Archive for May, 2012

Have you ever wanted to learn how to make video games? Playing games leads to modding which leads to making your own, its a wonderful process that more people should experience. That’s why today I’m bringing you Stencyl. Stencyl is a development suite for creating Flash, iOS and Android games, and if you have the pro version you can also create Desktop Mac and PC games. The engine is designed for 2D games, but that’s what most people want in a Flash game, right? One of my favorite parts is that they include a feature called StencylForge which is an online hosting of various game assets such as characters, backgrounds, environment building tools and even pre-coded behaviors so that you can learn at your own pace. This is great for kids or people who want to get into game design but don’t have the strong programming background. It also includes example games so you can get an idea how a lot of classic mechanics are done.

One of the great features of Stencyl is the forums. There are tons of people on there willing to help out newbies. Another great thing is that it includes the Kongregate, Mochi and Newgrounds API so you can connect to their score boards and give achievements. Speaking of Kongregate, There are tons of tutorials and forum posts about Stencyl and how to use it. For some of those tutorials, you can go here:

Here’s a code block that handles two different types of collisions: the player with an enemy or the player with a coin pick-up. But you can also choose to write real code if you want to. The interface for building scenes is just as simple. They made everything very drag and drop and friendly.

If you’re interested in learning the concepts behind game design and even starting to make your own games that you can upload to a real gaming site and get feedback from people, you should consider trying out Stencyl. Stencyl is available for Linux, Mac and PC and can be downloaded here. I am thoroughly enjoying using it and can’t suggest it enough. I award Stencyl a 5 out of 5 hearts for wonderful software, community and game design teaching.

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Blood typing was an important discovery in medical history. Karl Landsteiner discovered the major blood type groups while doing research into transfusions, without which many of the surgeries we take for granted these days would not be possible. He also won a Nobel Prize for his discoveries, which is why this game exists, but more on that later. I learned about blood types back in 10th grade biology and then again in Anatomy and Physiology in college, but lets face it, I don’t remember most of it because I barely applied it, if at all. That all changes now. Nobelprize.org brings us The Blood Typing Game, a hands on learning experience where the player is taking on the role of an emergency room doctor doing blood typing tests and transfusions.

The purpose of The Blood Typing Game is to teach younger people about the important of blood typing and is one of many new games on the Nobel Prize website. It also just happens to be a very nicely made serious game. The best part is that you can either read the 3 pages of information before the game starts which teach all about blood typing and the importance of getting it right for transfusions, or you can just jump right in and learn by doing. I chose the latter, just to see if it could be done. It walks you through the process quite nicely, and the messages telling you what to do stay there, but are easily ignored once you don’t need them any more.

One of the things I really liked is that while the game is hands on and scientifically accurate, its not overly bloody. I’m actually really squeamish about blood and I could play this with absolutely no problems. That alone gives them high marks in my book. I suspect that that may be a large part of why the graphics are the way the are. Everything is just slightly cartoony, not quite real. Just enough off from reality that anyone can play without getting grossed out or triggering phobias.

You can also see deeper into what’s going on at any time, which really helps with understanding the material being presented. The feedback presented is really good, and actually startled me a few times. After your patient screams once because you screwed up doing a transfusion, you never want to make a mistake ever again.

My one issue with The Blood Typing Game is that there are only 6 missions. The end of the last mission strongly implies that you can get new patients, but I followed their instructions and got the same batch I had already solved. This does seriously reduce the replayability of the game, which hinders learning to a degree. But overall, its a very well made game and it succeeds at its educational goals. I award The Blood Typing Game a 4.5 out of 5 hearts. Well done!

4.5 out of 5 zelda hearts

If you’re interested in playing The Blood Typing Game, you can find it here.

So you went out to your local video game store and picked up a new game. You play through the first hour, maybe two, and then realize that you have just made a horrible mistake and this isn’t what you thought you were getting. It happens more than you would think. Maybe you were expecting an action RPG and got a platformer, maybe you were expecting a casual game or maybe you just don’t like the play style or mechanics involved. All of this brings up the big question of what do you do with it. The natural thought is that you would return it. Sadly, a lot of stores won’t take returns on video games if the box has been opened. I know for a fact that Toys R Us doesn’t. So you can’t return it to say, Walmart, Target or anything like that if you’ve actually played it. The next place you could go is somewhere more like Gamestop where they do Trade-Ins of games, hardware and accessories and resell them. That sounds like a really great idea right? Here’s the problem, and it all falls on you the consumer. So you buy a $30 DS game, for example. If that game is for the DS and not the 3DS, don’t expect to get more than $5 of Trade-In value, and that’s for a really good popular game. You might remember my misadventures with The Sims 2 Pets for DS. Well, I took that in yesterday to exchange, along with a few other games like Populous DS and Logic Machines, which had all seemed like good ideas at the time of purchase. Four games sold back, for $4 of store credit, and that’s with the Powerup Rewards membership getting me an extra 10% on all trade-ins. And that’s with all 4 games having their case and instructions.

You’re probably wondering how that can possibly make any sense. I mean, that’s approximately $120 in games and I got $4 for it. But the thing is, those games aren’t even really available any more because they’re so out of date. And on top of that, the ones that are just aren’t popular. They’re running about $10 new. The video game market tends to be very much on demand pricing. If a game is the next big thing, super popular and everyone wants it, the price is going to be higher. Just look at the Metroid franchise. At the time of release, The Other M was running around $40 like the usual Wii game. At Gamestop yesterday, it was selling for $10. So if I had bought The Other M back when it was new and gone to trade it in now, Gamestop would be giving me a very small amount of money, enough that when they sell it again at $10 they would still be making some kind of profit.

