I’m back!

Hi all,

I sure haven’t posted on this site for over 2 years! My apologies for not being proactive on this site.

Ever since my move to San Jose, I have focused on living my life, whether it is visiting local spots, writing for Last Token Gaming, focusing on my current job, volunteering for geeky conventions like Fanime, and taking care of other personal things.

While I have been more focused on living life in San Jose, and working hard to stay in the South Bay, I have lost track into what I have been passionate about: software development, but mostly making games.

But I am planning on going with a different direction. During my time with Android app development, I have googled many results, with not a lot of results, and taking more time to develop features than I wanted to. While some solutions work, they can’t work for everybody. Which is why I want to share my solutions online so that any Android Developers who faced the same problems hopefully won’t take as long to make things work as it took me.

Of course, this applies to Game development, which I’m looking into investing my time at some point in the future!

Anyways, look forward to more posts in the future!

Header Image Credit goes to joshdill from DeviantArt. Good stuff!

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A day at a Indie Game Development meetup.

Hello everyone!

It has been a long while since I was last active on making games. Since the game Sean and I both created for the Candy Jam, I became burned out from working nonstop at my job and working on the game for two weeks. Afterwards, I was really busy with attending to whatever life threw at me (whether it is socializing, going home for the weekend, etc). As things started settling down, I finally decided that it would be time to start surrounding myself with independent game developers again so I could have my passion for game development rekindled once again. I figured what could be a better way to do so than to go to an independent game development meetup events. Lucky for me, San Jose (as well as the surrounding towns) has a high volume of meetup groups of varying interests, including game development. Last night, my quest took me to the Microsoft branch in Mountain View where a certain indie game meetup group has their monthly meetings there.

In these kind of meetups, you could bring your current project it to show it to other people with hopes of getting feedback(that is assuming you are currently working on it or finished it recently). This aspect is pretty interesting as you get to see some creativity of varying sorts.  During my time at the meetup events of this group, I have seen one of the projects that was made at Global Game Jam (at the Facebook site where I was a while ago), along with a 2D Spy Party inspired game, a game that was released on the Ouya console, a candy themed dungeon-crawling game, and an Oculus Rift simulation (which led to my first Oculus Rift exposure). It’s also interesting to find out what they enjoy playing based on the games that they made, or seeing their end result of their creativity.

Its pretty sweet!

Its pretty sweet!

Other than showing off games, the dynamic is pretty much the same as any other meetup group. You chat with people and you get to network with people. Its interesting to hear different stories of people at the meetups. I once met an artist at one of the earlier meetup events I went to who used to work as a art director for AAA games until he worked on 3 consecutive projects that ended up being cancelled. One of these titles that he worked on was Star Wars 1313 that got cancelled when LucasArts closed its doors about a year ago. At the last night’s event, I also met an individual who specialized in the marketing aspect who knew Pixel for years in prior to his release of Cave Story. With a varying amount of backgrounds from independent game developers, you could also ask about what it is like to work in a certain aspect of game development (such as art). It’s really cool on how they approach on creating their pieces that would be eventually be used in their current project. I even got some tips on how I could explore a certain area of game development that I have always wanted to try out (which I’ll go over that in a later post). Hearing on what people have to say in these conversations is what makes me enjoy the independent gaming community for the type of people that are involved with making games.

Oh and lastly, if you are a game developer that is working on a game that is looking for other people to help you on your projects, going to these kind of meetups is not a bad idea. There is a chance you could meet someone who have the same interests as you have. I have been asked by a couple people if I could contribute to their projects. As much as I would like to help them, I was too busy to set aside my own time. After all, I still have some projects that I would like to revisit in the near future.

Did the last night’s event help spark up my interest in game development? I like to think it did a little bit. I couldn’t have picked a better time to try and spark my passion for game development once more because life has started easing its grip on me, allowing me more time to do what I please. I may be able to start making games in the near future. Perhaps I could explore that aspect that I mentioned earlier on my post in the near future.

That’s all I have for now. Until next time, don’t be strangers!

This post is reposted at Last Token Gaming. Come here to check out the post and give me and the other writers some love!

Nostalgia Game Review: Spyro the Dragon

Look at that majestic dragon!

Look at that majestic dragon!

Ahh Spyro the Dragon. This was an another game that I remembered playing at my aunt’s house years ago during the glorious PSOne years. I was drawn to this game because of the fact that you could play as a dragon. I also saw the commercials for the game which made me drawn to the game even more. I remember the good times I had from roasting sheep to well-done and ramming those nasty green bad guys to grab different colored gems. 14 years later, I managed to get this game at the PSN store and I had the pleasure playing this game again!

As it turns out, Spyro the Dragon was made to appeal to the younger audience so that Sony could broaden its audience. Around the time this game was made, all of the other hits were appealing to the older audience (with the exception of Crash Bandicoot) like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, etc., so it was about time that the kiddies back in the day could have another game to play with. Insomniac Games (the guys behind Rachet and Clank series) managed to rise to the occasion. As the result, the kids yet again have another 3D classic gem for the Playstation library.

Spyro the Dragon takes place in the mythical Dragon Kingdom where dragons exist in harmony. That is, until Gnasty Gnorc  imprison all of the dragons into their crystal forms except for our main hero Spyro. As the small purple dragon with attitude, you have to traverse through all 5 realms to save all of your fellow dragons and defeat Gnasty once and for all.

This adventure takes Spyro through all 5 different realms before going to Ghastly’s world to settle the score. Each realm has different levels for Spyro to traverse through and rescue the dragons as well as collecting stolen gems and eggs (which the eggs are held by those nasty blue thieves). In each of the realms, there is a level where you can control Spyro as he flies and you have to hit all of the obstacles in order to complete the flight levels. In addition, each realm also has a boss which can pose a challenge to the player.

This is one of the earliest games where 3D controls are introduced which became the staple of all 3D games today. By that, I mean you could move your character with the joystick and use shoulder buttons to move the camera around. You could also look into the first person(ish) perspective by holding the triangle button. However, the camera is situated behind Spyro’s head rather in front of his head as the more modern 3D games have done. As someone who was more used to modern 3D game controls, it took me some time to gain a grasp of that. But I forgive this game. Besides, it is an early 3D game. Besides, having the ability to make Spyro glide (along with making Spyro ram into enemies and roast his foes) aren’t really shabby either. I mean, how could you not love gliding, burning your enemies, and ramming your enemies? I’d say it is rather satisfying!

