Monday, April 30, 2012

Game of the Week : Skullgirls

Skullgirls is a 2D fighting game available on Xbox Live and Playstation Network by Reverge Labs. It's a 2D fighting game similar to other sprite based fighting games such as the Street Fighter 2 and Blazblue. What makes this project so special however is the amount of detail that went into it and the fact that it's an indie project. This isn't a huge company like Capcom making this game, this is just a dedicated team of a dozen or more people working to make the best game possible. Indie games deserve their time in the spotlight and as a fan of fighting games, I could see that Skullgirls shouldn't be missed.


Skullgirls uses the same basic elements that most 2D fighters have. Reduce opponent's life bar to 0, have special meter for Super Attacks, a timer that counts to 0, etc. However most fighting games like these specialize in having either one vs one battles or having teams of players against each other. Skullgirls changes this up by allowing you to choose from either one character or up to three characters to fight as a team. Having one character means this character is overall a lot stronger, having a lot more life and dealing more damage than other characters. If you have three characters, each one is weaker, however you are allowed to call in partners to assist you in battle like in Marvel vs Capcom 3, or tag a partner in when the character in the front lines is weak so they can recover portions of their health.

Skullgirls features 1 on 1 battles or up to 3 on 3 on each team

This system is somewhat similar to Capcom vs Snk 2, where you could choose either one character or up to three and assign each character a ratio to determine how much stronger they would be. But the game also mixes in elements from Marvel vs Capcom where you can call in assists, tag out and perform supers with your team. The game overall uses elements of both these to make Skullgirls significantly different to play.

Ninja Nurse "Valentine" (on the right) performing a combo

Every fighting game has a different kind of “combo system” and Skullgirls is no different. Getting into a combo system can be complex because it represents different ways of performing combos and some games only allow limited variations of combos such as in Capcom vs Snk 2, whereas Marvel vs Capcom 3 could allow for much more varied and crazy combos. Skullgirls is in essence more along the lines of Marvel vs Capcom 3 where combos can be much larger and more complex.

Half of the cast of Skullgirls

Character selection in Skullgirls in somewhat limited compared to the other games I have mentioned. There are a total of 8 characters to choose from, with a unplayable final boss and more potential DLC characters to come as well. What Skullgirls lacks in character selection makes sure to make every character unique in terms of play style and look. There are no clones the likes of Street Fighter where there would be 4 characters all with a Hadouken and a Shoryuken. Every character plays with a completely different mindset and playstyle but they can all perform combos quite well. From the staple Schoolgirl Filia, to the grappling Circus Performer Cerebella, to the robotic war Orphan Peacock with a boatload of internet meme and references, all of them have unique playstyles.


Each has character has over 2000+ frames of animation

Now the highlight of the game besides the gameplay system is the effort into the world of Skullgirls itself. Namely, the animation. These may be 2D sprites but these are the most incredible looking 2D animated sprites I have ever seen. These characters have over 2000+ frames of animation each, all of them hand drawn. If you look at any one of them, they pretty much look like a highly detailed character portrait rather than the typical sprite you might see in a fighting game. The characters animate so smoothly and look so great, they pretty much blow away any of the old fighting game sprites and even some of the newer ones from big companies.

Animation of Filia

The developpers themselves highlight the process of creating these sprites. They show the palettes they choose, cleaning up the sprites, and getting details into the sprites. Basically, they use a combination of clean up artists and animators. The animators will draw the sprite, a rough version and continue on to other sprite frames that need to be done. These people do not manipulate existing sprites and try to repose them, instead they hand drawn from scratch each new pose, using reference material to help them along the way. These artists need a fundamental understanding of proportions and how to draw characters in order to draw the new poses naturally. Since they have to spend so much time in doing this, the rough sketch is then sent to a clean up artist.

Early animation of Filia, without clean up

The clean up artist basically makes the sprite look pretty and look really great. Details on how these whole process is defined can be found here. Taking the rough sketch, they clean up the lines first of all then they add in shadows to define the 3D shape of the sprite. They have to have a very good understanding of the body and how shadows work, as well as knowing what the animator wanted to convey in the shape of the body for that sprite. After that shadow layer, they begin to add the color layer and that's pretty much done, for one single frame that is. This process will be repeated over and over for every frame and considering it's 2000+ frames per character, this is a massive undertaking.

