This I Believe, Revisited (currently in the works)

Nearly fifteen weeks ago, I was asked to write a statement about what I believe as a writer. Over the course of those fifteen weeks, I would like to believe that I have learned at least something about myself. When thinking about what I learned, I think the most important part is that I write so much better when I just take a prompt and write what I know in the way I like best. My favorite assignment from this class was the hero’s journey discussion. The topic was easily the most interesting to me and it was the first assignment where I tried the different approach to writing an assignment. As a game designer and avid reader, I am familiar with the hero’s journey as a formula for how the main character grows. When I was told to write about an instance of the journey, my mind instantly went to Journey, a game that utilizes it step for step while avoiding the pitfalls or clichés. One of the other aspects I enjoyed about writing the assignment was the fact that I did it while completely ignoring the rubric.

What I wrote originally:

I would say that I believe I can be a good writer when I put enough effort into writing something, but I already know for a fact that I can. Back during High school, during my senior year, my English class was having everyone write a five or so page paper on our view of the Dream Act. If I remember correctly, we spent the majority of the semester reading and researching the topic. When the semester’s end was getting closer, the teacher had us make an outline during one week, a draft the next, and then final revisions after the next. I ended up making an alright outline and a sub-par draft that barely hit three pages. After having to turn in the draft and realizing it was terrible, I attempted to rewrite it, but I use my outlines to build the majority of my papers. I ended up scrapping the entire outline, researching more sources, and rewrote a new outline and draft. It ended up being a great paper according to the teacher. A big problem that I have when writing is that I either have a hard time wrapping my head around the assignment, the topic does not interest me in the slightest, or it involves something that I’ve never bothered to think about before. If it is the latter two, I usually end up putting some spin that allows me to have an easier time writing for the assignment. In Composition I, one assignment was to write about a song’s lyrics that dealt with an issue or some kind of time period. I couldn’t think of any specific songs that fit those criteria, so I wrote about the entire soundtrack for a game that was about abusive, alcoholic, fathers.

If you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of making videos or recording myself. I had to put a lamp right behind and above the computer so that my face wasn’t shrouded in shadows.

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In the early ’70s, a group of teachers created an educational game called The Oregon Trail, meant to teach students about the same topic as the game was named after. A later iteration, coded for the Apple II, sold “something in the order of 65 million copies” (Campbell, 2013). Video games are created, in part, to grab and hold the attention of their target audience. Professionals will make it their job to keep a game interesting and get the player to continue to play it. An unfortunate side effect is that people who can not manage their time properly might shove aside tasks such as schoolwork to continue playing. The attention-holding nature of video games gives them a bad reputation of sorts when education gets involved; this should not be the case. Video games can be an effective tool in teaching a subject. Video games force the player to learn how to play them, if the mechanics are right, this gives the player skills that could be used elsewhere. While playing video games, lore might be introduced and players are meant to be inclined to seek it out; history and English subjects can make use of this. While playing, students are tested and given the option to keep trying and to seek out other objectives; players intentionally attempt everything, which exposes them to the majority of the curriculum in the game. Video games are another medium that education can make use of; given games with proper development and design, students will learn the intended subject simply by playing.

Video Games as Educational Too

References

Cameron, P. (2015, April 6). Here we are now, edutain us: Education and games with SpaceChem ‘s Zach Barth. Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/236217/Here_we_are_now_edutain_us_Education_and_games_with_SpaceChems_Zach_Barth.php

Campbell, C. (2013, July 31). The Oregon Trail was made in just two weeks. Retrieved April 21, 2015, from http://www.polygon.com/2013/7/31/4575810/the-oregon-trail-was-made-in-just-two-weeks

Feb 26: Edf forum – gaming to learn. (2013, February 26). Retrieved April 8, 2015, from http://edf.stanford.edu/course/feb-26-gaming-learn

Squire, K., & Steinkuehler, C. (2005, April 15). Meet the Gamers. Retrieved April 20, 2015, from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2005/04/ljarchives/meet-the-gamers/#_

Tannahill, N., Tissington, P., & Senior, C. (2012). Video Games and Higher Education: What Can “Call of Duty” Teach Our Students? Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 210. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00210

If you want to learn more about education and video games, I would recommend watching this playlist; they are professionals within the industry who create videos to inform others about, and discuss topics related to, the creation of video games.


