Sunday, March 30, 2014

Character Talk: Bomberman

"Boom goes the dynamite... with a pinch of Anime uniqueness!"

Another video game character we will talk about specifically here will be a character who has seen plenty of success throughout the years, but with success has also come a fair share of blunders, hiccups and "What the heck were you thinking?" events. At his core, Bomberman is a unique character who provides gamers with a variety of options in gameplay and some of the results of his games have been very reassuring. Bomberman is a generally appealing character who has the ability to throw bombs at his enemies, and he isn't limited to just throwing normal bombs. It has been shown in many games that Bomberman can deploy various kinds of bombs that can stun various enemies and this method of gameplay allows the player to use a broader sense of strategy when taking on a level.

Bomberman is simplistic in character design and he sticks out right away when you see a picture of him. Especially when he has a bomb in his hand, you know that this character means business and that you had better get away from the bombs that he throws or else... well, I think we all know what happens when a bomb hits. The world that Bomberman resides in is colorful and lighthearted but there is a sense of seriousness that is felt considering the storylines that Bomberman games work with. It's no walk in the park when you are in Bomberman's world. You have to be sharp and you have to throw your bombs at the right spots or else you won't be able to break open certain obstacles.

When Bomberman is mentioned to any hardcore gamer, the first thing that will most likely be talked about would be the old Bomberman games that were released for the NES. These games were simple since they were in the 2D, 8 bit format and they were solid hits to the gaming community. These games quickly became beloved and appreciated for what was made available in a gaming experience. You planted a bomb next to a stone-like obstacle and you blew it up to get closer to your opponents, which were other players in a Multiplayer setting. You had items to collect as well, such as the fire icon which allowed your bombs to become more powerful, or the bomb icon which allowed you to plant more than one bomb at a time. Also, there were icons you could collect that would instantly affect the entire field of play, and these events would be randomized so that none of the four players would know what was coming.

Bomberman was one of my influences in gaming growing up. I have fond memories of playing as Bomberman in a game where most of what I had to do involved blowing up things and causing chaos to levels that were filled with pesky enemies. I vividly remember playing Bomberman 64 and Bomberman Hero on the Nintendo 64 and I had a blast for the most part. These games were fun, innovative, challenging and they contained some sort of depth to the concepts of their stories, although I wasn't thrilled about certain things. I generally liked the designs of the levels in these N64 titles because they gave me a sense of what Bomberman's world was about. I was given what kind of identity Bomberman has and what environment he has to work with. The core concept of Bomberman made sense.

What went wrong for Bomberman?

I think we can all agree on where things started to unravel for the Bomberman series. A game that was released in 2006 made a ton of headlines that weren't kind at all. Critics generally thumbed down this game because of how different it was compared to past Bomberman games. This game was Bomberman: Act Zero and it was a complete re-envisioning of the entire Bomberman series. The vision implemented in Bomberman: Act Zero was a realistic take on Bomberman's world, eliminating the cartoony feeling of past games and replacing them with humanized designs. Needless to say, the reception to this was poor and sales for this game bombed. Yeah, that was a pun but it's true.

When we look back at it, 2006 didn't look like a good year at all for video games that were wanting to establish a new identity. Two examples of this would be Sonic 2006, released for the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 and Bomberman: Act Zero. It is one thing to veer off and go into a different direction with a video game series, but if this new vision you are trying to establish is fractured and unstable to begin with, then you are going to experience resistance from fans and critics alike. Act Zero was simply way too different for gamers to handle because it didn't feel like a Bomberman game. It didn't feel like anything the Bomberman we all know would want to be in. This game was way too realistic and way too edgy for a series that relied on lighthearted elements and cartoony features.

What to do with Bomberman going forward...

Thankfully, ever since Bomberman: Act Zero's monumental debacle, Hudson Soft has thought better of this and chose to revert back to the familiar cartoony style that we are all accustomed to when it comes to Bomberman. Hudson Soft has gotten back to the roots of Bomberman and has made recent titles more enjoyable. This is certainly a good sign for the Bomberman series itself, but Hudson Soft is pretty much a ghost town of a company at this point. Publishers that have watched over Hudson Soft are pretty much running the show for most things Bomberman-related and it is anyone's guess as to what will happen next for the series.

