Friday, August 17, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Yes, gamers! It is that time once more where we search through the tubes of the internet to provide the Weekly Link Round Up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet. Here's what we've found:

- If you're interested in how StreamLabs was formed, the website that allows users to easily set up Twitch content for tips, chat logs, and what-not, Money Magazine spoke with CEO Ali Moiz to get the details. The conversation even touches on how StreamLabs makes money, since the service is mostly free!

- Tying in with an earlier story this week for Monster Hunter: World, China's video game regulators have reportedly not been approving licenses for several months. Only a small number of games have trickled through the system while the government branch works through restructuring. Tencent Holdings has shed nearly $160 billion in market value due to this announcement. That is way too much money. Other game developers such as Nexon and Capcom have seen slight stock drops due to the freeze. Games that are waiting in the system will be there indeterminately. Games that have been pulled from shelves to be checked again, will have an even longer wait ahead.

- Random factoid: In 35 years, Nintendo has sold over 725 million consoles. Yes, that does include handheld consoles like the Game Boy and Nintendo DS variants. That's a lot of plastic!

- If you thought Ash from the 'Evil Dead' series would be done forever, you are wrong. After Starz cancelled the series, many fans thought Bruce Campbell would hang up the mantle. But he's turning his love of all things Ash to the gaming world. An Evil Dead game is in the works with Campbell voicing the beloved Ash Williams. Details about the game are spotty. There is no word on the developer, publisher, or a potential release date. But we'll be happy to have Ash back with his boomstick!

- More from the loot box controversy: Australian researchers are calling for stricter regulations, citing that the boxes are a form of gambling. In that the flash and allure of the boxes is similar to a poker machine - which could cause one to overspend while being influenced by the game. Calls to the government was in the early stages to review current laws. If any country is going to start heavily regulating loot boxes, other than China, it'll be Australia.

- What does it mean to buy a video game today? That's what this Kotaku article tackles. Unlike a dining experience or going to the movie, video games are a much more fluid, and divisive product. What should one expect when buying a game? What should be the grounds for returning it? Can one ever be satisfied with an evolving product? This is your "thinking" article for the week.

Have a wonderful weekend, gamers!

Image: Freshly Tech

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

'Ninja' Won't Stream With Women, And Why That's a Problem

I don’t play with female gamers."

Top Fortnite streamer Tyler 'Ninja' Blevins spoke with Polygon about his choice to not play with female gamers, and it has set off a flurry of responses. Blevins' decision to stream alone or only with male gamers has to do with respect for his wife, and to ensure no rumors are started between him and other women. He's open about his relationship with his wife Jessica “Jghosty” Blevins, also a streamer and his manager. He doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize their marriage.

Given how quick people are to assume anything and everything these days, he has a fair point about caution. If he chats with a female gamer and someone thinks they are flirting, a user needs to only clip the Twitch stream, upload it to YouTube, and it becomes click-bait fodder. "#1 Fortnite Streamer Cheating on Wife!" The click first, ask questions later format is getting the better of us.

As upstanding as Blevins' concerns may be, it points to a larger problem with gaming and the streaming community: alienation of women. There are very few women and POC at the top of the streaming charts for Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer. The headliners are white men. Seeing someone who doesn't fit the white and male archetype is an anomaly, when it shouldn't be.

Women face a harsher up-hill battle with finding a voice on gaming streaming sites. More often than not we're called Twitch Thots; women exploiting their looks to get paid for views, thus not being "real gamers." We are not given the same level of respect or credibility as our male counterparts. We're harassed more often by viewers and have to wade through a literal minefield with our relationship status - once it's out there, women are hounded for their single/partner/marriage. While my friends and family know of my relationship, I keep that content off Twitch. Which makes it much more difficult for people to find a connection with me. Thus lower views, lower results, lower turnouts, and lower revenue. It's also one of the major reasons I very rarely use a web cam. The first comment I receive 99% of the time when that web cam turns on is "Wow! You look pretty! What's your number?" or "Show your boobs!"

Pass.

