Thursday, June 30, 2016

Video Games and Baseball: Part 2

One of many unique baseball teams/logos
Coming back up to home plate, I would like to add to what has already been said about baseball video games. Gamers have seen MLB video games been made left and right, updated every year for the hardcore MLB fan. Nothing wrong with staying true to the real game of baseball, but we can't forget about why customization and giving baseball a fun fictional spin are actually critical to positive fan reception.

The above logo of the Kokomo Jackrabbits baseball team is one example that I can use to describe how game devs can make a baseball video game fun. Just look at the logo and observe it for a little bit. Forget about the fact that human beings play on this team and rethink the logo. What do you see? What can you imagine? Cartoon jackrabbits swinging carrot themed baseball bats? Cartoon jackrabbits playing baseball on their own farm themed baseball field? Do you see where I'm going with this?

Detail or no detail, make baseball fun for gamers!
We don't need to just let Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom draw up our imaginations of a fictional baseball league. Why can't we let our imaginations run wild, create our own unique characters, and throw out a fictional baseball league for gamers to enjoy? This is the sort of thing that will get gamers talking, in my opinion. I am aware that creating a custom cartoon baseball league from scratch is a challenging endeavor, but my point is that it can be done with enough time and thorough planning. Game devs can pull it off. They just need to have the patience to see it through.

Give gamers enough things to do. Give them options such as varying tournament styles, customizable regular season formats, distinct Challenge Modes, etc. Give them the ability to unlock new character models for custom teams. Throw out as many ideas as you would like within reason. Make it up to the player to decide what he or she will include in their own fictional baseball league. Does the player want to have a bunch of forest animal species play in this league? Does the player want to see people who take up real life occupations duke it out Backyard Baseball style? Does the player want to keep the league in the United States, or does he or she want to take the league international or intergalactic?

It also helps that you give gamers a Tutorial Mode to work with so that way they won't feel lost when dealing with the game's mechanics. Never forget about the Tutorial Mode. Trust me.

I guess it depends on what the game devs would consider to be fun and playful for a fictional baseball league. Maybe you want to implement themes like the Wild West, Medieval England, Pirates of the Caribbean, Samurais and Ninjas, etc.? Maybe you just want folks who come from settings like Bad News Bears, The Sandlot, The Natural or Bull Durham? Maybe you want some mixture of everything I've mentioned in this blog post? Think about it.

Now at the bottom of the 9th inning, I will walk it off with this thought. We need to keep gamers interested. We need to keep them coming back to play. That's the name of the game. That's the goal of any video game we make for our audiences. We can't just settle for cookie cutter ballparks that have almost the exact same ballpark dimensions. Nobody wants to see that. Instead gamers want to see ballparks that are quirky like the ones we know; Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Coors Field, AT&T Park - the ballparks of yesteryear that are no longer with us; Ebbets Field, Polo Grounds, Sulphur Dell,  Crosley Field - and the ballparks that you probably haven't heard about; Point Stadium in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Bosse Field in Evansville, Indiana, Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and Bringhurst Field in Alexandria, Louisiana.

I know game devs are creative and I think one day it will be time for them to step into their own batting cage and start swinging away with concepts and designs. Warm up in the bullpen and see what you got to throw out there! Play ball!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Video Games and Baseball: Part 1

I know that I have already touched on the subject of sports being implemented as video games, and yes, we all probably know by now how repetitive some of the more famous titles have become over time. I mean, let's get serious. Who really wants to put down money for a new Madden game every single year? Who really wants to buy MLB The Show every single year? The same goes for NBA and NHL games as well. When you buy one sports game in a 4-year period there's a good chance you'll just hang on to that game and play it for a little while until you feel like you have to update that virtual playing field.

When facing the task of making a new sports game that gamers will love and will want to come back to, you always have to think about this one thing. Creativity. Will your game dev team have it for a brand new baseball video game, for example? Will you guys be able to create enough unique elements for this new baseball game that will make gamers do a double take and say "Yeah! That was a refreshing experience!'

At the end of June we are at the heart of baseball season here in the United States, and yeah, not everyone across the world will be thrilled about baseball. As it is right now I have been watching the EURO 2016 Tournament for European soccer, so I understand depending where you live baseball might not interest you, but bear with me here. What makes a baseball video game obsolete? Why does a baseball video game lose its luster after a while? After a while you become so familiar with the rosters on every MLB team that you start remembering off the top of your head which player sits on the bench for the Arizona Diamondbacks, for example. I would assume that's part of the problem of maintaining interest in playing an MLB video game these days.

I just have to go back to my point about making a chess video game fun. Customization. If you don't have enough of it to keep gamers interested, then they will go away and play other video games that offer more customization options. It's really that simple, in my opinion.

What happened to the Create-A-Ballpark feature? What happened to the secret unlockable teams feature? What happened to playing in the old ballparks of yesteryear that are no longer with us? What happened to the feature of creating your own expansion team and realigning Major League Baseball as a whole? Where did all these possible ideas go? Development budgets and time have been cut. That's the short answer.

The long answer is that imagination isn't really being used all that much anymore. You want to make a baseball video game stand out and you want it to attract an audience that will stay loyal to it no matter how many new editions of MLB The Show are churned out. By making your own baseball game you make your own space in the gaming market. You make your own baseball game something that people will talk about long after it's made. I don't see many game development teams willing to do that anymore in the sports arena because either they feel like the "big boys" have already occupied the sports arena and there is no room to do anything special, or there is that fear of just becoming a "copycat" of what's already successful.

