Category Archives: Overviews

Game Overview – TowerFall Ascension

Game Overview

Towerfalllogo

TowerFall Ascension – PS4

Matt Thorson

Mechanics

What systems are in place to dictate the ‘rules’ of the game? What kind of constraints do players operate within? What do players interact with?

Combat

Chaotic 4-player gameplay
Chaotic 4-player gameplay

TowerFall Ascension is a Smash Bros.-esque arena game where players eliminate one another within a limited space on-screen. Combat in TowerFall is fairly simple, consisting only of movement and three actions: Jump, Shoot, and Dash.

  • Shooting is the primary method of eliminating an opposing enemy. Players will fire an arrow off from their character in whichever direction the player is aiming. Arrows are finite though, and each player only starts with two or three of them. Arrows that have been launched may be picked up by any player and added to their ammunition. Players are not immune to their own arrows.
  • Jumping is pretty self-explanatory. It should be noted that another method of eliminating enemies is to land on their heads, which makes jumping a very useful alternative to shooting.
  • Dashing in TowerFall is an incredibly useful escape tool. It can be used to dodge incoming attacks, or to parry an incoming projectile. If a player releases a dash right as an arrow strikes them, they instead block the shot and keep the arrow that would have hit them otherwise. The arrows are added to the player’s arrow pool upon a successful dash-block.

Target-Seeking Arrows

Arrows have a tendency to curve towards a target. The sudden changes in an arrow’s trajectory can cause exhilarating moments as foes may be taken unaware by the directional change.

This mechanic alters the game’s pace as players are made to be aware of the incoming projectiles. An arrow fired a short distance away from you may actually prove to be fatal, so players must manage their focus appropriately.

Wall Hanging

An example of wall-hanging
An example of wall hanging

This mechanic plays a huge role in TowerFall’s gameplay. It’s quite simple, move towards the direction of the wall you’re facing, and your character will plant themselves upon the surface until you change directions or move elsewhere.

Using well-timed jumps with wall hanging allows for increased mobility, as well as the capability to move up to higher ground. Wall hanging grants quicker access to all locations on a map, especially when used in conjunction with a well-timed dash.

Sudden Death

Characters will die in one hit without defensive items.There is no health variable; if you are damaged, your character will be eliminated.

This mechanic effectively raises the level of tension as players may die at a moments notice, often due to seemingly random circumstances. Sudden death also serves to make rounds quicker, so there is generally low downtime between player deaths; rounds can end in seconds, so players are constantly jumping in and out of the action.

Stage Interaction

TowerFall Ascension boasts a plethora of  unique stages to compete in. Each main stage will have a theme, with a variety of layouts to spice things up.

Every stage has a screen looping effect; if players walk off the screen, they will end up on the opposite side of the map. These screen looping areas are placed to prevent players from being cornered and also promote strategic play. Arrows are also affected by this looping effect.

Many stages also include hazards that players interact with. Some maps may have falling objects while others with flaming floors or ‘Thwomp’-like moving blocks that can crush players on a whim. Stages will also randomly generate treasure chests with various items for players to use.

Take too long and the walls start closing in on you.
Take too long and the walls start closing in on you.

Items and Power-ups

A plethora of items and power-ups exist in TowerFall Ascension, each one providing a unique way of sprucing things up for the players. Notable power-ups include:

  • Shield – A bubble forms around the player. It stays on the player until struck by an arrow. The shield absorbs a shot that would otherwise kill the player.
  • Wings – Wings give players the ability to fly, basically giving infinite jumping to a player for a period of time.
  • Looking Glass – Turns the player invincible
  • Extra Arrows – Adds additional arrows to a player’s arsenal
  • Bomb Arrows – Explode shortly after being shot, dealing AoE damage
  • Super Bomb Arrows – Like bomb arrows, but with a bigger explosion radius
  • Laser Arrows – Arrows that ricochet off walls and objects
  • Bramble Arrows – Arrows that spawn clusters of dangerous bramble that kills a player upon touch.
  • Drill Arrows – These will fly right through obstacles without changing trajectory
  • Bolt Arrows – These are homing missile equivalents that change direction without warning
  • Feather Arrows – Unaffected by gravity, with an odd path shape.

A jumble of other variants, environmental effects, and game modes exist to change up gameplay.

A couple of opened chests with bomb arrows up for grabs
A couple of opened chests with bomb arrows up for grabs

Rubber Banding

A negative feedback loop takes the form of “Rubber Banding” in TowerFall Ascension. As players begin to creep too far ahead, the system limits their chances of winning by reducing their total of starting arrows. If a player begins getting even farther ahead of the competition, opposing players will receive shields at the start of each round, effectively handicapping the lead player.

Rewind it

This isn’t so much of a mechanic, but more of a bonus feature that plays a replay of the final kill after a game ends.

Game Modes

  • Versus Mode – By far the most popular mode in TowerFall. Allows 2-4 players to compete against one another in one of three modes:
    • Headhunter – The default game mode. Gain a point for each kill, but lose one for an environmental death, or self-elimination. The first to reach a pre-determined point cap wins it all.
    • Last Man Standing – The last player alive at the end of the round is awarded a single point. Recommended mode when playing with variants, as there is no point loss for self-destruction.
    • Team Deathmatch – Split up in teams and battle to the death! There is no friendly fire so teammates can eliminate their allies.
  • Quest Mode – A series of quests take the player through the maps of TowerFall, except the player is fighting hordes of monsters rather than other players. The monster waves become increasingly difficult as the player progresses through quest mode.

Quest mode is single player, but local co-op is available for up to two people. Each stage has two difficulty levels, Normal and Hardcore. If playing solo, Player 1 begins with 5 lives, while each player gets 4 lives when playing co-op. Friendly Fire is enabled by default in co-op mode, allowing players to kill each other by accident.

  • Trial Mode – Basically target practice. Straw dummies are strewn about the stage and the player must take them all out. A timer keeps track of your completion time. Beating a pre-determined time limit set by the devs will give the players a medal. The medals are just for bragging rights/trophy fodder.

Conditions for Victory

End game stats
End game stats

Be the last one standing! This applies to any game mode, except for trial mode where players must destroy target dummies in the shortest span of time possible.

Dynamics

Gameplay elements derived from the game’s mechanics that provide direct feedback to player actions. Often developed by players as they play. What strategies emerge from gameplay? How do players interact with each other?

  • Super Jump – A quick sequence of buttons (Crouch > Dash > Jump) will cause players to jump at greater distances laterally. This advanced technique allows players to move quickly and efficiently across the stage. The action is fairly easy to learn, but it takes a good amount of practice to master and use effectively.
  • Screen Loop Usage – The addition of a screen looping effect allows for some tricky plays for users aware of their surroundings. Players can get to the opposite of the map quickly using the screen loop, or they may even catch others off guard with arrows by shooting into the open spaces on either side of the map.
  • Using the Stage – Many maps have dynamic objects to shake up the gameplay. Some maps have braziers that can be shot down upon an enemy, or moving blocks that can crush a player on a whim. A strong player will manipulate the stage, granting them additional methods of attack and defense.
  • Mobility – Movement is important in this game. The better and more efficiently you move, the higher your survival rate.

Aesthetics of Play

Player Experience; is the game fun? Why and why not? Is the play emotionally/intellectually engaging?

TowerFall Ascension is an excellent multiplayer title that elicits some fantastic reactions from those playing and the audience watching it. Why is that?

  • Easy to Play and Understand… – Simplicity is a recurring theme of TowerFall Ascension. The control scheme, general gameplay, user interface, and even visual appearance is made to be straightforward and easy to understand. All you can do is move, shoot, and jump! It’s an extremely casual-friendly game.
  • …But Still Hard to Master – Even though the game is beginner-friendly, becoming really good at TowerFall requires a surprising amount of skill and effort. This game forces players to test the limits of their timing and reaction speeds.
  • Local Multiplayer is Key– This title would not have done nearly as well without a multiplayer component. Bringing your friends together or playing TowerFall at a party will get people engaged and staring/screaming at the TV. Back to point 1, the visuals and gameplay are easy enough for any onlooker to completely understand, which encourages more people to try it out.
  • Quick and Painless – On average, rounds are pretty short due to the sudden death mechanic. This allows for people to play without investing too much time or effort. It’s easy to walk away from the game, but also easy to get back into it due to the game’s nature.
  • Player Balance – Everyone starts on even ground, no player is of a higher level or more powerful than another. This encourages newbies to play. Better players can always handicap themselves by starting with fewer arrows.
  • Surprise! – The sudden death mechanic and unique range of offensive weaponry allows for some very hilarious eliminations and near misses, which just so happens to be a great tool to get the players and audience riled up.

