Gaming without your brother

Category Archives: Nostalgia

Earlier this year, game developer Konami announced that it was shifting its focus. Instead of relying on its top-tier console titles, the company is adapting some of its more popular franchises to the casual casino-gaming and mobile free-to-play school of gaming. The move, while upsetting for some, comes as little surprise. The company had been seeing declining profits in its console gaming division for years despite big name titles like the Metal Gear Solid series.

According to Digital Trends, the first two titles the company is introducing to casinos and pachinko parlors in Japan are the survival-horror franchise Silent Hill and the vampire-slaying platformer series Castlevania. For some gamers, these announcements feel like a slap in the face. Many were looking forward to a now-shelved console sequel to Silent Hill developed in collaboration with Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro.

The low overhead and high return-on-investment from mobile and casino gaming has many companies traditionally known for their console titles looking to move their business to the “freemium” based model sustained by micro-transactions. And Konami isn’t done with just two titles as it’ll showcase many more of its casino offerings at the Global Gaming Expo this fall. CNN reports that the classic highway-hopping game, Frogger, will make its way to the casino floor. The press release also hints that even more classic properties, including Contra and Dungeons & Dragons, will be unveiled.

“Players have the chance to experience their favorite Frogger features with a real-money casino spin,” said Matt Reback, vice president of marketing at Konami Gaming, Inc. “While the primary game carries modernized character art paired alongside our proven video slot features and math, the game’s mystery Frogger Bonus allows players to relive the classic road and river crossing course in retro-pixelated glory.

The conference will take place at the Sands Expo and Convention Center adjacent to the Venetian Palazzo and is expected to bring more than 25,000 industry professionals to Las Vegas. “Visitors to this year’s G2E will have no doubt about Konami’s unique role in the industry,” said Reback. “We’re leveraging our company’s gaming entertainment legacy, backed by an operational stability and dedication to product quality that engenders confidence in the global gaming market.” The expo takes place from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.

This news comes hot on the heels of a movement for new regulations to allow traditional skill-based video games to operate alongside the usual games of chance, such as slot machines. CBS Local reports that the proposed requirements for skill-based games would include providing detailed game rules in advance as well as informing players of potential outcomes.

If the latest regulations go through and Konami’s new gamble pays off, you can definitely expect to see more of your favorite titles in the gambling realm. It’s not that far of stretch to even imagine Nintendo trying to take advantage of this lucrative new market.

Written by Blaine Kelton, who can be reached at BLKelton [at] outlook [dot] com. Blaine is a freelance writer with an interest in mobile gaming currently focusing on portability as it relates to control schemes and the remastering of 8- and 16-bit art styles.

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When I was planning what to play on my 3rd day of full-time Twitch streaming, I was at a loss. I had decided to start two days earlier with Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor but after lackluster intro content (including tutorials) and visuals that disappoint for just having come out in 2015, I wasn’t engaged and excited to play the game, and therefore put out fairly poor stream.

The next day, I decided to finally give The Banner Saga a shot and while the visuals and music and emotion of the game were portrayed excellently, it just didn’t seem like the type of game that would give a good stream experience and I wasn’t particularly excited to continue playing it. Did I mention that I am also just abhorrently bad at tactics games and brought my usual talent to The Banner Saga? Yeah.

So there I was, needing something to really pep up the “Past Broadcasts” on my channel. And then I stumbled over Dust: An Elysian Tail in my Steam library. It was in my wheelhouse – platformer, button masher, indie, great art, jammin’ tunes. This was my time to shine.

And bless Dust‘s heart, it totally worked! I had a blast playing the game during the past 3 streams and finishing it up last night. I might stream it a 4th time to wrap up the 117%. Which is actually a perfect segue to the nostalgia-laced trip it was in this final stream. SPOILERS ABOUT THE SECRET FRIEND COLLECTIBLES AHEAD (no main story line spoilers) (oh and 117% was the full completion percentage of Spyro so . . . nostalgia).

