New Year’s Thoughts

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. If you’re reading this, the world has not come to an end and. I never believed the Mayan shenanigans. From what I’ve heard, it’s simply the longest measure of time that the Mayans used, nothing more. Did you there are very few scientifically accurate that the world will end? One example is that billions of years from now, the sun will explode and Earth will no longer be inhabitable. Of course, this doesn’t factor things such as the evolution of technology and of the human race itself.

Here are a few things that are worth mentioning and checking out for 2013:

The Ur-Quan Masters HD


After two years of hard work, the first version of UQM HD is available for download. Check this out. I’ve played a little bit of it so far and it’s looking awesome. It’s very impressive stuff considering how old the code base is. Check it out!

Star Command on PC/Mac


This was a game that was originally available for Android/iOS. This was successfully funded through Kickstarter. The developers (War Balloon) launched another KickStarter campaign which was also successful. According to the YouTube video description, the release date is “when it kicks ass”, a nod to games with lengthy development schedules such as Duke Nukem Forever, Wolfenstein (2009) and Rage.

New York Toy Fair 2013

Toys for Bob will make an announcement at the 2013 New York Toy Fair. At the moment, all signs seem to be pointing to Skylanders 3. Anything is possible and if it is another sequel, it may have another addition to the technology. TFB wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t toy-related. The Toy Fair will take place from February 10-13.

Elite: Dangerous


I have read about how Star Control and Elite share some similarities, though I’ve never played it myself. It is very close to reaching the £1,250,000 GBP($2 million USD) goal and the Kickstarter campaign will end this week. This may be the oldest game franchise I’ve seen revived through Kickstarter.

Kickstarter! Kickstarter! Kickstarter!

Yes, there are so many projects worth mentioning such as Space Command and Divine Space. I can spend hours glancing at random projects (not just games) and having my mind blown. It really shows how indie projects can have their voices heard. However, there is a lot of pressure for success and it can be seen as an example that marketing skills is just as important as important as finishing the project itself. There is so many projects on Kickstarter that I really want to start writing about projects more often.

Conclusion

2013 will be full of surprises just like 2012. Check out UQM HD. It looks incredible and it looks incredibly fresh and crisp with its hi-res visuals. This is yet another creation that will keep the Star Control fanbase alive. Check it out.

Kickstarter is starting to become synonymous with indie games and it doesn’t seem to be dying anytime soon.

Happy new year!

Links
The Ur-Quan Masters HD – DOWNLOAD NOW
Star Command
New York Toy Fair
Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter Page
Kickstarter Article
Divine Space Article
Hats off to Space Command

Check out Thirty Flights of Loving

Thirty Flights of Loving is the sequel to Blendo Games’ previous game, Gravity Bone. Both games play like a short story where the player is guided on a path, examining different environments and going through a mission. It is a very unique concept and each game can be completed around 15 minutes.

Both games received high ratings and were praised for its simplicity, pacing, variety, quirky humor and colorful blocky visuals.

At first, when I looked at these games, I assumed that it was powered by either the Source engine or some kind of in-house designed code that could render low-polygon objects quickly. However, I realized that this game uses the KMQuake II engine, which is an extended version of Id Tech 2, which powered Quake II, which was released 1992.

What does this have to do with Star Control?

While the game itself has no connection to Star Control, Chris Remo provided the music for this game. Back in 2006, Chris also interviewed Paul Reiche during the release of Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam. Concluding this interview, Chris asked Paul about Star Control and the chances of a possible sequel.

I wrote an article back in 2008 about about Chris Remo’s reply about what he thinks about Star Control, the space exploration genre in general and how it can be successful, despite heavy-hitters such as Call of Duty. Definitely check it out. It was written at a time before I started throwing around the term “video game politics”.

