Author Archives: James

The Women of the Legends of Zelda

In the beginning, there was a damsel in distress. A princess, kidnapped by the evil wizard, completely and utterly helpless on her own, her only accomplishment being the hiding away of the thing that might defeat him if in the right hands. Her name was Zelda. This is the origin of a character that has evolved and matured over the course of the past twenty years. Over the course of the twenty some-odd games in the Legend of Zelda series, Princess Zelda, as well as the other supporting female cast, have grown from representing the damsel in distress to filling the roles of Heroin and Villainess, as well as some in between. I believe this is a positive switch. Females now fill literally most of the roles within the stories, from main villain to main character. If only one role had been filled, it may not have been such a positive image shift. For instance, if Zelda were still a damsel in distress, and the only other female character were the evil witch Veran, only two rather stereotypical images are being portrayed. But I digress.

In the original few games, in 1986 and 1987, The Legend of Zelda and The Adventure of Link respectively, there were only two major female rolls. Zelda, the princess, was the archetypal helpless maiden princess, under the clutches of the evil wizard, or under an evil spell. Impa, Zelda’s nursemaid, was a wizened old crone, who knew just enough to get our hero, Link, off on his quest. While these games came during an age where character development wasn’t a big part of games, due to game size, as well as system limitations, it’s still a little disheartening to have such limited characters. Granted, most of the story revolved around Link, our archetypal young destined hero, but our two females were still important to the plot.

Five years later in 1991, in A Link to the Past, Zelda becomes a bit more assertive, actively trying to use her magic to help you and herself, though she fails in the end, and must be rescued along with other maidens, and Impa is nowhere to be seen. Also in this game, however, is the character of Blind the thief. Blind is a notorious criminal, a master thief, and it took magical forces to seal her away and curse her. She disguises herself as a trapped maiden to lure in Link, and then unleashes her dark powers to try to stop him in his quest. This new character is a step in the right direction; she’s assertive, powerful, and the leader of a large band of thieves, the only downfall being that she plays the part of a stereotypical villain. Not there yet, but getting warmer.

A Year later, Link’s Awakening is released, taking place in a far away land, away from Zelda and our maidens. Maron, a young maiden on the island of Koholint, she is more your archetypal mystic maiden, the kind that knows what is going on behind the scenes, has a kind heart, and passively helps out the protagonist of the tale. Not really moving anywhere with the images in this game, though it is the first game of the series to not feature a maiden in need of rescue, so I guess that’s a step in the right direction.

1998 and 2000 saw the release of Ocirana of Time and its sequel Majora’s Mask. These games saw the return of Zelda and Impa, as well as a plethora of other female characters. Zelda gained an active, assertive roll, taking on the persona of Shiek, a ninja-esc character of great power and strength, as well as wielding immense and powerful magics in the aid of our hero Link in her role as the princess when not in disguise. Impa is the one who trains her in her mystic arts, having been given the role of the father figure, leader of the ancient Shieka clan, who bestows Zelda with her ninja-like abilities. Then there are the Garudo. The Garudo are a clan of Amazonian-esc women, comprised of thieves and tricksters, though not evil at heart, just mischievous. They are immensely powerful, wielding larger weapons than our hero, and command an entire nation to themselves. They have obviously been derived from Blind’s band of thieves back in Link to the Past, and, like Blind before them, this clan has it’s evil witch, Twinrova, a scheming woman who has been manipulating much of the plot for her son, the evil wizard of the series, Ganondorf. The game also formally introduced the creators of the world that the series takes place in, revealing them to be three Goddesses, with no major male God in sight. Through both games there a number of other important female characters, though in more subdued roles. Ocirana of Time also features maidens in need of rescuing, but this time, they are alongside an equal number of men who also need to be rescued. These games definitely filled out the roles that women take in the series, and did so almost equally across the board, not relegating themselves to simply villainesses or heroines, but both, and many things in between.

