Friday, December 11, 2015

Finding Games in a Thrift Store

One harsh truth of some video games...
The gaming cycle can be cruel sometimes. For some of your favorite video games, no matter what console generation they come from, there is always one place that they seem to wind up in, whether it's by chance or simply by the fact that the people who owned them before didn't care enough about them to keep them for a long period of time.

Where do these unfortunate games wind up in? Yes. You guessed it. The thrift store.

Winding up in the setting of a thrift store doesn't always spell doom and gloom for these video games, however. While it is unfortunate that some video games may be buried next to used toaster ovens, ceramic antiques and containers of unused paperclips, when these video games are found by gamers, and depending on what the type of video game it is, these video games are given a second chance of entertaining gamers, and that's always a good thing. It's one thing if a video game is, by all intents and purposes, crappy, because then it would be understandable why it found its way into a thrift store, but it's a different story if a video game was truly good enough to be a part of a gamer's vintage game collection, and yet it was discarded for whatever reason.

I actually found this at the thrift store...
I bought a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Sega Genesis at my local thrift store, and this copy of Sonic 2 is complete, in the official box with official box art. It's just not every day that you find something like that laying around on a thrift store shelf. I wouldn't say that I would compare it to finding a diamond in the rough, but I will say this. There is the slim chance that when you shop at the thrift store, you may just stumble upon some form of gaming history that you simply can't pass up, as long as the price is reasonable.

I have also bought some Playstation and Gamecube games at thrift stores in the past, and unfortunately for me, not many of those purchases have panned out. I won't name the games, but I will say that some of these games initially looked to me like they would be at least fun to play, and then I quickly found out why they ended up in the thrift store in the first place. The novelty of these kinds of games wears out pretty quick.

When it comes to video game consoles that you may see inside glass display cases at the thrift store, I will give you a word and warning. Don't just zoom in and buy a console. There's a reason why it's there. Especially if it has a tag that says "used" or "sold as is", be very careful. If you wind up paying for a console that doesn't even work properly, then you made a bad business decision as a gamer, and you can't take it back.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Coming So Close and Yet... Part 1

Cheesy picture to begin the article! Yay!

Having knowledge on both gaming and sports, both of which involve elements of winning and losing, I would know how thrilling it is to win in a video game, beating levels that turn out to be insanely difficult and finding out what exactly I needed to do to beat that level. I would also know that winning big games in sporting events has that unique kind of adrenaline rush that you can't get anywhere else.

So what's this about the "near-win?" How significant is the near-win? How do you define a near-win anyway? My basic definition of the near-win would go something like this. When you achieve some levels of success throughout your main journey but you don't necessarily complete your main journey is how I would define a near-win. You can see this in video games. I may be able to complete some side tasks that will factor into all the unlockables and goodies that come from the game, but those side tasks may not matter at all when it comes to the game's Story Mode. I get little wins here and there, but I don't get the big win that matters.

Game development can be complicated when it comes to the near-win because of the fact that you want to keep gamers emotionally invested in your game without frustrating them. You want to motivate them by implementing the near-win mechanic, but you don't want to paste the near-win in every corner of your game. The carrots that are dangled in the side tasks of the game depend on what kind of rewards the players can expect to get. If the rewards are just "there" and not all that motivating to get, then there won't be much of a Replayability Factor for your game. What is the theme of your game? How can you tie your rewards around that theme? Those are questions to consider when implementing the near-win.

I have developed a stronger appreciation for articles on Gamasutra because the writers who bring up the interesting topics that I include on this blog bring up topics that have also been on my mind at one point in time or another. I'm so thankful that this article in the link brought up the element of the near-win because I do find this element to be missing in some video games that could really use such an element. In some video games all you get is this; you either win or lose, and there's no in between. You either get all the golden coins or you get bags of garbage.

While I am not an advocate for handing out participation trophies to every gamer who embarks on a Story Mode journey, I do advocate the idea of giving gamers some sort of reward for the 2nd place finish, for achieving Runner-Up status. I do believe going "almost" all the way in a game should count for something, and it should be something to motivate the gamer to get back into that game and complete it the next time around. That's why reward systems that are divided into separate tiers can be so useful because they help gamers tell the difference between receiving an upgrade that's Silver Medal status and receiving an upgrade that's Gold Medal status.

Best visual example of a "Near-Win" IMO
Briefly going back to sports, I remember watching one of the best Super Bowl games in my life as a sports fan. It was Super Bowl 34 (in the beginning of the year 2000), between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans. It was a back and forth contest between 2 teams that really wanted to win the Lombardi Trophy so bad. The Rams were up 23-16 late in the 4th quarter and the Titans went on one last drive on offense. The game came down to one final play where wide receiver Kevin Dyson caught a pass and fell 1 yard short of scoring a game-tying touchdown. Linebacker Mike Jones made the key stop to end the Super Bowl right there.

I mention this moment because that's pretty much the kind of thrill you would like to give your gaming audience when developing a game. Even if you're like Kevin Dyson and you fall 1 yard short of achieving your ultimate goal, you shouldn't be punished in any big way even though you still lost and had to start the final level all over again. There needs to be a 2nd place "I almost got it" kind of reward in place for gaming moments like this, and that reward may be all the gamer needs to finally see what he or she did wrong in the final level and then correct that mistake and beat the game.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving Video Game Idea

Turkeys can be great video game characters, right?
I'm certain that I made a similar post to this just last year around Thanksgiving time, but I figure that I should put my own game design skills to the test by creating a video game concept that has a Thanksgiving theme attached to it. So we all like to make video games fun and exciting, and we know that Thanksgiving is a time to gather around family and have a good feast. The Thanksgiving theme is an easy theme to convey in a video game, but sadly it hasn't been executed well by any game design team over the years.

Some video games benefit from having standout characters that carry the narrative and the gameplay, and while it isn't mandatory to have a character carry a game, we do keep in mind that Thanksgiving is centered around having a turkey for dinner. It would make sense to bring a heroic anthropomorphic turkey character to life and have him (or her) jump into action. The picture above is a cute illustration of a turkey dressed like a pilgrim, but it doesn't have to dress like a pilgrim for this game. Instead our heroic turkey can dress casually like the other interesting characters we see in the Gaming Industry. The attire doesn't need to be flashy or over the top, but something neat that gamers can relate to.

General Plot

Let's name our heroic turkey Timothy Gobble. (Timothy is my middle name, so...) Let's say that for our plot, Timothy Gobble has been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner to see his friends and family back in his hometown of Pumpkinsniff. Timothy has been away from home lately as he has been doing hard work in Corncob College. When he returns to Pumpkinsniff, Timothy realizes that all the food factories of his hometown have been shut down by a menacing opposing force named the Midnight Wolves, a faction of obnoxious and cold-hearted thieves bent on raiding any place that has an abundance of food.

