GDC 2019: Show Highlights

Shuang Liang

Game Developers Conference (GDC) was hosted in San Francisco, CA on March 18-22, 2019. USC Games was at the Moscone Center to get a first-hand glimpse into the future of games and what gamers will be obsessively playing over the next year. On Monday and Tuesday, summits and tutorials were held, focusing on specific topics that included AI, Community Management, and Game Narrative. From Wednesday to Friday, the conference and the Expo drew more attention. Conference sessions touched on a broader range of game development disciplines, While the Expo featured 550+ companies including non-gaming technology companies, game development products and service providers. Although GDC’s audience is mainly developers and people working in the industry, they still brought lots of exciting news for everyday gamers like us. Inarguably, the biggest news out of this year’s GDC was the official announcement of Google Stadia, a cloud gaming platform. Google aims for Stadia to be a seamless experience for players and streamers, with viewers able to move from watching influencers playing on YouTube and gaming by by just clicking a “Play Now” button on the Stadia controller. Stadia will be supported on PC, TV, tablets, phones and even Chrome browsers. This flexibility of play is due to Stadia not using local hardware capacity, instead streaming from a network of Google data centers. At Google’s booth at GDC, attendees could try the early hands-on tests with titles like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Doom. People said the experience was nearly comparable to playing on a console or PC. While the future sounds pretty promising, there were no hands-on final design controllers and there is no word yet on an exact release date or pricing. Along with the hundreds of sessions, attendees spent their time discovering the latest game development tools and services in the GDC Expo. The Expo featured many large studios showing their games, services and products.  In addition to Stadia , Google showcased many tools they provide for game developers as well as two very cool games: one game, an AR Pac-man powered by Google maps, allowed players to navigate a virtual maze in a real-time space by using their phones. The other also used AR technology. Players could use the cameras on phones to discover the answer to puzzles in the room. Sony was another big studio that drew a lot attention at GDC, with a number of exclusive games for PS4. One of them was Dreams, which was created by Media Molecule and was featured in the GDC opening ceremony. GDC is not only for video or computer games, but there was space for board games as well. Amazon demonstrated a system they developed for board games. Traditionally, when a board games is sold, there are no more adjustments that can be made. However, Amazon would like to innovate with static board games to make them more fun and dynamically adjustable post-purchase. GDC was a celebration for game developers and game players alike, and based on the exhibition, we’re looking forward to … Read More

Yoshi’s Crafted World

Jorge SandovalLeave a Comment

Yoshi’s Crafted World for the Nintendo Switch is one of the most original and relaxing games we’ve seen in a long time. Developed by the creators of similar games such as Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolly World, Good-Feel has proven to have perfected the art of giving games a unique feel and art-style. Yoshi’s Crafted World is very similar to past Yoshi platformers, yet gives the series a breath of fresh air. Instead of the traditional 3D game models and textures, you can enjoy Yoshi and his friends in a realistic cardboard cutout-type art style. This complements the 2.5 platform gameplay, making all 40 plus levels feel alive and interactive.  Many past game play mechanics make their return, such as Flower and Red Coin collecting, the reintroduction of yellow and red eggs, and the return of iconic enemies with your lovable canine companion Poochie. However, some of these come with a new twist:  the collectable flowers scattered across every level serve a purpose this time. Completing a level will no longer unlock the following one, instead players must use the flowers they have collected to unlock it. This is a great way of giving flowers a purpose which gives players the incentive to explore each level to its fullest. Both coins and red coins also serve new purposes as well.  Instead of granting the player an extra life after collecting a certain amount of coins, the player can use them to purchase cute cardboard costumes for Yoshi, such as a Bullet Bill, Poochie, and trash can costume. Costumes provide Yoshi with more health and rarer costumes grant him extra abilities. Players are also able to play with their friends with the local Co-Op mode. In addition to the changes made to enhance new experiences to the game, you now have the option of choosing the color of your Yoshi. There are a total of 8 colors to choose from (Green, Red, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Orange, Pink and Cyan). Even though they all play the same, it’s cool to be able to play as your favorite colored Yoshi. Also, the game’s grooving soundtrack and level progression make it perfect for winding down at the end of the day. The most exciting change to the design is “Mirrored Mode,” which you can access after completing a particular level. In this mode, you play the level in reverse while also playing with the level view in the background. This essentially turns an old level into a new level. While playing in this new perspective, you are able to see new details of objects and enemies you might have missed from your first play-through. Mirrored mode is slightly more challenging than the normal mode, but should still be relatively achievable.  Overall, Yoshi’s Crafted World is a blast to play. Whether new to the franchise or a fan of Yoshi platformers with a heavy element of collectability, goofy costumes, this game is a must buy.

