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Imagiro on RPG

imagirostudios Blog

Ever wondered what your life might have been like if things
were different? I'm sure everyone of us had such thoughts at some moment in our
lives, but we usually just toss that to the backburner because we know it's a
pointless thought. However, some of us dreamers continue on the thought, and
continuously wonder how things would be. Such thought is root of role playing
games. Rather than acting out the other imaginary self in reality and face
consequences, we dreamers play it out in games.

Role playing had gained huge following ever since the
beginning of gaming history, and it is still going strong. The high quality
graphics and smooth animations makes the experience more realistic and with the
stories becoming more and more grand, it is no wonder by it is such a popular
genre. I mean, who doesn't want to escape the routine life by becoming a
notorious assassin that tries to save humanity, or a hero traveling through
time to prevent annihilation of the world. That aside, even though current games
have gives the player a lot of freedom in gameplay, but in essence, the player
is an actor in set stories made by the director. Regardless it is still nice to
put yourself in someone else's shoes and watch as their life story unfold
through your decisions.

Player tend to separate an RPG as being a regular RPG and
JRPG (Japanese RPG). Now we don't personally make the distinction (to be honest
it feels kind of weird saying JRPG) but there are clear differences that makes
them two separate methods trying to achieve the same goal. Let us first discuss
the differences between the two methods and how they attempt to achieve the
same goal, then we will finish off with some key elements of good RPGs. Before
we go any further, the RPG genre we are referring to aren't MMOs, that's an
entirely different animal by itself that deserves its own discussion.

The main difference between regular RPGs and JRPGs is the
way the story is told. Games like Demon Souls, Dark Souls, and Skyrim tell the
story from the player's perspective, which means the player is the person
moving in the game and thus have control over all decisions made as well as the
consequences. This makes the experience much more immersive since the player is
much more engaged and there is much emotional investment. Think about it like
rather than hearing the story, you are actively taking part in the story, now
that sounds more fun already. One noticeable demonstration of this trait is the
ability to name your own character (you don't know how much time we take to
think of a good name, cause we suck with names) and character customization in
terms of cosmetics and stats. All of this is to allow the player to create a
being that closely resemble who they want to be if they were in the game
environment. On the contrary, JRPGs takes the approach of an non-customizable
character with a set name (usually a name most westerners can't pronounce
right), this is a clear demonstration of the Japanese storytelling method
(rather the oriental method, but we will use Japanese since we are talking
about JRPGs). The story is being told to the player rather than allowing the
player to make decisions, and this is usually done in 3rd person perspective.
Contrary to open world movement, JRPGs tend to have a lot of cinematic moving
the story along and justifying moving to a new town, a new quest area, or new
missions. The player simply accepts the story progression and play through
area/quest/mission. Although this doesn't seem to be as immersive as regular
RPGs, it has its own way of attracting and retaining fans. Many times you will
find that the underlying story in an JRPGs is much more indepth or epic
compared to an regular RPG, although this is true sometimes, it is far from a
certain statement. The reason why JRPG's story seems to be more grand is due to
its continuity or a lack of distractions. An regular RPG such as Dark Souls and
Skyrim, you know the general goal of the game, but with an open world to
explore, player are tempted to go around exploring and lose focus on the storyline.
When I play such games, checking quest log and thinking about how the story
progress was a frequent task, in essence, I was getting distracted with all the
possibilities of the open world. This is where JRPG's story tend to outshine,
there are fewer distraction because there aren't many open world exploration,
the player goes through cinematic and begins in a new area, complete all the
quests figure out everything that happens in the chapter of that story and move
on. No distraction and a continuous flow of the storyline. It is quite obvious
now that players (no matter how bad your memory is) tend to remember the full
story of JRPGs better than regular RPGs because they get to continuously see
development of the story and never get sidetracked. Thus players feel that
stories of JRPGs are "better", though they are on some cases, but not
always. If you question this, we suggest you go play some Final Fantasy series
and try to recall the series of events that happened.

Overall, and RPG is and RPG. It is the player controlling a
character and unraveling a story, but key difference is in the telling method.
Regular RPG let the player play as the protagonist, whereas JRPGs tell player
the story through a 3rd person perspective.

Like we said before, at Imagiro Studios, we don't separate
and RPG into a regular RPG or JRPG, this mainly because we feel that if we make
such distinction when we examine games, we will tend to make the same
distinction when we make games. Rather than doing either or, we like to take
the best of both parts and fuse them in the best way possible. Thus we will go
ahead and look at some key elements that makes a good RPG (both regular RPG and
JRPG if you are so inclined to categorize).

