Development: What Would Molydeux?: Game Jam Tomorrow

Hey there folks! So today – to build off of my Tech Talk argument of yesterday, I figured I would give my developer folks a heads up [ because unfortunately I can’t attend – but you might! ] So, if you haven’t heard yet, there’s a funny little faux Peter Molyneux Twitter account out there and it’s posted up some really odd and intriguing game concepts under the tag Peter Molydeux. I figured this was a wonderful idea and so I wanted to share it with fans. Essentially here’s the deal:

People all over are going to be running a 48 hour gaming jam to come up with ideas based on these game concepts that greenpixeldeux has come up with. Thanks though, goes to Anna Kipnis of Double Fine Productions suggesting the game jam.

Reading his Twitter feed, some of the concepts are incredible and I would love to see the outcome of the games! I mean, they are off the wall and cooky. Some are so off the beaten path that I shudder to think how someone would make a game out of something that odd. Here are just a few to get you understanding the insanity and fun of this event at hand:

“Imagine, you play a baby in a pram and can only see your parent’s faces. Studying those faces deeply is the key to true progress”

“Game in which you can only progress during one minute silences. You need to find creative ways to keep the nation having 1 minute silences.”

“Imagine carrying a radioactive baby in a pitch black environment, your baby would act as a torch. Rocking the baby intensifies the glow etc”

“Game in which you must comfort children on a plane who are afraid of flying, game mechanic is similar to spinning plates.”

“What if your tummy rumbling created earthquakes? In a world where food is rare.”

If you are interested in joining the efforts of this wonderful game opportunity then here’s what you need to know:

Cities that will be hosting MolyJam:

What Would Molydeux? Jam Sessions

You can just click your city of preference and go directly to their Facebook sign up sheet. I’ll be following up with this as it goes along and I can’t wait to see what kind of games come out of this wonderful idea! I’ve heard of game jams before, so they’re not uncommon, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a Twitter account used in this way to promote the operation of game design. It’s a neat feeling knowing that there will be possibly thousands of designers attending and huddling in different cities all over the world and using these small suggestions via a faux Twitter account to make interesting, innovative and brilliant new IP’s. I can’t wait to see the end result – but what’s the best part you ask?!

Peter Molyneux will be ATTENDING the LONDON MolyJam!

The whole thing is apparently going to be live streamed from the MolyJam website so I’ll keep people posted about that. I am so stoked for this, and it’s a shame I can’t attend, but I never hesitate to be excited for my fellow gamers.

I say happy programming and designing to all of you who manage to attend this awesome experience! I, for one, am not going to let the lack of my jam session access deter me though. I am definitely going to be using inspiration from some of these tweets for future reference and perhaps future game concepts. Thanks Peter Molydeux – your epic oddities and whimsies about what gamers deserve – are awesome.

Much more follow up on this in the days to come!

UPDATE: This was a promotional video for the Game Jam release via the Twitter last night:

Join up folks developer powers unite!

Tech Talk: Molyneux on Motion = Controller Chaos

Usually, I would wait till Thursday to post a Tech Talk discussion, but since this is pertinent information and a recent development, I figured that before it gets swept under the rug by other media updates. Here’s the issue at hand: controller chaos.

What do I mean by controller chaos?

Well, recently, Mr. Peter Molyneux had some choice words to say about today’s industry and current market controllers in his interview with an online game publication Beefjack. His statement was as follows, and thus where my frustrations begin:

“I am just sick to death of having my hand clamped to this controller – of having to be forced to use my thumb in a certain way, and having my other hand clamped to the other side of the controller, and having games say ‘No, you will do it this way, and if you don’t do it this way then we will punish you’.”

Now while I don’t necessarily agree with him, I don’t want to be reduced to using motion control in any way either. Mr. Molyneux there was a time in my gaming life when I used to look up to you as a designer. I loved [ and still love ] the original Fable, but quite honestly there comes a point in time when I just have to ask:

Why would you want to alienate your consumers by telling them that Kinect is the way to go? You are only doing yourself a disservice by expressing that you hate having games tell you how to play them right? Well then why would you express your verbose opinions of Kinect and next-gen gaming on us as if your opinion is the wave of the future? I’m not try to rant, because I truly look up to you as a designer – but come on man – doesn’t that sound a little bit hypocritical?

If you came out and said something like – I don’t know – this:

” I feel like the current game trend and controllers that are sweeping the market don’t provide nearly the amount of accessibility that we could achieve with games today. That’s why I’m so adamant about making sure the game controller trend changes.”

I would have totally backed that! – but instead you stuck your foot in your mouth and stated an opinion that most core gamers are going to be exceptionally disappointed with. Here’s my whole take on controllers, just so everyone is aware – because I think I’ve talked about this before on my blog already. We’ve discussed the possibility of button remapping, but motion control is a different animal. Motion control is different, because it was originally designed for the casual gaming industry. Nintendo came out with the Nintendo Wii to allow for families to get involved with gaming together instead of separately with visceral experiences.

Here’s the problem: Everyone saw the idea and ran with it. Now there’s too much.

Look I’m an advocate for the controller, but I’m also an advocate for accessibility. This industry is filled with pressure to conform to motion control and controllers that require us to use both hands in order for them to function properly, but what if we can’t move much? – it makes motion control absolutely pointless. Kinect is meant for people to get up and get moving, and sure, I’ve seen videos of players in wheelchairs trying to use Kinect, but that’s not what gamers want either. We want accessibility not conformity.

The controller, in and of itself, hasn’t changed very much. Why break what formula seems to have worked for years right? Well, here’s a video I’d like to share with you from the AbleGamer’s Foundation. Mark Barlet and Steve Spohn have made some amazing strides in getting the word of accessibility in games out there.They express why game accessibility is so important, and they show off a wonderful prototype piece of equipment I talked about in an earlier post, the Arodite Switchblade controller. The controller allows for disabled individuals to remap their button schemes accordingly throughout a game to provide an easier and more accessible play experience.