A kind Twitch passerby stopped to watch the stream and while we were chatting back and forth about the game, which he loves to death, we were talking about all of the extra “secret friends” you can get by unlocking special chests throughout the different regions. I had already collected Super Meat Boy, Howard the Duck*, and the main male character of Spelunky. He was super in to helping me find the rest of the secret friends before I called it quits on the game (I’m not generally in to collecting achievements or completion percentages for Steam games and I was playing on Steam) so I beat the story mode and then together (via chat) we started going through the game to unlock all the secret friends.

The first secret friend the Twitch chat lead me to was Bandage Girl, also from Super Meat Boy. When I unlocked Super Meat Boy himself, I was tickled pink. It was an obviously frivolous addition to the game, but at the same time, it was the perfect level of non-committal to making the game different in anyway. And it wasn’t a super dose of nostalgia. If anything, I read the secret friends in the game as nods to great indie games of our generation.

I got some others, including the female Spelunky character which made me smile wide, but I also kept thinking about the beginning of the game. The first time you hack down a wall a “Mysterious Wall Chicken” pops out, which when eaten grants back 80 health. The first time that happened I also laughed out loud because come on – Castlevania! Why the hell was cooked poultry popping out of the walls in that game? No one knows, and Dust made me laugh about it.

Later in the night I got to a secret room and I couldn’t quit tell for the first few jumps what this room was hailing to until I realized that the music and particle effects were only moving when I moved. I was about to unlock Tim from Braid. Perfect. What a masterful game to quote in a game that might not be on par with Braid but one that perhaps acknowledges it and doesn’t feel bad for falling short. Later there was an area that populated isometric-view blocks as you ran forward. Bastion. And the final secret friend I unlocked was in a pixel area with three brain-busting puzzles to get through. Fez. The whole time my smile was growing as I was shaking my head. This is the way homage is intended to be. A slight tip of the hat, a comfortable acknowledgement of past greatness, and a shrug at the naysayers who don’t like what they’re playing as much as what they played before. This was perhaps the first game I had played that didn’t feel like it was pandering but was instead honoring. And that is 100% the nostalgia I can get behind.

While the story had some facepalm moments and the voice acting was a bit try-hard at times, the gameplay, the art, the BluePrint system, and the music all made this some of the most enjoyable 14 hours I’ve dumped into an indie arcade in my life. If I play a game that has some Dust easter eggs in the future, I’ll tip my hat, smile, and remember fondly what came before.

*I googled this to make sure I was saying the right thing because I don’t know my Marvel lore and don’t know anything about Howard the Duck, but lo and behold this was actually someone named Hyperduck? Which makes more sense when they both become Daft Punk. . . But anyway, I’m going to keep calling him Howard the Duck because I don’t know who Hyperduck is either. Sorry.


Last week I decided it was about time to finally put Battleblock Theater to rest on my Xbox 360. I love Castle Crashers, I loved Battleblock Theater when I started playing it, but never put it at the top of my list of games to finish. When I got my PS4 I thought I would never pick up my 360 again because the PS4 was just so damn pretty. Little did I realize when I made the jump to Playstation that my ISP (Comcast) blocked HBO Go on Sony devices which meant we had to keep watching Game of Thrones on my 360 (obligatory reference to Comcast being the devil). AND THUS the last gen console was on, I was browsing my games, and I booted up Battleblock Theater again.

After I got through the campaign I decided to try to go for some achievements because I was here, I was halfway through them anyway, and most of them seemed pretty easy to get in multiplayer. I rarely play multiplayer in games, even co-op. I get self-conscious about how I’m performing as a teammate or even as an opponent. When people leave a match midway, I wonder if they were disgusted with me and so frustrated they left. I realize how self-centered that all sounds, and believe me I’m working on it, but those are the general reasons why I don’t play games online. I also mostly expected that when I would try to get into multiplayer it wouldn’t match me with anyone since the game is years old. Much to my surprise, I jumped into a quick match almost immediately. And there were no emotes or chat, so I couldn’t be harassed even if someone wanted to harass me! Ya hoo! Small victories!

