Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tiger Woods Shopping Around

Since EA is dropping Tiger from their PGA series, the golfer is looking to other companies to help keep his name in the gaming world. Wood’s agent, Mark Steinber, confirmed with GameSpot that they are shopping around to other gaming companies to see if anyone would be willing to take a chance. 

"Outside of Madden, you would be hard pressed to find a sports figure that meant as much to a video game company as Tiger meant to EA. But times are changing and EA had to re-evaluate the partnership and frankly so did we."

And that’s the thing…any company that does attempt to mage a new PGA game would be taking a big risk going up against the likes of EA Sports. EA isn’t dropping golfing from their line-up. PGA 2015 is still in production and will be a Tiger Woods free game. EA is still one of the tops when it comes to sports games, and pretty much owns the market on Football, Basketball, and Golfing. For another publisher to try and break into the golfing scene, it’s going to be one hell of a challenge. Particularly since EA has exclusive licensing rights to the PGA name for video games.

Good luck Tiger. You’re going to need it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Nintendo Needs To ReGroup...Again.

Nintendo's worries are taking shape as the numbers for last quarter's sale of the Wii-U are still not picking up the speed they were hoping for. Even with a price drop to help boost sales, sales have remained on the Nintendo DS shmorgishborg and Pokemon as of late. We still don't even know what the Wii-U really is...is it a system? Is it a peripheral? Is it an accessory?

Now with Nintendo halting production of the original Wii in Japan and Europe (probably the US too at this rate), we have to ask what is going on with the future of the company? They haven't announced a new system or plans to develop one. Their focus is all over the place and with no obvious direction.

I don't believe Nintendo is dying off. They are proving to still have a lot of worth in the hand-held market, one that Sony keeps trying to crack but has been unsuccessful with. So many that's a good niche for them: slow down on consoles production, wait another year or two, and uphold their reign on portable gaming. It's not a bad thought really given the continued popularity of Pokémon and the variety of Mario games. But I do worry about Nintendo's future. What is to become of our childhood gaming creator?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Opinions Could Use More Critical, Non-Biased Thinking

I could talk about EA ending their 15 year deal with Tiger Woods, and the next-gen PGA title for PS4 and XboxOne will not bear the golfer’s name. But you’ve already heard about it or at least read it

I’m going to talk about this wonderfully awful gem of an opinion piece, and thank goodness it’s an “opinion” and not a factual article. It made me realize that 1: no matter how far gaming has come, there is still a lot of work to be done to clear up misconceptions, prejudices, and stereotypes, and 2: those with good/appropriate/well-reasoned opinions are rarely seen contributing to news sources and that’s sad. We should fix that second one.

Over the past two years a number of gamers have become high-profile journalists in their own rights. Leigh Alexander, for example, has been working as a gaming critic for years and has become better known with her stance regarding sexism, and has appeared on television news shows and speaking at developer conferences. She’s not a fluke; more writers from Kotaku, Destructoid, Critical Distance are making a path in the community for serious gaming discussions. It becomes depressing to see more and more “opinion” articles in newspaper and online news sources representing the opposite of what gaming has developed into.

If you want to avoid the good laugh in the Emporia Gazetta article this is basically what you need to know: The opinionated is upset that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not include videogame addiction for boys as an epidemic that has stuttered their growth over the last 15 years. Instead “internet addiction disorder” is the closest ties and is listed as “condition for further study.” The it teeters off into how gaming is a “boys” problem (that’s why it’s named a “game boy” not a “game girl”), should not be lumped in with internet issues because there are products called a “play station” and can be accessed on cell phones and handheld units. As such, the trend in video game addiction in boys accounts for nearly 4 million school drop-outs over the past 15 years.

Okay I don’t want to support this “opinionated” individual with additional article hits, but you have to read. It’s hilarious. At the same time, I shake my head that there are people who still think this way. While yes, gaming has always been associated as a male activity, it has never been classified as a single-gender activity. Girls and women have been playing video games since the early days of the arcade. Women make up nearly 50% of thepurchasing and using audience of gamers. And while some can still argue that men and women are wired differently with their brain-waves, anyone with an addictive personality can be swept into gaming. Just as someone can be addicted to gambling, drinking, drugs, you name it. Gaming addicts are not a male issue. They’re a human issue. Part of the issue is assuming that only men become addicts. Women are gamers as well and it is, for lack of a better word, idiotic to think that they cannot be addicted to gaming. The other part of the issue is not providing proper help to both genders to overcome their addition. By assuming it is a “male only” issue and not assisting them, we’re dooming both genders in the long-term to resolving mental health.

This is of course assuming that said “opinionated” person actually focused on the facts. The correlations between the few studies that were half-cited do not elevate his position. The piece still comes off as sexist and full of holes larger than an M. Night Shamallama movie

To tie back to the point I wanted to raise, I’m disappointed that these type of opinion pieces are still making their rounds on the internet and in our local newspapers. I have tried for years, maybe 3-4 by now, to get myself or another gaming critic into the papers to give a less un-biased and accurate view of video games and gamers. We’re constantly turned down for the opinions of the extreme nature (which 99 out of 100 times it is someone who thinks games are bad, are a waste of time, provoke violence, and should be banned). It saddens and disgusts me that opinions today need to be either incredibly Left or Right, one way or the other, in order to be considered. We can’t have someone who provides an equal balance, which goes against all standing on what the news is meant to, and should always represent: unbiased points of view to give a greater world perspective to the whole community.

I wish I could think of a way to try and get more gaming culture into our news that isn’t about violence and sexism. Other than providing weekly opinionated articles in open column sections, we’re at a standstill. Maybe this is a cry for help. Maybe this is a plea to get more writers out there. I don’t know. But I’m tired of seeing “opinions” that are arrogant, unintelligent, and completely disregard glaringly obvious facts in order to go for the extreme views.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Playstation 4 Day One Updates

It's almost to be expected now that when you get a brand new system at launch there will be updates the moment you connect the console online. Sony announced last week that the PS4 would experience the same thing, with a 300MB patch to activate features that would otherwise be dormant with the system.

It'll include features such as Remote Play (certain PS4 titles will be able to transmit to the Vita), Second Screen (those with Vita, tablets, phones, etc with the right linkup can utilize duel-screen mode for the PS4), and UStream/Twitch uploading.