Atomic Empire: A Hobby Store with its own Snack Bar

Atomic Empire wasn’t always the same store, it used to be run in a different building, under a different name, and with smaller space. Having moved in 2012, the store is currently located in Durham, NC; the store is well-received by customers. The store, despite its size, does not have a decompression zone at the entrance. Related and key products are not spread around the store to extend the time that a customer spends in the store. The packaging of a majority of the products does not allow for “petting.” Atomic Empire does not employ any of the techniques talked about by Malcolm Gladwell in his article.

Paco Underhill calls the front area of a store the decompression zone and that there shouldn’t be anything of importance in that zone. Customers pay less attention to products in that area. While superstores have the entrance sectioned off to allow customers to decompress, Atomic Empire’s counter is where the card games are sold, along with small knickknacks and figures on display. It could be that most customers enter the store knowing what they are going to buy or look at, and a decompression zone is not needed for that. The shelves that contain product that customers might browse at are far enough away for customers to decompress. Atomic Empire does not use a compression zone, far from it, they have a dice display right at the entrance.

“The chances that shoppers will buy something are directly related to how long they spend shopping, and how long they spend shopping is directly related to how deep they get pulled into the store.” -Gladwell (Signs of Life in the USA, 2011). Atomic Empire has the card games and board games at the front, tabletop rpg’s on the left, comics and books on the right, and a tournament area in the back. The only thing that takes customers to the back of the store is something that customers would already be in the store for. The store hosts tournaments and events in the back area, so everything they sell is in the front. Unless customers get hungry while shopping, and want something from the snack bar, they usually stay in the front half of the store. Customers are not forced to stay in the store for any longer than they choose to.

“But then I went to the Gap and to Banana Republic and saw people touching, and fondling and, one after another, buying shirts and sweaters laid out on big wooden tables, and what Paco told me.” -Gladwell (Signs of Life in the USA, 2011). Atomic Empire counts shirts and jackets among its merchandise, but sells them on hangers. They sell books, but the majority are on shelves; the only items that encourage petting are the plushies. It’s common for cards and comic books to become worth more than the price they are sold for; the same thing can happen with figures. Board games are sold in boxes and the card games at the counter. There’s not a whole lot in the store that people can pet; they can inspect the product, but petting is not as easy. Many of the products sold in the store drop in value when tampered with in any way.

Aside from invariable right, potentially, Atomic Empire fails to follow the practices talked about by Gladwell and Underhill. There’s no decompression zone in the store and products are shown near the entrance. Customers do not have a reason to go to the back of the store unless they plan on staying for a tournament being held. Many of the products sold do not encourage petting due to the potential value of them. It does not appear as though they need to use the practices, the had enough business to expand and it didn’t appear as though they were having trouble.

References

Maasik, Sonia; Solomon, Jack (2011-11-21). Signs of Life in the USA (Pages 97-103). Bedford/St. Martin’s. Kindle Edition.


The Past Semester Regarding ENG101

I really enjoyed Composition I. In high school, English classes were always about reading predetermined books and then writing our opinion or interpretation of what was going on and why the author wrote it the way they did. In ENG101, I had to write on a certain topic or prompt, but I was the one that chose what I read about. An example was the blog roundup during Week 6; I was able to write about three ask blogs that only talked about a specific card game. There were certainly difficulties with the prompts, mostly because of myself. What helped when dealing with difficult prompts was having a friend in the same class. I certainly want to think that I improved my writing and research methods by the end of this class. I had difficulties with this class, but I believe that it was an overall positive experience.

During the semester, nearly all of the prompts required that I think outside the box to write. One example was the Week 5 journal; it wanted us to write about a single song that involved social issues. The problem is that I don’t listen to many songs that handle social issues or the different decades. I ended up writing about an entire soundtrack about game that was about a father’s problem with alcohol. I bombed the week 6 journal because I couldn’t wrap my head around the prompt well enough. It certainly led to interesting choices for the assignments: indie developer stress, a eulogy involving a character from a game that mocks games, the messages that a Dark Souls ad gives.

