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Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design, The
Areala posted a gallery image in Computer Books
Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology, The
Areala posted a gallery image in Computer Books
Areala's "what If..." Game Design: Tomb Of Horrors (Part Three)
Areala posted a blog entry in Retrochick Retroblog v1.0Areala's "What If..." Game Design series is a partially-serious, partially-tongue-in-cheek, completely-hyphen-laden look at what would happen if things that are not currently video games were turned into video games under her supervision. Part Three In part two of this series, we looked at the problem of difficulty, and the pros and cons of a straight-up room-for-room conversion of the original Tomb of Horrors module. This part will look at the persona that the player will take on when he or she attempts to best our digital version of the Tomb, as well as what happens and what considerations must be made if additional players are allowed to join in the adventure. The primary thought to keep in mind is that the Tomb of Horrors is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons product, and as such was meant to be played by characters who were somewhere between levels 10 and 14 and created under those rules. First- and second-level characters would have no chance taking on this kind of dungeon, and only a truly sick game master would subject low-level player characters to such a thing. In addition, the fact that it is a Dungeons & Dragons property means that it was meant to be tackled by a party composed of multiple characters, all of whom were specialists in some field or another (fighting, thievery, healing, offensive magic and so forth), and were meant to work as a cohesive unit instead of taking an "every man for himself" approach. Keeping faithful to the original source materials, then, would dictate that the Tomb of Horrors should be a multi-player only game, as no single character class in D&D exists as a jack-of-all-trades, especially under 1st edition rules. On the other hand, Gary Gygax himself has written (in the Introduction to its sequel/offshoot product, Return to the Tomb of Horrors) that he personally took two single characters through it on two occcasions, both of whom worked without the help of a party, and both of whom managed to best everything he threw at them. In light of this revelation, it seems that maybe the Tomb would work just as well as a single-player experience, provided that the player was of sufficient level and skill (as a player and not just as a character) to crack it. In addition to this, the Tomb of Horrors as it was originally conceived was a one-shot adventure and did not function as the lynchpin dungeon of an entire campaign. For this reason, the traditional CRPG trope of starting characters at level 1 and having them work their way up won't really work for this adventure. A Fallout 3 or Oblivion style of character development that relies on the character being in a living, breathing world and growing with it then is completely out. At the same time, players of role-playing games (and D&D especially) truly enjoy watching their characters grow and change; denying this in a product based on the D&D license would be a terrible mistake. So, how can we merge the action/adventure aspect of Tomb Raider (where our protagonist knows everything she can do right from the start of the game) and the slow advancement of traditional D&D via level gain and selection of new powers? In addition, how would we deal with a single-player game where the player may very well need to be a jack-of-all-trades in order to advance? To answer the first question, we can look to any action/adventure title where the protagonist gains additional weapons, armour, treasure and the like simply through exploration. Deathtrap Dungeon, while a terrible game in many respects, gave players a character with a fixed moveset but the ability to find different melee and ranged weapons, magic items, and spells that could be read off of scrolls. By its very nature, the Tomb of Horrors would be a very limited scope video game, and this system would serve to keep that in place. After all, the Tomb isn't a 30-level underground dungeon under a large city, it's a large but mostly single-floor crypt built out of the way of civilization housing one major nasty and a few lower-level adversaries. There aren't going to be mountains of orcs, clusters of goblins, or legions of skeletons sweeping out the corridors, because combat isn't the point of the game, puzzle solving is. Any given character with a means of defending himself or herself will be able to best the normal baddies who serve more to wear down a party than to serve as a means to their complete demise. Only Acererak the demilich poses that level of a threat, and direct combat with him is a difficult-to-impossible proposition at best. Giving the player the resources, then, to power-up without dealing with levels and stat points is a simple way of handling this issue. The second question is, in a way, answered by the first, but not completely. Class in D&D, if we are sticking to the