The most important thing in a RPG in our opinion is an EPIC
story. The more epic the better, make the characters larger than life, the
world so much more grand, and the twist and turns jaw-dropping. Player play RPG
mainly to experience something out of their routine, whether it is being a
famous outlaw, or some billionaire tycoon, or simply a hero. The story is the
most important tool used to captivate the audience, once they are drawn into
the story, they will want to see the ending. Approach it like writing a good book,
first draw the interest of the reader, either with a grand opening, an
interesting character, or some sense of mystery, then once hooked, keep them
guessing until the end, then finish them off with a climax event. Games like
Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy series, and Ni no kuni are good examples (I just
realized that all the titles were JRPG, but good books, movies, tv shows are
all good reference of good story). One thing to be careful of is the
interactive nature of a game, with interaction the player always have some way
of influencing the story, and thus transitions in games must be handled with
utmost care. This can be resolved easily through good story planning, so have
that figured out before anything else. Also, never ever TELL a story, let the
player discover it. Although the story is a set path, the player still doesn't
want to be told, the way we approach this at Imagiro Studios is that we set key
events in the storyline and have side quests or mini-missions contributing to
those key events and explain the why. I (Allen the story developer) don't like
to be told why directly (unless its for the sake of discussion), and I despise
meaning side quests, so that's why in my stories, I made sure there are no
holes in the storyline and everything has a meaning.

The second thing we consider important in RPG is the
mechanics (well actually, mechanics contributes to games of any genre, not just
RPGs). A good story does make the game, but horrible mechanics takes so much
away from the goodness of the game that it can actually make the game bad. In
the end, a game is a game, the player is still "playing". Like we
stated above, the interactive nature of a game still allows the player to
influence the outcome of the game somewhat. No matter if there is a lot or
fewer interactions, the player will mainly enjoy the part where they get to
play the game rather than sit there and watch cinematics (why not just read a
book or watch a movie? well cinematic scenes now are pretty much movie
qualities anyways). So make sure the mechanics is intuitive, this means easy to
understand, remember, and use. We found that you can plan all you want, but in
the end it still needs a lot of play testing to figure out if something is
intuitive. But that is just the due diligence developers must do. Come up with
a basis, then play through it and figure out the kinks in the mechanics so you
don't make the player feel awkward.

Last but not least (this was debatable, but in the end it
came out as a worthy third point), the art style must match the feel of the
story. We say the feel of the story but not the story itself. A dark story does
not need to have realistic art style, a funny story doesn't have to have a
comical eccentric style either. But having the feel of Skyrim with cartoon
characters just doesn't cut it. We can't really describe this too well either,
the closest thing we can say is the theme of the game or the setting. A game
set in the Norse slaying dragons, first character that comes to mind is a
realistic gruff viking character, not a 8-bit japanese chibi samurai...I think
you get the point.

Overall, approach RPG development the same way you approach
writing a book, with the added element of creating a smooth interactive
mechanic. And since you are visually telling the story, have the art style
compliment it, not against it.

Imagiro on Story Development

imagirostudios Blog

As the story writer of Imagiro Studios, I (Allen, the guy
writing blog posts) work really hard to explore and get exposed to various
types of story to find inspiration, which ultimately means, a lot of reading,
watching, and experiencing....but mostly reading. Its obvious that I'm an avid
reader and I know bit about story development (you would think that someone
would be an expert after reading so many books but no...I'm no where close),
and that will be the focus of this week's topic. This goes hand in hand with
our previous post about RPG game development since RPG is a major element of
RPG is the story. So we hope you find this post useful in helping your
endeavour.

I must admit that this post is a little different from the
others. It's almost like ranting about various points, but I promise that we'll
cover all the bases of good story development. We're not teaching ways to
develop a story (everyone does things differently and have different story to
tell, so we'll leave that up to you), what we are aiming for in this post is to
point out some aspect of good story and some pitfalls that you might want to
avoid. Also, everything discussed here is from our experiences, it's not like
we did some literary study. Point is, take this as a brain teaser that gets you
thinking about how you want to do things.

must have a main storyline with side stories that doesn't
deviate too much (have side stories fill various holes or reasons of the main
storyline)

Stories are like journeys, where a series of words evoke
your imagination to form images in your mind. And like journeys, a story needs
a beginning, transitions, conflicts, climax, and an ending. In other words,
stories need structure to form a plot or storyline. No matter what form of
storytelling you use, a structure is there for you to follow, the only
difference is the variation of events in the storyline. One thing is for certain,
stories that do not have clear storyline tend to have the feeling of being all
over the place with events and ultimately confuses the audience. Here at
Imagiro Studios (and I personally) try to come up with stories that are
coherent with a clear storyline. Don't get me wrong, a clear storyline does not
mean making it fully aware to the audience, it does, however, mean making it
fully clear to yourself, let us dive further into this.

