Saturday, November 5, 2016


     Hoo boy, no other film more perfectly named for what I'm about to do than this... I am going to use my Bachelors in Film and Media Studies to deconstruct Trolls.

     Before I begin going full Tumblr, here's my honest opinion of the film:

     It is good. The music is very pop, but it is fun. The art style of world is also a joy, with a felt-like texture to it. The film gets worse after the midpoint, when they are with the bergins and playing the old matchmaker shtick. Also some plot details are contrived, and end up creating one or two plot holes... Kids won't care, they will enjoy it regardless. Adults may get more enjoyment out of the soundtrack. I give it a solid 7/10; colorful and bouncy, with a somewhat annoying plot.

     And with that, I am going to have fun playing that which I hate: a socjus warrior that wants to die on a dumb hill.

Commence Media Studying!

     Trolls is an ableist film. Its entire message is that "there is happiness inside of everyone," even inside the gray Branch, and the Bergins that are said to feel nothing...
     Trolls is ableist against people with depression, who literally cannot be happy.
     Let's break it down:

     In the beginning, we are told the Trolls are always happy, singing, dancing, hugging, and loving. We are then informed that the Bergins, represented in the film as ugly, gnarled toothed and warted beasts, are never happy. Then one day, a Bergin ate a troll, and was able to feel true happiness. When the Trolls manage to escape the Bergins, the prince of their kingdom is told that without them, he will never be truly happy.
     Several years later, the film shows us the Trolls being blissful, carefree, and happy to contrast with the sad Bergins. The film introduces Branch, a blue-gray troll who does not like to be around people, and lives in a survival bunker. The other Trolls try to make Branch just like them through nothing but hugs, singing, and oppressive positivity.

     The film makes those who aren't as happy as the Trolls into an "other" that is unlikable and rude. It is hard not to see Dreamwork's intention to paint people with depression as crazed, ugly individuals that, if they seek to undo their state, resort to unnatural means that only give a facsimile of true happiness.

     This is further emphasized when the audience is introduced to Bridget, a scullery maid Bergin, who is made to be like the Trolls by having her introduced by singing an Adelle song. She is only made sympathetic because she is like the Trolls, and sees the folly in eating the trolls for false happiness.
     It is through Bridget that the film insists that those that were previously stated to never be able to feel happy, could in fact be happy, they just never tried hard enough. How many times have people with depression heard "have you just tried being happy?" or "Why don't you sing a song? That's worked for me!" In the end, the Bergins are made to be as happy as the Trolls just by singing and dancing.

     I should hope that it is obvious I don't believe a word that I just wrote up there. I don't believe Dreamworks was being ableist, or that they think depressed people are ugly... and I of course don't believe medication for depression just gives a facsimile of happiness. My point here, is that there are many hills in the world. There are some legitimate causes to fight for, and hills worth dying on. "Trolls is ableist against depressed people" is not one of those hills.
     All that discussion and rhetoric above was a big part of my Film and Media Studies degree. In one of my classes, Masculinity in Film, we discussed masculinity in the Titanic. Now, you could have a legitimate discussion on that, talking about what it means to be a true man... our discussion was that Jack was better at sex because he worked with his hands. I learned from all of my various classes how to turn molehills into mountains using reductive reasoning and "high class" language. When you use language like "ableist" when talking about a condition, and "other" when talking about people, your discussion is elevated to a higher level of discourse. (Yes, that previous sentence did the exact same damn thing.) Higher levels of discourse elevate a topic into a higher level of importance... and you turn a mole hill into a mountain.
      I hold a great dislike for people that do what I did above, because such discourse can damage causes. If people suddenly started shouting at DreamWorks because of this, nothing positive would result from it. They may apologize, but that apology would not heal any real wounds, because they didn't inflict any to begin with, But those that fought for their mole hill would be content they got "justice" and nothing actually improved.
     If you must die on a hill, die on one that is actually helpful. If you want to help people with depression, fight with congress to get them to increase funding for research into cures for depression. Maybe someone out there has the solution, but they can't get the funding to put it into action. That would be a worthy hill.

     Fight for a worthy cause; mountains made out of mole hills are still just molehills. Dying on one will not truly help your cause, only selfishly help yourself believe you helped, and did your best, when in reality you did nothing.

     Trolls was a good film; I might've taken a couple more passes at the script, but otherwise it was a solid kids film. It's gonna make a lot of money on merchandising...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Suicide Squad

     Is it a stretch to say that Suicide Squad was DC's answer to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy? All the key points are there: a bunch of villains or anti-heroes teaming up to defeat something powerful, while being quirky and funny.

     In the latter aspects, they did succeed. There are points in the film that are genuinely humorous, and the characters are quirky and interesting. There were bits to like about each character; some more than others, but there was still something to like.

     The characters aren't the film's problem though (at least, not the biggest problems, but that will be covered later). The biggest problem is the plot, followed by how the film plays that plot out. Then, there are tonal problems, and problems they made for themselves in the future as a result of this film's now cemented canon.

     This list of the film's problems will serve as the table of contents for the problems of the film, and subsequently possible fixes. Note that some fixes might bleed into others, but if you wish to only hear my thoughts on certain aspects, this should allow you to do so:

1. The Plot
2. Willingness to Kill: Tone issues and future problems
3. The Joker and Harley
4. Misc Canon Issues

1. The Plot

     The plot is as follows: Amanda Waller, an operative for the pentagon, makes a list of villains that have been caught, and that she can manipulate into doing the government's dirty work, and ground pounding against metahumans. As a part of this team, she finds a woman that has been possessed by a powerful and ancient creature named Enchantress. after her attempt to control her fails, she begins wrecking the city. This team Waller collected is thus called in to deal with it.

     Sounds straight forward right? Unfortunately, the film doesn't really have the right set of priorities when it comes to this.

