Bad Game Design: Limiting Play

There’s nothing I hate more, when playing a video game, than being railroaded. When a game tries to force me along a set path at a set rate, I only go kicking and screaming. Being cattle prodded is not fun to me, and what else would I be playing for? (Well, besides pain management, because gaming is something I only do when I feel like utter crap – it’s an easy way to crank up the endorphins.) The worst form of railroading is setting a ticking clock to artificially create a sense of urgency. It’s fine for casual games like Bejeweled, because there’s nothing to focus on but a few shiny tiles, but in a game where the devs built an interesting world to explore, rushing the player through it is bullshit.

The only thing I bought from the Steam Sale this year is a package of all the old Fallout games for less than ten bucks. I was feeling nostalgic, but one thing I wasn’t nostalgic for was the time limit on the first game in the series. My brother bought it back around its time of release, and I wouldn’t touch it for that reason. I played the second, which didn’t have a time limit, and enjoyed the hell out of it. I only went back and played the first after they removed the time limit in the patch, because by then the game developers realized how much it was a bad idea.

For you see they added all this cool crap you could get as you gained levels, but the original game wouldn’t let you get much past level 12 before the entire game world went up in flames due to a hidden timer that destroyed one town after another as you wasted time, you know, having fun playing the damned thing. They originally designed the game for the type of player who burns through the main quest and doesn’t give a crap about anything else. Then they realized, after tons of people complained, that there was a whole other type of player who likes building a character, exploring, and generally dicking around. These were the people who enjoyed it as a game rather than an interactive movie where you get to shoot things on the screen until the credits roll.

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Clash of the Obsessions

Octavia Butler once wrote about “positive obsession” – something constructive you do because you just can’t stop yourself. It completely takes you over. For her it was writing, and led to a great career. But what do you do when you have more than one, and they keep wrestling with each other?

I’ve struggled with this for ages. I keep bouncing back and forth between one art and another. For a while, one takes over – and I’m driven to do nothing but. It feels great, but at the same time I neglect my other passions when I’m fully immersed in one of them. I can’t seem to find a balance.

This is why I’ve had a problem finding a career, because a professional has to focus on what pays, and keep doing it even when it’s a chore. Instead, when I’m feeling unchallenged, or over-challenged, or bored, I jump into something else entirely and get all caught up in it.

I’ve read all kinds of advice like, “Write down five things you love to do. Now figure out the one you want to do most and AVOID THE OTHERS LIKE THE PLAGUE FOREVER.” Maybe that’s the only way I’ll ever be a pro writer, if I give up all other art forms completely – but it feels like I’d be losing a richer life. I don’t want to be single-minded. I want to have hobbies as well, but it’s a little like having dessert before a fantastic feast. You fill up on the guilty pleasure and have no room for just-as-tasty food that’s good for you.

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Texturing: Part 3 – The Big Picture

Last week I talked about photo-manipulating textures and the week before I talked about finding images to work with. This week I’m going to talk about the bigger picture: design. Or how to integrate textures into your work, whether two or three dimensional.

 

Sometimes a simple texture is better than a complex one.

 

I’ve talked before about the dangers of tunnel vision while designing. A texture might look beautiful close-up the entire time you’re working on it, only to wrap it on a 3D object or slide it beneath some text to find it’s too much. If you can’t focus on the content on a page design, or if every rock and brick in a game is screaming, “Look how textury I am!” you’ve overdone it. Every pixel should not be screaming for attention.

For example, I remember when the game Oblivion came out, starting a fad among modders to make everything look mucho crinkly because somehow people thought more texturerered equals bettererer. That game was fuggin ugly, and part of that had to do with everything looking like someone left the plastic wrap on before baking it in an oven – that and the weird potato people.

Also, too-interesting patterns will more likely give away your tiling textures for what they are.

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Texturing: Part 2 – Making Textures

Last week I talked about how to build a texture library with your own photographs. This week’s post is about how to manipulate them into something you can use in either a design project or 3D modeling. Once you develop skills with Photoshop or its clones, it becomes faster and easier to turn a half-decent texture into a great one yourself rather than scouring the internet for the perfect image. Plus the one you make yourself will be unique to your project, saving yourself the embarrassment of finding out you’ve used a stock photo or texture equivalent to the Wilhelm Scream.

Websites like tuts+ have tutorials in the bag, so I won’t go into heavy detail here. Instead I’m going to compile a list of tips I have to remind myself of over and over again:

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Texturing: Part 1 – Finding Textures

“Where do you get your textures?” is something I’m asked from time to time. I have a huge stock of textures for modding and graphic design. I used to scour Google Image Search for hours, then have to check the copyright permissions on every image I found. It’s frustrating finding the perfect image only to find you have to shell out ten dollars for it or make do with something else. In the end I’ve found it better to make them myself whenever I can. There is a lot to it however, which is why this post will come in several parts.

