Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wolfenstein Released

I'm really happy to announce that Wolfenstein is now on store shelves in North America and should be slowly trickling onto store shelves worldwide over the next few days. The game has been a long time coming for us at Raven and we're very proud of the game at the end of the day. I hope you are able to find the time and money to pick up a copy of the game and check it out. It's a really fun shooter experience that I think any action fan will enjoy.

Big thanks to everyone who supported us during the development of this game, id for the awesome license and help, Activision for the support throughout the life of the project, Endrant for the multiplayer component, and all the Wolfenstein fans.

Like any game, Wolfenstein isn't perfect and we understand that. We're getting overall positive reviews so far and I'm sure reviews will continue to trickle in over the next couple weeks. So I'd love to hear what you love about the game and what you didn't love. I want to know what works and doesn't work for you as a gamer. This way we can learn some lessons and improve for our next game. You can add a comment to this thread or hit me up on on Twitter and I'll try to respond.

On to the next game!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Design Lesson 101 - Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

drake.jpgMonsters are a key part of our culture. Whether it's vampires, werewolves, zombies, or any number of weird creatures we've created in video games, monsters have always been a huge draw. Much of Greek mythology revolves around the slaying of monsters such as the Hydra and Medusa.

The concept of something wholly sinister, wholly inhuman, and wholly foreign to us scares us and enthralls us. These creatures don't exist in the real world, so instead we read about them, watch them on film, and of course kill them in video games.

The thing about monsters is they often represent something very supernatural and different. As a result, they can act anyway we want them to and players will buy it. A monster can fly, teleport to any location, or turn you to stone by looking at you and players are willing to suspend any disbelief because monsters don't need to act like humans. However, when we put monsters in a game, this freedom can pose a problem. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, by Naughty Dog, exhibits this problem towards the end of the game with the introduction of monster enemies.

Design Lesson: When introducing new enemies, it's important to build off of the original strategies of combat instead of creating a completely different style of combat that is at odds with the player's original combat strategies

That's a long way of saying, don't make me change the way I play your game completely when you've taught me to play a certain way for the last six hours. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune spends a lot of time teaching you to use cover. It teaches you to stay behind cover, to move from cover to cover, to pick your shots and execute them carefully. It's not Halo, where you run around circle-strafing and firing from the hip.

That is until you get towards the end of the game and the monsters show up. Let's ignore the fact that monsters didn't fit my narrative view of the game world (I viewed the game world as being a realistic world, whereas I've had friends tell me that they viewed it as more of an Indiana Jones style world where monsters do exist). The issue is that the behaviors and optimal way to defeat the monsters is completely at odds with the combat for regular enemies.

The monsters have a melee attack only and frankly it's rather powerful. They also have a tendency to swarm you and move fast, making it hard to aim and take them out methodically. They will attack you at once and kill you fast. You cannot sit still. The monsters encourage a frenetic set of behaviors. In fact, they encourage behaviors that are the exact opposite of what you do the rest of the game.

The first time I encountered the monsters I tried to line up my shots and aim faster, not moving much from where I was. I died an awful lot doing this. Then I picked up the shotgun, started to run around in circles and fired from the hip instead of aiming, letting the auto-aim take control. This is how I succeeded. Combat completely changed with these enemies. There I was running around in circles like an idiot just firing over and over until everyone was dead, instead of jumping from cover to cover, thinking about how to flank the enemy, and being patient.

So why is the run and gun strategy to kill the monsters so bad? Because nothing in the game ever prepared me for this style of combat. In fact, the game actively discouraged this style of combat, by killing me if I tried to run and gun. I was taught, and fast, that I needed to be cautious. Instead of having their monsters build upon the basic behaviors and strategies I had already learned, Naughty Dog opted to have me change the way I played the game dramatically.

Instead, it would have been better for the game to encourage new behaviors and strategies that built upon the previous ones. For example, the monsters could required me to quickly move between cover and take shots instead of being cautious and biding my time, due to a ranged attack they have.

This would still have me using cover, trying to take the careful shot, but make me do it at a far quicker pace and up the tempo of the game. Or the monsters could have been used in conjunction with other enemies to make them stronger and more powerful, making it so I needed to take out the monsters first to make my own life easier. The game would force me to prioritize my enemies due to threat.

There are a number of ways the monsters could have been implemented better in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It's a shame that they weren't. Fortunately the monsters aren't introduced until late in the game and they aren't too prevalent even late. It certainly didn't ruin the game experience, but there was potential to take the game to the next level and I think the game missed that potential with their decision.

Having the monsters' AI force the player to build upon already taught strategies would have made the enemies more fun, engaging, and fit the game better. Instead, they feel out of place. Hopefully, this will be fixed in the upcoming Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Until then, I can only hope any monsters reading this column will heed this advice and try to “play nice” with the rest of the game.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Designing Ethical Dilemmas Video and Slides - The Longer Version

Last week I got the chance to give a 30 minute version of my Designing Ethical Dilemmas talk at the Madison Chapter IGDA meeting. I expanded on a number of points, included some basic theory, and overall fleshed out some of the ideas. I still think there are some parts that need work, but slowly expanding the talk has helped me understand the concepts better as a result. I'm hoping to really nail this talk down and refine it some more, so I'm going to continue to research and consider the ideas to really nail them down as well as how to expand the concept from dilemmas to full ethical game systems.

There is video available of the talk. I would love for you to check it out and give me some feedback. Also, I've uploaded my slides (which are also partially embedded in the video thanks to the diligent work of Matthew Ciarlante). You can get the basic points from the slides, but I think the talk is obviously a better way to digest the information.