Saturday, July 30, 2011

Conceptualization, Customization, Elementation, and Education

The preceding clip demonstrates the implementation of a defined video game concept through the Microsoft XNA game development environment. "Elemens", as I have dubbed it, is the latest project in development that I plan to implement into my REU research. The clip provided represents the current status of the project, still in it's early stages of development, and containing models used merely as visual references for testing purposes. When I attempted previously to begin the construction of an XNA game for REU, I lacked what I feel is the pivotal instrument used in the creation of today's great games: a strong concept.

I will admit that my initial introduction to XNA was not as smooth as I hoped it would be in 2009; I was honestly intimidated by the massive capabilities for game creation that the software harbored. An engine such as XNA could quite literally be used to create whatever possibly could be imagined, and as I've stated before, the only potent limitation for the games would be the creativity of the designer. Albeit I've always considered myself a creative person, the possibility alone to do anything I desired with this software left me conceptually impaired. I attempted to create games to merely test the possibilities of XNA without having a firm concept on which to build, which resulted in several restarted projects with nearly the same process. Now, after thoroughly conceptualizing an idea which I've harbored for years, I feel certainly capable of constructing and testing a complete video game. "Elemens" is currently designed to be a single and multi-player game which will focus thoroughly on player customization utilizing lighter graphics, while focusing on intensely detailed animations and battle scenes.

Players will control Elemen, standing for Elemental Men, who will be pitted together in elementally charged, high-octane battles. Player customization of Elemens is key for victory, as each Elemen will be fitted with a certain Elemental Affinity which will cause it to possess a natural advantage or disadvantage to Elemens of other Elements. In addition to an Element, each Elemen will possess a slew of statistics such as Speed, Health, and Power that will help them during battle, and gradually improve as they gain victories. Players will have full control over the statistics of Elemens, along with the growth provided for "Leveling-Up", or gaining enough victories to earn a reward in terms of statistical growth.

Customization is a factor that I personally feel is necessary in today's games. The completely linear plot line and player involvement that is all too common in several of today's popular games causes me to lose my interest after successive plays. In addition to building and testing Elemens, I'd like to also research the capabilities of the XNA engine in terms of the customization possibilities. Several of today's best character customization engines rely on the use of 3D models which are rendered during the game for use, with characteristics which modify specific portions of models. This is not often the easiest to visualize programmatically for a 2D game, as generally, all intended usable images must generally be included into the game prior to loading and cannot be significantly altered during game play. Only basic manipulations such as size, tint, and rotation changes seem to be the possible for 2D game character customization. I'd like to research the possibility to have heftier systems of manipulation in XNA which will result in a more thorough, and firm character customization experience for players, with less work for programmers.

Lastly, I'd also like to utilize this project source as a base to view how the integration of education into video games can yield benefits to the community. After a previous meeting with Dr. Xie, it became apparent how video games could potentially utilize their massive influences to leave an educational or beneficial impact onto those who play them frequently. From personal experiences, I've viewed games which were designed with the sole purpose of serving as educational platforms do not lure me into potential purchase as heavily as other games do. In fact, I can say that I expressly purchased the two educational games Brain Age, and its successor Brain Age 2. These two video games are the only 2 games in my arsenal of literally over 100 video games for various systems which were designed to be educationally stimulating. I plan to test the effects of integrating an educational complex into an existing game which was not explicitly made for educational purposes, and finding whether players would prefer to enjoy such a game opposed to a specifically education based one. I also plan to make comparisons to the current levels of educationally stimulating material in today's common games, and find what makes educational games differ. This will be an interesting topic to discuss, especially since several popular games such as Portal, which are not labeled as educational games, most certainly challenge the player to think intuitively to solve the game's challenges.

Overall, the various aspects discussed in this post will become the driving force behind this new project I'll be undertaking. The progress of the observations will be thoroughly recorded, and the advancement of "Elemens" will be frequently released for review.

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