Little do the Midnight Wolves know that Timothy has learned a thing or two in Corncob College, and more specifically, Timothy has become quite the inventor as he brings back home a few custom gadgets of his. Timothy will need these custom gadgets to work for him as he will fight off the Midnight Wolves to get back the stolen food supply and rescue any captured food factory workers before Thanksgiving night arrives. 

The game's setting would be interesting
Game Setting

Pumpkinsniff would be the first level of our game, and we would naturally branch out to other parts of Timothy Gobble's world the further along we progress. Pumpkinsniff mirrors that of the image you see above, a place where the autumn season is present for most of the year. Beautiful trees that have red, yellow and orange leaves, numerous farms where farmers go to work, old and abandoned sheds that are used by young turkeys to play silly games around, and even a local park where people of all ages walk through and take in all the breath taking sights. I guess you could say that Pumpkinsniff would take on the identity of Small Town America. 

Pies can serve as health items in the game
Main Game Element

I love many kinds of pies. Pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, peach pie, blueberry pie, lemon pie... the list goes on. Now why wouldn't we feature pies as the core element of this game? Think of all the health items that video game characters use in order to stay afloat in levels, and having Timothy Gobble collect pies to keep his strength up would be appropriate. It doesn't sound farfetched. Perhaps we could separate the pies in groups, from pies that give Timothy only 1 health slice (Yep, a Health Pie Meter for Timothy) to pies that can give Timothy 3 health slices.

However, I would like to give this core game element a certain twist that I think gamers would like. Not often do I see games do this with their core elements, but I propose that we use these pies as both health items and weapons players can use in their inventory. The good old fashioned "throw a pie in the enemy's face" strategy should be in play here to add to the slapstick comedy aspect of this game story, just to liven up the experience for players. Remember The 3 Stooges? Sometimes comedy in gaming just needs to be that simple. Aside from using a gadget that will help him fly, since turkeys can't fly, Timothy can use a special device to throw (or launch) pies at his enemies, as if it were a spoof of the movie Animal House. (FOOD FIGHT!)

Bonuses, Awards and All That Jazz

As a gamer, I like certain incentives to be included in some video games. I like it when I have to push my gaming skills to a point where I need collect a certain amount of stuff to unlock new things, as long as the challenges themselves are manageable. I believe we can add bonuses, awards and related stuff to this game to make gamers want to play a little bit longer. Some games need to be built on having a lasting experience, and if I know there are many tiers for me to reach in this custom game called Turkey Terrific (pardon the generic name...), then I would be curious enough to keep playing and see what happens when I do reach those tiers.

The awards structure could be something like Platinum Tier, Gold Tier, Silver Tier, Bronze Tier, etc. or it could be a X out of 100 meter. I love "collectathon" formats in video games. As long as they are managed well, they help keep the player engaged with what is going on in the game and motivate the players to keep searching and exploring.

It's interesting that not many folks have thought about making a game like this. If anything, you will see many more attempts of game development teams making levels that are centered around other holidays like Halloween, Christmas or even St. Patrick's Day. However, Thanksgiving is unique in the sense that it not only brings families together, but the specific meaning of this event, which is to be thankful for what you have and what will happen down the road, serves to be a powerful gaming narrative that can play out beautifully and resonate well with gamers who are just thankful to be playing cool video games.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I Officially Know Game Writing

So it turns out that I officially know how to write for video games, at least according to the California Institute of the Arts. As of this past weekend I have officially passed an entire online course that discussed various elements of game writing, from creating a general synopsis of a game to fleshing out the characters and the worlds of a game. It was a brief journey through some things that I already knew with the help of reading some game writing books, but the most important thing for me here is that I now have something that I can show people when it comes to proof. It's one thing to just read a book about game writing and take some pointers from it, but it's another thing when you actually pass something that's related to game writing.

I believed this online course was significant enough for me to take and pass because I was looking at my portfolio and I noticed that something specifically related to game development was lacking. Aside from the content that I post in this blog and the article on game writing that I wrote for, there wasn't really anything official for me to talk about. Well, I just changed that with this course. It's documented in my Coursera profile that I passed Story and Narrative Development for Video Games with a 100% grade. 

So for any critics who might pop up and say I don't know enough about game writing, you guys and I can always point to this specific blog post as proof of what I managed to accomplish. This is just another step I took in getting closer to doing what I've been wanting to do all along, and that's to lend my writing services for a video game project. While this online course had its challenges, I could tell right away that I was in my element and that I would be focused on every important detail the course threw at me. I'm happy to now say that not only do I know how to write an article or a script, but I also know how to format an understandable game writing document.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ohio Game Developer Expo

Starting off the month of November the right way, I was able to attend the 2015 Ohio Game Developer Expo at COSI in Columbus, and it was certainly something memorable that I can and will remember for some time to come. My Saturday experience clearly opened some doors as to what is currently being developed in the gaming scene today, and I even got to try out some demos of games that I found to be the most interesting of the bunch. More on that later.

Prior to Saturday November 7, I had never been to a gaming convention of any sort in my entire life, and it had been a whopping 20 years since I last stepped foot inside a COSI building, so this was obviously significant to me. It was on my To Do List to finally participate in a gaming convention, and yes, I finally got to do it here. I didn't know what to expect since this was my first time taking on something like this, but as it turned out, it was a very fun and intriguing experience.

There were 2 tickets reserved for me and my mother, and we would take a tour through all the booths that were stationed on the 2nd level of the COSI building. Of course, there were scheduled events that I could have attended, but I was too preoccupied with the stuff that was going on in front of me. The game demos that I played were definitely interesting and they took me back to the more enjoyable times of me playing video games. These game demos reminded me of what it was like to be a gamer back in the day, but the unique thing is that these games are being made for current day gaming platforms, so while you get nods to the past, you still have a vision for the future.

Entrance to one of the rooms at the OGDE

Some of the games that I played at the OGDE included Gloobs, Armechgeddon, GalactiMax, Not Alone, Dehoarder 2 and The Pedestrian. Let's start with Gloobs. This is a game being developed by a group based in Ohio University (Athens) called Lantern Light Studios and Gloobs will be available on mobile touch pad platforms. The objective in Gloobs is to make like a scientist and experiment with the gel that you put into a pan. There are elements for you to add to the gel such as fire, water, dirt and electricity, and the gel blobs will take shape to form "Gloobs" after you add an element to them. You can also mix 2 elements together to see how a Gloob will change. This was one of the first touch pad exclusive games that I ever got to try out, and I am intrigued to see what the final product will turn out to be.

Armchgeddon: Keep an eye on this game

Armechgeddon was one of the games that really stood out to me at the 2015 OGDE because it took me back to all the games in the past where I would just stand back and shoot. Armechgeddon is basically like an arcade game where you steadily move forward and take out enemies that are trying to slow you down, and I believe this could potentially give gamers a feel for certain series they already love such as Transformers and Gundam Wing. You operate giant mechs that have unique abilities and you collect new abilities as you progress in levels, which is similar to that of a game I loved to play in the past called BattleTanx.

