Robert Hornbek

Game Development & Exploration

Archive for the ‘Spotlight’ Category

Bloodline Champions

Posted by rHornbek on October 14, 2010

I only recently learned about this game on and the more I discover the more excited I get!  At first glance it may look like a DotA clone (worse case scenario) or a Team Defense (working genre title) game that has DotA elements but with original mechanics…

Ingame screenshot of Bloodline Champions.

Turns out the game is more like World of WarCraft’s Area, where two teams of users fight to the death!  As you can see from the screenshot above each character has 6 abilities and what looks like a 7th Ultimate ability in addition to the standard mini-map, character portrait and various status bars.  I am not sure what that grey box is on the left though…

Character concept art.

What has really excited me has been the similarities between this game and a concept of mine titled Tikihudu, driven primarily by the tribal art style and forgotten world look.  I imagine this will also make for a great LAN game, so I am eager to test it out…

Tikihudu is all about lost cities, animal gods and stone temples, so I love this art!

That said, if you like what you see please head over to their website and sign up for the beta and check out all of the other art and videos!


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DotA 2

Posted by rHornbek on October 14, 2010

Image of Bloodseeker from DotA 2

Recently there has been all sorts of controversy regarding Valves acquisition of the DotA property and even more so the announcement of Defense of the Ancients 2 (DotA 2).  There does not appear to be a centralized website for the game thus far, but there are enough articles to keep you busy until then if you Google it.  Now it is my turn to add to that list…

Personally I think Valve is making a mistake by trying to create a sequel for the game, or even bothering with the IP in the first place.  Valve has been known for their original properties and revolutionary thinking, and while DotA did establish a genre we are only beginning to see utilized Valve has the brainpower and resources to do far better.

To be fair, all we have seen is artistic renderings of the game’s characters and mention that the game will hold true to the original mechanics.  Is that really so bad?  I don’t think that is terrible, besides Valve has plenty of time to clean it up and make it better, I mean that has been Riot’s intention from the start.  Consider the second FPS ever made, it was probably not all that different than the first, and if you look at the latest FPS there are plenty of similar qualities.  So as long as there is progression I don’t think there is anything to get to worked up over.

What appears to be the greater issue for most people is Valves association with IceFrog, whom apparently does not have the best reputation in the DotA community.  I have never worked with the guy and despite the stories I head about him while working at Riot I really cannot judge.  But still, Valve could have done all of this without him or the DotA title.  Lets just hope they take DotA (not a terrible game) and really make it their own (a great valve game)!

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Rainbow Sprinkles

Posted by rHornbek on September 4, 2010

Rainbow sprinkles are those colorful little pieces of candy that we shake on top of ice cream, cookies, cakes etc.  The reality is they don’t make anything taste better, but they do make the overall experience a lot more interesting!  Details like sprinkles can be all it takes to turn a good game into a great game.

Recently a video has been released, from PAX, of Portal 2’s cooperative mode.  This is the first time we get to see how the cooperative mode actually works.  In addition to various emotes that add color to the game I caught this silly little detail after one of the characters fell into the dreaded green goo.

If you look carefully you can see Blue's (the blue robot) thumb in the air as he goes down.

The developers did not have to do this, but clearly this little detail has made enough of an impact to motivate me to post about it.  Not that the game needed any more props, but it just goes to show you how simple little details can make an entire experience that much better.  You can view the entire video here…

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Breath of Fresh Air: Monday Night Combat pt2

Posted by rHornbek on August 18, 2010

The video below is the second parts of the Monday Night Combat Developer Walkthrough.  In this demonstration they present the second of two maps that are available when you purchase the game, and the Support class!

The Map

The first map they played on, GrenADEiii, was circular in shape, where LaserRazor, the second map, is mostly a rectangle.  It does not seem to play all that differently except it is much easier to move from each of the two lanes.  With that said, unlike DotA style games Monday Night Combat (MNC) only has two lanes.  I am curious how this will effect the gameplay, but I imagine it will make it much easier to switch lanes and thus push.


A key feature in the DotA style game are the turrets, or towers.  In MNC each user will earn money as they play which can be spent on building turrets for you base.  I absolutely love this idea, and to make matters more interesting you have the option between four different turrets.

The Support Class

I have only seen in detail the two classes highlighted in each of the walkthroughs, but I can confidently say I would love to play as the Support class!  They can best be described as a mix between the Medic and the Engineer from Team Fortress 2.  I really appreciate how much support they can actually deliver with air strikes, heals, buffs to the Fodder (minions) and the ability to hack turrets.

MNC appears to have a lot of promise, and as long as the balancing is tight I imagine it will be a ton of fun!  I will continue to keep my eye on it and pray that it makes it to the PC so we can play it at our next big LAN party!

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Breath of Fresh Air

Posted by rHornbek on August 5, 2010

While browsing Reddit today I came across two impressive looking games.