USC at GDC 2019

Shuang Liang

As the first University Games publishing entity, USC Games officially exhibited Games Developer Conference in San Francisco for the first time. Three games developed by USC faculty members and published by USC Games’ were exhibited at GDC Play. While USC’s game design program is ranked #1 in North America according to Princeton Review, the program also publishes games as well under the USC Games umbrella. Positioning itself as nimble and experimental, the label is able to focus on publishing innovative and specialized games. Two of the three games demonstrated were developed and directed by USC Faculty.  Tracy Fullerton: Walden and The Night Journey. Tracy Fullerton is Professor of Cinematic Arts, Interactive Media & Games Division and the Director of USC Game Innovation Lab. The other game– The Cat and the Coup–was developed by Peter Brinson, also a Professor at USC Cinema’s Interactive Media & Games Division. Peter Brinson (on the right) Also during the event, Professor Fullerton gave a talk about her game Walden: Ten Years with Thoreau: What a Hermit Can Teach About Game Design. During the lecture, she explained that she was inspired by David Thoreau’s book Walden and wanted to successfully transfer his philosophical ideas into a game. Just like Thoreau’s book, in the Walden game players can experience living a minimalist lifestyle from the nature and live a life. Interestingly, Thoreau spent 10 years writing the book, and Prof. Fullerton also spent 10 years developing the game. As of this writing, Walden has won multiple awards, such as Best Overall Game at Intentional Play Summit. Professor Fullerton also announced that educators can request free copies of Walden. Tracy Fullerton Walden: Ten Years with Thoreau: What a Hermit Can Teach About Game Design A number of Alumni gave talks at GDC, from technical topics like experimental AI and Tech Toolbox both given by Max Kreminski, to the content-related session “Intimacy and Romance in Games” hosted by Aubrey Isaacman. Alumni Riley Pietsch talked about his experience “building headquarters as a social hub” in the game Call of Duty: WW2. Students Kai Nyame Drayton-Yee and Milo Smiley talked about their game Ideal Meal. Eric Hsieh Kaisuo A number of Alumni gave talks at GDC, from technical topics like experimental AI and Tech Toolbox both given by Max Kreminski, to the content-related session “Intimacy and Romance in Games” hosted by Aubrey Isaacman. Alumni Riley Pietsch talked about his experience “building headquarters as a social hub” in the game Call of Duty: WW2. Students Kai Nyame Drayton-Yee and Milo Smiley talked about their game Ideal Meal. 1.Riley Pietsch Building Headquarters: The Social Hub in ‘Call of Duty: WWII 2. Aubrey Isaacman Making Intimacy, Romance, and Sex in Games 3. Jesse Vigil B.O.S.S.BOX (Experimental AR/LoT Escape Room) 4. Kai Nyame Drayton-Yee & Milo Smiley Ideal Meal (Micro- Postmortem) Other Trojan Highlights from GDC 2019: Our faculty member Prof. Bellamy also hosted the 2nd Annual Tea Party for the Transgender and Non Gender Conforming Communities. Professor Lemarchand introduced a microtalk about Lightning Fast … Read More

Trojan Student Spotlight | Eva & Jaden of Cantrip Cafe

Jorge SandovalLeave a Comment

Eva Wierzbicki and Jaden Davis are two IMGD juniors that make up Chubby Puppy Games. This past Valentine’s day they released Cantrip Cafe. Cantrip Cafe is a zesty, zany cooking combat game, where you play as witches that need to juggle between serving their customers and protecting them from hungry flesh-eating monsters. Its dynamic gameplay fosters to both restaurant game lovers and combat fans alike. During development of Cantrip Cafe, Eva was in charge of the games art and designed the UI while Jaden was responsible for programming and focused on the combat system. However, Eva and Jaden also got help from the Berkeley School of Music to create music and help out with sound design. They also contracted help from students taking the Usability Testing for Games class. The development of Cantrip Cafe started out as an Intermediate game design project and evolved from there. It took the team over 9 months to release. During those 9 months, both Jaden and Eva had to juggle with school, work, and personal care. Because of their dynamic teamwork, they were able to motivate one another to continue developing the game. So, what’s next for Chubby Puppy Games? The duo plans on going back to Cantrip Cafe to tie up loose ends and polish up some details. However, they don’t plan on spending too much time doing this, as the team is interested in developing a horror game with comedic elements. Cantrip Cafe is available on Steam and Find the video of our interview with Eva and Jaden on our Youtube Channel! Eva Wierzbicki and Jaden Davis

