Game Journal – Elite: Dangerous

Title: Elite: Dangerous

Developer: Frontier Developments

Original Release Date: December 16, 2014

Location: https://www.elitedangerous.com/

Mechanics and Explanation

Elite: Dangerous is a space adventure exploration game where the player is free to explore scale replica of the Milky Way galaxy consisting of 400 billion unique star systems. The game doesn’t have much of a story to speak of but that is fine because it quite frankly doesn’t need one. Players have 100% freedom in the game and may fight, trade, or explore to their heart’s content. What little story there is mainly consists of space station requests taking the player to new star systems resulting in them learning about the current system and the previous system through the messages they receive from NPCs they encounter while on their travels. Player pilot a ship through space seeking combat, exploring star systems, completing missions for space stations, and trading for profit. The player is also free to engage in military operations and pirating if they so desire. The ships are controlled using a somewhat complicated set of key and mouse inputs thought the player is provided with the option to use a flight stick if they desire. The cockpit of the ship presents the player with myriad information. Type6_CockpitMoving from left to right, top to bottom, the player is first presented with their communication panel (closed in this picture) and then their information panel (again closed in this image. They are then presented with their target data next to a target image (the small blue planet). Next to the target data is a small circle with a white dot in it. That is an orientation gauge that helps the player align with their target in 3D space. In the center of the screen is the radar. It displays all contacts in 3D space within sensor range. On the left side of the radar is the player ship’s heat gauge. To the right of the radar is the throttle and speed indicator. To the right of that is the players shield and hull display. The blue rings are the players shield and the orange bar below it is their hull integrity. The three vertical orange bars to the right of the player ship status display is the ship power settings. The power settings consist of System, Engine, and Weapons in that order. Finally to the far right is the player’s fuel gauge and their cargo, landing gear, and mag lock indicators. All of this is just the basic interface the player uses on an ongoing basis. Additional panels are found on the far left and far right of the main screen which contain much greater detail and functionality for the player. A major part of the game is managing and mastering the dozens of systems involved with controlling the player ship. 447493610A secondary goal of the game is mastering the flight controls of the ships in the game. Each ship handles differently from the next. The game also allows players to choose from two methods of flight. Assisted flight aids the player in controlling the ship by forcing it to handle similar to an airplane. Unassisted flight allows the player to fly their ship with 6 axis – 360 degree freedom. While unassisted the player ship will retain all momentum applied to it just as a true spacecraft would. Unassisted flight allows the pilot with some freedom that assisted mode does not such as rotating 180 degrees while maintaining forward momentum. Control of the player ship is a core mechanic of the game. In Elite: Dangerous if a player’s ship is destroyed it is gone forever. Players must use the credits they earned while playing to either re-purchase a similar ship or settle for the starting ship which is available for free but is not great at any specific task. Players are also given the option of taking out a loan with the game to purchase a ship similar to their destroyed ship. The player will have a fee deducted from their earnings automatically every time they are LEGALLY paid. Another very interesting mechanic of the game is the bounty system. Player who engage in hostile actions against other players earn wanted status. Wanted status makes system authorities hostile to the player until they have either paid off their debt or they have been destroyed. The interesting thing is that players can see the wanted board while they are in a space station and they are informed of the player’s current bounty and their last known location in space. This leads to some intense player vs player combat situations.

Player Decisions

Elite-Dangerous-Loadout-Eagle-02Elite: Dangerous is almost completely decision based. The amount of decisions available to the player are almost endless. The player sets their own goals in the game. They determine if they want to participate in the universe in a legal and respectable manner or in an illegal hostile manner. After making that decision players need to determine what they need to do to reach those goals. Typically this starts out with making money to purchase a different ship and then outfitting that ship with the proper equipment for the task. elite_dangerous_05062015_8After a player has determined what they want to do in the game they typically search for a sector in the galaxy that allows them to engage in their preferred method of play with impunity. Determining a solar system or solar systems to operate out of is a major decision. Most of the sectors are controlled by a major governmental faction that polices its sectors vigilantly. Players who engage in unauthorized combat in protected sectors run the risk of being intercepted by the authorities in the area. Because of this, players who decide to engage in pirating typically hang out in sectors that are out of the jurisdiction of the major powers.

 

Elite_Dangerous32_2015_04_22_23_03_44_39Players are responsible for starting their ships, managing power, managing weapon systems, landing, docking, equipping, upgrading, painting and flying their ships, choosing a faction, associating with a government, engaging with an interstellar allegiance, increasing or decreasing their influence, managing their state affiliation and handling relationships with all of the major and minor entities within the game. Players also have to choose a ship that is appropriate for their intentions. Some ships are better for combat while others are good for transporting large amounts of goods. One more decision to be made by players thatUnique is of merit is the type of influence they wish to have on the galaxy. If players decide to spend their time exploring the galaxy they will be rewarded with credits from the Universal Cartographers for their exploration data. If the player is the first one to ever visit a solar system, explore it, and return the data to a space station that accepts cartographic data then they are also provided with a unique reward. Their name becomes permanently associated with the systems they discovered.

