Monday, March 31, 2014

Decluttr Your Games

Perusing the business section in the Wall Street Journal (what...I can be high brow sometimes), I was surprised to see a blurb about a used game business. Not because it dealt with video games, which The Journal typically shys away from, but the business model of Decluttr. Cute name.

Their business model is fairly straight forward. Decluttr will buy all of your games.

No seriously.

All of them.

Even that beat up copy of Madden 2012 that you own.

Unlike GameStop, BestBuy, or even Amazon, they will buy all of your sh*t no matter the condition. They also purchase CD's, DVD's, and most media content for resell.

The company began in England in 2007 and recent migration to the US have netted them over a whopping $150 million in revenue last year.

Holy crap. For a lot of crap!

Here's the logic: When you go to a GameStop with a pile of games, after the first few the sales associate will most likely say "We can't buy these. No one will want those" and offer you nothing for a few games, and a measly amount for the rest. It's discouraging and can turn people away from wanting to go through the hassle again with another business, instead opting to try and sell them online through eBay or other auctioning sites. Decluttr doesn't do that. They will take any video game. In doing so, they may find that one nugget of gold amongst the pile of trash that can be resold. Why? Because you're more willing to sell your stuff when they will take all of it. Not a bad deal. Does it mean a potential to lose a profit for a day? Absolutely. But the numbers are no mistake. They're making money from this venture even when products will not sell.

Some reviews that I have read show that they do require you to have the original manual and case for the games - others say they only need the game. Even if it's scratched up, they'll buy it and do any repairs through their facility. So it's best to ask them and read their policies before going through the process.

And like other start-ups such as Gazelle, they pay for the postage to ship your games to them. Their pricing algorithm is based on how much of that title is in stock, how fast it sells, and how much it's currently going for on Amazon and eBay (so you get a good comparison between the high and low end point of sale). Collector's, this may not be a bad way to make some space if you need it...or you want quick cash that isn't through GameStop.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Where Are The 'Religious' Games?

For those who follow me through Facebook, you may have noticed a post that I'll be hosting a panel at A-Kon this year titled: The Mythology and Mythos of Final Fantasy. Being a FF nerd, it should not be surprising I would choose that series to start with. But my interest is mostly in the mythology and mythos aspect of the games, and as I continue to research and prep for this panel, I'm finding very few games integrating current religions without overlapping others or twisting their origins to fit the game's parameters. There are very few games that focus on one religion, and if they do they tend to be "religious" games reenacting scenes from the Bible or the Qur'an. Wait, have they made one for the Qur'an? Google says no, but there are a few Christan games like Captain Bible in Dome of Darkness. Okay, so not a retelling of a bible story, but it's along the lines of what I'm looking for. Games that focus on one religion, whether it be a real-world variant or one completely made up for the world the game resides in, and developing stories from it.

Why am I interested in this topic? Why have religion involved in games at all? Well if you're an Atheist, you can easily argue that all religions are stories and could easily fit within the framework of a video game and re-purposed. But according to the Washington Times (not the Post, sorry) in 2012 84% of the world's population have faith and practice some type of religion. 84%! That is a lot of video game potential! So why are there less then 2 dozen "Christian" games available? Why can't we find one about Buddhism, Hinduism, or even one for Atheists?

Well my interest is stemming from the research I have been doing with Final Fantasy and the types of mythology they employ in their games. In that THERE IS SO MUCH OF IT. FF draws heavily on multiple religious and mythological influences to create it's parts that it almost clouds the original origin of those pieces. Shiva, "the Destroyer" in Hindu religion, is now best known to gamers and a lot of non-gamers as the Ice Queen from Final Fantasy. Carbuncle is a red precious stone (also the name of a boil), is a Latin American creature believed to terrorize the living for any sins they have committed. Now? It's a fuzzy green rat with a red gem on it's forehead. The emotions that these beings were meant to evoke in a video game have been diminished by their use over time. In turn, the spirituality that they bring into the story also fades because they are no longer seen as representations of Gods and Deities. Instead they are Ice and Fuzzy Rat.

Now I've typed all of this not as an argument against the use of multiple religious and mythological icons in a story. They provide context and understanding in situations that may be difficult to accept. "What this message we want to get across in our story?" Throw in Diablos and you know the focus becomes 'death.' And it has allowed so many of us to learn about different cultures through these religions nods. How many of us have gone online to look up where "Doomtrain" came from? Or how about The Chantry from Dragon Age? Or sought out a copy of 'Dante's Inferno' after playing Devil May Cry? These icons, names, places, all serve well with video games no matter how they are developed and portrayed to the audience. I'm completely fine with brand new religions being introduced into the sphere, because sometimes our real-world religions are just not enough. They need to take stronger, or more lenient, standards in order to make 'this' character more like what they want to portray. (I'm dancing on the lines of morality there.)

