Industry Trends

Google Stadia: Is This the Future of Gaming?

At this year’s  Game Developers Conference (GDC), internet behemoth Google announced their bid into the streaming gaming market: the Google Stadia. The Stadia (plural for “Stadium”) is a console-less, cloud-based, online streaming game service. Google claims that if you have a device that can run a Chrome browser, you can play any Stadia game on it. The Stadia will launch in November of 2019 and a free version will be available in February of 2020. 

Streaming services are all the rage these days and with so many other competitors–PlayStation Now, GeForce Now, Blade Shadow, and rumored services from Nintendo and Microsoft on the horizon – how does the Stadia stack up?

The Stadia Founder’s Edition, due out this November, includes a three-month subscription of Stadia Pro, a three-month Buddy Pass, a controller, a Chromecast Ultra and a Founder’s Stadia Name (likely a user account/name) for $129. Stadia is only available through Chrome, Chromecast, and on Android devices.

While this is inexpensive for a console, it’s a bit pricey for just a controller and three-month access to a streaming system. Once the trial ends, players will have to pay $9.99 a month for the Pro subscription price. Add to the cost that Stadia players will have to buy their games, rather than have a selection available a la Netflix, and the Stadia might end up costing users just as much as any other game streaming service.

google stadia

At first glance, the controller looks very traditional, but it does come with a few surprises. Most interesting is the built-in recording button in the center of the controller that makes a bold statement – your gameplay is meant to be shared. But what does Stadia streaming services offer that Twitch and YouTube doesn’t? Google has yet to say. The controller also sports an in-game help button, which might be useful to novice gamers, but will it turn off experienced ones?

Many of Stadia’s critics are worried about Google’s ability to combat latency. While reports from Gamescom 2019 were positive, others were skeptical about Stadia’s claims. Some previewers have noted that the bandwidth for Stadia – coupled with regular or high usage of internet and cell phone – might overwhelm the average gamer’s data plan. Stadia uses 16gb an hour–which will add up during marathon gaming sessions. 

For casual players, a longer latency won’t be an issue, but add to this concerns about image quality due to screen size, connection speeds and compression. These technical issues might be deal breakers for the streaming gaming audience Google is after. 

Others are worried about Google’s commitment to the platform if all doesn’t go as planned. Google has a history of launching new services and–when they didn’t work out–then shutting them down, including Google Plus, Google Base, and Picasa, to name a few. That’s fine and understandable and well within their right, but where does that leave users? All of those games that you bought on Stadia would suddenly be gone.

While Stadia has announced a lineup of about 30 games so far, there are very few exclusives. “Big exclusive games win the day, and Stadia does not have any,” DFC Intelligence’s David Cole said in an interview with gamesindustry.biz. “The initial lineup was all over the map, and simply not that compelling.” Stadia’s big titles like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, Doom Eternal, and Farming Simulator 19 are all available on other systems and the Stadia’s exclusives right now are the yet-unknown Gylt and Get Packed

With all this in mind, in the end it’s up to you whether or not the Google Stadia is the right choice for you.

6 Awesome Game Designers You Should Know

Most gamers have heard of Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario and the Legend of Zelda series, or they might know of Hideo Kojima, the creator of the Metal Gear series. Or maybe they’ve seen Sid Meier’s or Will Wright’s name on the box cover of their favorite game. But there are plenty of unsung heroes and heroines in the game industry. 

Link Zelda

Here are six game designers you should know about:

Richard Bartle

Richard Bartle is one of the creators of Multi-User Dungeon, or MUD1, the very first massively multiplayer online game. Bartle, an educator at Essex, was teaching in the department of computing and electronic systems when he helped design the game with Roy Trubshaw in 1978. MUD1 was inspired by the classic text adventure game Zork and was the first shared virtual world in which 36 other players could join in at once to talk, play, and help each other. When Bartle wanted to learn what kind of players were playing his game, he created the “Bartle’s Test” to find out who they were: Explorers, Socializers, Achievers, or Killers. Bartle’s taxonomy has been helping game developers improve their games ever since! You can find out what kind of player you are by taking Bartle’s test here.

Chris Crawford

Computer game designer Chris Crawford programmed the much-loved strategy game Balance of Power in the early 80s, but it was his advocacy of games as a field of study and as an art form that earns him a spot on this list. His scholarly works–The Art of Computer Game Design, The Art of Interactive Game Design, and his Journal of Computer Game Design were some of the first academic works about video games. But even more influential is the creation of the Game Developers Conference in 1987, which is now attended by thousands of game developers from around the world and is one of the premiere events for discussion and learning about the game industry.     

Danielle Bunten Berry

Danielle Bunten Berry was the creator of the highly-influential computer games M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold. In the mid-80s she created Modem Wars, one of the first games played over a modem. Many consider her work ahead of its time and she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Computer Game Developers Association. Unfortunately, she passed away in 1998 before she could create even more games with rapidly-advancing technology.

Mark Cerny

You’d think working at Atari at the age of 17 would be a big enough achievement for Mark Cerny, the programmer who created Marble Madness. But as the industry’s most influential consultant, Cerny has a ridiculous amount of AAA games to his credit including Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Death Stranding. He’s developed a teaching method for games – including the “vertical slice” – that is used by developers all over the world. For his contributions, Cerny been inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.

 

Spider-Man Game

Jordan Weisman

Jordan Weisman is a game designer and author who has literally mastered every genre of game design! RPG, VR, Tabletop, Video Game, ARG–he’s done it all! Weisman’s career started by creating adventures for the role-playing game Traveller. His RPG company, FASA, introduced the popular BattleTech and Shadowrun franchises. He transitioned into VR with the creation of Virtual Worlds Entertainment in 1987. His BattleTech simulators are still some of the most realistic gaming experiences ever created. Weisman moved into video games to produce the MechWarrior series of games, one of the top selling PC games of all times. In 2000, he designed the “clix” miniature tabletop game for his company WizKids. The games Mage Knight, HeroClix and Pirates of the Spanish Main were all top sellers. His alternate reality game company 42 Entertainment created memorable and groundbreaking titles like I Love Bees and Year Zero. He has also authored an interactive novel called Cathy’s Book.

Gunpei Yokoi

Gunpei Yokoi started his career designing electronics for maintaining the assembly-line machines used to manufacture Nintendo trading cards in 1965. After the company transitioned into video games, Yokoi found his first big hit with a light gun toy that became the foundation for Nintendo’s Zapper gun peripheral. Yokoi also created the Game & Watch mobile game which introduced the D-Pad Controller and became the foundation for much of Nintendo’s game systems for the next 30 years. He supervised the production of the Donkey Kong arcade game, Nintendo’s first big hit, and worked with Shigeru Miyamoto on many projects including Mario Bros. He was the producer of Metroid and Kid Icarus and designed the famous R.O.B. the Robot which was included with the Famicom game system. He was the creative lead on the immensely popular Game Boy game system as well as the creator of the ill-fated Virtual Boy system. Yokoi sadly passed away in 1996 but his inventions and contributions have left an indelible impact on the gaming industry.

 

Interested in becoming the next great game designer? Check out the programs offered by the New York Film Academy (NYFA) Game Design school here!

Written by Scott Rogers, NYFA Game Design Instructor

 

The Top 10 Legend of Zelda Games

It’s hard to imagine video games without The Legend of Zelda. Time and time again, Nintendo uses this iconic series to try and set the action-adventure bar higher than before. Although there’s no perfect list since everyone has their nostalgic and subjective favorites and we’ve all grown to love different Zelda titles in our lives, here’s a Top 10 List of Zelda games you can argue over with your friends:

  1. The Minish Cap
    Game Boy Advance, November 2004

Developed in partnership with Capcom, this mobile Zelda has stood the test of time thanks to its charming visuals and solid gameplay. Instead of going for any big innovations, the developers focused on creating their own colorful take on classic Zelda gameplay. Of course, shrinking down into a tiny version of Link and uncovering new secrets is still one of the most unique abilities of any Zelda game. The quirky cast of characters, including Link’s witty sidekick, also help make The Minish Cap worthy of this list.                                                                                                                                                                                                       

  1. A Link Between Worlds
    Nintendo 3DS, November 2013

Rumors of a remake of A Link to the Past had been swirling for more than a decade by the time this 3DS title arrived. Instead, Nintendo launched a sequel that manages to be both a love letter to the classic SNES title while also giving us a fresh take on the traditional Zelda formula. A Link Between Worlds features an item-rental system that lets players take on its dungeons and areas in any order. Its captivating story, wall-merging ability, and beautiful modern version of Hyrule and its dark counterpart helped remind players why 2D Zelda is just as good as the console ones.

  1. The Legend of Zelda
    NES, February 1986

The first entry in this iconic series arrived in 1986, immediately revolutionizing game design by offering one of the first true nonlinear adventures. In a time when players were used to running from left to right or down a set path, The Legend of Zelda dropped players into a dangerous world with little direction. The thrill of freely exploring Hyrule was unmatched as players learned from their mistakes, collected useful objects, and uncovered all kinds of secrets. To this day it stands as a must-play Zelda for those craving a tough, rewarding journey.

  1. Twilight Princess
    GameCube & Wii, November 2006

After finding success with The Wind Waker’s colorful visuals, Nintendo went back to the dark style of previous Zelda titles. Twilight Princess allowed players to explore the most realistic and expansive Hyrule yet, this time also as a wolf. Looking to Ocarina of Time for inspiration, this 2006 adventure featured some very impressive dungeons and weapons along with a grimmer story. Although there were some pacing problems at the start of in the original, the HD re-release for Wii U fixed most of them.

  1. Link’s Awakening
    Game Boy, June 1993

The dream of fitting a Zelda adventure in our pocket became a reality when Link’s Awakening arrived on the Game Boy in 1993. Doubts that a handheld Zelda could match the acclaimed Link to the Past quickly went away as players got lost exploring the mysterious Koholint Island. Link’s Awakening proved to be everything fans of the series loved while also feeling fresh thanks to its strange story, quirky characters, and challenging dungeons. Despite the technical limitations, this top Zelda game is certainly worth visiting 25 years later.

  1. Majora’s Mask
    Nintendo 64, April 2000

Despite having just completed Ocarina of Time, the Zelda team was challenged with creating another title in less than two years. Forced to come up with unique designs and ideas, Nintendo ended up creating a dark, unforgettable Zelda title experience. Majora’s Mask is brimming with emotion as you meet and help characters dealing with the imminent end of the world. A constant feeling of doom drives the tried-and-true gameplay as Link manipulates time like never before, wields dozens of masks, and takes on various forms to save the day.

  1. The Wind Waker
    GameCube, December 2002

At a time when players had an obsession with realism in games, Nintendo did the opposite by creating a cartoonish Zelda using innovative cel-shading graphics. Their gamble paid off when The Wind Waker immediately captivated players with its combination of gorgeous visuals, addicting gameplay, and memorable cast of characters. Its expansive ocean world and moving story also help make it one of the top Zelda games everyone should play.

  1. A Link to the Past
    A Link to the Past, November 1991

If there’s one Zelda that went on to influence the rest of the series, it’s this one. A Link to the Past was seen as a technological marvel — players couldn’t believe the world’s scale, complete with an entire alternate version that surprises players halfway through the game. Vibrant graphics, thought-provoking gameplay, and incredible music are only a few of the many reasons why this 1991 title is still worth playing nearly three decades later.

  1. Breath of the Wild
    Nintendo Switch, March 2017

The latest Zelda title is also considered by many to be the best. Breath of the Wild arrived when players wanted huge open worlds full of fun things to do and interesting locations to visit. Nintendo delivered by introducing one of the vastest interactive worlds we’ve seen so far in a video game, complete with a design that lets you explore freely with little limitation. Everything from the physics and combat to the breathtaking locales evoke a sense of wonder not many other open world games can provide.

  1. Ocarina of Time
    Nintendo 64, November 1998

One of the most groundbreaking titles in the history of video games, Ocarina of Time‘s achievements resonate even 20 years later. Nintendo’s’ masterpiece pioneered a number of innovations, including being able to lock onto enemies and objects — a mechanic now expected in modern 3D games like God of War and Red Dead Redemption II. Offering a memorable and emotional story, expansive world full of charming characters, engrossing action-adventure gameplay, and much, much more, Ocarina of Time will always stand as a significant leap forward in game technology and design.

