Game of the Week: Cut The Rope

And now for something completely different, for those of you who like more vibrant graphics and perhaps a little more cuteness in your gameplay than 8-bit zombies. Now I’m sure quite a few of you have heard about a little smartphone game dubbed: Cut The Rope.

If you haven’t you’ve been hiding in a cave, away from all smartphones, and you’re probably just now discovering that there’s products called apps. If that’s the case then, don’t worry, I won’t be insensitive and I’ll gladly guide you through the wonderfully cute, and rather addictive, physics based world of Cut The Rope.

Cut The Rope is an app game developed by ZeptoLab, and quite honestly, their little dinosaur character would make Walt Disney squeal with joy. The concept is you have been given a pet dinosaur, affectionately named Nom Nom, and your goal in the game is to get a single piece of candy to his mouth. This is accomplished through a series of physics based puzzles and each level gets progressively harder.

The overwhelming love I have for this game is primarily due to it’s accessibility. The game is all done with touching, and though timing is sort of a prerequisite for certain tasks to be completed fully, the accessibility is really high for this game. Most, if not all, actions can be done with just one hand. Instructions for new abilities are written on the back wall of levels for deaf gamers, and it’s just got a very cozy feel to the gameplay. Cognitively impaired players may have a tough time with some of the further levels, but overall it’s a simple, addictive, and thoroughly enjoyable experience. You can pick up Nom Nom and his candy grabbing escapades in Cut The Rope for .99 cents in the App Store and Android Market.

The smartphone version has tons of puzzles to sort through, but you can play the browser version right here. I promise you’ll probably get a cavity from all the candy grabbing fun:

http://www.cuttherope.ie/

Game of the Week: Organ Trail

Hey folks! Well, The Last of Us, isn’t getting here any sooner than my little grubby fingers can get a hold of – but while I wait for it [ for months and months on end! ] I can at least simulate the plot line right? Right? Absolutely! – well, sort of, anyways let me explain. This week I’m going to be posting up MORE THAN ONE Game of the Week. Yeah – I know! Two, Three, Four – for the price of one – you don’t know how many I have in store – and thus it begins!

You are isolated, stranded in a station wagon somewhere in the middle of an infested town. You and your buddies are all that are left standing in a world filled with zombie mutants – and you run on MSDOS programming. What are you? Why you’re none other than a nostalgically accessible indie game from the developers The Men Who Wear Many Hats. No, I’m not just saying they like hats, that’s actually their company name [ though they actually do like hats.] The game is called Organ Trail and it’s reminiscent of one of my favorite games growing up as a kid – Oregon Trail.

Now what’s different here? Well take the you + a team of friends concept that’s in Left for Dead. Toss in MS-DOS 8-bit graphics and a chip-tune soundtrack – and you have a road trip of awesomeness ahead of you!

The gameplay mechanics are simplistic, and for the most part one-handed. The only requirements for this game are that you get a list of options to choose from and you pick a choice based on the corresponding number. There is no timer so you can take as long as you like, and shifting from menu to menu is as easy as the enter button. The the only problem players may face is the scavenging sections as that requires two hands really to navigate precisely, due to the WASD keys for movement on the computer version and use of the spacebar to fire the gun. The coloring is a bit off putting – lots of bright neon colors over a black asphalt floor, so it may be a bit odd for color-blind gamers. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t have a text to speech function for blind gamers, but other than those minor issues the game is pretty accessible overall.

I’m not sure how the functionality will change when the game is ported to iPhones, but all I can say is this game is fun, and it’s overwhelmingly accessible. If you love vintage games you should try this out. The game is simple, but addicting fun. There’s nothing like seeing one of your best friend’s names pop up like ” ________ has contracted cholera.” or ” _______ has been bitten by a zombie” – plus there’s an option to kill off infected party members just like in Oregon Trail.

Now why do I bring this game up you ask?

“This game seems archaic when I could easily be at home playing Zombie’s mod on my Black Ops disk.” Sure. You could – but it wouldn’t nearly be as cool as the ability to carry the game around with you on your PHONE!  Yep! The Men Who Wear Many Hats has used Kickstarter to license their product to iPhone App stores everywhere – I assume that it will probably come out for an Android market too, but I wasn’t able to find that out as of yet. You don’t have to have a phone to play though, shoot you don’t really have to have any friends. You can just play here on your browser for free till the game comes out for you to carry around.

