Monday, January 30, 2012

Game Design: Game of the Week 4 ~ Tekken 6

This week in class we learned more about specific details that make a game. There was MDA, which stands for Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics. There was also feedback loops and there was also Emergence.  I will talk about these later in the post but for now let’s introduce the game of the week.

Tekken 6 is the sixth main instalment in the Tekken series of fighting games. These games take place in a 3D fighting arena, where players are able to move towards, away from the opponent and to the sides as well. It was one of the first innovative 3D fighters (as supposed to 2D fighters which only have towards and back) and is one of the more popular 3D fighters out there. I won’t mention the story since it’s… too confusing anyways!


Like I said, Tekken’s gameplay involves two players pitted against each other in a 3D fighting arena. There is a very large roster, of over 40 characters to choose from that have been brought over from the previous Tekken games. Each character has their own unique set of moves of course and all of them are usable by use of simply pressing one of four attack buttons (left kick, right kick, right punch, left punch) and with combination of moving in a certain direction. The goal of each battle is to of course, knock out the opponent by reducing their vitality to zero. Win 2 out of 3 rounds and you’re the victor. This is the same format that many fighting games possess and Tekken is a game that has stuck with this concept since its inception.

Gameplay of myself against various ghost (AI) opponents

For this game in particular, there is particular emphasis on punishing player’s mistakes. To truly shine in the game, you have to know the ins and outs of the characters you are both controlling and facing. Knowing what moves you have at your disposal and what your opponent has is the key to victory. Not to mention being able to predict and anticipate their moves is what determines the winner of a battle. When you see an opening, you unleash a large stream of moves that form a devastating combo. With the best circumstances these combos can take a very hefty portion of an opponent’s life. But otherwise shorter combos can be formed if your opponents don’t mess up too badly, but still deal a ton of damage. It’s this dynamic of baiting opponent’s moves and sidestepping to counter, or using a lot of fast moves so your opponent cannot even mount an offensive that gives the game plenty of depth. Every character’s vast array of moves and options in different scenarios means that fighting another player can always be different.

Game Designs of the Week

Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics

Now about the lessons I learned in class today, I will cover MDA (Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics) first.

Mechanics – meaning the rules and constraints of the game. These are essentially the foundations that the designers had planned when they created the game. For Tekken 6’s case, the rules were essentially, defeat your opponent, best out ‘x’ number of rounds. Win each round by reducing their vitality. Included in the mechanics were also the character’s move sets since they were planned by the designer specifically.

Dynamics – Is essentially the flow of gameplay and the rules of the game in motion. So to put it in perspective, Tekken 6’s use of attacks in certain situations and constant player decisions during combat is what drives the dynamics. Player’s are using the mechanics (characters and their abilities) to combat other players in a variety of situations.

Aesthetics – Is essentially the player experience, their reactions to that experience and strategies that might evolve from it. Now for the player experience, it varies. For example, for low level players, some moves can be “spammable” and can lead to an easy win. Now since the low level player doesn’t understand ways to counter it, they can become frustrated and call the user a “spammer”. This case goes for many fighting games and other multiplayer games in general. Though in this case, the “spammer” can be easily countered with the right thinking. Another example for higher players, after a very good match of constant “mindgames” (out-thinking your opponent) depending on the person they can of course either be really happy with the match, or if it’s a serious match (i.e. tournament match) they can get very angry or happy at their success or failure.

Example of a Spamming player (left player) according to the user of this video

Feedback loop

Another lesson we learned this week was the feedback loop. Now there are two kinds of loops, positive loops and negative loops.

Positive Loops reward players for winning and getting stronger. Now unfortunately there is no solid example in Tekken 6 for this. If you win a match you do not automatically gain any advantage. Since it’s a competitive fighting game, they want to start each round in a match on even playing field.

Both their health is glowing red, this means they can both deal extra damage since they are so weak.

