dauntless

PAX South Preview: Dauntless is Part Destiny, Part Monster Hunter

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Dauntless either has terrible timing or brilliant timing. Indie developer Phoenix Labs had one of the largest booth at PAX South to show off their free-to-play monster hunting game. The booth lie in the shadow of the even larger Capcom booth, whose gigantic Rathalos statue beckoned people to play one of the biggest releases of the year: Monster Hunter: World. Dauntless offers a much more streamlined – and more importantly free alternative to the niche hunting genre.

“We’re big fans of the hunting genre,” said Reid Buckmaster, combat designer for Dauntless. “We wanted to bring together elements of games we all enjoyed to build the ultimate co-op game that we at the studio always wanted to play. We’re using elements from Monster Hunter, but also gameplay loops from Destiny.”

After several crashes on the demo PC I finally loaded up into a mission with a group of three other hunters, called slayers. Four weapon loadouts were available, and I chose the war pike.

Dauntless uses an easy to understand combo system with two attack buttons, as well as a special attack that varies depending on the weapon. My war pike could focus a laser beam, while the dual blades could either be hurled to close the distance, or used to vault away from a monster to avoid danger.

Combos are quickly accessible from the pause menu, teaching me basic strategies for getting the most out of my weapon – button mashing only gets you so far.

“We want to push players to switch between the weapon types,” said Buckmaster. “Players should want to feel like they have a main weapon, but be able to quickly switch out depending on their party composition or the encounter.” There are five weapons currently available: sword, hammer, axe, dual blades, and the war pike. A sixth weapon is being planned for open beta.

The four of us landed on a floating island to begin our hunt. The islands are relatively small zones and contain a number of gatherable resources and plants, which can then be used to craft potions and items back in the hub town of Ramsgate.

As in Monster Hunter we were given a time limit to hunt the monster. “We’re shooting for an average hunt time of about 15 minutes,” said Buckmaster. “If you have the right gear and really know your way around, you could finish one as quickly as five minutes.”

We stuck together and soon found our prey: Skarn. Skarn was a large four-legged dinosaur monster equipped with giant plates of rocky armor. It could knock the armor off and use it as a weapon, or slam the ground and cause rocky spires to jut out and impale us. The four of us surrounded it and began hacking it up, getting knocked around in the process. A big part of the strategy is learning to read a behemoth’s attack patterns and weaknesses, and a live demo on the show floor isn’t the ideal way to tackle it.

dauntless

Skarn retreated to a different area, giving us some breathing room to apply healing before chasing after it. There were some glowing blue outcroppings on the ground we could activate for an additional healing font. We also came equipped with several healing potions. If someone went down we could revive them, provided someone else distracted the monster away.

Sadly the behemoth ended us before we could take it down, though we gave it a valiant effort. Monsters scale with the number of players, and Skarn represented a Tier 2 behemoth. Normally it would not be the first monster you face.

Skarn is one of 18 behemoths currently available in the closed beta, spread out over five different difficulty tiers. The starter monsters at Tier 1 are easier versions of other behemoths, while a few later behemoths repeat the base monster designs but with different coloring and attack patterns.

Fighting behemoths is more than just trying to kill them. Targeting specific body parts and destroying them will nullify some of the monster’s attacks, as well as rewarding you with that body part. Body parts are used to craft more powerful weapons and armor, which in turn allow you to hunt more dangerous prey.

Dauntless is currently in closed beta, with an open beta arriving this summer on PC. Since it’s going to be free to play, Phoenix Labs admits that the open beta will essentially be a soft launch. “For open beta we’ll have the outline of our campaign,” said Buckmaster. “The goal is to have a full story campaign with voice acting and cutscenes. It’s not unlike Destiny where the 10-15 hour campaign shows you the ropes and gets you into the universe. Beyond that you’re grinding out for better stuff and going for the top accolades.”

dauntless

Phoenix Labs promises the game will remain free to play, with no pay-to-win elements. “We are very firmly against pay-to-win type mechanics,” said Buckmaster. “You won’t be able to purchase anything that will affect your gameplay. The only things available to purchase will be cosmetics, like designs for flares and armor.”

Dauntless is planned for a PC launch initially, but Phoenix Labs are eyeing console releases for the future, though no consoles have yet been announced.

Can Dauntless survive now that many hunting fans are knee deep into the recently released behemoth of the genre, Monster Hunter: World? “The hunting genre has been pretty niche and sometimes difficult to get new players into,” said Buckmaster. “That’s something we wanted to do focus on with Dauntless – having a really inviting game that has depth, but easy enough to jump into and start hitting buttons.”

Achievement Unlocked: Trust Another Player

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Early in life we are taught to be kind, generous, and unselfish. In short, one of our first lessons in life is to be nice.

In my experience – both personal and with the kids I’ve met – there comes a point in our tweens when we start to question those early lessons. Kids start to explore new ideas and think on their own, and often their revolutionary discovery is that nice people don’t always win. At that age we start to notice that the world isn’t fair and not everyone follows the rules. We grow up thinking that doing the right thing will be rewarded, but, of course, things don’t always work out that way.

Our heroes are supposed to achieve what they want. The villains deserve nothing but their rightful comeuppance. In the real world, however, good people can get cheated, and the bad guys sometimes seem invulnerable to justice.

You can’t blame kids when they develop such cynicism. If there’s no guarantee people will be good to us, why depend on anyone else but ourselves? It can be tough to convince ourselves again that trust, cooperation, and sharing are worth it. It’s tough for young people and it’s tough for adults, too. It means making ourselves vulnerable for uncertain rewards.

The Impact of Video Games

Video games doesn’t always help either. In games, movies, and TV we tend to focus on the tough individualism of our heroes. Individualism makes for great drama, but surviving without trust or dependence is not the most accurate portrayal of how ordinary people succeed. In real life, how well we work with others is the deciding factor in achievement and heroism more often than not.

