The Making of the Huggable, Interactive Blue Octopus Octobo

Sabrina Yam

The launch of the interactive plushie and iPad combination Octobo marks a brand new product in the realm of mixed media; digital and physical play combined to encourage education in young minds. Octobo’s creator, Yuting Su, took the project from a USC Games thesis concept to a successful Kickstarter in a journey to design a mixed media plushie that will teach as much as it will encourage play. Editor’s Note: If you are interested in following the project, please look towards their official pages on Facebook and Kickstarter at https://www.facebook.com/OCTOBO/ and https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1913046480/octobo-interactive-plush-companion-for-creative-le Octobo is a huggable blue octopus with one remarkable feature: you can slot in a tablet (Apple, Amazon, or Android compatible) to give it an eye and a mouth, bringing it to life. The combination of traditional physical play with the plushie animal, and the potential of the digital device puts Octobo into the new category of mixed media play. The Kickstarter summary video shows this feature off in shots a plenty. Kids dance and sing with the music that Octobo plays, and clap their hands as Octobo teaches them their ABCs. One shot in the Kickstarter video stands out: a panning shot of all of Octobo’s previous incarnations lined up to show the evolution of the toy. From a brown cloth-wrapped egg with an eye and a mouth sewn in the middle to a fuzzy bunny plush with an eye and a mouth taped over it, and finally to the distinctive shape and digital eye and mouth that Octobo sports today. Octobo’s journey reaches back to years ago, when Su first pitched the idea to her thesis class and then built a team around her project to make it a reality. I interviewed Yuting to get a better understanding of her journey in creating this toy. Through her three years in USC’s Interactive Media and Games M.F.A. program, Yuting’s determination to see this toy to market had her solidifying Octobo as a prototype, working on it through her pregnancy with her son Owen, bringing it to toy fairs and exhibiting at the Games Developer Conference (GDC), and finally to launching her successful Kickstarter campaign. In her own words, here are some of the challenges and highlights of successfully taking a product to market while still in school. Concept, Pitch, and Initial Design Yuting knew early on that she wanted to make something for kids. After experimenting with building blocks that responded to augmented reality within an app, she decided that she wanted to create something more distinctive and tangible. She shaped her vision through brainstorming with her peers and constantly revisiting goals that she’s set for herself regarding the product and how she wanted it to interact with children. Sabrina Yam: “What inspired you to make Octobo? Yuting Su: “In the USC program, there were opportunities for me to make kids games. I really loved that. Working with kids…they’re a very special audience. They’re emotions are very direct. I think my own style is more on the cuter side, so I … Read More

We’re looking for collaborators! Come work with us.

Collin Kelly

At USC Games, our team is at the heart of the LA Games community. We are active participants who work to showcase “the best of USC” to industry, media, alumni, and partners, provide better opportunities for current students and alumni, and develop educational programs to encourage growth and change. Are you interested in making USC Games a better program for Prospectives, Current Students, Alumni and External Partners? USC Games is looking for dynamic, highly motivated individuals who are passionate about improving the quality of life for USC Games students and improving industry and alumni relations. You will join a dynamic and fast-paced environment and you will generate content strategies that will grow the USC Games brand reputation within the industry and the LA Games community to improve student experience and drive growth of the program. THESE ARE PAID CONTRACT WORK AFTER INITIAL TRIAL PERIOD. What kind of content are we producing and what level of quality is it? The highest possible! This is about showing off what USC Games students can do and what the brand represents! We are looking for: Graphic Designers – posters, logos, video art and more! If you’ve got skills to flex graphically, we want you to help us to create key art that will show off our school’s talent to external partners! Video Editors – helping us cut videos, put them to gameplay, and adding overlays to make them really shine. This will help produce content that really shows how much we engage with our industry and frame our student’s stories! Videographers – We need people who know how to set up shots, keep good lighting, and work independently! These people will help us when covering events, running interviews and more! Games Journalist – help us to cover what’s going on in the community and the industry! Voice Artists – be the voice of USC Games and be featured on our various video channels! On-screen Hosts – be the face of USC Games and appear on screen during event coverage and more! Read more here: Streaming Personalities – appear on our growing HLS platforms and help to engage with community! Read more here: Other? – think you have something to offer USC Games that we aren’t working on or prioritizing? Let us know! We always want to grow and we certainly want individuals to help us with special projects of all sorts! What are the potential benefits for you? Cover industry events and help cross-promote with various organizers! Develop original content that highlights the work of your community and peers! Create meaningful industry and alumni contacts to bolster the USC Games program! Work directly in marketing/brand strategy in a unique games-related opportunity at USC! Make new friends as a part of a meaningful team (that enjoys KBBQ a LOT)! If you are interested in any of these position, please apply at: bit.ly/EditorialInterest Other meaningful content examples: https://youtu.be/r0f6IkXe5Jg http://games.usc.edu/news/square-enix-reboots-deus-ex/ http://games.usc.edu/news/in-honor-of-bernie-dekoven/ https://twitter.com/USCGames https://twitter.com/USCGames/status/981697944029147136 https://twitter.com/USCGames/status/981260051116646400