The former drummer of The Police was responsible for composing the soundtrack in this game. For a former drummer, it was rather surprising to see what he managed to pull off in the electronic music department. Each of these tracks in the game were given a nice mythical feel to them, which fits the game rather well. Not to mention that the music on its own was decent to say the least. For some reason, the theme of the Peace Keepers realm has always stuck in my head for years and to this day I could still remember how it sounds.

Another great thing about this game is the ridiculous amount of variety that was put into this game. The developers went all out and added the variety to the realms, the levels in the realms, and the enemies that dwell in them. Each realm was never similar to the other, and in each of the differentiating levels, there are different enemies in which you have to defeat. Even through the number of  different enemies per level was rather small, you could never expect who you would face next when you step into a new level. In addition, the flight levels in each of the realms are a nice departure from the usual platforming that you have to do so often. The design that is put into the game complements each level and enemies rather well, as each enemy has a slightly different strategy in order to defeat these enemies.

At the time this game was made, it was more common practice in platformers to create enemies that have only have one function, which is to move around in a certain pattern. Spyro the Dragon departed from this usual formula to create the enemies with a AI that was more complex at the time. The enemies are more intractable to the player. For the most part, they don’t attack the player until the they get close. There are other enemies that do more than just that. Like the enemies manning cannons who would fire the cannon balls at Spyro and…this.

Why yes, they are indeed mooning Spyro.

Why yes, they are indeed mooning Spyro.

It’s always a treat when the developers try to deviate from the usual formula. And that’s where Insomniac Games did it fantastically well with the enemies in this game.

There is only one minor thing they could have done to make this game better. Before I say this, I’ll say that it is indeed a game made for the younger audience. That being said, the difficulty level in this game is rather not suited for the players that are looking for a challenge from the game (unless they are trying to earn a 100% completion in this game). The difficulty does curve up a bit later in the game, but for me, the curve isn’t well adjusted enough. Even though that the strategy slightly varies within each different enemy, it didn’t take much time to figure out how to best a new foe. Once I got to that point, I managed to (almost) breeze through the level without much trouble. Despite the fact that the difficulty did pick up at the fourth realm, it would have been more reasonable if the game didn’t take as long for the curve to slope up. Other than that, the challenge is rather reasonable for all players alike, which it’s not bad considering that it is a kid’s game.

Overall, it is a fantastic game. Even though it doesn’t age as well as other older games, it is rather a fun game to play if you are wanting to take a trip down memory lane or if you are a kid that have yet to hit their pre-teen years. However, if you don’t fit into either of these categories, its not a bad game to play. Even though it may be too easy for some people, its rather satisfying ramming your enemies or burning your enemies to crisp. If the lack of challenge is the only bad thing in this game, I’d say that Insomniac Games did a fantastic job making Sony reach out to the younger audiences as well as making the game enjoyable for everyone (I mean, how often do you get to play as a dragon and breathe fire?). This game deserves my score of 9 out of 10. If you are curious about this game and if you own a PS4, you could wait until this game is available in Playstation Now and try it out for yourself. Or if you don’t want to wait and if you have a PS3, you could just buy it from PSN no problem! Its pretty cheap too!

I’ll end this review with a interesting fact: One of the tracks used in Spyro The Dragon is used for The Amanda Show (that one Nick show that aired in the 90s). Listen to the track here and the show theme song here and hear for yourself!

Until next time, take care and don’t be strangers!

 

 

 

Achievements: game makers or game breakers?

This was posted to Last Token Gaming. To check out their blog, click here to view this post and check out the blog!

Nearly nine and a half years ago, the Xbox 360 console was released to the retail shelves. The release of the second Microsoft console generation introduced a feature that eventually became the staple of the entire gaming culture. That feature is the achievements. Their popularity grew steadily over the years as other platforms followed suit. Playstation 3 introduced the trophies, Steam added the achievements into games that were released years prior to the achievement era, and even Apple’s Game Center has an achievement system established for the mobile games. The achievements were introduced with the sole purpose of adding replay value to the Xbox 360 games. Back when the achievements were born, many gamers alike played their games repeatedly with a goal to earn as many achievements as possible to improve their gamer profile and earn bragging rights. However, as the games evolved over the years, so did the achievements that reflected the game. However, evolution never guarantees greatness to those that underwent evolution.

Back when I played Guacamelee (as I covered it in my backlog game review), I was awed by the wonder that the game brought me from their combat system and the art style. The feeling I had from the moment that I started playing felt like a feeling I would get when I turned on the system for the first time after a temporary hiatus from video games to play a game where the quality of the experience is comparable to Shadow of The Colossus. This feeling felt real despite the fact that I would play video games often. After my first half hour into the game, I managed to destroy my first Choozo statue, and from that, my character learned the first new move of the game. I proceeded to use the new move for the first time to break the red block, only to see a familiar grey box appear on the screen with the following text that reads: “Achievement Unlocked! My First Power Move!”

 

Achievement

Umm thanks for the achievement?

 

At that moment, that excitement that I had diminished quite a bit. Even though the overall experience of the game was stellar and exciting, a good chunk of the excitement that I had at that particular moment disappeared within in a split second. I wanted to be happy for what I’ve earned, but at the same time, doing something for the first time didn’t really feel like an achievement. It felt like a tiny victory, but it didn’t feel like that victory would be worth bragging about to my friends.

There are many types of achievements out there that bring this similar effect to many gamers alike. What is the purpose of these achievements? I’ll go over a variety of them along with reasons why (or at least I think why) they exist, and why are they bad for our games.

