I'm working on the art for a video game

I've spent the last month or two working on the art for an indie game. It's my first time working on a game, and its been fascinating. It's something I always wanted to do, but I wasn't sure how to go about doing it (side note: I always imagined working on a game's story, since I write for a living. So I'm thrilled to be doing the art, it's a fun challenge). Then I was approached by blog friend Seth. He's in school for game development in Chicago, and as a sort of final project before graduating he and a team are creating a game. He told me they needed an artist and...one thing led to another and now I'm doing a lot of the art, with the help of a talented art student, Amanda Humfleet. Fun!

Broken is a game about a man suffering from a number of mental illnesses. He's got a bunch of personalities running around his brain causing all kinds of chaos. Jim is Broken, and it's up to the player to fix him. You guide Jim with the directional arrows on one side of the screen and one of his crazy personalities on the other. They move simultaneously, but their movement isn't always the same. To finish a level you must guide Jim and his personality to the same exit--therby repairing his fragmented mind.

Seth and his team are on a tight deadline, so I've been pumping out as much as I can after work and on the weekends. We moved fast, from concept to gameplay in a matter of days, and it's been so incredibly cool to see it all come together. I'm a huge video game enthusiast (duh), so the way a game gets made wasn't a complete mystery to me, but it's still neat to see, to actually be in it. Changes in gameplay have lead to changes in my art, and ideas I've had with the art have lead to tweaks in gameplay and the story. It's all happening at the same time. It's an awesome organized chaos.

Check out the gallery below, and the game's website (note the website is a work in progress, as is the gameplay you see there, it's missing final animations and a host of other things, but you get the idea). The guys are bringing a playable build to GDC next week and I'm very excited for them. Hopefully there will be a playable beta open soon and I'll be able to let a select few in for some testing. There's still a ton of art to do, some glamorous (character design!) and some less so (wall textures!), but I'm having fun doing it.

So that's what I've been up to, and what I'll continue to be up to for a while longer. I'll post more updates downt he road. Thanks for checking it out!

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If we didn't like it then...

For those that don’t know, rental-by-mail service Gamefly has a PC client sort of like Steam. You can purchase games, manage your queue, and if you’re a paying member, download and play a wide variety of PC games. By wide variety I mean mostly crap—those awful WalMart PC games with generic titles and even more generic art. But there are a few gems, like Prince of Persia 2008, Tomb Raider Legends and Anniversary, and all three seasons of Sam and Max.

If you’re like me and you own all the systems and have been a Gamefly member for years, you’ve probably played all those games, which is why I don’t check in on the service often. I do like to peruse it for games I missed; last generation titles that I always thought about playing but never got around to. Stuff like XIII or Red Faction 2. So that’s what lead me to Rogue Trooper, a 2006 third person shooter that was among the last crop of games on the PS2 and Xbox. I downloaded it the other day and played an hour or so.

I won’t be playing more.

Rogue Trooper is not terrible. In fact, it has some impressive elements considering when it came out. There’s a nice upgrade system to the weapons, a pre-Gears of War cover system that works 65 percent of the time, and some slick (for the time) cutscene animations. Unfortunately it’s just not fun to play. The gameplay design is uninspired, filled with stuff we’ve all seen before in shooters.

At first I thought this was because it was a six year old game (six years! I feel old) and I’ve seen the tricks Rogue Trooper used in other, better games since then. But then I looked up some reviews. Check out this bit from the 1Up review:

“But more often, you're having garden-variety gun battles, garnished with a handful of repeating tricks: "Hold off waves of attackers while your helmet hacks a door," "Put bombs in the appropriately shaped sockets, usually to unlock a door, but sometimes to prevent aircraft from landing with reinforcements," and the old favorite, "Man the turret while you ride a vehicle on rails."

Other reviewers had similar thoughts, labeling the game as “capable” and “average” a solid, mediocre 6.5. So if we were tired of those boring mission designs and combat scenarios then, why are we still playing them now? Every one of those scenarios in the quote above has made their way into most modern shooters. Last year I made a list of game tropes that need to die. It was sort of tongue-in-cheek, sort of serious. I didn’t realize at the time just how old some of those tropes were.

