Last Guardian – Game of the Year 2016?

I finished the Last Guardian over Christmas, and it is my favourite game from last year. In my final year module, next semester, I will be focusing on teaching about programming AI in games. From this perspective the creature AI in the Last Guardian is fascinating. For me, the gameplay, story and puzzle design are more absorbing and immersive than those in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. However, it’s the relationship between the player character and his creature companion, Trico, that makes the game stand out from other games. At times the interaction with Trico can be frustrating but when it works the action can be breathtaking, and as a player, you can become very attached to Trico. The fact that Trico doesn’t always do what you want it to do can add to the realism of the creature intelligence, especially if you own pets and can relate to real animal behaviour. The imperfection of the AI reminds us how difficult the task was and how well it has this has been achieved. The Last Guardian provides a state-of-the-art example of how to create AI companions that are essential to gameplay, and to whom the player can develop a strong emotional connection. I consider the game not only rewarding to play due to the story, world and puzzle design but also found the end of the game moving in a way that I usually only experience through reading books or watching movies. It is has been argued that Trico provides a role model for chat bot agent design, such as Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and Google.

I played fewer games last year than I would usually but I did complete Doom and Inside, which are two fun and well-designed games. The two most voted games of the year seem to be Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Overwatch, both of which I have played quite a bit and have enjoyed. However, if you consider yourself a student of games and are interested in game design, then the Last Guardian is clearly the most novel and worth the time that you would spend on it (10-15 hours). Don’t miss out by not playing it.

Distributed Scene Graph

Just came across this interesting video on distributing multiplayer game processing across a network. Relates quite closely to what we trying to achieve on a current PhD project. Microsoft have demonstrated an example of cloud processing using Azure in Titanfall and other games but its not quite the same.

A prevailing approach by some leading games companies/publishers is to stream gameplay from the cloud, e.g. Onlive and Gaikai, in a technological approach that could be described as streaming interactive gameplay. The game is processed in the cloud and rendered gameplay screens are streamed to client machines. The advantage of the approach is that client machines do not have the so powerful and it may be more energy efficient (in global terms). An obvious disadvantage is that QoS and QoE is dependant on the quality of network. Shinra, a Square Enix company, recognise this issue but are building their mmo engine for a future (faster) network! Article here.

Playing with programming the Leap Motion and Oculus Rift together

I had a couple of hours this afternoon to be able to make some progress learning how to use Oculus Rift and the Leap Motion controller together.

Its not hard when you know how and in about 30 mins I connected an Oculus camera to one of the flying Leap Motion samples. Orientation of palms used to steer ship.

I’m just getting a feel for what works and how to program these technologies. I’m not sure we can use the Oculus in our games for rehab work (certainly in games with movement of the camera) due to vertigo and similar issues, but its really interesting and fun to work with.


Coleraine game development students receive prize from Citi Group

We are fortunate at Coleraine to be supported by industry in many ways, including the provision of student prizes. Last week Mark McCormack, from Citi in Belfast, visited our campus to present the 2nd year mobile game development prize to Aaron Hutton and Adam Mackenzie. In presenting the prize in front of this year’s 2nd year group, Mark praised the quality of work and the level of creativity of all of the shortlisted students. He reaffirmed Citi’s support for work on campus and encouraged our current 2nd years to work towards this year’s prize.

Aaron and Adam’s winning game “Rescue the Princess; Save the World”, was designed and programmed  for Windows Phone 7 over 6-8 weeks as part of their “Game Design and Development” module coursework. The game provided interesting gameplay, a quirky aesthetic, and a fascinating theme/story-line.

The two other student games by Scott Irvine and Kyle Davidson that were shortlisted for the prize were also of a very high standard. All three games, with some further work, have the potential to be successful commercially.

Monster Munch: Dead Hungry Diner Demo

I spent a bit of time playing the demo from Black Market Games and really enjoyed it – you should try it out. Black Market Games are Northern Ireland based company working in Derry and are one of several small local games companies taking large strides into the games industry.

