Saturday, 10 January 2009

Play the Game? L-No I won't fall for that again!

I covered this briefly in a task a few weeks ago but let's see if I can't delve deeper into the subject. It's been an awful long time since I actually had the chance to sit and play a game. The lack of a TV at my university place and the fact my laptop can barely run Minesweeper without crashing, both prove troublesome when trying to pursue the life of a gamer. Sad really.

The last game I played was probably my ten-hour Sims 2 marathon a few days ago and a couple of hours on Guitar Hero last week. Neither of which could be considered true games, I guess. Before that I played WoW probably some time in October. Each of these games has a different style of gameplay and all are fun to play if you are in the right mood/frame of mind.

Gameplay is generally described as the overall experience a game has on the player, as well as the different ways a player can interact with the game. It often used as a handy umbrella term to describe a wider range of uncategorisable things such as audio, visuals, moods, controls ..among other things.

Personally, I take gameplay to mean the way the game plays. This is most appropriate definition logically. ...and of course it's important - how could a playable game exist without gameplay?

I suppose you can lump certain games together that have similar gameplay mechanics. Mainly games from the same genre: FPSs, Football games... Simulation games. For these you could compile a list of rules for their gameplay. However, those rules wouldn't be relevant for different games.

The Sims 2 allows you to control almost every aspect of life from a third-person view. Basically you get to play God, making decisions on whether your subjects have a happy life or a miserable one. There is no set way to play the game - You could just spend hours building houses if you wished, and there is no way to win or lose (unless you count the death of a Sim as a loss).
Unreal Tournament, on the other hand, gives you first-person control over the character you play as. i.e. You ARE the character, directly responsible for their actions and whether he or she lives or dies (and how many kills he or she gets).

Can gameplay be designed into a game?
In a way I suppose it can. To make a successful sequel you will need to look at the gameplay of the previous game(s) and incorporate it into the new game. Also, if you want to make a new action game, then you could look at previous action games for ideas as to what makes a successful action game (and the things that make action games fail).

And I'm running out of things to say...

- The dougalBUG.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Once Upon a Time there was a beautiful princess... who had a personality.

So during the course of writing my novel, I looked an awful lot into different ways of developing characters. The biggest must-do I found when creating believable character is to give them a back-story. Why are they here? Why are they doing whatever it is they're doing? Characters have more than two dimensions. The reader needs to feel something for the characters in your story or the entire thing is rendered pointless.

The same goes for films. Granted, you need a bit more to pad out the character. What do they look like? How do they carry themselves? How do they speak? The hero needs to be likeable, the audience have to WANT him to succeed. Likewise, the villain needs to be loathed - the audience wants him to be taken down. Though, as with everything, the rules are not set in stone - there are exceptions.

I'm going to examine some characters from film and books that I personally find interesting.

Firstly we have WALL-E and EVE from Pixar's animated feature of the same name. These are good characters to start of with as both are portrayed with very little dialogue, instead communicating with body language and beeps. WALL-E is the last remaining robot on an earth without humans. The film tells a tale of how he falls in love with another robot named EVE and the two successfully return humans to the planet - despite all odds; and how WALL-E finally gets to hold EVE's hand. The character designs are incredible. Body language is considered right down to the smallest gestures - Both robots staring mystified at the flame of a cigarette lighter, for example. The film builds up empathy for WALL-E and throws it back in our face by killing him off. I won't lie - I cried.

Secondly is another isolated character: Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. Edward was created by an inventor who sadly died before he could give Edward hands. Edward and his lethal scissorhands are found by a kindly woman who brings him to her house. He falls in love with her teenaged daughter. Slowly but surely he is accepted by the neighbourhood; but with his innocence and kindness it was clear he would never fit in. A string of misunderstandings lead to him being chased from the town by a bloodthirsty mob, back to the house where he came from. Never to be with the girl he loved. The scene with the professor presenting Edward with hands but then dying made me cry.

