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!

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Tech Talk: An Eye on the Ouya

Well, I took a vacation from posting – as some of you may have noticed. It’s the summer though, so you can’t blame me for getting out there in the ‘world‘ and living a little. Among the things I missed out on covering, one of the most thrilling pieces of news to come out of this was:

The Ouya

With a plethora of gaming consoles already on the market, and mobile gaming making nearly every phone in the world into a mobile gaming mecha, the prospect of new technology always intrigues me. Last week the Ouya was announced via a Kickstarter campaign, and it practically made my ears pop off with intrigue. If you’ve not heard of what the Ouya is I’ll detail it for you in brief, and I’ll include the nice shiny trailer video too:

Now what does this mean for the future of gaming? Well, in my opinion, it just means to make the gaming world more impressive. I don’t think the intention is to wipe out Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo. Those companies are megaliths of the industry, so I highly doubt it’ll put a dent in their revenue streams. The idea that the system is going to be using a ‘free-to-play’ and mobile business practice model is entirely up my alley!

I think I had a dream like this once… so glad it’s coming true!

I love hearing the word ‘developers’ used when discussing consoles. I think often times there’s so many hurdles to jump through to get a game onto a modern console these days. Developers feel intimidated by the high cost of publishing rights and the loss of artistic freedoms vs. company control.It’s no wonder that, in this day and age, mobile game development and the Android market system look so appealing.

The Ouya business model looks promising too:

The company will take a 30/70 percent split for any game you produce and want to port to console. This, to me, is fantastic. Here’s why. You get to craft and develop  a game for Android software, which is a highly accessible marketplace. As a developer, you’ll be pulling 70% back in revenue towards any sales of your game. This blows my mind folks!

Considering that there’s no manufacturing fees, no hardware fees, etc. because all of the games will be digital download/free to play streamed it makes so much more logical business sense from a development stance. If you cut out certain expenses, you can reduce the size of fees, and increase the productivity and quality of development. The specs don’t look remarkably fantastic, which is a bummer.

Sleek, refined, and shiny – seriously what else do I need?

If you’re a developer hoping for some Sony PS3 style next-gen graphics engine, then you’ll probably want to stand in line waiting for a publishing house to clear you. If you’re like me though, and a newbie developer, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’ll give me a chance to bring designs into folks homes, rather than porting them to flash computer sites.

Here’s the Ouya’s specs:

  • Tegra 3 quad-core processor
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 8 GB Flash Storage
  • HDMI input that supports up to 1080p HD
  • WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth LE 4.0
  • USB 2.0
  • Wireless Controller w/ standard controls + touchpad
  • Android 4.0 

Now while I’m infatuated with the idea, of course I’m still skeptical. Any new technology is going to make a person nervous before they can actually see it in action. I’ve been hearing rumors that Valve may be releasing their own Steam Box console for homes as well and, if that’s the case, we many have a battle on our hands. The Steam market is already highly prolific and loved by many gamers and devs alike – so Ouya is going to have to claw to prove that their product is superior early on. My biggest suggestion to the development team would be this:

Includification.

Mark Bartlet, President/Founder of the AbleGamers Foundation, coined this term two days ago in an article he wrote for their site. I couldn’t be more in agreement with his statements, and if you want to read the full article you can. Essentially, Barlet discusses the term of ‘accessibility’ and sometimes how that term can make development seem difficult, frustrating, and down right hard. He decided at a recent conference that he’d try and devise a different approach to how developers look at games and coined this term.

Includification means:

1. Making sure content includes everyone, regardless of ability. 

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

In the case of the Ouya, I see tons of potential here to be played with. The idea that the entire system is open to tweaking and hardware reconfiguration, peripherals can be toyed with, etc. It’s like a game developer’s LEGO set! I think if the Ouya staff, and future developers for the console, focus on the idea of includification the console will succeed. The games, and hardware, need to be versatile – flow with the accessible punches so that it doesn’t become an ‘exclusives’ war like the major console brands.

If I were designing for the Ouya, I’d be design for kids like him. Inspiring!

