Friday, July 17, 2015

Why Do We Game?

RIP Satoru Iwata 1959-2015
To be honest, I didn't have a post like this prepared because I wasn't necessarily thinking about topics relating to this, but in light of what has happened not too long ago, I figured that now would be a good time to go into great depth on a question that I think many of us, and hopefully all of us, have asked ourselves while we take our journeys through video games.

Satoru Iwata, the president of Nintendo, passed away on July 11, 2015 due to bile duct cancer. He had been battling cancer for some time, and he even had surgery last year to remove the cancerous bile duct tumor. It's a health condition relating to the liver. Iwata's passing comes as a shock to many within the gaming industry, and within the span of a few days, so many people have paid tribute to Iwata for all of his contributions to the Video Game Industry.

Having read all of the accomplishments of Iwata in his career and having read all the interesting facts surrounding this man, it does give aspiring game developers pause to think about just how much a single person can work on making games for a living. It truly is remarkable when you realize just how successful Iwata was in his 30+ year involvement in game development. In fact, I am working on an ebook dedicated to Iwata, which will hopefully get out to people soon enough.

Now the question that I think most of us have asked ourselves would be this.

Why do we game?

This question takes on many forms, in my opinion. We play video games because we generally want to have fun. We play video games because we want to be challenged. We play video games because it's one way for us to socialize with friends and family. Perhaps, though, we should look into this question a little more. Why? Why do we spend our spare time playing video games? We could choose to do other things with our spare time, such as picking up a basketball and shoot some hoops, putting on running shoes and go jogging, or go get a camera and work on our photography skills. So we choose to game? Why?

1) Our imaginations develop while we play

I think this one is pretty obvious because the development of video games stem from the imaginations of the fame developers themselves. It takes quite a bit of imagination to create the characters that Satoru Iwata created for Nintendo. The same thing goes for all the other characters that we have grown to love over the years, such as Sonic the Hedgehog and his friends, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper and his gang, or even characters in the past like Banjo and Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot and Mega Man.

It doesn't take much to create the initial concept of a video game character. Some characters really stick out and shine while others fade away because their foundations aren't sustainable. It depends on how developers handle their imaginations. There is a good way to handle your imagination, and of course, there is a bad way to handle your imagination. Always try to use the good way.

2) Gaming improves hand-eye coordination

Believe it or not, this appears to be the case. Studies have shown that efficient pressing of buttons on game controllers lead to improved hand-eye coordination. I believe that you can make a stronger argument for improved hand-eye coordination when you take into account what Iwata helped create in the console market. Just look at the Nintendo Wii and the Wii U. Motion-control gaming has been Nintendo's bread and butter for a good chunk of time now, encouraging players to get up and move around. While motion-control gaming won't be everyone's cup of tea, it has certainly left an impression on many people.

If you are good at swinging a baseball bat and you also happen to be a gamer, then by all means, don't stop swinging the baseball bat. If you are a professional baseball player going places then don't stop doing what you love to do. The same thing applies to tennis players and golfers. However, it never hurts to just sit back and relax while you focus on achieving goals in a video game. While you play a game, you will be tested and you will need to react, which is why button-pressing isn't as farfetched of a hand-eye coordination tool as you might think.

3) Video games can be educational tools

Brain Age and Nintendogs are two examples of what Iwata presented to gaming audiences as far as educational tools are concerned. Not every single video game you see on the store shelves are just beat 'em up, blow 'em up, slapstick fun time games. Once in a while you will find video games that are strictly educational even if they have some fun elements tied around the educational content. How much different are educational video games compared to basic computer programs that teach you school lessons?

Satoru Iwata himself worked as a game programmer before he became the president of Nintendo. What did he need to study in order to properly program video games? Computer science. This is a subject that people need to go to high school and college in order to learn, and that's what Iwata did. Video games do tend to encourage people to get into the gaming industry themselves because of how educational they can be. If you can make a game that can teach people how to speak a different language, for example, then you are doing something good. Why wouldn't that be considered honorable?


There are probably more things to list as to why we play video games, but I will keep it to these 3. It's not hard to understand why game developers like Satoru Iwata were important to the landscape of the Video Game Industry as a whole, and it's the passion that people like Iwata had for this industry that drives and motivates the rest of us to achieve similar goals. I didn't know Iwata personally, but I knew from what I saw that he loved video games, that he was a gamer himself. You don't fake the kind of passion that he had.

