Thursday, April 23, 2009

Elven Legacy Demo

I played the Elven Legacy demo yesterday, and it seems pretty solid, good turn based fun. The only feature that stood out as bad was the terrible tutorial. You're going to have me watch a video instead of walk me through it in the actual interface? Really? Besides having the cliched fantasy voice yell at me while I'm watching it, the voiceover kept clipping, the next sentence running over the end of the last one. The pacing was too slow - a veteran of the genre would be bored to tears and a brand new gamer would be confused and unsure, since all they have to go off of is a blurry video, then they're dropped into the interface. Why couldn't they just highlight buttons and walk me through it with tool tips? The interface is fairly simple, so there wouldn't be a whole lot lost if they just dropped it all together. Maybe have a little pop-up explaining camera controls at the first.
The ability to zoom in and see individual units was nice visual candy, but it doesn't do anything gameplay wise. What I liked was how archers could defend any friendly unit they're near, firing back at the enemy if the adjacent unit was attacked. Fairly simple, but it added a nice element of strategy. The semi-random upgrade options were also nice. Every time a unit levels up, three upgrade options are given at random, which adds a little variety as opposed to a pure tech-tree approach. What might be an even better improvement is getting benefits based on what the unit had done - if they've been fighting in the woods, they get a bonus to woodland combat, or bonuses against spearmen if they've been fighting an army's worth of them.
That's something I though was a little off in Civilization 4, how you could assign points to any specialty you wanted. That gives the player more control, so there might be a very good reason they went that way. I sort of feel like prototyping something up to test if bonuses based on actual unit experiences would be fun.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Game Design Internship Interview

I had my first game design job (phone) interview Thursday, and it was pretty in-depth, around 45 minutes of questions. I made the small mistake of taking the call in a public place since it was scheduled as soon as I got off work. Ten minutes into the call a loud group moved into the room and I tried to get to a quiet spot, and succeeded in losing my cell phone signal and dropping the call. He called right back, but it was still embarrassing. So lesson learned. The interview was with one of the lead designers for the project I would be working on if hired.

A few of the questions asked and my answers - these are paraphrased, I took notes right after the call:

  1. What is the process you go through when making a level?

  2. I first sketch out a rough layout of what I have in mind, then block out the level in the editor I'm using, with just the basic untextured geometry. Then I play through the level, making sure I can move through the level smoothly, without getting caught in any of the spaces. Once the geometry is functional, I then add in the NPCs and some basic scripted events, and play through the level again, this time taking note of what enemy placements work or not, modifying the geometry or enemy placement as needed. Then I go back and start to add textures and polish, adding in 3D assets as they're completed, making sure every thing's going together well. (I don't think I included enough about the teamwork involved in making a level and how to ask for the assets you'll require, since most of the work I've done has been fairly independent.)

  3. What level are you most proud of, and why?

  4. I mentioned a level I made for a dodgeball modification for Half-Life 2 with a lot of raised areas and platforms floating in space, with large pillars in-between and supporting them for cover.

  5. What level made by someone else on your team to you most admire, and why?

  6. This was a map with conveyor belts, suspended over molten metal. This one took a lot of skill to maneuver in, and took the dodgeball arena concept somewhere I hadn't though of. Also, this was one of the first levels made for the mod that used cover, as opposed to the first where we emulated normal dodgeball, where every level looked like and was as bare as a high school gym. (The dodgeball mod wasn't really that good, I wish I had a better example here.)

  7. If you were in charge of designing ten levels for a game, what elements would you suggest the level designers use to make the levels unique and fun?

  8. I used the dodgeball mod as an example, and though that good use of cover, meaning the cover could be maneuvered around and countered by another player, and placement of balls that required the player to take a risk of some sort to pick up the balls, like leaving cover.

  9. On your last project, what were the basic elements that made up a good level?

  10. Basically the same as #4, it was sort of an extension of his question. (I think he asked this because I wasn't making a whole lot of sense in #4.)

  11. What's your favorite game of the last year? What were the best and worst parts of it? What would you do to improve the sequel for this game?

  12. I chose GTA 4, and explained how I liked the buddy mission mechanic, and how it took you from mission to mission smoothly, made the game flow better so you always had something to do, and added a lot to the story, revealing just a bit more about each character and the player's character in return for doing what basically amounted to chores. I then said I also disliked the buddy mechanic, since it didn't allow the player to explore on their own without being interrupted by basically required missions, unlike the previous games in the series, where it was easier for the player to make their own informal missions, if they were so inclined. I'm not sure what I would improve about the sequel. (I messed up here, I needed to have a game to talk about where I knew of a way to improve it. Far Cry 2 would have been a better choice, since I have a few ideas to improve it that I should make a post about sometime. I'm pretty sure contradicting myself didn't help.)

  13. What are you plans in the industry?

  14. My plans in the industry are to become a game designer, and hopefully a lead designer in a few years.

  15. What would you personally bring to the game industry? What area do you want to work on?

  16. I talked about how I wanted to improve storytelling, and he asked me what I though made storytelling in games different from other mediums. I said interactivity, the fact that the player makes up their own story to some extent, being able to make moment to moment decisions in gameplay, that each person playing the game will make their own unique experience, and I name-dropped Chris Crawford. I got on kind of a roll, then talked about the really important part of game design was making the player feel like they've made the right decision, even when they really didn't make a decision at all, the game made it for them, but they feel they had a choice, or at least that the choice they were forced to make was the best one, and the area of story in game design was where I wanted to work.

  17. Would you feel comfortable implementing other people's ideas?

  18. Absolutely, I think it'd be a worthy learning experience, by successfully implementing other people's idea I can see which of those work and what doesn't, and use them in my own work.

I think I did alright, but there's some serious room for improvement. I think a lot of what I need to know could be learned from an internship, or at least an example single player level completed for any game that I could talk about, that would have fixed a lot of the problems. So I need to have better examples, use Far Cry 2 next time, and write up a post on what I want to do to organize my thoughts. 

If anyone made it this far, do you have any suggestions? Anywhere I messed up that I didn't mention? Any tips for future interviews?