Archive for December, 2013

For the past couple of weeks I have been taking part in the closed beta for a new CCG (Collectable Card Game) Hearthstone, created by Blizzard. And straight off the bat I must say that it is addictive. Very addictive. Below is a screen cap of a game that I was playing earlier, I shall be referring to this as I work my way through the post.

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Ok then, so first off I want to break down the game and explore it a little further beyond the initial look.

 

 

 

Heroes:

There are 9 different heroes available to the player when they are playing the game. Of course the player first has to undergo a tutorial session with a hero of their choice, the deck that comes with the hero being a beginners deck so that players of all skill levels may play and get the hang of this new game. Once they have completed the tutorial, the player is then free to use the deck they have to challenge other players and unlock other heroes as they defeat them in games. The heroes themselves don’t just sit there on the side line while the deck works. The deck is more of a library of spells for the hero to cast. Heroes also come with their own special ability which they can cast once per turn, using up mana to do so. These abilities are more often than not one of the key factors in a game and can dictate whether the player is the victor or the loser. As can be seen in the screen cap, the Hero sits in the middle of the field, Uther being the example here as I was playing my Paladin deck. His hero ability is positioned next to his image along with the mana cost of that ability.

Decks:

The deck, as mentioned above, is a library of spells that the player uses to beat down their opponents and ultimately take victory. The deck size is limited to a maximum of 30 cards, so the player has to choose carefully from a collection that they gain as they progress, which cards go into their deck and therefore they dictate the play style of the deck, choosing cards which work together and work against their opponents for the best synergies. It is always worth noting, that like in other card games, the most expensive costing cards are not always the best and indeed there have been many instances where big expensive creature cards have been cast, only for them to be totally annihilated by the opponent in their own turn. So it is worth thinking up combinations and tactics for each deck that is built.

Decks are made up of a combination of spells that offer several different effects, such as damage, buffing or defense, and creatures, which are the primary source of damage in any deck.

Spells such as Lightning Bolt and Pyroblast are used to deal immense amounts of damage to either the opposing players life or to their creatures, which can either bring about a victory state or clear the way for their own creatures to make their attacks to clear other opposing creatures or deal damage to the enemy life total, either way they can be quite devastating. Other cards, such as the buff and defense cards, can be used to alter the stats of your own creatures, making them stronger and harder to kill, or the player can use debuff cards to weaken or remove effects of enemy creatures, making it easier to have an impact on the field.

It is always hard to know when the right time comes along to use spells, so tactics and thinking ahead for a long term game have to be taken into account as players can never be sure what the opponent is planning on doing next, holding off too long with cards could mean that the player misses the prime chance to wipe a creature away or deal immense amounts of damage, while dealing the threats too early on in the game could mean that the player is left short towards the end and they struggle to shore up their victory, maybe the move is so early that the opposing player is able to make a come back and snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat. It’s always worth thinking turns through thoroughly before making a play, otherwise you could be left with egg all over your face when it backfires.

If it ever reaches a stage where the players run out of cards, unlike other card games, they do not lose if they deck out, instead a mechanic known as Fatigue comes into play. For each turn that a player doesn’t have a card to draw, then they shall suffer increasing amounts of damage in the form of Fatigue until either they or their opponent runs out of life, which is indicated next to their Hero icon.

Mana:

Mana is used to cast the cards from the hand. The players start with 1 mana and gain 1 mana per turn, getting up to a total of 10 mana if the game lasts that long. Cards each have a mana cost, which dictates how much mana the player has to spend in order to cast the card from their hand. There are of course cards that are available to give the player extra mana to use in a turn, most of these are only temporary effects and last for the one turn, but in that turn the player could mount up a huge advantage over their opponent because they have been able to surge ahead with their plans. There are cards that also deny so much mana for a turn, such as the mechanic Overload which is a condition on some cards where they are strong and can be cast early at the cost of being unable to use some mana the next turn.

Mana is represented by the crystals that appear close to the Hero icon on the bottom of the screen cap on the right, next to the number of cards in your hand. These crystals shall be depleted as the player uses mana, along with a counter next to the crystals, indicating how much mana the player has left for that turn with which to cast spells and make their plans.

