Sunday, November 29, 2015

Coming So Close and Yet... Part 1

Cheesy picture to begin the article! Yay!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thanksgiving Video Game Idea

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

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

General Plot

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

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

The game's setting would be interesting
Game Setting

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

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

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

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

Bonuses, Awards and All That Jazz

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

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I Officially Know Game Writing

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ohio Game Developer Expo

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

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

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

Entrance to one of the rooms at the OGDE

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

Armchgeddon: Keep an eye on this game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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