Friday, April 24, 2015

Importance of Game Canon

Henry Lowood of Stanford Univeristy

How important is it to acknowledge game canon? It depends on who you ask. Some years back Henry Lowood, a professor at the Univeristy of Stanford, gathered together a group containing Stanford, the University of Maryland and the University of Illinois to undertake a project of preserving the history and culture of video games. Lowood has cited cultural and historical significance to the games that he and his group chose, basing his canon off a model originally made by the National Film Preservation Board, which creates an annual list of films to be added to the National Film Registry. Lowood and his comrades came up with this list of 10 games that, in their opinions, believe to carry the most significance.

Lowood and Company's Game Canon
Spacewar! (1962)
Star Raiders (1979)
Zork (1980)
Tetris (1985)
SimCity (1989)
Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990)
Civilization I/II (1991)
Doom (1993)
Warcraft series (beginning 1994)
Sensible World of Soccer (1994)

(Green = What Steven Vitte agrees with)

While there are some games on this list that I do agree with when it comes to significance, I don't agree with all of the choices Lowood and company have made, and there's one good reason why. Video games from their very inception are subjective. It's up to the gamers themselves what they consider to be rich video game history and what's forgettable video game history. I honestly don't think I need to have confirmation from early day gaming pioneers, as much as I do respect them, what is officially "canon" in video game history. I can determine for myself what is culturally and historically significant in gaming history. 

Running down this list, I will first cover the games that I do agree with Lowood and and company on. A group of early computer programmers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created the first competitive multiplayer game in Spacewar!, which was also the first action game. This game was created way back in 1962 and I can definitely see the significance behind this game. The same would apply for Star Raiders.

When talking about Zork, however, I have a hard time believing that it actually "moved the needle" in the Video Game Industry. Just because Zork was the first of its kind as an adventure game doesn't automatically make it significant. Did the game itself have lasting value to the point where people can still play a descendant version of it today? I'm not sure about that. In all my time as a gamer, I have never heard many glowing reviews of Zork specifically, and not even by gaming historians, but that's my subjective look at it.

Tetris, SimCity, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Doom are all great choices. When gamers, young and old, look back at gaming history, these are some of the first games that pop into their minds, and it's easy to understand why. For the most part, these games are simply fun. They are easy to get into and the learning curve for these games is never too big for those who are just getting acquainted with them. Tetris has a simple concept. SimCity is a simulation, giving you a wide variety of options. Super Mario Bros. 3 keeps you on your toes while you heroically explore new areas. Doom pretty much started the shooting game craze where people just wanted to make like John Rambo or John McClain and blitz through bad guys.

Civilization I and II are games I'm skeptical about. Again, just because you are the pioneer of a gaming genre doesn't mean you are automatically successful or legendary. These days I really don't hear much enthusiasm surrounding the Civilization series, and for a gaming franchise to truly become memorable and long lasting, you don't want gamers forgetting about what you contributed to gaming. Civilization probably fits in this situation unfortunately.

The Warcraft series and Sensible World of Soccer are choices that I absolutely disagree with. If you want to think about long-term positive impact on the Video Game Industry and measure just how much good these games did for the industry, then I believe that we aren't dissecting these two choices enough. I have never heard of Sensible World of Soccer. Never. It was a surprise for me to even see this game on this list. How is it memorable in gaming history if hardly anyone can recall it today? More importantly, why should we remember it?

The Warcraft series pretty much spawned a gigantic boatload of MMO's and RPG's that mirror each other, and not in a good way. If you talk about World of Warcraft, then you'll get to talking about EverQuest. From there, you will probably be talking about similar games like Phantasy Star Online, Final Fantasy, Suikoden, etc. Once you have seen one of these games, you have most likely seen them all. I don't see how we can look back at the Warcraft series and think to ourselves "Hmm... Warcraft contributed so much to the industry! Look how super creative it was!" Nope. Not buying it.

Overall, the importance of game canon comes down to a matter of opinion. Everyone has their own taste of what games they like to play. Everyone eventually comes up with their own "head canon" as to what games are the most significant in the history of the Video Game Industry. Here is what I consider to be my own canon of video games, so to speak.

