Chinese New Year Games Spotlight – Will Pigs Still Fly in the Year of the Ox?

Jocelyn Yan

With the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, the Chinese New Year, typically a time for celebration, was impacted due to the cancellation of all major in-person events. While cinemas and theatres shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like people around the world many celebrants were bored while staying at home, and unable to meet with friends or relatives. As a result, the already-substantial Chinese mobile game industry has grown even more rapidly. One hyper-casual game called Sunny Pig Farm (阳光养猪场) consecutively ranked #1 in the iOS Top Free Games during last year’s Chinese New Year, the Year of the Rat. Will it continue to be a dominant force during this, the Year of the Ox? Chinese New Year is the festival that celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar. During the celebration of Chinese New Year, people gather together to make dumplings, watch the annual CNY gala, play fireworks, and exchange red envelopes and gifts. The celebration usually starts a week before New Year’s Day and lasts for another week after New Year’s Day. The Chinese New Year is on February 12th this year, ushering in the Year of the Ox. USC Games is celebrating this year’s Chinese New Year by looking back at popular games from Chinese New Years. Image source: https://www.freepik.com/premium-vector/happy-chinese-new-year-2021-year-ox-chinese-zodiac-sig_9766185.htm   Sunny Pig Farm was developed by Shanghai SongWo Network Technology Co., Ltd, and was released in October 2019. One of the most engaging aspects of this game is its money-making ability. Sunny Pig Farm uses cultivation as its main gameplay mechanic, allowing players to raise and upgrade virtual pigs to gain real cash.  For example, players can earn up to 230 pig coins by completing daily tasks. They can get double the reward by watching in-game ads. The virtual pigs they raise also get different tasks at certain levels, which allow the players to earn even more pig coins. These pig coins can be converted into real cash when accumulated to a certain amount.  Besides the pig coins, another way of earning money is through Sunny Pig Farm‘s special feature – the ‘red envelope’ giveaway. In China, “red” is the symbol of energy, happiness, and good luck. Not only do people wear red clothes on New Year’s Day, but–reflecting real life, as mentioned above–they also give red envelopes to others as a way to send their good wishes. In Sunny Pig Farm, the more time played in the game, the more red envelopes are earned, which contain a random amount of in-game currency players can get. Inviting friends to the game can also trigger the red envelopes giveaway. Another attractive feature of the game Sunny Pig Farm is that players can turn the virtual pigs they raised online into real pork delivered to their homes. If players can get six or more friends to the game, they get a pound of pork delivered to them. This setting was especially popular among players when the pork price surged in … Read More