 
Interactive Environments

It is a little difficult to explain this game in terms of how interactive it is, because it’s basically point and click every action that you want to do with the cards. While I say that, the game is very easy to navigate, with an easy to use layout and a clearly marked out menu system that makes it easy for the player to navigate their way around the system.

As can be seen by the screen cap below, the main menu is clearly set out, with the player being able to access the various areas of the game, such as being able to view their collection, quests and enter the shop as well as go into the arena and play area so that they can challenge other players with their decks. By going into the collection area, the player is able to view their card collections for each Hero and create and alter their decks as new cards become available.

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Below is a screen cap of the card collection screen, with the card collection planted in the middle of the screen with the decks that the player has created on the right hand side, with the mana costs of the cards displayed on top of the cards in their left hand corner. The player can use the search bar and the mana crystals to find cards of a certain type or mana cost, which makes finding cards easier than if they were to flick through the entire collection. Of course when it comes to editing their decks, the player shall become limited to the Hero collection and the Neutral card collections they have, so that they can make a deck out of those cards and not out of the cards that belong to other Heroes.

Hearthstone_Screenshot_12.29.2013.21.55.08

 

 

 

 

 

Aspects of Play

Agon: There is a competitive edge to the game, due to the nature of the card game itself, with players competing with one another for ranks and wins which they keep track of in their quest log. The card game offers a competitive component as players are working to create decks that suit their play styles before going up against other players that are using either similar decks or completely different decks that have their own play style incorporated. There are players online that create and post competitive level decks, so that players can take to the ranking lists with a better chance of progressing and climbing those all important rank ladders.

Alea: Chance is another very strong component in this game, as with card games that use decks there is always an aspect of chance present as the players don’t know what cards they are going to get until they have drawn them from the deck. Which it is simple to alter the deck and increase the number of cards the player wishes to see more of in a game, with there being 30 cards in a deck and there being a 2 card limit on all cards placed into the deck, there is still that chance that the player shall not see the cards they need in order to achieve victory in their games, so there is the need to exercise patience within the games as chance can be a cruel mistress to some, while it can favour others and give them the cards they need in the right situations.

State of Flow

It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to enter a state of flow with Hearthstone, as the players often become engrossed in the decision making components of the game, whether it is making a deck or playing against other players. There have been instances where time has flown by and a number of hours has gone by before I have realized what is going in the world around me. It is also suffice to say that a level of addiction comes into being once you have created a deck that works on a competitive level, as the win total starts to climb and you find yourself with more wins and the chance to win more games, it becomes an addiction to continue and push on as much as possible, to climb as high as possible with the intention of becoming one of the top players. Of course this is not easy to achieve because the players become progressively more difficult to beat as you climb up the ranks, but this isn’t as much of a deterant as it might have been in other games, as the game is very well balanced and Flow can take the players into their own little world where they become the master of their deck and the cards.

It also isn’t that easy to break the state of flow in this game, as defeat doesn’t really dishearten the player as much, if anything it makes them more determined to succeed, so they shall spend more time looking at decks and cards, placing their strategies together and working out ways to overcome the decks and cards that they currently struggle to beat in their games, meaning that a larger portion of time disappears and the player may even forego food and drink consumption in order to keep working away at the game so that they can improve. It is a slippery slope that we need to watch out for, but it does happen and I plan on not letting that sort of thing happen to me, even if I do say so myself that the game is very addictive.

One of my weaknesses within design is Unwrapping and Texturing my models and making them look good instead of a pile of rubbish that isn’t worth a second glance. So for the benefit of experience, I took up texturing for the Client Project and took a load of finished models from another person in the group and took to unwrapping and texturing them for the level that we are building. Of course these are quite simple models because they are just simple things, but I needed the experience and it seemed like a good place to start instead of jumping straight into something difficult like a full building.

Below is an image of the rendered items without the texturing on them, because it was rendered in 3DS Max without the texture materials dropped on them. What I did do was separate them and save them as individual models because it was easier to sort and unwrap them while they were individual models instead of as a group. But once they were separated, it was easy to unwrap them and texture them in photoshop. I checked all of the textures back on the individual models to make sure they were covering properly and then I exported the models as FBX files and the textures as TARGA files so that they would work in UDK. I did run into one or two problems because like I said, texturing isn’t my strong point, but I managed to get these assets completely textured and imported into the UDK level that we have been building for when it comes to pulling everything together.

