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Rebecca Anisman

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Rebecca is forever a Nintendo-junkie and game design student. She favors action/adventure and RPG games, though she won't object to sitting down with The Sims every so often.

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hostile gamers

When business people refer to the gaming market as ‘hostile’ they aren’t just talking about the competition. Consumers themselves make it a hostile market because when avid gamers see a commercial, hear a game being announced, or get a release date, suddenly they become personally involved. Every delay and minor glitch is a personal offense and the game company, both indie and AAA, has to pay for it in hostile words. This needs to stop. GamesRadar had an entire article about why people hate Activision, which boiled down to no reason at all except they wanted to.

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Thunder Lotus Games, creators of Jotun, recently put up a kickstarter for their next game. Sundered is, “A horrifying fight for survival and sanity.” The gorgeous action platformer reached its goal in only 6 hours. With the developers’ original goal of $18,796, the Sundered kickstarter is now sitting at over $50,000. With that kind of response, people must be expecting Sundered to be a fantastic game. I think they’re right.

First Impressions and Gameplay Mechanics

I got the chance to play a pre-alpha version of the game, and it really is a sight. The controls are simple, the music is great, the art is beautiful, and you get a really awesome blaster. What more could a girl ask for? I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the game was complete and functional on a pre-alpha version, and it makes me confident that the finalized version will be great.

It begins as kind of a quiet game.  I started in the hub, where the skill tree is located. From there, I ventured west, breaking pots and jumping around. The movement, jumping, and attacking were already polished with no issues. When the character you play as was jumping, it felt perfectly fluid.

The monsters looked awesome too. As I explored, I suddenly got swarmed, and since I had unfortunately wasted all my blaster shots because I thought they looked cool, I fought with a knife and took them out fairly quickly. I can only wonder if the enemies get harder or if you just get larger and larger swarms of them. I really hope I’ll get to find out. With the rest of development being focused on polishing the complex systems, balancing, and adding more skills and perks, I imagine the game is going to get 10 times better than the pre-alpha already is.

Courtesy of http://www.play3.de/2016/09/27/sundered-handgemalter-action-plattformer-fuer-ps4-angekuendigt/

Thunder Lotus Games’s Goals and My Final thoughts

One thing many backers seem to be wondering about is stretch goals since Thunder Lotus reached their goal so quickly. So far, they seem to be against adding extras. Personally, I approve of their decision to keep away from them for now. Feature creep is a real issue, especially with kickstarter games trying to gain hype. Also, I appreciate that they’re more invested in making the core gameplay the best it can be. Adding extras isn’t necessary at this point. Besides, the game already seems to have enough hype considering how many people are backing it.

If I wasn’t already waiting anxiously for summer to come now that classes are back in session, the July release date for Sundered is making me want it to come even faster. Their plan is to use the kickstarter funds to extend production until June so they can have beta testers play the game to make it as polished as possible. Thunder Lotus Games did this with Jotun as well, and it seems like a good idea considering how popular Jotun ended up being. Games like Sundered are making me believe this might really be the year of kickstarter games. With the creation and success of Fig, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of crowdfunded games this year.

Have any thoughts on Sundered? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to post a comment below.

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Indie games are on the rise, but why? What makes indie games so special compared to games worked on by hundreds of people? To find out, let us think about the indie games that have come out in the past few years.

A few examples of indie games would be the new cult classic UndertaleHarvest Moon-esque Stardew Valley, the gritty sci-fi game Transistor (a personal favorite), and the hilarious The Stanley Parable. Why are games like these so popular? What’s the appeal of non-AAA games? I’ve got a few answers.

Price

First off, everybody likes a bargain. As a college student, I like them even more. It is hard to justify paying $60 for one game, but $5 or $10 is an incredible deal in comparison. Most indie games are under $20, even less if you get them in a bundle or when they are on sale. When you can still get a quality game for a lower price, it makes the indie genre more appealing. You can justify it even if there is a chance it may not be a game you like. Who cares if it was sub-par or not what you were looking for because It only cost $5 anyway. This means more people will at least try indie games, even if they are unsure about them. If the price is right, indie games are likely to, at least for some gamers, be curious enough to try.

