Monday, September 11, 2017

Kids and Gaming - Personal Observations

I'm going to write about my observations of something I know little about and have read even less about. Kids and gaming. First off one thing I have learned is kids move at their own pace, and if yours is ahead or behind don't worry about it! He'll catch up, even out, or has other interests he'll pick up. My son was a super late walker and behind for about the first 18 months and we worried a bit, then he has been on track roughly since.

We'll start with a bit of background, I'm a game developer and my son is nearly 3 and a half years old. I've always known I wanted him to enjoy games, but wasn't sure when to get him into them. I'd mostly use them to keep him entertained when he was visiting me at work as pictured above. I'd setup Forza Horizon 3 or more recently Rocket League and let him push buttons and watch what was on screen. His brain didn't seem to be linking the on-screen action with what his hands on the controls were doing though.

Super Mario Run came out and I was slightly amused, being in the gaming industry I try to play as many games as I can and have time for, so it was downloaded and played it a little. One day my son needed to be entertained out and about and hey Run was on my phone.

After he was hooked on the game for a while I decided to support Nintendo and dropped the $10 to unlock the game as my son had played through the starting 4-5 levels, but figured it would get to hard for him. Within a few weeks though he'd unlocked all the levels through mostly the games "easy mode" that allows unlimited time and deaths.

He was at the last level and there is no easy mode so he started asking for help. Since I hadn't played the game in a while I played the last level figured out the kick the bomb into Bowser mechanic and showed/explained it to him. For a couple days every chance he got to play he kept trying to finish this level on "normal" mode and failing continuously.

His persistence surprised me and sure enough after a week or so he'd beaten the level himself multiple times!

During this time he'd also developed a bit of an obsession with Yoshi as Blue Yoshi is the first unlockable character in the game and I'd found a wind-up walking Red Yoshi at a local comic book store. He's obsession was now "unlock Red Yoshi on daddy's phone!" This is no small task and appears to be the "you have no live" achievement for the game, so I started looking for alternatives.

Knowing the Wii U hadn't sold well and expecting games to be hard to find now that it's discontinued I have a small library of games I'd like to play "some day" for the system. In that library is Yoshi's Woolly World. This had 2 things: Yoshi, and it was the closest most accessible game to Super Mario Brothers I could think of. Super Mario Brothers was my first real post Atari 2600 gaming experience and seemed like a good next progression for my son.

Mechanically in fact it's almost identical. The only new major mechanic is yarn throwing and a there are a few smaller things like double jumps, ground slams, etc that came to the Mario series later on.

I was going to let him watch me play as we'd done with a few other games, but he immediately wanted to play himself, so I thought that was a good sign, but quickly thought this was a mistake as he couldn't move and jump a the same time, and I got an almost constant demand for "daddy help me" this went on that entire play session and the start of the next, but he never wanted to just watch, or stop playing. A few minutes into the next session I needed to leave and left him playing without help figuring it wouldn't last long, but I came back about 15 minutes later and he was still playing on his own. Progress was still very slow involving him sitting in an underworld area eating and spitting bad guys into each other for a long time, but practicing using the mechanics.

I had the entire 1-1 world memorized and it seemed he wasn't mechanically going to be able to get through it yet. He was moving and jumping though and now was having questions about how to progress... things we take for granted like down to go down pipes, up to open doors, and the level was requiring more accurate yarn throwing and assuming you would throw at an empty circle of gems to "find" the flower spawner you needed to complete the level. After a coupe days of showing him mechanics and how they are used I hear a sequel of joy quickly followed by "daddy I did it!" He'd finished the level on his own and within the next hour or less he was at the first boss having finished 4 more levels. And I watched him amazed how much better he was playing in only 3-4 days!

Both Yoshi's Woolly World and Super Mario Run have some really great "easy mode" features and considerations for kids/non gamers that I didn't have starting out, but I'm still shocked how quickly he was able to pickup and get good at both of them. While the transition wasn't fast enough for me to think it was going to work initially, looking back on it there was so much progress made in a short time!

I don't know what advantages this might have, but I'm excited to see his persistence even though it's hard at times! He's got some eye-hand coordination and incredible problem solving skills showing. He's having to prioritize what he wants to do with his limited "screen time" and hopefully this will all transfer to life skill. Who knows if he'll keep gaming, but it's cool to share something that is a big part of my life with him.

