Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Keep The Kids Away From Tetris

The PAX East review is almost done. I just need to upload the rest of the photos from my camera before I can post it. So we have more gaming news from around the web!

Violent Video Games Won't Make You Aggressive (but Tetris might).

Darn you newspapers and your catchy headlines. Of course I clicked on it! A study from the University of Oxford, the University of Rochester, and the company Immersyve found that aggressive thoughts and actions don't come from violent games, rather it's playing difficult games or being bad at playing a game is more likely to cause the temporary change in behavior. That makes way more sense then any other study out there and can easily be applied to more then just video games. Think about a sport you have played, or a board game. When you're loosing, you tend to get frustrated, less in control of your actions, and it can lead to you lashing out in bouts of anger.

What made this study different from others is that the researchers didn't approach the topic as if the games were movies, i.e. Call of Duty is violent but Imagine Fashion is not (they do this with movies all the time when doing comparison research). Instead, they focused on how well a person did in a game, how they reacted to higher difficulties and lower scores. This seems so common sense to us, a game of Pictionary can turn crazy after a few rounds, but it's easily overlooked because we try to grasp for difficult explanations. For some reason we don't want there to be simple answers to complex problems. It's okay for things to be simple.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why Game Movies Suck - According to Canada

I'm back home from PAX East, and it was a busy weekend for me. Lots of walking.

Lots. And lots. Of walking.

I'm working on typing up my review and will post it soon. In the meantime, here's another gaming story to keep you busy. Some professor talked to USA today about why video game movies suck.

Kirk Kjeldsen is an assistant professor in the Cinema Department at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Vancouver. Leave it to a Canadian to state the obvious, that the problem with game movies is that video games and movies are two different beasts.

"Translating a non-linear narrative into a linear three-act structure is like making a song out of a painting or a sculpture."

Isn't there a song about the Mona Lisa or did I imagine it? And there are a number of songs inspired by art pieces. Bad analogy assistant professor. It's not an invalid point, just an obvious one. Of course games and movies are different forms of media. Video games allow users to interact with the story, make decisions for the characters, and ultimately affect the outcome on how a product is received. Movies are a passive activity, that require us to do little above basic thought processes to interpret and understand the story.

This all came up after the not so strong showing of the Need For Speed movie. While it has made up for it's budget domestically and done decently internationally, it wasn't the break out hit that Disney and others were hoping for with game based movies.

Honestly? It's just not a strong pool to pull from right now BECAUSE games are so vastly different from what films offer. Taking a song, television show, book, or play is different by comparison because those are natural story arcs that can blend in with the pace and timing of a film. Games operate on a different platform of story-telling entirely, some creating brand new genres (Murderd: Soul Suspect comes to mind as one of the first ghost action/adventure/drama) which can't be confined to a movie format.

So what does the Canadian assistant professor suggest film studios do? "[T]ake the best parts of the game, discard the rest." Which is something the Resident Evil films have done, and not done so well. The one thing that they do get correctly is the sense of fear and overwhelming odds against the zombie hoard. The story takes practically nothing from the games, but at least the action attempts to capture what the RE games portray.

Not Earth shattering news, but I'll make up for it with my PAX East overview. Promise.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


That was such a lame joke, but if you chuckled, congrats. You are old or full of nostalgia.
But with this post, I am heading back to PAX East for another round, this till for the full 3 days of fun, entertainment, and butt loads of gaming. I’m not entirely sure what to expect for the weekend, other than seeing a bunch of the Southern cosplay crew come up for Mass Effect times. But this year I plan to take more photos where possible, jump into more demo lines, and see how much swag I can haul back. I’m bringing an extra  suitcase specifically for that reason. 

A few panels have caught my attention. Of course I’ll be going to the Mass Effect Cast Cosplay event, even though more than half of the Normandy crew had to drop out for one reason or another, there will be 4, and that’s good enough for me. Though I was hoping DC Douglas would have been able to stay. Legion talking like Wesker would have made my year. But I will most likely stumble into the RPG discussions and various dev panels where I can. Mostly, I want to get onto the floor more this year and get into more gaming. I hated that I missed out on that controller for phones. That thing was bitchin’!

If you are attending this year, or in the Boston area and want to drop by and say hi, I will be really easy to find. Friday, look for Angel from Borderlands 2 (I’m pretty sure I’ll be the only one), Saturday Matriarch Benezia from Mass Effect (again, probably the only one), and Sunday is probably Angel or whatever I decide to pull from my closet. Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Game changing Accessories - Literally

As if gaming controllers weren't getting weird enough, Stanford engineers believe they have developed the next big thing: a controller that measures and detects a players physiology and can alter game play to make the product more engaging.

