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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mage Knight - Lessons from the Tabletop

What? A Board Game in a Video Game Design Blog?
      As much as I have devoted the last several years to the study of video games and how they are made, I have come across certain board games that have also caught my attention. Not the Monopoly or Scrabble games everyone knows about, but the kind found only in specialty shops, alongside Warhammer figurines and D&D manuals. They are the kind of games that I feel don't get enough love these days.

     Consider this: video games have been steadily evolving over the past several decades, but this evolution has been held back by technological constraints. Alongside those technological constrains are the rising costs of utilizing these new technologies, driving the cost of developing video games up higher every year. What this means is that as games get more expensive to make, you start to see less variety and experimentation in the medium, as an ill-fated risk can mean a death sentence to a development studio, or a major loss the stockholders of a major publishing company.

     By contrast, the board game industry has been steadily growing. While remaining very much a niche market, they are able to thrive and grow without the constraints put on video games. The costs of development are very low, and a game prototype can be whipped up by a single designer working with a team of dedicated testers. And since the technology never really changes (aside from making pieces look fancier, etc), board games are able to enjoy a steady and constant forward momentum toward innovation and new creative frontiers.

     Mage Knight the Board Game* is an example of some truly excellent game design to come out of the board game world. It's one I felt like highlighting here to show just how much video game designers can learn from our board game designer friends.

     *Not to be confused with the earlier miniatures game set in the same universe.
     Mage Knight is a fantasy conquest game where you take on the role of one of four Mage Knights and battle your way across the map, acquiring Fame, loot, and conquering various holdings across the map. All of your actions are dictated by a deck of cards, and gameplay is all about careful management of your cards and how to maximize the effectiveness of each turn.

     The game is far too complicated to go over every rule in detail, so I highly suggest watching this video demo of the first round of play to get an idea of how the game is played. If you want to learn more and/or put your reading comprehension skills to the ultimate challenge, both the Rulebook and Walkthrough book are available through Fantasy Flight Game's official website (be warned, though, the books are not very well written and can be very confusing). Hopefully this will make enough sense as to not be too confusing should you not choose to look into those things, but just thought I'd give you a heads up.

     So without further adieu, lets take a look at the game's various mechanics.

Put on your robe and wizard hat!

      Mage Knight has a lot of interesting mechanics that interact together in fascinating ways. It strikes a strong balance between randomness and predictability that allows for deep strategies to emerge and for fun surprises to happen over the course of the game. Below are a few highlights of the system I found particularly compelling:
  • The Deck
         Each player starts with a deck of 16 cards, with one card unique to each character that is a stronger version of one of the standard cards. Considering that you draw up to five cards each turn (or more as you level up), this seems like a small number, especially for those used to games like Dominion or even Magic the Gathering with large decks. Unlike in MtG, you are most likely to be able to use every card in your deck each round, which affords you some strategy to complement your turn-by-turn tactics, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping you draw that one kickass card you stashed in your giant deck.

         Tied to the deck is the idea of rounds in the game. Each player takes their turns during a round until one player is unable to draw cards at the end of their turn to put into their hand. Note that decks are only shuffled in between rounds, never in the middle of one. Now, if you compare this to traditional deck building games like Dominion, where reshuffling your deck isn't a particularly huge deal, this creates a very different dynamic. In Mage Knight, how fast or slow you draw new cards has a strong impact on how long the round will go and what you will be able to accomplish, and even what you and your opponents will be able to do.

         Consider this: Suppose you used the Regenerate Card to draw 2 cards. Now, this means that not only do you get 2 cards, but that also means you deck is going to run out faster, which can potentially mean that other players will not get to play all of their cards.

         At the same time, given how wounds effectively shrink your hand size, it is no coincidence that the regenerate card, your main way of healing, has the choice of Heal 2 (trash two wound cards from your hand) or draw 2 more cards. It makes even a single wound a potentially major liability, and one to be dealt with as soon as possible.

         This creates an interesting system where even though you may not be able to predict what you will have from one deck to the next, you have a good idea of what you will be able to do over the course of a whole round, so there is the right balance between randomness and deterministic strategy.

