The 2013 Imagine Cup — Why It’s So Awesome For Videogaming

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Imagine Cup

If you’re new to Microsoft’s Imagine Cup, let me just tell you that it’s one of the most intriguing places to see what students today are doing in the realm of technology. Whether it’s the creation of innovative video games or upgrades to current technology, this is a place where you can see some truly innovative technology. This competition also helps students develop their pitching skills and get helpful feedback on something they’ve worked so hard on from the ground up. After watching this great video from Revision 3’s Anthony Carboni, I felt the urge to write about how videogaming does good for the world.

This reminds me of something that Dan Amrich said in his book, Critical Path: How to Review Games for a Living. Dan said that one of the best ways to truly understand a game would be to develop one yourself. Whether it’s a text-based multi-user dungeon (MUD), a story fleshed out on RPG Maker, or something coded from the ground up, knowing how difficult it is to create a game on your own only makes you more appreciative of what developers have to create from what is basically a blank screen.

As you might’ve read in my last blog post, you’d know that I’m pretty excited for the possibilities in what the new generation of consoles will be able to do, especially in the Xbox One. Yes, both the Xbox One and PS4 have similar architecture to a PC, but as a person who was raised on playing videogames with a controller, I’m pretty excited with the merging capabilities that these consoles will have with PC features. Is it too ambitious to hope that a new version of RPG Maker will soon come to Xbox One and PS4?

Steam has RPG Maker VX Ace and I’m already daydreaming of a possibility to create my own game on the Xbox One, save it to my console and the cloud, and hope that the story is compelling enough to where people around the world can play my game (as long as they can read English — unless there’s a translator built in — OMG!) and inspire the creator in all of us to make his or her own game.

Sometimes it seems like only the bad news spreads from the world of videogaming to the general public, but as the Imagine Cup shows us, there are plenty of people who truly benefit from videogames and I love that.

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Xbox One or Playstation 4

Xbox One or Playstation 4

The console wars! Oh boy, there are people alive who’ve never experienced a new console cycle and it’s definitely apparent if you head to gaming related web forums and sub-reddits. I always find this time to be exciting, because you never know what to expect from new services, IPs, console hardware and more. It’s a great time to be a consumer with new consoles on the horizon.

The Xbox One Announcement

I have to admit that when I first heard of the DRM restrictions Microsoft had for Xbox One, I was a little turned off by it. I had begun to tell myself that the PS4 controller wouldn’t be as uncomfortable as the PS3 and that the indie games would be a big plus on the next-gen console. Then, Microsoft did what I seriously didn’t think they could do; they turned that ship around and removed the restrictive DRM that was going to be implemented on the system.

That move by Microsoft has continued my decision-making process in what next-gen console I’m going to purchase. I’ve been a big supporter of Microsoft ever since they fixed my consoles for free — yes, two of my consoles got the RROD — and supported them even more when Sony wanted $150 to fix my PS3. So, I’ve needed to evaluate my situation and tell myself what would work best for me.

Indie Games — Where To Play Them?

Indie games on the PS4 are a major selling point for the console, but I already have Steam and I’m predicting that even more controller support will be on it when indie developers begin making games with the PS4 and Xbox One in mind. Since I use Steam, I don’t find this a huge selling point for the PS4, especially since the games are inevitably always cheaper on Steam.

The Cloud And Next-Gen Gaming

I’ve heard a lot about how the offload of information to the cloud can free up computing on a system, which is definitely something that interests me. If you want to read more about it, I recommend reading this article from Jon Shiring, engineer at Respawn Entertainment — the company that’s making Titanfall, a game exclusive to the Xbox platform along with being on PC. I’m not sure how the game will play on Xbox 360 or on PC, but I don’t care much since I’m planning to play it on Xbox One. What’s everyone going to do when they can’t blame their poor playing on lag?

