Opinion: PlayStation VR is VR's Big Chance

It’s an exciting time in games, as we await the arrival of VR with bated breath. Some VR headsets have been available for trial at conventions and expos over the years, but soon three of the most highly anticipated VR products-- the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR-- will make their debut on the consumer market. It’s yet to be seen if virtual and augmented reality will have any real impact on the video game industry, or if it will go the way of other peripherals that were warmly received when first announced, before quickly fading into irrelevancy. It’s likely VR will fall into one of two extremes: either it will be entirely revolutionary or ahead of its time, or the world will not be quite ready to embrace it.

Opinion: Why Prototypes Can Be Good for the Player

Game development, for practical and personal reasons, is often shrouded behind the same veil as a magician’s parlor tricks. Whether it’s trying to protect contracts, maintaining secret drop rates to keep subscribers repeatedly running through MMO dungeons, or just plain trying to keep the magic of a game alive, the state of game development in 2016 is often one shrouded in secrecy and NDAs, from small indie development all the way up to AAA. 

Because of this, most of the people who play video games generally have no idea how games are made. And to be fair, there’s a lot that game developers may want never to see the light of day. Keeping players in the dark lets them focus on playing the game, and lowers the risk of a rough development cycle financially impacting a game’s sales. If players never learn how broken and buggy a game is during development, they’re more likely to assume it can be a flawless gem when they pick up their pre-order from Gamestop. 

But maybe it’s time to begin correcting that notion. As Kickstarter, Steam Greenlight, and early access programs become more and more common in creating sustainable games, what players “know” about game development begins to collide with the realities of shipping games. Double Fine’s Kickstarter legacy has been just as much about players deciding if money is being spent “properly” as it has been creating unique and off-beat games, and Uber Entertainment wrote that any alterations from their core Kickstarter video, however important for creating a good game, were frequently met with negative responses from their backers. 

One answer to solving these problems? Letting players see and play more game prototypes.

One of the biggest misconceptions the public currently has about game development is that any given game is “planned” then executed, like the way one might script and shoot a film. This isn’t the case. As designer Liz England has explained in multiple talks, games like 2015’s Sunset Overdrive find the core nugget of fun after experimentation and prototyping, not just by sticking to its original blueprints. Games more frequently are built on the foundation of an idea, usually bolstered by piece of tech or a particular skillset a group of developers possess, before iterating their way to completion and solving challenge after challenge of having the whole dang thing make sense. 

Showcasing more prototypes is therefore a great way to teach core game communities about where games come from. During the last few PAX sessions, Supergiant Games has spent their time at the show not just showcasing Transistor and new ports of Bastion, but also showing a playable prototype of Bastion from before any of the game’s most striking elements---its art style, its voiceover, or its varied combat---were even created. 


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It’s just a 3D mockup with D&D creatures standing in for monsters, and the hero character only has a few key animations But it does show off some of the core technical and design theories behind Supergiant Games’ work, and separates it from the gameplay elements they discovered through the development process. 

If you’re able to dig up any prototype footage of the first Assassin’s Creed, you’re able to get a glimpse of what its developers were grappling with before it became a blockbuster science fiction saga. According to IGN, Patrice Desilets began working on the series after it was conceived as a sequel to the Prince of Persia games, but the most important DNA in its lineage was their experiments with the Anvil engine, which let them generate tall cities and large crowds. 

 


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Though Desilets and his team would go on to research the Hassassin and decide a more realistic approach to medieval history would be a better fit for the game then the fantasy of Prince of Persia, the game’s origins as an experiment of tech and design help us chart the path for the series’ development, and understand the technical emphasis on fluid, navigable architecture that drives how each subsequent game targets its different thematic goals. Because of this, it’s frequently useful to analyze Assassin’s Creed through the platforming through cities and crowds instead of its narrative pillars because that’s where the tech allegedly originated from.

Most recently, the team behind the Indiegogo-backed RPG Indivisible launched a free prototype for their game on PSN as a marketing tool for their crowdfunding campaign, and showed off what may be one of the most up-front transparent discussions about game development costs.. While their prototype is a little more holistic than what you’ll find from Assassin’s Creed, Bastion, or any other games out there, it’s a stepping stone for the kind of game its creators want to create. It’s a reveal that might prevent Lab Zero from making radical design shifts the way they might through a traditional development cycle, but it’s a strong showing of the notion that at the right time, a showing of your game’s prototype can be a powerful tool for your audience.

Obviously, as with all things in game design, showing off prototypes is not going to be a universal, works-for-every-game scenario. But if the industry wants to participate in game preservation and educate the customers who may decide whether games get funded or die on the vine, it’s a powerful first step. Whether they wind up preserved in a Smithsonian archive, showcased at conventions, or simply displayed at GDC talks, prototypes can be how the game industry lowers some of its walls, and helps build transparent relationships between players and developers. 