The first is called Monday Night Combat by Uber Entertainment, which I guess is a spoof on Friday Night Football, maybe?  The game clearly takes places in a very sporty setting, but with more guns and robots.  Many of the comments compare the game to a cross between DotA and Team Fortress 2… if you watch you can see why.

The concept and possibilities for this game excite me, so I will have to keep a solid eye on it.  When additional demos appear I plan on writing another article with a more in-depth look and criticism of the game.  I look forward to it!

The next game has no title, but looks fascinating!

If you didn’t figure it out yourself, the game has apparently been canceled.  Only the developers really know why, but it is a shame we may never see this game again.  Hopefully the video gets enough attention that Ubisoft might consider restarting its development.  My friend was the first to point out that this could all be a clever viral marketing ploy to generate interest for the game that is in fact not canceled… I guess we could only hope.

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Cell Shading in Naruto Shippuden: Untimate Ninja Storm 2 Part 1 Chapter 1 of 2010

Posted by rHornbek on July 30, 2010

Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm continues to impress me with a nearly flawless use of cell shaded art and animation, comparable only to Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker.  Absurdly long names aside, I may have to argue that Naruto Ship… NS:UNS… Ninja Storm may be THE best use of cell shaded art and animation to date.

Unfortunately the stunning cinematic quality of the game comes at the cost of gameplay.  Most of Ninja Storm’s action occurs during frantic cut scenes that are driven by timed button presses similar to that of Shenmue, Tomb Raider, Darksiders and that other game Wad or Door or something like that.

Zone of the Enders, but more so The Second Runner was the first to impress me with this sort of art style.  The game even had anime cut scenes woven in between just to add to the animated flavor.  While the game’s graphics are showing their age, there are a lot of qualities to cell shading that preserves well with time.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker still holds up today as some of the best cell shaded graphics I have ever seen.  In many ways the tools used to produce cell shaded graphics can really make a game look better than it would otherwise be on that system.  There was a lot of controversy over the art style when Wind Waker was first announced, but I am glad they did it anyways.

I hope to see more games execute the cell shaded style as well as Ninja Storm if not better.  That is not to say many games have not tried the style, but none come close to the quality of Ninja Storm.

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Infinite Possibility

Posted by rHornbek on July 28, 2010

The videos I have here are two parts of a tech domo for the game Infinity, also know as Infinity Universe.  While they say they cannot promise anything you see will be in the final product, observing it in its current state is still fascinating to behold.

Flying around the space station is not all that impressive, but once the ship begins heading toward the planet things get really interesting.  Floating through the rings you can see they are made up of rocks that are both small and startlingly massive!  However, once you begin to descend onto the planet my mind was blown.

From what I know thus far everything in the game is procedurally generated, making it possible to create seemingly endless content.  You don’t know what ‘procedurally generated’ means?   A programmer would give you a slightly different answer, but here is how I can best describe it:

Instead of creating each object by hand you create the base components, then teach the program how to assemble them.  You add an element of randomness, accompanied by limitations and hit GO.  If you did your job right the computer can begin to produce a nearly infinite set of different objects.  This video shows how this guy procedurally generated cities.

I made mention before about procedurally generated content in my post about Spelunky and this process has been used dozens of times before in games, but Infinity has really taken it to an extreme.

Procedurally generated content is by no means a miracle tool and a lot of the time it is never perfect.  Hand made content can have a lot more character because it was built by someone with a vision.  A computer on the other hand cannot always fulfill that need.  This means even after something has been procedurally generated individuals need to go back in and add final touches.  Other times you may have given the computer too much freedom in the creation and it does not produce realistic or ideal results, which then required more intervention from people.

None the less, procedurally generated content is a fascinating tool in creating environments, items and all sorts of things.  I look forward to the day when we see effective procedurally generated lifeforms.  All of this gets me dreaming about StarScape yet again.

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Killer Bunnies

Posted by rHornbek on July 11, 2010

I had heard about this game a few times before.  I had seen it recommended on and it even popped up as a recommended item on my account.

The concept is pretty simple: collect magical carrots and bunnies while killing your opponents bunnies!

Needless to say I thought this was a game worth checking out, however I could not find a store locally or online that had it in stock.  This past weekend my girlfriend (Sonja) and I were in Santa Barbara and we came across a boardgames store that had one of the starter boxes.  With my positive reenforcement and her passion for cute things she just had to buy it.

We found that only one of the bunnies was all that "killer".

It wasn’t until much later that night that we managed to play the game.  However, before then, on the car ride home, Sonja opened the box and began reading the rules.

At first it sounded pretty straight forward: buy carrots, collect bunnies and kill other bunnies with weapons.  Then there was Cabbage and Water which you could buy with “Kaballa Dallas” which were also called “Bunny Money” to feed your hungry bunnies.  Then the rule book began describing Special cards and Very Special cards that could be played from your hand or played in your Run Stack.  But if you played the Special card from your Run Stack you could also choose to save it for later, but if it was an Aggressive card you couldn’t play it without a bunny…

Once we were done reading the FIRST rule book we began reading the second which described in greater detail how many of the cards worked and under what conditions they did not.  To complicate things even more there was a section at the end of the second book that was titled “Serious Rules for Serious Players”, we stopped reading at that point.

