to get potions to simulate these effects is much lower than actually getting all of the materials in order for the Beacon to be useful in the slightest. The bottom line is that this loops back around to the building being pointless, where it’s great to have something like a beacon, but what’s the point if there’s no purpose to building, no conveyance that you SHOULD build, and that it’s easily replaced by something far easier to obtain.

 

Another huge problem that the game always had was conveyance of “what to do,” and this has always been a problem, but was never fixed. If you added books randomly that could tell you hints about what to do, or a book in which you could find in dungeons where you would find recipes for things, which wouldn’t be necessary, but helpful to new players, or ANYTHING that would tell the player any sort of hints about the game itself through the game itself being played, then the Wiki would be a necessity to literally only play the game.

 

It goes further, too. Another issue that Minecraft has is the ratio of difficulty to find compared to actual usefulness. What’s the point of adding more items if there’s no incentive to building with them? I understand that it might seem a bit too simple of a solution to make the game not as adventure-oriented, but I’ve studied Minecraft for several months, and I can safely say that if you took it back, started from the beta, preferably b1.6.6, and started building the game around the building mechanics and how the game would personalize, and instead of having an end goal and have a cohesive finish, it would basically be a completely custom game, where you tell the story, from beginning to end, with every building that you build representing the progression that not only your world has made, but also you, as a player, has made. That world that you spend weeks on suddenly goes from “This world” in Minecraft to “MY world” in Minecraft, and that’s the key to keeping the building system as the focus. It’s great to add new building blocks, but you have to give them purpose instead of just putting them in with no cohesiveness. Minecraft, in it’s current state, could be compared to if you took Skyrim, got rid of the quests system, removed well-designed dungeons, stuck a building system into it, removed any story whatsoever, and conveyance for that matter, and finally simplified all of it’s other mechanics while also overcomplicating them, such as crafting and smelting.

 

I’m not writing this long study to troll or because I’m “just a hater.” I’m writing this because I want to try to fix a game that I thought was very close to being one of my favorite games of all time, but failed because, with each update, the game gets worse and worse, slowly falling away from being an open-world sandbox game to being something like a Skyrim clone. I also write this because I’m worried that with the looming Minecraft v2.0, I’m worried that it will adopt more of these features that I complained about, and also not fix them, just as I’m worried that the game will just keep getting “modded” with every update, instead of fixing bugs, finishing unfinished aspects(stares at the superflat options menu), and just adding in pointless content to pander to the masses instead of actually making the game legitimately better. You realise that if you did focus the game around building, like I’m saying, that the game would capture a completely different audience, while also keeping the same audience there?

 

I’m also not suggesting that you remove everything from the game, either. Quite the contrary. While I am suggesting that things like the hunger bar, experience bar, the Wither Boss quest in general, and many other aspects like Villages, witch’s huts, dungeons, most of the “beauty” in the world generator, and all temples, I’m also suggesting to build the other elements that could have been great, like the new types of stone, or the new types of fish, AROUND the building elements to make a more solid game. Make the worlds generated more bland purposefully. Give the game better conveyance. Remove the ridiculous focus on Adventure. Focus much more on updating the game to make it more stable instead of adding new content without thinking about how what you’re adding will affect EVERYTHING else in the game. Try to give the player a unique experience that they’ll carry with them throughout the rest of their gaming experience, and perhaps even their lives. Instead of just taking elements of other games that are nothing like Minecraft and just putting them in without thinking. Make mob drops be useful to the player instead of being arbitrarily random and low, and ESPECIALLY stop pandering to the millions of Minecraft players who literally do NOT know anything about Game Design, or any sort of Design for that matter, and start being actual developers instead of a highly-paid modding team. Also, as one closing thought, if you don’t believe what I said about the beta versions of Minecraft, go back and make a world from what you think is start to finish, with what I stated in mind, and actually consider what I said instead of just ignoring out of pride, like many other people would.

 

If this actually gets read by more than just a secretary, then thank you for your time.

 

 

– Gavin “GmacktheGummy” Capenos

So the other day I was having a conversation about fun games on Steam with a friend of mine. He mentioned Binding of Isaac, and I replied with a stark “meh.” The conversation then transitioned into what I’m going to talk about right now: Is the Binding of Isaac a copy-paste of Zelda 1?