The last game made for Bomberman was Bomberman Live: Battlefest which can be played on the Xbox Live Arcade. That game was released back in 2010 and not another word has been uttered about the Bomberman series since. There is the likely possibility that if the Bomerman series is to continue, then it would have to move forward under new developers at least. Provided that the lighthearted and cartoony features of the series stick around, I believe that the Bomberman series has a good future if it is controlled by a different developer that knows how to cater to what makes Bomberman go.

Bomberman isn't a failure of a character. I would consider Bomberman to be one of the more checkered characters in video game history, going on a roller coaster ride and taking some hits along the way. Bomberman has succeeded in certain areas of gaming that do need to be recognized. I sometimes get the feeling that Bomberman is an under appreciated video game character simply because he hasn't had as broad of a market compared to that of Mario, Sonic, Mega Man, Kirby, etc.

Bomberman is sometimes overlooked and there could be a wide variety of reasons as to why that is. One argument could be that while his games have been solid, Bomberman has never had his breakout moment in gaming history. While his games have been good and enjoyable, they have never really stuck out and "moved the needle" in the Video Game Industry.

I believe it's time to create a new adventure game featuring Bomberman. I believe it's time to explore other parts of Bomberman's roots, such as recreating some of the elements that made games like Bomberman 64, Bomberman Hero and Bomberman: The Second Attack work. We can throw in games like Bomberman Jetters and the Super Bomberman series to further establish an identity for this new adventure game. Here's what I mean by recreating some of the elements. I am not saying that we should copy and paste the things from past games, but rather we should be able to use innovation in the level designs. We should be able to make puzzles that intrigue the player and make the player think for all the right reasons.

We should include areas that allow the player to just blow up everything in sight. We should allow for variety in the kinds of bombs Bomberman can throw and plant down. We should come up with a storyline that will have the Bomberman feel but will also be something that is fresh and attention-grabbing. We should also introduce more personality in the side characters of the Bomberman series. So many times I have gone back to this series and I think to myself just why other Bomberman characters don't have fleshed out personalities. I could easily see different things going on for Black Bomberman, Blue Bomberman, Green Bomberman, Red Bomberman, Max, Pretty Bomber (female bomb thrower), and the like if some story elements were just catered to them.

The Bomberman series needs to expand and it needs to take risks that make sense. Bomberman: Act Zero was a risk that wasn't necessary and made very little to no sense at all. This new hypothetical game should take risks that gamers haven't seen before in the Anime style world of Bomberman. Following a formula that has worked for so long doesn't hurt in most cases, but sometimes when you need a kick in the pants, telling different stories and introducing some new gameplay elements could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Let's hope the next new Bomberman adventure game won't blow up in everybody's face but rather blow people away out of pure joy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Video Game Basics: BurgerTime

"I want to make a burger! Better stack it up like Jenga!"

This next edition of Video Game Basics will be digging into a genre of gaming that many fans are well accustomed to playing. I discussed the core basics of video games by using Frogger as an example. It is true with any game that you have to have a well defined goal and objective to shoot for. No matter what kind of game it is and no matter how many bits the game contains, you always have to be consistent with the theme of the game and the gameplay mechanics must support that theme.

What kind of example can BurgerTime be used for? Well, let's look at what kind of game the classic arcade hit is. BurgerTime is a puzzle game where the player must figure out how to successfully cross platforms and drop burger ingredients down to the very bottom in order to complete the burger stack. Peter Pepper, the heroic chef who is the main protagonist, must walk across ingredients in order to free them from their designated platforms and if he completes his crossing, the ingredients will fall down by a level.

While he's doing this, Peter Pepper must avoid the antagonists, three types of enemies. Mr. Hot Dog, Mr, Pickle and Mr. Egg. Perhaps that alone sounds cheesy (forgive me for the pun) but their inclusion only adds to the food friendly environment. Enemies can be avoided, stunned or crushed with a falling ingredient. The level doesn't end until all burger stacks have been completed. To buy himself some time, Peter Pepper can stun his enemies by shaking pepper shots at them. Peter will give himself a few seconds of time to wander freely without harm until Mr. Hot Dog, Mr. Pickle and Mr. Egg get back up.

What is so significant about BurgerTime when it comes to video game basics? This game put a solid emphasis on positioning. The makers of BurgerTime did a fine job in making the player feel that he or she had to be aware of the surroundings. There was a consequence for taking the wrong step in a level. If you got trapped by either the hot dog, the pickle or the egg, you were done just like that. Peter Pepper and his three foes all served as moving game pieces on a board and I believe that would be a fair analogy to make. The player had to make sure that he or she wouldn't get trapped between two of the three enemies and the player also had to know just which ingredients he or she had to reach to progress in the level.

