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Generation 6 - Evolution of Pokemon Designs

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com



Transcript:

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. We are back once again with another installment of the Evolution of Pokemon Design series, this time talking about Gen 6. As always we will be looking at the designs of Pokemon in this generation to see their common trends and motifs, and explore how the Pokemon designs have changed since previous generations. We will also be looking at the new mechanics, technological improvements, and themes of these games to see how they have influenced the design of Pokemon in this generation.

Before we jump into that, however, I just want to say thank you to everybody watching this. With school and work it can be difficult to find time to work on these videos, but the fact that people like you actually choose to watch the stuff I make makes it all worth it. This channel is still small, but we are growing and are almost to 500 subscribers! We are so close guys! If you could drop a like on this video, subscribe, or even share these videos with a friend to help us get over that hurdle I would be so grateful. With that out of the way, let’s talk Pokemon design.

Let’s begin by talking about the new Region that players get to explore – the Kalos region. Continuing with the trend started last generation of exploring areas outside of Japan, the Kalos region is based on France. However, unlike the previous generation it is still possible to find Pokemon from previous regions in the Kalos region, despite the fact that it takes place on an entirely separate continent.

Being based on France does present the opportunity for a number of new French themed Pokemon designs, however, or even designs that simply have a European flair. These include Aegislash, Furfrou, Aromatisse, Slurpuff and Delphox.

Not to get too side-tracked, but there are a handful of Gen 5 Pokemon that I always feel should have belonged to Gen 6 instead – particularly Karrablast, Escavalier, Shelmet, Accelgor, and the Musketeers Terrakion, Coballion, Virizion, and Keldeo. The former group is themed after European knights and snails, which would be much more thematic for a French inspired region than a New York inspired one, and the latter group is literally based on the Three Musketeers – a French Novel. Not only would it make sense thematically, but it would also have helped Gen 6 significantly. Gen 5 had the most new Pokemon of any generation with 156. Gen 6, on the other hand, introduces the fewest with only 72. Gen 6 also only introduces a single family of Bug type Pokemon, so it could use a few more, and it only has a single trio of Legendary Pokemon while Gen 5 has 3. It just would have evened things out a bit, ya know?

In addition to being based on France, the Kalos region also has a theme of “beauty”. The evil team of this region is team Flare, whose evil goal is to create a beautiful world by destroying everything that they consider “ugly”. Many other characters also play into this theme – Valerie, a gym leader, is also a fashion designer, while Grant is a style icon who set a new trend with his hairstyle and the champion Diantha is a famous movie star.

Aside from various characters being concerned with beauty or having very stylish jobs, this theme also fits into the games mechanically in a few different ways. First, this is the first game where you can customize the player’s appearance, with different clothes, hair, etc. However, that isn’t the only thing you can customize. You can also adjust the fur of the Pokemon Furfrou into 7 different fancy styles.

Given that Kalos is based on a country in Europe, the home of Fairy Tales, it is perhaps fitting that Generation 6 introduces the Fairy type to the game. The Fairy type is the first new type to be added to the game since Generation 2 in 1999, and was primarily added to help balance the type chart. Fairy type Pokemon are immune to Dragon type attacks, which helps add an additional check to the very powerful dragon type that was previously only weak to itself and Ice types. In addition, Fairy is weak to Steel and Poison types, which helps increase the usefulness of these types offensively.

As this was the first new type in a long time the fairy type had a lot of catching up to do, so in addition to changing the types of over 20 older Pokemon to make them into fairies, X and Y also introduce 13 brand new Fairy type Pokemon – making up over 18% of all new Pokemon introduced. These include Florges, Dedenne, Carbink, Klefki, Xerneas, and Sylveon.

Design-wise, the fairy type’s most immediately obvious visual trait is its association with the color pink. A lot of Fairy type Pokemon are pink, and a lot of older Pink Pokemon even had their types changed to become fairies. Aside from this, the fairy type also has an association with the moon, magical creatures including actual folklore fairies, and magic in general.

Sylveon also connects with another new feature of this generation – the Pokemon-amie. The Pokemon-amie allows players to play, feed and pet their Pokemon. The more you interact with your Pokemon, the more it raises a new stat – affection. As your Pokemon’s affection gets higher it gets certain bonuses in battle, like healing status effects so that its trainer doesn’t worry, or surviving attacks with 1 HP that would normally cause it to faint. This connects with Sylveon because in addition to knowing a fairy-type move, Eevee must reach a high level of affection in order to evolve into a Sylveon.

The fairy type isn’t the only thing that connects Kalos to fairy-tales. Carrying on from the previous few generations, the starters of X and Y all share a unifying theme – in this case, they are all based around traditional RPG character archetypes. Chesnaut is based on a warrior or a knight, Greninja is a thief or rogue, and Delphox is a magic user.

I mentioned earlier that X and Y introduced the Pokemon-amie and affection stat – however, these are far from the only new mechanics added in these games. This generation also introduced one of the biggest changes to Pokemon’s combat system in the history of the series with the addition of Mega Evolution. Mega Evolution is a special ability that certain fully evolved Pokemon can activate when holding a special stone, called a mega stone. This ability allows those Pokemon to change into new, more powerful Mega forms.

Mega evolution is, in my opinion, one of the coolest additions to the Pokemon series. While some Pokemon who received mega evolutions were already quite powerful, such as Metagross or Salamence, many mega evolutions were give to Pokemon that were less used, such as Mawile, Kangaskhan, and Altaria, and turned these rarely used Pokemon into competitive power-houses. Mega evolution was a cool idea because it was more than just a stat boost – it basically allowed for a total redesign of the Pokemon, in both gameplay and appearance. Mega forms could rearrange a Pokemon’s stats, change their types, and even gain new abilities that totally shift the way these Pokemon are used.

New mega forms also allowed for new designs for older Pokemon, something that had never really been possible in the games up to this point. As the name would imply, most of these new forms are pretty over-the-top, taking elements of the original design and cranking them up to 11. You have a big flower on your back? EVEN BIGGER FLOWER. 2 Spoons? Now 5 spoons! 1 ponytail mouth? 2 PONYTAIL MOUTHS! Have some spikes! And some Fabio hair! ZIPPERS, MORE SPIKES, WHATEVER THE HECK THIS THING IS! BING BANG BOOM!

Mega evolutions design is big, loud, and with very few exceptions its only goal seems to be to crank up the “cool” factor as high as it can go. While this does result in some pretty cool designs – some of my personal favorites are Mega Banette, Diancie, Gengar (especially shiny) and Altaria, I think many of the mega designs end up being very cluttered, and even tacky. In many ways, Mega evolution takes a lot of the design philosophies of generation 4 and pushes them to their logical extremes, producing Pokemon so covered in details that it becomes difficult to even tell what is going on, or are so exaggerated that they just look ridiculous. Some of the worst offenders of this are Garchomp, Manectric, Medicham, Aerodactyl, Abomasnow, and especially Sharpedo.

One other interesting thing about Mega Pokemon, and possibly fairy type Pokemon, is that they represent a split in the Pokemon timeline – there is a Pokemon world with Mega evolution, and a world without. This generation is one of the first to really start expanding the concept of the Pokemon Multiverse, which is a topic that I am definitely planning to talk more about in a future video.

In contrast to the complicated, bold designs of the Mega Pokemon, most of Gen 6s other designs are actually quite subdued. They tend to have pretty simple shapes and textures, and use relatively few colors on average. They also tend to be quite round – while there have always been round Pokemon, there is usually a mix of sharp, rough or jagged outlines as well. Over the past few generations, however, starting in Gen 4, many of these sharper lines have been replaced with softer, rounder shapes. In gen 6 there are almost no sharp lines in the designs of these Pokemon and smooth round edges are extremely common. Great examples of this include Fletchling, Gogoat, Swirlix, Goodra, Amaura, and Gourgeist, who all have very simple, rounded designs.

This roundness also carries into the eyes. I haven’t talked about Pokemon eyes for a few generations because, starting around gen 3, the variety of different eyes styles becomes so diverse that there are almost no clear trends to latch onto. However, one clear trend in this generation is a preference for rounder, simpler eye shapes that would almost make more sense in an American style cartoon than a traditional anime. Some good examples are Quilladin, Bunnelby, Litleo, Helioptile, and Goodra. While there are a handful of sharper, more aggressive looking designs such as Trevenant, Barbaracle and Tyrantrum, they are a clear minority in this generation.

This generation is the first in the series to make the switch from the DS to the 3DS, and one of the biggest technological shifts made in this generation was the switch from 2-dimensional sprites to 3-dimensional models for every Pokemon. While I can’t really say what effect this change had on the designs of new Pokemon, it did have a clear effect on the appearance of some older Pokemon. To generalize a bit, most of the colors in the 3D models in Gen 6 are much less saturated when compared to the previous sprites – some good examples are Starmie, Charizard, and especially Parasect. Given this, it’s possible that the colors of the new Pokemon are also going to be less vibrant than they would have been in previous generations.

One additional, although minor, change that was made possible by the 3DS hardware was Inkay’s evolution. Inkay evolves at level 30 or above if you hold your 3DS upside down. This is only possible with the device’s gyroscope, and would not have been an option on older hardware.

Finally, let’s talk about the legendary Pokemon of this generation. As mentioned before there is a bit of a shortage of Legendary Pokemon this time around – we only get the cover legendary trio of Xerneas, Yveltal and Zygarde – the fewest legendary Pokemon introduced into any generation. In addition, the actual legends around these Pokemon are a bit lacking. Xerneas represents life and is shaped like the letter X, while Yveltal represents death and is shaped like a Y. Zygarde is shaped like a Z, and is meant to keep order between the two. Pretty basic stuff, and very similar to something like Kyogre, Groudon and Rayquaza.

We also only get a handful of Mythic Pokemon with Hoopa, Diancie, and Volcanion. Volcanion is unique for being a water and fire type, but is otherwise quite forgettable. Diancie is interesting because it is a mutated form of Carbink, a non-legendary Pokemon. This somewhat connects with the idea that the legendary beasts Raikou, Entei and Suicune are actually mutated versions of Jolteon, Flareon and Vaporeon, and it makes you wonder if there are any other legendary Pokemon out there that were originally something else. This is something I would love to see explored with future legendary Pokemon as well. Finally, Hoopa is notable for its ability to create portals and wormholes, which only adds further fuel to the fire of my Pokemon Multiverse theory.

That’s all I have for this week. Thank you so much for watching, and I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic in the comments below. Is there any important trends that I missed? Do you agree with my analysis, or did I get it wrong? If you liked this video, make sure you give it a like and subscribe if you haven’t already. If you want to see more like this you should definitely check out the previous entries in this series, and I have a bunch of other videos as well like my previous one about the combat in the Paper Mario series. I also have over 100 articles on the Rempton Games blog which you can check out in the description down below. And join me next week for a new entry in my “History of Game Design” series. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time!
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Mon Sep 28, 2020 3:40 pm
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A History of Paper Mario Combat

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and many more, can be found at RemptonGames.com



Transcript:

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. I’ll admit that, prior to this year I had never really played a Paper Mario game. However, I love origami – it is one of my biggest hobbies, and I have been thinking for a while now that it would be really cool to see a game with an origami focus. Because of this, when I heard there was going to be a game called Paper Mario Origami King I KNEW I had to check it out.

Overall, I have to say that I actually had a really good time! The writing was funny, most of the characters were charming if a bit flat (no pun intended), and there were lots of fun puzzles to solve and locations to explore. However, despite it’s many positive elements there were still a few things that did bother me about this game. First off, having never played the game before my impression of them was that they were RPGs, but playing through this game that didn’t seem to be the case. The combat system was also unlike anything that I had ever seen before, but rather than feeling fresh and innovative it mostly just felt tedious and I tried to avoid it as much as I could.

These odd design choices sparked my curiosity. Were all of the games this way? If so, why? If not, where did these strange design choices come from? Let’s find out with this look at the history of combat in the Paper Mario series.

Chapter 1 – Paper Mario and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door

The original Paper Mario was released in 2000 on the Nintendo 64, and was originally developed as a sequel to Super Mario RPG. This game actually had much more traditional RPG style gameplay, actually being somewhat similar to something like Persona. You and your opponent take turns in battle, and you can choose between normal attacks (such as Jumping or using your Hammer) or use more powerful special attacks using Star Power or Flower Points, of which Mario has a limited supply. In addition to using attacks, Mario can use a variety of items during battle that usually either restore your own health, star power or flower points, or possibly damage your opponent.

Mario also has a variety of followers that can assist him in battle, each with their own different attack options. Battling and defeating enemies will earn Mario Star Points, and when Mario collects enough Star Points he levels up, which can increase his various stats. Mario is also able to equip special badges that he collects, which can do anything from giving him new attacks to changing the sound effects when he jumps. Overall, this seems like a very standard, if a bit simplified, RPG combat system with a Mario twist – exactly what you would expect from a Mario RPG series.