         One could draw parallels to this in RTSes like Starcraft 2, where there is also a mix of determinism and randomness at play during a multiplayer matchup. A player is in full control of what they make, and can make predictions of what their opponent is going based on how quickly they get up certain buildings or what kind of army compositions they go for. Aside from the choices of the players themselves, and arguably the AI of the units, Starcraft is far more on the deterministic side when compared to Mage Knight, given that it is played on a computer that can handle all the number crunching behind the scenes. Board games, by contrast, rely on randomness as a shorthand simulation of complex deterministic algorithms behind these games, so generally the outcome is comparable on some level.

         There is a downside, of course, to having the computer do a bunch of heavy lifting so the player doesn't have to pull out a calculator. It can mean that the underlying systems of the game are more complex than the player could ever wrap their head around. You have to carefully balance the need for hiding info from the player with having just the right amount of mechanics to be interesting. I much prefer the route the Diablo III beta is going in, where by default descriptions of abilities are short and general, with the option to expand them. Dawn of War II, on the other hand, went about it the wrong way by hiding virtually every stat of every unit, to the point where you have only a vague idea of how much damage you are doing against particular types of enemies. Rather than being able to look at a number and say that its damage is good/bad, you have to just eyeball it or look over esoteric charts and stats created by fans on external websites.
  • Cards
         Each card in your deck can be played in three different ways. First, you may put the card into play normally for its basic effect. Alternately, you can spend mana of the appropriate type to use its more powerful ability detailed in the lower text field. Finally, any card can be played sideways to act as a Move 1, Attack 1, Block 1, or Influence 1.

         This system makes it so every card use has to be carefully considered, and there are tradeoffs for every choice. Do you spend a card for its basic effect to save your mana for later? Use its more powerful effect to pull off a killer turn? Or go all in and play a few cards sideways to pull off a turn you only barely have the cards for?

         The most compelling aspect of this system is that it gives players ample ability to make clever moves and pull off killer combos. Not only does it make the player that pulled them off have more fun, but other players can also vicariously feel the rush of a well-executed turn.

         The closest equivalent that comes to mind are the Tactical Marines squad of Dawn of War 2. They are the single most versatile unit in the game. They start out quite capable enough, but at tier 2 you can upgrade them (the squad, not all tactical marines) to be anti-vehicle, anti-infantry, or anti-heavy infantry depending on your weapon choice. This allows them to be adaptable to any situation you want, though there is always the sacrifice of resources and time should you need them to switch to a different weapon.
  • The Day/Night Cycle
         Each round alternates between day and night. During the day, it is easier to cross through forests (pretty common), harder to cross deserts (pretty rare), and you can use Gold mana, which is essentially a wild that can be spent as any basic mana type. You are also able to see what enemies are guarding fortifications from far away, making it easier to plan your assaults.

         During the night, however, it becomes harder to cross through forests, easier to cross deserts, and instead of Gold Mana you can use Black Mana, which allows you to use the enhanced versions of your spells. It also makes it so for most fortifications you can't know who is guarding it until you are directly next to the building.

         This works to create an interesting element of timing to how one should explore the map. Should you cross a forest and explore a new map tile, risking being stuck in a forest at night? Is it worth it to assault a Mage Tower in the middle of the desert when you are only a couple turns away from daytime?

         This is not unlike the Day/Night system of Warcraft III, though it has a bit more of an impact on gameplay. In Warcraft III the main advantage of night vs day is that at night neutral creeps would be asleep, allowing you to ambush them to gain experience for your hero easier, and the line of sight of your units was lower. If you were a Night Elf, you could also shadowmeld (turn invisible but take no other action), and moon wells (which provided supply and restored nearby units' health and mana) would replenish their mana.

         It worked well to create a compelling mechanic that encouraged timing of your attacks and creeping (killing neutral "creeps" to level up your hero between battles with your opponent). The one complaint I'd have about their implementation was that it wasn't a strong enough factor to make a huge difference at low-level play, and could be easily ignored after early game.
  • Location Cards
          Mage Knight features many different locations you can visit, from villages, to Mage Towers, Monastaries, and even Monster Dens or Ancient Ruins. Each location has slightly different rules about what players encounter at each place, what type of enemies they have to fight, and Influence costs for their various services. All of this could very quickly get confusing for a new player, but MK has a rather ingenious way to make this easier to grasp.

          Each location card has the full text description of what the location does, plus an iconographic representation of the rules on the left. This I think is an excellent design choice, as it makes it easy for a player looking to remind themselves of the rules of a card to just glance at these icons and grasp its at times complex rules in a fraction of the time.