Next game? We have a vacation coming up, the Switch controllers are nice and kid sized, and they added some good driving assists to the Switch version of Mario Kart 8!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Why I'm Looking Forward to Monster Hunter World

Fans seem to be very split about Monster Hunter World. I understand a lot of the concerns, but thought I would write a post about why I'm so excited for it. Monster Hunter World was the major surprise from this year's E3 and literally got me giddy like a teenage girl!

Capcom makes good games, but their releases are often underwhelming. What they call sequels MMOs or any "games as a service" product would simply call patches or expansions not entirely new games. Monster Hunter hasn't had a significant re-working in years. While I am a relatively new fan I've gone back and played many of the older games as well as importing Japanese only titles and playing the Chinese only Monster Hunter Online. The original Playstation 2 entry was fairly unique (I never tried importing Monster Hunter 2). After these first two Playstation games was the Freedom series. Freedom Unite was the only one of the series I played, but my understanding is this was a cumulative update. Since Freedom Unite Monster Hunter has basically been the same. Yes there have been new weapons, quality of life improvements, much needed hit-box fixes and graphical and mechanical improvements, but you can play anything from Freedom Unite to Generations and it basically plays the same.

With World, the biggest legitimate complaints is the fact it's not on hand held. While I personally can't wait to play an HD big screen experience (This is the main reason I played Online), I have grown to enjoy the ability to bring my 3DS to work and simply sit next to 3 other people at lunch and play. Local multiplayer will be severely lacking in World, but we get the trade off of the best graphics I've seen in Monster Hunter to date.

Also I do hope the Monster Hunter XX (Double Cross) does actually release in English on the Switch. The base game (Generations) has already been localized so only G rank content would need to be localized and this would give us the mechanically definitive version of this Monster Hunter time frame (Freedom-Generations) in the West. It really makes no since for Capcom to not release XX in the West based on the very little effort it would take to localize and the fact the game would stand alone in the Action-RPG space on the Switch. Capcom also recent said they were surprised by the sales of Street Fighter II on Switch and are considering more Switch releases. I think I would be in the camp that argues 4 Ultimate is actually a better over-all game (balance, progression curve, story), but a 60 fps 1080p Monster Hunter on Switch with the mechanical improvements made on Generations would be a great game we should get to play in North America!

Okay back to World... with the recent weapons videos I think it's much more clear this is a Monster Hunter game, I was actually hoping for a bit more re-tooling, but as long as they fix things like being able to change directions mid-combo to make following monsters/avoiding hits possible and make canceling out of combos easier I'll be happy with the HD upgrade we are getting. Having all the favorite weapons return is a good thing and while many of the monsters appear new this isn't a bad thing. I hope the Artificial Inelegance re-vamps are real! Not cheesing zone lines should help the immersion and using environments looks limited at the moment, but full of potential! For the first time ever in the series the North America and Japanese versions are releasing at the same time! The last question I have that I haven't heard an answer on is will we get G rank? Playing Portable 3rd and now Generations, Monster Hunter isn't really Monster Hunter until you hit that difficulty curve in G rank that requires you to put effort into your hunts. Fingers crossed, but Yes I am more excited for Monster Hunter World then I've been for any other title I can think of in the last few years!

-PC version!!!!! /mic drop

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Doom Modding was my First Taste of Game Development!

Recently I was asked something to the effect of: “What was the one game that got you into game development?” At the time I couldn’t come up with an answer, but since I can never shut my brain off the next morning in the shower I came up with the answer, and figured it was worth a blog post. It brought back such great early memories of gaming.
The answer is Doom. It was the first game I modded and had great support for packaging and distributing content in WAD packs compatible with anyone who had the game. If I remember right you could do a single image or level swap to a full game overhaul and it was always contained in the single .wad file no matter how simple or complex.

The most memorable Doom mod was taking the German Shepherd sprites from Wolfenstein 3D and replacing the pink demon in Doom with the dog. I packaged the enemy swap with a half dozen or so levels that started with normal run and gun levels, had a puzzle level that teleported you into a room full of enemies if you failed, and was at a difficulty that still challenged me after hours of play. By the time I completed the levels I could clear them fairly regularly, but everyone else I watched try them struggled with the difficulty. It was great watching other people enjoy something I’d created even if it was on par with some of the overly difficult Mario Maker levels.

