DMA Central


Video Game Design

Still Playing with Power

The video-game business is a massive industry, and while getting into the biz can seem impossible, you don’t have to be a game designer to work in video games. Take, for example, Chris Slate–the former Editor-in-Chief of “Nintendo Power” magazine.

Former “Nintendo Power” Editor-in-Chief Chris Slate in his home office. (Note the signed Super Mario NES cartridge on the wall, autographed by none other than Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto.) Chris currently is the EIC for “Mac Life.”

Chris works at Future Publishing, based in South San Francisco–a publishing company that has long been associated with the video game business. In fact, they’ve been publishing game magazines since 1985. Future currently publishes the “Official Xbox Magazine” and “PC Gamer,” along with other popular titles, and also runs the video-game website GamesRadar.

This month Future is publishing the very last issue of “Nintendo Power.” The magazine, started in 1988, was published  by Nintendo until Future acquired the rights to publish the magazine in 2007. For fans of of the magazine, the end of “Nintendo Power” is bittersweet.

At DMA Central, we still love magazines and were huge “Nintendo Power” fans, but like most people, we find ourselves spending more and more time on the Web. We recently caught up with Chris to find out what it’s like to work alongside Mario and how you can get into the game industry just by being crazy about games.

How did you get into the games industry?
When I was 16 years old, I bought Issue Two of “Game Player’s” magazine, which was the only video-game magazine for sale at newsstands back then. I was ecstatic to find a magazine that was just about games, since I spent all of my time playing my NES.

In that issue there was a profile of a “Game Player’s” “game tester” named Jonathan Gagnon, who helped the magazine’s writers by playing the games and taking screenshots. His profile mentioned that he went to college in the town I lived in. Since “Game Player’s” was close by, I wrote them a letter hoping that I could join up as a game tester, too. Today that kind of job would likely go to an intern, but since interns weren’t used back then, they brought me in for a summer job and I got to stick around after that.

So you’re a gamer first? 
Yeah, I’ve always spent most of my time playing games, which has made all the years I’ve spent working on game magazines dream jobs. Being paid to play and write about games? And getting to go to video-game trade shows, and get games for free? What’s better than that?

In addition to your time at “Game Players,” you were also the EIC for a very popular PlayStation magazine called “PSM.” Those were pretty awesome magazines. What memories could you share from those experiences?
Geez, there’s so many. Going to E3…meeting my heroes in game development…getting to play big games before anyone else. For a gamer, it was a really charmed life. But the work of simply making the magazines was very memorable, too. I love working in print. I love the process, the edit teams, the camaraderie, even the late nights.

When Super Mario 64 first came into the office, a few of my coworkers and I stayed at work overnight playing it, because we just couldn’t put it down until we’d beaten it. I remember meeting celebrities like director John Singleton at E3 parties on Sony’s movie backlots. Getting to work with the best comic book artists (comics were always my other passion) on covers for “PSM.” I’ve been really fortunate to have had so many amazing opportunities.

One specific memory that comes to mind: “Game Player’s”—or as it was later known, “Ultra Game Players”—was a pretty by-the-book game magazine when I got the opportunity to become editor-in-chief. While working on one of my first couple of issues as EIC, I was looking for letters to go into the letters section and Bill Donohue, the managing editor, showed me a drawer where he kept all of the reader mail that had been too nutty to consider running. Those letters were hilarious, and Bill and I decided to put them all in. The magazine really changed after that and the new, crazy approach really clicked with readers.

How did you get the job as “Nintendo Power” EIC?
When Nintendo chose Future to take over publication of the magazine, I was already on hand as an experienced editor-in-chief and lifelong Nintendo fanatic. It literally was my dream job—I’d read “Nintendo Power” like crazy when I was an NES-loving kid—and my publisher knew it, so I didn’t even have to lobby for the position.

How long were you EIC for “NP”? 
For around five years. After that I took on another project at Future and wasn’t very involved with “NP,” while the executive editor, Steve Thomason, did the heavy lifting and eventually took over as EIC. I really miss working on the magazine. I was thrilled to come back and contribute a little to the final issue.

