Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gaming and Sports - Playing on the Field of Fun


Before I got into the Gaming Journalist Gazette, I used to be an official blog correspondent for my local baseball team that played in both an independent minor league and in a collegiate wooden bat league. I spent a good 3+ years reporting for that team and it was a good experience, so I figured because of this and because of the fact that the World Series will be under way (Kansas City Royals vs. San Francisco Giants, by the way), it would be a good time for me to discuss one feature the Video Game Industry can show off yearly. That would happen to be sports-themed video games.

When you think about it, sports and video games coincide with each other in a variety of ways, with one similarity being that there can be a competitive aspect to both gaming and sports. There are certain video games where a group of gamers can get together, form a team and compete against other teams of gamers in a league that features just that game. Most of the time gaming leagues mostly feature the Shooting Game genre, and in a way that is sad because I believe we could expand the market for gaming leagues to genres other than Shooting Games, but still, there exists the competitive aspect of gaming and it translates to the sports we watch in reality.

MVP Baseball 2005: Still probably my favorite baseball video game

We watch sporting events no matter what level of play and we notice some elements of these sports that can be applied to a list of rules we would see in a video game. There you go. There are plenty of roads where video games and sports intersect and when they are developed well, sports video games can leave a good impression on both sports enthusiasts and devoted gamers who just want to have a fun time.

Being a baseball fan, I have to mention this right off the bat. (Pun, I know...) MVP Baseball 2005 certainly left an impression on me as I believe it to be one of the best, if not the best, baseball video game of all-time, which in a way is surprising since it was developed by Electronic Arts, a company that goes back and forth when it comes to developing quality sports games. EA did a great job overall with the MVP Baseball series and I believe the series took an immediate nosedive the moment they stopped making MVP Baseball for North America. MVP Baseball 2005 was the last EA game to feature the MLB style of play, and right after that in 2006, they switched to NCAA Baseball, which has its moments but falls short due to the all too familiar sound of a metal bat.

PING!

One unique example of blending sports with video games is the way that sports are marketed through fictional video game worlds. Most of us have played the Mario sports installments and we get ideas of what it would be like if Mario and his friends were to play sports. Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Super Mario Strikers (Soccer), Mario Superstar Baseball, and of course, Mario Kart just to name a few. There is no doubt that cartoony video game characters can participate in sporting events and their worlds can add cool twists.

Flying with style in a blizzard! Awesome!

How about another example? Put the SSX series under the microscope and look at how well the fictional characters of that series make the sporting event feel more fun and important. SSX is basically the X Games, but it remains its own thing. Take into account the leveling up you do to progress through the increasingly hard challenges, and to be the best snowboarder in the land you gotta find a way to pull out all the stops and bust out your best freestyle moves. The player gets to have the freedom of roaming around on a snowboard in a race or in a trick run and the player gets engaged to snowboarding's competition aspect in one way.

An old school look of Madden Football

Now the most intense gaming competitions are rooted in one sports video game franchise that has had a firm grip on gaming communities since it was first introduced way back in the 1980's. I am of course talking about the Madden Football franchise and this is clearly a juggernaut in the sports gaming world. We have many gamers who also happen to be passionate fans of their favorite NFL football teams and when they combine these two interests together, business tends to pick up, as they say. To be fair, the general formula of how a Madden NFL video game is made hasn't changed much at all after so many years, but still, it is a recognizable brand that sells, appealing to an audience that would tune in to see the Super Bowl if they had nothing else to watch on TV.

I can admit that I have been fond of sports video games myself since I have played games like MVP Baseball, Madden, some NBA games and NHL games, a soccer game and the Mario sports titles. I am a sports fan and I can't ignore a good experience of just pressing buttons on a game controller to move a player into the best position to score and possibly win the game. The only thing that really sets sports video games apart from the others that rely more heavily on characters, plots and unique gameplay mechanics would be the fact that sports video games really aren't dependent on stories. We have Season Mode, Dynasty Mode, Career Mode and the like in sports titles but none of these modes really feature a drawn out story. There is a reason for this.

