Thursday, June 25, 2015

Video Game Industry: Getting Off Track

I have been wanting to comment again on the status of the game writer on this blog. I have been waiting for the right time to talk about something like this because as an aspiring game writer myself, I want to know what's going on in the industry that I want to become a part of in the future. I want to know what changes are being made in the Video Game Industry and I want to know how exactly these changes are affecting the status of your everyday game writer.

With this said, I will pinpoint the article that is in the link above. This article basically digs into the belief that the Video Game Industry is failing its fans by taking economic shortcuts in order to make maximum profits off their new game releases. Multiplayer Modes are cited as being one reason for the sudden downturn in quality of these recent game releases. Downloadable Content, or DLC, (we meet again, my friend...) was mentioned as another guilty contributor.

The funny thing about finding this article was that I found it by accident on Facebook. I wasn't really searching long and hard for an article like this one. It just popped up in my Facebook read and I conveniently read it. It got enough of my attention to post it on this blog.

This article caught my attention because it specifically addressed a part of the game development team that concerns me. According to this article, game writers are being threatened to be removed from the game development process altogether because of the alternative methods that make up the experiences of these newly released games. Writers are basically being labeled as unnecessary in a game development process if that process only involves multiplayer content being made.

As you can expect, this is where writers like me have a big problem with this line of thinking.

From the developers' point of view, game development in one sense hinges on how much of an investment the development team can make in a game. To the developers, it depends on what they are aiming for. It depends on how much risk they are willing to take on with the various elements that can come in a single game. The core of this line of thinking lies in the fact that AAA games are, for the most part, expensive to make, and if that AAA game flops like a fish out of water, then the game development company loses money.

"Make sure you write it that way... but not that way!"

It's easy to see why some developers would be so hesitant to include certain features in their games. There is precedent for not being too hasty and thinking about which elements make the most sense for your game. There is nothing wrong with doing your homework first and then presenting your finished work to the masses. In fact, I would prefer it that game companies handle game projects this way.

However, you also need to keep in mind what the majority of gaming audiences want, and at this point in time, many game companies are failing to deliver on this end. This article also states that many gamers are still emotionally invested in wanting to play through a single player Story or Campaign Mode where there are some narratives to observe.

As a writer, I shouldn't have to hear that a game company is so hesitant to include a single player mode that has even the minimum amount of dialogue via game scripts that they will do anything and everything to avoid having that mode altogether.

Newsflash to some game companies out there who disregard the art of writing: You can only get by for so long with your niche content that lacks depth.

Game development companies that intentionally and maliciously shun game writers and eliminate them from the development process don't deserve an ounce of respect. I make a bold statement here, but I will firmly stand by it.

In some cases where it really can't be helped and companies have no choice but to avoid game writing in the development process, depending on the content of the game, I will not fault those companies. If you get backed into a corner, then I will understand. However, if you freely have that option and that luxury of including narratives, scripts and general dialogue in a game that, by all intents and purposes, could benefit from having, and then NOT lift a single finger in allowing writers to work, then you have committed a game development crime in my book.

I believe there should be at least a 75% chance of including game writers in the game development process to work on something, no matter how complex or how trivial it is. I also believe there should be a 75% chance of allowing writers to have some sort of input in the elements that will go into a game. This depends on if the writers have other roles that they take care of. There should only be a 10% chance of game writers being excluded from the game development process on reasonable grounds.

Plus, consider that there will be a 90% chance of gamers being upset if you are making a game that has a past history of including single player mode narratives and story lines, and then upon the release of the new game, the gamers find out that it will only be a multiplayer game.

Thanks for the math lesson, Scott Steiner.

Confused yet? Dudes like pro wrestler Scott Steiner wouldn't be confused.

