Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Art of the Video Game Box and It's Untimely Demise

First off, I'd like to apologize for the image. Googling "broken video game case" came up with a number of interesting results. None of which were appropriate for the topic. So I went with the next best thing: a broken AssCreed game. Enjoy the creepiness of the no-face!

Down to business. Last week the expansion pack to Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn was released. I pre-ordered a physical copy of the game. While I still advocate that pre-ordering a game on the scale of Final Fantasy or Call of Duty is completely arbitrary, unnecessary even (and as was the case with Assassins Creed: Unity, you guaranteed a sale of a broken product), I did it in this scenario so I wouldn't forget to buy a copy. My brain has been so focused on doing well at my new job and not screwing up within the first 90 days, that my timelines are off. I keep forgetting that Dragon*Con is just two months away, and I've been waiting for that trip all year - thinking I still had another 5 months to go. So yeah. It's bad. I needed to pre-order this or I would have forgotten and been made fun of this upcoming weekend by my friends for my mental lapse.

In spite of the shipping issues with Amazon (seriously guys, you shipped the product 4 days AFTER release? What happened to that pre-order guarantee?), I received the game early this morning. Again, I'd like to point out that it was a week after release so my entire purpose of pre-ordering was moot. I would have remembered to pick it up in the store after a week. Thanks Amazon. (Please note the sarcasm.)

It has been just under a year from the time I last purchased a physical game. It would have been Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, but Gearbox gave away free copies at PAX East 2014 and those came through a digital download. Since then I've been mostly sticking to indie games and Steam downloads, less console content. But I still love the feel of a physical game in my hands. Final Fantasy in particular, since I'm a collector of FF games. With FF11, they always had some of the best boxes and artwork to accompany the disc. I can look at my shelf of games and FF11 always stands out among the pile for being unique and one hell of a package. You spent $49.99 and you get $49.99 of durable content.

Opening my slim package from Amazon this morning, I was disappointed to see that the PC box is no more. The game was in a plastic case, no different then what is seen with a console. It was flimsy. Even with my lame-ass arm strength, I could have crushed this thing in two. Even worse is that no instruction manual was included. Yes I'm old and I'm a purist. If I'm buying the physical game, I want a freekin' manual to come with it. And with Square-Enix, they always made the game manual an art-form unto it's own.

I spent $39.99 on a game that came in a plastic case that could easily be broken, and a sheet of paper with my registration code.

The art of the game box is dying, if not dead already. Checking with those who purchased the Collector's Edition, there was no value in getting the physical version. The "box" was also the crummy plastic case. You bought the CE to get the in-game items. Funny enough, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition at any time through the Mog Services website.

As people are moving more and more towards digital for distribution, the boxes are dying out and being replaced by cheap plastic casing. I understand from a cost standpoint, it's cheaper. Way cheaper. But you also lose that touch of quality by going for the least expensive method.

I miss the joy of opening the package and seeing the box art. How it can enrapture and mesmerize it's owner. The weight of the game box in your hand. The scent of opening the box for the first time, with the crisp pages of the manual. I'm still a book nerd here. I have a Kindle, but I'll take a paper-book over it any day of the week. You can't beat the smell and the feeling of a good book.

But those days are a distant memory now. I sat there, with the flimsy case in one hand, looking incredulously at the registration code in the other, wondering what the hell happened over the course of the year to reduce the box to this state.

I now understand why collector's have stayed away from next-gen content. If this is the quality we can expect of the packaging, there is no way these discs will survive in 5 years.

I guess it's digital all the way now. And that makes me a little sad.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Social Gaming Evolving for New Generation

Is social gaming still alive, or is a persistent problem in video games?

That's the question I would like to pose today. What you may view as social, may be different for your friends, your neighbors, or that person in Germany who is kicking your ass in StarCraft right now.

TechTimes writer Vamien McKalin believes that online multiplayer is killing off true social gaming, arguing that the features of split-screen design are necessary to have a real social experience. Also, I have learned that in order to have a job in game journalism, you need to have a really cool/unique name. He uses the upcoming Halo 5 as an example. When the game was initially announced, split-screen multiplayer was an added feature, to the delight of some fans. It allowed you to team up with your friends and family on the same console, and provide a classic Halo experience. At E3 this year, 343 Industries axed the idea and have returned focus to the core game play and improving online content. McKalin feels that this change in tactic is spelling doom for traditional social gaming. That we are becoming less involved, less social through online gaming, versus instant human contact by having your opponent sit next to you in the living room. Nintendo is McKalin's safe-haven, being one of the few developers/publishers that promotes same-console gaming.

Social gaming has evolved since the early days. Most of us over the age of 25 remember it being a hassle to get someone to join you in a game. Why? Because they needed to be in the same room as you. If you ever wanted a non-computer opponent in Mario Kart (Super Nintendo), or Pong (Atari), you had to have another living being sit to your right. Or train your cat how to use a controller. Both come with equally amusing results.

And for a while it was good. Much of the gaming experienced still relied on solo adventures of you, being the hero, stopping the bad guy, and saving the day. But you could take interludes to call your friends over and play Goldeneye to do the outrageous multiplayer modes with oversize heads and paintball ammo. For games like Rock Band, the in-house multiplayer element makes sense. There's nothing more entertaining then having 3 of your friends or family members try to play a Nirvana song, missing half of the lyrics and drum beats, and trying to not laugh as you muddle through the song. Online play for those games lacks the face to face interaction that make those games special.

But is social gaming dead? Not at all. It's changing to fit with today's world.

As we become more mobile, gaming is transforming itself to work within our needs. This is why cell phone and iPad games are a huge deal to developers right now. There is an expanding market of people wanting games that fit their daily phone addiction. Pick it up, put it down at your own pace. Because of this, the social aspect of console and PC games has been tailoring itself to fit those needs. I'll use World of Warcraft as examples. One of the smartest things WoW could have done was introduce a dungeon/raid system that allows you to push a button and be randomly placed into a group of people that fit the specs of the map. You don't have to spend hours shouting across the server for people to join in on the dungeon. The game does it for you.

Now, you may say that this decreases the need for the player to interact with others to ensure success for their raid. I would say that it enhances social cooperation, more-so because it's designed to help players who don't have 12 hours to spend on a game that day. With the auto-group system, you have to collaborate with your team. Going in silently and doing your job abilities isn't enough. To be effective, you need to communicate. That means holding discussions with new players you have never met before. While there is a chance that this would occur in your 12 hour stint shouting for help, more then likely you'll have a friend or two take pity on you and build a group that way. It doesn't create the social environment that games like WoW and Final Fantasy 14 are attempting to build. Though it is good to know that you have reliable friends.

Their goal is to provide a fun, user-experience that allows you to meet new people with a natural ease that playing games has always provided to building relationships. There once was a time when the only games available were Monopoly and Backgammon. Imagine meeting your friends at a Monopoly game, and tell me if you come out of that as the same person that went in. But I digress.