Detective Jenny LeClue

Matts BorgesLeave a Comment

“Detectiving and choosiness” is what indie mystery narrative game Jenny LeClue: Detectivu is about. Its development began after it was fully funded on Kickstarter by over $105,000 in August of 2015, and while it is available for demo at GDC 2019 and boasts a free playable teaser online, it is still slated for release at some point in 2019. Jenny LeClue was handcrafted by Joe Russ and Ben Tillet; two experienced motion graphics artists who have worked for the likes of Google and Disney, but are now developing this game together under the name Mografi. Jenny LeClue is a uniquely designed point-and-click style of mystery game with a focus on beautiful, moving art assets and a massively interactive environment. In this game , players take on the role of the titular kid detective as she must solve a murder mystery that her mother has been accused of. Mografi describes the story as a coming of age tale, “Sometimes funny, sometimes scary, always mysterious; it’s a story about finding our strengths, accepting our weaknesses, and the blurred lines between what is right and wrong.” This story structure is used to elegantly complement the style and genre of the game, where things seem simple and light on the surface, but actually become more complex as the character learns and grows. Even the game’s aesthetics match this theme: on closer inspection, a huge variety of objects are either interactive, intricately animated, or otherwise detailed enough to warrant a magnifying glass. Game designers can also look at Jenny LeClue for some clever ideas about how to deliver stories in games. Throughout their journey, for example, players will hear the ongoing narration of Arthur K. Finkelstein, a fictional author who narrates the gameplay of Jenny LeClue . That narration allows players to receive details that are normally missed or neglected, including characters’ thoughts or emotions. It also serves as a simple and stylish way to deliver tutorial content. This is important because throughout the game, Jenny LeClue is faced with both clear-cut story choices as well as other much less obvious opportunities for “detectiving” during dialogue or other events. She can, for example, choose to look away (moving the game’s camera) during dialogue to gather a hidden clue, or otherwise closely inspect her environment at any time to discover additional, hard to find secrets. Another clever idea about Jenny LeClue’s story is that it has been proposed as a trilogy where each player will make huge decisions on their own, but every player’s choices will be aggregated by Mografi to determine what happens in the next chapter of the trilogy. This gives players a very rare sense of agency and influence in games, but most importantly, it also gives them an impression that what they do truly matters, since every player’s actions will determine the story for everyone else. Currently, Jenny LeClue is greenlit on Steam and scheduled for a 2019 release on PC, the Nintendo Switch, and the Playstation 4.

Interview with Alumni Ted Park: CEO of Mild Beast Games

Kyra HasslerLeave a Comment

“Mild Beast Games” is an indie game company formed from the minds of a group of USC students who decided to go from project to product! USC Games sat down with Ted Park, the CEO and Project Lead of “Mild Beast Games”, to ask him about all things USC Games as well as their new game, “At Sundown: Shots in the Dark.” For some that may not know, can you give us a brief background on who you are and how you got here? I’m Ted Park. I was in the class of 2017 in the Computer Science Games program. Right now I’m running an indie game company, as CEO, called Mild Beast Games and we just released our first commercial game, At Sundown: Shots in the Dark. Can you tell us a little bit about your experience with USC games? Being in the Games Program, it was just really cool to meet other people that think like me. They just like making games, and we had cool professors. It was really nice to feel like a part of the games industry, even though you’re not really in the games industry yet. If you could describe At Sundown in one sentence, what would you say? So I would say it’s a hide-and-seek shooter in the dark. What role did you have in the creation of At Sundown? I was the project lead. I created deadlines and made sure that the project was on track for release.  I also run the business side of Mild Beast Games, although I do a mix of everything. Right now, I’m just fixing bugs because you need to as an indie company. You end up wearing a bunch of different hats based on needs. What was the inspiration for At Sundown? It came from the phrase “shot in the dark”. We just designed a game around [that concept]: “a shot in the dark.” And then we kind of just built it from there. Are you planning on making more games? What’s next for Mild Beast? We might have something in the works right now. I don’t want to say too much but we are exploring further out from just PC/Console games. We’re also looking at mobile games. So yeah, nothing nothing concrete to announce yet, but hopefully soon! Being an Indie Game company what do you do to stand out from AAA names or even to stand out within the Indie Game community? What I’d say indie game companies should do is try to focus on a niche. Because you could come out and say, “Oh, yeah, we want to become the next Fortnite! We want to compete with Fortnite!” But the reality is: you can’t really be Fortnite because they’ve just got thousands of employees, just working every day to make this crazy big game. But, I think the nice thing about being an indie game company is you don’t have to appeal to a wide audience. You can just focus on a small … Read More