     Picture this: Cthulhu is threatening New York City. A team of badasses are called in... to extract the secretary of state from a nearby building. It's... a problem that has to be solved, yeah, but it really seems like treating the symptom and not the disease. That's the plot of Suicide Squad. the team is introduced, we are told how awesome they are... they are taken out of prison, implanted with bombs to make them behave, and told they will be extracting someone from the city. That person turns out to be Amanda Waller, who was stationed in the city.

     The antagonist of the film is supposed to be the Enchantress, but she doesn't feel actually threatening until the last 5 minutes of the climax, because she does practically nothing for the majority. She turns some people into asphalt zombies to malice the suicide squad with, but ultimately little else.

     In the absence of this antagonist's presence, the audience is left to seek the film's other antagonistic presence... which ultimately ends up being Amanda Waller, and her ground commander, Captain Flag (yes that is in fact his last name, and army rank. He was invented in 1959, 18 years after Captain America). These guys become the villains because our sympathies lie with members of the suicide squad, and they are in opposition to them. But, they suck as villains too, because they are supposed to be the good guys, and are subsequently not threatening. All that is left as a strong antagonist is the Joker... but he is definitely not the villain for reasons I'll discuss later.

     The characters are good, my favorite being Diablo, followed by Deadshot. But characterization doesn't help much when the goal is unclear, the villain isn't a big enough presence to threaten them... and when they aren't actually focusing on the villains they set up.

     To refer back to Guardians of the Galaxy, Ronan the Accuser is introduced fairly early on. He makes it clear he wants to destroy a planet because he is a raging racist. He becomes a threat by immediately interfering with the affairs of the heroes. He maintains a presence through how two characters view and oppose him, with the MacGuffin of the story being a key to making Ronan even more of a threat. So, even when Ronan isn't the direct target of the plot, he is a presence that moves the plot in a certain direction. The antagonist of Suicide Squad, the Enchantress, creates the inciting incident to get the plot rolling, but ultimately is in the background and not a true presence until the climax.

     So, what's the solution to this problem?

     It mostly involves editing, and conservation. The film front-loads a lot of backstory for characters; we are told who Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Diablo, Killer Croc, and Captain Boomerang are, their abilities, and how they got caught. However, this front loading is actually unnecessary. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the backstories, and the details of them, are doled out as needed. Peter Quill has the focus, so we see his backstory in full (minus a myth arc). Rocket and Groot are mercenaries and bounty hunters, which is all you need to know to start with them. Drax's motivation IS his backstory, with Ronan killing his family, he wants revenge. Everything important about a character should be told quickly. We don't need to know right away that Batman caught Deadshot while he was shopping with his daughter (which really, REALLY is out of character, but more on that later).

     All we need to know about Deadshot, is that he's good with a gun, he kills for money, and he has a daughter he loves. Diablo catches himself and his surroundings on fire, and he turned himself in willingly. Harley Quinn was turned insane by the Joker. These are the important bits, the stuff the audience needs to know about the characters, and can be given to the audience in a quick and organic manner without a big flashback sequence. Everything else, like why Diablo turned himself in, can be explained later, at the right moment.

     Second, make the antagonist of the story actually be the antagonist. Don't futz about for an hour with an extraction mission, because even if that went without a hitch, there would STILL be the villain to deal with. If you need to fill running time, have the team deal with having to get to the antagonist, using the team's unique skills to do so, figure out a plan for how to go about defeating the antagonist, and then do it.

     You know, like the suicide mission in Mass Effect 2

Actually, just the suicide mission in general should've been the guide for the film.

     The plot is the film's biggest problem. If they had a different, more comprehensible plot, the film probably would've been very good.

     Also... nix the zombie army crap. The asphalt zombies just made me think Will Smith was in I Am Legend mode. They provided some action scenes yeah, but they did nothing for the villain's presence, left the audience in confusion until they were finally explained, and even when they were they were not threatening. (That's true of a lot of things in this movie actually.)

2. Willingness to Kill: Tonal issues and Future Problems

     Remember how I said Diablo was my favorite character in the film? He has a lot of parallels to Groot. He is the most powerful member of the team, but also the most peaceful. Of the people in the suicide squad, he's probably the only one that, with a little convincing, could like the idea. Like Groot, however, he pulls a heroic sacrifice to save his teammates... but unlike Groot, he isn't coming back.

     When I say "willingness to kill," I am not talking about the characters, that obviously comes with the territory. I am talking about the writers. When a named character is killed, possible stories with them are gone. Killing a character is NOT something to be taken lightly. Even if it seems powerful to have a heroic sacrifice, there must be MORE in favor of their death than their life for it to be worth going through with.

     With Diablo dead, no further stories can be told with or about him. What's worse is that possible answers to problems in writing future movies cannot be accessed. So, if a writer ever has a problem where a fire guy would solve the issue... they don't have Diablo. Because they killed him.

     This is a problem for the DC universe, which Marvel found a solution for. DC recently killed Superman in their Batman VS Superman movie. Of course Superman is alive again, rendering death completely meaningless and pointless, but it sets a tone for their cinematic universe. The writers are willing to kill characters off without thinking of the consequences.

     Now, characters can die. In fact, some characters should die. Death is a powerful tool in story telling... but you have to use it right. Death is very permanent, and should have a lasting and powerful effect. A character dying should affect those around them heavily.
     The two famous deaths, Uncle Ben, and Thomas and Martha Wayne, are deaths that define characters. Uncle Ben's death made Peter become a hero, because others may be hurt if he does nothing again. Batman fights because he believes no 8 year old boy should ever lose their parents to a gunman ever again (coming back to this later...). Even Groot's sacrifice in Guardians profoundly affects the story and the sequel, where Groot is still regenerating and is still small.

