As we finish our last full week of Centreterm, I pause to reflect on how great it was working with this group of students. Prior to this project, I have had mixed feelings about group project. Most good, but a few bad reservations. Working with this group was a great experience that I will cherish for my duration at Centre. On the first day of meeting with our group, we were struggling to find commonalities. One thing we had in common was that we like video games. We even didn’t share any favorite video games. This is what made the chemistry of Team Senseless Violence so good. Every member in Team Senseless Violence had a different specialty. Due to our diverse backgrounds and our different likes, we were able to be a multifaceted and dynamic group. On the second day of class, we added Mackenzie to Team Senseless Violence. She helped to further diversify the group, and support our team-like mentality.

At the beginning of the term, it felt like we discussed every group of people to do for our project. We discussed everything from the ancient Greeks to the Cold War Americans. It was only a few days into research when we decided to do a project on the ‘Wild West.’ Retrospectively this was the best possible option for the group. We were able to brainstorm for a day or two before we made any major decisions. Our first major decision for the video game was to make one of our main characters the notorious Billy the Kid. We thought that this would help us best convey a historical video game, because there were so many primary and secondary sources on Billy the Kid. After we decided on Billy the Kid, we believed that it would interesting entertain the possibility of more than one main character. This led us to discussions about how it could help us to portray a more comprehensive landscape of the ‘Wild West.’

After we were married to the idea of having multiple characters, we decided to put two more characters, alongside Billy the Kid. To create a deeper plot, we decided to add a lawman. This lawman is a manifestation of secondary sources on Pat Garrett. We wanted to take a few artistic liberties with the creation of Pat Garrett, so we decided to rename him Jameson. Throughout our video game, we portray actual stories about both Garett and Billy the Kid. These stories are from primary sources like wanted posters, but mostly from secondary sources. Our final character is the glue for our story. We decided to make the last character a saloon ‘dance worker.’ This character is completely fabricated. Even though she was created by our group, we used different stories about dance workers in the ‘Wild West’ to influence her. Once we decided to use these three characters, the rest was easy.

The most difficult part of the project, so far, has been deciding our characters and our setting. Once we decided those parts of the video game, the dialogue was easy to write. Mackenzie and I focused on the writing aspect of the project. We would bounce ideas off one another and writing for these characters became effortless, it never felt like homework to me. We could sit down and type dialogue for hours and it would feel like minutes. Tori is currently implementing our dialogue into the video game, with some help from Evan when needed. Evan and Clay focused on primary and secondary sources for the game.

Team Senseless Violence was able to come together with the shared goal of creating a fun, historically accurate video game. It was a pleasure working with these great men and women, and I will truly miss the camaraderie our group shared.

All the best,

Z. Leland Gray

In Defense of the Big Empty: Using the Great Plains as a Setting

The middle of America was once a highly romanticised and mystical area. As pioneers pushed through the Louisiana Purchase territory and carved states out of vast stretches of land; the legend of the west began. However, as the push to the west came to its conclusion and air travel became more popular these territories that once were on the spear tip of American society became ‘fly-over states.” Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, and places of the like simply became swathes of land that folks could see out their windows while flying from some important east coast city to an important west coast city. The myth was debunked, the west no longer as wild and tame. Native Americans are no longer feared and wild warriors, they are a people trying to survive years of poverty and systematic neglect. The white Americans that live there are not seen as the honorable lawmen or dastardly bandits of the middle-1800s but as a conservative and simple folk that could not assimilate to urban life. The mythical west was all but forgotten, which is an incredible shame; especially in the video game medium.

For all the storied aspects of the west that have faded with time many still persevere. The western states are still as beautiful as ever. Video games have the unique ability to both show a beautiful place and have the player then interact with that landscape. ‘Walking simulator’ understand this part of the medium as they both present a setting and allow the player to explore it without relying too heavily on scripting or set-pieces. One of my group members mentioned Firewatch in a previous blog-post which is a perfect example of this. It allows the players to just sit and bask in the beauty of the setting, the action isn’t hurried along to the next platform or shooting gallery. Movies are able to do this with long, sweeping helicopter shots which remove the viewer from the action. Video games usually do not have the luxury of removing players from the action since it can create pacing and immersion issues. Therefore, settings tend to be in places where more people, places, and actions are happening at once. Grand Theft Auto is a beloved franchise because of how full the sandbox is. Creating chaos in urban landscapes is easy, not so much in big open plains. Creating sandboxes in the great plains area then has to become highly intentional and more involved. This is an argument I can sympathize with, screenshot hunting is only fun for so long and the game has to have a character outside of that. That is where the nature of the people who call this place their home pick up the slack.

