A defense for motion control in games

Last night I read a screed on The Verge forums from a guy who lamented the fact that games have become too accessible. He remembers fondly the time spent as a youth when he played difficult games, and calls out the new Zelda game (Skyward Sword) as example of a “soft, hit-detection-free experience.”

Even though I’ve just started playing the game, I don’t feel this way about Skyward Sword at all. In fact, I’m finding it more difficult than other Zelda games I’ve played. There are a few reasons for this: mostly because of the precision motion control required, but also due to other changes, such as a shield that wears down over time, and fewer randomly found hearts. Playing this morning, I actually died to the first dungeon boss. While it could have been that my sleep-deprived mind couldn’t recognize patterns effectively, it’s also true that I played through Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask without ever coming close to dying.

Some Wii games certainly do have “floaty” controls, but these are games that have a broad audience (such as Wii Sports). However, most of the other games I’ve played on the Wii use the remote/nunchuck combo for a more traditional control scheme; perhaps they use the remote for pointing a cursor on the screen as well. While the Wii made broad strokes into a “blue ocean” of non-gamers, it still has a lot to offer to those who were raised on the original NES.

No comments · Written by Nathan at 4:41 pm · Tags ,

Nonogram Madness is on the App Store

A few months ago I decided to try my hand at iPhone development, and the result is finally with us. Presenting Nonogram Madness for iPhone and iPod Touch!

For those of you who’ve been following along at home, late last year I made the first version of Nonogram Madness in Flash using the Flixel framework. Since I knew I would have to learn both a new language and a new programming framework to create anything on iOS, I decided to re-work a previous creation. I thought since the core logic had already been programmed, porting would be relatively straightforward.

Obviously, in the end it was a bit more complicated than that. There were lots of unexpected challenges, such as dealing with touch-based controls, as well as creating all-new puzzles. It’s been the most ambitious project I’ve done in my spare time to date, and I’m actually pretty proud of it.

In fact, I enjoyed the process so much that I created an LLC to publish the game under. The company is called Ganbaru Games, and while right now it’s not profitable at all, I’m hoping that perhaps if I get enough decent games out there, I can take advantage of the “long tail.” The word “ganbaru” means “to try ones’ best” or “to work hard” in Japanese, and that’s the philosophy I’d like to bring with me in game creation.

If you’d like to show your support for my game-making efforts, why not follow @ganbarugames on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook?

No comments · Written by Nathan at 7:13 pm · Tags , ,

Totaka’s Song in GarageBand

Sooo, I’ve been trying my hand at music makin’ recently, in an effort to make my iPhone game a bit more fleshed out. Fortunately, Macs come with GarageBand, which is (seems to be) a pretty powerful music program. The downside is that 1.) I don’t know anything about composition and 2.) I don’t know how to use sequencing programs. Put those together and you’ve got yourself a nice frustrating time. However, I’d like to think that what I lack in talent I make up for in irrational perseverance, so there may be some hope yet.

While messing around, I made my own version of Totaka’s Song, and am putting it online so that you can listen and say to yourself, “Yep, that’s Totaka’s Song alright.” If you’ve played Nintendo games with any frequency in your life, you’ve probably heard this ditty… check out this excellent YouTube seriesTotaka’s Song for all the dirt.

No comments · Written by Nathan at 7:33 am · Tags

Developing: iPhone vs. Nintendo DSi

Reggie Fils-Aime sez that the iPhone platform isn’t a serious competitor to Nintendo’s handhelds. As far as depth of games goes, I’d be inclined to agree with him. Nintendo does have 20 years of handheld console experience, and even the most basic Game Boy game usually has a lot more depth than the average iPhone OS title.

However, I think there’s a reason why gaming has exploded on iPhone: it allows casual game makers to easily develop and publish games on a handheld pseudo-console. Nintendo has DSiWare, which is a digital content distribution system similar to the App Store, but the speed bumps to publishing on each platform are remarkably different.

To develop for the DSi, you have to fill out an application which states why your company has the experience necessary to develop DS titles (a side note: your company has to have actual offices… can’t be a home office). Once you get approved, you can purchase your DS development kit (no idea how much it costs, but probably a substantial amount). Then you can actually make your game. After that, you have to get your game approved to be distributed as DSiWare.

To develop for iPhone OS, all you need is a Macintosh computer and an iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad. All the programming tools are free. To test your game on your actual hardware and distribute via the App Store, you pay $100/year to be an official developer.

The difference is astounding. I will probably never make a game on a Nintendo platform (although I’d love to some day), but publishing for iPhone OS is easily within my reach. All I’m saying, Nintendo, is that you might want to take a page from Apple’s playbook here.

1 comment · Written by Nathan at 8:33 am · Tags , , ,

Review: PixelJunk Shooter

I’ve been following the progress of a company known as Q Games for a while. Right now they’re most well known for producing the “PixelJunk” series of games for the Playstation 3. Even though my Playstation 3 mostly serves as a giant paperweight these days, I’ve downloaded a few of their demos and been generally impressed. Q Games was founded by Dylan Cuthbert, who worked at Argonaut Software (developer of Star Fox for SNES) back in the day. It’s cool to see someone aside from Shigeru Miyamoto stay relevant to the games industry for so long.

Anyway, like I said, Q Games is known for their PixelJunk brand, a collection of four (so far) inexpensive, downloadable titles for the PS3. Aside from the common PixelJunk name (great use of branding, by the way), these games have nothing in common. The first was a slot car racing game, the second was tower defense, and the third was a stylized platformer. The fourth, and most recent (not to mention my own most recent purchase) was PixelJunk Shooter.

As you can guess from the title, Shooter is, at its core, a shooting game. The player is tasked with rescuing miners and scientists who have been working to uncover resources under the surface of an unexplored planet. As you fly deeper and deeper underground, you encounter new and different obstacles. At first, these obstacles consist mostly of lava pits, which can be quenched by shooting through weak cave walls and finding water sources (getting too close to lava raises the heat level of your ship, which can be cooled by a dunk in some water). Further in, however, you come across ice, explosive gas, and a strange magnetic liquid that is attracted to your ship. The fluid dynamics are modeled in a very realistic fashion, and it’s fun to watch the different materials interact. In addition, you can find various modifications for your ship: to allow it to shoot lava or water, or an “inverter” which allows your ship to enter lava, but water causes it to overheat. These different gameplay ideas inject a bit of puzzling into what would otherwise be a straightforward action game, and elevate it from being merely “good” to “great.”

PixelJunk Shooter’s length is just right. The game consists of three episodes that contain 5-6 stages. Each stage contains about four “sub-stages,” smaller areas where you need to rescue all the survivors in order to proceed to the next. A stage will probably take you about 15 minutes to complete the first time. So, extrapolating, you’ll get about 4 hours of unique gameplay for your $10. Each stage introduces new game concepts, and you barely get used to one you just learned before it’s taken away and you have something entirely new to learn. The upshot is that the game feels very content-dense, yet each game concept is under-used so that you don’t get tired of it. As far as bang for your buck goes, I can wholeheartedly recommend PixelJunk Shooter; the price is just about the same as going to a movie (my local theater charges $9), but it’s twice as long and has much better content than any movie I’ve seen recently.

After playing PixelJunk Shooter (as well as a few other PixelJunk demos), I’m a Q Games convert. When I next have an afternoon or evening to kill, instead of plunking out cash for a movie, I’ll be checking out a different entry into the PixelJunk series.

No comments · Written by Nathan at 5:11 pm · Tags , , ,

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