19 September, 2010

Little City: map scale and progression IFF notes

As promised, the police IFF explained:

The original concept for this small game included a block of an abandoned metropolis, so brainstorming included ways to make walking from Point A to Point B more interesting. I looked at ways that other games have gated the player in the otherwise wide-open space of an urban block without traffic flow. Most of the gating I saw involved some combination of collapsed buildings, car crashes, and police roadblocks. These work quite well (I’m using all three!) but I wanted something more.

Another original concept idea was the automation of this abandoned city. I thought of the automated police force, still faithfully enforcing the law, including jaywalking! Even though the player can see the other side of the street, they still have to use crosswalks or risk consequences. I’ve explored this idea as a means of creating tension (setting up a goal for the player) while guiding the player along the critical path.

Thinking as a player, though, waiting for walk signals is going to get boring. Being forced to use the sidewalk is a novelty; We take crossing the street for granted, but this limitation doesn’t support gameplay or the story. This got me thinking: What can the player do within this story world to empower themselves and solve this problem? They could always disable the police bots on the street, but I want to avoid the “go here, press a button, you win” or “go here, shoot stuff, you win” mechanic in this situation.

So what do we have to work with? An automated city, that is abandoned, that has been abandoned for a long time. In the absence of caretakers, even the most robust machines break down. I got the idea of a broken police bot with exposed IFF circuitry that the player can find/be guided to and extract. IFF – Identifcation Friend or Foe originally refers to radio transponder systems used to positively identify friendly military units from a distance. Possessing the IFF, the police bots now view the player as one of their own. The player can jaywalk in peace, as well as access new or restricted areas.

Coming up next: part 2 of my Kane and Lynch 2 breakdown, followed by the step-by-step level flow and beat chart (a.k.a. “action curve”) of Little City.

15 September, 2010

Design comments on Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, Part 1 of 2

Because this post is so long, I’m splitting it up. The second half will go into what I dislike about the game from a designer and player standpoint. Click to read Part 2 in a new tab.

A friend of mine was very kind to get me a free copy of Kane & Lynch 2. I didn’t play the original, nor did I pay much attention to the alleged sacking of a Gamespot reviewer for giving K&L 1 a low score. I heard the first game wasn’t very good, but IO Entertainment’s Hitman games are among my all-time favorites so I came into the experience without many expectations one way or another.

The upshot:
The environment design and visual tech in this game is fantastic, and as always IO is wonderfully unapologetic about gritty content (the censor blur on headshots and nudity is a novel touch.) Gameplay leaves a lot to be desired, though. There’s a lot here, but for me the kickass elements of Kane & Lynch 2 are too disconnected from one another to satisfy my taste.

What I liked:
The visuals: Good lord, the visuals. The game takes place in fictionalized Shanghai and is presented as if viewed through a camcorder. Moisture and grime are paired masterfully with bright colors and neon lights to create a sense of urban decay. Post-processing adds touches like lens reflection and white clipping (bright lights blowing out the picture from the camcorder’s CCD) that make most of this game look startlingly believable. Camera shake is on by default, but can be turned off which I did for reasons I’ll describe later.

Kane and Lynch’s banter: IO recorded a ton of dialogue between the two characters. The over-the-top shooting action is tempered by lines that you’d probably actually hear in a desperate firefight, such as: “I’m doing the best I can, goddamn it!” Kane and Lynch are not Master Chief or Gordon Freeman, and their fear and uncertainty comes through without interfering with gameplay.

Sound effects: Excluding kicking down doors, which sounds more like stepping on a graham cracker, the sounds work well. Ambient city noises and bullet collision/ricochet add to the sense of realism.

Imperfect cover system: The bread and butter of combat in K&L 2 is the cover system. While under cover, it’s still possible for stray bullets to hit you. Since health is regenerative it wasn’t a big problem for me (Disclaimer: I played on the default difficulty) and actually added a dimension of vengeance to enemy encounters that made victory more satisfying.

(Previous commentary, Mass Effect 2)