Monday, April 20, 2015

The Review Turn-Around

NPR recently interviewed Chris Kohler of Wired about the changing face of video game reviews. This isn't a #Gamergate situation. I promise. Arun Rath's goal was to dive in and figure out how game reviews survive with the emerging digital distribution of content, and maintain their readership.

The answer: it's difficult.

They used the SimCity remake as an example. When reviewers were initially given the game it was just them and a handful of EA employees to test the product. Even with Kotaku's semi-poor reception during reviewer testing, a lot of game review sites loved the product. And then it got pushed out to the crowd at large. It broke. A lot. Servers were down. A lot (which was an extra special painful experience when the game is only allowed to be played online). The product had to go through a series of patches and changes before it could be playable again, and many looked to reviewers with a look of "what the heck happened?"

I wouldn't say that it severed the trust between reviewers and gamers, but it did put a sizable mark on the wall. How can we believe your 9.5 rating when the game breaks on us?

So not only do readers feel like they've been led on, more games are now being released incomplete. There are bugs and portions of content missing to be left open for additional updates down the road. More money to the developers, essentially. As a reviewer, you're only getting a portion of the product that may change a month later. Your article is out of date within days of posting.

That's rough. With new content always coming out, how do you review something that evolves over time? MMO's are a fantastic example of this. There was a time where they were reviewed very much like all of the other games out there. You talk about the first game, and then the expansion packs, and list off the content that's available. Reviewers didn't focus on patches or the ancillary content released outside of the boxed expansion. Today? You have reviews on patches. You have to if you want to stay on top as a reviewer. It's not enough to talk about the base game. You need to dig into the details.

This is where I'm happy to see Kotaku has updated in their reviewing style. They understand that games are changing, and so is the way we consume them. We're not playing a game once and done. Expansions and DLC are the thing, and we're coming back to play one game several times over the years. As such, Kotaku's review sequence begins with a game's release, and doesn't end until the expansions are done. They cover each phase of the game's evolution. It's something I've been dancing with for a while, but given the context of my blog, full-blown reviews haven't been on my dart board.

As Kotaku's system has settled in for the past few months, it'll be interesting to see if other gaming sites will follow. Or if we're still to the "one and done" mantra as film and book reviews see fit.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Bandai-Namco: No More Sailor Moon Games. Also STAR WARS!

I'll get this out of my system now and then we can move on.

*clears throat*

ZOMG Star Wars second teaser trailer! I'm actually excited for this movie nows! Yeas! And oh man! Wish I could be at Celebration. They are seeing the costumes up close! Argh! And the last seconds with Han Solo back as good ol' Han solo. Dah! Love!

Okay. Okay I'm good. I needed that little bit of happy this week. :)

Back to video game news.

With the renewed interest in Sailor Moon, now that Crystal is developing another arc, fans are looking forward to another game by Bandai, Namco. Hold on. There were Sailor Moon video games? Yep. Quite a few actually. They're not bad, per se. I'd equate them to some of the early Barbie Nintendo games that were seemingly pretty to look at, but not much substance behind them. But people like them, so who am I to knock it? (Unless it's Call of Duty.)

But according to The Mary Sue, a new game will not be released in the West. There "may" be a new game, but it'll be localized to Japan only. In fact, no Sailor Moon game has actually made it across the ocean. Theodore Jefferson has been hired by DiC and translation companies to attempt to make Sailor Moon work in the past, and each time it has failed. Time ran out on licensing, there were issues with voice actors, basically anything that could go wrong, did. And Jefferson believes that the publishers are the ones behind it. There's a sense along the top tier chain that the games won't sell in the U.S. because the manga and anime are only popular in Japan.

Now as a moonie, I know that's not true. Sailor Moon is an icon in anime and has an international following. But for some reasons the people making the decisions don't see it. Maybe it's their attempt to keep the moonie following local? Maybe they don't want to share Sailor Moon to the world beyond a few animated episodes? I don't know.

What seems to be fairly true is that Bandai and Namco have no interest in localizing Sailor Moon video games. So don't hold your breath, fans.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Games To Help DUI Awareness

In preparation for 4/20, the unofficial day of the year where marijuana is celebrated, police in Colorado have come up with a clever way to remind people that getting high and driving is still illegal. They've installed video game-like kiosks to help inform the public at Mary Jane dispensaries around the state.

