Tuesday, January 17, 2017

GJG Blog Interview #8: Zhenghua Yang

For the 2nd time in January 2017 the Gaming Journalist Gazette will feature an interview with someone associated with gaming! This time around it is a game developer who I happened to discover through Facebook and YouTube, and after watching an animated retelling of a rough time period of his life, I was motivated to schedule an interview with him. This man is the Founder and Executive Producer of Serenity Forge, a game developing company that puts its focus on making meaningful serious games, though they of course have fun making them! 
Better known as simply "Z", Yang's backstory in how he got into game development is not only very unique but also very inspirational. The YouTube video link below will tell a better story than I can, but basically Z spent 2 years in the hospital recovering from a very rare illness, one which doctors originally told him that he wouldn't survive from. Of course Z did survive and fought his way back to good health, and here he was kind enough to share his thoughts on gaming and game development.
Steven Vitte:
1) Serenity Forge appears to be a unique video game development company. What are the main goals of Serenity Forge?

Zhenghua Yang: The goal of Serenity Forge is that we wish to push the video game medium forward, creating interactive experiences that challenge the way you think. Games can do so much more than just teach people how to shoot, or waste peoples' time by knocking over bricks. We believe that ultimately, by creating games that would foster education, inspire art, or promote health, we're in the business of changing peoples' lives.

2) Challenging the way people think is one aim of Serenity Forge. How is this aim implemented in the games you make?

Z: Everyone has an opinion of what a game is and what a "gamer" should be. We aim to change that. The games we create are aimed to change peoples' perceptions of what games can be through both tangible knowledge via education and health, or the intangible mediums of art expression.
3) What are your thoughts on mainstream gaming, such as games on Sony PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U and Switch?

Z: Main stream gaming is great, they provide a strong foundation for entertainment and culture. I own a PS4 and a Wii U, and I just preordered the Switch. We develop for all of these consoles that you listed, and we wouldn't be here today without their support. However, I definitely think there are more socially conscious decisions that these video game giants could make to further improve the industry.
4) What are your favorite gaming genres? (RPG, Shooters, Platformers, Puzzles, etc.)

Z: I play all sorts of games so it's a bit hard to answer this question. The genre that I get most drawn into however would have to be tactical RPGs, such as the Fire Emblem series, and mechanically JRPG type games (non-firstperson RPGS).
5) What are your thoughts on certain parts of gaming communities, such as the autistic gaming community? (I am a source on autistic gaming since I am autistic myself. I run my own blog dedicated to autism topics as well!)

Z: I think the various gaming communities, especially ones that support gamers with difficulties really shine as stars in our industry. AbleGamers is an organization that I love and work with. We also work with EVO, the fighting game tournament in Las Vegas this year. The fighting game community overall had been an amazing group of passionate fans that I've seen time and again in supporting any type of gamers.
6) Expanding on the last question, how do you feel aspiring game developers, especially autistic devs, can receive opportunities in game dev projects? (I just worked on a mobile game dev project late last year and it's something I want to do more of.)
Z: A good friend of mine is an autistic developer, I definitely see his struggles in life trying to "make it work" in the industry. However, the beautiful thing of our industry is that it doesn't matter who you are, what you look like, how you behave, etc. Ultimately, if you have the passion and the artistic eye, you will be able to create an amazing game and be recognized for your work. Tons of game developers I know are on the autism spectrum, and the funny thing is, you probably played and loved a lot of their games without even knowing. That's the beauty of this medium.
7) Are there any game dev icons you've gotten inspiration from when making games? (Satoru Iwata, Shigeru Miyamoto, Yuji Naka, etc.)

Z: Most of my icons are actually outside of the game industry, and many of them have been dead for thousands of years. However, within the game industry, one of my main icons is exactly former president of Nintendo Satoru Iwata (I'm glad you brought him up). he's such an inspirational figure. 
If you just look at his life, you see a life filled with hard work, dedication, talent, understanding, care, and forward thinking. He's a engineer guru but at the same time, was loved by millions and spoke for a generation. He had amazing ideas and was not afraid to get his hands dirty to make them happen. Ultimately, when he was required to take on much larger tasks, he never hesitated and proceeded to do the right thing. Hard to find a better person than that.
8) What advice can you give aspiring game devs?

