Simple Gameplay In Banner Saga: A Mini Case Study

Finished Banner Saga awhile ago, but I captured this image when I was impressed by some of its simple but thought-provoking gameplay. Seems like a simple multiple-choice question, doesn’t it?


So… let’s break this down a little bit.

This challenge (and similar others) comes up midgame and has consequences on the size of your cohort, although I’m guessing that failing or nailing all of these still wouldn’t make or break you.

Still, the challenge does raise some fun tactical questions that convey the sense of a larger campaign that you don’t really see in the central gameplay.

Five choices. If I remember rightly, my smaller army was bottlenecked at a bridge and trying to break through to green pastures. Tough spot. I’d say that 2 and 4 are largely the same, but certainly 2 has its appeal since it seems to imply an aggressive attack that might lead to a successful exit. 1 was interesting since the alien dredge seemed like they might try to win by force of main. 3 didn’t seem like a good fit to me for the situation; 5 seemed like a misfit for the tight quarters.

But five options, and a bit of a word puzzle as I tried to guess at the possible interpretations based on word choices and previous experience. I ended up choosing 1, which I fear wasn’t the best. It cost me some soldiers, but also wasn’t the end of the world.

However, I was impressed by this implementation of simple gameplay. Banner Saga never puts a lot of actual units on screen — battles are staged between heroes, not hordes — but these little multiple-choice challenges are thoughtfully crafted and fit perfectly in the fiction of a large, drawn-out campaign between entrenched forces. If your cohort is drawn down to skeleton numbers, it has a real effect on your success.

Five questions. Simple gameplay. In context, this is effective game design.


Gauntlet Revived: Reworking a Classic

Just saw this trailer for the reboot of the arcade original, and it’s well done. It shows how the gameplay echoes the original, and even more importantly, it’s humorous. I like how the arrowshot at the beginning draws you through the story it’s telling.

The new game can be found on Steam.


Austin LAN Party Discounts

If you’re looking to get your game on with dozens of other Austin PC gamers this summer, you’re in luck. Mayhem Team, a very inclusive group of gamers operating under the admirable slogan “Character Above Skill,” is setting up a massive Austin LAN party at the Omni Hotel at Southpark, a good south-central location. The event, called “Operation Lone Star: 2010,” is July 9-11 and runs all weekend (Fri 12p-2a, Sat 8a-2a, Sun 8a-2p). It’s a bring-your-own-PC event with Battlefield Bad Company 2, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty 4, and other Battlefield games all on the likely docket. Prizes will be raffled off.

Shawn, aka “Rip187,” has contacted us with a set of special offers for Austin gamers:

  • $20 for Daily Gamer admission (single day, access to Sapphire level prizes)
  • $75 for Friends of Mayhem (swag bag, $89/night group hotel rate, shuttle ride to the airport, commemorative shirt, entry into all vendor drawings, keepsake ID tag)
  • $150 for “Full Boat Experience” (all of the above plus dinner on Friday and Saturday).
  • $25 extra for DG or FoM will get you entry in all the special raffles.

If you like the experience of playing videogames in the company of others, a LAN party like this is worth checking out. The Omni is at 4140 Governor’s Row, 448-2222. The event is sponsored by a huge list of recognizable names, including Thermaltake, Discount Electronics, Alienware, Intel, Enermax, Crucial, and CoolerMaster. I’m sure some of their products will show up in the raffle. If you’re interested, check out their site or fill out the contact form here and we’ll forward the info on to Shawn.


Charge That Xbox 360 Controller

charge xbox 360 controllerCharge Your Xbox 360 Controller the Smart Way

Recharging an Xbox 360 controller is totally different than charging a PS3 controller. An Xbox 360 controller, unlike the PS3 controller, has many removable battery options. If you choose, you can run your Xbox 360 controller off disposable AA batteries. However, buying new batteries and disposing of the old batteries* gets tiresome quickly.