There are achievements that award players for doing a task related to a game mechanic for the first time, or doing just a simple action. There are a range of achievements that fall into this category such as doing a newly acquired move, jumping, or even something as easy as this. They exist with the purpose to reward the players for learning something new (usually in form of tutorial rewards). The insultingly easy achievements cater to the people who are not good at video games. For the achievements aim to reward players for completing tutorials, these are not necessarily bad achievements, but they don’t serve a great purpose for either enhancing the game play nor fulfilling the purpose of being achievements. For the achievements rewarded for simple actions, it could be a variety of reasons. However, none of them are beneficial for the game experience. For all of these achievements, getting rewarded for doing something new or doing something simple, they all share something in common. These achievements, give the patronizing feeling to all of the players alike.

There are also achievements that are awarded to the players for merely completing parts of the story. “Hey, did you just finish Chapter 2-1? Awesome! Here’s an achievement!” “Chapter 5 was such a doozy for you! You died a hundred times? Thats ok, you get an achievement for finishing that chapter! Here ya go champ!” There are possibilities on why these exists. They may serve as milestones for the player. They may motivate the player to finish the game. Or possibly both. There may have been more that I’ve missed. Why are these bad for the games? My reason behind this is that…well..anyone could earn these achievements. No matter how skilled (or bad) you are, if you can complete chapter 4-3, that’s all you need to do to earn the achievement. To me, it almost feels like I’m getting awards for participating in a science fair regardless of how great or how terrible my science project turned out.

You get an achievement! And you get an achievement! Everyone gets an achievement!

You get an achievement! And you get an achievement! Everyone gets an achievement!

If the worst gamer could earn these particular achievements, then can they really be called achievements? Earning achievements by going through the game or doing the simpler tasks is almost an unfair way to rack up your gamer score to the more skilled gamers. I don’t know about you, but I am not sure if earning achievements through these methods would be a way to make your gamer score worthy of bragging rights.

On the other hand, there are achievements that require a good amount of investment of some sort in order to earn them. All of these achievements require  a lot of time and patience. There are some achievements that require a lot of skill with some luck. These achievements consist of collecting all of the 100+ items in the same category (like collecting flags in Assassin’s Creed, or pigeons in GTA IV), beating a level (or even the entire game) without taking any damage, winning a higher number of consecutive rounds without losing once, or doing something that seems impossible like killing an elite in Halo Reach, while falling, and having that kill save you from death by falling all in that particular order.

Yes, I am comparing apples to oranges here, but I’ve grouped them together because they share certain things in common. They aim to reward you for your hard work and investment. Which is the purpose of achievements right? Because collecting all of the white-tailed salamanders in Shadow of the Colossus would be an better achievement (or trophy) to brag about than an achievement earned by pressing start to start The Simpsons Game right? They would be, if they didn’t require a lot more investment from the player than one would deem as reasonable in terms of a reasonable challenge, which is an another thing that these achievements share in common. Some of these examples include: Completing Through the Fire and Flames on Insane difficulty on Guitar Hero 3 (take a look here and see for yourself), playing the entire game of Mega Man 10 without getting hit once, and becoming the top ranked player in the world in Quake 4 or Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, to name a few. Last but not least, they all evoke the same feeling from the player once they earned that achievement, which is the feeling of dissatisfaction knowing that they have invested many hours only to boost their gamer score by 50 points. Talk about satisfaction (end sarcasm). These achievements don’t enhance the game because these achievements set the expectations too high for a player. Would any normal player be willing invest hours to earn an achievement for being the #1 ranked player in the world? I wouldn’t think of investing that much time. It would be more fair if the payout was much greater, like 10000 points for being the top player in the world, or 1000 points for collecting all of the flags. Otherwise, the achievements can be compared to earning $5 for biking from Sacramento to San Francisco without taking a break.

All of these examples mentioned above are the most common achievements seen in games. However, that’s not all of game-killing achievements that exist. However, as I haven’t been current on the types of achievements existing in games, these achievements may no longer exist in the more current games like Goat Simulator or Titanfall (or are they?), but they have existed, and I have seen them. And they made me wonder on who decides what achievements go into the games.

The first type of the miscellaneous achievements being mentioned in my list are the achievements that require you to do something that is rather counter-intuitive to playing games in general. I am referring to achievements like hitting A 2037 times in Command & Conquer 3 or watching through the credits in certain games. These kind of achievements are rather counter-intuitive because they rather encourage player to do a certain action in order to earn it rather than reward the player. It’s one thing if you can reward the player for playing the game the way it was meant to be played (more on that later in this article), but is the game meant to be played by jumping 2037 in a first person shooter? Unless the game is a puzzle game like Portal with the jumping mechanic as the only mean to get through the game, I highly doubt that achievement would belong in a game like Command and Conquer 3 or in any other game for that matter.

Another type of miscellaneous achievements are the achievements that are more common in today’s games: the achievements that reward you for performing below par in a game. Here are the examples of this kind of achievement: If you performed so poorly at God of War that the game would suggest that you would play the game at a easier difficulty, you earned an achievement. If you failed a song in a Guitar Hero game, congrats, you earned 0 points towards your score. I hardly see the appeal of having these achievements in games. These are bad for the games because they destroy the purpose of achievements themselves. Achievements are supposed to reward the player for their efforts, not for their terrible performance. Or add salt to the wound like Guitar Hero’s 3 achievement for failing a song after completing at least 90% of the song. That is just downright wrong.

What kind of achievement that could possibly worse than earning achievements for sucking poorly? How about earning achievements advertised by companies like Tide? Or Serta? This final kind of miscellaneous achievement do exist in games. NCAA 08 Football is the only game that comes to my mind for these kind of achievements. If you manage to win a game if you were down by 14 points in the fourth quarter, you would earn an achievement that is sponsored by Pontiac with the logo on the achievement image. If you managed to shut out the other team, you earned an achievement that is sponsored by Old Spice. I have myself earned one of those achievements since I have NCAA 08 Football. These achievements provide dissatisfaction to the game play because we play games as an alternative to watch video on TV or online, where we would be content to see advertisements. We gamers are not a big fans of having advertisement in our games. We would rather play games to enjoy playing games rather than being enticed to purchase Doritos from earning achievements.

Brought to you by big corporations looking to earn bigger bucks!

Brought to you by big corporations looking to earn bigger bucks!