Gaming should be for everyone, and if developers and hardware designers can work together I don’t see why games can’t include ALL types of players. I can’t wait to see what comes of this system, and you’ll bet I’ll probably own one at some point. The price point is set at around $99.00 at the moment, and that’s a wonderful price for the plethora of games they wish to display near launch time. There seem to be tons of major developers in support of the project, and so I can only say I’m one of the indies waiting to get my hands dirty with this new IP.

Developer Profiles? Well that just makes it all the more impressive!

Here’s to you Ouya! You’re shaking up the status-quo and I hope that it brings game development to new levels! You’ve already raised up past $5 MILLION dollars with 3 WEEKS to go – so RUN with these funds and MAKE it happen! THIS DEVELOPER would love to see it in his living room – that’s for certain. If you believe that the Ouya is the future of in-home gaming – feel free to stop by their Kickstarter and dump a little love to their console dreams!

Sincerely,

Chad K. aka Gastrogamer

Game of the Week: Run

I’ve been catching a lot of interest in interactive narrative games lately, and so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon a wonderful example of interactive fiction recommended to me by Nick Yonge of Krang Games. The game is called Run by developer Christopher Whitman. I was intrigued by the concept and so, of course, I had to at least take a look – and what I found was a marvelous little indie experience. Whitman manages to grasp players with his words and the nostalgic look of the gameplay sequences will not only give older gamers a sense of memorabilia, but will give new gamers a chance to see how simple gameplay can make something fantastic.

Run is a story about a village that becomes purged into the pit of darkness but, as an intrepid settler, you dream about a day with sunshine. The narrative carries you through the inner thoughts and developments of this settler. It’s one of the most unique experiences I’ve played through in months. Your goal as a player is to platform through the narrative, and then play the mini-game sections of the dream to acquire sunlight for the rest of the village.

The more sunlight you can obtain, the more time your village gets to harvest crops and prosper. The sunlight becomes your timer, so strategy in how you divide your time is vitally important. Whitman challenges gamers with deceptive retro games that will truly test players on every set. Each mini game is divided up into 2 – 3 mini games – so strategy is definitely a must when attempting to collect sunlight properly. If you fail, you can move on, but note that it will drastically limit your sunlight field for feeding and harvesting food later.

I fell in love with this game from the moment I finished the first level. Though it’ll take me a while to get the strategy of how to be successful in the game down, Run has quite a lot of accessibility attached to it. Here’s how it breaks down if you’re at all curious:

Pros:

  • Run has simple platforming and movement controls via keyboard
  • WASD & Arrow Keys utilized for both left and right hand gamer access.
  • No audio cues required, so the game is perfect for deaf gamers.
  • The movement functions are easy making Run accessible for mobility impaired.
  • Precision isn’t a priority as the game has a relatively relaxed pace to it.
  • If you fail sections you have opportunities to replay sections to try again.
  • Gameplay is easy to understand and words are easy/large enough to read.

Cons:

  • Color scheme may be a bit off-putting in some areas for colorblind gamers.
  • Some segments, during the sunshine segments, can be difficult to read.
  • Strategy is key for this game, otherwise, it can make the mini games difficult.

Run is a highly accessible game with tons of retro feel. Any game or literature enthusiast will definitely enjoy this game. You can check out Run now on Whitman’s personal site and though it says it’s a demo it’s actually the full game. You can also purchase a downloadable copy for $3.99 if you want to play it elsewhere. It’s a vast, unique experience that is worth your time and a read. Whitman’s Run inspires me so much, and I hope that more and more of these interactive experiences will come to fruition in the future. Here’s to you Chris! Thanks for inspiring and providing a brilliant story and an road map for others on how to provide educational interactive fiction for all sorts of audiences!

Run

E3 Impressions: The Unfinished Swan

Imagine this:

You’re a young boy tossed into a world that’s devoid of color. You’ve found yourself chasing after this white swan in this white devoid environment. You find yourself having to navigate your way and feel your way around by creating silhouettes via splashing black paint on the blank canvas environments. You’re thrown into a kingdom you don’t know anything about, with puzzles and a journey ahead of you that you can’t possibly predict.

If just on this premise alone you’ve become intrigued by this concept, then you’re probably going to be a huge fan of Giant Sparrow’s IP:

The Unfinished Swan.

I would love to finish this storybook!

