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shuandang draws: Episode 4

 


Sicaella

 


A new character addition for my game concept Cold Chamber. I'm revisiting some story ideas around magical industrial weaponry. Sicaella is here with a spike charge that's set-and-run. So hopefully the light uniform is suitable for moving fast. What would be cool next is to see her in full regalia!


I've also started using the G-Pen in CSP to ink this. Strangely the handling feels better than when I first tried years ago.

Caught up on JRPGs FFVIIR and P5

Wrapped up playing Final Fantasy VII Remake last month and Persona 5 over the last week. I think what I'm left with is the imprint of the character designers at the pinnacle of their work.

25 years on, Cloud and crew are iconic as ever. Kept in the zeitgeist by Square Enix's dedicated investment into spin-offs and media. I'd actually mostly familiarized myself this cast without playing the original FF7 (only made it a few hours in). I read the lore, script, and watched the animated OVA and movies. The characters somehow hit the sweet spot of being a fresh archetype for gamers in that generation. In the remake, they aren't as wordy as they would be in a text-based classic RPG, but I think it works to the advantage of letting the characters express themselves through motion and just showing themselves as visual marvels on screen. They 100% brought these characters to life again. Though Yuffie wasn't in the main campaign, she's naturally my favourite character here.



Persona 5's another story altogether. I started playing this one about 4 or 5 years ago, and was immediately enthralled except for the challenge of its length. After nearly finishing the second Palace, I put it on the shelf until 2021 when I picked it up again on the PS5, easily accessible in the Plus Collection. This is another game oozing with cool, filled with unique, recognizable characters that slowly opens up the more time you spend with them. It wasn't until continuing the game that there was a wave of introduction of confidants and I found the motivation to build relationships with them. And it was rewarding, too, to follow each of the character's struggles as they tried to better the world, and as they tried to overcome their own self-doubt and weaknesses. The game was a heartfelt reminder that change is achievable with support and resolve. My favourite addition to the party was Makoto.






2021 A Year in Games

Quick list of games played in 2021:

Genshin Impact, Cyberpunk 2077, Artifact, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Seek Etyliv, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Dyson Sphere Program, Final Fantasy XV, Valorant, Concrete Genie, Control, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, God of War, Knockout City, Virtua Fighter 5, Wild Rift, Industries of Titan, Naraka: Bladepoint, Hunter's Arena, Florence, Superliminal, DotA 2, League of Legends, Battlerite, Runeterra, Hitman 3, Bright Memory: Infinite, Legion TD 2, Titanfall 2, MageQuit

In progress:

Pathless, Persona 5, Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Sampled:

Timelie, Shadwen, Loop Hero, Rhythm Fighter, A Plague Tale: Innocence

Thoughts:

This year, I've had more interest in classic JRPGs and shooters.  Both in the style of high fidelity experiences, action cutscenes and a clear throughline story with memorable set-pieces.  The music in FFXV set the tone of a grand epic.  That followed with a lot of focused, fun time in FFVII Remake and Persona 5  Voice acting went a long way to make the character drama come to life.

The weakest genre as of late has been stealth.  I did play Cyberpunk 2077 with a stealth build, so perhaps that covered my needs there.  Maybe the military backdrops of that and Metal Gear / Splinter Cell franchises are more compelling to me.   As for the other, more traditional hard stealth games, I found that there was a tradeoff where the designs had a lot of tutorializing of stealth mechanics that I did not have the patience to get past.  The puzzle-like elements of early stealth games felt restrictive and bland, as I'd have seen these before from past experience.

Competitive games were fun (as always) but a bit of a struggle this year.  Without dedicated time to study and master the strategies, it was harder to keep up across multiple multiplayers games.  These are still very fun, I thoroughly enjoyed Hunter's Arena, Virtua Fighter 5, Knockout City, MageQuit, and Naraka a lot, especially in the early learning curves just after each game's launch.  I'm happy to play out a season in each one and see how I rank compared to other players.  But there's no chase to be the top 1% for me here.  Mastery is a bit out of reach without focus.

Biggest surprise and enjoyment was Superliminal.  It spoke directly to me as a game developer, by showing the backstage elements of creative work.  

Ultimately, I'm reminiscing on Nier: Automata.  This is the masterpiece that come back to me a lot, especially through the soundtrack.  I've picked up the prequel remake Nier: Replicant ver 1.22474487139... and it's going to be my focus for 2022.


Anticipated games of 2022/23:

God of War: Ragnarok, Elden Ring, Sifu, Final Fantasy XVI, Astrea: Six Sided Oracles, Endless Dungeon, Citizen Sleeper

The Exponential Age

From my reading of The Exponential Age, by Azeem Azhan

My favourite parts of this book are the history of exponential growth of technologies (computerization, computing power, shipping, among others), and the contemplation of how ongoing innovations that are already happening will reorganize societies.

Exponential growth does not stop when the limits of one technology is reached.  Innovation in the transistor, which had grown exponentially over the last many decades, led the early exponential growth of computing.  Once the speed at which we improved transistors started to slow, the exponential growth moved elsewhere.  In this case, to the availability of computing power.  Exponential forces stack and follow one another.