Over the years, achievements have received quite a bit of stigma due to the abundance of these achievements. It’s a shame that the potential of achievements is rather being wasted due to lack of thought that goes into these achievements. However, this is not to say that it is impossible to fix this mess. I’d like to offer a solution to give the achievements a better name and restore the true purpose of rewarding the players.

During the years that I made games, one of the things I learned is that the best way to ensure that your players are getting the experience that you aim to provide is to have players test your game and ensure that the game evokes the players the way you intend the game to. Why can’t the same be done for achievements? It shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure that the players will feel a great sense of accomplishment by testing achievements as well. While the players are testing the game, why not give them some physical rewards for accomplishing a certain feat and see how they react. Like giving them candy? Or maybe some money? Coupons? Other free goodies? Because who could say no to free stuff? I sure wouldn’t.

If it feels that it may be a bit of a task, I could offer another suggestion to help make this task easier. May I offer a suggestion on gauging on how the players would react in prior to testing achievements? This could be done by simply asking questions. Making a questionnaire would help to get specifics on what they feel what rewards are worth challenging themselves for. Or perhaps creating a survey on SurveyMonkey would help out as well. Anything that gains some evidence on what people feel are accomplishments would come a long way. This may help you gain a better idea on how to design achievements that reward the player the proper way while evoking the experiences for your players the way that you want your game to.

I’m not sure if this would reverse the bad reputation given to achievements, but it would sure give a great place to start. I personally like the idea of being rewarded for playing well and challenging myself to earn these rewards. It is rather obvious that the achievements are here to stay in the gaming community, so why tarnish something that may stick around until the end of time? It would make things more rewarding (pun intended) for the achievements themselves if proper measures are taken to ensure that the players feel properly challenged and rewarded. As long as the rewards are not sponsored by Gatorade of course.

Nostalgia Review: Crash Bandicoot

The new Xbox and Playstation generation is well underway, with Titanfall, Outlast, and Assassin’s Creed IV (along with other games) getting praise and attention by gamers and critics alike. Gamers today are enjoying the glory that these new next gen games bring to our living rooms.  As amazing as these games are, sometimes it is beneficial to get a good dose of nostalgia and head back to the past. For the first Nostagia Game Review, we are heading to the early years of the first Playstation generation. We’ll jump into one of the first mascots for the Playstation ever existed and explore the first game featuring the mascot that is still in the hearts of older gamers today: Crash Bandicoot.

Who...me?

Who…me?

Two years after Playstation debuted as a console, Naughty Dog decided that it’s time for the 3D platforming to make its debut on the scene, and that’s where Crash Bandicoot was born.  The story of the game puts you as a quirky marsupial named Crash, who was mutated in result of a failed experiment made by Dr. Neo Cortex and Nitrus Brio in attempt to create a army of mutated animals to take over the world. After the Crash made it’s escape, Dr. Cortex wanted nothing more than the demise of that darn bandicoot (aside from world domination of course, just like any old evil scientist). You must navigate Crash through three Australian-based islands in order to get back to Cortex’s lab to save the world and save Crash’s girlfriend.

During the years where Mario and Sonic are dominating the platforming scene, Sony decided to have a platforming mascot of their own to try and go toe-to-toe with the platforming contenders by having the first 3D platform mascot. Like Mario and Sonic, Crash Bandicoot had its own basic platforming mechanics: run, jump, break cubical objects, accessing bonus levels, and jumping on enemies. These three mascots are the same in those aspects, but they each have something that sets them apart. Mario had some power ups that can enhance him in many ways to aid him on his quests to rescue Peach. Sonic had the speed to blaze through levels to get defeat Dr. Robotinik (or Eggman excuuuussee me). What did Crash have that differentiates him from the other two? Having the ability to break boxes and push away enemies by…spinning? As odd as the mechanic sounds, the designers managed to make the mechanic mesh well in the game. I’ll get more into that later.

Aside from the spinning mechanic, the developers decided to add a few more things to make the platforming game a bit more unique. Throughout the game, you’ll find boxes that you’ll break in order to obtain Wumpa fruits (aka the rings and coins of this game) and lives. In some boxes, you’ll find a floating mask companion named Aku Aku who will aid you in your quest as he protects you from enemy harm (as one-touch-can-kill rule also applies in this game). If you manage to collect three of the masks without getting hit, you are given brief invulnerability that’ll give you the ability to decimate anything in your path. Another thing that the developers decided to do for this major platforming mascot is to reward players for completing levels without dying and breaking every box to earn a gem. What would you get by getting all of the gems in the game? A secret ending that is accessible by a certain level. Of course, if you are ever so curious, you’ll have to find out for yourself!

As far as controls are concerned, you use the directional pad to control Crash’s movement. An odd choice of movement controls considering that Playstation had…you know…joysticks to use. Pressing X makes Crash jump and Square or Circle buttons makes Crash execute his spinning attack. That’s all there is for the controls. Why did they not add more to Crash’s movement is beyond me.

If there is anything good that came out of the lack of controls, it would be that the lack of action forced the level designers to be creative. They played with the idea of easing the player into the game with shorter and simpler levels before increasing the difficulty and length of the levels. Even in the later levels, the designers turned up the knob on their creativity and kept the environments in mind along with the spinning and jumping mechanics. Their creativity allowed the players to give adequate challenge in each level in the game based on these factors and it shows! Even in certain sections of the level that could be only accessed by certain colored gems, the developers carefully curved the difficulty of those special sections according to the what colored gem you used to access the section of the level. If I couldn’t say it enough, they have given a lot of thought into each and every level. And it shows. They even had the decency to implement some tutorials in the game without using text at all! Then again, text based tutorials are not as common as they are today.

If you compare the graphics of Crash Bandicoot to Titanfall or GTA V, you couldn’t help but to think that this game may not have the best graphics. But considering that this game is made in the era where 3D games are brand new, it is rather impressive. Old graphics, yes, but in the early 3D game era, the work done to make the environment flourish was amazing. For graphics being in 1996, they managed to make the water look impressive. They went into great detail for every entity added to the game, from the plants that serve as decoration into the piranha plants that can make you into their next meal. From the jungle levels to the cave levels to Dr. Neo Cortex levels, each environment is brilliantly colored to match the differentiating environments.

