Friday, December 26, 2014

Video Game Industry: 2014 Year In Review

2014: Year In Review

No matter which stories you paid the most attention to, the Video Game Industry has seen its fair share of ups and downs in the year of 2014, and since we're coming to close on this year, I figure that I should review a few of the most important things that occurred involving the Video Game Industry. When you look at these stories I am about to review, it's interesting to note just how they intersect each other as far as what the industry as a whole is going through right now. It's like connecting the dots to form a picture, and to be honest, I think the industry has a painted a picture that gives gamers a myriad of mixed reactions. Some stuff was good, other stuff was bad, and the rest were... well, out there.

Copyright: Do people even know what it means anymore?
The Copyright Infringement Battle That Threatened The Let's Play Community

This is one issue that really boggled my mind. The main issue for me in this episode involved me asking the questions of "Why is this such a gigantic deal now? Why wasn't this a deal a few years ago when Let's Plays were taking off?"  By now we know how the game works on video making websites like YouTube. You can put out content for viewers to enjoy and you can express how you wish to entertain whatever audiences you have. For the Let's Play Community, videos are made of gameplay where a Let's Player will put his or her own spin on how a game is played. Let's Plays have been around on sites like YouTube dating back to 2007, and over the years this genre of entertainment has gained a great amount of popularity, and to the point where we see more Let's Players getting in on the action.

The problem? Apparently according to the fat cat video game companies who were so paranoid about losing money to this kind of entertainment, the principle of a Let's Player making any amount of money off his or her Let's Plays was evil and considered to be "video game blasphemy", whatever that means. Apparently big companies like Nintendo, Naughty Dog and others were so uptight and furious about the idea of a Let's Player even making as little as restaurant food money that they filed massive amounts of copyright claims to YouTube, which led to an ugly battle. Gamers eventually thought about boycotting Nintendo simply because of this action. This began in late 2013 and flowed right into the early parts of 2014.

What I have a problem with any company complaining about Let's Play videos is that the timing is incredibly off to oppose this. It's nonsensical and hypocritical and it only gives gamers the impression that these certain companies are super greedy and pompous. Nintendo, which thankfully has created their own video making website (but only in Japan for now...) that allows their content to be aired, played with fire and they got burned for a short time. It's 2014 and we are in a time now where entertainment has become much more subjective, as in people don't always go to the television to get their entertainment. Companies in general need to wake up and realize that the copyright laws in the United States are outdated and archaic, simply not relating at all to the kind of technology we have today.

If you are going to complain about a Let's Player, let's say he or she is in the poor class in the United States and temporarily depends on "minimal" revenues from YouTube, and intentionally demonize that Let's Player when you know that you make millions of dollars in general sales, then it's hard for me to respect your company. Move on to more serious issues already.

Oculus Rift: A victim of its own hype

The Overhype Machine That Was The Oculus Rift

Now let's get something straight. I don't hate the Oculus Rift. I honestly believe that for what it is the Oculus Rift has a place in the Video Game Industry. I believe Virtual Reality Gaming has a place and it should be recognized. That's not what I'm about to debate here. I believe the concept of Virtual Reality Gaming is interesting and I don't mind video game companies experimenting with this kind of gaming. What I do have a problem with, though, is this wildly developed fantasy that devices like the Oculus Rift are the set-in-stone future of gaming and that Virtual Reality Gaming is the ultimate Golden Goose of game development.


Sorry folks, but I'm not buying that fantasy. I know what the reality is.

History has already told us that Virtual Reality Gaming is not something that we should solely depend on. People are so quick to forget some of the attempts to make Virtual Reality Gaming fun back in the days of arcade gaming, and of course, the Virtual Boy system that Nintendo made in 1995. "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it" as one famous person said.

As I have stated before on this blog some time ago, not everyone will be a fan of the Oculus Rift or any other related Virtual Reality Gaming devices. Not everyone can be considering that some gamers have health conditions that could be impacted by devices like these. This year I just found it very silly for the industry to put so much emphasis on the Oculus Rift and glorify it as the next big thing, and then all of a sudden the hype for it went away when Facebook bought it for around $2 Billion. It's funny how hype machines work.

I hang onto my belief that gaming technology shouldn't be advanced so quickly, because if you rush the flow of advancing the technology you might wind up with egg on your face and unhappy customers. I believe that this episode with the Oculus Rift was a clear indicator that some people are just so overanxious to advance all facets of gaming technology to the point where gamers could be locked inside virtual reality bubbles. This mindset is unhealthy and harmful for the Video Game Industry long-term.

Female Gamers: They Make Up Half of All Gamers
The General Influence of Female Gamers

I know what you might be thinking. "Are you going to talk about Gamergate for the first time, Steven?" My answer to that question would be no. I won't talk about Gamergate for the first time, nor at all. Why? It's simply because that any issues related to Gamergate are incredibly toxic to begin with, and even if you state your opinion in a kind and professional manner, you stand a great chance of getting destroyed on the internet. I believe this entire Gamergate fiasco was purely driven by political agendas and unnecessary melodrama that you would normally see being created by mainstream media outlets all the time. I believe that all parties involved should get an equal slice of the Blame Pie because of how poorly and unprofessionally they have conducted themselves.

What is my take on female gamers? I believe they're awesome. That's my short answer but now I'll give a more detailed answer. I believe female gamers are just as productive as male gamers when it comes to voicing their opinions and beliefs on gaming topics. Earlier this year I had the pleasure of interviewing the likes of Sande Chen, and I truly value the answers that she gave me for that interview. I am a man who is trying to break into the Video Game Industry and I felt comfortable interviewing a woman who already is in the Video Game Industry, having plenty of experience. It doesn't make me less of a man to ask for Video Game Industry information from a woman.