The staff of “NP” paid homage to the very first issue (on the left) with the the final cover.

How did you determine what goes on the cover of a magazine?
When choosing a cover topic (usually a single big game), we first look at the games coming out within the next several months, because not many people will buy a magazine with a cover based on a game that’s already available—if they were interested in the game, they’d just buy or rent it. Out of those upcoming games, we look for a title that the widest possible audience will care about, for which we can also support with a compelling article (usually this means getting exclusive info, screens, etc.).

We always keep the unique tastes of our readership in mind. On “Nintendo Power,” for instance, putting a Mario or Zelda game on the cover was a no-brainer because those franchises were so widely beloved in the Nintendo community. But when we risked going with a cover game that felt far removed from how most fans think of Nintendo—like our covers for the Wii console versions of “Silent Hill,” “Avatar,” and “Indiana Jones”—we didn’t do so well. We would sometimes put a not-so-well-known game on a cover because we really believed in it and wanted to make sure players didn’t overlook it, but that challenged us to present it in a creative way to make sure people took notice.

What is your favorite Nintendo system? Why?
I’d pick the NES for pure nostalgia, and maybe the Wii U for modern gaming goodness. The latter has only just come out and hasn’t yet had time to build a legendary game library, but I really love the functionality and I think we’re going to see some amazing stuff on it.

I’d pick the Nintendo 3DS system as my top handheld, since pretty much every one of Nintendo’s portable systems is better than the one before it. And although that system is still relatively new, there are at least a handful of true triple-A first-party classics on it already.

What was your favorite game?
That’s so difficult to answer. I usually say “Super Mario World.” My favorite series is definitely “Super Mario,” followed closely by “The Legend of Zelda.” Outside of Nintendo games, I’ve always dug the “Metal Gear” series. “Uncharted” and “God of War” are also favorites.

Why are Nintendo fans so…committed?
First and foremost, Nintendo has consistently made great, history-making games for over two decades, and those games have always been exclusive to Nintendo platforms. It’s been a much more consistent and inclusive evolution. Nintendo games also tend to have a lot in common, since they share the same development teams and are built from the same philosophies. You can easily identify what would and wouldn’t fit with the Nintendo brand.

On the other hand, Xbox—and to a somewhat lesser extent, PlayStation—have been more of the gaming equivalent of the VCRs that play the movies. Each has quality exclusives, but these systems/communities were primarily built on cross-platform games, which waters down their brands a little. I’m not saying that it’s inherently better to focus more on first-party or on third-party software, but I think that Nintendo gaming is clearly defined by the unique importance of its first-party titles and brands.

Any crazy deadline crunches you remember?
The worst deadline crunches I ever faced came within the first couple years of doing “Nintendo Power.” After pretty much not sleeping during the production of our first two issues, I had honestly gotten to the point where, for the first time ever, I thought that maybe the job wasn’t the best thing in the world.

During that stretch I missed my daughter’s first Halloween night of trick-or-treating. But by our third and fourth issues we got into a better groove, and even as our last-minute crunches continued, we were mostly having a blast.

“My favorite series is definitely ‘Super Mario,’ followed closely by ‘The Legend of Zelda’.”

How about a brush with greatness? Ever meet Miyamoto? What was he like?
I’ve gotten to meet a lot of great game developers. I had dinner with Tomonobu Itagaki in Japan when he was first conceptualizing what the new “Ninja Gaiden” series would be like, and I got to hear him toss around ideas before full development had begun, which was a real treat. I ate steaks with Hideo Kojima (creator of the “Metal Gear Solid” series) and got to pelt him with questions about the “Metal Gear” series the whole time. Afterward we went and sang karaoke.

But I was never as starstruck as the times I met Shigeru Miyamoto. Like so many other people, it was his games that made me a gamer in the first place, going all the way back to “Donkey Kong.” I first got to say a quick hello to him during my first trip to Japan, at a reception following the unveiling of the Nintendo 64.