Building a solid texture library will take some strain off finding them every time you start a project. I started my library with a free download of low resolution textures, which are no longer good enough to use even in my hobby work, but it gave me a solid foundation to learn from. It came with folders filled with tiling metal, stone, wood, leather, cloth, water, and so on. It taught me how to value a simple textures that don’t out-shout the content they’re meant to compliment, which I’ll talk about in Part 3: The Big Picture. It also taught me how to kludge a handful of lesser textures together in Photoshop into something serviceable, which I’ll cover more in Part 2: Making Textures. But mostly it taught me what to look for as I roam with my camera – a texturer’s best friend.

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When Details Matter

Last week I talked about how excessive detail can bury the purpose or meaning of a work, and also waste your and your audience’s time. But there’s a time and a place for heavy detail work, and becoming a better artist is learning to recognize when it’s appropriate and when it’s not. If you do it right, you awe people when they realize how much care you put into the project. There are also times when people will only notice on a subliminal level, praising work for its realism even when they can’t put their finger on exactly how it achieves it.

About not showing your homework when it comes to world building – people don’t appreciate a massive info dump in the middle of a narrative, but that doesn’t mean don’t do your homework at all. You can end up with a hundred thousand words of notes, especially if you’re working on a large series, that never make it into the story directly, but influence its outcome behind the scenes. The key to managing the amount of work you put into your “story bible,” verses how much actual narrative you get on the page, is learning to recognize when your bible mechanics matter.

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Fanfic is Not a Threat

How do you feel about fanfic? Does the thought of basement dwellers shitting all over your favorite franchise make you shudder? Does the idea of someone stomping all over your vision make you hulk out? Well, maybe it’s time to calm down over this douche-tide in a pony vagina (I’m going for a non-cliche way of saying “tempest in a teapot” – I don’t think I was entirely successful). Fanfic has been a thing for ages, and it hasn’t destroyed literature yet.

To gain some perspective, I’m going to turn to modding for a moment. I recently posed the question: how do you feel about other people modding your mods? The group I talked to were pretty cool about it, even found it flattering, but I’ve encountered modders who get bent out of shape about people messing with their “artistic vision” – which is bullshit, and here’s why.

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Defining Characters by the Crap They Own

Setting a scene in a story, no matter the medium, benefits from attention to detail. The best video games have taken this art to new levels. It has to, if the player is allowed to poke around in every corner of the scene. In fact, the setting often forms the core of the story. Building an environment around a culture or set of characters gets lumped in to “world-building” among writers, but it’s something all writers do, when they select the objects a character owns or the kind of house they live in.

Environment design is a nebulous discipline in game design and animation, ranging from laying out virtual buildings to lighting scenes and placing clutter. Creating a game environment with a strong story is the secret to “immersion.”

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Higher Poly Does Not Equal Betterer

I’ve been quiet the past few weeks due to a manic cycle in which I could not stop working on my latest obsession, 3D modeling. At some point I’m going to have a rant about how terrible Blender is to work with, but for the moment I have to rant about something else: the modding community’s confusion about what actually improves the look of models. I’ve seen people simply save original game textures at a larger size, call them higher resolution, and slap them up on a modding site for download. I’m not even going to be nice about this. Anyone who believes that improves anything is a moron. Resizing does not equal resampling. All that does is make the same level of pixelation take longer to load.

I’ve also run across tons of people who assume a higher poly model is going to look better, which is easier to understand because in most cases higher poly models do look better, when those extra polys are actually doing something to define the shape of the object. It’s not easy for people to spot models with a ton of superfluous vertices, because they’re not as obvious as pixels when viewing them outside a 3D modeling program. So, I’m going to show you:

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Get Fezzed

Mucking About

This week I’ve been working on the new Uvirith’s Legacy Website, using it as an opportunity to better get to know WordPress because I have a lot of content for that site ready to go. I’m quite impressed by the Ignite theme, and may switch to it for this site as well—we’ll see. I’m also using a different slide-show plug-in that has touch responsive options, and may switch over my galleries here. It’s been quite an undertaking because I’m editing the content as I convert it into the new format. One thing I wasn’t as good at, half-a-decade ago when I wrote most of it, was brevity. No wonder people asked some of the same questions over and over. It’s not like what I’d written was crystal clear. Hopefully it is now (it’s certainly more searchable in this format). Though there’s still enough information to fill a book. It’s a big mod.

The next bit is TL;DR, but it’s maybe worth a laugh:

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