This is the graphics from 1996. Verryyy niiiccee!

This is the graphics from 1996. Verryyy niiiccee!

Geez Jake, it looks like you really enjoy the game so much! Is there anything that you don’t like about it? Well actually there is something that they could have done more to enhance the game play. Despite the fact that this is the first 3D platformer to feature a mascot and that the levels are well designed for the difficulty, the game play became a bit stale after a while due to the fact that the jumping and spinning became a bit boring. If Crash Bandicoot had one more move or two in its arsenal, the level designers could have had a field day making the levels even more memorable.

With all of the criticism aside, it felt great going back into this game years after I first played it at my aunt’s house. I never owned a copy of the game on my own until recently when I bought the PS3 at Black Friday and remembered that I could buy PSOne games at the PSN store. This was one of the first games I purchased, and it was worth the $6 that I spent on that game, and the experience I got from it was almost as magical as when I first played the game years ago. The level design and the graphics truly made this game impressive despite the lack of controls. I’d give this game 8.5 out of 10. If you have a PS3 and if you have yet to get Crash Bandicoot, do yourself a solid and pick up this game. While you are at it, why don’t you get Crash Bandicoot 2 and 3? They are both available if you are so curious.

Thank you guys for stopping by. Until then, don’t be strangers!

Nintendo’s first gaming series: Game & Watch!

Hello readers! Welcome back to my blog!

I finally got around to make another blog post. What will I be talking about this time? One of the first predecessors to all handheld gaming that exists today, Game & Watch from Nintendo!

I can imagine on some of you readers are thinking. “Hey! Wasn’t he that guy from Super Smash Bros Brawl?”

Like this guy right here?

Like this guy right here?

Why yes he is that same guy. When I explained Candy & Watch Saga that Sean and I made for the Candy Game Jam, I always get that question. I am not sure why, but for some reason, I get more motivated to explain where the Super Smash Bros Brawl character came from. Which is going to be the topic of this post.

So where did this LCD-like fellow come from? Well, he was the character featured in the first handheld gaming entities made by Nintendo called Game & Watch. This idea for Game & Watch was begotten by a Nintendo game designer named Gunpei Yokoi. While traveling in 1979, he came up with this idea when he saw a business man pressing random buttons on his LCD calculator out of boredom. The idea then dawned on Yokoi to invent a device that could double as a watch and a gaming device that can be used to kill time. And that’s how Game & Watch came to be. It ended becoming one of the most success gaming products in the early 80’s as it helped Nintendo establish their footprint in the video game industry.

Donkey Kong Game & Watch

Donkey Kong Game & Watch

Each system has its own setup of button and screen(s), depending on the games. Some of the systems have two buttons that move Mr. Game & Watch forward and back in one screen, some of them  have four buttons move the fella diagonally in a screen. Some of them even have a d-pad and two screens like Nintendo DS! Each of them also has two additional buttons which each determine the game mode of the game, which is Game A and Game B. Game B is usually the harder version of Game A, with the objects in the game move faster. Each game screen has an LCD screen with the colored background. The sprites switch on and off similar to give off a pattern like a LCD clock to make it appear that the player is moving along the space. Check out of the video to get a look at the live play of Octopus.

Ball - first game made for the Game & Watch series

Ball – first game made for the Game & Watch series

For the entire duration that Game & Watch dominated the market, Nintendo created approximately 60 different Game & Watch games that spanned through the entire 80’s decade with the final entry being released in 1991. The very first game created was called Ball which was released in 1980. The objective of the game is to control the arms of the juggler and not drop a single ball on the ground. For each time that a ball lands in your hand, you score a point. If a ball misses your hand, you lose a chance. If you lose all three, then its game over. That similar formula of objective, scoring points, and losing chances is maintained throughout many different entries of the Game & Watch series. Many different ideas made it to the Game & Watch series. Some of the more popular games from the series include Octopus (the inspiration for our Candy & Watch Saga), Fire, and Oil Panic. Other games featured different characters from Nintendo back in the 80s including Mario & Donkey Kong. There are also other Game & Watch games that featured characters outside the Nintendo franchise such as Mickey Mouse, Popeye, and even Snoopy. The variety that Nintendo allowed in Game & Watch games managed to reach out to a huge variety of audiences making Game & Watch their first successful gaming series. If you are wondering about the current listing of all of the Game & Watch games, you can take a peek at this link here.

Hey...that looks awfully familiar. Hey that doesn't belong here!

Hey…that looks awfully familiar. Hey that doesn’t belong here!

Since the Game & Watch reigned in the 80s, the technology used was primitive. For the series, Game & Watch didn’t feature interchangeable cartridges so each system has only one game pre-installed. The specs were minimal (since Nintendo cared more about the game play rather than fancy technology at the time) as each game screen per system has an LCD screen with a colored background. The batteries required to operate each system were button cell batteries or the batteries you would find in your laser pointers. They designed to specs to be minimal to where the player can play the game for as long as possible. Assuming that the player plays 1 hour a day on the machine, 2 of the button cell batteries can power the machine for 3-6 months, depending on the usage of the system and the batteries used to operate Game & Watch. Isn’t technology great?

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Near the end of the 80’s, Nintendo slowed down the production of Game & Watch games as they decided to focus their efforts on building the first iteration of the Game Boy. The final Game & Watch game was released in 1991 and it would be the end of it… forever.

Or is it? Yes it was the end of releasing new Game & Watch games, but Nintendo managed to keep the Game & Watch legacy alive. Since 1997, Nintendo started porting the games into compilation games, starting with Game & Watch Gallery for the Game Boy. The Game & Watch Gallery series featured the modern remakes of the Game & Watch games that featured Mario characters, along with the classic versions of the games. Nintendo also ported the dual screen Game & Watch games out to the Nintendo DS store, but they were made exclusive to Club Nintendo members. The DS ports were the most recent ports for the Game & Watch, as the last one got released in 2010.

Game & Watch Gallery.

Will Nintendo ever plan to port the Game & Watch games again? Who knows? There doesn’t seem to any plans to port more Game & Watch games. But for now, Mr. Game & Watch will hold his spot in roster in the Super Smash Bros. series as the games themselves will hold their spot into the hearts of Nintendo and the players.