Steven Vitte's Custom Game Canon 
(Subject To Change Whenever Appropriate)

Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Sonic 1
Sonic 2
Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Mario 64
Beetle Adventure Racing
Goldeneye 64
Mario Party 1-3
Tekken 3
Pac-Man
Frogger
Dig-Dug
Tetris
Timesplitters 2
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
Sly 2: Band of Thieves 

One of many versions of Tetris

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island

Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Tekken 3

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Game Review: Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando

Mr. Fizzwidget: One of the most clueless characters in the series
During my slow revival as a gamer, I turned to Playstation 2 games to obtain gameplay experiences that I found to be unique, and it turns out that I chose the right kinds of games. One of these games happens to be Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, the 2nd installment of a long running franchise that many gamers still adore today. While I have talked about the potential future of Ratchet & Clank regarding their reboot which is coming soon, I would like to take a step back and review this game to give my thoughts on how well the series executed its mission back in the day.

Who is this guy pictured above? Oh, that's Mr. Fizzwidget, a guy who clearly comes across as one of the most clueless characters in the entire Ratchet & Clank franchise, and probably in video game history as well. I will talk about him later...

  
Controls - 20 out of 20 Points

One of the best things about playing a Ratchet & Clank game would be the controls. Here in Going Commando, this is especially the case. Once you learn how to control Ratchet and the various weapons that he will collect throughout this long adventure, you will get a better feel for the game as a whole. You will get a better sense of what to do, when to perform an action, and when to strategize. The gameplay controls make your learning experience seamless, and after playing this game a few times, it's hard to forget which buttons to press.

I was amazed by how comfortable this game's controls were. Going Commando was the first Ratchet & Clank game I played and it didn't disappoint in this department. The gameplay itself contained a ton of variety, which I am a strong advocate of, and it kept me interested in the sense that I knew I didn't have to use just one weapon in order to get past a daunting obstacle. The use of weapons is Ratchet's M.O., so to speak. Without any weapons except for his handy dandy wrench, Ratchet will have trouble getting past many areas.


Above and Below: What you will see in the Inventory


Clank also proves to be very useful as he will occasionally be given robot companions to guide through the smaller parts of areas, places Ratchet can't venture into. I found Clank's solo gameplay parts to be very interesting as he showed solid leadership skills, utilizing the strengths of his peers. Clank can also get a special add-on where he can become a giant, attacking big baddies in important boss battles. Just think of the Transformers series when picturing Clank powering up. I admit that when Clank battles a huge boss, I can't help but think that I'm watching some sort of King Kong monster movie or something.

Back to Ratchet, it seems to me that Insomniac Games has a clear view of how to handle him as a character. When it comes to using gadgets and gizmos, Insomniac almost always puts in something for Ratchet to use that becomes helpful at some point during gameplay. If you're in the mood to throw Ninja Stars at enemies, then so be it. If you're in the mood to just blow up everything that's in your way, then you can have it your way, almost like Galaxy Burger... er... Burger King.

Graphics - 19 out of 20 Points

Amazing. Simply amazing for its time. You can tell that Insomniac Games put a great amount of time in making sure that every detailed graphic was up to par with the gameplay experience. You only need to play through this game to get an idea of how beautiful some of the graphics are. Some of the design choices did swing and miss, but I wouldn't worry too much about any of the off-putting designs. 

Story - 17 out of 20 Points

LOL

Laughing out loud. I couldn't help but keep doing this while watching some of the scenes that occurred in this game. When engaging in the Ratchet & Clank game universe, expect the unexpected in the comedy department. Whether the jokes revolved around the Protopet, the mysterious masked thief (who turned out to be Angela Cross), Mr. Fizzwidget and his everlasting clueless demeanor, or Captain Qwark being foolish, there was always something to laugh about. Some things felt out of place during scenes, but for all the right comedic reasons. Those things were purposely done. Insomniac has done a great job over the years of making light of otherwise serious adventure plots with the inclusion of comedy spots.

"Dang! A space cat blowin' up a giant killer robot? RUN FOR THE HILLS!"
The story for Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, in all seriousness, wasn't perfect. The story certainly had bright and funny moments, but there were also times when it just wasn't necessary to add certain elements. I laughed at many things in this game, but not at everything. Comedy is interpreted differently by everybody, so it's only typical that I wouldn't find some things funny.

Creatively speaking, though, Going Commando definitely hit the mark. I loved the sudden change of alignments midway through the game as the player finds out that the mysterious masked thief was Angela Cross, a female Lombax who was really trying to do some good for her home planet. I came away from this game wondering why a character like Angela never showed up again in the R&C series because it seemed to me that she would have staying power had Insomniac Games further developed her character. It remains to be seen if Angela Cross will ever be brought back, but let's hope so.