Z: I think most game devs are not dreaming big enough, or dreaming incorrectly. I don't want people to lose their passion in this industry because afterall, it's fueled by passion. However, I think most game devs either want to "make a small addicting money-making project" or "make a huge MMO." Neither choices should be the goal, especially of an aspiring dev. 
I think everyone needs to dream bigger and think about what kind of impact you want to make on society. When you make a game, think about WHY you're making it, and design a game specifically to that goal. Don't base it on "how much money I can make." Instead, base it on "what can I do to make the world better." Because the truth is, if you're able to achieve that 2nd goal, the first one will come naturally.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Getting Rid of Affiliates and Affiliate Deals Tabs

Affiliate Marketing: Not as easy as it sounds
On behalf of the Gaming Journalist Gazette I have an announcement to make, and this is regarding a couple of tabs that you have seen at the top of this blog. Specifically the "Affiliates" and "Affiliate Deals" tabs are the core focus of this blog post. I believe I have given it more than enough time for me to possibly make some additional revenue via the affiliate deals that I have listed in these tabs, but the unfortunate fact of the matter is this. These methods of making additional revenue simply aren't working in my case. 

The announcement that I'm making here is that come around Spring 2017 I will be officially closing (deleting) my "Affiliates" and "Affiliate Deals" tabs, and there's a great chance that I won't be bringing these tabs back to the blog. At first this was a tough decision to make, but looking at this extensively, I really have no problem making this move. 

I have to consider a few things going forward with the GJG. First off I wasn't making any money whatsoever before I introduced the Affiliates and Affiliate Deals tabs (No thanks to Google Adsense, which only rewards bloggers like me as little as $0.04...), and secondly, it has become apparent that with my imbalanced blog posting schedule that took root in 2016, there was no realistic way of me retaining these tabs even if I tried.

I still believe that affiliate marketing in general still serves a noble purpose, and I understand the concept of it. However, for someone like me who hasn't gotten anything from it, I have to ask myself "Is it worth keeping around?" It was easy for me to answer "No" to that question.

To make this long story short, I am finding ways to make money, albeit little by little. I don't need to worry about the affiliate deals I was trying to offer because they just weren't anything that were appealing to you guys, my readers of the blog. Everything will be fine on my end, and if anything I can find myself being more productive staying on the course that I've put in front of myself, just being a writer and a hopeful game dev. So that's basically it, the ending of one chapter and the start of another in the story of the Gaming Journalist Gazette blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

First Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch

Video by PKSparkxx

In case you missed it, Nintendo officially revealed their special project that was formerly named the 'NX". The Nintendo Switch was revealed in Tokyo, Japan and a few video presentations were held showcasing what the Switch can do, what it features and how players can enjoy playing with the Switch.

The above video made by PKSparkxx shows PK's personal reactions to what was presented. Among the things shown off were Splatoon 2, Arms, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and the first look into Super Mario Odyssey, a brand new 3D sandbox style adventure that takes gamers back to the times of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. The last one, Super Mario Odyssey, came as a total shock to most gamers as there weren't many hints at Nintendo making a brand new 3D adventure for Mario.

Taking into account past console generations, Nintendo made the Switch to be some sort of hybrid of their past consoles. You clearly get inspirations of the Wii and Wii U, but you will also get a sense of Nintendo paying tribute to the 64 and the DS handheld console. It clearly will be a new way for gamers to play, a new challenge for gamers to take on. The creativity department has always been a strength of Nintendo, and I have known this for some time.