Sounds silly? Well the techs at Stanford got the idea after conducting research with Texas Instruments. The main study focused on practical ways of determining a person's mood or behavior based on his/her physiological responses. The results were transferred into a 3D printed plastic pack with sensors that replaced the battery panel on the back of an XBox 360 controller. Lo and behold, the engineers and scientists could gauge a person's response while playing a game.

From there they developed a simple game that allowed for the content to change based on the player's mood. If he or she twitches their nose, it could show agitation, increasing neuo receptor responses in their fingers, and the game can lower the number of enemies on the screen. Or a glazed eye reduces blood flow, causing the fingers to become tepid, and signaling the game that the user is bored, therefore prompting it to throw more enemies at you.

It sounds, well, surreal. A game taking your physical responses and adjusting itself to accommodate your needs.

Freekin' AI's.

There are no responses for a prototype beyond what Stanford has developed with the 360 controller, and this may be something years down the line. We're still getting use to the flimsy nature of motion controls. But virtual reality is not too far behind based on the out pour of responses after Facebook buying Oculus Rift. VR is going to happen. Real VR, not VirtuaBoy VR. The gear to accompany it will make a huge impact on how it is received. Stanford, go patent your 3D printed sensor while you can.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

E.T. Dig On Hold

Remember the story I published in December where Lightbox entertainment would be working with Microsoft's new production company to develop a documentary about Atari and the E.T. game. Part of that process would include going out to New Mexico and digging up the grave of the cartridges from the gaming bust of 1983. Remember? Sure you do. It was barely 4 months ago.

Well environmental regulators have rejected the production company's proposal, even after the Alamogordo city council approved of the dig in June of last year, the environmental agency stopped it late February. Lightbox will continue to film the remaining segments of the documentary while they work with the city to come to an agreement that would allow them to dig. The hold is based off an 2004 EPA report that found "22 compounds of concern" in the landfill and requires additional study before it's deemed safe to start digging. There is no ETA on when any of it will begin, but you know Lightbox with Microsoft backing them, will try and push for it to happen sooner rather then later.

Then again, it's the EPA. That early 2015 release date for the documentary is not likely.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Spring Sales Underway

From December 2013, but the sale
is still the same!
Again, not something I post often, but this deal might be worth a look for those wanting to bump up their gaming collection, or snagging last years games at a low price.

Target is not only placing hundreds of games on sale for the 360, PS3, and various Nintendo platforms, they are also coupling it with Buy 2, Get 1 Free. The offer is available at all retail locations and online.

Not bad. Of course there are limits and restrictions. The B2G1 is on a selected set of games, but you're looking at nearly 500 games to choose from. Recent releases are included at full retail value. And, as always, the free game will be whatever is cheapest in your bundle (equal or lesser value to the 2 you are buying). So don't expect to get Titanfall for free if you spend $5.00 on two cheapy DS games.

It's April! Pushing out those games to make way for the new stock this summer.

Friday, April 04, 2014

EA Only A 2 Year "Worse Company" Winner

I was letting some of the sadness subside before posting this, but EA's third year run to winning "Worse Company in America" via The Consumerist has failed, losing to Time Warner after the first round. To be fair, EA vs. Time Warner is always a tough choice. But EA will not win a third year trophy of the golden poo.

To be fair, EA doesn't want to be hated and they're trying to do better. They dumped the Online Pass and DRM rules that plagued gamers for years. The CEO, who had high sales but low approval numbers, stepped down. SimCity was a mess and the NCAA fiasco will set them back. But they weren't 'as bad' of a company as the past two years have been.

So good job Time Warner. You sucked worse then EA. How does that make you feel?

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Metacritic Scores With Amazon

Metacritic has leagued with Amazon, in a sense, by offering direct links back to products it has given scores on. And as the Time article by Matt Peckham reads, it’s not exactly a great thing. 

For those who don’t know, Metacritic has rose to be the tops when it comes to reviews for movies, music, and anything involving entertainment. It utilizes scores and resources for hundreds of websites and newspapers to compile reviews into a score. 0 is bad, 100 is the best. These are based on critic reviews, people who are paid to watch/read said item and write about their opinions for the general public. It does not take into consideration customer reviews, those of us who pay to buy the product. That’s where Peckham and I feel that this Amazon “buy now” link will come into trouble.