Pacing, Flow, and Interest Curves

Because the game’s pace is largely determined by the player’s actions it is tough to decipher and translate it into a quantifiable value. Therefore I used my own experiences with the game to determine the values for the chart below. Due to the nature of the game the chart only reflects my experience and will likely be invalid for almost any other player. Some players will see peaks in their interest for things like trading or exploring but I prefer combat situations.

Interest is initially provoked by the startup of the game. The player is introduced to the cockpit and its many controls via a short tutorial during which time the player runs systems checks on their ship, powers it up, and launches from the docking bay for the very first time. Player interest quickly drops as they begin learning the complicated and varied controls for their ship. The steep learning curve associated with the controls is not quite enough to force a player to quit but it can be very frustrating. Interest slowly increases as the player becomes comfortable with the basic controls and begins flying for the first time. As the player begins exploring and engages their frame shit drive for the first time their interest begins to quickly rise. newdockThe player is being bombarded by some amazing visuals, the vastness of the universe, and some very delicious music during their first exploratory flight. After learning the basic flight and exploration controls the player is introduced to combat. Interest in the game peaks for a player like me here since combat is the pinnacle of fun. After the player has successfully dispatched their first foe they have a greater understanding of the controls of their ship and their own abilities. The player is then faced with the task of docking their ship, on their own. The final task is difficult enough to keep the player’s interest high enough that they are willing to embark again on another adventure through the Milky Way.

The learning curve of the game starts out fairly steep. It then levels out for a while and again rises when the player experiences combat for the first time. The difficulty increases yet again as the player learns to dock, which in itself can be daunting the first time a player attempts it since the player can and will die if they do not dock properly.

Since the game in its current state does not have a true storyline it is difficult to determine the pace of the game. The pace in the chart above is equivalent to my perceived pace of the game during a typical play session.

EDCharts

 

The flow of the game follows a very well defined flow channel. The ship controls initially increase difficulty followed by another slight increase in difficulty when the player begins flying the ship. When traveling to the next location the player activates their frame shift drive. The game takes over for a short period of time allowing the player to relax. Before boredom sets in the player reaches their destination and begins manually flying again increasing difficulty and allowing the player to practice the skills they have mastered. The player will always travel to a new area when seeking combat resulting in a period of relaxation before they are incited by combat.

Game Journal – Valiant Hearts

Designer/Developer: Ubisoft Montpellier

Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One, iOS, Android

Release Date: June 24, 2014

Game Location: Variable

 

Explanation

Valiant Hearts is a side scrolling puzzle adventure that tells the story of the soldiers during The Great War (aka WWI). The player takes the role of four characters throughout the game: Emile, Karl, Freddie, and Belgian nurse Anna. Emile is the main character in the story and he joins the military to find his son-in-law Karl. An unfortunate circumstance of the story is that Emile is a Frenchman and his son-in-law Karl is German. The German army conscripts Karl into service and forces him to fight against the people he has lived with for many years. During Emile’s journey he meets an American soldier named Freddie. The soon discover that they are both seeking the same people. Eventually Anna, a Belgian nurse becomes a playable character and as a group Emile, Anna, and Freddie attempt to find Karl while defeating Germans and saving each other. The gameplay is quite robust for a side scrolling puzzle adventure game. Throughout the game the player is tasked with solving puzzles that require reflex, timing, pattern memory, and reasoning. The player almost always unarmed, receiving the required equipment when and only when they need it to advance the game. A dog is also provided to the player to aid them in retrieving items required for advancing the game.

 

Screenshot

As players proceed through the game they encounter items that reveal facts about The Great War. The facts often reveal the horrendous conditions that soldiers had to face while fighting in the trenches. While following the story of the characters players are placed into high-profile situations and events that occurred during the war like the battle at the Marne, the battle of the Somme, and the Nivelle Offensive. The game progresses through a myriad of backdrops and scenarios ranging from dank and

Valiant-Hearts-facts

bleak destroyed cities to bright and colorful county sides. The image above shows an example of an information snippet provided to the player during gameplay. Below is the scene of a zeppelin crash were the player controls Anna who is hot on the trail of Karl and has tracked him to this crash site.valiant-hearts-0002

 

Strategy

  • To discover all of the objects the player should always progress left in each area first. By doing so they will typically discover one or two items that they may have missed if they had progressed to the right as is the natural tendency of the typical player.
  • The game does a good job of showing the player the attack pattern of the enemies they encounter. In order to progress steadily the player should take a moment when encountering a new situation to study the pattern of the enemy.

 

Dynamics

  • Because the character is only able to utilize one item at a time it is often in the player’s best interest to pick up whatever item they come across as it is more often than not the item they will need to solve the next puzzle.
  • When the player is assisted by a dog they can give an item to the dog and leave it in his care for the duration of a level. That way they can call the dog at any time and swap items.
  • When going for 100% completion of the game the player need not worry about getting every item in every level on their first play though. The game will allow the player to replay any level or mission again after they have played through the game.
  • During the driving scenes in the game the bombs typically land on the quarter notes of the song being played. The machinegun fire often comes during times in the song that use 1/16th notes.

