Friday, August 28, 2015

Borderlands Is Getting A Movie Too! Collective Groaning May Continue

I don't think my opinion is going to be very popular with my friends (now that they're spamming Facebook with the news). Thank goodness for blogs!

So. Borderlands. It's been optioned as a movie by Lionsgate by Avi Arad. The name may sound familiar. He has been the producer behind a massive string of superhero  Marvel movies over the past decade, including Iron Man and Spiderman. Lionsgate has made it known that they want to get into video games, both development and movie adaptations. But Borderlands...I don't know. It doesn't sit well with me.

While a lot of it has to do with the iffy past of video game based movies, I don't see the Borderlands style translating well into film. With the narrative there's potential. If you cut out the 50 hours you spend level grinding and doing fetch quests, you could squish the BL1 or BL2 plot into a 2 hour movie. A rag-tag group teams up to find a "vault" on a mysterious world. Done.

But BL animation quality is something we probably should not expect. For those who are unfamiliar with BL, it has a very distinct look. Don't call it cell shading because GearBox will chastise you. It's a unique inking technique that utilizes a lot of bold, dark lines. It allows the characters to really pop against the landscape. And it works well in video games and photographs. In person, it looks really, really weird. As someone who cosplays from this game, the second most-received comment that I get is "what's with all the black lines?" The first being "how did you get your hair to do that?" You have to look like a 1960's Mod art piece with your costumes to emulate the Borderlands style. Which means lots of black lines. Everywhere.

Unless you're accustomed to this visual format, it can be very distracting. This is why you don't see a lot of comic book movies looking to replicate the art style. It can turn off the audience. Sin City stood out for doing this, and it did it really darn well. They were able to capture the feel of the comics without destroying the integrity. Alterations had to be made in the movie so as to keep the movie appealing to the audience (some shadows were not as severe, for example). But it was still a difficult movie to watch for non-fans. I can easily see Borderlands having to overcome this issue. Do we go for "real" or for "game?" And how many people will stop watching if we take the "game" route?

The other glaring issue for me is the dialogue. Borderlands is a game with adult-kid-like humor. There are fart and poop jokes wrapped into swear words and sexual innuendo. You need to have the mindset of a 6 year old to enjoy this game. I don't mean that as an insult. If you can't laugh through Borderlands, then you're playing it wrong. Part of what makes the game stand out from it's counterparts is just how silly the whole thing is.

You have a disembodied voice guiding you to the vault. There's a wisecracking, foul-mouthed robot that assist you in your travels. There are teenagers who love to blow up lots of sh*t and are demolition experts. You have super powers, instant robot building skills, and a f-ton of guns that appear out of nowhere. And it's all wrapped into a world where finding ammo in toilets is perfectly normal.

One could argue that the humor is no different in movies such as Bridesmaids, but BL is on a different level. It manages to work the humor, action, and drama into it's story - compared to Bridesmaids which is a straight-forward comedy. All 3 of these plot types are on the same level. There isn't a favoritism in action over humor, or humor over drama. It's not like Die Hard where it's action first, a handful of witty lines second. You are consistently given all 3 plot types throughout the game. How you turn that into a movie is beyond my creative comprehension.

Also poop jokes. Not every adult appreciates them.

I think Borderlands was selected for a few reasons:

- The obvious Mad Max references in the game, now that it's cool to be dystopian again, could easily draw in a larger audience beyond the gaming crowd.

- The basic plot is easy enough to recreate and revamp for movie audiences.

- Characters are memorable, and a cast of 4 heroes is easy to keep track of.

- Video game movies are making another resurgence in production with the likes of World of Warcraft and Halo nearing closer to solid release dates.

My message to the producer and writing team: I strongly encourage you all to pull an Ace Attorney. You may not get the general movie audience on your side, but you'll certainly earn accolades from gamers and reviewers. The more you make the movie like the Borderlands game, the better. Go over the top on the visual style. Be stupid with the dialogue. Make ClapTrap as annoying as possible. Have a butt-ton of guns! This is the only way I can see the film working. So please. Make this movie as amazing as it could be and prove me wrong on my opinion!

AssCreed Fans...Ready for a Movie?

My Facebook feed as aflutter yesterday with Yahoo's first look at the Assassin's Creed movie with Michael Fassbender as a new hero named Callum Lynch. If the face doesn't seem too familiar with the shadowy hood and the 5pm beard, Fassbender is Magneto in the rebooted X-Men movies. If you're curious about any video game ties in his acting career, he did provide a voice over for Fable 3. That's it.