Tools

 

Ok then so to update on the client project. We’ve finally gotten into the building of the level, which is awesome because it’s starting to shape up as we are putting in the buildings and the assets so it’s starting to look really good.

I recently uploaded and imported my Ticket Office building model into the level and put it in place. Now I aren’t used to UDK at all, so I still find it to be a pain in the backside when it comes to putting stuff into the level, but with a little help I managed it and got the building in place while also importing some assets that needed to be placed as well.

Below is a screenshot of me importing my building into the level, with the content browser open so that I could drag and drop it into the level once I had imported it into my folder. I also needed to scale my building a little bit as well because once it was placed into the level it looked a little small in comparison to the rest of the level and the blocked out buildings, so I had to use the scaling tool to make it a little bit bigger so that it was on the same scale as the rest of the level.

barrie

So I broke ground on the Aspects of Play game design project last week and have only just gotten around to writing this stuff up onto the blog, but I managed to create some usable character classes for my board game. There will of course need to be a user testing period and then changes to be made to the classes and their abilities, but for the first iteration I think these are rather balanced right now and offer an interesting form of play in an RPG based board game.

Hitman

The Hitman is a ranged unit that hangs back from the rest of the party, preferring to hit their enemies from afar, they have become adept at hiding in the background and offering their team some ranged support. The Hitman starts with a standard rifle that can hit enemies up to 3 squares away. They also come armed with a long range rifle that can fire up to 6 spaces away but takes a turn to reload.

Hitman Abilities:

Dodge this: (This ability can only be used if the Hitman is in close quarters combat) The Hitman draws a pistol on their enemy. The player deals 1D6 damage to the offending enemy and then withdraws from the combat, retreating 3 spaces.

Gotcha: The Hitman uses their long range rifle to home in on target opponent. The player then rolls 1D6 to hit on a roll of 4+ (5+ when shooting through other units) then rolls 2D6 to wound on a 4+.The Hitman then has the opportunity to switch back to their default rifle.

Leave No Trace: The Hitman enters a camouflaged state for up to 2 turns, hiding from nearby enemies, avoiding detection and targeting. However, while the Hitman is in this state, they cannot attack, move or be targeted by their own team members. The Hitman heals 2 life points for each turn in this state. Once this ability ends, it cannot be used for the remainder of the game.

Bouncer

Bouncers are the tanks of the team; they take the brunt of the beating while helping to drive the opposing forces into the abyss. They have one of the highest life counts in the game and are one of the hardest to hit, with enemy forces being able to hit them on a 5+ and wounding them on a 4+. These naturally resourceful brutes are also able to dish out enough pain to put even the harshest opponent in the hospital.

Bouncer Abilities:

Swing! : The Bouncer swings their weapon in an arc, dealing 1D6 damage per opponent caught in a 180 degree arc.

Beat Stick: Using his truncheon, the bouncer hits an enemy that is in base contact on the head, dealing 1 damage and rendering them concussed (They can’t attack for 1 turn). This ability can only be used twice a game.

You’ll have to do better than that: If the bouncer would fall unconscious, instead the player rolls 1d6, the bouncer will fall down to 1 health and retreat 3 spaces from the combat if the player rolls a 5+. This can only be used 1 time per game.

Engineer

The Engineer is one of the more supportive of the character roles. The character can use improvised explosives to deal damage to groups of enemies in an area of effect attack as well as search for and disarm traps and set down their own for wandering enemies. However, they tend to carry no other weapons other than their tools so they stay towards the back of the group as they are weak to attack.

Engineer Abilities

Improvised Explosive: The engineer tinkers with bits and pieces to create a deadly explosive device that they throw up to 4 spaces. An area of effect disk is placed over the targeted square, the player then rolls the directional dice and 1D6 to see whether the target is a hit or whether the bomb bounces, any units caught under the disk after the direction roll take 1D6 damage.

It’s a Trap! Upon entering a room, the Engineer is able to search for all traps within the room. When coming into base contact with a trap, the Engineer has the chance to disarm it if the player rolls a 3+ on 1D6. If the roll fails, the trap activates and the Engineer takes damaged based on the trap type.

