Robert Hornbek

Game Development & Exploration

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Dev Scratch: Character Movement in a Platform Game

Posted by rHornbek on October 31, 2012

I have been known to write list, doodle images, and jot down various concepts on tiny pieces of paper as thought appear.  This habit has formed and developed over time due to two key factors;

The first reason is my unpredictable memory, where I will often forget something I just read, hear, said, or what I did the for my birthday the day before.  Maybe my mind is just being picky?

Probably the most important reason however, is that the moment you get an idea out of your head it makes room for others!  I have discovered this to be true from experience, and encourage everyone to record thoughts that they cannot immediately address.  Believe me when I say, it is not worth holding onto an idea for even a couple days, when you can simply write it down.  This is not to say you should forget the idea, but simply keep a record so you can clear your mind.  This will allow you to advance the idea, or complete easier tasks sooner.

The first dev scratch I would like to share is both a doodle and a list.  What I wanted to create was a list of actions a character could perform to navigate a 2D platform game.  The goals is to create controls that allow for quick fluid motion around each of the maps.  What isn’t represented here is how I also wanted to integrate combat into the movement, much like in Sonic the Hedgehog.  And while I want to allow for speed runs, I did not want the emphasis of the platforming to be about speed but rather fluidity.

This idea has gone to the back burner, but at least I have it noted so I can come back to it later.


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Breaking the Mold: MMORPG Raid/Team Dynamics

Posted by rHornbek on January 26, 2012

I got into a conversation the other day that became somewhat heated regarding the current class dynamic in MMORPGs.  The conversation started when my friend asked, and I am paraphrasing, “Why haven’t you picked up another MMO after quitting World of WarCraft?”  The obvious answer for me was simple; I didn’t want to start playing a game that I couldn’t invest as much time as I would like into.  In other words, I do not like to play MMOs casually.  While I have plenty of time to allocate to such things as MMOs, I have decided I would like to utilize that time to work on projects instead of “collect mad lootz!”  The comment that really set the conversation off was when I haphazardly expressed my dislike for the common class dynamic that is prevalent in nearly every MMO out there.  Let me break it down…

There are three components that are required in nearly every MMO team based encounter:

  • Tank to draw the attention of target mob or boss monster and soak up its damage.
  • DPS to ensure the swift defeat of the target, and…
  • Healer to keep everyone on the team alive, primarily the Tank who should be receiving the most damage.

The classic MMO team dynamic: Tank, Healer & DPS

While this dynamic as been successful since the early age of pencil and paper games I expressed to my friend that it has grown extremely tired and I would like to see a change.  I think the reason my opinion was received so poorly was the idea that I was challenging the wheel, and what isn’t broke does not need to be fixed.  Really what I failed to do was clearly express what it was about the dynamic that I disliked so much.  Before I do that however, I want to refer to another genre that changed almost completely with a simple alteration in the dynamic of the game mechanics.

Left: Half-Life's "Health & Suit" - Right: Halo's "Shield"

Classic First Person Shooters utilized a Health system where damage was permanent (as indicated by the green arrow in the image above).  Users were required to collect Health Packs to restore their character’s health, without them the User would have to be exceptionally cautions when progressing with low Health.  Later FPS titles added an Armor mechanic (as indicated by the blue arrow in the image above), but really this only extended the character’s Health into two numbers.  Then enters Halo: Combat Evolved, a FPS like the rest but with a new Health system; Shields or Recharging Shields.  The first variant on this was like many of the classic FPS games, but instead of requiring the User to find both Health and Armor Packs they only needed to find Health because their Shield would recharge on its own.  The dynamic that this created was a lot more action packed and rewarded the User for utilizing cover to recharge their Shields.  This mechanic won over the community and has become a standard for nearly every FPS since, and now most FPS only have a Shield mechanic and no Health!  The objective was simple, create a more exciting experience that promoted the use of cover that never left the User rummaging around for scraps of Health.

I imagine that before this change someone would have been called crazy if they challenged the way Health was managed in FPS, but it happened and most FPS games are better for it.  I would like to point out however that the fundamental “Health” mechanic is still present!  Just because the Shield refills after a short duration does not mean the character cannot die, it just changes what it takes to die.