Backlog gaming review: Guacamelee!

Title

As a independent game developer, I always enjoy playing a good indie game. It feels inspiring to feel the creativity and inspiration that has been brought from the games the independent game developers play. Or at least brought from some form of media that they are exposed too. Without some constraints made from work environment from bigger name studios, these independent game developers have more freedom to unleash their creativity and make their product a bit more heartfelt and homemade. Kind of like my dad’s breakfast burritos that I used to eat on weekends when I lived with my parents. More enjoyable when homemade as opposed to going out and eating breakfast burritos from bigger breakfast chains.

But enough about food, lets talk about a game I played recently called Guacamelee. After buying this game from the most recent Steam Holiday Sale, it has taken backseat to some other games and some life events…until recently I finally found time to play the game and enjoy what Guacamelee had to offer. And boy, it was a treat for me!

The story of Guacamelee takes place in Mexico where you play the muscular protagonist named Juan Aguacate. After gaining the powers of a Luchador, he is set out to save the world and El Presidente’s Daughter, which are both held captive by an evil charro skeleton named Carlos Calaca. The player must wrestle their way (see what I did there?) through temples in order to fight Carlos and his minions to save the world of the living AND the dead as they both hang in the balance.

Save the worlds...in a chicken costume! Yes, Gold Edition allows players to switch costumes as well as create ones of your own!

Save the worlds…in a chicken costume! Yes, Gold Edition allows players to switch costumes as well as create ones of your own!

Guacamelee is an Action-Adventure game with a few dashes of free exploration that pay homage to the older games that came before it, such as Metroid, Castlevania, and The Legend of Zelda. Like the other games in the same category, you start out with the basic mechanics, such as run, jump, and a basic punching combo. Throughout the game, the player will encounter “Choozo” statues (a major reference to Metroid) which will give the player more abilities to fight baddies as well as give Juan more mobility to traverse through the world. The player can also unlock more abilities to fight by purchasing through a shop with the money obtained from successfully crushing Carlos’s minions. Later on, the player will also gain an ability to switch in between the world of the living and the world of the dead. This is a mechanic that requires the player to use in order to travel throughout Mexico. This game can either be played solo or with another player locally, which the second player will take role as a female fighter named Tostada.

2 player

Presentation-wise, Drinkbox Studios did a fantastic job. I am not a guy who enjoys neat artwork/graphics in games. But when a game does a fantastic job in the art department, I actually take notice and give major brownie points to the game. And boy, Guacamelee will have brownie points for days from me. The visuals are outstanding in every aspect. They are mindful when it comes to picking the right color palettes as well as designing the visual environment for a variety of different levels and it shows. Guacamelee is a game that achieves visual excellence in its own fashion. Guacamelee also has a great soundtrack to complement with the Mexican world!

Guacamelee manages to maintain the free-exploration aspect of the game well like Metroid or Legend of Zelda did. When you first start out, there are areas in the first levels that you can’t access without certain abilities. Once the player has obtained these moves, the player can come back to the earlier levels and obtain extra goodies which can help the player throughout the game. There are also areas of the game where it can accessed with a little exploration. For the players that decide to go from the main path and explore, Guacamelee rewards the players for their efforts.

Guacamelee also did a great job on balancing the difficulty throughout the game by designing the enemies themselves. They created a variety of enemies, each with its own difficulty level. The player will fight the basic skeletal baddies in the beginning. As the player progresses through the game, the player will face either more of the basic goons, face foes of great valor, or they throw in a mixture of both, just to keep the player on their toes. On top of that, they gave foes different shields which each requires a certain ability to break. For example, the foes with red shield would require the player to use an uppercut in order to break the shield. And for those who seek a bigger challenge (or for those looking to unlock achievements), The Gold Edition has an optional level called El Infierno that consists of challenges that the player must complete for bragging rights. Even though that getting the gold on all of the challenges didn’t take me as long as I would have liked, the challenges made me work for the gold that I had received. I gotta say El Infierno is indeed hard as hell (pun intended).

I love the game for what it has done well. But no game is flawless, as Guacamelee has a couple of minor quirks that I wish that they would have worked on. For one, the length of the game was a little too short for my liking. Even after getting the gold metal of all the challenges, obtaining all of the orbs, and obtaining every single chest in the game, I still managed to complete the game in under 12 hours. I wished that they would have added more content into the game in order to increase the length of the game. I would be happier if they manage to add at least 4 more hours of content. The other quirk that I found is that I feel that the amount of meme references added in the game was a little overbearing. I know that we live in a age where memes are prominent in the internet culture, and I enjoy a meme here and there. But the amount of references that they put into the game was a little more than what I am comfortable with. I would be more ok with it if they removed a few of them from the game. At least they managed to make the memes blend with the theme of the game very well.

Don’t let what I have to say deter you from getting Guacamelee. Even if you end up spending a small chunk of your time playing the game from start to finish, you’d have a pleasant experience from what the game has to offer. If I were to give a score for this game, I’d give it a 9 out of 10. If you are looking for a wonderful visual experience that is complemented by a great and balanced gameplay, I’d recommend getting the game when you get a chance. It’ll be worth your time I promise!

I have been bad on making posts lately. Since I’m finally about to get some free time, I’ll use that time to write more blog posts. That way, I can make postings more consistent and in case something comes up, I won’t have to worry about setting aside over 3 hours I needed. Thanks for reading the review! Go ahead and support indie developers by buying the game if you haven’t and stay tuned for next week!

Candy Jam/Candy & Watch Saga Postmortem! With Sean Willis!

Welcome back everyone!

On my last post, I talked about a game that I made for Global Game Jam that wasn’t accessible to the public. I also mentioned that I would participate through another game jam and make a game that is more accessible to everyone. Well guess what? That’s what I will be talking about in this post along with my experiences of making a game while being employed.

