Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chess and Video Games: Complicated

Virtual Chess 64
There are two things I am well known for by those closest to me. I love to play video games, but I also love to play the classic board game Chess. I am genuinely interested in both arenas and there has been one time in my life when both of my interests clashed together. There was one game created by Titus, which at this point is long gone, called Virtual Chess 64, and while this wasn't anywhere near a commercial success when it hit the shelves during the Nintendo 64's heyday, it marked the starting point of a general discussion.

For gamers who also played Chess on the side, this was their opportunity to play against either the computer AI or against each other in a video game interpretation of the old thinking man's game. You obviously never hear about Virtual Chess 64 for at least one good reason, and that would be the fact that Titus in general wasn't that successful of a game developing company. In fact, Titus was responsible for creating one of the worst games in the history of the Video Game Industry... Superman 64.

Even so, I never had a problem playing Virtual Chess 64 simply because I understood the language behind playing the game of Chess already, and I actually found some fun things about Virtual Chess. I thought it was a nice touch that the game presented lessons of past classic chess matches that featured some of the best chess players in history. That was a good move, in my opinion.

There's a whole world out there for Chess mechanics.

Now let's talk about present day gaming and discuss whether or not a game that is seemingly presented as being sophisticated like Chess can ever be converted into being an actual fun and entertaining video game experience. I truly believe the answer to that question is yes, and let me explain why. Consider the various genres the Video Game Industry has established throughout the years and take bits and pieces of those genres out for a second. Now wrap whatever features you choose around Chess, and there you will have a foundation of some sort. Here is what I would gather.

Role-Playing Games: Team Formations, Battles, Turn-Based Play
Platforming Games: Point A to Point B, Checkpoints, Collectathon, Boss Battles
4X Games: Exploring, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate
Fighting Games: (Street Fighter, Virtua Fighter, etc.), Duels

If we were to implement any combination of the features that I have mentioned above and keep the emphasis on playing a game of Chess, then I believe this kind of video game would have the potential to strike gold out on the markets. Having a game like this would motivate people to get more into the game of Chess while also giving them an amazing experience of going through levels just like any other video game. You get the proper clash of Chess and video games if you were to mold your game world around such a concept.

Imagine this as part of the video game world!
It amazes me that in this day and age of gaming some game developing companies are still in the dark when it comes to creativity. Some of the game ideas that I see are severely lacking in forethought and it makes me wonder how these companies came up with these ideas. There isn't a huge risk to be taken if you were to experiment on expanding the world of Chess and mold it more into the video game environment. It's not like this would be an idea that no one would understand. It's Chess and it has a video game world created around it. I believe it's a concept that makes sense and can attract even the most casual gamers out there. I believe such a concept is marketable and allows for more creativity than what some people think.

Chess has many, many variants to it and you don't need to look very far to find chess variants. There is a website you can check out, and it's called www.chessvariants.org. This website has all sorts of chess variants for chess enthusiasts to sink their teeth into, and some of these variants look really unique and interesting. This proposed chess video game experience could feature some of these chess variants as unlockable content for completing certain tasks in the game. Now we would like to include as many players as possible to enjoy this chess video game experience together, and I don't just mean 2 players.

3-Player Chess: A popular Chess variant
Some of the variants I have seen include 3-player chess, 4-player chess, 6-player chess and even 12-player chess. Imagine being able to access some of these variants and play them in a video game setting. That in itself is intriguing. One main point behind the development of a video game is to make the overall experience fun, and these chess variants would help make the chess video game fun. You make the players ponder all the more what they want to play and how they want to play. Using an analogy, if a bowl of chicken noodle soup is bland in taste, then what do you do? You add spices to that soup and you make that soup have a richer taste to it. Apply the same kind of principles to this proposed chess video game.

You can also implement what I would like to call "Clan Play" in this chess video game. You can form groups of characters in either the console game setting, or in the extended PC game setting and you can move your character along with other players and their characters through this game world looking for battles, chess matches and Mini-Games against other clans. Give the players choices.

