Monday, September 22, 2014

Pre-Kickstarter: Valiance Online with Ben Jones

Greetings friends and welcome back to The Conversation.  Today I’m performing a bit of a preemptive strike on a Kickstarter by talking to my friend and coworker Ben Jones about his work on the upcoming Valiance Online.  Thank you for joining us today Ben.  

Glad to be here James, it’s an exciting time for me personally and the team as a whole.

Lets start off with how a NASA satellite controller can end up working on a videogame like Valiance Online while still working for NASA?  That seems like an odd combination of jobs.  

Well video games are very technical from the guts out, most things that people see are the artistic side but there is a huge amount of technical expertise that goes into game creation. Being a comic book artist at heart I was able to merge the technical and artistic sides fairly seamlessly.

How I came into it was just a bit of luck. I was originally hired on as a freelance concept artist and moved up the chain as de facto Art Director.  Little luck and a little talent can go a long way it seems.

Can you tell us a bit about Valiance Online and why should folks be excited to see it?

Because we say so, isn’t that enough?

Yeah didn’t think so.

People should be excited because this is a game built for the people and by the people. While as a successor game from the now defunct City of Heroes, we are building on what they did right and innovating what they did wrong. Creating a game within this genre hasn’t been done often and even fewer times done well so its a great opportunity for Superheroes and Villains to create a home for themselves. Like many people we have sat back and said we should create something better than what’s out there, but unlike most people we are actually doing it and doing it well if i must say so myself.

What got you into drawing comics in the first place?  How is your 2D art effecting the 3D game world?  

Well I’ve always been into comics from a very early age, something I would have to blame my father for, but in highschool something sparked in my mind to attempt to draw comic book characters. Once I started getting the hang of it, it became the most addictive drug on the planet. I went from jock to artist almost overnight and its stuck with me till this day.

Well the 2d side is the foundation of most 3d art when working in a pipeline of different artist all with different backgrounds and expertise.  Im affecting the entire game with my designs and general art direction for the world of Valiance Online and It can be a bit scary to be thrust into this position with so many people relying on your creativity and talent level to deliver something special. What everyone will see in the game visually will have my fingerprints all over it, the good and the bad.

Monday, September 15, 2014

An Extrasolar Adventure

Welcome back to the Conversation!  We’ve completed the move to the other side of the planet and now I get to take you even further then I went with the Extrasolar team.  Joining me today are the team from Lazy 8 Studios to talk about this interesting exploration experience, thanks for joining us today!

Glad to join the conversation! I’m Dr. Rob Jagnow, the founder of Lazy 8 Studios in San Francisco. I wear quite a few hats for Extrasolar. I’m the producer, the main programmer for our rendering software, and also the actor who plays in-game character Robert Turing.

Extrasolar is a bit hard to classify, even though you guys are calling it a “game” having actually “played” it I’m not sure that’s entirely correct.  I think of it more of an experience, can you explain it as best you can?  

For a long time, we avoided using the word “game” because it’s so different from any other game out there that the word comes loaded with the wrong expectations. We prefer “interactive story,” but that’s such a broad term that we’ve gone back to describing Extrasolar as a game.

The story of Extrasolar plays out entirely through a Web browser -- through written messages, videos from live actors, Websites, terminal systems, and beautiful photos from the surface of an alien planet -- no two of which will ever be the same.

The premise is that a private space exploration company, XRI, has launched a mission to an alien planet with life. They’re looking for volunteers to help drive the rovers that they’ve put down on the planet’s surface. You can apply to the program, and if you get in, you use a Web interface to tell your rover where to go, what time of day you want your photo, and what direction you want your photo. Hours later, when you arrive, you get back a gorgeous cloud-rendered image from that location on the planet. On average, it takes our players 27 days to play through season 1. During that time, you’ll find yourself wrapped up in a conspiracy, searching for answers both on Earth and on the planet Epsilon Prime.

Now I discovered Extrasolar way back June when you showed up on Gamasutra and promptly shared it with my fellow NASA coworkers.  What do you think of people who actually talk to spacecraft and rovers playing your game and enjoying it?  (Note:  All pictures in this interview are from my own personal playthrough)

It’s been totally amazing having fans at NASA and SETI. We’ve tried to keep the science as accurate as possible, and so far, we haven’t had any major complaints from our players about scientific fidelity.

To allow the story to happen, there are two major places where we broke the rules of physics -- first, we have faster-than-light communications so that it doesn’t take 20 years to send a round-trip signal to our planet, which orbits the real star Epsilon Eridani. Second, we claim we used a near-light-speed propulsion system to reach our planet in just over a decade.

Beyond that, we aim to keep the science as real as possible and even hired a biologist to give realistic commentary as a character within the story.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kickstarting Game Devlopment training in Unity

Welcome back to the Conversation!  Today I’m joined by Ben Tristem who wants us all to Learn to Make Video Games Through Unity 3D.  Thank you for joining us today Ben.

Thanks James, I really appreciate the opportunity to share something we’re so excited about!

It seems a bit of congratulations are in order as you have already surpassed your £3,500 goal, well done!  Can you tell us a bit about your project and why you think you’ve hit your goal already?  