I find it interesting that there as so very few focused solely on one religion or a retelling of one tale. Untapped market. That's all. I could go on for pages, but I'll leave it here. New things to think about!

But if you want to keep going, Inglorious Gamer did a piece on the history of religion in games last year. Again, the focus is more on the little bits and pieces that make up a game's story, or the hidden gems of mythology, but not games specifically focused around a religion or a bevy of them.

Leland Yee Might Be Cozying Up With Disbarred Attorney Jack Thompson

California state senator Leland Yee, a Democrat who was the spearhead in the initial law that would criminalize retailers for selling M rated games to children, and subsequently pursued the case up to the Supreme Court, defending it, has just been indited for bribery, wire fraud, and may be a possible member of a crime syndicate.

I'm just going to leave it at that, go off to my corner, and laugh my ass off. Yes, I know. I'm a bad person. I'm not laughing at him for going through the mess he now gets to handle. It's the irony of "video games are corrupting our kids" and yet! and yet here you are, Mister Senator, setting the worse possible example for kids by lying, cheating, and supporting fraud. That has a much greater impact on children and how they view adults and the world then any video game ever could.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

White Male Privilage In Geek Culture

Truth time: It took me 15 minutes to find a photo for
this post. Googling "geek girl" prompted the Halloween
'sexy' costumes, lots of half-nude women with black, over-sized
glasses, or stereotypical 1980's movie/tv geeks.
Why haven't we evolved to show REAL geek women?
I'm just going to leave this here for you all to enjoy and walk away.

.

..

...

Oh fine. I'll talk about it for a few. My friend Katelyn linked me this article, because she thought of me and the "wall of sex" term I love to use around Halloween when costumes are  out in-mass for sale. And the article is very much worth taking the time to sit down and read. It was written in 2011, and it took me 2 breaks and some of lunch to get through it all. The brief synopsis is a look at why and how women are being out-casted by geek culture and how men are prompting it.

I was tickled by this portion:

"Everybody loves Olivia Munn when she enters the room ass-cheeks first as Aeon Flux, but nobody is particularly concerned by the girls dressed in a baseball tee, jeans and ballet flats. One of these is welcomed into geek culture with open arms, the other has to justify their existence in the first place."

Can I hear an Amen? Since being deemed the Nerd Princess by Brian Ashcraft on Kotaku, Munn hasn't lived up to the ideal that geek women would have liked in a role model. She's a beautiful women. And flaunts it in a way that asks for unrealistic expectations for others to follow. And why would we want to follow her? Well it's so we get accepted in the geek community, of course. And how do we do that? We have to cater to the single, white men who dominate the system.

I type some of that in jest, but there is truth to it.

By the way, this was written by a white male who would fit into the "elite privileged" group being discussed. Yep. Worth the read.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

GDC Women And Silly Ohio

This is one of those days where I flip through the news and say "Okay...how did these end up under the same search?"

After last year's Twitter boost of the hashtag #1ReasonWhy, with the subsequent panel at GDC, the second year of the same panel brought another inspiring speech from an indie female game developer. Deirdra Kiai has won several awards for her work over the past year, and shared her experience of what it's really like to be a woman in the industry. I think what really hit home was this: "Making games is easy. Belonging is hard....I could make a million games with the energy that trying to belong takes out of me." Yep. We know exactly how that feels.

And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, the Huffington Post has a story about video games promoting racist behavior among white players. 

...what?

Apparently, according to a research released from Ohio State University, playing as a black character in a violent game reinforces stereotypes, and causes white gamers to hate black people. Or something along those lines. As a good journalist should, the Huffington Post found someone to counteract the crappy study (I mean just read it. It's inherently biased and intentionally seeking out a negative outcome against video games). 126 white undergraduate students were given a random avatar to play in Saints Row 2, and a mission: a violent one or a non-violent one. No other races or ethnicity were included in the test. White students playing either a white or a black avatar. And it turns out that most of the "random" missions selected for the black avatars were violent related. It probably doesn't help that the game was Saints Row 2. Even Saints Row 4 has more cartoonish violence then 2. "It's really just not a very good study." Thanks Dr. Chris Furgeson. I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

90%+ Violence, According To Time

Another article review day, but when Time publishes a piece about video games causing increased aggression, slowly but surely, you have to stop and read it. It's Time. One of the leading magazines in discussing world events, culture, and history better then any other outlet available. So of course I had to stop and read it.

I made it through the second paragraph.

"Approximately 90% of children in the U.S. play video games, and more than 90% of those games involve mature content that often includes violence."

