New Entries

New Entries: Tiny Wings HD

As promised, we are making January a Double Games Month. The first of our five bonus games is Andreas Illiger’s Tiny Wings HD. This cheerful game of bouncing birdies can be played alone or with a friend and is accessible to all ages. It’s a great title to keep on your phone as “Emergency Entertainment” when Dearest Son/Daughter is in a rambunctious mood!

Click the link below for our official GameHub entry for Tiny Wings HD:

Tiny-Wings-HD-Icon
Tiny Wings HD
GameHub Concierge

GameHub Concierge: Which Wii?

My Son (6.5) is really keen to get a Wii – he started being helpful in August because he’d decided on his own that that was the way to get one for Christmas. I don’t know much about them – but if I do get one, do I need a Wii or a Wii U? And why is this one twice the price of this one? If I get the first, can I then buy older Wii games second hand for it? Or might I just as well, at that point, get a secondhand Wii? Any advice gratefully received. Thanks in advance.” via  Mumsnet

WiiU
Wii U

I rather admire the lad. Being helpful to his Mum and with clear goal in mind as to what he would like for Christmas, good for him! Confusion over the Wii and WiiU is a common problem. GameHub Concierge is donning its Santa hat and riding to the rescue!

GameHub Concierge:

“The Wii U and the Wii are actually two different consoles, something that Nintendo have not been very good at all at communicating to their customers. Even the gaming press were confused when it first came out! The WiiU, the new console, was launched in 2012, whilst the Wii is the old console originally launched in 2006. In tech speak, the WiiU is a whole “generation” more modern than the Wii. Without boring you with lots of nerdy numbers, the difference between the two devices is quite substantial. If this is your first Nintendo console for your home, I strongly recommend you go with the WiiU.

With a WiiU, you will get the WiiU Gamepad. This is a flat, Ipad-like controller with a camera, touchscreen and microphone, designed for games that don’t suit the physical “flail about” input method. This means that the WiiU is a far more versatile console than the Wii, suited to lots of different kinds of games.

The WiiU is also “backwards compatible” with the Wii, which also means that you will be able to play any games which say on the box that they are made for a Wii, including second-hand games. By contrast, the Wii would not able to play WiiU games, or use the WiiU Gamepad.

Wii
Wii

In the WiiU box you linked, you would get the console and gamepad, lots of cables and stands, and free game called Nintendo Land. To make the perfect present, I would recommend you get him another 1 or 2 games for variety. I can advise on what titles are currently popular, or, if you can tell me a little bit about your son’s preferences and interests, I can come up with a more tailored list of suggestions. And if you have any more questions, please ask and I will do my best to answer them!”

Got a question for the Concierge? Contact us.

Games Culture, Guest Posts & Interviews

Meet Our October Writer!

It’s October! The days are getting shorter, nights are getting colder, and Halloween is just around the corner. With all the nippy autumnal weather, its the perfect time to snuggle in with some video-games for some quality time together as a family.
Except, that’s not what I’m doing. I’m moving house! So, to ensure you guys are not left bereft whilst I try to manhandle a sofa up nine flights of external stairs in the teeth of a howling gale, I’ve brought it a guest poster to handle our GameHub HQ entries for the month. Wes is a fantastic games writer and a devoted father of two, so knows all balancing the worlds of games and family. We are delighted to have Wes on board with us, especially as he is a toys-to-life expert, so if you have questions about Skylanders, he’s the guy to ask!

Hello wonderful people of the Internet. My name is Wesley Copeland and I’m currently a freelance news reporter for IGN. Before that, my work has been published by the likes of Edge, The Independent, Pocket Gamer, NowGamer, GameRanx, and ShopTo. I also used to run a small gaming site called Video Games Interactive.

I’m a married father of two boys aged 12 and 5, respectively. In terms of video games, my kids are “Can I play GTA yet?” (No!) and “How do I use sticky pistons in Minecraft?” (I haven’t the foggiest!).

