Monday, February 27, 2012

Mmm.. Final Fantasy

So this past reading week has been ok. Between working on the Game Design game and getting distracted studying, I didn't really do too too much else. However I tried to fit in about 1 - 1.5 hours of video gaming every night just so I don't go insane.

Frequent readers of my blog would obviously know that I'm a big fan of StarCraft, but aside from being a giant Blizzard fanboy, I'm also a pretty big Square Enix fanboy too. So, this post is dedicated to Final Fantasy XIII-2. I'll be doing a (pretty much) spoiler-free post on it's design and graphics.

Gasp. (Kotaku)

Game Design and Production - INFR 2330

So Final Fantasy XIII was one of those games that everyone either hated or loved. It was plagued with a bunch of complaints, from people complaining that it was too linear, had a crappy story, had annoying characters (Hope), had too much X smashing, etc, etc. I personally enjoyed it though. Like it wasn't the best Final Fantasy cause X is still the best, but it was decent.

However I will say that all of those complaints for the game made sense. The game was actually too linear. There was barely any backtracking or exploration in the game, and it literally just felt like you were playing in a hallway all the time. The game did have a lot of X smashing, because aside from the occasional L1, you pretty much hit X all the time in combat.

My X button is almost permanently into the down position. (Wikipedia)

So in the typical product development life cycle, after you release a product you have to refine it. The way you do that is to typically listen to customer feedback and then think of ways to improve your product in the next iteration to address concerns, wants and anything else you as a developer would think to make your next product better.

It's pretty much the same for games too. If you make a game and are planning a sequel, you want to keep the elements that worked, and address as many concerns as you can in the next one to make it a better game. I felt that Square Enix actually did a pretty good job doing that with FFXIII-2. The biggest thing they changed was that they made the game super unlinear.

Non-linear Final Fantasy game? Shenanigans. (IGN)

There's a lot of time travel shenanigans going on in FFXIII-2, and due to that they have a placed called the Historia Crux where you could select locations at different points in time, and do things there. The game requires you to finish the locations obviously, but they do give you choices as to which locations you want to go to, and when. You could go to one area first and finish that mission, or go to another area and do that, etc. They also made it so you could jump between levels essentially any time, so you could backtrack or explore or grind in other locations really easily.

In addition to that, they even made the actual levels less linear. Unlike FFXIII where each level was essentially a hallway, each level in FFXIII-2 actually has multiple paths and some open areas where you can explore. And in certain parts of the level themselves they actually allow you to make choices for the cutscenes themselves. You are given about four options sometimes during cutscenes and depending on which one you choose, the dialogue would change accordingly.

They even made Hope less annoying. Haha just kidding. I hate him. (Gamespot)

The player is even rewarded with items if you made a good choice, which does make the game more interesting since it gives you more of a choice. It isn't like FFXIII where you are watching the game, but it actually feels like you are playing the game.

However there is somewhat of a downside though to having all this unlinearity, I haven't beaten the game yet, but already it feels like sometimes when I go to a new level the characters talk about things that they may not have mentioned in the past. It makes it seem like if you didn't choose a proper option during a live trigger or something, you missed out on some dialogue that they are currently referencing.

It always seems to happen whenever you enter a new world. I don't know if it's just me though, but it throws me off sometimes.

I know right?

Another thing they changed for this game was the addition of more quick time events. They made cutscenes more interact-able since the player is prompted to make certain button presses or input commands during action cutscenes where if the player does it correctly, then good things happen. Naturally if things aren't done properly, then bad things happen.

It makes the game more interesting as well I think, because like the Live Triggers from before, it makes it seem like you are actually playing the game and have an actual impact on the way the game is played out, unlike in FFXIII. It keeps me attentive during cutscenes, ready to input commands so that I get the perfect score.

Mmm.. More X pressing. (Final Fantasy Wikia)

However I will say that sometimes after a boss fight, I use the cutscene to relax my hands. Can't really do that when I'm needed to do some extra button pressing though.

Overall I feel that from a gameplay perspective, they definitely improved on FFXIII-2, I only mentioned a few things in this post, but they were some of the bigger changes and fixes that they implemented from FFXIII to FFXIII-2. They did a ton of changes actually with a lot of them being small changes that add up to a better gameplay experience (YOU CAN JUMP).

It's nice knowing that some companies actually take feedback from their customers and try to accommodate them as best as they can.

Intermediate Computer Graphics - INFR 2350

Square Enix has always been known for their graphics. Like from the very beginning they had excellent graphics, and FFXIII-2 is no different. It's a very pretty game. However now that I know about shaders, it has killed off some of the awesomeness that I feel towards pretty games now, since all I can think about is the type of shaders they used.

But man, FFXIII-2 is such a pretty game.

Dem shader effects. (Youtube)

I mean, whenever I play the game now, all I see are the glow effects cause quads. They actually use a lot of glow effects in the game. Like a lot. In that trailer alone you could see a lot. One thing that does somewhat bug me though is how the character's hair glows; they seem to overuse the glow shader just a bit. It just doesn't seem natural when a character's hair or skin actually emits a glow, I mean a tiny bit sure, but sometimes it just seems like there's too much sometimes.

Another thing that bugs me is that I can actually see the mesh now. A few months ago if you were to show me this game, I would've been like "Oh man, looks so sick". Now if you show it to me, I'm like "Oh man, looks so sick BUT I SEE THE LOW POLY COUNT ON THE MODELS".

Mog looks so round and fluffy till you notice the flat edges. (Jeuxvideo)

Once again it makes me believe that the only thing that really changed in terms of graphics in games from the last 10 years are shader effects. I mean, the model quality has gone up as well, but the main difference between a PS2 game and a PS3 game really is just cool lighting effects.

You have no idea how much time I actually spend just looking at random things during cutscenes thinking about some of the effects they used and how they would accomplish it. They actually compound a lot of effects together. In that one screenshot above they have lighting, glow, shadows, depth of field, bloom, and just a whole bunch of stuff just thrown into the scene.

Theres even more shiny effects during combat as well.

So much glow. And alpha blending. (Bitmob)

With the camera constantly panning around showing different angles while so many effects and calculations are being done, I'm honestly at a loss as to how game companies actually make their games so efficient. I can barely keep my frame rate up with some simple effects, yet they do so many effects in real time and still have their game really, really smooth.

There are a few situations where the frame rate does go down though, but I've noticed that it was mostly when they had a lot of characters on screen for a cutscene, or when the characters are enveloped in this magic fog cloud particle thing, but again, only for cutscenes. During gameplay it's incredibly smooth, which really blows my mind.

Also I can't ever tell if that's a model or a texture. I'm leaning towards a model though. (Push-start)

Just playing through a game like is actually awesome though. Like the gameplay is fun and all, Final Fantasy games in general always had kind of like an "Anime-realism" thing going on. It's not like Uncharted or Crysis where everything is made to look as realistic as possible, but they have like, a Final Fantasy twist on the type of look they have. It just gives the game a nice feel to it.

One day though. One day I'll be able to do these type of effects. But first I gotta finish the semester so I can actually get back to playing this game. Only 11 hours in and reading week is over :(

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