Some features will be a work in progress and not available at launch such as the Suspend mode, which pauses the game and sends the system into a "low power" mode to conserve energy, but allows you to pick it right back up without having to shut down or save.

The download at launch is to be expected at this point, so it's not at all surprising. People can be just a tiny bit more patient while their system does its thing. :D

Friday, October 25, 2013

Gaming Tribute Band From A Gaming Composer

Jason Hayes has made a few World of Warcraft songs. In fact, he was the lead composer for the base game. But he's putting that aside for a little bit to work on a new video game...tribute band. Him and some buddies have come together to create Critical Hit, with songs ranging from Skyrim to Angry Birds in their own, unique sound. The band will feature rotating performers from all walks of life, but some of them from the gaming field. It's nice to see people enjoying their work outside of the confined of the office. If you happen to be going to Blizzcon 2013, they will be performing.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Random News about McDonald’s New Gaming Burger!

McDonald’s ran a promotional campaign in Sweden to help name a new burger for their fall menu. It sounds quite tasty: hot sauce, dry roasted onions, iceberg lettuce, two layers of cheese, bacon, and one of their larger burger patties. Why did this catch my attention? Well it’s named the McNiP. NiP is short of Ninja’s in Pajamas, the chosen winner’s favorite eSports team, who are well-known for their Counter-Strike antics. 

And it’s not just a random team. They have some pretty good street-cred. They’re one of the most decorated eSports teams in history, with their most recent accomplishment being an 8 month streak in Counter-Strike going undefeated. I’m sure they are appreciating this fan today with the new sandwich. Note: It’s only in Sweden. Sorry American’s and our ever-expanding waist-lines.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Rocksmith Sequel Asks Gamers To Still Learn To Play Guitar

While Guitar Hero has hit the proverbial dust and Rock Band on hiatus until an indiscernible amount of time, the music gaming genre has fallen into the lap of karaoke and/or dance products. Rocksmith made an attempt in 2011 to get real guitars into the hands of gamers and to utilize the game as a tool to actually learn to play. The right way, not with buttons and unrealistic strumming from a plastic interface. Well it worked enough to warrant a second game, which was released yesterday. 

The first release has 1.5 million units were sold and now Ubisoft isn’t shy to talk about the educational experience behind the game. It’s “the fastest way to learn guitar” according to a national study by Research Strategy Group Inc. and Ubisoft states that 95% of their players learn to play direct from the game without an outside teaching source. The game utilizes an adaptive learning process, showing you what to do, testing your skills, and pointing out what portions of a song need to be improved. It also allows the user to swap lessons as they wish and to choose the songs they want to learn. The game also alters its teaching style to fit with what works best for the gamer. And of course the trick to all of this is to keep it fun. But you’re playing a guitar: how is that not already fun? There are also mini games where you use songs and hit notes in order to proceed forward, such as a space combat game and duck shooting ala carnival game style.

Another aspect that Rocksmith was concerned about was churning out too much product in a short time frame, like Activision and EA/Harmonix. Gamers were too overwhelmed by the same repetitive products that people were not interested in buying them. RockBand 3 had a keytar. Woo.

Rocksmith will work with any regular guitar and bass with a quarter-inck jack. It’s as simple as plug and play. The biggest investment is, of course, buying a guitar. But the interface is really interesting and it feels intuitive. I remember reading about this back in 2011 where Ubisoft brought in professional, and well known, musicians to provide input and test the product. When you see real rockers want to play and learn the songs, you know it’s a good product.

Now if only I had a guitar…yeah. That’s the downside. Your peripheral is an object that costs quite a bit of money. It’s a niche market, but it seems to be quite a unique educational tool that those with the hardware (literally) could find it a useful companion to their studies. It's also a testament to developers allowing teams to go off on their own and make the games that they want. Ubisoft's high standing in the industry is nothing to balk at, but 1.5 million sales typically wouldn't warrant a second game. But they support their team. They're confidant in their skills and that translate to more unique games and experiences. Other companies could learn from this.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Will Your Game Today Matter in 20 Years?

You don't need to be over 30 to understand the reference.
Many of today's youth have played Oregon Trail.
I wanted to read this article yesterday from Mitch Dyer, an associate editor at IGN, about the legacy of video games. His thesis focuses on today’s games being best appreciated today and won’t make for a lasting memory in the future. This isn’t about games that leave an impression on our minds or maintain an emotional tie. Rather, these are games that can last throughout the decades so new generations can pick them up and play and still retain their original value (much like a book or a film). The problem is that gaming is an ever-changing medium. Mario 10 years ago looks different from Mario today. He has the same basic concept, but he has evolved into a less-pixilated plumber.

Part of what prompted this topic was a topic regarding brand value over time at a gaming summit, which looked at franchises like Fifa, CoD, and WoW, games that are not legacy worthy: i.e. you can’t go back and pick up the original Call of Duty. It’s no longer in print nor on a playable format. And Dyer has a good point. A lot of our past with games have been throw-away products. In fact, that’s what much of the industry is built on: creating a product, selling it for 2-3 years, disposing of it and moving to the next title. Think of what you’re playing today and is it something that you can imagine yourself playing 20 years from now? Probably not.

But where I feel Dyer’s argument starts falling apart is when he marks the comparison to film and books, under the assumption that they all have a lasting quality.

They don’t. There are throwaway films and throwaway books and casual plays whose sole purpose is to make money and entertain. Super Hero movies are not ground-breaking content. Neither are romance novels that are a dime a dozen (hell just go to Amazon.com’s Kindle store and see the tens of thousands that are free), or Broadway shows based off of hit-films to capitalize on trends (Spiderman: Turn off the Dark sound familiar?). Not all films are worth the effort to remember or keep as part of a legacy, much like the myriad of video games. And while yes, the medium of film has developed over the years that we take better care and appreciation for what is created, it doesn’t make all worthy. In time as gaming matures, it too will be taken seriously where collector’s will better preserve the past.

In fact, many of us already do. There are more original Nintendo and SNES systems on the market today then there were 5 years ago. More ROM’s and Emulators are available to keep the past alive. Even as content is shifting to become more digital (which would help preserve older games), there are still many of us who see the need to keep the past alive. 