 Outside of working or playing games solo or with my kids, you’ll probably find me glued to my laptop either writing my first novel (Lazarus: How One Pharmaceutical Company Cured Death) or plotting to launch a YouTube channel for video (about kids’ video games shockingly enough).

Which games did you pick for your reports, and why?

  • I am a huge Assassin’s Creed fan, and I’ve always wanted to sit down with one of the games in the series and really scrutinize them. Like, really take them to town in terms of what content they contain. Plus I don’t think parents are getting all the info they need when it comes to adult games like Assassin’s Creed. I mean, we have Assassin’s Creed Mega Bloks figures. I’m never going to tell a parent what toys or games their children should or shouldn’t play. But I do believe we in the games media have a responsibility to get as much info as possible to parents before they make a purchase, just so they know exactly what something is so they can make an informed decision.
  • One of the other titles I covered was Mario Party 10, simply because if you’ve got multiple children it’s worth having a party game like that in your arsenal.
  • Hyrule Warriors I picked because even though from the outside it looks like a kids’ game, it’s not an out-and-out kids’ game.
  • Pikmin 3 I chose because it’s the type of game I’d let my kids play, so reporting on a game like that seemed like an obvious choice for GameHub.
  • The final title I covered was Skylanders Trap Team. Not just because it’s a great game on its own, but it’s my go-to game when I’m recommending games for kids. It’s intelligent enough that it appeals to both children and adults, but it never forgets who its target audience is. Plus it’s co-op. Who doesn’t love a good co-op game? 

How did you adapt to writing GameHub Game Reports, rather than reviews or news? It’s quite a different style!

It was a giant pain in the backside at first (laughs)! [-Boss: Sorry! 🙂 ] When I was starting out, I was told to look deeply into games, to explain why something is good or bad. If something stands out, your reasoning as to why it does needs to be detailed enough that our readers can relate to what we’re saying and will (hopefully) agree with us, or at least understand why we think something is good or bad.

When writing for GameHub, I had to unlearn everything I’ve been taught, because GameHub isn’t a site where I tell parents my opinion on a game. It’s a site where we talk in facts; specific elements in video games aren’t bad or good on GameHub, they just … are. It’s almost like “This is a thing, this is what happens in said thing,” then the reader/parent themselves get to decide if it’s good or bad.

So it was a giant pain in the backside at first, but once I got to grips with what was needed of me, I had an absolute blast!

What are your favourite games to play with your kids at the moment?

Glad you asked! Skylanders just released their latest offering (called Superchargers), so we’re all playing that at the moment. Then there’s Disney Infinity 2.0 which we keep going back to. And, of course, there’s always, Always, ALWAYS, Minecraft. At any given time of the year, you can guarantee we’ll be playing Minecraft. My eldest actually made a new game in it recently where we both ‘wake up’ above a field of molten lava, then we have to build towards each other’s base (without falling off or getting sniped), then we have to poke each other off of our platforms. First one to ten successful pokes wins.

Honestly, the amount of insane fun we’ve had in Minecraft is amazing. There’s nothing else like it.

A lot of parents, particularly Mums, feel very confused and overwhelmed about how to deal with video-games – how to find suitable content, how to police screen-time, how to deal with peer-pressure and bullying when it comes to owning certain games. How do you think the industry can better help parents with gaming issues?

I think the problem we’re seeing is that video game publishers don’t speak to parents. They speak to gamers, kids, geeks, nerds, but never directly to parents. We have advertising that parents see, sure, but that isn’t the same. An advert in between a TV show doesn’t elucidate what the game they’re selling is. It shows the viewer a glimpse of the game’s best bits, not a balanced overview of everything it entails.

Obviously you couldn’t have five-minute adverts to explain everything a game has or does. But publishers could easily link to sites likes GameHub, UKIE, or ratings websites, on their social media channels. Anything that gets parents more information is a good idea in my book.

You had some great anecdotes about your kids and seeing them learn and grow through play. Any fun new stories, or a particular family favourite you want to share again?

