Is there a Point to Unfair Enemies?

What do you think of bosses or enemies that are deliberately designed to be unfair? Or next to impossible to avoid taking damage to?

The Question is always, what’s the purpose of this? What skill are they trying to test? Is the skill they’re trying to test actually interesting under those constraints?

FPS games now all have unfair enemies. You can’t realistically avoid damage from them. This means they’re a game of attrition, and the player has regen health, which gives them the edge over the enemies. The skill is, can you get some damage out before you’re killed and pop back into cover before you’re dead. The end result is fair, but we’ve precluded a lot of possibilities from the system as a result and sometimes RNG shits on you and you just die.

RPGs have always been similar, you’re constantly taking attrition and trying to deal more attrition to the enemy than you’re taking. And sometimes RNG just shits on you and you die.

Sometimes I run into enemies or bosses that have some attacks or patterns where it’s unclear that there’s meant to be a consistent way to deal with them at all, like the Omega Metroid in AM2R or the original final boss of Axiom Verge, or a ton of the enemies in Axiom Verge. I consider these to be faults with the game. These enemies can just mob you and you don’t really have a way to get them off you and the solution is kind of just to kill them on sight, or from offscreen and that’s really dull. There’s no counterplay.

Some games are based entirely on this premise, like I Wanna Be the Guy, which basically has hidden stuff ready to kill you at every turn, breaking whatever rules it establishes just as quickly as it establishes them, and I wouldn’t call it good design there either. It works as a work of media mostly because the whole thing is kind of a game design joke. They deliberately fool you in all these different ways and it’s really funny to see how they’ll fool you next and once you see how it’s done, the game gets fair again as you understand the challenge, because usually these games are completely deterministic. I wouldn’t call it good design overall, because these games tend to end up rather constrictive and shallow, but it works well enough to serve it’s purpose, and it’s nice to have these types of games around for the sake of variety.

Sometimes you get attacks like this in not-joke games, there’s an attack that you can only counter if you’ve seen it before, but it adds an interesting dynamic to a fight that you couldn’t get otherwise. An example I was discussing in my discord recently is DkS3’s Lorian, who has an attack where he teleports directly on top of you and helm breaker’s your ass. The attack has a clear tell with both an audio and visual cue, you can identify it reliably every time, but if you’ve never seen it before, you’re gonna get hit 100% of the time, unless you’re very lucky and happen to be running. I think the attack is a very valuable addition to the fight, and that’s worth the cost of it being unfair the first time you see it. Good feedback is really important, but designing everything to be perfectly understood the first time you see it is restricting, preventing some dynamics from being possible. Sometimes trial and error is the only option, but you end up with a net gain you couldn’t really get otherwise. It is kind however to add a training antepiece to help teach you the thing in a safe environment before you gotta do it for real though.


Would a Harder Zelda be as good as Dark Souls?

Do you think that the difficulty is important in defining the level of quality in a game’s combat? For example, if the Souls games were a lot easier, would the combat’s simplicity become more of a problem? Is the average Zelda game’s combat the equivalent to a much easier Souls game?

The average 3d Zelda game isn’t really equivalent to the Souls games because even if you run a 3 hearts challenge in Zelda, the game won’t get any deeper. I did this in Breath of the Wild, and the additional penalties aren’t bringing out more efficient use of alternative options, the base combat system largely lacks alternative options.

Souls did something super smart by having attacks from the player come out slower, it put the player on the same pace as enemies. It then has other factors like stamina, which help connect the system together, requiring you to manage that factor over time in addition to the complexities of combat. Stamina also discourages shield use, makes the shield system actually work by giving people a reason to not block. Dodges have iframes instead of purely being evasive. Etc.

You can’t just make Zelda games harder and end up with something like dark souls, you need to make the enemy designs more complex, and the design of each move more multi-faceted.

Difficulty is important for making players pursue the higher efficiency of using all their options, but it’s not everything. Difficult games aren’t better by default, and making a game too difficult can end up making the game extremely restrictive, eliminating depth from the game.

You want to encourage actual use of the widest array of options. Which means first, those options need to actually exist, and second that the difficulty needs to be high enough that they’re necessary, and not so high that they’re rote.

Further reading:

Clicker Games & The Hedonic Treadmill

What do you think of “idle” games like cookie clicker? Do they offer anything of value?