Through the years I would bump into him from time to time, I got to do a couple of interviews, and once I got up the courage to ask him to sign the copy of “Super Mario Bros.” that had turned me into a gamer back when I was a kid, and he happily obliged. That cartridge hangs on a wall in my office at home, right over my computer.

What advice would you give people who want to get into the gaming press?
For me, it was a total fluke. The Internet wasn’t going yet, and the country’s only video-game magazine happened to be published out of my hometown. But today it’s so much easier. If you want to write about games…just write about games! Start a website, start a blog, jump on Twitter, or join up with someone who’s already doing it. It’s important to really commit, to not only produce good work, but to produce work consistently.

You can’t build an audience or earn relationships with game companies with a halfhearted approach. And since there’s a lot of competition out there, you have to be creative; find an editorial angle or approach that has unique value. You don’t necessarily need an all-encompassing website with a reviews section, news section, etc. Take, for example, the Zero Punctuation video reviews or the Angry Video Game Nerd comedy short films.

When I started, a magazine or newsletter was the only way to build a community, but now the options seem endless. Explore them all and find your niche.

You’ve been a Nintendo and “Nintendo Power” fan from way back. From a fan’s perspective how sad are you to see the magazine retired? 
Super sad. But ya know, all good things must come to an end. I’d have loved to work on “Nintendo Power” forever, and as a fan, I’d have loved to subscribe to it forever. But the fact is that times have changed quite a bit since the magazine launched over two decades ago. Back then, “Nintendo Power” was basically the Internet for Nintendo fans—it was our only way to feel connected and learn about new games. But today there are so many other ways to achieve what “NP” set out to do.

Chris and Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime broke the bad news through a personal letter to Nintendo subscribers.

Nintendo does a great job building websites around its games, and they’ve been kicking butt on social media lately. The Nintendo word is getting out in a big way. And Miiverse—the social network built into the Wii U console’s operating system—offers a fantastic way to connect with folks and talk Nintendo right there on your system. I think there was still good value in “Nintendo Power,” but there are a lot of great initiatives ready to fill the void and take what “Nintendo Power” started to whole new levels.

Thanks for the interview, Chris!
If you’re interested in getting into the games business, why not get started now? Attend a tech camp next summer and learn how to design video games, or become an artist and learn how to make a magazine. As Chris points out, there are more options than ever before for people who want to get into gaming and media.

The last issue of “Nintendo Power” is on newsstands now.


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Biggest & Best Games of E3 2012

It’s Day 2 of E3 2012, and the L.A. Convention Center is jumping with software companies trying to one-up each other. We’ve been wowed by a few titles already and still have lots more to see, but let’s take a look at some of the titles everyone’s talking about:

“Star Wars 1313”

Publisher/Developer: LucasArts
System: PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: 11/12

Why We Want to Play It: Star Wars 1313” is a gamers game—complete with M rating—and the first serious “Star Wars” game in a long time. (Yes, we enjoy the “LEGO Star Wars” games but we also love nail-biting action.) The game, which is primarily a shooter, takes place between the franchise’s trilogies, and is set in the Imperial capital of Coruscant (on Level 1313).

You’re a bounty hunter, fighting your way through an underworld full of criminals—both human and droid. With the environments, elements and settings “Star Wars” fans love, “Star Wars 1313” brings together talents from LucasArts, Industrial Light and Magic, Lucasfilm Animation and Skywalker Sound to produce what looks to be a truly next-generation gaming experience.

“Gears of War: Judgment”

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft/People Can Fly
System: PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: TBD

Why We Want to Play It: If you’ve played “Gears of War,” you already understand the importance of Emergence Day—a key event in the “Gears of War” universe. That said, “Gears of War: Judgment” takes place just after Emergence Day, making the game a prequel of sorts. The developer promises new multiplayer experiences for Kilo Squad, as it engages in heavy combat with Halvo Bay hanging in the balance. Lock and load, gamers!

“Assassin’s Creed III”

Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal
System: PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: 10/30/12

Why We Want to Play It: A new hero takes the lead in “Assassin’s Creed III.” Part Native American and English, Connor fights in the war between the Assassins and Templars. This gameplay is amazing, and the overall experience more of what you expect from an already phenomenal franchise. It’s also set during the American Revolution, which makes it additionally appealing.

