Wednesday, August 16, 2017

GJG Game Review: Sonic Mania

Happy 28th Birthday to me for pre-ordering Sonic Mania!

For starters I have been pretty hard on Sega and Sonic Team for the whole year of 2017 so far. Some of the criticisms that I myself have presented to the Sonic franchise have been at least somewhat valid (I hope) and I feel that it's been time for gamers to start being more honest with Sega and Sonic Team about how they feel about the Sonic franchise as a whole, both 2D and 3D. 

With that said, I have been keeping a close eye on Sonic Mania for many months in 2017, and the news I have been getting has come across as nothing but positive. Everything that led up to Mania's release has been a refreshing, reassuring spin on the Sonic content we've been getting in recent years. The marketing campaign that went in to Mania has been very impressive, and the closer we got to the release date of August 15th the more convinced I became that I ABSOLUTELY needed to pre-order this game. August 15th, the day before my 28th Birthday, August 16th. What are the odds?

Controls - 20 out of 20 points

Pretty much flawless, by all accounts. If you're familiar with the original Sonic Genesis games of yesteryear, you should have no problem at all getting used to the controls of Mania. This game is built off the platform of Sonic 1 through Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Mania instantly reminds you of how cool it was to just plug in and play the Genesis games. You could go through an entire sitting of a couple hours and play a Sonic Genesis game with joy. You can Spin Dash, and now you can Drop Dash, which is the only mini-bummer of this game. The times of when you need to use the new Drop Dash ability as Sonic are a mystery, though the ability itself is really cool.

You can play as Sonic, Tails or Knuckles right off the bat and they play just as you remembered them playing in the Genesis games. This sense of familiarity is such a strong plus. 

Graphics - 20 out of 20 points

Wow. Beautiful. Wonderful. Amazing. Without going too much into this, if you have already played Sonic Mania, then you should already know how stylistic and breath-taking the graphics of  Sonic Mania are. It's a hybrid of the Genesis style of graphics and a 32-bit look, somewhat reminding gamers of the Sega 32X days. I'm sure you remember Knuckles Chaotix, right? The art that went into this game deserves some sort of end of year award. Seriously.

Music - 20 out of 20 points

You will immediately feel right at home as a Sonic fan when playing through Mania because the music soundtracks immediately get you to realize just how creative and catchy Sonic soundtracks usually are. These soundtracks are fitting for the environments they attach themselves to, and for the old reliable zones that we all know and loves, the soundtracks for these zones are remixed in such a way that could possibly blow your mind. Give credit to the music producer of the Mania team for this because he knocked this category out of the park!

Replayability Factor - 20 out of 20 points

There is no doubt about what I'm going to say here. This game is absolutely, positively worth replaying again and again. Here's one good reason why Mania gets an A+ in Replayability Value; the order of the mini-bosses and bosses you fight in Mania is NOT always the same. This means that you could be facing different foes such as the various Hard Boiled Heavies, or Dr. Eggman himself in drastically different orders depending on who you play as, and possibly depending on how fast (or slow) you complete a stage.  

What also helps the Replayability in Mania are the Bonus and Special Stages that are scattered throughout the game. You quickly familiarize yourself with the challenge of having to collect many Blue Spheres in a maze, but then you will also have to retrain yourself to complete a daring mission of catching a fleeing aircraft in a race track. This latter stage should remind gamers of Special Stages that we've seen in games like Sonic CD and Sonic Heroes. This Special Stage concept is excellent, the execution of it is great, and most importantly, these additions keep you motivated to play.

11 Bonus Points for Creativity

As an aspiring game dev myself, I definitely appreciate it when I see creative freedom being put on display in a game. I advocate for creativity, I encourage it and I humbly challenge other aspiring game devs to put their creativity out there in game projects. What Christian "Taxman" Whitehead, Headcannon and PagodaWest Games did for Sonic Mania is a textbook example of being able to use enough creativity in a video game and showcasing what they know about the Sonic Universe.

Seriously, I could also say that the levels of creativity used in this game are "off the charts", "blasted past the outfield fence for a home run", and "top of the mountain quality". Sonic Mania is THAT good, whether you play this game as a Sonic fan or not. 

Overall Score: 91 out of 100 points (11 Bonus Points)

I have never felt more happy about playing a new Sonic game that I have for Sonic Mania, and late last week on the 11th I made the decision (at the last minute, really) to pre-order this game. It turns out that Sonic Mania was by far one of the best gaming purchase decisions I have ever made. Sonic Mania blew me the crap away, to put it somewhat bluntly. Sure, it's just a 2D side-scrolling platforming game at the end of the day, but it's not just that. It's a call to remember what Sonic used to be, and that he used to be one of the best video game characters in history. Sonic and his friends can reach that status again if Sega allows Sonic Mania to be used as a building block for future 2D Sonic installments. 

While the jury is still out on the future of Modern 3D Sonic games, which is another story altogether, Classic 2D Sonic is officially back like a boss. Sonic Mania is already going to be one of the best video games in history when this is said and done. A fitting Happy Birthday gift to myself!

Friday, August 11, 2017

Comprehensive Game Design Analysis Part 1

I avidly study game development when I have the time to do so. I often search through YouTube and various other places on the internet (Shout out to Gamasutra!) to find other opinions on game design, what gamers like and what they don't like about certain games. As you can tell from the embedded video above, I'm going to be commenting again on a game that I own for the PS4, and it's obviously nowhere near my favorite video game to play. I already made a review on Mighty No. 9 a couple months back and gave it a mediocre overall score, and that was mainly because I have never been a huge Mega Man fan and I never backed the Kickstarter campaign for this game.

What this video goes into is how ridiculous the game design was for Mighty No. 9, and for the most part I definitely agree with the author of this video. I find it inexcusable as to how certain parts of game design were implemented in Mighty No. 9, and after watching this video you'll come to realize just how much better this game should have been, but Comcept basically refused to make it better.

Enemy Placement
The placement of enemies in Mighty No. 9 was jarring in many areas. You didn't feel like you were necessarily rewarded after you reached a seemingly special part of a level where you could collect extra health items and power-ups. If anything, you felt somewhat punished for doing so. What made this case was how "in your face" the placed enemies were. The moment you felt you had some room to work with, that space would be taken away by an ill-placed enemy, making your gaming experience unnecessarily more difficult.

Color Discernment
If you hate having to discern the difference between an object that's in the background of a level and an object you actually have to take down in the foreground, then you might want to stay away from Mighty No. 9. Especially during boss fights do you have to deal with colors that blend in with each other, which means that you sometimes will be guessing which object to attack, and which object to ignore. Pick the wrong object and you will pay for it. Not good.

No Set Pattern of Level Choices
I find this to be an interesting argument, and one I agree with. For those of you who play Mega Man games you would know that there's a pattern in choosing levels, preferably from the easiest to the hardest. If you guess the pattern of level choices right then the gaming experience overall will feel more rewarding. If you tackle the harder levels first and then go to the easier levels, then it may not feel as rewarding. Mighty No. 9 suffers from not giving you any initial hints as to what set pattern to rely on. Should you take on Mighty No. 2 first? Or should it be Mighty No. 5? You don't know, and that's the problem. You won't get any help in improving the quality of a level until after you beat a boss and pick the level that matches that defeated boss's help sequence.

Learning Moves
Another frustrating part of Mighty No. 9 is the learning curve, especially considering the types of moves that Beck can perform. In the options menu of the game you can try to learn how to perform certain moves that you feel will help Beck progress through a level. However, many of these moves seem to be counterproductive in how they are executed and how they complement a level. There's this one move called the "Drop Shot" where you jump backwards and shoot down at a 45 degree angle. On many occasions this move is simply worthless and doesn't help you.

