Thursday, September 26, 2013

Print and Play Adventures

To be honest, I've never heard much about print and play games. So when a Game Design class tells its students to go and print out free boardgames, I was bewildered. "Free board games? To print out?" I've never heard of such thing! I guess I've lived under a boulder rather than a rock.

I ventured through the interweb for about an hour or so. And, after much searching (and bickering with uncooperative web browser), I always came back to a game that really made an impression on me. It's a game called Hexit Strategy, by Cliché Studios. It's playing cards looked really appealing, and there was just something about it that tickled me into thinking it'd be a good choice.

During that same day, I gathered around with two other classmates of mine. We each brought the print-and-play games of our choice. Once we had all our paper pieces cut out and our dice apps ready, it was time to play some board games!

The first game we played was a quick one called Bad Grandmas. If the tittle itself isn't amusing enough, then the card illustrations might win you over.

A big thanks to my friend Elisabeth Smith for sharing her photos with me!
A grandma like this might be hard to de-feet.

The game was pretty simple, 2 player game. You'd shuffle the deck and each player would take about 7 face-down cards. Two face-up cards would be placed in the middle of the table. These would serve as the rule modifiers, which would determine the conditions for winning. After that, each player would look at the cards they had in their hands. Both players would do a 1-2-3 countdown and place one card on the table. Whichever card fit the winning requirements more would win a certain amount of points for the round (the greater the difference between the two cards, the more points the winner gained). We had some good fun playing it, but it quickly became somewhat repetitive. Since the rounds last such short turns, you can already gain a grasp of the possible events that can take place in one game. So we continued off into another game.

The next game we played was one called 12 rounds. Well, more like the next game we tried to play. At first we were pretty excited to try this game out. It seemed like an RPG in a nutshell, where you'd choose a character with a certain amount of stat points, traversed a small world to gain items, and fought against enemy cards that would spawn on the board.

The land that could have been explored...

I bet it would have been a pretty interesting game. But after almost an hour of going over the rules and trying to understand what the "gods of this board game" wanted from us, we gave up on trying to play it /ragequit. The same happened with another game we tried playing, called "Vampire Dance." It was a bit too complicated and unclear for me to appreciate. An hour to try and understand a game? That's pretty absurd for my taste. If a game's going to take more than 15 minutes to grasp, it's gonna take a lot from me to try to keep my interest alive.

The last game we tried out was Hexit Strategy. After two unsuccessful attempts to play a game, we were bracing ourselves for more complicated rules and explanations. Surprisingly, the game was pretty quick to grasp. It even came with a small card that had the rules simplified for each player. Really great for times when you're not sure if you're following the rules. The game looked like a dynamic form of chess, where you had to build a path towards your opponent's base with hexagon-shaped cards, or hexits. Each hexit has different movement points needed in order to enter it, along with different attack and defense values that will affect the pieces stationed in that spot. In order to perform actions, you must sacrifice cards. The more cards you sacrifice, the more ships you can spawn/movement points you can get. 

The funnest thing about it was this game was element of strategic surprise. When building the path towards your opponent, the path cards must be placed upside down. Well, that sounds fine, but there's a catch. There are two deadly hexits that could be placed on the field: Supernova (which eliminates all hexits surrounding the card, and sends player ships back to their base), and Black Hole (which traps the incoming player's pieces in the card, and sends them back to their base one by one). As I played with my friend, I was racking my brain around what kind of hexit she placed on the field. Was it a normal card? Was it a trap? Is it safe to unveil? Will she fall in my trap? (Funny story: The first time we started playing, my friend had four ships advance towards one of my face-down cards. It was a Supernova. Much rage and laughter flooded the room). I think that was one of the elements that kept the game interesting. That, along with seeing your opponent make bold risks such as sacrificing 10 cards to make bold decisions on the battlefield, and constantly think over how you'd use your turn; I think those were fantastic ways on keeping players immersed and actively thinking about the game.

Simple yet complicated, engaging, and exciting. These are the succesful elements that I've been able to draw out from this game. I hope I'll be able to recreate the same enjoyable experience some time.

Now, if you excuse me, I must ask my friend for a rematch. Things are going to get hectically hexit. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Camera Angles and Gameplay: A Picture worth a Thousand Words

While analyzing a game trailer for my game design class, something hit me. It pounced on my critical thinking and left me wondering for days. Level and world design in games are of great importance. But what about camera angles? What about camera directions? These aspects play such a powerful role in influencing a player's experience within a game! Whether the game is played through an extreme long shot, medium shot, or close up, most games will need an established camera angle for their levels and scenes. This decision will affect many areas of the gameplay, from the way a player will approach problem-solving to the emotional connection that the player might have towards the avatar.

