Sunday, 11 November 2012

Cracklesnap - a short RPG by me

Thought I'd put my first proper game on here. Cracklesnap was made in RPG maker VX Ace, is completely  free to download, and plays like the older RPGs with 2D graphics and random encounters. Should take approximately 4-5 hours to complete.

For the download link, story synopsis, screenshots, and character info GO HERE.

(for anyone who doesn't own RPG maker VX Ace, which is most people, choose the first download link (the larger one))

(PS: I've been told that the game doesn't work on Mac, so PC only at the moment).

Thanks for the support!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Review: Darksiders

At first glance Darksiders (aka Darksiders: The Wrath of War) looked to me just like any other 3rd person adventure hack and slash. In fact in the first level or so there is nothing more to it, but after that the game really picks up and gets interesting. I was mostly drawn in by its great setting that takes place in a post-Armageddon world. You take the role of War, who is one of the four horsemen of Apocalypse, and both angels and demons deem you as an enemy. War is now on an errand to clear his name and to attempt to restore the balance.

 The art style and the environments I thought were really beautiful. There are some really stunning locations in the game, and the characters no doubt were well-developed and interesting. All this greatly helped to enhance the atmosphere in the game.

 As I mentioned already, the game’s first level is just a preview and seems average, but shortly after that is when things start to get much more interesting. That's when your character starts to learn new moves, making combat very fun and engaging. In addition you get some new weapons as well, like the Scythe, for more crowd control, and also a Tremor Gauntlet, if you fancy power punching. Among all the combat, the boss fights especially stood out for me. Each and every boss fight was both challenging and enjoyable at the same time and this is perhaps the game's biggest strength in my opinion. The cool cutscenes and the special kills were an icing on the cake.

 Although there are so many good things about this game that make it incredibly fun and engaging, I also have several criticisms. First of all, the PC version is not exactly a very good console port. The keyboard and mouse control scheme was more or less playable, but it's the fact that you couldn't change graphics options apart from resolution that was really disappointing. Of course this isn't much of a problem for someone with a powerful PC, but for those of us with average machines, even on low resolution there is a noticeable drop in framerate in some areas of the game, making it quite stuttery.

 Another thing that I disliked - some areas were just a bit too long, like the Hollows and the Ashlands. Not sure whose bright idea it was that the sewers and the desert are good candidates for lengthy levels, since those usually tend to be amongst the most boring of the environments in any game. The Black Throne level was perhaps the biggest offender. Although it was a very beautiful level with some cool battles, it had way too much backtracking and also made you do the same thing 3 times!

 All the other areas seemed to be pretty great though. My personal favourite would probably have to be Twilight Cathedral. It was very moody, atmospheric, and had a good balance between fights and puzzles. I also really enjoyed the part that was leading up to it where you had to fly over the destroyed city and some parts of the lava caverns on top of an angelic beast.

 My last criticism would be towards the puzzles, in particular those in the Black Throne level. Although there were some great puzzles in the game, some others were a lot less fun. They weren't hard exactly - you could figure out most of them right away. It's just that to execute those solutions usually took too long, requiring too much running and jumping about, as well as tonnes of trial and error, and hence that was breaking the pace of the game.

 All the criticisms I mentioned stand quite strong for me and I guess if I wasn't so charmed by the game's setting, art style, and combat mechanics, I probably would've gotten less enjoyment out of it. Overall the game is highly entertaining and worth checking out. I can’t wait to start the second one. 

My rating: 9/10

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Make your own game with RPG maker

I want to make this post about a program that allows you to create your own role playing games. RPG maker has had many versions over the years and the kind of games that it allows people to create are like the older Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest titles, but if you are knowledgeable in programming then you can make something even more complex.

 Being someone who loves getting creative, I simply knew I had to try this program and I was really impressed. All I needed was to simply check out the features and play around with various tools the program had to offer and before I knew it I was getting hit with ideas and devising my own game on the go.

Screenshot from a game I've been making in RPG maker VX Ace.

 RPG maker is a very user-friendly tool. I personally am not a programmer at all and have no experience making video games. However, I found it that I could pick up on this program’s ins and outs right away. It really is simple enough for the beginners but also offers more than enough for programming gurus as well. Before knowing about it, the whole idea of creating video games sounded really complex and dare I say unattainable for someone with my skills, yet it’s something I always wanted to try. However, now even non-programmers can make their creative dreams come true. I’d say anyone who’s got good imagination and is into video games can get a lot of enjoyment out of RPG maker. It opens up a whole new creative side of you.