Colorado became one of the first states in the U.S. to legally sell marijuana, and for a year it's been good business. The state takes a tax cut, that would be why. But another problem has occurred for police. CDOT, the transportation regulators for Colorado, issued a survey that found that 20% of drivers didn't know that they could get a DUI for driving while high. Another 50% have driven while high.

DUI is driving under the influence. Most people assume that's only alcohol. But it's not. "Under the Influence" is the consumption of anything that can alter your state of mind, inhibit your actions, or cause you to not think clearly. This can be prescription medications (that's why a lot of them are labeled with "don't use heavy machinery" on the side of the bottle) as well as medical marijuana. Even if you're able to use it legally, it's no different then alcohol. If it's open, out, and used, it's a DUI.

CDOT has set up the kiosks to look like an old-school game center. When you walk up to them, a message will flash about driving while high, and allow you to play a free game to let your buzz die down.

They are targeting young adults as well as the 4/20 event in downtown Denver. They are also sponsoring yellow cabs that will be available to hep drive people home after their pot-in.

Hey, if it helps teach one person the importance of being sober while driving, I'm all for it. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Hunger Games Theme Park...It's Becoming a Thing

Warning: Today's post is not gaming related. But it seems geeky enough to comment on. And the concept is...ridiculous.

There have been rumors circulating for a while that there was going to be a Hunger Games theme park, based off the popular novel series and the even more financial-worthy movies. I want to believe that it started as a joke, with the Harry Potter attractions being built at Universal Studios in Florida. "Ride through the train to the Capital city and be selected as a Tribute!" Um. No? That's horrible. I don't want to be one of the kids selected to "represent" my sector and have a 1/24 chance of surviving. How is that considered "fun" to be a theme park?

Well the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed have confirmed that the park is underway in Dubai. Lionsgate, the production company behind the films, issued a press release that they are teaming up with Dubai Parks and Resorts to create MotionGate, a Lionsgate Theme Park. So it wouldn't be just about The Hunger Games, but other franchises as well such as the dance-off series Step-Up.

No really. Look at the press release. Step-Up is mentioned as a stage show.

The park will take up 4 million square-feet and will feature 27 different technology-based rides. The attraction company estimates that up to 3 million people will visit the park yearly, with a 2016 opening projection date.

Dubai Parks and Resorts is expecting to be the go-to service in the coming years, as they are also building the first LEGOLAND theme park in the region, and a Bollywood Park (first in the world).

I'm trying to imagine with a Lionsgate park would look like. They hold the rights to the Divergent novels. But they also produced the movies Lolita, Dogma, Fahrenheit 911, and American Psycho. A simulated ride about being Patrick Bateman, wealthy bank investor who is a secret serial killer? And then you walk down the street to the next attraction, where you can secretly lust over a 14 year old girl...

Okay. That got really creepy, very quickly. Maybe a Hunger Games central theme isn't a bad idea by comparison? It's still weird, though.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Games for Learning Sumit

Video games are the future of education! We already knew that. We've known that for a while. But it's nice to see that the U.S. Department of Education is coming around to our side. Erik Martin, the department's Games for Learning lead spoke with Polygon about where technology may lead us with education. He also sees video games as an opportunity to transform education and reinvent it in a way that works for kids and adults.

"If you look at the life of a student ... a lot of students play on average about 10,000 hours of video games by the time they are graduating high school. That is almost the same amount they are spending in schools," said Erik Martin, the U.S. Department of Education's Games for Learning lead. "You can imagine a lot of the time which of the two activities they might feel more engaged in or more relevant.

This month, the department is holding it's first Games for Learning summit in New York. It'll be attended by game developers and publishers, students, teachers, and educational experts. The organizers want to use this as a testing ground and have open discussion groups with students and teachers to break down the barriers that prevent educational games from having an impact. Ubisoft is one of the larger publishers that will be attending.

As kids and adults become more involved in video games, schools are looking for unique ways to help bring interest back to subjects that tend to be forgotten (such as math, science, and history). It's difficult to make math fun. I have had a number of teachers try. My argument is that none of them brought in real world applications to math. If I had known how much math I would use with sewing, I would have payed more attention.

