Friday, November 30, 2012

#1ReasonWhy

Oh. Well if CNN is writing articles, then I guess I have to talk about it.

Sometime during the week there was an explosion on the Twit-sphere. It started with a question: “Why are there so few lady game creators?” And then someone started the hashtag #1ReasonWhy. Which developed into #1ReasonMentor.

This year has been about women standing up against sexism in the gaming industry. Most of it has been focused on how women are treated amongst men. I can’t even call them counterparts or peers because most of the time, they don’t treat us as such. We have boobs so we’re the enemy. Oh no! A peer would see you as an equal.

This is one of the few times where the discussion is involving creative decisions being made at gaming companies, along with the sexual harassment that we typically receive by working with/being involved with the gaming industry.

Several women have commented via twitter that their creative input is limited. One even commented that she was given confused looks when she was asked why a female soldier she was creating was dressed like a porn star. Another noted that at every trade show or event she’s groped at least once. (Seriously, men? Ok. You’re not men at that point. You’re boys. The laws of social decency and, well, logic, are not excluded when you start working in the video game industry. Grow up.)

A few people have commented that the industry has always been male dominated and if more women were involved, it wouldn’t be like this. Well that’s part of the problem too. Girls are always encouraged at a young age to be moms, nurses, kindergarten teachers, or any profession that deals with children. Boys are encouraged to be police officers, firefighters, and math and computer geniuses. When boys and girls flip the roles, people spaz out. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I get weird looks when I would pick up a camera on set. As if I was going to break it. That camera is worth more than my life, 3 times over. But yes. I know how to compose a shot just as well as any man, if not better. So chill out, and let me do what I’m being paid to do.

It’s a social stigma to think that women can’t do certain things. And it works both ways. How many times do you give the o_O face when you see or hear about a male nurse, or a male nanny? We need to stop labeling professions and divisions as male or female only, and begin to encourage all children that they can go after any profession, any of their dreams. Gender should not limit their choices. As such, we need to help change the culture to be accepting of both genders. Gamers come in all ages, sizes, races, and genders. Characters need to reflect this too.

My two cents for the day~

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Morally Unambiguous



A new research paper titled “Mirrored Morality: An Exploration of Moral Choice in Video Games” by Dr. Weaver and Nicky Lewis, attempts to confront the idea that what you do in a video game does reflect onyour real life morals and values.
 

Nice tie-in to an old Forbes article about if real world morals can, or should, be supplemented in video games. 

They took 75 gamers, 40 men and 35 women, and observed them as they played Fallout 3, a game chock-full of moral choices. As they observed the gaming sessions, they found that people typically made choices that best mirrored their real-world selves. It could best be connected with “identification” a mode of media that connects the user to the character. But as people chose actions that were against their typical moral code they felt distraught, anxious, and unsettled throughout the game.

To take it a step further, the people that were intentionally bad to be bad did so not because of moral choices but because they were curious in what the game had to offer.

“It’s not about morality. It’s about, ‘What kinds of weapons can I get,’ or, ‘What kinds of worlds can I visit if I do this?’ It’s not that these people are being bad. It’s just they’re driven by curiosity and game strategy.”

A quick, but interesting read. Morality in video games is going to be a topic that will be discussed extensively for decades to come. When I think about my own playing habits, I can see the correlation. Yes I enjoy being the asshole that shoots the bunny, but I feel bad about it. Most of the time. Typically I play through a game the first time making choices that best reflect my values. The second time is when I’m a total dick. Die bunny! *pew pew pew*

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's Not A Space Game


Ok. I get it.

I now understand why people went nutso over Mass Effect. This is one of those games that has the Star Wars/Godfather syndrome where the second movie is the best. ME2 is better then the first one. By far. I’ve been tinkering with it in-between dye sessions with fabric. There’s only so much space on the floor so I need something to occupy my time.

*surfs Amazon.com* I can get ME2, 3, and Fallout: New Vegas for $30 with free shipping? Done.

I was still hesitant to play after seeing the chaos that ensued with ME3. Even the wiki overview made me depressed. My main character is going to die and so are some of my comrades. That blows. But anytime I brought it up, I was told that I had to play. I wouldn’t be able to fully comprehend it until I experienced it. So I am.

30 hours into it, and I get it.

I was forced to go to the Collector’s ship for research and salvage. I still had one person left on my dossier to get. The Engineer: Tali. My girl. Yes I’m playing femShep but she’s still my girl! I was unhappy. Really unhappy. The type of fearful unhappy that I was going to be stuck on this course of pushing through to the end of the game with no way out and wouldn’t get my Tali. Of course a quick walkthrough glance and I realized I would be fine as long as I didn’t go directly to the Omega Relay, but with that twinge of pain and self-loathing I started to understand.

Mass Effect isn’t a game about saving the universe but about defying the impossible. The relationships (which borderlines insanity rather than impossibility) that you build with your team are quite incredible. The political and social dynamics are far beyond the norm, but at the same time feel very real. These computer generated characters have a spark about them that compels us to keep going. We want to see their personal missions through.

I’m seeing Mass Effect as less of a shooter with gusto and more of Lord of the Rings meets Star Trek. It’s about the journey, not the final destination. The thing that makes LoTR so grand in scale is the stories of the adventurers. We care about them in ways we normally wouldn’t for fictional beings. They have lives beyond the paper and the movie screen. We care about who they are, their past, their future, and how they will become a team as their quest continues. Star Trek is much like that, but from a more forced peaceful “hey everyone has to get along because we said so” type of momentum that Mass Effect picked up on. But Star Trek really was about the characters, not the missions. The missions were pretty subpar. Go here, Kirk tries to charm that alien, blow something up, lesson learned, next quest! The episodes and movies that had an impact were the character-centric ones where we learned about Spock’s history, the Klingon’s, and Quark’s completely backward pensive need for money.

ME also has Collectors, which are basically drummed down Borgs. Obvious connection. By the way did anyone else see the planet Kobayashi and started giggling like an 8-year-old Pokémon fan, or was that just me?

That’s how I see Mass Effect 2 playing out. I don’t care what the end of the game holds for me. I’m having more fun learning about these characters, exploring their stories, and watching as they interact. Even Joker has grown on me. He was annoying in the first game. I think the near death experience made him more of a wise-ass. However I do miss the random dialogue exchanged between characters as you’re walking around, or being able to talk to them after a fight. You get some staged moments, but outside of the Collector’s ship it’s been a feature that I miss. Random elevator banter, away!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Stop Call of Duty

Back from a few days off and we have another Monday. A digital shopping day, no less. Though Amazon.com and a few others are trying to spread it out over the course a week, aka less deep discounts and more of the normal discounts you’d expect.

If you’re looking for a “holiday game list,” you’re in the wrong place. If you know what you want you’re going to get it. I’d hope you have done enough research that you don’t need my help in finding the best price.

Today we’re going to explore a subject most of you might be offended by. Why we no longer need Call of Duty

Yes. I’m biased. I dislike the game. Before you all go psycho on me, I actually like the first game. You know the original? The one made by Activision and Infinity Ward? It was only 2003. Barely 10 years ago. I’m not that old yet, guys.

At the time, it was pretty nifty. The few “war games” that were on the market were from one perspective, the American side. You had Civilization that allowed you to play another country/culture/group/etc. but it wasn’t a first person shooter. Call of Duty allowed you to experience World War II from the view point of British and Soviet soldiers. That was unique at the time. We take it for granted now, but it was a new thing not that long ago. It also brought in computer controlled allies; people and vehicles that assisted you on missions while you make your way through the game. You had to keep them alive, or kill them off as you wish. You developed bonds with your computer AI’s. Again, unique for the time.

You have the “shell shock” feature, where if an explosion went off nearby, the action on the screen would move as if your character were disoriented. Sounds would become muffled, the images on the screen blur, and your character would be unable to run or sprint. Even the idea of covering behind walls, using group tactics to direct your NPC squad was unimaginable.

