Game of the Week: Awesomenauts

How to premise this next game in as few words as possible, while still delivering what it’s all about?

Well how about this – take the over-the-top quirkiness of classic late-80’s and 90’s cartoons, toss in some violence, some online gameplay and throw it all together into one of the most odd, unique, and action-packed tower defense games I’ve ever laid eyes on – and you’d roll yourself a spacecraft full of Awesomenauts designed by Ronimo Games. [ – even the name sounds like it was pulled from an ’80’s cartoon! ]

The game is played online with others [so it’s unfortunate for those lacking constant internet access] and you get [ currently 6 ] characters to choose from as your character. Essentially the premise is that with every level you have an array of turrets assigned to your team [ usually 3 + ] They are color coded Red or Blue accordingly. Your goal, if you choose to accept it: Destroy all of your opposing teams turrets and power base before they destroy yours – while simultaneously defending your own base from opposing online players, grabbing upgrades for yourself, etc. Sound ‘Awesome’ enough yet to give this game a look?

I pity the fool who messes with the Awesomenauts!

The game is a 2D side-scroller and it’s so action packed and fast-paced that I swear it becomes addictive after the first few matches. Mix all of this with interesting and quirky characters, a dynamite soundtrack, and memorable one-liner quips as you thwart off enemies and you’re in for a blast with Awesomenauts. Picture the A Team – but in space.

Well, now that I’ve gushed over the gameplay enough let’s talk about the accessibility of the game hmm?

Pros:

  • All cutscenes between matches have subtitled dialogue, perfect for deaf players.
  • Controls require a lot of buttons, but they are simple to navigate – so that’s a plus.
  • Fast-paced action and gameplay makes for an intriguing memorable experience.
  • Mini-map in corner to visually show off where turrets are being attacked.
  • Simple, well defined upgrade system for characters during gameplay.
  • Large print text during gameplay perfect for vision-impaired gamers.
  • Game is available in multiple languages:
    •  English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Dutch 
  • 3 player local co-op vs. online opponents makes game much more fun.

We’re like the Three Musketeers, or the Three Amigos – of AWESOME!

Cons:

  • Game requires use of two-hands. One-handed gameplay possible, but much harder.
  • Game requires precision and quick reflexes. The fast-paced gameplay lends to speed.
  • Color scheme may be very harsh for colorblind gamers at some points in the game.
  • No customizable settings on control scheme. It’s a set scheme, no option for change.
  • Game requires an internet connection to play – you can play offline practice via bots – but the fun is truly in online opponents.
  • Flashy animations may be harsh on epileptic patients.

Live to WIN! Take it ALL! Keep on FIGHTING TILL YOU FALL!

Overall the game was an addictive experience from the first turret kill. I’ve only had the privilege of playing as Leon or Lonestar, but the other characters seem to be really unique and interesting as well, and it seems as though Ronimo Games is going to be making more available soon… more Awesome? Yes please!

So thank you Ronimo Games – you’ve provided me with yet another tower-defense game that will probably consume a vast majority of my time again! Awesome game deserves some awesome praise! Congrats guys on a great game and I hope to see more from this studio. Please consider a possible patch to add customizable control schemes to the board – overall that’s the one thing that I felt hindered this game the most for me.

So go forth my minions! – be Awesome, and you too can save the galaxy from your friends in Awesomenauts which is available for XBox 360 and PS3 via the XBLA or PSN for 800 Microsoft points – which I believe equates to like $8 via PSN.

Now GO! FIGHT! WIN!

Game of the Week: Utopian Mining

Have you ever wanted to make a difference in the world? – Have you ever felt different from this world all together? Well, you’re not alone, in fact there’s a tiny little robot out there who  feels the same as you do. He/She [ The wonderful thing about these robot is they’re gender neutral ] has been sent to some nearly abandoned old town, and with your help these flesh-bags have asked you to use your uncanny drilling abilities to help them repave their homeland from drab to populous. So, go forth my friends, mine your way into the hearts of many and reclaim the respect and devotion of the human world in Utopian Mining by a young designer code-named Schulles!

Burrowing my way into your heart, and paving a city of peace – that’s love.

I’ve been playing Utopian Mining for a while now, and I have to say it’s a simple, heartwarming, and addictive blast of retro gaming goodness. My first impressions, visually, were that Utopia Mining reminds me of what I think Minecraft would have been like had it been invented in the 1990’s for a Gameboy Color. It’s got pixelated 2D artwork, dialogue boxes, quests, collection tasks – does ANY of this not scream a glorious ’90’s game? Well – that’s why I’m in love with it visually, but what about the rest of it?