There are some games out there that teach us the importance of cooperation by resembling reality more closely. They challenge our individualist tropes and teach players about the dynamics and economics of trust and cooperation. These games are not necessarily sweet and cuddly either.

Multiplayer games that can have open player-versus-player rules such as Minecraft, ArcheAge, and ARK: Survival Evolved (to name a few) create situations where trust and cooperation are not guaranteed but are necessary to survival. Being repeatedly defeated by other players is a distinct possibility. Betrayal and double crossing is a definite threat. Going through this with strangers can be tough, but it also closely mimics real life.

minecraft-battle

Minecraft

We rarely have the benefit of only working with family or close friends. We need strangers to get through life and thrive. Some strangers will become our greatest friends and others will be horrible to us. It takes bravery to take a chance on someone, but the rewards are well worth it.

You wouldn’t assume that games that specifically have no rules regarding a player’s aggression are an arena to learn trust, but placing hostility or trust in the hands of the players are exactly what makes these games ideal for the lesson.

In an open PvP game, players initially have an instinct to kill rather than risk being killed. On an open PvP server in Minecraft, for example, gameplay can be frustrating at first. With everyone at each other’s throats, players struggle to establish a cave to live in, much less an elaborate castle. This state of mutually assured destruction makes gameplay slow and tedious. At some point, however, someone takes a chance and trusts. It may start off with only a couple of players. The advantage of many over the one, however, quickly becomes apparent.

In many games there are challenges that are too large for even one guild to tackle. The darkest caverns of ARK or the giant krakens of ArcheAge may be too daunting for a single group. Alliances are forged. Trust – even if it is fleeting – is invested for the sake of a common goal.

ark

ARK: Survival Evolved

I can assure you that the open-ended games make for some of the best stories and lasting impressions, as well. I still remember the various team-ups and capers my friends and I would get up to over a decade ago on Neverwinter Nights servers. We would watch each other’s backs, help people just starting out, and mete out justice as best we could.

ArcheAge was another game I played where cooperation was required and chances had to be taken. On the open seas anyone could attack anyone else – even within the same faction. You were safer if you travelled together with someone. As a group you could fend off the pirates and bandits along the trade routes. You could invite strangers to travel with you; however, you always had to wonder if you had just invited a thief into your own company. There were folks we helped across the sea who joined our guild or became reliable allies. There were a couple who gained notoriety for stabbing us in the back.

A Little Economics

John Forbes Nash, notable for his 1994 Nobel Prize in economics and his film autobiography A Beautiful Mind, described a concept known as The Nash Equilibrium. The concept illustrates that, given that Player 1 knows what Player 2’s likely strategy is, Player 1 will not change their strategy.

It happens all the time in our daily lives. While driving we feel comfortable changing lanes because we assume the person behind the spot we’re moving to won’t speed up. We know their strategy so we don’t change ours. If they do speed up or otherwise act reckless on the road, we no longer have the equilibrium we expected and start to re-evaluate our strategy.

Game theory often uses matrices to help us look at how we make choices. In simple terms, when a player encounters another player they have the option to attack or stay peaceful. Disregarding that friends and family likely trust each other, everyone on an open PvP server starts off not knowing how anyone else will act.

archeage

ArcheAge

To Player 1 assessing their options, without knowing how Player 2 would likely act, it makes the most sense to attack. At best Player 1 would get the drop on someone and most likely keep their own inventory. At worst Player 1 has a fighting chance if both Players 1 and 2 attack each other.

Likewise, for Player 2, not knowing the likely choice for Player 1 means attacking is the best option.

Overall, however, this isn’t the absolute best outcome for either player, so how do we get to the optimal outcome? The answer is trust. How we get there is where the real lesson comes in. Someone has to be willing to take a chance and trust.

A code of ethics is a good starting place. If Player 1 has resolved to never attack anyone, they will lose a few times, but they will become known as a trustworthy person. Suddenly the chance for someone to react peacefully to them becomes much higher. Knowing that Player 1 is trustworthy, Player 2’s best choice is always to be peaceful. Our equilibrium point has changed, and the good guys who cooperate and keep their word have ultimately won.

It’s a great lesson that those who mistrust and are known to be distrustful are doomed to scrape by at the Minecraft Creeper’s mercy. The players who refuse to give peace a chance become pariahs and are at a disadvantage because they are distrusted by everyone.

Sometimes what we need to restore our faith in others is seeing that those who take a chance on cooperation end up with the nice castle and share it with their friends.

losing

Learning the Importance of Losing

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“I already know how to lose! I need you to teach me to win!” my older brother exclaimed after losing a game of chess to my father for what seemed like the thousandth time. My brother was still in elementary school at the time. It was frustrating for a child that young to hear yet again from a parent that losing was a crucial part of learning to win. It’s a lesson that we all have to learn at some point. The sooner in life we learn to accept and work through our failures, the happier and healthier we are.

Video games are an increasingly large part of childhood. Just as games like chess or sports always have been, video games today are how many kids learn to process success and failure. Games can teach anyone how to learn from mistakes and be gracious in victory. Read More

pokemon go ingress

Before Pokémon GO There Was Ingress

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Pokémon GO has already been a huge success. There’s no denying it. The combination of augmented reality gameplay with a huge and beloved franchise have combined to make a game that’s way more popular than anyone could have predicted. But Pokémon GO might not have been possible if not for a 3-year-old game called Ingress. Ingress was the first game by Niantic, the developers of Pokémon GO. While lacking the name brand recognition of Pokémon, Ingress set the foundation for the technology and certain gameplay features that we’re seeing now. Read More