Saturday, May 27, 2017

Star Wars: The Influence on Video Games

Guess who's turning 40? That's right, one of the most successful film properties in history; Star Wars! Aside from being one of the most lucrative licenses ever, Star Wars has an influential reach throughout pop culture, from storytelling right down to merchandising. The Star Wars phenomenon has inspired and entertained generations of fans in addition to helping up the ante for special effects across the movie industry. During my childhood I didn't see any of the Star Wars movies but its cultural impact was so strong, purely through osmosis did I know about Jedi, The Force, Death Star, Han shooting first, and numerous quotable line along with the infamously often misquoted "Luke, I am your father!". That's how powerful Star Wars is! So it should come as no surprise why Star Wars has etched a place in pop culture eternity. Shaping the imaginations of fans old and young alike, you can see references to Star War in a multitude of media whether it's music, TV shows or - video games. There's definitely a crossover appeal between science fiction media and video games and many times game developers like to sprinkle winks and nods towards Star Wars, usually as a token of appreciation. I'm listing a few of the Star Wars references and inspirations I've observed during my video gaming experience. This is no means an ultimate list of all Star Wars references in video games, just a shorthand guide in no particular order:

1. Star Fox 

Find me a more iconic foursome after these two...besides the Beatles...Ninja Turtles...A Tribe called Quest...uh nevermind.

The title alone is a homage to the popular sci-fi franchise but most of the references I remember are from the Nintendo 64's unsurprisingly titled Star Fox 64. Arwings are the strongest visual reference to Star Wars even right down to pronunciation (Arwing/R-Wing = X-Wing). When you begin Story mode you're greeted with a short narration of the Star Fox lore reminiscent of the iconic Star Wars title crawl (except it's conveniently voiced). Many characters and relationships are representative of those found in Star Wars as well; Fox McCloud and Falco Lombardi are the Luke Skywalker and Han Solo of the team, respectively. 

A comparative look at the Arwings (l.) and X-Wing (r.)P
Other references is the Gorgon Station bearing resemblance to the Death Star and the ending scene having shades of  Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

2. Jet Force Gemini
I guess the creepy eye stare is a homage.
Yup, definitely a homage.
The most obvious reference to Star Wars are the forced-to-collect Tribals who evoke (to put it nicely) the style of the Ewoks. The main and only human characters, Juno and Vela, are likely proxies for Luke and Leia as they are both sets of twins. The robotic assistant FLOYD is also a callback to the fan favorite droids, C-3PO and R2-D2. I'd like to think their dog Lupus was the Chewbacca of the crew since they're both canine (-ish) armed soldiers.


Can never go wrong with dogs (and Wookies) with guns.

3. Super Smash Bros. Series 
One of these weapons can cut through anything and the other hurts really bad.
Although Star Wars wasn't the first work of fiction to feature the idea of a Lightsaber weapon-type, it sure did popularize it! The Beam Sword from Super Smash Bros undoubtedly owes its existence to most iconic movie weapon of all time. Hell, the Beam Sword had the same sound effects as the Lightsaber which unfortunately was removed from all versions of Smash Bros outside Japan.

Light vs Dark | Pink vs Navy
Another inspiration from Star Wars is in the character Meta-Knight who shares elements with Darth Vader. Despite Meta-Knight appearing first in the Kirby series his inclusion on this is because his voice was not realized until Super Smash Bros Brawl exuding a vocal likeness to James Earl Jones' iconic voice role. In addition he's the dark counterpart to Kirby's lightheartedness harnessing the moral dichotomy Star Wars is famous for, he too also wields sword and walks around with a flowing cape. Truly the son Darth Vader always wanted. 

4. Mega Man X 
A Jedi and Reploid walk into a bar...
The Mega Man X series evolved the Mega Man franchise in many ways, adding new moves, a new storyline and a gritty futuristic backdrop to name a few. One of the more popular characters to emerge from the series is Zero, who's the "Mr. Cool Guy" counterpart to Mega Man and eventually got his own series in Mega Man Zero. One of his main weapons is the Z-Saber and just by its visual nature you can already tell what it's based off of.

Well they got the lowered-head brooding walk down.
The last boss in Mega Man Command Mission X, Epsilon could have been inspired by Darth Vader because of his imposing height, dark color scheme and long flowing cape.

