Friday, March 27, 2015

Oculus Showing Off at Facebook

Facebook held their annual F8 developer's conference this week, and it's all about Oculus Rift.. CTO Mike Schroepfer said hardware will release this year and we'll have a true virtual reality gaming system out to the public. Now he didn't say which piece exactly, but that it was some hardware with some form of headgear. This could be their beta "dummy" version, or the cool rigs we've been seeing touted at gaming conventions for the past two years.

Still, for a company bought out just shy of a year ago, Oculus Rift is ready to take the next step forward and bring their product to the consumers.

The demonstration given to developers and investors this week highlights the massive improvements in the technology. Not just the graphics, but in the fluidity of movement. As the user shifts his or her head from left to right, the image stays consistent. It really is a sight to behold and I can't believe how far we've come. Facebook is looking to launch the unit with more social experiences in mind that can tie the user back into Facebook. This could be anything from auto-posting anytime you log in, or if you reach milestones in the game, to recording footage of your game play.

Now to cement a viable way to not get simulation sickness, then we're golden.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Knowing the Nose

Professor's and scientists at the Purdue University may have found a resolution to reducing the feeling of sickness in virtual reality simulators: putting a "virtual nose" in the middle of the screen to help direct the eye's focus.

Assistant Professor David Whittinghill commented that simulator sickness is a common occurrence. "The problem is your perceptial system does not like it when the motion of your body and your visual system are out of synch. So if you see motion in your field of view you expect to be moving, and if you have motion in your eyes without motion in your you get sick."

Evidence from other simulators where there was a fixed object on the screen helped to reduce the intensity of the sickness symptoms, such as race car dashboards. An undergraduate student, Bradley Ziegler suggested sticking a nose in the middle as an alternative to having cockpits and dashboards cluttering up the space. Using 41 test subjects, they ran through a few simulations and were surprised to find that not only did the sickness reduce, but that no one noticed the nose. It was only after the team informed the subjects about the object, that they became aware of the nose blocking out a portion of their screen.

The research is ongoing as they don't know exactly why putting a nose on the screen is helping reduce simulator sickness. The thought is that a nose is a stable object that we are all accustomed to tuning out, but our senses know it's still there. So be prepared to see Call of Duty on the Oculus Rift with a giant nose in the middle of the screen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

And Another Gaming Business Hacked

We all knew this was going to happen: on Monday, Twitch released a statement that their services were hacked, with an untold number of accounts were "inappropriately accessed." It seems that today every company is getting hacked. I realize that the article I linked is dated 2012, but the hacks have not slowed down. They're getting worse.

In my Tumblr feed last night I found out that Sephora was hacked not too long ago. And apparently, it happens to them a lot. As soon a I can find the post I'll link it, but in essence a young woman bought a $12 tube of lipstick, and within 24 hours he information was stolen. The perpetrator was able to open up at least 2 new credit cards and have charged over $15,000 to them. Now that it's been reported to the credit bureau, her credit score has dropped and student loan companies do not want to do business with her. She's going for her Masters degree. So now that no one will loan to her, she needs to have a willing legal guardian to co-sign of she's sh*t out of luck. Student loans are a beating to obtain and to pay back in the U.S.

And this is the crap that happens daily. It's amazing that businesses haven't beefed up their security by now with how common this all is. This crap ruins lives. Literally!

Twitch is forcing every user to reset their password. All accounts linked to Twitter and YouTube profiles have had their access removed and you'll need to re-verify everything. So don't be surprised if you're asked to create a new password next time you log in.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Game Documentaries – Indie vs. Video

This was a busy crafting weekend for me, so I took it as an opportunity to power through Netflix and have a few movies on in the background. The extra noise helps me concentrate. It also gave me the chance to finally watch Video Games: The Movie. I’ve heard buzz about this for the past year, produced by Zach Braff with the help of Cliffy B (Cliff Bleszinski for those not in the know). It details the history of video games, dabbles a bit into the “violent video game” topic, and what lies in the future with VR and Oculus Rift.