Organ Trail:

http://hatsproductions.com/organtrail.html

Just wait. Eventually you’ll be out and about in public, playing Organ Trail on your phone, and you’ll disturb some fast food restaurant by screaming out “Aww! Really?! I contracted Typhus from the drinking water!” – and thus many a hilarious lawsuit may commence. Enjoy your 8-bit zombie killing escapades folks. I hope your party lives through the night in this 8-bit indie rebooted masterpiece. Much love Men Who Wear Many Hats. Thanks for bringing back one of my favorite vintage games and putting an incredibly accessible spin on it!

Tech Talk: Rock Vibe – A Beat for the Blind

Hello there folks! Now today I was debating on what to post first. I’ve found some really wonderful, and often times nostalgic, games around the webs and via console formats. I’ve also been spending a lot of time working on finding innovative technical improvements in the world of games as well though, and today, that won out as the topic of the day today. A game [ or games if I feel so inclined. ] will come later I promise. Now – onto the good stuff! So it’s not often I’m surprised by technical inventions in the world of games. Let’s face it the Wii didn’t even scare me or shock me that much.

I had this overwhelming feeling that motion control was the way the game industry was headed, but I just hoped they’d keep some semblance of an old control scheme – so much for that. What if the motions on the screen don’t matter though? What if you can’t see at all, and thus, can’t play many games with your friends?

The fact of the matter is though that a young lady from Mountain View, CA may very well have started something that I am totally supportive of. Now I’m not blind, though sometimes with my bad eyesight it feels like it, but I’ve had some blind friends before and I can’t imagine someone who used to be a gamer no longer being able to enjoy experiences of their youth due to loss of sight. This is something that I feel needs to be drastically fixed, and Rupinder Dhillon is taking a step towards making that gaming reality come true.

Today we’re talking about blind gamers and Dhillon has taken a wonderful stride forward with her product called Rock Vibe. She developed the concept during her time in college at UC Santa Cruz. Now Rock Vibe is an extremely cool concept. It works on the idea of sensor vibration in a fitted glove to play their game. A sensor in the glove will let you know when a color is coming up, and when you get it wrong it will make a small sound, as well as if you get it right. Now what does this mean? “Certainly I don’t want yet another music game to clutter my household I’ve already got 20” – you say. Well, sure, you’ve got 20 games that can be shared with your sighted friend while your blind friend has to sit off to the side and imagine that he, or she, is at the world’s worst karaoke concert – but do you have one they can participate with? Probably not.

My point is that games should be accessible to all people, and to exclude someone from activity just because they’ve lost their sense of sight isn’t a cause to say that gaming is dead for them. Gaming can still be achieved, but you just have to know where to look. The Rock Vibe glove looks like an amazing stride forward in the gaming industry, and if the game itself isn’t made, I hope that Dhillon at least gets credit where credit is due and someone picks her prototype up. The vibration glove she uses for this project could impact the way blind individuals can play in the future of games.

Blind people may have the inability to see, but their audio acuity is impeccable. As designers, we need to take this knowledge of the blind anatomy and put it to good use rather than squander it and exclude the visually impaired from the mainstream market. Dhillon is making strides to get kids involved in the music market, but what about other games? I look ahead towards the future and I see a gaming universe that uses her technology for the better. A game based where it can be played via controller for the sighted, and audio cues for the blind. We need to cross technological boundaries we haven’t crossed before. We need to attempt games that can be accessible to all people, and our consoles and PCs need to accommodate them all.

Below is her Kickstarter link. The project will be available for PC, if produced at it’s current level, but I’m hoping for future endeavors. Please folks she has 3 DAYS left on her Kickstarter campaign and she’s about 2,500 shy of her goal. If you have a blind family member or friend, I urge you to check this out. This may very well be the next set of hardware coming out for gaming consoles and making life a little better for blind and sighted gamers. It’s amazing to me that such technology goes falling by the wayside, but that’s why I’m here I suppose. I’ll let her explain the whole process, but I do pray you guys check this lady out. She’s an amazing inventor and she has a wonderful concept that could help not only music games become more accessible, but possibly other games designed for audio cues as well.

