Friday, July 31, 2015

Look! eSports Is Legit Now!

Did you know that eSports is creating an anti-drug policy? Yeah. I didn't either.

While looking up information regarding the DOTA 2 Tournament taking place this weekend, with over $15 million in prizes being awarded, I was linked to another article where many large eSports groups are going to start implementing the anti-drug rules as soon as they are developed. The ESL, one of the largest, will now work with the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) based in Germany to create a fair policy to curb the use of performance enhancing drugs. This all began after an eSports player admitted to using drugs to help his game play, after a tournament.

"The growing visibility and popularity of eSports, as well as increasing prize pools make it not only more tempting for teams and players to break the rules, but also more damaging to our sport as a whole when they do." -ESL Press Release

The ESL will begin testing players before a tournament in Germany next month, and eventually they'll move testing to be at every event including Master League games.

So what kind of drugs are we talking about? Unlike football or baseball, gamers don't need steroids. But drugs like Adderall, which are used to treat ADHD and ADD. They help calm nerves and allow your brain to focus without outside stimulates distracting you. Which, in a video game, can be very helpful.

The ESL's goal with the program is to institute a world-wide system that would be fair to everyone and curb bad behavior. The reaction from gamers hasn't really risen to a point of note-worthy. I think we all realized that it was going to happen eventually.

There you go sports fans. eSports is becoming so big, that we now have to have drug rules, just like every other sport out there. Suck it!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Numbers Game with Kickstart Projects

With Shenmue 3 breaking Kickstarter records this month for their video game category, it's easy to assume that games on the crowd-funding website are doing pretty darn well. Even with the drop in numbers for new projects last year, according to consulting firm ICO Partners, the only news we really read about is the positive stuff. So...things are moving alone just fine. Right?

Gamasutra editor Thomas Bidaux dove back into the website to figure out the current state of game development via crowd funding. While the site went big, really big, in 2012 and 2013, 2014 saw a huge drop in new projects and those being funded. From $48 million to $20 million. This year may be a bit better, with $20 million already raised in the first half of the year, but it's not on course to match 2013's numbers, let alone 2012. The argument is that with the big games like Shenmue, it's drawing more attention to the site and causing more money to be spent. The idea that smaller developers are getting a piece of the market isn't at the same strength as it use to be.

Bidaux argues that the market on Kickstarter is over-saturated. There are too many options now on what and where to put your support. And we all have budgets. We'd love to give all of the game concepts $100 a piece, but we can't. To add on to this, I would say that the long development times has put a damper on people's interest to back a project. Most people may not realize this, but it takes a long arse time to make a video games. If you don't have EA or Activision standing behind you with a bevy of computer banks, indie projects can take years to build. And typically the teams of developers are only a handful of people. I would be surprised if they consisted of more then 3 people. A number of the games that received full funds from 2012 are only now being released on XBox Live and PSN. Gamer and backer fatigue is settling.

The summary is that we don't really know what's happening with Kickstarter. We hope to see more indie games get funded, but it seems to be at extremes on who is seeing the backing. It's a few big titles and a few small titles. There's no in-between. Those with mid-sized budgets looking for backing seem to be in the lurch. They don't have the brand name or star power of the big developers, and they want a budget too large for people to feel comfortable with backing. Bidaux makes the claim that the big devs are hiding the problem with Kickstarter's video game division. They're using their influence as "We Are Y" to get people to donate. And that's fine. They are free to do so. As such, it's creating false expectations for the rest of the game developers who don't have the gear, or the funds, to play to that level of marketing.

It's hard to say...but the numbers are very interesting.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

I don't know what's going on with the news today, but we have some oddballs in the mix with the cool stories. So here is your Weekly Link Round-Up!

- There's a game called Soda Drinker Pro. You walk around and drink soda. You can drink it on a bench. You can drink it while standing up. That's the game. Some creative modders have altered the game to help in physical therapy for stroke survivors. The repetitive motion of the game play allows those in rehab to regain movement in their arms or legs, typically after the nerves and tissue are damaged from the stroke. Very interesting read on how the game was re-purposed.

- Need some games this weekend for a soiree? GamerRant has 9 party games for all ages that may just fit the bill. Some new options are on the list outside of Wii Sports and Mario Party such as Nidhogg and Tower Ascension. Games that will start fights between couples...but are fun. There's nothing more satisfying then stabbing your pixelated enemy and they turn into a puddle of paint goop.

- Razer has officially purchased Ouya. While the hardware division will remain closed, Razer will be taking Ouya's name, software, and licensing, and be rebranded. The first step is with the Ouya App Store, which will now be called Cortex. Razer is looking to play the long-term game with this deal. Ouya has made great strides in bringing new developers and Triple-A groups to mobile devices, and will continue to go down this path as more people move away from consoles and to their phones. A new journey is starting for the small company that was.

- A non-gamer wrote an article on Tech Daily. I'm not entirely sure why or what the purpose was. The headline reads that we're all a bunch of addicts, but that it's not a bad thing because that's where the business is going. More people are gaming. Less people are going outside, but they're still being healthy with their gaming habits. It was an ambiguous headline that made me ponder way too long, because it's a dumb article. So if you need that today, here you go.

- Elite Daily looks at the concept that video gamers are really not bad people. It's the games that make them sound so much worse then they really are. "Nerd Rage" really only happens when we game. We throw out F-bombs and a few racial or sexual slurs, but only during game time. The rest of our lives? Not a peep. James Ivory, a Professor at Virgina Tech's Gamer Lab has been researching this. People are more aggressive and vulgar for 3 reasons: anonymity, lack of face to face interaction, and competition. Add them all up and you have a hostile environment in video games, and people feed off of it. Now it doesn't say if his study included women or if this was strictly focused on male gamers. But the findings are worth a read.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Goodluck Trying to Convince Me to See Pixels

This is the year where Adam Sandler will get picked on by just about everyone, and maybe some of his fans.

With the release of Pixels, the reviews have not been kind. But I don't think many of us were expecting a different outcome. The plot line was unimaginative and throwing in Peter Dinklage was not going to save the movie. Critics have panned it. The movie attending audience is raging against it. Some reviewers are trying to combat the hate by giving the movie a higher score because they feel bad for all the flack it's taking. Which, by the way, not a great idea if you want to be taken as a serious reviewer.

A number of people are pointing to Adam Sandler as the culprit for the movie being so bad. He not only produced the film, but helped with writing the script and casting choices. I realize that the hate train for Adam Sandler is running high right now after the Sony hack, where leaked e-mails included those talking about Sandler and how people in Hollywood don't like working with him. But he sells seats in a theater, so they put up with it. And it's true. For those of you who don't like Sandler, enough people still do to bring in box office numbers that make it worth having him stick around. But there's a change going on here. Fans of the man-child are starting to grow up, and they're not finding the actor/comedian as entertaining as he use to be. 

Comedy is growing in an ever-changing medium. There are some staples that will always work, such as fart jokes. But you look at movies like Trainwreck, and how far they are pushing the genre, audiences are waking up and seeing that they want more in their films. And Sandler's brand of humor may no longer cut it.

I personally have not seen the film. And I'm not a fan of Sandler. The only "comedy" movie of his I can sit through is Happy Gilmore, where he as adult enough to take on responsibilities and didn't act like a boy through 99% of the film. The other is Punch Drunk Love, which is not comedy. Dark comedy if you want to make an argument. An awesome script and cinematographer helped make that a great movie.

