Thursday, April 24, 2014

China's Rules For Games

Earlier this year China announced that it would look into lifting it's video game console ban, with some caveats and regulations to follow. On Monday, they released those guidelines for game developers and distributors to follow. As early as Friday China may see some legal, non-Black Market stores beginning to carry gaming content to the masses.

The key rules are that any game must be submitted to Shanghai's Ministry of Culture for review, and developers must work with a Chinese domestic partner and run operations from the Shanghai Free Trade Zone. Rough bargain, but I'm sure Nintendo and Sony will be more then willing to handle it to get a piece of a potential billion dollar new market that is about to open up. Nintendo's shares jumped in January at the news that China would lift their console ban. Of all of the systems, Nintendo would be the most family friendly and likely to have games approved with few to no edits in content.

So what will be banned in China?

- Content that violates the basic principles of China’s constitution.

So I guess that means no Battlefield 4. Okay, what else?

- Content that propagates obscenity, gambling, violence or drug-related criminal activities, or that abets a crime.

...wow. So no T to AO content should even bother trying to submit their games. Further reading includes carton violence ala Looney Tunes.

- Content that's contrary to public morality or national cultural traditions.

I'm reading that as "no game made outside of China." Because even something as simple as Cooking Mama still contains content that involves Japanese meals and cooking techniques which vary with what the Chinese use. That could be enough to ban the game in the country.

Devs, I wish you luck on this journey. It sounds like a lot of headaches and restrictions are headed your way.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Minecraft Helping The World

The UN is using video games for social change! Sweet.

This year they are developing and utalizing a program to help develop urban planning in areas hit by natural disasters or high poverty areas. The example used in the article is the building of a sports field for Kibera, Kenya, as well as a photo aerial view of Haiti's rebuilding after the earthquake, by using Minecraft to easily visualize the development.

The game makes everything transparent. It gives the communities we work with more agency and helps everyone see what’s going on.” Pontus Westerberg, a digital projects officer UN-Habitat.

The project dubbed Block by Block (hah! Because it's Minecraft), is one of the highlights of the Games for Change festival in New York, focusing on how video games can change the world. Literally. Many games in the past have focused on teaching ethics to children and the real tragedy of war crimes in poverty stricken areas.

What I really appreciate about the Block by Block project is that it's not a bunch of execs or figureheads developing the land. They are people from the area who would use the space, and want to see the changes. Mojang, the creators of Minecraft, brought computers to the people with a blank template, and from there they build the dream. Money via the UN and the donate button on the website, bring the digital renderings to life. Of course time is a factor and none of this happens overnight, but the fact that a video game is helping bring some normalcy back to Haiti is pretty cool.

Games, people! They do stuff and help the world!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Upcoming Game Movies - Yes They Bought The Rights To That

We'll keep this a light posting today. Kotaku's Mark Serrels would like to point out all of the silly video game properties that movie studios have bought the rights to. This doesn't necessarily mean that they will all be released as films, but never say never.

Some favorites are:

The Assassin's Creed movie. The current plot summary is a bartender is captured by a large corporation and is forced into a machine, named "The Animus", allowing him to relive the memories of his ancestors, most of them are assassins, to retrieve powerful and dangerous artifacts. The rights were purchased by 20th Century Fox, and given how large of a draw AC is for gamers, it was only a matter of time before it was tagged. The film is currently in production with an anticipated release date of August 2015.

Ratchet & Clank, the movie! My question is why? Destroying my childhood some more, entertainment industry.  This was bought up by little known Blockaide Entertainment, who also picked up Heavily Sword and Sly Cooper. On the plus, this is going to be an animated feature. Instead of trying to make this a live action mess, they are sticking to the pixilated graphics of the games, and bringing back some of the original voice actors. That doesn't necessarily make for a great movie, but it's better then what other gaming movies have offered.

Agent 47. courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Because Hitman wasn't bad enough, Agent 47 could be viewed as an attempt to fix the first movie, using a new lead actor and, oh Zachary Quinto.He made a great Spock in the Star Trek reboot. Now originally Paul Walker was set to be the lead (really? I mean...really?) but due to his death, the movie has been in hiatus without a release date. But production is rumored to have began late March. Not holding my breath on the quality of this one.