Mighty No. 9 simply suffered from this feeling that two game dev teams worked on the game instead of just one. There was no cohesive vision as to what Mighty No. 9 wanted to be as a game, and when conflicting features of the game tried to merge with each other, it became a mess. Having said this I still have no problem owning this game because I don't have a big emotional attachment to Mega Man style games, but I feel that this information is worth sharing with my blog readers.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Time to Reconsider DLC?

Just like their competitors Microsoft and Sony, it has become apparent that Nintendo is following in their footsteps by presenting DLC packages and deals to gamers. It's no secret that nowadays in order to truly get the full experience of a game you will need to buy some sort of DLC exclusive. Sometimes it's absolutely needed to buy a DLC deal in order to 100% complete a game. Nintendo in recent years has picked up on this financial strategy and have put their own spin on it by way of using their Amiibo collectible toys.

The linked video above will tell more of the story, but the gist of it is basically Nintendo has been catching on to what Microsoft and Sony have been doing for many years, since at least the start of the 2010's. Make no mistake that this strategy of implementing DLC attached to main games has been working like Willy Wonka's Golden Ticket, but this leads me to ask the following questions.

Is it time to reconsider DLC? Is it time to start re-evaluating the worth of Downloadable Content? What have we learned from this business model of throwing DLC into a game package? It's 2017 and we're getting closer to the end of the 2010's, so I would think that normally the Video Game Industry would step back and start thinking over what they have introduced in the past decade.

What has DLC ultimately replaced in this past decade? Cheat codes. Think about it. Very rarely do we ever hear about new games having any sort of cheat code system. You see, cheat codes were once a unique part of a gameplay experience back in the day. In the 1990's when computer technology wasn't as advanced as it is today, gamers had to rely on trial and error in order to obtain secret cheat codes in their favorite games, and once these codes were submitted in the cheat section of an option menu, the gamer would get a brand new experience because he or she would get to play the game in a different way. Plus, the kicker here is that the gamer was rewarded with a FREE new feature!

Not to say that every single DLC offer costs you an arm and a leg, because that's not entirely true, but the fact that every DLC offer is bound to cost you, the gamer, something out of your wallet means that you have to try harder to save money in order to get the thing about your favorite game that you really want. Doesn't it sometimes rub you the wrong way how you buy a game first and you assume that you have everything in that game, but then realize the game dev company is going to release DLC packages to make that game "more complete"?

Cue the picture of a rabbit chasing a carrot dangling on a stick.

Okay, that's close enough.

The Video Game Industry is a business, and sometimes gamers lose sight of that. It's a fun business to be a part of, but it's still a business nonetheless. These game dev companies are looking to expand their business, and if they think that DLC is the way to go for them, then guess what? They're gonna offer DLC deals.

I guess where I'm going with this is my concern over how much is too much when offering DLC. Costing an arm and a leg to buy DLC simply isn't ideal for many gamers. They just bought the original game for an already steep enough price, especially if they bought that game just a day or two after official release. To ask gamers to spend more money on DLC just so they can have a "more complete experience" with the original game sounds crazy and foreign to me. That's just how I feel as I've grown up as a gamer in the late 1990's and early 2000's.

Ultimately my stance on DLC is this. DLC probably has a place in today's Video Game Industry, but it should never be abused by game dev companies just for the sake of economic convenience. There's a fine line to draw here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mario Gets Too Much of a Pass

I'd like to pull this above video out and have you guys listen to it. This video discusses why there seems to be an obvious bias in the way that some gaming media companies review certain games. When you go over the reviews of some games, don't you sometimes get the feeling that the reviews and the scores given to games are intentionally biased?

The prime example of there possibly being a game review bias: compare any platforming game against a Mario game. Many companies seem to be guilty of doing this. many companies appear so ready, willing and able to just automatically give Mario games high review scores right after they're released out to market, and when another platforming game comes out, whether it's Crash Bandicoot, Sonic the Hedgehog, Ratchet & Clank or whatever, these same companies will view these games through a completely different lense.

Consider the remake of Crash Bandicoot that was released not too long ago. Check out the review scores of this trilogy collection from some of the big name gaming media companies. Check out IGN, GameInformer, GameSpot and others. Compare their reviews of Crash's original trilogy remake to that of recent Mario games. Does it feel like night and day to you at first glance?

I think it's important to note how game critics review games because we should pick up on the tendencies of these critics. We need to know whether or not a critic is being consistent with what he or she is saying about particular game genres, as well as the games themselves. If a critic isn't being consistent, then you know something is up. If a game critic is praising a certain game even though it's a hard game to master, but then turns around and bashes another game for being in the same ballpark of hard, then you know a certain agenda is being pushed.

I mean, there are different interpretations of a hard video game, but we shouldn't make the gap of these interpretations so gaping that it becomes difficult for readers to understand which kind of hard is acceptable and which kind of hard is unacceptable. That's why game reviewers need to describe what it is about a game that makes it so hard, and not just say "Oh, it's too hard for me to play!" Reviewers need to avoid being so vague as they write down their game reviews.

Back in the day only Nintendo Power (when it was still active) had the excuse of hyping up Mario games in their reviews because they exclusively promoted Nintendo products, so in their case it made sense. Nonetheless, if a game isn't up to par to the standards that its series intended it to be, you call the game out on it. You review that game accordingly, whether it's a Mario game or not.

I'm a firm believer in honest journalism. That's one reason why the Gaming Journalist Gazette blog exists. I'm here to give my readers honest journalism. I have to be honest about the games I play and the game news that gets announced. I have to present my honest opinions on gaming topics. I can't present something that I don't believe in. My honest opinions on games may not always be received well by people like game critics, but I write what I write, and that's that.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mobile Game Project: Postponed Indefinitely

Remember when I told you that there were good things being developed on my end? Remember that mobile game project that I promised would get finished this year? That cartoony platformer/fighting hybrid of a game where a boxing kangaroo goes around punching down enemies and fights a boss in the style of a boxing match?

I am sad to report that this project has pretty much been postponed indefinitely.

It shouldn't come across as all that shocking to my blog readers. Many times this has happened to projects that were initially ambitious and filled with optimism. I'm sure you can name at least a dozen game projects that you were excited to see get completed... only to see those projects get shelved, left to gather dust for who knows how long.

The sad thing about this is that I was ready to go ahead and help put the finishing touches on this project. I was ready to get back to work in early 2017 (Spring time and on, at least) and finish what I had set out to do. It seemed like all the puzzle pieces were in place for me and my team to finish this. I generally had a good feeling about where this project was headed. I generally enjoyed working with my two teammates on this project and I felt like we developed the kind of working relationship we needed to get some things done.

What happened? One of my teammates not only bailed on this project, but he left the game dev team altogether. Reportedly he wanted to pursue other interests. This means that this project was left hanging out to dry. This former teammate left the team in early 2017.

How do I feel about this? I'll be honest. I'm not happy. I'm not happy about how all this spiraled down into what it is now. It's an unfinished project that hasn't been worked on since August 2016. Generally speaking I don't like leaving anything unfinished. Whether it's a success or a failure I want to see something through the whole way. There has been talk between myself and my other teammate about putting this mobile game onto a different engine and having an art revamp.

Being in No Man's Land for game development isn't a good feeling, so where do I go from here? Until my other teammate and I can agree on a time when we can restart this project, in the meantime I may have to start all over with a different project and work with other game devs. Unless I receive other forms of help for this project, I don't see what else I can do at this point.