Design Goals: Were They Achieved?

He described his development process as tweaking Super Smash Bros. Melee to his tastes. The limited arrow design was intended to slow the gameplay and encourage player strategy.

“I wanted the player to feel like they were already a master archer, even before they started playing.” -Thorson (Polygon)

Although I didn’t get a hint of the Smash Bros. feeling, I did enjoy a sense of the easy-to-learn, hard-to-master competitive gameplay that Thorson intended for the game. The indie title upholds a strong minimalist, arena-based couch co-op experience that is extremely engaging to both casual and hardcore players, so I would like to think that Thorson met his design goals for the most part.

Main Menu interface
Main Menu interface

General Weaknesses: What would I fix?

The title lacks depth. It’s a simple game that can be easily picked up on a whim, and due to this nature, the game is ultimately held back. I would have liked to see some more complexity built into the game’s core mechanics. I can’t discount the fact that you can get good, there’s certainly a good deal of skill and game sense required to be good, but I feel that a deeper, more complex system would work wonders in keeping veteran and hardcore players. As it stands, TowerFall Ascension is a fun game to pick up, but it isn’t a title that tends to last a long time in game groups; I’d categorize it as a party game, almost even a mini-game based on its content.

I think that a combo system, or some extra mechanics (i.e. weapons, tactics, etc.) could do wonders in improving the longevity of TowerFall Ascension in gaming circles. It would be difficult to balance, but it could be a great start to a bigger, fuller game.

User Interface

The game is made so that almost no UI is needed during gameplay. The arrow count is cleverly displayed above each player.
The game is made so that almost no UI is needed during gameplay. An arrow count is cleverly displayed above each player.

Button Layout

TowerFall Ascension_20150131214156

Bonus Tidbits

  • TowerFall is local co-op only. There is no online component.
  • The game was initially a concept derived from a game jam as a single player prototype.
  • It was first launched on the Ouya, and later ported to the PlayStation 4, Windows, Linux, and Mac OS as TowerFall Ascension.
  • TowerFall was Thorson’s first full commercial game

Game Overview – The Last of Us

Game Overview

The Last of Us – PS3

Naughty Dog

Published by Sony Computer Entertainment

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827220802

Mechanics

What systems are in place to dictate the ‘rules’ of the game? What kind of constraints do players operate within? What do players interact with?

Hearing 

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827213003
Joel can listen in from a significant distance.

Joel heightens his sense of hearing to locate entities behind solid surfaces and objects. The improved hearing mode changes everything on-screen to greyscale and depicts other beings as silhouettes outlined in white. Movements that generate more sound (i.e. footsteps) will make the silhouettes more visually apparent (e.g. Outlines become thicker and brighter).

Hearing is disabled on Survivor and Grounded Modes (The hardest two difficulties in the game); this increases the game’s difficulty since it makes finding enemies and predicting their movements harder.

Stealth

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140813005645
Staying hidden from enemy units.

It’s pretty clear that the game isn’t meant to be played with the player running into rooms filled with bad guys guns blazing. Joel is given tools to sneak around and eliminate foes without alerting other baddies of his presence.

These tools include grabbing a victim and strangling them, or taking them out instantly with a shiv. You may also move an enemy around while you have them in your grip, which gives the player an opportunity to keep a body out of sight. Enemies in your grip can also be used as a human shield; other foes will cease fire if they see you using this method, but this can backfire as your victim will break out of your hold after a period of time.

Bricks and bottles are fairly abundant and can be thrown to distract enemies or stun them briefly. Bottles shatter and make more noise than bricks, which makes them more useful for redirecting attention away from the player. Bricks can be used alternatively as a powerful melee tool if the player is able to catch an enemy that is unaware of their presence.

The Hearing mechanic described above serves to assist with stealth play in this game.

Scavenging and Crafting

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827214621

The crafting and scavenging system encourages map exploration. Ammo and crafted items are both extremely useful aids for progression.

Joel will find a variety of items, including rags, blades, and alcohol, explosives, and sugar which can be used to craft handy items such as health kits or molotov cocktails. Crafting is done in real-time.

Food items are also placed throughout the map. These function as instant heals when Joel picks them up.

List of Crafted Tools and Required Materials

  • Improved Melee Weapon = Binding + Blade + Melee Weapon
  • Shiv = Blade + Binding
  • Health Kit = Alcohol + Rag
  • Molotov Cocktail = Alcohol + Rag
  • Nail Bomb = Explosive + Blade
  • Smoke Bomb = Explosive + Sugar

Some crafted items require more materials to complete in The Last of Us’ multiplayer mode, Factions.

Updated Factions-Only Crafted Tools and Requirements

  • Molotov Cocktail = Alcohol + Rag + Binding
  • Melee Weapon Upgrade = Melee Weapon + Binding + Blade + Rag
  • Nail Bomb = Explosive + Sugar + Blade

Combat

Well, crap.
Well, crap.

Joel has access to tools for both ranged and melee combat.

Melee brawls consist of continuous button taps, with an odd prompt to dodge an enemy’s blow. Joel also interacts with the environment to generate some lethal finishing blows (e.g. slamming an infected’s head into the wall or kicking them off a ledge, etc.).

Ranged combat is a little more difficult in The Last of Us. Not only are bullets limited and scarce, but actually shooting an enemy with pinpoint accuracy can prove to be difficult with weapon sway and movement. Shooting may also alert people of your presence, which only makes things harder.

Varied Weaponry

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140813000334

There are many different tools that can be utilized to dispose of enemies in The Last of Us.

Melee Weapons – These are scattered across the map and can be picked up and used as a stronger alternative to the player’s fists. Melee weapons don’t last long, as they have a depleting durability bar, but they provide better reach and deal improved damage when Joel strikes an enemy with one. Hitting a staggered enemy results in an especially powerful blow.

Melee weapons can also be upgraded with crafting items, turning them into one-hit killers. Some melee weapons such as the hatchet or machete naturally kill enemies in one hit, but their durability is generally lower than other weapons, which limits their number of uses.

List of Melee Weapons

Your hands are probably your most reliable weapons.
Your hands are probably your most reliable weapons.
  • 2×4 – A blunt piece of wooden lumber. The most common weapon in The Last of Us. Has 4 uses before shattering.
  • Baseball Bat – Swings faster than a 2×4, and shatters after 6 uses.
  • Pipe – Slower than a baseball bat, but faster than a 2×4. Shatters after 9 uses.
  • Machete – Rarest bladed weapon in the game. Instantly kills almost any enemy but breaks after 3 strikes and lacks range.
  • Hatchet – Second rarest weapon in the game. Instantly kills targets, boasts a longer range than the machete, and maintains 5 strikes before shattering.
  • Shiv – The shiv is a unique tool that functions differently from all of the other melee weapons in The Last of Us. The shiv does not replace Joel’s punch button, but is rather used for a host of other purposes such as quickly taking out an enemy that the player has in their grasp, defending against Clicker lunges, and opening optional locked doors filled with loot and equipment.
  • Switchblade – Weapon specific to Ellie. It’s her default tool of choice, and also the only melee weapon that she can use. The switchblade works like a hybrid between a standard melee and a shiv. It functions as Ellie’s standard melee attack,  but also allows for finishing moves like the shiv.

Ranged Weapons will be gradually picked up by Joel throughout the campaign, allowing him to gain access to additional pistols and rifles as the game progresses. These all function fairly differently and require different types of ammo.