We have come to expect it all of these features with most first person shooters and action-adventure games. Think about Gears of War; that was 2006. 3 years later and Call of Duty really did change the way we approached the genre. You could look at the FPS genre as a BCOD and ACOD: Before Call of Duty and After Call of Duty. BCOD we had Doom. ACOD we had Gears of War. Look at the two and you can easily see how much CoD changed the landscape.

It was a good time for gaming.

And then we were bestowed with the sequels. I’ll admit that COD 2 and 3 have a place in the world. They improved upon the original formula and refined it into quality FPS gaming while adding some new features here and there. After that they stuttered. The rush of Modern Warfare, Black Ops and World at War turned the uniqueness that once was into a money machine.

What makes Modern Warfare worth playing? It’s the same game as the original, but in a modern setting. The things that made COD stand out are no longer important. That innovation that thrived at Activision and Infinity Ward is gone (literally and figuratively). Modern Warfare and beyond no longer coexist with their predecessor. These are games about what’s cool and hip right now, not about creating a new legacy for future FPS to follow.

Not even the FPS tournament groups of the world will recognize COD in their ranks. Professional gamers dislike COD for multiple reasons. Excluding the fact that one is pushed out every year thus voiding the previous version and giving the pros little time to understand the game on a competitive level, the games are no longer the unique symbols that they once were.

I saw COD as a vessel for change. It helped to create a new path for FPS that we hadn’t seen in decades. And now it’s sitting there. Like a lump of coal catering to the masses for more money. I guess it’s a symbol of everything that is good and bad about capitalism. Creativity will get your foot in the door but after that you need to focus on the coin.

I’m sure a few of you will argue that Modern Warfare, Black Ops, and the rest brought COD to the here and now. It’s the type of game that gamers want and go after. That’s fine but think about what they have lost out in the process. Is there anything “new” in the series other than a change of the date and scenery? What new gaming elements have been added that aren’t a copy/paste from another series or an older COD? And please don’t tell me that they have new weapons and Nazi Zombies. Those are not innovations.

It’s time for us to stop caving in to the COD warlords. We’ll continue to see the same game year after year until people refuse to buy the products. I want the old COD and what it stood for. I want a game changer. I want COD to stop being produced until they can provide me with a completely new and radically different experience.

Innovation is the word of the day. Use it. Explore. Be open to ideas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Origins: What Makes the Gamers/Person That We Are



I decided to give Critical Distance’s monthly round table blogging topic a shot. The topic is “origins,” such as what are your earliest moments in gaming, if or how have they influenced your life, etc. Coincidentally, I started writing a piece on a similar topic earlier this month, but shelved it. I didn’t like where my mind was at and where the writing was going. So, we’re on to Round 2!
   
Fight!

*cue the Mortal Kombat music*

Oh so cheesy. Testing your might? Yep. That’s my childhood right there. I was the 8 year old that played Mortal Kombat back at Dan’s Arcade in downtown Chicago, IL. Of course we had to get the Sega Genesis version. It was a requirement. My brother and I would play for hours upon hours, perfecting every combo, and making sure we always did the most gruesome finishing move. Spinal Tap from Scorpion? Yes, please.

Before anyone gets up in arms about an 8 year old playing such a violent game, my parents were always there to supervise. In fact, they started it. I came out of the womb watching Apocalypse Now, China Town, and A Clockwork Orange. And yet, I’m really passive aggressive. I have enough trouble killing a fly. I could never imagine harming another person, or an animal outside of the bug zone. And no: no pleasure in killing the fly. I hate killing a bug every time, not from the gross out factor but because I care that they live their life. I’m very lucky to have the parents that I have. They have always been there to explain movies and games to me when I didn’t understand what was going on. They helped me realize very early in my life the difference between reality and fantasy. In doing so, they allowed me to explore so much creative freedom that most kids today barely see a fraction of. I’m incredibly thankful for them and allowing me to seek out media to my heart’s content.

See Jack Thompson. Kids can grow up to be outstanding, law-abiding citizens even when they play violent video games. You can go back to your cubby-hole now. 

Now that I have that warning out of the way, Mortal Kombat is not my earliest of video game memories. It’s one of my more amusing since it was a fighting game I could beat my brother at. He was always better at Street Fighter and Virtua Fighter.

My earliest of earliest memories go all the way back to the Atari days, Pong, Frogger, and Pitfall. I don’t remember too much; it mostly revolves around my dad, brother, and I sitting in front of the television, joysticks in hand, watching the white ball bounce back and forth between our paddles as we happily tried to distract each other. They were simple games in comparison to the behemoths that are available today, but they were fun times. These weren’t just countless hours of fun, but months. Pitfall is a bitch if you’re not completely focused on it. We made it a game within a game if we couldn’t get past a section, such as “how many times can you get killed by a croc in 2 minutes.” I also remember being very inquisitive about the games. It wasn’t just pixels on a screen; I wanted to know how they were made so I would prod my dad constantly with questions. How did they make this? What does the machine do? Why is the joystick like this?

These were all when I was just a baby, maybe 2 or 3 years of age. But I feel it’s important to bring those incredibly early memories into play because of their influence on me when I was so young. Keep reading, I promise it’ll all tie in together.

What I really want to focus this post about is the game that helped define who I am today: Final Fantasy IV. Original IV, not the fake numbering system the U.S. versions started.

And no. I’m not going to issue a FF Fan Girl Alert. If it’s not obvious by my user name I’m a FF Fan. I’m an original fan at heart (which isn’t to say that newer gamers are not fans either. Let’s not go down that path, shall we). I started with the first game back on the NES and haven’t stopped. A friend’s father would travel to Japan a lot and would bring back games as gifts. That’s when we first got our hands on Final Fantasy. She would help with translations where needed, and we did our best to interpret the story. Not bad for 6 year olds, huh?

FF4 was the first game where I felt real emotion towards the characters, and I believe that’s why it stands out so much more than anything else I played as a kid. Yeah I remember the first time I unintentionally killed Bowser in SMB by doing this jacked up slip and slide move. Or the time when Link first pissed off some chickens and was pecked to death. Or the first time you “think” you have finished Ghosts n’Goblins only to realize that it’s the fake ending and you have to replay the entire game all over again. That one sucked.

There’s a magic to Final Fantasy IV that stands out above all of the other FF games. In its complex framework I developed relationships with the characters. It was the first time I remember feeling invested in their welfare. I was upset when they died in battle, or “died” in non-playable scenes and were removed from my party. I never cried, but I was really unhappy, particularly when it came to Tellah. That was just wrong and mean on so many levels that I had to stop and couldn’t pick up the game for a week.

At the same time, it taught multiple life lessons that I still carry with me today. The importance of friendship, believing in yourself when the world seems against you, and standing up for what’s right. I’ve never had any adult figure, school, or entertainer tell me how important it was to be me. I.E. I don’t have to conform to what society wants me to be. Video games allowed me to understand that it’s ok to be different. In fact being different is more normal then being the “normal” people expected out of me. Adults and schools wanted me to be smart, but also to be popular and have a lot of friends, and to be a girl that wears pink dresses all day, every day. Entertainers wanted me to be thin, and pretty (to their standards), and either be sugary sweet or a slut.

The characters in Final Fantasy IV were so diverse and unique, but they worked together to achieve their goals. How is that not a great message for a kid? It’s ok to be different and still work as a team. Schools, start teaching that. Whatever life lessons you’re trying to impart on us are not found on state tests.

Final Fantasy has always been about embracing individuals while creating teams to help for the greater good. 4 was the first time where I felt like the characters were well defined. They had names in 1, 2, and 3, but they were still best viewed as generic Warrior, Black Mage, White Mage, and Monk. 4 gave them depth, personalities, back stories that were rich in content, and events that had real world applications.

It was also the first game that I remember that felt tragic. People were “dying” left and right! They came back in the end, but as a kid that forced you to confront with a lot of things at an early stage. You don’t really consider death until a pet passes on. It gave me a lot to freak out about, and helped me to understand what the emotion was. It also allowed me to appreciate how precious life can be. We get too stuck in our routines that we forget how awesome the world is around us. FF4 allowed me to see that.