Chess may appear to be a boring game to some people, or at least a game that's too hard to understand, but if you wrap it around fun elements and surround it with an appropriate video game setting, then you can expand the possibilities. Sometimes you just need to develop that extra oomph of imagination to get the engine started. That's probably what future chess video games need.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Game Review: Bomberman 64

The weather is chilly just like this level
After a considerably long hiatus from making any game reviews, I figure it's time for me to break out another game review for this month of February. This vintage game review will highlight another childhood gameplay experience of mine that left some sort of impression on me from a creative standpoint. It was well after I acquired my first Nintendo 64 console that I started digging into the games, and there was one game that I developed an interest in playing mainly because of one element.

BOOM!

You can stop ducking for cover now. I have made it no secret to those close to me that my game writing style depicts that of a thrilling action-adventure story, one where everything just seems to blow up in big fireballs. I love the idea of just throwing a bomb at something and watch that something explode. The game I am reviewing here, Bomberman 64, features a seemingly Average Joe person called Bombeman, a guy who is capable of throwing many kinds of bombs at obstacles and opponents. Many gamers remember this franchise from its very early roots in the NES and SNES days, so up until this point gamers had never seen Bomberman take on the 3D gaming world. So how did Bomberman do in his first N64 game? 

Controls - 18 out of 20 Points

In my opinion, I only received a brief hint of these gameplay controls being a bit rigid in its ways, but overall I got used to these controls. The only thing that I really didn't like at all about this game was that I wasn't given the option to jump. When I first started playing this game back in the day I assumed that since Bomberman 64 took on the looks of a Platforming-ish game that it would feature Bomberman jumping, but no. Reflecting more on this, however, I believe the gameplay controls were more centered on relating to that of a Puzzle game, which suits me just fine. I had to figure out how to open certain paths with the help of bombs and I had to figure out how to get past certain enemies that were blocking my paths by throwing bombs at them.

One little nitpick about the bomb throwing mechanics would be that I had to press a button twice to throw a bomb. This proved to be dangerous sometimes when I was near an enemy. If Bomberman got hit while still holding a bomb, he could have had that bomb hit him on the head, or worse, blow up in his face. Like I said, I got a brief hint or two of these controls being rigid, as in once I did something I couldn't take it back. As long as you get a grip of the controls, you should be good to go.

Move over, Tony Stark! Here's the new Iron-Man!

Graphics - 17 out of 20 Points

Considering the capabilities of the Nintendo 64, I believe these graphics were really good. I believe considering all Hudson Soft had to work with in this time they did a solid job of bringing the world of Bomberman to life in the 64-bit arena. There were points in the game where it was obvious that some of the graphics were choppy and flashy, but really that is the arcade-like appeal of this game. Bomberman 64 in many respects felt like a game where you could blitz through it as if you were playing on an arcade machine, so the graphics for this game were very much appropriate. The colors of the graphics were certainly bright enough for me to tell the difference between objects and enemies. 

Story - 12 out of 20 Points

It's honestly not a matter of me calling this story bad or terrible because a score of 12 here is considered above average. However, Bomberman 64's story was the kind of story that I just could never warm up to extensively. I mean, I could warm up to a few small parts of the story and relate to those parts, but overall I wouldn't call this the best example of proper video game storytelling.   Some story elements truly felt out of place and unnecessary even for something as whimsical as Bomberman stories can be. A few of the bosses that I went up against were some enemy types I would like to forget about because those weren't the types of enemies I would envision for my own custom game. 

I will say this about the story, though. The general idea of a betrayal storyline was the right call. It's just that the execution wasn't all that ideal. It was rather rushed after you collected all golden cards that were scattered throughout all first 5 levels of the game. All of a sudden, a character whom you considered to be your friend just so happened to be the ultimate villain in the game, and that he was only using you to further his own agenda. The general idea is definitely solid and that alone scores points in my book.

