Monday, September 30, 2013

Minecraft To Blame For Guns In School?

Oh yeah. This is super violent. *eye roll*
Well according to the child’s father in Orlando Florida, a young boy was sentenced to home confinement after bringing an unloaded gun, a steak knife, and a small sledge hammer to his school because of Minecraft. The boy’s father said that the child was trying to imitate the characters in the game, which includes shooting zombies (which is only in the PC version). 

A news station in Orlando reported that the kid was “just acting out the game” and that the gun’s firing pin was removed so it couldn’t ever be used. That doesn’t help pops, when the kid KNOWS where your gun is hidden.

I’m trying to not shake at my head at how ludicrous this all sounds. Minecraft is rated E10+ and while it has some violence, it is so nonsensical, comical, and benign that to blame it as a reason for a child bringing a gun to a school becomes insane. There had to have been another reason. Simply acting out the game at school was not the reason. There is much more to this then the justice system is willing to invest. “Dad said it was the game, so we believe him. House confinement!” Really guys? When Minecraft has been applauded for educational purposes? Right. We’ll just go with it. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

EA Will "Temporarily" Discontinue College Football Games

Whelp, I may as well jump in on today's news trend. EA Sports has decided to cancel the next NCAA football game, and all future college football games for the foreseeable future. This isn’t a big shock to us after the NCAA announced in July that it would be cutting ties with the company after a series of legal disputes, some which have been resolved as of this weekBut are we really surprised that EA is going to be looking at alternative options? Not really. 

My bet is that they are going to make a new “version” of NCAA football but remove the logos and all of that business. The sports market for EA is a huge source of income, so any way that they can spin this, they will. Give it a year or two and we’ll probably see it back on the market under a new title. Hell, individual schools can still work with EA to create a football game. But no likeness of any players is allowed.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

When You're "Left Behind"

Chief Exec and Financial Officer Troy Lyndon for Left Behind Games, based on the novels that bear the same name, has been charged with fraud and scheming to inflate their stock prices according to the SEC.   He basically created 2 billion shares of stock to a friend, Ronald Zaucha as compensation for consulting services. Which would be fine, except that none of the shares were registered in the marketplace, and said money could be used to help pad the books for Left Behind Games.

Whoops.

The SEC suspended the company’s stock on Wednesday after filing the lawsuit Tuesday night in Hawaii. Last year the company filed for bankruptcy as the company struggled to maintain its niche market hold for the gaming business. Christian action adventure games are not exactly, um, well known. And while many companies supported the premise, such as Fox News, and they had multiple endeavors with proceeds of sales going to support  U.S. troops, and sales were pretty well, considering, the hit of SEC allegations and issues its securing funding are crippling the company.

But then you read Lyndon’s response to the SEC and have to wonder if this guy is really not trying to intentionally throw in a government conspiracy theory or two in there on why he’s being singled out:

"I'm just a video game guy. If any violation occurred, it would never have been intentional - and certainly, never fraudulent. My attorney told me that any person that earned shares could use them for any purpose.

"For more than two years, I've asked SEC to explain how and if I have violated any rule, so that I could self-report it. As I see it, the government has systematically and intentionally conspired to dismantle Left Behind Games and the facts are both true and hard to believe - worthy of a Ron Howard film or John Grisham novel."

Yeah okay buddy. You keep telling yourself that. Using shares as payment is fine. Facebook did it. Lots of companies do it. But you never reported them. And then they magically appear on the stock market out of nowhere, and drove up the pricing each share is worth. That’s the issue. Not a government conspiracy against the books or your company. You just failed at doing basic business stuff. There are additional questions regarding Zaucha and if he ever did provide consulting services to the company, but those are awaiting additional verification by the suits. Needless to say, this is another gaming company that will probably go out of business pretty soon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Open Letter To Parents: Stop Being Lazy

GTAV is out. Of course it sold a ridiculous amount of copies, making a ton of money, and there are kids who are not mature enough to handle the content that will be playing the game. So one game store employee (we’re assuming GameStop based on the info that said employee has worked with the retailer for over 10 years. No one else has been in business that long, so probably a GameStop employee) decided to write an open letter to parents regarding GTAV

Now this isn’t a “lets bash the games for turning kids bad” type of open letter. This is one concerned parent to another about how absent people are regarding kids and their gaming habits. It’s also not a means of preaching to people that violent games are bad. The author of the letter has stated that he has received tons of comments from customers about how violent games didn’t affect them, and they live very normal lives. But that isn’t to say that games can’t have a negative impact on children. Just like too much reading, too much television, even too much exercise and sports can affect a child, so too can gaming. And an 8 year old should not be playing Grand Theft Auto. At least not without an adult right there to supervise and explain what’s going on.

Absentee parenting is the issue. When someone goes up to a counter, wants to buy Call of Duty for their child who is not even tall enough to see over said counter, while tapping away on their phone or tablet and not paying attention to the clerk or their child or any of their surroundings, then yeah, it’s a problem. We all know the story so well, and it’s sad how true it is: the parent is going to take the kid home and let them play the game, unsupervised, and either learn a lot of new things that their brain cannot comprehend or said parent gets mad at the violence when they do stumble into the room, and tries to take it back to the store…only to get another game and repeat the process.

I’m not stating that violent games are the reason that our society is so jacked up. Because if you look at other cultures that play video games, we know that’s not the problem. What my biggest concern is, just like this game store employee, and just like Gabe from Penny Arcade are parents not giving a damn and letting media act as parents instead.

