Game Ideas: Physical DLC

I should start by saying that I haven’t actually played the Skylander game that came out last year, so I can’t speak to the quality of the game but I have been intrigued by the way they’ve handled post-release content. I really like the idea of having some kind of tangible item to go along with the DLC for your game. Some people are still a little cautious about purchasing DLC because of uncertainty of ownership. Whether you like DLC or not, it’s become a part of the gaming industry and it really doesn’t look like it’ll be going away anytime soon. So while we have it, wouldn’t it be nice to have the option to buy something tangible to go along with your new character skin/level/song/whatever? This probably wouldn’t work for every type of game (what would you buy for a COD map pack?) but I got to thinking about it tonight and it could work for quite a few series.

Pretty much any Nintendo, Sony or Sega mascot mash-up

I’d probably go broke buying characters to add to this roster.

It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Mario party, Mario Kart, Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing, or the upcoming Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, chances are somebody’s favorite character is going to be left in the cold. These forgotten characters should be sold as action figures that can be downloaded into your game. Using Skylanders as a template, you could package an action figure with a code for a new level and maybe a new item. So for Mario Kart 7, I could buy a Waluigi action figure (w/ kart) and also get a code for a track based around him and possibly a re-skin for an existing item or a completely new one. If you buy a figure for a character who’s already in the game, then maybe you could offer a download for a re-skin so that the player feels like they have a little more ownership over that character.

Racing Games

Maybe a Hot Wheels version of your favorite cars?

Okay, this one seems like a no-brainer all the way. Why hasn’t anyone already inked a deal with Mattel? Those guys make Hot Wheels for crying out loud! Think of a game like Gran Turismo, Need for Speed or Forza Motorsport where you can go buy a Hot Wheels version of the car you want and transfer it into your game. Even if you don’t want the Hot Wheels car… who cares? If you were buying the DLC anyway, why not get something extra with it? Maybe it’s just me but that seems like a win-win for both parties. It increases the shelf-space and visibility of your game, you get collectors trying to buy up all of your toys and the players get a tangible item to go along with their in game item. I’ll continue to be shocked if this never happens.

The Lego games

New constructs and levels built for him? I’ll take 12.

This one stumps me a bit. They already make physical toys based on the same titles that they make games for but they don’t tie the two together beyond the property they’re based on. I don’t want to advocate taking content out of a game but they pack a lot of characters into each of these titles and a lot of them just feel like re-skins. If they were to leave some of the popular characters out (lets say Nightwing, Aquaman, etc in the new Lego Batman) then they could take the time to tailor make some levels based around those characters. Like I said, I don’t like the idea of taking content out of a game so lets go with a different approach. Since they already make the toys, just start packaging some codes inside the boxes that give the player something new in their game. Maybe make a Green Arrow (really hoping he’s in the game, btw) Lego set that gives Lego Batman 2 players some new trick arrows and a couple of levels based on the set they just bought. Or, a Green Lantern set that gives players all-new light constructs and some levels based on the set.

Maybe this is all just me and my nerdist mindset kicking in on this topic but I’m surprised no other company has jumped on this bandwagon yet. Some of them even have things in place to get started (looking at you Lego guys). As an adult, I love the idea of buying a toy and then “bringing it to life”, so I can only imagine what it must be like for a kid. I know child-me would have flipped out over this if it was around back then. Even without that aspect, I still just think it’s a nice added value for those of us who are already buying DLC for their games. I do want to point out that I don’t think it should be the only means of obtaining the content. Keep the download only version for those who aren’t into buying toys. I just think it’s a fun option that benefits both industries and I’d like to see others try something with it.

So what do you think? If more companies jumped onto the Physical DLC (not sure if that’s even the term to use) bandwagon, would you jump on with them? If so, what would you be interested in seeing? If not…well, why not?