The next game in the series – Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door – uses a very similar system to the first game. Star power, flower points, followers, leveling, and badges all return, and the differences made to the combat system were all relatively minor, such as giving each follower their own separate HP gauges.

Outside of combat, Thousand Year Door is also the first game to really explore the “paper” aspect of Paper Mario. It mainly does this through the use of transformations that allow Mario to do things such as transform himself into a paper airplane, or roll himself up into a tube. These transformations are most used for exploring the overworld rather than in combat, however.

Chapter 2 – Super Paper Mario


Super Paper Mario, released on the Wii in 2007, represented the first major mechanical shift for this series. Rather than being a more traditional RPG with turn-based combat, Super Paper Mario eliminates the turn-based combat entirely to focus more on classic Mario-style platforming. However, Super Paper Mario still has a number of unique twists that make it stand out from classic 2D Mario platformers such as the New Super Mario Bros.

Firstly, Super Paper Mario retains the traditional level up mechanic from previous Paper Mario games. In addition, this game actually has more followers than any other game in the series, and each one gives Mario unique abilities that he can use to either traverse the overworld or in combat. For instance, one of the first followers the player will encounter is Thoreau, who gives Mario the ability to grab and throw objects. This ability is not only invaluable for defeating enemies, but is also used to solve puzzles to advance the story.

The last major mechanical addition in this game is the perspective flip ability, which allows Mario to flip from a 2D to a 3D perspective. This is used extensively to solve puzzles and complete levels, but is also used in combat as changing perspective can be used to avoid some enemies or attacks, and some enemies can only be attacked from certain perspectives.

Chapter 3 – Sticker Star and Color Splash


The next two games, Paper Mario Sticker Star on the DS and Color Splash on the Wii U, are both quite different from the previous games in the series, but also very similar to one another. Sticker Star returned to a turn-based combat system that relied on collecting stickers to use Mario’s attacks. Every attack, including a simple jump, will use up one of your stickers. In addition, stickers are also required to solve most of the puzzles throughout the game.

Although this game returns to a turn-based system, it removes almost all of the RPG elements that were found in previous entries in the series. Mario no longer has followers that assist him in navigation or combat, and he no longer levels up over time by gaining experience.

In addition to the simplified combat system, this game also places a much higher emphasis on the “paper” aesthetic – not by allow Mario to take advantage of his papery nature like in Thousand Year Door, but by showing that the entire world is literally made of craft materials. This results in moments where, for instance, Mario uses scissors to cut up the world or has to gain the help of a bunch of toads to unroll the paper landscape.

Paper Mario: Color Splash is very similar to Sticker Star, except that instead of using Stickers for actions you use battle cards. This game also adds the additional twist that you can choose to paint your cards, and painted cards are more effective than unpainted cards.

I’m personally not a huge fan of the combat system used in these two games. I think that the use of finite resources such as stickers or cards for actions is just a conceptually bad idea, as it literally means that Mario won’t even be able to jump on his enemies without the right cards. It also just seems to add extra steps to the process of attacking without really adding much in return. In addition, by removing experience and a leveling system you remove any incentive to battle. Add on the fact that you are using a finite resource (stickers or cards) when you battle, and you are actually incentivized NOT to battle to conserve those resources. This combination basically encourages players to avoid the combat like some sort of totally hypothetical plague.

Chapter 4 – Origami King

Finally, we arrive at the most recent entry in the series – Paper Mario: Origami King. This game once again totally shifts the combat style of the series. The reliance on finite resources for battle actions is instead replaced with a ring-based battle system that focuses on properly lining up enemies for attacks.

On the one hand, I would say that removing stickers / cards in combat is definitely a step in the right direction. In addition, this game actually brings back partners in battle, which had been missing for the past 2 games, and the ring-based system actually had some potential to be pretty interesting. However, in practice I think that these mechanics miss the mark.

Although partners are technically back, they aren’t really the same as in the older entries in the series. There are only a handful of partners, they are all tied to the story so you can’t really choose who you have with you at any given time, and they don’t really do much. They will occasionally help out by attacking enemies for you, but you have no control over them. This means that you have no choice about what attacks they use, or which enemies they target. They also don’t really help you in the overworld, they cannot be attacked by enemies, nor can they be levelled up – all of which were possible in the original few games.

Now lets talk about the ring system. During normal encounters Mario stands in the center of 4 concentric rings, and is tasked with lining up enemies to be attacked. Mario can move the rings either by rotating them, or by sliding them back and forth, and the goal is to place enemies either into a straight line or a 2×2 square. Once enemies are lined up Mario gets an attack bonus, and can attack them with either his hammer or his boots.

I have never seen a combat system like this before in my life, and frankly I am completely baffled by it. First of all, the ring system seems completely disconnected from both the theme of the game and the combat itself. At least Stickers and Battle Cards tied into the core paper-based mechanics of those games, but the sliding system really has nothing to do with origami. In addition, it seems totally disconnected to the rest of the combat mechanics thematically. It is just adding a puzzle for the sake of adding a puzzle, but in my opinion it doesn’t really benefit the combat at all.

While the existence of the ring system is puzzling, the way it is implemented also removes all meaningful choices from the combat. Each puzzle has 1 “correct” lineup, and generally there is only a single sequence of moves that will line the enemies up correctly. It doesn’t feel like you are making tactical decisions because there is a clear right or wrong – you either lined them up correctly, or you failed.

Once the enemies are lined up, you also don’t really have any meaningful decisions to make. If the enemies are lined up in a line, you use your boots. If they are lined up in a square you use your hammer. It’s not a choice – it is literally the only thing to do.

The boss fight system is a little different, and in my opinion much more interesting. Instead of Mario being in the middle with enemies around him, Mario starts outside the rings and has to line them up correctly to find his way to the boss. This system has a lot more potential for strategic decision making, and usually requires a few tries of trial and error to figure out which types of attacks are most effective.

Unlike in normal battles the decision to either use your boots or hammer is actually a meaningful one, but there are many other choices to be made as well. For example you can choose to attack from either close or long range, you often have access to special moves that aren’t available during normal combat, and enemies often have weak-spots that must be attacked. The bosses often affect the battlefield in interesting ways, such as freezing spaces, or taping them, lighting them on fire, etc.

The boss fights certainly weren’t perfect – these fights are much more complicated, which would make them less accessible to more casual players. In addition, many bosses require a very specific set of actions to be done in a specific order, which can lead to some very frustrating moments. Specifically, I remember during the fight with the Fire Vellumental I had almost defeated it, but I didn’t do the correct action during my last turn and it ended up fully healing itself – basically forcing me to repeat the entire boss fight over again. However, I think that there is potential in this strange system if some of the kinks could be ironed out.

Until Next Time


Thank you so much for joining me on this journey through the combat mechanics of the Paper Mario series. If you liked this video please leave a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, check out my other videos like my previous one where I look at the problems with the game of Quidditch and how they might be fixed. I also have over 100 articles on the Rempton Games blog which you can check out at the link in the description. And join me next time for part 6 of my Evolution of Pokemon Designs series. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.
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Mon Sep 7, 2020 4:22 pm
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Deciphering Religious Symbolism in Halo

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com


Transcript:

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, Halo is a franchise of science fiction FPS’s that, for a period in the early to mid 2000’s, was basically the biggest video-game franchise on the planet. I’ve never been a big player of first-person shooters, but around the time I was in middle-school all of my friends were playing it, and it reached a certain level of pop cultural ubiquity that everyone at least had a basic idea what it was about. A big strong space marine with crazy guns travels to a floating ring in outer-space to fight evil aliens – done, I got it. It was sort of like the movie Jaws – even if you haven’t seen it, you probably have a pretty decent idea what happens in it, right?

I also grew up in a very Christian household, where terms like Covenant and Prophet weren’t unusual, and when these terms showed up in the game it didn’t really click with my younger self that they were deliberately trying to evoke religious, and in particular Christian, symbolism in the game. I was just like “Oh, the aliens are led by prophets, that seems like a pretty normal thing” and moved on.

However, now that the series is back in the public eye with all of the hype around Halo Infinite, I figured I would take a second look at this series, and its use of symbolism in particular. Is the use of religious terms and iconography in this series hinting at a deeper meaning, or like Neon Genesis Evangelion is it simply slapping on a coat of religious symbolism to make itself seem a little more mysterious? Lets find out with this dive into the religious symbolism of the Halo Series.

You don’t have to look far before you encounter symbols of Christianity in these games – in fact, the name of the series itself – Halo – is a religious reference. In the games a Halo refers to a group of gigantic rings in space that act basically as ring shaped planets. The word halo also refers to a common artistic motif that can be found in depictions of important or holy figures in many religions around the world. It is often depicted as a glowing disk or ring around the head or body of the figure, and is shown most commonly in western pop culture as a golden ring floating above the head of an angel. However, it didn’t originate this way – the Halo symbol has actually been used in religious artwork for thousands of years, and likely has its origins in ancient Buddhist artwork.

Symbolically, Halos are simply used to show that a figure is Holy, or spiritually significant. Similarly, in the games the Halos are seen as “sacred rings” that will take the alien antagonists – called “The Covenant” on a “Great Journey”. These halos are, fittingly, associated with sacred figures in the Covenant’s religion – specifically, an ancient alien race known as the Forerunners, which the Covenant worship like gods.

The name of these enemies – “The Covenant” – is another religious reference. In the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – a Covenant is an agreement between God and the members of the religion. There are several important Covenants in these religions, including the agreement with Abraham that his descendants would spread and populate the “Promised Land”, the Covenant with Moses that established the 10 Commandments, and the Covenant with Noah to never again flood the earth.

In Halo the Covenant is a group of alien races all bound together in their worship of the forerunners, creators of the Halo rings. The titular “Covenant” that they are named after is actually a peace agreement between the two founding species – the Sangheili (better known as the Elites) and the San’Shyuum, also called the Prophets. These two species are the reigning races of the Covenant, with the Prophets mainly serving as religious leaders while the Elites lead the military. Over time, several other alien species have joined the Covenant in various different roles, mainly serving underneath the two reigning species.

While the name officially refers to the agreement of peace between the various species in the Covenant, it could also be a reference to the religious beliefs of this group. The Covenant believes that the Forerunners used the Halos to ascend and basically become gods, and they believe that if they activate them they can do the same.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the Halo rings are not actually tools of spiritual enlightenment, but are weapons of mass destruction on a galactic scale. The REAL reason the Halos were created was to contain a destructive, parasitic hive-mind known as the flood. The flood grows by feeding on and assimilating sentient life-forms, and once an infection begins it can become almost impossible to stop.

The Halo rings were created to control the flood in two different ways. First, by physically containing them within the confines of the rings to prevent them from spreading. If this measure failed, and the Flood did began to spread and infect the galaxy, the Halo rings actually could work together as a galactic Super-weapon to wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy – essentially starving the Flood of food to prey upon.

The Halo weapon had actually been activated once before – about 100,000 years ago – during an earlier flood outbreak. The only life that survived was that which was on the Ark – a gigantic space-station outside the boundaries of the Milky Way Galaxy that could be used to remotely activate the Halos while being outside of their area of effect. Knowing that activating the Halos would destroy all life in the Galaxy, the forerunners also filled it with intelligent species from all around the Galaxy so that life could be “re-seeded” in the event the Halos had to be fired.

While there are flood stories in many mythologies around the world, this story is a clear parallel to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark. In that story God became angry that the world was filled with evil and corruption so he had what were apparently the only good people on the planet, Noah and his family, build a giant boat and fill it with a pair of each animal (or maybe 7 pairs of the clean animals). He then flooded the world for 40 days (or maybe it was 150).

To make the parallels between the games and the biblical story even more clear, it might help to know where the Halo flood – the alien parasites – actually came from. As it so happens, Halo actually has not one but TWO ancient empires with technology so advanced they bordered on godlike. We have already discussed the Forerunners, the race that built the Halo rings 100,000 years ago. However, it turns out that before the Forerunners there was an even more ancient, more technologically advanced species known as the Precursors.

The Precursors were a species so advanced that they were considered to be “transsentient”. They were a species of shapeshifters who were so intelligent that they were actually responsible for seeding and guiding the evolution of life throughout the Galaxy. The Precursors also created a concept known as “the mantle”, which basically gave whichever species held the Mantle the responsibility to protect and guide all life in the Galaxy, and through their genetic experiments they were trying to create a new species that would be worthy of inheriting the Mantle.

The Precursors were actually responsible for creating the Forerunners, but determined that the Forerunners were not worthy of having the Mantle and planned to destroy them. Somehow the Forerunners found out about this plan, and rebelled, destroying their creators – or so they thought.

