Monday, 29 April 2013

Legendary Transfers, Adopt now Trades, Shadow Moves and more!

Want
to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
SnD coins! Click here for more info.





Visit
the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
and change your avatar!






Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog! Making you feel at home, every week!



Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

Our Goal: $50,000



No blog post last week

Sometimes the week starts to pass and you haven't written the blog post and before you know it you say okay I'm focusing on making an update rather than write a blog post. That's what happened. But this week it's Monday I have a game plan for the week so I'm here writing the blog post. All rejoice!



Last week's update

The week before I had set out to make the second level for Cosmoids and due to server issues I wasn't able to do that. So I took last week to focus most of my time on making the level. I'm really happy with the results and would love to hear what you guys and gals think so far of Cosmoids. I'm also considering bringing it out to the public so that you can play it even if you haven't contributed to the fundraiser (as easy as that is) so that more people can have access to it and I can get more feedback. What do you guys think of that?



On top of the second level for Cosmoids, I also added Meinfoo and Timburr into the game and they will be distributed as giveaways and mystery gifts for this week.



I also made a lot of adjustments to the server code to speed things up and I'm pretty happy with the results so far. Some people tend to mention that the "new" server is not good. The thing is we never switched servers or got a new server. We are still in the same one, I've been making changes to the way things work to speed things up.



This week's update



New Story Level

This week my focus is to advance the story in PTD2. I'm really excited about this next part and hopefully I will have enough time to make it as good as it can be.



Shadow Moves

I will be adding some shadow moves from Pokemon XD: Gale of Darkness that your shadow pokemon will be able to relearn. Right now I'm not sure how many, who will learn what, and what type of effectiveness the moves will have against other types but I will keep you posted throughout the week.



Mystery Gift and Giveaway

Like most weeks, there will be a Mystery Gift and Giveaway. I've been pondering about giving out both shiny and shadow versions of each on different days as something that I could do. Either way vote on the polls to decide what you will get next.



PTD1 to PTD2 Transfers - Legendary Pokemon Arrive!

A much requested transfer is that of legendary pokemon from PTD 1 to PTD2 and it is finally time! I will be adding Articune, Zapdos, Moltres, Mewtwo and Mew to the transfer list this week!



Adopt Now for Trades

A feature I been wanting to try out for a while is for you guys to be able to put your pokemon up for adoption. Pretty much the way I'm seeing it now is that you can set an SnD coin price to your trade. A player that has SnD coins can either request a trade or straight up adopt your pokemon by paying your SnD price. You receive the coins and the other player receives the pokemon. With everything else that I have for this week I'm not sure if this will make it in time. Also you might be wondering why I don't use daily coins with this. The reason for that is the only way daily coins can exist is if they are hard to get or you can only get them at a certain rate per day. Allowing players to transfer daily coins from one account to another will open all sorts of exploits that I wish to avoid. I think this can be a great feature, what do you think?



Cosmoids

I try to move Cosmoids forward every week. I feel the more I work on it the more I want to keep working on it. I had a lot of fun just focusing on the second level. There are a few things that still need to be tweaked but I'm very excited for the future of the game. As the game becomes more developed over time, we will be talking about it more and more. For now you can play it at the funding rewards page in the PTD2 Trading Center. For this week we are tweaking the character graphic, making changes to level 1 to make it more compact and to the point, I will be figuring out ways to make the tutorial parts more understandable and easier to follow, and start work on level 3.



Weekly Progress



My Status: Not Working. Not Streaming. http://www.justin.tv/samsndgames



Cosmoids Released!


  • New character graphic tweaks (100%) - adding gloves, changing hat style, different side angles

  • Making level 1 more compact and to the point (100%)

  • Added more details to emphasize that you are protecting your house on level 1 (100%)

  • Making tutorials more easier to follow (100%)


Future PTD2 udpate Released!




  • Adopt Now for Trades (100%)


PTD2 v1.43.1 Released!


  • Mystery Gift (100%)

  • New Pokemon (100%) - Tropius, Ferroseed, Ferrothorn


    • Graphics (100%)

    • Stats (100%)

    • New Abilities (100%)


      • Iron Barbs (100%)

      • Harvest (100%)


    • New Attacks (100%)


      • Ingrain (100%)


    • Evolutions (100%)



    • Add to Trading Center (100%)

    • Add to Breeding Center (100%)




    PTD2 v1.43 Released!


    • PTD1 to PTD2 Transfers (100%) - Legendary Pokemon!

    • New Story Level (100%) - Gary makes a discovery, but is it too late?


      • Intro Scene (100%)

      • Battle (100%)


        • Battle Layout (100%)

        • Battle Wave (100%)

        • Battle Attacks (100%)


          • Target Takedown (100%)

          • Return to Pokeballs (100%)

          • Target Bomb (100%)



      • Ending Dialog (100%)


    • New Pokemon (100%) - , Articuno, Zapdos, Moltres, Mewtwo, and Mew


      • Graphics (100%)

      • Stats (100%)

      • New Abilities (100%)

      • New Attacks (100%)


        • Ice Shard (100%)

        • Mind Reader (100%) - Now last for 10 charges

        • Psych Up (100%)

        • Reflect Type (100%)


      • Add to Trading Center (100%)


    • Shadow Moves (100%) - More will be added in the future


      • Shadow Blitz (100%)

      • Shadow Wave (100%)


    • Bug Fixes (100%)


      • Shadow Unown will now stay as Shadow when you save (100%) - If you previously caught one you must catch a new one.