Tragedy also applies to the character’s personal quests. When you sit down and think about it, Cecil is one messed up hero. For all of the good he tries to accomplish, his friends are “dying”, the world is faltering, and he constantly struggles. I felt like that a lot as a kid, thinking I was doing the right thing by telling on a bully or helping clean up a mess. Instead it felt like a constant battle where something else went wrong by trying to do the good deed. Eventually you triumph, but that fight is something your parents and teachers never tell you about. Cecil, on the other hand, taught me what to expect. Doing something right doesn’t mean you get a cookie. Sometimes more bad things will be dumped on you. Eventually, if you keep going, karma will kick in and the good deed will be done.

It also allowed me to open up my heart and care for the villains. Hey. Golbez is not a bad guy. He was misguided and caved in. FF4 allowed the gamer a chance to understand the meaning of redemption. It wasn’t just a story about our heroes, but about Golbez as well. Once he understood his error, we find his true self coming back, a man who is caring and willing to sacrifice himself for good. Its proof that in reality, sometimes the bad guy can be good. Oh hey! Reck-It-Ralph is calling! Redeeming ones-self, no matter what the odds are, is possible. To make a bit more sense of this, what I’m trying to get at is don’t judge people at face value. Just because they may not have done something right the first time, it doesn’t make them a bad person. You need to open your mind and your ears and understand who they are. You might be surprised how wonderful some people can be if you give them a chance.

Those seeds of my early gaming days are just the beginning and contributed to the type of gamer, and person, that I am now. I’m still that person that questions how and why things work. I love knowing about the intricate details of a machine. It’s also applied to my relationships with friends and loved ones. I want to know more about people, listen to their stories, and figure out who they are. Some might see that intrusive, but I don’t berate people with questions. I sit and listen. Not many people can claim that they are good listeners. Ok well maybe they can, but how many actually are? I’m one of those people.

FF4 also allowed me to be aware of my reality. Not everything is going to work out like a fairy tale. I walk through life knowing that bad things will happen no matter how many good deeds I try to accomplish, and that’s ok. We all find a way through it eventually. It makes me practical and pragmatic. It also makes me more sensitive to people’s problems.

Most of all, FF4 taught me that it’s ok to be myself. I’ve spent so much of my youth questioning if I belonged. I was never like the other little girls and hated myself for it. But when I thought back to Final Fantasy and the obstacles that stood in Rydia’s way because she was so different from everyone around her (the last of her kind!), my problems didn’t seem so bad. I was able to like myself for being different because of Final Fantasy 4. And isn’t that the best lesson of them all?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wreck-It-Ralph Review

I finally had a moment to see Wreck It Ralph. Yeah I know. I’m late to the party. That’s usually how it goes.

I’ve given it some praise long before the release for its innovation, and I have to tell you, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s not the perfect movie and a side-step from what we consider a normal Disney movie, in terms of animation, story design, and composition, but as a whole, it was enjoyable! And I feel slightly guilty for killing those puffy sheep in Mass Effect, because apparently they’re really alive. Sorry guys! 

Wreck It Ralph is the villain in an arcade game called Fix It Felix Jr. Think Donkey Kong meets building blocks. This game has been active in the arcade for 30 years, and no one appreciates Ralph. On the night of their 30th anniversary, Ralph wants to join in on the festivities but is shunned by his game companions. He feels the only way he can be considered their equal is to win a medal (Jr over there gets a medal every time he wins his game), so he jumps out of his game to find his own. And of course, chaos ensues. He jumps into several games, such as Hero’s Duty (Call of Duty rip-off with bugs) and Sugar Rush (Mario Kart on a sugar high), meets new characters, and well you know how this goes. It’s a Disney movie. Of course the ending is going to be a happy ending.

Positives:

Original Video Game Movie: I’m glad that Ralph proves my theory that gaming movies need to go into one of two directions: completely envelope itself with the game or be original. Ralph went with the latter and it turned out nicely.

Ralph does employ other video games that we do know, such as Street Fighter, Q*Bert (they even speak in the squigglies), and Mario, but they interact with each other seamlessly.

To kind of give this some context, all of the machines are hooked up to a mega surge protector. At night after the arcade closes, the characters can leave their games via the electrical cords. The surge protector basically acts as a hub for commerce and travel. This is where you’ll see a lot of the characters interact. Oh and the villain support group in Pac-Man.

No Disney Princesses! Unless they turn Vanellope into one. I hope not. But this is a story about a man, a bad guy who wants to do good. What is he good at? Breaking things, and being bad helps him by the end of the film. Even bad guys can be the heroes by doing bad things. Thanks Disney! :D

I was glad to see that this story didn’t fall into a classic princess tale. No offense to Disney and all of the little girls out there, but I never was a fan of the princess stuff. I don’t even consider Mulan a princess story. She’s a female warrior fighting for her family’s honor. No princess blood in her. But as for Ralph, it’s a classic fallen hero’s tale. In the end he’s still a bad guy, but he earned the respect of the arcade games. That makes for a much better story then a fairy tale about princesses.

Gaming Cred and Quirks: If you’re an arcade gamer, which would mean anyone from the 25-40 crowd, there are plenty of nods to you. Much of Ralph focuses on the nostalgia of the arcades. Even the arcade manager looks like a representative of Twin Galaxies, with the pinstripe referee shirt and his upbeat demeanor. Even the way kids called out for “next” game by putting down their quarter. Ok, kids, that’s an old tradition. You marked your spot on a machine by your quarter. And everyone had a different way to note their quarter. Some people would tag it with a marker. Others, like me, would turn it a certain way – Washington always looked slightly up. And no one would steal your quarters. They knew you were next and would let you play. Ah the good old days…

And then you have the Namco Code, miscellaneous characters roaming the background, things of that nature. What I was really amused by were the movements of the characters, particularly in the Fix It Felix Jr. game. The NPC’s bounced and moved around like their 8-bit counterpart. They shuffled left. They shuffled right. They bounced in place. And when the game was turned off, they continued to move just like that. It’s how you expect an arcade character to really move, and it was great that they considered those actions.

Voice Cast: Ok so when they were announced I was skeptical. It didn’t seem like the best collaborative fit for a Disney film and more of a Will Ferrell comedy. But somehow it all worked, and I think it’s because Jack McBrayer and Sarah Silverman did not sound like themselves. They altered their voices enough to not be easily recognizable. I knew it was them, but they poured their voices into the characters that they brought meaning to them, in an un-Ferrell like manner.

Jane Lynch…ok well she can’t change that voice. Again skeptical, but considering the hard ass she was playing from a sci-fi shooter, it worked. Strolling through the cast list on IMDB, this is either the best television show ever or a horrible adult comedy. I can’t decide, but it worked for Disney. Way to be ballsy. 

Negatives:

Too Much Sugar Rush: So Sugar Rush, as I’ve noted early on, is the super sweet tooth version of Mario Kart. It’s a racing style game where you can make your own cart out of candy and drive it around a track that would be a diabetic’s worse nightmare. I’ll admit that the characters were cute and the story made sense with what they were trying to do with it, but after 30 minutes I was so sick of the candy land. “I hate chocolate!” Well I was starting to hate it too Ralph. You’re not alone.

I can understand the dilemma Disney was facing. They couldn’t use game worlds from pre-existing products. It was enough trouble to get character likeness. They also didn’t want to overwhelm the audience with too much arcade jumping. People are not going to pay attention if Ralph when to 15 worlds versus 2. However, I felt that the time spent in Sugar Rush was overkill in comparison to Hero’s Duty and Fix It Felix Jr. The game that Ralph is from got much less screen time. Kind of backwards. If they had thrown in just one more level, as innocuous and pointless as it may have been, it would have been a nice sweet-tooth break.