Do you know why so many of us are pretty normal today? Because our parents actually gave a damn about what we did. They didn’t ignore us for 3 days while we played World of Warcraft nonstop. Instead they gave us time limits, shoved us outside to play if we spent more than an hour indoors. They made sure that we understood the media content that we were seeing by playing the games with us, or watching the R rated movies with us, and not letting our minds come to incorrect conclusions.

When you become a parent, you take on that responsibility of raising a child. Being a parent is not a passive act and you can’t pass it off onto someone else. You created the kid. You have to own up to the fact that you are the major force of influence in their life. So learn, be active, and start giving a damn. That’s what the issue is. Not kids playing violent games, but kids playing violent games without their parents setting any rules, limits, or providing context. See, other parents in other countries do that. They act like, holy crap, real parents! What a novel idea.

So don’t jump on the poorly paid store employee for giving an honest response regarding violent games. Be a parent, take the time to learn about your kids and what they like to do, and get involved. Responsibility shouldn't fall on everyone else in society for raising your child. And if you’re lazy, well that will teach you to not be a parent in the first place.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Literal Citizen Kane of Video Games

Yes, I still think the idiom is stupid and should be banned from any and every language. But someone decided to take the satirical approach and created a Citizen Kane game. No really. It’s a Citizen Kane RPG

It’s a short form, turned based RPG that streamlines the genre to some of the basics: fighting monsters, dressing up, etc. Colors are monotone to replicate the original black and white style of the movie, and minimalist settings to mimic Kane’s home. But instead of the norm, a shark guides the player throughout the game and it’s accompanied by a Hip-Hop soundtrack. I’m not sure Orsen Wells would appreciate that, but okay. And apparently there’s a dating mini game. Intersting.

Obviously, this was made in jest, and I want to play it so I can have a few minutes to laugh about the fact that someone made a game out of Citizen Kane. But there you go. Now that we have one, can we stop comparing EVERYTHING to that damn movie

Monday, September 23, 2013

Another Kickstarter Game "Pause" - Clang

For those who backed the motion-conrol video game Clang last year, the project is currently in a holding pattern.  In a recent update on the Kickstarter page, the game is “hitting pause” to work out financing issues.  “What financing issues?” You may ask. They did raise over $500 grand through Kickstarter. However this endeavor only supported about half of the bill. The rest of the money was going to come through sponsors and loans according to the developers. Financing is the biggest issue, but even development of the project in terms of gameplay and dynamics has been stalled due to differing opinions on the direction of the game.

What makes Clang unique is that it wants to make sword fighting physics a reality in the game world. Clang would be a PC based arena game at first with one on one dueling, and then expand from there. The critical aspect is the motion controller that utilizes 3D capture technology and can help provide a more accurate measurement of movements. So if you aren’t holding a sword right, the game would know, try to correct you, and you’ll lose matches until you practice and become better able to use a longsword or a fencing sword. It’s a promising idea to utilize current technology and bring in middle age battle tactics to a video game.

Again, here is the downfall of Kickstarter. While  refunds are not given to those who have backed a project, project owners are obligated to issue something to those who were seeking some type of a reward as part of their contribution. But this isn’t a full-on cancellation, just a stalling point until more funds are secured.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Heroes of Cosplay the Continuation!

Last night my podcast cohort Amber and I got together with Joey and Matt, along with Jordan of CosCast from the Nerd Reactor to talk about Heroes of Cosplay and what will happen now that the show is over.

Between the five of us we have either met or interviewed or to some extent know as friends all of the cast members on the show. Because of this, we have a better idea of who these people really are when the cameras are turned off. And for some, their personalities did come through, and others did not: a lot of it thanks to the strain of having the cameras always there. (That myth of reality television: “Oh, you will forget the cameras after a while” is very much a myth. You will always know and be aware of its presence.) Joey pointed out that their interview with Holly from Crabcat showed a different person on the air versus off. Not different bad, but that she was aware of the fact that “hey, this is a show, I need to be professional and not a dork.” And Holly is a great person to hang with outside of the con scene. It’s the same thing that actors and actresses do for press junkets. They put on a face meant for the public and come off as the glittering star that they are, before going home and crashing into their normal lives for a few minutes. It’s what audiences expect.

What I can say is that Holly and Jessica with their short bickering matches is very much what they do. But they make up 5 seconds later. That’s the nature of their friendship that SyFy didn’t capture as well as I would have liked. It looked more volatile on television then it really was. And now that I’ve met Chloe, she is sweet and bubbly and very much about the “everyone can cosplay” route that we all tote. So while she has the acting and camera experience, she’s also very natural when she’s in the spotlight. A lot of what you saw with her, was really her. With Yaya Han, I know a number of people were turned off by her attitude. I don’t know her personally, but I’ve met her a few times, talked with her, and even judged a contest with her. She has the type of personality where she can be abrasive, but it’s never done with the intent to hurt. She says things in hopes that people will improve on their craft because she knows that they can do better. I’ve seen her make suggestions to contestants and would speak about them in the same manor behind the scenes as she did in person. Her life is revolved around cosplay because it’s her business. That’s great! Glad that she found something that she loves to do and can make a living from it. So yes, she’s going to talk a lot about cosplay and little else. There’s nothing wrong with it. So I can understand why some people may not like her personality. She’s been kind to me and taught me a lot. I don’t idolize her, but I respect her for what she has been able to do for the hobby and for herself. She’s a regular person just like everyone else, and coming from that angle makes her much more approachable.