Can those tropes even be avoided? Has the game industry run out of ideas? How much can you add or change in a shooter before it stops being a shooter? For example, what if instead of manning the turret in the plane, you fly the plane? What if instead of waiting for your computer-controlled ally to hack a terminal, you hack the terminal (with a clever mini-game, not the “press X to hack” thing—that’s a poor attempt at varied interaction)? What if instead of being the muscled escorter, you were the weaponless escortee, trying to avoid getting shot?

Would placing those mini-games and non-shooting scenarios in a shooter break the genre label? Do shooter fans even want that stuff? I’d be willing to give it a shot (zing). I definitely don’t need more Rogue Trooper in my life.

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Warming Up

I've been working for weeks on the art for a video game, but I can't share it just yet (UPDATE: Turns out I can! The game's website is up but it's a work in progress. I'll post some annotated pics here later this week). So I decided I would share my warm up instead. Here's a quick (around 40 to 45 minutes) picture I did this morning. Set to the music from Bastion, because that music is awesome. Giddy up!

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Wait, what am I excited for?

I just got around to watching the new Far Cry 3 trailer, and like the one that came before it, I walked away from it with awesome shivers. Check it out (warning trailer contains dupstep and nsfw language).

Awesome right? My first reaction was “Now that’s a game I want to play”, but the more I thought about it, the more unsure I became about that statement. That trailer doesn’t feature any gameplay, hints at some, but it’s still all pre-rendered CG. I guess I can assume the gameplay will be kind of like Far Cry 2, even if the tone and story are completely different, and I liked Far Cry 2 well enough. So the question is, am I excited to play Far Cry 3, or do I just want to watch more of that crazy action movie-like drama unfold?

Famed game developer David Jaffe recently gave a talk at a developer’s conference about story in games. As is Jaffe’s style, the talk was blunt and to-the-point. His main argument: games should stop trying to be movies. (I’m paraphrasing his stuff here) Movies and books tell stories, and they tell them well. Games are interactive, so the stories should be too. Jaffe went on to point out how games like Skyrim and Battlefield 3 create stories from rich gameplay experiences. Things happen in those games that might never happen again. You experience crazy stuff you tell your friends about. The story is your own, not what the developer dictates.

On some levels I agree with this, especially after completing Skyrim. While the narrative dictated by the developers was entertaining, the most memorable moments for me in that game came from exploring the world. When I talked about Skyrim with my brother on the phone a few weeks ago, we didn’t talk about the story, or the developer-designed quests. We talked about things that happened while we were out exploring. I told him how I took down a wild mammoth with nothing but a lightening spell and luck. He told me how he got swarmed by frost trolls on a mountaintop while poking around for treasure. The developers created the world and we made our stories by interacting with it.

The original Borderlands was a bit like Skyrim in that stories organically appeared thanks to the nearly endless amount of guns, and the four player co-op. When you talked about Borderlands, you didn’t talk about the thin plot and fetch quests, but what kind of guns you found and what you could do with them. Take a look at the new Borderlands 2 trailer. It is the opposite of the Far Cry 3 trailer (except for the dub step, they both have that). Instead of showing you a pre-rendered scene with the implication of excitement, it shows you gameplay, which is exciting in itself (joy puke!). There’s a story in Borderlands 2, but that’s not the draw, and they know it.

But not every game is like Skyrim or Borderlands, nor should they be. I think there’s a place for good pre-determined narrative in video games. I think it’s possible that the two styles, organic story and pre-determined story, can be combined. The industry is still relatively young and developers are still exploring the medium—there’s a ton of potential there. The biggest problem right now when it comes to marrying the two styles--and this may have led to Jaffe’s speech--is the disconnect between cutscenes and gameplay and the pattern they create.

Remember that amazing Dead Island trailer? It caused quite a stir back in the summer of 2011. It didn’t show any gameplay either, though the developers went on to argue later that that wasn’t the point. The pre-rendered trailer was a tone piece, a taste of what the actual game would be like. It worked too. If playing the game could evoke the same emotions as watching the trailer, I was sold. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I haven’t played Dead Island, but from what I’ve read and heard, it doesn’t deliver on the trailer’s promise. It’s not a bad game, it’s just not the game the trailer implied it would be.