     Point blank, the death of a character should open more doors than it closes. If more stories can be told as a result of a character's death than a character's life, then their death ultimately aids the story.

     DC's Cinematic Universe is willing to kill characters when stories could still be told with and about them. This is not a sign of "maturity" but of lack of foresight and forethought. What if they want to make a sequel to suicide squad? They'd have two weapons experts, a boomerang guy, a strong man, a crazy girl, and a samurai girl. All physical fighters, which limits the scope of enemies they could fight. If they just replace Diablo, then they have to introduce them, and give their backstory and motivations, which goes right back to the first kettle of fish.

     DC really needs to stop killing characters; even Marvel left the door open for Red Skull to return one day.

3. The Joker and Harley

     So, Jared Leto, the actor who played the Joker in Suicide Squad has been complaining about how much footage of the Joker was cut from the final film... Honestly I'm surprised he's still in there at all.

     I'm not exaggerating when I say that NONE of the joker's scenes are essential. They add nothing, they change nothing, they aren't involved with the main plotline at all... The Joker is entirely pointless in the film. Which is criminal.

     The Joker shouldn't even be a side villain in anything but an ensemble villain cast. He is a main antagonist, the ring leader and primary threat. Having him as a supporting character is the first problem with his character. He is a main character only. He's center stage, or not on the stage at all.

     But, maybe it is better this Joker isn't actually important... because he's a terrible Joker. Not in reference to Jared Leto's performance, he did fairly well with what he was given, but the design and characterization... they were all wrong.

     The Jared Leto Joker is not threatening. There isn't any tension when he's on screen, because he just isn't scary. He's weird, but not scary. Part of the lack of tension comes from the fact he is a straight ally of Harley, who is a partially sympathetic protagonist. In the comics and TV show where Harley made her first appearance, it was clear the Joker had no respect for Harley. He didn't care for her, he just saw her as a devoted lackey that was easily twisted around his pinky finger. He could throw her out of a building and she'd blame herself for it.

     Yeah, that is what their relationship is supposed to be: blatantly abusive, both mentally and physically. Harley's just too far gone to see it most of the time. But, DC tried this and it was rejected because focus groups didn't like Harley eventually sticking up for herself and breaking off from the Joker, so they went with the straight romance that parts of the general audience likes on the surface... Again, showing lack of foresight when people think on their relationship more and realize how goddamn awful it is after the fact.

     Then there is the design... goddamn the design...

Note the tattoo that says "Damaged" and the grills on his teeth.
     There is only one answer to such a design:

     The Joker's design isn't threatening, or insane, or creepy... it is just straight "edgy."

     This is Reaper from the most recent Blizzard game, Overwatch:

     He has DUAL WIELD SHOTGUNS named HELLFIRE, he has a SKULL mask (actually a barn owl), wears ALL BLACK, and a HOODIE, and he has POUCHES. and he EATS THE SOULS of his enemies while talking all about how he is DEATH and PAIN.

     An edgy design was cool in the 90's. Now it is laughable. It's even noted in-game how not scary Reaper is. Jared Leto Joker is trying too hard to be edgy, that he just appears silly (and not in the good Joker way).

     How do you fix this? Well, honestly just go back to the original canon material, for both Joker and Harley.

     Make Joker the insane clown whose main weapon is a gas that makes people laugh so much they die:
Also wearing a nice suit helps.
     And though I won't go into it that much, Harley's outfit should've been more like this:

     Which is ironically more practical, conservative, and empowering than her film design:

     The film took every chance it got to show off Margot Robbie's ass. Haven't heard any feminist complaints about this crap... Could we PLEASE get some uproar so DC at LEAST gets the message to have Will Smith give some fan service as well? It feels really sexist and off balance to only have male-centric spank material. (Shirtless Joker doesn't count, his existence already gets the wrong side of humanity turned on. On BOTH sides of the technicolor rainbow.)

4. Misc Canon Issues

     Why the flying duck does Batman attack Deadshot when he's with his kid? Does he WANT to create more villains? Does he want her to get hit in the crossfire? His entire motivation for becoming batman goes against what he was doing in that scene. He doesn't want any child to go through what he did; he should've caught Deadshot when she WASN'T around! If she wasn't there, she'd be sad her father was caught, but she wouldn't have the image burned into her head of her daddy aiming a gun at her, telling her to move so he can shoot the Batman. Can't even blame Deadshot for that, that situation is entirely on Batman.

     Also, related to the killing problem above... Slipknot. The most forgettable character in the movie. No backstory, we're just told he can climb anything. He tries to escape and gets his blown off as a result. That's it for Slipknot! Had to waste him showing the audience what we already explained what would happen if they tried to run away like two scenes ago! He was entirely pointless, and just made it so they can never use him again in the future. Wasn't important enough to mention in the main section though, so he's here. The sacrificial lamb to show that the film was "for seriouz yo"

     Finally... The Jared Leto Joker would've made a better Lex Luthor than Jessie Eisenberg's. Jessie pretty much just played the Joker, because apparently that's the only villain DC understands. His joker personality would've fit better in Suicide Squad than in BatmanVSuperman, and Jared Leto's gangster nature would've fit better with Lex Luthor. Not a good fit, but a better one. A great fit would've been making him act like a cold, logical billionaire instead of a crazy man... Just a strange thing I noted when I realized Leto was more tame than Eisenberg.


     Suicide Squad has the right kind of central characters and dialogue, but the wrong plot. Cut the Joker, refocus the plot, make the antagonist a threat.
     This film very well could've been good, and in fact a decent answer to Guardians of the Galaxy, so it is unfortunate that these problems exist.