Fire in the Hole: If a room doesn’t have a door, the Engineer can rig up a stick of TNT to the nearest wall and blow a hole in it, creating an entrance for the team. This ability can only be used twice per game.

Musician

The musician is the entertainment of the team and the life of the party, supporting them with their soothing or anarchic tunes, offering attack and defence bonuses to those nearby while dealing damage to their opponent’s ears. The musician is a valued member of the team and someone that can either be with you or against you.

Power Chord – Anarchy: The musician breaks out into a fit of loud, fast paced music that brings out the berserker within the team, increasing damage that is dealt by all melee units within the team. Each unit deals 2D6 damage instead of 1D6 damage. Ability modifiers are unaffected by this ability.

Power Chord – All Together Now: The beautiful notes of the musician’s instrument bring the team together as a unit, raising spirits and elevating their levels of hope. This ability restores 3 Health Points to each unit that is within a 3 space radius of the musician.

Power Chord – Slice and Dice: The musician finds the crowd intolerably annoying and decides to teach them a lesson in pain. Hitting the many notes available on their instrument, the musician creates an unholy noise that slices through the air and deals 1D6 damage to each unit within a 2 space radius.

Looking back at the Interactive Environments, I decided to go with the touch screen displays that are present within museums. These basic touch screen devices are placed in front of displays throughout the buildings so that visitors can use them to find out additional information about the topic on display in front of them.

These devices often come with an audio component too, so that the visitors are able to watch videos and learn more about the topic that they are interested in at the time and they can interact with the displays instead of the displays just being a presentation that moves from slide to slide, offering the visitor the chance to look up specific parts of the information instead of having to read through everything to find a specific piece of information.

Often in museums the touch screen displays will also have games on them for children visitors as well so that they can learn about history or other subjects without having to just read, instead they can interact with the subject matter and through that they will learn more in a shorter space of time instead of just forcing them to read pages of information because it just won’t stick in their minds and that would prove to be a futile effort, whereas they get to have fun while learning on a touch screen display that offers games for them to play based on the subject matter.

It’s much better if the subject matter can be engaged and the visitor can interact with it because it is more likely that information will be passed on and stick in the mind of the person, because not everyone learns the same way so it is good for museums to offer different ways to learn about the subject matter instead of just offering a lot of writing with some pictures, some people prefer learning in a more interactive and laid back environment where they can engage in the subject at their leisure.

It also helps that the touch screen displays themselves are set up so that they can be used instantly, this means the visitor can interact with the information available instantly instead of having to have the display set up specifically for them, meaning they can dive straight in instead of having to spend time waiting for the information to be found and loaded. There is also no need for the visitor to sit through a tutorial on how to use the display as they are set up in such a way that the visitor can just start touching the screen, search for the information that they want to learn about through the touch of a virtual button and then they can get on learning about the subject matter.

So continuing with the research for the Aspects of Play, I decided to return to an old favourite of mine, Boxhead More Rooms.

This zombie survival shooter is great for killing time, as I myself spent a good amount of time playing this game as it became quite addictive, especially when friends got involved and we started trying out outlive one another as the waves became more difficult.

The aim of the game is to last as long as possible using weapons as waves of zombies home in on you  and try to kill you. The more waves you survive, the more zombies are thrown into the map for you to go up against and the weapons become more powerful as well.

This video is a good example of the game play that happens within Boxhead. There is a score multiplier and a score, the score is uploaded to a high score board once the game ends, showing the player where they have ranked against others that have played the game.

Aspects of Play

Agon: There are several components of the game that are competitive, mostly due to the score and the waves, if there are a group of friends playing the game, then they will compare scores and the number of waves that they survived, with each friend then going back into the game and trying to outlast the others within the group. The leaderboard is the other component that leads to competitiveness as it tends to drive people to try over and over again to beat the high scores or to just place on the board in the first place.

Alea: There is only one chance component within the game, and then it when the zombies drop supply boxes, which are dropped at random, so there isn’t really too much to talk about there. But in the later waves, when the devils start to appear, they shall come from one of the entrances at random, so the player has to keep an eye out for those otherwise they can become overwhelmed quite quickly.

