Friday, January 31, 2014

Know Your Role - Bystanders (NPC)

In this edition of Know Your Role, I will discuss another element of storytelling in a game that is very significant. I have already discussed the tole of the hero, the one who sets the wheels in motion for the action that takes place in a game, and while the hero is in most cases the most important character role in the story, one simply can't forget how important the role of the innocent bystander is.

There are often times when we glance past these kinds of characters, bystanders who just get in the way of the action between our hero and his oppressors, and sometimes we don't think much of these characters because for one thing we won't get to play as these characters and we only get to see certain bystander characters in designated levels for only so long a time. However, the innocent bystander can do his or her part in driving the plot in ways that the hero isn't necessarily required to do. The hero can show signs of weakness at points, and it would preferred that the hero does, but with a bystander, showing weakness in a game is almost always a common thing to do.

The key word we have to keep in mind would be "innocent". These bystanders are innocent, serving as victims of circumstance because they cannot help in any way to change the situation that has been pressed upon them by the villain and his forces. These are the kinds of characters that wander around in levels seeking help, and this directly plays into game missions that the hero has to complete. The hero has to be motivated in order to have the title of hero, so we bring in bystanders to inform the hero via cutscene dialogue what needs to be done in order to give the bystanders and their home lands relief. Some dialogue from bystanders may be inconsequential, random and purely emotion driven. Other dialogue from bystanders will be informative, challenging the player to do the task that the hero is required to do and instructing the player on how to go about performing the mission.

Innocent bystanders can be referred to as Non-Playable Characters (NPC) because they can't be controlled by the player unless the player is given freedom to pick up and carry a bystander in gameplay. Bystanders are not only in levels just to be part of the decor. Some bystanders are given the job to emotionally drive the story of the game, to make the hero aware of what is happening and to make the player care. In some cases a bystander can be more emotionally charged than a hero simply because of what has happened to that character, that character's family and friends, or that character's home. The villain will use the bystander as an example of what can happen if the hero is too reckless in his approach to succeed. Sadly, some stories in games call for some bystanders to perish because of the unprecedented despicable actions of the villain, the lack of action or the wrong actions taken by the hero, or a combination of each.

The basic description of an NPC bystander character is that he or she is used as a bridge for the hero to progress in the game's story. The bystander is the one used to create the core conflicts of the game. Without conflict, where is the motivation for the hero to go after the supposed villain? If the stakes are not established nor raised then it becomes more difficult to expand the character of the hero. We almost immediately exclude storyline possibilities without the help of the bystander role. We do need to keep it perspective and make sure that the bystander characters don't come across as much too weak to help themselves, but we also need to make sure that the bystanders stay true to their roles. When trouble develops, the bystanders will be the ones caught in the eye of the tornado, so to speak. 

In some video game genres the lines between bystanders and actual playable characters can be blurred, especially if we are dealing with the Role-Playing Game genre. In an RPG balance is required between numerous characters and the main focus is commonly spread out between RPG characters, so the responsibilities of certain characters in this genre can relate to both that of a hero and that of a bystander. It is monkey wrenches like these that occasionally get thrown in that we have to keep an eye on.

Game writers are responsible for creating a believable story that is suitable for the environment of a video game, and the handling of the characters in the game must be careful. Even if the writer is presented with a character that he or she may not initially like, it is still the job of the writer to make that character work, to make that character relatable to gamers and to give that character at least some redeemable qualities. The majority of emotional investment from a gamer obviously won't go to bystander characters most of the time, but the little things of a game do matter and when one looks back at a game and refreshes his or her memory of that game, one will be reminded of how interesting some lesser known innocent bystander characters actually were.

In closing, the innocent bystander is a building block for a game story. The bystander is a building block that shouldn't be ignored nor neglected. The innocent bystander character should be treated with care and it should be given a purpose that will help drive home the point of the story. The bystander basically tells us "Hey! This is what you have to deal with! This is why the bad guy is bad! You should take this seriously because of (blank) and (blank)!" Game development teams have nothing to lose from establishing a well liked innocent bystander character because the possibility of that same character becoming a playable hero character down the road could emerge, and if that possibility does emerge then it would be wise to capitalize on such an opportunity. Sometimes character development stems from the changing of roles and if a character starts out as a bystander but develops out of that shell, then that character becomes something to invest in.

It's amazing what the little things can deliver to your doorstep.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Character Fail: Griffin Spade

This will be another feature of the Gaming Journalist Gazette where I will only be talking about specific video game characters, past and present. I will be talking about how they made their debuts in video games, what went right or what went wrong for these characters, and what could be done to properly expand these characters. In the case of characters who no longer exist in the video game world, it would be essential to point out the positives of these characters and to discuss how they could be brought back into the fold.

For my very first edition of "Character Success" or "Character Fail", I would like to talk about a war hero who proves himself to be worthy of being called a master in the art of war. In the days of the Nintendo 64, creativity was starting to run wild simply because of the new concept of 3D gaming. Game development as a whole expanded once 3D gaming was ventured into and the Nintendo 64 had a hand in giving us some of the most creative interpretations of 3D gaming during a time span when people were getting acquainted with the novelty.

I remember the old commercials 3DO had for their breakout game called Battletanx, a game in where you operate a tank and shoot anything at any foe of your choosing, and I gotta say that I found these commercials to be flat out hilarious. Anyone who is familiar with the cute and friendly Snuggles commercials would know what I'm talking about. A commercial for Battletanx features a cuddly bear that's a ripoff of Snuggles who pretty much acts the part of Snuggles, and everything appears to be hunky dory until a sudden explosion occurs. The commercial pokes fun at the Snuggles character and one can't help but laugh along with it.

Once we get into the game itself, we find out that our main protagonist is a guy named Griffin Spade who is trying to have a normal life with his love Madison. The setting of this game is in the year 2001 (the game was released in 1999 so it tried to present a futuristic feel) and it's supposed to have a post-apocalyptic tone that presents a plot of depopulation through viruses. Many men and many more women have been hit by viruses and many have been subject to stay in quarantine zones. One quarantine zone in particular calls San Francisco home. Because of everything unraveling and grinding to a halt, Madison opts to turn herself in to the government to be protected by these viruses and war quickly breaks out because of an explosion that catches so many off guard, including Griffin Spade, which is made visible in the opening scene.

Once Griffin realizes that Madison is gone, he starts a bold and dangerous campaign to get her back. The only thing is that he has to survive numerous tests on the battlefield which used to be called the United States of America. Griffin's campaign spans from New York City and Chicago to Las Vegas and San Francisco and he encounters much resistance along the way, taking on gangs that have Battletanx of their own. In truth, the gangs in this game came across as off the wall and a bit looney, but I definitely saw the comedy in most of the gang themes. One gang to note as an example, the Nuclear Knights, consisted of super soldiers who got their hands on too much nuclear content. I probably found the most comedy in that gang for whatever reason.

Throughout the game's scenes, we pretty much view Griffin Spade through the scope of the dreams that he has. Griffin dreams of one day saving Madison and restoring what they had going together before everything spiraled out of control, but his dreams get clouded by nightmares that feature his oppressors staring him down. As far as character development goes, we are clearly given the message that Griffin sincerely cares about Madison and that no matter what gets in his way, he will find Madison. Perhaps some people may see this as a cheesy love story of sorts, but if you're going to have an element of romance in a story then applying warfare of some sort to amplify the environment is a wise route to take.

We are also given the message that Griffin Spade is a true leader concerning his army. Griffin's Army is by far the most influential gang of the entire Battletanx series and as a unit they receive character depth for their loyalty to their families and their desire to get back with their loved ones. Griffin and his army follow a moral code that is respectable and admirable. The more you progress through the story, the more you want to see Griffin and company succeed in rescuing Queenlords and blazing a trail through their opposition.

What Went Wrong?

It's not hard to find where everything went wrong for the character of Griffin Spade. The original Battletanx game was a solid foundation for 3DO to build on. If 3DO had stayed the course that was set by the first Battletanx game then I truly believe we would have seen third and fourth installments of the Battletanx franchise at the very least. However, in my opinion the problem that ultimately made Griffin Spade as a character fail was the act of 3DO completely mishandling the foundation of Battletanx. The game development team didn't build on the foundation of the first Battletanx game, but rather they obliterated it and replaced it with unnecessary gimmicks that just didn't fit. Battletanx: Global Assault as a game is not bad, but the story of the second Battletanx game is something that I find completely dreadful. I really didn't like Battletanx: Global Assault's story at all.

All of sudden Griffin, Madison and their young boy Brandon were given a superpower called "The Edge" and were treated like members of the X-Men and it's impossible for me to find any logic in that whatsoever. The story was pretty much based around "The Edge" superpower and that ruined it for me because it became something that directly impacted Griffin and Madison, and not in a good way. Griffin Spade was supposed to be an everyman kind of war hero that the Average Joe or Jane gamer could relate to, which is what he was in the first game. In the second game, though, he became overpowered with the use of a "gaming steroid" and it contradicted what he previously was. Boom! There goes the missile to destroy Griffin Spade's character!

How I Would Rebuild Griffin Spade

Re-introducing a video game character can be a very hard task to pull off and it's not likely that we'll ever see Griffin Spade in a new tank-themed game again, but let's play the game of What If? here. If you bring in a character to the fold you have to have a vision for that character. Let me show a list of things I would do first and then run down that list.

1) I would completely ignore the existence of Battletanx: Global Assault's story

2) I would rebuild the foundation of the first Battletanx game

3) I would tweak the timeline of Griffin's world to fit the current day

4)  I would give Griffin more opportunities to interact

Now to run down the list, I would first and foremost ignore the existence of Battletanx: Global Assault's story. That story was terrible and it didn't have any redeeming quality for any gaming development team to build on in the long run. I would intentionally make Battletanx: Global Assault non-canon and treat it like it was an alternate reality spin-off. I would, however, keep most of the gameplay features of Global Assault because I admit that they were good. The options you had in what kind of tank you wanted to bring into battle were great and I would bring that along for my hypothetical new installment. Tank Bucks are fine and they do add depth to the dynamics of gameplay. I would tweak Global Assault's feature of warfare on the sea as it was showcased in San Francisco's Airport. Cassandra, the evil Queenlord, would never exist in my installment. I would never even mention her. "The Edge" wouldn't exist in my installment as well. It's an unnecessary gimmick. 

