Official website for the developers of the tools: http://www.sixbysevenstudio.com/wp-flexible/
So I started thinking about learning Unity in depth since our final project at the Art Institute will probably use this platform. I’ve been tapping around a bit in UnrealScript (I’m mostly a UDK guy) and I can see how scripting gameplay mechanics (and not gameplay events) can be easier with Unity’s C# (though I'm very fond and agile with Kismet). I opened my first session and tried to block out a simple level which turned out to be a real pain. I looked at what I had and instantly thought “it would’ve taken me half the time to do that in Unreal”. I searched around for WhiteBoxing tools and finally found two tools that are possibly even better than the one’s Unreal offer (even with auto updating BSP visualization clicked in the preferences). Pro Builder 2 and Pro Grids are the tools I’m talking about. Pro Builder lets you create simple shapes and iterate on them through face extrusion and other 3D modeling manipulation (verts, faces and edges manipulation). There’s even an option to switch the normals of a particular shape (very convenient on walls for a “see inside” effect). The only downside is that there's no CSG operations available with the tool (unless it's hidden somewhere or dealt with automatically). The other one (Pro Grid) is simply a snap to grid tool that works perfectly. Every object in the scene responds to the grid and WhiteBoxing is simply a breeze with it.
Official website for the developers of the tools: http://www.sixbysevenstudio.com/wp-flexible/
Gather around with friends, smile and laugh. I still believe that this part of the video game ecosystem (you’ll here me saying this a lot) is still going strong but it now cohabits with a another giant that strives for meaningful experiences and that wants to deliver emotionally charged content to the masses (i.e. both indie and AAA games). A way to underline and report this change in the content of games is to look at how those pieces of software are sold on the market, how they are marketed. How do the companies want to showcase their product and whom are they targeting? I’m always hearing a lot of negative affirmations here and there on how mature games viciously target younger demographics (between 12 and 17) as their primary audience. I don’t think it’s true anymore because believe or not, gamers are growing up. As they slowly but surely enter the very real world of adulthood, the demographic of gamers slowly changes as well. So how are games advertised and marketed now compared to the previous generations of the 80s-90s?
80's and 90's
From I was able to see online, most game commercials features young (pre-teen and teen) white males enjoying recreational time in front of the television. Most ads feature over the top set pieces such as recreating the games’ environment inside the children room while they are intensely absorbed and invested playing a video game (17 old Nintendo ads: 0:36, 2: 23, 4: 18, 5: 58, 6: 41). Notice that even though there might be other individuals involved in the scenes, it all revolves around kids being overly excited about the games they're playing. A good example of this would be the Yoshi’s commercial that showcases frightened adults and finally a young boy playfully recognizing Yoshi while enjoying a little cool off playing on his Game Boy.
Another striking statement that really seems to define what gamers are supposed to be during this time period is the following phrase heard in a Legend of Zelda commercial: “your parents help you hook it up” talking about Nintendo's console the NES. This simple phrase reinforces the image of parents buying the system, installing it and giving it to their kids. In other terms, adults are not playing the NES they “hook it up”. One last to thing to mention is the constant “cool” attitude that emanates from those publicities. “Buy a Nintendo Entertainment System and be the cool kid in school” we almost instantly feel while watching the Legend of Zelda commercial. Be a cool “white boy” one author states as he writes: “a cooler white boy, of course, whereby if there were girls or people of color in the ads, they were mainly there to look awed by or envious of the sporty white boy who was winning the video game”.
The Theory of Empowerment
One thing that clearly struck me while browsing video game commercials on Youtube is how the term “power” is used and repeated throughout old Nintendo’s television ads. “Now you’re playing with power” they said with a very deep voice synonym of gravity and seriousness. So I went digging (on the surface) to find how it all relates to the kids’ societal situation of this very time period. Many writers believe the transition from the 80s to the 90s seems to be a conflicted one for younger individuals. Lost in the very “high speed” development of capitalism of the 80s certain kids (pre-teen and teens I assume) found themselves powerless in a world they couldn’t quite yet grasp. In order to maybe subconsciously satisfy this desire of being relevant in a highly unstable and changing world, companies took the opportunity to play around this societal problem (or internal crisis) by offering products that would empower children or make them feel powerful. One example of this can be heard in a commercial of Wizards & Warriors II: IronSword where the barbarian tells the kid at the end that “the fate of the world is in your hands”. Another game commercial shows frightened adults and screaming old ladies all running away at the sight of a fairly innocent creature named Yoshi. While people are struck with fear running from Yoshi, a boy is sited on park bench and both casually and playfully greets the creature that seems like a friend for the young one. We then present Yoshi as a friend of kids. They are not scared of it. In a way (because this can probably interpreted in several ways) this showcases younger demographic as being superior and more powerful than adults.