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Game Ideas: Starhawk Multiplayer Modes

My current gaming obsession is undoubtably Starhawk on the PS3. If you aren’t playing it, shame on you. It’s a fantastic third person shooter with a unique multiplayer experience thanks to it’s “build and battle” system (I gush because I love). The game is clearly built as a multiplayer experience and I wanted to take a minute to put some multiplayer mode ideas onto the blog that I think could be really fun.

Rift Harvester (small to medium gametype)

If you aren’t familiar with Starhawk, then you’ll need to know that the game’s story is built around the idea of people going into a “gold rush” type frenzy over something called rift energy. This energy source is so important that the build and battle system also revolves around it. What I’d like to do with this mode is bring a little bit of the single player experience over to the multiplayer.

Keep the harvesters safe at all costs.

Rift Harvester mode would work kind of like a reverse version of Zones. But, instead of scrambling to capture and hold as many zones as possible, players would take turns trying to destroy the opposing team’s rift harvesters. It would be a turn based mode, with each team taking turns on offense and defense. The team on offense can only spawn within the pre-determined bases (they can build all they want within that space) and the team on defense can spawn/build anywhere outside of the bases. A match ends when all rift harvesters have been destroyed or when the game reaches a specified time limit.

This mode would revolve entirely around base defense except, one team has multiple bases that they’ll need to defend and the other team could be outside of any of them. We’d need to balance this out. Probably by reducing the team or map sizes for this game mode. That way things aren’t too spread out, making it hard for teams to attack or defend. If everything works the way I hope it would, then the final moments of a game would be one big battle over a single rift harvester.

Harvester Overload (small, medium or large gametype)

This one is pretty quick to explain and if you’ve ever played the chain reaction game mode in Uncharted, then you pretty much know how it works. Harvester Overload would require teams to take over zones in a specific order (numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) in an attempt to overload the other team’s rift harvester. There would only be the 5 zones on the map and anytime a team takes over a zone, the other team will need to recapture the previous zone before they can continue. So, if team 1 takes zone 3, team 2 will need to recapture zone 4 before they can move on to capture 3. Once one team has all 5 zones, a meter will start to build up, showing how long until the opposing team’s Harvester overloads.

Paycheck (small, medium or large gametype)

Another easy to grasp game mode. In Paycheck, there is a single rift harvester on the map and each team is fighting to complete the job. Players start on opposite sides of the map and rush to the middle to build their rift harvester before the other team. Whoever has the harvester in place, starts to collect rift energy for the client. First team to the specified amount wins. Teams would have a home base where they could collect weapons and vehicles before attacking, otherwise the game mode would be based around limited resources for whoever isn’t holding the rift harvester. This would need some serious balancing obviously but I think it could be fun.

‘Hawk Rush (small, medium or large gametype)

Flying in the Hawks is one of the best parts in the game.

For ‘Hawk Rush, think of a base assault or bomb the base style of play, only the players are always within a Hawk. There would be a single rift bomb in the middle of the map and each team would try to deliver it to the opponent’s base and defend it until it explodes. The other team could defuse the bomb by destroying it (yes that would probably make a bomb explode but lets suspend belief). This would probably need to be a best two out of three of three out of five game type but it depends on the difficulty in achieving the goal. I love these kinds of game modes and I think playing this gametype only within a Hawk would make for some intense matches.

So there you have it. These are just a few of the modes I was thinking about while playing Starhawk tonight. I didn’t completely flesh them out or try to think about balancing issues. It was more of an exercise in brainstorming and trying to think of things that could match the play style and the Starhawk universe. If you have any ideas or want to build on what I’ve written, leave a comment.

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Taking On Crossplay – Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

One of my favorite features of the PS Vita is the crossplay ability it has with the Playstation 3. Having the ability to play a game on my big screen at home and then continue the same game on a portable when I leave is truly one of those things I used to dream about as a kid. It hasn’t really been used for anything beyond that though and while it’s still a new feature within the industry, I’d like to see developers spread their wings a bit and really try something unique with it. I was just reading an announcement on the the Playstation Blog about Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time coming to the Vita and thought this would be a perfect game to try new crossplay features.