The next year, 2001, saw the release of twin games Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons. The connected storylines saw the introduction of the evil sorceress Veran, as well as the three Oracles, Nayru, Farore, and Din, as well as featuring Zelda, Impa, and various other women of the series. Like it’s predecessors the years prior, these linked games did a fairly good job of spreading women across all the rolls. Also like its predecessors, the inclusion of women doesn’t seem forced. The characters are well written, and genuinely wouldn’t work as well as men. As well, men play just as large a roll in these games, with the main male protagonist, villains, minor and mojor supporting characters, etc.

2002 to 2004 saw the release of Four Swords, The Wind Waker, Four Swords Adventures, and The Minish Cap, Wind Waker being the the major game among them. Foremost among the characters of the game is the Pirate Captain Tetra, later revealed to be the game’s Princess Zelda, as well as Link’s younger sister, Aryll. Aryll is kidnapped at the beginning of the game, but is rescued fairly early on, and spends the game supporting her brother. Tetra is an assertive and tomboyish character, not sitting back to be a damsel in distress, even actively helping you in your fight against Ganondorf at the end of the game. These games also cement into the mythos of the game’s world, Hyrule, that the governing mystical powers of the world are female. The goddesses, the great fairies, the great fairy mother, the Oracles, etc are the creators, the governesses, the powers of the world, while the main antagonists, the wielders of evil, more often than not, are male, such as the Wizards Aganihm and Ganondorf, General Onyx, the Nightmare, the dark god Majora, etc. This is a unique choice, made fairly early on in the series, which differs from most worlds, where men and women play an equal role in these situations. I think it’s a good choice that sets the world apart from the standard, stereotypical fantasy worlds that appear in most fantasy tales.

Then, in 2006, came the release of Twilight Princess, the first official game in the series to have a main female lead. Midna is an overly assertive, in control, aggressive, dark, and complex character. She fits in very well with the darker, more mature atmosphere of the game. Each generation of Zelda games has been darker and more complex than the last, gradually growing form “save the princess from the evil wizard” to something that defies and simple description in anything less than a paper of it’s own to explain the intricacies of its magnificent storyline. Midna is a being of the Twilight, wrapped in mystery, and adventuring alongside, though she would say in command of, our hero Link. Zelda also retains her role as an assertive female character, taking sword in hand to combat the dark wraiths that storm her kingdom, though ultimately it falls to Link and Midna to save the world from darkness. Midna brings to the story a complexity and freshness, showing that there can be a female lead of the likes not seen before. She is vastly different from the standard female leads, such as Samus Aran form Metroid, a silent army of one bounty huntress who expunges the scourge of space pirates from the galaxy, or Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, the well endowed, hotshot tomboy, treasure huntress who raids lost temples. Physically, Midna is rather impish in appearances, betraying a bit of a female air about her, along with her giggly, devilish voice.

Midna, The Oracles, The Goddesses, Blind, Impa, and, above all, Zelda, show just how much women have come in this series. And it’s not just this series. This is much the same progression that women have taken throughout videogames as a whole. I’m not saying that the stereotypes and negative images aren’t there, but alongside them are women in every role, both good and bad, of every kind. Goth, Badass, Princess, Villainess, Sorceress, Gunsmith, Golf Pro, Fisherwomen, Sisters, Protagonists, Sword Maidens, Oracles, they’re all there. This industry has made great leaps and bounds with it’s female characters, and I believe we’re definitely moving in a good direction with it.

Game Narrative Review ~ Shadow of the Colossus

Game Narrative Review

Game Title: Shadow of the Colossus

Platform: Playstation 2

Genre: Action-Adventure

Release Date: October 18, 2005

Developer: Team Ico

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Game Writer/Creative Director/Narrative Designer: Fumito Ueda

Author of this review: James Manley-Buser

Overview

Shadow of the Colossus is a story about a young man who travels to a distant forbidden land and braves the challenges of a forgotten god in order to bring a young woman back to life. Wander, the young man, is assisted by his steed Agro, as he travels the forbidden land. The young woman, Mono, was sacrificed because she was believed to have a cursed destiny. The god, Dormin, sets Wander to the task of defeating sixteen colossi that wander the forbidden land, so that Dormin will have the power to resurrect Mono.

