Inspirational Gamers: A Knight’s Tale

It is rare that we find aspects of our life that evoke so much passion for us on a daily basis. I recently read a series of articles written by blogger T.R. Knight and his wife, Angie. These articles were so moving and evoking of what I aim to shed light on in the gaming universe that I couldn’t hesitate to share them with you all. I hope you read through these articles and you share in the same joy, respect, and admiration that I have for this couple’s commitment to each other in gaming and in life.

T.R and Angie

T.R. Knight is a fellow blogger and gamer whose personal journey in gaming brought me to tears the first time I read his article. He and his wife, Angie, are living a gamer’s life and making it work even through the struggles of MS. Angie was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in July 1997, and yet, that hasn’t slowed down this couple’s love and drive for gaming. It is their passionate and loving story that I am so attached to. Tabletop gaming has become an outlet for them, as it helps fit within Angie’s current MS symptoms.

I will admit, as a writer and gamer, I never thought that tabletop gaming could be used in this fashion. A therapeutic, social interaction that allows for those with agility/mobility and memory issues to still be active within the gaming community. T.R. and Angie are sharing with me a whole new outlook on how to run games, what aspects to focus on, and what styles of gaming are most accommodating to patients with MS. I am blessed and honored to be sharing their story with you now.

T.R. has taken it upon himself to give a valuable resource of MS symptoms and how they have impacted Angie and their gaming life in his most recent blog. Angie has also taken to his blog and posted her personal perspective on what games appeal to her. I’m going to definitely take these aspects into account as I go forward and progress as a game designer. I hope, T.R. and Angie, that one of these days I’ll have helped a company build a game, or design my own, that both of you will be able to enjoy.

Please feel free to read through all their articles, as they are a joy to read and offer amazing insights into a side of the gaming universe I think many of us rarely see, or forget exists.

Freelancer and Care Giver: Freelancer and Caregiver

Accessibility in Game Design: Accessibility in Game Design

Angie’s Perspective: Angie’s Perspective

T.R., you are truly a knight among men sir. I am honored to be among your supporting guild, and will continue to share the knowledge you and Angie have to give the world. God bless you both on your path as family, loving companions, and exceptional gamers!

 

Accessibility for All. Happy gaming to you and your family!

Gamification: Gaming from Youth to Adult

Gamification. If you’ve been around my blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that’s one of my favorite new definitions. I’ve been so intrigued by gamification, and one of my new favorite terms: Includification, that I decided to work on finding sites and activities that promote just those activities. If you’re a new viewer, or you have no idea what I’m talking about at this point, then let me give you a brief update what these terms mean.

Gamification:

1. The use of game design techniques, game thinking, & game mechanics to enhance non-gaming contexts.

Includification:

1. An ideology that content should include everyone, regardless of ability.

2. Design so that everyone can enjoy and appreciate the fruits of creative labor.

I started thinking if there were any places where these terms could be fully utilized, and I think I may have just found a couple of sites that are available to help do just that. Let’s start with the young ones first, because the earlier you can start a child’s education the more prepared they’ll be in the future. I’ll then go into detail about a wonderful site designed for adults to keep our minds sharp, focused, and energized.

For The Kids [ Preschool – Kindergarten ]: ABCMouse.com

If you’ve never read my article on gamification featuring Gabe Zichermann, he details in his lecture how gaming can actually make kids smarter. I couldn’t agree with him more and so, when I saw a commercial for ABCMouse.com, I knew I had to cover the site at some point. ABCMouse.com is an interactive hub for digital learning designed for early children’s learning. The curriculum is vast, so if you’re worried that it’s just a single subject site [ math, english, reading, etc. ] don’t worry – it has it all. I’ve looked over the site and it seems to be extremely accommodating to both children and parents alike.

Here’s a list of the possible curriculum that your child may see:

  • Reading
  • Math
  • Art
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Phonics

Each of these curriculum are presented in ways that make the educational process engaging, entertaining, and meaningful to the young student in training. Children will learn via online books, puzzles, games, and interactive printable materials that parents can use to continue your child’s education offline. The site is completely 100% child safe, and parents can even take part as an active participant in their child’s education.

Welcome to class kids! Get ready to learn!

The site utilizes personalization factors such as:

  • A personalized avatar for your child
  • A lesson builder so parents can control lesson plans
  • A progress tracker so parents can see how their child learns
  • A ticket and rewards system for children to reward them for success
  • Interactive learning activities that make learning feel personal
  • Recordable book options to make reading with your child a new experience.

A place of learning even a mother could love!

