Posts Tagged 'memories'

Review: Pokémon Diamond (Game for Nintendo DS)

Game Cover

Game Cover

I first played the original Pokémon Red and Yellow versions for the old Game Boy system many years ago and fell in love with the simple RPG style game play, cute Pokémon creatures, and the ability to link up with my brother to trade and battle Pokémon. I felt that 150 different species Pokémon were more than enough though, and stayed away from the subsequent iterations of Pokémon games out of a fear that the addition of more Pokémon and more things to do would complicate things and take away from the elegant simplicity of those first Pokémon games. Plus, I grew up and decided that the whole Pokémon thing was a little childish.

For anyone who hasn’t played Pokémon before, see below for an in-depth look at what is so fun about it (for adults and children). If you’ve played older Pokémon games but aren’t sure about this one, you’re in the same position I was when I got my DS.

In Diamond (and Pearl) there were many new ideas for me: berries and poffins (not new to those who have played Pokémon on the Game Boy Advance), seals to decorate Pokéballs (I guess, though I haven’t gotten into it much), more in-depth relationships with your Pokémon, contests (kind of like beauty pageants, but for Pokémon), an underground cave system for use with wireless multiplayer, and many other things I can’t even think of because I don’t use them. That’s right, even though they went and complicated the game by adding stuff, you can still enjoy the basic game the same way you could back with the first games. These additions only add to the experience for those who wish to participate in them.

There are other enhancements as well. The interface for navigating menus, viewing information, and battling has improved drastically (especially since there are two screens on the DS), and they have finally incorporated some true 3D elements (mainly just in the environment, the characters are all still 2D sprites).

While this version may not represent a huge leap forward in the Pokémon series, it certainly does take a few steps forward, and no steps back. Anyone who has ever enjoyed another Pokémon game will appreciate Pokémon Diamond (or Pearl), and anyone who has never played a Pokémon game would do well to give this game a chance. Pokémon may not be for everyone, but many have fallen in love with these simple RPGs, including me.

If you’ve never played Pokémon, allow me an opportunity to sell you on the idea. It turns out many adults can enjoy this sort of thing as well as children (even if the story is a bit childish).

Pokémon are creatures that inhabit the land in the Pokémon games. In Japan, the game is called “Pocket-Monsters” (I believe). The first generation of Pokémon came around the time that virtual pets were becoming popular, so essentially these Pokémon were modeled after the virtual pet concept (just without the little buttons for “feed” and “clean up mess”).

In the Pokémon games, you become a Pokémon trainer – someone who catches and trains Pokémon to battle. Though the monsters battle, the loser simply runs out of energy (measured in HP – health points) and faints – nothing ever happens that is graphic or unfriendly to children.

As you wander around the game (not aimlessly, there is always something to do), you encounter more and more monsters and use special capturing balls (Pokéballs) to catch more Pokémon (you may recall the catchphrase – “gotta catch ’em all”). You battle your Pokémon against other wild Pokémon or against those of other Pokémon trainers and any Pokémon on the winning team that participated in the battle gets experience points (and the trainer gets money to spend on stuff for the Pokémon). As they grow in experience they level up, learn new moves, and sometimes they evolve into more powerful Pokémon. In this way you raise the most powerful team of Pokémon to win every battle and become a Pokémon Master (lame, I know).

The trick is that you can only carry six Pokémon with you at a time (the rest are stored in a computer system), so you must assemble a team that is diverse enough to tackle any foe. There are many kinds of Pokémon (flying type, fire type, water type, electric type, etc) and some are more effective against others. Most of the time, these pairings make sense – a water type Pokémon does very well against a fire type for example. The same goes for the individual moves they know (one Pokémon can not know any more than four moves to use in battle at a time).

The basic formula is simple, easy to understand, and allows for a lot of strategic consideration. The execution in the game is challenging (but not too hard), fun and great for multi-player experiences. From the beginning, the franchise has focused on allowing game pack owners to trade Pokémon and battle them with friends. These days, on the Nintendo DS, trading and battling other Pokémon players has never been easier. There are no cables, and you can even connect over the Internet.

A lot of people criticize that the story in every Pokémon game is basically the same, but that is what I love about them (not that I wouldn’t enjoy a departure from the formula). You start out some place where there is someone that wants you to go out and see/catch all of the local kinds of Pokémon and you are given a starter Pokémon. There are side missions, caves, an evil group/entity at every turn, other trainers, and of course your rival to deal with, in addition to gyms, badges (earned by defeating gym leaders) and the Elite Four. The above description is good for basically every Pokémon game (as I understand it, though I haven’t played ALL of them).