The game uses a rather different form of storytelling than most epics told today. Instead of explicitly telling the player all the little details of the characters and the story, the game provides all the elements and detail necessary for the player to infer the relationships between characters, the motivations for their actions, and the deeper meanings behind actions taken. The implicit nature of the storytelling also helps to accentuate the fact that there is no clear cut villain in the story. There are protagonists and antagonists, but no one is explicitly evil or explicitly good. I believe that if the story were told a different way it would not be as impacting or entrancing, making it a less good story than the magnificent one it is.

Characters

  • WANDER – Wander is the aptly-named protagonist of the game, as he spends the game wandering the far corners of the Forbidden Lands. He is a young man in possession of a specific holy sword that is known to Dormin to have the ability to open the way to the forbidden land and destroy the colossi. Throughout the narrative it is shown that he most likely stole the special sword, possibly from Lord Emon, and that he is doing something potentially dangerous in interacting with Dormin. His premise appears to be that everything has a cost. There can not be death without there first being life. And, conversely, in order to restore life to Mono he must first sacrifice the lives of the colossi. There are consequences for his stealing the sword. There are consequences for releasing Dormin. Everything comes with its own price to pay.
  • AGRO – Wander’s horse. Judging by his size and muscle, he is a steed bred for battle. From the way he interacts with Wander, he is clearly the young man’s companion of some time, as is apparent by his gentle demeanor and faithful behavior towards the protagonist.
  • MONO – Mono, the suffix denoting that the word is a “person” in Japanese, is the name of the dead maiden. She was sacrificed because she was believed to have a cursed destiny. Wander seeks to revive her.
  • DORMIN – An ancient god with the ability to the revive the dead. It is for this reason that Wander sought him out. Dormin was sealed away in the forbidden land, his power drained away and stowed within the colossi. Dormin’s voice acting is two voices, one male and one female, laired over each other, representing his duel nature of life and death. Deeper meaning in Dormin’s actions can be found when one realizes that his name is Nimrod spelled backwards. Nimrod was a hunter & king who was opposed to God in Hebrew texts. In the game, Dormin is sealed within the Tower, the tallest point that is visible anywhere in the land, an allusion to the fact that Nimrod was the one who ordered the construction of the Tower of Babel. Nimrod’s body was also supposedly severed into several pieces after his death, further linking to Dormin’s power/soul being trapped within the 16 Colossi after he was sealed away.
  • LORD EMON – A shaman from the land Wander and Mono hail from. He follows Wander in an attempt to stop him from releasing Dormin and performing the ‘forbidden ritual’ to revive the dead.
  • THE COLOSSI – These gigantic creatures of stone wander the forbidden land. Some are docile. Some are aggressive. Some are bestial. Some are bipedal. They are the creatures that Dormin’s power has been sealed within. If one examines another Hebrew myth, as we did with Dormin before, you can gain some interesting insights into the nature of the colossi by taking into account the story of the Golem. The Colossi, like the Golems, are tremendous creatures made from the earth & rock. The Golems are activated by inscribing special symbols on their persons, and de-activated by rubbing out those symbols; the colossi are defeated by destroying the strange glowing symbols situated on their bodies. Most telling would be that the Golems could only be created by a holy personage, “one who was close to God.” This casts insight to the fact that the Colossi are apparently the key to Dormin’s imprisonment, and that Lord Emon, an apparent holy man or shaman, is in opposition to freeing him. Finally, on a more literal note, the word “golem” is a Macedonian word, meaning simply “big” or “large”, further linking the so-called Colossi to the the Golem myth.