Nintendo Announces New Nintendo Manual Labor

Sully Zack

Last week at GDC, Nintendo announced the Toy-Con 3 – Manual Labor Kit for Nintendo Labo. This is the first new kit to be announced since January, and USC Games has an exclusive inside scoop. We sat down with an inside source who told us, “Many people don’t know this, but the Nintendo Labo actually stands for Labor. We [Nintendo] think that in recent years we’ve made things too easy for kids. Back in the day, they’d have to go chop firewood or something and now all they do is play games. It’s time for kids to get with the program and contribute to society.” We at USC Games could not agree more with this new Nintendo philosophy, and are ecstatic to show off these brand new Toy-Cons: So, without further adieu, here are the Toy-Cons of the brand new Toy-Con 3: Manual Labor Kit: Toy-Con Jackhammer: Slide the Joy-Cons into place, and let this guy rip! Utilizing the Switch’s HD Rumble technology, this Toy-Con vibrates just like a real jackhammer. It’s so realistic, in fact, that one of our USC Games Editorial staff members developed carpal tunnel! Thanks Nintendo! Toy-Con Work Gloves: Though simple looking, the setup for the Toy-Con Work Gloves is fairly complex. But once you’ve figured it out, you can enjoy the many styles of play that the Work Gloves afford! From pulling levers to holding tools to keeping our hands warm, we at the USC Games Editorial Office never ceased to find a use for this versatile Toy-Con! Toy-Con Shovel & Axe: The final Toy-Con, and my personal favorite, from the Manual Labor Kit is the Shovel & Axe Dual Set. After constructing both the shovel and axe, simply slip the Switch screen into the tool you want to use. Slide the Switch screen into the shovel to dig holes, and into the axe to chop firewood. How exciting! The Toy-Con Manual Labor Kit is expected to drop later today, April 1st, at a MSRP of $79.99.