Conclusion

Thirty Flights of Loving is an independent first-person short story that was funded with Kickstarter. It is the sequel to Gravity Bone, which can be downloaded for free. I’m glad to see that independent games continue to get time in the spotlight. Chris Remo provided the music for Thirty Flights of Loving. In addition, Chris maintains the Idle Thumbs podcast and works as a community manager/writer at Double Fine. He is the co-writer of DF’s upcoming game, The Cave, which has also been successfully funded through Kickstarter.

Chris Remo has been active in the gaming industry for eight years and I wish him continued success in the future.

Thirty Flights of Loving is an example that it’s possible to create a game that does not necessarily have to re-invent gaming or use the latest in technology in order to be good.

What do you think about Thirty Flights of Loving?

Links
Chris Remo Loves Star Control
Thirty Flights of Living
Thirty Flights of Living FAQ
Idle Thumbs
Chris Remo’s Blog
Gravity Bone

Toys For Bob Wins 2012 BAFTA Award

<sarcasm>
“Logic would indicate that a pattern is emerging and that you might hear something from us in Toy Fair 2013. I can neither confirm nor deny that fact.”
</sarcasm>
– Paul Reiche III regarding Skylanders 3, FamilyGamerTV Interview (FGTV 2.62)

Introduction

BAFTA is the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. They are a charitable organization that provides awards for feature-length movies, television shows, video games and animation. BAFTA has been around since 1947. In an interview with Paul Reiche III, he stated he will be attending this years BAFTA along with other “Activision executives”.

Nominations

Here are the categories that Skylanders has been nominated for in the 2012 BAFTA Game Awards:

Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure

  • Children’s – BAFTA Kids’ Vote – Video Games – 2012 (NOMINATED)
  • Children’s – Video Game – 2012 (WINNER)

Skylanders: Spyro’s Universe

  • Games – Online – Browser – 2012 (NOMINATED)

Conclusion

Congratulations, Toys for Bob, for winning a BAFTA award for 2012 Children’s Video Game. Although, I admit, I haven’t watched BAFTA or kept track of it until now.

I’m not sure if or how many categories Skylanders will be nominated for in 2013 and I wish TFB the best of luck in winning another BAFTA award. I’d love to hear Paul’s acceptance speech.

Paul’s sarcastic tone of voice about a Skylanders sequel may be one of the most predictable rumors since the iPhone 5s.

Is it just me or is Call of Duty being mentioned on an occasional basis whenever Skylanders is being mentioned?

What do you think about Skylander’s TFB nominations?

Links
BAFTA – Children’s Video Game 2012
BAFTA – Skylanders Nominations (2012)
Wired.com – Lasers, Voice, Photo-Sensors, GPS and Boomer, Ready for Skylanders 3?

EDIT: 2012 BAFTA took place shortly after Paul Reiche’s interview with FGTV and has concluded. 2013 BAFTA has not been mentioned yet.

I-Wei In The Spotlight

Reiche remembers his first interview with Huang as not what he expected. “What I remember was thinking, ‘Boy this guy is really quiet and seemingly mild-mannered for the furious creative genius that I’ve been told he is — because normally creative geniuses are kind of wild.'”
– Matt Leone, “Inside the Skylanders Toy Workshop”, Polygon.com

Polygon released an in-depth interview of I-Wei Huang and Paul Reiche and how they mixed games, electronics and toys to create the Skylanders franchise.

The video is followed by a lengthy text article, which mentions how I-Wei met Paul Reiche through Greg Johnson, creator of ToeJam & Earl:

Unfortunately for Huang, after Toe Jam & Earl 3 shipped, the development team struggled to stay together, but a chance friendship between TJ&E3 creative director Greg Johnson and Reiche landed Huang a follow-up interview with Toys for Bob.

“I was fortunate that my friend Greg Johnson … had found I-Wei from I think a school in San Francisco,” says Reiche. “And he said, ‘Hey, you know, we don’t have a project now, but I-Wei’s the best guy you’ll ever see.’ And I really didn’t know what to expect — that’s pretty high praise.”