This is the point I was really trying to make to my friend, not that we needed to do away with Tanks, Healers and DPS, but simply redefine how these roles are utilized in these games!  I like to break these roles down into more specific element:

  • CONTROL: the element of Control is important because it allows User to keep their Targets where they want them.  This is classically represented by the Tank that uses Threat mechanics to keep their target focused on them.  This is also represented in other class abilities to SAP, Stun, Polymorph, Confuse, Sleep, etc targets so they are not a direct hazard to the rest of the team.
  • SUPPORT: while I am sure there is a better word to describe this element, the element of Support allows Users to restore lost health/energies, return themselves or others to life and grant buffs or debuffs.  This is classically represented by the Healing classes and as a bonus utilities on other classes.
  • DAMAGE: this element is the most obvious in that its purpose is to kill Targets as fast as possible.

Control in the current Dynamic is dominated by Tanks, who are heavily armored melee combatants that sit face to face with the Target, but there are many ways to “Control” a target!  Support in the current Dynamic is dominated by Healers, who are soft magic based ranged classes that sit in the back spamming or waiting for the right time to heal a target, but does healing have to be managed by one or a few Users or by Users at all?  Damage in the current Dynamic appears more diverse than it really is, sure there are melee DPS and range DPS, some that use physical attacks while others use magic, but all of these attack hit the same [hit] box.  I am not suggesting we throw out these mechanics, I am simply suggesting we find ways to change the way we currently do it.

Clearly I am raging a bit, but I needed this massive brain-dump...

OK… I know this has pretty much just been me complaining about the wheel this whole time, proclaiming “it could roll better if you did it differently!” without actually proposing how one might do that.  I would like to start by pointing out a case where this has already been done to some degree in our very own World of WarCraft…

The High King Maulgar fight took two classes that were almost exclusively DPS and turned them into Tanks!  You may not get this from the video above, but a Mage class character would tank a boss monsters vulnerable to ice based attacks.  This vulnerably would cause the boss monster to become easily slowed and frozen allowing the Mage to kite the boss monster around until it was time to kill it.  At the same time a Warlock would use his ability to take control of a demon summoned by another one of the boss monsters.  With this powerful demon under his control he could use its power to help attack the boss monsters, while at the same time using a fear spell to keep another boss monster running around in terror!  When I first encountered this fight myself I felt that “Wow, this game’s team/raid dynamic may finally get mixed up.  Regrettably I rarely saw any sort of thing like this ever again.

In this successful example the Tank, or rather “Control”, mechanic were still there but just functioned differently.  Why must there be classes who are expected to play one role?  Sure heavily armored Warriors may be the best at taking full frontal physical attacks, but what if the creature is ethereal and can pass through hardened metals?  Then a magic user who can twist the laws of physics would be the best candidate.

What about Healing?  The FPS genre showed us that there is more than one way to skin a Master Chief.  What if everyone could heal themselves in some way?  Like the Shield mechanic, maybe they would have to step out of combat long enough to apply a suture, or catch their breath restoring some health.  In addition to that, maybe everyone could heal someone else in some way, but they would have to stop what they were doing to do it.

If given enough time, and I plan on investing that time as some point, I am sure I could come up with a bunch of fun solutions.  But without breaking the mold a little I feel many MMOs are following the same formula to closely for me to care about playing them.  This goes for more than just the raid/team dynamic, but also the class types, the setting, questing, crafting etc.

I look forward to following this up at some point!

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Music Page

Posted by rHornbek on October 10, 2011

This is a dramatization of music coming out of my mouth.

My Music Page is finally here, and you can view it by clicking on the link to the left or using the navigation bar at the top of my blog!  Check out some of my favorite home brewed tracks and find links to the rest of my music on!

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Posted by rHornbek on November 29, 2010

Earlier this year I was challenged to make a World of WarCraft dungeon (instance) for users level 10 – 15.  Other specifications included the use of only 3 character model (mobs, monster etc) types for the entire instance to keep production costs low.  In addition, there had to be at least 1 boss battle and I recall 3 or so chain quests that guide the user through the entire experience.

The result of this challenge was War ‘ House 19, a goblin themed instance off the coast, East of Razor Hill, in Durotar.  Much of the instance’s theme is based off of a television series on SyFy called WareHouse 13.  The plot of the TV show revolves greatly around unique relics and trinkets, which is fitting to the goblin culture, in addition to Blizzards use of pop-culture in most of the game.

Map of Durotar, including the location of War ' House 19

You can view details on this challenge here —> Instance Design by R. Hornbek

This was a fascinating project, and in the end taught me a lot about what it takes to simply conceptualize a single instance and how much talent it takes to ultimately create one.  Artists to create the environment, coders to script much of the events, writers to create engaging dialog, and a ton of testing!

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Posted by rHornbek on November 12, 2010

I have always been musically inclined, but it wasn’t until recently that I considered the idea of doing it professionally.  As a game designer I realize how important it is to have a broad range of knowledge  in addition to as many technical skills as possible.

