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Ninja Blues: Castle Crashers ep. 1.1

Jarenth and I are doing a new Let’s Play! And it’s not of a laughably terrible game this time.

Also, we came up with a name for our show other than Jarenth and JPH Play. Clever, right?! It was Jarenth’s idea, I think.

You may have seen Jarenth mention this on his site awhile ago. Yes, I’ve had this episode on my hard drive for awhile. It took me so long to upload it because my connection is fairly slow. Also,  for some reason Youtube appears to have almost entirely chopped off the opening slide that shows Jarenth’s avatar along with a line of text saying “A mild-mannered glowing eyes man…”

I’m not sure how, or why, this happened. The video on my hard drive doesn’t have this problem, so it’s probably Youtube’s fault. Whatever. Also, sorry about the echo of my voice. I think that’s Jarenth’s headset being stupid.

Anyway, now I can explain what I was saying at around the 4:20 mark: Castle Crashers seems to be a casual beat-em-up for nerd parties, but it comes with a lot of elements we associate with RPGs: Weapon collection, leveling, character unlocking, stat building, etc. It seems strange to me. This seems like the sort of game you’d play through maybe once with some friends, but it looks like they designed it with the intention of you playing it over and over again with the same friends so all of you can unlock and try out all the different weapons and characters.

And one issue with character unlocking is that every character starts at level 1, which means that if you decide to try a different character, you have to start out at level 1 again, and if your friends are sticking to the same characters, then they’re getting ahead of you.

I’m not saying these are bad things to put in a game like this; it just seems strange.

Jarenth’s post about the episode can be found here.

Mark of the Ninja

Guys, I think I’ve found my soulmate.

She’s beautiful, she’s thoughtful, she’s well-rounded, she’s smart, she’s lively, and she understands me. She’s so perfect for me.

Her name is Mark of the Ninja.

Mark of the Ninja is the latest game by Klei, a dev team previously known for Shank. Shank was a 2D beat-em-up that took influence from hack-and-slashers like God of War and Devil May Cry. It was all about stringing together combos of light, medium and heavy attacks to beat down varieties of enemies. I liked it quite a bit, mostly because of the visceral feel. The combat flowed remarkably well, and it carried a great sense of kinesthetic immersion; it made you feel like you were really brawling, even though all you were actually doing was pressing buttons and waggling a joystick. It’s one of the few games I can think of that made me feel feral when playing it.

Mark of the Ninja, on the other hand, is a stealth game where you play as a ninja and prowl in the shadows, sneaking past security and assassinating targets. The devs have said in interviews that their motivation early on was to make a ninja game that actually required you to act like an archetypal ninja, rather than almost all other ninja games that basically just consist of beating up armies of baddies.

And let me just say that they succeeded with flying colors. This isn’t just a stealth game; it might be the best stealth game I’ve ever played.

The game runs on a platforming engine, but there isn’t a whole lot of precision platforming involved. The gameplay is mostly about precision timing. I’ve said in the past that at its core a stealth game should feel like a puzzle game, and I stand by that thesis, because that’s exactly what this feels like. Each encounter with guards requires you to analyze the situation and choose your own method of overcoming it.

You have a number of tools at your disposal, and more become available throughout the game — you can shoot bamboo darts to break lights or distract guards, you can throw noisemaker arrows, you can drop spike traps on the floor, you can hurl smoke bombs, and so on. Pacifism is always an option, as is meticulously stabbing each and every guard until the only living creature within three miles is you.

Each level tends to have its own gimmicks that affect the gameplay without forcing you to relearn everything from the ground up. A few levels take place outdoors in a thunderstorm, so every time lightning strikes, the entire area is lit up and enemies can see you for just a moment. There’s one level that takes place in a sandstorm, so you can’t see past a certain distance. A few levels are littered with deadly traps. None of these are jarring like the vehicle sections in your typical shooter; you’re still playing the same game, but the changes force you to look at situations differently.

The levels are big and sprawling, and reward diligent and careful exploration. Each one has three optional challenges and three hidden scrolls; finding the scrolls and completing the challenges gives you points to unlock more tools you can swap out. None of the tools are particularly overpowered or game-breaking, but they add more variety and can help give you an edge in the later levels.