List of Ranged Weapons

Anything Joel currently has equipped will be visible on his back.
Anything Joel currently has equipped will be visible on his back.
  • Bow – A silent ranged weapon, the only one with ammo that can be recovered after shooting an enemy, though sometimes the arrows are shattered upon impact and cannot be reused. Arrows deal more damage to enemies that are unaware of the player’s presence. Unlike guns, the bow’s shots follow an arching trajectory, similar to real life.
  • 9mm Pistol – Compact and quick; the 9mm does less damage than most other pistols, but it’s accuracy, recoil, and clip capacity are above average. The majority of human enemies in the game carry a 9mm.
  • Revolver – A standard 6-barrel revolver. Does more damage than a 9mm, but it has more recoil.
  • Shorty – A powerful one-handed shotgun with high burst and spread. Not as powerful as a standard shotgun, but has less recoil.
  • El Diablo – It’s a strengthened revolver with a scope. The pistol deals a staggering amount of damage, it’s capable of taking out a standard foe within one or two shots.
  • Hunting Rifle – A rifle with high armor penetration, especially powerful against armor-plated bloaters and ballistic vest-wearing human. The hunting rifle can be upgraded to include a scope.
  • Shotgun – The shotgun is a close-range gun with a good amount of spread. Useful for taking out armored enemies up close.
  • Flamethrower – Short range, but extremely powerful against the infected. Flamethrower ammo is scarce and depleted quickly.
  • Assault Rifle – Does the same damage as a pistol, but carries a 30-round clip and high rate of fire.

Multiplayer-Only Weapons:

  • Enforcer – Shots are weaker than a revolver’s but stronger than a 9mm. Boasts high accuracy and fire rate.
  • Burst Rifle – Like the assault rifle, but can only fire in 3-round bursts.
  • Semi-Auto Rifle – Similar to the assault rifle.
  • Military Sniper – Highest damage output in the game, low recoil.
  • Specter – Silenced Assault Rifle
  • Double Barrel – Riskier Shotgun
  • Launcher – Area of effect damage, but has extremely long reload times.

Life Bar

The life bar is very apparent and easy to understand.
The life bar is very apparent and easily understood.

The player is given a life bar that depletes and does not recover without healing items, this mechanic strays away from the current norm of action-based shooting games since it does away with automatic health regeneration.

Flashlight

Helps you see, not much more to it. Many areas are purposely made dark to encourage using the flashlight. Infected Enemies ignore it.

Upgrade System

The upgrade system in action.
The upgrade system in action.

Guns can be improved at workbenches using specific materials found throughout the playthrough.

The upgrades are restricted to individual guns and each upgrade is permanent.

Gun Upgrades Include:

  • Reload Speed
  • Clip Capacity
  • Spread
  • Fire Rate
  • Recoil
  • Range
  • Scope
  • Armor Piercing
  • Power
  • Draw Speed (Exclusive to the bow)

The player can also upgrade Joel’s skills using a currency of pills collected throughout the single player campaign to make things easier for the player. The available list of skill upgrades is shown below, they all have 2-3 tiers of upgrading, with each tier being more expensive than the last.

  • Maximum Health
  • Listen Mode Distance
  • Crafting Speed
  • Healing Speed
  • Weapon Sway
  • Shiv Master (defending against Clicker attacks with a shiv).

Enemy Types

...and over to the left, you'll see a runner being strangled.
…and over to the left, you’ll see a runner being strangled.

Humans – Enemy humans have a variety of reasons for attacking the protagonists, but they all fall into one of two categories. Heavily Armored and regular units.

Regular Units consist of standard enemies using a variety of weaponry. These are foes that players encounter the most. Regular units can sport melee weapons, guns, and even molotov cocktails.

Heavily Armored units have extra protection against standard weaponry. They can take more damage and their helmets can save them from headshots. They are usually equipped with a powerful shotgun or rifle.

The Infected – These are special units exclusive to The Last of Us. The infected are human-turned-monsters without any remains of a human conscious. These are walking creatures that look only to attack and kill humans that cross their paths.

Runners are the weakest of the bunch. They have low hearing but still retain some vision. Runners will chase after players with frightening speed if they spot them nearby.

Clickers are dangerous creatures that have lost their sense of vision. They move based on their acute sense of hearing. Clickers are especially dangerous to players since they will kill the player instantly if they manage to physically touch the player. Shivs are the only way to avoid instantly dying if a Clicker lunges at them.

Bloaters are super infected lumbering giants that have been festering with the fungal disease for a lengthy period of time. They boast a thick outer layer that protects them from incoming bullet damage. Bloaters may also shoot projectile spores that linger and damage players within the area of effect. These monstrosities are the most powerful units in the game and require a lot of effort to take out. Bloaters will also kill players instantly if they manage to get within reach to grab Joel.

Item Scarcity

Not a particularly new or innovative mechanic for a horror game, but it lends to the tension when the player realizes that their equipment is finite and prone to breaking.

Collectibles

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A plethora of optional collectibles are scattered throughout each map. These come in the form of:

Weapon Upgrade Materials – Used at work benches to improve  guns. Weapons cannot be upgraded if the player is not at the proper ‘Tool Level’, which increases from in increments of one from 1-5. At Tool Level 5, Joel has the ability to fully upgrade each of his guns.

Skill Upgrade Materials – These come in the form of pills, which can be spent to purchase various character improvements.

Notes/Maps – These usually have text available for the players to read, and provide a bit of insight into the stages of the infestation both during and following the outbreak. Some notes provide lock combinations that will grant access to safeboxes.

Voice Dialogue – The Last of Us will have optional dialogue sequences that players can activate at pre-determined times throughout the story.

Firefly Pendants – These are simple collectible pendants, placed in odd and oft ignored areas of the map. Firefly pendants encourage exploration for the collector-at-heart.

Comic Books – Similar to the pendants, comic books can be picked up for Ellie to read during her travels starting after Chapter 4.

Voice Recorders – Sample voice-recorded dialogue can be found throughout the stages in the latter half of the game. These recordings assist in fleshing out more of the game’s backstory.

Puzzles

That's quite the puzzler.
That’s quite the puzzler.

Puzzles most often consist of moving an object to gain access to a new area (i.e. placing a ladder below a high ledge). The solution to these puzzles are often straightforward and obvious, but help to change up the pace.

Negative Space vs. Tension Sequences

The Last of Us’ campaign places players on a track of sorts that does not allow for much exploration beyond what is crucial for the story. As such, Naughty Dog is able to manipulate the sequences of events that the player experiences. The devs chose to mix up areas with negative space (this is where players can scavenge freely without worry of potential monsters attack), and high tension spikes (usually when the enemies attack). Doing so allows the intensity from the high-tension phases to elicit a different feeling/emotion from the player. The Last of Us’ campaign is devised of mixing up these two types of sequences.

Game Modes

Campaign Mode is the standard storyline gameplay mode that The Last of Us is famous for. Difficulties are listed as Easy, Normal, Hard, Survivor, and Grounded. Finishing the game unlocks New Game +, which allows players to begin the campaign anew with all of their previous equipment in tact. Naughty Dog even goes so far as to introduce a New Game ++ that lets players experience the game a second time with all of their equipment after beating it twice.

Some tips for the 'Factions' multiplayer.
Some tips for the ‘Factions’ multiplayer.

Factions is the PVP Mode for The Last of Us. It features two major competing clans from the game’s main campaign, the Hunters and the Fireflies. Players must choose a faction to play for a set number of weeks (weeks are dictated by the number of rounds you play) and attempt to survive until the final week. Factions mode also incorporates a Facebook link that essentially transforms your social media friends into members of your virtual clan on The Last of Us.

Conditions for Victory

The Last of Us comes packed with a lengthy story to experience first hand. Completing this story will satisfy this title’s condition for victory, as well as bring forth some compelling questions of human ethics and psychology.

In Factions mode, the players must survive each week of either the Hunter or Firefly campaigns. In order to survive, players must meet certain objectives to keep their clans alive.

Dynamics

Gameplay elements derived from the game’s mechanics that provide direct feedback to player actions. Often developed by players as they play. What strategies emerge from gameplay? How do players interact with each other?

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  • Stealth over Shots – Players will realize very early on that stealth play is crucial to maintaining a healthy supply of ammo and crafting materials. The most efficient way to dispose of enemies in The Last of Us is to quietly take them out one at a time using Joel’s strangle maneuver, rather than using your valuable ammo. Shooting is often counterproductive since it alerts the enemies of your position, causing you to waste more bullets/lose additional health.

