Sunday, 20 May 2012

Madballs in Babo: Invasion - Game Design Review

Madballs in Babo: Invasion is the sequel to the freeware game Babo Violent 2  using the 1980's Madballs toy as it's theme. The corney ball designs actually works quite well in my opinion and I can't think of a better way to use them. I quite enjoyed the freeware Babo Violent 2 back when it came out years ago so I was excited when I got this game thanks to the Groupees bundle.

Initial Impressions - As a Babo multiplayer game, the game mechanics seem to work fairly well. There are different classes and lots of interesting weapons each with a dual secondary fire. Basically it takes Babo to a fairly solid next level. Doesn't innovate too much but seems well put together.

So while technically and graphically competent, cracks start to appear when I sat down to try out the game's single player campaign since I couldn't find anyone online.

Boring Singleplayer - As a single player game, Babo madballs is very repetitive and average. The campaign starts off okay but needs more variety in the maps and gameplay. You don't have any allies in the game so everyone in the game is gunning for you, the enemies aren't very intelligent and the single player arenas aren't that interesting. As a result the game really runs out of steam about half way through. Base building is neglected in the single player as well except for the very last level which I personally thought was a shame because it seemed just as interesting.

Weapons and abilities start off locked in single player - I get the strong impression that the game is designed ideally for you to switch between both single player and multiplayer to slowly unlock all the skins and characters.

One of the worst things and disheartening things that a player see in a game is when you move to pick up a weapon on the ground in a level only to see a big lock on the sign and the requirement to play more to unlock this weapon. The standard practice in shooters is to give you new weapons, upgrades and abilities as you complete areas and proceed to the next level. It's part of the reward of finishing that section of the game. So why did the designers deliberately place weapons on the ground but lock them up so you have to play at least two more levels to unlock all the weapons on the first level?

Some might argue that's for the speed run portion of the game and isn't necessary for the campaign portion of the game. It tells me as a player that you designed the level with those weapons in mind but then decided to lock them up for some unknown reason because it would have some how affected the level gameplay balance. I strongly feel that it creates the impression of an artificial barrier rather than a goal to reach.

Also why can't you have all the abilities of a character or weapon unlocked once you unlock the weapon/character? Instead you have to slowly fight your way through before the game with it before it finally agrees that you've killed enough enemies to warrant the new abilities.

There is plenty of downloadable content DLC for you to purchase such as extra skins but there is also an unlock everything DLC purchase. This last option particularly annoys me because it feels as if I haven't purchase a full game but a game which the developers are trying to scam more money out of me. It's a bit like making a game deliberately difficult and forcing the player to pay for the cheatcodes.

No players online and lack of skirmish
- Couldn't find any servers to join and you can't fill a multiplayer map with bots. This is a real shame because mentioned above the core game seems quite solid. I'm thinking it it might be worth releasing for free instead and just sell skin packs.

Overall it is a solid multiplayer game albeit one in which you have to grind to unlock your single player. Because of the lack of multiplayer servers online although it is a technically solid game I have to recommend giving this a miss as you can probably spend money on other game with more players and have just as much fun!

Serious Sam Double D: Game Design Review

First of all I found Serious Sam Double D a very fun game. There are plenty of secrets to discover, the gun stacking ability is pretty fun, the enemies bizarre and bosses are huge. I think it does relatively well to capture the crazy essence that is a Serious Sam game.

From a design perspective, there are some minor issues that could use a bit of tweaking. A lot of the issues centre around the game physics and certain design decisions. All of these are minor and don't really get in the way of a cheap, fun 2D shooter.

Controls and Jumping - Controlling and jumping isn't bad in the game, but it lacks a weight to it compared to other platformers like say Megaman or Contra. Some reviewers complained about this problem saying it completely ruined the game. I think there is some issue to it but not to the extent of spoiling the game for me. The jumping pad does ad an extra dimension to dodging but I wondering if putting in a double jump or super jump might have been a slightly easier option?

Gunstacking - Gunstacking and swapping gunstacks is fairly intuitive however I found the gunstacking a bit underutilised. Yes you can stack lots of guns with each other but all too often I found myself pretty much gunstacking all the shotguns or all the tommy guns or all the rocket launchers. Only very occasionally would I use the chainsaw or greande launchers or flamethrowers.

Enemies tend to be quite powerful so you pretty much need all the firepower you can stack. I guess what I'm trying to say is that although gunstacking is fun, the significance of gunstacking choices diminishes at times so I'm left having to use the obvious choices like 4 shotguns rather than mixing and matching.

Also, when you gun stack you can only gun stack weapons that you've found in one gun stack. For example, imagine if you've found 2 shotguns and 2 tommy guns each gun can only be in gunstack 1 or 2 or 3. You can't have your shotgun in both gunstack 1 or 2 at the same time so when you swap, the same shotgun appears in stack 2. The system just doesn't allow that. In gameplay terms, I found this broke the flow of the game. In the early parts of the game when I had fewer weapons, rather than swapping between stack 1 and stack 2 and stack 3 with the keyboard, I ended up continually entering to the gunstack screen and reconfiguring my existing stack to manage the small number of weapons I had.

From a game design perspective I wonder if reducing the number of guns to a more manageable 4 but increasing the damage might be a better idea. Also having some sort of combos system or bonus system where using certain configurations might trigger bonuses (i.e. 2 lasers = more damage) might be helpful. Some might argue that having 2 shotguns and 2 laserguns firing at once is your combo system and they might be right on further reflection.