The point of the Far Cry 3 trailer is to make you think that playing the game will deliver the same rush, the same “ohmygod, ohmygod, what is happening!?” feeling that watching those kinetic scenes creates. They are showing us a dire situation and then saying, “Guess what, you get to play this. You are on the run and a crazy man is after you, this is your dire situation.” That is something only video games can do. But they’re still working out how to do it well.

There’s a good chance that Far Cry 3 will open with a balls-out crazy scene, setting up a situation not unlike the trailer. Your pulse will be pounding, your mind will race at the thought of jumping in the shoes of this man on the run, and then…you’ll shoot dudes with a gun, just like every other FPS game. You’ll creep along through the jungle—just like Far Cry 1, Far Cry 2, Crysis, Call of Duty Black Ops, and countless others— and shoot more dudes. Then there will be a turret sequence, or a sniping sequence, you’ll shoot more dudes, and then—oh boy!—another cutscene!

It’s a cynical view of game design sure, but if you’ve played games long enough, you’ve seen that exact setup dozens of times. I think that pattern is what Jaffe was getting at with his speech. There’s got to be a better way to tell a story than the current, popular loop of cutscene-gameplay-cutscene. When you step back and look at it, it’s a pretty ugly, stapled together format. All first person shooters boil down to shootin’ dudes. It’s the context wrapped around that core mechanic and the promise of a compelling yarn that keeps us coming back to the controller. The promise of a perfect marriage of organic and inorganic story.

At least that’s what keeps me coming back. I’m a sucker for that promise. I want to see them sustain that excitement created in the unplayable parts of the game to the playable parts. I don’t want to shoot dudes in the jungle. I’ve been playing games for more than two decades; I’ve had my fill of shooting dudes. I want to play that story. It’s possible, and I’m an optimistic guy, so I’ll check out Far Cry 3 and hope they pull it off. That trailer is a doozy, and if they can translate the excitement of watching it into gameplay, they can take my money.

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Run For Your Lives

In the interest of keeping my decent streak of Tuesday-Thursday updates going, here's a cool thing that's not happening where I live and I really wish it was:

A coworker tweeted a link to Run For Your Lives the other week. It's a zombie run, and it looks awesome. Here's the gist:

-You run a 5k course filled with obstacles and zombies

-You wear a flag football-style belt. The flags represent your health

-Lose all your health and you die (I don't think you become a zombie)

-Health bonuses are hidden throughout the course

-Make it to the end with at least one flag intact and you're eligible for some cool prizes

Anyone can run the race or register to be a zombie (age restrictions do apply). I'm not sure what the specific rules are for a zombie, and I'm also not sure which role would be more fun. Unfortunately I won't get to find out because this event isn't coming to Charlotte, at least not right now. It looks crazy fun though, like playing Left 4 Dead in real life...without the guns.

I usually only run races when I can justify the cost. I can run anywhere for free, and since I'm not a competitive runner, there's not much of a difference come race day--let's be honest, at my 10 minute a mile pace, I'm not racing anyone. In order for me to fork over $40 or more to put my left foot in front of my right foot a race needs to either be a long distance on a good course, like the Virginia Beach Rock and Roll half marathon; or if it's shorter, have some kind of crazy hook, like zombies or running across the Cooper River Bridge in Charleston.

I'd gladly pay to run this event if it was coming to Charlotte. If anyone out there plans to run the zombie race, or already has, let me know. I had a blast doing the Warrior Dash back in August (pictured above...I lost my shoe in the final mud pit), so I imagine this would be even more fun, since it features similar obstacles and has a fun zombie movie/video game vibe.

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Leaving less to the imagination

“Show don’t tell” is a much heralded mantra in writing—it’s a practice proven to make good stories great, and it works for most other mediums as well. Games have been telling for a long time, but as the industry matures, technology advances, and budgets expand, showing is getting easier. Our imaginations don’t have to work near as hard as they used to. And that makes games more accessible, more fun, and in most cases, more entertaining.

