Archive for August, 2011

Gameful

Posted: August 31, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Social networks and forums are all the rage. So, of course, the game designing community has set up their own special place for discussing programming idea, design ideas, and the future of games as more than entertainment. As such, Gameful is a fantastic place for people interested in art, design, programming, storytelling and even just in playing games. There is also an extra focus on games that do more than just entertain, or entertain in a new and different way. We’re pushing the boundaries of what is a game and pushing forward towards the future.

The Gameful site is more than just a forum. There are groups you can join to talk about specific topics. There is a classifieds section where people are looking to hire artists, programmers and designers and also looking to sell their own work. There is also a game in place that rewards the user for talking to people, making friends and just generally being a good user. Leveling up in the game unlocks more features for the user, including a blog at level 7. You can scroll through and see a lot of different user’s blogs and find some really interesting stuff. Every user also gets a twitter style status feed that they can use to talk about design work and gaming.

One of my favorite parts of Gameful is the design challenges. At current, there are 4 in progress, each one challenging the designer in a different direction. One of them is based on a game that can introduce complete strangers to each other on the street or in a restaurant. Another is based on using a short game’s mechanics to make someone happy. That’s the mechanics, not the story line or art. The different competitions have what is called a “challenge angel” who donates prizes to the challenge for the winners. Its pretty much full of awesome.


I think that one of the best things about Gameful is that it gives designers a place to go to talk about different ideas in game design that maybe the bigger companies don’t want to risk trying. People can push the boundaries of gaming and what a game can be used to accomplish. You might have heard of Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. She is one of the minds behind Gameful and it shows. A lot of the themes from her book regularly show up in the design challenges and just in general forum chat.

If you have any interest in games, gaming, design, art, programming or storytelling, I highly suggest you check out Gameful. There are sections for students, professionals, amateurs, hobbyists and people who just want to play, among many many other different groups you can chat in. I myself am a member of 16 different groups including one for student game designers, one for people who want to make educational games and one for people who LARP. I love Gameful and the ideas that are coming out of the conversations on there.

LARP 101: You do WHAT on the weekends?!

Posted: August 29, 2011 in Uncategorized
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So no shit there I was, standing at the front line, shield in one hand and the Chimeronian Northern Light blade in the other. The Bois of Bedlam were coming towards us but we kept our position knowing that we couldn’t retreat and let them at our healer. They pressed the attack and we managed to hold them off. One of my comrades had fallen, but a healer came running forward to take him off to restore him to life. I heard my name then and turned to see her tossing me her sword. I dropped my shield and caught it. It only took a moment to realize what I held now. It was Her Grace, the Duchess Ophelia, now a sword that could destroy these creatures with a touch. I switched it into my main hand and grinned recklessly at the on-coming wave of darkness. I shouted “Go!” and our line burst forward bringing the fight to them instead of waiting.

That episode was from my own experience as a fae elven fighter in a New England based LARP known as the Realms. It sounds an awful lot like the kind of story you would get in a tabletop roleplaying game. And really, that’s because on the whole they are a very similar sort of story. Like any RPG, LARP, which stands for Live Action Role Play, is very much based on the character and on people getting to be the hero, or the villain if they so choose.

LARP comes in a lot of different flavors. There are two major categories though. These are known as boffer and theatre. Boffer LARP is like in the picture above. We have swords of some material, usually foam, and take part in live action combat. Theatre LARP, pictured below, is a different beast entirely. There is no actual combat in theatre style LARP but instead characters resolve conflicts using skills and some mechanic like dice or rock-paper-scissors. These games tend to be much more heavily focused on character interactions and intrigue than on conflict of physical nature.

A theatre-style LARP in a decorated room

Image of Theatre LARP via Wikipedia

So, the next major thing that separates different kinds of LARPs is how long a story runs for. Most theatre LARPs are a few hours or a day long, some might last a weekend and a very few might last longer. Boffer LARPs, on the whole, last for much longer but can some times be a weekend affair or less. Theatre LARPs tend to also involve characters that are assigned, whereas boffer LARPs tend to allow the player to write their own character. When I say that the story could last months or more, here is a good example. The Realms, the LARP I was talking about earlier, has been going for over 20 years. Another boffer game called NERO International has been running since 1986. There are also Theatre LARPs such as Mind’s Eye Theatre that have been around for decades.