Not Enough Character Development: Aside from Ralph and Vanellope, the minor characters really didn’t get enough say in their story. One thing that I enjoy about Disney movies is that they have this ability to include everyone, no matter how small their part is. With Ralph, it felt like the gun-toting female marine, and the gold hammer builder were just there. That had their stories and awkward romantic tension, but it wasn’t the dept that I expect from Disney. The Sugar Rush characters in particular really got side-slotted. For all of that time spent in the overly-sweet game the characters really got the crappiest part of the deal. If you weren’t Vanellope or King Candy, you were cannon fodder.

Too Predictable: But it’s a Disney movie so I guess that’s normal. I guess I expect too much of them. However with a story like this that is pushing different boundaries with content, I would hope that a unique story would have been introduced. Oh well. There’s always the next Tron. *shrugs*

Overall, this movie is well worth the watch. Enjoy your Turkey and go see Wreck It Ralph. And let the merchandising commence!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cosplay Pro Tips! FAQ

I’m diverging from game geek mode over to cosplay geek. The Geek Spot tackles all aspects of geekery! But this topic in particular has to deal with cosplay/costume contests: what to expect, how to prep, etc. This isn’t necessarily a “how-to” but more of responding to recent questions and discussions I have been finding online.

I don’t consider myself an expert on cosplay or contests, but having competed in a few, working as staff, a contestant, and a judge, and having an absurdly high number of years doing professional modeling and acting work, I think I have a good handle on how they roll. I’ve even taught panels on cosplay runway, and will be continuing to teach them. Not many people openly discuss cosplay contests unless it’s to provide feedback. Very few cosplayers, I’ve found, know how they are put together, how judges make their decisions, the work that's involved in putting together the contest, etc. So, here’s my all-encompassing FAQ about cosplay contests.


How do they pick judges?

Judges are typically pre-determined by the convention/staff members of the cosplay department months in advance. Typically there is at least one person who is attending the convention as a “known” cosplayer and will be asked to assist with judging. The rest of the judges can be local costuming guild members or staff of the convention itself. Some cons will even bring back past winners of their Best In Show to be a guest judge.

In rare cases will judges be picked on the fly. This would have to be an extreme circumstance, i.e. someone didn’t make it to the convention, sickness, etc. It would have to be something pretty out there for a judge to not be made available, in which case I’ve found that staff members will pick another in their crew to act as a judge or call up on local, known cosplayers for helps.

As such, judges will have all types of backgrounds and experiences. No two people will have the same view about a costume, which makes for fun and difficulty in judging because there are multiple opinions. Having typed that, all judges have to follow the same rules and guidelines set by the contest. I’ve yet to have met or worked with a judge that would stray from them. When a winner is chosen, you can be assured that they were the right one for the rules presented for the contest.


What’s the best way to win a contest?

This is a tricky one to tackle, because it really depends on the contest and the rules. You also have to consider the type of convention and the history of the contest itself. Some conventions are more favorable to Original Characters, like A-Kon, while others are more geared towards Sci-Fi and Fantasy; SDCC for example. You can still bring an Anime costume to SDCC but your chances of winning are going to be low.

As a general rule, your costume needs to be multi-faceted. A costume needs to have sewing AND armor, or armor AND props, or props AND latex makeup. It also needs to be a finished piece. All seams, all hems, all lining (when necessary-because not all costumes/outfits require lining), all jewelry, everything has to be completed. Something at 75% that doesn’t match the character reference will not win an award. Make your costume the best that it can possibly be before you enter it into a contest. At least it’ll ensure you can get feedback on how to improve in the future.

These are not sure-fire guarantees that you’ll win something. In fact, entering a contest just to win an award is probably not the best reason to enter. Most contests have crappy prizes, aka “dealer’s room leftovers.” Sometimes a contest will surprise you and the audience with the winners. Devil is in the details. A perfectly constructed school girl outfit can beat out a mascot.


How do scoring systems work?

Each convention is different and may have their own unique set of scoring systems. In some cases, it’s just a matter of circling the contestants name or x-ing them out as they walk across the stage, and then discuss the selections. There is no one right or wrong method. Some cons are very strict about points and whoever has the most points wins. Some are more relaxed and want judges to be able to discuss freely who they felt had the best construction and presentation.

This is tricky also because there isn’t a universal governing body for cosplay contests. There is the World Cosplay Summit, but that only applies to that one event. It’s not an overarching law for all contests.

What it all boils down to is if you are really interested in how a contest is judged, contact the staff members. They’ll be able to give you a better idea of what’s involved.


Are all cosplay contests the same?

No.

Seriously, no they’re not all the same. Each of them will have their own nuances. Most are going to be similar so you’ll have a good idea of how things will roll, but no two are exactly alike. This is where talking to past contestants, staff, and former judges can really help you out. They can give you a feel for how the contest really runs and determine if it works for you.

For example: Contest A only focuses on runway performance and takes no crafting skills into account. But, it’s also a larger convention so you’re more likely to get attention for your costume. Contest B has closed-door judging where they check your costume up close. The convention has much fewer attendees, and even less for the cosplay contest.

Personally, I’d go for B every time because I know my strength is in my skills. I don’t pick popular or well-known characters. Contest A tends to rely more on the visual and popularity vote of the audience. Contest B focuses on the craft. Pick the contest that is best going to suit your needs and what you feel best represents you.


Does hand-sewn mean a better costume?

Absolutely not, nor does it mean that you are going to win an award. What matters is the finishing and how well the costume is pieced together. Hand sewing is easy and tricky. I’ve used it on all of my costumes so far to get into the nooks and crannies that my machine can’t handle. I’ve also hand sewn entire garments. What makes hand sewing impressive is when it doesn’t look hand sewn. That is where you’ll get the bonus points.

A hand sewn garment can look like crap if it’s not done properly. It means you have to be extra careful with every stitch, every hem, and every knot to make sure it looks right. Even with embroidery, the finished result is what matters. If someone asks what machine you use, and you hand sewn the entire thing, then you did it right.


Why does it seem like groups always win?

Well first off, they don’t. Of all of my awards, only one has been with a group. The rest have been solo, and big awards at that (ranging from Best Masters, Best Craftsmanship, to Best in Show). The end result and presentation are what really counts. I’ve personally chosen single winners for multiple awards in the past because they were well executed in comparison to the groups.

But a group tends to face a lot more challenges then the single cosplayer, and as such are given more consideration at times. Groups have to be cohesive in every aspect of their costumes. Fabric purchases need to be in sync. Wig styling needs to be flawless. Props have to be harmonious. It requires much more to work together. As such, any errors can easily stand out. The most common problem I’ve seen while judging is that each person feels that they need to make their own costume. So while they may have purchased the same fabric at the same time, if someone in the group isn’t as strong of a sewer, it’ll show.

I learned this from Yaya Han: there will always be one weak link in a group.

Very true. The groups that make it work the best are the ones that distribute the work load to focus on each other’s strengths. When I did my first group cosplay, I offered to make the wigs because I knew I would be the strongest in that aspect amongst the others. We were all excellent at sewing and tailoring, but I knew that the other person with the wig was more use to using his natural hair. So I took it upon myself to make the wig (and that was a fun challenge I was happy to accept)! But that’s what you have to do! I’m not saying that one person should sew all 8 costumes, unless they really want to do that. But don’t give the sewing project to the person who has little to no sewing skill. Let the prop maker work on the swords and shields. Give the leather-worker the leather tasks.

A group requires dividing up the responsibilities in a way that makes sense. And to gel together, of course. Nothing is worse than a cranky group that doesn’t look like they want to be in the same room with each other.

Do judges give preferences to groups? Only if the group has created something of a caliber worth being recognized. They have to have the craft to back up their group effort. Otherwise the solo performances will knock them out.


What do I do if I have a problem with a contest?

Talk to the staff. Voice your concerns. And be polite about it.

Look. I know there are cases where you want to rant because rules weren’t followed. I’ve been there. But there’s a time and a place for it. And just like customer service, convention staff members hear a lot of really foul things and don’t want to deal with it. But! If you’re polite, and present your concerns in a mature manner, they’ll address it!