The Occupation: A Confining Experience You’ll Enjoy

Michael AhnLeave a Comment

The Occupation by White Paper Games stands out among the single-player games due to their unique approach towards the length of their game: it is finite, and exactly four hours. Being unable to end the game any earlier or later than four hours initially sets the player in a confined state of mind. There seems to be a million possibilities with very few seeming achievable in the designated time. All this tension is intensified further with the mind-grabbing story. As an investigator of the mysterious case involving the death of countless people, you must uncover the secrets that remained veiled from the public. With the authorities closing the case and restricting your actions, everything seems to be against you as the time ticks away towards the end clock. In terms of gameplay, the game is stunning. Almost every single action done consciously or subconsciously provokes a reaction from the NPCs. Something as simple as staring into a player’s watch in a conversation can cause the NPCs to be frustrated of being ignored upon. Swiping the card too quickly on the scanner would require the scanner to swipe again. Even accessing the player’s inventory requires the player character to go through the animation of placing his suitcase on a surface and opening it. While many games have failed in incorporating real-life mechanics into video games, the attention to detail The Occupation creates enhances the experience that the player has. Many campaigns, no matter how well-refined it may be, possess the flaw of experiencing boredom after their first playthrough. However, The Occupation absolves this problem by creating countless options for players to decide on depending on the various decisions made throughout the game. The Occupation offers a cunning mixture of uncertainties that perfectly fit into the detective game genre. Such unique mix offers not only a variety of options but also leaves the players in an intense, limited time frame where literally every second matters.

Walden: A Walk in the Park

Jorge SandovalLeave a Comment

‘Walden, a game’ takes core free-world exploration elements and then expands upon them in a unique way.  The player embodies the persona of the famous American author Henry David Thoreau. You can explore the entirety of the game world at your leisure or follow the intended storyline. During your playthrough, you will uncover various areas of interest scattered across the map, each giving Thoreau inspiration. At heart, ‘Walden, a game’ is a survival game where you will collect food, maintain your house, farm and other activities you can expect when living off the land.  However, that is only part of the gaming experience. Players will have to seek out inspiration by actively engaging with nature and ideas. If you ignore the other part of this equation, your gameplay will turn out dull and uninspired, literally draining the color from the world. The combination of these two components makes the game feel alive along with its diverse landscapes, animals, townspeople, and changing seasons. The game authentically depicts the true experiences of Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond.  While the gameplay is innovative, it is also easy to pick-up and play. As players experience the world, non-invasive hints/tutorials pop up, including what keys to use or the types of actions to take to ensure survival. As such, the user controls one self-narrating character during the course of the story, eschewing NPCs and creating a realistic sense of solitude in the environment. The graphics give the player a sense of authenticity, in addition to allowing the player the freedom to explore the untamed wilderness around them. It’s authentic. But what’s more interesting is that the mechanics that put you into his experiment in living. Players get to decide to just survive or to create, which offers special dynamics and aesthetics. Throughout the map, you will discover key spots that will inspire Thoreau. This will cause the narrator to recite Thoreau’s actual works with his silky smooth voice! Many times I would purposely wander aimlessly just to hear Thoreau’s poetry recited back to me. ‘Walden, a game’ is an experience like no other. Many times during my playthrough, I forgot I was sitting in front of a screen. While it is a fast and convenient way of visiting the woods without having to leave your couch, the gameplay urges you to put your controller down and visit the great outdoors. If you are a casual gamer, explorer or literature enthusiast, then ‘Walden a game’ is a must try.  