They basically play on the hedonic treadmill to foster addiction. They’re like a game you can’t ultimately lose and you can’t ultimately win. I hesitate to call them games, but I think the description is appropriate, because I think they stimulate similar centers of the brain. You have an inconsistency between consistent growth and explosive growth. They’re dangerous like gambling, and only safe in that they eventually peter out.

So basically, there’s this thing called the hedonic treadmill. We have kind of a base level of happiness and it’s high or it’s low. It largely depends on genetics, I think, to a lesser degree environmental factors and upbringing. As long as our settings remain consistent, we pretty much default back to this base level of happiness no matter how good or bad things are. Before clicker games were more basic idle games, like Progress Quest, which was basically, wait a long time and stuff grows. Candy Box then was like, “Hey, what if we made it so you could buy things that increase the rate at which stuff grows?” Then Cookie Clicker took that idea and made the entire game about it.

So just clicking the cookie is kind of boring, you can click, maybe mash pretty fast, but you’re just gonna get cookies at a consistent rate, and maybe you’ll do it long enough to get a bunch of cookies, but that’s extremely boring and eventually you leave. So then you can buy things using the cookies you’ve earned that increase how many cookies you get every click. So you buy one, and suddenly your clicks earn twice as much, and you’re back to the amount you just lost way faster than you took to get there the first time, and it’s like, “Whoa. This is cool.” Then you add auto-clickers on top of that to automatically generate revenue, but clicking the cookie itself is still the most profitable thing. The whole concept of the game is growth on top of growth. You earn money, spend it on things that improve your growth, and there’s always things over the horizon that take your growth and create an even exponentially higher amount of growth on top of that in a runaway cycle of positive feedback into more positive feedback. And this is crazy addicting because you cannot acclimate to any particular level of growth, it just keeps preempting the set-in of the hedonic treadmill again and again.

Cookie clicker isn’t a particularly fun game considered in abstract, it’s just clicking a button over and over again, you’re not really developing any skills, and you’ll have explosive growth no matter what you do practically. However it hijacks the way we process rewards so heavily that if you start playing it, it’s nearly impossible to put down, even though at the back of your mind you’re not really enjoying what you’re doing.

Of course, if you know this is the case, you can get smart and choose to break the addictive cycle. It’s hard because, “oh man, I’m earning more than before, I’m making progress, lets keep doing this,” but it’s possible.

Hollowing/Embering in Souls

Any thoughts about hallowing/embering in Souls, especially how it’s handled in 2?

Okay, so, the whole system starts in Demon’s Souls of course. You have body form and soul form. In body form you have full health, in soul form you deal more damage the more white your character tendency is. Then you have the cling ring, which is kind of hidden, but it’s available in the first level, gives you 75% of your health in soul form. Body form is restricted to non-renewable resources, bosses, and stones of ephemeral eyes. How often are you really gonna kill a boss or pop an eyestone to get full health? So what’s the real default health that the game is balanced around? Realistically, the game is balanced around you having half health, and full health is a bonus. Soul form is actually easier than body form. You don’t need body form at all to beat the game.

And these forms have another effect, they control online play, limiting the ability of people to summon help for levels. The bonus to damage in soul form means that invaders are balanced out against people in body form. And then there’s another knock-on effect, deaths in body form affect the world tendency of a given area, making body form increase the difficulty even more.

So what’s the purpose of this? How does it affect the game? It means occasionally you get this bonus to health, nerf to damage. What does that do? What problem does that solve? Not really anything. Realistically, you’re gonna play most of the game in soul form anyway, and if you’re not in the know, you have the potential to use up all your eyestones, make the world tendency of every area pure black and make the game super hard for yourself. Playing around with world tendency is pretty fun for players in the know who do repeat playthroughs, but the idea behind taking your health away and giving it back sometimes doesn’t seem to have a real purpose, it’s just there for flavor.

Dark Souls dumped the concept, made humanity renewable, just had forms affect the online element.

Dark Souls 2 did basically the same thing as demon’s souls, made human effigies non-renewable, gave you a 75% health ring at some later point, and made the decrease in health extremely gradual, but still balanced the game around the 50% health mark.

Then Dark Souls 3 was like, “Okay, people don’t really get that the health is supposed to be a temporary bonus to add some variance because it looks like we took something away from them, lets show it as a bonus instead” And they made embers renewable.