The staff knows that the cosplay contest is about the contestants and the audience. They want to ensure everything is fair and to put on a good show. If you have a concern or a suggestion, they’ll listen! Honestly! It may not be immediately fixed, but a convention or two down the road you might see changes take effect. Just don’t start out the conversation with “this sucks.” They won’t listen.


What tips do you have for newcomers?

First off, decide why you want to enter a contest and never lose sight of it. Most of us do it to show off our hard work, and that’s great! There’s no better reason. It’s ok to be proud of your costume. They take a long ass time to make and you should be happy with the results. If you want to enter so you can perform in front of an audience? That’s fine too! Whatever you reason may be, don’t let it fall to the wayside. It’ll be your guide and pull you up when you’re feeling down.

Next, talk to other cosplayers about the contest. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the contest, what they did, and what they learned. It’ll help you better understand what to expect and you’ll get rid of those jitters at the con.

Read up on the cons rules. You’d be surprised how many people skip this step, get to the con, and realize that they could have had their own music!

Practice what you’re going to do on stage while timing yourself. First off, no one likes it when you linger on stage for longer than your time frame-have a watch handy to make sure you don’t go over. Second, you don’t want to go up there and feel helpless because you don’t know what to do. So make sure to practice your walk. Even if you’re moving from one end of the stage to the other, practicing will make a difference, as well as calm your nerves.


What’s this thing about portfolios?

As you start doing more intricate work with your costumes, you might consider investing in making portfolios. A portfolio is something to give to judges that allow them to see more of the details that you can’t give in your short presentation. Most contest don’t require them: some do.

There is no one right or wrong way to make a portfolio, but from experience judges tend to respond better when they are more focused on images and less on text. I’ll have a tutorial/guide up eventually on how to make one.


I don’t think that person/group should have won!

Sorry you feel that way. Look. There are rules in place and judges made their decision for a reason. You don’t have to agree with the outcome but be a good sport. It’s a costume contest. Not the Nobel Prize for science. You’re not going to win every time you enter a contest. Losing is going to happen.

We are such a small community. Many of us look to conventions as a means of finding some form of kinship because we’re not accepted by the outside world. We’re not normal because we like video games, and anime, and sci-fi, and comic books. The last thing any of us should be doing is making one of our own feel less then themselves because they won and we didn’t. Don’t be the bully.

Stand up. Be proud of what you have accomplished and be happy for the winners. Look at your loss as an opportunity to improve upon your work. Give thanks and be appreciative that we have such a wonderful hobby that allows us to be dorks without fear of retaliation.

Just have fun! That’s what cosplay is about.

No Wii U Here. Move Along.

Hey look at that. I’m not talking about the Wii U today. Like EVERYONE ELSE is. Yeash Kotaku. It was splattered all over your site yesterday. The first 3 pages no less! 

It’s a big deal, sure. But meh. My holiday season is filled with another year of working and paying bills. *shrugs* No special gifts for me.

Although I did snatch up ME2, ME3, and Fallout New Vegas for $30 on Amazon. Go me. It was cheaper than my resin casting equipment. That’s a sorry state on the current gaming economy isn’t it. I bought 3 games for less than silicone and clay to make jewelry. Wow.

And I just had a déjà-vu moment. Well ok then! I’ll have a more interesting post later on today, but there you go. No Wii U talk. Perhaps, another time. I want to give you all a break from the monotony.

Friday, November 16, 2012

VGA's...No Really. I'm Talking About This.

This sucks. I have nothing new to talk about except Spike TVGame Awards...sh*t. This really is a horrible, horrible day. The 4 accidents I passed on the way to work making my 20 minute drive into an hour clearly wasn’t enough. Nor was computer that decided, once again, to not turn on. Or apparently the mountain of new accounts for the non-working website that I have to add in.
   
All I have are the Spike TV VGA’s when I check my resources. Wow.

Ok then. I guess I’ll just have to go with it. I’d rather post something then to leave today blank.

It’s been 10 years since the VGA’s began. I know. I know. So old. Dubbed “VGA Ten”, it’ll be hosted by Samuel L. Jackson, the man who didn’t know which GTA game he was in, produced by Mark Burnett (Survivor), with musical acts such as Linkin Park and Tenacious D.

Well at least the music will be good. Microsoft has also partnered with Spike to have the show simulcast via Xbox Live. If you have a Gold Account that is. Poll questions, live feedback, and the like will be applied to the show. So if you want to talk to Samuel L. this would be your best bet. Oh and it’s also being simulcasted with MTV, MTV2, Spike.com, GameTrailers.com, and MTV Tr3s. Yeash.

Nominees were picked by the VGA “Advisory Council” and media journalists. You can view the full list on the VGA website. But we all already know what to expect. Mass Effect 3, Halo 4, Assassin’s Creed 3, Call of Duty BO2, the usual.

*yawns*

Although I do slightly appreciate, even if it’s very mild, the addition of “South Park: The Stick of Truth” in the category of Most Anticipated game.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The “Fake” Geek

Somewhere in the past few years, being a geek became acceptable in society. I’m still not entirely sure how or when this happened, but it did. Some people even consider it cool to be a geek. A geek of comic books, or movies, or television shows, or art, or sci-fi, or whatever. It’s not about being smart, but showing an interest in something that’s considered off-the-cuff/not the norm. Sci-fi has a niche market. It’s a good area, but still small in comparison to action or romantic comedy.

And for a lot of us that have been geeks for the whole of our lives, we’re becoming unnerved. We see new people jumping into our culture and try to play it up like they are the best of the best, but can’t tell us the difference between a phaser and a lightsaber (hint: one is not from Star Trek). So here they are, trying to take up all of the attention, and the geeks that have always been geeks get put down once again. And then we do this song and dance ritual where we have to prove that we’re a “geek” by answering questions that a “real geek” would know.

Personal opinion time: There is nothing wrong with new people joining a fandom or becoming a part of a geek culture/sub-culture. If new people didn’t come in, that fandom would have died out after the first generation. Captain Obvious is obvious. What I’m concerned about is this need to test people to see if they are “worthy” of being a geek. It reminds me all too often about how much this happens to me. I’ve been a gaming geek for nearly my entire life. I still have my very first game system, an Atari 2600. I’ve been a sci-fi geek since I was at least 8. Film geek since I was about 7. Anime geek is still in the works, but nowhere near the level of others, so maybe age 20 on that.  

I was never part of the in-crowd and I never will be. My interests were always outside of what people considered to be normal. I’ve been labeled a lot of things, but I call myself a geek proudly. I love who I’ve become in spite of all of the things thrown at me by society in trying to make me fit their mold.

So when I see someone profess being a geek but not had to take on any of the hardships myself and others have endured, yeah I get a little jaded. It’s not fair that I got picked on for half of my life (and still do) for being me. Geeks, nerds, dweebs, dorks, whatever your word of choice: if you were not considered normal you were a target. We all got hit with some type of verbal or physical attack, anything from being ignored in school to getting killed. But now apparently it’s cool to be a geek so no one picks on them like they use to. It still happens of course. It will always happen when you’re not like everyone else. But so many are skating by without having to deal with any of the prejudice that so many of us before had to face. It sucks and makes us feel a little more “holier than thou.”(I say all of this with the note that I am not a mean person. I’m never going to be rude, condescending, or go out of my way to intentionally hurt someone. Am I going to be annoyed that someone is a geek and never went through anything? Sure. But I would never hold that against them for the person that they are.)

Now this is where things get tricky. This need to test people to prove that they are a geek of a fandom. There hasn’t been a single day that’s gone by since I felt like I was a geek where I’m not tested. Constantly. Why? Because I’m a woman. That’s another anomaly. Not only am I ostracized for being a geek of different fandoms and not a normal woman, but just being a woman makes me more of a target within the geek universe.

