Monthly Archives: January 2012

Pokémon: (Yes, Pokémon)

As a quick background, Pokémon is based on catching, raising, and battling various fictional creatures, each having unique battle move-sets. Some Pokémon transform into new forms when they are raised to a certain level (called “evolving”), usually becoming stronger when they do so.

I could say 151 things about Pokémon (even though there are now 649 different Pokémon!), but I can’t talk about everything at once. Our class discussion on World or Warcraft made me think about capitalism (why do you “gotta catch em all”?) as well some concern about animal cruelty (so you capture these wild animals… to make them fight each other? Sounds a little like cockfighting…), but I’ve decided to focus on something more positive.

There is a surprising amount of cultural and scientific richness built into the game and its various Pokémon. Many of these references are to Japanese legends and fables, but the references expand beyond this into other cultures and into science as well. Here are just a few examples:


Magikarp and Gyarados:
Magikarp is a fish, which when leveled up through enough battling and experience becomes Gyarados, a powerful serpent-like Pokémon. This transition is based on the Japanese legend of the koi fish (also known as a carp), which upon successfully climbing a waterfall, would be transformed into a dragon. This legend has associated the koi fish with perseverance against adversity, and is incidentally also why tattoos of koi fish are so popular.

This Pokémon is based off the Japanese kitsune, or fox. Japanese folklore says that the more tails a kitsune has (the maximum being nine), the wiser and more powerful it is. Some consider them to be deities.

This Pokémon’s original design had to be altered, after a controversy involving its similarities to the 19th century entertainment form blackface, in which white men would dress up as stereotyped caricatures of blacks.

Science and Technology:

Multiple Pokémon also model the biological systems of symbiosis, metamorphosis, and evolution. The games could introduce children to these real world concepts by simplifying them into aspects of the games mechanics.


Mew and Mewtwo:
In the games, Mewtwo is the dangerous result of a genetic experiment-gone-wrong in which the DNA from Mew was altered to make it more powerful. Here we see a cautionary statement against the improper uses of genetic engineering and biological manipulation.

I know that was a lot, but there are many more references, and both good and bad aspects to the games. I’m curious as to what you think: do the cultural/scientific references and messages outweigh the concerns about animal cruelty? What other cool symbolism is there? So please comment!



Time To Type


Time To Type is a very simplistic game that tests the speed at which a player types. It allows three seconds for a player to type the displayed word on the screen. However, to discourage a player from looking at the keyboard to aid in his or her typing, the letters switch around right as the timer begins. This enforces both speed and accuracy, as the player cannot look away from the screen lest they shed a second from the unrelenting timer. Every word typed correctly results in the increase of score in the top right hand corner. The game ends when the player is unable to type the word displayed in the harsh three second window.

The game’s bleach white background and basic text layout screams anything but gaudy. In order to attract greater attention, the developers could have expanded the colors and graphics. The game was made in 2006 so that is no excuse to be lacking in that department. However, the game is blatantly straightforward and catching on to the instructions happens quickly. People gain a sense of pride in their words per minute (WPM) rate, and that is essentially what this game applies. The faster you type, the higher of a score you are capable of achieving. There are some clear strengths and weakness of this game.

The strengths of this game are the easy rules and understandable gameplay. It can be played by people of all ages. That being said, I think this game can be a great educational tool in our nation’s school systems. In grade school, I had computer classes that always stressed “using the home row” and used keyboard blockers so that we could not peek at the keys. We had all types of typing tests to improve and become efficient with our WPM. This game would allow a fun spin to such a monotonous task. When kids see “work” as a game where there is a score, learning becomes more fun. Therefore, using Time To Type could be an excellent tool for future lesson plans.

There are two noticeable weaknesses to the game. The first is that there is no leaderboard. People are competitive. Friends like to compare scores. This game has no such feature so every game played feels so unimportant and useless. There is no proof or motivation of obtaining a high score. That is a minor flaw, but one of greater magnitude is the fact that often times the game does not allow enough time to possibly type the word. As the game proceeds further, words get longer and the time frame is not extended. The letters begin to scramble and the timer starts and they do not form a word until there is less than a second left. By the time you can actually see the word and type out 6 letters, the time has expired. The timing mechanics of the game could definitely use work because once you reach a certain point, the game feels unbeatable, which is not a good aspect to have in a game.

Maybe adding a leaderboard and fixing the time frame issues would make Time To Type a legitimate tool to be used in our nation’s grade schools in teaching kids how to type and to make a fun game out of it. If kids can be convinced that learning is fun, games like these can have an incredibly valuable impact.