As someone who has too many games to play and little time to actually play them, I love the auto-group features. It gives me the interactivity and human interaction that I crave for, and doesn't penalize me for having a life outside of video games. It still allows me to meet new people, strike up conversations, and fit within my one hour window of game time.

Do I miss having a person next to me that I can taunt while shooting their pixilated character with a paintball gun? On occasion. But online games were not developed to fit that setting. They are meant for consumers of the ever-changing digital realm, and that means a new state of social interaction.

I don't believe social gaming is dead, and not in the traditional sense either. There will always be games from Nintendo to fill that void, and another Rock Band is on the way. But we would be silly to think that it's not evolving. It has to if we expect video games to survive.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Keep Gone with the Wind for Film History

My post today is not about video games. There's your warning. But it is geeky and movie related, if that helps change your mind! Stay. Keep reading.

In the wake of multiple retailers, large and small, removing all merchandise with the Confederate flag, more groups are attempting to push for other products to be taken away as well. Understandably, the Confederate flag, used as a symbol for the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War, is seen by many to have racists implications. It was posted at a time where many in the Confederate States fought to maintain their rights to own people as property. Most of them were African (and before anyone gets on their high horse, I know that other races and even white Europeans were slaves as well). Today a number of people still see it as such, and find it offensive. It's been a debate with state governments for decades. South Carolina recently removed their flag from their capital hill. Proponents say that the flag not only represents history, but a freedom of expression: not in the right to own people. And this is the U.S. We have a lot of freedoms and liberties that some countries will never see. Taking down the flag could be viewed as a form of restricting freedom.

Whatever side of the debate you're on that's your call. This post is not about the flag debate.

This post is about the movie Gone with the Wind (GWTW). The book turned film is a Hollywood classic. It's in the national film society, honored by the Library of Congress, and in more archives then I can count. It won 8 Academy Awards in 1939 and it's studied across the globe by film historians and students for it's technical achievements, and elevating the medium to how we know film today.

Someone at the NY Post wants to get rid of it. " 'Gone with the Wind' should go the way of the Confederate flag," Lou Lumenick's headline reads. I couldn't help but laugh when I read this on my Facebook feed. Really? You want to dismantle the history of a film icon? Okay. Go ahead Mr. Lumenick. Try it. Let's see what happens.

I realize that the NY Post is not the most "newsworthy" but I couldn't help myself. I had to read the article.

The film scholar in me thinks this is hilarious. While a number of people have heard the film, and possibly seen it, what most don't realize is that GWTW revolutionized how movies were made. I've brought it up before whenever someone decides there should be a 'Citizen Kane of video games.' Movies before GWTW were static. Stories were simple. Dialogue was dummed down. Music and sound were an afterthought. Before GWTW, movies were still viewed as a passing fad. People were more concerned about making a quick buck and moving on to the next project, so productions were fast, cheap, and easy.

When GWTW came out, it completely transformed how audiences and businesses looked at movies. It provided validity and longevity to the entertainment medium, and help spur development of television and, some could argue, video games. Watch a movie before GWTW and watch a movie after it was released, and you'll realize how special that film is to the history of the medium. Long, sweeping camera pans - fully orchestrated music - action sequences that really dove into the fighting (close ups and cut-aways) versus long, static shots - Technicolor (with a matte overlay; still a new thing in Hollywood at that time, kids). These are just a few of the aspects that make GWTW stand out among it's peers.

For the story you could argue the racist undertones, but its not as conniving or underhanded as Lumenick implies. The story takes place during the Civil War in Georgia. There are issues and implications of slavery and racism as part of the books adaptation. I'm not saying that I agree with the concept, but it was, unfortunately, part of history. The book and the movie wanted to capture those aspects to maintain some form of accuracy. I realize that a number of people see GWTW as a fantasy for rich, white individuals with the sweeping camera movement, and dress made of fine drapes that was too unreal to have been whipped together. And I also realize that the movie doesn't portray other races accurately. Some characters are stereotyped and the book has a gloss-over of "North bad, South good." I'm not saying that this is acceptable behavior; certainly not for today's audience.

But it happened. This was the mindset for a lot of people throughout the Civil War and through a good chunk of history for the last century. I don't agree with it, but there it is. You can't shy away from the confrontation. You have to read it, research it, understand it, in order to develop your opinions. And this was the way people thought for decades. To them it seemed normal. It doesn't make it right, but we shouldn't dismiss history because of the thoughts of others. A lot of people were good, but misguided in their stereotypes. It doesn't mean that every white person was a slave owner (more then half of the country was proof of this during the Civil War)...what I'm getting at is we shouldn't throw aside history. Things happen. We learn from them. We grow into better people because of it. When we disregard the past, we are doomed to repeat events.

Let's get real for a moment: GWTW holds a fraction of racism by comparison to Stagecoach, a John Wayne classic.

If we were to go through and remove every racist movie, tv show, play/theater production, song, painting, sculpture - well we wouldn't have history then would we? What influences art is our past. Sometimes it's not great. A lot history is pretty crappy. But through a creative medium we are able to express our longing for a better future, and help influence others to read, research, and learn. When we remove movies like GWTW from our history, we're not allowing ourselves the opportunity to grow. "What has changed since GWTW? How are we improving as a nation? What can we learn from this film that will encourage us to be better people?"

See. Life lessons that can be learned from a movie through discussion.

Let's be adults here. I'm not defending GWTW in terms of it's story. But even things that we don't like, or we may feel are crap (Call of Duty), do have value in our society if we take the time to talk about them.

I rambled. If you're too lazy or didn't read: don't ban GWTW. Talk about it. It's an important part of film history and help developed many of the tools that we still use today in Hollywood. Sticking it in a museum or a library and pretending it "didn't happen" doesn't resolve the issues the movie brings the light. Being proactive and discussing them, not starting arguments, fights, and wars, but talking as civilized human beings - that's where the film can help.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Playing at the Movies

As movie theaters look for alternate ways to drum up business (the chain I frequent now sells t-shirts and collectible pins), more are seeking out video games to bring in the younger crowd. We saw it at E3 this year where Sony held their press conference not only at the convention center, but through theaters around the country, providing swag to those who attended. Cinemark has been showing League of Legends tournaments from time to time over the past year. Aside: Did you know you can have a corporate event at movie theaters? I've been to 2 over the past 5 months. It's strange, cramped, and the food is questionable.

A theater in LA, iPic, took it a step further and hosted a game night for Minecraft aficionados. A local group, Super League Gaming, approached the theater with a suggestion to start up a tournament to be held during the week. $20 at the door and the theater and the league would split the profits.

What most people don't realize is that theaters tend to hold a low occupancy from Monday-Thursday midday. Most attendance and sales come from the weekend, when the bulk of people are out of work and school. Which is exactly why I love to go to the movies in the middle of the week. No one is there. O_O Some theaters will average about 16% occupancy over the course of a week. It's a lot of opportunity for those empty chairs to be filled. Thus theaters are looking outside of their frame to get corporate events and gaming tournaments to step in.

