Friday, October 30, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up: Halloween Style!

While a number of people will be out with their children to trick-or-treat, or at parties with friends this Halloween night, some of us will be at home, curled up with a good video game. Here is a weekly round-up of some of the best, and worse, Halloween video game stories around the web!

- Design & Trend has a list of 6 video games to play on Halloween night! And I don't know why a fashion web magazine is talking about video games. Just go with it. Their list isn't bad, and includes The Walking Dead, the Resident Evil remake, and Five Nights at Freddy's

- CNET takes it a step further and gives you the 5 scariest games/moments for this holiday that are sure to make you scream. Or at least slightly startled. It's rare to get someone to scream because of a video game. 

- If pumpkins are more of your thing, Forbes has put together 12 geeky pumpkins from the internet. Most of these will look familiar, such as the Death Star, but there are some new ones in there. The Captain American and Totoro look really stellar!

- Current gen video games get in on the fun of Halloween as well. Many MMO's offer events, while some have in-game items and downloads to obtain. Such as Ultra Street Fighter IV with costumes for every character. Destiny has quests, gear, loot, and Thriller-like dance emotes. If you're on Final Fantasy XIV, there's a witch's outfit, a flying broom mount, and house d├ęcor to obtain. And of course World of Warcraft with witches brews, rare mounts, rare equipment, and pumpkin heads. Lots of pumpkin heads.

- Paste Magazine came up with a list of the 10 scariest haunted houses in video games. I'm still trying to work out how 5 Nights is a haunted house, but in theory it fits. Even though it's a working attraction for families.

- Fusion came up with an interesting list of the scariest video games, based on a heart monitor result. They played a few games with two people and compared the results. The games included 5 Nights, Amnesia, and PT. The charts are posted so you can get a better idea of what 30 minutes of game play looks like with the heart monitor. That's one way to approach how to measure fear.

- If you're looking for something historical and not gaming related, The Atlantic has an interesting overview on the history of zombies. Where the term originated from, what their initial meaning was, and all of that. Kind of cool to see how the past utilized the word and how much it's changed now.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Game Franchises Sell. And There's No Stopping Them.

Video game franchises are a big deal. So says Bloomberg, so I guess that makes it official? But this is something we've known for decades. Franchises sell. It's rare to see a game that is a one hit wonder and fades into the land of obscurity. People want stories that will last through several cycles. This is why movie studios are pumping out more sequels and trilogies then ever before (I'm still going to argue that there was no reason to have a "The Hangover 3;" if you're getting that drunk for a third time and blacking out, you have a problem). If the movie was good enough, then it's almost a guarantee sale that people will come to see the next version. Video games are no different.

As David Cole of the consulting firm DFC Intelligence writes, "[t]he game industry lives off of sequels. It is pretty rare to see major new franchises launch."

Which is why so many of us were in awe of Sony's E3 conference - it was chock full of new games!

But it's true. Video games suffer from a sequel problem, and I consider it a problem because it's limiting creative output. You take a game like Call of Duty, which has an annual release cycle, and you don't see as much innovation as there use to be. It's the same game with a different package. Gamers are starting to push back against the status quo. They want new products. And then Halo 5 releases, and everyone forgets about new games. But this is why we have so many indie developers popping up to fill our need for new content. I'm finding myself moving further away from sequels and trilogies and more towards the Steam games that provide just as much, if not more, story content then the triple A title's, for a fraction of the price. They also give me originality; something lacking in a lot of today's sequels.

There comes a point where sequels get tiring. With something like Resident Evil the franchise manages to stay fresh by focusing on new stories with each game, and having a lengthy release cycle. You don't expect Capcom to push out a game a year with RE. They take their time and craft content that will resonate with people. The same can apply to Halo. People are more likely to stick around longer with a franchise if you're not inundating them with content each year. Why? Because it becomes stale. Boring. Dull. Lifeless.

And this is the world that we live in. Developers make games based on what people want - how they spend their money. If we keep buying sequels, they'll keep making them. And that's not always a good thing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Focus on Graphics

The question I pose is simple, with a very complicated response: Are video games too focused on quality graphics?

While I tend to think of this as a discussion about quality graphics over quality game play, story design, and character development, others think it's a question about graphics over frame rate. Such as a recent article from Inverse pointed out that today's games are still not reaching the frame rates that were promised when the PS4 and XBoxOne were released. 1080p. 60 FPS. That's a big deal for next gen gamers. This was an issue with the release of Assassin's Creed:Unity and Watch Dogs, games that looked really pretty and were initially promised to have a 60 FPS rate, but were released at 30.

But I'm more surprised at the number of articles I found focusing on the issue of frame rate over graphic quality. Versus graphic quality and storytelling.

Frame rates. Who know that would be the hot button topic.