On occasion, the best course of action may even be to avoid the majority of the mobs in general and simply sneak past them.

  • Allure of the Bow – Bows are powerful tools in both single and multiplayer modes since there is a chance of players recovering their bolts after firing them at an enemy; people tend to favor the bow for this reason alone. This is especially important in scenarios where ammo is limited and can’t be obtained easily.
  • Slow-Crouching – Think crouching is enough to get you past the infected? Wrong! Clickers have an extremely sensitive sense of hearing and can locate moving players even if they’re crouching. To prevent being eaten by Clickers, players have adopted a slower movement speed in crouch position to remain undetected; the speed of the player’s movement is determined by how far they’re pushing the left analog stick, so many players opt out of pushing the stick to the edge. This technique is especially important in higher difficulty levels.
  • Exploring – The scarcity of ammo and useful resources provides great incentive for players to search the nooks and crannies of each given area to scrounge for things that might come in handy later.
  • Distraction – Players can redirect attention by strategically throwing tools found in the environment like bricks and bottles. Though this is a standard mechanic, players use these tools in clever ways to secure the upper hand.

Aesthetics

Player Experience; is the game fun? Why and why not? Is the play emotionally/intellectually engaging?

Oh, so beautiful.
Oh, so beautiful.

The Last of Us was praised with positive reviews all across the globe. The title was heavily acclaimed, and for the most part, exceeded the expectations of game critics and players alike. To avoid spoiling anything, I will refrain from going into too much detail with regards to the story.

One of the dominant niches in The Last of Us is the notion of ‘Nature reclaiming its lands.’ The bulk of the game takes place twenty years following the initial outbreak of a cordyceps fungal disease, resulting in an abundance of evacuated towns and abandoned cities. Within the two-decade span, Nature has taken its course and has grown unimpeded. Naughty Dog cleverly uses this  trope to its full effect by ornamenting desolate urban and suburban districts with various types of vegetation and greenery, creating a seemingly wild atmosphere within an environment that was once a fully functioning society filled with citizens. Naughty Dog’s crafty use of music and sound effects heightens this experience with eerie and tranquil tones.

Simply put, the combination of the title’s story, characters, dialogue, atmosphere, gameplay, visuals, and sound come together to create a rich and emotionally engaging experience that extends past the title’s conclusion. The Last of Us uses an excellent what-if scenario to touch upon some serious issues of human ethics, morals, and psychological though processes. The Last of Us is a thrilling adventure that straps the player onto a nerve-wracking emotional roller coaster from start to finish.

Design Goals; Were They Achieved?

Concept art of the stages of infection.
Concept art of the stages of infection.

– The development team went through a fairly heavy iteration process while trying to pinpoint the ‘ideal’ infected model. Here are a couple of points regarding the key design concepts:

“We went through quite a process of trying to figure out what the infected were going to be, a very big directive from the beginning was that they were not zombies.” -Phillip Kovats (Development Series #1)

“This isn’t some decaying corpse on the ground, this is a living thing that’s going to be coming after you in the world.” -Mark Botta (Development Series #1)

Although Naughty Dog had taken extensive measures to stray away from the zombie trope, The Last of Us was still widely considered a zombie-based survival game by the general public. Any mindless bi-pedal human-turned-creature generally falls under the ‘zombie’ category, and no amount of effort can prevent this generalization from happening. Also, the infected ‘Runner’ class behaves like the standard zombie that most of us see in regular media. It didn’t help that Naughty Dog emphasized being bitten as the most common method of transmitting an infection in The Last of Us; doing so only served to facilitate the zombie structure even further. Supposedly, inhaling contaminated spores or consuming infected crops would turn people just as easily as a bite, these concepts could have been fleshed out more in the story.

– Combat was intentionally brutal and grounded. “You feel the consequences, you feel disgusted with yourself when you take these actions, but you should feel the desperation that you have no choice but to take these actions.” -Neil Druckmann (Comic Con 2012 Panel)

This doesn't bode well.
This doesn’t bode well.

Combat is very tight and up-close, the angles and movement from the camera were adjusted in this way to engage players, thus making the experience more personal. Players will often find themselves interacting with both enemies and the environments around them during a combat sequence.

“We want to make you feel for these enemies, we want to make you hate them, feel sorry for them, be afraid of them, make you feel kind of bad when you shoot them.” -Travis McIntosh (Development Series #4).

The Last of Us does an exemplary job of reminding players that they are in a world of survivors. From the onset of the game, the player is thrust into a world where trusting the wrong person is fatal. People only look out for themselves, strangers are nothing but prey.

Players take the role of Joel in a world where the concept of ethics is near non-existent. You do what you must to survive in this dog-eat-dog world, and that’s all there is to it. As a result, players are exposed to some extremely heavy scenarios that, in reality, would be morally reprehensible. Naughty Dog facilitates this effect with gameplay, Joel will shatter skulls and deal lethal blows quickly and without a second thought, these finishing blows are purposefully gruesome, which adds a particular weight to the experience. This is what you must do to preserve your own life. Some enemies even beg for their lives, but the player feels that disposing him is obligatory; after all, he tried to kill you once, what’s to stop him from trying again?

– “The Last of Us truly has been a story of contrast. There are some pretty dark themes, but they’re juxtaposed against an aesthetic that we find very beautiful.” -Druckmann (Comic Con 2012 Panel)

Contrast is a key element for both the story and gameplay in The Last of Us. Ellie and Joel are stark contrasts as characters, and the story is built around their relationship with one another. Gameplay elements also receive this treatment. As you progress through the game, you’ll visually witness the interplay between nature and human civilization as they juxtapose with one another to create stunningly varied environments. The infected swarms and human factions act in unique fashions as well, with human units working in groups and moving intelligently, while the infected charge at things based on instinct.

General weaknesses, What would I fix?

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140827221022

Puzzles in The Last of Us seemed completely unnecessary. These sequences in the game often consisted of moving an object (i.e. ladder, dumpster, wooden plank) from one area to another to gain access to a new area. These linear, simple tasks tended to slow down gameplay, effectively breaking player immersion. Joel would literally go from an intense firefight with numerous infected mobs to moving a ladder from one side of the room to the other. Pair that with the fact that nothing is a threat to Joel during these sections (there are no enemies, ever) and the player is taken out of the experience completely. There should be a constant fear of enemy attacks, the players shouldn’t feel comfortable while setting up a ladder or moving a plank wooden plank.

I firmly believe that The Last of Us should have either made the puzzles more challenging, or removed them from the game altogether. The current state of these segments only serve to break the pace and hinder a player’s experience.

I had also noticed that the flashlight was largely ignored by enemy units. I find it odd that people, including the infected

User Interface

The UI is minimal, doesn't impede vision, and shows everything you need.
The UI is minimal, doesn’t impede vision, and shows everything you need.

Button Layout

Lastofuscontrols

Bonus Tidbits

  • The light on the PS4 controller is defaulted to green during a playthrough. It will shift to white when using Joel’s improved hearing skill.
  • Pressing play on the voice recorder on the PS4 version of The Last of Us Remastered causes the recording to play from the Dualshock 4 rather than the TV.
  • Supposedly, the game was originally a new Jak and Daxter game, but it was cancelled and formed into The Last of Us.
  • Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception has an in-game reference to The Last of Us during the opening chapter, The Pelican Inn, with a newspaper headline that reads, “Scientists are still struggling to understand deadly fungus”. This reference was intended to be removed prior to the Uncharted 3‘s launch, but Naughty Dog simply forgot to take it out.
  • If attempted in real life, Joel and Ellie would have traveled over 3,400 miles (5,400 kilometers) from the start of the game (Boston), to the end of the game (Jackson).
  • The PS4 port, The Last of Us Remastered, has improved visuals, native 1080p display at 60 frames per second (a 30fps lock is also available), new advanced audio options, in-cinematic director commentary, in-game Photo Mode, and bonus downloadable content, such as the Left Behind single-player expansion chapter, the Abandoned Territories multiplayer map pack, and the Reclaimed Territories multiplayer map pack.
  • The Last of Us Development Series Part 6 – Fantastic look at some of the game’s concept art. Watch after finishing the game for the best experience.
  • The Music of The Last of Us

Game Overview – Need for Speed Rivals

Game Overview

Written by: Kevin Tom

Need for Speed Rivals – PS4

Ghost Games, Criterion Games

Published by Electronic Arts

NFSR1

Mechanics

What systems are in place to dictate the ‘rules’ of the game? What kind of constraints do players operate within? What do players interact with?