Reiche remembers his first interview with Huang as not what he expected. “What I remember was thinking, ‘Boy this guy is really quiet and seemingly mild-mannered for the furious creative genius that I’ve been told he is — because normally creative geniuses are kind of wild.'”

Toys for Bob signed up Huang and put him to work, doing art and animation for licensed games like Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure and Madagascar.

Do you think Skylanders 3 is next?

Links
Polygon – Inside the Skylanders Toy Workshop

Divine Space

“We remember, love, and respect old games such as ‘Star Control‘, ‘Elite’, ‘Master of Orion’, ‘Homeworld’, ‘Space Rangers’. These games were made in the era of lack of complicated special effects or impressive graphics, but they are at least as entertaining as the most up-to-date ones.”
-Dodo Games, Kickstarter.com

Yes, Kickstarter is starting to boom! I recently discovered another project that Star Control fans will definitely enjoy. This a video game called “Divine Space” from Russian developer, Dodo Games. It will be first released for Apple’s iOS/Android and a PC/Mac/Linux version will be released in the future.

Divine Space will be a 3D space action/adventure/RPG that is based on real-world astronomical data, easy-to-learn controls and a real-time combat system. It will also be a form of hard science fiction, meaning the game will stick to accurate scientific facts and details.

Although not too many details have been given to the plot, it is based on a real-life scientific discovery of a star system with the possibility of a planet that can be inhabited by humans:

“The plot of the game begins at one of those stars – Gliese 581, which is very important for modern research programs: scientists have discovered exoplanets there, where alien life is possible.

DARPA, NASA, ESA, Roscosmos – all are looking for ways to colonize such planets. We anticipate that by 2045 the solution will be found, since now, in the world where we live, the rate of technological change doubles every decade. This is where the story of Divine Space begins.”

“…Suffice it to say, together we will look at how humanity might evolve after the establishment of the US colonial base near the exoplanet Gliese 581 g.”

Here are a few things that Star Control fans may find familiar:

  • The player’s ship can be fully customized by mixing and matching various components.
  • Search and gather resources such as precious metals and trade them for profit
  • There is a 3D starmap like Star Control 1. The starmap is searchable!

One thing that I like about this game is that it shares similarities with Star Control, is completely different from other mainstream games such as Mass Effect and gives a unique experience that immerses the player with controlling the ship directly.

If Divine Space reaches its $100,000 goal, the game will be free for everyone to play. Players can pay through microtransactions to play through the game faster with stats bonuses and item discounts. However, it is possible to play through the entire game start to finish without spending a cent and still have a complete experience.

It’s nice to see that Kickstarter is becoming synonymous with “independent development”. I believe it gives smaller projects the opportunity to present themselves online and avoid the cliché announcing your project online and hoping to “get discovered” by a friendly publisher.* Don’t get me wrong, if it works for them, congratulations! It’s just that Kickstarter at least allows people to choose how to contribute.

Dodo Games will be accepting pledges until November 23, 9 AM EST. If you can afford to support them and enjoy Science Fiction, I highly recommend supporting Divine Space. The game will be available to mobile and PC platforms for free and this project can be used as an example that sci-fi games that place an emphasis on spaceship control and customization can be successful. The more independent sci-fi hits are out there, the more likely that publishers will take Star Control seriously.

What do you think of Divine Space and its integration with scientific facts?

* Edit: Speaking of “getting discovered”, did you know that actress Natalie Portman was discovered at a Pizza Parlor at the age of 9?

Links
Anti Danilevski on Twitter
Divine Space Website
SoundCloud – Divine Space Music
Divine Space Kickstarter Page
Dodo Games Kickstarter Profile

Hats Off to Space Command

“I often hear the fans say ‘Why are there so few good science fiction shows on the air?’ and why the good ones so often go south. I can tell you: Frankly, most of the network suits just don’t get it, but you and I do! And thanks to Kickstarter and thanks to you, we don’t need them anymore.”
– Marc Scott Zicree

Introduction

I was looking at a bunch of random YouTube videos and I came across another Kickstarter-related video. This one was about an independently-produced series called “Space Command”. It will reinvent the Canadian 1950s TV show as high-quality, timeless feature-length movies. What makes this stand out from all the other episodic content I’ve seen on Kickstarter is that some of the people working on Space Command have connection to other sci-fi franchises such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, Sliders and Star Wars.