There’s a common tendency for otherwise good stealth games to force in out-of-place combat sequences, usually toward the endgame. (Thief: The Dark Project, Metal Gear Solid and Deus Ex: Human Revolution are all guilty of this.) It’s generally done to ramp up the tension. It’s the kiss of death for stealth games. At best it’s jarring, since we’ve spent the whole game learning to be sneaky and suddenly can’t use the skills we’ve acquired up to this point; at worst it’s dreadful, because the engine is designed for stealth and not combat.

Amazingly, Mark of the Ninja never does this. I kept expecting to run into a boss battle or a bunch of gun-less guards and have to punch them out, but that moment never came. And I’ll tell you why it never happened: because the folks at Klei are smart. They knew exactly what they wanted to achieve with this game and how to achieve it. The game ramps up tension not by throwing you into a boxing match, but by introducing more threatening guards that are more difficult to sneak by or defeat, and by setting up more complex situations where you’ll have to use strategy in order to get by without being spotted.

Completing the game isn’t extremely difficult, but there’s a New Game + mode that introduces additional challenges. And you can always challenge yourself to, say, complete all the levels without killing anyone. Or without using any items. Or without breaking any lights. The list goes on.

This game has a wonderful checkpoint system. The checkpoints are plentiful and you’re rarely expected to repeat long encounters you’ve already completed. And crucially, if you screw up, you can instantly revert back to the last checkpoint without an unnecessary “You Are Dead!” screen or even a loading screen. It hits that wonderful Super Meat Boy sweet spot where each failed attempt leads straight to the next one, so the game can be challenging while rarely being frustrating.

Before I played Mark of the Ninja, I saw that the Destructoid review said this:

“I find Mark of the Ninja to be perfect. Let it stand as the benchmark by which all stealth games are now measured.”

My initial reaction was, “Oh, come on. That’s got to be hyperbole.” But now that I’ve finished it, I think Destructoid is onto something. I’m still a firm believer in the notion that No Game Is Perfect, but this game is the closest to perfect that I’ve seen in a long time.

Before I leave, I’d like to give a big thank-you to Varewulf for gifting me this game. And also a big thank-you to developer Klei for making it. You two gave me the opportunity to feel like a ninja, and I can’t thank you enough for that.

Guild Wars 2: Gravelings Broke My Pants

I recently reached level 80 in Guild Wars 2. This marks the first time I’ve ever reached the level cap in an MMO. For the most part, it’s a very finely crafted game that can appeal to many different people. There’s exploration, fast-paced and aesthetically appealing combat, structured PvP, unstructured PvP, piles of interesting lore, and the whole world is beautiful and lovingly stylized. If you play with a few friends, it’s an absolute blast. It can even be a lot of fun if you’re playing as a loner. It’s highly accommodating.

And then there are the dungeons.

This is me hiding under my associate’s robe, in case you were confused.

Ascalonian Catacombs, or AC as it is now known by historians, is the first dungeon in the game. Bear in mind that the rest of the game works very differently from the dungeons. One of the major selling points of Guild Wars 2 is that the quests and events involve fighting alongside other players without actually having to communicate with them. Anybody who deals any meaningful amount of damage to a monster gains experience for its death, and anybody who contributes to an event’s completion in any way gains rewards afterward. It’s a great way to streamline MMO questing and preserve game flow while also making you feel like you’re contributing to something bigger than yourself.

The dungeons, by contrast, are instanced and encourage (i.e. require) you to join or form a party of five before entering. These are the only places in the game that actually emphasize collaboration between players. (Excluding PvP, but fuck PvP.) This means that Ascalonian Catacombs is the first time the player is expected to actually collaborate with other players.

So, exactly as you would expect, the dungeon is gruelingly difficult to the point of frustration and tedium.

Wait, what?

Us staring hopelessly at the battleground where we will die.

Each dungeon has two modes: Story mode and Explorable mode. I’m not sure if ArenaNet understands what the words “story” and “explorable” mean, because Explorable mode doesn’t have any more exploration than Story mode, or any less story. The way it actually works is that you’re supposed to do story mode first; Explorable mode is a more difficult version of the dungeon that continues the story after Story mode. What they should really be called is Part 1 and Part 2, or perhaps Hard Mode and Fuck You Player.