The whole thing gets played up a lot as being bad game design, “punishing” players for dying, making it so bad players are punished even harder. I saw one guy call it “republican dad game design”. I mean, the exact same thing happened in WoW with the rested/unrested bonus/penalty.

And people know about this now and still say they like Dark Souls 3 better for framing it as a bonus. People are dumb, about all I can say.

What are Option Selects?

Can you define what option selects are in fighting games, what they do, and why they are useful? I looked them up on Google, but I still can’t seem to grasp the concept of them.

Sorry for answering late. An option select is when you input one thing that can have multiple possible resolutions depending on what your opponent does.

Probably the most common type of option select in fighting games is one where the move will situationally have two different effects depending on what happens. For example, in 1 button fighting games, you can either throw by pressing forward + attack, or with that same input, just get an attack. In KOF in particular, across every single KOF game, it’s always been possible to option select between throwing, and some fast close range attack, because either your C or D (KOF’s two throw buttons) has a close range version of the attack bound to that button which comes out extremely fast. So if the opponent is throwable, you get a throw, if they’re not, you get a fast and powerful attack.

Another common type of option select is inputting additional actions that will get eaten depending on whether your first input comes out or not. For example, in Guilty Gear Xrd, you’re allowed to Yellow Roman Cancel command throws, but not Red Roman Cancel them. This means if you do a command throw, you can input the cancel, and it will cancel if you miss, and not cancel if you hit. So if you can cancel them when they miss, this means you can do something else immediately after they whiff, such as jump and attempt an air throw, meaning you can run into someone’s face, and either get a grounded command throw or an air throw, you’re throwing them on the air and ground in extremely short succession, and whichever one connects will continue. This is effectively an unblockable.

Another version of this is inputting things during hitstop. Hitstop puts your character in a state where you cannot act. By inputting when this time would happen, you’re making it so you’ll get actions if you fail to hit, but won’t get actions if you successfully hit. You can use this to situationally follow up depending on whiff or hit.

Hitstop also has another function, acting as the cancel window for special moves. In some games, hitstop is actually different on block and hit. This is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS! If hitstop is longer on hit than on block, then people can precisely target that interval where hitstop is longer and try to time their cancel for right then, because on hit, they will successfully cancel, and on block, they will be inputting too late to cancel. This means you can commit to risky special moves only on hit, making your moves way more powerful without risking anything. In an earlier version of SFV, Ken had this issue. I heard it also existed in MK9.

In a way, special move canceling by itself can be viewed as an option select, since you’ll cancel on hit/block, but not on whiff. Once you realize this, you can poke with cancellable normals, and time your special move buffer on them so it’s done before the move recovers. Then you can use that special move slightly outside where your opponent is standing to catch them if they move forward and therefore cannot block.

Option selects can occur anywhere where one input or sequence of inputs can be interpreted as 2 possible outcomes. Learning to look for cases like this is very tricky.

These aren’t very common in Super Smash Bros, because there’s almost no cancels in Smash Bros, and moves tend to only have 1 consistent effect regardless of what situation they’re used in. The amount of hitstop on whiff, hit, and block are different, but this doesn’t tend to actually be useful for creating option selects in the smash series. There are cases that are very common however in smash bros where you can position yourself in such a way that regardless of what option your opponent picks, you can react to it and perform the counter option. Smash Bros fans call this option coverage. You sometimes see commentators mistakenly call it an option select, but it’s not the same series of inputs every time, it’s the person consciously changing which input they’ll use based on what they see.

One example of a true option select in Smash Bros is in Project M with G&W. Game and Watch’s throws are all identical in appearance, so you never know which way he’ll throw you. He gets his best followups off down throw, but you can defeat that easily by inputting a tech right before his throw ends. This means that regardless of whether he actually down throws you or not, you will always tech it.

Another one has to do with meteor canceling. There’s actually 2 ways to meteor cancel, jumping, and up B-ing. There is an 18 frame lockout window after being meteor’d and trying to input too soon will lock you out from canceling, but jumping and up B both count independently from each other, so you can try both instead of just one. So if you get meteored, you can input jump first, then up B immediately afterwards, and if you screw up the first one, the second one might work.

