Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Google Maps Has You Covered This April Fools Day

Google released their April Fools joke a day early, probably because it is too awesome to have it wait one more day. The jokes are becoming habitual each year with larger tech companies, and Google is no exception. They usually have banners to commemorate historical events. Today, for example, you'll see an image commemorating the 126th Anniversary of the Eiffel Tower made open to the public. It's cute and kitschy.

So what's Google's joke this time? Right now, you can play Pac-Man on Google Maps.

Yep. Just visit Google Maps and enter full-screen mode. The icon disappears if you adjust the window. It's best if you pick a map that has a lot of streets...like Paris France! At the bottom left you'll find an icon next to the world-map with good 'ol Pac-Man.

Enjoy the madness.

Monday, March 30, 2015

U.K. Worries About Game Effects While Detroit Embraces Them

The Nantwich Education Partnership in the U.K. has a warning to parents: if your kids play video games like Call of Duty, you may hear from child services. The Huffington Post reports on the crackdown of 15 primary schools and one secondary school to get kids back on "track" with focusing on their studies. Video games are not part of the curriculum. The letter issued to parents referenced that playing such games (Grand Theft Auto included) could lead to "increased sexual behavior."

Yep. They're worried about kids and sex with Call of Duty. I didn't know that was possible in CoD. Have the games matured in their story-line since I last played?

"If your child is allowed to have inappropriate access to any game or associated product that is designated 18-plus we are advised to contact the police and children's social care as it is neglectful."

The letter also warns parents about letting their children access Facebook and Whatsapp, because they may fall pray to "sexual grooming." I didn't know FB was a hookup site. Where the hell have I been?

On the other end of the spectrum, doctor's at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI are prescribing video games to kids. Well, they are prescribing one game, titled 5-2-1-0 Kids. When parents and children come in for a follow-up exam or for a check-up, doctors may prescribe the game as a means of teaching kids in an alternate way of being healthy. Five fruits and vegetables a day, two hours of screen time, one hour of play, and zero sugary drinks.

Their goal is prevention of a sedentary life-style. A third of U.S. adults are considered obese according to the BMI scale, and childhood rates are climbing fast. They know it's a challenge to get kids to eat healthy and stay active, and they feel a video game is a great way to reach them. Why not give them something they already do on a daily basis? Video games, that is.

The game is a phone app available on iPhone and Android. It's free and there are no in-game purchases. The focus is on 4-9 year old children, but could be applicable to earlier ages. Avatars guide the user through a series of mini-games that help children learn about the importance of a healthy life. Each mini-game is based off the user's skill level, and will increase or decrease depending upon how well they do in the challenges. Some parents are lauding it for being an original take on how to get kids to stay healthy. Some don't understand, but that's to be expected.

It's good to see how games can help improve lives, and how silly some countries can be. Seriously. Where's the sex on CoD? Unless it's a hard-on for guns, I'm at a loss.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Oculus Showing Off at Facebook

Facebook held their annual F8 developer's conference this week, and it's all about Oculus Rift.. CTO Mike Schroepfer said hardware will release this year and we'll have a true virtual reality gaming system out to the public. Now he didn't say which piece exactly, but that it was some hardware with some form of headgear. This could be their beta "dummy" version, or the cool rigs we've been seeing touted at gaming conventions for the past two years.

Still, for a company bought out just shy of a year ago, Oculus Rift is ready to take the next step forward and bring their product to the consumers.

The demonstration given to developers and investors this week highlights the massive improvements in the technology. Not just the graphics, but in the fluidity of movement. As the user shifts his or her head from left to right, the image stays consistent. It really is a sight to behold and I can't believe how far we've come. Facebook is looking to launch the unit with more social experiences in mind that can tie the user back into Facebook. This could be anything from auto-posting anytime you log in, or if you reach milestones in the game, to recording footage of your game play.

Now to cement a viable way to not get simulation sickness, then we're golden.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Knowing the Nose

Professor's and scientists at the Purdue University may have found a resolution to reducing the feeling of sickness in virtual reality simulators: putting a "virtual nose" in the middle of the screen to help direct the eye's focus.

Assistant Professor David Whittinghill commented that simulator sickness is a common occurrence. "The problem is your perceptial system does not like it when the motion of your body and your visual system are out of synch. So if you see motion in your field of view you expect to be moving, and if you have motion in your eyes without motion in your you get sick."

Evidence from other simulators where there was a fixed object on the screen helped to reduce the intensity of the sickness symptoms, such as race car dashboards. An undergraduate student, Bradley Ziegler suggested sticking a nose in the middle as an alternative to having cockpits and dashboards cluttering up the space. Using 41 test subjects, they ran through a few simulations and were surprised to find that not only did the sickness reduce, but that no one noticed the nose. It was only after the team informed the subjects about the object, that they became aware of the nose blocking out a portion of their screen.

The research is ongoing as they don't know exactly why putting a nose on the screen is helping reduce simulator sickness. The thought is that a nose is a stable object that we are all accustomed to tuning out, but our senses know it's still there. So be prepared to see Call of Duty on the Oculus Rift with a giant nose in the middle of the screen.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

And Another Gaming Business Hacked

We all knew this was going to happen: on Monday, Twitch released a statement that their services were hacked, with an untold number of accounts were "inappropriately accessed." It seems that today every company is getting hacked. I realize that the article I linked is dated 2012, but the hacks have not slowed down. They're getting worse.

In my Tumblr feed last night I found out that Sephora was hacked not too long ago. And apparently, it happens to them a lot. As soon a I can find the post I'll link it, but in essence a young woman bought a $12 tube of lipstick, and within 24 hours he information was stolen. The perpetrator was able to open up at least 2 new credit cards and have charged over $15,000 to them. Now that it's been reported to the credit bureau, her credit score has dropped and student loan companies do not want to do business with her. She's going for her Masters degree. So now that no one will loan to her, she needs to have a willing legal guardian to co-sign of she's sh*t out of luck. Student loans are a beating to obtain and to pay back in the U.S.