Originality

How often do you see AAA games having interesting mechanics and taking risks by doing something strange? It is not very often. AAA games are made for the masses, meaning that those developers are less likely to make any sort of innovations or risks in their games. An example of an indie game that takes risks and has interesting mechanics is Undertale. For instance, this game allows you to go the whole game without fighting a single battle. Sure, a lot of big games have more passive options, but the entire game? Who in the game industry would pitch, “Let us have a game where you have the option to just walk through the world, die a lot, and fight no one if you want to get the happy ending. It will have names with bad puns, dogs whose heads go to the moon, an evil flower, and even a celebrity robot.”

Maybe someone would take it—someone took on Pac-Man after all and that had to be a strange pitch—but big companies are more concerned with making lots of money.  Larger developers often choose the same mechanics over and over again because they still work, and they know they can milk it. Indie developers, more often then not, choose to be risky.  The Stanley Parable is basically a walking simulator, but it works at keeping people coming back for the strange and interesting story and because it is not complicated.

Photo courtesy of “https://gamersrant.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/game-review-transistor/”

Relatability

When you think of companies like EA or Nintendo, who do you imagine working there? Many likely imagine big-shot CEOs out to make money, even if the game quality has to take a hit. Now, imagine the kind of person working on an indie game. They are a regular person who is passionate about games. They care about their fans and take pride in their games. It is a whole lot easier to relate to an indie developer and even give them a bit more leeway in the process. If, for example, there is a glitch on level 3 on some indie game, you are more likely to feel like reporting the issue. It might still take awhile to fix some glitch for a small team, but it is more likely that it will be addressed. You might even feel like harmless glitches add character to the game.

On the other hand, you expect big-shot game companies to get it right, and if they don’t respond immediately, it feels like they just do not care. Aren’t these AAA developers supposed to have the greatest resources? Being able to relate to indie developers means you and I might still like their game better despite glitches and other problems. We understand that it can happen. Big companies do not get that kind of leeway.

Now you can see why indie games are growing in popularity right now, and I see them being popular for a long time. With the ability for developers to purchase game engines and even VR equipment for a decent price, it makes it possible for indie developers to keep finding ways to make games interesting. I look forward to the next batch of indies that 2017 will bring.

Know any other reasons why indie games are so popular? Do not hesitate to mention it in the comments below!

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PAX East 2016 Logo

It’s officially been just over a few weeks since PAX East and now that I don’t have my hands filled with final exam prep, I’m happy to give you the games that caught my eye at this year’s PAX East. The Indie Megabooth was full to the brim with great games and the ones here are just a few of the great games that were shown. 

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Pokemon

Sequels are everywhere. When a game company sees a formula that works, you can’t really blame them for sticking with it. One such formula that doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon, is the one contained in Pokemon. The question is, were the sequels worth it? It’s a controversial topic and most who say they dislike the new Pokemon are written off as nostalgia gamers. With the news of Pokemon Sun and Moon coming out holiday 2016, I think it’s important we figure out if it’s really worth it. For this, we’ll have to look at Pokemon in generations (barring reboots), starting, of course, with the beloved Gen 1.

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vr

Sony recently announced the price of their contribution to the virtual reality craze, PlayStation VR. Coming in at $399, it’ll be cheaper than both Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, however, you’ll have to shell out more money for it to actually work. Both the camera that is needed for the console and the controllers will be sold separately, so you’re looking at upwards of $500 in reality, not including the price of any games. Still, with Oculus Rift at $600 and the HTC Vive at $800, it’s still the cheapest in it’s class. Why is VR so expensive?

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Ishi Sengoku Den Sadame, or just Sadame for short, is a new game out on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. It’s based off a bunch of Asian myths and legends, including the legend of Nobunaga. You may know the legend of the general who wanted to conquer Japan from an Asian studies class or Pokemon Conquest. Throw in a story based around evil karma and four warriors (well, a samurai, ninja, rogue, and monk) that are immune to becoming evil monsters when they kill a being filled karma.