A good story cannot be written on the fly. It needs a lot of
planning and fiddling just like working with game mechanics. How I like to
imagine story development is like a metal chain. The chain itself is the
storyline, it has a clear beginning, a stretch, and an ultimate end (no, I am
not thinking about a circular chain, that would be the counter simile), where
each link in the chain is an event that binds other links together and form the
chain. The important thing here is that links bind the links before and after,
this is a good expression to story development because this type of
relationship is key to making a story coherent. Each previous event has some
ties to some past and future events which leads to development of other future
events and finally all tied together with an ending. It is the best tool to
make the story move along without the audience fully realizing that they are
getting dragged along the story. A very coherent story is very smooth in its
transition, the audience would see that things are happening and things are
going somewhere naturally rather than thinking about why some things happened,
more on this later. For us at Imagiro Studios, story development is done with
care and a lot of planning, I personally take it serious enough to come up with
the most coherent story, a lot of times the first draft isn't very exciting
since it just covers the sequence of events that occurs, but as the drafts gets
more refined, character personality, settings, and emotions all contribute to
adding flavour to the story. However, the most important is a coherent series of
events that is called a storyline. A key element that I like to use is to plan
out an overall main storyline where possible loopholes or sources of confusion
are explained prior to encountering those situations. The device I use to
accomplish this is to use side stories or quests to set the stage so that later
encounters that seem random or out of place have an explanation that was given
prior. This device not only explains holes in the story and give coherence, but
it also allows game developer to integrate seemingly random side quests into
the overall storyline and make the player feel like every quest or mission they
do matters in the development, the illusion of choice is the expression used in
the industry. But be very careful when using this device, never deviate too
much from the main storyline, main thing is to have side events explain things
in the main storyline, it should never be too overpowering or long that it
makes the player forget what the main storyline is.

Good story planning leads to coherent stories which flows
smoothly, allowing the audience to ride the adventure without too much
involvement. However, this does not mean that the story should be predictable,
a predictable story is a boring story, it means that there isn't enough depth. Subtle
elements that lead on the audience are good devices to add depth, no matter
whether the elements lead the audience astray or on the correct path, it adds
mystery which keeps the audience guessing what might happen next. You surprise
them once then have them keep guessing. As an avid reader, I find that the
smallest things in events are sometimes very significant and it provides good
hints of future events, you can utilize this in your story development to add
subtly which gives the audience with an analytical brain some future sight as
well as the reward of realization when you tie up all the loose ends in the end
and make reference to the small things.

Loose ends are the worst to a story. Unless you are planning
to develop an afterstory to finish the original story, please please please do
not leave loose ends. It makes the story feel incomplete and leaves a bad after
taste. If you have a good storyline, the ending the key to keeping it good
until the end, I have encountered loads of good storylines that are ruined by a
crappy ending that is either anti-climatic or incomplete. I can deal with it
being anti-climatic because perhaps my vision of the ending was more grand, but
an incomplete ending (one that leaves loose ends) are just unbearable, they make
me rant, often violently, plus the feeling that I wasted my money and time.
This issue can be easily dealt with by good story planning. Keep a list of
character and their events, and see to it that everyone receives a proper
ending so no one gets left behind in the void of incompleteness.

There are tons of material out there teaching story writing,
but most importantly is that you have a story to tell. A passionate story will
always get through to the audience the telling method just determines how much
of it is amplified. Also, there are lots of ways to tell stories, the
traditional way, simultaneous storylines that converges, reverse storytelling,
and ending as beginning journey are just some alternative ways of how a
storyline can be form. However, no matter what format you tell it with, just
remember to use the appropriate structure and not confuse the audience. Keep
them interested and guessing the next events while riding a smooth current of
imagination.

Imagiro on Horror

imagirostudios Blog

One question I always liked to ask my friends "why do
you people like getting scared?". For me It is a true mystery because we
tend to avoid things that cause us fear, so why actively go and seek it? I seen
my fair share of horror films from the old Hitchcock films to the shining as
well as more modern movies, but this blog isn't about movies, its about games
so let's try not to get sidetracked. I'm a scaredy cat when it comes horror
genres in general, I remember back in the days of middle school (it's what we
Canadians call junior high), I used to get so scared by Goosebump books and TV
shows, movies would have to be forced by my friends, and games? well let's just
say I don't even bother with that genre even though I have vast interest in the
undead and demons (which is a quite strange interest but it does fall under
mythology and such so I tend to look into it). Your verdict at this point would
be that I wouldn't know much about horror games since I never play one. You are
right in the fact that I never played a horror game (Well I have played some,
but I get so scared to the point of deleting that game after a few minute of
play), but I can tell you a thing or two about horror games from the gameplay
videos I've observed, of course it would be played by other people. We will
first examine a few titles and see what they did well, then dive into a more
generalized theme and see what is the common factors that make good horror
games.

We here at Imagiro Studios take our time when it comes to
research as you might have already known, so this time is no exception.
Although we haven't played many games of this genre compared to others, we have
seen enough game footage to get the game and analyze it to the bone. We also
almost never agree on something completely and coming up with some horror game
titles that we all liked was really difficult however it did yield some result.
"Heavy Rain" was one title everyone jumped onboard, the heavy
suspense and the story really brought chills to our backs as we try to unravel
the mystery using several characters and ultimately find the culprit. My votes
(Allen, the guy writing this article) went to Fatal Frame (you know the one
with the twin girls and crimson butterflies) and Amnesia: the dark descent,
both had great story, suspense, and I guess some good actions. If you are not
familiar with Fatal Frame, it was a Japanese horror game with a pair of twin
girls getting lost in the woods and wound up in some abandoned village covered
in permanent darkness (that or the story happened in one night). You play as
the girls, armed with a mysterious camera, going around town trying to find a
way out of the village. Your primary enemies are ghosts that can be defeated by
having their pictures taken (A lot of my friends who played this game laugh at
the idea of using a camera to kill ghost, but for me who understand the myth,
the camera was a very fitting weapon because it was believed that cameras were
able to capture souls). The camera was not the only unique features of the
game, unlike other horror games, Fatal Frame had multiple endings which can be
obtained, which makes it kind of like novel games. Amnesia: the dark descent
really did freak me out, but watching others play it made me realize what a
great game it was. For those not familiar, you play a character who woke up in
a dark castle having amnesia and you go around trying to resolve a case as well
as escaping the castle. The story is revealed through the many notes you find
in your journey, and your primary obstructions are monsters that even today I
cannot describe what they are. Two most unique features of this game include
the fact that you cannot defend yourself, you are absolutely cannot fight back
so your only option is to run and hide. The other unique thing about it is the
sanity meter which gives another way to die, if you go insane, you die, if your
HP bar is empty, you die.