Armechgeddon was created by a game dev group called Code Medicine, and from what I played on the demo, I can tell that they have something really good cooked up with the gameplay mechanics. I would also keep an eye on where they go with Armechgeddon because it's certainly something that you can kick back and play with a friend in 2-player Co-Op. I'm interested in finding out what additions will be made to this game. 

GalactiMax is basically Galaga with a rather unique twist. You start off with just one small ship and you can fire at enemies in different ways. The further you progress in the game, the more upgrades your spaceship will receive, as in your spaceship will grow larger and larger as you defeat more and more enemies. There will be a point in the game when your spaceship will get really huge and will have an excellent firing range as well as a huge hit box.

Steven Vitte at The Pedestrian booth
Now The Pedestrian is a rather unique puzzle/platforming game where you guide a stick figure character, the familiar dude that you see on street signs in everyday life, though multiple areas. These areas are signs that are hung up on the walls of what appears to be a subway station (just a guess) and as I was playing this demo, I got the feeling that I was playing the old school platforming games of my childhood. Skookum Arts, the game dev group that created The Pedestrian concept, definitely has a cool concept going on here. The puzzles that you see in this game are the right kind of challenging, testing your mind to connect the right parts of an area together. I would also keep an eye on this game when it releases.

Dehoarder 2 was another demo I tried out and I found it to be very interesting. Developed by Brian Paulus of Smiling Cat Entertainment, Dehoarder 2 is an update on a simple objective: You have way too much crap inside your house and outside on your yard and you need to clean up the mess. You need to recycle all the stuff that's scattered about, and the more you recycle, the more freedom you will have as well as scoring more points. You have to wait until the trash guys come and pick up your discarded stuff, of course, but I found the humor behind all this. It was refreshing and fun. I also found it funny that rats were running all over the place causing a stir with your neighbors. Unique concepts like this help keep the gaming scene interesting.

Wesley Adams of Multivarious Games (Left) and Steven Vitte (Right)
Now I briefly got to try out Not Alone, a demo of a new project that Multivarious Games is working on. I got to hang out with my good friend Wesley Adams, who was also promoting Hatch-It! at the same Multivarious Games booth, and he would describe the concept behind Not Alone. It is basically a science-fiction themed game where you travel on a distant planet that's not your home and you have to guide yourself out of a maze and find the right path to do battle against foreign enemies. Briefly exploring through the first part of the demo, I definitely liked the graphics and the visuals that were on display. They were definitely pleasing for the eyes and a reminder of a few games that I played in the past like Timesplitters and Goldeneye. I'd like to see what comes from further development of this game.

Steven Vitte in front of a band stage
Conclusion: Gaming Conventions Overview

For this to be my first ever time going to a gaming convention, I was very pleased, and I came away with this experience wanting to return to another gaming convention. This was certainly a high point of my time as a gamer and gaming enthusiast, and it is my hope that I will get to extend this convention experience down the road in the future. For me to see a bunch of enthusiastic gamers who share similar passions like me, it was definitely encouraging. I felt like I was in my element when I was going through the OGDE area, and it only motivates me to document coverage like this in future blog posts so that I can inform my readers here at the Gaming Journalist Gazette on the happenings of the Gaming Industry, no matter how big or small those happenings are. 

By the way, just because the event says Ohio Game Developer Expo doesn't mean that gamers from outside the state of Ohio can't attend this convention. From what I have heard in conversations, it sounds like the OGDE will have a name change at some point in the future, to better reflect an entire region of game development instead of just one state. 

Now if you are a gamer or game developer and you live in other parts of the Midwest United States like Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin or Minnesota, for example, you are more than welcome to join in on what's going on here annually in Columbus, Ohio. We'll give you guys high fives if you do join in. This includes people from all over the country and even internationally. If you want to present something in Columbus for the OGDE, then feel free to show us Midwestern gamers what you got. Events like the OGDE positively highlight our passion for video games and that we love what we do in creating new games and concepts that will hopefully appeal to many gamers. I can easily see Midwestern game devs sharing the stage with the other guys who regularly attend conventions like PAX East in Boston, PAX South in San Antonio and PAX Prime in Seattle, and I think gamers would be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Game Review: Sly 2: Band of Thieves

Sly 2: One of the best video games out there. Period.
It didn't take us long to get to the next heist, huh? My next game review will be a special one because it will highlight a video game that, in my personal opinion, has got to rank as one of the best games that I have ever played. It sometimes takes a lot for me to say that about any video game, but Sly 2: Band of Thieves simply blew me away with how consistent it was in the storyline, the gameplay mechanics, the sound effects and voice acting, and the overall enjoyable gaming experience. Not many games will catch gamers in this way, but my review will describe just how things seemed to click in this cleverly made sequel to the Master Thief's adventures with his merry gang.

Backstory: Allow me to provide some backstory before I jump into the review. The day was August 19, 2009 and I took a trip on a bus with a group of local baseball fans. We went down to Jackson, Tennessee to see a good friend of mine play a few games of baseball as he was just signed by Jackson's team to fill in for another baseball player who got injured. During my 3-day stay in Tennessee, I went to a mall to look at some video games in a store, and what did I find? Yep! This game! Sly 2 just stuck out in the front row of a clearance bin, and like the featured raccoon himself, I just had to snatch it and buy it. It turns out that I made a great investment.

Now let's get started with the review itself, which is sure to go into detail as to what really clicked.

Great detail went into the level designs

Controls - 20 out of 20 Points

While Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (Sly 1) started the series, Sly 2: Band of Thieves was the first Sly game that I played, and I knew almost right away when I started playing this game that the controls were going to be smooth and accurately responsive. Everywhere I took the Cooper Gang they moved accordingly, and when I pressed buttons to perform actions, those actions were performed.

Unlike Sly 1, you have more than just Sly Cooper to control in Sly 2 as Bentley and Murray are available as playable characters. All 3 Cooper Gang members have their own skill sets and diverse sets of moves that will make them stand out in their own ways. This is a great way of showing how reliable Bentley and Murray are in the gang as opposed to giving Sly all the spotlight, and this was a very wise move made by Sucker Punch.

I will also point out that the binocucom feature in this game was given a great amount of significance. This further added to the stealthy environment of the Sly Cooper world. There were some missions in Sly 2 where you had to be accurate in taking binocucom photographs, and this allows the player to become more emotionally invested in what's going on, from the story to the gameplay. The controls of this game were top notch. No big flaws that I could see.

Graphics - 20 out of 20 Points

Sly 2 was catered to the Sony Playstation 2 engine, but there is absolutely nothing negative that I can take away from viewing the graphics here. For its time Sly 2 was simply remarkable to look at in the visual context. Players were given accurate depictions of their favorite characters, and the Saturday morning cartoonish flare that jumps out from this game only resulted in good things for me as I watched the Story Mode of Sly 2 progress.

