SLO Smash community seeks to make a name for itself in the competitive Smash Bros. scene

Huddled in the back corner of the SLO Donut Company with five T.V. screens, not many people would think there’s a tournament going on. Yet, this is a monthly event for the SLO Smash community — a time for Super Smash Bros. players from around San Luis Obispo to sit down and flex their skills with Nintendo’s most recent fighting game.

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Super Smash Bros. is a Nintendo-crossover fighting game, featuring many characters from its beloved franchises. Featured here (L > R) Pikachu from Pokèmon, Fox McCloud from StarFox, Villager from Animal Crossing, and Mario from Super Mario Brothers. Photo by BagoGames (Flickr, Creative Commons).

Although the first installment of the Smash Bros. series, aptly titled Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 was released in 1999, the competitive scene for smash didn’t begin until 2001 with the release of its sequel: Melee.

Justin Pottle wrote for technology news website ars technica that “…Smash players united under the banner of Melee, and the series’ competitive potential was finally breaking into the mainstream.” Across the country, there was a growing interesting the new potential of competitive Smash players. In San Luis Obispo, it was the start of the SLO Smash Community.

On/off again over the last six years, it was in 2013 that the first Smash club got started at Cal Poly. The club was founded by Susanna Yu, and was extremely popular right off the bat. The group started hosting Melee tournaments, but remained mostly local during its early years.

The Smash scene in San Luis Obispo (SLO) picked up when professional smash player Julian “Jtails” Martinez from New York moved to the area in 2015. Before SLO, Jtails ranked 9th among the Smash 4 players in the New York area. When he started competing in local tournaments, he attracted the attention of other high-ranking players who wanted to compete against him, boosting the Smash community of SLO.

Since then, its been up the members to spread the word about SLO tournaments to the sister cities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.

Clay Kim is the head Tournament Organizer (TO) for the SLO Smash 4 Community. He works alongside Nick Plewtong, who runs the group’s facebook page, to set up tournaments for the community and keep track of local rankings.

For Kim, the final push to start playing Smash competitively came after watching a agonizingly close match between two high ranked professional players: Saleem Akiel “Salem” Young and Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman. At the time, Mew2King was considered one of the best Smash players in the world, playing the strongest competitive character in the game, but in 2013, lost to a less well known Smasher who played a less competitively viable character. Inspired by Salem’s victory, Kim began competing in Smash tournaments hosted across the state.

What keeps him coming back to the scene, however, isn’t the game, but the people Kim said:

“All the times I go to L.A., I meet people I would never meet without the game. Everyone in this room — there’s not a single person I would have met without Smash and they’re all really good friends of mine now.”

(00:30)

Right now, Kim explains, the hardest part about keeping up the SLO Smash Community is finding the right venue. As of now, they typically move between club rooms at the Cal Poly University, or are offered venues by local businesses such as SloDoCo, but its not permanent Smash spot. Once they find a permanent tournament spot, Kim explains, the SLO Smash Community will finally be able to grow and flourish.

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Talk show, reviews, and the importance of variety: Poly Game Review’s upcoming video game podcast

Poly Game Review (PGR), a reviewing group based at the California Polytechnic University: San Luis Obispo, has been in the works recording a new podcast, hosted by the members of  PGR. The club, founded a few years ago but took off last year, is now presided over by statistics major Brittany Ross who, alongside her vice president/treasurer Jackson Goyette, serves as a mediator for the PGR podcast.

The PGR podcast has been in the work for about a year new, but recording the sessions only started last quarter. The idea for the podcast came from a combination of Ross, club members, and the general rise in video game podcasts.

From the Co-Optional Podcast featuring TotalBiscuit (John Bain), Jesse Cox, and Dodger (Brooke Lawson) to the Giant Bombcast hosted by the staff at Giant Bomb, video game podcasts are becoming an increasingly popular way to discuss and share information about video games.

However, video games aren’t the only ones benefiting from the rise of podcasts. Podcasts are increasingly being used as a new form of storytelling. Renown podcasts such as Serial  helped increase public awareness of the medium, and since then, many new writers have turned to it in order to tell stories. The appeal of podcasts lies in using sounds and sensory details to engage the listener, rather than just reading words off a paper as in a book or typical news article.

In 2011, Emma Rodero of the Popeu Fabra University tested this theory using radio dramas. In the study, she concluded that:

“…the dramatised story contributes to a far greater extent when it [came] to encouraging the imagination of the listener thanks to a greater rate of vividness and a heightened generation of images…”

For PGR, the appeal of doing a podcast lies in the ease of conversation it brings. Every other week, the members of PGR get together to brainstorm topics. Members are actively encouraged to seek out topics they’re interested in, rather than focusing on keeping their topics current.

Transcription: “We started this club because there was a lot of misinformation and bias in game journalism, so we wanted to counteract that. We think a good way of doing that is letting people talk about what they want to talk about.”

 

By doing this, Ross explains, they’re able to discuss a larger variety of topics. On the podcast, PGR has even covered things such as video game movies and video game companies — not video games specifically, but definitely part of the overall video game culture.

While a set release date for the PGR video game podcast hasn’t been decided, the goal for the group is to finish recording sometime by the end of the quarter, and hopefully release a first episodes before spring. Most likely, the podcast will be available on the PGR website, but plans of a Youtube release are also being talked about.

 

 

 

Video games as a form of stress relief

Excess stress can lead to headaches, fatigue, sleep problems, bouts of anger and depression, and increases the risk for drug and alcohol abuse. According to the 2016 Stress in America report published by the American Psychological Association, 34 percent of Americans reported an overall increase of stress from the past year.

So, how do we combat something that is increasingly-present in our lives? Video games, surprisingly.