5. Viewtiful Joe 

The Force and The Viewitful.
Viewtiful Joe somehow always makes my lists. I guess because it takes a little of everything from comics, movies and tokusatsu. One big obvious homage to Star Wars is the last level in the first game of the series, this level not only takes place in space with armies of enemies lined up but it features enemy spacecrafts called the Die Fighters, a unique tank that has a cannon similar to the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon, a poster designed similarly to A New Hope and the end boss reveals a deep dark secret not unlike Darth Vader's confession to Luke.

Who knew armies clad in all white could be so scary... oh wait..
Even little details are easy to spot.
That's all for now, but if you play video games, you know this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Star Wars references and inspirations in video games. I'll definitely follow up with some more for the curious few. Until then, "May the Force be with you."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A small thought on Haitian Representation

Happy Haitian Flag Day!

I would like to give a special shoutout to Assassin's Creed IV's Freedom Cry DLC. This is one of the first games to depict a historically realized Haiti, Haitians and the Creole language. As Haitians, we are more than cannonfodder and we are more than Voodoo stereotypes. As a proud Haitian man I would love to see more powerful and positive Haitian represenation not only in video games but across all media; just waiting for it to happen is not an option. We have to become the creators and curators of the culture.

The motto on the Haitian flag reads "L'Union Fait La Force" meaning Unity is strength and it's a proud reminder that learning together, growing together and working together can accomplish all our dreams and goals.

After writing this, I'll be working on an article about my experience has an Haitian American witnessing non-Haitians showcase my culture from videos games to television and movies. 

Stay Tuned! 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Super Mario Run Review

It's almost surreal to see Nintendo developing games for a different platform because financially it didn’t seem to make sense. The App Store and Google Play created platforms to sell cellphone apps and games which indirectly became Nintendo’s (and I guess Sony) biggest competitor in the handheld gaming market. To be fair, the quality of games released on smartphones vary from cheap cash grabs to full blown quality games and ports. Cell phones have a much larger install base and it's much more convenient to carry around a cellphone that can play games instead of a dedicated portable gaming device. Also, quite a few of my favorite DS games are available as ports on iOS.

In 2016, Nintendo decided to start releasing games on cellphones. However, they made sure that the games would be a different experience than their usual games as to not take away from their own portable market share. As of this writing, Nintendo has released 3 games for iOS and Android (not counting Pokemon as that wasn’t developed by Nintendo). Miitomo was the first game in which players created a Mii (basically an avatar) and you could dress it up and design a house. It wasn’t really the type of game most people expected from Nintendo. Where are Mario and Zelda??

Well, we wouldn’t have to wait too long to start seeing some real Nintendo properties as Nintendo announced that Super Mario Run would be released along with a couple of other games throughout 2017. So let’s take a look at Super Mario Run

The problem with bringing a traditional video game experience to a cell phone is primarily the control option which is a touch screen. Most smartphones are controlled completely by touch screens and a lot of games that are ported to phones function fine but are very difficult to control. The best cell phone games are usually developed from the ground up with the touchscreen in mind. Nintendo believes that Mario would be best suited to one-touch controls with New Super Mario mechanics which works well for the most part. Mario runs automatically but can do a variety of moves that are context sensitive to when he jumps. Most enemies Mario can simply vault over with no buttons pressed, however, certain enemies need to be avoided by jumping or other means. Controlling Mario is simple and works well for the most part. My only issue with the control is that it there isn’t enough of it. Mario games have shined on being able to get Mario to do whatever you want him to do with ease and this game’s design doesn’t allow for it. It’s a little bias but I wish I could have more control over Mario.

Stages are creatively designed to get the most out of the one touch controls. Each of the 24 stages has its own challenges and the game introduces unique twists such figuring out to navigate tricky ghost house puzzles or jumping on enemies precisely to discover hidden areas. The stages are a tad short but they offer replayability with the option to replay each stage and look for special colored coins which can be difficult to find.

                                                  It's a me Mario on your phone

Toad Rallies are a pseudo-multiplayer challenge mode where you compete against another player’s ghost in order to impress Toads to get them to come to your kingdom. The game awards you rally tickets for completing challenges and stages. These rally tickets are used to compete in a Toad Rally. It’s a timed competition for both players to see who can do the most tricks and gather the most coins. If you win, you get different colored Toads to come to your kingdom. If you lose, you will actually lose a few toads from your own kingdom. The rally tickets seem to be easy to come by so you shouldn’t have any problem participating.

