My Day at PAX South and the Defining Moment of My Gaming Life!

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Rexis here!

How does a massive video game convention happen in your backyard without you realizing it? Probably when you are completely blind to commercials. This is what happened to me. I don’t do commercials. No radio. No TV. I don’t look at billboards. I don’t do ads. So when I heard about PAX South happening right here in the city I live in, I almost lost my stuff. It was Wednesday. I bought my ticket that night for Friday and took the day off work. I would’ve loved to do the whole weekend, but with kids and money being an issue, I’ll take what I can get. This was my first gaming convention on this scale. I’ve never been lucky enough to have one happen so close to home. Unfortunately, I don’t have any friends quite as into the gaming scene as I am, so I was flying solo. Not a big deal to me. When I’m alone, I’m in the best company. So this is the story of my day at PAX and the single greatest gaming moment in my life.

The drive out was quick. I found a parking garage, grabbed my bag, and made my way to the convention center. I had underestimated how cold and wet it was outside and quickly found myself shivering. I passed through a mall, across a street, through a hotel, across another street, and there it was. There were hundreds of people outside strolling past the ticket scalpers (is that even legal?). This was nothing compared to the thousands who were already gathered inside waiting for the expo hall to open. My first stop was will-call. The line was long, and I hate lines, but it went very quickly. With my badge in hand, I moved into the next line for the expo hall.

As I waited, I perused the even schedule pamphlet, unsure where to start. There were so many things to see, I had to be picky. I only had one day after all. With a few things I wanted to do in mind, I made my way into the expo hall. Alienware was represented right up front with a large black truck slapped with a logo and some display computers. I’m no computer gamer, but I know well enough to skip Alienware and build your own, so I pressed on. Twitch was alive and well, broadcasting on a huge screen. I’m no Twitch fan either. What really caught my eye was the enormous Majora’s Mask banner above the Nintendo booth. I made my way over to that, pushing past the personal-space oblivious patrons of the event.

I was able to snag a couple of Majora’s Mask cardboard masks (one is hanging on my game room wall now), then I noticed the 3DS shirts a young lady was handing out. I love handhelds, so I had to have one. Unfortunately, in order to get one you had to test play three new 3DS games. On display were Majora’s Mask, Monster Hunter 4, and Codename Steam. There may have been a fourth I don’t recall. Test them, get a ticket, three tickets get you a shirt.  This was super tempting and I even hung out for a few minutes to play the games, but the booth was packed. There was barely any standing room. I didn’t come to PAX to stand around, so I moved on.

I browsed through the booths and saw many, many indie games on tablets. I even tried a couple, but they weren’t really memorable. In most cases, there were some confusing tutorials that I didn’t feel like playing through to understand the game. Is the immersive tutorial a lost art now? What happened to picking up the controller and just playing to learn? My favorite thing I saw on the floor was Gamer Church. I don’t know anything about it except that there was a large image of Jesus holding an XBOX controller with a blue tooth mic on his ear. All he needed was a bag of Doritos and a Mountain Dew.

Around this time, I stepped aside and opened my 3DS to check the street passes. As you can imagine, they were coming in non-stop. I toyed with that for a bit, then made my way across the convention center to a panel I was interested in. The place was massive. It took me a while to understand the buildings layout, but I found my way to the third floor for a session called “Good Games: Why the Industry is Still Good.” Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect.

As I sat there waiting for the session to start, I saw people pulling out notepads. I wondered if they were writers or what other professions they had that would call for notes from a game convention. The panelist introduces themselves. Each had a fairly impressive resume and I was sure I would learn something from them, but I can’t recall any of their names (maybe I should have brought a notepad). The panel discussed why getting into the game industry is still a good thing to do despite some recent bad lighting. They all seemed really happy with their jobs and what they do, but the thing I took away from this is when they opened for Q and A. I don’t recall the question, but one of the women on the panel, a writer, responded with the advice “If you have something to say, f***ing say it.” In essence, if you want to be a part of the gaming industry, just do it. I particularly liked that.

