Review: Dishonored 2

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The original Dishonored set up the wonderful world of Dunwall brilliantly. A masterful mix of industrial and magic creating a new world that was both intriguing and wildly dangerous. You were cast as Corvo Attano, the royal protector to the empress of Dunwall and her young daughter. All seems well until a foul plot is hatched to assassinate the empress and pin the killing on you. Now disgraced you must overcome the villains and redeem yourself, the method of which is completely up to you. Dunwall is both your playground in this story of revenge and a living breathing character of its own, changing with your actions and reflecting your choices.

 

To prepare myself for Dishonored 2 I revisited the first game and completed it without killing a single person. This new adventure let’s you take charge of with Corvo returned from the original or Emily Kaldwin, the empress’ daughter who also happens to be the Corvo’s child and the current ruler at the beginning of the game. Each choice has their own set of abilities and since I had just played through an entire game as Corvo I chose Emily to shake things up.

 

As with the first game you are the victim of a plot against the throne and as a result are cast into the streets of the new playable area Karnaca. This new outing is set fifteen years after the great rat plague that was occurring during Corvo’s first adventure and you can feel this history seeping from every set piece of this living breathing game world. Civilians putter about tending to their daily lives, dock workers slack off and discuss current events while guards pose an ever present threat to both the player and any pedestrian they decide to shake down.

 

Luckily you won’t have to face this treacherous world unprepared. Both characters have access to an arsenal of pistols, crossbows and grenades each with various forms and effects from being able to put an enemy to sleep to immolating them in flame. Along with the choice of projectiles you also have your trusty collapsible sword to either stealthily slit the throat of your oppressors or charge blade first into gruesome death animations where limbs and heads go flying. You are constantly reminded that you have choices and that really is the strong point that this series has over many other narrative driven adventures, you can really make it your own.

 

Early on you are approached once again by The Outsider who offers you magic powers to aid you on your quest. You can turn him down for another layer of challenge trying to run through the game without powers adds another layer of difficulty that I will have to leave for another playthrough. You start off the ability to teleport short distances and are given a beating heart with a variety of charms hanging of it that directs your to bone charms and runes which can be used to upgrade your character and unlock more powers such as possession and the ability to see through walls.

 

I found the method of pulling out the heart to go on a scavenger hunt through levels while I was trying to avoid enemies absolutely tedious, once the heart is equiped you can see icons on your heads up display pointing out where you can find the closest runes but I think an experience and leveling system would have felt more rewarding especially if you gave the player the same amount of experience for either knocking out or evading a foe as you would earn from killing them. Perhaps if you were given rewards based on the stat screen that displays at the end of each mission, as long as one play style was not favoured over another.

 

The level design is great, each mission takes place is a vastly different area than the last and the designers have embraced the world with a sense of verticality that allows players to go nuts with their powers. The clockwork mansion level for example has puzzles that involve shifting the walls to progress and avoid the deadly clockwork soldiers who I felt were almost unfairly overpowered if you didn’t happen to have a lot of items that help mitigate them. Arkane Studios must have gone mad playtesting these levels because there is so much that could happen depending on how the player chooses to tackle each puzzle.

 

With a narrative filled with so many choices you really start to feel ownership of the world and characters in Dishonored 2. The level design will be something I use as an example of excellence in first person games and it already has me wanting to go back to experiment with more builds and tactics.

 

“Dishonored 2 sets up a beautiful world and narrative and then hands it over to you to make it your own.”

 

7/10

+Excellent Level Design       – Rune Hunting

+Play Your Way                      – Clockwork Soldiers

+Beautiful World

 

This review originally appeared on Player 2

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Influencing the player through level design

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Whenever I talk about influencing through design I can’t not bring up Egorapter’s brilliant video about Megaman and Megaman X. It perfectly explains how the early games show you a threat and how to overcome them before they are actually able to harm you. Then in Megaman X the first world is presented in a way that you can only really do a hand full of actions and through experimentation the level itself teaches you to play without a tutorial.