I believe female gamers can be highly influential in the Video Game Industry and they deserve to have their voices be heard. They should have that right. If a woman is qualified to be the CEO of a game development company, then she should get consideration. In video games themselves there should be main female protagonists as well as main female antagonists. Depending on what kind of game story you want to make, this can be done. For example, I could easily see a future Ratchet & Clank spin-off game being made where Angela Cross, who made her debut as the masked thief in Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando, is the main protagonist. That's not hard to imagine considering that Angela is the same cat-like species as Ratchet. What is the name of that species? Oh yeah! The Lombax!

There are instances where female gamers do overstep their boundaries, but all gamers get emotional, male or female. We all have our "ProtonJon Kaizo Mario" moments when we get real frustrated with a game. Some of the Let's Players I watch on YouTube are female gamers, and I don't watch them because they're female gamers. I watch their videos because they are legitimately entertaining, funny and unique in content presentation.

Female gamers make up about half of all gamers in the world, so they are obviously a great influence on the industry.

The Console Wars? More like The 3 Ring Circus
The New Gaming Consoles: Meh?

As of 2014 we are now in the 8th Generation of video game consoles, and with advancements in gaming technology there are bound to be questions surrounding the new pieces of hardware that made their debuts just a year or two ago. Of course there are gamers out there who still believe that the Console Wars are as strong as they ever were, but in my honest opinion, I have to question the validity of these Console Wars even existing at this point. I mean, what's exactly the point of these Console Wars some gamers keep bringing up? Why does it matter? Do we really think that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are doing everything they can to force each other out of the gaming business? Would that be right for business?

I truly believe that gamers just want there to be this illusion of the Console Wars actually existing, because although we do keep track of the sales of consoles and games, at the end of the day why do we need to make sure who is on top of the gaming business? Gaming should be more subjective than it is right now in this case. It's about preference. It's about what kind of needs you have as a gamer and which console do you feel will cater to your needs the most. There is no need to bash the other consoles simply because you didn't buy them.

In my case I purchased a Sony Playstation 4 earlier this year because I personally felt the most comfortable buying what Sony was selling. Comparing the 3 new consoles with my own analysis, I felt that I could trust the PS4 the most. It just saddens me that the PS4 hasn't come out with games that are really all that appealing to me. I also take into account that I can't afford a new PS4 game right now, so I have a PS4 console just resting in its box most of the time. I know. It's a long story.

Now just because I am in the Sony camp when it comes to this generation doesn't mean that I should intentionally steer people away from the other consoles. If you feel like the Nintendo Wii U is best suited for your needs, then feel free to get a Wii U. If you believe that the Xbox One is your way to game, then so be it. I don't believe gaming journalists should be obligated to be fanboys (or fangirls) of one specific console. The Video Game Industry should be a subjective industry where gamers are allowed to voice their opinions. Whichever cup of tea you like, so to speak, you go with it.

Now if only these new consoles started producing consistently good content in their games...




Oh Yeah! Let's Not Forget About The Little Guy!

With the big boy consoles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft still having their way in the industry, what did we get out of the little manufacturers of the Video Game Industry? Well, making its debut in the Summer of 2013, the Ouya has met its fair share of criticism, mainly being hit with complaints about its controllers needing to be battery powered. The Ouya is about what you would expect from an upstart console that's trying to find its way. There have been subtle hits of games that have been made for the Ouya, but there have also been underwhelming clunkers as well. It's either hit or miss, a series of trial and error experiments.

I definitely understand the concept of a new console like the Ouya. I don't think this is the kind of console that you would intentionally market as something similar to the Wii U, the PS4 or the Xbox One because there are no similarities the Ouya shares with those consoles. I think the one mistake that new consoles constantly make is that their companies are so eager to announce that they are just as good as the leading competitors. As they always say "Aim small, miss small".

The Ouya is a console specifically tailored to independent game developing companies, and it's only optional for the big boy companies if they want to pursue making games for it as well. The Ouya is mainly a platform for indie developers to get their hands on whatever technology the Ouya provides, such as editing, programming, coding, designing, etc. and make unique games out of. The selling point of the Ouya should be the fact that it's an open alternative to the big boy consoles, not that the Ouya can be as good as them. Look at how small the Ouya console is to begin with and you would know that it's not big time at all. Having said that, if you're an indie developer or an aspiring game maker and you want to make your own cool, unique games, then you can give the Ouya a try.

There are other lesser known consoles to check out such as the Nexus Player, the Timebox and the Gearbox, whatever those consoles are. It's hard for me to keep up with these new console releases because they tend to spring up on you like a Jack In The Box toy.

I don't know what this is but it looks cool.
PC Gaming: As Strong As Ever

One last thing I want to talk about is the overall strength of PC Gaming. There hasn't been anything real negative to talk about when it comes to this form of gaming, and PC gamers clearly enjoyed themselves in the year of 2014. As the years go by, though, questions have surrounded the overall health of Console Gaming as a whole and whether or not it would make sense to keep making video game consoles as opposed to bulking up the PC Gaming market. As it stands now, PC gamers enjoy a variety of games that they can play without needing to worry about the hassle of console loading times. They already have their computers on and all they need to do is flip the switch to Game Mode to get ready. That's basically the gist of it.

I do have similar questions to ask regarding Console Gaming. I surely hope that it won't become redundant nor obsolete to own a video game console. I hope that consoles can still co-exist with gaming PCs. The amount of flexibility that you receive online, however, cannot be ignored and many game developing companies are taking advantage of this. Online multiplayer action is very popular right now and it has been popular for some time. Having that freedom to interact with more than 3 friends online to play a game is certainly satisfying and it could only add to the general gaming experience.

In Closing: What Was 2014 About?

2014 gave gamers plenty of mixed bag feelings overall. There were some events that should never have happened such as the time in August when Kootra of The Creatures, a Let's Play group, got raided by the SWAT team in Colorado. Kootra was the victim of a random guy making a call to the police that there was a bomb threat, or something like that. Of course the police reacted to this in the way that police officers these days would normally react. They overreacted. I know. That's a big surprise.

