Libraries, Video Games

“Retro Gaming Gives Libraries a Boost” over at Information Today NewsBreaks


Head on over to Information Today NewsBreaks today to read my piece on Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic and why public libraries should be scooping these up and loaning them out to their communities….that is, if you can get your hands on one! I know I’ve been in the hunt for one, both for myself and for my library, for almost a year now. Just imagine the retro video game themed programs you could run with one of these things!


Video Games

REVIEW: Hey! Pikmin


If you love all things Nintendo and especially if you love things that are super cute, chances are that you love Pikmin. What isn’t there to love about these neat little space people crash landing on random planets only to find adorable and colorful plant-like creatures that help you solve puzzles?

Hey! Pikmin is the first portable version of the game as well as being the first side scrolling title in the series. While very different from Pikmin 1, 2, and 3, Hey! Pikmin still manages to capture the charm and puzzle solving that this series brings to players. Players once again control Olimar and guide him through levels as he collects Sparklium in his attempt to get enough fuel to power his ship. Each level has the player finding Pikmin and solving puzzles along the way. Unlike other entries in this series, there is no day/night cycle and the objectives are to save as many Pikmin as you can, find as much Sparklium as you can, and maybe grab 2-3 hidden objects each level. On the main map screen, there’s a neat feature called “Pikmin Park” where you can send the Pikmin you’ve found into uncharted areas to find more Sparklium as you continue your quest. It’s the adorable little things like this that makes this game so much fun.

Don’t pay attention to some of the reviews out there. While Hey! Pikmin isn’t as deep as the other games in the Pikmin series, that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. In fact, I found it to be quite enjoyable. The levels are not difficult by any means, but are still interesting enough to keep you playing more.

Justin’s Rating: 8/10

Family, Libraries, Life, Video Games

Play Video Games With Your Family


My son Finn turned 8 on January 17 and one of his gifts was his very own copy of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. My wife Haley and I have been playing the game for over three years and haven’t stopped enjoying it. In those three years, Finn has created his own character in each of our towns and dabbled in the game here and there. As he got older and started learning how to read, one of the things we told him was that he could get his own copy of the game. His eighth birthday seemed like the perfect time to get him his own copy: he’s a pretty great reader, he’s got his own Nintendo 2DS, and it just felt right. We snagged him a copy of the new Animal Crossing: New Leaf Welcome Amiibo game and last night dove into starting up a new town for Finn.

He decided to call his town “Finntopia” and that his in game character would be known as Finnix because “I just like the letter X.” We cozied up on the couch as a family (minus his younger brother Aero, as he went to bed and this was a special Mom/Dad/Finn night) and helped him through the setup process of getting into his own town, finding where to put his house, and more.

Once  all of the setup was complete, Finn opened his town gates and invited Haley and I into his town. It was like the “Mom and Dad, I’d like to invite you to my first apartment/home” moment, but this time it was when he was 8 and it was in Animal Crossing. He showed us around his town, pointed out that he had some pear trees, and introduced us to some of his villagers. We then headed back to the train station but before we left did the parent thing and left him with some gifts and money to help him start his new life in Finntopia.

After playing for about an hour, it was 10pm and we told Finn we were getting tired. He said he was getting tired too. But he had a glow on his face that I will never forget: he finally got his own Animal Crossing town and he also got to spend some time with his parents playing video games. It was a great night where we all got a chance to enjoy something fun, learn something together, and best yet….hang out as a family.

Video games can be awesome family and community building tools!

I’ve written about how fun, learning, and community can happen during gaming in the past. You can read all of those here or head on over to Medium and read this collection on Nintendo games.

Family, Libraries, Portland, ME, Technology, Video Games

“Work Together”

My three year old son Finn loves going to Chuck E. Cheese to play video games.  I’m so happy about this.  Some of my favorite moments as a child were spent in arcades playing video games.

But what I love even more is the phrase above the video game he’s playing:


Isn’t that what video games and life are all about?

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game, Libraries, Video Games

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game (PART 3)

WEEKS 3 through 5: Now that  the ideas were flowing out of the teens, Gibson and I decided to throw a curve ball.  Sure, you have your own ideas, but games are not created by one person.  You have to work as a team!  With that in mind, we split the participants up into two groups.  Using their best individual ideas, we encouraged them to create a concept that unified all of them together into one solid game.  The groups were chosen by Gibson and myself in the hopes of each individual contributing their own unique talent to the overall group.

We each took one group and acted as the mentor.  For my own group, I was armed with a MacBook Pro and Google Docs, copying down every idea and trying to make sense of it all for the teens.  The hardest part was trying to encourage the teens to hone in on the solid ideas they created without adding too much more.  Our teens were idea machines, so nailing down a solid idea to focus on for three weeks proved to be rather hard, but in the end we made some sense of it all (see below for the final project documents)

Our basic idea in the beginning was to have the teens pitch the idea to us and try to sell us on why we should make this game a reality.  For our final session, the other teens, Gibson and myself, and University of Southern Maine Journalist and Game Reviewer Dylan Martin joined us to hear what the final games would be all about.

DAY/NIGHT developed by Dr. Professor Games
THE INSIDE MAN by Virus Productions

It was a great joy working with both The Telling Room and the teens on this really cool program.  Gamers of the future, don’t fret.  There are some amazing ideas floating around in heads of today’s teens.

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game, Libraries, Video Games

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game (PART 2)

WEEK ONE: I have to admit, we got off to a rough start.  It’s not a bad thing, as it made us go back and look over our plans.  And we’re glad we did that.  By looking over plans once again, we got a renewed focus on what we want to do/accomplish with this workshop.