BurrgerTime was really no different than the original Donkey Kong arcade game if you think about it. Although Mario... er... Jumpman had to just get to the top of the level to clear it, he had to be on the move frequently. Peter Pepper also had to be on the move frequently in BurgerTime with the difference being that he had no specific spot to go in order to finish a level. What do we have when we get our main protagonist constantly on the move? We establish a pace for the game. Since we establish a pace for the player to supposedly abide by in this game, we are setting a tone for the basic guidelines of the game, which will make it easier for us to define just what the rules of the game are.

When we look at BurgerTime we probably don't think about just what basics the game established through its simplistic design. We probably don't think much about Peter Pepper walking across long lettuce and have it collapse down onto the lower levels. A little bit goes a long way, however, and it only takes simplistic designing to get the point across. The player has to be mindful of his or her positioning, the player has to keep moving because of the enemies constantly chasing Peter and establish a pace, and the method of attack in the game's levels becomes set for the player, setting a tone.

BurgerTime was something that related to a lot of people because the theme was easily recognizable. It was about making a burger and I'm sure that many gamers out there generally like having burgers at fast food restaurants. BurgerTime is a puzzle game because there are various pieces in play to complete the picture. If only a few parts of the picture are there, then we don't have a complete picture. You don't progress in BurgerTime if you only have half a burger complete. It's the same as to say you need to form a complete line in Tetris to score points in that puzzle game. It's the same principle.

For those of you who are puzzle game enthusiasts and you want to make a puzzle game of your own, please consider that the objectives must be in order and that you must keep the player on its feet to act and decide. Puzzle games are built with the intention of having a set tone and an established pace after some time, and it will speed up as the player advances from level to level. When designing a new puzzle game, make sure that the puzzle that you envision will be complete. Make sure that you will have some sort of trigger device to complete the puzzle and make sure that you don't make it virtually impossible for the player to complete a puzzle. There should always be a door cracked open for the player to try and complete the puzzle, even if the levels get super fast and hard.

Most of all, developers of puzzle games should reward players for properly positioning themselves to succeed. Proper positioning is paying attention to detail. Players that pay attention to detail deserve to be rewarded for acting at the right time to complete a puzzle. It takes time and strategy to place pieces in the areas you want and the hardest puzzles of the bunch will be the most rewarding if players do everything and then some to figure those puzzles out.

The positioning of characters in a game can sometimes be overlooked in development but it is something that leads development teams to figuring out the pace and the tone of their puzzle games. These are just some more examples of video game basics.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Virtually Appealing - Realistically Concerning

In light of the news of Sony's unveiling of its new Virtual Reality device that will be used for gaming on the Playstation 4, I figured it would be a good idea to touch on a topic that relates to the PS4's VR attempt. Supporters of the Oculus Rift would also have to be included in this because they should know the history of the specific gaming form. Virtual Reality is definitely a tricky form of entertainment because there are more facets involved in implementing this feature the right way. Virtual Reality is a tactic that has been tried by companies in the Video Game Industry a number of times in the past, and in the present there have been more attempts of getting into the world of Virtual Reality and staying in it.

How will this new wave of Virtual Reality gaming have a true impact on the future of gaming itself? Well, a good and wise first step would be to know the history of Virtual Reality gaming before you dig into it. Virtual Reality was first introduced as a novelty figure way back in 1968 when Ivan Sutherland and Bob Sproull created the augmented reality head-mounted display system. It was an experiment in every sense of the word and it was used as just another way to experience general entertainment.

It didn't take long, though, for the world of video games to truly sink its teeth into Virtual Reality when some select arcades experimented with the concept. All attempts were very plain and basic and there was seriousness attached since Virtual Reality had no strong ties to video games as this time. Now let's move forward to the year 1995 and specifically in July when Nintendo made a bold move to flirt with the Virtual reality concept themselves. They released a table-top video game console called the Virtual Boy in hopes that it would catch on with gamers. Gunpei Yokoi, inventor of the Game & Watch and Game Boy handheld consoles, designed the Virtual Boy. It was a 32-bit system that relied on seemingly unique visuals to get by without actually having the oomph of gaming substance.