The site is backed by certified doctors and teachers and you can enroll today for either $7.95 per month, or $79.00 per year. You and your child will have a blast with these fun, easily accessible, and engaging new site. Now – as for you parents, don’t feel left out. If you find yourself feeling a little foggy after all of your time spent with your child’s education I think I’ve found a site for you too!

Continue reading

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

Developer of the Week: Media Molecule

Well, I haven’t done one of these in a long while – but I think it’s time for a long overdue Developer of the Week post. This time I’m focusing on a company that I truly admire for giving the control of a game to the user and letting users merely play with tools to design their own gaming experiences. Media Molecule is the UK based company famous for the lovely family-friendly PS3 exclusives LittleBigPlanet and LittleBigPlanet 2. I’ve been a huge fan and advocate of the LittleBigPlanet series for years now, but what I’m most fascinated with by the Media Molecule crew is the amazing opportunities for accessibility in player designed levels.

Umm... excuse me, but umm - might I get a nifty hat too?

LittleBigPlanet is a one of a kind ‘creator’ game, and players are truly taking advantage of these design tools to create unique and meaningful little gaming experiences [ some of which I’m so fascinated by I wish they were their own PSN games ] Now while LittleBigPlanet and LittleBigPlanet 2 as games themselves, can often lend themselves to a few accessibility issues in the Story mode, I think that can be overlooked by some of the more artistic and fantastic designs that the online community has been providing. Media Molecule is a fantastic company for giving power to the players instead of just having them play through something that’s already been designed.

Here’s a couple of community levels that I’ve played that I definitely suggest you check out, because they’re quite accessible and definitely a fun experience to try out:

1. Flowtation:

You play as a small jellyfish swimming through a vast ocean experience collecting colored water droplets to solve puzzles within the game. It’s a simple concept that’s extremely accessible. Created by a designer entitled: EaziG – the level provides simple gameplay, intricate puzzles, beautiful atmosphere and music, and when you see this little game it’s no wonder why I suggest that this game become it’s own little PSN title. The accessibility is phenomenal:

  • Relaxed gameplay and mechanics allows for players to take their time with each move. This helps mobility challenged gamers to actually succeed and enjoy this game – even single handed players will be able to enjoy this as long as you’re willing to be patient with the controls.
  • Color scheme is dark, but the main characters and puzzle pieces are illuminated in the darkened waters, which makes the game accessible for colorblind gamers and vision impaired gamers. 
  • Deaf players can easily play this game, while it’s disappointing that they can’t hear the warm, calming, melodic music, no sounds are required to play.
  • This game is actually very simple and relaxing – so cognitively challenged players may actually enjoy this title.

Gameplay of Flowtation:

2. A Daily Cup of Tea:

This is a very simple item drop game, where players have to catch small sugar cubes into their tea cups. Now the game designed by Nirokeib, and while the design has a very sepia tone color scheme – the games accessibility makes it noteworthy to, once again, be one of the suggestions of ‘must check out’ LBP2 games. Here’s how the accessibility breaks down – and what makes it a fun experience for me personally:

  • The controls only require you to hit the triangle button once to lock into your tea cup, and then it’s a matter of moving left to right on one single analog stick. This may seem like too easy of a game to care about, but it’s actually quite a fun experience with the frequency of sugar cubes being set at random. You may see an easy moment where there’s only a few and then you’ll get bombarded with quite a few.
  • Precision is required, because you have to catch the sugar cubes in the cup to make them dissipate. This can make the game a tad more difficult for mobility impaired gamers, but still totally accessible.
  • The music is good, but it’s not required to play and all instructions are displayed to you via text – which is fantastic for deaf gamers. Definitely makes the level more accessible for those with hearing impairments. 

Gameplay of A Daily Cup of Tea:

I’ve checked out quite a few more, but those two held the most love from me. I just want to give my love to Media Molecule, because they have a fantastic game that allows players to create accessible little mini games for fellow players. The Story modes and creation modes of LBP and LBP 2 may be a bit extensive to deal with for mobility challenged gamers [ Trust me, I’m perfectly capable of fast reflex movements, and many times LBP levels drove me nuts with how often I died. ]

Media Molecule gives players an ability to devise a game jam on a daily basis. They have millions of players devising millions of levels and with all of these vast creation tools and creators going forward there’s no wonder that these games are fantastic for the trend of accessibility being valued in games. Media Molecule, I just want to say folks, I love you guys. You have made a fantastic – trend-changing game, and I hope more and more community developers begin to devise games that are accessible to multiple players.

Well, this gives a new meaning to 'jaw dropping' performance...