What makes Utopia Mining special enough for me to dig right in?

Challenge and Nostalgia.

The game, while simple in it’s mechanics, is quite challenging in it’s delivery and the artistic nostalgia of the quests and artwork make for a quite enjoyable experience. The accessibility is through the roof on this game as well, which makes it doubly enjoyable for me when I know I’ve found a game I can share with everyone that almost anyone can play!

Here’s how the controls/accessibility break down:

  • You must guide your robot through the ground using the arrow keys to collect ore.
  • Sell your ore to the Shop to gain Cash to upgrade the city/keep yourself upgraded.
  • Individual quests and a sense of the game growing with your progress is amazing.
  • Minimal risk factors in the game make it an easy-going casual gaming experience.
  • The further you dig the lower your health gauge and energy get. Replenish often!

– and we dig, dig, dig, dig, dig, dig – in a mine the whole day through!

Accessibility:

Pros:

  • Game is entirely text-driven dialogue which is perfect for deaf gamers.
  • All inputs are either arrow keys or single button inputs used infrequently.
  • All inputs are labeled in the top HUB with quick key notation: 
    • M “Map”
    • I   “Inventory”
    • J  “Jobs”
    • X “Action”
    • G “More Games”
  • Games color scheme is so simple and crisp that colorblind should have little worry.
  • Saves are unique in the form of a tree in the center of the city that grows w/ progress.
  • Play at your own pace – very few rushed moments – perfect game for motion impaired
  • Gameplay is simple, yet effective – the easy to grasp concept makes it easy for anyone
  • Music is actually really special for this game, very relaxing and an added bonus to it.

My first ore!! – Oh how exciting! Oh… it’s only coal. Bah-humbug!

Cons:

  • Upon digging further in, colorblind gamers may have a harder time seeing ores and mining – colors tend to start to blend into a mixture of reds and browns to express danger that you’re about to die if you don’t head back to the surface, but it shouldn’t get in the way of gameplay – just a slight warning in case it affects anyone’s time.
  • No WASD option for controls leaves left-handed gamers slightly disadvantaged.
  • You can play the game without it, but unfortunately, having a Kongregate account is the only way to maintain the saves of your progress – the game is still a blast though!

Overall, this game was a joy and a definite mark on how simple concepts and gameplay can make for an infectious experience.

If you’re already digging on this game as much as I am well then you can bury yourself deep within it’s loving mining arms over at Kongregate and play it now! I wish I knew more about you as a designer Schulles, but what I do know is that you make some pretty awesome games sir! Look forward to seeing what you have in store in the future! Bravo for making your game so accessible for so many to play!

Go mine yourself something shiny and build your Utopia why don’tcha?!

I sound like a prospector… I’ve been playing this game too much… happy gaming folks!

Game of the Week: Skull Girls

Today I couldn’t seem to find any Inspirational Gamer of the Week news – but I did find a game worthy of some definite accessibility praise this week, and so I felt like sharing with you all. Today we’re going to be talking fighting games [ yes, I know the dreaded fighting game – so much button mashing and quick reflexes required!] This is true, but there’s far more in the newest indie title Skull Girls by Autumn Games and Reverge Labs. Now – let’s get ready to RUMBLE!

Now when you hop right into the game the color schemes are vivid, quirky, and down right cartoony – but that’s the feeling that the game goes for – and it works to it’s advantage. There are some levels that are darker in tone – but overall the game is a visual overdose, just like it’s male counterpart fighters. The uniqueness comes in the visual hand-drawn animation styles that the game uses.

It reminded me of some quirky, wacked out, 1950’s/80’s cartoons, and it definitely added to the ambiance of the gameplay. You get to play as any of 9 possible characters [ at least from what I saw in the demo – there could possibly be more to unlock via full version ] The controls, while robust, were pretty easy to grasp – and having a solid tutorial system was a definite bonus into easing my way in.

Now onto the ACCESSIBILITY – AWWWAY!