Its pretty obvious that this system only benefits the game store. After the original purchase, no money is going to the developer and the return is hardly giving the customer any of their money back. So how do we solve this system. My favorite solution, though not one that everyone can employ, is the mantra of Try Before You Buy. The way I usually handle this is through rental of games that I’m interested in trying but aren’t in a franchise I have a lot of faith in. If a new Zelda game, for example, is coming out, I trust the Zelda developers to maintain a certain level of quality, but if I see something completely new and weird, or even a long standing series that I have no experience with and I’m considering buying it, I will rent it first. But not everyone can afford a Gamefly or Blockbuster rental plan. In that case, talk to your friends. See if anyone you know has the game and can let you try it out, or even just give you an opinion. If everyone you know says a game is terrible, chances are its terrible. Another way to avert gaming disaster is to check out a review website like this one here, or Metacritic.

So you tried before you bought, and got opinions, and even checked the Internet and still gamer fail occurred. What’s next? At that point come the options of give it to someone, yardsale it or shove it in a box somewhere. I mean, there’s also Ebay and Craig’s List, but that once again depends on the popularity of the game in question. Honestly, the best way to not have to deal with trading in games is to try really hard to do your homework before purchasing it.

Educational games are looking to be an important part of the future, particularly for topics like basic arithmetic which really just amount to a lot of repetition and memorization. In light of that, I went on the hunt for a math based game to review and I found Castle Quests at Multiplication.com. The basic idea of Multiplication.com is that it is a one stop shop for all your multiplication teaching and learning needs. It has flash cards, work sheets, tests and, most relevant to this blog, games. The games are all pretty simple, flash based games and I picked one with a theme I knew I would find interesting.

Castle Quests is a 3 level multiplication quiz game using a medieval theme. The very simple storyline follows the player as they start out trying to become a Page at the King’s court, then become a Squire and finally a Knight. This is done by proving your prowess at multiplying. The graphics are simple and friendly, giving a nice theme to the game to make it not just repetition of facts. I really like how the graphics have this simple cartoony feel that almost feel kid-created, even though they are way better than most young kids could draw.

The first level is just basic facts and everything remains stationary, but by the Squire level things have started to move around and part of the challenge is keeping track of where the answers have gone. While you are playing through, it keeps track of how many questions you have answered correctly and how many you have answered incorrectly and displays them in the banners hanging from the herald’s horn.

In case you were curious, the banners hanging from the horn are properly called “Trumpet banners”. I love it when things have simple names.

Wrong answers don’t halt play, but just replacing the number with a black X really isn’t enough feedback for a child playing this game. This is particularly true since you can continue to click on the X’s. Also, nothing stops the player from simply getting the answer through guessing and elimination. As an experiment, I did a play-through in which I purposefully made as many mistakes as I possibly could. As you can see in the picture below, I made a lot of mistakes.

Over 100 mistakes later, I still see this screen:

I guess the King really doesn’t want good Squires.

Over all, its just fact repetition with a story over it like a skin. The graphics and story are cute, but the player’s performance doesn’t actually affect the story. There is very little feedback for the user, and because they can guess until they get it right, they really aren’t learning. If you just want to practice facts until you have them right, then this is the game for you. If you actually need to learn them from the beginning, then this might not be the right choice. I award Castle Quests with a 2 hearts out of 5. I’m just really not impressed.

Paladog

Posted: May 18, 2012 in 4.5 Hearts
Tags: ,

Wow, I’ve been absent for a while. Sorry about that folks, but I’ve been working on finishing up my undergraduate degree. With that officially done, I’m back in the blogosphere while I throw resumes into the void, as I like to call the job hunt. In order to jump right back in, I found a flash game on Kongregate that couldn’t help but grab my attention: Paladog. Particularly because the icon for the game is a little doggy wearing a plate helmet.

The storyline behind Paladog is an interesting one. The basic idea is that human beings have done so much damage to the earth through war and stuff that the gods got angry and destroyed them. So then the gods decided to make the critters of the world be the new dominant society. Well, apparently the new denizens of Critterland are so good and pure that the devils can’t find any evil minds to corrupt, so they decide to attack with an undead army instead. That’s where you come in as Paladog. You lead the forces of animal kind against the undead hordes.

The game play is pretty simple. You control Paladog as he moves back and forth on the screen, summon his woodland allies and use one of his three weapons to use various abilities. There are also periodically stages where the normal rules get thrown out the window and you’re suddenly working with the same basic ideas but totally new mechanics, such as an escort mission happening instead of a target to kill or you get to use powers as they come down a track rather than waiting for mana to regenerate. Normally speaking, you have two bars to worry about: mana and food. Mana is used for Paladog’s special weapon abilities and food is used to summon his allies. The controls are keyboard or mouse driven and you can choose to use a combination of types of controls if you would like. I personally found that using entirely the keyboard worked quite well, since the controls stay either on the a-l line or the number line.

The storyline is adorable, the graphics are adorable and the controls are really simple. It has a nice level of complexity to the strategy of the game, with the resource management and choosing which troops to send out and which weapons to use. You can upgrade your individual units, equip your paladin and buy more advanced units. This adds in a whole new level of complexity as decisions have to be made about which troops to upgrade or whether to just save everything to buy new troop types.

Overall, I loved this game. Paladog is absolutely adorable and eye catching. The graphics have a really fun quality to them and the game is very enjoyable. I strongly recommend trying it out. Best of all, you can have 3 save files at a time, so you can play around with different ways of playing and see how they go. I award Paladog with 4.5 hearts of out 5. Very well done.

4.5 out of 5 zelda hearts

If you want to try out Paladog, you can find it here.