Zombie Jombie

A personal take / video on Gree’s social mobile game – Zombie Jombie

Rawr. Another day in amateur filmmaking from yours truly. Going with my first ever “video” game review. A few posts back, a blogger commented and wanted to see me to do some sort of gameplay video. “As you can see,” I like doing things on the fly, but I definitely need to organize my thoughts on my next game video haha. I will be spewing random information about the company and the game which would be slightly accurate or  inaccurate, so feel free to correct me. I’m going to bore you to death with this clip of Zombie Jombie from GREE / Openfeint for the iPhone. Thank God for the music.

I had to reposition myself on the next clip to avoid the glare.

It’s a game in the iPhone (currently exclusive for the iOS) and it’s free in the iTunes App Store. Zombie Jombie is a Japanese card-based game drawn in an American art style. The only gripe I have is that I still do not get how the card battles go. lol. Then again, I didn’t play it long enough. If you have any comments, feel free to give me a shout.

Note: This is shot through a Netbook camera. O.O

Verne Out.

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Otherworld: Spring of Shadows

Otherworld:Spring of Shadows

Otherworld:Spring of Shadows

For the past few weeks, Verne has been really busy. Had to make a presentation on Hidden Object Games to a certain game developer, so he was on HOG mode for one week. Seeing Zynga’s Hidden Chronicles, Verne must be really bored these days. Good time-wasters!

Verne has talked about Boomzap about their approach to Casual Game Design. He has played “Awakening: Moonfell Wood” and “Dana Knightstone” as part of a game design test – which he sometimes would like to forget but after thinking about it now, he simply laughs it off. You can check their site out at boomzap.com

Anyways, a friend of Verne’s, Kram, told him to try out Boomzap’s latest offering. Otherworld: Spring of Shadows. As usual, I’m going with the one-hour demo through Bigfish Games. It’s currently ranked #2. It’s around 380 MB.

In a nutshell, you bought a house and discovered that there’s this “shade” that kidnapped a little girl named Fiona who seems to be trapped in another world. Go to this world, kick the shade’s ass (to be clear, I’m not saying it’s a beat ’em up kind of game, ok?), save the girl and return to your world.

Verne's personal favorite Otherworld: Spring of Shadows Cutscene and Message.

 As expected, this feels similar to “Awakening” – the fantasy aspect of it. It’s that artwork which seems to me – is like their trademark – that Verne knows that they made this game or maybe Verne just needs to play 232323230 more Hidden Object Games to check for comparison.  lol.

That Fantasy Feel that you normally see in their games.

In terms of gameplay, Verne likes how the game isn’t dark; that the lighting is just right to search for small objects. You can’t skip some of the puzzles, which prolongs your game experience. The only beef Verne has with this game is that when you try to drag an item directly towards another object or a slot without clicking to zoom on the object or slot  (like say – putting a key in the lock or a fragment towards a slot)  – there’s a momentary lag or freeze before it actually proceeds further.

Then again, Verne was thinking that it could be my netbook that’s the problem lol. The other game Verne tried – Witches Legacy: The Charleston Curse – had those 3d CGs all throughout and it’s noticeable on my netbook that it’s pretty choppy when the CG plays. Other than that, no complaints.

Cherry Tree Puzzle

Cherry Tree Puzzle

Since this is the Collector’s Edition, it includes some freebies (concept art, wallpapers, the usual, etc.) including a  “beginner friendly walkthrough” of the game as it automatically adjusts the page of the walkthrough to your current situation in the game.

Walkthrough

The Noob Friendly Walkthrough that adjusts to the stage of the game where you are at.

 Introducing Fiona and the creepy-looking “Shade.”

Fiona and The Shade

Fiona and The Shade

Before Verne goes and rests, He will end this with a shot of a sleeping frog. Heh.

Update: Never passed so back to the drawing board.

Sleeping Frog

Sleeping Frog, now ain't that cute?

To view my other article on Boomzap, read it on the link below.

How to Design a Casual Game – the Boomzap Method

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke – what do they all have in common? Movies that are all made by Studio Ghibli. Honestly, I’m not a fan of Ghibli – I’ve only seen Spirited Away but I love their collaborations and contributions with other production companies like Production IG, working with titles like Lupin III, Full-Metal Alchemist and Gurren Lagann. Anyways, here’s a clip from their Japanese PS3 game entitled “Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch”

I actually saw this through Kotaku, a few months back and I was in awe of how Studio Ghibli was able to pull this off. It’s their first anime based video game which is available through the Nintendo DS and the Playstation 3.  Can’t wait to play this once there’s an English version of it. As a Square fan-boy, I haven’t seen anything worth playing that suits my tastes recently.  When i usually play a game, my entertainment factor is satisfied if the game keeps me on my chair while holding the controller for more than 30 minutes.