As I kept getting matched with new team members and new opponents, I was also trying to trade with everyone (one of the achievements is to trade with 10 different people) and I realized I was actually enjoying multiplayer. It was low risk, low cost if I messed up, and we just bounce from one match to the next so there were quick chances to redeem myself. Some multiplayer achievements include playing and rating 10 user-created levels, winning 100 matches, and win one match in every multiplayer mode. As I was whittling away at the list I realized one secret multiplayer achievement is to kill a team mate at least 50 times. I laughed to myself and decided I would just jump in to some quick matches to get the achievement. I was sure I was fairly close already, through doing half the game in co-op with my brother when I first bought it, and from accidentally killing my team mates enough times throughout matches when I was actively trying to win.

What I didn’t really expect is how bad I’d feel every time I threw a fireball to light my own team mate on fire. This person was legitimately trying to win the match, win their own achievements, and I was being the trolling asshole. I felt as if their frustration was palpable. Afterwards I took a step back and realized how affected I was by someone with a gamertag I didn’t even know. I dunno, I guess there isn’t really more depth to this thought at the moment. It hailed back to some thoughts I had while playing Journey, and the MOBA Smite, but in short – it kind of boggles my mind how game developers have struck on something as simple as “make two players match colors and inherently there will be a bond that will promote a certain path of player behavior.” I suppose that was struck upon before game developers though – just by people developing corporate strategy or team building exercises or education or . . . many other applications.

Like I said this is actually the tip of the iceberg on my wonderment and the relationship that can be created between strangers online. I’d like to re-play Journey and write up how amazeballs I think it is. I think my next installment in the near term though is going to be about the deep dark world of MOBAs that I’ve fallen into. Leave a comment if you’ve had a similar relationship with someone if just for a brief moment while playing silently together online; I’m really curious about this social phenomenon and would love to hear more about other people’s experiences!


Donate to my Extra Life campaign here!

Why raise money for sick kids? I mean sure, sick kids. That’s a pretty good standalone reason. But it is kind of a random thing to jump on board with. As I was examining my own motives the other day, I remembered when I was hospitalized with Crohn’s disease 7 years ago. Poo talk coming in the following retrospective; you are forewarned.

I was 17, had no medical snafus in my life (or even in my family) until I had 6 weeks of debilitating symptoms. For me, one of the worst symptoms I experience with Crohn’s disease is urgency. I don’t mind going to the bathroom a lot, and I don’t even mind if going to the bathroom is painful, but when I wake up multiple times a night to go to the bathroom, every night, for weeks on end, it starts to feel like your mind is fraying. On top of that, I was incredibly anemic so combined with little sleep, I remember parking my car and closing my eyes to sleep for five minutes before having to go in to school, and skipping classes just to sleep in my car, and getting home from classes and falling asleep on the couch every afternoon, waking up to eat, do whatever homework I needed to, then falling asleep again until the morning.

The breaking point was Memorial day weekend, and after a visit to an walk-in clinic, my parents made the executive decision to take me to the ER. When I got taken back to a room, I remember feeling isolated just looking at the arrangement. There was a single bed in the middle of the room. After some initial tests, the nurse told us that I’d be getting some more tests in the morning, and they needed to keep the IV in me over night. My parents left to get some sleep at our house, the nurses left, and I was alone on an island.

The treatment and care I got at the hospital was phenomenal, I don’t want to knock that. And to be fair, my disease is really minimal. I also had health insurance and my parents were equipped to take care of me. I cannot imagine the hurdles for more care-intensive illnesses, a worse condition, inadequate health insurance, or being any younger and having to deal with what happened.

I know that Primary Children’s hospital, the Children’s Miracle Network of hospitals, and Extra Life are making the first experiences for kids going to hospitals safe and comforting. I know these organizations are supporting family members and friends to feel empowered and like they can make it through some of the worst times of their lives, and the lives of those they love. I can’t imagine one of my nieces or nephews entering a hospital at any age and feeling isolated and alone, faced with a single bed in the middle of a stark white room. With support, facilities like Primary Children’s hospital will continue to operate and provide the reinforcements kids, families, and friends need in their darkest times.

