Thursday, September 25, 2014

Steven Vitte's Vision (Chart Part 4)

An overview of the progress I would like to make with a few characters
Link: http://www.gliffy.com/go/publish/6219594

Here is another brief update on the UX Design part of my custom game project. This is more basic in description compared to the other charts that I have shown in the other 3 parts but even without the connecting lines you still get a general idea of where this custom game series of mine is intending to go as far as some of its characters are concerned. When you introduce the very first game of your video game franchise, it is preferred that you start out light and that you don't try to cram so much into the first game since you are still in the experimental phases of the franchise. The first game of a series is really a testing ground for how the rest of the series is going to develop. Some of the features that you had in the first game will fare very well with gamers, but there will be some features that gamers may not necessarily gravitate towards, and with this you need to figure out why that is the case.

As you can see on this chart, I progress the supporting characters of the main character slowly, but you do indeed get the assurance that these other characters are progressing towards more meaningful roles in the franchise. As a side character here, you start out as Non-Playable on your own accord in the 1st game's Story Mode to gaining more freedom in the 2nd game's Story Mode and then you gain a bit more freedom in the 3rd game's Story Mode. This is done in a way to move you along as a character once the game developers know how to handle every facet of the interesting character that you are.

Many main characters of a video game franchise have a supporting group to speak up, and not just a supporting group where they stand around and cheer the main character on. Some parts of the supporting group are meant to get out there on the field of play along with the main character and help that hero out. Replayability becomes key when you consider the amount of playable characters you have for a Story Mode. As long as the characters are presented to be fun to play as and as long as they serve a real purpose for wanting to be around the main character, there will be a way for developers to make the side characters stand out in the Story Mode experience.

When you look at gaming fan bases, you never see a single fan base gravitate just towards the main character of a series 100% of the time. There are plenty of fans who support the use of side characters and these fans develop an interest in the sidekicks of the gaming world. It really is about core development with these characters. It's about the presentation of these side characters. When a gamer gets the sense that a side character is making positive progress in the playable character department, then it's impossible to see how this can be considered a bad thing.

Note: I am looking for animators who could provide help in designing a short trailer video for this custom game project of mine. If you are an animator and you're interested in what you see with this project, feel free to contact me at stevenvitte12@yahoo.com.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Hitting The Mark On Your Ideas

 
"A goal I'm sure I will reach one day."


Writer Anonymous: Hey! I have a great idea for a video game! I know what kind of story I can write about and I wrap it around my game like a bow on a present! Yeah!

I believe every single writer out there in the Video Game Industry has experienced some sort of burst of creative energy that just lights a fire under them to write on their custom stories, expanding on the ideas that they come up with in their heads thinking they have a super solid foundation for a video game. I also believe that with some of the ideas they come up with, writers initially expand on those ideas for as long as they can, but then things just... fizzle out and the light bulb burns out for whatever reason. It's more than Writer's Block in some cases.

Writer Anonymous: Hmmm... Well now, what am I going to do with this part of the story? I'm trying to develop this main character of mine but I don't want to "push him to the moon" so fast. The decisions I gotta make...

There will be points in your custom game story where you feel like you have hit a brick wall of sorts, a wall that you feel you can break down, but not without experiencing a few headaches first. From my own experiences writing my custom game stories, I can tell you that it's no easy task to come up with a game world right from scratch. You need to thoroughly plan out what you are going to do to not only progress your main character, but to improve the overall well being of the world that your main character inhabits. One thing means nothing without the other.

What do I mean? A main character means nothing without a developed game world, and a game world means nothing without a developed main character.

This is certainly one of the reasons why I find myself being very, very skeptical of the way the Sonic the Hedgehog series is being handled at this point in time. There is no sense of continuity in any facet of Sonic's universe, and if you closely read the articles on game reviewing websites, you will notice that Takashi Iizuka admits as much, basically saying that there's no real importance to establishing a canon for Sonic's main series.

If Sonic doesn't have a firmly established world that has its canon well structured, then after a while people are going to question the credibility of the main Sonic series as a whole. With the way the canon is set up for Sonic's world, it isn't surprising to realize that so many things are all over the place. There is no real structure to speak of, and I say this well after the debacle of Sonic 06. Plus, let's not forget the excessive amounts of emphasis Sega and Sonic Team have put on the fact that Sonic has been the only playable character for the main series for nearly a decade. Nearly 10 years of just Sonic as the playable character you can turn to in a supposedly serious main series game.

