Archive for January, 2011

Class is back in session

Posted: January 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

And now we move back into that hectic time of year where I have classes. On the plus side, I’ll be taking 3 game design courses this term so my classes will be conducive to writing on this blog. Who knows, you might even get to hear about some of my projects. Sadly, I can’t say all because I already had to sign a non-disclosure for one of my courses. Stupid super secret game design engines. Well, anyway, there wont be much in the way of a post today, but I’m getting ready for the MIT Mystery Hunt this weekend.

The MIT Mystery Hunt is a pretty amazing thing run up at MIT where there are puzzles in puzzles in puzzles in…you get it. The end goal is to solve the super meta puzzles. This year’s theme appears to be Super Mario Bros. We think we have to save Peach. Maybe. Its hard to tell. Well, back to work I go. On Monday, I’ll talk about how it went.

When last I was discussing the ESRB, I had left off with games that are rated for anyone over the age of 10 years old. So now we get into the games for teenagers and adults. In this category, we start with the T rating. The T rating is commonly known as T for Teen. These games are intended to be for people over the age of 13. Games rated T are things like Tomb Raider and tend to be very violent and have strong sexual overtones. These games also can have gambling and strong language. Now, here’s something that tends to confuse me. What exactly is mild language and what is strong language? As far as I can tell strong language is the frequent use of “profanities” and mild language is the much less frequent use of those same words. I think.

Next up is the M rating. M stands for Mature and this is where my hands-on knowledge of the games gets a touch sketchy. I don’t tend to play games that are more than a T rating. Blood Rayne is really the only game I’ve played with an M rating for more than a a few hours. A lot of the popular military games have an M rating because of the violence and language. These games have a lot of blood and gore (see also : zombies or explosives). The M rated games are rated for play by people over the age of 17, which seems like a fairly arbitrary cut-off to be perfectly honest. Considering how you can drive at 16 and vote at 18. Well, I guess 17 is where you get violent video games. Sure…

And the rest, the rest is just porn. No, I’m not kidding. If a game has an Ao rating (Adult Only), it is for people who are 18 and up only. A lot of gaming stores won’t even carry these games. They include such titles as the various games by Play Boy and one of the Grand Theft Auto games. There are exactly 24 games on the list of those with an Ao rating as of right now. These games are the one case where I will flat out say, listen to the age recommendations. In the case of the others, its really up to you as a parent to think about what your child is ready for. I was playing Blood Rayne in middle school and I’m certainly not a homicidal maniac. But Ao games are a completely different kettle of fish. If you wouldn’t want your child to have a copy of Play Boy, then don’t give them any of these games.

And this concludes my explanation of the ESRB rating system. I hope it helps you in your attempts to buy games both for yourself and others in the future. I have to say, I enjoyed writing this up and I might see about writing some more of this sort of helpful guide. Have anything in the gaming world that mystifies you? Anything you’d love to know? Looking for anything in particular in a game? Leave a comment or email me and I’ll be sure to help you out.

The ESRB and You

Posted: January 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

Sorry for not posting on Friday, I was moving back in at school and didn’t have the time I would have liked to write up a post. Instead, I’ve decided to start working on an informative series I like to call The ESRB and You : How not to buy the wrong games for your kids.

The Entertainment Software Rating Board is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing ratings for the content of games and making sure that advertising doesn’t contain things might offend people or be inappropriate for some viewers. The rating system at its core is quite simple, but it has both just enough similarities and enough differences from the system used to rate movies that it can be confusing at times.

First up is “ec” or early childhood. These games are approved for very small children to play. Games that fall in this category are usually things like Dora the Explorer or Sesame Street or the Jump Start series. They tend to be educational and have absolutely no violence or inappropriate themes. The controls also tend to be very simple and friendly.

Next up is “E” or everyone. Games rated E for Everyone are also very kid-friendly though not all kid oriented. These games include a lot of sports games and puzzle games along with some games with mild language and cartoon violence. So here comes the question : What is cartoon violence? Cartoon violence is when the characters aren’t human or poof in a cloud instead of leaving corpses or don’t really die, they just pass though. Things like that. Take the Pokemon games for example. In those games, when you lose a battle, your Pokemon merely faints rather than dies. Or you could look at games like Super Mario Bros. where you fight giant mushrooms and turtles and no one really dies and its very unrealistic. Games rated E are, according to the ESRB, for children 6 and older. This is usually the case, though with anything, if you have any questions about the game and its suitability for your child, you should play it yourself and see what you think.

