Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fun AND Social Commentary Together? Let me Introduce you to Dragon Commander!

That may seem like an oxymoron at the start of my title, but it can exist. I am doing this as a sort of response to this article by Todd Harper. I totally agree with what Todd says, and want to point out a game that achieves what, as he points out, the games industry at large thinks is impossible. So let me Introduce you to Divinity: Dragon Commander. Dragon Commander is from Larian Studios, and they make some really fun games. Nor do they take themselves too seriously. This is a company with a running gag about skeletons dying because they think too much about how they function (honest!) and uses this as a logo:

Larian Logo

“POP!” Honestly that sound effect plays.

So they seem to like to have a laugh. Dragon Commander is no different. The story is absolutely nuts. You are the Bastard Son of a Murdered King on a quest to reunite the lands using Steampunk Armies. Did I mention you were a Dragon with a Jet Pack? Well that too. It plays as a combination of Real Time Strategy and 4X elements, and some Role Playing Stuff too. You manage troops across a world map, moving them from place to place, building buildings on land you own and playing Cards to give yourself an advantage. When you meet enemy units a short battle occurs where you command units, capture building pads to build factories and what not and kill the other guys units and blow up his base. Also you can jump in as a Dragon and wreck the place, because that’s what a general who can turn into a Dragon should do. This loading screen sums it up nicely I think.

Dragon Commander

Not in game footage, but gives you the jist of it.

I’ll admit its a bit of an acquired taste, but boy is it fun! So lets get back to that social commentary stuff. As well as commanding units, you also have to deal with the politics of ruling a Kingdom, in a more in depth way than Fable 3 tried to do. After a couple of turns you will be given five advisers, representing the five races (as a Dragon, you represent Humans of course).

Five Advisors

From Left to Right: Undead – Religion, Elves – Nature, Dwarves – Family and Money, Lizards – Good of the People, Gnomes – Science and Exploding stuff

Every so often, one of the advisers will give you a proposal, and you can either approve it or deny it. You can talk to the advisers to find out their stance on the matter, and understand potential ramifications. Selecting something they don’t like will result in them not liking you as much, which can have pretty bad consequences when it comes to the battles. If a race does not like you, fighting in a region they live in will result in a lower unit cap, less possible resources and more difficult fights. It has real in game consequences, and I have found it hard to conquer he Undead regions as they hate my views.

It gets really political when you see some of the topics discussed. I had to vote on Same Sex Marriage Marriage (I voted yes), prevent the undead destroying an artists works because she was lesbian and their are hints of Gender Equality acts due to the General who used to be queen of her own Kingdom till the Dragon came along. Yet none of this detracts from the fun of the game, it actually can make it more fun. This bizarre world allows Larian to have a more light hearted approach. Of course the ultimate irony is that the game forces you to play a man and have a Hetero Sexual relationship. I’m not saying this makes it bad, just a little odd (although the relationship is forced regardless, no option to back out even if you argue, such are the trials of a Dragon king). What is perhaps a little more unfortunate is the sexualisation of much of the female cast. Fantasy games are rife with sexualised female characters, so nothing new their but I would have thought a little higher had they not fallen into that trap. I would still recommend this game, even if just to test out your political views.

Russian Anti-Gay Law is Now Affecting Games

The Sims 4

Not for Teenagers any more.

The Sims 4 has potentially been hit by Russia’s new Non-Tradition Relationships Law (Anti-Gay to anyone with some sense). The game is the first in the series to receive a Mature rating, at least in Russia. Those who enjoy the games (haven’t played since The Sims 2) will know The Sims usually fall into the early teens or even Everyone 10+ because for their fairly mild depiction of sex and lacking any real violence or drug use.

This is the reason it has been perceived that Russia has rated the game Mature for including same-sex relationships. The Sims has allowed same sex relationships since its creation, and even allowed same sex marriage for longer than some Governments, my own included! EA has also been classed as one of the best places to work as LGBT by the Human Rights Campaign (good luck finding it, I couldn’t and was just going by this BBC article).

So where does this come from? Well back in 2010 Russia passed a content law, 436-FZ or, “On Protection of Children from Information Harmful to Their Health and Development.” It was basically designed to prevent harmful content such as glorification of Drug use, suicide or child pornography. It led to the censoring of several websites and to be fair is really a good thing in my books. However 2013 saw an amendment that said  “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” is also not allowed. As such anyone under the age of eighteen can not be given information about these “non-traditional” relationships. As I said its been called the Anti-Gay Law because of this. Unfortunately this has meant that many Russian Teenagers  will be breaking the law if they try to buy a game that they used to buy with ease. Hopefully someday Russia will vote in an intelligent and forward thinking Government and remove their current one which is routed in their own agenda to become some kind of new Soviet Empire were their own people are scarred.

Sorry, got a little political there.

According to Nintendo, Gay relationships are “Social Commentary.” _ UPDATED

So was beginning to get a little stumped for what next and this little article fell into my lap. Unfortunately, and don’t hate me for this, but this may have actually slipped my radar if it wasn’t shown to me as I am not really a big Nintendo fan. However, this actually annoys me even though I would not have actually played the game.

Firstly, some ideas about the game. Tomodachi Life is billed as a life simulate game in which players can use their Miis (Nintendo’s avatars of players) to live out their life. Its tagline is “Your friends. Your drama. Your life.” However they need to add a bit on the end. Here you go “Your friends. Your drama. Your life. As long as you aren’t Gay (or Bi).” Its odd to exclude homosexual relationships, even if just for a Western port, mainly due to how much acceptance and recent strides are being made in some countries over same sex marriages. It would do more good than harm for their game and make less people lose out n in game experiences they may miss out on just because they want it to follow the slogan and be “Their friends. Their drama. Their life.”