More Sly Cooper is always a good thing.

One thing to keep in mind is that the PS Vita is a portable machine; meaning most people aren’t going to play for extended periods of time, so we should stick with ideas that are quick for the player. Because of that, most of these ideas will end up being expansions onto what the player would do in the main game or mini-games (for lack of a better term) that provide benefits in the main game.

Vita specific side missions

This might qualify as a “lowest hanging fruit” idea but…who cares? I think it’d be fun and it could take advantage of the Vita hardware. The side missions wouldn’t be crucial to the main game’s storyline (we don’t want to leave PS3 gamers in the cold of course) but they would offer added value and possibly build upon the story’s foundation.

From my understanding, Sly 4’s story revolves around him discovering his ancestors and using their unique abilities (I’m trying not to spoil it for myself so that may not be up to date). We could use that premise to give Vita gamers a side-story that revolves around Sly trying to find an ancestor’s Thievious Raccoonus page that isn’t in the PS3 version of the game. Owners of both versions could, of course, transfer this new ability into their PS3 game save. These new side missions would be built around the Vita’s unique qualities. Picking locks or cracking safes with the touch screen, dodging laser sensors using the motion controls, basically anything that would be unique to the Vita without stepping on the main game.

Side missions could be based around one or all of the Cooper Gang.

Or, we could base these around Bentley (the tech guru) since his gameplay is more gadget based. The missions could be about Bentley going out to test his latest and greatest inventions. There could be one gadget per Vita feature and completing all of the missions for that gadget would unlock it for use in the PS3 version of the game. We could do things like perfecting a voice modulator for Sly by recreating sounds using the Vita’s microphone. Bentley would play a noise and the player would have to try and mimic it. Once it’s unlocked in the PS3 version, Sly could use it to unlock voice controlled doors and gain access to new areas/missions. That might be a bit convoluted on paper and it may not work out in practice but come on, it’s 3 am and we’re just brainstorming ideas. That’s the best time to come up with the oddball ideas and you get the point, right?

New character, Parallel story

We could go with a more focused approach. A side story that runs parallel with the main game and provides a fun, outsiders, view of what happens in the main story. We could create a new character and say that he’s been a big fan of the Cooper Gang. He’s out to prove he belongs on the team, so he tags along in secret and tries to help however he can. He needs to be an animal, so lets make him a mole, because every good group of thieves needs a tunneler, right?

Our new character could look like this. Only, more cartoony and less old man meets creepy troll.

Between Sly, Murray, and Bentley, we have stealth, action, and gadget focused gameplay covered. So with our new character, we could focus on strategy gameplay. He’s a digger, so his missions would revolve around trying to dig his way into where ever the gang is trying to break in. Each location would have almost a labyrinth-like security system in place under their base and players would need to use a combination of touch screen and motion controls to navigate and/or disable the hazards. We should probably put some kind of timer or “air gauge” in place to create a sense of panic for the player.

Our new hero’s story can’t really interact with the main story (again, don’t want to leave out PS3 gamers) so he should always get there right after the Cooper Gang has left. Almost a “The Princess is in another castle” sort of deal but the player will get their payoff at the end. There could be some sort of unlockable content for the PS3 version (like what was mentioned above) but this idea is more about giving Vita players some added value.

Vita as an in-game gadget

No I don’t want the Vita to actually exist in the Sly Cooper world but I do think it would be cool to allow Vita owners (who own both versions, of course) to use their Vitas as a special controller for the PS3 version. It would act almost like a real world gadget for the player. You could activate a camera using the Vita’s touch screen, which would turn on the Vita’s actual camera, aim it at the TV and use the Vita’s AR capabilities to show the players things in the level that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise. This could be locations of hidden items, secret areas, or even the stealthiest way to complete an objective. There’s all sorts of things you could try with that. Maybe even have them find gameplay elements around their own home.

