Thursday, March 26, 2015

Links To My Game Reviews

Jazz Jackrabbit: A forgotten video game character

For some time I had waited for my opportunity to review games, and over the course of the last few months I have finally received a couple of opportunities. Of course, these websites are not household names like Game Informer, IGN or GameSpot, but that doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is that I can provide legitimate content for gamers to read and hopefully appreciate. I did the best that I could to make these game reviews worthwhile and I hope that the readers of this blog will find these articles helpful, informative and entertaining. You can click on the links below to take you to the reviews.
Microleague Baseball 4
Spoils of War
Command & Conquer
Titus the Fox: To Marrakech and Back
Jazz Jackrabbit

Angry Birds Rio
Bomb It

I  have to say that so far my experiences in reviewing these classic games has been nothing short of fascinating. I haven't just been given the opportunity to review games, but rather to go back in time to points in gaming history that I was never previously familiar with at all. Most of these reviews that you see on the list refer back to the late 1980's to mid/late 1990's when these games saw their golden days, so to speak. Of course, only hardcore gaming historians and enthusiasts vividly remember these games, and honestly, it's a shame how gamers of today don't take the time to go back and play at least some of these classics. To get the full essence of what makes a video game what it is, you must have a general idea of what your gameplay mechanics are going to be. These vintage games do just that.

The latter two articles are reviews on flash games. Angry Birds is obviously a blockbuster hit mobile game that has found its way to social media outlets in some form, and here I give you the scoop on how Angry Birds Rio plays. As I mentioned before with flash games, the simplicity of these games is sometimes the best way to go and you don't need to do much to engage in the gaming experience. I recommend playing flash games like Angry Birds Rio if you are looking for a quick challenge.

I certainly hope to acquire more opportunities to review games in the future because this would just serve as another step towards getting my foot in the door of the Video Game Industry. Gaming journalists have a place in the industry and the best gaming journalists provide their honest views on games. It's definitely challenging to come up with the right words to put down in a single review, but it's well worth it. Part of the fun of being a writer in general is to challenge yourself with the words you put down.

Feel free to check out these links at any time. I will most likely post these links on the About Me page of the blog as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Game Review: Super Monkey Ball 2

Let's be honest. Throughout all gaming generations one of the most under appreciated gaming consoles in history could arguably be the Nintendo Gamecube, a console that serves as the odd bridge between the Nintendo 64 and the Nintendo Wii. While the Gamecube has had its own fair share of unique games packed in its library, the fact remains that most of these games get lost in the shuffle when it comes to memorable gaming moments. This is most likely the case for many gamers out there.

This game review will be about a game that was one of the Gamecube's highlights, a game that pushed the boundaries of strategizing when it came to maneuvering through the most oddly designed levels. This game features a character who is remembered by those as being a catalyst for the short-lived run of the Sega Dreamcast. His name is AiAi and he's a monkey who plays the role of a hamster in a ball, blazing through perplexing obstacle courses to reach the Goal points and in the process protect his friends and his village from danger. This concept in innocent and creative and it won over gamers back in its day.

I have played a great chunk of Super Monkey Ball 2 for the Gamecube and I can now provide a detailed review on how I feel this game stacks up today.

Yes, we have bananas today... as long as I can get them!
Controls - 18 out of 20 Points

The controls of Super Monkey Ball 2 are interesting to say the least. You do not have the ability to jump, but that is part of the framework of the Super Monkey Ball series. You do not have the ability to collect any power-ups and you don't have any fighting moves to speak of. All you can do is move around in a ball like a hamster or like the many competitors on American Gladiators. That's it. That's very simple for any casual gamer to follow. The controls rest squarely on the control stick and how you go about moving AiAi and his friends.

The main thing that you have to account for when playing the Story Mode and Challenge Mode levels of this game is the speed that you develop while moving along. If AiAi is moving too fast at certain points, chances are you will miss your target and you will fall off the course and into the bottomless pit. Be prepared to see this many, many times if you are the reckless type of problem-solver. This could also be the only real question mark I would have for this game. The fact that you can gain so much speed and then not be able to slow down and stop in time perplexes me. I would like to at least have the option of a brake function where players can have a chance to stop at the last moment. Even so, players will get the hint right away that they can't always move so fast through these challenging courses.