I would stay true to the first game's roots and I would highlight the thoughtful personality of Griffin Spade, even though he would otherwise be a ruthless battle assassin. In cutscenes I would feature Griffin interacting with his army, telling war stories, joking around, having intriguing conversations or explaining battle plans. When he's around his wife Madison of his son Brandon I would have Griffin be the family man that he always wanted to be. I would put emphasis on the fact that Griffin is only a man and not a machine and that he does have feelings that gamers can totally understand. Witty one-liners in Griffin's dialogue may be in order, or we could have some sort of hidden humor that can be picked up after the fact. Griffin needs opportunities to interact in scenes. Game development has long progressed since the days of Battletanx and the voice acting element can now be in play for a new Battletanx game.

What are the roots of the first Battletanx game? It's simple. Run the gauntlet. Griffin started his campaign in New York City and ended it in San Francisco in the original game, so why shouldn't he do something similar in this new installment? For my vision, I would start Griffin's new campaign in San Francisco and he would travel up north to Seattle for his second stop. From there, I would take Griffin up north again into Canada and have him take on a Canadian-themed gang, most likely in Vancouver.

I would then take Griffin's Army out east to Toronto and finish off the power plays of the Canadian forces and I would have Griffin return to the United States afterwards. I'd be interested in putting Griffin's Army in the Steel City of Pittsburgh next since we could play off the theme of steel being a very valuable resource and the villains could go after the steel supplies. Perhaps we could head down to Atlanta and/or San Antonio and start clashing with Mexican-themed gangs. Then we go to Mexico City and take a final detour into Hawaii, the place where a specially made bomb calls home and a bomb that everyone is looking for.

As for the timeline of Griffin's post-apocalyptic world, this could become an interesting topic because everything supposedly spiraled out of control in 2000/2001. How do we explain the world of Griffin Spade now in the 2010's? Has it been post-apocalyptic for over a decade now? How do we get around this? Although I don't think this is always the most viable option, I wouldn't mind implementing a small time travel element in the storytelling. I could use time travel to explain Griffin's world becoming more chaotic after an accident that sends Griffin and his army, Madison and Brandon slightly further into the future. It would be tricky to handle but time travel in stories is flexible, and here we could explain that since Griffin and company left the 2000's and reappeared in the 2020's, things have gotten worse with their absence.

So is Griffin Spade as a character a total failure? No. It's not Griffin Spade's fault that he failed. It was the poor handling of his character by 3DO that made him fail, and knowing that, why wouldn't any gaming company out there now consider trying to revive a franchise like this? Battletanx can be marketable in this day and age and with the right elements and with the right foundation back in place, war heroes like Griffin Spade can wave their flags with honor once again.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Movies That Should Be Games - Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Writers of any media form get their inspiration from various experiences and taking in the experience of watching an action-packed movie is a good way to get inspiration. When you watch a movie you soon understand the flow of a story in general and you take notice of all the little details that go into a story. You will eventually realize that you can't take even the little details in a movie for granted because the audience will take notice of the little things and they will hang on to them. Movies of better quality allow the audience to engage in the environment of the movie and to embrace the plot of the movie once it is established.

Entertainment and action are often juggled from hand to hand. A heroic character taking action is one who is going to do something about the situation at hand and is one who is going to try to change the situation the best way possible. More often than not heroic characters take action into their own hands when the oppressive forces of evil become too overwhelming for the innocent parties. When a hero's back is up against the wall he will not just stand there and do nothing. A hero will turn up the volume and disrupt any plans that the villain is attempting to have executed perfectly. Movies execute these scenarios quite well and the same can be said for video games considering they have the right plot to work with.

As for the movie I am going to talk about, while it does feature plenty of action-packed scenes and is worthy of being called an action-packed movie, I am going to admit that Paul Blart: Mall Cop isn't exactly the same kind of action-packed movie compared to that of Lethal Weapon, Die Hard or Dirty Harry.

This is a movie where the main character does take his job seriously and he is in a position of taking care of a community building, but the comedic appeal of Paul Blart: Mall Cop is what brings the story up to a level that makes it entertaining and worthwhile. If you would just look at the appearance of Paul Blart the character you would know what to expect from a guy who has a seemingly cartoony mustache. For those who have watched the movie, viewers realized just how off the wall and silly the Paul Blart character actually was as he performed stunts that didn't go exactly according to plan and sometimes he failed miserably to be the hero that he envisioned himself to be as a mall security guard. You just had to laugh at these moments but you couldn't help but be sympathetic towards the big guy at the same time.

So how do you translate Paul Blart: Mall Cop into a video game? 

To be honest, we have a solid setting for this hypothetical Paul Blart video game and it's the West Orange Pavilion Mall based in New Jersey. Paul Blart's territory is the mall that he protects as a security guard and there's really no need to deviate from this territory. A mall is a very creative foundation to build on in game development because it allows the development team to implement any kinds of stores to represent the mall. The mall is a canvas for the development team to paint on and depending on what kind of variety the mall has, gamers will most likely be attracted to the spectacle of the mall set in the video game world.

One scene in particular in the movie features Paul Blart being preoccupied playing an arcade game and then eventually realizing that he needs to go to work, so it would definitely make sense to have a a video game store in this version of the West Orange Pavilion Mall. In fact, it could be made essential for Paul Blart to search through the mall to find either money or arcade tokens to gain access to special mini-games that are not dependent on the main game. Other items that Blart might want to acquire would be different attires, ranging from various security guard attires to random and miscellaneous attires that have nothing to do with being a cop or a security guard. Simple stuff such as this adds to the entertainment value even in minimal ways.

The means of transportation for Paul Blart in his own video game would be a very fun topic to tackle for the development team because as we know from watching the movie that Blart likes to travel on his Segway, a scooter-like device that takes pressure off the legs and is overall a smooth ride. It is easy to see the Segway having specific gameplay mechanics that are easy to learn and we could treat the Segway like it's a racecar in some aspects. We can hold down on one button to speed up the Segway and the turning would be smooth just like a normal car. Paul Blart can get around the mall using more than one transportation device. We can picture Blart using a skateboard and get some hang time once he hits a ramp. We can also picture Blart using roller skates or roller blades to reach a specific spot in the mall to hide from the bad guys. The imagination can run somewhat wild with this.

Then we have the fact that Paul Blart has a physical weakness which happens to be hypoglycemia. This may not be the same as Superman being made weak to kryptonite but we would have to apply similar logic to the security guard protagonist. Throughout the mall we could place all sorts of sugary items to help Blart continue in his journey. We would have a wide variety of snacks that contain sugar strategically placed in spots where the player has to figure out how to reach given the abilities of Paul Blart. For example, Blart might have to climb up a fake palm tree to collect a donut or he might have to climb up a Hello Kitty castle to collect a bag of M&M candies.

The impact of hypoglycemia could be felt if some sort of Sugar Meter is implemented to represent Blart's stamina. If the Sugar Meter is low, then we could use beeping sounds to warn the player that Paul needs to collect sugary food items or else he is in trouble. If the Sugar Meter goes empty, then the game is over and the player has restart from the last save point. When it comes to an actual Health Meter, though, that would have to be separate from the Sugar Meter to avoid confusion. Paul Balrt's Health Meter would probably have the visual representation of a candy bar, divided into 4 parts at the very least. After taking four hits Blart goes down and there would be specific sugar food items that he can collect to avoid losing all parts of the Health Meter.

When it comes to structure and progression in the game, we could establish a system where parts of the West Orange Pavilion Mall are blocked off in the beginning of the game, meaning that Paul Blart would only have one part of the mall to work with at first. We could provide Blart with a list of missions that he needs to accomplish in order to clear one part of the mall and unlock another part of the mall. Let's use an example and say there are 7 parts of the mall, ranging from the core of the mall that customers go through to the back rooms where only the employees station themselves. The parts of the mall are blocked by the bad guys and Blart can only gain access to another part if he completes each mission and defeats a group of henchmen in a boss battle, but of course using the silly comedic tone to wrap around the action.

For gameplay mechanics, Paul Blart is anything but a super athletic guy. He isn't fast nor is he agile. He isn't a strong specimen nor is he skilled in any kind of fighting form. However, because of the personality that he has been given, we get the feeling that Paul Blart would be a great underdog kind of hero that gamers sometimes look for, so we could allow Blart to have an amazing amount of endurance and resiliency. Just when you think you have the big guy down, he gets back up and comes back for more. We could employ a feature that allows Paul Blart to improve his stealth skills if he performs a certain set of moves correctly. The stealth skills for our security guard wouldn't be of a serious tone but more of a slapstick comedy tone where we would get to see the amusing facial expressions of Paul Blart.

As for the plot of this game, it doesn't have to exactly fit the same tone as the movie. While the movie's plot of an organized gang of criminals who disguise themselves to fit in with the holiday theme barge in and take control of the mall would be the practical way to develop the game's story, we don't have to follow this formula step by step. If anything, we could up the ante and have two separate gangs of reckless thieves who think they are smarter than what they really are try to take over the mall at the same time, forcing Paul Blart to look over his shoulder for one gang and then look over his other shoulder for the other gang. The time of the invasion also doesn't have to occur on Black Friday. We could scale back the calender and have the invasion take place around Independence Day. Comically, we could have Paul Blart do his best to do his American duty and we could apply Independence Day jokes to the scenario.