Battle screen using VX Ace

 The images you see here are some of the screenshots from the games I’ve been making in this program. If you too want to make your own game, then you should definitely give it a try. Whether making games is a career path you want to follow or whether you just want to do it for fun, RPG maker surely is one of the best places to start -

Screenshot from a game I was making in RPG maker XP

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Changes to the blog

Hello everyone.

 It's been a while since my last post on this blog, so I've decided to make some changes. From now on I'll be posting not only lists, but a bunch of other stuff relating to video games as well, whether it's game reviews, game recommendations, or anything else in that sphere. Of course there'll still be lists as well. :)

 For the time being, here's a list of my game reviews on Metacritic:

Screenshot from Skyrim

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Top 10 Favourite stages from Trine series

In this list I’ve decided to pick what I thought were the best stages of Trine and Trine 2. Trine series in essence are 2D sidescrolling, platforming adventure games, which can particularly boast with their amazing visuals, music, and fun physics and puzzle elements. And hence these were mostly what I considered as factors for deciding my favourite stages between the two games. Now with the expansion for Trine 2 coming out very soon, I wonder how the newly introduced stages would fare in comparison to these ones.

*Warning. Some spoilers ahead*

10) Mosslight Marsh (Trine 2)

Although very similar to the two levels preceding it, this is quite a good stage as it balances out well between puzzle solving and fighting goblins. It takes place in a jungle-like area, showing a nice sunset and then finally a night time, when the heroes reach the Petrified Tree. As a result this level gives a bit of a transition from all cheery fantasy feel to a more dark and spooky one that comes with the level after it.

9) Crystal Caverns (Trine)

The name pretty much says it all. This stage happens inside a cave which is full of crystals, some of which break off from the ceiling and drop where our heroes pass by. This level has a nice slow pace to it, allowing for a bit of exploration under the water and other places. There is a very fitting lovely music track playing in the background too (I’ll be saying this a lot).

8) Forlorn Wilderness (Trine 2)

The first level in Trine 2, not counting the tutorial, Forlorn Wilderness tries to introduce a bit of everything, giving us tasters of things to come in the game, whether it’s the stunning locations, funny dialogues between the heroes, the first appearance of goblins (the most common enemy in the game), different puzzle elements, and also the oversized creatures, one of which acts as the level boss.

7) Bramblestoke Village (Trine)

This place is pretty much an abandoned village at night. There is nobody there except for the undead, big spiders, and an occasional flock of bats. This stage has somewhat of an offbeat sense to it, maybe because of the choice of music, or maybe because of those awesome Ferris wheels which act as obstacles to the heroes but also as fun places to toy around with the enemies. Whatever the case, this is a lovely transitional level between one tricky stage and an even harder one that follows up.

6) Mushroom Caves (Trine 2)

Finally out of the nasty Hushing Grove, we find ourselves in an absolutely gorgeous cave full of greenery and all sorts of life forms. In fact it does not even feel like a cave, because it’s very bright and beautiful in it. I’d probably combine this entry with the level that follows this one, Mushroom Murk, as they have virtually the same kinds of backgrounds, music, and the latter level is also very short (they could’ve easily been combined into one whole level, I think). Mushroom Cave effectively gives you a sense as if you’re in a paradise of some kind, making it easily one of the best levels in the game.

5) The Final Stage (Trine 2)

Not so much a stage as just the final boss fight against a dragon. This fight is done very well. The dragon is coming literally out of the background and attempts to chomp down on the heroes and to scorch them with flames. All three characters are useful in this fight and there is an overall sense of epic finale to the game, especially with that dramatic music playing on the background. With that kind of music playing, anyone would wish they could fight a real dragon right at that moment.

4) Throne of the Lost King (Trine)

Now this is a castle which has been completely taken over by the undead. This level is at around halfway through the first game and features a lot of different traps and other obstacles, noticeably more than on any level prior to it. It’s got a very bright, thematic red colour and a very epic music track, what to me marks it as a great mid-game climax point. Some of the most common obstacles in this level are massive, spinning gears and also giant axes which swing from the ceiling.

3) Ruins of the Perished (Trine)

The first game overall is impressive visually, and this stage is when the visuals reach their peak, I think. It takes place in the site of the ancient ruins, which look absolutely gorgeous, with a gentle morning light seeping through the trees and in between various gaps, and also lovely backdrops of early morning landscapes. With all that beauty, one would easily wish they could be there adventuring with the protagonists.