Gameplay of Skullgirls

That's probably one of the main reasons the cast is at 8 characters, because there is so much detail and life put into these characters. Seeing them animated at the full 60 FPS that the engine runs on makes the old sprites of yore look feeble in comparison. Not only that but every frame you look at has the utmost detail as was explained in their process of making the sprites. It really breathes life into these characters and I feel like it's really great breakthrough in the quality of 2D sprite animation. It shows that this kind of animation can still compare in quality to a 3D game. The sprites animate so smoothly that it looks almost like a live cartoon show.


Trailer featuring the character "Cerebella" 

Besides the look of the characters, a lot of effort went into bringing the life of these characters alivethrough audio. Cristina Vee was one of main directors for voice over and she has had a lot of experience in voicing for anime and video games. She was in charge of getting the other voice actors/actresses in and readying them for their lines, as well as providing the voice for the character Cerebella as well. They managed to get a team of enthusiastic actors and actresses to voice the characters to help give life to the characters. Not only that but they filled the dialogue full of references to various memes. From Ms. Fortune's Purrserker Parrage (A homage to Wolverine's Berserker Barrage inMarvel vs Capcom), to Peacock's “Garbage Day” as she shoots a pistol (A homage to a scene from a 1980's movie Silent Night Deadly Night 2), the game makes sure to entertain with all these funny quirks.


As was noted in my tunes of the week, the Skullgirls team was able to get Michiru Yamane on board forSkullgirls. She composed a majority of the soundtrack and really helped to bring the quality of the game to even higher standards. The existing composers did a good job as well but having Michiru Yamane to help as well really made things even better. For a closer look at the music, check out my tunes of the week on Skullgirls.


The 'Skull Heart' is a central plot point in the story. An artifact that has the power to grant a young woman's wish.

Though fighting game stories usually aren't the focus or overall that interesting, Skullgirls puts a goodeffort into making a story for the characters. They may not be the best stories but they are pretty entertaining nonetheless and definitely a lot better than what I've seen in Street Fighter stories so far. To compare, we have Ryu in Street Fighter who's story usually consists of “I must be stronger, so I shall just fight everyone in my way”. That or it consists of “controlling the Satsui-No-Hadou”, which can turn him into Evil Ryu. We never really learn much about the character through his stories. Skullgirls on the other hand definitely tries to show us how the characters interact in the world and with other characters. You can definetely see a lot more interactivity and in the end of the stories, you still get a good feel of each character's personality.

Canopy Kingdom : The setting for Skullgirls

The basis of the story of Skullgirls is the presence of the Skull Heart. The Skull Heart grants any woman their wish, but if it's not pure, then the wish will become corrupted and they may become the Skullgirl, a immensely powerful being who becomes twisted by the very wish they wanted. This dynamic combined with the characters and their reasons for pursuing the Skull Heart to really show the personalities of each character. It may not fully tell us everything about each character, but they are a lot more fleshed out then a lot of other fighting games.

I'll quickly highlight one of the stories and what it managed to accomplish in a small time frame.

Parasoul : Princess of Canopy Kingdom and leader of it's Elite Military Squad, the Black Egrets

One story we have Parasoul, the Princess of the Canopy Kingdom (Where Skullgirls takes place) who's sister Umbrella is drawn to the presence of the Skull Heart.

We discover that Parasoul's mother was once the Skullgirl who wished for peace but her had wish corrupted and became the Skullgirl. At the time a war was raging on and with Parasoul's mother becoming the Skullgirl, they were forced to form an alliance and defeat the Skullgirl. The wish turned to peace but at the cost of Parasoul's mother. She doesn't want this happening to her sister again and so in the end after getting to the Skull heart she makes her wish to the Skull Heart before Umbrella can, which was to become the Skull Girl so that her sister does not.

Parasoul's Story pretty much reveals the importance of family to her and we get a good understanding of her character and what drives her. It's a much more personal and important story then what we see in a lot of fighting games.


With just an indie team, creating this level of quality for a game is impressive. Not only have they made some of the best looking 2D animated sprites, and gotten a famous japanese composer but they built the game specifically to be competitive as well. The designers had a tournament level Fighter Mike Zaimont working on the project to make the game a balanced and competitive game. This game is frequently featured on several notable fighting game streams and tournaments now.

Overall the game exudes polish and any fighting game fan shouldn't miss out on this excellent game.

Tunes of the Week : Skullgirls

Skullgirls is an interesting game. It's a game made by an independant studio with experts who happen to know a ton about fighting games. So much in fact that this game was built specifically to be able to have tournament level play. What's more interesting is the talent they were able to get on board for the game. I will probably talk more about that in a "Game of the Week" for Skullgirls but most notably they were somehow able to get famed composer Michiru Yamane who has notably composed for the Castlevania Series.