Something Joey and I both touched on was the “reality” aspect of the show. Both of us having camera operator backgrounds and have worked in some form of a TV setting, we understand what’s going through the production team’s minds when they see the footage. They want to craft a story around the moments that show the most intensity. A lot of those involve the groups and couples while at a convention. It’s what people want to see, so the “reality” of the show is going to be questionable. HoC focuses on a small sub-sect of cosplaying: contests where yes, bitch moments and cattiness can happen.

Reality television isn’t about the normal and mundane. It’s about exploring the sub-sets of our culture and bring something new to the lives of the viewers. Duck Dynasty probably opened up a lot of eyes to an unknown world where people made millions off of those duck calls. But even in that situation, there are stories crafted from the footage to make the people, situations, and life more unique. HoC is no different from any other reality show in that aspect. If you were looking for a more accurate portrayal of cosplay, this is just a very, minor, section of the hobby, not the whole. Documentary style is not welcomed in reality television.

And this is where I decided to rate the show from two perspectives: one as a filmmaker and one as a cosplayer. The filmmaker in me give the show a 7. It’s a good base and did some things a little differently from other reality shows, such as providing more context on  why people do this hobby, and some glances (all-be-it very brief) into how these costumes are made. But it wasn’t ground breaking. The should would have been so much better if they made it more like a competition such as King of the Nerds or Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Joey came up with a fantastic idea of giving people a weekly theme or a prop and say “You have 4 days to do this however you want, go.” Because we know that, similar to Project Runway or any of those cooking shows, people are going to take the challenge and come up with different ways to complete the task. Yes, it would be another contest type of reality, but it has much more potential.

The concept reminds me of a fashion show that I believe was on Bravo for only 2 seasons. The concept was to take 3 fledging designers and give them 2 days to make an outfit based around a theme. Their work would be judged in front of an esteemed panel in the industry, and the winner would receive a cash prize, and a chance to return to the final round for a larger prize. There were 6 challenges and 6 finalists for one grand finish. Imagine that with cosplayers. It would be very easy to pull in a wide variety of talent as contestants that could allow the show to endure past a season (Project Runway is still going because of the focus on the creative aspects, with the occasional drama, not the other way around.)

The other suggestion that we could all agree with was to have more emphasis on the construction and the material discussion. A lot of what happened was “here is A and now it’s C, but we didn’t show you B on how A got to C.” So much great information was left on the cutting room floor. Argh! But, understandable. Again, filmmaker response. It’s not interesting enough to capture the attention of the average Joe. Or if they had done more of the stuff like “let’s show you archery to help get into character” that would have satisfied both spectrums of the viewers (cosplayers and the general audience).

As a cosplayer, I give the show a 4. The drama that you saw…okay that does happen. I have been a victim and an unfortunate witness of it. The last episode irked me to no end and drummed up some unpleasant memories. But the low rating is not because I didn’t enjoy the show, but because of the reasons that I listed from my filmmaker perspective. So much of what cosplay is about was not shown. Too many repeats of one convention (AnimeExpo) in the B-roll footage and not enough of real cosplayers. We missed the crafting, the joy of being in a costume, and just having silly ass fun being with friends while wearing pointy ears.

And yes it did have entertaining moments, in the way that America’s Next Top Model makes me giggle: because I’m amused for all of the wrong reasons. The things that I dislike about the show and said “that is not cosplay” also made me laugh. Because it was so over the top in the faked editing (Riki describing her Betty Paige Rockateer costume to judges was cut to show Riki faltering and appearing to blank out after expressing concern earlier in the show: however footage online from the same con shows Riki being completely fluid and flawless when talking to them-some of those vidoes have been removed after a request by SyFy. Lame), and the forced drama that I had to laugh. HoC became a guilty pleasure. You love to watch it because of the wrong reasons.

It’s a show. It was created to entertain. And I’ll bump that rating up to a 5 if it can help encourage one more person to try cosplaying. It will have served a greater purpose.

Another aspect that was discussed, and Matt really took the lead on this one, were words supposedly taken out of context. Here’s the thing, whether they were in context or not, you still said them and a tv crew captured it. You can’t take back those words. You can apologize and admit that you were wrong, but there is no do-over to be had. And it’s difficult to misconstrue “a 300lb person shouldn’t be Superman.” So all of this damage control that some of the cosplayers have been doing seems a bit trite. But we get it. With Yaya, this is her lifestyle. If this causes her to lose a few sales, that’s money she is potentially losing. I get it. For the rest of us, is it really that big of a deal? It was said. Was it right? Of course not. But the best way to respond to it is to say: “You know what? I was wrong to have said it, but I said it. I have learned from it and will be a better person because of it.” And more on.

And now we move on to the almost unanimous favorite “Hero” of the show: Chole. I added in Becky as a very close second. (Though we all want Jinyo to be the star. It's Jinyo! He needs his own show.) Why? Because they seemed the most “real.” I loved watching them when they were on the stage. The pure joy in Chole’s eyes when she went upon stage in her Lydia (Beetlejuice) costume made me smile. “That’s what cosplay is about,” I remember typing out to Amber while we were IMing each other during the show. And then Joey went and busted the bubble by pointing out that those two had acting experience. Chole is the host of JustCos on The Nerdist (which may be doing another season? I’m not sure). It’s possible that they were acting for the cameras. I know, shocking. Some people will act on a realty show? Who’d a thunk it!

Okay, so I don’t have people yelling at me, I’m not stating for a fact that people were acting on the show. It’s always a possibility. Having been behind a camera for over a decade, I have seen how people react when they are faced with a camera. No matter how “natural” you want someone to be, they still feel the need to do something, anything, to grab your attention. Most of the time, it’s entirely subconscious. Which is why I can’t really state with 100% certainty that people were acting on HoC. Having met Chloe briefly, she acts very comfortable with herself both on and off camera. So Chole is pretty much Chloe. I’m taking the positive route and believe that they, Chloe and Becky, were the most like their real selves on camera. So yea for real cosplayers just having fun!