“The Last of Us”

Publisher/Developer: Sony Computer Entertainment/Naughty Dog Software
System: PS3
Release Date: TBD

Why We Want to Play It: From the guys that brought us “Uncharted” comes a survival game to end all survival games. Meet Joel and Ellie, a pair of mismatched traveling companions trying to make their way across the good old U.S. of A. The only problem is that America as we know it is gone, decimated by a fungus-spread plague that more-or-less creates zombies as it sows death and destruction everywhere. “The Last of Us” is one of the few shining stars Sony has at the show, so expect to see and hear a lot more about it in the months ahead.

“Call of Duty: Black Ops 2”

Publisher/Developer: Activision/Treyarch
System: PS3, Xbox 360

Release Date: 11/13/12
Why We Want to Play It: Want to see a brutal yet entirely possible vision of our near-future? Look no further than the latest “Call of Duty.” Most of the action takes place in 2025, with gamers playing as David Mason (son of Black Ops hero Alex Mason).


Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal
System: Nintendo Wii U 
Release Date: TBD

Why We Want to Play It: Originally the game was going to be titled “Killer Freaks from Outer Space.” Ubisoft says that this entry into the survival-horror shooter game space will take extensive advantage of the Nintendo Wii UTM GamePad, which will contain the player’s “Bug Out Bag” (or BOB), a backpack with all the maps, tools, weapons and supplies needed to survive.

“Halo 4”

Publisher/Developer: Microsoft Game Studios/343 Industries
System: Xbox 360
Release Date: 11/6/12

Why We Want to Play It: Space Opera. Master Chief. Questions? Seriously, it’s no surprise that this game’s already generating loads of buzz, given the franchise’s enormous popularity. Master Chief is back in “Halo 4,” and this time there’s a new multiplayer mode (“Halo Infinity Multiplayer”) centered around the UNSC Infinity, a mega-starship.

“Tomb Raider”

Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Crystal Dynamics
System: PS3, Xbox 360

Release Date: 3/5/13
Why We Want to Play It: Lara’s back and she’s ready to reveal more about her mysterious origins and how she became a tomb raider. This franchise reboot will mix origin elements (a la “Batman Begins”) with the amazing physics of “Half-Life 2” and the rich environments of “Uncharted.” In addition, video game fanatics can expect to be challenged with finding special artifacts and items that help Lara make a “core discovery.”

“Splinter Cell Blacklist”

Publisher/Developer: Ubisoft/Ubisoft Toronto
System: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Release Date: Spring 2013

Why We Want to Play It: Sam Fisher returns in the third-person actioner that’s as hard as nails. Beware the Blacklist—a terrorist faction dedicated to weakening and bringing down the United States through a variety of covert attacks. That’s the enemy gamers will face in “Splinter Cell Blacklist,” the latest update to the Tom Clancy “Splinter Cell” series.

The Greatest (Video Game) Show on Earth!
E3 is the main event of the video game year and that’s why we’re devoting special editorial coverage to it this week. Check back tomorrow for more about the trends and titles that will be keeping gamers busy during the next year. Whether you’re a gamer or someone interested in learning how to make video games, we’ve got E3 covered.


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E3 2012 Announcements & Surprises

This week, the 18th annual E3 is taking place in Los Angeles. Started in 1995 (because video game companies felt lost among the massive Consumer Electronics Show, or CES) E3 has developed into a showcase for gamers and game developers alike.

Video game journalists and fans from across the globe descend on the halls of the LA Convention Center.

This week we’re covering the announcements and surprises that come out of the show – and the games you’ll be playing in the months ahead. Let’s start our coverage with a look at what trends we’re seeing coming out of the show at the end of Day One:

Trend: The Death of the Handheld
Why You Should Care: Gaming on the go will never be the same.