Some Precursors were able to escape this massacre, and using their shapeshifting abilities transformed themselves into a sort of dust, with the plan of later reforming themselves. Over millions of years this precursor dust began to break down, with some unexpected effects. Instead of reforming the precursors into their original forms, this dust caused mutations in any lifeforms that came into contact with it. The precursors chose to use this to their advantage as a way of punishing the Forerunners – proving that they were unworthy of protecting life in the Galaxy by destroying and assimilating that life – in this way, the Precursors themselves became the Flood.

This parallels very strongly with the biblical flood story – in both cases, a species is being punished for their “sins” (in Halo’s case, the act of rebelling against the Precursors) with an act of global, or galactic, destruction. The only way to recover would be to wipe out all life with a catastrophe, and start a new world with new life that was protected by an Ark.

As we have seen, the number of very clear and direct references in Halo’s story to religious concepts and stories is undeniable, and these are far from the only references one can find (although some connections are much more tenuous than others, and I chose to stick to some of the references that were more clearly intentional). However, the question still remains – do these references actually mean anything? Are they just window dressing, or are they actually trying to convey some sort of deeper message?

Well…probably not. It turns out that the Halo rings were actually originally going to be hollowed out spheres, not rings. Once the decision was made that the worlds would be rings instead of hollow spheres, Halo was suggested as a name for these rings, and was later chosen to be the name of the project. None of the previous names used for the project, including – I kid you not – “Monkey Nuts”, “Blam”, and “Red Shift”, show any sort of religious meaning or intent.

Christianity is also far from the only religion or mythology that is referenced in these games. The armor worn by the Spartan warriors (including the main player character, Master Chief) is called the Mjolnir armor – a reference to Thor’s hammer in Norse mythology. There are also ships and characters named after Greek mythology, such as Tartarus and Heracles. While Christian imagery is very prominent in these games, I think that may be more a result of taking the name “Halo” and really leaning into it, rather than some sort of grander plan.

That being said, I do think you can come up with some interesting interpretations of this symbolism. One of the interpretations that jumps out to me is that the Halo games can be seen as a story of the possible dangers of religious extremism. The Covenant are a society that is completely controlled by their religion – their highest officials are known as Prophets, and their religious beliefs surrounding the Mantle and the Great Journey led the Covenant to attempt to destroy the human race – declaring war with the statement “Your destruction is the will of the Gods – and we are their instrument”.

This could be seen as an indictment of blindly following religious teachings, and show how these teachings can be used to manipulate their believers. The Covenant army fought the humans because they believed it was the will of the gods, not knowing the true reasons behind the war. Similarly, they sought to activate the Halo rings with the belief that it would bring them closer to their gods, not knowing that this would actually wipe out all life in the galaxy. This can be seen as a parallel to religious extremist groups throughout history – from the ancient crusades to modern religious terrorism – that use their religious beliefs as a way to justify violence and destruction.

Either that, or it’s just a fun game series. What do you think? Do you have a different interpretation of these games? Let me know in the comments down below!

That’s all I have for this week. If you liked this video, give it a like and subscribe for more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, check out my other videos – like my previous entry in my Evolution of Pokemon Designs series, where I discuss the designs of Pokemon from Generation 5. And join me next time, where I will be looking at the design of some fictional games and sports. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.
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Mon Aug 10, 2020 6:38 pm
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Evolution of Pokemon Design – Generation 5

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com



Transcript:

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. Today, I am very excited to present part 5 of the Evolution of Pokemon Design series, focusing on Pokemon Black and White. This generation has the most new Pokemon, is one of the biggest conceptual shifts in the series, and is one of the most controversial generations so far, so I have a lot to talk about.

Really quickly, before I get into that, I want to comment on another one of my recent videos – on “How I taught an AI to play Pokemon Emerald”. I was overwhelmed by the response to that video, with many people expressing interest in seeing more with that project. I just want to let everyone know that I do plan to do further work on that project, and possibly even put up pure gameplay videos to see how far the AI can make it on it’s own, but it will take some time. Stay tuned! And without further ado, let’s dig into Gen 5!

As I mentioned before, Generation 5 is a very interesting generation because it seems to represent a bit of a shift in focus for the series. In an Iwata Asks interview, Junichi Masuda explains that the development team was a bit worried about designing Black and White, because it was the first time a new Pokemon generation would be made on the same hardware as a previous generation. Up until this point, every new Pokemon generation has appeared on new hardware – Red and Green on the original Game Boy, Gold and Silver on the Game Boy Color, Ruby and Sapphire on the Game Boy Advance, and Diamond and Pearl on the DS. This change in hardware created an inherent distinction between each new generation. This time, however, there was no new hardware, and the team was worried that, unless they deliberately shook things up, the games would feel too similar to the previous generation. This attitude towards designing these games resulted in a number of changes beginning in this generation.

This can be seen perhaps most obviously with the choice of region. All four main regions in previous games – Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, and Sinnoh, were based off of specific areas in Japan. On the other hand, this generation’s new region – Unova – is based off of New York City in the United States. Choosing to base the region on the United States created a number of ripple effects on the design. First, it prompted the creation of several Pokemon with American influences, such as Braviary the bald eagle, Elgyem being based on the Roswell aliens, Bouffalant the bison, Sigilyph being based on native American artwork and the Nazca lines, and Maractus being based on cactuses found in the American southwest.

Although the region draws inspiration from many different parts of the United States, it is still primarily based on New York, and due to this is one of the most urbanized regions and contains the biggest city yet seen in a Pokemon game – Castelia city. Because of this, many Pokemon designs in this generation have a very “urban” influence, such as Watchog’s design looking like a crossing guard, the Pidove line being based on pigeons, the Conkledurr line being influenced by construction workers, as well as Pokemon like Garbodor, Vanilluxe and Scrafty.

Choosing to make a region set outside of Japan had a number of other effects on the design of the game. One was an emphasis on diversity. Japan’s population is very…not diverse. According to a 2018 census, the population of Japan is 97.8% ethnically Japanese. The United States is much more ethnically diverse, with large populations of European, African, Asian, Native American and South American descent. Because of this, these games have a much more diverse set of characters than previous generations, with characters like Iris, Marshall, Lenora, Alder and Marlon clearly not belonging to the light-skinned race of generic anime people.

This focus on diversity doesn’t seem to have had too much of an effect on the designs of the Pokemon of this generation, with one huge exception – the starters. Each of the Starter Pokemon in this generation actually represents a different cultural background. Serperior is designed like a European noble, while Emboar represents an ancient Chinese warlord, and Samurott of course is a Medieval Japanese samurai.

The last, and most impactful, consequence of choosing to set the game outside of a Japanese inspired region was the matter of distance from the previous regions. In the previous four generations it was totally normal to walk around and find Pokemon from previous regions in the wild. However, as a way to show just how far the Unova region was from all of the regions previously shown, Game Freak made the decision to not include any Pokemon from previous generations in the wild until AFTER you beat the game.

This decision had a huge influence on the direction of the game, and brought it very close to “reboot” status. The decision to not include any Pokemon from previous generations strongly influenced what sort of new Pokemon they could design. For the very first time, this generation doesn’t include any Pokemon that are evolutions or pre-evolutions of previous Pokemon. This means that certain designs that may have initially been designed as evolutions of previous Pokemon (such as Luvdisc evolving into Alomomola, or Tauros evolving into Bouffalant) ended up becoming their own single-stage Pokemon. This decision also caused the team to design a number of Pokemon that fill roles that are eerily similar to Pokemon from the past.

While certain types of Pokemon, such as starters and cover Legendaries get repeated pretty much every generation, Gen 5 gets much more specific than that. For example, in previous generations you could occasionally find a Pokeball on the ground, pick it up, and it turns out to actually be a Voltorb. This is similar to the classic idea of a mimic chest that can be found in a lot of RPG’s. Because the team decided not to use older Pokemon in this generation, they created a new mimic Pokemon – Foongus – to serve the same role.

Similarly, in the Anime, Chansey and Blissey are often shown assisting Nurse Joys at Pokemon centers. This generation needed a new Pokemon to fill that role, so Audino was born. Woobat and Swoobat were designed to fill the role of bats that you can find in caves instead of Zubat, while Roggenrola replaces Geodude in those same caves. You have a fighting type duo with contrasting fighting styles, a three stage fighting line that evolves by trading, a psychic dream-based tapir, and I could keep going. All of these designs are clear callbacks to Pokemon from generation 1, and are meant to fill a role that was left vacant by the lack of Pokemon from previous generations.

The decision not to include any older Pokemon also put certain requirements on the elemental types that could be included. This generation had to stand on its own, which meant that it had to include enough Pokemon of each different type. This led to several Pokemon changing types to create a better variety. Stunfish was originally designed as a Water / Electric type, but got changed to Ground / Electric. Similarly, the Frillish line was originally pure water, but the Ghost type was adding during “balancing”.

While being based in the US certainly had a huge influence on the design of these games, that wasn’t the only thing going on in this generation. Pokemon Black and White also had a thematic motif of opposites working together, and the concept of “Truth vs Ideals”. This can be seen most clearly with the cover legendaries of the game – Pokemon White gets the black legendary Zekrom, while Pokemon Black gets the white Legendary Reshiram.

This also connects with the origins of these Pokemon in the lore of these games. According to the legend there were two brothers who used an ancient dragon Pokemon to create the Unova region. However, these brothers soon came into conflict, because one strived for truth while the other fought for his ideals. In response to this conflict, the ancient dragon split into two – Reshiram and Zekrom. Reshiram, representing truth and “Yang”, sided with the older brother, while Zekrom, representing Ideals and “Yin”, sided with the younger brother. The leftover empty shell of the original dragon became the ice dragon Kyurem which represents the concept of Wuji – the absence of Yin and Yang.

This concept of opposites shows up in other places in the game as well. Certain locations in the game, such as Opelucid City, will have a more advanced, technological appearance in Black version and a more ancient, rustic appearance in White Version. There are also exclusive locations in each different version – Black City is of course exclusive to Black, and White Forest is exclusive to white. Unfortunately, this theme doesn’t really seem to show up in the designs of the Pokemon – aside from the aforementioned Legendaries. Even the version exclusive counterparts – Mandibuzz and Braviary, or Gothitelle and Reuniclus – don’t really seem to play up this theme of “opposites” any more than version exclusives in previous generations.

Aside from these themes, there were a number of mechanical and technological advances that had an effect on the designs of this generation. The first of these is the addition of in-game seasons that change every month. This mechanic has never returned in any other generations, but is responsible for the design of one Pokemon family – Sawsbuck and Deerling. These Pokemon are both grass/normal types that change form based on the current season.

Characters in the game often influence the designs of certain Pokemon, such as Volcarona being designed to be the Champion’s ace, but Black and White contains a very interesting example of this. The first gym is unusual because it has 3 different leaders – Cress, Cilan, and Chili – who specialize in the elements of Water, Grass and Fire respectively. Which one you face will depend on which starter you picked – you will always face the one whose element is super-effective against yours. The three monkey Pokemon Panpour, Pansage and Pansear were specifically designed to be used with these three leaders.

The way Pokemon were displayed in this generation changed significantly from previous generations. Although these games were made on the same hardware as Diamond and Pearl, they still found a way to not only increase the size of these sprites – from 80 * 80 to 96 * 96 pixels – but every sprite is also continuously animated. I think we have started to hit the point where the size increase will have diminishing returns on what Pokemon can be designed, but the continuous animation did help somewhat expand the designs that could be made.

Klinklang’s design, of many gears constantly turning, really needs to be seen in motion to work. Similarly, Scrafty’s animation really helps drive home the idea that it is wearing saggy pants made of it’s own shed skin, and Reunicluses animation make it seem more transparent – something that would not come across as clearly in a static sprite. Other designs, such as Kofagrigus and Cubchoo, maybe didn’t strictly need animation to work, but it really helps sell the design and personality of these Pokemon.

Now it’s time to look at some design trends in this generation that don’t necessarily fit into any of the above categories. I will say that Gen 5 is particularly difficult to characterize in terms of overall design style, for a number of reasons. First, it introduces more Pokemon than any previous generation, which means that for any particular trend you try to point out there will be several counter-examples that contradict that trend. In addition, Gen 5 also had more artists than any other previous generation, which means more people putting their unique spins on their Pokemon designs.

That being said, I don think there is one major trend that characterizes this generation as a whole, and that is the willingness to make Pokemon designs that are weird, goofy, and bizarre. For the first time since Gen 1 we get Pokemon with multiple heads like Vanilluxe and Hydreigon, or multiple bodies like Klinklang. We also get goofy designs like Stunfisk, which was specifically designed to be the flattest Pokemon, Trubbish which is a derpy bag of trash, and Sigilyph which is still quite possibly the strangest Pokemon design ever made.