The last game I’ll cover in this installment is E 10+ or everyone over 10. These games might be more violent or have more mild language and unlike E games, E 10+ games can have some mild suggestive themes, which is why they shouldn’t be played until a child is old enough to understand them. An example of a game rated E 10+ is Rockband 3. The game has no violence, but the lyrics to the songs might have mild language or suggestive themes. Again, its up to you as the parent to know whether or not your child is ready for these kinds of things.

As a game designer, I take the claims that video games can cause children to become violent very seriously and somewhat personally. I’ve been playing video games for longer than I can remember and while yes, I do enjoy playing a high combat swordplay game on the weekends, I’m not really a violent person. My parents always made sure they knew what I was playing and that I was capable of understanding the themes present in the game and capable of knowing what should and should not be applied to real life and what should stay in the game. This is something that all parents should do. If you have any questions about a particular game, feel free to contact me or leave a comment here and maybe I can tell you about it. Always remember, yours is the final say and you should be paying attention to the games that your child plays.

Osmos

Posted: January 5, 2011 in 4 Hearts
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Osmos is a gorgeous game that I got from the Humble Bundle. Its a bit confusing at first, but let me explain. The basic concept is that you’re controlling a microscopic organism and you’re scooting around trying to absorb things that are smaller than you. Its a neat combination of puzzle and arcade style top down adventure. There are three paths that the levels go down: one where your goal is to absorb specific targets, one where you have to become the biggest and one where there are repelling forces and such things. It sort of reminds me of Katamari Damacy or Tasty Planet 2, only with puzzles. A lot of the puzzles are based on basic principals of physics, like every action has equal but opposite reaction. This does make them a bit hard if you’re not thinking in terms of real world physics.

I do love the way this game works. If another organism is bigger than you, it tries to come up and eat you if you don’t move. Its fairly accurate to actual little bitty life. The graphics are also absolutely gorgeous. The music is one of my favorite parts. All of it was custom made for Osmos and its really nice music too, not your usual video game music.

My only complaint with this game is that, at times it can be very dark. I don’t mean in like a violent or depressing way, I mean the screen is just very dark. Here’s an example. The little shiny thing in the middle, by the way, that’s you.

I enjoyed this game quite a bit. I also know its proving to be quite popular among computer gamers. Especially the ones who have Linux based operating systems. So, here’s my final score. I give Osmos a 4 out of 5 hearts. Its very hard, and the graphics are usually gorgeous but periodically very dark. Its mostly quite good but has a few flaws that keep it from perfection.

4/5 Hearts

Amnesia : The Dark Descent

Posted: January 3, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Amnesia The Dark Descent is a survival horror game made from Frictional Games. I was really excited to find this game, since its one of the first 3d first person style games I’ve seen that is specifically available for Mac, PC and Linux. Along with being available for all three major operating systems, Amnesia has taken the first person video game in an interesting new direction and I approve wholeheartedly. One of my favorite things is the sound system. This game is designed for wearing headphones. The audio is able to sound like its coming from behind you or off to one side or the other. Its actually pretty amazing…and terrifying. So, imagine if you will, that you’re wandering around this old house in the dark, and you’re trying to kill a man. That’s the very basic concept that has been introduced in the demo portion of this game.

The graphics are amazing and quite realistic. I really love the way they did interacting with the world, where you can pick up and move pretty much everything. The only thing that can’t be moved is candles, but that’s for mechanics reasons. One of the major game mechanics is a sanity bar that goes down for pretty much everything. Are you in the dark? Sanity drain! Are you staring at a monster? Sanity drain! Did something weird and impossible happen? Sanity drain! Because of this, light is hard to come by, but you can still manage to get around and play, it just hits your sanity hard.

The voice overs and narration are well done and the transitions between areas are quite nice. One of the things I love about this game is that based on how far I’ve played so far, there have been no cut-scenes. According to their webpage, there are no cut-scenes at all, from the first time you take control of Daniel to the very end of the game. I love this idea because its very immersive, something which I wish more first person games could be. Despite the fact that your avatar in this world has motivations of his own, the fact that he has amnesia means that all he has to go on is what you know and what you find while going through the game. Its very well done.

Now, this is usually the part where I give a game a score and I apologize thoroughly. This game was amazing, but since I can’t seem to get through the demo because it scares the crap out of me, I can’t bring my self to give this game a score. Well, other than pants wetting scary. I suggest trying it for yourself. It can be found at http://www.amnesiagame.com/#main. I hope you enjoy it.

Just a little research…

Posted: January 1, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So, I’m looking to see what sort of games my readers prefer so I know what I should be talking about most. Plus I figured out how to add polls. Neat, isn’t it? So, tell me what you’re interested in and I’ll offer up reviews of games in those categories. I’m hoping to really target what you’re interested in in the coming year.