Let this be a lesson for any aspiring game dev out there who wants to get a mobile game project made; expect this to happen often in your game-making career. You may love to make games, but be prepared to get knocked down by unforeseen real life circumstances. Don't let this discourage you, but don't turn a blind eye to this neither.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Takashi Iizuka: Endless Sonic Experiments

For 2 blog posts here I have been discussing the topic of Sonic Forces, the newest Main Sonic Series game that will come out in the fall of this year. I have already put it out there that while I believe this game will sell well because of the feature it offers, the Create-a-Character option, I don't believe that Forces will serve as the long-term solution to what needs to be done for the franchise moving forward. I don't feel like I need to go too much more in depth when it comes to Forces at this point, at least until after Forces comes out.

What I want to discuss here, though, is the head of Sonic Team, Takashi Iizuka. Personally he sounds like a guy who would be okay to chat with at dinner, a guy you can approach and shoot the breeze with. What I'm about to say shouldn't be taken as a personal attack or anything. That's not what I do here on this blog.

I'm saying this; Takashi Iizuka simply isn't as professional as he should be.

Let's consider the 2 links to separate interviews above. Now I caution my blog readers to carefully tread through the 2nd interview because quite frankly the interviewer comes across as an arrogant jerk who shoves his opinion down people's throats. The interviewer is obviously super duper unprofessional and he has no business conducting interviews.

Back to Iizuka, pay close attention to the answers he gives in these interviews, and consider where he's going with these answers. If you ask me, I have no idea at this point what he's trying to say because it seems to me that the meaning behind his answers have multiple meanings... more like 15 or more meanings wrapped inside 1 answer.

Probably the most glaring example of Iizuka's answers having too many meanings behind them would be his comment on how he and Sonic Team thought that Sonic Mania wouldn't be received too well by gaming communities. That alone would have to bother any gamer because an answer like that shows how oblivious Iizuka and the current Sonic Team are to the ever changing climate of the Sonic Fan Base and gamers in general. The trendy thing to do right now is to play games that have a retro-like vibe to them, as in play some games that are wrapped inside 2D technology which are new but give off the feeling of old school games that we enjoyed in years past.

I believe that the more you read into interviews with Iizuka, the more you will realize that he has no clue as to which pressing issues need to be addressed in the Sonic franchise. Consider the games that he and Sonic Team have developed in these last 11 years. Let me run them down for you.

  • Sonic Unleashed
  • Sonic Colors
  • Sonic Generations
  • Sonic Lost World
  • Sonic Boom (supervised Big Red Button to make this)
  • Sonic 4 Episodes I and II
  • Mario & Sonic at the [insert trendy location here] Olympic Games

To get it out of the way, the game Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric was a disaster not only because of how Big Red Button Entertainment developed the game, but really how Sega and Sonic Team monitored their development process. We cannot excuse how lazy BRB were in implementing Boom's gameplay controls for all playable characters, but we also cannot excuse Sega and Sonic Team for how they restricted BRB in certain fundamental aspects, specifically concerning creative freedom.

These games that feature Mario and Sonic going to the Olympics sell well. There's no denying that. The Mario & Sonic Olympic Games even control well for the most part. However, when we get down to the bottom of this, what did these spinoff games really accomplish? Yes, the appeal of Mario and Sonic actually getting together to do something cool in a single game was there, but Sega and Sonic Team misinterpreted that appeal. Are the Olympic Games all we ever want to see from Mario characters and Sonic characters together? Is it really as difficult as they say to make an actual adventure game featuring both Mario's and Sonic's staple gameplay mechanics?

Sonic 4 Episodes I and II were not really Sonic 4. Let's be honest about that. Sega and Sonic Team once again misinterpreted what gamers were wanting when they asked for something that was loyal and true to the original Genesis games that put Sonic on the map. While these games were not terrible and do have a couple redeemable qualities to them, these games simply missed the mark because in no way did they ever feel like true continuations of Sonic 3 & Knuckles. If anything, from what we're seeing now, Sonic Mania will blow Sonic 4 out of the water when it comes to this.

The group of siblings known as Unleashed, Colors, Generations, and Lost World... I might as well bunch these games together as a family because they all equally represent my next point. Inconsistency. That's the first word that comes to my mind when I review these 4 games together.

Unleashed separated gameplay mechanics between night and day. During the day you were simply Sonic the Hedgehog. At night, however, you were this "Werehog". Just cringeworthy. Colors introduced power-ups that I absolutely despise to this day because these things represent part of the main reason why we don't have Sonic's friends back as playable characters. The Wisps... Serving as just a band-aid to a wound that's not getting any better.

Generations was a celebration of Sonic's 20th Anniversary as a game franchise, and yes, this game paid tribute to some of Sonic's most iconic levels. However, it's just too bad that Sega and Sonic Team managed to highlight their main problems with this series in this game as Sonic's friends were treated like helpless cheerleaders and Classic Sonic became the Gimmick of the Year. Lost World introduced Parkour gameplay mechanics which wasn't all that bad, but the level designs were lacking, loading screens were not up to par, and once again, the writing of the game's story was ridiculously bad.

Now Iizuka believes he has something good in Modern Sonic, Classic Sonic and the Created Character named "Hero" teaming up to take down Dr. Eggman and company. That's all well and good if you don't mind sitting through a story that will most likely not make any sense. The Create-a-Character feature itself in Sonic Forces isn't a bad idea. In fact, it is clever when it comes to marketing the game; you're attracting new gamers to the product that way. However, (how many howevers is that?) what is Forces going to accomplish at the end of the day?

"Let's throw something at the wall and hope it sticks!"

"Let's keep experimenting with new gameplay mechanics until we find the right one!"

"We can't bring back Sonic's friends as playable characters until we figure out Sonic."

These endless Sonic experiments need to have some sort of climax to them. Ultimately you have to have some sort of idea where you want to take a game franchise. You have to know after so many experiments what works and what isn't working. You have to understand your gaming audience. You have to understand how the "gaming climate" is changing. You have to know just who is antagonizing you (such as this 2nd interviewer linked above), and who is trying to give you sound advice.

My greatest concern is that these Sonic experiments are going to continue for another 10-15 years, and that ultimately Sega and Sonic Team still won't figure anything out, meaning that all of us will have time wasted.

If Iizuka can't get himself and his team to figure out what makes true Sonic gameplay in 3D, then I believe he and most of his teammates at Sonic Team need to step down. They need to go. If this current Sonic Team can't advance us forward in the Sonic series, then we need a new team of game devs to come in with fresh new ideas, and a solid vision for what needs to be done to Sonic in 3D games. That's what needs to happen.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Video Game Inspiration: Alaska

Alaska... A good place for game dev ideas?
Here we are on July 1st, which is Canada Day, and we're just 3 days away from Independence Day in America. However, the topic that's being written today involves a place that is cushioned against both America and Canada, and it's just a hop, skip and a flip away from the eastern tips of Russia.

In the dog days of Summer I'm actually writing about Alaska, and better yet I'm writing about Alaska in the context of video game writing. Slow day at the Gaming Journalist Gazette office? Maybe, but this isn't the most random topic to discuss. I have ventured into more random topics before.

The small community of Barrow, Alaska is a very fascinating study, and not just in the sense of digging up interesting history. Barrow is by far the most northern point of the entire United States, and if you happen to visit this place you will realize how often Barrow receives snowfall throughout the year. How about we try pretty much every day? Yes, this includes the Summer season where a few inches of snowfall touch down on the grounds of Barrow.

The way of life in Barrow is fascinating because it simply doesn't march to the same beat as small communities that you see down here in the mainland of the United States. Alaska in general is like that. Unlike the mainland 48 states and the other distant state Hawaii, Alaska has that sense of mystery surrounding it. The great unknown... you never know what you're gonna get once you venture through the heavy wooded areas or scale up tall hills and mountains in Alaska. Sounds exciting, huh? Tell that to those who actually live in Alaska, and they'll tell you just how tough life is in this state.