LBP and LBP 2 have been two of my favorite games to play as an aspiring developer and I am fascinated by all of the lovely games I see coming out of the community and all of the advancements that you all have placed within the games’ look and feel. If anybody owns a PS3 [ especially if you’re a developer who owns one ] I highly suggest picking up these games. LBP and LBP 2 have deep creation tools that are easy to understand and access – and if you’re a more advanced designer you’ll be able to do even further fantastic levels with all of the advancements that LBP 2 has given.

Check out Media Molecule and the LBP series. Their gameplay and game design tools are making a difference, and that’s why I admire them and nominate them for my Developer of the Week this week. I hope that the future of this company keeps going forward, developing ways to provide more and more accessibility to the masses and the levels that they create and those that they allow players to create.

I can’t wait to see the future – and here’s to the waiting period for whenever they announce LittleBigPlanet 3.

Games of the Week: ‘Point and Click’ Adventures

Well, for those of you who have kept up with my blog from the beginning, you’ve probably heard me talk a little bit about a man named Tim Schafer. Now it’s not secret that I’m a definite fan of his work and that of Double Fine Productions. I think I’ve successfully laid my hands on at least -most- of their titles, but if you haven’t been in the loop here’s the scoop:

Tim Schafer and Double Fine Productions are in the process of creating a ‘point and click’ adventure game. The Kickstarter garnished over 3,000,000+ dollars in donations AND I was one of those donators [ Woo to the $ 15 tier! ] Now, while I’m not allowed to discuss anything private as far as development goes – I figured I could still honor this ‘point and click’ adventure by promoting some other ‘point and click’ graphic adventure games that I feel are totally worth noting – so without further ado:

1. Machinarium

Now I was directed to this game via Alex over at Space Giraffe, and yes, I’m 3 years behind the curve. This is an unfortunate circumstance, but meh, you brush yourself off and move on. Machinarium is a wonderful little ‘point and click’ indie game that I think anyone who has an affinity for games that contain robots in them should try. You play as a little robot, and you travel through this junkyard solving puzzles and navigating your way around. There are 30 levels, and each one, while it may seem simple, is actually quite intricate and can take some time to figure out.

One small step for bots - one massive leap for gaming!

The game is, for the most part, accessible on all levels except for blind players. The color schemes are sharp, but not too abrasive to the eyes for color-blind gamers. The gameplay mechanics are simple ‘point and click’ so mobility challenged gamers won’t have a problem navigating the maps and finding what needs to be done. In the case of deaf players, there is no real sound except for sound effects and ambient music. They don’t really affect the gameplay, and so it should be accessible for deaf gamers, especially because most instruction is given via picture references which is a plus.

It's like if Tim Burton designed a video game with robots...

Now, I only played the demo version and you can gladly try it out too here.

– but from what I’ve gathered the game is immersive, the artwork is moving and fitting to the music, and after I was done with the demo I was longing for more. It’s definitely a warm, homespun game that I would definitely suggest worth checking out if you’re in the mood for an updated, old-school experience of a point-and-click. You can get the full game DRM free on Steam, Mac, Windows or Linux for just $10.00 – for 30 levels of old-school awesome I’d say it’s a definite check out.

2. Little Wheel

Now, if you’re in the mood for a FREE experience along the same vein, I invite you to take a look at another little robotic adventure ‘point and click‘ dubbed Little Wheel by FastGames. Little Wheel takes you on a journey through a robotic homeland that’s become devoid of power, and as the only powered robot left in your entire planet you must go forth solving puzzles and attempting to bring power back to the whole world through puzzle solving. Does it sound neat yet? If you’re a robot fan you’re probably drooling. Here’s a handkerchief.

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do - 2 can be...

Now as far as accessibility goes – the accessibility drops a tad on this title. The only issue is that Little Wheel gives you no instructions. It shows you via faint circles where clickable items are, but it’s up to you to solve every scenario and figure out what can be used and what can’t etc. The color scheme is incredibly dark, almost akin to a Limbo style of gameplay. This is probably going to make it difficult for some color-blind gamers to play as the patterns of the objects have moments where they blend in during movements.

The wheels on the cage go round and round, round and round...

The gameplay can become increasingly hard too, so cognitively impaired players may have trouble figuring out patterns and actions to do when given no instructions and no hint options. Sound isn’t a requirement for this game, but you’ll be missing out on a full experience if you can’t hear the sound effects and jazz-toned music. The game is adorably charming though, despite it’s simple mechanics. It has an art-deco sort of feel and it you find yourself drawn into wanting to complete each and every puzzle [ well at least I did ] If you’re interested and would like to give it a look over you can head over and check out Little Wheel.