According to Wikipedia, The Nintendo DS version, titled Ni no Kuni: Shikkoku no Madōshi (二ノ国 漆黒の魔導士?, literally “Second Country: The Jet-Black Mage”), was released on December 9, 2010, while the PlayStation 3 version, titled Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch (二ノ国 白き聖灰の女王?, literally “Second Country: The Queen of White Sacred Ash”), was released in Japan on November 17, 2011. Me thinks they are working on localization as there is going to be Western version to be released and published by Namco Bandai Games sometime this year.

The last Anime RPG style game I played which i thoroughly enjoyed was Radiata Stories. Grandia III probably was a close second. Ok, let’s include Star Ocean 3. You’re absolutely right, mostly PS2 titles. I haven’t played that much PS3 titles for the last few. Tested FF XIII and didn’t like it.  I did play Pokemon Black and White a few months back as well as HeartGold and Soulsilver so…if I want an anime game that would serve as a good time waster for the PS3, it could be Ni No Kuni.

Anyone from Japan got any reviews for this?

Verne

How to Design a Casual Game From Start to Finish: The Boomzap Method

Game Design Casual Game Boomzap Entertainment

BoomZap Entertainment

About Boomzap –  click on the link. Long overdue for you, Hoshi. I can only remember snippets of Paraluman Cruz (Luna’s) Lecture on Game Design so bear with me. Should have asked for her files. Technically it’s her idea and I’ll see if my interpretation of it is similar.  I might butcher her presentation so I’ll apologize in advance. /facepalm

How to design a successful casual game from start to finish.

The role of the Game Designer in Boomzap – thinks of the “Pitch” and the “Walkthrough”

PITCH

According to James Portnow’s “What A Pitch!” on gamecareerguide.com, a “pitch” is  simply a concise way of explaining why your idea is good. It can be formal or informal, technical or abstract; so long as the goal is the same, it’s a pitch.

To start off, she thinks of a pitch and notes a few keywords related to the pitch. Afterwards, you encircle the keywords you like in order to develop a premise. The premise has to fit within the pitch (Now, wasn’t that obvious?).

For her, it’s ideal to use a method of freewriting – which is a continuous stream of consciousness for a set period of time – to generate the ideas for the keywords, premise and the pitch. Hmm let’s try this premise thing.

An admittingly generic, unoriginal, on-the-fly, made within a minute premise:

From a Verne's Eye View Premise Magellan

Magellan the Head Warden

Escape from Impel Down (Yeah, it’s a One Piece reference. Picture taken from the webs)

“A mystery-battle game set where pirates rule the seas – the era of the Grand Line . You are a pirate who loves to collect treasures, find hidden objects, solve puzzles, encounter creatures, and your interactions with people will be critical to aid you in your escape. You start off trapped inside a barrel that finds its a way in the cellars of a prison inside Impel Down – the ultimate prison fortress of no escape. You are to work your way out of the stronghold in order to set sail and be free from the clutches of eternal imprisonment.  It’s not going to be a walk in the park as one person hinders you from seeing the blue skies and open seas, the head warden, Magellan.”

Here’s a sample pitch for Monster Island from Irrational Games:

The pitch document range should be around 3 – 20 pages.  Somehow, it will probably end up something like the above pitch. Maybe.

Part of her job as the designer would be to think of how to implement gameplay into the pitch. They have to come up with 15 story features for the entire game. I’m trying to recall what this meant. Assuming the game is made for 6 hours worth of gameplay. This is where you decide to have arcs, or chapters, etc.

Divide the 15 story features into three arcs.  So you get 5 chapters in an arc. I’m thinking that the story features are like chapters for an arc.  Let’s say for your first arc – you have chapters where you go to 4 different places in order to gather your 4 team members. At the end of the arc, let’s say you face a boss or one of your members was a spy or something.

At the end of the either one of the two arcs, you need to add an obvious “blocker” – it’s a goal that will hinder you or reveal something but not everything. If you were thinking everything was smooth sailing, there could be a plot twist similar to FFVII or something where you spent time building your main healer, Aeris, then she dies early. There goes the old-school Square fanboy in me.

In terms of subgames, you distribute them and inventory strings evenly.  Too much of hidden things in a certain area may bore players.

WALKTHROUGH

They like to keep it short. Make a walkthrough for the entire game in bullets. Keep it brief, instead of a large paragraph. (There goes my “fail” homemade premise and probably this whole blog entry lol.)

They use an excel sheet which indicates the level, code, room and game type. This is how they keep track of things to make the game a bit balanced. All a designer does is put the necessary information in the sheet and the developers use that file to code stuff in the game. (Edit: Check Mr Allen Simonsen’s notes on what a game designer does on the comments section.)