rules, is imperative to observe and monitor. Thieves may not be able to cast healing spells or throw fireballs, but they can disarm traps, backstab enemies, climb walls, and disappear into the shadows. Mages might not be able to stand toe-to-toe with a troll, but they can bake an entire group of them with a couple of well-placed Fireballs. One way to handle this is to tailor the game to a single-player profession, and have the items discussed above drawn from tables specific to that player's character. In other words, Fighters won't benefit from clerical scrolls, but they can benefit from a cache of healing potion. Mages, by contrast, won't be able to do much with that magical longsword, but a nice Ring of Protection or a wand of Magic Missiles would go a long way. Providing a balance while helping the character make up for deficiencies through limited-use items (a potion of Spider Climbing would allow anybody to climb walls like a thief, but they could only do it once while a thief could attempt it multiple times) will permit any character a more solid chance to meet success in the Tomb. It will also force strategy via the use of objects to solve puzzles instead of just relying on a Fighter being able to hack his way out of every situation. That Ring of Invisibility only has 2 charges; is it worth burning one off to slip by something undetected, or should he rely on his force of arms and save the ring for something later? In this way, we can remain true to the spirit of D&D while allowing the player to customize his or her character and know that their dwarven thief has just as much a chance of getting through the Tomb as a half-elven cleric, a human paladin, or a gnomish wizard. Actually creating the character should be similar to the rules for character creation in D&D. These were well-implemented in the early SSI games such as Dungeon Hack, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Eye of the Beholder and the like. Rolling up a character, then picking a race, class, alignment, starting equipment, and spells is a simple matter of checking a few boxes, fiddling with the stats to your liking, and hitting "Go" when ready. Players could be offered a "Favorites" menu as well, so that if they enjoy playing an elvish mage every time, they can very quickly load their favorite template and go without having to roll a character every time. Alternately, each class could be given a flat set of stats so that all Fighters have 17 Strength, for instance, much the way that Diablo II does it, and have the equipment found and treasures looted through the game come to define how that fighter grows out of the mold he was grown in. What of multi-player though? Most games these days offer it as an incentive to increase replay value or a means to make the game more social. Diablo II is fun, but the real meat of the game is found in pulling seven of your friends into the game, representing all the major character types, and going to town on enemies that are now 8 times more difficult than they were when it was just you alone. The Tomb of Horrors was meant as a multi-player game to begin with, so denying that would be a serious mistake. I believe the way forward is to treat difficulty the way Diablo II does: the more people you have along, the easier it may be to overcome obstacles and monsters, and so the deadlier the encounters will wind up being. A four- or six-player game will allow every major class to be represented, but it will also present four or six times as many targets and opportunities for the players to fall victim to something evil. A pit trap, for example, can catch four characters just as easily as it does one. So implementing a scaling system of difficulty for multi-player games is of paramount importance. If the game goes from a serious challenge for one player but turns into a cakewalk with four, it isn't any fun. In addition, a multi-player system of play eliminates a key single-player advantage: the save-and-reload-until-I-get-it-right strategy. In a single-player game of Diablo, if you get killed, you can reload your last save and try it again. In a multi-player game, you have to respawn and hope somebody is guarding your body. In a multi-player Tomb of Horrors experience, the group might have to pay a price in terms of gold, magic item charges, or loss of a bonus somewhere in order to resurrect that player. In D&D, if your character died, you were out of the session temporarily until the means could be found for your group to bring you back to life. This isn't fully acceptable in the gaming world, but free respawns aren't the answer. If part of the strategy of the game is deciding whether it's worth making the sacrifice to bring back Player 3, then it makes the game that much more real and forces each player to consider his or her role carefully. A party with three fighters can probably get by with just two, but a party that just lost their only cleric is going to be far more apt to make the sacrifice to get their primary source of healing returned to them. That's all for this entry. Come back next time and see what else Areala has in store for our poor, unfortunate souls who seek to defeat Acererak (the fools...)!