That’s why I’m involved. That’s why, although I’d never do it for any other cause (and never have), I’m asking for your donations to help kids in their scariest times. If you could change your scariest childhood memory into something warm and kind, would you? We can do that for kids, with a few bucks, no minimum requirement.

Thanks for reading, and a huge thanks to those who have already donated. Don’t worry – the 24 hours of livestreaming gaming on October 25th will be a lot less heavy than this blog post 🙂


“Laurie, why break your silence now?”

“BECAUSE I BOUGHT A WII U and kind of regretted it for a minute or two but now I don’t.”

I’m starting a video game production master’s program (an expensive master’s program . . . ) at the end of August, so I’m feverishly playing through my backlog of “important” games from the past few years to make sure I have an robust vocabulary when it comes to talking about games in my upcoming classes.

Last week I saw an article with Kotaku and the powers that be at Nintendo at E3. The article was pleasant enough, but I was reading a “what are you gonna do when Nintendo fails” kind of vibe underneath all of the journalist’s questions (maybe that’s just me being defensive for what is essentially the embodiment of my childhood). In my indignation I started pricing out the different Wii U bundles available at the moment.

Buying a Wii U has been in the back of my mind since they debuted, and I always knew it was a matter of when not if. My most recent decision had been to hold off and if I were to make a big gaming purchase before school started, it would be a used PS3 to catch up on those exclusives that seemed to hold more critical weight than any Nintendo exclusive. And yet there I was on Thursday evening, standing around a Target electronics section, waiting for a minimum wage employee to unlock the cabinet for me so I could pick up the Mario Bros & Luigi games Wii U package.

Today I was reviewing my finances and realized that a $300 purchase was . . . not terrible but those $300 could’ve been applied elsewhere. And since I bought it, I have played it once, very unsuccessfully with my girlfriend. And it’s not just like I didn’t get around to playing this weekend, I actively chose to finish Tomb Raider (AMAZING GAME) on my PC, instead of sit down with Mario on my Wii U. Why did I just drop a good chunk of  change on this console?

Because Nintendo. And at first I thought it was stupid to justify the purchase by that alone, but now I’m realizing that it’s like doing a solid for a friend. I would do just about anything for the friends I’ve known since my single digit years, and Miyamoto is that friend. I’m positive (as are most industry analysts with a level head) that Nintendo’s dark spell of sales will pass. Zelda will come out. Mario Kart 8 has come out and everyone loves it. The Wii U will continue and I’m positive in a few short years, Nintendo will come up with something else that no one has ever seen, like the Wii remote or the touchscreen gamepad.

And even if they don’t, does it really matter? These are the pioneers of gaming as we know it today. I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and buy a Wii U but I do know that my brief remorse of supporting a company that fostered as passion that has become my life has faded to nonexistence. After thinking of that, it’s only natural that I throw Nintendo a bone and buy a cool system in exchange (that can control my TV like a remote! COOL!)


This draft was created on 2/23/14. For the record. The record of documenting how often I think about this blog and say “I’ll come back later.”

I applied for the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering master’s program. In non-education-ese that means it’s a master’s program where I learn how to make video games. Specifically, I applied to the track labeled Game Production which means at the end of two years, I should essentially be a Producer, which means I should essentially be a project manager. For the record, that sounds great to me, but I’m sure that sounds terrible to many people. I like organizing and task driving in a benevolent way. The other two tracks are more tradition art or development/programming.

Anyway, I submitted this application on 2/28/2014. With the application, I had to write a statement of purpose. Naturally it went through multiple iterations and the third to last was a coming-of-age, overcoming-obstacle level of dramatic. Because I’m self-indulgent, I’ll post it here.


At the end of my undergraduate degree in 2012, I was a interning as a content writer for a web hosting company in Orem, Utah. I realized that I was going to get a full-time job offer upon graduation, and was relieved to lock in health insurance and a steady income to start paying back my student loans. It was where I had planned on ending up after graduating with an English degree and years of technical support experience – a writer at a technical company. Reaching the final destination of the plan should’ve been elating but despite my satisfaction with where I was, I realized it wasn’t truly where I wanted to be. It was a good job. I wanted a great career doing something I was passionate about – I wanted to help make video games.