I also watched Indie Game: The Movie, a 2012 feature and Sundance Award winner that follows the teams that created Super Meat Boy and Fez, as well as talking to other independent developers about the pitfalls of being in gaming when you’re not playing with the big boys.

These movies are night and day.

The film critic inside of me (with 3 degrees to boot) is disappointed at the quality of Video Games. Braff has an immense amount of production talent, and works well as a director. It probably would have helped if he had put his foot down in the editing room because the way this documentary is cut. The documentary is not user  friendly. Some ongoing issues include long transitions between segments (oh my God those slow fade-in of quotes!), content that didn’t sync with the narrator (Gears of War footage when discussing the PS3, really?), and celebrity interviews that had nothing to do with the history of games. It’s a film that was trying too hard to capture everything about games without giving any real substance outside of Nolan Bushnell’s interview. That man had a passion and a realistic view about business.

It felt too broad and too cluttered at the same time. You’ll see a sequence about the Wii and PS3, how their innovations have paved the way into the future without really diving into them And then it cuts to a 2 minute random video game cut scene, music mash-up as if you’re watching an Anime Music Video at a convention. There’s no sense to it.

If you are brand new to video games and know squat about the history, this is a good primer for the ground work. There are Wikipedia articles that contain more detail then what this film offers.
On the other side of the table is Indie Games: The Movie. It is the exact opposite of Video Games and should be watched by everyone. Gamer or not, the future of our hobby is going more toward independent developers. The team at BlinkWorks Media crafted a story that wonderfully tells the struggles of being an independent, and how difficult it is to make a name for your team as a small-time developer in a world focused on multi-million dollar projects. The number of games that hit success like Journey and Braid are one a million. I couldn’t find an exact figure, so please don’t quote me on that. But imagine independent games like a barrel of apples. There are a lot of apples. Some are bigger, some are smaller, some are more ripe then the others. How do you find the gem sitting at the bottom? That perfect “golden” apple that is hidden among the rest? That’s what indie developers have to deal with. How do they get seen and be seen for a product that they made for themselves?

And Indie Games is a well crafted film. It has a very distinct beginning, middle, and end. You see the years of struggle on the two developing teams. Literally years. Fez (a game jokingly remade 3 times according to the creator Phil Fish) developers are followed over the course of 2 years. What really made this movie stand out to me were the human emotions wrapped into the story. We see these men who love to make video games. They don’t want to work at EA, Blizzard, Activision, etc. because they do not want to sacrifice their artistic freedom. It doesn’t matter to them if no one buys or review the games: they just want to finish making their product, their way. 

It also gives a bit of insight into why it takes so long to develop a game. Whether it’s a team of 2 or a team of 1,000, making games takes a ton of work. It’s amazing to see a fully-finished product by a 2 person group in the time it would take a large studio to develop the same product. 

Indie Games is insightful, joyous, witty, and breathtakingly soulful – very much in stark contrast to Video Games. My favorite line would have to be from Fish, talking about how much he hates seeing the online comments regarding Fez with its development time. “They don’t get mad at Valve for taking 5 years to make something…oh wait. Yeah they do. Bad example.” So if you need something to watch this week, go with Indie. You won’t be disappointed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Kojima May Be Leaving Konami After MGS5

Sources from GameSpot close to Konami and Kojima's crew are stating that the legendary designer will be leaving the game developer after the release of Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain. In all honesty, I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner.

Konami and the Official MGS twitter feed has confirmed that Kojima is staying on as the head of the project. Nothing has changed on that front. What happens after release, well, who knows? According to GameSpot, Kojima and his team have had their access inside Konami restricted. E-mails are being monitored to prevent leaks, and they are, essentially, in lock down.

We'll keep a watch and see where this all leads. Needless to say, Kojima sounds like he's ready to move on to other projects.

