Saturday, March 18, 2017

Confession: I'm a Terrible Mega Man Player

I have a confession to make in regards to certain games that I play. If you happen to be a big fan of the Mega Man series, keep in mind that I have barely gotten into playing Mega Man games, so my initial views on these games have just begun to form. However, I can say for a fact that with my first few times playing Mega Man games I haven't had the easiest time playing them.

To make a long story short, I'm a terrible Mega Man player.

To make the short story a bit longer, I'm not surprised that Mega Man games in general are very challenging to begin with. I can understand the appeal that gamers see in these games because every jump a player makes matters. Every move a player makes has some sort of consequence. If you're even 1 pixel off your desired target, chances are you're gonna pay for it by losing a life. I can already recall many times where I've made a jump off a high platform... only to have Mega Man fall into the bottomless pit and lose a life. This has stunned me because I assumed I had enough of a jump to clear the distance between one platform and another, but that wasn't the case.

The difficulty spikes can be felt all throughout each and every level of a Mega Man game, and it doesn't matter which game of the series you choose to play. Case and point I recently bought the Mega Man Legacy Collection for the Playstation 4 and I have been playing through the line of 6 Mega Man games provided in that collection, and let me tell you, these games are HARD, and probably harder than what I had imagined.

Creatively speaking I really appreciate the thought that went into designing these levels, as well as the various types of bosses Mega Man has to fight. From a creativity standpoint, the stuff I see in Mega Man for the most part is great. It's classic 8-bit platforming action that any gamer can fall in love with. I can definitely see aspiring game devs getting their inspiration to make a platformer from games like the Mega Man series. It's easy to see why.

It's funny that now I think about the comparisons between the original Mega Man games and the recently made Mighty No. 9. I made a separate post on this blog reviewing Mighty No. 9 and I compared how that game felt to the Mega Man games. It's easy to point out the differences between these two types of games. The inspiration of Mega Man was obvious in Mighty No. 9, but it felt abbreviated.

I am a terrible Mega Man player because of how I perceive the level layouts of Mega Man games. Being one pixel off the ideal spot can result in failure, and worse, a Game Over screen. I have had a Game Over screen in Mega Man many times already. Mega Man isn't the kind of game that you can just get good at overnight. At other times I simply run into enemies and I have no idea how to get around them without taking any damage to my Health Meter.

In the case of Mega Man it will be a great learning experience for me because I can get a better feel for how a platforming game works, whether an element in a Mega Man game was necessary or not. I look forward to playing (and failing more) at Mega Man.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Depression Help: Playing Games

Ever so often reports like this one linked above will come about that studies suggest that playing computer games can help treat issues that plague people, such as emotional and mental issues. The one part that interests me the most about reports like these is that there is a general awareness developing, that issues relating to a person's mood, state of mind and/or emotional state are being acknowledged through the medium of playing video games.

Enhancing concentration, improving learning and changing behavior are key targets in computer games that serve to help ailing people. Serious Games and Gamification have been used in therapy sessions for people who are in need of encouraging and motivational things to do.

I'm sure for some of you gamers reading this that Wii Sports was something heavily considered by some family members of yours. Wii Fit would be another example. This linked article goes into Wii Sports and states that this part of gaming has encouraged older adults to not only get in shape but to also fight off depression. Generally speaking when you give an older adult a basic sporting challenge through a video game setting, chances are you will get a positive response similar to that of a casual gamer of any age.

There is a side to video games that really doesn't get highlighted as much as it should. More often than not we keep reading reports from unreliable sources like Yahoo! (I use Yahoo! unfortunately) that video games are harmful for the brain, that they give gamers bad thoughts, and that playing video games leads to people committing crimes. It simply amazes me what lengths news sources will go to in order to demonize someone playing video games. Here's a dose of reality. Not every single person who plays video games ends up being a horrible person. I know that's shocking for some people to comprehend, but that is true.

There is a right way to use a tool, and there's a wrong way to use a tool. Game development is no different. There is a right way to develop a video game for people to play, and there is a wrong way. Not everyone is meant to play games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty. All the same, not everyone is meant to play something super cutesy such as a My Little Pony game. As gamers we all have different interests and we're not going to view every game in the same light.

