Category Archives: Game Development

Belatedly, let’s talk about Red Dead Redemption 2

Late last month, Rockstar dropped its first teaser trailer for the brand new Red Dead Redemption 2. A series of persistent rumors had popped up some months before hinted that a sequel to the very popular Red Dead Redemption was in the work. It seems that, thankfully, they turned out to be true!

In a way, I feel like I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption for a several years. I first played it in 2013, and then I played through it again, fully, earlier this year. But during the between years, I’ve played the game sporadically, just to pick up missed side quests, do a little treasure hunting, or spend a little time meandering through its wondrous landscapes on horseback. The game is just one of my favorites, from the story to the music to the environments, and I simply need to revisit it every now and then.

Continue reading Belatedly, let’s talk about Red Dead Redemption 2

Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst – Beta Impressions

Mirror’s Edge is back! See, last weekend I had the opportunity to play around in the Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst closed beta. Now I’ll say right off the bat that the game is looking promising. I enjoyed my time with the beta and am looking forward to when Catalyst launches in early June. That said, there was a lot going on in this beta and it’s not like I didn’t have any concerns, so let’s go through this and see what you’ll want to look at as you decide whether or not you want to take to the rooftops in the City of Glass.

The Beta

From what I played, the Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst closed beta consisted of what amounted to the first hour or so of the game. I watched the opening cut-scene which kind of established where the game takes place, and just where Faith (our protagonist) stands in this world’s society. Past that, I played through a tutorial segment, one main story mission, one sidequest mission, many minor missions, and several player-defined time trials. All of these, aside from that one main story mission took place in a small section of the City of Glass, on the rooftops of course.

What’s New

Well as far as the story goes, I can tell you that the only holdovers from the original game thus far are Faith and the City of Glass. This game is absolutely a reboot; not a remake, and definitely not a sequel. In terms of actual gameplay, those who played the first Mirror’s Edge will feel right at home. All movement is controlled through the thumbsticks and shoulder buttons, though they have done some tweaking in order to eliminate much of the awkwardness that hampered the original.

Beyond that, just about everything is here is new. The City of Glass has become a fully realized overworld filled with all manner of collectibles to find and missions to take on. Overworld missions are all variations on the idea of a time trial; tasking players to get from one point to another as quickly and/or efficiently as possible. The trick here is that while the game will often suggest a path to get you where you need to go, that path will not always be the best, so it’s up to you to get to know the rooftops and create your own shortcuts. If you don’t then you’ll never be able to do much better than the basic clear time. The purpose of these missions is to earn “scrip”, which I guess is the Mirror’s Edge term for money, which is used to buy new gear and abilities for Faith. Finally, Catalyst features a pseudo-multiplayer mechanic in the form of player-defined “runs”. You see, at any point you can choose to define a route to run, and then submit it and your best time to the game. You can then compete against the ghosts of other players for the best time in your run. Is it needed? Probably not, but I must admit it was kind of fun trying to beat people at their own game.

What I Liked

Well, to be honest I found a lot to like here. The tweaked controls and move timing felt very natural compared to the original game. I still fell to my death every once and awhile, but it was almost always because I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going rather than me fighting the controls. So yes, movement felt great, which in my book was the most important thing that they needed to get right in this game. I also really enjoyed the new overworld and the missions contained within it. I’m usually very much in favor of linear gameplay, but I think the open-world environment really lends itself well to this game. I actually felt like a Runner (the faction Faith belongs to) as a clambered over the rooftops and made deliveries. I even got to know the environment better as I played and successfully beat some of my own records by going off the marked path and creating my own shortcuts! Oh, and like I said before, competing against player ghosts was also oddly compelling. It definitely had me in that “just one more run” state of mind. Lastly, I think the story has some promise this time around. I got a real sense of mystery here, so I’m looking forward to seeing where it leads.

What I Didn’t Like

All that said, I do have my concerns. Combat is back in Catalyst with a focus on hand-to-hand skirmishes rather than shoot-outs. It does feel better than it did in the original, but for the most part it still winds up doing little more than breaking the game’s flow. I should clarify a bit, there are two types of combat encounter in Catalyst so far. The first places enemies as obstacles in path to your objective, the second stops you and forces you to take out the enemies before you can continue. Now the former actually does feel really good. I always had a choice of either engaging the enemy or just zipping right past them like a wily roadrunner. I could also decide to check them into a wall or drop onto them as I made my run. This I actually found to be incredibly fun. It made me feel fast, powerful, agile, and clever. I’d always get to catch the idiot guards off-guard, and it was awesome every time! The other type of encounter was not like this.