Yamane brings her trademark style to the twisted world of Skullgirls and manages to make several notable pieces in the soundtrack. The sound track also manages to bring jazz into the game and manages to make it fit with the action rather then detracting. Since it's a fighting game, you might not think Jazz really fits with it, but the game's art style and sense of humour manages to make these tracks fit just fine. Compared to a game like Marvel vs Capcom 2 which used jazz in the most unusual and unfitting ways, Skullgirl's jazz tracks shine compared to those.There are also a number of other catchy tunes that fit along the lines of Castlevania in terms of feeling but still fit perfectly with the world of Skullgirls.

It's really amazing that a small independent studio could manage to get a famous video game composer like Michiru Yamane to help with their game. They even have a blog post on how they managed to get her and how surprised they were able to as well. But getting her really helped to make the game even more enjoyable. I will probably make a game break down of this soon because this is definitely an indie game that excels polish.

Skullgirl's soundtrack is definetely really enjoyable and a mix of several types of different genres of song. You can buy it on Itunes too!

The Lives we Left behind

Anti Skullgirl Labs

Final Boss : Bloody Marie

Thursday, April 26, 2012

End of the Year, End of the Semester

It's been a long second year at UOIT Game Development and it's been a blast (I FINALLY just finished my exams and moved back home). There have been tons of moments of great fun and other moments with a lot of stress! In comparison, first year was a breeze compared to this year in terms of work load and difficult. Somehow, my group and myself managed to get through all the hardships of learning 3D game code and crazy shader algorithms.

Project for the Year

The first year, we had to make two seperate games, but this year we made one whole game, starting it in first semester and continuing on in second semester. The game was called Ultimate Gladiator Coliseum : 80 AD. I don't remember if I talked too much about it already, I only mentioned it briefly as a project and some of the problems we faced in making it.

Essentially UGC:80 AD, is a third person action game that controls along the same lines as the Elder Scrolls V : Skyrim might. You battle your way through 8 coliseum battles. In between battles you have access to a forest area, where you can talk to a Blacksmith to perform quests to gain gold and purchase upgrades to your stats for gold you earn from quests and coliseum battles. 

In battle you have access to an array of different techniques from the start like power attacks, spear throws, etc. The techniques themselves aren't complex or all the numerous, the system is supposed to be simple and easy to understand. The game's look is also based off a lego look, so the entire world looks a blockier on purpose. Since it's a lego look, it means the game itself isn't taking itself seriously and the entire world, from animations to models all look silly intentionally.

That's pretty much the game in a nutshell. Here is the link to our website and the project right here.

This game is where all the effort went for the year. Our team poured all our effort to making a fun game and to be honest I think we did really well for ourselves. It's definitely not the best game and it can be improved, but it turned out surprisingly well and it's good fun.

I'll update this page or make an annoucement if I get permission to link the download for our game.

Other Accomplishments

The fact that this blog even exists, I have to thank Professor Lennart Nacke & Professor Andrew Hogue for. It's been really fun to make all these blog posts every week and this blog will continue to exist even after the school semester is done. I plan to use this for future courses and any other hobbies I plan to pick up as I continue to become a Game Developer. This blog will continue through the summer months as well, though maybe not as frequently (or maybe more frequently since I have more time). 

I hope everyone has enjoyed reading the blog so far and that it will improve with time!

Friday, April 13, 2012

First Year Game – Art Evolution

Back in first semester of first year at UOIT, our group was known as Team Underdogs and only had half of the same members as it does now. In our first game (A Night in the House of Evil) we were required to make was a text-based game. This begs the question, why is art evolution in the title of this blog post if our game was text based? Well that’s because I poured my heart and soul into this game. I took the initiative of trying to do most of the coding right from the start and making the main gameplay system. Not only that but I poured a lot of effort into the designs of the characters both in terms of story and in terms of actual art design.

Looking back I am not satisfied anymore with either. The story got confusing even for myself so I am sure it was confusing for other people if they even got far into the game. We also featured our art in the game in some of the “cut scenes and introduction” of the game. I managed to find a way to get images and video to show up in our program so that I could explicitly use these pieces of art for those scenes. But looking back to the art too, it is not even close to representing what I would be able to do now.

I haven’t been drawing very long at all and I have never taken any art classes (aside from the mandatory one at UOIT), I just drew casually. The art I drew for our game “A Night in the House of Evil” was just me continuing to draw every now and then and learning more as time went on. It’s now pretty much a year and a half later and I can say for certain my art knowledge now is much better than it used to be. With this in mind, I remembered hearing a suggestion for our group to try and revamp our old games. This inspired me to look back at A.N.I.T.H.O.E, and I saw my art. I became quite displeased upon seeing it again, so I wanted to try and revamp it up to my standards now. I am not going to do all the art, just a few pieces at most (because there is a ton of art I drew and I don’t have time to do them all until exams are over).

