Coming soon: Flash tutorials!

And not just any tutorials, but an AS2 workshop where I’ll be recreating Angry Birds with third and fourth graders at my library! I admit this will be very beginner or educator friendly so if you were hoping for something more heavy duty I apologize. While the workshop is mostly for fun, it’s a great way to introduce game design basics to the little ones, and I also will be including them here on my blog, source files and all.

Preview of lesson #1, outlining the basics.

Gif of lesson #2 in action!

Currently lesson #3 is almost done but I keep on screwing up my math. (If you need a testimonial on how bad I actually am at math, just ask my D&D group.) There are 6 lessons in total so despite this hiccup, my progress has been amazing, and everything else has been coming along smoothly so I’m confident it will be finished in time.

If the tutorials are helpful I may do more in the future, so feel free to suggest away. HTML5 is also on my list next.

That aside, I’m also participating in a gaming roundtable discussion on Long Island next week. I’m hoping to demo one of my games as well but it seems more mainstream ones will be demonstrated for now, so that’s cool. I will still be attending either way, and will have notes when that happens.

Animal Crossing: The Casual Game for Hardcore Gamers

While I realize the subject of Animal Crossing being a hardcore or casual game has been brought up numerous times throughout the series’ history, there aren’t many thorough articles on it, let alone on what really defines a “casual” game from a “hardcore” game. As a newtime player to the series kudos to New Leaf for the Nintendo 3DS, I finally had been able to dive into the whimsical world of Nintendo’s version of Second Life before Second Life even existed. My verdict still stands as it had years before when the first game was announced.

I will admit I’m only discussing this now because I accidentally may have gotten a friend into buying the game out of sheer Grand Theft Auto-esque chaos, but needless to say if he wanted to run around with matchsticks and scissors, Minecraft and major MMO’s such as World of Warcraft have more devastating levels of grieving than Animal Crossing. Oh well. Any reason to get more friends into playing at my town of Slowpokes is good enough for me.

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No seriously, I’m not kidding.

Ian Bogost wrote a great article on casual games, it can be found at “Persuasive Games: Video Game Zen“. (Have no fear; it isn’t littered with bogus Facebook/mobile play-to-win games, but it does throw in Chuzzle as an example). He points out that video games are generally seen as a “lean forward” medium – one that encourages interactivity, action, and puzzle-solving. Some genres that easily fit this definition are sports, racing, shooters, platformers. However, there are some games that also can be seen as a “lean back” medium, which focuses on relaxation and providing a more passive, mellow experience. While certain puzzle games may not fit this (like Tetris), a lot of more casual-styled games do. Bogost uses flOw and other Nintendo titles such as Pikmin and (of course) Animal Crossing, as some examples for other more mainstream titles outside of the nefarious play-to-wins that’ve now smothered the casual games genre.

Notice however, that these games still encourage the interactivity and brainpower that more “lean forward” (aka “hardcore”) games also possess. This makes sense though, since at the end of the day it still has to be a video game, otherwise if you go towards the edge of the medium (like of Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain), you’re better off watching a movie if you want that type of passiveness. While the general summary of Animal Crossing involves upkeeping your house and town, paying off your debts on loans, talking to your neighbors, and admiring nature as a whole, there are things to do and puzzles to solve to keep things from running into the mundana. Just like real life, you never know what’s going to happen next, and even when things fall into the every day rut, you’re encouraged to continue on for tomorrow to see what’s new in your E-rated digital life.

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Building the snowpeople in New Leaf is an example of puzzle-solving.

Therefore, despite its premise (heck, it won Best Casual Game in 2013 from SpikeTV’s VGX Awards), depending on how you play the game, it can be seen as a more engaging experience, and therefore a hardcore game. There are bugs and fish to collect, as well as rare, seasonal items (either through events or the shops). Some players even “trade” neighbors to get other desirable neighbors to match whatever theme their town has. (While I decided to decorate it after Slowpoke-ridden Azalea Town from Pokemon Gold/Silver, I have no neighbor preferences.)  And of course, the game keeps track of what items you’ve had in your inventory, also known as Catalog, even if you gifted the item to a neighbor or friend, or sold it back to earn some extra Bells to cover other expenses.