Satoru Iwata's story of how he got into game development is one of many stories that I'm sure drives the rest of us to excel and realize our own game development dreams. Having a passion for something isn't something that you can artificially develop. You either have it in you from the start or you don't. We all have different ways to be motivated, but as long as the end result is clear, I'm sure some of us will get to tell our stories to each other soon enough.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Hatch-It! On YouTube

First Impressions of Hatch-It!
While I admit that I haven't purchased the game, I have watched some footage on the Apple iOS game Hatch-It! recently, and I have developed an opinion on what I have seen so far from this footage. I will keep this opinion brief, but for starters, I certainly like what I see from the general layout of the game. I especially like how the beginning cutscene of the game plays out. It's an ambitious kind of cartoony that's playful and welcoming for players at first glance.

The colors and graphics of Hatch-It! are simply amazing. The visuals are pleasant to look at and the presentation speaks for itself in the best way possible. It's a puzzle game that pits the player with the challenge of needing to figure out how to hatch dinosaur eggs by moving a robot enough times without losing all of its fuel. This is the kind of puzzle game where there is an added dynamic of strategic positioning, as in every move you make with your robot, it costs you fuel. In other words, you can't just move around for an infinite amount of time. 

The concept of Hatch-It! is kept simple as you race against the clock, in a sense, to hatch all the eggs that are on the board of a level. The quicker you are in completing a level, the more of a time bonus you will receive. There are also star ratings attached to how well you complete a level, which I believe will factor in to what types of rewards you will receive later on in the game. It's challenging, but the fund kind of challenging.

When it comes to what kind of vibe Hatch-It! takes on, I believe that it would be like a cross between Tetris, Yoshi's Island and Space Invaders. The latter vibe comes from the fact that you are controlling a robot. The former vibe comes from the fact that this is a puzzle game, that the player needs to be strategic in certain spots. The vibe in the middle is pretty obvious since we're talking about dinosaurs here, and while I can't prove that these dinosaurs are distant relatives of Yoshi, it's an interesting thought nonetheless.

Gotta like the puns, sunny side up...
I have attached a video above that is the first part of a walkthrough of the game. Check it out for yourselves on YouTube and pay attention to all the unique details of Hatch-It! to see what could possibly be in store for you. If you plan on getting this game, make sure to send Multivarious Games a shoutout for the hard work the development team there put in to make Hatch-It! happen. I have gotten to know some of the people who work at MVG, and they are really creative people who have a lot of aspirations in the Video Game Industry like me. The Buckeye State of Ohio is certainly a state for gaming!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Game Review: Putty Squad

Now here comes a game that I have in my very small PS4 library, a game that can also be played on the PS3, and a game that many gamers would probably find it to be a tad bit crazy in presentation. Just looking at the artwork of this game would make you want to do a double take. "What the? Is that a carrot with sunglasses on? Why is that carrot holding guns?" Don't worry. The carrot isn't the main character in this game. The blue blob in the center of this picture is the main character, and we can call him "Putty", because that's what he is. Putty. 

So where does the "squad" part of the game kick in? I'll get to that in a moment.

So why did I choose to buy this game for the PS4 at a local GameStop store? Simply because of the fact that at the time, my options were limited. I had some games to choose from but many of them just weren't appealing to me. Some games weren't the right kind of genre for me while others had off-putting themes I knew I wouldn't get used to. Being the scavenger hunter that I am, I gave Putty Squad a long look and I soon became convinced to buy the game. I think I made a good decision.

Controls - 18 out of 20 Points

The controls of Putty Squad are basic, really basic. The controls that you have in this game are not what you would see in a big time PS4 game, but rather what you would normally see in a 2D side-scrolling bonanza like the old Super Mario Bros. games. For me this is just good because I don't get too technical about what kind of controls a game will have. As long as the controls work, then I will have no problem. Thankfully, and for the most part, I didn't experience that many problems playing Putty Squad. The blue putty blob I was controlling moved on command and did what I wanted it to do.

I will say that there was a recent time playing this game when I experienced something new, and not a good kind of new. I was in World 3 of the game and I was trying to get down from a platform, and I had just collected a few items that were scattered about. For whatever reason, I was stuck. I couldn't move. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why this happened because as I was observing the TV screen, it looked like the blue putty was having a seizure of some sort, moving its feet but not going anywhere.

