Drop that right in my box

January 19, 2010

Dropbox is a superb little application. In the past, if I wanted to share an image I’d either struggle to send it over AIM (with so many instant messenger clients and protocols out there, my personal success rate of file transfer with any individual person is low) or I’d resign to the tedious process of uploading it to imageshack/photobucket. If I wanted to share a larger file, I’d have to use something like FileFront.

With Dropbox, I now have a dedicated file-sharing folder. It fully integrates into Windows Explorer, and acts as any other folder would. Anything I put into the folder automatically uploads to the Dropbox servers. To share the file, all I have to do is right-click on it and put the assigned URL on my clipboard. I paste it wherever I want, and anyone who follows the link can download my file from Dropbox’s speedy servers.

For free, you get 2 gigabytes of storage. When you update a file, the URL for it doesn’t change. But the best part is that it’s really fast and really convenient. It’s how I share almost all my files now.

Things I use it for:

  • Sharing gameplay (and other) videos
  • Sharing pictures
  • Hosting my games
  • Hosting my resume
  • Important file backup
  • A place to share website prototypes (Clicking on a Dropbox link for an html file is just like going to any other webpage)

I save minutes a day thanks to this nifty program. That adds up.


Nonlinear level design

January 6, 2010

In the past, I’d design nonlinear games with a certain series of events in mind. I’d try to put myself in the player’s shoes and ponder, “What will they probably do here?” I’d place enemies, traps and items in ways to encourage a player to think and do certain things — but whenever I had the chance to see someone playing my level, they would not do as I had anticipated. It was kind of frustrating, but also a lesson. Short of non-interactive cutscenes or linear level design, you can’t control the way a player is going to play your game. They struggle on parts you thought were easy, will attempt to explore areas you don’t anticipate, and indeed have a will of their own.

In my current project, whose WIP title is Super Team Fortress 2, the world is nonlinear, modeled after games like Super Metroid and Castlevania: SOTN. I’m putting forth real effort to simply design an interesting and engaging world rather than attempting to fit sections of a level to a script. The player will be using 8 different characters to navigate the world, each with their own unique puzzle-solving and navigation tools. It feels not unlike accepting criticism for my written work — it’s kind of a bittersweet feeling, but the right thing to do.

Ultimately, certain checkpoints will require that the player have explored most of the world by the time they reach the end of the game. Other than that, it’s a free range. Of course, I’m not done yet, and am open to having certain parts (like boss battles) linear — I had a lot of fun making linear, gimmicky levels in my last project.

Just looking at this slightly out of date picture gives me a sense of satisfaction, though — it looks like a place you can explore, and that’s what I want.


SHORYUKEN! Oops :-(

January 6, 2010

In most games, input can be a make-or-break factor. Sluggish movement, unintuitive UI, and strange camera controls can all contribute to a low review score. Anyone remember Warcraft 1? You couldn’t even select multiple units without holding down the shift key. The genre was new, and essentially, nobody knew any better. No RTS game has made that mistake since the mid-90’s. What seems odd to me is that in the fighting game community, difficult or frustrating controls seem to be embraced.

I’m a PC gamer, so I don’t play a whole lot of fighting games. Capcom boldly released Street Fighter IV for the PC, so I decided to pick it up and see what enjoyment I could garner out of it. It’s a really fun game with tremendous replay value, provided you’re willing to play online.

Certain moves in the game require difficult-to-pull-off inputs. The character Gen’s most important combo requires the player to press a punch button 5 times within 3 frames of animation (or roughly .12 seconds). There’s even a tutorial at Shoryuken.com on how to do this maneuver which suggests the use of a pool glove so that you can slide your fingers back and forth across the punch buttons on an arcade stick to pull this off. I actually injured my wrist attempting to do this (I woke up the next day after an intense “training session,” and I could barely move my wrist without a jolt of pain. Took a week to recover). Using the “turbo” feature included on many game controllers will get you branded a cheater (it’s an unfair advantage, of course).

I’m not sure what the appeal of this is. If I made a fighting game, I’d make sure all attacks could be easily executed. I enjoy the strategy and mindgames of a match — not measuring up the speed at which I can move my fingers. Outside of rhythm games, purposefully complex controls only add to frustration. At tournament-level play, everyone has close enough to 100% execution that it’s no longer a factor. It’s a gameplay mechanic that, in my view, simply makes it more frustrating to be a low-to-mid level player.

But don’t tell anyone I said this, or they’ll call me a noob.