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Batman: Arkham Origins Review

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As you may have read, my initial impressions of Batman: Arkham Origins were pretty high. Now that I have finished the game, well not completely finished but done with the main quest and boat load of side quests, my opinion has changed.

I am not saying that Batman: Akrham Origins is a bad game by any means but over time it seems to loose its sense of greatness. The game just seems to harken back towards ideas and designs from Arkham Asylum and Arkham City as it progresses.

Given that a new studio and a new team are at the helm as a developer I don’t blame them for playing it safe with tried and true mechanics established from the first two games for their take on the franchise. However, as a gamer I really wanted more from the third installment of the Arkham series of games.

It has been a while but I will try to cover all my thoughts in the format that I have done in the past by covering the good, the bad, and the ugly side of Batman Arkham:Origins. As always I will keep it spoiler free.

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The Good

Like I said earlier I can’t fault new devs for sticking with what works in terms of a Batman game. If you liked Arkham Asylum and Akrham City then you will probably enjoy Arkham Origins. It is pretty much more of the same, you can sneak around, perform takedowns, use crazy gadgets to solve puzzles, and kick some serious ass with the amazing melee combat system. The game does a pretty solid job of once again putting you into the shoes of the cape crusader.

Aside from what is known about the game, the one thing that stands out to me is definitely the attention to detail within the many interior spaces of the game. True, most of the game takes place outdoors in the snowy town of Gotham City, which also looks amazing, but for some missions and sidquests Batman finds himself in tighter interior spaces.

Each interior area of the game is very unique with great details and some pretty awesome lighting covering a wide spectrum of colors. Along with great lighting, the interior spaces had great flow and with detail work done by artists and level designers each space felt quite real as if it belonged in Gotham. Perhaps my favorite location in terms of detail, lighting, and believability was the Batcave.

Given the narrative of the game, Batman is still learning to be Batman. The Batcave has all the right details to showcase this. The only main thing Batman has at his disposal in terms of vehicles is the batwing, which looks like a first prototype compared to future designs of the batwing.

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Batman has the batcomputer which is easy to find, but if you take the time to explore the Batcave you can see some subtle story telling. There is an area for training with dummies Batman would use for training (the player can use these in game). Off to the side is a work bench where new gadgets are made ( and in game players can get new toys for Batman to use). Nearby is a makeshift ER room, with X-rays and a gurney, one could believe that this is where Alfred would patch up Batman every night after he dished out some serious beatdowns.

Further out from the Batcave the player can find the service elevator which leads up to Wayne manor. All of this is great but the icing on the cake in terms of visual story telling is seeing the iconic Batmobile under construction! If am not mistaken it same one that is seen in Arkham Asylum.

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The Bad

A flaw of this game is that it is more of the same gameplay we saw in Akrahm City. You go around the city fighting various low lifes and iconic Batman villains. The plot is decent but predictable, the basic premise is that Black Mask has put a price on Batman’s head, the first assassin to kill him before the night is over wins the cash. There a few plot twists along the way but nothing to cause your jaw to drop to floor.

On the topic of gameplay, nothing seems different aside from the crime scene investigations which are kind of cool in the way they are presented. Aside from that, Batman has pretty much all of the same tools and gadgets used in the same ways we have seen before. For example you still use the decoder tool to bypass locks or the explosive gel to create new paths. I would have really liked to see more from the new devs to create a new gadget or two for Batman and add gameplay mechanics around those new devices.

Combat is the same too, either you can jump into a pit of bad guys and beat the crap out of them or find sneaky vantage points above or below enemies to perform signature takedown moves.

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The one thing that bugged me the most was that after every combat encounter a score was calculated on screen and converted into XP points. This felt too arcade like and at times can break the immersion. I am not aware of a way to turn it off. I understand the reasoning for the points and XP is to help me level up to new Batman gear and combat moves, but I would have rather had that be behind the scenes rather than on screen for each combat. If anything it should be a player option, arcade mode with points and numbers or pure immersion Batman mode.

In summary there is not a lot of innovation from the gameplay front. But if you dig the combat of the past two games it feels very familiar and easy to get back into the swing of things with the controls and combat of Arkham Origins.

