Monthly Archives: November 2013

EA: The Road to Success?

So it’s been a busy couple of weeks. Happy belated Thanksgiving to all of my loyal readers! I love you, mom!

I haven’t had the chance to play many games over the “break.” Work, composition, coding… it’s all kind of taken precedent over my “leisure” activity, though I do try to keep current with what’s up.

New consoles! Yay!

See? I’m current. I’m hip.

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New Game +: Desktop Dungeons!

(Don’t forget the Rafflecopter giveaway of a free game of your choice! Or do it on Another Gamer’s Blog Facebook page!)

I wanted a catchy catchphrase for when I review a new game, but the fact of the matter is, that happens so seldom that I just picked “New Game +” and left it at that. You’re only going to see it once in a blue moon, so don’t let the lack of originality keep you up at night.

DESKTOP DUNGEONS!

Catchy!

The goat on its logo is very important.

First of all, let me invite you to watch the trailer for the game here:


If you don’t get what’s going on in the end, go watch 2001 Space Odyssey, or at least the end of it.

Anyway, nuff said.

So, there’s a lot of stuff I want to cover about the game. First off, it is a ROGUELIKE. For the uninitiated, there was this one game a long while back called “Rogue,” and it was cool and people have been imitating it since then.

The qualities of Roguelikes are varied, but they do have some in common:

1. You die a lot. Hooray.

2. You learn stuff by dying, or otherwise accomplish objectives that aren’t undone by your death.

3. You have to start from the beginning when you die.

4. The levels are procedurally generated, meaning you never go through the same dungeon twice.

People have called Dwarf Fortress a “roguelike,” but certainly games like The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy (making a named tip of the hat), and the free Spelunky all fall into that category. If you play any of these games, you will see that the qualities that make a roguelike in no way dictate the qualities of the gameplay, story, or difficulty of the game.

Having said that, most of the time they’re pretty flippin’ hard. See rule #1.

Desktop Dungeons is a roguelike, through and through. You enjoy small trysts in procedurally generated tile-based dungeons in a delightfully old-school setting. And you die.

Over and over and over.

Having said this, the gold you collect by your successes (and the lesser of your failures) can be used to buy upgrades in equipment, character classes and other devillishly delightful things. That is the essence of the game. Simple to learn, difficult to master.

There are also puzzle challenges that test your efficiency with different obstacles, equipment and powers. I should mention that I seriously like this bit, because the only way to beat these difficult problems is to use said equipment in the “proper” way. This means that it’s an underhanded education (underhanded because you DIE SO MUCH) in the finer mechanics of the game.

Having said that, the game is exceedingly difficult, and here’s why. It plays like a much faster game. There aren’t many animations, and damage appears to be dealt and healed instantly. However… revealing tiles restores health (yours and the enemy’s), you can destroy spells for permanent racial stat boosts, and health/mana potions are extremely limited. If you’re a gamer and you’re putting the pieces together, you should have this next bit figured out.

It’s a puzzle game.

Sorry to disappoint. The fast-paced action-y aspect of it is really cool, but as you get past the first levels, you’ll find that “preparing for a boss fight” doesn’t mean killing enemies until you’re strong enough, it means squeezing every last experience point, item, healing point and special ability out of the randomized level so that you have enough resources to take this guy on. It’s one huge puzzle, and unfortunately it takes a while before you can see if you’ll be able to solve it. It’s a well-constructed game, but I feel like it was marketed as something other than it is. This is particularly ironic because, well… it’s a lot more similar to “Rogue” than most of the roguelikes out there. I guess I’ve been spoiled.

But alas. It does mention that you die a lot.

It’s worth mentioning that the game is fantastically sarcastic. Goats, banking vampires and other ironic dungeon denizens abound, and the biting (literally with the vampires) humor makes it enjoyable, even when you die. The retro graphics and nifty soundtrack keep it from getting boring, and even though it IS a puzzle game, eventually you begin running into the same situation enough that the pace of the action begins to increase as you get ahead of the (steep) learning curve.

It’s fifteen bucks, and in the experience I’ve had so far (which is really, really just the tip of the iceberg), I’m gonna say that it’s worth it.