          The most similar analog to this in the video game world would probably be the iconography used in such games as RTSes or MMOs, which rely heavily on complex user interfaces filled with different icons players have to be able to identify and understand at a glance. However, there is still a major emphasis on having to read or be told lengthy explanations of how to use the interface, with no quick and easy way to be reminded of what they do without cracking open a book worth of help text. The closest to actually iconographically explaining mechanics would probably be fighting games, which these days has training modes that let you see each character's full moveset.
  • Combat
          MK has an interesting combat system that simplifies and streamlines combat considerably, but without dumbing down the overall experience. When you attack a monster, there are three phases. First is the Range Attack Phase, where you may play any Ranged or Siege** attack cards or abilities. If you have enough points to equal or exceed the monster's defense, they are dead and you can claim your reward. If not, you enter the Blocking and Damage Allocation phase, where the monster gets to hit you, and you must either play a number of block points equal to the strength of the attack, or take wounds, allocating them to your hand or to one of your units. Finally, you enter your normal Attack phase, where you can play any type of attack to kill the monster (if you can).

          **Identical to Ranged, except it can be used against Fortified opponents, which Ranged cannot.

          This system is interesting for a couple reasons. First, it is deterministic, rather than being based on any kind of dice roll. If you have the right cards, you will be able to kill a monster. No critical hits or percent chances of getting a wedgie. This makes combat feel much more like a chess move than a bet placed on a roulette table. I mention in my previous post how I feel the best way to create the thrill of skill-based play is to make in-game actions be based on the player's choices and actions, not the random calculations of the computer, and I think this accomplishes that quite nicely. Second, it is fast and easy to get through without sacrificing it's depth or strategic potential.

          The streamlined nature of combat makes a lot of sense for a board game, as unlike in a video game the players are responsible for all the number crunching. It also makes sense from a game pacing perspective. Video games with complex combat systems generally have either a turn-based combat system, or feature encounters with only a few opponents. This makes it so the player can easily see when their dismembering, or stun attacks, or parrying, etc are making a difference, and the added realism makes for a compelling fight. Perhaps the best old-school example of this is the combat system of Prince of Persia 3D, which featured vertical attacks, left and right horizontal attacks, as well as the ability to feint, parry, or block as you saw fit.

          Cool mechanics and such may be cool in a game with a few opponents, but if you are mowing down waves of dozens or even hundreds of enemies in a game like Dynasty Warriors, it can quickly become chaotic. Not only does it pose a risk of confusing the player, but it could also very well just be completely ignored, given the pacing of the combat.
  • Character Advancement
         Each time a player gains enough Fame to level up, they will either gain a new command token or gain an Advanced Action card (and new skill), alternating between the two each level. Gaining a command token raises your unit allowance by one and will increase your defense, hand size, or both. It is a nice, incremental bonus that gives you just a little more power.

         Gaining new Advanced Action card is a bit more dramatic. Most advanced action cards give you great benefits, and are sometimes powerful enough to really change the course of a whole turn. Yet for all their power, in the grand scheme of things they actually don't affect the game as dramatically as you may think. Rather than giving players a power to call upon at any moment, players are given a new ability that must be carefully and wisely used during the game round. This creates more punctuated moments of power, making the player feel stronger without dramatically effecting the balance of the game. It is more like improving your critical hit chance than your base damage.

          The new cards are further balanced, paradoxically, by how powerful they actually are. Because they can have such a dramatic effect on your turn, they have to be used very carefully. Many can be made even more potent if played at the right moment, making its use a very careful consideration for the player. They are powerful enough to be consistently useful, but not so useful that they become a "no brainer" ability.

         One could compare this system to the ability system of Battlehearts, where you gain new abilities every couple levels, but those abilities tend to have significant cooldowns. There is a decent variety between abilities that are "no brainers" that you want to use at every possible opportunity, and situational abilities that can be dramatically more powerful at the right moment. This is to be expected, of course, given the large market the game is targeting.

         Skyrim, on the other hand, went about this wrong, and it is one of the big reasons why I lost interest in the game after a while. There are really no situational spells or abilities in the game to speak of. All of them are useful and with the right specializations can be freely and arbitrarily chosen on a whim. The elemental system of ice being effective against warriors, lightning against mages, and fire against everybody goes a little way toward alleviating this, but not far enough.