And even though I have spent over half of my life studying films, I know I'm not immune to reviews and critic responses. It's how I'm able to process content efficiently at times. Because I don't have the ability to watch every movie or tv show. Or read every book. Or see every play. I rely on reviewers whose ideology mirrors my own, and take a cue from them. It doesn't mean that I won't see Pixels, but I'm less inclined to do so when my reviewers of choice pan the movie. Or when Vanity Fair publishes a piece on how Pixels really is a "boys only" movie, and failed to capture that audience as well.

I've read a few reviews defending the work, saying it's not bad and could have been better if the concept was given a chance to develop. Initially when I saw the promotional images, it reminded me of the episode of Futurama where the Professor invents a machine that allowed the team to ask it questions on how their life would different "if." One of those scenarios was from Fry and "what if" life were like a video game? Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong all took center stage...just like in Pixels. The idea works for an animated show. Not so much a real-world movie. 

Do I care about Adam Sandler? Not really. No. And maybe he doesn't need to change his career path. Maybe this is the one misstep, but his next man-boy movie will do well? I don't know. But when one of my favorite reviewers uses the term "ball pit" as a comparison to the plot line of Pixels, I know it's not worth spending the money on. But if you enjoyed it, great! Glad that you did. It fits your description of a fun movie, then by all means enjoy the crap out of it. I'll sit over here with the Director's Cut of Blade Runner where my kind belongs.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cosplay In the U.S. Media - Shock to Resume!

Today will be a cosplay post. So gaming nerds, try again tomorrow. But hey! There are video game cosplays in this session to, so it's not all doom and gloom.

Seeing my news feed over the weekend, I was surprised to find cosplay on the front page of Forbes Magazine's website. Yeah. Forbes Magazine.

We've hit the big time! Woo!

The World Cosplay Summit held in Japan is underway this week, as an officially unofficial gathering of cosplayers around the globe in an attempt to take home the title of best cosplayers, and represent their country for a year of glory. It's also a free trip to Japan, so sign me up.

With the success of Heroes of Cosplay and SDCC hitting international levels, conventions and expos are becoming the beacon of nerdom with costumes. Fans showing off their love for a series, movie, or book by creating a costume and bringing a character to life. And now we're on the main stage with news stories and interviews coming out on a weekly basis. It's kind of cool to see.

Before the super nerds of the community start crying foul with the exposure focusing on the negatives, there are some good things to take away from this. Such as opening up the eyes of onlookers to see that we are more then weird people in costumes. That we are REAL people too. That notion still seems to be lost on many. And it can bring new people into the fandom. Individuals who thought they didn't fit in until they saw a costume and realize that they can be just as dorky as the rest of us. (What...we're dorky? Live with it.)

The story on Forbes is just okay. It reads like the writer went to the WCS website and copy/pasted information from last year after the page was translated by Google. But at least they took the extra step to get photos of the teams for 2015, with USA front and center (yea! Go Ladies!).

Still, this notion that cosplay is now out there for public consumption is a big step forward for geeks everywhere. We're being noticed. We're getting sewing patterns made just for us. Stores are being developed to focus on our needs. It's pretty damn cool.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Frankly, I'm Okay With How Most Women Look in Video Games

Since this was linked numerous times on my Facebook page and my feed, and subsequently hidden because I didn't need to be attached to every posting - seriously guys, too much - people have been seeking out my opinion. What about?, and yes that is a real website, did a reverse photoshop of video game characters, women specifically. In doing so, they are letting the world know that not being a size 0 is perfectly okay. In fact, it's pretty darn normal given the current waist size for men in the US is nearly 40 inches, and almost 38 for women. But women portrayed in the media, real and digital, have unrealistic body proportions. Longer legs, thin waists, hefty busts, essentially Barbie - which is not anatomically possible. You'd have health issues your entire life.

So the website took it upon themselves to address the concerns that they have with video game women. I know what some of you are thinking. That as a feminist I should be on board with these changes. That game developers are perpetuating stereotypes and images about the female body and those people should be ashamed of themselves.

Honestly? I'm passive about the whole thing. I mean, yeah, great. You took some known female characters and tried to make them more "real" to what a woman in the US would typically look like.

Altering the looks of the fighting characters is silly. I realize that athletic women come in multiple shapes and sizes, but the ones who had muscles got an improper makeover. The women who had healthy bodies like Jade from Mortal Kombat after the reverse photoshop now no longer hold the figure of a martial arts expert. And I watch a lot of real-world tournaments to know how men and women look in the arena. She may be busty, but Jade has the form of a black belt who trains daily.

Even shopping the bikini clad woman on the GTA V cover seems a bit silly. She wasn't overkill on the standards to begin with. She looked healthy. Her chest wasn't busting out. She had a bit of thigh and butt fat, and looked happy. The altered version isn't bad either, but I didn't see an issue with the original. You could argue that my brain has been warped by the media to think this way, but I've been studying film and television for 16 years. It's amazing how little I can be persuaded by a 15 second commercial. Instead I'll sit there and critically review it to determine it's affects on the population at large.

Also shopping Nabooru was poor taste. She's not even human. Yes her body is completely unrealistic for a HUMAN female, but again...not human. So we'll ignore that attempt to photoshop.

My other concern is that this could send the wrong message to the women who are naturally thin and whispy. Who have bodies like Rikku from Final Fantasy X-2 or Cortana from Halo, because yes - those women exist. I have that figure. And it's just the way that my body was built. I've TRIED to put on weight. I have been for years. But it's incredibly difficult. Maybe that'll change when my metabolism slows down, or they find a fix for my digestive problems. I don't know. But to call out the men and women who are healthy and have those types of bodies can only do harm.

Many people may not know this but an eating disorder is not just about the loss of weight to an extreme level (where it can cause irreversible damage to your body or death). It's is an unhealthy view of food and your body. That includes over-eating. If a young man or woman with a body like the biki-clad woman from GTA5 were to come across this site and see that their body is not "right," and they have to be like the photoshop version, it could cause an eating disorder to form.

That may sound silly to a few of you, but it does happen. I have been picked on since I was eight for being too thin. Yeah. Eight years old. I was too thin at eight when I was still growing up. When I started modelling. Go fig! And I've been teased about my thin arms and waist ever since then. "Eat a hamburger," is something I commonly heard throughout high school. Today I make fun of my size because I know I'm thin. I like food. It's the way my body is. Your words don't affect me. I eat healthy and I make choices that work for my body. But as a child or a teenager, hell even as an adult, if you don't have that mentality starting off to love yourself, you're going to be affected by messages like the ones was attempting to convey. Thus, a negative impact.

From a gaming perspective, I look to these characters as fantasy representations. They're not real people, or animals, or aliens, or whatever. If the game were on Earth with human beings, okay having "real" bodies would make more sense. But when you're on another planet, time period, with creatures that have 3 arms, purple skin, and big noses, I'm not going to expect "ideal" body proportions. Let's pick our battles in the appropriate frame-work. And let's not dismiss the developers that are providing us with awesome characters that fit with today's body. Horizon: Zero Dawn which premiered at E3 this year looks glorious. And all the humans look pretty darn real in size, shape, colors, you name it. It also helps that the story takes place on a future dystopian Earth.

As a feminist, I don't really have too much issue with how women look in video games. Yes most of them could use a breast reduction because ZOMG you would have eternal back problems with some of those boobs. My problem is with how men, women, gay, straight, black, white, Muslim, Catholic, and everything in between, are emotionally and narratively portrayed in games. Stereotypes. That's what should be the central focus. We can worry about the boob size later.

And pants that go below the thigh. Real pants would be nice to see every once in a while.

Update 7/27/15: Some additional reading - Forbes sees where I'm going with this one.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Windows 10 Changing How We Work on Gaming Consoles

Could the XBox One be our future personal computers?