Amazon is the hub where you can buy virtually anything. It’s also where you’ll get a lot of honest feedback about a product. Sometimes a sarcastic remark here and there, (The BIC Pen’s for Her are hilarious), but overall, when you read an Amazon review, you get an honest customer response. A game like SimCity (I really don’t mean to pick so much on EA…okay maybe I do, but this is a great ecample) got a decent score on Metacritic at 64. There were a good number of mixed reviews, most people like the game, but wouldn’t rank it in Top10 must haves. Flip over to Amazon and ratings are at 1.6 out of 5 stars. That is really bad in Amazon world. But Metacritic reviews say that it’s a game worth trying. Needless to say, it’s obvious that MC wants to make more money, like any business would. And this partnership with Amazon will net them some additional profit for every sale made via the redirects on the MC website. But it can be misleading to consumers, thinking that the MC scores are more important, buy the game, and realize that it sucks once they read the Amazon reviews. I don’t feel that Amazon or MC are trying to be dishonest: both of them want to boost their profits. It’s just a wonky review system to have MC’s scores say one thing and Amazon’s saying another. Who do you believe? Who do you follow? Who do you choose not to follow? Or do you say “screw it” and buy/avoid the game anyway regardless of what reviews say? I’m curious to watch this unfold with consumers.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

You Crazy Gaming Devs.

Yesterday, for those who did not know, was April Fools. A day where it's "okay" to play a prank or a joke on someone and not expect dire consequences. I personally do not delve into this quasi-non-holiday, so I avoid pretty much everything on the internet and do not believe any facts until April 2nd. It's difficult to take any news seriously when it is April 1st .

So in semi-honor of the not-holiday, I've rounded up some of the jokes of the internet from gamers and gaming companies alike that occurred yesterday.

The BioWare store added some interesting items to their catalog, including the Garrus Vakarian Body Pillow and chest hair from some manly Dragon Age folks. But try adding it to your cart...nope! April Fools! Not real items!

Seriously. BW. We want that body pillow. We will buy it. MAKE IT HAPPEN! >.>

Blizzard goes nuts on April Fools, from a fake patch update to World of Warcraft, a fake Startcraft II name game 3 release, and a fakie new game. They're not afraid to throw it all out there to piss off some fans.

Frostbite had a field day about their new engine working for the Wii-U. And it's kind of funny how super serious people were getting about it. Too bad EA had to ruin the fun and deny all of the rumors. It's April Fools guys. Relax a little!

How about some Optimus Prime in your Titanfall? Respawn Entertainment went all out on this joke, creating not only the webpage, but a video trailer!

Riot Games announced a game-breaking add on to League of Legends, that gives infinite mana and energy to all competitors. Insane, right? Well's true.Ultra Rapid Fire will be available starting next week. I want to watch the impending lulz on this.

And not to be left out Google had it's own fun creating a Google Maps Pokémon, with an app and everything! Totally fake, but nifty idea for a future project.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

When 'Buyer Beware' Merges With Constumer/Developer Responsibility

I need to stop holding posts back.

The Escapist’s Jim Sterling recently released a video over the “Buyer Beware” premise in video games,  and Forbes covered it. I have been working on something very similar for the past week, but kept fine tuning it. And then everyone else beats me to the punch. But it happens sometimes, right Kotaku

So I’m posting the piece as it stands, though it may be tweaked continually over the next few days. Enjoy!

Buying a new video game is no thrifty endeavor. A regular version can cost $59.99 before tax, maybe $52 or 55.99 if you buy through Amazon. Then there are the ‘collector’s’ editions at $79.99, followed by premium versions that can range from $109 to $129.99. It’s a lot of money to throw down for one item that may, or may not, be a good product. $129.99 is 3 weeks of gas for my car, or a full month of groceries. And if you’re wondering how I figured out my grocery bill, I’m thrifty and I do a lot of cooking at home. Base ingredients are cheap if you cook your own meals.