         The result is that battles have very little in the way of true strategy or tactics, and your choice of what kind of spells to hurl at your opponent or weapons to use are pretty much purely arbitrary, with no clear reason to favor one over the other outside of personal preference. Again, this make sense if you are appealing to the casual crowd who perhaps isn't a Rhodes Scholar in the Art of War, but it needlessly sacrifices some satisfaction to your more hardcore players.
  • Variant Rules
         Finally, I would say one of the best features of the game is the fact that there are so many different ways to play. Contained in the rulebook are numerous variant rules and scenarios which let you tailor your experience to the preference of your players. Do you want to play a tooth-and-nail competitive brawlfest for the conquest of the continent? Or are you in a more touchy-feely mood and would rather play a cooperative game? Hate everyone and want to just play by yourself? Or are you and your buddies a bunch of stoned druids that think that wandering around the forest and summoning dragons to fight is a great way to pass the time? (see the "Druid Nights" scenario on page 17 of the Rulebook). All of these options are welcome and embraced.

         In all honesty, I can only speculate on this chicken-or-the-egg conundrum of whether video games or board games started offering different modes for different players first. I am inclined to say board games, since we have had complex tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer 40k stretching back to the 70s and 80s respectively. But who knows?

         Regardless, the benefits of offering many modes and variants makes the game much for appealing to a bigger audience of gamers, both in terms of their tastes, the amount of friends they have available, how much time they have, or how much of a challenge they want to take on. Video games have only started to scratch the surface of the potential of offering such diverse choices.
Banding together with our Board Game Brethren!
     Sure, great board games like this one may not pull in the money or have the name recognition of video games, but ignoring them would be a big mistake in my opinion. There remains a vast treasure trove of great design decisions and discoveries and concepts borne out of board games that most video games today have not even considered.

     To me, good game design is good game design, whether it is on a table, TV, or computer screen. I hope that in some small way I can help bring more attention to great board games out there and foster a greater bond of mutual collaboration between the board game and video game industries. There is much we can learn from eachother, and even more to gain from it.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Shinobi - The Way of the Badass

A Ninja Is You!
     Shinobi for the PS2 is one of those hidden gems that doesn't get the attention it deserves. This stylish, Hiro Nakamura-approved action game has you stepping into the shoes of Hotsuma, a ninja of the Oboro clan, tasked with defeating the evil sorcerror Hiruko and his army of Hellspawn and zombies. It's stylish presentation and fast-paced, well-designed combat system make it an excellent model of how action games should be done.

     Not many praise this game the way I do. At the time of its released, it got only mediocre reviews from critics and mixed reviews from players. Some people couldn't get past the steep difficulty curve (noobs), others couldn't handle its camera system (Pro Tip: Use R1 to lock on to enemies. Problem solved.) But even more seem to miss the genius of this game's combat system. Though simple, it does an excellent job of rewarding skilled players by allowing them to wield the power to take out a horde of enemies in seconds, or slay a boss in a couple well-timed hits.

     While this game certainly isn't friendly to the casual player, there is much to be learned from Shinobi. Not only does it have a great combat system, but it also successfully blends all the key ingredients that make a player feel badass.

Being Badass
     One of the most fundamental aspects of designing an action game is making the player feel empowered. Sure, it may be fun to watch a cutscene showing how awesome the protagonist is (or in Nero's case, how awesome he wishes he was), or being able to press a "kill every enemy in the room" button a la Knights of the Old Republic. But at the end of the day action games are most satisfying when the players feel they are the ones fighting the enemies themselves.
  • Putting the Power in the Player's Hands
         A cornerstone of Shinobi's combat system is what it calls the "Tate System." In the game, Hotsuma wields a powerful cursed sword known as Akujiki. It is a weapon of tremendous power, but it feeds on the yin energy of the souls of those it slays (or, if no one else is available, whoever happens to be wielding it - ie you). On the plus side, each time you slay an enemy, the sword becomes empowered and deals more damage with each subsequent kill. After a string of successful kills, a player can easily one-shot even the most powerful enemies, and even cut a boss's health bar in half in a single strike.
         Of course, making the most out of this system is easier said than done. It requires a careful mastery of your ability to scan nearby enemies, quickly decide the best order to kill them in, and then use your coordination and reflexes to close the distance between enemies while your sword is charged. This is made easier by the Stealth Dash ability, which allows you to dash forward quickly or move around behind enemies, leaving a ghostly copy of yourself as a diversion for your enemies. This all creates a system that keeps players on their toes, and makes combat quick yet tactical at the same time.