In fact we’ve just passed our SECOND stretch-goal at £7,500 so we’ll be adding Xbox One deployment to the course. We’re heading towards Oculus Rift at breakneck speed!

In terms of why we’re successful, I think we’ve hit on a highly demanded topic and approached it in a unique way. We will not only be teaching complete beginners to create games, but now including the process of publishing to many other popular platforms like iOS, Android, Xbox One and more to follow if people keep backing us!

What kind of user are you aiming this tutorial series toward?  Will I already need to know my way around a 3D modeling environment or will this start at the newest of the new designer?  How bored will more advanced students be?  

Our core focus is to teach people to make games. We’ll teach as much coding,
importing 3D assets, physics and other required skills necessary to achieve that aim.

The idea is that if you can read, and you’re motivated, you can complete this course. You will need to be highly computer literate, and have a positive attitude towards learning and pushing yourself. We’ll take you from there to being a confident indie game developer.

If you are an artist, we’ll show you how to bring your assets alive inside a game. If you have coding experience, we’ll show you how to translate this to game development. If you have no prior experience, we’ll show you everything you need to know, and point you in the direction of appropriate art, music and sound resources (people and asset stores).

For more advanced students we have a lot of value for you. We will be including the principles of fun, and game design (ludology). We will be touching on topics such as shaders, good code design, extending the editor (custom inspectors, editor windows, etc), and more.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This Game Sounds Like Utter Nonsense!

Welcome back to the Conversation!  Today I am joined by Tim Swindle who is here to share his party game Utter Nonsense.  Thank you for joining us today Tim.  

Thanks for having me, James, and thanks even more for showing interest in the Utter Nonsense Kickstarter project. We are three days in and Dave and I can’t wait to see this game come to life.

Party games come in all shapes and sizes to fit any kind of group, what kind of party game is Utter Nonsense and who does it appeal to?  

Utter Nonsense is the perfect late-night party game, meant for playing with friends, fueled by alcohol and ideal for people with an overall enthusiasm for laughing really, really hard. My co-creator Dave Mazurek and I have seen even the most introverted people get into the game. You can’t help but laugh hearing people say these ridiculous phrases in different voices, like orgasm or pirate. And the phrases speak for themselves, so the players don’t have to think too hard or try too hard to be funny, it happens pretty naturally.

Accent & Phrase Cards
Do you think this is one of those games that just gets better the more drunk the group gets or is there a happy buzzed medium you want to reach for maximum enjoyment?  

We’d like our players to still be conscious, but having a little extra lubrication from the sauce can help make the more self conscious players come out of their shells a little faster. But we just played a round of the game completely sober on a radio show, and everyone was dying laughing.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Are you ready to RUMBLE?!

Welcome back to the Conversation!  Today I get to talk to someone closer to my home, from just the other side of White Sands Missile range comes Davy Wagnarok to talk to us about his Kickstarter n30n City Rumble.  Thank you for joining us today Davy!  How are things over in Alamogordo?  

*Looks outside and watches tumbleweed slowly careen past the window.*

It looks like a whole lot of desert out there, Mr. Yee. But it’s home, right?

For now at least.  So n30n City Rumble seems to be an interesting looking card game, would you tell us about it?  

Oh man, it’s pure unadulterated fun! Mechanics-wise, it’s deviously simple in that just about any gamer of any age can sit down and learn how to play the game in under 30 minutes. But at it’s core, NCR is a hardcore, highly competitive game. It plays a lot a fighting game, wherein players must practice with Fighters in order to become more skilled with them, but above that, they must learn to play the other player. This isn’t original thought on my part; I have David Sirlin’s theories on competitive gaming and Yomi to thank for this. Dynamically, this Poker mentality, coupled with a rock-paper-scissors style of attacking and a hot-potato-esque system for countering, makes for some intense and interesting gameplay. The gritty retro 90s look and feel for the game helps sell the fighting spirit behind N30N City RUMBLE.

How much do those old brawler games like River City Ransom and Double Dragon affect your themeing and gameplay?

I have loved brawlers and fighting games since I was a kid. In fact, Double Dragon II: The Revenge was one of the first videogames I ever played. I instantly fell in love with the setting, music, and high-octane gameplay. But it wasn’t until I played Streets of Rage 2 that I became obsessed with the genre as a whole. I remember pausing the game to draw Skate in various poses kicking the bejezus out of Signals. Other games that inspired NCR include Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, the Final FIght series (especially Mighty Final Fight), Street Fighter 2, Ninja Baseball Bat-man, River City Ransom (cannot flippin’ wait for Concatus Creative’s River City Ransom: Underground!), Super Ninja Boy, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. Oh and let’s not forget Majesco’s Double Dragon NEON! That game was certainly underrated (you suck, IGN!).

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kickstarter Review: OneBowl to rule them all!

Today the Conversation is taking a look at the OneBowl project. Justin Herd, the creator of OneBowl, had an interesting idea, "what if you could cook, strait, eat, and store food all in the same container?"  Instead of just going, "huh" and moving on like most people do, Justin began prototyping and trying to make good on his idea and the OneBowl was born. 