In Honor of Bernie DeKoven

Collin Kelly

In Honor of Bernie DeKoven This last Saturday, March 24th, the games industry lost a incredibly impactful and inspiring figure and we at USC Games lost a long time friend and early contributor to our program. Bernie “Blue” DeKoven passed away at the age of 76 at his home in Indianapolis, surrounded by family and friends. Those of us here who knew Bernie will never forget his gentle spirit and deep insights into the nature of play. His teaching here at USC inspired the work of students and faculty alike and influenced the program and community in many immeasurable ways that will be a lasting testament to his life and work. Play was a guiding principle in Bernie’s life. Early in his career Bernie established a unique retreat center for the study of games and play in Eastern Pennsylvania. The Games Preserve offered classes in game and play studies as early as 1972, making it perhaps the first institution to recognize the value of formal game and play studies. Prior to this, in 1971, Bernie had developed his “Interplay Curriculum” for the Philadelphia School District, one of the first play-based curriculum developed for K-12 education. In the 1970’s, Bernie became involved in the New Games movement, a pre-digital games movement that sought to replace competitive sports with cooperative ones, and spectator sports with participatory ones. The movement had its roots in the anti-Vietnam war protests and the Human Potential Movement, and involved large, public play events focused on non-competitive social games. The movement framed play as a way to connect with others and create modes of human relationship-building. The influence of the New Games movement led to the creation of New Games Foundation, of which Bernie became a director. The Foundation published The New Games Book as well as a training program that disseminated the ideas of the New Games movement. This program made its way into elementary schools and parks and recreation programs across the United States. Anyone who has ever played with a parachute on a playground or with a large cage or “Earth” ball has played with the ideas of the New Games movement. And, more recently, New Games had had an strong influence on genres of play such as Big Games. In 1978, Bernie published his seminal work The Well-Played Game, a beautiful treatise on how human beings play together. This book, which was recently released by MIT Press, has had a lasting influence on the modern field of game studies, inspiring authors Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman in their 2004 text Rules of Play, which extensively references both The New Games Book and The Well-Played Game. At this time in the early 2000’s Bernie’s work was also being rediscovered and used in early game design courses like those of professor Tracy Fullerton at USC Games. In 2004, in the first game studies course taught at USC, Fullerton and her students became inspired by reading the ideas of the New Games movement. Students, including Kellee Santiago … Read More

Square Enix Reboots: Deus Ex

Collin Kelly

Last week, Tomb Raider came back to the big screen with a full reboot of the film franchise. In collaboration with Square Enix and based on the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander in what will solidify a new age of Lara Croft. Both the film and game franchises will have been fully rebooted with a new reinvigorated energy that Square Enix will only continue to improve and deliver on. On top of the film release, the rebooted game franchise has just announced its latest Lara Croft adventure with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Square Enix has received critical acclaim for their new Tomb Raider franchise. But this isn’t the only franchise that they have rebooted for the modern age. In honor of the new film reboot, USC Games takes a look at the hit reboot franchises of Square Enix and the success each has received. Deus Ex In 2011, Square Enix published a reboot for the Deus Ex series titled Human Revolution, developed by their Canadian development team, Eidos Montréal. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, players are no longer in the role of JC Denton, but instead in the shoes of a recently augmented, ex-SWAT officer named Adam Jensen. The game takes place in the years before the original 2000 game as a prequel and explores transhumanism in a cyberpunk world where megacorporations are growing in strength in classic fashion. Deus Ex: Human Revolution revitalized the franchise by placing you in the heat of a cultural revolution where augmentations are becoming more common and society is dealing with the ramifications.  The motif of conspiracy and subject matter of social class in the face of rich global conglomerates are central cyberpunk staples that are exuded by the narrative. In this story, Jensen is forced to confront the ethics and motivations behind transhumanism. However, thanks to the incredible freedom of play in the game, the player themselves has to face these issues as well, which are based on real-world possibilities. The script for Deus Ex: Human Revolution was written by narrative designer Mary DeMarle, and a small team of writers who heavily researched modern conspiracy theory, biotechnology, and transhumanistic research. Even the powerful CEO figures of the game were developed based on understandings of current powerful figures such as Howard Hughes, Richard Branson, and Bill Gates. The narrative wasn’t the only part of the game inspired by outside influences either. Gameplay and visual references were heavily influenced by both novels, films, and contemporary games such as Dune, X-Men, and Grand Theft Auto. The reboot’s art design introduced elements of Renaissance style and color, such as the now-trademark gold and black color scheme. It combined these new inspirations with the dystopian style of the original game to create a  new style that is notably and distinctly Deus Ex. The game received widespread critical acclaim with common scores of 9/10 or higher. The game was lauded for not only its gameplay, but its fusion of narrative into the design, with dialogue, character interactions, and story … Read More