So why would you want Toads to come to your kingdom anyway? Well if you ever wanted to design your own mushroom kingdom, you are going to need as many Toads as you can get. Basically, after gaining a certain amount of Toads, your castle will expand allowing you to further customize your kingdom with an assortment of Mario themed flora and architecture. This is the weakest aspect of the game as this doesn’t do anything for the gameplay. It’s purely cosmetic. Maybe some people will enjoy this, but I didn’t. A number of Toads you possess do serve another purpose as they also unlock new playable characters which control differently than Mario. Luigi jumps a bit higher, Toad runs a bit faster, and Peach can float for a limited time. This adds variety and replayability making each stage play slightly different. You can unlock these character by collecting Toads.

                                        This is what the Kingdom Builder looks like.

There are two big issues with Super Mario Run. I don't think the game is worth $10. Basically, you can download the game for free and play the first 3 stages of the campaign, participate in Toad rallies, and start designing your own kingdom. The rest of the game cost $10 to unlock and that includes 21 additional stages to the campaign. The game can be finished in maybe two hours if you go straight through it. Replaying each stage to find the special coins can significantly lengthen the game, but other than that completionist feeling, there is no reward for finding these coins other than buildings to customize your kingdom and Toad Rally tickets which, as of this writing, I have 99 (max) of. The second problem is that the game can only be played while you have cellular or wifi service. Granted, this will not affect everyone but I do travel on the subway (where I do most of my portable gaming) and there isn't always service. This is acceptable in a free-to-play game but a game I pay money for I think is unacceptable. I can understand the Toad rallies not working but I don't understand the regular campaign not working as well without service.
                                                   I don't think this is worth $10

I think this is a fun enjoyable game that is ridiculously overpriced. To put it in perspective, you can get Rayman Jungle Run and Rayman Fiesta Run together for $5 which offer two great games in the same style as Mario with a lot more value. If Nintendo brings the price down, this would be a great purchase but until then, try out the free portion of the game and wait for a price drop.

Score 5.5/10

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Black History in Video Games: Eleanor “Ellie” Ross Crawley

Welcome to another edition of Black History in Video Games and I have the privilege of presenting producer and PMP, Eleanor “Ellie” Ross Crawley!  Now today’s video game notable won’t be as extensive compared to the last few but it doesn’t mean her work and history isn’t imperative. While Crawley’s viewpoint in industry could be one of intrigue, perhaps that’s something for a later time. I’d like to focus on her career, from humble beginnings to influencing overall game development. Presidents and CEOs are fascinating to learn about, we cannot forget about those who work tirelessly under their guidance to ensure gamers receive an excellent and complete product.

Yup, the saviors of Atari...whodathunk?
In 1995, when presented the opportunity to playtest for Magic: The Gathering video game, Ellie Ross Crawley agreed and opened the gateway to her video game career spanning twenty years and counting. Initially, as  a play tester for Infogrames Interactive (previously Hasbro Interactive), her duty was not only to play the games in development but to also discover any bugs or design flaws the game designers may have overlooked. After dedicating over seven years of work she became the Senior Lead Quality Assurance (QA) Technician working on other popular titles such as M1 Tank Platoon, Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim, MechWarrior 3: Pirate's Moon,  X-COM: Enforcer & X-COM: Interceptor, just to name a few. She left in 2002 a few years before Infogrames acquired and merged into the Atari brand.

What a friendly bunch we have here.
Crawley then transitioned toward the financial period of her career working with Brown Capital Management, a Maryland-based, Black-owned and operated investment management firm as the Senior Executive Administrative assistant offering marketing support to the directors and researching market risk analysis. But it wasn’t too long until she returned back into the QA testing world when she joined Electronic Arts’ (EA) Mythic Entertainment and was promoted to associate development manager in less than year. In this role her responsibilities grew greater; now she was managing Intellectual Property (IP) agreement phases, collaborating and communicating with teams in creating art assets and working with executive management to reduce cost-inflating risks. Crawley employed her experience through mentorship and management, facilitating the art team to exceed their goals. Having the well-received and award-winning Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was also an impressive mark on her resume and accelerating her career on the road of success.

Ellie makes sure you're having an awesome time online!
Earning yet another promotion, Crawley proceeded into the role of Quality Assurance Supervisor for ZeniMax Online Studios – a studio concentrating specifically on the framework of massively multiplayer online games, where she assembled the QA Functionality group herself and was accountable for the creation and administration of over thirty testers. Her success streak continued once again advancing into QA Manager, exercising her knowledge and expertise to cultivate the future leaders of the company. As of August 2016, Crawley flourished even more, now having robust control and direction as a producer at ZeniMax Online Studios. The company's latest project is Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) since 2014, the massively-multiplayer-online-role-playing spin-off to the much revered action RPG series, The Elder Scrolls.