How did we get off to a rough start?  Well, the ideas POURED in from the teens.  Yes, yes yes, that’s not a bad thing…but we weren’t ready for this.  Gamers also have this uncanny ability to talk about games nonstop, one thing that I forgot when planning.  So the first session was a lot of ideas and talking about games we like and that was about it.  The lesson plans went out the window.

However, I have to add that there was a victory.  We saw the passion in these teens for video game creation.  They didn’t just come to this workshop to pass time.  THEY HAVE IDEAS AND THEY WANT THEM OUT OF THEIR HEAD.

WEEK TWO: Our curve ball for Week 2 was group work.  It was our attempt to get all these ideas into some kind of cohesive ball and start moving along.  We did a quick analysis of the teens that had attended the workshops and put them into groups.  The teen who loved sport games with the one that loved RPG games?  Yah, that’ll work.  And it did!  Thinking outside the box is something that these teens excel at.  Putting polar opposites together was a fabulous idea that found our two groups coming up with some VERY interesting and solid game ideas (I won’t spoil them for you, we’ve still got a lot of work to do).

Week two ended with a quick pitch, like a TV ad about the games where the teens had to sell us on the idea.  Action, Adventure, and Excitement packed into 30 seconds…and they had us hooked.

Next week, we head out into the wild streets of Portland, Maine to photograph interesting locales and buildings that could somehow make it into our games…

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game, Libraries, Video Games

Game On! Envisioning Your Own Video Game (PART 1)

In the Summer of 2010, I had the opportunity to meet with the wonderful staff of The Telling Room, a Portland, Maine about collaborating on a program centered around the creative element of video game design.  A collaboration with The Telling Room was something that I was very keen on establishing when I started my new job at thePortland Public Library in March 2010.  Their mission just about sums up why I was so eager to meet with them:

The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we seek to build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students’ stories. We believe that the power of creative expression can change our communities and prepare our youth for future success.

After an initial brainstorming session with Executive Director Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, we came up with the rough outline for the program we wanted to offer to the teens of Portland.


  • 6 weeks (October 5-November 9), Tuesdays from 3:00-4:30pm


  • Storyboard: Teens come up with an overall idea for a video game and how to execute it
  • Conflict: Why does this game exist?  What is the purpose of the story?
  • Characters: Who are the characters?  What is their story?  What is their motivation?
  • Objective: Why are the characters doing what they are doing?  What is their main goal? What does their world look like? What are the possibilities/limitations?
  • Examples of different video game styles on different video game system.  EXAMPLE: Action, Puzzle, Sports, Role Playing
  • Character development, evolution of character/story


  • Teens work in collaborative teams, 2 per team, 6 teams total
  • Exercises & games for setting up characters/back story
  • Field trip: teens will scout out locations/ideas to use in the game: use digital cameras/flip video
  • Teens do final pitch session–ask them to “sell the game” as if we were developers.


  • Once the teens have the idea for a game, gauge interest for another workshop.  This time, teens will use Scratch to actually develop the game they conceived in the first workshop

Once we digested this information, we settled on the title Game On!  Envisioning Your Own Video Game and announced it to the public with the following press release:

Ever had an idea for a new video game? In this workshop, we’ll look at what the best games have in common and then brainstorm, storyboard, and create concepts for new ones. Who’ll be the star of your game? What will your world look like? We’ll hunt for words and images–the possibilities are endless.

Our next step was developing an outline for us to follow during the six weeks of the program.  I believe this is what educators would call a lesson plan.  This was the first time I had done something like this for a program, and going into the project it gives me a sense of what to look forward to and inspired me to try out new approaches to programming for teens.  Our outline ended up looking like this:

Session One
Supplies: easel paper (Gibson), markers/crayons/pens (Justin) 

  1. Ice Breaker: Name, School, Favorite Video Game Character & Why (5 min)
  2. About the TR, About the PPL, About the workshop (5 min)
  3. Brainstorm Characters Lists (Gibson, 10 min): Name, place, etc, etc.
  4. Share (5 min)
  5. Slide Presentation: Classic Video Game Characters (Justin, 10 min)
  6. 20 questions on your character (include special powers) (20-30 min; 1 hr total)
  7. Slides on supporting characters (Justin; 10 min; 1 hr 10 min)
  8. Create more characters (20 min?)
  9. Read from/leave with handout: Heinlein, Hobbit, 1984, Potter, etc. (Gibson)

Session Two: World & Objective
supplies: laptop, cameras, hero handout

  • Brainstorm games they love & objectives & details
  • Go out into the community with cameras and find images
  • Slideshow
  • Hero’s Journey

Session Three:

  • What kind of game do you want to make your characters/world into? (genre)
  • Work alone or in groups?

Session Four:

  • Merging worlds, characters, objectives, etc.  Teens begin to collaborate on building their games.
  • Storyboarding?

Session Five:

  • Storyboarding (beginning, middle, end) first part of game

Session Six:

  • Presentations & ideas

We started by creating a solid foundation with our first two sessions and from there getting an general idea of where to take the next few sessions.  It’s a mix of planning and improvisation.  After working with the teens for two weeks, our hopes are that the following weeks will be a bit looser and more creatively open for the teens to explore their ideas for creating a game.

Game On!  Envisioning Your Own Video Game starts on Tuesday October 5th at the Portland Public Library.  During those six weeks, I’ll be sharing our experience with this program on 8BitLibrary.  Be sure to check back for more.