Having a friend in the class as myself really helped when I got stuck on an assignment. They always offered suggestions when I couldn’t think of anything and it was easy to ask to see how they were going about it. It was also nice, because I could ask a friend to look at what I was writing or what they thought of the idea I was thinking of. They made it easier to improve what I was working on at the time.

I definitely learned new things thanks to this class. Before this class, I had never known of things like raft, craap, or soapstone, all of which are good methods to follow when researching and writing. Just writing every week also helped me improve my writing. Doing something constantly and learning from mistakes always improves it. I used always have trouble with writing things that had to be pages long, but I found that I had no trouble with that for the final essay. It was likely due to the combination of improvement in my writing and the subject being something I was genuinely interested in.

Composition I was an interesting class and the assignments were exactly as one would expect from a class called composition. Some of the prompts were troublesome and required thinking, but I got through them. Friends helped a lot with wrapping my head around the prompt. There’s visible improvement in my responses to the different prompts. The class was great, even if it was difficult at times.

References

The Stanley Parable Launch Trailer [Motion picture]. (2013). Galactic Cafe.

Brazas, J. (2013). Sun Bros. Deviantart.


Making Games is not Easy

I would kill myself. That’s my incentive to finish it. Because then I get to not kill myself.” -Phil Fish, developer of FEZ (Indie Game: The Movie, 2012)

Making games is a difficult thing to do, especially for independent developers. They have to make personal sacrifices to focus on making and finishing the game. Indie developers make the game for themselves but because of that, problems with the game can cause problems, like depression, with the developer. Because they make a commitment to the game, it can not just be done on a whim. Making a game requires programming, art, and proper design, and it is rare for a single developer to be proficient in all three; indie developers rarely work in big groups, so most of them need to know more than just one field. Game developers make games because that is what they want to do, indie developers make games on their own and their game means so much to them that they are serious about committing suicide if they could not finish it. Being an indie developer is a major decision that takes almost complete commitment, and the potential stress involved is a serious matter.

Independent developers that turn making a game into a full time job have to make certain sacrifices in order to properly work on the game. Tommy Refenes and Edmund McMillan, creators of Super Meat Boy, have both spoken about the sacrifices that they made while working on their game. Both of them gave up on social lives and McMillan’s marriage was stressed at times during development (Indie Game: The Movie, 2012). While anyone with the right knowledge can make a game, unless they focus on just working on the game, it could take a considerably longer time to finish. If a developer works in a studio that is funded by a publisher, the workload is considerably lightened by the number of other people working on the game. When a person becomes an independent developer full-time, that means going without income for what could be years. An independent developer has little time to socialize or leave the house, they spend most of their time inside and working on the game. Relationships become stressed by what is usually a drastic reduction in time spent together. Indie developers give up a lot to work on a game, and it gets harder with the less experience they have when they make the decision to go independent.

It takes a lot to make a game and even when simplified, it still takes an artist, a programmer, and a designer; that is a lot of work for one person, or even a just a few people.

Indie developers have to sweep through a full gamut of roles on a daily basis: programmer, artist, game designer, story writer, foley technician, composer, marketer, community manager, and so forth. If you can’t narrow your scope further and don’t have all the necessary hats in your wardrobe already, you’ll need a plan” -John Graham, Wolfire Games (Graham, 2011).

Independent developers become both designer and programmer when they make a game. They design the game, what is done in the game, why it is fun, etc. They program the game to make all their design ideas come to life in the game. They become artists so that the game is visually appealing. The developer/s test their games themselves, decide on balancing decisions on their own, and go through numerous prototypes to make the game a fun reality. Even if the game is on the smaller end of game scope, indie developers find themselves doing the work of three or four departments that a bigger game and studio would have access to.

Indie developers take on everything that needs to be done to make a game because that is what they are passionate about; ultimately, they are making the game for them, as a way to communicate an experience with other people.

My whole career has been trying to find new ways to communicate with people. Because, I desperately want to communicate with people. But I don’t want the messy interaction of having to make friends and talk to people. Because I probably won’t like them. When you make games. And you put stuff up online. And people like your stuff or don’t like your stuff. Either way, they’re going to give you some kind of feedback. And you have this conversation” -Edmund McMillan, developer of Super Meat Boy (Indie Game: The Movie, 2012).

