Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins: A case study in difficulty

I've been playing Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins recently, because I hate myself (I believe I state that every time I bring it up). It really is a very hard game. Some of the things about the game that make it difficult are of the frustrating, cheap kind. So what makes the game hard?

You'll die, a lot.
The enemies are hard and they'll continually spawn even if you kill all of the ones on the screen. This is magnified by the fact that Arthur's jumping capabilities are limited in that he can't influence his momentum in mid-air aside from his double jump. He can also only fire his weapons in four directions, but the enemies will attack from all angles.

This is made somewhat easier by the fact that (on standard difficulty) dying does not return you to the beginning of the stage. When you die, you resurrect at the last stable ground that you were on. Furthermore, you start with several lives, and when you run out of them, are only forced to start the stage over from the beginning, as opposed to starting the game over from the beginning.

Furthermore, as you play (and die) you'll learn the enemies patterns well. It's similar to when I played Devil May Cry 3 (on Normal, original American release). Devil May Cry 3 was another, really hard game. However, by dying repeatedly on the same enemies, in the same sections, on the same bosses I learned them. They were engrained in my head. I knew what every subtle movement and every noise generated would precede and could react to it appropriately. It's the kind of hard that you learn how to deal with and overcome.

How do I get to the end boss again?
In order to access the end boss you have to find 22 Rings of Light. The game contains 33 Rings of Light, so it's not the worst thing ever. What's that? You want to know how to find these rings? They're available in many places.

They'll be hidden. Sometimes they'll be in plain sight. Sometimes in plain sight, but hard to reach places. Sometimes they'll be in out of sight and hard to reach places. You'll get them after bosses. Many of them are hidden inside destructible objects. Many of them are inside hidden areas.

Is there a good ending?
Yes, there is. In order to access it you'll have to find all 33 Rings of Light. I'll tell you how to find the best ending at the end of this article.

How do I destroy these objects and get to these hidden areas?
Magic. Particularly, the Gorgon Magic, the Unseal Magic and the Wave Magic. To get the Wave Magic you have to find these other hidden items and give them to a witch. There are 3 witches and a total of 9 hidden items. Each witch gives you a special ability, but to get all three of their rewards you have to fight them all.

Where do I get this magic?
You have to find it.

Where is it?
There are certain, very particular locations that when you move through them, a treasure chest will appear. These locations are very often in places where you would not normally move or think to move.

Is there any way to help you find these hard to find chests?
Yes, there is another magic spell which will show you the location of any chests that are on the screen. This is hidden in a hard to find treasure chest that can only be found if you have the Gorgon Magic, which is in a hard to find treasure chest. So this means that you will spend much time spamming the treasure find spell and running out of mana.

Do you get anything else from these treasure chests?
There are two kinds of treasure chests: red and blue. If you find all the red chests in a stage then you'll get a Ring of Light.

Does that mean that in order to find all the rings I also have to find all of the red chests?

That really sucks.
Yes, it does.

Is there anything else to help me?
Once you get 22 Rings you can beat the first end boss. You'll watch a cut scene which tells you that there is still an evil to kill and that you'll need the other rings. You start back at the beginning of the game with all of the bosses intact, but you'll still have your magic and upgrades. Killing the first boss this second time will give you access to the triple jump. Also, in this mode you'll be given a counter on each stage to let you know how many red chests remain in each stage.

To see the best ending you have to find all 33 Rings of Light without the benefit of the triple jump and the chest counter from the second run through. Also, the best ending is only marginally better than the good ending.

In Conclusion?
There are tons of really hard things about this game, many of which are unfair. They are offset by the Discovery Magic. However, finding the Discovery Magic is difficult and there are still many hidden Rings of Light which cannot be found by the Discovery Magic. Even then, with the Discovery Magic, finding all those treasure chests is VERY hard.

Overall this game is difficult in both fair and unfair ways. Fair difficulty, like that found in Devil May Cry 3 is very rewarding for the player when you finally conquer it, but the unfair difficulty of finding everything that you need to isn't rewarding. Then again, people who buy Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins are buying it specifically because they want a hard game, and that's exactly what they're going to get.

I've beaten the game to the extent that I want to beat it. I've found all 33 Rings of Light, but I did it with the assistance of the second run through and some guides. I don't plan on trying to get the best ending, at least not anytime soon.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Backlog Update: The Legeond of PixelGhosts

After much screwing around and avoiding them I finally beat The Legend of Zelda, Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins and PixelJunk Shooter 2. The two former required the use of, the latter required the use of an update which gave me a counter of how much treasure I had collected.