Snake in a box. Classic. And part of a history that makes
Metal Gear Solid worthy of replay.
The next issue I have is the other assumption that films and books started out as art. They grew into their work over time. Many people, when printing and film became first accessible, saw them as fruitless pieces of entertainment. They were good for a few runs and then that’s it. Some were destroyed to save space. Others were ripped from their original reel to try and salvage the film canisters for another project. There are hundreds of thousands of short films from the early days that we will never be able to rescue because of this, and it wasn’t until film became acknowledged as art that people gave a crap about preservation. Gaming is no different, and as it evolves, people will start the care. It’ll take time and it’s not an overnight process, but we’ll get there. It took centuries for books. Decades for film; games will come of age eventually. And early films were crap. I mean, look at them. Usually 2-5 minute clips of people doing random, every-day activities.  In black and white with low quality frame rates and no sound. I don't know about you, but I sure don't want to watch someone pouring milk for 3 minutes. But that's what film was when things started out. The experience that we know today for movies didn't begin until the 1920's when so many of the techniques were developed, and it has grown with technology. Gaming is no different: starting out pixilated on a computer screen and we're now at full movie-like quality characters.

My other concern with Dyer’s argument is that he glosses over important gaming franchises. While CoD is a yearly export along with Madden and Fifa, products like Super Mario and Grand Theft Auto are memorable. If Twitch.TV is any indication, next to League of Legends, the top most played games are pre-2000. People still yearn for classic Mario and the original Grand Theft Auto. They want to save the world as Cloud Strife and as a Pokémon trainer. I still have people asking if I’m willing to sell my original Pokémon Red, Blue, Gold and Stadium games. There is value to the past, even as technology matures. People will remember Tommy Vercetti from GTA: Vice City. While the newer GTA’s are much more advanced, there was an essence to the game that you can’t find anywhere else. A story, a charm, and life that cannot be replicated. The same applies to Super Mario 64. And Final Fantasy 6, and Chrono Trigger (still argued as one of the best RPG’s of all time). There is value in franchises and in the gaming past. People still want it.

It’s not an argument of how long will a game be remembered, rather when will gaming be accepted as art that preservation can begin.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Non-Combat Ready Female Avatars

Before I hear the roars of men, while the women are
covered, by comparison to the male counterparts, it's
obvious that these women are not "combat ready" by
any stretch of the imagination.

Continuing the discussion about female avatar sexualization in video games,Crytek (devs for the Crysis series) is getting some backlash from gamers and the press. They are releasing tomorrow a new product called Warface, a free-to-play FPS. The problem is that the studio has very blatantly taken the stance that the female character choices are wearing slimmer, formfitting, boob exposing clothing because “that’s what the audience wants.” 

According to their test markets in Europe, Russia, and the U.S. more people preferred the avatars with the exposed chests and short shorts versus standard combat gear. Because, you know, when I’m taking up a sniping position, I want to make sure my rack is all out there, making myself an easy target to kill.>.>

The NBC article continued to correlate this issue with the findings from the Stanford University article I posted last week. Sheri Rubin, a board member for the IGDA for women, was concerned about the study and some of the conclusions it tries to present. However, there is an obvious problem if women are objectifying avatars because of their clothing choices. And it is equally a concern that a few vocal minority for Warfare were able to change the attire of the female characters so much that it trivializes the product.

The counter-argument will probably be that most men will play the FPS and probably not choose the female avatars, which is fine. But that doesn’t exclude Crytek from taking responsibility with their product. Not to mention, think about the numerous amount of players they are alienating by having cleavage enhanced females. The gender gap between gamers has been closing more and more every year, and women are more likely to buy a game, whether for themselves or for a loved one, more than a man. What women is going to buy a game with titillating females on the cover? Whoever did their “test groups” should revisit their conclusions, because they are going to lose at least 50% of their potential market. Maybe it's just me, but if I'm looking to sell a game in today's world, I'd try to ensure that it appealed to both genders. Bigger share of the pie, is all I'm saying.

Friday, October 18, 2013

More of that Gaming Photography Stuff

Screenshots are not a new phenom, nor is the concept of using them for artistic expression. And if I could find the link where I posted all of those gorgeous scenic ones that I have taken over the years I would link it right now. But since I can’t, you get more Skyrim. Anyway, GTAV is being used for similar purposes and one street photographer, Fernando Pereira Gomes, is taking his work to the digital world.  The amount of detail and attention to tree physics, no seriously-tree physics, which Rockstar put into the game, makes for a stunning environment to capture. So why not whip out your screenshot macros and start snapping away? His Tumblr, Street Photography V is taking the in-game camera phone and using them to create art. 

It’s amazing to see how completely normal the people in GTAV act and react to situations, and I could see a number of these images settling comfortably right next to IRL versions of street photography.

Unlike others who have altered and tweaked Skyrim to help create the images they capture, Gomes’ approach is to photograph things as they happen. He also limits himself to the game’s mechanics. I.E. he cannot shoot from certain camera angles because of the way the characters stand and crouch. It also means that he can do things in a game that wouldn’t be feasible in the real world. Such as darting out into the middle of traffic to capture an image on the other side of the street; so while it creates more unique and rare moments, the limits on the camera tech make it difficult to fully explore the possibilities. But is that not also part of the challenge with art? Finding or condensing yourself to restrictions to see what your brain can come up with?

When GTAV releases for the PC, you can bet it will be modded to death and the camera restrictions removed by fans. Until then, Gomes has managed to snap some very evocative pieces that are taking the game to a new level of art appreciation.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Activision Wants Their Biggest Sales Record Title Again

When GTA5 broke the sales record for a billion dollars in three days, it didn’t just make heads turn, it caused the powers that be to shift in their seats. Activision has held onto the top spot for years with each release of Call of Duty overselling the last. Call of Duty Black Ops sold $1 billion’s worth over a course of 6 weeks. Black Ops 2 grossed it in 15 days. So Activision has a lot of catching up to do in order to regain their title.

With CoD: Ghosts releasing November 5th, they hope to do just that. $1 billion in less than 3 days. 

Um…good luck with that guys. They’re not only competing against the GTA5 and the latest Fifa, but both Sony and Microsoft are releasing brand new consoles this holiday season. Gamers are going to be hard pressed to drop so much money in such a short time frame. But Eric Hirshberg, Activision Publishing CEO, is confident about the sales.

