Ever notice those little game thumbnails that appear in the top right of your browser when you’re browsing through your friends’ baby and half-eaten-meal pictures?
Yes, this is the tip of the once-mighty juggernaut that once powered the Candy Crush and Farmville empires. But the Facebook game ecosystem is pretty dead now as mobile dominates everything. And as a result, frustrated Facebook game marketers are getting more and more… seedy.
Above is my favorite (???) Facebook game thumbnail icon of recent weeks, beating even that poop-flinging game. When I noticed it, I had to do the classic double-take: What the heck is Facebook allowing on their site?Don’t they know kids and grandmothers are on here?
It looks like some kind of Kama Sutra madness, but no, it’s a stick-figure fighting game. I don’t know whether to salute their ingenuity or curse their lack of integrity.
And yes, Words with Friends and Lexulous are my games. What’d you expect from a game writer?
I just posted on Quora in answer to an interesting question: what do I prefer, JRPGs or Western-style RPGs, and why?
Since David Nguyen and I just published the JRPG Crimson Sword Saga: The Peloran Wars on Steam, you’d think I’d prefer JRPGs, but you’d be wrong. I’m a Western guy, and David is the JRPG fan. But I see the appeal of JRPGs and I’ve played and enjoyed both flavors.
Why am I disenchanted (ha ha) with JRPGs?
There are always exceptions, but I feel JRPGs are more character-focused and dialog-focused, with the dialog word count often doubling or tripling equivalent Western RPGs. This wears on me, even if it’s a game with a storyline I enjoyed, like FF VII. I want to know about the major threads, but I don’t want to listen to a tertiary sidekick vent about how their ingrown toenail reminds them of some traumatic childhood incident (exaggeration, but only a slight exaggeration). Skyrim and Fable are more my style. Exception: I enjoyed Planescape Torment but the incessant dialog rivaled the talkiest JRPG, and they made no effort to distinguish between primary quest interactions and “color” interactions with inconsequential NPCs.
JRPGs tend to be a little more colorful and fantastic. JRPGs are high fantasy where a team of plucky teens in fanciful costumes is fighting to save the world from the ultimate evil. Western RPGs lean toward low fantasy, a little grittier and more… um… adult. The characters are older, their stories a little less fanciful, and their experiences more equivalent to medieval history (although I don’t think anyone would confuse an RPG with history). I prefer the latter.
Did I mention those fashions and costumes? Yeah. I can pass on the bright yellow rain slickers and the pompadours. They’re great for distinctive cosplay, which is also not my thing.
Some JRPGs overdo it on the replayability and depth thing. I enjoy a minigame as much as the next guy, but I don’t want an RPG to force me into a 40-hour-long racing tournament with subpar gameplay. Nor do I want it to inundate me with dozens of half-baked minigames that should’ve been whittled down to one or two strong ones. I respect players who want their game to be a lifelong adventure, but that kind of immersion isn’t my style.
That said, I think there are some things that JRPGs do better than Western ones. Humor, color, distinctive locations, and gameplay innovations, for example. Western ones tend to be so traditional they’re almost remakes, and some are simply boring dungeon crawlers.
Honestly I feel like the Western RPG genre is a little fallow right now, with the last great game being Skyrim (although I hear Witcher 3 is a hoot). I picked up Dragon Age: Inquisition and was quite disappointed in many ways. Their loot system was terrible, and made it very hard to see when you’d found a cool item. And the storyline was complicated and (although some of the companion romances were charming) sterile. No story, no loot ? no fun.
And so it comes back to story and the power of narrative. I’m a game writer at heart and strong writing always wins in my book. I’ve seen great JRPGs and great RPGs, and I believe you can’t do a great RPG without a great story. Even the hoary old RPGs like Wizardry had compelling stories, even if some of the narrative twists were simply delivered in the form of the arrival of some fantastical new weapon or bizarre new foe in the game interface.
I’m happy to announce that our Steam game goes on sale in less than a week! The project is the brainchild of my client, David Nguyen, and it’s titled Crimson Sword Saga: The Peloran Wars. Built in RPG Maker, it’s a “visual novel,” a role-playing game (RPG) in the style of Final Fantasy and Tactics Ogre.
There’s a lot of turn-based monster-smashing fun, but it’s also an epic story exploring the lives of a case of 57 characters over the span of 74 chapters. Building out these characters and giving them all human concerns, quirks, and dreams was a true privilege and I thank David for bringing me this project.
If you’re interested, check out The Peloran Wars on Steam! From the game page, you can add it to your Steam wishlist, visit the game website (where you can download the free five-chapter demo!), or… in a few days… buy the game!
Ubisoft’s The Division console game has been a fairly strong success (with an 80/100 rating on Metacritic)… but it came out in March 2016 and time moves fast in the videogame industry. Thus it was no surprise that the sequel to Tom Clancy’s The Division was announced in July on Sweatypistol.
The new game, as many anticipated, will be called The Multiplication, with future games in the series bearing the names The Addition and The Subtraction also named in the press release. The game is cross-branded with edutainment heavyweight Sesame Street and features the Count character in the new press package. We expect that The Sine, The Cosine and The Blindly Solving for X on the Midterm in a Cold Sweat will be soon to follow.
We at Game Writer Central are elated to release exclusive box art for the new game, which bears the full title Sesame Street and Tom Clancy’s The Division: The Multiplication. Click to enlarge.
Apparently the Japanese aren’t the only ones struggling with listless and purposeless young men. Who are these guys?
