A day in the life of a video games reviewer…

November 15, 2010

I joined the community Gamespot.com a few weeks back. During my time there I made a profile, talked to people, had some fun times, had some insults hurled at me too!

I experienced the forums, the customisation tools for my profile, took part in some contests and had some funny/interesting/annoying talks with gamers from all around the world.

I read many reviews and features, both professional and done by the amatuers of the community. I contributed some of my own too, and improved my writing style.

I helped out in the design and development of an XNA game. A small group of people from all over the world are developing it, and I was lucky to give my feedback and advice to help out. It really proved the concept of freelance, open source development done in people’s spare time can work. And of course, if it can work as a hobby it can work as a profession, which was interesting for me to see.

Here is a link to my full report, with a sample “Day In The Life Of A Video Games Reviewer”, enjoy!

MASSIVE

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LinkedIn!

November 13, 2010

My profile on LinkedIn

Have a look, hire me if you like 😉


QlikView!

November 13, 2010

While on co-op for Boston Scientific, I worked on a major project to show all the different plant metrics and data in a simple, easy to use interface that employees could access. Each metric had its own app, and the one I was working on was scrap and yield. We were developing these apps using QlikView.

An example of a QlikView App.

I worked away on this project for many weeks. Getting the data, loading into my app, and giving the user logical ways to organise and display this data was the main requirement. I had a basic knowledge of QlikView and was thus able to get most of the basic requirements myself. However, I had trouble implementing some of the more complex formulas and scripting, so I ended up working with QlikView consultants to finish it off.

This project was a massive change of pace from college! Gone was the casual atmosphere, working from my comfy apartment, getting friends to help me out. Instead, I was working from a cubicle in a huge office, working with and getting help from many different colleagues, and working to very important deadlines too. This was no academic exercise, this was a real project, with real requirements, costs and deadlines. This was a bit scary, but a fantastic experience to have! I also got some invaluable experience of business meetings, keeping in touch with the other employees working on the project, and keeping my manager informed of any problems I was having. I definitely feel more confident working with real business projects now, as opposed to my own private ones.


Zork!

November 13, 2010

Another project I completed in the course of my module was creating my own simplistic version of Zork, one of the first text based computer games. I used the programming language C++ to develop my game.

This was my first experience with the C++ language, and I felt somewhat “thrown in at the deep end”! Rather than my previous experience with simple Java programs all in the one class file, I now had a more complicated program with many classes and objects. This was difficult, but extremely fun and interesting to get used to. For the first time, I could see the benefits of Object Orientated Programming. By the end of the project I had a much better understanding of C++ and OOP.

Unlike many of my other projects, for this one I was alone rather than in a team. This presented some new advantages but also challenges. On the one hand, I didn’t need to communicate with other people or manage meeting up. I also didn’t have to worry about anyone else messing up and bringing down MY grade with THEIR incompetence. On the other hand, this meant all the work and responsability rested on my shoulders! While I found it a bit easier in terms of organisation and time management to be on my own, overall it’s better to have a team to help each other out and provide different perspectives.

My game turned out quite well, both in how it played and how it was programmed. It was both fun to play (in my view anyway!), and had some good programming going on in the background.


The Legend Of Patch Chango!

October 29, 2010

In 3rd year of college we had a fun module: “Computers Games Programming Tools And Techniques”. Our task for this module was to mod a proper, professionally developed computer game: The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. This was a really great change of pace from all the dry theories and simplistic sample programs we had been utilising til then. Now we would get to actually create our own original fully featured game, albeit within the limits of the Oblivion world and gameplay.

The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion

Our team of four used the Elder Scrolls Construction set to make our game.  We each did different aspects of the project. My first task was making up a storyline for our game. Oblivion is normally focused on pretty simple combat missions, so to change things I up I thought a murder mystery game might be fun. The storyline involved a city’s crimelord, Patch Chango, being murdered. The town guards, aka police, want to solve this crime, while Chango’s lieutenant and gang want revenge on the murderer. The player can choose which side to work with, and get a different story, set of missions and rewards based on who they help.