The sports themselves sell their video game counterparts. There is no need to throw in a cinematic story when you have sports like football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer already available for the player. If anything, the games that are played on the field, court or ice tell the stories. Not all games are going to be played out the same way, and this brings out part of the appeal for replayability. A game writer can add some nooks and crannies into whatever little story elements there are in sports video games, but these features aren't necessary in most common cases.

I have mentioned racing games before on this blog, but it is good to note this series once again. F-Zero was one series that helped revolutionize the entire Racing game genre and it led the way for more fascinating concepts to have races. Destruction Derby 64 for the Nintendo 64 is more of an obscure and lesser known game but it featured the unique element of scoring points for every hit cars made against each other. Many points were scored for eliminating another car and any laps led would reward the player with a good bonus. You can also say games like Gran Turismo and Need For Speed bring new elements to the table.

I suppose the one thing that is left for game developers to do would be to actually tackle the idea of making stories surrounding a sporting event, and furthermore, developers may even want to create a new sport right out of the blue. I think about the movie Baseketball (It's spelled that way) as a brief example. Baseketball merges elements of baseball and basketball together and as a new sport concept I like Baseketball. The movie itself? Eh... Not so much. Yeah...

Creating a new sport and implementing that new sport into a video game would be something special to see. It could be in the same breath as Slamball (basketball on trampolines), Arena Football and extreme croquet. For any new sport you make, you gotta make it fun and you have to provide a sufficient amount of rules that keep the flow of play going. Imagine what gamers would experience if they were to play a new custom sport and as a result think about the possibilities of actually playing that new sport if it's feasible.

"Introducing the most awesome new sport in the world! Gliding down the open lanes, scoring goals with the spin of a boomerang, and performing freestyle stunts! What's this new sport? IT'S CHARIOT SKATE ZOOMERANG!" Wait! The name's too long? Well, hold that thought...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Strategies In Gaming - The Helpful, The Woeful and The Random




Sometimes it takes strategy to make the winning play.



Links of Interest:
Strategy Video Game
Strategist
Baseball Tiebreaking Rule

If there is one element of a video game that I love to discuss, it would be the strategic element. Whether I am playing a game that puts a heavy emphasis on the use of strategies or if strategies are just in the background of a game that relies on other elements, I can't deny how influential the development of strategies are in video games. Gamers in general differ from each other when it comes to how they approach a game, They will play games differently and they will value certain aspects of a game differently. Gamers will prefer certain items of an Inventory Menu over others and they will customize how they want to tackle obstacles, racetracks or game boards.

Gamers who are pure strategists will analyze and dissect even the more simplistic features of a video game and they will want to keep pounding away at the features that puzzle them the most. There will be points in levels where gamers will scratch their heads and wonder why they can't get past those points. The initial strategy to use, the one the game openly provides you as you play, may not be the one that suits you as a player because sometimes you will use that initial strategy and it just won't work for you. Not that there's anything wrong with the initial strategy, but the fact is that not all gamers will be able to execute initial strategies 100%.

Basically strategies are often developed on the fly once the player reacts to certain events that occur in a game. There are many of us who experiment from time to time and there are many of us who will come up with ideas that we are skeptical about at first, but then we find out they were the best ideas to implement. The classic board game of Chess requires players to think many moves ahead and consider the possible outcomes that come with the strategies they go to battle with. How a player uses a piece to attack his or her opponent's army depends on that player's self-made goals.

"What part of my opponent's army will I attack? Which piece or pieces do I want to take away from my opponent first? Which parts of the board do I want to claim? How should I string my moves together?"

Sometimes strategies that are developed by players need to be developed under the consideration of the rules of play. Some video games require the players to do different things, and even by a level-by-level basis, players are not always being assigned to achieve the same objective. The strategies you develop will be based around the objectives and around the rules that prevent you from doing some things that you would like your character to do.