Music - 15 out of 20 Points

A solid representation of video game music beats here. I liked the approach that Hudson took while developing the soundtrack for this game. Most of the soundtracks that you hear in this game are fitting for the environment that they are placed in and the music sometimes carries you through the gameplay experience, which is a plus. I found myself scat singing along with Bomberman 64's music, so I certainly had fun listening to these beats. It's about what you would expect if you are an Anime fan, joyous and whimsical-like music that's somewhat amplified to the "Take No Prisoners" level of fun. At least that's how I view it.

Replayability Factor - 20 out of 20 Points

I think you know where I'm going with this. What is the core reason why we play Bomberman games? For the Story Mode? Nope. We mainly play Bomberman games for their Multiplayer Modes. There is just something about Multiplayer and Bomberman that fits together like a glove... or a Bomb Glove, if you will. For those of you who don't really care all that much about the Story Mode and want to plug away at Multiplayer Mode, then Bomberman 64 would be one great candidate to play if you are into vintage stuff.

Sometimes when I regularly played Bomberman 64 that's all I ended up doing for a gaming session. I just went right to the Multiplayer Mode and started throwing bombs at everybody else. Simple fun that's straight to the point. Also in Multiplayer Mode you could modify settings to make sure that you and your friends would do battle the way that you wanted, such as to determine how many wins it would take to be crowned "Champion", and the champion's celebration victory dance was nothing short of hilarious at times. Bomberman just busting a move dancing... Classic.

Multiplayer Mode: What makes Bomberman... Bomberman!
  
Overall Score: 82 out of 100 Points (No Bonus Points)



When looking through the old Nintendo 64 library, I would suggest not to hesitate when you take a look at this game. There may be a few things that may look off-putting, but those are things I wouldn't consider to be bad. Bomberman 64 is definitely a playable and enjoyable experience especially if you just want to chill out and have fun with your friends in the Multiplayer Mode. If you are able to be patient enough to solve the puzzles that the Story Mode will present to you, then you will be rewarded in the form of new attires for your own Bomberman to wear when battle commences in Multiplayer Mode. 

Truth be told, it was Bomberman 64 that initially got me hooked onto the entire Bomberman gameplay experience. Even to this day I like the idea of blowing up things while playing video games and Bomberman was the first one to really introduce me to this dynamic of gameplay. Playing games like this one remind you of the action-adventure movies that you watch, especially when the hero just avoids getting hit by the bad guy and then something blows up at the last second. It's that kind of surprising feeling you get when you play a Bomberman game. This is no different. 

"Time for my victory dance after mass destruction!"

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Flash Games: Basic and Effective

One of my main gaming influences growing up in the early 2000's was the act of playing flash games, the kinds of games where you didn't need state of the art technology in order to play. Flash games were (and still are) the most basic form of gaming that just about anyone could get into as long as they had a keyboard and buttons that worked. As long as you had normal Up-Down-Left-Right functions and a Jump Button, you were pretty much good to go. Flash gaming is simple but it's enough to get casual gamers interested.

You could make the argument that flash games are the most flexible kinds of games that you could possibly have as far as simplicity is concerned. If you are in need to busting out a quick game that you just want to show off to gaming communities online, then making your game a flash game might be the way to go for you. It depends on what the creators of the flash game want to do with their content, how much content they want to add to their flash game and what exactly they want to highlight. Flash games are normally not huge projects to undertake, but they do require testing for bugs and such, just like other kinds of games. After all, if a player can't use the game's control properly then he or she will quickly abandon the game.

Oftentimes flash games are very basic in design
Flash games often avoid the hassle of implementing complex gameplay mechanics because the creators of these games know that online users just want to plug away at something quickly. Some users just want to play a game for a small amount of time and then go back to doing their normal mundane activities. Sometimes when games are kept simple as far as gameplay goes, it does have a positive effect on users. Gamers are generally flexible. If they see something that even remotely resembles a game, they will most likely observe that thing.