What I Wish I Could Say To Those Who Harass Me Because I Play Video Games

I wanted to share this video, not because of my new found respect for Anita Sarkeesian (I still don't wholly agree with her on some of her assertions and viewpoints), but because it needs to be seen. It appeared on my Tumblr feed thanks to Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) and it's been eating at me ever since. Even those who argue vehemently against Sarkeesian's views are in agreement of this video and the message behind it.

Speaking at Ideas at the House, Sarkeesian gave a brief, eye-opening lecture titled "What I Couldn't Say."

"I couldn't say f*ck you." Female gamers are ostracized daily, visually and verbally through cyberspace. The internet is a wonderful place; a sanctum for ideas and self expression. And because of this, it has bred a legion of those who say as they please without consequences. Larger social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are unable to handle the spam and harassment requests efficiently, and as such, it continues. I was perturb to hear Sarkeesian say that she receives death threats daily. Not weekly. Not once every 3-4 days. Daily. And she was angry that it has become a part of her daily life. You can hear her voice cracking at that sentence, not because she was on the verge of tears, but because she was pissed off. She screen caps the threat, forwards it to the FBI, the local police, blocks the person, and deletes the post. It's a routine to her, and it shouldn't be.

While I don't have her life, being a female gamer and having put myself out there on the internet for people to read my articles, it does make me a target. Weekly, on here, on my Facebook fan page, on my Twitter account, I'll receive at least 3 inappropriate messages. Sometimes it's more, and sometimes it's less. The weeks where I receive no notes are a sigh of relief. It's something that I've dealt with for years, before this blog began. I couldn't tell you the last time I've used XBox Live chat or PSN to talk to someone who wasn't a friend while playing a game. I know I'll be inundated with comments about sex. Or I'll be called a bitch for standing up for myself. Or if I don't accommodate to their requests. Or if I win the match. Or if I ignore their comment. Pretty much any time I log in I'm a bitch. But so is your girlfriend, or your mother, or your sister, or your daughter, or your wife because they don't give in to that random male's request to "show your tits." And you know what? If you fight back you're labeled every terrible name in the book, and on Urban Dictionary. If you speak up, you're a feminist (because that's a dirty word once again) who hates all men. If you try to start a movement, you're a whore, a slut, a c word that rhymes with runt. If you're silent, you're expected to take the abuse and ignore it. There's no winning in this situation.

At the same time I'm incredibly grateful that I haven't blown up to epic proportions in my career. Because then I would have to deal with more of the bullsh*t that Sarkeesian experiences daily. Let's be frank: it's bullsh*t.

To be clear, I'm not talking about people making comments that disagree with my viewpoint or provide criticism. I'm referring to sexually suggestive content and potential threats against my life. All because I play video games and talk about them.

I don't care if you're not a Sarkeesian fan. It's 4 minutes of your time. If you can't spare 4 minutes today, then you need to stop being so damn busy and live a little. She is a person. A living, breathing human being. It's okay to disagree, but argue the words. Death threats, violence, sexual assault are not the answer. They add to a constantly growing problem. Who you're threatening is a real person. No one deserves that kind of harassment. No. One.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Viewing With a Vue

PlayStation Vue is out! Sony has been working on the TV service for PlayStation owners for quite some time, and yesterday they released the application, which is available for PS3 and PS4 systems. Vue is a cloud-based TV service brining in live TV, sports, and movies without the need for a cable or satellite subscription.

Yep. No cable company required, except for your internet hook-up. Here's the catch: It's currently only available in New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Damn. I'm not in a tester market. But Sony is willing to give this a shot in the areas of dense population to really put the app through it's paces. If it can work in NYC, it can work anywhere.