A new spin on the term "Pinhead"
Graphics - 19 out of 20 Points

Gamecube graphics are solid graphics even if they weren't like the graphics you saw in PS2 and Xbox games. Super Monkey Ball 2 presented itself very well in the graphics department. I only got a slight hint of "glitchiness" while playing this game, but the visual appeal of this game is clearly present. It's colorful, vibrant and upbeat. It feels like a Saturday morning cartoon when you can just chill out and laugh a little.

There are certain nice touches that Sega implemented in this game that gives it an elegant feel as well. The shining glare of the monkey balls in the more bright levels is one example. Also, the attention to detail sticks out in all the right ways. Some of the graphics may look blocky, but it's totally understandable. That's part of the unique environment of Super Monkey Ball. It's an arcade-like experience.

Story - 10 out of 20 Points

I pay thorough attention to detail to video game stories, being an aspiring game writer myself, and this is really the only negative that I can find in this game. Super Monkey Ball 2's Story Mode cut-scenes, although cute-looking and lighthearted, are pretty much forgettable. This is of course only my opinion so I will explain. Each cut-scene only gives players a limited amount of time to actually emotionally invest in what's going on in the Story Mode. The tone of Story Mode takes on that of a Saturday morning cartoon, which is good as I just mentioned, but at the same time it feels abbreviated or rushed.

Along with a couple of elements that I really didn't care for, the plot could have been given more teeth. Dr. Bad-Boon, the odd name of the bad guy, appears one day and steals the huge supply of bananas from AiAi and his village. Dr. Bad-Boon and his minions attempt to run off with their stolen loot and the good guys start chasing them. You would have to experience these scenes fr yourself to understand what's going on, and that's kinda the problem. For me it was like I knew parts of what was going on, but not everything. This was just the 2nd Super Monkey Ball game and its world hadn't been fleshed out yet, so there was something that felt missing to me.

Music - 18 out of 20 Points

This is one part where Super Monkey Ball 2 truly shines. The music soundtracks of this game are highly engaging tunes that keep you motivated in one odd sense. These tunes are catchy and memorable, and they fit in very well with this lighthearted environment. You have a variety of options as to which soundtracks you want to hear, and whoever created these soundtracks definitely deserves a pat on the back.

I can also say that these soundtracks were cleverly created. These tunes remind me of the simpler times, the games that sparked my childhood love and appreciation for video games, such as the various Super NES and Nintendo 64 games that I would play for long periods of time. There are many different types of sounds used to make up these soundtracks, and I think that once you get used to hearing them, you will most likely not forget about them.

It also helps when you are in the middle of struggling to get past challenging levels in Story Mode and Challenge Mode that you hear pleasant music in the background. Even after you take a nasty spill and fall into the bottomless pit, the upbeat tunes don't change. That positive feeling alone from the music helps players in one way or another. For me, I could quickly take my mind off the false move I made to lose and briefly focus on listening to the cool soundtrack.

Replayability Factor - 17 out of 20 Points

Another great thing about Super Monkey Ball 2 is its overall wide variety of things to do. You have a bunch if party games to choose from if you just want to chill out and have fun, and you also have differing modes such as Story Mode and Challenge Mode. Every time you play this game and spend some time, you will be rewarded Play Points, which has a positive impact on your chances of playing more party games. The more Play Points you obtain, you more you can spend them on party games to unlock them.

For those who are specifically looking for a Story Mode that they can quickly zip through in gameplay, I wouldn't consider this game to be the right fit for you. You will need to have patience to get through all of the Story Mode levels in order to get that sense of accomplishment. Sometimes you might wind up stuck in a few levels, wondering why you can't get past a certain part. Patience, my dear grasshopper!

The party games are ultra fun though. You can easily wind up playing the same party game for some time simply because it's too fun for you to just walk away from. No matter how many times you initially fail at a party game, you want to come back for more. These party games capitalize on that beautifully. Party games like the circuit race, 10-pin bowling, baseball, tennis and paragliding are all unique ways to engage in the Super Monkey Ball experience. Some of these party games were cleverly made, in my opinion.