If you don't like how certain video games are made, then why don't you do something about it? Why don't you get up, get together with a game dev and make a game that you feel will have some value behind it? Why don't you make a game that will help a person repair his or her cognitive status? Why don't you make a game that is educational and allows for an older adult to better process information? That's the unique field of game development for you. It's open for interpretation.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

GJG Blog Interview #11 - Kendra Corpier

Continuing from my post "Gaming Communities: Stick Together", I would like to present readers of the Gaming Journalist Gazette with this great interview. This interview is with the Lead Organiser of the Youngstown Game Developers group Kendra Corpier, who has much experience in the field of game development. Along with a few other organisers Kendra has been building a foundation for game development in and around Youngstown, Ohio, and it makes me happy as a fellow Ohioan to know that there are groups like the YGD that are trying to get aspiring game devs enthused about making games and sticking to their journeys, through both ups and downs.

The YGD is a great example of what a community can do when its members push forward with their passion for making games, regardless of how big or small the cities they live in are. Kendra provides great insight here on important game dev topics.

Steven Vitte:
1) You are the lead organizer of Youngstown Game Developers. How did YGD first come about? How did your core group of organizers first meet, and what led to YGD being formed?
Kendra Corpier: So, I moved here from Phoenix, AZ in February 2013. I grew up here, so it's not crazy that I moved back. I was working on my game, but eventually, funds wore out and I had to get a day job. I searched for jobs, that were at least in a similar field since I knew there weren't any game developers. I found a school and started doing some part-time media tech work for them in August 2014. 
I continued to job hunt and in October 2014, stumble across a startup game dev Meetup for Youngstown. 3 of us showed up. We chatted and started to kind of figure out what this group could do. The guy who started the Meetup, kind of mysteriously disappeared, so I took over as Lead Organiser and Bill Jones took over as Co-organiser. We just started scheduling Meetups and it grew from there.
2) How important are scheduled meetups for groups like YGD? How often do you see new people at these meetups?
Kendra: Keeping a regular schedule is definitely key, that way if people forget to put it on their calendars, they know it's there. We also schedule random meetups from time to time, but they are always scheduled at least a few days in advance on our site so our members can make plans to attend. We see new members every month. We're just over 3 years old and already have 98 registered members on our Meetup site, with plenty of social followers on Twitter and Facebook.
3) What are the challenges to promoting game development in an area like Youngstown's? And what are the benefits?
Kendra: The challenges with promoting in Youngstown is getting the media's attention. We do have local news channels (2 papers and 2 TV stations), and now they do seem to like having stories about what we do, but at first it was hard to get their attention. I think what really helped was becoming associated with and doing work with our local Youngstown State University. As far as social networks go, getting noticed just takes time unless your name is Just Beiber or Scarlet Johanson. Hah :D 
The benefits are meeting so many people. We've branched out with, and do a lot of work with the CleGameCoOp and Cleveland Game Developers, and all of us work with COGG, the big game dev group in Columbus. It's all about networking.
4) In YGD's opinion, what are your thoughts on what goes into game writing?
Kendra: Well, game writing is kind of a vague topic. So... writing stories for games just depends on the game and the developer. Like Tetris type games probably don't need much of a story, but a Final Fantasy type of game is all story. So, a developer can be as vague or as complicated as he or she wants/needs to be for their game. Writing reviews for games.. those are opinions of the media and I always hope for a good review. But a bunch of negative reviews can be beneficial if responded to in a timely and respectable manner. 
Writing a game blog can be about whatever you want. I write my dev blog which focuses more on me and my studio along with videos from time to time and some tutorials when I have the time. I keep the YGD blog up and running as well, and I accept and ask for articles from our YGD members for our monthly newsletter. I am always accepting guest posts too :D Like I said, networking is key.
5) In game writing what do you think are important components in character development? 