Bandersnatch: Are You Ready for Interactive Storytelling? Press ‘Left’ for YES

This December, Netflix anthology series Black Mirror released their first “interactive narrative” episode, entitled Bandersnatch. The critical response was explosive, with some reviewers calling it “groundbreaking” and that the episode “shows what Netflix can do”.

Bandersnatch is not the first interactive narrative that Netflix has created. The media service has already created interactive shows based on Dreamworks’ Puss in Boots, Stretch Armstrong, and the hit video game Minecraft — notably, these were made for younger audiences.

But just what is interactive narrative storytelling and more importantly, what can you do to prepare yourself to design content for it?

Just to clarify, Netflix’s “interactive narrative storytelling” isn’t quite a game or a movie, but an extension of existing interactive stories like the Telltale adventures The Walking Dead or Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. These choice-based stories run about 30 minutes long, with (usually) six to twelve decision points over the course of the story.

interactive telltale guardians of the galaxy

Interactive Narrative is based on the concept of branching narrative – a story that resembles a tree of decisions (hence the term “branching”) that moves the stories off in different directions. The hero of a branching narrative can start in a cave in Montana and end up in Medieval Europe or all the way back in prehistoric times!

All branching narratives use two main components to create their stories: a decision point and a bottleneck point.

Decision points are when the protagonist of a story is forced to make a decision between two or more choices. Often one choice furthers the story while the other leads to the end – often death for the character.

You can have more than two decision points, but the more you create, the more story content you will have to create as well. The “branches” of a branching narrative can grow quickly and exponentially, so how do you keep the storylines from getting out of controls? That’s where bottleneck points come in.

Bottleneck points are places in the story where all the branches in the story all lead to the same place. For example, it won’t matter if you are nice to the Knight or insult the King, you still end up in the dungeon.

These bottleneck points keep things on track for the writer and you usually want to introduce a few of these over the course of the story to keep the narrative “under control.”

If you’re thinking of writing an interactive, it helps to be familiar with where they come from and where they might be going:

The Cave of Time (1979)

While experiments in branching narrative date all the way back to the ‘40s (with Jorge Luis Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths), the first book of the pivotal Choose Your Own Adventure series was written by Edward Packard and published by Scholastic. The books are written in second-person, talking to its young readers directly.

In The Cave of Time, you are a young boy who wanders into a cave but comes out in a variety of locations and time periods. Some of the paths lead to fame and fortune, others to an untimely end. The book was so popular that over 184 Choose Your Own Adventure titles were published over two decades.

Genres ranged from fantasy to sci-fi to mystery. An amazing visualization of the branching narrative of the Choose Your Own Adventure series can be found at: http://samizdat.cc/cyoa/

Fighting Fantasy (1982)

Over in the UK, Ian Livingstone (who would become one of the co-founders of board game company Games Workshop) wrote his own version of Choose Your Own Adventure books. But Livingstone, being a big RPG gamer, added dice rolls and D&D style stats to his series. These “gamebooks” were a big hit with and over 60 titles were published in the course of the series.

Dragon’s Lair (1983)

The arcade game by Cinematronics and RDI Video Systems was the first to use the then-cutting-edge laser disc technology. Laser disc not only allowed for high-fidelity image and sound, but it allowed the game’s code to access any of the disc’s tracks in any order. Players had to make a choice (usually a direction or a sword attack) within a few seconds’ time; the wrong choice resulted in a humorous death animation.

Under the leadership of ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, Dragon’s Lair was a huge success. It was followed by a sequel, Time Warp, and the space-themed game Space Ace. Unfortunately high costs of production shut down Cinematronics in 1984.

HyperCard (1987)

While computer-based Hypertext systems have existed since the 1960s, it was the inclusion of HyperCard on Apple’s Macintosh computers that allowed branching narratives to become easier to create. Coupled with the Macintosh’s drawing programs, designers and authors could write their own interactive novels and distribute them via floppy disc.

Eventually the publishers of text adventure games such as Infocom got into the act; creating interactive fiction games based on Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and James Clavell’s Shogun, as well as original titles such as 1893: A World’s Fair Mystery and Journey: The Quest Begins.

SCUMM (1987)

The “Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion” or SCUMM for short was created by the game developers at LucasArts for their adventure game series. Rather than using complex word parsers like those found in text adventure games, the LucasArts team eventually migrated their interface to a “point and click” system for making choices, manipulating objects and talking with characters. Some of their games like Grim Fandango, Full Throttle and the Monkey Island series to this day are considered classics of the interactive adventure genre.

Mass Effect (2007)

Primarily a third-person action game, Mass Effect different from other shooters by focusing on the story. Inspired by the LucasArts games and the Choose Your Own Adventure books, Mass Effect included a “morality system” that allowed players to make choices that impact the plot and their relationship with the other characters in the game. As a result, players felt the story had an infinite amount of possibilities to where it would lead. (Although in reality, they only had 8 possible endings to the game.)

Chad, Matt & Rob’s Interactive Adventures! (2008)

Creators fired up their creativity when YouTube announced that hyperlink style links that could be placed on videos. Chad, Matt & Rob’s Time Machine was one of the first of these interactive narrative videos on the platform. Since then, not only storytellers but advertisers have utilized the interactive feature for their own videos. A quick guide to learn how to make your own interactive YouTube videos can be found here.

Telltale Games (2010)

Following in the steps of LucasArts, Telltale Games single-handedly resurrected the adventure game genre with the release of Sam and Max: Season One on the iPad. The company has since created several interactive games based on popular intellectual properties including Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Batman and The Walking Dead game.

Ready to make your own Interactive Stories?

Inspired? Here at New York Film Academy, we teach interactive narrative in several of our Game Design and Screenwriting programs. Here are just a few of the tips and tricks we teach to help students create their own interactive narrative games:

  1.    Remember the basics of screenwriting. Even though interactive narratives twist and turn all over the place, they still follow the basic format of all storytelling. Game stories and screenplays are pretty similar in form and format.
  2.    Make sure the choices make sense. When thinking about where you want the story to go, think about the natural choices the reader will have for the character they are playing as. If the protagonist is standing in front of a haunted house, the choices might be a) open the front door or b) walk around to the back of the house. It doesn’t need to be any more complex than that.
  3.    Make sure the results are fair. One of the biggest complaints about interactive narratives is that the effect of an action (as in “cause and effect”) doesn’t make sense, or is even fair. Give your readers/players some sort of foreshadowing to let them know what might happen if they make the right or wrong choice.
  4.    Work backwards if you need to. Sometimes working backwards from the ending you want to have is the best way to keep your storyline from sprawling all over the place.

Good luck on writing those interactive narratives and remember that game design opportunities can come from a variety of places — not just games!

9 Great Games From the Last 12 Months

January and February tend to be a quiet time for game releases, especially following the pre-Holiday season in the Fall. While there’s plenty of new video games coming down the pipeline to get excited later in 2019, we thought we’d look back at some of the best titles released in the last 12 months. Chances are, you haven’t play them all yet, and there’s still time to get 100% completion before highly anticipated sequels to The Division, Psychonauts, and Gears of War come out.

Red Dead Redemption II by Rockstar Games
Play on: PS4, Xbox One

What better way to start the list than with perhaps the most anticipated game of last year. Nearly ten years after the award-winning original landed in 2010, Rockstar delivered another Old West masterpiece. Red Dead Redemption II lets you explore an expansive open world as Arthur Morgan, an outlaw and member of Dutch’s old gang. Boasting incredible visuals, improved gunslinger gameplay, and an interesting prequel story, no wonder so many critics named it Game of the Year.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate by Nintendo
Play on: Switch

Super Smash Bros. is the beloved fighting series that needs no introduction. With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Nintendo strove to once again outdo themselves by offering every character that has ever appeared in a previous Smash Bros. title. More than 100 stages and nearly a thousand music tracks were also packed in, not to mention the return of a story mode.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey by Ubisoft Quebec
Play on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

For almost a decade, gamers have counted on Ubisoft to release an Assassin’s Creed game annually. The last notable entry, Origins, was the first to get an extra year of development time as the series’ formula was evolved more than ever before. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey builds off its predecessor with an even bigger world and more emphasis on new RPG elements as players dive into the historic Peloponnesian War fought between Sparta and Athens.

Assassin's Creed

Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games
Play on: PS4

Despite being a uber-popular comic book hero and finding success on the big screen, it’s been years since someone has made a solid game featuring our favorite web-slinger. Insomniac Games didn’t buckle under the pressure of handling their first licensed game and instead delivered a phenomenal superhero adventure. Marvel’s Spider-Man has everything you could want from a Spider-Man game: a huge New York City to swing across, Photo Mode, familiar allies, almost every major villain, dozens of unlockable suits, and much, much more.

Forza Horizon 4 by Turn 10 Studios
Play on: Xbox One, PC

The Forza series has cemented itself in recent years as one of the top sim racing video games and top grossing video game franchises. Forza Horizon 4 raises the bar even more with its excellent gameplay, coupled with gorgeous graphics that now include a dynamic weather system. Each week, all the tracks transform as the next season in the year arrives, introducing new visuals and environmental hazards. A shared online world is another reason why critics and gamers are together praising this entry as arguably the most acclaimed in its series history.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 by Treyarch
Play on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

With Black Ops 4, Treyarch has taken a massive gamble by placing their focus on the multiplayer experience, completely omitting a story-driven single-player campaign. Instead, the team joined the Battle Royale race made famous by PUBG and Fornite — letting 100 players face off against each other until only one remains standing. Also included is ever-popular Zombies mode, as well as shorter Solo Missions that reveal the backstories of certain multiplayer characters.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider by Eidos-Montréal
Play on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

In 2013, the series that helped shape the 3D action-adventure genre received a much-praised reboot. Its follow-up, Rise of the Tomb Raider, also impressed by combining exciting gameplay with captivating storytelling. Shadow of the Tomb Raider takes Lara Croft to yet another exotic location as she tries to stop a group of archaeologists up to no good in an ancient Mayan area. Croft’s latest adventure has been praised for its great writing, strong emphasis on exploration, and beautiful visuals.

Tomb Raider

Mega Man 11 by Capcom
Play on: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC

Mega Man fans have long been left out in the cold as Capcom ignored the beloved series since the release of Mega Man 10 in 2010. The wait is finally over as the Blue Bomber returned with a few exciting changes. Although the classic tough-as-nails gameplay is still there, Mega Man 11 features a modern art style as well as two abilities new to the series. Mega Man can now slow down time with the Speed Gear, raise his attack power with the Power Gear, and use a combination of both as he faces Dr. Wily’s latest robot bosses.

Fallout 76 by Bethesda Game Studios
Play on: PS4, Xbox One, PC

The famed shooter-RPG hybrid opened its expansive world even more last year and let players explore its post-apocalyptic landscape alongside friends. Fallout 76 is yet another 2018 game focused on multiplayer by giving players the chance to team up and/or destroy each other in a West Virginia wasteland. The world is many times bigger than that of Fallout 4 and expands on many of its popular gameplay features, including the ability to build a base anywhere. While initial reactions have been mixed, the developers also promise to listen carefully to the community in order to make this Fallout the MMO (massive multiplayer online) fans have dreamed of for years.

Honorable Mentions

 

  • Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!/Let’s Go, Eevee! (Switch)
  • Just Cause 4 (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
  • Darksiders III (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
  • Monster Boy & The Cursed Kingdom (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC)
  • Soulcalibur VI (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

 

Insomniac’s Spider-Man and Why AAA Games Still Matter

Last September, Sony released Spider-Man, the 35th video game based on the popular Marvel comic book superhero. The game, developed by Insomniac Games (Ratchet and Clank, Spyro the Dragon), retailed for $59.99 and was exclusive to the Sony Playstation 4. It took two years to develop the game and its production is estimated to have cost around 100 million dollars.

Triple-A (AAA) is the classification used for a video game that receives the highest budget from a publisher, both for production and for marketing. An AAA game is expected to be of the highest quality and to earn a high profit to justify its expensive costs. In short, an AAA game is the video game equivalent to a blockbuster film.