2) Searock Castle (Trine 2)

This, in my opinion, is the most visually beautiful level of Trine 2. Searock Castle is exactly as the name suggest – it’s a castle right on the beach, showing a stunning sunset and incredibly lifelike water ripple effects. The level has a nice balance of different puzzles and some unique elements thrown in, such as jumping on platforms which are moved by a giant octopus, as well as using big coconuts to cross bodies of water and avoiding oversized crabs. The music track that plays in this level is also one of my top favourites from the whole game, giving a relaxing, serene atmosphere to an already visually beautiful level. The level ends with a pretty cool boss fight against a goblin king. To me this is the best stage in Trine 2.

1) Dragon Graveyard (Trine)

The original Trine has a solid start, but the first couple of levels mostly take place indoors, in particular in the tunnels and hallways. There isn’t much to gawk at in them. And then, all of a sudden, this level happens and we’re outside, enjoying the scenery of draconian bones lying peacefully, moody weather, golden autumn trees, and what appears to be newly built strongholds of the undead, whilst listening to a fantastic music track and knocking the skellies off the platforms on which they stand. This is simply speaking an amazing stage in every way. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Top 10 Favourite Castlevania games

This list I want to dedicate to one of my most favourite video game series – Castlevania. Developed by Konami, this is one of the oldest game series, starting as far back as 1986 (it’s older than me!), and ever since there have been over a 30 Castlevania titles released. The series mostly centres around a conflict between Dracula and a clan of vampire hunters, the Belmonts. Every 100 years or so Dracula gets resurrected and attempts to enslave humanity with his autocratic rule. This means that one of the Belmonts, or at times even another hero, has to stand up to this and to stop Dracula.

Castlevania games can mostly be divided into 3 main categories, depending on the gameplay style. First of all, there are the old-school ones. Those are the titles released in the late 80s and early 90s for the most part, though a few rare ones came out after that as well. They consist of several stages that a protagonist has to travel through and battle monsters, with a boss at the end of each stage.

From mid to late 90s, the series changed its direction a bit. It sort of split into two paths: the Metroid style and the 3D style. The Metroid style was inspired by the Metroid games, where, instead of linear stages, the games are more open-ended, contain RPG elements, as well as elements of exploration. The 3D style is as the name implies – the Castlevania games which are done in 3D rather than in 2D.

So this is a list that I’ve compiled of my current top 10 favourite Castlevania games. Since there are so many games in the series, I have not yet tried out them all, and hence some good ones might not appear on here, but think of this list simply as 10 great games that you should check out.

10) Portrait of Ruin

Release date: 2006
System: Nintendo DS

 One of the Metroid style Castlevanias, Portrait of Ruin is the second title to come out on DS. Portrait of Ruin introduced a number of things. First of all is the ability to control two protagonists at once. This is achieved by constantly swapping between the two whilst playing. As the player is controlling one of them, the other one simply tags along. This element is exploited pretty well in the game with a number of puzzles and such that cannot be solved with just one hero alone.

 Another thing was that apart from castle areas the player could also explore the places inside of the paintings. The paintings acted as portals and there were 8 such places. I personally loved most of the painting areas a lot, even though half of them were very similar to the other half, e.g. 13th Street was pretty much a night-time version of City of Haze, and so on. Although the painting areas were stunning, I felt the castle areas were somewhat bleak in comparison and I remember distinctly feeling a need to quickly get past the next castle area just so I could get to the next painting.

 Lastly, the game also had side quests, which is an element Metroid style Castlevanias had not had yet up to that point. I had somewhat of mixed feelings on the side quests. Some of them were fun, but many others I felt were getting in the way of the game and weren’t so interesting.

 Overall, Portrait of Ruin is a very pretty game, both in terms of artistic graphics style and the soundtrack. The only reasons why it’s not any higher on the list is due to what was mentioned above.

9) Rondo of Blood

Release date: 1993
System: PC Engine, PSP (as part of Dracula X Chronicles in 2007)

One of the old-school titles, this game was at first released solely in Japan on a fairly unknown console called PC Engine. It was only 2 years later that it was remade for SNES and distributed all over the world, with the name Dracula X (not to be confused with Dracula X Chronicles, which was released in 2007 for PSP). Despite looking very much alike and revolving around the same plot, Dracula X had most of the levels changed and redesigned. In my opinion Dracula X wasn’t quite as good as Rondo of Blood.