"One for all and all for one!"...I think that's their slogan hmm..
What I loved most about exploring the career of Ellie Ross Crawley was observing the growth. Hard work and growth. Here before us is an intelligent black woman with a Master’s in Business Administration Management and certified as a Project Manager Professional (PMP). She ascended the corporate ladder, starting from testing games for bugs to now negotiating contracts and licenses for games. Crawley’s proof that consistency and persistence is the fuel for achievement. Her work doesn’t stop there, for the last 8 years, Crawley has volunteered as a board member of the Internal Game Developers Association (IGDA) discussing, visualizing and maintaining the betterment of the video game industry. A 2015 survey conducted by the IGDA highlights the recent industry demographics; black/African-Americans respondents only made up 3% of the video game development population. Compare that to the tremendous amount of men in the industry at 75% and you can easily see what spectrum women of color fall into.

In a brief interview with IGDA Women in Games (WIG) Special Interest Group (SIG), Crawley expressed her love and adoration for her almost quarter-century career describing the challenging excitement and fluidity of working in the industry of video games. There’s one quote I particularly enjoyed and I felt it was appropriate to end this article with, especially for anyone interested in a video game related career:

“The gaming industry is competitive, challenging and captivating. Breaking into the industry can be difficult depending upon what you want to do. If your goal and dream is to be a part of the industry, learn what you need to do to enter the industry, adjust your goals to match your current skill set and learn what you need in order to advance towards the position you want. Then do it!”
-          PMP, Eleanor “Ellie” Ross Crawley

An inspiration to those looking break into the industry.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Top 6 Best Games for Valentine's Day

It's that time of the year again where everyone goes all out to prove how much they love their significant other - yes, it's Valentine's Day. Whether an extravagant gift or simply a thoughtful gesture, today is the day to show how much you care and one of the best ways is spending time with each other. But what if you're not into all those cliché customs like fancy restaurants, romantic trips and expensive gifts? If plopping down on a couch (or maybe the bed - wink, wink) with a controller in hand and playing till your heart's content is your definition of romantic, well here's a list of games you can enjoy with your loved one! It's time to make your boo your player two! (sorry too much daytime television)

New Super Mario Bros. U & Luigi U/ Super Mario 3D World
Nintendo Wii U

In this game you can decide who's on top...
or do it from the side (scrolling)

Super Mario is a series that needs no introduction and even though these two games are different they retain Nintendo's trademark quality and charm. Perfect if you’re looking for nostalgic gameplay dressed with modern day trappings. Easy to pick up and play with fair and fun gameplay, this will have your hands glued to the controllers.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze
Nintendo Wii U
You guys will go bananas for this game! Get it??
If you and gamer bae are itching for a 2D platformer with a little more challenge, Tropical Freeze is right up your ally. Using Donkey Kong, your player two can select three other characters with their unique ability to barrel blast, mine cart and zip line your way to victory.

Rayman Legends
Xbox 360/ PS3/ Xbox One/ PS4/ Wii U/ PC/ Switch/ Vita
These guys rock.
Ported to most consoles within the last two generations, Rayman Legends is one of the best platforming adventure games you'll play. With its visually distinctive art and presentation, Rayman is a pleasurable romp you both will enjoy.

Gears of Wars 4/Gears of War Ultimate Edition
Xbox One/PC

I don't care what anyone says, this is romantic!

Okay, maybe the charm and fun of platformers don’t tickle your fancy but if snuggling together while tearing enemies apart with Lancers makes you smile with joy, look no further than Gears of War 4. Not straying far from its infamous gameplay, you and your player two boo will have fun with this third-person action shooter. If you loved Gears, you’ll enjoy Gears 4 and if you’re new it’s worth trying out. Not digging the new entry? There’s always the Ultimate Edition letting you relive Gears 1-3.

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection
PS4/Xbox One
It's also four player couch co-op, if you're into that kind of thing.

Looking for a shooter that’s just a tad bit less gory and has a brighter color palette? This Borderlands compilation is for you! Containing Borderlands The Pre-sequel and Borderlands 2, this first-person shooter contains an expansive adventure as you traverse different lands and meet new allies while putting a stop to Handsome Jack. You’ll be looting and shooting all night long.

How it starts out...

and then the usual mayhem!
Do you guys have nostalgia for action stars from 80’s – early 00’s? Well have I got a game for you two! This side-scrolling shoot-em-up delivers nonstop pixelated action and some interesting challenges. Have fun laying waste to armies of soldiers while you and your loved one laugh hysterically at all the “bro-ization” of your favorite action stars and characters.