Other than the titles we mentioned above, we also explored Deadly
Premonitions, the many Resident Evil series, The last of us, and Outlast. Some
were more recent and some were older series, but they all fit the horror genre.
Only after examining the many great titles out there that we sort of came to
notice a trend or rather a couple of trends to be exact.

First of all, we noticed that horror games usually have a
certain degree of actions in the gameplay. This means that it is part of the
action game category where the player gets to make split second decisions that
result in some consequence later. This was well demonstrated in almost all of
the titles mentioned before, whether it was running away to hide in Deadly
Premonition and Amnesia, or stand your ground to defeat the horrors in Fatal
Frame and Resident Evil. The action element is there to excite the player, a
change of pace from the usual slow and reading-heavy gameplay. Although there
is action in every horror game, we saw two types of action, the classic fight
or flight. In Amnesia, the primary action segments was running away from your
pursuer, a typical flight action, but a well used one because it signified your
vulnerability in the situation, sort of like a mechanism to put you in your
place. The fact of knowing that you cannot fight back makes you cringe and
fearful of what might happen if you get found which adds to the suspense and
induce fear. On the contrary, in games like Fatal Frame and Resident Evil, the
player has some way of defeating the horrors, this is the fight action and it
is used to show the player that he or she has the power over their own decision
and thus their fate. Even though you can power through some situations with
your power, the enemies also tend to be more difficult to defeat. Both action,
depending on how its done, can result in the same defect which we will call
redundancy and by that we mean the need to perform meaningless tasks that are
there to lengthen the gameplay time but doesn't contribute to the development
of the story which is the basis of the game. With flight actions, you are
forced to run away without knowing where you are going which successfully
derails you from what you are trying to do in the first place. With fight
actions, you tend to go through some area that has a lot of small fry monsters
that are just there to waste your time.

All horror games have some sort of deep back story
supporting the game progression, which is why you tend to see games broken into
chapters or episodes, not only to show a sense progression, but to simulate an
adventure. It also does a lot to bring mystery and suspense to the whole game
as the player wonders what this whole thing is about. We feel like this aspect
should be the focus of any horror game because a deep story is very compelling,
but we all know that a good story isn't good unless it is told in the right
way. Much like a good storyteller, developers should really develop a story and
purposely leave out key things about the story and allow the player to figure
out the story as they progress. We found that some of the best titles told the
player very little at the beginning and use the story to show the player the
story. Maybe that is why investigators are popular characters because it's
their job to solve mysteries and the player get to step into their shoes to
unravel the story. Also, not being told the story leaves a lot of suspense and
mystery which drives the player to play more just to find out. This gives the
developer a lot of leeway in term of graphics and gameplay mechanics because
players will overlook these things just to know what happens at the end, we're
not saying that you should be lax with these things, players still want good
graphics and game mechanics, they add to the experience and the enjoyment of
the story, if you do them well, it allows the players to fully experience the
story, if done poorly, it will hinder the goodness of the story and make it not
as good as it should be.

Last thing that we think is really important to the horror
genre is the employment of atmosphere, ambiance, feel and etc. This include
visuals, sound, and other sensory stimuli we might experience. I don't think I
need say much about this, as you all know some form of stimuli that induces
fear and suspense. Dark places, yellow weathered walls, flickering lights, fog
and rain, blood trails, all these things create an unsettling environment that
tells the player's instinct that something isn't right. After all the analysis,
we think that sound is the number one thing that makes things scary, sudden
changes in pitch, sharp sounds, slow eerie music are almost always used in good
games, we watched some gameplay videos with and without sound and concluded
that sound contributes to about 80% of the scariness (but for someone like me,
even without the music, I can't stand the 20% visual scariness). We're not
saying that you cannot make a horror game without great music, but as a
developer it is almost a must to do your due diligence on music selection,
sound in horror requires more emphasis than other genres.