Third up is Akkarin of The Black Magician novel series by Trudi Canavan. Unlike the other two, this guy is portrayed as a villain, a Black Magician and a murderer, and the reader (along with the main character Sonea) is made to really dislike him. Until, of course, the twist in the tale is revealed and we discover his painful past as a slave. He is the only one standing between his home and imminent invasion. However, the Guild discover his identity as a Black Magician and exile him. Sonea stubbornly follows him. Eventually, however, the two return and save the Guild from the invading Black Magicians. Akkarin dies in the process. (Yes, I cried).

My final example is Prince Septimus from Stardust. He is portrayed as a bad guy, gleefully bumping off his brothers in a battle for the throne of the Kingdom. He is a total git with little to no morals. But the character was played well and I was greatly saddened when he was finally killed. (Didn't cry at this one - as there was someone else in the room with me ^^;)

For the most part I think the characters are the most important part of any story. For, without them, how could it happen? This also puts a lot of pressure on the characters to be good, well-rounded, believable... To achieve this you need good actors, good wardrobe, good script and a believable world for them to exist in.

Example time!

Edward Scissorhands dressed in a tracksuit? NOT going to work. WALL-E speaking with a Texan accent? ...It's NOT going to work! Prince Septimus making daisy chains while discussing the joys of Earl Grey Tea? ...might work if played for comedy.


I'm a sucker for tales of the underdog. The lonely-heart. Things that tug on the right heartstrings are a shoe-in for my approval. I also like things that are a bit unusual - fantasy mainly. I like characters I can relate to and characters with hidden depths.

If I like the characters then I'll most likely like the film too, I will want to sit and watch to see what happens to them. I guess, in a way, I want to make sure that no harm comes to them.

And of course, all good stories provide ideas and inspiration for stories of my own. <3

- The dougalBUG.

Hmm, if I push this button here... that thing there JUMPS! Ohmigosh!!

Ahh game controllers... I can remember sitting for hours getting hand cramps from my Amiga's bulky joystick, bashing my MegaDrive controller against the floor when the buttons randomly stopped working and, more recently, toying with the analogue sticks of the PS2 while waiting for my game to load.

Looking back, it is pretty obvious that consoles have evolved from their bricky, cumbersome origins. They are now sleeker, shinier and noticeably more expensive. The controller, though often overlooked, is the most important addition; for how else would you play the games? Imagine buying a brand new PS3, only to get it home and find they didn't put a controller in the box. I dare say you'd be pretty tweaked. Controllers has been rethought, revamped and shined up to match their relevant consoles. Imagine opening your shiny new PS3 to find a prehistoric brick of a joystick in there.

Moving on.
Over the years controllers have undergone many changes with each generation receiving new innovative features. The eight-directional joystick evolved into the D-Pad (four-directional buttons) which in turn evolved into the analogue stick (offering complete 3D control in any direction). The vast majority of controllers these days have a D-Pad and one (if not two) analogue sticks.

Early controllers didn't have too many buttons meaning in-game actions were limited. The A, B, Start and Select buttons of the NES and the A, B, C and Start buttons of the MegaDrive were the simplest. (Ahh, Sonic - when every button was Jump). Then games became more complex and more buttons had to be introduced. Hello A, B, X and Y of the SNES. The PlayStation thought they'd be smart and replace the lettered buttons with shapes. (To this day I still struggle T.T)
More and more buttons were added. Ls and Rs to the top, triggers underneath, and even power buttons for the console itself!

The N64 saw the first rumble pack, that made the controller vibrate when certain things happened in game (e.g. crashing in a racing game).
Then, of course, there was wireless features. Though, personally, I always loved using the wire to garrotte anyone who dared cross in front of me while I was playing. ^^;

Designers have edited the size and shape of their controllers aiming for a more ergonomic feel. i.e. controllers designed to fit the shape of the players' hands and not cause cramping, controllers that are easy to use with buttons in appropriate places, etc.

And finally, personalised controllers designed for specific games! Guitars for Guitar Hero, Dance Mats for DDR, Steering Wheels for Mario Kart - to name a few.


As mentioned above, I think the MegaDrive was the easiest to use. A - Special, B - Attack, C - Jump, Start - Pause. Simple! And then there was Sonic <3 A - Jump, B - Jump, C - Jump.

Awesome game.


