Posts Tagged ‘Recettear’

Player control over game avatars (of whatever sort, from the Galaga ship to Sora to a WoW avatar) is part of the User Interface.  It’s not what we might typically think of when addressing UI design, but the mechanics of control are nevertheless crucial to making a game work.  The GUI (Graphical User Interface) is usually what we see and think of when talking interface, but it’s only part of that user-game interaction.  We need to be able to actually control the game with some sort of input.

One of the recurring pet peeves I have with games is where I’m expected to direct my avatar rather than drive them when the gameplay itself doesn’t work best that way.

A Kingdom for Keflings (by NinjaBee, the company I work for) brought this dichotomy into sharp focus for me.  The game was originally released on the XBox as a Live game (downloadable), but we also made a PC port for it.  The design goal for the PC port was to make it purely a mouse-driven game, and if possible, single-click.  The XBox version uses a gamepad controller, and it has a lot more buttons to work with, though much of the actual gameplay tends to use just one button.  (An “interact” button, effectively, though we also needed a “cancel” button for menus and assorted GUI.  The PC port uses the keyboard for some of those other functions.)

Making the game mouse driven means that there is no parallel to the control stick of an XBox controller.  The player avatar (a giant among Kefling villagers) simply follows the mouse cursor when prompted to (via a click or drag mouse function).  The player directs the avatar’s actions.  This is in stark contrast to the XBox version, where you drive the avatar with the controller, their motion controlled by the analog stick.  For me, it is easier  and more fun to play the XBox version because of this precision, and ultimately, it just feels better.  It’s the exact same game with the same core game mechanics, but the sort of control I get with the XBox just works better for me.  The core game is still fun, but the method of interaction on the PC isn’t something I like.

I also find that making the avatar control more abstract as it is in the PC version puts another conceptual layer between me and the player character.  The XBox version uses the Microsoft player avatars, effectively putting the player’s persona into the game.  The PC version doesn’t have that option, but even then, the pure mechanics of the controls sets the player further back into a role of a director of a giant who then directs Keflings, as opposed to the XBox role of a giant directing Keflings.  To be fair, both really are you as the player directing the giant, as in any game, so the levels of abstraction are at least similar, but mechanically, when the giant (player avatar) in the PC game is following an element of the GUI to interact with the game world, that’s one more small distance between you and the game world, one more subtle push out of the suspension of disbelief.

On the other hand, our Band of Bugs also started on the XBox, and was also ported to the PC.  That game works well with either control scheme (mouse/keyboard or controller), since you’re never actually driving your characters to start with.  The XBox and PC controls are different, and have different pros and cons, but they feel pretty similar in the long run.  That’s one nice thing about a tactics type of game where it’s all about direction in the first place.

I think this is also why some MMO players complain about the “click to move” control scheme found in some MMOs (usually Asian ones, like Atlantica Online) as opposed to the keyboard WASD movement scheme.  The former has players directing their avatars in the game world by telling them where to go (and a pathfinding AI takes over), the latter has players driving their avatars around the world.  It’s a more visceral level of control, and it seems to be more satisfying.  (Tangentially, I am curious about the cultural implications of this difference, but have little data to examine.)  This is also tied to the oft-repeated complaint about Guild Wars characters not being able to jump.  Many players just want that control.  They want to drive.

The difference between the two is also what I believe to be a major factor to why I think Amorphous and Recettear‘s combat have significantly different feels to them.  Andrew rightly noted the similarities between the two over here (rightly complaining about some of Recettear’s warts), but I’ve tried to describe why I don’t see them as being all that similar in gameplay.  The Amorphous avatar just follows my mouse cursor, but I get to drive Recette’s dungeon diving compatriots.  It’s a subtle thing, but it makes a world of difference in how a game feels to me.  (And tangentially, the default keyboard controls for Recettear aren’t good, remapping is silly… but with a gamepad it reportedly “just works” and works very well.)

There are also games where the whole point is to direct the character, intentionally abstracting the controls to allow for different functions, like Aquaria or Machinarium, and others where you’re not really meant to have a high level of individual control, like Lemmings.  Still, the control interface really can have a pervasive if subtle effect over how a game is played and how it feels.  Neither directing nor driving is the solution in all places, and indeed, applying one where the other would be more appropriate can be a problem.  It may not be a gamebreaker, but it can be important to the tone and feel of a game.

Also, as these guys note (adeptly and humorously), when you’re in the driver’s seat, it changes a lot of things.  The abstract director role lets you internalize things differently from the driver role.  (And similarly, playing “yourself” in a holodeck would push things even further and have different psychological implications.)  Matching game mechanics to storytelling intent is something that most games just don’t do well.  Matching storytelling to UI can be even trickier because there’s less to work with, but it can be more important.