Breakdown

The tale of Wander’s journey through the Forbidden Land actually begins much much earlier than the start of the game. By analyzing the Jewish folklore associated with various aspects and characters, we can piece together some deeper meaning and backstory for the setting and some of the characters. Next, by examining the Forbidden Land itself, we can come up with some conclusions about it’s histories and its inhabitants, which doesn’t contribute directly to the narrative of the game, but does add depth and breadth to the world and the narrative’s place in it. Lastly, by examining the interaction between central characters, as well other of their aspects, as they progress through the stages of the tale, we can surmise deeper meanings behind some of their actions as well as making connections that may not have been readily apparent. All of these aspects, those that exist within the world of the game without being explicitly handed to the character, coalesce to present a deeper and richer layer to the already well-told story that appears on the surface of the game.

The game is layer in references and parallels to various Hebrew folk-tales. By examining them and how they correspond to aspects of the game, we can draw a sharper picture of the history of Dormin and the Forbidden Land than is explicitly stated in the game. Firstly, we can surmise some of Dormin’s history by examining the tales of the great hunter-king Nimrod, whom Dormin shares a name with in reverse. Nimrod was a great hunter and king who was in opposition to God and a rival to Abraham in some stories. It was he who ordered the construction of the tower of Babel, and after his death his body was severed in to several parts. In the game, Dormin’s soul is confined to the Shrine of Worship, a great spire in the center of the Forbidden Land. The Shrine is the tallest object in the Land, visible from even the furthest corners of the map, and is a nice parallel to the Nimrod’s Tower of Babel. We can surmise from this correlation that Dormin was in some way responsible for the construction of the Shrine, and that its purpose was somehow heretical to the higher powers-that-be, possibly having something to do with his command over life and death and may have been a contributing factor to the reason he was sealed away as he was. Like Nimrod, Dormin’s soul/power was severed into multiple parts, and sealed away within the sixteen colossi that roam the Forbidden Land. The colossi themselves are a parallel to the Hebrew Golem. Golem itself is a Macadonian word meaning Big or Large; an excelent parallel with the title name of Colossus. Like the Golems of myth, the Colossi are beings made of the materials of the earth. Also like the Golems, the Colossi can be “killed” by destroying the symbols on their bodies that give them life. The humanoid Colossi even have the symbols on their foreheads. Folklore tells us that a Golem can only be created by a holy personage, “one who is close to God.” From this we can surmise that it was a holy person or person of some standing, presumably representing a higher or more good power than Dormin, that sealed his powers away within these Colossi and forbade entry to the lands.

The Forbidden Land itself bears some examination beyond its myths and gods. Scattered throughout are the ruins of vast cities and areas. At one point Wander comes across and battles Colossi in a vast subteranean city area, a multy-tiered colloseum, a grand set of burial mounds, and several smaller shrines, mimicking the symbols and etchings in the Shrine of Worship. From these we can surmise that it was a fairly religious society from the number of shrines and the intricacies and shear size of the burial mounds for the area. There are also several parallels of size. The smaller shrines scattered throughout the land are the Shrine of Worship in miniature. The non-humanoid colossi mimic the animals that can be found in the Land, salamander-like lizard colossi, colossi in the form of turtles and snakes, two avian colossi, etc. Wander actually comes across and can observe these smaller animals on his travels, and it can be seen that the larger Colossi have the same mannerisms of their natural-born counterparts. The Shrine of Worship also has smaller, though still fairly large by our standards, statues in the form of effigies of the sixteen colossi that roam the land. All of this further establishes the history of the land, and furthers its religious nature, while establishing that it must have been something dire that would cause a culture of such magnitude to just up and leave, locking the doors behind them, so to speak.