On our first attempt at story mode, we Total Party Wiped on the second room. The room consists of at least three dudes that each have powerful abilities and massive health bars, and there are several traps that can kill you in one or two hits. Any reasonable game designer can tell you that that’s horrible pacing. Difficulty is a complex thing and it’s hard to get it exactly right, but as a basic rule of thumb, you generally want to introduce one extremely lethal game mechanic at a time. Don’t combine these two elements until we’re acquainted with both.

Tell me this isn’t the dumbest looking ghost you’ve ever seen. This asshole is the boss.

The boss encounters are generally exercises in watching for hard-to-spot attacks that kill everyone in the room if you don’t dodge at the right time. Both the final boss of Story mode and one of the mid-dungeon bosses in Explorable mode have an attack that instantly pulls everyone toward him, and then deals a big AoE attack that is absolutely guaranteed to kill you. You can dodge it if you press the dodge button right as he’s telegraphing it, but his telegraph can be hard to spot. Oh, and since this is an online game, input lag is always, always going to be a thing.

And by the way, that’s a problem in general with the combat, not just with those individual bosses. The dodge ability is something every player has, and it’s essentially about a second (or even less than a second) long move that makes you dodge all attacks while in effect. This is one of many examples of the game trying to make itself feel like an action game. And it works, for the most part, unless you’re lagging ever-so-slightly and you just happened to be dodging a split-second before the attack, even though you can clearly see you were dodging when the attack happened.

Don’t get me wrong; as an action fan I’m glad to see an MMO courting action game elements. But when it demands that we use these abilities at just the right time when input lag is hiding in the shadows, it’s a recipe for frustration.

Oh, and then there’s the gravelings.

Can you tell what’s going on? Me neither.

There’s an event in explorable mode that my guildies and I just could not get past. Gravelings are these annoying black lizard things that jump out from big burrows and nibble at your shins. They come in armies, and this event involved breaking down multiple burrows at once, while fighting off the little pricks, and while defending two energy crystals. If the crystals break, the monsters disappear and you have to try again from the beginning.

We tried the event dozens of times. We tried different tactics, we tried forming together at certain intervals, splitting up, turtling, aggressively attacking burrows, basically anything we could fathom. Nothing worked. One of us switched characters to see if the party setup was the problem. We even tried consulting online guides. Nothing worked!

The icing on the cake is that when you die — and you will die — your armor becomes damaged. Armor costs money to repair, and it only becomes damaged from death. What this means is that the game is going out of its way to punish us for failing at its absurd challenges. Why? I’m already being punished by having to start the stupid event over; why do you have to append more punishment on top of that?! If you expect me to try over and over to complete your dungeon, then fair enough, but don’t break my pants and take my money and expect me not to rage quit!

Shamus didn’t feel like going and repairing his armor during the dungeon. I guess he likes feeling the breeze.

I really hate to say this, but playing through the Ascalonian Catacombs gives me the same feeling that fighting the boss fights in Deus Ex: Human Revolution did. They both feel extremely out-of-place with regard to their respective games, and for all the worst reasons. Guild Wars 2 is otherwise a very gentle, accommodating, accessible and inviting game. This dungeon, on the other hand, is overly punitive and aggressively difficult, and it makes no effort to convey its mechanics gradually. It makes me wonder if ArenaNet outsourced it, because that would explain a lot.

I really, really hope they fix these balance and pacing issues in a patch. It’s simply not fair, and it stands out in an otherwise great game.

A Bundle of Updates

I’m going to provide updates about stuff.

Game Analyses/Reviews

I used to write a lot of reviews and analyses of games here. That’s sort of died off, for the most part. Why is that? I used to blame the fact that depression and work was eating up my time and taking away my motivation to write. That may be part of it, but I think I’ve figured out the real problem:

It’s Twitter’s fault.

Yahtzee mentioned the weapon system in Darksiders 2, which made me think about equipment finding in dungeon crawlers and RPGs in general. If Twitter wasn’t around, I’d have written an entire post about this subject on NGD. Instead I wrote less than 700 characters on the subject via Twitter. I’ve been sharing a lot of my thoughts about games on Twitter lately, and I’m not sure I want that to continue. I get a much greater sense of accomplishment writing a full post here, and I have the space to more adequately explain my opinions.

So I’m going to try to restrain myself on Twitter from here on out. Hopefully this will lead to more posts about games I’ve been playing.

The Game I’m Making

I’m getting the narrative of my game much more fleshed out. I actually have the beginning and the ending all planned, and the middle is… Well, I definitely have a much better idea of it. I’ve also got a title for it, or at least a tentative one: I’m Just Tired. It will make sense in context. I promise.

As for the actual game design, i.e. messing around with Construct: No progress since last time. Sorry. I blame personal stuff and employment.

Oh, speaking of employment…

I Quit My Job

Well, sort of. I turned in my two-weeks notice a few days ago, which means in about twelve days I’ll be unemployed. Moneys be damned, but it was just something I needed to do.

I don’t have any jobs lined up, so I’ll be looking, but in the meantime this will hopefully mean more progress on my game and more posts in the near future. You know, whenever I find time between Guild Wars 2 and sleep.

Oh, speaking of Guild Wars 2…

Guild Wars 2

Awesome game. I’ve been playing it perhaps more than I should. I’ve got a level 52 Asura warrior and a level 13 human thief. If you’re on the Henge of Denravi server and want to hit me up, my account handle is JPH.6087. I’m in the Eikosi League, the official guild of Twenty Sided.

I actually considered making an official Ninja Game Den guild, but since a large portion of the guild would probably just be a subset of Eikosi League, the NGD guild probably wouldn’t get much action.

Oh, but speaking of official Ninja Game Den stuff…

Ninja Game Den Steam Group

I made a Steam group for NGD! Check it out by clicking on this text that I’m typing right here, this stuff, yeah.

I’d love to get us all together and maybe organize some Team Fortress 2 or Counter Strike: Global Offensive sessions. Or something, I dunno. Let me know if you have any ideas or if you’d be up for it!

And hey, speaking of a thing…

New Project

I have a new project in mind that I’ll probably maybe do here, probably. It’s a text-based Let’s Play about a game that I’m not going to reveal until I’m done with work. I’m sorry. Leave me alone! I’m just tired, alright?

Morrowind and the Modern Games Industry

You may recall that I’ve discussed a game called Morrowind in the past. I wrote a post about it in my trademark retro-review-with-a-fresh-perspective format (don’t steal that idea, it’s MINE!) and I also streamed some sessions of it with my superstar tag-team partner Jarenth. You want to know why I stopped doing those stream sessions? I didn’t want to play the game anymore.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I stopped initially because of a very serious thing that happened to me, but I continued to not do it because I no longer had any desire to play it.

I’ve already said some mean things about Morrowind in that original post, but to recap: The movement speed is painfully slow, the combat is the epitome of a dull slog, and the stealth does not work properly. In the hours I spent with the game since then I began to learn more about it: namely, that it likes to bog you down with MMO-style “Collect X of Y” and “Go to X and interact with NPC Y” quests, which beautifully complement the atrociously slow movement speed, that the in-game economy is very easily breakable by exploiting potion brewing mechanics, and that the leveling system is convoluted, counter-intuitive and overly punitive.

Whenever people preach about how “old games were so much longer than the crap we play now” I roll my eyes, and this game is a perfect example of why. Yes, it occupies a lot of time, because it flagrantly wastes your time with slow movement and tedious fetch quests. Are we judging quantity over quality here?

Look, I did some digging through Morrowind and I just do not see any appeal. The game is revoltingly ugly (and I’m not just talking about graphical fidelity) and the combat is some of the worst I have ever played. Getting past that, the leveling system and economy system are both broken, and the quests provide no sense of engagement or satisfaction.

Is this really what we should hold up as the height of game design? Completing a million repetitive, meaningless quests so you can one day become the King Of Mages in a world of buggy robots? Exploiting an easily breakable economy and potion brewing scheme to get all the money in a dull, monotonous, overly brown world?