Instead of focusing on how can we get players more active in games, we should start focusing on how we can get more players to experience our games in the first place. You know what I’m sick to death of folks? – companies cramming this ‘new age’ of gaming down my throat and claiming that ‘motion control‘ is the way to go. It’s not from my perspective [ and many others ] we want great games – not great tech. The tech we have works, we just have to utilize it properly to make games more accessible. Now, hold on, there may be a shining light at the end of the tunnel in this rant and that’s with Nintendo.

Nintendo has been promoting their new Wii U system pretty well at conventions, and I have to say I’m excited to see what this thing can do. If it does what I think it can, it may very well provide a brand new form of gameplay and accessibility to gamers who couldn’t play with traditional control schemes in the past.

Does that mean that I think disabled gamers should be reduced to touch screen gaming?

No. Absolutely not.

There’s something meaningful about button inputs and having the feeling of full control in the palm of your hands, but some folks don’t have the luxury to experience that sensation. This is why I think providing cutting edge technology like the Wii U touchscreen, the voice activation in Kinect, and the Arodite Switchblade are great signs for the gaming industry. We’re learning methods of game design that promote accessibility. The controllers are alright as they are for most gamers. We don’t want to ruffle the feathers of a mass fan-base by any means. I mean look at Sony – their control scheme hasn’t changed in years and they still make bank off sales.

This is point proven in a rant by IGN’s Luke Riley who shared his thoughts on the whole Molyneux/Kinect bit:

My point here is that Molyneux, you may be a ranting gentleman, but some of your points stand. The gaming industry does need to look at how games are played. We need to be more cognizant of the audiences we provide for, but at the same time we should open up venues for the most accessibility possible. If that means new controllers, if that means changes in gameplay, etc. I’m excited for either, but I will say that I want to see a change. There needs to be one, and it’s either going to come in the form of hardware or software. I’d prefer the software first, but that’s just me.

Gaming With A Cause: The Humble Bundle for Android 2

Well, if this isn’t a glorious day? A glorious gaming day which allows me to provide more opportunity for gaming AND aiding my fellow gamer. Folks, if you haven’t heard of a lovely little program called the Humble Bundle. You’re missing out. Honestly, I’m kind of sad that I haven’t mentioned this before now – I apologize profusely. So, what exactly is this Humble Bundle thing? Well, it’s a collection of games that comes out on a rather regular basis. [ Opportunities vary so I’ll keep up with it and provide updates for sure! ] This month a new Humble Bundle has been released and here’s what you need to know:

The Humble Bundle for Android 2 is a game collection that helps charity, and if you’ve followed my posts, you know how devoted I am to giving back to gamers in some fashion. The proceeds go to help the Child’s Play charity and the EFF [ Electronic Frontier Foundation ] If you want to know more about the organizations you can check out the Organizations section of my blog. The glorious thing about this whole project is that you can pay what you want for the WHOLE Bundle! You get five wonderful games [ six, if you donate over the average donation! ]for one easy donation:

  • Snuggle Truck:
    • Snuggle Truck is a quirky game from developers, Owlchemy Labs, which puts you in the driver seat of a flat bed truck driver who delivers – what else? Snuggly stuffed animals. The quirk here is that, instead of your basic 9 – 5 traditional commute, you’re driving your flat bed truck into swirling, winding and twisting race tracks.

The cutest escape that's ever been attempted!

    • The goal here is to try and keep your lovely little stuffed pets within your truck at all costs and get them to a zoo that will provide their cuddly bits with all the care they deserve. You earn points based on how many pets you kept within your truck by the end of the track.
  • Canabalt:
    • Developed by Semi Secret Software, Canabalt is reminiscent of a traditional jumper game. Your character starts running as soon as the game starts and your score is based off how far you can run across the rooftops. It’s a very basic game, but it’s so exhilarating tense and fun. It can be played online for free, but you get it in a package for your Humble Bundle! How cool is that? The game continues to get faster and faster and the music is cinematic and intense. The bonus with getting this Humble Bundle version of Canabalt is that it allows for 2 player multiplayer! Enjoy!

Run Forest! Run!!

  • Zen Bound 2:
    • Zen Bound 2 is the sequel to Zen Bound by Secret Exit and it’s a wonderfully peaceful puzzle game. You are given a statue, reminiscent of a particular object, and then are required to wrap a piece of rope around it. Everywhere the rope touches gets lit up with color and thus – the concept of Zen Bound 2 is born! Enjoy this tranquil puzzle game that is both casual and mind-bending all at the same time!

How dare you invade my space? I shall bind you where you stand!

  • Cogs:
    • Cogs is another grand puzzle game within this Humble Bundle. This sliding puzzle game from Lazy 8 Games gives us steampunk junkies a bit of a swooning factor. The game essentials are as follows: Slide the pieces of pipe around until all the pipes and cogs connect correctly, to allow the actual puzzle to spring to life. How cool is that? Here’s particular rocket puzzle to get your lips smacking!

Rocket Man! Making sure my pipes are working' y'all!

  • Avadon: The Black Fortress:
    • Do you like RPG’s? Do you find turn-based RPG’s tend to have died off with all sorts of games other than Final Fantasy? Well then have no fear – Avadon is here! This game from Spider Web Software is vintage RPG. Battle across mass maps in an old-school RPG that will make you swoon for vintage consoles and the old days of gaming. Check out this screenshot of the game and you’ll see what I mean. Inventory, Parties, and RPG upgrade fun:

Oh look at how it's ma' inventory! Hot dog!

and …

  • Swords and Soldiers [ if you donate over the highest average donation]
    • Swords and Soldiers is a side-scrolling action game. You control a variation of warriors ranging from Vikings, Chinese warriors, and Aztec shamans to thwart off hoards of enemies as you go along your way through the side-scrolling environment. While this game is available on the SOE [ Sony Entertainment Network, or PSN ] who would want to pass up an opportunity to get the game by the use of a donation? The game is pretty addictive and the coloration is comical while still being entertaining and aggressive. Here’s a screenshot of the action:

This lil' Viking went to town, a' smashin' on a monster!