The initial price of the Nintendo Switch will come at the cost of $299.99 if you happen to live in the United States. In Japan you will have to pay around 30,000 Yen in order to get a Switch. This price could have been worse, honestly. I would expect the price to drop within 1 year after its official release on March 3 anyway, so I really wouldn't worry about the price.

As my blog readers know, I have been critical of Nintendo's business decisions in recent times. I have even called some of their works "draconian", which I still stand firm by. In the world of business, no matter how much you support a company, you simply can't give them a pass 24/7 just because you like their stuff. If you believe something is wrong and needs to be called out, you call it out. So with that said I still believe Nintendo is very short-sighted when it comes to YouTube members uploading Nintendo-related content and are intentionally trying to stunt the growth of creativity in YouTube communities. This is wrong and there's nothing anyone can tell me to believe otherwise.

Now back to the Switch, I actually do like the console design. This design does remind me of the "good side" of Nintendo, especially regarding their creativity. Their lineup of games reminds me of what they tried to do back in the times of the 64 and Gamecube. I got that feeling, at least. I wasn't blown away by any of the new games I saw, though I can cautiously say that I'm optimistic about some of these games.

Arms was very interesting. A brawling game featuring mech robots that have super stretchy arms gave me the idea that the game devs were inspired by the old Rock 'em Sock 'em Robot toys. I got a chuckle out of seeing that preview. I look forward to see what more Arms can bring.

Splatoon 2 should make big waves in popularity considering how well the original Splatoon fared. There have been a few more additions to gameplay and stylistically the game devs have made more additions as well. When it comes to the "e-Sports" (I still don't like that term) aspect of this, it wouldn't surprise me if Splatoon grows big enough to hold their own tournaments and competitions. Splatoon is a sure money-making game franchise.

Super Mario Odyssey... I think I will leave it to PK in his video above to give you the reactions to that. Now for me personally I'm not sure if I'm going to get Super Mario Odyssey, but I will go out and say right now that this game is going to sell like hotcakes within its first week of being released. If I wrong about that guess, then I'll be surprised.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Scoop on Acorn Assault: Rodent Revolution

An animated take on the French Revolution, which is historically inaccurate since we're dealing with squirrels, Acorn Assault: Rodent Revolution has just been reviewed by xboxgamereviews.com as the site provides its take on what they saw when they played a little bit of this game. While I can't provide my opinion based on gameplay since I haven't played it yet, I can tell my blog readers that I think we're in for a good treat with this game.

If you dig up one of my older blog posts on the Ouya gaming experience, you will notice that I mention the prototype version of Acorn Assault quite a bit, and for good reason. I knew even back then how good of a concept High Tale Studios had when they created Acorn Assault. Not many Turn-Based Strategy Games can hold my attention and interest, and when this game came around in its limited Ouya form, I couldn't help but get hooked. An animated battle featuring squirrels? How could you say no to something as humorous as that?

On January 11, 2017 Acorn Assault: Rodent Revolution was officially released for the Xbox One, and therein lies the only problem on my end. I love playing a game like this, BUT I don't happen to own an Xbox One right now. I don't have the economics to buy an Xbox One, so I'm hoping that either AA:RR will be released on the Sony Playstation 4 (a console I do own) soon, or I will have to really save up money to buy an Xbox One, and then this game.

Despite my personal catch-22 situations, I am encouraging my blog readers to go out and buy AA:RR for their Xbox One consoles. If you are in need of a laugh and a laid-back feel good time while blowing up things with bombs and taking out opposing squirrels, then this game is certainly for you!

Observing the review scores from xboxgamereviews.com, I believe that AA:RR should get a higher overall score than a 7. Just by going off first impressions, and by watching some gameplay on live streaming (Twitch), I have to say that AA:RR's overall score should be bumped up to at least an 8.75, or somewhere around there. I put emphasis on "at least" because I think I will end up playing hours of this game and enjoying its gameplay experience whenever I get my hands on it.