 That single statement made me question the legitimacy of the rest of the article. According to the ESRB's stats for 2013, which I linked to last Friday no less, only 9% of the games released last year were rated M. 24% were T, 22 were E10+, and 45% were E. See page 7 on the PDF. In order to achieve the E rating, the "violence" level needs to be so insignificant that you can't even tell it's there. These would be games like Animal Crossing, where if there is any violence, it's in the form of comic mischief. If there's too much, the rating gets bumped up to E10+. Even Disney, the company of wholesome, family fun, has E10+ Mickey games! When Mickey isn't in the E category, you know the rules are pretty strict. But still, 45% of all video games released last year were E. Even when you add up E10+, T, and M, that does not equal the 90% of violence that Time is boasting.

It would also help to qualify what is "violence" in Time's definition. Is it an R rated movie or Looney Tunes cartoons? Or both? Or neither? Is it only when someone is punching a person, but not shooting a gun in self defense? "Violence" can refer to any number of things, and each view of it will differ from person to person.

And if you keep reading the ESRB findings, Just Dance and The Sims 3, and it's myriad of expansion packs, were some of the top sellers last year. Sims do showcase violence if you personally set them on fire and make them starve to death. But most people don't do that. They just play the game.

So Time...what violence are you talking about?

Note: I speed read the rest of the article. I'm indifferent on the findings and don't feel they were detailed enough to give significant results. Mostly I'm disappointed in Time's lack of evidence in linking or at least providing where they pulled their figures from. It seems like it came out of thin air...or their butt. Probably the latter.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Yes. Trade-In Game Values Still Suck

I can admit to being exhausted today. So much so that any sensation news headline is grabbing my attention. Like this one!

'How video game stores are ripping you off.'

Woah. That's a serious accusation, news-dot-com-dot-au. But away I click. Let's see what you have to say.

The story focuses on the horrible trade in values for video games. And that's a "no duh, Sherlock" moment if I've ever had one. Games that are traded in to retailers are going to be for a much lower value then their original purchase price. Example: When you buy a car brand new, use it for a few years, and want to trade-in in, do you expect to get your full retail value of the car from the time you purchased it? Of course not! The car has been driven for years. It has door dings, paint chips, ass marks on the seats, and a poorly tuned stereo. When you sell it, it'll be at a lower value BECAUSE it's used. The same principle applies to video games. To expect full retail on a used product is...silly. No one would be in business still if they did that! There's no profit or gain to a company to do that.

And really, it's just the writer feeling bad for his brother that he didn't get the "full value" of his products. Whelp, that was his choice. No one at the store forced him to accept the trade. He could have left at any time and try his luck with eBay or an auction site online. But he didn't.

It also didn't address the WHY part of stores giving not-so-great trade-in values.

Good job with the crappy article guys. I'll roam the internet a little longer to find a better story to make fun of. 'Turkey attempts to ban Twitter in country.' That's more like it!

But because I can't say it enough, people, when you have a game or system you want to sell, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Sometimes the eBay route won't produce the same money as trading it into a store. Watch GameStop's flyers for their  50% additional trade-in, which will stack if you have the GameStop card (at 10% more for each trade). BestBuy does this as well. Just a few more helpful tips to get you more money on your trade, instead of bashing the system because your brother didn't pay attention. :)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gaming Gender Gap - 20 Years Later?!?

Posting a repost!

I stumbled upon this reposting of a Washington Post article dated way back in 1994. What's it about? "The Electronic Gender Gap." Yep. The Post was posting about the boy/girl, male/female inequality with gaming when the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis were the new consoles on the block.

Post.

Sorry. I just want to see how many times I can get away with typing "post" before it becomes a nuisance. I'll stop now.

While the nostalgia factor is great, this is really f-ing depressing. Two decades later and we're still talking about the same exact damn thing; nothing has changed. The industry is focused on male marketing. Video games are not for women or girls. Products are designed for boys and men, using women as objects of desire or things to be rescued. It's this same mindset that has given us a modified Lightning for FFXIII-Lightning Returns, with a larger chest, thinner waist, and more dominant hips.

"Basically, the people who gravitate toward video games are prepubescent males. They're the ones putting in the quarters for fighting games. That's what the market wants, that's what we're going to continue to develop. Girls aren't part of that market, so we don't focus on girls."

Truthfully, I can imagine a lot of gaming companies today saying the same thing. 20 years later and it's still the same mindset. And that's depressing as f*ck. I feel like I'm on an episode of 'Penn & Teller's Bullsh*t'. It's been proven a myriad of times over the past decade that girls and women make up half of gamers. And according to the ESRB's 2013 stats, we are the majority now. Developers can say that they are making more girl/women friendly products, but slapping Barbie or Disney on every title does not work. We're more reluctant to pick up those products because we know that the stories, game play, design, and logical dimensions just plain suck. We want to play a game that we know is worth our money, even when they're not advertised to include us. (Capcom's public relations coordinator commented even back then that their adaptations of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid sold well with girls. Well, you tossed a Disney name on it. That's why. Mechanics in those games were subpar and didn't offer the intensity they brought to Street Fighter.)