Developed originally by Creative Director, Ian Dallas, the game started off as merely a grad student experiment. Four years later Giant Sparrow has come together via Sony Santa Monica to produce this marvelous, ethereal looking journey for gamers. I can’t even express how excited I am for this game, but what you should know is that it is a PSN Exclusive at this time. The game will also be compatible for Playstation Move and basic Dual-shock controller functionality. Now why is this game so amazing to me? Well I’ve thought about it for a while and I think I’ve come up with a solution.

The Unfinished Swan is a tale all it’s own, and it gives gamers a brand new experience I’ve never witnessed in games. I’ve seen other games before that have experimented with paint physics [ Epic Mickey comes to mind ] but never have I seen such a lush and innovative take on the genre. The first person perspective gives players a sensation that I don’t think any game in recent years has given to players. There’s a sense of adventure, mystery, and intrigue for players as they blindly have to feel and craft their way around the vast blank canvas. I truly believe that this game will not only captivate people with it’s simple narrative, but also the gameplay seems extremely accessible.

Sure a game where you play as a boy splashing paint around trying to apprehend a swan doesn’t sound like much at first glance, but when you factor in the puzzle mechanics and story driven gameplay you truly see something far greater. Dallas and his team have managed to take a monochromatic color scheme and make it into something fantastic. I loved watching as the paint splatters coated each new object, and how it felt to discover if an object moved, or if a door would open. The Unfinished Swan has so much potential for greatness, that it’s definitely one I’m going to put on my Must Play for 2012.

This is gorgeous. Simple, but one of the most gorgeous ascetics I’ve seen!

Here’s what I’m seeing so far:

  • The Unfinished Swan seems to have very little dialog, and when it does there’s text associated with it.
  • The monochromatic/soft color scheme seems perfectly suited to fit any gamer.
  • Colored markers have been placed throughout to provide gamers with long term goals.
  • Control mechanics seem simplistic and easy to use [ would love to try this first hand. ]
  • There seem to be multiple chapters within the game, some with color and some devoid.
  • Dallas mentioned something about enemies within the game. I would love to see some form of combat or puzzle solving involving enemies.
  • There also seems to be environmental puzzles which seem to make a player feel like a part of the creation of the world as they navigate through it. I think this is a fantastic idea.
  • Audio cues seem to pop up when a player completely coats a silhouette. Could this actually allow blind players to play the game? A thought perhaps.

Overall The Unfinished Swan seems to be a vast transition and stray from the norm of the market right now. It’s for this reason alone that it’s grasped me so veraciously. Giant Sparrow seems to be onto something that may very well change the way I look at Move technology entirely. I can’t wait to get my hands on the full experience some time soon, and you can bet when I do I’ll let you all know how my quest for The Unfinished Swan goes!

Till then, I’ll just have to keep exploring visible kingdoms I suppose…

Game of the Week: The Man Who Sold The World

Today I’m feeling a bit retro – how retro? Let’s just say, “David Bowie 80’s” retro. I woke up this morning and checked on one of my favorite little indie game developers that are based right up here in the Northwest. [ Woo for hometown gaming! ] If any of you were lucky enough to stumble upon I Saw Her Standing There…, well then you’ll know why I love Krang Games. They have a distinct retro-simplistic art style to many of their games. Narratives and stories seem to drive every fabric of their games, and I’ve had a blast playing all of them.

It’s that time again! – The Interstellar DATING GAME!

Krang Games is owned and operated by developer Nick Yonge, and I have to say his games have definitely helped inspire me to try my hand at flash game development. Now, why am I in a retro mood this morning? Well it’s because Yonge [ and the rest of Krang Games ] have come out with the newest game in their vintage flash line: The Man Who Sold The World. It’s a interactive narrative/platforming game that was inspired by David Bowie’s music. How cool is that? The game is rather short [ 4 levels ] but the platforming can be challenging, so don’t take this simplistic design lightly. The object seems to be to collect as many of the glowing orbs in the levels as you can find. How did this play out? Well let’s get to the accessibility shall we?

If the world was in the palm of your hand – what would you choose?