So here is the result of revamping one of the old artworks in A Night in the House of Evil.

Old Picture (Fall 2010)

New picture (Fall 2011 / Winter 2012)

Yeah... things have changed a lot. Yay! Now time to go study.

Graphics : Gamecon & Shaders

Unfortunately due to crunch time, there has been a lack of blogs lately and exams are coming up to so this will probably the last one until they are done.

Poster for Ultimate Gladiator Coliseum 80 AD

My group Scorching South Studio’s game was just recently completed and show at UOIT’s gamecon where students of all years showcase their games to the audience. Our game Ultimate Gladiator Coliseum was showcased along with the other second years and we got overall very positive feedback at the event. A lot of people had fun with it and we didn’t hear any complaints about the game so that’s definitely a plus for our group. There were some technical issues at the beginning that caused stress, but overall the experience was quite fun.

Now that gamecon is over and our game has been submitted, we were also required to do a post-mortem of our game to see what wrong and right. Since this is a graphics blog, I am going to look at one specific problem we had, and that was late implementation of shaders. Our group was so preoccupied with other tasks over the semester that implementing shaders was pushed back until late. We should have known we would run into errors along the way  and should have anticipated it would be easier said than done to put shaders in our game, even though we knew how to do it in other programs.

Here is how our game looked like without shaders (and older models)

This caused a lot of stress on several days and in the end, we got most of the shaders we wanted but not all of them. Had we not pushed it back so far, we probably would have gotten every single shader we would have wanted for the game. There were just tiny errors that we had to overcome to get them in, but alas the time constraints near the end didn’t let them in. That means graphically, in our opinion the game was still lacking because of those missing shaders we wanted. Nevertheless we got a lot in still, just not every single one we wanted.

Here is what the final game looked like with shaders

It was definitely a good learning experience, because it shows us never to underestimate how much time we need. Our group needs to make sure not to underestimate how long it can take to finish up a task, especially as one as complicated as shaders. We tried putting it in while thinking of the best case scenario, when we should have went in thinking with the worst case scenario. If we had done that we would have gotten the rest of the shaders that we wanted and overall be able to polish our game much more.

I don’t have much time to really write this post so I am going to end this one short for now. Maybe later I will talk more about how more aspects of the game went in specifics but for now I want to get to studying or at least relaxing my tired brain. This may be the final post for the semester but hopefully this will continue into the summer!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Game of the week 14: Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney

Now is the time once again for the game of the week blog, and in our text book, I took the initiative of looking at one of the topics, which was puzzles. The definition of puzzles was broader however, and compared and contrasted how puzzles relate to how games should be made. Puzzles need not only refer to things such as Sudoku or Crossworld puzzles, but many a game of course have puzzles. Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes, having different effects on gameplay. Some can feature puzzles as a mandatory to the gameplay, such as in Legend of Zelda games, where puzzles are mandatory in most dungeons but they are usually simple enough so that young players can still progress and have fun doing them. Others feature mind bending puzzles as the main form of gameplay the whole way through, I would probably compare this to Catherine (my previous game of the week) as the main game play is the fast paced, difficult puzzles. There are certain features that puzzles should contain to keep them accessible and a fun part of the gameplay but I will get into those later, for now I’d like to introduce the game of the week, or rather series of the week.

This week, I’ve decided to feature a series originally created for the Game Boy Advanced and later ported to the Nintendo DS. The series in question is Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney. The main series on the GBA features three games, the original, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney : Justice for All and Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney : Trials and Tribulations. The first game was originally released in 2001, and the remake for the Nintendo DS in 2005, with the sequels following in 2002 and 2004 on GBA and then 2006 and 2007 for DS.

The game features the main character, Phoenix Wright defending his clients in a variety of legal cases, though pretty much all of them relating to murder in some fashion. With his assistant Maya, he goes about collecting evidence, talking with various witnesses and finally going to court room. There he cross examines witnesses and their testimony in order to find facts that will prove his client’s innocence. The game is essentially a take on turning the legal system into gameplay.


There are two different sections of gameplay typically in the game, there is the investigation section and the courtroom section.

Investigation sections, where all the exploration is

In the investigation section, you go out into the scene of the crime and any related areas to gather evidence. You get to collect pieces of evidence that are added to your inventory for future reference, as well as other characters around who may provide more information, including evidence and such. Over the course of the game, you are given various tools that help you search rooms for evidence. This evidence will eventually be used in the courtroom, as that is the main section where all the drama and revelations in the game occur.

