Hi! This is the development website for our game Aztez, a hybrid of two distinct game types: sidescrolling real-time beat 'em up gameplay (the deep and expressive kind) and turn-based strategy gameplay (like a board game). This website serves two purposes; a technical journal on the analysis and creation of combat heavy beat 'em up games (table of contents here), and a news source for development and progress of Aztez. Here's the most ecent "devplay" video in which I play the game and ramble into my headset about recently implemented mechanics.
VIDEO UPDATED ON March 4th, 2013!
It's time for another official combat analysis, and this time it's an independently developed beat 'em up! It's called Guacamelee and it's available now on the PS3 and Vita. It's a Metroidvania style game where you regularly switch between the world of the living and the world of the dead, each having slightly different configurations of floors and walls. It also happens to be a combat heavy game with a big emphasis on mob crushing, and what they have done here is worth evaluating. Guacamelee was developed by Drinkbox Studios, a 12-15 person team from Toronto. As of this writing, I've completed the game.
A critical part of the human brain wants to overcome obstacles. We all know this to be true, because when we successfully overcome something we experience a distinct sense of pleasure. That is our brain sending a message to the body that "Hey yeah that was fucking awesome you should do that more because it make you even more fucking awesome and more likely to LIVE". Our highly evolved neurological systems have come to understand for themselves what is good for you, and this reward process is an iconic example of this. Recall now what it felt like when society graduated you after all that work, or when you experienced your first major professional success, or when you narrowly avoided that terrible thing because of a smart decision you made. So what does this have to do with beat 'em ups?
At GDC I did an interview for Unwinnable.com. Unwinnable is a great site, by the way! You should like them and read them.
Anyway, I shared the interview on Twitter and my esteemed thought colleague Hamish Todd asked me if I really only ever play beat 'em ups for 3 hours before never touching them again. Then he said that he'd love to know why that is. It's a good question and I'm going to answer it!
When analog sticks were born, the way walking and running was implemented in games changed. But before I go into that, it's important to understand the key differences between the joystick on a traditional arcade machine and the little analog stick on your console controller. When you push on an arcade stick, it's pressing down on one or two of four different little buttons that lie underneath the stick. Each button only has two states: pushed and non-pushed. So when you push the stick upward it's going to press on the northern button and when you push the stick up and left it's pressing on both the northern button and the western button. Now when you push on an analog stick, it's cross-referencing two different axises (a "left to right" axis and a "up to down" axis) and the controller is finding the precise location the stick is resting at, which could be anywhere inside that plastic circle your analog stick is poking out of. With all this extra possibility space, you can alter the way the player tells the character on the screen to move. What I'm gonna talk about here is the three major ways this can be done based on the implementation across a handful of different games. The first variant of this is the most straightforward.
Inspired by the amazing work that Team Hitbox likes to post on their Tumblr account in animated GIF form, I underwent the process of figuring out how to do the same thing. I've experimented with this before but with terrible terrible results. GIFs are such a fun and easy way to share exciting motion, and now that I've figured it out I'd love to share it so you can do the same thing with your awesome game. First things first, you need to capture some footage. I use Fraps. It's a super useful and cheap program that will capture a window and dump a near lossless video in the directory of your choice. There are many options for video capture and you should use whatever you're comfortable with. But Fraps is my preference and always has been. For me, I set up a scene right in Unity and tell Fraps to capture right out of the viewport.
A fascinating subject that came up in the comments of my post about animation issues in Kingdom Of Amalur was about the key distinctions between beat 'em ups and its "cousin" genres. I wanted to quickly elaborate on those splits and changes and touch on the essence of each of them from a game play point of view. I mostly want to answer the question "What is a Beat 'Em Up?" out loud so we can all agree and move on. Haha! But first let's talk about a really important spectrum; the danger level of an individual attack.
I had this idea a little over a year ago to record myself playing the game while I ramble into my microphone headset about newly implemented features, art, design decisions, future plans, and so on and so forth. When one hit Kotaku and they started getting 10k views, I figured they were worth continuing to make. I produced a new one tonight, and while it was rendering/uploading, I went and watched the previous ones. It almost made me shed a tear being face to face with how much the game has changed and grown up. But it also made me wince, sneer, and gasp painfully at previous iterations of the game. But in a good way. :)
Anyway, here are all the dev plays in one convenient place. And I'll update this post as I continue to make them. Hit the jump to see the rest.
David Rosen over at Wolfire (creators of Lugaru, Overgrowth, and the Humble Bundle) suggested that I make an analysis similar to the ones I usually do here on the blog except in video/spoken format. I figured it was worth a try so I ended up making a couple in the last week: one for Warhammer 40k: Space Marine and one for Darksiders 2. The response was good so I'm sharing them here now and opening it up for feedback. Keep in mind that because of the short video format, I can't go into nearly as much depth as I do in my written analyses, so the videos take the form of a mechanic analysis, where I evaluate the game's mechanics in an open area without enemies. I always do this whenever I get my hands on a combat heavy game for the first time, and I've found this exercise terrifically useful. Anyway, here they are! Let me know what you'd like to see from videos like this in the future.