I hope this makes it more clear. Option selects can be really really varied across games. Guilty Gear Xrd used to have one where you could mash roman cancel during combos between 25% and 50% meter, and it would automatically cancel your combo if your opponent bursted out, because they were no longer counted as being in hitstun. This means if they don’t burst, your combo continues, but if they do burst, you instantly YRC, making you safe from their burst. This was later fixed.

Favorite Nioh Bosses

Surprised no one’s asked you that much of Nioh outside of general impressions, do you have any favorite Bosses?

In order of appearance, Hino-Enma, Tachibana, Yuki-Onna, Okatsu, Saika, and Oda Nobunaga. Plus of course the combination fights of Oda and Yuki, and Tachibana and Honda.

I think each of these bosses emphasized the core group of skills that the game was based on, had varied movesets that controlled different areas of space over different lengths of time, and were generally challenging. They’re some of the best bosses I’ve ever faced in a video game. Continue reading

Using Advanced AI for Single Player Games

Thoughts on all the people saying they should put OpenAI and Deepmind into single player games to make the enemies smarter?

This entire line of discussion of is stupid. You can’t compare AI beating humans at multiplayer games with AI used in singleplayer games. The two are trying to accomplish fundamentally different purposes. AI in single player games is a Game Design issue, not a Technology issue. Developing AI that will beat players every single time at a multiplayer game usually isn’t a process of making the AI smarter the same way a human opponent can improve, it’s usually a matter of the AI having better timing, reaction speed, and knowing the best decision to make for each situation. AI doesn’t play the game the same way humans do, with our slow reaction time, our ability to only keep like 9 things in our head at maximum, our limited ability to simulate and predict what the game state will be. If you want to build a perfect AI that always wins at say, street fighter, you could just make it uppercut when you attack, throw when you block, and block when you uppercut, and the game is over. There’s already a number of bots like this at the top of the SFV leaderboards and the only reason they don’t win every match is because of netplay lag. Continue reading

Tabletop RPGs & Play Without Games

Are tabletop roleplaying games like dungeons & dragons games? How about ones that de-emphasize rules-based play & focus on the improv aspect, like ones based on apocalypse world?

Usually, yes, but not always. They’re games paired with Roleplaying, or Communal Storytelling. Depending on your group, the amount of game and amount of storytelling can vary. Some groups play tabletops as straight-up games, some of them use the systems as ways of mediating communal storytelling and generating interesting outcomes for the story. Within the framework of communal storytelling success or failure isn’t so important, it’s all about working together to make an interesting story. To this end, DMs rig outcomes, fudge die rolls, and don’t stick to strict game rules, they don’t (usually) compete with the players and the rules are set up to where most of the interactions between DMs and players are indirect, facilitated through impersonal die rolls. There’s even one tabletop RPG called Dread, focused on horror, which features no stats or dice of any kind. Instead, situations are resolved by pulling a block from a Jenga tower, and if the tower falls over, you get caught by the monster or whatever.

In the transition to digital, the meaning of role playing game changed. It stopped being about communal storytelling, with everyone making up a bit of the story, and started being about stats (which even relative to tabletop roleplaying games makes a bit of sense, since the innovation of the earliest Tabletop RPGs over the war games they were inspired by was the addition of stats tied to a character that grow over time). This is why a lot of discourse on RPGs is so confused, because people take the name of the genre literally. See all the people arguing about whether Legend of Zelda is an RPG or not. It fit right in next to the action RPGs of its original time period, but in retrospect it’s very clearly not in the same mold, and some people argue, “but it’s still a ROLE-playing game, I’m playing the ROLE of Link,” or worse, get confused and ask how any game can be a role-playing game since you play a character’s role in practically every game. Some games still try to fit the mold of communal storytelling by having branching storylines and letting players pick dialogue or characterize the character through personality scores that change over time (like fable’s good and evil points, or mass effect’s paragon and renegade points), but in my opinion you can’t meaningfully roleplay without other people, so RPGs on computer systems will always be a misnomer.

There are types of play that aren’t specifically games, like playing Doctor, or a tea party, or the role-playing exercises in improv groups. These don’t have any form of goal or objective, They’re just intended to produce interesting outcomes rather than establish winners or losers.

Tabletop roleplaying games can run the gamut here, it depends on your specific group.

Comparing Stylish Action Games

What are good criterias to analyze and compare hack’n slashes (Bayonetta, DMC, MGR, NG etc)?