Jetpack Joyride


The makers of Fruit Ninja struck gold with their second big hit in Jetpack Joyride. It has been ranked #1 in the app store for most downloaded game. In this game, the player takes control of a grizzled, adventurous man that gets his hands on a jetpack and travels through a top-secret scientific laboratory. The point of the game is simple: get as far as you can (measured in meters), while avoiding obstacles and collecting coins. The game features missions to complete, powerups to obtain in order to get a temporary vehicle upgrade, and an in-game store to purchase goodies with the coins you collected.

The game’s developers utilized a number of strategies to successfully make Jetpack Joyride endlessly addicting. Starting simple, the game’s mechanics are nearly identical to that seen in the popular game called Helicopter, where the player continuously makes a series of adjusting clicks to move up and down. In Jetpack Joyride, all you must do is tap the screen more to go up and release it to go down. Due to the popularity of Helicopter, the game dons familiar mechanics that are easy to pick up. Many people are uncomfortable with change and new things, so the familiarity that Jetpack Joyride breeds definitely provides an advantage. Aside from that, it also incorporates missions that will earn you a higher rank and give you more coins. The missions give the game meaning and gives the players something to strive for, as opposed to just aimlessly playing over and over again. When objectives are present, it leaves the player wanting to complete more and more of them.

For those of you who love the idea of leveling up and advancing character ability, Jetpack Joyride offers that, as well. The coins that are collected can be used towards upgrading equipment and vehicles among various other perks. The leveling up system is a very popular technique (as this class also exhibits a leveling up grading system). As was mentioned in the Words with Friends post, an aspect about games that gets people so involved is the leaderboard aspect that allows you to compare scores with friends. The game has an attached feed to an OpenFeint account that allows you to view statistics about your time playing the game and to compare scores with friends.

As we learned in class, some of the most important characteristics of a game are clear rules, having a feedback system, and having a goal. Jetpack Joyride does a fantastic job of incorporating all of these with its familiar Helicopter-like mechanics, its mission system, and goal of getting as far as you can and topping your high score with every respective play. It has a lot of player-to-player interaction with its leaderboard feature, which allows for a competitive environment. It is no wonder that this game is one of the most popular in the app store.

In an earlier post, someone mentioned the tendency for game developers to create spin offs, or hybrids of traditional games that everyone loves. This is exactly what the creator of the widely popular Words With Friends game accomplished. The game took off instantly as one of the mobile world’s most popular games. Taking the basic strategy and rules of scrabble, a staple in American board games, and combining it with the new interactive, highly communicative nature of games in the 21st century was key.

The basic rules of the game are simple. You are presented with a board and 7 tiles, each with one letter on them. After beginning by combining your tiles to form a word in the center of the board, the players are free to build on each others words and create a board completely up to them. All words must connect in some way to another tile and no tiles can be placed on the board that do not connect to spell a word. Unlike most games of the past, there is an interactive component to Words with Friends. By connecting to social sites like Facebook and Twitter, people can find their friends and challenge them to a game. Each game contains a “chat” box for opponents to communicate back and fourth as the game progresses. Once the first person runs out of tiles, the game has finished. Whoever has the most points at the end is the winner.

In my mind, Words with Friends has become such a phenomenon in mobile gaming due to the interactivity mentioned above. In other posts we have discussed games where you play alone, against a computer or verse other people in person. However, this game takes on the digital universe by allowing people to play friends directly over the web and on their cell phones. Being in instant communication with your opponent as the game goes by adds excitement and intensity to the game itself.

I also think the game’s success comes from its connection to social sites. As Facebook and Twitter become more and more embedded in our lives, it is extremely logical for businesses to use these sites to reach their customers. Everyone must adapt to the social-media age and the situation is no different for game creators. Words with Friends has capitalized on this idea by allowing their game to be “tweeted” or posted to facebook. The publicity this presents only makes the game grow quicker.

The multi-player formula has proven itself as the perfect ingredient to the game’s over all popularity. The ease and simplicity of the interface make it a step up from its “Scrabble” competitor. Rather than searching through multiple screens to start a game, all it takes is a simple button and a new game begins in seconds.

As more and more games continue to establish themselves, it seems that interactivity is of the utmost importance. Words with Friends does a great job of creating a network in which to play a similar version of one of America’s most loved games. I have been playing for a long time now, and it really never gets old!