Kendra: Character development can be the most important or least important part of your game. If you are making any game with characters, you will need a background story. Many Japanese RPGs go as far as to give the character's blood type, which I have never found to be useful in game play, but it is a way to associate yourself with the game saying "Hey, I have the same blood type as this character.. awesome" 
Character development is all about allowing the player to identify with your game. So, let's say you are making a Street Fighter type of game. You'll only need a short background story as to why the character is fighting, maybe a blood type could be relevant here since they get injured, and a physical description so an artist can create your vision. Players don't need much info to go on, except to figure out what character they want to use to fight with. A fight generally lasts about 1-3 minutes and most players will choose their fighter based on appearance alone. 
Now, an RPG, players will be playing your game for hours. They need to feel like they could be the character they are playing. So, you would need to create a background story, something traumatic to associate empathy, physical description and probably details that have absolutely nothing to do with the gameplay other than allowing the player to feel like he or she is in the game as your character.

6) What are the basics a game dev team needs to get started on a game project? (programming, design, writing, etc.)
Kendra: Honestly, with a small team, you need Jack and Janes of a lot of trades. It's not like working for a AAA company where you have one person do all the lighting in the game. Typically, you would have an artist, a programmer and maybe a musician. You also can't jump into a project thinking you are only going to do one thing. Be good at a few things, and then learn from each other. I guess starting out would just depend on your team's starting skill level. If all you have are artists, you might want to start with Construct 2 or a WYSIWYG editor. 
If you have a programmer, I would suggest Unity of Unreal, depending on the language your programmer knows. For art, I always suggest the Adobe CC since it's just $50 a month, and for 3D, if you have someone who knows 3D then go for it. If you don;t, I would purchase assets or stick with 2D. Not to mention creating your own 3D is expensive, unless you want to try wrangling with Blender. For writing, typically you would start with an idea as a group, and then let it form into plot points, and from there you can build your story details and dialogue.
7) Where do you see the game development scene in the state of Ohio going in these next few years? 
Kendra: Well, I think Ohio has an excellent venue for Indie developers, with lots of support from groups like ours. Ohio is an inexpensive place to live, while being close to a lot of the game development scene, including PAX East, GDEx (which is in Columbus!), and several other big conventions. YGD and the other game dev groups are working towards making Ohio the place for Indie Devs to startup, and hopefully becoming the (coined by Multivarious Games) Silicorn Valley.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Gaming Communities: Stick Together

Youngstown, Ohio has been a struggling community for years, mainly because of all the various industries that have decided to leave the Youngstown area. Back in the day when industries such as automotive and steel were in operation, Youngstown was a thriving, booming place. In the 1950's and 1960's you could see the potential of something great brewing in this area.

Fast forward to the 2010's and it has become abundantly clear that Youngstown has needed to reinvent itself and take itself to a new direction. Major businesses have long left Youngstown and it has been a shell of its former shelf. However, when you click on the link above, you will notice that there is a genuine effort on the part of people who love to make games to make something out of nothing, so to speak. The game development community in Youngstown is in its infancy, but the enthusiasm is crystal clear here.

The website that you will check out above is very unique and interesting. It is very detailed with many categories, including the Youngstown Game Developers offering you their monthly newsletter, game jams, competitions, and resources. If you happen to live in the Youngstown area, or further up north near Cleveland, chances are you will experience something interesting when you participate in a YGD meetup.

This group loves to discuss topics in game development such as graphics, game design, mechanics, character design and networking. If you want to have detailed conversations about topics like these, then you will go to the right place by attending a YGD meetup. The core leadership of the YGD is made up of a QA tester, a professional software engineer, a software developer and a graphics modeler, so you will be talking to people who are experienced in fields relating to game development.

Gaming communities, whether you are in a city like Youngstown, a huge city like New York, or even near a bundle of smaller cities and towns, would be wise to stick together through all the ups and downs of their development as communities. Sticking together as a gaming community is important because the more you guys can exchange dialogue between each other, the better chance you will stand in growing your community. Socializing is a strong aspect of a gaming community. You need to try to get your name out there individually and you need to spread the word about the gaming community you roll with. Doing both of these things equally would really help game development as a whole.

