indie games

How Virtual Reality Might Impact the Future of Game Design

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Two decades ago, the video game market got its first taste of virtual reality thanks to the Virtual Boy. The device promised “true 3D graphics” that would immerse players into their own digital universe. As a Nintendo product, it was destined to sell millions of units just like the Game Boy and Super NES.

Instead, the Virtual Boy was a complete disaster. Players criticized the console for lacking realistic visuals, more colors, and head tracking. Its commercial failure would haunt the industry for years, convincing companies to avoid releasing their own VR devices even as technology advanced.

Skip forward to 2016 when virtual reality is once again poised to take the industry by storm. From the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift to Sony’s PlayStation VR and the Microsoft HoloLens, the stage is set to see who dominates a new market. Even more VR-compatible games than ever will be available to try at Gamescom 2016, Europe’s largest games fair.

But how will the rise of virtual reality change the way we design games? Just like when games made the leap from 2D sprites to 3D graphics, game designers are already preparing for the challenges that creating a fun virtual reality game will bring. Phoebe Elefante, chair of NYFA’s Game Design School in New York, notes that the possibilities in VR have barely begun to be explored: “The relative accessibility of VR equipment — especially through something like KitSplit — makes this technology super accessible for creators, and so it’s just as likely (maybe even more so) that a 3-woman studio from Poughkeepsie builds the ‘killer app,’ as the experienced game teams in major studios. Having expertise in the screen-based game industry isn’t necessarily the best qualification for exploring this new tech … much like the shift from stage to screen that movies created. Right now, most game designers — especially those porting games like Bioshock to VR — are building stage-on-screen games, because they don’t know the possibilities of the medium yet.”

So, what are the possibilities for VR games?

Traditional Games Will be More Immersive

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When we think about VR games, we imagine completely new experiences designed around the concept of being inside the digital worlds. While many titles will be made from scratch, it doesn’t mean developers aren’t looking to apply VR to “traditional” games. After all, if a game’s’ world already blew us away on a flat screen, it will probably be even more incredible with a VR headset.

Many games have already been made with VR support. You can use the Oculus Rift to play recent hits like The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Even older gems like World of Warcraft, Bioshock, and the Dead Space trilogy are now compatible. What could be more frightening than actually walking down the dark, necromorph-infested halls of the USG Ishimura?

Of course, VR compatibility doesn’t change the gameplay. Aside from moving your head to look around, you don’t have to worry about a new control scheme or any major change in mechanics. However, big-budget titles now supporting VR may at least push developers to create even better jaw-dropping visuals.

More Focus On Atmospheric Gameplay

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Many game studios have succeeded in bringing a specific genre to a platform that isn’t considered suitable for its style of gameplay. When it was announced that Ensemble Studios would be creating a real-time strategy game for Xbox 360, many laughed at the idea of using a gamepad instead of a mouse and keyboard. The developer proved it could be done after Halo Wars received excellent reviews from all major publications.

With virtual reality, developers are already looking at which types of games will work best and which won’t — and realizing that games consisting of simple mechanics and exploration are the ones that provide a better virtual reality experience. In other words, expect to see a lot of simulation games.

Edge of Nowhere, Windlands, Star Citizen, and EVE: Valkyrie are perfect examples of games that require limited button input so that seeing and exploring plays a larger role. If you were expecting the same complexity as our favorite Action Adventure or Fighting games, you may have to wait until better add-ons release.

New Gameplay Styles

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The only way virtual reality will have a major impact on game design is if it offers something unique: an interactive experience that can only be enjoyed through the lens of a VR headset. But unless designers come up with fun, groundbreaking gameplay styles, VR will only offer a “better” version of what we can play on other platforms. There are also some bugs VR game designers will have to address. For example, many users get headaches after VR experiences that last more than 20 minutes. That’s a big challenge, especially for gamers who want to immerse and play for extended periods of time.

Remember when motion controls became popular? Nintendo’s original Wii console has stood the test of time as one of the best-selling video game devices for offering gamers a different way to play. Microsoft and Sony followed suit with their own motion devices — Move and Kinect. 

Although motion control didn’t become the norm, these systems still had their day in the sun for offering a fresh experience. What does this tell us about the future of VR? Many, many things. VR may expand the very definition of what we think of as “games” — for example, lots of popular VR experiences don’t require a player to reach a certain outcome to progress forward, and are more experience-based. Designers will have new exciting opportunities to redefine what a game is, packing in more story, emotion, and meaning, something like this that gets people to play on a massive scale.