For example, you approach a bridge that's about to collapse and if you don't cross that bridge in time, you will fall into the river. Your objective is to collect an all important ruby that your opponent's army is protecting and the rules state that you need to address the obstacle and not cheat around that obstacle. In other words, you can't hop into a riverboat and get across the river or else obtaining the reward wouldn't be as satisfying considering the rules. You have to come up with a strategy to cross the bridge by utilizing the bridge.

What is a strategy? A plan of attack, a plan of defense, a plan of counterattack or even a plan of just "We'll wait and see what happens." A strategy is something you form because you are intending to come up with the best response for an action that is taken by your opponent or by the game's system. There are a few video games where you can get away with not having a solid, concrete strategy partly because there is no need for a strategy. However, there are a few video games where you will be exposed for not developing a strategy and you will lose often because of that inaction.

Example - RPG

While I am not fond of digging into this genre very often, I do know that RPG's implement spots in their realm where players have to develop strategies in order to overcome various obstacles such as boss battles, character challenges (as in a new character will pop up and challenge the player's party), puzzles, quick time events, etc. RPG's do rely on strategic elements and I do appreciate that staple of the genre.

Example - Real-Time Strategy Game

Real-Time Strategy games (or RTS's for short) are another example. Strategy is part of this genre's name, so clearly strategy is used in this genre. Implementing your points of attack, developing schemes, pushing forward or pulling back the pawns that you control in this kind of game, and how to use certain departments of your inventory provide the structure of Real-Time Strategy games. The intense occurrences aren't as much of a key thing in this genre as opposed to the actions that are taken to get to those points.

Example - 4X Game

What about 4X? Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate? Players are bound to come up with strategies in this genre as well. Even though it isn't so much talked about, the 4X genre is fascinating when you look at the genre's key ingredients. Players explore through small and large maps to get a better understanding of what their gaming world is like. Players then expand their territories, making settlements wherever they please whether by negotiating or by force... You know? "THIS MEANS WAR!" *cue dramatic music*

Also exploiting the surroundings wouldn't hurt either in 4X.  Players collect items of interest, resources that they feel are valuable, and they will come up with creative ways to enhance the usage of these items. Utilization is very key in many games that involve extensive Inventory Menus, and in 4X this is definitely the case. You want to improve on what is given to you with this Exploit feature, and yes, strategies are developed even with the smallest of items.

Exterminate? This part is simple in 4X. Attack and eliminate any rivals that get in your way. You are in it to win it and you will not allow an opposing player to stomp on your parade and take parts of your territory. The territory that you have is so precious to you, and you will do everything to protect your land. If you have defend your turf through battle, then so be it. The best strategy is sometimes to just wing it like MacGyver and plow right through a foe. Hey, this has happened to me in other gaming genres!

Now why did I show a link to a baseball report? Well, consider the source material. It talks about an independent baseball league introducing a new rule to the historic game. From the 11th inning on in the case of an extra inning ballgame, a runner will be put on 2nd base automatically to begin the inning for the offense. We can really call this a strategy on the part of the baseball league for trying to come up with a way to shorten extra inning ballgames. With mumblings of there needing to be ways to develop faster flows to a baseball game, you could say this would be one way of doing so. Sudden rule changes in video games do force players to adjust their strategies to accommodate the new situations, similar to a new baseball rule implementation.

Strategy isn't everything in video games but it is a unique and useful tool if players ever get in a pickle. Strategies map out possible results for players and they present a structure for players to follow. Picking up on the tendencies of opposing players or enemy AI can lead to different strategies, and as we have seen in the history of video games, developing strategies can have a positive impact on how much a gamer replays a game.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Leveling Up With LinkFromBlog


Elance.com account: stevenvittewriter 

(I am available for freelance writing work on Elance, and yes, Elance.com can be a crapshoot, but if you or anybody you know need a writer to work on a project for decent pay, feel free to contact me on Elance. I'll get to work immediately. Thanks.)

The Gaming Journalist Gazette has been up and running since January 2014 and I have had the opportunity to share with my readers my thoughts and views on topics that relate to the Video Game Industry. As we draw closer to the end of 2014, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has helped make this blog not only relevant but also something unique in one way or another. The simple fact that I have been able to create nearly 50 posts of gaming blog content is amazing and I hope that I can provide my readers with more content in both the near and distant future.