Finally, narratives and dialogue would fit the cinematic style, staying true to some of the elements of the original movie while still standing out to be its own thing. It would be a nice touch to let Blart use witty one-liners to counter the intimidating words of his foes, even if the one-liners don't particularly fit with the situation at all as long as the comedy hits the spot. During a tutorial session we could have Blart mess around and come up with jokes that wrap around his training as a security guard. While the dialogue would be funny, it still has to be informative and lead the player through the gaming experience.

I believe a Paul Blart video game would go over well if it gives the player enough things to do. Sometimes with games that have comedic concepts, they tend to cut things short for whatever reason, but I think that is often a mistake development teams make with comedic games. Replayability should still be a factor and just like I mentioned earlier, having a video game store in this fictional mall would be ideal. You could store your mini-games in that store and go back there to have fun, just like Paul Blart did in the movie.

This concludes a trip to the West Orange Pavilion Mall. We hope your enjoyed your time checking it out!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Know Your Role - Heroes

When you write a story you must have structure, and with that structure you must be able to present your audience with characters that either have already defined roles or you must at least give your audience some hints as to what roles your characters are going to have as the story progresses. Before a writer can take a story in a specific direction, he or she has to to know what the foundations of his or her characters are about. As a writer, you have to know what you want your characters to do, ranging from what actions you want them to take, what personalities they should have, what they should look like and what their reactions are to specific situations. Your characters must have a strength and a weakness no matter how incredible or how mundane they may be and you must revolve the world of your story around the character traits that are presented. Characters bring life to the world of the story you want to make and it's important to develop them once they are established. Character development is a process from Point A to Point B, and then from Point B to Point C, and so on.

Writing for games takes a specific understanding of the language of video games, to know the basic territories of what you can write and what you can't write, to know that the player who will take in the experience of your story must be given freedom to be a gamer, and to know that the characters you introduce have to be treated with proper care. At some point in a game, whether it's at the very beginning of the game or in near the middle of the game or even near the end of the game, the role of a character has to be determined and defined so that players will understand just what kind of character they are controlling.

Many classic stories of yesteryear have the basic setups. They have the foundation of there being a sinister villain who will stop at nothing to ruin things for all parties and they also have the damsel in distress who is need of rescuing because of the villain's actions. Who will rise to the occasion and take down the villain in order to save the damsel? The hero is the most basic character type that you can have in a story but the story can become much different than what was originally on the surface if the writer chooses to add layers to the hero as he advances past obstacles and enemies that are in his way. The hero is the character that stands out the most. The hero is the first person to turn to when it comes to a community of people searching for help. The hero is the most important character for the writer to care about because in most cases the true action of a story begins with the hero.

A hero has to be given a set of goals that he has to accomplish in the confines of a video game. A hero's value is put on display when he is forced to complete tasks that will allow him to progress in his adventure. A hero isn't a hero if there is no urgency for him to act. A hero's personality should be something that relates to the audience that is being catered to and a hero is supposed to be a character who fans would want to be like. A hero has a moral code that he keeps close to the vest and he sticks with his moral code no matter what outside influences or outside distractions say. Some video games will present events the hero will have to deal with that will challenge his moral code and how the hero moves forward from these challenges opens the door for character development.

Not every video game will give you only one playable option which means that you might be given the choice to play the game as the hero or as characters with different alignments. Along with the hero, you can choose to play as an antihero, a character who doesn't have a moral code or lacks a full moral cod, or you can choose to play as the villain, a saboteur of fun and joy for the good guys, so the story of the game can balance the focus between the hero and other characters when it comes to core attention. Some games will market their stories towards all alignments getting the spotlight and not just one alignment, so it may be more important to establish the hero's parts of the story so that gamers can distinguish the differences between the mindsets of the characters.

Let's start using examples of clean cut heroes who will do the right thing in the heat of gaming action and we will start to notice a pattern that heroes in gaming franchises share.

Let's start with Captain Falcon of the F-Zero series. In the scope of a Racing game genre, Captain Falcon is the one who is turned to for help when things get out of control and when cities reach a point of crisis that is impossible for the people to get out of. The challenging part about this is the fact that Captain Falcon primarily shows his heroics through races. How can you tell an action-packed story through a series of races? Captain Falcon is constantly challenged by the forces of evil to complete tasks that revolve around his racing skills, whether that means to clear a race under a set amount of time, to escape an imploding cave while rescuing a damsel, or to reach the finish line by staying at a certain speed or else his ride blows up because of a detonating bomb device.

There is some presence of a cinematic flow with the way a Captain Falcon story is set up and it would have to remind you of some of the classic movies hat involved racing or daring getaway chases. Captain Falcon's primary focus is not fighting (unless he competes in Super Smash Bros.) and you can't make a a character who is built for the Racing game genre something that he's not. Captain Falcon does his talking with his racing first and foremost and that is the way it should be. He progresses through F-Zero circuits by winning races and he progresses through the story by winning races and successfully using his racing skills in heroic fashion, so the concept that is presented before us is really simple.

Another example of a clean cut hero in video games would be Fox McCloud. Fox commands his crew through outer space and on various planets in the Lylat System to take down bad guys that are impeding their progress. Fox and his crew are put to the test in retrieving special items, defeating a gigantic nemesis or rescuing each other through all sorts of predicaments and the thrill of Science-Fiction combat lures gamers in to experience the story of Star Fox, to see what exactly goes on in the life of a space soldier. Who can forget the famous quote by Peppy Hare that is repeated almost all the time? "Do a barrel roll!" In Star Fox Adventures, Fox was allowed to go on foot to accomplish his goals and the basic survival instincts that Fox brings to the table appears right away when he is on foot.

Fox McCloud normally is pitted against the intimidating genius scientist Andross and his henchmen and the possibilities of the storyline branching out to plot twists or mini-cliffhangers are almost endless. Anyone who has played games in the Star Fox series would know that the villains in Fox's universe are no easy customers and they are characters you want to boo and jeer. The mercenary team known as Star Wolf is a clear example of a team of characters that just want to make Fox McCloud's life miserable by further complicating his missions and putting the safety of his crew in danger. Because of the actions taken by Wolf O'Donnell and his crew the player is motivated to get behind the Star Fox team and to root for them to overcome the Star Wolf team's challenges.

Andross is one despicable scientist with no regard for innocent life as he is a maniacal villain.Who would want Andross to succeed in his quest for absolute power? Fox McCloud has a Code of Honor that he follows partly because his late father James McCloud followed that same Code of Honor. Another reason for Fox having a Code of Honor (moral code) is because he has a responsibility to defend his people and his friends as he is a well trained space pilot. This is his job and there are consequences for not getting the job done. Fox has more than enough motivation to be a hero and he doesn't have any reason to change alignments.

One quality trait of Fox McCloud is that he is a team player. He genuinely cares about his team of friends. Peppy Hare, Falco Lombardi, Slippy Toad and Krystal round out the supporting cast and Fox keeps his friends in mind. Fox's personality is relatable because he doesn't have a selfish mindset. He knows he can't do everything by himself. A hero becomes a hero not just by what he himself does but also by what he allows his friends around him to do. Leadership is the ability to lead others as well as leading yourself.

One more example of a clean cut hero would be a skilled bomb-thrower who is simply known as Bomberman. At first glance people would look at a character like Bomberman and say "Well, he just throws bombs at enemies", but there is more to Bomberman than what he shows in his abilities. He can be viewed in a similar light to both Captain Falcon and Fox McCloud in the sense that Bomberman has a similar setup in his character. Although this isn't represented enough in the games themselves, cartoon cutscenes and Anime shows of Bomberman feature our bomb-throwing hero as a member of a defense unit that fights off the forces of evil that try to invade the headquarters of the Bomber people on planet Bomber.

Bomberman is basically described as a soldier who is doing his duty to protect his people and his purpose for doing so has layers to it. Bomberman is described as having a family of Bombers that have done their duties just like he has done his duty and it's noteworthy that Bomberman has an obviously different attire compared to the other Bombers. The difference in the attire makes it clear that there is something significant about this Bomberman we are playing as. Bomberman has a cheerful personality and he has a positive outlook on life on planet Bomber, and that message is relayed to the player during gameplay and during cutscenes. Bomberman is a good example of a hero in a lighthearted environment because of the traits of kindness and respect that he wears on his sleeves. It also helps that the throwing of his bombs sometimes leads to comedic moments that makes gamers laugh.

Bomberman is the kind of hero who welcomes his friends to join in on the adventure and he doesn't mind if others succeed in tasks that he himself can't do. For example, there are times when he has to ride on an animal named Louie to reach higher platforms because Louie has the ability to jump higher than Bomberman and he also can kick off walls to jump a second time. In some levels Bomberman can't progress unless he uses Louie. This is an example of a hero being resourceful within his environment.

What we basically need to know about the hero is that he is the kind of character that expands the life of the story. The low actions of the villain and the questionable actions of the antihero can start the engine, but the hero who stays true to his Code of Honor is the one who makes the engine go. That is the best analogy that I can use. In most cases the story doesn't move forward without the actions of the hero being successful in some way. It is important for any writer to build the hero up to have a legitimate chance to fight off his enemies. It wouldn't help to overpower the hero right from the start because an overpowered hero wouldn't experience hardship or the general sense of struggling unless he was quickly powered down, but even then that might feel like a knee jerk reaction on the part of the writer in character development. This is probably one of the reasons why I personally relate more to the underdog kind of hero when I envision an action story.

The most successful heroes have a lasting impact on the stories that are told about them. If the story is executed properly, the hero will probably be talked about the most by fans of the game series. A writer has to be mindful of the hero's role in a story because it is one of the most critical roles to develop.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Discussion #3 - Comedy In Games

Gaming is an interactive experience that allows players to care about what is going on and there are many facets to how a gamer can enjoy the overall gaming experience. Great gameplay mechanics is one thing to consider and so too are the appealing graphics of a game, and let's not forget about the memorable soundtracks that you repeat in your head ever so often and the progressive storytelling that leads up to a satisfying payoff towards the end of the game, but what is something that a gamer can take from an experience that can't be found in experiences in other media forms?