I'm sure that the Mario baseball games that have appeared on the Nintendo Gamecube, Wii and Wii U have given some devs some inspiration in the way that they view baseball. You can make baseball fun with some imagination. Nintendo and Mario have proven that. Create your own cartoon baseball league, fill it with slapstick comedy, make it family friendly, and there you go. You have a starting foundation there. Ask yourself this question. What makes baseball funny? Implement whatever baseball humor is into your new game and build it from that foundation. That's one of many ways you can get your game "over" in the Gaming Industry.

I think I will divide this into 2 parts because I want to go into more detail as to the kinds of ideas I have in mind for a custom baseball game. Stay tuned for that.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Understanding Mechanics: Broad Perspective

Recently getting back into the swing of things regarding game development, it has become abundantly clear to me that there are some things about the classic arcade games that we need to hang on to when making our own custom games. Taking into account the visual beauty of the games that come out today, we as gamers tend to forget about the gritty functions of gameplay and why they are so important in making a game work. Though they may not have the best graphics in the world and you have to take yourself back in time to the 1980's to enjoy their visuals, the arcade games of yesteryear serve as great reminders of how gameplay mechanics can be made or broken. Why is this? Because arcade games mainly rely on their mechanics to make a positive impression on gamers.

You can compare this to the likes of mobile games that are the popular thing today, and arcade games had that similar feel. There were certain limitations that you could only feature in the scope of an arcade game that you just couldn't fit in a home console game. With less space to work with you had to pay more attention to the core gameplay mechanics, and with this you would have a better chance of making a game that worked with gamers. That was the main challenge of arcade game makers back in the 1980's.

Now like you guys I appreciate great visuals in a game. I appreciate the cool graphics that today's games feature. They certainly do help enhance the gaming experience, but when it comes down to it, visuals are only cosmetic and are not deal-makers nor deal-breakers. If a game doesn't have excellent graphics, but manages to play well enough for you to keep coming back time and again, then that is a game to hang on to.

Donkey Kong is one example we can look at when you want to dissect general gameplay functions. Notice how simple the layout is. You have Donkey Kong tossing out barrels, you have a basic obstacle course filled with slanted platforms and ladders, you have the oil barrel at the start of the level which will occasionally spit out fire, and then you have the heroic Jump Man (later known as Mario) himself. Those are the key gameplay components. Nothing too over the top and nothing so ambitious that will just blow people away. It's a concept that's kept simple given the limited space of the game.

One point that I can make here is this: Sometimes too bold can be too much.

I love experimenting with different features in a game. I love giving players variety in the options they can choose from in a demo level. However, I have to keep things in perspective as a game developer. Sometimes the things that I'd like to see implemented in a game just can't realistically be done. As game developers we have to live with this possible outcome that will appear time and again.

If you are eager to just get something out there and present a demo level concept that will get people talking, then keeping things simple would be the way to go. You can't aim too high nor too low in expectations. You have to find that happy medium and go with what makes the most sense. Now if you have a fighting kind of game and you'd like to add a super cool weapon, you have to understand where it can realistically show up, and you have to determine whether or not that super cool weapon is even worth having in the demo. Game development sometimes involves making tough decisions that you won't be sure about at first, but like a fighting game you have to roll with the punches.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Punchy Business: Project Update

Ready for a good punch, mate?

On behalf of the Gaming Journalist Gazette blog I have great news to report regarding a custom project of mine I reported on here in 2014. As of May 2016 official work has been put in for Punchy Business, my custom game idea about a boxing kangaroo who goes through a platforming stage and then competes in a boxing match against a boss! What this means is that Othello Whack will see the light of day in a demo presentation of Punchy Business!

This announcement comes as a great relief for me because I finally found a team of game devs who were willing to take on this project. I really appreciate the help that this team, called Sktechy Games, have given me so far in helping out and forming what I envision this project to be. While I can't reveal what's exactly going to be shown in this demo, because I want to keep that stuff a secret, I can tell you readers that you will have something very interesting to play once the finished product is out. I certainly hope that once you guys try out this demo you will take away a positive feeling about it.

Having Punchy Business finally being worked on is not only a dream come true for me, but I guess it also signals another turn in my journey as an aspiring script writer for video games and related content. This is a significant turn for me because for many years I haven't had the opportunity to implement what I was looking for in a game idea, and now finally in 2016 I'm getting that opportunity, and needless to say, I am very happy about this.

These guys that make up the Sketchy Games dev team are a group of talented guys who love doing what they do, making demos on tight schedules and making something that gamers will enjoy. I have had some phone conversations with these guys and we have been helping each other out in fleshing out what needs to be included in the level design and what needed to be cut. It was a very refreshing experience to go through all the details of the level design and to pick apart what needed to be done to make this demo level go. Studying up on game development for years, for me to go through at least part of the development process was very helpful for me.

So there's not much else to report other than I'm very happy to be finally getting something off the ground. I do wish to take this Punchy Business demo and show it off to gaming communities in Ohio and abroad (if possible), and I'd like to get feedback from gamers as to what they think of it. This is an exciting time to be a game dev and I'm going to embrace it 100%, that's for sure! I will keep you guys updated on this!

POW! Connects with the left hook!