     Additionally, Wonder Woman looks good; maybe being set during World War 1 will help with the plotting issues DC seems to have. We already know her love interest dies, but at least we don't know if it's from old age or "dramatically" in Wondy's arms; I REALLY hope for the former. Also Chris Pine, so it has that going for it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

No Man's Sky - Cycles of Gameplay

So, No Man's Sky. A massive game, hyped up a lot by Sony, with 18 quintillion planets to explore. A number so big, Google spellcheck doesn't recognize it. The game was made by 15 people, and, quite frankly, it kinda shows.

18 quintillion planets were made by procedurally generating them; everything about the planets is determined by math equations that make the planet as you observe it. In No Man's sky, everything from the color of the sky, to the ground, and animals, is made up by math equations.
Now this would be incredible... if there was some actual gameplay to go with it.

Here's the gist: you are a space explorer, trying to reach the center of the galaxy. Your current ship isn't capable of making it there, so you have to get a better one. to do that, you gather valuable objects and minerals like gold. You sell those to get a bigger ship that can hold more materials. You also use materials to make better tools to get more materials.

In essence, it is Minecraft, the game all under-10 children and lazy Youtube Lets Players play. Dig materials, build better tools to dig more stuff, so you can go find the end game. Similar cycle to No Man's Sky.

However, No Man's Sky has nothing BUT that one cycle. fly to a system, go to a planet, load up on valuable materials, sell them, get a better ship, keep flying until you get to the center of the universe... and that's it.
You can also discover unique plants and animals, and name them and the planets, and when other players find them they'll see the names. That's neat, but the fun of that dies rather quickly.

This is the biggest problem of No Man's Sky: if you don't like the cycle, there is nothing to do.

But I'm not here to beat up the game; if anything I REALLY want the game to fix its problems and become amazing. I do have a bit of an idea how it could be improved though; and it has to do with adding more depth to the cycle.

Lets look at minecraft again; the main gameplay is survival. Get the tools you need to survive, and later thrive in a harsh world. However, if you are not interested in digging, there are other things to do. You can build a farm, build a house... Those were available from very near the start of Minecraft's life. When it was fully released, you could also build intricate mechanics, stories for others to play through, even make calculators. Also... this:

Erebor, the Lonely Mountain

People in Minecraft have painstakingly worked to recreate entire worlds of fantasy.

So, while Minecraft is, as its title suggests, about mining and crafting, its primary cycle is not the only thing one can do in it.

No Man's Sky needs something else to do besides its cycle. Otpimally, I think of it like this: there are 18 quintillion planets yes, but what if there was enough for them to do on the planet that they may decide to just stay there for a long time?
Like, there are thousands of diverse creatures made in the game... What if we could domesticate some of them? Obviously it'd take a long time to do such a thing, and there are a lot of tools one would need to be successful at domesticating them.

Like, for instance, a place to keep the animals penned in. Obviously one cannot allow them to get away, or else they may wreck the process. to do that, the game needs a way to build. Build structures of different shapes, sizes, and purposes.

I can think of two games that'd be ideal to follow for this sort of thing: Fallout 4, and Space/Medieval Engineers.

Fallout 4 has, as a main draw, the ability to make settlements for people to live in. The system is relatively simple, you go into an over head view mode, and can place down all sorts of walls, stairs, ceilings, floors... in addition to some fun stuff like turrets and electronics. These settlements require resources to build, which you collect in your travels.

Space and Medieval Engineers focus entirely around building structures, tools, and weapons. In survival mode of these games, which certain materials you can set up a 3D blue print of a structure, and then start adding materials as you collect them. Good for planning, and an incredibly diverse system, probably more so than Fallout.

For No Man's Sky, I can imagine a similar system. Basically, after collecting specific, and somewhat rare materials, you can build a construction drone. With the drone, you plot out structures with holographic blueprints. You can also set things like the interior atmosphere, temperature, et cetera. Then, with the blueprint completed, you have a list of materials you'll need to build the structure. Gather the materials and return to it to build what you've planned.

This alone would add a lot of depth to the gameplay cycle, especially for those who would spend hours on this aspect alone.

This same tech for the construction drone could be sued to build unique starships. Obviously it'd require rare materials, but it's a better option than having the only way to get new ships being buying them off someone else. These starships could have unique settings like the grounded structures, so that you could transport living cargo, like plants and animals. Also you could walk around your ship while it is in flight.

Just imagine this: instead of mining for gold forever, you make your money domesticating some cute creatures. You make them friendly towards people, you evolve them to survive in different atmospheres, and then you breed them as pets, selling them on the intergalactic market. Hell, imagine another player finding your domesticated pet and buying one!
Could train larger creatures as mounts, hunting companions, or cattle. Or make a farm and sell products off of them, like meat, their version of milk, eggs, or fertilizer...
You could become an alien farmer!
It may sound like Blue Skying, but a lot of these features exist in some capacity already in the game. Creatures have temperaments and diets, it isn't that much of a leap to say one could feasibly work to change those features through various means.

That is but one way to add depth to the cycle. There are countless others as well.

Like, for instance, the Sentinels of The Atlas. Basically, The Atlas is supposed to be the organization that prevents you from doing what I suggested above, and also opposes practically all actions players take. They have these sentinel drones on planets, making sure no one is messing around with the ecology of a planet. The problem however, is that they are just a nuisance. They aren't threatening, they are just annoying. If you somehow manage to die to them, you merely have to run back to where you died to collect your stuff.
The interaction with these guys should no be so banal. You should be able to lay claim to a planet, and say that it is now YOUR house, and you will command its ecology. You should then have to fight hard to get this, until The Atlas concede and let you have one of the Quintillion planets, or work out a peace treaty where you get a couple acres or something to work with.