And this is the crap that happens daily. It's amazing that businesses haven't beefed up their security by now with how common this all is. This crap ruins lives. Literally!

Twitch is forcing every user to reset their password. All accounts linked to Twitter and YouTube profiles have had their access removed and you'll need to re-verify everything. So don't be surprised if you're asked to create a new password next time you log in.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Game Documentaries – Indie vs. Video

This was a busy crafting weekend for me, so I took it as an opportunity to power through Netflix and have a few movies on in the background. The extra noise helps me concentrate. It also gave me the chance to finally watch Video Games: The Movie. I’ve heard buzz about this for the past year, produced by Zach Braff with the help of Cliffy B (Cliff Bleszinski for those not in the know). It details the history of video games, dabbles a bit into the “violent video game” topic, and what lies in the future with VR and Oculus Rift.

I also watched Indie Game: The Movie, a 2012 feature and Sundance Award winner that follows the teams that created Super Meat Boy and Fez, as well as talking to other independent developers about the pitfalls of being in gaming when you’re not playing with the big boys.

These movies are night and day.

The film critic inside of me (with 3 degrees to boot) is disappointed at the quality of Video Games. Braff has an immense amount of production talent, and works well as a director. It probably would have helped if he had put his foot down in the editing room because the way this documentary is cut. The documentary is not user  friendly. Some ongoing issues include long transitions between segments (oh my God those slow fade-in of quotes!), content that didn’t sync with the narrator (Gears of War footage when discussing the PS3, really?), and celebrity interviews that had nothing to do with the history of games. It’s a film that was trying too hard to capture everything about games without giving any real substance outside of Nolan Bushnell’s interview. That man had a passion and a realistic view about business.

It felt too broad and too cluttered at the same time. You’ll see a sequence about the Wii and PS3, how their innovations have paved the way into the future without really diving into them And then it cuts to a 2 minute random video game cut scene, music mash-up as if you’re watching an Anime Music Video at a convention. There’s no sense to it.

If you are brand new to video games and know squat about the history, this is a good primer for the ground work. There are Wikipedia articles that contain more detail then what this film offers.
On the other side of the table is Indie Games: The Movie. It is the exact opposite of Video Games and should be watched by everyone. Gamer or not, the future of our hobby is going more toward independent developers. The team at BlinkWorks Media crafted a story that wonderfully tells the struggles of being an independent, and how difficult it is to make a name for your team as a small-time developer in a world focused on multi-million dollar projects. The number of games that hit success like Journey and Braid are one a million. I couldn’t find an exact figure, so please don’t quote me on that. But imagine independent games like a barrel of apples. There are a lot of apples. Some are bigger, some are smaller, some are more ripe then the others. How do you find the gem sitting at the bottom? That perfect “golden” apple that is hidden among the rest? That’s what indie developers have to deal with. How do they get seen and be seen for a product that they made for themselves?

And Indie Games is a well crafted film. It has a very distinct beginning, middle, and end. You see the years of struggle on the two developing teams. Literally years. Fez (a game jokingly remade 3 times according to the creator Phil Fish) developers are followed over the course of 2 years. What really made this movie stand out to me were the human emotions wrapped into the story. We see these men who love to make video games. They don’t want to work at EA, Blizzard, Activision, etc. because they do not want to sacrifice their artistic freedom. It doesn’t matter to them if no one buys or review the games: they just want to finish making their product, their way. 

It also gives a bit of insight into why it takes so long to develop a game. Whether it’s a team of 2 or a team of 1,000, making games takes a ton of work. It’s amazing to see a fully-finished product by a 2 person group in the time it would take a large studio to develop the same product. 

Indie Games is insightful, joyous, witty, and breathtakingly soulful – very much in stark contrast to Video Games. My favorite line would have to be from Fish, talking about how much he hates seeing the online comments regarding Fez with its development time. “They don’t get mad at Valve for taking 5 years to make something…oh wait. Yeah they do. Bad example.” So if you need something to watch this week, go with Indie. You won’t be disappointed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Kojima May Be Leaving Konami After MGS5

Sources from GameSpot close to Konami and Kojima's crew are stating that the legendary designer will be leaving the game developer after the release of Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain. In all honesty, I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner.

Konami and the Official MGS twitter feed has confirmed that Kojima is staying on as the head of the project. Nothing has changed on that front. What happens after release, well, who knows? According to GameSpot, Kojima and his team have had their access inside Konami restricted. E-mails are being monitored to prevent leaks, and they are, essentially, in lock down.

We'll keep a watch and see where this all leads. Needless to say, Kojima sounds like he's ready to move on to other projects.

What I Wish I Could Say To Those Who Harass Me Because I Play Video Games

I wanted to share this video, not because of my new found respect for Anita Sarkeesian (I still don't wholly agree with her on some of her assertions and viewpoints), but because it needs to be seen. It appeared on my Tumblr feed thanks to Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) and it's been eating at me ever since. Even those who argue vehemently against Sarkeesian's views are in agreement of this video and the message behind it.

Speaking at Ideas at the House, Sarkeesian gave a brief, eye-opening lecture titled "What I Couldn't Say."

"I couldn't say f*ck you." Female gamers are ostracized daily, visually and verbally through cyberspace. The internet is a wonderful place; a sanctum for ideas and self expression. And because of this, it has bred a legion of those who say as they please without consequences. Larger social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are unable to handle the spam and harassment requests efficiently, and as such, it continues. I was perturb to hear Sarkeesian say that she receives death threats daily. Not weekly. Not once every 3-4 days. Daily. And she was angry that it has become a part of her daily life. You can hear her voice cracking at that sentence, not because she was on the verge of tears, but because she was pissed off. She screen caps the threat, forwards it to the FBI, the local police, blocks the person, and deletes the post. It's a routine to her, and it shouldn't be.

