Category Archives: Featured

LA Games Conference 2014 Coverage (Part 1)

So I attended the LAGC 2014 conference this year, it’s been a favorite of mine for quite a while now but with the reduced schedule jammed into one day I wanted to see how it stacked up and what the panelists were bringing to the table.

For newbies to the event, LAGC covers a more business focused track of topics, from monetization models, current trends, state of the industry and where people are going next. It’s not a showcase of game demos and booth girls which is a relief. This year focused heavily on what’s next in the industries, addressing Free to Play and related models, tablets, user generated digital content and crossover challenges and branding.

Tons of large topics although while it might not deliver exactly what was expected it gives some insight to the other side of the table beyond PR and normal channels we interact with.

Next Big Thing in Gaming Panel

Kristian Segerstrale of Supercell, GluMobile and Playfish was on hand in the opening to discuss the next big things and where we might expect them. Topics covered the change of hardcore traditional and casual to midcore titles that brought a new audience (midcore) games like Hearthstone capture this market and it’s likely just the start of this new branch and player base. We’re watching genre’s bend and new changes take over as seen with the MOBA field that dominates the landscape.

When asked about team building and capital to get into these genre’s there was a pretty flat response, about 12-14 staff in development to try and produce a MOBA or RPG and $3-5 million in capital to back it with more post launch to support the new infrastructure especially if it takes off. Lesser is possible with teams using 8-12 members and $2-2.5 million but it will be more work.

The big transition the discussion leaned toward was driving a moba experience to a tablet but the issue is internal testing vs live testing and it seems at the moment Apple is hesitant to embrace allowing companies to run an open beta of an app to work on stress, bug hunting and other things normally discovered in a traditional product release these days. As the platforms for iOS are standardized there’s a huge potential to do something there and create that universal experience. Who does it though is in the air and the big stress was that given the worldwide adoption of these platforms, it could be from anywhere and investors can now digitally manage and observe those teams without having to bring them over, instead just reaching out can be sufficient and cost effective.

Monetizing Games through Free to Play

Universal agreement really hit this panel, F2P gaming is a challenge that hasn’t really found a formula yet. There are models but largely it depends on how you start your development, are you designing for monetization or are you adding it in later? Is the game using monetization for aesthetic growth or is there a pay to win design? All these factors are items to consider and depending on the analytics of the market targeted they may or may not work.

Focal points were making the game fun before focusing on the money, this doesn’t mean you ignore the features or implementation, it’s just not the primary view. Designing for pay to win is a bit of a falling star for many games (Maple Story) and that ideally, free and paid have equal perks to retain those users in the system for the long haul and can be beneficial depending on how micro transactions and ad development are used.

Ultimately the game once it reaches market needs to continue to adapt to the audience instead of trying to mold the audience to one model, Nexon notes that just about every version of Maple Story is different depending on the region, not only does the art and story adjust but even the monetization model. Ideally using proper analytics to study behavior there would be frictionless ad placements when the user is stumped or at an idle point in the game so there’s timed user interaction and exposure. The focal point is delivering an organic experience vs a poorly timed or executed delivery to the end-user.

As Free to Play expands the data is coming in for devs as they witness changes of 8-12% participation on transactions (in-game items) vs a growing 20%+ on consoles, a large factor attributed is the console users are invested in the hardware and likely to continue to invest to better their experience as they’re accustomed to a $60 game and a $300+ system just for this purpose. The big point here is frequency of that content fresh and story updates within the game, what events are being used, how are the ladders working, what is succeeding and is it being nurtured to encourage more.

On the mobile front this is a tougher area, social competition using leaderboards and push notifications getting them to challenge each other at the right moments depending on the usage patterns. Timed updates are essential to getting that return engagement though vs just sending it out there and having custom events that allow higher social interaction with the core team (GM’s, devs).

Evolution coming forward is a change in how these games continue to grow, with mobile there’s the push to see more real time gaming happen on iOS and Android, Fire Age and Clash of Clans taking notes from the PC market and driving higher interaction for more invested hours into the game and higher return rates. This won’t necessarily convert the 35 and above female market that King has reached out to capture but it can bring in fresh players. It’s unlikely we’ll see genuine casual to hardcore crossover but conversions from hardcore to midcore or casual are out there and happening.

