Friday, February 27, 2015

May He Always Prosper ~

It's with a heavy and sad heart that I post this. The incomparable Leonard Nimoy has passed. He was 83. The cause of death was due to the end-stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It was a disease Nimoy announced that he had last year, and believes it was due to his years of smoking at a younger age. Many of us know Nimoy as Mister Spock from Star Trek, but he was also an accomplished writer, musician, and photographer. He has a slew of accolades to his credit, and he has a legacy that his family will always be proud of. He brought joy to the world through his acting, but also gave us a chance to think and expand our minds with his intellectual wit.

I don't have a real-world connection to Nimoy. I have always wanted to meet the man, out of all of the Star Trek cast members. Not because he was Spock (McCoy was always my favorite...sorry!) but because of this work post Star Trek. Because of the man he became and how he loved his fans so much that when other actors on the series rejected the notion of conventions in the initial years, he dove head first. 

Star Trek for me was the show that spawned my creative pursuits. To think that, that type of world could exist outside of the confines of a! What else can people do with movies and tv? I adored it. Still do. My profound love for Star Wars will always be there, but Star Trek is where everything began for me. I have an immense amount of respect for everyone who has ever been involved in a Star Trek episode, movie, or event. Nimoy was a cut above the rest.

He will be missed.

"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one." ~ Spock, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan

A Different POV On Sarkeesian University Speech

Remember when I went to the Anita Sarkeesian talk at UTD a few weeks back? She held the same speech at NYU this week, and Stephen Totilo from Kotaku was at the helm reporting on it. It's the same presentation that I outlined, but Totilo's point of view comes from a Sarkeesian supporter and not someone who critiques her work. So it's a new perspective on how Sarkeesian approaches the topic of changing video games to be more inclusive of women. I'm apart of that "on the fence" crowd she referred to at the NYU speech.

She states 8 points on how developers can update their games and still make them unique forms of story-telling. It can be verbose so if you want the short-hand list, Totilo summed it up nicely in a comment. While our experiences with the presentation were different, one thing we shared was the security concerns. NYU had metal detectors and visible police presence at all times. I didn't have to go through extra security, but it was very obvious that police were out and about at UTD. No one wanted to take chances. And we all remarked on how silly it was that we need police because a woman is talking about video games. Of all the things! Directors such as Martin Scorsese visit NYU all the time to speak to students and they don't receive a fraction of the protection that Sarkeesian needs - but again they haven't been threatened with the level of violence that she has. All because she talks about video games...that's sad. People really suck sometimes.

An alternate point of view from a follower. Enjoy! I wonder what the #GamerGate-r would have to say...anyone care to comment so we can have all sides review Ms. Sarkeesian's speech?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Google's AI Platform Producing Results

As Google continues to assert it's digital dominance, it has unleashed a new product onto the world: an artificial intelligence that plays video games. Bloomberg likened it to a teenager, because that's all they do right? Play video games all day? Haha. Stereotypes are funny.

But in all seriousness, this is kind of nifty. Google acquired DeepMind Technologies last year and dived into their project, which exposed computers running general AI software to the Atari 2600. The AI's were given no directions on how to utilize the games. They were given free reign to figure it out on their own. And so they did...

When the computer completed a challenge or passed a level, they were given a reward. How you give an AI reward I'm not entirely sure. The press release didn't go into details on that. The AI's did manage to beat human players, experts on the games, in 29 fields, and defeated mathematical/algorithmic games in 43 instances against software designed to win the game. Games like Tetris would fall into those categories. Pac-Man not so much because there isn't one formula to beat the levels.

The experiment was not designed as a means of cheating at video games by using a super awesome computer. The system is meant to look to alternatives for problem solving in the real world. At it's core, the concept is to let people and computers think about the world around them, and then create a plan of action. One day Google's self-driving cars will be able to drive based on experience, not on it's digital equations on what is and is not a road.  The next step in the experiment is to move to more three-dimensional games now that they have figured out what works on flat pixels.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

West Making Another Game Based On Song

Kanye West, gay fish, wants to make another video game. His last game with musician Future for their song I Won spawned a flash game where you can throw expensive items at women as they walk across a beach, and "collect" them as trophy wives. As if that wasn't sexist enough...but maybe I'm being too harsh on Mister West, gay fish. Let's see what he wants to develop this time.