A final note for those who are not familiar with the Pokémon franchise: You may be asking yourself what the difference is between Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Simply put, there isn’t enough of a difference for you to worry about it. Since the first two were released (Red and Blue) they have always released Pokémon in pairs (with the exception of an occasional special edition – Yellow was a special Pikachu edition, and Platinum is a special DS version with even more side features than Diamond and Pearl). Each version has a few things here or there that are marginally different, most notably there are usually a few Pokémon you cannot catch on your game pack so you must find someone else with the sister game pack and trade them for it (especially since you have some on yours that they can’t find in their game). Don’t worry though – you don’t actually have to catch all of the Pokémon to win the game – you can do it without having both game packs.

Where I Went

Occasionally I may disappear from time to time. I should hope that anyone who knows me at all would realize that my disappearing does not mean that I have ceased to be actively engaged in something. In fact, when I neglect something like my “thing” here it’s usually because I have something more exciting going on.

In fact, over the last week I have had several more exciting things happening than this.

In small news, we rented a fun game over the weekend. I loved the movie “Wall-e” so much that I just had to try the Wii game. Overall, my impression of the game was a good one. I think the developers rushed through parts of the game, but the majority was well thought out and fun.

The real time sucker for me the last week or so has been related to my last post about the game project. Shortly after writing that post, I came up with the bright idea to set the actual game portion aside and continue with an aspect of my original idea – the part where simple games could be made even by a novice or child.

I remembered the days when I had a TI-eighty-something graphing calculator that allowed for some simple code writing (scripting) in its native language. I was able to program it to play a number guessing game. It would print out on the screen “guess a number between 0 and 100” or whatever two numbers I chose, then I could guess. It would tell me “too high” or “too low” until I got the answer and it reset to “guess a number…” The experience with programming that simple application was enough to spark my interest in computer and web programming and has led me to better learn linear/sequential-thinking skills (I guess I’m a visual/spatial person, and linear or sequential thinking is difficult for me).

What I’m getting at is this: I thought, “wouldn’t it be great if I could write a program that would ease my son into the world of programming!?!” My son is definitely sequentially challenged and could certainly benefit from a bit of computer interaction at the programming level. How do you teach a five-year-old to write code though? So, I devised a plan (like I always do).

The plan was only complicated because of how elegantly simplistic and straightforward it was. It would be able to teach anyone the basics of a simple web programming language known as JavaScript. I developed an outline for a set of lessons that would walk the user through various levels of difficulty in programming functions. The program itself would adapt its interface to grow with the user as he progressed through the lessons and became more proficient.

I may or may not create the JavaScript teaching program, but I am already nearly done with one of the projects the program would walk the user through creating.

In fact, the project has grown into something far more complicated than anything I would ever ask a new programmer to attempt. It has even stumped me a couple of times in big ways.

When I finish it, I’ll try to upload it to my Google page so you can try it out. Quickly, before I go off to bed, I’m going to explain what it is and ask for your input and suggestions.

I’m making a simple game that will be played in the web browser. It is programmed entirely in JavaScript and is (as of right now) designed to be played in one sitting, though each time you play it your choices will create a different experience. If I go back and review techniques for writing and reading cookies to your local machine, I may be able to allow you to save your progress, but for now the entire game resets when you close the browser, refresh the page or load the page.

Right now, the entire look of the game is achieved with text. Here are a couple of screen-shots to illustrate:

Eventually I may take screen-shots like these into Photoshop and modify each individual character to better represent its item (saving the modifications as small images and having the program assemble the images in the same manner as it assembles the text).

For now, I would simply have to explain what each character represents for a person to be able to play the game. The @ symbol represents the main character. The & represents other people, the s and S are snakes, the $ is money, * is health and the C is a lucky horseshoe. Of course, the e is an enemy, as are the Q’s and the snakes. The H’s at the tops and bottoms of the screens are doors, and the I’s are also doors on the sides. The ^ represents a hill that can be walked on, but an A is a mountain and cannot be initially transversed (perhapse special shoes could be obtained allowing one to scale a mountain). The w is water, and a raft (#) is required before one can cross rivers that do not have a bridge (=). Sand and grass are represented by periods, semicolons and commas, and trees are exclamation points.

Of course, there are many other characters that I have used, but it would be a simple job to have the Javascript replace each letter or character with an image and thus create a much less jarring visual experience for the user.

Essentially, I have too many ideas (just for the game engine, the inner-workings of the code that drives the game) to outline everything here. The room on the right in my example was dark (represented by a screen full of E’s) until I used my candle to light it up (many ideas are drawn from games like the Zelda and Link series). I have set my code up to be flexible enough to do almost anything. All I need now are more ideas.