I actually used this in my recent project “EXE” in having the first level set up in a way that you had to use each of the controls to navigate the level and progress but there was no threat so you had time to work out how to play.

 

Storytelling in games

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Storytelling in games can be the most engaging addition to a project and weaves the world you build together with a sense of purpose. One of the biggest and unfortunately common mistakes a designer can make is ludonarrative dissonance which is the term coined by Clint Hocking (LucasArts, Ubisoft) that describes when the games story does not reflect the game play. An recent example can be seen in Watchdogs 2 where the main protagonist is a happy go lucky hacktivist but may mow down dozens of security personnel of police before going back to being the same righteous character in a cut scene moments later.

Environmental storytelling is an effective way to immerse the player, taking them to a place they have never been and letting them explore can create an experience that differs from player to player depending on life experiences.

Further reading:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131594/environmental_storytelling_.php

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/6039/the_designers_notebook_sandbox_.php?print=1

How creative directors influence games.

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In the games industry the creative director see through the projects overall visual feel and shapes the game into a unique visually cohesive whole. Often the creative director is the main art specialist looking at the big picture and making sure the assests of all artists working under them are of the correct style and fit into the world they are building.

The creative director is also responcible for assembling a team of artist that suit the project, they need to be proactive in their work and often are encouraged to think outside of the box when looking for inspiration. A common rule between directors is that you are only as good as your artists, meaning your product can only look as well as the team can make it.

Further reading:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3857/effective_art_directors_gamings_.php?print=1

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131524/common_methodologies_for_lead_.php

Thoughts: a failed project.

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When setting out on a new project defined roles and expectations are a must. Communication lines should be immediately set in place and everyone should be on the same page. My expectations when working with professionals is that each member is going to be working autonomously and then we gel everything together at SCRUM meetings and finally through the implementation phase.

Recently I was working with a team of students who were incapable of autonomous work, needing the kind of constant attention and guidance that wasn’t apparent until the project was a complete mess. Partially to blame was a break down in communications with the groups Trello board only being used regularly with one of two members and a lot of instruction and interactions communicated informally through Facebook rather than through the established Slack group.

In hindsight we could have had more detailed meetings with participants having ownership and responsibility over their own contributions. Despite accomplishing nothing tangible with this project it has been a learning experience and the way I approach production and project management tasks has been forever changed.

FEATURE: Is the culture behind developing free-to-play titles ethical?

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In recent years there has been a trend of free-to-play games flooding the game industry. Offering consumers a product up front and banking on the idea that the player will eventually cough up the cash for some sort of paid content. The content they are paying for could be cosmetic items for a more personalised experience or more content not available to free players for example: levels, missions, and story based content. This brief study will analyse the argument for and against building a game around a free-to-play model and if it is considered ethical video game design.
Free-to-play games have been led by a group of genres that easily adapt to the model, mainly Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBA), Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) and Mobile Phone Games. While there are exceptions to this, as with the free-to-play model set up in Value’s team based first person shooter ‘Team Fortress 2’, this study will focus on the three front runners to adopt the free-to-play model and use it successfully.

The MOBA genre was first introduced in 2003 (Eurogamer.net, 2015) in the form of Defence Of The Ancients (DOTA), a custom map for Blizzard’s 2002 title Warcraft III, which is generally characterised by having a player control a single hero with a set of abilities that fight against an army of artificially controlled minions as well as the enemy teams player controlled heroes. In October of 2009 Riot Games released League of Legends based on the principals of Defence of the Ancients and monetized the collecting of hero characters as well as cosmetic alternative costumes.

The base game is free to download and play to anyone using a sufficient personal computer. With 67 million monthly users League of Legends boasts over 125 hero characters that range from $2 to $7.50, it is easy to see how Riot Games managed to make $624 million in 2013 and made over $1 billion in 2014 from microtransactions. It should be noted that the hero characters can be unlocked by collecting in game points as well as buying them outright with real world money but the same cannot be said for any cosmetic items.