What does this have to do with Star Control?

To be honest, absolutely nothing. However, the shows they have worked on have indirect relationships with Star Control. Even though Star Control isn’t the best-selling game of all time, the plot and dialog is clever and interesting. With the star-studded cast of writers and actors in Space Command, they will also have their own benefit of clever and interesting plot and dialog.

A Confession

To be honest, the last time I have sat down and watched a sci-fi series on TV was for the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. Overall, I liked how it started out; I started to have mixed feelings as the series progressed towards religious themes and the Cylons appeared less frequently. I did not like Caprica, which was cancelled after 18 episodes. I lost interest in Stargate and its spin-offs.

If I had to choose a Star Trek spin-off I like the least, it would be Voyager; I find the recurring plot elements repetitive (e.g. The Borg, holographic rights, a way to go home that involves breaking a rule, etc.). Themes of ethics, family and equal rights were forced into the plot; They tried too hard to be family-friendly or at least stay away from the darker and more serious tone that Deep Space 9 established. However, many of the things they did were for the purposes of keeping budgets low, an issue that has plagued Star Trek since the beginning.

Did you know that the Gorn only appeared three times on TV: once in the classic series, The Animated Series and again in Enterprise? Did you know that early designs for the Borg envisioned them with a more insectoid appearance, consistent with their “hive” and Borg “queen”? Did you know that the portrayal of the Borg differed greatly after The Next Generation episode “Q Who”; they were originally interested in assimilating technology, not lifeforms.

Battleship has excellent CGI. :|

I generally do not watch low-budget science fiction; they either have too much *pew* *pew* (laser beams), cookie-cutter plot about saving the universe or it’s simply a story that takes place in the future with no real science.

The last science fiction movie I watched as of this post was Prometheus. It is a good movie, though it raises more questions than it does answer them. However, Star Control II also did that! :D By doing this, a sequel is undeniable.

So, why did I mention the above? It is because I am genuinely interested in Space Command. Despite the above, I can’t wait to see this movie. Even though the budget is nowhere near what we’re used to in the big screen, it will have the clever writing and skilled actors that are the true elements of good science fiction.

Conclusion

The Kickstarter campaign for Space Command has ended on July 14 with $221,267, exceeding their original $75,000 goal. I haven’t watched the original series. With all of their combined years of experience, this can become something that Star Control fans can enjoy too. I can’t wait to see more.

Check out the site and the concept art.

What do you think of Space Command?

Links
Space Command Kickstarter Page
Space Command Website
Star Command on Twitter

Edit: Correct minor mistakes and provided more accurate info regarding it’s connection to the Canadian TV show.

TFB Exposé & More Skylanders!

“What is the biggest money-making video game so far in 2012?
Is it Call of Duty? No!
Madden? Not even close!
Biggest game of the year so far is Skylanders!”
– Chris Kohler, Game Life, Wired.com

“Our experience with Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy role-playing as well as our experience in making high-quality kid’s games really came together and allowed us to make Skylanders.”
– Paul Reiche III, Toys for Bob CEO

Two videos of the Toys for Bob staff talking about Skylanders. What’s unique about these videos is that we see other members of TFB in addition to Paul Reiche III and I-Wei Huang: Alex Ness, Paul Yan, Jeff Poffenbarger and Robert Leyland. Though Fred Ford appeared in other interviews, he is not present here, though he can be like the Arilou and hide in the background and appear from time-to-time.