Using that same example, they could use it for hacking computers by using the touch screen. Or, the screen could act as the camera on a spy plane or RC car and the player could use those to scout out enemy locations and tag them on their map (which could also be on the Vita’s screen). Taking pictures of enemies, using the Vita’s AR ability, could unlock character bios or show the players the best way to defeat certain enemies.

Again, there’s probably so much more we could do with these features and I’ll probably come back to this topic at a later date. If anyone has read this far (thank you) and has any ideas, I’d love to hear more thoughts on this.

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Tap Championship Wrestling: The Beginning

Like millions of people around the world, I enjoy the wonderful world of professional wrestling. By proxy, wrestling games are some of my favorites and probably my most played within the fighting genre. Wrestling games are extremely hit-or-miss, unfortunately. They’re either too slow and clunky or so over the top fast that they turn into button mashers. With this is mind, I was very excited to try out some wrestling games on my iPad just to see how the touch screen was utilized to breath new life into the genre.

Ugh, too many virtual buttons.

All I was met with was virtual buttons and virtual analog sticks, as the games I played tried to mimic the games you’d find on other platforms. It feels like such a missed opportunity. Touch screen games should be used to create new experiences, whether it’s in a new genre or an old one. Players should have the feeling like they’re directly manipulating the environment/characters when they touch the screen, not constantly making sure they’re hitting the correct virtual button. That’s why, for the last few months when I’ve had time, I’ve been thinking of a design approach that I could use for my own touch screen wrestling game. I’ll chronicle my progress here on the blog with concept art, story, controls, etc.

Even MORE virtual controls!

So far, I’ve made decent progress in regards to the concept phase but things will probably be slow in the actual building of the game due to it being a one man operation at the moment (hoping to add another person) and I’m still learning some stuff. That said, I’ll try to keep the updates coming regularly and I look forward to hearing what you guys think. Starting today, it’s time to bring Tap Championship Wrestling (TCW) to life!

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Game Ideas: Crazy Taxi 4

Anyone who knows me, even a little bit, knows how big of a Sega nerd I am. I grew up playing games on my various Sega systems (even the 32x, CD, and Nomad for crying out loud) and I count those games as some of the biggest influences on my career path and the designs I come up with. So, from time to time, I like to imagine what some of my favorite Sega titles would look like if they got a new entry on today’s consoles. One of the games I played religiously after school everyday was Crazy Taxi. To this day, I still think that game is a great example of simple-yet-engaging game design. It’s been on my brain for a couple of days so I thought I’d take the opportunity to list out some ideas that I would love to see if we were ever blessed with another Crazy Taxi title.

So many games have tried to capture what made Crazy Taxi special but it was usually by sticking you in another type of vehicle and then mimicking the timer aspects. What I want to try and do here is build upon the core concepts, while adding in some modern gaming conventions. With all that said, here’s what I would love to see in a future installment.

Let the player build their own cab company

I don’t want to make the game overly complicated but I would like to give the player a sense of ownership over their game. Let them start up their own cab company. They could choose a name, cab colors, and create their own crazy cabbie. The money they gather while playing the game would go towards their company and affect their ability to buy better cabs and possibly better offices. The licenses that they acquire would either build up or bring down their reputation as a company. A higher reputation would unlock more challenging fares on the different maps, while a bad reputation would keep the fares relatively simple.

Not only would this give the player a sense of ownership, it would allow the game to evolve as the player gets better at the game. The player wouldn’t just be trying to achieve a large amount of cash and a good license for the sake of it, they would be doing so because it would benefit different aspects of the game. This would hopefully get them to become repeat players.

Multiple Cities

Give the player more sights to see.

