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Monday, January 30, 2006


The Secrets of Nintendogs

I guess since I was able to milk another joke out of Nintendo's Nintendogs, I'm obligated to talk about it.

On the surface, it may seem kind of dull to constantly care for a bunch of cyber-dogs, animals that need food and water every time one turns on the game, and that stuff costs money. To earn money in the game, you have to take your dog to competitions (Disc Throwing, Agility and Obedience) and earn the prizes given out for finishing in the top 3. Coincidently, this also earns Trainer Points for you, which gets us to the real heart of Nintendogs - Unlockable Content.

The more you play, and the more points you earn, the more features are made available to you through the wonderful concept of unlockable content. Pokemon probably wins the crown for unlockable content by encouraging players to find hundreds of little critters and "catch 'em all." Nintendogs is a little more modest, having only 20 canines to find, and 6 of those are available to the buyer of the game - the exact six dependant on the version (there are three different versions of Nintendogs) you buy. The rest of the animals are unlocked either by earning Trainer Points or by trading with your friends.

There was considerable excitement at my house over the weekend, because one of my dogs had given me the elusive fireman's hat, which allowed me to finally pick up the dalmation puppies at the kennel. The dalmation and jack russel are two dogs that are not initially available to players of any version of Nintendogs and must be unlocked through diligent playing.

That's an example of Unlockable Content where it works. In both Nintendogs and Pokemon, the unlockable characters are part of the game itself and you can use them as soon as you unlock them. Where it doesn't work is where the content has little or nothing to do with the game itself, such as unlocking photos from the wrap party when that particular game was finished. It's hard to come up with really useful unlockable content, because it takes a lot of work to come up with something so useful in the game and once you've done so, it's hard to resist the urge to make that available to the player to ensure that the game has enough content to begin with. Games like Pokemon and Nintendogs had long development cycles where they could carefully balance what they wanted to give to the player and made sure it was available at just the right time in the game.

Food for thought.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Nothing but a lot of rolling dice...

As GC and Cy take a stab at miniature games, I figured I would take a moment to share my experiences with you. For those of you who may not know, "miniature" games (or simply, "miniatures") are not teeny tiny games, but games played with miniature representations of soldiers and other combat units. Some folks spend a lot of time painting not only the miniature units themselves, but also the buildings, trees and other parts of the landscape. Miniatures started out mainly with historical battles (the battles of Napoleon and the American Civil war, for example) but now you can find them in all genres from fantasy to sci fi and even super heroes. There are even rules for folks who want to use Legos as their units.

While the creative side of me is drawn to the meticulously painted figures and landscapes, I have a problem with the rules of some of these games, which tend to put too much emphasis on random die rolls and not enough on strategy. I recently participated in a game in which my units had a 25% chance to wound a target, regardless of whether it was halfway across the board or right next to me. The only variables had to do with whether or not anything else happened to be in the way, like a barrel or a bush (which would further reduce my chance of harming the target). The only strategy was simply moving so that I could spot the target. The only thing I could do to improve my odds would be to increase the number of units that I had to bear on a single target, so at least one of those die rolls would come up in my favor. Of course, that still means each individual die roll has a 75% chance of coming up against me.

What it all boils down to is coming up with a set of rules that allows the player to develop a strategy for winning without making the game itself too complicated. I'll let you know what I come up with.

Monday, January 16, 2006



I don't want to go off on a rant or anything, but just what is the deal with Electroplankton? Not the game itself, which I admire for the fact that Nintendo is offering such a unique product. What I don't get is the fact that you can't go into the store to get it. No, it's only available online. Not only that, some sources say that it's only being offered in limited quantities and once they're gone, that's it. Presumably, Nintendo has fears that the American market just isn't ready for something quirky like Electroplankton. But to me, it feels a little snobbish - "Japanese audiences are all over this, but you Americans, well..."

Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. Certainly I've been in this business long enough to know that some products are worth going out on a limb for, and some aren't. But that doesn't mean I have to like it.

See you next week!

Monday, January 09, 2006


Walking the Nintendogs

One of the new toys we received last month was Nintendogs, an addictive "game" that encourages you to train and take care of some really cute pups. By the way, some of you folks might have noticed the return of a familiar face from my old comic, Aimless. Will her royal highness stick around after dropping in? Will she take over? Who knows?

As I mentioned before, Nintendogs is a fun little dog-training simulation. You train your dog to "sit" and "lie down" like you with a real dog, by teaching it to recognize commands and associate them with a behavior. Unfortunately, you have to reinforce those commands or the dog forgets or confuses it with another command. The part I don't like about the game is that it's a lot like Tamagotchi in the fact that the dogs exist in real time and will get hungry if you forget to turn your DS on for long stretches of time. I could do without that sort of stress!

Monday, January 02, 2006


Back to work

Did you guys have a nice break? I know I did. I hope everybody had a great time with their Christmas goodies (even if the games didn't last as long as we'd hope). I'll give you some more game reviews soon. In the meantime, it's a new year and time to look ahead. Here's a chance for everybody to sound off on the Gamecreature site. What do you like? What would you like to see differently? Let me know or I may decide to stop doing these things.

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