I'm going to say no, but Matt Weinberger at Business Insider seems to think it'll happen sooner then we expect it. And it's all due in thanks to Windows 10. The updated operating system that seems to be already well received by many, though still not fully available, is considered a massive upgrade from the failures of Windows 7 and 8. The latter in particular centered around touch-screen PC's and was incredibly difficult to tweak to work with standard computers. The touch-screen phase did not catch on. People like to keep it on their phones and their phones alone. Not to mention the numerous amount of compatibility issues with programs, including other Microsoft products. I spent extra money on my laptop to ensure it was equipped with Windows 7. Over $150 extra. I didn't want my machine to have any knowledge of 8.

Windows 10 is a new start for Microsoft. Instead of rushing out a fix and releasing another half-ass OS, they took the time to listen to their consumers and try to craft something that would benefit the home user and the work environment.

What does this have to do with the XBox One? Part of what makes Windows 10 stand out is it's cross-platform communications. If your computer has the OS, and your phone, and your tablet, and your gaming device, they can all talk to each other so your content is always at your finger tips. You don't have to turn on everything to experience the stuff you own digitally. While other consoles like the PS3 have tried this, it was within limited capacity. Microsoft wants to make it so if you have an Excel file on your PC, you should be able to pull it up and work on it through your XBox.

And soon the XBox One will be able to support this. Eventually the systems will update to the new OS. There isn't a set timeline on this, but most people are predicting that it will be sometime late summer, or early fall. On Tuesday Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft's XBox division, announced on Twitter that they were working on a keyboard and mouse for the console. Because using a controller to type anything is cumbersome and pointless.

It's a great idea to have the communication, but I don't believe the XBox One is going to be a revolutionary platform for computing. Not when some PC's and laptops are under $300 with the basic programs needed to provide content to the users. For businesses and users to seriously consider a gaming console as their new PC it would require an overhaul on marketing the product, and providing it for a price-point that is on the ball with cheap computers. Because remember, you're only getting the system with this. That doesn't include the TV or monitor, accessories, cables, or soon to be sold separately mouse and keyboard. The system would also need to have restriction functions for administrators to control on the network to prevent gaming or accessing content that could affect job performance. Employees can't spend their day surfing the internet and playing games. They need to be productive.

Having an XBox that you can't game on seems pointless. But maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

After yesterday's post, I think we need to have a bit of a break from the serious discussions. So let's round up some of the gaming news around the internet that may break our sanity. Joy!

- Metro UK did a round up of 18 things that today's kids could never handle with 90's gaming. Big emphasis on this article coming from the UK because there are some quirks with gaming overseas that we didn't see in the 90's in the U.S. While some products were universal such as Mario and Sonic, the magazine GamesMaster threw me for a loop. I didn't know it was a thing, and I use to collect gaming mags.

But yes kids of today. Nintendo Thumb is a thing. If you'd like proof, head to my YouTube channel and check out my Extra Life stream from last year with Super Mario RPG. I pulled out my SNES controller for it, and had hard-core thumb soreness for the next day. My thumb still hurts sitting here thinking about it...

- A study posted on PLOS ONE, which is an open academic website to allow public use of scholastic content for free (about damn time too!) looked into how a man's status and performance in a video game can alter how they interact with other people, women in particular. Since it's a long arse entry, I'll sum it up for you: if you're sucking at a game, you're more likely to be hostile to women. If you're good, you're more likely to be a gentlemen.

That pretty much goes in conjunction with my theory that all gamers are dicks until they start winning. You get the good vibes, some happy endorphin's, and everyone benefits from it. But you're still a dick. You're just a dick on a winning streak. :)

(Please note the high amount of sarcasm in that last paragraph.)

- Business Insider dives into why classic video game series die, and are rarely resurrected. Though I wonder if he's been looking around and ignoring the reboots. Tomb Raider and Hitman I'm talking to you. While the premise of the article is interesting, the writer never actually dives into the "why." He drones on and on about these cool reboots of Battlefront and how fans are bringing back favorites like Shenmue, Okay. Then why are other series not returning from the grave? Why are these games specials and not the others? Is it all just about dollars and figures? Some researching and explaining would be great. Thanks.

- The College Fix (and I truly don't know if this is a satire sight or not - it's listed as a college student driven editorial board for the political "right," pulling articles from around the U.S.) re-posted an excerpt that medieval imagery is being pulled and reformatted for video games by the "far right" to legitimize white male supremacy. Um. Okay then? The example used was the image of Excalibur, the legendary sword of King Arthur. The British National Party (BNP) uses the sword to promote "Englishness" according to the original writer. Because it's patriotic, and symbolizes justice, courage, and fighting for the wrongs of the world. And it's in a story that features white men, and one white woman - Guinevere, Arthur's wife, who doesn't do anything in the original tale. Feel free to take this with a huge grain of salt. Maybe some vinegar too.

- Finally, because no idea is too crazy in video games, there's a dating simulator for orcs.


I'll just leave the link here and go about my business.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Comfort of Video Games

No silly stories or mocking bad articles today. I'd like to link to Kotaku's latest piece by Patrick Klepek and talk about how video games can help victims. And I use that word to cover pretty much every and all forms of abuse. Whether you have survived a shark attack, a mugging, mental attacks, or anything else, there's something to be said about video games. They are more then just coping mechanisms. Video games help victims confront their past and steadily work to overcome the pain. Not by reliving the moment of the abuse, but through in-depth story-telling and thoughtful character development. It's a slow process, just like any method of therapy. But it offers people an opportunity to feel whole again in a way that conventional methods have yet grasped.

For all that the media focuses on with video game violence, it's good to see stories about hope come from our neck of the woods.

The problem that I've run into with my posting is finding related articles. I know they exist. I have seen hundreds of personal stories on forums, and have talked to people at conventions as they relate why video games mean so much to them. Sadly, these stories are not deemed worthy of newspapers and local media stations. But if you've ever joined a gaming forum, you have seen one of these tales. And most of them are likely to be true. There's no fame by lying. There is not pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There is comfort and closure by letting your past come to light - so that is a gain. It doesn't make them famous. It makes them human.

It took me a while to admit it and seek help, but I do suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks. It stems from mental anguish that I received in middle school and high school. I was ostracized, humiliated, and degraded by other kids and teachers and staff members as well. I still don't feel comfortable getting into the details, but it completely changed me as a person. And it didn't get any better in college. I had a full on mental break down after I graduated with my Bachelor's degree. The person that I had turned into wasn't me. It wasn't who I wanted to be.

My doctor prescribed video games to me. No really. She did. I'm still working on getting her to write it down so I can shellac and frame it and show off that I have an awesome physician. She understood that the environment I was in wouldn't allow me to speak up. When I did, I was further shamed by people around me (Parents excluded. They were the only ones to listen to me for the longest time). And her response was to play more video games. It was an outlet to allow me to channel my fears, anger, and depression into an activity that wouldn't bring harm on myself or others. Through video games I learned about the power of creativity. It allowed me to confront my past and develop into the person I always wanted to be.

There are still moments where I can't play a game or go online without concern that something will trigger a memory. It happened to me just a week ago, when people made fun of me for something I didn't know about. I'm still new to the game. Everyone is new at some point, right? But it was enough for them to degrade my skills and I'm incredibly thankful that my internet connection opted to die on me at that moment, else I would have left under my own accord.

And how did video games help? By giving me unique stories to get lost in. By providing characters with their own mental, physical, and moral dilemmas that pushed them to still move on and save the world. By providing me with a community of like-minded people who, mostly, don't shun me for being me. Mostly. There will always be trolls and asshats, but they make up a minute portion. I didn't have to feel afraid in a video game. I could control my character's destiny. And through games I learned what it takes to have a fulfilling life. That it's not about what everyone else expects of me, but what I want.