On the flip side, though, social media outlets have taken initiative in 2014 to make games that people will enjoy. Angry Birds has obviously taken off like a rocket as well as all the Candy Crush Saga games that King can come up with. Let's not forget about Farmville and how influential those game mechanics have been on casual gamers. I have seen the roots of this years ago on Facebook when I played a mafia role-playing game for a little bit. After a while playing that mafia game just wasn't what I wanted to be doing all the time. Some gamers actually like these new social media games while others find these games tedious and low scale. I believe it is flattering that there would even be games like these existing right now.

It's really hard to tell where the Video Game Industry is going to go from here, and nobody knows what 2015 will bring. We can only speculate about certain things, hope for the best, prepare for the worst and play the games that we would like to play. That's gaming for you.

To Be Continued In 2015...

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What Makes A Great Racing Game?

One of the first racing games that left an impression on me.
There's just something about racing games that fuel the competitive fire in gamers, as well as bringing gamers together to have fun and joke around. However, what exactly is that something? What makes a racing game great? What brings gamers to the virtual racetracks? As simplistic as racing game concepts appear to be, they are actually more complex in areas where you wouldn't expect them to be. Like all other video game genres, racing games need to follow a certain formula in order to retain their integrity, as in game developers need to know whether or not there will be point systems, power-ups vehicles can collect,. if grand prix circuits and championship tournaments will exist, how difficult the racetracks will be, etc.

One of the first racing games that caught my attention was Beetle Adventure Racing for the Nintendo 64. Of course it is now an obscure game that not many gamers of today wouldn't know much about, but I got familiar with this game right away once I started playing it. Beetle Adventure Racing was the kind of game that although silly and ridiculous at times, it was something that I could play over and over again and not get bored with. There were plenty of things for me to do in this game, and notably trying to smash Point Boxes that contained 1 point, 2 points, 5 points, 10 points and even 25 points. If you collected enough Point Boxes you would be awarded a continue, and this was very helpful for the latter parts of the game.


Mario Kart Double Dash: A unique tag team-themed racing game
A racing game series I have always enjoyed playing has been the Mario Kart series, and highlighting this game in particular, Mario Kart Double Dash was a racing game that featured 2 characters racing in a single cart, working together as a team to cross the finish line first. The fun thing about this game was that 2 players could work together in the same races, with one player driving the cart and the other character managing the items that they collected on the track, and this led to genuine communication skills being used by both players. Mario Kart Double Dash was certainly fun but challenging in this respect.

Need For Speed: Rivals
Although not specifically labeled as just a racing game, Need For Speed: Rivals is certainly a recent example of the player having the freedom to engage in as many races as he or she wants. The Need For Speed series has featured a ton of games where players could freely roam through territories picking which races they would like to participate in, and some of these races were far from normal races. Some of the races that players engaged in would eventually get police cars involved, and then things only got more dicey as these races went on. We can easily say the same thing about Grand Theft Auto, but really, GTA contains much more variables that we can't call that a straightforward racing game at all. With Need For Speed, the main focus was on your car, what it could do, what kinds of upgrades are available to make your car perform better, and what you could do to customize the look of your car. If you won a race, you would get either a subtle reward or a hefty reward depending on the race's level of difficulty.

Excitebike 64 - A racing game featuring motocross bikes
Perhaps the racing game genre is the most expressive genre in the entire Video Game Industry, and we do have a bunch of racing games to look at to back this theory up. You can go way back to the times of the NES and see a good amount of racing games blossom onto your television screen. As awkward and wonky as the controls in NES racing games were, we can't deny that the simplistic formulas of racing games were easily applied to the 8-bit NES system for a reason. Racing games are also expressive in the sense that it isn't mandatory to use cars to race. Excitebike 64 is one of many examples where we can use motocross bikes (or anything else) instead of cars and still generate that racing interest. We can also look at the F-Zero series which pioneered some racing game mechanics.

Diddy Kong Racing 64 - A classic game that was sadly never duplicated
Looking for something cartoony for your racing game interests? Look no further than at a game like Diddy Kong Racing 64, which sadly never saw a sequel. I am sure that many gamers back in the heyday of the Nintendo 64 would have loved to see such a sequel because Diddy Kong Racing left an impression on gamers. There were some features about this game that were flat out hilarious and zany and it's these features that make Diddy Kong Racing a well regarded classic.
 
Gran Turismo - The Creme de la Creme of racing games

Who can forget Gran Turismo? This series is probably one of the most influential racing game series that spans over a few gaming generations and it all began on the Sony Playstation 1. Gran Turismo games look professional in presentation and nearly world class in execution as gamers get a realistic look at how races are done. From the driving mechanics to learning how to obtain better positioning on the racetrack, gamers soon understand that more goes into a race than just holding down on the accelerator button. Gran Turismo constantly tests you to make the right turns on the track, to pick your spots whenever you feel like you need to pass another racer, and when to pull back when you know you don't have an opening. Gran Turismo is certainly a more sophisticated kind of racing game series that is still casually fun and enjoyable.

Destruction Derby 64 - I love the creativity of this game
On a soft note, I can't help but mention a personal favorite of mine in the racing game genre. That favorite would be Destruction Derby 64, a racing game that combined the element of cars racing each other... but also destroying each other. Destruction Derby certainly lived up to its name as it featured 12 cars that you would normally see in the county fair tearing each other apart in a demolition derby. By going through the main mode of this game, you were pitted with the task of guiding your car of choice to victory, first by winning some races, but then the gloves would come off for one part and you would go back to using your demolition derby car for its real purpose. I love the creativity of games like this one because two elements were boldly meshed together to create a very unique concept for a racing game.