Now, I realize that some of these suggestions go against what the team thought the "core" of the game was. They wanted space exploration to be the main pull. But, there is nothing to actually explore. Every planet is nearly the same. It may or may not have a planetary hazard that has the same effect on you regardless of what it is, and the planet is a spectrum of colors. Sometimes you'll get a planet with a green sky and orange plants, or you'll get a orange sky with blue plants... you won't find anything actually worth finding currently.
When your believed core doesn't work, then spread out, and try other aspects, or, realize a problem with the core: you want them to go out and explore, but don't want them to stay somewhere too long, so there is nothing to explore, to force them to go out and explore.
For the core to work, it actually requires a paradox: you have to make the planets themselves so great, they may not want to ever leave it. This, oddly enough, will also push them to find more planets, because maybe it'll be even greater than the last.

It should be where, when they find their ideal planet, they could settle down on it. Ultimately this is also necessary since the game designers also want the game to be playable after the player reaches the core... Currently, there is no reason to continue after, or to even continue to the core.
If each planet had a wealth of possibilities upon it, where the player could construct a mining operation, or a space port, or a city, or a farm, then there would be something to do after you've gone to the core and seen it all. Hell, people might actually want to go to the core, thinking it may give them something incredible.

Like, consider Maxis's Spore. It got bad reviews, much like No Man's Sky has now. This was also due to poor gameplay. However, its space phase had a lot of options for the player to have fun with. One option was to go to the galactic core... which gave you a genesis rod, perfectly terraforming a planet when used. If something like that was at the center of the No Man's Sky galaxy, then it'd be truly worth it to reach the center, because it could open up a whole new game once accomplished.

No Man's Sky has a wealth of potential. Right now, it is more tools to make content than actual content. But I can very easily see the game becoming an amazing space game.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fatale Conduit- Game Dev Blog: Day 1

The "Day 1" thing is kind of a half truth; this is the first day of the dev blog, but it is far from the first day I started work on this.

Fatale Conduit is an RPG In the vein of Final Fantasy and Bravely Default that I started concept work on in the summer 2 years ago.

The conceit of the game is this: You play as a run of the mill farmboy, who discovers he can communicate, and fuse with certain ghosts, gaining their power. The ghosts he fuses, or "conduits" with, all say they were killed, but only have a foggy recollection of their killer... So you set out to find their killers and bring them to justice.
Also, I did not misspell "fatal," I do mean fatale. All 9 of the ghosts you are conduit to are girls.

Now, question might be: Why all girls? Simple answer: more interesting. If they were all guys, they'd just be job classes like in Bravely Default. If it was a mix, there is still the same problem with the guys, and players may avoid conduits with the female characters. All women opens up some interesting story possibilities
When you conduit with a character, you take on a mix of their appearance, and their abilities. Multiple conduits at the same time are difficult, but not unheard of. Right now, still in the deciding stage, but the game will have 2-3 different slots for conduits, giving the player 36-120 different forms. The key to combat will not be just "what is super effective" but what is also most useful, or fun, for the player.

Now, I know one of the immediate thoughts someone might have reading the synopsis... "Another hero's journey with a magic possessing teen? Le sigh..."
I do have some assurances:
1. He is not a kid, he is 19; old enough to not be a naive idiot.
2. Conduits are not rare, but uncommon.
3. I get sick of those stories to, I'm not just gonna play all the tropes straight, I plan to have fun with this.

But anyway, I am going to be trying to update this blog on a regular basis with game development updates. They will for the most part be art updates, as that is my biggest hurdle right now.

For right now, concept art is my biggest priority, beginning with the characters.

Concept Art

Derrick Evison, the farmboy (Design NYF)
Celeste, the blind hunter (Design NYF)
Ivory Ives, artillery expert and mechanic (Design NYF)
Queen Leland, (Design final)

It should be clear that of the four here, I am most proud of, and and most sure on the design, is Queen Leland. The art is a bit poor, but the design is just right. In it you can also see a couple of the references I used, mostly for the hair.
Ivory Ives I am unsure about everything below the hair. I like the hair, and love hte bandana, but don't know about the rest of it. May go back and do a redesign of it.
Celeste... Honestly my only thoughts with her were that a hunter in the forest would probably want protection, so I thought leather with metal plates riveted, but... ehh. I like it the least of the 4 here, and the first one is the most boring!
Derrick's design plan was simple: poor farmhand. Goal achieved obviously, but something is missing...

Also I admit I am not a fan of the style used here. The heads are too big, which can partially be attributed to my developing art skills at the time. Before diving into sprite work, I'm likely to redo a few of these and work on a better style.

Before this blog posts concludes though, I have something amazing to link.

DesignDoll is an amazing program for creating character builds, pose references, just about anything you need as an artist.
I've been using it to create different body types and poses, primarily because one of my problems as an artist is in getting a pose and angle just right, in addition to proportions and vanishing points...
Some samples created from it:

Yes, you can also create objects in it as well!

The free version has no time limit, albiet it has the strange limitation of not being able to open saved files. You can save characters and poses, but you can't open them again. The program sells for $80, and I am admittedly quite tempted to purchase it. The full version also allows user to import models, poses, and objects, allowing them to be posed with swords and other items already proportioned.
It is very tempting, but the free version is amazing on its own. I completely recommend it.
(It is not available on Mac currently, only PC)

Monday, February 15, 2016

Slime Rancher (V0.3)

Have you ever wanted to play a game where you work as a cattle rancher? Raising animals, feeding them, and eventually selling them? Ever wanted those cattle to be cute slimes?

     Slime Rancher is a game currently on Early Access on Steam (Early Access is a new term meaning "you pay to beta test this game for us") about raising a bunch of slimes of unknown intelligence, and harvesting their poop for cash.

Adorable as f*** poop.
     You play as Beatrix LeBeau, a young rancher who has traveled to the "Far Far Range" from Earth to ranch slimes as their plorts (poop) are quite valuable. To do this, you have a vacuum pack that can suck up all manner of things, from slimes to fruit, vegetables, water, chickens, boxes... All except ghosts, but they haven't been implemented yet.

