Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Tom Purdue -- Level Design Examples

Battle Bows Level Design Example

Battle Bows is a cooperative VR Archery Tower Defense game where you protect your castle from invading balloon enemies

For the first update of Battle Bows, I was tasked with creating a level design that would feature four main enemy doors instead of two. Crafting a complete level of Battle Bows meant the following also needed to be considered:
  • Bringing interesting verticality with ramps, bridges, and ruins
  • Congruity with ramp, bridge, and ruin themes from the original design
  • Ensuring all external pathways ended at the two doors into the castle
  • Adding towers and buildings that enemies could pause, exit from, and hide behind
  • Ensuring there were interesting pathway loops to build tension and enemy pileup
  • Completing outer pathway connections to each other
  • Completing a Boss Pathway that circled the entire castle
  • Finishing with more side pathway connections
Fleshing out the Winter Keep Level Design

The level was first set up using a series of PowerPoint images to accomplish this. This was then reviewed with the Design Director and artists to ensure the concept and the greybox level could be created from the design. 

During the greybox phase, I asked the artists to scoop the level upward on all sides so the castle was sitting at the bottom of a bowl-like valley to help bring even more verticality to the level. Two artists then coordinated with me while finishing the level's visuals to completion, adding pockets of trees, craters, fencelines, skyboxes, icebergs, and more.

The final Winter Keep environment for Battle Bows

I then mapped out dozens of enemy pathways, hidden targets, and exploding barrels during the greybox phase and on into the polish phase until the final product was completed. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

Finishing the Story in Asgard's Wrath 2

I just finished up Asgard's Wrath II today. I've thought about writing about this game a second time or a third time beyond my initial thoughts, but every time I went to write about it, I don't know, I kind of just felt like I'd rather be playing it. If that's a good sign, take it! 

Now, I don't think this is a good "get your feet wet" in VR game at all by the way. Since it came bundled with the Quest 3 at launch, I heard some chatter here and there that perhaps this game was good enough to be the thing that gets a person to buy a VR headset. I don't know about that. A game where you stand still like Battle Bows or Walkabout Minigolf might be better. You could end up pretty dizzy on this title if you aren't prepared for it. That said, Asgard's Wrath II is a must-play title once you're ready. 

In Asgard's Wrath II you are a god that can take possession of human spirits that ask for your help. As the story goes, Loki gives you this power (or teaches you this power? I was never quite sure on that point) in the Original Asgard's Wrath game. In Asgard's Wrath, you take on and follow the story of the Norse Pantheon. For AW2, you travel to Egypt and deal with their pantheon.  Loki tags along, of course, sowing trouble along the way.

Choose your hero!

The title divides your story's main quest into "sagas" where you follow the stories of the four heroes you possess:

Abraxas with his sword, shield, and axe at the ready

Abraxas -- This is pretty much your standard human warrior/tomb robber. His kit is mostly sword and board, which is perfect for learning how to play the game. It makes sense he's the first of the four you assist. His throwing axe is really fun to chuck around as well. I especially liked how you could hold it spinning in the air and direct it in any direction. 

Water weapons and a song of destruction are Cyrene's way to victory

Cyrene -- Your second playable hero is a "river naiad." It's a pretty different play style but if I was to describe the character in D&D terms it would be a Water Genasi bard. Man, I would love to play D&D with this character. She has a shield/harp in one hand, a little jellyfish turret, and an eel-like sword. Aside from the final character, this was probably my favorite to play. Strumming to send out blasts of notes was a highlight.

Alivida is ready to throw down a few grenades and explode them

Alvilda -- The third playable hero is an elf who specializes in the bow and arrow. It's a little difficult to manage, but you can switch around her arrow types between a piercing arrow, a ricochet arrow, and a multishot arrow. Also in her kit is a shield (which I rarely used) and a really great explosive mine.  My favorite thing to do with this character was to throw down a mine and shoot it. If you spec'd your character in a certain way, shooting the mine with a piercing arrow would send up a star that then broke into several heat-seeking arrows.  Really fun!