The games are available for practically every platform you could ask for:

  • Android
  • Mac
  • Windows
  • Linux
  • Steam

I’m a huge fan of these opportunities and I urge folks who are really looking for some great indie games to jump on this opportunity to help a wonderful cause. This Humble Bundle is going to be open for 5 MORE DAYS , so you won’t have long to grab these great games while you can! You’ll be helping children experience the joy of gaming and you’ll be helping yourself to the same thing! Here is a trailer from the Humble Bundle to you:

The Humble Bundle for Android 2

I see nothing but positives folks! Happy gaming to all! Enjoy the Bundle of joy!


Game of the Week: Continuity

Hey there fellow gamers. I’ve desperately been trying to find games that are accessible via a console setting for reviews – and trust me – reviews are coming for console games from Gastrogamer mark my words! I’ll sedate your gaming appetites for now though with a lovely little indie game developed by Guy Lima Jr. and Stefan Mikaelsson or as they are called Ragtime Games. The game is extremely fun, even given its simplistic nature and there’s already a sequel hitting the App Store for iPhone and iPads for 99 cents! So let’s take a look at the parent game: Continuity – shall we?

Continuity is a wonderfully simple puzzle mechanic game that relies on the use of the space bar and arrow keys [ on touchscreen devices it’s merely a touch mechanic to achieve all of the moves – accessibility ftw! ] and your goal in the game is to retrieve a key from one area of the puzzle and get it to unlock the door in another section of the puzzle. Pretty simple concept right? Well, for the first few levels I have to admit it’s pretty simple and addictive fun. The further you get though, the harder and more complex puzzles you’ll face and so it can be challenging, which is actually a great thing for indie game titles, as it allows these games to stand on the same interest level as say a mainstream title.

This is the first level - seems simple right?

The game gets more and more complex as time goes on, but the great thing is that the accessibility of this game is through the roof. The minimalistic style of the graphics allows anyone to play this game, albeit except the blind. The game is simple enough and doesn’t require much physical motion to accomplish [ I assume Continuity 2 is even more accessible with the mere touchscreen access. ]

You have to switch the tiles around to allow access to the door.

Continuity sometimes requires precision timing on switching the slides and timing your jumps, but other than that it’s a highly accessible title that anyone can play. The instructions are done visually and it’s a puzzle that can be played using simply one hand to control the arrow keys and the space bar. What I find most intriguing about this title is that I have seen plenty of ‘key grabbing‘ puzzle titles, but none have really grasped me like Continuity. There’s just something so graceful about this game. Perhaps it’s the etherial music that plays as you go through the puzzles, or the monochromatic color scheme – but this game takes my breath away at how a simple platforming game can be made so complex and beautiful.

If you like Continuity, then I recommend checking out Continuity 2 for iPad. It sounds like the game is far more intricate, but with the same simplistic style as before. It sounds as though it contains more levels than the original and the gameplay is more engaging than ever due to the touchscreen interface. I can’t wait to see what capabilities Ragtime has put out for this mobile installment of the game.

More complex puzzles = More love imo

Here’s a video of Guy explaining some of the changes coming in Continuity 2:

I’m in love with this game and even though it only has 30+ puzzles – they’re a challenge and they get your mind thinking. It’s something I think all people in this world need today. So, if you’re in the mood for a great accessible game title I suggest you give Ragtime Games indie classic a try. It’ll be worth it I promise! I can’t wait to see if I can get my hands on an Android market one, but alas, I guess I’ll have to wait till they make that decision. Till then I’ll be hoping and praying for when consoles begin to think up wondrous, accessible indie games like this. You have my love Ragtime Games. Thanks for making such an engrossing indie title that I can honestly say I’m looking forward to sharing with others!

Play Continuity Here:


Gaming With A Cause: Stop Disasters!

Well folks, I know I talk about a lot of things here at Gastrogamer. Everything from modern video games, to indie video games, to games that have one button inputs, to games that have causes attached. Today it’s no different, as I’m bringing you guys a very simple game promoted by the ISDR [ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction ] called Stop Disasters! The game was developed by a little indie company called Playerthree, and while it may look simple, the information it provides is life saving.

The concept of the game is this:

  • You are given 5 scenarios to choose from at the start of the game:
    • Hurricane
    • Flood
    • Tsunami
    • Wild Fire
    • Earthquake
  • You are given 3 Difficulty settings per scenario:
    • Easy [ Small Map ]
    • Medium [ Medium Map ]
    • Hard [ Large Map ]

You enter the scenario and immediately you’re put in a position of power. The interface loads and explains to you the area in which the disaster is going to take place, who is this going to affect, and the tasks, money, and time you have to aid them. It may not seem like much, especially when you witness that the UI of the game contains very stagnant 8-bit grid visuals, but the information provided by each play through, I personally believe is what the true benefit of this game shines in.

Devastation after Hurricane Katrina in 2005

The Japan Tsunami 2011

Haiti Earthquake 2010

It seems now like every year a natural disaster occurs somewhere in our world. In the past few years I’ve experienced more reporting on natural disasters than I care to recollect. Every event from Hurricane Katrina to the most recent Japanese Tsunami/Earthquake – and even now, just this year, we were riddled with tornadoes in the United States.

The massive devastation that all of these events cause is outrageous, and the death tolls for most of these events would drive any man, or woman, sick to their stomaches with agony and despair. This is why I personally feel this game is important, because it helps provide players with information on how to better prepare themselves for when disasters strike.