AAA games like Spider-Man are expensive and time consuming to make. Their premium retail price can be expensive for the consumer. You might ask, with the decline in console sales, why developers are even making AAA games at all? As it turns out, AAA games are still worth creating, for numerous reasons.

AAA games generate excitement for the industry

At 2018’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Spider-Man gained 37 awards from industry news outlets. It topped dozens of  “most anticipated games of 2018” lists. Despite there being hundreds of games released a year, only AAA games typically get this kind of attention. More media coverage means more gamers paying attention to a game, which leads to more excitement for a game – which can result in big sales on release day.

AAA titles are often used as a vehicle for launching a new intellectual property. When Tomb Raider debuted in 1996, Eidos went all in on their marketing and licensing for the action/adventure game, putting the character on everything from action figures to magazine covers to shower gel bottles.

With commercials that looked more like perfume ads than for video games, Tomb Raider demanded attention. Eidos even hired a real-life actress to play the character for media events. Thanks to Eidos’ media push, Lara Croft appeared all over the news. For a few years in the 90s, Lara was the face of video games. Launching a new IP is always a huge risk, but when it pays off, it pays off big.

Spider-Man Game

AAA games create jobs

As of 2018, there are 22 major publishers who make what can be considered AAA games — employing over 300,000 developers in the industry. The majority of working game developers in the United States are working on AAA games.

AAA games don’t just employ game developers, however. Think of all of the people related to the creation and release of these games – marketing, PR, legal, cutscenes, publicity material, advertising material, commercial directors, and more. There’s a reason why the credits on AAA games are so lengthy.

AAA games influence the public’s perception of gaming

The extraordinary marketing budget for AAA games allows their publishers to reach more consumers through a variety of advertisements. Consumers are bombarded by ads through television, internet, magazine, billboards, and even buses. Thanks to this constant stream of advertising, this means that the majority of games that consumers are exposed to are primarily advertised AAA games. Ask consumers and the media about which upcoming games and they will most likely respond with AAA titles.

Almost half of the top 10 games for 2018 were console exclusives. The truth is, AAA games are what sell consoles for the big three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) and as long as consoles dominate store shelves such as Target, Wal-Mart and Best Buy, these will be the games the consumers will be exposed to. While consumers can purchase smaller, independent titles elsewhere, learning about them and finding them in the store can sometimes be difficult.

Spider-Man Game

The AAA single player experience is still a thing

In 2017, EA cancelled their AAA Star Wars game, citing that a “linear adventure game” wasn’t relevant to today’s multiplayer audiences. However, if the success of games such as Spider-Man (3.3 million copies in opening weekend), Red Dead Redemption ($725 million opening weekend), and God of War (5 million copies sold to date) are any indication, the linear adventure game experience is far from dead. According to gamers and game designers alike, linear narrative games are still the best way for game designers to tell a story.

Single-player experiences allow gamers to live out the adventure of a character, which is one of the most exciting aspects in gaming. Have you ever wondered why so many shooters like Fortnite and PUBG display the player in first person? Because it is supposed to be you, the player. However, most story-based narratives will show its character using a third person camera, because it is the best way for the player to see what the character is doing on their adventure and how they carry themselves throughout.

Out of a 2017 survey, 9 out of 10 best known characters were in games that used a third person camera.

While some may complain that AAA games are ruining the industry, the truth is that big-budget titles like Spider-Man keep consumers excited for games, employ game developers, and make the video game industry the highest-earning entertainment industry in the world.

5 Trends in Game Design to Watch Out for in 2019

The video game industry can be a tricky beast to predict. Who could have expected a little sandbox game called Minecraft to dominate pop culture, or for the Nintendo Switch to explode despite its predecessor being a sales failure?

As gaming continues to evolve, developers do their best to design experiences that will make players happy and hopefully even become the next big thing. Below are some game design trends to watch out for in 2019:

1. More Battle Royale

If there’s one trend that dominated 2018 and shows no sign of stopping in 2019, it’s the Battle Royale genre. The tremendous success of PUBG and Fortnite, the latter boasting an incredible 125 million players, has certainly caught the attention of other developers now looking to take a stab at the popular genre. Even the biggest traditional shooter series like Battlefield and Call of Duty are already releasing their own Battle Royale modes in 2018, which means we’re likely to see many more games of this type released (and announced) in 2019.

Interesting data from WePC:

  • More than half of core PC gamers in China play PUBG.
  • Fortnite has dominated Twitch in 2018, averaging 118 million hours viewed across  over 8,000 Twitch channels

2. Devs Will Rethink Loot Boxes

After the fiasco surrounding Star Wars: Battlefront II at the end of 2017, many gamers expected developers to shy away from loot boxes. They have been one of the more controversial subjects in the game industry — countries like China and Japan are even classifying them as gambling.

Of course, developers can’t ignore the fact that microtransactions in free-to-play games raked in $20 billion in 2017. Instead of disappearing, loot boxes will likely still be around in 2019, though developers may take a page out of Epic Games’ book and focus more on cosmetic items that don’t give players a gameplay advantage.

Interesting fact:

  • Fortnite: Battle Royale, a free game, has brought in more than $1.2 billion in revenue entirely from cosmetic purchases like dance moves and character skins.

3. eSport-Focused Design

There was a time when the best place gamers had to show their skills in front of a crowd was at the local arcade. With competitive gaming, today’s top players in the world take the stage as hundreds of live viewers (and thousands more online) watch them compete for prize pools ranging in the millions. The success of eSports already has developers studying popular games while revising their designs in hopes that their title will become a must-play in the competitive scene. At the end of the day, companies know that gaming communities ultimately decide which titles are fun and exciting enough to enter the eSports realm.

Interesting data from WePC:

  • Overwatch is the most talked about game in 2016 with 75,000 online articles mentioning the game. (Statista, 2017)
  • Twitch viewers spent 355 billion hours watching videos on the platform in 2017, that’s 32% up from 241 billion hours in 2015.

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4. Rise in Cross-Platform Play

Gamers can be best friends in real life but never play together because one lives in an Xbox household while the other lives in a Playstation one. In 2018, we got our first taste of full cross-platform support as Fortnite allowed mobile, console, and PC gamers to take up arms alongside one another — even Sony eventually buckled under the pressure.

As the mobile market continues skyrocketing in growth, console and PC devs are also realizing the benefits of opening the doors to iPhone and Android gamers. Creating games that are fun (and stable) no matter what device you’re holding is sure to challenge developers in 2019 and beyond, but their efforts may be worth it.

Interesting fact:

  • While Fortnite is currently still the only game you can play cross-platform on any device, there are already dozens of partial cross-platform titles. Some include: Minecraft, Rocket League, Phantasy Star Online 2, and Forza Horizon 4.

5. Focus On Either Single-Player or Multiplayer

Activision turned heads when they announced that Black Ops 4 would not have a story campaign — a first in the iconic Call of Duty series. At the same time, groundbreaking games like God of War and Red Dead Redemption II have shown that players still crave story-driven games.

Judging by the latest trends, it’s possible that devs will continue putting their work into either just single or multiplayer games. Even if it feels like a step backwards to those of us who grew up when almost all triple-A games released with both modes, we’re betting more companies will join the trend in 2019.

Interesting facts:

  • Despite being a multiplayer-only $60 game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 surpassed $500 million worldwide in only three days. (Business Wire)
  • God of War, a single-player only game, sold five million copies in one month, becoming one of the top selling PlayStation 4 games ever.
  • Super Mario Odyssey and Zelda: Breath of the Wild, two single-player Nintendo Switch games, were some of the highest rated titles in 2017.

What Nintendo Can Teach Us About Game Design

By Scott Rogers – Instructor, New York Film Academy Game Design

Nintendo recently celebrated its 46th year of creating video games, and with the exception of a few growing pains, the Japanese company has been an industry leader since the 1980s. How has Nintendo lasted so long in a very competitive market?

One important key to their success is great game design. And great game design begins with great designers.

The Entertainment Analysis and Development (EAD) is the team that creates Nintendo’s great game design. The team is staffed by “planners” — a position which combines game design with a secondary discipline such as programming or art. It is Nintendo’s belief that all game designers should possess a variety of skills, not just in game design.

When the New York Times asked “what kind of person would Nintendo hire,” EAD leader and legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto replied, “I always look for designers who aren’t super-passionate game fans. I make it a point to ensure they’re not a gamer, but they have a lot of different interests and skill sets.”

Miyamoto knows this from experience. It was his skill in art and love of classic cartoons that led to Nintendo’s first hit video game: Donkey Kong.

Nintendo’s design philosophy is simple; start with a unique idea, concentrate on the “primary action,” go for an emotional experience, teach as you play, and repeat what works.

Start with a unique idea.

During the ‘90s, Nintendo was engaged in a battle with Sony PlayStation. Sony was producing games with expensive pre-rendered cut-scenes that felt like movies.

When Miyamoto was asked if Nintendo should follow suit, his answer was “No.” Instead, he created Pikmin; a real-time puzzle game about a miniature astronaut who recruits an army of aliens to help him fix his spaceship. It was unlike all of the other fighters, shooters, and platformers on the other game consoles of the time. Pikmin was a huge success on the GameCube because of its unique concept.

Concentrate on the “primary action.”

Before he was named Mario, the hero of Donkey Kong was called “Jumpman.” It’s pretty much all Mario does in the game, and as the games evolved his jump became more expressive and flexible. In the classic Super Mario Bros., the jump became an essential part of the design. He can only defeat enemies by jumping, can only break blocks by jumping, and can only finish a level by jumping.

Jumping in the Mario games is what is known as the “primary action” of the game. The “primary action” is the player action from which the rest of the gameplay flows. If a hazard, enemy, or obstacle can’t be overcome by jumping, it doesn’t belong in this game.

Repeat what works.

The classic Super Mario Bros. level 1-1 only uses nine gameplay elements: Treasure Blocks, Breakable Blocks, Goomba, Pits, Pipes, Platforms, Mushroom, Coins, and Piranha Plant. By combing and repeating these elements in a variety of configurations, Miyamoto creates the greatest level in gaming history. These mechanics are so successful that they are used to this day in the most recent Mario games, where they form the foundation of the vocabulary of gameplay.

The lesson is simple. Use a limited amount of gameplay elements and see how many times you can combine them. You will be surprised by the amount of gameplay even a few elements will create.

Go for an emotional experience.

“When I create a game,” said Shigeru Miyamoto, “I try to focus more on the emotions that the player experiences during the game play.”

Whether it is the wonder found in epic vistas like in the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, fear of the unknown as in Luigi’s Mansion or the pleasure of discovery experienced in Pokemon, all of the Nintendo games strive to capture a core emotion within the player.

Ask yourself, “What emotion do I want the player to experience?” Then, drive rive all design decisions towards achieving that emotion. If you need some help, just recall your favorite games or movies and the emotions they aroused in you.

Teach as you play.

Even back in the day when video games had manuals, players often didn’t read them. Players preferred to learn the game as they played. Nintendo was well aware of this fact and strived to create games that taught as they played.

Miyamoto has often said about World 1-1, “within that one section … the player would understand the concept of what Mario was supposed to be and what the game was about.”

Each new mechanic, hazard, and enemy is introduced in isolation, which allows the player to recognize it and understand its behavior. As the game progresses, new mechanics are introduced along with the opportunity to learn how it operates and combines with the rest of the gameplay.

By repeating this design system of “introduction-combine,” the players won’t need to stop playing the game in order to understand how all the elements come together.

While you might not design a blockbuster hit like Nintendo with your first game, using their design principles will give you some great tools that you can use for the rest of your game design career.

At the New York Film Academy’s Game Design School, the programs are built around providing a well-rounded experience, where students learn to master all disciplines of game design. Learn more here.

5 Things Old School Games Mastered

Today’s video games offer some of the most captivating worlds and stories one can experience. From incredibly realistic environments to impressive artificial intelligence, games have evolved at a faster rate than perhaps any other entertainment medium.

It’s hard to believe that, a little over two decades ago, the gaming industry was just transitioning from 2D to 3D. Of course, games couldn’t have gotten to where they are today without the old-school classics and the innovations they contributed to the field, still used by game designers today.