Pros:

  • Fully customizable control scheme!! Yes – you heard that right. You have a button configuration set up in the Options menu. A FIGHTING game with BUTTON REMAPPING? GENIUS! Only one button can be attached for one input, but it’s awesome to see developers put accessible functions like this in!
  • Colors are vivid, bright, and easy to keep track of. Hand-drawn animation lends itself to looking like what would happen if Disney ever designed a hardcore fighter. Despite some moments via combo maneuvers – colorblind gamers should have little problem with this game.
  • Tutorials are all text-based, and while there is a Story mode [ which I didn’t get to check out ] most all important dialogue was text-based, so not sure if that’ll change via Story Mode, but for now, rest assured that some form of text-based subtitles will be present for deaf gamers.
  • Easy to use, understand, and navigate tutorial system that amps up your progression slowly, to ease you into performing more difficult combos and maneuvers. A plus.
  • Customizable Assists function for when playing tag-battles. Program your moves the same way an arcade fight stick would!
  • Multiple difficulty settings [ Sleeper, Easy, Normal, Hard ] make for more accessible gameplay.

Cons:

  • Button mashing/fast-paced gameplay can make the game difficult for motion impaired gamers [ not impossible, but just more difficult than normal
  • High intense graphics during combos, etc. could lend itself to seizures for epileptics. The graphics aren’t as intense as say, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, so if you can handle that game you should be able to handle this one. Just a fair warning though. 
  • Control scheme can be difficult to master, I honestly felt like I was button mashing to figure out combos a lot of times – but a suggestion to beat that: play through tutorials first, customize your button inputs, and then go to town!

Another One Bites the Dust! Another One Bites The Dust!

Overall, the game is delightful. The controls are smooth and fluid, despite having a bit of a learning curve to them, and while I haven’t invested myself into the Story mode yet, I’m pretty certain [ considering the cast of female characters you get to choose from ] that the Story mode will be a very – odd/different – experience than any sort of fighting game experience I’ve had previously. Now I hate saying if a game is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – for one, it’s not for me to judge, and two – I’m a designer. I look at the game not for it’s wrappings, but for the mechanics that make it more accessible and entertaining and why they make it entertaining to the user.

Bombs Away!

Skull Girls is a definitely user friendly piece and should be ventured and looked at by all. If you want a fighter where you can really let your hair down and brawl to the wall – this little indie nugget may just be your ticket to a new found freedom of control! Take care folks and happy gaming! Props to Autumn Games and Reverge Labs – for seeing a need in the accessibility of fighting games and filling that need with Skull Girls. Your design decisions are very much appreciated!

Game of the Week: Dragon’s Dogma

Well, you’ve done it. You’ve outsmarted the likes of the Qunari, saved Kirkwall and have become the Viscount to end all Viscounts – callo-calla-what fraptious day! – but wait, you’ve grown bored with not having dragons to slay you say? Need something to fulfill your dragon slaying fixes till the time comes when Bioware will pull back the lids on Dragon Age III? – well your quest is over dear mortals! There is potential in one little gaming hatchling on the horizon, and it’s name is Dragon’s Dogma.

Dragon’s Dogma is an RPG game produced by CAPCOM. Yep. The makers of some of the most prolific FIGHTING games have taken to the RPG arena – with this new IP title, and you know what? – it looks promising. There’s clearly a lot of aspects that I’m going to discuss here, but what you should know is that I’ve only played the demo for the time being. A demo does not a great first impression always make, therefore, keep an open mind and a reptilian, cold-blooded, open heart as I guide you through what may very well be your next gaming addiction.

Now the Dragon’s Dogma demo didn’t give any hints to the campaign. I didn’t feel like I learned anything about story or anything – but I did find on their website a sort of explanation for why your created hero embarks out into this dragon and creature infested world. It’s a little digital action comic and it clarifies a lot of the questions that I had while playing the demo:

Apparently you play as your created character who is a soul villager who stands up to this fierce dragon in a village called Cassardis. You stand up to him and the dragon, pretty much, calls you out. He steals your heart and goats you into finding him later in the game. You later awake somewhere safe, your scar from the dragon’s talon healed – you have become what’s dubbed as an “Arisen” and you must go forth and try to the dragon and seek vengeance upon it. Does that premise sound appealing to you? It did to me too, and this is what happened.

Here’s where things get juicy – the accessibility portion of our show – right?