This isn't occasional harassment. This is every time I stream from Twitch. It's annoying. Twitch won't ban these people, and male streamers continue to perpetuate the myth of Twitch Thots. Blevins' deciding to not stream with women further exacerbates the notion that female gamers are not worth our time. "Men can't be friends with women. Men only want sex. Women don't know about game. Blah. Blah. Blah." We know these statements are not true, but that's the message sent across the gaming sphere when big-time streamers like Blevins decides that he doesn't want to work with women.

Noble intentions can have disastrous consequences if there is a long-standing problem in the community. Prove that you're an honorable human being and stream with all types of gamers, regardless of gender or skin color. Show your fans that yes, you can have a successful marriage while working with women and men! What a novel concept...that most of the world handles every day at work/school/home.

In the end, it is Blevins' decision on who he streams with. But it is as important for us to realize that there is a problem with diversity and inclusion in gaming. Blevins commentary further proves it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bethesda to Sony: We Want Cross-Platform or No 'Legends'

Bethesda might be the first in a long line of developers that is issuing a hard stance on it's future games: Sony needs to allow for cross-platform play, or some of their games won't go to the PlayStation 4. This is according to Pete Hines, Bethesda's senior vice president of global marketing and communications. Talking with GameInformer about the upcoming release of The Elder Scrolls: Legends for consoles, Hines was committed to ensuring that the game be available on all systems, but that cross-play is required. That's one aspect of the game they will not budge on.

"It is our intention in order for the game to come out, it has to be those things on any system. We cannot have a game that works one way across everywhere else except for on this one thing. The way the game works right now on Apple, Google, Steam, and Bethesda.net, it doesn't matter where you buy your stuff, if you play it on another platform that stuff is there. It doesn't matter what platform you play on, you play against everyone else who is playing at that moment. There's no 'Oh, it's easier to control, or it has a better framerate on this system.' It's a strategy card game. It doesn't matter."

And the bottom line is Hines is right. There is no reason why a card game like Legends or Hearthstone can't be cross-platform when the content is able to work on a phone. There are no framerate updates. There are no graphical improvements. It's the same game regardless of what you play on.

However, cross-platform is a big deal. In the past year Microsoft has been more willing to work with PC's and Nintendo to allow gamers to play together, regardless of the system they play on. XBox One fans can hang out with the PC friends or their Nintendo Switch pals while playing Fortnite. Sony is the reluctant party for a multitude of reasons: loss of revenue by people not buying a PS4/games and not signing up for online services, giving access to other developers and consoles makers to their coding/systems, opens potential for more hacking incidents; to name a few of the concerns.

Sony isn't the only bad party here. While many gamers are dog piling on them, keep in mind that Sony does offer cross-play for a number of games with PC users, and has been for well over 16 years with Final Fantasy XI. Sony was one of the first companies to allow for cross-platform play with the PS2 and PS3. Microsoft and Nintendo are the hold outs for MMO's and other games that have a PC/Sony connection for the same reasons: revenue, coding, hacking, internal policies, etc.

The bottom line is that the lack of cohesive cross-play among all gaming systems (phone, tablet, console, computer) is the fault of everyone in the industry. This isn't Sony's fault.

But we are all very aware that the way we game has changed. Twitch and YouTube have promoted an "always-available" style for gamers, and we want content to be at the tips of our fingers. We want to play on our PC's, take that same game data to consoles, and then share screenshots with friends/family on our phones. Cross-play is a necessity in today's gaming world. All of the console makers need to realize this and act on it if they wish to survive the next cycle.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Latest Monster Hunter Pulled from China Days After Release

Monster Hunter: World, one of the biggest titles this year, was pulled from Chinese shelves after the government received "numerous" complaints about the game. Details on what those complaints were are currently unknown. Neither the government nor Tencent Holdings, the distribution company, are talking.

After a month of rigorous testing, Monster Hunter: World was released in China via Tencent's 'WeGame' platform. The site is a Chinese-language mix-use format, allowing streaming, support tools for gamers and developers, and sales of PC games. The site was launched last September and has become China's biggest PC game distributor. Monster Hunter passed the checks and was allowed to be sold. But the complaints from consumers forced WeGame to remove the product from sale.