The main thing I remember about the level editor was the limitation of only being able to have one play space in the up (z?) axis. I wanted to create an underpass type of situation, but level editor couldn’t ever create it correctly in game. I think it was actually an engine limitation, but even way back then working around limitations was an interesting problem to solve. Doom was a game that pushed PC Gaming forward and the great mod support was my first early taste of game development, I was hooked!

After writing this I'm going to look through my drawer/boxes for the last few remaining floppy disks I have and see if I can find one labeled "Doom WAD." I keep a Windows XP laptop solely because it's the last hardware I have capable of reading 3.5 floppies. If I can find those levels I'd like to play them again!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Zelda Breath of the Wild is an Example of a Games as an Art Form

Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a truly amazing game! I don't feel like it does anything new, but everything it does is done so well!

Disclaimer: Following is a spoiler for one possible way to get to a specific tower. If you've already activated the tower pictured below, that's all I'm really going to specifically talk about in this post.

Making it to the top of this tower alive is my greatest accomplishment so far!

Breath of the Wild like almost any open world game is not about the stories in game, but rather the stores you create within the game.

Initially I cleared a corner of the lake and attempted to swim across, but I had no way to defend myself from the monsters that could float above it or attack while swimming unlike myself.

So I looked around, found a high cliff simi-nearby and went to work.

I climbed to the highest point and jumped off, but ran out of grip strength just before getting to the tower and splashed down in the water and died within seconds to the monsters mentioned above.

I found a ledge that was almost as high, but about as much closer to the tower as the distance my grip went out and tried again. This time I was inches short.

One more time from the same location but laser focused on flying directly at the tower as straight as possible and my grip failed dropping me onto the lowest platform on the tower.

Those two points in stamina wheel paid off!

I wait about 2 seconds for my stamina to re-charge and start up the tower and get attacked form the monsters around the base of the tower and quickly die.

Repeat the above steps and save on the platform after resting :)

After a few failed attempts getting spotted on the way up the tower I figured out if I could jump three times quickly up the tower I would get out of ground aggro range with just enough grip strength left to make it to the next platform.

Repeat the quick triple jump and climb to the next platform to clear and I'm out of range of any of the monster floating/flying above the lake and able to activate the tower.

So let's talk about the game for a minute:

Nothing I listed above is new to games, or the action-RPG that Breath of the Wild basically fits into with an added puzzle component. It's just all done to a level of polish that I can't remember seeing in a single game before. Everything about that experience just worked together like you'd expect. Talking to a co-worker about the game, he told me his own personal story about a very long glide off a steam peak onto the back of his horse that was one of these "epic" moments he experienced playing.

I think the best thing about the game being a Switch release title might be that the game was probably delayed for the Switch launch, because it has the level of polish almost never attained and that would come by having more time than planned to work on the game.

Breath of the Wild's weakest point is probably it's combat, though even the combat feels like something from Dark Souls requiring defense and avoidance being prioritized above attacking. The tells for enemy attacks didn't seem to be easy enough to read and archers would often hit me from off screen and at 4 hearts there were still a fair number of one-shot-kills. This maybe because I was in an area beyond where I should have been, or maybe I'm not good enough with Link's combat system yet, but I was always able to prevail, it just took a few to many tries a few times in my opinion, but not a deal breaker at all. Good bow use and weapon choices help a lot, and many camps actually have an easy way to beat them if you look around for explosives or rocks or other things in the area.

/Start Edit 2017-03-12

Okay, combat is fine compared to the randomly thrown in and very poorly controllable motion control puzzles. And not to mention I'm playing with the Pro controller, so having to switch controllers is very bad UX (user experience) in the first place.

I should do a post on just Quick Time Events and Motion Controls because they are such a turn off in games, but God of War III finally got a usable QTE system. Motion Controls are held back mostly by hardware I guess, considering none of them are as responsive as they need to be for how they are used in game.

/End Edit

The two things that really impressed me most of all are just how far you can see, (That screenshot is in real time in game) and that you can climb and go anywhere you see.

The only thing that really constantly bugs me is having the stamina ring in the middle of your screen all the time, often over Link. (See the 2nd image of the glider above).

Over all the game is made up of so many very well polished systems that work together almost seamlessly. It's really a marvel of what can be accomplished. I've played other open world action-RPGs and nothing comes close to Zelda, it just feels right everywhere you go. Many other games get a system or two right and the rest are half-implemented/realized.

I didn't believe all the perfect review scores, but since a game can't actually be perfect, this is probably as close as you will ever get! I think it's spoiled these kinds of games for me for all time. It's the hit game and system seller Nintendo needed after a long drought! If you don't have a Wii U, go buy a switch and play this game, if you have one decide if you want a Switch, and if not get it for Wii U. It's so good!