While I don't have her life, being a female gamer and having put myself out there on the internet for people to read my articles, it does make me a target. Weekly, on here, on my Facebook fan page, on my Twitter account, I'll receive at least 3 inappropriate messages. Sometimes it's more, and sometimes it's less. The weeks where I receive no notes are a sigh of relief. It's something that I've dealt with for years, before this blog began. I couldn't tell you the last time I've used XBox Live chat or PSN to talk to someone who wasn't a friend while playing a game. I know I'll be inundated with comments about sex. Or I'll be called a bitch for standing up for myself. Or if I don't accommodate to their requests. Or if I win the match. Or if I ignore their comment. Pretty much any time I log in I'm a bitch. But so is your girlfriend, or your mother, or your sister, or your daughter, or your wife because they don't give in to that random male's request to "show your tits." And you know what? If you fight back you're labeled every terrible name in the book, and on Urban Dictionary. If you speak up, you're a feminist (because that's a dirty word once again) who hates all men. If you try to start a movement, you're a whore, a slut, a c word that rhymes with runt. If you're silent, you're expected to take the abuse and ignore it. There's no winning in this situation.

At the same time I'm incredibly grateful that I haven't blown up to epic proportions in my career. Because then I would have to deal with more of the bullsh*t that Sarkeesian experiences daily. Let's be frank: it's bullsh*t.

To be clear, I'm not talking about people making comments that disagree with my viewpoint or provide criticism. I'm referring to sexually suggestive content and potential threats against my life. All because I play video games and talk about them.

I don't care if you're not a Sarkeesian fan. It's 4 minutes of your time. If you can't spare 4 minutes today, then you need to stop being so damn busy and live a little. She is a person. A living, breathing human being. It's okay to disagree, but argue the words. Death threats, violence, sexual assault are not the answer. They add to a constantly growing problem. Who you're threatening is a real person. No one deserves that kind of harassment. No. One.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Viewing With a Vue

PlayStation Vue is out! Sony has been working on the TV service for PlayStation owners for quite some time, and yesterday they released the application, which is available for PS3 and PS4 systems. Vue is a cloud-based TV service brining in live TV, sports, and movies without the need for a cable or satellite subscription.

Yep. No cable company required, except for your internet hook-up. Here's the catch: It's currently only available in New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Damn. I'm not in a tester market. But Sony is willing to give this a shot in the areas of dense population to really put the app through it's paces. If it can work in NYC, it can work anywhere.

There is a fee for the service and it is not "à la carte" as many were hoping for. Frankly, all of us were hoping for that. We're getting a bit tired of having 0 choices in our television channels, and no service out there offers people in the U.S. the option to choose what channels they wish to pay for. Still, the pricing for the service is fairly reasonable. For $49.99 a month you'll receive 50 channels, the most popular ones according to Nielson ratings. This would be Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, TNT, TBS, NBC, CBS, and Cartoon Network. AMC will arrive next month. Given that selection I'd be willing to drop my current TV service for this. I really only swap between CC, TBS, CN, and ABC these days. For $59.99 you'll receive a bundle of sports channels and for $69.99 there are an additional 24 channels.

Here's the other downside: ABC isn't on the list, nor is ESPN or anything from Disney. Sony is in talks with the networks and hopes to have them available soon. The same with movie channels. So if you're looking to stay up to date with Game of Thrones, you'll have to look for an alternate method.

Vue looks a bit like the new PS menu screens, or XBox One, or Netflix - pick your poison. They are title slides that scroll across and allow you a better visual access to content. There are DVR options, though you can only save shows for up to 28 days, and because it's a cloud service they never actually store on your system so your hard drive can be utilized for other things (like video games). The service is month to month, no contracts. You can cancel as you wish. There are no set-top boxes. No set-up fees. No additional costs. You pay for the plan that you want, download the app, and go.

I can't wait for Vue to hit my market. It'd give me a reason to really consider giving up cable and vie for the cheaper internet packages.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rounding up Gaming Movies and Parental Dilemas

It's time for another weekly link round-up! Today, there are some, um, odd choices. I couldn't pick a favorite, so we're dabbling into a little bit of everything.

  • Den of Geek looks into the problem with video game movies, the reboot of the Hitman film (I know...we're at a reboot already, and it's just shy of 8 years old), and how the best "gaming" movies have no ties to any video game products. What Padraig Cotter, the author, hits on is very poignant. A lot of action movies are drawing inspiration from video games with the way sequences are edited together, to the types of weapons and clothing characters wear. The movie Edge of Tomorrow is a fine example on how a film can feel and play like a game without being one. If you read anything from my list today, go with this article.

  • Macquarie University psychologist Wayne Warburton claims that children spending too much time playing violent video games will generate responses in them that are similar to those living in a violent home or in a worn-torn country. How he determined this, we don't know. There is a mention of brain scans, but no formal studies are linked to the original article. Regardless of Warburton's position, he does provide 10 general guidelines that are good for ALL parents over game play. It has nothing to do with limiting game violence, and more on being a responsible, active adult in your child's life.

  • Parents beware! Microsoft is charging your credit cards for valid purchases! I may be joking up the tagline on this one, but Kim Komando (self-proclaimed America's Digital Goddess - for I have never heard of her) wants all parents to know that Microsoft's XBox system (they don't state which one in the article) does save your credit card information after a purchase. Um, duh? There's a warning message the first time you enter in that info letting you know that it's going to be saved with steps to remove it. But it's such a big deal, that they had to write about it and warn everyone. Microsoft! So evil! Maryland dad Jeremy Hillman saw a $4,500 bill after his son purchased "game packs" through XBox Live. They're just as scummy as those mobile app developers! Rawr! Right now Microsoft is not backing down. Why? Because it's the parent's faults for not being responsible. The e-mail issued to the Hillman family shows just that:

    Our policy states that all purchases are final and non-refundable. A purchase confirmation email was sent to email:
    XXXX.XXXX@hotmail.com (the son) each time a purchase was made because that is the email that was designated as a contact email on the billing profile …….. you are responsible for any material that a user of your Services account accesses or is denied access to (including as a result of your use or non-use of Parental Controls). You acknowledge that use of our settings is not a substitute for your personal supervision of minors that use your Services account.

