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.