So after all that, the conclusion is obvious. To make a
great horror game, you need to first come up with an awesome story and telling
it in the most mysterious and provocative way possible, then work on designing
the gameplay actions, and finally design a world with music that goes with the
story that you came up. But let's beware of a few things before you start your
next big title. The thing with story focused games is that story needs to be
developed naturally, we seen many games that have story elements that are
forced and seemed out of place which eventually lead to redundancy as we
mentioned above. One way to create a naturally flowing story is to plan out
your whole story from start to finish but not only the plot, but also how you
want the player to experience it. Things like dead ends in a story is very good
device to do that because it puts the player on the backfoot and wonder what
they did wrong, especially in a game with choice. We highly recommend Extra
Credit's video on the illusion of choice, a lot of their concepts can be
employed in horror games and bring it up a notch. But basically, don't force
stories or experiences, make it seem smooth and logical. Another thing, try not
to tell the story too much through notes/journals pages/diaries or flashback/cinematic
but don't make them too insignificant that people don't look at them, they
should give important clues that lead the player to the next discovery of the
story not the actual story.

I guess to sum it all up, horror game is about letting the
player get deeply immersed in the suspense and mystery created by the story and
environment so that they are drawn to play more just to reach the end and see
something out of the ordinary. Approach it like a writing a book but in
interactive graphical form. Let the player play through the story, not tell it.

P.S. Since we are on the topic of scary stuff, we would like
to hear what you guys think about some horror games you played, or movies you
watched that gave you sleepless nights. Also, any comments on what your
thoughts are on the topics we discussed above would definitely be appreciated.

Imagiro on Game Genre

imagirostudios Blog

Ever been in a situation where you and your group of friends
are deciding where to eat but everyone want something different? Well, I can
say having many opinions is much better than having none. You might start
wondering how does this relate to game development. The fact is that this type
of situation happens all the time, especially here at Imagiro Studios, let me
explain further.

When we decide to initiate a new project, we have no idea of
what to do exactly (yes, we actually have no good ideas when we start out any
project) and we go through intense brainstorming sessions. One of the first
things we decide on is game genre and anything related to that topic, things
like mechanics, suitable platform,
design elements are some of the things that fall under that topic, but we will
be focusing on game genre as the main discussion point today.

So why talk about game genre? Why is it so important? And
how does it impact the future? Well, the answer to these are simple, why NOT
talk about it? why is it NOT important? and how does it NOT impact the future?
Game genre decision is one of the key things that we decide on in project
meetings and the time we spend on it
shows how important it is in our development process. The logic behind our
process is to go from a top-down view or generic to specific, we start out
forming a generic direction of where we want to go and then narrow things down
until we paint a clear picture of what the end product should look like. As you
can see, game genre is essential because it is the first step taken in this
process and essentially decides how subsequent decisions are made. Now we don't
expect everyone to plan projects this way, it is just something that we are
accustomed to using. You might initiate projects based on an awesome idea, or
you could be creative and tweak other games out there to become a unique entity
of your own. Whatever way works for you, that should be the way you proceed.
For us, we like the systematic approach to development, one step at a time and
fully explore our options at each step. You can almost think about it like
taking different parts from various machines and piecing it together along with
something new. We haven't been doing this for very long, but we have already
gone through many ideas and ran this process at least a few dozen times. MODUS
was a product of this process, although we have gone back to make changes, it
was indeed for the better. We first started out thinking what type of game it
would be and decided to be an artillery shooter game. The reasoning was that
there wasn't that many similar games out in the market. Worms and Gunbound were
the most well known and popular but have been out of favour in recent years. It
was also something that our team had experience playing and thus knew possible
space for improvements and additions. Everything else sort of just fit into
place after we decided the game genre, it was rather intuitive since the
options where narrowed down through research and it was just a matter of
fitting the puzzles together.

As you can tell at this point, choosing the genre to pursue
is rather an important task. One has to consider the market competition,
personal experience, ways of improvement and differentiation, and ultimately
the fun factor. However, all that hard work doesn't go to waste, once you have
a good foundation with the genre the rest falls into place as you think about
it, at least you have some direction when doing research on specifics. But wait
a minute, all we talked about so far is why deciding on game genre is so
important, but we still haven't address the issue of the "how". How
does one decide on a game genre when everyone in your team have different
opinions on what they want to make? Like we said before, this occurs quite
often at Imagiro Studios due to the variety of games we play. If you are a solo
developer, mainly the programmers out there, this would not be a problem for
you because you are a team of one and you make whatever you want to make, given
that you still done your market research, have personal experience with the
genre, and knows what is fun. It is in a team environment where this problem
tend to occur. On many occasions there are so many conflicting opinions that
the whole team gets bogged down discussing about it, how we handle such
situation as well as any major decision making is to have majority vote after
considering all available factors. Although this might not be the best method,
but it does work for us. However, there are veterans of the gaming industry in
your team, then you may have one person make the decisions after considering
all valid claims by other members of the group. This is getting into more of
the business side of decision making structure, we don't want bring too much of
that aspect into the discussion so let's stop here. Overall, a group must be
able to make decisions and have everyone follow through on it. The decision
itself must be objective and not a personal favourite of the decision maker.

Imagiro on Action

imagirostudios Blog

Everyone must have played an action game sometime in their
life (unless you never touch games ever), but that really brings up the
question, "what is an action game?" You might think it's a no
brainer, but if you ask around (and yes I have asked around) the answers you
get are often quite different. Some of my friends say fighting games are action
games while others say shooters are actions games and still other say RPGs. So
really...what is considered an action game? Is there such a category? and if so
what type of game fit this category? I feel like this is going into a
philosophical debate that has no correct answer, but since this is a blog about
beliefs, especially the various beliefs of Imagiro Studios, we will dive into
the discussion of this question.