So the Game Jam that I participated recently was called Candy Jam. The event was organized just to poke fun at King (famous for Candy Crush Saga) in response of their attempt to trademark the word “Candy” into games, which can put on a good restriction on other developers if they wish to make a game involving candy, which can kill the creativity of the games in the future assuming this trademark passes. The rules are simple: Make the game that has words that are associated with King’s games. Specifically, Candy, Saga, Candy, Apple, Memory, Edge, and Scroll. Joining me in my part to troll King for their shenanigans is a fellow Last Token Gaming member named Sean Willis.

Candy & Watch Saga Screenshot

Candy & Watch Saga Screenshot

Sean: Yes the Candy Jam, all about candy and how much the King games company has been hassling developers over the name and inclusion of candy. Crazy really but even crazier is how many other devs jumped in to make well, very odd games. Talking together about the game jam Jake and I came to the conclusion to create a very simple Game and Watch style game.

First concept art

First concept art from Sean

Jake: For those who are not familiar with Game and Watch, it was Nintendo’s handheld gaming predecessor to its well known Game Boy Handheld. It was primitive in everything. Like the background was static and everything else on foreground was just LCD graphics that only light up to make things look like they are moving. But in actually, its just certain spots where sprites turn on and off to give off that illusion.

Sean: Game and Watch games that old now? They were a little before my time as well but LCD games continued being made well into the 90s. Not so much these days but I think Nintendo still makes remakes of their own. For the project the simple style of graphics and simple design seemed like a good idea for our limited time for the project. I find I do better with pixels so I tried to stylize things after the Game and Watch remakes on the Gameboy just to give us some structure to work with quickly. My art is horrible though I’m glad I limited myself to pixels. Heck just look at the background I made. Though I was more worried about providing a layout and design for Jake to know where to program everything. I’m just glad it worked out really.

Unlit LCD background

Unlit LCD background by Sean

Jake: Thats true, I remember owning a few of those LCD games when I was younger. I forgot that Game & Watch started the LCD game trend. I was honestly open to doing either the arcade remake or a Game & Watch Game. If I remember right, we went with the latter to make things easier on both of us. And I’m glad that we did go with what we went with. Since I did all of the programming in the game, it turned out to almost as easy than I thought it would be, despite the fact that were a few hard obstacles I had to tackle. In the end, there were a few things that I wished I had more time to implement.

So what went well for the game?

Sean: I’d say the fact it worked out and is playable at the end. Friends I’ve had play the game say they took a moment to figure out the gameplay but it sunk in quickly. I’m happy my design worked out. Through testing though I’ve found a small problems but in the end they sort of make the game more difficult and kind of fun in that regard. It just goes to show how some mistakes or even a time limit will end up creating fun elements purely by mistake. Art wise though I felt like I could have done a lot more considering I have much more time in my day. It does work out being as simple as it is though. If anyone asks about the animations not working though we can just say its to make the game more authentic to those cheap LCD game knock offs one might find back in the day. So more points for nostalgic authenticy there.

Concept #3

Concept #3

Jake: It was definitely playable for sure. That was the first side project I ever worked on that turned out to be more than interactable. In the past, every side project I worked on I either quit due to obligations, put it on a backburner until I can get back to it, or that it turned out to be interactable. It was also the first project that I did all of the programming for that game from scratch. I was actually shocked that I was able to bring almost all of the functionality to life but it helped reinforce on why we went with Game & Watch idea in the first place. It was also the first game project I attempted to create sounds for the game. The sounds didn’t turn out so bad. When I showed it off to a few people at a meetup meeting, it almost sounded like LCD noises. I knew that I couldn’t replicate those sounds, but for what I had, they turned out decent. More points for old authenticity!

So what went bad for the development?

Sean: You could say nothing did, it all went according to plan but thats like planning to make mistakes rather than focusing on making something work. One learns more from mistakes after all and some mistakes turn out into fun gameplay mechanics. I think I could have managed the design layouts much faster but I wanted to make sure we both contributed to the ideas. Perhaps I’m making excuses for procrastinating but considering we never really spoke much at all before hand the whole experience was just one good mistake in my view. We didn’t argue about our own ideas and mostly joked about in our communications (mostly through Skype) and quickly decided on a goal to achieve. Its not perfect in the end but its a free game and the experience was well worth the time spent in my view. Besides its not like we can’t come back to it later and improve things. I still have some unfinished higher res sprites to complete and I’d like to use them in something. Beauty of using the Unity engine really, its easy to jump back into projects and make updates without rewriting things.

This would be our ideal final version. Just kidding!

This would be our ideal final version. Just kidding!

Jake: There were a couple of things that I wished that it would have went differently: 1) I have a job where I was programming an app for my company. So essentially I spent almost waking moment either coding for my job, or for this game, with the exception of commuting and taking care of basic needs like hygiene and food. Weird that I would put that down considering I’m an indie game developer. With my motivation, there were nights that I stayed up a little late working on the game. But thankfully, it didn’t affect my performance terribly. I had weekends to sleep in. 2) I wished that I allowed Sean to work on the programming aspect sooner. The reason why I held back on that aspect because I thought coding collaboration would consist of using the GIT tool, in which I had serious trust issues with since GIT was the cause of majority of the problems that gave me and the rest of the people I worked with at Global Game Jam event. That was until I discovered that I could have compressed my work in a zip file and send it over to Sean through Skype. By then, I already established my code base in every area of my game. Had I figured it out sooner, that would have helped the game be a little more polished. As far as collaboration is concerned, there weren’t any issues, which definitely made my experience more enjoyable. Thankfully, I can always come back and work on a few things that I missed out on.

That would be all that I have for this post If you are curious about finding out more about the Candy Jam that Sean and I participated in: http://itch.io/jam/candyjam. As I promised on my last post, you can play our very game by going on the link here: http://jakester1013.itch.io/candy–watch-saga-candy-guardian-of-scroll-apple-tower. Just fyi, if you don’t have Unity Web Player installed, it is required for you to do so in order to check out our game! Since I’m finally settled down at my new home, I am going to go back to making posts on a weekly basis. Every other week, I’ll make a post on anything I feel like posting that related to technology while I write an article for Last Token Gaming for the other weeks.

Until then, adios!

Global Game Jam 2014 @ Facebook HQ! My experiences

Howdy ho everyone!