A fun fact about Barrow that soon (if it hasn't happened already) it will be renamed back to what it was originally named, which is Utqiagvik. For the sake of this blog post, though, let's just keep calling this place Barrow to avoid confusion.

It's no wonder why an environment like Alaska's is so appealing to game devs, especially if they're trying to make a cool survival style adventure game where the main character has to find a way to outlast the opposition. Barrow in particular would be a great example of inspiration for game devs because they can see from this example of how hard life really is in Alaska. It is the job of the game devs to make an experience that on the surface may look boring and turn that into something exciting enough for players to engage in.

To make a certain game environment work you would have to get a feel for what that environment is like. In this case if you want to make a video game about Alaska, then you have to get an understanding of what Alaska is like. It's not just about Alaska being a cold place. Everyone knows Alaska's a cold place. How do people go fishing in Alaska? How do people hunt for food? How do they track down moose, deer and other large animals when they hunt? How do people stay warm in Alaska? How do people create their own shelters?

See where I'm going with this? You have a basis for making an appealing game already if you utilize Alaska's features and implement them into a game. Can you say RPG? Can you say survival simulator? How about an ambitious platformer? Or even a thrilling Mystery & Suspense Third Person Shooting Game where you're figuring out a bizarre murder mystery?

When you think about it, Alaska really isn't that bad a place for making a video game around. I suggest watching the linked video above, a documentary on Barrow to see what northern Alaska is like. If you're a game dev you might want to take some notes.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Atari Making a New Console

And along came Atari again?
Talk about a shocker.

Remember Atari? That one video game company that used to be so bold as to make their own consoles as late as the 1990's? Remember the Atari Jaguar? Remember the Atari 7800, 5200 and the classic 2600? For those of you who have only experienced the latest generations of gaming, you probably wouldn't know much about the history that is tied in with this company. Atari played much more of a pivotal role in the Gaming Industry than what you think. Before there was Nintendo and Sega battling it out, and long before Sony and Microsoft started flexing their muscles, there was Atari.

Everyone knows exactly how badly things turned out for Atari in the 1980's and will immediately point at E.T., by far one of the worst video games in history. Cartridges of the E.T. game were sent out to a random landfill dump in New Mexico and were dishonorably buried. Of  course, just a few years ago those same cartridges would be dug up again by some random people. Imagine that!

Now let's get to the shocker. Atari is actually making a new video game console in 2017.

Let that sink in. Atari is actually making a new video game console in 2017. Gotta repeat that.

The good old days of gaming... Atari's back?
Now what exactly this is turning out to be remains unclear in most aspects, but with this new console called the "Ataribox" (I'm sure Microsoft won't be happy about the play-on words from the Xbox), chances are gamers will be receiving some sort of valuable content in the near future. Is the Ataribox just Atari's own attempt of making something like the NES Classic Edition, which did help Nintendo's bottom line for some time? Or is the Ataribox indeed a legitimate attempt of Atari trying to get back into the "Console Wars" and re-establishing its name in the gaming world? Whatever the case, the initial buzz generated by just a short <30 second video has got people talking.

Some reactions to this short video have been "What in the world is Atari thinking?" and "Are they crazy?" but other reactions have been "Oh wow! This I gotta see!" and "I'm curious to see how this turns out!" 

My thoughts? Color me VERY intrigued because this is exactly one of the things that I have been pointing at when it comes to providing a spark for the Video Game Industry. Let's be honest for a minute. As much as we've enjoyed the Nintendo Vs. Sony. Vs. Microsoft Console Wars for 3 generations now, it has become apparent that this 3-way battle is becoming a bit boring and played out. It seems to me that all 3 companies are starting to rest on their laurels in one sense, and perhaps even going through the motions of "We're the only 3 console-making companies in town and that's how it's gonna be!"

If --and I put emphasis on if-- Atari plays their cards right with the Ataribox, then the Console Wars will be successfully refreshed!

I think that thought alone should make anyone feel optimistic about this idea. The Ataribox came completely out of nowhere. To my knowledge there were really no hints of Atari actually doing something like this. Heck, in the beginning of the 2010's Atari filed for bankruptcy, and now here they are, having enough money to do something like this? How does this happen?

If news like this doesn't excite gamers like you, then I don't know what else to tell you other than to stay tuned for more news on the Ataribox. If I pick up on anything else juicy on the Ataribox you'll be sure to get it here on this blog!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sly Cooper TV Series is in Production

Yes, this is finally happening!

Being a Sly Cooper fan, I simply had this feeling that something like this was going to happen at some point. It was made official this week that a digitally animated TV series featuring the Master Thief himself Sly Cooper, as well as his friends who make up the Cooper Gang, and other interesting characters such as Inspector Carmelita Fox, is in the works. If you follow the above links after clicking on them, you will realize that there is indeed plenty of corporate support behind this project.

Now for those of you wondering, yes, the Sly Cooper movie has been put on hold, mainly due to the fact that the Ratchet & Clank movie didn't do so well in theaters. I mean, we can't confirm that that was the actual reason why the Sly Cooper movie has been delayed for now, but we can only speculate on that.

This news of Technicolor Animation Productions teaming up with Sony Interactive Entertainment to produce a Sly Cooper TV series can possibly be fantastic news considering that these teams take the series in the right direction. There is a lot of untapped potential in a series like Sly Cooper that goes well beyond just video games. I mentioned the movie that was just put on hold, but there's also plenty of marketable variety that goes with a thieving raccoon who acts as a modern day Robin Hood.

There are many ways to go with this. You can have your breakout animated hit that falls in line with shows of the past like Transformers and Gundam Wing, but then there is always the danger of taking an animated series down a path where fans really didn't want it going through, such as Teen Titans Go! (a pretty much failed attempt of non-stop humor spin-off of Teen Titans).

It amazes me that certain video game franchises like Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong are pretty much allowed to have their own animated series of adventures right off the bat, but then it takes quite a while for production companies to see the value in franchises like Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper.

By all means the Sly Cooper franchise has been quiet since 2013 when Sly 4: Thieves In Time was released for the PS3, so it was time to finally bring up Sly again in some capacity. From what I hear at E3, Sony's presentations did not hit any sort of home runs with the crowd, which is concerning. Sony pretty much showed the same things that they showed in the 2016 E3 event, and there weren't any real big surprises. Some gamers were hoping for some surprises such as a possible announcement about Sly Cooper. Unfortunately that just didn't happen at the 2017 E3.

I am initially optimistic about where the Sly Cooper series is being taken with this animated TV series. I am hoping for good things to come out of this project, and I sincerely hope that whatever the producers of the show end up doing that they will end up justifying the hype. As long as Sly and others remain themselves and as long as the storylines in the episodes are interesting enough and aren't non-stop cheap humor marathons, then I don't see why this show can't succeed with teenagers and young children, the targeted audience.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Blue Shell... Really?

This item will make you cry in Mario Kart!
The Blue Shell... The item that crushes the dreams of the player who's in 1st place in Mario Kart. This item is an obvious representation of the "equalizer" item where the player who is in dead last place will be given another chance of catching up with the rest of the pack. This item will make sure that the player in 1st place will not have a lead so huge that no one can cut into. In fact, isn't that really the core purpose of the Blue Shell? To make things that were initially "blah" turn into "Whoa! What the heck just happened?"