Having said this, though, I still give the game's controls a passing grade because that was the only time I experienced something like that. I love the concept behind the blue putty's gameplay mechanics because it's truly innovative and thought-provoking. As the blue putty, you can inflate yourself to float in the air, you can punch foes, you can fire missiles and throw bombs, and you can even hold up a shield to defend yourself. Oh yeah! Let's not forget that you can also hop into a pod and fly around to wherever you want to go. It's the zany attitude behind the implementation of the gameplay formula that makes the experience work for me.

Graphics - 18 out of 20 Points

There are many positive things to say about Putty Squad's graphics. The graphics in this game are bright and colorful and they stick out to the gamer in the right way. Putty Squad stays true to itself as being a zany cartoony adventure, and that's exactly how it presents itself with the visuals. The background art that you see in the levels are pleasant to look at, and whatever features are necessary to bring out the core features of a level, the developers of Putty Squad succeeded in doing so. 

I guess you could say that these graphics remind me of the times when I would watch cartoons on early Saturday mornings on TV. The graphics represent that slapstick kind of humor where the most random things can happen, similar to that of Wiley E. Coyote chasing The Roadrunner on Looney Tunes, and then something happens to the coyote, of course. Overall, the graphics were made out to look fun and that's all a gamer can ask for.

I have seen critics give this game bad scores for its graphics but I honestly believe they are way off and have no idea what they are talking about. 

Story - 8 out of 20 Points

I went back and forth with this score because playing this game, I knew this was a game that didn't take itself seriously at all. Putty Squad is the kind of game that features outlandish LOL caliber content, so I don't think it would be right to give the game's Story Mode a BIG FAT 0. However, there really isn't too much of a story to talk about when you dig into this game. The premise is basically this; You're a blue putty traveling from world to world trying to stop the feline forces of soldiers that are bent on... taking over, I guess? You have a guy doing work as a DJ to help you during levels, and you have all sorts of characters that normally inhabit these various worlds, just getting in the way of your journey. 

There really isn't much to build on story-wise aside from the comedic spins on the characters and the journey itself, which is called Marathon in the game's main menu. I can't say that a lack of story in this kind of game is bad, since it wasn't about something compelling anyway, but I can say that it would have been nice to develop the character of Putty a little bit and describe why he was going after these military cats to begin with. Nothing too detailed, but something noteworthy. That's all.

Music - 16 out of 20 Points

The music of Putty Squad was very catchy. The soundtracks are worth getting into if you just want to have fun and play around with the beats. The soundtracks complement the mood and feeling of the game very well. The music is obviously one of the strongest points of this game. While the soundtracks aren't innovative, they are refreshing to listen to. 

I don't think much thought needs to be put into describing the music of Putty Squad. It is what it is.

Replayability Factor - 17 out of 20 Points

The gameplay formula that is put on display here in Putty Squad is nothing revolutionary nor jaw-dropping, but that's okay. I didn't have high expectations for this game anyway. I found this game to be more than enjoyable enough to just pop into my PS4 and play. Does it have the Replayability Factor? Pretty much, yeah. If you're bored and you need to test your platforming skills with a quick playthrough of something, then games like Putty Squad would fit the mold. This is a game that you can easily get into, and a game that you can easily wind up spending considerable time playing. 
Putty Squad: A game that's just there...
Total Score - 80 out of 100 Points (3 Bonus Points)

Putty Squad appears to be one of the weirdest games I have reviewed so far because I can't quite get a pulse on the true quality of this game. I personally like this game. I believe that this is a highly playable and functional game, but I also know this is pretty much a niche platforming game. Not everyone will like platforming games, especially not the kind of platformers that are like this one. I believe that if you are looking for a long-lasting experience playing a game that will differ in design, Putty Squad may or may not be the game for you. I recommend that you at least try to play this game a few times to get a feel of it, and if you are not satisfied, then you have answered your own question as to whether or not you will like this game.

This game really is like putty in a way! You can mold it in any way that you see fit!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

4 Critical Gaming Thoughts

With the month of July starting and gaming conventions starting to come and go for the year, (and not surprisingly, I can't find a way to attend one), I believe I should take the time to blitz through some topics that have developed over the course of the early Summer season. There were a few things that caught my eye for better or  for worse, and I think that these topics are juicy enough to mention. I'm pretty sure that the average gamer can pick out more than 4 gaming topics to critically think about, but these topics will be the ones that I will discuss for now.

