Posted on

What makes a game great?

The line between an art and a science is a bit weird with video games. In an odd way the industry meshes the two together so intrinsically the games we get from the process ends up with some of the most incredible pieces of work that any medium could produce. Typically we think of coders hard at work, but then there’s also the artists who deliberate constantly on the design of every fine detail. Then there’s those who work the story; creating a tale of adventure, action, love, death, and almost everything else.

But how do we get there? Triple-A titles establish mass collaborations putting so many minds together that so much wide-spread thought is put in to making the most successful game possible.

However, indie games are a bit different. These small tight nit teams are reminiscent of the classic studios behind the vast majority of games before the 2000s. Some aren’t even teams. Lone developers handle everything to make a game that — while less visually impressive that the triple-A games — plays amazingly. For all these creative and skilled developers only a few seem to make it out and really hit it big.

Indie teams and triple-A developers can both offer great games — albeit very different types of games.

For these indie teams each developer have something special that triple-A titles simply can’t match — personability. Top indie games like Braid, FEZ, The Binding of Isaac, Don’t Starve, and many more all share common ground in that they’re made by small teams but the quality of each of these games is astonishing when you look at some of the massive disappointments that the major developers and publisher roll out. The biggest key for these games to become successful is the devs making the game they simply want to make. They have no one to answer to but themselves — and for many that’s often the harshest critic. In turn, the amount of attention to detail and care that these basement-dwelling geniuses can input into their creative process is simply incredible.

Everything is followed closely and with developers working alone or in small groups, the envisioning of a project can change as they make the game. This is what makes indie development special. This is what can lead to great outside-the-box games like FEZ or Braid.

But one of the most critical factors that almost all popular indie games and popular triple-A games is the focus on a character; a primary protagonist for players to follow and observe or manipulate the story of.

Iconic characters are crucial to long-term success.

Mario and Luigi are one of the greatest duos ever serving as an icon for the Nintendo brand since the 80s.
Mario and Luigi are one of the greatest duos ever serving as an icon for the Nintendo brand since the 80s.

The idea of having a stand out character has long been a crucial part of game success. Since the early 1980s Nintendo has led the industry with its collection of iconic characters like Link, Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Samus, and many more. Every one of these characters has been the star to incredible stories and flourishing franchises that has helped shape the entire gaming industry. Today, the best stories come from those that can incite an emotional level of caring from the player towards the character.

An iconic character alone doesn’t bode too well though. Next comes the quality that most people impart their highest level of standards — gameplay. Most triple-A developers have this down to a science of following successful formulas and trends to create the highest-selling game they can. Franchises like Call of Duty, Halo, Grand Theft Auto, all sports-related franchises, and many others have games that are realistic or have high graphical fidelity.

Another quality that these top games all have that is also broken down into a repetitive formula by the triple-A devs is ‘challenge.’ The balance between hard and easy is one of the most critical design aspects that any dev must deal with. Some push the envelope in both directions with games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne being prime modern examples of this as the game teeters a careful edge between frustrating gameplay and challenging but rewarding gameplay. Many mobile developers trend the opposite way offering mindless games to kill time and not take very seriously. While these devs have success they are still the outliers as most need to find the perfect middle ground where a challenge is faced, a reward is given, and progress is felt to be made.

Challenge must be met with a sense of accomplishment and success.

Bioshock Infinite has one of the greatest stories in all of gaming.
Bioshock Infinite has one of the greatest stories in all of gaming.

But for truly popular games the most popular aspect always comes back to a story. Even in multiplayer games like Call of Duty or Halo, setting the environment, narrative, and mood of the world bleeds over into how players can approach the online experience that is quickly gaining more traction than the standard campaigns or single players that used to be the keystone of everything in a great game; not to say a story is important anymore though. It’s simply that players enjoy having an experience to be shared with friends. However, the prevalence of a game story/lore will always be important in the creation of a franchise. Giving players the opportunity to get attached and captivated by the world they explore helps the game expand beyond just a fun game and grow into a universe to be immersed in.

So there’s clearly so many ways to approach making a game, but there is a systematic approach to the creation of art. Sometimes boundaries can be bent or even broken with success, but from almost the entire history of the video game industry the the same trends have been followed among the greatest games to ever release. And it’s clear that even if you aren’t part of a triple-A team you can still make a game that’s just as enjoyable to play.

Though it’s important to keep in mind — this industry is only 30 (perhaps 40 depending on your view) years old. It’s very young in this world of video games, and maybe a developer will find a way to successfully break one of these “rules” to make a great game that stands out and breaks the confines of what is expected of a prototypical video game.

Posted on

The Floor is Lava: The video game? Hot Lava awaiting Steam Greenlight

A game spawning from the imaginations of millions of kids — Steam user Rambus is looking to bring a favorite childhood game — “The Floor is Lava” — to the fitting digital world as a 3D platformer called Hot Lava.

The game is currently open to voting through the Greenlight system on Steam.