      You don't necessarily have a goal (yet) beyond expanding your ranch, keeping your slimes fed and happy, and getting all of the upgrades... Which can take, currently, about 4-6 hours. When I said pay to beta test, I wasn't kidding.
       However, I will say this: though currently short the game is a ton of fun. The first night I played I stayed up like 3 hours longer than normal, completely unaware of the time. It isn't addicting so much as soothing, and it seems like there is always something to do... until there isn't, and the sadness returns.
      But, as I said, this game is early access; currently unfinished. See in the title there the V0.3? This means it's on major patch 3; the next patch claims ot have Slime Science, improving the usage of current items. Sounds promising, but we ahve no info on it.

     So why am I reviewing it now? Simple: to provide feedback, advertise the game a bit, and see if it can hold more than a handful of hours in the full release. Notably, I want to keep a list of suggested changes/features, that I'll update as new versions come out. But, before I get into that, here's my current verdict:

The game is a lot of fun, but currently not worth its $20 price tag.
The mechanics are a blast, the slimes are adorable, and the game shows a lot of promise. If you don't mind playing an incomplete game, it is fun enough in its current state. But, if you wan the most bang for your buck, either wait some updates, or until the full release (if it gets a full release that is, some Early Access games give up).

Without further adieu, the content suggestions:

Gated Progress

V. 0.2:     Currently, the game has one actual limiter to progress, that is entirely independent of your ranching: getting a key from a giant slime to unlock a gate to the only other zone. While gated progress is annoying, there is actually too little here. There is nothing stopping you from skipping all the other slimes, just gathering as much food as possible, and feeding the giant slime until he gives the key, and the more lucrative slimes can be acquired.  It should be where you spend several days ranching before you even consider trying to get the key. Maybe not gate the progress with a literal gate with a key, but with some function of the vacuum that you have to spend a large sum of money to acquire. Right now, the only thing stopping exploration is the player's own fear of the unknown; once that's gone, the game is a LOT shorter.

V.3: Progress gating is a bit better now with more giant slimes to feed, and feeding them unlocks either a teleporter or a key to a new area. Progress is a bit slower as a result, but more variety is necessary to avoid a grinding cycle.

Pink Obsoletion

      The lucravity of slimes also brings up another issue... Certain slimes are a lot more valuable than others. For the same amount of food, they can be nearly triple the value in return. Pink slimes are notably worthless once you have spiked, kitty, and phosphor slimes, especially so once you unlock the first gate. You either don't bother ranching them or free range them. If you do ranch them, they become obsolete fairly fast, forcing you to just toss them back in the wilderness when you need more space. That really feels needlessly cruel It feels like there should be a reason why we keep them around if not for money; like we use their plorts for other things like manure. Or alternatively, there is one long term suggestion:


      Bit of a pipe dream, but why not have the slimes age, die, and give birth? The chickens do it, so it would stand to reason the slimes could as well. With the idea of them breeding comes another idea: breeding for certain traits, like color, size, plort output... Or disposition, which brings me to the next long term suggestion:


     I want a slime as a pet. I want it where the spiky slime won't charge and hurt me if I let it out of its corral, I want him to charge and attack anything that would hurt me. This could also tie into the gated progress suggestion; perhaps the big slime will refuse to eat what we toss at it unless we have a domesticated slime help us? Either way, I want a rock slime to be my friend in the lonesome Far Far Range.


     You can spend days in the game just managing the ranch, ensuring the plants are still growing, that the slimes are all fed and safe in the corrals... Which the point of the game of course, but it does turn into a chore when you're worried about inefficiency. Here are my Quality of Life suggestions:

  • A auto harvester for fruits and vegetables
  • An auto planter for fruits and vegetables
  • A super expensive food transfer device (to link to silos or slime corrals)
  • Fast travel TO other parts of the world instead of only the return (Now a part of the game, so hooray!)
  • Chicken harvester/computer letting you know when a chicken is out/about to run out of eggs and thus turn into a less useful elder.
  • Allow for multiple stacks in the vacuum pack; 2 stacks of 40 carrots or plorts or what have you.
  • Some way to break up Largo slimes without just incinerating them.
That last one ties into a different suggestion:

More Vacuum Capabilities

     The limitations of the basic vacuum become quickly apparent when you cannot suck up largo slimes, or the tarr, or other large objects...and what are first felt amazing becomes underwhelming. Perhaps some new attachments could be a possibility? Like an incredibly expensive separator, that separates a largo into its two base slimes. Said attachment would also encourage more slime combining, as it can be repaired down the line without murdering them.
     Other attachments could include a hose to make shooting water at tarrs more powerful(There is now a separate part of the vacuum for water!), or an increased vacuum range, or a selective vacuum setting where you won't automatically fill your pack with pink slimes.

Those are my current suggestions for V0.3. They will be updated as content progresses, and I do hope to see some of them in some day. Especially domestication.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Beginner's Guide

     In 2013, Davey Wreden and William Pugh released a critically acclaimed game called "The Stanley Parable." Its game play is simple: you walk around an office building pressing buttons. It is a walking simulator; where the narrative is told via very simple and accessible mechanics. I could hand The Stanley Parable off to a family member who has never played a game before, and they could play it no problem.
     The greatness of the game doesn't come from its game play mechanics, but its story. The story is told via a very well spoken narrator, who leads Stanley on his journey... or tries to. There are branching paths to the story, where Stanley can diverge from what the narrator tells him to do, and the story goes off the rails. There are at least a dozen different endings, my personal favorites being the Confusion Ending, and the Broom Closet ending.
     I mentioned that the game play is simple enough to hand off to someone who's never played games before... Well, the game play is easy enough to grasp, the game is about toying with narrative and gaming tropes, and if you aren't familiar with them... you might get a bit lost. But, it is still fun, and quite funny regardless.