Remember kids, your head is your best weapon

Djehuty -- Finally, your fourth playable hero was an entity that is now near and dear to the Friendly Necromancer's heart. Djehuty (strange name, cool hero) could rip his head off and possess creatures. This could then siphon off divine shielding from them and cause them to attack other enemies. He also had a staff/spear that could cast bolts from its tip, be thrown, or slash enemies. He also had a necklace in his possession that served a few purposes: a shield, a whip, or to create portals (like in the game Portal 2). I had some trouble playing him at first, but eventually he became the character I'd beat the game with.

In the game, you're also assisted by a companion that helps you, not only in battle but also as a mount that you can ride around the world.

  • Subira -- a shadow panther that can remove shadow obstacles in puzzles.
  • Pa'ahkhet -- a bird that lets you glide across platforms (much like riding a shield in Zelda)
  • Wahka -- an ape that casts magic totems to help raise puzzle pieces.
  • Mereret -- a hippo that can cast shadow bolts to dispel evil entities.
  • Viggo -- a boar that eats grubs and throws them up to freeze traps or free glued objects.

Each of these has a skill tree with its own abilities. I never quite got the hang of reviving them in the midst of battle, but they were always a helpful distraction during combat.

Viggo and I share this affinity for food

Probably the coolest feature of the game was my favorite design/lore integration: God puzzles. As a god that inhabits a mortal, you would encounter puzzles in the game where you could release your mortal and assume the form of a god. I talked a bit about it in the previous post, but truly this puzzle-solving mechanic in VR was extremely satisfying and really made sense. The back and forth of moving hero and god around to solve an environment puzzle is a great design that blends well with the game's lore. 

I spent far too long on this water pipe puzzle

The main hub is where you can craft, buy, and sell. It's also where you have your own personal room for you to relax in and keep all the trophies you collect. The crafting was pretty simplistic. Some might find this a bit less exciting in the VR space. There are crafting games like Township Tale where you physically work a bellows, bang an anvil, and hammer nails.  In this game, however, it's more like ensuring you have the ingredients, clicking a button, and letting one of your god friends do the crafting. I liked it because it wasn't physically demanding, which can be a relief.

Let the gods do the crafting!

Much like a souls-like game, you can leave a projection of yourself around the world to point to objects and things of interest. I had a lot of fun pointing at cave openings or at particularly hard-to-see puzzle spots. At first, it was really fun to see these everywhere. It was a bit sad to see most people abandon this mechanic in the later sagas of the game. I'm just as guilty though. It's so easy to forget as you go on in the game.

Yet another successful Loki Rift closed!

In comparison to the first two heroes, it felt like the third and fourth hero had less real estate to their stories. The game certainly did try to distract me at high levels with Loki rifts and long never-ending fights though, so you got depth here if you allowed yourself to be distracted.

The boss fights were truly epic and typically involved scripted moments where you would grapple enemies and use their weapons, projectiles, and tails against them. There's nothing quite like making a dragon slice its own head off with its tail.

Sure, why not?

In particular, the final two boss fights were outstanding. They both took a couple tries for me to master them, but what a wild ride they were. In the final battle, it sent you through a few stages where you would alternate combat and platforming in a crazy ride to the finish line. I can't tell you enough how much I enjoyed those final fights. I'm hoping I can go back and play them again with a different hero.

Now, I fully agree with IGN's 10 out of 10 rating for this game, but I must take a moment to call out a couple game breaking bugs that I experienced that wasted a couple hours of my time. The most notable was when you're supposed to put Mereret into one of her ghost-busting platforms in the Spillways, but for some reason, my game state got out of sync and the platform was stuck on the lower level instead of rising to the top level as it should. I spent so much time wondering how to get on that platform, wandering back and forth. What eventually fixed it for me was logging out of the game and back in. Upon my return, the platform was raised to the position it should have been.

I was so relieved when this platform raised up after relogging

This happened a couple of other times, but I had learned my lesson from the bug in the Spillways. If it felt like something was amiss, I'd always log out and back in before retracing my steps a few times. It helped to reset an area that had become "stuck." 

Another example of this was in a God puzzle where you need to move giant wind machines around a large area and fly from platform to platform with Pa'ahkhet. I left the area to do some crafting and when I came back, the wind machines couldn't be moved and there were no animals to crush for me to use their souls so I could move around said wind machines. Log in and back out and viola . . . fixed.