On the other hand, negative loops (a.k.a rubberbanding) involve players getting weaker as they win or making the other players stronger. Now there was some debate in class as to the true meaning of this since some examples were given that were not completely confirmed to be negative loop or not. However I will stick with the concept of making the other players stronger making sense as well. Now in Tekken 6, if you knock your opponent down to a certain amount of health, they will temporarily deal increased damage for a short duration. This is the rubber banding effect working. Because the opponent is losing, they get a boost to their power to try and even the odds for a come back.


The final topic was the concept of Emergence. It was really simple, it looked like this

Simple mechanics -> very complex dynamics

This means that our mechanics that make up the game, lead to some very serious thinking and strategy on the part of the player, coming up with ways to give the system we have built incredible depth. And I say that Tekken 6 and all fighting games in general are perfect examples of this concept of emergence. Tekken and all other fighting games started as simple casual fun in arcades, but over the decades they turned into competitive games. They now have tourneys and even have large sponsors. These tournaments happen all over the world. For more info on these events, check my competitive gaming blog.

The competitive scene is emergence in a big way

But anyways, the game evolved from simple punching and kicking, to full out mindgames between competitive opponents who dedicate their time into finding all the facts about each and every character in the game. They took the mechanics of the fighting game and thought up all sorts of neat strategies and combos that truly make the game competitive and truly use the concept of emergence. They showed that these fighting games have incredible depth to them and that those players who dedicate their time to the game will obliterate any person who thinks they can “button mash” to obtain victory against them.


So obviously as it can be seen, I have a thing for fighting games. And I've played a lot of them and have got to know their systems. I love Tekken 6's battle system and enjoy playing quite a few characters. But what I wanted to get across this week was more about the depth of games. Games that can achieve true emergence and provide incredible depth are the games that will be played the most. Fighting games are simply one of those genres that constantly provide this great depth and the companies behind them know they do. They build the mechanics based on providing great dynamics nowadays because they know they could get a tournament following.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Global Game Jam 2012 Experience

Global Game Jam Experience
This weekend was an interesting one, I decided to participate in a world wide event, known as the Global Game Jam. The goal of this event is that people gather together and make teams, you then have 48 hours using any resources you can to make a game (either board game or digital game). We started at 5:00pm on Friday and had until Sunday at 5:00pm in order to create our game. The neat thing is that it wasn’t only us doing this, like the name of the event says, it’s global. We saw footage of streams from all over the world also partaking in the event at the same time. It’s cool knowing there are others in the world trying to do this at the same time.

To start off, there are of course some limitations to make it interesting. We were given a picture, which we could interpret anyway we wanted. In the end the theme we came up with was zombies, and the renewal of life. So it was a man turned into zombie, that had to become a human again. Somehow we ended up deciding on the theme of 70s disco and our game involved into a game about zombies and disco. The goal of the game was to turn our zombie character into a human.

Planning phase

Now the most important part in this event was planning our game, since we had to throw out ideas in the first hour, deciding important aspects of the game. We discussed things like the type of gameplay, style of graphics, if it’s 2D or 3D, and various other details. I can honestly say we didn’t have everything set in stone right away though. Certain aspects we realized didn’t seem quite feasible or were too broad in scope, remember we had to make this in 48 hours so we had to choose things we could complete in time. Only by the half way mark would I say we had everything completely set in stone, though of course we were still developing our assets (Images and such) all along the way. We managed to get most of our assets into the game, of course we weren’t able to get our game fully polished but we did do rather well for ourselves I would like to think.

Sleep deprived? Not really!

We submitted our game prior to the 5:00pm mark, and though there were still things we would have liked to modify to make it better, we had a working game at least and one that I personally find rather fun as well. I am not so certain about some other groups, but I know a few of them did run into issues that unfortunately did not allow them to get a fully functioning game. Our game managed to get to this stage and I am thankful for it.

The entire process wasn’t too stressful either, at times it was especially when we were running out of time. However we didn’t even go for the full 48 hours, much of the time we spent for decent amounts of rest. So we only used maybe 30 hours of the entire process of actually working give or take. We aimed our scope so that we wouldn’t have to spend all 48 hours because honestly we would feel terrible if we had done that. But the experience was overall enjoyable anyways.