Much love gaming nation. Take care and let’s see this world becoming gaming accessible for all!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/rupa211/rock-vibe-accessible-gaming?ref=category

Inspirational Gamer of the Week: Jane McGonigal – “How Gaming Can Make A Better World”

Evening fellow gamers. Once again the time is upon us this week to credit a gamer with a twinge of an inspirational “Hallelujah” – and this week it’s a designer, who is also a gamer. Her name is Jane McGonigal and she’s the author of a fantastic book that I think anyone interested in game design for the future should check out. The book is called “Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy, and How They Can Change the World.” I know – it’s a long title, but honestly, this book is an astonishing and eye-opening read and I recommend anyone who gets a chance to read it immediately. Today I choose to promote McGonigal as my “Inspirational Gamer of the Week” because what she’s aiming for in the gaming universe can serve to help all types of problems, from economic to even the physical, if we as designers can begin to make intuitive design choices for our fellow gamers to learn more, rather than just play more.

In this video I’m going to post McGonigal posts some really interesting facts about our gaming society, for one being that, as a human society we currently spend almost 3,000,000,000 hours a WEEK playing online games. That’s certainly one reason then why the games market has made a move to make multiplayer aspects in games more common place in most modern games. This being said there are other things to consider – like the fact that all of those hours add up to us developing personal skills, that we otherwise wouldn’t feel confident, committed to, or driven to succeed in our normal given lives. The virtual worlds we immerse ourselves in become a safe haven for us to accomplish goals, achieve new successes, and feel proud of our endeavors. We have become problem solvers of a digital age, however, looking at the current games market – there’s far too many bullet sequences of FPS shooters, and accomplishing virtual achievements that we have lost focus on real world problems.

McGonigal insists that there is a way to change this notion. The heavy rate of play by players all around the world, provides an outlet for a mass exodus of creative collaboration between players all over the world. She is exploring the wonders of the gaming industry, not simply from a consumer stance, but from a humanistic, evolutionary stance. In her book she explains how our human societies have evolved through the process of learning with the means of games. It’s a fascinating study, but one aspect that really gets me is that her theories are all right. If designers began to look at ways to solve real world problems through collaboration with gamers then imagine what we could accomplish as people.

The economic crisis we face today, the oil shortages, wars, all of these aspects and scenarios of life could possibly be first tackled virtually through the form of games. Success is a hard thing to come by for some folks. They lack the confidence to speak their minds to others. They lack confidence in their ideas, share their thoughts, convey anything that means something to them. Games change that aspect of a person. In games, we become a virtual representation of ourselves. We are no longer “Mr. So-and-So” or “Mrs. What’s-Her-Face.” – we become “Player 1” and omnipotent, anonymous entity, who’s identity means nothing towards the goal of solving the problems at hand.

I’ll give an example. We currently see that in this lifetime we’re going through one of the largest financial depressions in global history. If I were to design a game around the financial crisis, and then I were to give gamers the controls and said, “Alright. The scenarios in this game are fictional, but they are very real possible outcomes of what would occur if we don’t fix the problems within the game. Fix it.” Could you? – and what would your steps be to get there? These are all questions you’d have to ask yourself in the confines of the game.

Gamers do this scenario all the time in virtual worlds, so why would it be hard to ask them to collaborate and become heroes within a virtual world that mimicked our own? McGonigal is an inspiration to me, because she stands for both gamers and society as a whole. She realizes that gaming, fun, and entertainment are only part of the whole coin of the game industry’s potential. We have billions of players worldwide, who play games for hours upon hours, solving in-game puzzles, quests, deeds, collecting necessary resources, etc. What if we put as much effort into a mimicked reality game as some folks do into Skyrim or World of Warcraft? – imagine the things we could do, the solutions we could produce. Our lives are fading into a virtual world, dominated by virtual presences with virtual story lines.