More coming soon, stay tuned for part 2 later this weekend

Review – Chess 2 – A New Challenger Appears

Chess returns in Chess 2 the sequel on Ouya, while that might not sound exactly like a headline, it really is something to take notice of. This introduction on the Ouya brings new army types and skill challenges for captured pieces on the game. The mechanics are so detailed that I would suggest anyone skipping the tutorial to think twice as Ludeme Games packed it full of critical information for your survival.

With Chess 2 we see 5 new armies to the board, each pack their own strengths and abilities that make them dangerous on either side. To spend time learning things properly, many matches ran with the classic army and branched as I saw how the AI used the advantages of the other armies in each match. There are many things to learn, memorize and hone for each class, knowing the rules for a Reaper Queen versus a Nemesis Queen and all power pieces is just a slight example of how it all changed.

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From what I’ve experienced, there is a careful balance to these groups, knowing your strategy and seeing far enough ahead are the key points to success just as any regular Chess game. There’s no point where a specific army just sweeps in and goes “game over forever” as each boost has a side effect to balance the power in each match. There are so many more layers in Chess 2 that it’s actually crazy to start thinking about as this doesn’t begin to take into account the duels.

Yes duels are also available, when challenging to take a piece there are options to battle it out to keep your piece or face mutual obliteration for the space. There are a max of 6 stones to play for retention and while it’s possible to replace them, it’s a careful balance of when to play the challenge and when to let it go. Originally I doubled down every chance I had and realized slowly I needed to let go of a complete preservation strategy to survive. The mechanics behind a duel also include provisions for weaker pieces to invest a stone just to challenge a higher ranked piece so there’s not just chaos.

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Everything in Chess 2 has a place, the duel balances, the new armies and the general feel.  It’s aggressive but it may feel like it when forgetting what the opponents can actually muster up.  

Along with that, the musical score and graphical quality are impressive, the models are carefully crafted, solid resolution and smooth. The attention to mechanics is as important as the details in the game. There isn’t a ton to say here, animations are fluid and the focus is on the most important aspect, the game board.

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Those looking into some casual matches on their Ouya will find that and more in Chess 2, it’s a good challenge no matter how you play the game. The AI brings challenges and harnesses armies to bring new flavor and player improvement while allowing online opponents to bring their own strategies to the table with reasonable time limits on matches.

Game: http://ludemegames.com/chess2

Gunnar Optiks Long Term Review (Rocket)

No doubt in the coming week’s a wave of buzz about Gunnar’s will start to emerge while going into the holiday season. There’s a large marketing push to bridge the market and get buzz going about the style and appeal of the frames and help develop a larger culture around the product. No doubt this is a good thing, while reading it’s clear I do believe Gunnar produces a solid product but there are some things that come with the benefit of using them a year before writing thoughts.

Gunnar thrives on lightweight and sturdy construction, the Rocket frames I purchased last Fall have no actual adjustments available, everything sits firmly with machined slots and pins to prevent inevitable lost screws or broken hinge systems. It’s a relief for a product designed for people on the move and after a year of use, not a sign of wear has hit those parts. The ear comfort band has stayed in tact despite being worn practically everywhere I go, it’s a comfort when normally the paint on other frames will flake and expose the chemical process to the side of the head.

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Moving on from construction we hit the lenses, the infamous yellow and blue, does it work? Yes, it really does especially as contrast / brightness exposure from monitors increases, the ability to filter the light and concentrate for 15-20 hour days working on reviews and coding with 3 white screens filling the eyes for a year and come out with less headaches than just standard glasses is something I’ll always remember.

There are some shortcomings to the lenses though, the default non Rx lens has a love affair with smudging and smearing, on normal glasses one can use a microfiber cloth and just buff it away. The stock Gunnar lens attracts and clings to oils and smudges, if using multiple cloths owners can essentially have a cleaning cloth and a drying cloth to help resolve this but they are picky. At the time my model came with a white bag to store them in, it’s fine for stationary use but I’d never pack a travel or convention coverage bag in such a fashion, as such they do tend to attract dust more often than I’d like. In general the upkeep seems to be stronger with these versus a standard pair of glasses or sunglasses with all the coating techniques involved.

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The inevitable question is, do these improve game skills (what about my KDR bro)? If they’re prescription (Rx) I’m sure they would for obvious reasons, in standard play the biggest factor I can take away is a reduced fatigue on the eye when I really sit in with a game (anything over 30 minutes) in the day the impact isn’t as high but as the darkness sets in, it’s a massive factor. Contrast headaches are essentially absent and I’m able to lock in for as long of a period as I have available. There’s no magical skill increase or unlocked vision ability, it’s just better use of the eyeballs in a focused state for long periods that really drives it home for my experience.

