Sep 29, 2014

DualMondays: Boss Fights 101

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

I know the lot of you really like cool retro arcade games that sport huge, monstrous, ridiculous bosses throughout their span. But thing is almost every kind of game is taking advantage of this feature. And why wouldn't they? Boss fights in their core are overhyped, outrageous gameplay segments that decide your worth and mastery of the game. They get you tense, they make you feel good about yourself, they make you lose your cool and mind over them, as you waste countless hours of button smashing and thinking around the box in the process of overcoming the improbable odds and coming out victorious.

Sometimes, it hurts.
But what does a boss fight consist of? What are the main elements it requires to be classified as such? Usually boss fights take a set of moves previously used by the player as part of the gameplay and make you use them in a different way. For example, in Portal you are taught the incineration mechanism used in the final boss fight by doing so in the earlier game with the Love companion. Additionally, placing the portals to make a turret shoot missiles at itself is also introduced earlier in the game. That's the way the game designer is teaching you the elements/attacks that you will require to execute under different conditions and parameters to accompish your goal(s).

But what about genres that are less action-packed? Can boss fights be equally effective across genres? The answer is simple. If done right, yes. Take the sequel to Monkey Island. Le Chuck's Revenge was published back in 1991 and happens to be a shining example. Initially helping the player construct a basic voodoo doll by categorizing the basic four items it requires into four big differentiated themes, will prove immensely helpful when the player is required to repeat the process towards the game's finale. To me, even if Guybrush is almost immune to Le Chuck's attacks, the mental stress and tension that is built during the introductory scene, helps making this boss battle one of the most memorable and stressing I've ever encountered.

 Does it get more soul-tearing than this?
And said tension and story-driven pace is what dictates all boss fights. It's about facing the last obstacle standing in your way in order to advance the story. It's not just solely to prove your mastery of the game's mechanics; these fights drain you both physically and emotionally. It's the confrontation of two diametrically different, yet so alike, paths. 

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Sep 22, 2014

DualMondays: Press Start To Begin

DualMondays is a more or less weekly column by Jim Spanos (a.k.a. Dualnames) on game design, adventures and all sorts of highly intriguing things.

In Greece we have a saying: "The beginning is the half of everything." I'm not sure this is in fact a proper translation, so please do excuse me in advance, if that's the case. Thing is, it sounds so much more impactful in my native language.  This ancient saying by Pythagoras is something I've always kept in mind when I started work on a project. Whatever that may be, it applies for everything, videogame production included.

For some reason lack of composure and motivation - common difficulties that every developer has faced - were always magically transformed  into challenges. Challenges that I *had* to overcome. And I knew, thanks to this particular piece of wisdom, that if I could get by the initial hurdles, the best was yet to come. Even when I was designing the boring parts of a game or a program, I knew that all that was needed, was to actually begin work, and then I'd see it through.

Recently, Mark Yohalem, member of Wormwood Studios and writer of Primordia (which I personally coded *cough* self promotion *cough*) wrote a blog post releasing information about Cloudscape. Cloudscape is a now abandoned project and Yohalem wrote a very interesting piece regarding the reasons behind said decision from his point of view. So, with that in mind, I came to solidify my thinking about abandonded projects throughout. It's not about there being enough talent on your team (regardless of team member number), but about whether someone/the team actually creates a portion of the product.

To begin
The baby steps of any project shouldn't be exclusively about brainstorming over a wonderful idea. Even though it does help to keep everyone excited and hyped, brainstorming alone doesn't contribute any actual work towards the main goal - which is to deliver a finished product to the market. Endlessly coming up with new, exciting ideas is a common loop in which even the most talented teams have found themselves.

Gradually the initial emotions get toned down and then everything is about creating the silliest, most dysfunctional alpha version of your dream, regardless of its countless faults. It stands to show to everyone in and out of the team, that this is doable. It's a proof of concept, it's a motivational wheel, it's to put it bluntly - the half of everything.

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Sep 18, 2014

Game Books From Transylvania to Na Pali

Reading is good for you, you know, and reading about games can be incredibly enjoyable too. Yes, odd, I know, but books about games do not have to be manuals on level or game design. Nor do they have to be about programming. They can be everything from wonderful strolls through alien worlds to exhaustive write-ups on classic series.

They can be just like HardcoreGaming 101 Presents: Castlevania or Escape to Na Pali. Two vastly different books I have really enjoyed reading and have somehow intrigued me enough to replay a game I had mostly forgotten and, well, properly give the Castlevania games a try.

The first of them two books, the first to be released that is, Escape to Na Pali: A Journey to the Unreal was written by Alan Williamson and Kaitlin Tremblay and is a 110 pages long exploration of the first cinematic FPS. It also is a very well written journey through Unreal's planet, history and culture, complete with essays on whimsical architecture, world building and even narrative design. Oh, and some interesting ideas on the fusion of fantasy and sci-fi elements.

Interestingly, I'm fairly certain that Escape to Na Pali can be enjoyed by people who have never heard of Unreal. I've even used it to convince a friend who hasn't played any games in over a decade, that some interesting things can and do happen in our interactive medium.

Surely, the same friend wouldn't be too interested in the book about Castlevania, but, being a huge fan of the detailed articles over at HardcoreGaming 101, I must admit I absolutely loved their Castlevania offering.

Yes, it's aimed at the gaming connoisseur, but it's brilliant, brilliant specialist stuff. It's complete, thoroughly research, exhaustive, lavishly illustrated and up to the usual lovely writing standard of HG101. And it does really cover everything there is to be written about Konami's genre defining classic, including more than a few installments I had never heard of.

Also, I'm out of words and very sleepy.

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Reminder: I could really use your support via Patreon in order to survive long enough to make more indie gaming (and gaming in general) words and things. Thanks! 

Sep 16, 2014

Patreons Shout Out The Second

Well, cuddly reader, following an okay-ish summer and an already nasty autumn I'm delighted to announce my return to my humble and beloved Gnome's Lair. Yes, it's been a long time and things have happened, but we'll have time for everything only right after I give another shout out to more of the wonderful souls that have supported my Patreon campaign:

Ofer Rubinstein (twitter): developer of Afternoon Hero who keeps a devlog here and a YouTube channel here.

Ludicrously talented Robb Sherwin (twitter) whose site you can find here and who has created some of the best written interactive fiction this side of the Great Underground Empire.

Talha Kaya; an indie dev who has been creating absolutely bonkers games as part of the (super) Kayabros. Find them on twitter.

The great (and very dear) Erik Zaring of the exquisite Dream Machine. You can follow his handcrafted adventure gaming antics on twitter and facebook.

Also, a great big thanks to Rob, Anatoly, Alan, Francisco, Marcos, Dan, Ivo, Ben, Tim, John, Richard, Kurt, Delyth, Georgios, Dagda and Daniel. You people are just amazing!