Since Animal Crossing is a very social game, the online community for it is enormous, thanks to the help of social media. Nintendo has a Pinterest board for user-submitted clothing designs, and other designs and screenshots can be shared through Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and their newly adjoined Miiverse service. Community blogs and groups through these sites, as well as other boards and forums elsewhere across the Internet, also dedicate to trading and selling of items and neighbors alike. If the player desires so, Animal Crossing can certainly become a title in the more “hardcore” genre of gaming very fast.

From my own playthroughs and experiences however, while I love trading with other players and friends, and hanging out with them at each other’s towns just for fun, I believe this series (and New Leaf in particular) can be a meeting point for both the casual and the hardcore gamer. I find it to be a relaxing experience, and even if I’m in a hurry one day, I find that I can accomplish my daily tasks in the game within an hour (I don’t recommend flying through the game at all though; this is not a race to the finish line!).

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Sit back and chill with the fishes some time!

Whatever your feelings for this game, know that it satisfies both the need to relax while still accomplishing something for enjoyment. And while my Dream Address is not set up yet, I do have Kurt the Poke-ball Smith in my town as a second avatar, and my 3DS Friend Code is 4785-4704-8438. You can also follow my silly adventures as mayor at my Tumblr dedicated to the game.

Legal and the Importance of Paper

I was going to do a post on a design topic for a change, however Gamasutra’s newsletter posted a very interesting article that was on my list of topics (and was very relevant to a few events that had happened to my projects recently), so I will bump that priority up for this week. As someone new to the indie game scene, I hope my experiences can help other future indies starting out, although like others, I didn’t realize the importance of it until I learned it the hard way. This also goes for any other topics I also discuss, but of course I’m open to discussion and you don’t have to agree 100% unless it’s the obvious stuff (common sense/courtesy, etc.).

The article in question is Jonathan Sparks’ final part of his discussion, “When “We’ll be Together Forever” Goes Sour; How to Protect Yourself When Partners Part Ways (Part 3)“. While Parts 1 and 2 are also insightful, they involve heftier legal messes such as company stock. I won’t be referring to those parts, but please read them anyway because it’s always good to know. You have no idea how tempted I was to add a G.I. Joe quote to that sentence. (Applause, applause.)

Part 3 has a lot of great advice everyone should follow in ANY business partnership, regardless if it’s within the gaming industry or not, or if you’re working as a contractor/freelancer for someone, even a friend or colleague (which I do on the side as well for graphic design). If you’re new to working on a collaboration with anyone, the words “legal”, “contracts”, and “documents” are going to sound really frightening. Hopefully this post, as well as the article I linked, will help ease those fears.

The basic point you should take away from this is that “legal”, “contracts”, and “documents” are only scary because of the problems that arise from them if they aren’t planned or protected carefully. Meaning that as long as the piece of paper you are signing is concise, to the point, and can be agreed upon fairly by both parties, and that neither party tries to pull the wool over the other’s eyes, that piece of paper is a security blanket and proof of trust between both collaborators. In best case scenario, it protects both parties from any problems in the long run, even after the project’s completion, and during its development, both parties stick to their Scout’s honor and don’t cause a ruckus.

While my colleagues and other team members were taught early on to create and sign paperwork for our thesis projects during our graduate program for Game Design, even then a part of us didn’t truly understand how important this is! Most of the time our projects were educational, and although we share the IP based on what we contributed, these games were never released commercially, so we didn’t have to worry about fighting over dollars and cents. But once you leave that environment and work on commercially released projects (whether with friends, colleagues, or clients), having solid paperwork is as important as building a proper foundation for your house. If your foundation is lazily put-together, it will collapse even before the house has been finished.

If you’re fortunate enough to be working with well-trusted individuals and still find yourself in a bind where some terms are loosely (and dangerously) defined in the paperwork, even after signing, it doesn’t hurt to ask about it and bring it to everyone’s attention! If the project has just barely started development, it’s still early on for your project lead to agree to go back and rework the contract, and communicate with the team to make sure everyone is on the same page. If you can’t place that amount of trust to your leader to discuss problems, you should not be collaborating with them in the first place, and if your leader still does not want to iron over the problems, even if more than one person agrees to address it (but was afraid to ask until you brought it up), you have every right to follow your gut and walk out of the project. Working with a person like that will only be a disaster in the making. Disasters cost money, most often money the company you’re fighting with, for, or against does not have. Save yourself the stress at that point; there will be other projects.