Why is this, "Solo Sonica", a problem in the long run? It basically undermines everything Sonic's friends represent as characters in their own right. This method downplays any importance Sonic's friends ever had to the main canon of Sonic games and with the act of stripping away their playable character status, it makes their minimal inclusion in the games contradicting and pointless. If Sonic Team knows they won't be playable, then why are they even in the game? It's a long term question Sonic Team will have to answer at some point.


Writer Anonymous: I know what my theme is for my game story... but how do I bring that theme out? How do I present it in a fun and cool way? 

In truth, establishing themes for your game story can be tricky. There are challenges to bringing out the themes of your story, but there are a few helpful things that you as a writer can do to bring out the best things about your theme. Perhaps your idea is wrapped around a combination of a couple things but you don't quite know how to merge those themes together? Well, when in doubt, always feel free to write things out in the form of a list. I am always doing that to prepare myself for another custom game story project. Making lists.

Steven Vitte's Custom Game Story List:
-Themes To Hit On

Game Genre? Open World Platforming Game

Main Character? An Average Joe Janitor

Why Is This Character Important? He's just an average guy who's put into a well above average situation. He's pitted against a corrupt oil business that's run by a ruthless tycoon and his beloved hometown is threatened to be overrun by this oil business. 

Unique Quirks About This Character? He's got a pet goldfish that can talk, similar to that of the fish in "The Cat In The Hat" By Dr. Seuss. This same goldfish ends up serving as one of many guides for this janitor throughout the game.

What Are This Character's Main Weapons? (Think about the typical equipment a janitor usually carries around, and then amplify it to make it fitting for a gaming experience.)

What is listed up above is just a small portion of the lists I constantly make in order to paint a clearer picture for myself when it comes to a new custom game story. Sometimes it's just best to write things out in a list because even if you come up with an amazing idea in your mind or out loud, you may just forget about it if you don't write it down in a list somewhere, and then that would be a missed opportunity. 

Lists are made for reference and lists give you as a writer a better idea of what you might or might not put into your custom game story. You make your list of potential power-ups that you would like to use for this game but you're not quite sure of which power-ups to use. Some power-ups are clearly ideal considering the kind of game story you're making, and other power-ups... not so much.

You can also make lists of certain story elements, such as what you are going to do to make your game story interesting. You can make a list of possible plot twists that you might want to put into your story because you feel that those twists could realistically make it into your story. You can also make a list of your own personal criteria of what you would like to see in heroes, anti-heroes and villains. What kind of hero are you trying to make? What kind of conflicted anti-hero are you trying to present? How far off his or her rocker are you planning to make the villain?

I find lists to be essentially important. As a writer you create for yourself a process of elimination where you know which candidates are in play and you just go from there. Sticky notes are fine too, but I find myself getting my fingers stuck on the sticky part of the notes before I even place them on a bulletin board.

Even when I narrow down my choices for what I want to put into my custom game stories, there will be some choices that I liked so much and kept in my final list, but for whatever reason I wasn't able to fit that choice into my final draft of the story. That is bound to happen when you go through the writing process. I come across this development plenty of times. I will leave a choice on my final list hanging and then I look back at that choice after I finish my script 100% and think to myself, "Now I wonder why I couldn't fit that part into my story! Why didn't I?" A writer's work is sometimes unpredictable like that.

Writer Anonymous: You know what? I'll make all sorts of lists and after I make my cuts, I'll surely have the right ideas I want for my custom game story! Thanks for your help!

I'd like to know your real name, Writer Anonymous, sir, but you are very welcome. Just don't go overboard and keep it at an even keel level. Okay? Until next time...

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Give The Player Choices

A basic rule that I am always reminded of one way or another by other fellow writers when it comes to game writing has been the act of allowing the players to have their freedom when they pick and choose how they go about their gaming adventures. "Give the player choices!" What exactly does that mean? Let's understand the context. The player is the one who interacts with the product, a video game, and he or she expects to be entertained by the gaming experience.

What choices can you give the player? Well, before we answer that question we have to get familiar with what kind of game we want to make. We have to get acquainted with either a genre or a combination of genres that will make up our game. We have to know what the rules of the game are, and this is key because of the fact that although you will give the player the freedom to make choices, you don't want the player to rebel so much that he or she will just break most or all facets of your game.