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The Ugly

 You may recall a while back I wrote a blog post on boss fight designs and what sets a part the most iconic boss fights from the worst boss fights. In that post I also mentioned that making boss fights is hard and in most cases some places have a dedicated boss fight designer as creating boss fights and creating a great boss fight is not an easy task. (blog post can be found here) Well sadly, in my opinion Batman: Akrham Origins has some pretty bad boss fights. It is perhaps the worst part of the game when you encounter an iconic villain to fight.

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Batman: Akrham Asylum had some pretty cool and memorable fights. Sadly, Arkham Origins fails to hit any of those notes. At times some of those amazing boss fight beats are copied but not executed in the same way. Pretty much a boss fight in Arkham Origins boils down to the following rules. Dodge around a ton, wait for a window to punch the boss a bit, dodge again, follow the quick time events watch and animation play out and then repeat until the boss is defeated.

That rule or process does not feel fun in any way. And more often than not each boss fight will take about a few tries to get past because if you fail the dodge test or quick time events you take a ton of damage from the boss leading towards failure and eventually restarting the fights over and over till you finally memorize the patterns and timing.

Thinking back the past two Batman games had similar approaches to bosses but something that I can’t put my finger on is different and lacking. Not sure it was the overall presentation or execution, or maybe back then this felt cool and doing it for a third time against Batman villains now feels mundane. I don’t know I could be wrong, regardless the boss fights are quite bad this time around.

Along with the boss fights, near the end of the game, the combats seem to be dragged out. Yeah I know I said no spoilers but this a minor one. Basically the game kind of turns into room-combat-room very linear. Enter a space, beat up 20 people, walk to the next space beat up 20 more people… so lame and not fun in my opinion you kind expect more from Batman but I guess this was the signal from the devs that end of the game is near so tons of combat in your face.

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Final Thoughts

In summary the visuals are great, the gameplay is familiar but not innovative, and boss fights are terrible. My first impressions were a 9/10, this was my knee jerk Batman fanboy rating. Now after playing a total of 22 hours of gameplay and only 35% completion (seriously there must a ton of fluff content besides the main quest and interesting side quests.)

Based on my review I would give this game 7.5/10. The game is not bad, but it is not great either. If you got the time, and are fan of the Batman games give it a try is least I can say. Also there is a MP part to the game. I have not tried it and can’t really say much about it until I fire it up.

As always I can be reached on twitter [at]mozidesigner, hopefully you have enjoyed my review of Batman: Akrham Origins.

Cheers and y’all enjoy your Thanksgiving break!

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Batman: Arkham Origins – First Impressions

A while back Batman: Arkham Asylum raised the bar on what a super hero game should be, and the sequel Arkham City out did the previous title in quality and scope. Now we have Arkham Origins a prequel game before the events of the other two games. Aside from being a prequel, the game also has a new home with a different dev studio, WB Montreal instead of Rocksteady.  With new people at the helm, skepticism of quality and meeting the mark set by another company can be quite high. So does Arkham Origins meet the mark or does it fall short?

Since I installed the game yesterday I have played it for three hours and I have to say the game has won me over once again. Yes, there are new people making the game and new voices in the cast as well.  Batman is no longer Kevin Conroy  and Mark Hamill is no longer the Joker both being long time fan favorites since the 90′s cartoon show. I know that Troy Baker is now the Joker but I have not come across him yet, however Roger Craig Smith is doing a pretty solid job at voicing Batman.

The gameplay of Arham Origins is very solid and similar to that of the previous games. The hand to hand combat is still one of the best I have ever seen in any video game. Glad to see that new dev team stick to the roots of what made the Batman games successful rather than toss everything out and reinventing the wheel.

Visually this game is far more impressive! The lighting of the levels is quite amazing with various color tones ranging from cool blues to harsh reds and everything else in between. Not only is the lighting better but the interior section levels have a lot more detail, so take your time and walk around to explore the spaces when there is no combat!

My only issue thus far is the second big boss fight. I won’t say who it is or what happens but I will say that I found it a tad bit frustrating compared to the rest of the combat flow of the game. A lot of die and try gameplay at that boss fight which was starting to piss me off until after my 6th or 7th try I finally got past it. Hopefully, future boss fights are not as hard or frustrating but that moment was kind of a downer and killed the fun. I could be wrong about this second boss fight and it could be more of user error on my part of not reacting fast enough with slower gamer reflexes while playing the game at 3AM.

I could keep talking but I will save the rest of my comments for a final summary once I beat the game. So for now I would rank this game based on first impressions 9/10!