But don’t trust me! Play a (rather awesome) demo on their website! (Unity’s required but hey, that’s free too!)

Let me know if you folks cave and buy it! Other than that, see you Monday!

~AG

Are video games worse than the NSA?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “What do we want?!? PRIVACY!” The third-graders screamed and waved signs. “When do we want it?!? AFTER RECESS!”

Tensions are high in one Washington, D.C. elementary school after children were fed the totally objective and unbiased information that the data from their time spent playing video games was – *gasp* – being collected by the boogeyman, Satan, and perhaps some various video game companies that make the former two bad guys pale in comparison.

I know which one scares me most.

I know which one scares me most.

If you’re unsure of what I’m talking about, NPR recently released an article detailing how the scumbag video game companies collect your children’s data (never mind their souls). First, I’m going to rail on how poorly the article was written.

1. The picture spread across the top has a child playing MineCraft, made by the Good Guy Greg of indie game development: Mojang. Originally not multiplayer, MineCraft’s huge modding community and regular updates come at no extra cost to the player, and are inspired not by suspicious clandestine data collection, but by an actual grassroots support base that encourages development in a fantastic game that has had applications in every field from music to engineering. Saying it addicts kids to video games (while perhaps true…) and collects their data to make the game more addictive and convince children to spend extra money on it — although it was only implicitly mentioned by the article — is patently false, annoying, and ignores a huge third dimension of quality that exists in game development.

2. The next mention of video games comes with a parent who is unable to control their child’s video game intake. Sorry, your poor parenting skills aren’t newsworthy. If your child is 13 and playing 12 hours of Call of Duty every day on his Xbox, don’t blame the developer. Blame yourself. Blame yourself a lot, because I quite frankly dislike being called a faggot  by him over voice chat every time I snipe him from my intellectual (and virtual) pedestal.

3. It goes on to group CoD (while implying EVERY OTHER VIDEO GAME is in the same boat) with the people behind Zynga’s freemium disasters and Candy Crush. It’s like grouping every burger joint with that one seedy McDonald’s in the ghetto where people go to distribute methamphetamines. And I feel like I’m insulting the meth dealers here.

4. Not only have you totally lost control of how much your child plays video games, but that tween Belieber you gave a smart phone to is now spending your money on microtransactions?!? And it’s the fault of the game developers. No. See number 2, only accompany it with the sound of my head hitting my keyboard in mind-numbing acknowledgement of your absolute failure to regulate your child’s interaction with… well, EVERYTHING. If your solution isn’t to take the goddamn smart phone away, then I have no sympathy for you at all. Let them cry. Let them wheedle and whine, but those boundaries are better set late than never, and believe me, if your child is (without your permission) buying things for Farmville or Candy Crush, you are LATE in setting those boundaries.

These people. You're them.

These people. You’re them.

Okay, done with that nonsense. Journalists, let me make an unequivocal demand of you as clearly as I can: update your views of the video game industry. Talk to game designers. Talk to people who know a lot about games (as in not the people who play CoD for 12 hours). Talk to me. Do this before you write your article, and you will make much less of a fool of yourself than you currently are in this day and age. Stop being tonedeaf and learn a bit about the industry you purport to be reporting on.

The real purpose of this post wasn’t to pointedly point out the pointless points of this journalistic “epic fail,” however. The data collection of video game companies is an actual issue that needs to be discussed, and as a person with absolutely no credentials in marketing, formal debate or pretty much anything else, I feel qualified to deliver my opinion.

First of all: let’s take a brief step back from this whole “data collection” buzz-phrase. If you’re in the USA (or Germany… sorry, Germans) then you’re probably shockingly aware of the NSA’s breach of what many consider to be a fundamental human right: our right to privacy. I’m going to avoid using the word “Orwellian” (damn, just used it), because if you’ve read 1984, I’m sure the scenarios spring to your mind upon hearing this stuff. We get it. We’ve been violated as a nation, and as individuals. It’s in the forefront of our minds.

The reason I say to step back from it is because the sensationalism of this article and the reality that our data IS being collected is based mostly on the fact that our privacy feels “violated.” The fact of the matter is game developers are not insidiously collecting incriminating data on play habits; they’re simply following a more effective version of the tried-and-true marketing that makes us as consumers want to buy a product. That they’re marketing to kids is irrelevant, as long as you still have some control as a parent on what your child purchases. Am I really saying this? Am I really suggesting there is a lack of parental control in what a TEN-YEAR-OLD buys?