Here are five notable contributions the retro games mastered, that made lifelong gamers out of us:

Rewarding Skill

Game development was a different beast back in the ‘80s and ‘90s; teams didn’t have millions of dollars and years of development. Instead, you were required to create a game — sometimes in less than a year — that would convince people to drop their hard-earned cash. This meant crafting worlds and gameplay that was not only captivating but also challenging. Otherwise, gamers would fly through in a few hours and want their money back.

Thus, many retro games are masterpieces when it comes to providing a satisfying level of difficulty that, rather than frustrating players, made them want to get better. Instead of having to get through thoughtless quick-time events, players were pushed to memorize enemy spawn locations, boss patterns, and power-up locations, increasing their skill through gameplay to unlock rewards and advance.

Providing Unique Experiences

There’s a reason why many of the most popular gaming franchises today got their start back in the “golden age” of video games; although there have always been copycats and clones, developers making old school games had comparably less time and money riding on one project, which meant they could take more risks. Those risks led to lots of creativity, with games within the same genre full of variety. For example, if you wanted a change from your favorite beat-’em-up, you had everything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Golden Axe to Battletoads and Streets of Rage 2.

In contrast, you can take several of today’s first-person shooters and find that they look remarkably similar. If you don’t agree, consider how every developer is at the moment scrambling to cash in on the very popular “battle royale” style game after the success of Fortnite.

Immediate Attraction

Game developers were limited in a number of ways in the ‘80s and ‘90s, compared to today’s studios. Visuals, of course, could only handle so many pixels, as devs also had to create fun experiences with controllers and arcade machines with far fewer buttons. Because of this, old-school games feel like compact, thrilling bursts of fun that you can pick up and play without the need for tutorials or getting used to complicated control schemes, etc.

Even a complete gaming novice can pick up an NES controller, boot up Mega Man and have a great time. Compare that experience to Assassin’s Creed, where novice players must familiarize themselves with lengthy story scenes and tutorial segments before they can get to the meat of the gameplay.

Old-school games also didn’t require signing into an account or having an online connection to play — just another way these games remain accessible and simple to enjoy, no matter your level of expertise.

Offering Fun With Friends

On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that many of the multiplayer games we enjoy now let us do things we could only dream of in our wildest imagination, back in the day. Fortnite, for example, lets you play against a whopping 99 other players in a world where you can destroy almost everything in the environment — all while building massive towers and bridges. The only downside is that if you want to play on the couch with a friend, they’ll need to bring their own TV screen and console; like most modern big-budget titles, there’s no local multiplayer.

Before the advent of high-speed internet, devs were almost obligated to make fun games that friends could play together. Arcade cabinets were surrounded by teens watching players duke it out in Mortal Kombat or unite to tear a city apart in Rampage.

As most of today’s developers realize the ever-existent hunger for couch co-op games, we can’t help but recall the hours of enjoyment old-school games gave us alongside friends and family.

You Could Play ASAP!

Remember when you could play a game without having to wait for console boot-up times, long loading screens, or new patch updates to download? Pepperidge Farm remembers.

Learn more about Game Design at the New York Film Academy.

Video Games that Successfully Made the Jump from Movie to Game

Whether it’s due to rushed development times or not enough creative freedom, games based on movies rarely become the talk of the industry. Once in a while, however, a tie-in game will not only exceed expectations, but even transcend genre to inspire the rest of the industry.

If you’re convinced that all games that make the jump from movies aren’t worth playing, these may convince you otherwise:

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

It’s hard to believe that Peter Jackson’s fantasy adventures, which include some of the most ambitious and groundbreaking films of all time, were released almost 15 years ago. The legendary trilogy made The Lord of the Rings a hot license again, convincing various developers in the last two decades to create games set in Middle-Earth.

Atop the many excellent titles based on Tolkien’s world is The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by Stormfront Studios. Players can fight and explore their way through some of the most memorable battles and locations from the first two films. The gameplay is addicting, the settings were faithful to the movies, and, best of all, you could play as the three coolest characters: Aragorn, Gimli, or Legolas.

Goldeneye 007

The world had already experienced 16 other films in the James Bond universe by the time GoldenEye released in 1995, but this film was the first to star Pierce Brosnan as the famous Secret Service agent, and it broke a six-year hiatus for the series. The film was met with mostly positive reviews, but perhaps its greatest achievement was inspiring one of the best video games of all time.

GoldenEye 007 released in 1997 for the Nintendo 64 and is considered one of the most important games in the industry. It’s revolutionary first-person shooter gameplay, story-driven campaign, and fun multiplayer influenced some of the biggest series today. Rare’s masterpiece is what the developers of classics like Call of Duty, Halo and other popular shooters studied endlessly.

Several Star Wars Games

The iconic space saga has been a part of the video game industry almost as long as the original film trilogy itself. As one of the most celebrated franchises out there, it’s no surprise that it has inspired more than 100 games. Although not every title has lived up to the name, there are a number of Star Wars games that every fan should play.

One of them is Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic, an RPG that lets players feel like they’re part of a story set when the Jedi Knights were at their strongest. Gamers who love the fast-paced air combat in the films can check out Rogue Squadron II to jump into the cockpit of classic ships. For a shooting experience similar to Call of Duty, the Battlefront series is the way to go.

Spider-Man 2

In a time when we get at least three big budget movies a year based on Marvel Comics alone, it’s easy to forget about the original films that helped kickstart the superhero craze. A lot of credit goes to the original Spider-Man trilogy by Sam Raimi. The second installment, which is considered the best of the three, got its own action tie-in game that people love to this day.

Developed by Treyarch, a veteran studio now known for their Call of Duty games, Spider-Man 2 released in 2004 to immediate acclaim. Never before could players swing so seamlessly across an expansive city setting while using Web-Head’s famous moves. If there’s one game the devs behind the upcoming new Spider-Man should look to for inspiration, it’s this one.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

The Chronicles of Riddick is one of those movies that bombed at the box office but somehow did very well with its DVD release. Despite getting bashed by critics and earning Vin Diesel a Razzie Award nomination, the film, along with its tie-in game, gained a very loyal and very large cult following.

Escape from Butcher Bay surprised everyone, featuring excellent action and stealth mechanics along with great visuals for the time. The voice acting, which featured performances by the actual film actors, was also highly praised. The game earned various awards and accolades, including several Game of the Year nominations.

4 Prototypes That Will Help You Survive The Road Towards a Successful Game

By Felipe Lara – Instructor, New York Film Academy Game Design

If you have led a team in the development of a new game, you probably felt at some point like the clown in the illustration above: trying to entertain people, while juggling 10 things at the same time, trying to navigate through a flimsy thin line without falling, and pulling your team along for the ride.

The fact is that making games is risky business. There is no way around this, but prototyping the right things will help you reduce risk greatly.

The main risk is of course figuring out what game you should build – what combination of game mechanics, compelling art, storytelling, and social will attract players and keep them engaged long-term. But this major risk is composed of many smaller risks: Do your game mechanics engage players? Does your game run smoothly in the delivering platform? Does your game stand out from the competition?

Although there is no way to getting rid of all risk, you can reduce and keep your risks in check before too many of them pile up and bog down your game.

This process of figuring out what product we should build is what is called product discovery. In the last few years, new methodologies have emerged that have changed the way we look at this process: lean startup, design thinking, rapid prototyping, user-centered development. These all utilize prototyping and user-testing as essential tools to help us learn what is the right product to build, how to connect with our users, and reach our goals. For a big picture view of product discovery I recommend this presentation by Teresa Torres, a coach and consultant who helps companies figure out how to build the right products.

I want to focus on 4 prototypes that will help you create a game with long-term engagement and growth. I talked in previous articles how successful games and experiences need to go through four steps: first stand out, then connect with players at an emotional level, then engage them so you can keep them for longer time, and finally get them to help you grow. Each of these steps has at least one major risk:

  • Is your game going to stand out in the crowd?
  • Will players who see your game care about trying it out?
  • Will your mechanics keep them engaged?
  • Will they talk about your game with their friends and recommend it?

The 4 prototypes below will help you validate potential solutions to overcome each of these steps:

1. Concept Art.

It might sound strange to list concept art as a prototype, but the right concept art can be a very useful tool to test two of the foundations of a successful game: how to stand out and how to connect emotionally with your target players.

In reality, players do not connect to games and experiences exactly because of the art itself, but rather because of the attitudes and points of view that the art reflects which resonate with them. Art alone will not sustain players’ interest; the “cool look” factor wears off quickly and needs to be accompanied by game mechanics and stories that continue reinforcing the points of view and theme that got players’ attention in the first place.

However, art is the easiest way to explore and start testing which themes resonate with your target players and which ones don’t. Finding the right theme and the right representation of it, will take you a long way towards standing out and connecting quickly with your players.

2. Core loop.

Having a core loop that does not engage players is probably your highest risk — and one of the most common causes of failure.

All games have a core set of activities that the player repeats over and over to advance through the game. These repeatable activities are usually called loops, and are the engine that keeps the player’s interest going. If this core loop does not keep the players’ and fulfill at least some of their initial expectations, they will quit and your game will be like a leaky bucket that needs to be refilled with new players constantly.

Needless to say, it is much harder to reach any success with a leaky bucket. I have seen many developers trying to add more and more features to their games, hoping that these features will cover the hole in their leaky core loop. The problem is that more features rarely solve the problem, and fixing the core loop is much more complicated and expensive once it is interconnected to a bunch of secondary features. In the end, they would have been better off if they had taken care of their core loop before adding a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

Prototype your core-loop and make sure it works before trying to add more features!

3. On-boarding experience.

Once you have an engaging core loop, you need to make sure that players get to it. This means that the onboarding experience — the time since your players first start playing your game until the time they get to the core loop — needs to be as smooth and engaging as possible.

Having an engaging core loop won’t help if players quit the game before getting to it. Prototype and test your onboarding experience.

4. Social loop.

There is a sequence of social activities that happen around games that go viral or form a strong player community: players are compelled to share the game or the results of the game with their friends, which in turn are compelled to start playing the game and tell other friends about it.

These activities are sometimes structured as part of the game mechanics inside the game, like in “Clash Royale,” where the core mechanics of the game involve playing with other players, joining clans, etc. But social loops can also happen outside of the game itself. In games like “Minecraft” or “Little Big Planet,” players create their own content and share it in forums and social networks, and although these activities happen outside of the game, they effectively promote the game to others.

Social loops outside of the game are harder to measure, but even looking at number of social media posts and likes can veer you in the right direction. If you care about having a game that can grow its user base organically without a highly expensive marketing campaign, you need to prototype and test your social loops.

Conclusion

Risk is part of the thrill of making new games and experiences, but building the right prototypes at the right time can help you keep your risks in check before they get out of hand and you fall into the sharks.

The 4 prototypes above are important because they help you test and validate how your game will engage players, but they are not the only ones. In the end, prototyping is about mitigating risks and the general rule is that you need to build the prototypes that tackle your higher risks first; this could be more related to the technology, or to your business model, depending on what you are innovating on.

What prototypes do you consider the most important ones? Let me know in the comments.

Learn more about game design at the New York Film Academy Game Design School.

What Beginners Should Know About Ethics in Game Design

One of the most debated topics in the video game industry is one that may surprise you: not graphics or gameplay, but ethics. People, whether they are gamers or not, often ask themselves if developers have an ethical obligation when creating their next title. Just like the people behind your favorite movies or TV shows, game developers are asked to consider how their work will influence people.

Sometimes it seems public opinion likes to focus on the ethics of video games even more than that of films and TV shows, perhaps because it’s a newer medium. It also doesn’t help that, unlike even Hollywood’s most controversial films, video games allow the player make choices and essentially become a character in their game experience. Many argue that the immersive, experiential nature of this form of entertainment raises unique ethical issues.

At the same time, the game industry wants games to be seen not just as entertainment, but also as an art form. Many argue that this means video games should be held to higher standards when it comes to what they depict, and how.

At the end of the day, many agree it’s up to each person to decide what makes a game “unethical.” But what do you think? Read on for some food for thought in this popular and important debate on the ethics of game design.

The Hottest Topics of Discussion

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Below we’ve listed the three major areas where ethics play a role in how game designers create their virtual experiences:

Violence is perhaps the biggest talking point when talking about controversial games. Although violence has existed in games almost as long as the game industry itself, those desiring to censor games have focused on a number of infamous titles.

