Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Good idea - Overlord's jester

One of the many nice touches in the game is the jester who lives in your tower.

Whenever you're near him he'll shout out a nickname for your overlord, all of which are linked to in-game events. If, for example, you'd just butchered an entire village, he might refer to you as the "oppressor of humans".

As you progress through the game the number of nickname-worthy events increases, until eventually he has a whole roll of overblown titles for you, which he uses in the reverse order that you did them. The order actually has a nice side effect, in that standing around him quickly clues you up on what the last thing you did was.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bad idea - PGR4's horizontal menus

It's nice when a company spends a lot of time and effort on their game's presentation. It often leads to menu systems that look great, are a little bit different, and are very functional as well.

But PGR4's menus have made a bit of a blunder. Every option is listed horizontally, meaning that typically only 2 or 3 options are visible to you at once. This means that you can't see what all of the options in any given menu are without scrolling through them first, and if you're on the middle option you can't tell if you should scroll left or right to get to the option you want.

Please, no more horizontal menus. It was tried and ... it didn't work.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good idea - Video and photo editors

Video and photo editors in games are a brilliant idea, and thankfully this sort of thing seems to be getting more popular. All three of the big name 360 games I'm playing at the moment (Skate, Halo 3, and PGR4) have some sort of video or photo capturing mode.

There are two excellent reasons to include this sort of thing in a game.

First, it helps build community. Players will mess around in your game in the hope of getting an interesting video, and will want to share it with their friends. If their friends like what they see then you might even get an extra sale out of it!

Secondly, it's something that your marketing department will probably love you for forever. Screenshot taking and movie making is part of their job, so the better the tools are for this, the easier their job is. If you put it in as a game feature then everybody wins - they get something that has a good level of instruction, user friendliness, and functionality (instead of something hastily cobbled together in an afternoon because the developer was told they had to), and you get to use the time it takes to implement such a feature on something that's not going to be stripped from the release version. It's a USP for almost free, essentially.

Although it's a brilliant feature in these games, each gets some areas right, while being poor in others - I haven't come across something that I'd consider a 'perfect' implementation yet.

Skate's has the option to jog forwards and backwards as slowly or quickly as you like, and to set markers for camera and effects changes (adding slow motion, full screen effects, and the like). It uploads video footage as pre-rendered movies, so they can be viewed outside of the game (which makes them great for sharing online). That does, however, mean the videos downloaded to view on your console are displayed at a fixed resolution, and have larger file sizes.

Halo 3's theatre has background uploading and downloading of files, so once you have recorded your masterpiece you can keep playing the game while it uploads. It also stores the videos as raw data - so movies can only be viewed in-game, but do result in smaller files, and allows viewers to switch cameras on downloaded clips, and watch the movie in whatever resolution they use. Halo 3 also records entire matches, and allows you to share the whole thing (though you'd have to play a blinder for anyone to want to watch a full 15 minutes of you playing).

PGR4's editor I've only had a brief mess around with, but mainly seems to feature much more in-depth camera control - allowing you to set zoom, rotation, and focal points for your pictures.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Imagine all the babies

I can't tell if it's me who really doesn't understand, or Ubisoft. To me, this range of games is borderline insulting. But then maybe young girls don't care that they have stereotypical 'girl' interests, and which game publisher wouldn't happily shit out "Imagine Washing Up and Doing My Laundry, and Get Me a Beer While You're in the Kitchen?" if they thought they'd make money out of it?

The advertising blurb says that they are

A range of games specifically created to match the interests and ambitions of today's young girls. Aspirational.
Is "having babies" really something to aspire to? When asked in school what they want to be when they grow up, how many young girls respond "my ambition is to be happy while cooking"? I could get along with the quote slightly better if they'd picked careers to make games from, but half of these aren't jobs, and sound to me suspiciously like indoctrinating young girls into a lifetime of domestic servitude*.

I don't know, maybe I'm just really upset that no-one will ever make "Imagine Being a Slightly Fed Up Games Designer".

* And I understand that being a housewife is a tough and demanding role - I certainly couldn't do it. But these titles are each pinpointing one specific part, as if being a housewife is clearly too much unless handled piecemeal.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Too many good games.

Bioshock, Halo 3, Skate, Mass Effect, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Project Gotham Racing 4, Halflife Orange Box, Call of Duty 4.

And I'm sure there's plenty of quality out there that I've forgotten about, or aren't really that interested in*. Forget "is this next gen?" - it doesn't matter. It's a brilliant time to be a gamer.

* I'm saving "I think all 3d Mario games are rubbish" for another confessions post.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bad idea - Overlord's repeating dialogue

I sometimes feel sorry for the guys who write dialogue for games. Imagine crafting what you think is a perfect little one-liner - a throwaway funny comment for a towns person to make as their oppressor strolls past with his goblin army.

Then imagine playing the game and realising that your joke has been ruined in the implementation by five townspeople saying it one after the other so it sounds like some sort of fantasy land catchphrase.

I mainly feel sorry for the people who were playing it through as good overlords, at least the evil players could kill everyone.