Comparing Game Engines and Programming Code

GameMaker is the tool we used for our game

Before I get to the fun stuff (I.e. the game we made) I want to talk about my experiences in making the game. Now we had 7 people in our group, and most of them were designated to art assets while 2 of us were assigned for programming. I myself made a fair amount of art assets for our game too, but what I want to talk about is the programming for the game.

Now, in my previous games we used C++ code, using visual studios. We had to code EVERYTHING from scratch in those games for school. For the Game Jam however, we used an existing engine already. Game Maker, and after having used it,  I can say I have great respect for any coders, including myself. The only reason we could make the game in 48 hours was because of this engine. It made it so easy to implement everything that we wanted. It really sped up development significantly and the cool thing is that, I pretty much know how to implement everything we did in this game, in C++ code. It makes me really respect how people can actually code stuff because they have to go through so much more labour and problem solving then those who use engines. With my C++ knowledge, I can understand both programming code and this engine, where as someone who used only the engine would only understand the engine!

Game Time
Anyways let’s get to the fun stuff finally, we named our game Zombie Fever.

Main Menu screen

It’s a single player game with 2D graphics and like previously mentioned features zombies. Lots of zombies. Now the reason we went with the disco theme, I have absolutely no idea in the slightest (I was part of the meeting by the way), but the overall gameplay eventually turned into “DDR” (Dance Dance Revolution) like style. Where arrows appear on screen and you must click the correct one to score points. Our game didn’t require precise clicks of the arrows like DDR does but still has the same overall feel.

Prototype Screenshot of gameplay

Every level features a different song you have to dance with, getting harder and harder. Of course we made an incentive for players to want to keep playing and so we added score and eventually you can get high scores and such. Also you can die if you miss arrows, how you die to dancing zombies, I have no idea. We planned other methods to make the game more dynamic, including a combo system that would keep track of how many correct arrow keys you pressed in a row, but unfortunately we ran out of time.

Example of a sprite sheet we used for our game

But we made due with what we have and we made a simple, but fun and stylish game featuring happy zombies instead of evil ones. Also listening to the old 70s music made me happy while playing. Anyways enough about me simply talking, it’s time for you all to try it too! You can download it right here!

Go have fun and tell me what you think! Also remember, things are missing due to time constraints so of course it’s not perfect.

Shorter post this time because I am rather tired. But Game Jam was definitely a fun experience, I will go for it again next year!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Tunes of the Week 3 - Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

Over the course of three games, Capcom's Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney has been a rather successful series, garnering a number of dedicated fans. The main character, Phoenix right's popularity was such that he earned a spot in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. 

Phoenix Wright's takes place in either investigation or court room gameplay. The best music takes place during the court room sequences and each game has different music for these sequences, each of them memorable. The music itself was so popular it has two orchestrated CDs as well.

Phoenix Wright "Objection Themes" from all the games up till 2011

Phoenix Wright Cross Examination Themes (All 4 games)

PW: Trials and Tribulations Court Suite

Apollo Justice Objection Theme Orchestrated

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Computer Graphics: Graphics in Games Week 3 - Them Crazy Glitches

Them Crazy Glitches

Instead of focusing one game like I did last week, this week I am going to try something different. How many times have you played a game, only for something ridiculously hilarious happening? The answer is most likely many times depending how much you play. I’ve been a victim of this and they can range from downright frustrating to absolutely laugh inducing. Now, pretty much every glitch that happens relates to the code used, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it. Graphics is all about code as well and I will try and highlight some examples that I remember running into.

Exploding characters

Now we aren’t talking about exploding in a fiery ball of destruction, nor exploding into blood and such. We are talking about crazy exploding models that go practically insane. I can really explain this without showing it first.

You can see the character "Morrigan" causing some major issues.

Now, having watched that video, you can clearly see what I mean. The character looks exploded and now after some learning in my graphics course I can explain (partially) why that is. Now let’s start with the basics.

Every model in a 3D game is comprised of basic components known as vertexes (points). There can range from hundreds to thousands or even more of these vertexes depending on how complex the model is built. Now in order for games to properly read these models, these vertexes need to be converted into polygons. All that means is connecting these vertexes to form shapes, almost always triangles as they are the shape that computers can process the most efficiently.