The courtroom sections, where all the action happens

In the courtroom section of the game, the collected evidence and knowledge that you obtained over the course of the investigation section is what you are armed with in the court room sessions. Much of it consists of listening to Witness testimony, pointing out any contradictions you can based on the evidence you possess. You’ll have to do some “puzzle solving” by doing some logical thinking and seeing where they are wrong. That’s essentially the main aspect of this entire section, pointing out where the logic is wrong and shoving it in their face. Of course there are consequences for not pointing out the logic correctly, so you have a “life bar” of sorts that depletes. If you lose all of it you have to restart the court room sequence.

Cross Examination sequences are where you do all of logical thinking to break down the witness' testimony

Now the thing about this game is that it is fact, a very linear game. Most of the game actually consists of text to read, which in fact makes it like a “Visual Novel”. These games usually consist of a lot of text, or dialogue, and they are mostly story in fact. This genre of games mixes with the “Dating Sim” type that I spoke of earlier in my blog regarding Catherine. Anyways, in Phoenix Wright, there is one set path usually. Only on the rare occasion can you get different endings. In the investigation sequences, you will ALWAYS get all the evidence you need before you can proceed to the court room sequences. And in the court room sequences, you will ALWAYS have all the evidence you need to proceed. If you don’t then it’s scripted for you to not have that evidence at the time and things will proceed as normal.

Now the fact that I mention it’s a linear, visual novel game now means what really makes this a game? Well like I mentioned earlier, the “puzzle solving” in the court rooms is where the game play truly lies. You have to use your brain quite a bit to decipher the clues given to you. This also applies in the investigation sections, most of the time you should think about where you want to go next, what areas to visit, who you want to question and doubt.

Game Design of the Week: Puzzles

In our breakdown of puzzles, we identified a variety of different puzzles types, which included, riddles, lateral thinking, spatial reasoning, pattern recognition, logic, exploration and item use. In Phoenix Wright, the main puzzle types used in the game are logic, exploration and item use.

Logic is used constantly in the court room sections, like I said you have to break down everything the witness on the stand is saying and point out any contradiction, no matter how tiny.

Exploration is used in the investigation sequences, since you have to explore every nook and cranny of every location available to you in order to find ll the evidence you can.

Item use is also used quite a bit all over, a combination of using your logical thinking, presenting the correct items at the correct times so that you can either reveal more information, or take down a witness’ testimony. Of course items are obtained through exploration as well!

You'll be using those 4 puzzle types all over the game

Puzzle basics

There are also four basic characteristics to puzzles. Affordances, identifiable patterns, ease of use and reward player skill.

Affordance means it should be easy to figure out the rules and controls. In Phoenix Wright, well you don’t really have too many crazy options in terms of controls and rules. It really makes the game easy to play and pick up for anyone, all you have to do is use logic.

Identifiable patterns means the puzzle should be clear so that players are able to identify the ways the puzzle can be solved. Well in PW (Phoenix Wright), you are given all the evidence you need and as long as you paid attention to the information you were given during the game, you should be able to figure out how to proceed with the case. (You can still look back on information you gathered too)

Ease of Use meaning good interface (User interface). Like I said, PW features not too many controls or rules to go by and the user interface is pretty simple. In courtroom for example, when cross examining, read the witness statement, press him for more information, present evidence to show a contradiction or move to the next statement. Simple as that.

Reward Player skill is so obvious, not gonna say that it does! And well PW helps you thinking logically throughout, or at least logical for PW standards, so it holds your hand that way.

Phoenix right is able to use the basic rules of puzzles quite well

Puzzles in Phoenix Wright?

At first when I played the game, I hadn’t thought about it as a puzzle game. I usually associated puzzles with crosswords and such. I forgot to think about using logic and deductive reasoning as puzzles, since you’re really trying to solve something based on the tools and information provided. Puzzles like cross words of course make you use your brain to think about what words will go, but of course that uses logic and deductive reasoning too. For some reason I hadn’t made the connection, I thought of PW more as a visual novel then a puzzle game. But now I can see it’s a good part puzzle game as well, using all that logical thinking to break down witnesses.


The main reason I feel satisfaction from doing this though is because the game’s characters and script throughout the game are fantastic. Without this high quality from the script and great characters, I would not have enjoyed the game nearly as much. They made the game what it is. I played the game for the story mostly but still felt satisfaction from breaking down witnesses and such. That’s how the puzzles are rewarding and that’s another lesson we learned in class. Puzzles should be rewarding, providing the player with some sort of benefit and for the players of this game, the benefit was to see the storyline continue. The story in most of the cases were all fun to go through and most of the character’s you cross examined in their testimony had neat reactions (Such as pulling their hair out, but more interesting than simply that) that made it even more satisfying.

