How to Study Hard

Today I’m writing from the Cleveland Game Dev Meetup. This month we’re meeting in the Mayfield Public Library.  Strangely, both times I have come to a Meetup, my GPS has tried to tell me the destination doesn’t exist.

I’m listening to someone explain how Construct 2 is a great platform, and comparing it to Pulse. I wanted to ask someone his opinion of Ableton as a music DAW. But I’m not really getting any code written! I have to admit, I haven’t really touched the Unity tutorial I started last Meetup, and it has been a month. Now that I’m done with my code bootcamp, WCCI, it feels weird to not be working hard on anything in the evening after my day job. I really need to pick up some side project.

You’re right, I did not finish Identiflora yet. I was originally going to work through it as a .NET project, but now I’m not sure if that is the best idea. (Did I say this already? I feel like a broken record.) So in lieu of really “working on the big passion project”, I am working on some smaller things.

I still feel like I should be learning on CodeEval, but it is admittedly pretty dry. So I am excited that I just found Codingame – it is like CodeEval, full of problems to solve using your coding skills, but these are couched like games. It’s really a fun concept, even if it’s still hard work. Speaking of “hard work disguised as a game” I am also enjoying Human Resource Machine by Tomorrow Corporation, the same game company that made World of Goo. In Human Resource Machine you program (using a pseudo coding language) people to take certain integers and drop them into certain boxes – yeah you are really doing the same loops and if/thens that you would be learning in CodeEval, but giving it game trappings makes it fun!

I guess not everything can be made easier and into a game. I really enjoy listening to J. Vernon McGee. He is gone now, but his radio program is now a podcast, and it takes you through the whole Bible, verse by verse, over the course of five years. I once heard him say (and I think he was quoting but I don’t recall whom, sorry),  that if you are having a hard time with a Bible passage, because it is dry and hard to understand, you have to moisten it with the sweat of your brow. Hard work is hard work! But it leads to deeper insights.

That goes for coding too.

 

Launch House Game Dev Meetup

I have made and sold art for years and still have a hard time (sometimes) calling myself an Artist. So I feel almost funny being at a game development meetup when I have never even tried to make a game. It isn’t “impostor syndrome” it’s just, I’m not sure if I am passionate about it. Not sure what I bring to the proverbial table. But I am here today, at the Shaker Launch House, with about 10 other people working on their own games. I don’t have a specific game idea to work on, but I brought art supplies and am working through some Unity 3D demos. In fact, I watched a lot of tutorials yesterday on beginning game development, and they said the important thing is to “start making a game out of what you can do” as opposed to “start with a great idea”. If you start with a great story to tell, and it is leagues out of your capacity to tell it, you will get stuck and quit. If you make a game that is just “two dots moving” (or..something), then you can actually finish a thing and then move on to the next one with one complete project under your belt (and experience).

My favorite games are ones with interesting characters and stories, and honestly, most of them are 2D not 3D. (In fact, I still like interactive fiction/text adventures.) But Unity does 2D as well. I should learn 3D since I sculpt and I’d like to see if I can print something in 3D. So many skills overlap!

I’ve always wanted to write and illustrate stories and books – art books? nature books? field guides? story books? I just love books. I did not really think about making games (I feel like all of my friends have always wanted to make games). I’m still not sure it is my platform, but I really want the experience of learning new things. And good games tell stories.

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Launch House Angel?

 

Explanation of Game Benefits

Now I may be wrong since I have not actually participated/played either of these genres of games, yet. But games fascinate me. And I think I have finally figured out the difference between “Alternate Reality Games” and “Augmented Reality Games” (without consulting Wikipedia, ha). So of course I have to tell you.

An Alternate Reality Game is a game that takes place through/among various media – go to a website, find a location, go to the location, find a phone number, get a scratch card in the mail, figure out the code and go to the website (pardon the random examples). It is called “Alternate Reality” because you are navigating a reality of clues that others aren’t paying attention to because they aren’t in the game. Here is a list of some.

An Augmented Reality Game is a game that takes place through an electronic medium (like an iphone screen, or a GPS, PSP or DS screen) that you carry in the real world (hence Reality) and as you travel to locations in the real world, it generates things on the screen that you interact with that do not physically exist. Hence it’s “Augmented” by an extra layer of reality.

I had a hard time explaining the differences between those things in my head, and finally got it straight – by my reckoning, at least.

What do you think? Sounds fun to me!

