How to Get Started Creating Your Own Interactive Visual Novel with TyranoBuilder on Steam

TyranoBuilder Iron Chefette
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

TyranoBuilder, a user-friendly drag-and-drop visual novel/dating sim maker, will be launching on Steam tomorrow. It seems ridiculously easy to use, to the point that even if you've never dabbled in game-making or don't know a lick of code, you could fire it up on Friday and have a playable program for Mac or Windows (or both) by Monday. You could even whip up a last minute entry for NaNoReNo, a month-long event held every March where people develop and share their own visual novels.

But where to start? Just because you have an engine to build your game on doesn't mean you're even close to being ready, so here's what you'll need to start fleshing out a project in TyranoBuilder this weekend:

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'MM' Versus 'TSR': The Feud That's Tearing The Sims 4's Fashion Modding Community Apart

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Every community has seams, and video game modding communities are no different. Each modder has their own priorities and its easy enough to see the borders that form around like-minded groups. Maybe one forum focuses more on visual mods, or a certain blog prefers to talk about systems mods. There's no harm in either. These borders don't really isolate anyone, nor do they indicate any inherent animosity between groups; in essence they just paint a line down the middle of the room, creating a superficial and generally unspoken divide.

That's how it's been in the modding community surrounding The Sims series for some time now, particularly when it comes to fashion mods. The principal divide between Sims modders exists between those who prefer crisp photo-realism and those who embrace a softer and more stylized look that blends into the vanilla game (like the dress pictured above from modder Anubis Under the Sun). But following the release of The Sims 4 this divide has only widened, and now things might be coming to a head. Here's why:

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MMO Takes Choice of Avatar Race Away from Players, Provoking Racism... and Frontier Justice Against Racists

Avatar Race

Here's a very interesting Kotaku post on the latest update to Rust, a multiplayer survival MMO, in which the developers took away an avatar customization option that gamers have taken for granted for, well, basically since MMOs have existed: Race. So instead of getting to choose the avatar's skin tone and physical features, in Rust those are now selected for the players -- you know, like in real life. Which in turn exposed some real life attitudes about race among a lot of players:

Largely, said [lead developer Garry] Newman, the change has been received favorably, but it hasn't been without its growing pains. Some people have protested the fact that they suddenly sport skin colors that aren't theirs. There's also been a definite uptick in overtly racist language: "It makes me wish I'd set up some analytics to record how many times the N-word was used before and after the update," Newman said. "It was used quite a bit from what I've seen."

On the plus side, that racism led to a kind of virtual frontier justice in the wild west of the Rust game world:

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Toca Nature: Lovely Open World Creation Game for iOS

Toca Nature is a lovely looking iOS game which launched a few months ago, and it's about creating and fostering a little world with your fingertips -- watch:

Here's the basics of play:

Shape nature and watch it develop. Plant trees and grow a forest. Raise a mountain and enjoy the view. Collect berries, mushrooms or nuts, and feed the different animals. Learn who eats what and discover how much it takes to winkle a bear out. Walk through different landscapes and become friends with a fox. Capture the moment of woodpeckers zigzagging between trees, and watch the day turn into night.

Haven't played it yet but Toca Boca, the studio that developed the game, is quite acclaimed for its sandbox games for kids. I interviewed Toca's CEO Björn Jeffery a few years ago, who told me about their design philosophy:

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These Five Cities: Skylines Photo Filter Mods Will Make Your Simulated Cities Shine

KiLL3r 1977 Cities Skylines LUT Mod
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

One of my absolute favorite features about the most recent (and most loathed) SimCity game were the Instagram-tastic filters you could apply to your game in real-time. They made for some great screenshots, but after playing for a few hours (some of us did actually play for a few hours!) they were also pretty good for giving your eyes a break and changing things up. You could look at your city with a new coat of paint, in effect, which is why I was a little bummed to hear that Paradox Interactive's Cities: Skylines had borrowed just about everything that made SimCity appealing, but left its visual filters on the cutting room floor alongside multiplayer regions and horrendous launch issues.

Thankfully, Cities: Skylines is an exceptionally moddable game that sold 250K copies in its first day on the market. It's therefore no surprise that it's already gathered an active community, which means that plenty of other players who have been pining for those filters have put that pining to good use. In amid all the maps and turnstyles and town saves there are currently about 100 color correction mods on the Steam Workshop for Cities: Skylines. Here are five of my favorites:

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Twitch is Technically Correct to Ban Second Life for Adult Content Focus & Graphically Nude Avatar Feature

Twitch's policy prohibiting Second Life streaming has caused a lot of outrage among some SLers, but that annoyance overlooks an inconvenient fact: It's technically correct. Twitch's statement says Second Life content "is sexually explicit, which is content we do not allow on our services". And in fact, the majority of Second Life's most popular sims are Adult-rated for extreme sexual and violent content -- look:

Second Life Adult content Twitch ban

Courtesy Louis Platini's Metaverse Business, these are the top 25 most active Second Life sims this month, listed by average avatar visitor count at any given period, visitor range, and previous position -- 13 of which are Adult-rated. So that's already a problem for Twitch.

Now let's look at the full statement from Twitch:

Content in [Second Life] is unrated and often sexually explicit, which is content we do not allow on our services. We also do not permit Adults-Only rated games and games where nudity is the core focus, feature, or goal.