Let's cut to the chase of this matter. Gamers still appreciate the value of a well written story in their favorite games. Gamers still look forward to seeing some form of narrative that builds their favorite game worlds. Many gamers are also fans of watching movies and TV shows, and clearly there is a connection. Gamers don't ask for a full-blown cinematic experience when they engage in a game's Story Mode. They just want something to tide them over. They want an experience that can entertain them, and that's the main point. Game developers don't need to super inflate their budgets in order to capture such a feeling with the game writing. They just need to give game writers the space they need to help express the overall vision of the game as it was intended to be shown by the developers. Multiplayer and DLC can't be relied on in this sense because they don't dig deep into the game world to tell stories about it, at least in most cases.

In summary, game writers do belong in the Video Game Industry, and it's laughable for companies to change the business narrative in an attempt to get rid of game writers altogether. So writers are an uncontrollable part of the game development process, you say? Need more control? Need to copy and paste multiplayer and DLC methods just to economically get by? Go down that route and you will wind up with egg on your face at some point, and a bunch of disappointed gamers. The Video Game Industry should be about promoting creativity, so get creative and start figuring out how to put game writers in positions to succeed instead of just ignoring them.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Appeal of Unusual Games

Ninja Baseball Bat Man - Arcade
This topic really is subjective because many gamers have different tastes. Many gamers play different kinds of games, and individually, they play the kinds of games that others would turn away from. It's hard to actually define what an unusual game is, especially if you haven't played any game that looked out of the ordinary. Is there a basic criteria of what a game needs in order to be called unusual?

Let's start with the example above. Ninja Baseball Bat Man? What kind of game is that? It's a game that involves Anime characters that look similar to the Power Rangers performing baseball activities while beating up the bad guys. That sounds pretty ordinary, right? No, not really, and that's all there is to it when it comes to making a game "unusual". This game was released in the arcades in 1993 and it was given a decent reception from gamers all over the world. Of course, you don't get much in terms of updated material surrounding this game franchise, but you need to applaud the creativity that was put into this game.

For those of you who ever mistook Ninja Baseball Bat Man with just a ninja, a baseball game and DC Comics' own Batman, then give yourselves a humorous round of applause!

Ninja Golf - Atari 7800
I'm not quite done talking about ninjas yet, and no, I won't be talking about you in this blog entry, Ryu Hayabusa! There is another ninja-themed game that came out well before Ninja Baseball Bat Man, and that game was Ninja Golf for the Atari 7800. Of course, not many people know about this game since it was released on a console that had a very short lifespan to begin with. The Atari 7800 was supposedly going to try and compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System, but with Atari's lousy timing to properly figure things out in the 1980's, the Atari 7800 was too little too late.

However, we can give pause and observe this game called Ninja Golf. What was this game about? Well, it was about some random ninja going out to the golf course to hit some balls and work on his golf game. Then all of a sudden, and without any good reason, a bunch of other ninjas came out to interfere and engaged in fights with this poor ninja. Never mind the fact that our poor ninja friend had to also deal with giant frogs and mean gophers who would throw rocks at him! I feel bad for this ninja! The poor guy can't catch a break!

I guess you could say that everyone was golfing... and then they were Kung Fu fighting! Okay, that was bad. Sorry!

Titus the Fox - Game Boy
There are a few more examples of unusual games that obviously didn't catch on as much as their developers were hoping. No one can forget the countless blunders that were made by the developer Titus, but many gamers tend to forget that their fox logo was actually Titus' mascot. In fact, Titus the Fox had a couple games of his own where he would go on platforming adventures, collecting keys and items to throw back at enemies. This concept alone is not unusual, but considering the game development company we're talking about here, it's easy to see why Titus the Fox games give off the vibes of unusual games. They just stick out there with the "what could have been" type of feeling.

Bubsy... Um... Yeah...
Then there's Bubsy, which I have no real knowledge of whatsoever, but I have heard plenty of bad things about one Bubsy game. Bubsy 3D has been critically panned as being one of the worst games of all time by the usual suspect game reviewers IGN, GamesRadar and GameTrailers. The graphics, controls and the obnoxious personality of Bubsy were the main reasons behind this critical panning. People have said that this is a terrible duplicate of Super Mario 64, since of course both of these games were released in late 1996, early 1997.