The third graders write about how addicting video games are (I’m temporarily suspending my crusade against the word “addicting,” as I’ve resigned to the fact that the perfectly good word “addictive” has been chucked into the meat grinder of illiteracy). They are naturally offended that their data would be used to fuel that addiction! However, I’m going to be brutally honest and say that our world is full of temptation, and it has been for thousands of years. A rare Bible quote from the Lord’s prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Zynga.” It’s a problem that we have to deal with. If you, the parent, in your smart-phone-buying frenzy, have opened your child up to a world of temptation, then it is YOUR job to teach your child how to deal with it in a responsible manner. If you give your 14 or 15-year-old alcohol, it is not up to your child to decipher how to not become an alcoholic. We do not accuse food companies of foul play when they do flavor studies on how to make their food the tastiest (even if it involves drowning our children in a sea of fat, sugar, childhood obesity and diabetes). But somehow the accountability has been shifted from parents to game developers.

The other half of this issue comes again with the two-dimensionality that journalists, parents, and even some gamers tend to think of the game industry with. The majority of PC and console games available today (not counting Xbox Marketplace or whatever the PS version is) do not involve microtransactions (aka buying with real money powerups, new skins, new weapons, or extra lives). This means that your child is spending 12 hours a day playing a finished product. Many indie game studios like Mojang update their game FOR FREE. Any data collection that goes on by these companies is for the purpose of gauging how well their game went, what parts are good and what parts can be improved upon. They are taking opinion surveys that you don’t even have to fill out. They are doing what every game developer SHOULD do, that every gamedev has a RESPONSIBILITY to do, even: paying attention to how people play their game. If you fail to do that, you are like a car company failing to consider how the driver will feel inside their vehicle. The very nature of the artistic medium in which you’re creating something in forces you as a game developer to recognize how your game interacts with players and vice versa.

Even if you’re from Zynga. Even if you’re trying to get people to buy lives in Candy Crush. Even if you’re just a nice guy trying to make the sequel to your game better than its predecessor. That data is much more valuable to you from a development perspective than it is to the third-graders who don’t like being addicted to games. Gamedevs aren’t the NSA. They don’t single out people, they don’t assemble profiles to incriminate players they don’t like, and they don’t collect data simply for the sake of having it. It’s a business, it’s marketing, and if you don’t think it’s facilitated games being created at a higher level than they would otherwise, I’d suggest you take a page out of the American government’s book and start collecting some data of your own.

~AG

P.S. Don’t forget to visit this post I made about signing up to win a free game! The raffle ends just over a week from now, so get the maximum chance to win by visiting and sharing daily. Small price to pay (much smaller, in fact, than the price of a handy-dandy new game)!

Free Games?!? I’ll take ’em!

Hey, folks! As an added treat to the loyal readers (and opportunity-seizing video game enthusiasts) of my blog, I’ve teamed up with AllKeyShop.com’s affiliate, CheapDigitalDownload.com to sponsor a video game giveaway. No pyramid schemes, no strings attached, just free stuff! Here’s how you enter:

1. On the widget (fantastic link below), log in with your Facebook or email account.

2. Quickly browse through CheapDigitalDownload’s vast selection of PC games (they’ve seriously got a ton…) and choose the game that you want to win. Get the Game URL and paste it on the box provided in the link below. Don’t forget this part: without the URL, they won’t know which game you want if you win (and you can’t enter).

3. Like and Follow their Facebook and Twitter pages to gain entries. To get more entries, just

share and tweet about this giveaway. The more entries you have, the more chances you also

have in getting the game of your choice! Super easy! Get the word out!

This giveaway will officially end on November 20, 2013 and the winner will be announced on the same day. An initial email will be sent to the winner, who then has 24 hours to respond, before a new winner will be selected. Please read full Terms and Conditions of this giveaway, found on the widget (in the link) below.

To join other fun and exciting giveaways, visit the Sponsor’s giveaway blog and join!

Best of luck!