A sphere compromised of vertices. I stretched out one face which made it change like this.

Those are the basics that comprise models. Vertexes and triangles, though of course we add in faces and normals which help to make up the surfaces of our model. Without the faces and normal, all you would see is a “wireframe” of a model. Meaning you only see a bunch of connected lines. Not as interesting. We add in texture coordinates next so that we can place textures onto a model, so that it isn’t just a bunch of gray, and now has color and even closer to what we want our final model to be, maybe it already is. Factor in bump mapping (mentioned in a previous blog) to define the shape of a model and we are pretty much set. That’s just a basic look on models, it is easier to understand than it is to actually implement, but enough about that.

Another example of a vertex being stretched too far in the Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion

So we saw how Morrigan was exploding all around right? Well the reason for that is, though I am not sure WHY it happened, I do know what happened. In certain animations, due to some error in the system, Morrigan’s vertexes have been misplaced to strange places on the screen. Now, remember how we said we connected the vertexes to form triangles right? Well in each triangle, our faces and textures lie there, so to put it in perspective, normally we would see a triangle containing a part that represents what looks like a tiny portion of his face. Now if we position that triangle REALLY far away from its original position, and we are still calculating the face and textures based on that triangle’s position, whoa! Morrigan’s face now has a giant spike in it, and now it’s stretching off the screen!

So let me go over it one more time, some or many of Morrigan’s vertexes are out of place, going into strange directions or positions where they should not be. We connect those to form the triangles and therefore form the figure of our model with our faces, and then place textures with help from bump mapping to form the final look of the character. Result is, madness to say the least.

Another example of the madness of moved vertexes

Hardware Failure

Now Marvel vs Capcom 3 isn’t the first game to do this obviously, there are obviously many more games that have had this problem before and I will show you them!
Part of the reason that these glitches appear could be due to faulty coding, but the majority of the time it’s due to failing GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). The GPU is used in the majority of games now to render these vertexes and triangles, etc. If a GPU is failing, it won’t be able to properly render all the vertexes, or it could have errors such as reading in the vertex locations wrong, which is why we see the exploding in many directions. This is the case with Marvel vs Capcom 3 as well even though it’s on consoles. I personally have never ever run into this problem and neither have many others, while for specific users they have run into these issues.

An example in Rage by ID software, glitches due to improper drivers.

Another reason can be due to faulty drivers provided by the GPU card companies. Drivers that attempt to update and improve features but can often cause them to have issues rendering in certain games. There are many game engines out there, and many of them have different coding to read the vertexes and such. It becomes difficult for graphics cards to work with every single game if they attempt varied methods of rendering, which is why even the most up to date GPU cards can still be victims to these exploding vertexes.

But otherwise if it's not the hardware failing, it's the software failing. Improper calculations or algorithms, calculations that get thrown off by external factors. Using too much power on the GPU as to make it fail enough so that the calculations are thrown off. Many many things can occur and here are some examples of the results.

At first this looks like a simple physics glitch but then look again. The horse is melting…

Horses are the new see-saw

Texture coordinates are going in weird places, so now the foliage is everywhere.

A new breed of super soldier.

Though there are physics glitches, the state that models can be left in make the models look… hilarious.  That's due to the ragdolls not having realistic reactions, which can be very hard to program. Some companies just go for "Death" animations, or a combination of both. Some just go for pure ragdoll and here is the result in Skyrim.

Of course it doesn’t have to be only vertexes that are missing, it could just be textures that are missing. Again these are probably due to failing hardware.
Rainbow Gears of War 2

Model Replacement
Other glitches could be simple model replacement. The horse that is talking used to be a human model. Note how he is using human animations still!
A horse with dreams of flight.

I however have absolutely no clue how this one occurred, the particle effects coming out from the player’s weapon (Gravity gun) in Half Life 2 are for a lack of a better term, exploding like crazy. I must try and look more into this one.
Avert your eyes if it's too bright

Poll Time!
There are way too many glitches I would like to share but I will stop at here for now, these are just a few of them that I remember. I'd like to know what you all think about glitches in games, so I've decided to make a poll to go with it. Go look for more yourself and hope that you might run into them in a non-game breaking scenario.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Game Design: Game of the Week 3 ~ Catherine

This week’s game of the week will be slightly different. This week we learned about Game Atoms, small components that make up the game experience. We treat a game as a “System” containing elements in a game and how it creates the player experience. I’ll be having an extra section containing info on this but for now let’s get started with the game!