Now I saw a lot of grand things, and I saw a lot of tweaks that may need to be looked at before final release, but alas, here goes – because I truly enjoyed my experience with this demo and I feel it needs to be shared:

Pros:

  • Text-based instruction perfect for deaf gamers. Most instructions are text based or visually noted, so helps deaf gamers with learning controls, etc. 
  • Character customization is robust and easy to use. Sliders for most changes, or just click on a predetermined face/body part/etc. makes for quick and simple customization.
  • Party AI is actually really helpful. If you feel stuck they’ll direct you, pin enemies, etc.
  • Lots of HUD displays [ Map, move notation on-screen buttons, etc. ] is a plus.
  • Multiple classes lends itself to allowing a player to pick what control scheme may fit him/her best. If you feel like ranged combat would be more suitable so you don’t have to be in the immediate party attack radius you can choose to be an archer.
  • Colors are nice and vivid, which will help for colorblind gamers – no harsh tones.

Cons:

  • Text is small and difficult to read for vision impaired players. Can also make it hard for deaf players to see instructions, etc.
  • Physically impaired gamers will have a heart attack via the control scheme. 16+ inputs, and while there are at least 6 custom settings for button placement – you have to use L1 and R1 for attacks and defense respectfully and L2 and R2 for grappling an enemy, and or using special abilities. Highly complex controls, easy to get to know, hard to actually pull off.
  • Camera angles. Fast paced gameplay lends itself to losing sight of enemies and party fast if you don’t keep your camera steady.
  • Inventory system, while aware of it, is almost unnoticeable via gameplay. No HUD for it on screen makes for a hassle via combat sequences for the impaired.

This is only what I’ve witnessed so far, but Capcom has done a rather decent job at this game. Yes, there’s quite a lot of issues with it as far as accessibility, but they’re designing the game for console players. It’s only scheduled to be available for 360 and PS3 – and so like I’m used to seeing – the accessibility goes down via console play. I’m hoping at some point they’ll release a PC version that’ll allow more players to play it. I’m hoping for a lower screen inventory bar, a party customizer setting, some customizable control settings – shoot anything to give this game a bit of an edge accessibility wise.

Lions… and Goats?… and Snakes?! OH MY!

I truly am intrigued by this story, and I’d love to see this game do well. I personally will probably be picking this game up when it comes out May 22nd. The game is unique in many ways, because it employs the use of party mechanics – so if you’re more of an RTS player you could effectively play as an overseeing-healer while your party battled enemies. I also found it amazingly intriguing with the grapple mechanics. You can ride creatures and stab them – how cool is that? The game is open world with side quests, main quests, and a slew of high energy battles.

You can check out Dragon’s Dogma right now on XBox and PS3 – and get ready to hunt some dragon May 22nd. Here’s looking at you Capcom – time to see what your RPG can do! I’ll most likely post a full review whenever I get a chance to get my hands on this nugget!

Happy gaming folks!

Development: “Project D” is a Must See…

Now, quick, here’s my 50th post – and in honor of my newest blogging achievement – I felt like we should go a little retro. I love retro games – the old NES, the SNES, the Sega Genesis, etc. They’re the type of systems and games that drove me into my love of video games. I recently saw a video series that I felt spoke volumes to my retro heart:

Project D

Project D is a heartwarming, nostalgic, and educational view on how children view current video games vs. retro games. The series podcast is the chronicle of a young boy, Dylan [ 11 ] who gets introduced to a series of retro games to see what his opinion and interaction will be with them. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d seriously recommend seeing it. The video will help give developers a glimpse into the mind of a child, the entertainment value of vintage vs. modern gaming. The old debate of graphics vs. gameplay – all of these topics are discussed in the series, and you’ll definitely get a heartwarming nostalgic feeling with some of the old school games they detail:

  • Contra
  • Battletoads
  • Megaman 2
  • Punch Out
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I’ll make it easy for everyone to access by posting them here, but check them out and let me know how you feel.

Here’s the Question of the Day based on Project D:

Do you feel like aspects like: graphics, movement, player interactivity, etc. affect the appeal of a game? – does a game have to have superb graphics, amazing sound, etc. to be entertaining to players?

Let me know how you feel and let’s start the discussion!

 

I personally know, that whenever I have children, I’m going to be doing this with my kids. You can only learn how to build games and admire games by respecting, playing, and studying the vintage retro moments from our youth.

I think this sort of project is definitely a wonderful solution if you want to give children a real view of appreciation for how far games have come for them. Take care folks – and enjoy this lovely project! I hope more and more families actually try this out – it might actually make games and family interaction grow!