Exponential effects also came about with standardization.  Once a universally accepted guideline for shipping containers was put into place, the global shipping capacity continued to grow with every added port, ship, and truck.  It unleashes an uninhibited spread of the core design.  The pieces fit no matter who or where they are created.

The core technologies underlined in the book are: Genetic Science, 3D Printing, and two others i cannot remember.

But the point of the book is not that things change fast, but that they change faster than we can adapt at first.  So at the onset of all introductions of new technologies a shock to societal norms and existing institutions will occur. It is not until time passes, (in the slower cases a generation or two) later that the people are able to address the systemic inequities that emerge.  We'll need to work a lot to improve the exponential gaps that have been expanding.

Super Raft Boat

 


It just gets at one of the cores of the human condition, the will to build and to survive against chaos. The two actions are at odds: left click to destroy (enemies) and right click to create (a raft). But in a balance between I found some meaning.

The Final Hours of Half Life: Alyx

 

In a series of 15 chapters, Geoff Keighley covers the ambitious and tumultuous journey of creating the flagship VR Half-Life game.  It's a tale about continuing to fan the flames of creativity in the next generation, the complex necessities of game development, and the dedication to craft at Valve.



Seek Etyliv

It's a concise puzzle game that makes the most of very little.  Seek Etyliv doesn't try to explain.  Instead it lets the natural curiosity and need to conquer challenge arise from the player.  I completed the story (in puzzle and poem form) in a little over an hour.  

That's when the extra, unnecessary challenge began, of executing puzzles without making a single mistake.  I do not know if there is a secret hidden at the end of the deadly dungeon, but that's not important.  Because someone with a true calling to the task should take up the gauntlet.

The game takes its promise of minimalistic design seriously.  I especially liked the simplistic menu navigation with arrow keys (the only flaw being a reliance on the escape key).  It's strict adherence to the 3x3 grid let it explore its own little design space.  I suppose it's like tic tac toe crossed with rogue and sokoban.

https://rokasv.itch.io/seek-etyliv




Steam Winter Sale 2020 Hidden Gems

This Winter Sale I picked up a few indie titles that really stood out to me.  First impressions below, with more to follow when I've played through them!


Timelie

A puzzle game with endearing graphics.  It speaks with visuals and atmosphere.


There is no game: Wrong dimension

The best fourth-wall breaking comedy that makes the player the star of the show.  It's a dialogue with the developer and there's so much personality in the game!


Quantum Protocol

A quirky card game themed as hacking.  This game's UI execution, while simple, knocks everything else out of the park in how quickly I was able to jump into and feel its unique interactions.






Liberating Wind

Fresh starts are the freeing from the shackles of the past and every day, every moment could be one.

2020

2020 was a landmark year, one of those that we eagerly look forward to in the past but upon arriving discover it was less than the ideal future.  Now that the year has come and gone the collective focus of humanity will be on the promises of 2026, or 2049, or 2077, or any another number with significance.  

Gnomon Level Design - Desert Level Screenshots

Screenshots don't paint a full picture when it comes to 3D levels, but I'd like to share some of the key vantage points from my desert level.


Here's the main gate that is blocked off.  The player climbs the siege weaponry to reach the top of the wall, where...


They'll see the explorable city below, and discover secrets at the Vault.
 

This is a room full of prop objects modeled to show off the workshop.


This particular room is where one of the artifacts is held, defended by a pair of royal wraiths.
 

A quiet and ominous barracks.


And lastly a look at the keep just out of the player's reach.  They'll have to find a way over the short wall to reach the key item in there! 

Cyberpunk 2077



A review of Cyberpunk would be incomplete without mention of it's launch debacle, but I'll highlight my experience here and save the marketing analysis for another post.  I managed to avoid most issues by playing on PC, and by focusing on the stealth shooter and hacking gameplay. 

Cyberpunk was my most anticipated game of the year, in part because of it's gameplay similarities to the recent Deus Ex trilogy.   It's inclusion of augmentation, an expansive sci-fi universe, and sneaky gunplay put me into the same mode of immersion and wonder that I experienced playing Deus Ex Human Revolution.  And boy was I immersed.  It was impossible for me to put down the game until I'd made my way through to the end. 

This game succeeded for me the most in it's thrilling, cinematic main campaign, and it's varied level design.  Stepping into a hostile zone meant having to be on high alert, scanning the area and concocting a plan of infiltration.  The uniqueness of each location (an underrated feat!) kept the game fresh.  It's a marvel that CD Projekt Red designed a world of that size with such depth.  It's open world density of unique, loosely isolated encounters improved on the Skyrim formula of dungeon design.

My approach was almost always to open with stealth, trying to hack, disable, and silently take down as many enemies as possible.  Naturally, my execution would not be perfect!  I'd get spotted, trigger a shootout, and have to use my pistol or rifles to clear the rest of the camp.


