Slow Down or You’ll Die!!

What sort of monster would create a video game about falling off of a building?

Me, I would, because that’s what I did.

Another project for my game development studies at university, Slow Down or You’ll Die!! is my attempt to create a short, 30-second game. It’s easy to control, but one wrong movement, and you can end up like ketchup all over the concrete. It’s a relatively simple game, made purely to showcase my capabilities as a game designer. I hope you make it to the bottom.

Download Slow Down or You’ll Die!!

Special thanks to Julien Fournell, for his help with the programming.

In Defense of The Order: 1886

Preferences are an extremely interesting concept to me. Evolutionarily, there is no reason for humans to really develop a desire for one thing over another, yet nonetheless, each and every person has unique tastes in regards to food, music, clothing, and especially video games. I’ve lost track of the number of discussions I’ve had explaining why I don’t like games like Fallout 3 or Portal. One game I will defend, however, is The Order: 1886. I’ve gotten quite some flak from my friends for enjoying this game, but I feel that many of the criticisms towards it are overly harsh and a product of sensationalism.

Hype is the great game killer. Overhype is what ruined games like Destiny and Watch Dogs. Constant advertising and build-up of an unreleased game creates expectations, and often times developers make promises in announcements that they cannot live up to upon release. The Order’s fall was primarily due to the former. Developer Ready at Dawn claimed that their new IP would be a showcase of what is possible on the then-new Playstation 4. Showing off stunning visuals and the potential for a new universe of stories, it was the fans who began to expect too much from the game. Many people I spoke to said they were expecting a long-form third-person shooter, a la Gears of War. It was never fully stated what the game would be, but players wanted to fill in the gaps with what they wanted out of the game and, when released, their individual visions fell short of the final product.

hype

One of the main complaints I’ve heard about The Order was its $60 price tag on release, which is too much to ask for a game that is as short as The Order. That’s completely fair and valid; asking people to spend $60 on a game is a lot, and players want the most value for their dollar. If a game doesn’t reach a certain length of playtime, one can feel ripped-off. I can understand people’s complaints in that regard. What I cannot understand is why people claim it is not a good game because of its short length.

Games are no longer about racking up points; they involve immersive stories and experiences that get the player to think about what they just played. Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us did not have groundbreaking new types of gameplay, but they’re so well received because of the emotional journeys they bring us on. Journey can be completed in just over an hour, but people play it because of the pilgrimage of discovery and wonderment they embark on. A game does not need to be innovative or long-form to be successful, so long as the experience itself is enjoyable. And The Order is an enjoyable experience. The alternate-history story is engaging and imaginative, the graphics are incredible and push the limit of the types of visuals we can create today, and the gameplay is fun and fast-paced. What The Order does, it does extremely well.

The Order did what any launch title should do: establish the power of the system’s hardware, set up and deliver a new game experience, and leave open the possibilities of what can be done by developers in the future. Galahad’s quest to rid Victorian London of werewolves did exactly that. Lack of replayability and inclusion of quicktime events do not make a bad game in and of themselves. A bad game fails what it sets out to do, delivering to the player an unfinished, incomplete, and broken experience. By that definition, The Order is not a bad game. It did everything it sought to do, and did it well, and I’m looking forward to what Ready at Dawn brings us next.


Originally published at Top Shelf Gaming

Super Han Solo

So I heard you like Star Wars

Well, what a coincidence, because I do, too! In fact, Star Wars is probably the biggest influential piece of media on my personality. A New Hope is one of the first movies I have the memory of watching, so obviously it was hugely fundamental in forming me into the beautiful ball of nerd that I am today. Between that and my excitement towards the then-newly released The Force Awakens, I felt obligated to create an homage to it.

Which leads to Super Han Solo. Beginning as a project for a Level Design class, I created a short platforming level, where you can control Han Solo as he races across the Tatooine desert to reach the Mos Eisley cantina. Along the way, there are Millennium Falcon tokens to collect, falling pitfalls to avoid, and Chewbaccas to placate.

Download Super Han Solo

Special thanks to Derek Prate, for writing the base code.

Opening Cinematic – Spectrals

INT. HOUSE – DAY

Open on sunlight trickling through curtains, a gentle breeze rustling the fabric. DANIEL (28) walks over to the curtains and thrusts them open. Sunlight pours into his bedroom and he gazes out into the farming community he lives in. The houses in the town are small, wooden shacks. It is early morning and many villagers are already awake, tilling the soil of their own fields. Daniel smiles weakly at this sight, before turning back into the darkness of his own room.