Will there be a second season? It’s difficult to ascertain. There haven’t been any signs on the SyFy channel for open or closed casting calls, though there are rumors and they were spotted at DragonCon 2013 taking over portions of the hotel. Raitings the show has done decently. The finale fell to #26 in the raitings for Cable shows from #21 last week. It’s close to that 1 million viewer mark, but not quite. It was competing against a number of new seasons and season finales on USA and TNT. But for a cable network, getting just shy of a million during prime-time hour on network shows is pretty good. And cable tv numbers are always smaller then network shows. It’s about what King of the Nerds averaged, and that show was green-lighted for a second season. So we’ll see what happens.

You can watch the joint podcast here:


Part 2 because the Google servers crashed. We were apparently too amazing for them to handle:

People Get Violent About Media Talking About Violent Games

Double posting today because I can, and I want to. We’ll do the gaming one first, because this is giggles in all the right ways.

A Doctor Mario Vance from the Rapture Institute has been studying the effects of media response regarding the media and has found that people do not get violent after playing a game. They get violent after the media reports about violence from games. The study was based on subjective viewing of the individuals who participated in the study, so of course there are lots of flaws. At the same time, assessing one’s mental state in a laboratory setting is equally as difficult. Fluctuations to the body can easily occur if someone is nervous about sitting with a doctor, and can skew the results.

Participants ranged in age and gender, so there were variants in samples. A Matthew Bryant stated that he uses video games as a means to relax and not want to harm his boss because of his high stressed job. Another, a young girl, stated that after one news story, her mother took away her gaming console for fear that she was going to turn into a murderous monster.

Here’s the thing. While I find the story amusing at the possible truths that is (we gamers do get riled up when people start making false accusations) I have not been able to locate the research article that should have been published. A search on the Rapture Institute sends me to a bunch of doomsday religious sects. Dr. Mario (yeah, that made me wonder) is not pulling up any links or references to his other works, nor is his colleague cited in the article. The interviews with some of the subjects felt forced and extreme: who would give a reprimand so severe for asking "what do you mean by synergy?"  So take this with a passing glance until proof of the research is available, even if other sites are reporting on it

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nintendo Legend Passes Away at 85

Hiroshi Yamauchi, one of the godfathers of Nintendo who ran the company for over 50 years and was a key figure in the transformation of the business from playing-cards to video games, passed away at the age of 85 from complications to pneumonia. He was instrumental into the hiring of the well-loved Miyamoto. And get this kids, he dropped out of college. Another rich man on the scale of Bill Gates that proves that you don’t need no darn edumacation to succeed!

Since 2002, Yamauchi took on more of an advisory role as the company continued to grow and flounder throughout the recent years. Nintendo will be holding a ceremony at their company HQ in Japan on Sunday to pay respect to the man who really did change everything about Nintendo, while maintain its child-like spirit. May his legacy live on.

Oh and if you’re wondering why the Washington Post listed this in the “sports” section, Yamauchi use to own the Seattle Mariners.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How Evil Is Too Evil?

So evil!! On A Bike! Master Criminal!

We’re really evolving as a community. Now the New Yorker wants to talk about video games. Maybe not in the best light, but hey, it’s the New Yorker. We’re in jackpot territory now.

With the release of Grand Theft Auto V this past week, the New Yorker set out to ask and potentially answer a very interesting question that we tend to overlook when it comes to video games: How evil should a game allow you to be

Good question.

We spend a lot of our time defending video games and focusing on the positive aspects of it. Most of us want to and dream about being the superhero. We want to put on the spandex outfit, fly around, and save the day. And many video games cater towards those fantasies. Very few set out with the intent for you to be evil. And given the choice, most of us still go to the good side. Take the case of Mass Effect, when BioWare posted the stats, which have been collected sine ME1, it’s amazing to see that 2/3rds of the population went Paragon, and I’m still floored that only 8% opted to not cure the Genophage. Hell, I thought it would be much higher, but people have a general understanding that genocide is a bad idea. 

Personal morality plays a big part in why we choose to go the good or the bad route in a game. While they do give us more freedom to try things without consequences, there is still a part of us that feels the sting when we know something isn’t right. Part of what makes a video game appealing are creating these dynamic worlds where we interact and grow attach to characters. We feel remorse, resentment, sadness, joy, and everything in between when something happens to said characters. So the chances of a gamer doing something evil are even less. I wouldn’t be surprised if games like Infamous, which give more obvious delineations between good and evil, had gamer stats that shows more people went to the light side. The darkness may have cooler powers, but at the end of the day, your moral compass feels like crap.

So how evil should a game allow their players to go? That’s up to the developer at the end of the day. While GTA may allow you to pick up a hooker to regenerate your health, and allow you to kill her to regain your money, that’s about as far into the dangerous level of crime you’re going to get with the game. You’ll never see a company like RockStar promote a product based on sexual crimes. Hell, it is entirely plausible to play most of the GTA games without killing a single person. Try it! It’s a challenge, but well worth the effort. Game developers have set their own limits, but many of those are a result of personal morality. Even something such as Super Columbine Massacre RPG (which the New Yorker over glorifies for the wrong reasons), where the gameplay revolves around setting up the bombs and shooting students at a school, the message and the focus is much deeper than that. In fact, the damn thing isn’t really a game. It’s an artistic piece that taps into a disturbed part of our culture. What should have been something to ignite a healthy debate about our society and gun laws turned into a snuff piece. Not on the fault of the creator, mind you.