While there’s nothing wrong with using your imagination—I mean, I use it for a living—it’s kind of exciting to see games get to a point where that’s not necessary. Those that have been gaming for a long time know that sometimes you have to fill in the gaps. Sometimes a game implies something amazing happened, or just straight up tells you what a character is feeling, and you have to use your imagination to gauge the impact. For example, you may know the back story of a character after hours of play, so even though the game can’t properly show it—due to technical limitations—you know that the revelations about his motives have a big impact on the direction of the story. Your imagination covers the game’s technical shortcomings.

We’ve come a long way in the last decade. The easiest way to see the progression is to show you (duh). Take this scene from the Knights of the Old Republic, a critically acclaimed RPG by Bioware. In this scene (which I’m about to spoil), your character is revealed to be an amnesic Darth Revan, a legendary evil bad guy that you thought you were fighting against. That’s kind of a big deal, and it’s a major turning point in the story. Here’s how it’s revealed:

If you played KOTOR, imagine watching that scene as someone who hasn’t. Divorced from the context of having spent hours in the universe with this character—your imagination filling in gaps along the way—it’s kind of underwhelming (though I remember when I played it, I thought it was moderately shocking, but only moderately...you are playing as a dude with amnesia after all).

Now watch this scene from Uncharted 2. Here Drake is double crossed (again).

You don’t need context, back story or hours of gameplay to know that what just happened was a big deal. You can see the tension between characters, you can tell there are grudges, friendships and rivalries, and none of it was told to you, it was shown. Some marketing folks and game journalists use the word “cinematic” to describe what you just saw. That means the game is like a movie. You don’t need to imagine the emotions, the implications, the impact, because it’s all right there. Games are getting better and better at that as the industry matures. It’s very exciting.

Another great example is the Mass Effect series, which was billed as an epic space opera spanning three games when it debuted in 2007. The first game took huge steps in cinematic gameplay (developer Bioware also developed KOTOR), but even that pales in comparison to what they’ve done with Mass Effect 3.

Just look at the differences between the two scenes below, they both feature important meetings in front of an important council, and yet the gravity of the meeting comes across much better in the second clip. The better looking characters, TV-like camera angles and editing set the second scene apart.

Mass Effect 1 (keep in mind this is supposed to be a pretty heated debate):

And now, Mass Effect 3 (jump forward to about the five minute mark)

Again, like the Uncharted clip, you don’t need a lot of background or context, the game can show you that circumstances are dire without telling you so. Also, walking and talking! It's like an Aaron Sorkin game!

When you don’t have to fill in the gaps with your imagination, you’re free to sit back and soak in the experience. What were you thinking about during the Uncharted 2 clip? Was your mind wondering, or did you just watch? Games are becoming as fun to watch as they are to play. That’s great news for folks with non-gaming spouses and friends. It makes games look appealing, and that's great for everyone.

Not every game needs to be cinematic of course. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with relying on imagination. Imagination fueled my love for gaming for many years, and it still does. Also, you can’t ignore the downsides that cinematic games create. Nathan Drake is so believable as a real character that it gets harder to suspend your belief when you control him. Now you’re not just a guy shooting other guys, you’re Nathan Drake, an affable everyman, and you’re murdering scores of henchmen. Murdering! It’s also a bit more jarring to be exposed to the video gameness of a game that’s cinematic. One minute you’re engrossed in an amazing experience, your imagination turned off, and then the next minute you’re running across a giant environment to hit a switch that opens a door on the other side, or you pick up a stupid collectible (god, I’ve had enough of audio logs), or your computer controlled companion gets stuck in a door frame.

Even with the blemishes, it’s still exciting to see where games are going. Presentation-wise, games are showing more and telling less. Unfortunately, gameplay-wise, many,many, games tell first. They tell you how to play, where to go, what to do, and how to win, but that’s an issue for another blog. In the meantime, go play the Mass Effect 3 demo, it’s excellent.

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Pretty good TV is pretty good

I haven’t been really hooked to a TV show drama since Lost. Outside of my favorite comedy programs—Community, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, Up All Night, The Daily Show and Modern Family—there are few shows that I watch with complete focus. Most I’m content to have on in the background while I screw around on the internet or entertain my son with things that rattle.