This week I chose a rather peculiar game, definitely not a very mainstream game but nonetheless a rather recent release. Catherine was released on July 26, 2011 and developed by Atlus, the team behind the more well-known Shin Megami Tensei series. The game itself is a mash of various genres all together in one. It features Puzzle solving as it’s main gameplay element but also features “Dating Sim” aspects that are a popular genre in Japan. It also features some elements of horror due to the style of the game which I will get into later. Due to the “Dating Sim” aspects of the game, Catherine focuses a great amount of it’s importance on the story and characters.


You play as Vincent in a modern day setting, a middle aged man who is having trouble with commitment. He is currently in a relationship with a woman named Katherine; however she wishes to pursue a stronger relationship (I.e. marriage) with him whereas he simply wants things to stay the same as they are. One night he finds himself in a very compromising situation as he wakes up in his own bed with a different girl laying next to him, a beautiful woman named Catherine (With a C this time).

Catherine (left) and Vincent (right)

Meanwhile on the news, there are bizarre incidents of men dying in their sleep, all of them young men. Rumours of dreams where men fall to their deaths whilst trying to climb up infinitely high tours also begin to surface around this time (Though in games, rumours almost always equal facts). It turns out that Vincent has also been having these nightmares as well, starting with the night he found himself with Catherine (with the C). In these nightmares, he and others take the appearance of sheep. Sheep who are trying to survive by climbing up towers of blocks (the gameplay) and they are all trying to discover why they are here. But they all know that falling down means you will probably die.

Vincent and the other sheep in the Nightmares

Throughout the story you discover the reasons behind the nightmares and how it has any relationship to Vincent or the other sheep you meet in the nightmare. The catch is that Vincent doesn’t remember anything about the nightmares when waking up, and no one else does. From the point he begins having the nightmares, Vincent must survive them but also begin to make decisions about his relationships with Catherine and Katherine. You, the player help decide how reacts to each of them and ultimately decide the ending of the game based on your choices.


Gameplay is split into two sections in Catherine, one is the puzzle solving aspect found in the nightmares and the others are the “dating sim” gameplay though its gameplay is more passive.
The Nightmare levels feature you climbing up a tower made of various blocks. As Vincent, you can walk around and move towards these blocks. You are able to pull or push these blocks back and forth to form ways to climb up. Pushing blocks away in a certain fashion allow you to make the tower fall, or moving them in certain ways could allow you to form a staircase. The catch to make sure you aren’t taking too long is that blocks underneath fall every now and then. If you take too long you will fall along with them to your doom. After every “stage”, there are usually several “stages” that make up one nightmare level, you get to speak with other sheep around that made it through the tower as well. These NPCs typically offer you tips and show new ways to climb towers, offering you new strategies in climbing.

One of the stages in the middle of the game

There are various blocks that are introduced as time goes on, from icy blocks that make you slip and allow you to fall off, to blocks that set off a timer to explode and damage other blocks in the area that could make it easier or harder to progress depending on your strategy. The game starts you off easy then introduces new blocks and harder puzzles to try and ease you into the game. But despite that, the game’s puzzles are very challenging at times, even on the easiest mode. I recall reading several reviews talking about it’s difficulty. But with the correct thinking you should be able to make it to the top. It’s both challenging and rewarding to finally complete a level.

The rather creepy "Boss" stages in the game where you have even less time to get up the stage.

The second aspect of the game is the “Dating Sim” aspect. This usually is simply interaction with the various NPCs in most regards. Sometimes it can be just talking to them, but in most of these Dating Sims it involves making many choices to the characters you interact with, choices that will make them like or dislike you and change their “fates” in a game. Games like these usually feature a large variety of different endings, which Catherine has, having up to 9 endings.
You interact mainly with how you respond to Catherine and Katherine, affecting a “mysterious meter” represented with blue on one side and red on the other. Blue typically involves answers that are more conservative and usually stem towards Katherine. Red typically involves answers that are more outgoing, wanting for change which stem towards Catherine. These will affect your ending and their responses to you throughout the game.