    Thanks for visiting! As always let me know what you think! Comments below or Twitter or at support@sndgames.com (both Dan and I read that email) Thanks!

    Friday, 26 April 2013

    Podcast!?





    Hey! Cgeez (my girlfriend) and I did a podcast thing! FIND IT HERE. And here is the direct download link. We had a good time putting this one together, although it is a week or two old at this point. Finding the time to edit has been a witch-and-a-half, let me tell you. We have some more already recorded, mostly weird fanfictiony awful.



    ...?



    That sentence made no sense in any reality. We recorded ourselves reading bad fanfiction and sometimes talking about, analyzing it and whatnot. We have at least three of those that simply need to be edited. I have no timescale for when these things will come out. I'll judge it all by interest and downloads at this point. I want to do a podcast talking about Bioshock: Infinite and going into depth about Homestuck, but we'll get there later.



    Anyway, give this a listen if you are interested. We talk about our apprehension about Homestuck, how good Adventure Time is, cosplay and jerks, and relationship and woman issues. (No, not those kinds of issues, weirdo.)



    And yeah. We had a good time. I had less of a good time editing it, but that's something I'll need to work on. Hopefully it isn't too embarrassing. You can also see a little behind the scenes of my life and times. I'm sure you're all very excited to hear what I sound like. I know I am.

    Tuesday, 16 April 2013

    News for Future THINGS AND STUFF 2013 Edition



    Hey, everybody! I know there are a decent amount of people reading and/or looking at this blog, and I should probably mention that I certainly appreciate everybody giving this little blog their time. I spend a good deal of my time writing, either on the internet or for myself, and every comment, every view, every single person giving time and effort to the things I've written means a lot to me, even if there are disagreements. And there certainly are and will be disagreements.



    But it's all cool. I give my honest opinions on things and stuff, and some of those opinions will be heavily and highly controversial. It happens, and I can take the criticisms as long as other people can understand that my opinions can't be wrong since they're opinions. I know my Homestuck reviews have blown up recently again, and the fact that people keep coming back to those always makes me happy. It almost means to me that my opinions can mean something to people, that my articulations, right, wrong, or otherwise, can have resonance. And it certainly has shown me that there seems to be every type of opinion in regards to that webcomic, and that it is incredibly important to so many people as it was to me before it became the butt of a joke. I think I may have even more I should and might write up about Homestuck, but that might be a while in the making. I have a lot of opinions of the recent stuff that I haven't touched upon as well as ideas that would probably come off as bitter. So, I really want to work on my tone, and make sure that I don't insult a single fan because they will go for the throat. (Addendum: I will probably insult fans, and no, I don't care. People should be able to take both jokes and opinions without getting haughty. I was called wrong about everything, my girlfriend was told that she should break up with me, and my writing was insulted because I deigned to criticize the literary masterpiece that is Homestuck. I know it means a lot to people, it meant a lot to me, but there are seriously a ton of things wrong with it. So, seriously, I'm going to say whatever I want, and if people take what I say the right or wrong way, then okay. No more pussyfooting around or trying to be a happy man to everybody. If you don't like what I'm writing, talk to me about it, don't just go and insult me where your opinion will be taken seriously and reinforced. That's just cowardly and infinitely amusing to me.)



    Anyway, I haven't posted anything here for a little while, and I'm going to explain what I've been up to and what my plans for this blog are. While I haven't posted anything here since late March, I have been posting some reviews and criticisms on my other blog, which involves fanfiction analysis and criticism. I share that blog with my girlfriend, and we're planning on having about a review a week up there. We should be alternating on that front, so I'll only be writing two reviews a month on that blog. I also have some plans on maybe trying the podcast thing, but I simply have to find time to record and time to edit, which has been nearly impossible with my job.



    Yeah, so one of the reasons this blog started slowing down with content is my job. I've been working a ton of overtime, making decent money, sure, but not having much time for anything but working, small morsels of writing, and a little video gaming on the side. I wish I had more time to write. I've been missing writing like crazy. I plan to have a BioShock Infinite review up very soon, probably by the end of the week. I've started writing it, but it has been slow-going so far. In a nutshell, I loved this game, and I'm hoping that I can grab someone else to give their opinions on the game as well. We'll see.



    I'm hoping to put out about four (maybe three) reviews here a month (besides October when I want to put out 31 reviews, heaven help me), but I have to structure my time out accordingly. which has been difficult lately to say the least. I have some movies I've grabbed up recently that I've been dying to review including Calvaire, Apartment 143, Enter the Void, May, Paperhouse, The Brood, Mimic, and many, many more. So, content should be incoming shortly, just be patient. I'm hoping that by May (the month, not the movie) I can equalize myself, get used to the job, and be ready to pump out quality content.