DM-Smog Released

Here it is! I finished up the UT 3 map I was working on, you can now download it and play it!   I had few friends test out the map and overall their feedback was helpful to make a few tweaks.  Hopefully, y’all will enjoy it.  As always you can ping me on twitter @mozidesigner for any constructive comments or questions about the map. Please note this is a one on one map, so play it with a bot or a friend. More players may become too chaotic for the size of the level.

Enjoy!

Download link: http://www.mozidesign.com/Levels/DM-Smog.zip

 

 

The Design of a Boss Fight

The other day I was reading an article in PC Gamer about the thirteen worst game design crimes. http://www.pcgamer.com/2013/01/22/game-design-sins/ A great article to read, and it got me thinking about two of the topics related to boss fights. Boss fights are not easy to design, in fact I would say it one of the hardest things to get right for any game designer. To preface things I am not expert on boss battle designs. I have done a few back when I was at Vicarious Visions but my ideas for this post stem off what I have learned from other more talented combat designers and from my own observations from games that had memorable boss fights. Some of this may come off as common sense but sometimes common sense is overlooked.

Boss fights have been around in games for years, it is the end goal of a level or the entire game, it is the bad guy, the head honcho who needs to be taken out to complete the journey of being the hero. Sounds simple enough, but from a design perspective a lot goes into making it work to feel heroic and to make it memorable to the player in a good way.

In my opinion boss fights should have a few things to make them work. A great reveal of introducing the boss, showing the threat the boss has, finding the weak spot, and finally rewarding the player with an epic ending. One game out there that stands out from the crowd for great boss fights is God of War. The very first boss fight with the hydra is classic example of doing it right.

First off we get a great reveal, and the threat is clear, the hydra will eat you alive if you don’t fight back. During the fight we are given a hint at the weak spot as the camera pans up to the large hook allowing the player to impale the smaller hydra heads. Though not an epic ending, killing off the smaller heads rewards the player for their actions by providing health and other resources needed to successfully complete the boss fight. While attacking the larger hydra head the player is introduced to the weak spot during combat as the ships mast gives way as the player smashes the hydra’s head into it. The epic ending to this battle showcases the player impaling the larger hydra head onto the ship’s mast.

That’s how to do it right. So where can one fail? I mentioned a while back when talking about Deus Ex: Human Revolution is that the boss fights were pretty bad. In fact most everyone unanimously thinks they were bad. As mentioned in the PC Gamer article the design sin of bullet sponge bosses is just not fun. In fact they never were. Let’s take a look at the DX:HR boss fight.

The reveal for this boss is pretty lame, he is just standing there in room. We see the threat of the minigun but before we can understand the threat, that gun is blasting. If you are not fast enough to hide behind that one small piece of half height cover quickly, you die before the fight even begins. We have no idea what the weak spot is, or what the gimmick is to bring this guy down. Just keep firing and wait till he dies. And the ending, well after pumping enough bullets to fuel a small militia I am sure the player is just happy that is over and can move on from this annoyance. Looking back at this boss fight it has some of the elements to make a boss fight, the reveal, the threat, etc. but they were all executed upon poorly.

Another concept for creating great and memorable boss fights is the idea of telegraphing. Telegraphing in game design is the idea of showing the player what is about to happen so that they can do what they need to do avoid an attack or find that window of opportunity to strike back at the boss. Again, I could go back to God of War, as that is one of the highest standards for great boss fights. Though to break things up lets look at another good boss fight example to show case the concept of telegraphing. I am sure there are many examples out there of well telegraphed boss fights but one that comes to mind form a recent game is Bane, from Batman: Arkham Asylum.

If you pay attention you can see two (technically three) distinct moves Bane does during this fight. One his charge attack, and the second throwing large chunks of concrete. I say three because it is not showcased in this video, but Bane has a third move where he tries to grab you if you get too close to him during the fight. All three of these attacks have an animation and sound cue to alert you, the player, of which attack is coming up next. Before the charge we hear Bane roar, and his pipes light up, when you see that, get out of the way! During the fight we see Bane walk up to wall and tear out a piece of it before throwing it. Again another cue to dodge that attack. Simple stuff that makes the boss fight better and more entertaining for the player, but it can be overlooked to make the boss fight a lot harder when you don’t know what will happen next.