When discussing game mechanics, this would always have to be an honorable mention because of how quirky it really is. When you think about typical racing games, i.e. normal racing games where no random items are collected and unleashed, it's highly likely that if you have a big lead you are going to hang onto that lead unless you royally screw up and allow other players to get back in the race. This is rarely ever the case with Mario Kart games because let's face it, these games are flat our weird with how their races play out. Mario Kart is simply NOT a normal racing game by any means. There is always something weird happening in these races, and most of the time the core of this weirdness happens to involve the Blue Shell.

What makes the Blue Shell such an interesting item in Mario Kart? Is it simply because it acts as an equalizer item? I don't think this is the only reason because it also happens to be that kind of item that takes everyone by shock. The Shock Factor that comes with the Blue Shell is nearly unmatched in any racing game because once the Blue Shell is played it almost always changes the outcome of a Mario Kart race. Unless the 1st place player who gets hit by it is experienced enough to get past such adversity and still win, there's a good chance that we'll be seeing someone else win the race.

As the above video describes, however, it is actually possible to avoid getting hit by the Blue Shell while in 1st place. There are only a certain few items that are capable of negating the effects of the Blue Shell, and if you don't have these items then you're pretty much in deep doo-doo. 

I have some history with this item because I have played some Mario Kart games, and let me tell you that I have been at the receiving end of these Blue Shell hits as well as being the guy who dishes out the Blue Shell to the 1st place racer. So how do I feel about the Blue Shell? I'm okay with this item existing. I don't see any general problems with it because it does add to the fun of Mario Kart. It is one of the most creative ways Nintendo has used the element of the "equalizer", and I think it fits right in with the craziness that we have come to know Mario Kart games by.

If you look around you will notice that the Blue Shell has become a meme of sorts on the internet. Whenever someone pulls out in front with a big lead in anything, whether that be racing or any other event, you'll notice someone busting out a Blue Shell meme just for laughs. That's when you know you've made an iconic item. Just ask Stephen and Mal Georg on the StephenPlays YouTube channel about their thoughts on the Blue Shell item!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Edutainment Games: What They Need

Educational entertainment? Edutainment? Games that are meant to teach players some valuable lessons?

If you're not used to this side of gaming, then don't worry. Many gamers haven't had good experiences on this side of gaming anyway. You can lump in "Serious Games" as part of this package, but let's try to focus on games that relate to what was written about in the above link. The picture I put up above is a title screen of a Math Blaster game. Have any of my blog readers played a Math Blaster game when they were young? Do you guys remember what that gaming experience was like? Perhaps when you look back on that experience, you probably won't have fond memories of them. Not because the makers of the Math Blaster games didn't try to make the experience fulfilling, but rather the games themselves just came across as looking dull.

That is what the article in the above link is hinting at. The author of the linked article states that educational video games, Math Blaster and other games of its ilk, just never got things right. The author does go on to state that there's a special nickname for games that fit the Math Blaster mold, and that would be "chocolate-covered broccoli". Now I've never had broccoli dipped in chocolate, but I can only imagine that the taste of that wouldn't be so good! Yuck!

The attempts of establishing the medium of Edutainment were all innocent in the late 1980's and 1990's because certain companies wanted to touch base with children who were starting to get used to playing all the hip and cool video games of those times. The NES, SNES and Sega Genesis were video game royalty in this time period, and as children were getting hooked into playing for hours, other companies were trying to get creative in helping these same children succeed in the classroom at school.

Chocolate-covered broccoli was coined by the author of the book Utopian Entrepreneur, Brenda Laurel in the year 2001. She believes that the Edutainment genre poorly tried to make the entertainment part of these gaming experiences mean something to the player. While the educational part had enough bulk to it, the entertainment part was obviously lacking. Therefore there wasn't enough of a balance between the two that could actually keep players (children at school) interested long-term.

By all means, even the big name video game companies themselves are not exempt from this. Remember what Nintendo did around this same time period? Remember Mario's Time Machine? Mario Is Missing? Mario Paint? Only 1 of these 3 games have managed to maintain a respectable reputation, and that would be Mario Paint as you can listen to pretty decent (and even awesome) beats that remind you of pop culture themes on YouTube.

Mario's Time Machine and Mario Is Missing! were both duds, however. I mean they were REAL duds! In one game as Mario you were pitted with the task of basically being Marty McFly, repairing the Space-Time Continuum by retrieving objects (apples) once you traveled to certain time periods, and all the while supposedly learning some stuff about world history. In Mario Is Missing! you played as only Luigi, and with occasional help from Yoshi, Toad and some Koopas, you would try your best to locate just where Mario was as you would be given geography lessons. Both of these games I just described are considered cringe-worthy to this day.

It's funny that I'm posting this at a time when children are out of school and enjoying their Summer vacation, but hey, anything newsworthy for video game content is great!

If you attempt to make a game in the Edutainment genre, then it's wise to make sure that there's a significant balance between the two categories of education and entertainment. If one category suffers, then the other category won't be able to make up for the lost quality. It really is that simple. If I give you the educational lesson but fail to entertain you, the game will be boring. If I entertain you by leaps and bounds but fail to educate you, then you will not want to focus on what the educational points actually were. Balance is the key, blog readers!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sega Issue: Suggestions and Miscommunication 

These 2 above links don't necessarily belong in the same blog post, do they? Well, I kindly suggest to think again about that because I am going to dedicate this blog post by comparing these 2 linked articles, and I will draw the conclusion (my opinion only) that these 2 stories actually mirror each other in some way.

I generally want to support a company like Sega. I really do. It's not my intention to come up here on my gaming blog and downgrade what Sega does. It's up to the blog reader to decide where I'm going with what I'm implying. I've been very vocal about how I feel Sega has poorly handled their flagship game franchise Sonic the Hedgehog, and if you look deep enough you will know that there is plenty of evidence that supports this feeling of mine. I'm not the only one who feels this way about Sega.

Now Link #1 describes what one former employee of WWE (professional wrestling) felt about his time there. This guy was a ring announcer who would genuinely pick up on what wrestling fans were feeling at the time, and he would try his best to pitch suggestions to the Creative Team of WWE in hopes of getting them to see what the fans were seeing in the wrestling product. Of course, as it turned out for this guy, he was ignored 99% of the time. This article goes on to explain why issues such as this represent a sign of a bigger problem for the WWE as a whole.

Now if you're a pro wrestling fan and you've seen the ups and downs of the term "sports entertainment", you would know where I would be going with this. The WWE is clearly nowhere near the level of relevance it once was when it comes to mainstream appeal. Remember the late 1990's and early 2000's when so many people, who weren't even huge wrestling fans, would be buzzing about something that happened on WWE programming? A big part of the WWE's main problem is a combination of the following;
  • The WWE has become too commercialized and politically correct over the last 10 years.
  • The "creativity" in the WWE's Creative Team is non-existent at this point.
  • The WWE is trying too hard to appeal to everyone while pleasing hardly anyone.
  • The WWE is abusing its advantage as a possible monopoly on the wrestling business.
Keep an imaginary tab on this part as we now go to Link #2.

Link #2 describes the latest marketing strategy that Sega is attempting to implement, as in rebranding itself as "Amazing", and according to recent reports it's likely that "Sega Forever" is actually a real thing on the internet, which is basically an updated version of the old Sega Channel. The article notes that the President of Sega went on record to say that gaming quality is important. The article ultimately draws the conclusion that Sega needs to have a solid lineup of awesome games if it wants to back up its "Amazing" new brand claim.

I find it funny in one sense that the President of Sega said that gaming quality is important because it leads me to wonder how often, if at all, he keeps track of what's going on with franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog. If he doesn't keep good track of Sonic's recent history, then he must allow Sonic Team to have more free reign with the franchise than what we were led on to believe.