Casually Speaking

I like me a big old-school, gigantic, level-grinding, random-monster-encounter-every-three-steps dungeon crawler of a computer game (Final Fantasy #, Morrowind, Sacred, WoW…).

But sometimes I don’t have time for that.  (Actually WoW is another story – too cheap to play it, and also it’s one of those games that will eat your entire brain if you let it, and lead to addiction, for some.)

So here are a few of my favorite casual games, for PC.
Note, most of these are on Steam, but some are also available in other venues too (notably PuzzleQuest & Peggle are also on Nintendo DS, which is the only other platform I currently own).

1 ) PuzzleQuest – it’s Bejeweled, but every time you make a match, you get mana of that color, to use for spells! It even has a (standard, adventure) plot. This has a Space spin-off game, too. There were allegations of the computer being a cheater in this game, but the game designers said they didn’t have spare resources to program the computer to cheat!

2 ) Peggle – Cross pinball with pachinko, and add special powers. Insane fun, and lots of replay value! There is a sequel called Peggle Nights, but I haven’t tried it.

3 ) Plants vs. Zombies – Super cute Tower Defense without towers. Add in sunflowers, zombies, and catchy music. I cannot explain how fun this is. Go at least try the demo.

4 ) Spectromancer – Card-based mage vs. mage battle in tiny bite-sized chunks, with typos. Has online play too!  This game makes me trash-talk the computer due to the high random factor in your card deck. The computer HAS to be cheating. Grr…!

5 ) Wonderful End of the World – Strange Katamari Damacy clone with catchy music.

6 ) Osmos – Eat everything. Grow. Simple. Beautiful. Relaxing.

7 ) Cogs – Actually I find this insanely frustrating, but it’s so gorgeous! 3D tile-sliding puzzler with a strongly Steampunk theme. Shiny shiny brass.

8 ) AudioSurf – Automatically generates a race track based on the music you decide to play. Fun because you can see how well other people have done when playing the game using the same song you did. You can use ANY song – or even a podcast, but I’m not sure how that would work. This Week in Audiosurf would be a long game!

9 ) GemCraft – I LOVE this game, and it’s a free browser-based game. Tower Defense, there are at least 3 versions/expansions of this online (GemCraft, GemCraft 0, GemCraft 2) and they are all great, though I noticed some caused lag when I tried to play using wifi.

10 ) Scribblenauts! – This is the only non-PC game, but I just HAD to include it. This Nintendo DS game is mind-blowing. Solve the puzzles with ANY method you can imagine. Just type in the object you want to create! I solved one by gluing a rope to the back of a pterodactyl. Over 220 levels. Controls are clunky, but there are no other games where you can summon Cthulhu and have it battle a Kraken. Or a kitten.

11 ) What’s your favorite casual game? Let me know!

Now if you say “I don’t want to spend $10 on a game I don’t need.” I understand that too. So check out http://www.oldschoolapps.com – home for nifty, nifty old abandonware that has no license.

Ok one more free game link: Pixelships !

Yet a Few Games More

(The title was a riff on the delightful podcast of Paul Tevis, that you can find here.)

As mentioned in the last journal I bought a card game, called Rage. I also bought Farkle, and played Save Doctor Lucky. (Note: not Kill. You lose points if you accidentally say Kill.)

Now, Rage was very fun, even though I don’t like trick taking games. The fun part was the company I played with. Farkle was less fun, because I lost, and I’m not always a good sport – and it was so hard I had to make a house rule to add an extra die. We also tried it with two extra dice, but that made it too easy. Save Doctor Lucky worked surprisingly well, considering we only had 3 people. I used a chunk of glass that looked like an ice cube for Doctor Lucky’s meeple. I didn’t think about how ironic that was, on the Titanic.

I was playing with my family. And it turns out that shorter games work better with them. Much as I wouldn’t have minded buying a copy of Wealth of Nations or Pandemic, I can’t see many of my local friends playing it. (Not counting my game group – they are actually an hour away so I don’t consider them “that local”.)

Here are some more fairly-quick-to-play games on my radar screen. If you have any experience playing these I’d love to hear about it. (Also I shall be checking out BoardGameGeek.com)

Tuesday I began a game of Spirit of the Century, a storytelling game of pulp action heroes! Let me just say that any game that involves crazy scientists with explosives (note: they were not the enemy!), and fighting ninjas on a train in 192- is 100% supreme in my book. The game play may be podcast, and I apologize in advance for my own voice and annoying (to me) laughter. But I do not apologize for picking on Chance Random, the Improbable Man With The Strange Arm Of Living Wood That He Inexplicably Got From Mysterious Druids Under Cardiff* Being a woman of [mad botanical] science (in this game, especially), that bothers me to pieces. The next time we play won’t be until April, but I’ll be working on my maniacal laugh.

