Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy All Hallow's Eve..eve.

This is such a fun time of year for me.  Although, I have to admit that with 6 birthdays and four major holidays between the middle of October and the end of the year these last weeks go by like a whirling dervish.  It's important to keep our heads on (Halloween pun intended) through it all.

Every family has different traditions for this spooky season.  Let me share a few of mine with you.  My life basically revolves around food, so it's no surprise that the constants of my Halloween are edible.  Like deluxe caramel apples and pumpkin turkey chile.  We also love to dress up.  When dressing up it's important to keep safety in mind.  Beware the candle lit jack-o-lanterns as the sparkly skirts on most princess and fairy costumes is HIGHLY flammable.  And even costumes that are labled as flame retardant will still melt and potentially burn a child worse than if it just ignited.  May I recommend using glow sticks or battery powered lights in your pumpkins instead.  Bonus: those don't blow out in the wind and you can get some fun colors for the glow sticks!

Instead of candles use glow sticks! This is so cool! Must remember this for next year! << I know, right?!

Now I am a bona fide panty waist and I simply can't handle scary movies.  Like, at all.  But I know that some people love to give themselves nightmares.  Please act responsibly when it comes to the images you subject young children to though.  A few fun facts:
  • The younger kids are when they see a scary movie or TV show, the longer-lasting the effects will be.
  • Kids who watch scary material often have nightmares or anxiety.
  • Kids ages 2 to 7 often can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality.

The last one is particularly important in my eyes--They don't even know it's not real.  And you can't unsee something.  For more information on media, kids, and teens check out commonsensemedia.org.

It's important as parents that we are being an active filter for the media that is allowed into our homes.  It can be a powerful tool for good, but also a toxic source that will rot the mind and spirit.  As said before, you can't unsee it, and unfortunately things that are gory/violent or pornographic in nature leave the strongest impression and can greatly effect a child.  The ESRB (Electronic Software Rating Board) (<- The ones that say whether a game is rated E,T,M, etc) is good but it is important to know exactly what's being played.  Again, commonsensemedia.org is a great site to check out.  They rate all the games and have detailed descriptions of what you need to know about the game.  You can also browse games by ages it is appropriate for, skills required, etc.  They also do this for movies, music, books, and tv shows.  It's really a good site! 

I'd like to take this time to point out how mild, compared to mainstream, our games are.  My sweet little nephews will be playing them.  :)

What will you all be doing in honor of "things that go bump in the night" this week?

Have a Happy & Safe Halloween from all of us at Game Crossing Studios!


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

RPG Maker Makes it Easy to Game

     Making games can be a challenge. But it doesn't have to be. The engine that we are using to make Absolute Zero: Conspiracy is a newer version of the RPG Maker series. I had used the XP version while attending DeVry University Online to create a simple, single level game in less than eight weeks. It satisfied the requirements of the course, was quick and intuitive to use and has been the basis for a couple personal projects since graduating.

     I'm currently using the RPG Maker VX version to build our still-in-progress title. It has more features and has a little different art style than the XP version. Almost more of a classic RPG style that seems to really work well with my own style. I think that one of the best features of using the RPG Maker series is the easy drag and drop style to building your game world. The engine has enough already built into it that even if you don't add any additional scripts it can provide a strong basis and framework to build your story on.

     It also comes loaded with sound effects, art assets, music, tilemaps and all the elements to build a game. Where you go from there is up to you as the creator. There is a great community that provides free and low cost resources including scripts to give your game a more personal flavor, art assets to expand characters as well as environments, and music that can be purchased for in-game use that totally changes the tone and atmosphere of the game. It's also possible to add your own scripts and assets to make the players experience 100% from you.

     Personally, what makes RPG Maker the choice for me at this point is the amount of time that I have available to devote to building a game. Becoming an Indie Game Maker is great, but it doesn't always pay the bills, so I work full-time plus to take care of the essentials of life. As grateful as I am to have a reliable job that takes care of my family, development time in recent weeks has seriously suffered. Luckily, RPG Maker doesn't require hours of coding to create a single scene. And with the use of others talents, I am able to focus on the creation and story process more than the actual production of a single sprite or face set.

     Another awesome feature is that it supports a PC gamepad. So if you're not a fan of the keyboard/mouse gaming action you can customize your gamepad to play your own game.
The male protagonist in our game.
     Bottom-line, if you love games and have always wanted to tell your own stories in game mode, but don't feel confident in coding millions of lines of code, or are restrained from near limitless time to create your game from scratch, check out the RPG Maker series. They offer trial downloads to test their system and play in whatever world you care to create.

     Seriously, what are you waiting for, click the link and Make Your Own Game!

Monday, October 15, 2012

What Value Do Games Really Have?

     Growing up, I loved games. (Clearly not much has changed...) But as Meg pointed out in the last post, and it has been drilled into many a teenager that we ought not to put all our time into games. So from the players side, what value do games serve?

     I used the classic "It's improving my hand eye coordination" line on my parents. Not that I think they bought it as learning to play piano or most any other instrument would accomplish the same goal. But what do games do for us? We know that games in one form or another have been played for centuries. Ancient Egyptian wall paintings depict 'playing' some form of strategy game, as well as many games can be traced back many many years. Chess, anyone? So outside teaching some form of battle strategy, why would people feel the need to create some way to play at life? My answer, we need games. Whether it is used as a means of teaching a concept, simulating a medical procedure to increase a surgeons precision and practice, or any other reason including just the desire to relax and escape into another world, games fill a need.