There is a fee for the service and it is not "à la carte" as many were hoping for. Frankly, all of us were hoping for that. We're getting a bit tired of having 0 choices in our television channels, and no service out there offers people in the U.S. the option to choose what channels they wish to pay for. Still, the pricing for the service is fairly reasonable. For $49.99 a month you'll receive 50 channels, the most popular ones according to Nielson ratings. This would be Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TNT, TBS, NBC, CBS, and Cartoon Network. AMC will arrive next month. Given that selection I'd be willing to drop my current TV service for this. I really only swap between CC, TBS, CN, and ABC these days. For $59.99 you'll receive a bundle of sports channels and for $69.99 there are an additional 24 channels.

Here's the other downside: ABC isn't on the list, nor is ESPN or anything from Disney. Sony is in talks with the networks and hopes to have them available soon. The same with movie channels. So if you're looking to stay up to date with Game of Thrones, you'll have to look for an alternate method.

Vue looks a bit like the new PS menu screens, or XBox One, or Netflix - pick your poison. They are title slides that scroll across and allow you a better visual access to content. There are DVR options, though you can only save shows for up to 28 days, and because it's a cloud service they never actually store on your system so your hard drive can be utilized for other things (like video games). The service is month to month, no contracts. You can cancel as you wish. There are no set-top boxes. No set-up fees. No additional costs. You pay for the plan that you want, download the app, and go.

I can't wait for Vue to hit my market. It'd give me a reason to really consider giving up cable and vie for the cheaper internet packages.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rounding up Gaming Movies and Parental Dilemas

It's time for another weekly link round-up! Today, there are some, um, odd choices. I couldn't pick a favorite, so we're dabbling into a little bit of everything.

  • Den of Geek looks into the problem with video game movies, the reboot of the Hitman film (I know...we're at a reboot already, and it's just shy of 8 years old), and how the best "gaming" movies have no ties to any video game products. What Padraig Cotter, the author, hits on is very poignant. A lot of action movies are drawing inspiration from video games with the way sequences are edited together, to the types of weapons and clothing characters wear. The movie Edge of Tomorrow is a fine example on how a film can feel and play like a game without being one. If you read anything from my list today, go with this article.

  • Macquarie University psychologist Wayne Warburton claims that children spending too much time playing violent video games will generate responses in them that are similar to those living in a violent home or in a worn-torn country. How he determined this, we don't know. There is a mention of brain scans, but no formal studies are linked to the original article. Regardless of Warburton's position, he does provide 10 general guidelines that are good for ALL parents over game play. It has nothing to do with limiting game violence, and more on being a responsible, active adult in your child's life.

  • Parents beware! Microsoft is charging your credit cards for valid purchases! I may be joking up the tagline on this one, but Kim Komando (self-proclaimed America's Digital Goddess - for I have never heard of her) wants all parents to know that Microsoft's XBox system (they don't state which one in the article) does save your credit card information after a purchase. Um, duh? There's a warning message the first time you enter in that info letting you know that it's going to be saved with steps to remove it. But it's such a big deal, that they had to write about it and warn everyone. Microsoft! So evil! Maryland dad Jeremy Hillman saw a $4,500 bill after his son purchased "game packs" through XBox Live. They're just as scummy as those mobile app developers! Rawr! Right now Microsoft is not backing down. Why? Because it's the parent's faults for not being responsible. The e-mail issued to the Hillman family shows just that:

    Our policy states that all purchases are final and non-refundable. A purchase confirmation email was sent to email: (the son) each time a purchase was made because that is the email that was designated as a contact email on the billing profile …….. you are responsible for any material that a user of your Services account accesses or is denied access to (including as a result of your use or non-use of Parental Controls). You acknowledge that use of our settings is not a substitute for your personal supervision of minors that use your Services account.

    Both current and last gen gaming systems were developed with parental controls in mind to restrict purchases to either admin or password protection only, as well as what content can be viewed on certain user accounts. It takes just a few minutes to set up. So yes Hillman family. This one is on you for not being responsible parents. I know that's harsh, but that should be a lesson learned. Also, why are you not monitoring your credit card bill more often? That's a lot of money to have lost. Why are you not in the habit of checking your credit cards on a weekly basis? You could have caught the issue sooner versus the debt you have just collected.