Designers who can think outside the box and take advantage of VR’s strengths will help this new, promising platform make a bigger impact on our industry.

What do you hope to see in the future of VR games? Let us know in the comments below! Learn more about Game Design and VR at the New York Film Academy.

No Man’s Sky Review: An Emotional Roller Coaster

No Man’s Sky: a game with 18 quintillion planets, all of which are unique and fully explorable.

It’s quite the tagline, and thanks to some extremely impressive tech demos and convention appearances it’s little wonder that No Man’s Sky has generated an unprecedented amount of hype over the past year.

To put the scale of this thing into perspective: the number of grains of sand on the Earth is estimated to be around seven quintillion. That’s not only beaches — think all the world’s deserts, too. Now double it, and add in a few quintillion more for good measure.

That’s how many individual planets there are in No Man’s Sky.

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But, of course, scale doesn’t necessarily mean depth of gameplay. Close parallels can be drawn between No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous, which is similarly gigantic but has been criticized as having gameplay that feels a mile wide but an inch deep. (At least during early stages of development.)

So let’s get down to business. While the PC community chewed its fingers down to the bone waiting for the Steam release on August 12, we’ve joined the legion of PS4 players who are already planet hopping. Here’s our review of No Man’s Sky, and a tour of the emotional roller coaster you’ll be on during the first hour of play.

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That Minecraft Feeling

Remember that feeling of giddy excitement and curiosity you had the very first time you played Minecraft?

Of course you do. We all do. It was one of those seminal moments in gaming for many of us, and we can happily confirm that the first 10 minutes of No Man’s Sky lives up to that exceptional sense of wonder given to us by its predecessor.

And, like Minecraft, very little is explained to you in No Man’s Sky. You’re stranded in a strange new world, and left to figure things out for yourself.

This leads to…

Utter Confusion

What am I doing? Where am I supposed to go? What’s all this stuff? Am I supposed to collect it?

Who knows. Certainly not you.

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But slowly and surely, you start to put all the pieces together and figure out how to repair your semi-broken ship. You’ll see what’s needed, and begin setting out across your own unique starting planet to gather it all.

And that’s when you’ll be hit by the first sense that you’re really, really small.

Abject Wonder

The sheer expanse of the game slowly starts to dawn on you, which comes with a wave of both wonder and terror. Much like staring out at our own Milky Way here in the real world, there’s something a little unsettling about realizing just how miniscule the scale of you and your operations are in context.

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And just as you get to grips with the enormity of your own world, your mind will creep back to the fact that there are 17,999,999,999,999,999,999 more floating around above your head.

And you’ll get to explore a tiny proportion of them …

… right after you fix this stupid spaceship.

Boredom

The grind is strong with No Man’s Sky, and once the initial wonder has worn off that’s when ennui sets in. (It does start to become obvious that it’s all algorithmically generated after a while).

You’ll plod around mindlessly collecting … well, stuff. Will you need the stuff later? Can the stuff be traded? At this stage, it’s a mystery.

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Despite there being a lot of stuff — some of it living and roaming around — there’s not a whole lot to interact with. And very little interacts with you. One of the problems here is that it’s quite easy, and not a lot threatens or interrupts your endless grind.

Except the “survival” aspect. Which brings us onto …

Annoyance

No Man’s Sky is billed as both an exploration and survival game. Unfortunately, in its present state the latter gets in the way of the former.

The exploration aspect is hugely enjoyable and very thrilling on a deep level, so it’s somewhat annoying to have all the fun jarringly interrupted by the constant need to top up your carbon or whatever. It gets mundane fast, and never eases up.

The exceptionally tiny inventory is also frustrating, and you’ll find yourself grinding to a halt often as you have to spend a few minutes rejigging everything in your quest to get spacebound.

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Once that ship is up and running, however …

Mind-Blown.

That sense of excitement and wonder you felt at the very start of the game? That’s nothing compared to the emotional suckerpunch that hits you when you leave your starting planet for the first time.

The sense of scale really is every bit as awesome, in the truest sense of the word, as has been hyped for all these months. It’s an unprecedented marvel, and to think that it was achieved by an indie game design team of just 10 people is nothing short of staggering.