I left the panel before the Q and A ended because I got what I wanted out of it and made my way down a corridor to something I had seen on my way up, an arcade room. I love classic arcade games. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong come to mind. The room was, of course, packed, but I managed to get my hands on a crappy Pac-Man arcade clone. The joystick barely worked. Despite that, there were a number of classic fighting and racing titles, all things I’ve played before. That’s when I saw something unfamiliar. There was an XBOX controller with an unfamiliar platformer on the screen above it. I picked it up and, low-and-behold, I was playing Angry Video Game Nerd: The Game. If you don’t know about the AVGN, he reviews bad retro games on YouTube with a child-like anger and humor. He’s great to watch if you are interested in game design, though, as he points out the real flaws in video games.

There were a lot of great rooms set up for people with particular interested. I saw something about a game called Mean Girls. There was a room about comic books. A large portion of the expo hall was dedicated to table-top and card games. At this point, I was mostly interested in lunch. There was a nice set up in one of the larger hallways and I found a massive turkey leg to nom on. It was amazing! In fact, all of the food looked pretty good. After that, I made my way to the Handheld Lounge which was a corner filled with bean bags. I took a seat and broke out the 3DS to catch up on my street pass hits. It was a never ending stream of visitors at my front gate. When I grew bored of collecting puzzle pieces and beating ghosts, I opened up Smash Bros. and quickly found a room to play in.

I won’t bore you with my Smash prowess, but I will say that I had a blast and even got to meet the anonymous faces I was playing with. We had played several matches together and had each won at least one game. We complemented each other’s play style, and then went on our own ways. By then, I figured, the expo hall wouldn’t be quite as packed, so I made my way back there.

I was right! I went straight to the Nintendo booth and picked up a Majora’s Mask 3DS. The face tracking technology in the new 3DS XL was epic. No matter the angle, the 3D was perfect. The game was beautiful. It was everything I could’ve wanted in a handheld. I was lucky enough to get the Majora’s Mask collector’s 3DS before it sole out and after handling the thing in person; I lost any and all post purchase regret. I left the 3DS blown away and met with the skull-kid cosplayer who had become a staple at the booth. By far the best cosplay there.

Wandering around the expo hall again, I found a booth for a game called Life is Feudal. If you haven’t seen this game, check out some footage on YouTube. I had seen a couple of LPs on it and it looks really cool. It’s like a way more detailed Minecraft, sort of. Seriously, check it out. One of the guys in the booth, I assume it was one of the developers, started telling me about the game. I told him I was really impressed with how far it had come. He then pointed out a guy playing the game on one of their setups. He said the guy was unaffiliated with them, that he just wandered in, started playing, and was telling people all about the game! Interesting way to break into the industry, I thought. That guy could work sales for them at the very least. I moved on from there. I passed by an Elite Dangerous booth and saw some people using an Oculus Rift headset, but the line to try the game was long and I’d seen some LPs on it before. I didn’t linger.

The next panel I wanted to attend was The Gamer Parenting Strategy. I noticed the wait-line for this was pretty big, so I grabbed a place in line and broke out the 3DS again. At one point, a convention worker came by and offered me some pipe cleaners. He said if I made something, he’d give me a prize, so I took him up on the challenge. I put together a rather sturdy triforce and he gave me a pack of Magic cards, a started deck I think. I haven’t played CCGs in many, many years. Its sitting on a dresser in my bedroom now, collecting dust. The panel was awesome and featured some great information about raising little gamers, particularly in regards to shielding their fragile minds to the wanton violence in today’s games.

The next thing I checked out was the console room. There were tons of consoles set up and lots of players going at it. At this point, I felt particularly alone in the event. I wanted to plop down and play, but without friends there wasn’t much point. I can play consoles at home, anyway. Most players were on Smash Bros. Melee. If I’m going to Smash, it’ll be on my 3DS. I left that room and turned off into another room that looked like a museum. This is what I’d come for!

Retro gaming merch and memorabilia is my thing and this place delivered. If you’ve been following my Twitter or Facebook feed, you’d have seen the Nintendo Cereal System boxes, the Dreamcast branded CD player and handheld TV, the competition carts, and NES World Championship cart! There were so many amazing collector’s items, but I particularly liked Mountain Dew XBOX and the gold PlayStation.

