08 October, 2010

Critical path and Beat chart

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while, distracted with other stuff. I’m actually partly done greyboxing, but today was sidetracked by setting up an SVN server (VisualSVN + DynDNS.com for the win!) on my computer anyway so the blog gets some time, too.

Computers are fantastic tools for creation, but they aren’t everything. This list was born on a humble yellow legal pad (any debate nerds in the house know what I’m talking about?)

Below is the critical path of the level with notes tracking the beats (action) associated with each event (see the end of this post for some neat graphs.) Formatting is: “Brief description of what player does. Action Result.” Steps in (parentheses) are outside the critical path. Steps in [brackets] are permutations that could be swapped to add or remove tension to the moment, as informed by playtest feedback.

“Action Result” is what I imagine is happening to the action curve, and is described in simple terms like “down” for a falling curve or “neutral-up” for a curve that may increase for some players but remain flat for others. It will obviously need playtesting and iteration to verify.

Level flow:

  1. Establish bearings in alleyway. up
  2. Emerge from alley onto city street. up
  3. (Try to cross the street, get shot at by traffic bot for jaywalking. UP)
  4. Walk up street toward police barricade. neutral-up
  5. Crosswalk to north impassable, wait for walk signal to west. down
  6. Cross street to flashing news kiosk on opposite sidewalk. up
  7. Receive instructions to head to nearest evac point. netural-up
  8. Follow signs to evac. down-neutral
  9. Find Police IFF at evac point. up
  10. (For Explorer-types: news kiosk in front of collapsed skyrail is now accessible. Refers to biological outbreak, evacuation, and quarantine zone. up)
  11. Walk up street toward skyrail terminal visible above car crash. neutral-up
  12. (For Exporer-types: keep walking to the police barricade at the end of the street. Barricade responds to IFF instructing police bot to maintain their patrol of the quarantine zone. up)
  13. Enter rail terminal, use IFF to call stopped elevator to ground level. up
  14. Wait for elevator to arrive. down-neutral
  15. Ride elevator up to Track 1 platform. [glass elevator. up]/[enclosed elevator. down-neutral
  16. Jump from platform down to rail and walk along Track 1. [covered track with walls. neutral-up]/[uncovered track with no walls. up]/[uncovered track swaying in wind, creaking. UP]
  17. Enter covered track section, stop at damaged window before collapsed section. neutral-up
  18. Push out window pane to access Track 2. neutral-up
  19. Fall and land on top of covered section of Track 2. up
  20. Follow Track 2 to office building. neutral-up
  21. Jump down to track and then onto rail platform in office building rail station. neutral-up
  22. Use IFF to access utility stairs next to non-functional elevator. neutral-up
  23. (For Explorer-types: go down the stairs for an easter egg. The cake is a lie? neutral-up)
  24. Climb stairs to roof. down-neutral
  25. Cross roof to pedestrian skybridge leading to central tower. neutral
  26. Cross skybridge, which creaks and groans under weight. up
  27. Skybridge is collapsing! Run! UP
  28. Reach the tower as skybridge collapses and falls to street below. up-UP
  29. Enter the tower. neutral-up
  30. Door slams, lights go out. up


I assigned numeric value to each beat in Excel and graphed it (UP +2, up +1, neutral 0, down -1.) This graph isn’t scientific; It’s a first draft visualization of this level’s beat chart, to make sure that I’m starting in the right direction. Since most of the events shown above have multiple possible values, I graphed a few ranges.

(Halloween themed beat chart – Click image to enlarge)

  • HI Max running (hollow orange line), running total of highest possible value for that beat.
  • HI Avg running (solid orange line), running average of high values.
  • LO Avg running (solid black line), running average of low values.
  • LO Min running (hollow black line), running total of lowest possible value for that beat.

In simpler terms: solid lines represent projected low and high ranges of excitement, with an attempt to factor in deterioration from boredom, uncertainty about objective, environmental distraction, etc. Hollow lines are the outliers and mostly there for fun. (The hollow orange player is an excitable person, hollow black is asleep or distracted.)