Giving Griefers Grief

Online multiplayer games are a lot of fun to me, but depending on the game, you can get some people that make the game … not so much fun. I was happy to hear that the reputation system is being revamped for the Xbox One, so that the haters hang out with their own kind and I can rock some multiplayer kills with laid back people like me. I’ll be interested in seeing how it pans out.

To Pause Or To Quit?

Switching programs on the fly or “SnapMode” didn’t excite me much at Microsoft’s initial announcement of Xbox One until I was playing a game one morning. The alarm went off for my breakfast and as I sat down with breakfast in hand, I had only two options: eat my breakfast with the game sitting on pause or save the game and turn it off so that I could watch a show on the YouTube app from my Xbox 360. That’s when it dawned on me that SnapMode can be awesome!

An Extension Of Yourself

As I mentioned earlier, I was in the process of convincing myself that the PS4 controller was going to better than the PS3’s. The controller is like another appendage when you’re playing videogames. You want something that ergonomically feels comfortable for long periods of time. A controller that provides feedback in how the buttons click and how it vibrates. A controller that utilizes the placement of the control sticks, buttons, and triggers for the best experience. It sounds like both Xbox One and PS4 have made major improvements, but at this point I prefer the Xbox One control layout. Of course, I won’t know for sure until I get both controllers in my hands.

The Verdict

Overall, it was being denied the right to play a used game — including rentals — and having to constantly ping a server in order to play a game both online or offline that really had me leaning away from Xbox One. But with these changes, I believe I’m set to purchase an Xbox One this year. I’m not pre-ordering one, but I’m definitely keeping my sights on one.

What are you looking forward to playing this holiday season? Are you buying a new console on the launch day or will you wait until next year?

Extra Life 2012: Gaming for a Cause

Extra Life Controller with Wings

October 20: We Game for the Kids

It’s fall, my favorite season of the year when it’s still warm in Oregon but just cool enough to wear my favorite hoodies. It’s also time for one of my favorite events of the year – Extra Life. For the last two years, I’ve helped kids at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital through the power of gaming, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the generous donors who have sponsored me in the past.

So, I’m asking again if you’d like to sponsor me in Extra Life 2012, a 24-hour video game marathon to help kids at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. This charity is four years in its existence and has gone from 1165 gamers participating in 2008 to over 13,000 gamers in 2011. When I participated in 2010, we helped raise over $465,000 for kids around the world; by 2011, we raised over $1,000,000. But, again, without the support of awesome friends and family, that would never have been possible.

This year, I’ve already had some great friends and family donating to such a great cause. I’ve also auctioned some items off on eBay that I acquired at PAX and they too will go to this cause. I’ve got some other plans on helping get more sponsors before game time on October 20, but I’d love your help on any other thoughts on how to get sponsors. Would you like to spread the word for me? Do you have five or ten bucks you want to donate? Would you like to see me dance poorly for a donation? I’ll do it! Don’t tempt me.

I want to give a big shout-out to Grady Locklear, Steve Tannen, Stu Holdren, and Matt Singley for sponsoring me this year. You four are awesome people and I really appreciate it. I’ve got $59 of my $300 goal with a little under a month to go. If you would like to learn more about how Extra Life started, this article will explain it. If you’re thinking of participating, this FAQ should answer most of the questions you have. Thank you very much for reading and donating! I’m looking forward to gaming with you and for you!

Twitter Thoughts: Video Game Commentary

I’ve played games that had commentary on them, but for some reason, I’ve never listened to the commentary. Have you ever listened to the commentary on a video game? If so, what did you think?

Top 5 Games of 2011: Freshfully Rad Style

Another fun year and another list of favorites. If you aren’t tired of seeing these lists by now, feel free to read on for my top 5 video games of 2011. Let me know what your favorites are in the comments or on whatever social media website you’re reading this from. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and favorites.