Finally, by examining the actions and interactions of the characters during the main bulk of the tale itself, as well as other of their aspects, we can draw conclusions about the characters that are not explicitly stated within the pages of the manual or within the script of the game. The game begins with a long collage of scenes of Wander traveling by horseback through many strange locals, eventually coming to a giant doors of the Forbidden Lands. This establishes his conviction, having traveled for at least a fairly extensive distance, with plenty of time to have second thoughts about breaking so many taboos of his culture. Inside the Shrine, Wander reveals to Dormin his mystical sword, which is known to Dormin, letting us know that the sword a) probably does not actually belong to Wander, and b) is suitably ancient and powerful. Wander wants Dormin to revive Mono. He is willing to defy the taboos surrounding life and death for her. Dormin explains that he first needs for Wander to take that sword and defeat the sixteen colossi that wander the land, as their existence is the source of Dormin’s imprisonment. When he is free, he can revive Mono. As the player leads Wander through the lush and empty Forbidden Land, defeating colossi, we get scenes of Lord Emon following Wander’s trail across the land and eventually arriving in the Forbidden Land. Lord Emon and Wander wear similar garb, though Emon’s is more elaborate. We can surmise that Wander and Emon are from the same culture or group, and that Wander held a lower position in the social structure. From the way Emon speaks accusingly at him, as well as some other cues, we can probably say that Wander stole the sword from Emon. The symbols on their garb are very like those that appear on the Colossi, meaning that the culture Wander and Emon hail from is probably descended from those who once lived in the Forbidden Land. After Wander has killed all of the Colossi, it is revealed that Dormin is released because Wander is now housing all of his power, Wander is killed in order for Mono to live, the Forbidden Land being sealed away again by Emon. Wander is reborn as a baby in a concealed garden in the Shrine, possibly an allegory to the Garden of Eden, though he bears a mark of his dark possession, a set of horns sprouting from his temples, which we know his descendents will bear due to this game being a prequil to the designer’s first title, Ico. These horns could also be seen as a metaphorical “mark of Cain,” showing that he broke the taboos of the society, and now he and his descendants will be marked because of it.

In closing, all of these lead to a deeper and richer meaning behind the surface-level story of the game. The various links to Hebrew folklore and mythology serve to broaden our understanding of the background of the world as well as deepening our comprehension of the exact nature of the ‘god’ Dormin. The various elements scattered throughout the world serve to tell us about the society and civilization that our principle characters may hail from. And the non-explicit aspects of the interactions and aspects of the principle cast of characters serve to tell us much about their backgrounds without actually having to take the time to tell it to us. All of these implicit storytelling aspects serve to give is a look at the deeper meanings behind the various aspects of this already wonderful story.

Strongest Element

I think the strongest element of the narrative is the implicit nature of its storytelling. While the game does not require the player to be attentive to all the detail put into the game, for those players who take the time to notice all the little details crafted into the game, a richer and deeper side of the story begins to emerge. On a surface level, you have a young man with a magic sword and trusty steed asking a fallen god to revive a dead girl while older shaman tries to stop him. By examining the little details, like clothing, patterns, architectural styles, musical cues, the manner in which characters perform their interactions, and the like, you can begin piecing together deeper details to the surface level story. Because of this, the amount of depth the player experiences from the story of the game is the exact amount that they put forth the effort to find.

Unsuccessful Element

I think the poorest element of the game is that the story, while suitably epic and legendary, is rather depressing. Throughout the tale, there are no real moments where you feel really good about what you’ve accomplished. For every Colossus you defeat, somber music plays as the beast falls in pain and the power of Dormin flows into you. As you defeat more and more colossi, collecting more and more of Dormin’s power, Wander looks more and more diseased as he houses the powers of the forsaken god. In the end, Wander does succeed in reviving Mono, it is at the cost of his own life, and even though he is reborn, it is as a deformed infant, bearing horns on his head. We know, since this title is a prequel to the creator’s other title, Ico, that all of Wander’s descendants will also bear these horns, being subjugated and killed because of social stigmas and a witch-queen who rules the land. The only real “happy” part of the ending is that Wander succeeded in his goal of reviving Mono, but as she doesn’t seam to recognize him, it is unclear exactly what it is he has actually accomplished. The fact that the weakest element of the story is that it is a bit of a downer just lends itself to the strength of the game’s storytelling.