Some of my earliest memories are of watching my brothers play their Nintendo Entertainment System. The Christmas my parents broke down and bought me a Gameboy Color with Pokemon Yellow is perhaps the best Christmas I’ve had to date. I was proud to finish my undergraduate degree, but I was more proud of the gaming PC I built on my own a few months later, as a belated graduation gift to myself. The first Dungeons and Dragons campaign I role played through might be in my top five favorite games of all time, despite lacking a screen and controller. I’ve always loved video games and the magic they create but I assumed working in the industry was a pipe dream. After my final college credits were completed in 2012, I realized the least I could do to approach the pipe dream in my free time would be to build a games writing portfolio. And thus, littlesistergaming.com was born.

The frequency of posts has waxed and waned over the past two years but more than just sharing my experience of playing certain games, I became a part of a community. Unbeknownst to me at the time I started the site, there was a thriving, underground band of would-be video game writers who all dream of getting paid to work with video games in one way or another. The 60 or so of us write on our respective sites, read each other’s work, and share, comment, and support other authors through various mediums like Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress. The pinnacle of my experience with Little Sister Gaming was being published on VentureBeat for writing about one of the Indie 10 games at that Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington, in 2012. The re-published version lacked my voice and style, but having my name next to a piece of writing on a video game website gave me a sense that perhaps working in the video game industry wasn’t as out of reach as I thought.

At the Penny Arcade Expo in 2012, I networked with another aspiring games writer who introduced me to an indie board game developer. Years later, this developer thought of me when looking for a third host for his video game podcast, Go For Rainbow. We have interviewed the team behind Magnetic By Nature, Ellen McLain of GLaDOS fame, Simon Patrick from The New Yorker, and other developers and artists from the industry. I was finally lining up real outlets for my gaming passion, instead of simply gaming as a hobby.

I started working at Property Solutions International in November 2012 as a technical writer. I was the only writer, and was hired specifically to document a massive new product the company was rolling out in beta. It was a moving target that few of the employees had a firm understanding of, but clients needed definitive answers in a user guide. I set out to identify my variables, gather the information, liaison with the developers and designers that would be able to answer my questions, and churn out a polished final product as quickly as possible. I began managing that first documentation project, and have continued to manage documentation projects for the rest of the company’s 23 products since then. Recently I’ve been tasked with creating a development roadmap including user stories for an internal software project to streamline all of the technical writer work, including editing software release notes every week. All of this experience to date has accumulated to approximately 2,000 hours of project management experience to apply towards my Project Management Professional certification application.

I purchased multiple books about Agile software development methodology to learn the guiding principles and values behind our continuous software updates, so I could understand why it was important to offer our customers such quick turnaround (instead of lamenting that frequent updates in software meant frequent updates in documentation). I taught myself Adobe InDesign and have begun to learn the Markdown markup language, to improve the deliverability of product documentation and efficiency of updating that documentation. In the past three months, I was promoted to a team lead position and was intimately involved in the interview and hiring process for three more technical writers.

After speaking with students of the EaE program and the University of Utah, I’ve heard first-hand how rigorously the curriculum prepares students in all program tracks to hit the industry floor running. In an effort to be kind, multiple students have tried to scare me away, citing the workload and frenetic pace of projects in the program. Despite their best intentions, these anecdotes excite me more than ever. In the video game industry, I want to be a part of great art. I want to be a part of an experience that people from all backgrounds and all ages can’t get anywhere else. I want to solve problems and facilitate solutions for teams to meet deadlines and break boundaries. It all sounds hyperbolic, or idealistic, but I’m listening to the Journey soundtrack right now and it’s hard to not write soaring words to match the soaring melodies. I have learned in my limited professional experience that my best move is the assist, and my natural position is the organizer, the facilitator, and the researcher. I know in the EaE game production track I can go into industry and deliver games into the marketplace for fans to enjoy and newcomers to discover. Games change lives. Games changed my life. Games gave me something to look forward to as a child and something to aspire to as an adult and I want to learn how to create something that will have the same effect, in the EaE game production track. Thank you for your consideration.