Along the lines of simple stuff to make any boss fight fun is feedback loops. When the player does something to the boss they want to know it worked, rather than to be left in the dark. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any examples of poor feedback loops, though I am sure I will think of one later. But let’s forget about that and focus on what makes for great feedback. I guess if any of these were left out one could easily make a pretty bad boss fight in no time.

The simplest example of a feedback loop is the health bar. A large bar on the screen that shows how much health boss has at any given stage during the fight. The lower the bar gets, the closer you are to winning. Most games have this, however some don’t , mainly old school games. For example Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2. Great games but a bit of a mystery on the boss fights. Now before you say, I am wrong about the feedback loop here, there is a feedback loop which I will discuss later, but the point here is that there is no health bar to explain how much damage I need to do to win.

Regardless of the lack of a health bar on the boss fights, to me personally, this one of the most memorable series of boss fights I have experienced ever since I started playing games way back in the day. Plus the music is great, for final boss fight. Anyways, as you can see no health bar. How much damage do I need to do, how long is this fight. I have no idea (over time you learn how many hits it takes, eight for metal sonic and ten for the giant bot if I recall correctly) I have seen this in a few other games as well where there is no health bar but subsequent forms of player feedback fill in the gap of the standard health bar.

Before I go on with feedback loops this fight with the giant bot is an amazing example of telegraphed boss attacks and adhering to the initial concepts of what makes a great boss fight with the reveal, threats, etc. Pay attention and you will see what I am talking about.

Sonic fails on the health bar, but we are given feedback via audio and visual mechanics. When Sonic hits the boss there is flash and an audio cue of a hit. Those two combined tell the player you are doing it right, keep at it! The flash and audio cue are classic example of a great feedback loop during a boss fight. As seen here with Tidal Wave from Transfomers on the PS2 (Great game by the way). Again another great boss fight to hit the high notes with the reveal, and threat it poses to the player.

The fight against Tidal Wave has both the audio and visual feedback along with the health bar, all three working together to show the player their progress in this boss fight. In modern games the flash is replaced with blood or other visual effects but the concept is the same, you attack the boss, you get some feedback that your attack worked even if a health bar is non existent.

Finally, the last design concept to make a great boss fight is the idea of Introduction, Practice, and Master (IPM). IPM can be applied to any game design concept as it follows three simple steps. Introduce an idea, allow players to practice what you introduced, then expect the player to master what they have learned. Looking back at the examples I posted, the God of War hydra fight introduces the quick time events to pull off amazing attacks. Later on the the game player gets more chances to practice this mechanic and near the end they are masters at it and quickly follow the quick time events presented on screen to defeat the final boss of the game.

If we look at the Bane fight, we see the charge and wall throwing introduced as attacks requiring the player to dodge them. During the fight the player practices their dodge against these attacks. Near the end the frequency of attacks is amped up but the player has mastered the dodge to avoid the higher frequency of attacks dished out by Bane. However, the best example of IPM applied to boss fights is the game Shadow of the Colossus. Here is the first colossi battle. Once again this boss fight hits all right notes of having a great reveal, understanding the threat, solid feedback loops, telegraphed attacks, and an epic player win at the end.

This first fight teaches the player how to bring down the boss with introductions to climbing, finding the weak spot, and how to attack the weak spot to bring the boss down. The rest of the game is all about practicing the same routines in a different ways up until the end where the player must use all of what they have learned to successfully take down the final boss, IPM at its finest.

To summarize, a great boss fight should have an amazing reveal to player in game. Players should see and understand the threat the boss poses to them. Boss attacks should be telegraphed, allowing players enough time react before the attack hits. All boss fights need to have a solid feedback loop with audio, visual and even user interface elements like the health bar to tell the player that they are on the right track during the fight. Finally boss fights should employ the concepts of introducing, practicing, and mastering a mechanic to defeat the boss.

On a side note, as much I loved the game, boss fights should not be like Far Cry 3 (the second reason why I decided to write this based on the PC Gamer article) and kill off the most badass mofos in the game with a scripted cut scene, so lame. To add insult to injury this happens three times in the game (I guess that was there attempt at IPM if it was… well I should stop while I am ahead). Each major boss is watered down to an interactive cut scene with out any hint of using boss fight standards set by other games in the FPS genre. As much as I hated them, the DX: HR boss fights were a little better due to the fact that I actually had a fight and not a cut scene.