So while the lot of us cool off at this wickedly badass image, what Yahoo provided us was a load of fluff and filler. We know that the movie is set to release in December of 2016 (tentative date of the 21st). The character was made for the film and won't be involved in the video games, but just like the game's Lynch is a descendant of a secret society of assassins and must relive his ancestor's memories to find out more.

And that's all we know. *shrugs* Again, it's fluff. Yahoo showed off an image and we went ga-ga over it.

As we've discussed multiple times in this blog, we don't really know if this movie will be the "hit" for game-related cinema. The history has been in flux. The lack of information for a "first look" is not going to quell the rumblings of gaming fans, AssCreed die-hards in particular. Without knowing even an ounce of the plot-line, we can only hope that the production crew are up to the task of bringing AC dutifully to the screen.

My current prediction is that this is going to be getting the same treatment as Prince of Persia. For a number of gaming fans, they wish this movie didn't exist. But it did decently at the box office and among critics. It's one of the highest rated video game movies on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. And it pulled in over $300 million world-wide to beat out other other game movies at the time. The movie itself is not that bad. They took creative liberties with the story to fit within a movie framework. Until Ace Attorney was released, I felt this was the best that video game movies have to offer.

How the AssCreed movie is setting itself up is very similar to what they did with Prince of Persia for marketing. So I'm ambivalent. But hopeful that they'll leak new information in the coming months as production moves forward.

Let's hope they shoot for an AC3, and not Unity.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up With GTA5, Turok, and Plants?

It's that time again! A weekly link round-up of all the chills and spills of gaming news around the web. And there are a lot of things to talk about!

- YouTube has launched their Video Game Streaming Services, called YouTube Gaming. The website and app will allow for better searching and compiling of gaming videos that are already on YouTube. And it will introduce a different method for gamers to stream direct to YouTube, with 60 FPS streaming capabilities. Looking forward to seeing what else they are offering that will allow them to stand out from Twitch.

- There are a lot of strange mods for GTA5. The Mass Effect 3 Reaper for one (and if the blimp has a horn, God help us if someone adds in the Reaper sound effects. BWAHHHHHHHH!) and now someone has lovingly re-created the original Pokémon anime intro. With Trevor as Ash. People have too much free time.

- WhatCulture has yet another list, this time looking at the 20 games of the 2000's that were underrated. Take it with a light heart. When a list includes Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, you can't take it seriously.

- If you're still in Summer Vacation mode and looking for a fun road trip, tour the country and visit 5 places from video games that are real. #4 and 5 are a bit of a throwaway though. The Old State House in Boston, Mass. is a historical icon and the Millennium Park in Chicago, IL are tourist staples. It would be like playing Die Hard 3 (yes, there is a video game of this), which takes place in New York City, and then visiting the Empire State Building. The "interesting" places in video games are the ones that seem like they shouldn't exist. Such as Centralia, PA from Silent Hill. Which is a real town that has been abandoned due to a fire in a coal mine, that still burns! It's creepy.

- GamePolitics is doing an unofficial poll/survey asking how do you feel about microtransactions in a $60, AAA game? With Metal Gear Solid V releasing soon, the game will contain such a feature. And at this point, it's not unheard of. Games such as Assassins Creed: Unity are littered with microtransactions. The few posts have been focused on multiplayer content or mobile phones, so there isn't a good round-up on opinions quite yet. Hopefully the results will be posted soon. So go vote!

- Turok and Turok 2 are being remastered for the PC! Rejoice kids of the 90's! Night Drive Studios has been working on bringing these games back with upgrades to work for today's machines. No release date or price point has been announced yet, but Turok! Dinosaurs with lasers on their heads! Get excited!

- GamerRant looks at the 5 games with the best of the best character customization. We're talking about spending hours in making your avatar look how you want it to be before you ever start playing the game. I would argue with games like The Sims, half of the fun is in designing your digital characters. But the list is, meh. Saints Row definitely deserves a place. And BioWare as a whole should get a nod for including your history developing your character's story during the creation process. But as far as actually sitting down and making a character from scratch, to the point where you can alter freckles, cheekbones, even upload your own skin color - these list is subpar. I'll always contend that Star Wars: Galaxies had the best of the best. Bar none.

- And because my life loves to mirror my video game habits, there is now a game about growing plants. Viridi is available for free on Steam. You pick your pot. You pick your plant, or plants (which are varieties of succulents, some of the easiest plants to take care of). You click the plant to give it water. And you watch it grow. So what's the appeal to this? It's an anti-clicking game. Unlike the button mashers that are thriving on Steam right now, Viridi wants users to step back and examine the simple joys of the world. Life can move too fast, especially if you're apt to quickly click through it. Viridi is a test of patience and clicker-resistance. There are so many game theories and social aspects to this game that I want to study!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Land-Sized Pre-Order May Be Overkill For Just Cause 3

If the realm of video game pre-order bonuses has not gotten weird enough, SquareEnix just launched it to a new level. Yesterday subscribers to their mailing list were treated to a new promotion for the upcoming release of Just Cause 3, the game that mixes Grand Theft Auto-like sandboxing with Mercenaries destructive creativity and Kane and Lynch story-telling. What's the "deal" this time? Well if you pre-order Just Cause 3, you can win an island.

