6 min read
Gamasutra's Best of 2014: Brandon Sheffield's Top 5 'research' games
"In order to make sure I'm on the right track, sometimes I like to ground myself by playing games that have similar systems or elements to what what we want to achieve."
Some of you may know that my full time job these days is director of Necrosoft Games. We're making four games simultaneously, and part of my job is to make sure all those projects are living up to our own quality expectations, as it can be really easy to get lost in the day-to-day of what you're doing, and miss the larger picture (especially for me). In order to make sure I'm on the right track, sometimes I like to ground myself by playing games that have similar systems or elements to what what we want to achieve. Here, then, are the top 5 games I played for research in 2014.
These games have amazing arcade-style drift mechanics, and simply lovely, lush, and exciting tracks all the way through. There are a couple segments that are less interesting than others, but each of them only uses three types of turn, plus straightaways, and centers each segment around a large visual set-piece. There's so much to learn from these tracks that I can't describe them all, but reminding myself what one can achieve if one applies oneself can be massively helpful.
We have some unique and interesting mechanics in this game, but one that is not unique, just rather rare, is the magic attacks. Essentially, once you build up enough power from combos, you're able to unleash a game-changing magic attack that either does something devastating to your opponent's field, or something beneficial to yours (or both). A few Japanese puzzle games have done this over the years, but two of the most fun are Tetris Battle Gaiden on the Super Famicom, and Puyo Puyo 4 on the Dreamcast.
In studying these, I made the decision that "fairness" is not necessarily all it's cracked up to be. The powers in these games are not fair. They are not even. But they are silly, they are fun, they are foolish. They make you have a good time, and not take the game so seriously. When your opponent suddenly reverses the inputs on your controller with a magical strike, it's hard not to laugh. And I'd like just a bit more laughter in games, thanks very much.
While our game is very different from Galcon, the main tenets are the same. Capture territory, and gauge whether your units are stronger than your enemy's. Playing Galcon simply encouraged me, when I was worried I'd never hit upon the right idea, that if there's one idea out there for a small tactics game, there can be another.
Who are the champions of screen shake? Definitely and decidedly Vlambeer. So I played Luftrausers to get an idea of where and when we might want to put screen shake into Gunhouse. We didn't quite get to the sweet spot, I will admit. What we have is more of a "better than nothing" sort of solution than the masterful shaking that Vlambeer's games exhibit. I guess I need to study this one a bit more.
But Windjammers is still very influential, for its feel, for its precision, for its speed, and its general tone. The timing of strikes and slides, and the responsiveness of movement is excellent, and a good reminder of how an arcade action game should feel.
On top of that, I like how the limitations of your character can have an affect on whether you can get to the ball (or frisbee) in time. If you're up on top of the court, and the ball goes low, and you're not expecting it, you might not physically be able to get there. It feels like a near miss, and even if you lose it, it's still a good feeling -- because you made that heroic dive for it, and you knew you couldn't get there, but still you tried. You make the character's limitations your own, no longer blaming the computer for your own error. That's a sport.
Check back for more of Gamasutra's staff picks over the course of the week! Read EIC Kris Graft's top 5 right here, blog director Christian Nutt's list here, editor Alex Wawro's list here, editor-at-large Leigh Alexander's list and UK editor Phill Cameron's right here.