A racing game has to be fun, but aside from that it has to be something that gives players the freedom to imagine just how loose and creative a racing game environment can truly be. Game developers are often told to give players choices, and we want to be able to give players the kinds of choices where they truly are the drivers of their racing vehicles. We don't just want to let players know that they are driving vehicles in a race. We want to confirm to players that they have control of their vehicles and that they can actually feel the racing environment. Put your foot on the gas, grip the steering wheel tight and buckle up because when you play a racing game, you should know that the heat will be on.

I'll see you guys at the checkered flag.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Playable Character Act (Part 2)

Sonic Boom: Yet another example of the Sonic franchise having no direction.
Sign this petition to bring back Sonic's friends for the Main Series:
Playable Character Act For Gamers By Gamers - Petition

So what did we learn from our most recent experience with the Blue Blur? What did we find out about the Sonic The Hedgehog franchise that wasn't previously apparent to us? Taking a look at the Sonic Boom project in its entirety, we can say that while the Sonic Boom cartoon show on TV has been a subtly mild success, every other facet of this project has been very underwhelming and disappointing. Both Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric and Sonic Boom: Shattered Crystal failed to live up to the standards that Sonic fans were initially promised. Both Big Red Button and Sanzaru Games worked on these games and they were given a specific amount of time from Sega to complete them. What was presented to the public as final builds fell far short of what was envisioned.

Not surprisingly, the well established and "highly regarded" professional video game critics (I write this in a sarcastic tone) chimed in with their thoughts of both Sonic Boom games, and they immediately put down low scores in their reviews. The sad thing about this is that these reviewers have it right. As much as people have criticized the likes of IGN, Game Informer, GameSpot and other reviewers for their biases against the Sonic franchise, there is no defending the glitch-filled empty feelings that both Sonic Boom games bring with them. The dialogue for both games were cheesy and didn't fully support the characters that were using such lines, as in the comedy was forced, much like many cartoons you see these days that simply try too hard to be funny and end up not being so funny.

The gameplay mechanics didn't relate to the characters and the added features didn't feel like something you would see in a Sonic game. If anything, these gameplay features felt like something you would see in games like Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank or any other Naughty Dog game.Yes, we have known for a while now that Sonic Boom is supposed to be a completely different take on the Sonic franchise. It's supposed to be something that stands on its own and separate from the Main Series, so naturally a development team would want to add different things into Sonic Boom that would never be seen in a Main Series game. Sonic fans understand that, but what they don't understand is why would something like this be so incredibly mishandled since Day 1 basically?

The entire marketing campaign of the Sonic Boom project was a complete fabrication, an intentional development of false hope in Sonic fans, and a prime example of video game companies being intellectually dishonest towards their devoted customers.

When it comes to my opinion on the Sonic Boom project, I was as neutral towards it as I could possibly be. There were some things about Sonic Boom that I liked and actually found interesting, but there were also some things about Boom that I didn't agree with at all and that I could only shake my head towards. I found myself scratching my head and wondering why certain changes were being made for this project.

I also began to wonder just why Sega and Big Red Button in particular were showing immense ambition towards a project that was off and on again in development, that was rumored to have begun as far back as 2007! I was wondering why shortly after the initial announcement of the project that Sega and Big Red Button were so very confident that everything would go over well with the masses, knowing full well that Sonic Lost World didn't quite do the Sonic franchise enough justice in the big picture.

Stephen Frost's tactics in trying to show that Sonic Boom would become an undisputed success proved to be futile. He had good intentions, and I don't mean to knock him so much, but here is the point I want to get across here. If you are in a position like Stephen Frost was and you make yourself available to Sonic fans, and if you know that there are problems with your game that you need to address, you don't turn around and try to cover what has already been exposed by the public. You address the issue head on and you don't dance around the bush. All the glitches that appeared in the E3 demo edition of Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric should have been a clue to Frost and to whoever still remained at Big Red Button Entertainment that plenty of things needed to be fixed. However, not much was done, and therefore we have a case of video game developers being intellectually dishonest with Sonic fans who took the bait of Sonic Boom's hype.

Another part of being intellectually dishonest would be the fact that Big Red Button kept hyping themselves up to be a stable upstart company, but if you dig deep enough through the internet, you will find out that this was never the case. Big Red Button Entertainment never truly had stability to begin with, and towards the end of this Sonic Boom saga, it became apparent that Big Red Button was falling apart, letting go of employees with very short notice or without notice. All this information wasn't disclosed for some time and most of the people who worked on Sonic Boom never got to participate in the final build. Why did this information needed to be withheld from Sonic fans?

Steven Vitte: OBJECTION! Sonic's friends should be playable again!


List of Reasons Why I Made The Playable Character Act:

Here are a list of reasons why I made this Playable Character Act petition in the first place. I want to reiterate what I said before in my last post regarding this petition.

1) Fans of Sonic's friends (Tails, Knuckles, Amy, Shadow, etc.) are being alienated from the product.

This is one key point I need to talk about first. Why do I want to have the option of playing as Sonic's friends in a future Main Series game again? One of the main reasons why I even got involved in the Sonic franchise was because of the fact that I could play as more than one character. I wasn't forced to play as just Sonic back in the day. I am a Tails fan and I firmly support the use of Miles "Tails" Prower as a Main Series playable character. I believe Tails deserves a chance to run with his big brother figure in Sonic again. I believe Tails deserves to go on an adventure where he doesn't need to hang around in the background anymore. He can spin dash like Sonic and he can twist his two tails to fly, so why shouldn't he be used? Can someone explain to me why Tails can't be a playable character again? 

The same principle would apply if you are an avid fan of other characters like Knuckles, Amy, Shadow, Rouge, Espio, etc. Why should they be relegated to just being glorified cheerleaders (as seen in Sonic Generations)? Why should they just be non-playable characters? Was that their initial purpose when they were introduced? I think we all know the answers to these questions.