Aside from a few moments like that, I truly did get a good 50-60 hours of incredibly enjoyable gameplay from this title. If you're looking for a good, fantasy-based adventure that's AAA quality in the VR space, Asgard's Wrath II is waiting for you.  It's a great game.

Happy Dueling!

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Quest to Cantrip Completion in Wizard101

I decided to log back into Wizard101 and see if I could recreate some of the magic that's there for me, and quickly discovered that, yes, indeed, there is magic! Specifically cantrips!

I love "fun" magic! Teach me your ways Abner!

Yes, Wizard101 friends, that's how behind the times I am with Wizard101. I'm over here giving the breaking news on stuff that happened in Spring of 2022. I mean, if I really want to come clean here I'm still playing in Fall 2020 content, which means that Abner has all kinds of things he wants to talk to me about!

Abner looks to be Wizard101's Town Crier like Mickey Dugan was for Pirate101. Got it.

I haven't even played a round of Beastmoon . . . I'm a little intimidated by it to be honest. Anyway, Abner pointed me over to good ol' Pigswick Academy to learn more about Cantrips and before you could say Alla-ka-piggle, I was doing magic flips in the air in front of Hampshire Buttersfield with my "fun" magic.

Flipping out over Cantrips

. . . and then I just sat there doing backflips, making rainclouds, floating my spell book, and casting invisibility over and over while I listened to the Ruff Talk VR Podcast. From the looks of it, the "purchasable" Cantrips kind of max out at level six where you can get a second mark and recall, which is pretty great!

These dudes are really making me do a lot of backflips for a Second Mark . . .

After that it was a 1-2-3 punch KO on cantrip research:

  1. First up was a fantastic read-- the cantrip leveling guide over on Final Bastion. It looks like Jennifer Soulstone mathed it all out and has multiple paths for leveling all written out. Man, I love invested people like this. Good on you, Jennifer!
  2. The next stop in my cantrip googling adventure was to go look at the cantrip lists over at Wizard101 Central
  3. And then finally, the last piece of the puzzle seems to be Crafted Cantrip Treasure Cards, which Wizard101 Central also had the deets on.
Ok, GOT IT. I'm all caught up on cantrip information, now to just put it to good use by downloading Moonlight for my phone and Sunshine for my PC and viola, I'm burning energy by casting Roll Dice over and over on my phone that's streaming from my PC while I'm watching TV with the wife.

Wizard on the phone.  Man, I need a steam deck . . . it'd be so much easier than this.

Welcome to Cantrip Energy Grind 2024 y'all!

Happy Dueling!

Monday, December 18, 2023

Asgard's Wrath II is simply amazing

Asgard's Wrath II launched just 3 days ago on Dec 15th, and it made a huge splash. I mean, those who play VR knew it was going to be huge, but I think everyone's collective jaws dropped when IGN gave it the coveted perfect 10

My first really wow moment with the game happened when I loaded it up and it took 10 minutes to get to the title screen as I was treated to a theme-park-esque ride through the lore. Don't skip it. They have you grab on the reigns of a giant crow and soar through a story of the gods while the game catches you up on what happened in the first Asgard's Wrath game. Truly a treat.

Golden memories of glowing musicians in the Asgard Tavern

One of the best features of this game is the dungeon puzzles you'll encounter where you bounce back and forth between your god mode and the human host you can inhabit. For me, it was reminiscent of playing A Fisherman's Tale mixed with the miniature model sets of Moss or Lucky's Tale. It makes for some really fun gameplay that gives you a breather from the hack-and-slash combat that will be giving you a workout.

Raising my human up on a platform by hooking a pull cord as a god.

The combat is great by the way. It's every bit as action-packed as playing Dungeons of Eternity with even more complexity in how enemies react, show their weak spots, and just fight with you. Even better, after rescuing your first companion in Act 2 you can use them in the fight as well. Not to mention there's a whole skill tree system so you can customize your combat. And that's just the stuff I've discovered so far! There are still 3 other human forms I can play as, but I've only unlocked the warrior so far.

Die Servent of Set!

But wait, there's more! That's right, there's a side system dungeon crawl where you can be ranked and earn cool stuff along the way! The Uncharted Rifts offer you a chance to test your mettle against friends and foes alike. It's kind of crazy. When you die in an uncharted rift you can leave behind a helpful companion to assist those in need or a shadow of yourself to strike down your friends. How far can you go is the name of the game.