When it comes to storytelling in a game, it isn't always about having a super serious "I gotta have the tone of a sophisticated William Shakesphere play" knock your socks off thrilling adventure. I mean, we can still have an amazing adventure and we can still have a story that can make an impact in a game, sending the right kind of messages to the gamer as he or she plays through it, but it's important to remember what the core concept of a video game is. A video game is something a gamer is supposed to have fun with.

That is a plain description but that is the only answer you really need because as challenging as a game can be, it has to present fun challenges to the gamer. A game is supposed to bring out the intrigue that a gamer can relate to. A game has to have its own element of surprise that can grab the gamer's attention and keep that attention throughout the experience. Cutscenes in between levels of a game provide temporary relief for gamers before they are ready to perform again in gameplay, and it would be these cutscenes that deliver the smiles and the laughs that a gamer is looking for.

There are countless examples of characters who have expressed the brightness and flexibility of their personalities through cutscenes where they don't do anything serious, but rather they do things that are just completely silly, playfully daft or cleverly hysterical. Most video game characters are introduced to have that dimension of comic relief to begin with and whether that can be seen in the design of the character or if that can be heard in the dialogue of the character, gamers will find out right away what the funny points of a video game story are.

The jokes in video game stories aren't so easy as to ask "Why did the chicken cross the road?" but rather the jokes are developed on a platform that would remind anyone of a Broadway stage play, a Charlie Chaplin silent film or even an episode of The Three Stooges. Basically, slapstick comedy works in video games and they have worked in video games for a long time simply because the platform of video games is appropriate for slapstick comedy to have a presence on. Development teams are aiming to have the gamer relax with the product they are making, and comedy is the easiest way to allow the gamer to relax.

I will list a few characters who represent the element of comedy in games very well and they are the following...

Daxter - Jak and Daxter

Now I'm starting off with a rather perplexing character in the sense that not everybody finds this character to be funny. Daxter is viewed by some as a character who tries to crack jokes but isn't very good at it.  He is viewed as that fiend you bring along because you have to or else you're going to hear about it from said friend. In my view, the basic idea of a character like Daxter is solid with one main reason being that the design of this character is appealing and it's something that you can remember when you see it. Another reason would be because of the fact that a story like a Jak and Daxter adventure needs to have balance. You have your serious straight man character in Jak who is the hero that gamers want to be, but you also have to have a nutty and unorthodox thinking sidekick in Daxter who is the hero that gamers hope they don't up becoming.

In some ways you can say that Daxter serves as a reality check for those who are not careful with their heroic pursuits. Those with dreams of being the main hero with the spotlight on them have to be aware of the fact that they can't take their heroic duties lightly, and wisecracking jokes like Jerry Seinfeld won't always get you to main hero status. There are some moments where Daxter actually comes across as funny and entertaining, and in the way of "Aww shucks! The little guy can't get a break, can he?", which is what Daxter's purpose pretty much is. Of course, there are some moments where Daxter can be annoying to the point where some gamers have to "facepalm". That is the thing about developing a character in any media form. You can't expect a character to be perfect in its delivery. There will be some jokes the character uses that you will like, and there will be other jokes that you just won't like for one reason or another. It happens.

Daxter is a needed source of balance for the scope of a Jak and Daxter story because he does provide a break in the serious tones that are developed by Jak and his situations. Whether or not he is well liked by fans or critics, Daxter has legitimate reasons to exist and his basic foundation as a "cheerful screw-up" comedy character is understandable.

Earthworm Jim

Random cartoony schemes make up the world that Earthworm Jim lives in and it's easy to tell why he transitions so well into the world of video games. Earthworm Jim is a beloved character who reminds people of the slapstick nature of comedy. Jim comes across as a heroic character who takes his job seriously, but in his own silly way. The game that featured Earthworm Jim on the Sega Genesis clearly showed how little the restrictions were for Jim to show how crazy the situations he got himself into actually became. The world that surrounds Jim is outrageous and the thought of a worm being in a suit can be the one to defeat the forces of rotten baddies is a very easy way to grab the attention of the gamer.

Early on in the game, Jim is challenged to a race through outer space against a chicken dressed up as an astronaut and the thought alone is ridiculous enough to make the gamer laugh on the inside before actually laughing. Simply put, playing through the game and watching the cutscenes that take place in between levels give you the impression that Erathworm Jim's mind wanders off quite a bit. Jim comes across as an entertainer who's pumped up and ready to go for the troubles that await him, and even when he fails miserably during the game, his reaction to his defeat can be pretty hilarious as well.

How about that one time in the Sega Genesis game where Jim had to ride on a giant hamster to advance through tubes that would be fitting for a real hamster to travel through? Jim is obviously no stranger to making well placed puns, it would seem. Let's also consider the way that Jim is designed. He is a worm in a spacesuit. Before he came into existence no one would even dare to imagine having a character like that appear in a cartoon.

Earthworms have no arms and no legs in real life and it is only through his spacesuit where Jim can move and function like a typical anthropomorphic character would, so therefore we have a character who can be creative with his body, and when I mean creative I mean creative in the funniest ways. At any time Jim can simply get out of his spacesuit and act like a worm again in movement and it's something like this where fans can make double takes depending on how it's presented. Earthworm Jim is a fun character who expresses his personality when the action begins.

Crash Bandicoot

This character is in the same breath as Earthworm Jim as he does just as many zany and off the wall things to make gamers laugh. Crash Bandicoot used to be a staple main hero character for the early days of the Sony Playstation and it was easy to see why he became popular in the eyes of gamers who played his games. Crash Bandicoot had an energetic personality and he was always willing to jump off boxes and bounce off obstacles in order to collect as many apples as he possibly could. The designs of the levels were not only amazing but also amusing because of the way the obstacles were set up. Crash's facial expressions were always well noticed and they stood out to the gamer. Crash almost always appeared to have a goofy smile on his face even when things weren't going so well for him in a boss fight.

As far as dialogue goes, Crash didn't have much to say (if he even got to say anything at all), but his initial reactions of "Whoa!" or "Look out!" or even "Oh no!" sent a message to the gamer that things were going to get a bit dicey, but not in a bad way. In some parts of the series when he loses a life, Crash's defeated animations are flat out priceless because these animations are as cinematic as watching your favorite Saturday morning cartoon hero mess up so badly when going toe-to-toe. You feel bad for the hero because of his comedic shortcomings but this also encourages you to root for this hero and it motivates you to succeed in a video game as your favorite hero. Comedy has such benefits when it's applied to the main motivations of wanting to complete a game, and Crash Bandicoot fits this category like a glove.

It's sad that Crash Bandicoot has come and gone through the history of video games and his slow departure from the scene was hard to endure, being reduced to just racing spin-off games that really didn't do anything to the main Crash Bandicoot canon. I guess the joke would be "Why did the bandicoot cross the road and start racing?" My answer would be this "So that he could ride off into the sunset, partner!" Buh-duh bump!

Luigi - Super Mario Bros.

Now wait just a minute! The first real popular sidekick in the history of video games is actually a comedy character? Well, when Nintendo created Luigi to be another available character for gamers to play as, they probably didn't envision him to be any sort of joke as a character. Although he was just an NES recolor of Mario when he made his debut, Luigi would play a very significant role in the development of options a gamer could have in a game, so at what point did the younger brother of Mario become so funny?

In more recent times, Luigi has been portrayed by Nintendo as a cowardly sidekick who reacts in the silliest ways possible. Whenever anything bad happens to our poor green plumber, Luigi's reactions to these events are very memorable and they add to the cartoony experience of the game. The points of humor applied to Luigi's situations are very well placed and they add a new dimension to his character. The type of comedy used for Luigi isn't forced and it doesn't harm Luigi's character at all. The type of comedy we see involving Luigi relates to the kind of character he is, the hero who isn't as brave as the main hero, his big brother Mario.

Luigi being involved in laugh-out-loud comedy scenes makes sense because of the character dynamics that are in play for Mario games. The humor is lighthearted and it's something that gamers can relate to. Sometimes the comedy that comes from Luigi's mishaps can be tied in to missions that Mario needs to complete in games and this is a witty way to feature Luigi and make him relevant to the game's plot in some way. Because of the jokes that surround Luigi fans have developed a new liking and admiration for the character, and so much so that the fans of Luigi will make original jokes involving Luigi. Mario comedy is clearly relatable comedy because it makes us gamers feel like we should get behind certain characters a little bit more. At least Nintendo was generous enough to hold the Year of Luigi, right?

Telling a joke is not a science. Telling a joke is the easiest way to make a person smile and to make a person feel at home. Telling a joke is only a natural part of one's personality. Telling a joke extends the range of a story in any media form and the jokes can lead to a great payoff later on if they are used properly. As a writer, you have to write for the ear and not for the eye and you have to write in jokes that are pleasant for the ears to hear. The jokes in a video game have to flow without being given away too easily.

For instance, I could come up with a scenario where a red ant and a black ant are fighting over position of a huge boulder that they both need for their respective colonies. While these ants are considered opponents in a competition, they are not necessarily bitter enemies but they treat each other like rivals who can't stand each other. Let's say the red ant is a fiery and stubborn worker who goes by the book(note the pun), and let's say the black ant is a goofy oddball who will do the most unusual things to complete a task.

I could implement the dialogue of the entire game in such a way to spoof classic stories such as Rocky, any installment of Bruce Willis' Die Hard series or even Bad News Bears. Depending on who you play as in this predicament, the dialogue can change to better fit the ant you are supporting in gameplay and it will add more comedic elements to the ant you are opposing. Comedy adds spice to the situation. Comedy in video games isn't a one-way road.

Games are meant to be remembered for at least one thing that stands out and some games have great amounts of comedy that stick out like a sore thumb in the dog days of winter, and I mean that in a good way. We could use a few characters who are relaxed and out of the ordinary compared to their comrades because they add to the world they inhabit and because they add to the overall experience of the game. There is that saying 'Live, Love, Laugh" and I believe one good tweak to that saying would be "Play, Enjoy, Laugh" because that is one way to view a video game.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Movies That Should Be Games - Gladiator

"Now we are free... to imagine a video game version of this!"