The freedom of choice in a video game has many expressions. There are many ways to look at how we give the player to choose what it is he or she will be doing in the game. Choosing actions to take in a game make up an integral part of the core gaming experience. We are not interacting with this particular product to watch a movie. We would actually be watching a movie if that were the case. The more freedom a player has to interact with a video game, and more importantly, the more freedom a player has to express how he or she is as a gamer, then the more likely it will be for your game to become well known.

Concept - Medieval Quest of Rubies

Situation - Your Player Character enters an item shop. Your character is looking to buy some items that will best suit his or her needs. Your character can afford to buy some items but not all of them. Listed below are a list of items and the amount of golden coins your character has. 

Bundle of Rope 
Crowbar
Dynamite Sticks 
Cornhole Game Kit
Tape Recorder
Loud Speaker
Football

Player Character's Golden Coins - 150 

Now let's look at the prices that are listed on these 7 items.

Bundle of Rope - 70 coins
Crowbar - 40
Dynamite Sticks - 70
Cornhole Game Kit - 20
Tape Recorder - 10
Loud Speaker - 10
Football - 10

The player keeps in mind that only 150 coins max can be spent on any of the items listed, and now here is where the element of choice kicks in as far as inventory goes. The player has to ask him/herself "Which items are more important to me at this time?" and "Which items will compliment my character's skills?" As you can tell, this imaginary game called Medieval Quest of Rubies has already developed a humorous tone revolving around more modern day items, but just this twist alone would allow the player to more freely imagine the world of this game instead of feeling isolated in just thinking of Medieval day themes. 

"Which items are more important to me at this time?"

It's up to the player to decide that. There is no right or wrong answer (and shouldn't be) to what a player can obtain whenever he or she enters a shop to buy items. Depending on what's going on in the game world, the player can establish his or her focus on certain tasks that the player feels are worth taking on, and therefore certain items become higher priorities over others. This is especially the case if you are playing a nonlinear open world game. Let's go into specifics.

Specifics - (Example) "There is a huge boulder that is blocking my path to Fort Valiant and there is no other way for me to get around this huge thing. My good friends Sir Satchel and Lady Bella are throwing a joyous party and they want to provide entertainment. They tell me to be aware of a possible attack on the fort by the enemy, however."

Considering the specifics, the choices for the player to make become a little more clear, but still, the object is to let the player retain his or her freedom in choosing which items to buy. Developing a strategy, the player may decide to settle on these items.

Player Buys - Dynamite Sticks (70), Crowbar (40), Cornhole Game Kit (20),  Loud Speaker (10), Football (10)

With this the player has bought 5 out of 7 available items with all the money that was available to the player. Now the player feels prepared to take on the challenges that lie ahead of him or her. However, let's take a step back and think about a different set of specifics.

Specifics - (Example) "The mischievous Sheriff Cannonsby will come to Fort Valiant later today. He will be looking for places to plunder from, so it's best that I stay close to his trail and expose him."

The player may now be convinced that he or she has to buy an item like the Tape Recorder for 10 golden coins because of this information. This situation is compelling enough for this player to think about buying the Tape Recorder, but at what other item's expense? It's up to the player how he or she will tackle the missions that are presented at various points of the game.

Finally, perhaps the player doesn't want to spend all 150 golden coins on 4 or 5 of the 7 items? That is another question that will eventually pop up in the player's mind. "Do I need to spend all of my coins right now? Why don't I hold on to like 20 or 30 coins and wait for something special to appear in my journey instead?" Along with giving the player choices, as game developers, we have to be able to allow the player to ask a wide variety of questions in the fun, imaginative sense. We have to allow the player to form strategies revolving around what the player wants to do with money, inventory, abilities, health items, etc.

The more choices a player has, the more time the player will take playing the game. It's a basic recipe for having a long lasting gaming experience.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Gaming and Health


One antidote to feeling sick? Play games! Of course!

How about we change things up a bit and start this article with a script-like sequence?

Gamer A: *playing a handheld game* I'm just awesome at this game! Scoring points at will and crushing the bad guys like a boss! How about you?

Gamer B: *tries to play a handheld game* *sneezes* Ugh! Dude, I don't feel so well. I mean, I'm well enough to be here but I'm just coming back from a cold, you know?

Gamer A: Why don't you get some rest? It don't sound like you're all the way back.

Gamer B: Oh, I'll be fine! I'm bouncing back! *sniffle* Believe me! I'm fine! 