This E3 could be known as the “last roundup” for handheld game devices, although Nintendo will likely remain in the arena it helped build (with its Game Boy). Still, Nintendo hasn’t been able to find much support for its Nintendo DS device, just as Sony has struggled to find an audience for its PS Vita handheld. So what’s responsible for the rapid decline of this game niche? That’s right—the massive success of smartphones and tablet devices, which are now leading mobile gaming.

Trend: Xbox Becomes More Integrated with Your TV
Why You Should Care: Microsoft is light years ahead of Apple and Sony and on a track to be a full-service media provider.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 is dominating Day One and Microsoft wants to go a step further – and dominate your living room. To that end, Microsoft is continuing to use the Xbox as a type of “Trojan horse” to gain more access to your living room. This includes new music and video services being served up by – you guessed it – the Xbox.

“Star Wars 1313″ was one of the major titles announced at E3 2012. 

Trend: Reviving and Reconnecting “Star Wars” Fans with “Star Wars 1313”
Why You Should Care: It’s the first serious gamers “Star Wars” game in years.

While fans are still taking in the recent announcement that George Lucas is retiring from filmmaking (at least from big-budget movies), the game company he inspired is gearing up for a comeback. LucasArts hasn’t introduced a new title in almost two years, so expectations are already running high for “Star Wars 1313,” in which a bounty hunter makes his way through “a ruthless criminal underground.” (Think “Mass Effect” meets “L.A. Noire.”) The big difference around this time is the targeted audience; whereas most “Star Wars” games are marketed to younger gamers, “Star Wars 1313” will aim to strike a chord with older players; the game is already touting an “M” rating.

Trend: Blockbuster Sequels/Kinect
Why You Should Care: Motion games and sequels continue to drive the industry — and that’s not necessarily a good thing…

The Kinect system keeps charging ahead, and so do new titles that support it. Games announced at E3 that support Kinect include “Madden NFL 13” and “FIFA 13.”  “Halo,” “Gears of War” and “Forza”—each of which has been a certified Xbox smash—all have sequels announced at this E3. It means more mass-market games and less indie titles, although we must confess, we’re drooling over “Halo 4,” which is slated for a November release.

Trend: Saving Sony
Why You Should Care: Gamers are a passionate bunch who don’t easily forget.

At this year’s event, Sony will be trying to soothe the tempers of gamers still fuming over network hacks and botched system launches…cough, PS Vita. Sure there are some stellar titles on PS3, but gamers haven’t been bowled over by Sony’s corporate missteps and the company needs to work hard to mend relationships with its audience.

Stay Tuned!
As industry events go, E3 has something for everybody, from those who play games to those want to learn how to make video games. Check back in with us this week, as we present special editorial coverage of E3 2012.


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The Next Xbox at E3 2012? Introducing Xbox 720

Microsoft may unveil its next, next-gen console at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles next month. While Microsoft hasn’t officially announced the system yet, industry insiders point to a few reasons why gamers should look out for the machine.

An artist’s concept of the Xbox 720. 

The Future of the Xbox
According to a source with ties to Flextronics in Austin, Texas, Microsoft’s next generation console is already in production. (Flextronics is the company that manufactures the current Xbox 360 and other devices for Microsoft.)

For gamers the next questions are “What features will the machine have?” and “When will it be available?” As far as features go, insiders say the machine will NOT have a Blu-ray player, but will have double the processing power of the current Xbox (hence the 720). Why no Blu-ray? Simple. In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s a digital-download world: Blu-ray as a format is dying (just compare the prices of Blu-rays against what they were a year ago). Plus, the Xbox 360 already serves up movies (via Netflix) and Microsoft doesn’t plan to add Sony technology to its console anytime in the future.

It’s also been rumored, the Xbox 720 (which hasn’t officially been announced, so it has no release date) will also integrate Kinect and user control in a bold new way. No surprise there, since progressive game design is an Xbox mandate.