We're always up against iconic titles, and I know people like to tell a clash-of-the-titans story, but I feel there's lots of evidence that there's room for more than one successful game, and indeed more than one successful blockbuster. And if people only have money for a few games, I like our chances that Call of Duty will be one of them."

There is no doubt that people will buy Call of Duty. It’s a staple of the gaming environment. But, will they be willing to drop so much money in such a short time frame? I doubt it. Unlike CoD, GTA doesn’t maintain an annual release. They spend years crafting their products to ensure they are at their best by the time they are released. And they continually tweak them to update and upgrade, and add more stories so people get more than their money’s worth from their product. GTA4 maintained success for years after its initial release. CoD isn’t like that in the least bit. Because they pump out games every year, it’s difficult to build a following and loyalty to the brand. Again, Ghosts will sell, but not at the speed Activision will need to reclaim their lost title.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Collecting Games When Digital Rules

As the current console cycle begins to slow down and the new onslaught of next-gen releases begins soon, more and more developers are moving to a digital download format for their game releases. And why not? It’s lower overhead cost versus production of a physical disc and box, and one less company to deal with that handles said printing and stamping of the discs. It also means more money for the developers. Do you honestly think that the price of game sales will go down as more go digital? Heck no. That $59.99 (probably $69-89 when the new consoles are out) price tag will remain. It means a larger cut for the devs when they go digital.

So what happens to those of us that still want the disc format? Lazygamer talked to a game collector about this concern, and as someone who also hobbies in the art of gaming, it was interesting to read another point of view. Jason Ashman is an Australian collector and developer who’s collection spans decades-worth of material. His major concern is with the state of Collector’s Edition boxes. The value and worth of such products are going to go down as more content moves online. Even now we see CE versions where the content is completely digital. Spend $20-30 more and you’ll get a digital comic. Um…yea? The value of the product almost feels lessened when we pay for a physical item but get a digital one instead. What’s interesting is that Ashman supports the digital movement. It’ll mean some of the rarer cartridge games will become less valued, easier to grab, and more people will join the collecting world. That would be great, and could potentially open up more stock reserves that were not on the market before.

My concern as a collector is that some current products that have a value may decrease over time. Something that I paid $80 today may only be worth $50 tomorrow because less people are interested in the product. Less interest equals less value. Less value means less people willing to get into the collecting field. Less people in the field completely screws up the pricing range of what does exist on the market. A lot of collector’s buy vintage games for a change to play again. We buy to play. Now I’m the type of collector who likes to keep things in their original casing, preferably never been opened. My signature pieces are from Final Fantasy, Mystic Quest (FF), and Dragon Quest. With more people going online, including retro games, less people are willing to put stock into the physical formats.

It’s a catch-22. Part of what makes people want the physical item is nostalgia. The feeling of an SNES controller in your hands, blowing into the cartridge to get rid of extra dust and help give the game a jump start, even though it really doesn’t work. So there will always be a market for collector’s, but it will start to diminish over the next few years.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Snake (Voice Actor) Is Back In A New Game

We knew that David Hayter wasn’t going to sit idle while the gaming business continued. While he may not be the voice of Snake in Metal Gear Solid V (a fate that is still too cruel to accept),  Hayter has been off directing his first movie. And now he’ll be joining the voice acting cast for The Long Dark, a survival action simulation game. The game is going through a Kickstarter promo right now for a studio called Hinterland, formed in September of this year and comprised of a few industry vets from BioWare, Ubisoft, Riot, and id just to name a few. With the Kickstarter page on its last day and the goal reached, the company will get their funds to continue production of the game.

The Long Dark will be set in the Northern wilderness (well the company is based in Canada, so easy references I can assume) where you, the player, are to survive after a global disaster and knocked out everything of use/value. So now you must find supplies, locate survivors, and try not to go all Mad Max on everyone. The look of the game is Journey meets Limbo, and will involve moral choices that the gamer must make. I feel a Donner Party moment coming. “Do I eat Guy 1 or Guy 2?” And it’ll be a sand-box environment where you’re meant to explore roam, and find the unique elements of gameplay as they happen.  

What will Hayter’s part be in the game? No clue. But it’s David Hayter. Who cares what his role will be! The game will be releasing on PC, and there are no dates as of yet. They’re still crowd-funding after all.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Study Shows Women Objectify Sexy Female Avatars

When we play a game, we temporarily cloak ourselves in the personality and spirit of the character we are portraying. We also take on the characteristics of said avatar. I.E. if one plays a character that is taller, the person will feel more confidant (this is called the Proteus Effect). So when Stanford University did a test to see how women felt after playing as a sexy female avatar, the results are not what I would expect (and completely reinforce the negative culture that we have been striving to break). The results show that women who played the sexy avatars were more likely to objectify them, and even give to the notion of “well she asked for it with what she was wearing.”

That is not okay.

The study was conducted with 86 women who donned head-mounted virtual reality displays. Some avatars wore “sexy” clothing and others were “casual.” The participants had a Q&A session with a random male avatar, which allowed the researches to see how the women spoke about their avatar selves. What they found was the “sexy” clothing women were more likely to focus on physical appearance versus the “casual” clothing. “[T]he results indicate that women who wear sexualized avatars may internalize the features of their avatars and start perceiving themselves in a sexually objectified manner.”

The women were also give a questionnaire and found that more of the “sexy” clothing ones were accepting of sexual assault myths because of the way their avatars were dressed. Even more disturbing is that the women who had their faces rendered to the avatars were the most accepting of assault myths.

That blows my mind. I’ve admitted that I will pick characters or avatars that are visually appealing to me. But I wouldn’t objectify them to think that “oh well, they were asking to be assaulted.” Hell no! It is NEVER OKAY to justify sexual assault by blaming the victim. Everyone has the right to say NO and clothing is never a reason to violate someone’s body.

This is a good example of why we need to change the mindset. Not just for men, but for women as well. The author’s of the study noted a few pathological reasons why the “sexy” clothing women would have leaned more towards accepting the sexual assault stereotypes, but it is also a sign that things needs to change. The culture needs to change. Step 1 is reinforcing the truth that it is NEVER okay to assault anyone. Ever. Hopefully this study will end up doing more good and helping promote awareness of the issues of our cultures.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Zelda Cruel To Animals? Have You Ever Played With The Chickens?

