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.


Economic Gameplay in Virtual Worlds

Koster’s post on this topic explains the importance of balanced economics in commercial virtual worlds:

Does a virtual economy affect player retention?

From time to time I think about this in terms of the design of educational virtual worlds. Economics should be equally important within these worlds and it seems that this is often neglected in their design. I believe that status can be a sort of “currency”, i.e. points, awards, badges, roles, etc., especially if these are restricted and shared among players/users. I have been playing around with these ideas for the design of our Virtual Learning Landscape, and with the virtual Fish Tank idea that I discussed at the recent Game Based Learning summer school I think that tradeable items (or sendable) in fish tanks that are representative of learners could improve the long term engagement with the virtual world.

Play games to learn to program

This is an interesting read on getting into programming through games, by creating macros, scripts, and logical blocks: Of course much game playing is about planning, puzzle solving and thinking strategically, which is also very beneficial to being an effective programmer.

VS Games conference

Just back from presenting my paper at the VS Games IEEE conference in Coventry. Overall I felt that the conference was pretty successful for its first year. The keynote speakers were excellent. Alan Chalmers of Warwick talked about multi-modal sensory virtual experiences and the use of helmets fitted with all sorts of sensors – that’s something we would love to play with for games or educational virtual worlds. Steve Benford from Nottingham spoke about his blended context, live action experiments. Of particular interest to our research group were his ideas about trajectories through a dynamic narrative space. Some of these ideas may have interesting applications within the MMO context.

There was quite a focus within the conference on Second Life which remains a popular context for academic research in virtual worlds and business appears to be interested in exploiting it in different ways. I still remain skeptical about the importance of the “3rd dimension” in the use of virtual spaces for education, as a meeting place, or virtual representations of the real world. Personally, I believe that Second Life is still too complex for student use and I prefer to continue to focus on Metaplace for now.

Second Life is quite good as a host for virtual conferences. Below is how James looked when he was presenting his paper – from within Second Life. Great news from the conference was that we received the prize for best paper for this particular paper!

James presenting his paper as I look on in 2nd Life and in the conference room!
James presenting his paper as I look on in 2nd Life and in the conference room!

XNA community games

At UUC we are interested in playing the best examples of XNA community games and making our own. We have good a community of students who are developing XNA games and we have seen some quite exciting work over the last year (I must put some links to samples later). A game that we are looking forward to is “Shellshock Skirmish” by Richard Paul – it just went through its first playtest on and is now getting a control update and AI opponents. It’s a Worms-like game that seems to have better gameplay than the recently released XBLA game “Death Tank”.

Nicktheduderino does a regular podcast reviewing the latest games on XBox Community and his latest one is just out – very useful in deciding which games to try out. The XNA Team Blog covers a few other websites that focus on XNA Community games.