I would suggest going through Gunnar if planning to invest in a prescription pair, I attempted to navigate my area for places to get lenses made and was quoted up to $580 for lenses and a basic Gunnar frame. Gunnar has an in-house system that essentially crushes the competition in pricing and multiple quality tiers available. I have yet to make the upgrade but when I have a feeling my experience will continue to increase. With only a slight correction in my vision I’m able to still get a fairly sharp experience with the stock Gunnar model that has worked so far.

The final thoughts here are simple, the metal frames are a tool free design, they incorporate lightness and functionality over all else, the lenses take off the eye fatigue that leads to headaches induced by contrast. They work even when pulling insane hours to write code, articles, edit videos and do other tasks, as long as one is pushing forward the lenses will continue to do their job and guide the eyes to a safe landing. If it’s a case of being on the fence and looking at a stock pair but need a slight prescription, I suggest taking the plunge from the start so to avoid regrets while dealing with subtle blur issues later.

The Rocket frames took no physical damage during this year of use, the ear band stayed in tact without degrading and the only shortcoming was the front lens has taken a few scratches over the year of wear. As far as product wear goes, these have probably taken less damage than standard glasses of any level would, simply solid no matter where I wore them.

I’d like to thank Woot for having these during one of their sales, well worth the purchase and I would easily pick these up at a regular price rate in the future (Rx of course) when the time comes to replace my Rocket’s as they take up scratches here and there.

Black Ice – Cyberpunk FPS, Hacking, RPG begins a journey

Retro inspired games have a unique market, generally delivering 2D sprite based environments as a throwback to the early days of gaming. Black Ice goes in a different direction, instead focusing on the neon glow that haunted the 80’s with a dash of Tron inspired computer environments in a 3D world. It’s a game of hack and dash with RPG elements as players have to tackle difficult hacks to obtain crucial tech to advance and eventually take down the master system.

While it sounds potentially easy, it’s a mind boggling mess, shooting speed and ammo are based on available RAM (within the game world) cycle speed and other factors are crucial for survival. While it seems like a given to just beef up your memory and hacking  speed it’s not that easy, Black Ice provides an array of enemies including reaaally annoying spiders that slowly eat away at your soul / health. Normally I don’t care about insects of any level, suddenly I do and I can thank this game for that.

It’s not all trauma, the weapons are brilliant when you have the right stats, using a plasma cutter to mow through everything (yes everything) is magically rewarding given how swarms bite and chip away so often.

While words could go on forever about Black Ice in it’s early stages of development, I’ll leave it to the two current videos recorded to demonstrate what there is within. If you’d like to try Black Ice for yourself, head over to the website and grab the latest demo.

Preview – PAWS (Prime Alien Watch Squad)

Some days something just drops in your lap that you take a second look at, PAWS is one of those games, the cute and simple looking hex battle game allowing animals to go head to head against alien invaders with a minimalist battle system.

We’re using a demo build of where the game is at while they kick off their Kickstarter campaign. Needless to say it’s an easy game to get used to, it’s also an easy one to lose all your points on. Medals for behavior act as currency to summon extra hit points, satellite lasers and a full bombing run from aerial support, how they have the ability to do all this? I have no idea, in fact I would prefer not to know just so I can keep thinking that Squirrel is just a harmless fellow addicted to nuts.

The attack system is point and click with units holding certain class balances. Warriors / melee attackers have a wider net to reach across the board, although their damage points vary and critical strikes can fall short when you need them most. Range attackers have lower HP but they have a steady damage average. You also get the wildcard (turtle) who can hit multiple opponents as a melee but tends to ride on the low end of the HP scale.

It’s a game of balance and budgeting these cute animals, it’s easy to spam the bombing commands the lasers and juice up early in the game only to realize later the crucial moment of “oh… that’s why I had so many points to start with” as the aliens just reign hell by ganging up on your team.

Currently each map and opponent group are randomly selected while your team varies with its own challenges. Having double or triple medics seems great until you have to generate enough damage while keeping everyone alive to avoid a complete loss. It’s an interesting title that shows forethought into the generated levels and balance of the characters. While some later areas might initially feel impossible it’s just a situation where it requires players to apply themselves a little more.

PAWS is still in development and if this Beta is an indication of what to continue expecting then I’d say it’s a worthwhile Kickstarter project to check out and consider.