This is probably one of the biggest criticisms that the Binding of Isaac has gotten over time. The truth is, I’m going to be blunt, it is. There are so many things to say, but I’ll start with the important things first: Core Gameplay. Now, at it’s core, Zelda 1 is a Action/Adventure Dungeon Crawler. So is Binding of Isaac. Zelda 1’s action is fast paced, and offers quick movements with a projectile sword beam (if your health is full). The Binding of Isaac does essentially the exact same thing, just a bit more streamlined. Your main form of attack is a projectile weapon, you have quick and fast movements, and in both games, the action is constant in order to achieve a certain flow. This is not a coincidence, dear readers.

Also, yes, I know that they both have many of the same items, but those aren’t essential to the core gameplay, so I’m not going to bother with those just yet. Anyway, the point is, from the way that the Binding of Isaac presents each room of it’s dungeons to it’s pacing, it basically matches Zelda 1 in about every way. However, that’s not it. This isn’t even mentioning the similar HUD, or the similar items.

With all of this, you’d just say these are similarities, or maybe even just inspired traits, but I implore you to indulge, dear readers, in some arguments against this. Most people will only say that just because a game has arrows, bombs, or a similar HUD that it’s a copy of Zelda 1. That’s the thing, though. You can’t think of all of these elements individually, it’s imperative to see all of these elements as a whole. Only then can you see what you don’t need to be a critic or designer to see: that the Binding of Isaac’s gameplay is just a skin-edit of Zelda 1’s dungeon crawling, at it’s core, with obvious differences.

With all of this, to conclude, it comes right down to a matter of opinion. I personally thought that because of this, among other things, that Binding of Isaac was very mediocre, especially for Edmund McMillen’s normal quality of work. However, that’s not to say it’s bad. I still enjoyed this game, regardless of it, but the fact is that even with all of this, copying what Zelda 1 did isn’t a bad thing, as I love Zelda 1 to death. If you ever outright disowned Zelda 2, this game can be an easy substitute.
Also, this whole thing is probably just my overanalyzation showing, but whether or not you agree comes down to what you, the reader, thinks. If you don’t see what I mean when I say what I do in this article, play both games again, with this article in mind, and see what you think then.

 

Now, this one is more so for the developers out there, as that’s who I’m really trying to aim this at. It won’t matter too much if you’re NOT a developer, but I’m just saying that you’ll probably get more out of it if you have the mindset of a game developer, and specifically a fellow designer.

With that out of the way, allow me to explain why I’m making a rant about level design. It’s not because I played something bad with poor level design, or anything like normal. This was made because I felt like it, and I feel like if I can spread a bit of good healthy opinion on level design, I want to. Plus, I’ve been putting a lot of work into the level design of my game, Ultra BotBoy, so I guess maybe this is just me reflecting on my work, and how I do it. Whatever the reason, this article is about level design.

Level Design can be based upon a great many things, and will vary infinitely between genres. However, I usually classify a few different main key bases of which you can usually design “levels” of your game. These are risk & reward, mystery, and player prediction.

Risk & Reward is pretty self explanatory; the player makes a risk, but if done right, they receive a reward for taking said risk. Most platformers specifically take this route, typically, and arcade games, definitely. Take a game like CastleVania for NES for example. CastleVania does this by making every movement a risk. The levels all used a combination of player prediction and risk-&-reward as you had to predetermine your jumps and attacks in order to bypass the area, and if you took the extra minute to look or grind for that Boomerang Cross or Holy Water, you could plan out your path, and usually you could do better in the stage by taking the chance of losing more health in order to get them, thus giving the player a reward to strive for, and giving them a fair risk to get through. Player Prediction will be explained more later, so hold out on that, but I feel like that’s a good way of laying out how a game can use risk & reward.

As to how YOU use r&r in your level design is all up to you. If you’re making a game with powerups, a way of using this would be to put more obstacles around a specific gain. Let’s say the gain is something that will make the rest of the stage easier. If it looks appealing and stand out, the player will grow curious, and want to pursue the gain. It seems like common sense, but this can be used to make a whole game.