Gaming quality is important. That's a claim made by a company official. Will that claim become a reality? Will gaming quality continue to go up for Sega? We don't know that for sure. Many gamers who are still burnt out from what happened to the Phantasy Star Online franchise may beg to differ with this claim, especially the PSO fans located in North America.

Do Sega and Sonic Team listen to their fans?

That's a hard question to answer simply because there are many layers of this issue that you need cut through first.

Are fan requests sometimes misguided?

All fan bases, no matter what video game franchise they devote their time to, are going to have their fair share of bad apples, so to speak. It's bound to happen. The Sonic Fan Base gets a bad wrap in this case. There are so many things going on with the Sonic Fan Base right now that it really gets hard for anyone to keep track of. Perhaps that's where some of the confusion begins when we go back to the first question above.

Do Sega and Sonic Team listen to their fans? Which parts of the Sonic Fan Base? Hearing a lot of noise from so many different parts of the Sonic Fan Base? Why do you think that is? Ever since Sonic 2006 and the disaster that it was, Sega and Sonic Team have been going through a slippery slope of sorts trying to figure out just what were the core problems of Sonic 2006.

As you can probably tell, if you look close enough at what's being released, it's clear that Sonic Team have been playing it safe with the Main Series of Sonic games, going on this experimental phase where they put out gameplay features in hopes that it will lure in the right kind of audience. The longer they experiment, supposedly according to them, the better they believe they'll get in fixing the core problems of Sonic the Hedgehog, both the character and the games.

Soon I will dedicate another blog post to the Sonic game that is going to be released later this year, Sonic Forces. This game will be yet another example of what is hindering true improvement for the Sonic franchise as a whole. Even though Forces will be sure to sell well on the market when it hits, what is the core purpose behind this game's main selling points? Did Sonic Team listen to their fans well enough?

Remember that imaginary tab on Link #1? Bring that tab back out and let's try to break this all down together.

Commercialization and political correctness has impacted so many things in society in recent years, and while I won't go into specifics about this, let me just say this. When you try to restrict a creative endeavor so much to the point where you basically demand that endeavor to fit a narrative that suits your liking, problems are guaranteed to arise.

While creativity is still something that exists in Sega and Sonic Team, it has become clear that their use of creativity has become completely misplaced. The creativity that Sonic Team implements in their Main Series Sonic games leaves a lot to be desired. There have been many accounts of gamers who claim that Sonic Team could afford to push the envelope a little bit more, and it shouldn't hinge on whatever the "professional" video game critics over at IGN, Game Informer, GameSpot, etc. say or believe.

Sonic Team is clearly trying too hard to appeal to everyone in the Gaming Industry while they end up pleasing hardly anyone. Sonic Team has stretched themselves out so much throughout the history of Sonic games that it has become impossible to "unite" the Sonic Fan Base under a single game that they can all enjoy together. Especially with how they promote a game as "something that will revolutionize the Main Series", the game ends up doing almost the exact opposite of that; creating more problems and putting band-aids on existing problems rather than addressing them head on.

In the grand scheme of things, looking at the Sonic Main Series, as a character Sonic the Hedgehog has a monopoly when it comes to playable character priorities. His name is on the games, of course, but that alone shouldn't be the reason why he should be made the only important character of the series. Sonic has a monopoly on his friends, characters who supposedly support his heroic cause. Maybe we should now call it a "duopoly" because Modern Sonic seems to share top playable character priority with Classic Sonic these days. However, that just doesn't solve the core problems of the Main Series.

One sign of the Sonic Fan Base being fragmented beyond recognition today? In the Main Series it has been over 10 years (we're counting 11 years now) since characters like Miles "Tails" Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Amy Rose, Shadow the Hedgehog and others have been optional playable characters. Does that at all give you pause as to what is really going on with the Sonic games?

What is the conclusion that I personally draw from this?

Playing it safe forever isn't going to work for Sonic Team. While I personally have no problems with Sonic Forces as a whole, and think that it's going to sell well because of its features and gimmicks, when we step back and look at its core, that's what it only provides. Features and gimmicks just for the sake of being features and gimmicks.

Ultimately you can't address a problem head on by taking millions of baby steps and constantly dancing around the problem. That's not how a normally functioning business operates. Sacrificing the long-term solution in favor of getting that short-term fix does more damage to your brand than it provides any benefit. If you know what a problem is, you just fix it. You find what works and don't second guess yourself.

What I see in the actions of Sega and Sonic Team is a ton of second, third and fourth guessing when it comes to deciding on what Sonic the Hedgehog should be as a character and as a series. The result? A Fan Base scattered into 20+ different parts where they all file complaints about different issues, and a company that doesn't even realize that they created this mess to begin with.

It may be unusual to compare Sega to WWE, but it's a crazy enough comparison to appropriately use.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Arms and Splatoon 2 Direct Thoughts

A recent Nintendo Direct was held to show off a couple of new releases that are coming to the Switch console, and I have to say that both of the games that were shown in this Direct have my attention. For a variety of reasons I appreciate creativity when I see it, and I definitely see it in these two games.

Arms and Splatoon 2 are the games I'm talking about, and while some gamers will have their reservations, I believe that these games are going to do just fine selling enough copies on the market. I believe Nintendo has 2 surefire winners in the Video Game Market with these games. When it comes to Arms, yes, it's an unproven commodity. We don't really know what to expect with Arms because no one has been able to play a game even remotely similar to Arms before, but from what I saw in the intro trailer here in Direct, I wouldn't be surprised if this game became a smash hit. (pardon the fighting genre pun)

When I think of Arms right now, I'm thinking about a mixture of the following; Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, Street Fighter and that old Nintendo 64 game BattleTanx. For those of you who played BattleTanx before, you would know why I made that comparison. There are "explosive" elements to Arms considering what the characters will have to use in their arsenal. The Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots comparison is obvious because of the stretching punches and the namesake of the game's title. The fighting environment of Arms gives me the vibe of a Street Fighter game. Combine all that together and you get a good overall vibe.

We were briefly shown Splatoon 2, but even with the little that we got from this game's intro trailer, it's obvious that gamers are going to flock to this game and play the heck out of it. The original Splatoon had immense replay value because of the online multiplayer feature, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Splatoon 2's online multiplayer gets the same kind of traction, if not better traction. There are new maps to play in Splatoon 2 (or maybe Spla2oon?), and there are new features in customizing your character. If you happen to like Splatoon's Story Mode, which honestly I don't really care about, then you will get a new wrinkle or two in that part of the Splatoon experience too.

If there's one thing about Nintendo games that I have always come to respect would be their marketing strategies. How they get their products out there for the demo reveal is most of the time enough to convince gamers to buy the games, and the reason for this is because these trailer videos, such as the ones I just mentioned, have a way of luring you into what they're trying to sell. Over the last few decades Nintendo has obviously gotten good in this department.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Game Ideas: To Share or Not To Share?

Perhaps this can be used as a continuation of the blog post I just made on the subject of sharing game ideas, which can be seen in this link. ( The topic here describes how there can be negative effects to sharing your game ideas, and that there's a possibility that you, the idea guy, won't be able to follow through with the idea you just pitched.

As the author of the article at the very top link describes, there are drawbacks to willingly sharing whatever is on your mind as a game dev. If you freely share an idea, it gives off a vibe of you actually intending to act on said idea. People who listen to your ideas, whether brilliant or ridiculous, are going to assume that one day you're going to carry out on what you pitch, and some of them will really expect you to make some progress on this front.

Inadvertently, sharing ideas becomes a "de-motivator" of sorts for the game dev. Once you put something out there for other people to wonder about, something tends to go the other way, as in you won't do what you say, even if you wanted to. That's basically what I got out of the article above. It is a legitimate enough warning for people who don't know exactly what they're getting themselves into when it comes to the game dev process. The author here does make some valid points.