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I couldn’t think of a game I wanted to blog about, but luckily I remembered that we can talk about board games as well as video games.  My current favorite board game is Settlers of Catan.  In order to win the game, one has to achieve a certain number of victory points.  There are many ways to do this, which I will get into later.  In my opinion Catan combines the two most important aspects of card/board games.  It is a game of both strategy and luck.  The game begins by setting up the board, which can be set up differently each time, ensuring every time the game is played it is different.  There are five essential resources in the game.  The game begins by going around, and each player can place a settlement between resource spaces (so each settlement can be next to a max of three resource hexes).  Each player does this twice.  A big part of the strategy lies in this beginning stage of the game.  What resources you choose and the probability each is rolled is something you have to factor into what you are going to do, as well as what everyone else is going to do.  Each resource has a number from 2-12 (no seven), which you have to factor in to how you choose resources.  Everyone has a different strategy while picking settlements.  Is it better to have all the resources even if one of them is a 12, or is it best to take the most likely rolled numbers regardless of what they provide?  Questions like this make the beginning take a while and can cause it to be quite frustrating.  Once the game gets going, it can become chaos (especially when playing with family members).  Before your turn, you roll the dice, and everyone collects the resources of the number rolled if they have a settlement on it.  From there the player whose turn it is can trade and build.  One can build roads, so that they can build more settlements, or upgrade settlements to cities, which allow the player to get more resources when their numbers are rolled, or buy cards that do a variety of things (and can be victory points), and so on.  The aspect of the game that I really enjoy, other than the overall strategy, is the trading.  I think the player interactions of this game are what set it apart from many other board games I have played.  Monopoly is the only other one I can think of where trading plays such a big role.  I like catan a lot more than monopoly because I feel that monopoly is almost entirely luck.  Whoever lands on the best spaces the first time around usually wins the game (or whoever gets the first monopoly).  You can usually tell who will win fairly early, while the game lasts for a very long time.  Catan on the other hand provides very unpredictable endings.  Overall Catan is a very enjoyable experience and I would suggest it to anyone who enjoys board games.


­It has always been my opinion that a great role playing game (RPG) needs more than just good game play, it also needs to tell a good story.  All of my favorite RPGs have succeeded in doing just this.  Just like any book, the story can unfold from any number of perspectives and can be told in any number of ways.  One of my personal favorite games, Final Fantasy Tactics, does this in a very unique way.  There are a variety of ways for a game to begin.  Some games just throw you right into the action and you immediately control the main character from there, some give backstory from an omniscient presence, and so on.  Final Fantasy Tactics begins with a historian asking you (the game player) if you have ever heard of the Lion War and proceeds to tell a brief backstory to it.  He describes it as a two party war for power of the throne.  He proceeds to tell of a hero who came out of the war and became king, but then counters this by saying “… we also know that what we see with our eyes alone… isn’t necessarily the truth.”  Despite the fact that this was a poorly translated game, as many of the early playstation games were, this line comes through in full strength.  It pulls the player into the game, inviting you to see the true story.

The story follows this by introducing the main character, and saying that there was no record of him playing any part of the war, but that he was the true hero, which the church covered up for their own reasons.  They claim him to be a “blasphemer and anarchist” as well as “the root of all evil”.  The intro ends with the historian questioning whether this is the truth and invites you to join him in a journey to discover the truth.  I feel as if this brief intro (only takes about two minutes to read through) really pulls the player into the game, while also introducing the main character in a mysterious way.  It leaves you unsure of whether he is a true hero, or is in fact the root of all evil.  From the standpoint of the story, I feel the intro truly draws the player into the game.  Without spoiling anything, the game has a brilliant story of death, murder, betrayal, and everything in between. 


Recently, as I just received a new iPhone for my birthday, I have been hooked on the worldwide phenomenon: Angry Birds. The very simple game is centered around flying birds who are trying to kill pigs that have stolen something valuable to them. There are multiple types of birds that have different power ups or specialties that can be used in different scenarios. The point is to destroy the structure, and hence the pigs, by launching the birds. Besides wasting hours of my time playing the game, Angry Birds provides insight into what constitutes a valuable and addictive game.

Firstly, and I think most importantly, it is an extremely simple game. Individuals spanning the age of 4 to 100 can play the game with huge amounts of success. All it takes is a swipe of the finger and occasional tap on the screen. Essentially, the game requires limited or zero skill. Also, if one fails to defeat the pigs on a given level, it is very easy to restart and the failure is quickly forgotten. The images used for the game are also simple and easy to understand. The birds come in different colors, the pigs are always green, and the building structures, depending on the substance, are colored differently. This allows the gamer to easily diagnose the correct way to attack each level. Similarly, the soundtrack and noises associated with the game are superb. The sounds correspond perfectly to what is occurring on screen. There is very little extra or unnecessary noise. The images and sounds help make the game easier and more fun to play. The game makers are not trying to create a game that will stump or aggravate the gamers. They are neither trying to create a game that makes a broad statement about society. Rather, the game is made for many million individuals to enjoy the game while they have a few extra minutes during their day. It is a game that can be enjoyed at all hours and whenever the gamer would like. That’s the beauty of Angry Birds and these are the factors that help make it so addictive and simultaneously fun to play. It is thus no wonder that it has been an international craze, leading to the development of a TV show, printing of clothing, and other merchandise. Angry Birds is extremely successful and it is amazing to see how such a simple game can captivate everyone.

By Micah Kantrowitz