2015-12-16

2015 YEAR IN REVIEW




2015 has come and gone already. It was a good year for many reasons, including all the great video games that were released.


AAA GAMES OF 2015


This year's high-profile releases went relatively well, contrasting with last year's many launch mishaps.


The Witcher 3, winner of the Game of the Year award at The Game Awards, showed how well a developer can support its game after launch.

image from geforce.com

Bloodborne, From Software's latest game, is a PS4 exclusive. This pains me because the game and its art direction seem incredible, but I have no way of playing it without buying a new console.


image from forbes.com
Batman: Arkham Knight, which launched fine on consoles, was broken on PC for a long time. In an unprecedented move, the publisher actually pulled thegame from Steam shortly after its launch.


image from jeuxvideo.com

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a game I've been eagerly awaiting for years. I've had a great experience with this game despite a few well-known issues, like the fact that it doesn't feel complete. More on the whole Kojima/Konami drama below.





Super Mario Maker is one of Nintendo's smartest moves in recent years. Essentially an official Mario level editor, this game really brings Mario to the modern era with decent online features and nearly limitless user-generated content and entertaining YouTube videos.

image from wired.com

Fallout 4 is Bethesda's first game for current-generation consoles. From what I gather, this much-anticipated sequel is a crowd pleaser, but has streamlined its dialogue system, which has disappointed some long-time fans.

image from vg247.com

Other notable AAA hits include: Rise of the Tomb Raider, which looks like a fine action-adventure game; the yearly Assassin's Creed, Syndicate, which impressed the public by not launching as a broken mess; Splatoon, which made quite the splash; Xenoblade Chronicles X, which seems like a great JRPG; and franchise shooters like Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and Halo 5: Guardians, which had good launches.



That's an impressive list of games for one year. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!


INDIE GAMES OF 2015


Her Story, released on June 24 for PC and iOS, is a unique and innovative game in which you search a police database to find and watch clips of several interrogations with a convicted woman. These clips are actual videos with an award-winning performance by Viva Seifert.

image from voletic.com

Rocket League, launched on July 7, is basically soccer with rocket-powered cars. This competitive game is easy to pick up, feels great to control, and has a surprisingly high skill ceiling. I've had a lot of fun playing with friends. Rocket League also won Best Independent Game at The Game Awards.

image from official site


The Beginner'sGuide, released on PC on October 1st, is the new game from Davey Wreden, one of The Stanley Parable's developers. Much like its predecessor, this software almost defies classification. It's a thought-provoking look into the creative process, authorship, and interpretation of creative works, among other things. UNB held a game night to play and discuss this game, and it was very interesting to hear everyone's take on this game.

image from gamekult.com


Speaking of The Stanley Parable, William Pugh, the game's other developer, also released something new this year. It's called Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger and The Terribly Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist. It's a short game released on December 4 and is available for free on Steam. Like Stanley and Beginner’s Guide, it's pretty meta, but this is a comedy game as opposed to Davey's more serious approach. It stars British comic Simon Amstell.

image from inverse.com

Undertale, released for PC on September 15, is a modern story-driven adventure built from the genes of old-school role-playing games. Its innovative combat system, excellent writing and characters, exceptionally good soundtrack, and awesome meta elements make this game memorable and unique. Since its release, this game has gained a cult following that has created a ridiculous amount of fan art and music covers. It's not a game everyone will like, but it's still too bad that many people won't look past the game's dated appearance to discover the richness within.



SOMA is Frictional's latest game, released for PC and PS4 on September 22. This horror game is equal parts science fiction, something that is new for the developers at Frictional, but they pulled it off. The horror elements aren't quite as strong as in their now-classic Amnesia: The Dark Descent, but the intriguing and thought-provoking sci-fi themes are what really make SOMA stand out. This game will haunt you and leave you pondering the implications of its narrative long after the game is over.