Salon.com is a well known online news and entertainment a website directed more towards the “left side” and independent-politically minded people. They also have opinion columns that can be…well…strong.

 
Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York. He’s written one other piece about how Rockstar hates liberals. Yeah I’m trying to figure out the logic behind that statement. I couldn’t get past the first handful of paragraphs in the piece before I had to stop and laugh. To help put Hochschartner’s point of view into context, he was part of the “Occupy” movement in New York and was arrested for misconduct.  So yes. His perspective is going to be slanted.

So what made Hochschartner want to discuss Legend of Zelda, calling it classist, racist, sexist, and enforcing cruelty onto animals? Well this year marks the 15th anniversary of Legend of Zelda: Ocarna ofTime, one of the keypoint game in the franchise. November 21st to be exact (based on the original Japanese release). There is no better time to talk about Zelda, so let’s get to it. Tell me why the game is so bad!

Well he tackled the class warfare “issue” with the Communist Manifesto. The wealthy family of Skulltulla and the carpenters of Kakariko as the “workers.” Which of course, immediately represents an oppression of the common man. I mean, obviously. They were hired by the wealthy family to make repairs to the kingdom, and are clearly being exploited for their work, with the head of the household calling himself the craftsman and the carpenters as paid labor. With the game focusing on the greed of the wealthy, it ignores private property incentives and mandates the behavior of the rich vs. poor model. Yeah, that’s a big stretch considering how happy and active the carpenters are in the game. In fact, they consider themselves more of a guild and less of a work force. Though Hochschartner would probably interpret that as “the workers were not raised to think that any other lifestyle was appropriate, so they have been corrupted from birth to think this way.” Uhhuh. They seem like happy carpenters to me. You’re reading too much into “class warfare” on this one.

On the subject of xenophobia and sexism: The lighter skin characters are the heroes and the darker, brown skin ones are the villains. That’s basically what Hochschartner is getting at. Taking it one step further, Ganon is probably some variation Muslim because of his castle’s location and the area’s symbol looking similar to the Islamic star and crescent. Which completely ignores the other villains throughout the franchise such as Majora (who isn’t even a person), Ghirahim (white), Agahnim (blue/white), Vaati (white), and Duke Onkled (really white), just to name a few. Oh and Ganon is not brown. He’s green. Argument invalid.

For the sexism claim, he falls back onto Anita Sarkeesian’s argument about “damsel’s in distress.” So really, nothing new or Earth-shattering here. We know going into a Zelda game that there is going to be princess rescuing. It’s part of the series. I wouldn’t really call this overtly sexist in comparison to other games. At least Zelda has Sheik. I know, I know. There is so much to be derived from that, but if you’re going to argue about sexism at least come up with an original point and not re-hash the same material. Or if you are content to repeat, do a better job than a copy/paste of other articles.

Now the fun part that made me want to read the Salon.com opinion piece: cruelty to animals. Even the unknown Zelda aficionados who have maybe played a game once or have friends that do, we all know the horrors that are the chickens. I.E. You do not mess with them. Ever. Try it and you will end up with a dead Link. Though it does make for a much more challenging game in the original NES version when you can get the chicken’s to bug out and torment you eternally throughout your journey to save Zelda. But I was sadly disappointed by the accusations. Hochschartner boils down the argument to this: Party A, a talking cow, and Party B, the people of Hyrule, have come to a mutually beneficial agreement for domestication of said cow. And if this were the real world, Party B would eventually kill and eat Party A.

That’s it.

That’s the entire argument for animal abuse. A real world projection into the video game where you don’t have to kill said talking cow.

He couldn’t have gone after the millions of examples about Link walking around Hyrule and killing the bad-guy insects, foxes, wolves, and what-not. We have a talking cow.

If anything, The Legend of Zelda as a whole spends too much time on the symbiosis of animal and man. Without getting into Link’s wolf transformation and all that, life in general on Hyrule is about respecting your environment and the creatures that live within it. And as I’ve stated before, punch a chicken, get pecked to death: it reinforces the need to treat animals with esteem.

What hurts the most about this “article” is that this is all justified by a link to the Women vs. Tropes video game series from Feminist Frequency. “[I] t’s both possible and even necessary to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspect.” Absolutely. In order to appreciate anything, we need to be able to analyze it with a critical eye and peel apart the layers. But this isn’t what  Hochschartner has done. Instead it’s a slap-dash, rip-apart, rant about everything that is Zelda in order to make the reader feel like they were coerced in their childhood to be elitist, sexism, animal hating people.

The “piece” is meant to stir gamers and non-gamers alike to get a reaction. Thus more views. Thus a potential for further articles.

While I don’t advocate giving this man more web hits, because the writing is no better than a high school student who threw together a term paper the morning it’s due, it is funny to read and shake your head at.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

There Are Rational, Non-Gamers, On Our Side

An international group of accredited media scholars, psychologists, and criminologists, 228 to be exact, are asking the American Psychological Association to review their stance regarding media violence in a letter addressed to the APA.  In 2005, the APA released a statement that advocates the reduction of violence in video games and interactive media marketing to young children. Of course it was met with controversy, and FoxNews drool puddles. The idea of video games linking to real world violence is a “classic illusion correlation” according to the letter-writing scholars.

Gaming theory and studies are still in their early years. No one has provided conclusive evidence that there is a link between violent games and increased violence in children. The main reason, as the Time article points out, is there is no quantifier for aggression. Does playing a violent game cause more aggression then watching a sporting match? (And let me tell you, having gone to conventions where there are football events that same weekend, the sports fans get way more out of control then the gamers by a million times in comparison: but we’re labeled the bad ones because we like video games.) There is no template to measure what is aggressive, and what may trigger one person’s aggression may not in another.

Since receiving the letter, the APA is reviewing their policy. They want to keep the science straight and not muttle it with invalid facts or lack of information. Or, as the 228 academics have stated, illusion correlation. Heck, it’s a stereotype at this point. “You play a game? Oh you must be super violent.” We need to remove these factors from the equation, and I hope the APA will look at the issue from a professional perspective.

