As Mayor Carmine DePasto's 13-year-old daughter said in Animal House, I got a lotta catching up to do. But I don't have a lot of time right now, so I'll just share my news via a quick couple of bullet points:
As you can tell from my updated profile, I am now a producer at EA Salt Lake, working on kid-friendly games. As a result...
By the way, if you take a gander over at the right sidebar, you'll see that I have Mass Effect listed under "Games I'm Playing After My Kids Go To Bed", and not as a game I'd ever let my kids play, with or without me. It's rated M for a reason, people. Now go click the link and read the article.
Best. DS Game. Ever. (a.k.a. REVIEW: Drawn To Life)
So I was sitting in the bathroom at work a few months ago...
Oh, the bathroom thing? Take it easy. I'm going somewhere with this. Trust me.
So like I say, I was just sitting there, minding my own business, leafing through one of the many game industry magazines put there for our reading pleasure, when lo and behold, I saw an ad that caught my attention.
Apparently, there was a game called Drawn to Life for the Nintendo DS handheld system, that was going to be hitting store shelves in the coming weeks. It seems that players would be able to draw their own characters, and play as them in the game. Intrigued, I ripped the ad out of the magazine...
Oh, the ripping out thing? Take it easy. I checked the other side, and there was nothing of value there. Trust me.
So like I say, I ripped the ad out of the magazine so I wouldn't forget the name of the game when I got home that night.
Anyhoo, fast forward a few weeks. I ended up getting the game, and it's been one of the best gaming discoveries I've ever made. My kids absolutely love it.
Once you start to play the active platforming part of the game, you will experience what is admittedly some fairly pedestrian 2D side-scrolling. You jump on some bad guys in Mario-esque Koopa-jumping fashion. You jump from platform to platform, hither and yon, collecting coins, hoarding snowballs, and trying to reach your next goal. All well and good, and your kids will enjoy it. But it's certainly not good enough to earn the kind of praise I lavished on this game earlier.
I could also go into more detail about the story. The Raposa, Mari, Jowee, the evil, power-hungry Wilfire, and the darkness he inflicted on the peaceful village. And so on and so on. Also all well and good. And your kids will enjoy the cute story as well. But like the platforming gameplay, the story is also not good enough to earn such over the top kudos.
True enough. So here endeth the part of the review about what makes Drawn to Life like so many other games...
...and here beginneth the part about what makes Drawn to Life truly special.
As you may have guessed, what makes Drawn to Life so amazing for kids is that they can use the stylus to draw their very own characters and play as those characters in the game.
With such a compelling, kid-friendly hook, it simply doesn't matter that the platforming gameplay has a been-there, done-that quality to it, and that the story is good but not awesome. The drawing mechanic is so delightful that it will raise those game elements to new heights. Like Michael Jordan elevating the play of the Luc Longleys and Steve Kerrs of the world, the drawing feature makes its teammates better.
Depending on their preferences, your kids can make their characters as simple as a stick figure, or they can spend as much time as they want crafting the ultimate avatar. There are also optional templates available. It's up to each child to make that decision on his or her own: they're in charge.
Speaking of being in charge, let me go back to the story for a second. While I did say that the story is good, but not great, what is great is that the story casts every player as "The Creator" and as such, every player gets to create his or her very own hero (as well as in-game elements like platforms, a forest, clouds, the sun, characters, snowball-shooting weapons, etc.).
So now let's review...
In Drawn to Life, your child is The Creator, and his/her custom-created character is The Hero.
Game. Set. Match.
So if you have a Nintendo DS, do what I did. Go buy Drawn to Life, and your children's love with it. :)
EDIT: I forgot mention that there are only 2 save profiles. If you have up to 2 kids who want to play this game, then you're golden. If you have more, then you might have a problem. My son and daughter each have a saved profile, and when I wanted to play the game myself last week, I couldn't create my own without erasing one of theirs. Unless I just missed something and couldn't see how to do it.
EDIT #2: I also forgot to mention that this isn't the first game to come up with the create-then-play-with-your-own-custom-character gameplay mechanic. Magic Pengel and sequel Graffiti Kingdom tried this before Drawn to Life, far less successfully. While those games had to rely on the PS2 controller's analog sticks for character creation, Drawn to Life employs the DS' uber-intuitive and precise stylus, and that makes all the difference in the world.
Many people get pretty sick of the ubiquitous holiday ads around this time of year, but one (actually, two) in particular really grinds my gears - Burlington Coat Factory.
The first commercial features a young adult fashionista going over a list of things available at BCF (rich wools! luxurious leathers! saving money!) for a devilwearspradaesque boss/mentor/client type. And each one is punctuated by that most parishiltonesque of exclamations, "That's hot!"
So is heartburn. * reaches for the Tums after seeing the commercial again *
The second commercial starts with a pair of French doors sweeping open to reveal an idyllic Christmas/nondenominationalholiday party. A woman asks a young girl, "so do you believe in Santa?" To which the girl cheekily replies, "I believe in cashmere!"
To which I ask, "What about the children? Won't somebody think of the children?!"
Each ad is craptacular enough in and of itself, but as a holiday ad duo, BCF truly reaches legendary status this year.
And I can't even give them the satirical benefit of the doubt, as some of my fellow game developers (you know who you are) have tried to do with Westwood's infamous Tighten up the Graphics on Level 3 commercial. Basically, as the thinking goes, it's so unbelievably ridiculous, it would have to be satire, wouldn't it?
Well, in Westwood's case, I know, and in Burlington's case, I'm guessing, that the commercials are both completely serious and completely clueless.
They should be so proud. Keep up the good work, fellas.
I can't go into any details about exactly what is happening, but I will say that EA Chicago was a wonderful place to work. I had the privilege of collaborating with a group of talented, passionate, awesome people, and I will sorely miss working alongside them each and every day.
That said, I'm optimistic about what lies ahead. Wish me (and all my Eachi peeps) luck. :)
EDIT: Since you're already here, feel free to check out my LinkedIn profile. And if you have any awesome openings in the video game industry, feel free to offer me one of 'em. :)
I am a producer at EA Salt Lake, working on kid-friendly games (woo-hoo!), as well as a columnist for whattheyplay.com, the videogame guide for parents. Before that, I... 1) worked on not-so-kid-friendly games at EA Chicago 2) was a columnist for the AOL Games - GameDaily Family Gaming Guide, and 3) taught a college course on the history of the video game industry.
Playing video games with my 2 young kids is a great way to connect with them. The key, of course, is to find games that are both fun and age-appropriate, which isn't always easy. The whole point of GameFam is to help parents with this critically-important task. Since I'm doing it anyway for my kids, I figured that parents of young kids might enjoy not having to add to their already-too-long To Do Lists.