My youngest calls sweetcorn “Yellow peas,” and his toes are called “feet fingers.” I have got a new story, actually. Me and my eldest bought some Pokemon Playmo figures from Japan. They’re essentially DIY model airplane kits. We finished building them, then I had to get dinner on. I put mine away upstairs, my eldest shoved his behind a curtain for safe keeping. I’m not sure why that’s a good place to hide them, but it’s kid-logic so I didn’t question it. We both told my youngest not to touch them because they’re fragile. It was a sound plan in theory, but quickly fell apart.

I went to get dinner on, and my eldest went upstairs. When I came back into the living room about 15 minutes later, my youngest had all of my eldest’s Pokemon figures in front of him, and had built replicas of them all in Minecraft. Every single one. I know I should have said something about how not to mess with other people’s things, but when I entered the room and he turned to me with a gleeful look in his eyes and said “Look what I made!” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. They were really good likenesses, too!

If you had one piece of advice that you could give to all parents about video-games, what would it be?

Ask people who know what they’re talking about what the game they’re buying for their child is. When I worked at GAME (this is going back many years now) I always made time to explain to parents what it is they’re buying, so they can decide if it’s suitable. Now, as a games writer, I still have all the time in the world for parents with questions. But parents need to be the one to find us and ask us.

If you had one piece of advice that you could give to all game creators about parents, what would it be?

Remember who your target audience is. Don’t assume because it’s a kids’ game you can take it easy. Kids – as well as adults – want good games, too. If that wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t see Skylanders selling loads on a yearly basis.

Which game would you like to see next on GameHub?

Skylanders Superchargers, Lego Dimensions, and Disney Infinity 3.0. Basically, the more information there is about toys-to-life games, the better. Someone who doesn’t know what these games are might hear something like “Lego Dimensions costs £750!!!!!” and be put off from it without realizing you don’t need to buy everything to enjoy it.

If you could show GameHub to one person, famous or family, who would it be and why?

My nan. She died when I was 13 so it’d be great to show her what I’m doing with my life (please don’t say this is the last question, this is a terrible note to end on!)

Did you enjoy doing GameHub Guest Games and would you be up for doing it again? 

Definitely! Any chance I get to really look deeply into what makes a game is absolutely smashing.

Did you enjoy Wes’ interview? I loved the story about recreating the Pokemon toys in digtial form – so sweet! Let us know you thoughts – and any stories of your own – in the comments below!

GameHub Concierge

GameHub Concierge: Game On, Dance Off!

Game on, dance off!
Dance like nobody is watching! Except, they are.

Today, we got asked about picking out a dance game for a 10yo girl. The dance game genre is incredibly popular and crowded, with titles for Xbox, Wii and Playstation all selling well and competing strongly. But dance games are far more a product of the music industry than of the games industry, and they bring a lot of issues with them, especially around issues like over-sexualisation, and gender stereotyping which cause some parents a great deal of concern. Music brands such as High School Musical, Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber cater to a “pre-teen” market of young adults who are neither teens nor children. We help our questioner, Garon, to try to pick through this issue to make sure they get a game which they feel is suitable for their daughter:

Hi, I saw you were offering to give some advice on PS3 dance games! I would like to get one for my daughter who’s about to be 10. I don’t have any idea what these things are like. Are the kids versions like Just Dance Kids really aimed at younger kids? She loves music but is not really into current pop music – we mostly listen to old tunes, then again it might be good to bring her a bit more up to date!
Any advice gratefully received. ” via  Mumsnet

Its a long reply, so buckle up!

GameHub Concierge:

“Hello Garon. I have done some research for you and this is what I have come up with. But first, a preamble:

Dance games are created under the iron thumb of the record companies, and they bring a lot of “baggage” with them. The occasional dance move that parents and on-lookers may feel is veering a little toward the “raunchy” may sail straight over the heads of the kids – they just think it’s being physical and dancey and silly. The sexy subtext of a song will probably be loud and clear to the teens and adults, but the under 10s might go along utterly oblivious, singing along without a care in the world. And the studios are looking to sign acts that are popular and famous, so no matter what you think of their conduct as moral individuals, it’s inevitable that you are going to get a song by Rhianna, Miley Cyrus or Chris Brown, whatever title you buy. Child stars are also obviously extremely popular, so Justin Beiber, Selena Gomez and ilk will feature strongly also. Additionally, all these games will have a “Work Out” mode for exercise and weight loss. Dance games do have “an agenda” pushed by record companies- pre-teen and young teen obsessive super-fans spend a lot of their disposable income on music, so there is a massive amount of pressure on this genre to be SUPER FUN, SUPER COOL, SUPER EXCLAMATION MARKS!