I just settled down from moving to San Jose to start my new job in a neighboring town. What did I do since my move-in at San Jose aside from working at my new job? Oh nothing big. Just participated at the awesome Global Game Jam at the Facebook HQ in Menlo Park!

And got some sweet Facebook swag!

And got some sweet Facebook swag!

Game Jams are contests where you have to form a team and make a game based on a theme that is given to the paticipants in a time period. Some of these jams give the participants 48 hours to make a game, but others give a longer deadline. Global Game Jam is the most well renowned Game Jam known to Game Developers because it is an international event that participants throughout the globe partake in this event. Where could you attend a Global Game Jam event? Well you could go to the GGJ website and find a site that is closest to you. Or you could even create one yourself if there is the closest site too far for you. But of course you have to find some people who would make a game with you.

At the Facebook HQ, we were to make a game that is based on the theme, “We don’t see things as they are, we only see things as we are.” At that point, we had 48 hours to form a team, come up with a game, and go through crunch time to make a game. I ended up in a team with people who I barely knew from college and with people who I had no idea who they were. Despite the lack of familiarity with one another, we managed to come together as one and worked our butts off with some of us getting as little as 3-5 hours of sleep at night.

We ended up making a game that turned out to be…a little more ambitious than we expected. Our idea is to make a Facebook multiplayer game which allows players to log in and then have them play as their profile pictures and have their friends join them. In this game, which is inspired by Agent Smith from The Matrix, you have to tag other people that dont share your persona and transform them into one of you. How did this turned out to be ambitious? In order to implement the multiplayer aspect of the game, you’d have to understand how to implement networking which is essential for making multiplayer games. I dont know exactly how it’s done, but what I do know is that it is one of the hardest features of a game to implement.

We worked our sleep-deprived rear ends off in attempt to make a game that is decent enough for everyone else to play. Despite our best efforts, we ran into a good amount of issues while making the game. If the networking aspect of the game wasn’t hard enough for us to implement, there were times when some of the work that we did that got overwritten by other people’s work. There were also some people (like me) who couldn’t even push their work into the repository. Between those two frustrating factors, we may have lost around 10 – 15 hours worth of work. This was a frustrating experience for people who weren’t familiar with version control software called Git which allows many people to push their work into a repository.

Curse you Git!!!

Curse you Git!!!

Thankfully, one of the team members brought a lot of USB drives, which saved our bacon near the end as it prevented more loss of work.

Despite the fact that nobody knew each other, we worked well together as a team and we did spetacular in contrubiting our efforts. However, at the end of the jam, our game wasn’t as complete as we would have liked. We managed to implement networking along with AI and a good amount of other features. Another sad thing about the outcome is that we could not implement the facebook login like we wanted to on time. In the end, the only way that anyone could play the game is if you have an Access token which is used to debug and test Facebook apps, which, for this game, the token is only known by two of the people I worked with. For this reason, we didn’t upload our game to the Global Game Jam site, so if you were to search for Agent Borg, you wouldn’t find it. The only evidence I could scrape up that says that I made a game is a couple of pictures here.

The only way to ever get in the game

The only way to ever get in the game

The sphere on the top is trying to convert another being into a sphere like itself

The sphere on the top is trying to convert another being into a sphere like itself

I feel bad that the game was limited in access as well as playability. But I am rather pleased with the experience that I had from this year’s Global Game Jam. I leared a alot from working with a bigger group in crunch time. I learned that when working with a big team, you have to figure out on what your role is, what you will do to help out your team, and you gotta work fast in order to get features implemented quickly. And being organized in terms of what the game needs done helps too. And learning how to work with 3-5 hours of sleep a night also helps as well.

Since Agent Borg didn’t turn out well enough for me to share with you guys, I will make it up to you. As of now, me and Sean Willis, a fellow member of Last Token Gaming , are joining forces to make a game for another Game Jam. This Game Jam has already started and we have until next Monday to create a game. What is the theme of this new Game Jam? What game are we making? That will be revealed on my next posting!

Until then, farewell and dont be strangers!

Adopted by Last Token Gaming! An introductory blog post to Last Token Gaming followers from a new writer!

Hello everyone! Welcome back to my blog! Or just welcome to the newcomers of this blog!

I have taken a month-long break to wrap up my programming apprenticeship, work on my side-projects, enjoy the holidays, apply for many job postings, and even work on programming problems that I need to do in order to move forward with my job candidacy with a few companies. But no worries, I haven’t forgotten about you guys!

During my break, I was taken in by Last Token Gaming as one of their own writers. This means that there will be some video game related blog posts coming in near the future! If you fellow followers haven’t like the Last Token Gaming page yet, do me and the rest of the crew an awesome favor and like the page here!

Now to introduce myself to Last Token Gaming followers, I am Jake Rushing, a recent graduate from UC Santa Cruz. I graduated in June 2013 with a degree in Computer Science: Computer Game Design. Which means I can make games!..to a certain extent. As I can contribute in most areas of game development, my main specialty is a programmer, so roughly 90% of my work is done by code. As I studied game development and programming, I looked into other areas of development, such as Web and Android, which led to my interest in other technologies. I hope that one day I can be a self-sufficient game developer as well as being knowledgeable in other areas such as hardware, back-end web development, and maybe music composer for games. Kinda like the jack of all trades kind of guy.

On the side, I am a self-proclaimed independent game developer, which means that I may write a article in regards of the development of my projects here and there. But since I just got a job offer in the San Jose area (a little to far for commute), I may have to put that on hold until I get settled down from moving and from starting my new job. On the bright side, I may have more time to work on my side projects than usual in comparison to my previous situation (living at home and looking for a job), so you’ll see my first post on independent software development in the near future.

Speaking of which, I am currently working on two side projects right now. One of them is an android app that it is still in concept phase. As for the other project, I am working on the prototype of a game idea that I wanted to work with for a while. I can’t reveal what it is yet, as I want to keep it a little quiet for now until the prototype is ready for the public. I can say that I want to release this game on Steam Greenlight and hopefully on both Android and iOS devices.

That is about all I have to say for now. Like The Last Token Gaming page por favor and enjoy this super corgi! I’ll see you guys soon!

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