And why not? Take the experience of gaming and put it on the big screen. Get the full effect of the surround sound (which oh my goodness is so glorious with certain games), or work with the entire theater to play a few hours of Pokémon. Cinemark Plays Pokémon. That's a seller.

Logistics and technical issues are the biggest set-back one would have with gaming at the movies. As ticket sales for movies have dropped over the past decade, fewer theaters are renovating in order to off-set the loss. I can only name 5 of the 40 theaters within my area that have HDMI capabilities, digital projectors and screens, dining (because if you're going to be at a theater for more then 6 hours you need to have something other then popcorn in your body), and seats with tray tables (for food and your laptop). Planning needs to take place and you can't expect an event to crop up overnight. But, if you know a few hundred people who might be interested in a mini-game tournament, hit up your local movie theater. You might be surprised at how much they're willing to accommodate you for a cut of the profits.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Digital Play and Education: A Book Review

A little while ago I was given a copy of The Game Believes In You by Greg Toppo. He reached out to me after seeing a post on The Geek Spot and forwarded me a copy. I was able to finish it over the past few days (a convention and E3 coverage kind of wiped out my free time), and my review of the book is going to be bias. Because I liked it. I liked it a lot. And I liked it mostly because Toppo describes James Paul Gee, who is one of the first to create learning principles and theories about video games, as the “irascible uncle, [who] storms around the stage, his shaggy white eyebrows sometimes looking like they’ll swallow his eyes.” Not only is it a fantastic visualization, it explains how Gee approaches his video game discussions (through a lens that is sometimes cloudy, and you have to muddle through his work before you reach a point of clarity).

Toppo, you have made me a fan of your work.

But let’s take a step back. I’ll do my best to give a thoughtful review without picking on Gee. Toppo is USA Today’s National K-12 Educational writer/reporter. His past work has focused on video games and the use of technology in the classroom, so it’s no surprise that he would write a book that focuses on such a topic. From the first page until the last, it’s obvious that Toppo took the time to research everything. Thoroughly. A number of statements were backed up with facts, studies, and speaking to experts from developers to psychologists. Eighteen pages of the book were set aside for notes and references. That’s on par with most college text books.

The premise of the book is to introduce video games and education as two entities that can work together to promote a stronger learning system. Toppo examines digital play by reviewing its history, the evolution of games, and examines the current ideology of the U.S. educational system. For every problem that occurs, both in learning games and in education, Toppo brings up solutions that allow the factions to work together.

The biggest hurdle I have had in teaching video games and discussing anime in an academic setting is getting educators to see how incorporating these entertainment mediums will improve their students’ livelihood. Education can be fun. But simply slapping a game onto it (gamification, run away!) doesn’t promote learning or fun. Games and scholastic endeavors need to work in tandem so that both can be utilized successfully. That’s what Toppo tackles with his book by providing examples on how games can work in the classroom. It also shows the need for U.S. educators to start thinking outside of their small box. Because right now, school is not fun. It hasn’t been for decades. And it’s not the fault of cell phones and Facebook. Our test scores are pretty pitiful by comparison to other First World Nations, and it’s been like that since I remember going to school.

I’ll be honest in my assessment of the U.S. public system for scholastic endeavors: it sucks. I was never prepared for college and what it threw at me, in spite of taking AP classes throughout my high school years. My parents did a wonderful job of preparing me for life. School did nothing. I hate math. I respect science, but I can’t tell you the difference between molecules and atoms – if there is a difference? My writing style for high school was perfect for A’s, but it was horrible for everything in life that I would be using it for. If you could see how I use to write in high school, you would think that the pieces were written by two entirely different people. And a lot of my dislike for high school and middle school came from the lack of interest by my teachers. I grew up at a time where video games were out there, and used as teaching tools for memorization and typing tests. Most schools didn’t bother with them feeling they were a waste of time. Distractions in the classroom. Given the vast amount of new content out there for kids, it surprises me that more districts are not embracing the new climate that games offer. Our test scores still suck. The teaching methods of 50 years ago are still not working. Something has to change. That’s where I see Toppo’s book coming in – to provide inspiration to educators and content to the scholastic nerds like me who want to shove proof in everyone’s face.

See! It can work! Look! Toppo's examples are plentiful and varied for anyone dubious about video game's effect in the classroom.

As a researcher, there are a few things that I felt the book could have addressed, but danced over. As a whole, the primary argument of games for learning is strong. I don’t want to dismiss it. Toppo provides a very balanced, thoughtful argument. But one of my areas of concern is competition. There is a lot of research out there that supports cooperative learning. Competition and even team-based contests do not result in education gains by comparison to co-op learning. Unfortunately some of the games Toppo provides examples for in the book are centered on competing with your peers. I would argue that it doesn’t provide a stronger learning environment. While the effect of the games like Call of Duty could prove useful, studies have shown that cooperative peer work has a greater benefit overall. So more Minecraft, please.

There is also the issue of how to rate games and their data. Right now in the academic world there isn’t a set method. We have a content rating classification for entertainment purposes, but that doesn’t affects scholastic aptitude. A system needs to be developed and implemented (look to film theory as an example) before we can fully embrace games in the classroom. I didn’t expect Toppo to build one from scratch, but it should be mentioned. For our education to grow, we need to be able to track and report a student’s progress. Internal systems within the game are all well and good, but how can we see the results long-term? Will a game from 5 years ago still have the impact on a child’s education today when new models are introduced? Are the products reliable? Are the methods for scoring accurate? Is the content still being retained by the child or is it through repetition without understanding? All are key points that should be reviewed.

What captured my attention the most was how fluid Toppo’s writing is. His years as a reporter greatly assisted him with this book. I didn’t feel like I was being corralled from one point to the next. Nor was a chapter labored to the point where I wanted to just move on and ignore the rest of the text. The ebb and flow of the book kept me interested. It’s so easy with these types of texts to feel overwhelmed that you have to take a break to digest the information presented. Toppo’s mastery of the written word speaks volumes. This is one of the few thought-provoking books that I have read in a while where I could veg and read in a few days and understand the content.

For anyone who is interested in video games and education, or is looking for an alternative to the text heavy James Paul Gee, get this book. It’ll provide you with all of the insight you are looking for without the need to bang your head into the desk as you try to decipher Gee’s words.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Retro at GameStop

Time to hide, kids. GameStop is selling old games again. Earlier this week the retailer launched the "retro" section of their site, with video games from the NES, Sega Genesis, SNES, N64, Playstation 1, and Sega Dreamcast under their "Vintage Software" label. Prices range from $6.99 to $69.99 (that would be PowerStone for the Dreamcast), and you can purchased refurbished consoles as well.

There are caveats, of course. This isn't a big library like you would expect at some pawn shops or smaller game stores, so don't expect a big inventory to be available. All of these items are online only. You can not buy retro games at your local GameStop brick store. Most of the items are not available, so have fun finding the ones that are in-stock online. Each game comes with the "pre-owned guarantee," which means there are no guarantees for boxed and manuals, but the game should work if you use it in the proper system. And no, GameStop will not ship you a box and manual. Most games are sold to GS as is without those features. They will also not allow returns because you didn't get the box and manual.