The realm of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games was originally associated with a monthly subscription fee but that is no longer the case, many MMORPG titles are either launching as free-to-play or starting out requiring a monthly subscription then changing their model to a free-to-play one when the number of subscribers drop. Games like the joint venture between Bethesda and Zenimax ‘Elder Scrolls Online’ changed their model from a game purchase plus a monthly subscription to offering unlimited game time with the base purchase then charging for more content as it is developed. There has been varying commercial success between the multitude of free-to-play models with the highest earners being ‘League of Legends’, ‘CrossFire’, ‘Dungeon Fighter Online’ and ‘World of Warcraft’. (PC Gamer, 2015)

Mobile gaming has become more and more common with the accessibility to cheap and powerful smart phone technology. It’s estimated that the mobile gaming industry reached $25 billion in sales in 2014.  Mobile gaming profits are estimated to overtake console game revenue in 2015 (Lofgren, 2015). Although it is worth noting that only 2.2% of mobile free-to-play users actually pay for anything within the game (Arora, 2014).

For all the success financially the free-to-play model has garnered it has also been criticized by the greater gaming community for giving game changing advantages to players who pay for content. This pay-to-win situation occurs when a player is able to buy items that are of higher quality than the ones available to the free-to-play players. This includes items that boost levelling or in game statistics and are often seen as unfair when they lead to competitive games being won by the players with the most pay-to-win items. This practice of offering an advantage for a price is, by design, unethical. (Tempostorm.com, 2015)

In conclusion, the development of free-to-play games with in game microtransactions is not in itself unethical as long as the items offered for sale are cosmetic and do not gave the buy an advantage over other players. This is proven to be a very profitable business model and as long as you are fair to your community you can thrive from growing a massive user base by offering the base game for free.

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PC Gamer, (2015). League of Legends has made almost $1 billion in microtransactions. [online] Available at: http://www.pcgamer.com/league-of-legends-has-made-almost-1-billion-in-microtransactions/

Eurogamer.net, (2015). The Story of DOTA. [online] Available at: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-08-16-the-story-of-dota-article

Lofgren, K. (2015). 2015 Video Game Statistics & Trends Who’s Playing What & Why? | Big Fish Blog. [online] Big Fish Games. Available at: http://www.bigfishgames.com/blog/2015-global-video-game-stats-whos-playing-what-and-why/

Arora, G. (2014). Study: Only 2.2% of Free-to-Play Mobile Users Actually Pay. [online] Game Rant. Available at: http://gamerant.com/free-to-play-games-profits-statistics/

Tempostorm.com, (2015). Is Hearthstone Pay to Win? [online] Available at: https://tempostorm.com/articles/is-hearthstone-pay-to-win

11. Spooky Scary Skeletons

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Skeletons are sometimes all the remains (heh) of the inhabitants of Fallout 4. Either during the initial nuclear bomb drop or in the coming struggle afterwards they tell a story of what was. It isn’t uncommon to stumble into a building in the massive open world and find nothing but a skeleton draped across a kitchen table of propped up in a chair, blown away from the world of the living while living out their otherwise mundane day.

Wesley Yin-Poole wrote “The skeletons also do a better job of showing us the horror of post-nuclear war than pretty much everything else in the game. Bethesda’s Boston is packed with burnt out buildings and bust up fusion cars, but it’s the skeletons that hit closest to home. In these troubled times, Fallout 4’s skeletons bark a stark warning: play nice, they croak, or you’ll end up a bag of bones just like me. I love a surprise encounter with a skeleton. I stop to study them, letting my imagination run wild. Never mind the quest I’m on, the junk I’m searching for or the Raiders I must kill, it’s the skeletons that demand attention. The other night I stumbled upon two skeletons huddled together at a broken bus stop. I imagined them as husband and wife, embracing each other for the last time as the burning bright light engulfed them.”

There is a morbid sense of curiosity that burns through me when I enter a game scene like this. Even knowing the outcome of the occupant in any particular building I still want to rummage around to see if I can find any clues about who this person was or how they lived.

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Why I love Fallout 4’s skeletons by Wesley Yin-Poole

http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2015-11-26-why-i-love-fallout-4-skeletons