The Gaming Journalist Gazette is the type of blog that brings exposure to gaming communities like this one in Youngstown, Ohio. Being an Ohioan myself, I understand the struggles that come with getting the word out on game development, so I want to highlight these guys at YGD. I also understand that Ohio is a state that is entering a time when it could have a really good opportunity of standing out as an impressive place for game development in the United States. Youngstown could be part of that drive for more exposure in game development, and they are doing a good job so far! Keep going, guys!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Starting with an Idea and a Vision

I am now going to explain how important a place like this one in the link is. What is this place? It is called The Idea Foundry. This place is located in Downtown Columbus, Ohio and it has served as the meeting spot for many aspiring game devs in the Columbus area for the past year of 2016.

Yours truly has been going up to this place for a while now, and each time I have been there I have managed to get something out of it. I have managed to collect my thoughts better while interacting with other game devs while gathering new information on what needs to be in the game dev field. It's a good and refreshing experience for one who wants to know more and do more in a field that he or she is passionate in. If you love to make games, or you at least want to get started doing that, and you live close enough to Columbus, then I encourage you to make the trip over to West State Street in Columbus for these meetups!

The importance of a place like The Idea Foundry simply can't be understated. Without the valuable information most game devs cherish, it will be difficult to get off the ground and running with your own game dev project. You not only need the connections to make your project a reality, but you also need to view other projects for what they are. You have to study and examine what other game devs are doing, even if you are not helping them in their projects. With your own two eyes you need to be able to see what exactly it takes for a game dev to be a game dev. Don't just view the available game dev knowledge, take in that knowledge and apply it to your own project.

Starting with an idea and a vision is crucial. To make a game you need to know where your starting point is. You need to have an idea of where you want to take your game project. You need to have backup plans for editing your project. You need to have a long-reaching vision of what you want your project to become down the road in the future. You need to know how to go through the process of making a game and you need to know how to finish the project strong.

The Idea Foundry is a helpful outlet for aspiring game devs to say what is on their minds, and how they feel about game development itself. When it's your turn to take the floor and explain away what makes your game project what it is, you make that time yours and you get other people emotionally invested in that project.

Sharing ideas and expression a vision for a project you have in mind is one way other game devs can get a better feel for what you value in game development. We all have our own strengths when it comes to the game dev process. We excel in certain areas and we have challenges in other areas. We will all view projects out of different lenses. The point behind collaborating with other people to get a project off the ground is to establish that common ground of what everybody as a team wants to get done. "Hey, this is our goal and we're gonna meet it. We're going to hit these targeted themes and we're going to use these elements to make this game awesome!"  That's just how a game dev team thinks.

I am thankful for an outlet like The Idea Foundry because years down the road from now I can see where this place can take the game development scene in Columbus, and all throughout the state of Ohio as a whole. With places like Chicago, Illinois and Austin, Texas being fairly quiet in the game dev scene (though I'm sure devs are still doing things in those places), it would make sense for Columbus, Ohio to make its move and do some positive things in the Gaming Industry so that it can be mentioned along with Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, New York, etc. as a game dev hot spot.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Let's Play: YouTube's Perplexing Games

I have commented on the feature of Let's Plays on this blog before, and my tone hasn't changed from defending Let's Plays. I am a supporter of Let's Plays or "Walkthroughs" because I find these videos on YouTube to be genuine pieces of entertainment where gamers can sit back and enjoy what another gamer is experiencing. As a gamer you get an idea of what your gaming experience will be like when playing the game that's being played by someone else via YouTube. 

Now let it be known that I have never been a fan of PewDiePie. I have heard of him for the longest time but I have never bothered to watch his YouTube content because from the snip-its of footage I've seen of him, it seems to me that I would be wasting my time watching such content.

However, with that said, PewDiePie did bring up an interesting point in a recent video of his where he was heavily critical of YouTube and how they managed their economic distributions to members who were very popular. The linked article above was written by a long-time Let's Player named Slowbeef who has seen it all on YouTube. There are many reasons why members on YouTube experience a burnout of some sort.