    I really, really want to start a few series reviews, including a review of the Goosebumps series, and maybe a few television series as well, episode-by-episode or book-by-book. I'd love to gauge how interested people would be in content like that, but at the same time, I want to do it regardless of interest.



    I'm thrilled that Deadly Premonition has a director's cut coming out for the PS3. It is one of my favorite games of all time, and I'm seriously looking forward to better controls, since those awful game controls and fighting mechanics were easily the worst thing about the game. There seem to be some great games coming out this year. I'm really looking forward to The Last of Us, and Beyond: Two Souls, as well as Among the Sleep, and Dragon Age III. So, those will all probably have reviews up from me long after their relevancy has dimmed.



    I also hope to have my ongoing series of Star Wars retrospectives continue, and there might even be another Harry Potter book review two years (or however long it's been) after the first one. I've been wanting to review a literal million of Junji Ito's works as well, so we'll see how that works out as well.



    Uh, I guess I should plug a few other things as well. My Tumblr, which is terrible, but I sometimes do stupid things there. My Twitter, which I only update once every blue moon or so. And that should be it. Wait, no. If any of you have anything you'd like to request for me to review, just let me know. Comment on this or any random thing, and let me know.

    Coming back from a bad week, more PTD1 to PTD2 transfers, Sun Stone, Level 2 of Cosmoids!

    Want
    to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
    shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
    SnD coins! Click here for more info.





    Visit
    the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
    get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
    and change your avatar!





    Welcome to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog! Where we work non stop to keep you entertained!



    Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

    Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

    Our Goal: $50,000



    Last Week's Update/Server Issues

    We had a crazy week last week, both in a good and bad way. Let's start with the bad. So instead of telling you the story how it unfolded I will just tell you what the problem was and how it caused all the issues that we had. Okay. So Databases need indexes. Imagine you have a giant book and it has no index. How would you find that page you are looking for without having to go through the whole book? You can't! So I had a tiny database (the one that keeps track of what events you had done in the story) that was missing an index. Initially the database was so small that it didn't matter. But as the game grew in size and in users this database grew. It has over 2 million entries and so every day as the database grew so did the slowdown. It got so slow that our host suspended our account. I told them to put it back up so I could disable all logins while I fixed the problem. I was really conflicted about all this. I'm no expert on databases or server administration so I had very little idea on where to start. Luckily I had bought this book called High Performance MySQL: Optimization, Backups, and Replication. While I didn't have the time to read the whole book or follow everything it had to say, it did give me some ideas on trying to find the problem and how to fix it. After doing some test to see how long each thing took to load I found that loading events was taking way too long even when I was the only user playing the game, which brought the discovery of the missing index on that database. Other than that I made some upgrades to the database engines (I changed from mysam to innodb, for those with database knowledge) that should let more people in at a time. There might be some side effects to these changes that I will have to fix but I'm pretty happy that we are somewhat back to working order.



    The good stuff is the new content that I was able to bring to the game. I finally put in running shoes into the game which let you move at twice the speed. (Your pokemon will also move fast, I did have a version where your pokemon wasn't as fast and he would be left behind) You can get the shoes by talking to an old man in Cherrygrove City after you defeat Zapdos there. Another big and daunting task that I had was to add fishing. I actually go the chance to stream while I was making the fishing part and frankly I had no idea how I was going to add fishing. Luckily I'm pretty quick at thinking about how to solve problems and so I thought of a way to add it in and it worked out pretty well. You can now get an old rod or good rod by defeating the fisher man on the second part of Route 32 (Read the FAQ page for more detailed info). Once you have a rod you can go to any water source available in the game and fish on it (press spacebar or z) this will trigger a battle. Things like which rod you are using, which location you are in, time of day will affect who you get to battle with. I basically set it up to mimic the actual game. I'm really happy with how it turned out so I hope you guys can enjoy it.



    On top of all of this I added all the generation 1 pokemon that you can capture in PTD2 to the PTD1 to PTD2 transfers. This includes: Jigglypuff, Wigglypuff, Zubat, Golbat, Bellsprout, Weepinbell, Victreebell, Geodude, Graveler, Golem, Gastly, Haunter, Gengar, Poliwag, Poliwrath, Krabby, Kingler, Staryu and Starmie. As I do every week there was also a Mystery Gift and a Giveaway pokemon. The Mystery Gift was electric ghost type Rotom and the giveaway was Plusle and Minun. If you got the code in time you would get 2 of each Plusle and Minun. One male and one female.



    Last but not least Cosmoids had a nice update. I added more losing conditions, if you let enough bug creatures pass you will lose the level. You can tell how many lives you have left by the heart graphic on the top left. Evan, one of our freelance artist, also did a revision on the grass graphic for the first level. While I thought the original ones looked fine, Dan thought they needed more work. And so Evan did the job and they look great! The other thing I added was a fainting animation to the units. Instead of disappearing you will now see them flip on their backs and then flash before they disappear. These types of details go a long way in making a game. Each of them bringing us closer to a full game.



    What's happening this week:



    Pokemon Center Bugs

    I need detailed information about the Pokemon Center Bugs with Breeding, Trading and Picking up pokemon. The more step by step information you can give me the better.



    Mystery Gift

    Like every week we will have a mystery gift and a giveaway for the runner up of the poll. You have one day to vote for which of the remaining types should be the new mystery gift. Then I will post specific pokemon that can be the mystery gift and giveaway.



    PTD1 to PTD2 Transfers

    My goal this week is to add a lot of Generation 1 Pokemon into PTD2. So this week I plan to add: Vulpix, Ninetails, Oddish, Gloom, Vileplume, Paras, Parasect, Venonat, Venomoth, Diglett, Dugtrio, Meowth, Persian, Psyduck, Golduck, Mankey, Primeape, Growlithe, Arcanine, Abra, Kadabra, Alakazam, Machop, Machoke, and Machamp. Adding these will make it so that you can get more than half of the Generation 1 Pokemon into PTD2!



    Sun Stone

    Since we are adding the Oddish family and Bellossom is part of Generation 2 then I'm also adding the Sun Stone so that Gloom can evolve into Bellossom!



    Cosmoids Level Select Screen and Level 2

    For Cosmoids this week I want to start work on Level 2. I really want each level to feel different than the others so each level will take some time to create. On level 2 is when you finally get your first creature, but please note that you won't be able to save just yet. Since we will have multiple levels we also need a level select screen. Very similar to PTD1 there will be different chapters. I'm looking forward to making this!



    Weekly Progress



    My Status: Not Working. Not Streaming. http://www.justin.tv/samsndgames



    Cosmoids Released!




    • Level Selection Screen (100%)

    • Added new Title Screen Graphic (100%)

    • Added new Character Graphic (100%)

    • Level 2 (100%)

    • Added the level 1 intro cutscene (100%)


    PTD2 v1.42.1 Released!


    • Mystery Gift (100%)

    • Make Bellossom's graphic bigger (100%)


    PTD2 v1.42 Released!


    • PTD1 to PTD2 Transfer (100%)

    • Add New Pokemon to Trading Center (100%)

    • Add New Pokemon to Breeding Center (100%)

    • New Item (100%) - Sun Stone


      • Implement in game (100%)

      • Implement in Pokemon Center (100%)


    • Test New Pokemon, attacks, and abilities (100%)

    • New Pokemon (100%) - Vulpix, Ninetails, Oddish, Gloom, Vileplume, Bellossom, Paras, Parasect, Venonat, Venomoth, Diglett, Dugtrio, Meowth, Persian, Psyduck, Golduck, Mankey, Primeape, Growlithe, Arcanine, Abra, Kadabra, Alakazam, Machop, Machoke, and Machamp


      • Graphics (100%)

      • New Attacks (100%)


        • Sunny Day (100%)

        • Moonlight (100%)

        • Aromatherapy (100%)

        • Spore (100%)

        • Signal Beam (100%)

        • Earth Power (100%)

        • Tri Attack (100%)

        • Fake Out (100%)

        • Pay Day (100%)

        • Switcheroo (100%)

        • Power Gem (100%)

        • Soak (100%)

        • Covet (100%)

        • Karate Chop (100%)

        • Seismic Toss (100%)

        • Kinesis (100%)

        • Miracle Eye (100%)

        • Ally Switch (100%)

        • Telekinesis (100%)

        • Vital Throw (100%)

        • Low Sweep (100%)


      • New Abilities (100%)


        • Drought (100%)

        • Stench (100%)

        • Effect Spore (100%)

        • Wonder Skin (100%)

        • Anger Point (100%)

        • Defiant (100%)

        • Marvel Scale (100%)

        • Water Veil (100%)


      • Stats (100%)

      • Evolutions (100%)


    • Bug Fixes (100%) 


      • Fixed a bug with stat change buffs and debuffs (100%)



    Thanks guys for sticking with us! As always let me know what you think on the comments below, on twitter or email us at support@sndgames.com Thanks!

    Tuesday, 9 April 2013

    Thoughts on Bioshock Infinite

    Introduction
    So I just finished Bioshock Infinite and I feel I need to write something about it. There is a lot that is really good about the game, but the way it all comes together seems like a wasted opportunity. This does not mean it is a bad game, far from it. I played the entire game in a couple of days, a rare thing for me, and had (mostly) fun doing so. What really stuck to me, though, is how it abuses its own premise. The capability for true greatness can be seen throughout, but is constantly hindered . This is also why it is so interesting to talk about it. By taking a closer look at Bioshock Infinite we can perhaps learn to harness its dormant potential.


    Narrative
    Before we get into it all, I need to clear up a concept. When I talk about the narrative in a game, I see it as the totality of the experience. It is not just cut-scenes and audio-logs that make up a narrative, it is also the shooting, jumping, and all other actions that I perform as a player.

    While not that many talk about narrative in this way, I think it is really how most of us interpret our experiences. When we take part in interactive storytelling, what we really care about is our activities and the scenarios. While we of course are able to talk about the narrative in a separate, dual world-like, sense, it is not how we live through the experience. We do not absorb gameplay on a purely abstract basis, we connect it to the game's virtual world and incorporate it into our subjective narrative. The journey we take through the game becomes our narrative.