Overall - 82 out of 100 Points (No Bonus Points)

Every time I played Super Monkey Ball 2 I got a big kick out of the novelty of putting a monkey in a hamster ball and letting him run through an obstacle course. I watched this novelty play out during gameplay and it turned out to be an amazing experience. My overall score of 82 is a positive score, to be sure. I know other reviewers will probably give this game a much higher score, but to each their own. One neat fact about Super Monkey Ball 2 is that it's one of 3 video games that are associated with improved performance in laparoscopic surgery. It's kinda hard to believe that a simplistic game like this could make an impact in the medical field, but I find that very interesting.

Super Monkey Ball 2 is the kind of game where gamers want to challenge themselves by going through obstacles that will prove to be at least somewhat stressful. Gamers who like to plan beforehand what they are going to do before they go at full speed will most likely adore this game. As long as you can keep track of how fast you are going and can detect the friction of your surroundings, which is key since some platforms from underneath can collapse, you can find a way to get pretty far in Story Mode. This game presents the good kind of challenge for gamers, and I recommend giving this game a thorough playthrough. Meet you at the Goal Line!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Gamification: A Game-Like Language

There is one reason to explain why I haven't been nearly as active on the Gaming Journalist Gazette lately, but it's not because I forgot about this blog. On the contrary, I have been wanting to get back into my comfortable territory of talking about video games and the Video Game Industry, but through a span of a couple months I have been given the opportunity to study on a subject that is related to video games in one way. In many other senses, however, this subject does a good job of being different to video games.

I took an online course on Gamification, the act of creating more game-like experiences in non-game contexts. What do I mean by that? Here's an example. Consider your workplace. Consider your daily routine when you arrive at work and you realize that the activities you perform at work aren't necessarily that interesting to begin with. This can be problematic if you don't really have the right kind of motivation to perform tasks at your occupation. How do you get that right kind of motivation?

This is a situation where gamification can be applied if it's necessary. Employees in your company are looking to achieve their goals, but they don't want to get bogged down by the tedious nature that comes with the tasks they need to perform. With gamification tactics you can convey the message to your employees that they will be working on tasks that are truly meaningful, and that they have meaningful choices to make while they experiment in finding the right answers to any problems in the tasks. There is one critical ingredient that we must include if we are going to pull off a successful gamification model for our companies to follow.


The types of players in Gamification Systems

An example of Gamification badges
A gamified experience can't operate smoothly without having the element of fun. Make the experience intriguing for your employees, but most importantly, give your employees the freedom to express themselves in the way they want to while they complete company tasks. There is a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in gamification. The extrinsically motivating way is to just give your employees money or items that they will initially appreciate, but after a while the positive effects of these rewards could fade away. The intrinsically motivating way is to remind your employees the legitimate causes that are behind these tasks, to encourage them that this goes beyond just them, and to give them "quests" or "missions" that they can emotionally invest in because those things appeal to them.

Have a look at the pictures above. The first picture describes the player types of the gamification experience. We have our Killers, who just want to compete in the gamified system to conquer every challenge and defeat every competitor out there. Killers usually want the recognition of being at the top of leaderboards (which is a point of caution for game designers...) and they generally focus on winning. Achievers are mainly focused on gaining status and achieving preset goals. Achievers just want to be able to say that they accomplished certain feats while not being ultra competitive like the Killers. Explorers have the drive and desire to explore the unknown facets of the gamified experience. "Sociailites" enjoy the act of communicating with others. They just want to socialize with other members of the gamified community and they usually advocate the act of teamwork and altruistic activities.

However... gamification isn't all about points, badges and leaderboards.

The other picture above features a general display of badges that players can receive if they perform enough tasks on the online gamified system. Of course, when you look at the visual representations of these badges you initially get this positive idea that it might be cool to collect as many of these badges as possible. Is that what gamification is about? No.
While displaying the badges you have obtained shows off your status to the rest of the gamified community of players, there is a danger to dwelling so much on achievements. Just because you get a badge for doing something in a system doesn't mean that getting badges should be the only important thing on your mind. As a player, you need to consider why exactly are you playing this game to begin with. You need to be aware of the core causes of this game. The game that you are playing needs to have a distinct purpose and it can't be something you're playing just to play it.