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Screenshot from Deus Ex: Human Revolution

#5 - Deus Ex: Human Revolution

This stealth/action shooter hits the number five spot for numerous reasons. The hype was strong when it first came out and from what I had heard; I knew I’d like this game. You could choose whether you were going to go in guns blazing or whether you would creep like a panther, dispatching foes without bloodshed. The level of customization was fun as you started to excel in the modifications you activated in your body. However, the boss fights were extremely unfair and one-dimensional compared to the options of routes in the level design of the world.

Overall, the game had a great story and a good replay value added in how you’d complete the game, including four different endings. But, it was a rental for me and it hasn’t tempted me to go back to it yet.

4. L.A. Noire

Image for L.A. Noire

#4 - L.A. Noire

The life of a cop in the 50’s was a perfect time for this game. There was nothing like hitting a crime scene and manhandling the corpse of a dead and bloodied woman in order to obtain the clues you need to catch the perp. The facial imaging that was used was the first of its kind and it was always a great surprise to see celebrities in the video game. However, as the game progressed it got a little monotonous to turn over every piece of paper to ruthlessly find all of the clues to the crime. The driving was like a chore most of the time and the “gaminess” of balancing on a wooden plank or finding all of the cars and film reels weren’t worth my time.

L.A. Noire is a game I had never played before and I really enjoyed the overall story as well as each case. But, it’s one of those games better left in small chunks.

3. Portal 2

Image for Portal 2

#3 - Portal 2

Most gamers know this – Valve knows how to make good video games. This is another game that had some crazy hype behind it and for good reason. The first Portal was a nice hidden gem on The Orange Box and the expanded sequel promised more great puzzles and an interesting story behind it. And did it ever have those! The narrative didn’t treat you like you were stupid and the puzzles were challenging, though not impossible. It had a completely different game for co-op play and some of the achievements really test your skill.

Portal 2 is one of those games you should own just so you can take your time in each area and really experience everything that Valve hides within their worlds.

2. Dead Space 2

Image for Dead Space 2

#2 - Dead Space 2

Hold on tight. That’s what I tell every gamer that begins playing this game. This survival sci-fi horror game knows how to provide the jump scares as well as provide some grotesque imagery that any gorehound will love. The controls are much improved from Dead Space and the camera is pulled in to Isaac just a little tighter. The soundtrack is just as freaky as the environment and provides just the type of music that should be in horror.  The only complaint I have is that you can usually tell what monster was going to pop out and surprise you based on the level design. That complaint is minor though, because the monster design is splendid for the bevvy of weapon choices you get.

This game is a blast and one I had to keep. Turn this game up on your stereo or headphones and prepare for the terror to begin.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Image for the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

#1 - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Anyone who knows me probably guessed this when I mentioned this list. I was at the store as soon as it opened to pick up Skyrim and have since played the game close to 130 hours. This RPG takes place in such an epic world; I’m guessing it could take at least 300 hours to complete almost everything. The customization of your character is precisely how you’d like to craft him or her. You can travel underwater to the top of giant mountains and do it freely without waiting on load times. You can progress in the story however you’d like, which makes a different game for each person who plays it and a different story that each person inevitably tells. I mean, I created a Tumblr blog about it!

This game has some faults like quests not finishing, though I had done what was required and some of the animal animation looks clunky. However, it’s to be expected with such a large game and forgivable for what the game provides in return. It even made the number three spot on Xbox LIVE behind Call of Duty: Black Ops & Modern Warfare 3 and Skyrim isn’t even a multiplayer game!

That’s how good this game is and why it’s my number one of 2011.

Honorable mentions go out to Bastion, Gears of War 3 and Shadows of the Damned. All of those games have provided me with some excellent experiences as well, but just lacked enough to make it into the top 5 of 2011.

Extra Life 2011: How it all went down

Before the marathon

The day has come and gone and Extra Life 2011 was a huge success! Last year, when I first heard about this charity, I signed up on a whim. The goal begins at $96 and can be adjusted accordingly. My original thoughts were that many people wouldn’t take it seriously, but I was surprised at how fast that goal was met from some extremely generous friends and family. So, I bumped up the goal and ended up donating over $240 to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. That’s when I thought that this could be something used for real good.