InvestNI have been supportive of this community and this year are providing financial support for companies to attend GDC. I would love to go to this myself this year but I will need to work out other commitments first.


My Games of 2011

Here is a list of my games of the year (in no particular order). The only one that I’ve completed is Portal 2 but I’ve played enough of the others to make a judgement. I normally complete more games and although I’ve been very busy this year it isn’t the main reason for not being able to finish games that I’ve bought. I think we have been spoiled with the quality of games releases (and re-releases) and it has become impossible to keep up with playing all these new games if you are as obsessive with trying everything as I am! I think I am also becoming a bit jaded. Taking this into account I have to say that Skyrim is my game of the year (based on my play time, it’s immersive world, and great game design) closely followed by DeusEx. However, I feel I should also say that Bastion is my favourite “indie” style game – I just love everything about it – and Terraria has stolen a lot of my time this Christmas.

  • Dark Souls
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Terraria
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
  • Portal 2
  • Bastion
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • Scribblenauts (iPhone)
  • Jetpack Joyride (iPhone)
  • Skylanders
  • El Shaddai
  • Beyond Good & Evil HD
  • Inside a Star Filled Sky (PC)
  • Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS)
  • ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection

Its been a year for classic games to be re-released on a new platform and many have been a delight to play. Playing Ocarina of Time on the 3DS has been more enjoyable for me than it has been on other platforms, and Mario Kart and Super Mario are also perfect advocates for 3D gaming (though the means for viewing 3D graphics needs improved!). Scribblenauts has found a perfect home on IOS and I’m glad that ICO got an HD release for PS3 to enable a new audience to appreciate one of the games of all time. Beyond Good and Evil didn’t get enough sales on its first release due to the crazily competitive christmas season and it has found a perfect home on Xbox Live Arcade. Surprisingly for me I have spent more time playing phone games and I’ve actually bought DLC for Jetpack Joyride, which is a really elegantly designed game. It has also been a good year for smaller developers who are trying to innovate. Minecraft should be very influential in the development of future dynamic (openworld) games, though I enjoyed Terraria more. I have a soft spot for these types of game and Inside a Star Filled Sky was a really interesting game to play with an unusual gameplay dynamic (moving inside and outside yourself!). Both Star Filled Sky and Bastion have been influential in my game-inspired learning research – Bastion because of its literal reconstruction of a world (imagine educational constructivist ideas). Bastion of course is also a lot of fun and has a nice way of narrating a player story. Skylanders is worthy of a mention due to its innovative blended reality approach to play, and also because the game suits its targeted age group. However, Skylanders could be improved vastly, especially for young girls, if it had open world areas for freeplay rather than the narrow linear challenge based structure (when are developers for children ‘s games ever going to learn?).

El Shaddai is amazing, especially for its visual style and game design based on a missing book of the bible! However, it’s not quite as good as last year’s Bayonetta for me. Dark Souls, Skyrim, Zelda Skyward, and Deus Ex are getting most of the attention in the game of the year awards/blogs. I’ve played Deus Ex and Skyrim a lot and I love them – they have both significanlty improved the basic gameplay in their respective sub-RPG genres, though they are lacking game design innovation. I die a lot in Dark Souls so it is too early for me to fully rate it and I’ve only started the new Zelda – I guess that Zelda would be my game of the year if I had played it much more.

Other games that I have enjoyed playing include: Gears of War 3, Rage, Minecraft, From Dust, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Rayman Origins, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, MonsterUp (Windows Phone), Contre Jour (iPhone), Child of Eden, Outland (Xbox Live Arcade), and Rift (PC).

Games that I should have played by now include: Batman Arkham City, Battle Field 3, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Super Mario 3D Land (3DS), Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary, Mario Kart 7 (3DS), and L.A. Noire. All of these could be candidates for game of the year based on reviews that I’ve read.