Alright, so you picked out what kind of LARP you’d rather play. Regardless of what variety you intend to play, the next question is how much you can put aside your own personality and pick up that of your character. A really great way to practice that is with improv games. These sorts of games can also help a person who is really shy or uncomfortable dealing with other people while ad libbing conversations. One game I particularly like involves one person running a “party” and the other people each assuming a strange character to make the party host guess while go through a party scene. Another way for beginners to get into LARPing is a really neat little game called How to Host a Murder. The basic concept of this games is that you host a dinner party and all the guests have roles they are playing involving a murder mystery and all the necessary evidence and menus and everything are in the box for the game. The only thing the players need to do is cook the food, get costumes and play through the story.

One of the very very important things to remember about LARP is that if you’re playing in a persistant game, you should take the time to make sure you get to know the other players out of game as well. Some people enjoy playing jerks, you might enjoy playing a jerk, but the player may not necessarily be a jerk in real life. Sometimes the biggest In-Game asshole is actually a really nice guy. Another piece of advise is that no matter how much you like to play a bad guy, don’t make that the only type of character you play. At least not until people get used to the fact that you aren’t an ass in real life.

LARPing is an extremely large subject, and something that I really enjoy talking about, so expect to see more little things talking about playing and running various types of LARP. While I largely play boffer LARP, I do periodically play in theatre LARPs.

Poikilia

Posted: August 24, 2011 in 4.5 Hearts
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Poikilia is a very interesting, albeit short, puzzle game brought to us by the awesome that is Gambit Labs up at MIT. The basic idea is that you are a little boy who’s family runs a sort of magic lighthouse where the braziers can produce multicolored fire. You fall down a hole and have to find your way about out but keep the brazier lit the entire time. It explores both the CMYK and RGB ways of mixing color, also known as pigment blending and light blending.

Unlike most educational games, Poikilia uses the game mechanics themselves to teach the color theory that they want to teach rather than just kind of theming the game or adding written information in or something weird like that. They report on their website that their intention was to promote active transfer. I assure you, it does. I’ve always had a lot of trouble with color theory and after a few play throughs of this, I’ve got it completely. The one thing I don’t like is that its really short. There are only 24 levels to Poikilia.

The mechanics are pretty much your standard fair. You use the arrow keys to move around inside a maze and you have to find the exit. The really awesome part of this is that you have a brazier with colored light or colored smoke and you have to make it through the whole maze with there still being something in the brazier. If you goes out, you have to start again. The colors would only go out if you step across a line that causes that particular color to vanish. Therein lies the challenge. One thing I really like is that there are CMYK and RBG color wheels in the top corners of the play screen at all times based on which kind of color mixing you’re actively involved in.

I thoroughly enjoyed playing Poikilia, and really enjoyed meeting the developers last year at PAX. I strongly suggest that you check out this game, and others by Gambit. I love the art and the music and the play is really awesome. Overall, I award this game a 4.5 out of 5 hearts. The only reason its not perfect is because I just wish it was longer.

4.5 out of 5 zelda hearts

If you’re interested in playing Poikilia, you can find it at Gambit’s webpage here.

Dead Frontier

Posted: August 10, 2011 in 1 Heart
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The MMORPG is becoming a rapidly more popular game style. Its also becoming much more commonly made by low budget or independent developers. In this case, Dead Frontier is a zombie fighting game. You start out by making your survivor character. I was really impressed with the number of options available to choose between, and not just in the graphics of the character. There were a lot of different options for adjusting the base stats of your character as well.

The graphics for this game are pretty impressive as well, too. Especially given that this entire game runs in a browser. I wish I could explain the controls and combat mechanics and such to you, but to be perfectly honest, that one area of the screen is what I saw for a good 80% of the time I was playing.

This was the other 20%. Sadly, as gorgeous as Dead Frontier is, it seems to have serious lag issues and is quite probably just too big to be run in a browser effectively.