What kinds of stories would you tell if you had an open ended game like this? What kind of adventure would you go on? You can’t bring any friends with you, and your items may be limited (with no features for animating, enemies don’t move and it would be nearly impossible to actually use the bow and arrow – for now I don’t plan on animating anything), but many quests and adventures are still possible. Send me your best ideas and I’ll see if anything sounds fun to me.

My wife has already contributed (Burt and the gummi worm are her handiwork). What ideas will you contribute?

Once I’ve finished the basic game engine I’ll try to post it online somewhere so you can see what it’s capable of. I won’t have a story fully developed by then, of course, but everything should function properly (as of right now, it is possible to lose a battle and end up with negative health points, but you don’t die). I’ll work out the bugs and you can come up with ideas for me. If your idea requires a reworking of the basic engine, but it’s good, I’ll see what I can do. Remember, I’m keeping things fairly simple, but complicated enough to be fun.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… The portion I expected an intermediate beginner to be able to code was finised within the first day. It consisted of a few lines of code to draw the map and some buttons that moved the little man around in the map. From there I just kind of went crazy… And what if you could collect items? Oh, and what if you could have a raft? Wow, and how about doors? Let’s put some enemies in! We need weapons, and battles, and candles for darkness, and keys for doors, and guys to talk to, and boss battles, and stores, and dynamic items and terrain, and conversations, and why won’t he die?, and, and, and… … …

Overly Ambitious or Genius?

Ever since I was a young child I have had ideas.  Some of my ideas are novel, others impractical, while most of them are hardly noteworthy.  The problem is, not much has ever been produced from my ideas, other than the ideas themselves.  In the end, all I am left with are more ideas.

Take, for instance, an idea I had as a Freshman in High School in 1997, the same year the Nintendo 64 gaming system was released.  The idea began brewing long before then, but I know for sure that I began imagining the particulars during that first year of High School.

My idea really took off that year because we got our first glimpses of what some of our favorite games could be like in a fully three dimensional world.  Playing Mario 64 I was impressed with the level of freedom the extra dimension offered, but I still felt limited.  So I began imagining my own version of the perfect game.

It began with my version of the perfect Mario 64 game.  In stead of levels limited at the edges by invisible walls or impossibly steep hills, why not connect all of the levels?  There could be extra terrain blending the different environments that each level contains, and the whole thing could be one massive world.

On that note, my logic continued, why not make the whole thing into a giant planet?  It could be the Mario 64 world.  A whole planet filled with Mario levels.

Then we got a new game, Mario Kart 64.  This, being another Mario game, instantly began crowding its way into my already busy imaginary Mario world.  In the Mario Kart game, one track takes place in the same setting as the beginning of Super Mario 64 – outside the Princess’s Castle.  I thought it would be cool if you could get out of your race kart and enter the castle.  Of course, in my imaginary 3D Mario world, this would be possible.

The next game I remember getting and loving completely changed my imaginary game forever, and that was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.  This game allowed me a visual companion that took my 3D game into new galaxies.  Of course, it didn’t happen so fast.  At first, I saw the opportunity to have other planets and space ships that could fly around in space, allowing you to land on other planets.  Then, another game (this one for the PC) got me thinking even more.

I just spent the last half hour researching and trying to find the name of this game I used to love playing, but found nothing.  I have no idea where I got it, but it was a shareware game where you controlled a small ship and tried to conquer a galaxy.  There were two or three star systems, each with planets in orbit.  It was a simple, 2D game but I loved playing.  You used the up arrow key to fire a single thruster, left and right to rotate and orient the craft (like Asteroids) and the down arrow key to fire your weapon.  The physics reminded you that there is no friction in space, and gravity can pull you off your course.  The planets weren’t all that much bigger than the orbiting landing platform you began on.  You moved out from your planet and found unclaimed planets to make your own.  All of your planets worked on upgrades for your ship such as new weapons, shields, etc.  There was a complicated system for colonizing and developing your planets, but it seemed to take care of itself in the background as long as you kept flying around claiming more planets.

The trouble was with your opponent, who was constantly trying to attack and conquer your planets.  Anyhow, there was a little more to it that that, but I think you get the point.  I decided my game had to have aspects like that.  You could either play around on the surface, or you could go from planet to planet and try to gain control over as many of them as you could.  Then I got to thinking about other jobs, tasks, and so forth that could keep a person busy in a universe like this.  People could play the game to race, to run around on missions like in Golden Eye 007 or Perfect Dark, try to save people like the Star Wars game, fly people from planet to planet, compete for money, use the money to buy ships, cars, and other things…  The list kept growing.