It may also be helpful to note some of the trends that Gen 5 DIDN’T carry over from Gen 4. First is the lack of random or unnecessary spikes in the designs. It isn’t that none of the Pokemon have spikes, but more that the spikes seem more integrated into the design of Pokemon such as Pawniard, Ferrothorn and Gigallith, rather than simply pasted on like Rampardos or Lucario.

Similarly, while the designs of this generation aren’t necessarily less busy than in Gen 4, I think the details in this generation at least tie in more closely with the concept of the Pokemon – they feel less extraneous. Because of this, I feel like there are very few Pokemon in this generation that feel over-designed.

The big, glaring exception to this is the cover legendaries of the sequels, Kyurem White and Kyurem Black. Just looking at these Pokemon visually it is clear that they have a lot going on, but I think they are also trying to do too much from a conceptual level. These designs each represent Kyurem fused with either Reshiram and Zekrom, so clearly the design wants to represent the different parts of the fusion. However, it also wants to convey a sense of incompleteness, since the fused dragon is still missing a piece, and the designs also try to convey that this fusion is unnatural due to the artificial nature of the fusion. That is a lot to try to convey in a creature design, and ends up leaving the end result feeling extremely cluttered – although one could argue that this is intentional.

Finally, I just want to briefly touch on some of the controversy around the designs of this generation. There have been claims among certain members of the Pokemon fandom that Game Freak is running out of ideas for new Pokemon, and I believe that this all began, or at least really gained traction, around the time that Black and White was released. Some designs in this generation, including the Vanillite line, Trubbish, Stunfish, Klinklang, and the three monkeys, were very unpopular when these games were first released and were put forth as evidence for the idea that Game Freak was running out of ideas.

While I don’t think Game Freak will run out of ideas anytime soon, I do think some of this criticism is valid. With the three monkey Pokemon, their evolutions, as well as the Legendary Genies Tornadus, Thundurus and Landorus, this shows that the designers of this generation were willing to release Pokemon that were basically pallete swapped versions of eachother. On the one hand this is something that pretty much every other RPG with monsters does – for example, a game like Dragon Quest might turn their slime a different color to show that it is a little bit stronger now. However, I think that we have come to expect more from Pokemon and expect each design to be more unique.

On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with many of the other Pokemon that were listed. Garbodor, for example, is a being made of trash. He is a replacement for Muk, a first Gen Pokemon made of toxic sludge. I see no reason why, in the Pokemon world we have been presented, a Pokemon made of trash or that simply resembles trash wouldn’t make sense. True, it looks a bit derpy, but derpy Pokemon have been around forever as well.

Similarly, nobody really seems to like Klinklang since “it’s just a bunch of gears”. True, but I think gears are under-appreciated. You can make some really cool things out of gears, such as mechanical computers, and Klinklang actually makes use of a wide variety of different types of fun gears, like Sun and Planet and Bevel gears. So yes, the design may just look like a bunch of gears, but as before, I see no reason why that can’t be a Pokemon.

That being said, this Generation does contain what I consider to be the worst, laziest Pokemon design in the whole series. Place your bets on who I could be referring to – drumroll – it’s Basculin. Sorry if you are a Basculin fan, but I think it is an awful design and here’s why. First, it reminds me way too much of Carvanha, but I would say that Carvanha is more interesting because not only is it a Water and Dark type instead of just pure water, but it evolves into a Shark. Basculin, on the other hand, is a single stage Pokemon with below-average stats. Basculin was also ONLY DESIGNED because there was a shortage of fish Pokemon in this generation. However, not only was it added basically as an afterthought, but it was also given two different forms that barely differ at all purely as a way to increase the number of different fish that can be caught.

That being said, with a generation as big as this one you are sure to have some misses, and overall I actually think that Gen 5 is one of the most creative generations so far. What do you think? Are there any major trends that I should have covered that I missed? Do you strongly disagree with me about Basculin, or any of the other Pokemon I mentioned? Let me know in the comments down below!

That’s all I have for this week. If you liked this video please give it a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more you should definitely check out the previous entries of this series, as well as my other videos on a wide variety of Game Design topics. And join me next week, where I dig into the religious symbolism that can be found in the Halo series! Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.


Pokémon Black and White
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Mon Jul 20, 2020 4:40 pm
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Richard Garfield – Game Designer Spotlight

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com



Transcript:

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. In today’s episode of History of Game Design we are going to be looking at the master of the multiverse, the tycoon of trading cards, the flying purple hippopotamus himself, Richard Garfield, PHD. As always, we are going to be taking a look at his life and career, as well as the process and philosophy behind his game designs. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Richard Garfield was born in Philadelphia in 1963. You could say that Garfield came from a lineage of success – his Great-Great Grandfather was President James Garfield, and his aunt Fay Jones was a well-known artist, whose work can be seen on the Magic card Stasis. It has also been claimed that his Great-uncle invented the Paper-clip, but I have been unable to verify this. Garfield’s father was an architect, and his career resulted in their family moving around a lot during Richard’s early childhood, before eventually settling in Oregon around 1975.

Like most game designers, Garfield was interested in games and puzzles for most of his childhood, but this interest didn’t become a passion until he was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons. Fascinated by the way Dungeons and Dragons stretched boundaries and blended the role of player and designer, Garfield began to fall in love with not just D&D but gaming in general. “My reaction was a bit different than many of my peers; rather than falling in love with Dungeons and Dragons I fell in love with games in general. I began to seek out and play all sorts of new games, traditional games, wargames, popular games, niche games, role playing games, and on and on. When I found a game that I didn’t immediately like, I would play it until I learned to appreciate what it did for its players. I studied games strategy books, and game history books. I designed my own games and fantasized about being a game designer”

I think it’s notable that Garfield was not only attracted to games that he personally liked playing, but was also interested in games that he didn’t personally enjoy, and would work to understand the appeal. I think it’s easy to try and only design the types of games that you like, but not every player has your same preferences and it can be important to understand those players as well.

Despite his interest, however, by the time Garfield got to college he didn’t really see game design as a viable career path. “After all, each day in the newspaper there were movie reviews and bestseller lists, but hardly anything about games. If games weren’t even big enough to get a bestseller list or review in the paper once a year, it must be pretty small potatoes.” Fortunately this didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for studying and designing games, and he chose to study combinatorial mathematics partially due to its usefulness in understanding game systems and partly because it’s just so much dang fun!

Just because he wasn’t pursuing game design as a career path doesn’t mean that he stopped designing games however – Garfield continued to design games and play them with his friends all throughout his college career. One of these games was RoboRally – a board game about programming robots to navigate a dangerous factory floor full of lasers, conveyer belts, and other dangerous obstacles. Garfield had designed RoboRally in 1985, but never really tried to get it published as he believed it would be too much “unpleasant work”.

One of Garfield’s gaming buddies, Mike Davis, must have really loved the game because he offered to do the work to help get the game published. Garfield agreed, saying he would give him half of the game if he did. Over the next several years Davis took the game from company to company trying to get it published, and while he got close a few times it always ended up being rejected because it didn’t fit within those companies existing lines of games. Undeterred, Davis decided to try pitching to a start-up instead, as there might be less baggage.

He approached Wizards of the Coast in 1991. Wizards at the time was a very young company that mostly published supplements for Role-Playing Games, and while they seemed interested in the game it was too expensive for them to publish.

They would, however, be able to publish a cheaper game – something mostly made of paper and cardboard. Specifically, as they mostly produced RPGs they asked for something that could be played quickly, in-between Role Playing sessions, and portable so it could be carried around conventions. Garfield had just the thing – an idea to combine games with Baseball cards. He combined this idea with an older game prototype he had called “Five Magics”, a fantasy card game inspired by the James Dean of board games, Cosmic Encounter.

I find the early development period of Magic: The Gathering to be quite fascinating – it is probably in the top five on my “List of Places to go with a Time Machine”, right up there with the Empire Strikes Back premier and “Youtube in 2008 when it was still possible to grow a channel from scratch”. For this reason, I believe the early development of Magic probably deserves it’s own “History of Game Design” somewhere down the line. For now, however, I’ll just hit the highlights.

Magic was under development for around two years, and during this time Garfield involved several different groups of play-testers in the development. Many of these playtesters, such as Skaff Elias or Barry Reich, would go on to become important figures in the history of the game.

Since this was a completely new genre their were tons of design problems that had to be solved, such as “how do you prevent players from filling their decks with nothing but the best cards” and “how do you create usable cards at a range of different scales and power levels”? Answering these sorts of questions led to the creation of vital mechanics such as the Mana system and the color pie.

Designing the core mechanics wasn’t the only problem Garfield and the early playtesters faced, however. They also had to create a large set of varied cards for players to discover, trade, and build their desks with. This also meant that he had to deal with problems of distribution – how would cards be separated by rarity, and how would the cards be organized into packs?

There were also legal issues involved. At the time the game was going to be released Wizards of the Coast was involved in a Lawsuit with Palladium Books involving one of their RPG supplements, so to protect Magic from the Lawsuit they originally published it under a separate company – Garfield Games. There were also legal concerns around the name of the game. For most of development the game was simply called “Magic”, but this was such a common word that it couldn’t really be trademarked. They tried changing the name to Manaclash, but found that most people were still stuck on referring to it as Magic. Eventually they decided to add “The Gathering” to the end, and this made the name distinctive enough to protect.

Despite all of these challenges, the game would finally be released publicly in August 1993, and very quickly became a massive success. The success of this initial release, known as “Alpha”, soon far outpaced expectations, and laid the foundation for the long-running popularity of this game which is still going strong after 27 years.

After publishing Alpha, Garfield mostly stepped back from designing Magic. He did design the game’s first expansion, Arabian Nights, and has contributed to several other expansions over the years including Ravnica: City of Guilds and Dominaria. However, Richard’s attention soon turned to other projects – after all, who would want to keep designing expansions for the same game forever?

After releasing Magic Garfield continued to work at Wizards of the Coast for the next 10-ish years. He was finally able to get RoboRally published in 1994, and it has received several expansions and re-releases in the years since. He also designed, either in whole or in part, several other early trading card games for Wizards of the Coast in the mid to late 90’s including Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, Netrunner, and the first Star Wars trading card game.

As lead designer he also helped shape the culture and design philosophy of the entire Research and Development department at Wizards into a more scientific process based on data rather than intuition.

However, in the early 2000’s Garfield left Wizards to become an independent designer. Since going solo he has worked on a number of notable games including the multiple Golden Geek award winning King of Tokyo in 2011, the unique deck card game Keyforge, and Artifact which….like most of it’s player base, let’s just leave that one alone.

Now that we have looked at his life and career, let’s take a closer look at Garfield’s philosophy towards making games. One interesting thing about being the creator of an entire genre is that much of Richard’s thoughts on the trading card genre have simply become established industry practice – it is basically impossible to make a new game in this space without being influenced by the work he has done.

One big lesson that can be taken from his designs, however, is not to be afraid of randomness. In an interview with Escapist Magazine, Garfield explains that, in his opinion, most digital games don’t have ENOUGH randomness – “One of the areas that interests me most in computer games is the lack of luck. Almost all computer games are extremely skill-based, in the sense that the most skilled player will almost always win. In paper games, from Scrabble to backgammon and bridge to poker, there are many games where the less-skilled player can win from time to time. And, extraordinarily, all these games have an immense amount of skill as well! Someday I hope to have a collection of games that I can play on computer with dabblers and experts at the same time that is comparable to the immense collection of paper games I have which accomplish that.”

Garfield doesn’t consider randomness or luck to be the opposite of skill, and his designs can make a good case for the argument that, when applied properly, randomness can actually make a game more skillful. Simply look at Magic: The Gathering – this game has a whole lot of luck involved, but it is also incredibly skillful. In fact, it is such a skill-intensive game that it has a thriving competitive tournament scene – a tournament scene that Garfield himself was instrumental in shaping.

“I have always loved serious analysis and play of games. I became convinced that the existence of these things doesn’t hurt the casual player, and in fact is a boon to them. The analogy we drew was from basketball and the NBA. A lot of players who play basketball at the YMCA have no dream of being in the NBA, and yet without a robust, serious game core, they would probably be playing something else. By steering the game in this direction, I think we added a lot to the breadth of its interest and its longevity.”

Helping develop an official system of competitive Magic was only one of the ways that Garfield helped shape the long-term development of this game, and fits well with his player-focused philosophy. “My main contribution to Magic during this time was constantly focusing on the players and trying to guide the decisions to maximize value to them, rather than the many competing forces like speculator, collector, distributor, shopkeeper, art enthusiast or story enthusiast. Powerful common cards, a strong tournament system, printing enough cards that the short-term speculators left – these are samples of the sort of decisions that I was a part of and pleased with. There were plenty of bad decisions made as well, but they have faded because, I think, the lessons got learned and we moved on.”