It may not be living up to the hype right now — and really, how could anything live up to the hype that has surrounded No Man’s Sky? — but there’s a real sense that the excitement for the very idea and potential of this game is justified.

No Man’s Sky: Closing Thoughts

Typical first-day bugs abound. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and at times it feels more like a tech demo than an actual game. A better balance (and more variance) in gameplay elements is needed, and perhaps slightly more structure would help.

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But as you first break through the atmosphere and experience first-hand the scale and beauty of No Man’s Sky, you’ll smile to yourself.

This is probably going to change everything.

Have you had the chance to play it yet, or had you eagerly awaited August 12 for the PC launch? Do you agree that it’s a game changer, or see it as simply a weak Minecraft-in-space?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. See you at the center of the galaxy!

The Most Anticipated Indie Games Of 2016

Fallout 4, Star Wars Battlefront, Halo 5: Guardian, Call of Duty: Black Ops III—these are only a few of the many well-received titles gamers all over the world couldn’t wait to get their hands on in 2015. Of course, some of the biggest surprises that had everyone in the video game industry talking came in the form of low-budget indie titles.

One of those indie titles, Toby Fox’s Undertale, is even considered to be the best game of 2015. There’s no denying that indie games have cemented their importance in the game industry, and the good news is, that 2016 is shaping up to be yet another great year.

Below are some of the most anticipated indie titles releasing in 2016 for PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Windows, Wii U, Mac OS, and more. Whether you’re just a fan or plan to work on your own small project one day, it’s always cool seeing what passionate indie developers are cooking up for gamers next.

Adr1ft

By: Three One Zero

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Imagine being an astronaut who has lost his memory and finds himself floating among the wreckage of a destroyed space station. Alone and in space, you must figure out a way to return home while piecing together the events that caused such a horrific incident. Sold as a “first-person experience” with no violent gameplay, gamers are looking forward to see how Adr1ft sucks them into its dark, scary world.

 

Yooka-Laylee

By: Playtonic Games

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Those of us who grew up in the Nintendo 64 and PS1 days have fond memories of exploring 3D worlds for the first time. Yooka-Laylee is a love letter to those titles by providing a vibrant world with colorful characters. Being developed by many former Rare members who worked on the best games of that time, including Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, it’s no surprise why gamers can’t wait for this indie platformer to release.

Hyper Light Drifter

By: Heart Machine

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Hyper Light Drifter is a 2D action RPG heavily inspired by classic 8-bit and 16-bit titles. Aside from the attractive pixelated visuals, gamers are looking forward to seeing how the story unfolds given that no dialog will be spoken throughout the game. Instead, Heart Machine wants to captivate us with two powerful tools commonly used in the SNES era—music and visuals.

The Witness

By: Jonathan Blow

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The Witness was developed by Jonathan Blow, the creator of the acclaimed Braid and one of the first indie developers to “make it,” reaping acclaim and notoriety off the strength of his work. This game has been in development for several years, which means we can expect more than a few surprises as we explore a mysterious island. Backed by a team of developers and developed over seven years, The Witness should definitely be on the radar of any 3D puzzle game enthusiast.

Below

By: Capybara Games

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The independent studio behind the praised Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is whipping up yet another atmospheric title. Below is a top-down adventure game where the goal is to explore an island packed with all kinds of dangers. Featuring challenging combat and even permanent death, Below hopes to be the 2D version of the beloved Dark Souls titles.

Mighty No. 9

By: Comcept

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This upcoming action-platformer is being developed by Keiji Inafune, creator of none other than the famed Mega Man series. Mighty No. 9 is considered a spiritual successor and will feature many similarities with the original titles featuring the Blue Bomber. Nearly $4 million dollars were pledged during the Kickstarter campaign, which goes to show how much people have been yearning for another true Mega Man experience.

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom

By: Game Atelier

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom

If you gamed in the 90s and owned a Genesis/Mega Drive, chances are you played one of the Wonder Boy or Monster World titles. Despite being years since the last title, there are still many fans who have been waiting for a spiritual successor. Monster Boy looks to be just that, boasting the classic platforming and RPG elements of the past games but with new twists and visuals as well.

No Man’s Sky

By: Hello Games

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In case you haven’t noticed, the idea of exploring strange, new worlds has become a popular concept in the indie scene. No Man’s Sky looks to stand out of the crowd by delivering a survival adventure game with a world boasting countless unique planets. Combined with many interesting gameplay mechanics and a gorgeous visual style, this title may be be a contender for the best indie game of 2016.

