Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Video game fan videos

Over the years playing various games I've created a few random videos, all just for fun, when inspiration struck.  I'm certainly not a master of video creation, lacking both talent and time, but occasionally I get an idea that amuses me.  And if you don't spend your life doing things that amuse you, then what's the point of your life, right?

I was looking at the stats on my YouTube channel today and I noticed I have some pretty impressive view numbers for some of them (considering they're just random things I did for fun).  And I realized I haven't ever linked any of them on my blog, or at least not that I recall.

So here's a blog post about some of the videos I've made.  For the very first one, flash back to October 2006.  I was living in Australia, playing a lot of EverQuest II, and trying to convince them to hire me too.  Back then I was part of a wonderful family type roleplay guild called Saga, which had carried over from the original EverQuest. We hosted a tavern night on a semi-regular basis which included a quiz game for prizes and well as chat and entertainment. One night, a trio of male halflings stopped in and offered their dancing skills to entertain us: they jumped up on the bar and did a fantastic synchronized dance in perfect time, using various emotes to coordinate their movements.  It was hysterically funny and they showed up for a number of subsequent tavern nights to repeat the performance.  I assume the trio were probably the same player running three accounts and with macros set up to coordinate the movements perfectly, and the enjoyment from those performances inspired me to create this video using my halfling and an alt of my then-boyfriend's; with the computers side by side and some macros set up, I could also coordinate the dancing to create the same effect.

And thus was created: The Secret Life of Halflings.  I sent it to the EQ2 dev team to give them a good laugh, as they were hard at work crunching away on the upcoming Echoes of Faydwer expansion.  Over 4000 views as I write this.  Maybe not even all halflings.

A month or two later I created a video tribute to the EQ2 Echoes of Faydwer expansion, set to Van Halen's "Jump", which featured the fae jumping and flying around (and at the end, a halfling also trying to jump and plummeting off Kelethin to her death).  It reached over 7100 views before YouTube said I had to remove it due to unlicensed use of the Van Halen song, so alas, it is no longer viewable.

In April of the following year, 2007, I was actually hired by SOE to work on EverQuest II as the tradeskill developer. I had very little time for making fan videos during those years, though I greatly enjoyed a lot of the ones that other fans created.  (One of my favorites is still the "Pirates of the Saskatchewan" video created by user Monkeydarren.  The Arrogant Worms, who sing the song, are actually a Canadian band from my own home town of Kingston, and in case you're not familiar with the geography of Canada, Saskatchewan is an entirely land-locked province.  Ok, I might be a little biased by the awesomeness of the song, but it's catchy!)

In 2011 as I started playing a lot of Minecraft on a multiplayer server and having tons of fun creating (and destroying) things, I started playing around with some videos again.  A friend and I built an amazing snow castle for Christmas 2011, complete with an aerial powered mine cart track that played "we wish you a merry Christmas" on musical note blocks as you circled the castle. We invited everyone on the server to join us one weekend before Christmas, build stacks of snow golems, and let them loose at night to battle skeletons and zombies in a huge snowball fight. It was epic and wonderful and I filmed parts of it, and although sadly the details of the snowball fight didn't film very well (since it had to be at night to get the monster spawns) I incorporated parts of that into an overall video that I set to the same music the mine cart plays, to show off the details of the castle.  I finished this video very late at night on Christmas eve, hunched over my laptop desperately trying to get it finished in time to give it to my co-builder as a Christmas present (via an in-game treasure hunt leading to the URL written on an in-game sign).  The ending of the video is footage from the snowball fight, and for days afterwards as the snow golems escaped across the landscape, you'd hear random "KABOOM!"s as they encountered annoyed creepers.

A month later, a server upgrade mysteriously changed the world biomes around, causing snow to fall in areas that previously weren't snow biomes, including the snow castle (which wasn't actually originally in a snow biome), my original tower, and several other people's home bases too.  A second video set to Frank Sinatra's "Let It Snow" was inspired:

For several years while working on EQ2 I'd been wanting to make more EQ2 videos, but time and inspiration didn't hit until after I'd left the EQ2 team. In August 2012 the "SOEmote" feature was added to EQ2, which allows players to use their webcam to capture their facial expressions and mirror it with their character's face.  Having worked on the team I knew this was coming many months in advance, and had been impatiently awaiting its arrival to create a masterpiece of pop culture, "EverQuest II Numa Numa".  In case you're not familiar with the meme, the "Numa numa guy" posted a short video of himself lipsyncing to the strange Romanian song "Dragostea Din Tei" by O-Zone.  It went viral and many parodies and some new versions were made, including a WoW video which misinterpreted the Romanian words into similar sounding English phrases.  I chose to use the English translation of the song, and picked a male halfling to sing it, and the result has had almost 4000 hits since August:

The video I most wanted to make, however, I'd been contemplating for at least three years but had never found the time or enough motivation to coordinate it, since I knew it would take a lot of help from other people to create.  Basically, I wanted to recreate in EQ2 the beautiful 2008 video "Where the Hell is Matt", created by Matt Harding as he traveled through the world and recorded himself dancing with people of all nationalities and backgrounds.  Matt's video not only went viral but also made the news in Time magazine and many other press outlets.  If you haven't seen the original, click through now and watch it; it's beautiful.