Once we actually started playing the game things became a little more clear, until we read some of the cards.  On many occasions we had to refer back to the rule book simply to clarify what half of the cards really did, simply because the text printed on them made no sense.  One card literally said the following:

“Allows a player to choose and roll either the Orange or twelve-sided die…”

The game came with six dice, each a different colors including orange, however they were all twelve-sided dice!  I don’t know if they were just trying to be funny, or if they really have no idea what they are doing.

We felt by the end of the game what Killer Bunnies really needed was about three or four LESS rules and mechanic.  As I mentioned above there were these things called Run Stacks.  See when you play cards you play them at the bottom of the Run Stack and at the beginning of your turn you can only reveal the card on the top of the Run Stack.  This means cards only work two turns after they are played.  As I also pointed out, there are some cards you cannot play unless you have a bunny, but if the bunny is killed before that card is played it must be discarded instead.  I personally had two bunnies the entire game who both got killed almost immediately.  The rest of the time I was just discarding cards waiting for a bunny which never happened.

We aim to play the game one more time now that we are familiar with the rules.  If it still feels like a pile of crap, we think amending many of the rules may actually make it interesting and fun to play.  There is something about the game that is oddly fun that we want to try and bring out by cutting some of the fat.

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Game Experience: Update

Posted by rHornbek on June 23, 2010

Recently I added 2 new titles to my Game Experience page.  I found them both fascinating an inspirational for their designs, I’m sure you will be rather familiar with at least one of them!

I am lucky not to have been beaten senseless for taking so long to eventually play Portal, but honestly besides the hype I did not feel an urgency to play it.  However I really had no reason not to once Steam made it available to play for free.  And it should come as so surprise that I loved it and am glad I finally played it!

I must add that while most people praise the game for its creative gameplay, what I found most fascinating was the Aperture Laboratory setting and GLaDOS’ dialog.  Now I am looking forward to its sequel teased in the video below!

At first glance the browser game Transfermice does not seem all that interesting.  After playing it for even a few minutes you quickly learn the nature of the game and the nature of humans operating in a large unorganized group.  The object of the game is simple, get a piece of the cheese and return it to the mouse hole.  Of course in the flurry to achieve this everyone ends up killing one another or themselves.  This video should give you an idea what I am talking about…

Of course you really cannot understand Transfermice without playing it yourself, which I highly recommend.  I might add that in addition to dozens of player controlled mice there is always one Shaman during each challenge.  The Shaman has the power to conjure objects that are meant to aid in the objective.  However most Shamans abuse this power and typically use it to destroy the other mice and take the cheese for themselves.

While the game has many fascinating gameplay elements it was ultimately executed pretty poorly.  I had a concept for a game that played off of human nature and now feel I should revisit the idea after seeing how it was done in Transfermice.  I look forward to reporting on that in the future.

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Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online

Posted by rHornbek on June 17, 2010

If you know me then it wont come as a surprise that I am thrilled that this game was announce.  Aside from wanting a science fiction MMO that wasn’t EVE I had always imagined one that took place in the Warhammer 40k universe.  That aside lets touch on a few of the things we see in the video.

So at first glance, like most highly anticipated games, it looks pretty cool!  It appears that what we are seeing is ingame graphics and possible encounters, but very little is actually being explained about gameplay.  I managed to pull a screen cap from a portion of the game that I feel says quite a bit about the gameplay.  For now of course.

If unfamiliar with the 40k universe one could confuse this for World of StarCraft!

The first thing I notice are the 3rd person shooter elements, which feel like a solid move.  Then I discover how little they deviated from World of WarCraft’s HUD layout.  I guess it has become the standard since its success, but there are a lot of improvements that could be made.  Hopefully they take a few queues from popular mods.

I plan on keeping an eye on this game.  I am trying not to get my hopes up too much, but someone is bound to make a decent MMO eventually.  These are some of the concerns I have for the game…

  • Faction Options: I am a huge fan of the Tyranids, but it is safe to assume they will not be a playable race.  I am not suggesting they could never be playable, but rather feel they will be passed over by more easily implemented factions.
  • Power By Numbers: one aspect of the Warhammer table top games that greatly differentiated the factions were the numbers of units each army contained at any one time.  While Space Marine squads consisted of 5 or 6 marines, Ork units could have as many as 8 or 12.  This said, single character battles would feel inappropriate.
  • Character Progression: while there are a fair number of weapons and utilities you can give individual characters in the table top game it does not add up nearly to the amount of items present in most MMOs.  Of course if they can avoid the classic item grind I would be happy.

I look forward to learning more about this game in the months to come!

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