    To be fair, Komando does offer tips at the end of the article on what parents can do with the XBox system (again they don't state which one, other then the XBox One does
    not sign people the 360), to start the parental control process. So there is a helpful tip in there.

  • PC Magazine managed to find 16 video game adaptations that are unbelievably real. I didn't know there was a Home Improvement game. I bet it's terrible. I need to find a copy and try it.
  • And finally the Electronic Sports League is teaming up with Live Broadcasters BY Experience to bring competitive gaming to movie screens. Titled ESports in Cinema, the features are set to begin this July in over 2,000 theaters around the globe. No word has yet been released regarding the competitions or which locations will have access, but it's showing the growth of gaming in the general public that live events, once restricted to concerts, are now applying to video games.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mobile Gaming - Is It Nintendo's Future?

Astounding news from Nintendo. The company is now working with Japanese mobile gaming developer DeNA to release Nintendo products on personal devices that are not gaming systems. This is...well...big news. It's everything that Nintendo said they wouldn't do. They were focused on creating games for their systems and their systems alone. Nintendo doesn't share their products with others. That's one of the reasons why their quality levels are still high by comparison to other developers (Ubisoft I'm looking at you and Assassin's Creed: Unity with your creepy rendered heads) - they keep their stuff limited to their systems and refine the products.

It's a shock.

On the one hand I'm glad to see Nintendo is finally embracing the current trend of technology. People are mobile. They are spending less time in front of a computer or television screen, and more on their phones. Other developers have utilized the power of mobile gaming, and Nintendo could benefit from doing the same. Imagine the next Pokémon game on your cell phone, and the new interaction between friends and co-workers as you battle each other with digital furballs during your lunch break.

On the other, Nintendo is bucking it's tradition. As we have waited for Nintendo to get with the program, you can't deny their results by sticking to what has worked best. Their systems, even the Wii-U for it's slow start, are selling. People clamored for the new 3DS-XL. Copies of the Majora's Mask edition sold out in 15 minutes. We invest ourselves into Nintendo because we know that we are getting great, quality games on systems that will last. I still have my original NES. Compared to the 5 XBox 360's my brother had to replace for the red ring of death. Will moving their games to mobile cause the quality to change?

Now don't fret fanboys. Nintendo is not abandoning consoles. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's President, said so, and they have plans for a new system by next year. And the games created for the mobile platform will be all new content, so no ports of previously released titles. Your precious cargo is safe.

But this is Nintendo. NINTENDO. They don't even involved themselves with PC gaming. This is a huge shake-up for the gaming world. I'll wager a bet that they are going to be on top of DeNA for all types of controls to ensure their characters are represented properly in the new gaming content.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Another Celebrity Mobile Game

Jumping in on the mobile game bandwagon, Paula Deen, the Southern chef who was fired from the Food Network after saying the N-word, and has a casual use of the term in her life, is trying to regain her legion of fans. What better way then to release a mobile game? Much like Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan (oh crap; there I go putting those two in the same post again), Deen has seen how lucrative the prospect is and wants a piece of it.

Get ready for Paula Deen's Recipe Quest!

Like most mobile games, it's free to download and play, with micro-payments within the game to purchase more "moves" or tokens. It looks a lot like Candy Crush, or Bejweled for those who come from the days of flash games on our computers. It's a match three puzzle game, where you are combining ingredients to fulfill a recipe. You'll also need tokens to move past level 14. Now it doesn't say if you can earn these coins in game, or if you have to outright buy them.