I'm going to mount up on Traveler, ride off into the night and hope it's not a blood moon I see through the trees!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Nintendo Just Does Things Different: Wii U Gamepad Controller

I've been playing my Wii U again pretty heavily over the last week finishing Bayonetta 2 and playing more The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD. I've come back to the old issue I had with the Wii U Gamepad. It is both a great idea and poor choice at the same time and mostly due to one small design choice: it's always be on if the system is on!

The big question is do I have dominion over the TV?

If the answer is yes, I'm playing on the big screen and using the pro controller and my Wii U Gamepad is sitting behind the couch out of sight, but on, draining the already short-life battery. The Gamepad is in no way a preferable option to the other controllers being to large to hold comfortably and having underwhelming (thought sadly required by some games) gimmicks of touchscreen and blowing on the controller.

If the answer is no. The Wii U Gamepad is a wonderful gift allowing me to play a full console game (well at least the Wii U version of full) while sitting next to my wife and kid while they watch whatever they are into at the moment. The awkwardly large size is still an issue, but having the screen in my hand mostly makes up for it. Some of the features are still not intuitive though. I had to Google how to swap equipped items in Twilight Princess because using the touch screen to drag and drop items onto controls didn't even register as an option.

So the reason I haven't even tried to pre-order a Switch is Nintendo continues to make choices without regard to player input or their competition. The Wii U itself is a system released horribly under powered at the time that wouldn't support engine ports from many third parties. Without the "new" gimmicks of the Wii to push sales it also didn't have the success. The things that could get me to drop pre-order money at it on launch haven't been talked about like Backwards Comparability.

The Wii U played Wii games, Wii played GameCube games, 3DS played DS games, etc. Even going back to the SNES playing GameBoy games with an add-on was great. The complete lack of Nintendo saying anything is scary. Especially with recent setbacks like requiring you to buy virtual console titles on both the Wii U and 3DS instead of sharing libraries.

Now Breath of the Wild is getting a season pass and DLC? Nintendo's online service is becoming paid? Their service already splits your friends list with a separate one for 3DS and Wii U, you can't even join them and you want money for it? Also it appears the free monthly games will ONLY be playable for that month?

Don't get me wrong Nintendo makes good choices like keeping their consoles compatible with the last generation and controllers for that matter. Their games are almost unmatched in quality, but we are almost two weeks from launch of the Switch with so many unanswered questions.

Waiting to see, hope to be pleasantly surprised! The problem now is if I am pleasantly surprised I'll have to wait for them to be back in stock!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gigantic on PC Guide: Installing, Updating, & Playing with Friends

I'm writing this post because I'm a huge fan of PC games, but a lot of the process of using Windows Store Games is very new so to avoid some trial and error I'm attempting to pass down what I've learned quickly. This guide is designed to get the game installed, show you how to keep it updated, and get you playing with friends as quickly and streamlines as possible.

Gigantic is available on PC and Xbox One. The PC version (at this time during open beta) is available through the Windows Store. Thanks to the Xbox Live Network you can play with and against your Xbox friends and share the same matchmaking pool (cross-platform) so you don't have to worry about poor matchmaking numbers like you may have heard about from other multiplayer Windows Store titles.

Because it's on the Windows Store it does require Windows 10 and the anniversary update. This update fixes a lot of the annoyances of Windows 10 so it's a good update to grab. If you don't already have the update you will be prompted during the installation steps below so don't worry about it. Just come back and continue where you left off after getting the update.

I. Getting Gigantic on PC

Optional: this is not a requirement, but will make everything else smoother. If you already have an Xbox Live account that you want to use be sure you log in with that account to Windows, the Windows Store App, and the Xbox Live App. I changed my Windows login to match my Xbox Live login after I started playing Windows Store Games and it helped a lot! This way your store purchases will go to the correct account, all your friends and games from Xbox will be available on PC, etc. This is a good tip for all Windows Store Games, not just Gigantic.

- Open the Windows Store:

If you haven't changed your Windows taskbar there will be a Windows Store Icon by your start button. If you have simply press your Windows Key or click the Start Button and type in "store" and it will come up in your search list.

- Sign in to the Store Using your Xbox Live Account:

Use the drop-down menu in the top right to sign in/verify you're signed in with your Xbox Live account so purchases (even of free games) go on your Xbox Live account.