It was getting later and throngs of people were breaking off to go eat out. This meant more time for me to browse. I made my way back to the expo hall to find it much emptier than before. Another lap around and I found myself back at Elite Dangerous staring at the Oculus Rift headset. There was no line. This was my chance!

So I’m waiting to play and the booth workers try to take me in to get me playing, but I said no. I told them I wanted to try the headset, so I waited for a moment. As soon as the guy playing was done, they sat me down and showed me the headset and the game. There was a throttle and joystick controller in front of me and I was shown how to put on the headset. Once it was on, I was floored. In all my time gaming, I have never experienced anything like it. The cockpit of this ship lay before me. I could see the controls in game. Naturally, I was staring straight ahead. This is how we traditionally play games. I heard a voice saying “look around.” When I did, my jaw dropped. Every direction I looked I could see space. It was like literally sitting in a space ship. The next step, I punched it! The ship blasted through space into a asteroid field as I chased an enemy firing at him relentlessly. We had an all-out dogfight in the heavens. After several minutes of chasing one another, I grew bored of it and decided to just fly through the asteroids. I was bringing the ship within inches of the massive hunks of rock, boosting as close as possible, then wrapping around them. This moment was literally the most amazing, most game defining moment of my life. I was ABSOLUTELY, UNEQUIVOCABLY IN LOVE! If this is the future of gaming, shut up and take my money!

The voice told me I had to shut it down. The expo hall was closing. I was riding high on this wave and sat for a while in the handheld lounge streetpassing, killing time, trying to calm down from the adrenaline of FLYING IN FREAKING SPACE! If you ever have a chance to try the Oculus Rift, do it. Do not pass it up.  Elite Dangerous was pretty impressive as well. Maybe give that a try or, at the very least, watch some LPs.

My day at PAX ended shortly after.  I had a great time, even flying solo (literally in Elite Dangerous, haha). If I had more time to plan my trip, I’d have invited my brother. He lives in the next state over, but it would have been great to have him there. That’s my best advice; bring a fellow gaming enthusiast with you. It’ll be so much more fun! I plan to attend again next year, but I will be better prepared and I’ll remember to bring a notepad, too!

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The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Capcom

Hyrule

Rexis here!

Zelda. What can I say that hasn’t been said? This franchise is one of my favorites and has stood the test of time. It’s proved Miyamoto’s genius time and again and it’s given me hundreds of fun filled hours of exploring and puzzle solving. With so many games, 31 different Zelda titles if you include all the spin offs, there are a few that stand out: Minish Cap and the Oracle of Ages/Seasons.

A little company who gave us the blue bomber (Mega Man for those not in the “know”) was responsible for these titles. That’s right, I’m talking about Capcom (as if the title didn’t give that away).

Link’s Awakening stands tall as one of my favorite Game Boy games of all time. So what do you get when you use the art from Link’s Awakening, add color, add so much story it expands the game across two cartridges, and connect the games to one another using passwords? You get hired to produce another title. Oracle was so good; Capcom was licensed to make a game for the GBA. Keep in mind that Nintendo is not keen on letting other companies use their characters.

All three of these games were high scorers with critics and they still land pretty high on “best games” lists for their respective systems. That’s saying a lot for a company that has been receiving a lot of negative attention in recent years.

So what gives? Why isn’t Capcom still making Zelda titles? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Hidemaro Fujibayashi who worked on Oracle, Four Swords, and Minish Cap, then became a Nintendo employee, wrote Phantom Hourglass and directed Skyward Sword. Apparently, Nintendo saw something in this guy that they liked. I think it’s entirely possible that he is the reason these games were so good. Nintendo saw that and brought him on board. We don’t know much about Zelda for Wii U yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this guy’s name popped up in the credits.

My first thought was that Nintedo probably brought over a number of employees from Capcom, but after pouring over the credits of these Zelda titles, I’m not seeing any similarities. I did find that quite a few employees left Capcom and, in some cases, started their own gaming companies. Unfortunately, Wikipedia doesn’t have profiles for all of these designers.