Your choices with Katherine and Catherine will affect your ending.

Besides simply interacting with them, you interact with various patrons in a bar “The Stray Sheep Bar” ironically. In between every nightmare level, you will have time to be here, texting and interacting with Catherine and Katherine and the other patrons. You will be able to directly influence the fate of some of the other patrons as well as you listen to their problems and try to help them through it (non interactively). You will also be able to recognize some of these patrons as sheep in the nightmare levels though the characters won’t realize that they know each other in the real world till later.
In the Stray Sheep Bar, to interact with other characters

Another important aspect Confessionals, which occur in between every Stage in the nightmare levels, which also affect the “Mysterious meter” very greatly. They ask very interesting questions that are in a grey area such as “Does life begin or end at marriage?” You really aren’t quite sure what to say and your meter will change based on your answers. They are really deep questions that I had a fun time answering. You even get to see what other players answered.

A rather awkward question you must answer.

The main aspect of the game that keeps me coming back though is the nightmare levels. These are challenging and rewarding, the puzzle solving in the game was well thought out as they are difficult and can be unforgiving at times but they are rewarding. You have to think very quick and on your toes. The game offers several unending towers that challenge you to get as high as you can (can be done cooperatively too), a multiplayer mode against another player and higher difficulties in the main story mode that really change up the pace and even the layout of the puzzles with each difficulty. Though going through the story and making those choices can only last so many times, I greatly enjoyed doing it, it was one of the more engaging experiences I had in a while.

Game Atoms of Catherine

Now before I go into the Game Design of the week, I want to touch on the Game Atoms in Catherine since I just explained the story and gameplay. Now there are the elements in the game, which features…

Elements of Catherine

·         Players – How the players in the game interact?
·         Objectives (Goals)
·         Rules / Mechanics
·         Resources
·         Game State
·         Game View
·         Information
·         Sequence
·         Player Interaction
·         Theme

For Players, Catherine features several, in the main story mode, player vs environment, having to solve the puzzles in your path (this also applies for the cooperative mode). It also features 1 v1 (aka, Head to head) to beat another player by knocking him off the level or reaching the top first.

For Objectives, the goals of the game are to reach the top of the tower at the end of every level. This, in actual game design terms roughly translates to Race, and since you are solving puzzles along the way, uses the term solving as well. In 1 v 1 multiplayer, this applies negation (first not to lose) as well since you can either win by reaching the top (race) or being the first not to fall off (since you don’t actually have to knock the opponent off for him to fall)

For Rules, there are three steps, setup, gameplay progression and resolution. For Setup, basically the “board” is setup, but in this case it would mean the game loading the level layout, and the player avatars (also how many players if its single or multiplayer). For Gameplay progression, it essentially goes to explain all the things you can do during your “turn” or in this case, what you can do as you are playing in real time. Catherine defines the controls and rules you can do such as pushing blocks and what will happen when you push blocks certain ways or step on them, etc. Resolution basically means how the game will end, so in Catherine’s case, it is to reach the end in most cases. For 1 v 1, it is to reach the end of have the opponent fall off.
Resources are designated as everything that is under player control. In Catherine’s case there are in fact consumables(can be items in this case) that can be used to help the player advance. There is currency which can be used to purchase the items to help the player. There is score which is determined by how fast you move up the levels or creating chains by advancing higher and higher. Time is used as a determinant for score as well as a potential death trap if you take too long. Numeric information showing anything with value is present all the time in Catherine, how close you are to running out of time is even represented with a map that shows falling blocks.

For Game state, this means basically anything you might normally save in the world at a certain point. So an example is your location in the world. In Catherine’s case, your “mysterious” meter is saved, what level you currently on is saved, which sheep you have talked to is saved, your responses to the Catherine and Katherine is also saved.