It doesn't seem like an Earth-shattering revelation, but for many it can be a life altering experience.

If you have a story to share, or a link to others, please post them in the comments. I'd love to be able to get more of these moments out on the web and let the world see just how important video games are. Not because we're fans, but because they help.

Monday, July 20, 2015

SGC Indie Game Wrap-Up

This weekend I had the pleasure of being invite to experience SGC, the Gaming Convention. It's three days of video games, video games, and more video games, but with a small con feel. ScrewAttack is a gaming website with a formula that sounds familiar: news, reviews, and miscellaneous YouTube videos. They use to hold a convention years ago, but after low attendance rates, they cancelled it and opted to focus on other projects. It returned in 2013 and has been steadily growing since then.

The convention itself was okay. I'm a panel person, so I found that there was a lot of downtime between events. They hosted only 2 panel rooms, one on the main stage and a secondary Q&A room. At most then were 5 panels a day. Needless to say, the convention expected you to game, and game a lot. And you can get burned out on too much gaming. Seriously. You can. There's only so much a person can play on the arcade cabinets before it becomes too much.

But! What I wanted to talk about with this post were the independent games that I found in the Dealer's Room. I was a bit surprised to see that SGC opened it's doors to developers and allow them to show off their wares. It wasn't on the level of most big-name gaming conventions, but it was humbling to see that care is given to the indies. I was able to try out pretty much every game on the floor. Here's what I liked:

Super Slam Dunk Touchdown. Created by Tipping Goat, it's 2D mayhem with a 3D engine. I could easily see this being a great party game, and cause a lot of relationship issues if you play with your spouse or significant other. It's a 3 vs 3 sports match. Your goal is to get the ball into the opponents net and score points. However your players are a mis-mesh of different sports figures, with unique abilities. One team can be comprised of a Baseball player, a Basketball player, and a Roller-derby player. The Roller-derby player has a speed boost because they are on skates. While the Baseball player is able to hit the ball further across the field with their bat. With this weird team combo, you have to make it work and score points.

You can also beat up people in the middle of the field. That helps too. The matches are short and a lot of zany things happen on the field. It's quick. Fun. And I can easily see this being picked up by people of all ages.

We Slay Monsters. This title is currently on Steam for beta access. It's a turn-based RPG that utilizes standard playing cards for attacks and abilities. You play the cards like Poker. Pairs do more damage then a single card. A Flush ranks higher then the pair, and so on. The story is you are the headmaster of a school for Dungeoneers (aka Monster Slayers). Your goal is to make your school one of the best, and that means sending out your students to crawl around in a few dungeons, level up, and bring their rewards back to the school.

As you progress in the game, your school is ranked on a leader board, and you are given marks for how well your students perform at their monster stabbing tasks.

I found this game to be quite addictive really quickly. It was very easy to jump into for inexperienced gamers, and still provided a level of difficultly in completing the objectives of the dungeons. You do a lot of clicking. A lot of it. Each dungeon is randomly generated with tasks that can vary from 'find this item' to 'save this person.' And your students have a one time use. They are only good for the dungeon and that's it. All of their levels, their equipment can not be transferred back to the school. You get to send out new kids in their wake. Which definitely adds to the challenge as the dungeons become more arduous.

It also has ducks. That explode. And cows. That fart. It was a lot of fun. I'm considering it a purchase while in beta, and give them time to work out the kinks. It was a good twist on a classic RPG model.

Grumblebugs Jugglin'. While I'm not a fan of the title, I think this has big hit mobile gaming potential. In fact, it's out right now on Android phones for free. The premise is very simple. When you start the game, a blue Grumblebug appears on the screen. And your goal is to keep it in the air by juggling it. There is a "juggle" area at the bottom of the screen that the bug must reach. Tap the button at that time and the bug will bounce back up. As the game progresses, more bugs are added in. There are bonuses, power-ups, bombs, and birds that you have to flick away in order to keep your bugs safe.

Timing is crucial. In the beginning I noticed that there is a bit of a learners curve to get you accustomed to the set up, before the taps require you to be more precise. My one complaint is that the music in the game can be distracting. Initially I thought that the taps were timed to the music after my first few clicks, but after letting nearly all of the bugs died, I found out that I was completely wrong.

Other then, this is a really fun game. Easy to pick up during work breaks. And the visual style is easy on the eyes. Playful and colorful!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Shenmue 3 Breaking Kickstarter Record

Is anyone really surprised that Shenmue 3 is now the most funded game in Kickstarter history? Probably not. After the Sony E3 conference this year, where they announced a Shenmue 3 in the works and it would only continue with the help of gamers, fans flooded the site and were able to raise $1 million within the first day. Since then, the game's backing has steadily climbed and is well over $5 million. With 11 hours to go in the campaign, as of this posting, will it surpass $6 mil?

Needless to say, the developers are probably incredibly surprised that people still love Shenmue.

Originally released on the Sega Dreamcast, Shenmue was one of the first open-world, 3 dimensional action adventure titles we had seen in video games. It interspersed quick time events with dialogue, combat, role-playing, and a day and night system. This was 1999/2000 kids. Completely revolutionary for it's time. What attracted people to the title was the depth of the plot. Players maintained, and obviously retained, deep connections to the characters. You play as Ryo Hazuki, a teenage martial artist, who returns home to his family's dojo. He witnesses a confrontation between his father and another man. After his father dies, Ryo swears to bring justice and revenge, as it is the martial arts way. But as you progress through the story, you see Ryo's pain as he copes with his father's unexpected death. You can feel his anguish, and emulate sympathy through the NPC's. It was really compelling at the time.

Part of the reason the game series did not continue is that the developers deemed it an expensive failure. Only a million copies sold on a $70 million budget. Ouch.

But it's been a fan favorite for nearly 2 decades, and it was enough to prompt a response. Creator Yu Suzuki has wanted to continue the story for this long, but no one would back him with the resources. Sony has, but only if the fans would support it.

I know a number of people complained about a major gaming company essentially "begging" for money to build this game. But I'd like to point out to the last budget and low sales. That's why people were not willing to pony up the funds. They'll do it if the fans want it. So, Kickstarter it is.

The game is projected to release in Q4 2017. If you're interested in supporting, $29 will get you a digital copy of the game at release. Not a bad deal. Good luck to you Suzuki-san. We'll be waiting patiently for your masterpiece to be complete.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Game Development for Britain

For all of the crazy political things going on in Britain right now, the Culture Minister is doing some fine work in championing video games as a source of artistic development. Ed Vaizey was appointed the position in July of 2014, and he's still pretty young to the game. He first entered politics in 2005. He also loves movies, so thumbs up for that.

As the keynote speaker for this year's 'Develop:Britain,' a conference for developers and technology business leaders, he commented that video games are just as important as films for British culture.

Games are taking their rightful place alongside the film industry as one of our most important assets.”

Starting out as the Culture Minister, he saw the potential video games had at allowing Britain to be one of the leading countries in the world that produced this form of art. But all of his colleagues saw was violence and anti-social behavior (all predicated by inclusive studies and stereotypes of gamers), and that games would never amount to anything. Vaizey wanted to change that perception. He helped create tax credits to bring new studios into the country, and allow start-up developers a chance to explore, unburdened. He has also helped start a protype fund with University Abertay, which will be used to support game products and provide new jobs within the game business.

Vaizey has also had a hand in the Next Gen Skills Academy. It's a virtual resource for 16 to 18 year olds who want to be in the game industry. The cool part is that it provides apprenticeships directly with big developers like Ubisoft, Sony, and Pinewood Studios, along with university course work.