Anyways that’s all I wanted to cover this week. If you have never tried Phoenix Wright before, I suggest you do. It’s a fantastic series and a lot of fun to play. I loved it simply for the characters and story and the puzzle aspect of it made me more engaged in the storyline all together!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Level Up 2012 Experience

Level Up is an event where many universities around Ontario are invited to showcase games that have been developed over the year. UOIT was invited to this event as well and we were able to bring and showcase our games as well. My friend Moose has already talked about his Level Up impressions as well as going in depth into the testing results we got from our game, so instead of talking about those tests, I am going to talk more about my personal experience at the event.

At 12:00 pm, we left to take the bus and train to reach Union station in downtown Toronto. From there we walked all the way to the Level Up venue. We arrived by 3:00 pm, where we were then offered Pizza (my only meal for the next 7 hours) then a speech by Microsoft for recruiting university students. It was definitely something I noted, the process of getting into Microsoft was made much clearer after this speech and definitely became a possibility I could pursue in the future. The fact they are going for university students like this is a good sign.

One of the other University's games, Gentleman Explorer

Afterwards we set up our booth, which was only a table whereas other people had projectors and TVs. Apparently we had to bring our own, and I wasn’t fully aware because I wasn’t intending to go to the event at first, but a last minute decision on Monday led me and my group member Moose to Level Up. So all we had was a table and our laptops. Some of the other groups in UOIT got lucky and managed to snag some TVs, but we were unfortunately not so lucky. Here is a list of the 2nd year UOIT groups that I remember seeing...

Scorching South Studios (Moose and I)

A view of our table

Moose and I shared a table with fellow GDW group Team Overlord. There were only a handful of groups there from our year, I believe it was 5 total? Not many considering there are around 12 to 15 groups. I am not sure of their reasons for not coming, but game or not it was a good experience to go. Moose and I didn’t even have a fully complete game yet, our HUD wasn’t even working which is a pretty essential part of our game but all the normal gameplay was in at least so it wasn’t a total loss. Even so we got some good feedback and some impressed people from the fact we built it from the ground up. I think Moose and I can agree that made us pretty happy to be praised like that.

A four player, local area connected game

The rest of the schools consisted of U of T, OCAD to name a few, the others I honestly can’t remember but all of their games were really great. Gameplay wise, they were superior to ours and graphically as well. The thing is that most of them didn’t make an engine from the group up like we did, they used Unity game engine. Now their games are still all great, I am not going to put them down or anything. They were all legitimately very well designed and some had some rather unique quirks to them. In comparison to ours, since they were done using a built game engine, much of their time was focused solely on the design of the gameplay and aesthetics. Much of our time was preoccupied with learning to code new techniques and get them into our game. Had we used Unity, our game would have had much more time to look more polished and be on the same level of quality that the others had.

A game set up to use the Kinect

But nonetheless all the games showcased on the floor were good. Some even used Wii-motes or the Kinect for their controls. Most of them had controllers of some sort in any case, many of them using Xbox 360 controllers. There were some that stood out, such as a flight simulator (flying as a bird) and using your arms as wings to soar. All of the other games were quite polished and you could tell everyone had passion into making their game.

A zombie shooter using the Wii-Mote

Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to play all the games but I was able to look at them. Since it was only Moose and I from our group, we always had to have at least one person at the table to get feedback from players. We also had no chairs, which meant pretty much a good 6 to 7 hours of standing up. We only got maybe 15 minutes of sitting down each? Both of us stayed at the table for most of the time and only one of us wandered off every now and then. So by the end of the day, my back and feet were killing me. Also I got super hungry, not the best combo.

Team RAM'D 's Werebear game

Despite the fact we didn’t have a full game, like our professors said, it was a very good experience to just go to the Level Up venue. It was also a good bonding experience with my fellow GDW classmates, definitely worth it for even that. We got some insight into how other people are making their games, some experience in presenting our game (Other games had stands and banners for their game and only one of our UOIT groups had a poster), and a look into the fact many other schools use engines to build their game rather than hard code. People, like I said, were generally impressed with discovering it’s an engine built by us. If they didn’t discover that then it was mostly just a decent game.

Team Pandasaurus' "Pandausarus Rex"

Nevertheless everyone on the show floor was impressive and I look forward to participating in next year’s Level Up and other future events such as this. It’s definitely a great experience that I would like to attend again.