One of the first was the original “Mortal Kombat,” which led to several court cases and played a role in the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board.

Today, violence is everywhere in games. Games have also been accused of having a negative effect on players and desensitizing people to violence. However, game developers continue featuring violence in their games, arguing they do so only at a level that fits the context of the game’s world.

Nudity

Nudity is another sensitive topic when discussing ethics in games. While the number of adult gamers has grown exponentially over the years, younger players are still the biggest demographic for games, and likely to play any given game. This means that even if ESRB gives a Mature rating, plenty of gamers under 17 years of age will probably still play.

The evolution of graphics and realism in game art has sparked fresh debate on the topic of nudity in games, even if the developers only intend adults to play them. Many game designers feel they should have the same artistic freedom as Hollywood to depict mature content in their projects, and argue that it is every individual parent’s responsibility to keep M-rated titles out of their children’s hands.

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Some games let player participate as a hero looking to bring the bad guys to justice, and feature villains committing acts of crime, from theft and arson to battery and homicide. But what about the opposite situation, where the player participates as a criminal? The issue a lot of people have with certain games is that they consist of gameplay where the player must commit crimes to advance.

Of all the titles out there to use as an example, none is better than “Grand Theft Auto,” arguably one of the most controversial series of all time, where players play as criminals. When it comes to crime in games, designers tend to leverage a little more freedom but are still careful. Knowing that not everyone approves of committing crimes in games, the many top game designers find ways to put the choice in the player’s hands. Most developers agree there should be rewards and consequences to influence the player’s decisions in a fun, engaging way.

Today, many people don’t have a problem with games featuring profanity and references to substances like alcohol, drugs, and tobacco. However, many others aren’t comfortable with this content, especially when thinking of letting younger gamers play titles littered with profanity. Unfortunately, the games that allow the player to censor cuss words are few and far between.

Some people also argue against showing characters, especially the protagonist/hero, using illegal drugs, tobacco, or any substance known to be harmful to your health — as is the case, for example, in The Saints Row series.

Responsibility vs. Artistic Freedom

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Game developers feel they should have the same freedom as filmmakers, authors, and other artists. As an artform, games have the power to tell incredible stories, and many game designers argue that sometimes this requires including sensitive content. To the average game developer, censoring game content is equivalent to limiting their artistic freedom.

At the same time, designers should always consider that what they’re adding to their projects will be seen by people of all ages. Many consumers argue that, aside from protecting underage gamers, censoring game content provides a more positive game space that can still be creative and compelling. It also doesn’t help that many developers have been known to add controversial content not for storytelling purposes or artistic decisions, but simply to make the game more commercially appealing.

In the end, it’s still up to gamers and parents to consider the ESRB rating before venturing into their next virtual adventure. But what do you think about the debate on the ethics in game design?

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Interested in learning more about game design? Study at the New York Film Academy.

The Rise of High Quality Video Game Trailers

The evolution of video game trailers is comparable to games themselves. While 20 years ago we were content running across 8-bit worlds, now we expect vast 3D areas with lifelike visuals. As the video game industry became bigger and better, so too did the most powerful way of marketing a new game.

In fact, publishers hire people that focus specifically on creating cinematics and trailers that will make the game look as attractive as possible. While how well a game sells will mostly be determined by its quality, a game trailer plays a major role as well.

The following is a brief look at where game trailers began and how developers have in time improved them:

The Odd, Early Years

In the early ‘90s it was all about the Super NES and Sega Genesis. Sega pulled out all the stops to compete with Nintendo, who up until then had dominated the industry. As the console war heated up, both companies realized they needed to step up their marketing by providing top-notch commercials for young gamers all across the globe.

But much like that decade itself, the commercials were all about being “dope.” Not satisfied with just showing the games in all their 2D glory, developers and their marketing teams went with intense, action-packed commercials with people to hype up the game.

They Get Better

As video game consoles got got better, so too did the visuals they could produce. Consoles like the Sega Dreamcast, N64 and PlayStation could produce breathtaking 3D characters and environments. Now with impressive graphics to show off, game companies finally decided to use them in their trailers.

Live adults were ditched in favor of quick cuts of gameplay to give players a taste of what they could be playing. The trend to add dramatic music that wasn’t specifically in the game, which is still done often today, also arose during this time.

They Become An Art Form

Video games have become one of the most powerful ways to tell a story. Games offer an interactive experience that lets you feel like you’re actually in an enchanted forest, heated battlefield, or wherever your favorite games take you. In order to make their games stand out above the rest, developers began trying to make their trailers do the same as the games themselves — evoke emotion.

Companies began creating cinematics made specifically for commercials, even if they never appeared in the actual game. Moving soundtracks combined with emotional scenes helped some of the best games of the 2000s draw thousands to stores. The following are perfect examples of trailers that despite showing little to no gameplay, draw you into its setting and characters.

The Rise of Misleading Trailers

The video game industry is more competitive than ever. This puts a lot of pressure on game developers who must sell X million copies just to break even or be given another chance at a new project. Unfortunately, this has caused a lot of publishers to become shady when it comes to what they show in their trailers.

There are many ways a trailer can be misleading. For one, they might show footage of a game that’s a vast improvement to what will actually be in the game. Other times we’re given cinematics that are a completely false representation of what you’ll actually be doing or seeing in the game. Below are a few examples, including one of the many infamous “Metal Gear Solid 2” trailers that fooled us into thinking Solid Snake would be the main protagonist.

Interested in learning more about game design? Check out the New York Film Academy’s Game Design School.

The Table-Top Gaming Revolution: Just 40 Years in the Making

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by NYFA Instructor Andy Ashcraft

So, as some of you may have noticed, table-top games — board-games and card games — are really popular right now. You can find dozens of new games in the big box stores like Target, Walmart and Toys-R-Us, and even find well-stocked selections in the big bookstores. Local specialty retail shops are everywhere, and always have people inside playing a game or two. Board-game cafes are springing up in cities around the world, where you can enjoy a beverage and a snack and borrow a game to play from some pretty extensive libraries. In Glendale, my favorite local game café called GameHaus boasts a library with about 1500 games, and is packed full of people on a Friday and Saturday night. What is happening here? When did this start?

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Even though it seems to have sprung up overnight, our seemingly newfound love of table-top games has a history going back about 40 years.  In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll outline a timeline that shows how this hobby has grown to what it is now.

Pre-1974:  Wargames, Family Games and Abstract Strategy Games.

Prior to, say, 1976, the world of tabletop gaming could be split into these three reasonably distinct categories:

Family Games

Family games were those that you could easily find in a Toy-R-Us or in a small area near the toys in a department store. These are titles I’m sure you’ll recognize: Monopoly, Candyland, Stratego, Clue (or Cluedo), Trouble, and Scrabble. You would be hard-pressed to find any suburban home in the U.S. that didn’t include at least one of these games.  (My grandfather was a huge Scrabble fan, and taught me to play just as soon as I could read. Perhaps I come to my love of games through him!)

Abstract Strategy Games / Traditional Games

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Abstract strategy games are much older than many of the family games above, like many card games using a traditional deck of cards. They include games like chess, checkers, dominoes, backgammon, Pente, and Othello. Many of these games are old enough to not require a license, and therefore different manufacturers could make games for different market segments: kid’s versions, travel versions, or expensive, hand-crafted versions that are left out as objets d’art. Similarly, anyone can publish a standard deck of playing cards, with which literally hundreds of games can be played. You can buy decks of cards at dollar stores, or find very expensive and beautifully illustrated decks, depending on your taste and budget.  

Wargames

This last type of game is the lesser-known cousin of the other two, and in many ways, the predecessor of the gaming boom we’re experiencing today. Wargames were a niche hobby for adult men (generally white) who enjoyed strategy and history. Many of these games were set in a particular historical battle. Avalon Hill was a major publisher of many of these strategy games like Tactics, Blitzkrieg, Gettysburg, and a railroad game called Dispatcher. These games typically used tiny cardboard tokens on a map to illustrate the action.

Wargaming with these tokens led to using miniatures (usually cast in lead or pewter) as nicer-looking replacement game pieces. In 1970, medieval wargame enthusiasts Gary Gygax, Jeff Perrin and Don Lowry teamed up to create a medieval miniatures wargame called Chainmail. As “an afterthought,” Gygax added a section at the end dealing with fantastic and mythological creatures, notably elves, goblins, wizards and dragons. This turned out to be quite popular and lead to the first big breakout hit for this industry.   

1974-1994:  D&D, Hobby Games and Game Stores

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In 1974, Gygax (and some others) created a company called TSR and released Dungeons & Dragons, an expansion of Chainmail where each player played as just one hero character instead of as the commander of an army. It was the first role-playing game (RPG) and was enormously influential and innovative. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of table-top RPG’s published since then, and an equally vast number of computer RPGs. A great deal has been written about Dungeons & Dragons so I won’t get into too much detail, except to point to this moment as a big expansion in the hobby.

At this point, game conventions began to grow from small gatherings where groups of friends spent the weekend playing games together to the 90,000+ people that are expected to attend GenCon Indy this year, it’s 40th anniversary. Gen-Con, the “best five days in gaming,” brings more money into Indianapolis each year than any other event outside the Indianapolis 500. Los Angeles alone hosts three much smaller game conventions each year.

These game conventions became fertile fields for design-oriented players to start making and sharing their own games, and some cult classics first appeared in these venues, often as self-published packages sold in ziplock bags: Wiz-War, Talisman, Cosmic Encounters, Battle Stations, and Insecta are examples of these “early” hobby games.

Another direct spin-off of Dungeons & Dragons is the British company named Games Workshop. Early on, this company had the license to publish D&D (and other American games) in Europe. They were both a publisher and a brick-and-mortar retailer, with a rapid growth during these 20 years. Games Workshop also published their own games, like Fury of Dracula and, more importantly to them, Warhammer and Warhammer 40K.

Warhammer (and the 40k variant) are a return to miniatures-based war-gaming, with players commanding large armies of elves, orcs, and other fantasy creatures. They teamed up with a miniatures manufacturer named Citadel Miniatures to create a line of figures that were a requirement to play the game. These fantasy tabletop wargames became their core business.  

During this time, the hobby began to acknowledge the best games for their excellence. The Germans were the first to start awarding prizes in the field of game-design. The Spiel de Jahres was awarded in 1979, and two other awards started in 1989/1990: the Kinderspiel de Jahres (for children’s games) and the Deutscher Spiele Pries. That same year, the American Mensa organization would also begin awarding the Mensa Select to games that promote thinking and learning. In 1991, Games Magazine gave their first Game of the Year award.

1994-1999:  The Years of Magical Thinking

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In the mid-’90s, the industry saw two big shifts that would help swing this niche hobby into the mainstream — Magic: The Gathering, and a simultaneous surge in creativity from Europe.

Magic: The Gathering debuted at Gen-Con in 1994. At the heart of this game was a then-revolutionary idea: what if there was a game you could play with trading cards? Instead of buying the entire game at once, players would buy smaller packs of cards, trade individual cards with each other, and play with the cards that they had collected. Each “booster pack” of 15 cards included one rare card, three uncommon cards, and 11 common cards. It was a huge hit, selling out their first few print runs, and ultimately changing the business of tabletop gaming across the U.S.

The game’s setting was a fantasy world, much like Dungeons & Dragons and Warhammer. Each card had a beautiful illustration, and the game itself could be played in 15-30 minutes. It took the company, Wizards of the Coast, a year or so to come to grips with their nigh-instant popularity and get their production pipeline flowing. The game — colloquially called “Magic” or shortened even more to “MtG” — was inherently open-ended so that Wizards of the Coast could release new sets of cards that could be added to each player’s collection. The growing community of players created a rich secondary market for the most useful cards, and some of these cards would be instantly worth 10 times the cost of the booster pack they’d be found in.  

Within two years, most tabletop game retailers were making the lion’s share of their income selling only these card packs. I remember hearing stories of game shops that were burglarized during this time where the thieves took nothing except boxes of unopened Magic cards.   

The market for this game was typically young men, and Wizards of the Coast realized something important: they were bringing new people into the hobby. They followed this success in 1996 by publishing a similar trading card game, slightly simpler, and based on a video game series popular among both boys and girls: Pokémon. The game’s slogan told you exactly what they wanted you to do: “You gotta catch ‘em all.”  