The level designs of this game were well thought out and you could easily recognize the themes these levels took on. The architecture of the buildings that Sly and his friends encountered were visually impressive, containing just a touch of realism. I definitely believe that these graphics should be appreciated for what they are because it's not often that you get works of art like this from a video game.

Story - 16 out of 20 Points

Unfortunately, just like Sly 1, Sly 2 suffers from a particular theme in Episodes 4 and 5 that pulled down the experience for me a bit. This is once again my personal opinion, but I believe that the theme that was chosen for these 2 episodes just wasn't necessary and it threw me off.

Having said that, 6 out of the 8 episodes in Sly 2 were simply fantastic in the way that they told the story of the game. I must say that Sly 2's Story Mode has gotta be by far one of the best Story Modes any video game development team has ever created. It's nearly flawless in its execution. Sly 2's story keeps gamers on their toes, making them wonder what turns it will take. The story isn't complex, but it is thought-provoking, and it does make you think a little bit about why the villains did what they did to get to the top, and why the Clockwerk parts matter to them.

Game writing isn't easy to master, and I would know a little bit about this since I am constantly studying the art of game writing. Sucker Punch did their homework in the game writing for Sly 2 for the most part. I will say this about the twists that occur in Sly 2 without spoiling anything; You might not see them coming, but in one way you will connect the dots. This story had some very positive elements to take from and remember, which again makes me happy that I got this game.

Music - 20 out of 20 Points

If you loved the music of Sly 1, then you will surely love the music of Sly 2. In a sense the jazzy feel of the soundtracks in this game appears to be amplified and reinvented, refreshing the beats that you grew to love in the first game. I once again kept up with the flow of these soundtracks because they truly are that memorable. These tunes are catchy and pleasing for the ears to listen to. Top notch.

Concept Art of Sly 2
Replayability Factor - 20 out of 20 Points

Sly 2: Band of Thieves pretty much has infinite replay value in the sense that if you want to just pop this game in and go through the missions again, you can do that seamlessly without feeling burdened. You can play through Story Mode all over again without feeling that you will just get bored because of repetition. For example, if you were to go through Story Mode once and then went back to playing it again a week later, you would feel just as motivated to complete the jobs that are set before you, just as you felt previously.

I think what really sets Sly 2: Band of Thieves apart from Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves and Sly 4: Thieves In Time would have to be the sense of purpose that it establishes right off the bat. From the very beginning you are launched into action working a job and you are gradually led to different working parts of the story. In one sense you feel like more than just a Master Thief, but also a detective who's trying to solve a puzzle the deeper you get into the tangled web.

In comparison to Sly 2, I don't get as big of a purpose being established by the other Sly Cooper games. Sly 1 and Sly 4 both establish a general purpose while Sly 3 didn't quite hit the mark. You feel the big purpose of the whole story behind Sly 2 when you see it play out, and I believe that's just awesome.

You've done well, Sly Cooper!

Overall Score - 96 out of 100 Points (No Bonus Points)

This is the highest overall score that I have given a video game in a review here on this blog, and for good reason. Sly 2: Band of Thieves has served as one of many turning points in my time as a gamer, leaving a lasting impression on me that is right on par with another game I loved in Yoshi's Island. Compared to Sly 1, you have all the freedom in the world to move around and look for the Clue Bottles while deciding which job to tackle first. You are never really restricted in what you can do, and that's as big a plus as any for a game.

If you happen to be a completionist kind of gamer and you want to see something out the whole way, then this is absolutely your kind of game to play. Just when you think you can only play this game for a 1 hour sitting, you find yourself playing it for another 30 minutes or another full hour instead. Sly 2 carries that kind of influence.

Capping off this review, I once again have to note the stellar voice acting performances for all the characters. Some of the cutscenes in this game had me laughing for a good few minutes before I could regain my composure and resume playing. That's what it really is all about. Having a good time while you challenge yourself to complete tasks that you may think are too daunting for you to pull off, but at the same time you are comforted by the game's feel-good tone. That is Sly 2: Band of Thieves to me.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Game Review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Good ol' fashioned Cops and Robbers
Only a particular few video game franchises carry a certain significance with me in the sense that when I'm just a few minutes into playing a game, I can almost tell right away that it's going to not only be good, but an unforgettable experience. Not every video game that I play can do that for me, and with a previous example in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, that game represented my official introduction into playing video games, the beginning of Steven Vitte as a gamer.

Now what does the Sly Cooper franchise represent to me as a gamer? To be honest, I have held off writing this game review for a while as I was waiting for the right time to submit this. Since I really don't have anything else on my plate to discuss at the moment, I figured this was the right time. The Sly Cooper series represents an important transition period for me as a gamer. In the past I was strictly a Nintendo gamer, and by all means I have enjoyed a fair share of Nintendo games, but in recent years I wanted to venture away from Nintendo and explore what other companies were doing. I have invested in Sony Playstation content for the PS2 and the PS4 (not yet on the PS3... that will take time), and some of the first games I had my eyes on were the original Sly trilogy on the PS2.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, also known as simply Sly 1, was actually not the first Sly game I bought. That honor goes to Sly 2: Band of Thieves which I will also review at a later time, but for Sly 1, I could immediately tell that I had something unique to play and I could understand why it grabbed the attention of gamers back when it was released on September 23, 2002. Shall we sneak up on this review and pickpocket all the wonderful details? Let's do that with style!

Controls - 20 out of 20 Points

While this is the oldest game of the series, and though some gameplay aspects of this have since been discarded in favor of newer things, Sly 1 works exceptionally well in its controls. When you move Sly around in levels, you don't get any resistance whatsoever. There's a proper flow to all the controls. When pressing buttons to perform actions, everything just seems to make sense.

Perhaps one big reason why everything seems to make sense is the emphasis that is put on... the Circle button. Many times Bentley, an intelligent turtle who is one of Sly's best friends in the Cooper Gang, will tell Sly to press the Circle button to perform an action, and this alone is easy enough to follow that you will feel motivated to immerse yourself with the levels of the game. Press the Circle button? Okay! Here I go! I'll jump onto that hook and swing with the Cooper Cane! Easy to remember and execute, and that is a big plus in my book.

It also helps that from time to time Sly will be awarded abilities for finding all the Clue Bottles that are in a level. Once he unlocks a safe to collect a new ability, Sly will be able to try that new ability out, and for the gamer, it helps him or her to progress further into the game because of the new dimension the new ability brings to the table. Abilities range from attack moves to stealthy defensive moves, and even moves in between. I certainly found the abilities helpful when venturing through Sly 1's levels.

Don't get dizzy watching this...

Graphics - 20 out of 20 Points

To put it in a nutshell, what's not to like about Sly 1's graphics? Considering the standards of the PS2, these graphics were simply amazing for its time. The delicate details that were implemented in this game clearly showed what a game development team could do if they put their skills to the test and played their cards right. Sucker Punch pulled off the Saturday morning cartoon look in spades with this game as well as the other Sly games, and just by embracing the artwork that was done not only in the levels but also in the cutscenes has left a lasting impression on gamer's minds even to this day. All the colors, bright and dark, complement each other very well and the character designs are obviously on point.