Indiana Tornadoes 2012

The ISDR has made it their mission to provide students, parents, and children with information about the dangers of disasters and how we as human beings can do something to stop them. They take you through precautionary measures and as you go through the game and complete tasks, certain tasks you complete will bring up information sheets about why the task you completed was pertinent to the survival of the people in the area. I personally found the game to be engaging, fun, and educational.

Stop Disasters Screenshot. It may not look like much, but it can save lives.

True, the UI is rather stagnant, because it doesn’t move as you change tiles around, upgrade housing, etc. and so it can look quite boring, but the knowledge you learn is the intriguing factor here. You find yourself wanting to learn more and more about disaster relief efforts, and when your funds finally run out, or the buzzer finally goes off, you’re anxiously anticipating to see if you did well.

I found that there was a drastic pull of emotion that I felt when each scenario started. I wanted each of those virtual people [ moving or not ] to live. I wanted to find out if I had done enough to save them, and I think that speaks a lot to human nature and our sense of compassion for others.

This is amazing. Students learning through the power of a video game.

So today, I urge you to take a look at this game:

Stop Disasters! Game

It’s simple, it’s educational, and it’s fully accessible. Every button can be accessed with a single button click and each tile can be changed just as easily. The educational value of this title, far outweighs the visual appeal of the title – so don’t let the bland 8-bit grid scheme fool you. There is value here, and I hope that by playing this and gaining information via their website will help aid people with the knowledge of preventative measures for the future.

Take care folks! Thank you for playing! and I hope this message of hope and education spreads!

The “Mass Affect” of Mass Effect

Today we’re going to be discussing emotion within a gaming franchise and why fan reaction to games is actually a great sign for the gaming industry. Recently, I’ve heard all the hullaballoo and hoopla about Mass Effect 3 and it’s uproarious fan-base seeking vengeance upon the lowly EA for denouncing their faith to the franchise and ultimately seeking retribution on Bioware and EA for a disappointing ending to a what [I’m assuming based off reactions…] is a worthwhile franchise.

Now, I can only hold a slight sense of ambiguity here, considering I am a PS3 owner and haven’t really started playing any of the Mass Effect franchise. This, however, I feel allows me to discuss why in the world this uproarious fan base deserves praise and why Bioware and EA should actually be proud of their accomplishments.

No, I’m not saying that they should be proud that they pissed off millions of adoring fans that worship Commander Shepard like he’s a pseudo-psychological father figure. We should be making games for the user, not the development teams. They should be proud that they’ve managed to design a game that evokes so much passion and love behind the fan base. I had a friend recently send me a video from the Escapist covering this same topic, and he asked me my opinion on this whole thing as merely a third party observer.  Well folks it’s time to crack the knuckles and get down to the nitty-gritty of this whole debacle.

So, first there was that whole issue with the “Day One DLC” comment. I can see why that would miff fans, but most graciously stepped aside and waited for the games release. Now mass amounts of fans bombarded stores to gather up Mass Effect 3, the last in the saga of Commander Shepard and his crew, and low and behold – the ending fell short [apparently way short] of expectations. Now why does this even matter? – As a designer, I’m more concerned about how this affects the industry and the players as a whole, rather than individual experience. Games should be fun, engaging, and meaningful experiences for the user and I think Mass Effect is clearly one of those games. I don’t see a hoard of angry players, instead I take this as a positive point for games and I think EA and Bioware should too.

Here’s why:

Look, I realize that with every game that comes out there’s always going to be a small hoard of naysayers denouncing the game like it was some Exorcist baby or something.  That’s going to happen. The law of averages says so, but the idea here is that Mass Effect has done something now that I don’t think we would have seen in past generations. Games are now creating franchises that have become deep, meaningful, emotional experiences and when games fall flat on their face now people are vocal about it. We’re in a technological era where the use of Facebook. Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, etc. all of these social media hubs are at our fingertips for us to voice our opinions on [often times] superfluous crap, but other times, the message has meaning.

In the case of Mass Effect 3 we see gamers becoming so vocal that they begin writing petitions for a game’s ending to be changed to something more fitting – and by who’s standards is it more fitting? The gamers. It’s because there are plenty of gamers out there who pour themselves into the hearts, minds, mythos, and culture of these gaming environments. They feel as though they are the soul experts upon this material, and when you slap a shiny bumper sticker of an ending onto the end of a game that reads, “Hope you had fun, because this is all you get.” Players grow exponentially more upset.  I’ll give examples too based off of one of my favorite franchises that disappointed me – but not to this point:

Why when I look at this image does Muse's "Uprising" play in my head?

I’ll take a huge PS3 smash hit, much like Mass Effect has been to most 360 owners, and Nathan Drake from the Uncharted Series is basically our version of Commander Shepard. There are fan bases all over the web who love this franchise and given that it gets near perfect scores for every review base it’s covered in you’d be hard pressed to assume I’d personally have anything bad to say about it. Well, even as a fan of Naughty Dog, I practically job-shadow their work from everything from Jak and Daxter to The Last of Us, the last installment in the franchise left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.  Now I know that probably goes against the normal consensus, but please hear me out on this.

Nathan Drake, for me, is a hero that people grow to love and much like I grew a love for Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones instantly, I grew attached to this cocky, smart ass hero who’d be willing to throw himself into vast amounts of danger for an heirloom ring or trinket. The last installment, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, capped off my wild ride with Nathan with a rather stagnant ending to say the least. I won’t spoil the ending for folks who haven’t played it, because I hate doing that, but what I will say is that Naughty Dog dropped the ball a bit.

I went from this...

... to this, yeah definite improvement...

... to... spiders in the walls? So confused.

