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.

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 <<

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

Personal Preferences and Media Consumption

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Back on this date in 2017, I asked the following question on Facebook:

Parents: How much do personal preferences play a role in what media your child consumes?

The general response was that personal parental preferences play a huge role in what media a child consumes. I know that for years, in my home, I have curated and encouraged consumption of specific video games, shows, and movies. Part of that is me being an engaged parent; the other part of that is wanting to show my son what quality media looks and feels like.

Super Mario Odyssey represents quality media.

Over the years, my son has watched a few shows that have driven me nuts. There has been nothing wrong with these shows, content-wise, but the voice acting and plotlines just seemed inane. Something I’ve had to learn, as a parent, is that sometimes my kid is going to like something I do not.

The big bad video game, in my house lately, has been Fortnite. A typical match looks like:

  • Picking a place on the map to start out in
  • Scavenging for weapons
  • Trying not to make a lot of noise and survive
  • Engaging fellow players with the weapons I’ve collected while trying not to become a victim of the virtual Hunger Games.

I have found that I enjoy the satisfaction of staying alive and making it into the final 5 players alive. Knowing that 95 other players have been eliminated and that I’m one of the few remaining is a good feeling. But I dislike how aimless Fortnite otherwise feels. I dislike the lack of direction, objectives, and how I have to make my own fun while surviving at the same time.

Fortnite does not fit my personal gaming preferences. This has taken me awhile to realize/put into words. But I’ve learned that there are times, as a parent, where you need to be quiet and explore the things your kids love. I may dislike Fortnite for many reasons, but I enjoy the time I get to play with my son. I have to focus on that positive, co-op play, and ignore the “we could be playing such-and-such game instead because that game is designed better” thoughts. Play in the moment, right?

An Interview with Justin Fox

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I’ve known Justin Fox for awhile now. The last time he visited JBG, we talked about faith and his game ReElise (which was on Kickstarter at the time). Three years have passed and I figured it was time to catch up with him.

Hey Justin, what have you been up to since your last visit? What happened to ReElise on Kickstarter?

I’ve done a lot reading and understanding of the business world since then. Helped build my church, and I made another game (Black Simulator) in the process just to get a project finished relatively quickly.

As far as the Kickstarter goes, I gained a lot of new great connections… but I fortunately didn’t reach my goal. I say fortunately because I wasn’t mature enough with such an amount of money. I’m not saying I would have spent it on Blackjack and hookers or anything, but I wouldn’t have applied the “sowing and reaping” (making sure the money is making money) principle that I now understand. The investment wouldn’t have been what it COULD have been for that project. So I took a hiatus from it for 2 years to clear my head and only recently started active development on it again. Fortunately, I was able to raise a fair amount of money for ReElise through the Patreon. I’ve been able to hire colorists for the illustrations. It’s very humbling to receive support of any kind for it.

It’s interesting how God uses different seasons to grow and mature us. Seasons where we think we know what/where we should be going, but God is sitting there saying not yet. I hate those seasons of life but get why they are important.

Tell me more about your smaller project you’ve released. What did you learn in the process of creating the game?

The smaller project is a project called Black Simulator, a satirical mini-game on Steam where you’re just trying to run 3 errands without getting shot or arrested by the police. Started out as a joke with another developer but… here we are.

 

I learned a ton about the importance of workflow, time management, and even overcoming ego/defense mechanisms. That last one though is the biggest thing. I was so scared to release this game. My brain found all kinds of reasons to protect itself from potential failure. I had essentially been sitting on this thing for months, slowing my own progress, because it wasn’t perfect. It still isn’t perfect (truly far from it), but sometimes the bigger picture is just the experience of releasing a game on the market. Not a perfect game, but YOUR game is out there at least. It’s a starting point no matter how bad it is, you can grow from that place. Beyond even that, sometimes your loved one’s need to see you trying, because you never know who’s waiting on your progress to encourage them to do the things they’re scared to do. I learned that a good “why” can slay the ego. My “why” was that releasing this game would be edifying to my friends, because they need to see me win just a little bit. I don’t know if my game will have the impact of bringing understanding to culture, but I know it’ll edify my friends who believe in me… because they tell me it does.

So what’s next for you? Where can people find you and your game?

Next is wrapping up ReElise in August. It’s not the full game or even in the engine that I want, but I’m gonna release the first half of it. Then I’m planning to start ReElise over in an engine that isn’t RPG Maker VX! I now have someone to partner with, and we’ll make a true version of the game. After all, we’ll have an alpha/beta so to speak, with finished art, music, and sound. The Patreon is doing well to produce the art assets, and I’m so thankful to each of them.

Justin Fox Media

In between ReElise and it’s final version though, I think I’m gonna make White Simulator and some other weird games. Super Baby Fetus: Pro Life Power is something I’m really excited about.

But to find everything that I do, I’d just go to JustinFoxMedia for: Patreon links, YouTube live streams, links to demos and games, (merch coming soon) the works!