Mimicry: Mimicry is the centerpiece of the game, as the player takes on the role of a character trapped in an area with zombies trying to kill them, while they are using weapons and tricks to stay alive.

State of Flow: Flow is hard to achieve in the early stages of the game as it is quite easy, with the enemies being easy to beat and the waves easy to complete, but as the challenge becomes greater as more zombies and harder enemies come into the game, then Flow is easy to achieve as the player needs to use more skill to keep alive and progress to higher levels of the game. Frustration can become part of the game if the player is struggling, so Flow can be denied, but if the player is doing well and managing to maintain their supplies, then they shall find that Flow is easy to achieve and maintain.

Ok so it isn’t the newest game around, but it is interesting to talk about as a time killer. So let’s just dive straight in. The trailer above is an example of the game play and what can go on in the game, the player can crash around with other cars in races, gaining “Speed Points” for crashing other cars and winning races so that eventually they climb up the “Most Wanted” ladder to become the most wanted player in the game. Which is pretty cool if the player wants to drive around in a game and generally race around in high speed chases with the cops and other racers while not endangering their own lives, which they most assuredly would do if they tried this stuff in real life.

As is shown in the trailer, the player also has the risk of crashing their own car, which will set them back in a race, often result in them getting caught by the police and it really damages the look of the car, even though no matter how much you crash, the car will still turn over and be usable. The bodywork can be repaired by driving through designated garages, which also refill the nitro for the car.

When in a police chase, the longer the player is on the run, the higher the “Heat Level” is going to climb as more and more police resources are poured into capturing the player and their car. If the player manages to evade the police, they will gain additional Speed Points, gaining more as they crash police cars and generally avoid being caught. Of course if the player is caught then they will lose all of the points that they accumulated throughout the chase. If the player is in a race and the police become involved, then the player will have to evade the police when the race is concluded, as they will keep chasing the player until they are either outrun or they catch the player.

The player is also able to change their car by going to “Jack Spots” where they will find a brand new car to race with, they will then hot wire the car and drive off in it as the car effectively becomes theirs. Unlike in other Need For Speed games, there isn’t a garage where the player can take their car to perform upgrades to their vehicles, instead winning races will unlock certain upgrades that the player can customize and place on the car as they drive around, placing more emphasis on the need to race instead of gathering currency in order to upgrade their car, which is different for a Need For Speed game but it does give a nice change from the normal customization settings.

Aspects of Play

Competitive – There is definitely a competitive nature in the Most Wanted game, first and foremost in the races that the player takes part in as they have to win races to advance and so they will become increasingly competitive as the races become more difficult. They are also challenged with climbing a ranking ladder to become the Most Wanted racer in the game, meaning they will challenge the other Most Wanted racers in order to take their cars and places on the rank ladder. Online play also adds a competitive component to the game as players can go online an enter races against other players, or they can compare their progress to that of their friends through statistics and challenges that will appear throughout the game for cars as the player races, giving them the chance to outshine and better their friends, pushing them to explore more often for Jack Spots and other things throughout the game that their friends may have overlooked, also giving them the chance to beat their race times and speeds as they race past speed cameras that are placed around the map.

Mimicry – The game is Mimicry bound as well as the player assumes the role of a racer within the game, taking control of cars as if they themselves were driving them and directing them into and through races, chases and other challenges throughout the game. There isn’t really much more that can be said for Mimicry other than the fact that the player can change the viewpoint from the third person to the first person perspective so that instead of the camera being behind the car as it drives around, the player can have the camera positioned in the driver seat, in which case they shall see the avatars hands on the steering wheel, giving them the perspective of the racer and further reinforcing the Mimicry aspect by placing the player directly into the driving seat of the vehicle.

State of Flow

As with most games that require a high level of concentration, Need for Speed does indeed instill a State of Flow into the player, especially when they are in high speed chases and races as they need to be focused on what is ahead of them so that they don’t crash and they know where they are going. It is easy to be disrupted, especially when the player isn’t doing very well in a race and they are being put off by those that are talking to them while they are playing online, but it is easy to maintain as the races all require a level of skill and concentration so that they player does well and completes the race in the top position, also giving them the chance to better their friends and outshine them, another incentive to concentrate as they can then brag to their friends about their prowess in the game, so Flow is easy to achieve in this game.