I want to link to an article someone had posted on their Facebook: The Myth of the Fake Geek Girl. When one says geek, we automatically contribute it to be masculine. The same goes with gamer or politician. We have to quantify these words with girl, woman, or female but never with boy, man, or male. It’ll always be geek and geek girl; gamer and girl gamer; politician and woman/female politician. All women are continually tested because we don’t fit into the male dominated worlds.

So when I read about geeks checking others with tests and quizzes, it makes me cringe. I get that ENOUGH by being a woman. I know how horrible and degrading it is, not to mention tiring. Being subjected to it…I just can’t do that to anyone else. No matter how much I might dislike the fact that they claim to be a fan of Star Trek but not know who Klingons and Romulans are, I would never quiz them on it.

This is starting to sound more and more elitist. And slightly off track. Finding a position on this is difficult because I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum. I think of myself as a geek, a club of specialness that few belong. But I’m also challenged to prove my geek stature because I’m a woman. I know how the “fake” geeks feel.

It feels like so many of us are becoming the people that use to be our bullies. The ones that felt they were better than us, so they beat us down. Now, geeks are doing the same, beating up the new kids by bombarding them with “show us your geek” tests. We’ve become the thing we were trying to stay away from: the normal people. Wasn’t the point of being a geek was to include all of those that didn’t belong?

This reminds me of an episode of The Big Bang Theory. I want to say Season 3, but don’t quote me. Penny and her ex Zack are hanging out and drop off Leonard and Sheldon’s mail. Zack makes a comment about their science magazine and says how much he loves the stuff, but his knowledge is very limited. The guys, including Raj and Howard, start teasing Zack and Penny calls them out on it. The geek universe is effectively doing the same thing to the new members, fake or not. This is no longer the inclusive community “come here where it’s safe from all of those who want to harm you.” Now, we’re the bullies.

How did this happen? And the weird thing is, it’s always been like this for as long as I can remember. It’s just more prevalent now with geek culture entering into main stream. So many of us have unconsciously dealt with it for years and accepted it. Wow…this was just a revelation.

Every group has its set of bullies. You don’t always meet them, but they’re there. Geeks are not immune to this cycle either. There will always be a few that feel they are the kings and will push to have it their way, or no way at all. That’s why anyone new, or a woman or a minority, basically anyone who is not white AND male, will get constantly pushed to make sure they are “true” geeks.

Whatever your position is on the “fake” geek phenomena, I’m going to speak out against the bullying and elitism that goes on in our circles. We spend so much time preaching about how bullies made us fear damn near everything in school, and we’re doing the same within the geek community. No more. If I see someone being isolated because they’re not a “true” geek, I’ll speak. If I see someone being peppered with questions to test their faith to a culture, I’ll step in.

We need to be the examples that this type of behavior is not ok and the only way to do that is to speak up. No one has deemed anyone as a “worthy” geek. As geeks, we should be all-inclusive. Who cares if someone is a new geek, an old geek, female or Hindu, African or Buddhist? Being a geek is not about how much you know, but loving the culture for what it is.  Everyone should be welcomed.

I realize this went kind of all over the place and derailed from the original topic. So I’m going to try to tie this back up.

If you’re new to the geekdom: You’re going to be asked questions and constantly trying to prove yourself. Don’t let it get to you. Stand up for yourself. And guess what? You’re allowed to enjoy your fandom however you wish. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you’re a current geek: Stop beating up (physically, verbally, written, or mentally) the new people, even the “fake” geeks. Just because they don’t practice loving the fandom your way, it doesn’t make them wrong or inferior. If you feel that it is, then you’re no better than the bullies that use to pick on us when we were kids.

There is no such thing as a “fake” geek. To be “fake” means that they have to put in some effort, and any effort makes you not-fake. Maybe watching The Avengers movie is their way into comic books, just like for so many of us the dubbed Sailor Moon series was our way into anime. That doesn’t make them wrong. They are allowed to enjoy the fandom their way. If they get certain terms wrong, who cares? There are polite ways to correct them without laughing or bashing their ways of fandom.

We need to go back to the original geek idea: inclusion in a world that isolates us for being different.

Free-To-Play Is Expected?


So says Craig Morrison, the director of Funcom Montreal, the team that did Age of Conan. But even as things change, he still believes there is hope with the subscription based model. Ironic considering that Funcom was one of the first to start the free-to-play shift with Anarchy Online and Age of Conan.

It’s become expected as we have seen more games move to free-to-play and flourished. Lord of the Rings Online and Age of Conan blossomed once making the shift. Even Guild Wars championed this notion of a free, quality MMO. You only need to buy the base game and have at it! The Old Republic will put this to the test with its recent shift to FTP. I’m curious to see how much the game changes because of this. (I still argue that it came out too early, else it could maintain a subscription service.)

World of Warcraft is still holding on. After so many years and still being one of the top MMO’s, it has a subscription service, with someconcessions in order to lure in more players. But it’s been working for Blizzard. Subscriptions are still holding and they’re still the top MMO to beat.

"If they see the added value in moving into a hybrid, or a subscription, or buying something through a virtual store, then they will. I don't think players are averse to spending money if they think they're getting added value."~ Craig Morrison

As a long time gamer and MMO-er, I’m not one that expects a free-to-play for a game. A trial period after purchasing the product, yes. And it’s not because I don’t associate FTP with quality. I do. There are a lot of free Flash games and phone aps that are great! Really well constructed products that offer a lot of things I want in a game. If I want to get more in-depth into the games, then I have the option to buy tokens, or coins, or something to enhance the experience. That’s fine. FTP can be amazing tool when it’s used properly. So can subscription services.

FFXI, while not a Western game, has been maintaining its player base with a subscription for over 10 years. It’s still going. WoW too. Even the concessions offer limitations (Can’t get over level 20, you can’t mail people, you can’t use the AH, you can’t go over 10 gold, etc). If you want to really experience the game you have to pay for it.

It’s a matter of finding that balance and what works best for your game. In the case of The Old Republic, the product was released too soon. I can remember all of the concerns we voiced throughout the testing cycle (another wonderful reminder that I was in the very first testing group up to release date, so yes. I know way too much about TOR). Some of the smaller issues were addressed, but the big issues were persistent throughout alpha and beta. So much content that was needed to really give the game the oomph it needed to be a subscription MMO wasn’t there. Endgame was very lacking, as well as the need for a collective group.  (To this day I still argue that one of the highlights of FFXI is the need to group with others. Social interaction is a big feature in MMO’s and you need it to survive.) With the shift to FTP, TOR has a lot more options on the table. They can finally space out their development and really bring gamers what they want, instead of rushing on EA’s schedule.


Aside: Welcome to post 666! >.>

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What is a Gamer?

Quick musing time! The gaming world is expanding philosophically, educationally, and psychologically. Containing all of my muses to one day seems to defy the growth of gaming. 

I want to spend today’s post defining “Gamer.” What is a gamer? Who is a gamer? What qualifications are needed to call one-self a gamer?

This sounds pretentious, I know. We come from a culture where there are in’s and out’s. Are you cool enough to hang with us or are you a loser? Every group everywhere is a click. Unfortunately that’s the reality. Religious affiliations, political groups, even down to PTA, Scouts, and small offices, there are rules for inclusion. If you don’t fit in, then you’re not one of us.

As a female gamer, I struggle with this constantly by having to prove that I know my shiz. I’m not a gamer until I can show that I know the answers to all of these questions, and I have this score on this game, and this score on that game. After jumping through the hurdles, I’m still not fully accepted because I’m a woman, but that’s part of the dance everyone has to go through at some point or another to show that they belong.

Being a gamer is not someone that plays video games. Even the Wiki article shows that the term gamer has its roots in table-top role playing games. That in itself is a very small community that can be a b to break into.

While gaming now encompasses table-top, physical role-playing, consoles, computers, and everything in between, the definition of a gamer hasn’t really changed. It’s someone that we expect to live and breathe the culture. They absorb themselves into every aspect of gaming life, sometimes to a point of obsession, to prove that they are the best. They want the high scores, the most kill shots, and all of the glory to show off to everyone else that yes, they are a badass in Mario Kart.