In Japan, as described in this aptly titled 2011 Kotaku article “The Depressing World of Unemployed Nerds,” there’s a growing problem of young males who have effectively dropped out of society and are relying on the positive feedback of videogames and paid chatgirls to satisfy their basic social needs.
And now a new academic study is being mentioned by the Christian Science Monitor as discovering a similar problem in the United States, with these slacker boys polling as generally happier and more content than their peers. I think it’s important to note here that their peers are guys with a high school diploma or less, so it’s not too surprising that they find their warehouse or Walmart jobs uninspiring.
I think you could argue this two different ways. One, it’s pretty sad that these guys are happy to game their way into total oblivion and irrelevance. This is definitely not the way you want to see people adapting to 21st Century challenges, especially when employers (many game companies among them) are seeing talent gaps in a lot of key fields. The counterpoint, two, is that perhaps these sad slackers are getting valuable therapy from their videogame exploits, keeping their minds sharp in virtual environments, like the kid from The Last Starfighter, until the right job or inspiration strikes them and they spring into action. Maybe these guys would be psychopaths or suicides without videogames.
Opposites? Maybe. Or maybe it’s a combination of the two.
Normally this blog is about videogames, but today is about a different kind of game. The summer game! Baseball, of course!
Scott Feldman Reborn?
Here’s an insight for you baseball fans. The Astros’ Scott Feldman is one of those veteran pitchers who’s now vacillating between the bullpen and a starting role. He’s 31, has been pitching in the majors since 2004, and has been doing a pretty good job this season, 5-3 with a 2.76 ERA, down from last year’s 3.90. But he was bumped to the bullpen in late April and like all pitchers who signed on as starters and are now essentially filling in where needed, Feldman feels a little lost.
The interesting part is that, pushed out of his comfort zone, Feldman is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts as his fastball, typically in the high 80s, is now blazing in the mid 90s. That’s the kind of velocity difference that marks the gap between a control pitcher and a strikeout artist.
Yesterday, Feldman got his chance to show how his velocity holds up in a five-inning spot start against the Angels. He gave up a single unearned run, struck out two, and didn’t walk a man. The key data, though, is his average fastball velocity, which came in at 90.7 MPH. That’s pretty good, since it takes a lot of fastballs to get through five innings.
Although a far cry from his best average of the year, which was 94.3 MPH in a one-inning relief stint against the White Sox on May 19, he threw harder yesterday than in any of his other 2016 starts, where his FBv varied from 88.0 to 89.4 MPH. Is he better as a reliever than as a starter? Hard to say, and that depends on the needs of the team. But here’s to Feldman’s revival. It just goes to show that your comfort zone is often the last place you want to be. I think that’s true of life as well as games of all sorts.
Bending (the Rules) Like Beckham
Okay, you gotta check out this pitching delivery:
Baseball’s an old sport, and a conservative one. But as we all know there are some old rules that haven’t kept up with the times, like the “ghost tag” that umpires allow around second base and the various nuances of what gets called a strike at home plate.
Today’s chuckle is courtesy of Endless Origami, which hits on a favorite thought of mine: the differences between video game strategy and real-world combat strategy. Sometimes they are radically different, which means we’re in for a heap of trouble if (a la The Last Starfighter) the FPS video games we’ve been weaned on are actually being sent our way by a crack team of alien game developers who are trying to train us how to save the universe.
Some robot news for you today. ZDNet reports that the Google Self-Driving Car has caused its first accident by assuming a bus would yield, aka by kind of cutting it off.
The early reports on the Google Car said that it was perhaps too hesitant and polite, causing it to be the recipient of road violence (rear-endings) rather than the dispenser of same. Maybe Google engineers need to turn the asshole knob down a notch now.
Reminds me of this Google car I saw parked in an Austin lot in a rather questionable fashion:
And in other robotics news, I discovered this hilarious inventor today. She’s like a sober, Arduino-happy version of My Drunk Kitchen’s Hannah Hart with all the genial charm and three times the geek chic. Pure win, especially watching her absorb abuse from her own creations.
I do fear that some people will criticize her for making “frivolous” gadgets, but I applaud her (get it?) for showing that technology can be fun and accessible. Plus I am fully aware that her skill with a breadboard is well beyond mine.
Not everybody enjoys watching others play videogames, just like not everybody enjoys others play sports. There’s something about games that demands that hands-on experience.
Of course, a big part of it depends on the style and personality of the person you’re watching. If you’re a stealth gamer, you probably wouldn’t enjoy watching a brawler barrel through levels, for example.
But assuming you’re watching someone who plays like you do, or perhaps faster than you do (!), do you enjoy watching them play? Or are you itching for them to get an urgent call from their significant other?
I don’t love watching gameplay video, but I’m watching theRadBrad on Youtube right now. He’s got a pretty good style, he moves quickly, and he’s got a friendly, funny energy to him.
I got an interesting question recently on Quora and thought it might be useful to repost the Q&A here:
How do I meet game developers?
(I titled this post targeting game writers and game designers because that’s a little more relevant to this blog.)
Here’s my answer:
That’s not hard.
1) Find a local meetup for game developers and attend. Be courteous and research your questions before you ask them. Never ask anything that you could’ve read on Wikipedia. (Not so easy if you’re in a remote area.)
2) Go to the Game Dev Conference in California: GDC 2016.
3) Arrange a tour or informational interview with a local game studio for your school or interest group. (Not so easy if you don’t live near a studio)
4) Find the game developer group at your local university and join or support as best you can.
And of course be wary of the wannabes. There are a lot of “developers” who are just gamers with vaporware dreams.