It's good to see a few politicians here and there that want to bring video games up in the world. I know it's mostly for monetary reasons, but when has something not been about money? Everyone's got to get paid. But it's also good to point out that our age group is coming into our own. We're starting to take on more roles that can affect nations. The children who grew up with Mario and Sonic are getting ready to take political offices, and can put their stamp of approval on everything to do with accelerating the growth of gaming.

It's a pipe dream, I know. But it just takes a few of us to make a difference. It's good to see someone campaigning for us. Even for business purposes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Is Prime Day Worth it for Gamers?

If you weren't aware of this because of your lack of access to technology, or you have ad blockers that you couldn't see the messages being spammed everywhere, today is Prime Day. Amazon is celebrating it's 20th birthday by having a sale that they claim will be bigger then any Black Friday. For 24 hours, they will have their servers processing deals that may be a steal in some situations.

Why is it called Prime Day? While Amazon wants to thank their customers, they're only giving the deals to Prime members. These are the people that pay and extra $99 a year to get a few bonuses by being with Amazon: such as pre-paid 2-day shipping, a movie library for viewing of select titles, and a book rental for their kindle. For the rest of you? Well, you're sol. You don't get the deals.

It's a nice way of saying thanks to the customers that built the company, but only if they pay for the extras that they may never use.

Anyway, so that's the deal. You have to be a Prime member to access the savings. If you're not, no discount for you. And like their Gold Box deals, certain items will only come up during an hour in the day. GamerRevolution has rounded up a list of what will be on sale, but not necessarily when. Expect it to be savings on hardware and accessories, less on software as new products are being released onto the market. Based on the list, the gaming selection is pretty poor. There's Mortal Kombat X for PC at $41.99. And...yeah. It's really piss-poor for Amazon, when they typically have a few good gaming deals to offer. So save yourself the time and the $99 if you're not a Prime Member.

But if you have to have that Skylanders figurine, you can still sign up for Prime and get the savings. Or you can check out Wal-Mart. After Amazon announced their sale, the retail giant combated the challenge with their own super-savings busters. It began this morning, and it will also run throughout the day, and into through the end of the month, with deals rotating daily. No exclusive membership required. And they will price match whatever is on Amazon Prime today.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Revised Stance on Horror Video Games

Let's talk about the horror genre of video games once more. I know. I can already hear the groans, fair readers. I've broached the subject before and haven't returned to it since I found the slew of games, at the time, lacking in any real "horror" aspect. In fact, I stated in 2013 that these games no longer exist. So few are produced that the genre no longer holds a candle to it's former flame. The few that have been labeled as horror are not scary, but a version of gross-out, FPS gaming. It's Saw meets Call of Duty with the Nazi Zombie DLC.

But something has happened over the past year that has altered the state of horror games in the industry. Even with the falling out of Silent Hills, there is an opportunity to be excited about the horror genre once more.

Let this be an open discussion about horror games. Let this by my revised stance on the horror genre.

I'll preface this topic by stating that horror is going to be the small fish in the big pond for most entertainment mediums. It's been like this for centuries, so don't expect it to change overnight. And with video games it's no different. Most of the horror games you'll find today are from smaller studios with direct to Steam/XBox Live/PSN downloads. Why? Because they are cheap to produce. It's not difficult to scare a person. Anything could be scary to someone: bugs, clowns, or maybe toilet paper. That's not to say that there isn't an art to the scare. There is a world of difference between Dawn of the Dead fear and Shawn of the Dead laughable fear. But in general, the horror genre doesn't require a lot of energy to produce. Fancy scripts, big name actors, expensive scenic locations? Nope. Get us a cabin in the woods and a lot of corn syrup and red food coloring, and we're good to go!

It's no different with video games where a pixilated creature doesn't have to be pretty. It takes more time to make realistic human face then to whip together a zombie (so I've been told by dozens of developer friends). And certain tactics from movies and television like the jump scare are very easy to replicate in games.

Which is why products like Resident Evil and Silent Hill stood out. Mainstream successes that didn't follow the horror cut and paste model. Sure they did a few things that were cliche, but as a whole they perfected the concept of what horror video games could be.

Unfortunately, we haven't seen many repeats of these hits since then. The horror genre for games has evolved into the likes of Left4Dead. Games that don't necessarily scare you, and they have some gross-out aspects, but they're more first person shooter style. Less about fear. More about gore. Like...Saw. Okay I really don't mean to bring everything back to that movie, but I blame it for a lot of the failings with scary movies right now.

To reiterate my initial post on L4D, the game is fun. Not scary to me. Maybe to someone else out there. But not me.

But there has been a noticeable shift over the past year in the way independent and triple-A developers are tackling horror games. And I look to Five Nights at Freddy's as such an example. It's one of the only video game based movies that I'm looking forward to. The premise is easy for anyone to grasp: you're a new nightwatchman for a kids entertainment place. Think of Chuck E Cheese. Apparently so weird things have been going on at the store during the nights, and previous guards have all quit or vanished. It's up to you to make it through the week and potentially find out what's going on. Or not. Your call. The game leaves it up to you to decide. The outcome of the game changes at each stage. You really could sit on your bum in the security office the whole time and nothing happens. Or you might get ganked in the first 5 minutes. The AI was developed to be unpredictable. It's just enough to make the user weary and enhance the fear through every step of the game.

Five Nights does focus a lot on the jump scare. You'll be lazily running through the security cameras, thinking all is well, and the second you close the screen, a pair of really creepy bear eyes will be staring you down.

What I think this game does well is provide us with an AI that is not intuitive. We can't decipher their moves. While we have a good idea of where the suited creatures more roam, we never really know. That is what makes Five Nights a challenge, and scary. You don't know what to expect. It's freaky.

Slenderman works in the same way. You can run and pick up all of the pages without ever seeing him, and be perfectly fine. Or you run into him at every turn and can never get away fast enough. Slenderman also has an interesting visual style that is very reminiscent of early horror movies, and the shaky camera from The Blair Witch Project, but it's not as obnoxious.

Aliens: Isolation is also proving to be a horror winner, though Sega claims it's sales were lackluster. 2.2 million is still great given it's production size, but we're in a world where everything coming out of a top tier studio is expected to appeal to broad interests for more money. But we're not talking about numbers. We're talking about scaring the crap out of gamers. Isolation does just that, really embracing the name to ensure gamers receive an experience that feels authentic and creepy. You feel the claustrophobia in rooms, in air vents, and through the character as you see her hands become clammy and leaving sweaty prints along walls. The game mechanics are unforgiving, giving the players that are weak of heart the run of their lives. It's unrelenting when the xenomorphs know where you are. I can't describe this game without getting chills up my spine. The fear placed in the game really comes back on the gamer. You have to conquer your own dread before you can successfully navigate Isolation.

And then you have The Walking Dead game episodes that provide a more human touch to a world littered with the undead. This is a new type of fear - not in your character surviving nor in the wave of zombies. But in the choices you make. Will doing X result in Y. Your actions hold more weight then anything else in the game, and that's frightening. To know that if you don't kill this character sitting in front of you, a family member, a loved one, your best friend, they're going to be infected and turn into a zombie. It's emotional fear, and horror games have never truly dove down that path before.

These games are gleaming hopes that horror may come back into style. I was disappointed that Silent Hills was cancelled. It had the makings to be everything we want horror games to be. But seeing what the independent studios are producing, we may have a new wave on our hands. Maybe horror games are no longer being tossed aside and forgotten. Games can be scary once again, and I'm looking forward to what the future has to offer.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Satoru Iwata - The Man That Gave Us Fun

The fan tributes to Mr. Iwata are coming in. A day has yet to pass and the Nintendo geeks of the world are paying their respects through art and literature. Nintendo's Japan headquarters pulled their company flag down to half-mass, and the fan photos came pouring in. Kotaku even posted about a rainbow being seen overhead HQ when the rest of the city was seeing rain clouds.