As with our previous post on the essence of stealth games,
we said that stealth games are games around inaction which is opposite of
action (no duh), and we defined action as the ability to make split second
decisions to alter some result in the game. An example of this would be
apparent in a shooter. Moving left and right in sight of an enemy is a split
second decision that determines if you are going to get hit and die or avoid
damage. Driving games are quite similar in this respect when going into a
corner, whether you drift or not will determine if you crash and lose or come
out ahead. So to generalize, action games includes all games that allows the
player to make split seconds decisions that somehow affect the fate of the
player. Action as a category is too general and encompassing, however, that
also means no one is wrong when they said shooter, racing, fighting, or RPGs
are action games. I guess that's why there are other categories out there to
further describe the genre of games.

So as always, we here at Imagiro Studios are game lovers and
we all have different preferences when it comes games. Thomas (our programmer)
likes games with deep strategy and as well as anything goes brawl games such as
TF2 and Warframe, DnD, and most RTS. John (our 3D modeller) on the other hand
prefers MOBA such as DOTA 2 and a lot of RPGs such as WoW, FF online, and
various other console RPG titles (I think the last one he was hyped about was
Ni no Kuni). Mike (our animator) tries out anything he can, but being a car
enthusiast, he strictly prefers racing games as well as games where you can
drive around like GTA series (there has always been some discussion about the
causal relationship of his car preference, is it because he like cars leading
him to like racing games, or is it because he likes racing games that made him
interested in cars....it will remain as a mystery forever). With such diverse
preferences within the team alone, we obviously have a lot of different views
on what an action game needs, Cars says Mike, guns and stunts says Thomas,
leveling and abilities says John, all this discussion doesn't really yield an
answer since no one is really wrong. However, we do agree on the fact that it
is about split second decision making and that those decisions determines some
later outcome.

One thing in common is that the pace of actions games are
generally quite fast where consecutive actions/commands must be executed to
progress. Although consequences of those actions might not be evident
immediately, but they will (or at least should) affect the overall result of
the game, this signifies that the consequences of the actions should be rather
insignificant compared to stealth games. (We hope we proved our point somewhat
here, it was confusing trying to put it into words) Therefore it should be
quite clear what is needed to make an action-oriented game. Generate a fast
tempo in gameplay that allow players to do a lot of things to grant certain
degrees of control over the environment and ultimately the player's
performance.

Several things we considered when discussed about
action-oriented games. One of the biggest issues is the degree of control over
environment. Before we go any further, we thought we should clarify what it
really means. For us at Imagiro Studios, control over the environment means
that the environment can be altered to the player's favour. Unlike in stealth
games where the player must take what was given in the surrounding and find a
way around the various death traps, we like giving the player ways to fiddle
with the surrounding and use it to gain an edge over other players or AI. Of
course, the environment also includes the player itself, the specific model
that represents and answers the actions executed by the player, such things
apply to arcade fighting games like Street fighter, King of fighter, and
various other fighting games. Now that you know what we mean by control over
the environment, the question of "how much?" should spring up (and no
it's not how much money), the degree of control given to a player in an action
game can be a delicate topic, too much control doesn't allow for a game to be
too fast pace and allows too many decisions which generally confuses the
players and make your programmer pull his own hair out. We can't give an
accurate answer ourselves on this matter, but do keep in mind of the
relationship that more action available the more programming and more training
the player must go through. Also keep in mind that more is not always better
(was thinking of megaman, shoot, jump, jump and shoot). As there are too many
things to cover in the "action" genre, we will stop here with the
discussion. As we explore more specific genre, we will be providing more
detailed thought process that we go through here at Imagiro Studios.

P.S. Youngjoon (our concept artist) always seems to be left
out in the main body of the article, so we are here to make it up to him by
designating this segment to him. His game preference is quite similar to John,
we do play DOTA 2 together sometimes, but lately he's been too busy to sit down
and play, so he is leaning towards mobile games.

Imagiro on level design

imagirostudios Blog

Level design has always been an ongoing thing with game
development. Although we haven't been doing this for that long, but in every
project thus far, it has came up as one of the most discussed topics as well as
the most time consuming. We believe spending a lot of time on is not a
coincidence, but rather it deserve the time we put in. I mean, what's more
important than designing fun yet challenging stages? Well, we can think of a
few things more important but that isn't the point here, the point is level
design is important, and there are a lot of factors that goes in it, so much so
that it deserves to be shared. I'm not sure how other studios approach this,
but this is our take on it here at Imagiro Studios, so here it goes.