Yes, the Virtual Boy didn't meet the expectations that Nintendo had for a variety of reasons. The only color that a player would see when positioned in the head-mounted display would be red, in the form of LEDs. This was the kind of console that required the player to sit down at a table and play, and not to stand up and go as he or she pleased. It featured an eyeglass projector that would allow the player to view all sorts of red images. I'm sure that would make anybody's eyes happy, right? I'm obviously kidding because the strong majority of the gaming community didn't take to the Virtual Boy at all. The Virtual Boy was a commercial failure, being sold at ridiculously high prices, being falsely and poorly promoted in campaigns, and mostly because of the play that enabled discomfort to reign.

The Virtual Boy just wasn't a realistic enough option for people to buy into and it wasn't worth the risk of people getting involved and then getting sick in the process. Painful and frustrating physiological symptoms arose from playing the Virtual Boy. Dizziness, nausea and headaches were reported to be the norm when it came to physical hindrances. Something to this extent clearly isn't anything you would want to be shooting for when you are trying to sell a product that encourages people to engage with.

Fast forward to today and we are about to experience a new river flow of Virtual Reality experiments in the Video Game Industry. As I mentioned at the beginning, the Oculus Rift has been received generally well in its infancy, though the long term impact of it is yet to be felt. Sony recently revealed Project Morpheus, a Virtual Reality headset that will be used for some games, indicating that Sony wants to throw their hat in the ring and try to get Virtual Reality permanently over with the people. Shigeru Miyamoto recently mentioned in an IGN interview that Nintendo was going to give Virtual Reality another shot in the console market.

The Obsession With The "Never Stop Advancing Technology" Mindset

Now let me be frank. We are in the year 2014 and gaming technology has obviously progressed and advanced to a point where companies have dusted off the Virtual Reality concept and re-evaluated it. Technology in the video game world has made some impressive leaps, to be sure, but I can't help but wonder if sometimes video game companies are truly overly ambitious and overzealous. Let's consider asking ourselves a few questions about what we are dealing with in Virtual Reality.

Is there truly a need for Virtual Reality to make its lasting stamp in video games?

Why exactly do we need Virtual Reality to have a presence in video games?

What are we attempting to accomplish with the implementation of Virtual Reality gaming?

How much are we risking if we willingly glorify Virtual Reality, labeling it the "future of gaming"?

I know what the reader is thinking, and yes, I have a pessimistic attitude towards the Virtual Reality concept in gaming. All you need to do is read the four questions above and sincerely answer them. Do we need Virtual Reality to barge in and be that soothing and relaxing alternative in the way that we play video games? I don't doubt that some of you readers want or would like to have it as an alternative, but will the Video Game Industry go away if Virtual Reality gaming never gets off the ground? The answer is no, the industry won't go away, and we should all know that.

Also, what is the main goal behind this new Virtual Reality revolution that is appearing to gain ground? I do believe that there should be variety in the way that gamers play video games and I do believe in general creativity, but I must remind people that there are limitations as to how creative we can really be. Variety that is necessary is something that I advocate, but I wouldn't put Virtual Reality gaming in that boat. Virtual Reality is not necessary in order to be satisfied as a gamer. We didn't need it back in the 1980's, nor in the 1990's and 2000's, and if we look deep down inside this, we don't absolutely need it in the 2010's neither.

I have heard this term floated around concerning both motion controls and Virtual Reality gaming, and that would be "Now the player is the controller!" Is that really what we, as a gaming community, want for our distant future? Virtual Reality isn't the medicine to cure all the needs of every gamer out there and it still comes down to personal preference. If a gamer doesn't want to engage in Virtual Reality in order to enjoy a game, then he or she shouldn't be forced to. That is a concern of mine. I am concerned that one day the entire industry is just going to limit itself into one way of thinking for how players should play games, and if that ends up being Virtual Reality gaming, then I guarantee you that many gamers will end up walking away.

It is my personal preference to not be locked up in a Virtual Reality bubble and wander around as if I were sleepwalking, having my mind be stimulated by stunning visuals that take my brain away from what's really important. Real life. Virtual Reality isn't just a concept but it is also a mindset that people develop. Escaping your reality by going on a ride is one thing, but escaping your reality by sealing yourself away from the physical world that you know you are really in is another.

How many times have video game companies flirted with the idea of implementing Virtual Reality gaming by mentioning it in interviews? I suppose that Virtual Reality is the kind of gold that some of us seek so badly, and we either fail to find it, or if we do, we're not totally satisfied by what we have found. Even though it is well talked about in gaming circles, especially in the last few years, the fact remains that Virtual Reality gaming is a novelty. All novelties reach their ceiling of potential and then fade away into the black hole. The novelties wear off and then we come back to that and say "Well, what were we doing with that again?"