For a number of the younger fans, Reggie and Miyamoto are the kings of Nintendo. The puppets are proof of their influence. Mr. Iwata has been there, but more of the business man. We rarely got to see his fun side, though he has always been a gamer. He walked into Nintendo in the 1980's, asked for a job even though he had no programming skills, and taught himself. He has had his hand in developing and signing off on some of the biggest projects the company has ever created. Sure there were some not-so-great moments with the GameCube and the Wii-U. I'm still trying to decipher if the Wii-U is a console or a peripheral. But this man signed off on the Nintendo DS and the Wii. He did a number of things right, despite what the fan boys may tell you.

His influence in games was great, even though they were not recognized as often as the developer leads that make up Nintendo. His touches were here and there, and sometimes so big that we didn't realize he was the man behind the game. Brain Age is one such fine example. When the Nintendo DS first launched, many of the corporate higher ups were out and about, doing press conferences and trying to push for sales of the system. But Iwata was not one of them. Instead he was in Sendai, speaking with a professor to talk about the academic's popular brain exercise books. Five months later, we were introduced to Brain Age. It's the 10th most popular game in Nintendo's history, and has sold 19 million units world-wide.

His philosophy is simple, and one of the best: "Video games are meant to be just one thing. Fun. Fun for everyone."

From that he helped build Nintendo into the brand that we all know. Because when you think of Fun, Nintendo is probably one of the first to come to mind. He has influenced Nintendo in ways we have, and have not seen. With a legacy to be honored, thanks for all the fun, Mr. Iwata.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Iwata, Thank You For Your Service

Just Confirmed: Nintendo President Satoru Iwata has passed away at the age of 55. Last year he announced health issues regarding a slow-growing, but painful, cancer, and underwent surgery for it. His health appeared to be improving, but ultimately it has taken his life.

Iwata has been with Nintendo since the 1980's. He has seen the rise, and fall, and rise again of video games, helping lead the company through it's greatest successes, and some of it's flops.

Good thoughts and prayers for his family and to his second family at Nintendo.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Yes. We Really Should Stop Pre-Ordering Video Games

Luke Plunkett is really trying to push gamers to stop pre-ordering video games. His latest Kotaku article is making the rounds again, this time on TechSpot. The list of articles regarding the movement to stop pre-orders is adding up.

If you want the summary of the arguments, here's the list:

1: Don't pre-order.
2: More games are being released today, then even 3 years ago, that have DLC content. You no longer get a completed game. You have to buy the rest of it months after release.
3: The bonuses are superficial. In-game content can typically be purchased later, and most of the time they're not worth it. The physical items are cheaply produced. (The last good item I received were the book stands from Little Big Planet 2. Those suckers are sturdy!)
4: The only games worth pre-ordering are imports (where the company can only make a certain number at a time due to budget constraints. This does not include Call of Duty, a game that will always be available).
5: Pre-orders are a guaranteed sale. Less then 10% of people don't pick up their pre-orders. (That's a GameStop stat.)
6: Bugs, bugs, and more bugs. Because publishers know you're getting the game, they can work out the bugs later. This rule is in conjunction with #2.

And yes, I am on this bandwagon. The last game I pre-ordered, which I regret, was the FF14 expansion pack. The only reason was because I knew I would forget about the game on release date, and then have to do the arduous task of checking with local Best Buy stores to see if they had a copy for PC. I regret the purchase because Amazon didn't ship out the game until 4 days after the release date. I'm pretty sure that defeated the purpose of ordering it with shipping at release, but maybe it's just me. The in-game items have no merit. They really don't. It's a circlet and an earring to commemorate FF4's anti-hero, Cecil. They are level 1 and have no stats. They just look pretty. Pay $30 more and you can get a griffon mount. Yeah. Okay. I won't sign up for that, but good try.

The culture of video games and how we consume them is changing. At the same time, customers are not idiots. We want products that work, and when we pre-order it, you better darn well believe that we want a full game in our hands. Case in point, Batman: Arkham Knight for the PC. It was pulled within days after release from Steam for being so buggy, it was virtually unplayable. Other retailers followed suit. In the case of Steam with their new refund rules, people were able to get full refunds on their purchases that they wouldn't have been able to receive in stores.

Customers were delivered a broken product, and not even a few weeks into the game's existence there is DLC on the way.

As a gamer, I understand that you want to add more content after a game is done. Maybe you get a new story idea, or want people to experience the game from the perspective of a different character. But there's no reason to deliver us broken products. And we're not all gullible enough to fall for pre-orders bonuses for pants.

For the number of people who commented on the articles mentioned earlier who said they will still pre-order, there are just as many who have been slighted one too many times and now opt to wait.

Getting Dragon Age: Inquisition 5 months after release was one of my better decisions. There's still a headless man in the soldier's training area, but no crashes to desktop that plagued the game early on.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

How Middle Schoolers Really Feel About Video Game Gender Issues

"Kids are fed up with Kate Upton."

It's such a powerful statement and makes you wonder what the heck is making kids annoyed with the model? So I'm borrowing Time's opening line.

Rosalind Wiseman is a teacher and an author (see Masterminds of Wingmen and Queen Bees and Wannabes which turned into the movie Mean Girls). Over the past year she would hear the groans of her students during breaks and recess while they were on their phones, playing the latest free downloadable game. What was the issue at hand? Being spammed advertisements for Game of War, a mobile, point and click game that features Kate Upton. She stands out like a sore thumb among the other actors - who are all male and wearing full clothing, armor, bracers, helmets, the works. As the lone female, she wears a bustier, a flowing skirt that leaves little to the imagination, and walks around the battlefield unscathed while still maintaining perfect skin and hair.

Wiseman's students were getting really sick of the ads. Not just because they would interrupt them from their game, but they were tired of how unrealistic Kate Upton was in the setting. She's not fighting. She's not a playable character. She's not a warrior or a leader (who are all male). She's there to look pretty and sell the game to teenage boys and men, letting the world know that Game of War is a man's game. No girls allowed.

Working with her colleague Charlie Kuhn and gaming expert Ashley Burch, Wiseman set out to find out how kids actually feel about gender representation in video games. They spent a year pulling together data and interviewing 1,400 students. Wiseman was up-front in her article that she did not have the proper resources to produce a full-fledged study, and realizes that there are flaws with her methodology. But, she wanted to start the conversation to get people to think about how video games are played and portrayed. She gets a thumbs up from me for that one. And hey, maybe she'll get a grant out of this to do a full study.

Also it points out that kids are not stupid. That has always been such a big misnomer, and it still irks me. My parents had me involved in the world. They allowed me to watch R movies when I was 6, play M rated games my whole life, and talked to me about "the birds and the bees" before I was 10. When an adult said "oh she won't know, she's just a kid" I either spoke up and entered the conversation or my parents defended me.

Kids are not stupid. They understand exactly what the world is feeding them, and their sensibilities are warped because of what we tell them. If we give them half of a chance to learn and think for themselves, you'd be amazed at what they come up with.

Anyway! Back to the study.

According to Wiseman's research, 47% of middles school boys and 61% of high school boys either agreed or strongly agreed that female characters are treated as sex objects too often. An 8th grader commented that if women are objectified, it defeats the purpose of the "fight" when referring to Mortal Kombat.

70% of girls and 78% of boys don't care about the gender of the lead character. And as they age, boys care less about playing as a male lead, while girls care more about playing as a female lead. Kids just want a good game to play.