    Both current and last gen gaming systems were developed with parental controls in mind to restrict purchases to either admin or password protection only, as well as what content can be viewed on certain user accounts. It takes just a few minutes to set up. So yes Hillman family. This one is on you for not being responsible parents. I know that's harsh, but that should be a lesson learned. Also, why are you not monitoring your credit card bill more often? That's a lot of money to have lost. Why are you not in the habit of checking your credit cards on a weekly basis? You could have caught the issue sooner versus the debt you have just collected.

    To be fair, Komando does offer tips at the end of the article on what parents can do with the XBox system (again they don't state which one, other then the XBox One does
    not sign people out...like the 360), to start the parental control process. So there is a helpful tip in there.

  • PC Magazine managed to find 16 video game adaptations that are unbelievably real. I didn't know there was a Home Improvement game. I bet it's terrible. I need to find a copy and try it.
  • And finally the Electronic Sports League is teaming up with Live Broadcasters BY Experience to bring competitive gaming to movie screens. Titled ESports in Cinema, the features are set to begin this July in over 2,000 theaters around the globe. No word has yet been released regarding the competitions or which locations will have access, but it's showing the growth of gaming in the general public that live events, once restricted to concerts, are now applying to video games.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Mobile Gaming - Is It Nintendo's Future?

Astounding news from Nintendo. The company is now working with Japanese mobile gaming developer DeNA to release Nintendo products on personal devices that are not gaming systems. This is...well...big news. It's everything that Nintendo said they wouldn't do. They were focused on creating games for their systems and their systems alone. Nintendo doesn't share their products with others. That's one of the reasons why their quality levels are still high by comparison to other developers (Ubisoft I'm looking at you and Assassin's Creed: Unity with your creepy rendered heads) - they keep their stuff limited to their systems and refine the products.

It's a shock.

On the one hand I'm glad to see Nintendo is finally embracing the current trend of technology. People are mobile. They are spending less time in front of a computer or television screen, and more on their phones. Other developers have utilized the power of mobile gaming, and Nintendo could benefit from doing the same. Imagine the next Pokémon game on your cell phone, and the new interaction between friends and co-workers as you battle each other with digital furballs during your lunch break.

On the other, Nintendo is bucking it's tradition. As we have waited for Nintendo to get with the program, you can't deny their results by sticking to what has worked best. Their systems, even the Wii-U for it's slow start, are selling. People clamored for the new 3DS-XL. Copies of the Majora's Mask edition sold out in 15 minutes. We invest ourselves into Nintendo because we know that we are getting great, quality games on systems that will last. I still have my original NES. Compared to the 5 XBox 360's my brother had to replace for the red ring of death. Will moving their games to mobile cause the quality to change?

Now don't fret fanboys. Nintendo is not abandoning consoles. Satoru Iwata, Nintendo's President, said so, and they have plans for a new system by next year. And the games created for the mobile platform will be all new content, so no ports of previously released titles. Your precious cargo is safe.

But this is Nintendo. NINTENDO. They don't even involved themselves with PC gaming. This is a huge shake-up for the gaming world. I'll wager a bet that they are going to be on top of DeNA for all types of controls to ensure their characters are represented properly in the new gaming content.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Another Celebrity Mobile Game

Jumping in on the mobile game bandwagon, Paula Deen, the Southern chef who was fired from the Food Network after saying the N-word, and has a casual use of the term in her life, is trying to regain her legion of fans. What better way then to release a mobile game? Much like Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan (oh crap; there I go putting those two in the same post again), Deen has seen how lucrative the prospect is and wants a piece of it.

Get ready for Paula Deen's Recipe Quest!

Like most mobile games, it's free to download and play, with micro-payments within the game to purchase more "moves" or tokens. It looks a lot like Candy Crush, or Bejweled for those who come from the days of flash games on our computers. It's a match three puzzle game, where you are combining ingredients to fulfill a recipe. You'll also need tokens to move past level 14. Now it doesn't say if you can earn these coins in game, or if you have to outright buy them.

It's another mobile game with tweaks on a platform that has proven to work. This won't reinstate her empire, but it's more income for her. A simple game with an easy premise, that will hook someone, somewhere.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Content Marketing To Gamers - Hasn't Really Changed in 20+ Years

As part of my new job position, I'm subjected to e-mails from different PR and Marketing firms that are meant to boost my knowledge of the field I have entered into. Some of them are good and provide meaningful content. Others are just plain silly: 5 Reasons Why Darth Vader Made a Great Leader. Without the Emperor, he would be nothing, let's keep that in mind, shall we?

I've noticed a trend in these e-mails that are gearing themselves more and more towards gamers and the gaming audience. I think the old foagies up top are finally realizing that their work-force of late 20's, early 30-somethings all grew up in an age of technology. We like our games.

I'm trying to not scrunch my nose when I see these articles. I'm really not. I know they are meant to present information in a new format that should entice the readers to stick around for the full piece. But this needs to be shared for how bad it is - mostly because there are still people that think of the old ways of marketing video games that they can't break out of it. And that's sad. We're stuck in the 1980's and can't get out.4 Facts About Content Marketing to Gamers (And Why You Should Care).