Scripting and Graphic Design Display (GDD)

PROTOTYPE 

No, not the game.  The idea behind a Prototype is to:

  • quickly test your idea
  • come up with a playable crap art.
  • lessens dependency (forgot what it meant – me thinks, on programmers.)
From a Verne's Eye View Boomzap's Stages from Demo to Release

Stages From Demo to Release

The excel files are used for localization – they are exported as lua files (need clarification on this) to the database. With a little bit of visual basic, encoding stuff in the excel file reduces the time in asking programmers.

GDD

They do this last. Why? Ideas suck at the first time.  This is usually done after prototyping.  A reference photo + technical notes are given to the artists. It kind of works sort of like Google Image Search function but it’s in wiki format. This helps the artist in getting a description on the actions/animations that need to be done.

Testing comprises of Focus Builds and Surveys.

FOCUS BUILDS

The designer tests the build of the game daily. The design team conducts a weekfly focus build. Eventually all the builds are shared with the publisher. They have a rating of 1 -5 in terms of priorities for game changes. Can’t remember if 1 was critical or something. But what I remember was my favorite. 5 means “FT” or Fuck That or it’s not even worth discussing. lol.

SURVEY 

400 Actual Users get to test it – but the design they see is something close or near final art. It’s tested everyday before the release for any last minute tweaks.

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At Boomzap, they focus on a playable ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment). Flexibility-wise. As long as you finish your task, you can do something else.

Death at Fairing Point - Boomzap Entertainment

Main Menu for Death at Fairing Point

Hidden Object Games

One of the First Scenes of Death at Fairing Point

Verne’s Verdict: I remembered playing a demo of Death at Fairing Point and Jewels of Cleopatra a few months back. Been awhile since I’ve played Hidden Object Games. I admit that when I was in that lecture, I had high hopes and then I took an arrow to the knee. When she explained that applicants for the Game Designer position were all bragging about how they want to make the next MMORPG or Square game, you can’t go with that mindset because you’re not designing for that kind of crowd. It’s all about designing games for…

The Big Fish Babes of Big Fish Games

The Big Fish Babes

…the right market. I leave you with Luna’s Three Hard Lessons to Learn

“design for your target market not for yourself.”
“know the competition.”
“keep your story simple and playable.”

Sounds like a solid marketing strategy.

To view other articles on games, read up my notes on:

Emotional Engineering

Game Development for Small Teams

GREE – The future of Mobile 
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Noriyaka Kobayashi’s talk on GREE.

Quite a busy week for Verne.

Continuing where Verne left off for the Philippine Game Development Festival 2011, schedules were quite delayed by an hour. When Verne arrived at the theater to listen to Boomzap‘s Allen Simonsen’s keynote entitled “Find a job you love, and you’ll never work a day in life,’ it was already ending which meant the only thing Verne remembers as he entered the theater was the jump made from the stage to the ground. lol. Now that’s sad. Verne kinda figured that he was going to go to see Paraluman Cruz’s (Luna) – Boomzap Method Game Design Track beforehand to learn more about how they do things so…Verne just assumed maybe he’ll sit in lol.

Image representing GREE as depicted in CrunchBase

"Making the world a better place through the power of the internet."

Anyways, next up was GREE. Introduced was their Head of Business Development for the Asia Pacific Region, Noriyaka Kobayashi. His topic was about the current position of social and mobile game in Asia. Not a lot of people will hear about GREE – It’s actually a social networking service that’s purely devoted to mobile gaming, making money through the sale of virtual items. That concept sounds all too familiar. Personally Verne is not a fan of mobile gaming.

The talk consisted of a short graph indicating the growth of mobile users in the next year at the same time, it felt like an opportunity for introduction of the company to the developers who were present.

GREE is owned by Asia’s youngest billionaire (age 34) as declared by Forbes Magazine – Yoshikazu Tanaka, who claims that this started out as a hobby. Here’s a short video of his interview.

What’s Farmville? lol. Verne notices that Japanese never really think about the competition or maybe they’re just pretending not to.

In Japan alone, they have a 26 million subscriber base. With the acquisition of Openfeint, they intend to go global and expand to different markets,  establishing offices in strategic locations like Singapore, UK, and possibly considering Manila (who knows?). Openfeint has around 140 millions subscribers and GREE’s vision – which was repeated numerous times in the presentation – was to reach 1 billion subscribers.

Aside from developing thier own games, this gaming platform is tied up with Capcom, Konami, Sega, Taito, and Square Enix. Personally, their games are unheard of – save for EA’s FIFA 10 which was a recent collaboration – unless you reside in Japan.