Story - 15 out of 20 Points

For the most part I enjoyed the core concepts of Sly 1's story. I was definitely intrigued by the introduction to the Thievius Raccoonus, the timeless strategy guide for all Cooper family members to use, and it was awesome how this single book was tied in with the heart of the story. Sly Cooper is part of a long line of master thieves who spent their whole lives perfecting their craft of pulling off calculated heists, plundering about across the globe. Of course, when you have a thief on the loose, you will always need an opposing force...

...and what better way to add a twist to the Cops and Robbers game than to include a romantic dynamic? The interaction between Sly Cooper and Inspector Carmelita Montoya Fox of Interpol is basically the straw that stirs the drink of coffee that this series provides. Sly is always on the run here in Sly 1 from Carmelita while performing his tasks of taking down the Fiendish Five, the group of bad guys who were responsible for the death of his parents, which is explained in the opening scene of the story. I also find it to be slick how Sucker Punch suddenly allows the player to help both Sly and Carmelita in the last level of the game.

However, the reason why the Story Mode of Sly 1 doesn't get a perfect score of 20 from me is simply because of one level I had a genuine distaste for in its entirety. I shake my head at Episode 3... Everything else was spot on and solid story-wise, though.

Music - 20 out of 20 Points

Another main factor for bringing the Sly series to life and jumping out to gamers was the great music it had. How can we forget the catchy jazz beats of these soundtracks? The music helps define what Sly's world is and it's a staple that you simply can't replace. Yeah, don't even think about replacing Sly's signature jazz music with typical punk rock noise. Sly isn't Sonic the Hedgehog, you know! (#ShotsFired@Sega)

When playing a game that involves Sly Cooper, I can't help but go along with these kinds of beats. They are not only catchy but they are memorable and they help me to better visualize Sly's world in a variety of ways. I also like how the soundtracks blend in with the different locations of the levels to complement them. These soundtracks are appropriate for the feeling of these levels. Sucker Punch did a great job here in Sly 1.

Replayability Factor - 17 out of 20 Points

For the most part, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus carries the kind of Replayability Factor that you would want, with the only glaring exception (and this is only my opinion) being Episode 3. You have levels that are easy to access and navigate through and you have more than enough activities to do once you dig into a level. When you are given a task to complete, you know what to do after some practice. You never feel lost when exploring and at some point you are taken back to where you need to be when completing a task.

Overall Score - 93 out of 100 Points (1 Bonus Point)

It is very easy for me to recommend this game as a starting point if you want to get acquainted with the world of Sly Cooper. Considering that this is the game that started the Sly franchise, it's definitely worth taking the nostalgia trip. This game introduces you to everything you need to know about the beloved characters, such as Sly himself, the previously mentioned Bentley, Murray, a big hippo who specializes in driving the Cooper Van in Sly 1, Carmelita, the Fiendish Five and Clockwerk, the infamous villain who hates everything about the Cooper family.

I am simply impressed by how this story was originally built by the creative mind of Mat Kraemer. It takes a lot of planning to come up with a story as extensive as this one, and Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus left enough of a mark on gaming communities everywhere in its time. Why I didn't get around to playing this game in the 2000's is beyond me, but I'm glad I finally got around to it in recent years. It certainly helped me in my recovery process to "re-appreciating" how video games are made and how they function.

Another note that probably doesn't need to be mentioned is that the voice acting was splendid as well. A cast of no-names that were able to carry a story with enjoyable depth like Sly 1 is always a plus for any game development team. The voice actors and actresses played their roles accordingly and you can tell that they were invested in making the gaming experience fun through their dialogue deliveries.

In closing, if you somehow haven't played this game yet, you probably should set aside a time to do that as soon as you can. Off to the next heist!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Thoughts On e-Sports

eSports: Not what it's cracked up to be...

In the past on the Gaming Journalist Gazette I talked about gaming competitions such as tournaments and related events and why things like that would be helpful for gaming communities. While I do still stand by what I said in those past blog entries, I want to keep it in perspective with this follow-up blog entry. While I believe that it would be fun to have gaming tournaments between gamers who just like the idea of engaging in interesting competitions, I also believe that a bit of caution needs to be taken by gamers.

As you have probably become aware of by now, the eSports scene in the world is a huge industry. It's a billion dollar industry, and that alone is a scary thought, in my honest opinion. It's one thing for gamers to practice at games so they can improve their skills, but it's a completely different story when those gamers start obsessing over a single game and devote so much time to it that the game becomes some sort of religion to them. This is where I feel that you as a gamer need to take a step back and think about what you are doing.

Now concerning the link to a Yahoo! news piece on Colin Cowherd bashing eSports and explaining why he feels sports outlets like ESPN shouldn't be broadcasting eSports... To a certain degree, Cowherd is right about the issues on eSports. However, and this has always been my issue with the talking heads of mainstream media outlets, Colin Cowherd really shouldn't be the guy saying this. If anything, he is one of the many attention-seeking reporters out there, just wanting to hear himself talk. He comes across as a guy who thinks he is above certain things like video games, and that he has expert knowledge on something he clearly hasn't spent an abundance of time getting familiar with.

To express my most candid opinion on eSports, it would have to be this. Playing video games is NOT a sport.

There, I said it.

Playing video games is not a sport because they just don't compare to what professional athletes actually do out on the fields of play. Compared to actual sports like baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, tennis, golf, etc. video games don't require much physical skill aside from the fact that you are just pressing buttons on a controller, and even that can be debated as to how physical that is.

The eSports industry is a huge industry that has built itself on the false belief that the gamers who participate in these competitions are superstars for whatever reason, and once the hype train starts rolling on the tracks for one gamer, it's hard to slow that hype train down. Granted that a gamer can make boat loads of cash engaging in this industry, but when it comes to the principle of this, I have to say that I'm 100% not in favor of how the eSports scene is currently constructed.

Um... I don't have words for this
I'm not opposed to participating in gaming tournaments where a group of friends just get together and have fun, and I'm not opposed to gaming tournaments that are local, statewide or even national. I'm not even opposed to gamers receiving recognition for their accomplishments if they happen to win gaming tournaments, but the point of this post is to say that organizations and companies shouldn't blow things out of proportion. When you look at eSports today, that's exactly what's going on.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Forgettable Moments In Gaming

A gamer's reaction when things go wrong

We've had moments when we play a game that we otherwise have fond memories of, but these moments usually involve us performing an action with our characters that doesn't go anywhere near as smoothly as we thought. There have been times when we just crush most parts of a level, and then we get to a single obstacle that just stumps us and forces us to lose a life.