Honorable Mentions:

Learn the skills you need to succeed as a game designer at the Game Design School at the New York Film Academy by clicking here.

Three Hot Game Types That You Can Model To Find Industry Success

Despite still being a relatively new entertainment medium, video games are evolving rapidly and in the past 20 years alone we’ve already seen many stages of what games are the most popular.

From the 8-bit adventures on the NES and the rise of 3D games in the late 90s, all the way to today’s online open world adventures, developers have used the advancement of both technology and creativity to make sure games continue satisfying players with fresh, captivating experiences.

Of course, as a game designer it is important to not only study gaming trends of the past but those of today as well. Are there certain types and genres of games that are dominating the market today, much the same way that 2D platformers ruled the 16-bit era while Playstation gamers couldn’t get enough Japanese Role-Playing games?

The following are a few game design trends definitely worth looking into if you plan on developing a game that will have a higher chance of catching the attention of a wide audience of gamers. And although you should strive to create the next innovative game that’s unique enough to start its own line of copycats, it doesn’t hurt to study what’s currently tickling the fancy of gamers everywhere.

Free-to-play

It’s amazing how successful free-to-play games have become when not too long ago they were considered a terrible game design model that developers were using to ‘cash in’ via micro-transactions.

That transition came when game developers stopped designing free-to-play games that required spending money in the cash shop to be ‘good’ at the game and instead decided to create games where a player can avoid spending a single dollar and still have a good time.

Clash of Clans is a perfect example as it allows players to enjoy a rewarding gameplay experience without spending any money if they choose to not do so. Those that do buy gems with actual money are left satisfied with their purchase but never obtain an unfair advantage over those that don’t buy micro-transactions. It’s that well-designed balance that makes Clash of Clans one of the top free-to-play games in the world.

Also worth mentioning is League of Legends, a popular MOBA game that also offers boosts and other perks for actual money. However, almost everything made available via microtransaction can also be obtained by simply playing the game and earning Influence Points and Riot Points, two forms of in-game currencies used to purchase new champions, boosts, etc.

As long as developers continue making free-to-play games with a “pay if you want to, not because you have to” design, this fairly new distribution model is sure to only grow in popularity.

Mobile Games

Most of you reading this remember when mobile gaming meant a certain 8-bit handheld device by the name of Game Boy that may or may not have actually fit in our pockets.

Nintendo is still finding success in the mobile market with the Nintendo DS and 3DS, but those who think about ‘mobile gaming’ today will no doubt picture their smart phone and iPod devices in their mind.

It goes without without saying that mobile gaming has taken the industry by storm thanks to the advancement of phone technology, allowing us to play incredible games with only a few taps on our smart phones and tablets. Apple’s IOS App Store alone sees dozens of games released each week, offering a massive library of games to satisfy gamers of all tastes.

As a developer, you’ll definitely want to consider a market as big as mobile gaming. After all, only so many people can have a Playstation 4 or Xbox One in their home, but who doesn’t have a cell phone that can play games these days?

Just ask Rovio, the makers of the Angry Birds games. Their widely successful games may not have achieved such widespread popularity had it not been for the fact that more people are playing games than ever before due to smart phone devices.

And the best part is, most of the surprise-hit games are very simple but also very captivating. Games like Doodle Jump and Tiny Tower both received a positive reception along with millions of downloads despite featuring simple visuals.

If you plan to find success in the increasingly growing mobile game market, which many argue is becoming too saturated to turn a profit without a surprise hit, you’ll want to focus on designing a game that’s fun for anyone to pick up but addicting enough to recommend to others.

Indie Games

A term whose true definition is the subject of argument, an indie game is essentially a game created by one or few individuals without any financial support from a publisher. Indie game developers have only recently become competitors in a market once dominated by big-budget games primarily due to online distribution methods such as Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, and the Nintendo eShop.

Typically lacking the financial resources made available to larger companies, indie developers tend to create innovative gaming experiences that take a simple game mechanic and give it a fresh twist.

World of Goo, for instance, takes the basic idea of physics and adds the simple element of ‘stickiness’ to create a fun, unique game that saw many constructing blob-filled bridges for hours on end.

Caring less about high-end graphics, many indie developers have also used their limited resources to provide a memorable game in the form of captivating storylines.