Which Is The Real Game Image?

I'm F5-ing the crap out of the D*Con website in hopes that I can snag a room at one of the main hotels.

So you get an easy-going story today. This one is about Photoshop and Beyond Two Souls. That game with William Dafoe and Ellen Paige that everyone has been talking about since it's release yesterday. Why is it funny? Well some of the photos could be plausible in a David Cage game. Because he's David Cage and likes to throw in the unexpected and weird. It's what he does. So yep. Funny Photoshop pics of Ellen Paige's game character. Enjoy!

*goes back to F5 camping*

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Item Bag Weight - For Science!

Ever wondered how much weight a game character actually carries when they have their seemingly endless inventory right at their finger tips? Probably not, but Vsauce decided it was a worthy cause and created a video of reality and physics versus gaming world logic. No surprise that the things characters can carry is ridiculous. “A crap load” seems like a very scientific term when you think about the amount of stuff they have in reserve. “You mean I can carry a rocket launcher, three submachine guns, this ax, this ice pick, this flame thrower, 5 grenades, and still have plenty of space left for my lunch?”

The science is interesting. I mean, we all know that in reality we would never be able to bear the weight of a GTA main character, but it’s still fun to discuss. In GTAV we’re looking at anywhere from 600-800 pounds, or your average sports motorcycle on your back. And then there’s Minecraft, which gets up to metric tons and at that point it gets silly. Vsauce also decided to break down the weight of the human brain, or the emotional weight of Teenage Muntant Ninja Turtles action figures. Which is a lot. At that point it's a magical bag of loot. There is no other explanation needed.

Enjoy science today!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Gaming Movies Will Never Be Like Their Counterpart

As if it hasn’t been made obvious over the years, I’m not a fan of ‘video game movies.’ Except one.   Nor do I like the idea of cramming games into the movie framework in order to discuss them.
Given Hollywood’s need to find the next thing with superhero films beginning their decline (the last great one will probably be The Avengers 2 and it will drop from there), video games have been tapped. We know there is going to be a Metal Gear Solid movie, Need For Speed is releasing next year. There’s potentially a Halo movie that keeps getting an on again, off again response, and Assassin’s Creed in the mix. Titles are being purchased left and right for a chance at something big and it could lead to something amazing.

But as the former Mass Effect movie writer, Mark Protosevitch stated in an interview, it’s rough work adapting a game into a movie.  I think this is where the “no sh*t” sign should be raised. Protosevitch is the screenwriter for I Am Legend and The Cell. So he has some credibility and can work with science fiction material. He started as the head writer to at least get the basics of the story down knowing that he may or may not be replaced by another that will fine-tune the script. So Protosevitch wrote a few drafts and his focus was on adapting the story to replicate the game as much as possible. “That story, it was very much the first game. And that was the approach.” When you compared Mass Effect to the rest of the franchise, the first game was very story driven, so it’s a good approach to being with. Protosevich was replaced by Morgan Davis Foehl. What’s his credits? Click, I Now Prononuce You Chuck & Larry, and a movie in post production called Cyber which he is the head writer on. Yeah…let’s all weep together.  But he’s not dismayed. His original skeleton may still be used for the film, and he’s eager to see the final product.

The article touches on a very important aspect that many people seem to overlook when it comes to film adaptations: things are going to be left out of the script. As Drew Karpyshyn, one of the ME founders, stated way back in April that it would be impossible to include everything from the game into a movie format.  Characters will not be seen, Dialogue will be altered or removed entirely. Certain plot points will not be acted out. And that’s the reality that we have to accept if we want video game movies. Which is very difficult to achieve and…well…we’re a picky crowd anyway. We get miffed when a favorite sight gag isn’t included in a Legend of Zelda. In the same way Harry Potter readers were upset to see some scenes and characters removed, as gamers we’ll do the same thing.

The point of this article is that 1. I’m trying to rationalize and give myself some food for thought that maybe, just maybe, we’ll start seeing some good video game to movie adaptations. And 2. To help provide realization to you, the blog reader, that all video game movies are not going to be an exact replica of the original product.

Mostly I’m going for point 2.

I am always irked when I leave a theater after watching a film based on a book or a play and having friends and other patrons go “they didn’t have this scene!” or “they totally left out this really great character.” Well…yeah. Imagine taking a 700 page novel and condensing it into a 2 hours film. Just imagine. Actually, try doing it. Seriously. Google the basics for how to screen write, get yourself the Microsoft Word template for screenplays (it’s free), read a few screenplays, and go. You’ll find out quite fast how challenging it can be.

For every one page of a script, it represents about a minute of screen time. Font is typically 12 point Courier with scenery and suggested camera shots taking up the typical margin space. Dialogue and character actions are condensed even further into a 3.5-4 inch margin on the page. You can see the example photo of what I mean. That equates to a minute. Multiply that by 120 pages and you might get the first 20 minutes of game play from Mass Effect in there (between the dialogue, the scenery, and the actions).

So we might not see Wrex in the Mass Effect movie. Or Garrus. Or Tali. Or even all three. We will most likely see Liara or a clone of her, and Ashley as part of a love triangle with manShep. Oh, don’t be so surprised. Of course Shepard is going to be male. It’s an action, sci-fi movie after all. We can’t have a female heroine as the lead. We won’t see those myriad of side-missions involving the repeating bases and endless throngs of Husks. There will be Husks. Believe it. And Geth. Eden Prime, Noveria, and Virmire will be important to incorporate. And if Kaiden is in the story, he may live through it. We can’t kill off Ashley; that would disrupt the love triangle. So like in Star Trek, it may be a red coat that gets offed when setting off the nuke instead of Kaiden. If there is no Garrus or Wrex, Kaiden will be the go-to friend for Shepard. Why no Wrex or Garrus? Well this is a story about Humanity trying to find its place in the galaxy. What better way than to have the all Human ship take down Saren and the Reaper?

And that’s just the beginning. I’ve already managed to cut out half of the cast to help alleviate some of the movie runtime restrictions, create a love story, and a cohesive theme that will draw audiences in.

This is what writers adapting projects must do. So don’t start throwing around blame or jumping to conclusions when you see the next video game movie. Remember that the production staff had to make decisions to best fit the movie, the budget, the audience, and the direction of the piece. We may not see Wrex, but I think that’s okay. He might get a voice change and all hell will break loose.