Microsoft bought product placement in the movie “Real Steel” to promote two products – its search engine and another product – the unannounced Xbox 720. Hmmm…

Next Gen is In
The current next-gen systems are beyond their life cycle; in the past, new consoles would have already been introduced. But Nintendo was late in introducing the Wii and thanks to motion controllers like Kinect and PlayStation Move, Microsoft and Sony have found a way to extend the lives of their current consoles. (Nintendo has said it will release a new console this year: the Wii U.)

The Xbox 360 is still the best-selling video game console. So it’s no surprise that Xbox 360 game development is still big business, even though sales are down. How big? As of the first of the year, video games are a $1.06 billion dollar business. Industry analysts have cited that Microsoft may try to support both the 360 and 720 for a period. Now that’s smart business.


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Nintendo Video Game Legend Miyamoto to Retire?

He’s the creator of some of the greatest video games of all time – maybe Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda ring a bell? His name is Shigeru Miyamoto and he’s been a Nintendo video game designer since 1980 – and rumors are he is retiring.

Video game royalty: Shigeru Miyamoto is the creator of Mario, Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda. 

In an interview yesterday when Miyamoto visited Wired offices in San-Francisco, the 59-year-old head of Nintendo’s game design department said through an interpreter, ”I’m going to retire, I’m not saying that I’m going to retire from game development altogether. What I mean by retiring is, retiring from my current position. What I really want to do is be in the forefront of game development once again myself. Probably working on a smaller project with even younger developers. Or I might be interested in making something that I can make myself, by myself. Something really small.”

Whew. The excerpt of the interview which will be published next week caused an uproar and Nintendo quickly responding to clarify he was just retiring from his current position.

Creating Character
Shigeru Miyamoto is probably best known for Mario, the plucky little plumber that re-launched the game industry after Atari’s fall in the early 1980′s. But Mario was not Miyamoto’s first big game. That was the 1981 video game classic, Donkey Kong. In the game, a carpenter climbed a series of platforms to save his best girl as a gorilla hurled barrels at him.

The evolution of Mario (click the graphic above for a larger image). 

That carpenter, originally called Jumpman, inspired Super Mario Bros. Miyamoto was trying to create a game that featured Popeye characters but was unable to secure the license. “Mr. Video” as he was called became Mario when Nintendo of America’s warehouse employees needed to pacify their landlord Mario Segale for back rent.

Mario got his trademark mustache because in his 8-bit pixelated design, his mouth looked like a mustache.

Focus on Game Development
Miyamoto, is generally respected as the world’s most influential and creative video game designer. And while the man who is responsible for the Wii Fit as well as many of the cutting-edge Wii features, he’s seems more than eager to work on new ideas with a smaller and younger staff.

A career in game development can be very lucrative. Many young people are focusing on game and character design as viable career – and follow in Miyamoto’s footsteps. Yes, playing and making video games can pay your bills – Miyamoto’s net worth is estimated at around $40 million.’s full interview with Miyamoto, including his thoughts on 3-D & mobile gaming, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and developing Mario Kart 7 using a Western development will be published by Wired next week.


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Xbox LIVE Update Makes Kinect “The Future of TV”

Earlier this week Microsoft rolled out an Xbox LIVE update that as Microsoft puts it, will “transform every Xbox 360 into an all-in-one device to enjoy your entertainment.” It’s an amazing step by the Xbox maker to dominate not only the video game space but the future of TV too.

The future is here: Now you can control your television with your voice or a flick of the wrist.

Smart TV
Smart or Interactive TV’s are the future of home entertainment. Retailers already sell televisions that have Netflix, Pandora and other services built right in. Microsoft is taking that concept a step further for Xbox owners. With Xbox LIVE and a Kinect system the new update allows users to find television shows, channels or games simply by asking the Xbox for it. Microsoft uses the Bing search engine to find your content – think of as Siri for your television.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Microsoft is leading the way with Interactive TV, the Xbox was the first video game machine to offer Netflix. Since then Microsoft has added other apps like, Hulu Plus, ESPN and AT&T U-verse.

