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Women in the Gaming Industry: Brenda Romero

Women in the Gaming Industry: Brenda Romero

Brenda-Romero-Courtesy-of-The-Strong-Rochester-NY

Brenda Romero is a highly lauded force in the gaming industry. She is a game developer with a diverse resume. Brenda has also worked as a creative director and consultant for various companies. She has designed many different games, including one inspired by her daughter. Her creativity has been helping to fuel the gaming industry for years.

In 1981, Brenda started to work on Wizardry, a role playing series which helped to launch her fame in the gaming industry. Since then, Brenda has been a major part of many games and worked for various game companies. Some of these companies include; Atari, Sir-tech Software and Electronic Arts. Brenda is now the Program Director of the MSc in Game Design & Development at the University of Limerick. Brenda is also the co-founder of independent game developer at Romero Games, Ltd in Galway, Ireland. 

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Clearly Brenda has a passion for creating neat games for us to play. In addition to her work on Wizard, she has worked on Def Jam: Icon, in which the player uses beats and sound to – literally – crush their opponents with debris. Playboy: The Mansion is a game where the player helps Hugh Hefner build Playboy into the famous company that we all know today by completing different campaigns. Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes was inspired by her daughter. The Mechanic is the Message is an analog game that experiments with the word “game.”

Brenda has won many awards. So many in fact that I won’t list them. I suggest, instead, you go to the awards link on her page to read them. Brenda has also had the privilege of being a TED speaker. 

Brenda Romero is an accomplished game designer. She is a person who finds inspiration in many places. She shows us that work can be fun and that if you do the work you will be successful.

Always keep sparkling!  

Games Workshop – Sink or Swim?

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British Minis game manufacturer Games Workshop is garnering negative headlines this month as the result of a suit filed against the company in Florida by a livid game store owner. The suit filed by David Moore alleges violations of the U.S. regulations and the RICO act including but not limited to Fraud, Price Fixing, Breach of Contract, Unjust Enrichment, Restraint of Trade, Conspiracy and Antitrust Violations. Some of the major issues of contention for Moore seem to be:

– limitation of online sale (retails previously could not sell figures online and had to direct customers directly to GW for online sales) and increase of highly lucrative online exclusives not available in stores
– intellectual property theft including the name Space Marines (Moore alleges this theft was from Robert Heinlein, though the name had been used previously by Bob Olsen in a 1936s novella for Amazing Stories ), character design from FASA’s BattleTech, and Aliens design (R. Geiger)
– discontinuing Warhammer Fantasy Battle
– refusal to accept returns despite written statements to the contrary.

Moore is asking for 62.5 million dollars total in damages to be divided between himself and other affected stores as well as divesting GW of their intellectual property and trademark claims and changing the way the distribute product through their own stores.

The short, simple answer is that this suit will likely go nowhere. While perhaps breach of contract might be a legitimate issue, Mr. Moore’s wild volley of accusations range from misunderstanding IP law and RICO to being intentionally misleading regarding pricing and online sales. Also, there is some amount of irony that he dedicates at least a paragraph of his complaint professing to be only interested in upholding “a Free Enterprise & Free Market system of law” but then objecting to the company selling a product at a valuation that the market seems to be willing to bear. (And before you label Morris a miniatures-game playing Robin Hood you should know that in addition to receiving 20% of the proposed damages award, he asking that all copyrights and trademarks that Games Workshop currently owns to be conveyed to himself as well.)

All that being said, what seems to make Games Workshop the evil cackling villain of game manufacturers? When the suit originally made it into the news a forum thread on Board Game Geek veered back and forth from information on the suit to a list of grievances regarding GW. Posters left messages that read “…we all like to see GW get a bit of a kicking…”, “…GW, the company that’s reviled even by their own fans…” and “Even if they lost this crazy lawsuit, all they’d have to do to recoup costs is start making their models out of regular old clay, claim that it’s a highly-advanced space-age clay polymer, charge double for it because of that…” There’s been a good deal of negative press about GW and other stories seem to have more evidence to back their complaints.

