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.

Hyrule Comes to Life with the Symphony of the Goddesses

I walked down the hallway, fluorescent light bouncing off linoleum tiles. But that wasn’t the only thing bouncing. As I strode forward, the soft crescendo of music began to ring in my ears. It flowed and lilted as I moved down the hall, reaching its climax as I exited through the double doors and saw the symphony, instruments raised, moving in an organized chaos, and the melody filled my soul.

Symphony of the Goddesses is not entirely unique. There are other orchestras that perform video game music, such as Replay: Symphony of Heroes and Video Games Live. The Symphony is different, in that its focus is centered on the compositions of Koji Kondo, the man exclusively to thank for the music in Mario, Star Fox, and, of course, Zelda. Although a fan of the series, I never had the opportunity to attend the concert series that started in 2012, but was ecstatic when asked to attend on behalf of Top Shelf Gaming.

zelda symphony_1As I sat in the Dolby Theater, watching the performers float their fingers across strings and keys, and the conductor Amy Andersson leading her symphony with impressive bravado, I not only let the music fill my ears, but also gazed at the visuals of the various Zelda games, projected onto a massive screen behind the orchestra. My attention was split between the two, as my conscious mind fought to focus on one aspect or the other; I wanted to enjoy snippets of the games I played and love, while the musician in me wanted to watch the collective technique of the instrumentalists. Nonetheless, I allowed my unconscious to soak in the sound, absorbing the notes and chords, and I felt myself transported into Hyrule. I envisioned myself sailing across the Great Sea as music from Wind Waker played, or anxiously sneaking through the castle dungeons while the melodies of Link to the Past rang around. Listening to the music being performed live, with real instruments, brought me back to a nostalgic place in my distant past. I felt the same joy I experienced while playing these games for the first time. With a full orchestra, the music of past games came even more alive, while the music of the more recent titles sounded exactly as I had remembered them.

It’s possible to enjoy a game with bad visuals and even a bad story, but it’s extremely difficult to enjoy a game without good music. It sets the tone for every part of the game you’re in, the tempo and instruments affecting how you interpret the events which you undergo. Music helps to bring the world of the game alive, to establish a mood and then, just as quickly, destroy it and move onto something else. It gives us something to hold onto when our journey is complete, as we find ourselves humming our favorite tune while reminiscing on the games we love. Our experience with a game is fundamentally intertwined with the soundtrack and the Symphony of the Goddesses is the ultimate expression of that love of sound. It brings a new vibrancy to the music we are drawn to, a new layer and reason to love the aural element which brings vitality to the world of Zelda.

I’m only disappointed that they didn’t play anything from Zelda II. Am I seriously the only one that likes that game?


Originally published at Top Shelf Gaming

Controllers to Connections: Familial Bonding Through Gaming

The other day, someone asked me, “What’s your favorite memory of gaming?” The difficulty of finding such an answer within myself was only due to the fact that there are so many happy moments in my history of playing video games that it’s hard to pick only one. From the first time I picked up Mass Effect to beating the original Castlevania on the NES, there have been many times which have defined my identity as a gamer. As I sat and pondered on it, though, one memory floated to the surface, one which I look upon the most fondly. So to that person who queried me, here is your answer: my favorite memory in gaming has to be leveling up a priest in World of Warcraft with my older brother as we listened to a bunch of metal albums.

At first glance, this doesn’t seem like it could be one’s best memory in gaming. I mean, what’s so significant about a regular day of playing games with your family? Well, it was that moment where I felt myself getting closer with my brother, after we spent much of our time fighting and bickering as kids. We bonded over the shared experience of grinding out levels, blasting Master of Puppets by Metallica and Blackwater Park by Opeth over speakers, and enjoying each other’s company. Nowadays, he and I are very close, playing games together quite often and helping each other through the experience of our lives, but that moment when we first started playing together was the turning point. It was the time where I felt my brother and I becoming more than family; we became friends.

Tirisfal Glades is the perfect setting to rock to some heavy metal.

Gaming, I have come to realize, has been a way for me to bond with my family members in ways I never before considered. My mother, though she had an Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 growing up, is not much of a gamer, although she has taken an interest in it because of my fascination. She influenced me greatly in my taste of music, film, and television, so I wanted to share the activity of gaming with her, too. Sitting down one evening, I took a controller in my hand, powered up Telltale’s Game of Thrones, and told her, “You’ll make all of the decisions, and I’ll do the actual game-playing.” It brought a smile to my face to see her getting into the game, investing in the characters like she does with the books and show, and seeing her choices pan out into (un)intended consequences. She doesn’t have to fake enthusiasm with games because now she understands where I’m coming from when I talk about modern games. She experienced one alongside me and always looks forward to when I can share another story with her.

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.

Gaming is even something I have begun to pass down to my nephew and niece. Often times when they come to visit, they ask me to put a game on the television and I am more than happy to oblige. Whether showing my nephew the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES or indulging my niece with Kingdom Hearts, their eyes remain glued to the screen until we get called to come to the dinner table. Whether or not they become gamers like me is unimportant; what matters is that they’ve begun to take an interest in it, and it is an experience we can share.