But before this there has been a movement to bring validity to gaming and geeky topics within the academic realm. For years anime and animation have been the subject of interest: considered the step-child of film because they are continually stereotyped as only being made available for kids. Now we're at a point where animation theory has been developed. I teach academic anime and gaming panels at conventions at least twice a year. The interest is there, it's a matter of convincing everyone to get on board and finding ways to impart the knowledge without it coming off as "another boring lecture."

Games for Learning is a starting point. I don't know if they will record or broadcast any of the panels, but if they do, I'll be sure to link them.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Baord Games Making a Comeback?

International Tabletop Day has come and gone, but it's still creating a buzz around the internet. As the geeky niche of the gaming community, more people are turning to the creativity of board games with a renewed vigor. Celebrities backing the event also helps.

It's interesting to see how much tabletop games have gained revenue of the past few years. In 2013, Hasbro saw a 10% increase in sales. TV shows like Family Game Night and the spin-off advertising campaigns have been pushing Monopoly and DnD back into people's homes. Justin Becker, father of 3, saw it as a new way to connect with his children. You don't need the television or video games to have a good time, which is true (as much as I'd hate to admit it).

One thing that I noticed at PAX South this year was the amount of board games on the expo floor. Not just in the pen and paper section, but on the main stage as well. A number of independent developers are incorporating card games or DnD-like manuals for people to have their own tabletop version of the video game. Even Dragon Age has a tabletop RPG game. It was interesting to see just how much board games are permeating into the rest of the non-geeky culture.

No numbers have been released yet on how many people participated in Tabletop day this year, but I'd imagine with the amount of press involved, it's going to be a number they didn't expect.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Kids Want Change In Games

Remember that post that I made last year about the gaming gender gap, and how things haven't changed much in the past 20 years? I will now link it for your reading enjoyment. A year can make a difference, but not by a whole lot. What's interesting is that much of the change has been spearheaded not by adults, but by children.

Maddie Messer is 12 years old and she loves Temple Run. She plays video games, particularly mobile titles, but has noticed a trend: there are a lot of male characters and not many women. So she created a spreadsheet and began tracking what heroes are available of the top 50 most downloaded games for mobile. 37 of the games offered free male characters as a default, while only 5 offered female characters as an option. A number of the games allowed you to get a female avatar, if you paid for it, which averages out to $7.53 per purchase. Or a whopping $30 for that one Disney game. Yikes.

It's called price discrimination, where businesses charge different prices for different people for an identical product. If you need a comparison, senior citizen and student discounts at movie theaters would be a form of this. The creators of Temple Run didn't see this as an issue until Maddie wrote a letter and brought it to their attention. For them, the female avatar was not considered a default, like in so many games, and if people want it, they'd have to pay for it (and they do). The developers hope to have a freebe female character in an upcoming update to the game. Disney is also reconsidering their pricing structure now that Maddie's letters have gone viral.

But this form of gender bias also plays in other realms of retail, as we have seen in the past. Like fabric. Yeah. Arts and craft. Typically a "girly" domain also experiences bias on fabric. I see it every time I go into the store and they have "character" fabrics from franchises. Since Disney took over Lucasfilm, Star Wars fabrics are all over the place. Every single officially licensed fabric is with a dark blue background, and has images of Yoda and Luke Skywalker on them. The few female characters that exist in the universe are no-where to be found. But it's like this on all of the sports fabrics, holiday prints, you name it. Anything that has a "character" of some sort will always be male. No girls allowed.

A mother in Washington, Veronica, had a similar concern with prints for Big Hero 6. Oh look. Another Disney movie. The company who designed the fabric, Springs Creative, made a fabric that featured 4 of the 6 main characters. Guess which 2 were missing? Yep. The 2 women. She didn't buy the fabric and wrote an email to the company regarding her concerns. Her kids spurred her on to make the complaint. They wanted all of the heroes on the fabric, not just the boys. The company's response noted that the movie was geared towards boys, and boys don't want to see girls on their stuff. Their exact wording was "(eeeww girls! Yuck! Haha)." Really. It's in the post.