Anthem: A World of Mystery

Jorge SandovalLeave a Comment

Bioware’s upcoming looter shooter, Anthem looks to be a fresh coat of paint for the genre. But will it have enough end game content to keep players entertained? In the alien world of Anthem, players explore, protect, and uncover secrets with the help of their exosuits, Javelins. The Javelin suits act as a players’ class. At the moment, there are 4 unique suit types each with its own attributes and abilities. Each suit fits a different play-style. All Javelin suits have the ability to fly and are customizable. The first suit is called the Interceptor. It is the fastest out of all classes and is meant for up guerrilla warfare. Players using this suit will fly in, attack enemies, retreat, and repeat. The Ranger is a mix of all the suits. It attacks using grenades and missiles and excels at taking down strong enemies. The Colossus is the tank of the group, and as such has the most health. However this comes at a price as the suit is incapable of dodging or rolling. It uses explosives that deal a lot of splash damage, perfect when enemies are close to one another. The Storm relies on elemental abilities such as fireballs and lightning bolts. The Storm also has the ability to teleport around the battlefield. All 4 classes feel unique and have different strengths and weaknesses. Every class has different abilities that could cause an enemy to be “primed”. When an enemy becomes primed, they glow. When primed, enemies can be “detonated” by the same player or by another teammate. The ability used to detonate varies from stunning enemies to refreshing cool-downs. The primed mechanic rewards players who work together and is an effective way of strategizing the combat system. While similar games have lost a big portion of their player base only after a few months after release, Bioware has stated that they plan on continually supporting and adding new content to Anthem. To prevent their player base from shrinking, they plan on making all post-launch DLCs free. Anthem does not feature a season pass or loot boxes. However, players have the option to buy items to customize their weapons and javelin suits. The customization options for the javelin suits are extensive. There are various patterns, textures, and different colors that could make a suit unique. Anthem brings along cool game mechanics and a brand new world filled with monsters to destroy. We are eager to see what Bioware will do to keep the player base alive. Anthem comes out on Microsoft Windows, PS4, and Xbox One on February 22nd.

Terraria-We’re Digging It

Kate RadinLeave a Comment

With user-friendly 2D design, early-Nintendo-esque animation, and seemingly endless gameplay possibilities waiting to be unearthed, it’s no wonder Re-Logic’s sandbox adventure game Terraria has gained a somewhat cult-like following. After initial success on PC, the game was later redeveloped by 505 Games for console and mobile formats. In addition to being available on iOS, Android, Xbox, PlayStation, Wii U and 3DS, a version for Nintendo Switch is expected to be released later this year. David Welch, a senior creative manager at 505 Games, helped adapt Terraria for console and mobile play. He explained that “platform specific innovations” have helped Terraria pick up a “dedicated, sophisticated” audience across multiple platforms outside its original PC following. “It’s really a testament to the community of the game,” Welch said. “It’s still thriving, it still sells more every year, and gets bigger and bigger. A lot of people are still working on it to make it even better.” The community that enjoys the game is expansive, ranging from young children to top level gamers. But be warned—though seemingly accessible for all skill levels, Terraria isn’t as simple as it first seems. For starters, there are a lot of ways to die. Within the first half hour of play, I was killed by arctic slime and eviscerated by vultures—and those weren’t even the most relentless early foes I faced. By the time I got the hang of it and realized building a house for defense is arguably the most vital step of gameplay, there were already seven tombstones generated where my character had previously died. “Often times you die so much in that first hour, a lot of people rage quit and bounce out of the game,” Welch said, laughing after I explained my struggles. “I felt like a lot of my job working on the game, bringing it to consoles and mobile, was trying to bring people through the initial learning curve.” According to Welch, there are multiple ways players approach Terraria. Some concentrate on building houses and mining to Hell, the deepest world layer. Others become more invested in the RPG aspect of the game that has players face a number of bosses and enemies, which expands their abilities such as increased health and specialized armor. Players start with necessities including an axe, a sword, and a pickaxe. While simple weapons such as bow-and-arrows can be crafted on a workbench early in gameplay, the longer the player explores the world and discovers new items, the more advanced the techniques and objects would become. The hidden caverns of Terraria are expansive, an underground tunnel network filled with endless surprises, precious minerals, and treasure chests create further opportunities in the game. One feature particularly interesting is that the creation of characters and worlds can be independent from one another. For example, I was able to create a new character but play with them in a formerly created world  I created with my previous character. This feature was particularly useful when I made the rookie mistake … Read More