In The Long Dark, a survival game you play as a normal human being whose will to survive is about to be put to the ultimate test. Whereas this game is set in the Yukon it could very easily be Wyoming or the Dakotas if wildlife and hypothermia are the main antagonists. The game captures the character of living out in an area like that; where toughness and fortitude are necessary to live. What games miss by not using a great plains sandbox is the fact that life in that part of the country is not guaranteed. Rural Washington does not have hot dog salesmen on every corner waiting to sell you health packs; In Texas, you don’t just have to contend with the police force when committing a crime, but with many of the town folks as well. We often times believe that the people of the wild west were hearty, but the people living there now are direct descendants and have been raised with many of the same virtues of self-reliance. These communities are close-knit and the people in them are, for better or worse, aware of what their neighbors are going through. It would be interesting for a game to explore town dynamics in one of these areas. Instead, it is much easier to rest on our laurels and make something more tried and true.

Our group is making a game on the wild west. People want to hear stories about banditos and gunslingers and that is more than fine. However, I think that there is a severe lack of service given to the great plains area of our country. It has all of the makings of a compelling story: conflict, both internal and external, survival, and almost tribal togetherness. It also has a gorgeous setting that has the ability to stop a player in their tracks. It would require going all in though. To capture the essence a developer would have to embrace the things that may seem boring. Only dealing with a couple of characters, a sandbox without filler, a soundtrack that revels in the solitude of the plains. Players may find it boring, but if done correctly could be something that throws a wrench in gaming conventions and returns attention to the ‘fly-over states.’

Grand Theft Palomino

To make a video game set in the wild west without talking about Rockstar Games’s 2010 title Red Dead Redemption would be folly. For those who don’t know, Red Dead is by the company behind Grand Theft Auto, and Bully. So as you can imagine, it shares some similarities. I like to compare Red Dead to Grand Theft Auto 4, but without the crude humour, or… automobiles. Of course, being set in the wild west, there was a dearth of modern amenities, though some do show up later in the game. Set in 1911, the game manages to balance the old west and the new, modernizing west. At one point you travel to the fairly large town Blackwater witch has paved streets, and are given a Colt M1911. Not exactly the picture of the wild west. Other than that, most of the game takes place in a more classical setting; dusty saloons and arid deserts.

When thinking of how to incorporate scenery into a game that relies on text to tell a story, Red Dead becomes very useful. It is one thing to look at old pictures from the wild west, but it is another to actually experience it, or at least what the developers had in mind for the wild west. Iconic scenes from Red Dead, such as entering Mexico for the first time as “Far Away” by José Gonzaléz plays in the background, or the final standoff of the game are unforgettable; and subconsciously, it is difficult to imagine a wild west that isn’t influenced by such scenes. I only hope that our game will have even a modicum of the emotional impact of Red Dead Redemption. 

Camp Antioch: Character Creation, Player interaction and More.

Hello everyone,

Today I am going to talk about character creation on RPGmaker MV. Through this post I will also give an update on Group Desolation and how our game is coming along.

In our internment camp we are using 20 non player characters; these characters include children, adults and guards that will populate the camps. The character creation design offered by RPGMaker MV lends itself to many challenges. the challenges do not lie in the functionality of the creation however they lie in the decisions about the actual characters’s appearances. One of the first challenges that I came across was the limited skin color selection. There are probably three realistic skin tones, two being two shades of Caucasian skin and another that is a generic brown tone that can be used for a variety of races. For our Japanese internment camp, this tone seemed most appropriate for the group we are working with. Another part of the creation process that I find important to discuss is the hair style choice given for each character. In the RPGMaker character creator , there are two different sections that the hair is broken into; these are the front and back hair. In most of the choices offered for the front hair, there are only long and straight options. I cannot say that I can ask for much more out of this game maker. On the map these character will look more pixelated and reminiscent of Gameboy era Pokemon games in its graphics. Creating male children has been another challenge of the the RPGmaker, so far I have not found a way to make a child that is male. There is only one hairstyle that is offered for the child character on RPGmaker. If this problem continues then the players will be created as adults and made to look as young as possible with the knowing that it is not accurate.