Two Factions, One Map

Rather than having multiple dedicated game modes, Rivals chose to establish a single core mode that houses everything on a single, open-world map. Players participate by joining either the ‘Racer’ or ‘Police’ forces, each with a host of various objectives and gameplay mechanics specific to the faction.

Racers

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322105955

  • Goal is to rack up ‘Speed Points’ and to play keep-away from the cops.
  • Players will earn “Heat” over time through regular gameplay. A higher “Heat” level indicates that the racer is a bigger threat, thus attracting more attention from the cop faction.
  • Points are gained primarily by completing races and avoiding cops. Risky maneuvering such as drifting, collision near-misses, and drafting (known as slipstreaming in Rivals) also award Speed Points, but to a lesser degree. Taking down other racers also nets points.
  • Speed Points are used to purchase new cars and vehicular tech modules that help the player to avoid cops/disrupt other racers.
  • During gameplay, a racer will continually gain Speed Points by completing various challenges, the points are not awarded until the racer enters one of many hideouts across the map. If a racer is busted (runs out of hit points or stopped by a cop for a few seconds) before entering a hideout, then they lose all of the Speed Points gained throughout the session and return to the main menu with nothing
  • Players can lose pursuing cops by out-maneuvering them and maintaining a good distance for a few seconds. If you are off of their radar, you’ll have a bit of time to breathe.

Police

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140307004012

  • Goal is to enforce the law and keep the streets safe from racers.
  • Speed points are earned primarily by taking down street racers. Most events are based around this objective.
  • Cars are unlocked and can be used for free as the player progresses through the game and completes campaign objectives (dubbed Speed Walls). Pursuit Tech (basically weaponry) can be used to assist in taking down racers; Speed Points are used towards the purchase and upgrading pursuit techs.

EasyDrive

NFSEasyLog

EasyDrive is an integrated in-game GPS system that aids with navigation. It is controlled using the D-Pad and allows players to set specific destination points for desired locations.

– Looking for the nearest command post, hideout, or repair shop? Just set it on EasyDrive and a route will appear to guide you to your destination.

Hideouts and Command Posts

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322110837

Both Racers and Police players can get back to the game’s main menu by driving near specific buildings (Hideouts for racers, Command Posts for Police) and entering. This brings the player back to the core menu, which allows them to quickly travel to another location on the enormous open-world map, change factions, purchase cars and upgrades, and more.

Speedlists/Assignments (Career Mode)

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322110558

Speedlists are objectives that a player must complete to progress the story. These work like quests; new Speedlists become available as players finish them. The story is composed by cinematic sequences that appear at certain intervals of Speedlist completion.

Completing a Speedlist assignment grants the player access to a new car and a more difficult objective. The cars being unlocked have been predetermined, meaning that individual cars are tied to specific Speedlists.

Each faction maintains a unique set of objectives laid out by the Speedlists that fundamentally opposes the other team. (e.g. Cops will have Speedlists based around shutting down Racers while Racers will focus on avoiding the cops.)

There are 20 speedlist levels for each faction. For each level, players are given a choice of three Speedlist objective categories at a time. Only one set needs to be completed to progress to the following Speedlist level.

Racer Speedlist categories: Race, Pursuit, Drive

Police Speedlist categories: Patrol, Undercover, Enforcer

Drifting and Jumping

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322111531

Drifting is easy and seamless in Rivals. Simply tap the brake button as you go into a corner and your back end will kick out slightly allowing you to blow through a turn with ease. Tap the brake button a second time during the same turn and the drift will become sharper at the cost of lost speed. Drifting varies with each car, some cars may kick out a bit more, others may suffer reduced speed, etc.

Specific “Jump Zones” are laid throughout the map for players to take flight. Jump distances are recorded and shared so players can compare with their friends.

Nitro

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322111403

Nitrous Oxide returns to Need for Speed Rivals allowing players to gain a temporary boost of speed at the press of a button. Nitrous is limited, and specific car types will have access to a larger bank of nitrous than others.

Nitrous can be obtained by slipstreaming (drafting), drifting, near-misses, being airborne, etc.

Cops regenerate Nitro over time, but racers do not.

Pursuit Tech (Weaponry)

SpikeStrip

Used to hinder the opposing force. Cops and Racers each have two slots to allocate pursuit tech; tech varies depending on which faction you play.

Each car has two available slots to allocate pursuit tech to. They cost Speed Points to purchase initially, and additional points to upgrade.

List of Pursuit Tech below:

Racer Pursuit Tech

  • Electrostatic Field – Cancels out stun mines and EMPs; also damages vehicles in close proximity
  • EMP – Tracks a racer as you follow behind; shuts off racer tech for a short period
  • Jammer – Impairs another player’s vision and removes UI components (like the minimap) for a short duration
  • Shockwave – A short-range blast that forces enemies in close proximity away from your vehicle
  • Stun Mines – Lay a mine that temporarily shuts stalls anyone that happens to run over it
  • Turbo – No offensive properties, grants a boost of speed that is more significant than the standard nitro

Police Pursuit Tech

  • Helicopter – Autonomous airborne helicopter tracks racers and attempts to slow them by obscuring vision and dropping spike traps
  • Electrostatic Field – Cancels out stun mines and EMPs; also damages vehicles in close proximity
  • EMP – Tracks a racer as you follow behind; shuts off racer tech for a short period
  • Roadblock – AI cop cars set up a road block on the road ahead of your current position
  • Shock Ram – Shoot a powerful shockwave at all targets directly in front of the cop vehicle
  • Spike Strip – Deploy a spike strip behind your vehicle to blow out tires that roll over it

Repair Shops

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322111622

Cars all maintain a distinct “Health Pool” that decreases as they take damage. This is represented by a gauge on the right side of the screen. Cars are ‘wrecked’ when the “Health Pool” reaches 0, which indicates a ‘Game Over’ and sends players back to the main menu.

Driving through one of numerous repair shops scattered throughout the city will instantly restore the “Health Pool” of the car. It will also replenish charges on Pursuit Techs.

Car Customization

CarColor

Taking a page from Need for Speed Underground, Rivals allows all cars to be aesthetically modified. Players can alter body paint and brake color, change what’s said on the license plate, and do some exterior decorating with decals (dubbed “Liveries”) earned by completing various challenges.

Cars also uphold stats unique to the specific model. Various models will excel in particular areas as opposed to others, thus changing the way they maneuver compared to the others. Players are encouraged to choose a car based on their play style preferences.

Racers can choose to upgrade vehicular stats using Speed Points. Each stat category can be upgraded a total of five times, and the improvements will vary in degree based on the model of the car. (e.g. Some cars may give more durability points per upgrade than other cars). The five stat categories are: Durability, Strength, Control, Speed, and Acceleration.

The Police faction is incapable of boosting car stats, rather, they must work with a vehicle’s base stats received upon unlocking the car.

Social Play

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322112723

Players can choose between four different multiplayer states: Public games, private games, friend-only games, and single player. These four options give players an opportunity to filter other players based on their personal preferences.

Rivals sports the ‘Autolog’ feature from previous Need for Speed iterations (such as Hot Pursuit) that brings about a seamless leaderboard between a player and their friends list. The autolog presents features such as Speed walls and records that are saved in the system for friends to see and surpass. The Autolog presents a great way for players to compete without having to be on at the same instance.

Competition between friends is encouraged frequently during an online multiplayer session of Rivals. Speed cameras, jump distances, event performances, and even career objective completion times are all tracked and ranked; the rankings are very apparent as you approach a specific event or drive past a speed camera, which only bolsters the likelihood of players competing for the best times, farthest jumps, fastest speeds, etc.

Game Modes

Rivals’ two core game modes consist of the Police and Racer campaigns.

– During gameplay, players have access to various race types that require players to complete specific objectives. Players may earn ‘Gold, Silver, or Bronze’ in these race types based on their performances.