 *Perhaps that is not his official title.

Girls and Gaming

I went into the semi-local (I do have one store closer) game/comic store, in our mall. I was looking for a copy of the card game Rage, since I’d just played it and it was a fun (and quick) game for a group – especially a group that doesn’t have the patience for me to set up Seafarers of Catan.

When I went in I made a beeline to Rage, which happened to be right near the front of the store. That was entirely too boring, to find what I was after in the first ten seconds, so I did a thorough wandering of the store for probably a half hour. Sadly I didn’t find anything else to buy.

But at one point the proprietor said “Can I help you?” So I asked if he had any green-stuff, and he pointed it out. (I didn’t buy any, but once I use mine up now I will know where to get some!)

He asked me, “Please, tell me that is for you.”

I cleverly replied “What?”

He said, “Please, tell me you’re the sculptor. We need more gaming girls!”

I, fortunately, was the one that was going to be sculpting – but I find it funny that in a world where a woman ran for president of the United States it’s still shocking when one walks into a game store on purpose.

(Board) Gaming the System

I know it wasn’t long ago that I posted a list of podcasts I listen to, but I am going to review and expand on a few of them. In this blog post I’m only going to talk about board games, not tabletop/paper/war/rpg games (or electronic or card games for that matter, though I love my DS.). I am extremely blessed that I get to go to the “International House of Johnson” (aka The Secret Lair) and play board games every couple of weeks (weather/schedule permitting). It is a fun thing to play games face to face! This weekend my grandmother turned 81 (perhaps I shouldn’t have just blasted that over the Internet, but oh well), and I still forced her, my grandfather, and my dad to play Seafarers of Catan with me (and we had a good time – once we got past the “isn’t it set up YET?” part; this is why I don’t own Battlelore).

 

The Dice Tower

This podcast offers a massive amount of information. The two co-hosts are Baptist missionaries in Korea! I think this is just great, but even if you don’t, don’t let it scare you – I have never heard them talk about religion on the show. But it does ensure the show is very family-friendly. I said they offer a huge amount of information, and it’s true – every other week they have a series of segments in their show, offering a “top ten” game list, with explanations of why they were ranked the way they were, and since each host has a separate list there are usually many more than ten games discussed. There is even a “43 second review” of a game, and they answer listener’s e-mails, and have a lot of discussion about the difference between American and Euro style games. When you know more than 10 games will be described on each show, you can be sure you will get a lot of information! The Dice Tower is sponsored by Funagain Games, which is a good source for buying games, I assume, having not actually used it. They also have a guild on BoardGameGeek.

 

The Game Kennel

The Game Kennel is one of the podcasts under the “Pulp Gamer” suite of podcasts. It replaces the “King’s Court” which used to actually rate games from 1 to 5 stars ( “LEGENDARY” ). The Game Kennel, in order to be, I suppose, more “PC” instead describes a game, and how it is played, and who it most likely appeals to, and then allows you to decide for yourself whether it is the game for you. It’s still good info! Check out their other podcasts too, for industry interviews.

 

Have Games, Will Travel

I actually got to meet Paul Tevis at Origins 08, which was exciting. He’s the first podcaster I ever recognized by voice. HGWT is not producing any more shows – but you will still get a lot of information from downloading the old shows! Some of the shows were about board games, some were about rpgs, but all had in-depth information.

 

There are surely more board game podcasts out there, but these are the ones I listen to.

 

Of course you can buy a lot of games on Amazon, but if you can find one, it’s much better to support your local game store! Even if the price is higher, the relationship you build is worth it! My local game store is called Infinite Monkey Games, and they’re good people.

 

Another thing that will contribute massively to your enjoyment of board games is finding or forming a game group, so you aren’t consistently 1) inflicting the games on your immediate family and 2) buying games that you hate because you didn’t know until you tried them. This is ameliorated when you can play the terrible games someone else already paid for first!

 

Finally, a HUGE source of information is BoardGameGeek. This big forum contains player-submitted information on just about every game ever made. You can find links to acquire out-of-print games, and discover everything from game rating, and approximate play time, to age range, or even how many forum users played the game in the last month.

 

So whether you’re a newbie or a grognard – why not make time for a board game today!