On the other side of things, movies like Need For Speed, in all of the irony that is and ever will be, might be our best chance at having a "good" video game adaptation. NFS is an open-ended game. The story that does exist is free to interpretation. It's simple, easy, and doesn't clutter up the cars and the action of racing. In many ways, having a very minimal framework to start a script allows for greater creativity. Almost like a fan fiction, it allows for better character development and can potentially draw in a wider audience versus the gaming crowd (I know we make up a huge chunk of the population, but we're still small in comparison to the world at large).  Maybe this is exactly what is needed for gaming movies to gain popularity. Maybe it's not. Who knows for sure. But I'd like to think that there will eventually be a good game-based movie in the U.S. Hopefully sooner over later.

UK Writer's Awards Announced

The Writer’s Guild UK has announced their annual list of nominees in the achievement of writing. The category of New Media and Video Games is still fairly new, starting out in 2007 alongside its’ American counterpart, but has listed quite a few big name titles and critical darlings. 

“Why should we care, it’s the UK?” When it comes to games and books that tend to cross borders easily versus television or movies, we may see some of these names reappear for the US Writer’s Guild Awards taking place next year. The finalists are Tomb Raider, Lego City Undercover, and Thomas Was Alone. In the case of the Lego game, it’s one of the first from the franchise with full voice acting. So a very strong comedic background to counterbalance the more dramatic heavy content such as Tomb Raider.

I grew up playing Tomb Raider, uncovering the world's secrets and unearthing its treasures. I have lived and died as Lara Croft, but nothing comes close to the challenge of re-writing her." Rhianna Pratchett, lead writer, Tomb Raider.

I know it’s a small field and not all big hits in terms of sales, but from a writer’s perspective, this is pretty stiff competition with a variety of possibilities. Do you go with the anxiety of Thomas, the way expressionless shapes of objects and creatures enhance the need for detailed writing? Or the lighthearted, but well timed humor of Lego?

Friday, October 04, 2013

What Has Kickstarter Done For Gamers?

Yesterday, Polygon asked its readers to join in on a conversation about Kickstarter, specifically if they felt the website was failing video game fans. If you have 30 minutes to spare, it’s worth the watch. The minisode was hosted by 2 Polygon members, one being part of the editorial staff, and looked into how Kickstarer is helping the indies, while not really delivering on promises.

But it’s an interesting question to pursue given how many people are looking to crowd sourcing for funding their video game endeavors. While there have been a few successes, there have been just as many, if not more, failures or games pausing while they work on internal issues.  The release of Shadowrun has given some hope that the Kickstarter fad can help out developers. But I also think that this is a situation of us, the gamers, expecting too much, too fast.

Game development takes a long time, even for smaller projects. When you care about the final piece, you can spend years crafting it until it  reaches the level that you have always dreamed of. Take a look at mobile games, for example. They are always coming out with new releases, updates, and game modes to better the product. And to keep people interested, but that’s not the point here. The games that have gone under on Kickstarter have been due to unforeseen issues (need for additional financing, for example) or the developer didn’t properly compute the time it would take to make the game.

It happens. People over-estimate and under achieve (not always intentionally, of course). It's a bit early to say that Kickstarter is failing gamers. Rather, they need to give the projects time to cultivate and see the light of day, which can take years. Give it 5-10 years for crowdsourcing and then we'll have better data to pull results from.

So how do you know if the game you’re supporting is going to be released? You don’t. The best thing that you can do to ensure that your money is going towards a worthy project is to research. Find out about the company, if this is their first game or fifteenth. Learn about their team and what their turnaround time is. And if all else fails, ask! That’s why there is a comments and Q&A section on each Kickstarter page.

Give the Polygon video a watch. What do you think about Kickstarter failing gamers?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

ICRC Wants To Punish Gamers For Digital War Crimes

Even the most "realistic" war games are pretty
far-fetched in terms of what actually happens on the
battlefield. And, shock, most gamers know that.

This is one of those news stories where I think it would be best if you read the article first and then we’ll go from there. The jist of it is the ICRC, that is the International Committee of the Red Cross, wants to punish gamers for war crimes in virtual worlds.

Read the article, let it sink in for a moment, and come back. I’m sure we’re all feeling the same thing.

.
..

Did you read it?

Great. Let’s all make the O_O WTF face together now.

What the ICRC is claiming is that video games trivialize the reality of war, and that people will become indifferent to these acts over time, to the point that the behavior will be perceived as acceptable. I’m not entirely sure what video games glorify war crimes, but okay. To top it off, the spokesperson for the ICRC, Bernard Barrett, said they are not trying to censor games or spoil fun. Instead, they want to make it clear that there are rules of combat and gamers should be punished if they kill prisoners or shoot ambulances in the games themselves.

"We're not asking for censorship, we don't want to take any elements out of the games [.] We're not trying to make games boring or preachy, but we’re hoping that the ones that offer a realistic portrayal of a modern battlefield can incorporate some sort of reward or penalties depending on whether they follow the basic rules of armed conflict.”

Now from a gaming perspective dealing with modern war, I could see how adding in a system of checks and balances to ensure gamers are getting penalized for harming civilians can greatly improve the reality of a game. At the same time, it’s a game. It’s not real. It’s not meant to be real. There’s a reason why Call of Duty and Battlefield are NOT combat simulations used by the military. In fact, most governments that can afford the equipment have developed their own simulators that, *gasp* actually take into account civilian causalities and how to handle prisoners of war. 

There has also been no clear link made between games causing a change in a person’s behavior. Even with people calling for new studies, more are coming out every month showing the exact opposite of what people have been told: people are not becoming violent psychopaths because of games. 

I think what really annoys me the most is that they are singling out video games. What about books? Or paintings? Or television? Or movies? Those mediums of entertainment depict war crimes realistically and their creators are never punished. So what about the people who spend their weekends reenacting the Civil War? Or the books that dive into very gritty details about the Holocaust? Shouldn’t they be equally as subjected to repercussions as gamers would?