But there’s more to it than that. A lot of what being a gamer is about is having love for the culture and the games. The first definition on Urban Dictionary is one that I feel the most connected to. It’s not about the scores but fun in playing the game. A gamer is someone who takes the time to learn, improve, and discuss games from a knowledgeable stand point. Knowledge, as in wanting to converse about games in a theoretical/educational manner that pushes the boundaries. It’s not about who has the highest score or how to defeat the final boss, but the hidden layers of a game. What is the message that the game developers were trying to present with this character? Why was this mythology included to represent this story?

It’s great to see that the term gamer has opened up more study and interest in the things that happen beyond stats and pretty images. It’s also still a club where you have to have some credibility. Just because you play a game, does not make you a gamer. Just because you like to speak about things academically does not make you a gamer. You have to become a part of the lifestyle. Which means online gaming sessions, participating in message board discussions, learning the lingo, and becoming one of us. Mt. Dew and 24 hour binges are not required. Unless you want to be overkill hard core, but really, when was Mr. Dew decided to be the drink of gamers? I hate that stuff.

There are varying degrees of gamer, but I think one thing is for certain. You’re not a gamer until you play for the love of the game. Not loving one game, but all games because they are games.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Console Death Is Far, Far Away

It’s difficult to read through the stories on gaming news when the majority are about the business being in decline. Sales falling again for an 11th straight month. Consoles sales down by 25%. Even with the holiday season around the corner, prices are going to be slashed and that $59.99 game is no longer lucrative. To stay competitive in an ever-changing market, console gaming needs to adapt. However, to claim that console gaming is dying, like so many people are doing, seems premature when evidence is proving otherwise.
 
Everything in entertainment has a life cycle. From books, to theater, to television, everything has it’s peaks and valleys. Books became popular again with Harry Potter and the introduction of the eBook, after decades of wading in the water. Television hit its stride in the 90’s, but petered out by the time the internet took over. It’s still recovering and trying to play catch-up. Movies are in the same boat. Video games have held a high point for a good decade, and are now seeing the fall-off of their industry boom.

Console games are at that cycle where they need to change, adapt, and open up talent if they expect to survive. At least, that’s how I see it.

Games are becoming like 3D, which thank goodness is dying out again. 3D, or stereoscopy, has existed since the 1860’s via glasses that off-set the right and left image, so the brain has to fill in the missing pieces, thus giving the illusion of an image popping away from the screen.

3D was a big deal in the 1950’s, popularized by horror films and William Castle, who used other gimmicks such as placing buzzers in seats or pumping smells into a theater to get people more involved in the movie. 3D died out, and cropped up against briefly in the early 1970’s. And then it faded again, and jumped back up in the late 1980’s. Anyone remember the Michael Jackson experience at Universal Studios? Or the 3D Muppets? And then it died out again, and oh look! 3D popped up again in the late 2000’s.

Pet peeve: I hate that people call 3D a “new” trend. It’s not new. It’s over a century old and it never sticks around longer than a handful of years. I laugh at all of you that “upgraded” to a 3D television. I bet you feel silly now. Don’t you?

Video games in their young life have gone through that same cycle. When they first began in 1947, no one could have imagined what they would develop into. It wasn’t until we hit the 1970’s that it became a business. There was a minor crash in 1977 due to the flooding of Pong into the landscape. It picked back up again with Space Invaders. It happened again in 1983, believe to be the cause of over-saturation of the market with low quality products. Too many games that no one wanted to play. The market was cold for about 2 years, and picked up again by 1985. Since then, we’ve had a pretty steady stream from gaming. People seemed to have learned their lesson, but old habits do die hard.

The problem with 3D and why it’s not really sticking around, no matter how many times people try to reintroduce it, is that it’s still too much of a gimmick. People don’t see it applying to their reality in a way that makes sense. Its still “oh it’s fun to watch stuff popping out of the screen!” There is some new technology with the televisions and the glasses, but really that’s it. Even the 3DS was probably the best leap forward for innovation. 3D without the glasses? Score. But that’s it. They couldn’t properly integrate the concept into the games to make it a must have system. We want the system for the games, not the 3D.

Console games are hitting that point again in its life system. The market is over-saturated with expected and crappy products. Innovation is at a low. We’re not seeing anything new. It’s going to peter out. But it’ll be back again.

What will save consoles and games from stalling over the new few years will require them to break their current model. This is another problem unto itself. Ever see a company change their policies? It’s not easy and requires a lot of kicking and screaming. Most will die out before they realize that change is needed. Video game companies are no different. “We’re innovative but our heads are stuck up our ass. Yea!!!”

There are a couple of factors to be aware of when looking at how gaming companies can change their model.

First, and most obvious, is that social networking and game distribution for phones has completely taken over. People can get a game on their phone in just a few minutes for as low as $0.99 cents, or free even. It kills enough time that people can justify the spending of said $0.99 cents. They don’t have to buy the $399-$599 consoles, plus the extra controller, and the batteries, and the $59.99 game to play. They have their smart phone, which probably came cheap based on their rate plan. That’s all they need. That direct access to content has eliminated the need for extraneous product. Getting the game at a fraction of the time and cost is not only convenient, but appealing.

Which leads into the second issue, how to make the console more attractive. Now all three of the primary consoles, 360, PS3, and Wii, have been working to make the console a family unit. You can stream movies from Netflix, you can surf the internet, watch television, talk to your friends through Skype. Oh, and it plays video games. Xbox Live is showing that at least 40% of their users are going online for entertainment other then gaming.

The idea behind the console being a family system is fine. They are striving to make an entertainment unit so you don’t have to use your computer, phone, or other electronics. In doing so, gaming has become muddled. We’re seeing a lot of repeats of the same products. Nothing new or unique has appeared. Even with the developer tools Microsoft and Sony have been pushing, we’re getting more rehashes of classic games versus new product.

Issue the third: no new product.

Think about the last time you bought an original title. Go ahead. I’ll give you a few minutes.

This means a non-sequel. So anything from EA or Ubisoft is out of the question. That eliminates about 80% of your market in the U.S. right there.

Tricky isn’t it?

And if we’re not inundated by sequels, trilogies, and prequels, then it’s a copy/paste of the same game over and over again. How many Call of Duty clones are out there right now?
Too many to count. The last real innovative/original game I can think of is Flower, a PSN game. Something you have to have the system and download. When it comes to something you can purchase at a store, well, I couldn’t tell you to be honest. I’m sure there was one after Wii Sports, but I don’t remember.

We’re in an oversaturated market of copy/paste content. It’s not that all of the content is bad. A number of people see the merit of having so many Call of Duty games. And that’s fine. I personally think the franchise needs a complete overhaul. But when you can name off 14 Call of Duty clones without having to blink, something is wrong.  The market needs to be shaken up. People are starting to spend their money elsewhere on original content they can get on their phone. They don’t want to see more clones. They want something new.

And the 4th issue, no one likes paying $59.99 for a new game they may not like and only entertains you for 10 hours. Angry Birds, the free edition will guarantee you at least 20 hours of warding off boredom. Even the free-to-play model is becoming more lucrative of an option. 

People are more willing to start now for free, and pay for items later as they deem necessary. The Old Republic is going this route, falling in line with Lord of the Rings and other online MMO’s that have been raking it in after changing their subscription tactics. So what’s the benefit of a $59.99 game? Unless you’re a fan of the series, you don’t really know what you’re getting until you open the package. Apologies to the gaming magazines, but we can’t really take your word these days. We only know what we like, and we don’t really know until we play. I’d rather dump $5 on something that I may not like versus $59.99.

There will always be console gamers. I have been since I could hold a joystick. I’m not going to give up on them. However I have found myself not spending anywhere near as much on games as I have in the past. Every year there is the series of sports games (Madden, NCAA, NBA), first person shooters (if it’s not Call of Duty its Medal of Honor), and an RPG or two. We’re stuck. Gaming companies need to find ways to re-engage the audiences, provide new content, and not break our wallets.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What’s On Mario’s Playlist?

