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

Game of the Week: Game Dev Story

Hello there folks!

So, I haven’t been posting for the last few days because of college work – but I’m back now and ready to roll up my sleeves and start anew. Well, this week I’ve got a slew of smaller games that I’ll be talking about – also I want to provide folks with a heads up that I’ll actually be doing a weekly review for the Able Gamers Foundation – so I’m super excited for the opportunity! I’ll keep people posted, and I’ll be reposting any review done there 48 hours after they’ve been submitted. Now – onto today’s game shall we?

Now, for those of you who’ve been following [ and for those of you who are new ] as an aspiring game developer I’ve grown a little bit of a love affair with this game app:

Game Dev Story by Kairosoft 

Come to design games - Stay to become a legend.

Game Dev Story is a mixture of RPG/Sim Game and it’s truly an addictive experience if you like simulation games. The graphics are definitely retro and the gameplay is simple enough, but actually learning how the game works and the strategy behind getting the best scores on your games is the real challenge of the game, which is why I got so hooked. You play as the owner of your own game development studio.

Create games, train your staff, and try and become an award winning game studio!

Working really bytes... unless you're gaming!

If that sounds fun then you’ll probably love Game Dev Story.

Now let’s break the game down in terms of it’s accessibility, because that’s the important part I love to focus on as a designer. I will start off by saying, that while the gameplay is sort of slow, the game is educational, simple to play, has heartwarming graphics, and definitely a game anyone should check out once.

Here’s some gameplay to see how it works:

Pros:

  • Game Dev Story has one-touch controls perfect for physically impaired or one-handed gamers.
  • Graphics are vivid and color variations are different enough that colorblind gamers won’t have a problem with playing this game.
  • Large print text for vision impaired gamers.
  • Musical audio, but all directions and gameplay updates via text. Deaf gamers  will be able to definitely grab this game and just play, without fear of missing valuable information.
  • Simple gameplay is not only educational [ helps learn financial saving/spending business concepts ] but makes it easy to play for many players.
  • Game time pauses for every time you make a change – helps physically impaired gamers play without fear of rushed decisions/gameplay.
  • Large buttons for easy touch controls.

Cons:

  • Repetitive music score, while nice at first, can get old – but can be muted. 
  • The game development process goes by quite fast, and while nice, when the Free version only let’s you go 5 years into development – it can feel like a much shorter experience than desired.
  • The game becomes far more difficult, not in gameplay, but in strategy. It’s a definite toss up when trying to determine which genre and style of game will sell well together – which may make the game harder for cognitively impaired gamers to be truly successful in the game.
  • No real story to the game, so the only incentives are trying to get your popularity and games to win rewards – but that’s a fun experience in and of itself!

Overall though, this game is a heartwarming throwback to the retro-sim games of old – and a wonderful experience to pass the time as a designer. If you’re interested I would totally recommend grabbing up the FREE version from either Android or the Apple App Store. This version will last you for about 2 1/2 hours of gameplay, but if you really grow hooked to the experience you can purchase the game for $3.99 on the App Store and $2.50 on the Android Market – and design till your hearts content – FOREVER! I hope that the game will get updates and perhaps some expansions in the future – but this is definitely a very simple, joyous experience I think any gamer looking for an educational, fun, and accessible game experience will enjoy!

If you enjoy Game Dev Story – I’d definitely recommend checking out the other simulation games that Kairosoft has to offer. They’re all easy to play and easily accessible – and I think that’s what more and more games need to have. Check ’em out!

Inspirational Gamer of The Week: Almost Human Games

Imagine if you will that you are a gamer and you love playing games, or you would love to play games, but the accessibility of the controls made it inaccessible or impossible to succeed at playing said games. This is a situation that occurs for thousands, if not millions of gamers world wide with disabilities. This week though we have a case of a gaming company hearing the voice of one individual and changing the course of their games accessibility just from the sound of one question posed to them.