     This article is about Davey Wreden's next game, The Beginner's Guide. The Stanley Parable was a tough act to follow, but I believe this to be a worthy follow-up, even if the scope is pulled back considerably.
     There are so many avenues to come at this game with... There is so much to discuss, I am considering making videos discussing it; and I likely will once I figure out a good way of doing it.
      For now though, let me introduce you to The Beginner's Guide.

     The Beginner's Guide is presented as a collection of tiny games made by a guy named Coda. We are presented this by Davey Wreden, who is narrating over the games. We are told that Coda stopped making games in 2011, and disappeared. Davey wishes to contact him and try and convince him to continue by putting the compilation out into the world.

    Just for the record: the story, despite containing the actual game developer, is fiction. If it was real, Davey would have a lawsuit on his hands for charging people for someone else's work, in addition to other bits of evidence that I won't go into here (other than saying he gave thanks in the credits to the same group of developers from the Stanley Parable, minus William Pugh).

     The story of the game is examining Coda's work, and trying to figure out who he is through it, and we are led through it by Davey.

     I won't go into the meat of the story here though, so no real spoilers beyond my note that it is fictional. That won't change the perception of the story, or very little if at all.
     Rather, I'm going to go into some of the themes of it, and some of my thoughts on the game itself.

     The game again plays with tropes of narratives and games; there is a small discussion on game play-ability vs the value of the work itself... Basically it is whether there aught to be a goal at the end of the game, or be accessible to other people. It is art vs entertainment basically; kind of pretentious art, since one instance is of being trapped in a prison cell for an hour before being let out (Davey modifies the game so the time is skipped).

     But, the meat of the game lies in one concept: The Death of the Author. Not that Coda is dead, we have no idea what he is. But specifically, interpretation of a person's work to get at who they were as a person.
     Personally, I believe the game to be a warning AGAINST DotA methods, but the reasons for that come with spoilers.

     The game itself is short. Approximately an hour and 15 minutes. With two playthroughs to get some context, you'll have 2 and a half hours out of the game. That... is okay I guess, comparable to DVDs, and is pretty good for its $7.99-$10.00 price tag. I do really, really like the story of the game, but I can't recommend it as a game. I can recommend it as a film, because that is basically what it is, but it doesn't have any replay value in it. Neither did the Stanley Parable mind you, but it was a longer game as a result of its branching paths, and it does entice you to come back to experience the story and comedy again.

I feel like I could do a college course on this game though, dissecting its meanings and how it presents them. If you are an intellectual, love analysis, and are willing to give way more thought to something than it probably deserves, The Beginner's Guide is a fantastic game.
If you want real value for your money, and consider hours of gameplay to equate to value, then this isn't the game you really want.

Personally, I love the game. It actually inspired me to just start making games; I don't have to start with my big freaking ideas, just start somewhere, learn the things you need so you can do those big ideas later.
My only hope is that the developer continues to make games with great stories... but perhaps find a way to add replayability? I went into The Beginner's Guide a second time to see if I could get additional dialogue for doing unexpected things, and was disappointed to find only a couple (to be expected given the nature of the narrative I guess, but still).
But anyway... When I find the time, I may just make those videos over analyzing the crap out of the game, just for fun.

Saturday, August 29, 2015


     Destiny...Released in the end of the third quarter of 2014, Destiny cost over 500 million dollars to produce, which is 2.27 times the budget of The Avengers1. It made up that money in the first week of sales... despite having mixed and low reviews. The reason for this is the little name at the bottom right of the image there... Bungie, the creators behind the Halo franchise.
     Destiny was designed to basically be the World of Warcraft of first person shooters, in that it is a massively multiplayer online game, but the similarities stop there really.
     Sold exclusively to consoles, Destiny is nearly a year old now, with its first paid expansion on the way in September. So, I finally hopped on the bandwagon and gave it its fair shake...

     ...and the story is just as bad as you may have heard. Though not just the story, the world is not up to snuff either. It looks beautiful, but it is like a rich person's house. It looks really impressive, but it is usually fairly bleak and empty, and ends up seeming like a place you do not want to live in.
I know EXACTLY where Destiny went wrong, and how others can, in the future, avoid their mistakes.

     First of all, no, Peter Dinklage as the Ghost (a tiny robot who acts as the exposition fairy) was not a bad idea. At first when I heard the complaints about his acting, I was thinking that he did just not care about the project and phone it in... but honestly the stuff he had to read for it was already incredibly dull. He is being replaced entirely by Nolan North in the upcoming expansion, and he sounds a bit more chipper, but it will not solve the real problems behind Destiny.

    The first problem: there is no dialogue. Oh, people say things, but they are all exposition. Or not even exposition, just dancing around telling people things like in the case of The Speaker, who could tell you things but instead just decides to ramble. The main character does speak, so they aren't mute, but he or she says barely anything. The main character is just an exposition sponge; they do not ask questions, they just accept what they are told in its entirety.
    This leads into the second problem: no one has any personality. Well, there is some personality in the game... but none of it comes from the main characters. Like I said, exposition sponge. They aren't allowed to say something funny amidst the chaos, or blow off something serious; they must treat every damn thing as stoic serious bizniz. There is nothing memorable about anyone. The only characters you'll remember are the ones that make you mad, or because you know the voice actor (Nathan Fillion plays the leader of one of the game's classes. He is pretty much Malcom Reynalds/Han Solo).