I’d say the big fields are, attack design, enemy design, and defense design. Level design doesn’t tend to be a big factor, though enemy composition could be.

The big things in attack design for me are, how many command attacks are there and how varied in function are they? How many strings are there and how varied in function are they?

Platinum style games really emphasize strings on their characters over command attacks. Only DMC and to a lesser extent God Hand emphasize command attacks. The Platinum design ethos seems to be: here’s a bunch of strings, memorize them and perform longer or shorter strings based on the situation. Dodge enemies in the middle of your strings and use dodge offset to keep the string going so you can get to the wicked weave at the end. And maybe some strings have particular launching effects or something. Performing strings gives you magic points which lets you do powerful command attacks to get a wicked weave without doing a string.

DMC meanwhile has a ton of moves you can use at any time, and they have different area coverage, damage output, and combo potential, so their use can differ a lot based on the enemies you’re facing and the current situation.

God Hand sort of strikes a medium by having the customizable combo that acts as filler between everything else, and you also can bind moves that launch in various ways, guard break, dodge highs, hop lows, or other wacky effects.

NG has a lot of strings. I don’t really know why. Most don’t seem very useful really. You can get long combos by doing the right strings to launch and throwing shuriken at the right point in the combo to keep the juggle going.

In terms of defense design, DMC wants you to commit to moves, not allowing attacks to be canceled into defensive options generally. Also you generally jump for defense, though you can roll or trickster dodge too.

Bayonetta wants you to dodge and do it at the last moment for a big bonus, and it makes everything but wicked weaves cancelable, so nothing feels like it has much commitment except wicked weaves. They want you to juggle between doing combos and dodging at the same time without picking one or the other.

Ninja Gaiden uses a block, but the block can be broken, so you really want to block and then dodge out of block usually. And similar to DMC, attacks cannot be canceled, so an attack or string is a commitment you need to weigh carefully. There’s factors that help differentiate block from dodge so each are useful and exclusively dodging will usually get you killed.

MGR really wants you to parry correctly in the right direction the enemy is coming from and then forward dodge and BM cancel out of the parry block. Plus it had ninja run versus bullet attacks.

God Hand lets you dodge out of any attack like Bayonetta, but its dodges are much more constrained, giving a higher feeling of commitment. Plus there’s the differentiation between sidestep, weave, and backflip dodges.

In terms of enemy design, enemies can be more aggressive or passive. More mobile or static, they can be melee or ranged oriented. They can control space or time.

Enemies in DMC tend not to control space very well, being purely about timing really. DMC1 did something really clever and gave all the enemies a mix of close range and long range attacks, making up for the inability to combine enemy types together in the same room. DMC3 enemies especially were very one-note frequently, only having 1 or 2 attacks.

My gut tells me Bayonetta enemies are good, but honestly I haven’t played in long enough to really remember. I’m honestly blanking on NG enemies too. I remember them varying between clean solid design and being gimmicky bullshit a lot. Both games have extremely aggressive enemies however, which is generally nice considering how mobile the protagonists of these games tend to be.

MGR enemies were okay. Camera issues hurt some of them like mastiffs, who are great except for getting obscured off camera especially during their jumping attacks. Generic soldier enemies were a bit weak design-wise.

God Hand enemies are excellent for their ability to threaten different spatial zones, making each of your dodges differently effective versus each enemy type and their various attacks. They also used team tactics and had special quick but escapable throw moves that could vary the pacing of combat a lot. They used things like projectiles, whips, AOE attacks, multihitters, vertical and horizontal swipes, and lunging attacks to seriously vary what tactics were effective against each of them.

Nioh’s not technically in the canon, but I think it did an excellent job of combining all these factors, having a wide variety of moves, interesting and varied defense, and great enemy design.

Also I object to the name hack and slash, because that tends to describe Diablo style games more frequently, and not all stylish action games even feature swords, such as God Hand, or Bayonetta, which is primarily punching and kicking.

Absolver Impressions

What’s your take on Absolver? It’s an online brawler with big emphasis on customization, reminds me of God Hand:

It’s interesting, and manages to make single and multiplayer combat work fairly well in the same system by taking a lot of the lessons from dark souls and increasing the pace slightly. It’s just kinda simple because you don’t have access to that many attacks at any given time, and can’t switch stances very quickly. Continue reading