When we first started MODUS, we imagined it to be a single
player campaign with short missions. Stage design was something that we had to
dive into it quite deeply. While we put the single player campaign on the
backburner, there is still the issue of stage design for the multiplayer
platform. In our new mobile project, we yet encountered stage design again when
designing tiles. Evidently, we don't think stage design is something that is
game specific, it is rather a very broad term used to describe what the player
will be going through. A rhyme game will still have stages design issues since
it must plan out the beats of the song players must hit as well as the rewards
for hitting the beats. A racing game will have to consider level design of the
trackers and environmental issues. The point is, no matter what game you make
or play, level design is always going to be taken into consideration. (if you are a indie developer, you just
wasted a good few minutes of your life reading something you already know
>=o)

For us at Imagiro Studios, level design is a combination of
3 broad elements that has to work together. We don't really strictly categorize
them this way, but they do fall into these categories.

First factor is whether the level design fits with the core
mechanics. This might be counter intuitive, to some (or maybe not), but it
works for us because when we initiate a project, the key mechanic is one of the
first things we decide on and everything works around that. Therefore level
design for us must not only satisfy the needs of the mechanics but at best it
should bring out the true use of the mechanics. We like the way Thomas (our
talented programmer) describes it as make the player be able to fully utilize
the tools (mechanics) given to them in challenging scenarios (levels). An
example can be found in MODUS level design. The key mechanics is precision
shooting but each MODUS has different angles which they can shoot from, which
ultimately makes some MODUS unable to get a good shot. This was an inherent
issue with the mechanic and we kept it in there because it was something the
player should learn to resolve. The levels we designed will take this into
consideration and have terrain elements that allow players to adjust their
position and therefore their shot angle. You can say that the inherent mechanic
caused the level design to be this way.

Talking about players dealing with mechanics brings up the
nice topic of level difficulty. We're not sure how other studios does it,
perhaps its on a relative scale, but after doing some research on level design,
we adopted the approach of using a skill level to difficulty ratio. We call it
a ratio, but its not an absolute number, but it is a comparison between skill
level acquired to difficulty. The key aspect is that the skill level should be
just right or just below the difficulty of the level so the player struggles a
bit providing a challenge as well as artificially increase the play time (its
just a side effect, we don't do this on purpose). When we talk about player
skill level here, it is once again not an absolute value, but rather the
mastery of the necessary mechanics needed to complete the level. MODUS doesn't
provide a very defining example because we didn't separate the stages into
difficulty levels, but it is very apparent in our mobile app game, where the
tiles are separated into categories based on the number of actions and the type
of obstacles the player must overcome, the more actions and variety of the
obstacles the more difficult, but the player must have acquired the skills or
previous experience in dealing with such things.

What really ties everything together is the player
psychology, we simply call it the fun factor. Does the player think this is
fun? Why is it fun? How can we make it more fun? This is a rather ambiguous
topic because it involves multiple dimensions such as the degree of challenge,
type of trials or obstacles, negative possibility space (creating expectation
but let's player down), and how the level fit the story. I'm not really going
to explain the theory we use here because....well we don't even have a set
theory, it just comes from discussion and we formulate based on the best idea.
Mind you, this is the part where we spend the most time, mostly just randomly
spitting out ideas and thoughts. It is important to consider player psychology
as much as possible, it really helps to explore what the player will most like
experience. A key to marketing is to know your customers so well that the
product sells itself. Although we can't explain the process in theory, we can
provide an example from MODUS. One issue we encountered was the unfun factor of
being a sitting duck in a turn-based precision shooter game. You get all
excited when it is your turn, but the player gets bored when it is not their
turn because they can't do anything, and if they see imminent impact, there
isn't anything they can do to decide their own fate. Mike (our talented
animator) basically brought this up and we considered to be a really big deal
and went on a search to figure out how to make it more fun. The solution is the
parry ability that allowed the player getting shot at to briefly activate a
shield to reduce damage taken. This serves multiple purposes, the degree of
challenge is quite high because the timing must be quite accurate, it manages
negative possibility space by rewarded expectation but only if done properly.
It might sound all nice when we write it down, but it wasn't all that
difficult, just time consuming because we had to discuss for hours about what
needs to be done and how to do it. This street fighter recording just happens
to be there and fit the description (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtuA5we0RZU)

If you want some more reference material on this matter, go
watch the episode of Extra credit on it, it talks about some of the elements of
level design. We simply took a different approach because it works for us, but
if you found this useful, good for you!

Genre Specific - Stealth

imagirostudios Blog

What does the Hitman series, Assassin's Creed, and Splinter
Cell have in common? Yes, its an epic story of an epic individual, but that's
not the answer we are looking for here. The answer is they are all Stealth
games! (Damn even I feel like I just trolled people)

There are some big titles out there that focused on this
rather difficult genre, and does a really good job but slipping as new sequels
come out. (Yes, I'm talking about you AC and you too Hitman!) However, this is
not a post about game rant, so I will save that for another time. However,
through playing these big stealth games, It got us thinking about what a
stealth game really is about. So begins a search for the true meaning on
stealth, and ultimately how to make a good stealth game. (I mean, we are a game
studio after all...)