Dodging enemy bullets can be difficult - Because of the 2D side scrolling nature, it can be difficult to dodge some enemy bullets. Yes, you are relatively manoeuvrable in the air thanks to the floaty controls but the bullets are too closely spread in many cases. It's not a deal breaker but I think spacing the bullets and increasing the zoom out might have been better.

Artwork and animation- This is personal opinion but I think the artwork and animation should take a different path. I appreciate Serious Sam is not really a serious game but I find the 'paper doll' feel of the graphics and the lack of good animations an area which could be improved on.

Zooming and character size - When you look at games like Metal Slug or Contra or SHUMPs like R-type, the characters or ships tend to be super deformed or smaller than usual taking up relatively small amount of screen space. The camera in this game will often zoom in and out to show how large the enemies.

From a game design perspective I wonder if it might be better to stick to just one perspective and design the game around that single perspective. This might sound restrictive and a minor detail but I think it might have forced the designer to carefully consider certain aspects of the gameplay such as the size of the bullets, the space required to succesfully dodge incoming enemy fire and the floaty controls as well as creating more integrated experience. On several occasions they zoom just wasn't quite right.

No cannon - One of the signature weapons of Serious Sam, the cannon is missing from the game! A serious Sam game without the cannon? It's like accidentally leaving out the shotgun! I'm sure it wouldn't be too overpowered...

Overall a game that does convey the Serious Sam mayhem most successfully. It isn't quite Contra or Metal Slug level of polish however which is a real shame but the game is fairly easy to like and is very enjoyable.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Battle Realms: Game Design Review

Battle Realms is an RTS created by Liquid Entertainment. From the get go, the focus and game design of Battle Realms is very specific. It is very clear that tell that the game is tactically focused and revolves around a fairly small number of units. A high level of micromanagement is encouraged and practically required.

There are low unit caps (you can only have a maximum of 50 units) and rather than building advanced units straight from your barracks you train existing units in different buildings to create different combinations.

For example, you train a peasant to become an archer by sending into the archery range. If you want a dragon warrior, you send it into the dojo. The combined training of the archery range and dojo turns it into a dragon warrior.

The reasearch is also conducted by spending yin or yang points which are gained through combat encouraging players to attack and continually go on the offensive!

So far so good. There are however a number of design issues that are worth mentioning.

High level of micromanagement required for building units; more so than required
- For example, to create a high level unit such as a samurai with a special ability, you first have to find an available peasant, hold down shift to queue the order, click on the dojo, archery range, alchemist Lab and then the spring. four buildings in total. This is quite a number of clicks. I'm sure there can could have been an easier way of doing this. Perhaps dragging and dropping the peasant into a build samurai slot so the peasant automatically sends himself to the right places perhaps?

Unit strengths and weaknesses are not obvious enough - While it is obvious that Cannoneer are strong against buildings, it's not so obvious how strong say archers and arrows are against what units. As I found out by reading a help file, Lotus units are terribly weak against arrows and therefore should best be countered with archers. You just can't tell with these units, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Its not in the manual either and I had to consult the Battle Realms website and the help file. They should have made the these strengths and weakness clear either in the unit description like in other games such as Dawn of War. This would have really helped.

Power activations are one at a time - Aside from healing, most of the power activations are manual and you have to activate powers individually. This can get really annoying when you want to for example have all your warriors to activate a shield ability.

Environment could play a more significant part in the game - For a game which promises a living world, the environment is well-detailed for its time but aside from forests blocking your view, birds scattering to warn you of enemies and the occasionally conveniently placed boulder I didn't really see much else. I would like to see more interaction with the environment. Maybe more wild animals or weather effects.

Final attacks seem a bit weak - I'm not sure about the other sides (as I haven't played them much) but the most powerful structure for the Dragon faction involves you sacrificing 3 Samurai to unleash an attack. But I didn't think the attack was that powerful at all compared to how much damage a fully powered Samurai could do.

Healer unit AI needs a bit of tweaking - Unfortunately the healer unit AI seems to be suicidal and loves running into battle and often gets a bit too aggressive.

Campaign is a little harder than necessary - I think the campaign battles are a little imbalanced and I found it quite hard to muster a force with enough power in many of the missions turning it into a real problem. The building limits of defensive buildings only compounded my issue.

Campaign benefits and disadvantages could be listed more clearly - Throughout the campaign, you'll very often have to make choices between two different missions. Depending on which mission you choose you may get an additional Hero to add to your party. To my surprise, I found that my choices meant I had actually missed neary all the optional Heroes! Very annoying as it made the campaign harder than necessary for me!

Overall, it still stands the test of time relatively speaking and will appeal to gamers who enjoy lots of micromanagement. I didn't enjoy it as much unfortunately, I prefer a less hands on squad-based approach similar to Dawn of War and something which is much less punishing but I can certainly see the appeal in it. Liquid Entertainment later used the same engine to create a Lord of the Rings game which did not fare as well unfortunately as Battle for the Middle Earth. It is still overshadowed by more modern games such as Warcraft III and Dawn of War II which provide similar experienced so in terms of money, you might be better off buying them.

I do wish that a sequel would be made as it would be interesting to see how the game mechanics could be updated.