The D.M. will show you the way into the uncharted rifts.

But wait, there's EVEN MORE! While out in the desert riding around you can actually visit tears in the space-time reality and fight enemies in an MR mode! I wish I would have captured some footage of this. It was really fun. Basically, the Quest 3's passthrough mode enabled, and enemies would tear through my office walls and strike at me.

It has everything! I just can't even with this game. It's all just so incredibly well-made and cool. I really love it, and it's definitely my new favorite Quest game. If you're looking for someone to push you over the edge to buy it, look no further. I'll be writing more about it on the blog here as I play through it.

Happy Dueling!

Monday, December 11, 2023

Many Wonders of Meow Wolf in a Masterful Minigolf Menagerie

Just last week, the fine folks at Meow Wolf and Walkabout Minigolf teamed up to deliver us a DLC course that is simply breathtaking. My family is no stranger to the Meow Wolf exhibits, and, as I posted about recently, my son and I love a good game of Walkabout Minigolf, so it was a natural fit. Even more exciting, I had a full, eight-person group lined up to play with on launch day thanks to the Ruff Talk VR Discord. Let's go!

Numina come to life in Walkabout Minigolf!

You know, it's funny. I think I've felt the same Meow-Wolf-esque vibes while playing in Walkabout Minigolf in the past. It was actually when I was playing the Sweetopia course for the first time that I thought, yeah, I see it. This is a cool space that is like a work of art where you can just chill and walk through it. It's a natural fit.

That said, this Meow Wolf course is next-level awesome. Alien creatures, weird flowers, and uncanny morphism are just the start. 

Exploding pollen balls inside The final hole

The rules of the course bend as well. For example, there's a hole where you have to herd holes into a hole. There's a hole where your ball shatters into 9 other balls. There's an upside-down obstacles hole. There's a Vector-graphics, air hockey hole . . . and on and on and on. A lot of love and thought went into these spaces and it shows.

A view of the first hole and the recurring blueberry, golf ball beast you find throughout

I also streamed my play to the TV so my wife and son could see the course and the first thing they said was, "Oh! I've been there!" That's how well the theming is of the Meow Wolf course to the Convergence Station, Denver location of Meow Wolf. I personally had never been there, but they both went there last summer while on a trip together.

A diorama of the course within the course

It took about a full 2 hours to play through the course with eight people the other night. Of course, we spent most of that time exploring around the environment, finding hidden balls, and . . . in my case, spent time catching up when my headset ran out of battery.

On Saturday I came back into the hardmode, night-time version of the golf course and found all the hidden pimentos throughout the course. It was tough, but I didn't cheat by looking at a guide to find them all. Number 3 and Number 9 were killers to find! My reward was adding another pretty sweet putter to my collection. I dig it! 

So close, yet so far . . . tough clue!

This is hands down my new favorite course in Walkabout minigolf. What a successful blend of an IP that Mighty Coconut achieved with this course. Amazing. 

If you'd like to hear more about the course and walkabout minigolf, the folks at the Ruff Talk VR podcast had a really excellent interview Michele Martell of Mighty Coconut and Vince Kadlubek of Meow Wolf. Check it out!

Happy Dueling!

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

I bought World of Diving for $2

I've been a bit fascinated with underwater VR games since I first strapped on a headset and realized that it felt like I was wearing a diving mask. It's a bit uncanny and so it's easy to understand why a game like World of Diving exists. It's actually crazier to me that there aren't MORE games like World of Diving, but I get it . . . . It's a gamble and a game like this wouldn't make you rich. This is my best guess at why there are so many shooters in the VR space. They sell. Games like World of Diving don't.

Steamdb has tracked World of Diving over the past couple years, and when it's gone on sale it's either been between the $5 and $2 range. That tracks for me since it's an older VR game from 2014, and it has a 3-star rating on Steam.

World of Diving is all about the extremes

Having already been exposed to Ocean Rift (one of my first purchased games on the Oculus) and loving the feeling of jetting around looking at the ocean floor and swimming aside sea creatures, when World of Diving popped up for $2 during Black Friday sales, I . . . dove in . . . and purchased it.