It seems that with Hidemaro Fujibayashi on the Nintendo staff, there is no reason to license Zelda to Capcom. Can you imagine how that must feel for him? A man who started his career designing layouts for haunted attractions goes into game design. Then, with two Japanese only titles and a Tetris game under his belt, goes on to design for a franchise we know and love. It’s a dream come true.

If you haven’t played Oracle or Minish Cap, there is no time like the present. I have all three on my 3DS (as well as in original form) and just finished them last year. They are fantastic little games that take a detour from the usual. The ability to change the seasons or time in Oracle really makes you think about how you are traversing the over world. The ability to shrink in Minish Cap adds a kind of charm and interesting story elements. Go play them!

Another interesting aspect that was added to the Zelda universe, I believe, came from the Oracle titles. These were the first games to add in a gimmick for over world travel. Typically, you run from point A to B and use the item from the previous dungeon to move into the next, but Oracle changed the standard. A Link to the Past had the magic mirror that allowed you to travel into the dark world, but you didn’t acquire it until late in the game. The rod of seasons and harp of ages were required to progress throughout most of the game. This carried on into Minish Cap with the shrinking ability, Twilight Princess in becoming a wolf, and even as recently as A Link Between Worlds with the wall paintings.

I believe it is entirely possible that the magic mirror may have influenced Fujibayashi and, since he was director, planner, and scenario writer for the Oracle games, he could have made over world traversing options a staple in the series. He is well known in the Zelda community, but I wonder if anyone else has made this connection. He may have, literally, changed the landscape of Zelda games. Just something to think about.

Sonic 2, Yoo-Hoo, and Honey Buns – A look back…

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Rexis here!

Are you guys having a really good day? I’m having a really good day. I’ve been meaning to get another post up and I’ve been wrestling with rewriting one from before I deleted my old blog. So I think that’s what I’m going to do. This particular video game story means a lot to me. You see, anyone who knows me will tell you I am a huge Sonic the Hedgehog 2 fan. I love that game. I can sit down and play through it on muscle memory. I’ve loved it from the first time I opened it.

It was many years ago, actually, on Christmas of 1992. I was eight years old. A Christmas is Louisiana is a hot, brown affair and this particular year was no different. I was no stranger to video games at the time. I’d had my fill of Mario, Contra, Joust, Paper Boy, and Excite Bike. I loved all those games, but I was no avid gamer like I am now. When I woke up that morning and tore into the large box under the tree, I had never heard of a Sonic. Genesis wasn’t even on my radar. This was Louisiana in 1992 after all. We were lucky to get any channels on TV, so I wasn’t inundated with commercials at that point.

I believe the gift was my father’s idea. Looking back, this is kind of a surprise. My dad and I are completely different people. He is not into technology and video games. He is not a nerd or a geek. He doesn’t care for a star war. He is a frog hunting, turtle eating, squirrel pelting, backwoods hunter. He has a gun collection as extensive as my game collection. The fact that he would have bought me a video game console without my begging for it is… perplexing…

None-the-less, that little blue hedgehog raced off the screen and into my heart. I had the game poster above on my bedroom wall and it followed me through many moves until the corners were practically shredded from all the thumbtack holes. When I wasn’t playing this game, I was running as fast I could, pretending to be Sonic. I was eating chili dogs, his favorite food. I was saving the world from Robotnik every day, on the screen and in the yard. After so many lost lives and continues, one day I beat this game. I remember almost crying as I watched Sonic fall from the sky after defeating Robotnik only to be rescued by Tails. It was the first game I had ever beaten on my own.

I played it a lot because I was often alone. My little brother was 7 years younger than me and my father was away for work a lot. This is one of the few memories I cherish from my childhood. To me, my dad was always this larger-than-life guy. He’s been to places on this planet that I could only dream about. He’s done things I would never even attempt. The different jobs he’s had have given him those opportunities. He was even a golden gloves boxer in the early 80’s I think. I can’t find record of it, but times were different then.

I remember he would take me fishing when I was little. Most people can’t understand my love for Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink and gas station honey buns, but those combined flavors take me back decades to those days on the banks of some river with my father when I still called him Daddy. Here we are 23 years after I opened that box. I have a CIB copy with the framed poster on the wall (not the originals, mind you). I’m also a father now. My 6 year old son and I have been playing this game together. He loves controlling Tails. It feels amazing to play a game that’s so important to me with my own son, especially because he loves it like I do.

