Monster Hunter Freedom Unite - Controls design analysis

Hey guys and gals! Taking a break from the games for education topics, I wanted to perform an in-depth analysis of the control scheme of the Monster Hunter game I recently purchased and tried to get into. I haven't played any other MH games, I took on this one to feed my curiosity - everyone around kept telling me how good this franchise was, not many of them actually played it though.

For those of you who don't know, Monster Hunter games came out on a variety of platforms: PS2, PSP, PS Vita, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, 3DS, iOS and PC. I will be analyzing the Freedom Unite for PSP. 

The game is stunningly deep and immensely satisfying. It took me several hours to get past the tutorial, a few next hours to get at least some decent skill to finish my first mission, but when I finally did slay that monster, wow. That's what I call satisfying. Then I get to upgrade my gears with the spoils from the hunted creature and it gives me a visible boost. Brilliant. Deep crafting and combining mechanics and this feeling of really going for a difficult hunt, preparing yourself, studying your target's habits... Even killing bosses in Dark Souls isn't this satisfying.

However, the game has one big flaw, and if you ask anyone who played MH, he/she will tell you the same: "the camera is a bitch". No matter if who you ask is a seasoned MH veteran who loves every bit of the game or a noob that gets killed by everything there - the camera is a bitch for all of them and the number one reason for people ragequitting. There are some guys that try to argue that the camera is an element adding to the game's difficulty and that's by design. 

Terrible camera as a difficulty element? Don't make me laugh. Camera can be used for showing off nice things (Final Fantasy XIII) or adding to the mystery (Resident Evil), but treating it as a factor of a difficulty setting is just straightforward bad design that frustrates the player and does nothing else. In a game as deep as Monster Hunter, if the designers wanted to make it more difficult, they would play around with dozens of other parameters that were a lot less frustrating. And I honestly don't think that was the reason for having the camera act the way it does.

But the camera problem in MH is actually a part of something way bigger. It's the controls. And the way they work on PSP is just some big misunderstanding. After an hour in the game or so I was able to design a much more user-friendly controls layout for the game. What is the control problem in MH all about?

Monster Hunter Freedom Unite controls.
Take a close look at the controls and see if you can see what problems these controls bring. Done? Okay, let me list mine:
1) There is 4 buttons responsible for the camera (the whole D-pad) + L button that resets the camera to the direction our character is facing. With PSP having a limited number of buttons, wasting so many on the camera control is unforgivable.
2) The camera controls (D-pad) and the movement (Analog Stick) are all supposed to be controlled by the left thumb, which means you either look around or run, never both at the same time. 
3) Having the select button for the kick action pretty much guarantees nobody will use it. 
4) To select an item from a list you need to hold the L button then browse through the list using Square and Circle (why these?!) and release the L button when you are done, then press Square to use the item.
5) There are controls dedicated specifically to ranged weapon classes only, useless with well over a half of the weapons.

Look how easy it would be to fix:
- assign camera control to L and R to make it possible to look around while running
- assign the camera zoom to select, as most of the time you just set a zoom level once per quest and you don't have to reach to that button too often.
This already makes us use 3 buttons instead of 5 for the camera movements. The two extra ones can be now assigned to something useful. For example we could assign "left" and "right" on the D-Pad to the item selection without the need to hold L button while doing the selection. This way the player player wouldn't use an item using Square when what he wanted was to select a different item with L+Square.

The only problem it would spawn would be the dash button, but that could easily be assigned to the Circle button. It could then retain its cancel selection function and the examine + climb ledges functions could be taken over by the X button as these are only contextual controls. The game already differentiates between weapon drawn and weapon sheathed states, so there wouldn't be a situation where you want to dash and instead start climbing or picking flowers. 

This all lets us:
- select the items more easily
- move, run and look around simultaneously
- retain all functionalities of the previous control scheme
And we are still left with the "up" and "down" D-pad buttons to use for whatever the designers want to put there, like selecting the bottles and ammo for gunners or whatever.

Would it make the game easier? No. Less frustrating? Yes. Would they loose their fanbase if they introduced a new control scheme? No, the fanbase complains about the camera controls as much as anyone else. I am quite sure many of the designers that actually worked on Monster Hunter could have come up with a similar solution, probably even a better one. Why didn't they implement it then? Now what I will do here is just a wild guess, but lets me show you how a game studio works. What could have happened was:

1) The control scheme could have just been put there as a first draft and then the whole team got used to it and didn't see anyting unnatural about it for a few years and a few games (happens more often than you might think).
2) There might have been a lead designer with enough power to be able to push towards a control scheme that felt good to him and not let anyone change it.
3) The producers could have simply forgot to plan the task of revising the controls or assumed that the controls from the previous games are good enough since the games sold and established a fanbase. 
4) The producers could have cut the controls tweaking out of the schedule when the delivery date was approaching way too soon.