(Disclaimer: I do not own nor am I affiliated with any of the following screenshots and games presented)

 The level of immersion played through the lens of a first-person game would be quite different from that of a distant, third person game

1st screenshot: EA Electronic's Mirror's Edge
2nd screenshot: Supergiant Game's Bastion 

Let's take Mirror's Edge and Bastion as examples. In ME, the player navigates through the lens of a point-of-view camera shot. This kind of camera-view (along with believable movement) helps to create quick immersion since the player is seeing things through a lens that mimics our everyday POV, to the point where a player will adopt the characters actions and movements as their own. This can put a player in a more personable, "my story" kind of mindset. This game's camera goal is to tell you "You are the character. You're the one doing the stunts. You're the one who can take a nasty hit or fall."

Bastion plays a different game with their camera angle. From the start, we're given a low-angle long shot. Instantly, we feel distant from the character. This is not about your story; it's about this character's story. He's the one bashing monsters and collecting treasure. You're simply moving him along. A distant camera angle such as this can also allow a player to assess the world around her/him with greater ease. Bastion's broken, platform-like world is one that you'll need to keep your eyes on, for the roads in each level rise and fall as you move closer or farther from them. For a game whose world is constantly changing and story is narrative-oriented and character-centered, Bastion's camera choice can give way to a comfortable game experience and a passive story viewer.

Camera-angles can affect the way we immerse in a game and relate to the avatar. But can they also affect the ways we perceive a situation? Of course! Camera angles play a big role in helping a player assess the urgency of a situation. Let's take Naughty Dog's The Last of Us as an example.

A medium close-up shot will have a different effect on urgency level...

than a strong close up.

Oh, a shout-out to the overall camera use in The Last of Us: The overall camera movement within this game is very comfortable, placing the character at the bottom left screen, allowing players a good view of their surroundings. Its camera direction in cut scenes is refined and effective. And even the player-directing system (L3 button command) that orients the camera towards the next goal a player must read is nicely made! Kudos to all who worked in the camera department (and the whole company)! 

 The closer we have the camera towards a situation or scene, the more attention and focus it'll demand from us. Having a camera that's backed away from the fray of a fight can keep our stress-level at a controlled level, informing us that the situation is still in our control. But once the camera dives into a close up, it's a way of the game saying "You better do something fast or else you're done."

So far, we've seen that camera angles can affect the way we immerse and perceive a game and announce the urgency level of situations. But there's one function that can make camera angles extremely powerful: Leading the player.

In every game you have a start, decisions and rules that make up the gameplay, and a goal. There are many ways in which you can inform the goal of a game. You may lead the player with a road. You might also use character dialogue to present this. You could even put a good amount of text for the player to read before starting the game...
Or you could use camera angles.

As mentioned on the previous small-notes, The Last of Us has a comfortable system that directs the camera towards the next goal. But there's one game that I will forever praise for its exquisite design, including the use of camera angles.

Up till this date, Journey has been one of the best games to use camera angles as a way of directing the player. The overall game is nonverbal; there is no dialogue excluding simple control commands presented twice in the game. Dialogue is replaced with camera angles that lead and present the player with possible areas to go and the goal that must be achieved. From the start of the game, you are given the main goal (and dare I say the whole story of the game) in one extreme long shot. You. The cloth. The mountain. Move forward. As you continue throughout the game, this goal is being reminded time after time.

The fact that the goal is a simple objective that is constantly being reminded with visuals gives the player a clear idea of the objective of the game and the overall direction that they'll need to follow. And, when purposely taken away, the loss of direction can prove to be a powerful element in setting a tone and invoking a sense of loss within the player. The non-verbal nudges and hints of information can also allow a player to immerse in the game with more ease, for a clear camera direction (if executed well) is much quicker and easier to process than a dialogue or written text.

Camera direction can be a powerful ally to your game. They can either build and enhance the experience of a game, or wreck and ruin it. When trying to communicate a situation to a viewer, a player, or an audience, think about just how much you'd be able to say with one camera angle. Chances are that one shot is worth a thousand words.

Are there any cool camera angles that you've seen (or would like to see) in a game? Comment and share!