If you don't understand why it's important, here's a quick break down. Frame rate is linked to the monitors refresh rate. The rate was standardized a while ago to be multiples of itself, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc. It's more effective to double the rate and animate two frames instead of one. Things look like they are moving faster at a higher frame rate, but they're really not. It just gives you a clearer image sooner. To note, we're talking about milliseconds here. It's 60 frames per second, which is a lot of frames. Films typically run at 24 frames per second, which matches about what our eyes can catch. The funny thing is that even with more frames, our eyes are only able to absorb in about 24-30 of those frames. So when a frame drops, we're more likely to notice it. With 60 frames, the chance of seeing those dropped frames is less likely, because again the frames were doubled.

FPS helps determine how smooth a game looks. While more frames is better, if your first 30 FPS are not solid, then the other frames are moot. It's better for a game to have a solid 30 FPS then a choppy 60 FPS. This can affect everything from motion blur, environment rendering, character details, etc.

So you would think that having a steady 30 FPS would be what gamers want, right? Well a number of them want the 60 FPS that we've been promised. We've spent years playing Call of Duty and Halo at 45 FPS and dropping lower then this is an odd adjustment for our eyes. If we've been promised 60 FPS, it should be delivered.

I don't know about you all, but I'd rather have a good story then fancy graphics. But maybe that's just me.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

SXSW Cancels Video Game Panels On Harassment Due To Harassment

**EDIT (10/28/15): New information regarding the panels has been presented and will be added to the end of this article. **

South by South West, (SXSW) one of the largest film, music, and interactive festivals in the country, has already cancelled two of their 2016 March panels involving video games. The panels titled 'SavePoint:  A Discussion on the Gaming Community' and 'Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games' were created as a means for people to speak openly about verbal abuse in video games and start a dialogue on how to change the environment.

Within the week of the panels being announced and their description, SXSW received numerous threats of on-site violence, according to their website. Hugh Forest, the Interactive Director, decided to cancel those panels in order to maintain the safety of the attendees. The few threats were enough to push for cancellation.

While I understand that SXSW has a very large audience that they need to keep in mind when it comes to safety, it's also reinforcing the notion that if a handful of people complain loudly enough, we'll never see any true change in the community. Harassment won. SXSW was bullied into removing programming that promoted a positive change in gaming. And this isn't the first time this has happened. Just a year ago Intel was bullied by a small group of customers to remove their ads from Gamasutra, because the website promoted diversity in gaming, with threats to boycott Intel's products. And just a few weeks later, Utah State University along with Anita Sarkeesian cancelled a panel about diversity in gaming as part of a Gender Studies program the school offered.

It's sickening, to be honest. That we can be bullied by such a small, but very vocal, group...I'm glad that there are places like PAX that go forward with the show and do not cancel panels if threats are issued. It's pivotal for our community to grow by having discussions that push our mental and ethical limits. How can we expect our games to get better if we can't have open, meaningful dialogue?

**Having said all of that, recently it was released exactly what these panels were covering. Initially they were listed as general diversity discussions and online harassment. And the general panel descriptions would confirm this, but apparently some of the people on these panels are supporters of the #GamerGate movement. Which is the problem. There are those who say GamerGate is meant to bring integrity back to game journalism. And then there are those who use GamerGate as a platform for misogyny and racism hidden behind "integrity" to prevent games from changing with our culture. Knowing this, it gives the story a different twist. Some of the backlash were from gamers who felt these panels would promote hate, and not provide a space for safe discussion.

BuzzFeed and Vox have already decided to boycott SXSW and have pulled their staff from attending due to the panel cancellations. SXSW is working with police to verify the threats and deal with them. There's a good chance that the panels will stay cancelled in the meantime.

Monday, October 26, 2015

YouTube Red Already Blocking Content in US

YouTube is undergoing a number of changes and testing out subscription programs, as reported just over a week ago. One of last weeks' big announcements was YouTube Red. For $9.99 a month you can watch YouTube videos ad free, save videos to watch offline on your PC, mobile, or tablet devices, it extends to their Gaming and Music apps, and starting next year it'll allow subscribers to gain access to YouTube Original Content.

It sounds great! But there's already a problem with the plan. Companies who have not signed YouTube's new privacy and monitization rules are now having their videos blocked and/or videos of their product created by users are no longer view-able. If you attempt to play a video of a review of BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma, you'll see the "not available in your country" message. And there isn't a darn thing you can do about it. Right now the only blocked videos appear to surround Japanese gaming companies who haven't signed YouTube's new policy. Which seems weird that content would be blocked in the US. It's a way for YouTube to strong arm the companies into signing on because who knows how many hundreds of thousands of hits they're now missing out on (hits that could generate into game sales). But blocked content? Here? On an internet service that tends to be the most open and lax with their policies?

Random, did you know that the Backstreet Boys can't be played or broadcasted in Germany via YouTube? Copyright issue. I found out about it earlier this year with my podcast that an entire video is not available in Germany for one song that was only used in part by the program.