Square Enix Reboots: Thief

Collin Kelly

Last week, Tomb Raider came back to the big screen with a full reboot of the film franchise. In collaboration with Square Enix and based on the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander in what will solidify a new age of Lara Croft. Both the film and game franchises will have been fully rebooted with a new reinvigorated energy that Square Enix will only continue to improve and deliver on. On top of the film release, the rebooted game franchise has just announced its latest Lara Croft adventure with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Square Enix has received critical acclaim for their new Tomb Raider franchise. But this isn’t the only franchise that they have rebooted for the modern age. In honor of the new film reboot, USC Games takes a look at the hit reboot franchises of Square Enix and the success each has received. Thief A revival of the cult classic series from the early 2000s, Thief (2014) , developed by Square Enix’s Eidos Montreal, introduced the world again to the character of Garrett, the antihero thief who steals from the rich. (Although, according to the game’s lore, this chapter takes place hundreds of years after the older games.) Hidden within the dark twisted alleys of “The City” is an antihero who has just returned home and is prepared to take advantage of the civil unrest that is on the verge of boiling over. Striking out at the “Baron” who holds martial law over his home, the prodigal son seeks to figure out what’s happened in his absence and discover the fate of his old protégé. Unlike contemporaries such as Dishonored and Splinter Cell, Thief stays true to its stealth roots and has been remarked as a call back to “pure stealth games”. There are numerous ways to resolve each of the puzzle-like stealth scenarios, while violence is left as a last resort. “If you’re content to save your game every couple minutes and enjoy a slower-paced stealth game, then Thief rewards you with plenty of moments so tense you might catch yourself holding your breath,” said Ben Reeves of Game Informer. One area of the game that has also receive praised are the side missions in the game, which give you a glimpse into the everyday lives of the citizens that live within The City. Many of the missions require you to retrieve something for the citizens and each has their own story that unfolds and gives the player further insight through well-written dialogue and backstory. While overall reviews for the game were lackluster, Eidos Montreal’s posted profit for the fiscal year Thief was released seems to indicate that the game was at least mildly successful. Square Enix has a history of playing the long game with some of its franchises. The developer has indicated that the world of Thief is ripe with opportunity for a sequel and only needs the time and resources to continue the series. The game has yet to receive a … Read More

Square Enix Reboots: Tokyo RPG Factory

Collin Kelly

Last week, Tomb Raider came back to the big screen with a full reboot of the film franchise. In collaboration with Square Enix and based on the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander in what will solidify a new age of Lara Croft. Both the film and game franchises will have been fully rebooted with a new reinvigorated energy that Square Enix will only continue to improve and deliver on. On top of the film release, the rebooted game franchise has just announced its latest Lara Croft adventure with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Square Enix has received critical acclaim for their new Tomb Raider franchise. But this isn’t the only franchise that they have rebooted for the modern age. In honor of the new film reboot, USC Games takes a look at the hit reboot franchises of Square Enix and the success each has received. Tokyo RPG Factory In 2015, Square Enix announced the establishment of a new studio within the company in order to develop new games based on the traditional JRPGs that made up the “Golden Age of RPGs”. While not strictly a reboot in the sense of a franchise revival, Tokyo RPG Factory represents the interest of a legendary Japanese publisher, known for hit titles like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Kingdom Hearts, in continuing to honor, develop, and focus on classic JRPGs.   The creation of Tokyo RPG Factory is a reboot in the sense that Square Enix is creating a development house specifically to spark further interest in the field of JRPGs and bringing to RPG fans worldwide new and interesting games that scratch the itch of JRPG fans looking for something a bit more nostalgic. The first game announced for this project was “Project Setsuna”, which would later take on the name I am Setsuna. Released for the Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, and later Windows PC and Nintendo Switch, I am Setsuna tells a gripping story of a maiden named Setsuna, who must sacrifice herself at a sacred shrine to appease hostile demons. The story’s central theme is sadness and evokes role-playing games of the 1990s by using an Active Time Battle System, such as that in Final Fantasy 7 and Chrono Trigger. The game’s concept was created very quickly, with the first alpha built within only a matter of a few months. The goal was to create something that encapsulated the golden age of RPGs and was built by a team of developers who were impassioned to fulfill this vision. “We wanted to make the kinds of games that really affected us as children. Nowadays you don’t see many of those kinds of RPGs out there, so it was good to see that there is an audience who wants to play them,” said studio director Atsushi Hashimoto. Many of the developers held Chrono Trigger as one of their favorite games and recognized that there were very few spiritual successors to it. The game became well received and was remarkable for … Read More