During the presentation, Kobayashi somewhat compared GREE to Facebook and Zynga. Is this to directly compete with Facebook mobile? Hmm.

Strangely, no mention of DeNA‘s Mobage – the other social mobile giant that seems to be their direct competitor. DeNA’s buy-out of ngmoco is part of their quest of global expansion. Is their purchase of Openfeint – their response to this acquisition? Was tempted to raise his hand and ask that during the Q and A.

Here’s my link to the video.   Instead of giving you the lengthy 20 minute video (unless someone requests for it), Verne will let you read a few articles from TechCrunch.

GREE’s challenge to Zynga along with a preview of some of their games – http://techcrunch.com/2011/12/06/japans-gree-to-challenge-facebook-and-zynga-as-global-social-gaming-platform-in-2012/

The other competitor. DeNA’s Mobage – http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/27/dena-and-ngmoco-launch-mobile-social-gaming-platform-mobage-worldwide/

I guess a question that comes to mind would be “Their games are doing well enough in their own market. How would these same games fare out there and which developers will tap this platform?”

Reminds me of a story Verne heard once – that there was this developer from Bioware or some other game developer who came in to meet with some Japanese game company. When this developer came in, the Japanese employees were in awe but when him or his game was presented  to the CEO. CEO didn’t like or rejected the game – not really too familiar with what happened.

This for me is an example of how games from other countries tap each other’s markets. i.e. GREE games sold to the global market, or some developer trying to enter the Japanese market.

You may have a good game but if it doesn’t appeal or it’s not marketed properly to the Japanese or to another market.  That’s a need that has to be addressed. Both GREE and Mobage are making strides in terms of partnerships with  companies in other countries in order to cement their position moving forward. It’s going to be interesting to see how they can change the landscape in six months. So until then – all we can do is wait.  Part Four – wonder when I’m going to finish this.

Update: Facebook has recently acquired four mobile companies in anticipation of this move. Hohoho.

Verne

For other games articles, read up on:
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Game Development for Small Teams – Philippine Game Development Festival ’11 Takeaways Part 2

The Second Track Verne went to was about “Game Development for Small Teams.” It consisted of a four man team from Nexus Pixels (nexuspixels.com) who created this game called “Pacifica Online.” Donnie Gianchand took the floor. These guys self-studied on their asses to get the game up. Pretty cool.

They introduced a number of Open Source software which literally cost them nothing. Blender (3D), Gimp (Graphics Software), Haxe (Programming Interface for Flash Clients) and my personal favorite. LMMS (a Digital Audio Workstation – there goes FL) – downloading each is around 20 MB. Not too shabby. The only amount they spent was probably their Security and Exchanges Commission Registration and probably hardware.

A list of the software they used to produce can be found here.

http://nexuspixels.com/about.php

To get data organized before starting the game, they “mindmap.” If you’re not too familiar what a mind map is, I’ll help you out with an article from Lifehacker.

http://lifehacker.com/398476/boost-your-brainstorming-session-with-mindmeister

In Nexus Pixels case, their main idea is to make a “game.”  Then you ask yourself and define the needs which would connect to your main idea.

What kind of game should it be?  a Shooter? an RPG?  Ok RPG, What kind of RPG would it be? an MMORPG?

What kind of story? Who makes it? Is it a love story? Is it done by a writer?

What kind of programmers/developers does it require? Flash? C++?

What kind of software would you be using?  2D ? 3D?

What kind of graphics and design are you going for? and so on and so forth until you figure out your game’s needs. Tweaking the game will follow afterwards.

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To start a team for game development, you need the following:

– programming (tools and programmer)

– 2d/3d software (concept artist, 3d)

– music composition software (for background music and effects)

– design (preferably a designer who has played a lot of games)

– and probably a wide imagination with the ability to learn to innovate.

They incorporate ideas from other games as well as  games you play during your childhood like “Tag. (You’re it.)”  which is done in real time.

These guys are straying away from the norm by not charging on a subscription or an item mall basis. Their game monetization relies more on Google Adsense and Advertisers who’d like to advertise on their page/site.

According to them, their growth was based on the share of friends of friends in Facebook – which is something that Zynga does. 20,000 active users in a month. 600 online on a day.

Verne’s Verdict on Nexus Pixels: Verne heard about Gimp and Blender from a few designers Verne knows.  My eye sparkled though because Verne was not expecting to see a DAW for this whole day. Interesting point of view of doing things as a startup. I think they’re planning to cross-over platforms by enabling the game to be played on mobile. Currently, you can play the game on Android only if the mobile phone has Flash in it.

Edit: Here’s a short random video of their discussion.

This isn’t over. Verne will take a break from writing and he’s still got more to come.

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