I’m running through my second time in Mass Effect going Renegade and femShep. Partially to get the achievement, but let’s be honest with ourselves: being an asshole is way more fun in a video game then trying to play 100% goodie-goodie. And after trying to negotiate with an Alliance solder making sexist remarks, the jackass deserved to die.

 
*bleep* +25 Renegade.


Sweet.

What the heck does this have to do with music? I’m getting to it. I installed the “Bringing Down the Sky” add-on. I had points just sitting there of no use to me. It was cheap and at least the points got used. Well as I drove around the rock, discovering the random small bases and what not, one station allowed me to flip a switch and pipe in the Citadel music into my helmet which lead me to this: what would Sheppard have playing in his/her helmet? I even addressed this, half-hazard-like with Master Chief a few weeksago. (I still contend that he would not listen to The Darkness.)

What would our wonderful video game characters really listen to, if given the option? I’m sure even Mario is so sick of his music he’d be happy to listen to something else. Anything else!

So let’s start out with the legendary plumber – (dripping with irony, but if you ignore the lyrics the music would be Mario’s speed):

  •  “We Come Running” Youngblood Hawke
  •  “Ba wit da ba” Kid Rock
  • “Afternoon Delight” Starland Vocal Band
  • “Learn to Fly” The Foo Fighters
  •  “Gold on the Ceiling” The Black Keys


Link (Legend of Zelda):

  • “Cherry Pie” Warrant
  • “When You Were Young” The Killers
  • “Paradise City” Guns n’Roses
  • “Trouble” Cold Play
  • “Nothin’ But A Good Time” Poison


Cecil (FF4) - Assuming he ever got tired of Uematsu’s music, in which case he’s nuts:

  • “Personnel Jesus” Depeche Mode
  • “Boys Don’t Cry” The Cure
  • “Lump” The Presidents of the United States of America
  • “This Charming Man” The Smiths
  • “Joey” Concrete Blonde


M. Bison (Street Fighter) – Villains need music in their lives:

  • “Whole Lotta’ Love” Led Zepplin.
  • “We Are The Champions” Queen
  • “Rolling the Stone” Adele
  • “Brown Sugar” The Rolling Stones
  • Guile’s Theme (It does go with everything.)


Master Chief (Halo) – This, I admit, is a challenge. He could go the obvious or completely random, so here are two playlists:

Obvious:

  • “Back in Black” ACDC
  • “Bark at the Moon” Ozzy Ozbourne
  • “Stairway to Heaven” Led Zepplin
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” Queen
  • “All Along the Watchtower” Jimi Hendrix

Not So Obvious:

  • “Imperial March” John Williams
  • “Symphony No. 20” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  • “Symphony No. 9” Ludwig van Beethoven
  • “World Theme” from Final Fantasy VI Nobuo Uematsu
  • Guile’s Theme (Again, it goes with everything.)


Lara Croft:

  • “Steady, As She Goes” The Raconteurs
  • “Madness” Muse
  • “Jumper” Third Eye Blind
  • “My Own Worst Enemy” Lit
  • “Swallowed” Bush

Fun list is fun!

EA Games. We’re So Hardcore We Get Navy SEAL’s Fired!

Medal of Honor: Warfighter released just a few weeks ago, and to make it extra special EA went to currently active Navy SEAL’s for their input on combat, weapons, armor, special items, etc. Things that are really used by them in their “work life.” Which the Navy didn’t appreciate. Why? Well EA circumvented the system and instead of going to the Navy directly, they went to the individuals who work that front line combat. Whoops.

In all, 7 were charged with unauthorized showing of official combat gear, and disclosing classified material. Not the type of material that should get us worried that someone is going to take over the country. These are past missions they are referring to. However, this is also the Navy SEAL’s one of the elite groups in the world. They have access to technology that is unheard of. Leaking that to EA IS a big deal.

All 7 were issued letters of reprimand, 2 month pay suspension, and basically will be forbidden to move up in the ranks of the Navy which kills their career. “Fired” is a nice way of putting it. They’re still in the Navy but they won’t be able to move from their current positions. Ever.

I don’t know if this will boost sales for EA, but that really sucks. I don’t know who’s worse. EA for bypassing the rules (ALWAYS go to the govt first BEFORE you talk to the guys on the front line), or the SEAL’s for being so candid about it when it’s clearly against the rules. I wonder what EA did to persuade them. “Um…we’re making this game and we want you to be in it.” “Score!” Actually, that sounds like a real possibility. How sad.

EA could never pay me enough to divulge GameStop secrets. My ass would not be able to support the ensuing lawsuits.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Introducing Games into the Workplace Culture

Gamification is the subject today. It is the use of game mechanics in non-game concepts so that said concepts are more engaging. It’s not a new thought, but it’s one gaining traction as gaming has become more incorporated into our daily lives. Kevin Warbach and Dan Hunter review this in their new book “For the Win." 

Dumb titles aside, the book focuses on certain companies that take the concepts of gamification and how they are working for their business. Microsoft has a scavenger hunt for translation mistakes. LiveOps has a leader board and gives out badges similar to achievements.

We all know how this goes. You do a job, and you get a happy sticker to go on the board posted at the other end of the room for doing so well. Yea! *insert “whatever” face here* One thing we have to credit Warbach and Hunter for is that these can come across as condescending and patronizing to workers. Which if you’ve worked at any customer service center, you know that the quickest way to feel less then yourself is to have these inter-office competitions forced upon you. I always hated those. The inclusion of gamification needs to be a seamless transition. It’s not motivating to a call-staff crew to get a smiley sticker on a board. They’re already working for a better reward: a paycheck. They also cite a few psychological studies where intrinsic rewards, enjoying the task for what it is, are more likely to be better motivated versus points, scores, and money.

You’ll see this in MMO’s all the time. I’m one of those crazy people that enjoyed going to Dynamis and Limbus in FFXI because I wanted to. I didn’t need any armor, weapons, or coins. I just wanted to go and play. I’m like this on other games too. Going to a raid for the fun of going. You’d be surprised how many people are like that, and not wanting to use it as leverage for a favor later. Those people in the latter column do exist, just not as prevalent as the community makes it out to be.

The article from The Economist wraps up without much of a conclusion, but the theory is sound. The working world, hell the world in general, would be better and more productive if work didn’t feel like a chore and was a rewarding experience in itself. For some people it is. Live to work, not work to live. But for the 95% of us that need the paychecks, we fall into the second column.

So now it’s a matter of how can gamification be included into the working world without disrupting productivity and mental stability. Let’s face it. The biggest concern is making it transparent enough to not make the game feel like work. Educational games have been struggling with this for decades. WoW, Evercrack, League of Legends works because they are games first, jobs second. When you try to flip the system around, it is destined to fail. Why is this?

Probably because the emphasis is no longer about your job, but about the game, thus removing you from your original goal. The games themselves become a distraction, not just for productivity but for your own mental sake. You know you have a task to complete, and the game removes you from completing said task. Even if you hate the task, knowing that you cannot finish it because of an office game blocking you, you’re going to hate that game. Counterproductive!

So how can you introduce gamification? Indirectly. The best games for the office are the ones that occur naturally. One thing I liked to do at the end of the day was check my e-mail stats and compare it to others on the team to see how well I did, if I met my goal (both work requirement and personal goal), etc. After a while, multiple people on the team began to do this and it became our own motivator to excel for ourselves. It wasn’t until our supervisor at the time forced it upon us to have our own competition that it no longer was fun. I hated pulling up the stat system to show to him “yes, I did my work and I did better than so-and-so.” Intentional competition with my coworkers is not fun. But when we decided for ourselves to check stats, we made it enjoyable. So not only does gamification need to be indirect, but it needs to be developed by the employees themselves. They/we know what we want and what we enjoy. Forcing something on us causes greater resistance, thus lower productivity.

Something to think about on this dragging Friday~