I’m not trying to frighten you, I just want to be as honest as I can in saying that, if you have concerns about some of the trends we are seeing in the music industry, you may well find them in these games too. Dance games are not really “video games” proper, they are an extension of the music industry. The video game community of players and developers doesn’t have peer influence over these titles, they are music industry products that happen to be played on game systems. The “baggage” that comes from how much influence music has over pre-teen and teen behaviour is still going to be there. For some people, this is a really massive concern and something they feel very strongly about. For others, it’s just part of growing up and making the transition from kid to teenager and not a big deal. I just wanted to be as up front and honest with you as I can about it, so that you can decide what is the most appropriate choice for your daughter and where she is at right now.

So, with all of that in mind, I have some titles to suggest to you. As it is a popular genre, its crowded, and it can be confusing to try to tell all the different games apart. I’ve picked out a few for consideration:

The kingpin dance title for Playstation is “Just Dance.” The track mixes are solid party and modern pop mixes, popular with pre-teens; Just Dance 4 was voted Favourite Video Game at the Kids Choice Awards! You can dance alone, with or against friends. There are 50 tracks, including:
Disturbia: Rhianna
Maneater: Nelly Furtado
Moves Like Jagger: Maroon 5
Oops I Did It Again: Britney Spears
Age Rated: PEGI 3+

“DanceStar Party” is a good bet also. It’s not as popular as Just Dance – anecdotal evidence would suggest the developers tried to hit the middle ground between music video/night club dance moves and big silly, kiddie shapes, and the end result makes you look fairly daft; it’s a bit “uncool.” Nontheless, its a solid title for dance, and you can turn on the Playstation Move microphone to sing along. Tracks include:
Do It Like A Dude: Jessie J
Get Down On It: Kool & the Gang
Born This Way :Lady Gaga
Age rated: PEGI 12

“Just Dance Kids” is aimed at younger kindergarten children and definitely has much more of a Cbeebies feel to it; songs include Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes, Jingle Bells and the (annoyingly Americanised ) Itsy Bitsy Spider, as well as hits from child stars like Will Smith’s daughter Willow Smith and the dreaded Justin Beiber. Also included are some Disney and Pixar film theme songs, like the title track from Despicable Me, performed by Pharrell Williams. The routines are much easier than the original Just Dance games and the dance moves are much more “kiddified;” doing star-jumps rather than shaking your booty.
Age Rated: PEGI 3+

The way these games work is like this: You select the song from the menu, and imitate an on screen avatar by copying their moves as closely as you can. Think of it as a physical game of Simon Says! You can play alone against the screen, or bring friends over for dance parties to compete against each other. To play, you will need to make sure you own a “Playstation Move.” This is a camera which connects into your Playstation, and a wand which looks a bit like a plastic tennis ball on a stick. You hold the wand as you dance, and the camera tracks the movement of the ball on the end to determine your movements. You only need one camera, but you need as many wands as you have players. Word to the wise: the wand has a wrist strap. If you value your household ornaments, make sure you put that wrist strap on nice and tight! You may need to go out and buy a Playstation Move kit, or it might have come bundled in with your Playstation when you bought it.

I hope this information is useful to you, and if you have any more questions, please feel free to ask!”

Got a question for the Concierge? Contact us.

Games Culture

Why Your Children Hate The Educational Games You Buy Them – And What To Do About It

There really is no getting around it. Video-game design is an extremely challenging job. Like woodworking and sculpture, video-game design is an artisan craft, build up over years of practice, diligence and a few failed experiments! It is not the same as programming, though they share some characteristics. A programmer is not automatically a game-designer, let alone a good one. An extremely talented game designer who cannot program might make board or card games. An extremely talented programmer who cannot design games may become the creator of the office or accountancy software that helps you run your business. Both are crafts worthy of respect, but they are not the same. A game-designer who can also program is a multi-skilled individual.