Highlight

Near the beginning of the game, after being sent out by Dormin on your quest to defeat the colossi, you come across a cliff that it is indicated you must climb up to find your first foe. Before this point you have had no indication of any other forms of life bigger than the salamanders and pigeons you occasionally come across while riding around the enormity of the Forbidden Land. As you scale the cliff, the ground begins to shake, and the music turns hesitant and ominous. As you scale higher up the cliff, the rhythmic shakes of the ground begin to loose debris from the cliff-side and the music begins to build. You come over the lip of the cliff-side and pull yourself up, and the camera pans up and out as the first Colossi plods past, quaking the ground with each step, unaware of the speck that is you by the cliff-side. You, as Wander, come halfway up the foot of this giant earthen behemoth. For the first time, you as the player are struck with the enormity and challenge of this quest Dormin has set you upon. It is a truly dramatic scene that lays the tone for the remainder of the game. Truly, it is the highlight of the title.

Critical Reception

1up.com – James Mielke – 9.5 out of 10

IGN.com – Chris Roper – 9.7 out of 10

gamespy.com – Sterling McGarvey – 4.5 out of 5

The general opinion of these three, and others, is that if you haven’t played Shadow of the Colossus then there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Chris Roper actually said as much in his review. Praise is given for the simple story setup and subtle depth to the telling of it, as well as the driving need to complete more of the game to uncover more of the intriguing tale.

Lessons

  • Storytelling doesn’t have to be explicit. You, as the author, don’t need to spell out every facet of your story in order for it to be rich and deep. Shadow of the Colossus shows that you can have a rich, engrossing story and world without actually explicitly feeding it all to the player.
  • There don’t have to be clear-cut “good guys” and “bad guys.” While Shadow of the Colossus does have cut-and-dry protagonists and antagonists, neither are necessarily good or bad.
  • The story does not have to be complex in order to be “deep” or “rich.” Shadow of the Colossus is a fairly simple tale layered with depth and background, should you choose to look for it. The fact that is as simple as a young man with a magic sword trying to revive a dead maiden does nothing to diminish the richness of the world-building or the storytelling.

Summation

Shadow of the Colossus employs a unique method of storytelling to bring new life to an old story. The story is not a new one, but is a new take on an old trope, “young warrior saves the life of a maiden.” While the bigger picture is fairly simple, it takes advantage of the implicit nature of its world-building and storytelling methods in order to bring a level of depth and richness into the fine details of the tale that is rarely seen in today’s games. While a majority of titles of this age of impressive graphics merely use their visual capabilities to make things pretty or impressive, Shadow of the Colossus actually uses all that raw graphical power to bring life to its characters and world as well as using it as a storytelling aid. The nature of how its story is told, and the richness of the story itself are why Shadow of the Colossus is worthy of this analysis.

Playtesting UnderMiner v1.1

What This Version Looks Like

Players control a drill that can be steered in any direction using the left and right arrow keys or the a and d keys. The ship moves forward automatically and does not stop at any time. Players steer the drill through a finite area of dirt blocks looking for gold and fuel. Picking up gold contributes to an experience meter needed to level-up. When they reached the requisite gold cache, players automatically level up, which increases their fuel capacity, fully refills the fuel meter, and dynamically expands the map size. Collecting fuel blocks refilled their fuel meter by a little bit. Leveling up fully refilled their meter and increased their overall fuel capacity. There were now two different types of dirt on the map that are effectively the same and just provide cosmetic variety, making the map more visually interesting. There are now magma blocks which drain the fuel when you run into them. Players get gradually faster as they level.

What players didn’t like.

Minor niggles

What they did like

They liked everything. I had to forcibly remove some people from my laptop so I could continue working on the game because they kept replaying the game, trying for a higher score. I have watched people play copies of my game during classes instead of paying attention to the instructor. I think it’s at a good point and will be turning in this version for a grade, though I plan on continueing to develop the game under a different title for eventual commercial release.

Playtesting UnderMiner v0.1

What is UnderMiner?

At the most basic, UnderMiner was fairly simple.

The player controlled a drill that they could steer in any direction with the left and right arrow keys. They held the shift key to propel the drill forward, and could only turn the drill while moving. You had a fuel meter that slowly drained as you moved, but not while you didn’t. You dug down into the ground from the surface, collected gold, and went back up to the surface before you ran out of fuel. While on the surface, you could upgrade your ship granting a larger fuel capacity so you could in turn drill for a longer time and gather more gold in order to level up more etc.