Most notably the main part of the author's article I strongly agree with would be this basic message; don't just be so willing to share your game-related ideas. If you do that you will accidentally put pressure on yourself to actually do something regarding those ideas. If you do that you're basically letting out a secret that should or should not have gotten out in the first place. You can give out hints about what you're thinking of doing, but don't go the whole 9 yards and spell everything out about your ideas.

I guess we can slip in the term "Poker Face" when it comes to this topic because that's one of the first things that popped into my mind when I read this article. Sometimes you gotta put on your best Poker Face when discussing something that might relate to a bold new idea you may have for game development. Keeping things close to the vest is a safe play, but it can also be the smartest play you can make. It may not be what you want to do because you are so eager to discuss everything you're doing with other people, but it may be the thing you need to do, for your own sake.

I believe everyone is different when it comes to distributing and sharing game ideas. Not all of us will have the same result as the author when it comes to tossing out ideas for others to listen to. I wouldn't expect the same result to keep occurring, in my opinion. However, the tone of the above article is basically this; please be careful if you want to make sure that you will actually do what you say. Take precautionary measures.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Ideas and Execution in Game Development

Comment By Christopher Robin
*shrug* I tend to be the "idea guy" in the groups I work in, Maybe I handle it better than other idea guys, but it's not at all like how you guys describe. I typically handle the design, I'll focus more on systems and let the artists/writers focus on world and narrative. I will handle the production side of things typically because most other people don't seem to enjoy that aspect (I really like lists). I don't find other people to work on projects with me because I am lazy. I can code a bit, or learn to code/piece together what I need. I grew up artistic, and I can draw and paint. The problem is, I also work FT and want to transition from QA to Design. They tell you the easiest way to make that transition is to make games. Getting friends together to work on a jam, or an indie project is a good way for each of us to work on and display our skills. (I usually work with friends in QA that also want to transition)

Anyways, the vitriol I see in these comments is really disheartening. I grew up hearing that getting into games was a waste of time. It wasn't until I was about 25ish that I said screw the haters, left my sales job and started working at Nintendo. At Nintendo, I organized a group of people to work on an indie project, and we all learned a crap ton. I was more of an idea guy then, because I understood the development process less. If I had instead received this sort of response, the first project might not have happened - you know how I learned about the process and got better at it? By doing it. None of you are forced to help an idea guy, designer, whatever with his project.. but who the heck are you to question other people for getting excited with him.

Maybe I am misinterpreting what an idea guy is, but it seems to me like you guys are just crapping on hopefuls that haven't been as privileged as you are.

Steven's Response

Receiving the label of "idea guy" is not pleasant when it comes to the Gaming Industry. When you get called an "idea guy" it's usually not a compliment. If you consider the article linked above you will find out that according to some game devs --not all of them but some-- the "idea guy" is not really welcomed by the game dev team. Now let's talk about this label in detail. What is the "idea guy" label?

When you're called the "idea guy", you're basically viewed as the guy who hovers over the other game devs and give them your input without putting in a great amount of technical work yourself.  Recent history would tell you that people who are college educated and are qualified to handle all the super technical details of computer programming. If you have a college degree with flying colors in fields relating to computer programming, then chances are you're getting a free road to game development. 

If you happen to relate to the label of "idea guy" in any way whatsoever, then chances are you're going to have a much more difficult road to game development. That's the way this "game" is set up for devs. You either have enough skills to contribute to a game project or you don't, and if you don't you're encouraged to go to college and get a degree...

I'm not afraid to say that I present ideas to game devs. I don't think it's something for me to be ashamed about either because I'm letting people know what a consumer of video games is thinking. Ideas can be taken or left by game devs. Ideas are not set in stone. Ideas are always subject to change.

What I don't appreciate is that if I ever receive the label of "idea guy", then I will be looked at as someone who doesn't have what it takes to regularly contribute to a game dev project simply because I don't have technical computer skills that are up to par with everyone else on the dev team. I don't want to be viewed as someone who "doesn't get it" when it comes to the game development process. No, I do understand the dev process. I have constantly read about and studied the dev process. The problem is the ability to receive opportunities to work on a game project. 

You see, that's the problem with labeling in the Gaming Industry today. If you don't have the absolute best computer programming or designing skills then you will get kicked to the curb in favor of people who have such skills in spades. People wonder why it's so hard to enter the Gaming Industry today? Well...

I will circle this topic back to this point. Not everyone's situation is the same. You can't expect every single aspiring game dev you meet to have such a Grade A college education, and such a sparkling shiny resume that he or she will absolutely wow you the moment you start making a game. Your expectations need to be realistic. Of course it would be great if you were very talented in a certain computer field, but don't go the route of "labeling" when it comes to game development.

Some people are simply more privileged than others when it comes to available resources. For most of my life I have had to deal without the latest upgrades to hardware and software. I have been dealt with not so favored hands on this Poker table, so to speak. I have learned how to work with whatever it is that I had available to me. Sometimes that's really helpful because you can understand what it's like to not have everything available to you, and you're forced to make something work out of basically nothing.

I believe some aspiring game devs get intentionally lost in the shuffle in favor of those people who have the most appealing work resumes. Yes, reward those who have accomplished things. However, don't just shove aside those who have had their work cut out for them since Day 1. I believe there is great miscommunication in the game development scene today. "If you're not one of us college grads, then you can't hang with us." That's the mentality.

Why do you think that at least 90% of video game companies require you to have a college education when applying for certain job positions? That's because the people at the very top have been conditioned to accept that way of progression. That's how the people at the very top got to where they're at right now. They got their college degree and that's their badge of honor. When they use that college degree, they feel empowered to make the rules in the video game companies they run. The rules of applying for such companies are what they are. I'm not saying that's fair, because it's not fair if you ask me, but that's how the "game" is set up.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Business Monopolies: Why Gamers Should Care

Monopoly = Own everything... and then what?
I'm not a fan of the New York Times for obvious reasons regarding the legitimacy of news reports. However, once in a while even the NYT can provide a small nugget of truth in an article that highlights a great problem in today's society. The above link would happen to be one of those articles.

Google controls 88% of search advertising? Isn't that a shame? Just 10+ years ago one would get the feeling that he or she could go anywhere to get their reliable internet searches. Today that feeling is drastically different as the first platform that pops into anyone's mind is Google. Need a question answered? Just Google it. Need tips on how to do something professionally? Just Google it. Need to look up new information on your favorite celebrity? Just Google it.

Search advertising is where money is made, and of course Google (and by extension its parent company Alphabet) have perfected this art, so much so that they intentionally shove every other competitor out of the way and gobble up online search resources. That sounds like a friendly and welcoming company, right?

Facebook, which also owns Instragram, WhatsApp and Messenger, controls 77% of social traffic? Social media... The platform you use to communicate with other people. Just go to Facebook. Everyone in the world appears to be there, so you join up with us! Need to contact your best friend or lost family relative? Join Facebook!

Good ol' Mark Zuckerberg (sarcastic intro), who plans on running for President of the United States one day (that alone is a scary thought), not too long ago bought the VR company that makes the Occulus Rift for $2 Billion. That's billion with a B. Social interaction takes on more than just social media, but also in this case, Virtual Reality programs, whether they take on the forms of video games or not. It's not hard to figure out what the long-term play from Zuckerberg and company is, right?

Revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent? Not surprising by any means since the newspaper publishing business has become, in many ways, obsolete since we have the internet to look up on the latest news and developments of our society. The music business is pretty much in the same boat as consumers don't necessarily need to buy the hard copies of music albums anymore, but rather download those albums and soundtracks off the internet.