Also, GameStop is not accepting retro games for trade. So don't clean out your collection and hand them over to the retailer. They won't take it. Besides, you'll only get pennies on the dollar. May as well EBay your games for a better price. It appears that they're using a third party company to procure their stock.

The consoles are another story. You'll get the basics, one controller, AC adapter, and A/V cable. These are also online only. But! Some select stores are accepting them for trades. Which ones and what are the terms? Well GameStop didn't post this info anywhere, so you get to have fun calling every store location and asking questions. That'll make the employees really happy. :) I'd imagine that if it's anything like their current used system trade, the system needs to be clean, in working condition, and have at least one controller and all cables associated with it. Any grime or corrosion and it's a no-go.

There are also shipping restrictions on these items. US addresses only. No APO/FPO or PO Box. It needs to be a physical mailing location.

While it seems okay on the surface, GameStop is getting into retro gaming a bit late. And they already have spent decades turning away older consoles in favor of pushing what's out now. Trade-in's are typically only valuable for last gen content, systems that are still in people's homes. So to now do an about face and say "oh hey, we have the older stuff too" tends to create a jaded customer. Why was my old stuff not good 2 years ago, but it's okay to buy and sell now?

So take it as you will GS and non-GS fans. I'll stick to my current vendors of retro stock who can guarantee me a box and manual. What's the point in collecting if you don't have the box?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Disney Going VR?

At E3 this week, a few of Disney's team members dropped hints that they were exploring virtual reality with Disney Interactive, and bringing in Disney Infinity as one of the starting titles. Given the hype over Occulus Rift and Hologram Minecraft this week, there's no surprise that one of the largest entertainment companies in the world wants to jump into the mix.

One of the ways VR could easily be introduced into Infinity is through the new Toy Box mode, which allows different backgrounds and characters to interact with each other. This could be expanded with AR or VR if implemented and allow for more interaction between the users and the game.

Infinity is still doing quite well in sales, enough to introduce a new line of figures from Star Wars, expansions to the game pack. Some of those will be exclusive to the PS4, such as the Boba Fett figure.

The concern with VR is that it'll be another fad like 3D. VR has made attempts in the past with VirtuaBoy and it fell flat. But as a whole, it's still new technology by comparison to 3D. In film, 3D has existed in some form or another since the 1910's. That has always gone through ebbs and flows of interest, and has always, and always will be, a fad. Even James Cameron, who brought it back into style, thinks it's done. VR is still fairly fresh and new to the eyes of the consumer. It's not settled in theme park rides and tourist traps. And the results that we've seen this week have proven that there is an interest.

The real question is will consumers buy it for the long term?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Was there an E3 Winner?

Everyone is going to have an opinion and attempt to answer this for you. First off, think for yourself and you decide if there “is” a winner or not. Because there may well not be in your mind – maybe this year everyone did so well (or badly) that you feel they all represent their brand equally and it’s difficult to claim a winner. Second, this blog post is an opinion piece. I encourage everyone to take the time and watch the events on your own. They’re all available on Twitch and YouTube from each company, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Nintendo’s is the shortest and most highly stylized because they opted for a digital presentation. No audience. No press. It’s Nintendo’s leaders talking to the fans through the internet. But it’s short because they didn’t have to worry about downtime to swap out demos and counter any technical issues.

Let’s jump into it. As a whole, each company went out there to show what they did best. Microsoft took pot shots and initially won over people with their backwards compatibility claim. They soon lost some of those new-found fans when more details were revealed that the first batch of 100 XBox 360 games are either already on XBox Live or are part of the Rare Anniversary Collection coming out this Fall. Not true compatibility. The first full 100 games will not be available until this holiday season, Christmas time, and future games will be released in 2016 – with no word on how many, when, or which ones.

What they did do well was show off a lot of shiny things. The Occulus Rift is the crown déjour. Starting next year it’ll be released as a bundle with Xbox One units, and will work with Windows 10. It jumps from you One to your PC. Not a bad deal. And they previewed a new hologram interface that’s in the works, by using Minecraft. You can turn any flat surface into Minecraft, and it looked great on the demo. Now if we could see into the glasses…

Sony followed up by giving games to gamers that they have been waiting a long time for: The Last Guardian (from the house that produced Shadow of the Colossus and Ico) and Final Fantasy VII (Remake). It got the crowd rolling. And their content in-between was pretty darn nifty too. Lots of new IP’s and not as heavy-handed on the sequels. Sure there was Uncharted 4, and some Call of Duty: Black Ops exclusives, but the content for Sony focused on making the system stand out. Which means brand, new, games. I’m looking forward to 2016 already.

Having said that, I think SquareEnix should have hold off on the Hitman trailer at the very least. They gave all their good stuff to Sony, causing a lack of interest in their own panel. That Hitman trailer was phenomenal! Even for a reboot, it was the right notes throughout the piece. You knew exactly what the story was without having to be narrated through it. The images told you what you needed to know, and left you wanting more, as any trailer should. SE, you need to do that more often. Your other trailers were so text and narrator heavy that I gave up 30 minutes into your presentation, and sped through the rest of it. And that FF7 remake was not that big of a deal. All of the talking to the audience was annoying and completely removed the game from its element. It would have made a greater impact if they had played through the opening movie – or, even better, isolated a key cut scene in the first disc and remade it for the PS4. Simple. Effective. As any trailer should be.

Nintendo rounded out the top three by going in a different direction and not holding a standard panel. They created a digital experience, knowing full well that most of their audience would be at home. Not everyone gets to go to E3 every year. It tends to be more industry and press, less gamers. In doing so, they were able to craft an hour that fit the Nintendo image, with puppets! I’m pretty sure that will be the only time I’ll see the Nintendo gurus dancing, and that was in puppet form. They definitely made waves with the new Star Fox: Zero. And an extra special treat with Mario Maker. The downside is that there really wasn’t anything new. They didn’t talk about their new console in the works, or about peripherals. It was all games that we were fully aware would be released later this year. Oh, and Amiibos, because those took over like a madhouse. One thing I did appreciate is that they took the time to talk to developers and go into their personal stories. The one for Yoshi and how the yarn pieces were created was charming.

Sony would probably be my personal favorite with the heavy focus on new games, new content, and new developers, but all of the companies had highs and lows. It’ll be good to see the reviews that come out about the games being played on the show floor this week.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Sony Gave Us NEW GAMES For E3 Conference

Sony Conference review time. We've taken a look at Microsoft and Nintendo. What did Sony try to do this year to set itself a part?

New content.

And I don't mean sequels and prequels that litter the landscape. There will always be a Call of Duty, expansion packs for Titanfall, AssCreed, Uncharted, you name it. Some things will always be the same. But this time Sony reached form a new place. New properties. New titles.

New. Content. From developers we all know to those at the starting gate. I was surprisingly impressed at what Sony had to offer that I can see why the SquareEnix panel was lacking, both in new footage and in attendance.