Areala's "what If..." Game Design: The Tomb Of Horrors (Part Two)
Areala posted a blog entry in Retrochick Retroblog v1.0Areala's "What If..." Game Design series is a partially-serious, partially-tongue-in-cheek, completely-hyphen-laden look at what would happen if things that are not currently video games were turned into video games under her supervision. Part Two In Part One of this series, we talked about the history of the Tomb of Horrors adventure and we picked our perspective choice. If you haven't read it, please start there. All others, ignore that "Abandon All Hope..." sign hanging in front of the tomb entrance and walk with me. Hope you brought a torch or something, it's dark inside. In this post, we'll take a look at the difficulty of the adventure and discuss the pros and cons of something so nasty and why players would want to play it. Knowing what you're going up against as a player is important; as a game designer, it's even more important than that and can be the difference between your game getting branded with a "Greatest Hits" moniker or urinated on by the gaming press. The most important part of converting the tomb is to decide whether or not we want to blindly copy everything in a picture-perfect fashion from the original module into our pretend game. Something with a history as grand as the Tomb will no doubt have been played, read, and experienced by tens of thousands of people over the years, and each and every last one of them is going to have an idea of what our version of the Tomb should be like. A straight conversion, while perhaps the simplest way to go, would really serve only one important point: absolute compliance with the source materials. This will satisfy any gamer with an encyclopedic knowledge of the adventure, but satisfying them may not be the best choice. To be sure, a foot-for-foot conversion of the map will be the simplest task for our intrepid team of mappers and room designers, but it will then put our game at the mercy of anyone who has ever set foot in the Tomb outside of our game. If all that is required to walk through the Tomb is a copy of the original adventure to refer to, any gamer would be capable of besting the Tomb in under an hour by avoiding all the traps, pitfalls and decoys that make Acererak's lair so dangerous. Without that thrill, the game will become little more than a chore and replay value would be virtually nil. For these reasons, I believe we can look to another dungeon crawler adventure for inspiration: the original Rogue (or, for those of you who are too young to remember that, we can pick on its 1990s graphical retread, Diablo). Rogue takes a set of simple rules and randomly generates content, ensuring that the game changes each and every time you start your quest. Diablo likewise follows this route, only it utilizes certain internal sets to ensure that given areas are always laid out in a similar fashion. What this means is that major areas of the Tomb could be mapped out, but those rooms, all the corridors, treasure, and traps in other locations could be randomized. While a given room might always have a weapons rack on the wall, the item it contained could change from game to game, and in one version it might be guarded by a ghost, in another version it has no guard at all, and in a third version the room can only be found by discovering a secret door. This has the advantage of staying true to the spirit of the original source materials while allowing the letter of those materials to be changed from game to game. Traps won't always be in the same places, corridors and doors will not always face the same way or open into the same rooms, and some treasures may not be in the same locations, but everything an explorer needs to survive and win would appear within each game. If nothing else, a minor change to the source materials would be necessary just to ensure that the game was playable from the start. In the original adventure, the player characters (PCs) arrive at the location of the tomb to find nothing more than a rather desolate-looking, weed-encrusted flattop hill with some large black boulders and shrubs as the lone points of interest. In order to even get into the tomb, the characters must probe into the ground deeply enough and high enough on the hill itself to dislodge significant amounts of dirt and sand to uncover an opening that can then be expanded into a crawlspace or a full entryway with enough digging. And while this may seem bad enough, there are actually 3 different entrances to the Tomb, only one of which is the proper way in. The other two are trapped in such fashions that it is possible to suffer a total party kill before anyone even steps foot inside the dungeon. Asking modern-day video gamers to accept this sort of start is a recipe for disaster, so at the very least, the player should be started off at the entrance to the tomb proper. There are plenty of ways he can go about getting dismembered once inside, but let's at least play somewhat fair, eh? Or not. Suppose that we offered some options for our game? What if, instead of hand-holding players, we embraced the idea of players who wanted a serious challenge (with a suitable merit reward at the end) for those who attempted the Tomb with no holds barred? The gloves come off, anything goes, and just like the Rogue-like games of old or a Hardcore game of Diablo II, if your character bites it, that's it: no save game, no tapbacks, it's just like real life: mess up, and you die. Offering levels of play that cater to beginner and expert gamers alike will increase the playability of the game within our community, and ensure that nobody feels the game isn't playing fair enough, or is using kid gloves. We'll do it, then: a hardcore option for players who think they are bad enough to handle it. On the PS3 or 360, completing the game in this fashion would grant a trophy or achievement showing the world what you had done, a true badge of honour any hardcore gamer would be powerless to resist, but one that could be safely ignored by more casual gamers without dilluting the final product in any way. That's all for this entry. Tune in next time when we look at character creation options, playable characters, and discuss the mechanics of single character vs. multiple characters playing through the Tomb all at the same time!