Whatever was the real reason, the end result is a great game with tons of depth and a control scheme that looks like it's been designed by some three-handed mutant design intern having a feud with logic. I really hope that other platforms got much better controls than PSP. 


Get paid thanks to games: A game blogger / vlogger

Today we're continuing with the second part of the last part of... Uhh, that got complicated, didn't it? So, this is the second part of the "Get paid thanks to games" series. "Get paid thanks to games" are actually the third and last part of bigger series, which is "Stop wasting your time with games". Now that this confusion is just a tad less confusing than before, let's proceed to the actual topic. Last time I've written a bit about pro gamers, and today it's time for...

Game bloggers / vloggers 

This is a career with an extremely low entry barrier. Practically everyone can do it and frankly, I would encourage everyone with sufficient skill to try it. YouTube channels are free. Blog hosting is free. Your only investment is your time. Here's some tips how to avoid most common mistakes:

Generate your own content. I cannot stress it enough. If you want to deliver game news, don't copy news from other sites, seek, rewrite and compile them with your own style. If you want to review games, give your opinion, not repeat after others. Original content is a beautiful thing. Uncredited copy-pasting is just stealing someone else's work and it should be punished with cutting off the thief’s hand.

Almost as important as the previous one. Seriously, don't start writing if you don't know how. Don't go making videos when all you do is mumble to yourself. Nobody will be able to read that. Nobody will be able to watch that. Spare everyone the time. Be a valuable voice in the discussion. If you have nothing to say, just don't write, don't make videos. The world will be better off without it. You will have more time to do something more productive. Win-win.

Decide who your audience is. Decide what you want to deliver. Do you want to be the number 1 source of knowledge about one specific game? Do you want to review racing games? Do you just want to play a bunch of games and talk about them? Whichever you decide on, it's best to stick to it until it succeeds or fails.

Know, how to sell yourself. Bloggers and vloggers are rarely successful without serious marketing skills. Network, share your link, comment on others, link others. Be visible in the community. Support it and make it fuller.

Also, mostly for vloggers - please look decent. Heal your acne before showing your face. Wear a clean t-shirt. Clean the part of your room that's going to be visible. You don't have to be pretty or handsome, you don't have to wear stylish clothes and horn-rimmed glasses. You don't need to shave and don't need to grow a beard. You don't need a ton of makeup. It might be a good idea to find a cool look for yourself, as people seem to respond to that, but above all, just look clean. And open your mouth while trying to speak and know what you want to say instead of umming and erming.

Success is easily measured - if your blog or channel gets enough followers, you can start trying to get in some revenue from the ads. If it is enough to put food on your table, congrats - you have succeeded. The most successful vloggers are currently earning serious cash and can set trends as successfully as the leading gaming sites. They no longer do simple videos. They're employing people to deliver well-developed entertainment. It's enough to check out the Angry Joe's website to see what I mean. Lately, my studio invited the most popular game vlogger in my country to show him the game. He came with his team of 9 more people to check it out.

If, however, you weren't able to gather enough audience, your work wasn't necessarily all in vain. If it shows you can easily and fluently pass on your opinions that aren't a complete bullshit, your blog or vlog can easily be your portfolio for some other game-related project or job, like a journalist or a junior developer. For example, the blog of yours truly has a relatively low audience, but thanks to the content, I've already been asked to publish my articles in several places around the web. 

Sometimes opportunities can present themselves quite unexpectedly. The most popular Dark Souls streamer – EpicNameBro - was asked to help prepare the Dark Souls 2 strategy guide and test DS2 way before beta tests were open. In the age where gaming communities are growing in power, being an active and outstanding member of your favourite game's community can lead to working with the developers. And then, beta testing and community management can open you even more doors.

What do you need to become a decent blogger / vlogger?
- an idea for your own, original content;
- a lot of insight into whichever piece of the field you want to dig into;
- patience, as you'll be doing a lot for free for an extended amount of time;
- great writing and language skills;
- great presentation skills (mostly for vloggers, but doesn’t hurt in a blog as well);
- ability to network, if you want your online baby to reach a wide audience.