I tried a few “full focus” shows that others rave about. Mad Men had promise, but I eventually gave up on it, tired of finding out that every single male character was a cheating scumbag. I tried Breaking Bad, and I really like it, but I have to be in the right mood to watch it, because that show’s kind of a downer. Then there’s Doctor Who. That show is great and stupid at the same time and I think I like it. It has replaced 24 as my favorite form of ear TV. I usually “watch” it while I’m working on art. It streams from Netflix in a small window on my other monitor.

Maybe Lost was a one-time thing. Now that I have a baby I rarely watch a show when it actually airs. Our DVR is always packed with shows waiting to be watched. It’s kind of nice actually. Whenever I sit down to watch TV, I can watch what I want, and that suits me. I hate flipping channels and just watching some mindless programming. If I’ve designated some time to watch TV, I want to watch TV, not some lame apartment hunting show on a upper-200 channel with a nonsense acronym.

I have tried out a couple of non-comedy shows, and one I keep coming back to is Person of Interest. It’s not particularly great, but it’s consistently pretty good, with promise to get better.

It’s about a machine that predicts threats to the nation. It was built by an insanely smart and insanely rich guy named Finch, played by Lost’s Michael Emerson. When Finch realized that the machine was also predicting small crimes—it would spit out social security numbers of those that were in danger, or about to commit a crime—and they were getting ignored, he struck out on his own. Then he hired Reese, played by Jim Caviezel, an ex-super spy dude looking for a purpose. Together they use the machine to find the people the government deems “insignificant”, and they save lives. Finch uses his nerdery and Reese uses his general badassery.

I like the show because it’s got that crime of the week thing, and also some light over-arching mystery. Each episode reveals just enough of the mysterious side stuff to keep you coming back. It’s not heavily serialized like 24 or Lost, but it’s not completely disconnected like some procedurals. I guess I just appreciate the fact that they aren’t doing that heavy handed “we have a mysterious development that we’re going to hint at (or beat you over the head with) in every episode!” thing that every post-Lost drama tried to do.

I have no idea how the show is doing because I always DVR it, but I hope it continues. Yes Caviezel’s delivery can be wooden and forced at times, and some of the stuff they do with technology crosses the line between sort-of, maybe possible to just outright dumb, but the good outweighs the bad. Emerson is fantastic as Finch. He’s a good guy, but he’s got skeletons in his closet. He’s not nearly as duplicitous as Ben was in Lost, but Emerson still plays up some of that same “I’ve got some secrets you shouldn’t know” tension to great effect. Also, Caviezel’s smooth badassery approaches Jack Bauer levels on occasion, and that’s never a bad thing.

It’s pretty good TV, and maybe it will eventually make the leap to pretty great. Any other shows out there that fit the same description?

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Why iOS device get all the game tie-in love

The other day Kotaku reported on the announcement of a Mass Effect 3 iOS game. Unlike the last one, which was a top down, story-focused game, this one will be a third person shooter, with “full featured” gameplay. Someone in the comments complained about the lack of support from publishers and developers for Japanese-made handhelds like the Nintendo 3DS and Sony PSP and Vita. Why are games based on mega-hit console franchises, with mega-hit console franchise mechanics, going to phones and not dedicated gaming handhelds?

I asked that question years ago, when the iPhone was really picking up steam. I would gladly pay a little more for that iPhone version of Assassin’s Creed or Dead Space if it was put out on PSN or the Nintendo eShop. I want to play those phone games, I really do, I just don’t want to play them on a phone, desperately wishing I had transparent thumbs. It seems a little unfair too, when an adaptation for a huge franchise gets released on phones and handheld gaming devices, and the phone version has more polish and is more fun than the crappy console port on the handheld.

But it’s all about business.

The reason iOS platforms get all the love has little to do with Japan or the handhelds made there. It's about install base and optimizing the amount of money that can be made in the shortest amount of time. There are a gozillion compatible iOS devices out there. For real. There were roughly more than 3.8 million iOS devices activated during the 2011 Christmas weekend alone. That is a huge market of potential customers. Yes, Sony has sold 70 million PSPs worldwide since 2004, and Nintendo has sold even more DS systems (in all their variations), but the install base is made up of very different demographics, and the ease of use—in terms of shopping and purchasing—on smartphones can’t be beat.

