Game Boy 006 – Learning

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

I’ve got “learning” on the mind.

First off, as I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ll be attending the Game Developers Conference (GDC) next month, which is going to be an incredible week of learning from my peers.

But last week I also started the following course by Ian Schreiber about game design (called “Game Design Concepts”), that accompanies the book Challenges for Game Designers: Non-digital Exercises for video Game Designers.

I learned about the book following a tweet by designer and educator Brenda Romero, who co-authored it, and after looking into it, quickly ordered it because it sounded like the type of exercises I’d been wanting to do. A few months ago I had discussed with a colleague about us trying to create some sort of board game together, and although we never got around to getting started on that, I figured I’d start by doing something a bit more guided, and as more of a learning process.

As for the online course, it was in fact created to accompany the book — it was initially done week by week, but all of the content is still archived and readily available for everyone to follow. It points to other readings to do along with the chapters from the Challenges book.

Even though my work at Ubisoft is on the project management side of things, I am still very much interested in knowing more about the art of designing games, and I’m looking forward to working on little non-digital game prototypes.

While I was still in Tokyo, I had launched a workshop called PressPause (pictured), to teach creatives who have no video game making experience to use Unity to produce little games. We unfortunately failed to complete our little games, but what we did accomplish was still fun and interesting, and so I’m glad to be trying to educate myself on the making of games again.

I expect future editions of this column will touch on some of the things I learn and make.

Everything Sucks

This has been described as Freaks & Geeks but set in the 90s, and that’s actually not a bad description. I’m 5-6 episodes in, and having a really good time watching it. The kids are great, the story is fun, and the soundtrack is, well, it’s pretty much all the stuff that I was listening to back then (or that I remember hearing a lot). I’m really happy that Netflix produced this.

Justice League

I’m going to say that I didn’t really like this, and you’re going to say, no shit, but I was actually thinking I would find something to like here. I’m that guy who actually liked Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, and so I figured this would be more of that (i.e. give me some spectacular actions sequences with stylish visuals). But I was just really bored throughout — the big action scenes weren’t particularly interesting, the story was lame, Superman’s return is just so weird (feels like an afterthought in a way), the villain they chose is so forgettable, and yeah, Supe’s CG moustache removal is incredibly distracting. There were a few little bright spots here and there (mostly made up of scenes with the Flash), but for the most part, I just didn’t care for this.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

I didn’t remember much about this one before I watched it — including the fact that it features Patricia Arquette and Lawrence Fishburne — but then as I was watching it the various Freddie moments felt incredibly familiar, almost iconic (the puppet strings, the TV set, etc.) This was definitely more fun to watch than the second one (that I watched during my 1986 marathon). The only thing is that watching it now, there’s nothing really scary about these movies, they’re more just a thrill ride through nightmarish imagery.

The Monster Squad

I don’t think I’d ever watched this back in the day, but I’ve always heard that it was pretty fun, so I was curious to check it out. You’d think I’d like this — set in the 80s, kids on bikes, etc. — but it just came off as too much of a Goonies-wannabe. I didn’t really have fun watching it, and actually found it a bit of a chore to watch till the end. Oh well.

Game Boy 005 – Faves (Part 2)

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

Last week I started going through a list of games for which I answered the following question: “What are your favorite games for platforms you’ve owned?” (from a social media meme that made the rounds back in early January). Check out part 1 for my picks that went from the VIC-20 until the PlayStation 2. Here then is part 2.

Game Boy Advance: Super Mario Advance 2
I really loved the Game Boy Advance, it had a fantastic form factor. I know this game is basically a remake of Super Mario World, but looking through the GBA library, this was the game I remember enjoying playing the most.

GameCube: The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
Even though it was received with mixed reactions because of the cartoony look, I was in love with this game even then, and it was at the time my favorite Zelda game since A Link to the Past (yes, more than Ocarina of Time). Sure, some bits were a bit of a drag (having to cross the entire map by boat), but it remains one of my favorite Zelda games, and I would love for them to revisit this version of Link again on Switch.

Nintendo DS: New Super Mario Bros.
I played tons and tons of games on the DS, and it would be easy to list over 20 games that I could say were fantastic gaming experiences for me, but I can’t help but think that this game was just so exciting and fun to play. Not only a return to 2D platforming for Mario, but one that was a joy to play.

PlayStation Portable: Lumines
Lumines just felt so damn cool — it brought me back to the cool aesthetics of the Dreamcast era, but with a techno sheen and an even better soundtrack. I’m not generally big into abstract puzzles games, but the way this was presented and the addictive gameplay made me fall in love with it, and spend countless hours playing.

Xbox 360: Red Dead Redemption
Sure, this a multi-platform game, but I played it on the 360, and so I place it here. It’s also my favorite game of this generation. I absolutely love westerns, and love open-world adventures games, and this was just the perfect mix of the two. You can imagine just how excited I am to play its sequel this year.