Was it a nice closure to this portion of the story – yeah, sure – but was it what I was expecting? Not by a long shot.  The final boss fight felt lackluster, and while it was exciting, there was some sort of allure and intrigue that Uncharted and Uncharted 2 built up in their lore along the way. The lore and mysticism of Uncharted 3 fell short for me, and thus when the final boss battle came, the villain that I was posed against was sadly not to my expectations.

See? So I feel your pain Mass Effect fans! I really do, because it sucks when you invest so much energy into a game and you invest your heart into a series and you get slapped in the face with something unexpected, or something lackluster to what fans standards for the franchise are. This is a great era for games though, and thus why I’ll try and get back on topic. In this generation we’re starting to see a trend of ‘franchise’ game building, something that I thought for a time would be a lost art form.

The next-gen consoles have given developers the means of creating believable, heartwarming, intriguing characters which we immediately attach to like a five year old kindergartener with a crush on a recess sweetheart. We lunge ourselves hips deep into the lore and wade through it like it’s some hot, steamy jacuzzi of relaxation and enjoyment.  We grow wikis and forums dedicated to this lore and we cosplay because we can!

Seriously - this is what you call fan devotion right here...

I grew up wanting to write games and design games, strictly for this purpose – to evoke emotional responses in gamers and to give them fun, immersive experiences that they can take away from the gameplay and cherish forever. I’m hoping that when I do start developing games that the games and topics I choose to work on evoke that meaningful lore and grasp players in the same way that the Mass Effect cast has grasped the emotions of every player within it’s core.

I don’t want to design games strictly for myself, because I think they’re ‘artsy and neat’ but rather because I want to have millions of people experience something – anything – from my games. I want them to become memorable – and hey – even a bad memory is a memory none the less, at least your game’s not completely forgotten.

Games today are evoking emotional chords with us that I don’t think they did years ago. Games have storylines now, characters who we identify with, who we care for, and who we ultimately want to succeed [ and or fail depending ] and when those ideals we have as fans don’t pan out it saddens us greatly.  As an industry we need to look at this bigger picture here before we go and think that gamers are just out to slight us and make us feel like the work we put in means nothing to them. It means a great amount to them, and so Bioware and EA, you should be proud!

You’ve effectively proven that games now affect human emotions and that they’re not just some childish pastime. You’ve broken the inevitable boundaries of the medium and proven [ through your apparent mistake ] that games have VALUE to people’s lives. They matter to players and that games are important to households. These characters are becoming just as prevalent as household television or movie icons. I’ll close by saying this:

In the next couple of years, as video games become even more immersive, interconnected, and visceral experiences within our every day lives – this scenario will happen again and again and again. In fact, it happens quite regularly, but the only reason Mass Effect 3 is getting so much play is because of the fan base. Mass Effect, through the reaction this has caused, has effectively become the Star Wars or Star Trek of video games.

This means that franchises MEAN something to the player more than ever in game history. I’m pretty sure if Nintendo screwed up Mario tomorrow on some epic new next-gen game, that you’d have petitions up the next day with lines outside doors of retail stores mocking Nintendo for disgracing their title character. This is why this issue is so important, so be proud Bioware, through your choices many franchises will learn and, hopefully, that means better more FAN supported games!

Much love and happy gaming to you all!

Oh, and one last piece of advice:

Bioware and EA, I see you’re planning on writing a new ending as DLC. Do the fans a service and please allow the DLC to be a FREE download. If they’ve clearly vocalized that they hate the ending enough to cause this much disruption, do you really think it’s wise to ask them to pay more for something they feel you’ve done in error? – Just saying. It may help you to be fan-friendly here rather than fight them.

Gamification: “How Games Make Kids Smarter” by Gabe Zichermann

Now for those of you who’ve stumbled upon my post today and the first words out of your mouth are: “Chad, you must be out of your mind because you’re making up words now!” – actually, no I’m not. It’s a legit word that’s been floating around the industry now for quite some time. Gamification is defined as:

“The process of applying game design principles to non-game activities to make them more engaging to a user.” 

So why is this important, well, for years I have heard the nay-sayers and the hoards of pitch-fork laced, torch bearing parental units who march up with every cause in the book about how games will inevitably kill off every feasible skill that their child has. They feel like the idea of video games as an educational medium can’t possibly be a reality, and that today’s console market is so laden with violent, mature, sexually explicit content that even an unladen swallow would be burdened down by the size of that irrational coconut.

The fact of the matter is parents are only seeing a fraction of the market, and they’re also only seeing the visual content in which a game provides. Now, first and foremost, I want to make it known that I don’t condone violent video games for children. It’s wrong and it’s a parent’s decision to make sure that a child’s influences are maintained and controlled. The truth is that the video game market isn’t as scary as parents make it out to be, and in fact, games offer children so much more to this generation than they had when I was growing up as a child.

The reason I chose to write about this today is because I listened to a discussion by a game designer, Gabe Zichermann, and his theories on why children seem as though they may have attention deficit disorder and why games are actually quite educational for well, not just children, but everyone.

Gabe starts off his lecture with discussing a great game, which I think most of my fellow 90’s generation folks will know and love: Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego? Now I can splurge on how many hours I capped into that game, and how it was indeed an educational wormhole of knowledge for me growing up. I can also provide you with a list of other educational games that I grew up with that taught me a ton of life skills and lessons as I developed:

  • Word Munchers – Word and Phonics Skills
  • Civilization – Democracy, Resource Management, Diplomacy
  • The Sims – Spacial Layouts, Finance Management, Architectural Design
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon – Finance Management, Customer Satisfaction
  • Museum Madness – History, Science, Physics, etc.

Now why is all of this important, does it even really matter how I grew up and what games I played? Well, no, but each of these games has affected how the gaming industry has developed itself in some way. The Sims proved that our limitations of our brains were only limited by the world’s we could create. Will Wright proved to the world that games were not just infantile toys, but methods of expression and creativity for our brains. Zichermann expresses this very well in his talk, basically explaining that perhaps the reason children these days seem like may have ADD, is because with technology and games at their fingertips children of this era have become immune to traditional teaching methods, because our world is too slow.