For Game View – It’s simply how we perceive the world, so basically put, it’s your perspective. In Catherine’s case, a over the top camera is used during any nightmare levels. You never change perspective from that.

For information, there are various types, but among those that Catherine contains there is really only perfect information, which is information that everyone can see. The game doesn’t hide anything from you. How much time you have left is shown, what item you have available is shown, your mysterious meter is shown. Even during 1 v 1, both players can see everything.

For Sequence, this represents player “turns” and so in Catherine’s case, real-time is used constantly through the game.

For Player interaction, there includes Direct conflict and communication in Catherine. In 1 v 1 multiplayer, the opponents directly get in each other’s path and can even knock each other down. Communication is used in cooperative play to solve the puzzles in order to get up as high as possible. In single player, there is obviously no player interaction.

For Theme, it includes the narrative, backstory, setting, and emotional investment, all of which I already explain in the story section.

So those were the elements in the game, so how do these create a dynamic and interaction between players?

Well despite this being a single player game, the multiplayer included certain makes player interaction possible. Constant communication is used in the cooperative mode as you won’t be getting far without good team work. Cooperative games always require this sort of thinking and since Catherine is a puzzle game with cooperative play, it simply requires that kind of team work and good thinking. If you’re thinking only to yourself and not expressing your thoughts to your fellow team mate, things will get hectic and you will fail and very quickly. Even the best players won’t get too far without proper communication. Specifically because if one player falls down in cooperative mode, you both lose so that definitely reinforces that communication aspect.

In the 1 v 1 multiplayer mode, you are pretty much in direct conflict the entire time, you won’t be trying to help each other at any point. The mode is certainly not as in depth as the cooperative mode as the puzzles are simpler and the only type of communication you will be trying to do is insults at each other most likely. The more solid interaction between players in the game is the communication in cooperative mode.

Now there are some odd choices in the game, why did they go with these choices?
The game itself looks very weird at a glance. Sheep? Why are there sheep in this game, what on earth?

You are all sheep!

Well I do believe I can answer those questions. For the sheep, it is simply the concept of a herd of sheep, we all should know this concept that to follow in a flock of sheep is usually to lose individualization. (SPOILER ALERT). In Catherine, you discover that the reason you and the other sheep are sent to the nightmare world is because you’ve been cheating with your loved ones. Obviously Vincent cheated on Katherine with Catherine, so that is the reason he is there, and that is the reason many of the others are there too. (END SPOILER). The force behind the nightmares has sent all of you there as you are seen as sheep in the world, just following in life with no purpose. The “force” defines life with a purpose as being one to help pro-create and settle down, and since the cheaters aren’t doing that they are defined as sheep and sent to their doom so that only those that pro-create will remain. Though then the debate rises if the sheep are those that pro-create but I won’t get into that. That’s basically the reason sheep are so prominent in the game, various other theories can be thought of but this is what I believe.

Why did they make it so you’re climbing towers of blocks?

So many blocks and all of them the same size. So uniform.

As for the towers of blocks, obviously since it’s a dream it does not have to make sense at all. Dreams never have to and so putting a bunch of block towers fits perfect even though it makes no sense. Complete with spike traps, icy blocks, exploding blocks and such, it makes perfect sense while making no sense. But of course the designers also just wanted to get their gameplay in the game as well but the dream is the perfect way to implement these into the story.

Why aren’t there more multiplayer options?

Cooperative mode in Catherine

Well since there was so much emphasis on the story, they wanted to focus on the core single player gameplay and to make the levels in there truly unique and challenging. Companies always have limited budgets and resources, since they were already so focused on making the single player great, multiplayer is an after thought. We are lucky we even got any that’s decent enough.

Why choose Catherine and Katherine, it’s so confusing!

Catherine and Katherine were names chosen to represent the two sides that Vincent is struggling to decide over. Catherine essentially represents freedom while Katherine represents commitment and settling down. Making the two names that similar as to be similar was on purpose since they both represent two decisions that Vincent is weighing equally. Their equally similar and weighted names represents the theme of the game and helps represent the moral grey area between choosing between these sides. None of them are right or wrong.
And with those questions answered, I will leave my Game Atom and go to the Game Design of the Week!