PS I got in! With a much better/more professional, but equally awesome statement of purpose created after this one.

 


Time to move over the top-loader and bury that emulator deep in a folder somewhere, because your favorite old-fashioned games have (for the most part) gone mobile!

Classic games still available today for mobile devices have been re-mastered and partially expanded, leaving gameplay and core mechanics widely untouched. But what are the hardware advantages to players using the most current mobile devices?

Check out the specs on the iPhone 5S and Galaxy S5 and you’ll see:

iPhone 5S*

  • Display: 4″ IPS LCD
  • Resolution: 640×1136
  • Pixel Density: 326ppi
  • Processor: Dual-Core Apple A7

*specs courtesy of PhoneArena.

Galaxy S5*

  • Display: 5.1″ AMOLED
  • Resolution: 1080×1920
  • Pixel Density: ~432ppi
  • Processor:  Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801

*specs courtesy of Verizon Wireless and GSMArena.

Immediately obvious are the combined capabilities of the processor and impressive display of each flagship smartphone. While these systems support wildly more mechanic- and graphic-heavy titles, they’ll prove more than optimal for your retro gaming experience.

If you miss that 8- or 16-bit style of gaming, isometric player viewpoints, total heads-up display, and super-pixelated graphics (which have seen a huge return), look no further for your next mobile gaming experience than these time-tested classics.

Ms. Pacman

While her spouse may have dominated arcade and early console play in the ’80s, Namco‘s Ms. Pacman has held on as valiantly as her iconic husband. The proof is in her game’s availability for iPhone and Android.

Graphics here are left mostly untouched, but more vibrant and noticeable colors go a long way for the vertical display. Ms. Pacman also features a rendered joystick to turn and guide Ms. Pacman’s sprite through the sea of turns and Power Pellets in the game’s D-Pad Mode. Changing to Swipe Mode will allow you to turn the running PacLass with the swipe of a finger. Collect familiar food items and dots without losing all your lives or it’s game over for you!

Tetris

While there is certainly a wide array of available ports for the classic Tetris game, I recommend going with EA‘s app. This recommendation comes partially from the app’s availability for both iPhone and Android devices and also because it offers options and supports online leader boards through Facebook.

For gameplay, the app offers classic swipe controls that emulate the original GameBoy Tetris in addition to a One-Touch feature for fast stacking and a Drag-and-Place feature for a more strategic approach involving speed. Riddled with new power-ups and gameplay modes, Tetris deserves a spot in your games folder as an old-yet-new classic!

Frogger Free

Konami‘s Frogger Free app is available for iPhone and Android devices and is a graphically impressive re-master of the original game, fresh out of the arcade era into your smartphone.

The control scheme has stayed classic but now offers options. The player may choose from swipe, touch, or tilt modes of control over the froggy to guide him through the classic road-and-pond level complete with cars, logs, alligators, and other timeless Frogger friends.

Final Fantasy VI

One of the most beloved of the franchise pre-3D processors, Square Enix‘s Final Fantasy VI is newly available to iPhone and Android gamers.

All of the game’s original content is available in the mobile port, and the character sprites have all been given a re-master—to mixed reviews. Battle and dungeon backgrounds have been enhanced and look absolutely beautiful. The control scheme has been altered, giving a hexagonal D-pad at any location on the screen that initializes with every touch from the player. Specific battle commands like Sabin’s Blitz technique have been given special controls and the soundtrack has been re-recorded. The player has the option to listen to the soundtrack at any time from the main menu. Let’s just call it a masterpiece of a masterpiece.

With mobile technology seeing continued development, we are sure to see more available retro titles on the mobile platform. Be sure to keep your eyes open for further mobile comings from your childhood favorites.

Written by Blaine Kelton, who can be reached at BLKelton [at] outlook [dot] com. Blaine is a freelance writer with an interest in mobile gaming currently focusing on portability as it relates to control schemes and the remastering of 8- and 16-bit art styles.