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What I Learned as a Game Design Student

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I didn’t plan on being a Game Design Student.

My story is essentially the one every student doing their final exams is petrified of: Not getting enough points to get into the course you want to do. For many years I had my heart set on doing a course in creative writing. At the age of seventeen I had three publications under my belt, as well as determination and talent. Unfortunately I was never as skilled academically as I was in regard to my writing. On top of that the college I wanted to apply to was extremely expensive and when I got my results, I only got three hundred and fifteen points. The minimum to enter was four hundred and seventy five.

Yikes.

A while before I did the leaving cert my mother suggested I do a different course. This wasn’t a bad idea in case I didn’t get the points to do the course I wanted (which I didn’t) and on top of that, I needed a skill to bring in money since creative writing is a very difficult area to get employed in. Due to this, I decided to apply for a course in Game Design in a nearby college. I had an interest in games and it was something creative and a practical that could get me employed later in life. Game Designers learn a wide variety of skills and games contain elements of creativity and story writing so it was the best I could go for. Now, a lot of people visualize being a game designer as a tired worker hunched over a computer typing in binary code and crying. Well, as a game design student I can tell you with the utmost certainty that being a game designer is…a bit like that. Sometimes.

Game design is difficult. It’s a labor of love as some would say or a labor of ‘oh god I need money please hire me’. Regardless, the point I’m trying to make is that game design is difficult and tedious. My first assignment was to make a game of Pong in an online program named scratch. This was very simplistic but was necessary to teach us the basics as to how game design worked.

Might as well just quit now Nintendo, a new competitor is taking the gaming world by storm.

Ok, so it’s a psychedelic cat themed version of Pong. Got it. So why am I showing you this? Well, for the same reason my tutor made us make it: To get an idea as to what coding is like.

All of the text on the right is code. On the top part, you can see an orange tab with a green flag. This is the starter of your coding, per se. When you start up the game whatever is under the code will take place immediately. Now, this coding is focused on the ball (aka nyancat) since he/she/it is selected in the bottom left sprite panel. All of the code determines what nyancat does during the game.

As you can see the code says different things and has different colors. It’s pretty self-explanatory what different parts do. Near the top for example, a piece of dark blue code says ‘glide 1 secs to x219 y-29’. This code got the ball moving in a certain direction to start the game of Pong. There is also two different strips of pink on the left and right edge of the screen. In addition, there is code which shows how the score will change if the ball touches the color on either side. While this is all very simplistic coding it still shows a bit about how coding works. Each sprite has different code attached to it that makes it do different things. The text runs from top to bottom and forms a linear path of coding in which each segment fulfills a different purpose. They all work in a line and perform various functions that all contribute to the final product.

Anyway, let’s take a break from coding and look into what it’s like to be a game design student:

In game design, you don’t just focus on making games. What? That’s crazy, right? Well, it’s actually very important. Game design doesn’t just consist of gaming: You need a soundtrack, animators, advertising, communication skills, etc. Due to this, we take other modules that aren’t focused on the bare elements of coding but rather dabble in different skill areas to help us be more independent in creating games. Here are some of the classes we do:

Animation: Since I’m obsessed with drawing and cartoons I LOVE this class. Here we learn the basics of animation and how to animate in programs such as CC animate. This may seem a bit irrelevant but for making character animations it goes over the fundamentals of what we need to know. It’s an important class and the skills it teaches us can be utilized not just in game design but in other jobs such as web design or advertising.

Music technology: Here we learn how to use music software so we can compose an original soundtrack for our games. This also stems to sound effects such as gunfire or footsteps. It may not sound that important but having to pay a composer to make a score for your game can cost a lot of cash, and I don’t know of many indie developers that can just casually hire Hans Zimmer to make their game soundtrack.

Communications: This class helps give us practical advice for when we need to talk to people about something in regard to our work. This class covers issues like preparing an appropriate cover letter for getting work experience/an internship or for making a presentation. It’s extremely important since game designers are flighty nocturnal creatures that spend most of their time locked away in the computer lab guzzling energy drinks and watching cat video’s and shows like Voltron– I MEAN WORKING on games ha ha ha… Erm, anyway, since us game designers have little to no social skills (or social life, that one applies to me especially) communications is important so that we can explain our point of view or ask important questions in a situation effectively and professionally.