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For starters, there are several documented cases of what some call trademark bullying – in particular over the term “space marines” (which, as noted above, wasn’t created by Games Workshop.) The subject of a cease and desist who had novels featuring the term pulled from Amazon  stated “I used to own a registered trademark. I understand the legal obligations of trademark holders to protect their IP. A Games Workshop trademark of the term “Adeptus Astartes” is completely understandable. But they’ve chosen instead to co-opt the legacy of science fiction writers who laid the groundwork for their success. Even more than I want to save Spots the Space Marine, I want someone to save all space marines for the genre I grew up reading. ”

Many cite Game’s Workshop’s almost non-existent customer service as another reason they dislike the company.  Richard Beddard attended a general meeting of investors in 2015. “I’ve got bad news for disenchanted gamers complaining on the Internet. The company’s attitude towards customers is as clinical as its attitude towards staff. If you don’t like what it’s selling. You’re not a customer. The company believes only a fraction of the population are potential hobbyists, and it’s not interested in the others.” There are literally dozens of threads on BGG, The Escapist, and Reddit complaining of unanswered complaints, queries met with indifference and hostility, and bait-and-switch-like tactics on the online store.

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Will any this matter to Games Workshop? Its hard to say. 2015 was a challenging year for the company financially but profits almost doubled in 2016. Releasing online sales to outside stores seems to have created some goodwill between the distributor and its retailers. On the other hand, newer, less expensive minis games like Xwing are continuing to nab a larger section of the market each year.  After 40 years this phoenix seems to rise from its own ashes with regularity – we’ll see what the next decade has in store for it.

 

 

 

Kathleen Mercury – Game Design with the Future in Mind

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Whats more exciting and inspiring than a woman game designer? A woman game designer thats also teaching a whole new generation how to make games. I sat down last month with Saint Louis’s Kathleen Mercury to talk about game design in the classroom and inspiring kids to create and play.

What inspired you to teach game design?

I got into gaming after going to a gifted education conference, actually.   It was about games you could have gifted kids play in the classroom, like stratego, and so afterwards I started looking into boardgames and found out about this whole other world that I had been oblivious to.

After playing a lot of games on my own I realized how great these would be for students to make in the classroom because it’s the Robert Sternberg trifecta of creative, analytical, and productive intelligence.

My big thing is that I want students to be creators not just consumers. I love that with game design, there is actually relatively little content they have to learn and the vast majority of the difficult work is struggling through the process.

All students, not just gifted kids, need to work with difficult problems that they create and that they have to design the solutions for. And then test, analyze the feedback at their given, and respond to the feedback by making changes that others have suggested. This is very difficult for adults, and in a lot of ways my students are better at doing this in seventh grade. They get feedback all the time from teachers so this way they learn how to work with giving a d getting feedback as part of an ongoing process.

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Do you feel like the tabletop community is positive towards female designers?

I’ve only had positive experiences as a female game designer, so I’m glad that I can say that because I know others have not always reported the same. I think whenever women are entering a male dominated job or hobby like gaming, we will stand out. We just will. And I think especially in gaming, it takes a while for people understand that I’m not just there because I’m the girlfriend of a gamer, I’m a gamer in my own right and a designer as well.

For myself, I was a gamer and got involved in the gaming community before I really started to present my games. And even in the beginning, I was pretty limited in what I did. I did not contact publishers to set up meetings for game conventions, which is probably the most common way of getting a game published, but I did sign up for the BGGcon speed dating event for one of my games.  (That game is actually in the process of being developed which is super exciting. Several years later after the event, but nevertheless it looks like it’s going to get made). Going to game conventions like BGGcon, Origins, and of course my local favorite Geekway to the West here in St. Louis, is what aspiring designers need to do. You’ll get to play a lot a prototypes, meet designers, and meet publishers. I’ve only ever had a blast going to game conventions and meeting people and I think that’s when the reasons why I can say I’ve never had any negative experiences. And I found that a lot of the gamers, designers, and publishers that I’ve met have been incredibly supportive when I’ve had games that I want to play test would have them take a look at.

What do you think gaming brings to the classroom?

I think gaming is one of the best activities for kids to do, both at school as well as at home. (I take a lot of pride in that I’ve introduced my students to so many games that they are now looking to games on their own, watch podcasts, and follow reviewers, so they bring in games that I haven’t even played yet.)

Gaming is a great social activity the way gaming online can never be. Negotiation both in terms of the rules of the game as well as learning how to navigate social situation is improved with gaming. Learning how to play nice, win nice and lose nice, how to clean up after yourself, and probably most importantly to engage in intellectual challenge for fun and recreation.

Especially for gifted kids, the population I work the most with, they need complex problems that they can solve, or try to figure out different strategies to solve, or these kids create their own problems to solve later. Plus they get to creative and take on different roles, whether it be a pirate or a snooty-faced European trade merchant. Kids love to have fun, as we all said, and I’ve probably laughed harder during various games with my students because of what happens in their responses to what happens and I think just bringing joy and fun into their lives is worth it.

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How is teaching teens game design different from teaching adults?

