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 (V0.2)

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 V0.2? This means it's on major patch 2; the next patch will add a new area, radioactive slimes, and presumably a new vegetable. The full version of the game is expected to be out this fall.

     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

     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.

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 ti 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
  • 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, 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 V0.2. 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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Shaun the Sheep: The Movie

I had actually gone to see this film last weekend... But I had nothing really to say at the time beyond "it's really good." But now I do have something I can talk about with Aardman's latest film, Shaun The Sheep The Movie

Technically Shaun the Sheep Movie, but everyone says The Movie so nyah.
    The film consists of Shaun the sheep and his flock, and the farm's dog, trying to bring the farmer back to the farm after an attempt to have a day off goes awry.
     The film is entirely visual humor, with no (intelligible) dialogue at all. This is incredibly rare today, usually only done by small indies trying to be edgy... In this case however it is staying true to the popular short films occasionally featured on the Disney Channel in America.
     However, I was thinking on the focus on visual humor, and I had an epiphany: this is the film Minions wishes it could be.

Minion's first half was visual comedy with the only dialogue coming from a narrator, and some occasionally intelligible minions.  After the second half it became a bad comedy. Shaun the sheep is the first half of Minions, improved upon and expanded to a full film.

Yeah, Shaun the Sheep is a non-annoying, better written, and more fun version of Minions. It even has a maniacal villain with crazy gadgets, who is actually interesting, and has some funny bits.
Now, the film isn't a silent movie; there is sounds reminiscent of speech, and some songs, but it is tasteful and fun as opposed to just being annoying and silly.
Like this song from the film that book ends it:

The film is also claymation like most other Aardman films, with a very clear and neat style behind it. It is a breath of fresh air in modern animation which is normally dominated by 3D models painted with pastels.

Shaun the Sheep is the movie you should be taking your kids to see, not Minions. It is better in every single aspect, and I hope it is a candidate for an Oscar. (We all know the academy is going to pick Inside Out because their sorting algorithm is always good Pixar > good Disney > good dream works > anything else. But it'd be nice for it to at least be recognized as a really cool film.)

This has been Fixer Sue, promoting an awesome film.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


There are so many possible jokes for this opening...
Can you imagine 90 minutes of Willy E Coyote?
Can you imagine 90 minutes of Mater from Cars?
Can you imagine if Jarjar from Star Wars was given his own movie?

     Minions was a tough idea form the start. Or at least, if you're going for quality it is tough. If you're just looking to fill 90 minutes and sell the film to sugar-induced hype bunnies, then you do in fact get the current product known as Minions.

      Just for the record, when I say that the comedy in the film doesn't work very well, it isn't just from my dislike of it; it also comes from the reaction of an audience filled with children, who are supposed to be the primary audience. There were chuckles, but the strongest laughs came from the preview for The Secret Life of Pets. Not once did the audience laugh as heartily as in that preview.

      Before discussing how to improve it, I'll have to go through the plot... None of this is spoilers though, as pretty much everything was spoiled by the trailers already. No surprises to be seen.
      First, the story begins with the opening level of Spore; the minions as cells, finding the biggest monster to follow. This goes until they reach the second level of spore, and the apex of their evolution as they walk onto land. Their journey and troubles are then explained by a narrator, who sounds a lot like the narrator from The Stanley Parable (especially when he names the very simply named Stuart, Kevin, and Bob (in order from left to right in the image above)).
      For roughly the first half an hour, the minions are traveling, looking for and following their latest boss. Other reviewers have said this was the best part of the film, and they are correct.
      After the three aforementioned minions hear about Villain Con, they hitchhike to Florida.

      Now, here's the thing about the minions... a lot of what they say and do are small in-jokes. By in-joke I mean you have to be fairly film and history literate to catch some of them. In the hitchhiking scene, they reference the same scene in It Happened One Night. The scene isn't funny, whether you get that reference or not. Later on, Bob is crowned king (more on that later...) and starts to give a big impassioned speech... That is referencing Winston Churchill. I only recognized it because I realized it was the same joke that was in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Again, it wasn't funny. These in-jokes extend to previous films as well, as the minions were singing "Another Irish Drinking Song" in the last film. A lot of these jokes are really only humorous if you know the reference; otherwise it's just them being silly.

    But, back to the hitchhike... They get picked up by a family of villains, and the most surprising thing occurs: an actual glock appears on screen. No high tech, no bright flashing lights... a regular gun. Clicks and everything. I cannot actually name an animated film where someone is holding an actual handgun (outside of japan that is.)