It's important for me to note why I put up the link to that gamasutra article featuring Shigeru Miyamoto. Sometimes when we spend too much time trying to figure out how to beat a level in a game, we tend to forget that there other things in the world that we could be doing. The video game will always be there for you to pick up and play again, while some critical life moments won't always be present in comparison. When you're having a bad day as a gamer, just relax in doing other things that don't relate to gaming. There will probably be an awesome sports matchup for you to watch, or there will be newly released music soundtracks that you can't wait to listen to. In summary, just develop interests and get your mind off that frustratingly hard level in your favorite game.

I will run down a list of the more common events in gaming where we as gamers would like to forget.

I endured this...
1) Barrel of Doom - Carnival Night Zone - Sonic 3

Who hasn't endured this moment? There were times when I would just blitz through Sonic 3 and everything was going well for me, and then... the Barrel of Doom happened. I would jump onto this barrel and then, for whatever reason, expect the barrel to just take me down to the next part of Carnival Night Zone. Of course, that was a foolish thing to expect as all I had to do was to constantly press Up and Down on my D-Pad in order to get the Barrel of Doom to move. Clearly moments like this qualify in giving gamers who experience this a dunce cap to wear, but hey, it happens to all of us, right?

This game is... well... brutal...
2) The Entire Game - Battletoads

Though I myself have never played this game (and maybe it's a good thing that I haven't yet?), I have heard countless stories from long-time gamers that Battletoads is by far one of the hardest video games ever made. Undoubtedly a fun gaming experience, Battletoads is a brutal game for any gamer to master, and if anyone is brave enough to endure all the hard crap that comes from this game, then I salute you. There are many things to account for in this game and if you are not precise enough in performing an action, then your Battletoad will comically fall to his death. Be prepared to die hundreds of times here.

Cat Suits and complex levels... Sounds right
3) Champion's Road - Super Mario 3D World

A more recent addition to forgettable moments in gaming would have to be the time when you take your gaming skills to the final level of Super Mario 3D World, which would be Champion's Road. At this point you have clearly rolled with all the punches that this game has given you, and you are prepared to take on the final level, but then you see the design of this level, and you freak out. You lose a bunch of lives in the process, mistime your jumps, bump your head against objects and obstacles, and lose your cool. This last level is especially difficult if you are playing with friends. No matter where you go in Champion's Road you run the risk of getting hit and you have to keep mashing buttons just to keep up with the pace. Thankfully for you, Champion's Road is the final level of the game, so you can relax by popping in a DVD after spending some time failing and then beating the level.

This last level annoyed me...
4) Any Difficulty Level - Cradle - Goldeneye 64

Back when I was a kid, I was a fan of James Bond. These days, however, I'm not at all a fan of James Bond (and no thanks to Daniel Craig, who in my opinion, single-handedly ruined the franchise), but that's besides the point here. I played Goldeneye 64 back in the day and I played the heck out of this game. It was probably one of my favorite shooting games of all-time and it was easy for me to get acquainted with the levels of this game. For the most part, I found the missions of Goldeneye very engaging and entertaining, and these missions kept me hooked, making me want to keep playing.

However, the final level of the Main Campaign, Cradle, annoyed the crap out of me. No matter which difficulty level I set it on, it was always the same. It was the most frustrating experience I ever had while playing a shooting game. We have Alec Trevelyan, formerly Agent 006, who betrayed James Bond earlier in the game, running away from you like a cowardly sissy, and of course, you have to go through his huge army of minions in shootouts while also needing to take out all the turret guns. I can't begin to tell you how many times I died trying to boldly ignore the minions and the turrets. It's to be expected that the final level of a video game is supposed to be the hardest, but my word... it took me days to beat! Needless to say I laughed my butt off when I finally did take out Trevelyan. "HA! Take that! You lost, Trevelyan! How do you like me now?"

Forgettable moments in gaming... Sometimes playing through something just once is enough, isn't it? 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Let's Plays: Reliable Source of Entertainment

This form of entertainment gets a bad wrap from outsiders who just don't seem to understand it, but I am here to say that Let's Plays, videos that you see on YouTube that display a gamer's experience of a game, play a significant part in the way that gamers view video games in this day and age. Watching a Let's Play video wouldn't have been possible before websites like YouTube, Veoh, Vimeo and Dailymotion were created, but now that we have such technology available on the internet, it is possible to take in a viewing experience that is both unique and informative.

For some of us who have very little money, it's a treat to watch videos of games that we know we won't be able to buy at their initial prices in stores like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, GameStop and the like, because we get an insightful look as to what we could be experiencing ourselves if we were to play these games. Once these video games can be bought at reasonable prices, then we can dig in and buy these games, knowing that from out viewing experience of the game we know that we will get to enjoy playing these games.

As consumers of a product, we need to get some sort of idea of what we are going to buy before we put down the money for it. There were times in the past when all you had to go by was reading the back of the box of a video game and reading the descriptions of what the game was about. There would also be initial reviews written by some game review companies which stated that these games were "da bomb" and "can't miss". Little did we know back then that when we popped in these games and played them we would sometimes realize that these video games just weren't up to par to what we thought they were going to be. Ultimately, we would wind up feeling burned about buying the game in the first place because we didn't know what they were about beforehand.

You see, in this sense, this is where the true value of Let's Play videos comes into play, excuse the pun.

If I know that a Let's Play personality, no matter who it is, is enjoying a certain video game and it's the kind of game that I can see myself picking up and playing, then why wouldn't I ever consider buying that game at some point down the road? Why wouldn't I do that? Many of us gamers come up with our own imaginary shopping lists for what games we would like to buy, and we make plans for when we would like to get those games. If we are having trouble deciding if one game is worth buying, we will get a hint from Let's Play experiences as to which side the pendulum will swing.

I hope this is easy enough for corporate couch potatoes and political correctness junkies to understand, since they have recently gone above and beyond the call of duty to whine and moan about how supposedly harmful Let's Plays are to the Video Game Industry.

Chuggaaconroy, a.k.a. Emile Rosales-Birou

There is, of course, the entertainment side of Let's Plays which catches the most attention. One example to start with would be Chuggaaconroy's Let's Plays. If you are in need of hearing bad puns, listening to epic "NO!" responses and some occasional yelling, then you have met the right LPer. I won't forget to mention how informative Emile really is when he describes the gameplay of his LP projects. He will go into detail as to what is going on in the game, such as which mechanics perform certain functions, certain events that gamers need to pay attention to, etc. Don't let the picture above fool you, even if it makes you laugh. Emile will let you know which parts of a game are important.

ProtonJonSA, a.k.a. Jonathan Wheeler
The first LPer I got acquainted with on YouTube happened to be this guy. From the moment he posted gameplay footage of him getting super irritated and angry at Kaizo Mario, an immensely difficult Super Mario World ROM hack that would drive anyone crazy, ProtonJon has been known for his sarcastic sense of humor but also for his laid back style on commentary. He is far from being angry all the time in truth. Jon has contributed a lot to the gaming community as he has hosted live streaming events on, posting straw polls to see what gaming audiences would like to see him play. Anyone who donates $5 to his Twitch efforts will be given an egg. "You will give me an EGG!" Sorry. I had to say that.

