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Dev Box: Ninjatown’s Producer Katy Smith

It usually takes a small army to create the video games that we play, and, most of the time, all of the focus gets put on the game itself, and not on the people that came together to make it. Our Dev Box feature takes a look at some of the unsung heroes that have committed their lives to entertaining all of us, and gives them a chance to answer some of our burning questions.

Name: Katy M. Smith
Title: Producer
What you do: I facilitate communication between the different departments, create and monitor milestones for the game, and make sure there is a clear vision for the product. I also order pizza during crunches.
Most recent game worked on: Ninjatown

1. What game has most influenced you, and why?
It’s really hard for me to pick one game that had an influence on me. “Super Mario 3″ demonstrated that you can always improve game design. I remember thinking that no game could possibly be better than “Super Mario Bros.,” but “Mario 3″ was able to make very subtle changes to the game design that made huge improvements over the first game. I don’t think there was a single platformer created after “Mario 3″ that didn’t study that game. “Grim Fandango” showed me that good writing and humor can work in games. The game is such an odd concept of Mexican folklore combined with this really witty writing style; it was fantastic. That was one of the first games I remember people sitting around and watching me play because they wanted to know more about the story. “Silent Hill 2″ really affected me on a psychological level. I’m a psychology buff, so to see the main character’s “inner demons” come out as literal demons that the player had to fight was a really cool experience.

2. What are you playing right now?
I’ve spent most of my free time this past week playing the new “Wrath of the Lich King” expansion to “World of Warcraft.” I’ve also been playing “Rock Band 2″ for the 360, “Wii Fit,” and dabbling in board games like “Ticket to Ride,” etc.

3. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned about game development?
It is important to view a game as a living creature. It will evolve and change as development goes on. You can do your best to try to plan everything out before a line of code is written or one image is drawn, but there is no way that you will be able to figure out all of the different variables to perfection ahead of time. Concepts that you once thought were water-tight start springing leaks because of one detail you forgot to take into account. If you don’t take iterative and evolving game development into account during the pre-production phase, all of those tiny details will come back to bite you.

4. What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
You’re only as smart as your last mistake. I think it’s important to not take yourself too seriously, and take time to sit back and breathe now and then.

5. What do you think is the biggest problem current games suffer from?
Because games cost so much time and money to make, I think there’s a big risk in greenlighting any project. This leads to a lot of the same type of game. Nobody wants to make a flop, so innovation goes out the door to make way for safe bets. I think the blame here lies on the publishers, developers, and gamers. The publishers need to take more risks. That next WWII FPS is only going to appeal to the same market the last WWII FPS did. The developers need to push to make the games they make better. Add a new feature or content and see how the gamers react, they might love it! The gamers don’t get off the hook, either. We need to say “hey! I will play something different!” If you look at games like “Portal” or “Mirror’s Edge,” I think those are good examples of the industry going in the right direction. I think we’ll eventually get there, but the path less travelled can be scary.

Let us know what you think, and check back every week for more developer’s thoughts.

LittleBigPlanet Review: LittleBigger Is Better

“LittleBigPlanet” is Sony’s saving grace this holiday season. If it didn’t come out there’s a chance that the PS3 might have fallen off the radar for a lot of gamers, especially the ones that haven’t picked one up yet. I’ve had numerous arguments about how “LBP” isn’t a system seller, but I genuinely think that it’s the breath of cute, fresh air that the console needed to get its’ second wind. “LittleBigPlanet” sold me on the PS3 a few years ago when I first saw it, and now that it’s finally here, it has lived up to just about every expectation that I’ve had.

“LittleBigPlanet” has a bunch of things going for it. The graphics are adorable, stylized, and inspired. The gameplay, although time-tested and classic, has been updated to offer new and creative ways of navigation and puzzle solving. The level of character customization rivals that of almost any other triple-A title on the market. It’s also simple enough for anyone to enjoy; even the lapsed gamers who haven’t picked up a controller since their NES stopped working. Not to mention, “LittleBigPlanet” may have the best character to never be seen on-screen in the game’s tutor. While, most of those things aren’t necessarily revolutionary, “LBP” achieves each of them superbly, and really makes it a delight to take your Sackboy and run all over each of the levels looking for all the collectables. [Continue Reading]

Neverland Card Battles Review: It’s In The Cards

One of the great things about video games is that, no matter what your interests are, there’s a game for you somewhere out there. Of course, for more traditional gamers, there’s your standard fare – sports, shooting, and platformers, but what if you’re not looking for something as commonplace as the new “Gears of War?” Say you really want to merge two different kinds of “gaming” together – video and card – and then mix in a bit of a tactics twist to the game, what do you do then? That recipe, while it may only appeal to picky eaters, really results in just one gaming concoction, “Neverland Card Battles.” It’s an extremely unique title which takes on the tactics meets card battles gameplay mechanic, and while “Neverland Card Battles” isn’t for everybody, it’s definitely for somebody.

Over the last few years, there have been more than a few trading card inspired video games that have been released, which draw on their real-world counterparts like Magic the Gathering to outline how to play the games. These games allow players to compete using cards for their characters and attacks, and stat crunch to see who is the victor. While traditional gamers may look like the “cool kids” to trading card gamers, those games are wildly popular, and people really do enjoy them. These are the people that really need to give “Neverland Card Battles” a try. [Continue Reading]

Left 4 Dead Review: Check your Fire!

Valve has done it again. “Left 4 Dead” for the XBOX360 and PC brings multiplayer gamers together in, what can only be deemed the best zombie-film-to-game adaptations ever. But wait… it’s not a film, but the chapters are films? … I’m confused!