The Kinect system enables the user interface, and while it was initially introduced as a gaming device – Kinect has proven itself to be much more than a game accessory. How does it work? The Kinect uses a 3D video camera and voice recognition to enable users to play games – and all without a controller. See how it works with the new update in the video below:

Killer Content Provider 
Are you ready to design and build a next-generation game for the Xbox 360 yet? The Xbox platform is where it’s at. What others like Google and Apple aspire to do, Microsoft has already delivered – a single set top box that brings ALL your content together on one device, and allow you to access it naturally, with your voice. As one industry analyst put it, “This is the benchmark against which all other living room initiatives will be compared.”


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Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: the Best RPG Ever? (Review)

Game: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Rating: 5 out 5 stars
Price: $59.99

Have you heard of Skyrim? What is it? It’s only the hottest video game in the world and possibly the best role-playing game, ever. So what’s all the fuss about and why are gamers flocking to this fantasy actioneer?

Massive environments and jaw-dropping cinematic moments – that are all playable – are just two of the many reasons Skyrim is insanely amazing. 

Skyrim is the sequel to the 2006 Game of the Year, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. That game brought the RPG genre to brave new heights with a combination of non-linear gameplay and stunning graphics. The Elder Scrolls is an RPG series from Bethesda, and Oblivion was the most critically acclaimed game of the series. That is, it was until Skyrim came along.

Making an RPG Playable
RPGs have always occupied a firm niche in the game industry but they’ve never been embraced by mainstream audiences. Sure, there are the Final Fantasys and Legend of Zeldas, but Skyrim exists on an entirely different level. It elevates the genre and will help role-playing games gain even more popularity (and respect).

What makes Skyrim so popular (and frankly, good) is that it’s so accessible. Unlike traditional RPGs – in which players spend hours grinding away in dungeons slaughtering orcs for hit points, all the while trying to make sense of a complicated interface - Skyrim makes it easy for anyone to jump into the game and feel like they’re accomplishing something right off the bat. At the same time, the game doesn’t completely strip down the RPG elements.

What remains is a MASSIVE game that is just as enthralling as it is beautiful.

“Radiant Story”
Don’t want to follow a compass point to your next objective? No problem, Skyrim‘s wide-open world and non-linear gameplay leaves your path almost completely open-ended. Like most RPGs, the quests in Skyrim are a main component of gameplay. However, due to what Bethesda calls a “Radiant Story” system, quests adapt to a player’s performance and actions. This is where the game really shines. Not only are the quests perfectly woven into the overall story, but the freedom and the way the game…er, world…adapts to what you do truly makes this game way more than an RPG; it’s an interactive experience. And RPG makers should take notes, because this is the way to build a quest system.

Less cookie-cutter characters, a simplified magic system and dragons – we forgot to mention dragons – take an already great series over the top.   

This experience is driven by an engrossing and well written story, which happens to take place in one of the richest environments you’ve ever explored in a video game. Speaking of environments, Skyrim is more varied than Oblivion. The characters too are more diverse and when you’re interacting with them (which you’ll do for the hundreds of quests), you have more of a sense of belonging, of place.

The Sky’s the Limit
Considering this is the fifth game in the series, and that Bethesda has been working on this formula for years, including the recent Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim is game development at the peak of perfection. Like Oblivion, Skyrim has game content in spades beyond the main storyline; it will literally keep you busy for hundreds of hours. This is how to make an RPG. For that matter, it’s a blueprint for making a great game. Now, go to the store already and buy this game so you can begin your adventure. You won’t be disappointed.



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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments

Harrison Ford Plays Uncharted 3

He’s the world’s greatest adventurer, and he’ll go to the ends of the earth to find a hidden treasure or long-forgotten religious artifact. We’re talking about Drake, of course, from the Sony PlayStation 3 game Uncharted 3.

But another globe-trotting adventurer is making waves by putting Drake through his paces. His name is Harrison Ford and the actor is seen in this video playing a pre-release version of Uncharted 3.

Big in Japan
As you might imagine, Harrison Ford is a pretty big deal in Japan. The co-star of three Star Wars movies and the actor who immortalized a whip-wielding archaeologist named Indiana Jones, Ford is an even bigger star in Japan than he is in the U.S. And like most American film and television stars, Harrison Ford sells products in Japan – away from the eyes of watchful American fans who might look down upon him because he’s shilling video games.