Each encounter, as described, followed this pattern of rising and falling tension that made every quest end with a satisfying player story. Whether I came out of the fights unscathed like a ninja or explosively in a hail of bullets, the journey through that danger was thrilling. I'd leave the battlefield feeling like a hero and walk down the street to the next quest.


That's not to say Cyberpunk 2077 was without it's weaknesses. Outside of combat, the world did not facilitate much interaction. The playspace of CP2077 only existed in a few places: encounters, driving, inventory, and photography. While it's world of Night City was a sprawling metropolis, the most intricate action a player could do within it was to "Press [F] to pick up an item". It's a big disappointment because so much of the city is designed to be filled with unique locales, yet it is all reduced to set dressing, just a facade. There's so much room for deeper immersion around the city districts.

Another big problem with the game was the ambiguity of the non-lethal playstyle. It was not clear whether downed enemies where sleeping or dead. It seemed there was some breathing animation but that was inconsistent and confusing at best.


The worst offense of the game has to be it's lack of responsibility in handling food that exists in its narrative. Vendors do not actually sell any of the items that they say they have during cutscenes. Claire is the worst example. She's the bartender at the Afterlife, and a big part of the appeal of that bar, is that they serve drinks named after the most famous mercenaries. There's a whole conversation about Johnny Silverhand's drink, but when I went to buy something from her, she only had generic consumables.

Later in the game, Claire invites V to grab a beer from her fridge. I scoured the room, but there were no fridges, and no beers. The game is a lie.

This is a serious case of ludonarrative dissonance, and completely threw me out of the game. My conjecture is that it's a symptom of misalignment between various teams working on the game, and that there was not enough time or resources for detailed direction to bring the project to a cohesive whole.


But it's flaws are somewhat redeemed for by the detail in the core parts of the game and its occasional exceptionally great quests. The gems of Cyberpunk are in its side content, not laid out for the player but built into the world. Players are left to discover them, either by chance or by thorough exploration.

That's the most interesting part of the Cyberpunk experience: that the memorable moments are the ones you discover in between the main story quests. These are the moments that are special to my V.





13 Years on Steam

I've been gaming on Steam since 2007, when Valve launched the Orange Box.  My christmas present that year was a PC that could play it!  That first Winter was filled with exploration in Half-Life 2, solving the mind bending puzzles of Portal, and gibbing in Team Fortress 2.

Today I'm almost up to the milestone 1000 games in library (given the Pareto distribution I've only played 20% of those). I've had many of my favourite gaming moments and great times playing with friends on Steam.  It's really succeeded in making PC gaming the most accessible platform.  A large storefront, community tools, a place to play with friends, and instant access to my games on my laptop or desktop, whichever was nearest to me.



Gnomon Level Design - Desert Project Mood Boards

Final Project for the Level Design course.  For this we're learning from the Seattle area in The Last of Us 2.  My stage is designed in a Persian fortress feel. 






PS5

 

This is me for the rest of the month.  Gaming it out to Final Fantasy XV and the rest of the PS Plus Collection.

Still In It

I thought 2020 would be the year that my play would get rusty, but I'm still IN IT!


This new league of legends rewards flow for the season is very clear and satisfying.

Being the Hero

Being the hero is so compelling that it's not enough to hear stories of great deeds, we desire to enact them. The mantle of the hero who brings order to the world is the cornerstone of storytelling. Within games players can become the hero in a simulated world, and live out that destiny.

A Cat's Curiosity

Lina has lived with me for 4 years but she's still always so interested in exploring the house, patrolling the yard, and sniffing around.  When she was younger she was mesmerized by the water faucet.  As the water dripped, Lina would jump to the countertop and try to catch the water.  She grew up and no longer does that.  I can't say exactly when but her curiosity has moved onto other things like the birds outside.

Genshin Impact - Party 2

I pulled Sucrose, Xingqiu, and Keqing today in Genshin Impact.  Was getting close to the 5-star pity, didn't want Klee, but felt a bit lucky so I went for it.  I've got some awesome additions to my team now.  Keqing is my first five star!





Losing Streaks and Winning Streaks

Sometimes you get stuck in a rut and perform poorly for a long while.  Last week my 8-game lose streak in league of legends was difficult to get through.

But situations like these come in waves.  Losing can put you in a poor mentality that is difficult to come back from.  

The momentum can go both ways!

Once you get over that hump and change your mentality, you can find the start of a winning streak.  That first win can give you the push for you to outperform your own expectations, and maintain it consistently afterwards.

Losing!


And then winning!



Gnomon Level Design - Control The Contrast

I got great feedback about my level design colors today.  Where it's easy to paint in a prototype game level with broad colors, it's also likely that you pick high contrasting colors while building it out.  This helps the designer see more clearly the differentiation between object types.

But when controlling the color for the player, the high contrast and high saturation areas should be reserved to attract the player's attention.  Less important areas of the game, such as much of the non interactable terrain, is better served with broad strokes of color that meld together and don't call for attention.

I tuned down the saturation across the board (for a second time), and tried to push back the reds in the rocks which were fighting with the greens in the trees.