Racer Event Types

  • Races – Standard races pitting players up against 3-5 other racers.
  • Time Trials – Get from point A to point B in a set amount of time.
  • Hot Pursuits – Like races, but with police racers trying to take down race participants.
  • Interceptors – A cop begins pursuing the player as soon as this event starts, the goal of the racer is to escape and lose them.
  • Head-to-Head – Players compete one-on-one against each other in a duel. Whoever makes it to the finish line (determined as soon as the event starts) first is the victor.

Police Event Types

  • Hot Pursuit – Same as the Racer event, except you’re the pursuing entity.
  • Interceptor – Same as the Racer event, except you’re the pursuing entity.
  • Rapid Response – Similar to the time trial, but players have seconds taken off the clock for each collision that they make.
  • Random Encounters – Cops may also switch on their sirens and chase down racers while not actively participating in an event. This can occur in free-drive mode.

Conditions for Victory

Each faction maintains its own story with 20 speedlist levels. Once the 20th level is completed, the faction’s campaign is considered completed. Players will then have free access to complete skipped speedlists and improve the scores of ones that have already been completed.

Dynamics

Gameplay elements derived from the game’s mechanics that provide direct feedback to player actions. Often developed by players as they play. What strategies emerge from gameplay? How do players interact with each other?

  • Shortcuts – Many optional paths exist off of the main roads that offer players different avenues of travel. These shortcuts are often riskier than the standard route, but potentially yield benefits such as reduced travel time or improved cop evasion.
  • Quick 180’s – Common to many racing games, hitting the E-Brake button will allow players to do a hard stop, which rotates the vehicle, giving people an opportunity to quickly switch directions from a high speed.
  • Side Stalling – Police units can E-Brake ahead of a racer’s path and position themselves perpendicular to the road, which increases a larger obstacle for racers to avoid.
  • Repair Station In’s and Out’s – Racers linger around a repair station and wreak havoc. As they take damage, they pass through the repair station to heal themselves. This is a great way to increase heat levels and accumulate Speed Points.
  • Pursuit Tech Combos – Pursuit tech can be used creatively in a number of different scenarios, for example:
    • Using a Shockwave after physically ramming another car to deal more damage and create a larger impact.
    • Laying spike traps/stun mines in narrow pathways to increase chances of success.
    • Using the speed from the Turbo Tech to increase jump distance or slam another car at a high speed.

Aesthetics

Player Experience; is the game fun? Why and why not? Is the play emotionally/intellectually engaging?

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322112540

Need for Speed has been around for nearly two decades and will continue to see releases in the future. Why is that? What distinguishes Need for Speed from other racing titles and why is it such a powerful name in the racing genre?

  • Light, Arcadey GameplayRivals isn’t your typical deep, convoluted racing simulator. It’s designed as a lighter, action-packed game that’s easy to pick up and play at a moment’s notice. The learning curve is shallow and the visuals are simple and attractive.
  • Adrenaline Rush – Staying true to its namesake, Rivals uses many visual queues and gameplay elements to simulate the feeling of speed. The rush from weaving through traffic at breakneck paces and performing perfect drifts around tight hairpin turns causes the release of epinephrine into the brain, which in turn elicits adrenaline rushes and excitement among the players. This is a great feeling, especially during tense scenarios like a tight race or attempting to escape the police with nearly no health.
  • Competition Overload  – The Autolog system is one of the most compelling mechanics of the game. It tracks an incredible amount of player data and uses the information to create leaderboard systems that facilitate friendly competition between friends. As you approach an event, pass a speed camera, or finish certain objectives, you are met with blatant in-your-face results from players on your friend list. This scoring system essentially sets goals for players that are dynamic in nature, they are intrinsically changing because players continue to alter the leaderboards in their attempts to overcome their friends’ performances. The Autolog has a lot of staying power as well, since it records and saves all of the data within the system, players won’t even have to be online simultaneously to compete. Simply start playing multiplayer and the game will update you if another player has broken one of your records.

Design Goals; Were They Achieved?

The designers at Ghost Games aimed to bring the unique AllDrive online multiplayer, open-world concept to life in a meaningful and exciting arcade-like racing experience while developing Need for Speed Rivals.

“There’s always going to be the leeway to do exciting stuff, but one of our main focuses, as you said, is to try to reduce the amount of confusion around what Need For Speed is. We want to make sure we can bring it back into what makes the series good, what its tradional core is and where can we innovate and try new things” -James Mouat (Interview with CVG)

“A lot of the other games are focused on more track racers while we’re more focused on big, action-packed moments and arcade style fun.” -James Mouat (Interview with 3News)

Need for Speed Rivals aimed to increase player interactivity and connectivity with the Alldrive mechanic while maintaining the core principles of the Need for Speed franchise (Light, action-heavy, emphasis on speed).

Did they achieve their goal? Kind of. The core makings of a Need for Speed title was apparent in Rivals, the sensation of speed was there and the title maintained an arcade-like feel. Ghost Games however, fell short on the player interactivity front. The maximum limit of six players per session left the map barren and lifeless, I will discuss this more in detail below.

General weaknesses, What would I fix?

Rivals’ incorporation of multiplayer felt shallow when considering the game’s emphasis on the ability to play online and interact with others. When taking into account the fact that the title defaults to online mode from the onset, it’s surprising to see a six-player limit on such an expansive world. Online play feels restrictive and empty, encountering another player is fairly rare and does very little to change up the gameplay. I could barely tell the difference between playing online and offline.

I understand that the entire concept behind Alldrive is to blur the lines between single and multiplayer, but I fail to see the benefits of blending the single player aspects and online play together.

To counter this weakness, I would simply increase the player limit for online servers, 12-16 player slots should be enough. I’d much rather play in an open-world racing game with dozens of player-controlled racers over a small handful of them.

User Interface

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140322112707

Button Layout

Need for Speed™ Rivals_20140211214903

Bonus Tidbits

  • The social interaction feature, “Autolog” was originally introduced in 2010’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

Game Overview – Counter Strike: Global Offensive

Game Overview

Written by: Kevin Tom

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Valve Corporation (Original mod by Minh Le and Jess Cliffe)

CSGO

Mechanics

What systems are in place to dictate the ‘rules’ of the game? What kind of constraints do players operate within? What do players interact with?

Twin Teams

Team Select screen is displayed as soon as a player enters the game.
Team Select screen is displayed as soon as a player enters the game.

Players join one of two predetermined teams (Counter-Terrorist/Terrorist). Both teams are fundamentally the same, but feature thematic differences in appearance, weaponry, and game modes.

Dedicated maps were created to adhere to the two game modes below.

  • Bomb Plant Scenario
    • Terrorists are tasked with planting a bomb in one of two pre-determined locations on a map. Objective is met when the bomb is planted and explodes, or when all Counter-Terrorists are eliminated.
    • Conversely, CTs spawn near the bomb sites and must defend them from T’s. CT’s complete their objective when all T’s are eliminated, or by defusing the bomb that has been planted before it explodes. CT’s also win if T’s have not planted the bomb within a certain time limit.
    • The bomb is given randomly to a member of the Terrorist team at the onset of each round, it acts as an independent item.
    • Defuse kits can be purchased by CT’s to cut defusing time in half, they work passively and don’t have to be activated like a bomb.
A bomb site on de_train. Notice that it is very clearly indicated and the bomb site is highlighted in red on the radar in the top left.
A bomb site on de_train. Notice the blatant indication of where to plant. The bomb site is highlighted in red on the radar in the top left.
  • Hostage Rescue Scenario
    • Terrorists must prevent hostages from being taken by CT’s. Hostages are placed in pre-determined locations. T’s win if CT’s have not rescued a hostage within a certain time limit.
    • CT’s must fight their way to the hostages, pick them up, and carry them back to a safe zone (generally in the same place as the CT spawn).
    • Hostage Rescue kits cut the hostage pick-up time in half.
    • CT’s physically walk slower while carrying a hostage. Extra money is given for each hostage rescued.
Hostages are placed in pre-determined areas on the map, most maps have a rotation so they are not always in the same location.
Hostages are placed in pre-determined areas on the map, most maps have multiple hostage locations so they are not always in the same place.