Servers are up, but that too could change soon. Those who have purchased the game are entitled to a refund upon request, and have until August 20 to request it. Those who wish to keep the game will get a small credit from WeGame at 30 yuan ($4 USD). While this setback shouldn't affect Tencent's bottom line, it is a blow to gamers in China. Without any details, there's no way to know if Monster Hunter will be back on the market at all. It's in the hands of China's 'The State Administration of Radio and Television' to determine if the game should be further edited for content.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's the Weekly Link Round Up, and thank goodness! The world has somehow survived another week, so we can use it to talk about video games even more. Huzzah. The Weekly Link Round Up is a collection of some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet...this week. Here's what we've found:

- We know Germany has a strict ban on anything Nazi related. And for a very good reason. Well, something unexpected has happened. The Entertainment Software Control (known as the USK) in Germany announced that it may now allow swastikas and certain "[s]ymbols of anti-constitutional organizations" in select video games - depending upon the game's age rating. Games rated T or lower will most likely still require the imagery and symbols to be banned. But this is a pretty bold move by Germany to allow for less censorship. This only applies to video games and other media are still expected to abide by the country's laws. Games like Wolfenstein could potentially not have to go through severe edits in order to be available for sale in Germany. This could have longstanding ramifications, both good and bad.

- NASA's satellite data is helping make video games more hyper-realistic. ASTER (the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) has helped NASA map out topography on Earth in a level of detail we have never seen before. Gaming companies like EA have been able to take advantage of this knowledge to create base layers of terrain before adding their creative flair. It's a cool way for science, technology, and entertainment to merge together.

- We knew this day was coming soon - Discord started selling video games yesterday on it's platform. The gaming chat system has exploded over the past 2 years, with over 150 million users. The beta is live for paid memberships to get free games, and a traditional digital store front for non-subscribers. But, there is a catch. The beta is only available in Canada to a random selection of 50,000 customers. Those selected will see an upgrade to Discord Nitro, and the beta is only available for PC, Windows users. Their aim is to take a nick out of the digital gaming sales market that is dominated by platforms like Steam. Even if it's a small sliver, it would be a huge profit boost for Discord.

- Kotaku has an article on why video game characters never remove their clothes. I can explain why BioWare does it really quickly - did you know that the number of pixels in Kaidan Alenko's (Mass Effect 3) chest is the same amount as an entire body for other characters? It was such a resource suck that it couldn't be replicated. That's why we don't have naked Garrus. Sorry peeps.

But really, the activity of removing clothes is a challenge to animate because of the technology. Clothes are grafted onto the characters as if it were their own skin to provide better animation. You basically get 2 sets of a character - the nude model and the clothed model. Transitioning from one to the other is something the programs don't know how to compute. Yet. That's the summary, but it's still funny to see an article about it.

- NBC News looks at how the quality of video games are overpowering the industry - short stories with strong content are taking out the big names who provide flashy visuals and not much else. While AAA titles reign supreme, many of the best games from the past few years that come to mind are titles like Cuphead, Gone Home, Her Story, That Dragon: Cancer, and Papers: Please. Sure there's Assassin's Creed: Origins, but fewer people talk about that game than Cuphead. Even the recently released Octopath Traveler (independently developed and published by SquareEnix) sold out fast and has been difficult to keep stocked - people didn't expect a game with simple graphics to sell well. Shiny images don't always sell a game.

- A happy 10 years to Giant Bomb, the gaming website that was one of the earliest to adopt full-playthroughs of games and provide YouTube-like content before YouTube was a "thing." Variety has a good write-up about the history of the website, and the founders vision.

- Facebook is going further into gaming development with AR games that work with their Messenger chat app. The games are meant to be social and require 2 people or more to play to make use of the camera features. There are some simple shooting spaceship games, Don't Stare which is exactly what you think it is, as well as fun backgrounds and camera filters. It's a new way for Messenger to be more engaging to it's users.