First off, the writer, Brooks Huber, can't count. There are only 3 points in the article; not 4. Brooke Huber doesn't have a profile with the website, but according to the article, he has spent years int he industry as a game journalist. I found his LinkedIn profile and, while he's been very mobile and rarely sticks around past a year at a job, he's dabbled in some gaming as an editor, but mostly centers himself around community and PR work.

Essentially, Huber is trying to get across to his fellow PR reps that gamers are not in this one-size-fits-all box. And he's right, because we're not. The average gamer is not an 8 year old boy, nor is it a 30 year old, overweight man sitting in his parents basement. Everyone is a gamer. Games are not just Call of Duty, but Candy Crush, Angry Birds, and everything in between. But a lot of people still feel that the stereotype is the truth. Just asking around my office, I'm met with shock and awe that I consider myself a gamer. The IT associate didn't question it, but he's also of my generation. Anyone older then 30 seemed completely perplexed that I play video games. I'm a girl! I'm not a little boy! Why would you waste your time on that? It's amazing that even after all this time we're still in this mindset.

Which leads to Huber's second point: spend lots of marketing money on video games. Um...duh? Don't they already do that? In 2009, an EA employee noted that the company spends up to 75% of a game's budget on marketing. When you have a product at a cost of $100 million, that is a lot of money. Marketers and PR people KNOW that games will sell. People are willing to justify the cost because games are a longer-lasting entertainment medium by comparison to movies or television. $59.99 on a game is cheaper then taking a family of 4 out to a 2 hour movie. Parents who buy their kids games are the source of funds. Adults with steady jobs are too. Marketers know this. It's not a question of spending the money. They'll do it. What Huber should have proposed is redirecting marketing into new areas of interest. So much of the advertisement around games centers on young adult, white males in the 18-34 bracket. They need to expand it to include women, different ethnic groups, things like that. Money isn't the issue, Huber.

Third, and final point, 'do it well.' Do what well? I can only assume Huber means advertise appropriately. He points to Mercedes deal with Mario Kart 8, and Mountain Dew on all things gaming, but at the same time gamers don't want to be inundated with advertising. We can see advertising exploits. Well, so can everyone else. We know if Diet Coke has helped sponsor a tv show or a news broadcast. We can tell if Taco Bell is the mainstay of a movie (see Demolition Man). And do we care? Not really. It's not like Master Chief is saying Mountain Dew is the best drink ever. It's there, in it's bright green can, settled onto the walls and at the grocery stores. It's not that big of a deal. Advertising is not a direct plea to people to buy stuffy - it's all subliminal, subversive even. Given how big the gaming industry is right now, advertisers are "doing it well."

Huber, if you would like to impart wisdom to your co-workers, you may want to start from scratch and bring in content that is ground breaking. 2/3 of your 4 points are just sad rehashes of the stuff we've known for years. Let's talk about how to improve advertising for gamers (article from me to come...)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Turkey Wants to Ban Minecraft

A game about building your world using Lego-like blocks is apparently too violent, and encourages murdering women and children, is just too much for Turkey. After being informed by a journalist about violent concerns with the video game Minecraft, Aysenur Islam, Turkey's Family and Social Policies minister, launched an investigation. A month later and the Ministry is moving to have the game banned in the country.

In general Turkey has strict laws on censorship, but not so bad that game developers aren't able to work with it. Usually developers will come up with clever ways to cover the 'bad stuff,' like blurring out scenes or covering up cigarettes with flowers. Minecraft in particular seems like a great fit for the country. There's no blood. You're not required to kill any of the enemies and you can even turn them off to go into strict building mode.

But Islam does not agree. The report filed to the ministry's legal department concluded that while yes, children can build things in the game, another aspect of the adventure is to defend your building from monsters. "In short, it is a game based on violence," the report adds. Apparently the report also notes that it may lead children to believe that animals don't feel pain (because you can slay pigs and sheep for pork and wool), and develop "social isolation" within children because their time is focused on the game and not the real world.

The thought of Minecraft being violent is silly. The ESRB has it listed as an E10+, meaning anyone over the age of 10 can handle it. The "violence" in it is minimal and non-realistic. If you do fight anything that looks human, they are skeletons and zombies - obviously non-human characters. You don't HAVE to fight anything at all in the game. If you move into creator mode, all of the materials are at your fingertips. There isn't a need for killing. Andrew Przybylski, an experimental psychologist at the Oxford Internet Institute, commented to Newsweek that "Investigating Minecraft for being violent is the equivalent of ordering an investigation into violent Lego playing." The game is available as a teaching tool in several schools throughout the world because it boosts creative, and spatial thinking. It's even being utilized by the United Nations for social change.

To ban Minecraft...this is the world that we live in, folks. Turkey has sold over 80,000 copies of the game since it's release 7 months ago. That may seem like a paltry number, but for a country with such high censorship, that's a lot of games sold in a short time. There isn't word on how they plan to obtain the purchased copies if the ban goes into effect. But it would make Turkey the first country to outright ban Minecraft. It may not be available in China, but no official ban was set for the product.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Link Roundup - Sounds, Dragon Age, and Missing Pieces

I feel like crap today. I'm going to blame my co-worker for jinxing me. So today you'll get an earlier then usual link round up.

Gaming writer and Twitter personality Chris Boudreau explores sounds in video games, and how important they are to the overall experience. It's more then adding a few bell dings and punches to the scenery. It's about timing, knowing when to build the action and drama, and crafting a piece that isn't overrun by excess noise. Sound, beyond the dialogue and music, are important to the world of games.

Speaking of sound and music, PlayStation Universe has a featured article about game composers you should know, focusing on Inon Zur. He has composed music for Fallout, Prince of Persia, Crysis, and Dragon Age, to name a few. He also has a really cool name; like a Superman villain.