Weaponry

  • The Twin Team Mechanic grants both teams the same weapon categories and number of guns. Each team has designated slots for a CT/T-specific guns.
    • (e.g. Though they are both rifle-type weapons, the AK-47 has a higher damage output, but reduced accuracy following the initial few shots while the M4a4 has improved accuracy overall, but does less damage.)
  • Item categories include:
    • Pistols – Secondary weapons
    • Heavy Artillery – Shotguns/Machine Guns
    • SMGs – Cheap, low damage guns
    • Rifles – Standard medium damage, mid-range guns and sniper rifles
    • Equipment – Kevlar, helmets, defuse and hostage rescue kits
    • Grenades – Flashbang (blind), HE (damage), Smoke (vision impair), Decoy (radar/sound misdirection), and fire (trapping)
Molotovs are excellent for blocking off passages.
Molotovs are excellent for blocking off passages.

The Knife

  • A unique high-risk/high-reward weapon that does immense amounts of damage.
  • Has a light attack (low damage, quick slices) and a heavy attack (slow recovery, high damage)
  • Stabbing someone in the back will result in an instant kill, stabbing someone from the front does critical damage (55 hp).
  • Knife damage is standardized and is unaffected by armor and helmets.

Recoil

  • A physics based recoil system provides a pre-determined algorithm to each weapon when the player ‘sprays’ their gun.
  • Recoil is one of the three key values that pertain to adjusting guns for balance (the other two being firing rate and damage).
  • Undergoes constant re-evaluation so devs can fine-tune and balance for competitive modes (many of these balances stem from player feedback).
  • Deep and complex system, I won’t go into it now, but the pictures below depicts an image of how recoil functions on a couple of rifles.
  • High-level players are able to move their mice during a spray to ‘control it’, thereby increasing the accuracy of the gun and reducing the spray area.

AK-47 spray pattern.
AK-47 spray pattern.
M4A1-S recoil with visual highlighting.
M4A1-S recoil with visual highlighting.

Armor

  • Players can purchase Kevlar and Helmets to reduce incoming damage.
  • Less effective against guns that do piercing damage (i.e. AWPs).

The Buy Menu

  • Prior to every round, players can access a buy menu to purchase items to use in the round.
  • Everything is lost upon dying, but surviving a round allows players to retain their belongings for the next one.
  • Money is used to purchase these items, which have a specific cost based on their power and utility.
  • Money is earned for killing players (different amounts depending on the guns you kill an enemy player with), and completing objectives (i.e. bomb planting, hostage rescues).
  • A circular scheme is used for CS:GO’s buy menu, players can navigate by either clicking with their mice or using pre-determined number commands.
2014-01-24_00011
The Buy Menu’s circular format is fairly easy to navigate; it also reduces screen clutter.

Picking Up and Dropping

  • Players may drop primary weapons and pistols for others to pick up (enemy team’s items included).
  • Grenades can be picked up, but are only dropped upon death.
  • Knives and armor are exempt from these rules, every player will always have a knife at any given time.

Radar

  • Enemies that show up in a team member’s line of sight will appear on the entire team’s radar for a few seconds.
  • Firing your weapon will also give away your location to enemies on the radar.
  • Teammates are seen at all times on the module.
CSGORadar
Green areas on a radar indicates a Classic Mode spawn area.

Movement

  • Players move at their fastest pace naturally, there is no sprint button for quick boosts of speed, but rather a walk button to prevent opposing team members to hear your footsteps. (A better mechanic for strategic play than sprinting, in my opinion).
  • Different weapons affect movement speeds (e.g. Running with a knife out makes the player run faster, while carrying a machine gun will slow them down to a crawl).
  • Taking damage temporarily slows the player down.
  • Crouching can be used to reduce movement speed (and running noise). It also increases accuracy on gun sprays.

Hit Boxes

  • Each player begins a round with a standardized 100 points of health. A player dies upon losing all 100 hit points.
  • Damage is calculated using a combination of physics-based hitboxes and a particular weapon’s power. Different sections of the body receive different rates of damage. Obviously, hitting someone in the head does more damage than nicking them in the toe. (e.g. The AWP is known as a 1-hit killer, a shot to a player’s chest or head is fatal while bullets to the legs will still do critical damage, but won’t result in a 1-hit K.O.).
  • Best way to understand hitboxes is simply looking at the picture below.
hitboxes_0001_CSGO
Image via – blog.counter-strike.net

Death/Ghosting

  • Dying is simple, lose 100 hp and you are out for the round (Deathmatch-style game modes are exempt from this rule)
  • While dead, players can watch as their teammates play, giving them something to do/watch while they are inactive in a round. To prevent ghosting (informing allies about enemy positions while not participating in the game), players who are dead may only watch the game from an ally’s point of view. (This restriction is exclusive to competitive mode)
    • Many casual mode servers allow players to move around the map freely or watch the match from an enemy’s point of view while dead.
  • Players are also given the option to watch a game while not actively participating in it.Those watching a competitive match as it progresses will receive the feed a few minutes later than individuals actually playing in the game (once again, to prevent ghosting and cheap play).

Game Modes

  • Classic Mode – Comes in two flavors:
    • Casual – Classic bomb plant/hostage rescue maps with varying player limits. Players have access to the Zeus weapon (not available in competitive mode) and begin rounds with benefits such as free kevlar and helmet. Rules in Classic Casual differ depending on the server and preferences set by their owners. A variety of official/non-official servers are hosted, each with their individual rules and map rotations.
    • Competitive – Personal preference as the definitive Counter-Strike experience. Players can form teams of up to 5 to play against players of approximately similar ranks (Determined by CS:GO’s matchmaking system). Games are played in a standard 5v5 format and preferred maps are chosen by each team before entering matchmaking.
      • Games have a total of 30 rounds. T’s and CT’s swap sides after 15 rounds, first to 16 victorious rounds wins.
      • Rules are set in stone with no room for variation; players will gain and lose ranks depending on their performances during the round. A ranking system determines suitable, balanced teams for the matchmaking process.
  • Arms Race – Players get a new weapon following each kill, first one to get a successful kill with the final weapon (a knife) wins the round.
    • Based off of a successful mod created during previous iterations of Counter-Strike.
    • Getting killed by a knife results in player going back to previous weapon
    • Prefer it if grenades were added to the mix again
  • Demolition – A combination of Classic and Arms Race. Players will compete in a bomb plant scenario, and getting a kill will allow players to advance to the next gun when the following round begins.
    • There is no instant respawn like in Arms Race, players must wait until the round ends and another begins anew.
  • Death Match – A custom game mode where players spawn in random locations and kill as many other players as possible. Players will respawn instantly after death, and get a choice of free weapon combinations upon each revival.

Conditions for Victory

  • Classic: First one to a set amount of victorious rounds wins. A new map usually follows and the process repeats.
  • Arms RaceComplete the ‘knife level’ by killing someone with a knife
  • DemolitionT’s = Plant the bomb/CT’s = Defend bomb site from terrorists
  • Death MatchKILL, KILL, KILL!

Dynamics

Gameplay elements derived from the game’s mechanics that provide direct feedback to player actions. Often developed by players as they play. What strategies emerge from gameplay? How do players interact with each other?

  • Buying items – Buy menu access is granted at beginning of each round. Players can purchase their favorite combination of gear within the set time limit. Buying is restrained by the amount of money a player has when the buy menu is available (money is gained by killing/completing objectives). Players will often play differently depending on what they buy at the beginning of the round.
  • Scoring – Players are ranked by points, which are gained through kills (2 pts), assists (1 pt) and completing objectives (usually 2 pts). Points are tracked on a scoreboard accessible at any time with a button press.
Sample scoreboard; image from blog.counterstrike.net
Sample Scoreboard; Image from blog.counterstrike.net
  • Combat Tactics – A variety of movement, actions, and tactics developed and mastered by players to give themselves an edge in combat.
    • Examples include:
      • Fire-Strafe-Fire
      • Corner peaking
      • Quick scoping
      • Camping
      • Fake defusals
      • No-scoping
      • Tap shooting
      • Controlled Spray
      • And more…
  • Twin Team Mechanic forces players into a team-based style of play which encourages cohesiveness and communication. Calls are made to alert allies of enemy presence and ideal map-specific positioning has been identified by players. (e.g. On Dust 2, usually 2A, 2B, 1Mid)
    • Highly competitive games even have teams assigning specific duties to players (i.e. one designated AWPer).