So, next time you play game and find that the boss fight was amazing and memorable it probably followed some of these ideas I talked about. If the boss fight sucked, look back and try to find out why it sucked, and how could have been better. As always feel free to ping me on twitter (@mozidesigner) with any constructive remarks or feedback about this post.

Borderlands 2 has been released!

It’s September 18th! Borderlands 2 is here! Hopefully, everyone out there is enjoying the game. I had a blast working on this along with the rest of the team at Gearbox.

No spoilers but my share of work in the game can be found in the two main story missions of Sanctuary, a mission involving a pipeline, and various side quests. In addition I helped out with some of the level design work on Sanctuary with two other talented designers.

I will be online on Steam and Xbox game hoping with friends so if you see me online shoot me an invite and I will do my best to join your game.

Also if you missed it here is our launch trailer. Have fun, collect loot, and wreck havoc on Pandora once again. As always you can reach me on twitter if you have any comments or questions. Cheers!

 

E3 2012 Recap

E3 this year was a blast, despite some travel issues which I won’t bore you with.  Overall, both Borderlands 2 and Aliens: Colonial Marines had a great showing at E3 with the fans coming back for more, you guys rock!

I got to check out quite a few games and even got some hands on time with a few of the games I really wanted to see.  Some of the games I saw included: Gears of War-Judgment, Crysis 3, Dishonored, Sim City, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, Need for Speed- Most Wanted, and Rocksmith.

Gears of War-Judgment

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Lets start with Gears of War: Judgment. Honestly,  after Gears 3 I figured the franchise was over, but looks like we got some more chainsaw battles and shotguns to face in the near future. As I Gears fan, I am not complaining, bring it on!

At E3 the fine folks at Epic and People Can Fly brought along their new MP game mode Overrun , which basically a class based take on the classic Gears MP we all know and love. Overrun takes the best of horde mode 2.0, beast mode, and touch of Unreal Tournament’s assault mode for an all out battle royal between the COG and Locust over various in game objectives.

For the E3 demo there was one objective to destroy a generator but damn, it was quite fun to play the role of the COG defenders as well as the Locust attackers. Can’t wait to play more Overrun once Judgment comes out.

Crysis 3

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Moving on to Crysis 3, what can I say expect that it looks like we have another game that is hell bent on making your current PC specs beg for mercy at the sheer amount of visual awesome sauce being thrown at it to render the amazing visuals that Crysis 3 offers. Sure the game is going to be out on Xbox and PS3 but a Crysis game in my opinion has always been a solid PC game. And this time around Crysis 3 comes out to give your PC an ass kicking it will never forget!

In the demo I saw the dev team show cased a mission where you, as the player need to infiltrate and destroy a dam. From what I saw the visuals were just amazing and the moment when dam explodes was freaking awesome! Can’t wait to play some more Crysis soon!

Dishonored

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One game I really wanted to see and play was Dishonored, and at E3 I got to do both. Dishonored is one of those games where anything goes. Meaning there is more than one way to solve a problem kind of like Thief, Deus Ex, or Bioshock. You can go all stealth or go ape shit and kill everyone in your path, the choice is yours.

The presentation of game showcased both styles of gameplay for the same mission which was very cool to see how various powers, weapons, and traversal paths can change how a mission is played out. When it came to the hands on moment, I was little confused of how to get around with some the powers such as teleporting but overall the game is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to get it and really dig into the mechanics of the game to experience various gameplay styles much like I did with Deus Ex and Bioshock.

Sim City

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Sim City, a game I practically grew up on, I could do a whole blog post of how during middle school I would skip lunch and go to the computer lab to play Sim City 2000 every single day!

Seeing the classic city building game once again brought back some good memories of building huge cities and then for shits and giggles burning the them to the ground with all the possible disasters available.

This new iteration of Sim City looks amazing and during the presentation the multilayer aspects were showcased. Basically, you can play the game with friends and combine your cities to share resources, infrastructures,  and work together to create what are known as “great works” such as huge sports arena or an international airport.  This is one game that I will sink hundreds of hours into once it comes out!

Transformers- Fall of Cybertron

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Now this is the game I was super excited for at E3, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron. Long time blog readers will know that I am a Transformers nerd, and really have a great amount respect and love for the G1 series and have grudge against the Micheal Bay films, even though I had to work movie Transformer games.

Anyways, my inner fanboy felt as if it had died and gone to Cybertron during my hands on experience with Fall of Cybertron. I got to play as Vortex who is a Decepticon, as Vortex I could be robot (of course), a helicopter, and a jet! Triple changing was so freaking awesome during gameplay as I worked with the other Decepticons to bring down  a bridge along an Autobot supply route.