      Now, compare point 2 to a game like, say, World of Warcraft. Their characters are memorable, not just because they are main characters, but because they have traits we can remember about them. For instance, there is Moira Bronzebeard. Once the daughter of King Magni bronzebeard, she was kidnapped and married to the king of the dark iron dwarves. Upon his death at the hands of adventurers, Moira became the queen of the dark irons, and eventually, upon the apparent death of her father, led the dark irons to rejoining their brethren under Iron Forge.
     I did not have to look up any of that information, I knew it off the top of my head. There are others like that, like Budd Nedreck, a man who's a few eggs short of a basket, who somehow manages to survive some crazy situations by being just about as crazy.
     There is also a key difference between WoW and Destiny: WoW allows for some fun and comedy to exist in its world. It has people like Budd Nedreck running around in the same world as monsters like Deathwing or the Lich King. Being serious 24/7 is just depressing, and unfun.

      How would one make Destiny more memorable without impeding its expository train? the simple answer is to give everyone a bit of character, and be less serious. Make the Ghost be malfunctioning a bit, to where it'll play Reveille occasionally when the player respawns, or, when it trips an alarm for the thirteenth time,  it starts apologizing profusely, and you just hear it apologizing in bigger and more extravagant ways as the fight goes on.
      Of course, even better would be to have the player character actually talk back to the ghost more often. Have them argue with the Ghost about opening a door; where the player character thinks they'd have less of a chance of calling attention to themselves if they use a crowbar, rather than the Ghost's light thingy. You're going to be spending most of your time alone in the game, with only your ghost as company; he should be GOOD company.

For a direct comparison, lets compare the Ghost to Wheatley of Portal 2.
      Both robots, both talk a lot and exposit stuff, but the difference is this: Wheatley is a moron. He doesn't seem it at first, because he has a British accent, but his entire thing is that he was programmed to think up a constant stream of terrible ideas. He's also funny, so people remember him fondly.
Meanwhile, the Ghost gets...
      A reference to The Fairly Odd Parents.

      The story is devoid of personality, and thus devoid of a reason to care. You can have a dark world, where everything is bleak, but you have to remember one thing about humans: we thrive, and cope. We keep hope alive, and we try to have fun in our lives. To quote Joss Whedon: "Make it dark, make it grim, but then, for Christ's sake tell a joke."
      Your goal is to make the world fun. You aren't making anything fun by expositing all the things all the time.

     But, there is a third problem with Destiny... and this is on gameplay. No, it isn't the constant horde mode via opening doors (though that is an annoyance), it is the lack of reward for exploration.
      The world is full of caves, side rooms, and dead ends. They are all well detailed and crafted... and utterly pointless. In Destiny, I can find a cave that is carefully hidden, and find absolutely nothing in it. No chest, no rare enemies, not even an enemy of slightly higher level that'd tell you to come back later so you can reap some rewards. It is just a cave, an empty cave. Why even have the cave if there is nothing in it? There are caves one can;t enter, and that's because enemies spawn from it, so these caves are clearly different. The only time I saw an enemy in a cave was when the cave was relevant to a quest. Meaning, you have no reason to ever explore, just stay on the path, and complete quests.
      This isn't just a thing about caves either; every place is thoroughly unremarkable beyond how pretty it looks. They're just battlefields...
      Imagine a forest; imagine there is no end to that forest, and while there is the occasional fallen tree, there are no real land marks. That is how Destiny feels. Some fallen trees, but it is otherwise just the same.

      Compare this to say, Elwynn Forest in WoW. To the north there is the Northshire abbey, where human characters get their tutorial. South of it is Goldshire, which is a small town with an inn and a blacksmith; pretty much exclusively catering to travelers. At the southern edge of the forest is a pair of farms, with warring families like that of romeo and Juliet (no literally, one of the quests there is to help two of the members elope), separated by a mine full of kobolds. Near Goldshire is a lake infested with Murlocs, and further to the east there is a lake feeding into the river that separates Elwynn from its surrounding zones, also infested with murlocs, but also some groups of bandits. To the southwest, there is an elite mob, capable of wiping out hundreds of level 1 gnomes, the terror known as Hogger.
      Elwynn Forest is a level 1-10 zone. It is one of approximately 9 zones in that same level range, each one as diverse as it. During cataclysm, it was 1/72 of the zones one could level in. Each zone has something memorable about it, and diversity throughout.
      But Destiny? I can recall a radio tower station infested with The Fallen. I can also recall a field of downed air craft... also infested by The Fallen, and occasionally The Hive. Some beached ships also filled with Fallen... Point being they all blend together because there isn't anything unique about it, it's just different typography for a battlefield. Why not throw some rogue guardians in an area, and have them rabidly attack players for their loot? or some wild animals scurrying about, thriving amidst the war? Not everything has to be focused on fighting the war; how about a quest where you go into a destroyed town looking for some kid's toy? A personable moment among being some badass space warrior.

All things considered, I can say there is already a version of Destiny that has all of its pros, and none of its cons; it's called Mass Effect, and people were mad that it didn't get a satisfying conclusion to its trilogy, instead of being mad that the story was bad. Mass Effect is by far the better Destiny.

In conclusion, to avoid the problems of Destiny, here's what you do:
Make interesting and fun characters
Don't just do exposition. Add character development to the mix.
Make people feel rewarded for exploring, whether it is finding some cool items, or discovering a cool set of enemies, or unlocking some quests... The zone should be diverse enough where people can recall places from it, and why they are unique, from memory. (I did not look up a map of Elwynn for my speech on it, I remember it that well.)
You can only be dark, serious, and somber for so long. After a while it's just depression. Add some cheer!

This has been Fixer Sue, talking about a game people gave crap for its story a year ago. Haven't played the expansions yet... but really, do we expect them to be less expositiony? Do we expect The Speaker to tell a joke?
... Bungie, have the speaker tell a joke. It doesn't have to be funny; in fact it might be funnier if it isn't funny. Have the speaker tell a joke that just doesn't work. It is the ONE time I'd accept awkward humor as being funny.
Seriously. Do it.