This will be another theme that I will tackle on the Gaming Journalist Gazette because it is something that I can generally relate to. I am a fan of video games but I am also a fan of movies on the big screen. From time to time we get to thinking of ideas surrounding one story in one media and we try to imagine how that one story could translate into another media form. There are some stories that just can't be translated into a different media form even though those stories have substance. There are some movies that just don't translate well as video games and the other way around is also true. There are some video games that just don't translate well as movies. It often depends on what stories you are looking at and when you find that one story that can be so flexible that it can successfully make such a change, it will more often than not spark your imagination and motivate you to picture that story in a different light.

Movies and video games have different methods of storytelling and these methods lead to different results when it comes to making a lasting impression on the consumer, so it stands to reason that it would take much patience to carefully translate the story that originally fits in a movie into a video game. For the movie that I am about to discuss, yes, I am aware of the fact that recently Ryse: Son of Rome was released for the Xbox One, but let's take into account that the story of Ryse is not the same as the well known movie simply called Gladiator. There are clear differences between the two.

At the beginning of Gladiator, there is no immediate threat to the main character, Maximus Decimus Meridius, a Roman general who has firm control over an army of Roman soldiers, in particular. Maximus leads his men past the forces of Germania with confidence and solid focus which would make for a nice presentation of the first level. You would be thrown into the fire of having to learn how to be a commander on the field of battle but you would be shown what to do with the addition of intuitive gameplay controls.

The first scenes of Gladiator would have to be managed in such a way that would make it appear as a tutorial session for the gamer. The tutorial session would go into great visual depth on individual battles, team battles and even elements of the Real Time Strategy genre. What perspective would this game be in? I believe it would be easy to have both the First Person and the Third Person perspectives as viable options for this hypothetical game, so I wouldn't see the harm of allowing the player to choose which perspective he or she is most comfortable with.

Considering that we are talking about a video game version of Gladiator, time for storytelling has to be limited to certain parts that wouldn't at all hinder the flow of the game, because after all it is the action that the players want, not the wandering around animation sequences. The bulk of the story would have to be on the shoulders of Maximus Decimus Meridius and the emphasis should be on the character of Maximus because it is his character that mainly drives the story. Cameo descriptions of other characters such as Antonius Proximo and Juba can still be in order, but they must not disrupt the momentum of what the gameplay is attempting to build.

The only playable character in the Campaign Mode should be Maximus as the video game retelling of Gladiator should be meant to reintroduce you to Maximus in the different media form. If the gamer is to sit down and play a video game presentation of Gladiator, the gamer would be expecting to play as THE Gladiator, and not just as any gladiator. Other playable characters can be used but only in the form of a Multiplayer Mode that has no effect on the main campaign.

We can't have a bright strong hero without a menacing jealous villain to counter the former's personality. Here is where the video game retelling would be different than what we have seen in the movie. In truth, Gladiator is actually historically inaccurate as that has been confirmed by various sources. While Joaquin Phoenix did a stellar job as the cold Emperor Commodus, it can be noted that around the times of the Roman Colosseum becoming a wild territory of chaotic spectacle, the person in charge was not that of Commodus.

To establish historical accuracy, the development team would have to find the emperor who actually was in control around the days of physical struggle and have him be the one to antagonize Maximus. It would allow for a change of pace that would come across as pleasant, and more importantly, fresh. This change would allow the gamer to experience a different side to the story that he or she may not be so familiar with and this new dynamic could possibly present itself as if it were a new story altogether.

The progression of the game would meet various transition points such as more tutorial guidance for the player after Maximus is captured and demoted to the rank of slave. After Maximus is taken away from his home turf and forced to start competing as a gladiator, this is where the gameplay action picks up considerably. Maximus would go through a series of trial battles at first in a smaller arena while interacting with the environment between fights and as his stature as a competitor grows, the game would eventually transition again to a new territory. 

One thing that must be noted is that there is more to a gameplay experience than just straightforward battles. The player has to be given different things to do. One knock that Ryse: Son of Rome has received has been that the gameplay sequences are too repetitive. A video game interpretation of Gladiator should avoid such a problem at all costs, so how do we remedy this? We highlight the core values of Maximus. He was a kind family man of goodwill who would pick up his comrades if they were in need of help, so if we were to put emphasis on this part of his character by implementing missions that involve Maximus having to rescue people from traps or oppressors, or better yet, leading people out of danger before they even meet that danger in the first place.

A fine example would be that one scene in the movie where Antonius Proximo and other gladiators try to help free Maximus from the gates of Rome, and while the others were out in the open in challenging and fighting the guards, Maximus himself did all that he could to hide in stealth. I believe a different wrinkle to add into the gameplay mechanics of Maximus would be the element of stealth. In separate individual missions we could have our hero temporarily break free from his isolated gladiator community and wander through select areas of Rome to gather information from guards, Roman politicians or those associated with the colosseum games so that he will get a better idea of what is going on in the grand scheme of things.

The main objective of stealth missions, like in most other games, would be for Maximus not to get caught by bitter enemies who want him gone. Otherwise, the mission is failed and the player is sent back to the starting point and play the mission over again. If anything, the idea of Maximus being given help to be freed in the movie should be a selling point for the development team when making the game since implementing the idea of freeing Maximus can be put on display throughout the game, but in the temporary sense. 

The main currency of items for Maximus to collect in this game would be weapons. Implementing Roman coins into the mix isn't really necessary because imprisoned gladiators were not given the same benefits as those who were in the stands of the colosseum watching the battles. I don't see the need to have coins as a collectable source in this game because it wouldn't feel appropriate considering the environment. In battle the only thing a gladiator values other than his physical abilities would be weapons. Any weapons that he could get his hands on he was going to use to the bitter end, win or lose.

The kinds of weapons can vary from one end to another as long as they come from the same time as the days of Rome. We present a realistic view of how the battles at the colosseum were conducted if we have the right weapons, and that will allow the players to better engage in the atmosphere of the game. We could also attach a side effect to the weapons that the gladiators carry. Not only do the gladiators have health meters that the players have to be aware of, but also the stability of the weapons can come into question after frequent use of them. The weapons could have their own health meters so that the player would be alerted of how long the player can use the weapon. Weapons in the colosseum often broke in the middle of battles and the gladiators had to improvise from that point on.

As far as quick time events, button mashing and button combinations are concerned, the development team would have to choose its spots for when to implement these mechanics. Transition points could employ the quick time events, stalemate struggles in the middle of battles could employ button mashing techniques in the most appropriate and respectful form, and button combinations could be employed in a variety of ways for stealth missions, rescue missions and during battles in the colosseum.

Customization is another thing that I generally warm up to. There should be a mode in this game where you could customize up to a certain number of gladiators, give these warriors their own names and present them as characters filled with life. For example, I go to the Custom Mode and I create a gladiator named Eoin Finalitus (I know that's a random name), and I designate his place of origin being Ireland. This alone would allow to me imagine that Eoin Finalitus has some ties to Rome simply because of his name, but at some point he moved to Ireland to be with other family members.

His physical abilities are determined, strengths and weakness well defined, and I give him his "Weapon of Choice", a weapon that he will be mostly familiar with compared to other weapons. We can take this custom character to Multiplayer Mode and have him compete against established characters, characters made for Campaign Mode and other Custom Mode characters and if Eoin Finalitus wins enough battles, we can reward the player by having Eoin make a brief cameo appearance in Campaign Mode.

Overall I see value in making a game specifically dedicated to the movie Gladiator because the motivation that a player has for being in an intense competiton such as that as games in the Roman Colosseum would be upheld. I see the benefits of such an approach. The marketing of this game would be easily understandable and relatable since most have seen the movie Gladiator already. There is no need to restrict a game like this just because of the title that it's living up to. Let the ideas come to you as a development team and let those ideas lead you to a resolve that would make you say "Yes. That is something we could do to make the gameplay experience fun for the player.", which is the main goal.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Discussion #2 - ROM Hacks (Fan Created Works)

There are often times when a gamer will be motivated to do something more than to just complete a game 100%. Sometimes a gamer will look at a game, especially an older generation game, and think "You know what? If I were able to make some changes to this game it might create a different experience altogether!" I'm pretty sure there have been times when we were young that we had this thought hover over us like a big raincloud, and I'm sure that as kids we would make sketches on notebook paper and make our own interpretations of our adventures in a video game. Using your imagination is sometimes undervalued but it's your imagination that can help carry you to a point where you make the most interesting discoveries.

As time has moved along in the Video Game Industry, gamers have discovered different platforms to use in order to get a better idea of what the game development process is like, and the old act of hacking would be one of these platforms. One successful game in particular has had a large library of hacks developed out of its programming system, and the results have been very interesting to say the least. The older generation game I am talking about would be Super Mario World, which was released for the SNES. There are many gamers who are fans of the original Super Mario World game and when they found out that there was a program on the internet that they could use to make their own custom Mario game out of the Super Mario World programming system, their imaginations would certainly run wild.

It amazes me how creative the hacking community really is, and especially considering the program they use to alter the universe of Super Mario World, it makes me smile because I believe many good ideas have been developed from Super Mario World ROM hacks. ROM hacks in general are nothing new as they have been around for quite some time, but Super Mario World ROM hacks stand out in more ways than one. Depending on how skilled the hackers are, the range of creativity that a Mario ROM hack can have can be almost unlimited. Mario ROM hacks are basically an extension of interpretations that gamers have on the original Super Mario World game and the execution of these hacks can be awesome.

The amount of time that goes into these hacks must be respected because hackers who don't put in the time to make sure that their hacks are squeaky clean without glitches and neglect the basic principles of how a game flows will not be rewarded with high praise from the gaming community. Gamers can tell almost right away if a hack was treated with care or not and gamers won't willingly support a hack that is a scrambled mess in code and design. There is one user on YouTube I normally follow to get updates on Mario ROM hacks.