Aesthetics

Player Experience; is the game fun? Why and why not? Is the play emotionally/intellectually engaging?

The Counter-Strike franchise has been around since the Summer of 1999. That’s nearly 15 years from its birth as a Half-Life mod to the release of this article! Fourteen years and the game’s fundamental groundwork has remained the largely the same. Talk about staying power; the franchise continues to be a powerful force in the FPS world, with no signs of falling into the shadows anytime soon.

So what’s the deal? How could a game so ancient stay so popular? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

  • Polish – Existing for fourteen years isn’t a fluke. Counter-Strike titles have received copious amounts of improvements and updates based on player-generated feedback over the years. Consider the low number of changes to the game’s core mechanisms from Counter-Strike 1.6 to Global Offensive and you’ll find that the focus from the dev team was generally directed at tweaking and balancing. Rather than introducing strange new additional features into the game, Valve chose to take the product and polish it to perfection. Glitches became an incredibly rare occurrence, guns were balanced, maps were adjusted, and many other countless changes were made to establish a level-playing field for both Counter-Terrorists and Terrorists.
    • The continual polish and rarity of new features presented negative consequences as well. The game’s fundamental attributes and mechanics were very rarely subject to change. As such, players began to discover the nuances and tricks to “Up Their Games”, which ultimately lead to their improved performances. These newly-discovered dynamics (such as map-specific camping locations, tap shooting, and recoil control) gave an edge to veterans playing the Counter-Strike titles and continue to provide a hefty advantage in Global Offensive. This resulted in a steep learning curve for newer players, ultimately causing frustration and bitterness towards the outcomes of each match. After all, no one wants to get dominated by strangers while attempting to learn a game. It doesn’t help that many players revert to petty trash talking and/or blatant cheating.
  • Slow Pace – CS:GO remains a cult hit due to the differences in pacing compared to modern mainstream FPS titles. The lack of a sprint button results in gameplay that feels slower and generally less hectic. The walk mechanic eliminates a player’s audible footsteps, thereby producing an entirely new layer of strategy to the game. This slow-paced, team-based, strategic style FPS is often a great avenue for shooter fans tired of the modern in-your-face blockbusters.
  • Weapon Mastery – It just feels good to excel at a particular weapon… Or, you know, all of them.
  • Excellent Level Design – The official maps are incredible balanced and well-thought out, which increases replayability by tenfold. No one wants to play a map that’s too one-sided.
  • Team-Based Communication – Communication is a key tool in CS:GO. Your chances of winning are increased significantly if you can properly convey tactics and call-outs to fellow party members. This adds a social element to the game that’s very rare to find in other titles to date.
  • That Sweet, Sweet Scoreboard – I personally find myself checking the scoreboard way more often than I should be. Players enjoy checking their progress as they play to ensure that they’re doing well. A scoreboard is definitely an asset to most, if not all competitive FPS games.
  • Invested Competitive Mode – There’s something to say about the psychological thrill of competing in CS:GO‘s competitive multiplayer. The 5-on-5 scenario and race to 16 victorious rounds creates a feeling of tension that’s actually quite addictive. People play Competitive Mode to win; and a player’s skill, teamwork, as well as a bit of luck will heavily dictate the outcome. Playing with friends only improves the experience.
    • Persevering in a difficult situation elicits a feeling of extreme satisfaction and pride. Take out three enemies on your own, land a kill with a grenade, or eliminate a foe with a knife and at least one person on your team (and often the opposing team) will throw a compliment your way. Have you ever felt the rush of being the sole survivor in a clutch-or-die scenario against the opposing team? Heart-pounding moments like that are common to CS:GO‘s Competitive Multiplayer Mode and continue to reel in both beginner and experienced players to this day.
    • Immediately following the conclusion of a match, players return to the matchmaking lobby. The drive to join another competitive game is often dictated by the results of the last match. But here’s an interesting conundrum, many players are psychologically attuned to play another game regardless of whether the previous outcome was good or bad.
      • A win in the earlier match-up sparks momentum, especially if a player did particularly well. The gratification from victory encourages the player to continue playing and racking up wins. Each consecutive victory only bolsters a player’s chances of queuing up for another match. However, time limits, technical issues, and fatigue will reduce the chances of re-entering the matchmaking queue.
      • Though it isn’t always the case, a loss can entice vengeance. CS:GO players are often compelled to re-queue following a defeat as a means to redeem themselves. After all, no one wants to end their session with a loss.
    • Leaving a game prior to its conclusion, team killing, or being AFK for too long will result in a ban from Competitive Mode. It isn’t a permanent ban, but rather a penalty that increases in degree as you continue to offend. Players can be banned from this mode for up to 7-days at a time. Cheating, unwarranted game modifications, and offensive content can warrant permanent bans.
  • Carefree Casual Mode – So Competitive Mode is too much to handle for your frail heart? Maybe the 60+ minute sessions are far too long? Don’t worry, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive still has you covered.
    • Casual Mode presents a multiplayer mode with a varying number of players that’s effortless to pick-up and easy to leave. The number of players in each match, specific rule sets, and map rotations are all governed by different servers and vary for casual play, resulting in many different choices for players to choose from. Players may even host their own servers if they so desired.
    • There is no player investment in casual mode, gamers may join and leave at their discretion without consequence.

Design Goals; Were They Achieved?

The original idea for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive spawned from a fairly simple premise, “I just like the idea of playing as a counter-terrorist, fighting terrorism”, said Le in an interview with EuroGamer. “I also like being able to pick from a large assortment of guns. I’m a big gun fan.” With those two things in mind, Minh Le dove right into developing a mod using Half-Life‘s engine; which resulted in what we now know as Counter-Strike.

The mod went through many iterations and beta testing, starting with a small community and reaching a peak point in popularity around the fifth or sixth beta’s release. Le believed that “the most important thing was to keep releasing new versions, which kept the interest going.” – Gamasutra

 Here are a couple of things that Le had to say following the success of Counter-Strike:

“For me, when I play Counter-Strike, I feel like I’m part of a team, playing with other people. It’s like a sport: you’re fighting for the same goal, you’re with teammates, and there’s the whole camaraderie part of it. I don’t know, it just drives me to play it more. That’s the biggest thing for me, the whole teamplay aspect.” –  Gamasutra

“I try to find a balance of gameplay and realism that appeals to the CS team.” – Eurogamer

So Minh Le’s core design goals involved producing  a working mod using terrorism and counter-terrorists as a theme. He wanted a team-based system with a bountiful selection of guns and a strong sense of realism. Judging from the widespread, global success of the Counter-Strike franchise as a result of these elements, I’d say that Le fulfilled his initial expectations and more.

General weaknesses, What would I fix?

A major point of contention and frustration stems from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive‘s incredibly steep learning curve. The title upholds an incredibly high demand for skill, and literally throws players into a firing range with almost no preparatory measures. As a result, beginners are continuously slaughtered in each round and the incentive to play sinks fairly rapidly. I think a single-player campaign would do wonders to address this issue. Currently, the only single-player options offered to players are offline matches pitting the player against bots, or a quick Weapon’s Course that can be completed within 30 seconds. A single player campaign could serve as a lengthy tutorial allowing players to come to grips with the various guns, items, and mechanics offered by CS:GO. Players will have an opportunity to experiment with different guns and understand the game’s underlying mechanics while experiencing a rich and enticing story; I would much prefer this over immediately diving into the multiplayer mode only to get blown away by better players. A single-player campaign also adds depth; many players may pick up the title solely for the offline mode if it turns out to be a solid, enjoyable experience.

User Interface

Notice the minimalist and subtle design of the interface? It allows the player to see as much as possible with reduced screen clutter. The icons on the bottom right disappear within seconds.

Default Gameplay Control Scheme

Keyboard Template
Click to see full-sized image.

Bonus Tidbits

  • Bomb Site A of the Dust 2 map features graffiti saying “Goose”. This is an homage to co-creator Minh “Gooseman” Le. To this day, players still use “Goose” to describe the area when making out calls.
  • Dust 2 is widely considered the most popular map of the Counter-Strike series, followed by Inferno.