For once, some sort of platforming imagination...
1) Production of Yooka-Laylee

Gamers who were fans of the gameplay style of Banjo-Kazooie back in the days of the Nintendo 64 will be pleasantly surprised to realize that a gaming company is more than willing to bring that platforming style of play back to the consoles. In fact, it isn't just any gaming company. The game developer that is bringing back this style of play happens to involve most of the people who worked on the original Banjo-Kazooie games.

Playtonic Games put up a Kickstarter campaign to see if they could generate interest from the gaming masses. Yooka-Laylee was presented and the gaming masses ate the presentation all up, and so much so that Playtonic has more than enough money raised in funds to start developing a game. When you look at the presentation of Yooka-Laylee, you will quickly notice how much of it feels like platforming games of the past, which is something that has been missing in this current day console market.

The concept of Yooka-Laylee is rather simple. A male chameleon named Yooka and a female bat named Laylee (obviously a pun on the musical instrument ukulele) explore various worlds to collect tokens and fight off bad guys. The full story on this game hasn't been released yet, but Playtonic obviously knows the whole scoop on that. Demo gameplay has featured some moves that the dynamic duo can pull off, such as Laylee carrying Yooka while flying, Laylee using Yooka like a barrel, dangerous jumps made by Yooka, etc.

I am intrigued by what I see at the moment. I am interested in seeing what the finished product will be like when Yooka-Laylee is released. This just goes to show that the opinions of gamers still matter in certain situations.

Gaming Competitions Spark Interest
2) Nintendo World Championships 2015

Something interesting occurred during the course of the 2015 E3 event which was held in Los Angeles. The Nintendo World Championships were officially reinstated, brought back due to Nintendo's attempt to regain some interest from gamers who initially loved Nintendo products, but eventually distanced themselves. As I have mentioned before in previous blog posts, I am an advocate for gaming competitions. I support the idea of holding gaming tournaments to crown a champion of some sort. Gaming competitions motivate gamers to be on their A Game while also having fun doing something they love to do.

Unfortunately, it appears that so many things have changed since the last time the Nintendo World Championships were held (1990) that Nintendo themselves have forgotten just what made this kind of event special to begin with. Many complaints have come rolling in stating that Nintendo just flat out dropped the ball with their reintroduction of the Nintendo World Championships. What did they mess up exactly? Well, it's a couple things.

First of all, when you call this the Nintendo World Championships, one would expect that you reach out to gamers all over the world to determine just who is worthy of being called the Nintendo World Champion. Nintendo of course didn't do this. They restricted this competition to just the United States, and to make matters worse, only 8 cities in the United States were chosen to host qualifying events inside Best Buy stores.

Wow. That's all I need to say about this fact.

Secondly, the tournament's execution, as seen on YouTube, was pretty sloppy to say the least. The only bright spot of this event was the actual tournament structure. I did actually like the format they used, which was 16 gamers started the tournament and they would have a series of games to determine who was safe and which few would be sent to the Underground Stages. These gamers would have to play again and survive in order to avoid being eliminated. I did like this concept.

The execution of this, though, was off and I think many people, including the people who were watching this from the on hand crowd, could notice this. For the record, the commentary sucked big time. As if we need any more potential G4 TV references, Kevin Pereira was chosen to host. You may remember him from a few of the better G4 TV shows. Plus, a few other guys who were probably not qualified to commentate along with Kevin joined in, and they added nothing to the commentary quality. I could have done without them, to be honest.

The attached video above speaks more about what I just wrote, and then some other things. In closing of this, I think that if the Nintendo World Championships are here to stay again, Nintendo MUST do a better job of promoting this event. Instead of just limiting qualifying rounds in 8 random Best Buy locations in America, how about you actually make this an international/global competition? Gotta stay consistent with your message, right?

In a way, this symbolizes Sega right now
3) Sega's Continuous Blunders

I will be honest. As a Tails fan, one of my most favorite pictures of Sonic artwork is seeing Tails punching Sonic square in the face. You can get technical about "Oh, that shouldn't have happened!" and talk about Sonic comic canon which I don't care about, but when I look at this picture, this says a lot. I believe this picture, in one way, symbolizes the state of Sega as a whole right now.