Pros:

  • Few controls – makes for simplistic gameplay and easy functionality.
  • All dialog is text-based, which is perfect for deaf gamers.
  • Soundtrack is ambient and unique, though can be a bit repetitive.
  • A & D keys and Arrow keys are both available for users, allowing for one-handed players to play [ left or right handed ]
  • Game has decent pacing, making this game a labor of love, rather than a laborious struggle for gamers. 
  • Game has no penalty system, so if you make mistakes it’s easy to continue and try again.
  • The narrative plot is strong, intriguing, and fun. It will keep you guessing as you go forth.

In The Jungle, the mighty Jungle, The Man He Sleeps Tonight!

Cons:

  • Game almost requires two hands, due to requirement of Spacebar for jump action. [ One-handed is possible, though harder. ]
  • The games color scheme is, for the most part, accessible. Some sections and colors, however, may be troublesome for colorblind.
  • Precision gaming is pretty key to succeed, due some difficult platform sections.
  • Game has a chapter function on Main Menu, but no way to jump to new chapters unless you earn them.
  • I wish there was Skip function. I failed certain sections quite a few times due to jump spacing.

Overall, the game was a joy to play. There may have been moments of frustration due to difficulty with the keyboard based controls, but I enjoyed my time with Krang Games new sci-fi retro narrative. It’s definitely one of those few delights I get from the vast array of internet gaming fodder. If you’d like to play it as well, you can jump into the sci-fi fun over on Kongregate.

The game hasn’t been played much, which is why I’m happy to be reviewing it. Give it some love, maybe some stardust, you know – whatever you feel like! I hope this game keeps you searching through the stars and soaring into the realm of 8-bit retro games!

In closing though, I’ll leave you with two things to Bowie this post up a bit:

and for a little light humor on the subject, one of my favorite beloved comedy bands:

The Flight of the Conchords

Game of the Week: Relive Your Life

Hey there folks, now while I’ve still got E3 moments to cover [ and Comic Con on the way ], I’m still devoted to smaller indie titles that grab my fun buttons. Today is no different, because I’ve found a game which I find quite intriguing. It’s an interactive narrative with Suessical meaning. It’s called Relive Your Life by Matt Ackerman, a game that keeps me coming back again and again. As you’ll see it’s affected my rhythm and verse, which unfortunately for readers, may come as a curse. Don’t believe me my friends? – Well you should try it out first!

What kind of person will you be?

Ackerman’s artistic endeavors and Arin “Egoraptor” Hanson’s narrative prose make for one of the most interesting games I’ve played in a while. Now the game has very simple mechanics, and all of them are keyboard based: “Press X a specific amount of times.”, “Type out this sentence to save your life.”, “Pet a pet in this sequence of arrow keys”, etc. and while it may seem easy I have to say, it’s one of the most frantic games I’ve played in a while. The game gives you a 5 – 6 second window to complete these small keyboard-based tasks. This isn’t a ton of time, and so gamers with motion impairments or slower reflexes will have a tough time completing sections and changing your fate.

I’ll snuggle you for a better life teddy! You’ll be my friend!

Never fear my dear, for there’s something to help!

Their looks are so incredulous, because you’re just that dang AWESOME!

If you ever feel lost or give cause to yelp, well then after a play there’s a “Previous Chapter” A button you’ll press, when the pressure comes after. Heh. Rhyming isn’t helping is it? Well all I’ll say is that if you screw up you have an opportunity to replay the events over again and try for a different ending. There are 29 different stories in all and I’m intrigued enough to play through them all! If you’re totally into narrative storytelling like I am you’ll want to sit down with this little flash title and relive your life over and over again! You can play it for free today on Kongregate or even Newgrounds – both have the game, and I promise you’ll get addicted to a game that even Dr. Suess would be proud of!

Pros:

  • Easy gameplay, with about 6 chapters per playthrough. 29 possible endings will keep you quite busy.
  • Colors are simple and clean. Easy for viewing and playing. 
  • Game runs on keyboard based functions, and while not accessible for all gamers, it makes for simple gameplay.
  • Stories are fun, interesting, and keep gamers wanting to reach the end of their fate on each playthrough.
  • The interactions and stories are truly funny. Egoraptor’s dialog definitely amps up the enjoyment of this game!
  • A previous chapter function allows gamers to replay sections they may have messed up on to hopefully get new endings.

