Newbies and Vets Game Jam Winners 2020

Jason Martinez

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: 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:  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

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!

Jason Martinez

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

Jason Martinez

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

Jason Martinez

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: Best audio: Spaceship Earth by Team Paction Fraction 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: 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

Jason Martinez

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

The Outer Worlds

Jason Martinez

Obsidian’s Outer World Is in Your Hands From Obsidian Entertainment, famed developers behind such hits as Fallout: New Vegas comes The Outer Worlds, a colorful retro-futuristic RPG filled with aliens, spaceship colonies, and moon men. The game is set in Halcyon, a colony in space owned by “Earth’s most distinguished corporations”. In-game, the colony is not a total “open space” environment — each area will still be divided by a loading screen — but players are still able to travel from one area to another without having to return to their “homebase” ship. This allows players to explore around an area at their own pace and complete respective side quests whenever they feel like it. One of the more unique features about the game is the extremely flexible player customization. You can start by choosing from among many characters (hero, villain, assassin, sniper, trader, liar and many more) whose choices will determine how your game will progress in terms of skill sets. Though there is no set “binary morality” for your character (just because you are a “hero” does not mean you’ll only have the choice to do good), each action will still have some consequence that will drive the overall storyline of your game. The game is single-player, but you’ll also have the choice to pick up companions to assist you throughout your journey. They all will live on your ship with you, but only two can accompany you on your mission at a time. Each companion will have their own likes and dislikes, therefore if you do something that is absolutely outside of their comfort zone, they’ll abandon your mission entirely. As they come with their own expertise and skill sets, each companion can help you in their own way — companions with a higher strength level will be beneficial in combat, while another with higher intelligence can help you during quest negotiations. As a leader, you can enhance the abilities of your companions, or choose not to and use the additional perks on yourself. The Outer Worlds has also introduced new characterization mechanics: permanent debuffs called ‘flaws’ and positive attributes called ‘perks’. Your character can pick up optional flaws, and with every flaw, a perk can be obtained in response. For example, if your character clumsily gets burnt a lot, they could unlock the ‘flammable’ flaw. Though the flaw would make your character a little more weak towards fire, the perk in response could help your character improve in another area. The perk-flaw feature will also be implemented into the conversations with people around you, so you shouldn’t be surprised when your companions start teasing how you will always be the hottest of the squad. As you travel through space, gather a team of misfits, shoot people with ray guns or slice people with electric axes (or not), the game is ready to adapt to your choices, making Halcyon revolve around your hands. Many titles in the past have failed to deliver the concept of “complete choice” … Read More

USC at IndieCade 2019

Jason Martinez

This past weekend we had a blast exploring IndieCade, a festival celebrating independent games and their developers, held at Santa Monica College. Accompanied by a great backdrop of sunny skies and a cool ocean breeze, IndieCade 2019 kicked off October 10th and provided a weekend full of entertainment, giving us plenty of time to enjoy some amazing projects. IndieCade accepts submissions from all over the world, giving attendees the chance to play these games hands-on for possibly the first time ever. Of these submissions, USC Games clearly had a big presence. Right inside Building C lay the USC Games booth featuring numerous student and faculty projects, some of which rotated throughout the days. These projects spanned from PC-playables to tablet games to card and board games. One such game was Tiny Trees, a 3D board game where players attempt to become the next Demigod of Trees by growing them right from the board. Lead developer Michael Perce spoke on the game saying “unlike normal board games that are just flat on the table, the trees you grow branch out of your table and into the third dimension.” USC Games weren’t only present at our booth. Down the stairs lay familiar projects such as Plasticity, an environmentally conscious puzzle-platformer. (Look out for our upcoming interview with game director Aimee Zhang and lead designer Michelle Olson). Upstairs in one of the nominee galleries lay IndieCade Location Based and Live Play Award winner Ama’s Momento and ARBox. Both were easy to spot because of their long lines of attendees hoping to get the chance to play either experience. Outside of playtesting, numerous talks were given by esteemed speakers all about the world of games. One such speaker was our own Associate Professor Richard Lemarchand, who gave a presentation on “How To Build a Healthy, Happy, Game” during the educator’s summit portion. Professor Lemarchand highlighted the importance of trying to avoid crunch and burnout as much as possible in order to create a polished game. To do so, the entire process needs to be split into four sections: Ideation, Pre-Production, Full Production and Post-Production. All of which need to be given their own moments in the process (aka you can’t skip out or just shorten pre-production, else the rest of the project will suffer). The talk was full of quotable moments,  but one that stuck out most was when Lemarchand said, “The process is always a work in progress”. This is because while a game is always in development, sometimes even after it’s been released to the public, the process by which people make games is also constantly changing. The event ended with a Night Games session featuring games that thrived under the night sky with bright LEDs and light based controls. There was even a fortune teller giving out self-care themed fortunes for attendees that dared to learn their fate. Overall, the entire event was a wonderful celebration of all things indie games, and all of us at USC Games would highly recommend … Read More

Top 10 Games

Jason Martinez

2019 may be ending in just a few months, but there are still plenty of quality releases we’re looking forward to playing before the new year. From original IPs to long-awaited sequels, here are some of our most anticipated video games closing out 2019. Indivisible This action role-playing platformer is a breath of fresh air compared to the hundreds of platformers on the Steam Store. Its unique mashup of turn-based RPG and platformer mechanics feels similar to Paper Mario. Release Date: October 8, 2019 Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Macintosh operating systems Concrete Genie In this game you play as Ash; a young boy who loves to doodle. Ash discovers a paint brush that can bring his work to life. With this brush, you will help Ash paint life back to his polluted dying town. Release date: October 8, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4 The Outer Worlds An open world role-playing game made by Obsidian? Sign me up! This first-person shooter will likely soothe the itch FallOut: New Vegas left behind. Release date: October 25, 2019 Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Watch out EA, Call of Duty’s 16th installment will revisit the realistic military shooter theme that made it famous. For the first time ever, COD will feature 64-player servers with vehicles and cross platform play. Release date: October 25, 2019 Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows Luigi’s Mansion 3 It’s been six long years since the miracle known as “The Year of Luigi” ended. Fortunately for us, our hero Luigi is returning bigger and greener than ever. It will also bring the Luigi’s Mansion franchise back to home console! Release date: October 31, 2019 Platforms: Nintendo Switch Death Stranding Hideo Kojima and Norman Reedus; what more is there to say? This will be Kojima’s first game since his departure from Konami. This strange open world sci-fi action-adventure game looks beautiful and engaging. Release date: November 8, 2019 Platform: PlayStation 4 Pokémon Sword and Shield Get your swords and shields ready because the 8th generation Pokémon have arrived! Players will explore the new region of Galar with one of their cute new starters, but many familiar Pokemon from previous games will return with updated evolutions and Galar forms. Release date: November 15, 2019 Platform: Nintendo Switch Shenmue 3 Shenmue 3 will continue Ryo Hazuki’s quest to avenge his father’s death. Shenmue 2 was released in September of 2001, and although we did get a remastered version last year on the PS4, we have waited 18 years for a sequel! Release date: November 19, 2019 Platforms: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows Life is Strange 2: Episode 5 The fifth and final episode of this graphic adventure will conclude Sean and Daniel’s journey to Mexico. Not much is known about the plot for this episode, however, we do know this chapter will take place in Karen’s home state of Arizona. Release date: December 3rd 2019 Platform: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation … Read More