         Based on conventional wisdom, you would think that say that without a proper upgrade system or additional weapons a combat system like this would get boring after a few levels. But you would be wrong. Over the course of the game, as the player comes to grok the combat system, they will naturally be able to take on tougher and tougher opponents while feeling like they are steadily growing in power. Not because they hit level 50, or have +60 strength from their Stache of Manliness, or from picking up the Ultra Vorpal Dancing Sword of Universal Annihilation, but because they themselves have gotten better at the game. They can see themselves grow in power before their own eyes, and that is the ultimate feeling of empowerment.
  • Of course if strategy isn't your thing, perhaps power-leveling to level 999 is more up your alley.

  • The Allure of Power
         Power shouldn't merely be shown in a game, it should be felt by the player. If a character is calling down a meteor out of the sky, then it should deal a lot of damage and feel like it has impact behind it. It is much more exciting when your spells feel powerful than spells you see in a game like Guild Wars, for instance, which had to sacrifice the power of its spells in the name of having a balanced multiplayer experience. Calling down meteors didn't decimate a city, but instead made people trip and fall and take some damage. Woo hoo? That's not to say that kind of balance doesn't work for that game, and I loves me some Guild Wars (Guild Wars 2 could not come fast enough), but it just doesn't make the player feel particularly powerful.

         Dawn of War 2, on the other hand, did not shy away from having uber units and abilities, but embraced them. This is best illustrated in how they handled balance between vehicles and infantry units. In a game like Starcraft 2, you may see a group of marines take down a massive unit like a Mothership, since that is a game based around soft counters, where every unit theoretically has a shot against any other unit. DoW2 takes a different approach.

         In DoW2, vehicles and walkers are virtually impervious to small arms fire, walkers can fling infantry around like rag dolls, and tanks can wipe out entire squads in a couple shots. The only way to counter them it to build anti-vehicle weapons, which itself creates interesting metagame possibilities. Do you build anti-vehicle units to counter possible vehicles from your opponent, spend the requisition to tech up to better units, or build up your infantry more in the hopes of outmaneuvering your opponent? In other words, it makes a significant difference whether a player gets vehicles or not, as it can force an opponent to rethink their whole strategy to handle the massive threat they pose to their forces. Vehicles rightfully feel powerful and threatening.

  • Crafting a Believable Threat
         Power just isn't interesting without an element of vulnerability. A player can be godlike in power, but if all the player ever faces are weaklings then there just isn't as much pleasure in defeating them. To really make the player feel they are a powerful warrior facing a formidable foe, both the player's character and the enemies themselves must be appropriately threatening.

         In Shinobi, you have to contend with large groups of enemies, with health powerups being few and far between. The result is that you have to watch your health carefully and hope you down a miniboss before you die to a stray shot. Despite being dangerous, enemies can be easily killed. Contrast this to what God of War does when you play Spartan mode, which makes enemies both deal more damage and take less damage. The result is that battles that should be routine and quick become protracted slogs, with the player feeling like a weakling fighting superior foes, undermining their sense of power. It is far better to have enemies deal more damage yet remain as fragile in normal mode, to maintain pacing while being a little more punishing with mistakes.

         Just as important is to make major enemies as menacing in-game as they are made out to be in the story. In Knights of the Old Republic 2, the Sith Lord Darth Nihilus was able to kill the entire population of a planet with his mind, and keeps a derelict star destroyer together with his thoughts. Yeah yeah, the Miraluka were especially force-sensative and thus vulnerable to attack. Yes, the ship he controls isn't technically a Star Destroyer despite looking like one, and the protagonist is conveniently a "hole in the force" which makes him/her uniquely qualified to fight him thanks to being immune to Nihilus's mind murderings... while otherwise exactly the same as any other Jedi in every other respect.

         I suppose with all those caveats you could say it makes sense that the protagonist could kill Darth Nihilus, a god among the Sith, in a straight-up lightsaber duel. Sadly this poor, barely corporeal being of pure evil and hate couldn't be bothered to have a few captive jedi to suck the souls from to replenish his health, or even stun the rest of your party like Darth Malak did in the first game. But you know, it's cool, because he was really hungry for that tasty tasty force energy he was promised from the Jedi temple he thought he was orbiting over.