“Left 4 Dead” wisely chose to go with the “Unbelievably Fast Swarming Infected” zombies of movies like 28 Days and 28 Weeks Later, instead of the plodding, slow-footed zombies of the Night of the Living Dead fame. I believe this is hinted at in the game, as the enemies are referred to as “infected,” rather than zombies. That’s where Valve added the challenge into the game, since it would have been much too easy to beat if you had four human controlled characters up against a mob of the slow moving undead, ala “Dead Rising.” [Continue Reading]

Brothers In Arms: Double Time Review: Hell’s Highway Indeed

The year is 2005 – Ubisoft releases “Brother in Arms: Road to Hill 30,” a historical game first-person shooter that introduced players to a more personal, and mature World War II storyline. There isn’t much sugar coating in this game, as there is plenty of uncensored dialog encompassing situations that would probably haunt the most of us for a very long time. However, it was a somewhat heavily flawed game with repetitive, and retarded, “I need a babysitter” AI.

Why did I just waste a paragraph on a game that came out in 2005 I’m supposed to be talking about one that came out in 2008? Because, “Brother in Arms: Double Time” is a port of this three year old game, or, should I say, games. Without any sort of indication on the package, “Double Time” is actually two games in one. The first is “Brother in Arms: Road to Hill 30” and the other is “Brother in Arms: Earned in Blood.” Ordinarily it would sound like a good deal, assuming the port wasn’t a desperate half-assed attempt to swindle gamers from their money. [Continue Reading]

Mirror’s Edge Review: Problematic or Genius?

Game Cover

Mirrors Edge was announced back in July 2007 and ever since it’s debut screens, and amazing teaser video, we’ve clamored for it. The title echoed a departure from the standard FPS; that’s the this-is-a-post-appocaplytpic-nightmare-world that we need to straighten out for the betterment of mankind. Gone are the heavy geared enemies, and weapons with secondary fire. Enter, as you watch in awe, the lead character interact with the environment in a way that we always wanted one to.

It is perhaps this very focus on environment interaction that gives ME its’ edge but also delivers a blunt blow in other aspects for the game. Specifically, the story, cutscenes, and use of other elements in the game; weapons. The game itself is not for everyone. Apparently my brother became queezy from just looking at this game and subsequently began to complain about dizziness during his experience with the title. Never the less, he never had a stomach for FPSs to begin with.

While he may have had his problems with keeping yesterdays’ Carnitas Boritto down, for me it was more on the weapons and presentation. This game is great in every other way; it hits you from a perspective that you wouldn’t believe, but it falls short on the story, and the way the characters are presented. I mean it falls so hard, it’s almost too obvious that they spent a lot of time working on the running, wall running, climbing, shimmies, and all that other lovely stuff that Parkour runners do. This is a typical mistake and perhaps there are good reasons for it; budget being the first in my mind. [Continue Reading]

Dev Box: MySims Kingdom’s Lead Designer Hunter Howe

It usually takes a small army to create the video games that we play, and, most of the time, all of the focus gets put on the game itself, and not on the people that came together to make it. Our Dev Box feature takes a look at some of the unsung heroes that have committed their lives to entertaining all of us, and gives them a chance to answer some of our burning questions.

Name: Hunter Howe
Title: Lead Designer
Most recent game worked on: MySims Kingdom

1. What game has most influenced you, and why?

Hard question to answer! Nonetheless, I’ll have to go with “Final Fantasy IV” back on the SNES. Not only was it a game that really showed the legitimacy of videogames as a means for storytelling, it proved to me that game characters could be as compelling, charming, and memorable as counterparts in other media – even if they were simple, early 16-bit generation sprites. Seeing 5 little guys nod at each other in unison before journeying into the center of the moon had never felt so epic! I just remember being so psyched to be adventuring with such cool characters.

Anyway, despite “MySims Kingdom” being a very different game in a million ways, I hope we were able to recreate some of that feeling. As a player, I love spending my gameplay time hanging out with a bunch of characters that are engaging, iconic, and, ultimately, memorable. [Continue Reading]

WTF? A Bike Ride Through Guitar Hero!

Sometimes they say gamers have too much time on their hands. I have to agree. These kats went out and mapped a trail through their hood to match Guitar Hero World Tour track “Prisoner of Society” by The Living End on expert and then rode through it!

Those are a lot of notes! I give it up to them for adding little joints for the fans throughout the video. Damn some of these songs in these games are crazy long my hands would definitely fall off.

First we get the drummer cat on insane and now this. Looks like the Rock Band crazies will have some catching up to do.

Do you Guitar Hero?

p.s. Peep the music video for this track here Prisoner of Society

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe Review: Bloody Fun

At first glance, “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” seems like it should have come out around 1998, to go head-to-head with the wildly popular “Marvel vs. Capcom” series, but, for whatever reason, it didn’t. Fast forward to today, and, through some wild twist of fate, or, possibly the will of the Elder Gods, 10 years after the game should have been released, gamers finally have the chance to kick Scorpion’s ass with Batman. On the plus side, waiting may have paid off; after a string of less-than-awesome “MK” games “MK vs. DC” may put the franchise back on track.

“Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” isn’t the best “MK” game ever released (that honor goes to “Mortal Kombat 2”), but there are some redeeming factors that might make fans that soured on the series years ago think twice about this iteration. A good deal of the game has been revamped, since “Armageddon” was released, taking full advantage of this generation of consoles. The controls, gameplay, graphics, and characters were all treated to a much-needed upgrade, and the improvements show over the course of the game. [Continue Reading]

Lord Of The Rings: Conquest Video Preview

And you all figured we were done with the franchise! Ha! Pandemic looks to bring their flair of the Star Wars Battlefront series to the Lord Of The Rings universe. Check out this video preview and see if you still have the strength to run through some orcs, trolls and goblins!

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