Flash games are only complex in overall design if the creator of the game feels like the content of the game would fit in nicely with the proposed complexity. Many games feature difficulty levels that can be adjusted at any time, and knowing this, some flash game creators have the freedom to present their games as being challenging or complicated in the sense of "Tetris on the run". All you need for a flash game is a basic set of rules to get the game's creative engine going. Have an objective in mind for even the most trivial of things, such as the picture above where a dog needs to catch a flying disc.






Two other examples of steady flash games include recreations of favorite platforming titles like the 2D scrolling Sonic The Hedgehog games, and the Extreme Racing series where you pick a car and race it through smooth roads and rugged terrain. There are limitations to flash games, to be sure, but there is also that saying "make something out of nothing", and I think that if you use the limitations to your advantage by keeping your flash games simple and playable, then you will be just fine as a game maker.

When it comes to creativity flash games have an extremely wide range. This can either be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the content that these games provide. The themes of some of these games are very obscure and downright weird, and here is where some of the criticism against flash games comes in.You can't just make a flash game out of anything and then call it a success. If your flash game doesn't have the right theme to it, a theme that just doesn't jive with the masses, then it won't work no matter how good that game's controls are. Many game makers commit this error.


When I was making my game reviews in earlier posts on this blog, I often referred to the Fun Factor of those games. In this case, I believe there has to be an emphasis put on the Fun Factor because flash games need to make their points right away. If a flash game is initially having a hard time keep the player invested in the game, then most likely he or she will move on to something else. The Fun Factor is a motivator. When you see the visuals of a game and take into account the theme of it, would it be something that you would like to play? It's really that simple. Would you like to play as 3 pandas and travel through an island to avoid getting caught by enemies? Would you like to run a restaurant in a flash game? Do you want to dig up some fossils in an archaeologist quest flash game? Keep the games fun.

In closing, flash games certainly have their place as being that "quick fix" kind of experience. If you don't have that much time to play a game but want to get in some gameplay action, then look up a flash game. Gaming experiences are subjective and gamers make their gaming experiences what they are. In truth, some of the flash games that you play today might become the blockbuster mobile games or gold standard console games of tomorrow along with some refining. The possibilities are that open.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Video Games and Board Games: The Connection

You can find board game structures in some video games.
The roll of the dice. The spin of the wheel. The dealing of the cards. The movements of pieces. It's not hard to make the connection between video games and board games when you review the structures of some games. Both video games and board games have rules that players must follow in order to play the respective games properly, and the structures of all these games are very similar to each other in some aspects. You are given some limitations because of the rules that are in place, but you are free to express how you approach the game with your actions. No matter where you move on the game board or in a game level, you are given the opportunity to affect the direction of the game.

I find it unique that both mediums of video games and board games share a bond with each other in the sense that they do tend to borrow ideas from each other. In fact, we have seen both extremes of transitioning from one game form to the other. We have seen board games transition into video games and we have seen our favorite video game franchises test the waters of being a board game. Is it as easy as it sounds, though? To be honest, I don't think so, but I believe that with enough thought and creativity the transitioning process could become at least a little bit smoother.

Monopoly for the Nintendo 64
Let's begin with a basic example. Monopoly is certainly no stranger to being implemented onto television screens to be a video game as there have been numerous attempts made by Parker Brothers to allow gamers to take in a different experience. When playing Monopoly as a video game, the same board game rules still apply, but now we have to take into account a defined set of game mechanics that will compliment the character of the game. What button do you push to roll the dice? Do you accept buying a property or do you decline? What happens when you land on a Chance or a Community Chest space? How can players negotiate and make trades? How fast or slow will the pace of this game be? There are plenty of questions to ask that will make up the scope of a Monopoly video game.