Not an island in a snow globe. And it's not a digital island in the game.

A real. Freekin'. Island.

And I thought Saints Row was going overkill on their Million Dollar pre-order.

Now, there are a LOT of rules and stipulations about this offer, so before you dive in on another pointless pre-order, make sure to check out the website and get the full details. They are hefty.

First things first, did you really think you would get an island? Well you could. There are a few things to keep in mind: 1, SquareEnix does not guarantee that it will be a "tropical" island like the one featured in the Just Cause series. 2: SquareEnix does not guarantee that the island will be inhabitable. 3: SquareEnix does not guarantee that the island can be developed, nor that it can be reached by means other then boat. 4: SquareEnix will not cover any of the expenses that come with owning an island - such as escrow, attorney fees, closing costs, etc.

And that's just a very quick overview on all of the caveats. As cool as it sounds to own an island, there's a lot to think about it. SE doesn't even give a general size dimension of the island itself. It could be a 5x5 foot piece of land that is, by all technicalities, an island. That also happens to have an endangered iguana living on it, so you can't have it relocated. And it's home to ManBearPig, or something crazy like that. Most people don't realize that when you enter these kinds of contests, such as "Win a New Car!", you have to pay for it in some form or another - typically with money. With the win a car campaigns, you have to pick up the tab on insurance, taxes, and any state contest fees. This can be anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending upon the value of the car. It's the same with Lottery winnings. Or winning an island.

To twist the knife in a bit deeper, to be eligible you have to pre-order and pick up the Day One edition of Just Cause 3 for the XBox One or PS4. Because it's not enough to pre-order the game, you have to get the only version of the product that will be available just for the release day (once again proving that pre-orders are wreaking havoc on game development). And! It's only available at GameStop.

After you pick up your Day One Edition, you need to sign in or create a SquareEnix account. You'll also need to fork over your PSN or XBox Live login info as well to verify that you're an active user. From there you can finally enter in your Day One Edition code on the website. Then you have to start playing and earn the in-game Chaos Points. From then on, you need to play. Constantly. The goal is to be the top of the Chaos Leaderboard after a 90 day period. Whoever comes in first will win an island.

So! Not only do you have to shell out more money for an "exclusive" first day pre-order, which you can only purchase the game for one of the 2 next-gen systems, you have to be GOOD at the game. It's not a random chance to win. You need to play and be one of the best in order to obtain that island. An island that may not be tropical, is 5 by 5 feet, houses one endangered iguana, and is ManBearPig's summer retreat. Where you'll also have to pay additional taxes, closing costs, attorney fees, and the like before you can enjoy your island that you can never visit, 4,867 miles away from your home.

And if that doesn't sound appealing, you can take the cash out option of $50,000.

$50,000 is incredibly cheap for an island...that must be a really crappy location to be the cash equivalent.

I think I'll still to my "no pre-order" clause. This is getting silly.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Australian Game Shops "Fixing" MGS5 Marketing

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is almost here. And with the recent upheaval over at Konami, Australian retailer JB Hi-Fi wants to remind you that MGS5 is a Hideo Kojima game. So much so that they have taken the liberty of adjusting their endcaps to reflect this with a huge ass sign that blocks out Konami's logo and replaces it with "A Hideo Kojima Game." Say what you will about Australia and their strict laws with censorship, they know how to be cheeky when it counts.

After the cancellation of highly anticipated Silent Hills, featuring a mash-up for Kojima and film director Guillermo del Toro, Konami's recent business decisions have been highly questionable. We knew for a while that Kojima was considering leaving, but he was given free reign on his work and a hefty budget to produce it. Konami kept his genius around, until it started to hinder their bottom line. It was announced in March that after MGS5 release, Kojima and his team would make the move away from Konami, but would still act as a consultant on future projects. Since then, everything has gone down-hill. Konami altered all of the MGS5 box-art and most of the advertising campaigns. The product is no longer a "Kojima" game and has been branded to to Konami logos and icons. Future MGS titles will not bear his name. But sources say Kojima will still be involved in the projects.

The company is also going in a new direction: focusing more on mobile games and less on console content. Which also means slimmed down staff numbers since smaller teams can work on mobile products compared to a console game.