Overall, the visuals are amazing and the gameplay is really solid! Grimlock from the Autobots was also playable but I did not have time to go back to play the game again, plus the line for the demos were really long. Honestly, aside from Borderlands 2 and ACM, which I hope win game of the year from various media outlets, I would put Fall of Cybertron as a game of the year contender for 2012, seriously it is that awesome!

Need for Speed- Most Wanted

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Need for Speed: Most Wanted, this perhaps the one game I really did not like at E3. No offense to any of the devs but it I kind of felt bored playing it. Maybe I need to spend more time with it when it comes out, but overall the game is basically Need for Speed mixed with Burn Out: Paradise. You have the awesome cars and cop chases of NFS  combined with the open world and take downs of Burn Out: Paradise.

I don’t know but a part of me does not like open world racing, that’s kind of why I gave up Burn Out:Paradise. Additionally, the one thing I hated most about Burnout:Paradise MP is back in all of its annoying glory, takedown griefing.  Seriously, this pissed me off at E3 during the MP hands on demo. I am trying to get my sense of direction for the next objective and before I know it I get slammed into the nearest lamp post. Or all of the players are at the meetup spot for the next race and everyone is taking each other down at the starting line before the event even starts, seriously WTF! I know it is a mechanic of the game and you can do it, but seriously it is freaking annoying that I just lost all interest in gameplay as kept getting taken down while trying to wait for a race to start. The single player seems fun but again the whole open world racing has me hesitant to play this game. Honestly, I prefer classic racing games with a set track that has defined start and end point.

Rocksmith

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Last game of my E3 recap is Rocksmith. Once again long time readers know that I worked on Guitar Hero, the lame plastic guitar game that makes you think you are playing guitar but only hitting five plastic buttons.

Rocksmith was different, I was holding a real six string! The game is really cool as real learning tool to practice and learn a real guitar instead of working towards being a pro of mashing five buttons. However, as drummer who has been hitting things for over twelve years my finger coordination was shit on a six string.

Nonetheless, the game was very easy to follow and fun. Though, I had more fun playing bass as it has less strings and follows rhythm( which I already have a sense for) instead of melody. Once I have the time to learn a new instrument I think I will pick up Rocksmith to learn how to play bass!

So there you have it, that’s my recap of E3. There were so many other games I really wanted to check out but due to time and avoidance of long lines I will have to check out those games once they are released. In addition to checking out the games I had the chance to meet up with various industry friends during the show as well as make some new friends from various game companies.

I also met Herman Li from Dragon Force! Totally by chance he walked into the same restaurant I was at for dinner with the rest of Gearbox crew. (sorry for shitty quality, camera phone) https://twitter.com/#!/mozidesigner/media/slideshow?url=http%3A%2F%2Fyfrog.com%2Fodpr9bihj

 

Falls UDK Tutorial

As promised, I made a step by step video tutorial of my last UDK map, Falls. This is my first ever video tutorial so there may be some mistakes, but  I did the best I could to go over how I approach level and visual design when it comes to making maps inside Unreal Tech. Over a period of 2 hours, I’ll go over the construction of the level  and also discuss some tips and tricks I have learned over the years when it comes to level design. Hopefully, you guys will like the tutorial and will be able to re-create the scene by following the steps and in the future use some of the tips and tricks to make your own cool visual scenes within UDK. So without further delay you can watch the entire tutorial  here: UDK LEVEL DESIGN TUTORIAL Be sure to watch it in HD!

As always feel free to leave me any questions and or constructive comments on the youtube pages of the videos or send me a message on twitter:@mozidesigner and I will do my best to get back to you guys.

Cheers!

PS. On a side note I have cleaned up my level design portfolio by removing old and out of date content along with organizing it by tool set used. From here on out I’ll post screens in either UDK or Gears page depending on my side projects I work on. Additionally, once I can share some of my levels from the games I am working on, I will add in a new page for those to keep things organized and up to date.

New UDK Scene: Falls

Over the weekend I was bored and I put this UDK scene together. It is quite small and simple, but I did that on purpose because many folks have asked, how do I do level design. And what better way to teach level design than with a small and simple level. In the next few days I will gather my notes and retrace my steps and will soon teach you guys how I put this little scene together. As always feel free to ping me on twitter @mozidesigner.