First off, lets look at the concept of a "single bowl solution" to cooking and eating noodles.  As someone who lived the "Ramen Noodle Diet" back in my younger days I can see the appeal of this project.  Place your noodles and water in the bowl, heat, strain without a separate colander, enjoy, and even save the leftovers all in one go.   At first glance this is the perfect item for college students and single people in general, then again like any good "as seen on TV" type product this one quickly breaks down beyond a limited use case scenario. 

There's nothing wrong with creating products for limited case situations, there are plenty of products that fit that mold, but the OneBowl definitely feels  like something you'd see for $19.95 being pitched by a pitchman of some kind and the actual Kickstarter Campaign taps into that fact quite well.  From kitschy edited event scenarios to the $20 price tag the campaign is designed to match "As Seen on TV" feel and energy in a great way.  Justin seems to know his target audience and has aimed appropriately.

In the end would I back the OneBowl?  No, but that's not really a knock on the project as I am most definitely not the target audience.  The question then becomes, is the target audience large enough to get them over the $50,000 target?  Honestly I think it is, but the problem becomes reaching that target audience and I'm not sure they've got the critical mass of internet attention to get them there.  I hope they can make it, or through this campaign gain the attention of one of the "As seen on TV" manufacturers looking for their next big idea.  I would love to see this product in Target the next time I'm at the checkout line.  

Final Review:

Product Review  4 out of 5
The OneBowl is a "limited use/situation product" but in that situation it seems well designed and thought out.  If you have limited time/space available for microwave cooking items this might be great for you.  Even beyond the dorm those with limited storage at work (like in you cubical) might also want to give this one a look.  

Campaign Review 4 out of 5
The campaign is very well laid out with lots of pictures and story along with some funny videos.  My only knock against the campaign is the lack of a budget breakdown and non-college related use scenarios.  I think the campaign has a slightly larger market then is being aimed at, but other than that it is doing a great job!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Never Underestimate the Power of a Great Cookie

Welcome back to the Conversation!  Today I am rejoined by Vera Greentea and her accomplice Allison Strom who have come to talk about their latest Kickstarter Recipes for the Dead Issue 3.  Thank you for coming back Vera, and welcome Allison to your first visit to the conversation.  

Vera: Thanks so much for inviting us!
Allison: Thanks so much, Hi there!

Lets start with the basics, can you tell us a bit about the Recipes for the Dead series?  

Vera: Recipes for the Dead is an adventurous fantasy romp of an ambitious young pastry chef whose bakery is about to go bankrupt. In a desperate effort to save RocoCookie Shop, she steals a cookbook that seems to have the perfect recipes for bringing in customers. However, the book does a little more than offer instructions for cookies – it also seems to attract unsavory and rather demonic characters. Recipes for the Dead has a bit of everything; action, humor, a bit of horror and romance.

Now for full disclosure I am a backer on this project because the story sounded fun and the art was gorgeous.  Who do I get to thank for each of those things?  

Vera: Thanks, James! We love having you on board! Even though I’m the writer of Recipes for the Dead, Allison and I share many creative decisions on the flow of the storytelling. But, yeah, that art – that is all her. Allison does it all; the layouts and pencils, the incredibly radiant coloring that shines right out of the page, the imaginative character and Victorianpunk fashion design. She is amazing to work with – her brain concocts the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on a comic book page.

Allison: The art for recipes is a bit of a mix! I’m the only person currently drawing and coloring, but a lot of the character designs and aesthetics were begun by Recipes’ first artist, Ein Lee, back in Dark Delight with Cranberries. I’ve tried especially in the latest issue to synch a little better with the look and feel of the first volume. It’s been a huge challenge, but I’m so happy with how far it’s come since my first crack at the series in Apricot Asylum. I’m still really new to drawing comics and get very overwhelmed by the workload sometimes. It’s a constant learning process.
Recipes for the Dead: Apricot Asylum (Issue 2), cover by Allison Strom
The campaign describes the series as “Victorianpunk-manga-ish comic” where did you get that description for the comic?  Were you trying to be descriptive without being pigeonholed?  

Vera: The hardest thing about describing this comic in shorthand is trying to align it with a style. That phrase I chose hopefully gives people a bit of a visual impression of what the comic might be about. I consider Recipes for the Dead to be born and heavily influenced by the aesthetics and content of manga – but it’s not exactly that. There’s so much westernized culture imbued into it because that’s what I grew up with. It’s a broad mix of silly action-adventure, Burtonesque romance a la The Corpse Bride, and all kinds of fun oddities that struck my fancy.
Artistically, RftD has Victorian elements mixed into its visuals, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it steampunk. There are no airships or any kind of focus on machinery (or that cowboy impression you get when one reads steampunk novels). Allison seized on the idea of Victorianpunk and then gave it a baroque streak, interweaving shimmering brass curls into the buildings of Bluerouen or adding tiny ornate gold details into the clothing of the characters - inevitably giving the comic a visual language that is a deep blend of many older traditions but still comes out being its own thing.