I have to thank and recognize The Post (did it again, sorry!) in being one of the early runners in seeing the glaringly obvious issue of gender equality in games and gaming. But now I'm depressed that. I read their article and, if it weren't for the obviously out dated references, I could easily see it being a news piece made today. Nothing has changed in 20 years. Not. A. Damn. Thing.

*sighs*

I'll end this with another quote from the 1994 article that echos the same sentiments many of us feel today:

"What the industry lacks is not social agenda and political correctness, but an openness to different sorts of creative people with insights, messages and styles of expression."

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Virtual Boy Reality!

Haphead is a new web series set to premier later this year, about gamers taking their skills and applying them to the real world, with actual consequences. Ten years from now, gaming technology has exploded and instead of a Virtual Boy, games can connect to your brain and allow for a visual and physical reaction to the game. It's created a group titled Hapheads who live and learn through games, and are addicted to them.

While the concept for the show is not too different from the failed movie Gamer, it's from the crew that created the indie movie Ghosts with Sh*t Jobs, a hit among the theater circuit. The producers hope to take Haphead and transform it into a series that sparks critical thinking not just about games, but about the industry and corporations that are controlling it. There is a FOXCONN-like business that has created this technology, in the webseries, and literally maintains it's users and workforce without any regulations stopping them. It's kind of creepy to think about, but the trailer shows quite a few real-world links to what we're seeing today that what Haphead presents could potentially happen.

Dialogue. It's a good thing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not A Bad Romance

Man...the news is going nuts about Wal-Mart buying and selling used games. The first 4 pages on Google News were filled with it. Good thing GDC (Game Developers Conference) is also happening this week and Gamasutra has jumped in on bringing some of the panels to the web. For those who don't know GDC is a chance for developers and the gaming media to come together and discuss the trends, hits and misses, and issues within the video game community. From sex and sexuality to the "inclusive" vs exclusive crowds, GDC is never short on hot-button topics.

Chris Dahlen of Mad*Pow focused on the simple 1-1 approach on video game romances, in a sliding scale format. Hell, it's really a point system. 1 is when you meet the character and 500 is when you "romance" them into a relationship. Persona is guilty of this, but then again, so is every single dating simulator available. There is no complication to the set-up. You meet the character and follow the pre-set path to try and get him or her to like you through conversations, giving gifts, and selecting activities that, that character likes. It doesn't matter if YOU don't like to roller-blade. That digital girl does, and if you want to win this simulator and get points, you better go roller-blading.

Do instead, Dahlen proposed a 2-integer idea when approaching romance by using rivalry and respect to transform the relationship into something real. Again, a seemingly simple concept, but it's rarely seen in video games. You and said potential romance-able character start out as rivals competing for the same thing. You may make decisions that your rival despises, but over time, those choices can earn their respect when s/he sees the full effect of the outcome. From there, mutual desire can blossom and love can be reciprocated. Is it an realistic portrayal of romance? Of course not, but it's a lot better then roller-blading for points.

You can read the full synopsis of the panel on Gamasutra. I can't wait to see the GDC wrap-ups this year.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Welcome To Used-Mart

I guess my local morning news was right. Wal-Mart will soon start accepting video game trade-ins starting March 26th, with a full inventory of used games available by this summer in every store within the United States. That's a lot of used games. And the merchandising chief, Duncan Mac Naughton, was not shy to say that they want a piece of the GameStop pie in the used market. But then again, who wouldn't? The majority of GameStop's billion dollar sales are from second hand sales of games and consoles, where the publisher gets zero kickbacks and it's 100% profit.

Here's the kicker: Wal-Mart will not offer cash for your games like GameStop or BestBuy. Instead, it's all Wal-Mart credit, which also works at Sam's Club locations. Which, according to Mac Naughton is the key difference between what Wal-Mart has to offer, and what everyone else is currently doing. Why? Because you can use that credit for anything in Wal-Mart. Trade in 40 games for $200 dollars and you're on your way to that new big screen tv you've been eying. Or groceries. Or whatever. It's Wal-Mart. They have everything. That's something BBuy and GameStop can't offer you, which makes sense. They're specialized electronic retailers, and even when you trade in something at BBuy, they tend to restrict your credit to only future game purchases.