Rondo of Blood is graphically a very beautiful game, especially for its time. The areas are really crisp, detailed, and full of colours, as well as diverse. The soundtrack as usual is fantastic too, and the level of challenge is pretty high.

Perhaps the game’s most notable feature is that it is semi-linear, i.e. most of the levels feature two different paths, what then determines which next stage the player will be heading through. For example, at level 1, if the player went the regular route, the 2nd level would be the Main Hall, but if they chose an alternate path, then the 2nd level would be Lake Bridge, and so on. This feature greatly adds replay value to the game and makes the player curious to try out alternate paths. Additionally, apart from playing as Richter Belmont, there is also a chance to unlock Maria and to play as her (something Dracula X did not have), and since her playstyle is different, this once again adds replay value.

Perhaps the only critique I can give Rondo of Blood is that the character control is a step down from Super Castlevania IV (the game that came out before this). In SCvIV we could whip in every direction, but in Rondo of Blood we’re back to only whipping forwards and that’s it. The jumping is also a bit clumsy. Perhaps the control was worsened to add difficulty to the game, but it can be quite frustrating for the player. This is only an issue when playing as Richter, and not with Maria.

8) Order of Ecclesia

Release date: 2008
System: Nintendo DS

The last of the Castlevanias on DS, Order of Ecclesia did something a little different for the Metroidvania style. Whereas all the previous games that went in this direction had you traversing and exploring various castle areas, Order of Ecclesia starts with you simply exploring the surrounding areas, such as mountain passes, forests, and underwater locations. Some of those areas utilise the old-school linear style, whereas the others conform to the Metroid style. And then finally, in the last part of the game, we get to actually explore Dracula’s castle itself.

The game also has you collecting various glyphs, which you use to attack enemies with, but to me this system was just a bit too similar to the soul system of Aria and Dawn of Sorrow, so I didn’t feel as though this was a new feature. Generally this game is very beautiful, both visually and audibly, and it also features some side quests which you can do for the NPCs. Perhaps its only drawback for me was that it forced you to level grind and money grind too often.

7) Lament of Innocence

Release date: 2003
System: Play Station 2

Lament of Innocence is one of the 3D Castlevanias. These are perhaps the most criticised of the games in the series, mostly due to how different they are to all the rest. In my opinion though, Lament of Innocence is a great game. It happens at the very beginning of the Castlevania timeline, telling a story of how the whole conflict between Dracula and the Belmont clan began.

The basic gameplay is an action adventure platformer. It takes place over 6 main stages, 5 of which are accessible from the beginning and can be played in any order of preference. Once the main bosses of all 5 are defeated, then the final stage becomes available. Although 6 stages might seem too little, each one is fairly lengthy. During these stages, the player faces loads of different enemies and learns a number of various combo moves. Having a variety of combos to perform makes the action very fun and stylish, especially during boss fights. Additionally, after completing each stage, the player acquires magical orbs. These orbs alter the main functionality of the sub-weapons. Given the number of the orbs and sub-weapons, a player can have up to 40 different secondary attacks. And finally there are bonus things added, like a hidden secret boss that provides a very nice challenge, as well as a couple of unlockable characters to play as.

The game has a few minor shortcomings, like how at times the fixed camera angles are quite bad, making platforming aspect of the gameplay frustrating. Another thing is that this game is not an RPG, meaning that most of the fighting is kind of redundant as a player does not gain experience points from defeated enemies. Nevertheless, in general this is a solid game. Fighting enemies might be redundant, but it sure as hell is incredibly fun.

6) Super Castlevania IV

Release date: 1991
System: SNES

This was sort of a remake of the original Castlevania (which was for NES) and features Simon Belmont travelling to the castle and through it to eventually confront Dracula.

 There are a good number of stages in the game, each of which is very suspenseful and atmospheric, mostly thanks to the intense ambient music and cool level design. The game is pretty challenging, just as all other old-school Castlevanias. Perhaps one of the very distinct features of this game is an exceptionally good control of the character. Unlike the three titles preceding it, in this Castlevania our character can whip in every direction, as well as utilise flexi-whip (holding the attack button and spinning the whip randomly).

All in all, this is a solid old-school Castlevania that delivers greatly on both: fun and challenge.

5) Bloodlines

Release date: 1994
System: Sega Genesis

This is another old-school Castlevania and the only one ever released on Sega Genesis. Bloodlines takes place over 6 awesome stages, all in various parts of the world, such as Palace of the Versailles and Leaning Tower of Piza.