Most modern games today don’t come out of the box and state that they’re educational material, except if you count companies like Leapfrog, MobiGo, and V-Tech that specialize in kid’s educational game development. Modern consoles, however, not so much. Sure there are a few games here and there that specialize and overtly state that they are an educational game for kids and parents [ Once Upon A Monster comes to mind… ] but for the most part the console market is weighed down by heftier, meatier, more robust content. Does that mean that they’re not educational? Absolutely not!

Let’s take a look at a modern HUD screen from a video game and take into account what exactly a child, or anyone for that matter, has to process when playing a video game. Here I’ve chosen to pick one of my favorite video games of all time, Jak and Daxter, as an example piece:

[ This is a prime example of Multitasking 101 ]

Notice how many items that a player has to keep track of: fireflies collected, health bar, precursor orbs, jet ski speed, map, etc.

These are all visual cues that a player has to be cognizant of at one time or another throughout the entire game. Zichermann explains that this sense of immersion and cognitive experience is actually better for students and he even gives an example in the video about how a teacher, Ananth Pai, replaced his students school curriculum with game-based education. He gave students Nintendo DS systems and off-the-shelf video games that helped promote math and language skills. The results were astonishing as the students within the class jumped an almost full grade level in their educational awareness.

[ Visual Awareness, Reading, and Problem Solving? Eh Gads! It’s too much! ]

So to say that games are non-educational wastes of space is just wrong and unsettling. Zichermann states that gamification and the result of the overwhelming acceptance of video games in our lives gives us training methods at our fingertips. He expresses that games are growing up everywhere from our cars, to our homes, to our stop lights. We’re developing into a game based culture and we shouldn’t be scared of it. I personally believe we should embrace it, because it will give us a way to make all of this social media, social interaction, immersive education, collaboration efforts, etc.

If you haven’t read my article on Jane McGonigal’s ideas on how gaming can make a better world, Zichermann’s ideas embrace McGonigal’s ideas and he understands that the world is changing to a game-based society. The use of games will help us make the world fun, educational, collaborative, and will actually allow the children of our world provide a way to make a difference in our current society.

If, after ALL of this, and you still don’t believe in my endorsement of gamification and it’s affects on the educational processes of our culture, I urge you to check out two things. First please check out this video of a young 12 year old boy named Thomas Suarez.

This kid is amazing, and I’m hoping one day when I get lucky enough to have children of my own that I’ll eventually have a son like this kid. I hope that my love of video games and technology will rub off somehow and my son or daughter will embrace the technological era and run with it like Thomas has. He’s not only taught himself coding and how to design apps for a global market, but he’s now teaching an app building club for fellow students in his school! Honestly, if that isn’t the coolest thing in the world I don’t know what is. More power to you Thomas! Keep it up man!

Secondly, I’ll ask that if you’re STILL skeptical that this modern era of video games is going to ultimately bring down the educational levels of your children to a diabolical screeching halt have no fear. Unfortunately, no, our consoles and PC’s are not the TARDIS and I highly doubt any teacher is Dr. Who [ although that would be fantastic! ] but teachers need to get informed as to how our educational mediums are becoming too basic for students. We have to make education engaging and exciting, and the way to do that is to introduce gaming of some sort into the classroom.

If you’re interested, and a teacher, I urge you to check out this string of articles by Andrew Proto – a fellow blogger over at Zichermann’s Gamification Blog.

Take care folks, and may the educational system be enhanced by the methods that we choose to teach from in the coming future. I can’t wait for the day when games start to help problem solving real life issues, and we start to see a real change in our world due to awareness and activity formed by video game play.

Happy educating folks!

Game of the Week: Super Crate Box

Well, since we’ve seen a game like Kingdom Rush today, I figured I’d give us all a nice little hit of nostalgia and 8-bit gameplay fun. Super Crate Box is a brand new indie game from Vlambeer which will be showcased at this year’s PAX East in Boston. Now here’s a company who saw the complexity of their controls, reworked them and seem to have made a game that is far easier and more accessible given new mechanics. Here’s the point:

Alright, so in Super Crate Box, you play as a super amazing crate that must fend off enemy hoards that want to eat your tasty box contents. Each crate you acquire during the game will give you access to new guns and ammo that will help you mutilate the hoards of 8-bit enemies along the way. Now, I obviously have gotten my hands on the BETA version of the game. The newly refined iOS tablet/phone versions look like they control MUCH simpler than the BETA version. So, sadly, I have to discuss functionality of this version and compare it to the upgrade – so hold in there with me.

Super Crate Box is visually stunning, in a sort of, “Oh look at how vintage I am!”, sort of way. It gave a visual feel akin to the many times I played through Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. The platform shooter is amazing visual wise. The cute little crate wielding weapons of doom is pretty amusing and the aliens have just enough AI to make the game tense and appealing. Now, as far as the gameplay is concerned this is where it gets tedious and I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to rip bandaids off the wounds now.

Super Crate Box is probably far MORE accessible via a tablet or phone device, but the Mac and PC versions require an incredible amount of dexterity and precision to accomplish. This is because the key settings are all across the keyboard. There are a limited number of controls: Z for jump, X for shoot, and the Arrow Keys for movement. To actually make my crate-boy jump took some difficult finger movements to accomplish. Perhaps that’s just me, but the controls felt clunky and spaced out too much to make an accessible match fully possible. I would love to try the game out on iOS, because I think the game is a wonderful vintage installment.