The last thing I can say about Richard Garfield is that he is a true scholar, and loves studying games. Whether this involves exploring the roots of an obscure ancient genre of games, or picking apart the rules of classic card games and rearranging them, Garfield seems to truly love learning about games.

Fortunately, he also seems to love teaching about them. Not only has he taught college courses on the subject, but he has also written a wealth of content on the topic of game design. These include his older columns, titled “Lost in the Shuffle”, as well as the book “Characteristics of Games” that he co-wrote with Skaff Elias, which would both be great places to start if you wanted to learn more about his thoughts on designing games.

That’s all I have for today. If you enjoyed this video please leave a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, you can check out my previous video where I show you how I programmed an AI to play Pokemon Emerald. There is also the previous entry in this series, where I focused on strategy video game designer Sid Meier. And join me next week for Part 5 of my “Evolution of Pokemon Designs” series. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.
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Mon Jul 6, 2020 5:26 pm
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How I Taught an AI to Play Pokemon Emerald

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com




Transcript:

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. What you just saw was an artificial intelligence that I built at the end of 2018 to autonomously play Pokemon Emerald. Today, I want to share with you all how I designed and built this AI, talk about some of the principles behind it, and even look at some ways this AI could be further improved upon.

Before we jump into those details, however, I just want to say a big thank you to all of you watching this. Although this channel is still very small, it has been growing thanks to viewers like you sharing, commenting, and liking these videos, and that means a lot to me. I also really appreciate the kind words and even the critiques that you have provided in the comments. With that out of the way, lets get started.

Before I dig into the details of how I programmed this particular agent we should briefly go over some background on AI. For most people, when you hear the term AI your mind probably goes to something like HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or maybe GlaDOS from Portal – machines that think and learn like a human being. Those types of machines are what are called “General AI” or “Strong AI”, and those sorts of machines or programs are still a long ways away.

Instead, in modern computer science we use various types of “weak AI”, that are generally pretty good at a specific task but can really ONLY do that task. Among weak AI there are a huge variety of different techniques that can be used, from very simple techniques that involve following a predetermined series of steps (that may not be considered “intelligent” at all), to advanced machine learning techniques used by something like Amazon Alexa.

While all of these different techniques work wildly differently, they all require three things. First, they require some way to collect data, through digital messages or sensors such as cameras, microphones, etc. Second, they all process this data in some way in order to come up with a decision. Finally, they require some way to actually execute their decision, such as moving a robot arm or saying a verbal response through a speaker.

These are the same three things that we need to build our Pokemon Playing AI. We somehow need to allow our AI to read data from the game, manipulate that data, and then send instructions back into the game. To accomplish this I decided to use a program called the OpenAI Gym Retro. This program was created by OpenAI, an AI research organization, for the purposes of conducting AI research using retro video games. It is actually intended to be used for something called Reinforcement Learning, which is an AI technique that allows the agent to slowly learn a task over time by rewarding it when it does well at the task and punishing it when it does poorly. However, my approach for this project was a bit different, and I mostly used Gym Retro as a platform to interact with the game.

The way Gym Retro works, you need three things. First, you need a ROM of the game you are working with. A ROM is basically a digital copy of a game that is created by copying all of the data from the original cartridge. This makes the ROM basically identical to the original game, and let’s you play it on a different device – in this case, my computer instead of a Game Boy Advance.

In order to actually run the ROM you need an emulator, which digitally mimics the hardware of the original console in the same way that a ROM mimics the software. Finally, you need the OpenAI Gym Retro software itself. This software basically acts as a wrapper around the emulator that allows you to read the data at specific memory locations, and manipulate that data using Python scripts.

Gym Retro allows us to get the three things we need to program our AI. First, we have a file called Data.Json that allows us to read data from the game. Each piece of data that we are reading has a name, a memory address that tells us where to read from, and a datatype that tells us how to interpret that data. As you can see from this file, we can use this to collect data such as the stats of each Pokemon in our team, or our character’s X and Y position.

Next, we have another file called Emerald.py. This is the file that will actually be determining how our AI agent performs, and honestly it’s a bit of a mess but I was doing the best I could at the time. Because this is where the majority of the action in this program takes place there is a lot going on, and I will dig more into exactly what this program is doing in just a bit.

The final component we need is a file called scenario.json. This file specifies the various actions that our AI agent can take. In this case, those actions correspond to various buttons that exist on the Game Boy Advanced, and when the AI sends a command the emulator treats that as if that particular button was pressed.

Now that we know what tools and files we need, let’s look into how we actually write those files. I’ll start with our data file – this file lets us keep track of several important pieces of information about our game, but first we need to locate that information. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of a data-miner – in fact, working on this project is the only time I’ve really done anything of the sort, which made this process difficult. However, I will show you the method I used that was enough to get me by, for the most part.

The way I located the data I needed was by using a part of Gym Retro called the Integration UI. This program basically lets you play through the game manually while keeping track of various locations in memory. To find the memory location you want to locate, you first need to know what value you expect it to have. For example, let’s suppose I wanted to locate my Mudkip’s health value. I can use the search bar in the Integration UI to make a new search, and call it MudkipHealth. For value, I know that it’s current health is 27, so I search for that. That brings up a whole bunch of different values, and each of these represent a location in memory that has a value of 27. I need to narrow it down, so what I’m going to do is get in a battle and let my health drop down. Now I can search again for this new value – this time, it only searches among the locations it had already found, which should significantly narrow it down. Now we only have a handful of potential locations. Notice that a lot of these potential locations are actually the same memory address – this is because the same address can be read in several different ways, which represent different data-types. We just need to choose the data-type that matches what we are looking for – in this case, an unsigned little-endian integer.

Locating the data this way can be time consuming, but luckily I didn’t have to find every single value by hand. One way to speed up this process is to use resources like Bulbapedia that have information on the different data structures used in the Gen 3 Pokemon games. Using this information, I know that once I locate the HP value of my Pokemon I should find their Attack value four bytes after. I should also be able to find the next Pokemon in my party 100 bytes after, and so forth. By using this data, I only need to search for a few key values to find most of the information I need. Once I have found the values I am looking for I can not only use the for my AI program, but I can also do fun stuff like making all of my Mudkip’s stats 999.

Now that we have located the data our AI needs, let’s look at how the actual agent itself is designed. The way I see it, Pokemon is basically split into two main parts – navigating the overworld, and battling. Each of these tasks is very different, so I actually use two different techniques to handle these two modes.

Let’s first look at the task of navigating the overworld in Pokemon. A big part of playing Pokemon is walking around the overworld from town to town, and the AI had to be able to navigate the world somehow. This meant it had to have some idea of where it was, where it needed to go, and also needed to be able to deal with complications such as dialogue boxes, cut-scenes, and walking in and out of buildings.

I know that somewhere in the game’s memory is information about each area map and how they are connected, and if I could access that information my agent would be able to navigate in a much more intelligent manner. Unfortunately I am still a novice dataminer, and the technique that I have been using requires me to already know the value of the memory location I am searching for. Because of this, I had to come up with a different solution.

Luckily, I was able to locate memory values that keep track of the player’s X and Y positions, by using the assumption that their starting position at the beginning of the game would be considered “0, 0”. While this information isn’t much to go off of, I was able to develop a navigation system with two main parts – mapping, and path-finding.

Because I am unable to access the game’s internal map data, I decided to have my character create their own maps. Every time the AI moves (or attempts to move) they learn a little bit more about the world around them. If they can walk to that new square they mark that space as walkable, if they can’t they mark it as an obstacle, and if stepping on a new square takes them to a new location (such as a doorway that takes you inside a building) they mark it as a warp. Each time they move to a new square the AI updates its internal map to reflect this new information, and these maps can be used for pathfinding.

The second component is pathfinding. The agent doesn’t really have any idea where it is “supposed” to go, so it makes up for this by simply going everywhere. It basically has 2 goals. First, if there are any spaces that it can reach that are still unknown, it will try to go to the closest of those spaces. If there aren’t any unknown spaces that it can reach it will backtrack and go back to the square that it visited the least recently. Using this method, it should eventually reach every space.

Once the agent has selected a destination, it uses a pathfinding algorithm known as A* to actually find a path and navigate to that destination. While I am not going to go into all the details of A* search here (there is a Computerphile video that I will link to that I’m sure does a fantastic job of explaining it), the really brief explanation is that it builds the path one square at a time by determining which square will get us closest to the end goal while estimating how much distance still remains. This algorithm is a very common one used for navigation, since it is always guaranteed to give an optimal path and it is very time efficient.

Putting these pieces all together, and the agent moves around the world by picking a destination, pathfinding to that destination, and building up a map of the world around them as they go. However, moving around the world is only half of what we need it to do. As this is a Pokemon AI, it of course also needs to be able to battle.

I’m going to be upfront and confess that when I was working on this I was not really able to implement the battle system that I dreamed of. This is because, due to my limited experience datamining, I was unable to locate certain data that is necessary for my design to work. With that information I would have been able to implement the system I am about to describe, but keep in mind that from here the discussion is more hypothetical – this is how I would design an AI battle system, but it has not yet been built.

My concept would basically use a game tree to determine the most effective action to take each turn. A game tree basically goes over every possible action that could be taken during a turn – each attack that your Pokemon could perform, each Pokemon you could switch to, perhaps even actions such as running away or using an item – and assigns a score to it. In this instance, for example, the score would take into account how much damage you can do to your opponent – more damage is better, with a bonus for knocking out one of their Pokemon. However, it would also assign negative points for the damage your opponent could do to you, and give a big penalty for one of your own Pokemon fainting. In order to determine these scores, the AI would need to know information such as the types of your Pokemon and the opponent’s Pokemon, your Pokemon’s stats, the types of every move you have available, as well as their damage values. It can use this information to calculate how much each attack will do to your opponent, on average, and will do the same for your opponent. It could then look several moves ahead, and find the course of action that is likely to result in the most damage to your opponent, which causing the least damage for your own Pokemon. This might include choosing the most effective attacks for your Pokemon, or switching to a Pokemon that has a more advantageous match-up.

There is a lot more I could talk about with this system, but I think that covers most of the important bases. I’m sure many of you still have a lot of questions, and I will try to answer those in the comments down below. If enough of you have questions or want to hear more, maybe I’ll eventually make a follow up video to respond to those, so please let me know if you are interested in hearing more. I also have a number of other projects I have worked on over the years, so let me know if you found this interesting and maybe we can talk about those some time.

That’s all I have for today. Once again thank you so much for watching this video. If you liked it, please leave a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, check out my other videos, like my previous one where I look at some of the tricky (and controversial) economic problems surrounding the price of games and the game industry. And join me next time, for another installment of my Game Designer Spotlight series, this time focusing on Richard Garfield. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time!
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Mon Jun 22, 2020 7:26 pm
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How Much Should Video Games Cost?

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com



Transcript:

What’s up designers, welcome back to Rempton Games. Today, I’m gonna be looking at a pretty complicated and controversial topic – the price of games. With that I will be touching on a number of other topics, such as loot boxes, subscriptions, and paid DLC, and if those things make you mad I ask you to please hear me out and wait to the end of the video before leaving an angry comment. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Before we start trying to answer the question of how much games SHOULD cost, lets start by answering a much simpler question – how much DO games cost? This may seem like a simple question, but it’s a bit more complicated than it may seem. These days, a AAA game is going to run you about $60 if you buy it full price, but a large number of games will be bought on sales and discounts, which means not everybody is paying that full $60 price. In addition, smaller, more independent games could sell for significantly less than this (with many games having no upfront cost at all), and many games have a “deluxe edition” that could cost more than $60.

That’s a lot of variability, but for the purposes of this video I will be focusing primarily on the $60 price tag that tends to be what players expect to pay for a quote-unquote “full” game. And I use that word “full” intentionally – I believe that players have certain expectations when they pay that $60 dollar price tag that the game they are purchasing is a total experience, with an adequate amount of content and appropriately up-to date visuals. If a game is very short, or visually does not meet expectations, players will tend to want to buy it at a lower price-point. And, unless they are given something extra to go along with it, players are generally unwilling to spend more than $60 up front for a game.

But why is this? What is so special about this price, that it seems to be the default price that both publishers and players are unwilling to budge from? I can’t say for sure, but there are two things I do know. Thing number 1 – $60 has been the base price for console games for the better part of 2 decades and 2 – based on several forum thread and comment sections I read through while researching this video, there is a huge portion of gamers that are NOT willing to pay more than this for their games. There have been experiments over the years with higher prices, but the higher price generally leads to fewer people buying the game, and so $60 has stuck.

Keep in mind, although the face value of buying a game has remained the same for the last 15-ish years, the ACTUAL cost of buying the games has gone down due to inflation. If you bought a $60 game in 2005, you were actually paying the equivalent of about $80 in 2020.