After a while it just feels as if fans of Sonic's friends are being completely alienated from the current Sonic product because all you ever see in the Main Series is Sonic the Hedgehog as the only playable character. After a while people get sick of seeing the same thing over and over again, and there has to be a cut-off point to this status quo. This is one reason for my petition.

2) Sega's and Sonic Team's reasoning for "Solo Sonica" doesn't add up.  

Steven: You will have a lot of explaining to do once I get enough petition signatures, Iizuka.

I have kept a close eye and a very open pair of ears on Takashi Iizuka, the leader of Sonic Team, and I have to say that he has become the most unconvincing liar and PR spin artist I have ever seen in the Video Game Industry. In back-to-back years during Sonic fan conventions, both Summer of Sonic in England and Sonic Boom here in the United States, Iizuka has responded to questions of "When will we see Sonic's friends come back as playable characters?" with "When we get Sonic's gameplay right, then we will bring back Sonic's friends"

Okay, so when will that come to fruition, Iizuka-san? When will Sonic's gameplay mechanics ever be figured out 100%? If Sega and Sonic Team had a clear idea of what Sonic's gameplay mechanics should be about, then why is there this need to constantly keep changing his gameplay mechanics after 2 or so games? Does this basically mean that it will take us 50 years to finally see Sonic's friends come back as playable characters in the Main Series? Really, Iizuka? Please explain to me what's really going on in this front because your recent track record basically says that you don't care about the rest of us who want to see Sonic's friends thrive in playable character roles again.

In closing here, I don't trust Takashi Iizuka because I don't believe he truly knows what the fans want. I take almost everything he says with a grain of salt. I'll be sure to confront him about this once I get enough petition signatures.

3)  Think about the future and stop dwelling on the past

This line speaks for itself. Sonic 06 was a failure of a game, sure, but it's long overdue for us to get over that game. Whatever misadventures the Sonic franchise has had in the past shouldn't impact how bold we should be in getting what we want in the future. I am mindful of the past and I look back at the past, but I won't dwell in the past. The Sonic franchise has had its fair share of bad days in the past, but unless we are willing to move on from those bad days nothing will ever truly get done. Sonic fans can complain about how things are so bad with Sonic games right now on the computer as much as they want. They can vent on message boards if they want to, but that won't change anything about this situation.

What has a much better chance of prompting change? Signatures on a petition. If people are willing to cooperate and sign my petition, then at least this would be something that you could look back on and say "Yeah, I tried to do something by signing that petition". 

If Tails fans want Tails back as a Main Series playable character, then sign the petition. If Knuckles fans want Knuckles back so bad, then sign the petition. If Amy Rose fans, Shadow fans, and fans of other characters want them back so bad, then what is stopping all of you from signing this petition? Why would a petition signature hurt? Let's see how this pans out. Let's try this. It doesn't hurt to try, and we will never know what happens unless we try.   

To further add on to Sonic Boom's terrible fall, I can't help but quote one knowledgeable Sonic fan who I believe firmly understands what is going on with the Sonic franchise for the most part. Theadvisor1234 recently shared his opinion on this fiasco.

Theadvisor1234:

I think many people are so depressed because they believe that recent misadventures have basically set Sonic's reputation back to pre-2010. Personally, I think that most of the people calling Sonic a bad franchise were doing so regardless of what actually was given to them, but after a short span where it really looked like the franchise was moving past the cynicism surrounding it, the haters got vindicated, at least to an extent. I can forgive Sonic Lost World, because I know that Sonic Team, as misguided as they were, were trying. I cannot say the same for the Sonic Boom campaign. It is an anomaly. You know how I talked earlier about Sega's marketing flaws? This is what I was talking about. 

2014 was supposed to be the biggest year for Sonic since 2006. This whole thing was supposed to be a huge, ambitious, proud moment for the franchise. Well, I think we can see that this didn't turn out even a bit like it was supposed to. Blame whoever you want, but the bottom line is that Sega promised something huge, and we didn't get it, and now they've got egg on their face. Oh sure, Big Red Button's the biggest factor in all this, but let's face it, the company's practically dead in the water as it is. Their top employees have left. Nothing more can be done about them. But SEGA, oh, Sega lives another day to face the reality of another bungled opportunity, and though I partly see them as victims of terrible circumstances, there is something that's keeping me from being all that empathetic towards them.

See, when I look at Sega, I see a company that is desperately trying to stay relevant. Let's be honest, if Sonic wasn't their biggest namesake, they'd have tossed him aside long ago, just like the many other franchises that no longer get any attention. And now, there's a movie on the way, which obviously will serve as a big marketing gateway to the Sonic games. But, here's the thing: what do the GAMES have to show for Sega's efforts? Sure, they WERE improving, albeit at an infuriatingly slow pace, and maybe the next main series title will be epic. I don't know. What I do know is that right now, it feels like Sega's trying to sell something that doesn't exist yet. 


It's like they're trying to make the Sonic franchise appear as if it's this fantastic series with fantastic experiences awaiting the audience, when in reality, they've still got a lot of problem areas to work out. I'm not even saying Sonic can't be great again. I'm saying that Sonic isn't great yet, but that doesn't mean that Sega isn't trying to make it look that way, because they are trying to remain relevant. 2014 was an example of that strategy backfiring. Sega needs to get a stronger control over what exactly they want out of this franchise, and make sure that this identity they settle on is conveyed to every possible sector of their marketing. But when I hear rumors of a PG-13, live action/CGI hybrid film, I realize that this probably isn't going to happen anytime soon. I'm not sure even Sega recognizes what they have in this franchise, why it affects so many people. 