- Finally, the best list we could find this week because it is weird: The 5 best Video Game Currencies. Yep. It's as silly as you think it is. Of course Fallout and Super Mario Bros. is listed. It would have been a crime to not have them included.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

EmuParadise Shifting Focus Away from Emulators

We need emulators to preserve video game's history.

The one thing that this industry has been abysmal at is keeping clean, workable copies of video games past their shelf life. It's part of the reason why we have a used video game market that was worth over $2.3 billion in 2014. Finding that one copy of Mother in working condition for your region coded-console could cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. While the NES Mini and SNES Mini have brought back some games to the market, there are only a select few locked into those systems. You can't take that content and play it on the Nintendo Switch. They are still neglecting the thousands of games produced for those consoles.

Another issue is that the vast majority of developers and console makers won't let people see their coding/game building practices. It's a magical secret we are not meant to be privy to. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft, EA, Activision - these developers are not going to willingly give up their game coding. It's "their" property and if they opt to not share, that's their call. In doing so, they are destroying their history by not willing to preserve it. Yes, Assassin's Creed: Unity was an awful mess of a game. But it deserves to be preserved as a tool for the future to learn from. The argument is that people will copy and sell the games once they have access to the code, leading to a rise in piracy. However a number of studies in recent years have concluded that piracy has little to no effect on the developer's sales. It's a blip on the radar.

Emulators allow us that chance to keep our video game history alive and prominent.

Which is why I was disheartened to read this morning that one of the most well-known of the group, EmuParadise will no longer share emulators in the wake of Nintendo's decision to sue LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co. In a public announcement posted yesterday, EmuParadise will keep their 18 years of history available for viewing, but they will not be accessible for downloading. The site is moving forward with promoting all things retro games with a yet-to-be-determined framework of content.

The response has been strongly condemning Nintendo for forcing rom sites to remove libraries, or to shut down entirely. These weren't websites that were promoting stealing - everything was free and the majority of games haven't been available in retail for decades. These were websites dedicated to preserving video game's past. A past that other media/art forms (television, film, painting, theater, comic books) have been through and are still dealing with the ramifications. Film, for example, has had so much of it's early history lost because people didn't care about preservation. Films were shown in a theater until interest declined and then thrown out. Studios didn't keep original copies once the product's shelf-life ended. We are missing tens of thousands of movies and shorts from 1890-1919 because of this. And it's strange that video games, being of the digital age, are falling victim to this same destruction due to the industry's lack of care. Our technology-driven society is quickly erasing our past.

What's going to happen next? It's difficult to say. But hopefully more people speak up in support of emulators. More developers are willing to preserve their games for the future. More emulating sites are willing to stand up against the big names in the name of history. It'll take the collective support of gamers to make this happen.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

IGN Writer Removed After Copying Game Review

An IGN writer will take to heart a valuable lesson about plagiarism, after being fired for copying a video review of Dead Cells.

Reviews for the game began to release yesterday along with IGN's look at the title. Most of them have been positive for developer Motion Twin. "Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, metroidvania inspired, action-platformer" according to the Steam description. It's been in early access for a year and has been lauded for it's challenging game play. 

On July 24th, a YouTube channel titled Boomstick Gaming released a review of Dead Cells. The 4 minute review gave praise to the game's union of exploration and combat. When IGN released their video review, Boomstick Gaming noticed a number of similarities that matched their review. A new video was posted comparing their review to IGN's. Boomstick noted that not only were certain phrases and buzzwords utilized, the tone and structure of the videos were nearly identical. 

The video posted by IGN was removed and the following note was left in it's place: "As a group of writers and creators who value our own work and that of others in our field, the editorial staff of IGN takes plagiarism very seriously. In light of concerns that have been raised about our Dead Cells review, we’ve removed it for the time being and are investigating."

By late Tuesday, IGN issued a statement and fired the writer. Boomstick Gaming did reach out to IGN, but it is unknown if there has been any communication between the two. While IGN's statement and actions were swift, you know there are going to be people asking for more oversight on future reviews. How IGN will handle future reviews has yet to be determined.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Fallout: 76 Beta Details

The Fallout: 76 beta is coming in October with much anticipation and concern from fans about the first "online only" game in the Fallout franchise. More importantly, the beta will supposedly be the full game and your save data will carry over! That's according to the beta's recently published FAQ.