In an interview with Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club, West, gay fish, went over his concept: guiding his mother through the gates of heaven, and your goal is to get her to the highest tier/gate.

Well. Crap. Now I feel just a tiny bit guilty for the gay fish references. Only a bit. Not so much as to stop using them entirely, but I will for the rest of this article. That's pretty damn heartfelt West, what brought this on?

The idea spawned from one of his recent singles Only One, which is a hypothetical chat between West's mother and his daughter, North. His mother passed away in 2007.

As far as other details of the game, whether it's a flash game, an rpg, console, phone, whatever it may be, well that's all under wraps. We don't know details beyond the general concept. It's still an endearing thought. A boy who loves his mama that much that he wants to immortalize her in a video game about her journey through heaven.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Will PAX Ever Learn?

Safety concerns continue to mount with female developers at public events. Brianna Wu, who has been a target of #GamerGate and threats to her life over the past year has recently pulled her company, Giant Spacekat, off the PAX East expo floor. Given her high profile status as of late, even if you don't know the company or the games she's made, her issue is well known in the media after a series of death threats late last year forced her to leave her home in Boston. Why? Because she's a women who likes video games and wants to make changes to the industry to be more accepting of different people and cultures. (Sorry #GamerGate. You can't convince me that the whole scenario is about 'journalistic integrity.' Not when you threaten people.)

Wu originally reached out to the organizers of PAX, Reed Expo, and asked that security be visible at her booth to ensure the safety of her staff members. In a blog post on her website, she goes into detail about her concerns and how Reed Expo wouldn't respond to her request, which seems fairly light-handed. Make security visible? That shouldn't be a problem, right? Reed has not responded to comments regarding the situation, but have pointed to the policies on the PAX websites that safety is the #1 priority.

Though Giant Spacekat won't be on the show floor, Wu will be appearing at several panels throughout the weekend with her own security measures at hand. She isn't stopping her staff from attending as fans (the badges have been paid for, after all) but because Reed can't provide visible security, she doesn't want to risk her employees safety. It's not a double standard: she's trying to be responsible for her staff.

Unfortunately this isn't the first time we have seen issues like this occur with PAX. The Dickwolves shirts, for example, spawned from a Penny Arcade comic strip, caused a foul stir for some fans, while others praised it - mostly male gamers. When questioned about the shirts being pulled from their storefront, Mike said it was a mistake, to a roar of applause from the crowd.

Having attended a few PAX events, it's an odd dichotomy. On the show floor, in the panel rooms, talking to developers you don't feel singled out as a female or as a minority. You're a gamer just like everyone else. These instances of sexual and racial discrimination haven't happened before my eyes. In 2013 a camera crew went around harassing female cosplayers at PAX East. I never saw it. But the PAX staff dealt with it upon notification by banning the team from that event and all future PAX events. Apologies have been made. Things have changed in the rules to protect attendees and exhibitors alike. But instances like Wu's story still happen. Why? I thought PAX was better than this...but maybe they're not? Maybe I'm caught up in the cloud of gamer greatness that I'm overlooking these moments? Because I don't see this happening. I'm always treated with respect by attendees, devs, and fans. They don't talk down to me because I'm a woman as I have at other conventions. I'm one of them. You like Metal Gear Solid? Cool. So do I. Here's the demo.

Maybe I need to open up my eyes a bit wider? Whatever happens with Wu's situation, I hope she's able to attend for the panels she's promised to sit on and co-host. I'm curious to hear the outcome.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Weird Polls...

Apparently it's not cool to be good at playing video games, according to a poll in Japan by BuzzPlus. But to be fair, they only posed the question to 200 Japanese women. No  men. So, it might be a bit biased, and there are stereotypes in Japan about gamers just as there are here in the U.S.

59% of women don't think being a good gamer is cool.
33.5% think they are cool.
And 7.5% think it's creepy.

So there you go. 15 out of 200 women think being a gamer is creepy. If you live in Japan.

One day these polls will grow and be informative and not silly.

If you want a more thoughtful piece, check out Kotaku's piece by Luke Plunkett on why he's moving to board games.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A True Game Hall of Fame?