It's another mobile game with tweaks on a platform that has proven to work. This won't reinstate her empire, but it's more income for her. A simple game with an easy premise, that will hook someone, somewhere.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Content Marketing To Gamers - Hasn't Really Changed in 20+ Years

As part of my new job position, I'm subjected to e-mails from different PR and Marketing firms that are meant to boost my knowledge of the field I have entered into. Some of them are good and provide meaningful content. Others are just plain silly: 5 Reasons Why Darth Vader Made a Great Leader. Without the Emperor, he would be nothing, let's keep that in mind, shall we?

I've noticed a trend in these e-mails that are gearing themselves more and more towards gamers and the gaming audience. I think the old foagies up top are finally realizing that their work-force of late 20's, early 30-somethings all grew up in an age of technology. We like our games.

I'm trying to not scrunch my nose when I see these articles. I'm really not. I know they are meant to present information in a new format that should entice the readers to stick around for the full piece. But this needs to be shared for how bad it is - mostly because there are still people that think of the old ways of marketing video games that they can't break out of it. And that's sad. We're stuck in the 1980's and can't get out.4 Facts About Content Marketing to Gamers (And Why You Should Care).

First off, the writer, Brooks Huber, can't count. There are only 3 points in the article; not 4. Brooke Huber doesn't have a profile with the website, but according to the article, he has spent years int he industry as a game journalist. I found his LinkedIn profile and, while he's been very mobile and rarely sticks around past a year at a job, he's dabbled in some gaming as an editor, but mostly centers himself around community and PR work.

Essentially, Huber is trying to get across to his fellow PR reps that gamers are not in this one-size-fits-all box. And he's right, because we're not. The average gamer is not an 8 year old boy, nor is it a 30 year old, overweight man sitting in his parents basement. Everyone is a gamer. Games are not just Call of Duty, but Candy Crush, Angry Birds, and everything in between. But a lot of people still feel that the stereotype is the truth. Just asking around my office, I'm met with shock and awe that I consider myself a gamer. The IT associate didn't question it, but he's also of my generation. Anyone older then 30 seemed completely perplexed that I play video games. I'm a girl! I'm not a little boy! Why would you waste your time on that? It's amazing that even after all this time we're still in this mindset.

Which leads to Huber's second point: spend lots of marketing money on video games. Um...duh? Don't they already do that? In 2009, an EA employee noted that the company spends up to 75% of a game's budget on marketing. When you have a product at a cost of $100 million, that is a lot of money. Marketers and PR people KNOW that games will sell. People are willing to justify the cost because games are a longer-lasting entertainment medium by comparison to movies or television. $59.99 on a game is cheaper then taking a family of 4 out to a 2 hour movie. Parents who buy their kids games are the source of funds. Adults with steady jobs are too. Marketers know this. It's not a question of spending the money. They'll do it. What Huber should have proposed is redirecting marketing into new areas of interest. So much of the advertisement around games centers on young adult, white males in the 18-34 bracket. They need to expand it to include women, different ethnic groups, things like that. Money isn't the issue, Huber.

Third, and final point, 'do it well.' Do what well? I can only assume Huber means advertise appropriately. He points to Mercedes deal with Mario Kart 8, and Mountain Dew on all things gaming, but at the same time gamers don't want to be inundated with advertising. We can see advertising exploits. Well, so can everyone else. We know if Diet Coke has helped sponsor a tv show or a news broadcast. We can tell if Taco Bell is the mainstay of a movie (see Demolition Man). And do we care? Not really. It's not like Master Chief is saying Mountain Dew is the best drink ever. It's there, in it's bright green can, settled onto the walls and at the grocery stores. It's not that big of a deal. Advertising is not a direct plea to people to buy stuffy - it's all subliminal, subversive even. Given how big the gaming industry is right now, advertisers are "doing it well."

Huber, if you would like to impart wisdom to your co-workers, you may want to start from scratch and bring in content that is ground breaking. 2/3 of your 4 points are just sad rehashes of the stuff we've known for years. Let's talk about how to improve advertising for gamers (article from me to come...)