His username is TheRealNinjaBoy and while he may not be the only one who plays Mario ROM hacks, he certainly is one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the use of Super Mario World ROM hacks. Through TheRealNinjaBoy alone I have seen a good amount of successful hacks made by people who I believe would probably stand a good chance of becoming serious game developers in the future if they chose to venture down that path. Some of these hackers do an absolutely unbelievable job of expanding on the Super Mario world engine, changing the routes in the overworlds, placing the secret exits in specific spots of a level, creating visually appealing settings on world maps, and some hackers will even take it a step further and add in completely custom made graphics for levels.

Hackers of Super Mario World will change the color templates of enemies, the interior designs of the castles that Mario will enter, the backgrounds of levels and so on, and some of these creations that I have seen are very creative. Considering that there are plenty of social, mobile and handheld games that still cater to the 16-bit environments of games, some of these skilled hackers have a legitimate possibility of being able to program such games for development teams if they continue to work hard on their craft. That's all it really takes. Consistency.

There has to be consistency with the work that is done to programming and implementation. There has to be some sort of routine developed by game designers, hackers or not, to consistently hit a target of development. There has to be thorough planning involved in what kind of design a developer wants for a game. What kind of look do I want my custom game to have? What is the theme I want to present in front of gamers? How different is my hack compared to the original thing? What can I add in my hack that players haven't seen before? What feature could I have in my hack that I believe players would find fun and intriguing?

Going back to TheRealNinjaBoy, he will voice his opinions on Super Mario World hacks once he completes them, or in the worst case scenario, he will stop the hack in mid stride simply because that the hack he played was so badly broken, and he will be honest about what he sees. He likes to pick apart these hacks and rightfully so. He has knowledge on how to hack Super Mario World and he pays attention to detail, which is what programmers and designers should do as well. You will often hear terms used by him such as Layer 2 or Layer 3 and these terms are used to define the objects that the hacker uses. Placing sprites throughout a level isn't as easy as some people believe. A hacked level is a canvas that the hacker paints on and it's essential that he or she doesn't place sprites in the wrong areas or else even the most miniscule of errors could result in an unplayable game.

It's easy to break a hack by way of a hacker's own doing. There are often times when a hacker will overlook certain details of game design and the hacker won't go back and address those details. I have seen good Mario ROM hacks and I have seen... well... really terrible Mario ROM hacks. When I see the terrible ROM hacks I have to sit back and ask myself "What exactly am I seeing here? What was the hacker thinking? How much care was put into this hack? What was the point of this hack?" Good ROM hacks are rewarded with praise because the hackers responsible for these interesting takes on Super Mario World took the time to make the good hacks worthwhile for the gamer. Terrible ROM hacks will be quickly forgotten about because of the lack of care put in. That's just how it goes.

ROM hacks are a good way for aspiring designers to express themselves and they present opportunities for designers to expand on what they already know in the field. Whether it's of the more simplistic variety with Super Mario World or something more advanced with 64-bit games, it's a challenge for the designer to change something, to make it different and to make it look good. Success and failure both have their benefits. You learn from both results. There are often times when initial failure leads to eventual success and I believe in some way ROM hacks can symbolize that.

For more information on Super Mario World ROM hacks, feel free to visit this website. Hopefully you will find this useful.

http://www.smwcentral.net

Friday, January 10, 2014

Review: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

"Babysitting can be a ton of hard work, apparently!"

For my first ever blog review, I figured that I should do something special to start things off. I wanted to make my first review stand out, and I feel the only way to do so is to review a game that I held close to my heart in my childhood. This game I am reviewing was really the first game to pull me into the world of video games as a solo player. Now there was a time before the release of this game that I was playing video games,  but that was when I was at a very young age and I was playing games with my older sister. I didn't start playing video games by myself until a few years later when the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was reaching the end of its lifespan.

The Nintendo 64 was starting to come out on the market and it would capture the imaginative minds and the attention of gamers all around the world, but the SNES was going out with a respectable bang by putting out games that were of solid quality. One in particular would be temporarily lost in the shuffle because of the Nintendo 64 boom, but when gamers came around to this title, they would soon realize that this was actually in fact a hidden gem of a game.

Yes. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was the game that started the journey for me as a gamer and the story behind me getting my hands on this game is pretty interesting. I was just a shy and quiet kid living in a random apartment complex in Ohio, having very little money and having to improvise in order to have fun. When the time of Hannukah came around for the winter season, I asked a relative of mine to get me an SNES, and I ended up getting it and the game that came with the system in the box was Yoshi's Island.

I didn't waste any time in playing Yoshi's Island back then as a kid and I remember having so much fun with the game, not taking into account any of the things that matter to us adult gamers today. Yoshi's Island came across to me as something special, a visual revelation of a new adventure unfolding before my very own eyes as I put my focus on the scenery and on the obstacles of every level. It is only natural that when you play one game of one specific gaming generation you tend to ignore that game once you put your focus on newer generation games, so in this case, there were big time gaps between sessions of playing Yoshi's Island for me. I remember playing Yoshi's Island as a young kid, as a teenager, and most recently I would play it again as an adult, so would the game still stand the test of time in the year 2013? Let's begin.

Controls - 20 out of 20 Points

I must admit that when I got into my most recent session playing Yoshi's Island, I somewhat felt like a washed up has-been of a gamer simply because it had been so long since I last played the game. The first few levels of the game made me face a reality to the issue of gaming and time gaps. You may know that you played an older game at one point, but at a later time one must be prepared to "relearn" the gameplay mechanics of the older game to get familiar with it again. I had to tackle the levels of Yoshi's Island again and when I ventured deeper into the game the memories of what I did before at an earlier age came back to me.

The gameplay controls are easy to learn and welcoming and once the gamer gets a firm grasp on what our beloved hero, a happy green dinosaur named Yoshi, can do in the heat of action the gameplay experience becomes a smooth sailing ride. Yoshi can perform a series of actions in this game such as his signature Flutter Jump, a type of jump where Yoshi repeatedly kicks in mid air to maintain hangtime, and the Ground Pound, an attack Yoshi can use to break down obstacles and defeat enemies.Yoshi can also use his long tongue to grab and eat enemies and turn them into eggs, which he can use to throw at any object, item or enemy.

There is an aiming mechanic in Yoshi's egg throws as a cursor will be on display when he's ready to throw eggs. The X that marks the spot will be direction where Yoshi throws the egg and this form of attack is almost always the primary way to defeat an enemy or to make an abrupt discovery. In some cases, Yoshi will have to rescue Baby Mario by shooting an egg at the bubble that Baby Mario is in, which is something I will talk about later.

There is also the dynamic of Yoshi changing pace and having the player operate him as either a helicopter, a car, a train or a submarine. Each of these different parts of Yoshi will feature specific routes as to how he can reach much needed coins, flowers and even mid-rings. These transition points are seamless and they don't at all interfere with the flow of gameplay. If anything, these changes of pace serve as enjoyable wrinkles in an already satisfying experience. 

The gameplay controls don't end with Yoshi's set of skills. Sometimes Yoshi will have to use objects such as a Chomp Rock, a big boulder that he can push to crush enemies that get in its way, or balloons that gradually ascend up into the sky which will be the only way for Yoshi to get up on higher ground, or the occasional POW Block that will instantly defeat enemies once Yoshi starts hitting it, or the magnifying glass that will find the red coins for Yoshi, or various melons that contain different elements.

These melons can be found in select levels but they can also be won in Bonus Challenge events and be placed in the inventory that Yoshi has when the player looks through the pause menu. A normal watermelon eaten by Yoshi will allow him to spit out watermelon seeds at enemies. A Fire Melon eaten by Yoshi will allow him to spit out fire to burn enemies. An Ice Melon eaten by Yoshi will allow him to spit out ice to freeze enemies in their tracks. These melon attacks serve as an alternative to the firing of eggs and I find this alternative to be very creative and useful. Considering all the enemies he has to deal with in levels, Yoshi could use such help to defend himself and Baby Mario.

I find these items to be very helpful whenever the player is in a bind and these items enhance the fun of going through the different worlds. The actions that Yoshi performs come across as crisp and without hesitation. I didn't find any glitches when Yoshi showed off his skill set. When you want Yoshi to pick up the pace and run, he will run on command. You just have to hold down on the D-Pad to run and this simplistic method works. Some modern day games mishandle even the simplistic methods or even neglect to use them. Yoshi's style of play is a clear reminder of what you would play in a Mario game and it's obvious that the mechanics were handled with so much care. I didn't waste time in performing an action. The action just occurred and it made me happy.

The most fun I had was, without a doubt, firing eggs at enemies and at Question Mark Wing Clouds. I considered it to be a playful round of target practice if I just wanted to take a stroll and take a step back from completing a level for the time being. Sometimes you just want to be creative with your time on Yoshi's Island and fire eggs at enemies in the most unorthodox ways imaginable.

Graphics - 19 out of 20 Points

Let's consider the range of the graphics for this game. The game was released on the SNES but by far this game blows the earliest SNES games out of the water when it comes to visually pleasing graphics. Are the animations perfect? I wouldn't necessarily say that but there is no doubt in my mind that these graphics stick out and pull you into what is going on in this world. The looks of Yoshi's Island are distinct and colorful and they put the player in a good mood. Mario games are designed to be vibrant and welcoming to begin with and this one is no different. 

The development team in Nintendo did an amazing job of implementing the vision that was preferred because I completely understand what they were going for. When you create a world you have to give it life. The world that you create has to have an identity that can relate to the gamer in some way. For Yoshi's Island, it comes across as a beautiful Saturday morning cartoon show that you can't wait to get up for and watch.