Beyond creating the character, to create interaction with the main character come in the form of events. These events can be used to create a variety of situations involving the main player. These events can range form a simple text interaction upon  touching the character to creating a shop function and exchanging goods for currency. So far no actual coding has been needed to accomplish our basic request at this point. The game has began to see its early form setting into place. The script and storyline is near complete; once the script has been completed we can then begin to start linking the script to events with npc’s on the map. That will set the main basis of the game; the majority of the game will rely on interaction with the surrounding players in the map.

As a group we have taken roles in the portfolio due at the end of the term. We have divided the parts up and assigned sections to each person. We are on schedule to produce a game and portfolio as scheduled at this point.

Team Bad Company

Time Travel as a Medium in Story Telling

Hey everyone, today I wanted to focus my article on how time travel is portrayed in storytelling. Since time travel is a big part of the story in our game, it felt appropriate to talk about it as a medium, and some of the influences we used for how we structured it in our game.  I will use two specific examples from pop culture. These examples include Doctor Who and The Terminator. Though there are more great examples in literature and video games, these two examples are some of the more iconic.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who uses time travel to the greatest extent humanly possible. The Doctor is an alien from a race of “timelords” that are immortal, and he/she travels around in a ship that can go anywhere in space and time. The ship is called “The Tardis”, and yes, it is overpowered. Because The Tardis can go anywhere in space at any time, it essentially functions as a huge plot device. The Doctor also iconically takes a human sidekick along with him/her, who doesn’t understand time travel and is jolted into a life of adventure. The people or creatures the doctor interact with change pretty much on an episode basis (this is what is so clever about the show). However, there are some villains or characters who run into The Doctor on multiple occasions that understand who he/she is and what he/she does. The show is famous for its campy atmosphere.

The Terminator

In this 80’s era Scify, a robot comes back from the past in order to kill Sarah Connor before her son John Connor can be born and save humanity from a future where machines have taken over the world. In order to stop this, the John Connor of the future sends back Kyle Reece, a human soldier, to save his mother. In this movie, Kyle is aware of time travel and the future that will happen. Sarah, on the other hand, is not and must put her faith in a stranger in order to stay alive. Time travel is used as a plot device in this movie, but unlike Doctor Who, it is more limited. Kyle doesn’t have a portable device or vessel that he can travel through time with, so it acts as a one-time plot development. Like in Doctor Who, the dynamic of the duo is similar in The Terminator. Kyle is more experienced and explains the sinister plot to his “companion”.

Cold War: 1776

Our game incorporates elements from both these classic time travel stories. The idea of Kennedy coming to the past in order to prevent a change in the future is a concept that our team borrows straight from The Terminator. We also include a level of camp that is comparable to the Doctor Who series. The difference being that we borrow from movie tropes and history for our camp, as opposed to the established continuity that the show uses. We additionally use the storytelling idea of a wise time traveler to explain the context of the story. This is adapted from both shows, and it is very effective for explaining the overall plot.

Group Desolation: Characters & Anecdotes

Seeing as most of our group’s blog posts have been updates, today I’m going to take a change of pace and instead discuss an interesting person we’ve come across in our research who will heavily influence a character in our game.
Since our game features a main character who is employed by a barracks manager, we’ve decided to draw inspiration from a man named Rich Nishimoto who worked at camp Poston. Nishimoto is the perfect person who existed in true history to base a barracks manager of off. Let me explain why.

Who was he?

Image result for richard shigeaki nishimoto hq

Rich Nishimoto was born in 1904 Japan. From primary school throughout high school, Nishimoto spent his schooling years at prestigious boarding schools while his parents moved to San Fransisco. In Japan, he attended an Episcopalian school, where he learned English and was exposed to American culture. He eventually graduated Stanford with a B.S. in Engineering and got his first dose of racism so painful, he dropped an engineering career altogether. At a senior banquet, when businesses were recruiting seniors, Rich noticed he was being neglected; when he asked a friend why, his friend replied, “Look at your face. It’s Oriental. No one will hire you.”

