Category Archives: Uncategorized

NGUI on Unity Store

A common question I got during my recent Unity demos is what is a good way to do UI in a Unity game. I admit I just did the UI within the main engine, but it’s not the greatest. Recently a co worker pointed me toward NGUI.  It’s a more robust solution for Unity GUI development. I’m going to post a tutorial soon, but, I mention it now because NGUI is Unity’s Deal of the Day and the paid version is 66% off today only. I’ll stick with the free version for my writing though so anyone can follow along, but if you’re interested, pick it up!

Stop Picking on Master Chief

I wish more game critics had played Halo 4. More specifically, I wish I felt like the people who complain about Halo were at least paying attention to it when they last played it.

I wasn’t at the talk that Ashly Burch gave when she talked about how Master Chief needs to be less stoic and more vulnerable. It’s in the Vault, but not free, so that writeup (which is good) will have to serve as explaining what it was about and what the argument has been turned into. Most of the talk is great, well-researched stuff. Regarding Master Chief though, I was at GDC, so I really wish I had gone to that talk, so that I could’ve raised my hand and said, but, excuse me…

But it seems like everyone has been taking that particular complaint about Chief’s personality at face value ever since it was made, leaving me feeling like I’m screaming into an empty room. But what about Halo 4?

Brendan Keogh wrote an article this week, linked from Critical Distance, about how AAA games are pretty ham-handed when they discuss major, heavy themes. Generally, I agree. But what about Halo 4? I thought, reading over the article. It’s not mentioned. Nobody expects anything like that from Halo.

Before being hired by Microsoft I wrote this post about Halo 4 that I think nobody read or else maybe they read but didn’t agree or it was just making an argument that nobody wanted to hear. See they already made the game about how Master Chief is a bit too stoic and needs to maybe open up a little bit and then they called that game Halo 4. It’s in Halo 4! It’s not buried in an extended universe novel or something from a fan-fic.

In the talk given by Burch and Wiseman, they show a very small clip from the end of Halo 4. It’s very strategic. Homework for game critics: watch the entire ending. If you do, you will actually see Chief vulnerable, and see that one stoic line he delivers about a soldier’s duty is his way of really quite poorly covering what it means for him to mourn. It’s beautifully done, and it’s weird that most everyone who talks about Halo seems to miss this nuance. Maybe Halo 4 was ultimately too subtle in showing Chief’s vulnerability, but the only way to really show this for a hero like Chief is not to change him all at once, but to slowly dismantle his armor piece by piece. As they do, in the clip.

Of course I guess the only other observant critical article I found about Halo 4 recently doesn’t like that Halo 4 made Master Chief more vulnerable and mortal. So I guess Chief is going to be a punching bag no matter what. He’s under so much scrutiny to be perfect for everyone that he’s becoming a metaphor for himself: hey Chief, be the perfect hero for everyone, in real life like you have to be in fiction. In that case, a new hero in Halo 5 is totally the right move, something to relieve some of the pressure on Chief to live up to everyone’s impossible standards.

Please note that I do work for Microsoft now and I make my Cortana in my phone call me Chief. Sorry if this post sounds like a fangirl rant. For the argument detailed in a subtler way, read my other, pre-Microsoft, piece.

Talkin About that Super Time Force Ending

This weekend, while I had time to relax, I played Super Time Force on the Xbox One!

I can’t write a proper review of this game, since it’s an exclusive and with Microsoft Studios, and I now work for Microsoft. But let me say, totally as an objective human being and not a representative of a corporation, that Super Time Force was awesome. The level design is good, the graphics are crisp, the writing is sharp and the music is good. The game is really dense with a lot to talk about. In particular I want to talk about the ending, though, and that means, spoilers!

I’m also going to spoiler a lot of other games along the way, but the thing that I’m talking about is specifically the endings of games that have similar endings, so the list of games I intend to spoil may itself be a spoiler! So as awkward as it is, I’ll do two tiered warnings. First of all I will definitely be spoiling Super Time Force, and if you’re okay with that, read on…

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Fairies Vs Scaries is now on Windows 8

Fairies Vs. Scaries is now on the Windows 8 store!