In the same breath, is it wrong for us to ask for limitations on our games to prevent scenes of sexual assault, extreme murder, and dismemberment that is not a zombie? We would be infringing on that person’s creative freedom. I think most developers choose not to go down those paths because of backlash from, well, everyone. Even if the intent was to raise awareness regarding sexual crimes or how easy it is to get a gun in the state of Texas (which it is, by the way) and go on a murderous rampage, people don’t want to see the truth. They don’t want to be made aware of reality and they don’t want others to become absorbed into those virtual worlds where such extreme behavior is possible. And developers don’t want to encourage that type of lifestyle. I can’t say that I blame them, but even as hard core as I am about stopping sexual related crimes and standing up for women’s rights, I’m also a supporter of the First Amendment. If someone makes a game about “the fun of killing babies” they have the right to do so. Just as I have the right to say why I’m appalled by the notion. (About that Texas gun point I was making, don’t really do it. Besides, for every one dumbass with a gun and tries to do something stupid with it, around here, there are 50 more with a gun who aren’t idiots and are not afraid to stop you from making a scene. Something to keep in mind.)

Ultimately, it’s up to the developers of the products and how much they want to release to the world. Just as it is with any book, movie, tv show, or play, video games are only limited by their creators. If someone wants to release a game about being a violent sociopath in modern day society, who’s to stop them? They have that right. Personally, I only feel such a crazy game would work if it’s presented in a context to help fuel the talks about mental health and the lack of health care coverage for those suffering from psychological issues. Games such as those could really help develop the discussions needed to improve the moral fabric of society.

It’s okay to be bad in a video game. I don’t want to come out as someone who condones evil deeds in a game, because I’ve done them too. We all have. Hell, every one of us has probably driven through a red light or through a stop sign in at least one game that involves a car. And it’s okay that it happened in a game. As long as you know not to do that in the real world. Seriously. Mister SUV who always loves to run that red light at the corner of the street over there by my job. It’s red for a reason. Obey the law of the light or you might kill someone. Real world consequences are not as “cool” as game ones. 

I think that being crazy in a game can be a great stress release, and most gamers know that actions in a game are not meant to be translated into reality. Logic. It's a thing.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Making Limeade out of Lemons

Given California’s face-plant moment with the Supreme Court, the state is making the most of the situation and turning their failure into something positive. Yesterday, the state’s governor Jerry Brown helped announce a pilot program for educational purposes to help students join the gaming industry. The program will focus on those students in areas of low income or under-served. The gaming industry, all of those companies that were on the winning side, approve of the endeavor and will be donating $150,000, the funds coming from what the state owed them for the Court case.

The program will not only help kids learn about how games are made, but give them the opportunity to design and code their own work, and find out firsthand what it takes to be in the industry. Even Zynga will be joining in on the program offering donations and teaching situations. It's not a guarantee that these students will land a job in the future, but it is a great stepping stone into something more.

It’s good to see that the state’s government is sour about the entire exchange. Instead of brooding, they are taking the high road and pushing for better education about the industry. And the gaming peeps are responding in kind. Good job California.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Just Dance Fashion

Video games are becoming ever more present in pop culture as Ubisoft’s Just Dance 2014 became a part of New York’s Fashion Week last Thursday. Ubisoft partnered with Stephanie Igel to announce her spring line, which was apparently influenced by the game. She’s a fan.

Just Dance is one of the few games that have easily bridged the gap between gamers and non-gamers because it’s not a traditional game. In the wake of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Just Dance focused more on current music and pop culture hits, and in its wake started fashion trends with their avatars through each version. With 2014, the game has gone bigger, bolder, and flashier. I don’t think any of us would be surprised to see a “Just Dance Fashion Line” in the next year or two. But at the same time, the market would easily consume it.

"The brand DNA of Just Dance has always been around pop culture, which is when music and fashion and celebrity come together. We want to be more than just a video game. The fashion designs inside the game are really inspirational. We want to extend that just past the game. We want our avatars to be pop culture icons." Tony Key, Ubisoft Senior VP.

It’s a brand that will continue to push forward because there will always be a market for dancing and today’s music. Igel’s Just Dance inspirational line will be out in the coming months.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Q&A: Female Characters In Games

Over the past weekend I went to check in on the Feminist Frequency website to see if















 


























































A thank you to my friends for helping me out on this one, and sharing their points of view. Hopefully I can do another one of these soon enough. Maybe in Skype or Google + so people can watch.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Oh You Silly Top 10

They laugh normally after the forced laughing.
Source: http://keyshakitty.deviantart.com/art/
The-Laughing-Game-FFX-comic-32150468



I typically take Top 10, 20, 25, 100 Lists with a grain of salt. Everyone has their preferences and dislikes that they are entitled to their own opinion. It doesn’t stop me from perusing them and coming to my own conclusions.