Okay, so games cost $60 to buy, and that price likely isn’t going up because raising the price would significantly reduce the size of the market, as well as piss off a good number of gamers. If anything, looking at things like the mobile market and Steam games are actually more likely to get cheaper over time, and they are definitely already getting cheaper simply by not keeping up with inflation.

On the other hand, the cost of making games is not going down – it has actually grown exponentially. To explain why, let’s first look at Moore’s law. Moore’s Law is an observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit would double roughly every two years. This observation was made by, and named after, Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, in 1965, and this observation has mostly held true since then – although there has been some apparent slowing in recent years, and even Moore himself has predicted that this rate of growth will probably level out over the next decade or so.

What this generally means is that processors have been getting more powerful at an exponential rate for over 50 years, which has led to an explosion in technological power and innovation. 20 years ago, for example, we didn’t even have Ipods, and now the mere idea of a dedicated MP3 player seems like an ancient relic.

This brings us to another law, this time by the former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft Nathan Myhrvold – Software is a gas. This means that software grows and expands to fill its container – it’ll get as big as it possibly can unless it is contained somehow. The “container” in this case is the limitations of computing – there is no point in making a game that no computer can actually run – I’m looking at you, CRYSIS. As computing power improves, games can’t help but try to grow and improve with them – simply compare Pong to Red Dead Redemption 2, and you can immediately see the astounding level of progress games have made as an art-form in a few short decades. This growth comes in many forms, from more impressive visuals to larger worlds to more complicated AI.

These bigger, more impressive games don’t come free, however. As computing power increases exponentially, so have budgets. In the 70’s and early 80’s, the cost of games basically came down to hardware costs – they had to be distributed in massive arcade cabinets or bulky cartridges, but the actual cost of developing the software was minimal. In these early days it was not unusual for games to be made by a single individual over the course of a few weeks – the real challenge at this time was manufacturing, not software.

As time went on, however, the cost of game development began to grow. As computers improved, developers continued to push the limits of the hardware, and consumers began to expect more and more out of their games. Sprites and backgrounds became more complex, until they were replaced almost entirely by 3D models. These models started out quite simple, with maybe a few dozen polygons and low resolution textures, but these models became more complex over time. By the mid 90’s a triple-A game would cost a few hundred thousand dollars to develop, and by around 2005 these costs had risen to over 10 million. Today, even the most advanced game from 2005 would not be given a second look. Modern models can have tens of thousands of polygons, and textures that look nice on a 4K UHD screen take a lot more time and money to develop than the low resolution textures of the past, and it isn’t rare for a modern blockbuster to cost over $100 million to develop.

So is the increased cost of making a game solely due to the cost of assets? Mostly, but there are a few caveats. The first thing to mention is that a lot of games are trying to fit more actual gameplay into their games, but the amount of code going towards gameplay has not risen to nearly the same extent as the cost of assets. The second caveat is that there is not a direct linear correlation between the amount of asset data and the cost of producing that data. The amount of data included in a game is increasing even more quickly than costs. This is mainly due to the improvement of tools such as game engines and 3D modelling programs that allow developers to create these more advanced assets more efficiently than before. This makes it more efficient to produce these assets, although this increased efficiency is nowhere near keeping up with the increased demand.

This increased cost of development has had a number of effects on the game industry. For one thing, it has resulted in fewer AAA games being released each year – as costs increased, developers couldn’t afford to make as many games as they used to. Similar to the movie industry, this increased cost has also led to these companies taking fewer risks, and putting more emphasis on sequels and reboots. Because each game represents such a huge investment, if they release a handful of flops it could spell the end of the company – countless game companies have already fallen victim to this.

This is connected with another consequence of this rising cost – fewer companies are producing AAA games. As these blockbuster games get more expensive to make the barrier to entry gets higher, which means that fewer companies are able to compete at the AAA level. As these higher costs also drive existing competitors out of business, the overall landscape of big budget games is going to get more and more sparse.

So, if games are so expensive to make, why do they still cost $60? The answer is…they basically have to. Even if you might be willing to pay $70, $80, $90 dollars for the games you want to play, the overall market simply isn’t willing to accept it. This leaves you with 2 choices as a game company – reduce your costs, or try to find alternative forms of revenue.

You can see both of these strategies at play in the modern game industry. There are tons of smaller game companies out there that do make smaller games, and distribute them on platforms such as Steam or the Google Play store. These games don’t necessarily rely on a higher price tag to make money because they don’t cost that much to make. The downside of this, of course, is that while these sorts of smaller indie games have the potential to be very successful, they are also INCREDIBLY competitive, and a huge number of them make next to nothing.

Alternative revenue models are also becoming more and more common among modern games. In this context, the $60 dollars you pay for the game isn’t really the “price” at all. Instead, it’s more like an entrance fee, which is supplemented later on with additional revenue with things such as paid DLC, loot-boxes, annual passes, etc.

Now, I know that gamers tend not to be huge fans of these sorts of monetization strategies, to say the least, and I’m not going to say that greed is never involved. There are certainly companies out there who employ monetization tactics that I would not only consider to be greedy, but also manipulative and unethical. However, I think that is a problem with how these features are implemented, and not an inherent problem with offering these additional payment options to players.

Keep in mind that offering options such as loot-boxes is not just a matter of money, but of risk. Many game companies live right on the edge of success, where a single failed game can mean the end of the entire studio. I have actually seen this myself first hand – last year I worked as an intern at Rooster Teeth Games, and during this time they were developing a game known as Vicious Circle. Vicious Circle ended up being a flop, and because of that basically the entire team of talented artists and developers was let go. Game development is a risky business, so having alternative revenue models built into your games can help even out this risk – if a successful game is still able to produce money, maybe you won’t go bankrupt if your next game doesn’t do so well.

So, to finally answer the question – how much should games cost – the truth is that I don’t have the answer – and neither does anybody else, really. This is still a relatively young industry that is changing fast, and must evolve as it grows. However, based on the way the industry is moving, it doesn’t really seem like raising the base price is really a solution to the problems the industry is going through – even if prices doubled it wouldn’t necessarily make the development model more sustainable, and nobody would actually buy a $100 game. If I had to guess where game prices go over the next several years, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cover price of a game continued to trend downwards towards $0, and smaller ongoing payments became the norm rather than a bigger up-front cost.

That’s all I have for today. Thank you so much for watching this video, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below. If you liked this video, please leave a like and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. And join me next time, where I will be taking a look at a project I did a while back and show you how you can teach an AI program to play Pokemon Emerald. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.
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Mon Jun 8, 2020 4:48 pm
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Evolution of Pokemon Design – Generation 4

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com



Transcript

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. In today’s installment of “Evolution of Pokemon Design” we will be taking a look at the Pokemon’s fourth generation, which includes the games Diamond, Pearl and Platinum. As we are currently in Gen 8, this marks a big moment for this series as we are halfway done! As always, in this video I will be taking a look at the Pokemon of this generation to find any major themes and trends, see how new technology and mechanics have influenced these designs, and compare them to previous generations.

Really quick, before we jump into it I just want to say that this is a small channel that I am trying to build while doing work and school full-time, and if you enjoy this type of content it would mean a lot to me if you would help me grow this channel. Leaving a like or a comment really helps, but if you could share this video with a friend who likes Pokemon that would be amazing. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

First, lets take a look at how the Gen 4 games fit in with previous games in the series. These games find themselves in a pretty interesting space because they are neither direct sequels, like Gen 2, nor are they a soft reboot, like Gen 3. Instead, these games fill a sort of middle-ground that is relatively unique among Pokemon games – they are completely new games that take place in a brand new region with new characters, and yet the selection of Pokemon is VERY heavily linked to previous generations.

This generation introduces 107 new Pokemon, and 29 of them are either evolutions or pre-evolutions of older Pokemon. This represents over a quarter of all of the new Pokemon introduced, and is the highest proportion of Pokemon related to previous generations of any generation if you don’t count things like Mega Evolutions. In addition, unlike Gen 2 which included a large number of new forms that were only connected to Gen 1, the new evolutions and pre-evolutions of this generation are pretty evenly distributed across all three previous generations, which I personally think helps make the wider world of Pokemon feel a bit more connected.

Speaking of connected, this generation is quite possibly the most connected generation so far. While the previous generation took some heat for not being able to connect with it’s predecessors, Diamond and Pearl is the first generation to be compatible with the games before AND after it. If you include the remakes FireRed, LeafGreen, HeartGold and SoulSilver, you can actually trade Pokemon back and forth from 5 different regions in these games.

However, this isn’t even the only way that these games attempted to make the world of Pokemon a little more unified. A major theme of the Sinnoh region is legends and myths, and this generation introduces a huge amount of lore and back-story for the Pokemon world. While previous generations have had legends, such as the burned tower or the battle between Kyogre and Groudon, Gen 4 really takes this to the next level.

For one thing, it introduces more Legendary and Mythical Pokemon than any Generation before it with a total of 14. Depending on whether you consider Meltan and Melmetal to be part of Generation 7 or 8, this may still be tied for the number 1 spot. However, not only do they introduce a glut of legendary and mythical Pokemon, but they introduce the Pokemon that are, lore-wise at least, still the most powerful that the Pokemon world has ever seen. These include the God-Pokemon Arceus, who supposedly created the entire Pokemon world with his 1000 arms, as well as his children Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina.

As the legend goes, there was once a void of nothingness in which a single egg came into being. This egg then hatched into Arceus, the first Pokemon. Arceus created Dialga and Palkia and gave them power over time and space. He also created Giratina, and banished him to the distortion for his violent behavior (which basically makes Giratina the Pokemon version of Satan). He also created the Lake Trio of Azelf, Uxie and Mesprit to create Willpower, Knowledge and Emotion, which can be found in all humans and Pokemon. There is also Regigigas, who is not only responsible for building the other Regis out of stone, metal and ice, but also apparently responsible for moving all of the continents into place.

This epic theme goes beyond the Legendary Pokemon themselves, however. The entire Sinnoh region is shrouded in history and myth, and is not only considered to be the oldest region but is literally the first place that was created when Arceus created the universe. There are a number of places in the Sinnoh region that are incredibly ancient, or have connections to various myths including Floaroma Town, Eterna City, Snowpoint Temple, and the Spear Pillar.

Even the Starter Pokemon of this region play into this theme, as they are all based on real-world myths. Emploeon has references to the Greek god Poseidon, particular containing a Trident-like design on it’s head and body. Torterra appears to be based around the various legends of the world turtle, particularly found in Hindu mythology. Finally, Infernape is a clear reference to Sun Wukong the Monkey King, a character in the Chinese Epic Journey to the West. This marks the first time that all three starter Pokemon will have a unifying theme, and this trend will continue forward in future generations. In addition, a number of other non-legendary Pokemon are also given legendary backstories, such as Spiritomb which is said to contain 108 evil spirits.

Now that we have covered some of the themes and backstory, it’s time to actually begin looking at the designs of these Pokemon. If there is one thing that is immediately obvious from looking at Generation 4 Pokemon, it is that the designs have become much more detailed – some might even say “cluttered”. This may be due to the increased resolution of the DS screen compared to the Gameboy Advanced. The DS screen is only slightly higher resolution than the GBA screens, but the Pokemon sprites are considerably larger – 80 by 80 pixels, rather than 64 by 64. This results in almost 60% more pixels per sprite than on the GBA, which could explain why Gen 4 Pokemon tend to have a higher level of detail on average.

This increased detail can be seen in a number of places. In previous generations it was rare to see a Pokemon with 4 or more major colors, but in Gen 4 this is the norm. This generation contains a number of quite colorful Pokemon such as Luxray, Garchomp, Toxicroak and Cresselia, and even Pokemon that may not be considered colorful such as Staraptor or Floatzel fit this description.

Second, similar to previous generations there are a number of similar details that can be found among generation 4 Pokemon, and many of these details contribute to the more complicated designs of Pokemon in this generation. While adding additional details in the forms of loops or stripes has been a common design choice in all generations, this generation definitely took this to another level. Of all the details that are common among this generation, however, the most noticeable are certainly the spikes.

Once again, Pokemon has a history of adding spikes or horns to traditionally non-spiked animals. Simply look at Seaking, Seel or Cloyster to see how adding a single spike or horn was a common way of making an animal look just a bit more “monstrous”. This generation, however, they went absolutely hog-wild with the spikes, adding them not only to the head but shoulders, wrists, wherever. The designs of Pokemon such as Lucario, Drapion, Bastiodon, Garchomp, and Rampardos are absolutely spike-tacular.