 The player can choose to play as one of the two characters, each with slightly different form of attack and special ability, meaning that at times you won’t be following the same path through a level with one of them as with the other. Bloodlines also allows the player to set a difficulty level. This is something other old-school Castlevanias don’t have. Being able to adjust a difficulty level is a good way to appeal to both: new players and veterans.

 Bloodlines generally is a nice looking game, with cool enemies and even cooler bosses. It is bound to challenge you. The soundtrack is as usual great too, making this an all round great old-school Castlevania title.

4) Curse of Darkness

Release date: 2005
System: Play Station 2, Xbox

Most would probably find it unusual for me to put this one so high on the list, and this game has gotten very mixed opinions from the Castlevania fans, especially that it’s one of the 3D Castlevanias. However, I personally think Curse of Darkness is a neat game and certainly surpasses its predecessor, Lament of Innocence.

In Curse of Darkness the player gets to control Hector, who is a devil forgemaster, what means that apart from being a great fighter he also can summon familiars to help him during combat. This is not just your typical hack and slash adventure game. Curse of Darkness features great RPG elements. Apart from levelling up with gained experience, the player also collects a variety of materials which he/she can then use to forge various weapons, whether it’s swords, spears, blunts, hand-to-hand, or even exotic weapons.

 As I mentioned the familiars already, I find Curse of Darkness to be quite unique in regard to pet management gameplay. Not only there are different types of familiars, ranging from offensive ones to more supportive ones, but also each one can take a number of different evolutionary paths, depending on your playstyle.

 Also worthy of mention is a brilliant soundtrack in this game. Even though a good soundtrack is a common thing to Castlevania games, I find Curse of Darkness soundtrack to be the best of them all.

 Admittedly, Curse of Darkness is often criticised for its level design, in particular the fact that some areas are too big and require a lot of walking, but I don’t find this aspect to be that gamebreaking to get this game an undeservingly low Metascore of 72.

3) Symphony of the Night

Release date: 1997
System: Play Station, Sega Saturn, XBLA, PSN, PSP (as part of Dracula X Chronicles)

 Symphony of the Night is a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood and takes place a few years after in the Castlevania timeline. After Richter mysteriously disappears, it is now up to Alucard to stop his father, Dracula, from returning to the world.

You probably expected this to be at number 1 on my list, since it seems to be the most popular of the Castlevania games, both among long-time fans of the series and those who are just getting into it. Symphony of the Night was a revolutionary title, since it was the first game to take the series in the Metroidvania direction. The game is incredibly beautiful and well-polished, with great level design, captivating music, awesome enemies and bosses, and a cool protagonist, not to mention its distinct atmospheric feel. It also has a rather cheesy dialogue and voice acting, but that only makes it better.

So why not at number 1? Well, since it was the first of its kind, there were some areas of the gameplay that still did not quite achieve perfection, like the control of the character for example not being as ideal as some of the latter games, and also minor things such as having to equip a potion before you can use it. Nevertheless, if you ever have a friend who is interested in trying out Castlevania series, then Symphony of the Night is perhaps the best game to recommend to them.

2) Dawn of Sorrow

Release date: 2005
System: Nintendo DS

This one is the first Castlevania on Nintendo DS and a direct sequel to Aria of Sorrow. The story continues as Soma now has a cult after him. This cult is attempting to bring back Dracula’s power in a new dark lord candidate. Most of the characters from Aria of Sorrow are back, and we now have some new ones too, making up for a brilliant storyline.

Dawn of Sorrow features some incredibly beautiful castle areas and very amazing level design. To add to the fantastic levels, it has one of the best Castlevania soundtracks ever. Each level features a really awesome boss fight and all in all I felt the difficulty was balanced well too. The game maintains a good challenge, which is just enough so not to force the player to level grind apart from the very end.

Dawn of Sorrow’s only minor drawback for me was the presence of the magic seal system. The idea is not bad and fits the story well. The problem is that if you failed to draw it correctly, then the boss you’re fighting would not die and will continue to pummel you. If not for that, I would’ve probably placed this game on top of this list, as it’s virtually perfect in every way apart from this one experimental feature, which gladly was not included in further DS Castlevanias.

1) Aria of Sorrow

Release date: 2003
System: GBA

Being the fourth Metroid style Castlevania, Aria of Sorrow is hardly revolutionary in that regard. However, what it did manage was to finally perfect the idea. The previous two GBA titles did a lot of hit and miss, but Aria of Sorrow, in my opinion, got everything right.