After a while, and I'm glad I didn't forget about this, it seemed to me that Mr. Fizzwidget, both the real one and the fake one, came across as absolutely clueless about everything that was going on. It amazed me just how clueless this guy turned out to be after he initially made the call to Ratchet and Clank for help. He wasn't very helpful, but hey, that was the point after all.

Music - 18 out of 20 Points

I will make this brief about the music. I loved most of the soundtracks. These tunes were very upbeat and appropriate for the setting of this game. It was easy for me to get into these soundtracks because they fit right in with what I was doing, just blasting away at enemies and hoping to survive long enough to hear the best parts of the soundtrack. There were a couple tunes I could do without, because of repetition, but most of which I would like to remember for some time to come. These tunes are a must-listen.

Replayability Factor - 19 out of 20 Points

"I wonder what this thing does!"
Simply put, if you are a gamer looking for a legitimate challenge, this is definitely a game you want to consider picking up. Especially if you were already familiar with this kind of game, as in you played the first Ratchet & Clank game, then you will have no problem jumping into Going Commando. The learning curve here is pretty much the same as it was in the first game, and the changes that were made here don't hinder anything. In the heat of gameplay, you will be thoroughly challenged by enemies who sometimes won't give you any breaks, meaning that you have to stay on your toes.

I believe that at least 95% of all the gameplay elements you encounter in this game have a legitimate purpose behind them. When you use a weapon in a particular area, you most likely have to use it to give yourself an easier time, and that's where the game's strategy comes in. I really like that. You have to pay attention to detail as well as blow things up into oblivion. That is a good mixture for a very enjoyable gaming experience.

Overall Score - 93 out of 100 Points (No Bonus Points)

I want to add that Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is the kind of game for people to jump into if they want to become gamers. This is the type of experience that you can take in and come away with feeling some sense of accomplishment. I can't say that I was fan of everything I saw in this game as I believe that some things could have been left out, but this is overall something to go back to and blitz through if you are bored and want a taste of nostalgic gaming. 

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is easily one of the best games I have ever played strictly from a gameplay perspective. I just loved how the gameplay flowed from beginning to end. By the way, a good tip would be to constantly upgrade your aircraft because you may otherwise get stuck in certain areas. I encountered this problem and it wasn't pretty. "Can someone lend me some Raritanium?"

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

My Thoughts on the IGDA


IGDA: An organization that can do more

It has been some time since I have been able to get in contact with members of the International Game Developers Association, and the last time I actually had good conversations with IGDA's members were email exchanges back in December 2013. These email exchanges helped began my drive for wanting to pursue more writing opportunities, especially in fields relating to the Video Game Industry. For the most part, I did get valuable information from the IGDA in these emails, which I will not reveal, but overall, I came away from these email conversations a bit disappointed.

One email response pointed out that the IGDA was just a volunteer group and that they only address certain issues. I understand the foundation of this response, but at the same time it made me question how strong the IGDA truly is as an organization. Before this response, I requested that a member of the IGDA come down to my hometown area (Chillicothe, Ohio, a.k.a. Bumpkinville), and inspect the environment of this area as far as the potential for developing anything (even the most minimal) relating to game development was concerned. I believed my request was a simple one as I felt that I wasn't asking for too much. However, considering the email response to my request, it was perceived as something too demanding for whatever reason.

The IGDA annually takes surveys to monitor the progress of game developers in the Video Game Industry, and I do find these surveys to be very informative. In fact, I believe when it comes to obtaining statistics on pressing issues, the IGDA does an outstanding job. The Developer Satisfaction Survey in particular is interesting to observe.

However, when it comes to aspiring talents who want to show what they can do in fields related to the Video Game Industry, I sometimes get the feeling that even organizations like the IGDA shun these kinds of people away, myself included. I don't believe this is intentional by any means, but I do believe that sometimes the IGDA only looks at problems in the Gaming Industry from just a few isolated perspectives.

Steven Vitte's Perspective: People Like Me Are Under-represented

The above sub headline above tells the story. Let me be honest with you, the IGDA, right here and now. I don't feel like I received nearly the amount of help that I needed when I exchanged emails with you back in 2013. I felt like you didn't really take most of the questions I asked you seriously enough. Perhaps this resulted in some sort of miscommunication between us, and if that's the case then I apologize, but I believe that I received blank responses regarding my situation.