         But in all seriousness, after how much time was devoted to making Darth Nihulus out to be the biggest, baddest Sith in the universe, ready to take on the whole Jedi academy single-handedly, he proved to be pathetically easy to kill. Far from being an epic confrontation, you end up mindlessly wailing on him just like you would any other nameless Sith enemy in the game, albeit with a bigger life bar. It made defeating him feel less like a heroic triumph and more like a speed bump to the overarching story.

         Compare all that to the fight with the Kayran in The Witcher 2. In that game an entire chapter was devoted to investigating and gathering supplies and information on how to kill the beast, and you even teamed up with a sorceress to take him on (unless you didn't. Ah, branching storylines!) Then when you finally got to him, it was a hulking monster which could kill you in a single swing of his tentacles. Now that was a moment that made you really feel like a proper monster slayer.
Feeling Badass
     Another important component of the badass formula is crafting a compelling narrative that makes players both sympathize with the protagonist and feel the weight of the challenge they face before them. The player should feel comfortable stepping into the shoes of the intrepid hero and motivated to take on the challenge of achieving the character's goal. Shinobi and its sequel Nightshade do a great job of illustrating how this should and should not be done, respectively.

     Nightshade's protagonist, Hibana, is a mercenary tasked with dealing with a rouge ninja clan headed by her former master and lover, Jimushi. During the first cinematic of the game, she bemoans the fact that today would have been a great day for a picnic and that today isn't her day. This isn't the last time she repeats this "today isn't my day" line either.

     Now let's pause for a moment. Hibana is working for some sort of military organization, conveniently wields a diet-Akujiki with all the same powers but none of the soul-sucking side effects (because really, why bother with the original, ancient artifact that is the envy of all ninja kind when you can just use a knock-off?), and she is pretty hot. I'd say she's doing well for herself, all things considered.

     Hotsuma, on the other hand, in the span of a few days had to kill his own brother in a duel, fight undead hordes composed of his former family and friends, and wield a sword that was constantly on the verge of devouring his soul. But does he bitch about it? No, he keeps his mouth shut through most of the game and takes on Hiruko and his minions like a boss.

     The point being that if there are to be any flaws with a character, they should serve to make the character more interesting and intriguing to a player, not less. Hotsuma is one man taking on an army with no backup, shouldering tremendous feelings of guilt and loss, and playing with fire by carrying around a cursed sword. Hibana is a hired mercenary tasked with stopping an evil corporation from taking over Tokyo, who has a thing for guys twice her age and a fondness for picnics. There just isn't enough interesting conflict and motivation behind Hibana to really take her seriously as a heroine, much less a badass.

Looking and Sounding Badass
     Finally, all of the above is moot unless you have good audio and visual design to complement the game's tone. For the design of Hotsuma, they went out of their way to make a stylized, futuristic looking ninja, with a sleek look and an awesome red scarf . They also added some interesting stylistic flourishes for when you successfully kill a series of enemies. This was all complimented with an awesome soundtrack that did a great job of creating a compelling atmosphere for the game.

     There are plenty of other great examples of this, including the soundtrack of Devil May Cry 3, which complimented the dark, brooding atmosphere and worked to reinforce Dante's own aesthetic style of being a half-demon demon-slayer. God of War's orchestral soundtrack also does an excellent job of making the battle-hardened Spartan feel like a force to be reckoned with. This all goes a long way toward creating the right kind of atmosphere and tension that can increase the player's engagement.
March gloriously into battle in your... skintight suit made of magic hair?

     Or you could forget all that and do what Platinum Games did with Bayonetta. Rather than trying to characterize Bayonetta as a strong, powerful woman that can kick some ass, they pretty much decided to make an anti-badass. Aloof, sensual, and more than a bit bizarre, Bayonetta's lolipop powerups and butterflies that appear when she double jumps make for a highly stylized and unique action game. As fun as the game was, it fell short in the story and immersion department since it was hard to really put yourself (man or woman) into the gun-heeled shoes of the absurdly-proportioned Umbra witch. Rather than feeling like a badass, you just end up feeling detached from the character, and thus more of an observer of where her wacky adventure will take her.

Laying Down the Law
     Making a truly badass game transcends mere mechanics, audio/visual presentation or story, but encompasses all three of these things. Like any good game, each piece builds upon the others to create a cohesive whole. One doesn't need to be making hardcore games to see the merit in looking to the fundamentals of player empowerment and pushing the right emotional buttons to make players psyched to play your game. In my opinion making a player feel like they are doing great at your game is far more satisfying than a player gaining more stats and stuff to artificially boost their performance.