Thank You for a Great 2018

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Standing on the edge of 2018, I would like to thank my friends and family for supporting me and my writing. THANK YOU! I’ve been at this on JBG for over sixteen years now. Kind of crazy to think about! Time does fly.

Reading over posts I’ve written this past year, we’ve put some miles behind us:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been replaced with Fortnite, in the Hall household.
  • JohnnyBGamer crossed the 3,000 view mark this month (December). I TRY and not focus on numbers, but I was excited over this. I’ve written more this past year than I did in 2017 (118 posts versus 48). While I’m not quite back up to my 2016 numbers (4,700 views/101 posts that year), I’m getting close to it again.
  • I didn’t realize it, but I stepped down and away from Theology Gaming FB Group this year (seems like a long time ago now). While that transition hasn’t always been easy for me… I’m proud of what I accomplished there as a Community Manager, with a great group of guys, and I wish them the best in the years to come.

I wrote the following post back in April of this year. While I’m still sorting through these thoughts, I’m also more confident in just writing and sharing life… just being me without being a front/organization (I’ve ALWAYS struggled with this). Thanks for reading in 2018, I can’t wait to see where we’ll go in 2019.

Thinking Aloud

My church’s youth room is decorated with black and grey tones. Even the ceiling tiles have been painted black. The overall effect reminds me of a dark cave; a dark worship cave.

As I was waiting for my wife to get out of a summer camp meeting, I talked to a few of the guys hanging out in the youth room. I was immediately asked, “Do you play Fortnite?”

Wyatt, sitting next to me, suddenly perked up, “What’s Fortnite?”

I talked with this kid, we’ll call him Alex, about the game. He gave me a history lesson on the rise of battle royale games, how most of them stemmed from a game called ARMA.

I was reminded just how nerdy gaming culture can be when Alex dove into a PC versus console debate.

“I’m a part of the PC master race.”

I’m sure you are, Alex, I’m sure you are.

My youth room encounter got me thinking about this site, my thoughts towards ministry within the gaming culture, etc. I am reminded that gaming culture spans a large swath of demographics. That when I think of gaming culture, I think of those who are closer to my age, not someone like Alex.

Reminded me that I started this blog to encourage others in the gaming space. That JohnnyBGamer has always been about promoting a balance between life and gaming. My original tagline, for the site, was: “Because there is more to life than just gaming.” I created that tagline in the midst of a season of watching friends being consumed by what they were consuming, video games. I hated that, I hated the control gaming had upon them, had upon me.

At this point in life, I am at a place where gaming doesn’t have as strong as a pull as it once did. But in talking to Alex and his friend last night, I’m reminded that there are others still in the midst of that struggle. A struggle where kids I know, kids around me, are out of control in their gaming. Makes me wonder…

How can I help parents:

  • Curate the types of video games their family consumes
  • Promote healthy media consumption habits for their children

How can I help gamers:

  • Ask questions about the games they are playing
  • Learn healthy online habits for interacting within gaming culture
  • Be aware, overall, that there is more to life than just gaming

I am not sure where God is leading me right now. But these are thoughts I’m processing through in this season after stepping down from Theology Gaming. Whether I step out and do something “big”, become more purposeful with this blog, or just take the gaming lessons I’ve learned, along the way, and use them to help my son navigate the gaming space.

Notes from Sunday School – Follow Me

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Follow Me

Intro: More than 24 times in the Gospels, Jesus invited people to follow him. Who did Jesus invite?

  • The wealthy and powerful.
  • The casual observer.
  • The spiritual seekers.
  • The religiously devoted.

Read Matthew 4:18-20

18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

Note: Peter and Andrew knew Jesus. He had talked with them previously (John 1:35-42) and had been preaching in the area. They knew what kind of man he was.

Read Matthew 4:21-22

21 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.

Note: Verse 22 says that they immediately followed him, no excuse.

Q: What excuses do we give God daily?

Side Note: When Jesus asks us to serve him, we must be like the disciples and do it at once.

Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

Read Mark 1:16-20

16 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon[a] and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 17 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 18 And they left their nets at once and followed him.

19 A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. 20 He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.

Note: The disciples were not men of great faith when they met Jesus.

Read Luke 5:1-11

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee,[a]great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon,[b] its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”

“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Q: What is Peter’s reaction to the fish?

  1. Realizes what Jesus has done.
  2. Realizes his own insignificance/sin.

Q: What did following Jesus equal?

  1. Leaving old life.
  2. Being trained by Jesus.
  3. Learning to obey Jesus (coming under his authority and leadership).
  4. Having a life that looked like his (character, priorities, and practices).

Closing Questions

Who are you living for today?

What does it mean to follow Jesus today?

How can you refocus your relationship/walk with Christ in 2019?

Memorize

John 3:17 – “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (NLT)

These are my notes from teaching this morning. I thought sharing them might be helpful.

Florence

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Out of Melbourne, Australia, developer Mountains has crafted an interactive story about love and life titled Florence. Florence features an exquisite mixture of stylized graphics, music, and creative gameplay mechanics. The end result is what I’d best call a Pixar Short Film experience in video game form.

My most favorite part of Florence were the way emotions were conveyed through gameplay. When Florence first meets her boyfriend, her conversations with him are presented as puzzles. A complete the puzzle to continue the conversation sort of thing. In the beginning of her relationship, the puzzles have more pieces/are more complex. As the relationship matures, there are not as many puzzle pieces to put together as communication has become easier.