Veronica wasn't happy. I wouldn't be either. That's a pretty half-arse excuse, but given the market...I'm not at all surprised. People assume that it's a "boy product" therefore they cater only to boys. The big to-do with Black Widow not being prominently featured in the initial The Avengers advertising, sometimes being left out entirely, is no different. Companies think this is what people want, and we accept it because that's how it's always been.

But this does give me a sparkle of hope for the future. We're seeing kids, boys and girls, making a bold statement: we want everyone to be included. And that's great! Why shouldn't everyone be involved? Now to get companies to start listening when the adults complain...

Thursday, April 09, 2015

ESA Doesn't Want To Preserve Old Titles

The ESA has a new message to game publishers and fans: Don't preserve abandoned games. It's against the law.

As titles become defunct by their developers (either by being cancelled or the title is so old that the company no longer supports it), a number of fans want to do something to preserve the content for the digital era. They shouldn't be left behind simply because of their age. It would be like us ignoring Citizen Kane.

Actually. I'm okay with ignoring that movie. It's terrible, with the exception of the sound design. But hopefully you understand the point. Ignoring the older generation of games would be no different then us "forgetting" that 'Gone With the Wind' was an important aspect of cinema history.

The ESA stats that trying to preserve these games and re-introduce them into the digital realm is a form of hacking and infringes on privacy laws. If the developer no longer supports it, then it no longer supports it. Anyone who attempts to force the older games to be preserved is hacking into them. Interesting stance to take...

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a law student are working with the Copyright Office to see if an exemption can be made in one of their clauses, Section 1201 to be exact. The goal is to allow fans and users the ability to modify game codes so older products can still be utilized, maintained, and cataloged for academics. The current rules create legal issues for preserving old technology. The EFF argues that it's to lock out competition, but I think the original intent behind the law was to prevent people from taking a game's code, tweaking it, and re-releasing it under a new name and claiming it's their own work. If the alterations are for academic purposes to keep the content alive in a new era, that should be a reasonable exemption. We'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Five Night Picked Up For Film Potential

Five Nights at Freddy's has been picked up by Warner Bros. and may be optioned into a movie, as part of the sweeping craze to buy up all the video game things. Everywhere!

I think I may let Five Nights slide. It's an odd game that would lend itself well to the horror genre. For those who haven't played the game, it's become a recent cult classic. Google it and you'll mostly find YouTube and Twitch videos of people reacting to the game. It is a 2014, point and click indie game centering around a fictional pizza parlor, Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. Think of it like Chuck E Cheese, but weirder. You are a security guard, and apparently the animatronic characters come to life at night. Your goal is to survive your work shift at Freddy's.

By comparison to the rest of the video game movies being picked up, Five Nights could work. The concept is simple enough that it could be embellished with additional characters without detracting from the original plot line. There is an opportunity to be creative and not destroy the original work. Very important to us gamers.

Creator of the game, Scott Cawthorn, will be working with WB to produce the film. How active he will be in the film is unknown, but there is already a building hype around the product.

“We’re looking forward to working with Scott to make an insane, terrifying and weirdly adorable movie,” said Seth Grahame-Smith, one of the producers of the film.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Weekly Link Roundup

Another link round-up today of some interesting, and sometimes weird, stuff one finds on the internet about gaming news.

- Copyright laws. This one is not about developers using the likeness of others for games (EA, we're looking at you). The focus for the article is over user generated content, with the skeleton framework created by the game, but someone puts a new skin on it. Who owns that content? Does anyone? And can it be copyrighted?

- Keith Burgun blogs on Gamasutra that video games are nothing more then broken toys. We don't mean Assassin's Creed: Unity, where games are intentionally being released with the promise of more content later. The argument is essentially this: toys break when you give them a goal. As you play a game, your task is to complete the goal set within that digital world. Press A into Slot B and there's your thesis. I'm not fully convinced on the argument, but it's an interesting take on how one can view a video game.

-  Don't get mad at free to play games. Be happy. Several developers at GDC comment on the free to play model and how it's affecting the video game business, in a good way.

- Here's another post to Nintendo on how to run their company. Mostly it's about the new YouTube adShare program and Amiibos. Those stupid, stupid Amiibos. Yes. I have 3. No. I still don't have a WiiU. What of it?

- And we'll round it off with WhatCulture and what they feel are the 10 most offensive portrayals of women in video games. They included Bayonetta so...yeah. Take what you will from that.