Kids are much willing to take risks and go with what they think is fun and funny. Adults tend to take a more measured approach and think more realistically about the type of game they’re designing and how it would fit into the existing marketplace.

Of course, when kids are analyzing games it tends to be determined in a limited way like how much they like it or not, and adults can more clearly articulate the strengths and weaknesses of a game or prototype.

Everything kids encounter in their life for the most part are things they’ve  never done before so they are used to just jumping in and giving it a try. Adults tend to be more cautious and more concerned about failure from the beginning.

But for either group, you have to work to shift their thinking from success and failure as mutually exclusive binary constructs but instead to see failure as a setback towards the ongoing forward-moving process to success.

What at do you find the easiest about teaching design? The hardest?

I think it’s all hard! Just kidding. I’m not mathematically inclined myself, so sometimes when it comes to working with designs to make them balanced or to intuitively understand how to make a game more balanced, that’s definitely a weakness of mine.

Rather than easiest, I’ll say the most fun part is that amazing feeling of having a really great idea. Either the really big idea that gets the whole design in motion, or a really clever inventive solution towards a difficult problem.

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Favorite game? Why?

I think my favorite game from a design standpoint is Survive! Escape from Atlantis, currently published by Stronghold Games. There are a lot of really great games out there and game designers that I admire tremendously, but for me, Survive is so much fun to play. I almost don’t even care if I win. The theme and mechanics are integrated so well and it has a great balance between what I can do to help myself and what I can do to impede others. It has great components, and the possibility for laugh out moments quite a bit.

Especially when playing with kids, who sometimes have a really hard time and even melt down if something bad happens to them in a game, this game has so many opportunities for bad things to happen, both to you and to other players, of it that it actually helps to make losing easier for kids.

What do you hope educators get from your website?

When I first decided to teach game design, I found very little out there to help me. Most of it was either designed to be used by video game designers or what I could find was not really that helpful. I had to adapt a lot of what I found, like from board game designers forum, to make activities that I could use with my students and even now I do very little actual lecture or paperwork, I’ve created a lot better activities to help kids learn how to design games.

Having kids understand what the most common mechanics are and how they can use them in a game is the most important thing towards them designing games because otherwise they will stick to what they know which is for the most part roll and move and event decks.

I started using the game UnPub as a way for them to develop a whole wide variety of game concepts and if they didn’t know one of the mechanics on their card, than they would have to look it up. It lent itself to lot more discussion about mechanics and themes and how they could be applied. The kids’ games and understanding of mechanics have become better since I started using that to teach mechanics, as opposed to the PowerPoint that I used to do.

Teaching really is game design. Anytime you’ve come up with a lesson and then when the lesson, seen where the problems are, trying to create solutions for them, and make it better and more interesting for the next time is exactly what game design is.

I think for me the most exciting thing is hearing from gamers and teachers all over the world who discovered my website and say things like oh my god this is exactly what I’m looking for, thank you so much for doing this, totally makes my day. All of it’s free because I just want people to have access to use it to learn from it. A lot of homeschool groups are using it, it’s being used at all different levels from elementary through college, and I’m always happy to collaborate and consult with anyone at any time on just about anything related to gaming.

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How would you like to see more gaming implemented into the class room in the future?

More after school clubs at least so kids have access to really great games in that critical time after school, before their parents get home from work, when they might be more inclined to be on the computer playing games. I don’t have any problem video games at all, but if we can keep kids engaged with each other socially and at school, that’s a great thing. Plus it’s more kids come to my game club, when I have them in class they already have exposure to so many really great games that it makes working with them in game design a lot easier. They have a lot of ideas and I’ve already seen a lot of things they like and don’t like.

As far as the classroom itself I think there’s a lot of really exciting things happening with the gameification of the classroom, and not just a point system is overlaid over what you’re already doing, but more ways to figure out how to get kids to create their own answers given a set of information rather than being presented with incorrect/correct answers. Turning dry lessons into games, even if they aren’t great, will get a better response and more engagement from students then just straight up facts being taught.

Big announcements or upcoming news?

I have two games in development with different publishers! So the next couple of years should be especially exciting, when those hit the market. I’ll keep you updated when they get announced!

 

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Kathleen is also a character in the upcoming Heroes Wanted: Elements of Danger! Check it out on Kickstarter!

Games to Get Excited About: August 2017

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August is looking to be a much better month for game releases with more than 25 games coming out, including Ark, Uncharted, and another Life is Strange title.