Angry Birds movie from Sony. We already knew this was happening and has been teased for well over a year. The film is set to release in 2016. Why so late? I don't know. It might have to do with the same company working on the animation also headlining the Nickelodeon show of the same name. Yep. That Angry Birds show is doing well for the Saturday morning cartoon crew. Is anyone surprised? Maybe at how few brain cells the general public puts to use. So it's coming. Get ready for it. And start banging your head against the wall.

Mortal Kombat: Devastation. Does anyone remember that Mortal Kombat trailer in 2010 that went viral and made us explode wanting more MK action? Well the director Kevin Tancharoen got a movie deal that has been in the works for the past 4 years. New Line Cinema and Warner Bros. are on board, but the details regarding it have been safe guarded. Who knows if or when it'll be released, but if it happens I almost guarantee that it'll be a fan favorite.

Asteroids. Brought to you by Sony and Columbia Pictures. Um...what? Really? Yes really. The arcade game that launched a gaming legacy is being made into a film. “We’ve crafted a really strong, deep mythology for the thing. Without divulging too much about it, it’s two lead characters – two brothers – who have to go through a seminal experience to figure out their relationship, against this huge backdrop.” Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.  Okay then!

RollerCoaster Tycoon. This is most likely in the "we need to buy up everything" group and will never be developed into a film. But it's amusing to think that Sony Pictures actually bought the rights. Where's the Sim City movie? I bet that's in the "works" too.

2015 is going to be a big gaming movie year. So if you're sick of the comic book flicks, just wait.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What Happened To Tropes Vs. Women?

It dawned on me a few weeks back that I haven't seen any updates from Sarkeesian or from the website directly about the series. Since earning over $150,000, the initial 4 episodes was expanded to 12 and was expected to release on a monthly basis. Given the format of the videos, that seems fairly reasonable. Even if you include the time it would take to plan out the new videos, break down more games, and develop your position, a video a month seems incredibly reasonable. We've known these were happening since summer of 2012.

And after remembering about Feminist Frequency, I just as quickly forgot about it and moved on to different things in my life to pay attention to. It wasn't until late last night while playing Cards Against Humanity that I remembered I was suppose to check up on this and see if a new video has been posted.

The short answer is no. The last release was November 18,2013 with the Ms. Male Character and only 4 videos have aired from March 0f 2013 to today.

If I were a backer I would be a bit miffed right now. The time frame for producing these videos seems incredibly extensive. Okay, Sarkeesian has been on speaking tours to colleges, universities, gaming expos including GDC. She's a busy woman and congrats to her on her success. This was much more then she probably anticipated, and maybe we'll see some positive changes in the gaming industry because of it. But we're looking at 4 video releases in the course of 14, going on 15, months. For $150 grand.

But if are a backer and have checked your Kickstarter account lately, you would know that as of early February, 3 more episodes are in the works.  I've done a bit of digging and haven't found any sources, photos - links - or otherwise, that indicate what the topics will be about. Her backers must be keeping it a safeguarded secret, or they weren't informed of the subject matter either. From an academic standpoint, I want to continue supporting this project and raise awareness about the importance of critical thinking/application to video games. But these delays have me concerned. Help restore my faith in the project, Sarkeesian.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Games for Charity

Today, I turn another year older.

And that's all I'm going to say. I'm in the mood for a feel-good story this morning. So here's a teenager raising money for cancer research and Relay For Life by playing video games. Chaz Ruggieri has had 2 family members with back to back cancer diagnosis and wanted to do something about it. So he worked with his local Play n'Trade store and will host gaming tournaments from now until June, with all proceeds being donated to Relay For Life.

The game choices leave something to be desired: one of three versions of Super Smash Brothers. But hey, fighting tournaments are always enjoyable and it's Smash. Mario beating up Link will never get old. Ever. 

For those who can't make it to Huntington in New York, the Relay for Life website is also taking donations under the name "Huntington Back Room team." Keep it up kid. Good to see gaming...doing...good...things. I'm not eloquent today. I think I should get a pass since I'm older. 

And for those who want a little more meat in their gaming news sauce today, here's a guy talking about why the morality feature in games is outdated and needs to go. And yeah...I'll talk about it another day. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

PAX East 2014: The Review!

I thought about writing a song or a limerick to commemorate my trip to PAX East for a second year, but that takes too much time. I'm a gamer. Sometimes I'm lazy.