Brains@Play Hosts the Brains and Games Design Fiction Competition

Kimmy Stewart

The Brains@Play Initiative is a research collective that facilitates workshops and provides resources to encourage the design of brain-responsive multiplayer experiences. Through creative events, the public can become more familiar with technology, develop a critical eye for evaluating technology, and most importantly have fun. The initiative’s goal is to reassure the public that as long as they are excited about these topics, they can participate in the design of society’s newest technologies. The Brains@Play Initiative is holding the first ever Brains and Games Competition (BGC), which is now open for submission until March 10th and is an international design fiction competition for creatives of all ages to submit brain-responsive multiplayer experiences. The competition is open to people of all experience levels who may be interested in game design, ethics, and neurotechnology.  To kick off the competition, the Brains@Play Initiative, on February 1st, will host a design fiction workshop about creating a digital game employing brain-to-brain interaction (BBI) technologies, led by Dr. Dimitris Grammenos. Dr. Grammenos is a Principal Researcher at the Foundation for Research and Technology – Hellas (FORTH) specializing in Human-Computer Interaction. He is known for his interactive installations as well as his international workshops focused on creativity and creative thinking. In Greece, there is another student design fiction competition that is already underway and will continue to run during the BGC. Register here for the BGC to be a part of an international community that is designing fun brain-responsive multiplayer experiences!  If you’re still on the fence about entering the Brains and Games Competition, here are some words of wisdom from one of the initiative’s co-founders Professor Gotsis: “Imagining the future is a good thing to do in this type of situation (COVID).” She adds that for those who don’t know much about neuroscience or game creation, don’t worry about any perceived lack of experience. Just bring your brain and your computer and–if you are looking for teammates to work with–join their Discord here at their website, brainsatplay.com. The general Brain Games category, sponsored by USC Games, invites newcomers and experienced designers to describe a new multiplayer game which uses brain-to-brain interaction technologies. No programming experience or special hardware is required.  The VR + Neurotech + Health category, sponsored by the USC SMART-VR Center and Enosis, is for more experienced designers who have prototyping experience; teams will create a VR game that is designed with neurotechnology to improve the health of players.   And finally, the Computational Art category, sponsored by USC Media Arts + Practice and USC Visions and Voices: The Arts and Humanities Initiative, is for those with prototyping experience to create computational art that involves neuroscience, technology, ethics, and consciousness. Awards for all three categories will be given out during Brain Awareness Week in March.  To cap things off, Brains@Play is also producing a USC Visions and Voices event on March 5th. Livewire: A Stimulating Night of Neurotechnology will feature various notable speakers in the neuroethics field, including Dong Song, co-founder of the Brains@Play initiative … Read More

Rising Industry, Rising Opportunity

Emily Maahs

As we continue to face the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic and the new normal it has created, educational institutions continue to look for ways to better adjust to these changes safely and responsibly, while remaining accountable in continuing to provide a quality educational experience. While education continues to be the focus for these universities, preserving a sense of student community and closing the isolation gap that many students experience from online classes, is still of great importance. This creates further challenges for universities, as typical campus activities are not currently an option, and with many collegiate sports seasons being canceled or shortened, it is difficult to deliver a similar experience of live games in our now remote world.  Enter the Pac-U, a collaborative effort by 11 of the universities that make up the Pac-12 “traditional sports” conference and their respective esports organizations in providing students a modern approach of generating school spirit remotely, through a non-physical form of collegiate competition. The Pac-U offers students the opportunity to experience the camaraderie, fanship, and rivalries often attributed to physical collegiate sports, specifically in the Pac-12, in a safe “digital arena”. Our Trojan esports teams for League of Legends, Overwatch, and Rocket League will be competing in the Pac-U this Fall semester, with the season coming to a close the week before Thanksgiving.  While the Pac-U’s ultimate motive is to establish esports as a key component in student life, the digital conference offers each of the universities much more than something to rally around in this ongoing quarantine. While players of each respective university esports teams can continue to play from the safety of their homes, the community of students and staff behind the Pac-U can use the group as an opportunity to learn and explore various positions within the competitive gaming scene, as well as network across different campuses. You know us Trojans love any excuses to network! Whether you are interested in gaming, streaming, or simply being part of an inclusive and exciting community, the Pac-U encourages any interested students to get involved and be part of a group that hopes to pioneer digital entertainment, competition, and gaming in the West. The goal is to engage each student population within their esports programs, build connections across schools, and ultimately, exchangeably learn from each other’s practices in this growing industry that is competitive gaming. There are a myriad number of ways to get involved including positions such as Technical Director, Competitive Administrator, Producer, Caster, Observer, Graphics Operator, and more, offering students the opportunity to learn and grow skills that will potentially aid them in school, personal, and career-driven ambitions. Students will learn how to create professional-looking broadcasts within an evolving hub of collegiate esports, all while being part of a community of students who share similar passions.  For students who are interested in directly volunteering for the Pac-U and in developing new skills under the guidance of partners within the industry and “retiring” upperclassmen students, please fill out the Pac-U … Read More