They, sadly, sooth us for the moment, and then leave us wanting more or leave us with a desire to obtain more accomplishment. If life were a game and each aspect of your life was dictated into “Accomplishments”, “Trophies” or “Achievements” how would yours pan out? Would you be able to look back on your gaming resume and say that you made a difference in the world? – that your presence or play made an impact on how others lived their lives? These are all questions McGonigal asks. The video is quite long ( 20 minutes. )

If you have that time to spare, great, I encourage you to watch the video at some point, but if not, don’t fret. It’s not the end of the world, but I will say to check out her book. She’s got phenomenal insight to human sociology and behavior, and she’s striving for a gaming universe where we’re not just some gamer “pwning” society one button input at a time. This is why I respect her so much. She mentions a few games as well in her video and I’ve posted links to them at the bottom if you’d like to get more info or see how you too can play. Her work and understanding of the gaming universe could change the way we develop games. The aspects that we focus on no longer have to apply to massive MMO virtual worlds, but rather, virtual worlds that assist real world problems.

Can you imagine a world that’s cancer free – due to gameplay creating a solution? Can you imagine if we solved diseases, financial instability, etc. – with social interactive gameplay? The world is out there, and now it’s up to designers and fellow gamers to grasp. I hope we do, and I can’t wait to see the future of gaming if it’s being promoted by this idea. Oh, and one note, I put the video into English Subtitles for the hearing impaired. If you need it in another language, feel free to click the video and it should carry you to http://www.ted.com where I got the video. They have tons more speakers and thinkers there that you can check out if you’re interested.

Evoke: A Graphic Novel + World Finance Gamehttp://www.urgentevoke.com/page/mission-list

World Without Oil: A Social Change Simulationhttp://www.worldwithoutoil.org/

Superstruct: [ This game is no longer active, but the archive videos are pretty awesome.]  http://archive.superstructgame.net/

Much love and happy gaming to a better future! I look forward to a day when even console games get in on this social change action!

Developer of the Week: Double Fine Productions

If there were ever a caped crusader of the video game world that I looked up to in this industry it would have to be Tim Schafer. This is why Tim gets my nod today in my new segment – Developer of the Week. Now why, you may ask, is Schafer so well deserving of this praise? Well, for one, he’s made some really amazing games over at Double Fine Studios – and they’re usually indie and quirky, and those are definitely the types of games I go for.  He’s got a huge list of games, with some of the most notable being: Psychonauts, Stacking, Costume Quest, Brutal Legend, Once Upon A Monster, etc. and two – he’s doing something amazing using a little known site called Kickstarter.com

These games may seem childish to some hardcore gamers, who love to do nothing more than cap noobs on Sunday afternoons, but these games are an art that I don’t see many development teams aiming after lately. Games are art, despite what some folks tend to believe; they are more than just bloody, depraved, mind-numbing junk. Double Fine Studios proves my point. Schafer understands what it’s like to be a gamer, because he is one, but he also looks at games in a way I wish more studios would. He looks at games as artistic endeavors, and thus, where this article begins is at the heart of his artistic side. Perhaps I should let him explain, because if you haven’t seen his Kickstarter promotional video yet – you’re sadly missing out on greatness.

Tim makes an extremely valid point here; one of my favorite types of games ARE adventure games! I have fond memories of playing games on the old Apple or playing games that used MSDOS programming. [Here’s looking at you Museum Madness!] I fondly miss the days of old when one-click inputs were a way a game functioned perfectly. Now I’m not asking everyone to adopt this method to develop his or her games – that would be ludicrous and downright inconsiderate. Tim wants to develop a “point and click” adventure game though? I’m all for it! Given his talented studios’ art styles, vision, and drive to make games that appeal to the masses, I say the more that support this project the better. They’ve already raised over 1,000,000 dollars in funding – and they’ve still got plenty of time to go! I, for one, know that I’m going to be tracking the progress of this game and it’s implications into the game development world.

It’s sad, but honestly, in my humble opinion, I feel like big publishing firms can suck the very life out of the art of a game. They focus on the business aspects of the game so much that, often times, I find the new generation of games to be less enjoyable some times. Now this is in no way a knock on publishers, or on any game company for that matter, but it’s simply an endorsement of games as artwork and enjoyment. Schafer seems to have his sights set on a goal, a point and click old-school adventure game for all to enjoy. I can’t wait to see it come to fruition and I know I’ll be watching the documentary closely to gain insight to the video game development world.