One thing that people notice immediately is that TFB’s work environment has an exotic island/tiki theme to it. In TFB’s old website, there was a hidden link that went to a page showing various photos, including a very large mural. Did you know that the TFB studio is also a pet-friendly environment?

I was surprised with the steps they took with prototyping. They used an Arduino, a popular electronics prototyping board that uses a programming language similar to C; I have one myself, but I haven’t used it in a long time. They even used a 3D printer for the character design process. 3D printers are still expensive and I cannot wait until they become cheap enough to have on every desk at home. In addition to coding, modelling and animation, they were able to combine toy-making and hacking to build Skylanders; all of this done in-house!

While it’s obvious that Activision wants to add Skylanders to their list of mega-franchises to publish for the masses, I’m glad to see videos showing more of the TFB crew and how their unique talents were combined to not only make a unique collectible/hack and slash hybrid, they also found a way to make the sequel more unique with giant action figures and toys that glow when placed on the portal!

Items powering on without batteries when placed near an object is nothing new. The electronic device receives power through “induction”, which uses magnetic coils to transmit and store energy in a very short distance. This technology is also used for access cards.

What do you think about TFB combining their toy-making and electronics experience? Do you anticipate more interviews with multiple TFB staff in the future?

Toys For Bob in Game Developer’s Top 30 Developers

“This honor is reserved for teams of developers who are doing something new, something different, something better — or, more often than not, all of the above.”
– Gamesutra.com, “Our Top 30 Developers: Three Rings to Zeboyd Games”

The staff at Gamesutra and Game Developer Magazine have teamed up to select 30 developers from the past 12 months for this list. They are listed in alphabetical order. Of the thirty developers, Toys for Bob has been included for the critical and financial success of the Skylanders franchise:

“With the Spyro license available, Toys for Bob could have just dialed in yet another sequel. It could have decided to reboot the franchise entirely with a gritty, bloody, “mature” Spyro. Thankfully, neither of these happened (though the latter almost did).

Instead, Toys for Bob came up with Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, an ambitious new take on Spyro that integrated a set of RFID-equipped action figures that could unlock new characters within the game.

Fact is, many less-confident developers would undoubtedly shy away from asking parent company Activision to back such an expensive, risky gambit. We’re not just impressed that Toys for Bob successfully pulled Skylanders off — it sold massively, after all — we’re impressed by how ballsy it was to begin with.
– Gamesutra.com, “Our Top 30 Developers: Three Rings to Zeboyd Games”

Again, I am reminded of the Guitar Hero franchise. It was an extremely successful franchise. It reached high sales and had very positive reviews. It quickly became a cultural icon of the electronics industry. Sales began to dwindle until Activision announced that Guitar Hero would be put on hiatus until further notice.

Is there a possibility that Skylanders can fall like Guitar Hero? It is a possibility, though that’s just my unprofessional opinion. There are some obvious differences between Guitar Hero and Skylanders:

  1. No licensing issues. Guitar Hero has sparked various lawsuits regarding the design of the guitar peripheral and how the likenesses of artists should be used. Activision seems to have clear ownership of Spyro and the Skylanders franchise.
  2. Skylanders has a much younger demographic than Guitar Hero.
  3. The toys serve a dual-purpose: They are physical toys in addition to a gaming peripheral.
  4. It is more appealing to collectors.

It would be more appropriate to compare it to the Pokémon franchise. When it was first introduced in North America, it was an instant hit with children. The video game and toys sold in the millions and was also very appealing to collectors. Nintendo continues to make new Pokémon games to this day and there is even one for the 3DS. I believe that Activision learned from Guitar Hero and Skylanders can become a lasting franchise just like Pokémon.

It’s great to see that Toys For Bob was listed in the list of “Top 30 Developers”. I’m glad they’re rising in popularity. Like the movie industry, video games are either “hit or miss” with hardly any grey area; at least for big publishers such as Activision anyways.

What do you think about TFB’s rising popularity?

Links
Gamesutra: Our Top 30 Developers: Three Rings to Zeboyd Games