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 Рyour epic oddities and whimsies about what gamers deserve Рare 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!

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!

Gamification: “How Games Make Kids Smarter” by Gabe Zichermann

Now for those of you who’ve stumbled upon my post today and the first words out of your mouth are: “Chad, you must be out of your mind because you’re making up words now!” – actually, no I’m not. It’s a legit word that’s been floating around the industry now for quite some time. Gamification is defined as:

“The process of applying game design principles to non-game activities to make them more engaging to a user.”¬†

So why is this important, well, for years I have heard the nay-sayers and the hoards of pitch-fork laced, torch bearing parental units who march up with every cause in the book about how games will inevitably kill off every feasible skill that their child has. They feel like the idea of video games as an educational medium can’t possibly be a reality, and that today’s console market is so laden with violent, mature, sexually explicit content that even an unladen swallow would be burdened down by the size of that irrational coconut.

The fact of the matter is parents are only seeing a fraction of the market, and they’re also only seeing the visual content in which a game provides. Now, first and foremost, I want to make it known that I don’t condone violent video games for children. It’s wrong and it’s a parent’s decision to make sure that a child’s influences are maintained and controlled. The truth is that the video game market isn’t as scary as parents make it out to be, and in fact, games offer children so much more to this generation than they had when I was growing up as a child.

The reason I chose to write about this today is because I listened to a discussion by a game designer, Gabe Zichermann, and his theories on why children seem as though they may have attention deficit disorder and why games are actually quite educational for well, not just children, but everyone.

Gabe starts off his lecture with discussing a great game, which I think most of my fellow 90’s generation folks will know and love: Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego? Now I can splurge on how many hours I capped into that game, and how it was indeed an educational wormhole of knowledge for me growing up. I can also provide you with a list of other educational games that I grew up with that taught me a ton of life skills and lessons as I developed:

  • Word Munchers – Word and Phonics Skills
  • Civilization – Democracy, Resource Management, Diplomacy
  • The Sims – Spacial Layouts, Finance Management, Architectural Design
  • Rollercoaster Tycoon – Finance Management, Customer Satisfaction
  • Museum Madness – History, Science, Physics, etc.

Now why is all of this important, does it even really matter how I grew up and what games I played? Well, no, but each of these games has affected how the gaming industry has developed itself in some way. The Sims proved that our limitations of our brains were only limited by the world’s we could create. Will Wright proved to the world that games were not just infantile toys, but methods of expression and creativity for our brains. Zichermann expresses this very well in his talk, basically explaining that perhaps the reason children these days seem like may have ADD, is because with technology and games at their fingertips children of this era have become immune to traditional teaching methods, because our world is too slow.

Most modern games today don’t come out of the box and state that they’re educational material, except if you count companies like Leapfrog, MobiGo, and V-Tech that specialize in kid’s educational game development. Modern consoles, however, not so much. Sure there are a few games here and there that specialize and overtly state that they are an educational game for kids and parents [ Once Upon A Monster comes to mind… ] but for the most part the console market is weighed down by heftier, meatier, more robust content. Does that mean that they’re not educational? Absolutely not!

Let’s take a look at a modern HUD screen from a video game and take into account what exactly a child, or anyone for that matter, has to process when playing a video game. Here I’ve chosen to pick one of my favorite video games of all time, Jak and Daxter, as an example piece:

[ This is a prime example of Multitasking 101 ]

Notice how many items that a player has to keep track of: fireflies collected, health bar, precursor orbs, jet ski speed, map, etc.

These are all visual cues that a player has to be cognizant of at one time or another throughout the entire game. Zichermann explains that this sense of immersion and cognitive experience is actually better for students and he even gives an example in the video about how a teacher, Ananth Pai, replaced his students school curriculum with game-based education. He gave students Nintendo DS systems and off-the-shelf video games that helped promote math and language skills. The results were astonishing as the students within the class jumped an almost full grade level in their educational awareness.

[ Visual Awareness, Reading, and Problem Solving? Eh Gads! It’s too much! ]

So to say that games are non-educational wastes of space is just wrong and unsettling. Zichermann states that gamification and the result of the overwhelming acceptance of video games in our lives gives us training methods at our fingertips. He expresses that games are growing up everywhere from our cars, to our homes, to our stop lights. We’re developing into a game based culture and we shouldn’t be scared of it. I personally believe we should embrace it, because it will give us a way to make all of this social media, social interaction, immersive education, collaboration efforts, etc.

If you haven’t read my article on Jane McGonigal’s ideas on how gaming can make a better world, Zichermann’s ideas embrace McGonigal’s ideas and he understands that the world is changing to a game-based society. The use of games will help us make the world fun, educational, collaborative, and will actually allow the children of our world provide a way to make a difference in our current society.

If, after ALL of this, and you still don’t believe in my endorsement of gamification and it’s affects on the educational processes of our culture, I urge you to check out two things. First please check out this video of a young 12 year old boy named Thomas Suarez.

This kid is amazing, and I’m hoping one day when I get lucky enough to have children of my own that I’ll eventually have a son like this kid. I hope that my love of video games and technology will rub off somehow and my son or daughter will embrace the technological era and run with it like Thomas has. He’s not only taught himself coding and how to design apps for a global market, but he’s now teaching an app building club for fellow students in his school! Honestly, if that isn’t the coolest thing in the world I don’t know what is. More power to you Thomas! Keep it up man!

Secondly, I’ll ask that if you’re STILL skeptical that this modern era of video games is going to ultimately bring down the educational levels of your children to a diabolical screeching halt have no fear. Unfortunately, no, our consoles and PC’s are not the TARDIS and I highly doubt any teacher is Dr. Who [ although that would be fantastic! ] but teachers need to get informed as to how our educational mediums are becoming too basic for students. We have to make education engaging and exciting, and the way to do that is to introduce gaming of some sort into the classroom.

If you’re interested, and a teacher, I urge you to check out this string of articles by Andrew Proto – a fellow blogger over at Zichermann’s Gamification Blog.

http://gamification.co/2011/09/28/the-gamified-classroom/

Take care folks, and may the educational system be enhanced by the methods that we choose to teach from in the coming future. I can’t wait for the day when games start to help problem solving real life issues, and we start to see a real change in our world due to awareness and activity formed by video game play.

Happy educating folks!

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.