In January 2012 a small indie company called Almost Human Games began promotion of a game called Legends of Grimrock. It was set to be an old-school dungeon crawler RPG. The dungeons have tile based movement and so most actions are rather simplistic in nature. The real story here comes from a gamer, HarpoonIPA, who contacted Almost Human about their accessibility and why the option of on-screen directional movement arrows was actually a necessity in his case.

This is amazing - so I had to share.

HarpoonIPA is a paraplegic gamer who is required to use a mouth stick for any of his typing and so when HarpoonIPA explained the reason why accessible onscreen button controls were a necessity for his enjoyment and gameplay. The developers were touched by his story and, thus, set about implementing the onscreen HUD to the game. Developer, Petri Hakkinen, stated in an interview with Kotaku that:

” It was no big deal to implement it. I mean even it were to affect only the life of one single person, it is still totally worth it.”

The game will be released on April 11th, 2012 on Windows, Mac, and iOS – but this event truly speaks to me. I mean, as a designer, I’m constantly searching for new ideas and new methods that people are working on and trying to see how to best implement aspects into my own projects. In this story I think it speaks in droves the kind of impact small gestures like this can have.

Why don’t we have more onscreen HUD controls?

Why don’t we see more main-stream developers taking the reigns and reformatting their works to be more accessible?

I have to ask, is it a finance thing?

Is it a lack of desire to change control schemes, or do developers feel locked to the plastic control schemes presented by mainstream consoles?

Is it because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

I applaud HarpoonIPA for speaking out and requesting his needs and desires to help the developers change their accessibility, and I applaud the developers for having the courage and wherewithal to follow through with it. Most gaming companies would have stopped this idea at the front door, because there’s so much consumerism and mass appeal that goes into production of most of these games. Indie games catch a break though, because they don’t often have to deal with all of the red-tape of a hierarchy system.

Badger Badger Badger Badger...MUSHROOM MONSTER!

My question that this poses is why? Why does it have to be indie houses that show the most attention to detail when it comes to creating accessibility? Why can’t the console market take steps to creating meaningful experiences like this? I’ve traveled many forums, talked to countless other gamers, and even having SOME options like this available to them would make their enjoyment of their gaming lives overall better. One thing I hate though above all are the folks out there who are able-bodied and who troll forums like Youtube and other major network sites and claim that the needs of disabled players shouldn’t be recognized because it will give them an ‘unfair advantage.’

Trust me I’ve seen hate bashing on some button remapping campaigns. Some able-bodied gamers believe that giving access to additions like button remapping or assistive controls will ultimately give disabled gamers an advantage in their gameplay. How much sense does this really make? None. I pose this argument to anyone who still thinks this is true: If you’re getting beat by a disabled gamer, and you’re able bodied, you seriously need to think about choosing a new game to play. They are playing at a disadvantage already, so how does giving them the ability to play on an equal playing field make it an unfair advantage for them?

Hmm - He's behind bars... now how to make a stew out of him?

Fellow gamers shouldn’t complain, instead, embrace and show love and support for your fellow gamers. Almost Human has and I’m so excited to see design studios doing this. I hope there’s more of it in the future. I believe a ton of MMO’s could benefit from onscreen HUD displays like this: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft, DC Universe Online – you name it, they could use it. I’ve also thought about the concept of voice recognition software too. I know that Bioware was working on voice software for the Kinect and Mass Effect 3, but I would love to see that same concept implemented into other games before I can truly say that it’s a step forward in gaming.

So here is to you Almost Human Games! You reached out to a gamer in need and changed your game for the benefit of, not only him, but countless new gamers who will play your title. You have not only my respect, but my admiration, and I wish you all the best of luck upon the games release April 11th, 2012! Time for me to go slay a dragon in some dungeon somewhere…

Development: What Would Molydeux?: Game Jam Tomorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cities that will be hosting MolyJam:

What Would Molydeux? Jam Sessions

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

Peter Molyneux will be ATTENDING the LONDON MolyJam!

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

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

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

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

Join up folks developer powers unite!

Inspirational Gamers of the Week: Jerry Book and Reid Kimball

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

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

http://www.smafoundation.org/about-sma/

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

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

Accessibility for All.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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