It's been a tumultuous year for Konami and Kojima. Frankly, it's quite amazing that Kojima is even willing to put up with the release of MGS5. And the reception from long-time fans and consumers is that Konami is setting themselves up for troubles in the long run. While may will still purchase MGS5, we're doing it for Kojima. Not Konami.

So it's only right that JB "re-brand" the new branding and putting Kojima's name back on the shelves. And in the glory that is Kojima-san, he has reposted the images on his Twitter feed. Because even he knows how dumb this move from Konami is in breaking up a tradition that has produced quality, creative, innovative games. And it's not just one JB store in Australia. Nope! All of them have taken up the task of "fixing" the signs throughout the store to reflect Kojima, not Konami.

I like this JB place. If I lived in Australia, I'd buy my heavily edited products from them.

Monday, August 24, 2015

New SE App Leaves Something To Be Desired By Fans

Good news Final Fantasy fans! Triple Triad is now available for mobile phones! And if you're an FF fan, you like Triad. Don't argue. We all know that Triad is one of the most entertaining card games around, and you don't need a motorcycle or pocket monsters to play.

The bad news, SquareEnix is attempting to turn it into a cash-monger. Given the trend with mobile gaming, that shouldn't be a surprise. But the results are less then joyful in this situation.

Late last week, SE released the Final Fantasy Portal App for Android and iPhone. It's essentially a hub for all things Final Fantasy for mobile game play. The product is so fresh, that the download/install rate is still at the 1k-5k level. But that may be due in part to the not so happy reviews of the product.

First off, the Portal App is completely free. You don't have to buy a darn thing in it if you don't want to. And in fact if you download it before the end of the month, you can get Final Fantasy I for your phone without paying a cent. If you're on Android and accidentally delete your game or move to another phone, you're out of luck. This is a one time download. But still! A game that typically costs $7.99-$19.99 is free, and I've heard good things about the mobile version.

The app is a hub for all of your Final Fantasy content. There are news blips, a Twitter feed, as well as merchandise updates all within a few taps of your finger. And the layout is pretty self-explanatory. You don't need to scroll through endless articles to get to your games. If you jump in to play, the game menu is on the left side. Tap the drop-down box and you're good to go.

You can earn points by logging in with your Square Enix account, which you can then spend in their digital store. You get a point for logging in every day, for reading a new story, for playing a game, and so on. Items in the store currently contain phone wallpapers and new Triple Triad cards. But there are sure to be add-ons later as the app grows in the US to include in-game content for the other FF products. You can also buy points to spend on the store. Currently the highest amount is at $19.99, so you're not going to go into $100 overspending mode as easily. You can't earn points if you don't log into your SE account. But you can still play the games you have purchased, so you're not hindered by the DRM mantra that some companies prefer.

So why get the app if you already have the Final Fantasy games on your phone? It helps corral the games into one unit and I've noticed that it doesn't seem to eat up as much battery life. If you're into the bonus points thing, that's something to look forward to. But most importantly: it has Triple Triad.

Triple Triad is a freebe with the Portal, with no shelf life. For those who are unaware of the glory that is TT, here's the run-down: Triple Triad is a mini-game in Final Fantasy VIII. While a number of people dismissed the game from the FF legacy, we all openly admit to our addiction with the card game. It combined strategy, boldness, problem solving, math crunching skills into something that was fun. It was a mini-game that kept people hooked and the rewards were simple. You played to get more cards and get the best deck possible (Squall was usually the go-to, top-tier, must-have card). That's it. The FF9 version was a stripped down, simplified adaptation of Triad that never really took off. Since then, SE fans have clamored to have a stand-alone TT for consumption. We finally got a taste for it in Final Fantasy XIV with the introduction of the Gold Saucer zone, and even now the rooms are still busy with people playing NPC's. But it does require you to have a subscription to FF14 to play.

So this app is the first time we've had TT without having to pay for add-ons or for a separate game. You can get it for free.

There are caveats of course, but let's start with the positives. The game contains the same rules as the FF8 version, with an update on the interface and a bevy of new cards to play with. The design change is meant to accommodate phones and tablets. But overall, it still looks and feels like TT. Even the sounds incorporated come from FF8. It's nostalgia overload.

The cards are a mixture of past and present Final Fantasy games. I found a few from FF11 and couldn't help but smirk. But you'll see sprite Cecil and Edward, alongside a new-age Cactuar. There are currently 380+ cards that you can obtain in the game. Most are winnings you can earn by playing Triad. Some are only available in the SquareEnix store. And others you have to complete certain goals in Triad (similar to achievements) in order to pick them up. They have also introduced a fun system where you can combine cards to create a more powerful cards. If you have 10 of the same card, the merge component will squish those cards together and you'll get a new version of the card. Another thing to note: you can never lose a card, only gain. So when you lose a match, your precious cards won't be taken away from you.