Game Design of the Week: Choices in Games

If you have any interest in Catherine don’t read this and play the game instead. Or read this and play it anyways, do it!

Now before we talk about choices, last week in my post about “Gaming Vocabulary” I stated how there are always choices in games. This week I am talking about choices specifically relating to how the story is affected rather than the choices that are constantly done in games. With that out of the way, Catherine put a lot of emphasis on the choices you say in the game and how it would influence the game. Now I’ve looked into how these choices had actually changed in the game by doing multiple playthroughs of the game. My conclusion was that though the first time they felt quite meaningful, my subsequent playthroughs had me discover that some of choices did not affect story elements all that much. Now let’s break down a few of the things I had discovered.

Meaningful text messages

Interacting with Catherine and Katherine was usually done via texting through phone or the occasional visit to the bar. Responding to their texts certain ways would change the mysterious meter. Now, responding in certain ways would open up further options to send new texts their way. Simple enough, it added new choices based on my choice or got rid of some choices. But after that, I did the nightmare level and got back to the bar. Now one playthrough I had texts that were positive for Katherine’s side, and received a certain text message. Now the second time I tried to experiment and had texts that were positive for Catherine at that exact same point in the game. When I finished the nightmare level I got the exact “certain text message” anyways. So my choices had only really effected the mysterious meter in the end, I looked again and tested in other points in the game and the same thing occurred. The mysterious meter truly only affected the ending.

Now let’s look at another point, the other sheep I met in the nightmare levels, I talked to them, got them through their worries, helped save some of them. First playthrough I saved only a few of them, another playthrough I saved them all. What changed was I got to interact with them more, (since some died along the way before even the end) and eventually see their dialogue on how I saved them and such. I felt a satisfaction from saving them and it didn’t affect the ending involved between Catherine and Katherine.

Another awkward question

The “Confessionals” with the super deep questions I had, those were also merely morality affecting. They didn’t truly change anything else throughout the game. The only “Confessionals” that did this were at the end level, the last few that actually helped you choose which ending would occur.

Choose between Katherine...

Now, having explained all of these, now a debate rises in my mind as to what the extent of player choices should be in affecting the story. Catherine went with a traditional approach that many “Dating Sim” games have gone through, pretty much only affected the endings. There were some things that changed, such as the sheep dying early off but that was really the only significant dynamic part that changed. The only thing I lost from those sheep was a few hints and their dialogue of course. To me, it sort of depreciated the experience for me after realizing this, but in the end, I wasn’t that unhappy. I was fine with it, because I didn’t want the game to change too drastically anyways, I wanted to experience the story still and despite the choices made, the story still flowed well enough anyways. I will admit I was disappointed that it wasn’t a bit more dynamic, having maybe more varied cutscenes but they still had a various dynamic changes throughout the story, just not that serious.

...or Catherine

When I begin to think of choices affecting the story, I immediately think to Star wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, both by Bioware. Knights of the Old Republic had many choices but in the end, affected mainly sidequests, a few party members at certain points and the ending. But it still had a bit more dynamics than Catherine I feel. Double that for Mass Effect, though I haven’t played through the entire game yet, I know it has even more choices that affect the world and story. However compare those two back to Catherine. For Catherine it’s not like the game was a sprawling massive story, it had to still focus on this small part of the story so I am not surprised they couldn’t branch off dynamically too much without ruining the story. Since it was never supposed to be a giant sprawling RPG like those two Bioware games, I can agree with myself now that Catherine was never supposed to change the story too much with choices. The choices themselves were very interesting anyways as many of them were choices that stemmed in moral grey areas and they really made you think about the question for a while. The 9 endings themselves are pretty significant enough and many aspects still change anyways so it feels to me like it succeeded in providing player choice.

Time for a Poll! (On the right)

Now the question is how dynamic do players really want their games? It certainly provides more opportunities for multiple playthroughs, it gives a lot of incentives. But do we want to miss out on massive opportunities just because of one choice? Do we want choices that will only effect certain big things like the ending? That’s what I would like to know, POLL TIME!