Is it out-of-line for me to call Morrowind a bad game? No, I don’t think so. I won’t begrudge you for your enjoyment of it, but it just does not function like a good game should. People have praised it for its setting and lore, but how much does that really mean when the game you’re playing is a fundamentally broken mess?

You know, back when I wrote that first impressions review of Fallout 1 and my site’s popularity [relatively] skyrocketed, people said I was being “unfair” toward the game because I was judging it by today’s standards rather than the standards of the time.

My response would be this: Yeah, I suppose I am being “unfair.” But if you want a “fair,” “unbiased” review of the game, I suggest you go back and find a review of it from the year it was released, because that’s the only way you’ll be satisfied. And I’ll also add that if you’re willing to criticize me for being unfair, you’ve missed the whole point of my retro review scheme.

A few months ago a certain blog post spread around the gaming community called “Fuck Videogames.” It’s a gross over-exaggeration of some genuine issues in the industry, but one part in particular really bothered me:

“Fuck developers for slapping a new coat of paint on an old game and selling it at full price. Fuck them for doing this every year, like clockwork, for the better part of two decades. Fuck developers for not taking risks.”

I’m not yelling about how these old games suck because I like yelling. I’m doing it to show that that line is bullshit. Many aspects of games have been steadily improving over the years. When I point out how egregiously flawed many of these so-called classics are, you respond with “Well, we have different standards today than we did back then.” And my reply is, “Yes, we do have different standards, because developers now have decades of experience and technology to make better games, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.

Many gamers complain that new games suck so bad and old games were so much better and the industry is totally stagnant and hasn’t improved in any way for like a decade. These same people will then turn around and tell me I’m being “unfair” in my criticisms of decade-old games simply because they’re a decade old. They don’t seem to be aware of the contradiction.

I understand if you think the industry has gone in a direction you don’t like. That’s understandable. It’s a very different place now than it was a decade or two ago, and I’m not going to argue it’s better in every way. But if you’re going to argue that everything about games is worse, then you’re literally, provably wrong. That attitude of yours doesn’t contribute to discourse. It’s thoughtless, pointless, ignorant, indignant bile masquerading as wisdom, and I do not have the patience to listen to that shit anymore.

Look, you can jump!

Alright, here’s the progress I’ve made.

The blue block is the player character. If you look closely, you can see tiny tally marks on the top left corner of it; that shows the animation frame. I made five blue blocks, each with its own number of tallies, and set it to animate automatically. The green block is the platform, and the blue block can jump on it and move around.

So I’ve learned:

  • How to animate sprites
  • How to set platforms
  • How to make a platformer player character

The reason this took so long isn’t because “game design is hard.” What I’ve done here is incredibly simple, and it seriously took me less than an hour to figure it out and implement it. It took so long because lately depression has been hitting with full force and I haven’t felt the drive to do anything except lay in bed or play some of that new Counter-Strike. But I promised updates, and I’m pretty long overdue, so there’s what I’ve got.

Also, since I want to feel like I’m presenting anything of actual value, I’m going to briefly explain the basic concept behind the game I want to make. It might not be the first game I make, since I’m pretty sure my first game is inevitably going to suck, but it’s the one I really want to make, the one I feel might actually be meaningful.

Generally speaking, any artistic project that has any sort of soul behind it starts out with some sort of creative spark; an idea that manifests itself in the artist’s imagination. With games, it’s often the idea of a game mechanic, or an art style, or a new piece of technology that needs to be advertised. For me the idea was a premise, a topic that I feel needs to be explored in a video game.

I want to make a game about suicide.

I’ve only played two games about suicide, and both of them are twisted, offensive mockeries of the subject matter. The first is Adult Swim’s Five Minutes To Kill Yourself, and the other is Karoshi Suicide Salaryman. These are lighthearted games where the objective is to kill yourself. I get the intent; it’s supposed to be a twist on the fact that your objective in most games is specifically to not die. But the way these games present themselves is just so silly and warped that they end up perpetuating the idea that suicide is a joke, and I don’t like that.

My goal is to make a somber, poignant game about struggling with suicidal thoughts; one that may help people understand the perspective of suicidal people, and give depressed people something they can relate to, something that might give them hope.

