Aztez – A Game of Conquest and Brutality

On Pride And Heritage

As it turns out, I am 50% Mexican and 50%...random European smattering. I don't feel at all connected to my European ancestry and you will never hear me talking about it. In general, I find everything European pretty boring and thinking about that half of my genetic code is just not exciting. Sorry, Mom! I do feel a strange connection to the Mexican side of me, though. It's strange because the Ruiz family (very large extended family of Mexican American Catholics) don't exactly carry around their Mexican ancestry on their sleeve. Despite being fluent Spanish speakers, I never even hear the previous generation speak Spanish unless talking with THEIR elders, and apart from the culinary and holiday traditions, the Ruiz family I am familiar with doesn't really have their heritage on display. 

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“Hour Zero” Or, When Expression Begins

I had a very interesting conversation with a good friend of mine (this particular friend is one of the most technically minded game thinkers I've ever known, as both a player and a designer), where after reading my Bayonetta combat analysis, brought up the issue of discovering mechanics through experimentation. In the combat analysis I mentioned that Bayonetta doesn't appear to have a substantial air game until you discover (and then learn to execute) a specific exploit inherent in this one obscure mechanic. The only reason I knew about this exploit (and a lot of the game's other rules systems and technical properties) was because I bought a specially made guide and I resent the developers for this.


Combat Analysis: Bayonetta

You knew it was coming! The game I regularly rave about as containing the finest combat engine ever devised is going to get its own analysis. It simply doesn't make sense not to. Heads up! This one's going to be a doozy. *cracks knuckles*


ABDN’s God Of War 2 Review

This incredible GEM just happened to me: please see Action Button Dot Net's God Of War 2 review. The review ends with this:

"It is not entirely right of me to fault Sony Computer Entertainment Santa Monica for making this game. Surely they knew that all of the above was true, and that all of the above would make a successful game. Shame on them for indulging us, but shame on us for wanting it. Shame on us for coming to expect this sort of skullfucking as 'fun'. This isn’t fun. It’s a nervous tick. It’s a bad habit. It’s obsessive compulsive behavior. It’s going through an entire box of q-tips in a day, because rubbing the inside of your ear feels so good the first time that you just can’t stop, and you eventually start to tell yourself that those little clumps of blood on the cotton are just really dark, moist bits of earwax that you’re better off without."


Action Button Dot Net

Action Button Dot Net is a website that has been recently put in my lap by one of its writers. It is an absolute GOLDMINE of sharp and painful truth (monofilament blade sharp).  Anything that swims through their highly critical frustum is most likely to get exactly what it deserves, whether you think it should or not, and having absorbed a key collection of the site's writings over the course of the last week I can tell you I feel like I've been repeatedly scraped over a whetstone.


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.


Aztez Is Going Into Full Production!

As you all know, Aztez has been a hobby project for the last couple years; something I've been making for fun and out of a lifelong passion for beat 'em ups. But I have only had the opportunity to work on it for very brief periods at a time, and these periods have occurred only when Matthew and I have had a miraculous overlap of available time and money. But I'm euphorically delighted to announce that we have received the private funding to spend 2012 developing the game! Our patron would like to remain anonymous (so don't ask), but we have cut an incredible deal and it's go-time. So what does this all actually mean?


Combat Analysis: Castlevania Lords Of Shadow

I recently played all the way through Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow for Xbox 360 on Hard difficulty.


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.


Combat Analysis: Dante’s Inferno

I recently played through Dante's Inferno on the 360 all the way and like usual, I was evaluating and scrutinizing the combat the entire time. But it doesn't help anyone else to have all that evaluation information stuck up inside my brain so I'm starting a column here on the blog that's dedicated completely to the combat of existing beat 'em up games. For Dante's Inferno, I played all the way to the last boss on normal difficulty.


God Damn You, Devil May Cry!

Earlier this week I sent out a very early build of Aztez to a handful of friends. I chose these particular people primarily for their intelligence and articulation but also for their varying skill levels across different types of games. Mind you, there is little to no ACTUAL game in place just yet. I was simply looking for feedback on the basic sensation of the existing attacks but also on the difficulty of execution for two of the combos I had built on a Gap Timing mash flow, inspired by the elegance of Devil May Cry. The feedback that came back to me was fascinating; no one liked it or could do it reliably. No one except two people.


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: