Entering: Video Game Design

For as long as I can remember I’ve been intrigued by computing technology. I’ve spent years glued to a monitor knowing that this was my favorite place to be. The possibilities seem endless and I want to learn more. I am a developer and I have been since I’d written my first line of code in HTML during the late 1990s. Decades later I spend time reflecting on the experiences I’ve had in life using the first joystick I interfaced with as a kid to play Atari. I had always enjoyed the experience of video games but never understood what it took to create such entertainment.

My family didn’t have any money to send me to college, so I was fortunate to get financial aid and go to community college. I had a lineup of classes from Baking, Food Safety, Mathematical Measurements, Psychology, Basic Computer Stuff, and English 101. Let’s point out quickly that my English 101 teacher dropped the line that only 15% of the class would remain after the first 2 weeks. She made sure that was true. I struggled to keep it together, I couldn’t focus, so I fell into the English teacher’s statistical trap, and eventually I gave up.

I really needed a good therapist to help me understand what I had experienced for the first 19 years of my life. I dropped out of college and went back to work making less than $8 an hour. The odds of improvement seemed pretty impossible but I got a steady job at a convenience store and used my talents to run the till, do data entry, count the fat stacks of cash for the corporation, and order inventory. I also got a side gig at GameStop which I thought would be a dream job. It was not. Try convincing someone that Super Mario Sunshine was better than Barbie Pony Adventure or whatever for their kid. It was impossible.

Eventually, I landed my first entry level IT job. I absolutely loved computers in the first place so this was a good fit. I was a bit overwhelmed at first but hit my stride and started learning more about PCs. I had never really used a Mac as I had grown up using Windows. After a few years I went to become an Apple Certified Mac Technician with a few hours spent on a Mac. I went from repairing PCs to repairing Apple products and learning about macOS. I won’t touch on all of the skills I learned but it has helped me to get to where I am today. For many of the users I helped I was a hero, but there were always more tickets and more broken devices. I started learning about server management and virtualization. I craved knowledge. I was outgrowing the role I was in.

Prey on Xbox Series X

Still, with little college experience I was able to learn numerous skills through what I see as a work study. Yet, I had not taken the time to actually work on myself. I got into mountain biking and I started to take better care of my health. It didn’t make up for the years of apathy, but I had met wonderful people and made friends. I learned a lot about myself and how the cumulative events of the past had left some pretty serious scars. Ever forward I progressed into the future.

In my lifetime I had never really purchased any software except for video games for myself. I had installed them for end users but had never really dove in and learned any application for myself. I dabbled in some open source stuff, and really didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was time to start piecing together all of the skills I’ve learned overtime and start to develop.

In 2015 I dove headfirst into Unity without any idea of what I wanted to create. I only knew a few things: I enjoy video games, I enjoy computers, and I’m some kind of artist. I purchased a Surface Pro 3 which I still have and use today, and an iMac to run Unity. So over the past few years I started to get into deep thinking, and deeper dives into what makes technology tick. Admittedly, I still know little about it all, but this thirst for knowledge was the spark I’d needed all along. I discovered what C# was for, and now I finally had an objective to learn coding.

Jump to 2020- I started buying stuff to learn more about IoT, machine learning, and computer programming. I purchased my second Mac and turned to Arduino to learn a bit about circuits, voltage, current flow, and resistors. I programmed a board and wired a light to flicker at a specific rate. It was exhilarating. Then I picked up a second Arduino project with sensors to measure temperature, pressure, humidity, and natural light. I programmed a board in C++ to do things. It felt amazing to see the code come together in live time and output a result. So now I had a basic understanding of some subset of programming and engineering. Then I noticed a similarity in code, and was learning a new language. This led to applying physics to an object in Unity and I felt like I was on top of the world.

C# in Visual Studio Code

So where do I go from here? What’s the best fit to spend years learning about video game design, musical composition, programming, 3D modeling, and still have time for everything else? I’d spent years on taking a step back, slowing down, and starting to organize so I could figure out what I really wanted to do for a career. As Kid Cudi would sing, keep moving forward.

Simple Breakout Clone in Unity

Short Stories: Sea of Solitude

During my second play through of Control a friend brought up the game, Sea of Solitude. I was getting a little worn down playing the AWE expansion in Control. An emotional story was exactly what I needed. Holy buckets did I get one heck of a dramatic experience, which kind of sparked some of the spirits of my past. Sea of Solitude touches on many subjects like family, bullying, and relationships.

Your character navigates a flooded town with nothing more than a boat, and the power to summon a bolt of light. This light will be key in the game and paving the ways forward. Something has corrupted this world and all of the people are gone. This can be tough to navigate as there’s no HUD of any sort except when finding collectibles. There’s seagulls to shush away, and messages in bottles that tell a little bit about those who are no longer there.

Sea of Solitude takes you through many stages of the protagonists life, reminiscent of a slice of life drama. As you play you start to see what the corruption is, and what needs to be done to deal with it. I’ll focus on what I felt was going on in the storyline. So from here on there’s major spoilers to this short game so be warned. I finished this game in about 2 days, less than 5 hours.

—– —- — — – MAJOR SPOILERS – — — —- —–

Once I realized the depth of the narrative in this game I had to write about it. The protagonist Kay is haunted by her past. The dark creatures in this game are actually her family and a past lover. When all of the pieces come together you learn that the game is about dealing with oneself and others. It touches on what it feels like to be bullied in school, and how easy it is to overlook these things. How easy it is to be selfish and forget about the feelings of those around us.

Kay’s brother was an easy target for bullies. He struggled to fit in and was the brunt of the bully mob mentality’s jokes. Kay spent time with her brother and her brother tried to explain what was happening to him, but she was too busy being enveloped with her boyfriend. So Kay’s brother is filled with grief and eventually becomes a monster in which Kay has to save.

Kay’s parents were struggling to keep the flame of their relationship going. Her father was consumed by work which the game isn’t 100% clear on but it’s implied that he’s unhappy with the relationship so he wants to leave. The mother constantly spends her energy on providing for the family and eventually purchases a home so her husband can work from home and be with the family. Can you imagine this in a game? It’s hard because the parents are horrific monsters filled with rage and grief.

Kay’s boyfriend is trying to work and deal with a relationship. He seems to struggle with depression from dealing with work stresses and maintaining the relationship with Kay. When he first appears as a beautiful majestic wolf, but when Kay embraces him, his fur shatters and the monster underneath is revealed. It’s not clear if Kay was in a toxic relationship, but it’s definite that her sister helps her cope with the breakup in the end. The ex boyfriend eventually breaks off the relationship to work on himself. Kay is torn and is enveloped in darkness.

Her sister was trying to help her throughout her entire journey. She wanted her to see that she was being selfish and only thinking of herself. This apparently caused a cataclysmic event where Kay’s emotions became total monsters when the whole time Kay’s shortcomings had been the problem all along. I could be entirely wrong about the characters but this is my interpretation of what I experienced.

Sea of Solitude Director’s Cut is now available for the Nintendo Switch with a re-written script, new voice acting cast, and other noteworthy changes.

The Medium – Xbox Series X

The Medium felt like a fairly short journey that left me feeling a bit lost in the end. I wanted to know more about this world but was left with an empty feeling. You play as a spirit Medium who helps the deceased find eternal rest, or so it seems. There’s a few unexpected twists that add a little depth to the game but don’t expect an action packed adventure like Resident Evil.

The Medium – Niwa Resort

First I’ll cover the technical issues I experienced. I noticed a lot of problems with rendering especially when entering new areas or when interacting with objects. It was a little annoying but eventually it became a mini game for me. I tried to take screenshots before the object or area could load. It wasn’t noticeable for me to stop playing so that’s a plus. There were some glitches when interacting with enemies which led to the game over screen when I felt like I had successfully escaped an encounter. It is what it is.

The Medium – Rendering Issues

The pace of the game edges far from survival horror. I recall 1 event that was actually scary to me, the rest was just dark and creepy. It has survival horror elements but I never felt danger. Just a bit flustered. The puzzles were easy which helped the story flow fairly well. There were some barriers that you needed a tool to cut through that I felt was the most bizarre thing I’ve had to do to continue forward. You do get some spiritual powers to fend off the dangers of the game. Nothing very exciting but it does add another layer of complexity to draw out the experience.

The Medium – Desk

My favorite experiences in Medium were the environments and the split screen visuals. I felt like I was in the Silent Hill universe in some ways and really wanted to explore more. The game is fairly linear so the option to explore is limited. I think this was intended to push the story forward to the dramatic conclusion in the end. The Medium felt like an older point and click adventure on a PC meshed with modern gaming technology. There’s also a few collectibles in the form of documents, post cards, and pictures. I do enjoy a good read and additional visuals.