Just because technology has advanced through the years in gaming does not instantly validate Virtual Reality gaming. I believe it will take much more than to say "Gaming technology advances all the time, so let's go Virtual Reality!" We are gamers but we are humans as well. We are not science experiments. We are not members of The Borg from Star Trek. We are not people like Neo, Trinity and Morpheus from The Matrix. We are not opportunists like those kids from the Anime series Sword Art Online. Virtual Reality is a kind of pseudo-reality that we will never obtain nor sustain because it does have an end. The reality we have in front of us is our reality.

I didn't mean to sound dramatic, but here's the meat and potatoes of what I am saying. There was never anything wrong with just getting out a regular controller (not motion controllers like the Wii gadgets or the Xbox Kinect), sitting back and playing. That is simple, straightforward gaming that gets right to the point. It doesn't take you on a gimmicky bullet train ride that requires you to dress up or put a head-mounted display helmet on. Gaming was never meant to be restrictive and complicated. Some gamers who will observe Virtual Reality gaming will never be allowed to play those kinds of games because of health conditions. What will the PR people of Project Morpheus and the Oculus Rift say to those gamers? There is nothing to say.

In closing, I know where I stand as a gamer on this subject. If you want to put on a helmet and overly relax your brain in Virtual Reality games, then that is your cup of tea and more power to you. For me, though, I will stick to more basic gaming because that is all I need to be satisfied.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Character Revival: Pauline

In this article I am going to discuss a character in the world of video games that has been very much forgotten over the years by many gamers. The character I will be talking about used to have a place in arguably one of the most recognizable video game series of all time. In the early 1980's everyone appeared to be just fine with having this character around as they flocked to the arcade machines and play a famous gem of an arcade game called Donkey Kong. Only the most passionate die hard Mario and Donkey Kong fans would know this character well enough and it has been the lack of utilizing this character in games today that helps keep her more on the anonymous side.

The character I am talking about is Pauline. Younger generations of gamers will be quick to ask just who Pauline is and that is quite understandable because of the fact that we rarely get any new content related to Pauline. For the record, she is not a mainstay staple character in the Super Mario universe and she hasn't been worked on as an important character in the main canon of the series for a variety of reasons. Some of us are quick to forget that while she has had the most impact as a damsel in distress, Princess Peach hasn't always been the damsel in distress that Mario has had to save. Princess Peach was one of the many changes that occurred in the Mario series and she represented a very subtle change that pretty much everybody accepted. The question now would be "Where did Pauline go?"

Pauline, along with Mario and the original Donkey Kong (who is now called Cranky Kong because of the times), helped bring to life the arcade game that was a fan favorite and she played an important role. Pauline was the first damsel in distress in the entire history of Mario and the fit was seamless. There was plenty of logic behind a story of a giant ape kidnapping a damsel in distress and keeping her away from the hero. You could obviously get the feeling that the movie King Kong was an inspiration behind the concept of Donkey Kong. Mario was the hero of this arcade game but there were a few things different about him at this time. For one thing, Mario hadn't received his name Mario yet in 1981. He was simply called Jumpman. Secondly, Mario's occupation in 1981 was that of a carpenter, so he wasn't even a plumber yet.

As the damsel who needed rescuing, Pauline was Mario's girlfriend and this was a confirmed fact by Nintendo. Now there obviously aren't extended explanations as to how Mario and Pauline got together but this fact does make for good video game trivia. The Donkey Kong arcade game was simplistic and easy to learn and the only thing that was significantly challenging was for gamers to see just how many points they could score in all the levels. When people think back to the game, though, the first thing they don't think about would be Pauline. In fact, she is probably the last thing people think about when they talk about the Donkey Kong arcade game. You are more likely to hear talk about how Mario jumped over the barrels or how menacing Donkey Kong appeared to be when throwing objects at Mario. Pauline? Well, she was just there standing helplessly at the top of each level, which is obviously not a fitting position for a damsel to be in.

What Went Wrong?