With this in mind I must select my new opponents. For the Playstations 3, I choose DeathSpank, the action game by Hothead. For the DS I choose Lunar Knights, from Kojima Productions. For the PSP I choose Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Lastly, for the Wii I choose Super Paper Mario.

Adventures in Amateur Game Design, part 3: Specialty Design

Like this, but also completely not like this.
So how do the specializations in my RPG differ from the specializations that most people are accustomed to from World of Warcraft? Currently in World of Warcraft, your specialization provides you with a special ability as soon as you pick it at level 10 and provides you with many, minor customization choices as you level. What I don't like, and Blizzard also doesn't like, is that many of the choices feel like false choices where many of the things are 'mandatory' in order to play optimally. I also don't like how many choices there are and the fact that in making one choice, you often have to invest multiple points to make that choice. Furthermore, whichever tree you pick to put points in as your 'secondary' tree doesn't really change your playstyle, just your efficacy.

For my design, I wanted your spec choice to occur at level one, so that different players of the same class can feel different from the beginning. This is reinforced by your primary spec giving you a special ability at level one. As you level up, your spec automatically gives you new abilities at certain levels. To allow for customization and choice, there is a customization system for each class. As currently conceived, the warrior and the rogue have similar systems and the priest and mage share similar systems. This will be the topic of the next post in the series.

Furthermore, after picking a primary spec the player also picks one of the two remaining specs to be their secondary spec. Despite the level one ability, the only difference between your primary, secondary, and tertiary specializations is the rate at which you gain new abilities from them. Meaning that some abilities won't be gained by players who don't choose it as their primary spec. This, too, will be the topic of a later post.

Another aspect of WoW specializations is that certain abilities, despite being available to people who picked each spec, aren't used by players of each spec. For example, every WoW rogue learns Rupture, but now all of them will use Rupture. This seems like a counter-intuitive design and so any ability that the player gets, I want them to use. To that end, if an ability is attained by a player of one spec, I want it to be just as effective and useful to a player of another spec.

In short, for the specializations we have:
  • chosen at character creation,
  • provides an immediate ability that is unique,
  • meaningful secondary specialization,
  • ability strength equality,
  • and an engaging customization system.
Details about the customization systems is what will follow in the next post.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Demo Roundup

I played a batch of demos recently and here's what I thought of them.

This was a great demo. It really made me want to play the game. I already knew what to expect out of Limbo, so I wasn't surprised by anything that was in it. But it did give me a good appreciation for the tone of the game. I plan to buy this.

Dead Block
This was kinda like a really strange and poorly designed tower defense game with zombies. The problem with it is that the design seems kind of bad, the goofiness isn't endearing, the controls are shit and the camera is shit.

I didn't really have any idea what to expect out of this game, much less its demo. It's a block puzzle type game with relationship segments and LOTS of anime. It was actually really really fun and made me really want to buy the game. If you have PS3 or 360, I would definitely suggest downloading this demo. Once I get the money I'm going to buy it.

Beyond Good and Evil HD
This demo was also really good. You can definitely feel how it's an earlier last generation game, but the story that I caught was really good and the characters and voice acting was enjoyable. I plan on getting this game as well.

To recap that's 3 games I'm going to buy and one that I'm sorry that I ever touched.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Adventures in Amateur Game Design, part 2: Changes

Since the original inception of the idea, almost everything about the classes has changed. To start, there would still be four classes. Except they would go from being defender, warrior, archer, and geomancer to warrior, rogue, mage, and priest. Furthermore, each class would go from being a set list of abilities to a three-specialization implementation. So what are all of these classes?

The warrior specs would be shield, 2-handed, and dual wield. The shield spec would focus on defense. The 2-handed spec would focus on powerful attacks and debuff type abilities that originate from overpowering the opponent. The dual wield spec would focus mainly on doing damage through fast, multiple attacks.

The rogue specs would be dagger, bow, and tools. Dagger spec would focus on melee attack, evasion, and maneuverability with weakness exploitation. Bow spec would (of course) focus on ranged attacks. The tool spec would focus on traps and other gadgets to use in battle.

The mage is much like your typical wizard with the specs of arcane, pet, and enhancement. The arcane tree is the typical spellcasting tree, focus on damage spells and other things, such as teleportation. The pet tree would have a permanent companion with special abilities for the pet or to temporarily enhance the pet. The enhancement tree is the one that I'm most unsure about and would love to find a better idea for, it would have buff spells. You can see how it's a fairly shallow idea that needs more. Illusion may be added, as well as debuff abilities, I just need to solidify it.