Late last year, this game took on a whole new meaning for me. My father came to visit and dropped a bomb on me. He has cancer. He didn’t go into specifics because he’s not that kind of guy. I know what you’re thinking. I’ve seen enough movies that I know how people are supposed to feel. I don’t feel like that. He has stopped treatment because the medicine causes memory lost. He came back to reality once standing at a gas station is West Virginia with no memory of how he got there. Instead, my father has opted to die in a place he loves. His visit was to ask me face to face if I would take care of my brother when the time came. My brother, of course, always has a home with me. When that time does come, my father will go out to this lake he loves, he will live there off the land, and he will die there. I don’t feel sad because even in his last years on this planet he is just as big to me as he ever was.

I don’t understand how a man who missed many of the biggest events of my life, who was rarely there when I was younger, who neglected to tell me about this cancer when he found out… I don’t understand how I can possibly hold him in such high regard, but I do. I feel like I know him better than anyone possibly can because I am him. I know that his absences kept food on our table. He put his family’s needs first. I know that he regrets deeply. I know that he hurts. I think this is what he hides from everyone, but I can see it. I can feel it. To me, in my eyes, he is bigger-than-life, he is stronger than death, and I will remember him every time I look at my son, every time we share a Yoo-Hoo and honey bun, every time we play Sonic 2. And every time I look at that poster I’ll ask myself if I can be half the father he was. I’d like to think I’m up 2 it.

5 Game Quotes to Motivate

I don't remember getting this option when I was born.

I don’t remember getting this option when I was born.

Rexis here!

I wanted to take a brief time out from the daily grind to give you guys a quick pick me up. So…

  1. Stay Awhile, and listen!” – Diablo II

Don’t just listen, LISTEN! It seems silly doesn’t it? In this fast paced technological world we live in, listening takes a back seat to quick replies. How often are you thinking of what you plan to say next rather than actually listening to the person speaking to you? It’s amazing what you can learn if you just take a moment to really absorb it. For a good example, how many times have you heard-

  1. “Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!” – Super Mario Bros.

Not literally, but metaphorically? “You’re over/under qualified.” “We decided to go a different direction.” “We’re just friends.” You get the idea. You’ve worked so hard, but you’re hit with rejection anyway. When this happens, you really are listening. In some cases you are probably lingering on it for quite some time. I’m no stranger to rejection. It really makes you feel like-

  1. “Everything is teetering on the edge of everything.” Spec Ops: The Line

Isn’t this a perfect analogy for life? Everything seems to depend on everything else, doesn’t it? I need a job to make the money, I need the money to go to college, I need college to get a job. It’s a vicious circle. We all have our issues, some far worse than the example I’ve provided. It’s crazy how our everyday stresses compound on top of one another and force us down. Just try to remember-

  1. “You can’t break a man the way you do a dog or horse – the harder you beat a man, the taller he stands.” – Far Cry 2

You have to fight back. Don’t let it all cave in on you. You are better than that. You are stronger than anything this world can hit you with. And you know it. Stand tall against all odds, against all adversity, and then there’s only one thing left to do-

  1. “Never give up! Trust your instincts!” – Star Fox

You’ve got to just get out there and take charge of your life. Believe in yourself. Most importantly, remember that you aren’t alone! No matter how bad you think you have it, we are all fighting our own fights because-

     (Bonus) “I am error.” – The Legend of Zelda

Aren’t we all error? Don’t we all make mistakes? The trick is bouncing back and moving forward. And when someone comes to you heavy hearted, in need, refer back to number 5.

Why I’m no game designer – My experience with college and game design classes

Just making games and writing blogs.

Just making games and writing blogs.

Rexis here!

What’s up, everyone? Are you all having a good new year so far? I am! I’m almost done with my bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management. I graduate in the beginning of February and after much deliberation; I’ve decided that I am done with school! I’m passing the torch to my significant other who very much wants to go back to college. Being so close to finishing, I’m looking back on where I began and it’s an interesting story I think you might enjoy. I think it also lends a bit of credence to what I do here as a video game blogger.