    We want to play the story. I think this is true for anybody who has interest in a videogame storytelling. I see this as the gold standard for any work of interactive fiction, and it is through this lens that I will inspect Bioshock Infinite.


    Combat Design
    First up, I will go over the combat. I am not fond of combat in games, mostly because it is so overused, but when done well I have nothing against it. The grandfather of Bioshock Infinite, System Shock 2, is a great example of combat done right. Every enemy conveys an aspect of the story, the flow complements the overall mood and the tactics are connected with the progression of the protagonist. When fighting in System Shock 2 an engaging narrative is created; one that ties neatly in with the rest of the story elements.

    On the other hand, Bioshock Infinite's combat has probably the worst narrative connection of recent memory. It is basically on the level of Smash TV; arena like battles where you need to kill all hostiles in order to progress. Enemies just run at you and attack, lacking any of the awareness-state nuances seen in previous Shock games. It all boils down to a hectic and often chaotic spectacle. While it can have some charm, it very rarely creates any sort of narrative experience. It is just a matter of clearing waves of enemies in order to move the story forward.

    Worse still is that the elements of the battles have little to do with the story. Enemy fiction does not get any better than them being the henchmen of whichever bad guy happens to be your current antagonist. The same is true for your powers. The different magical spells acquired seem to be there simply because they were present in the previous game. They get mentioned on some billboards at the start, but serve no further narrative purpose. Like so many other things in the game they are there just to comply with the predefined combat mechanics.

    The game also features looting and vending machines, elements that seem to belong in neither in combat or the story. Yet again these elements are there because they were in the previous game. Possibly also for fear that the player might get bored. To me the overall impression is just one of disconnect. It is a clear example of how much the little touches in earlier games mattered. Combat in System Shock 2 is probably a lot less complex than that in Bioshock Infinite, but because it ties neatly into its fiction, the emergent narrative is so much more engaging.

    By having this detached fighting system, a very interesting question is exposed. Does Bioshock Infinite need combat at all? The problem is so obvious that many mainstream outlets have picked it up, something I have never seen before. But before this issue is dealt with, there are other things to discuss.


    Basic Elements of Story
    I will now go over the different ways in which Bioshock Infinite chooses to tell the story, and point out the many problems that it has with its story's basic constituents.

    The first thing to note is how the combat design spread to and corrupt other parts of the game. When in combat mode most of the normal storytelling bits go away, but when leaving a combat arena many of the combat mechanics still remain. The most obvious of these is the looting. In System Shock 2 this made sense, but in later installations it has been simplified and lost much of its narrative connection. The problem peaks in Infinite, where it boils down to mindlessly searching and emptying any vessel in sight. Searching objects would be used to contextualize the backdrop, but it does the opposite here. Much of the scenery is turned into power-up containers. This cheapens exploration, giving it a mechanical and forced feel. All these problems get so much worse when the contents of the loot directly contradict the surrounding environment; for instance, starving children standing next to barrels of fruit. The insistence to place coins everywhere is a similarly damaging feature. Adrian Chmielarz has written a very revealing article of how these elements infest the very beginning of the game.

    Vending machines that turn up in strange places and magic potions thrown about are all also hard to mold into any sort of narrative. But perhaps worse of all is how the combat ties into, and corrupts, a major character and theme of the game.

    For most of the journey the player is followed by a young woman called Elizabeth. She comments on scenery and keeps the narrative going.The game shows how having a character that stays out of the way, and manages herself, makes her a lot easier to get attached to than one who is in constant need of attention. When not in combat she is a great companion who has her own personality, feels like a fluent part of the game and is of great narrative importance. It is really something to take notes from. But when in a fire fight, which is the bigger part of the game, she is reduced into a power-up dispenser and portable lock-pick. I guess the intention was that this would help the player bond, but because it happens so often it just dispels the illusion. As the game passes, she turns more and more into a gameplay device, and less of a living individual.

    Another prominent feature of the games fiction is the existence of parallel worlds. Elizabeth is able to peek into these, opening tears that can let objects travel between dimensions. This is an intriguing concept and something that should be possible to explore in an interactive story. As it turns out, except for a few rare occasions,  the only real interaction with these tears is during combat. They are simply used to conjure up generic objects, all used for their mechanical gain only. Here we have a feature that could have had an almost limitless array of exploration opportunities, and it is used solely as a gimmicky combat tool.

    While Bioshock Infinite paints a breathtakingly beautiful world, it is all on a "look, don't touch"-basis. The code governing the game's plentiful NPCs are on par with an old school JRPG. They are all static automatons waiting for the player to show up so they can deliver their one canned response. This is especially jarring in a detailed first person game where objects can examined so closely. I think that even the slightest AI improvement, such as moving out of the way, would help tremendously. The rest of the scenery follows the same formula. Apart from a few, and often rather boring assets, the world is static and void of interaction. It is evident that most code complexity has gone into the combat mechanics, instead of features that give rise to narrative.