There are many variables that go into gamification, and one of them would be the fact that the better gamified approaches tend to give players learning experiences that they can take with them well after they have played the game. Players need to get something out of this gamified experience or else they won't even bother to go back to it.

Points, badges and leaderboards are only a few small parts of the entire gamification development framework. These are 3 of the components of the framework. Alongside the components, there are mechanics and dynamics to account when designing a gamified system. Let me present to you a sample list of what I am talking about.

Gamification Design Elements

Resource Acquisition
Win States

Boss Fights
Content Unlocking
Social Graph

In the most basic terms, you do need to think like a game designer when you are designing a gamified system. Many of the things that I have just listed often go into actual game development processes for the sake of building the world of a video game. While gamification doesn't enter the territories that actual video games enter, it's worth noting that gamification is a tool that helps bring life to activities that are otherwise mundane and boring and turn them into activities that are worth performing. 

I took on this challenge of studying gamification in an online course, and through numerous weeks of studying, taking tests and written assignments, here are my Coursera results from the Gamification course that the University of Pennsylvania provided.

Steven Vitte
Statement of Accomplishment 
Gamification - University of Pennsylvania

Homework Quizzes:
Week 1: 4.00 out of 5.00
Week 2: 9.00 out of 10.00
Week 3: 9.25 out of 10.00
Week 4: 10.00 out of 10.00

Written Assignments:
#1: 8 out of 10
#2: 10 out of 10
#3: 10 out of 10

Final Exam: 27.90 out of 30.00     

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sources of Gaming Inspiration

Inspiration comes in many forms for gamers, game designers and game journalists. Our sources of inspiration are not all the same, nor were they created equally. Some of us immediately get inspired by certain things to create new game concepts, and some of us are late bloomers, as in our game ideas don't really hit us until the right moments.

What inspires a gamer to play a game? The sense of having his or her imagination play out while playing. Suspending one's disbelief and immersing oneself into the game, embracing the experience. Why do gamers play games? They want to have fun and they want to socialize. That is the simplest answer.

What inspires a game designer to design an interesting game? Experiences that occur outside the game world. Yes, you can find inspiration after you put down the console controller or leave your gaming PC. There is a whole world out there that you can analyze and take notes on. Look around you. Some simple things may catch your eye and some complex things may grab your attention. Consider Shigeru Miyamoto as one example. The core concepts of the game Pikmin started in Miyamoto's backyard while he was gardening. Just right there, an idea for a new video game was created.

What inspires game journalists to write their gaming content? I have already provided some answers on this blog, but let me tap into this topic again. It's not just about being a game journalist in my case. It's mainly about producing honest journalism. To the best of my ability, I always try to write solid content for my readers on this blog and elsewhere.

Many people over recent years have claimed that there is no such thing as honest journalism anymore, and to an extent, I sadly somewhat agree. However, that doesn't mean that honest journalism can never be produced again. No matter what platform you write for, whether it's for video games, tech, entrepreneurship, business, sports, etc. you should feel obligated to reporting the truth. You should feel motivated and inspired to telling people how you truly feel on subjects instead of artificial PR responses and nonsensical gossip.

Sources of inspiration. What exactly are these sources? Where can you go to find your sources of inspiration? Can you just find them while you play a game? Or can you venture into the real world and extensively pick out which themes you want to highlight in a new game concept? It depends on how much of an explorer you are and how ambitious you want to be when creating something. There is no right or wrong way to find your gaming inspiration.

Sources if inspiration can come from a variety of places. They can come from the most mundane and uninteresting activities that we perform in real life. They can come from the highest points of fun in real life. They can come from the most unique moments of our lives and they can come from the lowest points of our lives. They can come from something your friends have done or they can come from something your family members have done.

No matter where your sources of gaming inspiration comes from, always find the motivation. Always find something that you can hang on to for development plans because you just might need them for the critical parts of your gaming experience.