Cibele, released on November 2 for PC, is Nina Freeman's latest game. Like her previous work, it's an autobiographical game focusing on a specific life experience. This time, she shows us what it was like to build a serious relationship with someone over the internet while playing online games. Earlier this year, Nina released a smaller project called Freshman Year. This surprisingly impactful game deals with unwanted abuse she's faced in the past. You can play it for free in your web browser.



Here are some more indie games I haven't played but seem interesting: Ori and the Blind Forest, a beautiful platformer; Life is Strange, a Telltale-like with a novel mechanic; Crypt of the Necrodancer, a rhythm roguelike; Read Only Memories, a cyberpunk adventure game with great characters; Nuclear Throne, Vlambeer's new action roguelike shooter; and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, an inventive bomb diffusal party game.


Phew, that was a long list of games! To think I struggled to come up with more than a handful of games last year… No such problem this time.


FRING FRANG GAME OF THE YEAR 2015 VERY OFFICIAL SELECTION


If I were to choose a favourite game, I'd have to pick Undertale. For a while, I was fairly sure MGSV would be my game of the year, and while I've had a lot of fun with MGSV, Undertale has left such a strong impression on me and changed the way I think about games (and life). Even the fact that I'm debating between a big-budget production seven years in the making and a short, modest-looking indie RPG says a lot about how much I value Undertale.



VARIOUS HAPPENINGS


Nothing comes close to the GamerGate drama that started last year, but the Kojima/Konami story is pretty juicy. I won't go into detail as this information can be found online (Polygon has a lengthy summary). This story ends and a new one begins as Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima has just announced that he is forming his own independent studio and will be partnering with Sony for their first project. Best of luck in the future, Kojima!


The new wave of virtual reality tech was set to make its commercial debut in 2015, but that didn't quite end up happening. We'll have to wait until next year when the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and possibly other VR headsets are released to the public. This year, I got to play quite a few demos with Oculus Rift. While I was initially disappointed – it doesn't actually feel like you're in another world like some proclaim, and the resolution needs to be increased – I believe that the tech has huge potential and is here to stay.



The Game Awards had its second yearly show on December 3. While host Geoff Keighley is making a commendable effort to put on a respectable awards show, he still missed the mark, resulting in two hours filled with hype, product placement, musical performances, and cringe-worthy moments. Still, the 2015 show had its moments and was an improvement over last year's show, which itself was an improvement over the Spike TV award show. Here's hoping he will continue to improve the formula.


And finally, we can't forget to mention the unfortunate passing of former Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. For more on Iwata's life, check out this timeline from Polygon or his tribute at The Game Awards.


ON THE HORIZON


In last year's retrospective, I listed a few games I was excited for, but it turns out that a bunch of them were delayed and will just launch in 2016. Needless to say, I'm still looking forward to them: The Witness, Jonathan Blow's new game, will be out in January; Miegakure, the mind-boggling four-dimensional puzzle game, seems to be nearing the end of development; Quadrilateral Cowboy, Brendon Chung's new game, was supposed to release this year. In fact, it still says “Coming 2015” on the official site; That Dragon, Cancer, the deeply personal autobiographical game about losing a child to cancer, is nearing the end of development; and of course the unnamed Zelda WiiU, that is supposed to release sometime in 2016.


More upcoming games I'm excited about are Firewatch, that slick-looking park ranger game with the cool Olly Moss artwork; Tacoma, the next game from Gone Home devs Fullbright; Dark Souls 3, From Software's next game; and the sequel to The Banner Saga. I'm surely forgetting others.


IN CONCLUSION, 2015 was very strong year for video games, and 2016 looks promising. It's an exciting world to be a part of.

2015-10-19

Interview with Mighty Pebble Games

Today I bring you an interview with the man behind Mighty Pebble Games, a new indie studio based in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.


Chad: First off, who are you and what lead you to game development?