Well, now the fans are beginning to see what I began to see years ago, and they're now unsure if they want to continue waiting for something that may never happen. I have seen cynical Sonic fans, and I have seen angry Sonic fans, and I have seen people who couldn't be classified as "fans". Let me tell you, when I see people acting genuinely HURT, NOT slighted, not annoyed, or upset due to some entitled attitude, genuinely HURT by something regarding Sonic, I know something is very wrong. Let's face it, Sonic fans have seen a lot of garbage (which I will fully admit that we are partly to blame for), but to see people who carried themselves through 06 and Unleashed and all the cynicism and backlash and harassment finally break down is something truly sad to see. If Boom had succeeded, it would have been just a successful spin-off cash in. But it failed, and now, Sonic Boom represents something much bigger than it was designed for. It represents a loss of hope. 





Saturday, December 13, 2014

Video Game Idea: Cornhole

Cornhole: A simple game with great potential elsewhere?
This is generally one kind of topic that intrigues me. The event where you come up with an idea for a video game that mainly focuses on one thing that has been very popular in one avenue in real life. Before the Video Game Industry really took off with an amazing amount of momentum, ideas for video games were isolated to just the more basic concepts. Back in the day when the arcades would feature games like Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Q-Bert and the like, those ideas were amazing. They were simple ideas but they stuck and left an impression on gamers.

You could say that in more recent times it has become harder to come up with new and fresh ideas for video games, and particularly ideas that make sense. Because of the technology that was available at the time of the 1980's and 1990's we wouldn't normally see a well functioning sports video game. In recent times, however, this isn't a problem at all as we get to experience very realistic game mechanics that pertain to players swinging a baseball bat, throwing a football and slamming a basketball down for a dunk. So with that being said, what do we do with a game that is so simple like Cornhole?

Cornhole? That game? The game where you toss beanbags into a hole? How can we make an exciting video game out of that?

I'm glad you asked. Because of the fact that Cornhole is a simple game, we can just as easily implement it into the confines of a video game, provided that we establish a general set of ground rules to go along with it. We already have an idea of how throwing mechanics are created in video games. We have baseball pitching, football throwing and basketball passing to look at as examples of these mechanics. Making simple beanbag tosses onto Cornhole board wouldn't be difficult. We can have something similar to a timed meter where players would have to hit a certain mark on that meter to make a precise toss. The more sloppy the toss is, the less likely it is for that beanbag to drop into the hole.

But wait! How can we actually jazz up Cornhole to make it a video game?

Good point. It would be boring if all we did in a Cornhole video game was to toss beanbags into a hole. Nobody would want to buy that video game if it were that plain. Since we have more freedom to express how fun a game like Cornhole can be with video game technology, we can let our imaginations run wild a little bit. Take a look at the more cartoony takes on sports video games. Look at the Mario franchise and all the creative ways Mario and his Mushroom Kingdom friends come up with. Mario Golf and Mario Tennis feature modes where you have to hit tennis balls or golf balls through specific spots highlighted by rings. We could do a similar thing with Cornhole and the beanbag tosses. We can add an aiming mechanism to go with the throwing mechanism and try our best to aim right at rings or targets for bonus points.

We could really get bold with this idea and add stipulations where we need our beanbags to ricochet off objects and then hit the Cornhole board. Look at the myriad of freestyle basketball shot videos that you see on the internet and you can replace the basketball with a beanbag. Anyone up for Extreme Cornhole? What about the idea of tossing a beanbag all the way down from the roof of a building and into the hole for style points? Why don't we add more points for creativity in general? Should we add points to a successful beanbag toss because of how fast it went? We just need to think about the variables.

There is also another unique element that very few video games have tried to pull off, and that would be the Distraction Element. What does distracting opposing players accomplish? It basically means that you were able to throw off an opposing player within the confines of the rules, giving yourself an opportunity to take advantage. Of course, distractions are a 2-way street and your opponent can return the favor by distracting you as well. We can add that to our Cornhole video game and make it fun and enticing.

I remember watching a show on Comedy Central back in the day called "Let's Bowl!" and it was a really cheesy, corny, and well, sometimes stupid comedy bowling competition that featured Average Joe and Jane bowlers bowling to settle disputes. Some of the concepts of Let's Bowl were truly interesting, such as raising the stakes on what kinds of pins needed to be knocked down, how many points a bowler could obtain with a single strike, and lastly, the use of a Distraction Element where bowlers could sound a horn to each other to prevent a good bowl down the alley.

I know that some Cornhole enthusiasts may want to keep the game pure even in its video game form, but really, there wouldn't be any fun with that. Some may say that the Distraction Element would be unnecessary and annoying, and video game critics may say that this proposed video game version of Cornhole may be too zany and "out there" to comprehend, but that's... none of my business!


Now what about the extra features of this Cornhole video game? What else could we feature in this game that the original game of Cornhole can't feature? What tweaks and changes could we make that would catch the attention of gamers? Well, for starters we could throw in 4 Cornhole boards to play with instead of just 2. We could position these 4 boards like a compass and we could have 4 players throw beanbags in all sorts of directions. For example, Player 1 has to throw his beanbags to Player 2's board and vice versa. Player 3 has to throw his beanbags to Player 4's board and vice versa as well. (North-South-East-West) Cornhole already has team competitions established where 2 vs. 2 games are often played, but they only keep it to just using 2 boards. Play with 4 boards and you will have something unique.

How about an 8-Player Simul? Part of this inspiration comes from the fact that I used to compete in a couple of Chess simuls where the Master would go from board to board and make his move, challenging all opponents. For Cornhole, we could position 8 boards in a single line and a single player could have a multitude of beanbags to throw. Let's say this player has 4 beanbags to throw per board and between all 8 players, whoever scores the most points wins. We could even have this be some sort of Round Robin elimination competition.