Sony spent a good chunk of their time talking about all of the cool things coming to the PS4 that are original games. While they opened up the show with The Last Guardian, a lot of their focus centered around independent products and developers trying out new things. Media Molecule, the brand behind Little Big Planet showed off dreams. A game that allows you to paint with your motion controller and build your own worlds. Using basic puppetry skills, you can create your own short, animate film, a game level, or create your own music. dreams is fascinating to watch in determining how it was developed. No wonder MM has been quiet for the past few years. It looks like a technical achievement that I couldn't begin to explain.

Another is No Man's Sky. There was a quick trailer of it last year, but this time they had content to show off. You are an explorer in this giant galaxy. Your goal is to get to the center of the universe, just like everyone else. Along the way you can jump into multiple star systems and explore plants at will. The coolest part of the demo was the presenter saying that every dot of light is a solar system, and you can visit every one of them. And then he expands his map out to show thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of stars. It looked like an image of distant star systems from the Hubble Telescope. It was insane. And the knowledge that you can explore as you see fit is really damn cool.

And then there's Firewatch which looked like Team Fortress but for the PS4. You're a park ranger and all communications has been cut off in the area. You have to use your instincts, and the voice of your companion ranger on a walkie-talkie, to make it out alive and solve a mystery. The humor dark, but in a way that wasn't too creepy. The open world exploration felt real, in-spite of the cartoon nature of the animation. It seems like you can utilize the world to build tools.

Horizon: Zero Dawn looks like Skyrim on acid. It is beautiful. You are a nomad living in a post-modern Earth. Something happened to the world where nature took over, as well as robots. Your goal is to survive and to keep your clan alive another day. And probably to figure out what happened to cause the robot overlords to rule - they didn't clarify that in the preview. Something to mention, this game has a female lead. And you know what? It didn't seem trite or out of place. It felt natural. Game Devs. Listen up. Make your female leads like this. She had strength, courage, wisdom, skill, but you could feel the raw emotion emanating from the character. She's not beefed up to be "Ms. Man" and replicate a male character, but she's also not dummed down as a helpless victim due to her gender. She feels real.

Not so new content: CoD exclusives, AssCreed (I really hate to say it, but I think Ubisoft gave a female lead option and emphasized it during the presentation to respond to the naysayers. My thoughts - it's not difficult to animate woman, don't you think Ubi? :) ), and a Hitman upgrade. The rest of the event was okay. It's stuff we've seen before and knew would happen.

But I think the vast amount of time spent on all of the new properties really helped Sony stand out from the crowd this year. It may not be backwards compatibility, but I'll take new games any day.

Oh. Yeah. There was that thing about the Final Fantasy 7 remake. I'll get to that in another blog post.

Someone Who Didn't Bother to Research Thinks "Left" Wing Minded People Hate Video Game

I had a long commute to work this morning. A really long one. People in Texas are afraid of two things, and two things only: water and white stuff falling from the sky. The latter is typically ice or snow. Neither are welcomed. What usually rounds up to a 40 minute drive took nearly 2 hours. Thank you Tropical Storm, now Depression, Bill for proving how stupid Texas drivers are on the roads.

As such, I needed something to make me smile this morning. I may be stuck here, or at a hotel overnight if roads are flooded (which is, indeed a real concern. Lakes in the area are at the highest levels they've been in, in decades. I personally have to drive over 2 lake bridges just to reach my home, and both were at an inch of water when I passed them this morning). The Mario Maker demo at my local Best Buy may be cancelled today due to the weather as the parking lot begins to flood there. Humor is necessary at this time.

To my delight I found this delectably awful piece of trash from The Federalist. The title is enough to make you roll your eyes, bust out laughing, prepare yourself to close the article, and yet you'll want to read more.

'Why The Left Hates Video Games'

That link is safe to click, without giving the website any hits or improving their search engine ranking. DoNotLink is an awesome resource.

But really, this article...of all the things how the hell did they come up with this premise? The "left," considered Democratic and liberal, hates video games? Did we fall into a wormhole and end up in another dimension where Republicans and the staunch conservatives of our country now approve of games? Where the entire history of legal and federal cases against video games, all brought up by those who affiliate themselves as Republican or were elected into office under the Republican banner, didn't happen?

It's laughable madness.

Mytheos Blaze Holt, (and if that is his real name he should be a porn star, because wow! What a name! The face does not match the name, though.) conjured up the writing. It doesn't deserve to be called an article. It's pure trash.

His argument centers around Doom. Yeah. That Doom. The reboot is on the show floor at E3 this week, and he jumped on the Tweets of two very Left thinking individuals: Anita Sarkeesian and Jonathan McIntosh. Two people who have never spoken about their political views and have no affiliation to the government. McIntosh is the producer of Sarkeesian's Feminist Frequency videos. Yeah. They're so Left they can't see straight. (Hint: That was sarcasm.)

Holt never mentions anyone else on the "Left" side for his debate. He focuses on two people who play and critique video games. Because being a gamer makes you "Left," which completely disproves his argument that the "Left" hate games. Thanks for contradicting yourself.

What really toppled it over and caused me to bark out laughter was the failed attempt at bringing in the French Revolution into the mix. According to Holt, video games are an outlet to do evil deeds. One of the core foundations of the "Left" point of view during the French Revolution was to perfect humanity through force and persuasion. While the "Right" is trying to protect everyone from the Left religious agenda (Left and Religion...those words mix?). Note: Holt uses the words of George F. Will, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter of the Washington Post, completely out of context, and from an interview on The Colbert Report - a SATIRE Republican news show - regarding the "Right" protecting people.

Really? Holt. Journalism much?

So! Doom is actually good because it allows people to do evil things, and the "Left" religion is trying to cleanse you of these bad behaviors. The "Right" just wants to save you from the thoughts of the "Left."

Okay. I can't type anymore. I'm laughing too hard. The content is pure crap and it's too funny.

If you happen to make it through to the end (Yea for DoNotLink!), most of the comments are equally as amusing, poking fun at Holt's abysmal reporting.

I'll have a review of the Console E3 panels later today.

Ending this with the standard warning: I'm not a politician. I don't associate with any political party. I'm apparently too in the middle to have an affiliation. I wrote this piece not to make light of any politics. I wrote this because Holt wrote garbage and it needed to be shared for a good laugh.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Demo an E3 Nintendo Game This Week (without going to the show!)

Need to fill your E3 Nintendo meter? Well they did something extra cool this year for their conference. Knowing that their audience is mostly at home, they created a digital presentation. No big stage. No press members. It's a 100% fun-filled crafted experience.

The puppets were a nice touch.

But, what I wanted to bring up is the Nintendo Access. Starting tomorrow and again on Saturday, you can test out Mario Maker at select Best Buy stores around the country. You can demo the same game that is on the show floor at E3! It's all in celebration of 30 years of Mario. Nintendo is really striving for maximum audience reach this year, and putting their product out there to the public before release is a smart move. There's a store in my area, so I hope to try it out tomorrow after work. I may come in an hour early so I can get in line sooner. I'm sure there will be a line.