This ones a little bit shorter in detail but a fourth Crazy Taxi needs to have multiple cities. Let the player start up their company in the entry city (maybe a revamped version of the original map) and then they can expand into the harder cities as their reputation and wealth builds up. This would provide an opportunity to bring back the cities from the first three games and possibly add in two or three more new maps. Having multiple cities would really help remove some of the monotony of only playing the same map over and over.

Online Play

This is probably the biggest no-brainer but it’s also one that opens up so many possibilities. Imagine an ever-present competition between you and your friends as you try to build your cab company into the largest one around. Anyone on your friends list, who owns the game, would be represented and fighting for territory amongst the games five to six maps. There could be an “auto-log”-like feature that updates the player and lets them know that their friend’s cab company just earned a higher reputation amongst the patrons of the Pizza Hut near Big Hills Park. Leader boards and the like would be a natural extension and would show who the top cab company in the entire world is (how much money, how many S licenses, reputation, etc).

Four cabs flying around, competing for fares? Take my money Sega!

Another natural extension would, of course, be online play. If a player saw his/her friend online, trying to beat their score, they could jump into that map and either try to block their friend from completing the fare or quickly try to elevate their own standing. Four players would probably need to be the max on something like this since you don’t want the map to become overly crowded. Players could also have the option to allow people who aren’t on their friends to jump into their city and compete for territory. And, of course, there would have to be a matchmaking option for people who just want to play a standard game of Crazy Taxi with four strangers online.

Online Crazy Box

Who’s ready for some Kkkeeeeerrrazzaay Bowling?!

This one should probably go into online play but I’m separating it just because of how much fun I think it would be. The crazy box challenges are incredibly fun on their own but imagine how fun it would be if you could play them with your friends. Maybe a few frames of crazy bowling, see who can get the most drift points in a set amount of time, or who can land the longest crazy jump. Any of the challenges would be playable with friends or strangers and there could even be a few special co-op challenges just for the multiplayer.

Those were the ideas that have been banging around in my head the past couple of days. There’s probably some holes in there that need fixing and there’s probably a lot more that could be done other than what I have written. So, what do you think? Anything you’d like to add? I’d love some feedback and to possibly hear any ideas from some fellow Crazy Taxi players.

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The Blue Shell Alternative

Aside from analyzing game mechanics and talking about ideas, one of my goals with this blog is to shine a spotlight on examples of great game design ideas. I was reading some game developer interviews over the weekend and I believe I found one such example. First, a little background.

Death from above

Anyone who’s played Mario Kart is probably familiar with the dreaded blue shell. If not, its an item given to a trailing racer that they can send off to attack the player currently in first place. Despite what some people will tell you, this item is not a guaranteed hit anymore and can be guarded if your timing is right. The problem is that not everybody has perfect timing and getting hit with a blue shell usually happens at the worst possible moment (like seconds from the finish line). I understand the purpose of the item is to keep races unpredictable and give less-skilled players a fighting chance but ultimately, if you are a skilled Mario Kart racer, it usually just feels like you’re being punished.

Easy Defense

Some recent kart racers have tried to remedy this type of problem by allowing their racers to have some form of defense; most notably Modnation Racers and it’s shield mechanic. This type of mechanic brings on a problem all of it’s own though. Any player who is good enough at building up power for their shield/boost meter (which isn’t that hard to do) can block just about anything that is thrown their way. Basically, it helps widen the gap between the player in first and the players behind them. Its almost on the opposite end of the blue shell spectrum because now the skilled players seem to have all of the advantage, making it harder for a casual player to feel competitive. So, what is the happy middle ground to fix this problem?

Please have Ristar, please have Ristar….

Well, it sounds like the team at Sumo Digital may have come up with a simple and intuitive sounding mechanic that falls somewhere in between. I was reading an article where one of the developers was answering fan questions about the new game and, like clockwork, someone asked about a blue shell type weapon being in the game. The developer answered with the following:

“As if we’d put in a Blue Shell. A little faith guys! What it does is drop things in front of first place, you can avoid them, but even doing that will slow you down. It doesn’t however hit you in an unstoppable way with (hardly any) means of defense.”