Now what about the beanbags we toss into the cornhole? Who says we need to just throw beanbags? Why don't we raise the stakes or up the ante and throw other compatible items into the cornhole? Why don't we toss Beanie Baby-like animals and if they fall into the hole, we score bonus points? How about water balloons? Why don't we add a stipulation where Player 2 can actually block Player 1's beanbags tosses by throwing water balloons directly at the beanbags? Player 2 would throw the water balloons in the direction of Player 1 and even if he misses the beanbag, Player 2 would still get to see Player 1 get hit by a water balloon? Okay, maybe that's too humorous of an option, but sometimes that happens when you think outside the box.

We could also implement a different kind of mode in this Cornhole video game. We could make some sort of Stealth Mode Cornhole where players can't be seen in order to successfully toss beanbags into the hole? Perhaps if players hide behind objects and then pop up at the last second they could get an opportunity to throw one beanbag here and another beanbag there? In Stealth Mode, the opposing player would be allowed to tag Player 1 if he manages to spot him. If Player 1 gets tagged then his turn is over.

I hope that these ideas are not causing any headaches because sometimes you gotta throw even the most unorthodox ideas out there. Some of my flawed ideas have given me headaches too, so don't worry.


In closing, I don't see why it would be such a bad idea to have a Cornhole video game, whether it be a handheld game or even a console game. Provided that there is plenty of variety to go around in this video game, I can see this kind of game being a good seller to gamers. We keep it simple but we also add new and fresh ideas. Cornhole is a popular game that everybody can learn how to play and it's a recognizable brand, so if you want to bring some friends to play this video game with you it would be worthwhile.

Shoutout to Woodgamz.com for becoming the very first affiliate of the Gaming Journalist Gazette blog. Check out their Conrhole-related products when you can! 

 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Co-Op Games: The True Value of Teamwork

Little Big Planet: A game where friends explore environments together
There are many games out on the market that put an emphasis on multiplayer action, but only the kind of action where 2 to 4 players go up against each other in head-to-head play. This is the most common thing that gamers think about when multiplayer games are mentioned. However, not all multiplayer games can just be about one player going up against another player. Video games are meant to be flexible and imaginative, and throughout the history of gaming we have seen new ways of incorporating more than one player in a game world for a single game campaign.

Who says we can't have a Campaign Mode without more than one player? I believe that there is more fun to be obtained when we have Players 2, 3 and even 4 included in the mix. Showing a few examples of this genre, Co-Op Games have proven that a group of gamers can band together and achieve the same goals without having to destroy each other's characters. Well, all 4 players can destroy each other if they want to just for the fun of it, but then that might not be beneficial for completing a level, right?

Little Big Planet is one example of how gamers can use teamwork to conquer levels. This is a game where you can collect stickers and you can post these stickers on anything that is in the environment. This is a game where you can customize your characters, called Sack Things, and express you characters in ways that you want them to be expressed. There are some missions in Little Big Planet games where you as Player 1 will be required to either tag out to Players 2, 3 and/or 4 and let them handle certain jobs, or you must work together as a team to reach certain spots and collect items that you need to 100% complete the game. The Little Big Planet environment is very welcoming to more than just one player and it encourages teamwork tactics in order to get the full satisfaction of completing tasks. Many gamers hold these games in high regard.


Battletoads: A challenging game that emphasizes quick decision-making
Let's press the Rewind button in gaming history for a little bit. Remember this game pictured above? This is Battletoads, one of the first games to really put emphasis on the Co-Op feature. This wasn't the only NES 8-bit game to feature a Co-Op Mode, but this was a game that left a big impression on gamers for years to come. It left the kind of impression where you either liked it or you didn't. Whether you were playing by yourself or if you were playing with a friend, you found Battletoads to be a brutally tough game to play at times. You would fail by yourself and you would fail with your friend. There were some obstacles that some gamers found impossible to get through unless they went at it in Co-Op play.

You could probably classify Battletoads as a great first learning experience in Co-Op play. Player 1 may have cleared a challenging jump in a level, but Player 1 wouldn't be able to go anywhere if Player 2 wasn't able to clear that same jump. After a while if one player lost all of his or her lives, the other player would have to move on alone. Battletoads was one of the first occurrences where players realized that they weren't in competition against each other, but rather they had to find ways to help each other out to succeed together in a single campaign.

"Okay! Now avoid hitting that falling icicle!" says Player 1.

"Oh! Thanks! Now don't get hit by that throwing object!" replies Player 2.

When players cooperate and learn how to play the game together, they are better prepared for what's ahead.

Portal: A Co-Op game that features thorough location-based puzzle solving

Now another example that not only encourages Co-Op teamwork but also presents puzzles that aren't exactly easy to figure out would be Portal, a game that takes on a Science Fiction theme. Using laserguns to open up portals, players are pitted against environments where they need to navigate through tough spots in order to reach stations where they can recharge their robot characters. Remember puzzles like the Rubik's Cube, Sudoku and typical brain teaser quizzes? Well, Portal is the kind of game where players need to be aware of their positioning because if they go through an ill-positioned portal, they will wind up in spots where they will be trapped or they will lose a life.

Trial and error can be experienced by more than one player and if 2 players take on puzzles together in Portal, they will take less time to figure out where exactly to place their portal laserguns. If Player 1 doesn't position himself correctly, then Player 2 can make that correction and lead the the team to the right spot through the right portal. Placing the cubes in the right places, and by cubes I mean objects that you can place on pads that redirect lasers, is another factor when it comes to teamwork in Portal. If you forget where you placed a cube, then it would help to have a Player 2 back you up and fix any mistakes that you as Player 1 made.

Co-Optimus: Co-Op Gaming Website

Here is a link to a website dedicated to just Co-Op gaming. This is a website where you can view Co-Op games and gather the information you need if you are interested in playing Co-Op games. There are certain criteria being used on this website when it comes to reviews, and I think that these reviews, news headlines and general content are all helpful for the types of gamers who love playing Co-Op games. In order to enjoy a Co-Op game, you can't just consider whether or not you yourself would like playing it. Would your friends consider playing this game along with you? Is this the kind of game that your friends would emotionally invest in? Do you know that your friends would love playing this Co-Op game that has this particular theme attached to it?