CUT TO

EXT. SMALL TOWN – DAY

Daniel closes the door to his own home and walks down a dirt pathway on a hill in his mountain community. He is wearing a mining uniform, with leather straps and long-sleeves; very unlike the denim and comfortable clothing the farmers are wearing. The sun is just barely rising above the mountain ranges. Daniel continues his descent before suddenly pausing, and looking back over his shoulder at his own home.

CUT TO

INT. TRAIN – DAY

Daniel stands in the small gap between train cars, watching the natural landscape pass swiftly by. As the mountains and plains transition into the steel towers of the city, Daniel struggles to keep his head turned and watching the natural world for as long as he possibly can. He eventually relents, sighing as he gazes at the city.

CUT TO

EXT. STATION – DAY

Daniel, adjusting the pack on his back, steps off the train. His stance is enclosed and guarded as he walks towards the quarry, staring primarily at his feet. He looks up to see a group of miners, wearing uniforms similar to his, running towards the quarry. They are eventually enveloped by a large mob surrounding a new, large bucket-wheel excavator. The machine towers over the miners and Daniel can hear excited conversation emanating from the group. Daniel looks at the excavator, then rolls his eyes and continues towards the mine.

CUT TO

INT. WALKWAY – DAY

VINCENT (44) races across a steel walkway, exiting the underground rail system leading to his base of operations as immediately as the door opens. As he walks, he is hurriedly inputting calculations into a tablet, frowning as he does so. He steps into an elevator at the end of the walkway and hectically jams a button leading to the surface offices and control deck. He continues to work on his calculations as the elevator door closes.

CUT TO

INT. OFFICE – DAY

Vincent enters his office, a room which would normally be somewhat roomy and potentially comfortable. It, however, is immensely unkempt. Filing cabinets are left wide open, with the contents haphazardly thrown inside. A desktop computer station on one side is covered in various papers and scraps. The desk in the center of the room is also disheveled and blanketed in notes and papers. Vincent places down his tablet and scans through some papers on the desk. There is a sudden knock and an OFFICIAL (52), wearing a United States military uniform, steps into the office.

OFFICIAL
Good morning, doctor…you look nervous. Aren’t you excited to see what’s on the other side?

VINCENT
(shaky)
I am, but…

OFFICIAL
(confused)
“But?” Vincent, we’re about to start the trials. You can’t be having doubts now.

VINCENT
(hurriedly)
I know, but I’ve been redoing the calculations since this morning, and…something…isn’t adding up.

OFFICIAL
(scoffing)
Doctor, your team, which YOU appointed personally, has assured me that the calculations are accurate and complete.

A light tap emits from the door, and a female ASSISTANT (27) pokes her head in.

ASSISTANT
(nervously)
Excuse me, the team leads say that Project VIRGIL is ready to commence.

Vincent opens his mouth to object.

OFFICIAL
(interrupting)
We’ll be there in a moment.

The assistant closes the door. The official turns to face Vincent once more.

VINCENT
(nervous, interrupted)
Sir, I just need another day, two at the most, just to make sure–

Before giving him a chance to finish, the official leaves the office. Visibly agitated, Vincent chases after him, walking to…

CUT TO

INT. CONTROL DECK – DAY

The control deck, filled with computers and staff, has an aura of anticipation in the air. The personnel sit at their workstations, preparing for the upcoming trials. Vincent enters and sees the official standing at the lead workstation. He gazes out of the window opposite him, looking at the gargantuan machinery in the desert outside. The official leans to the microphone at his station.

OFFICIAL
(somewhat harshly)
Ladies and gentlemen, make your way to your stations. Project VIRGIL is about to begin.

The official turns his head to angrily motion to Vincent to take his place.

VINCENT
(pleading)
Sir, I can’t allow this to–

OFFICIAL
(quiet, angrily)
Vincent, we are out of time and the investors want their answer today! Do you really want to risk everything on the off-chance that your entire team got all of their calculations wrong?

The control deck grows silent as the few people not at their workstations return to their designated spots. Vincent, defeated, walks to his own workstation and turns a key in the corner. Three green lights shine at the official’s station, one after the other.

OFFICIAL
Teleportation trials commencing in ten, nine…

CUT TO

EXT. QUARRY – DAY

Daniel stands before lighting rod three, seeing the indicator lights at the base of the tower flashing red. He adjusts his harness, attaching it to the automatic pulley system on the tower. He opens a panel at the base of the tower, shutting down the electrical flow to it. He firmly grasps the locket around his neck.

DANIEL
(whispering)
Terra firma.

He activates the pulley system and ascends the tower slowly.

CUT TO

EXT. DESERT – DAY

Official
(V.O., continued)
…two, one, begin.

The machinery in the desert begins to glow, and a pulse of light emits from the center, erecting a beam into the sky. The beam opens a small tear in the sky, opening to a black void.