The company will also accept almost any game that is handed to them, provided that they are not scratched or damaged beyond repair. And just like everywhere else, if you have the case and manual, you'll get more money from your trade. Refurbishing discs will be sent to a third party company and re-sold with a label denoting that the game is a used product. "Certified Pre-Owned" indeed. They also want to give you more for your trade-in then anywhere else. And to that I say good luck. Mac Naughton stated that they want the average trade in to be $35. Already I can see that not happening. When you consider an influx of inventory with new products, no one is going to give someone $35 for the last Madden release when there are thousands more sitting in stock at the same price for brand new. Wal-Mart makes no money from that trade. Pricing will vary and I highly doubt that $35 model will last.

So other then offering Wal-Mart store credit and a potential higher trade-in value for your game, there isn't much of a difference between what they want to accomplish and what everyone else has been doing for years. Wal-Mart needs something else that will set them apart if they want to capitalize on the used game market.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Can You Be A Famous Actor At Games?

I've brought up this topic previously when discussing voice over actors and actresses who are often heard, rarely seen or acknowledged for their hard work. They work their butts off for a measly paycheck and virtually no recognition save for a mention in the credits (which most of us skip over). No residuals for when a game sells well. Which is still an interesting dichotomy considering how heavily the industry relies on actors and actresses to bring life to a character where there is so much emphasis on voicing and creating realism. But it is a rare thing to have a standout voice actor. Such as Snake from Metal Gear Solid, voiced by David Hayter. (With apologies to Keifer Sutherland, great actor, but NOT Snake.) He has made a name for himself through his portrayal of the stealthy soldier. There are a couple of instances where an actor can rise to a pseudo-stardom among gamers for their character portrayals, but it's still a very rare thing.

So it's interesting to see a news article tackle on the same issue when it comes to motion capturing, as DigitalSpy talks to Troy Baker about Infamous: Second Son, who is the body, face, and voice of the game's newest anti-hero. It's a neat gig, and Baker hopes its the future of gaming where actors can embody the character and be digitally transformed. It's not just the voice people want to see, Baker believes, but the whole performance - that the key to an actor's future for success is to also have their likeness portrayed in the game. Which is why when you play Second Son, it kind of looks like Troy Baker is in the game. Whether this will work to the actors favor is another question entirely. I don't believe that studios will be willing to start forking over for residuals, but maybe it'll help the actors career in the long run to put a face to the voice? I don't know.

Friday, March 14, 2014

PlayStation Now, Now?

I can already feel the anguish from GameFly as Sony begins posting more information about their PlayStation Now services through PSN. Spotted just this morning on the network, some games can be made available for rental for as few as 7 days, and up to 30 days. For free...with a subscription of course. You can go with a one time rental fee and pay per game, or have a subscription to rent and own multiple games at once. Fees have yet to be determined or announced.

None of the content is live yet as the Now services are still in closed testing, but reports have been positive so far. The launch is expected this summer, but may be bumped up sooner since content is already making it's way onto the PSN. But Sony has stated that a connection of at least 5mbs would benefit consumers for a low-latency, higher quality gaming service. So DSL or nothing. Still, I'm excited. As a gamer who doesn't have much time to game as she'd like, a rental here and there directly streamed to my system would be utilized.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

That Weekly Link Roundup Thing

It's that time again! When Val is just to busy to sit down and write a compelling, thought-provoking, or silly article, we go to the stories around the web. And we have some good ones this week.

News Flash! Video Games are getting weird again! Wait. Weren't they already kind of weird? The Verge looks at the independent game Octodad: Dadliest Catch and it's charming, witty ways that have managed to capture the attention of gamers and non-gamers alike. It also dives into the history of these type of games, Parappa The Rapper anyone?, and how the current mobile game climate is the driving force for creativity.

Another independent game is turning heads on the FPS/war genre made popular over the years through Battlefield and Call of Duty. War of Mine has the gamers take on the role of the civilian in a battle-torn town. Instead of playing the solider, you're the civilian. It'll be brutal, no doubt. And while Kotaku wasn't able to pry out to the developers what the game play will be like, it's already causing quite a stir amongst the gamers. The game is set to release on mobiles, PC, MAC, and Linux in 2014.

A real-life version of Mario Kart was made available at SXSW (that's South by SouthWest) after a team up with Nintendo and Pennzoil, because that's a normal mash-up under any and all circumstances. Drivers raced karts equipped with RFID tags that responded to actions on the course. Run over the question mark field, and you got a random item to digitally use against another player. Slip on a "banana peel" and your kart stutters and slows down. Awesome idea. But! You had to be sober to play. No drinking and driving in your kart.