Of all my pictures, I didn't get a proper one of our game nor Team Overlord's. And sorry to any other groups I didn't get a picture of.

Game Design: Music in Games and Film

After having gone to the Distant Worlds Concert, it’s really inspired me to talk about the music in games. I feel like it’s something special, that many gamers overlook though I still know there are plenty who greatly care about it. There are many songs that instantly get recognizable such as the Mario theme, but there is plenty of music out there that is absolutely beautiful but is not allowed the spotlight simply due to it not being as known as these “popular themes”.I wanted to dedicate a post solely to the music present in games and the kind of bonds they forge with the game that can completely change the experience.

Music is extremely important to a deep game experience. It’s often an overlooked part of a game and not always given the attention it deserves by gamers. There are tons of games out there that have excellent music but are often not widely recognized. There are gamers who will simply play the game and the music will just be in the background, sometimes not even paid attention too. Once the game is over, the music goes along with it. On the other hand, there are other gamers who recognized the great pieces played in some games and will seek out the soundtracks. I am one of these kinds of gamers.

I will be honest, game soundtracks are the main form of music I listen to. I am not into pop, rock, or any form of mainstream music usually, at least nothing on the radio. Sure I will listen to it and I enjoy it, especially some songs but my entire music collection consists of either film or game soundtracks. It’s partially my taste in music that is the cause for this, but there is something else. And that is the experience between the game/film that the music provides.

Glorious Charge : Memories of Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers

Lord of the Rings The Two Towers : Glorious Charge

I remember when I first watched Lord of the Rings : The Two Towers. The end of the film at the Battle of Helm’s Deep, our heroes were surrounded by Uruk-Hai, with little hope left. Aragorn convinces Theoden to lead one last charge to delay the Uruk-Hai from reaching the woman and children in the caves. As soon as the charge starts, one of the most heroic pieces at the time for me played. Aragorn and Theoden led a glorious charge, cutting through Uruk-Hai to the great music. It only got better as Gandalf arrived with Eomer and over 2000 riders of Rohan. Suddenly the music reached new heights, I can’t even describe how I felt the first time I saw the scene and heard the music. Gandalf led the charge down the hill, the over bearing sun light behind him while some of the most “holy” feeling music I have ever heard played. It was just amazing, I felt chills down my spine when I first saw the scene, it was just so breathtaking for me. What really hit me was the music. It was short, but it was amazing, it fit with the scene so perfectly.

LOTR: TTT OST - Theoden Rides Forth

This scene alone sold me into watching the Two Towers at least five more times in theaters as well as rewatching the movie every year and also fast forwarding to this scene every now and then. The music along with the scene created just the best moment for me, one of my favourite movie experiences. I am sad that I will never be able to experience it the same way I did when I first saw it in theaters. Of course the entire movie was fantastic and the music is beautiful in every scene, but that was the one scene that stood out the most to me.

Lord of the Rings The Two Towers Video game

This love for the movie got me to buy the Two Towers video game. The movie tie –in that, in it’s day was actually a pretty good action game. I had a lot of fun with the game and the music helped quite a bit, but one thing was missing. First off the game didn’t feature all the scenes from the movie, nor my favourite scene, and second it didn’t have most or any of the Two towers music if I can recall correctly. It was all music from the Fellowship of the Ring. Of course I love the Fellowship of the Ring as well, but I wanted to hear the Two Towers music going right with the scenes. The Battle of Helms Deep has a certain battle music in the film that I was hoping to hear as I fought along the walls of Helm’s Deep. But I didn’t get that and so my experience was not as great as I hoped it would be. I wasn’t able to relive the moments of the film the way I wanted to. 

That’s because it wasn’t the music I remember hearing in the film, and so with that mindset, though I enjoyed those sections, they just weren’t the same. (I did however play through the game over 20 times anyways).

The point I am trying to make here is this connection to the experience. Because I had a mindset of wanting to hear Two Towers music and instead heard Fellowship, my experience was changed, it could have been greater. That’s the strength that music had on my mindset. It’s like playing a game with a certain soundtrack and then trying to play through again but someone changed all the songs. It just feels different.

Games and Mainstream music

Games like Final Fantasy have had some fantastic music. I know there are many out there as well that know this music is beautiful, especially the arrangements provided in Distant Worlds. Even games like Uncharted and Gears of War have some pretty good music. But for even the greatest video game music, the only public form we see them in is concerts. You’d never dream of hearing them on a radio, because they never seem to get the recognition that “mainstream” music gets. Even fantastic orchestral pieces in Final Fantasy you wouldn’t hear on classical radio. Now I don’t know if video game music will ever get that kind of recognition, I highly doubt it.