Mario Marker allows you to build your own Mario levels on the Wii-U. It gives you all of the parts that you need from every platformer Mario game, from Super Mario Bros. to the tag team Wii game. And there are new features! Some of them explained in the Nintendo panel, but you can stick Mario on a cloud and have him shoot fireballs, if that's what your level is designed to do. There are no limits to your imagination.

And like all new things Nintendo, there is an 8-Bit Amiibo. You can use him to change your Mario in the game, and he'll grow to oversized proportions, along with the enemies. There is also a new feature called Costume Mario. If you add other Amiibos to the mix, Mario will change to that new figure. Need to bend under a low bridge? Swap to the WiiFit Amiibo. Running up walls? Samus can help with that. Not the jumping part though. Better leave that to Mario.

And if you demo it, you get a nifty pin. My inner PAX nerd is jumping for joy about that. Check out the Best Buy link for store locations.

Calling It Now. South Park is the Unexpected Hit Announcement of E3

It's only Tuesday and so much has been announced at E3 that we'll be overloaded before the show floor opens. Today Nintendo will make their big presentation, but Microsoft and Sony were not shy about coming out of the gate strong, making bold claims and even bigger game drops. I don't mean remakes, or long awaited spin-offs. The game of E3 is clearly South Park: The Fractured But Whole, the unexpected sequel from Ubisoft and SP creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who were very adamant about not wanting to make a video game ever again.

"The big thing is, we're kind of whiny babies," Parker commented during the Ubisoft stage show last night. In the midst of developing The Stick of Truth they learned a lot about the process and came up with a great template for their product. Most of their concern probably had to do with their publisher, THQ, going bankrupt as the game was nearing completion. The rights were bought out by Ubisoft and handed over to their subdivision, Obsidian. It took a while, but it was released in 2014 to both critical acclaim and fan respect. It also won a few game awards across the board, so not all bad, right?

The Fractured But Whole continues the story of your New Kid. Another new evil is rising in the city of South Park and you must become the hero that the city needs.

If you caught the reference, the SP gang will be transforming themselves back into their Super Hero identities, along with Professor Chaos and new heroes to join the cause. I wonder if Cthulhu will reappear... This is more of an origin story, as Stone points out in the Ubisoft presentation, much like any comic book. We find out more about the New Kid's history, how he got his special fart powers (get it...But Whole?), and determine his purpose in the game.

The game is already up for pre-order on Amazon with a release sometime in 2016 (maybe the holiday?).

I'm surprised that the team is willing to take on the challenge again, given how adamant they were after the last game. But it would also explain the changes in their show release schedule. And if But Whole is half as entertaining as Stick of Truth, it's worth the purchase.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Microsoft at E3

I realize that a lot of you are freaking out about Microsoft's announcements at E3. Hold your horses there tiger and let's take a step back to analyze what has been presented to us.

- Phil Spencer, XBox Bossman, is giving the XBox One backwards compatibility...for limited 360 games. Here's the list as it stands, with 100 games to be available by this holiday season, and more potentially in the future. Supposedly all digital downloads on the 360 will have the ability to be transferred and playable on the One. We'll see how that turns out. You'll also be able to download games that you own from your discs, if it's on the list. So no. Not everything will be backwards compatible. Why even bother? All or nothing Microsoft and Sony, that's what I'm saying.

Also...Mass Effect on the XBox One? Without a major overhaul on the graphics and game play, that must be terrible to watch. It wasn't that great for a 360 game, and I'm a fan. Just saying.

- Hologram Minecraft. Sorcery! But it's true! Team Mojang went out on the stage and showed off the Microsoft HoloLens, a new headset that augments reality and allows users to take any flat surface and load up a game. Crafting of mines seemed to be an ideal test subject with it's blocky, LEGO-esque features. The demo allowed the user to zoom in and out on their world, enter buildings, and the like. There will also be voice command features through the headset so you can rain down destruction on your plot of land. No news about price points or availability, but it will be available for testing at MineCon 2015 in London.

- Old is new as Rare celebrates their 30th anniversary with a bundle collection of games that would make any 35 year old salivate. From fuggin' BattleToads to Perfect Dark, this August for $29.99 you can own 30 of Rare's best and brightest games. No gimmicks. No shortchanging. All of the games, in full, for you to own. Now that IS pretty darn cool. Funny enough, some of those games are on the XBox One backwards compat list. Feel free to smirk like I did.

- Game Preview. This new feature for XBox One users. It's essentially Steam testing for XBox. A select few games still in development will be available for users to buy and help test. You get these games at a discounted price and you may, or may not have to purchase them in full later. That part was conveniently left out of the presentation. You also get access to game trials before purchasing. No details on that either. I'm going to assume it's select titles as well.

Let's see how Sony follows-up.

Monster Game for Monster Sale

The Steam Summer sale is on! While Steam does have their cycle of sales, this is their biggest one all year. Two weeks of deals that constantly change and grow based on the community. It also includes newer releases and even games that are still in beta testing, at sales prices. Personally, I dropped about $35 and picked up over 20 games. Not a bad haul if you ask me.

But that's not what I want to talk about. I could go over all of today's deals but you guys are gamers. You can take the 5 seconds to click on the link and scroll through the options. What I wanted to talk about the sale being a game in itself.

This year Steam is offering even more discounts to their customers, but you, and the rest of the user-base, have to participate in the event in order to unlock them. It's the Monster Summer Game. From now until June 20th you can play a flash game, via internet or through the Steam client directly, A retro-inspired 16-bit explosion of sound and color. Monster Summer Game is a click-based action/strategy mash-up. Mobs appear on the screen and you have to spam your left mouse button to destroy them. You collect money as you go, which can earn you power-ups from auto-fire cannons, to gaining more money from bosses. Users are not alone on their path. You will join a game with 200 other people as you spam your clicker finger to get more gold. And the game continues even if you're not playing. It'll be active in the background to continue blowing up bad guys, and collecting gold, while you let your hand rest. All that clicking can be tedious.

Steam has also made it very easy for people to join their friends. You can start a new game or jump into an existing one with people on your friend's list.

So why play the game? As the community achieves certain milestones, Steam will unlock additional games for their summer sale. So far the games have been mostly indies, and a few random titles thrown in that most of us already have, such as Dead Space. If the current gamers get the 15 million click goal within the next 3 hours, the last deal will open up for today. Users also have the chance to unlock trading cards and craft the Summer badge.

The game itself is not the most technically challenging. The design is fairly straight-forward and it is safe for those over the age of 6 to play. There is no blood, no cursing, and no sex. You are clicking robots to death. Some people have reported issues with the game via the internet, so your best bet is to play through the Steam client directly. But overall it's fun, simple, and it unlocks more deals.

It's very meta of Steam.

Now! Let's get to clicking before I have to head into work. I want to see that last game unlocked!