I really don’t want to explain too much of what I have in mind yet, especially since much of it will probably change by the time it’s finished. But there you have it. I want to make a game about suicide, and I want it to actually mean something.

Okay, so I haven’t made the jumpy game yet

Turns out the platformer tutorial isn’t nearly as useful as the top-down shooter tutorial.

Oh, I’m sure it is if you have that image pack I mentioned before — the one that has all the sprites and the background, the one that comes with the paid version of Construct. But I don’t, because I’m not exactly rich right now.

I’m terribly frustrated by the tutorial. It looks otherwise very useful, but it doesn’t give any help to people who don’t have the pre-made images. It says you can “substitute your own graphics,” but it doesn’t say how many images you need, what proportions those images need to be, etc.

I would just use a few stand-ins, but it turns out that unlike the top-down shooter tutorial, this one uses animations. This means each sprite actually uses several images — one for each animation frame. I have no idea how many frames I should make for each sprite and what each frame should look like, and I’m really bothered by the fact that the tutorial doesn’t give me any hint about this. It pretty much just leaves you in the dark if you didn’t buy the paid version.

If this was their way of pressuring me to get my wallet out, that seems downright silly — would anyone with any concept of money really spend $80 to get some images for a platforming tutorial game that nobody is going to play?

So yeah, I’ve kind of slacked off. A more self-loathing me would say I’ve been lazy, but I think it’s really two things: Frustration and anxiety. I’m frustrated because I’m obviously not going to actually learn what I need to know about how to make a platformer from this tutorial, and I’m anxious because this whole animation frames thing has just reminded me of how much of a workload making a game is going to be. I suck at making any respectable artwork, and I just realized I’m going to need to make dozens of images and animate them together to make one visually appealing character in a platform game.

To be honest, I’m not sure if every two days is a good schedule for updates. Especially considering I work five days a week, something tells me some of these updates are going to be very unsatisfying for both me and you. I might change it to once a week. I’m not sure.

In any case, I think what I might do is make some extremely basic images, perhaps just rectangles, and use them as stand-ins for the platforming tutorial. If they have to have animations, maybe I’ll have the boxes wobble around creepily. How could that go wrong?

Construct Tutorial: I’m Gonna Make A Shooty Game

Hey, look! I’m actually following through on my promise! Isn’t it exciting?

Construct includes two tutorials: how to make a top-down shooter, and how to make a platform game. They’re very rigid tutorials, going so far as to tell you exactly which textures to use. The big difference is that while tutorial #1 gives you the images to use, #2 tells you to use images that come with the premium version. It says:

“If you’re using the free edition, you can substitute your own graphics, or try the alternative beginner’s guide which provides all the sprites you need.”

Now, the very first tip Richard Perrin gave in his video was, “Don’t waste money,” meaning you can find everything you need to make a game at absolutely no cost on the Internet. The premium version of Construct 2 is eighty dollars. To put this in perspective, virtually everyone on the ‘net has informed me that Spec Ops: The Line is a glorious work of art, and I haven’t bought it yet because it costs $50. There’s no way I’m going to spend more than that in order to get some pretty pictures so I can make a game nobody is going to play because there’s already a thorough step-by-step tutorial for how to make it online anyway. There may one day be a justifiable reason for me to buy the premium version of Construct 2, but this is definitely not that reason.

Anyway…

Platforming is definitely the genre I’m interested in. I have three games in my head right now, and all three of them are platformers. (In order, there’s a puzzle platformer, a stealth platformer, and an action platformer that may or may not involve RPG elements.) But making my own placeholder art sounds like a time-consuming pain for a tutorial game. I might just make basic stick figures or even just use colored boxes when I get around to it.

But I don’t want to pigeon-hole myself into one genre, and besides, each tutorial suggests that you go through both of them before you wander off to make your own games, so today I’m going to make a top-down shooter.

The final product is to look like this:

That’s… nyeh. I don’t like the aesthetic. But hey, who am I to judge, right? And besides, this isn’t about making an appealing game — this is about learning how Construct works.

So the tutorial begins by telling me to click the New Project button. I’m not kidding; that’s what it says. Let that stand as an example of just how thorough this tutorial is — it gives you every bit of detail you might need to know, and it even has a few warnings like “If a popup says X, that means you accidentally did Y, so go back and do Z to fix it!” It doesn’t just tell you what to do; it explains what you’re doing every step of the way so that you’re actually learning to use the program instead of how to follow instructions.