General Idea: Light Competition Co-Op

I am always thinking on the fly when it comes to game development strategies, and the subject of Co-Op games has intrigued me in recent times. One of my own custom game scripts that I have been working on involves the use of Co-Op play. I don't necessarily call it Co-Op Mode for my custom game, but it basically has that Co-Op Mode element that I could easily put in since it's that flexible. If anything, I compare my Co-Op mechanics to that of games like Sonic Heroes where you just press a button to switch between characters, or less sophisticated RPG games where you can easily switch out characters in a party.

One idea I have been interested in using for a Co-Op game would be to allow players to go through an entire Campaign Mode where they work together as a team to defeat opposing AI forces. However, I am intrigued by the idea of "flipping the script', so to speak, and then pit the group of 2 to 4 players against each other towards the end of the game. The 2nd-to-last level would be to have 2 to 4 players battle each other and whoever wins that battle would go on to play the final level where one last huge AI force needs to be defeated. I find creative paths like this fulfilling to a gaming experience and it adds another ripple into game development planning without being over the top. It stays within reason while giving players another incentive to play and stay on top of their game.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

4X Games: Extremely Complex or Highly Imaginative?

4X - A strategy sub-genre that takes careful planning to map out

Gamers who are enthusiastic supporters of the more strategic video games immediately familiarize themselves with the structure of said games, mapping out strategies that fit to their liking and specifically deploying actions that they want to get done for their groups. 4X games are the true example of extensively complex video games, as in these are the kinds of games that make gamers think, and think, and then think some more before finally acting.

4X was a term coined by Alan Emrich in September 1993 which referred to the main 4 aspects that make up this genre. The 4 X's are eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. These 4 aspects bind the genre together to form a thinking gamer's paradise, so to speak. We can credit Sid Meier in part for his introduction of the game Civilization, which is a core example of a 4X game. Deep, complex, and thought-provoking gameplay are all featured in 4X games, allowing one to compare these games' mechanics as the Calculus to the Pre-Algebra of Real-Time Strategy Games or Role Playing Games.

One main thing that gamers need to take into account when playing 4X games is that the information you acquire in these kinds of games is key. You have to know what you have in your inventory and you have to know what you are able to do. If you can't perform certain actions, such as deploying a unit of soldiers out to a certain part of the world, then you need to find a compromise and alleviate that problem.

Of course the presence of micromanagement has been a subject of debate when discussing 4X games. Should we really care about so many different kinds of variables even if they are otherwise minimal in the scope of other video game genres? Should we have an empire and have to worry about managing its economy? Should we be obligated to choose what kind of government of political body our empires will have? Are there too many restricting rules in 4X? Are there certain rules in 4X that we just don't need?

The combat of a 4X game is critical and vital in defining the atmosphere of it and it is up to the development team to figure out what theme this 4X game should take on. 4X games can take place in just about any time period. You want to go back in time? No problem. There are plenty of 4X games based in medieval times where castles are built up, knights ride on horses and arrows are shot from their bows. You want to spring ahead in the future? No problem. We can find 4X games where futuristic empires are formed in various parts of the galaxy, packed with flying saucers, technologically advanced laserguns and secret databases that require codes to break into.

If you just want to keep a 4X game in line with this day and age, then surely we can build it around today as well. It never hurts to keep it simple.

When units engage in 4X battles, combat can be affected by various things such as the empire's economy and other general resources. If there isn't enough to go around to make bows and arrows or swords, then the player has to change up his or her strategy and make do with what is available. Some 4X games give players the option of resolving battles automatically without having to experience a long struggle, which helps the gaming experience. What kind of combat do you want to have? An emphasis on infantry? Cavalry? Militia? Aerial units? Special miscellaneous forces?

So what about the 4 X's themselves? Why are they so important? What is my take on them? Well, some elements of 4X are actually well liked by me, to be honest. There are certain elements of 4X games that I can take from and apply them to my own custom game concepts. For example, I may just want to use 2 of the 4 X's and build my own game around those 2 elements. Perhaps I should make a hybrid of a 2X game and a normal Platformer game? Could I make that work? I would sure like to try.

Explore: To explore here is to send scouts or other regiments to go to various spots on a map. these folks search for new territories that may or may not appeal to you as the empire's ruler.

Expand: You have the option of expanding your territory as much as you want. By creating new settlements or by extending the influence of already existing settlements, you firmly establish what is yours in the world of the 4X game.

Exploit: To exploit is to collect and use resources in territories that you govern, and you improve the efficiency of that usage. Any resource that you can interact with can benefit you.

Exterminate: Attacking and eliminating rival players is probably the most fun you will have in this game. Depending on territorial rules, eliminating rivals may be the only way to guarantee yourself an expanded empire, or at least salvaging what little of an empire you have left.

These 4 X's work together and overlap each other to create the 4X experience. I do find it interesting how the use of diplomacy is featured in this kind of game because you actually get the chance to make peaceful resolutions with other players regarding territories or resources. Economics and research keep players in check as to how much freedom they have in positioning their empires and I do believe that is a good handicap in a sense.

I suppose my only concern about this genre would be this idea that all 4 X's need to be used together at all times. Is that necessary? Would a game suffer if it only had 2 of the above X's and then featured elements of another gaming genre? I don't think it would suffer depending on what the game is and how well it executes. I appreciate the fact that 4X games (in theory) are intricately designed to show off the diversity and flexibility of a player's options. Sometimes, however, I do think some parts of a 4X game can be too excessive, but then again we do discuss subjective parts when something like 4X games are involved. Almost anything can be brought to the table if you think about it.

So are 4X games extremely complex or just highly imaginative? I would have to say they are both.