Well folks, that’s it for today, I hope you enjoy my ‘bot filled Games of the Week and you take in the simplistic joys that are ‘point and click’ adventure games. I’m going to go dive back into my mounds of sketchbooks and notebooks now as I await for Schafer’s Adventure to be released…

If you’re still in a steampunk mood though I also suggest you take a look at this short film by Anthony Lucas. It’s in the same vein as these games and it’s wicked good fun – though it’s a bit dark and disturbing at some points for an animation so please be aware [ also it’s quite long, just an fyi for those that are busy ]:

Inspirational Gamer of the Week: Gareth Garratt

Hey there folks, sorry for the late post today. I usually like to get my posts done in the morning, but scheduling issues occurred today. Even so, I’m dedicated enough to this blog to make sure these types of stories go out. Especially ones that speak so near and dear to my heart like today’s story. Now this story was actually reported on a little over a year ago on Kotaku, but it’s still very relevant to the topics I try to present on gaming and so that’s why I’m covering it today.

Every once in a while you see a wonderful gesture done by a company that makes the enjoyment of one gamer worth all the hard work put  forth. In the case of UK gamer, Gareth Garret, Visceral Games went above and beyond the call after one letter was written to them. Gareth has a form of cerebral palsy that severely limits his motor skill movements. He has a passion for playing video games, but uses only his chin to navigate the mouse controls. This is an astonishing testament to Gareth’s resiliency to overcome the adversity of his condition, but it was a letter that he sent to Visceral Games that truly got my attention.

In the letter it simply stated:

“I just got Dead Space 2, and I’m so disappointed.”

He went on to talk about how the lack of customizable controls on the PC made it almost impossible to play most titles, and especially Dead Space 2, but how he would very much enjoy playing the game if he could. This caught the attention of other gamers and of Visceral Games and in response Visceral Games sent this note to Gareth:

“Dear Dead Space 2 PC Players, 

The Dead Space 2 team is aware of the issue that disabled gamers are having with Dead Space 2 PC. In fact, a number of folks on our team are so passionate about this  fix done that they are currently working hard to allow players to remap key-bindings in the mouse which should help disabled gamers enjoy the game.”

So why does this even matter, why is all of this relevant to what I’m talking about today? First, I would like for you to check out this video of Gareth. Here he is playing Fallout: New Vegas on his PC – just so you can get a better understanding of amazing this guy is in my eyes, and I hope in yours too:

Well, I’ve been discussing the necessity of accessible controls like crazy in some of my past posts. I’ve explained why accessible controls can ultimately increase revenue streams and why allowing them will ultimately lead to an overwhelmingly better gaming environment for all gamers – not just disabled gamers. There is currently petition going around [ and I’m not sure if I mentioned it in my earlier Button Remapping post ] but it was started by another inspiring gamer who I’ll discuss at a later date named Chuck Bittner.

The petition was set up to start getting mainstream companies to recognize the necessity for accessible controls, accessible options, and the like. I know it may seem far fetched to ask a large company to make a concession of giving accessible controls to all console and PC games, but hear me out on this.

An options menu is clearly just that – AN OPTION. It doesn’t impede an able-bodied gamer from using a control configuration that he/she approves of, it merely gives MORE options to those who don’t fit the standard ‘options’ that are usually set. I can’t imagine having to play like these gentlemen, and I am so blessed that I am capable of doing so much – but these guys inspire me.

They prove to me that even though a person has limitations that were either birth given or man-made it shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a past-time or a specific skill or hobby you enjoy. I’m a huge advocate for this movement and I encourage anyone who’s in agreement with me to go and join the petition:

Button Remapping Petition

Currently there are 83,848 signatures – but there are plenty more disabled gamers out there in this world. So, if you are a disabled gamer, if you know a family member or friend who is a disabled gamer and you want them to be able to have the same enjoyment and opportunities as the rest of the gaming universe then I encourage you to follow up and at least keep following this petition – because it’s something special and much needed in our industry. We need to start seeing gaming as a whole community – not just ‘hardcore’ and ‘casuals’ or ‘females’ and ‘males’ or ‘abled’ and ‘disabled’ – but rather just ‘gamers.’

Gamers one and gamers all. Let’s focus on accommodation and not discrimination.

So here is to you Gareth, for speaking out to a company and getting your voice heard. Here is to you for changing the course of the way a company thinks about it’s products and it’s accessibility, and here is to you for just being an amazing, fantastic person who – through all odds, finds a way to find joy through your gaming. You are truly an inspiration and I applaud you. The day I get an industry job, you can bet my first words out of my mouth are going to be:

“Yeah, but is it accessible though?”