James: I'm James O'Halloran from Charlottetown, PEI, and I'm the owner/developer of Mighty Pebble Games. I graduated Computer Science at UPEI in 2013. After school, I worked for a small software startup in Charlottetown that unfortunately went out of business this Summer. I took some game development courses at UPEI and also played around with game dev in my spare time, so I decided that this was a good opportunity to take my hobby full time and start my own game studio.

Chad: Awesome. Charlottetown is a beautiful city. How do you see the current game dev scene in PEI?

James: There are some cool things going on in the Charlottetown game dev scene. The video game specialization program at UPEI is great so there's a good flow of new developers hitting the scene each year. It's awesome to have EA here to create lots of jobs, and there are also several medium/small studios working on some cool projects.

Chad: That's great, I had no idea they taught video game-related courses at UPEI. So, are there other members of Mighty Pebble Games, or is it a solo project?

James: Right now it's a solo project. I do all of the programming myself. I have been doing approximately 70% of the artwork, and outsourcing the rest online. I also buy all my audio assets individually online. I'm hoping to hire a full-time artist if things go well with my first game.

Chad: You've recently launched a Steam Greenlight campaign. Tell me more about your game, Miner Meltdown.

James: Miner Meltdown is a 2D team-based competitive multiplayer game. Each player is a miner, who has to explore an underground mine searching for gold so he/she can buy better weapons/gear and ultimately kill the opposing team. Matches are quick, and the game is fast-paced. I often describe it as Terraria meets Worms meets Counter-Strike.


Chad: Sounds interesting! What would you say are the advantages of going Steam Greenlight as opposed to other platforms?

James: For my project, Steam was the best option to start on based on the fact that I'm making a multiplayer game and it's an increased risk to buy 8 developer kits for testing for each platform. Steam is also very open, and a lot more accessible for new studios. Steam doesn't even require getting a rating from a ratings board (which can costs thousands). The Steam Greenlight platform also gives your game exposure to a huge audience. If the game is a hit, I will definitely consider bringing the game to consoles in the future.

Chad: Thanks for your time James, and best of luck with your campaign!

James: Thanks Chad!

Support local game development by voting for James' game on Steam Greenlight! And might as well like his studio's Facebook page while you're at it.


2015-09-09

RPG Maker Game Jam


On the weekend of August 21st, I hosted a game jam.

This came about following repeated discussions with a friend about RPG Maker, a game-making program. Basically, we were pumped to make RPG Maker games, and I thought it would be fun to get together with friends over the Internet to make games during the weekend.

I was surprised and excited by the positive response to the idea. It was pretty short notice, though, and a few people were busy that weekend. But we still ended up with nine game submissions! Click on that last link to check out everyone's entries.

The theme, announced at the start of the jam, was pride.

Here are some of the participants having fun while making their games!

THE GAMES:


The Fall of Grant Manor by Daniel Ouellet and Moni Lasangue is a choose-your-own-adventure horror game.

Pride by Rebecca Goodine, Jeff Mundee and Nathan Thompson is a game inspired by the events of Cecil the lion. 

Messtiny: Vault of Crass is a Destiny de-make by Don Levandier, complete with real-time action combat. 

Hot and Heaven by Suzanne Lapointe is a funny game set in the afterlife.

Just Cross by Josh Robertson is the longest submission, clocking in at about an hour and a half. It’s a mini RPG where you play as a chicken attempting to cross The Road.

Washed Up is an island survival game by Kyle Honey.

Kalar’s Proud Ghost by AshenStar is the only entry from a person I don’t know in real life. He found out about the game jam via itch.io and submitted his game, a short adventure about a ghost in need of help.

Overlord by Tyler Matchett, a strategy game that was totally made in RPG Maker, hehe.

50 is a short introspective game made by yours truly.

I've played through all the games, and I'm really impressed by the variety and quality. Great job everyone!

I was glad to see people make their first game during the jam. One couple even made another game since then! I think that the short duration and immediate goals of a game jam could give some people that extra push they need to actually start making games.

