Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Ring Runner Flight of the Sages: Game Design Review

Ring Runner Flight of the Sages is an indie top down 360 space shooter mixing action, RPG and even strategy into a single game. It was fairly recently released. Here's what I thought of the game from a design perspective. Let me just say, I was very impressed with this game and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves action games or top down shooters .

The only thing that might put players off is the fact that this is a momentum based shooter like asteroids so you need to apply force in the opposite direction before slowing down. Some people just hate this sort of gameplay.

What I liked:

 Gameplay- The gameplay is spot-on for a game like this. The fast ships feel manuverable, the large ships feel slow, the fighting is intense and abilities very fun.

Lots of modes- You get plenty of game modes. Aside from the main campaign, you get deathmatch, zombie survival, base defense and even a Defense of the Ancients (DOTA)/League of Legends mode.

Lots of customisation- The game has 5 classes and a special co-op ship class called Duo for two players to control! Each of these classes represent a type gameplay style. For example, the Arsenal is a heavy weapons and support class, the Rogue is a stealth class which can cloak and turn in invisible while the Grappler class is a melee class. As you play the game, you will unlock new ships for each class at a higher level. At the highest level you get access to special hybrids. For example, there's a Rogue ship which is a Rogue/Arsenal hybrid so it has access to both Rogue and Arsenal weapons and equipment.

Each ship  hull class can be further customised so you can kit out your craft just the way you like. There are lots of weapons and items to unlocksuch as drones, healing, creating barriers to stop projectiles.

For example, you can unlock various types of rockets which behave differently. You have your standard rocket which does good damage, you have your swarm rockets which fire several missiles at once but has a longer reload time and shorter range, you have a stealth rocket that is invisible etc. etc. You also have equipment that will for example, decrease rocket reload times or increase the damage.

If this gets too overwhelming can also choose the prebuilt ships that are unlocked as you amass Plex (the game's currency).

Pilot abilities- On top of all this, you also have pilot abilities that also do a variety of crazy things like slow down time or allow you to gain invincibility for a short amount of time.

You get everything and the kitchen sink in this game, there's lots of missions, awesome gameplay and a huge amount of depth allowing you to customise your ship and pilot the way you want it. I'm not sure how balanced it actually is but I found that each class has its own pro's and cons and just because a current ship is working well now doesn't mean it will always be the best ship for the job. For the price of $10, this game is fully feature packed and extremely fun putting more expensive games I've played to shame.

What I didn't like:
Ship customisation interface/Hanger- This is the one major gripe I have with the game. Every other issue is minor. The game has a terrible shopping and ship customisation interface. It can be a bit overwhelming for a newbie to figure out what everything means. For example, to view the effect of an item, you have to press the Y button on the controller to see what it means. And you have to do this for every single item you want to check out. This makes trying to compare items difficult.

Also what isn't very obvious at first is the fact that different ships have different unique slots that can be confusing at first. For example, the Caster class ship has a caster drive which acts as an engine and also as a slot to put Caster weapons. But like every other ship it also has weapon bays where you can slot in weapons and weapon upgrades.

Eventually, players will get the hang of this but it still feels very unwielding for what should have been fun process. There really needs to be a more intuitive way of doing this. There's also no real way of checking how your ship handles except to start a mission. I think an instant empty test arena would have been great rathr than loading a full map with enemies.

Minor issues

Background graphics- The background graphics are okay. They aren't great but they get the job done. I do find space a bit too minimalist and a bit spartan even in the cities. On the other hand, this also means it's pretty clear what's happening on screen which is very important when you're fighting.

Music- It's okay but I feel it could be more majestic and richer.

Storyline- Wile the main story is fairly serious, it's more Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy than Star Trek. I like the light-hearteded nature of it and it's memorable for it's weird plot but I wonder if most gamers would really enjoy the humour? There are also several plotholes in the game. I'm not sure if they are really plotholes are just things I haven't picked up because I wasn't paying attention and reading every single line.

The other major issue probably the fact that some of the races in the game are apparently descended from humans but others are aliens. I think portraits would have been helpful. I'm still not sure who the humans are.