So much of Sega's focus has been on Sonic, the character and the franchise, and many of us should know by now that putting all your eggs in one basket can only lead to bad things if you have a poor track record of keeping things in order. Sega's priorities as an organization are so screwed up right now it's pretty much impossible to find the appropriate starting point to discuss their continuous blunders.

Sonic Boom came and went, and the majority of people, gamers and critics alike, absolutely hated the game. This was always a possibility, and the stories that came from the aftermath of Boom's failure shouldn't only be fascinating, but telling. One part of Boom's failure was Sega's excessive micromanaging of the game's development. We can blame Big Red Button all we want, but they are not the only guilty party here. Sega deserves one slice of the Blame Pie as to why Sonic Boom failed in the eyes of many people.

So what has Sega done afterwards? Not much. They just released information on an upcoming game that nobody (and I mean nobody) asked for. They revealed that they are working on Sonic Boom: Fire and Ice, and when it comes to fan discussions about this game you can hear a pin drop. Rumors have been zooming by like Sonic himself that the Sonic Boom franchise will replace the main Sonic franchise as the main focus of Sega, and that the main Sonic franchise which most gamers know will be regulated to just mobile app games and the like. Not to mention the excessive micromanaging of other Sonic media, like the comics, the Boom TV show, and possibly the upcoming live action Sonic movie, and what exactly are you left with in this franchise?

A very reassuring future Sonic has, right? Note the sarcasm.

This isn't all about Sonic, though. Yu Suzuki, the man who many believe to be a game development genius, appeared at E3 to make an announcement. Yes, he made that announcement. He announced a Kickstarter campaign for the long awaited Shenmue III, and as you can expect, Kickstarter basically blew up like Twitter. Many gamers went to Kickstarter and donated boatloads of cash to support this campaign. You would think that this would have a happy ending, right?

Well... I believe one has to consider not only how these Kickstarter funds will be used, but also how Sega will manage the marketing around this game. Sega won't have any direct ties to the development of Shenmue III, but if the past is any indication, you can bet that Sega will weasel its way in somehow and provide input that isn't all that helpful. Almost $4 Million has been donated by people to fund this campaign already, and we are talking about a video game here. What if expectations aren't met? What if this game isn't what the masses were anticipating to be?

Whenever I think of anything related to Sega right now, I only get negative vibes, as if Sega is holding something back from gamers and they won't admit it.

As the years pass by, I become more and more convinced that Sega is nothing more than a corporate dictatorship bent on satisfying only their own needs as an organization and ignoring anything and everything gamers will say. If Sega of Japan in particular will disrespect gamers who aren't based in Japan, then why should respect be given back to them? Why put your trust in an organization that has proven to fumble the ball in the most critical moments?

A new installment of a classic series
4) Star Fox Zero

One game that was officially announced during E3 2015 was the long awaited next installment of the once popular Nintendo franchise Star Fox. I say once popular because it has been around a decade since we last saw something significant come out of this franchise. For years, gamers have been calling for Fox McCloud and his Star Fox crew to return, and for a while there was no trace of them. That changed this year when Star Fox Zero was put on display in the form of a demo. Star Fox is back with an installment that puts emphasis on Nintendo Wii U controls while giving gamers the familiar feeling of what past Star Fox games were like.

I can report from sources that I have looked up (YouTube...) that early impressions of Star Fox Zero are mixed. You will get the feeling that you are playing a Star Fox game, and you will be reminded of games like Star Fox 64 and even the original Star Fox on the SNES, but the controls leave something to be desired.

There are certain parts of the demo where gamers had to navigate through tough spots, and it was mandatory for them to use the Wii U gamepad in order to get through the imposing obstacles. They had to switch back and forth between what was occurring on the big screen and then on the screen of the gamepad. This sounds somewhat disorienting, in all honesty.

Only time will tell what changes Nintendo will make to Star Fox Zero's gameplay formula, but having said this, there are a few things that are very interesting, such as being able to transform aircrafts into walking robot-like contraptions or transforming desert tanks into flying ships. I do like this added element. As far as the storyline goes for this game, it remains to be seen what will be featured. It's hard to tell what roles certain characters will play aside from the Star Fox team themselves. 

This is just a roundup of some thoughts that I have been collecting lately. I honestly have more to talk about than what you read in this post, but I only have so much stuff to fit in. July is looking like a very interesting month in the Video Game Industry to say the least, no matter what the reasoning is.