I will continually update this entry with new videos as I make them. Hit the jump to see the rest!
This is a list of the highly influential articles on game combat that I've collected and sat upon over the years. I should not have been sitting on these for so long! Please dive in and enjoy. If you have anything that you feel should be in this list, please let me know and I'll add it. :)
- Very in-depth article about enemy behavior by Tom Smith, a creative director at THQ.
- Incredible overview of the animation principles at work in Capcom's Darkstalkers.
- Really fun behind-the-scenes vignette on God Of War 3 from some of its key design guys.
- Video interview about combat intent in God Of War 3's development with combat lead Adam Puhl. I've had some email exchanges with Adam and he's a rad dude who knows his stuff.
- Higher level discussion about combat from Jason McDonald, combat designer on God Of War: Ascension.
- Interesting animation-centric discussion on proper sword movement.
Before I say anything at all, just know that this combat analysis is primarily based on its independent merits, and only partially based on the merits of the old games. A comparison would be unfair since (as far as I know) this was not even touched by the Japanese developers of the first four games, but it's not completely avoidable since it became clear very quickly that Ninja Theory is trying to preserve the mechanical spirit of the previous entries. With that being said, I am joyously, delightfully, enthusiastically, proudly declaring that Ninja Theory has finally made some great combat. I was shocked and disturbed when it was announced that Capcom had given them the reigns, as their previous games (Kung Fu Chaos, Heavenly Sword and Enslaved) were generic combat experiences at best and awkward drunken haphazard combat experiences at worst. But they finally grew up and delivered. Keep in mind this is also based on the downloaded 360 marketplace demo! As of this writing, the full game isn't out yet. Anyway, here it goes:
An amazing thing happened in the last stretch of our Mexico work trip! We released a Friends and Family build and the feedback was hugely positive and also very thorough! Now I have a very liberal approach to feedback; if it can be implemented, played with, and marinated on without disrupting the flow of the project I will do it on principle, provided I haven't already explored the issue previously. There have been many minor (and major) pieces of feedback that have improved the game and I think it's a good, albeit authorially uncomfortable policy. Not every piece of feedback is valuable and is worth investigating, but in my experience, MOST are. I wanted to write about this fascinating fork I'm standing at right now with the appeal of the scrappers on one side and the appeal of the masters on the other.
We wanted to let you know what was happening over at Team Colorblind with Aztez. Right now (and until Dec. 20th) Matthew and I are in Sayulita, Mexico. It's in a beach town on the west coast and it's beautiful. Why are we there? Because as you know, we don't shy away from contract work over here at Colorblind because it means we'll have that much more time/money to make Aztez the best game it can possibly be. But it is also the reason there is occasional deceleration. Not for now! We realized we have an unusual window free of external obligations and decided to go into isolation paradise and really slam the axe down on Aztez. It's very exciting and I just wanted to share it with you. By the time we get back we'll have some very exciting things to show off and I'm squirming over here thinking about it.
Steam Greenlight recently launched! What a great idea from a great company who made a great service! But it hit a strange snag in its first couple days and the response made the independent game developer community blow up. The fact that they're freaking out about this right now is making me a little bit sick so I had to puke up my two cents before I could get back to work making games. But first, some context:
Read Me, Game Industry Layman!
Steam is an online store for PC games. It was created and is run by a company in Seattle called Valve, who created the service years ago to digitally distribute their own games. When that was massively successful, they opened it up to the rest of the AAA industry. When that was massively successful, they opened it up to the indies. When that was massively successful, they decided it was too difficult (even for their highly competent and dedicated staff) to filter through all of the games that were submitted every day for placement on the service. Greenlight was their solution.
I was compelled to put this timeline together after someone told me that they were under the impression that a specific beat 'em up was more seminal than it actually is. So instead of offering a lengthy explanation I put together the chronological facts. As it stands, it's the cursory data that is easily available on Wikipedia (all of the timeline's articles link to the corresponding Wikipedia entry) but I may supplement it with more interesting information about mechanical evolution if enough people show interest.
There are three strata of individuals that play beat 'em ups in distinct ways at specific skill levels. What's interesting about these skill divisions is that they're based on a hierarchy of requirements. Because of this, I've come to realize that it's not only possible to please them all, but it's highly advisable! This article explains the nature of these divisions, why you want to please their members, and how to go about doing it.
Division 1: "The Scrappers"
The scrappers are the the lowest level player in terms of skill, but this is not a condemnation! They are playing beat 'em ups for what is arguably the purest reason; just to have fun being violent. They simply enjoy pushing buttons and experiencing a sense of power and impact when they do. Their zone is the quick feedback loop of aggressive burst > defend > move > aggressive burst > defend > move > etc. Essentially, they are the button mashers.