Some mechanics aren't well explained- Because of the depth and complexity of the variety of game modes and the customisation, a number of mechanics just aren't well explained. For example, I didn't realise the Duo ship class isn't actually a new ship class but a special co-op ship class meant for two players.

Campaign map- You can go back and play any  mission you've played before, unfortunately all you see on the map is green dots representing the systems you've been to with no order to them because your journeys have taken you all over the universe. As a result, it's hard to know which missions belong to which green dot except to check them. They should have just created a standard world map instead. There is actually a way to see a list of all the missions by visiting the "Stats and Achievements" but of course, players probably won't be looking there first.

Ring Runner is an awesome game. It successfully merges action, RPG and shooters into one amazingly cheap package. For me, this is now the gold standard for top down shooters and is fantastic value for money. Yes, it has some minor flaws but its really solid otherwise.

Duel of Champions: Game Design Review

Duel of Champions is an online card game by Ubisoft based around the Might and Magic franchise sharing the same units, factions and art style of the main franchise.  I 've played quite a bit of Duel of Champions now, probably 100+ hours and own approximately 4000+ cards at the time of this post.

What I liked:
Core game is solid- As a card game DOC is pretty solid. You have 6 different factions each with a different feel and a variety of tactics. Personally if this was a real card game which you could buy, I would definitely buy this with a caveat. It has to be a "Living Card Game" similar to Fantasy Flight where you buy set packs rather than buying random boosters.

Card Art- The card graphics are solid really appealing and quite large full of fantastical detail.

Interface-  A solid interface with good solid buttons which feels solid. Interface gives it a very professional feel to the whole thing. They've recently revamped the searching and deckbuilding so its easier than ever before to look for cards. It is meant to be played on both iPad and PC and the interface feels like a solid compromise.

What I disliked:
Hero centric gameplay can be unbalanced- The game is centred around Heroes and many Heroes will have certain advantages making you play in a particular style. For example, you have the Necropolish Hero fleshbane that increases all Incorporeal creatures health by 1. Clearly you have to play the deck with incorporeal creatures. Incorporeal creatures are weak against decks with lost of magic creatures so if you get such a match up you know you're almost certain to lose. Because of this, there are certain Heroes that are viable at higher levels of play while others end up 'gimmick' Heroes. I'm not sure if there's a way to get around this per se except maybe to create more balanced Heroes but I wonder if it might be possible to play best 2 out of 3 or with a side board.

Randomness- Because of the randomness of the draw, sometimes you will get a bad hand with no low level cards making it difficult to make a come back if you lose momentum during the battle. It doesn't often happen if you build your deck right but I wonder if it would be possible to tweak the rules so you always start with a certain number of low cost cards. This is something that has always plague these sorts of card games so I wouldn't necessarily hold it again this particular card game.

Free2play Economy- Duel of Champions has gone through numerous economic changes with a significant change with the release of Base Set 2. The main and biggest problem of the game is the Free2play economy and way cards are given to you.

In the game you have gold (currency you earn by playing), seals (currency you purchase) and Wildcards (bonus cards you earn or you get in certain superpacks you have to buy through seals) Unfortunately, as with any F2P game I personally felt there's still way too much grinding to purchase packs. Furthermore, what you get in the pack is completely random. There is no way to actually to buy cards just for one faction. Like the Stronghold faction and want to increase the cards? Sorry you'll buy the booster pack which will give a random set of cards which may come from any faction. And like a real life collectible game, the rarity is all random so good luck trying to get those rare cards to complete your deck!

Until recently, you had to pay 50 000 gold to buy starter deck for each faction every single time. Only the most recent update have they deemed fit to change this, now you will get a started deck if you defeat an opponent using that faction. Of course, there are also rarer cards for each faction meaning which you'll have to hope you randomly get them.

This is where the Wildcard feature comes in, some time ago they put in a feature where you can sacrifice Wildcards to get the cards you want. Older cards are extremely expensive in terms of Wildcards and Wildcards are hard to earn if you're a F2P player. Overall this leaves older players having to pay to complete their old collections although I think its okay for newer players as they should only be buying from the Base Set 2 sets anyway which cost gol.
There is also no trading in the game meaning the only way to get those rare cards are to either hope they appear in those booster packs or grinding very slowly for wildcards and redeeming in the store.