There’s a good mix of console and PC releases, and Nintendo continues to slowly add to the Switch library.  A few are continuations of popular franchises, and a couple are re-releases of games we’ve had for awhile, so it’s a mixed bag of new, almost new, and official releases of games we’ve already been playing.

It’s looking like a good month, but a difficult one to pick out a title despite the selection.  Ark is certainly a contender for most exciting release, but unfortunately my experience with it has been hit or miss.  Various bugs, memory leaks, and now unable to even join a server due to a strange error after the last patch has worn down my pleasure with the game.  Then there’s a lot of sports and racing games that just aren’t my cup of tea.  I’d be excited for the Pillars of Eternity Complete Edition release, if I owned a PS4 or XBox, but that’s one I’m sure a few are looking forward to.

That leaves me with one game I’m sort of excited about, even though I haven’t played the original series.  Thankfully, this is a prequel, so I might pick it up to play before going back to the first series.  Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 comes to us on August 31st and will tell the story of Chloe Price three years before the original game’s story line.  Chloe forms a bond with Rachel Amber, and together they help solve the mystery of Rachel’s family.  Some of the game mechanics have changed, most notably the removal of time travel.  Chloe will instead have a conversation feature called Backtalk that will allow you to manipulate characters in the story.

Why Should we Be Excited?

Obviously, this is a popular series, and a lot of gamers are going to be excited to jump into this world again.  For those of us who have not yet played the first, this could be a good place to hop on the train.  As a prequel one can step into the story without having to know the previous games.  If we enjoy it then we can pick up the first series and continue the story chronologically.  We’re also going to see an added episode covering a character named Max Caulfield, expanding the world’s lore even further.

Whether you’re jumping in to start here, or continuing the story of Chloe in a way, it should turn out to be a good release for August.  I’m seriously considering adding it to my list.  Maybe it will change my mind about this type of game.

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Notable Releases for August

Ark: Survival Evolved – The official release for a game long in early-access comes to us on August 8th.  It’s unclear if the bugs that have plagued it recently have been cleared up, but we’ll see early in the month.  Here’s to more dinosaur taming fun.  The release is for all systems.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – Also releasing on the 8th for Windows and PS4 is a action game from Ninja Theory, who are touting it as an “Independent AAA” game.  The story works with Norse and Celtic mythology and takes place in the underworld.

Sonic Mania – Sonic rolls into all systems on the 15th as a classic side-scrolling game that the franchise is known for.  The game received a good deal of acclaim at E3 and gamers are excited to return to the feel of what made Sonic a hit.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – Dropping on the 22nd this installment follows the story of Chloe Frazer, and stands alone as its own story in the world of Uncharted.  Beside the new characters the game will be much like others in the franchise, incorporating combat and platform play in third-person.

Hello Neighbor – A strange release hits the market on the 29th.  This stealth game has the player attempting to enter his neighbor’s house without getting caught.  The neighbor sets traps while you try to break and enter. Interesting, but odd concept.

 

Vanri’s First Convention: TooManyGames

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I know what you’re thinking.

Vanri, how is it you’ve never been to a con before?!

Well, the answer is pretty simple: Money.

As an introvert with anxiety, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to handle a convention. I was assured by Crymson that TooManyGames was a great con to start, as it was big, but not the biggest in the area. When we got our press passes, I was both excited and anxious, understandably.

We arrived at the Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA, and it was scorching hot in the venue. There were hundreds of bodies and a strong smell of B.O. We started to walk around to scope the place out. I was getting my bearings.

We found the VIP booths, the vendor booths and the Indie Game Showcase area.

Almost immediately, we heard loud banging coming from the back of the venue. We were informed it was Cosplay Pro Wrestling, so we rushed over. Crymson quickly let me know that our friends over at +2 Comedy helped to organize it and often participate.

We stayed for a couple of rounds before we got too hot and decided to leave, but not before Giovanni and Team Rocket interfered with a match and finally got their Pikachu. After a Sandman Deadpool took on two goons from Team Rocket, Crymson decided to show me the game room.

The game room was separated from the main floor. It was very dark with flashing rave lights. Separated into two parts, the game room was half arcade, half tournaments. It was spectacular.

Over the next three days, we conducted interviews, took literally hundreds of pictures and sat in on some of the best panels I could have asked for at my first con. I met such VIPs as MrCreepyPasta, Keith Apicary and The Gaming Historian. We also sat down with +2 Comedy, SuperBestFriends and one of the organizers of TooManyGames itself.

I was able to preview some awesome indie games, such as Frightshow Fighter and Sombrero: Spaghetti Western Mayhem.