5 Games with Amazing Level Editors

If you’re a gamer, it’s likely that you’ve played custom levels. But have you ever tried making one yourself? Making custom content is a challenge, especially for the uninitiated. For puzzle games, levels should be tricky but not too convoluted. For RPGs, you need to spawn enough enemy waves to get the player’s pulse up, but not make them endure endless grinds. It’s all about balance. Most games give players the option to thumbs-up or thumbs-down custom levels, so it’s a little scary to put yourself out there, only to see your ratings plummet. You knew shouldn’t have placed so many spike traps, dangit!


Though you may risk sleepless nights and self-esteem, making your own maps can be very rewarding. And if you’re harboring a secret dream to work as a game designer someday, it’s a good way to expand your portfolio. So we’ve compiled a list of games that have cool editing software for customization. Hopefully this will provide some inspiration for those of you who have wanted to create a new map or level, but haven’t been able to take the plunge. Who knows? Maybe the next Defense of the Ancients is inside you right now, yearning to be free.

Hatoful Boyfriend's Trip Through the Stars

Hatoful Boyfriend is a game with an absurd premise and a big heart. It’s a bird dating simulator, but the story addresses death, guilt, and sacrifice. And while the puns and outrageous situations are fun, Hatoful Boyfriend and its companion story Holiday Star draws on heavy themes from a classic Japanese children’s book.

Top 5 Best Introductions in Gaming

The beginning of a game can make or break a player’s interest. A successful introduction can familiarize the player with the game’s key mechanics, as well as set the tone for the rest to come. Should they manage this, these intros can become ingrained in the collective consciousness of gamers, setting traditions that inform developers for years after release.

With that in mind, here are some of the best game intros:

Unsung Heroine: Why I Love Princess Peach

If I were to ask you to name a female videogame character who you look up to, your first thoughts might be along the lines of Lara Croft, Samus Aran, or Commander Shepard. They are, after all, three of the strongest, most iconic women in gaming. While I agree that each of them have a lot to offer, if you were to pose that same question to me, my first answer would always be Princess Peach. The internet has a lot of opinions on Princess Peach, both good and terrible, but to me she's always been my favorite character in some of my most played games. Growing up, I looked up to her because she personified the things I wanted to be: graceful and feminine, but also strong in the face of hardship.

8 Video Game Grappling Hooks That Kick Ass

Whether they’re a central mechanic or an optional mode of conveyance, grappling hooks in games are almost always a blast to mess around with. Sometimes they’re essential to progress, other times they can do a lot of the heavy lifting, and they almost never get the recognition they deserve. Well not this time!

These eight grappling hooks are all really cool, and really useful, in their own way. Some might be a bit cooler or more useful than others but each one is special and deserves a hearty “thank you” from all the protagonists they’ve ferried around over the years.

Dating Sims for Women Find a Home on the Vita

Since launch, the PlayStation Vita has floundered in the west. Almost as if it were destined to follow in the footsteps of its predecessor, the PSP, Vita sales in North America and Europe have never come close to its Nintendo competition, despite heavy-hitting series such as Assassin’s Creed and Uncharted receiving their own Vita-exclusive installments. When the Vita and PS TV were declared “legacy platforms” in North America and Europe in 2015, it became clear that just three years after release, the Vita had already been relegated to the sidelines.

However, despite never quite finding a foothold in the West, the Vita has slowly but surely established itself as a competent handheld in Japan. From tear-jerker visual novels to toe-tapping rhythm games, Vita owners have an ever-growing library of titles to choose from.

One genre that has made the Vita its home is otome games, or dating sims aimed at women. While it may seem wild to market a whole genre specifically towards women, otome games do exactly that. Popularized in 1994 with the release of Angelique for the SNES, otome, or “maiden” games insert the player into the role of a female protagonist in story-heavy narratives where the goal is to pursue romances with a number of suitors who are almost always male. Gameplay-wise, they can range from stat management simulators to RPGs, but the vast majority are visual novels, where text-based decisions decide how the branching storyline will play out.

In Defense of Automatic Mario

Most mornings, after I’ve cracked three eggs into the skillet, I turn on my Wii U. By the time the eggs are ready, I'll have booted up Super Mario Maker and navigated its menus. The trick is to stay in the "Highlights" section of the "Course World" -- the portion of the game meant for playing its user-generated levels, rather than creating them yourself -- but swapping the filter to view "easy," rather than "normal," creations. From there, it's as easy as finding the right title -- "Don't Move" or "Automatic" or anything including "全自動" -- and pressing Play.

How mods helped Cities: Skylines grow

“We were slightly caught off guard with the massive success of the game,” says Mariina Hallikainen, CEO of Colossal Order. Cities: Skylines was one of the biggest games of the year, an a out-of-nowhere success for simulation fans around the world. City simulation is one of those genres that harbours a sort of fanatic adoration, so when Colossal Order released the game early last year genre fans were quick to flock to it. It soon reached a million sales, and was the sixth best-selling game on Steam in 2015.