JRPGs were also a very popular type of video game back in the 90s. The premise of most of these games was: “a young ordinary boy, mostly powerless that is provided with a quest… with a purpose and that slowly gets to discover who he really is”. In the end, the hero would confront the highest authority or “the system”. And what can we say about Nintendo’s old slogan “now you’re playing with power”? Knowing all of this, we can now assume that commercials were aimed at a target audience of children, pre teens and teens and are tailored to make them feel powerful, in control and meaningful.
The Later 2000's
A drastic change can be observed in marketing strategies as gamers grow up. Commercials get darker and tackle very mature subjects such as the meaning of war, daily responsibilities and the hardships of life. Notice who is portrayed in those Call of Duty and Halo commercials… mostly adults in their mid 30s. In fact, a well known organization (ESA) specified that the gaming market, whereas people that buy and play video games, is majorly composed of people around the age of 35. It’s not surprizing to see gaming companies going from targeting younger audience to a more mature demographic by adjusting the content of their commercials. In the “Replacer” (a Call of Duty commercial), we see an adult replacing other adults in their daily life so they can play and enjoy Call of Duty (video games if you’re thinking about the larger picture). This means accompanying their wife to give birth, maybe going on blind dates, assembling Ikea furniture and taking care of others. We’re not showcasing kids playing in their rooms anymore. Everything seems a lot heavier like in this Halo ODST trailer revealing the disturbing life of a vulnerable military recruit. The Dead Island trailer also leads the way in term of “disturbingness” and showcases a strongly emotional set of scenes where a family (and at a higher level… family bonds) is torn apart by raging zombies. This seems very far away from Yoshi “rampaging” in the streets of a city.
There’s also this recurrent theme in the content of games that made me think about how developers are slowly starting to tackle more mature subjects to probably attract older audiences: the theme of “parenthood”. Bioshock Infinite, Dishonored, The Last of Us and many other games features a grown up character being tormented by their difficult past and having to protect and watch over a younger individual (parenting in a way). In that sense, I think all of this is the reflection of the developer’s reality of life but also the reality of those who now consume games, adults.
In my opinion, game companies do not intently target younger audiences but rather try to make games appeal to the older demographic of young adults to adults by power charging their commercials with emotional content (see Call of Duty: Ghost trailer presenting the tight and vulnerable relation soldiers share with each other) and things that the buying force (people around 37) can relate to: the hardships of everyday life.
It's night time and the moon sets a dimmed light on the path you decided to choose. Each of your steps lift a tiny cloud of dust as you confidently approach the cliff's end. The camera slowly rises for the viewer to gaze at an urban landscape inhabited by imposing buildings emitters of a slightly yellow light. You've been searching relentlessly for them and you now breath the same air as your enemies. The repressing Bungeling Empire will repay what they've unrightfully taken from your people. Being a highly trained Galactic Commando soldier you set out to recover every gold piece that was stolen from the “loving people”. Bounded by luck and confidence you have found their hidden stash of gold. But you will need more than luck and confidence to escape the dangers ahead.