 Apart from being Metroid style and featuring a variety of different items and weapons, Aria of Sorrow also introduces something new. It introduces a soul system, which was then also used in its sequel. The game’s protagonist, Soma Cruz, once in a while can steal the souls of the monsters that he slays, what then allows him to use that monster’s most defining ability, whether it’s an attack, unique talent, or a passive buff. Given that there are well over a hundred of different monsters in the castle, the player can end up with a massive variety of different skills, meaning that there are multiple ways to overcome the same bosses and obstacles.

 Additionally, the game introduces a lot of great new characters for this story arc in the series, now taking place in the near future, and features fantastic levels, brilliant soundtrack, and overall a very fun gameplay with just the right amount of difficulty. Seeing as that there is nothing to criticise about Aria of Sorrow, it takes the number 1 spot on my Castlevania games list. The only thing that could be improved is if the game was re-released on a more powerful system, so that its already beautiful levels could look even better.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

What makes for a good First-Person Shooter (FPS) game

Following on from my earlier list on what I think makes for a good RPG, here is what I think makes for a good First-Person Shooter (FPS) game. FPS games do vary from one another a fair bit, but these points I think are important for every FPS game out there.

Now first of all it is worthy to note something. The points mentioned here I mostly addressed towards the games which are pure FPS or at least put a major focus on the shooter aspect of the game. Games which are RPGs primarily but utilise first-person perspective (like Deus Ex and Fallout 3) do not apply here.

Screenshot from Killing Floor

1. Lock ‘n load - Variety in Content

Perhaps the most important feature that greatly prolongs the lifespan of an FPS game is the variety in content. It doesn’t matter how long the standard campaign mode goes for, whether it’s only 5 hours or 20, what each FPS game needs to have is variety. There are several aspects to it. The 2 most basic ones are:

a) Variety in enemies
b) Variety in weapons

Variety in enemies (point a) means that the challenge is never the same. If the challenge changes, it means the player is required to come up with new ways of overcoming it, and hence repetition is minimized. In addition to providing different levels of challenge, having different enemies is also pleasing to the eyes. It gets boring seeing the same monsters die all the time. In fact, having new enemies makes the player more interested to know that enemy’s ins and outs. For example, in Doom 3, I absolutely loved it every time I came across a scene that introduced a new monster. It sparks curiosity and also makes each new enemy type seem special.

On top of having great diversity in enemies, it is also a good idea to have diversity in means of killing them (point b). In majority FPS games those would be guns. It is not, however, the sheer number of guns that is important, but the functionality of said guns – there need to be different ways to kill. If a game only features bullet firearms for example, it can get tedious, unless these firearms are useful for different situations. Instead of, for example, having 20 different assault rifles, why not have a bit of each weapon type. It makes the game more interesting this way. Now guns are not the only way to dispatch enemies. It is well possible to have other ways. Like in the game BioShock, for example, we get to utilise all sorts of genetic powers, ranging from electric bolts, to freezing blasts, to swarms of bees, and so on.

Screenshot from BioShock

2. So what now? - Variety in Situations/Game styles

Now this is something by far not many FPS games contain. They might have a number of cool weapons and cool enemy types, but the game might still just involve you walking around from corridor to corridor, shooting down monsters or enemy soldiers and moving on. To take the FPS experience even further, we need to have a variety in types of gameplay. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, depending on the game.

One of the ways is to simply make the player face different situations as they go on about their single player campaign. This is one of the main features that makes Half Life 2 so different to most other FPS games. The player gets to attack, defend, and face pretty much every situation in between, including puzzle solving elements. This kind of continuous changing of pace and game style keeps the experience fresh and always keeps the player’s curiosity high as to what they’re going to be doing next.

Now another way to vary the game styles is to simply do them as separate features. A good example of this would be the TimeSplitters series. Apart from having standard story mode, there is also an arcade mode, map maker mode, and a huge plethora of challenges of various sorts, which involve all sorts of random gameplay elements. There is no doubt that had these games only had the story mode, they would not last anywhere near as long as they are in their present state.

Screenshot from Half Life 2

3. Boom! Headshot! - Satisfaction

This is another one of those highly essential features to an FPS game. It’s the satisfaction. Of course this is important for every game type, but to an FPS it is an absolute must. Most people play FPS games as means to de-stress and release anger or simply to improve their reactions and motor skills. No matter what the reason is, instant pleasure from killing an enemy is what each FPS player seeks. The weapons must be enjoyable to use, and enemies must be responsive to being hurt, and so on.