Friday, June 12, 2015

XBox One Will Get First Taste of VR

Facebook and Oculus unveiled their first VR headset for consumer consumption yesterday afternoon, and it'll be available for the XBox One in early 2016.

The first headset is heavily centered around gamers and developers (no duh). Oculus has partnered up with Insomniac Games (Ratchet & Clank, Resistance) to produce content specifically for the headset and a VR experience. This first wave of technology will run exclusively for the XBox One and Windows 10. Sorry Sony and Nintendo fans. You'll have to wait a while.

A bundle pack with the Rift and an XBox One system was announced as well, but no details on pricing, or what games may be included. A special controller is part of the package, but that's about as much as we know. The Rift is a headset and goggle piece. Pretty simple by comparison to past VR experiences. Specs on the Oculus Rift and it's image quality are still unknown. Though the tester version has been shopped around at gaming conventions for years, and if it's anything like that, it'll be good.

They also announced the Oculus Touch, two handheld controllers that look kind of like the Wii Nunchuck that you can utilize instead of the XBox One controller, so you feel more involved in the action on the screen.

As exciting as this is, I want specs and pricing. I'd love to get into the VR experience with Oculus, but how much are we going to have to dump into this? Oculus was purchased at over $2 billion from Facebook, and needed millions from investors to start up. It's not a cheap product to build. Gamers will spend money if it's worth it, but we have our pricing limits. When the PS4 first released at nearly $100 cheaper then the XBox One, where do you think we went? We know a deal when we see one, and we'll use it. Especially when games are $59.99 - $89.99 a piece.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ouya Looking To Sell

Ouya, the little console that could, has done marginally well for itself as an independent source for developers and fans of retro games. But as is the thing in the business world, the company may soon be purchased by Razer, the PC accessory king. The deal is in the final stages, according to sources, but Ouya's big concern is making sure their staff will still have jobs once the deal is finalized.

While Ouya is most likely to continue as a console and app developer, the system will surely change once Razer buys them out. It highlights the trend of the industry to be a small business, make a name for yourself, and then sell your company. Sometimes it's for a payout. Other times it's to help improve the product and branch out.

Ouya seems to be part of the latter. While the console was a critical darling, it hasn't made enough in returns to keep the company moving. Even after the huge boost from Kickstarter, from business partners such as NVidia, and international resale site Alibaba. And they seemed to top out over Mad Catz interactive and other smaller businesses, but in April they announced their sale to help regain capital and stem the tide of debt. The big thing that Ouya is without is advertising dollars. By comparison to Amazon and Apple, who also offer similar products (though not specifically for games only), are able to market to their hearts content. Ouya has a smaller budget, and being purchased by a larger company will help improve sales, they feel.

We don't know what the details of the sale will be. If Razer will keep Ouya and it's digital library, if it'll be integrated into Razer's own set-top box, or if Ouya will be dismantled. The current owners wish for Ouya to stay, so all we can do is wait.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

I was hoping to save this for Friday, but with so many gaming stories today, it's difficult to resist. Here is a round-up of the best, and worse, that the internet has to offer this week:

- GoLocalPDX, an online magazine for Portland, Oregon, wants you to stop pre-ordering video games because there is no point to it. Right on! The writer hits on many of the points we've discussed before. That pre-orders are now a marketing tool to get people to buy into a product before it's finished, and in many cases games are released with bugs and glitches that you essentially paid for a broken game. But then there's the DLC, which can always be added on later, and you drop $10-$20 for content that should have been in the game to begin with. Or how about that Collector's Edition? Spend $50 for a book stand and maybe a game manual. Ohh! (I seriously can not remember the last time I had a manual come with a brand new game. How sad. I love manuals.)

- ESPN is really taking it to the next level with their coverage of video games. Their recent issue of ESPN Magazine features Seahawks player Marshawn Lynch on the cover, as a video game character. He is the villain in the latest Call of Duty: Black Ops, announcing his involvement with the franchise on Twitter. The magazine itself is a full-on eSports issue. Yep. It's all about gaming. The issue covers the recent Dorm Wars competition as well as the national League of Legends tourney currently underway.

- Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla, made a game when he was a kid. And now, you can play it! Not bad for a 12 year old. It's a space game akin to Asteroid. If anything, it's a good way to kill 10 minutes of your free time.

- WhatCulture looks at 10 video game franchises that were infamous, industry defining no less, but now seem to be forgotten. I'd say take the list with a grain of salt, like most of WhatCulture. Their #10 was Quake. A game that is still played today and even has one of the largest gaming conventions in the South, QuakeCon. They also list Left4Dead. While a third game hasn't been announced, the original and squeal are still one of the most heavily played games on Steam according to recent stats. So, take it as you will.

- The Angry Video Game Nerd now has his own 3DS game. Initially a Steam download, it was just released on the Nintendo eShop for the handheld system. And it's just like it's counterpart. If you've played the original, then you know what to expect. But now! you can go mobile with it. Oooh.

- The Escapist has an interested article on the standard "Mary Sue" character in video games. The piece in particular focuses on Witcher 3, and if the game loses it's charm because the character seems too "all powerful." The writer is protecting their character from all evils by beefing up their skills. Riddick is a fantastic example of this. The character becomes dull, lifeless even because they can do no wrong. If you read one article today, this should be it.

- News Flash: Playing video games is like masturbating. Philip Zimbardo is spinning his tale again with another publication for his new book Man (Dis)connected. Not that we would expect anything less. The only amusing part of the article are the blatant joystick, dick references. Phallic jokes are always worth a snicker.


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Amazon Is Now Hiring for PC Game Development

Good morning readers. Or gamers. Well you're most likely both, so...just good morning! I'm back from Project A-Kon and have lots of fun things to share. But let's return to our normal programming with some gaming news.

Internet super-retailer Amazon is striving to beef up their video game development team. Yep. They want to make video games. Last year they purchased Double Helix Games, which produced Silent Hill: Homecoming and Front Mission Evolved. They are currently working on a PC game and have a huge list of job positions available. No details about the game or it's potential release have been announced yet. Kim Swift's post, who is Amazon's Senior Designer, didn't get picked up until a sponsored ad on Gamasutra landed it as front page news on June 5th. Since then, applications have boomed.

"Our team in Seattle has worked on a lot of great titles including Portal, Left for Dead, Half Life 2, Dota 2, World of Warcraft, Halo, Infamous, Shadows of Mordor, and many others. We want people that are driven to make the best games in the industry. We're looking to take interesting risks, and invent!"

If you're interested in a position, visit their LinkedIn profile to find out more. Of course I'm curious to find out what type of game they are developing. Currently Amazon does have a controller available for $40 to use with their Amazon Fire TV set-top. It provides access to a library of over 700 games and GameFly access. Adding PC content to the list would be a new direction for development.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Steam's New Refund Rules

Steam has done another update to their Terms of Service, with a change that has the internet a flutter. Refunds! Usually an area where you have to fight tooth and nail in order to get a product returned, it's an even more daunting task when it's a digital product. How can a retailer know if you really deleted the game from your hard drive? How do they know you haven't already sold off the product key to someone else? Digital products typically have a hard-line, no return policy. EA has eased up on the rules a bit, but as a whole, it's a challenge to return a digital items.