Newbies and Vets Game Jam Winners 2020

Kimmy Stewart

Being physically apart doesn’t stop game makers from creating amazing projects. From October 16-18, 11 teams took part in MEGA’s first virtual Newbies & Vets Jam. Students tuned in from all over the world, including various parts of California, the East Coast, and China! The mission: create a game that fits the theme of “escape.” Check out the amazing projects!  Best Art: Ape Don’t Study by Team E-Apes André Pascual, Masato Lin, Sarah Yuen, Jingkai (Bob) Wu, Jingtong (Rosemary) Wu, Mudi Li, Danial Asaria, Yufei Xiao We all know how difficult it is to stay focused online. We consistently turn to our best friend, procrastination. Why not play a game where procrastination is actually the objective?  Ape Don’t Study is a game about avoiding responsibilities. Escape the evil essay that’s haunting you by wandering the house and checking your phone. The game’s bizarre scenario is a humorous twist on our everyday lives. “Making the game gave us relief from real life,” the team explained.  Team E-Apes wanted to create a lighthearted experience that also has pseudo horror elements. They came up with the idea to use an ape as the central character by extracting the word “ape” from “escape.” The ape’s pixel sprite and walking animations blew everyone away, earning Team E-Apes the award for Best Art. If you’re looking for a procrastination method, play their game: https://dwagon6.itch.io/ape-dont-study Best Audio: Reverie by Team Wickedly Awesome Zach Northrop, Emma Lisowski, Lance Yu, Cameron Gomez, Mila Mathias, Blair Niu, Julie Shi, Shihao Huang, Zi Wang Sometimes all we want to do is escape from reality to our dreams. But if our dreams take a bad turn, then that’s a different story! Reverie plays with these ideas, setting players in a hauntingly beautiful dream sequence. Traverse as a blob from your dark nightmares to your colorful dreams. Members of Team Wickedly Awesome have attended anywhere from 0 to 9 prior game jams! For first time participants and more introverted members, the jam’s virtual mode created a welcoming environment. For the audio designer, it was easier to create Reverie’s award-winning tracks when he had a piano readily available at home. In the first nightmarish level, players are exposed to repeated low-sounding piano tones, which paints the level’s ominous vibe. At the final dreamy level, players hear warmer mallet tones and a soothing choir. Experience both the dark and bright parts of your dreams: https://emmalizz.itch.io/reverie  Best Game Design: Echo Escape by King Zhou Echo Escape is a colorful 2D platformer that cleverly uses echolocation in its design. In the game, players are a mouse trying to escape a dark maze. When players jump, the mouse emits waves of color, creating a cool canvas of luminescent shades. The objective of the game is to complete the maze by landing on platforms that match the avatar’s changing color. The game was developed by one designer, King Zhou! Before Newbies & Vets, King had participated in smaller game jams. After learning about Newbies & Vets, he decided to … Read More

