Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Batman Arkham Asylum

So this blog HASN'T had much art in it lately, and I feel bad for that but frankly I haven't been producing that much. Since I've been in New York I've just been taking in as much as I can handle so when I get back I can utilize this all in my creative reservoir as it may be. I think that I have been missing out on a lot of inspiration, and as a lot of much wiser, more developed artists have noted in the past, everything is deritvative. Art, even when creating something completely new, is just mixing ideas, facets, iterations, and whatever other nonsense pops into a head. I've also had a burgeoning interest in game design, so this particular post is going go away from design a little more than most artists may care for, as a forewarning.

Arkham Asylum is hands down the most engaging brawler I've ever played in terms of combat. It does a lot of other things (stealth assassination, silly scarecrow platform levels, and riddler riddles) but the whole time playing this I just wanted to fight dudes. I understand that pacing is something crucial to game design, so that's not possible, but there is a definite level of polish in the fighting mechanics in comparison to say, the Bane boss fight which was recycled at least twice thereafter.

To break down the fighting system, batman has a finite set of procedural attacks, standard to any brawler. The beauty comes in with how these are strung together and animated. You, as batman, hop from enemy to enemy seemlessly hitting, flipping, bodyslamming, baterranging and the like until they are all permanently knocked out (batman doesnt kill people bro). The fighting is based on rhythm, and rewards you for having it, once your animation ends, hitting the next person on time (with a certain upgrade) will double your combo score. In addition to the player input rhythm, there is rhythm in the speed output of the game, that is: in between animations from character to character (which are in slow motion) is placed a juxtaposition of real-time motion which batman is motion-blurred and able to rotate into his devastating animation in a seamless illusion.

Fighting done right in Arkham asylum, well paced, diverse, and satisfying.

The most astonishing part of this is that regardless of such a robust fighting aesthetic, the player is only equipped with one real attack button, but yet the fighting is no less challenging or satisfying than that of a modern 3d fighter. There are 5 passive attack buttons that effectively stun enemies, and the left joystick aims batman at which character to attack next, which I found the more buttons you use, the easier a fight is, and the more of an XP bonus you get, as incentive to utilize those. But with the X-button functionality being so robust, even with a 6-button+joystick input configuration, the output aesthetically and functionally rewards a player so many times over.

This is where my questioning came in, do modern games put too much on a player? Since I am a first person shooter player, I know the value of a 1:1 input to output ratio. That being for every button press or movement, there is an output of equal value, which creates a dexterity-based game. While I think this has great value, and is hands down my favorite type of game to play, in less dexterity based games, say, an over the shoulder exploration, shouldn't the ratio of input to output be amped up to something like 3 or 4 to 1.

Although I wouldn't say Dynasty warriors is 1:1 with the attacks being grandiose in magic and damage, monotony builds so quickly in the fighting especially in comparison to Arkham Asylum

Ultimately it depends on your emphasis, but game designers neglect this too often. Games are meant to be aesthetically pleasing thought provoking challenges. But they are also meant to be fun, and fun is inherently and permanently coupled with satisfaction and reward. I'm not suggesting baby games be made to destroy planets with a button, although I won't exclude the possibility. But depending on your game, your audience, your intent and message, there should be an appropriate justification of reward for your patrons loyalty and servitude to your piece of art.

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