We traveled back to Boston this year with not as many expectations for the journey, other then increased security. We honestly didn't know what the show floor would be like this round for PAX East 10th year. No news had been made available online for us to rummage through. No new games were announced until the week of. The layout of the floor had more independent developers and fewer big name brands. Even the panel listing had us wondering if this would be worth the effort.

PAX East didn't disappoint.

We had the full three day experience this time (which, if you ever go to a PAX event get the 3 day badge if possible. It's the only way to see most of the content going on around the expo). Truthfully, I'm glad that we did. Because we got into the Gearbox panel and holy mother of cow crap. Guess who got to see game footage of Borderlands: The Pre Sequel AND is getting a free copy of it?

It's great being a cosplayer.

But before we get into that, let's start with the overall content. PAX East has settled nicely into Boston, at the same location as last year. With the concern over the Boston Marathon bombing (in fact 4/15 is the one year remembrance of the day), still on people's minds, security was beefed up. Rules on prop weapons had changed and there was a bag check to get into the building. I think all attendees were understanding of the circumstances. Having said that, they really needed to mark out the lines to the tables (it was a giant fudge cluster), and continued on with the row of tables after the security check points so people could zip up their bags. See, they needed everyone to open up all of their bag pockets and for a lot of us, that meant backpacks, because it's much easier to haul around your swag with a backpack then with a shoulder/side bag/purse. Which means anywhere from 3-15 zippers a bag. Which means standing right behind the security checkpoint and causing more crowding while you clumsily re-zip everything before going inside. So designated lines before the tables, and tables after the checkpoints would be great PAX East.

The Expo floor was busy, per usual. League of Legends still took up a chunk of the floor, along with Twitch and Machinma. Surprisingly lots of game play, tournaments, and live streaming this year. Other developer booths like Microsoft and Blizzard were not 'as' large, but still held a strong presence. I was finding myself drawn to each booth wanting to play and try everything, even with products I would normally stay away from. Son on that front, love the expo floor. It felt more alive, engaging, and open to the attendees then last year. The rest of the content...eh. Panels were not as gripping as I remember last year. Outside of the Gearbox Developers Panel on Sunday, the other sit down events were not peaking my interest. The few that were had time slots that conflicted other important events - such as the Gearbox Dev panel or Expo floor content. It's the age ol' problem: which one do you choose? Well, go with your gut and with your interests. I'd love to see a video of the Legend of Zelda/Mythology panel, but I'm going to take a guess no one recorded it. So Expo: great. Panels: Not so great. It'd be nice to see more developers involved in the panel process and less of the fan panels. A lot of us come to the Expo specifically to hear the studios talk about their products and their process, and we weren't really getting that at all this time.

There were a number of new games coming out that I had a chance to test drive and I'm looking forward to seeing them release later this year.


Wildstar. Now this is something I've been shown gaming footage for a while now, but actually playing it is a different beast entirely. Wildstar was created by NCSoft and is a free to play MMO where you can choose to be a member of a faction, good or evil. You have your standard job classes, warrior, engineer, medic, etc. and...okay so it plays a lot like World of Warcraft and it even has some of the cartoony design. But what I did like about Wildstar is the lack of restrictions. You get the exact same story, equipment, game play, and all of the content as you would with a paying subscriber. What does the subscriber get that you don't? The ability to make money faster versus farming for your funds, selling "time cards" to f2p players, and discounts on items available through NCSoft's store. The lack of restrictions are what made me smile and talking to some of the team members who made the game, you could tell that they enjoy the cartoony nature of the beast. It's meant to be fun, lighthearted, and it doesn't take itself seriously. It's a T rated MMO for crying out loud. Any "violence" is campy and reminiscent of Looney Tunes. Dialogue is cheesy and full of semi-witty puns. But the bits of story that I did see and the environments crafted are unique, not a full WoW clone. The game has the ability to stand on it's own. It's a family MMO, and I'm looking forward to it's release on June 3rd.