Of course, I didn't have nearly the developed freelance writing portfolio back in 2013 that I have today, but the fact remains that when someone like me asks for help, we should --you know-- actually get help?

You talk about satisfaction for game developers. Now what about satisfaction for aspiring talents who can't seem to get their foot in the door no matter how hard they try? Have you thought about surveying them? Where is their representation? Do they have a voice just like all the other groups that you cater to?

What about people who want to enter the Video Game Industry in just the lowest possible job roles, but they get the door slammed in their faces? These people have stories to tell after all. It takes some people who are in similar situations like mine around 5-10 years to ever get a serious look at a job in the Video Game Industry. Never mind the fact that our resources are limited to begin with and we can't really help that, but we get penalized for this as if we did something wrong.

"You live out in the middle of nowhere in Ohio? Oops! Too bad! We can't help you!"

"You live just outside [New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Seattle]? Sure, we can help you! We have all sorts of people who would like to talk to you! What are you aiming to do? etc."

^ This is basically the message I receive almost every time, and to be honest, I am growing very tired of this message.



Especially when you consider the fact that we are in a day and age now where people can freely work remotely from various locations, it makes little to no sense to prevent aspiring game developers from achieving the goals that they want to pursue. You have to consider the varying situations that a person is in before you can make a judgment on how reliable this potential game developer will be. I don't think many organizations like the IGDA do a good enough job of addressing this particular issue. I'm just being honest.

The IGDA does touch on one subject that is something I am familiar with, which would be Game Accessibility. This subject mainly touches on the fact that gamers and game developers who have various disabilities, whether physical or mental, should be given platforms to access games. People associated with IGDA's Game Accessibility initiative advocate and promote the idea that people who have conditions like autism, ADHD and Bipolar Syndrome can be involved in a public video game experience.

While I believe that the IGDA has made some strides in giving disabled gamers opportunities to learn more about game development and about the business of the Video Game Industry, I think that the IGDA could still do more. I haven't yet seen an officially set in stone group or organization that advocates disabled gamers in ways that they, the disabled gamers, particularly prefer. There are some employees in the Video Game Industry today who are disabled, but we haven't received specific numbers.

In my case, and I have stated this before on this blog and in another blog I run, I have Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism. I have a mental disability and I have certain needs to be addressed. I would like to think that the Video Game Industry would be more courteous in properly listening to what I have to say about issues related to Game Accessibility, but to be honest with you, IGDA and blog readers, I'm not sure at this point

In general, I ask certain questions on what I need to do as an aspiring game writer to officially join the Video Game Industry in some capacity, regardless of what the job title is, and I always seem to get this feeling that I'm intentionally shunned away. I feel like my opinions on job seeking in the Video Game Industry fall on deaf ears, like my opinions don't matter to gaming organizations in a sense.

I shouldn't be getting this feeling from an organization that stands on this platform of wanting to help people continue their pursuits of becoming involved with the Video Game Industry. The IGDA is a volunteer organization, and I understand that, but that shouldn't excuse you from doing everything in your power to address issues that could become more pressing over time.

Money: A resource I'm struggling to obtain

Here is my issue. I am part of the poor class. I have hardly any money. I am struggling to make money. I don't have a support group of any kind. I have tried my best to network with other people associated with the Video Game Industry, only to have some of them not keep contact with me. 

I am only one part of a game development team in theory. I am only a writer. I don't have computer programming skills. I don't yet have QA (Quality Assurance) experience, but I want to acquire it. I want to lend my voice to video games as a voice actor, even in a minimal capacity. I don't have official voice acting experience, but again, I want to acquire it. I have just completed some online college courses that I think should be noteworthy by the powers-that-be in the Video Game Industry.

Can the IGDA address this issue? I believe they are 100% capable of addressing this issue, but will they? That's my question to them.

Since January 2014 I haven't received a single email from an IGDA representative. Not even one. Not even a short one-liner email that says "Hey Steven, how are you doing? What have you been up to?" The IGDA has my email address and they can contact me at any time. I suggest that this year, and going forward into the future, the IGDA and the Video Game Industry as a whole starts taking me more seriously, because I'm not one to just sweep issues under the rug.