So when I saw this list from WhatCulture (which has been trying to be very persistent in breaking into gaming articles) about 10 gaming franchises that were destroyed by a single in-game moment, yep I was curious. I clicked. And then I laughed. Maybe a little too out loud. Because some of these suggestions are absolutely ridiculous. It’s difficult to tie one moment or one particular kink of a game as the end-all, be-all to kill off a franchise. So yeah. I laughed loud. Here’s the list:

10. Final Fantasy Voice Acting (Starting with the FFX scene of Tidus and Yuna laughing).
9. Resident Evil Co-Op Mode (RE5)
8. Tony Hawk Pro Skater Peripheral (2009’s Ride)
7. Gran Turismo rehashing PS2 Models (GT5)
6. Dino Crisis, Removing Regina (DC3)
5. Perfect Dark and developing the games over multiple platforms.
4. Guitar Hero with Market Saturation
3. Need for Speed and Annual Releases
2. Sonic going 3D (Sonic Adventure, 1998)
1. Mass Effect and the final ending (ME3)

Did you laugh too? Please tell me you laughed. I mean this list is just…obnoxious and short-sighted. Almost like the ramblings of a ticked off fan boy. The best way I can sum up this list is that it’s very narrow-minded. It’s taking one aspect of a game or franchise and blowing it out of proportions. And in many of these cases, the series are going strong. Hell the following of fans for Mass Effect is still an amazing force, in spite of the original ME3 ending. People still buy Sonic games. The only one that I may give some validity too is the Guitar Hero series, but that’s it.

Because I think some of these need to be addressed, I’m going to break it down. Final Fantasy and voice acting. FFX was the root of this on said WhatCulture writer’s list, most notably the laughing scene between Tidus and Yuna. For ANYONE who has played the game, yes the scene is awful. But you know what? It was intended to be that way. The point of the scene was to get Yuna to look at the brighter side of life and just laugh away her troubles, even if she needs to force herself to do it. So you have about a minute of really obnoxious laughing, followed by a fit of realistic, joyous laughter. Most people seem to forget about the latter. The realistic laughing was enjoyable and...real. And the franchise has been going strong since then. It’s freekin’ Final Fantasy. It’s going to be around for a while. And by the way, by saying John DiMaggio contributed to the bad voice acting is a sin. You called out Bender. It’s on.

Resident Evil 5’s co-op was a great addition to the franchise. In fact, I played the hell out of the game having a second person join me on the adventures. It prompted me to get the Gold Edition on top of it. Is the story a bit meh? Sure. But co-op was not the end of the series. If anything, it helped enhance it knowing that I didn’t have to fight the sick zombie hoard alone.

Perfect Dark is a series that was a great idea during a terrible time frame. The original release was on the N64, the sequel on the Xbox. Why? Bad timing. The original game was released in 200 when the N64 was still a big deal, but was in the early stages of waning. By the time development began on the second game, the landscape changed. People were moving to discs, and the content for PD2 was not friendly enough to be on Nintendo’s new system, which was not going to be out for another year, which would have caused additional game delays. So Rare decided it was best to release on a console that was out, that was popular, and would best represent the game. And while the game itself is good, too many loyal Nintendo loyalists weren’t willing to make the Xbox jump to play this one title. If Perfect Dark had waited that extra year for the Wii release, to the dismay of fans needing a fix, it could be a different story entirely. But cross-culture platform games is not unfamiliar. Final Fantasy for example is the notorious leader. From Nintendo to Sony to Microsoft. It’s still doing quite nicely.

Silly lists can be great, but this one seems like a fan boy crying about little things that really didn’t affect the series as a whole.

The one I do agree with is Guitar Hero. That series really saturated the market. And they rightfully did so. The music craze died out about as fast as it came in, and they capitalized on the moment. The downside is that we aren’t getting a chance to continue experiencing the new innovations to the musical game. Because things were rushed and put out for mass consumption asap the new content is not only more difficult to put out, but the public is less willing to buy. People still play Guitar Hero and Rock Band. There are still band parties and it’s still a lot of fun. But until we hit that point of nostalgia for the product, we won’t see a resurgence.

My two cents. Lists can be fun, but you need to learn to separate facts and reality from fanboyism. Time to come up with my own list!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Teaching Ethical Problem Solving To Kids

So ignoring the fact that this is an article about a game that is owned by the company that owns said paper (everything is so interconnected like a Disney brand it’s ridiculous), Quandary was named Game of the Year in the annual Games for Change Festival in New York.  Part of the Games for Change experience is about is helping create content for children for learning purposes. And Quandary stood out because it tackles an issue that is very rarely discussed in child development: the need to understand the perspective of others while making decisions.

What the article proposes is that games like Quandary used in conjunction with standard teaching exercises can help build a better child morally and ethically. Now I don’t mean morals and ethics based around a religion, but common sense. Like not judging a book by its cover, or assigning stereotypes to a certain race. These are sensitive topics to us as adults, and many of us may be unaware at how early kids learn and pick up habits; most doctors and mental health experts say around age 4 children become more attune to the differences of others, but it can start earlier than that. 

This is where a game like Quandary can really make an impact on a child’s development. The game is geared towards late elementary to middle school students (though starting earlier wouldn’t be a bad idea in my opinion). The game sets you as the captain of a space colony. Your task is to resolve problems by listening to all sides of an argument and learning to separate fact from fiction. You eventually take all of this information to a council on Earth, whom will make a final ruling on the conflict. However their response will weigh heavily on how you, the player, present the content. Unlike other games, Quandary doesn’t show the player what is the correct answer. You don’t get points for picking the “right” choice. Instead, points are built through how many interactions you go through (the full extent of points earned by listening to everyone when confronting a problem), and by being able to accurately predict what a character will say or do (this is achieved by spending time with the person and learning about them).

It’s a great way to open up dialogue on how children can learn from games not just the school basics, but on a real-world level where conflicts need to be resolved without passing judgment based on pre-conceived notions about that individuals race, religion, and nationality. I would love to see more games like this introduced into our culture. This is a great direction to take the “learning” environment. But what I really appreciate about these types of games is that they don't give you a direct response to if you are doing something correctly. You have to ask questions, participate with your classmates, and really interact with your peers to determine why something was right or wrong. These games aren't meant to be the main-stage of instruction, but effective supplements to the material. If more teachers utilized these types of games, just imagine the types of leaders we would build for tomorrow.