And on the rumor mill, Sony and Panasonic may be teaming up to work on disc technology that can hold up to a terabyte of data. Why bother working on physical discs when the world is moving more towards cloud based data usage? Well the cloud does have rainy days on occasion, and a physical disc allows for gameplay when you can't connect. And in some instances, disc copies of a game can run and install faster then an online service. Of course a game on a hard disc will always win out, but old school gamers like myself still want physical copies. It's believed that the new disc tech will be out by 2015. BTW, the photo linked in the article was the worse option ever. They used Titanfall, a Microsoft exclusive product, to talk about Sony. Good job NYPost!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

25 Years Of Teh Internet

Intentional misspellings aside, today marks 25 years since the birth of the internet. And while most of us did not start the journey online until the mid 90's, it has been an invaluable tool over the past decade that has completely transformed the way we receive and transmit information across the globe.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, yes he has been knighted, originally proposed a universally linked digital information system to CERN to help academics across the globe to access content without needing to be in the lab to do so. The idea spread to businesses and eventually to our homes and schools to become a staple of our society. Without it, well I don't know where we would be and I don't want to think about it. Because those cat pictures are very important to share.

Speaking with CNet, Berners-Lee says that the work is not done yet. The internet was developed with the intention of bringing knowledge to all, allowing access to educational information for everyone without limits or restrictions. Now that we live in a world of government's spying on their own people and invasion of privacy, he wants people to continue reshaping the internet as more then a series of web documents. To him I say 'good luck.' It's a big undertaking to break the habits of so many users and ask them to try something new. Not to mention the government. Because, it's the government. *shrugs* But thank you Sir Berners-Lee for bringing us this amazing and wonderful tool to help connection people globally, share ideas, and create a new digital framework.

So here is one more silly picture from the web. Yea Internet!

http://th05.deviantart.net/fs70/PRE/i/2012/232/0/a/welcome_to_the_internet__please_follow_me_by_sharpwriter-d5buwfu.jpg

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

PlayStation Now - Streaming Soon

PlayStation Now, the new online streaming cloud-based service from Sony that has been in testing since January, may have had a price-point leak for the games being offered. According to Gaikai, games are being offered for as low as $4.99 for full copies. Now these could be placeholder images, mind you. Uncharted 3 and Last of Us at lower then most used games is crazy, but it could be the real deal. Why? Well subscription services. Duh. Much like PlayStation Plus, for a monthly fee you can access today's latest games instantly with Now.

And honestly? That's not a bad deal. A NetFlix like subscription of $10.99 a month to get Last of Us for $4.99? I'm okay with this. If you're an avid gamer, this would be a great alternative to other rental places. I'm sure that like other streaming services there will be limits on how many you can purchase at a time or even rent to own, but it's already a huge kickback to gamers.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Age of Sony Ol' Drawing To A Close

In an unsuspecting twist of, well maybe not fate but it's certainly something, gamers around the world knew on Friday that Jack Tretton, the CEO of SCEA, will be stepping down at the end of the month. According to the company, it was a mutual decision between Tretton and Sony to not renew his contract. However, it's a bold move to be certain. Tretton has been the driving force for the popularity of the PlayStation and PS2 in the U.S, and has helped with the launch of every Sony gaming system to date. He even went so far as to apologize for everyone in the company over the 2011 PSN hacking and taking the blame.

Given the current market with PS4 sales slamming the XBoxOne, and PS4 game sales running over Microsoft's, it's an odd time to have a CEO change when Sony is doing so well. But it may also be a case of leaving while you're still on top: feeling that this is the best that you can do and stepping away because you have achieved your greatness. Current COO Shawn Layden will take over Tretton's responsibilities at the end of the month. His credentials include President of SCEJ and a founding member of SNEI with 15 years of working with Sony.

Whatever the reason for leaving, Jack isn't saying a word and given Sony's current growth, it probably really is a mutual agreement.

Jack, while we thought you were a stick in the mud with your suits and ties, and always looking way too well presented for the gaming crowd, you did bring a lot of great changes to the industry. For that, we thank you and wish you well.


Friday, March 07, 2014

Movie of Us

Whelp, it took no time for Naughty Dog to send out The Last of Us for a movie deal. Screen Gems, whom have bestowed us with the Resident Evil and Underworld movies, had grabbed first dibs on a live action version of 2013's top rated game. Neil Druckman, who was the creative director for the PS3 title, will pen the script.

And another step in hopefully the right direction, Sam Raimi of Spiderman fame, with his production company Ghost House Pictures will head up the team for the project.

The details on who approached who are a bit muddled, but it seems like Naughty Dog has been going after a movie deal since the game's release last June. No details on who will star, what the script will be like, or the release date. Though I think we can all agree that Ellen Page needs to be Ellie.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Shaq Knows Kung-Fu

So Shaq is starting up a crowdfunding project via IndieGoGo for...um...Shaq-Fu: A Legend Reborn.