Age of Mythology Extended Edition. Not a new game, but an upgrade to the original Age of Mythology release. Now, while all of you out there were playing your Starcraft and Civilization, I was playing AoM and I almost jumped up and down in delight when I saw it on the show floor. It will release May 8th on Steam and has received an upgrade in graphics as well as game play. The integration to Steam also allows for Steam development of new levels for missions and enhanced multiplayer. They may seem like meager upgrades, which is why the entire pack is only retailing for $29.99, but they are major improvements from the original PC version. And I 'almost' won a free copy to download. Argh! If I had just another 10 seconds I would have won my quest. But I got an Anubis pin and Krakken bandana. I can't complain. I wonder if the old cheat codes will still work. Hmm...

Gods Will Be Watching. The style looks like one of those plane survival movies...and it kind of is. You are the leader of a small team in a toxic landscape and you are expected to make life-altering decisions in order to survive. It's up to you if you are the sole survivor or if you want your team to live. It sounds easy, but the decisions are not so simple. It can be as harsh as "this one lives, this one dies." And you're limited to 5 choices a day. A day. That can mean a lot of things going wrong in a very short time frame. It is damn near impossible to keep everyone alive, no matter what your intentions are. GWBW is an indie game that takes the "choices" option and rams it down your throat in a way that will question your morality. The game is currently being crowdfunded, but expect it to be available soon for download.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Granted I went into this booth for my b/f and friend who enjoy playing this. Blizzard is releasing the iPad version of the game and celebrated at PAX East by allowing gamers to test it and receive a free code to an in-game deck to use on any platform the product is available on. Cool stuff. And having played a round, albeit very badly since I was driving blind and getting the code for the b/f, I can see the appeal. The cards are focused on Warcraft lore ranging from well known NPC's to monsters such as Murlocs. There was a Murloc deck I saw someone play with, and if I had any sense on how to search for it, I would have used it. And it's like any table-top card game where you choose your job class, throw down some cards, and try to win by defeating your digital opponent, be it computer generated or someone else playing on the server. But it's animated, with bright colors and lights. Oooohhhh.

I have been bypassing the elephant in the room that I teased yesterday, and earlier in this post, until now! Borderlands The Pre Sequel. Gearbox partnered up with 2K Games Australia to create the in-between game that bridges the gap between Borderlands 1 and 2. They announced it earlier in the week with a trailer and some goodies at PAX East for gamers to experience. I also managed to cosplay from Borderlands 2 and was able to jump the line to see the 20 minute live demo of what they were working on. Being a cosplayer has perks. Lots of fun perks. :D While they didn't allow us to take and photos or videos, they did give us free reign to talk about it like mad. So that's what I'm doing. The Pre Sequel gives us the opportunity to finally get off of Pandora and onto the moon where we help Handsome Jack in his quest to stop the evil that plagues the good citizens of the planet. And for those who had a brain fart, Jack was good for a time. Briefly. Very briefly. Jack ends up being your guide as a crew of 4 new characters set out to help him do good things. On the moon. In space. Where everyone sounds like they are from Australia. Good stuff! I've always wanted to go to Australia, even if they're on the moon, I'll take it!

The characters highlighted were Athena, whom you can find in one of the myriads of DLC content from the original games, with a Captain America-like shield of insanity. Wilheim, as he transforms from human to robot, a certain sheriff from BL2 who use to have a thing for Jack, and some crazy ass robot with a beret. He sounds like a pest, with his flapping robotic arms, stocky yellow and white frame, and always complaining about the damn stairs. But there are other cool things too, like lasers and freeze guns. We have ice weapons now. Yea! And with the physics of space, enemies can fly all over the place, spin out of control, and have really wonky rag-doll like movements when they are catapulted from the safety of Oxygen bubbles. Oh. Oxygen. Also a resource in the game, as well as a tool for special abilities.

And on the costuming front, lots of costumed people this year! Glad to see that the restrictions didn't hamper people from coming out in cosplay. Loads of Grey Wardens from Dragon Age wandering about, a few Mario's, some Commander Shepard's, and an Earthworm Jim. I mean...f! That made my entire day! Thanks guy in Jim costume! I need to find you because I will totally make a "Princess What's-Her-Name" to accompany your costume.

It was a great expo and glad that I could return. With the announcement of a PAX South, I know where my money will be going next year. 2015 San Antonio here I come!

For more photos of PAX East, check out the Flickr set. Videos to come later! Mostly of ClapTrap and the Borderlands event.

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

PAX EAST MAN!

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.