Okay I got a little gushy and sentimental there. But dangit, we need more games like this!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

MGS5 Sexy Controversy...At Least Kojima Is Honest

And apparently more holes in the pants! That's sexy. >.>

As more and more information starts slipping out about Metal Gear Solid V, Kojima has made a few comments that have raised the metaphorical eyebrow. On his Twitter last week, the master of all things MGS has stated that he has been asking his art team to make the characters “more erotic,” to which he later amended as “sexy.” The idea was to help boost sales of figurines and encourage more people to cosplay to, again, help with the sales of products.


Well Mr. Kojima. You have my attention now.

While I agree with some of the comments that this is another example of misogyny in the gaming industry, the character of Quiet who doesn’t speak in the game and uses body language in a very skimpy bikini top is blatantly calling her out as only eye candy, I also understand Kojima’s position. I know, the feminist in me gets what Kojima is doing. But seriously, sex is a selling point. And if showing off a bit more skin can help sell a game, then why not do it? Is it cheap and anything but classy? Of course. And with the world that MGS has built, it does seem odd that they would go for this type of blatant sexuality. (I realize that Eva also had a bikini top model going on, but at least they fully covered her chest AND she wore a combat suit over it. There’s a difference between sexuality from the natural charm of the character versus obvious boob exposure for the sake of showing them.)

Kojima did respond to the Tweets and the critics with a series of notes about why he made these “design” choices for the game. Quiet was created as an antithesis of the other female characters, and that she is so exposed for a reason. Apparently whatever the reason, we’re all going to feel ashamed for how she looks. Interesting...

He breaks off further in the response to mention the themes of MGSV: Gene -> Meme -> Scene -> Peace -> Race. And the controversy around Quiet represents what the game is trying to achieve, a story that touches upon the misunderstanding of prejudice, hatred, and conflicts caused by differences in race, religion, creed, etc. Okay, we’ll go with that.

I think the problem people have with this entire issue is that Kojima has been vocal about why he made Quiet sexy and what he’s trying to do: make money. Most companies don’t outright say what their intentions are. We know they make products for money. It’s obvious. That’s how our entire economy works. We very rarely hear a company come out and be blunt about it. “Yep. We’re trying to make money. Here’s how.” So at least you have to commend the honesty, no matter how much I may disagree with it. All I have to say is that the plot device of Quiet’s sexuality better be really damn good. And I don’t think many will cosplay her without some modesty changes to the top. Most cons would not permit that type of skin exposure.

I should probably end this article with that I still heart Kojima and would fan-girl over him on sight. I’m an MGS type of gamer. What of it?

Monday, September 09, 2013

Rampage! and Blizzard Law

Double feature today. First up, I have a Forbes mini faux-pas

New Line Cinema has just begun production of Rampage! Wow guys! That’s…actually been known since 2011 according to the article that Forbes quoted. And the last shred of “news” about Rampage (you know that game where you can be one of three monsters, run around a city, and destroy it within a time limit to get the most points), was in 2012 inching ever closer to 2 years ago when a writer may have been named. Since then, news about the film has completely dropped off the radar. So why is Forbes bringing it up now? Well it could be to talk about how bad video game movies are. Or it could be to start a trend on new gaming movies coming out with the super hero boom starting to wane now that the Dark Knight franchise has ended, and Iron Man is “supposedly” at its last call. The Avengers, Thor, and Captain America will still go on. So I’m not really sure where Forbes is going with this. But a movie that has been in “talks” for almost 3 years isn’t really pushing forward on the production scene. Let’s wait until we get a release date, k?

Besides, they would take soooooo many liberties with the film. The plot line of the game is beyond simple. It would be easy to fabricate the story into something much more grand and ridiculous for a movie.

Second! Blizzard, the kings of Western gaming has hired lobbyists to advocate on a bill current sitting in the Senate regarding a comprehensive study of the impact of violent video games on children.  The request was filed at the end of August and they went for the biggest guns they could get in D.C.: Akin Gump. However, neither Blizzard or Akin Gump have commented as to which position the game developer has on the bill. The bill was originally introduced in January to call on the National Academy of Sciences to examine if there is a link between violent gaming and aggressive behavior in children. It would also look at if games would have an increased affect on those children who are already prone to increased aggression. Mostly it is of the belief that games are more interactive and pervasive that it is likely to affect children deeply in comparison to a film or tv show.

The idea behind the bill is to give a more accurate review of how games affect children and if action should be taken to limit their sales, distribution, etc. It’s that slippery slope we are all too familiar with. There are a number of factors to be concerned about, such as how the study would be ran, how to remove any inherit bias (because there is always some in every study), and how the heck are we paying for this? I don’t know which side Blizzard is on, but if the bill is passed, I do hope they take a logical and academic approach to the study.

Friday, September 06, 2013

A Quick, Educational Game (Don’t Close Your Browser-This Is Promising)

Demoed at PAX Prime this past weekend, Tengami is in a pop-up book format, but with a video game, that takes players on a journey through feudal Japan. The game will release in iOS later this year, followed by a WiiU, Windows, and MAC release. The emphasis is on touch screen, where players can flick and pull at the edges to turn the page and move the character into the next portion of the story as well as solve puzzles.

