Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

The Ratio Of Sex To Story

We're getting ready to fuse the fun beat 'em up we've made with the fun turn-based strategy game we've made and concern is growing about whether this fusion will be fun or not. The reason I came up with this fusion in the first place is because I desperately wanted to try something new and shake things up in the hopes that this type of game can be way more fun. Since there's never really been a game like this before (there's been games very similar in concept but not in execution) we don't really have a way of knowing if it's going to work. In the wake of this concern I've been thinking about porn, and the ratio of sex to story.


Beat ‘Em Up Sales Numbers

I've studied these numbers across the year, developer, and even climate. I'm starting with Devil May Cry 1 because I believe that's when the third and most recent age of beat 'em ups began, marked by their migration to consoles after their presence in arcades ended in 1997 after the release of Capcom's Battle Circuit.

Devil May Cry

  • Developer/Director: Capcom/Hideki Kamiya
  • Released: October 2001
  • Units Sold: 2.7 Million (PS2 exclusive)
  • Why: DMC was a hugely publicized launch-era title (end of the first year) for the PS2, as it should have been. It essentially ushered in the new age of the genre by introducing so many innovations and novelties it changed the face of the action game completely and its influence is still felt today. Its success was no marketing phenomenon though; it's an incredibly solid product.

Devil May Cry 2

  • Developer/Director: Capcom/Hideaki Itsuno
  • Released: January 2003
  • Units Sold: 1.8 Million (PS2 exclusive)
  • Why: DMC2 was taken from Kamiya and given to Itsuno, a then newcomer to combat. The game just wasn't very solid as either a game or a combat experience (I think it somehow got worse) but it had the already all-powerful DMC brand attached to it and that got it into the hands of a lot of people. For what it's worth, Itsuno would eventually prove himself as a remarkable action game director.

What Happens When Struck

What exactly happens to the entities in a combat play space when they get struck by an attack is important for two reasons: because the player needs to be punished for making a mistake and allowing themselves to get struck, and also because the player needs to feel a certain way when they successfully strike enemies. But there are a lot of factors involved in a struck event both on the player and enemy entity side of the equation, and these properties can be mixed up in various ways to control EXACTLY where the player lands on the emotional spectrum when entities get struck.


Why I’m Doing This

I recently got into a super interesting conversation with the guy that wrote this article on the game God Hand (an entirely remarkable game experience; his write-up is fascinating and worthy of your attention). He's a brazen and intelligent mandude (we need more of these) who at some point in our very engaging conversation asked me an important question. "Why do you do this? Why design and criticize beat 'em ups?"  I realized that before I could answer him I had to do a little digging and this is what I brought back up with me from the hot, wet mind-earth.


The Action Game Scenario Design Dump

This a brain dump of single player action game scenario variables that I want to curate not just for inspiration and reference, but also to hopefully introduce more standardized vocabulary to use amongst craftsmen of our ilk. So, first things first. This is a distillation of the most common configurations of enemies that are encountered in single player action games.


Improperly Enforcing Different Skill Sets

Most games train the player in a specific set of skills, and more engaging games condition the player to utilize them effectively. Some games will at some point, enforce upon the player a facet of gameplay that requires a completely different set of skills. Now sometimes this is fun! But far too often (especially in beat 'em ups, where game structure often goes dangerously neglected) the newly required skill set is not properly introduced to the player, and there is a harsh expectation that they should learn it and succeed with it, sometimes in high-pressure situations.  What's worse is that sometimes the newly required skill set is far less engaging, or even contradictory, to the skills the player has been developing up to that point.

A skill set that gets enforced without proper introduction: I mentioned this in my Castlevania combat analysis; the final boss of the game casts an effect on the play space that mires the players approach. The player must utilize a mechanic they have become familiar with, in this case switching the character's "combat mode". They must match the character's color-coded mode to the color of the effect on the ground in order to not get knocked down and away from the boss. You can see it in this video if you'd like. The problem here is that this is completely foreign from the mechanic's traditional usage, and it is most definitely in a high-pressure situation. Even the high level player in that video awkwardly navigates the effect in order to get within striking distance again. The expectation set at this moment is very inappropriate and I personally found it incredibly jarring.


Beat ‘Em Up Sheet Music

When I was trying to establish what exactly made the attacks and combos in beat 'em ups feel so specific and distinct from each other, I decided to scrutinize the animations from some of these games frame by frame. The first thing I did was grab a hi-def capture card from the office so I could plug my 360 in and start recording. I started by evaluating the bread and butter standing combos and understanding what's happening on a frame by frame basis, and my findings were very insightful. I'll save the nitty gritty details for another post, but what I ended up doing was making a printable template that I like to call "beat 'em up sheet music". It's a very simple idea, but it lets you avoid the staggering tedium of drawing out countless hundreds of tick marks on little timelines so that you can get back to the investigation. I'll go into how I specifically used it, but first know you can click this image to download a JPEG of the sheet music so you can print it out and use it yourself.


The Mash Flow

Mash flow is the very simple concept of what exactly your fingers are doing while you're fighting a group of enemies in a beat 'em up game. There are a handful of integral types, and while there are many subtle strains of these types, I'm going to break down and scrutinize the big boys.