Chances are that you have bitten the bullet on an Xbox 360 Rechargeable Battery Pack and are now looking for tips on charging your Xbox 360 controller with the RBP.

Inside the Xbox 360 Rechargeable Battery Pack

To figure out the proper way to charge your Xbox 360 controller, you gotta know what kind of batteries are inside it. And once again we have a little visual aid to show you exactly that. The answer: two Sanyo NiMH AA batteries.

Charging an Xbox 360 Controller the NiMH Way

No, NiMH doesn’t have anything to do with Mrs. Frisby and talking rats; it stands for nickel metal hydride. And as the kind folks at Battery University can attest, NiMH batteries do suffer from a memory effect and are best used in nearly-full recharge cycles. Avoid recharging your Xbox 360 controller after every use. Instead, run the battery pack down to about 20% charge and then give it a good full charge before using it again.

* Your neighborhood Radio Shack will recycle old batteries for you free. Cheers to the Shack.


PS3 Controller Charging

ps3-controller-chargingCharging Your PS3 Controller Battery

Your PS3 controller charging should have a strategy. That’s right – it’s not just playing the PS3 that demands tactical thinking.

You see, someday your PS3 (aka Sixaxis or DS3 or, if you’re looking at the controller’s model number, CECHZC2U) controller battery is going to crap out. Not today, probably not next year, but someday. Every rechargeable battery someday becomes unusable. You’ll be charging the battery over and over again for minutes and then mere seconds of gameplay.

You want battery failure day to be a long way off. So with rechargeable controller batteries, you want a charging strategy that extends the battery’s life as much as possible. Unfortunately, controller charging strategies vary radically depending on what kind of battery’s inside your controller.

What’s in Your Sixaxis: Lithium, NiMH, or NiCad?

Fortunately, some other geeks have already sacrificed a PS3 controller for science, and here’s what they found: a nice large flat lithium battery.

Not only is lithium handy for settling scrambled brains (under supervision of a medical professional), but it’s perfect for most gamers’ play habits. Lithium controller batteries thrive when charged frequently. On the flip side, they fail sooner when they are subjected to frequent full discharges.

So don’t let that USB controller-charging cable gather dust. Connect up your PS3 controller regularly and let it drink deep from the power of your sleek PS3. Charging is good. Repeat after me. Charging is good.

Other PS3 Controller Charging Tips

  • You can charge your PS3 controller off any USB port that provides power. Your laptop or cable box is fine.
  • Don’t expose your PS3 controller to extreme heat. Batteries hate heat.
  • Don’t freeze your PS3 controller to save the battery, either.
  • Lithium batteries don’t have a memory effect. Again, partially charging your PS3 controller is a good thing.
  • Lithium batteries have a lifespan, even when in the box, so be careful about buying a PS3 controller that’s used or has been rotting on the shelf.

I’ve also researched Xbox 360 controller charging strategies, and I’ll unload that on you folks next. Hint: it’s not the same as the PS3 controller charging technique.


A Game Hero Should Be Voiceless: T or F?

Game Case Study: The Voiceless Hero

The typical game hero is mute. Have you noticed?

Especially in first-person shooters, your typical game hero is a stoic son of a mesh. He has an inhuman pain tolerance, miraculous healing powers, and can tote as much military hardware as a Sherman tank. But he can’t communicate. He’ll say a few words in the cutscenes, but he’s useless otherwise.

If you’ve served in the military, you know that the average soldier is a lot happier talking about combat than getting shot at. With good reason.

If you were big on symbolism you could delve into this for all sorts of pointless conversation about the status of the modern soldier, the devolution of the archetypal hero, the social skills of today’s kids, etc. etc.

And can you imagine what a Leno or Larry King interview with Master Chief or Samus would be like?

But seriously, what does this mean to gamers and the game experience?

