I’ve been replaying The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I’ve been thinking about level scaling — the way the game adjusts the power of enemies to match your own, so no matter where in the world you go, you’ll get an appropriate level of challenge.
I don’t think it works.
I have some thoughts.
My favourite joke format at the moment is this: “It’s only X if it comes from the X region of France, otherwise it’s just sparkling Y.” In this case, “it’s only artificial intelligence if it’s from the AI region of France, otherwise it’s just sparkling if statements”. I can dunk on AI hype, you see, because I’m programming AI for my game again.
I’ve done quite a bit of AI programming already. The bots have fairly well-developed situational awareness — if they see an item they want they’ll move to pick it up; if they see an enemy they will attack; and if they are fighting they’ll use their abilities.
What they lack, however, is strategic awareness. Seeing as the Arena will have bonus objectives, and the same logic will power boss fights and full characters in the campaign, bots are going to need to that extra layer of intelligence.
So, a few months ago, I paused work on Exon’s main campaign to focus on building the Arena. This approach came with some risks but I decided to swallow them because this felt like it would be the fastest route to something genuinely playable.
I was right, because that was about three months ago and for the last few weeks I’ve had it out at local game dev events and being played by real human beings. It is by no means a finished game, but it is a fully-functioning, self-contained scenario that stresses the breadth of the game’s core combat mechanics. A vertical slice. Objective complete!
It’s funny because my mechs’ primary attacks are vertical slices.
It once felt like my love of Godzilla disappeared along with my childhood, but in truth it merely retreated underground and lay dormant, waiting for the moment it would emerge from the darkness to wreak havoc once more.
With Hollywood taking on the mantle of the Big G over the last few hears, that time has come. Since Toho have still refused to release everything in the UK, I had to turn to crime to work through every single kaiju film Toho ever made.
Why is this relevant? Because Godzilla: King of the Monsters bears a superficial resemblance to Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster, the very first time our favourite world-destroying space dragon appeared on screen, and a film that I never saw as a child. Crucially, in this outing King Ghidorah was only stoppable by the combined forces of Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra — the same four mon-stars appearing in King of the Monsters. As a firm fan of 2014’s Godzilla and its pseudo-prequel Kong: Skull Island, I was mightily intrigued to see how Legendary would approach that classic four-way rumble with the more grounded fiction of their modern franchise.
It was… quite something. I had to see it twice at the cinema before I could make up my mind. Needless to say, there is only one answer to such conflicted thoughts: Chris McPhail and I had to sit down and do a Close, But No Biscuit podcast about it.
I am constantly perplexed by villains.
As a fan of high-action fantasy and space opera, I demand villains that can operate on a grand scale — that can deliver conflict and challenge appropriate to my delusions of grandeur. However, as a slave to coherence and consistency, I demand villains whose motivations and actions can plausibly produce that level of challenge and conflict.
Now, I reject the notion that dumb action and plausible characters are mutually exclusive, as Hollywood and the AAA industry often seem to think. By all means, it’s a balance that’s hard to strike, but I think there’s rarely been as glorious a failure than the monstrous, enigmatic Reapers of the Mass Effect trilogy.
Earlier in the year, I decided that the wilderness areas of Baldur’s Gate were actually a good and enjoyable thing. I stand by that reasoning today, and look back fondly on that experience of replaying a game that really is a classic.
Except I’ve just been replaying Mass Effect, and it has areas that fulfil a similar function — “uncharted worlds”, optional planets you can land on which contain only side quests. The difference is that… they’re not particularly good or enjoyable.
I was at a game dev meet-up about a month ago now, where my pals sassed me silly for not having shipped a game yet. They’re right to do so — although I vigorously resist accusations of feature creep (it’s not creep if it’s all part of the original plan), it’s true that I’m making something rather large that isn’t going to be releasable until it’s “done” (this is the true curse of building narrative-driven things).
About a year ago, I set down my plan for the first release: a self-contained prologue to a bigger campaign, which would be short enough to manufacture in a sensible time-frame, but broad enough to stress out most of my features. “Sensible time-frame” is, of course, relative and it’s still got a long way to go.
So I asked myself: what’s the minimum viable game? What is the purest, simplest expression of top-down mech action that I can build and put in front of people?
Ahhh, Starcraft II is an interesting beast. I’ve never had any concern over eSports or online multiplayer, but I have huge respect for what SC2 did with its singleplayer campaigns — tossing the hyper-balanced melee factions out the window and expanding them with bonus units, configuration options and special abilities.
The things is… the meta-plot, of the Dark Voice returning to obliterate all life in the Koprulu Sector (The galaxy? The universe? It’s actually never really made clear that his ambitions are more than localised) is a bit of a mess. Like, Blizzard, you got away with that in Warcraft III because Archimonde was a literal demon — you can’t pull the same trick twice, and definitely not in such a different setting (at least not without groundwork that simply isn’t present).
Having said that, I think there are some good stories in the mix here, so maybe it’s time to do some reworking…