In the last month or so I have been making music, mostly house and dance which has come out better than expected.  While trying to expand my range I asked my brother what sort of music I could listen to that may inspire musical concepts from other genres.  The result of that conversation was this…

If you would like to hear more of my music please check me out at and tell me what you think!

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Games Page: Update

Posted by rHornbek on August 20, 2010

ATTENTION!!!  I just updated my Games page with some new information, but more importantly lot of shiny new logos!

Please check them out here or click on the Games page tab above in the navigation bar or to the left in the page list!

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Game Experience

Posted by rHornbek on May 14, 2010

Check out a list of games I have played and am currently playing on my Game Experience page.

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What A Riot, Episode 2

Posted by rHornbek on May 13, 2010

On my first day I was introduced around the office and met nearly all of the people at Riot.  I quickly learned to like Billy, the only other marketing intern and who was later appropriately titled the “Senior Intern” for being the first intern at Riot.  He guided me as I learned the company’s business model and plans for marketing the League of Legends title.  In addition to this Billy and I were both informed how we were going to develop new marketing plans.
Within the first week I found myself along with Billy and our marketing manager inside the second conference room at the office.  Conference Room 2 was a nicely lit stairwell with a dry erase board leaning against the wall.  It wasn’t much but it was all we needed and this was a start-up company after all.  There we worked on new marketing plans that could be set underway before the game’s release so to generate interest in the community.  Our focus was of course the community surrounding DotA so we looked into many methods to draw their interests.

This is not the actually stairwell. The real one was much brighter.

On the marketing team I learned a lot about the true nature of viral marketing and how to properly implement it.  This information was a great and necessary stepping stone into my next phase at Riot Games.  One of the things I learned about the nature of viral marketing is that it is not fully self sufficient, you need to continue propagating the information to new targets.

Best case Viral Marketing scenario. But rarely the case.

The image above is the ideal scenario where you inform one or a few people that spread the information like wildfire.  But in reality you need to find the people are are capable of reaching so many other people and at some point in the chain the process will begin to slow down.  Like all marketing, viral marketing must be maintained and well planned before execution.  But unlike a lot of marketing, viral marketing can have a massive result with little associated costs.
Stay tuned for the next episode of What A Riot when our hero and his companions go from being a marketing team to the community team!

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What A Riot, Episode 1

Posted by rHornbek on January 14, 2010

For those of you who do not know me, or who are still getting to know me, at one time I interned at the start-up game company Riot Games.  There I worked on the company’s first title League of Legends, based off the groundbreaking WarCraft III mod Defense of the Ancients better known as DotA.  While at Riot I was fortunate to work with nearly all of the departments at one time or another, and thus I was able to learn a lot.  That’s not to say I didn’t confront any grand challenges, but I should cover most of the highs and lows in this and following articles.

The first time I heard about Riot games was actually from my grandma.  While attending a club gathering she learned from one of her friends that their son was busy developing an original game.  When she explained it to me I was immediately interested and requested that she get me in contact with him.  Not long after talking with Marc, the aforementioned son and president of Riot Games, I had an interview with the company for a production intern role.

Actual front door of actual office off the official website!

When I arrived at the company’s Culver City office I was super jazzed, I even turned up an hour early to make sure I was not late.  Inside the office things were just as I imagined.  The walls were adorned with game paraphernalia from both League of Legends and other popular titles.  Even a cut-out of Mr. T stood in the lounge, which was basically a game room with a massive TV and every modern consol you could by in stores.  To even better set the stage the company only had about 12 or so employees at the time, so from where I sat I could almost see everything that was happening in the office.  However I did not know I was about to have the best and worst interviews.

For my first interview I was warmly greeted by two Riot employees, the production assistant and the office manager.  The interview started off pretty standard covering a list of questions they had planned for me before arrival.  The interview soon turned into a conversation and the three of us began chatting openly about the games we play and would like to play.  To my delight I was given the opportunity to really express myself and feel comfortable doing it, it was overall a pleasure to chat with these individuals.

We will punch you suck'ah!

Just as we finished I was asked to wait in the office for the next interview and they left the room showing their gratification on the way out.  I only sat alone for a few moments enjoying the warmth of the previous conversation before the next interview snowed on my parade.  In came a tall silent man that sat staring at his smart phone for what felt like an eternity before he even greeted me.  This immediately had me unsettled.  He began talking, asking mostly the same questions as the two before him but this time with an absent and unyielding look.  To my relief the interview was over and I was left feeling incredibly awkward.  In all I felt pretty good, I said a quick goodbye and took another quick glance at the office before I was on my way back home.