Little is shown so far regarding the game’s progress, but the developer promises 50 levels across five different settings wherein players climb on top of couches, tables, and various furniture to avoid certain death on the floor below.

Players sprint and jump through the worlds scattered with tight ropes, platforms and traps to create a greater challenge as they attempt to “surf” the world by gaining speed and stringing together their progress through the level in one motion.

The game is awaiting to be Greenlit on Steam, but would release on PC, Mac, and Linux provided the project takes off.

Check out the trailer below for a look at the gameplay:

Posted on

Valiant Hearts director Yoan Fanise is parting ways with Ubisoft

Valiant Hearts brought an incredibly heart-felt World War I narrative, but the chances of Ubisoft replicating that same success in a sequel just took a major hit as Yoan Fanise elected to move on in his career.

Fanise worked as a Creative Director and Content Director at Ubisoft Montpellier with games like Beyond Good & Evil, Assassin’s Creed, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Rabbids, and the recently released WWI side-scroller.

Valiant Hearts offered a 2D style with no dialogue or intricate gameplay features, but Ubisoft showed they didn’t need any of that to create a fun and captivating story with Fanise leading the way.

It seems now the nature of the game and the labels that some gamers associated him with has caused a falling out that seems to have been a long-time coming according to an interview between him and Gamasutra.

Citing his previous work with Beyond Good & Evil, a 2003 action-adventure game, Fanise claims the mood that he and other developers felt as they worked on projects together has died as AAA business models impacted the direction of his games.

“I mean the industrial scale and organization of a giant project like Assassin’s Creed removes some direct connection between people from different job categories, for example. Your interactions are limited, and it is really difficult to have a global vision of the finished game. But at that scale, it would be very hard to make it different.” – Yoan Fanise (Gamasutra)

He makes a very valid point concerning a rapidly growing problem in the industry, and his work with Valiant Hearts exasperates the reality of it. Valiant Hearts was a tremendous success and was made in the same spirit as Beyond Good & Evil but even with its success the game is vastly overshadowed in comparison to the blockbuster games that so many publishers fight to create.

How Fanise will look to deter from the ever-prevalent AAA business model is still to be determined — but an indie approach is a definite possibility.

“There are a lot of really interesting opportunities, and I’m still taking time to find the one that is most exciting, Why not go real indie after have been called “fake indie” during my 2 years on Valiant Hearts?”

Posted on

Castle Story is not dead! Game to be showcased at PAX East 2015

The fan-funded open world strategy game is making progress, and the developers at Sauropod Studios are ready to show off their Castle Story improvements. More details regarding the game’s direction will soon come as the early access title comes to PAX East 2015.

Castle Story finished crowd-funding nearly three years ago with over $700,000 going towards the project. After all this time spent in development — and a great deal of time with seemingly little progress being made — the voxel-based game is now gaining traction once again.

“We’ve got all our backers in the game already, and are proud of an extremely transparent development process. Now we invite fans and PAX attendees to drop by our booth, stretch their creative muscles and build their own castles.” – Sauropod Studios co-founder, Germain Couet

Gamers who want an early first-hand look at this game and many others can find it at Up North Indies at PAX in Boston (March 6th-8th).

Posted on 2 Comments

What is VizionEck?


It looks different and it plays different, but what exactly is VizionEck?
It looks different and it plays different, but what exactly is VizionEck?

VizionEck, a competitive first-person shooter with vibrant colorful art and an encouragement to explore non-typical approaches to combat. Michael Armbrust released the first glimpse of his upcoming title’s gameplay today.

Showcasing an overload of bright neon colors everywhere you look, the game utilizes a very abstract environment for players to play. The game’s abstract style goes beyond just its looks though. Even the gameplay itself isn’t as straightforward as you may think. Armbrust notes that “Even self-destruction has positive outcomes depending on the player’s circumstances.”

The weaponry is peculiar, your character is just a small cube, and the light-gravity movement all cetainly make the game stand out, but until more gameplay and information are released it will be difficult to determine whether its unique qualities will actually be good qualities.

The gameplay trailer lists a multitude of features and inclusions planned for the finished product:

  • 4 Player local co-op splitscreen. With the rarity of triple-A local co-op games, VizionEck’s incorporation of the game mode is a great addition to the title.
  • 24 player online multiplayer. More information will be released soon, but seeing how 24 players will battle out during one match will be very interesting to see. The released multiplayer modes so far, “Ranger, Team Ranger, Duel, and Retrieval.”
  • Free DLC. The addition of free DLC is another important inclusion, especially given how simple the gameplay initially appears. The game leaves a lot of room for new ideas and features to be included post-release.
  • An open world campaign. The only game mode shown so far was a “Ranger 1V1V1V1” free-for-all, but the game promises to go beyond what the first look at the gameplay showcased.

The trailer notes a variety of other features as well. Check out the trailer below.

VizionEck will release this Holiday season exclusively on the PS4.

For more videogame news and reviews, follow @Pixelpine_ on twitter!