I read this and was almost immediately hit with a why-hasn’t-anyone-thought-of-this-before feeling (if they have, I apologize. I’ve never encountered it). Now, obviously I haven’t had a chance to try this for myself but, on paper, this sounds like a perfect way of bridging the gap between the two previous examples. Casual players will have a potentially game changing item at their disposal to help them get back into the action but not at the expense of a skilled player’s perfectly played race.

There are some questions that immediately come to mind about how well this method will actually work. How easy is it to avoid these items? If it’s too easy then there’s no point; too hard and we’re back where we started. How often will trailing players get the items? Just how much does it slow you down to avoid it? These are all balancing questions though. Things I fully expect the guys/gals at Sumo Digital to figure out before release. But amidst all of the silly “copycat” talk that is surrounding Sonic & All-Stars Racing: Transformed, I wanted to single out just one of the simple, yet inventive, ways Sumo Digital is tackling the kart genre and one of its’ annoyances that has plagued it for well over a decade.

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Changing Killstreaks

For my first real post, I thought I should talk about something a lot of people are familiar with. Killstreaks are fairly commonplace these days and considering the fact that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was finally unveiled a few short hours ago, I figured where better to start?

Now if you aren’t familiar with that way killstreaks work in Call of Duty, here’s a very brief run down.

    1. Player chooses killstreaks to use in game. Let’s use the UAV for example purposes.
    2. Game starts.
    3. Player kills a set amount of enemies without dying. In this case 3.
    4. UAV becomes available to player.

It’s simple really. The player then has that killstreak available to them until they use it and then it has to be earned again. This is by no means a bad way to handle the mechanic and they did make changes in the most recent Call of Duty in order to help balance things out, I just thought it might be fun to see if improvements could be made.

One of the most common complaints I hear from my Call of Duty playing friends is that too many people camp out in certain areas of the map because they are only concerned with earning their next big killstreak. In deathmatch modes this isn’t really a problem since you’re just trying to kill the enemy but in objective based modes, it can hurt the overall team experience. So it got me thinking that we need a way to get players to want to move around the map. These types of players don’t care about the objective. They’re lone wolf types, so their killstreaks are their objective. So let’s try to kill two birds with one stone here. We can tweak the killstreak system and have it work in a way to help the camping situation.

So what is this magical solution? We split off the really desirable killstreaks into their own group, which is time-based. That may sound confusing at first but stay with me on this. Basically, what we’ll end up with is two types of killstreaks. In the first group, everything will act exactly like it’s set up in the most recent iteration of Call of Duty. This will be the group for things like the UAV and other lower-tier killstreaks. In the second group, killstreaks will be earned by killing enemies in quick succession. This will be the group for things like the Osprey Gunner, Chopper Gunner, etc. So how would we make this work? I say it needs to be kept simple and easy to understand, so here it goes (since regular killstreaks will still work the same as above, I’ll only focus this list on the new style).

    1. Player has chosen the Osprey Gunner for their second group killstreak. Let’s say this will require 6 kills.
    2. Game starts.
    3. Player kills their first enemy.
    4. Timer starts.
    5. The player now has to kill another enemy before the timer runs out.
    6. If they kill the required amount of enemies before the timer runs out then they earn their killstreak.

On paper, this sounds like it could keep the lone wolf style players out and running around like we want them to. Everyone will still have the ability to earn killstreaks by racking up kills without dying but this would add a new dynamic to the game. Players would be almost frantic trying to find that next enemy to shoot so that they can keep their timer running. Lone wolf players would want/need to be closer to objectives so that they’re close to the action and can get those desirable killstreaks, which should help the entire team’s experience.

Again, this all sounds good on paper and it’s hard to really say whether or not it would work without playtesting it but I think it’s a good start. How about you?

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