Monday, May 30, 2011


You know what's a bad idea? Like, a really bad one? Subtitling a sequel "Betrayal." Especially when that sequel is on a different console, format, has wildly differing gameplay and art design, and was clearly inspired by an entirely different series. It's just asking for trouble from the fan base.
Now, that being said, I'm picking on it but Bloodraye: Betrayal does look neat. Sure, it's an obvious Castlevania clone but, hey, if Konami isn't going to give me a half-way decent side-scrolling Castlevania game on home consoles, somebody might as well take my money.

Oh, speaking of Konami and shitty titles. Harmony of Despair? R-really? You just had to have it be Castlevania: HD? I mean, that's a good idea and all, but you already made that game. Plus, that game is actually good. So, from now on, whenever someone mentions "Castlevania:HD," people will have to ask if they mean "the good one on the GBA" or the "shitty XBLA grind-fest with all the recycled graphics." More importantly though, it doesn't make any sense. "Harmony of Dissonance" works. You see, starting the title with "Harmony" allows you to maintain your musical theme. "Harmony" and "Dissonance" are antonyms, so you've made a clever little play on words there. "Harmony of Despair," on the other hand, has no such word play. It means only that you and your friends are co-operating "harmoniously" in your "despair" as you suffer through a betrayal of a brand you all love. But, hey, at-least your cries of pain will be in tune.
You see, the conflicting art styles help the player identify their character on screen.
Titles are important. They are the first thing a player knows about your game and the first thing they'll tell their friends about it.

My only rule with titles is that something's title is simply what people call it, and you have no control over this. Buffy is, for example, just Buffy, having grown out of Buffy The Vampire Slayer long ago. Jedi Outcast is just that, and sure as hell isn't Star Wars: Dark Forces: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. Hell, WoW is pretty much just WoW now. I see artsy titles that tell me nothing quite regularly, mostly on fiction, and they just don't work for me. As soon as you notice the people on your team or your audience referring to the product as anything other than what you printed on the cover, the title has changed. It's best to just go ahead and go with the more natural title than to hope against hope that people will stick with the one you just like so much.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Did Bethesda Just Make A "Date Game?"

I love me some co-op. I can pretty safely say I find gaming the most fun when I'm co-operating with friends. If many of my best memories of such are from 2 player scenarios, it's simply because I've very rarely been able to get more than 2 of my friends to get the same game on the same console at the same time in order to organize larger scale games. That, and the fact that the industry's recognition of this practical matter has lead to a few absolutely excellent 2 player co-op options.

Yet, this trailer doesn't exactly make me want to grab my usual co-op buddy and give the game a run through. Something about the (excellent) song choice, the available characters, and overt sexual tension makes me think that scenario could get a bit uncomfortable.

"Dude, I'm not checking out your ass!" "Then why is my tank behind me?"
Actually, it looks as if the game may best be played not with my buddy, but with my lady. She's not a big gamer, but she is loving our co-op trip through Portal 2 right now. Maybe I could present this as a "well, we just beat this. How about this next?"

The very idea strikes me as novel in the industry. In film, the "date movie" is an absolutely classic cash-in. It's a simple excuse for him to ask her out. She'll agree because, either way, she gets a free movie out of it. If they're already together, she'll force him to see it anyway. In every scenario, the studio makes bank regardless of the product's quality.

Did Bethesda inXile Entertainment just make the first real "date game?" Previous games have been good for playing ON dates, but this looks positively designed for a male/female co-op experience. (Sorry for my LGBT friends, but it's gonna be a bit before you notice any developments in this field.)  The growing camaraderie between the characters even hints that their might be a love story in here. Hell, the dialog might even end up qualifying it as a romantic comedy.

Could have worked as a horror FPS.
And the thing is, if it is, Hunted: The Demon's Forge could work so much better than When Harry Met Sally or Pretty Woman ever did. (Those are the only 2 rom-coms I, as a man, am allowed to remember exist) First, the guy is actually guaranteed to be engaged with the activity at hand, rather than simply waiting out the "we've now been sitting next to each longer long enough for you to touch me" phase of a first date. More importantly, the couple is actually engaging with one another. Movies are passive, but a game requires you to actually communicate, the key to building any kind of a relationship.
The place where we first met.
Partner refuses to provide you with vital intel? Bad communicator. Rushes ahead rather than taking on obstacles as a team? He's the center of his own world. Willing to thrown himself between you and waves of enemies while you hog the glory of the kill? There's a keeper.
Fencing skills are all I look for in a woman.
Worst case scenario, such a genre would give me something to drag my fiance to. And, really, such a move shouldn't surprise me. The disproportionate split of male/female gamers is shrinking every day. As games move from traditional male-centric design perspectives, and we see more quality content aimed directly at women, it seems that seeing rom-coms on consoles is more of an eventuality than anything else. I just hope they stay as fun as Hunted looks like it's going to be.
This is what threatens your relationship in the third act.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"If it's in D&D, it's in Eberron," or How To Trivialize a Brand

The titular statement was one made by a Wizards of the Coast representative in the lead up to D&D 4th Edition. It has been one of the core tenant's of the company's design philosophy for their published material since the new edition hit publication. In short, it refers to their policy of officially inserting everything placed into one of the company's generic source books into each of their official game settings. There's an obvious reason behind the strategy. Yet, from a design perspective, it has been a horrible misstep.

The reasoning is, of course, a financial one. They want to maximize their consumer base. Why produce content that portions of your target audience will not find useful? Declared the allegiance to a particular setting? You can still buy our book!
Tits! You like tits right? Buy our book!
The major problem here is that such a design choice will inherently make all of your settings generic. Every supplement published for D&D 4e must fit in Eberron, and every other one of their 1st party settings. The stuff obviously sourced from Rokugan? Now it's in Eberron too. Strahd Von Zarovich? Everywhere. Warforged, one of if not the most defining feature of Eberron? You can play them in the Forgotten Realms no problem. Excluding them would be a house rule.
Is this the setting where people ride dragons
Sure, it's easily shrugged off from an at-the-table perspective, at-least in the short run, but there are long term affects. Eberron has a metaplot centering entirely around dragons. So, how do the new natural-disaster themed dragons effect that? There's a new Eberron video game, which will introduce the setting to a whole new audience? Will they see the setting the same way people introduced to it back in 3.5 did? Can the Forgotten Realms of today really be considered the same as the one I so fondly remember from Baldur's Gate? If not, that's going to be very jarring if they ever make a third one.
Oh, but a Spelljammer crossover is fine. Hypocrite.
I don't mean this from a purely nostalgic point of view either. As a consumer, this sucks. Why buy a setting book, or choose anything other than the default Points of Light setting, if they're all exactly the same save for the relative placement of geography and peoples? It cheapens the brands to the point of irrelevance.

The thing is, it's totally unnecessary. Just because it's in the book or mini box doesn't mean you have to use it. There are ~100 other monsters in the book you could use. Who ever gets to them all? This was the original intent of these supplements, but somewhere along the line the idea of a supplement as something... supplemental became lost. The books ceased to be resources alone which, again, was a business decision. Decisions based upon financial necessity are understandable, but this may have been a short sighted one that may not actually be making Wizards money, in the long run.
Yes, ninjas! More! Add more stuff, I don't care what! This won't cause our product to become completely overblown at all!
So, how does this apply to game design as a whole? As the saying goes, "that which does not add, subtracts." Every generic element added to your game makes it that much more like every other game on the planet. While in some contexts this may be your goal, it generally makes your title less noticeable among the masses. In crowded genres, this can be a death knell.