For instance, let’s say I’m making a dungeon crawler game. Say the player comes across a crossroads. when investigating both paths, there seems to be a straight path, but more enemies, which can be easily dispatched if the player chooses to gain more levels. However, the opposing path seems to contain a puzzle, but a treasure chest behind a wall, meaning the player must solve a puzzle in order to obtain the loot. This gives the player incentive to explore the dungeon more, thus making them more non-linear in return. Or, let’s say there are, again, two paths, but this time, one path is longer, but has some small chests the player knows will contain no real important loot. However, the other path contains a mini-boss, but leads to a shortcut, making backtracking for the player much easier. This is an excellent way of using risk & reward in a way that the whole game can operate within.

Now to move on to Player Prediction. This is also self-explanatory, as this involves prediction the movements and judgements of the player. Several games use this, good or not, like Cat Mario, and Unfair Platformer(I’m not recommending them, but they are examples). This one is more of a supporting element, as anything can use this. I’d assume Player Prediction is a given, too, when making levels in a game, but I guess not, as I’m seeing so many games that don’t use it. Oddly enough, CastleVania made Player Prediction the major factor in how the levels were designed. It’s essentially how it predicts how the player will act and play. Enemies like the Medusa Heads are using this directly with not only the movement pattern, but also where the pattern begins. If there are a lot of platforms placed precariously above a death pit, then giving the area challenge can come in the form of preventing the player from rushing, and paying attention to what’s happening in-game. As I know, this is probably one of the best examples of Player Prediction.

How you can use this one to your advantage is just using your imagination. Come up with neat ways in which you can have your game predict the player’s choices. Granted this is broad, so I’ll provide another example. How about if the player is in a jail, and if they try to attack or get too close to people, they’ll get attacked? When getting attacked, the enemy patterns predict where the player will be moving, thus creating a difficult experience, but not to be blamed, as you can trick the system if you pay attention.

As for mystery, this one does take a little explaining. Mystery basically involves a little mix of r&r combined with player prediction, but not in the way that CastleVania did, but more so in the way that Minecraft does. It involves heavy theming, so unless you really want to put a lot of work in this, I don’t recommend this as the main design element in your levels if you’re not making it the focus. I’m not saying you can’t, but I wouldn’t do it. Mystery is where the player is given about 100 choices at once (maybe not that many) and they have the entire time to do what they want with it.

This creates open-world adventure games, and this is the element they use to design it. You need to incentivise your world, and give it depth. Make the world not just unique, but also a bit mysterious, as the player is marvelling, but almost afraid to take a risk. Surprise the player by shoving them into a grassy field with ambient music, where everywhere they look are monsters and animals, then in the distance, let them see a dungeon of some kind. If they walk in, they obtain a weapon from a treasure chest, and now the monsters are that much more scary. It involves slowly empowering the player from 0% to 100%, and few games manage to do this successfully. Games like Minecraft(in it’s beta, but that’s another story), the Elder Scrolls games, and Metroid Fusion are great examples, I highly recommend you try those if you want to study this yourself.

With this info, what you do with it is your own decision. Will you make that open-world adventure game with the element of mystery in mind, or will you make the Shoot-Em-Up game where the paths branch, allowing the player to experiment with the more difficult paths for better rewards? It’s all up to you, as a developer, to deliver those games, so make it happen. People don’t have to like it, only you do; don’t pursue a project you don’t enjoy making. Anyway, that’s all I have today, so until next time guys!

The topic here is quite touchy, but your opinion on the matter can really be affected by age. I’ll
just start by saying that. If you’re around the age of 10-13, then you’re most likely going to have a very stale opinion on video games today in comparison to video games in the near past. The industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, however, I would have to say not for the best. Back in the days of Super Nintendo and NES, a game could not be successful if they were unoriginal, and not well designed. The limitations produced pure gaming bliss, so to speak. However, as the years went on, video game consoles began to be able to produce much bigger and better graphical presentations.