The idea that he wants to focus on a point and click game totally hits home for me and makes me smile. The prospects of accessibility grow enormously, and I am sure that gamers, both abled and disabled will appreciate this movement towards a point and click game. They were incredibly popular back in the day when PC gaming and console gaming was just becoming an in-home staple, and so it’s a joy to see that this lost art form might be coming back to the main stage for video game audiences everywhere. If you would like to support Tim Schafer’s brain matter idea baby, and you would like to see it grow to a full fledge adult, graduate from high school, get married and somehow swoon it’s way into the hearts of your household – please feel free to visit Kickstarter.com in the link provided.

 http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/66710809/double-fine-adventure

Much love Double Fine Productions! Thank you Tim Schafer for providing the gaming world with a fossil of perpetual awesomeness! I look forward to seeing the finished product, and playing it till my heart swells up and bursts from happiness!

– Chad K.

Tech Talk: The Game Industry and Button Remapping

You are a player and you’re sitting at home with your friends about to play your favorite game. The game you’re going to be playing is on a console, and that console you own has a controller with about 16 different button inputs attached to it. Everything from the start button the trigger bumpers, which almost come standard now in new controllers, are all present for your available hand’s desires. Now imagine though that you’re a gamer, who has no use of their hands, or no use of one hand – how does this now limit your enjoyment of your favorite game? You can no longer do actions you’re used to – do you preserver and try to overcome? – or do you RAGEQUIT and storm out of the room, ashamed that you no longer can do an activity you enjoyed to your fullest potential?

On today’s Tech Talk we dive head first into the deep underbelly of the game industry and we come up with a rather interesting image. Disabled gamers aren’t able to enjoy console games like most players’ can, and this is a sad, unfortunate truth. In a video provided by AbleGamers.com’s Youtube channel, they give a visual perspective on just how large a scope disabled gamers must deal with in the console market. These individuals are precious and important, because their lives matter, and because they matter we should aim to making their lives as enjoyable as possible. Button remapping could change the game on the way disabled gamers are able to interact with video games, as well as possible one-touch input controllers for one handed gamers, and that will all be discussed here.

 

 

Button remapping, for those who are not aware, is a function where a player is allowed to assign an input value to a given button on a controller. PC games are notorious for using them, and are commonly referred to as Macro keys, or hot keys, on most MMO’s or online games.  The problem is, the PC market is only one market. You are then excluding all players who wish to play console games, but can’t due to a physical impairment that they have no control over. The opposition would claim that most console games do eventually come out to PC. True, but not all PC games have Macro settings either, and lots of them require multiple keys, and inputs to perform one task.

I have trolled Youtube forums, and been to many game discussion boards about button remapping and it sickens me when I see comments from people who say that if given button remapping that may “give any player an edge, if it’s presented openly.” So the opinion is, that if designers gave players the open free will to map their own unique layouts to their controllers that somehow – there’d be an uprising of hackers who would learn to dominate the games systems?

Are you kidding me? Disabled gamers are already impaired and all they want is a fair and balanced shot at playing any game just like you. Does that mean the skill of competition may rise up in a Call of Duty game if you give a man with one hand the option to customize his outputs? Possibly – but what does that say about you as a player if you’re the man who gets owned by said player? It doesn’t mean he, or she, cheated the system, it means that given a fair playing field, disabled gamers can be just as good, if not better than able gamers. Now I’m not trying to turn this into a rant, and we’re here to talk tech – not controversy – so I’ll move on. Button remapping is important, and should be thought of as a viable addition to new games.

Most games now come with a pre-determined output setting, or give you an option of a few multiple presets, assuming that these outputs are the norm for folks. I personally have function of both of my hands just fine, but can you imagine the percentage of gamers in America that deal with loss of limbs, malfunctioning digits, muscle movements, and other physical aliments that don’t allow them the luxury to use these presets?  That’s why button remapping is important, because despite the naysayers and the apparent expense behind it to add the functionality, the ends would justify the means. Developers would be helping to serve their fellow man, or woman, gamer in ways we never assumed possible.