You can play in a Single Player and Online mode. Single player has you matched against the "Light" cast of Final Fantasy Dissidia. The first one, not 012. You start out on Easy mode, and have to win matches against every character before the next mode is unlocked. This is where the tutorial starts off, and it's quite handy for those who have never experienced Triad before. It gives you a soft introduction into the rules and settings. You unlock game modes, such as Plus and Reverse, as you go through each Single Player opponent.

Online mode allows you to randomly pair up with a person playing the game at the same time. Currently the rules are set to random, but this is expected to expand as more people download the Portal.

In general, TT is easy to pick up and play. Easy way to kill some time. And it's just fun. It brings back a lot of good memories of my FF8 gaming days.

This is where SE mucked it up.

In order to play a match in TT, you need to use Crystals. You get 5 crystals and when they're all gone, no more play time for you. It's similar to Candy Crush, except that you don't get 5 fail attempts - where you can keep on playing and the 5 lives are there to save you in case you botch a level. As long as you keep winning, you can keep playing. With TT you get 5 matches and that's it. If you want to play more, you wait out 30 minutes as easy crystal regenerates, or you buy more crystals from the store with money.

Which sucks immensely. At least with other games the lives are a buffer and you can keep playing until you lose 5 times over the course of your gaming. With TT you only have 5 rounds. TT is the type of game where 5 card matches is not enough. Not when you have a one hour lunch and plenty of time to kill. This 5 crystal system carries over into the online portion as well. Yep. You can't even game with people unless you have crystal .

Now there is a way to earn crystals while you game. I'm not entirely sure how, but I believe it's in their achievements - instead of earning a card you get an extra crystal. And when you initially start playing, you get up to 3 bonus crystals. This will carry you through about half-way into the Easy Single Player mode before you have to wait on the crystals to regenerate. But as a whole, this was a bad move on SE's part. They are forcing you to either wait or pay to play. The game isn't as 'free' as they make it out to be.

My other issue is that in order to play Triad online you need to sign-in to your Google or Apple account. The other option is to use bluetooth and secure a connection this way, but I found after a few attempts that virtually no one was using this method. Bluetooth isn't as hip as it use to be, and some wifi hotspots offer better stability then bluetooth. So you have to log into Google or Apple. Which means you're sharing more of your personal information with SE. They'll ask for your name, your circles, your email, and a bunch of other junk that they really don't need, just so you can play TT online. Luckily with Google, before you finish the sign-in process, you can select what items to remove from SE's grubby hands. They'll still get your name, but you can close off your friends and circles, as well as your call history. I'm not sure how it works on Apple, but it's something to be aware of.

The gaming limitations and knowledge of your phone records may be just enough to turn away the most ardent of Final Fantasy fans. I haven't played FF1 yet, but I get this odd feeling there will be a 30 minute cap before the Portal prompts me to pay to continue.

Overall: Final Fantasy Portal App. Free, but with lots of caveats. The news reels are just okay, but you get the same info if you already follow their Twitter and their Facebook pages. The store items are crap unless you play Triple Triad. Why spend 10 points on a phone wallpaper that you can download for free from Google images? TT is still enjoyable, but those 5 round limits make it a bear to sit and wait on the times to refresh. Even though it's only 30 minutes, I could play unlimited in Candy Crush instead and only wait when I fail 5 times. I may end up uninstalling the app due to lack of play time.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Agent 47 Already Failed In Eyes of Critics

Hmm. The Hitman: Agent 47 movie, which released today, did not score well with critics.

Should any of us be surprised by this?

Admittedly I have not seen the film and did not intend to do so. Not until it reached Netflix. It didn't seem like a bad film, but not something worth a money sink that going out to the theater has become. I wouldn't mind paying for it on Pay-Per-View in the comfort of my home. It seems like any mindless action movie, with a few more gravity-defying stunts and an anti-hero from a video game. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but not the video game movie that we need to break barriers.

But nothing is saving the new Agent 47. Even it's predecessor from 2007 had a higher Tomato reading. From the reviews, the reasons behind the poor ratings range from bad script to the in-plausible nature of the stunts. Producer Adrian Askarieh made it a point to Hitman fans that the main character was going to be faithful to the games. The things he does in the movie are what he would do in the games. And from the previews, that seems like an accurate assessment. But again, I haven't seen it.

Maybe this is just bad karma for the film? Originally Paul Walker was set to play as Agent 47 (which was a dumb idea - he does not carry the proper personality to be a cold-blooded assassin), but his untimely death forced a recast. Or maybe it's overeager reviewers ready to bash on all game movies, since their history is notorious for producing crap.