Enjoy!

Game Review Round Up

After every game I finished recently, I always said I would do a review but I never did. Sorry about that, I just tend to get side tracked by other games or mod projects such as my recent Gears of War level I made. Well instead of doing a full review in my usual fashion of the good, the bad, and ugly, I’ll do three relatively short and spoiler free reviews of the following games, FEAR 3, Infamous 2, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

FEAR 3
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FEAR 3 or as the box has it written F3AR (“fthreear”) returns once again to bring back a blend of horror and FPS gameplay. Along with the return of the gameplay style the FEAR franchise is known for, this third installment also has the return of Point Man and Paxton Fettel, the original protagonist and villain from the first game. However, instead of going against each other, Point Man and Fettel are now working together to find their mother Alma, who as usual plays the role of the freaky looking girl to scare shit out of you now and then during gameplay.

Since Point Man and Fettel are now working together in the story of the game has caused a shift in FEAR’s core single player gameplay to be co-op based, where one player can control Point Man and the other Fettel. I am going to go into some spoiler territory here, but shame on you if you have not played the first FEAR game, it’s awesome, and you should play it if you have not done so. The co-op of FEAR 3 is interesting with the fact that it offers two different gameplay styles depending on who you choose to play as. If you choose Point Man, you get a pretty standard FPS experience, guns, grenades, and melee attacks. However, if you choose Fettel you get to play the game as ghost, since technically Fettel is dead due to Point Man’s actions from the first game. As a ghost, you have some pretty interesting telekinetic attacks as well as the ability to take over the minds of enemy soldiers and use them against their teammates within the combat spaces provided within the game.

However, even though the idea of co-op is awesome for FEAR 3, I feel that the introduction of it caused a core foundation of the game to be lost, which is the horror element. I have not played co-op but I have watched some of my co-workers play it, and during their gameplay experience there are no horror moments to be seen, I found that to be odd, but then I figured that maybe the horror has not kicked in yet. Once I played the game on my own, I noticed quite a few horror moments, such as Alma sightings and other strange events, in the exact same places where my co-workers did co-op gameplay! Then it clicked for me, if you play on your own you get the scare moments, if you do co-op you don’t see anything. All you get is a standard and overall solid FPS game experience. Which brings an interesting design question, can one design co-op horror? Perhaps the answer or discussion can be saved for another blog post.

Overall, FEAR 3 was a fun game and solid FPS game, though I felt that story and horror elements within a single player only run felt weak and were not as strong as in the previous two releases of the franchise.

Final Score 7.5/10

Infamous 2
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Infamous 2 was great, in fact I stand by my opinion that any PS3 exclusive title such as God of War or Uncharted usually brings along the awesome sauce and delivers an amazing gameplay experience with extremely solid and stunning visuals. With Infamous 2, the developers at Sucker Punch Productions out did themselves by improving and expanding upon the familiar gameplay of the first title in addition to beefing up the visual quality of the game. I am not saying that Infamous 1 looked like crap or anything, that game also looked great, but the sequel looks even better than the first by giving the players a new and interesting sandbox world to explore.

To get thing started the game follows a tried and proven game design concept of giving the player an awesome and over the top introduction, with a God of War style boss fight between you and all of your awesome electrical powers against a being known as the “The Beast”. After this explosive introduction the player is taken to a new location known as New Marais, which is basically New Orleans in terms of visual design just with a different name.

Upon arriving in New Marais, the player is presented with a familiar mechanics from the first game and gameplay paths either to become evil or to be the savior of New Marais. In addition to the familiarity, one thing the guys at Sucker Punch did which was awesome is added a sense of fear and urgency to the game with the implementation of timer, in the form of distance, and a map showcasing the location of “The Beast”. After your first encounter with “The Beast” in the introduction you escape to New Marias as mentioned earlier, however, “The Beast” wants a re-match and is on its way to New Marias! Every now and then you get a message stating that “The Beast” is for example 1000 miles away from New Marias, As the distance gap closes between you and “The Beast” the sense of urgency and the anticipation builds for a rematch between your arsenal of electrical powers and the might of “The Beast”.