Whoever made this tutorial is a good teacher as well as a good game designer.

I’m not going to go through each individual step, but here’s the rundown: It first teaches you to apply a tiled background, then how to place individual sprites. Both are extremely simple, essentially just boiling down to opening the image file. After that it explains Events, which feel reminiscent to the triggers in the StarCraft map editor that I remember fiddling with over a decade ago.

Each event has one or more Conditions and one or more corresponding Actions. Once the Conditions are met, the Actions take place. Conditions can be anything from clicking, to one sprite colliding into another, to a set amount of time passing, to a new level starting, etc. Basically anything. And actions cover all sorts of ground from creating new instances of sprites to increasing your score to starting a new level to getting a game over.

Events seem like the glue holding Construct games together; they’re what cause everything to happen in-game.

Construct also comes with some Behaviors, which are basically just pre-packaged assortments of events. There’s one called 8 Directions, for example, which you can apply to a sprite to make it move in sync with the arrow keys. (For some unfathomable reason there isn’t also a WASD behavior.) There’s a Bullet behavior, which makes the sprite move in a constant straight direction. There’s a Fade behavior, which makes the sprite fade out and disappear overtime. There’s also a whole bunch more.

Anyway, that’s about what I learned through this tutorial. Here’s my finished game:

Yeah, looks about right.

Bear in mind, my game isn’t exactly the same as the one provided on the website. There are a few features added that weren’t mentioned in the tutorial, like the Game Over screen or the frames-per-second display. But conveniently, the end of the tutorial provides a link to the Construct file for the demo game, so I can look at the events to see how to do those things myself.

On the whole, I have to say I’m really impressed so far, both with the tutorial and with Construct itself. I now feel like I actually have a rudimentary grasp of how to use this program. It must be a major pain to make game-development software this user-friendly.

Next time I make crappy placeholder art and learn how to make a platformer. Hopefully. Stay tuned!

I Can Too Make Games

Okay, this has been garnering a lot of attention in the indie scene lately, but assuming you’re not a shut-in like me, there’s a good chance you haven’t seen it yet, so…

Richard Perrin, indie game designer, made this video to convince more people who would love to start making games but are terrified of the alleged workload and learning curve behind it (people like me) to start trying. As well as giving tips and telling us that it isn’t as hard to start as we think it is, he lists various free game design tools that can be found on the Web. It’s an extremely useful video, and I’m glad I watched it.

However, the reason I saw it in the first place is because of a Gamasutra article written by Aleksander Adamkiewicz called “No, You Can’t Make Video Games.” It’s a strange article written by someone who seems to be very cynical about the creative process. Here’s one quote that perplexed me:

“The medium doesn’t need the noise of more 8bit platformers and sprite-based nostalgia-driven RPGs without other merit than ‘HEY GUYS, REMEMBER FINAL FANTASY!?’ Be honest Richard, you wouldn’t want to play these games, nobody would, even the creator wouldn’t.”

Have you ever read anything more snobby?

His stance seems to be that if there’s a chance you might not succeed at first, then you’re definitely not cut out for it and you shouldn’t try. He clarifies at one point that he doesn’t want to stop people from trying, but that statement is contradicted by other things he says in his article.

This guy would make the worst teacher ever.

Another quote:

“Richard, I’m really not averse towards the “hands on” approach to learning, but fucking around in Unity will not make a game, and won’t make you a game designer. The same way fucking around in Photoshop will not make art, fucking around in iMovie will not make a movie, and fucking around with Word will not make a novel.”

I think there’s a clear misunderstanding here. Adamkiewicz thinks Perrin is telling everyone how they’re going to make the next Bioshock or Mass Effect, when Perrin’s really only explaining how people can get started. It’s like criticizing an artist for telling people to start painting by saying “fucking around with a brush isn’t going to make the Mona Lisa.”