The example that I am showing here would be the event of one gamer not exactly having his health where it should be. This isn't normally a topic that is talked about in depth, but I suppose that it wouldn't hurt for me to take a stab at this topic. The Video Game Industry tackles all sorts of issues related to the content of the games to the socializing experiences gamers have with their favorite games. However, how does a gaming experience apply to a stretch of time where an otherwise avid gamer just isn't feeling 100% in health?

Like with anything else that we do in life, when we become sick or ill, we are given warnings about our activities and that we are doing just a bit too much to push ourselves throughout the day. When one gets sick, the main reason for the lack of good health is the fact that a person just hasn't taken good enough care of his or her body. I am told all the time that my body speaks to me in the form of "I'm healthy" or "I'm not doing good at all."

For instance, picture a gamer who plays video games for a large amount of time per week. Let's say this gamer is hardcore, playing around 30 hours. This gamer parties and celebrates from time to time and invites some of his friends over for a meetup. They all party together and play video games, snacking on munchies and drinking soda. They all feel really good and they have plenty of fun.

However, the next day, this hardcore gamer comes down sick, sneezing, hacking (and I don't mean ROM hacking), coughing... you name it and this guy does it. This gamer is in the kind of condition where he really should be in bed catching some sleep, but because of his willingness to play games, he stays up and plays more video games. To be sure, there is the act of being a dedicated gamer, but there is also the act of being reasonable with your health and just listening to your body.

I feel, in my opinion, that sometimes gamers refuse to listen to their bodies when they start coming down with something and get sick. You can sometimes see it on their faces that they are not doing well at all, and yet, they will try everything they can to remain active on the gaming scene because that is what they love to do, play video games.  Here is another script-like example of a less than healthy gamer.

Gamer C: *yawns* Man! I wish I got more sleep! Anyway, how was the playthrough of that RPG?

Gamer D: Were you awake enough to watch some of the gameplay? I leveled up to Level 9 during that critical battle! Without leveling up, I may not have beaten that boss! 

Gamer E: *coughs* I liked the relay system those characters used. They took turns based on the spin of a wheel! *coughs* My throat's sore...

Gamer D: You guys should take it easy! Gamer C, go get some sleep, man! Gamer E, go take some vitamins or something! 

Gamer C: I've had a busy week, man. I've been all over the place.

Gamer E: *coughs* I used to be good at taking vitamins often! Better get some Vitamin C! 

In the above example, Gamer D is just fine but he clearly notices that his two friends are not doing as well as he's doing. Gamer C has confirmed that he's been a tad bit too active, and active to the point where he fails to get in enough sleep at night. Gamer E appears to be coming down with something as his coughs give it away. Sometimes when you get involved with big groups of people in events like gaming conventions, general meetups or friendly gaming competitions, you might be caught off guard by your surroundings, and as a result, you may come in contact with someone or something that may be filled with germs. While you are having fun blasting away obstacles in your favorite shooting game, you may start feeling light-headed for whatever reason, and it wouldn't be because of the game you are playing. Feeling light-headed just out of the blue may be an indicator that you have caught something.

On a daily basis, for whatever I do for the day, I always try to take precautions for the sake of my health. I always take with me a small handheld bottle of hand sanitizer because the odds are high that I could encounter a person who may not be feeling well at all. Before I go outside and take on my adventures, I take all sorts of vitamins such as supplements or liquid vitamins. I do this to build up my immune system and I do this because I have had a track record of respiratory problems. When I do get sick, I get hit in my lungs fairy hard. I almost always get hit hard in the lungs around the winter time.

However, I recently took a mild hit in the lungs because of a supposed virus going on not just through the state of Ohio but nationwide. I don't know how I got in contact with such germs and I don't know when, but there are some things that are best left unexplained. I immediately went to the vitamins when I realized that I was coming down with something. When I notice signs of weakened health, I jump on it as quickly as I can to give it the boot, so to speak.

Back in the day as a kid, whenever I got so sick that I had to miss a day of school, I would get some rest but I would also pop in a video game and play. That was my way of taking it easy, and yeah, I have a smile on my face as I type this part. I guess I knew back then that playing video games was something that I enjoyed doing and it was something that I could see myself developing a passion for. Of course, I wouldn't be able to play video games while I was sick as long as I would play them while I was at normal health. I had to learn how to pace myself. I also noticed that my gaming skills would take a step back while I was sick because I wasn't always together with my planning for each level.

The moral of this story is simply this; Your health takes precedent over your interests and when your body starts telling you "Slow down a bit. I need to recover.", keep your ears open to that. I am happy to report that I am bouncing back from a recent cold. Game on.