People see video games as a solitary activity, something one does alone and to enjoy one’s own spare time. Increasingly, gaming has become something I do to connect with others. I can play online or with friends in the same room. I can show my family what endless possibilities there are in the gaming universe. I can relax and create long-lasting memories with the people I care most about, laughing and having fun over the shared experience of a game.


Originally published at Top Shelf Gaming

Bloody Fists and Bloody Well Done: EA UFC 2 Review

Although I am not much of a sports fan, I love mixed martial arts. Games like football and basketball bore me, but MMA is fascinating. It’s athleticism mixed with ferocity, intelligence and brutality. To see a peak fighter like Jon Jones or Rafael Dos Anjos combat their opponents is like nothing else. The fluidity of their bodies, coupled with the intensity of their skill, makes for a spectacle showcase. The anticipation of a championship changing hands, watching two competitors standing across the cage from one another, with gold in their eyes and fury in their gloves, is indescribable. And though I enjoy watching and training in MMA, I know I will never stand in the Octagon as Dana White wraps a belt around my waist. But I can vicariously live this fantasy through my Playstation, as I play EA Sports UFC 2.

When you pop the disc into your console, after the game has loaded up, you’re thrown into the action. You play as Robbie Lawler, UFC welterweight champion, in his toughest match yet, against contender Rory MacDonald. After four grueling and gory rounds, the player takes control in the fifth, learning how to strike and grapple in the midst of a real fight. The immense power of this moment is well-reflected throughout the game.

The recreation of the intense match, considered by many to be one of the best fights of all time, which took place at UFC 189 on July 11, 2015.

Striking feels dynamic and straightforward. Each punch and kick carries weight, reflected by the impact on your opponent’s body and the draining stamina bar in your corner. With a simple button combination or adjustment of the directional sticks, you can combine strikes in rapid succession and overwhelm your opponent. It’s gratifying when you land that powerful hook and blood spatters from the brow of your target. Striking is fun, easy to pick up, and easy to understand, while at the same time difficult to master.

Grappling, on the other hand, is not as satisfying. When grabbing your opponent in a clinch or taking them down to the mat, the game becomes less of a fighting game and more of a gambling game. Each transition and defense is a guess. Defense is based off of predicting where your opponent will move and what position he will take. It’s possible to combat this without relying on the prognosticative system, but doing so will drain your stamina quickly and leave you defenseless against ground-and-pound attacks. While the ground mechanics do not work as well, it is nonetheless enjoyable when you land that takedown or sink in a submission.

As an RPG fan, I love in-depth character creators, and UFC 2 is no stranger to this. Along with the ability to choose from over 250 existing fighters, the game includes options that allow you to build your own fighter and customize him or her in an extremely deep manner. This level of depth is not just limited to the number of aesthetic options you are granted, but in how you can personalize your fighter’s style. You can determine what statistics your character is well-versed in, whether he or she is a striker, grappler, or well-rounded; you can change what each button or button combo does, allowing for custom strikes, takedowns, or submissions; you can even give your fighter personalities that match another, real fighter’s trademark characteristics, from the gruff and intense walkarounds of Ronda Rousey to the confidence of Alistair Overeem. It’s really astounding to see the sorts of combinations one can throw together in order to create a completely unique fighter, or, in my case, to create analogous versions of real fighters not signed with the UFC. I only wish the system was even more in-depth, something more akin to Fight Night Champion’s character creator, where you can specialize moves to create chances of one-hit knockouts and your creation could partake in media events which further determine his or her popularity within the game’s world.

One of the many possible creations you can dream up.

There are also multitudinous ways in which you can play the game, as many as the different approaches one can take against another mixed martial artist. Along with your standard Quick Fight and Online modes, players can enter a quick stand-up match in Knockout Mode, take their custom fighter through his or her own very own UFC tenure in Career Mode, and even create a camp of fighters and customize them even further with loot and special gear in Ultimate Teams. These various modes allow for hours of gameplay and replayability, throwing you against new challenges and fights.

UFC 2 is a fun game, regardless of whether you enjoy mixed martial arts or not. With exception to a few gripes about how grappling is handled, the combat is strong and fun. The number of fantasy fights one can create, even including special downloadable competitors like Mike Tyson and Bruce Lee, leads to a seemingly-infinite string of fights. And much like in the UFC, upsets can occur at any moment, creating a sense of tension. In a single moment, your belt can be taken away from you and granted to another fighter. This lingering anxiety keeps you on your toes, filling you with a level of exhilaration equivalent to actually fighting. And when you snatch that win, victory tastes as sweet as the blood staining your knuckles.

Featherweight champ Conor McGregor lands an overhand right on Chad Mendes.


Originally published at Top Shelf Gaming

Lee and Andrew Play…Various Games

In addition to my review show, I’ve started a Let’s Play series with my co-host Andrew Cornell. Watch us as we play video games, give our own commentary, and discuss life, the universe, and how bad the controls for the Wii are.

This is a different sort of project than I am used to working on. As a writer, I attempt to plan out what I am going to create, and execute it accordingly. With the off-the-wall, improvisational environment of a Let’s Play, there isn’t as much room for planning as there is to just spew whatever nonsense fills my head. Sitting down with the footage afterward allows me to make edits and enhance the humor, but my quick wit and responses to my co-host are what I challenge myself to showcase during our playthroughs.

Please enjoy the first two episodes of our series, as we play Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Until Dawn.

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.