There were many other collectible trading card games that followed these two, but none as popular.   Wizards of the Coast created a rich and stable platform for a brand new generation of gamers. By 1999, Wizards of Coast had purchased the flagging Dungeons & Dragons publisher, TSR, and released a new version of that game, too. Wizards of the Coast has since been purchased by Hasbro, and now you can purchase Magic and Pokémon cards in very mainstream retailers like Toys-R-Us and Target.

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Meanwhile, in Europe, an explosion of creativity was also happening around board games. The story I heard, which may be apocryphal, is that a German marketing company did a survey asking young adults what they liked to do best on a Friday night. They expected to get answers regarding drinking and night-life, and were surprised to find out that a very large number of people liked to stay home and play games with the friends and family. It’s not clear from the story whether this caused publishers to pour money into tabletop games, or was the result of publisher money spent. What I do know is that by the late 1990s, a tidal wave of European board and card games were showing up in my local game stores, and they were wildly different than anything we had seen before.  

Some of these early “euro-games” were Settlers of Catan, Agricola, Carcassonne, Bohnanza, and Tigris & Euphrates.  These games were richly detailed, beautifully made, and introduced us to entirely new game mechanics. These were games made for people who liked deep strategy but with brand new themes: you could play as a tribe of people settling an island, or a plantation owner, or a city planner, and have that same strategic experience that had been mostly relegated to war-games.

1999 – Present:  The Mainstreaming of Games

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And so we come to what I consider the current era of gaming, a golden age for sure! I think it is also important to make two small digressions:  

  1. Gaming has grown in prominence in parallel with the popularity of manga, science fiction, fantasy and the supernatural genres on TV and at the box office.  
  2. Globalism (and the internet) has made it much easier for a small game publisher to make a much more high-quality product than was possible even in the 1980s.  

But let’s talk about the games themselves, the kinds of fun they create, and the affect they have had on the hobby.

Cooperative games have had a resurgence in popularity. There were a few early games (Dungeon! and Arkham Horror) that fit this description; games in which players work together to win or lose the game collectively. The title that really broke this type of game out is Pandemic, where the players are CDC (Center of Disease Control) Agents racing around the world attempting to find cures for rapidly growing, and thankfully abstracted, diseases. One of my other favorites is Red November, where you play as the grog-drinking Gnomish crew on a sinking submarine.  The fun of these games is intensely social, and their steep challenge — the players frequently lose these games — creates their delicious tension.  

Werewolf (and the similar game called Mafia) originated as party games that you could play with a group of people and a few normal playing cards. These are called social deduction games, where the players attempt to figure out which one (or more) of them are secretly playing against the rest. In the case of Werewolf, most players play as villagers, but among them are also secretly werewolves. Each round, the entire group of villagers can eliminate one player in the hopes of getting rid of the werewolf, then, while everyone else’s eyes are closed, the secret werewolf eliminates one other player. The popularity of Werewolf spawned a multitude of other social deduction games in a wide variety of themes. These games are meant to be played as party games, and are fun as purely social events.

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Magic: The Gathering is still going strong, of course, and the publisher of that game has refined its approach to the community of players. They have defined a suite of tournament types to appeal to different types of players. The truly hard-core players can play in “Unlimited” tournaments, which allow almost every card ever published to be used in the game. This appeals to those collector/players who have spent years and/or fortunes collecting the rarest and best cards. The “Standard” format only allows cards published within the last two years, basically, which means that newer collector/players can compete. “Booster Draft” tournaments are the most casual; players do not need to own any cards at all to play because they will “draft” cards from a brand-new booster pack before passing the remainder to the next player. Afterwards, they use these cards create their decks and play. They also created a world-wide database of players and track their wins and losses, ultimately leading to world championship tournaments that only the best players are invited to.

A few other new genres of games spun out of the collectible card games, like MtG. 7 Wonders is an example of a “card-drafting” game, where the entire game is just “drafting” cards — players choose cards from sets being passed around. Another game, Dominion, was the first of many “deck-building” games, where you start with a small set of cards and acquire more cards to add to your deck as the game progresses. Both of these game mechanics are part of the larger Magic game, but as these clever game designers realized, could be fun experiences on their own.  

One of the most recent innovations in game design is the Legacy game. The first Legacy game was Risk Legacy, developed in-house at Hasbro by Rob Daviau and Chris Dupuis and published in 2011. Risk Legacy takes the classic Risk strategy game-play and adds elements that persist from one game to the next. For example, a faction might gain an ability, or a territory space on the board could be modified in the first game, and that change would persist through the games that followed. These games are meant to change and evolve as they are played, and generally have a limited number of plays in them before the game once again becomes static and unchanging. This idea of persistent changes is at the heart of most tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, but had never been applied to board games before.  

As a counterpoint to that, some tabletop games are role-playing games reimagined as board games, card games or dice games. These experiences have pre-made player characters, pre-written adventures, little (or no) persistence, and tons of interchangeable tiles and miniatures. Good examples are the traditional fantasy-themed Descent and Thunderstone, or the adorably anthropomorphic Mice & Mystics.  

All this innovation brought new players to the table and the hobby continued to grow. In 2000, a website called Board Game Geek was founded and hosts a vast, user-edited database of table-top games, reviews of games (and an important game-rating system), tutorials on how to play and/or make games, pictures of games, and discussion forums.  Gamers can share their game collections and their experiences with others around the world.   

Now: The State of the Union

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Finally, since we’re talking about the internet, we must include Kickstarter. Kickstarter, launched in 2009, is a popular crowdfunding site that, has really clicked for the hobby games community. The first tabletop game sold on Kickstarter (Alien Frontier, I think) funded in April of 2010 for about $15k. As of this writing, the largest amount of money raised for a complete game was $8,782,571 for a game called Exploding Kittens. There are, as of this writing, 245 different table-top game projects with active Kickstarter campaigns.

$8.7 million is an outlier of course, but it does show how big the market for a game can be. Typically, the budgets for games are much, much smaller. The average publishing deal, in which a game designer licenses a game to a publisher to publish, is for five years. That publisher will print maybe 3000 copies of the game, which is just enough to get a few copies into most specialty retail shops and sell a handful at conventions.

An average MSRP for a game is around $40, so math tells us that an average game is expected to earn about $120,000 over five years, which must cover the cost of goods (and shipping) and also pay the retailer, the distributor, the publisher and the inventor/designer. That is to say, no one is making a lot of money on these games. This is still a hobby market, even if the entire industry earned $1.2 billion in 2016 (according to this article), a 40 percent increase over 2015.

The biggest change over the last 30 years has been the cultural change: where games are played and who is playing.

I’ve already hinted at this, but to be more explicit, this hobby is now multi-generational. The kids who are playing games now have parents who still play those same games. My friend has a boy, who at 6 years old was a fanatic about trains. He couldn’t have cared any less about games until he saw us playing Ticket to Ride, and now at 14, he is a gamer. This also illustrates that there are games themed for everyone now, from war-games to gardening-themed games.

Because more kids are playing more games as they grow up, and because the parents of these kids are still playing games now, the biggest change has been in the gender-balance of the players. In short, more females are playing games now than ever before. Thirty years ago, games not for kids/families games were made for and by men. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. There has been an active push by the community to make the hobby more accepting of, and attractive to, women. As a result, the places we play have become more open, cleaner and friendlier spaces to be in. Gone are the dimly lit retail stores stacked to the ceiling with games. Gone are the dank basements where mom never wanted to go.

Further, because of the immense popularity of Magic, these retail stores have had to change their business models. A store that only sells games is not competitive anymore; your store must also have space to play games. On Friday nights, you need to have space for Friday Night Magic, the weekly MtG “booster draft” tournament. During the rest of the week, you want to have people in your store playing games, or painting miniatures. In short, retail spaces have become the gathering spaces for gamers.  

A recent game prototyping event I attended, called Protospiel, was held in a retail shop in Mountain View, CA. It was a little crowded, but the store had enough space to hold 50 tables, each with room for 6 players. The amount of space this store dedicated to play-space was much larger than the amount of space dedicated to selling games (and snacks).  

And in conclusion…

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I wanted to provide an overview of why this hobby has suddenly (over the last 35+ years) exploded in popularity. I’ve given you the long answer, but the shorter answer is this: The time was right for innovation along multiple fronts — creative, business and technological — to turn a very niche hobby into a much more mainstream hobby. New games are being made, and the best games (and designers) are praised for their excellence, which raises the challenge to the next game designers to make even better games, which then attract even more people to the hobby.  

This is also a good place to add that many of us spend much of our day slaving over a hot keyboard or staring deeply into the soul of a computer screen. Perhaps tabletop gaming provides exactly what we need right now: fun, safe, human interaction.

On Game Literacy

By Andrew Ashcraft, NYFA Game Design

One of the biggest benefits of playing games, whether we’re playing for fun or to learn how to design, is that we learn a kind game literacy. We learn the language of games, and we can learn to “hear” or read the intentions of the designers. Other people have written more about game literacy.  In fact, here’s a very good academic primer on the subject by Eric Zimmerman. Here, I’ll give some concrete examples of exactly how useful game literacy will be in the 21st century, when so many of us have grown up gaming our entire lives.  

Games are central to our culture: we live and eat and breathe games every day. I’m not only talking about games we play for fun, although there are more of them now than ever. I’m talking about games that are played for real-world stakes. Once I started to think about games, I realized how many games are being played with me, whether I’m a willing participant or not.  

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Johan Huizinga wrote about the magic circle (in his book, “Homo Ludens”) that separates the world of the game and the game’s actions from our real world. When we choose to play a game, we step into this magic circle, and everything we do inside is for the game. When we’re done, we step back out into our real lives. (Read more about Huizinga here.)

For many games, the magic circle is completely true. But there are many, many games that blur the distinction between game-life and real-life. Certainly, winning or losing a game can have long-lasting ramifications to your real-life: an obvious example is the state lottery. Here in California, you can buy a $1 lottery ticket which gives you a very, very, very small chance of becoming an instant millionaire. This is a game, obviously, that you enter into with a $1 purchase at your local bodega or supermarket. But when you step back out of that magic circle, the game may have changed your life very profoundly!  (Much more likely, though, the only change will be that you are $1 poorer.)

Similarly, you’re at a stoplight in your fancy sports car when another driver pulls up beside you and revs his engine, peering over his sunglasses at you. You’ve been invited to a street race! You can step into this magic circle and pit your sports car and driving skills against his … but I don’t recommend it.  In this case, a failure can have epically disastrous effects on the rest of your life.  

(As a side note, I feel that the entry for “Earthling” in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” should be updated to read “Most harmless and REALLY BAD at risk assessment.” Doing crazy and risky things in the safety of a video game does NOT prepare you for doing the same thing in real life.)

But the goal of this article Is not to make you a saner driver. The goal is to help you recognize when you are in a game, because the magic circle is not always easy to spot.

But let’s start with some basic ideas about games in general.

Games have players. Games result in, as defined in “Game Design Workshop” (by Tracy Fullerton), “unequal outcomes.”  More specifically, players can do well or they do poorly, and doing well in a game is not equal to doing poorly.  

Winning and losing mean different things in different games. For example, in an Olympic marathon, winning means running faster than your competition. Your reward is to stand on the tallest platform wearing a gold medal while your national anthem plays — and, you get some cash! I didn’t know this until recently, but you also get cash! But winning might also mean breaking a world record (racing against previous fastest runners), or beating your own personal best time. The time on the clock for each racer is the “unequal outcome.” Everything else is just comparing that outcome with other outcomes: other runners (past or present) or your own.

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The players are the other runners (and their support teams) in the same race, or they are all the runners in Olympic history, or they are your past selves.