Anyway, I had been contemplating how to recreate this video in EverQuest II for years, but hadn't figured out the best way to do it. It was the revamp of the old Qeynos city zones that finally spurred me into action in September, long after I left the EQ2 team: with the city revamp, the old racial villages were being removed from game and would no longer be accessible except in quests. Hastily, a few days before their final removal, I logged into game and put out a call for players of the appropriate races to come dance with me in each zone to record them for posterity.  A wonderful, helpful bunch of tradeskillers, decorators, test server players, and random others spent a couple of hours following me around the world and dancing on queue in all sorts of zones, which I compiled and then assembled into the following tribute to "Where the Hell is Matt".  The main character in this one is Domino, the character I created to represent myself when I was a game developer, and she's wearing many of the tradeskilled items that I'd created over the years for various tradeskill quests.

The video includes scenes from many zones now retired from the game, as well as featuring a couple of cameo appearances from some of the well-known players of EQ2 including Jethal Silverwing, author and singer of many wonderful filk songs themed to EverQuest and EverQuest II.  My main regret with this video is the haste I had to film the disappearing zones meant I didn't have as much time as I would have liked to round up other EQ2 devs and players that I'd have liked to include.  But it still makes me smile to watch it. Favorite scene: the section of the Matt video where he mimics the indian dancers in saris is mirrored by me mimicking the goblin in the Isle of Refuge treehouse.  The video is now up to 1300+ views, clearly not as catchy as dancing Numa Numa halflings, but still pretty respectable!

Alas, my video editing skillz are pretty basic and I've been using freeware programs so haven't had the ability to do anything sophisticated. Still, they amuse me and that's the important thing, and hopefully the view counts mean they amused a few other people too!

I can't create videos yet for the game I'm currently working on - it's not yet released and still very much under NDA - but who knows.  Come April, maybe inspiration will strike again. We'll see!

Board games: Smash Up

Smash Up is a relatively new card game I got to play last weekend.  Requires 2-4 players (preferably 3-4), takes about an hour, depending how long people spend thinking about moves.

There are 8 factions of cards to choose from (indicated by the little drawing on the bottom right corner): robots, ninjas, pirates, wizards, dinosaurs, aliens, tricksters, and zombies.  To start the game, each player picks two factions, and shuffles them together to create his or her custom deck: for example, I played zombie robots.  Each faction has certain strengths and a certain theme to the game play which mean they're best played in slightly different ways.  Faction cards may be either Minions, or Actions.

In addition to the faction decks, there are bases.  The goal of the game is to gain victory points, which you obtain primarily by capturing bases (there are a couple cards that can directly award a point here and there too, but they seem rare).  Four bases are randomly chosen and laid out to start the game.  Each base has a strength number that indicates how much power is required to capture it (top left) as well as three point values indicating how many victory points are awarded when it's captured.  The first number is what the person who contributed the most points to the capture gets, the second and third numbers go to the second and third contributors.  As shown in the examples below, the first place is USUALLY the most points, but not necessarily always.  Each base also has text describing its specific special properties.

Play progresses as each player in turn can play minions or actions against a base.  You get to play one minion and one action each turn, unless the cards or the base tell you to do otherwise (which they often do).  Each minion has a certain amount of power points associated with it.  Once the sum of the minions' power equals is enough to capture the base, the cards are totaled up to determine which player won the base (whoever has most power there) and who got which victory points, then the base is removed from play and a new one replaces it.

First player to reach 15 victory points wins the game.  Simple!  But the fact your deck is different every time depending which factions you pick makes each game very variable.  We found some faction combinations felt better than others (Ninjas and Tricksters seemed a little too similar in function to combine well for example) but both games we played were extremely close in score which indicates it's surprisingly well balanced considering all the multiple variations possible.  I really liked the fun factions, the simple rules, and the many variations that combining the two factions can create in each game.

More good news: there's already an expansion planned adding 4 new factions, and the original box has plenty of extra space leaving lots of room for those expansions!