Idea

The appropriate leveling mechanisms for freeform interactive projectile simulations as opposed to linear point systems inside closed systems regardless of skill. (Or: “Called it!”)

In these days of Minecraft, IndieGoGo/Kickstarter, Steam, and online markeplaces on console, it would be easy to say that small/indie developers are where the innovation lies. That the AAA games are just refinement, over revolution. Well, I can think of one idea, relatively easy to implement, that would let any game (AAA or indie) greatly benefit from emergent gameplay. It’s easily demonstrated in FPS’, but really any game with shooting mechanics could do it, and it especially could benefit the open world games that AAA developers love to make.

Calling your shot – Let players tag their target. Just, let them point, hit a button, and have that target marked in some fashion. From there, the possibilities expand exponentially.

1. Skill: If they hit it, dependent upon size, speed, view, power of shot, maybe even weather and penalty of missing given other nearby targets? Give them some kind of recognition or bonus. Hell, give players skill points for using that skill.

I never really used a bow in Oblivion, instead preferring to cleave enemies with an axe. But there was one time I did… When I saw deer. It was natural. It was primal. When I saw a deer, I pulled out my bow, snuck as close as possible, and shot. Invariably my sucky skill meant the deer lived, which meant I had to chase the deg through the first, completely forgetting whatever I was in the middle of. It was like they were purposely meddling with my fun with their… Fun!

2. Challenge: It was just like taking to a rooftop in GTA, pulling out your sniper rifle, and plugging interesting looking civilians. It was a shooting gallery, and I had tools to shoot with. How could you NOT save your game and occasionally do it?

Of course eventually police would come, increasing in number and strength, and eventually take you out. (Usually.) But man what fun it was, plugging a citizen going about their way, and seeing the chaos that ensued.

3. Self-defined Narrative: The key to emergent gameplay is that the player brings it with them. And that’s never more evident than when done with intent. But if you pick out the target, and tell the player why it needs to be done, then there’s no wiggle room. Instead, Let players mark people/places things, and let them tag them as important for themselves, for whatever reason.

Emergent gameplay gave us “zombie” in Halo 3, when it emerged from Halo 2 players consciously creating the rules from thin air. Oblivion gave extra damage if you shot a target while unseen, making initiative on a target worthwhile. GTA had instant kills with headshots.

These are just a few evident ideas that come with letting the player point at things. That’s all I’m suggesting, really. And anyone, AAA or indie, can do it.

Lines edited out of this post:
-Fact: I would’ve been trying to balance apples on the heads of Cyrodiil’s guards.
-Many games check for regional shots/damage. A game could even go so far as to let players highlight not only targets, but regions of targets.
-Imagine an action game that lets you press select/back, pauses the gameplay, and gives you a freeform camera to zoom around and pick your own target, then you get to try for it.
-Maybe a game with one player as the spotter, and the other as the shooter/sniper. Or a game where both players “mark” the other’s target, and they have to chase it down. (Instead of killing each other.)

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Spider-Man games should rock.

Today at Joystiq Justin McElroy wrote what I’ll dramatically describe as an unsurprising slap in the face of the latest Spider-Man game, Spider-Man: Edge of Time. Go read it. He gets it. He wore Spidey pajamas as a kid. (Note: I dig his writing, and always have. Even during the huge fiasco when he made threats against U2’s Bono.)

Games are their gameplay mechanics, the choices and actions of the player. For all the crap we give them, licensed games actually often have a rare opportunity: unique mechanics. Any other game that mimics webswinging is going to be seen as a knock-off, or at least compared to Spider-Man.

To be fair, Justin notes that they try to do something with his “Spider Sense”, but that’s certainly not what I think of first when I think “Spider-Man”. What he rates a 2.5/5 game sounds like a thoroughly mediocre beat’em-up, which is a disappointment, given my love of older Spider-Man games.

Spider-Man 2 (Xbox, PS2) is actually one of my favorite games. I was one of the people blown away by the webswinging. It was a perfect example of both “appropriate difficulty” (being slightly difficult, but very fulfilling to pull off well) and the “ludic displacement” that occurs when a game makes you feel like you really are doing what’s happening in the game.


Nevermind the player’s stumbles… Spidey would never trip!

Despite Spider-Man 2 being third person, and despite how bad the blur looks in this pixelated video, you really got that feeling you imagined as a kid, of being Spider-Man, dipping from the rooftops into the streets of New York city, swinging back up, flying forward as fast as a normal person would fall. (Ultimate Spider-Man was still great, less so Spider-Man 3… Both the victim of over-refinement, imo, but still.)