Gears of War 2 : Hope Runs Deep (Main Theme)

There are a lot of things that keep them out. It could be the age and audience, a lack of awareness of the game music, or just a lack interest. The lack interest also stems from lack of awareness because a lot of game music doesn’t get circulated very well. Some people just have an immediate biased to discovering a piece of music is from a game versus being not being made for a video game. Even if it’s a great piece of music, some people may not like it just because it’s from a video game.

Halo Reach : Overture

Also not everyone can get into a game’s soundtrack like that and maybe not even those people spread their knowledge around. People who listen to game soundtracks are generally in much smaller niche than anyone listening to other forms of music. That makes it a little harder to spread all the knowledge of great soundtracks around. Also with so many games out, it can be hard to keep track of all those soundtracks anyways. I know there are some out there I still should hear but I just don’t know what they are.

Music and Memories

Continuing on with experience that music provides, there are actually quite a few games out there that provide instant familiarity. For a lot of people, the themes of Mario and Zelda immediately invoke nostalgia. There is a reason these themes are remixed so often, because everyone loves those themes. Same with the prelude of Final Fantasy, which has been present in every game except some of the more recent ones. Within those themes invokes memories and a link to a franchise that everyone has grown to love and know.

Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword : Main Menu theme. An iconic track in every Zelda game

Even in standalone games not part of a franchise, particular great pieces of music can stand out to represent a moment in a game. For myself, Terra’s Theme from Final Fantasy VI will always play out in my mind as seeing the three mechs walking in the opening of the game. I can easily piece it in my mind with the music. Even music in Tales of Vesperia, one particular theme played whenever there were sad moments and I particularly liked the piece. I can still remember many of the moments it played in the game. For me, the music invokes these memories if I was attached enough to the game and the music and experience was powerful enough.

Final Fantasy VI : Terra's theme. It will always remind me of the opening of FF VI

This is what popular and mainstream music can’t do for me, it cannot invoke those memories for me. I like music that invokes a memory or an attachment, like if I played Street Fighter music, I immediately think of Street Fighter and can help set me in a certain mood. If I want to draw a Street Fighter character for example, I will put that music on. This is what both video game music and film music can do for me.

Super Street Fighter II : Guile's Theme. It immediately sets me in an energetic mood

Even if it’s a really bad game, if it has really great music I still might be able to have a positive experience. Or at least listen/buy the game’s soundtrack. For example, I criticized Sonic the Hedgehog(2006) a while back and I stand by that. But one thing that redeemed it partially for myself was the final boss music. I love it, it’s actually one of the video game songs I listen to fairly often.  The game itself is a dark moment for Sonic but this song helps me get into a “Sonic” mood if I feel like. It reminds me of the days when Sonic could be badass and the song just overall fit’s into any times I want to be inspired by something “epic”.

Sonic 2006 : Solaris Phase 2 (Final Boss theme)

So really, even a bad game with great music can help elevate it the experience for me. Before writing this blog I didn’t think too deeply into this, but really, video game music is really important for me. I never thought about how it sets these moods and memories for me but now I know for sure that it truly does. That’s why I have never been interested in popular music. Character themes, great epic music for cutscenes have always been my cup of tea because I just connect with them so much better. Video games are my life and these songs help me relive those memories and feelings and keep me in a great mood depending on the song.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 : Main Theme. I still listen to it frequently

Like the main theme of Final Fantasy XIII-2, I have been listening to it pretty much every or every other day since the beginning of the semester. I am still not tired of it and I listen to it because it’s a great piece, it just sounds absolutely beautiful. Though the game wasn’t the best, this theme invokes all my favourites and more emotional memories of the game. If I don’t think too deeply into my memories of the game, then the song just sounds so uplifting and helps my mood lighten up. It’s also particular calming so it’s great for studying and doing work as well.

Final Fantasy XI : Distant Worlds. I have not played Final Fantasy XI before but this song is absolutely beautiful. It doesn't matter that I haven't played the game before. The song itself is great enough to enter my collection of music that goes on repeat forever.

I am not too sure where I am going with this blog but I guess I wanted to say how much of an effect video game music has had on me that I hadn’t fully realized until now. Even films get this effect as well, particularly my Two Towers experience. There is just something about video game music that mainstream music will never be able to fulfill for me. And even if they are not from a game I have played before, the music can be just so great anyways. The work of these fantastic composers should be recognized even by those who have never experienced the game.