Here’s another video on a product that was designed by Evil Controllers [ link in the sidebar.] called the Adroite Switchblade. Granted the one presented here is a prototype and the number he announces in the video would make any morphine strapped gamer vomit in his bedpan at the estimate – but that’s the thing. It’s a prototype. It’s there for an example of what could be a great option in the development of games and hardware. I hope that it makes it to a mainstream market, because it’s very much needed for disabled gamers to feel a part of something very special. Developers have focused so much on the need for motion control that I often wonder if they’ve even considered how many gamers lack that very key principle to the products they devote games to? Easily optimizable controls, HUD display changes for the vision impaired, and well – basically giving a gamer customizable outputs changes the accessibility of a game tremendously overall.

 

 

So what are your thoughts? I want to hear from others; if possible, do you feel that button remapping is an unfair advantage to the already disadvantaged? – And if you agree that button remapping should be implemented into consoles – how do you think companies should go about doing something like that to provide an equal playing field for their games? Feel free to watch the videos, comment, and visit the corresponding sites for more info on their causes, projects, and efforts in fixing the industry to help disabled gamers become just as immersed as the rest of us. Next time we’ll discuss money in the market and how much developers lose when we don’t recognize these concerns for the gaming market. Thanks guys for reading and enjoying and I look forward to your opinions!

– Chad K.

Inspirational Gamer of the Week: Mike “Broly” Begum

Today is Thursday, which means, it’s time to find a gamer out there that may give some enlightenment to the needs of disabled gamers. Here I wanted to show that disabled gamers can play just as well as abled gamers. The only difference between disabled gamers and abled gamers is that disabled gamers usually have to figure out and master a form of gaming that fits to them. This doesn’t mean that all games are accessible to them, but my goal here is to show how some have adapted their gameplay to fit the mainstream market. Broly is an example of a gamer who has overcome his condition to adapt it to play fighting games – games that he loves and enjoys. This video I’m posting was an interview done with Broly by Gootecks from CrossCounterTV.

“Broly” suffers from a condition known as arthrogryposis. Seattle Children’s Hospital Orthotics Department defines the condition as “a problem with muscles that causes them to contract so that they are rigid. This affects your child’s movement. It also affects shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, hips, knees, and feet.”

Children’s Hospital also hosts a support group for patients with the condition. Feel free to browse their site to find out more information on Broly’s condition if interested. Now, why is this guy so inspirational to me? Well here’s the thing: He only really has limited mobility in one of his hands, and he plays the rest of the buttons with his tongue! The guy is amazing and if you take a moment to watch this video you’ll see why. He has some profound words of encouragement for fellow disabled gamers. He, just hands down, is a really wonderful example of why bringing disabled gaming to a forefront would be an outstanding effort on the part of the gaming industry.

Last year his friends and supporters raised enough for him to go to EVO 2011 and compete in the Street Fighter IV tournament. This year he is hoping to do the same. If you would like to help his cause and allow him to represent disabled gamers on one of the most competitive battlegrounds on the game industry calendar please feel free to visit his Facebook support page, which I will link here:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Send-Broly-to-Evo-2011/211326905560713

Now why did I do this today? Why is it important as able-bodied gamers that we see examples of gamers like “Broly” succeeding like this and overcoming control schemes that would usually be daunting for even the most seasoned veteran? – because I want to make it know that the market is there. Gamers like Broly, I am sure would prefer, if they had the option, to play at a more comfortable level. If we, as designers, can begin to make concessions in our design plans to fit gamers like Broly, then I think the gaming industry could gain a major boost to revenue streams.

He already plays the game well in his physically challenged state, but by adding that extra sense of comfort, or giving him an option for a more comfortable control scheme – you open up a world of feeling competitive. This could definitely aid others like him who may have even worse conditions who wish they could be competitive on his level. There are probably countless kids and adults out there who would love to play a fighting game, with analog sticks and the like, but they can’t because they are hindered by lack of movement, loss of limb, or other impairment. Take a moment to read this article, look at the information provided, and if you want to help Broly get to EVO 2012 please do so. He’s a great face for the disabled gaming community, and thus, why I give him my seal of approval as Inspirational Gamer of the Week. Way to go man! Keep on KO’ing the noobs one tongue click at a time!

– Chad K.