We walked thousands upon thousands of steps, suffered boob sweat and had some technical difficulties. By day three, our feet hurt, we were grumpy and we wanted nothing more than to go home and go to bed.

At the end of it all, though, I have only one thing to say about my first con: it was worth it.

Top 10 Video Games I’ve Actually Beaten

10. Dragon Age Franchise

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I almost didn’t add Dragon Age because, even if I have beaten every game, I didn’t want to add another RPG to the list. However, not only is RPG one of my favorite types of games, Dragon Age is an amazing series. Even the second one – oh yeah, I said it – which was rushed did well with that they had (YOU CAN’T RUSH ART!). I can’t wait for the 4th one!

9. Civilization Revolution

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So Civ Revolution is one of those games that doesn’t really have an ending, you just win rounds. Well, I’ve won it a ton and it’s probably my favorite of the series. It is different than most of the Civ franchise games and still a wonderful game to play and one I’ve put many, many, many, many hours into.
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8. Borderlands  1 & 2

I LOVE Borderlands! Both games were exceptional for totally different reasons. I had a lot of trouble getting into Pre-Sequel, which I know is a great game but it wasn’t capturing my attention at the time. Not only was it great to play, I miss a lot of the characters and hope they do so much more in the future. If you like FPS RPGs then you HAVE to play this series. Full of badass women and men, tons of inappropriateness and more guns than you can literally shake a stick at!

Read the rest of this entry

How do I find a Dungeons & Dragons Game?

Written by: Paige of the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Facebook
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tumblr_npvpsuixei1roy0lqo1_250The 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Facebook
group is about 85,000 people strong, and the number one question we see in that group is, “How do I find a game of Dungeons and Dragons?”  Over the last year and a half, I’ve been collecting the advice that people have given each other, and have a standard list of hints and tips on how to find a tabletop game.  Considering the source, this is focused on D&D, but the advice also works for many other games. As always, when meeting new people, meet somewhere public and be sure to take the steps you think are necessary to stay safe.

 1. Start with a Friendly Local Gamestore.

Wizards of the Coast, the company that publishes D&D, has a listing of local stores by zip code. You may have to make friends at store games before people are willing to invite you to home games.
http://locator.wizards.com/#brand=dnd

2. Try looking for Facebook groups for D&D or games in your area.

(If you use the search below, add your city or state to search in YOUR area).

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=dungeons%20dragons

3. Look for local conventions in your area.

Obviously Google is the way to go, but also
check Warhorn and the Wizards convention finder.
https://www.warhorn.net/conventions
http://dndadventurersleague.org/ConMap

4. Reddit and EnWorld have dedicated “looking for group” sections for both online games (see below) and offline games (face-to-face).

You can search by city or state name. Just ensure you format your post according to their guidelines.
https://www.reddit.com/r/lfg/
http://www.enworld.org/forum/memberlist.php

5. A lot of stores and groups use meetup.com.

Try finding a suitable group in your area.  If there are no local D&D or RPG group, look for board gaming groups or Geek culture groups as a starting point to make friends with similar interests.
https://www.meetup.com/topics/gaming/

6. Consider online games.

The basic Roll20 platform is free, and many DMs have a Fantasy Grounds Ultimate License, which lets you join their game with a free basic Fantasy Grounds license.
https://app.roll20.net/forum/category/22
https://www.fantasygrounds.com/forums/forumdisplay.php

7. If there are no Friendly Local Gamestores in your area, try posting an old-fashioned “Looking for D&D Group” ad at a video game store or public library.


8. Here are a couple of good articles on finding groups:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/how-to-find-people-to-play-d-d-with-1732749132
http://geekandsundry.com/finding-a-dd-group-how-do-you-want-to-do-this/
https://nerdarchy.com/2014/12/find-gaming-group-tabletop-rpg-games/

9. There are some websites that offer gamer locator services.

http://www.theescapist.com/findinggamers.htm (page of options)
https://www.obsidianportal.com/map
http://nearbygamers.com/
https://www.findgamers.us/
http://www.penandpapergames.com/

10. There is often a shortage of DMs. Consider starting your own game!

The easiest way is to start with an adventure module. The DM’s Guild has many cheap adventures you can buy to get started (http://www.dmsguild.com/), or you can buy one of the official hardcover campaign books from Wizards of the Coast.
Best of luck out there! And you’re welcome to come ask who’s in your local area in the D&D 5th Edition Facebook group any time! https://www.facebook.com/groups/DnD5th/
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~Paige was amazing in putting this article together for us & you. She is one of the many moderators of the DnD5th group