This is why having high levels of gore and good ragdoll physics make FPS games so popular – it gives people inner satisfaction of seeing that big bad monster explode into chunks of flesh and puddles of blood as opposed to falling down in a scripted manner. If this is achieved, then there don’t even need to be any in-game rewards. The instant gratification from a slaughtered enemy is enough of a reward already.

Screenshot from Doom 3

4. How do you move this thing? - Control

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things when playing an FPS is when the game isn’t responding in a manner that a player wants. Many multiplayer FPS gamers often complain about lag, and indeed lag does ruin the experience, but this is a story for another day. What I am going to discuss in this category can be similarly annoying if not executed right. It is the control of the in-game character.

 Every little factor is important here – the sensitivity of the mouse, the walking speed, the height and distance of the jump, as well as easy, intuitive keyboard/joystick controls. Those things are the basics of the game, the basics of the experience, and hence a little flaw in one of them will be with the player for the rest of the game and therefore can easily get annoying, especially during the more difficult parts.

 Of course each person is different, and hence different gamers will react differently to each control scheme. For this reason there has to be both: optimization and flexibility. Optimization is about being able to appeal to as many people as possible. Flexibility is about allowing customization, so that people can adjust the game’s controls to whatever they prefer the most.

Screenshot from Aliens vs Predator (Classic 2000)

5. My senses are tingling - Atmosphere

Perhaps the first thing to note about FPS games is that they are done in first-person perspective. The biggest reason for that is to make it easy to shoot the in-game weapons, but that is not the only reason. The whole idea of playing the game in first person is experiencing the in-game events from the eyes of the protagonist. It makes the player feel that they ARE the protagonist. So now that we are in the protagonist’s shoes, we need to become a part of the game’s world.

This is where the atmosphere comes in. It is important to set it correctly. The climax needs to build up at the right pace and reach its peak at the right time. Only that way the shocking scenes would cause us to gasp, or the scary moments would cause us to jump from our seats. On top of that, all the little details can either make or break the atmosphere, ranging from fitting background music, to the colour scheme, to even the type of enemies you encounter in a certain area.

Screenshot from Prey

6. Have we been here before? - Level Design

I thought I’d put this here too. Although a good level design is beneficial for any game, I think for FPS games it’s one of the most important things. Why? Well, simply because of the gameplay. An RPG, for example, might get away with slightly repetitive levels or occasional boring areas, because that’s not what the focus is on in an RPG. With FPS games, your environment is part of what makes the experience.

 In FPS we want to be in action all the time and progressing forward. Spending too long trying to figure out which way to go can ruin the experience and even turn a player off the game. Levels should be easy to navigate through with some originality and intuitive solutions when it comes to puzzles (for example, making a door switch to look like the background environment is one of the easiest ways to annoy a player). The areas should not be too dull and boring, and any parts which force you to utilise way too much the clumsy jumping system that is native to at least 90% of FPS games should be avoided like a nasty disease.

 Some of the most common annoyances related to environment include but certainly aren’t limited to:
 Levels where each room/area looks almost the same.
 Levels which are too dark to see anything without proper means.
 Levels which are boring, dull, one-coloured, and do not inspire any emotion whatsoever.
 Levels with too much jumping and not enough action.
 Levels which look identical to a level before/earlier in the game.
 And so on.

 Basically, the levels should flow smoothly, they should show a variety of different environments and locations, and they should look different from one another.

Screenshot from Borderlands (Zombie Island of Dr Ned expansion)

Friday, 22 June 2012

Top 10 best areas of Titan Quest

This list I thought I’d base on one of my favourite action RPGs, Titan Quest. The game story takes place over a massive variety of locations, mostly in Ancient Greece, Egypt, Orient, and finally in the Underworld itself (if we include the expansion). Due to such big variety of different areas in the game, I thought I’d make a list of some of my favourite ones, mentioning why I picked them.

*Some mild spoilers ahead*

10) Tsakonian Ruins

This is one of the first places you encounter in the expansion Immortal Throne. The area has a theme and instantly starts to stand out from the previous 3 acts of the game. We find ourselves in a massive city-like area which had been long destroyed and taken over by vegetation, as well as various animal life forms, such as frogmen and walking trees. It is a very big and open location, requiring some time to explore.