The priest wouldn't be similar to the WoW priest. The priest would be very tied to the games lore. The priests would be those who celebrate and practice balance and be very tied to the original geomancer concept. The specs would be life/death which would focus on healing, nature, and decay magic. Then there'd be the earth/wind specs and the fire/water specs, which would focus on manipulating those particular opposing elements.

Next time I'm going to talk about how the specs would work, since they function very differently from the WoW specs which are probably what most people reading this are thinking about.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Adventures in Amateur Game Design, part 1: Introduction

This was originally going to be "Adventures in Amateur Game Design: Part 1: Introduction: How I got started: Fun with subtitles" but Sarah told me that was stupid. The idea, however, remains the same. Why did I decide to start making a game and what is it?

The idea began to develop after watching How to Train Your Dragon. I really thought that movie established a credible basis upon which to design a game. It's even something that gets poked fun at in the movie.  So I really liked the vikings versus dragons setting.

As far as classes go, there were four: defender, warrior, archer, and geomancer. The defender was a shield using, defensive class. Warrior and archer are self-explanatory. The geomancer would be the mage-type class with an emphasis on some Avatar-esque elemental magic. All the classes would have some magic that would go with their particular niche. They would have attack magics as well as support oriented magic. The defender had personal and party defense magic. The warrior had attack and party buff magic. The archer had attack and enemy debuff magic. The geomancer was just plain magical.

For the system, it would have been a d10, White Wolf-type, system that would use the other dice for damage. I wanted abilities to be of the D&D 4th edition type where they have a certain number of uses per a period of time. I also wanted an initiative system that would allow for dynamic turn ordering, where a character could be 'faster' and have their turn come around more often. Furthermore, I wanted a character to be able to abstain from action to have their next turn come around faster.

That was pretty much all I had before I ran out of ideas and steam roughly a year ago. The idea has since returned to me in full force and I'll be talking about the things that I've changed since then and the inspirations for where they came from. I'll be talking in depth about how I'm going to capture each of these ideas that I've had. Stay tuned, because I think this will get pretty interesting.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Many things have all happened today. The first was that I went and got a haircut this morning. I'd been putting off getting one for a long time because I'm cheap AND lazy. My hair was way too long for the heat that we've been having, plus it would need to be cut just in case I had a job interview (or something important like that).

Speaking of....later in the day, I received a call from my mom, who had just run into an old friend whose company they work for is in dire need of someone who can work with SAS. She told her about me and I've sent off my resume and talked to some people already and I'm 90% sure that I have a full-time job. I may find out on Monday that I'll have a job.

Then this afternoon, right as I was about to make a phone call concerning this job, I received a phone call from Acxiom wanting me to interview for a job that I had applied for with them. This one would be a DBA Assistant, which wouldn't be directly what I want to do on a permanent basis, but it would be something, I set up the interview for Wednesday, but I'll cancel if I get this other job since I'd rather do something with my field (for obvious reasons).

Clearly, I should have gotten a haircut sooner, since Occam's Razor dictates that all of this happened because I finally got one. It would suffice to say that I'm REALLY EXCITED AND HAPPY RIGHT NOW!

::fingers crossed::

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Weird Dreams Times 4

I had four very strange dreams last night. I'm honestly surprised that I can remember them all.

The first dream was Harry Potter related. In it Ron and Harry (post graduation) went off on a long adventure, presumably as part of their auror duties. Hermione was upset and invited Draco over and the two hooked up and started living together. Draco redecorated the place (lots of bold colors and shirtless male mannequin everywhere). When Ron and Harry got back Draco ran away. Ron was very pissed at Hermione for this betrayal, but Hermione was even more mad at Ron for leaving for such a long time.

Field of Puppies
In this dream Sarah and I were vacationing with my parents. The house we were staying at had a fence surrounding it. Within the confines of that fence was more puppies that I can even imagine. They were everywhere! They were SOOOOO cute. They played and napped and ran all over. Later in the dream there were bees all over the place and I was worried about the puppies, but they never were stung. The bees did take down and kill several birds though.

Strange Guests
In this dream Sarah and I had just bought our own house. It was large and confusing. She was away doing something and I was using the toilet. While I was using it, she barged in and started talking to me. I freaked out and told her to go away (since I was on the toilet). She came back in with two friends of ours, Sam and Mike, except Sam wasn't the one that I currently hang out with, but she was one so similarly named from several years ago. Sam wasn't even acknowledging my presence, and I don't know if it was because I was on toilet or if it was because of some past transgression.