"Our current plan for the B.E.T.A. is it will be the full game and all your progress is saved for launch. We hope you join us!"

With this being a beta, there is always the chance that this will change. But it's a huge boon for players who want an early jump on the game. A game focused on online play means that users who start early will have the best advantage in ruling the wasteland. Which will make it more difficult for newer players to start, if they get stuck on a server with unhelpful people.

There are still a number of questions out there about the game itself. Can you make a "friends only" server? Is your home/base able to be protected when you're offline? Is there a "peaceful" mode? Do you have to always be online? Can you do a solo game? Hopefully these will be addressed at QuakeCon this weekend, where a Fallout: 76 panel is scheduled.

To access the beta, you need to pre-order the game. Only a select number of retailers are involved, so check the site before plopping down money on the game. I'm still ambivalent about pre-orders and will wait out QuakeCon to see if more details emerge.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Wow.

What a week.

A fair warning, posts may be sporadic over the coming weeks as the day job takes over my limited free time. I'm impressed that I was able to sneak in a post for today. But we can at least celebrate that it's Friday with a Weekly Link Round Up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet this week:

- Fortnite has become so popular that people are hiring "tutors" to help their kids become better. From $20 to $50 an hour, your child can be taught by a gaming professional to help them improve in matches. Why? A myriad of reasons. One is the pressure to always be "the best." As someone who had always been expected to make A's in every school subject and nothing less, I understand this quite well. Another reason is to let kids enjoy the game the way it was meant to be - i.e. not die in the first few seconds of the game. And for some parents it's a way for them to bond with their kids, by also taking lessons from the tutor. Whatever the reason, Fortnite's continued interest is growing into new fields of business!

- Elon Musk wants to put video games in Tesla's. In a series of tweets earlier this week, Musk urged developers to apply to Tesla for a chance to work with the latest, greatest, and strangest projects. Whatever your opinion is on Musk, at least he's willing to throw ideas out there and see which ones will stick.

- Could video games be used to help improve a city's infrastructure? That's the question posed in an open piece on the Clarion Ledger (part of USA Today). Similar to prize machines that you'll see at family restaurants or theme parks, people will pay a flat rate and try to win a ticket/prize that's worth less than the dollar value. The fees from the machine will be split between the retailer housing the unit and the state - which then goes towards funding infrastructure repair. Why do this method? Because people don't like paying taxes. And this would be a roundabout way to get assistance to fix roads and bridges without taxing.

- It's almost US football season! Which means getting professionals to do dumb things with football video games. So watch 3 players from the Kansas City Chiefs as they try to play Electronic Football.

- Failure matters, even in video games. It's how we learn, how we grow, and how we overcome challenges. This Kotaku piece explores the different ways that video games make failing an important aspect of the design.

- Finally, June sales numbers are out and the NES Mini took the top slot on console sales. Once again proving that everything old is new again! This is why they are rebooting Alf. We can't escape it. This is our future.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

So Long GameFly Streaming

One of the first popular streaming services for gamers will be shutting down September 1st and sticking to a mailing-only format, according to a report from Variety. Accounts will not be charged after August 31st, unless gamers continue with the disc-based rentals. This is a big step back for GameFly as it tries to find it's footing in today's landscape against vendors like Steam, and the consoles makers that offer direct streaming access.

Founded in 2002, GameFly has always been an oddity that's been intriguing. Starting with a mailing format, users paid a subscription to receive a set number of games each month to try out before returning. Like Netflix, you could keep the games as long as you like...just make sure to return them! The company expanded by purchasing Shacknews in 2009 and MobyGames in 2011, and early this year EA said they acquired the company's cloud technology and gaming assets.

Given the timing of EA's new streaming services announced at E3, it seems likely that the two are connected. Though GameFly is stating that the decision to stop streaming was made before EA purchased the tech.

Gamers will still have a load of choices to utilize for streaming games directly to their consoles, PC's, or phones. But GameFly will go back to it's roots this round.