While I generally try to avoid giving my own opinions on the designs of these Pokemon, I think a good number of Pokemon in this generation would look much better if they simply toned down the number of features a bit. Let’s look at a few quick examples to see what I mean. First, let’s take a look at Purugly. As you can see, there is a lot going on with this design. From the boomerang shaped head, to the purple fingers at the tips of it’s ears, the squiggly whiskers, the curly tail, tiny feet – there are a ton of distracting design decisions going on here, and make the Pokemon overall look very cluttered. Suppose we simplified just one of these details – say, the ears, and made them more traditionally catlike. It could still retain it’s grumpy, spoiled attitude while having a bit cleaner overall design.

Let’s quickly look at a second example – this time, an evolution to a previous generation, Ambipom. Ambipom is the evolution of Aipom – a mischievous little monkey Pokemon from Gen 2. Aipom is a relatively simple design – it’s simply a purple monkey with a hand on it’s tail, and a troublemaking personality. Now look at Ambipom. First, you can immediately notice that we are adding a second color – a reddish shade in the ears and on the tips of the fingers. This not only makes the color pallete more complicated, but has the added side effect of making the fingers look painfully swollen.

The head shares a number of similarities with Aipom’s head, but adds a nose, a bowlcut, and two extra long strands on the top of the head. Personally, I find this nose marking to be probably the ugliest nose of any Pokemon. I think that this design could be made significantly more pleasant by simply removing the nose, and swapping out the gross new hands with hands that match Aipom’s original hands. Sure, the new design maybe doesn’t change all that much – it simply looks like a bigger Aipom with two hands instead of one – but I think it is enough change to make it recognizable as a different Pokemon while still looking clearly connected to it’s pre-evolution and not adding unnecessary details that detract from the design.

There are two additional design decisions I have noticed about Generation 4 Pokemon. First, it moves away from the more jagged fur found in previous generations to more rounded fur shapes. If you look at Pokemon like Glameow, Bidoof, Shaymin, Buizel, Buneary and even Luxray, you can see that the fur tends to have a much more rounded look. Don’t get me wrong – purely sharp, jagged fur still exists in this generation, but I believe that these designs are the beginning of a “softening” of Pokemon designs that will continue for the next few generations.

The second additional design decision is, surprisingly, a simplification or reduction of certain details. Compare, for example, the roses on Roserade’s hands vs those on Roselia’s – it is clear to see that Roselia’s roses are much more realistic, while Roserade’s are much more simplified. Similarly, look at the vines on Tangrowth vs Tangela, and it is clear that there is a certain amount of lost detail. Finally, if you look at the tongues of Lickilicki vs Lickitung, there is a clear difference with Lickitung’s tongue looking much more organic.

Finally, let’s take a look at the Legendary Pokemon of this generation – and there are a lot of them. First off, looking at this group as a whole it is clear that the higher level of detail among this generation is equally present among these legendaries, although legendary Pokemon have always tended to have more complicated designs in general, so I think it is more fitting. However, another thing no notice is that a large number of these legendary Pokemon don’t really resemble specific real-life animals. A lot of them have much more abstract designs that evoke an idea. Heatran has aspects of many different animals, and his design basically just communicates “lava monster”, while Arceus’s design looks fittingly divine, and Darkrai definitely looks like the sort of thing that would create nightmares. I think a big reason for this is that most of these legendary Pokemon are designed to be very ancient – like, from the beginning of the universe – and therefore it makes sense that they would not resemble modern day animals.

Narrowing in on the group of Palkia, Dialga, Giratina, I like how all of their designs connect back to the design of Arceus – particularly their faces. This not only does a good job of communicating that they are a trio, but it also helps illustrate that they were the first Pokemon created by Arceus – the “children” resemble the “parent”, if you will. These designs are all very abstract, and while the designs are all quite complicated I think they do a good job of feeling powerful and legendary.

The last group of Pokemon I want to look at this week is the “lake” trio of Uxie, Azelf and Mesprit. I want to narrow in on these Pokemon specifically because they are the first real instance of “copy-paste” design found in the Pokedex. All of these legendary Pokemon look very similar to one another, and are also very similar to Mew. While none of these designs necessarily look bad in their own right, Pokemon has already shown that it is possible to make a trio of legendaries that all look connected without sharing the exact same design with different hats. Unfortunately, this design philosophy will get worse before it gets better.

Finally, as we have in the past lets do a side-by-side comparison of Pokemon from this generation compared to previous generations. While watching this apples-to-apples comparison, see if you can spot any additional design trends or similarities that I may have missed!

Starters:

Gen 3 – Treecko, Mudkip, Torchic

Gen 4 – Turtwig, Piplup, Chimchar

Early Game Birds:

Gen 3 – Taillow, Swellow,

Gen 4 – Starly, Staravia, Staraptor

Early Game Mammals:

Gen 3 – Zigzagoon, Linoone

Gen 4 – Bidoof, Bibarrel

Fossils:

Gen 3 – Anorith, Armaldo, Lileep, Cradily

Gen 4 – Cranidos, Rampardos, Shieldon, Bastiodon

Pikachu Clones:

Gen 3 – Plusle, Minun

Gen 4 – Pachirisu

Normal Cats:

Gen 3 – Skitty, Delcatty

Gen 4 – Glameow, Purugly

Pseudo-Legendary:

Gen 3 – Bagon, Shellgon, Salamence

Gen 4 – Gible, Gabite, Garchomp

Legendary Trio:

Gen 3 – Regice, Registeel, Regirock

Gen 4 – Uxie, Mesprit, Azelf

Cover Legendaries:

Gen 3 – Kyogre, Groudon, Rayquaza

Gen 4 – Palkia, Dialga, Giratina

That’s all I have for today. Thank you so much for watching this video – if you like it, please leave a like and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more, you can check out the previous entries to the series – I’ll leave the playlist in the description down below. And join me next time, where I’ll be looking at the price of games. Do they cost to much, or should they actually cost more? Until then, thank you so much for watching, and I’ll see you all next time.

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Mon May 25, 2020 5:59 pm
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Dungeons and Dragons: The First Modern RPG – (History of Game Design)

Caleb Compton
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Kansas
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The following is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com



Transcript:

What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. In today’s installment of “History of Game Design” I want to take a look at one of the most innovative and influential games of all time – Dungeons and Dragons. Since it’s debut nearly 50 years ago, D&D has influenced and inspired countless games, and has also had a significant impact on the Fantasy Genre as a whole. While this game has far too much history to cover everything in a single installment, today I want to look at the origins of the first edition, briefly cover how the game has changed over the years, and see how much its mechanics have influenced modern game design. Without further ado, let’s get started.

While games that simulate warfare have been around for thousands of years, the modern concept of a wargame as a highly detailed, dense strategy game goes back to a game known as “Tactics” published by Avalon Hill in 1954. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s wargames steadily grew in popularity, to the point that groups and societies dedicated to this hobby began to pop up. One of these groups was the International Federation of Wargaming, which was founded by Bill Speer, Gary Gygax, and Scott Duncan in 1967.

This group was dedicated to not only playing wargames, but spreading information about wargames and bringing people together. It produced fanzines that it distributed to its members, and held conventions such as the Lake Geneva Wargames Convention – better known today as Gen Con. This organization was also made up of several smaller groups dedicated to specific categories of wargaming, such as the Armored Operations Society which was dedicated to WWII gaming.

One of these subgroups was the Castle and Crusade society – started by Gygax and Rob Kuntz – which was dedicated to medieval miniatures wargaming. It was in a small newsletter for this group, known as the Domesday Book, that Gygax originally published his sets of rules for medieval miniatures. Although the circulation of this magazine was small, it nonetheless caught the eye of Guidon Games, which hired Gygax to work on a series of wargames with miniatures.

Among these games was Chainmail, published in 1971, which was largely based on the medieval miniatures rules published in the Domesday book with help from hobby shop owner Jeff Perren. Chainmail was an expansion of these rules, and consisted of 4 parts. The first section covered rules for mass battles, with each miniature representing groups of 20 units and rules governing things such as artillery, terrain, and how foot-soldiers interacted with cavalry units.

The second section was rules for 1 on 1 combat, and the third section was for jousting. The fourth section was a small appendix, which included rules for adding fantasy elements such as Elemental creatures and magic spells.

A few years earlier, around 1967, Dave Wesely developed an experimental new form of wargame, which he called Braunstein. This game, which took place in a fictional German town of the same name, was set during the Napoleonic wars. Unlike most other wargames at the time, which had players controlling armies of soldiers on different sides of the battle, Braunstein had each player assigned an individual role. Some players might be military commanders, while others might be the town Mayor, for example.

In addition, this game took some inspiration from a wargaming book from the late 1800’s called Stratego. Strategos basically allowed players to attempt any action they could think of. If the action was not covered by the rules, then the Referee would determine the outcome of that attempt. Wesely took these concepts, and applied them to individual characters instead of military units.

While it may have simply been a goofy experiment at the time, the concept of giving each player a unique “Player Character” with a personality and backstory that can carry over from game to game was revolutionary. This idea was expanded by many of Wesely’s gaming buddies, most notably Dave Arneson who applied this “Player Character” concept to a Tolkien-inspired world called Black Moor. In his Black Moor games Arneson began using the Chainmail system for combat, but also added his own additions such as character classes and experience points.

By 1971 Gary Gygax was working at Guidon Games, and he began a collaboration with Dave Arneson on one of his ideas for a new game – a Napoleonic naval wargame known as Don’t Give Up the Ship!, which would be published by Guidon Games in 1972. Sometime after working on Don’t Give Up the Ship! Arneson introduced Gygax to his Black Moor game, and the two began working on a new game – a game that would soon come to be known as Dungeons and Dragons.

This early edition of Dungeons and Dragons built upon the rules previously created by both collaborators. It used a combat system derived from Chainmail, as well as the Role-playing and referee concepts from Braunstein and ideas such as level advancement and armor classes taken from Arneson’s Black Moor games. It also played heavily into the fantasy aspects that were briefly touched on in the Chainmail appendix, creating a vast fantasy world heavily inspired by authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft.

Designing a game is one thing – getting it printed is another, and Gygax and Arneson had quite a difficult time. Perhaps because their game was so unusual and experimental it was impossible to find a publisher to license it from them, so they had to publish it themselves. This required starting a new company – Tactical Studies Rules, better known as TSR. D&D would be TSR’s first game, and it had to be printed on a very tight budget. Because of this, the designers had to find ways to limit their expenses such as by hiring their friends to do artwork at a few dollars a piece.

Despite all of these difficulties, however, the first edition of D&D was finally published in 1974. This early version of D&D was quite primitive from a modern point of view. It only had a handful of playable races and classes, and it wasn’t even really a stand-alone game with the rules assuming that the player already had access to a copy of Chainmail as well as an Avalon Hill game called Outdoor Survival.

This first edition was pretty rough, and didn’t take off right away. Only around 1000 copies were sold in the first year, and 3,000 more were sold the year after that. However, in 1975 the growth of D&D began to accelerate. New expansions were created, based on the popular campaign settings of Black Moor and Greyhawk, and the Dungeons and Dragons fan community began to grow with the creation of the first D&D magazines.

In 1977, Dungeons and Dragons had its first major change, and split into two separate products. The first, Basic D&D, was a cleaned up version of the first edition designed to be more friendly to new players. The second was a more structured rule-system known as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, which introduced the three core rulebooks of the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Throughout the late 70’s and 80’s these two forms of D&D evolved separately, each receiving their own expansions and revisions. However, the next major shift didn’t occur until 1989 when Advanced Dungeons and Dragons – 2nd edition was released. In addition to revising the rules, 2nd Edition tried to remove some of the more controversial aspects of D&D following it’s supposed connections with the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.

The third edition of Advanced D&D was released in 2000, and simply went by the name Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, since the basic version had since been discontinued. This version had a much more unified ruleset, which mostly resolved the outcome of actions by rolling a 20 sided die known as a D20. In addition to forming the new rules for D&D, third edition also serves as the fundamental ruleset of the D20 system – an open license ruleset that allows others to build their own RPGs around the 3rd edition rules.

Further revisions of the basic ruleset would come with 4th edition in 2008, and 5th Edition, also known as D&D Next, published in 2014. The 5th edition is noteworthy because it is the first edition of D&D to rely on public playtesting, and was developed with feedback from over 75,000 playtesters.

Its hard to overstate just how much the gaming industry owes to D&D. To begin with, it introduced the entire concept of a Role Playing Game, which didn’t really exist outside of the developer’s local playgroups at the time. Role Playing Games, or RPGs, have since expanded to be a staple genre that not only includes Tabletop RPGs like D&D, but also digital RPGs such as the Final Fantasy and Pokemon series, and even Live Action RPGs known as LARPs.

Prior to D&D, wargamers generally controlled military companies, units, and vehicles, but never really took the role of a specific character. While the idea of a 1-to-1 correlation between a player and a character was not entirely new – for example, the game Clue was published over 20 years earlier in 1949, and had each player represent a different character. The difference, however, was two-fold. First, in these older games the character you chose didn’t really affect your behavior in the game.