The Strong National Museum of Play, home of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, is opening up a World Video Games Hall of Fame this summer. Located in Rochester, NY, the facility is one of the largest in the world that is devoted to the art of "play." What makes The Strong stand out, by comparison to other gaming museums, is that it has academic funds and research backing it up. Many of their curators have had their works featured in scholastic journals ranging from child behavioral science to journalism and media consumption. They have also been involved in the D.I.C.E. awards. It's a nice way of saying "we're legit."

Which is why my eyes twinkled just a tad when I read about their Hall of Fame. They are taking a serious look at video games, from a playful perspective. The Strong is accepting online suggestions for what should be in their Hall of Fame through March 31st.

Their criteria is easy to decipher, but a challenge to deliver. They are looking for games with iconic statuses, longevity, geographical reach, and influence. I'd expect to see Mario, Legend of Zelda, and the likes of early influences in that selection. The final picks will be decided by their internal committee along with final approval from a gallery of international journalists, scholars, and those familiar with the history of video games.

So don't put in the latest Call of Duty. They won't look at it. Stick to the classics. CoD1 would count.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Work Lessons From Smash Bros.

Earlier this month I informed you all that I had a new job. Given that we're nearly 3 weeks into it, it's no longer new. But part of the amusing perks of the gig is being signed up for all of these PR, SEO, Marketing newsletters. They litter my work e-mail, and one caught my attention. I have to share it.

'3 PR Lessons from 'Super Smash Bros.'

Alternate take on how to look at the world of public relations. This should be interesting.

The article was written by Beth Adan, a publicist for Three Girls Media, Inc. The original story was featured on their blog, and it's chock-full of key words that it would make one's eyes bulge. She "recently" picked up her old N64 (did you have to call it old, Miss Adan?) and started playing, and it got her to think about how Smash could apply to the real world. You know, once you ignore the concept of Pokemon, apes throwing barrels, and fireballs shooting from the palm of your hand.

As a PR person, the points provided do hold importance. Focus on your strengths, collaborate, and use your time well. Easy, right?

But this is Smash. Just when you think you understand the logic of the game, you get side-swiped by an 8 year old playing as Jigglypuff and wonder what went wrong in your life for this to happen. If you're a non-gamer, then Adan's 3 point approach is comprehensive enough to not overwhelm the audience. If you're a gamer, then it's difficult to swallow.

Smash Bros. is a game that asks you to be versatile.While you can have a favorite character to play as, their strengths don't always work against your opponent. Samus and Olimar are not very good against Pikachu, of all things. You have to learn everyone's moves to optimize your strategy. It's not something that is feasible for every gamer, or every person in the real world, as a matter of fact. You can focus on your strengths, and you can thrive from them, but you also can't force your strengths as the framework if it doesn't fit into your career. Loud, boisterous, talkative is your trait, you probably won't fit at a desk or in an IT office.

As far as collaboration, well team work is important. Sure. Not in a Smash game or in a tournament. The game play is almost always 1 versus 1. It's you against the world, not a team against another team. And if you don't have a second player handy? There are digital recreations ready for an ass whooping. I don't think we have digital co-workers available for this function...not yet anyway.

Time management is one aspect I can agree with in regards to PR work and Smash, to an extent. When you have a timed fight, you only have X amount of seconds to knock out your opponent. You have to strategize how to effectively utilize your precious seconds. And then Mario throws a curve ball by whacking you with a hammer, and now your scrambling as Snake to make quick decisions to win the match. Managing your day is important. It's one thing I'll preach. But with Smash it's not about having a set schedule, but how to adjust to last minute meetings and decisions that interrupt your day. Your best laid plans can be thrown aside once Fox ground-pounds your avatar's face to the ground.

I'm all for the gaming analogies to tie them into our work-place, but would it hurt to ask a gamer if the points are feasible within the game universe?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Is It A Game If You Can't Play It?

That's the question I'd like to propose over the new title Alarm Playing Game: Dreeps, for iPhone. And honestly I don't know what to make of it. The concept is an RPG for those who don't have time to sit down and really hunker into an RPG because of life: work, adult responsibilities, you know the drill. You set the alarm on your phone to go off a few times throughout the day, maybe during your break or your lunch hour, and the game comes to life while you sit back and relax.