Nintendo Wii: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Despite its massive success, the Wii is the Nintendo console I never really “liked,” and it’s also the Nintendo console on which I’ve played the least games. I played Twilight Princess on GameCube, and the only mainline Zelda game I’ve never played is Skyward Sword (I didn’t want to play a Zelda game with those controls and with that low of a resolution). I know the Mario Galaxy games are much loved, but I barely played them, and so the only Wii game that I really have fond memories of playing is New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

PlayStation 3: Grand Theft Auto V
Yes, another GTA game (and another Rockstar game). If I had played this later on PS4, then GTA4 might have been my favorite here, but 5 it is. I loved it for the same reasons I fell in love with the series with San Andreas.

Nintendo 3DS: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
There are tons of games I’ve loved on the 3DS — and it was after playing Super Mario 3D Land on a friend’s 3DS that sold me on buying one a few days later — but if there’s one absolute standout for me, it has to be this direct sequel to A Link to the Past. Not only is it a fantastic game, but it also really does feel like a direct sequel to the Super NES classic, and I’m still hoping they make another one for Switch, using the same overhead perspective.

PlayStation Vita: Persona 4 Golden
I liked the Vita quite a lot, and there are a lot of games that I really enjoyed playing on it — the only negative I had for the device was that it was missing an extra pair of shoulder buttons. Persona 4 Golden was my first taste of Persona, and it was an absolute joy to play on Vita. I’m still a bit sad that I haven’t been able to really get into Persona 5 (in love with the aesthetic, but not with the rigid structure).

Nintendo Wii U: Mario Kart 8
I loved the Wii U, I really did, and it was home to some of the best Nintendo games in years (so much so that they’re getting re-released for Switch). I really, really loved the Wind Waker and Twilight Princess HD editions, as well as Super Mario 3D World, and don’t get me started on the Bayonetta games (I may even end up getting those again on Switch), but the game I put the most time on was Mario Kart 8. I love this game so much, that not only did I get it again on Switch, I’ve probably played just as much time on it as I did on the Wii U.

PlayStation 4: Yakuza 0
There have been so many great games that I’ve played on the PS4, and when I started thinking about putting Yakuza 0 here, I thought I was surely forgetting something. But no, even though it’s one of the latest games I finished (last month), I can’t help but feel like it was my favorite experience on the console so far — and I’m currently playing Yakuza Kiwami, which I’m also thoroughly enjoying.

Switch: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
To be honest, it’s almost a tie between this, Super Mario Odyssey, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but I think Breath of the Wild still has the edge. It’s the Zelda game that has surprised me the most, that has sucked me in the most, and that has seen me put in the most time playing. For a franchise I’ve loved my entire life, it’s pretty amazing to say those things about the latest entry in the series.

Game Boy 004 – Faves (Part 1)

“Game Boy” is a weekly column in which I write about being a game developer working in Montreal. You’ll find them all under this category, and it starts here.

In early January there was a meme making the rounds on social networks asking you to answer the following question: “What are your favorite games for platforms you’ve owned?” I answered (on Twitter/Facebook) with a simple list, but this week I thought I’d explain why I selected each of these titles. Since there’s a lot, I’ll separate them in two parts, so here is part 1.

(And if you’re curious, here I list what I believe to be my 5 favorite games of all time.)

VIC-20: Gorf
Even though I played games on most of the original consoles — like the Atari 2600, Intellivision and Intellivision II, ColecoVision, Vectrex, etc. — I never actually owned any of them and so what I experienced of them was thanks to my friends who did own them. My first computer — and device that played “electronic games” –was the Commodore VIC-20 (precursor to the much more popular Commodore 64), and the game I remember playing the most on it was Gorf, a sort of suped-up Space Invaders.

MS-DOS: Phantasie III: The Wrath of Nicodemus
I was indeed a big PC gamer through the 80s and early 90s, and although there are tons of games I could point to as being special and essential — it was hard not to include an Infocom game here — I do have a special place in my heart for this computer RPG from SSI, which would I think influence the D&D games they later developed and published. In fact, to this day, when I play RPGs, I still use the same character names that I did when playing Phantasie III. I also remember playing it “co-op” with a friend, which was basically just us two sitting side-by-side in front of the PC, playing through it like you would solo.

NES: The Legend of Zelda
It’s hard not to name the Super Mario Bros. games here — for me, especially 2 and 3 — but my favorite franchise of all time is the Zelda series, and it all started here. I have so many fond memories of playing through this game, as well as its side-scrolling sequel. It’s a testament to the quality of the franchise that 30 years later, it’s still my favorite series.