Another interesting thing I have to note about this game is that it features enemies that haven't been normally seen in many other Mario games. For example, the boss at the castle of 1-8, Salvo the Slime, is an enemy that hasn't really shown up all that much in future installments of the Mario series, if ever. Tap Taps also fill the role of rare enemies. Tap Taps are the spike enemies that can't be eaten by Yoshi. Burt the Bashful? Remember him? Goonies are birds that can be seen flying through World 5 and they don't make much more appearances after this game. It is probably no surprise that Marching Mildes don't appear again in Mario games because of how similar they look to another beloved video game hero in Kirby. Flowers and monkeys deserve to be mentioned as well. Raphael the Raven and the bandits are exceptions, though, as they have appeared in future installments.

The graphics are awesome in the SNES layout. I love the visuals. The graphics have the kind of appeal that you just can't get in many other games. When progressing through levels, you would sometimes have to step back and say that you were looking at works of art and it's hard to duplicate such a positive feeling in just a simplistic 16-bit setup.

Story - 10 out of 20 Points

I must admit something about this game. I am actually not too thrilled about the story of this game. In the realm of fictional storytelling I understand why the appeal of the storyline I am about to discuss would grab the attention of people. This storyline is simplistic and it is easy to understand but it really doesn't do a whole lot for me. If anything, I don't play Mario games for the stories that they tell anyway. Mario games are not super dependent on great storytelling in order to win over gamers. Mario games are talked about for their gameplay mechanics first and foremost.

Here is how the story for Yoshi's Island goes. One day, a stork flies high into the sky carrying a pair of twins, hoping to deliver these babies to their parents in time. Everything appears to be just fine until later on in the night, a mysterious creature zooms by and frazzles the stork. The creature (which turns out to be one of the most identifiable minion servant villains in Kamek) ends up snatching one twin away from the stork while the other twin falls. This other twin ends up landing on Yoshi's Island  and he safely lands on Yoshi's back, and a map is dropped in the process. Yoshi looks at this map and finds out that the baby's destination has been set for a specific place. From here, Yoshi gets together with his pack of Yoshi friends and they decide how they should take Baby Mario back to his home. Between 8 different colored Yoshies, they form a relay system where they pass the baby after completing each level and story-wise this makes sense.

I don't think the story as a whole is bad, it's just that stories like these aren't particularly my cup of tea, so to speak. Many people who have played this game happen to love the story of this game and it's easy to see why they do love this story. There is the cute appeal of Yoshi babysitting Baby Mario while he goes through all sorts of dangerous environments, acting as a protector for the young plumber-to-be.

Music - 19 out of 20 Points

There is no doubt about this category. I definitely love the music of this game. The soundtracks that were composed for this game are amazing. The rhythm and the beat of a single soundtrack is unforgettable and it's easy for anyone who has played this game to quickly remember of what kind of music a Yoshi's Island level has. The music in Yoshi's Island is cheerful, upbeat and it was innovative for its time. When Yoshi was on normal grounds, the music would be almost like something you would hear in a later installment like Yoshi's Story. When Yoshi entered a jungle patch, such as the levels in World 3, you would notice an obvious difference in the tone of the music. The music here sounded like you were on a mysterious safari adventure of sorts, or you were going on a special trip to the zoo.

The fortress and castle themes stood out the most. The music took on a tone of "You better watch your step here... or else" and that alone grabbed my attention every time I went into the -4 and -8 levels of the game. I constantly found myself scat singing the fortress/castle theme just to entertain myself while I was playing the game. The instruments used in all Yoshi's Island soundtracks are all well placed and fitting for the environments that were created. This is the kind of video game music that you can appreciate and it's the kind of video game music that will stay with you for a long time, well after you played the game.

Let's not forget the epic boss theme that is played specifically for 6-8, which is absolutely gripping.

Replayability - 20 out of 20 Points

After playing through Yoshi's Island again, I was quickly reminded of the various reasons why this game has immense value in the Replayability Factor. We only need to begin at the items that Yoshi is required to collect in a level in order to find the first source of replayability. Throughout every level, Yoshi is required to collect 20 Red Coins, 5 Flowers and 30 stars each in order to have cleared the level 100%. This task alone is difficult when you consider the fact that there are 48 levels in total (not counting the extra levels you can unlock), but it's the good kind of difficult because this task serves to motivate the player to search through every single part of a level. There are some gamers who still haven't 100% completed the levels of Yoshi's Island to this day and that should tell you how cleverly developed the levels actually were.

Another thing I should point out would be the event when Yoshi gets hit by an enemy and loses Baby Mario, a timer will start counting down and this is the same timer where the stars are stored in. Yoshi has a maximum of 30 seconds to get back Baby Mario who will be floating around in a bubble crying so loud or else a group of Toadies will swarm in and take Baby Mario away, effectively costing the player a life. The proper sense of danger is key in this game. You have many enemies to deal with and you can't be standing around for too long because the enemies in this game will be active and they will be moving around, and sometimes they will going right after you.

Yoshi's Island inspires the player to use his or her imagination and to have fun and that is the most important thing for a development team to accomplish. Let the player have fun and allow the player to maintain that fun while he or she plays the game numerous times. Yoshi's Island succeeds in this category.

Bonus Points - 5

I will award bonus points because of the amounts of creativity that was used in making this game. The Bonus Challenge is one good wrinkle used in Yoshi's Island as you can access it if Yoshi hits the goal ring and the roulette stops on a flower. I found myself having a ton of fun just playing the Bonus Challenge mini-games because they served as temporary relief periods between levels, strategically placed to let the player have a break from the main action. The mini-games in Yoshi's Island were fun and amusing and I came away having a good feeling about the mini-games. Plus, the times when I hit a Starman and got to use Powerful Mario, Baby Mario on the run, was a quick reminder of why I was using Yoshi to progress through the game in the first place. Knowing what the little guy would eventually become, it was entertaining to see Baby Mario act like the Mario we normally see in short spurts. It's a fitting touch.

Overall Score: 93 out of 100 Points

It took me some time, but I eventually beat Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island again and the memories that I first developed way back in the 1990's  came rushing back to me. The memories you have as a gamer never really go away no matter how long you go between the times that you play a specific game. Playing Yoshi's Island again as an adult reminded me of how enthusiastic I was as a kid to be playing this game for the first time and I couldn't help but have a smile on my face. For those of you who still haven't played Yoshi's Island yet it definitely wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up this game and start playing it. Yoshi's Island has been mentioned by gamers and critics alike as being one of the best video games of all-time, being ranked in Top 100 lists.

In a variety of ways, I am glad that I could start my journey as a gamer with Yoshi's Island as it was surely a solid first learning experience. It made me understand level layouts better and it made me appreciate the environments that I was entering. Games like Yoshi's Island can be iconic in the fact that they can initially spark the imaginations of a gamer, and I believe it did for me. Thank you, Yoshi! Now have a cookie!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Discussion #1 - Power-ups

One of the many things that I will be doing for the Gaming Journalist Gazette will be general discussions. I will submit my opinions on the featured topics and I encourage discussion from the comments section of this blog. As I go along, I will be numbering these discussions to keep track of how many topics I have posted and I intend to bring up a variety of topics that will surely intrigue readers.

For my first discussion I would like to talk about one of the most basic things in a video game that has been around for a long time. We see it in platforming games and we know right away what their purpose is for being in the game. Having a character advance through a level is exciting, but imagine having to guide that character through a level without receiving any benefits during the action. Imagine trying to get through a level with a character that doesn't change its status throughout the entire process. Imagine trying to advance through levels with a limited health bars, and to be specific, let's say that you can only take 3 hits before you lose a life. You would have liked to have something to carry around that would enable you to advance further through a level but that just wasn't available in the game you played. That's a real bummer.

I am talking about the power-up. What does a power-up do? A power-up is a tool that enhances the gameplay experience for a gamer. A power-up is an addition to your in-game character that will help that character get through the stickiest of situations in a level. A power-up improves the status of the character and it gives the character a fighting chance to succeed. Power-ups happen to be the most common items that you can collect in a game and in most cases they will prove to be useful for what lies ahead later on as you go deeper in the game.

From my personal experiences, I have valued power-ups dearly. I have noticed that by playing many games I have needed the help of a power-up to advance past a level. Having my character remaining in its original state has given me a series of problems as I progressed through the game because the levels of difficulty have gone up. If I don't allow my character to improve by way of power-ups then it will most likely be very difficult for me to complete the game. There is a term that gamers use to define an experience where they try to beat a game as fast as they possibly can, and that would be called a "Speedrun", and having to beat a game in a speedrun is a great challenge in and of itself. However, not everyone in the gaming world is accustomed to adapting to speedruns. Casual gamers just want to have a good experience in playing a game and they don't feel the need to rush through it. This is where power-ups come in handy.

One of the reasons why the Super Mario Bros. series took off as well it as did was because of the power-ups that Mario and Luigi could collect while blitzing through levels. Mario in his original state was only that of a tiny Italian plumber and if he got hit once as a tiny plumber then that was the end of the road for Mario. He falls off the screen while posing for the camera in a "I'm sorry!" fashion. In the 1980's, it was still being considered a novelty for a character to have a power-up in a game and with the introduction of the Super Mario Bros. series on the Famicom (or the Nintendo Entertainment System), the idea of power-ups would be accelerated. Power-ups bring something interesting to the table for a game because they allow the gamer to pay attention to the environment of a level. Power-ups remind the gamer to look around in a level if the gamer ever gets in trouble.

In a single game power-ups don't need to be limited to just one item, and that depends on the type of game a development team wants to present. Games can have almost a dozen power-ups if they are all properly handled. Power-ups need to vary in use. Every power-up needs to be assigned a different role to play in a video game so that they don't blend in with each other. Sometimes power-ups that are too closely related to each other and blend in with each other will confuse the gamer, which is something that isn't needed for the gaming experience.