What's funny about this game franchise is that earlier when Bubsy: In Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind got released in 1993, Bubsy was held in high regard, winning Electronic Gaming Monthly's "Most Hype for a Character of 1993". The concept of a Bubsy game was somewhat understandable as Bubsy was just a cat who could throw yarn balls at enemies. It's just sad that you can take a character from having such great promise to ultimately just throwing that potential into the trash can with a lazy 3D version.

"I guess that's how business goes! Cha-ching!"
A Dog's Life - PS2
Finally, here's an example of taking one's appreciation of man's best friend into the gaming context. A Dog's Life for the Playstation 2 is still a game that I look at as being "out there", a completely unusual take on how a dog lives its life. Now thankfully, the developers of this game didn't go too crazy and suddenly make the dog walk on its two feet like a person, but I have to wonder what they were thinking in making this kind of game. I wouldn't even say that A Dog's Life is a bad game, but it's definitely a niche game that not everyone will like.

If you have pets, and especially a dog, then you could get a big kick out of this game. If you don't care all that much about the gameplay mechanics of animals in the context of real life, then you probably wouldn't want to waste your time on this game. The premise of this game is simple; you just run around as a dog looking for stuff to do. You perform tasks to get food from people, interact with the environment and even interact with other animals. It's hard for me to say if this was a good idea or not, but I guess you have to give the develops of this game an A for effort and an A for thinking outside the box.

Is Being An Unusual Game Good for Gaming?

It highly depends on the context of the unusual game. When we pick up a normal game, like a sports game, a shooting game or your typical Mario or Sonic-like platforming game, we pretty much know what to expect. We get the premise of these games right away.  When we pick up games like the ones I just mentioned, however, we do tend to pause and step back because we don't know what to expect, and after we play these kinds of games once, will we be motivated to play them again?

I love thinking outside the box. I love creating game ideas that other people haven't thought of. That fuels my creativity as an aspiring game designer and writer. It never hurts to bring up a new idea that you know hasn't been developed yet by anyone else, and an idea that you feel confidently about. It really comes down to planning. How will you plan in advance to make sure that this unusual game will succeed?

In closing, unusual games are good, as long as they don't go off the deep end... if you know what I mean!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Importance of Prototyping

I'm sure that game devs know plenty about this topic. Prototyping... Testing out your new baby of a game idea before you plunge into the mud with both feet. Before you can really get into the core designing phases of game development, you have start somewhere, and in most cases, you have to start small. Ideas and inspiration for a new video game concept can come from anywhere as I have mentioned in a past blog entry, but what motivates someone to develop the ideas and the inspiration? Usually it's any combination of what I will list below...

  • Having a Genuine Interest In a Hobby (Sports, Games, Activities, etc.)
  • Being a Fan of Certain Media (TV shows, Movies, Books, Sports, Games, etc.)
  • "You just want to think outside the box"
  • Past Gaming Experiences
There is a process that goes into prototyping a new video game concept, and you can't rush this process. There are a few steps that game development teams need to take before they can start getting serious about a certain game idea. QA game testing is certainly involved as well as implementation and design. I believe this chart I will show below can tell the whole story, but what you can basically get out of this prototyping process is that you have to set aside a time for careful planning before you can go guns ablazin' with your cool game idea.

Just testing out an idea of yours can make a whole world of difference. You won't exactly know what you have until you test it out. 9 times out of 10 you will need to make revisions to your idea, so be prepared to make revisions. Sometimes in the past I have had interesting ideas that were executed in the most lousiest ways. In these cases, I had game ideas that had promise but there was always something missing in these ideas. Once I realized that there were many flaws in my initial ideas, I got "brain freeze" and just dumped these ideas altogether. That's what I often did years ago.