I don't know. I would like to see video game movies evolve. I'd like to see them improve and create a blend between reality and fantasy. But with Hollywood I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. I still hold hope for Five Nights at Freddy's. Maybe the different direction in genre will be the kick gaming movies need.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Sorry APA. The ESRB Is Not Changing Their System. :)

We all know the rhetoric very well. Violent video games cause increased aggression in children. Violent video games are causing more school violence. Violent video games are bad, and stupid, and rabble, rabble, rabble! The argument is not only old, but silly when you look to countries like Turkey that want to ban Minecraft for being "too violent."

So is it any surprise that the American Psychological Association (APA) is also joining the calls against violent video games? A report by the APA released earlier this week, when a task force reviewed over 150 studies and papers published before 2009 to determine if violent video games are a cause for aggressive behavior in children, or one of many factors in the society they live in. If you couldn't already tell, this report is incredibly flawed. Most of the content produced before 2010 regarding violent video games is one-sided. Studies tended to lean more skewing the results in favor of aggression. Or they used a small pool of people to study from. Or they didn't remove any inherit bias. Or, or, or. There's a lot of issues with the way studies are conducted. Unfortunately, there's no easy to to leave out pre-conceived notions. And in the process of setting up a study that would eliminate those requires too much time and money that people can't invest in. My While it has improved over the past few years, the linty of content prior to 2010 can easily fudge the APA's report.

If you need a prime example of what I'm referring to, we can look to disbarred Florida Attorney Jack Thompson who is of the mind-set for the past research surrounding video games. His rhetoric regarding video games is very much influenced by content that has now since been disproved. In fact, 2 of the pieces from C.J. Ferguson in the APA report have been discredited since their 2007 publication. However! His 2010 study, not in the final APA report, overturns his past theories about video game violence increasing aggression. In fact, his 2010 research has found that not only is the connection that video games cause increased aggression is inconclusive, but that the amount of study into the field is limited, flawed, and that contradictions between studies are abound. Yeah. He had the balls to say he was wrong and wants to provide more accurate research on this topic. Which the APA didn't care about. They only wanted to look at pre-2009 content. Which is silly given the amount of new studies out over the past 5 years that confirm what a lot of us already know: video games don't increase aggression and don't make us raging psychopaths. In fact, we can learn from video games, and we shouldn't dismiss them.

Even better, Ferguson, along with 230 other university professors and media professionals who focus on researching games, sent a letter of concern to the APA when they announced the task force two years ago. The task force was comprised of a group that skewed older (the average age was 62) and therefore already were biased against video games based on cultural differences. The APA has also never adequately defined what "aggression" is. Ever. And that's including before the time of video games. The APA was also not transparent about which studies it used, listing just a fraction of the content they referred to.

I'm disappointed in the lack of professionalism from the APA. They should know better. Research and studies are changing constantly, and to be the most accurate in assessments and providing guidelines to medical professionals, they need to take in all of the studies: past and present. I noticed that the original report was updated to include post-2010 content only after people started calling their bull. And those studies only further confirm that the APA has a bias mindset.

Now, to not completely dismiss them, the APA's report does state that no one single factor can cause violent behavior in kids and adults. It's a multitude of cultural factors. But they claim that video games are one of those factors that can contribute to the whole.

In a bold move, the APA has reached out to the ESRB regarding their report and is asking them to change how they rate video games.

The ESRB said no.

What the APA said to the ESRB is unsure. It's believed to be along the lines that the request to change ratings was to help inform parents and further limit access to "violent" content. The ESRB responded with their own studies conducted by other companies not affiliated with the ESRB that showed 87% of parents were confident in the rating system for video games. 87% were aware of the meaning behind the ratings, and 73% check the ratings regularly when making a purchase. That was from a study eight years ago conducted by the FTC, and the percentages have only gone up. As early as last year, a study showed 95% of parents are aware of the content their children are playing, and 91% are with their child when purchasing a game. If that's not valid proof that the ESRB is working, then I don't know what is.

The ESRB is working just fine. Parents and kids understand it. And parents are making the choice to let their child play Call of Duty. It's not breeding a world of monsters. It's allowing kids to be more open, social, and inquisitive about the world they live in. Good on your ESRB for not caving in. The group is open to additional dialogue with the APA regarding the topic, but will not be making any changes to the ratings system. If I could insert a Facebook Like button here for the ESRB, I would, and I'd click it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Mindset List - Or How To Make You Feel Old When You're Not

The annual list produced by Beloit College is intended as a means of providing professors and administrative staff on college campuses a better idea about the incoming class of Freshman who are set to graduate within the next 4-5 years. It has also evolved into a list of "holy crap, that makes me feel old - what is wrong with kids these days?" But I think it still serves a purpose to those in higher education. There have been a lot of changes socially, economically, environmentally, and politically over the past 10 years. Every new class of students will have been brought up in different world from their predecessors, and it's important to understand why they think the way that they do. It helps professors understand how they learn, and they are able to tailor their lessons to ensure their students succeed in the classroom.