CUT TO

INT. CONTROL DECK – DAY

The official watches the experiment, before turning to Vincent.

OFFICIAL
(confident)
Everything is preceding normally, doctor. Although…

He leans to the microphone.

OFFICIAL
Increase output by four percent.

TECHNICIAN
Increasing output.

A TECHNICIAN (33) types at his station. As he types, the beam glows brighter and the tear opens up even more. Vincent eyes the monitor at his desk, watching the lines on the graphs before him grow exponentially. There is a sudden beeping and a frantic murmur. Vincent looks up.

CUT TO

EXT. DESERT – DAY

The rift in the sky suddenly rends apart, creating a massive fracture in the air. This gash rips through the air as more, smaller tears open across the sky. The initial rift extends out towards the countryside, towards nearby cities, and towards a quarry off in the distance. As the rifts open, massive earthquakes shudder across the land. Electricity tears across the machinery.

CUT TO

INT. CONTROL DECK – DAY

An alarm is sounding inside of the control deck. Much of the equipment is shorting out and failing.

VINCENT
(pointing, yelling)
Shut it down!

The technician he points to runs over to a large series of computers on the left wall of the control deck. As soon as he touches the devices, he screams in immense pain and his body is vaporized, leaving no trace as Vincent looks on in horror. The murmur amongst the crew erupts into panic. The technicians, physicists, and engineers present run amok, with many attempting to vacate the premises.

CUT TO

EXT. QUARRY – DAY

Daniel has ascended almost thirty feet before the equipment lurches to an immediate halt. He quickly scans the pulley system, attempting to find the source of the sudden stop, before looking up to the sky and seeing the vast rift above him. A black rock structure, shaped almost like a hand, thrusts downward to the earth. It sinks its points into the dirt around the mine and quickly begins to ascend into the void. The lightning rod Daniel is on, now standing on uneven ground, creaks, tilts, and falls towards the soil. Daniel braces for impact as he quickly reaches the bottom.

EXTREME WIDE SHOT:

The towering structure lifts the landmass up into the sky and through the rift.

CUT TO BLACK

BEGIN GAMEPLAY

Tabor Quest

Game development can lead to some weird things.

I took a Visual Programming class while at university. Amid instruction of C#, my class watched various tutorials featuring the charismatic and lovable Bob Tabor. Between his hair and his voice, he became something of an inside joke for my class. So when it came time to make my final project, I knew I had to honor the man, the myth, the legend.

Image result for bob tabor

How could you not love this face?

The end result is Tabor Quest, a short turn-based RPG I built using Microsoft Visual Studio. Play as Sir Robert Tabor as he defends the realm from the evil forces of Timmett of Cook. “Microsoft versus Apple” overtones aside, it’s a neat little game that features multiple zones, an inventory, and leveling up. I’m actually pretty proud of it, considering my level of programming skill.

Download Tabor Quest

Ludonarrative Dissonance in Modern Gaming

Woah, that’s a pretty wordy title. Let’s see if we can condense and contextualize it.

When we play video games, we experience the gameplay (ludology) and the story (narratology) attempting to entertain and immerse us in the game’s universe (no, this won’t be a talk about hyperreality and immersion, but it is related). Developers want us to be immersed in the games they create; they want us to continue playing the game so we praise it and help the developer to sell more units. It really is as utilitarian as it seems. When we cannot immerse ourselves, we aren’t entertained by the game, and we either sell the game back to a retailer, tell our friends not to buy the game, or both. This is something developers attempt to work against. However, due to the sole fact that the game is, in fact, a “game” and not reality, the gameplay often comes into conflict with the story the game is attempting to tell. This, when gameplay and story contradict one another, is ludonarrative dissonance.

The term was first coined by game developer Clint Hocking, in a 2007 article about how the themes of selflessness presented in Bioshock‘s story are at odds with the rewards of selfishness in its gameplay. I’m going to outline how three modern video games, all released in 2013, are affected by this contention of gameplay and storytelling.


Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider acts as a prequel to the critically-acclaimed franchise. Before she became a world-famous archaeologist and adventurer, Lara Croft goes on her first exploration on a deserted Japanese island, shrouded in mystery and mythology, as she attempts to find her friends after their ship crashes offshore. Stumbling through the forest, she is even squeamish about killing deer for food; she is uncomfortable with weapons. Fast-forward a little bit and she’s attacked by a crazed man attempting to rape and murder her. In an act of self-defense, she shoots the man, killing him. Before this point, you are not given any weapons. As you play, however, you learn to pick up items, interact with the environment, and finally, you’re given the ability to fight against humanoid enemies with weaponry. Within the process of play, you’re taught how to affect the environment with your items, and so when you finally get your hands on a gun, you use your gamer instincts to kill. And kill. And kill. You slaughter hundreds of humans throughout the remainder of the game without a second thought. The game inherently encourages your acts of violence while telling you that Lara is discouraged by them. What should be a difficult and traumatic act for Lara has become trivialized in the context of action-adventure gameplay. Though the game attempts to make Lara more comfortable with killing after shooting her would-be-rapist in the head, it doesn’t make sense how she is now okay with mowing through other people as easily as a war veteran.