Ford is playing and talking about the adventures of Drake – a modern day Indiana Jones – in the new Japanese commercial for Uncharted 3. It’s awesome to see Indiana Jones, er, Han Solo, with a PlayStation controller in his hand – and it makes us feel even better that he loves video games as much as we do. And like Ford, we are definitely looking forward to Uncharted 3, which releases on November 1st.

But this isn’t Ford’s first brush with video game fandom; he’s also made rounds on the Internet as video-game pop art, and part of the I am 8-bit exhibition:

Artist Brandon Bird created this piece called, “No One Wants to Play Sega with Harrison Ford.” The piece has been turned into t-shirts and limited edition poster prints. (Click the image for a larger view.)


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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments

Video Game Characters Come to Life in New PS3 Commercial

Snake from Metal Gear Solid…Nathan Drake from Uncharted…Kratos from God of War.  It’s a who’s-who of PlayStation gaming. In Sony’s new commercial for the PlayStation 3, an all-star cast of PS3 video-game characters get together in a pub, shoot the breeze and raise a toast “To Michael!” – the gamer that controls each of them and their adventures.

“To Michael!” 
What a bunch of characters: Ghost from Call of Duty, the guy from Infamous, Joe Mauer, Solid Snake, Kratos and Sweettooth all make real “live” appearances in the commercial. And look: Even Sackboy from Little Big Planet is here – and he’s playing chess!

Not a single frame of video play is ever shown, just live actors with spot-on likenesses to the characters they’re portraying. In fact, when watching the commercial and hearing the modern day Indiana Jones, Nathan “Nate” Drake talk about his adventures, we get excited thinking about a possible Uncharted film. And even more so when you consider that we might see Nathan Fillion playing Drake in the Uncharted movie.

Nathan Fillion from Castle has expressed his interest in playing Drake – that is, if the director wants him to.

Building Character(s)
Creating your own video game characters or any type of character, even for film and television, is no easy task. In the end, characters need to be interesting and intriguing. Sony’s PlayStation video-game console certainly hosts a motley crew of characters. And it’s awesome to finally see these characters that we’ve controlled all these years come to life outside the world of pixels and polygons.


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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments

Apple Patents Kinect-like Motion Control Device

Apple was recently awarded a patent for something that looks and feels a lot like Xbox’s Kinect. The 3D display and imaging technology is a system that Apple may place inside future devices.

This illustration from Apple’s patent application shows how the technology could be used. 

The technology registers the moves of the user and then translates those motions into a control scheme for a game or an app.

In Control
Apple’s motion control patent describes a projector and a receiver that utilize light beams to scan and recognize users’ movements. The Xbox Kinect also uses light beams to map out the space and user to establish a play field for Kinect games. And like the Kinect, the only input the Apple device requires is your body.

According to the patent, Apple’s technology also can be used to display holographic images. Three-dimensional holographic images are the holy grail of digital immersion. The uses for holographic technology could include gaming (such as flight sims or virtual reality applications) – like projecting a 3D model of a skeleton for a surgeon or a car for an engineer.

One day, you could use Apple’s holographic technology to update your Facebook page… 

Apple’s technology truly exceeds what Microsoft is doing with the Kinect and promises amazing experiences for whatever platform it may be used in. Imagine playing video games…Say a round of Angry Birds where you could reach into the game screen, pull out a bird and then throw it, like you might a real baseball at a target. The potential for the technology is mind-boggling.

…or rack up the high score on a round of Angry Birds.

Apple hasn’t made any announcements about the new technology or how it may be used. Apple files patents frequently and, for the most part, they are granted. One reason Apple pushes so hard on technology patents is because of Steve Jobs. Jobs made it Apple’s mission to constantly innovate. The motion control patent Apple recently received certainly does that. It will be extremely interesting to see how the technology might be used in app development. For now, we’ll just have to keep watching Minority Report and dreaming of the possibilities.


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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog,Video Game Design and have No Comments