UI design is a tricky, sometimes subtle thing.  Still, I believe it’s crucial to get right, or else a game just won’t work right.  Giving players control is key to making games work, and if the controls don’t work well, all the pixel shaders and voiceovers in the world won’t make a difference.  Games are interaction, and if that interaction is inept, a game can crash and burn, and it may not even be clear why.


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First a quick pair of plugs:

Above 49 (Nels Anderson) and Some Accounting on the Cost of Making Games

The Rampany Coyote, tireless advocate of the Indie scene and indie dev in his own right.

In a nutshell, then, indie games can still be expensive to actually produce, but they can still be fantastic pieces of work.  I’ve worked for two game studios now, one a cog in the EA machine (then Headgate Studios, now EA Salt Lake), one a plucky independent developer (NinjaBee/Wahoo).  I’ve liked both, albeit for different reasons… but honestly, I like where I’m at now considerably more (NinjaBee/Wahoo).  It’s more risky, developing games without a patron like EA holding a financial net under our trapeze act, but at the same time, it’s also liberating in that we have a lot more control over what we do with game and art design.

So when we come up with something like A World of Keflings, know that it took time and hard work, and isn’t just something cooked up in a garage somewhere as an experiment or cheap sequel.  In many ways, it’s a labor of love, but since we think it’s a great game and has a lot of fun to offer, we also think it’s a great product and a worthy successor to the original A Kingdom for Keflings game.

Similarly, it looks like Recettear was a labor of love not only for the original Japanese developers, but also the intrepid localization team of Carpe Fulgar.  They believed in the game enough to carry it to term and throw it to the wilds of the internet.  It’s a great game, a curious mix of shop sim and dungeon crawler that manages to be more like fudge mixed with peanut butter rather than anchovies mixed with onions.  It came out of left field for me, but is a very welcome addition to my game library and a lot of fun.  That I can play it from a USB thumb drive is icing on the cake (yay for Impulse).  As Tipa notes, it’s well worth the $20.  (There’s a demo, but as fun as it is, it just scratches the surface.)

These smaller indie games tend to live or die largely on riding waves of interest and word of mouth.  As Nels notes, 10,000 purchases are a rounding error to the EAs of the world, but the lifeblood of indie gaming.  In an age of “social media”, spreading the word is easier than it used to be, but it’s still important.  The cost of sharing a recommendation can be very low, but to those of us trying to make a living making interesting games instead of Big Box clones, it’s a boon that we’re grateful for.

…so yeah, go check out Recettear and if you like the demo, it’s a game well worth buying!  Similarly, when A World of Keflings comes out, try the demo and if you like it, please buy it!  (It will be an XBox Live exclusive for a while, but we have promised a PC port like what we did for A Kingdom for Keflings.)

And if you like ’em, please tell people!  Digital distribution and social media keep the indie scene alive and cranking out great games.  Speaking with your wallet and recommendations speak to us, nice and loud.  Without big box market overhead and publisher static, the signal is clearer.


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I’m one of those odd sorts that plays a game like WoW as if I’m a citizen of a world (a role!), rather than as a race to the raiding treadmill.  I make up minigames for myself, or just go wandering around looking for the perfect screenshot (I still need to set up a Picasa portfolio for sharing, come to think of it…).  I even have a Goblinish trend, happy to tinker in the markets, which so far has been supplying the Horde AH with Deadly Blunderbusses with an Orc Hunter Engineering alt… nothing huge, but a fun little way to make some profit fairly easily at a low level.  (I’ll leave the misanthropy to Gevlon, though.)

So when a quirky little game like Recettear comes out and embraces a different aspect of these RPG things, in this case shopkeeping, my interest is naturally piqued.  Tipa mentioned the game a while back, and I’ve been keeping an eye out for a sale.  At present, it’s available via Steam and Impulse for preorder for $18ish, 10% off.  I’m sorely tempted to get it, but for now, I’ll be playing the demo.  Maybe I’ll get the whole game in the next few days, depending on how the demo goes.

Still, I applaud these Japanese indie devs for tackling something in a new way, and the intrepid localization team for bringing it to my side of the pond.

It also has me itching once again for some more interesting noncombat options for “careers” in MMOS… but that’s another article for another day.

Update: I went ahead and preordered the game through Impulse.  I think that’s the first preorder that I’ve ever done; usually I wait for sales.  I’m impressed with the game, and I’m even going to use it to teach my four year old a bit about capitalism.  Score one more for the indies!

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