In summary, I believe the IGDA has done some great things for the Video Game Industry. I believe they have addressed some issues that needed to be addressed. I believe they mean well and they certainly have a solid structure that allows them to operate as a well-oiled machine. However, I also believe in some areas they could be doing more, and it amazes me why they haven't addressed issues that relate to some of the things that I mentioned here. I surely hope that situations like mine (and others out there) will be addressed soon.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why I Want To Get An Ouya

Gut Feeling: Ouya Deserves A Chance
I briefly talked about this in my Year In Review post for 2014, but I made a point of it to mention the Ouya game console because the level of intrigue that I have for this game console right now is pretty high, and high enough to the point where I am strongly considering buying one.

For some time I went back and forth as to whether or not I wanted to give the Ouya a chance. There were times when I focused on the positive feedback the Ouya got, and there were times when the cons outweighed the pros. I believe I have given the Ouya enough time to marinate on the video game barbeque grill in the market to come up with a decision of my own, and while I value the opinions of other gamers, it really comes down to how I feel about the product. Let me run down a few reasons why I will buy an Ouya when I have the opportunity.

The Ouya Gaming Environment is Comfortable For Me

I consider this to be a key reason. If the gaming environment surrounding a console (or general platform) doesn't feel right, then there's no point in playing on that platform. While the Ouya doesn't come across as flashy to me in overall strength, it doesn't need to be. My main motivation for being a gamer is to just play games. It doesn't matter to me how awesome the graphics look or how much technology actually goes into a developed video game.  If the games play right, then what's not to like? If I can find some sources of enjoyment and inspiration in some Ouya games, then that's really what matters to me.

A wide variety of options

Ouya Has Variety and Creativity

While Ouya never guarantees to have newly released blockbuster games on their console, the wide range of variety in the Ouya gaming experience can't be ignored. Variety can be a huge plus for me as a gamer if that variety is executed right. I don't necessarily look for the games that everyone else is playing, but rather I'm more like a scavenger hunter. I like to dig up the diamonds in the rough, so to speak.

If I find a game that not everybody is familiar with, but it's a game that I feel deserves more recognition for its creativity and uniqueness, then I will invest in that game and try to showcase it on platforms like this blog.

I'm not a game designer by any means, but I also appreciate the fact that the Ouya gives gamers the tools to create their own games if they are willing to take out the time to do so. These game developing tools are available on the Ouya console itself, which I find fascinating. User-generated content is sometimes undervalued and unappreciated, and using the Ouya to make games can highlight a gamer's creativity.

The Ouya Makes Good Economic Sense

In my case, I also need to consider my current economic situation as a gamer. It's obvious that I am not in the best shape when it comes to economics, so I can't just buy anything video game-related. I need to be wise with my money and resources. I need to be careful with what gaming content I invest in or else I may come away feeling that I made a bad purchase. It was hard enough for me to pay $400 to acquire a Playstation 4, and while I don't regret buying the PS4, I will admit that I have had a very limited experience playing games on this console. It's been very hard for me to find a PS4 game that I actually want to thoroughly invest in right now.

Whereas in comparison, the Ouya is much more affordable and doesn't give me as big an economic hit. The normal buying price for an Ouya is $99, which is much more reasonable in this day and age where so many people are having trouble just getting by with however little money they have left in their bank accounts. Game development companies really shouldn't expect every gamer to just throw out their hard earned money for every game that they see on store shelves. We are in a different time now in the 2010's.  

A basic rundown of the Ouya controller
 

The Ouya Feels Special In One Sense

Some may consider this to be an odd reason for why I want to get an Ouya, but let me explain. Considering how much this little cube console has been promoted, when was the last time we ever saw something unique console-wise created by some company not named Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft?  It's been a long time, hasn't it?

I think inadvertently the creators of Ouya have helped bring an issue to light. Ever since Sega called it quits with the Dreamcast and stopped making consoles, the Video Game Industry has basically been a 3-way monopoly between Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. These companies have pretty much gone unchallenged by anyone else in the console-making department. Is Ouya direct competition? No, because the Ouya speaks a different "console language" than the Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One. However, there is a specific audience that the Ouya could probably target and attract if they try hard enough, and that would be the poor and less privileged gaming audience. 

Not everyone can afford a Wii U, a PS4 or an Xbox One. That's a fact. Many people still want to be gamers but they aren't willing to pay loads of money just to get one of these consoles. Unless these gamers love PC gaming, where exactly do these gamers turn to? This is why in one sense the Ouya might become special.

I wouldn't necessarily call the Ouya a poor gamer's console, but it's more flexible and accessible for everybody. Playing an Ouya game seems to be something you can easily transition into even if you quickly blitz through something.