It's also fun to poke at the list, and inevitably feel depressed about it later. Here are a few to start off your day, things that people born in 1997 have never experienced and/or have always had since coming into this world:

- South Park has always been in existence. So has The Simpsons, but that's been around since the 1980's. South Park is that old. No really. It is. It began in 1997.

- Color photos have always been in the New York Times. True story. The Times didn't adopt color into print until 1997.

- Harry Potter has always existed, just like South Park.

- The Lion King has been on Broadway since 1997.

- CNN went to Spanish in 1997, and sugar substitute Splenda was happy to get on the market and advertise their sweet, not-sugar goodness.


With the "Class of 2019" list out and making the rounds on the internet, I wanted to add on a few more bullet points that are video game related. Gaming has been a significant cultural influence to kids and teenagers since the year 2000 (when the industry made a huge shift in technology and content distribution). They have grown up with games in a way many of us never have before. They had access to newer technology, faster upgrades, and instant connections all from their cell phones. How they perceive the world has been affected by video games, so it's important to add these gaming moments to the master list:

- 1997 was one of the largest years in gaming, sales of the PS1 blew up because of Final Fantasy 7.

- 10 Days later Mario Kart 64 beefed up the N64 output. Followed by Golden Eye in April (the definitive Bond game).

- It was also the first year for Grand Theft Auto. Kids starting college this year have ALWAYS had GTA in their lives.

- With the exception of the N64, the 1997-ers have always had discs to play their console games. Some of these kids may never have had access to an N64. By the time they were old enough to hold a controller, the XBox and PS2 were being released.

- 8 bit and 32 bit are not normal terms for kids of this time frame. They don't know that Mario use to look like a bunch of red, blue, and white squares.

- They also don't understand why we like "retro." It's all blocky, and stuff.

- Online gaming. It has always existed for the 1997-ers. Mostly without dial-up. How depressing is that? Those born in 1997 most likely have never heard of the AOL dial-up noise.

- They also don't know the joys of the Game Genie and it's game-breaking cheats. It died out by 1996.

- And finally, just to make you all feel that much older: Pokémon for the Gameboy was released in 1996. The anime began airing in 1997 (1998 in the US). People born in 1997 have always been exposed to Pokémon.

You're welcome.


Now that I look at the list, a lot of cool stuff came out in 1997. Man. That was a great year to be a teenager who was into video games. There was also X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, Fallout, Curse of Monkey Island, PaRappa the Rapper, Final Fantasy Tactics, Ultima Online, Age of Empires...1997 was awesome!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Console Hybrid Attempting Crowdfunding in China

Speaking of potential Kickstarter hokum, how about the OUYE from China, looking for $15,000 to manufacturer and sell their own gaming console. If that name sounds familiar, you're not imaging it. The OUYE is a weird concoction of the PS4, XBox One, and the Ouya. And the designers created it that way, taking the powerhouse of the Ouya Kickstarter funding and looking to replicate it.

They have released it for funding on the Chinese knock-off Kickstarter site Z.Jd. (Red Flag #1) and they're only asking for $15 grand on a system that looks really flashy for what little hardware is being placed into it. (Red Flag #2) And you can purchase said system, if released, for $70! (Red Flag #3)

The company, Shenzhen, is calling it a micro-platform, even though it'll be about the size of a PS4 and XBox One. It will run off of Android and will allow developers to create their own content. It will also come with an XBox One controller. Yep. Even says so in the campaign. They added in additional buttons where the XBox One on/off jewel is, but it's the same darn thing.

For something that looks like a blatant rip-off of current gen systems, how can this happen? Why hasn't it been removed from the site? A lot of it has to do with China's relaxed copyright laws. Even now with the console ban lifted, it doesn't stop people from copying and redistributing content. We're likely to see more copy/paste models of systems in the near future.