Bioshock Infinite

The protagonist of Bioshock Infinite, Booker DeWitt, is given a task by enigmatic figures, who tell him to “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt,” a vague set of instructions that has the private detective travelling to the paradisaical city of Columbus, hidden above the clouds, to steal away Elizabeth, the daughter of the city’s leader and chief religious figure. Given the importance of this task, and the fact that you’re being chased by the city’s police force for being a False Prophet, you would expect to find and extract Elizabeth as quickly as possible. But between fighting through Father Comstock’s unending army, you search through trash cans and alleyways to find health-replenishing food. Booker becomes the epitome of a glutton, chasing away seagulls for a few bites at a half-eaten hot dog. Finding restorative items makes sense to us as gamers; the character is hurt and needs to replenish his/her health. You can accomplish this by using medical kits found throughout the city, but as these are few and far between, your primary source of healing comes from sifting through the Colombians’ refuse.

I want to quickly address, however, a concern that many analysts had with Bioshock Infinite‘s gameplay, chiefly the amount of violence in it. Most critics had an issue with the fact that the gameplay was violent, as this did not reflect the nature of Booker’s character, in a similar vein to Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. However, the violence in Tomb Raider is dissonant because Lara goes from never having killed to massacring hundreds with barely any transition; she does not come from a violent background. Booker, on the other hand, is a veteran of the Wounded Knee Massacre, where over 150 Lakota Native Americans died. Booker is a war veteran who has experience with violence and weapons. The fact that he fights through Comstock’s forces in Columbia is not a ludonarrative issue.


The Last of Us

The Last of Us, despite being my favorite game of 2013, is not free from the grips of ludonarrative dissonance. Twenty years after a fungal epidemic plagues the planet, grizzled smuggler Joel attempts to escort Ellie, a young girl who is somehow the key to a vaccine, across the country. The visuals are breathtaking, the story is heart-wrenching, and the gameplay is…well, it has problems. It’s your standard third-person shooter, with the added difficulty of stealth and survival horror elements. Going into an encounter guns-blazing is not the best option, so you’re forced to scrounge for materials in a post-apocalyptic world and take out soldiers, gang members, and Infected as sneakily as possible. Each of these elements adds to the narrative the developers are trying to create, but in an effort to ease frustration on the part of the player, they have instead created a hilariously dissonant gameplay element: Ellie cannot be seen in stealth. Sure, enemies can attack and grab her once you’ve made your presence known, but while you’re skulking in dark corners, the AI cannot see Ellie, even when she’s literally right in front of them. Yes, it makes sense from a gameplay perspective to not punish the player for the work of the companion AI, but from a narrative perspective, it makes little to no sense why these bloodthirsty and vicious enemies don’t notice a fourteen-year old, foul-mouthed, badass girl.


Ian Bogost, in his article on procedural rhetoric, discusses how the inherent rules of a video game can reflect and make arguments about the real world because of its interactive nature. Each of the aforementioned games attempt to follow this process by having a story that is reflected through its gameplay. However, when the gameplay and storytelling elements clash, it is ultimately the gameplay that wins out because of the very definition of a game: it is a digital, interactive, structured form of play. Storytelling and art can be part of how the game is experienced, but it is the rules and forms of play itself that inform how a game truly is a game. So because the story is so integral to these games, to the point where it can affect how the gameplay is experienced, ludonarrative dissonance occurs and we are forced to reconsider the processes by which we create and enforce the rules of a game.

The Binds that Hold Us

I, like many other game developers across the world, participated in the 2014 Global Game Jam. Starting with only a theme at 5:00pm on Friday, January 24th, myself and two others created a fully functioning video game by 3:00pm on Sunday the 26th. Now, although my game is no where near the likes of Goat Simulator (if you have not heard of Goat Simulator, look it up; your life will be better for it), it goes to show how drive, focus, and creativity can blend together to build something from practically nothing. My team and I took the theme, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are,” and created The Binds that Hold Us, a puzzle/platformer where players take control of two convicts escaping from prison, each utilizing their own perspective and talents to work together and escape.

The game is not meant to look pretty or play perfectly, but to be an experiment in game development and show off the talents of the people involved.

Download The Binds that Hold Us from the Global Game Jam website.

Special thanks to my co-developers, Carol Liang and Steven Itrich.