Will you help the noble soldiers or demonic criminals?

After coming up with the story, we each designed and implemented the locations, the missions, and the dialogue. I personally created the house of the crimelord, and had lots of fun creating a dark, evil place! Human hearts in the cupboards, dungeons, demonic artifacts, altars of black magic… Really got my imagination going! Then there was a lot of scripting to get the different missions done, and plenty of conversations to write, so the player could gain the information to solve the mystery.

A look at the Elder Scrolls Construction Set, used for creating this project.

Overall this was a very fun project, the opportunity to create my own characters and storyline, as well as do the more technical stuff, was very enjoyable. I did encounter some issues with some team members contributing much more than others, but overall it was a great project to work on.


Violent games…

October 6, 2010

A massive of amount of games released deal with the themes of violence and war. From epic strategy games where thousands of troops march across a huge battlefield, to shooters where the player controls a single combatant and must move through a level fighting off Nazis/monsters/aliens, to hack and slash games like Darksiders where the player’s own character is named “War”, one of the horsemen of the apocalypse, as a bitter battle between the Angels of Heaven and the Demons of Hell plays out, violence plays a huge part in gaming.

A standard game… Thousands of people about to die!

Many people from politicians, to lawyers, to priests, try to ban these violent games. On the surface, I can see their point, though I disagree with banning outright. These are brutally violent games, showing murder and assault, among other crimes, in extremely gory detail. It’s seems perfectly logical to me that there should be a genuine discussion on how restricted such games are. Obviously, no one wants their young child, sibling or cousin playing such inappropriate games.

However, a little bit of research usually reveals these people are generally clueless or have an ulterior motive. The politician I linked claimed a murderer was inspired by the game “Manhunt”, despite the police report clearly stating it was the VICTIM that owned the game. The lawyer was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for lawsuits “repetitive, frivolous and insulting to the integrity of the court”. The church in Manchester complained about the game “Resistance” encouraging real life gun crime in the city, despite the game being set in a fictional 1950’s Manchester overrun with aliens!

Defending humanity from monsters will clearly lead to kids shooting each other.

On the other hand, any time I see someone arguing that game violence is fine, their argument is usually “It’s only a game, get over it!”.  Well, to me this isn’t good enough. Since they are the ones making the claims about violent games, how about asking for evidence, for facts, for psychological studies, for anything other than last-minute video game blame from murderers? At the same time, we should provide our own calm, logical arguments. For example, how much damage is done, and how many millions of people die every year from alcohol or tobacco abuse, yet there’s no talk of banning them? Society has gone through phases of demonising rap, heavy metal, violent movies, rock and roll, etc. Generally this talk comes from people who seem to know everything while proving nothing. Well, prove away!

Both sides, the one calling for games to burnt at the stake and the one smugly stating that games are all perfectly fine, need to shut up a bit, to be honest. I get the feeling there are a lot of moderate people who want to learn more and contribute, but just see idiotic extremists representing both sides of the argument and don’t bother getting involved.

For example, my mother used to hate me playing violent games and try to stop me. That didn’t end very well, I’d always find a way around. Eventually, she sat down and watched me play. She saw that I could play games such as Mario as easily as Mortal Kombat or Grand Theft Auto. I explained we play games for fun and enjoyment, and yes, a bloodily brutal action game can be great fun. But so can a happy game about jumping through colourful lands, aka Mario or Sonic.

No, this isn’t Mario or Sonic…

Just like any other medium, games vary wildly. Movies range from gory Saw to classic Citizen Kane to sappy romcom You’ve Got Mail. Music ranges from insane death metal about burning churches, to Mozart, to the freaking Jonas Brothers. And as for books, there’s probably more violence, rape and death in the Bible than in the average video game. Seriously, go read it. How about the fun part where God murders the entire planet except for Noah and his family on their boat?