In the US, we only get invisible guns.
   So they arrive in Florida, and any chance the movie had just stops, with the introduction of the antagonist,  Scarlet Overkill.
    Now, this is nothing against Sandra Bullock, or her acting; she played the part quite well. It's just that she didn't have good lines or material; Scarlet Overkill was more of a buzzkill (assuming there was a buzz to begin with).

      Scarlet ends up with the minions as henchmen, and orders them to steal the Queen of England's crown. This, among other points in the film brings up many questions, but with one simple answer.
Why does she need henchmen to steal the crown for her? Why can't she steal it herself? Why doesn't she work with the minions to steal it?
       The answer to all of them is one phrase: The plot needed them to. Narrative convenience. I can think of NO reasons why she couldn't do it herself, as later in the film she proves she could barge right in whenever she wants, and has an arsenal capable of destroying London if she wanted to.
      But fine, she sends them off to collect the crown... they get to the crown, but fail in securing it before ti is brought to the queen. So they give chase, and end up in a park somewhere, where Bob pulls out the sword from the stone.
      Why was the sword in the stone in the square? Because the jokes needed it to. This is similar to the plot needed them to, but it is obvious the writers REALLY wanted to do jokes about being rich and doing things like corgi polo and messing with butlers. The plot also needed them to be at odds with Scarlet, who was furious that Bob became king, as apparently she hoped from a young age to become the queen, and acted like Bob being king was shutting the door rather than opening it. Of course, Bob immediately proclaims that she will be king and he will step down, and she is allowed her coronation. 
      But, Scarlet still hates them, and orders their torture/execution. Why? The plot needed her to.
      The minions escape, and end up ruining her coronation when they try to get in to apologize. Scarlet again orders their execution, and manages to capture Stuart and Bob. Kevin runs off to rescue them, but gets cornered in Scarlet's lair, where he jumps into a machine to escape, presses all the buttons, and suddenly becomes a giant. Because of deus ex machina.

You know Teletubies? The show is random and colorful, with very little meaning behind the actions of the characters, with its sole intent to be entertaining to its really young audience. Your film should not resemble Teletubies. I believe that is a maxim everyone can get behind.

     Anyway... explosions happen, Kevin saves the day by sacrificing himself... except not because no film will ever let characters freaking die in POINT BLANK EXPLOSIONS. Seriously the bomb WAS IN HIS MOUTH. There should've been minion chunks flying all across England... But nope, Kevin survives, and is knighted by the queen... for fixing the problem he and his brothers caused.

     But, just before the film ends, Scarlet Overkill appears and steals the queen's crown (SERIOUSLY, WHY DID SHE NEED MINIONS IF SHE COULD JUST DO THAT?!), but is stopped by a familiar freeze ray. Yup, Gru gets a cameo appearance where he steals the queen's crown, then flies off back to America, the minions in pursuit of their new boss.

    Just... I can forgive low balling a film. It's made for kids, and kids will be entertain for a bit by it. But like so many other reviews said, this film doesn't have the heart of the previous installments. Scarlet is a terrible antagonist, she has no redeeming qualities at all, and just isn't funny... And the minions... If you didn't like them in the previous installments, they get worse here. There are actually two groups of minions; the main characters, and the tribe of minions trying to get to the leads and their new boss. So occasionally we'll cut from the comedy of the main three... to the comedy of the tribe, with very little to differentiate between the lot of them.
     The film was relentless... it never took a break, never let the audience catch its breath (so to speak; again, not a lot of laughter), it was just constantly trying to be funny, and never tried for any kind of actual drama.
     This is what they mean when the critics say the film has lost its heart; there is nothing calm or dramatic in it. In the previous films, Gru was that stability, his interactions with the girls gave a good counter balance to the comedy.

     And therein lies the solution to how Minions could've been a decent film... Making Gru a main character again. Yes, it can still be a minion focused origin, but here's the thing: Gru is an awesome boss. He knows each of the minions by name and treats them really well. And he has somehow survived their service, despite all previous bosses being killed by the minions. The film could've been about why he knows and treats them well, and why he has survived. It could've been about Gru's days as an apex villain, and how the minions helped him get there. There can be good drama to occur in that situation as well, when the antagonist of the film proves to be a more powerful villain, and the minions reluctantly go to work for him under horrible conditions. Gru then steps up and saves them, and the minions bring down their current boss to resume working for Gru.
     The film did not need Scarlet Overkill, the minions becoming king, or any of the other stuff... They could've done an actual origin story, and gotten just as many, if not more, laughs out of it.
As it stands, I'd actually say that Minions was... Boring, and all their references made me want to go do the more fun things they were referencing.

This has been Fixer Sue, and can we please in the future NOT dedicate films to the comedy relief? The reason for their existence is to relieve the audience from the real part of the story, the drama; not be a headlining act themselves.