Adamkiewicz mentions at one point that he “tried” making games awhile ago using RPG maker, and that his creations were allegedly bad. I’m sorry to hear that, but you make mistakes so that you can learn from them. Something tells me this guy is upset about his own failed attempts at game-making, and so he’s taking out his frustrations on this Perrin guy, who thinks people have the potential to make games.

And once people started calling him out, he had to backpedal, hence the update he posted saying “Guys, I’m not saying don’t try, and I’m not saying this, and I’m not saying that…”
Even though he basically did.

The article itself is rather unpleasant, but it’s refreshing to see the backlash to it. Various indie game designers on Twitter have called the Gamasutra article out on its bullshit, and Perrin has written his own response post on his blog.

In particular, I really like some of the things Sophie Houlden has said on her Twitter:

that “you can’t make games” article is such bullshit. the author should feel ashamed, especially if they care about games.

who the hell is he to say people can’t make games? everyone that makes awesome games started out shit. it’s called determination, fuckbrain.

saying not everyone can make games is a massive insult to those of us who have spent YEARS developing our skills. talent is a myth.

You know what? This is the exact kind of motivation I’ve needed for awhile now. I mean, yes, becoming a good game developer is going to take a long time, but nothing worth doing can be done easily.

I’m going to start making games.

After looking over the tools Perrin suggested, I’ve downloaded Construct, Ren’Py, and sfxr. I’m going to start by making a simple platformer on Construct. I honestly do not have a thorough idea of what I’m going to make, but I’m going to delve right in, open up a tutorial or two, and start learning.

I know how bad I am about sticking with things if I don’t make a schedule for myself, so I’m gonna make a deal. Starting tomorrow I will work on game-making stuff for at least one hour each day, and I will post an update about it here every two days. If I fail to deliver on this, please yell at me on my Twitter or something.

I’m going to start making games.

My Take On “Fun”

Here’s the latest episode of Errant Signal, from Chris Franklin. I’m a fan of his show, as I’ve said before, but I feel kind of ambivalent toward this video.

I actually had a debate with my brother Josh about this exact topic awhile ago. I’ve always been one to claim that Games Must Be Fun, and my brother argued that this mentality is holding gaming back as a narrative medium (basically the exact same point Chris starts arguing at around the 4 minute mark in his video).

One particular point Josh made was, “We don’t have the same expectation for movies.”

My response was, “Actually, yeah, I do.”

Josh: “Didn’t you say your favorite movie was Fight Club? You wouldn’t call that movie ‘fun,’ would you?”

Me: “I… I think I would.”

And I think that really exemplified the crux of the argument. It isn’t a problem with the mentality with which we approach games; it’s a problem with semantics. When I say that games must be fun, what I mean is that games must not be boring. And I stand by that point. If a game is boring, it has failed. The same goes for movies, books, TV shows, etc. It’s the cardinal sin for any medium of entertainment — if it’s boring, that means I’m not engaged and my time is being wasted.

I suppose you could say my definition of “fun” is basically synonymous with “satisfying.” If I say a game is fun, that means I felt satisfied with it after playing it.

The example Chris used for why this is a problem is with Dead Rising. He said gamers hated and complained about Dead Rising only featuring one save file, even though the game did that specifically to force you to make and live through tough decisions. My response would be that Dead Rising’s save feature arguably wouldn’t necessarily lower the ‘fun’ rating for the game if it did achieve its goal. It was designed to heighten tension, and tension can make a game more fun if done properly, at least for me.

I never played Dead Rising, but while I generally despise games that don’t let me save freely and in at least two separate slots, I could see merit in Dead Rising’s approach. After all, I also generally hate games that don’t let you quicksave, but I think Amnesia: The Dark Descent’s lack of quicksaving really heightened the suspense and the horror. If I could have quicksaved, jumped out to see where the monster was and then jammed F9 just before it killed me, I think that would have effectively made the game less fun for me.

I think the problem stems from my and many others’ definition of fun being fundamentally different from Chris’s, Josh’s, and many others’ definition of fun. I guess the easy solution to this would be consulting the dictionary, but I don’t think that will actually change things.

Mind you, I’m not in any way trying to disqualify the validity of Chris’s video. I still think it’s a worthwhile topic to discuss. Semantic arguments are the absolute worst arguments to be part of, but they still need to happen now and again. That’s how language works.