Yep. The former NBA star and new co-owner of the Sacramento Kings wants to bring back the game that, in the words of many gamers, "sucked the big one" and fix it. As the tagline on the project reads: Shaq-Fu returns and this time we won't FU it up! Shaq, like many other athletes, suffered from the video game boom of the early 1990's when they were licensing out their images for really crappy products. And we're talking about pre-Tiger Woods days when our golfing icon was Fred Couples, and putting was the worse experience ever in a video game. The times have changed, and Shaq feels like today's gaming market would be the perfect time to reintroduce the failed kung-fu master.

For those who don't know, the original Shaq-Fu game was released in 1994 for the Sega Genesis. It follows Shaq as he wanders around a dojo just before a charity bball tournament (like all ball players would do), and discovers another dimension, and has to save a child from an evil mummy. I didn't know there were good mummy's, but that must be the brainwashing from American movies. The game was one of the first to offer different elements on different platforms. If you bought the SNES version later that year, you got an extra level. If you got the GameGear add-on, you got more enemies to face. It also suffered from one of the worse combat systems seen in years, and it was horribly campy in it's storyline in ways that were not humorous or endearing.

And Shaq now knows this. So, he's going to try and redeem it.

Big Deez Productions, which comes from a collection of developers who have worked on Halo, Final Fantasy, and other big name franchises, is working with Shaq to make it happen. They are rebuilding the game from the ground up. New story. New action. A new adventure. The only thing that will maintain is the title of the game and the lead character. Everything else will be unique to version 2.0.

But if you love Shaq and want to see this game made, the perks for donating are kind of nice. Even at the lowest level of $15.00 you will get a copy of the game, which they have planned for a retail for $29.99. You're already saving by donating! At $15,000 you can play a game of basketball, the real deal, at Shaq's house. And if it's still the one that he had on MTV Cribs back in 2000, it's a ridiculously bitchin' house.

It sounds as though the project will go through even if the crowdfunding doesn't reach it's $450k goal, so even if you don't contribute (and why wouldn't you? It's Shaq!), expect to see Shaq-Fu 2.0 in stores within the next 2 years. But no Shazam or Steel 2.0. Shaq doesn't want to go there.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Web of Tubes

Weekly web round up with some random things circling the intertubes.

Let's start out with Nintendo reaffirming it's position to shareholders that it is not giving up on gaming nor is it shifting away from first-party platforms. After a third straight year of underwhelming profits, board members have been pressuring the company to change directions with the business model. Nintendo wants none of that and vows to continue doing what it does best: make great games for everyone to play together.

The fine folks at Rev3Games take a look at the original Superman game and how it started the need for a game rating system. No not Superman 64. That's just a bad game. A bad game isn't the reason. There's more to it then that.

Rhianna Pratchett, video game writer, took to The Escapist's forums to talk about how being a writer for a video game actually works. Hint: It's not one person working on a script. Usually you have a team of 5-20 people working on the same story.

The new Batman Arkham game trailer has been leaked a few days early and is expected to release later this year. Arkham Knight is surprising gamers by being a next-gen console title only. Oh and PC. Because it's PC. But PS3 and 360 users are being asked to "get with the times" sooner then expected. You won't see this game ported to older systems. This will be a PS4/One/PC game only.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Truth In A Stick

After YEARS of waiting, and some handovers on the publisher, South Park: The Stick of Truth is finally out today!

And I got a sneak peak of it, but under the promise that I wouldn't post anything about it until today. If you're too lazy to read the whole post I can easily summarize the game as this:

It's sticky goodness.

There. Now you don't have to read and can go about the rest of your day. Have fun guys!

*walks away*

.

..

...

Oh alright, I guess I could talk about it some more.

There is some obvious bias to my review because I am a South Park fan. Having said that, most of the games licensed out under the brand have been sucky. The Nintendo 64 game was one of the first attempts to bridge the series with a game tie-in, and it wasn't bad. Snowball fights with yellow snow, go-carts, and lots of first player shooting action with random arse weapons, it wasn't bad. The follow-ups such as Chef's Loveshack and Tenorman's Revenge just crap on top of crap in the long lineage of "game tie-ins that suck." The light in the pile of poop was Let's Go Tower Defense, made by an indie company for the Xbox360. And it's still fun to pick up and play from time to time. Yes it's a tried and true concept, but throwing in South Park characters and using different parameters livened up the genre.

So Stick of Truth has a lot of live up to; both in trying to suceed when all of the other games have failed, and to prove that the licensing out of the name can yield at least one fantastic game.