    Building from its pedigree, the game is of course loaded with audio-logs. The System Shock games handled this quite nicely and tried to fit them into the fiction. It has since been abused in many games, and I have to say Bioshock Infinite is one of the worst examples I have seen. The reasons for recording are dubious and, worse of all, the placement is awful. For instance, you can find personal recordings of the city's ruler lying on the table of  a crowded cafe.

    After the game literally smashes a book about Quantum Mechanics in your face, you expect the technology to at least be somewhat justified. This would also make sense as the game has plot aspects that encourage thinking about similar topics. Older games in the series have at least tried to do this; making sure that creatures and contraptions form a coherent whole. But in Infinite, almost nothing is explained. I am not saying there needs to be an in-depth explanation, but it must at least seem plausible in the fiction. When the game is so dismissive with most of its story elements, it is hard to give anything a deeper consideration. This directly counteracts the intended deep themes of the game.

    Also worth noting is how simplistically written the characters are. The game paints a backstory and world that could allow for really elaborate discussions. Instead we just end up with villains without much depth. The game simply points out that both sides can be evil, and that is it. It is a shame, as these kind of worlds are often great ways to explore many social issues; China Mieville's books being excellent examples.

    What we arrive with is a game that does not seem to take its fiction seriously. It builds up this extraordinary backdrop but never makes any attempt to pull it all together or make any deeper explorations. It seems content with being shallow. It really is a shame.


    Narrative Focus
    I will now drop the specific details and talk about the narrative experience as whole. Here I think the flaws show up even more clearly. I can forgive that specific elements make little sense, but I find it much worse when a game lacks a clear ambition and focus in the way Bioshock Infinite does.

    It seems obvious that the narrative has not been intended as the main source of engagement  During most of the game understanding and enjoying the story is not of importance. There is always an arrow telling you where to go, combat encounters are frequent and there is ever present loot to be found. The game never relies on you being caught up in the narrative, but makes sure that you are constantly exposed to the core gameplay loop. Despite this, the story is a very big part of the game, the world reeking with narrative elements. It seems like the game is not sure what it wants. It tries to do two very different things, and end up doing neither particularly effective.

    It feels like an attempt to tell a serious story through a theme park ride. The game tugs you along these fantastic, but mostly lifeless settings; often stopping to engage you in some repetitive activity. It is hoping that the sheer spectacle of the ride and constant feeding of candy will make you forget all of its short comings. Because the game is such a straightforward ride, there is never any proper thematic exploration. There is a lot of things to discuss after a play session, but nothing of the sort happens during actual play. An engaging narrative never emerges, and the good things left are punctured by unrelated activities.

    Because of the game's insecure nature I am forced to constantly doublethink. I need to neglect certain elements, forget what I have heard/seen and toggle my view of the world. When in smaller bursts, one can often see past this. For instance, it is possible to feel part of a play even though you know it is just actors on a stage. But when the conflicting elements are so interconnected and frequent it just gets harder and harder to ignore. In the end, the only way for me to go on was not lose myself in the fiction at all. I had to take it all in on a very superficial level. The doublethinking just became too much. It was still possible to enjoy the game, but all along it was evident that a lot was missing.

    To me, Bioshock Infinite stands as a clear example of how a lack of focus lessens the emotional impact. Had the game just made sure to set a firm focus on telling a story, it could have been so much more. I am having the same kind of feelings I had after playing Dead Space 2; the feeling of unlocked potential, that the developers just did not dare to take the game were it should have gone. I hope that people playing Bioshock Infinite will see this and take note.


    No combat?
    Back to the question I asked earlier: is combat needed? This is something that has been uttered by many: that the violence is detracting from the story. This is response is awesome, and I cannot recall the issue being raised in this way before. But at the same time, I have not seen any good examples of what to have instead. This is what I will talk about here.

    First of all, note that the combat does not need to be removed. It is possible to have a narrative focused game with a lot of fighting. System Shock 2, or whichever other immersive sim, can be checked to see how it can be done much better. That is not really that interesting though; it seems much more rewarding to see if we could do away with the core combat gameplay all together.

    Before going into that, it is worth asking the question if it is worth it. Would the experience improve? If the goal is to have a game that is about relationship, revolution and parallel universes then I would say yes. Some quick reasons:

    • Having any sort of cognitive demanding activity has been shown to decrease our capability to feel emotions.  Not having combat can heighten the sense of empathy and connection to the characters.
    • Avoiding combat removes the tunnel vision that comes with it. Competitive fighting makes players focus on a very specific activity and make it easy to ignore other aspects of the game. The world's non-combat features come to a stronger focus if combat is dropped.
    • As I have argued at length, the common combat design drastically decreases the set of actions we can let the player do in a game. If fighting is removed more actions can be added for the themes we want to explore, actions that will make the player think more deeply.
    (Important to note here is that the above reasons all concern a core combat loop. The game could still have the player shooting stuff, but it would have to happen in special sequences like in Walking Dead or Snatcher.)