The game plays in the background, which drains a lot of battery life so keep that phone charger handy, and only wakes up when your alarm goes off. The story follows an android boy as he ventures through his digital world, slaying enemies. Sometimes when your phone wakes up, it'll just be him walking across the screen. Other times he may be in the middle of slaying an enemy, or talking to an NPC. But there's virtually no text in the game, so don't worry about missing key points. You basically create the story in your head. Why is this android boy walking around slaying creatures? Who is he talking to? What's his quest? Does he have a mission? Is he going to the grocery store to buy some milk?

That's up to you to decide.

It's an interesting concept, but a game where you don't actually play it sounds more like a really long miniseries you can watch on television. You're not actively engaged in the content. You can miss a couple of episodes but you still have a general idea of what's going on that you don't need to binge watch on Netflix to catch up.

I don't quite know what to make of it. Part of what makes games so unique compared to other entertainment mediums is people being involved in the content. You move the hero across the screen. You choose which dialogue tree to follow. You craft your avatar your way. Dreeps takes that control out of your hands and gives you a story without dialogue. It's prompting you to be a gamer in a different way: instead of creating your path, you have to create the story the follows the android boy's actions.

So maybe it is a video games, a new type that could open up a different field of content. It's interesting, I'll give it that, but a game where you don't actually play seems counter-intuitive. If I'm picking up a game I want to be involved in it. I don't want the game to be Game of Thrones where I'm a passive viewer. What do you all think?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thanks For The Digital Memories, Joystiq.

I wanted to post this on Friday, but it didn't quite fit the mood. With today's gloomy weather, it feels appropriate.

For those who don't know, or haven't been following their news feed, Joystiq is no more. After 10 years, their parent company closed the doors and is merging the online gaming magazine with EnGadget. I think what makes it more depressing then anything is that the team first found out about the change from the internet, not their employers. Ouch. The net knew before them. How meta.

The Joystiq archives will remain. At this time EnGadget is going to keep the domain and all stories will stay where they are. They won't migrate to a new server nor will they be deleted. Which is nice because Joystiq did have some great articles to use as reference materials. But the staff have been sent away and are not migrating over to the EnGadget offices.

Another gaming magazine has bit the dust. Good luck to the writers in seeking new jobs. The Editor in Chief, Ludwig Kietzmann seemed genuinely distraught in his message to the staff, giving each of them a personal sendoff.

As the industry slowly begins to change, so will our news outlets for gaming information.

Friday, February 13, 2015

How One Protestor Transformed A Man's Gaming Mission

The good vibes keep rolling.

Zach Wigal felt his calling in life in high school, when he attempted to host a video game tournament at the Saline High School cafeteria, in Michigan. Over 300 people signed up for the Halo tourney, and it took one police office protesting it to shut down the entire event. The reason, the officer cited, was that video games were harmful to kids and did not promote positive behavior.

Wigal took that as a challenge to prove him wrong.

He started the non-profit Gamers Outreach Foundation. Their goal is simple: using games to help people. They have 3 projects under their umbrella. Project GO Karts are portable gaming devices to provide entertainment to children in hospitals. Fun For Our Troops supplies video game care packages to those serving in the military overseas. And Gaming4Others, a community outreach program where GOF helps coordinate tournaments and fundraisers for smaller communities.

Since 2007 the foundation has helped over 26,000 children, putting smiles on their faces during one of the roughest times of their lives by handing over a controller. The Project GO Karts is quite a unique read. Wigal and his friends initially volunteered at a hospital and found that the small rooms limited children's access to games. While the hospital was on board, they were concerned about how children would be monitored with the content, and they couldn't afford to invest in portable consoles such as the PSP or Nintendo DS. Wigal contacted a medical supply company about redesigning an approved, hospital regulated cart to fit their purposes - sticking a console on it and pushing it from room to room, to bring games to the hospital beds. The concept has been so successful that the Karts are even available at the Dallas, TX VA Medical Center.

It's remarkable what a little bit of ingenuity can do. The group's next big gaming tournament is at the end of February, and they expect more then 1,000 people to show up, with a $25,000 donation goal.