Development: Understanding Games

You know there are often times when I have to sit back and reflect on my college education. I feel like sometimes the general consensus is that game design is an easy field of study and that it’s all about fun and games – well, I can tell you from personal experience – it’s not. It’s a frustrating, difficult, yet rewarding experience. You may be designing something that’s intended to be a fun experience had by all, but it requires dedication, determination, and trial and error fixes to make a masterpiece.

Now why am I talking about this today? Well, I’ll let you in on some of my studies.

Understanding games since 2007!

I’ve recently started one of my first game design courses – and as a part of our study – we were asked to view a set of games [ or more like tutorials ] on understanding how video games work. These “games” were designed by developer, Andreas Zecher. They’re pixelated doses of joy and educational for anyone who wants to get to know some of the basics on what make games interactive and enjoyable to any player.

We’re pixelated practitioners of punctual programming!

Now here are some minor accessibility notes on these light little interactive tutorials:

  • Multiple languages – English and German for most [ Dutch added for Ep. 1 ]
  • All info is text driven – so deaf viewers will be fine.
  • Most games represented are easily playable via mouse or arrow keys.
  • Some portions may cause issues for color blind gamers.
  • Text is small, which could make it difficult for vision impaired gamers.

Otherwise, these tutorials are definitely a memorable little piece of pixelated education that should be enjoyed and shared. Whether you’re an artist, designer, programmer, music artist, etc. I think these games definitely help share how interactivity and making your medium a fun experience can go a long way into making something worthwhile. You can play/view all 4 episodes of Understanding Games here. Have fun, learn a little something, and enjoy the ride my fellow developer/gamers!

Understanding Games: Episode 1

Understanding Games: Episode 2

Understanding Games: Episode 3

Understanding Games: Episode 4

Inspirational Gamer of the Week: Giddeon

Now most of you who have been following recently have heard me talk about the Able Gamers Foundation – how I love them and how I’m honored that I’ll be getting a chance to work with them in the very near future, well today is no different and, in fact, I’m humbled in the presence of this next Inspirational Gamer of the Week.

The Able Gamer’s Foundation met this kid named Giddeon at one of their Accessibility Arcades that they hold down in Atlantic City, and this story seriously made me cry.

This kid is amazing. So glad he’s getting to enjoy gaming!

Giddeon was born with a rare birth defect that caused the bones in his arms to have stunted growth. This resulted in only a few fingers forming on one arm. This caused Giddeon to be especially shy towards the idea of playing video games. He felt that holding controllers was a difficult experience, and so Mark Barlett sat him down with the Adroit Switchblade controller. Giddeon loved it and after a while Barlett wanted to show Giddeon other gaming alternatives for his condition. He demonstrated the Microsoft Kinect. I found this to be the most inspirational portion of the article:

Check out his Fruit Ninja skills!

A mother’s love is beautiful to watch.

Giddeon tried out the Kinect, but the scanner couldn’t recognize his arm. Barlett found a piece of foam craft board and had Giddeon hold it. This helped the Kinect track Giddeon’s movements and allowed him to play games like Fruit Ninja. Giddeon’s mother grew so emotional as she saw her child gaining access to a plethora of gaming enjoyment. It brought her to tears – and with that I just have to say these are the moments I hope that can be brought to gaming on a daily basis.

A smile is priceless and the greatest reward for developers!

I would love nothing more than to design games that allow for accessibility and enjoyment from all players. I’m so inspired by Giddeon, because he assumed that the gaming industry was out of his reach and that he couldn’t participate the the fun medium like other able-bodied gamers. Instead, after being shown that he – in fact – could participate his life was filled with joy and entertainment. These are the reactions that I want to live for and look forward too.

The moments when I can take a game and present it to the masses and get a response back from someone who is just appreciative for how a game design enriches their lives. I’ve seen many gamers devoted to certain games, but when you can make a game more accessible to a community that doesn’t believe that there is an accessibility inherit in your medium – and you see the appreciation that comes from their reactions. The reactions and appreciation alone are the reason why I want to get involved with game design and helping to provide this world with accessible games everyone can enjoy.

Here’s to you Giddeon! Enjoy your newly found world of gaming and I hope you continue to find great games that you can enjoy! Thanks to the Able Gamers Foundation for showing off this kid’s story and I’m just glad that I could share it with others who may not have seen this kid’s awesome discovery of the gaming universe!