Square Enix Reboots: Hitman

Collin Kelly

Last week, Tomb Raider came back to the big screen with a full reboot of the film franchise. In collaboration with Square Enix and based on the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander in what will solidify a new age of Lara Croft. Both the film and game franchises will have been fully rebooted with a new reinvigorated energy that Square Enix will only continue to improve and deliver on. On top of the film release, the rebooted game franchise has just announced its latest Lara Croft adventure with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Square Enix has received critical acclaim for their new Tomb Raider franchise. But this isn’t the only franchise that they have rebooted for the modern age. In honor of the new film reboot, USC Games takes a look at the hit reboot franchises of Square Enix and the success each has received. Hitman As per usual, Agent 47 sleuths his way, cold and calculated, through mission after mission of intense stealth action in the latest modern entry of the Hitman franchise. In 2016, IO Interactive promised a “true Hitman fantasy” wherein the player “[has] the power and intelligence of Agent 47,” the franchise protagonist. In a series of open world-like areas, players are able to hunt down and orchestrate the assassination of various targets in a variety of locales. Departing from traditional models of release, this game took on an episodic release similar to that of Telltale games in which the game was dolled out over a schedule of a few months. In addition, the game included various time-sensitive missions wherein new targets called “elusive targets” were released that have unique scenarios for players to learn and master. These features were meant to create a living, evolving world for players to study and approach with freedom and skill. These sandboxes were larger and more detailed than ever before with more ways to play and more targets to take down. There was a large emphasis on the player embodying Agent 47 in the game. Because of this, the story is light, with each mission providing only a basic premise to set the stage. After that, it’s up to the player to take upon the multitude of options in each sandbox area to secure success. Each mission takes place in different locations around the world, forcing the player to adapt to each unique environment in order to succeed. One aspect of the game that added further depth was the AI system. The AI was touted as extremely advanced and reacted to player’s actions in real-time, pushing the player to dynamically find and exploit the system to their own advantage. During its initial reveal, critics were enamored with the promise of the project. Numerous critics remarked on a return to form for Hitman, who had in his previous title been backed against a wall narratively, and commercially forced to favor action over complexity. Part of the lack of complexity during the last game was due to the … Read More