    If we just use the current Bioshock Infinite as foundation, removing the fighting is fairly easy. The most trivial solution would simply involve taking away all of the combat sections. I have not checked this down to all the details, but I am pretty sure that Bioshock Infinite has such separate combat that you could just rip 99.9% of it out and the narrative would remain essentially intact. A slightly more interactive Dear Esther would emerge. Given almost all problems above come from some extension of the combat, I am fairly certain this simple change would make a much better game as well. (I wonder if it would be possible to mod and try and make it happen.)

    This is of course not something a major studio would consider doing. The most obvious reason would be that it is hard to market and sell. This might be true, but I think there is another reason that lurk beneath. Many designers are simply dead afraid of the player getting bored. When a game is missing a "fun" core loop it gets extremely hard to test. Some experiences are only possible to be engaging to a fresh mind and cannot be easily evaluated by its creator. It is not possible to get simple objective feedback data. One has to rely on gut intuition and, dare I say it, create art.

    But if one embraces the idea of doing away with the "fun" core, Bioshock can be taken beyond being a Dear Esther clone and go much further. The game already contains much of this in rudimentary form, and it just a matter of making these seeds blossom. Here are some quick suggestions:

    • Adding more involvement from Elizabeth. Let the player choose what space to be explored and then let Elizabeth act out there. She can be a sort of extended interactive force. Early trailers had Elizabeth playing with masks for instance.
    • Why not take more advantage of the tears. Let the exploration of tears be a main pull throughout the game. Since we are visiting worlds that are slightly similar to the one we are in, there are all sort of thought provoking things to add here. Again early trailers already showed some of this. 
    • While we are at it, why not use tears instead of the audio logs. It would make a lot more sense.
    • Add more direct interaction with the people and explore the themes through that. For instance, the player could find food but not enough to go around, if you give it to a kid his friends might jump on him and fight over it, etc.
    I do not want to sit on a high horse here and proclaim how I would have saved Bioshock Infinite or something like that. The above are just simple ideas on top of my head. I am just trying to show the avenues that open up when we let go of that core loop and focus on narrative delivery. The above is not that hard to do; probably a lot easier than it was to do the combat code and assets. It is just that it requires a new kind of thinking. As early trailers show, the idea was already there but something, probably the urge to make combat work, led away from it.


    In Closing
    In one way it felt weird and annoying to play Bioshock Infinite. There was a constant bombardment of things that I found obviously wrong. Despite this the game was given perfect scores all over, the many imperfections swept under the rug. But then I saw the articles that followed, discussing aspects of a game I have never seen in the mainstream before. This makes me hopeful that we are onto something here. I am unsure if any larger studios will change, but I think the game has opened eyes of many. This might also be where all those high grades are coming from; the sight of this enormous potential; the thought of what videogames could be. That is at least my sincere hope.

    Tuesday, 2 April 2013

    Running and fishing arrive! The gang is all here! Three strikes and you're out!

    Want
    to get the Shiny Starters? Shiny Zorua? Shiny legendary dogs? Shiny Mew? or any other
    shiny pokemon in the game? Adopt them today using
    SnD coins! Click here for more info.





    Visit
    the PTD: Pokemon Center - a place to trade pokemon,
    get your Daily Code, adopt Pokemon, view your items
    and change your avatar!





    Welcome
    to the Sam and Dan Games Developer Blog! Where we work non stop to keep you entertained!



    Sam and Dan Games: Fundraiser! Phase 3

    Help us keep making games and earn awesome prizes like Shiny Rayquaza and Shiny Heatran!  

    Our Goal: $50,000



    Last Week's Update

    We had a huge update last week.We added over 20 new pokemon between the PTD1 to PTD2 transfers, the mystery gift, giveaway and the new fisherman level. On top of that we had a special easter hunt that will last all this week to get a Shiny Buneary. This also meant a lot of new moves that your other pokemon can also learn. We also had an unfortunate Bidoof epidemic that lasted a whole day! Those fools! There was also three new battles added with the happy fisherman. I added a new thing that will change the battle you will face with the fisherman depending on the day of the week. Shiny Heatran was added as an additional prize that you can now redeem for donating 10 or more for our fundraiser. Last but not least I managed to sneak in some Cosmoids time and added the grass graphics, the bug bite graphic, the win/lose screens, some tweaks on speed, hp and sizes for the enemy units. On top of that I tweaked the hitspot for the bigger bug to scale along with it's size so you don't have to be so close to attack it.



    Running

    A much requested feature for PTD2 has been the running shoes, so this week I will be adding them in. What I'm thinking now is that you will get them early on in the game, so you will have to go back to Cherrygrove City and talk to somebody to get them. But new players will get them right away after the zapdos fight. You will be able to toggle them on the pokepad menu.



    Fishing

    Not as highly requested but requested nonetheless is fishing. This week you will be able to get your old rod for just trying one of the fisherman's battles. Then to get the Good Rod you will have to beat all three of the fisherman battles. If you already beat them you won't have to do so again since I'm already keeping track of it. Once you have a rod you just step infront of a water source and interact with it (press spacebar).



    PTD1 to PTD2 Transfers - The gang is all here!