This was the reasoning behind a attempt to convince Nintendo to rethink and add Homosexual relationships. The group, called Miiquality, was created by Tye Marini because he wants to marry his real word fiancee’s Mii. Is it too much to ask? He managed to gather a small following and even talked to various media outlets, but unfortunately Nintendo was not moved. They claimed that they  “never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of ‘Tomodachi Life,'” Of course, not including them is in itself a social commentary, and I believe Nintendo are on the wrong side of the line here. Before heading on I just want it to be known that Marini does not want a boycott, just more communication with Nintendo, however I say take whatever action you feel is justified (and legal).

I find it bizarre that Nintendo are not changing the game, when it could actually prove to better for a company which is beginning to struggle. They have been shown to be a little narrow minded, but if they mended their ways they may draw in even more customers. Sure, right wing nutjobs will accuse them of destroying the moral fiber of our children, but they are nutjobs remember. In fact, this may lead to better sales, just look at when Mass Effect was accused of allowing you to “rape” characters. All that negatively and nonsensical publicity likely brought it to the minds of more people than the actual marketing did!

Finally I just want to say something about this from a developer and designer viewpoint. They will have had to code in “NO GAYS!” To give an example beyond relationships. Say I made a game with a fireball spell that would do damage to health, this would be scripted happen to all things with health. But then say I wanted a class of monster who was immune to fireballs? Well that’s more code, and its the same thing here. Look at the older, probably better life simulation game, called The Sims! They have included Homosexual relationships for a long time, possible due simply to not coding out the possibility. The point I am trying to make is Nintendo will have needed code to prevent Homosexual relationships and in doing so have unfortunately demonstrated that they may not be as accepting as they may seem.

UPDATE

On the BBC Website, Nintendo is quoted as saying that they can not change the games design anymore, but will endeavour to update any future releases. I find it difficult to believe they can not change it in this age of easy to obtain Patches, the 3DS does have internet connection, so how can’t they. Skyrim added mounted combat in a patch for crying out loud!

Lets get Serious About Serious Games

Over the course of my University course I learnt about an interesting thing. Serious Games. Not something I suspect you have heard about unless you are a member of the game development community. So what is a Serious Game?

Well, lets start with games everyone knows about. When you go out and buy a game out of your local retailer or off an online store, I can almost guarantee that it is not a Serious Game. The reason is that those games are commercial, and their main focus is entertainment. A Serious Game however focuses on education, in the widest possible sense. They are games that will either teach you something, train you to be able to do something or potentially influence you. Now, I am sure what is now flashing through your mind are silly little games you played back in school on computers to help your maths, like Ghostblasters.

Ghostblasters

This was kinda fun on a toughscreen.

I bet most of those were really dull, especially hen you look back on them now. However, Serious Games strive to so much more. The aim to try to be as entertaining as they are educational. I personally think its an awesome thing, and many people agree. Advocates aren’t just games developers, but psychologists and educators are also interested in these games. The thing is, whether you realise it or not, learning is actually fun, but only if it is engaging.

Remember back to your childhood, you played a lot of different things. Why? So you could learn about the world and your place in it. Games like Hide and go Seek likely started as hunting games back in our ancestors, and in more modern times we may play at being a doctor or cook to prepare us for potential future careers. I bet it was a lot of fun, it was for me. Serious games strive to tap into our primal “Learn Through Play” to make us far better at learning. Sitting down and doing sums or answering questions on history are dull, so why not use games to liven them up?

While that is in its infancy we have actually been using games to teach since before the first electronic computer! Early simulators were built to train pilots, and consisted of a mocked up plane with working controls. It was very basic, but now we have built upon it and have cockpits that move as the pilots fly, and use advanced simulation programs with screens to help them learn to fly. Simulators are a pretty common Serious Game, but not all things called “(Insert random thing here) Simulator” are of course simulators.

 

Goat Sim

Definitely not a Serious Game, or Simulator

As mentioned previously I was doing a University course, and I made a Serious Game (link to it on my Dropbox). It was through this I discovered just how powerful Serious games can be. The game I made was simple, all you had to do was sort the rubbish into the correct bins, getting points for doing so correctly and sounds helped to guide the player to use the correct bins. After only five minutes of playing, everyone who played it learned more about the recycling scheme at my University. They all enjoyed it too, because I imbued it with a little bit of what made Flappy Bird such a success. The game was designed to quickly get impossible, so people kept wanting to beat their scores. It was simple, but it worked.

Now imagine if we had games on the same level as Call of Duty, GTA, Bioshock, Command and Conquer and other prominent titles. Not only would they last longer, but so much more could be put within them. The Total War series is really good for learning little bits of history, so many have actually used as educational tools. If they were more historically accurate, they could easily replace history lessons. Physics based puzzle games could allow learners to not only learn how to do sums, but also to see how they may be used. I remember working out friction forces in physics, but what if a game used a sum I made to try to prevent a man hitting a wall too fast, or too slow? Games have lots of potential as teaching tools.

Influence can also be created in games, though most focus on potential violence (most studies point out its not really linked). However, games can be positively influential too. I bet you never realised that playing Call of Duty with your friends was benefitting your Pro-Social behaviours. Games also carry political messages too. Games like America’s Army were designed to recruit people into the army by showing them what its really like, and even is used to train soldiers about cultural differences. I really like this, and have already mentioned my intentions of developing a game to influence people to see Trans people in a better light.

So there you go, you now know a little bit about Serious Games. Hopefully you’re a little interested, perhaps you’re excited to see what the future may hold. Well why not look it up? A guy I can recommend looking up (we looked at his stuff a lot, and he is pretty easy to read) is James Paul Gee.  Here’s hoping this new field of games develops well, because I personally think its rather cool.