I enjoyed my time with Florence. Even though I’d say that the story is slightly predictable, the execution is flawless. Check this out if you get a chance. Florence is short (30 minutes) and sweet.

5/5 – Florence is one of those video game experiences you need not miss.

Title: Florence
Developer: Mountains
Platforms: iOS and Android
Reviews on: iOS/iPad
MSRP: $2.99

Batman: The Telltale Series

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There is something brave about Batman: The Telltale Series. I love how Telltale made me care about Bruce Wayne just as much as I care about Batman. Their artful balance between diplomacy (Bruce) versus the shear force of The Dark Knight was great to play through. Also, loved the way Telltale portrayed The Joker.

I wish Telltale was still around to continue refining their storytelling (RIP 2018). While Batman: The Telltale Series is a high point for the developer, I still think that Minecraft: Story Mode and Tales from the Borderlands will remain my two favorite Telltale series.

Bottom Line: If you want a good spin on the Batman mythos, be sure to check out Season 1.

 

 

4/5 – Sometimes the past comes back to haunt us.

Title: Batman: The Telltale Series
Developer: Telltale
Platforms: PC, iOS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Android
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $30

>> SPOILERS <<

INSIDE

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I could never quite figure out what was happening in Playdead’s INSIDE. Even as the end credits rolled, I wasn’t sure what I had just experienced (thank you, Wikipedia, for clearing things up for me). The world of INSIDE comes across as harsh and hostile. A world in which life doesn’t have much meaning. Yet by the end of the game, INSIDE flips the typical video game narrative. For once, I wasn’t the hero.

4/5 – INSIDE is worth the trip due to it’s fantastic ending. Just wait for it. Don’t spoil it.

Title: INSIDE
Developer: Playdead
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and iOS
Reviews on: PlayStation 4
MSRP: $15

Battle Princess Madelyn

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Battle Princess Madelyn, by Casual Bit Games, was born out of a request a daughter gave to her father. Creative Director Christopher Obritsch’s daughter, Madelyn, wanted to be in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. She wanted to take the fight to “Green Head”, the boss of the game’s first stage. Christopher knew that he couldn’t put Madelyn into Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, but he could make his own game.

“But girls can’t be knights, Daddy. Only boys…”

“Pshh… What color do you want your armor to be?”

Pink.

The above story is a fantastic piece of marketing. So much so, that I thought it would be fun to review Battle Princess Madelyn with my son, Wyatt (age 9).

As the game starts, Madelyn’s Grandpa reads to her a story about Princess Madelyn. Princess Madelyn’s dog, Fritzy, dies. Wyatt was sad. But ghost form Fritzy soon made everything okay.

We continued on through game, beat our first boss, and came to what felt like the second stage. This is where Battle Princess Madelyn lost me. Wyatt and I, frustrated by not being able to figure out where to go next, quit.

“Dad, we can’t say anything mean.”

All About Context

A few days later, I was reminded that Battle Princess Madelyn is inspired by Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Thankfully, I have the SNES Classic, which has a copy of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts on it. So I did some gameplay research.

The first thing I noticed is that Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts offers the player a sense of place before the level starts. Battle Princess Madelyn should have gobbled this smart design choice up. There is something about knowing where you are and where you are going.

The second thing I noticed is that Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a mean old game where two hits of damage equals death. Battle Princess Madelyn builds upon the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts formula and adds grace to the death mechanic. This grace comes in the form of re-spawning the player, after they have been hit twice and died, right back where they were. With the added bonus of resurrection lightning shocking everyone around the player. I love how this death mechanic makes Battle Princess Madelyn more approachable for all players.

Did I mention that the main gameplay mechanic of spear throwing feels really, really, good? It does. Weapons are another place where I wish Battle Princess Madelyn had borrowed more from it’s inspiration. Within moments of the first stage of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, the player is throwing knives in addition to spears. Makes the overall game feel a little more like a shoot-em-up with constant new and awesome power-ups.

Battle Princess Madelyn feels incomplete. The story mode doesn’t work well as the level design is easy to get lost in and requires leaps of faith (jumping off a cliff, not being able to see below you) to make any progress– don’t tell me that is exploration–. The graphics and sound design, meanwhile, are beautiful. The arcade mode also feels great and very much like Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (with death grace!). But in the end, I’m still not sure:

  • What collectible money does.
  • How one upgrades weapons, armor, etc.
  • If it is even possible to extend the life bar.

My patience with Battle Princess Madelyn’s story mode exploration killed the game for me. Trying to merge the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts formula with a Metroidvania framework doesn’t pan off here. If Casual Bit Games had focused solely on the arcade mode, I think they’d have a real winner on their hands.

3/5 – Like Stitch from Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, Battle Princess Madelyn made me feel lost.

Title: Battle Princess Madelyn
Developer: Casual Bit Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Reviews on: Nintendo Switch
MSRP: $19.99

Called Beyond Circumstantial Joy

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The closer we get to Christmas, the closer we get to people taking vacation time, the crazier my office is becoming. With stress levels rising to the point where someone is going to have a heart attack, I was happy for this reminder: God’s people are called to a joy that isn’t based on circumstances. No, instead we are called to a joy that chooses to trust that God will fulfill His promises.