Educational games are, unfortunately, often the realm of the bad game designer. I could, and people have, write an entire book about the principles of game design, but here a few key points will suffice. A game needs to teach the player a task, and give them knowledge and also be fun. “But shooting the faces off aliens is not a task, nor does it require special knowledge!” I hear you wail. But now, think about it, is that entirely correct?

If it were easy, anyone could do it, but it’s not. You need to know where to put your fingers on the controller/keyboard. You need to master aiming in a straight line. You need to know which ammunition to use, how much you have, how much is in your reserve. Does this weapon fire singly, or in bursts? How much kickback is there, how much recoil? You need to keep moving whilst you aim, otherwise you will be eaten for breakfast. Do you know how to move? Can you move and aim at the same time? Are you looking where you are going?! Oh no, look out! Squelch.

And we didn’t even get into the alien. What kind of alien is it? It it immune to this weapon? Does it have a weak spot? Which bit of it is actually it’s face?! Will it fight back? How? Does it have special abilities, like teleporting around you? Can it attack from a distance, or should you only start worrying when it gets up close? How fast does it move?! Oh, that’s actually quite fast. Squelch.

When a person is playing a game, they look so serious because their brain is being fully engaged with making thousands of these tiny judgements a minute. They are calculating, assessing, testing, questioning and evaluating everything on the screen in front of them. They are strategising, solving puzzles, reacting to threats. Their is a lot of interior work going on to produce that zombified expression!

A person playing an involving, mentally stimulating game will get their brain into a state of flow, where they are making decisions partly on instinct, partly on reasoning, moving from mental task to task in a state of pure focus and concentration. Human brains love this. It makes a brain happy. Like doing a crossword or figuring out a cross-stitch pattern, the brain loves problems. You give the brain an interesting puzzle and a store of knowledge to draw on, and you will have a focussed, engaged human who is sometimes surprisingly difficult to distract.

The problem with many educational games is that they do not provide interesting problems. The learning and the fun are in opposition – solve three maths puzzles, play a round of Snake. This is a truly terrible way to design a game, as it gives the player an incentive to rush through and ignore the educational aspects, in order to get back to the fun content. Unsurprisingly, with pure fun available elsewhere, few children will choose to play these kinds of games willingly. As a caveat,  “pure” educational games are a good fit for very young children, as they offer simple, streamlined experiences – when you are young everything is interesting and novel because it’s the first time you’ve seen it! A baby fascinated by a lamppost is both cute and unconcerning, a teenager utterly enthralled by a street-lamp is likely a cause for alarm!

Good educational games weave their learning objectives into the gameplay from the beginning, rather than stapling them on as an afterthought. A good educational game takes the basic principle of game design, that the player must acquire and utilise special knowledge towards novel and engaging tasks. And this is what is meant by fun. A good educational game teaches you come thing useful almost by accident, by giving the player a skill that helps them complete the game, as well as being useful in the outside world.

GameHub HQ holds many examples of these kind of games. For example, word games such as Alphabear and SpellTower encourage the player to expand their vocabulary and demand good spelling in order to score points. A player of Democracy 3 without an ability to interpret complex graphs and charts will surely fail. Players of Puzzle Bonsai  must learn to “think like a computer” using the logical operators that make up the basis of programming and mathematics, but due to the tranquil game setting, most players will not even realise this is what they are learning to do.

When looking for an educational game, look for a game first, and a teaching tool second. Engaged players will learn new skills and information without realising it, it’s a basic part of the process of playing a video-game. What you can seek to guide, as a parent, is what skills and information the player will naturally pick up. Immunovirology, or epistemic philosophy? General knowledge, or fluency in Mandarin Chinese, or the basics of quantum physics? All are valid and all are there in games. It’s just a case of picking that that suits your family the best.