I left to go get more dressed, so I went to the bedroom. While there and digging through a pile of clothes for something to wear, one of the legs of a chest of drawer snapped off and the whole thing fell onto its side. That's all I remember from that dream.

Band Practice
This dream took place in high school, my senior year. The band director told me that I would be playing saxophone on this particular piece we were practicing. I hadn't played saxophone in years and would likely be terrible at it. He insisted, however, so I got out my saxophone and started to put it together. I figured it wouldn't work because the reed would be so old. We started playing the piece, but I couldn't get a single note out because I had incorrectly assembled the instrument. The song finished and band practice was over. Nobody noticed that I had been silent the whole time.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Backlog Update: Platforming

I took a break from Zelda-ing to work on some platformers. I decided that I needed to beat Super Mario Bros. from start to finish with no continues or warps, so I did that. It took me several attempts, but I got it down. I then went on to beat Super Mario Bros. 3 again, because it was fun.

Then I put Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins in my PSP because I hate myself. That game is so hard, it's ridiculous. I've made some decent progress in but I'm getting so mad at the current level.

I think that the next thing that I'm going to try is something completely new and unplayed to me. I'm thinking about giving up on Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and writing it off my list as something that I don't want to beat. It's just not as fun as I'd like and I think my reluctance to play it is holding me back because I feel I should play it instead of playing other things. I'll just look up the story spoilers later.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What happened to turn-based RPGs?

Growing up, some of my most important gaming experiences were turn-based RPGs. Final Fantasy 6, Chrono Trigger, and Earthbound were three of the most important games to me of the Super Nintendo era. These days, the turn-based RPG is in decline. Square-Enix themselves have abandoned the TBRPG format for their flagship Final Fantasy series. They aren't gone, certainly, and there are new turn-based RPG releases, but they are fewer, further between, and not as 'big' as they used to be.  Why?

I'm sure there are several reasons, but I think that one of the big ones is the increased strength of modern consoles allowing for better artificial intelligence.

The main appeal of the classic turn-based RPG (TBRPG) was that you had a party, and savvy players would exploit the synergy created by their party members to make a strong group. Furthermore, the draw of the TBRPG was the complex stories and character development that you got by having a large roster of characters.

In order to have the multiple characters all act, this used to require their actions to be selected by the player, since having the computer choose the actions intelligently would have consumed processor cycles that couldn't be spared. Since choosing actions for multiple characters in real time would be difficult for the player, a turn-based system was adopted.

With more powerful consoles, it became more possible for the console to come to intelligent decisions regarding movement and action, not only for the enemies but also for your allies. This freed up the player to just control one character, allowing them to create a greater depth of control and gameplay for this one character.

The turn-based RPG game does stand alone as a great type of game, one that I enjoy immensely. But it's good now that it's no longer required in order to do a party-based story.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Fourth of July Weekend

This Fourth of July weekend, Sarah and I went up to my parent's cabin in Hardy, AR on the Spring River. We left Saturday at around 7:00pm and arrived there at around 9:30pm. We spent an hour or so just sitting on the front porch talking with my mom. The next day we went for a long walk with my dad down the river's edge and then we went up to Mammoth Springs to visit our family friend Glenda's cabin and check out the source of the river.

When we got back, we ate lunch and just sat on the porch for a while, watching the river. They kept pressuring us to go and canoe and swim in the river, but we didn't have swimsuits. So we instead went into town to check out the shops. It was Sunday, so some of them were closed, but there were several neat little shops, mostly filled with antiques. We did not get to go into the goth shop, the tattoo and piercing parlor or the book store.

When we got back from town, my mom insisted on teaching us how to play bridge, which is ultimately a pretty simple game, but the guidelines (not rules) for how you do the initial bidding are VERY complicated. Then there was dinner and we watched some fireworks. The next cabin over was launching the very large, loud fireworks from the road. That day my grandmother was also there, so Sarah and I spent the evening in a hotel.

The next morning we caught this show on TV called How the States Got Their Shapes. That show was way more interesting than it had any right being. We eventually had to stop watching it so we could check out. We got breakfast at The Corner Booth, which had some great, cheap breakfast food (served all day).

Then we took the hour-and-a-half drive to Mountain Home to check in on Sarah's dad. We visited him at the store and hung out with him for a while before he got off and we had some good grilled food. After being in Mountain Home for a couple hours, we drove back to Little Rock. We saw zero cops on the 3.5 hour drive home.