Making BOTW Climbing more Dynamic

Since BOTW is fresh on your mind, how would you go about improving its climbing system? Do you think climbing should have combat sections as well (Say spiders that can threaten to knock you off or whatever)

You’re not mobile enough to avoid spiders, so that would just get annoying.

The primary thing I’d do is just speed it up twice as much and have jumping consume maybe half as much stamina, enough that it’s still significantly more than climbing the same distance, but not so much that you only get like 3 jumps, thereby letting you scale things a bit faster.

Add the skyward sword stamina regen fruit, make them move in some way.

Add some rough patches that maybe you climb up slower at the same rate of stamina loss, or just lose more stamina while climbing, but you can jump over them fine.

Include more briars and other hazards to be avoided, similar to the akkala tower. Have more jumping between different walls.

The thing about the climbing sections is, they’re basically a pathfinding puzzle with stamina serving as a time limit/health. You need to find the shortest route to the top, with the constraints that you can regenerate stamina partially while running up shallower surfaces, and you can regenerate your whole meter if you can find flat ground to rest on. Making the climbing more interesting is a matter of making that pathfinding more interesting. Those shallower surfaces are a really good constraint, because you can’t stop on them, you need to move upwards, so it’s about milking them for all they’re worth, and doing the mental math about whether the amount you gain back from them will be enough to make it to the next rest stop. So you’re constantly losing stamina health, but you can find places to gain it back, and want to plot a course that runs over enough of those to get you to the next point you can rest, which is hopefully closer to the top.

Some floating platforms or spires would also be nice as alternate routes to jump back and forth between.

So add more hazards (but don’t place them such that there’s clearly defined routes, intersperse them across the surface), make the route more roundabout, make some things move a little maybe, but make the player fast enough to be able to dodge them without much issue, make them drain stamina instead of health (moving barriers might be more appropriate rather than things that can harm you).

Akkala Tower is kind of my gold standard for platforming in this game, it has the malice all over which you need to avoid to climb up it, and it’s cleverly placed so you need to glide and climb to get up.

Though if you approach from this angle, there’s a straight shot to the end. I came at it from off to the side and had a more fun time. Still, shows what they could do.

What’s Jank?

Care to do a writeup on what makes certain enemy encounters janky? (Or what jankyness is in general for those who don’t know about it?)

Okay, I think I’d identify Jank as an event that significantly mis-matches expectations of what will happen that happens in correspondence to actual interactions between actors in a game where the cause of said event can’t be easily identified before or after the event has taken place.

Meaning, Jank is not RNG, but you can’t tell what the fuck caused it, or reasonably predict it will happen before it does. You usually can’t reliably reproduce it. You can at best know it’s there from prior knowledge and avoid it.

When I say the Hydras are janky, I mean, sometimes when they attack, they will just straight up go around your shield. Sometimes they’ll miss you. Sometimes they’ll be rotated a bit differently between attacks so that either of those things will happen when it didn’t last attack. Sometimes they’ll decide to shoot a water bullet when they’re at melee range. Sometimes that water bullet will go over your head, sometimes it’ll hit something behind you and splash on you. Sometimes you’ll block it, sometimes not. It’s not strictly RNG, though RNG may be a factor, but you can’t really tell what the fuck is going to happen.

These two videos showcase a lot of situations where stuff happens that nobody could have predicted.

Another thing that’s janky was that one giant crystal you need to run across in the crystal cave with the giant golem at the end of it. You’ll randomly like, slide off it if you’re not careful for no discernible reason. Having the golem there makes it even harder to deal with, but thankfully it’s gone after it dies once.

The hitboxes in Dark Souls 2 that sometimes randomly hit beyond the range of whatever the attack is (like the ogre grab or a lot of attacks on giant enemies), and you can’t tell if you’re really gonna get hit or not, that’s jank. Or the way that hitboxes for attacks in BOTW will sometimes be larger or smaller for perfect dodges, or how the camera can prevent you from doing the right type of dodge sometimes, or pretty much everything about thunderblight ganon.

Depth Done Right

The concept of depth is interesting but very abstract to me. Can you give some in-game examples games with depth done right?

https://critpoints.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/games-for-learning-about-depth/

Doing examples of depth is tricky because games are complicated. A game being deep means it has way more depth than its competitors, so it’s especially complicated. So to explain depth I tend to use simple examples, and hope that people can extrapolate from there.

So lets try a more complex example for a change, imagine a fighting game like street fighter. Depth is the sum of all the possible states, minus the redundant and irrelevant ones, so what are all the states possible in a fighting game? First, think of all the different possible positions both players could be standing on the stage. They could stand in the corners, mid-screen, close together, far apart. Imagine every possible individual position on the entire screen that they could stand, then the combination of every possible position they could both stand relative to each other.