At this point, I would like to say the second major crash in Video Game history began. That’s
right, here’s a new theory. The industry right now is undergoing a crash, similar to the one nobody can forget, involving the Atari 2600. Allow me to explain: While the crash we are undergoing at the moment is not as bad as the one endured by the people of that time, it is simply dreadful for others who just want to play a game, enjoy it’s design, and keep it to themselves. Allow me to elaborate further. In the days of SNES and NES, you didn’t have any Xbox Live, pay2play, or any of that bullshit. What you bought was what you played. DLC didn’t exist, or rather it wasn’t main-stream yet, and it was clunky and terribly
produced, and you didn’t have to pay extra money to play more of the game’s basic functions. This, my people, is just one of the horrors plaguing our industry. Let me just say this: I do NOT hate all games of this generation, or in previous. However, the second problem is the same that caused the first crash: a slew of bad games. You see, after digging around, being curious why modern developers decided that they didn’t need to design a good game, but rather make a game sell well, I found out that in colleges, in the U.S. at least, that is exactly what they are teaching.

I’ve researched from several different people, and found feedback on their college Game
Development courses, and the intelligent people were very confused about why they were learning how to make a game sell well, instead of making a well-designed game. This is rampant, and you don’t have to talk with people in college to see this, however. There are BEGINNER’s mistakes in these games as far as design goes, that make somebody simply learning proper design and analysis cringe every time they see them (this would be me, in this situation). Simple flaws like poorly made maps and boring/repetitive stages in-game are everywhere today, and it’s difficult to find a well-made and properly designed experience nowadays, especially, and maybe specifically, in the first person-shooter genre. Honestly, from last year, I only liked 2 games that came out, and they weren’t even that great. They were average at best, but still fun to play and enjoyable experiences.

This is the main cause of the Video Game Crash of 2008-2013 as of right now. Considering that
developers do not have to put effort into designing a cohesive experience anymore, but rather just have
to make it addictive and repetitive, and specifically in first person shooter games , plus the fact that first person shooters are the “fad” nowadays with those being the most common type of game out right now. It’s almost crude to see some of the “best-selling” products the industry has to offer. The worst example, and presumably the most depressing, is the sellout nuclear piece of shit that is Call of Duty. This franchise is the pinnacle of awful, the worst of the worst that this industry can offer as far as design goes. Let me rephrase that: Call of Duty MW2 and up have been the worst. What made the original games unique from other stale FPS games was the setting. Playing through it, you were immersed in the war of WWII. It was an amazing experience, and it really put you into the time. So playing this awesome singleplayer, you said, “Wow gee, I wish I could play this game online with friends!” So they released the multiplayer for the first 2-4 games. Everyone loved it, because it was WELL DESIGNED. This whole thing is key here, because after people began to imitate Call of Duty, the developers began to run out of ideas. They began to make it in fictional wars, and even started imitating their own past games. The modern COD games are just pure examples of a shadow of it’s former self.

It’s sad to see such a fun series die like this, but I’m going to say right now, it deserves to burn
indisputably. The main problem here is that nobody notices it! People are blind to the writing on the wall, all because they can’t get enough of standing in one place in multiplayer, waiting for people to walk by. It ridiculous, and should not happen. It’s a very depressing thought that the majority of my peers (age 15) are incredibly clueless about everything that’s taking place around them. It’s almost like they enjoy the stale gameplay and experiences the world has to offer now. However, I digress. In conclusion, while the industry certainly has a few very good games available, the rest of the market is crowded by half-assed attempts at making the next big hit that COD was. Also, one last note: Nintendo doesn’t count in this whole thing.

That was the Rant blog for this month, hope you enjoyed! Leave feedback in the comments!

PS: Turns out, I had this rant sitting around, and never posted it! =O My bad! Will be posting another one, as this was supposed to go up last month! 

Good tidings, everyone! It’s the middle of March, and I have a surprise for the followers of this blog! For my March project of @1GAM, I’m making a simple platformer named Simply Frustrating. I have compiled a testable version with the first 5 stages, and you can try it out here: http://www.mediafire.com/?j3pdw7qrou4t3qz

Screenshot of Intro Area: http://i.imgur.com/eee3lwx.png

Anyway, that’s really all I have for you all today. See you next time!

So, just a quick note, I recently did some work spriting-wise for thepsynergist’s Will of Alchemy. It was really fun, and all the work I did seemed to pay off, as well. They all worked great, so I was happy, and thepsynergist was happy. Everbody won xD

I highly recommend you guys check it out if you already haven’t: (dead link removed)

Anyway, January was a bust as far as #onegameamonth went, so I’m hoping to make Febuary a different story! I’ll probably post an article on Game Design later this month, so watch for that, but for now, this has been all, see you guys next time!