So, I think it is extremely unfair for games to be singled out. Banning a game is hilarious to me. It’s saying it’s not suitable for adults. So, it’s your 18th birthday. To the government, you are old enough to buy a car and drive it. Buy a house and live in it. Work at a job. Pay taxes. Have sex. Get married. Have kids. Own a gun. Drink vodka. Smoke cigars. Play with a chainsaw. Vote for the very people who run the country. If we lived in USA or UK, we’d be old enough to join the army, go to Iraq/Afghanistan, shoot up some people, get our leg blown off by a mine, and be flown back home as a life long cripple. But not quite old enough to play a virtual simulation of these events

So, as unpleasant as my mother might find a bloody killing game like Manhunt, or how disgusted I might feel at the thoughts of a Japanese rape simulator, there is really no logical reason to ban them in my view. Restrict them by all means, to 18s and above. Ban ads, like they do for tobacco. Make retailers look for ID, sure. Educate people about the different levels of violence in games. Put parental controls on the consoles, as there already are on some. But please forget about banning, forget about these “crusades to save the children”, and stop with the lies and misinformation.

It’s time to accept that games are growing up, that millions of adults play them, that there will be bloody murder, hardcore sex, and other “shocking scenes” that have been present in other media for hundreds, if not thousands, of years! Protect the children by all means, but at the same time accept that we as adults can choose what we like ourselves, we don’t need the government choosing our entertainment for us, and we certainly don’t need everything reduced to a censored, bland, grey, politically correct mush, which offends no one and is enjoyed by no one!


My Ideal Job

October 1, 2010

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a games developer…

Back in the day, playing my first few games on the good old Super Nintendo, I was amazed at how much fun they were. But I was just as amazed when I finished my first game and the credits began to roll. Here was a list of people who got paid to make games! What was this madness and how could I sign up?

I would very much like to see my name here…

So, from the age of 6 or thereabouts, I had a dream of making games. The reality escaped me for a few years yet though. I certainly played many games but didn’t learn much about making them. All this changed when I got to college and began my course, Multimedia and Computer Games Development.

In this course, I have learned and created many things, from basic programming logic, to the syntax of several different languages such as Java and C++, to basic graphics programming, to making extensive mods to an existing game (The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), and now even to making my own (admittedly simple) games using Microsoft XNA Game Studio.

I have also been reading avidly. Both programming books such as “Microsoft XNA Game Studio 3.0“, and theory/design books like “Game Design: Theory and Practice” by Richard Rouse III. Richard was project lead, lead designer, and writer on a great game called “The Suffering” for the Playstation 2, so he is a very useful source of information on what the industry is really like.

The man knows what he is talking about!

From my time and experience in college, I have decided my ideal job would be as a designer/writer. The thing that really makes me smile is thinking up different gameplay ideas, mechanics, settings, stories, characters, controls, and so on. I think the potential of games is astronomical, and with the amount of power, the level of graphics, and the standard of online, physics and AI we have available at the moment, it seems like an incredibly exciting time to be a designer.

My only concern is that with how expensive games have gotten, with 100 million dollar budgets popping up more and more often, no one in their right mind will want to hire a designer that doesn’t have a list of hit games on their CV!

A fantastic, 100 million dollar game! That I didn’t make…

An alternative career path could be as a programmer. While I prefer the design side, I do enjoy writing code too. Attempting to solve a problem in the leanest, most efficient way possible is always fun. Hopefully if I don’t make it as a designer, becoming a programmer might be an easier path into the industry. Though again, I am not sure if a games company will want to hire someone with no experience making games.

With that in mind, I’m going to teach myself as much as possible. Whether it’s practising programming, reading books, modding existing games, making my own games in XNA, or just playing the Xbox 360 for hours with my friends, I’m going to keep improving my chances of one day fulfilling my dream and working in one of the biggest, most exciting, most creative industries in the world!