SP: SoT is a role playing game conjuring up a Dungeons & Dragons/Lord of the Rings feel. Of course if you watch South Park and the 16th season with the Black Friday trilogy, you already knew that. You play as the new kid in town and have just been booted out of your house by your parents in order to meet the kids. And then you get swept up in the quest for The Stick of Truth. Cartman is the King Wizard, has raised an army of human cardboard minions to protect the stick from the Elven faction two houses down (because he who holds the stick, holds the truth). You choose your job role as thief, mage, warrior, or Jew, and enlist in the human forces. It's a turned based RPG where you and your teammate (which can range from Butters the Paladin to Kawaii Princess Kenny) slay through the hordes of enemies and Elves. And much like an RPG, you can pick up equipment like fake vampire teeth (vamp kids, ugh!) to inflict additional damage. The fake teeth represents "bleed" damage. Funny. I know.

The game itself is quite short. You can run through it in 10-12 hours with relative ease. What makes the game enjoyable is the replay value. There are an infinite number of job combinations, equipment patches, and upgrades to keep you busy and test out new things. Not to mention the witty dialogue between the characters. You almost want to kill your character over and over again just to hear the myriad of dialogue being spewed from Cartman's mouth. To continue on with the equipment and items, there are also abilities you can unlock as you play. Making friends in the game provides you with more abilities. And yes, there are fart abilities based on what your character eats and how he toots. They're 8 year old kids in the 4th grade. What else did you expect?

What I adore about SoT is how much it replicates the world of South Park. It's the paper-craft digital rendition that we have all embraced over the years, with masking tape patched up cardboard roadblocks and castles included. Jokes involve adult humor, but in the way that it playful to kids. Jew jokes that only Cartman can make, and potty humor that is truly Terrance and Phillip, it's a game where the world has had the best translation from tv show to video game. But the developers took it a step further and instead of trying to rehash a show or a few episodes, they made the game a stand-alone that ties in with the South Park universe. As I was playing I could easily see it fitting in as a bridge between seasons. And yes, all of the jokes you anticipate from the show are free to fly. You almost have to wonder how this game did not get an AO rating on the dialogue alone.

This isn't a perfect game, but this is pretty damn close for South Park's history. There are a few bugs here and there with equipment which is already being addressed by Ubisoft (who bought the rights to the game when THQ went under) so expect some patching soon. And at times the turn based style feels slow when you want the action to intensify. And jokes are repetitive, but that's to be expected when you replay things over and over again. But as a whole, this is a game worth picking to play...over and over again. (I failed at re-wording that, but you get the point.) I can't wait to see what the DLC content has to add to the story.

Next up: I'm still waiting on that South Park Rock Band game. Hop on it guys!

Monday, March 03, 2014

Verizon Wants To Charge Gamers More For Data

So that whole Net Neutrality thing, the one that says in the U.S. all internet usage should be treated equally - that it doesn't matter if you download 2GB or 200GB a month, data use can't be prioritized or given special treatment. The appeals court struck down the law in January saying that it's something that the FCC can't enforce. It doesn't completely invalidate net neutrality, but it does allow for more freedom to companies on how they want to distribute data use. More importantly: how much they want people to pay for it.

The Chief Exec at Verizon wants to start making those changes by making those customer who use more data pay more money. Possibly as soon as this quarter.

With the clauses in net neutrality no longer valid, it's giving companies such as ComCast, Time Warner, Netflix, and Hulu the ability to charge their customers more for how much data they use. Eventually we may see a cellphone plan-like system where you buy a monthly bundle based on your data usage. Obviously if you're a gamer or a frequent movie watcher, you are so going to get screwed over by pricing. And remember, this isn't just PC usage. Your PS3, PS4, Wii, Xbox360, and One all factor into your internet plan.

From a business standpoint, it makes sense. You're using more, therefore you should pay more.

Why are we as internet users not so happy about it? Well for one, we're already paying out the ass for slower speeds. Verizon FiOS for most households is $99 a month for the minimum package. Jump to South Korea where users experience the net for up to 200 times what we have access to, for under $30 a month.

Second, there are still parts of the country with little to no internet access. We're having enough trouble keeping up with the rest of the world on the technological scale. While a good portion of the states can access broadband, most can not or are fortunate to receive dial-up. How can companies expect us to pay more money for the pleasure of the web when we can't even get our neighbors online?

Third, web usage isn't the same as a utility like gas or electricity that come in a limited supply. By using more water, there is less for others so you pay for it. Downloading more movies doesn't really prevent others from downloading or watching movies. It doesn't stop people from accessing the internet. It's just another means of companies to make more money. Hell you're already going to have to pay more in electricity by running that computer all day long. A larger bill to Verizon or Time Warner is just another kick in the balls.

I wouldn't be surprised if these changes occurred over the next few months. I'm already cringing at the thought of my bill.