Crowdfunding. It's funny locally and internationally as well.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hard Knock Life For Investors

For past blog posts, we've seen that geek "community" businesses have been cropping up around the country. From bars and lounges to gaming parlors and cupcake shops. In our area, we don't really have much of a gaming lounge. They've attempted to make gaming bars happen, but they seem to disappear within a year of creation. So for a number of us, we look to these bars as passing phases. People attempting to get rich quick off of the nerdy buzzwords of late. And for most of us, we know better then to dump our money into crap products. Word travels fast among us. :)

Which is why I was surprised to see not only another attempt at a gaming den, but this one initially asked for $500k on Indie GoGo (now it's $275k but wow...that's a lot of money). It's called Hip, Slick, and GEEK. Their plan is to have a retail center completely focused on nerdy products, along with a café, and gaming area. With an opening date of late 2015 (really?) to early 2016 (I mean...really?), they plan to take over a Texas city in the DFW metroplex and let the geeks multiply.

So why is this an issue? What's wrong with a start-up company asking for money?

When business Gods & Monsters opened up in Orlando, Florida they only asked for $15k on Indie GoGo to help ensure that they get everything that nerds and gamers wanted in the store (better computer monitors for example). The other 98% of their funding came from investors and loans. They went to a bank, proposed their business plan, and went through the proper channels to ensure they received the capital they needed to start. Asking for $275k to be completely crowdfunded for a business sounds shady. It raises a lot of red flags. This isn't the norm, and could potentially be illegal with the city.

Look to this as a general guide of what to scan before deciding to drop your money on a GoFundMe, Indie GoGo, Kickstarter campaign. And remember, with sites like GoFundMe and Indie the recipient keeps every dollar donated even if the campaign isn't fully funded. Only Kickstarter has that "goal" restriction.

Flag #1: Why didn't you ask a bank for a loan? Why aren't your getting investors on board? Why haven't you saved up if you knew you were going to be starting a business?

Flag #2: Time frame. It's mid-August right now. And they plan to have a shop open and stocked in 4 months? Let's give them the buffer of early 2016 and say 7 months. That puts them in mid to late March as an open date. While it's feasible for a store to open in such a short time-frame, the amount of customization that the business wants to dive into, 7 months is not enough time. They have to factor in not only stock and getting vendors to provide them goods, they need to go through licensing and health inspections for serving food and drinks. They need to ensure public restrooms are available (because in that city, if you serve food, you are required to have a bathroom open to the public). And have a working internet connection throughout the store if you want gamers to stick around. It all adds up to a lot of time that half a year is not enough to bring this type of business into a working condition. Health checks alone can easily take 3-5 months. Minimum.

Flag #3: The dollar amount. While it's been scaled back to something more manageable, $272k from the public is A LOT of money. One of the things about Texas that a number of our politicians preach is that this is a great state for business. And it's true. With the numerous amount of tax cuts, the low property rates, and low cost of start-ups, you can easily get a retail business up and running here for around $100k. And a good, nice-looking business. Not a hole-in-the-wall where you question the last time the floor has been washed. Even for a gaming lounge and retail, you can get a lot accomplished for $100k. Build up the business in stages. Start with the retail and gaming areas. Build on the café later as business settles in. So what are they going to do with that extra $175k?

Flag #4: No business plan. Reading through the GoGo page, they have a lot of ideas. And they're not bad ideas. They're ambitious. But no real concept of how this all goes together. It's just magically suppose to happen, I guess.

Flag #5: Talking down other businesses. I know most people don't realize this, and think that Texas is full of red necks and cowboys. But we have a pretty big nerdy industry here. There's a reason why Penny Arcade selected Texas as the spot to be for PAX South. Some of the biggest nerd conventions in the country happen here. Outside of SDCC and Dragon*Con, we have some of the largest attendance rates for comics and anime. Austin has one of the top 10 best comic shops in the country. We speak geek and know it well here in the lone star state.

But one thing that has not settled well with the description of Hip, Slick, and GEEK is how they talk about other businesses. "I soon realized that there did not yet exist a store that treasured rare and outstanding GEEK items.In the Dallas area, there are plenty of comic book and toy stores that seem to offer bits and pieces of what a true geek is looking for." Their Facebook page also has some disparaging comments and they have responded to concerns from the public about how they are approaching their campaign. The answers have ranged from "don't put down our store" to "Donald Trump didn't make friends when he started."

Here's the thing. The geek community prides itself on inclusiveness. Even with all of the nerd hate within our groups going on these days, the bulk of us love being geeks because we don't shun others. We don't hate or discriminate. We want people to talk about their fandom in an open environment. And this new business is doing the opposite. It's also being disrespectful to the other businesses in the area that do have those unique geek items you can't get elsewhere.

Needless to type, I won't be supporting this business. There are just too many questions, and no answers to believe this will work. And at 16 days with $103 dollars in the bank, it's clear that others agree with me as well.

Kids, be sure to read and research all of the facts before you jump on board with a crowd-funding campaign. You might be surprised at what you find.