I'm sure you, the reader, are noticing a trend as I run down these notes.

 ^ The above link is the result of a little test I took that measured where I supposedly stand politically, and no, I don't 100% agree with these results. I am more about a single nation and I am more about liberty than the opposite, so I know this test got those parts about me wrong. Apparently this test says I'm basically a Centrist, neither Left nor Right Wing. I'll shrug my shoulders and say that I really don't care. I've never been big into politics anyway.

Reader's Question: How does this relate to video games?

Here's how I tie the above article to the Video Game Industry. Business monopolies, at its core, are not good for the long-term health and sustainability of industries. Wouldn't you generally agree? If you disagree, then you might want to imagine this "Doom and Gloom" scenario where the Video Game Industry only has 1 big company making home consoles for gamers. Take your pick of either Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft right now. One of these companies are only allowed to make consoles for gamers and the gamers just have to deal with it, even if they don't like most of the games they receive.

That's what a monopoly basically is without explaining it thoroughly.

Business monopolies clearly fly in the face of the general principles of entrepreneurship, a practice that promotes the idea of you, aspiring to make a splash in the business world, entering the industry of your choice with your own company and your own fascinating ideas. Business monopolies squash competitors. They always do. It doesn't matter how they plan on squashing your company. If they have an opening they are going to do it. You had better be prepared to fight for your company and your business dreams because otherwise the leading corporate giant company will come in and stomp all over your dreams. That's business for you.

So for those of you who hope to see Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft pull out of the console-making business, I warn you of these business monopolies because this is NOT the road you want to go down as a consumer, and definitely not long-term.

Independent video game development combats the big boys of AAA game development because this serves as one way to avoid a monopoly in the game-making world. I highly doubt we will see the day where Indie devs have to team up with AAA companies just to survive, because otherwise the Video Game Industry wouldn't nearly be as strong as it says it is.

If you apply an equivalent to Google or Facebook to the Video Game Industry, should that corporate giant company be broken up? My answer is absolutely, positively YES. I'm not a believer in the saying "We're never too big to fail." That's where so many companies begin their fall from supremacy. Arrogance. Pride. Greed. The basic need to be everything for everybody when that isn't realistic for the market.

In this sense equality is desperately needed in business because without it the territory to have creativity and imagination will be limited, and game devs will suffer long-term. No one company stands above all. Today's society needs to better understand that.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Game Development: Failure and Then Success

You'll fail as much (or more than) as you'll succeed

Game development is a learning process. As a game dev you will hit your stride and find something that really makes sense. You will be a part of a project that connects with audiences and will become something marketable. If your game project is a hit, help will be sure to follow in the form of promoting and general fan following.

Game development is a learning process. As a game dev you will encounter plenty of obstacles where your skills will be tested. Oftentimes you will be part of a project that will go through many revisions and will require the dev team to constantly discuss which route they need to take in order to make the game better. In reality you will experience failure in game development, and how you deal with failure depends on how you view the learning process of game development.

As you can see above, game development is a Tale of Two Views, so to speak.

Many game devs will have differing views on how they see success and failure in game development, and this is an issue that we all will have to tackle at some point. The linked article above goes into stories of game devs who learned quite a bit from failing at projects, and honestly, it provides a real look into what aspiring game devs need to know about the world of game development.

"Don't quit your day job." Boy, is that ever true? Whatever it is that you do during the day that helps make you money, it's recommended that you don't so easily let that thing go because you could be in for a whole world of hurt if you put all your eggs in the basket of "This game we're making will be a hit, so I'll stop everything else that worked for me to get here!" None of us know if our custom game projects will be guaranteed hits, so we can't just jump on the bandwagon and go all-in with something that's iffy at best.

Romanticizing indie devs is an issue, to be sure, because hyping up independent game development has its own pitfalls. I love the fact that "independent" is given the emphasis for these game devs because they don't work under the iron fists of gaming giants like Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft. To be independent in the Gaming Industry means that you are free to venture into any gaming territory with your custom game project, and that's a good thing. However, independent also means that you won't have all the resources in the world in your corner, hence why "Don't quit your day job" rings true.

Clicking the above link, just read what both Rami Ismael and Mike Bithell have to say, and their stories will make sense to you, especially if you have experienced anything similar to what these guys went through. I have mentioned this before on this blog, but I firmly believe this. You will fail just as much (if not more than) as you will succeed in game development. The true challenge is how you will respond to failing at a project and how you will regroup.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Foul Language In Video Games

Re-used this picture, but that's okay!

Since I mentioned it in my latest game review of Battlefield Hardline, I might as well dig deeper on this specific topic and explain my position. Foul language in video games... You can't really avoid it in this day and age. Back in the day, around the late 1970's to mid 1980's, very rarely would you ever find anything so questionable as to having a game be presented to the public and contain any sort of profanity in its text. Video games were made to be simple back then. Put in a theme that people will like, make sure the game plays well, and there you go.

Now the dynamics of game development have dramatically changed, and to the point where game devs have an immense amount of freedom as to what they can implement in their games. Many games today deal with some sort of dialogue and some sort of engaging text that will make gamers play the games. Even if your game has this one long intro cutscene where the gamer is shown what to do, even there would be a possibility of game devs slipping in some F-Bombs, D-Pads and the technical name of a donkey. Game devs simply have that kind of freedom now.

The ESRB Rating System has played a big part in allowing video games to be more flexible in how they present their content. You can have games rated as low as eC, or Early Childhood (rarely do we ever see this rating), and you can have games rated as high as M for Mature, which is where all the swear storms and excessive vulgarity come into play. A funny side note here is that as a child I was oblivious enough to believe that RP for Rating Pending was a rating so severe that the game would become a super special exclusive on store shelves. Yeah, my childhood...

Games rated M for Mature have the kind of content that adult gamers are generally looking for. Sit back, relax and listen to all the "creative" words of foul language fly like never before! Of course, that would be the mentality some gaming communities today seem to have, and in my opinion that's just unfortunate.

I would say that at least 80% (and maybe I'm being generous) of Mature games out there in recent history, let's say the start of the 2010's, include some form of foul language used by their characters. The setting usually takes place in heated scenes during gameplay where the characters get so angry at a situation that's going from bad to worse that they can't take it anymore. The characters let loose in bleep-worthy tirades that make them feel better, but I would ask; what is the purpose this serves?

Some gaming communities find it funny when they hear their favorite game characters cuss up a storm and verbally chew out other characters --Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted and Battlefield, I'm looking at you guys-- but I believe other gamers, with myself being included, wouldn't find these kinds of scenes necessary. There are some gamers, believe it or not, that actually appreciate clean dialogue, and this doesn't involve the game being cute and vibrant like Super Mario or even My Little Pony.

I believe that you can have a dark and gritty video game be made and leave all the foul language out. It is possible to make such a game. You can have all sorts of plot twists and character development that is M for Mature in tone, but you can keep the verbal outbursts to something as subtle as T for Teen or E-10+ for Everyone 10 and Up, and your game will still be successful.

Creativity in game development takes many forms, and this would be yet another form. You want your game to have an M rating? That's fine. Go ahead, but be prepared to lose out on key parts of gaming communities that are sensitive to such content that you are attempting to promote. If some gamers are sensitive to listening to foul language, then have your game feature an option in the Main Menu where gamers can adjust the dialogue where it won't be as foul. Plenty of games in the past have featured this option.

I don't overreact to foul language being used in video games, but the constant use of cheap one-line foul language dialogue does concern me. Many games just use swear words to use them, and I find this to be lazy. Swear words don't make a game good. Swear words, as I've mentioned in my Battlefield Hardline review, can bring a gaming experience down by trying to be too dark and gritty.