Here’s a video of what the iOS tablet version looks like [ I want! ]:

If I could click the screen that would have helped too. If I could just touch a space on the play field and my crate-boy would jump to a platform and grab a box, etc. that would provide so much more fluid accessibility to the game. A couple of other things about the game that I found sort of difficult in my PC version: The options menu provides you a control scheme A or B, but it doesn’t tell you what the control scheme switch is – what buttons etc. This is frustrating, because I wish there was a “Mouse Only” control on here so that all actions could be initiated by a single touch. It would make the game behave smoother, perhaps that’s why they drafted the game for iOS, so that they could provide a smoother gameplay experience.

Vlambeer is a wonderful new company and I wish them the best of success, and great eye noticing the accessibility concerns from your PC draft. I think the change to iOS medium will give the game a more “NES” style of gameplay that you can hold in your hand. I’m hoping that this game becomes a cult hit. It’s already been an underground sensation since 2010, but now with all the kinks out and a more accessible platform maybe they’ll get even more people playing this wonderful game.

I brought this game to attention today, because I thought it was important for people to see how game companies can learn from initial launches of games and see where the accessibility lacks. This, in turn, can help them design and draft a more accessible version down the line.

Colorblind gamers may have some issues with some of the backgrounds and platforms, but the enemies are all very varied vibrant colors and so that makes spotting them much easier. Motion-impaired gamers will have a severely hard time with the PC version as it requires use of both hands and precision to pull off all the moves, and deaf players can play this game no problem, as it really doesn’t require the use of sound to play. Overall, it’s nice to see a game company recognize that their game could fit an accessible mobile market, and I’m excited to see the future of this game.

You can currently get Super Crate Box via iPhone, iPad, or in the iCade for .99 cents! This is an amazing deal and it’s got a lot of great gameplay value for a mere dollar! I’m unsure if they’ll be launching an Android version, but if I manage a convention this year I’ll try and see if I can’t ask if an Android version would be possible. This is a great example of how controls can make a game more difficult, but how developers can learn from that difficulty and turn it into a positive step forward in accessibility. I would also like to point out that games like this would also be wonderful on console formats! Wink Wink Vlambeer!

If you want to check out the PC/Mac version of it you can check out the link here:

( The PC version link is right underneath the OSX version in small print just fyi ) 

Happy alien-hunting, you gun-weilding future-Craters!

Game of the Week: Kingdom Rush

It’s that time again folks. We’ve gone around the horn this week and we’ve arrived, once again, at Game of the Week time! Now personally, I wanted to do a review this week on a modern console game, Warped, but unfortunately they don’t have a demo version to check out, so instead, I’m going to provide you all with a lovely game that you can play from your browser. This week we talk Kingdom Rush by Ironhide Games Studio.

Now the reason that I included this game this week is because, for one, it’s easily accessible and secondly, I wanted to show how games can be fun via accessible control schemes. There are so many games out there that use 16+ button combinations and tactics and you have to push R1+X+L1+Δ to do one combo, and I just want to show what’s capable with just a simple mouse click. Later today I’ll cover a game that I find great, but has a complex control setting – and you’ll see where the complexity rises.

Now Kingdom Rush, is a tower defense game. In the game you are required to arm your troops, set up your turrets, and keep hoards of goblins, orcs, mages, etc. away from your base. Now this concept has been done over and over again, but what made the game for me was the art style and the accessible controls. The art style is child-like in nature. Bright vibrant colors, simplistic controls, and tension-building gameplay make this game a must witness. The gameplay was vastly accessible, as every motion I took required merely a mouse click. The further levels, however, do get a tad harder when boss battles occur due to having to click multiple times on certain towers to save them.

There are 12 levels, each with 2 difficulty settings [ Easy and Normal ] and Three Challenges: Star Completion, Heroic Challenge, and Iron Challenge. There are also more levels upon completion, but they are premium content only. The difficulty of these tasks increases exponentially depending upon which you choose. I know I’ve had a difficult time grasping how to position my troops on certain Heroic and Iron Challenges where they give you specific parameters and restrictions per level. This increases the replay and play value of the game though.

You’re now not just going through the motions of 12 levels, you’re having to go back and challenge yourself to see if you can beat X number of waves with only X available to you. This is an intriguing method to keep the game entertaining, and I know some of you may say, “It’s just a tower defense game, I’ve played loads of those before, why is this one any different?” – well, because it gives you variety, challenge, and keeps a player on their toes. Constantly introducing new enemies and bosses throughout the levels and keeping the hoards vast enough to provide for fast-paced tension throughout a play through.

I strongly suggest folks take a look at this game and see the capabilities of gameplay mechanics that can occur when you cut down game inputs to single button presses. I’m an advocate for games like this, and I’m hoping that eventually console markets will see a necessity to incorporate this, sort of, “mobile game” mentality into their gameplay. Mobile games may seem like they go against everything that us console fans crave. We want controllers and we want intense action and we want stimulus coming at us from every direction, but the truth of the matter is this game shows that those things are possible even with simplistic controls. I’m truly excited for the Wii U, because I feel like this is going to be an opportunity where mobile single-click input technology may actually make a console accessible via the touchscreen controller.

Some of you Xbox fans may be saying:

“Well, what about Kinect? Doesn’t it provide accessibility in some ways?”

True, it does, but it seems the idea of accessibility is a minor concern on the part of motion-control accessibility. Motion-impaired gamers don’t have access to using Wii remotes, Move controllers, etc. and just because you make a game console ‘hands free’ doesn’t mean that movement of some kind is required by a sensor to pick up actions. If a person is immobile and can only move a small portion of their body, having full body motion control becomes pointless.

Now Xbox is making strides in this market, with their experimentation with voice control schemes via Mass Effect 3, but the only use of it I’ve seen is in demos done at conventions. I’m not sure how well it works, or for what functions, but you still have to use a controller for most functions. This is discouraging, but it’s a step in the right direction that may see improvement later – I’ll talk in-depth about this on a later post.