Having said that, though, it brings me to a subject that has been on my mind for some time now. This is a subject that at times has weighed heavily on me because of the fact that it's an important part of how I manage my daily routine. Although I don't like talking about it so much in paces like this, the truth is that at the end of the day, I need to make some sort of income out of what I do. I mean, that's at least what I would like to start doing. I would like to start producing blog content that results in me getting rewarded in the economic sense. Considering the words that I put down on the Gaming Journalist Gazette and on The Autistic Help (the other blog I run), I believe at some point I am due to be paid for my work.

So what's with the the little picture at the top of this post, you ask? Well, let's just say that it could be one way where I could be led to start making money for what I do on this blog. LinkFromBlog.com is the service created for bloggers where they can find a lot of good opportunities of earning money just for writing posts in their blogs. Why waste blog space when you can make money from it? Join LinkFromBlog and start money blogging today!

(^ I'm just quoting from LinkFromBlog, the part in bold, but there you go.)

In truth, I have been looking for ways to get my name out there for some time now and being fresh on the scene as a freelance writer, it's my responsibility to find opportunities for myself as a writer. I can say as much as I want about how much I love to write on blogs like this one, but the fact is that people, and more specifically companies, are not going to strictly care about my passion as a writer until I can have that oh so important portfolio of official work. The Gaming Journalist Gazette and The Autistic Help do help the status of my portfolio, but there needs to be a leveling up, so to speak. I need to make sure that I can obtain various writing opportunities through tactics like this one.

Utilizing LinkFromBlog could be (and hopefully will be) one way for me to make the money I need to keep churning out detailed content for you guys. I have looked around for websites that have freelance writers in mind and LinkFromBlog certainly stood out to me. Observing the setup of LinkFromBlog, I can tell that it has a stable foundation and with the right amount of advertisers supporting this blog, I believe that more special things will surely pop up on this blog that you will surely like.

I want the Gaming Journalist Gazette to continue for as long as I can manage it, and I certainly wouldn't want to close down this shop simply because I couldn't get the money coming in. I want to be able to conduct more email interviews with members of the Video Game Industry and I would love to start conducting in-person interviews down the road as I would like to finally attend a gaming convention. It's a goal of mine to participate in a gaming convention and I want to see to it that I get to take in that experience. Having advertisers from LinkFromBlog to step in and help me economically would be a big plus for my Inventory Menu, so to speak. Having more economic freedom will give me more opportunities, and those opportunities will lead me to making more rich content for you to read, so it's my hope that we all win in the end.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why I Write

How a writer feels about time, sometimes...


Anonymous: Why do you write game stories, Steven?

Steven: I write the game stories I write because I enjoy the challenge of creating a story from the ground up.

Anonymous: Any other reasons?

Steven: I write game stories also because of the fact that I want to hit on certain themes and topics that I hope people will be more open to thinking about. I write the stories I write to put in my own modern day twists on the classic story structure that Aesop made famous. You know? With Aesop's fables he always had morals to his stories. And I write certain stories because I want to help give gamers (hardcore and casual) the presence of unpredictability, the feeling of "Hey! I didn't see that coming!"

Anonymous: Do you try to level up in your game writing?

Steven: Well, I try but that's not why I'm writing this next piece.

Anonymous: Where do you see your script written projects going?

Steven: [Press a Hot Button on the PS4 Controller when it appears to find the answer!] (just kidding)

I have mentioned a little bit of this back when I submitted my entries titled "Where I Want To Be" but I would like to dig in a little more on what makes me go as a writer in general, and not just as a game writer. Most of the stories I write are game-centric, as in when I write my stories I have it in mind to convert this story into a video game, at least in my mind when I visualize it. I don't know what exactly to call my writing style and I'm not even sure if you can call my writing style anything, but I can tell that I pack in specific details into my scripts. I am always looking to put in the details that not only stick out but also bring intrigue to the hypothetical gaming experience.