Console Playstation Xbox Joystick Video Games

Playstation controllers. (Creative Commons)

The Studies

In 2009, the team of Carmen V. Russioniello, Kevin O’Brien, and Jennifer M. Parks published a study, “The Effectiveness of Casual Video Games in Improving Mood and Decreasing Stress.”  Casual video games (CVGs) in the study are recognized by the definition set by the Casual Games Association in 2007, described in the research abstract as:

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Bejeweled 2 is a gem themed match-three  puzzle game. (Matthew Keefe, Attribution)

“CVGs must be considered fun, quick to access, easy to learn, and require no previous video game skills, expertise, or regular time commitment to play.”

The games used in the study were Bejeweled 2, Bookworm Adventures, and Peggle. After playing one of the three games, participants completed a Profile of Mood States assessment. In nearly all cases, after playing one of the CVGs, players reported a decrease in tension, depression, anger, fatigue, and confusion, and an increase in vigor.

In 2014, another study on the topic was done at the University of Central Florida. Together, the team produced a poster, “Casual Video Games Reduce Stress and Improve Mood,” that was presented at the Human Factors and Applied Psychology Student Conference 2015.

The study compared CVGs alongside guided relaxation and breaks as forms of stress relief. After putting participants through a 15-minute “vigilance” test, a test that measures reaction time to visual stimulus, they were asked to engage in one of the three relaxation methods.

Results showed that playing the CVG Sushi Cat 2 for 5 minutes was the most effective way to reduce stress and improve mood. Guided relaxation was also shown to be effective, but less so than playing casual video games. Taking a break was shown to be the least effective of the three methods.

I spoke with Dr. Dan McConnell, one of the researchers on the study, about his thoughts on what this new information means for high-stress environments. He explained that, most of all, this study shows that as part of a high-stress lifestyle, people need breaks in order to function at their best. Types of meditation and body-awareness methods have, throughout the years, been shown to be effective for reducing stress. Adding video games into the mix, Dr. McConnell said:

“The fact that playing a video game could get equal, if not better effects compared to that [relaxation method], that was a little bit surprising.”

Stress relief alternatives

Of course, CVGs make up only one of many ways that can be used to manage stressful situations. I spoke with the Assistant Director of Community Prevention and Intervention Services at Cal Poly: San Luis Obispo Dr. Hannah Roberts, who talked about a lot of baseline strategies for maintaining a healthy stress level.

The first thing to watch is the amount of sleep you get. Most people need between 7 – 9 hours sleep to function properly. Stimulants such as caffeine and cigarettes can elevate stress levels, so those should be minimized, especially when dealing with a lot of stress. Even depressants, such as alcohol, can create extra stress for the body.

After that, making sure you get enough exercise, are spending time outside, and are eating properly all go a long way to managing the stressors in life.

 

Indie developers making award-winning games in the AAA market

With the annual D.I.C.E. Summit only a month away, the recently released award nominations has been on the mind. Leading the way in nominations is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, developed by Sony subsidiary Naughty Dog, with 10 nominations. Right behind them, with 9 nominations, is INSIDE, developed and published by independent game studio Playdead.

Seeing an indie game stand nearly toe-to-toe with a AAA just goes to show how indie games have been carving out their own niche in the game market.

(you can check out the full list of D.I.C.E. nominations here)

Indie developers

Back in 2011, Laura Parker wrote a piece on the Rise of the Indie Developer for Gamespot. It talks about a lot of fear people had, and still have, about the sudden interest in indie development. Games like Minecraft, Journey and Super Meat Boy  all started off in small indie studios, sometimes even with just one person—and became critical successes. Surely, this trend can’t continue for much longer.

Yet, it is still growing. In their first State of the Industry survey back in 2013, the Game Developers Conference polled 2,500 North American game developers and discovered that, at the time, 51% of the developers identified themselves as Indie developers. Among the respondents, 46% said that they were working in companies with less than 10 employees.

With digital distribution sites such as Steam, GOG, the App Store, Google Play, and so on becoming increasingly popular, its no wonder we’re seeing entrepreneurs making their way into the video game market. Many games can self-publish digital media without wasting profits on creating physical copies, something that would’ve been impossible just a few years ago. Beyond just creating shovelware, what makes the rise in indie development great is the fact that these small companies are releasing award-winning, potentially industry-changing content.

Award-winners

For Playdead, INSIDE is their second success. The game serves as spiritual successor to their debut title LIMBO, and expands on many of the original puzzle and platform mechanics found in LIMBO. At the Game Awards 2016, INSIDE was also recognized for Best Art Direction and Best Indie Game.

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INSIDE uses light and music to give the game a haunting atmosphere. (INSIDE, Playdead)

 

Also honored this year at the Game Awards was That Dragon, Cancer, recognized for its Impact. That Dragon, Cancer started as a small project by Ryan Green to celebrate the life of his son Joel, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 1 and died in March, 2014. Green’s acceptance speech at the 2016 Game Awards was heartfelt and emotional, thanking the audience for allowing him to tell Joel’s story:

“You let us tell the story of my son Joel. And in the end, it was not the story that we wanted to tell. But you chose to love us through our grief, by being willing to stop, and to listen, and to not turn away. To let my son Joel’s life change you because you chose to see him, and to experience how we loved him.”

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Ryan Green and his son Joel in That Dragon, Cancer. (That Dragon, Cancer, Numinous Games)

 

Releases set for the coming year show that the trend for innovative indie game development is still going strong. Right now, the best way we can support the growing indie market is staying aware of what’s being released. Previews for Cuphead, Night in the Woods, and Rime already show that there will always be a new way to make games.

[edited for readability; January 24, 2017]