While they may have had good intent, the ICRC is coming about this at the wrong angle. And throwing out thee “but we don’t want to censor anything” argument is not helping their case at all. If they could approach this from a different perspective they would have a better outlet for their concerns. If they team up with developers to help create games about the current conflicts in the world and the importance of aid, that would be a better start. Under this premise of punishing gamers for doing something that happens in a virtual world of non-existent conditions will not win them the audience they were hoping for.

Adieu to Tom Clancy

Before I get into today’s posting, we have to send a fond farewell to Tom Clancy who passed away yesterday at the age of 66. Most of us gamers know Clancy’s work with Ubisoft and the myriad of games that bear his name. He founded Red Storm Entertainment to begin publishing his own content, which Ubisoft purchased in 2000 and the legacy was able to continue.

For myself as a film nerd, I’ll remember his books gone movies such as The Hunt for Red October. He was the type of writer that got involved in the projects. While this is more common these days, it wasn’t so much back in the early 90’s. He wanted to bring a life to his movies and games that you rarely see from authors of his caliber. He was a force in the literary and gaming world, and he will be missed.

For those who may be interested, Clancy's recent, and last book, will be released this December.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

I Like GTA, And I'm Still A Feminist

I am a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series. Many of you may have picked up your first GTA with San Andreas or 4, I started with the first game, when it was only available on PC in 1997 and was a top-down version of the game. The infamous birds-eye view of driving around a city, completing missions, and leaving a path of destruction in your wake. Good times. 

About this point I would have a group of men raising the Question Mark Flag. “Wait. You play Grand Theft Auto? But you’re a girl.”

Good eye, Copernicus.

Correction: I’m a woman. I entered adulthood a long time ago and it was painful. Still is.

And yes, I play Grand Theft Auto. I enjoy it immensely. #5on my Top 10 games will always and forever be Vice City. There is a satirical and sophisticated manor in which RockStar approaches the series that makes me smile. I enjoy GTA for many of the reasons men do: the cars, the random acts of over-the-top completely unrealistic violence, the ridiculous stereotypes, and the ability to steal an Army tank and just go crazy driving into a city. Having different genitalia doesn’t restrict what I can and cannot find entertaining.

For those who are ready to point out that I am a feminist, and GTA should be the last game on my “to play” list, I respond in kind with the overkill nature that is Grand Theft Auto.GTA is so into its own headcannon that insanity ensues. You can’t take this game seriously. You have to have an open mind and a very forgiving sense of humor in order to appreciate what the developers are trying to present. While misogyny and elite sexism are rampant in the games, by no means do the worlds themselves relate to a realistic counterpart. They are over-saturated and comical versions of any potential real world comparison. I can be a feminist and enjoy GTA because I understand that the franchise is about the excess and over-the-top nature, very much in the same breath as Scarface, Goodfellas, and Miami Vice (movies and tv shows that thrive on the excessive nature of the genre they are attempting to embody).

You can’t play GTA and take it seriously. And at the same time, that’s part of the message Rockstar is conveying to the audience.

I’m sure I had a few readers tune out after that last statement, but think about it. One of the things that we appreciate about RockStar as a developer is their ability to tell dynamic stories. Bully, Red Dead Redemption, and LA Noire represent some of the best that games have to offer. They are also very genre specific. RDR is the gritty Cowboy movies of the 1960’s and 70’s. Bully is the school-age romp from the 1980’s ala. Animal House. And LA Noire is a page out of the detective dramas of the 1930’s and 40’s. By focusing on particular sub-sets of the narratives, RockStar is able to provide more focus on the messages they are trying to convey to the audience/gamers. Bully, for example, is about how life really can get better after school. RDR: Hope is a fragile, metaphysical concept. It can easily flicker away with a blink of an eye. But if you believe in it enough, it can be your courage, your strength, and your motivation to do the impossible.

So what is GTA trying to tell us? It’s an over-stylized game of the crime genre: sometimes dealing with the mobs, sometimes drug dealing, and other time’s just random acts of insanity. But at the heart of it, GTA tells us to dream bigger, be bolder, be ambitious, and don’t let the lies of society trick you into believing that a world like GTA actually exists. Actions always have consequences. At the same time, GTA glorifies said actions. It gives you the opportunity to live this life that is completely unlike your own, in a movie-glorified manner.

This is why I play GTA. The ludicrous nature of the series gives us all the more reason to sit and analyze what the developers are trying to tell the gamers. It’s a complex and constantly evolving series. Where one person may see random acts of violence, another may see it as a great prompt to discuss race relations in the U.S. I relish the fact that these games are seemingly simple on the surface, but incredibly intricate the more you dig in. Because just when you think you get what GTA is trying to say, you find something else to latch onto that you never realized before.

I like GTA. For all of the misogynistic overtones, the ridiculous acts of violence, and the questionable taste in incorporating demeaning stereotypes, there are so many things the franchise can teach us. If you’re willing to take a look, that is.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Need For Speed Movie. Yes We’re Talking About It

For the millions of those who were glued to their TV sets Sunday night for the Breaking Bad series finale, you were treated to a 90 second plus  trailer from the new Need For Speed movie staring, Aaron Paul. Good tie-in for Paul’s future movie career. 

If you haven’t played any of the NFS games, the franchise is owned by EA (shocker!) and it basically follows you, the player, as you win street races for credibility and what not. Nothing big or Earth-shattering, but what made NFS stand out against other games was the inclusion of police pursuits, drag racing, and car customization that you don’t see with the traditional racing genre. With each version came more cars, more customization, and more “street battles.” But the story itself is pretty simple to non-existent.

What a perfect game to make into a movie! The NFS movie’s storyline follows a man who has been released from prison after being framed by a wealthy business associate. He plans to race across the country for revenge, while said ex-partner places a bounty on his head.  

Complete crap? Sort of. But NFS was never about the story. It was about the cars, going fast, and crashing. The movie will release March 14, 2014. I don’t think this will be the needed push for gaming movies to make a dent in the industry. It looks like your basic action film that’s trying to be a little too serious for its own good. Which is fine. There is a need for those movies every once in a while. Hopefully the acting talent will elevate the dialogue and story up a few notches because the trailer was not that impressive. We’re probably going to be waiting a bit longer for the right gaming movie to be released here. I'm not going to hold my breath on this, but if it pulls in a few more people from the Fast and the Furious viewers, then it'll make a dent in sales.

At least Ace Attorney gave us hope.