Between this time and when he was relocated to Poston, Rich worked for brokerage firms, courts, and as a translator; he also met a woman, Yae, and had two children with her. In 1942, the family was moved to Poston, where a friend told him “[you] have the appearance of a Nisei, and act like one, yet [your] thoughts are typically those of intelligent Issei.” Within a couple months of relocation, Nishimoto became foreman of the Firebreak Gang, a group of Japanese laborers who cleared debris. He was voted block personnel and resolved disputes quickly and efficiently, a result of his extensive education. He was very active in peaceful camp protests, doing things such as resigning official positions and boycotting to get his point across. He used his social skills to recruit Nisei and intelligence and connection to Japanese culture to recruit Issei and cleverly intimidated those who didn’t want to participate in participating (including cripples & the blind). He became the official supervisor of the overall camp, observing and gathering information from the internees to document the result of the internment camps for the Bureau of Sociological Research (BSR). To put in perspective how much the BSR respected him: the average sum for Poston employees was $14/month; $19/month for doctors, dentists, medical personnel etc.; Nishimoto was making $80/month in his prime. He was nothing short of a weapon due to his education, experience in business and social analysis and data research, connections to all Poston leaders, block manager, and connections to both Issei and Nisei communities.

Thanks for that long, boring history lesson, but how does he fit into the game?

The character in our game has been renamed Rich Fujimoto because he is not a carbon copy of Nishimoto. What will carry over are his levels of intelligence, his job (in all areas), his leadership and speaking skills, his aversion to racism, and his cleverness. What will not carry over are his family (they will not be mentioned), and clearly we will not be explaining all this biographical information in the game. Hopefully, we will be able to carry over these traits to Fujimoto and make his level of education and leadership ability apparent to the player.

From what we have read so far about Nishimoto, he appears empathetic yet straightforward and unwavering. While we hope that Fujimoto can carry these same qualities as well, he is currently ambiguous and a little darker than Nishimoto. In the game, Fujimoto attempts to convince Nisei to join in on protesting, but nonviolently. It is a running theme in the game that Nisei is very similar to his father, something that screws him over with Jed, the head guard, who puts him on watch, but who earns the respect from Fujimoto as he sees the potential of harnessing the same fiery passion in the Himura men. Fujimoto opens by mentioning Nisei’s name and connecting it to personality:
…Himura? What a haunting but beautiful name: Red Town. A symbol of blood, fire, the sacred forces of life.”
As the first encounter between Nisei and Fujimoto continues, Fujimoto indirectly states that he is planning something against the government, but is ambiguous for safety reasons (also, it will sound badass). He guides and warns Nisei about his job and how it will fit into a larger plan. Here is a quip from the current script (subject to change):

The line “if you kick a dog around several times, eventually, he will bite you” was an actual saying Nishimoto used to recruit Nisei into his peaceful rebellions. I love this line because it’s a strong image and represents exactly how Nishimoto was thinking, and it also shows that he knows exactly what was going on. I truly hope we can convey this in the rest of the game as well.
Due to the shortness of the game, it is unlikely that Nisei will be speaking to Fujimoto often, so we will have to find a way to get all of these aspects of Nishimoto into Fujimoto with very limited space, but I have hope that it will turn out well.


The source for biographical information on Nishimoto:

Nishimoto, Richard S, and Lane Ryo Hirabayashi. 1995. Inside an American Concentration Camp: Japanese American Resistance at Poston, Arizona. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Team Senseless Hunger

It’s here. That point where it seems like it should be finals week but it isn’t, because this is Centre Term, but everything is finally coming together and group meetings are getting a little more silly.

Our group met for quite a while today! We managed to lay down quite a bit of story in the time we had, too! Everyone got their first peek at what Twine could be and what we’ve made of it so far, and we’re very excited. It surprised me to see that Twine has quite a lot of flexibility that I’ve never seen implemented in the Twine games I’ve played in the past, so that was really awesome to discover. We added several new things to our story that we hadn’t originally planned to add as we were discussing plot, and playing around with Twine as a group was really fun. Branching paths gives us the ability to add humor or side encounters where we hadn’t expected to have them before.