There really should never be a need to clear a room Batman-style in this game. Every time I had to do this, it felt awkward, annoying, and repetitive. Each encounter had me running in circles around 2-4 dudes, occasionally going after one of them to throw a kick and two punches before sidestepping them to deliver another kick. Repeat until all the nasty men have fallen down. It brought to mind the worst encounters in the first game, and that’s exactly what hoping not to see in Catalyst. Mind you, these types of encounters were outnumbered by the fun kind, so hopefully that will hold true in the full game. I also didn’t see much point to having an upgrade system, but it might have been more shallow than the full version will be; this being a beta and all. Finally, I was a touch annoyed that I couldn’t customize my player icon in the game. It wanted me to go to an outside app to do that. Seriously, what’s with all these tie-in apps these days?

Is it Good Though?

So here’s the question: will Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst be good? My answer: …maybe? After getting burned by trusting the likes of the Destiny and The Division betas, I’m hesitant to recommend this game based off this beta alone. It had a lot going for it, but the big question mark it left for me was whether or not this game will continue to feel fun past the first couple of hours. I suppose that’s where the upgrade system will come in. If it can keep us feeling like we’re growing in the game, then I see Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst turning out great! If it can’t then it would probably be better to wait and pick it up on discount.

Did you get any hand’s on time with the beta? If so, what was your take? Do you consider betas reliable enough to gauge a game’s true quality?


(Promotional image from Mirror’s Edge:Catalyst official website)

The Morality System – Does it work in video games?

While it is hard to create multiple endings in video games that reflect a player’s actions; video game developers give players a false sense of control of video games. They give players moral choices to choose that do not actually affect the game’s ending or the player’s choices because players are given very limited control over a game and are pushed into a single ending. Even if a player decided to perform low moral actions non-player characters will not react adversely based upon player choices. No matter which moral path a player chooses to walk, their actions are never reflected. Rather it is a dilemma created by developers that have no real consequence. Continue reading The Morality System – Does it work in video games?

Kerbal Space Program has Cleared the Tower!

Image from publicly available images page of the Kerbal Space Program website

That’s one small step for Jebediah Kerman, and one giant leap for Kerbal-kind!

This past Monday, one of the prodigal sons of indie game development has finally left the confines of Early Access and has found its way into the wilds of full release. Kerbal Space Program has launched version 1.0, closing the book on one of the most remarkable examples of a playable beta since Minecraft. With a strong core concept, endless replayability, and a strong community of gamers, modders, and streamers, you have a formula for indie greatness.

So, in honor of Kerbal Space Program’s momentous release, let’s take a look at where it came from, what it is, and to what galaxy it may be going next.

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Playing Like a Designer – Stealth in Mark of the Ninja

Image captured by Rob

As I delve further in to game design, I find that they way I approach a game is beginning to shift. The common idea that I’ve heard bandied about is that ‘the magic disappears’ once you know how to make games. This statement is true, but also barely scratches the surface. Yes, that starry-eyed wonder and easy engrossment may fade somewhat, but it doesn’t simply leave a hole in your experience. Instead, it is replaced by a deeper understanding and appreciation for well crafted mechanics, narratives and experiences. It becomes less of “Look how awesome this game is!” and more of “Look how well the designer pulled this off!” This is what can be referred to as Playing Like a Designer – the act of seeing how the disparate game elements function and work together – to see the Man Behind the Curtain. With this column, I hope to take you for a bit of a trip behind that curtain, and talk in detail about the nuts and bolts behind some of my favorite games.

So with that, let’s get started! Let’s take a look at how Klei Entertainment crafted a top-notch stealth system for Mark of the Ninja.

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So You Want to Make Games: Motivation and Goals

Image by Flickr user: jeroen_bennink (cc)

Creating something – no matter what it may be – is a noble endeavor. It takes no small amount of passion, dedication and perseverance to see a project to completion, and games are no exception. I’ve been at the process of making my own games for a while now, and I can truly say that it has been some of the most rewarding work of my life. But it hasn’t come without its fair share of missteps and trials, and I’ve learned an enormous amount along the way. This is what I hope to share with you through this column.

I can’t teach you to make the next Minecraft. I can’t tell you the secret to making a game sell. I can’t guide you to a job in the AAA games industry(because I’ve never had one). But what I can do is share my thoughts and experience with the hope of helping you – even a little – with the process of designing and making your own games.
Continue reading So You Want to Make Games: Motivation and Goals