Type 1: Super Traditional


Difficulty In Beat ‘Em Ups

The idea of difficulty in a beat 'em up seems straightforward, but once you dig in and really pick apart why a particular game feels so easy or so hard, you'll quickly find it's pretty hairy. Keep in mind this is not a discussion about difficulty on the higher game-structure level; for a couple notes on that check out the previous post on Challenge Vs. Punishment. This is about the difficulty on the moment-to-moment encounter level. I've found that you can really evaluate it by posing a few really important questions:


Characters Adhering To Input

One of the most fascinating thing about beat 'em ups (and by extension, fighting games) is the way they manage and deliver input from the player. It's easy to assume that whatever input the player provides gets pushed directly to the character object, but this is far from the truth. More often that not, the input is being parsed by the engine and chopped into manageable sequences before it gets fed to the character and expressed. For example, the necessary motion to execute Zangief's 360 piledriver in Street Fighter 2 is a 360 rotation of the stick followed by a punch. It would seem that the game is waiting for the stick to make the full rotation but in actuality it is only really listening for about 270 degrees of rotation. You may think you're going through the motions when you execute the move on a full 360 rotation but truthfully, it hit 270 degrees and started listening for your punch input. You just did it fast enough that you wouldn't ever notice.


Meaningful And Elegant Defense

If attack mechanics are the yin of combat then defense mechanics are the yang; at least whenever you're engaged to things that can attack you back. The coolest thing about defense mechanics is that there are so many ways to handle the "problem" of enemy attacks but the crappiest thing about them is that they're so easy to render meaningless. In more games than I'd like to admit, you're given defensive maneuvers that you simply don't use (for any number of reasons) or you try to but they don't help you. A good defense mechanic looks good and feels good, but must ultimately be functional. Enemies are going to attack no matter what and in the interest of elegance, there should be as few ways as possible to deal with this. Having too many is confusing, having too few is frustrating, and having any at all that are meaningless are buttons wasted. Furthermore, the usefulness of the given defense mechanics are going to directly and heavily influence the difficulty level of the game.


Evaluating Beat ‘Em Ups

I often find myself turning on a beat 'em up I've previously played (or one I recently purchased knowing about its beat 'em uppery) in order to evaluate how things are done across the genre. There are a lot of key items I'm looking at and I figured I would publicize them so that they can be utilized and expanded on. Now before I even get into this, it's important to know that most of these items are not absolute in the sense that there is a right or wrong way to handle it, it's ultimately a matter of designer preference.


I’m Declaring War On Tedium

Over the course of the last year I have gone and devoured every beat-em-up I could get my compulsive hands on. It's been a lot fun because I love these games to death, but it's also been very frustrating because oftentimes I am required to perform very trivial tasks in order to progress. I realize this problem extends deep into many other genres as well, but it's particularly sticky with modern beat-em-ups because the features and mechanics that have been stacked on top of them to make them more appealing and engaging are inherently tedious.


Challenge Vs Punishment

One of the fundamental components of an engaging game (card, board, electronic, party, etc.) is that there is some degree of difficulty between starting the game and arriving at the success state, whatever that may be. While this can be applied to games of all lengths and depths, the bottom line is that a player that goes unchallenged for too long is going to get bored. It's one of the amazing properties we possess as living creatures; we need to go face to face with our environment in SOME way or else we start feeling numb. The geniuses that developed the first arcade games realized that tapping into this evolutionary compulsion was the perfect business model. They realized that by engaging players hard enough with a game they must pay to play, then they will happily pay to play...over and over again. This is why coin-operated games were often times so difficult yet so successful; they managed to find the sweet spot between compelling and punishing. The problem here is that a lot of us game designers who grew up playing those games still think that challenge must be appropriated in those archaic ways. But times have changed. Different kinds people are playing different kinds of games and expectations have mutated, for better or worse.


Alpha Channel Problem In Unity

I just thought I would throw this out here because Unity has this unusual quirk and it has driven me (along with some other very talented developer friends of mine) to the brink of cosmic insanity. If you have ever created a texture in Unity that has an alpha channel but the alpha information in Unity is completely incorrect, then it's most likely because you have "empty pixels" in your RGB channels. What are empty pixels? Just think about anytime you've erased all the way through your layers in Photoshop and you can see the white and grey grid underneath. You can see that grid because you've removed color information from those areas and Photoshop just wants you to know that. Unity understands those empty pixels and will create an alpha channel for you if you have them in your image.

A quick and easy way to to test this out:

  1. Create a new layer at the bottom of the layer stack.
  2. Fill the whole thing with an arbitrary color.
  3. Re-save it and check it out in Unity. You should now see an alpha on the texture in Unity that looks like the alpha channel you intentionally created.

This happens because Unity has two different ways of recognizing transparent elements in a texture. One of these ways is through the alpha channel, and the other way is through empty pixels in the RGB channels. When it sees both it simply defers to the empty pixels. So all you have to do is fill those up with something so it knows it needs to look at the actual alpha channel. I hope this saves you some furious self-hair-removal. :)

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