Monday, October 29, 2012

Women in video games: Bad solutions don't fix problems.

The video game industry has recently been getting a lot of flak for having too many overtly sexual female characters.  I have seen several people say that a potential solution to the problem would be to include unattractive women in games. When given examples of unattractive women in games, these people inevitably respond in one of two ways, and often both at once:

1. Those characters are the exception, not the rule.
2. That character doesn't count because they are bizarre or outlandish.

These responses are ridiculous. This is why.

Video games are not movies or books, they do not need a good story to be good. They can stand on their gameplay alone. Street Fighter, for example, does not need a good story and I would even go so far as to say it would be worse if they had tried to shoehorn a deep story into the game. Not every game needs a deep story, not every game should have a deep story.

What every game does need are interesting characters. But if you are not going to have a deep story, there is no point to having deep characters. There is no payoff and that characterization becomes time wasted that detracts from the game.

Because of this, developers are often tasked with creating interesting but shallow characters. This is accomplished by making the character outlandish, especially on a visual level. They need to stick in the mind from the moment they are seen. This basically means they need to be notably strange, ugly, or attractive. Notably ugly is generally not used because no one wants to look at an exceptionally ugly character for any length of time. This leaves us with notably strange and notably attractive. Visually uninteresting characters (average looking) only work when they can be fleshed out by deep story and engaging dialog, which is often not possible

Even when a good story and engaging dialog are possible, average looking characters will always be in the minority because they are boring. The only time it is good to have such a character is when their lack of exceptional features contributes to their character, such as Lucca in Chrono Trigger (setting her apart as the only average looking person in a group of freaks,) or the setting, such as Alyx Vance. Otherwise the developer is passing up on an opportunity to put something interesting in the game for no reason and the game is worse for it.

In summary, average looking or ugly characters will always be rare because it is a really bad idea, with a few exceptions. This is not the solution to the overt sexuality problem. Stop suggesting it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Classic Review: Gimmick

Genre: 1980’s style platformer.
Platform: NESReleased: 1992
Publisher: Sunsoft
Developer: Authentic Entertainment


Gameplay: 3 - 80’s style platforming with a few unique twists.

Level Design: 3 - Generally solid with a few cheap shots thrown in.

Art: 4 - Amazing use of limited hardware.

Music: 3 - Strong, but not remarkable.


I like platformers, especially the 1980’s style platformer. There is an elegance of design in the 1980’s style platformer that generally isn’t seen anywhere else. The technological constraints and prevailing design sensibilities of the time created a genre that was extremely focused, delivering a simple but surprisingly deep challenge at the core of the game.

Gimmick is a great example of the 1980’s platformer. Inhabiting a space somewhere between Super Mario Bros. and Kirby’s Dream Land, Gimmick brings enough unique ideas to the table to set itself apart from the mess of platformers of the NES and SNES era, including an approximation of a physics engine that will play havoc with your platforming skills until you work out the quirks of the system. Overall, the unique features add a great deal to the game, making the old platformer genre feel new again.

There are 2 other fairly unusual mechanics. First, when an enemy is jumped on it is not killed. Instead most enemies can be ridden, SMB 2 style. Second, Gimmick can throw a star shaped projectile. The projectile is thrown at a sharp downward angle, conserves momentum,  and can be ridden like the enemies. These two mechanics, combined with interesting level design, make for some interesting platforming. Many jumps require creative use of enemies and your projectile.

Another highlight of the game is the artwork. The limited NES hardware is used brilliantly to create a game that looks good 20 years later. People interested in sprite art should take notes.

Final Score

3 - A very strong NES platformer. Highly recommended for anyone interested in old school platformers.

For a breakdown of my scoring system, view this post.

I am currently accepting recommendations on what to review! I will review anything, from Shakespeare to taco salads, but I can only claim expertise in video games and I will only review something if I feel like it. Put recommendations in the comments or send them to

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Oswald Scale

My rating system is very simple. The possible scores are 1-5, with a single special category, 1*. Note that these categories cast a wide net, so 2 things with the same score may not be of the same quality. I make no attempt to be objective, all the reviews and scores I give are my opinions. I encourage you to post the score you would have given and the reasons why in the comments.

1: Category 1 casts a very wide net. Anything that is simply not worth your time makes it in here, from simply bad to truly offensive.

Examples: Sonic 2006, the Zelda CD-i games, Michael Bay's first Transformers movie (the only one I have seen and can therefore rate.)

1*: Anything that falls into a 1 category but has some unusual property that may make it worth watching. Usually these are things that fall into the “so bad it’s good” category or are historically relevant.

Examples: “Trapped in the Closet” by R. Kelly, Trolls 2.

2: Things that are ok. Generally speaking 2s are not worth seeking out but they aren't really bad either. If you like the genre or medium and material is scarce, you may want to check it out.

Examples: GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Michael Bay's Armageddon, Zombie Driver.

3: Generally good. Worth your time, especially if you enjoy the particular area that the thing falls into. A 3 is always a good score and is never an insult.

Examples: Gladiator, Super Mario Bros, Super Meat Boy.

4: Excellent. Highly recommended and must view for those who enjoy the category. Among the best.

Examples: Super Mario Bros 3, Half-Life 2.

5: The best. Very few things ever make it to category 5 and even fewer stay.

Examples: Super Mario World, The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight.

Scores can and do change over time. For example, I don’t put anything in category 5 until it has sat for a few years and I see that it’s value remains over time. On the other hand, something like the first Super Mario Bros would have probably received a 4 at release but has lost points over the years as better things have come along.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Game Design Part 1: Learning to Program

Part 1 of my game design articles. Each article will contain my insights on how to create an indie video game. This article will discuss how to learn to program.

Many people want to make video games, but few are able to. From what I have seen, the biggest obstacle for most is programming. The task of programming can seem daunting. Many begin by attempting to teach themselves C++ or Java. This is a big mistake, you will almost certainly burn out before you are able to make anything more complex than tic tac toe, if you even make it that far.

Instead, I would recommend starting with game creation software. I started with Game Maker, which is a great program. It includes a number of excellent tutorials, thorough documentation, and is free. You can pay for a pro version that includes additional functionality, but for the beginner game designer the free version will be more than adequate. 

The best thing about using game creation software like Game Maker is that you don't need to learn everything at once. You can see the big picture with greater ease and learn how to program by filling in gaps. You will be able to create simple games before you burn out which is very encouraging  and taking advantage of the scripting tools provided (which you should do as soon as possible) will allow you to create surprisingly complex games.

Of course, there are drawbacks to software like Game Maker. A game creation tool like Game Maker is much easier to use than C++, but the price is that it is far less adaptable. Eventually you may want to move onto a tool that allows greater flexibility, but I would recommend you first learn to create simple games within the limitations of Game Maker. This will not only help you learn to program but will also give you actual experience creating video games, which will be more important to making a good video game than anything else you can do.