The concept is relatively simple, but because the dynamic of the interface is so different from normal games, the developers, Nyamyam Games, are able to bring in educational elements (history in this case). As the samurai makes his way throughout feudal Japan, gamers can learn about the social classes of the time, or the technological advancements in armor and weaponry. And the simplicity, but poetic, art-style really leads well into the pop-up book format. The samurai looks like a digital paper cut-out, ala South Park.

Something cute and quick to look at today. Games like these give me hope for the future of our creativity.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Disney: Infinity Measuring Up

Another Disney movie that is NOT for kids.

Nearing three weeks since its release, Infinity has been making quite a dent in game sales with retailers such as GameStop, Wal-Mart, and the like trying to keep up with the demand. Some particular characters, such as Violet from The Incredibles have been selling out. Good news for Disney. With Wave 2 of the figurines to release this winter, we’re sure to see a huge jump in sales. Mostly because Wave 2 will include more female characters. As of now, there are only 2, Mrs. Incredible and Violet. Not really the best way to get young girls into the game, but hopefully the next batch will help with that problem.

The initial release seems more family focused, picking movies that would include mom and dad with the kids. So you’ll see more Pixar products such as Monsters Inc. as well as more adult-related movies like Pirates of the Caribbean. Not so good on the later if you want to include your kids, because they are more geared towards adults. The correlation is that those levels are a bit more difficult to play through. I don’t know if that makes things better or worse, in that you’ll have to help your kid play a level to advance through the game. I guess that’s one way to get parents involved.

The promotions are not helping either when you see figures like Jack Skelleton or Vanellope in the initial release ads, but won’t be available for several months. Mostly, I’m a bit irked that of all of the female characters they could have put forth at release, there are only 2, and they’re from the same movie. What a jip.

The biggest issue I have read is that the button mapping is not intuitive and there is no Pause. Okay seriously guys. We’re in 2013. Why do we not have the ability to Pause a game? Even if a section takes, at most, 10 minutes to complete, Pausing is a staple. Removing it is a joke.

Personally, I’d like to try this out and see what the fuss is. I think the concept is very solid, and a smart marketing scheme. We’ll see where it goes from here.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

GTA With A Female Lead

Watching the promo last night for Grand Theft Auto V, I began to wonder what the series would be like if there were a female lead. RockStar is a very male character dominated company, and while they don’t typically go towards misogynistic tendencies, some tropes do make their ways into their games. Damsel in Distress is one of the more popular that you can see in practically every game, from Red Dead Redemption to, well, any GTA game. Very rarely do we see women in a powerful role. And when we do, there is still that element of sex or submission that we expect from those characters. Bonnie from Redemption, probably one of the strongest female characters, emotionally, in the game, is still portrayed as love-sick when she’s around John. She is still subdued in her position in the game because of her “feminine emotions.”

GTA games are notorious for not giving the most…sensitive light to any race, religion, creed, or gender. Stereotypes are common and, in many ways, that’s part of the humor of the game. We can’t take it seriously. Gangs are typically cultural oriented, with over the top voice acting or one liners that reinforce the stereotypes. So it’s no stretch that there are only female prostitutes roaming the streets of the city, that women in the circle of a gang are half-naked, with a foul mouth, and considered objects of desire. They are stereotypes that we expect from the series.

So what would happen if we deviate from them? What would a GTA world look like if we had a strong female lead character instead? I don’t mean turn the tables and put it from the perspective of one of CJ’s girlfriends or a woman of the night. What I’m referring to is supplementing the main male character with a woman. She wouldn’t be the norm for a GTA game, but above it. There are female hit men, crime lords, and drug smugglers too. It is very plausible to create such a character as a lead. So why hasn’t RockStar done this yet? They seem like they would be the type of company that would want to push the envelope and bring something new to the franchise.

Fear. Uncertainty. I don’t really have an answer to that question. But I do think that it would be a bold step in the right direction for the franchise. And before I start imagining the sexist jokes, no this woman would not be at home, in the kitchen all day, cooking and cleaning. She would be on the streets, collecting drugs, making shady deals, the whole 9 yards on what we expect a male GTA lead would do. She's sassy, classy, and foul mouthed, but she doesn't take crap from anyone. She can hold her own with a gun or her fists. She sends the misogynists to their graves without the need for high heels. And yes, male prostitutes. It's only fair guys.

Something to think about.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Game Requirement For College Grads

Olds College in Alberta will be one of the first schools to require a specific game must be completed in order to graduate. The game is one where students are expected to run their own Lemonade Stand and it was developed for the school, not just a random find on the internet. It's part of their "Discover Entrepreneurship" course, which every student at the school is required to take.They have taken the ideas of what makes a game fun and applied them to a learning situation, to as close to a real life simulation, but not quite all the way because it's still a game.

While it's good in theory, it does present a few problems that the article did pick up on. Students are allowed to go at their own pace, but with a ranking system that everyone can view, it does cause some students to rush and make brash decisions that hurt their Lemonade business, where as in the real world, they wouldn't have made such choices. Seeing people's scores, we want to try to top them. It's not the best way to build a successful company by always trying to be on top. Some of the best businesses achieve their goals by hitting the middle of the road. It also sounds as though there is no easy way to move back and forth between the lesson plans in the game and checking your current stats, scores, and capital.

Of course there are a number of benefits to be taken with the game. It provides an experience and allows you to make choices without real world consequences. You can make the mistakes now versus later in life should you happen to start your own business.

This is one of the few situations where I can see a game being applied to a class and work. Many still see games as a gimmick, like DDR in gym class. Or 'my class will be cool if we talk about games.' That's not the best approach. But we're starting to see a shift, and this is a good direction to go.