It was a couple of weeks before I had my answer but when I finally got one I did not get the job.  I learned later that my downfall was when I described to my second interviewer my desire to become a designer, which he did not want for his production interns.  Without any other available positions I had to look elsewhere for industry jobs.

Hang in there kid and never give up!

A few months later my girlfriend sent me a link to a Craig’s List post requesting applicants for a marketing intern position at Riot Games and I jumped on it.  On my return I was interviewed by the marketing manager and I felt the interview went rather well.  In fact it went well enough that a few weeks later I was called an asked to begin working.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of What A Riot where our hero travels through the world of viral marketing!

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Life Without death

Posted by rHornbek on November 5, 2009

Recently I have been toying around with the idea of how to make an engaging game where the main character cannot die.  The closest thing that comes to what I am talking about is in racing games, where no matter how far behind or damaged the vehicle is the user can still complete the race.  But instead of a racing game I want to focus on something with a narrative.  Of course one could observe games that allow users to continue from check points as an example of an undying character.  Ultimately my objective is to have a character that does not need check points or extra lives because they cannot die.

No Death

Can you believe this was drawn by hand?!

Without the risk of defeat, challenges in the game could be quickly resolved by fearless trial and error.   The length of the game itself could become shortened by the lack of challenge altogether.  With that said, challenges must come from elsewhere rather than from the threat of death alone.

I began exploring existing characters with similar environments to see if their challenges could be utilized in this concept.  One such character is Lobo who’s from a race of beings with an incredible rate of tissue regeneration.  Like X-Men’s Wolverines, apparently the inspiration for Lobo, they can restore their entire bodies from just a few living cells and survive nearly any possible deformity.  In one instance Lobo was officially killed and sent to hell.  There he caused so much trouble including fighting with the Devil himself that Lobo was returned to life.


Lobo in all his glory.

Aside from Lobo’s trip to Hell, they both experience the challenge of losing limbs and being overall slowed down from immense damage that their regeneration can barely keep up with.  Of course there has been the challenge where they must protect others who are not as durable as they are, but I would like to avoid the escort missions.

There is also the case of the xenomorph from Aliens or even the T-1000 from Terminator 2.  Both were seemingly invincible, mostly because no one had the means to kill them until the unique climactic circumstance.  In Alien, Ripley had to eventually coerce the xenomorph toward an airlock that she opened blasting it into space.  In Terminator 2, the T-1000 was virtually indestructible until Arnie blasted him into the molten metal.  Blasting is apparently the answer to everything, but I digress.


"T-1000, he is liquid metal!"

The main character could be impossible to kill simply because his foes do not have the means to do so.  Still the xenomorph and the T-1000 experienced difficulties such as being broken to pieces while frozen, or locked off in the ventilation shafts and frequently being shot at.

Allow me to jump ahead a little of the research and describe some ideas.  The first thought I had was of a zombie main character that could not die, but could still lose his limbs.  Without death the challenge came with the loss of the limbs, slowing his movement speed and reducing the amount of damage he could deal.  In addition to this, without his arms he could not toggle switches, open some doors and climb.  Without legs he would have to pull himself along the floor with reduced movement speed and without arms could only scoot.  At his weakest point the zombie could be no more than a head that rolls across the floor.  To keep things interesting, losing limbs could open other features of the game.  As a rolling head the zombie could enter air vents and drop down onto his enemies etc.


Zombie art that deserves its own game.

Attacking and eating his enemies would restore parts of his body but ultimately he would be faced with the challenge of losing them.  Gameplay and progression could be based on what limbs he has available.  For example, parts of a level could be inaccessible without arms so the zombie would have to make sure he has them to proceed.

Taking a page from Lobo’s journey to Hell, the defeated main character could simply become relocated expanding the experience instead of restarting it.  In the first person shooter Prey, after the main character would die he would have to fight a slew of deadly spirits before he could return to life.  I could imagine a similar gauntlet where the character’s death would have him fighting his way out of Hell before returning.  The character could find himself in new or more challenging portion of Hell each time he dies or as he progresses through the game.  You could even have the character end up in Heaven with additional challenges.


Prey's main character in the Deathwalk state.

I will need to identify other goals for the concept before I can clearly define how the undying gameplay will work.  With the perspective and narrative concept more defined the gameplay should start to take form.  I will continue to contemplate this concept and report on my results in the future.  There may even be a few games out there that do this in some way that I could use as inspiration.  I look forward to hearing what other think about all this.

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