Science Alive! Episode 6: Gaming!

In the fall of 2016, the Canada Science and Technology Museum will be opening their travelling exhibition Game Changers at Science North in Sudbury. On this episode of Science Alive, Dave chats with assistant curator and gaming guru Sean Tudor about all the elements that make up a great video game. From story to graphics to great audio- it’s Game On at the Museum!

Dave: The Canadian video game industry is worth 3 billion dollars a year, but- how do you make a Game Changer? Grab some snacks and dim the lights- it’s time for Science Alive!
Dave: We’re with Sean Tudor, he’s an assistant curator here at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.  Now Sean, we’re playing video game if you were to create a video game where would you start?
Sean: I’d start with the story. I’m a big story guy- I’d start with- what do I want to do in this game? Why am I playing this game, and what makes me want to continue playing this game? 
Dave: So what are some examples of video games that have amazing stories?
Sean: The ‘Mass Effect’ trilogy by Bioware out of Edmonton has an amazing story. ‘The Last of Us’ is a pretty big, modern story.  Historic stories?  ‘Super Mario Bros’ has a story.
Dave: (laughing) No
Sean: Ya, ‘Super Mario Bros.’ has a story- you don’t just rescue the princess..
Dave: (laughing) What’s the story in ‘Super Mario Bros.’?
Sean: You rescue the princess, because only she can change the mushroom kingdom people back into toads.
Dave: Of course!
Sean: That’s why you rescue her.
Dave: That’s a historical reference right there.
Sean: There you go.
Dave: Do people want stories in their video games?
Sean: Some people do, some people don’t, and that’s why you still get games without stories, those casual games, you get ‘Farmville’ and other games that are just there to engage you in the moment. A lot of app games right now don’t necessarily have the highly complex stories in them, they are maybe derived from games with highly complex stories.
Dave: So from the story you look at things like graphics.  How do game developers start with a blank sheet of paper, or a blank computer screen and create these graphics?
Sean: So much like any literary story, a game’s story can start to set the tone, it can give you an environment, it can give you- whether it’s middle aged, futuristic, is it hyper-fantastical? What art style am I going to choose?  Am I going to choose  hand craft- like Yoshi’s mini world that Nintendo just put out, or paper-craft, or am I going to choose cell-shaded like ‘Viewtiful Joe’ or hyper-realistic like ‘Crisis’, so the story sometimes sets the tone for what graphic style you’re going to use. 
Dave: And game developers will use motion sensors, or motion detectors as part of this too?
Sean: Yeah, if you’re doing a hyper-realistic game, even some non-hyper-realistic games, cartoon-y games will use motion tracking suits- little dots cover your skin tight suit, and they have to keep track of three dots on your suit at all times so they can triangulate what your motion is going to be.  
Dave: I guess they use that for the sports games too?
Sean: Ya, the sports games is where it came about.  It came about originally in the study of Human Kinetics, and transferred to movie and video games.  So the big games that we can think of that are Canadian produced are NHL, and the FIFA games. 
Dave: Now, game play.  I guess sooner or later you have to decide what happens when you push ‘A’ and what happens when you push ‘B’. 
Sean: Yes, that’s part of game play, that’s the user interface side of the game play.  But- what about the game play of deciding- is it a platform, is it an adventure style game, is it a puzzle-based game.  What type of game play mechanic are you going to use that’s fundamental? Not necessarily which buttons you’re going to use, but how is the game going to play? 
Sean: A Zelda game, for example is an adventure puzzle- right?
Dave: Right.
Sean: The core mechanic, yes you’re off on an adventure someplace but the big thing is puzzles to complete your dungeons. Yes there are battles, but it’s puzzles. 
Sean: So, is it a first-person shooter game? That is a game mechanic.
Dave: Okay. 
Sean: So that’s what I mean by game play.
Dave: And then, sound is a huge part of all this?
Sean: Yeah! If I took out my Game Boy right here, and I was playing ‘Tetris’ on it, and it started playing Flight of the Bumblebees instead of the Tetris, type A music…
Dave: Well, it’s a custom theme song- they wrote a theme song for ‘Tetris’.
Sean: Exactly!  So audio is part of that story and the gameplay, it sets the tone for the experience that you’re going to have. And when someone messes with that, it changes the experience you’re going to have as a player. 
Sean: A modern example would be Ubisoft’s ‘Child of Light’ game. There are some criticisms of the game play aspect, but the audio aspect is really good.  They got Coeur du Pirate, a local French-Canadian artist to do all the piano work, and it’s an artistic game, and the on the other layer they still have a foley artist doing the actual sounds. 
Dave: Sure, and ‘Halo’ has an orchestra!
Sean: Yea! ‘Halo’, the ‘Final Fantasy’ by Square-Enix, they have an orchestra.  There’s orchestral tours, if you go on Youtube- are we on Youtube now?  If you continue on Youtube, you can do video game glee clubs, where glee clubs will sing video game music.  This is how iconic the music becomes in our psyche. 
Dave: And you’ve put together an exhibit called Game Changers so people can actually come and try these games?
Sean: Yea, we’re going to invite people to come in, try the exhibit.  It opens in Sudbury in October of 2016 and then it’ll be in Ottawa in the fall of 2017 with the reopening of the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
Dave: Very cool, here with Sean Tudor, he’s an assistant curator here at the Canada Science and Technology Museum! 

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