I personally believe that this technology could go a great way towards making games accessible within the home environment, so motion-impaired gamers don’t have to settle on the sidelines of gaming, but can immerse themselves in the action by vocally bringing up their commands, menus, etc. Keep this in mind fellow developers as we go forth into the next-generation of gaming. Now back to the game!

All this aside though, Kingdom Rush is a great game, and I know many have played it. If you haven’t though, I urge you to see what one-button input technology can create. Kingdom Rush is a lush, immersive strategy game that will keep you thinking and working on your strategies for quite some time. It is available on IPhones and IPads in the App Store for $ 2.99 [ Currently there is no Android Market version, though I’m hoping for one! ] and this version includes upgrades not found in the free version which I’ll post a link to here:

Kingdom Rush by Ironhide Games:

I found that in some of the levels, color blind gamers may have some trouble as some enemies colors [ like white wolves, etc.] may blend in on the snowy mountain levels, and on the upgrades screen the coloration on the upgrades may be a bit harsh, but overall it’s a wonderful game and I urge people to check it out. I’ll be back soon with my second Game of the Week this week, and it’ll help me explain the importance of why simple control schemes can make better and more accessible games.

Stay tuned and happy orc-hunting!

Inspirational Gamers of the Week: Jerry Book and Reid Kimball

Hey there folks, now I know yesterday I took a veer from my usual forte of posts, but today I’m back and focused on the important issues I came to tackle with Gastrogamer. Today we’re going to be discussing game accessibility and I’d like to do so by chronicling the gaming and development lives of two gamers in particular. I watched this video and it touched my heart, and I figured that it would hit home with viewers too. The gamers in question this week are a boy named Jerry Book and a developer named Reid Kimball. These two are my Inspirational Gamers of the Week, because their stories hit home with me and they captivated me enough to talk about game accessibility and why it’s important.

The video was released in 2007, but it’s only received 5,147 views within that time period. If there are millions of disabled gamers out there in this world, to have only 5,000+ people learn about the struggles that disabled people face as gamers is a saddening realization. I hope to change that. Let’s start with Jerry Book. He and his father like to play online games together, but Jerry has a condition known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. This condition can be carried in the DNA of one out of ever 50 people, and one in every 6,000 to one in every 10,000 people are born with a form of SMA. If you have a child with SMA, or a relative, and wish to find out more information about the condition and find out ways to help here:

The condition affects his range of mobility and motor skills. This limits not only the games he can play, but how he has to play them. In the video his father and him rig up this wonderful little home device to allow for Jerry to play with his dad and press multiple keys simultaneously, but the reality is that not every family out there has father’s that skilled at engineering or MacGyvering solution to disabled gaming problems. Jerry and his father are an inspiration to me, because even though they may be considered a minority by major gaming companies, they’re still gamers.

This means that, as a developer, it’s my duty to make sure that games allow accessibility across the largest scale I can possibly get. Limiting the amount of controls that need to be pressed, giving a screen as much visibility as possible, etc. These are all important aspects to consider when designing a game, not only for disabled gamers, but all gamers. Disabled gamers don’t wish to be playing games exclusively designed for them. This is counter-intutitive. They want to be able to play with their friends, relatives, and internationally with a world-wide environment. If we single out disabled gamers and put them in a different class all together, then we’re becoming counter productive to the real mission here:

Accessibility for All.

In Jerry’s case, and in the case of many physically and neurologically impaired gamers, movement becomes hard and the peripheral market for gameplay for them is practically non-existent. We focus so much as an industry on controllers and the way we can interact with games, and yet, we pour money into “motion control” and 16 button massively complex controls for massively complex AAA titles. I’m not saying I’m against the console and mainstream market, I’m for them. I love them. I enjoy being a part of those mainstream story lines, but for Jerry, and many children like him, the accessibility to play these games isn’t there – and this is something we must strive to fix somehow so that all gamers can feel included – disabled or not.

Now let’s take a look at Reid Kimball’s case. Kimball is a retired aerospace engineer and he’s taken some amazing steps in getting the word about video game accessibility out there to the world. He designed a prototype for a quadriplegic controller, and also provided closed captioning modifications to a premiere title: Doom 3. Reid is interesting to me, in that the man has a condition known as Spinal Meningitis. It’s a swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal chord. In Reid’s case it resulted in one of the characteristic symptoms of massive hearing loss.

This massive hearing loss resulted in Reid feeling a need to aid other hearing impaired gamers and so he contacted the creators of Doom 3 in order to facilitate a hearing impaired closed caption mod for the game. Now you may be thinking why this is important at all, but there are plenty of games out there that offer subtitles and so why is that any different? Well it is.

The difference between having subtitles and full closed-captioned access is like night and day. Many modern games have sound cues. If a bullet flies from a tower, if a bomb goes off down a road, if a creature is sneaking up behind a dark corner – all of these are sound cues that many games don’t hint at.

If I click on my subtitle option in the main menu, all most games provide me is subtitled solutions in the games cut scenes. This does not help hearing impaired gamers actually play the gameplay portion though. It only allows them to participate watching a storyline. Well now here comes the argument that well at least they’re not vision impaired.

True. This allows them to play games to a decent degree, but think about most games. In games like Doom, Dead Space, Mass Effect, Halo, etc. all of these games have some moments where sound in the game is important. Enemies sneaking up on you, a ping of a door unlocking that you need to get through, etc. Without sound cues these moments become pointless and make the games harder, if not impossible to complete.

There are other games and ideas geared towards how to fix accessibility issues within this video, but these were the primary ones I wanted to focus on today. These two gamers exemplify what I’m aiming to accomplish. Providing games that challenge us to think outside of the box in terms of providing accessible games for everyone, educational games to children, helping others through the power of gaming.

It’s all there. The technology is within our grasp, but we just need to get the word out there that these aspects of gaming are important. Once they become more well known and designers begin to focus their attention into making games with at least options to aid disabled gamers – we’ll start to see a brighter future in the whole realm of gaming.