Snag it here:

http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/en-us/app/fairies-vs-scaries/f93bc120-d456-4879-bec4-0525214d7d23

US and Canada only right now – I’ll probably do a second release later. This was exported from Gamemaker using the process I talked about in this post: http://ajlange.azurewebsites.net/2014/03/porting-my-gamemaker-app-to-windows-8/

One small change is that I ended up doing a native export – I liked the resizing options better. It’s free with no strings attached so do check it out!

If you’re publishing your first app to Windows 8 and need a walkthrough, I set up some new office hours (check the sidebar). I’ll also be in Harrisburg at our game dev meetup tomorrow.

Some Advice for Summering Students

Hi everyone – I am back from vacation! I took a week away from being in the Philly area, and a weird thing happened – I left in the winter, and returned in the summer. I think I literally missed all of spring here.

This is the time of year when students are getting out of school. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk to university students in my new role, and prior to that, I’ve taught and of course been a student. So I feel safe to say I know a lot about being a college student.

When I was an undergrad, I did a summer job when I returned home from college. It was a great experience and I met cool people and made some money, but I never stopped to think about how that small job would work into my larger career. If I had, I might’ve considered doing something more related to my career, or at least realized that I spent most of my spare time noodling around with game development instead of thinking about my summer dayjob…

The internet has really changed things, though. The resources for you to learn what you’re interested in, on your own time, have never been more easily available. (Especially if you’re into games like me.) So while you have summer – even if you have to work a summer job to make ends meet – it’s a good time to consider what you might be really passionate about working on outside the classroom.

To that end: download all the free stuff.

There’s so much stuff available to you while you are still a student (and have a .edu email address) that you just won’t be able to get cheaply after you graduate. If you did just graduate or are about to graduate, and your .edu email still works, don’t wait another day to get logged into free services and get the software you might need… it was a rude awakening for me when I realized just how expensive this stuff is outside of school, and you could save thousands of dollars.

Microsoft has DreamSpark especially for students. DreamSpark gives students free access to Visual Studio (the full Pro version) and Office 365 subscriptions (which anyone can make use of) as well as other development tools. Full list is at http://www.dreamspark.com, but if you sign up through http://aka.ms/DreamSparkContest you’ll also be eligible to win a free Xbox One Titanfall Edition from Microsoft, so try that route first. To me, though, the cool thing isn’t that you maybe win a free Xbox – the cool thing is you definitely get a lot of free software, that will cost you a lot more after you’ve graduated.

I always point artists toward http://students.autodesk.com. Here you can get 3D Studio Max, AutoCAD, Maya, and more as long as you are a student. This is thousands of dollars of savings on the tools professionals use.

There’s no catch for signing up for any of this stuff… it’s just free stuff, for you, for being a student. (The full terms of the Xbox contest are here.)

Everyone’s situation is different, but if your summers are anything like my summers were, they’re a good time to put some energy into a creative passion project without the pressure of grades and assignments. And maybe go on just one crazy road trip (stay safe though). Good luck, don’t forget to have fun, and if you have questions for me I have office hours or you can just drop me a note!

Development Resources for Women

I spent last weekend at the International Women’s Hackathon in Washington DC. I met some cool girls there who were hacking and making, saw some amazing science, and had a blast!

One of the problems the event is trying to solve is a commonly discussed one: how to get more women involved in development and other STEM fields. Last week another evangelist, David Crook from IndieDevSpot, asked me about  some of the women-only groups and resources I know of, so that he can share them with curious women who want to learn development or try hackathons in a supportive environment.

Rane Johnson from Microsoft Research is working on a more comprehensive resources page by region that I will link as soon as it is completed. She also has an official Microsoft-sponsored page here with resources and links that should be a great place to start.

As for me, these are some of the woman-focused groups I’ve worked with or am aware of. There are certainly more (feel free to add in the comments) but these are the ones I know of. Maybe you have an organization in your area!

Please add anything else I missed in the comments and I can update this list! I know there are tons out there and many regional ones.

Social Links Social Links

Social sharing is  now back on the site! Sorry it was gone for a while. Now you can Tweet about me again or Like this on Facebook.

I also made a few updates to the site’s About page, and added a sidebar widget for my Open Office Hours! Want to talk with me about games and development? You can do it tomorrow on Skype – or at the other events I’m listing at OOhours!

Or, perhaps I’ll see you at…

Day of Unity Events

I’m writing this post to pass on the information to you about some learning events that might be happening near you!