Areala's "what If..." Game Design: The Tomb Of Horrors (Part One)
Areala posted a blog entry in Retrochick Retroblog v1.0Areala's "What If..." Game Design series is a partially-serious, partially-tongue-in-cheek, completely-hyphen-laden look at what would happen if things that are not currently video games were turned into video games under her supervision. Part One Our first foray into this strange and uncharted world of would-be game design merges two of Areala's most favorite things: Dungeons & Dragons and adventure games in an effort to create the ultimate player-slaying nastyfest. I speak of none other than porting Gary Gygax's most infamous adventure to the digital realm. I speak of the world of Greyhawk, an isolated location, and a tournament-level adventure module that required brains over brawn and more than a little luck to traverse successfully. I speak of...The Tomb of Horrors. A little backstory probably will not go amiss here for those of you who are not familiar with D&D before the introduction of feats, epic-level spells, and 1st-level characters that were more powerful than they had any right to be. But chances are, if you played in a gaming group in the 1970s or the 1980s, you or at least one of the people in your group had played through (or sadistically run other characters through) S1: The Tomb of Horrors. Most of them would never see their beloved characters again, and the module earned itself something of a reputation for being a "killer dungeon". For the author Gary Gygax though, it was no such thing. Yes, it could chop, cut, slice, dice, disintegrate, crush, maim, fold, spindle, mutilate and liquify characters better than any blender ever invented, but it was a cerebral adventure. Players were told going into it that they would have to play at the top of their games in order to best the Tomb and all its traps. In this case, it meant making very liberal use of powers available to their characters and high doses of common sense available to their players. Failure to respect the Tomb and its demilich creator, Acererak, would, at best, result in loss of limbs, and at worst, the loss of a character's very soul. So...why would any self-respecting character go anywhere near this meat grinder? Simple...treasure. And lots of it. Acererak accumulated all kinds of phat loot over the course of his life and unlife, and anybody who finds it could easily retire and live a lifestyle that would be the envy of kings everywhere. Dungeons & Dragons has been brought to the digital world literally dozens of times over the years since its creation. DragonLance, Forgotten Realms, Spelljammer, Al-Qadim, and Greyhawk have all been brought to pixellated life on the PC, NES, Super Nintendo, Macintosh, Playstation 2, Xbox, and countless other computers and consoles. The Black Isle-crafted Planescape: Torment is considered by many gamers to be one of the best CRPGs ever created. And the games based on the property have been as varied as the license they are based on itself: Turn-based, real-time strategy, first-person, third-person, action/platformer, MMORPG...the list goes on and on. Some printed adventures have been based on the computer games ("Curse of the Azure Bonds"), while some games have been based on classic adventures that have been around for years ("The Temple of Elemental Evil"). All in all, D&D is ubiquitous in the computer gaming world. So...why no Tomb of Horrors? It's time to ask, instead, "Why not Tomb of Horrors?" And here's my answer. The simple fact is, nobody's done Tomb of Horrors because, done the way Gary Gygax wrote the original adventure, it would get reviews that would make the Angry Video Game Nerd's screeds seem like perfect examples of high-court politeness and well-versed etiquette. The closest anybody has come thusfar is probably Eidos's "Deathtrap Dungeon," and have you looked at the review scores for that lately? Players don't like dying, they especially don't like dying repeatedly, and the vast majority of gamers out there simply wouldn't get the concept that Tomb of Horrors was trying to push: common sense and a little preparation work can succeed where the combined might of six major nations would fail. Have you ever watched a hardcore first-person shooter gamer play a survival horror title? Have you actually been able to stop laughing long enough to really watch them? Survival horror has different rules than shooters, like closer health monitoring, puzzle-solving, and resource conservation. In FPS design, not giving the player enough ammo is a game-killing flaw. In survival horror, the reverse is true: providing the player with too many bullets removes the fear that goes along with the need to make every shot count. So the most important question when it comes to designing the "Tomb of Horrors" is what genre of game should it be? Two good concepts for this in my opinion would be third-person 3D (like "Dead Space" or "Tomb Raider"), or first-person point-and-click adventure (like "Scratches"). "Tomb of Horrors" is better suited to the latter approach in many ways, especially because combat isn't a major part of the scenario and the player can take his or her time, and puzzle-solving plays a fairly large part in successfully navigating the dungeon. The former, however, has the ability to put the player directly into the surroundings via his or her avatar and get a better sense of his or her position within the dungeon. Also, when combat occurs, there won't be a need for any jarring transition to a different viewpoint since everything can very seamlessly be handled within the confines of the game engine. An inventory system, for looking closer at objects, reading clues and so forth, could work very much like Resident Evil, with the ability to examine and rotate objects 360-degrees. A map of some kind is essential, so we would need to either assign space on the screen for an automap, or else make it available via button press like Oblivion. A journal section to keep track of information and allow the player to write things down would also be helpful. For these reasons, if I was designing the game, I would go with the third-person 3D perspective with the inventory, journal, map and other options available on a second screen, and perhaps a toggle to let the player decide whether activating the inventory or map happens in real-time or if it pauses the game. Now that we've gotten our history lesson and our presentation selection out of the way, we'll pause for the time being and pick up in later installments with ideas concerning player character choices, difficulty settings, puzzles and level design. And as always, your input and comments are very much welcome.