     As much as I'd like to use that excuse to buy the next totally awesome $60 game that hits the shelves, I know that won't fly. Games don't have to be in a digital format in order to provide an anti-stress or to teach a concept. Board games can also provide a sense of escape, but without the digital mask that is so easy to slip behind. In fact, some games that are in production to be video games get a production start as a crude form of board game so that developers can play through the rules and mechanics to see that they will work well, before spending hours and gobs of money to develop in a graphical digital format.

     Video games are perhaps most often played (even unknowingly) as a means of escaping the real world for a time and being someone else. Anyone that has played a game such as Fable, or Star Wars: KOTOR, realize that some of the chosen actions are not the type of person you are in real life, but in the game world you can be just about anyone, with any personality, you want. Ever have a bad day at work and need to spend an hour web-swinging through New York as Spider-Man and beating up thugs? Or maybe life in general is dealing you some heavy stress making you feel less than in control, and you just need to play something to help you feel more in control and less stressed? Games provide us with the ability to play out scenarios and can be a very helpful coping tool.

     Games can also be helpful in real world training. What would you rather do, play through a game based around a disaster and you play the role of an emergency responder...OR sit through a 1-2 hour presentation where information about your role in a disaster is explained without any hands on examples? Yeah, no brainer for me. By playing a game, I'm more likely to retain techniques if the simulated game clearly shows and explains what to do. I've sat through the presentations, and usually just feel tired and retain a fraction of the information because I haven't "experienced" it.

     The bottom line is that there are some good benefits to games. Video and other. We're not encouraging people to just sit inside all day and play games all the time. (Though it is fun now and then) But rather, not to get discouraged with occasional or even regular game playing. Games in moderation can actually be healthy as a means of balancing life.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Yin and Yang

Ok, I have to admit, I'm not really going to be talking about yin and yang energies.  But I am going to take some time and talk about balance.  Specifically balance between games and real life, or RL as it is referred to in game shorthand. Hehe!  See?  I know a little something about gaming!  But, if I'm honest I don't know a lot.  All told, I'm a stay at home mom and I know far more about making dinner and playing with blocks than I do about gaming or making a game.  But I do love a good story, and I love being a part of telling a story.  Which is what I do here at Game Crossing Studios.  So, on with the story.  

I have gamed before and I have experiences I can draw on to illustrate my point about balance but to protect the innocent, or well-intentioned, the names and specifics of the stories have been changed.  Any similarities to any person, place, or instance is purely coincidental unintentional.

Once upon a time in the magical land of high school a girl named Margie had a boyfriend and he was addicted to a popular MMORPG.  She would call him and he would be silent for long stretches and unresponsive.  So, Margie decided that she would play the game and they would have something to talk about and they could talk while they played together!  It seemed like a good idea at the time and they had one session where it worked, but only one.  The relationship suffered.

Loise and Michael were married, and happily so!  But then a game came into Michael's life  and began to take over!  At first it was just for a few hours on the weekend, but it soon became several hours every day after work and late into the night.  Sometimes he would even stay up so late he would only get one or two hours of sleep before waking to leave for work.  Loise was hurt that Michael no longer paid attention to her and asked him several times to quit playing the game.  But he was addicted.  He eventually broke free of it though and with the new-found time Michael has been able to develop talents he always wanted.

Don and Amy had 4 kids.  And an XBox Live account.  Even though the game play was not one sided as it was in the previous stories the ending is not a pleasant one.  They played often.  And often played alone.  There were other issues in their marriage, but one can't help but wonder if perhaps the time could have been used trying to fix things and repair past damage instead of shooting pixels on a screen.  Lets just say, the divorce was not pretty.

I saw the documentary "Indie Game: The Movie" today and I was so saddened by how reclusive the development of these games had made their creators.  One of them even said that he would kill himself if his game didn't make it to release!  I surely hope that Rob, the commander and chief of and real brains behind Game Crossing Studios, has not gotten to that point!!

Everything in our lives needs to be in balance in order for us to be happy.  Too much of one thing forces a shortage of something else because, let's face it, we all have just 24 hours in a day.  That's a mere 1440 minutes.  For example, if I spent more time practicing the piano and less time surfing the internet as a teen I would probably be able to play the piano.

We have responsibilities that must be taken care of and we have goals we make to try and better ourselves.  Those are important and good.  I'm talking about mindless for hours and hours and hours on end, where days turn into months kind of playing.  Especially when it is at the expense of the happiness of a loved one. 

It is important that we take time to recharge our personal batteries and that we participate in things that make us happy.  When we take care of ourselves we are able to have the energy to take care of others.  And gaming can be a fantastic way to decompress.  It can also be a fun activity that helps build relationships.  I have fond memories of playing Street Fighter, Duck Hunt, Wii Sport, Mario Kart, and others, with those I love and the laughter we shared.  So it most certainly can be a good, fun, relationship strengthening thing.  But it can easily get out of hand so just remember that on your death bed you probably won't be wishing you beat that big bad boss. 

Until next time.
Live life.  Play games.