Let’s look at an example of something that is less obviously a game, but has real-world consequences (i.ei: stakes): an airline-sponsored mileage-earning credit card. The players are the credit-card holder (me, for example), the bank issuing the credit card, and the airline. The next step is to think about how each player wins this game:

  • I win (or do well) by using and paying off this convenient line of credit: I gain mileage points toward free travel or free upgrades. However, I lose (do poorly) if I spend more than I can easily pay back, because…
  • The bank wins (or does well) by charging me high interest on this line of credit, and by charging me a yearly fee for having this line of credit. They also get financial data about me: they know what I purchase and know how likely I am to pay off this credit.  
  • The airline does well when I choose them over another airline because either I have enough points to travel, or I need to buy a few more, which they are happy to sell to me. (This is why these are called loyalty programs. They gain my loyalty to them over their competition.) The airlines also gain some financial data about me because (at the very least), they know how many points I earn by using that credit card, if not exactly what I purchase.     

Every time I use this card, I’m making another move in this game that the three of us are playing. I must decide if the move is a good one to take at this moment. The bank and the airline are always happy to see me use the credit card: The bank may get to charge me money, and the airline gains more of my loyalty.  Given all that, you can see that this game is semi-cooperative: everyone is happy for me to use the card. But at the same time, you can also see that neither the bank nor the airline actually want what is best for me. What is best for me is to use the card and pay it off completely every month. To them, I am less a player and more of a resource to be harvested.  

This analysis is only possible because of the way I understand games. Even the language I use — “semi-cooperative,” “resources,” “players” — is common game terminology. Game literacy allows me to see that games have players and that players can win or lose in different ways.

Let’s look at a social game that we all play: how we dress. I bring this up because my sister-in-law just had this conversation with her daughter. My niece, at 10 years old, is just starting to realize that there are social rules regarding how she dresses. She has begun to understand that other people (other kids mainly) care about the way she dresses and that she can do well or do poorly. But sadly, she doesn’t know what these rules are, so choosing clothing in the morning is really stressful! She knows she’s making a play in a game and she senses that the stakes are high, but she doesn’t know how to make the best choices. Of course, these rules probably change from day to day and are created by the group mind of all the other 10-year-olds in her class. So, God help her, because we adults cannot.

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However, we can offer insight to her about the game we adults play when we choose our attire. When we dress ourselves, we choose based on two criteria:  

  1. Are the clothes appropriate to the weather and activity? This is usually pretty easy: wear a jacket when it’s chilly; don’t wear sandals in the snow; ice-skates are prohibited on wood floors.   
  2. What do we want to say about who we are? For example, I wear red leather lace-up shoes as often as I can because I want to say that I take a little extra effort to stand out from the crowd. I like to say that I think differently, perhaps even more creatively than the average guy. Of course, my red shoes are an affectation. The jury is still out on whether any of what I want to say is true. But I dress the way I do because I want to say it. I get compliments on these shoes, too, and each time I feel like my statement is being understood. That feels like a win to me.

And so the advice to my niece is this: the dressing game is about telling people about yourself through your clothing. You win when you dress in such a way that people understand something about you that you want them to understand. You lose when they think something about you, based on how you dress, that you don’t like. That simple rule is true for 10-year-old girls, and also true for 40-year-old game designers.

Again, I bring this up because getting dressed in the morning is not usually considered a game. However, if viewed as a game, and thought about as a game, using the terminology of games and our understanding of games, we can make moves that allow us to do well in that game.   

There are other games that get played at us, too. How many of us have been targeted by someone playing Outrage? Outrage is a game played through conversation against an opponent who does not realize that they are in a game. To play Outrage, wait for your opponent to make some tiny error or offence and then attack with it! Blow it way up! Be as outraged as you can be about this small gaff. Use your opponent’s surprise to gain some small social advantage, like a confused apology. You win! You are now better than they are. (Not really. In fact, this is an awful thing to do to someone.)

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a game of Outrage, you know that it can feel pretty horrible. However, once you see it as the game it is, you have a say in the outcome. You can mount a defense. You can say, “I don’t wish to play this game,” and walk away, or ignore the outburst and continue the conversation as if it didn’t happen. When the other person asks why you ignored their outrage, you can say, “I’m game-literate!”

Ready to learn more about game design? Check out NYFA’s game design programs!

 

25 Video Games Every Game Design Student Should Play Before They Graduate

By Scott Rogers, NYFA Game Design

Developers of new games constantly reference existing games when collaborating with their teammates. There is nothing worse than seeing the team latch onto an idea inspired by an existing game, but you have no idea what they are talking about.

The following is a list of 25 video games every game design student should play before they graduate. It’s not supposed to be a list of the best games of all time, but rather a list of important works that will let you contribute in any design meeting in the industry. Pro tip: If you can’t get access to play the games in full, try watching game play videos on Youtube.

“The Stanley Parable”

Developer: Galactic Cafe

Platform: PC
Published: 2011

Why it should be played: “The Stanley Parable” was one of the first “walking simulators,” which used level and sound design to tell a story rather than cutscenes and cinematics. Its dry sense of humor and meta-theme about player choice – which results in over 20 different endings to the game – is a great example to future game designers of how branching narrative works and can be told through level design.

“Super Mario 64”

Developer: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 64
Published: 1996

Why it should be played:  To this day, “Super Mario 64” has the best 3D camera in video games – the secret is treating it as if it were a separate character from the player. The revolutionary analog controls are a perfect complement to the camera and the level design artfully translates traditional 2D gameplay into 3D space.

Batman: “Arkham Asylum”

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Developer: Rocksteady

Platform: PS3, XBOX 360, PC, XBOX 360, PS4
Published: 2009

Why it should be played: Everything in the game is designed to make the player feel like they are Batman, from the masterful story to the reactive controls to the surprisingly deep stealth-based gameplay. This results in the first Batman game that is actually true to the license.

“Portal”

Developer: Valve Corporation
Platform: PC, XBOX 360, PS3
Published: 2007

Why it should be played: The game is a master class in how to introduce and combine mechanics using level design to create ramping challenges to the player. Another rare example of the use of humor in video games.

“Super Mario Bros.”

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Developer: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Published: 1985

Why it should be played: A classic in 2D scrolling level design. Its first level – World 1.1 – is considered the best level ever designed.

“Bioshock”

Developer: 2K Games
Platform: PC, XBOX 360, XBOX One, PS3, PS4
Published: 2007

Why it should be played: “Bioshock” is a first person shooter game that employs intrinsic storytelling through level design, collectibles and gameplay. It is a rare example of a game with a moral point of view, and it utilizes an unreliable narrator as a storytelling device.

“Ico”

Developer: SCE Japan Studio
Platform: PS2
Published: 2001

Why it should be played: “Ico” is revolutionary in its use of a sympathetic second character to generate player empathy and create puzzle design. It is notable for having a story told without using dialogue, thereby increasing its accessibility to audiences.

“Fruit Ninja”

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Developer: Halfbrick

Platform: Mobile, XBLA, XBOX One, PS Vita, HTC Vive
Published: 2007

Why it should be played: In addition to its simple concept and satisfying player feedback, the mobile game in particular is an excellent example of how to use consistent touch screen controls in all aspects of the game.

“Tetris”

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Developer: Elorg

Platform: Too many to list
Published: 1984

Why it should be played: This historically important example of casual video games is an excellent example of abstract game design and the go-to “exhibit A” in the academic discussion of gameplay vs. story (answer: they are both important).

“Oregon Trail”

Developer: MECC

Platform: PC, XBOX 360, PS3
Published: 1971

Why it should be played: Not only the first educational game but one of the earliest games to use a parser. It also evolved into early graphic adventure game. It teaches while still being fun.

“M.U.L.E.”

Developer: Ozark Softscape

Platform: Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari 8-bit
Published: 1983

Why it should be played: This historically important early economic sim showed that games can more than just dexterity based, action games.

“Dragon’s Lair”

Developer: Cinematronics

Platform: Arcade
Published: 1983

Why it should be played: “Dragon’s Lair” is the first laser disc, traditionally animated arcade game with a complete story. Its gameplay is a precursor to Quick Timer Events — and it is an interesting milestone of the time when the film industry recognized games as an emerging and profitable form of entertainment.

“Myst”

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Developer: Cyan

Platform: Mac, Saturn, PS, 3DO, PC, PSP, DS, 3DS
Published: 1993

Why it should be played: This early CD-ROM game was one of the first to utilize 3D pre-rendered graphics, and inspired game developers to incorporate CG graphics and story into their games.

“Journey”

Developer: thatgamecompany

Platform: PS3, PS4
Published: 2012

Why it should be played: An example of an “art” game that delivers an emotional story despite simple, almost non-existent gameplay.

“Donkey Kong”

Developer: Nintendo

Platform: Arcade
Published: 1981

Why it should be played: The first game with story, the first platform game and a great example of making lemonade from lemons.

“Darfur is Dying”

Developer: TAKE ACTION games

Platform: Browser
Published: 2006

Why it should be played: An important example of “serious” gaming and browser-based gaming that is also quite playable.

“Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”

Developer: Naughty Dog

Platform: PS3, PS4
Published: 2009

Why it should be played: A modern classic of 3D level design, AI design, controls, camera and storytelling.

“Pokemon Go”

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Developer: Niantic

Platform: Mobile
Published: 2016

Why it should be played: A modern example of using Global Positioning and Augmented Reality in gaming; how the real world can be used as a game space.

“Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos”

Developer: Blizzard Entertainment

Platform: PC, Mac
Published: 2002

Why it should be played: Not only a classic of real time strategy gaming, but also contains a robust gameplay editor instrumental in the indie movement of gaming.

“Call of Duty: Ghosts”

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Developer: Infinity Ward

Platform: PC, XBOX 360, XBOX One, PS3, PS4, Wii U
Published: 2013

Why it should be played: An excellent example of the first person shooter genre that uses intrinsic storytelling and shifting perspectives as well as classic level design techniques.

“The Walking Dead: Season 1”

Developer: Telltale Games

Platform: PC, XBOX 360, PS3
Published: 2007

Why it should be played: A fine example of the postmodern adventure game genre, featuring gameplay with moral choices and multiple pathing.

“Red Dead Redemption”

Developer: Rockstar Games

Platform: XBOX 360, PS3
Published: 2010

Why it should be played: A prime example of an open-world environment gameplay, how to direct gameplay despite an open-world and how to provide gameplay that appeals to all four of Bartle’s classes of players.

“LittleBigPlanet”

Developer: Media Molecule

Platform: PS3, PSP, PS4
Published: 2008

Why it should be played: LittleBigPlanet is a top-notch platform game that also has a fantastic level editor to teach you how to make your own levels.

“CodeCombat”

Developer: CodeCombat

Platform: Browser
Published: 2014

Why it should be played: A great educational game, where players learn how to write code while fighting monsters! Also good example of how to incentivize a player through monetization

“Superman 64”

Developer: Titus Software

Platform: Nintendo 64
Published: 1999

Why it should be played: Although this suffers from horrible controls, camera, gameplay and storytelling, it is important for game developers to learn how not to make a game.

Ready to learn more about game design? Check out NYFA’s game design programs!

Analysis: the Advancement of CGI in Video Games

CGI and video games: computer generated images (or, at least, computer interpreted images) are, by definition, the visual recipe for every video game we play and part of what makes games one of the most complex and captivating forms of entertainment on the planet. From great stories and characters to awesome gameplay and sound design, there are numerous reasons why video games are a part of more people’s lives than ever before. But if there’s one aspect of games that has evolved the most over time, it’s the element many care about most — visuals.

For as long as video games have been around, people have gravitated towards games that are not only fun to play but also look amazing. In fact, even the film industry is now studying how game developers create realistic graphics and movement to tell a story. Of course, much like movies themselves, games have gone through an evolution in becoming the visually jaw-dropping experiences they are today. And CGI has played a major role in the evolution of game visuals.

The Early Days

In the beginning, or the early ‘70s, all you had was a few white pixels over a black screen. Although Pong wasn’t officially the first video game ever made, it was one of the earliest arcade games to become popular across the globe. Other games like Midway’s Boot Hill and Gotcha only used black and white computer-generated images, but this was enough at the time to fill arcades.

The success of these black-and-white titles led to a desire for more attractive visuals and shapes. Namco’s Galaxian astonished gamers everywhere in 1979 with its brightly colored ships, and a year later the enormously popular Pac-Man arrived. Developers would continue pushing the limits of the video game consoles at the time to deliver games that were a joy both to view and play.