Square Enix Reboots: Tomb Raider

Collin Kelly

Last week, Tomb Raider came back to the big screen with a full reboot of the film franchise. In collaboration with Square Enix and based on the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander in what will solidify a new age of Lara Croft. Both the film and game franchises will have been fully rebooted with a new reinvigorated energy that Square Enix will only continue to improve and deliver on. On top of the film release, the rebooted game franchise has just announced its latest Lara Croft adventure with Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Square Enix has received critical acclaim for their new Tomb Raider franchise. But this isn’t the only franchise that they have rebooted for the modern age. In honor of the new film reboot, USC Games takes a look at the hit reboot franchises of Square Enix and the success each has received. Tomb Raider Tomb Raider as a franchise has a long history behind it. The series started in 1996 with Tomb Raider, a game considered by many to be one of the greatest games of all time. Eidos Interactive would publish 4 more titles in the series up to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. Along the way, there would also be a Game Boy Advanced spinoff series that started in 2000 confusingly with the same title, Tomb Raider. The series was also given a semi-successful film franchise starring Angelina Jolie as the titular tomb raider, Lara Croft, which ended after 2 films. The series became stagnant and was handed off to Crystal Dynamics to reboot for the PlayStation 2 with Tomb Raider: Legends. The series had overall good reception, but eventually the series would become stagnant once again, seemingly unable to stick. But Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics did not give up on the franchise, and were very concious of its current and potential future value. Crystal Dynamics was given the opportunity to reboot the series one more time, this time on the next-gen PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 consoles. When the new title Tomb Raider was announced in 2013, the game was hit with a slew of questions from gamers. The game was touted as a new origin story of the person who would become the Lara Croft we all know today from the vast media empire surrounding the character. However, this time Square Enix was promising a new take on Croft that would make you “forget everything” that came before. This is further exemplified by the tagline trademarked for the game: “A Survivor is Born”. However, when the game was first shown off, much of the gameplay was based on the typical form that gamers expected out of contemporary action titles such as Uncharted, with linear adventure platforming and a focus on cinematic quality. But how it would actually capture the rise of our survivor adventurer was yet to be seen. Thankfully, this worry was answered with an exhilarating narrative of a young inexperienced woman who finds strength and becomes extraordinary … Read More

St. Patrick’s Day Best Snakes in Games

Collin Kelly

Fun fact: Did you know that there are no snakes in Ireland? It’s true! Way back in the fifth-century, St. Patrick, who we (sort of) commemorate on this day, was taking a 40-day fast on a hill when he was attacked by snakes! In response, he chased all the snakes in Ireland out of the country and the legend swept throughout Ireland! Ok, not really – but there are, in fact, no native snakes in Ireland! According to naturalist evidence, it had more to do with snakes not being able to populate post-Ice Age Ireland in time for the land bridge collapse but… who would have guessed part of the legacy of St. Patrick was chasing snakes out of Ireland? Evidence seems to suggest that the story actually derives from pro-Christian tales as St. Patrick is known for evangelizing Christianity in the fifth-century to drive out the pagans, whom allegorically are “snakes” in the story. In any case, snakes apparently play a part in the story of St. Patrick and his evangelising efforts. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, USC Games is going to take a look at five of our favorite snakes in games  (Although we know what the rest of you are doing)! And, given that this is a small history lesson, we’ll start with a couple newer games, before highlighting some of the classics! Contrary to what you might believe, most of our coiled compatriots are actually good guys too! Trowzer from Yooka-Laylee Harkening back to those classic 3D platforming days, Yooka-Laylee comes full of everything you’d expect in your comical cartoon characters. Trowzer is no exception. Not only is he full of sass, despite not really being the greatest salesman there ever was, but he also serves as the classic “character-as-upgrade-shop”, providing you new moves and lessons to go with them! Noodle from Snake Pass In Snake Pass, you get to embody a snake yourself as Noodle, the quirky coiling puzzle-solver! Challenge yourself to channel your inner snake as you slither your way to solving the mystery of the mysterious disturbance in Haven Tor! Noodle isn’t particularly the most deep creature in gaming, but his bright colors and exaggerated animations go a long way in giving him personality. Rattly the Rattlesnake from Donkey Kong Country 2 Rattly was one of the great Animal Buddies in the Donkey Kong Country series that helped to shape the dynamic play experience of the game. We certainly remember the first time we busted him out of that box to give the Kremlings a piece of his mind! Rattly hasn’t really gotten a lot of love in the latest Donkey Kong games, but he certainly is one of the most memorable moments of Donkey Kong Country 2. Midgardsormr from Final Fantasy (series) In Final Fantasy VII, Chocobo Bill forewarns the dangers of the great Midgar Zolom. A great serpent-like creature, this snake is one of the more formidable bosses in the game – at least, at the time the player encounters them! The recurring serpent … Read More