Second Life is not rated by the ESRB, but if it was, it'd be rated Adults-only.

But what about the idea that nudity in Second Life is "the core focus, feature, or goal?" The fact that most popular Second Life sims are Adult-rated definitely suggests nudity is a core focus/feature/goal.

But here's an even more pressing point:

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These May Be the Most Relaxing and the Most Breathtaking Minecraft Videos You'll Ever See

 
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Wait! Stop! Do not click play on the video embedded above until you have read this very important warning: This video is almost certainly going to make you drowsy. It may even make you fall asleep. If you're at work, this would make particularly bad break-time viewing. So save it. Save it for when you're at home, curled up, and juuuust about ready for bed. Why? Because it's one of the most ridiculously relaxing Minecraft videos I've ever seen. More than that, it's also showing off one of the most incredible builds I've ever seen, dubbed Imperial City. It's an absolute must-watch if you want to see the scope and scale of what can be accomplished with Mojang's humble little voxels. But it will knock you right out.

It's like if Jacques Cousteau was taking you on a tour of Paris... If he'd built Paris himself with a couple of friends... And had to keep his voice down to a soothing (and informative) murmur.

If you haven't guessed, this isn't your run-of-the-mill Minecraft video. It's an ASMR video by The French Whisperer, who's most well known for his soft-talking videos about world history. One of my first articles on Paste concerned ASMR Let's Plays, videos in which a player records themselves playing a game in a relaxing manner and speaking in a low or even whispered voice to help the viewer relax. The intersection of the ASMR and gaming communities is pretty fascinating -- or perhaps a little creepy, depending on your perspective.

Either way, if you can stay awake long enough to watch the whole thing, you may also want to check out the second and third parts of the tour. You can also download the Imperial City world file for yourself here.

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Gamergate Hasn't Hurt Academic Interest in Gaming, Say Leading Scholars -- If Anything, It's Increased Interest

Gamergate academia Brianna Wu

Gamergate target Brianna Wu speaking at UC Irvine (video below)

Gamergate has hurt academic interest in the study of games, according to an anonymous academic who recently posted this to the consternation of Gamergates' leading detractors on Reddit. Sample:

We have been working for years to make games a legitimate tool for education and for study, and we were making progress. People were starting to take games seriously. And then came GamerGate. I have seen the careful progress of a decade come crashing down, and now, when I go to talk about games to industry groups or fellow academics, GamerGate always comes up as an example of how terrible and immature people who play games are. It will take years and years to repair the damage, and it is absolutely devastating to the serious study and application of the power of games to real problems.

I put that point to three leading academics in game studies, however, and they had a very different story. If anything, their replies suggest, Gamergate has increased interest in gaming as an academic focus. Take Tom Boellstorff, Professor and Graduate Director at UC Irvine's Anthropology department and a staffer at the university's Institute for Virtual Environments and Computer Games:

"We just had Brianna Wu at Irvine and she gave an amazing talk that ended with a standing ovation," Tom tells me (video below). "There's a balance here: (1) Gamergate has caused problems, but (2) we don't want to blow that out of proportion to the extent that it reinforces a focus on only one type of gamer and also (3) there are other factors at play with all this including hype cycles and such.

"But," he goes on, "something else that Gamergate shows, indirectly, is that games and gaming are important. They are important to all human cultures throughout history (there is no society that does not have some form of play and games), and they are extremely important now. They are going to play a key role in shaping our new digital age. We clearly do not yet understand all the forms of that influence and their possible implications, but we can’t give up working together to gain better understandings and strive for better, more inclusive and just futures!"

In this, Tom was reflecting on comments from Mia Consalvo, Canada Research Chair In Game Studies & Design at Concordia University:

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Mourning a Lost Brother Through His Skyrim Avatar

Skyrim Brothers Memorial

Via Reddit, here's a very poignant tribute told in images, of a young man who died far too early, and the family member who remembers him by logging into the world of Skyrim, the game he loved so much: "I never move his character, save, or do anything since it wouldn't be his character anymore. He is frozen in time just like my young brother was." Reminds me of the gamer who races with his dead father's race car avatar, or from Second Life, the husband avatar that her widow made.

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Survey Presented at GDC Reveals How Many Boys Don't Care About Character Gender (and How Many Girls Do)

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Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Last week at GDC the results of an interesting new study about gender and gaming were shared. The study, conducted by Ashly Burch and Rosalind Wiseman, asked students in middle and high school a variety of questions about their gaming habits, including topics like what gender characters they prefer playing, if those preferences effect how likely they are to play a game, and how they feel about how female characters are typically handled. The lesson Burch and Wiseman are hoping the industry learns from their study is that kids are more progressive than we tend to think, even when it comes to games lead by someone other than the standard grizzled white guy heroes. For instance, a surprising number of boys don't care whether their characters are male or not, compared to a much larger number of equally game-savvy girls who prefer playing as female characters. 

While the bottom line is that these numbers should inform development decisions and help in the push for increased diversity in games, as I was reading about this study I couldn't help but let my mind wander a bit. Specifically, it wandered to all the people (mostly men) who have asked me in the past why I care so much about the gender of the characters I play...

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