As with anything we do at Imagiro Studios, doing research
and finding references always comes first. Being voracious media hunters, we
went out and watched playthrough videos, personally experienced some games, and
read up on what other sources said about the stealth genre. To summarize our
findings (if you want to cut to the chase, then here it is), Stealth games is
fundamentally the opposite of action, its a game genre of inaction. Before we
go further, we would like to clarify what action means (or doesn't mean) to us.
It is a rather difficult concept to discuss as I am having a hard time with it
ourselves as we are compiling this post, but through discussion, we define
action as the opportunity to make split second decisions in gameplay, an
example is in shooters, it is a split second decision all the time in gameplay,
whether you choose to avoid or engage in various situations are always split
second decisions. Getting back on track about stealth games, it is essentially
a game where split second decisions rarely or do not occur. From our experience
and research of other stealth games, waiting and planning seems to be a large
portion of the game. Each stage is like a puzzle with an objective usually
reaching the end of the stage, but with various ways of accomplishing it. Think
of it as a maze with one exit but multiple routes that all lead to it. So you
might be saying, wouldn't stealth game be boring with all that waiting? And if
you fail, in your planning, then you have to start from the beginning
again...that's such a waste of time and a sure way to annoy people. Boring? no
way. sure poorly designed stealth games are boring due to the long wait time
that doesn't yield any results or affect your gameplay. Good stealth games
create a mood that calms your nerves while creating suspense on the accuracy on
your execution. It is a game genre that legitimately let the player outwit the
opponent and constantly play David vs. Goliath. I do agree that some games make
you start over from the very beginning if you fail and it is a pain. A very
easy solution to that would be to add a lot of checkpoints and always re-spawn
at the last checkpoint or whatever checkpoint the player chooses. If you do not
give the player to choose where to spawn, then you must not progression when
items and objectives can carry through. Imagine the scenario where you must
pick up a lock pick set from stage 3 to use in stage 4, of course you didn't
know you needed it and won't bother finding it, when you progress to stage 4,
you end up needing that lock pick but can't choose to respawn at the closest
checkpoint, therefore you are forced to play the whole stage 3 again from the
start just to get a lock pick that is miraculously hidden under a rock.
Anyways, I hope you get the point here.

One question we asked ourselves at Imagiro Studios when we
had this discussion. Why does a lot of the stealth games mix in action, as in
making split second decisions. This is only from our point of view, but it
seems that by mixing action with stealth generates a lot of choices or path to
the solution, you may choose to kill everyone on site and advance, or you can
choose to avoid all enemies, or somewhere in between. We like the part about
giving extra choices, but only to that extent and nothing more. Ninja Gaiden, a
great game that is considered to be a stealth is actually more of an action
game for us. There was boss fights that were done completely in the
open...nothing stealthy about that...Not to bash on the game itself, its a
great game, just didn't fit into the stealth category.

I would like to make reference to the youtube show Extra
Credits for the conclusion and summary of what we talked about here. Stealth
games is about making waiting engaging, and to do that, think of the game
design as a puzzle with multiple solutions and a set of tools. Its about being
weak and outsmarting your opponent. And it need fast iteration time so lots of
things can be tried which makes failing just as rewarding as succeeding.

P.S. While writing about ninjas and stealth, it reminded me
of one episode of the deadliest warrior show where they pitted a spartan vs. a
ninja and in the simulation, the ninja and the spartan fought in the open and
the ninja lost. I'm gonna say that I have a high favourable bias towards the
ninja, and that the simulation should not have gone that way...like seriously?
you make ninja fight in the open...in broad daylight, that sort of defeats the
purpose of the dark clothes and the whole concept of what an assassin
does...its not game rant, but its rant regardless, gotta put some GRRRR...in
posts!

MODUS - Tideripper

imagirostudios Blog

Hey guys!

As the result of our continuous effort through the holidays,
the Tideripper MODUS animations are complete! Mike (our talented animator) made
the animation water smooth and natural, and thanks to his hard work, we are
able to complete the implementation of another MODUS.

The concept of this MODUS was based on a Jellyfish, an
unusual choice because aquatic references generally include deep sea predators.
But the Jellyfish fits perfectly with the attributes we imagined for this
MODUS, a flimsy but deadly creature that can poison and generate electric
shocks, and that is exactly what you'll get out of this MODUS. Check it out on Imagiro Studios Tumblr here Tumblr.com

Hello World! I mean the community!

imagirostudios Blog

Hey all, this is Allen from Imagiro Studios in Canada, I will be serving as the main community manager for MODUS as well as other games we release in the future.

First off, we are a new game developer/publisher that doesn't have a lot of experience building communities but we do possess talent in the industry, and we hope to apply those talent to making great games...its no less than a life pursuit and passion for us.

So we hope you can come by, stick around, and see what we are up to. If you like what you see, leave a comment and sing our praises, if not, yell at us if you must, but always let us hear you. I'm here to listen and answer your questions, but being not the most technologically inclined person, I may need to consult the team for things, but be it immediate or delayed, I will always (and I repeat, ALWAYS) answer your questions and concerns.

As an initial status of the studio. Everyone is working hard after the new year and we are making progress. Being a new studio does mean that we are short on cash, so we are finding ways of making some income, such as taking on side projects making smaller app games and so on. Our intentions are to not delay the production of MODUS while earning some income with smaller projects. But we are sort of on a bind and are in the middle of sorting it out.

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