Here's the fun one: 17% of the girls surveyed like sports games (and specifically stated FIFA and Madden) and 26% preferred FPS like Halo and Call of Duty. This is just what they liked. That doesn't mean that they don't play the other genres. They like CoD but also play a ton of sports games with their family and friends.

There is a change going on in video games and how people are consuming then. The tried and true methods will need a face lift if they expect to compete against the titles that are featuring female or minority leads.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

There are so many stories on the interwebs today, and none of them are worth discussing in length. So, we'll do another link round-up, that I know you all have been missing. Here are the best, and sometimes worse, stories about video games on the internet today:

- is yet another website attempting to provide a list of games that should be made into movies. The problem is half of their list comprises properties that have already been announced for future movie releases, such as Halo (pending a new director and screenwriter) and Fallout. The other half of the list are Triple A titles. They're on the "list" because they are well-known games and are popular amongst gamers. It doesn't matter if the content is suitable for movies at all - the writer of the article just wants more video game movies. Which lends to irony in his opening, as he mentions the failures of video game movies of the past because they did not lend themselves well to the movie medium.

If you're going to spend your time making a list, at least put a few minutes of thought into it.

- Escape/Puzzle rooms are becoming a thing. So, this is a bit weird, but bear with me for a moment. Imagine you're playing Resident Evil, the first one. And as your walking through the mansion you have to unlock doors and passageways by finding clues and overcoming obstacles, while killing zombies along the way. After an episode of 'The Bachlorette' (...can't believe I'm referencing this) aired where a date took place in such a room, people have been seeking out such puzzle rooms for a night of entertainment.

The concept is pretty simple. You and a few other people are locked in a room, or in a home, and you have to find your way out. Two businesses in Philadelphia have seen an increase in reservations, and more are on the way. Personally, I'll stick to the Zombie Lazer Tag.

- Christian Science Monitor is looking at the use of video games in schools, specifically Minecraft. Now before you raise the banner or war, CSM is one of the few religious sites that takes an honest look at the world around them. They realize that humanity is changing, and they grow with the times instead of holding people back in the dark ages. Having said that, the article is pretty good. It covers the pros and cons and talks to educational experts about the impact technology has on education. And while games don't always work in every situation, if more people step outside of the box and incorporate it, games can have a dramatic effect on children's lives.

- Want your own action figure of a video game character but don't want to pay the crazy $350 statue prices? Amazon has a solution for you. They have partnered with Sandboxr, to help consumers 3D print their own figures. Users can select up to 40 base characters, and using the program they can add in their own details. Prices start at $30 and go up to $90. It's a way for Sandboxr to get the word out about the innovation of 3D printing. It's still a cool trick for geeks, but it hasn't been embraced by mainstream consumers yet. You can start crafting today. Paint may not be included.

- Destructoid has been steadily going downhill for a while. So take the article I'm about to link with a giant grain of salt. Women are motivated to play violent video games to feel more attractive, according to a post on The Conversation. The authors are a Biologist and an Evolutionary Scientists from Australia, so there's a chance at credibility! Yea! But the results sounds vapid. " [T]he women who played violent video games more thought of themselves as a better catch than those who played them less." And the writers don't go into detail on why this is. What they describe is more of a gloss-over of "gamer girl" stereotypes. "If he thinks I play video games, then he'll like me!" Sad. Real research please!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Doodles Getting More Complex

Ultraman (1979 film).jpg
Google has another doodle up today to celebrate Eiji Tsuburaya. He would have been 114 today, and is the creator behind Godzilla and Ultraman. Best known as the special effects master, he was able to bring jaw dropping city destruction through models and miniatures. His visual style influence Japanese audiences for generations, and became a staple for movie development around the world.

Enjoy the doodle today! It's cute and very easy point and click. The second one requires a bit of timing and you only have 2 passes to drop the monster head onto the actor. The concept is you are developing the next Tsuburaya movie and walk through the steps of creating the special effects. When you complete the game, it shows you the movie you have developed.

It's also Ringo Starr's birthday. So. A Monster Movie doodle and a Beatle are born. Enjoy!

Monday, July 06, 2015

What Happens at Minecon, Stays at Minecon

The ever expanding world of Minecraft came full circle this past weekend, as many took the pilgrimage to London to experience the upgraded gaming experience. Minecon 2015 has already been labeled by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest conference dedicated to a single game franchise, selling 10,000 tickets at roughly $200 USD a pop for a weekend of non-Independence Day related content. I'd like to point out that Minecon is obviously not the largest gaming expo. PAX East draws in over 60,000 people yearly, and Gamescon in Germany easily rakes in 200,000+ (because it's free). And before you mention QuakeCon, QC is game tournies across the board and does not solely focus on the video game Quake. Minecon was all about Minecraft, 24/2 (since it was a 2 day event).

The talk of the town was for the holographic demo that we all saw at E3 this year with the Microsoft booth. But it seemed like very few people in the media were able to get a coveted slot into the rooms that housed the illustrious gear. The few that did were from analysis and Microsoft employees who had their kids provide a response. Pretty lame. Maybe we'll have more details later in the year.

From the look of things, Minecon was just like any other gaming convention. Except it was 100% about Minecraft. Even Mattel had a booth in the expo hall that dolled out the wears and licensing of all things Minecraft. Card games, bobble heads, figurines, you name it. Any 10 year old "miner" would have had the time of their lives. 

There were also booths showcasing how Minecraft is affecting the world, from schools to the United Nations. Displays appeared around the convention, and hopefully gave a glimpse to the older generations at how much impact  video game can have if you keep an open mind.

For us adults, there are a lot of updates to look forward to, and some features Microsoft is working on. They're bringing more development into their Washington offices, and the Sweedish location is being trimmed down further, focusing on the Pocket Edition of the game. There is a team at the Washington headquarters working on developing a unified Minecraft platform so that PC and XBox users can play on one server/world. On July 29th, a beta version of the game will be available for Windows 10. It'll be a stripped down version and be missing a lot of the features of the base game, but it's a chance to test it out on the new operating system.

Weapon upgrades are on the way! Duel-wielding and enchanted arrows for the adventurers of the game. And The End will be getting an upgrade, becoming a full-fledged area similar to The Nether. Players will be able to traverse the region and explore new dungeons that open up. 

Overall, it seemed like an enjoyable experience for the kids who are really into Minecraft. If you're an adult and could care less, then this wouldn't have been your first choice of event for a 4th of July weekend. I was hoping for more information on the hologram, but we'll just have to sit and wait for now.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Baer's Office In a Museum!

Worthy of a mention - The National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. has finished and opened up their latest display. It’s Ralph Baer’s workshop.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the 1980’s and the early days of gaming, we know Baer as the ‘father of video games.’ He created the first console, the Odyssey, and held over 150 patents. He is one of the first to hold a degree in Science in Television Engineering, worked for NASA, and fought in WWII.

The man is a legend among the video game nerds of old. He passed away in December of 2014 at the age of 92. But now! You can see his workshop where he built some of his creations, including the video game console. While some of the pieces in the display are recreations, a number of items are original pieces. Furniture and computers were given the preservation treatment so Baer’s shop could come to life.

You’ll also find a trademark jacket that he wore, some stuffed animals, and a few gaming Easter Eggs. We gamers like our eggs. The display is open now, and there isn’t an end date listed for it. Looks like it may be a part of their permanent collection.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The 5 Best Movie Opening Sequences

I’ve been in a movie kick lately. And hearing a song on the way to work from a favorite film of mine, it spurred me to start up another list.

The 5 Best Movie Opening Sequences!