Everyone has a phone. Kids, adults, teens, oldsters, they’re all getting in on the smartphone game. The mindset people have when buying phones plays a big part in their success. Smartphones are phones that also happen to run games, not game systems that also happen to do other stuff (poorly). Smartphone customers come to their phones with app mindsets—thanks in no small part to Apple’s clever ‘there’s an app for that’ marketing—not boxed physical media games. That means they’re predisposed to getting more for less, and for their game time to come in bite sized chunks.

At five bucks developers and publishers could potentially make way more selling to those impulse buyers than at $40 to the smaller 3DS and Vita user base. There’s less risk and greater potential for reward. Five dollars for a game? No problem! That’s the same price as some coffee at Starbucks! Not to mention marketing for a phone game (if there is any) costs significantly less. Then there’s all that businessy stuff like certification and who gets what from the earnings. I can’t say for sure, but I’m willing to bet throwing a game up on iOS is easier than getting it up on PSN or the eShop (well, maybe not the eShop, Nintendo seems to let everyone through).

I have a Droid Razr, so I won't get to play the Mass Effect game, and yes that bums me out, but I can see why, from a business stand point, sticking with iOS makes sense. Each year there is ONE iOS update and ONE new iPhone. Make a game to match those specs, and maybe the specs from the year before, and you're good. With Android you have just one phone (the Galaxy Nexus) officially running the newest version of the OS, plus hundreds of different hardware configurations running several different versions of the OS. Making the game compatible with all those set ups would likely take longer than they care to spend. Plus there’s statistics out there showing that iOS users are more likely to pony up for a product than Android users.

So yes, it sucks that this game (and many of the other great franchise tie-ins) isn't going to something with actual controls. But business is business. Games go where the (easy) money is.

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How do you create your characters?

One of my favorite parts of starting a deeply customizable game, no matter the genre, is the character creation process. It’s weird that most games that involve high levels of customization and player choice lock you in to your character’s look within the first ten minutes. That’s why, when I first played the original Mass Effect I started over twice--I spent so much time on my character only to find him looking weird once I got him in the game. The second time he didn’t fit the provided voice at all and it drove me nuts.

“Fit” is probably what I strive for most when I create game characters. I used to do the predictable thing and try to create a character that looked like me, only cooler. But that got boring, because I’m an average height, average weight, white dude with short brown hair. I would end up creating the same guy in every game, and that same guy doesn’t fit in every game universe.

So my new philosophy (and by “new” I mean I’ve been doing this for a few years) is to make someone that fits the game and looks unique--but not hideous, because you know, you do have to stare at this person for the rest of the game. Sometimes it’s a crooked nose, a scar, or a heavy brow, other times it’s just a hairstyle I normally wouldn’t have chosen. The level of uniqueness really depends on the character creator. Some are deeper than others.

Take Saints Row 3 for example. The character creator in that lets you adjust your character’s septum. Septum! That high level of customization lets people do crazy things, like this:



That’s Bruce Willis! That guy’s channel is worth checking out if you have Saints Row 3. I followed the instructions to make Dwayne The Rock Johnson the other night. He’s got some spot on look-a-likes.

Here was the guy I made for my first run-through in Saints Row 3. He’s a British gangster named Nigel Gangsterton.

He’s not crazy unique, but he’s far from bland I think. I like my characters to be believable in the world they live in--which is why he doesn’t have shiny purple skin and a ponytail (though to be fair...that would be believable in Saints Row 3). Saints Row 3 is a rarity in that it lets you change the look and gender of your character at any time.

I generally go with male when there’s a gender choice, because it’s easier to slip into a character’s shoes if he’s the same gender, even if he doesn’t look like me. It’s the same reason I gravitate toward books with male protagonists like the First Law series by Joe Abercrombie (currently reading book two), over books like...well, anything my wife reads. I know a lot of people that do the opposite though. Why be a male when you can experience a story from a female’s perspective? Why look at the backside of a burly man when you can look at...you know.

