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

E3 Impressions: Wonderbook

Now I’m all about exploring the newest technology on the market, and Sony brought out something that truly caught my eye. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know my love for spreading education via the virtual video game experience. Well Sony seems to be on the cutting edge of the educational ‘gamification’ movement with their new tech they rolled out called the Wonderbook. Now what exactly is the Wonderbook? Well from what I understand they’re going to be actual interactive books that correlate with the Playstation Eye and using the Playstation Move to interact with the product. How cool is this idea? Well you better believe the little kid in me is squealing with excitement!

Especially due to the first major author that’s signed on to do a Wonderbook: J.K. RowlingsHARRY POTTER ANYONE?! That’s RIGHT! Rowlings has helped to devise a wonderful interactive storybook, The Book of Spells, that will take the reader into in-depth to NEW content by Rowling herself! Players will get to experience the Harry Potter universe like never before, and I personally can’t wait to see what they’re going to be capable of with this. You’ll see in the demo that they do have some technical glitches, but hey it’s the initial stages of what I believe to be a wonderful product. There’s always going to be some hiccups – that’s what demos and Q&A testing are for. Well now knowing that what do I expect from Wonderbook going forward?

Wingardium Leviosa!

Wonderbook Expectations:

  • Wonderbook definitely seems to be aimed at a younger crowd [ family and youth ] but I see a lot of potential here for some classic works.
  • There’s so much educational potential here. Can you imagine books like Dr. Seuss? Sesame Street? Where The Wild Things Are
  •  Interactive reading isn’t new by any means, but Wonderbook brings two of my favorite things together: reading and video games.
    • Disney used to provide interactive software for PC long before Sony began bringing this out, but there’s far more personal engagement  provided via Wonderbook I’d imagine. I loved my 90’s Disney Interactive software, but Wonderbook conceptually feels much better.
  • Teachers may even benefit from having PS3’s in their classrooms now, and using Wonderbooks to teach classic novels to students.
  • The interactivity provided by video game mediums provides new, exciting, and exhilarating memorable experiences for players.
  • The comprehension and excitement of reading might be sparked with enthusiasm via the way Wonderbook delivers this new material.

Incendio!

Sure, some naysayers may claim that this newfangled ideology of ‘gamification’ towards the way we read might turn children, parents, and others off actually reading. I say no way! Imagine this. Your young child sits down and plays with a Wonderbook [ for this hypothetical let’s just say Disney signs a license via Sony and they produce a Winnie the Pooh Wonderbook ] and he, or she, gets to explore the Hundred Acre Wood, learn valued moral decisions via Pooh’s adventures, counting, letters, etc. The educational potential is limitless! How could you not love this idea? So where do we go from here? Well we wait. We wait patiently for Wonderbooks to catch on. It sounds like they’ll be sold seperately as individual ‘game’ titles, but I wouldn’t mind spending on them. Especially if they were titles that I was hoping for [ like Harry Potter ]

If there are adults out there wondering, “Well, wait, so is Wonderbook only going to be for children and families?” – it certainly looks like that, but I can tell you folks with confidence that there are tons of companies that host more to teenage and adult fair that are interested in the Wonderbook technology. In fact, I’ve done some snooping around and it sounds like BBC America is totally interested in getting in on the Wonderbook vibe. If the idea of Stephen Moffit reinventing Doctor Who for an interactive reading material isn’t cool, then you may direct yourself to a TARDIS right now and jettison yourself into a time vortex! Can you imagine books like: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a Dr. Who novel based on the Whoniverse – Daleks, Cybermen, Fallen Angels, etc. or who knows – Game of Thrones? Lord of the Rings?

A Whovian Experience like NO OTHER?!

The choices are endless and I hope to see some of these come to life for real. They most likely won’t be out this year, and it’ll probably be a 2013 release – but I’d be willing to wait for such literary enjoyment. I’ve never been much of a Playstation Move supporter, but you’ve won me over Sony! Congratulations, now I’ll be Move supporting – as long as you continue to use your Move technology for the benefit of educational mediums.

Game of the Week: Teddy’s Excellent Adventure

Have any of you ever lost a toy as a child before?

Have you ever wondered if they’d ever try and find you?

Well I found a lovely, simple, little game that was designed by PlayKidsGames. The artist Jimp and code by Gazsmith Games collaborated together to create this lovely, charming, little platformer that I simply feel that I have to share with folks. I was immediately drawn to it due to the art style, but more than that it’s the story and childlike characteristics of this game that make me just smile when I clicked on it. Join me as we go on an adventure with a teddy in his search for his owner with, Teddy’s Excellent Adventure!

Cute + Platformer = Teddy

I swear when I saw the title I was immediately drawn to my childhood memories of Winnie The Pooh and Christopher Robin, but while the game doesn’t have Disney-esque artwork it’s simple whimsy are what will grab you. It’s a combination platform/point-and-click adventure. The mechanics are very simple and it makes the game simple and light for all ages to enjoy. You can use either the Arrow or WASD keys for movement, and a simple click of the mouse controls interaction with objects within the game.

‘Oh I love honey and I’m a pooh-bear, so I do care, and so I climb there!”

Now, here’s a quick breakdown of the accessibility of Teddy’s Excellent Adventure:

Pros:

  • WASD and Arrow Keys are a benefit for giving users a choice of control
  • Relaxed gameplay, that gradually amps up in intensity, is a nice touch.
  • Simple puzzles and platforming provide exhilarating gameplay as puzzles get tough.
  • Art style is warm, inviting, and seems to be easy on the eyes. Good for colorblind.
  • All words/tutorials are text based. Great for deaf gamers.
  • Music changes from moment to moment depending on puzzle/area.
  • If you fail, game allows you to start from start of newest stage.

Cons:

  • Platforming, while simple, can become a bit of an issue for motion impaired in later sections of the game. Doesn’t ruin game, just will make game more challenging.
  • Some sections have very similar color schemes and may make differentiating objects a bit hard for colorblind gamers later in the game.
  • Music can be a bit loud, but can be muted, so that helps.
  • No sound cues/audio other than music makes game extremely difficult for blind.

Other than that, this game is full of fuzzy, cuddly, adventurous fluff and should definitely be looked at. It may be simple, but isn’t that something that we all sort of secretly desire? Simple games that we can enjoy and experience in short amounts of time? The game has this lush draw of trying to get to the end. You want to so desperately get your teddy back to his owner and it drives you to continue working towards accomplishing goals. So – you can gladly check out Teddy’s Excellent Adventure on Kongregate now! – and while we’re at it I’ll also promote the promoter of this game: PlayKidsGames.

If you’re looking for a great little site full of educational/kid friendly games PlayKidsGames is a in-depth site with a large library of educational flash games that can be shared with kids.So – go platform the stuff and fluff out of this game! I’m sure this game would make Winnie blush with happiness. In fact, I’m pretty sure, he’d be busting with happiness:

Take care folks and enjoy your gaming – one input at a time!

Game of the Week: Rock of Ages

Well, for those who don’t know much about me, you can probably tell by the games I represent on a weekly basis that I love the quirky, the weird, the odd-ball wall flower that’s gathering dust in the corner of your high school gym locker – so you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m a massive Monty Python fan. Give me Terry Gilliam and John Cleese and I will probably love that movie/show. Now why do I say this, well, I stumbled upon a game today that harkens me back to my youth watching The Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life, and it’s name is:

Rock of Ages by Atlus Games

Now what exactly is Rock of Ages? Well, let’s see – take a game like Katamari – throw in some tower defense style gameplay, and then lay on top of it the quirky animation styles and rambunctious humor akin to something you’d see out of a Monty Python animation and you’d have Rock of Ages. It’s a time-traveling, boulder smashing, tower defense game with style – and lots of it!

The object is that every level – you have an opponent, and you are to roll your ball down to the opponents gate as fast as you can in attempt to break it. The opponents job is to try and stop you by placing up barracks, explosives, soldiers, catapults, and even cows within your path to slow your momentum. You alternate turns rolling toward each others gate, and the first person to break through the door and roll over their opponent wins. If that doesn’t sound interesting and fun, well then you sir [ or madame ] have very little humor in your life and I shall dub thee a ninny!

For those about to ROCK – We will CRUSH you!

Rock of Ages takes you on a pseudo-historical lesson while you smash into the masses, but what’s great about Rock of Ages is that it’s highly accessible to multiple players. There are a lot of aspects that they got right during the development that pose a strong case towards an accessible game.

Here’s how the accessibility breaks down:

Pros:

  • All cinematics are pantomime w/ minor voice mumbles, and if characters do speak it’s in text format – plus all rules and tutorials are given in text format. Perfect for deaf gamers.
  • Simple controls make the game easy to pick up and control.
  • Tutorials are simple and informative.
  • Visual symbolism is heavy in this game making it easier for deaf gamers.
  • Colorblind gamers shouldn’t have a problem with this game. All color tones seem to balance.
  • Options of movement inversion, and a Southpaw setting for left-handed.
  • Tower-defense setup isn’t timed and so you can take as much time as you need to prepare your battlefield. A definite plus for motion-impaired gamers.
  • HUD displays are easy to see and understand how to use.
  • If you fall off the track, an auto return action occurs placing your boulder in play.

Welcome TO THE JUNGLE! We got LOTS OF PAIN!

Cons:

  • Motion-impaired gamers may have some issues steering via console – sticks tend to be a bit less sensitive – often causing boulder to fall during harsh turns in track.
  • No option for stick sensitivity changes on console ports [ unsure of Steam version ]
  • Text can be a tad small and unreadable in some cases for vision impaired gamers.
  • Tower defense setup requires use of multiple buttons across controller, so it makes setup much harder for one-handed or motion impaired.
  • Boulder is able to begin travel before your setup phase ends – so if you take longer than comp. opponent it can cause issues for your overall game.

One Boulder to Rule Them All! History has met it’s match…

Overall though this is a quirky, out of the box, little gem of a game and I think anyone who loves history, Monty Python style animation, and just flat out loves to smash things – should definitely check out this wonderfully odd-ball smashing tower-defense game. You can pick it up on PSN, XBLA, and Steam if you’re a PSN Plus member you can get Rock of Ages for FREE, but otherwise, I believe it’s 800 Microsoft Points for XBLA, and on Steam for $ 10. I can’t imagine that the PSN purchase price would be any more than that either – so GO FORTH my MINIONS!

Wreck your ball into the chronicles of history to be forever enshrined with the happiness that is Rock of Ages!

 

Game of the Week: Axon

Well hey there fellow gamers! Real quick blog today featuring a game that’s both educational and fun at the same time. I know – they’re rare, but they’re out there. Anywho today’s game comes to you from a company called Wellcome Collection. They are, apparently, an online museum relating to the human culture and inner workings – which is why their game Axon intrigued me enough to write about it.

The science of neurons has never looked so fun!

Axon is a very quick point and click action game where you try and connect as many synapses as you can to earn points. There are multiple colors that you can connect throughout that serve as power-ups, and the game – although simple, is surprisingly addictive fun. Here’s how the power ups work:

  • Purple: Range – This will increase the range of your click radius for a short time.
  • Green: Boost – This boosts your protein count by boosting you up the targets.
  • Blue: Freeze – Provides a 1-second delay of the click radius and anything around.
  • Yellow: Chain Force – The best power-up, but also the hardest, click all the yellow proteins in order and you get the largest boost of any upgrade available.

The game is exceptional, because it does allow for point and click accessibility, and it’s art style is conducive to just about anyone to play it. Another key element, that I found really sealed the gameplay for me, was the competitive nature of the game. The AI of the other red neurons as they tried to steal away your available proteins was a really nice touch that kept me engaged. The music is ambient and intriguing and the gameplay is fast paced enough that you don’t get bored of the concept easily. The only problems here is that it’s not exactly conducive gameplay for those with motor-skill impairments.

 

Precision timing is key here since the radius ring closes rather fast – so your clicking finger needs to be super quick as you increase up in length. Overall though the game is fantastic, and even though it’s simple, it kept me wanting to try and increase my score over and over. I kept wanting to see if I could create new neurons as I went on, because when you lose the game gives you a synopsis of what type of neuron you created. I thought it was fascinating and I hope you will too. I know today’s article is short and sweet, but truth be told, it’s all about the game – not about what I have to say about it.

Give it a go yourself if you’d like to test your speed skills: Axon

Hope you enjoy folks and as always here on Gastrogamer – Happy gaming to all!

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!