A few stories I have written have only been centered around general screenplay work, and one of which was done by accident. Once again I had written a story where I had a video game in mind when I visualized the story, but after describing to others that my main character had a ton of narration points in the story, I was soon reminded by the others that "It's best to give the player a choice... A bunch of narration doesn't equal an actual game." I have based this story off the inspiration of a movie that I saw back in 2003 called "Master and Commander" and this custom story would be a voyage of a wandering young man who is just trying to find his way in this fictional world. Along the way, this young man gets acquainted with many friends, forms a team with them and then allows them to travel with him on the seas on his ship.

I admit that after thoroughly rereading this story, the door has certainly opened on the possibility that I might need to steer the direction of this story away from being video game-oriented and to the form of just being a general screenplay.

The main goal that I want to achieve from my writing would be to have one story of mine to be published. No matter what it is, whether it be a game story or a general screenplay or even an extensive novel, I would like to see a story that I wrote make it onto the shelves. I have tried the route of establishing a comic book story, but with the way the Comic Book Industry is acting, such as putting itself inside its own little comfortable bubble of not allowing new writers to blossom and realize their actual potential, I don't believe that I will be achieving any comic book dreams any time soon.

Having one written story of mine be published has been one goal that has always appeared to elude me one way or another. I have felt like at times I have gotten very close to realizing the sense of accomplishment with a written piece of mine, but I have also felt that whenever I get very close, something gets in the way and prevents me from having that written material of mine published. There are plenty of variables as to why one's written material just doesn't get published and I am aware of that, but I have been going at this for well over 6 years now, dating back to Mid 2008. I know that I have certainly improved with my writing since 2008, but I have been a poor judge as to how good my writing is exactly.



A writer's life is hard, and sometimes a writer's life is very hard. I have been told this many times by not only members of the Video Game Industry, but also from people of various other industries as well. Writers are not well spoken for in most cases and it can be difficult for a group of writers to receive proper representation for what they do and for what they are trying to accomplish. Is there a writer's union? No, there isn't, and I go back and forth on that idea. I do believe that writers deserve to have their own department where they can feel free to express how they feel collectively as a community and bounce ideas off each other. I believe the position of a writer should be treated with care and most of all I believe that new up and coming writers are especially lacking proper representation in every creative industry, and they need representation too.

I write my stories because I firmly believe that I have what it takes to get to that next level and start having my material become official for the public to see. A writer has to believe in what he or she is writing about. A writer has to have that confidence in his or her ability to extensively write a series of stories where the imaginations of readers or players can be easily captured. A writer has to have that enthusiasm to explore the possibilities of the stories that are written. A writer has to be willing to constantly challenge himself or herself to develop a story from Ground 0 and take it to places where that writer's creativity can thrive.

I am always making lists for the themes, concepts and plots I want to have for my stories and I am even making side lists to dissect those categories a bit more. I have many Plan A's but I also try to have Plan B's, C's and D's if any part of my stories start to feel out of whack. I like to have detailed descriptions in my stories as long as they don't get in the way of the core action of my stories. I come up with interesting ideas for characters and I try the best I can to amplify certain aspects of those characters. I try to give my characters the feeling that they are more than what they are initially presented to be. I try to relate my characters to some forms of symbolism and I tie my more important characters to the Aesop method.

Most importantly, a writer has to love what he or she does and a writer has to write for the right reasons. A writer has to write for a purpose that's greater than the writer. A writer should convey proper messages to consumers regardless of what plot twists and story structures are used. A writer has to have fun when he or she writes. A writer has to take in both the compliments and the criticisms. A writer has to be a team player and has to be mindful of what the rest of the team says about his or her written material.

I know I am going to be there one day, in a comfortable writing position where I am allowed to be creative while also taking in helpful tips and hints as to what I should be doing to push stories forward. I know that my desire to become an official writer is too great for it to be pushed aside. There are plenty of things that I could do differently and better as a writer and there are some things that I could change entirely. What matters the most to me is that my writing skills get recognized and accepted for being serviceable for various platforms.