What was liked

People were mildly entertained by the tunneling around.

What wasn’t liked

People didn’t like that they had to go back up to the surface to Upgrade the ship and refuel their fuel. They also wanted more stuff to dig through.

What I Did

For the next version of the game, I planned to implement on-the-fly upgrading and more variety in the map of blocks to mine through, along with minor graphical updates.

Playtesting TowerOffense v2

New Since Last Version

I had implemented a signpost system in order to govern the movement of units indirectly. The way this worked was fairly simple in concept. Signposts were placed in various predetermined points around the map. Each signpost could be faced in up to all 4 of the cardinal directions, and when a unit comes to a signpost, it would continue on in the direction the signpost was facing. So if a unit going north came to a sign pointing west, it would turn and go west until it ran into a signpost that told it otherwise.

Play would then be about strategically manipulating the path of the units via the signposts in order to avoid death, destroy enemy units, and complete mission based objectives unique to the story map.

What people liked

People really liked the concept when it was described to them, and they liked it when they sat down and started fiddling with the signs and watching the units go off in various directions

What people didn’t like

The game was still pretty boring, with people losing interest after a couple minutes.

What I did.

Ultimately, I decided that salvaging the project in the time remaining in the term was a task with diminishing returns. I instead went with a simpler-arcade concept instead called UnderMiner.

Playtesting TowerOffense

While I don’t have the actual game up to playtest standards, I was able to sit down with a chess board and random game pieces and explain my game concept to people. I did this before I started actually building the game in order to ascertain a few things first; 1) whether the concept was simple enough to execute within my given time frame, and 2) whether people thought it would be sophisticated enough to keep them interested, given its needed simplicity in execution.

THE CONCEPT

The concept was thus: A Defense of the Ancients-style game approached form the Tower Defense angle instead of form the Real-Time Strategy angle. Instead of focusing on the hero units and controlling them RTS-style, you’d be focusing on the base and towers, micromanaging them Tower-Defense style.

WHAT PEOPLE THOUGHT

People were interested in this take on the MOBA genre, and thought it had merit. They were general intrigued to see how I handled it, and thought the idea neat. It was pointed out that there would probably be some issues in keeping the player interested in anything beyond their corner of the game map, and that if I wasn’t going to have heroes going out and farming I was going to need some other form of resource acquisition.

WHAT WAS SUGGESTED

Several things were suggested to solve these two problems.

  • Some form of territory acquisition, wherein the goal was not specifically to defeat the opponent’s base but instead take over the board via control points of some sort.
  • Gathering resources in a style similar to Plants Versus Zombies, where resources would randomly appear about the map and the player would need to actively keep an eye out for them and click on them to gather.
  • Having to manually build and maintain the towers, making you continually check all the lanes and perform routine upkeep on all your structures.
  • Having a type of unit, not a hero, that you could send out to explore the map, uncovering it fog-of-war style, revealing resource points and new lanes to send units down and build towers next to.

Of these ideas I decided the simplest to mock up would be the Plants vs Zombies style click-to-grab resources and have begun on implementing that at present time. If it doesn’t work out, or even if it does, I may look at some of the other suggestions and have a go at how they work out as well.

Playtesting Gathers No Moss ~ Maze Edition

For the next go, I got rid of the traditional controls and instead had you manipulate the pitch, roll, and yaw of the stage itself, leaving the movement of the boulder to gravity as you jostled about the level. I then added a 3d maze that you would manipulate to get the ball through. The coins were still present, but now just served as a signpost of how far you’d got, as if you fell out you restarted at the last checkpoint.

WHAT WAS LIKED

So, there was now more to the game. It still had that relaxed feel, but you were now actually doing something semi-challenging, with risk and reward and chance of failure. It was a more engaging game and with a little work could make a decent time-filler.