And more Dragon Age content: sex! Naomi Alderman, who recently took over The Guardian's gaming column, is infatuated by the Inquisition character Dorian. Let's be honest though, who isn't at this point? Even playing for the other team doesn't stop us from admiring his character. Alderman's article focuses on the hopeful future of digital sex and relationships. Maybe one day there will be ethical VR porn. I don't know if I'm ready for that, but I'm sure some people are. Somewhere.

Shack News looks at 10 video game stories that never saw an ending. Some of these are game franchises cut too soon. Others are plot devices that are left open for tumbling through. The Haestrom Solar Storm in Mass Effect 2. It's that thing Tali and her Quarian team were researching when you finally get to recruit her for your suicide mission. They never really explain what it's involvement is to the rest of the game, or why Tali was so focused on it that she couldn't join you in the first place. It's all very hush, hush - secret, secret that bears no fruit to the rest of the game. Stuff like that. So thanks Shack News. Fun read.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Texas Film Wants To Split With Games

Texas film advocates want to separate video games from film in the state's budget. And I'm all for it.

In 2008, the Texas Legislature created the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program with the help of film and gaming constituents. The goal was to set aside funds in the state budget to act as means of helping to entice companies to move and/or film their projects in Texas. It also helps provide grants to companies that hire Texas workers in film, television, or video games. Lawrence Collins, an advocate, claims that it's time for the two worlds to split to ensure funding is appropriated equally. What Collins claims is that film is taking up the bulk of the funds and is having to fight harder to obtain the grants. It's a different method of development and production by comparison to video games, and he, as well as other Texas businesses, feel that gaming should get their own say, and way, on how to spend state funds.

My argument is more along the lines of gaming is kicking film and television's ass. They don't want to see more of their government funds being redirected to games. They want to keep as much of it as they can. What's the best solution for this problem? Remove games from the program and create a new one specifically for them. It's also the more logical, less flowery answer.

Texas is home to over 180 gaming companies, the second largest in the country behind California. It also has a decent size film industry for independents because of the incentives program. They are two large groups vying for a lot of money. The current incentive provides anywhere from 5-20% of funds from the pool if the company spends more then 60 days in Texas to produce their content, and hires 70% of their employees in Texas. With a film, 60 days is a lot of time for a production schedule but if you move your entire operations to Texas to edit and cut the final product, that's feasible and improves the Texas economy. Video games work differently, taking anywhere from 1 to 5 years to develop. They're not in the same league as movies and television, and they shouldn't be.

Tom Foulkes, vice president of state government affairs at the Entertainment Software Association, agrees and would like to see the industries split up in the budget. But not just yet. We're a month out from the budget debate at the Legislature, and it's just too soon. Gaming may be dismissed entirely without a backup plan because of this last minute decision. Foulkes and others, such as Nintendo and EA (with offices in Texas) are asking the Texas government to give them another year to come up with a new program just for them. Making changes now could drive away potential business.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Quick Link Roundup

Quick post today with a double link. First up: a year long study of middle school and high school children shows that kids are really more progressive about video games and want diversity. The study was conducted by Rosalind Wiseman and Ashly Burch, Polygon alum, and the findings were presented at the Game Developer's Conference this week. The startling results were a good number of boys really didn't have a gender preference with the lead characters, 81% open to the idea of a female lead. And girls? Well we see that there are a lot of male heroes, so where are the women? Most prefer to play as female leads and want options. The study reviewed the gaming habits of 1,500+ children aged 11-18 over the course of a year. Food for thought that such a large gaming market (E-T is the strongest in terms of production and sales by comparison to M games) wants to see diversity.

Second! Wil Wheaton is going to be Abe Lincoln in a video game. Announced by Nintendo for Codenamed S.T.E.A.M., Wheaton lent his voice acting chops for the 3DS turn-based strategy game. A few people showed displeasure about his involvement in the game (the #GamerGate-ers), but the reaction as a whole has been positive. I mean...it's Wil Wheaton. What else do we need to say?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

And Here Comes Rock Band 4!

Breaking news! Harmonix is releasing a Rock Band 4. They made the announcement via YouTube and if you are fortunate enough to be at PAX East this weekend, you can pre-order a custom Penny Arcade themed guitar.

Again, I'm sad that I can't be there...but then I look outside and know I wouldn't have made it anyway.

This is the notice we've been waiting on from the developer. With music games long since making their exit on last gen systems, having them re-introduce the brand for the new sweep of consoles is not a bad idea. As mentioned in the video, it feels like the right time. We're missing some of those group interactive games, beyond first person shooters. Song listings, price range, all that jazz - they're not up yet. But we'll know soon.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A Future Without Sims?

In an effort to regain their golden poo award, EA is shutting down Maxis, the company that stood behind the insanity of Will Wright and developed Sim City, The Sims, and Spore. It was acquired by EA in 1997 and created a bounty of Sim products, still making it one of the highest grossing franchises of all time. It comes as a bit of a shock that now, of all the times, during GDC week no less, that Maxis is going away. EA has not officially confirmed yet, but seeing the tweets (above) of employees, it's happening.

Did the Sim City reboot go as well as expected? Not really. Did The Sims 4 sell as fantastically as the third game? No, but these are not failures by any stretch of the imagination. 1.63 million copies sold is nothing to scoff at for a few months of activity. But we know EA. They have stupidly high standards.

What does this mean for future Sims games? Will there be no more Sim adventures? While EA owns the rights, they were under Maxis guard for so long...I'm actually kind of sad now. I like The Sims. Really like them. Yeah I may have lingering dislike for The Sims 3 (I fear trying to play it on my new computer - it was not friendly to my last one) and how EA treats their customers, but Sims is what brought the world of online gaming to me. It allowed me to see video games as more then just magical fantasy realms, but that they can be about real people doing normal, every-day things. We'll have to wait and see what EA plans to do.

Whatever the future may be, best of luck to those at Maxis who have lost their second home.