That would be another subject of interest. Just because you have an idea that you know has plenty of holes in it doesn't mean that you should give up working on your idea. It takes time to cement your game idea and make it into something that's really cool, understandable and playable. I've had to make countless revisions to some of my custom projects, some of which were painful to do away with, but I had to make these key revisions to keep the flow of my custom game scripts and ideas flowing.

As many people say, you have to start somewhere. You have to test out your prototype version of your game idea and you have to make any necessary adjustments to it. Above everything else, though, is that this prototyping process should be fun. You should get a big kick out of all the good --and possibly hilariously bad-- events that occur while prototyping. It will all be worth it in the end.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Ouya Adventure - Part 2

Acorn Assault: Unusually Intriguing
I have more to say about my adventures with the "little engine that could" console called the Ouya, and some of which I believe will be useful to blog readers here. As I mentioned in Part 1, there is a wide variety of games that you can download for free and sit back and play, and I believe that this is a strength of the Ouya. When it comes to having a diverse gaming library that will keep a gamer's interest, I feel that the Ouya does a fine job at this. I like how the Ouya library separates different gaming genres into categories so that the gamer will avoid being confused.

As for the games themselves? There's plenty to talk about, but it's hard for me to just jump in and review a single game. I don't think I can do that at the moment since I get to play many trial sessions of Ouya games. I don't limit my Ouya gaming experience to one game, but there has been one game that I've found unusually intriguing for whatever reason.

That one game would be Acorn Assault. To me, there's just something about this game that makes me want to hop back in and play some more. Just when I think a good 10 minute blitz play of the game is good enough, I'll want to play Acorn Assault for another 10 minutes. I think the last time I played Acorn Assault it was around 30 minutes. When you're talking about casual "on the fly" gaming experiences, this game certainly leaves a good impression.

Acorn Assault is a fun game to play because of the strategy that's involved. You are placing warrior squirrels all across your half of the battlefield and you are trying to destroy your opponent's fortress. What I've come to realize, however, is that playing this game against the computer AI can be tough. I had my computer opponent on the ropes for a few turns, and then out of nowhere, the AI kicks it up a notch and wipes me out, rendering my past good moves useless. I would recommend playing this game with a friend so that the difficulty levels could be evened out.

There are some games in the Ouya library that are familiar faces, such as Tetris variants, Sonic games, GNES (hacking SNES content) and the like. We all know what these games bring to the table. I guess you could say these kinds of games and programs are a much needed bonus.

There was one pinball game that I got into for a little bit. I definitely enjoyed the controls of this pinball game and I found the designs of these animated pinball machines to be pretty unique. I definitely got the feeling of being at the arcade and playing some pinball on the side. However, the developers of this game are pretty strict in limiting your fun in playing pinball for free. The moment you get the high score on a pinball machine, you'll be locked out of it and asked to buy the full version of the game. Sorry, no can do for now.

One game that I was hoping to enjoy but didn't ended up being Party Golf. The concept of a game like this is interesting and it looked like it was more of a free roaming golf experience. However, the controls just didn't work at all. I guess I either didn't perform the actions right on the Ouya controller or something is way off about this game. Party Golf was a party pooper for me, sad to say.

The Ouya Gets Hot... Literally

If I can name one serious setback that you will experience while playing games on the Ouya is that the console itself can heat up very quickly. If you play the Ouya for too long, it will overheat and it will start functioning at slower speeds. I highly recommend that you play the Ouya for no longer than 1 hour per gaming session. Make sure that when you do play games on the Ouya that you give yourself some space between gaming sessions. When I felt the Ouya game console for the first time after playing for around 1 hour and 30 minutes, it was hot, and it took me back by surprise.

Like I said before, the Ouya is a great option for casual gamers and gamers who don't have much time to play during a span of a week. Keep track of how long your Ouya gaming experience is.