I don't believe it's a fair question to ask because nothing went wrong exactly with the implementation of Pauline in the 1981 arcade classic. It's just that sometimes companies will choose to go in a different direction altogether and they will sometimes abandon some things that made their games initially successful. Although she was fit to be a damsel in distress, most would admit that there was hardly any building blocks to use in developing the character of Pauline at the time. In 1981 Pauline didn't have the substance of a character that could last through the NES era of gaming, and in comparison, sliding Princess Peach into the role of damsel in distress later on became much more appealing and seamless. In summary, Pauline didn't do anything wrong but there wasn't enough for her to do.

How I would implement Pauline going forward...

In recent years, there has been a slight nod given to Pauline as she has become a more recognizable face in the Donkey Kong arcade game format. Pauline has appeared in any game that specifically relates to Mario taking on Donkey Kong in a competition. In the recent Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series, Pauline has returned to help Mario in running the Mini-Mario theme park and she has certainly done her part in making this theme park enjoyable for interested customers.

However, I don't at all believe that Nintendo is scratching the surface of what Pauline's potential could possibly be. You know that saying "What's old is new again"? Well, if there was any part of nostalgia that Nintendo could properly reinstate into the main Mario universe, then I strongly believe that it should be Pauline. Throughout the years since Pauline faded into obscurity, Nintendo has managed to introduce various female characters such as Princess Peach, Princess Daisy, Toadette, Goombella and Rosalina and each of these characters have been generally accepted by the public. Who is to say that a newly rebuilt Pauline with a new motivation would be a bad idea?

It has been stated in the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series that Pauline's relationship with Mario has changed. Pauline is now just a close friend to Mario, which is understandable since Mario's new girlfriend is Peach. When we look at this character, there isn't much that we know about Pauline. We don't know what her background is. We don't know what she generally likes. We don't even know where she calls home. How do we fix this? I have a few suggestions to throw into the ring.

Option 1 - Make Pauline a heroine character

Nothing else would be able to say that a character has drastically changed than this suggestion. In certain ROM hacks we are able to see this idea play out where the roles between Mario and Pauline are swapped. Mario is now the one who needs rescuing in this sprite changed adventure and Pauline is the one doing all the jumping and climbing. You can look it up on YouTube to see what I mean by typing in "Donkey Kong Pauline Edition". Considering that she would be reintroduced in the main Mario series, if Pauline were to come back as an unlockable Playable Character without any previous hints toward her arrival, then just imagine how much buzz would be generated by the surprised gamers. In Super Mario 3D World, a recent installment of the Mario series on the Nintendo Wii U, Rosalina can be unlocked as a Playable Character after the player reaches a certain point of the game. I can definitely see a similar scenario playing out for Pauline if Nintendo ever wanted to put her back in the spotlight.

The key to this, though, is that it has to be a well kept secret, and I mean a VERY well kept secret in the hypothetical game. Sometimes good games are remembered by how many surprises they manage to pull off and this would be one of them. How would Pauline the heroine play? It's rather interesting because unique abilities have been taken by other characters. Princess Peach can float in mid air while she jumps. Luigi can jump higher than Mario. Toads are usually speedy when they run. I would suggest giving Pauline some sort of unique gliding attack. We could call it a Glide Jump and we can give specific rules for how the Glide Jump is used. For example, the Glide Jump can never be as effective as a Mario power-up like the Raccoon Suit, the Flying Squirrel Suit or the Cape from Super Mario World. I suppose the Glide Jump would be more subtle and much less powerful, able to defeat weak enemies but useless against stronger enemies.

What would be Pauline's motivation for wanting to go out and do battle against baddies? Perhaps Pauline could feel some sort of regret that she wasn't able to follow Mario in his adventures, so she would take it upon herself to prove that she can handle things just fine without getting kidnapped. Also, let's keep in mind that Pauline is not a figure of royalty. She isn't responsible for any monarchy in Mario's world, whereas Peach and Daisy have to be mindful of their kingdoms. Pauline would be free to go out and explore the world since she isn't held down by royal duties. Maybe Pauline would feel tired of not having to do anything important and would want to stop being quiet after all these years? (storyline-wise)

Option 2 - Make Pauline more available in other Mario events

While becoming a mainstay Playable Character could prove to be key, allowing Pauline to become more available on more Mario media platforms than just Mario Vs. Donkey Kong would be very wise. Nintendo has a history of bringing back beloved characters from certain games in the past and implementing them back into the fold for any Mario game, canon or non-canon, Pauline would be no different. If anything, I believe it would be a real treat if Pauline was given a chance to be playable in games such as Mario Party, Mario Kart, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, etc. because gamers of today would be given the chance to see Pauline in action. Where did Waluigi get his first break? It was in Mario Tennis for the Nintendo 64, a non-canon game. How did Koopa become a respectable Playable Character for any kind of Mario game? Koopa got his first break in Mario Kart for the Super Nintendo (SNES). It has worked before and it can work again in Pauline's case.