Genesis: Sonic the Hedgehog
Look, I’m not going to argue that Sonic was any better than the Mario games — it simply wasn’t — but that first game sure was a hell of a lot of fun to play, and I still remember how the colors popped on the Genesis. Mix in the speed of the character, and it felt like I was playing the cutting edge of video games.

Game Boy Color: Wario Land 3
The only proper Nintendo console I never owned (let’s not count the Virtual Boy) is the original Game Boy, but I did get a Game Boy Color, and for some reason the game that really stands out when thinking back on it is Wario Land 3. I can’t really talk about the quality of the game, but I still have vivid memories of playing it, and of the fun sound effects and soundtrack that my wife and I would constantly mimic (she from hearing me play all the time).

Super NES: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
The two Zelda games on the NES were where I became enamoured with the franchise, but this was the game that I truly loved — and I’ll say that I also loved its direct sequel on 3DS, A Link Between Worlds. I also consider it to be one of my favorite games of all time.

PlayStation: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
The PS1 was a fantastic console, and there are tons of games on it that I could pick — the first Tomb Raider game is a top contender as well — but it was hard for me to pick something other than Symphony of the Night. I was already a big fan of the Castlevania games on NES and Super NES, and this was a sequel that felt like an incredible follow-up, on all levels. I also have strong memories of it because I played it on a Japanese PS1 I picked up while I was a student in China, and played it in Japanese — the first words of Japanese I learned came from this and from Tomb Raider, which I also played in Japanese.

Nintendo 64: Super Mario 64
Sure, I love Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, and when I listed my favorite games of all time, I included Wave Race 64, but if I’m going to narrow it to one title that represents the Nintendo 64 for me, it has to be this. Platformers are to this day one of my favorite genres, and suddenly being propelled into a 3D space was indeed mind blowing.

Dreamcast: Shenmue
When I get asked what my favorite console was, I like to mention the Dreamcast because it was a console that I adored so much, and that I remember really obsessing over. The games that were released on it had this amazing look to them, and it made me feel like I was playing something cool instead of just fun — think Jet Set Radio, Space Channel 5, etc. But if I was to narrow it down to my favorite game, it has to be Shenmue — and as you’ll see later in the list (and I was surprised myself when I was putting it together), it probably created my love of open-world adventure games.

PlayStation 2: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
I was actually late to the PS2 — it came out at the time in my life where I probably played the least amount of games, mostly sticking to Nintendo consoles (and so the GameCube). I did eventually get one, and tried to catch up as much as I could on the insanely great library of games that ended up coming out on it. San Andreas was actually the first GTA game I played (I never played III, and eventually only a bit of Vice City), and it blew me away. Taking what I loved from Shenmue (although none of the real-life interactions) and blowing them up in proper cities that I could freely navigate was ridiculously fun. Since I also really love driving in games, this made it that much more of an awesome game for me.

Next week, part 2, in which I go from the GBA to the Switch.

Rime

I played through Rime last night (played pretty much all of it in one play session — overall I think it took me about 6 hours to get through it), and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d been wanting to play this ever since I saw the first trailer, and was planning on eventually playing it on Switch, but since it’s one of the PS+ free offerings this month, I jumped in on my PS4, and I’m glad I did. Each chapter gets more and more interesting, and although it’s never super challenging, it made for an entertaining playthrough. It was the aesthetics that first got me interested, but the mix of exploration and puzzle solving made for a fun mix, and it was refreshing to not play a game like this where you’re constantly required to fight enemies. I definitely recommend playing it.

Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition

I only played it for an hour just now, but I already think I prefer this to the proper Final Fantasy XV (which I didn’t finish, but played over 20 hours). First off is that I really do like the cartoony look, and it makes the lead characters much more palatable to me — in the proper FF15 game, I thought the world itself was fantastically rendered, but I never could get into the main characters, with their Japanese idol boy band look. The combat itself is pretty simple, but still fun — and I wasn’t a huge fan of the combat in the regular game anyway (felt too chaotic, and so I never felt like I had a good control of what was happening). Again, I’ve only played an hour, so we’ll see if I actually stick it out (and end up paying for more, since the early game is free), but for now I find it quite enjoyable.

Murder on the Orient Express

The first reaction I had when this film was announced was, what’s the point unless they somehow change the solution — and considering the solution, it’s not really something you can do. Having watched it, because I know how it ends (it’s a fantastic novel) I felt a bit bored throughout, just following the motions to get to the end. Also, even though you have this great cast, outside of Poirot, no one is really given much to do, so you just get tiny glimpses of each — they come off as cameos, really. The film itself is beautifully shot though, especially the beginning in Istanbul, and then the interesting angles to frame shots in the train (especially the overhead shots). At the end they tease a follow-up remake to Death in the Nile, and although I have no idea if that will ever get made (don’t think this film was a big success at the box office), I’d probably enjoy that more since I don’t remember the solution for that one.