There are many other classes we do as well such as Design Skills, Web Authoring, Image Processing, etc. I don’t want to turn this into a massive list of everything we do in every single class but I can tell you that the skills we learn all contribute toward making games. I understand that doing all of this on top of making games seems like a lot and yeah, it sort of is, but as you learn it becomes easier to handle. You learn at a gradual pace and over the course of a few months, you learn a variety of skills and techniques that are actually very useful in a number of ways not just relating to game design. I think that’s one of my favorite aspects of game design: there’s just so many possibilities of what you could do as a job. Even just one module from our class can teach you skills to become an animator or a web designer and they’re not even the primary focus of this course. Now, as a first year, I wouldn’t immediately run and try for a job. You’d need to do about 3-4 years of game design before you start applying for positions but the skills you would pick up along the way plus all the opportunities would be well worth the time you put in.

For a while, I’ve talked about coding and classes, but here I’m gonna get into the real meat of this subject: What we did in our first year of game design. Well, actually it should be what we’re doing in our first year of game design since at the time of writing this article I’ve just started making my 3D game, but anyway, let’s get to it. We had three main goals for our first year: Make a 2D side-scroller game, get work experience, and make a 3D game. The 2D game taught us the fundamentals of game design and basic elements of any game. Similar as to how my game Nyan Pong was basically Pong, our 2D side-scroller was basically a copy of Super Mario Bros. We had enemies, health, pick-ups, win screens, death screens, etc. My 2D side-scroller game was called Quill’s Quest. It was a story about a girl who had to escape a dungeon and get past vicious enemies in order to survive. It was quite simplistic and I do plan to revisit it at some point. Ultimately, the game served a basic purpose of teaching me how to code in more detail than “Nyanpong” and also in the functions of how a game is programmed. Here’s the menu screen of my game:

These are some of the sprites I had in my game.

This was the full scale of my level. This game was designed in the software Unreal Engine 4 by the way, a free industry software that is extremely high-tech and versatile. I highly suggest you look into it if you’d like to learn how to make a game by yourself. It’s probably one of the best pieces of software out there. My game isn’t fully functional but it has a lot of the coding in there and will give you an idea as to what a first year’s 2D game is like. Spoiler alert: Not that great. Even still though, I’ll try to upload it to my blogger page so you can play it if you really want to.

That was my 2D game. A lot of work went into it and I wasn’t perfectly happy with the finished product but you need to remember: This is my first time making a proper 2D game. I knew this game wasn’t going to be perfect and it wasn’t made with the intent of making an amazing game. I made it so I could learn how to code and learn the basics of designing a game.

Now we’re moving onto work experience. Work experience is a mandatory module of Game Design and without it you would fail instantly, so it’s not to be taken lightly. My classmates and I needed to get a job working for a company relating to the Games Industry or in some area of the line relevant to the work we’re doing. My work experience was writing articles for Goomba Stomp on gaming. I have skills in writing and at the time of sending my letter of application I had four printed publications, so I attached that information to my cover letter and wrote about it in more detail in my CV. I also showed pictures of an award I had won plus images of the publications in print. In addition to that, I mentioned my interest in gaming and the fact I’m a game design student. This showed I had specific extracurricular skills that would be beneficial for the job I was applying for and that, as a game design student, I could have a better insight into games as opposed to an ordinary player. When applying for work experience try to show your skills and give the employer basic elements of who you are and what you can do that would be valuable to their company. You can never underestimate just how important work experience is.

Finally, there’s my 3D game. We haven’t actually gotten into programming or making much of the game as of now so there’s not a massive load of work I can show you. However I can talk a bit about the structure. We needed to come up with a plot and a plan for our 3D game. In this we needed to write about what our game was about, the objectives our character had and where it was set. Our tutor even gave us out sheets that asked us questions about our 3D game and made us flesh out the plot more. This may seem pointless but it’s actually very important. While you may not need to write in excessive detail the world-building and back story of a game, you do need to let the players know what their objective is.