04 October, 2010

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

Below is part 2 of 2, covering what I disliked about the game. Click to read Part 1 in a new tab.

What I disliked:
Repetitive combat: 90% of the fights are on flat ground with random bits of cover scattered around. Enemies rarely appear above or below you. You can create makeshift grenades by throwing and then shooting objects such as fire extinguishers or propane tanks, but only when such objects are present (you can’t store them and it takes a sharp eye to spot them.) Doing so often kills the framerate.

The AI behavior is pretty straightforward, mainly: hide behind cover, pop out and shoot, repeat. Perhaps to compensate, the designers throw 10 to 20 enemies at you at a time. The result is that most of the game just feels like a shooting gallery. I was forced to copy the AI: hide behind cover, pop out and shoot, repeat. This got boring pretty quickly and most of my attempts to mix things up resulted in swift death, mainly because of...

Unbalanced combat: I selected the default difficulty, “Medium” (the others are “Easy,” “Hard,” “Extreme”) and found that most combat encounters felt like the minigun scene from Terminator 2 (with me as a cop.) In the hands of your enemies, every weapon is highly accurate at long distances, with enough power to incapacitate after just a few shots. Likewise, enemies are uncannily good shots, even while running and blindfiring. In the player’s hands all but the endgame weapons are frustratingly inaccurate and underpowered.

Headshots are devastating, but landing one with most of the weapons is difficult at best. It takes from 5 to 10 shots anywhere else on the body to take down even unarmored foes. Combined with enemies frequently hitting you with multiple, consecutive shots while blind-firing their weapons around corners, and combat quickly feels like a grind.

The game does let you take any enemy as a human shield, however most enemies won’t hesitate to shoot their friends or simply shoot the player’s exposed face. Perplexingly, taking a hostage puts you in control of their gun hand which will only ever contain a pistol, even for enemies that only carry automatic rifles.

Mismatched realism: As I mentioned, this game is awesomely realistic in terms of visuals. It frustrated me when combat mechanics didn’t account for a similar level of realism. I’ll freely admit this is due greatly to the influence of other modern shooters, but here is a good example from the game itself:

IO went to the trouble of setting up destructible windows and detailed collision geometry on cars, allowing me to blast through cars to hit my targets, as well as propane cylinders that will rupture and explode with a single 9mm bullet. And yet, a .45 slug won’t cut through 1/4 inch of particle board standing between me and an enemy.

Considering 90% of combat happens indoors, I think this feature would go a long way toward unifying the environments with the gameplay, and would alleviate many of the repetition and balance issues. I wouldn’t mind the shooting gallery nearly as much if I could use the high powered rifle I scrounged up to tag a foe through a flimsy aluminum air duct.

Nonsensical characterization: *SPOILERS AHEAD*--------- I grew tired of the plot turns created by characters saying one thing and then violently doing the opposite, thereby screwing over their companion. Some major examples:

-Kane (who is supposed to be the calmer, more rational of the two characters) agrees to let Brady’s girl go, then shoots her squarely in the chest.
-Kane and Lynch have agreed to go after Hsing, but Lynch hits Kane in the face instead of letting him shoot Hsing.
-Lynch shoots Shang-Si after promising Kane he wouldn’t.

It’s like watching a bad movie. Plot twists can be great narrative tools, but repeatedly uncharacteristic behavior makes me dislike the protagonists. I can no longer relate to them or respect their decisions (i.e. suspend my disbelief,) because I can’t understand why they are acting as they are.

As a player, this created a rift between me and the game. If Kane, the guy I’m playing as, really is a hardboiled mercenary then why would he make such a poor tactical decision by shooting Brady’s girl? He spends the whole game firmly reminding Lynch, and the player, that he is there purely there for the job. Why would he stick around to kill Glazer once the job was clearly off? Kane hates Lynch bitterly, but despite being constantly jeopardized by his companion, he stays with him and even helps try and rescue the man’s girlfriend. Why stay to go after Shang-Si? From what the designers showed me of Kane, I didn’t accept that revenge was more important to him than escaping with his life.

(Previous commentary: Mass Effect 2)