Fast-forward to this year with my goal started at $250. Some great friends and family sponsored me and helped blow past that goal to $300 thus gearing me up again for another epic day of marathon gaming on October 15. Of course, as erratic as my sleep patterns are, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. so excited that there was no chance of me going back to sleep. For anyone who sponsored me, I want to reassure you that I easily played games for well over 24 hours, including breaks, throughout the day and night.

The marathon begins

I officially started my session at 8 a.m. with an Xbox 360 game called Spider-Man: Edge of Time. It was a nice “beat-em-up” game that satiated a mind used to shooters and much more intense, twitchy games. After a few hours, I switched over to playing some Gears of War 3 with my friend Brianna and Stu, who was also participating in Extra Life 2011. We jumped into a horde mode match and made it to a round in the thirties before being disconnected from the host. BAH!

That was a great time to take a small break and then jump back into some video games with Pinball FX2, which is a great game to take a break with. It was one of my top games for 2010 and continues to be a favorite to go back to. Afterward, I played some multi-player Call of Duty: Black Ops with a bunch of random people. If you’re unaccustomed to playing games with strangers, let me tell you, you can hear some weird stories occasionally. That day, I got a few guys talking about the type of weed they smoke. I’m so happy Xbox has a mute button.

As night approaches

I ended up jumping into Stu’s campaign on Gears of War 3 and we finished the game, which took about four hours to do. At this point it was time to take a small dinner break consisting of some pad thai from Thai Orchid, which definitely hit the spot. After eating that, I threw in some L.A. Noire to play some of the downloadable content that has been waiting for me. I love the music and actors that Team Bondi got for this game and if you like the TV show “Mad Men,” you’d probably like playing this game.

The finish line in sight

After I finished a chapter in L.A. Noire, I killed some more time playing multi-player Call of Duty, Super Stickman Golf on iOS and some more Spider-Man until about 1 a.m. My friend, Evan, said that he would wake up at 2 a.m. to help me ride out the last and hardest part of the marathon. Keep in mind, I’ve been awake for a full 24 hours my 2:30 a.m. and have been playing games  since  around 4:30 a.m.

When the clock struck 2:30 a.m., Evan and I started our journey into Call of Duty’s zombie maps. I can’t believe that I haven’t gotten into these before, but I’m so happy that I participated in this charity in order to give me a good reason to play them. The layout of each area is detailed, the well thought out and full of mysteries. By the time we were finished with our last match, it was after 8:30 a.m. I signed off and recorded one last video to my Tumblr account.

Overall, Extra Life 2011 has been a huge success. Gamers from around the world have donated an approximate combined total of over 1.1 million dollars to children’s hospitals worldwide this year, which is a huge leap from the $465,000 last year and $170,000 the year before that. I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to all the people who sponsored me, played games with me, and promoted this cause. It means a lot to me, but even more to the kids it will help at Doernbecher.

Who says video games are bad for you?

King of Extra Life 2011

Everyone who participates in Extra Life are kings and queens in my book.

Extra Life 2011 Game Marathon on October 15

This weekend will mark the second year of playing video games to help kids at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Many gamers around the world will be enduring the 24 hour game marathon to help the children’s hospital of their choice and it won’t be as easy as it sounds.

I will be playing games on the Xbox 360 as well as iPhone and iPad games. The following is what I have lined up:

Xbox 360

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops
  • Gears of War 3
  • Peggle
  • Pinball FX2
  • Dead Space 2
  • Crimson Alliance
  • Possibly more…

iPhone/iPad

  • Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery
  • Plants vs. Zombies
  • GameDev Story
  • Jaws
  • Infinity Blade
  • Rage HD

If you own an Xbox 360 and see any games that you’d like to play with me, just let me know or send me an invite. My gamertag is Omega Technique. Also, with the help of many generous people, my original goal has been surpassed but I’d love to see it get to an even $300. If anyone wants to donate $16, just head to my profile here.