What I like about the Campaign Mode of AA:RR right away is the difference in play that separates AI opponents. Each opposing AI squirrel comes with a different challenge for you as Charles Montisquirrel to overcome. For example, the battlefields will be different in each battle, meaning that you can place squirrels in certain squares where other squares will be blocked by big rocks or obstacles placed down by the opponent.

Plus, the story progression of the Campaign Mode, as silly and humorous as it is, appears to be very solid. You get to advance from the Tax Man to the Castle Guard, and then you get acquainted with squirrel royalty. The story itself appears to be engaging, keeping you motivated to play through the Campaign Mode and find out what will unfold.

What are you waiting for? Don't go nutty and buy yet another First-Person Shooter or RPG! This game is worth getting, and there ain't nothing nutty about that!

Monday, January 9, 2017

GJG Blog Interview #7: Kris Jones - Play Legit

One of the groups I came in contact with while I was at GDEX 2016 in Columbus, Ohio happened to be Play Legit, a group made up of gamers who are passionate about what they report on and what they discuss. You can check out their website, which is linked below, and you will be amazed by the amount of content they have on that site. These guys will review and comment on just about any gaming-related topic out there! Solid and awesome content!

I had a fun time playing with one of the Play Legit members at GDEX, and I hope that I will get to see Play Legit again at a COGG meetup (Multivarious Games) or something. I share the same feeling that Columbus gamers should stick together and help the Central Ohio gaming community expand into something that's helpful, informative, and most importantly become an enjoyable environment for those even outside the Midwest U.S.

Kris Jones: Hey It's KJ, Founder and CEO of Play Legit.
Steven Vitte: 1) Play Legit has been around for a while. How did the idea of Play Legit come about?

Kris Jones: I would send loud audio messages to my friends over Xbox Live (The 360 Years) giving quick 30 second reviews to anyone who would listen.  The responses were pretty awesome, with people telling me I should take this further.  So I started doing Video Reviews, random articles, everything just started to come together.

2) What kind of gaming events does Play Legit often show up at? Any differences between these events? (conventions, hang outs, meetings, etc.)

We Try to go to as many as possible.  Mo Chocolate represented us at last year's E3, and The Playstation Experience.  Ms. Throwback attended Gen Con 2016, and Koerri is going to the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con. Since some of us are out-of-state, we're able to have a presence at more events. We frequent various anime cons also. Each place is filled with players just looking to have a great time. Chill vibes all around.

3) You guys are based in Columbus, Ohio. What is the gaming scene like in the Columbus area? How do you feel has Central Ohio's gaming communities progressed?

The scene is larger than ever. You can find Indie studios making great strides, bringing their unique concepts to the people. The increasing number of Barcades in town is a plus. Mom and pop gaming stores are all over. Plenty of opportunities to enjoy the old school and new culture of gaming. I think it's going to get even bigger.

4) How important are events like GDEX (formerly Ohio Game Developers Expo) and what do they do for Columbus?
It's big for the city, state, and industry as a whole. Indie developers are vital to the future of gaming. Any function that brings great individuals and ideas into one building is welcomed in my mind.

5) How do you feel about mainstream gaming right now? (PS4, Xbox One, Wii U/Switch)
I see it taking turn for the better. With legitimate VR titles emerging, AR gaming, and Nintendo's Switch forwarding the console experience on the go, things look good in my opinion. 

6) How do you feel about indie games? What are some of the best indie games you've played? 

Indie gaming ensures fresh ideas remain in the industry.  I'm a big fan of Hotline Miami. The 80's presentation caught my eye immediately. Tough gameplay with a stellar soundtrack. A more recent one i've been playing is Superhot. Part FPS/Puzzler while excelling at both. 

7) What advice have you received from other gaming media platforms? What advice can you give to gamers who aspire to get into gaming media?

I say give your honest opinion on a game, despite the hype train it might be riding on. Real opinions will hold more weight. Also Make sure to come up with original content on your platform to accompany the gaming press people expect. Keep that one-two punch of truth, and don't let anyone stop you. Real Talk. Thanks for the interview!