I don't think I can quite decide which console looks the nicest. I really like the bright colours and blockiness of the early Nintendos. The PlayStation also looked pleasing. Personally, I don't like the look of more modern consoles, The Wii looked like an Apple Mac, the PS3 looked like it fell out of a UFO! and the Xbox 360... is most definitely a boy's-toy.


The Wii-mote is a revolution in controllers. It gives the user 100% control in a 3D space to great success! Considering that most features of controllers were first implemented by Nintendo, I think the next generation of controllers will attempt to follow their lead with the Wii-mote too.


If they were to remove the controller, it would be very hard to play the games ;3. They'd have to replace it with something else. There's been a bit of a touch screen revolution with mobile phones lately - perhaps that will continue into consoles? The DS is semi-touch screen. Touch-sensitive pads attached to your hands, legs, fingers that react to your movement and move the player on the screen... Ooooh.

If not touch.. then the only alternative would be Virtual Reality. (Yay for silly helmets.)


The joystick died out a long time ago. These days it is a relic only found in Arcades. But I think the gamepad will stick around for another decade until the hotshots at Nintendo figure out VR. :D

-The dougalBUG.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Dougal's Train of Thought Now Arriving on Platform 6.

There's no light at the end of the tunnel... No train of thought.
Blog entry is impossible to understand. You fail.


Okay, I understand that I'm not the best blog-author in existence
but I was upset when Mike said he couldn't see a train of
thought in my entries... though, as I knew all along, I'm a story author at heart - so sue me.


Today I will look at storytelling for games. Figures really.
Hopefully you should get some vague grasp of what I'm talking about. If not... then I may as well just quit and go work at Morrisons.

Humans have been telling stories since the dawn of their existence. They tell tall tales of daring-do and keep audiences entranced for hours. They have dreams , they want to LIVE their stories. They strived endlessly for ways to bring their stories to life and share them with the world. From the earliest cave paintings, to Egyptian hieroglyphs and the daily comic in the local newspaper. Then along came film, and with it - a revolution. Cinema slowly developed, allowing them to tell their stories with more and more realism. Sound, colour and more recently: 3D. And then there were games...

Games are unlike films in the way that they need to be flexible. A
film plays out like a film and, likewise, a game should play out, well... like a game. The player is in control and it should feel that way. He is not sitting there watching things happen - he IS making them happen.

A strong storyline can still greatly influence a game. However, games with just a faint whisper of a plot can also be very good. It is all dependant on what you wish to get out of said game. A good game captures your emotions - invokes joy, sadness, anger... makes you want to continue playing and complete the final level (and any bonus stages on offer).

David Freeman published a book, "Creating Emotion In Games." When queried about why the book was not called "Writing For Games" he insisted that it was emotion that makes a game immersive.
For example. A basic rescue game; Hero sets out to rescue Damsel in Distress. Let's face it; it's been done to death. HOWEVER, add in some emotion and the story changes a little.
Imagine that the hero is a lowlife in society, no one wants to know him and he has inner demons. Then along comes this damsel and she sees past everything and makes him feel like he is worth something... only to be whisked away by one of the hero's many enemies. Thus, making him believe it is his own fault and giving him the drive to try and put things right. For the game to work, then the player needs to relate to the hero and WANT to rescue the damsel.
If there is going to be a storyline to a game then the story has to be done well or it risks ruining the entire experience.

I am told that 'Call of Duty 2' and 'Call of Duty 4' both have really good storylines and as such were good games to play. 'Call of Duty 3' on the other hand, had a story that wasn't quite as gripping and the game became less enjoyable as a result.


"As a player, does the story happen to you, or do you make the story happen?"
Surely this depends entirely on the game?
Games built around choice (Fallout, for instance) are driven by the player, whereas in games focussed on story, you have no choice but to sit back and let it happen. CoD4 actually kills you and nothing you can do will change that.

All games have a story of some sort. Granted, some are far more developed than others. World of WarCraft is steeped in lore and has an intense back-story to it for those concerned enough to do their research and it even allows for you to create your own via Roleplay servers.

As a final note, I do NOT think that a good FILM would automatically make a good GAME!


Did the train leave the station this time?

-The dougalBUG.