Like Emile, Jon will also go into great depth about the games he plays and he will inform viewers as to what is developing as he progresses in those games. Whether it's a helpful comment or constructive criticism, Jon's descriptions of games keeps viewers hooked on to what he's doing. Jon's really a nice guy.

NintendoCapriSun, a.k.a. Timothy Bishop

Then we have the LPer who I consider to be the funniest of the bunch, but who also happens to be the nicest guy on TheRunawayGuys LP team (which includes Jon and Emile). NintendoCapriSun also has a laid back style on commentary when he posts his LP projects and he doesn't do anything out of the ordinary. Timothy Bishop is into many vintage video games, and I personally find it to be a treat when he posts games that come from consoles like the NES. SNES, Sega Genesis and the like. His playthroughs of vintage games takes any viewers back to simpler times when we didn't have to worry about DLC or microtransactions.

Tim is the kind of LPer that lets you thoroughly observe what is going on before he comments on it, basically bringing you into the experience at your own pace. When he reacts to something unexpected happening, we can't help but laugh, knowing that it would catch us off guard too in a way similar to Tim's reactions.

Tim and I actually share a few things in common. #1, we are both fans of Yoshi. #2, we both like fart jokes and bathroom humor. "You know? IN THE BATHROOM!" #3, we both (possibly) could have Asperger's Syndrome. I just wanted throw that last part out there.

Stephen and Mal
In more recent times I have gotten used to watching the content that is produced by the husband and wife gaming duo of Stephen and Mallory Georg. StephenVlog is a YouTube channel where Stephen documents every day of his life in the vlog format, and StephenPlays is Stephen's Let's Play channel where he and Mal will play video games in the most interesting ways imaginable. Whether it's Mal kicking Stephen's butt in Mario Kart, or them just playing subtle RPG's like To The Moon, or even them hosting challenges in Super Smash Bros., you can be sure that they will entertain you and inform you at the same time.

Stephen's laughs are memorable by themselves as you can't help but laugh with him. The same goes for Mal when she reacts with giggles and laughs. The most random things can occur in Stephen's LP projects and I can only sit back and watch as the destruction unfolds. I also find it creative how Stephen manages to format and schedule some of his LP projects, and it's a testament to how hard he works.

JoshJepson, a.k.a. Josh Jepson
The list of LPers goes on and on and I could be writing this post all day, so I will cut it off here with honorable mentions. JoshJepson is another LPer I pay attention to as a YouTube viewer, and it's partly because of Josh's influence as an entertainer that inspired me to name one of my cats after him. Yes, I have a brown-gray tabby cat named Joshua. Josh's iconic lines such as "It's not supposed to go at an angle!", "What the what the what the what?", and his just as memorable laughs in reaction to something weird happening in the games he plays makes him stick out in my book. Josh can easily flip the switch from being serious and informative to being straight up hilarious in a matter of moments, probably faster than any other LPer I've watched, but that's just my opinion.

I have watched other LPers like MasaeAnela, LucahJin, SSoHPKC (Seamus, who has fallen off the map for whatever reason... Bad News Bears?), TheRealNinjaBoy, and PKSparkxx in my long LP viewing journey.

The main point I want to get across with this blog post is that these LP personalities are capable of inspiring people who need inspiration, such as myself, Steven Vitte. These guys are doing a good service, and it baffles me to see why an entertainment option like this goes under much scrutiny by those who just don't understand the appeal behind it. If anything, hardcore gamers, casual gamers and even outside media observers who aren't gamers should learn to appreciate these kinds of people more often for the work that they do. It's not as easy as what you think they make it out to be when making LP videos and content.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Falling Away From Video Games

I'm sure that some of us have experienced this feeling from time to time. We have at some points of our lives just distanced ourselves from video games altogether, taking a break from the extreme rush of just playing a game. Some of us go days without playing, some of us can go weeks, and others can even go months or years without playing games.

In all honesty, I don't know what the future holds for me as a gamer and as an aspiring game designer. I'm not even sure if I have a future in gaming. Would I like to have a future in gaming? Yes. Would I like to have an official role in designing a game that people will get to play? Absolutely. Would I like to keep playing video games? Of course. It's what I know. It's a language I can speak. It's something that I can relate to. It's something that I want to be involved with in the years to come.

The problem is, and has always been this with someone like me who lives in the middle of nowhere, the matter of other people being willing to help me realize my dreams in this field. Being in my position, when I ask for help, I just don't seem to get the help I need. I have asked countless amounts of people to help me get my custom game stories and projects off the ground, and not surprisingly I have been met with the cold shoulder in response. I will even get a seal of approval from people in-person when I talk to them about my ideas, and yet, after meeting these people and trying to stay in touch with them online, it's like I ask for the impossible when I ask for something simple to be done.

For example, I ask a person to help me with the programming of a beta version of a game that I'd like to make, and then after having a few discussions with this person, he will never get back to me, as if he forgot about our conversation completely. It's situations like this that frustrate me and prevent me from staying motivated to push forward.

I have sent messages to people who specialize in making music, and sometimes game music will be right up their alley. I ask them to make a custom soundtrack for my custom game project, and it's like talking to a brick wall. I will even describe to them what my project is about and they will be initially intrigued by it, but then after a few conversations with them online, they pull away from me and stop responding to my messages.

I bring all this up because I see my ideas and my custom game projects collecting dust as time goes on. It's been like this for years now, and it doesn't seem like that many people care all that much about what I'm doing. I'll tell them about it, but I have nothing to show for it except for concept art, and because I have nothing to show for it, the people I try to work with don't give me sufficient help, and because of this nothing gets done.

I am not a programmer. I am not an artist. I am not a web designer. I am not a super technical person. I make this clear to all the people I interact with. I am just a writer, but I suppose that's not enough to satisfy some people. You have to do multiple things just to get noticed in the Video Game Industry. You have to be a writer AND a programmer AND a beta tester AND a graphic designer AND a music composer AND.....

Does anyone see my point? I can't do everything even if I tried. I need help or else the engine will never get started.

Falling away from video games is tough for people who have been gamers for most of their lives. Some people are even bold enough to walk away from video games forever and just do something else. I love the concept of making a video game too much to step away from video games. I watch footage of video games and I play video games here and there. Sadly I have become a very casual gamer in recent times. I have old Nintendo consoles I don't even play anymore. I have a Super Nintendo, a Nintendo 64 and a Nintendo Gamecube that are either stored away in a plastic tub or just sit out and gather dust. I can't afford anything at this point in the "pleasure" category. I'm in the poor class and it feels like it might take a whole decade to get back into a better economic situation.