Option 3 - Have Pauline betray Mario and his friends

This is polar opposite of suggesting that Pauline become a heroine character. This is to suggest that Pauline would make her triumphant return to the main Mario canon... and then pull the rug from under Mario's feet. We could play it out in one Mario game where Mario suddenly reunites with Pauline on a full-time basis, expanding on the close friendship that they have had in Mario Vs. Donkey Kong, but then the roller coaster ride would begin. We could play it out where Mario would be putting his focus on Pauline and not on Princess Peach, which would play a big role in the developing plot. Pauline would remind Mario of the various moments that they have had in the past but she wouldn't inform Mario on what's currently happening.

In this hypothetical Mario game, we could give out early implications that it would just be a situation of King Bowser has done something rotten and Mario has to go out and stop him. However, starting from the middle of the game and going forward, we would reveal that Bowser is just the decoy in all this and that he isn't the main threat to Mario and his friends. If anything, we could say that Bowser was planning on taking a vacation on a beach and Mario caught wind of a sinister side plan that Bowser wanted to execute before the vacation. I know that sounds a bit silly but it would break up some of the predictability of a Mario plot. This is a video game series for kids anyway, so we can afford to be a little bit silly.

Towards the end of the game, we would finally reveal that Pauline was the antagonistic spoiler right from the start. We could replay the sequences from the earlier parts of the game where we would show the true intentions behind Pauline's actions, tying up the questionable loose ends. Pauline would of course explain herself and she would mention the fact that she hasn't been given enough attention even as a friend. We could even show a brief flashback to the Donkey Kong arcade game to add that nostalgic punch. Mario would then be left with no other choice but to stop Pauline from causing harm to his captured friends and he would put an end to all the shenanigans. Having a plot similar to this could easily get the attention of gamers, both young and old, and it could be the type of narrative that people can refer back to and fondly remember.

In recent times Mario games have been called out by some fans and some critics as being a bit redundant, repetitive and rehashed. The plots between games generally do not change all that much and that has raised the eye brows of some fans for both neutral and negative reasons. It certainly would be a breath of fresh air for the Mario series if Pauline were to be brought back permanently and be used in a way that would get people talking about her.

Option 4 - Have Pauline be an assistant to Professor E. Gadd

This is an off the wall suggestion that would require a significant change in the character of Pauline. However, if you use your imagination for just a little bit, you could probably begin to imagine a scenario like this occurring. The objective is to give Pauline a defined purpose and a legitimate reason to be involved in Mario's adventures, and I believe that if she teamed up Professor E. Gadd and became well educated in the field of science, she might have something going for herself here. Of course, since Pauline is generally described as being pretty, we could find a way to make Pauline look more like nerd when it comes to looks. We could have her wear a pair of glasses and a white coat that professors usually wear in laboratories and go from there. This new identity for Pauline might just be enough to fool Mario when he finally does meet her in this new form, and then after a while it will dawn on Mario that the assistant was really Pauline.

I will close this by saying that there are many paths for the character of Pauline to take. I generally see the appeal of taking someone like Pauline and repackaging her into being someone more flexible in personality and more valuable in character importance. Pauline is the kind of character who can afford to be refreshed and updated to fit in with the current days of video games and I believe it would go over well. It has happened before in video game history that when a character doesn't work out in one role, it will take a change in the character for it to really blossom. Pauline is probably the prime candidate of that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Video Game Basics: Frogger

"Why did the frog cross the road? Well, just because!"

What does a video game, like any idea, need before anything else? How easy is that for us to define? What kind of list could you make to point out the main ingredients a video game needs, and we are speaking here from a basic fundamental standpoint. We do not need to go into specific highlights and say "Oh look! We need boost pads for our speedy character to go fast!" or "Hey! We need a ball and chain for our brave warrior to use so that he can look cool!" No. Before we get into those kinds of details we need to remember what we are aiming for when we first start building a video game from the ground up.