You see, it all began in 2004. I was much younger, obviously, and not too wise. I wanted to go to college and the idea of making video games sounded amazing to me. I soon found myself enrolled in a for-profit technical college whose name I won’t mention. I was a full-time student taking Game Design classes. In the beginning, there was a lot of general coursework. Math, English, art appreciation, that kind of stuff. There were also a number of classes revolving around multimedia design. I learned a lot about flash animation, C++, Adobe Premier, Photoshop, that sort of thing. I LOVED it.

The classes themselves were laid back and tended to be small. The teachers were usually pretty cool. The program really pulled me in when we started learning about character development and story writing. I found that I was great at coming up with game ideas and putting stories behind gameplay, but this came as no surprise. I’ve been writing fictions since early high school. My downfall in this field came from a different angle. More on that in a minute.

I’ve designed several games in my life, some tied to this class, some not so much. I spent many days typing code on the old RPG Maker program in the late 90’s. I’ve created tons of sprites in MS Paint. I’ve used game engines like Unreal and Neverwinter Nights to code out missions and storylines. I’ve programmed basic games that play in Flash. I’ve written high concept documents and gameplay outlines that were eventually converted into playable games. I’ve done tons of video editing, a bit of filming, and a good amount of script-writing.

It was always fun working with a close group of friends to bring these games to life, but I’m no artist. That’s where I suffered most. 3D modeling and animating in 3D Studio Max were so hard for me, I might as well been planning a mission to space on my own. I was following tutorials from the book and still making crap projects. That’s what they don’t tell you in the beginning. If you aren’t an artist, if you can’t visualize and create images on paper, then you stand no chance making them in a 3D environment. Things were looking grim as I was nearing my Capstone project. My portfolio was nothing compared to other’s I had seen. You see, the game industry doesn’t hire someone who is good at one thing. It doesn’t matter how well I can create stories for video games if I can’t create the games themselves. You HAVE to be well-rounded or the industry will shut you out. And this makes sense. Who would want to hire someone who sucks, anyway?

Around this time, my life changed drastically. I was about to have my first kid and I had moved across the country. I was unemployed. It was bad. I found a job that required lots of late nights and school fell to the wayside. The combination of “real life” and my regret for wasting so much time in a degree that would be useless to me turned me into a college drop-out just shy of finishing my degree.

Life went on. A few years later I found myself in a position to go back to that college and finish that degree. I scheduled the interview. I met with the recruiter. And was promptly told my degree program had been shut down at that particular campus. I only needed five classes to finish. I would say I got screwed, but I can really only blame myself. Perhaps I should never have left school in the first place. Perhaps I should have chosen a better degree. Either way, I was young and still wary about how the world really worked.

After that crushing blow, I fell back on the easiest degree I could finish, Visual Communications. This came naturally for me as it’s mostly 2D art. Not much later, I was enrolled in another degree program by necessity. I had to finish something, after all. I landed in Organization Management in an online university and I LOVE it. Turns out, I have a knack for leadership. I like to think I picked it up playing Final Fantasy XI, which, if you didn’t see the last post) was my addiction for a decade. Those skills have helped me in my real life career which I can get into another time (Leadership in Gaming, I’ve done the topic before, but that post is gone now).

Long story short, I landed on my feet. I just think it’s wise to caution anyone who wants to get into game design to be careful. Not all schools are the same and not all designers need degrees. The industry has also changed drastically. While 3D modeling did me in, many mobile gaming companies use 2D graphics, an area I excel in. I think that, in general, its best to say that you should know your skill set and what you want before you choose a program. It could cost you in the long run. I’ll be paying on those design classes for years to come, but that’s the cost of my mistake. I hope anyone reading this can avoid making the same one.

For now, I am happy pursuing my passions for writing and gaming. With this blog, small as it is, I get to be part of an industry I’ve always wanted to be involved in. I like to think that you can find game reviews and opinions anywhere, but I try to provide a more unique perspective into gaming here. I feel like this is what I’ve always wanted to do, and while I’m far from being a paid game-writer, this is a close second in my book. I wonder where I’d be if I had realized what I really wanted back in 2004…