So how do you create game characters? Do you make them look like you? Do you try to make someone famous? Do you go balls out crazy and just make someone super weird? Or do you go with the stock person? After flubbing two creations in the first Mass Effect I went with the stock male because I just wanted to play the game. He ended up growing on me and now I can’t see that voice coming out of anyone else. I also went with the stock female (pictured above) in the few hours I’ve played of Dragon Age 2. I made some light changes using a mod to remove the blood stain and change her eye color, but I thought her design was bold and interesting, so I went with it. What about you?

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How to justify your gaming hobby

Years ago, when I was still subscribed to Entertainment Weekly, I read an interview with Ryan Reynolds. In the sidebar they had a quick Q and A about his favorite entertainment—books, movies, TV shows and video games. His answer for his favorite video game stuck with me, and also made me not like him:

“I don’t really play video games. Is there a way to waste more f—ing time? The Internet’s enough. The last videogame I played was Ms. Pacman.”

Burn. Forget about the fact that the dude that starred in turds like “Blade Trinity” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” called my hobby a waste of time. The speaker bothered me less than the words spoken. Video games are no more a waste of time than movies or books or any other form of entertainment. What’s more, they’ve had as much an influence (if not more) on me and my creativity as all of those other mediums.

Thankfully, as is the case with many hobbies considered geeky when I was a kid, gamers don’t have to justify their passion (as much) to others these days. The Internet has taught us that everyone is geeky about something, so if your special sauce of geekery happens to be video games, who cares?

Unfortunately some people still care—I usually call those people jerks. Some adults are shunned at work because they like World of Warcraft, and there are still kids punished by uninformed parents for playing those “murder simulators” all day. When I was a kid, games were still too new to have scientific studies. There wasn’t an Internet teeming with amazing articles and resources that could back up my claims that my hobby was more than a waste of time. Not anymore! Need to justify your hobby? Here are some resources:

Check out Jane McGonigal’s work: http://janemcgonigal.com/. She’s built a career on trumpeting the merits of video games and the skills they can help refine.

Want something more varied? Read this Lifehacker article, it’s stuffed with helpful academic links and it makes some good points too.

Want to show your Fox News watching family member that they’ve got it all wrong about video games? Check out this excellent post by Rock Paper Shotgun.

Want to quiet some sneering coworkers? Show them these statistics about how many people are playing Facebook games. Better yet, point out the similarities between fantasy football and role playing games like Magic the Gathering.

Of course there’s always the hands-on approach: Pull out your phone and have your friends and family play a few games, or if they’re anywhere near a console, show them how awesome games have become. After just one round of Fruit Ninja Kinect, my dad was ready to buy an Xbox. My son was digging Angry Birds when he was just two months old. Gaming is so broad these days, so rich with different experiences, that it’s easier than ever to share it with others.

I remember trying to get my parents to understand just how much I loved video games and why they weren’t a waste of time. I used my allowance to pay for subscriptions to EGM and Next Generation and read each issue cover to cover. It wasn’t just about pressing buttons and seeing a guy on screen punch something. It was about the experience—the story, the journey, the challenge. And it was about the technology—the artists that drew the characters, the developers that wrote the code that made those characters move. I was fascinated by it then, and I still am now, and I would have killed for those kinds of resources.

[To their credit, my parents did an amazing job at managing my time with games and making sure I had a healthy relationship with them. I totally deserved that time they took away my Gameboy on that family trip to St. Louis—turned out going up in the arch was way more memorable than A Link to the Past.]

Of course you could always just get paid to play video games, but that’s not always as easy as it sounds. And I’m sure those that do it full-time have to deal with the occasional condescending comment (or hidden jealousy) of random people. Still, I remember writing my first paid review for Gamespot. Sweet, sweet validation. Video games weren’t a waste of time; they were a source of income! Ha! In your face Ryan Reynolds!

But seriously, in the end, you don’t need to justify your hobby to anyone. If someone criticizes you for being into video games, show them the resources above, and then kindly ask them what they fill their free time with. Everyone is geeky about something.

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