So first there’s some redundancy there. Fighting game stages are (mostly) symmetrical. This means that if one dude is in the corner on one side, it’s the same as them being in the corner on the other side. So half of those possible positions in the earlier example are redundant.

Next, fighting game characters can jump, so imagine every possible position they could jump from and to across the stage. Imagine every possible position they could occupy at any given time in the air, and the velocity they’d have applied to them at that moment in time.

Next, think of all their moves, think of how they could perform any of their moves in any of these possible positions and relative positions across the entire stage. Think of how they could both be performing moves at different times relative to each other.

Then think of all the possible amounts of meter they could have at any given time.

If you’ve ever played with an emulator before, you can think of every one of these combinations of things as a save state. Imagine the way all of the things above can be combined to create a tremendous number of distinct save states. The idea of depth is to figure out exactly how many different possible states a game can contain, then to weed out the states that are either effectively the same state, or are made irrelevant by balance issues between different elements, or are unrelated to the goal of the game.

The more complex the game, the harder imagining all this is. Complexity does not necessarily create depth, because a game can be complex, but highly redundant, or most of that complexity could be irrelevant, but increasing depth means either increasing complexity, or better leveraging the complexity that is already there. Complexity creates state space, and depth is a limited selection of that state space. To increase depth, either the state space needs to get bigger, or more of it needs to be useful.

So lets get back to redundancy and irrelevancy. Just because a game has all these states doesn’t necessarily mean they all matter. One might point out the obvious: if a game runs at 60fps instead of 30fps, doesn’t that mean that it has twice the number of possible states? Since the game is stepping half as much each frame, and therefore can pass through twice as many positions? While this is technically true, the majority of those states are so barely different that we can say that they’re effectively redundant. So a game isn’t going to double in depth by going to 120fps. For the majority of cases (every single case you can imagine), FPS can safely be disregarded as a source of depth, even though it technically multiplies state space.

However theoretically this isn’t always the case. A 5fps game is probably fairly limited in what it can express in terms of intervals of timing. A bump up in fps for a 5fps game would probably dramatically improve the fidelity of interactions and range of spacing/positioning/timing choices a player can make. The principle here is that converting a range from being more discrete to more continuous does increase the depth of the game, but as the range becomes more continuous, there’s a falloff in how much depth you actually gain and past a certain threshold you’re not gaining depth anymore. The advantage of discrete ranges is they have more clear differentiation between states, a lack of redundancy, and the advantage of continuous ranges is they have a higher number of total states. Go and Chess don’t let you move half a square, they have totally discrete states, which means that no state is redundant (unless it’s a mirror or rotation of another state).

In a fighting game, you might be able to stand at an infinite number of precise positions relative to your opponent, but if you’re within range to do a move, it doesn’t really matter that much if you’re slightly closer or slightly further, unless that distance changes what moves you’re in range of or in range to do. In Smash Bros, being slightly closer or further can change which hitbox of your move hits, changing the effect of the move slightly. In this way Smash Bros is frequently able to make less of its state space redundant than might be true otherwise. So this infinite continuous range of positions is in reality limited to just the positions where your options or your opponent’s change, give or take a bit (after all, you could have them engulfed deep in your range, or at the very edge of your range, and the difference between those is worth accounting for, even if it doesn’t count for much).

Reducing redundancy is about making every state count, about making every state have a functional difference from all the other ones.

With relevancy, you might have a ton of distinct states, but many of them might have nothing to do with winning and many of them might be things that nobody ever does, either because they’re sub-optimal, or because they just don’t know those states exist. If redundancy is a systems-wise evaluation of depth, then relevancy is depth as it pertains to the playerbase. Relevancy is a reflection of the balance of elements, player opinions, cosmetics, and simply what players even know about a game. If state space and non-redundant state space are unchanging then relevant state space is not just in flux, but it’s different between different people, and the same group of people over time.

Relevancy is probably most impactful when it comes to balance. There’s a lot of different types of balance to consider. There’s balance between characters, balance between weapons/equipables, balance between moves, balance between strategies, balance between playstyles. The thing you want to foster is interesting choices, making it difficult to choose between one thing and another. You want to give people convincing reasons to pick between these things, make it so everything has a situational use, a reason to use it over other things depending on circumstance, but you also don’t want to make it so there’s only one option for any given situation. A basic trick some games use is to create situational factors that change over time, to change what the best option is, so you’re not always doing the same thing, but if you’re really only responding to each situation with that situation’s specific solution, then that obviously doesn’t have as much depth as having competing options for any given situation. If the options compete, then people will choose inbetween the two, meaning more relevant states.