The combination of all of this and lack of alternative ways to earn specific cards means that I actually ended up not really bothering playing the game for long periods of time. The game is fun but once you hit a certain level, not having those cards starts to hurt your game and deck building abilities.

Lacks Online innovation and social space- For a digital card game, its very traditional. The card game mechanics are easy to grasp and could well be played as a physical card game. But what's even stranger is lack of online innovation in the game. For example, it lacks proper chatrooms, card 'crafting', trading, ability to share your decks with friends and player created avatars. There are premium cards which are nothing more than normal cards with a foil colour on them. I would have thought selling alternate art cards would have been top of the list!

The entire game feels very sterile in a sense and lacks a certain vibrancy about it. It doesn't feel like my account or that I have a vested interested in the game for lack of a better description.

OTK and No creature decks- There are some decks in the game where the opponent will play zero creatures and use spells and direct damage to deal damage to your Hero. These are the infamous One-Turn-Kill decks and No creature decks. There is no real way to play against them because most decks are designed to interact with creatures not fight against spells. So all you do is wait and rush the opponent down and hope the opponent hasn't pulled the right cards to wipe the board. Supposedly the Base Set 2 update fixes this but unfortunately some players have figured out some combinations of these. Beacuse there is no real way for you to interact with the cards the player uses (since most spells are instant) its really down to dumb luck and how fast you play rather than how well you play reducing the game to way more luck than strategy.

As a game, I give it thumbs up, I don't know if it's necessarily the most balanced card game out there and there but it packs enough complexity and variability to make me happy. However, as mentioned I feel the digital aspect of the game really lets me down. It feels too traditional at heart and F2P economy leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I do recommend you try it out anyway but I wouldn't blame you if you leave after playing for a couple of weeks.

Redshirt: Game Design Review

Red shirt is a game which crosses a parody of Facebook with Star Trek. You basically play a crew member, a red shirt that has to get off the station before a certain number of days elapses or else be killed in teh imminent disaster.

Many of the reviews I read mentioned the shallow gameplay and repetitiveness of the experience. After playing and finishing the game once through I have the same impression.

Too much text and information- The layout is immediately overwhelming and somehow very distracting. Because  The actual information relevant to gameplay is scattered around the entire screen and it doesn't feel correct. I feel that a cleaner more attractive interface would have made the game feel more exciting.

A good example is the screen giving information on your what happened while you are at work. There's a lot of information about what happeneed and what your workmates feel about you all squeezed into the side of the screen. In a game like this, all this information is required and important as it affects what actions you should take

Too shallow to be a social simulator but too long to be a parody- Playing a Paradox Interactive like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, is a complex game of social interactions, backstabbing and betrayals. These games are true strategy games which span generations and years. Unfortunately this game feel like it lacks the depth, content or reactions for that. There are lots of activities to partake to boost different stats but it all starts to blur a bit. Yes, there is some backstabbing and deaths when crew members get killed during missions but I soon got over them by working and buying stuff or making new friends. Despite having you work in the game, you can only interact on Spacebook so it doesn't really even feel like you're a crucial part of the space station.

This game is relatively long per play through. Personally I would have stopped playing after 1 hour but I thought I would at least try to finish one game properly. At the end of the game there are some stories to tell about how you pulled off some good strategy or managed to negotiate through a tricky situation. Because of the nature of redshirt, I just didn't feel invested in it as much as I would have liked to be. I didn't see any visual changes, just more text telling me I was getting better.

I feel that if it had taken a more roguelike approach like Strange Adventures in Space where games were meant to be finished in 20 minutes or less with funny and significant decisions rather than stretching each game out for so long I suspect it might actually be more fun.

I can't recommend Redshirt unfortunately, the social simulator part of this game is too shallow, the graphics make it too impersonal to really care and as a humourous take on Facebook, its way too long to be fun. You're probably better off just buying a Paradox Interactive game instead like Crusader Kings II or a Firaxis game like Civilization.