Once the clock hit 6, our progress started faltering. No matter what part of the story we tried to work on, it lead back to food. Stomachs were growling. Patience was failing. Leland, dedicated to our task, proudly paved the way through a particular scene where our current hero was starving. While he was writing the script, we watched as he struggled on the google doc:

“Billy has no money in his pocket, and no food in his snack.”

no food in his snack”

After several tries and fits of laughter, he pulled through. Shortly after, we called it a day and split up for some grub. Today was fun and  productive!

The Revival of Nintendo

Nintendo

The name brings certain images to mind: an undeniable behemoth in the gaming industry, colorful characters like Mario, Link, Pikachu, Kirby and more, and family fun. It could be argued that Nintendo, in a sense, is the messiah of the gaming industry. After the game market crashed in the days of Atari and E.T., Nintendo brought forth the NES and saved the world of games. Despite the incredible success of the NES and its successor, the SNES, the years passed and Nintendo seemed to be losing traction. The Gamecube was successful, but after the almost exclusively family-friendly library of the Wii, the Wii U couldn’t hold a candle to its competitors in terms of technical prowess or unit sales. For a while, many people were left asking one question. “What happened to Nintendo?”

Nintendo has always had a philosophy that revolved around creating a great experience for its consumers. In the first days of 3D, Nintendo made the mistake of staying with cartridges as opposed to the newly emerging CDs, but the argument was that cartridges would load faster and were the only medium suitable for the complex 3D graphics that systems would have to load. It was a mistake done to try and improve the player experience. When they realized their choice was wrong, they fixed their issue with the Gamecube, moving over to mini-discs that still offered greater storage space but fast load times, while also helping to protect Nintendo games from piracy. Then the Wii came out. While systems like the Xbox 360 focused on hardware power, Nintendo looked to make an affordable game system with revolutionary motion technology. A system that the whole family could play on together, enjoy, and not break the bank.

Everything up to this point had been great for Nintendo, but the Wii U proved to be the black sheep of the family. The system’s core values became drowned in the gimmicks of the gamepad and poor marketing. People didn’t even know what the Wii U was, with many believing it to be an incredibly expensive expansion to the Wii. With a high price that didn’t match the power

and steep competition from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo seemed to be trying to break into more adult territory with the Wii U’s slightly more diverse and mature library, yet didn’t bring a system with the chops necessary to do so. The Wii U, while an excellent system in its own right, lost way of the Nintendo vision and was a commercial failure.

Then, sometime in the last couple years, something incredible happened. Nintendo’s secret project, “NX” had some details leaked. For the first time, we were introduced to the idea that Nintendo was making a system that could be both portable AND a home console. When I first saw the rumors, I thought this would be the end for Nintendo. They had already been failing because of high prices for weak, gimmicky hardware. Now they were going to make a system which was expected to perform as a home console, but using a platform limited to the power-saving nature of portable devices? I was prepared to mourn Nintendo as a hardware company, expecting them to go the way of Sega after their swan song, the Dreamcast, still wasn’t enough to save them from failing hardware sales.

However, Nintendo did the unthinkable. The Wii U was the martyr that made Nintendo realize they’d lost their way, and the great new maverick that is the Nintendo Switch emerged, as if from nothing. Boasting a portable form factor, a focus on flexibility and multiplayer fun, an HD 720p display, and quite satisfying battery life, the Nintendo Switch is a true no-compromises system. For the first time ever, a player can bring graphically-intensive games on the go, play them at high resolution, and make it through a whole cross-country plane trip without running out of power. The Nintendo Switch is a shocking success story, delivering absolute grand-slams of video games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, BOTH of which are acclaimed as the best games in their series (and Game of the Year in terms of Zelda). The best part? When the day is over and you’ve made it home, you can slide the switch into its dock and play games on your home television, in the beautiful FHD 1080p that your 50″ screen deserves.