Gone Home is one example that provides familiar exploration gameplay while also telling an impacting story. Other indie devs try to make games with incredible replay value via environments that change with each playthrough, such as in the popular Spelunky.

Since most of you reading this probably fall into the ‘indie dev’ category, it’s highly recommended that you study other games made with small budgets that seem to attract attention.

Indie games boast one of the most supportive communities out there, so you’ll want to make sure you return the favor by providing a satisfying experience that your Kickstarter backers (or whoever helps you financially) will enjoy.

The 5 Types Of Video Games Every Designer Should Know

Back at the genesis of the video game industry, games used to be made by lone (and usually hobbyist) programmers at home in their spare time. Today, however, the video game industry is the biggest entertainment medium around – dwarfing cinema by a huge margin in terms of revenue – and employs huge amounts of professionals from numerous disciplines and skill sets.

Moreover, the market is now far more diverse and no longer caters only to dedicated gamers. Given how varied the modern video game industry has become, those seeking a career in video games may want to consider the more recent (and rapidly growing) video game markets.

Causal Video Games

In the last decade, a market has developed for those more likely to play solitaire on the computer than the latest epic role playing game or first-person shooter. Casual games have a simple premise and do not require significant time to play Bejeweled.

The iconic casual game is PopCap’s Bejeweled, a tile-matching puzzle game. Bejeweled is one of the first successful casual games and inspired a variety of clones. Another famous type of casual game is the hidden object game, in which a player must find various objects in a picture.

Given the ubiquitous nature of mobile gaming, casual video games (which have predominantly set up shop in the smart phone market) have attracted demographics of gamers who were previously deemed a non-target market, particularly amongst females and older gamers. Indeed, female gamers now account for nearly half of the game-playing population and the average age of gamers has risen to 30.

Casual gaming has been a big contributing factor in this trend, and the market as a whole continues to grow and turn substantial profits.

Online Browser Games

Blurring the distinction between casual and non-casual game, online browser games are played by casual and hardcore gamers.

Browser games have the potential to reach a broader audience because they can be played in any modern browser regardless of operating system. Moreover, they accommodate any genre of video game from strategy to role-playing.

RuneScape, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), is one of the most successful browser games, boasting 200 million accounts. A more recent (and decidedly quirky) successful browser game is Robot Unicorn Attack, a platform game in which the player guides a robot unicorn through obstacles and gaps in the platforms.RuneScape

Social Network Games

Another kind of online game uses social networking sites, namely Facebook, to reach players.

Unlike regular browser games, social network games have access to a user’s network profile and usage statistics. Thus, they often invite a user’s friends to play the game or to help the user finish a task or quest. And unlike traditional video games, social network games do not end with a winner, but offer infinite quests. These games make money by selling virtual items that help fulfill a quest more quickly. Farmville is a notoriously famous example of a social network game with millions of players.

AAA Games

A game created or funded by a big name studio and intended to appeal to hardcore gamers is known as an AAA game (pronounced ‘triple-A’).

These games have high budgets, often comparable to major motion picture budgets in scale, and are expected to make a large profit (although the flops can be equally as costly as a Hollywood bomb). AAA games often contain cinematic cut scenes, orchestral soundtracks, and employ famous actors to do voiceovers.

Mass Effect is the archetypal AAA game with cinematic graphics, deep character development, sweeping music, and professional voice acting. AAA games appeal to non-causal gamers looking for a time-intensive, immersive experience.

Indie Games

Finally, games made by independent studios – or even a single programmer – with small budgets have become more popular in the modern video game industry thanks to the increased number of platforms for self-release and funding.

Indie games tend to fill a niche between casual games and AAA games. They appeal to non-casual gamers, but they do not offer the same cinematic immersion as AAA games. Minecraft is one of the most successful indie games of all time, making millions even before its official release.

Because there is less pressure on indie developers to stick to formulae and create a blockbuster, indie games tend to be rather innovative and artistic. Braid, for example, is a platform game with a distinct visual style and play mechanic. The player may reverse time in order to solve a puzzle that is otherwise not solvable.

With the video game industry wide open for innovation and new talent, all that’s left for a budding creator to do is to figure out where their revolutionary idea will slot into the marketplace. Hard work and perseverance is key (and a little hands-on training can fast track any chosen career in video game creation), but the barriers to entry have never been so removed as they are currently.