In light of this, I’m sad to say that Dead Frontier only gets a 1 out of 5 hearts. I wish I could have moved my avatar without Chrome crashing, but it never worked.

Top Defense

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Top Defense is a really interesting twist on the tower defense game. Instead of the usual lining up of towers, you have a canon and missile launcher and various other weapons and you’re shooting from orbit.

So, the basic story for this game is that you’re part of the imperial fleet and you’re fighting against the eternal tribes in a generations long war. A planet’s population was wiped out, leaving unattended military bases, and the eternal tribes have decided that they want that planet. Its your job to keep them from claiming the nuclear bases. While the story is quite simple, its just enough to give the player enough background to set the stage and, in a way, make it all matter.

Over time, you unlock new weapons and get energy to upgrade them with. The tech tree is interesting, since spending energy on one item causes the other ones to cost more. This is a mechanic I’d never seen before this and it does make things interesting because you really need to manage how much you’re putting into each upgrade. I also really like the way the combat portions of the game work.

This is like no other TD style game you’ve every played. I have 4 different lanes they could be attacking on, 8 possible weapons, destructible surface targets, and two possible exit points for the creep. This makes normal TDs look like child’s play. There are also special armored units, just incase it wasn’t hard enough. Also, see that little square with the plus sign in it. That’s a landing pad, for the mother ship…which opens up a 5th possible lane.

I enjoyed playing this game and I suggest that you try it out if you can, especially if you like tower defense games. The graphics were clean and just what was needed. The sound effects were good, though I usually play this kind of game with the sound off. Playing this while listening to Ender’s Shadow was particularly awesome. In conclusion, I give this game a 3.5 out of a 5 hearts.

If you want to play Top Defense, you can find it at Kongregate.

Microbe Kombat

Posted: August 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

Greetings my patient readers, I’m taking some of my time off this evening to post a review for an interesting flash game I found while wafting through the internet. Its called Microbe Kombat. It rather reminds me of Osmos, but on a much more simple to play level. The basic idea is that you’re playing a microbe and you’re trying to eat proteins and other microbes. If you succeed in wiping out the other types of microbes on a given level, you beat that level.

You control your little microbe with the mouse and swim around collecting proteins to get bigger. Then you can eat smaller microbes and use special powers. The AI isn’t very smart, since every time it hits the maximum size, it splits itself into two smaller microbes and then I just eat it. There are several levels but the game still seems quite short because of how fast paced it is.

There were some really annoying glitches when I was playing. In particular was the false protein. See that lovely red circle in the middle of the above image? Yeah…not a real protein. That was a very very very annoying bug. I found the mechanics to be pretty simple and the controls were usually easy to use.

Overall, I was underwhelmed by Microbe Kombat. The concept was intriguing but the game didn’t match up with what I was hoping for. Microbe Kombat gets an unimpressive 2 out of 5.

K.O.L.M.

Posted: August 3, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Alright, this one of the most bizarre and kind of unnerving games I’ve ever played. You start out as a blind, legless robot trying to get approval from your apparently human (and really creepy) mother. This entire game feels like some existential crisis involving either loving or hating your mother as a child. The interface is really interesting, especially at the beginning before you get your eyes. It really feels like this game was meant to be played on something like the DS.

The mechanics are very simple, being those of a basic platformer. You also slowly learn the various controls as you gain them. For example, you can’t duck until you get that ability. One of the things I particularly liked about this game was that dying meant you just started a room over again and periodically you could use it to your advantage to get out of a room. Its really annoying before you get the ability to jump though.

The one thing I find really bothersome is that the dialogue gets replaced at the top rather than being at the bottom and scrolling up over time. This goes against all logic that I am used to and it really throws me off. Other than that, I really like the graphics and the over all feel of the game. It meshes really well with the gameplay and the music to produce a very unique experience.

Just after getting the double jump, Mother mentioned a plan. I’m a little afraid to keep going. But review I shall! I enjoyed this game immensely and found the way it was made to be very conducive to fun and playability. In light of that, I’m awarding it with a very well deserved 4 out of 5.

4/5 Hearts