WHAT WASN’T LIKED

The art. Now that people weren’t complaining about lack of things to do, the fact that the game didn’t look as good as early Nintendo 64 games was beginning to be a detriment. While I was familiar with 3DSMax and Blender, they frustrate me and I couldn’t work well with them at the time. Add to that that, in addition to any advanced modeling I might have to do, I would also need to create nice-ish textures and bump maps, and I was looking at a problem.

WHAT WAS SUGGESTED

It was suggested that I move to a sprite-based game, as pixel art, if done right, was relatively easy to produce and could look rather nice if the appropriate amount of effort was afforded. At this point, I scrapped the rolling boulder and began brainstorming 2d sprite-based games.

Playtesting Gathers No Moss

The first new idea I started for a solo project was a Boulder with a smiling tiki face that you could roll around an island and collect gold coins. I booted up unity and had that concept more or less finished after a day, though it looked a bit rough around the edges, all the functionality was there; boulder, coins, island.

WHAT WAS LIKED

It was nice and simple. You rolled around the island, picking up coins which were layed out in a path. The music was light breezy and unity’s swaying trees and rippling grass really added to the feeling of the sandy secluded palm-tree island. The coins were nice and shiny and particle effects made nice touches when you grabbed them. The game gave off a nice relaxed feeling.

WHAT WAS DISLIKED

There wasn’t anything else to do. The game was too simple. After you’d gathered all the coins, that was it. There wasn’t much point in continuing to roll around the island.

WHAT WAS SUGGESTED

Add more to the game. At this point there wasn’t much to it.

Playtesting Knight to E7 ~ the Tower Defense

Our game was at one point a tower defense, not unlike the Zombie Bowling mode of Plants vs Zombies. You picked and sent out chess pieces instead of walnuts, and incoming enemy pieces streamed at you from across the field.

WHAT PLAYERS LIKED

Players enjoyed the chess theme, as before. They also enjoyed the fact that you picked one side, black or white, and stuck with it instead of switching sides.

Playtesters also enjoyed that each of the pieces had their own distinct movement patterns as they traveled across the board towards enemies.

WHAT THEY DIDN’T LIKE

Players didn’t like the speed of the game. With the chess theme came a preconception about slow-paced, or at least stilted paced, strategy and tactics. This type of game had neither.

WHAT WAS SUGGESTED

It was suggested that the enemy pieces be slowed down and move incrementally. The Knight movement pattern was also confusing to players. It was suggested that we put guide arrows out for all the pieces to show where they would go. This would help clear up and confusion about all pieces, not just the Knight.

Playtesting Knight to E7

For awhile the main concept of the title I was working on, Knight to E7, was thus; you, as a lone knight on neither the black or white sides, would go across a randomly generated board, hacking and slashing your way through a maze full of enemies Gauntlet style. You could attack both white and black pieces, and would gain benefits against a color by attacking it more, effectively making the other color your allies. There were special bonuses for attacking whatever color was your ally, giving an incentive to attack both colors instead of focusing on just one.

We asked a group of players (students at DigiPen) to test this concept.

WHAT THEY LIKED

Players enjoyed the Chess theme. It was more cohesive than the random shapes we’d had previously and added a lot of preconcepted depth to our enemies and world in the players’ minds.

Players really liked the ability to effectively pick a side, gaining bonuses against the opposing faction. It gave them motivation to help out allied pieces and attack enemies as they moved through the maze instead of just sneaking around. THey liked that the more you attacked your enemies, the better you got against them.

WHAT THEY DIDN’T LIKE

Players didn’t like the fact that you had to attack your allies to heal. One playtester went so far as to die on purpose when she found out that that was something you had to do to survive. She and two of the other 7 playtesters turned the demo into a survival mode competition; ‘how long can I survive before I die?’

While we implemented the chess theme for ease of model production and animation reasons, players came to the table with a lot of preconceptions about what the game would be about given the chess theme and were somewhat confused when these didn’t follow through.

WHAT THEY SUGGESTED

It was suggested that we incorporate the option to stick with a color and not have to switch and turn on your allies.