Eventually, I realized this sort of thing would be more fun with other real people if they could be connected over the Internet.  In a recent letter to a loved one, I wrote the following (this person is still using a dial-up connection to the Internet):

Too bad you’re on dial up still.  I was just remembering dial up this week when I was recalling my first experiences with the Internet.  My dad’s place of work had supplied him with a  notebook computer and he had some responsibilities online.  He subscribed to AOL for Internet service at home, and I remember hearing about websites and pages from friends, on television and at school, and wanting to check them out online.  So, I would occasionally ask my dad if we could go on the Internet to look at one thing or another.

Every time we went online it was an adventure.  Not from the discoveries, learning or witnessing of new technology as one would hope.  The experience was an adventure because our connection would get refused a couple of times, then we’d get on with a painfully slow connection speed, and lose the connection five minutes later, only to repeat the whole process again and again.  I remember my “last straw” was when we decided to try filing our taxes online for the first time.  It took many, MANY hours.  Again, not because it was confusing or difficult, but because our connection was unreliable and slow.

A few of these “adventures” and I was convinced that the Internet was a useless, frustrating fad that would pass before I graduated high school.  That was one of my last wrong predictions.  As soon as I heard about “T-One Lines,” “Cable Modems” and “DSL,” I realized that the Internet didn’t have to be a slow, unreliable pain in the rump and a whole flood of possibilities became apparent.

Among that “flood of possibilities” was the idea that the Internet could connect gamers so they could interact in the same virtual world or universe.  Little did I know, but online games were already in existence, and at around the same time as I was developing my ideas for an online multiplayer game, MMOG‘s were also developing into the 3D worlds they are today.  Now, games very similar to the final version of my idea exist (and they are making their creators a lot of money), but they lack the personality and flavor of my imaginary universe.

Spore and Second Life are two examples of ideas like mine that were capitalized on rather than sat on.  In Spore you get something more complicated than what I imagined but more centralized and less ambigous.  However you get the same level of scale and interactivity.  In Second Life you get the social networking, interactivity, creativity, ambiguity and freedom, but you still don’t have the video game style play.  I just think the themed worlds would be fun (imagine a Link and Zelda world).  I also think playing as your favorite video game character should be an option, as well as the traditional creation of an avatar.

In the end, though, my idea is still an idea.  I’m writing about this because I am once again faced with an idea that keeps escalating.  If I don’t squelch the proliferation of ideas soon, my idea will once again become too impractical to create.

Once again, my idea is for a game.  It is a simple game this time though, one for children or adults.  At first, while designing the code on paper, I realized that a modular approach would be easier to work with and make the whole project more flexible.  Then I decided I would like the program to help create the code for the game, making the game easier to edit and change.  I thought it would be good to make the game files separate from the code so it wouldn’t be hardwired into the actual program.  Then I decided to integrate the editing function into the final product so users could create their own games like mine, telling their own story.  Then it just got more complicated and more intricate until I realized I was going to have to back some of the features out if I’m ever really going to program this thing.

Only once did this tendency of mine to escalate ever pay off.  I was in High School, designing a program to help decode some encrypted messages for a contest I was working on in the evenings (instead of doing homework at home).  It worked out because I started getting the extra ideas while I was actually executing the project.  I started with a simple program that helped count characters and plot a graph to help me decode substitution ciphers by character analysis.  Then I got involved in a harder, multi-alphabet substitution cipher that required yet another function in the program to facilitate its decryption.  Eventually I got it to work, and it did its job beautifully.  I was very proud of this program, and to this day I regret the harddrive crash that wiped away every last line of its code.

The dilemma I am faced with is one of practicality.  Is it better to cut off an idea before it gets out of control to keep it feasible, or is it better to dream big, aim high and resign myself to a life full of ideas that I will never bring to life?  I like dreaming big, I love my ideas, but they are too big to execute.  This world we live in moves so quick that if I don’t do something about an idea fast enough, someone else will think of it and do it before me.  I have had numerous ideas that became big a few years after I dreamed them up.

Am I an overambitious, lazy and unrealistic dreamer or am I an under-ambitious genius who lacks the necessary gumption to do something about his ideas?  What do you think?

Childhood Dream – Video

I was feeling a bit nostalgic today, remembering such classic cartoons as “Darkwing Duck,” “Talespin,” and others with some of my peers. Perhaps that’s why I was taken back to my catalog junkie days.

That’s right, I was a catalog junkie. I used to regularly receive catalogs from several computer and software companies (junk-mail in my parents’ eyes), in addition to flipping through the big Sears catalog my mother would get. Those technology catalogs were my favorite though, and I learned a lot from them. For example, I knew all the fastest CPU speeds, how much RAM was being put in the high-end machines, and how big one could possibly get a hard drive. I noticed when the first floppy-drive-less computers began shipping, and realized that the minuscule storage on those things would prevent them from being missed.