Mario Party: One example of a board game-themed video game
Now what about our favorite video game franchises? What could these franchises do to make the transition into a board game environment? Well, speaking only about actual board games, there have been many attempts by gaming companies to tap into the board game market. Take Mario for example. The 1980's and 1990's saw a huge boom in Mario merchandise being sold, and eventually Nintendo got around to selling board games that revolved around the theme of the original Super Mario Bros. games. In the picture above, we see a Mini-Game take place in Mario Party 2, one of the many installments. Mario Party involves players pressing buttons to roll dice, using the analog stick to choose which path they want to take, and performing typical gameplay stunts that you would see in normal platforming games in Mini-Games. This particular concept initially won over the masses as gamers couldn't stop talking about board game-themed video games. It was as if an actual board game was being played, but here you have options in the video game scope.

Sonic Shuffle: A not so good example...
Of course, with success stories in implementing board game themes into video games also comes failures, and Sonic Shuffle would have to relate to the latter. Instead of rolling dice, players had cards at their disposal that they could use on any given turn. Once you played a card that had a number on it, let's say 5, you would get to move 5 spaces ahead. Since this took on the Sonic environment, you would collect rings if you were to land on ring spaces that were blue. Red spaces with rings meant that you lost rings. (By the way, Mario Party was the first to come up with this mechanism.) The main problems for Sonic Shuffle were that the loading times in between events were unbelievably long, there were some glitches and there was also the sense that some board game elements were simply lacking in this game. No real broad sense of achievement was gained from winning at Sonic Shuffle.

Pac-Man Party: A rather interesting example...
Take a look at the next two examples above and below. The first example is Pac-Man Party, a game that was built pretty much like Mario Party but combined some elements of Monopoly to come up with the game's foundation. Having an interesting cast of characters, and some of which were never seen prior to this, Pac-Man Party is played with the purpose of obtaining the most properties as you possibly can while also winning enough Mini-Games to reach a certain amount of pellets, staying true to the Pac-Man theme. This was a game that had some hits and misses, and while loved by some gamers, especially Pac-Man fanatics, it didn't become a very popular success.

Fortune Street: Reminds you of Monopoly
Fortune Street obviously pays homage to Monopoly even more so than Pac-Man Party because it puts even more of an emphasis on buying properties, avoiding bankruptcy, buying and selling stocks, and even holding auctions. If you are willing to go through the ups and downs of economic business in a board game setting, then playing this video game would be sufficient. The basic objective is to reach a certain amount of gold coins (most players prefer to play up to 10,000 but there are ways to extend the game) before anyone else with the help of establishing your territory as a business tycoon, so to speak. It's all in good fun and there are plenty of wrinkles thrown in to make the gameplay experience memorable. In just a matter of moments, you could see yourself elevate from 4th place all the way up to 1st place. That's how unpredictable Fortune Street's turn of events could possibly be.

With video games that take on the life of a board game such as these examples, it's very important for game developers to keep in mind that they need to keep the players interested in playing these kinds of games. It takes much more than a simple roll of the dice to get the players hooked. We need to establish a distinct set of rules for this board game, as well as providing the right kinds of incentives and rewards for the players. We need to make sure that the Mini-Games we provide in this game keep the players coming back for more. Just keep the player engaged. Implement bonuses if you need to. Try to maintain a balance of all the things a player can possibly do on a turn. Have a goal, shoot for it and build around it.

It's interesting that I bring this topic up because I myself have been developing my own custom video game script that revolves around the atmosphere of a custom board game. My board game only features a simple goal; score the most points to win the game, but to be honest, there is more of a competitive aspect attached to my custom board game-themed video game script. I treat this custom world as if it takes on the vibes of football games, baseball games, chess matches, croquet matches or any sporting event. I consider this idea of mine to be somewhat radical and it features a ton of different items. I would love to show this idea to you in the future, but I will have to wait.

Until then, let the good times roll.