Starting April 12, Microsoft is sponsoring the Day of Unity in select cities across the USA. This is a free opportunity to build a game in Unity for the Windows platform. Participants will get hands-on help from Microsoft & Unity experts, receive breakfast and lunch, and enter to win software licenses, Windows Phone devices and more.

The Day of Unity is a free event for beginner and expert developers. If you already have a game project and a laptop, you can bring it with you to this hands-on porting lab and learn how to port it to Windows. If you’re a beginner, there will be lessons on how to build a 2D game in Unity, and port it.

Here’s the vital details direct from our sponsors:

  • Topic: Publishing Games on Windows
  • Includes Unity toolset, Windows Platform
  • Participants will learn how to build a 2D game and export it to Windows and Windows Phone or can work on porting existing Unity games to Windows and Windows Phone.
  • Timing: April 12 – May 28
  • # of Sessions: 20 (see cities and dates below)
  •  # of Attendees: ~50 per session
  • Format: Full day session, Lecture and Hands on Labs (100 and 300-level)

Here’s the list of cities and dates! If you want to come, click on your city to be taken directly to the signup form.

April 12 Columbus, OH
April 19 Dallas, TX
April 22 Sunnyvale, CA
April 24 Denver, CO
April 26 Houston, TX
May 1 Philadelphia, PA
May 3 Minneapolis, MN
May 6 San Diego, CA
May 8 Los Angeles, CA
May 10 Austin, TX
May 10 Orlando, FL
May 13 Portland, OR
May 14 Chicago, IL
May 15 Atlanta, GA
May 15 Redmond, WA
May 28 Boston, MA

If you’re working on a Unity game already, you should know that if you are porting the game to Windows, Unity is offering free devices, free Windows Dev Center accounts, and other perks. More about this special Unity offer here.

Narrative Choices in Virtue’s Last Reward

Earlier this year I was fortunate to have the results of my survey about gamer behavior and moral choices published at the Journal of Games Criticism. While I was submitting the final piece for revisions, I was also playing the title Virtue’s Last Reward on my 3DS. This week, I am reminded of it again because of Electron Dance’s excellent article about games with choices. I remembered I had a half-drafted response to VLR still sitting in my drafts folder, and I wanted to talk about something that was inspirational to me about its structure.  Spoilers for the game begin about five paragraphs down, and I’ll be spoiling a few plot sequences, so if that’s an issue, stop at the dotted line.

I think it’s fairly well-established that video game players do not really engage with moral choice branches in the way that seems to be intended by developers. Infamous: Second Son is the newest game that uses the binary good or evil system that I did most of my survey research on, and, to me, it feels like a throwback. “Choose good or evil” is to me a retreading of a design philosophy that has already been exhausted to its limit.

Some games like Alpha Protocol, or Beyond: Two Souls (which I haven’t played yet, but have read some analysis of) experimented with this structure by creating games where the depth of choice is only apparent after multiple playthroughs. This is a bit of an accessibility problem, however, for a few reasons. Some gamers will only engage with a game once, and call it done. Other gamers will engage with the game if the branching is apparent, but if it isn’t, as in Beyond, will just assume the game is linear. Game reviewers in particular don’t have a strong incentive to play a game twice, because they have deadlines to meet, so if a game seems to be done in the first playthrough there’s not a lot of time to engage with that game again before a review is due. This can really hurt the review score of a game that’s designed to be played multiple times.

The problem with very binary choice systems, like that in Infamous or in Fable, is that they reduce what should be a branching network of choices into essentially, one single choice, “am I good or evil this time.” The branching possibility space is reduced to become functionally linear.

As Joel’s article pointed out, I play a lot with this kind of structure in my Interactive Fiction (and I do have a few more ambitious works in progress that go deeper than this on it). What I’m personally interested in is the kind of game that needs to be replayed to be fully understood. Chalk that up maybe with a youthful fascination with the multiple endings in Chrono Trigger, or an even younger me reading Choose Your Own Adventure hypertexts in the library, but I like games that split the narrative, even if they’re never perfect in execution. Jonas Kyratzes, in the author’s note for The Matter of the Great Red Dragon, asks the player in so many words to only play the game once. I have honored that (and was fairly satisfied with my personal outcome in it). But most of my works part ways with that philosophy; I try to design for what I think people will try to do, rather than ask them to be different. This is why Virtue’s Last Reward definitely spoke to me as a game that tries to design around and subvert the players’ mindset.

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