Gaming without your brother

Why Extra Life?

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 🙂

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Extra Life 2014

Remember when I talked about a game-a-thon for charity awhile ago? It was a terrible, meandering post about just losing meaning in my life a little bit (maybe the post wasn’t so much about that, but in hindsight that’s the attitude it was written in). This is about that.

I recently tried to get more involved in the Rooster Teeth community. It has . . . been going okay, still haven’t worked up the courage to game with anyone on the site even though I joined a couple of groups for that specifically. Slowly but surely! The best connection thus far has been a Salt Lake City group. One proactive site user in the Salt Lake area has started a team for Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, as a part of Extra Life, and I joined!

The link above explains the details of Extra Life, if you haven’t heard of it before. My donation page is here.

Why donate? Why am I doing this?

A) I feel really strongly that all charities should give 100% of their proceeds to who they’re trying to benefit. Check, Extra Life does that.

B) The Children’s Miracle Network of Hospitals uses all of its money to let patients stay at their facilities cost free. On the list of noble causes, that’s pretty high up there. They deserve some help for that, doncha think?

C) I get to play video games for 24 hours in a really cool locale, Gamerz Funk.

I understand that part of the challenge of getting donations is that it’s for a very specific, local hospital. The factor that I think could transcend geography is that it’s helping kids, right? You might not know a kid in Salt Lake City, but they exist right? Kids that need help. So if you have a couple bucks and want to encourage me to last the full 24 hours, consider clicking the link above and donating towards my modest $200 goal. The SLC team I’m a part of has a $5,000 goal that my $200 will contribute towards.

Thanks, you know I love you all despite my absence in the blog-o-sphere,

Laurie

Weeeeeeeee, U!

“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!)

Video game education and a statement of purpose

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.

 

Guest Post: Is Playing League of Legends Good for You?

To my fellow LoL addicts,

We can probably think of nothing better than playing a competitive game of League, and have subconsciously convinced ourselves that we are becoming better human beings by doing so. But is it really any good for us?

Since it’s already what we believe, we should first discuss the benefits. While there are many, the one that seemed the most impressive was a study carried out by surgeons who played League of Legends (obviously not while in surgery). Results showed that 27% of surgeons were faster and made 37% less errors than surgeons who did not play LoL. I know, most of you aren’t surgeons and this is not applicable, but it’s the principle behind this statistic which is outstanding, that playing of League was able to enhance concentration! As all LoL players are familiar, it takes a high degree of concentration, one that is not matched by any other game, so much so that the concentration translates to other aspects of life. Great, huh? While the next statistic is fairly generalized, it applies nonetheless; gaming reduces stress levels by 17%. Yes, League of Legends is a game, so it does apply. There is nothing better than coming home from a stressful day at work and unwinding by screaming at teammates, telling them that they do not know what they’re doing. That’s the life.

Now to the segment we had all been dreading. I could pretend that there aren’t any cons and we could all live in our peaceful and delusional world but alas – I cannot. I’m sure the most common disadvantage of League is that it’s time consuming. After a few games, hours have flown by. Although this is all down to the player, it is extremely easy to lose track of time, especially with the inability to see the time on the monitor while in game. Riot Games has managed to put out a very polished final product, which they were kind enough to make free to the public. The irony is that their graciousness comes at a price. The implementation of riot points has made it almost impossible to be successful at the game without spending any money. Whether through champions or runes, you will end up purchasing something in game.

Although I wasn’t able to cover all areas of pros and cons, I hope this overview gives you a great enough insight as to whether or not League of Legends is good for you, as long as you play in moderation, I’ll allow you to make that conclusion yourself.

Written by Jamal Asskoumi. All facts and figures from http://www.cie-cnc.ca/health-benefits-from-playing-league-of-legends/

Guest Post: Retro Games Go Mobile!

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.

Titanfall and the very short attention span of gamers

I clicked on a Kotaku article the day the Titanfall beta opened, looking for instructions on how to get in on it. I haven’t been following any of the Titanfall hype, except hearing it was about robots and people were generally excited. Skimming the article, I realized that it was an EA title, delivered through Origin. Immediately I was torn. People hate, EA, right? They had done something evil in the recent past, if I wasn’t misremembering . . . but what exactly was it? I honestly couldn’t remember. For a brief second, I thought about googling it or perusing their Wikipedia page but . . . beta sign up . . . giant robots . . . I clicked the link and downloaded Origin. If nothing else, I could get a terrible first-hand experience and raise my voice in a rallying cry to boycott EA yet again.

I loaded Titanfall and it. was. awesome. Seriously incredible. I got the PC beta so I could adjust the FOV to something that wouldn’t make me nauseated. The textures were lackluster, I’ll admit, but the gameplay was so fun. I didn’t play any game type other than Attrition (just kill the other team) but I didn’t even get my fill of playing that, let alone moving on to the other game play types.

Looking at all of the hype, I remember my initial reservation. I haven’t read another account of anyone trying to justify their previously declared hatred for EA with their love of Titanfall. EA reported 2 million unique visitors during the beta. I can’t knock anyone else for going back on their previous lines in the sand – I did it myself. And I don’t even think I have any less integrity for doing so, let alone anyone else (depending on how loudly you yelled about it, I guess . . . ). But isn’t it funny, was all I was thinking about this morning. Isn’t it funny how short our attention spans really are.

People lost their minds over the Origin hatred when it launched. A few level heads pointed out that most people hated Steam when it launched for its spotty service. However since Steam has become ubiquitous with PC gaming, people don’t think about it any longer. And no it looks like people are forgetting Origin and EA’s original evil to enjoy what could be the most exciting FPS in a long time (at least until Destiny launches). It makes me wonder how the tables might turn on EA as a company (especially in light of the Comcast/Time Warner debacle) in the time to come.

Thoughts? General musings? Again, I’m not indicting anyone – I would be indicting myself if I did so (and maybe I should) it’s just interesting the short attention span we all have when something as shiny as Titanfall shows up. Leave a comment, let me know your thoughts about EA, Origin, Titanfall, and whatever else you want.