Get paid thanks to games: A Pro Gamer

I grew up in a relatively small town in Poland, in the 80's and 90's (they were pretty much like 70's and 80's in the US). Games were just something that we played and some companies in the far away USA and Japan were making. Sure, there was maybe one or two games developed in Poland, but it was still in a city far, far away. Careers I could think of were either being a writer with no guarantee of any real income or a lawyer, an economist or some other suit to be able to support my family.

It took me a while to realize that hundreds of hours I have spent on games can literally pay off. The passion for gaming, the titles I could reference, the conclusion I was able to draw from what I've seen in games landed me a job in the industry and are now paying my bills.

With this short introduction I welcome you to the third and the final part of my "stop wasting your time with games" games for education rant. In previous parts I've described how games can enrich our lives and teach us skills useful in real life. This time, I am going to get to the ultimate argument how games can be the very opposite of a waste of time - how they can turn into a career. Unlike in the first two parts, now I will be harsh. Skills can be learned pretty easily and widely applied to many situations. Career connected with games is far from a piece of cake though. Let's get started with...

Since a career in the gaming industry is an extremely broad topic, part three of the "stop wasting your time with games" gets to become 4 separate articles. Today it'll be about pro gaming. Next articles will touch game blogging and vlogging, game journalism and finally a broad description of game development career. Without further ado...

A professional gamer
Who doesn't dream about getting paid for just playing games? Lately, I have even seen news materials about "kids who earn lots of money for playing in tournaments". They vaguely mentioned the hard work required, they never really showed the scale of competition, they focused on hundreds of thousands of dollars these gamers earn. So... How do you become a pro gamer?

Above everything else, you have to find a game you are extremely good at. By extremely, I mean beating all your friends 100 to 0 in five minutes while blindfolded and hanging upside down. If anyone you know in real life can give you any kind of challenge, you are not good enough. You have to compete with the whole world. Struggling on the level of your neighborhood is just not gonna cut it.

What's more, the game of your choice needs to have a league. And games with worthwhile leagues are the biggest, most popular multiplayer titles: Starcraft 2, League of Legends, Counter Strike, FIFA, DOTA 2. Farmville, WoW and Minecraft might be the most popular games on the globe, but no matter how great you are, you won’t go pro there.

Pro gamers spend at least 8 to 10 hours a day on one and the same game over and over for... well, years. Top players are already adults. They started early, played since they can remember, but... they did finish schools. Being a pro gamer doesn't mean flushing your education down the toilet. It's a job like any other - sometimes monotonous and frustrating. It's important to invest in hardware as well. Good gaming PC with a gaming mouse and keyboard fit for professionals is needed. Obviously, good, communicative knowledge of English is a must as well. You also have to control your language and actions. No good team will invite a raging hater that risks being banned in every single match.

Pro gaming is a career in which your only kind of promotion is to get higher in rankings. That's pretty much the only ladder you are going to climb. Luckily, with e-sport becoming more and more popular, there are many options for the pro gamers that know when to quit. There are pro gamers like Fatal1ty, who design or at least promote lines of gaming hardware. There are pro gamers who get hired by gaming companies as representatives. Still, you have to be aware that the game you are so good at sooner or later will die. Some other game will take its place. Some other game you might be good at, but never good enough to go pro again.

While preparing for this job you have to focus on one specific game (or - only sometimes - on one type of a game). Research it, get in deep. Really deep. There will most probably be no time for any other games. Once you find a game you might go pro with, you will miss a lot of other titles over the course of a few years. If you get high enough in the leagues, if you manage to win some tournaments (not regional ones - we're talking nationals), make more friends than enemies, you might eventually get invited to go pro. Once you agree, you will start getting paid for exactly the same thing you've been doing for the past years. Playing the same game over and over for many hours every day.

And lastly, when choosing this path you have to always remember it's like playing in a band. Most of them bands never get out of their garage, very little become a one-hit wonders and pretty much one in a million really sells albums and tickets.

Summing up, you will need:
- an early start - trying to go pro when you're 40 and have never used a computer might be tricky;
- extreme talent and knowledge in a game you want to go pro in;
- tons of determination and time spent on the the game;
- great communication skills and (if you are a foreigner) good knowledge of English language;
- decent gaming hardware to start with before you get better stuff from sponsors;
- lots of tolerance and support from your family and friends, be it parents or life partners, as rarely anyone will take your career choice seriously.