Referring back to Super Mario Bros. games, the Mushroom allows Mario to grow into Super Mario, effectively giving him another hit to take. The Fire Flower allows Mario to shoot fireballs at his enemies. The Super Leaf allows Mario to fly, sporting a raccoon tail and raccoon ears. The Hammer Bro Suit allows Mario to throw hammers at his enemies, which does remind gamers of the Fire Flower but retains a distinct difference in how the action of throwing the hammers is used. Sometimes the power-ups in Mario games don't need to be found by hitting a question mark block. The Goomba's Shoe (also known as Guribo's Shoe) in Super Mario Bros. 3 can be found by running past a goomba that is trying to attack you with the shoe. You stomp on the goomba, take the shoe and away you go, comfortably walking on deadly spikes with protection for your feet.

Of course, there can be a downside to power-ups in games and I mentioned one of the drawbacks with the case of power-ups blending in with each other too much. There are some games that provide power-ups that bulk up the character way too much, and as a result the game becomes much more easy because the character you are controlling after collecting a power-up would be an overpowered juggernaut who can rarely get hurt. Power-ups are meant to give the characters aid but they are not meant to serve as gaming steroids. Game development teams need to make sure that their playable characters don't become too powerful or else this could inadvertently hurt the overall gaming experience.

Also, power-ups don't need to have any immediate physical impact on a character. Mario is used as an example because the power-ups he collects immediately impacts him on the physical end. Pac-Man is a different example. Pac-Man only needs to gobble up a big dot to weaken his enemies so that they are unable to chase him down. His enemies that are otherwise colorful will all turn to a single color (blue) and they will try to get away from Pac-Man. The big dot is a power-up that doesn't improve Pac-Man himself but it serves as a stumbling block for his enemies, giving Pac-Man a fighting chance.

Let's use another example. Power-ups are not limited to just helping a single character. Power-ups can be used to help an entire cast of characters at the same time. Team-themed games, which in most cases would be Role-Playing Games, feature power-up items that are specifically used to not only heal one character but the friends that one character goes along with as well. Whenever a team of characters are in a major bind in the heat of battle, power-ups can be used to aid the entire team so that no member of the team gets left behind because of low health. Some missions in team-themed games require the entire team to stay healthy or else they can't advance. Power-ups in this sense can be used as a great strategic tool, making the gamer think a little bit more about his or her actions in the game.

I will wrap up my take on power-ups with this; Power-ups are necessary even if they aren't mandatory. Power-ups give the gamer freedom to explore a level longer and give the gamer a deeper perspective on the gaming world he or she is investigating. Power-ups should be a helpful aid and not a hindering gaming steroid. Power-ups are tools for the gamer to use if the game isn't progressing through the game as smoothly as he or she once thought. The amount of power-ups available for a character in a game only depends on how unique all of them are and how much they differ from each other. If there are about 12 power-ups in a single game but they all have different purposes, then there shouldn't be a problem.

I welcome a discussion on the power-up. Take care.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Structure of Game Reviews - Criteria

One feature on the Gaming Journalist Gazette blog will be articles that review games, which is something that gamers have grown accustomed to reading over the years. Reviewing games isn't rocket science but it is something to be careful about if you happen to be a game reviewer because more often than not gamers will be looking at game reviewers for information on a game that they are not sure about. A gamer wants to be informed on what he or she is potentially interested in buying in a game and having the right information is critical.

Unfortunately, some reviewers have been guilty of being biased towards certain gaming franchises and being biased against certain gaming franchises, and this is troubling because the truth about the quality of a game can get lost in the shuffle of a biased review. While reviews need to be entertaining and interesting, they always have to be honest and informative. It comes down to the experience of the one who reviews the game when he or she sits down and plays through the game and it comes down to how the reviewer truly feels about the game. A reviewer has to be aware of what goes on in a game and if there are any glaring or minimal flaws in a game, the reviewer has to be prepared to properly pick apart those flaws. This is what we call constructive criticism.

The structures of game reviews vary between reviewing groups and I happen to have my own structure. I have my own format and it's nothing flashy by any means, but it's straight to the point and it highlights the aspects of a game that need to be highlighted. I will be reviewing various types of games that range between generations and for the time being I will be reviewing games from past generations. When it comes to the newer game consoles I don't have the resources available to me right now and I don't know exactly when those resources will become available. In general, though, I have experience playing games and I know how games function. I have a basic idea of what makes a game fun and memorable and it's that fun and those memories that gamers will always take along with them going forward that matter the most.

So allow me to break down my game reviewing formula, so to speak.

Gameplay Controls

This is the most basic category. The core of a game must be the gameplay controls. If the gameplay controls are not functioning correctly, then there is very little hope that the video game itself will be successful on the market. This is the heartbeat of a video game and it must be treated with care. Development teams must know how the gameplay controls are going to work because it will be a strong representation of that team's vision of the game. Glitches can be compared to that of the good ol' flu bug. Any glitches found in a game would be considered hiccups made by the development team that weren't caught by the Quality Assurance team for whatever reason.

Controls have to respond on time for the action of the character to work. There has to be a flow to the action that the gamer wants to perform for the character. It is also important that the controls aren't too complex because not many gamers would want to spend time figuring out gameplay mechanics that are in the range of Algebra 2 or Calculus. Finally, do the gameplay controls enhance the overall experience for the gamer?

Graphics

This is more of a subjective category because of the many generations video games have gone through. Even though graphics from games of the Atari 2600 or the Intellivision will clearly never stand up to the more advanced graphics of the Nintendo Gamecube, Playstation 2 of the Xbox doesn't mean an old game should automatically lose review points for the obsolete graphics. In the times of the 1970's and 1980's, Atari and Intellivision graphics were the ceiling of visual quality for gamers back then, so in no way should an old game be viewed in a drastically different light.

In modern times, though, graphics have become a more touchy subject to tackle. Because of the technology that game companies have today, the possibilities are much more broad for them to expand the visual ceiling of a game's environment. We have to take into account the various kinds of art styles that games will use, such as cel-shaded animation, cartoon animation, realistic animation, etc. We have to take into account how well the graphic designers implemented the vision that was introduced by the heads of the development team, and here again, glitches come into play. Part of a game's appeal is how it comes across visually to the gamer. It doesn't need to be a cinematic masterpiece, but it also shouldn't be chicken scratch that could be easily trumped by less experienced people.

Story

As an aspiring scriptwriter,  this part of a game sparks my imagination the most. Mainly out of curiosity as a writer do I pay attention to this part of a game because I would like to know how a game development team implements stories to their games, if there's a story attached to the game at all. In some cases a story can be an integral part of the game and a story can compliment the gameplay controls. You could say that in some cases the story and the gameplay controls play off each other and carry each other. If the story turns out to be compelling and intriguing for the gamer to experience, then it would be a great bonus scored by the development team.

Many factors are in play when determining a solid game story. How are the plot twists in the game executed? When you get about halfway through the game and then experience a sudden shift in the story's direction, what will you feel? What is the story like? Is it simplistic or complex? Writers are needed in the development process so that they can have a better understanding of what the producers want in their vision of a game, and with that understanding, the writers will have a better chance of bringing that vision out through storytelling. I will surely be touching on this category quite a bit.

Some games don't even require a story to carry the overall gaming experience, and when reviewing these kinds of games, it won't make me view those games in a negative light as long as they pull off what they envision to have with everything else. For example, Tetris doesn't need a gripping story filled with cutscenes in order to get the gamer to put the pieces together and form lines. Tetris is a simplistic puzzle game that is very successful without the use of a story, and it will continue to be successful even today. 

Music

Just like the Graphics category, this is also a subjective category. Gamers certainly don't mind listening to soundtracks in a game that are pleasant for their ears, and even in minimal ways, the music of a game enhances the overall gaming experience. Some soundtracks will strongly relate to the game itself, such as your typical platformer game, and other soundtracks might not have anything to do with the game, such as sports games, but regardless of what kinds of soundtracks the game development teams are pushing for they have to make sure that the soundtracks aren't too out of place or else it might be off-putting to the gamer.

The soundtracks to a game have to be appropriate for the game and what it's about. Not many gamers would want to sit down and play a game that has the feeling of a relaxed Techno/Elevator music environment and then suddenly have to hear booming Heavy Metal Rock music. There is a measure of common sense to be used when applying soundtracks to games Plus, when you hear a soundtrack that absolutely stands out from the rest while you play the game, it makes the experience all the more satisfying.

Replayability

This category is very critical to me. I find this to be super important. Is the Replayability Factor there for me as a gamer? After I beat the game, can I go back to the game and play it again for different reasons? Will I be provided different motivations for wanting to play the game after beating it once? Will the setting of the game change after I beat the game? Will the extra objectives in this "post-game" environment have a lasting impact on the gamer? Will the game as a whole be memorable enough for the gamer to go back to it and play it over and over again? We honestly can't confuse the Replayability Factor with the Fun Factor because I believe they are pretty much close cousins.

Motivation is the key for gamers. Development teams have to motivate the gamers to take the entire experience of their game by means that involves a few extra features that weren't originally presented the first go around of the game. For example, the classic Super Nintendo game Super Mario World gave the gamer plenty of reasons to keep playing it even after beating it once. After they found all of the secrets (every single last one of them), they unlocked new visuals, most of which were nice touches. Challenge and motivation... I consider this to be the engine of a game.

Unfortunately, some modern games have been said to not have the Replayability Factor, as in although some of them were amazing to play the first go around, there wasn't any real reason to give it a second go around, and that can become a problem if a development team wants the gamers to have a lasting impression on their breakout main hero characters. Gamers would like to reference back to a game where they beat once but went back to that game anyway because they realized they had more things to accomplish, and extra things that were worth going after.

Review Point Structure
5 Categories - Maximum 20 Points Each (# out of 100 Points)
(Bonus Points can be rewarded in some cases)

I will now wrap up this article by saying that with all my reviews I will be fair when I go through a game. This is all in good fun and this is something to keep in the right perspective. I hope that you will find my future reviews honest and informative. I will try my very best to talk about what mattered in a game and what I found to stand out. I appreciate all of the comments that I will get. Have a nice day.