The past week has been World of Diving week for me, which I needed since before this I was in a couple very active games (Synth Riders and Hellsweeper -- thanks for the suggestions Amelia!). World of Diving is super super chill, but still a game, so it's already better than Ocean Rift or TheBlu

The problem with Ocean Rift is that it's an experience, not a game.  Basically in Ocean Rift you're visiting a virtual underground museum looking at sea life and not much else.  The other popular underwater experience is TheBlu, which is currently free to play with 3-4 $2 DLC. The free to play experience in TheBlu is like 3 minutes. It's a great 3 minutes where you stand in place and a whale looks you in the eye and swims past you. It would be a pretty great "first experience" for a VR newbie, but . . . ultimately it's pretty short. I did like how the ship shook when the whale zoomed past you though. Nice touch.

So! All that said!  Let's talk World of Diving!  This Jamaican 6-pack bustin' diving shop owner is your guide.

Ray likes turtles and is Jamaican right down to the tip of his undies.

Ray has quests for you! The basic game loop here is that you visit Ray, and Ray tells you where to go next.  Done. You open up your handy dandy underwater camera/quest/fishopedia and there's a little yellow marker telling you exactly where to go to find your next destination.

Have green squares, will photograph! 

I love everything about this thing except for its font. Completely unbelievable that a company that created such a device would use such an unreadable font for its interface.  A white, thin, and san serif font?! I don't buy it and I don't like it.  It is a pretty cool gadget though. I wish the pictures that I took with it were stored somewhere on my hard drive. I dug through folders hoping it was so, but alas . . . Steam F12 or Oculus screenshot button were the best I could do.

I had fish density turned all the way up in the options

Most of Ray's missions came in one of two flavors: collection quest or photography quest. It was like playing Pokemon Snap in a way.  After you'd finish a quest, Ray would give you a follow on quest until you had finished all the main quests in an area, then you'd unlock the next biome. In all there were 8 biomes you could play in: Thailand, Bonaire, Australia, Okavango Delta, Lockheed, North Carolina, Bismarck, and Brazil.

I'm not sure if he saw me after a while.

The first biome was the most fleshed out and completed. After that, there were maybe only 4-5 quests in each biome. The fish in the biomes started to taper off as well. Because of this, it feels like the game was rushed to completion after the first biome was polished, but they all had something unique and interesting to explore.

PRAISE CLEAN OCEAN FLOORS!

While questing, there are some side quests you can pick up for photographing things. There are also hidden collection quests for picking up junk, finding doubloons, and finding other treasures. I picked up a lot of trash in the virtual seas, but alas I haven't finished any of these sub-quests.

People just leaving their trash bags everywhere these days!

Quests award you with gold and you can spend that gold on unlocking wearable diving gear. As a player you don't see any visible changes in what you're wearing, but apparently this game supports multiplayer where it would matter more.  That's actually the most shocking part here. Multiplayer?! I love it! I wonder if that's networked or player-hosted? It'd be interesting to find out someday if I find a diving partner.

The quests end at the second to the last biome, which has you searching through an old sunken nazi submarine. You end up swimming through rusty old tunnels looking for items.  The very last quest of the game is to find 8 hidden bars of gold. It was a bit of a cheap play here on that quest. You had to stick your hand through a ship bunk's geometry and click eight times in a hidden location.  Kinda weird.

In the words of Indiana Jones, "Nazis, I hate these guys!"

After that, they open a biome for you to just swim around in and perform photography side quests and junk clean up.  The best surprise though was this amazing My Little Pony Esque ship that was sunk there.

The best sunken ship in the game hands down. Worth the time spent to get to the final zone.

I love the fact that there was some crazy pirate in this unspoken lore that floated around in a my little pony ship and unleashed cannon fire on other pirates . . . only in One Piece and the final biome of World of Diving, friends.

The game was not without its bugs mind you. I mean, if I had paid full price for this game I would have been pretty irritated when I needed to restart the entire game because my ability to select quest icons and click in the quest window just suddenly didn't work. But, since I bought the game on the cheap and it has provided me with six hours of underwater fun so far, it's totally worth it!

If you know of a good diving VR game, let me know. I'd love to check it out.

Happy Dueling!