Even though one could argue that there really isn't that much of an atmosphere to Lode Runner itself I find the premise to the game to be quite exciting. In fact, it does a wonderful job at giving a valuable meaning to the player's actions. Unlike games like Apple Panic or Boomer's Adventure, Lode Runner comes with a very interesting moral quest to give back what has been stolen from “the loving people” by an oppressing government known as the Bungeling Empire. I'd say that this desire to communicate something meaningful to the player also transcribes itself in the actual gameplay experience. Whereas games in general have a very violent centric way of dealing with certain situations (killing enemies in numerous ways) Lode Runner offers to simply put aside your pursuers in holes that they can escape from (they can eventually die from being buried, but one could argue that it's the environment responsible for the death). This mechanic emphasizes the fact that you are not there to shed blood and avenge your “loving people” by waging death, but only there to take back those very important pieces of gold. Another thing worth mentioning is that the laser gun the player carries isn't a tool tailored for killing but rather as very special shovel to quickly dig up those holes. That's probably something to think about.
Lode Runner is a game mostly about strategy and timing where the developer wants you to always think ahead before acting. In that sense, the A.I. almost feels like its reading your movement patterns and subtlety takes them in account to corner you on either the side of the screen. Being able to foresee and quickly establish strategies is the core skill required for you to play this game. Digging is also an important part of Lode Runner as you need to swiftly dig your way to certain pieces of gold
On a more technical note, the game is also tailored around this idea of pixel precise movement where every move you make feels natural and very sharp. The end result is a dynamic and stimulating experience where you don't feel constrained by the game controls. Some critic might venture into the path of saying Lode Runner is not a flashy games in terms of graphic and that its almost visually unappealing. I wouldn't go that far. I think there's a reason for the game to be made this way and I will assume it is so that the players focus on the interactive experience rather then other possible visual or auditory stimulus.
If you want to start a argument simply mention “Hideo Kojima” while having a drink with your passionate “video game inclined” friends. Nobody can stay idle on the subject. Whether you find his games to be a pile of garbage, his stories to be overly complicated or his gameplay design to be originated from the gods bottom everybody has an opinion on the monster that is Hideo Kojima. I certainly do have one. I in fact think of Hideo Kojima has an important name in the game development history.
I have to say that I admire Hideo Kojima for his guts. While everybody was making games about intentionally annihilating everything on the screen, Kojima had the bright idea creating an experience where hiding from your enemies would be key and having a choice between killing and fleeing would be presented to the player. As far as I can think Metal Gear has to be one of the first game to tackle the important implementation of morality into games. To kill or not to kill that was the question and I think this subject is still relevant up to this day. Moral path has then become an increasingly popular game mechanic as the industry searches to turn video games into a mature art form. The fact is that I feel that most games use them slightly wrongly by clearly laying out the different choices available to the player. Think of Mass Effect for example that takes the player by the hand and color codes the discussion tree: red for edgy choices and blue for morally acceptable behaviours. I don’t think real life situations color codes your decisions. If a situation requires you to be edgy you definitely think you did something right… right? Why should a game state this choice is a “red” choice while your thinking it’s a “blue” one. That’s the beauty of Hideo Kojima’s design for Metal Gear Solid. The game gives you a tranquilizer gun very early on to implicitly present you with the choice of simply rendering your targets unconscious or to use a lethal weapon to terminate your enemies. Nothing in the game will tell you that you’re doing a morally wrong action or a bad one filling up a meter or some sort somewhere in the user interface. The only feedback you get for your actions comes at the end of the game where every soldier or terrorist you killed has their name written in the credits. This brings an interesting statement on the nature of warfare (you're killing humans that have lives of their own) a theme that is recurrent in Hideo Kojima’s game.
Kojima should be considered as someone that strives to push the limit of the medium in terms of moral game mechanics but also in terms of immersion and player involvement. If you’ve played Metal Gear Solid you surely remember the encounter with Mantis where he prompts you to put the controller on the floor to showcase his supernatural powers. The controller will start to vibrate causing it to slightly move on the floor. Or this moment where he starts reading and naming some games you have stored in your Playstation’s memory card. Hideo Kojima breaks or should I say shatters the fourth wall by making it so that the game has a physical repercussion in the real world (also forgot to mention finding Meryl’s com number at the back of the actual game box). Little to no developers actually uses this feature to maximize player involvement in games anymore. Kojima also found a way to get gamers to step a toe outside with Boktai, a game that uses the light of the sun as primary mechanic for charging up the protagonist’s weapon. I don’t think I would say something off by stating that Hideo Kojima is a very inventive and creatively interesting game developer.