The game that I want to use as an example of basic gameplay fundamentals is a classic game that many people by now have played at some point. Frogger is a simple game at heart. There isn't much to grasp when you engage in a game of Frogger because the levels are presented to you right away in their entirety. There isn't too much going on and that is a good thing for this game. At the time all you needed to do was to guide Frogger across the street and then across a river to reach any one of five holes and you didn't even need to press any buttons (as in A, B, X or Y) to move Frogger.

What do we find out right away when we play Frogger? Aside from the fact that it is a simple game at heart, Frogger is a game that is provided with a basic concept and a basic objective. These two things are well defined and jump out in the heat of gameplay. It has the concept of a frog crossing two sets of obstacles to reach its goal and the objective is to have all five holes filled with frogs to advance to the next level. That is basic enough. There aren't any twisting loopholes for the player to go through and there aren't a bunch of side objectives the player has to achieve. It's straightforward with a purpose. Frogger is a game that is easy to understand.

Ever so often there will come a few games that try too hard to be gimmicky or flashy and while these games will have a certain cosmetic uniqueness to them, they sometimes won't be able to provide the substance of truly compelling gameplay simply because they disregard the basics of gameplay fundamentals. If this flashy game has reoccurring problems that involve a concept that stretches out all over the place and an objective that changes colors like a chameleon, then chances are gamers are going to pick up on such errors. Gimmicks and flashes only help a video game if there is basic substance to back it up. In game development there are certain themes that you want to hit and there is a concept that you want to build around. The objective must be clear and it must be enticing and motivating enough for the player to invest in achieving.

What is one thing to remember here about Frogger? The concept and objective are both identifiable. The simple fact that you don't keep the player guessing as to what he or she needs to do in a game to progress is a plus because you are showing gamers that your game has an identifiable structure. It is that identifiable structure that gamers will remember when they come back to your game and play it again and again. Along with replayability value, I believe this should be an integral thing that game development teams always need to keep in mind. Before your game can become something memorable after it's played, it must be able to stand on its own two feet in development before it's played. If the game is hobbling on one foot, or worse, dragging both feet then it won't be long until gamers and critics start picking apart the flaws.

Let's consider the character of this subject, Frogger. This character is a simple frog who just wants to make it home. That is probably the most basic description of a video game character that I have ever gotten to know. When you are building a game around a character as simple as Frogger there is no need to do so much to the character. If any changes are made to help the character then there shouldn't be any drastic changes. Slight changes would be more ideal. Frogger doesn't need extensive features such as a wide variety of power-ups, whereas in comparison Mario, Sonic, Kirby, Crash Bandicoot and the like would probably need many power-ups to keep going in their adventures. If you a character like Frogger then the attention doesn't need to be on the shoulders of the character in this context.

The objective of the game doesn't require Frogger to add anything to himself. As long as he reaches one of five holes at the opposite end he will be good to go. Frogger is limited in what he can do when it comes to jumping. Our beloved Italian plumber Mario can jump a great distance and he is able to crush enemies under his feet. The rules are different for Frogger and his jumping. Frogger can't defeat any enemies or obstacles by jumping onto them. If Frogger jumps into a car on the road, then that's all she wrote. Squish! Splat! Frog waffles for everyone! If Frogger jumps into a wall between the five holes at the end, then he's done right there. He can't make a heroic wall jump like Mario and others. If Frogger jumps into a hole that is occupied by an alligator or crocodile, he can't defeat them by jumping onto them. Frog buffet! If Frogger jumps into the river then he will sink like the Titanic. No swimming allowed in this pool!

Structure in games begin with the most simple things such as jumping and structure comes with established rules for the gameplay mechanics.

Structure begins with Point A and then goes to Points B, C and D. Even with simple games such as Frogger there will be at least a few obstacles thrown in to challenge the player. The challenges can't be left bare or else we have no game. The movement of the obstacles in Frogger are key to what makes the game great, at least in my opinion. On the road some cars go slow, some cars go in moderate speed and some cars will go fast. The same principle is applied to the logs and lily pads in the river. If all obstacles went in one speed then it would be that much easier for the player to tell when to move Frogger forward. That is why players have had to stop and judge for themselves when to move forward, when to stop and when to move back. That is pretty much the essence of Frogger.

In closing, having a basic foundation and structure for your video game isn't a bad idea because in some cases it is the most practical and reasonable thing to do. A series of a single video game franchise rarely ever starts with things that are complex in the first game. Things are added into the franchise as it goes along in later installments after it has proven in the first game what it wants to be. Everything that I have mentioned in this article sum up some of the issues that I am noticing in the Video Game Industry today.