Our 10 Favorite Indie Games of the 2010s

Editorial Staff

Contributing writers: Thomas Ling, Michelle Liu, Jorge Sandoval, Andrew Lane Ah, 2020:  we thought we’d have flying cars, labor androids and quarantines by now, but you only gave us the least desired one of the three.   But leading up to 2020 is a different story – as we sit in quarantine, we fondly look back at some of our favorite indie games, circa 2010-2020! 1. Journey (Playstation 3, 2012. Playstation 4, PC, iOS, 2019) One of the decade’s earlier entries comes from our own IMGD alumni Jenova Chen with his masterpiece, Journey. Directed by Chen and developed by his studio, Thatgamecompany, Journey has been critically acclaimed as one of the best games of this century. Equipped with nothing but a magical scarf and the ability to sing, the player traverses through visually stunning environments as they work their way through puzzles that impede their progress. Journey also features an emotionally resonant co-op system, where players may run into each other by chance and find themselves temporarily working together with no means of communication beyond singing. Accompanied by a breathtaking soundtrack, Journey masterfully blends the spirit of adventure and a sense of personal growth with the poignant realization that the journey can’t last forever.  2. Faster Than Light (PC, iOS, 2012) Subset Games breakout hit Faster Than Light (FTL) is every Trekker’s dream come true. In this top down, roguelike, real time strategy game, you command the crew of a spacecraft. Your mission is to voyage across perilous cosmos, delivering key information that will stop the resistance uprising plaguing the galaxy. Along the way you will encounter numerous dangers such as space pirates, rebel soldiers, and giant alien spiders! If this wasn’t hard enough, you have to do this while also managing your ship’s energy consumption, crew’s health, and weapon functionality. Faster Than Light is an indie gem that is absolutely worth the time and effort. 3. Hotline Miami (PC, Playstation, Nintendo Switch, 2012) Hotline Miami is a crazy, action-packed top down shooter from Dennaton Games and Devolver Digital. Filled with intense run-and-gun missions, Hotline Miami lets you dive into its odd world as you tackle requests from a slew of mysterious, unknown callers. With an array of weapons and different collectable abilities, it’s up to you to figure out the best way to take down every enemy that stands in your way. Not to mention, the music in this game is phenomenal, and does a great job matching the adrenaline that the gameplay already sets the stage for. 4.The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, PC, 2014) From the creators of Super Meat Boy comes a game about a boy who must fight the monsters in his basement to defeat his abusive mom. We know it sounds dark, but trust us: once you start playing, there is no going back. This Legend of Zelda inspired roguelike shooter is chock full of unlockables, secrets, levels, and enemy/boss types. In fact there is so much in this … Read More

USC presents Global Game Jam 2020!

Mila Brinkley

People from around the world gathered at multiple locations on the weekend of January 31st to participate in the Global Game Jam, an inclusive environment where interdisciplinary teams collaborate to create an entire game of their choice.  USC Games had the opportunity to host one of the biggest Game Jam sites in southern California. The participants spanned a wide range of disciplines including engineers, game designers, artists, and even business majors. It was also educationally diverse, with teams comprised of undergraduate students, graduate students, and alumni.  This year’s Global Game Jam provided teams the freedom to make any type and genre of game that excited them, as long as there was a correlation to the theme of “Repair.” With this theme as the primary creative guidepost, participants weren’t held back by the constraints of popularity or commercial viability, because it was all for fun and the learning experience! Due to the diversity of thought and expertise that each team had, participants had the opportunity to make a game that they would never have been able to create on their own. At the conclusion of the Game Jam, everyone displayed their games for the judges to critique and most importantly for other creators to play and experience. Seeing everyone’s hard work throughout the weekend gathered into one room of enjoyment and pride was a thrilling experience. From a giant inflatable chicken destroying the city to a first-person horror story where the player repairs a house, these brilliant games showcased the young developers’ ideas of what a game can look like Despite the unique direction taken by each team, the overall theme of “Repair” linked them all together. You can check out and even play this year’s games here! My Experience As a business student at Marshall, I’ve always tried to expand my knowledge through engaging in different activities that wouldn’t necessarily be connected back to my major. When you immerse yourself in diverse opportunities, you are able to learn on a whole new level while also making friends who have a completely different way of thinking than you! That’s why I decided to participate in the Global Game Jam before I graduate this May, because it’s important to make the most of these opportunities while still in college. I was able to join a team with former USC students who are now working in large corporations such as Microsoft and Unity, as well as my friend who is a computer science transfer student. We were able to learn a great deal from our teammates, things we never would’ve been able to accomplish on our own. I worked on idea creation, and then learned UI/UX development within Unity. Terms relating to software development and game design frameworks I’ve never heard before as a business student are now familiar to me. I now know how to use source control on the command line with GitHub, how to navigate in Unity, and much more. This has given me a new technical perspective as a … Read More

apartment: a separated place

Kimmy Stewart

You’re in a white hallway. A door with ‘102’ printed on it stands in the distance. You step towards it and walk through the lingering, floating words of Nick and his girlfriend Madison’s argument. It’s another disagreement, one of the many that led to their separation.