In addition to the overarching story of the player and the choices they make to be good or evil, the town of New Marias offers interesting gameplay mechanics and puzzles to keep you entertained. As mentioned New Marias, is basically New Orleans, and with that in mind the sandbox world offers various locations to explore including a core city, swamp lands, and a section of town which is completely flooded. The city areas presents the player with multiple routes of vertical gameplay as one can climb up various buildings and grind across power lines going from rooftop to rooftop. The swamps and flooded sections of the city create interesting traversal puzzles given the fact that player has a handful of electrical powers which don’t mix very well with water.

In summary, the gameplay is very solid and addicting, in fact I finished the game in one weekend. I could not let go of the controller! If you have not played Infamous I highly recommend it and after that play Infamous 2, both are solid PS 3 titles which offer hours of amazing gameplay!

Final Score 9/10

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
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Finally we come to Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX: HR). Before I get started I just want to point out that I am huge Deus Ex fan boy, I am one those people who regard the original Deus Ex to be one of the greatest PC games ever made. In fact I like it so much that I have original box on my desk at work! Before Human Revolution, Deus Ex had a sequel subtitled, Invisible War, and no offense to any one that worked on it but honestly that game sucked. It failed to deliver on the promise and expectations of what a Deus Ex is a game which offers multiple options of player choice, and presents the player with various consequences for their choices. I can do an entire rant on why Invisible War failed to be Deus Ex game but I’ll save that for another day. Long story short, with the disappointment of Invisible War many years ago, was quite cynical and distrustful of what Eidos would do for the third iteration, basically I was thinking to myself please to don’t screw up Deus Ex a second time! Like I said I am fan boy…

However, Eidos won me over, they made a true Deus Ex game with Human Revolution, so good in fact it makes me forget about the train wreck of Invisible War. (Again no offense to ex-Ion Storm folks out there, just sharing my honest opinion) From the start, the game offers player choice by giving the player a combat situation which can be approached head on guns blazing or if you feel clever can be completely avoided using stealth tactics. From then on, the game is all about player choice, allowing one to choose a lethal or non-lethal play style.

Each play style has its pros and cons and that is what makes DX: HR feel like a true Deus Ex game, your choices effect how everything else plays out. For example in an assault play through one may gun down all the enemies and follow the obvious path within the level. However, a non-lethal stealth run may be harder but it makes one think about alternate routes to avoid combat by finding air ducts and vents crawl through, or computers to hack to disable security measures found within a level. Again it is all about choice, me personally I choose the stealth route in my first play through and only killed enemy AI when I had no choice or was caught in a tight spot. Currently I am on my second play through now and have chosen to be more aggressive going in guns blazing killing anything that moves or shoots back! In addition to choice in core gameplay, players are also given the choice of which augmentations they want to invest in to benefit their play style, be it improved hacking skills or improved armor for combat situations.

In terms of story, DX:HR is actually a prequel to the events of the original Deus Ex and if you have played the original game, you will find tons of references to it while playing DX:HR so be sure to read all those emails, notes, and pay attention to levels especially within Picus Media and the shipyard levels.

The only major flaw this game has, and I hate to beat a dead horse, but this has been brought up over and over online and in other reviews is that the boss fights suck. And I have to agree the boss fights suck big time. Again a topic for another day of why the boss fights sucked and how they can be improved, long story short, all four boss fights felt out of place and take the player out of the mind set of being a super spy type character and throws you into an all out brawl of who can shoot faster you or the AI boss. There are some other minor flaws in regards to some visual details, characters, and animations but those can be overlooked as they do not hinder the core gameplay experience.

Shitty boss fights aside, DX: HR is an amazing game offering multiple options and play styles to keep you entertained within an alternate reality of science fiction and global conspiracy theories. You don’t need to play the original game to enjoy DX: HR, in fact it may be difficult as the visuals are highly dated on the first game, but the story does hold up if you are in the mood for some classic PC gaming and would like to have some insights onto how DX: HR and Deus Ex are related. One last thing if you do finish DX: HR stick around for the end after the credits for a nice surprise.

Final Score 8.5/10

Edit about the boss fights, it was not Edios’ fault…blame these guys instead…

Forsaken-Gears Visual Scene

I really had a fun time working in the Gears editor once again, even though many of the latest and greatest features of Unreal Engine 3 never existed in this build of the editor. Nonetheless, it was still interesting to play around with the assets to create a visual scene which could exist within the Gears universe. So without further delay check out the fly by video and the screens below. As always feel free to send any comments to me on twitter @mozidesigner. Cheers!

Watch it in HD as well!