Second, in D&D your character carries over through multiple play-sessions, and remembers the events of previous sessions. This allows players to really spend a lot of time figuring out the back-story of their characters, and refining their personalities. This ties into another innovation of D&D – the concept of a campaign. While wargames can get quite long, they were also self-contained. This was not the case for D&D, in which multiple different adventures could be strung together with the same characters. This potential for endless adventures also allows Dungeon Masters to build huge, complex and realistic worlds for their characters to inhabit.

Speaking of Dungeon Masters, the idea of using a referee to decide the outcome of actions was another major mechanical innovation, because it allowed the players an unprecedented level of freedom. Players were no longer required to stay within the sharp boundaries created by the rulebook, but could attempt any action they could think of. The only limitations were their own creativity, and the Dungeon Master’s generosity.

While these big ideas help form the core of the role-playing experience, the smaller mechanical choices in D&D have been equally influential. Character classes can be found in countless RPGs, and many of these games not only borrow the concept of character classes but also mimic the specific classes used in D&D. While the first edition only had 3 possible classes – the cleric, the fighting man, and the magic-user, later editions expanded and refined these classes to include such classics as Paladins, Thieves, and Bards.

The concept of levels and experience points can also be found everywhere in the modern world, and not even just in games. While these mechanics can be found in countless games, they also form the foundation for the entire concept of “gamification”, which is when you try to apply “game design” concepts to a real world activity. Almost always, this involves giving the “player” experience points for participating in the activity, and allowing them to level up when they obtain enough. These concepts are so popular and well known that they are often taken for granted, but D&D was the first to do it.

However, D&D is not only influential from a game design perspective, but also had a huge influence on the fantasy genre. The races, magical items, settings, and magic system of D&D have probably had more influence on fantasy books, films, and games than any other single source besides The Lord of The Rings. The entire genre of Isekai anime basically owes it’s existence to Dungeons and Dragons, and the fantasy concepts introduced in this game are referenced in everything from Rick and Morty to Pixar’s Onward.

That’s all I have for today. If you liked this video please leave a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more you can check out my previous entries in the “History of Game Design” series – I’ll put a link in the description down below. If you have any games or genres that you think should be highlighted in future entries of this series, let me know in the comments down below. And join me next time for part 4 of my Evolution of Pokemon Designs series. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.]
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Mon May 11, 2020 5:03 pm
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10 Mechanics You Didn’t Know Were Hidden in Popular Games

Caleb Compton
United States
Kansas
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The following article is a reproduction. The original article, and over 100 more, can be found at RemptonGames.com



Transcript:


What’s up designers, welcome back to Rempton Games. One of the main things that separates games from other forms of entertainment is interactivity – the player has some power to guide the experience, although the exact amount of control can vary from game to game. This interactivity can be a huge benefit to games, as it can draw players in and make them feel much more immersed and invested in the characters and world of the game than a passive experience, like watching a film, ever could. However, it can also present some unique challenges from a design and storytelling perspective.

A film director has influence over every single frame of a film – from how it is shot, to how it is edited, what type of music is included, post-processing, visual effects, and more. A game designer, on the other hand, does not have this same level of control over the experience, because they are giving up some amount of that control to the player. While a director can decide where there characters go, what they do, and where the camera is pointing, in a game all of those decisions belong to the player, and each game will player’s experience will be different – sometimes drastically so.

Most of the time, this is a very good thing. But occasionally there will be points where, in order to improve the experience of the game, designers need to take back a bit of control – without the players necessarily realizing that it’s happening. Maybe this is a mechanic that doesn’t quite work how you think it does, or an entire system that runs quietly in the background. It is these unsung heroes that are the topic of today’s video – without further ado, let’s get started.

#10 – Paranormal Activity (Pac-Man)


While these mechanics aren’t necessarily “ranked” in any particular order, I did want to start with one of the oldest and most well-known examples of a “hidden mechanic” – the behavior of the Ghost enemies in Pac-man. For a game that came out in 1980, the Ghost behavior is actually surprisingly complex. Each of the four ghosts – Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde, have different “personalities”, and actually behave differently during gameplay. Blinky, the red ghost, simply attempts to follow behind Pac-man, while Pinky, the pink ghost, will attempt to get in front of Pac-man to surround him. Clyde, the orange ghost, will follow Pac-man but will run away to his home corner if Pac-man gets too close. Finally, the blue ghost, Inky, has a very erratic behavior that seems to cycle through the behavior of the other ghosts – sometimes following, sometimes getting in front, sometimes running away.

In addition, the ghosts aren’t always even trying to chase Pac-man, but actually alternate between chasing and “scattering”. When chasing they all behave as previously described, but when scattering they simply run away to their home corners, giving Pac-man a bit of a breather. While this behavior might not seem too impressive to modern gamers, it really did stand out at the time and is one of the earliest examples of a mechanic that is doing a lot more than it seems on the surface.

#9 Creepy Stalking (Amnesia)

While Pac-man may have been one of the first games to experiment with enemy AI, it was far from the last. One surprising example of this can be found in Amnesia: Dark Descent. Amnesia could be considered the game that kicked off the horror gaming revolution, and for good reason – it has some of the creepiest moments and enemies of any game. These enemies are disgusting to look at, can seem impossible to escape from, and it often feels like they are simply appearing out of nowhere.

It turns out that all of this is due to a very clever application of hidden mechanics, specifically regarding the behavior of these enemies. Instead of simply following the player around, these enemies actually have the goal of getting as close to the player as possible while staying outside of their line of site. They aren’t appearing out of nowhere, but they are specifically programmed to remain as unseen as possible until the moment when you turn around and OH GOD IT’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!

#8  - What Loading Screen? (Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland)

If you are into films, then you already know that one thing movie critics love is a good “one-er” – that is, a long scene or even an entire film that looks like it’s done in a single take. However, while occasionally those scenes actually were shot in a single take, more often they are simply edited together so smoothly that you can’t tell where the cuts are.

This desire to “hide the edits” is not only found in film, but in games too. Traditionally, moving from level to level requires a long loading screen while the game gets rid of old data and loads all of the new assets into memory. However, load screens tend to be boring and can grind the momentum of a game to a halt, so some designers try to “hide the edits” by loading without the player knowing that it’s happening. Sometimes this can be pretty obvious (like if you’ve basically ever ridden an elevator in a game it’s probably actually a loading screen), but other times it can be more subtle.

If done well, the game can trick the players into not even notice that the loading even happened. While there are many examples of this, I chose to highlight Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland because it’s lack of loading screens was actually a major selling point for this game. However, like any game it’s still necessary to load between levels, so how do they pull it off? It turns out that each level is connected with a “loading tunnel”, and the game can subtly control how long it takes to skate through the tunnel to allow the new level to finish loading by the time you get to the other side.

#7 - Fatal Attraction – (Half-Life 2)


While you might expect the laws of physics in a game to work similarly to real-life, often this isn’t the case. Designing a game world allows you to have complete control over every aspect of the world, including things like gravity. Gravity in games is often different from Earth for a number of reasons, most of which have to do with providing snappier, more responsive controls with less air-time.

Some games, however, get a little more creative with their gravity, such as having bullets slightly attracted to explosive objects to create more explosions. However, for this entry I want to highlight Half-Life 2. In this game enemies will become ragdolls after you kill them, and these ragdolls will be ever so slightly attracted to ledges and cliffs to fall off of. Why? Because it’s funny watching ragdolls flop around, that’s why! Do you need any other reason?

#6 Please Look Up (Portal)

Have you ever tried using somebody else’s computer, and found that when you tried to scroll the mouse the content didn’t move how you expected it to? It can be really difficult to adjust your brain to the new control scheme, and you may wonder why anybody would do it THAT way when the way YOU do it just makes so much more sense? It turns out that it’s just one of those things, like whether you wipe standing up or sitting down, that you intuitively do one way without even imagining the possibility that a whole bunch of people do things the opposite way.

Using an inverted control is another one of those things – you know intuitively how you think the camera should move when you flick the control stick, and nobody wants to have to dig through the control settings to fix it when the game gets it wrong. That’s why a number of games, such as Portal, secretly test the player’s Y-axis preference without them realizing it. Often this is done by simply asking the player to look up, and then setting the control scheme based on how the player responds. The player probably thinks the game is teaching them how to play, but they are actually teaching the game how it should behave!

#5 Perma-Death Threat (Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice)

Death in games generally isn’t that frightening – when you die you’ll generally just respawn at the last save point, dust yourself off, and try again. However, not all games work this way. Some games have permanent death with no save points, and if you die you will have to start all the way back from the beginning. This mechanic is usually found in games like Rogue-likes, where the iterations are relatively short and each time you start over your experience will be a little bit different, and such a mechanic generally would not be found in, say, a 100 hour RPG. After all, no player would want to risk investing so much time only to lose it all and have to start over from the beginning.

This is why it was so shocking when the game Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice introduced a feature that threatened to completely erase a player’s save file if they died too many times. This, in itself, was not a hidden mechanic – every time the player dies, Senua’s “dark rot” takes over more of her body, and it is clearly stated that if it reaches her head it is permanent “game over”.

In this case, the hidden mechanic is actually the absence of a mechanic – it turns out that it is actually impossible to die enough to cause permadeath in Senua’s Sacrifice. This isn’t a mistake or a bug – the designers never intended for this game to actually have permadeath – but they didn’t want the players to know that, as the mere threat of permanently losing your progress was enough to significantly increase the tension of the game.

#4 On the Edge of Death (Doom 2016)


Imagine this – you are fighting a boss, and you are pretty evenly matched. You have almost taken them down, but you only have a sliver of health left. If you take one more hit you are done for, but somehow you manage to stay one step ahead of them and are able to take them out just in the nick of time. How do you feel? Pretty good right! Maybe you even feel like a bit of a badass?

There is nothing that gets the adrenaline pumping more than narrowly escaping death with your last bit of health, which is why some games deliberately try to make these situations happen more often. How do they do this? By making your last sliver of health actually worth more than it appears. Players will assume that all parts of their health bar are equal – I take x amount of damage, and lose Y amount of health. However, behind the scenes it doesn’t necessarily work like this, and games can stack things in your favor to keep you just on the edge of death more often than not. While this mechanic can be found in several games, I want to highlight the new Doom remake because of just how well this hidden mechanic works to enhance the feeling of being a badass demon slayer.

 #3 I Didn’t Have to Miss (Bioshock)


If narrowly avoiding death is something to be encouraged in games, then it makes sense that the opposite is something that should be avoided. In this case, that would be getting killed from full health out of nowhere before you even have a chance to respond. Nobody likes getting shot by an enemy you can’t see, or getting attacked from behind by an enemy you didn’t know was there.

To avoid this, some games such as Bioshock ensure that an enemies first shot at the player will always miss, to give the player time to realize that they are being shot at. This gives players just enough warning to try and locate the enemy and protect themselves BEFORE getting gunned down. It’s very sportsmanlike.  

#2 Wiley Coyote Jumps  (Celeste)


There is a common gag in cartoons where a character will run off a cliff, but instead of falling right away they keep running until they realize that there is no ground beneath them. It’s a classic joke, but clearly the real world doesn’t work that way.

Luckily, video games aren’t the real world, and you have probably performed a Wiley Coyote jump yourself without even realizing it. In many platforming games there are situations where you want to get as close to the edge of a platform as possible before you jump to maximize your distance. However, if you press the button a fraction of a second too late your character can no longer jump because they are no longer on the platform, and you end up falling to your death. This can clearly be frustrating to the player, especially because the lag between when they press the button and when the input is actually received could be long enough to make the difference between successfully jumping and falling to your doom.

To avoid this, many games give the player a little bit of extra leeway to jump after walking off the edge. Most of the time this window is small enough that the player doesn’t even really notice that it’s there, but large enough to avoid most unfortunate close calls.

#1 The Last Round (System Shock)

For our final hidden mechanic, I want to take a look at ammunition. Shooters are such a popular genre these days that they are basically the default, and whenever you have guns you also need ammo. Generally these games are designed to make sure the player always has a steady stream of ammunition, but there is always the risk of running out of bullets and feeling pretty much helpless as your primary weapon is just dangling uselessly in the foreground of the screen.

The terror of running out of bullets can only be matched by the triumph of eliminating the last remaining enemy with your final round. To give you a bit more of a chance, some games – such as System Shock – make your last bullet do significantly more damage, which increases the odds of clearing out your enemies with your last shot.

That’s all I have for today. If you liked this video please leave a like, and subscribe so you don’t miss more videos like this in the future. If you want to see more please check out my other videos, like my last one on how to become a Jeopardy Champion. And join me next time for the next entry in my “History of Game Design” series on Dungeons and Dragons. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.
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Mon Apr 27, 2020 5:09 pm
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