These are the scenes that kick off the movie. They bring the audience into the story and keep their butts in the seats for 2 hours. They can be humorous, full of action, or really depressing – but then why would you stay in the movie if you know you’re going to spend the rest of it crying your eyes out? This is why I will never understand The Notebook or movies of the like. Even Grave of the Fireflies has a softer opening to ease people into the drama-laden plot…I’m digressing again.

To make it clear, I don’t mean title sequences. These are portions of the story told at the beginning before the opening credits, or while the credits are rolling over the story. So, let’s roll. Not out. We are not rolling out. No Transformers in this list.

5: Halloween. The original. Not the remakes or sequels or any of those Horror Character A vs Horror Character B movies. I’m talking about the first, the one, the only, with a young Jamie Lee Curtis before she became an action star in the 1990’s rocking against Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a very underrated opening sequence, and really long. From the get-go the camera settles in on a first person perspective. It feels very claustrophobic while maintaining its voyeuristic feel. You’re stuck in this person’s mind, caught behind their mask, and it’s quite eerie. Even more so when you continue on and you figure out that this person you’re looking through is the killer. THE killer.

You watch as the camera continues through the house that you have apparently broken into. You walk up the stairs and go to a young girl’s bedroom. You see her get murdered in front of your eyes. There is no finessing. It happens! When you think you can’t handle anymore, the killer leaves the house and is stopped by someone. The camera tilts up and you see it’s someone taller than you. And adult. That’s when it hits the audience like a ton of bricks that the killer is a child - as the camera finally changes and he is unmasked. It sends chills through one’s spine seeing this. It’s not a flashy opening and doesn’t rely on a lot of fluff. But it gives you the right frame of mind to watch the movie.

4: Memento. There is no denying that Christopher Nolan is a genius of non-linear storytelling, and Memento is a fine example of this. The opening sequence of this film was shot in reverse order, unknown to the audience until you hit the conclusion of the film. But you see the early set-up for this out-of-the-box story technique through the opening. It starts out with a series of photos. The audience can’t really identify what’s on the photos, and the more you start to look, the more they begin to fade into a giant puddle of ‘wtf’. It isn’t until you see the photo is being taken by a man, and that the shots are taken in reverse order, does it start to make sense. And once you can make out the photos, you realize there is more going on. Is the photo a crime scene? Why is this man taking photos? Is he the shooter? The opening is a crazy mix that tells the audience yes, you have to think through this movie if you want to understand it. And in it, you realize that Memento is a game of revealing the truth while asking more questions about truth.

3: Rear Window. No list would be complete without a Hitchcock movie. What makes this opening sequence so great is that it is 100% visual. There is no dialogue! It’s bitchin. Especially from a master of suspense and the spoken word. The scene begins with the camera going outside a window, and then giving a 360 degree perspective of the entire neighborhood setting. Full. 360. That breaks so many cinematography rules I don’t know where to begin! You just don’t cross that 180 line. It messes with people’s heads (see my comments about the new Game Awards show). But Hitchcock said screw it! I’m doing it. The camera then cuts back to the living room of the male character (we soon find out his name is Jeff), using two shots to indicate how stupidly high the temperature is in the neighborhood. The camera goes back outside giving more details about the people living in the area, and Jeff looking longingly outside.

When we see Jeff again, the camera shows us why Jeff is stuck in his home, and reflects on what he does for a living. All of the objects in the shot tell you exactly who Jeff is - you know the protagonist within a few seconds of a camera shot. You see his name written on his leg cast. Then it’s a broken camera that was used before the accident, along with a photo of said accident that has left Jeff in a wheelchair. There are more photos and a pile of fashion magazines, and from all of this you can figure out that Jeff is a photographer. He was in a bad accident that has now robbed him of his work, temporarily, and he’s going stir crazy in his home. This is cinema at its best. No narrator. No dialogue. No dumb clues to tell you the plot. Items used all have a very specific meaning, and are not haphazardly placed. Rear Window is a visual story, just a movie should be.

2: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Star Wars is on this list for two very distinct reasons: the way it began a movie was completely unconventional and unheard of because it did not include any of the actors. It started out telling you the story and bringing you into the setting. Movies before this had a very strict formula of ‘title,’ ‘actor credit,’ ‘producer/director credit,’ ‘start story,’ and Star Wars jacked it all up. And now it’s totally normal to do that, so thanks Star Wars! Second: it’s still a really awesome way to start a movie.

For its simplicity with a title cards and scrolling text, you feel the sense of excitement and boldness from the first note of the music played by the London Symphony Orchestra. It all ties in so well. And then you have the Alderan convoy ship crossing in front of the screen at an angle, followed by an Imperial Cruiser arching and pulling all your attention – the massive scale and scope of the vessel drawing awe from the audience…for as simple as the first 2 minutes of Star Wars is, it is beautifully complicated and grand. On a scale of grand that cannot be measured. Even now, 30+ years later (holy crap it’s almost been 40 years since release... O_O) the opening still produces excitement in the viewer. You see their faces light up as they get swept into the excitement of it all; whether it’s the first time or the hundredth. It’s simplistic beauty.

1: Zombieland. Yes. I placed Zombieland in front of Star Wars. Nerds of the world, before you accost me, let me defend my decision. The opening to Zombieland does everything right and wrong with a sequence. It blends in classic film-making techniques with modern storytelling in a seamless way that you don’t realize that the movie is doing a lot of things that a number of people would find sinful in Hollywood. Here’s why the movie should be panned. Let’s start off with the use of a narrator. The number one rule for screenwriters is to never, ever, ever, EVER have a narrator for your script. It is a crutch and generally screams “this piece of work is horrible and the only way people will like it is if we have a narrator.” Zombieland totally abuses the narrator clause, in spades. Second, text in a movie. Film is a visual medium. You are meant to watch actions and react to them. It’s not about reading.

While it doesn’t signify that the movie is crap, any excessive text can detract from the story because you’re forcing the audience to do additional work - versus sitting back and enjoying the show. Zombieland is well known for having text appear during the scenes covering the lead character’s rules for surviving the apocalypse. Next: “He’s right behind me, isn’t he?” The gag that if you are talking about someone, or in this case, a zombie, and then bam! They pop up on the screen? It’s an abused classic that has now become a pit of distaste for screen writers. Guess what happens in the first 2 minutes of Zombieland. We’ll follow that with the pointless jump-scare tactic, where you think something bad is going to happen and you get faked out because it’s actually a cat or nothing at all. This happens to our leading man when he wants to use the bathroom at the gas station, and is scared off by nothing. But then the “he’s right behind me” kicks in and starts the action sequence. Zombieland abuses this trope, but it works. The point of this movie is to give a satirical perspective of the apocalypse. It doesn’t take itself seriously, aside from the gory zombie kill effects. We all know that the premise is ridiculous, and the production crew did as well. And the best thing this movie could have done was throw in as many tropes as possible. That’s why Zombieland stands out in my mind.

By blending in all of the things an opening sequence should do (lighting, sound, music, the premise, wonderfully detailing the life of the main male lead without smacking us in the face) with a smart use of camera techniques and editing, and throwing in all the tropes screen writers avoid (narrator, text, fake-out jumps, etc.), it’s everything a 2 minute opening should have. The follow-up title sequence is equally as entertaining, going for broke and really creating an experience that will always remain with you. It’s a great use of stereoscope and computer technology with a delicate balance that current filmmakers could learn from. And Metallica. Because, Metallica.

Video game tie-in! Gamespresso looks at why video game movies are not great adaptations of the source material. While the writer harkens on some of the things many have said before, there are some new thoughts that provide a fresh perspective. He also mentions Prince of Persia, which in itself is not a bad movie, even if it’s not quite like the source material.