 

 

Additional Notes

I found this game to be compelling in both story and gameplay. Aesthetically the game is amazing. I spent a good 20 minutes when I first started playing the game trying to determine what type of design they used to create the scrolling backdrops. At first I thought that they were using flat 2D backdrops and a parallax algorithm to move the background appropriately but then I saw the side of a building coming into and going out of view. That led me to wonder if they were using 3D assets in the background and 2D assets in the foreground. After a bit more studying I determined that they were utilizing a combination of 3D and 2D assets in both the fore and background. That is not to say that they were though. If the game was utilizing dynamic 2D lighting techniques it could very well be completely 2D. But I will stick with my combination theory.

 

Similar Games

While I am hard pressed to find games just like Valiant Hearts a few do come to mind.

Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna)

Dust: An Elysian Tale

Bastion

 

Design Ideas

This game is almost too good for me to get any ideas from it. If I were to make a side scrolling adventure game I would want it to have a compelling story, an amazing soundtrack, and relatable characters. If I had to choose something I would say that this game gives me the idea of making more games about events that people are likely undereducated in. I think as a platform, Valiant Hearts is right on the money with a game that can be just as fun as it is educational. If educational game designers took a page out of Valiant Hearts playbook I believe they could successfully transition from mostly boring games with good ideas to good games with good ideas and a good method to convey educational lessons to people of all ages.

 

Game Journal – Gunpoint

Designer/Developer: Suspicious Developments

Platform: PC

Date: May 23, 2014

 

Explanation

In Gunpoint player take the role of a private investigator who has been hired to find a murderer. Players must infiltrate buildings in an attempt to retrieve secret documents, video tapes, email correspondence, and much more. As the game progresses the player is able to purchase tools to aid them in their endeavor. The player is able to perform acrobatics in the form of jumping, clinging to walls and ceilings, and tackling. Players can, and must, also rewire the electronics in certain buildings in order to proceed. This can be done in multiple ways. Players can wire light switches to devices like elevators, doors, security cameras, and even enemies weapons. As the player progresses they begin facing increasingly complex security systems. Eventually the player cannot simply hotwire anything they feel like and must bypass additional security systems to gain access to subsequent systems. The player faces the challenge of using the guards in buildings as pawns and they must also figure out how to gain access to closed circuit systems. In addition to the main objective in every mission there are also sub objectives that increase or decrease your reputation with your clients. Some clients will want you to avoid violence completely during a mission while others will want no witnesses left alive. Since Gunpoint is an espionage game the player is able to complete missions without ever being detected if they desire.

 

Screenshot

Explain the screenshots and all of the relevant information on them.

Gunpoint gameplay

Figure 1. Tackling a security guard out of a 3rd story window is pretty typical.

Gunpoint gameplay 2

Figure 2. Crosslink allows players to rewire the level.

 

Strategy

  • Utilizing the crosslink can have some amusing and irritating consequences. Try linking multiple things together to create automated systems that do the work for you.
  • Players can turn off lights to draw a security guard’s attention. This is very useful for ambushing them and knocking them out.
  • Buff guards can’t be pounced on or killed with doors, try locking them in a room and removing their access to the hand scanner on the door, otherwise, they can be killed with a shorted out light switch.
  • Sound detectors and movement detectors can be used to link systems of different colors together, not directly, but it is possible.

 

Dynamics

  • Since players do not have an ability to attract guards other than being seen (which usually results in death) sometimes taking out a certain guard can completely break the level.

Notes

The game could benefit from some sort of attraction ability, like knocking on a wall. Sometimes it seems that the levels are designed in such a way that if the player takes out certain guards the level is unable to be completed, this can be frustrating since there is no way to restart a level unless the player dies. If all guards are dead/disabled and the player cannot progress without one alive, they have to abandon the level (which can only be done twice). Providing the player with an option in the menu to restart a level would be beneficial. I found the jumping charge-up mechanic to be clunky at first but once it was fully upgraded I found it to be significantly more useful. Maybe players should just have fully charged jumps all the time and make the distance relative to the suit upgrade only.

 

Similar Games

Tenchu: Stealth Assassins

Metal Gear Solid

Dishonored

 

Design Ideas

Game Journal – Half Minute Hero

Designer/Developer: Opus

Platform: PC (Controller Support), Xbox 360, PSP

Date: May 20, 2014

 

Explanation

Time Management

Puzzle Solving

Twitch Reaction (healing)

 

Screenshot

Half Minute Hero Gameplay

 

 

 

 

 

Strategy

Level up -> Reset Time -> Level Up -> Buy Upgrades -> Level Up -> Reset Time -> Level Up -> Kill Boss

 

Dynamics

  • Time management forces players to make rash decisions.
  • Because the reset cost increases on each use the player may end up being unable to complete the mission because they would not be able to earn enough $$ to reset if necessary.
  • Players can only carry one healing item, because of this they may not be able to complete a mission due to random encounters forcing them to heal before they reach the level boss.

 

Additional Notes

Similar Games

Design Ideas