And yet, nobody understands this. And people wonder why others fall away from video games? Because sometimes it's just way too difficult to get any help to start a custom game project.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Only A Matter of Time

Time Rifters
Sometimes I just can't help myself when it comes to making puns. That probably means I should take a break from watching YouTube content put up by Chuggaaconroy, right? Anyway, as a writer, the idea of time traveling has always caught my attention simply because of the many possibilities that one could have in writing such a story. We have seen time traveling stories pan out in other forms of media, such as the unforgettable Back to the Future movie trilogy, which is supposed to be a silly comedy to begin with. That's the thing. Time traveling at this point has become such a silly idea, and the reason why is that if it were truly possible to travel through time, someone would have made a time machine that works by now.

Time traveling plots have played out in video games as well. Some of these ideas have worked, and others... not so much. Time traveling plots are considerably tricky to handle. These are the kinds of plots where you as a writer have to pay exceptional attention to detail, because if you miss something that you wrote about in one time period and you fail to mention it later on, that error will show itself in due time.

I suppose that's what makes some of the more successful time traveling plots in video games so special. There are some time traveling video games that I like, and there are some I would like to stay away from. It can be hard to tell which time traveling games are good or bad before playing them.

So let's take a look at a few time traveling video games. The first example would be Time Rifters, the most recent installment in the time traveling craze. Now it's never directly shown to the players that time traveling takes place, but it is the theme of the game. The object of Time Rifters is simple; you take turns with a team of soldiers, and the catch is that all 4 soldiers are you... but you in different periods of time. Surely that sounds like a massive time paradox might occur, but don't worry about that.

First, you take a turn in shooting down all the red, white and gold blocks that you see on the battlefield. Next, you travel back in time to the same time when you had your first turn, and from here you take your 2nd turn. Rinse and repeat with the 3rd and 4th turns. The main point here is that you get to overlap what you did previously, giving you a different perspective each time you tackle a block puzzle. I find this gameplay mechanic to be off-the-charts brilliant. It's a highly innovative way of keeping the player engaged, motivating the player to complete a puzzle.

Now let's get to Timesplitters. While I don't find the Story Modes of any of the 3 Timeplsitters games to be interesting at all, I absolutely love the various Multiplayer Modes these games provide. This is a game franchise that relies on certain forms of creativity to get a simple message across; destroy all targets, defeat all enemies and look good doing it. I kid you not that I have spent hours utilizing the Multiplayer Modes of Timesplitters 2 in particular, and I have say that the amount of things that you can do in this game, especially with Map Maker Mode, are extraordinary. If we're just talking about customization and Multiplayer, this would easily be ranked as one of the best games of all-time, and that's saying something.

Sly 4: Thieves in Time
Considering how much I have grown to love the Sly Cooper series, I have to admit that Sly 4: Thieves in Time would have to be my least favorite of the series. This isn't because of the concept of the characters that are involved in this game, and it's certainly not because of the great graphics and artwork that were put in here. If anything, one main thing that pulled Sly 4 down in my opinion had to be the time traveling plot of the story. Like I said before, it can get tricky handling a time traveling plot, and sadly I don't think Sanzaru Games handled their time traveling plot all that well. I didn't think it was terrible, but it was notches below what I was expecting, and the hidden ending of the game will especially leave a sour taste in my mouth until a Sly 5 game is ever made.

Like with all other story plots, it takes careful planning to map out what you want to do with a time traveling plot. When you look at Marty McFly's travels through time, he specifically goes to times like 1955, 2015 and then way back to 1885. All of these times are significant to either the McFly family or to his good friend "Doc" Emmett Brown. You don't just pick a random time and shoehorn it into your story. There has to be a reason why your main character is going to that specific time. The main reason for going to a certain point in time is because that time is being effected by something or someone that shouldn't be there.

Are time paradox threats worth it? Of course, as long as you plan them well. In the cases of Back to the Future Part II, the end of Timesplitters 3 when Sergeant Cortez goes back a few minutes in time to duplicate himself or even a scene in Sly 4 where Bentley specifically tells Sly not to steal a bundle of treasure that is meant for a descendant of his to take, there will be moments in your time traveling story where things will get "heavy", and if your main character is not careful... there goes the Space Time Continuum...

Have I attempted to write a time traveling story yet? No, but I would certainly like to try. I would keep in mind the potential gameplay mechanics of such a story as well. Incorporate what your characters do best and revolve it around the time traveling theme. That makes for a good transition.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

GJG Interview #5 - Brian Bors

The Accessibility Foundation
This is another interview that unfortunately didn't make it to my email inbox in time for me to add to my IDG Connect article on game accessibility. However, the content of this interview was simply too good to let go to waste as you will get a good idea on how game accessibility functions. This is an interview with Brian Bors of The Accessibility Foundation, a game accessibility organization based in the Netherlands. You can view the organization's website below. 

Steven Vitte: What types of hardware and technology do you use to make game accessibility programs and products? 

Brian Bors: doesn't make games or products to make these games more accessible. We write articles on how to make games more accessible and offer a platform for gamers to review games their accessibility.

Steven: How many game accessibility events do you hold each year? How big are the turnouts for these events?

Brian: Last year we had about 7 "events". Some are really small events where we simply take a few consoles and laptops and try out some games with people with disabilities. On one occasion we only had three gamers but we where able to give them very good support and guidance and we learned a lot ourselves. Our biggest event was the accessibility gamejam where we had a turnout of about 50 game developers, gamers and press. 

A Special One-Handed Xbox Controller
Steven: Can you provide any stats or figures on the scientific studies on game accessibility? Is there anything noteworthy?

Brian: We ourselves have published articles and papers on our scientific studies on game accessibility. See for example:

Wing chin has furthermore done a scientific study on the effectiveness of the game accessibility guidelines:

But it's a really niche field to study. You might have a better off searching here:"game+accessibility"

Steven: How much of a role does technology play in game accessibility? How exactly has technology helped disabled gamers?

Brian: Technology has brought new input mechanisms for physically disabled gamers. This usually takes the form of custom made controllers.

Steven: What have been the bigger challenges for game accessibility technology, as far as gamers go? (physically or mentally disabled)

Brian: The fact that most physically disabled gamers have different needs makes it hard if not impossible to make a "one size fits all" controller. So most controllers are custom made or only serve a very narrow niche (for example one handed controllers). The market is too small to make it financially attractive to create such controllers on a large scale which makes drives up the price for such controllers.

Steven: When it comes to investors and entrepreneurs, how much interest do they have in investing in projects associated with game accessibility? How do they profit from a good cause like this?

Brian: Game developers can certainly profit by making the game accessible to a broader audience if the investment is small enough. For example: Making a FPS accessible to blind gamers would probably be a huge investment for only a small audience and might not be profitable. But making sure your MUD can be read by screenreaders is only a small investment and MUD's are hugely popular among the blind so that is profitable.

Steven: What is the game accessibility scene basically like in Europe? 

Brian: Small. It mainly consists of small non-profit teams that want to push for awareness among game developers. But it certainly is a growing scene.

We have just recently launched the new website. We hope doing our part helps grow the scene.