Amazon Lumberyard

By now we’ve all heard about Amazon Lumberyard, the free 3D game engine Amazon created based off CryEngine.  Is it really as free as it insists? Do you want to use it? Is it hard for a beginner to grasp?

Lumberyard is in fact free and even includes the source code if you need a custom version of it. However, there’s a catch. If you use any of Amazon’s web services like their integration with twitch or any of their cloud-connected features, you have to pay for those. You can’t use other alternate web services either, at least not unless you own them. So, while a lot of the new stuff Amazon came out with for Lumberyard are great, you’ll likely have to pay for it when you publish unless you want to hard-code it yourself or make a single-player game. It also costs something else, a whole 10 gigs just to download the zip it comes in. Compare that to the Unity download assistant with its measly 654 kilobytes. It takes up a decent chunk of space for a zip file and takes forever to finish downloading.

Amazon also offers some free resources, including a woodland pack, beach city pack with a sample level, and a legacy game sample that shows you how you should be coding using Lumberyard’s legacy internal systems. The question is, will they have more resources? Will they ever match up to the resources and communities that Unity and Unreal have? Unity has the entire Asset Store and Unreal has the Marketplace, while Lumberyard has, well, nothing just yet. I imagine the community will be relatively small for the next couple of months at the least while people try out the engine and see what they can make with it. This means the resources will likely be sparse for awhile as well, which will making prototyping for your game a little bit harder or even making the game in general if you plan to use ready-made assets. You can make your own assets inside of the engine, however it lacks lightmapping (a feature often used for mobile game graphics) and is generally less mobile-dev friendly than Unity. However, it uses C++ (the language used in a majority of AAA titles) and Lua scripting, unlike Unity that uses C# and UnityScript.

The visual tools in Amazon Lumberyard are great!

The visual tools in Lumberyard are great, along with Gepetto, their animation tool.

So, my first conclusion is if you’re going to make a single-player game for PC and don’t mind making the assets yourself, Lumberyard might be good for you. However, if you want to make a mobile game, use Unity. If you want a multiplayer game, you’ll either have to code the networking yourself or pay for Amazon’s easy to use web services which don’t seem to have a solid price and could fluctuate greatly down the road should they decide to hike prices. However, the combination of C++ and Lua makes for some real complex coding potential.

Do you want to use it, though? Without a solid community and with it being so new, is it something you should be planning a game on? I wouldn’t recommend it at this point. I would wait for at least the first few updates to come out. There have already been a few complaints of bugs in the forums and the Amazon Game Studios team is bound to find more soon since they’re using the engine to make some games themselves. Don’t be afraid to try it out, though. Trying new engines is never a bad thing and maybe there’s something in Lumberyard that makes it better for your game than Unity or Unreal. Since it’s based off CryEngine, which is arguably one of the best-looking engines, you could create a majority of your game in Lumberyard, barring perhaps only music, story-boarding, and general planning. It has a host of visual editing features you could take advantage of.

You could make your all your assets in Amazon Lumberyard if you wanted.

You could make your all your assets in Lumberyard if you wanted.

Is it going to be hard for a beginning designer? I’m going to say yes. No matter how easy it may or may not be, without a decent community it’ll be hard. Unity is still the easiest 3D engine for beginners. Lumberyard is new and full of bugs and complicated code, making it not so beginner-friendly. I suggest learning C# with Unity and working in that first as a beginner before moving on to C++ and a heavy engine like Lumberyard. Your first few games shouldn’t require the amount of complexity that Lumberyard offers and beginners are much more vulnerable to feature creep, which you may have to pay with Lumberyard if you decide to publish your game.

Overall, I’d say give it some time. Go ahead and try Amazon Lumberyard out now to see if what it offers is for you, but be wary. Don’t plan a commercial game on it just yet. Once more bugs have been fixed, then have at it. Until then, I’m sticking with Unity.

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As game-players, we often take for granted exactly how much work goes into games. So, I’m introducing Shop Talk, where I talk about the ins and outs of game design for those who want to know more about what it takes to make a game and so fans of video games can have more meaningful conversations as well. The first thing I want to talk about involves the standard RPG Maker assets.