So how do you know if the product that you’re getting is worth the money you’re spending? Similar to movies and music, you don’t really know what you’re getting until you put down the money. Creative properties have more leeway in protecting their content before release, mostly for sales reasons (who wants to see a movie when they already know word for word what’s going to happen?). This is where we rely on reviews online, in newspapers, or on the box art for the item itself to gain a general idea of the story and content. But by comparison, a movie is rarely expensive with the exception of collector’s editions. We have no qualms spending $9-19.99 on a new movie or CD because if it sucks, well we can always toss it or get rid of it at the next garage sale. There isn’t a big loss with a movie – where as in comparison a video game is really f-ing expensive. Even the used games can cost more than the price of a movie ticket in some cases.
But the big difference that we see between video games and other media is the lack of consumer awareness. The majority of gamers are casual, and based on sales over the years, that is solidified by the rise in mobile games and repeat titles in the top 10 sales such as Madden NFL and Call of Duty. (Note: This isn’t a bad thing. Casual gamers are still gamers, and they make up a majority of the marketplace.) The issue that arises is that because most gamers are casual, few take the extra time to read reviews and research the product they wish to buy outside of the tv ads, Super Bowl commercials, and your local game sales associate (whose job it is to get you to buy more stuff). The idea of video game reviews also has not been engrained into our mindset like movie and music reviews, which have had decades for people to become accustomed to before they became a staple of the general public. Video game reviews are still in their infancy. From time to time I’ll catch a title in the New York Times or the Dallas Morning News, but it only appears for the “big” games, like Madden, or the next Halo. Mobile games, or quirky indie products like Journey would never make an appearance in the general news. 

Like it or not, video games are still seen as a novel activity. People see them as “toys” and as such, researching them is not at the top of the propriety list. Much like Lego, Barbie, and Hot Wheels, we get a general idea about the product’s intent: to entertain us. Therefore, in-depth study isn’t necessary. But smart phones, cars, tablets? You better believe buyers will research them before purchase, even with the phone/tablet field being relatively young by comparison to video games.

So “buying with your wallet” is almost happenstance when it comes to video games. Most people will buy it because of the flashy commercials without doing the leg-work to read the reviews and bugs. We’re buying because it’s the latest Madden. We’re not exercising responsible consumerism.

Buyer Made Aware!

In this scenario with video games, is it the buyer’s responsibility to be aware and be responsible consumers? Well, yes and no. As someone who has worked for so many years in customer service, yes. It is 100% your responsibility to have SOME Idea of what you are buying. It’s not my job to tell you every little detail about a product. You should have some clue about what you want, and I can help direct you in the right direction to get said item, but I can’t read off the entire contents of a BiC blue pen. You need to have some level of involvement in your purchases.

At the same time, because the content is so expensive, the publisher needs to release all known issues to consumers in a format that can be easily located. Yes. I know. Some bugs aren’t made aware until after a game’s release. The latest Sim City is a perfect example of this, where a small room of game reviewers crashed the server multiple times. We knew about this a few weeks before the game’s release, and EA pushed it anyway with a heavy marketing campaign. Surprise, surprise. Release day came and the servers were a mess for weeks.  It got to the point that EA halted all advertising for the product until they could resolve the issue.

That is the type of information consumers should have access to before buying a product. It could be equivalent to finding out that such-and-such model car having starter issues (because with Sim City, it’s an online only game – meaning you can only play when the servers are working). That’s a big deal, and as a customer, I would want to know about it. Maybe it would have dissuade me from making the purchase, or like most people, they would wait the few weeks until the issues are resolved before buying the product. Not me. No new Sim City here. Not until they have an offline mode.

But isn’t this the case with multiple industries? WonderBread can’t tell me exactly how their products taste because it’s going to vary from person to person. And Apple can’t tell me if I’ll like the size of the latest iPhone until I hold it in my hands. Very true. Again, a good portion of this is that consumers need to hold responsibility for their purchases. But it’s also the product’s developers duty to make a quality item at the end of the day. It’s also in their best interest to divulge information important to the customers, like the ingredients in that bread, or the weight of the iPhone. Game developers have excluded themselves from this and there hasn’t been any backlash against it. There is the ESRB which gives a general idea about the content within a game, but it doesn’t dive into the meat. (In many ways, this is where government regulation could come in handy, but then Call of Duty would be XXX and would never be allowed in stores for sale. Self regulation is a bitch.)

The concept of “buyer’s beware” is a two sided coin. Without researching the product, people don’t know about the issues. And without developers telling us the problems…people don’t know about the issues.
I still believe that boycotting a company for crappy products can produce a strong message (EA, I’m looking at your). When it comes to video games, however, the general consumer isn’t aware of the growing problems some companies have until they buy the game. And at that point, the developer doesn’t care. They got their money from you, and they can move on to the next product to push on to you.