Super heroes are typically defined by having unique abilities. In that very nature, they’re begging to be put into games, giving players unique actions and choices. Older Spidey games got him right. The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction game did a decent job of making you feel like you were wrecking shit, though it could’ve been better aside from that. From what I hear both Wolverine and Batman games had great combat, making you feel like the characters were “right”. Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a fun beat’em-up, not because it was particularly deep, but because it rallied together almost 30 loved characters. Why do a game featuring a singular beloved character, or even two, without trying to do well what that character is known for?

Here’s a few free suggestions for Activision’s next Spider-Man game.

  • New York City – I’m serious. Forget corridor fighters. Don’t be silly.
  • Make swinging a matter of skill – Anyone player should be able to do it, but being good at the mechanics should pay off well.
  • Spider-Man has a history – Not saying you shouldn’t do “origin stories” or work them in, but, Spidey has a very deep gallery of well-known, well-defined, fun, friends and enemies. Utilize them.
  • Peter Parker exists – Spider-Man has a personal life. Don’t be afraid to use that in more than a reference.
  • Peter Parker is a photographer – Some games did it recently, but then cameras have only become MORE popular in society, as well as other games. Some even do it well. You could, too.
  • A random encounter should blow my mind – Sure, Spidey fights generic thugs all the time. That happens. But sometimes? Sometimes? Sometimes that bank robbery you stumble across should be Rhino.
  • Subscriptions – Learn from comics. Everyone who owns the game gets a free few missions each week. They culminate each month in an arc. Do this for a month, free. Then charge a fee, $1 a week, $3 for a month, or sell subscriptions $10 for three months.

C’mon. Activision can’t say no to that last one. And face it, you’d buy them. I would, and I don’t even have a job.

Also, hi Activision. So, maybe you need someone to help with your next Spider-Man game? I mean, I don’t know if you heard, but I’m on the market. I’ve even got five years experience in producing. (Another medium…)

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Awesome soundtracks for all games, for no cost.

How can you give every game (indie or not) a blockbuster (and meaningful) soundtrack? It’s easier than you think. All it takes is a little work, and a little cost (Okay, it’s not “no cost,” but, considering the payoff…)

All you need is an online database, users to populate it, and API for developers to use it.

The database notes each user’s library (just taking the track titles, paths, and metadata, not actually uploading the music,) and asking users to tag the tracks by context, for use in interactive media when the appropriate context arises. Bam. Free million dollar soundtracks for anyone who wants to implement the system. The only cost being the user buying the music. It’s like playing music over games on consoles, only smarter.

(Sidenote: I don’t think any cloud services offer APIs for other developers, but it may be possible in the future to ask users for that data too, if you feel like streaming their music.)

Of course, users won’t be required to tag ALL of their data, but some should be required to lighten the load (and better personalize things.)

So after users’ data is pinged, the tags are of the veins “fast-paced, thrilling, scary, romantic, sexy, slow, energetic, sad, etc” to fit mood. But also consider an extra layer of “8bit, by instrument, etc.,”. To make it pitch perfect, ask users to rate each tag’s value. Especially if you want to do this after a game. (For instance, play the music, and ask “Do you feel this music was appropriate suspenseful during the standoff with ?” Let users pick if they want to use yes/no, a five point, or a ten point scale.)

It will take time for an entire library to populate. New users should be required to tag at least ten tracks, but power users (anyone logging in and investing the time) can categorize to their heart’s content. Maybe a deal could be struck with Pandora to import their categorization metadata? Power users should also be able to specify portions of songs instead of the entire track. (“Start this track :10 in, bypassing spoken words.”)

The idea is to give any game that wants to use the system a soundtrack custom-built by context needed in the game, with music already knowingly enjoyed by the user, at zero dollar cost to the developer at point of purchase. The only investment needed is the time investment required to learn the API to use it in your game.

Now, am I over- thinking the problem? Probably. But I’m okay with that. This is a blog post, not a plan to actually do this. Now, how does this get done? Get Microsoft to do it. Or Valve. Someone with a large interest in PC gaming. (Of course, Microsoft doesn’t REALLY have that, but, they like to claim they do with “Games for Windows Live.”)

But, it has to include a large, open music selection as well, like http://www.freesound.org/ populated by tracks available for public use and distribution, so developers can pack that music in, giving the install base something to begin with, to make sure bases are covered.

Okay. Done. Just had to get that out of my brain. It was bugging me. Thanks.

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