    This week I will be adding all the Generation 1 pokemon that you can already capture in PTD2 to the transfer. Specifically Jigglypuff, Wigglypuff, Zubat, Golbat, Bellsprout, Weepinbell, Victreebel, Geodude, Graveler, Golem, Gastly, Haunter, Genger, and Onix. On top of that any new pokemon added from Gen 1 will automatically get added to the PTD1 transfers. Since we are adding fishing this week. That means Poliwag, Poliwhirl, Poliwrath, Krabby, Kingler, Staryu, and Starmie.



    Mystery Gift

    It looks like Electric is going to win this week so we will get an Electric Mystery Gift and Giveaway. Make your voice heard in the poll above the blog.



    Cosmoids - Three strikes and you're out!

    Last week we added the win/lose screen. Winning is pretty straight forward. Defeat all the enemies. But losing is incomplete. Right now you will only lose if your tower faints, but in reality if you let too many bugs passing by then you will lose. The lucky number will be 3 for this first level. Another thing I want to add this week is a proper fainting animation for units in the game. In PTD1 and PTD2 when something faints it simply disappears. For Cosmoids I want a small animation to play when something faints before it disappears. Just small little touches that help make the game more complete.



    Weekly Progress



    Cosmoids Released!


    • Lose when you let 3 bugs pass (the giant bug counts as 3) (100%)

    • UI Graphic to show how many you have left to pass (100%)

    • Fainting animation for units (100%)

    • Add Revised Grass Graphics (100%)


    PTD2 v1.41.1 Released!


    • Mystery Gift (100%)

    • Held Item Bug Fixed (100%)


    PTD2 v1.41 Released!


    • PTD1 to PTD2 Transfer (100%)

    • Running Shoes (100%) - To get the shoes talk to an old man in Cherrygrove City after defeating Zapdos.

    • Fishing (100%) - To get a the old fishing rod you must beat the Fisherman at Route 32. To get the Good Rod you must beat his Tentacool, Qwilfish, and Magikarp. To fish you use the spacebar or Z when close to a water source.

    • Fixed a bug with the Pokemon Center showing a broken image for genderless pokemon (100%)

    • Test New Pokemon, attacks and abilities (100%)

    • New Pokemon (100%)


      • Graphics (100%)

      • New Attacks (100%)


        • Rain Dance (100%)

        • Submission (100%)

        • Vice Grip (100%)

        • Guillotine (100%)

        • Wide Guard (100%)

        • Camouflage (100%)

        • Trick (100%)


      • New Abilities (100%)


        • Illuminate (100%)

        • Analytic (100%)

        • Minus (100%)


      • Stats (100%)

      • Evolutions (100%)

      • Add to Trading Center (100%)

      • Add to Breeding Center (100%)


    • Remove Buneary Hunt (100%)

    • Make Zai's Berry battle have less waves (100%)

    • Made Zai's Berry battle have some dialog after the fight is over (100%)




    That's all I have for you guys this week. I will be getting the part for my new computer this week so hopefully I can set it up and start streaming next week. As always let me know what you think!

    GDC 2013 Talk

    The Script
    I just finished cleaning up the script for the GDC2013 talk and it can be gotten from here:
    http://unbirthgame.com/GDC2013_PresenceSelfAndStoryTelling_Script.pdf

    Additional Resources
    The following blog posts are probably also of interest:

    This goes into more depth on how to view a story. I think this is really important in order to come to terms with interactive storytelling.

    Repetition is a problem when presence is a goal. Here is a list of pitfalls and how to solve them.

    This articles explores the "agreeable action outcome" design some more.

    Both of these explore the construction of a story space.

    These articles use the "interaction for presence"-axiom to view puzzles in a new way.

    These should hopefully help clear out a few things from the talk.

    I also have a more academic, and much more detailed, version of the talk. It can be found here:
    This versions does not discuss story-spaces, but provides a lot more rules for how to create interactions that support presence. It has also sources for most of the claims a I make and some more advanced discussions.

    Addendum
    Finally, I wanted to give the question, "Why does Minecraft and Dark Souls, despite being gamey, have such a strong sense of presence?", a better answer. So here that comes:

    The reason why this can be true is because the fiction of these games correlate 1:1 with their mechanics. Let's take Dark Souls as the example. Just about any action that you make is directly, or very closely, related to the combat. It is a game about killing monsters and it takes place in world where you are tasked to do just that. The game does not suggest that the monsters have feelings, daily routines, or something like that. Their only purposes in life is to kill you and others like you. There is nothing in the game's internal systems that can take away from this fiction, it can even handle AI acting up and similar. It is a robust fiction. The same line of thinking can be used for Minecraft.

    I think that the above is what has led many people astray. Right now the games that can provide a strong narrative that emerge directly from play, are games that very gamey and containing tight core gameplay loops. It is easy to think that think of this as the way forward, that to evolve storytelling we must simply find other core loops; a belief that often leads to seeing tech as our ultimate savior.

    My talk (and paper) on presence and storytelling is a description of why this is not a way forward. Core loops only work so far. We must start thinking in different directions in order to take our stories into new territories.