So the thing with balance is, it’s the case where increasing the state size of the game, where adding new elements, can actually decrease the depth of the game. Keeping things in balance is about making sure they have tradeoffs, so nothing is ever a flat-out better version of something else, but also that they compete with one another, so that while you might use both options situationally, they never become the undisputed master of their particular domain for any situation. You don’t want any character to be the best, you don’t want any move to be the only thing people use, you don’t want people to play defense only or offense only, you don’t want people to only play with sweep and throw.

Balance is also a struggle between making sure all the elements are in line with all the others, and making sure they’re differentiated in function. An easy way to balance is to make things more homogenous, but if you do that, there might be more relevant states, but there will also be more redundancy, resulting in overall lower depth. So you need to make sure everything is as “strong” or as relevant as everything else, but you need to make sure it stays differentiated in the process.

Choosing relevancy as the word to describe depth as it relates to players is also helpful because it can represent shifts in how the game is understood. A game might have a high number of non-redundant states, but players might think it’s a shallow game simply because they don’t know how to play the game. There can be new discoveries about the game that make the game deeper, like finding a new technique that combines with every other mechanic in the game. Or there can be new discoveries that actually make the game less deep, because they overshadow other mechanics, are poorly balanced. Or they could do both, and the game might end up gaining new relevant states and losing others and come out as a better or worse game overall.

In this way, games can become deeper over time as more is figured out about them, or shallower as they get closer to being solved, and you can examine how deep the game is relative to a group of players, like low level players who may not play the game like the pros do. Some states might never be relevant because they’re too hard for anyone to access, so there might be a TAS-only trick that is not part of the game’s depth because it never comes up when a human plays the game.

Now, this might lead you to think, “Okay, so does this mean that players can just define depth as whatever set of states they want?” The way I’d frame it is that the relevant group of states in a game is not chosen by any deliberate decision of the players, it’s a consequence of the way the game is designed, and given a devoted playerbase, the relevant group of states will be arrived at inevitably. The players don’t choose who the top tier character is, it’s a product of how the game is designed, and how much they know about the game. Meaning that even though the relevant states are defined by the playerbase, the way they’ll end up is baked into the game design and revealed when it comes into contact with the players.

This means developers can deliberately design the game to develop differently over time when it comes into contact with the playerbase by making things more/less obvious (also called affordance), and it also means that if you want to patch the game for balance later on, you need to wait for players to figure it out, so you can see what the relative strength of various elements actually is, because it’s an emergent property of the interaction between the game and the playerbase, which you can’t totally predict in advance.

There might also be states that don’t actually affect the outcome of the game, like picking a color for your character, or particle effects that cannot influence other game objects. These are irrelevant to the depth of the game, so irrelevant sums them up fairly well.

So that’s a lot of stuff to keep in mind, and it can be a bit hard to visualize for any particular game, but all of it provides a framework for understanding the impact of nearly everything you can create in a game. You want to build the largest state space possible, make sure as many states are differentiated from other states as possible, and as many of the states as possible commonly occur in play.

Games Ontology for Academics

https://twitter.com/nothings/status/857600112217825280 https://twitter.com/smestorp/status/857605252308242432 https://twitter.com/smestorp/status/857600946184093696 https://twitter.com/andrewtraviss/status/857598230246420480 Came across this conversation about the most recent story and games thing.. (thread is hard to read whole because twitter is terrible) and I know your position, and that you have a really specific definition of game, but this emphasized to me the difficulty of arriving at a consensus when someone can interpret the press space to advance text thing to fit your definition It also seems clear that just being super reductionist sort of solves it, like, right, pressing space can be called a game, but obviously there is no artistic substance in that aspect, so it’s meaningless to include it in an analysis. How would you address it so that some consensus is reached?

Consensus probably isn’t going to be reached. There’s a lot of cultural issues here that prevent consensus. We have a broad digital entertainment field that is called “games” broadly as a field. Games collectively are a mass medium, bigger than Hollywood, revenue-wise. They’re the medium of a generation.

“Games” has a really complicated ontology. Ian Bogost wrote about what a clusterfuck it is in this article: http://bogost.com/writing/videogames_are_a_mess/

When you refer to a game, like Grand Theft Auto, you refer to a bunch of layered concepts wrapped on top of each other. The word “Game” could refer to a bunch of things when you’re talking about GTA. You could mean the physical product sold in stores, you could mean the disc you store in a sleeve, you could mean the source code, you could mean the set of interactions that create challenges in the game, you could mean the contract the player enters into, using the game console as a facilitating device to act out this contract. Continue reading

Controlling Space with Boss Design

What are some enemies or bosses that control space, mess with the players positioning, or use their movesets more effectively in a way that makes them more challanging to fight than other bosses/enemies that do the same thing? How come some bosses/enemies are considered hard, while others are not?