Want To Write About Games? Books and Tips

Reviewing The Geek Spot stats this week, I was intrigued to see a growth of site hits in the postings regarding game reviews. More specifically, the topics such as So, You Can Study Game Journalism In School? and Do You Have to Play Video Games Well to Be a Good Reviewer?

This prompted an idea. I want to bring up a few books and websites to help start you on your path to being a game journalist.

While I don't consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination, you all know by now that I have been doing the "game blog" thing for quite a while. A few of my articles have ended up on Destructoid and Critical Distance. I'm not a stranger to controversy for content I have posted. Being a journalist is difficult in the grand scheme of things. The fallout from the controversy with Brian Williams of NBC's Nightly News is an example of just how important integrity and truth are to news reports. Video game content tends to be more laxed, 'tis true. But the need for accuracy in reporting is just as important. Gamers will flame the writer if we post the wrong FPS.

I have a lot of knowledge obtained over the years, and a library full of books that helped me along the way. There will be differing opinions in regards to the list, but they give a general idea of what to look for when it comes to being a gaming critic; because if you're going to write about video games, you'll end up being a critic.

  • Critical Path: How to Review Video Games For A Living. I'm suggesting this book as a basic primer into the spectrum of reviewing games. It was written by Dan Amrich, who has served as editor for XBox Magazine, GamePro, GamesRadar, and a slew of other gaming magazines. His words are blunt. You're going to get paid crap. You may not get health insurance. He gives a real-world view of what it's like to write about video games, which is refreshing. Typically we're given flowery views about job prospects. Amrich tells you the cold truth.
  • First Person: Media As Story. I hate this book. I read this in college during my Masters and thought it was terrible. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan can't tell the difference between Pac-Man and Boo (Mario). But! Their book does provide a beginner's guide to critical theory for video games. And it is one of the better ones to this regards. If you're going to write about video games, it's good to have a theory background. Which leads me into the next book...
  • Unit Operations: An Approach to Video Game Criticism. If you have the previous book as a basic guide, you can make it through Ian Bogost's words. If you don't, be prepared to have a thesarus handy. This is higher level critical thinking that pushes the envelope on what game writing can be. Much of the theory proposed in this book can be found through simple Google searches if you haven't had a media class in school (high school or other). So don't worry about being overwhelmed. It can be a lot to take on. Go one page at a time and really discet the language. You'll be amazed at how much your writing improves after.
  • How to Be A Writer. This is more of a practicality book. If you want to write you need to do it. A lot. And there are a number of great writing scenarios to put yourself through to help hit your creative spark. That's what this book is for.
  • GameJournalismJobs.com. Like Gamasutra, they maintain an Advice section with general tips on how to write reviews for video games. The feature is updated at least once a month, but come with great ideas for new commers and veterans alike.
And now comes a few of my own personal tips:

  • Write. Write some more. Write even more then that. Keep writing. Write so much that you're sick of it, but keep your fingers moving on the keyboard. The only way you'll improve is if you do.
  • Take a college course on journalism. It helps out immensely, as most game magazines follow the same rules regarding writing and ethics as traditional news media outlets. Not to mention you'll learn the fun grammar tricks. Oh, the many fun things you can do with grammar.
  • You don't have to be great at playing video games to write a review...but it couldn't hurt. I suck at sports games. I don't review them often, but when I do, I'm able to provide a unique perspective that few others dare to consider. So it's okay if you're not great at games. You still like them, right?
  • By the way, you're going to hate games every now and then. It comes with the territory of playing and writing about them all day. It happens to everyone. Sorry.
  • Change the game. Don't be afraid to be bold with your reviews. Be unexpected. Write about games your way. Ultimately they are your words on the website. How do you want them presented? (Note: If you plan on working for a traditional gaming magazine, not the best idea. But personal blog? Have at it. That's how you'll get noticed by the independent gaming sites.)

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Relationship Advice Over Male Gamers.../sigh

 I don't know why I clicked on this article, but I did. I seem to type that quite often. Curiosity. Or it could have been the improper grammar/spelling of the original title before it was changed, but it's still in the URL, that had me smirking. I'm not sure.

From His Mouth: What Women Should Know About Men & Video Games.

Here we go. A male's perspective on how to handle a guy who's into video games, which according to the article is every man out there, but written by a woman. "Press a RESET on the relationship" to get involved, or at least feign interest, in his gaming habits. Okay. Deep breath.

The article itself isn't terrible, again ignoring the misuse of grammar. The problem that I have is the way the writer, Karen Taylor Bass, approached the subject. She admits that she doesn't play games, has tried to be the spectator but just couldn't find enjoyment from it. That's fine.! You don't have to like video games. There are some men out there who don't play them either. Shocking, I know, given that the article gives the impression that, that's all men do in their free time.

She makes the assumption, again this is all based on the way the article is written, that every woman need to find out why men like playing games, and that will make your relationship that much stronger. Because obviously women don't play games, and even Bass' husband can only recall one women "getting" the gaming thing since beginning his hobby in 1983 - which he finds sexy.

I'm not a gamer to be sexy, folks. I'm a gamer because I like the medium of entertainment. It's not to attract male friends or boyfriends. It's to play games, experience new stories, and expand my creativity.

I can appreciate the husband's approach to gaming that video games do not make men immature. If you were born and bread that way, you'll always be like that. Not everyone who plays Call of Duty is a 10 year old boy, or a 30 year with the mindset of a teenager. Playing video games is another way to relax, just like watching sports. That I can go on board with, and it's a primary proponent on mobile gaming's explosion over the past 3 years. They're quick, easy breaks from the real world to de-stress.

This could have been a good piece...heck my write-up could have as well. If it Bass approached the idea with a different frame of mind it would have been better and more accepting of men AND women as gamers. Video games are not the only way into a man's heart. You can accept and talk about his hobby without having to play games, and vice-versa men. Women can be gamers too.