Newbies & Vets Game Jam Winners

Kimmy Stewart

From October 25-27, USC’s talented students participated in MEGA’s (The Makers of Entertaining Games Association) annual 48-hour Newbies & Vets Game Jam. Creators of all experience levels came together to create games that centered around the theme “boundless”. We got to speak with some of the winning teams about their games and future projects: Best narrative: Buggybackup by Team BuggyBois Team members: Ayush Ambastha, Allbright Dsouza, Masato Lin, Matthew Opara, Kobe Weinstein The game was buggy. The dog in the game wouldn’t stop barking. “It was also our backup,” the team laughed. Hence, the game was titled Buggybackup.  Newbies & Vets was Team BuggyBois’ first time taking part in a game jam. “Our [game] started on the story first and then the gameplay. Most [teams] focus on gameplay and then story.” One lone Roomba must figure out a way to escape the house in order to become “boundless”. When the Roomba escapes the house, the team wanted to incorporate a final cut scene so that the Roomba would happily jump around while the dog furiously shot lasers from its eyes. But the 48-hour time limit restricted the team’s ability to add in and fix everything. “We had an oil spill that spilled vertically, and *laughs* no one knew what was going on.” But, if there weren’t a few bugs, it wouldn’t be the charming Buggybackup we know. Help the Roomba sneak past the dog in order to reunite with its friends: https://dwagon6.itch.io/buggy-backup Best audio: Spaceship Earth by Team Paction Fraction https://glowcone.itch.io/spaceship-earth Best art: W1LL 0VERFL0W by Team Roundtable Team members: Maxwell Chai, Dennis Contreras, Timothy Dale Lin, Richard Ortega-Amezcua, Aman Savani, Reid Weston, Shon Xiao, Wei Zhang This meta-style game captivated players with its intriguing, 2D pixel art style. In W1LL 0VERFL0W, players are inside the mind of an android named W1LL who is battling viruses that threaten its UI. When viruses attack, they float to W1LL’s health bar in the upper left corner, rather than attacking the character’s sprite.  The members of Team Roundtable were all really compatible with one another. Only three of the teammates knew each other before the event, so the team was surprised to find how easy it was to collaborate together.  Team Roundtable is in the works of expanding the game to include more plot, core mechanics, and vertical scrolling amongst many other features. They plan to debut the modified version at the USC Games Expo 2020 in May. Help W1LL free himself from virus attacks in this meta side scrolling game: https://diglungdig.itch.io/w1ll0verfl0w Best game design: Mallow Mansion by Team Ghost Hunters  Team members: Skylar Kelley, Juan Lobo, Billy Wang, Evan Wright, Haotian Zhang, Katie Zhao When asked to describe Mallow Mansion in one word, Team Ghost Hunters replied “pursuit,” and “chaotic.” 4 players act as ghosts and compete against each other to possess 3 marshmallow bodies.  The team took inspiration from a wide array of games such as Minecraft’s “hot potato” styled minigame, PAC-MAN’s chasing aspect, and Dark Souls’ theme of death and … Read More

Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Jorge Sandoval

Respawn’s latest release, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order takes place 5 years after the events of The Revenge of the Sith, during the peak of the Empire’s power. We are put into the shoes of Jedi Cal Kestis, one of the few Jedis who survived Order 66, a contingency plan calling for the Clone Troopers to kill their Jedi leaders. This is the 5th Star Wars game published by EA, and it is unlike any other Star Wars game previously released. Fallen Order almost plays like the love child of the Uncharted and Dark Souls Series. Developed on the Unreal 4 engine, Fallen Order’s visuals and cinematics are stunning. The environments, detailed landscapes, and moving backgrounds make the levels feel alive and immersive. Smooth platforming and well thought out puzzle solving perfectly compliment the visuals, which is an amazing way to soak in and explore the beautiful landscapes. The combat on the other hand is quick, responsive, and at times relentless. Timing and stamina management are essential, and any wrong move may send you back to the previous checkpoint. However, just like in Dark Souls, if you are able to make it back and defeat the enemy that bested you, you are rewarded with the experience you lost. Unlike other Star Wars games, your lightsaber will be your only weapon paired with occasional Force abilities. Both your lightsaber and Force abilities can be upgraded, although the lightsaber’s upgrades are purely cosmetic. From the subtle nods to fan favorite characters to filling up plot holes, you can tell how much effort Respawn put into making this game feel authentic. However, don’t expect to be an unstoppable Jedi master in this game. Defeating enemies frequently requires multiple well-timed hits, and your Force powers will be nowhere near as powerful as in The Force Unleashed. By no means is this a bad thing. Instead, it makes Cal’s journey more believable and enjoyable. The games’ 18-30 hour game play is packed filled with excellent story telling, intriguing characters, and a multitude of planets to explore. It’s level progression makes your transition from padawan to Jedi Master extremely rewarding and as a result, has made Cal a very lovable character as you experience these victories along with him. It’s quite obvious that Respawn put a lot of care when making this game, and it was a fun story to experience while waiting for the release of Episode IX!  

New Features in Pokemon Sword and Shield

Andrew Lane

Excitement is in the air! After years of releasing some of the best games in the Nintendo DS family, Nintendo and Game Freak have brought the main Pokémon franchise to the Nintendo Switch with Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. The game takes place in the UK-inspired Galar Region, and just like the previous games, the role-playing mechanics stay the same, but the new series introduces brand new ‘upgraded’ features, some of which we highlight below. Brand New Pokémon The 8th Gen games welcomes dozens of new Pokémon, bringing the total number of Pokémon to over 1,000. Following franchise tradition, meet our new Grass, Fire and Water-type main starters. Grookey, the mischievous monkey, instills life into plants as it drums the ground with the ‘mysterious’ stick on its head. Scorbunny is the Fire-type rabbit that leaves a track of flames as it hops around. Sobble, the Water-type, is a shy lizard that can turn invisible in water. Just like the previous Alolan Pokémon forms, Pokémon Sword and Shield also introduce new Galarian forms with new types and new moves to some of the classic Pokémon we’re already familiar with. Pokémon Encounters Similar to the Pokémon Let’s Go series, we can tell when a wild Pokémon is nearby in tall grass, except that we only see an exclamation point icon instead of the specific Pokémon. The Galar region also features The Wild Area, a big open-world environment connected to multiple towns that features diverse locations such as lakes and fields. Encounters are determined by in-game location and weather. These Pokémon react to our presence depending on their nature– some will charge at us, some will run away from us, and some will ignore us. Version Exclusive Gyms Regardless of which game we pick up, the core adventure stays the same. However, each version will now have their own distinct gyms, so the experience will still differ depending on which game we play. For example, In Pokémon Sword, players will challenge Bea, a Fighting-type expert, yet in Pokémon Shield, the same gym will be led by Allister, a Ghost-type trainer.             New Items and Portable Pokémon Storage The game also features new items found in the Galar region. They include different temperament Mints (Hasty, Lonely, Modest, Mild and Naive) that affects a Pokémon’s stats. The video above demonstrates how the Modest Mint will “help a Pokémon’s Sp. Atk grow easily, but it’s Attack will grow slowly.” Exp. Candies also now come in different sizes (XS, S, M, L and XL) and will grant Pokémon Exp. Points in correlation with the candy’s size. The video also shows how we have the option to switch out their Pokémon from almost anywhere. It used to be that we would have to go to their PC Box in any Pokémon Centers to swap out our party, but not anymore! With new regional Pokémon, exclusive Gyms and brand new stats mechanics, Pokémon Sword and Shield definitely represents a new era for the main … Read More