How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Rhapsodies on games, gaming, and why we play.

Month: October, 2015

Game Dev Log #5: Time awaits no one

by anbrewk

There’s was a point in this project (it happened to be a few days ago) where it becomes particularly clear that I am not making the ideal version of this game. Whereas I was at first designing around my inability, I am now building up to a ceiling to this project which is only partly limited by my inability. My vision is now further compromised by the time I am willing to devote to this and my own motivation to see my vision through.

The biggest limitation is following through with just what I actually set out to accomplish. The question is, “how much I am willing to invest to complete it?”

The latest example of this came after I received some good advice in regards to how my buttons are currently built. I was told that player options need to be apparent, even if they aren’t accessible at that moment. I had had made these buttons loop to empty options, such as the player picking “Strong” and that looping through text which simply stated “You are not strong,” before going back to the available options (‘Strong’ still being among them). It was suggested to me that I make these options greyed out and non-interactive rather than loops.

I agreed. I think it sets up the player interface to provide the same information to the player (this path exists but is not available) but faster and with less fuss. They don’t have to actually pursue the path to get it. They get it just by looking at the paths available.

The issue then wasn’t that this interfered with my previous vision, or even that it wasn’t something I couldn’t figure out how to do. It was just that in trying to implement greyed out buttons (something I’m sure would be nothing for someone competent in programming), proved to be pretty difficult given the system I’ve built. It turned out it would require me to redesign a couple core elements that I don’t have the patience or inclination to tackle. It’s not something I’m motivated to do.

This means I’ve essentially accepted an inferior game, in part because of my inability to tackle a problem but more so because of my lack of motivation to devote time to the problem. I dun wanna. In the beginning, as I began designing the game I had my own limitations in mind and made compromises then to design something possible. In the beginning I was designing the ideal game given my limitations. Now I am further restricting that vision beyond the limit I had previously set. I am compromising my vision for less justifiable reasons (though, I’m sure a sympathetic reader would agree, still justifiable—just not so much as before). It feels different now.

What I am at least happy about is that I have a working prototype that does what I want it to do. It sets out the game play elements I initially envisioned and establishes the thematic elements I had hoped to accomplish.

And it is at least somewhat encouraging that I acknowledge and understand the improvements to be made to my initial design, regardless of whether I am in a position to act on making those improvements.

What I’m most excited about now is completing the project. Moving beyond the prototype and completing the full set of rooms and stories I set out to do. It’s that which I really intended on doing. It’s that which I want to sink my motivation into.


The Juice: Megaman X’s Sub Tanks

by frangibility

Megaman X (1993) is great! It’s a superb example of Capcom at the peak of their 8- and 16-bit design powers, combining energetic music, expressive and whimsical sprites, creative bosses, and tough but fair level design. But rather than penning another paean to the game in general, I’d like to focus on one particular design decision that I think helped give the game a little something extra… the juice, if you will.


Previous entries in the series included special power-up items called Energy Tanks (or ‘E tanks’), which were typically hidden throughout the game world in locations that required some combination of precision platforming, keen deduction and/or unlocked Robot Master weapons to discover. Their function was simple: provide the player the option to refill their life-bar during the course of a particularly challenging boss battle or platforming section, which would potentially allow them to avoid the demoralizing appearance of a Game Over screen. In their earliest incarnation, using them was a serious strategic consideration, as they were single use items: once you expended an E-tank, it would never respawn or replenish, meaning that if you *still* failed to defeat the boss after expending one (a very real possibility if one was facing the Yellow Devil or any of the series’ other malevolently difficult robot foes), the only way to get it back was to restart the game (or re-enter a previous level select password).

In Megaman X, however, the developers tinkered with this formula with the invention of the Sub Tank. Though initially indistinguishable from an E-tank (given that they too are hidden throughout the game world’s various levels), upon finding their first one, the player quickly realizes that they are a somewhat different beast. Upon initial discovery, the item enters the player’s inventory (without any explanatory text) and sits there inert and unusable. With further play, however, the player will inevitably – at some point- run into a health power-up while their health-bar is already full, at which point they are treated to a previously unused sound effect, alerting them to the fact that *something* has happened. A quick glance at the inventory screen explains it: the previously empty bar in the center of the Sub Tank has begun to fill up. Once topped up, the player hears another new sound, signifying that the tank is now available for use.


Though a seemingly small change from the E-Tanks in previous franchise iterations, I noticed that it had two pronounced effects upon my engagement with the game: first, it provided a fun sub-challenge – namely, trying to get through the game’s levels without being injured, so as to fill up my sub-tanks as quickly as possible. In the process, it took a minor gaming annoyance (unusable power-ups) and turned them into an asset. Second, it also broke down a psychological barrier to using the tanks. As the type of player that typically makes it to the end of a game without ever making use of my best weapons or items (read: hoarder), the fact that these tanks could be refilled easily via good play not only lowered the stakes of using them, but also implicitly suggested that doing so was the intended way to play. Rather than being a crutch, they became another weapon in the arsenal. As far as I can tell, the only downside to sub-tank is that, when squaring off against a particularly challenging boss and failing repeatedly, one can be forced to visit prior levels in order to farm health power-ups, though in the right areas, this can be accomplished in less than a minute. Regardless, it is still much more forgiving than the evanescent, “one-and-done” E-tanks of yesteryear.


The gameification of power-up drops (through the creation of an additional “victory” condition), as well as the elegant, non-verbal manner through which this new game mechanic was explained to the player, were clever, thoughtful design choices. Though Mega Man X would certainly have remained an excellent game without this innovation, its inclusion took an already polished reinterpretation of the Mega Man formula and gave it a little extra juice.