I’m sure we’ve all seen them by now, the obviously-made-in-RPG-Maker games. Whether on a forum or even on Steam, the games look exactly the same, even if the story and controls might be different. We take one glance at these RPG Maker games and often times just move on. Why do we feel this way? I believe it’s the overuse of RPG Maker’s assets. While it’s certainly helpful for newcomers to use the sprites and environments given to them when they purchase the engine, it ends up being a problem when they don’t end up using custom-made graphics.

It’s a especially true for games that first impressions matter. This is why story and dialogue are often left in the dust in favor of flashy graphics. People are more likely to buy a really nice-looking game than a nice-sounding game. This poses a particular problem for anyone who wants to make a game with a great story but has no art skills and lacks the cash to get custom graphics. RPG Maker is particularly abused this way because RPG’s are meant to be very story-driven, but because developers choose to forgo getting specialized graphics altogether in favor of working on the story and being as cheap as possible, their games get glossed over. This can be just as bad as glossing over the story. Graphics have a significant part in creating the atmosphere of the game. When every game looks the same, that atmosphere can get lost very easily, even if the story is fantastic.

So, how do you go about making your game stand out if you have no art skills? Well, if you plan on making games by yourself you should definitely start working on gaining art skills anyway, but in the meantime, I suggest going the way of old, 8-bit pixel graphics. Why? Well, a lot of people still love the look and pixel graphics are a great way to start. You can get really fancy or really simple with pixel graphics, which is awesome since you want to be able to branch out. Keeping everything 8-bit also helps with color matching. It’s always awkward when character sprites don’t look like they belong in their environment.

Credit Enterbrain/Kadokawa for the original parallax, but I changed to indexed color mode on the left and it made a nice, but subtle difference.

Credit Enterbrain/Kadokawa for the original parallax, but I changed to indexed color mode on the left and it made a nice, but subtle difference.

The tutorial I found here teaches you how to make an 8-bit sprite in Adobe Illustrator. You can go about it that way, or if you have more detailed images in mind, you can convert them into 8-bit graphics, shown in this tutorial. You could even combine the two by making an 8-bit pixel sprite and making slightly more detailed environments to be converted into 8-bit imagery.

I’d say the easiest thing to do while you level up your art skills would be to use the generator present in most of the recent versions of RPG Maker and then edit them. You’ll still have to credit Enterbrain/Kadokawa, but at least it’ll look different. For example, you could turn all your graphics to 8-bit style and then mess with the color and lighting of the tiles or use the tiles to create a parallax image and edit it in a photo-editing program to create your own lighting and atmosphere.

While this edit of a sprite made in RPG Maker looks nice with indexed color, that doesn't mean I'll use it if it hurts the overall atmosphere or look of my game.

While this edit of a sprite made in RPG Maker looks nice in 8-bit, that doesn’t mean I’ll use it if it hurts the overall atmosphere or look of my game.

Of course, if 8-bit graphics don’t fit your game’s atmosphere, it might not be the best way to go. Really, the most important thing is that you stay aware of what is over-saturating the market. If you’re making an RPG game to be put on Steam, then you should know about the overuse of things like RPG Maker assets, and I don’t only mean graphics even though that’s what I’ve discussed. You hear a lot of the same music too, which I’ll talk about another time. Basically, if you want your game to sell, you’ll need to stand out and sometimes going ‘vintage’ can do that if it works with your game.

Some great examples of recent games with pixel and/or 8-bit graphics are Pony Island, the new cult classic Undertale, as well as the Steam ports of the classic Binding of Isaac series. While none of the mentioned were made in RPG Maker, I wanted to point out how popular (but not over-saturated) the graphics from the days of the NES are becoming. On that note, don’t think RPG Maker games can’t be popular too. There are loads of great RPG Maker games. Two of the most well-received on Steam are Doom & Destiny and World’s Dawn and largely due to the ease of creation and large community, there are always more games coming out. So, go ahead and use the assets from the engine and others in the community as placeholders, but make sure if you plan to publish your game, it doesn’t look like everyone else’s.

Have any questions or simple tips about making your graphics stand-out? Let me know in the comments!