In the end, the game jam was a lot of fun. Participants have told me they had a great time making and sharing their games. Thanks to everyone who took part in the jam, it was a blast! I’ll definitely be organizing more jams in the future.

Prizes: In what I thought was a long shot, I contacted RPG Maker to ask if they could provide prizes. Shortly thereafter, I was pleasantly surprised to read that they would offer credit for their web store as prizes. Since they were having trouble getting the store credit, RPG Maker supplied me with three codes for the new software RPG Maker MV! The winning entries, voted for by participants, were Just Cross, Pride, and The Fall of Grant Manor. Thanks to RPG Maker support for the download codes!

2015-07-31

Update - Stutter

I announced a new game called Stutter last fall. This is just a quick update, so for a description of the upcoming game, click on that last link.

After outlining how the game would work, I finished designing the game's story and primary mechanics.

The game then had to be written. Since Stutter is built using Twine, a hypertext engine, words are pretty important. I started writing, but wasn't satisfied with the result and lost motivation. I'm mainly a designer, not a writer, after all.

Logo for the game by Marc d'Entremont

Luckily I found a great collaborator. Rosiane Comeau, a friend and coworker at the time, agreed to team up for this project. She's writing Sutter and has also contributed to design and story structure. Thanks Rosiane for helping this project take off!

As of this week, a first prototype of the game is up and running. It will be easier to finalize the story and add variations based on player choice now that we have something playable to test. Here's a quick look at the prototype story web in Twine:



Once a more complete prototype is reached, I’m going to send it to the fine folks at the Canadian Stuttering Association. Their feedback will help us improve how the game represents stuttering.

Once all this is done, a release date will be announced, then you’ll be able to play the game! Follow Fring Frang on Facebook to stay up to date.

2015-06-25

Jalloo 2015

Earlier this month, I attended the Jalloo Festival of Animation and Games in Miramichi, New Brunswick, for the first time.

I had heard of this annual event before, but figured it was more of an animation and game art thing. Lucky for me, a few Fredericton game dev friends suggested that I attend. When I saw how many interesting talks were on the schedule, I just had to sign up.


from jalloo.net

The first day was busy. The event started with a keynote by Belinda Van Sickle, CEO of Women in Games International. There were awesome talks and workshops throughout the rest of the day. Lots of talented artists from NBCC Miramichi were showcasing their work in the gym. Oh, I also got to try Oculus Rift for the first time!

After a busy day of games-related fun, the lobster supper was a welcomed break. Free drink tickets were a nice bonus, and the karaoke night at Dooly’s was a hoot.

The second day started with more talks on animation and games. After a barbecue lunch of massive hot dogs (seriously, they were huge), the animation festival screenings began. We got to vote for an audience’s choice award. There are lots of creative animation projects happening in the Maritimes (like this and that).

Game Jam

At the end of the second day, participants gathered in the auditorium for the 24-hour game jam. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, a game jam is an event where teams of friends or strangers collaborate to make a game in a set amount of time.

The theme of the jam was then unveiled: “Is this legal?” Next, there were a few ice breaker activities to get participants talking and sharing ideas.

I joined forces with the kind folks from UNB for the game jam:


From left to right: me, Jeff Mundee, Rebecca Goodine,
Lauren Cruikshank, Nicholas Polchies, Nathan Thompson, Jade Yahp

We quickly came up with a weird concept while brainstorming. I like weird games, so I was completely on board. Our game is called Crime is Sexy. Click that link for more info and to download the game!

The game jam was an absolute blast. The team worked really well together, and I’m proud of what we accomplished. I don’t collaborate very often when making games, so it was great to be able to work with so many creative people on a collective project.

So Jalloo was really cool.

I was surprised at how awesome the event was, from the wide range of speakers and topics to the talent shown at the student showcase, the animation festival and the game jam.


I'm definitely glad I went. I had the chance to meet so many cool people! Thanks to everyone for making Jalloo an amazing couple of days.


10/10, would Jalloo again.