And Steam wants to change that. Today they are in full-force in testing their new refund program, where you can return almost anything you purchase for any reason. No answer is too absurd: my cat didn't like the loud noises. Refund!

There are caveats to this, of course. The game needs to have been purchased within 14 days or less, and not have been logged more then 2 hours of game time via the Steam client. This includes DLC. In-game purchases will have a 48 hour refund window. In the case of some DLC that makes extreme changes to the game, such as boosting your character up a higher level, those can not be refunded, and will be marked on the product page as such. This also applies to any bundles you may have purchased, so long as the combined play time of all of the bundled items is under 2 hours. Movies are not eligible, nor are gifts to friends once they have been claimed. And if you've been caught cheating, you forfeit your right to a refund.

Essentially this is a policy to help those who have issues with their computers, or decide after the first hour of game play that its not the right title for them. You can get a refund and have money back in your wallet within a week. Because nothing sucks more then downloading a game, thinking you have the right specs or even better on your PC, and then it doesn't work. Hopefully the new system will help out their customers.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

GameStop Acquires GeekNet (ThinkGeek)

ThinkGeek is about to be acquired by GameStop for a $144 Million Dollar deal.

The parent company Geek Net, has terminated their contract with Hot Topic in providing "nerd wear" to the retailer, and will be making the transition to GameStop. All within the span of a week! The Hot Topic deal was announced on May 26th.

What does this mean for GameStop customers? More nerdy stuff in the stores that is not related to video games themselves. More shirts, mugs, and little nick-nacks. Possibly online too, but we'll see how that goes. From the way the press release reads, the ThinkGeek site will still be online and be ran as a separate entity, but product will be stocked in GameStop stores. There may also be cross selling of items, i.e. a shirt on the GameStop site can be purchased there, but fulfilled by ThinkGeek - vice-versa with a video game.

ThinkGeek also holds products for other nerdy stores such as HerUniverse, an online site that focuses on female geek-wear. Whether those products will transition as well is under question. Everything is fuzzy until we see the products on the store-shelves.

On a personal note, this blows. I don't support GameStop because I've been one of their employees. It was the worse 3 working years of my life, and made me physically ill to go in every day. And I'm not alone. They're almost always in the top 15 of worse companies to work for on GlassDoor and Indeed, and make a trip to the Consumerist Worse Company tourney every year. I haven't shopped at a GameStop since I left and I refuse to do so. And a lot of people choose to do the same thing. Some still buy from them even knowing all the crap GameStop does because they are the only option in their town. So with this news, I'll no longer be a ThinkGeek customer, and that sucks. Way to destroy more cool things, GameStop.

LEGO Worlds Early Access Is Up!

In case you missed it, yesterday LEGO released their game, LEGO Worlds, on Steam yesterday. Though the game is technically not finished are there are plenty of glitches to fix, the overall response to it has been positive. If you buy it today, you are in "Early Access" mode, with the full game anticipating release in 2016. Their reasoning being that there will be a lot of people playing on a lot of servers - what better time to test the load then to do it before the game releases?

Some critics are looking to LEGO Worlds as a Minecraft killer. I would call it a rival, but that's being logical. Something drastic would have to come along to wipe Minecraft off the Earth. The game plays on a very similar premises, where you have your own world and you can build it however you like, out of LEGO bricks. All squares and rectangles! There are even Skeletons. You can play with past and current LEGO sets (unsure if Star Wars or Lord of the Rings is in the mix, but that would be nifty), and it has mod support. It is on Steam after all. It's essentially LEGO online since you can interact with other people, invite friends onto your World, and so-on.

Reading the reviews, everyone is echoing the same sentiment: It's Minecraft with LEGO's. But that's how the crafting of mine came about.

What will make LEGO a stand-out is how it manages to separate itself from it's building counterpart. The restrictions are, most likely, where you can put the blocks (they only fit in the slots) and your imagination.

Early Access is going on now, and at a reduced price then what you would pay when the game goes live next year. Get on it!

Monday, June 01, 2015

How The Witcher 3 is Prompting Responses for Not Being Sexist

Forbes is really getting into gaming lately. Their recent op-ed regarding The Witcher 3 and responses from Anita Sarkeesian is causing a bit of a scuffle.

It's important to note that Erik Kain is providing an opinion. There are few facts that really support the discussion, other then a couple of tweets that were pulled from Sarkeesian and Jonathan McIntosh, the producer and co-writer for the Feminist Frequency series. Kain has given Witcher 3 a great review. "One of the best open world games," he says. So already he has a vested interest in providing positive feedback to something that he likes. (And I don't mean for that to come off that he's biased. Everyone has some sort of bias built into them. I'm doing this to set up the stage before you dive into the article.)

Kain does get points for trying to defend his opinion because, based on the information he was provided, he feels that Sarkeesian and McIntosh are lambasting a product that haven't yet experienced. Their tweets are coming off as empty or lacking true knowledge of the game world. He does take it a step too far and claims that their responses are a part of a political agenda (because everyone has one of those?), but the presentation of his point of view is well thought-out.

I am, however, going to disagree about the need for "fantasy" stories to use real-world scenarios in order to resolve issues and/or make the game more valid. Oh! She got called the c-word! That makes this gritty and hard-core!

Much like the recent backlash against Game of Thrones for the events surrounding Sansa Stark, it seems rather silly to try and make things in a fantasy setting to be a real-world equivalent. Not when you're trying to have us believe the dragons, giants, and fairies are also "real." Fantasy can be gritty. I'm not saying that it shouldn't be. But to use objectification of another being as a plot device is over-used and, frankly, lame. Who's to say that we can't have a fantasy world where such actions are punishable by death? Where there is no threat to women, children, or people of different skin colors, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences?

If you want me to believe in a world where dragons exist, then people not being assaulted for their gender should be an equally plausible plot-line.

The issue I foresee with Kain's article is that people are going to pick at it because he's a white male. White male privilege. It's a buzz word as of late because they experience the world differently from others, and there are studies to back it up. As a white man, there are benefits that others do not get to experience. They are almost always at the top of the corporate ladder. They rarely see time in a jail cell, and they experience little to no racism or sexism. They have a different view of the world compared to, well, everyone else. I can easily see Kain's article turning into a "well he doesn't know-he's a man" bickering match, particular towards the closing points. I ask that you take a step back and try to see the piece from Kain's point of view. He sees two well known figures in gaming criticism ganging up against a product that he enjoyed, and believes that they haven't experienced it in full to provide a proper response. He felt the need to defend the game.

Take it as you will.

Also a shout-out to Greg Toppo. A recent interview with him appeared this morning on Atlanta's NPR station regarding his latest book 'The Game Believes in You.' He was kind enough to forward me a copy of his book, and in-between podcast prep for an upcoming convention, I have been diving into it. A full review will be available soon.