The Medium – Exploration

In the end I felt like I was inside of a movie driving the characters and plot forward with no choice in the outcome. I did enjoy playing Medium and following along with the morbid ghosts from the past. I do feel like this game has earned support but note it’s intended for mature audiences and does merit trigger warnings as it explores content that can be troubling. I fully support the developers and would love to see a follow up to The Medium or another similar experience.

The Medium Trigger Warnings and Mature Content
The Medium – Split Screen Exploration
The Medium – Split Screen Cut Scene

Control: Ultimate Edition – Xbox Series X

Control Ultimate Edition Hotline

Control was one of my favorite and memorable experiences on the PlayStation 4. When I found out that there was going to be a polished version on the PS5 and Xbox Series X I quickly purchased another copy on the Xbox Series X. I doubt I’ll get a PS 5 until 2022 so the Xbox is home for now.

Control Plant Complaint

The PlayStation 4 version was clunky yet beautiful. There was lag when pulling up menus and the map. There were moments that the console couldn’t handle all of the particles on the screen so it would stutter. There were occasional issues with rendering as well. There weren’t enough bugs to keep me from finishing as the story drew me in deeper and deeper. Or maybe it was the Hiss.

The Ultimate Edition that released on February 2nd is was what I felt the game was intended to be from launch. A smooth experience that shows off Remedy Games talent and a budget well spent. Every problem I noticed when playing it in the past was no longer a thing. So far my game has only crashed once, and getting back on my feet just felt like a part of the experience of the game.

Control Dr. Underhill Threshold Specialist

Control: Ultimate Edition has finally reached the consoles it was intended to be played on without the need of a gaming PC. It’s incredible and truly utilizes the team’s talent that assembled this project. It can be difficult but as you play you’ll become more in sync with the abilities you gain to bring the Oldest House back under control. If you haven’t played Control yet I highly recommend it.

Xbox Series X

I had planned on investing in a Playstation 5. I’ve been bitter that Microsoft wouldn’t allow users to replace their own hard disks without risking an account ban for modding the Xbox. My PS 4 has been upgraded multiple times with larger SSDs as the cost has gone down over the past decade. If you’ve played Bloodborne you’d be quite familiar with how long load times can take. Maybe it would be more cost effective to build a PC and enhance the gaming experience instead of having to fumble with consoles. As for now the Xbox Series X has earned my attention.

From years of experience with the PS4 and Xbox One, the Series X is a welcome upgrade. Microsoft introduced the updated UI before launch and this update shines on the Series X. The Xbox interface feels similar to Windows 10. You can create custom Groups that you name, then add installed Apps and Games for ease of access on the Home Screen. It would be nice to be able to add custom categories with some AI to automatically add new content to them. I currently have 3 groups named Playing, Games, and Streaming. You can share media directly to your OneDrive for extra Cloud storage.

Everything loads much more quickly, and the image quality is much better even only running at 1080p at 60fps. I’m really impressed with the Quick Resume feature that will suspend games when the system is shut down. Not only does the system power on in a few seconds, but games resume from a suspended state almost as quickly as the system powers on. This feature does not apply to the Power Saving mode, so maybe it’s worth the extra watts.

Seagate has partnered with Xbox to produce a 1 TB Storage Expansion Card for the Xbox Series X. Seagate states that their product extends the capability of the Xbox Series X and Series S seamlessly using Xbox Velocity Architecture with “virtually no lag in power or speed when gaming from the expansion card”. I do plan on expanding my storage as I’ve already consumed about 70% of the SSD’s capacity. I do not need the additional storage but it will save me from possibly having to re-download a title and use my precious data plan.

Speaking of my Data Plan I’ve been playing around with the Xbox app and Remote Play. I’ve been using remote play features on the PS4 for quite a while now. Unfortunately the ISP I use throttles and has extremely low upload speeds so the experience is cloudy at best. I can say the Remote Play service is awesome but there are limitations over a cellular service or a corporate monopolized internet service provider.

Playstation still has my attention with their awesome launch lineup and list of titles in development. Unfortunately Xbox did not have anything noteworthy for their new Series X/S launch. This is probably the biggest disappointment but I hadn’t used my Xbox One in years so the lineup in Game Pass was the saving grace. I am missing out on the Windows 10 games available in Game Pass which is almost enticing enough to throw together some hardware to build a gaming machine. M1thinks these titles should be available on macOS!

My gaming highlight of December in Game Pass was Quantum Break suggested by a friend. This title alone made my holiday break quite enjoyable. The combination of a movie and video game was absolutely brilliant. The best storytelling experience I’ve had in years although I’m still a bit confused by it all. You could even say I’m left in AWE.