9) The Great Wall

Although a very short part of the game, this is one of the memorable moments when you get to travel along the Great Wall, as it twists around the landscape, and destroy all the pengs which have landed on it. You even get to have a little boss battle on the Wall with the biggest of the pengs.

8) Obsidian Halls

This is one of the last areas of the original TQ, when you finally travel beneath the Wusao mountain, to where Typhon himself is being held. This last area of the Wusao caves looks very stunning as it’s entirely made of obsidian rock and features lava pools and fiery vents. The presence of big, dragon-like Sepulchral Wyrms adds to the intense atmosphere of this place.

7) War Camp in Parnassus

During fairly early parts of the game, whilst you are still in Greece, at one point you stumble upon an entire war camp of monsters. You get instantly overwhelmed by lots and lots of satyrs and then make your way to the Upper War Camp, which features semi-destroyed structures and lots of undead and ratmen. I found this location to be very atmospheric, especially when you get to the end of it and notice what appears to be a statue of a Cyclops. Just a bit further you also notice statues of people and probably start to realise that you are about to face the Gorgon sisters.

6) Chang’an city and palace

Apart from monster-infested open areas, we also come across lots of cities and villages. Perhaps my favourite one of those is city of Chang’an. Apart from being incredibly beautiful, it also has a couple of side quests. It had been taken over by the Terra Cotta soldiers, which in turn are controlled by a powerful mage, Bandari. Your job is to free the city and the palace from the threat.

5) Passage of Souls and bank of River Styx

This is simply one of those ‘Wow!’ moments. It is the part I look forward to every single time I reach it. Not because of the gameplay elements, but simply because of its moody atmosphere. Fairly early in Act 4 you locate the entrance to the Underworld. As soon as you proceed, you find yourself in a cave of sort with hundreds of souls flying about. It looks absolutely stunning. Before you know it, you are finally in Hades for the first time ever, not as a dead man, but as one of the living. Creepy music also heavily adds to the eerie ambience of this place. Right after you’ve left the Passage of Souls, you reach the bank of the River Styx and you see Charon’s boat. However, Charon himself is not there, and all the shades are waiting there anxiously and wondering if they will ever see proper afterlife. The first time I reached this part, I was really impressed, because virtually everything in it added to the creepy, melancholy atmosphere. What an awesome way to begin your journey through the Underworld!

4) Hades’ Palace

Hades’ palace is the final location you go to in the entire game (when counting expansion). This is when you’re done helping others and now going to fight the boss himself – you are about to face one of the gods! For a final area, Hades’ palace looks really cool. It has some pretty unique visual designs and looks like an enormous prison, going many levels underground. Apart from looking impressive, this place also has an intense music playing in it and contains monsters of many sorts, in particular the gigantes.

3) Hanging Gardens of Babylon

Now this is a particularly exquisite location in the game. It marks the very beginning of Act 3 and consists of a huge garden that sort of spirals upwards layer by layer. This garden is incredibly colourful, containing exotic plants, and mini-waterfalls which lead into streams with small bridges over them. The choice of enemies really fits this area and the music is great too. Overall, in my opinion, this is one of the most remarkable parts of the game.

2) Knossos Palace and Minoan Labyrinth

Towards the end of Act 1 our character travels to Crete where he/she must get to the Knossos Palace and in there to find an entrance into the Minoan labyrinth. I have to say the first time through I was really impressed with this location. It’s pretty big and looks gorgeous. It also features a new type of enemy at that stage of the game – automatons, as well as a secret boss in epic and legendary difficulties. Minoan Labyrinth I thought was done really well too and managed to keep the anticipation of facing the Minotaur really high.

1) Fields of Elysium

The top spot on this list I decided to give to the fields of Elysium in Act 4. In Greek mythology Elysium is the equivalent of Heaven, where the most heroic souls go after they die, and I think the game developers managed to successfully make this place look heavenly. Your hero gets to travel through picturesque garden-like areas, as well as tranquil fields with statues and overlooking the beautiful waterfalls, not to mention structures that look like Parthenon here and there. The music in this area is divine as well, perfectly fitting the heavenly environments. However, your hero is in Elysium not to rest and retire, but to fight an intense battle against Hades’ army of demons. This is a great part of the game not only for its stunning music and environments, but also simply because it’s epic as you get to help out well known figures such as Agamemnon, Menelaus, Ajax, Nestor, and Odysseus.