Independent game developers start by making a game for themselves, as an experiment to see what they can make. After, they decide to share it with others. The game becomes about the developer’s “message” to other people, and it begins to mean a lot more to the developer. As Fish said, they are the game, and it is them on the line (Indie Game: the Movie, 2012), whether people like it or not. Indie developers put a lot of who they are into the games they make, that also includes the negative aspects. “Let me take my deepest flaws and vulnerabilities and put them into a game” -Jonathan Blow, developer of Braid (Indie Game: The Movie, 2012).

Indie developers put their whole lives into making their game, and they become very attached to the game, its success or failure, and how people perceive the game.

Some of the most demoralizing things… Were actually positive reviews of the game. People would say ‘Oh, this game’s great!’ And they’d say what’s good about the game… And in many cases it would be just a very surface understanding of the game that didn’t even see what I thought was most special about it” -Blow (Indie Game: The Movie, 2012)

For indie developers, a game that does not get finished or fails to do what it is intended to do, is like wasting the past several years on nothing. They sacrifice a lot to make the game, and if things go badly, there is no way to justify the idea that it is alright. Blow admitted to being depressed for months after the release of Braid, for the fact that people did not understand what he was trying to “say” (Indie Game: The Movie, 2012) Indie developers have to look at themselves, and see just how committed they are to the game, because there are consequences for both continuing and stopping work on the game.

Indie developers have it tough. They do not have the backing of a publisher or multiple departments, so they have to do all the work, and find alternative ways to fund the game and their own living conditions. They give up things in life that they would not otherwise have to give up. Their games run the risk of being misunderstood or simply being disliked. It is not all bad because for the developer, making the game is a learning experience. As the game progresses in development, so does the developer. Indie developers are able to create whatever kind of game they want. Publishers aim to sell as many as they can to as wide an audience as possible. Indie developers do not have that kind of restriction, as they are free to make as personal and creative a game as they want.

References

Graham, J. (2011). Am I indie? Game Developer, , 85-n/a. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/874902648?accountid=38189

Indie Game: The Movie [Motion picture]. (2012). Cinedigm Entertainment Group.

Sheppard, M., & Burns, R. (2013). To N-finity and beyond. Game Developer, 20(7), 59-n/a. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1399951280?accountid=38189


A Sense of Place

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When I look at my desk, I see it as the desk of someone who likes various things and is generally a neat person. The cords are all hidden behind the monitor and laptop; Everything has a place. I have a fan because I find the room hot at times. I use an extra monitor because I like the extra screen space, and I keep it in it’s position to that I can keep it out of sight while I need to concentrate. I used to be really interested in rocks and gems as a kid, so I keep some of my favorites on the desk. I play Magic, and I have two figures of characters from it. I have my desk positioned so that I can look at the rest of the room and so that I can keep an eye on my roommate… Nah, it’s just because I like the extra monitor on the right side and the ethernet cord isn’t long enough to do that with the desk against the wall. I read an essay by Joan Kron and they said that “our possessions give us a sense of security and stability.” I agree, a number of items that I own have sentimental value and the word devastated comes to mind when I think about losing those items.

Ad Analysis: Dark Souls

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This ad shows that the game will be difficult, that even places of healing will have monsters, and that players will go there despite the danger.

The ad depicts one knight fighting a fire-breathing monster in the surgery room of a hospital. Sitting in chairs outside the room are three knights and an old lady. A fifth knight is standing outside the room as if waiting for his turn. There are posters on the wall talking about running for your life, keeping your heart healthy, and donating blood. A sign says NEXT PATIENT 023 and there’s a clock saying that the time is roughly 12:32. At least two of the knights sitting are covered in blood, but neither the knights nor the old lady show signs of injury or illness. The old lady and one of the sitting knights are looking at each other; the old lady is leaning away from the knight. The ad also shows various information about the game, including: the title, companies involved, awards, etc.

The setting is completely at odds with the game being advertised and the characters in the ad. Despite the fact that the setting is a (supposedly) modern hospital, there are medieval knights and none of them look to be injured. The signs are cautionary, warning about running for your life and keeping healthy. The hospital is supposed to be a place to heal, but there’s a knight fighting a monster in the surgery room. The other knights are waiting as if they know about the monster and plan on taking it on. The old lady is perturbed by the knights and doesn’t fit in with them.