As of now, we’ve done models of our main characters. First, we had to write about their back story, skills, and appearance to build up an image in our mind as to what they looked like. My character is a female around the age of 18/19 named Rattalia. She’s a thief who leads a group called ‘The Street Rats’ who steal from the wealthy corrupt and give to the poor in order to balance out the severe poverty in their world. The world they live in has a heavy emphasis on social classes and the game centers around Rattalia breaking into the mansion of a man who wronged her in the past. The objective is to steal a precious gem from his mansion called ‘The Lunar Eye’ to sell and fund her next heist, as well as giving portions of it as anonymous donations to underfunded hospitals and orphanages. It may seem silly to focus so much on the back story of a game but it helps set the scene and gives the player an idea of who they’re playing as and offers a stronger level of immersion into the game.

Since she’s a thief I wanted her to have an outfit relevant to her job. Rattalia’s clothes consist of comfortable and durable clothing that blends in with the background and won’t inhibit her when she runs. I wanted her appearance to mimic certain aspects of her personality. First though, I had to make Rattalia.

First we made a basic body for our character in a program named Fuse. We would then begin to alter the character’s appearance based on the character report we had drawn up of our protagonist. Rattalia has sharp features such as high cheekbones, a jutted chin, and a thin face. I had to alter the slides pictured on the right to get her as close to the image in my head as possible. Initially, her face was very round and so were her eyes so I made them sharper and more angular to give a sly look to her appearance. This was her face at the start (bar the ears):

Here we had more defining of the cheekbones and sharpening of her chin. I also made her noses arch more curved than straight.

Eventually, I ended up with an image like this.

Her expression is cocky so as to show she’s a schemer. I designed her hair in another program named blender so as to give her the specific hairstyle I wanted for her character. The image isn’t fully rendered so it looks a bit weird (eyelashes and skin tone are different due to rendering) but you get the basic idea as to what she’s supposed to look like.

We haven’t gotten much further than that with our 3D game. A lot of the coding is vastly different from a 2D game and since we’ve just begun there isn’t much else I can elaborate on in this specific topic. Well, I’ve talked about a number of topics in this post relating to game design so I should probably explain what my schedule is like.

We typically spend most of our classes using computers to complete the majority of our assignments. As a game design student our marks are assigned to us based off of continuous assessment. We do have exams but they’re not extremely difficult and ask pretty basic questions such as: ‘Why do people play video games’ and ‘List 3 genres of gaming’. Our assignments make up the majority of our marks. We don’t usually get homework and most of our work is done in the computer lab. My days vary in length, Monday being a 9-4 day while the others are significantly shorter, the shortest being 9-12. Our assignments consist of a mixture of doing work and then writing reports about our work. Both are important so you can’t just do one or the other.

In conclusion, game design can be difficult but also very rewarding. Going into this course, I wasn’t sure how I’d come out the other end, or even if I would, but I can say with total certainty that this was a brilliant course to do. Game Design is a useful degree due to its flexibility and the constant ever-growing demand for workers in the games industry. If you’re patient and have an interest in games, I’d definitely suggest game design to you. Not just because of its versatility though but because of how damn rewarding it can be.

Katie Soden is a games design student/author who has a tendency to cry over cartoon characters and watch cat videos as opposed to doing important things, like eating or sleeping or keeping on track with assignments. Despite her tendency to forget how to function as a human being and general laziness she still occasionally updates her blog and makes an attempt at having an online presence.

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‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

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It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…

I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.

Coffee Talk
Some of the subject matter can be pretty serious in nature…

Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.

Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.

Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.

Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.

The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.

Coffee Talk
Appearances can often be deceiving in this game.

Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.


Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.

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The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child

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Magic of Nintendo

Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.

The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.

The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.

 Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.

Super Mario Odyssey Wooden Kingdom

Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.

When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.

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Games

‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.

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Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.

Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.

It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.

In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.

Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.

Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.

Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.

Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind

Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.

I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.

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