(You can also visit the sponsor’s giveaway site to join more giveaways. If you like. If you like free stuff, that is.)

IT’S LINKY TIME!!!

HERE’S THE LINK! YOU ARE THE 1,000,000th VISITOR! CLICK THIS LINK FOR YOUR FREE CAR AND AIRPLANE AND TO FIND SINGLES NEAR YOU AND TO LOSE 15 POUNDS OVERNIGHT AND TO LAST LONGER… and maybe to get free video games.

(Keep being awesome, readers.)

~AG

P.S. I’ll be posting this link in every post I write from now till the end of the promotion, but if you’re super-duper-über committed to doing it every day, I’d only ask that you do go through my site to get to it (don’t just bookmark like a meanie-face).  Alternatively, you can just go visit my Facebook page here! Enjoy and thanks for being so awesome. 🙂

It’s time for you to make a game.

Hi, folks!

In the past year (in which I hadn’t been blogging much), I learned to program. I don’t mean that I learned complex sorting algorithms and the most elegant solutions to NP-hard problems that keep the Big-O costs of my programs low while solving for the trillionth digit of pi.

No sirree,  I learned to program games. What makes a game tick? How do the different elements of a game go together? What special things can I add to my game to make it more complete, more interesting, more engaging and fun for a player? These are complicated questions that have more to do with thinking about games than programming them. There are TONS (I mean seriously… tons) of examples of well-made games, starting with Pong and working your way up to the newest GTA game that everyone’s raving about.

If you’re good at putting two and two together, this post (and others in the future like it) are going to go into the nitty-gritty of game development. Today, I’m afraid I’m not going to get too deep into things, because I’m going to assume you know absolutely nothing about the development of games and the only reason you’re still reading this is out of some sick desire to learn. Sicko.

I’m not going to be your teacher, folks. I suck at teaching. I’m great at extrapolating on ideas that people have taught me (which is, indeed, the purpose of this post). But a teacher I ain’t. I teach kids piano. That’s about it.

Who WILL be your teacher, then?

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Video Games and Learning: A Non-going Process

Hey, folks! Happy Monday!

I told you all that I’d be writing periodically to tell you about the fascinating things I’ve been finding out about video games in my “Video Games and Learning” Coursera course.
Turns out, not much.

Fact of the matter is, outside of an educational perspective, I could have written most of the material for the course. Talking about the elements of game design that teach a player, how increasing complexity and introducing game elements at different times affects the learning curve, etc. etc. I know this stuff because I’m a gamer (and an attentive one, at that), but the course was written for non-gamers who think it’s a fabulous idea to use games in the classroom.

I’m not on a pedestal, I’m not in an ivory tower. Educators, USE YOUR GAMES. Use MY games! Education departments of the world, hire programmers to work full-time on producing learning games for people of all grade levels and subject areas. Imagine how AWESOME it’d be if you got to kill monsters in “Wuthering Heights: The RPG,” or create epic physics-based puzzles in “Anatomy and Physiology: Zombie Edition.” I understand that courses like this give educators a leg up when figuring out how to teach difficult concepts in a way children will react to, and I appreciate that these resources are out there to improve our education and our teachers.

But I guess I’m approaching education from a game design perspective, as opposed to approaching game design from an education perspective, and I was sorely disappointed. I’ll do a post Friday about my final thoughts on the course, but other than that… sorry, folks! Didn’t turn out to be as beneficial as I had hoped!

Here’s a picture of 9 Charmanders driving a golf cart to make you feel better.

Charmanders-Golfcart

 

 

See you Friday!

~AG

The Storytelling of Bastion: Another Look

Hi folks! Good news in the blogging world, my blog may be eligible to partner with a certain game-distributing website to offer free game promotions to my readers! If you know somebody who loves games and doesn’t read this blog, let them know! If you’re just here for the free stuff, welcome to the club 😀

I’m replaying through Bastion. Don’t ask me why, it’s like that stereotypical pop song where the dude who’s hasn’t thought about that one girl in years calls her up at 2am, only instead of calling girls I’m smashing things up and listening to the sexiest narrator this side of Sam Elliott.

Proper story's supposed to start at the beginning... got any sasparilla?

Proper story’s supposed to start at the beginning… got any sasparilla?

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