The Sprite Era

In 1985 a little game called Super Mario Bros. jumped onto the scene, almost single-handedly resurrecting the video game industry after a devastating market crash. At the same time, games like Street Fighter II, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Strider revived arcades as a social and game hub. Revolutions in memory, storage capacity, and graphics cards/ screen resolution allowed these games to offer more vibrant colors and diverse shapes than ever, leading to improved user experiences.

The increased hardware power of systems like the Super NES and Sega Genesis also inspired developers to create jaw-dropping visuals for their time. Games like Chrono Trigger, Sonic The Hedgehog, and Super Metroid are to this day considered masterpieces of an era when designers were able to craft charming worlds and atmospheric places with sprites alone. While 2D graphics still have their fans to this day, the mid-‘90s are arguably the period of greatest CGI advancement in video games.

The 3D Takeover Unfolds

Increased power in the average home computer gave developers the freedom to use tricks to simulate 3D. One of the games to do this best was the critically praised Doom, a pioneer in perhaps the most popular genre today: first-person shooter. True 3D graphics finally took over in the mid-’90s with the release of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation.

With these consoles, gamers could truly begin exploring fully-3D worlds. There was nothing more incredible than seeing Mario jump, fly, and slide in Super Mario 64, the first successful 3D platformer. Games like PlayStation’s Crash Bandicoot and PC-favorite Quake continued pushing CGI in games until developers needed better hardware to take things further.

The Modern Age

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The jump from 2D to 3D still stands as the most significant advancement of CGI in video games. Ever-improving technology in the early 2000s opened the door to head-turning games like Halo: Combat Evolved, Grand Theft Auto III, and Metroid Prime. Never before were video game visuals so capable of creating environments that sucked players in and made them feel like part of the virtual worlds.

Today, 3D continues dominating the industry as games become more and more realistic. The latest video game consoles allow for the best cinematic realism ever to grace the industry, while computer users are able to constantly boost their system’s graphics capabilities. With the advent of virtual and augmented reality, there’s no telling where video game CGI will go next.



What are your favorite video games visuals? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Women to Know in the Gaming Industry

Wondering where all of the diversity is in the video game industry? Don’t worry — it’s not all guys. Of course, it’s not surprising that that is the perception. According to a survey distributed by the International Game Developers Association in 2016, 75 percent of the 3,000 respondents identified as male. Meanwhile, 23 percent identified as female and 2.5 percent identified as transgender or “other.” For women looking to get into the industry, those numbers may be discouraging. But rest assured, there are role models to be found.

Take, for example, NYFA’s own Phoebe Elefante, who chairs not one but three departments at our New York campus: game design, virtual reality, and 3D animation and visual effects! Phoebe’s game credits include Wonder City, a superhero adventure game companion for the award-winning documentary, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, and a list of games and apps that target the intersection of play and pedagogy.

Looking for more inspirational role models in the gaming industry? Here are four incredible women to know in the gaming industry.

1. Bonnie Ross. Ross is the corporate Vice President at Microsoft and the head of 343 Industries. That means that she is the queen of the Halo kingdom. She established 343 Industries, the studio that manages the full Halo franchise. Her job involves running the business side of studio. That’s a lot of responsibility, considering that Halo is — to borrow Bloomberg’s words — Microsoft’s biggest video game ever.

Watch her talk about how merging art and technology fuels storytelling in this video she did for Glamour Magazine.

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2. Kiki Wolfkill: Wolfkill is the studio head at Hallo Transmedia in 343 Industries. Her job focuses on the Halo universe and she made major contributions to the creation of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn. These contributions included helping develop the story, script writing, and creating the new Promethean enemy class. She counts supervising digital cross-media Halo entertainment, managing and producing Halo: Nightfall, and developing the Halo Channel among her other accomplishments.

Listen to an interview Wolfkill did with The Women in Tech Show in 2016.

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3. Jennifer Hale: Someone has to voice the characters in video game, and Hale voices a fair number of some of the most recognizable female voices out there. In fact, the New Yorker called her “the Meryl Streep of the medium,” so she must be good. Most recently, she did the voice for Pellinore in World of Final Fantasy, Sharon Carter in Lego Marvel Avengers, and Sarah Palmer in Halo: Guardians. See her full list of credits on BehindTheVoiceActors.com.

Watch this video, “The Many Voices of Jennifer Hale in Video Games.” (She has quite the range!)

4. Corrinne Yu: Yu is a gaming programmer. Today she is the principal development manager at Amazon Prime Air. Previously, she worked as the graphics programmer at Naughty Dog, the principal engine programmer for Halo, and the studio wide director of technology at Gearbox Software. In 2010, Kotaku named her one of the 10 most influential women in gaming in the last decade — and it looks like she continues to live up to the honor years later. She currently sits on the SIGGRAPH Game Development Committee, the Microsoft Graphics Advisory Board.

Yu doesn’t have much in the way of recent interviews (due to shyness or modesty, maybe?), but you should check out this video interview she did in 2009

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For more inspiration, read Den of Geek’s list, “25 Awesomen Women in Gaming.”

Who are your game industry role models? Want to give a shout out to more women to know in the gaming industry? Let us know in the comments below!

The Past in the Present: Why Games Set Long, Long Ago Matter

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The beauty of video games is that they can take you to any point in space and time you can possibly dream up. Want to run a cobalt trading operation between two regions of the Milky Way? Elite: Dangerous has you covered. Want to play as a mutant monster hunter caught in the middle of an empire-wide war? Look no further than The Witcher franchise.

But if you’re a game designer, there’s a strong case to be made for setting the action in a real-world, historical setting. To illustrate, we’ll delve into the example of World War I as a setting for games.

“Where Are All the Good World War I Games?”

It’s an interesting question.

The number of games set in a post-apocalyptic future is gigantic. Game developers have also seen a lot of success using World War II as the backdrop — in fact, the list of WWII games is longer than you could shake a bayonet at.

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On the other hand, the list of World War I games that have ever been created since the infancy of video gaming is surprisingly stark (and of those, the majority are flight sims).

There are some very valid arguments to be made as to why The War to End All Wars isn’t an ideal setting for a video game (or, at least, less ideal than WWII), and they’re perhaps deserving of their own separate article. But suffice it to say, nobody thought a game about processing paperwork in a grey, pseudo-Soviet setting was a thrilling idea until “Papers, Please” came along.

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If the idea of turning one of the darkest, bloodiest and most senseless wars in recent history into fodder for a video game sounds like it would be in bad taste … well, it doesn’t need to be that way.

Preserving a Fading Time

While the principle purpose of video games is entertainment, it’s not the only benefit that can come from playing them: they’re also a medium for education.

Continuing with our WWI example, very few — if any — among us can truly appreciate the realities of WWI. An interactive medium like gaming, perhaps even more so than extensive reading about the war, has the capacity to help us empathize with the situation in which millions of soldiers found themselves.

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The reason this is both poignant (when handled right) and important is that this is a monumental world event that is quickly fading from living memory — the last surviving veteran of World War I, Florence Green, passed away in 2012.

Two reasons game developers shy away from this period? Firstly, it’s a war from which there are comparatively fewer records, first-person accounts or artifacts from which to draw inspiration. Secondly, it was a very complicated war from a political standpoint, set it a world markedly different from our own (the political climate behind the second World War are more readily understandable, and it’s easier to differentiate between the heroes and evil parties).

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But these are also precisely the reasons why video gaming should step up to the mantle and represent this time for the benefit of modern players (and it’s not as if there isn’t a market for gamers who want to see historical accuracy in games).

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If done well, any historical games — not just those set around WWI — can be a big win all around: profitable for developers, entertaining for players, genre-pushing for the industry and preserving a little slice of history to boot.

Identifying Trends for Art and Profit

It may well be that non-RTS games set around WWI are fundamentally difficult, but that era does serve as a good case study and opens up a wider discussion on how public interest in certain historical periods influences the game industry.

It’s little surprise that COD and Battlefield games set in the Middle East dominated the charts during the 2000s, given the real-world events of that decade. Outside of modern warfare, we’re seeing a lot of Viking-inspired games coming out on Steam this year — it could be the case that this trend is being fueled by the spectacular HBO show “Vikings” and the success of the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise.

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Or, alternatively, the slew of archeological findings from that period may have spawned a resurgence in public interest, which in turn has shaped gaming and movie trends.

Whichever way around it may be, it’s our job as game designers to identify such trends and deliver a quality gaming experience around them, ideally before everyone hops on the trend and it becomes oversaturated. After all, it would be somewhat foolhardy to make a COD-esque FPS in the current market.

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But if you can be the first to identify a nonfiction story or era that has yet to receive an amazing game treatment?

That’s the holy grail right there.

Ready to learn more about Game Design? Check out our Game Design programs at New York Film Academy.

 

Why You Don’t Want To Miss NYCC 2016

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As the biggest pop culture event on the East Coast, New York Comic Con (NYCC 2016) is always on the radar of every comic fan out there. For students studying at NYFA’s New York City campus, the opportunity to check out this highly-anticipated event should not be missed.

Here are several reasons why NYCC 2016 is going to be bigger and better than ever before — and why you should consider participating:

Awesome Panels for NYCC 2016

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The amazing panels alone make this anticipated event worth the trip. DC All Access will offer talks from the people behind “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” and the “DC Comics Bombshells” series, as they give a sneak peak at the anticipated “Justice League vs. Suicide Squad.” Robert Kirkman will also make an appearance in a “The Walking Dead” panel to discuss what’s next for the Image Comics series.

Other notable panels not to miss include Tales From the Tardis with Matt Smith, Alex Kingston and Jenna Coleman, as well as World Premiere & Adam West, Too: Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. Check out the official NYCC 2016 panel schedule to get your chance at meeting the creative minds behind your favorite works.

Unforgettable Parties at NYCC 2016

The night doesn’t end when the panels are over. Each day of NYCC 2016 also comes with awesome parties where comic book fans can relax, mingle, and dance their costumes off. The best part is that each party has its own exciting themes. Here’s a list of the biggest ones:

  • NYCC Kick-Off Party
  • Anime Dance Music’s Annual NYCC Party
  • Rock Comic Con followed by BATDANCE: NYCC’s Official Video Dance Party
  • GBX: Electric Underground
  • Boozy Bowling Afterparty
  • Skint! Disco Inferno Geeks OUT Dance Party
  • New York Comic Con ’90s party

Great Cosplaying at NYCC 2016

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The art of cosplaying has exploded in popularity thanks to a growing subculture of die-hard fans. To see people dressed as their favorite characters or join them yourself, NYCC is definitely the place to go. There are also plenty of events aimed to encourage people to cosplay and have a blast.

In fact, things kicked off a week before the actual event with a Pre-NYCC Cosplay Cruise — in other words, a cosplaying party on a yacht. The biggest cosplay gatherings during the main event include Crossplay Cosplay Contest & Celebration, We the Heroes Ball, and Comic Con Vixens. Of course, you won’t have to attend any specific affairs to see great cosplay, since participants will be walking around all over the exhibition floor, ready to pose for a pic.

Video Game Events at NYCC 2016

Although NYCC 2016 is still primarily focused on comic books, it’s also become a great place to go if you’re a video game fan. In fact, a large number of cosplayers that show up every year are representing characters straight out of their favorite digital worlds. This year there’s plenty to check out if you’re a gamer.

New York Comic Con ’90s party will have a Spectacular Video Game Room complete with a Mario Kart 64 World Championship tournament. Gaimova’s After Party 6 will also have tournaments for Smash Bros Wii U, Street Fighter V, and several classic Xbox live and PSN games. Square Enix is even throwing a Demo Night featuring Deux Ex: Mankind Divided and the new Hitman. Mashfest NYCC Kickoff Party will have more than a dozen games available to play as well.

Must-See Exhibitors at NYCC 2016

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The heart of NYCC 2016 is the near-endless number of exhibitors ready to show off their latest comics, video games, and more. It’s your chance to buy awesome merchandise, get a first look at new stuff, sign up for giveaways, and meet artists.

Just like every year, NYCC 2016’s event will bring together an incredible number of worthwhile exhibitors. These include BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment America, BOOM! Studios, DC Entertainment, Doctor WHO Store + Alien Entertainment, Double Take, GoComics, Black Mask Studios, and many more.

Are you planning on attending NYCC 2016? What are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments below! Learn more about Game Design at the New York Film Academy.