This is NOT to say that you should carry a huge ego and start finding problems purposely; in every workplace that is heavily looked down upon and you’ll be fired very quickly. Trust in your team, do your best (hell, do better than your best!), but do not be afraid if a problem comes up that needs to be discussed! Be diplomatic and professional. You can still be friendly when you work with other people, but make sure you have proper paperwork accounted for that has been signed and agreed for, to prevent nasty problems from turning up.

Most of all, have fun! You’re working on what that you love to do, and not many people can say that anymore! As Sparks said, your paperwork doesn’t have to be hundreds of pages long (mine are only 2-3 at most), but it must be concise and as clear as possible for everyone to understand. I wouldn’t recommend doing a one-page document though, because there’s too many things that have to be addressed (don’t even think about pulling the 9pt font and 8pt leading trick, you weasel!). If you’d like a template for what to put down, there are good MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) templates online, or you can ask for mine for reference; it was one I received from my professor and we both find it most effective.

With that said, I leave this open for discussion, because I’m also curious about anyone else’s thoughts and experiences on the matter, especially if I happened to have left anything out. Once again, thank you for reading, and I hope this was insightful for you!

Welcome back to WordPress!

Christ, this thing is like a time capsule. I even referred to “cloud computing” in quotations, because that was the hot tech thing in 2010. 3 years later, everything is basically run on cloud networks. Like Europe is trying to launch DVR’s based on cloud-run servers now.

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Glad to get all that strife out of my system.

A lot has changed the past three years. So much that I forgot I even had a WordPress. When I originally was looking for a game dev blog, I figured I’d look into something that would help me network first. My brother recommended Twitter because of how much it’s helped him with his work the past year alone, but of course at the time (as in July of this year), I just glared at him like he were speaking in tongues. I’m fairly adversed in social media, but Twitter was like the final frontier for me, a place that should not be touched or it would be stained like some apocalyptic Manifest Destiny.

But I gave it a shot, and I actually really enjoy it. Great for networking and keeping up with news in the industry, but I write pages and pages and pages of content. I was a major bookworm growing up as a child, to the point where I wanted to be a writer up until high school, and with the dot coms booming around and blogs becoming hotcakes, obviously I’m used to writing and reading a ton of shit. (Of course I’d like to think what I read and wrote certainly wasn’t shit, but you know what I mean.)

So even from day one, Twitter’s 126-character limit was going to pose me a problem when it came to dev blogging. I decided to hunt around for an actual blog instead, because LiveJournal is dead but I still use it for my cosplay hobby anyway. I wanted it to be classy, a platform both hobbyists and professionals accepted, while still being easy to use (the latter isn’t much to ask for really). So I applied for a WordPress blog…and it said my name was taken. Funny, because I’m the only Cindy Simeti on this damn planet, so I looked it up thinking it was gonna be some crap blog that someone wanted to soak up the URL for, or worse it was gonna be underaged porn.

But nope, it was my blog from my undergrad ART85 class, complete with the previous 4 essays you saw. Hmm no wonder half my photos are dead links now, I took them off my Photobucket completely forgetting what they were for to begin with! So seeing I had this blog staked out already, it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and rebuild.

Ironic now that the last essay I left was the upcoming return of illustration in the digital age. Some things really don’t change. Since my last post, I have completed a graduate program in Digital Game Design and Development at my past college, Long Island University, making me a double alumni. During that time, all of my work was of course, done digitally (with the exception of paperwork), and I found myself doing all of my art assets for my thesis projects in Adobe Illustrator, most of the time imported to Flash or to CoronaSDK. I’ve continued to do collaborations with numerous people, mainly colleagues, friends of friends, or other clients from networking, as well as my own project which I’ll get to another day. All of them involve digital illustration, some of which are vectors. With the rise of mobile gaming and other engines available, it’s easier to develop games, and naturally using vector work is the easiest way to go next to 3D modeling.

There was going to be a topic I really wanted to discuss since the controversy with TotalBiscuit and Wild Games Studios came out, but it was resolved so I’m a bit too late on that horse. But it doesn’t mean I feel any less strongly about it. Perhaps another day I will tackle that issue though, for now though I’d like to say that it feels nice to be back on WordPress, even though I completely forgot I was ever on it in the first place. I hope you enjoy what’s to come and we have some good discussions about them.

(If you’re interested in seeing what I’ve been up to, you can view my portfolio.)