One form of burnout would be "subscriber burn" where if you don't upload a video in some time, let's say a week or two, then the amounts of subscriptions you will get from people will slow down to a halt. In some ways YouTube has become a game of popularity between members who are trying to get ahead and get their names out there. This popularity contest has become dangerous in the last few years since more controversies have occurred, with YouTube itself being the prime suspect for causing these controversies.

YouTube celebrities don't have the same protection as typical celebrities you see in Hollywood. Not even close. Most YT celebrities don't have any agents or consultants they can go to for reviews of their content, and there's no dialogue being exchanged as to what should be considered appropriate content on YouTube. (Example: What kind of humor should be used in a video.)

The art of a Let's Play video isn't as easy as 1-2-3. I do agree with Slowbeef that creating the right kind of content in a Let's Play takes time. A Let's Player has to find out what he or she does best in before they can plug away. You don't just slap on gameplay footage and mumble to yourself and then say you did a good job. No, if you're gonna speak up while you play, then speak up. Let the people hear what you have to say.

Now there are a couple paragraphs in Slowbeef's article above that I recommend you ignore, because there again lies the problem with choosing the right dialogue in getting your message out. If I want to read a professionally written article, the language of it has to be proper... which this article isn't.

Back to YouTube, their perplexing games seem to revolve around them being able to dock members subscription counts. There is some broken algorithm at play now where if 1 subscriber suddenly unsubscribes from a member's channel, that will count as 2 unsubscriptions. It's nonsense like this that makes people not want to trust YouTube altogether because when a company does something like this, playing mind games, it makes one wonder what it is they're really trying to do.

How does all of this impact the Gaming Industry? Consider the sources of where gamers have to go to get an idea of what a game will be like before they buy it. If at any point YouTube has a huge crash in their business and many channels get negatively effected by this crash, it will shut down most of one outlet for gamers to go to. Basically it will be harder for gamers to judge a game they want to buy since they won't have as many opportunities to see the game via Let's Play. If you can't see why a game's so good to begin with, there's less of a chance for you to buy it unless you are given the chance to try it yourself.

It's just something to think about as we tread through the muddy waters of Let's Plays, a harmless form of entertainment.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Game Writing Process: Time-Consuming and Rewarding

The attached sample video above basically explains the game writing process, what goes into the process and what needs to be done to make this process work in the scope of a video game project. Game writing is not as simple as it sounds, and I'm sure I have mentioned that before on this blog. Not everyone will approach game writing the exact same way, and we all have our own unique methods as to how we are going to reach from Point A to Point B in storytelling.

What you can take from the sample video is that the game writing process is indeed time-consuming, but with enough planning and teamwork, the process can be rewarding. Organization is one key thing that game writers will need to have in order to develop consistency on a game development team. Without any sort of idea as to what you're going to do make a story work, you are going to fail.

Most writers have a clear understanding of what the game dev team is looking for, and aside from that, the scope of the game story itself will need to be adjusted to fit the software that's being used to make the game. Yes, depending on what limits you have with your game-making software, the amount of story you can tell will be impacted.

Game writing will be a process filled with editing. Don't really expect to have every single nook and cranny of what you write to be accepted right off the bat. That's not realistic. At some point you will need to rewrite a certain scene or change a character's dialogue to better fit what is unfolding. Even if what you originally wrote wasn't all that bad, you can't get stuck on that. You have to make changes when it's really needed.

There are tactics to use when preparing to write a game script. When you keep in mind that a game script revolves around the choice of a player, it should become clear to you how flexible your storytelling needs to be. You don't just present one possible outcome to a situation. You have to provide a few possible outcomes that will make the player not only care, but keep coming back to exploit and figure out. That's why it's ideal to separate certain events and actions by writing them down on separate cards, which is what one interviewed game dev mentioned in the above video.

Your scope of storytelling can't be compacted. It has to have the ability to expand and branch out. That's what you need to let happen in the game writing process. You leave an area where your game story can build a bridge to another unique point of storytelling, and you'd be surprised as to how many plot twists you can take your game story if you just leave a bridge area open.

There are some interesting things to take from the above video, some of which I have already known about, and some that are fairly new to my knowledge. I recommend you watch some of the videos provided by the YouTube channel that made the above video.