The Switch is something special, evidently more so than even Nintendo thought. They couldn’t keep them on shelves when they were released, and it’s quickly become the most sought-after gaming console to hit the market in a long time. It isn’t an iterative improvement like the PS3 to the PS4, it’s a revolution in Nintendo and in the gaming industry altogether. Yet, amazingly, it does all of this while returning to the focus of the player. The Switch isn’t gimmicky. It genuinely puts the “fun” in functional and it can only get better as time goes on, with more fun games coming out daily. Personally I can’t wait for Metroid Prime 4 to blow me away.

Nintendo could not have impressed me more with this system. The Switch truly is a return to form for Nintendo and, more than anything, is a love letter to video games and the many players who enjoy them.

https://venturebeat.com/2016/10/29/rating-nintendos-names-for-its-home-gaming-consoles/

Bad Company 1-16 Update

Hello everyone, I know this post is a little late but I hope you all find it well. Our group has been working tirelessly and have really been working towards creating this fun and interesting game. The parts are all starting to come together!

 

We have officially decided on what our full story is going to include. We are going to start out with our tutorial level as described in previous blog posts. The player is going to wake up in a tavern in revolutionary Boston. When they walk outside the player will fight through squads of British soldiers, and finally, at the end, they will fight a British commander who is troubling the townspeople. I won’t go into the details of the big ‘spin’ that we are putting on the traditional revolutionary war story. But it involved figures from the cold war era using time travel to alter history. Once the tutorial is over there will be a ‘back to the future’ level where our player and their party will travel forward in time to the white house in 1963. After this brief, but interesting, level, the player and their party will travel back to the revolutionary war time period where they will travel around the colonies helping out multiple revolutionary era figures in different battles and other events that they might run in to. The first figure that the player runs in to is George Washington. We meet George Washington as he is about to cross the Delaware River on his way to carry out the surprise attack at the battle of Trenton. But, once the party helps the first president cross the Delaware, they run into some unforeseen resistance. The end of this level ends as the revolutionaries win the battle of Trenton. George Washington then joins the party and the party continues. The party ends up growing to a group of 5 total people, including the player character, and the last level of the game includes a large battle between the player and his party, and an entity that is representative of the United Kingdom.

 

While the story has finally come together and members of our group are working hard to code some of the specifics of the game, the rest of the group is hard at work taking care of the writing portion of the class. We have created an outline of our portfolio that is pretty well set. We will be writing in hopes of having a first draft of the portfolio done by Friday or Saturday in order to give us all time to edit and revise the portfolio in order to make it is well written as possible. In our portfolio, we are planning on going in depth into some of the historical research that we have conducted in order to make our game as historically accurate as possible. In addition to the historical research, we will also be describing certain aspects of the game that we would have liked to put into the game, but we could not do so because of time and technological restraints.

 

1-16 Update

Today with not having any group time in class due to the fact that we do not have class tomorrow and will still be able to meet as a group and collaborate on what we need to in order to continue working on out video game and our portfolio as well. This was what we discussed as a group, continue the work that each of us are doing on our own for both the game and the portfolio. The fact that we can meet tomorrow during the day or tonight allows more time to work on the certain aspects of each part of the project to be worked on for a longer time before we come back as a group and work together and collaborate on the project. Some possible things for discussion that could be talked about, in the time that we spend as a group working, are some more information for the two upcoming presentations along with some more insight and design for where we want the portfolio to go.

 

As we work towards the end goal of finishing both the game and the portfolio, as a group we need to and will keep in mind the amount of time that we have left in order to finish the necessary aspects of our game. A major part of what we will need to do effectively, as a group and on our own, will be manage our time well and appropriately. We will need to maximize our remaining time in order to make the best game and portfolio. To do this we will continue to divide the work up to make sure that we get the work done and that it is of quality.

 

As for class today, it was interesting to see different types of videogames and how there are very different ways that they can and do represent their characters. After seeing these various types of games, it reinforced the idea that the games that all three of these games are going to be making can and will be different from one another. Also, it was good to see that the characters can be differently represented. The fact that we got exposed to different games and how they differently look and the way that the characters and other aspects of them appear allows for us to have a little bit more freedom in our design, because we are reassured that games do not have to be in one specific way or have to have one appearance for their characters.