I'll end this on my favorite non-grammar friendly quote of the article: "Give different a chance."

Edit 11:52 am: Since posting this, the author has gone back and edited the work. Some of the  material is no longer in context, but I'm maintaining the original blog posting as a reminder that people are allowed to make mistakes. They can go back and refine their work. They can take the critiques and retool. But it's probably best to do that before you post it to the world and it becomes cemented. Next time a follow-up piece would have been appropriate.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Inquisition Confiscated 56 Hours Of My Life

I have finished Dragon Age: Inquisition.

By “finished” I mean completed the primary story-line. After 56 hours and some-odd minutes, my journey as an Inquisitor was completed, and yet it was not.

I came to a point in the game where I wanted to challenge myself. Because of my OCD needs to complete each region before moving forward, I was overpowered. Over leveled. Overstocked with gear and crafting materials. I was plowing through zones without a care and it left me feeling empty that I had removed the difficulty on my own terms. So I sucked it up, ignored the twitch, and went through the remaining story.

And it was good.

I’m not a fan of the ending being so blaze. It felt more of a throw-away and less of the harrowing epic conclusion of a long-fought journey.

Here’s the Spoiler Alert. I realize it’s been a few months since release, but there are a lot of people, such as myself, who have delayed finishing the game in order to achieve that 100% ranking.

The fights leading up the final battle against Corypheus  and his dragon were great. Full of action and energy, I felt they lived up to the expectations that a glorious match was ahead. The man/demon/thing moved an entire castle to create the battleground. It was meant to be epic! And then, it turned out to be just okay. The tiered boss fights are a bit tiring. RPG makers, I’m sure we can come up with something more original at this point. You start out facing Corypheus when his dragon flies in. As he readies to pounce on you, Morrigan sweeps in to save you its wrath by having turned into a dragon herself. (I should point out that I had Morrigan absorb the Well of Sorrows. Apparently if you allow the Inquisitor to drink, you have to tame a dragon to bring into the final fight.)

So while Morrigan and the dragon are having fun, you get to beat up Corypheus. All is well and good, and he has a hefty amount of HP. But halfway through and the dragon fight comes back into play. Morrigan gets knocked out and you get to deal with a 50% HP dragon. Cool. The fight was way too easy. If you have taken the time to defeat one dragon out in the wild, you already know how this works: go for the legs first, avoid the head, stick close and you’re less likely to get hit by AOE.

After that’s done you get to run through the castle to catch up to Corypheus. Used up all your health potions? No problem! There’s a cache just after the dragon fight. And…that’s it. There’s nothing special or amazingly difficult. I think the one time where I got aggravated was the fault of Cassandra. She pushed my Inquisitor off the stairs and I fell long enough to hurt myself and waste a potion. Beyond that, I wasn’t impressed. The tact and quality of the proceeding events in the maze to the Well of Sorrows was much more harrowing by comparison.

I say all that to lead to this: While the epilogue drew some gasps and we are all desperately awaiting DA4, the ending felt lack-luster. To the level of Mass Effect 1 where your Shepard walked off into the galactic sunset. What…that’s it? My Inquisitor gets a pat on the back. Good job kid, and you stare off into the setting sun with your romantic interest (if he/she is still around at that point). Yes. There is another sunset. I wish I were kidding.

I feel a tad bit cheated that the time I’ve invested in this game didn’t reap the rewards of an ending worthy of it’s praise.

But that’s my biggest concern. As for the events leading up to the end, the quests, the bantering, the technical prowess, the livelihood of the world, all of these aspects make playing the game worth-while. In fact, immediately when it all ended I started working on another character to try out a different race and job and compare the dialogues when not faced with a Human Mage. It’s a world worth exploring.

I did find out that you can continue to play and close Rifts after completing the game. The closing Rifts part confused me considering that you just stopped the big one in the sky…but okay! We’ll roll with it. So it’s good to know that your time spent is not all lost when the credits roll. If there are any quests or missions you wish to partake at the war table, you can. My one hope was to have additional dialogue trees open up with your comrades that remain with the Inquisition. Similar to Mass Effect 2, you get a one liner or two and that’s about it. Sad face, but I can deal with it if it means I can continue my journey and reach my 100% goal.

Spoiler End. Overall I’d say that if you are a fan of the DA universe, you’ll love the game. There are twists and turns littered throughout Thedas. And if you adore Morrigan, you’re going to love the insanity that ensues. If you are new to the franchise, this is a good game to jump into. You’ll miss a few in-game references, but a quick DA Wikipedia search will set you straight. In truth, as someone who is still fairly new to all things Dragon Age, I didn’t find it an issue following the story. Even if you disregard the references, the game can stand well on its own. And there are plenty of places to pick up the DA lore to teach yourself the history of the world while you’re playing the game.

Inquisition is worth the play-through, even if you have OCD and the ending may not be as grand as one would hope.

Tech World and Poverty

Quick post with a full blog episode later. I stumbled upon an interactive opinion piece on CNN that combines photography, video, interviews, and infographs about the child poverty situation in Silicon Valley. Poverty in the tech world? What?

Yep. For the thousands of great jobs one can earn in the industry, there are tens of thousands of standard labor (administrative assistants, warehouse, transit, etc.) that are paid at the national average. Which is fine if you live in Dayton, Ohio where rent averages at $664 a month. In Silicon Valley you're looking at $2,500 a month on the low end of the spectrum, upwards of $35,000 a year in many locations for an apartment. That's as much as most new cars for 2015. And children are at the crux of it, many going without food or shelters because it's too expensive to live, and too expensive to leave.

I'm posting this not only to showcase the trouble with our economy and the glaring difference in income equality, but at how unique the piece is. It's not an a-typical story and it's told in a way that forces you to think. I like it.