Lets look at Chaos Witch Quelaag. She has a bunch of different attacks that affect different sweeps of space. For example, she can spew lava in front of her, she can spew multiple bubbles of lava at a distance. She can jump at you while doing that. She can swing a sword at you, she can attack with her legs on the sides. And she can do a large burst that hits the entire area surrounding her. Continue reading

The Morality of Emulation

What is your moral standpoint on the use of emulators?

Something that should probably be made clear up front is that Emulation is legal. It is legal to develop an emulator, it is legal to download an emulator, and it is legal to play backups of games you have legally purchased on your emulator. Downloading copyrighted material from the internet, such as ROMs or ISOs, is not legal. This is all fairly common knowledge, but I’m restating it just in case.

If you are operating within the above legal parameters, your use of an emulator is perfectly moral. This should probably go without saying. Continue reading

HBomberguy Defending Dark Souls 2

What do you think of this defense of Dark Souls 2?

I was LITERALLY scripting a video like this, even with a similar title.

Okay, from the get-go, he correctly identifies that there’s a certain level of damage/health where games are most fun. I actually think this is generally correct, with a bit of leeway. The thing he overlooks is, he claims that the souls games are perfectly tuned, which is why they don’t have additional difficulty modes that slide these values up and down like FPS games do. The trouble is, the Souls games actually do have that. They have multiple forms of it actually, in the form of levels, Souls/Body Form and Hollowing, Estus Upgrades, NG+ cycles, and World Tendencies/Intensities. There’s things mucking with your current amount of health and damage all the time in Souls games. They just generally do a good job staying relatively close to the sweet spot, but if you choose to break it, that’s very easy to do. Continue reading

Frametraps and Blockstrings

What do you think of frame traps?

I love frametraps. Frame Advantage is a really fun concept to play around with, because it’s so variable. You can have more or less of it. Like how Ken is fucking +21 on a V-trigger canceled fireball. Frame advantage allows you to give the defender narrow or wide windows to perform actions, like backdash, dodge, jab, etc. By setting them up at a disadvantage, you can limit their options and condition them as a setup for mindgames. Being +1 on block and +5 on block are very different scenarios.

If a character has a really fast move, it’s even possible to sort of reverse frametrap people. You might be at frame disadvantage, but you can use your fast attack to catch them so fast that they can’t get anything out in time. Sol Badguy in Guilty Gear can do this with his 5K, since it’s out in like 3 frames, fastest normal in the game. Continue reading

Hitstop/Hitfreeze/Hitlag/Hitpause/Hitshit

Care to do a breakdown on hitlag?

Hitlag, also called hitstop, hitfreeze, and hitpause, is basically when the game freezes the characters at the point of collision during an attack. Having the smooth arc of the character’s attack paused at that point of collision helps sell that the collision actually happened, gives the eyes a few frames to register and confirm it happened, and makes the impact seem a little more powerful, since if the guy’s fist or sword or whatever is stopped along its path, then clearly it needs a lot of force to go through the object that is being hit.

Fighting games and Smash Bros make use of this time to practical ends. The 2in1 Cancel in Street Fighter 2 exists entirely because of Hitstop. Basically, they made the first 5 frames of every single normal move cancellable to make it easier to input special moves, but the hitstop extended that cancel window since it froze the state of both characters for like 10 frames, meaning people could still cancel after the move hits. Since then it’s been a staple of Street Fighter that you can cancel moves during the hitstop period. And this is really convenient too, since the cancel takes effect at the end of the hitstop, so it always comes out during the same part of the move, helping to keep combos consistent. So now you have this large dedicated time that is pretty much exclusively there for canceling things on hit, that’s pretty damn good. Continue reading

Communicating Through Design

You often complain about enemies not having movesets that really test the player and that don’t interact with the MC own moves, can you elaborate on this with examples of games with good enemy design?

Basically, in well designed games, the enemies are designed around the abilities of the player character, and interact with the specific quirks of how the player character operates. This means that they both have abilities that respond to the player’s capabilities, attempting to limit some common player behavior, but also abilities that highlight skillful use of their abilities.

AM2R is great at this. The common beta metroid minibosses are a great example. They weave around your head in such a way that you need to run under them and jump over them to avoid getting hit, but also to line up shots with its vulnerable underbelly by tilting your arm cannon diagonally or straight up. Every section of the game has new enemies that forbid you from cheesing them with the new powerup you just got, but require you to also use your powerups to defeat them in a skillful reactive way.
Continue reading