The Game Hero Immersion Theory

game-heroThe game hero vocalization quandry was bandied about a lot by the other game designers and me on two games in particular, the PS2 launch title Army Men: Green Rogue (blink and you missed it) and the PC space-sim Freelancer (top ten). Some game designers liked the strong silent hero because he was more intimidating that way. But the winning reason in both cases was that a talking game hero breaks the fourth wall and disturbs the illusion of verite.

(Insert jibe here about game developers who believe that “realism” is a quality to be preserved when your hero is melting animated plastic soldiers.)

The “broken illusion” argument is persuasive, although I don’t buy it. I hate to play Hollywood and dogmatically rely on previous games to support all my theories*, but I do have to point to Duke Nukem 3D, once a true rival to DOOM and a lighthearted triumph that featured a bombastic muscle-bound hero who’d spout endless and funny catchphrases like Arnold on steroids. I mean, more steroids.

Duke’s taunts and jokes were a big part of the game’s charm. He was a game hero whose verbosity added to the character and fun.

The Game Hero Clarity Issue

On Freelancer, the key question was twofold: how would the player know that the game hero was talking, and what would it add to gameplay?

During gameplay, the player was either conducting transactions baseside or flying/fighting in space. I was hoping our game hero, Trent, could talk while at the controls to break the monotony of long-haul travel and help us deal with some narrative deficits. (We had some sizeable plot holes that had to be stitched together.)

I said that Trent’s face could appear during “comms” just like the faces of other characters did when they spoke during flight. Additionally, our game hero could have sonically different comms that sounded like they were cleaner, louder, and even physically closer.

Trent was another hero who never got his gameplay voice. It’s not a huge regret for me – ask any Freelancer team member, and they’ll willingly admit that we’re all just thankful that we finished that game and got the sales we did – but I do wonder why game developers continue to pass on opportunities to enrich gameplay with the voice of the most important character in their games.

Ok, enough for one day. In my next post: The Rude Game Hero and The Situational Chatterbox Game Hero.

* One hit game does not prove a theory; it only carves a creative rut for imitators to wallow into in search of the almighty “oops I bought the wrong game for Junior!” dollar.


Uncharted 2 Steals Hearts

Uncharted 2 and Naughty Dog Revive the Adventure Genre

The Uncharted 2: Among Thieves SKU and its action/adventure gameplay are dominating the ratings at Metacritic. Adventure games? Zork? Monkey Island? Indiana Jones? Hello again. We’ve missed you.

Uncharted 2 brings back Nathan Drake (Indiana Jones?) for another round of high-stakes artifact hunting, this time to the fabled Shambhala, a remote valley in the Himalayas, where he’s pitted against a fugitive war criminal.

I don’t have a full gameplay review today — just a little celebration, and a link to Uncharted 2’s astronomical Metacritic score and review.

97, in case you’re curious — a point below all-time PS3 leader Grand Theft Auto IV.


Gears of War 2 gets a new smoke grenade

Gears of War fans, rejoice. The gameplay for those previously useless smoke grenades is getting a facelift.

In the first Gears of War, the smoke grenades were as useful as they would be in a Quake 3 deathmatch. There’s really nothing tactical about GoW; it’s a pure twitch game with zero stealth. And I’m not knocking it. It does what it does, and does it pretty dang well.

Fortunately, that gameplay is getting an upgrade. The GoW 2 smoke grenades will deliver a shock blast that stuns players within the grenades’ explosive radius. Even better: the grenades will have a unique tactical function, knocking shields out of the hands of any targets in the blast area.

(Shields are another new feature, allowing players and NPCs to roam around with a fair-sized bit of portable cover, like the jackals from Halo.)

That’s the news from here. Keep those thumbs happy.


Gameplay Cliches

Gameplay cliches get a lot of chatter, but when the game is successful and has a core experience that people enjoy, no one says a word.

Case in point: Gears of War.

Mine carts.

Ammo boxes that are strewn around abundantly.

Crates that contain ammo boxes. Also strewn around at every juncture.

Lava levels.

Gears of War has all of these gameplay cliches.

Not a peep about it in the rags.