Perhaps my favorite pastime from the catalog days was clipping or highlighting all of the components of my dream setup. I would find the most powerful graphics computer, clip it out and put it in a box or a folder. Then I would go find software that looked interesting for doing what I wanted to do, or supplemental hardware. I was in love with the 3D animations that had begun to get big and was convinced that I would become a 3D animator for movies and special effects. I found out about programs like Lightwave and 3D Studio Max. I learned that Photoshop was used to create textures and backdrops. I began learning which programs were low-end and which ones were being used to create professional work.

Eventually I had quite a collection. My collection of clippings evolved from technology alone to everything I wanted in life. There was this really cool computer desk that I wanted from the Sears catalog, as well as an entertainment center with doors that hid the TV. I even fell in love for one of the first times going through a catalog.

It was the Sears catalog, and I found her in the teen clothing section. I remember at the time I had a little crush on Anna Chlumsky from the movie My Girl. Her beauty was by far outshone by the mystery girl I found in the catalog. I am embarrassed to add that she was modeling underwear. Honestly, I don’t remember caring about the underwear (it wasn’t lingerie, it was like a sports bra or a trainer bra or something). I stared at her warm face and immaculate hair for hours on end, barely noticing the rest of her. I thought she had the most perfect eyes, the most beautiful smile… I was truly in love. I gazed so deeply into the image that I became irritated with how poorly images were reproduced in print products. I wanted a larger, clearer view of her gorgeous face (the whole clipping was only a few inches across). I often returned to the children’s section of the Sears catalog to see if she would come back, but alas I never saw her again. Several years later, just at the very beginning of my college adventures, I went to the Sears website and the rest of the web doing extensive searches in an attempt to find out who that girl might have been. I had a time frame, I knew the catalog month (but have since forgotten), I searched for several days. My efforts were to no avail. She was lost forever. Even my beloved clipping had disappeared and all I was left with was a memory. Luckily, I met my wife shortly thereafter.

That’s not why I wrote though. I am writing because I have been realizing over the last few months that one of my childhood dreams has remained alive within me (among others – they must have set up some kind of a refugee camp or something though, because the majority of my childhood dreams have long since been CRUSHED). In those catalog days, crouching over several copies of “PC Warehouse” at once, pondering the possibilities, I used to dream that one day I would have a family of my own (check, that one came true) and produce periodic family videos (using the cool stuff in the catalogs) that would have subtle, sporadic special effects sprinkled in (just to make them a little more fun). I had seen many home videos that were boring. If my family was going to make video of itself, it would need a little extra something.

Some of the ideas for CG (computer generated) additions to my home movies were things like a video of the children playing in the front yard, and in the background something crashes down from space into the house, causing an explosion (which the kids would ignore, of course, seeing as how they’re playing) and a giant robot or monster would come out of the rubble and crash around. I even thought it would be fun to have the kids participate, with me telling them to freak out and run at a certain time. Another idea was to have a video of one of the children’s rooms and have a doll or toy of his come to life in the background, dancing around and playing until the kid looks back at it.

At the time such ideas were the stuff Hollywood special effects artists were only beginning to get good at. Now, the tools exist for all of us; and anyone with the money to spare, the time to invest, and the skill to learn can do it. I’ve got the skills, I only lack the time and money (for now). Eventually, if I ever get that time and money, I still want to produce my own video. Home videos, perhaps a podcast/internet show, maybe some short films… I don’t know. The possibilities are endless. I wouldn’t want to make it a career, but as a hobby I could have a lot of fun with it. I even think my wife would love participating both in front of and behind the camera.

So, in advanced preparation for such a day, I am going to assemble and maintain a list of items to buy. I will assemble that list here and when I have a specific product, I will link to it and include it in a special list at, so if you want to donate thousands of dollars to my cause, feel free.  The metawishlist keeps a running total of how much everything in the list would cost together (as of right now, over $12,000 not including the computer).

* I probably won’t link to one specific system because the “best” system specifications change almost daily.  If we ever really do this, I would simply look for the most powerful computer system available in the $2,000 – $6,000 range from a hardware manufacturer I trust.

** Adobe has ONE package called Creative Suite 3 Production Premium which contains all of the (starred**) items plus a few extras for a really great price.

That just about does it for now. If you have any suggestions for items on the list that are missing, better products than the ones I link to, or product suggestions for items I don’t have product for, feel free to leave a comment. Thanks!

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