- Find Gigantic and Install it:

Use the search bar on the right to type in "Gigantic" and it will come up in the list. Click on Get the Game and then Install Note: I've already gone through the purchase process (even though it's free), so the button may say something like purchase.

The actual game page will load and just click Install and wait for the download, shouldn't take to long.

- Before Running the Game Open and Sign into the Xbox App:


You can do this while Gigantic is installing or after, but you need to do this before running the game for the first time if you've never signed in on this PC. Search for the Xbox app: Use the Windows Key or Start Button and type in "Xbox" when the app launches this is where you MUST be signed in with your Xbox Live account.

- Play Gigantic and Have Fun:

Search for Gigantic: Again use the Windows Key or Start Button and type in "Gigantic" That should be all you need, but if you run into any other issues continue to read the section below.

II. Keeping Gigantic Up-To-Date:

Windows is suppose to keep all your Windows Store Games and Apps up-to-date and normally does, but not always. To verify you're up to day: open up the Windows Store, click on your portrait on the right next to search and click on My Library and look for Gigantic in the list of Available updates at the top.

Click on the down arrow button on the right to start downloading the update.

III. Log In Failures:

This section covers bugs on the open beta build 253638 and anything below will of course become more functional with updates to Microsoft's APIs and Gigantic patches, but for now it's an attempt to help players use the Windows Store version of Gigantic and a few things to check should you have issues logging in.

If you click the start button and then the game hangs trying to log in: Close Gigantic and open the Xbox App and be sure you're signed in. I've actually had the best results by opening the Xbox App every time before I launch Gigantic and just leaving it up in the background while playing, this has fixed that log in issue for me.

If you click the start button, get the generic Login Failed and return to the same screen with the Start Button:

I've seen this caused because Windows hasn't kept Gigantic updated like it should, follow the steps outlined in section II above.

Other log-in errors will probably require you to contact support or retry later do to some kind of network issues :(

IV. Lose control in the Tutorial:

This one works on Xbox One or PC. If you get stuck at any point in the tutorial or practice bring up the menu by pressing Esc or Start (three lined button) and select quit from the menu, this will bring you back to the home screen.

V. Stuck in Queue Without Finding a Match:

If you spend an excessive amount of time in queue (greater than 5-10 minutes, though most queue pops seem to happen around 3 minutes max.) I've seen this caused by your client being out of date. You only match-make with players on the same version as you, and if everyone else has updated, you won't find a match, follow the steps outlined in section II above.

VI. Playing with Friends:

I mistakenly thought this was broken completely on Windows, instead some options either get defaulted off or it's easy enough to turn notifications off for the Xbox App and assume you'd still be able to party with the app open, but with notifications turned off they don't come though at all. Here is what I've found.

If you're not seeing the Windows toasts to join a party after being Invited to a Crew:

If you don't see the Game invite toasts (shown above) when someone invites you to a party, you can turn them on by:

- Press the Windows Key or click the Start Button and type in "notifications":

- Scroll to the bottom (alphabetical order) and be sure your Xbox App is set to on:

- Optional: Open the Xbox App and under Settings (gear icon on the left), General tap you can increase the Notification time so you have time to free your mouse (Windows Key) and click the toast before it disappears.

- Optional: Since you MUST have notifications turned on to get invites in the Xbox App under the Notifications section turn off anything you don't want to toast in the bottom right of Windows.

The Reliable way to Party Without Notifications:

- Have the person who is going to lead the party launch the Xbox App and Gigantic and log in to both.

- Have everyone who wants to be in the party with the leader launch their Xbox Apps (with Gigantic running) and find the leader in their friends list. (everyone should already be friends, if not add each-other as friends)

- The leader will have an button: "Joinable: Join Gigantic", click that button and everyone should show up in a party.

- When the leader is ready to play they use the Play Gigantic button and everyone will be brought into Hero Select and after they pick heroes will join the matchmaking queue together.

I'm only covering the large game breaking PC specific issues in this post. As long as you can log in and play with friends you'll find a very enjoyable multiplayer game with some time investment. Like anything else if you see other bugs try the basics of updating drivers, use the steps above to be sure Gigantic is up to date.

If you haven't already read though it, check out my guide on How to Win Matches: The Power Struggle: Hopefully this will be useful as you start playing the game to understand what is going on. Download Gigantic and enjoy! I'll see you on the airship!