Cons:

  • No subtitles for audio, which makes the game much harder for deaf gamers. However: Deaf gamers can read the script: HERE.
  • No audio cues. The game has audio that blind players can listen to, but no audio cues for when items are highlighted, etc.
  • Quick reflexes are needed for this game to be able to access ALL of the endings. A small window of time doesn’t give you much room.

Enjoy folks! Happy gaming to you all!

E3 Impressions: ZombiU

Well, if you haven’t noticed I’ve kind of taken a break from the blog. It’s summer, and thus, life happens. Life also ends, and sometimes horribly – like in the case of zombie attacks. There was one game this year at E3 that, while I’m not so sold on it yet, definitely intrigued me with the new hardware and interactivity. Ubisoft and Nintendo have teamed up to bring a zombie survival game that tests the boundaries of interactivity and brings a whole new perspective to the experience. The game will infect you and keep you on your toes as you try your best to survive in the upcoming: ZombiU.

The London Olympics – just prep for this?!

I’ve looked over countless interviews, stories, and information trying to compile something wonderful for you all. Consider it your survival inventory as you get ready to tackle the newest adventure from Ubisoft. I’ve looked over previews and interviews and here’s what I’ve learned so far about ZombiU, and what I think about it’s accessibility so far:

  • ZombiU seems to be a survival-horror game set in London in late 2012. I have to admit that I like the new environment vibe for this game.
  • ZombiU seems to require the use of both hands to do many of the actions required for the game. A difficulty for motion-impaired gamers.
  • ZombiU seems to have everything you’ll need to use incorporated within the Wii U controller: inventory, body scanners, etc.
  • The one touch controls of these functions definitely gives the game a plus in this regard. It seems easy, and provides accessible movements.
  • The touch screen seems like it may cause some struggles with colorblind gamers. The scanner is very bright with monotone blue tones.
  • There are moments within the game that the scanner gets disrupted. This will be extremely frustrating for deaf gamers due to loss of radar.
  • Gamers with heart conditions or other medical conditions that may be triggered by unexpected moments of fear may want to avoid this game.
  • The game is very dark and unpredicatable, which may make the game difficult for visually impaired gamers.

The game starts you off playing as a random citizen thrust headlong into surviving in this apocalyptic London environment. You’ll have to keep on your toes, keep your inventory up to date, and prepare for anything! The most innovative function I find that ZombiU carries is that Ubisoft incorporated a twist to gameplay I haven’t seen in past zombie games. If you die within the game there are NO save points. This means that the game is meant to be played through seamlessly, as though you are truly a survivor of the apocalypse. If you die, don’t worry though, you’ll be brought back as a brand new survivor. You WILL lose any inventory or upgrades you earned as your first survivor, but hold on – there’s a catch.
Don’t think that all is lost – [ even if that zombie is eating your brains like a bowl of oatmeal… ]

God Save The Queen – and EVERYONE ELSE!

You may come back as a new survivor, but if you FIND your old survivor body and kill the now-zombified former you, you’ll acquire ALL of the inventory, upgrades, etc. that the former survivor had. The bonus here is that things like doors, or impassable areas you may not have been able to access as a new survivor will already be opened and accessible. This means that each new playthrough will be different and more dynamic than the next. Ubisoft designed the game with surprise of the survival horror genre in mind. These aspects of the game may make the game more difficult for some gamers, but I’m actually excited for this title because of the unexpected design of it.
I want to feel frightened as I play through the London expanse. I want to feel like, no matter what, the gameplay won’t provide a linear similar experience each time. I want to feel that sense of tension around every corner, even if I’ve been around that corner before. I feel like, while the Wii U controller may be cumbersome and challenging, it’s going to aid in providing a brand new sort of survival experience that no one’s ever had before. I may have my concerns in terms of accessibility, but overall this game looks as though it’ll be one of the more adult successes for the Nintendo franchise. I can’t wait to get my hands on this for real and test out my survival skills – but this is shaping up to be a scary good time!
ZombiU is set to release right around the holiday release time of Wii U. So here’s to all of the disembodied fun and hoping we survive our royal induction into the infected world of ZombiU coming late 2012! Thanks Nintendo for giving me a reason to fear your console with an M rated passion!