Whelp, it looks like the US is not immune to this either. I guess...good luck YouTube? Though now we have to wonder how shady your practices are going to go just to get people to pay for content that has always been free.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

It's that time again for a glimpse at some of the best, and the worst, that the internet has to offer with our Weekly Link Round-Up. Let's hope I can post this before the thunderstorm knocks out power.

- Feminist Frequency posted their review of the latest Assassin's Creed title, Syndicate. Since Unity got a really bad rap for Ubisofts one-gender mind-frame and shoddy quality, the developer really needed to step up for this title. I've heard a lot of mixed reviews on the topic, so it's nice to see another take on the franchise to show that yes, they are growing albeit at a slow pace.

- Activision - Blizzard has hired former ESPN and NFL Network CEO's Steve Bornstein and Mike Sepso to run their eSports division. With the rise of game play as a full-time sporting gig, Activision is taking the next step in forming a department dedicated to eSports. While details are still hush-hush, what we do know is that this division will manage the Call of Duty league, which was announced this year, and potential develop web shows around eSports. It's a big leap forward for gaming.

- Because WhatCulture can't make it past a day without developing a list, here are the Top 10 Scariest Retro Video Game Moments that still scare us. I'll give them credit, they used the original Resident Evil. Anytime anything involved a dog, it was a jump moment. And they are still annoying!

- The University of Texas at Galveston has been doing research on "exergaming." That's their term for video games that promote physical activity. By utilizing these games with autistic children, they have been finding that their mental development and response time increases after repetitive use. Now they only followed 17 kids with this study, so the results are going to be very skewed. But it's a start!

- What do video games look like without money? Kotaku Australia dove into that topic at the Freeplay Independent Festival, now in it's 10th year. Where people from all walks of life makes games for the sake of making games. They're not in it to "hit it big" and they don't care about the money down the line with microtransactions. They just want to make a game. The showcase is really interesting to see how people's creative and technical aspects change when their budget is, well, nothing.

- A video game is attempting to obtain FDA approval as the first prescription game for ADHD. Project: Evo is a mobile game developed by Adam Gazzaley and Eddie Martucci, a Director at UC San Francisco and a CEO of Akilli Interactive Labs in Boston. The game is designed for daily use for just a few minutes. In that time it is believed to improve multitasking skills and focus. The team will be presenting their study to a panel on October 28th. This was only tested on 80 patients, so we'll see if this even flies. There is also no detail in the article about how the game works, how they saw improvement in the patients, etc. Hopefully more is revealed in the presentation.

- This just in, video game sales are up and so are stocks! Someone was looking for some click bait...and I won't be providing it. Thanks donotclick! Obvious troll is obvious.

- And this just has to be shared. From Sporting News.com. Will Madden ever have competition? The answer is no. No it will not. Why? Because the NFL has a contract with EA and EA alone. If ANYONE else attempts to create a football game in the same vein, they're going to be shut down. It can't be published. Legal issues will ensue. If it's not a copyright against the use of players in the mystery game, it's using licensing and brands that are owned by the NFL. It's impossible to find another football game on the market, because the NFL is the market. And as such, so is EA. You might find a mini-game in Mario Party that is kind of like football, but it's really not. It'll be called something else and have entirely different rules so as not to infringe on the NFL's rights. The NFL is a giant corporation and they take their copyrights very seriously. So don't read the article. The only possible way another football game will exist is if the NFL drops EA or vice-versa. And let's face it - that won't happen. It's a guaranteed profit every year for both companies.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

This is Why AssCreed Does Not Have Dragons - But Now I Really Want Them To!

Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez set out on a journey to debunk the myths surrounding game development. She reached out to companies and spoke with Cliffy B, the folks at Coffee Stain Studio (Goat Simulator), ArenaNet, and others, as well as took to Twitter to find out what are the biggest misconceptions about game development.

Having worked with a game retailer (yes I know this is not the same as game development, but when you communicate with publishers, you get the jist of the pressure they have to deal with) and a brother who works for a developer, you learn quickly how untrue many of the myths are. Such as all game developers are lazy. Well, no. If they were, they wouldn't still have their jobs. My brother has a 40 hour work week. During "crunch" cycles when the studio is in the final stages of testing new content before releasing it to the public (he works on MMO's) those hours can balloon up to 60 or 80 a week. It's just part of the process. When you have a deadline and things start breaking, you have to fix them, and it takes the entire team to correct it. Lazy isn't about the developer not adding a feature you really wanted to a game. It means that person isn't doing their job. At all. And again, if that were the case they would have been fired. It's a challenge to have a steady work/life balance when you are in the gaming business. Lazy is a luxury they don't have.

My other favorite myth is "Players always know what's best for a game." The problem is that gamers are so varied and want so many different things, it would be near impossible for them to come to a consensus. Not to mention, most of them have no idea about what it takes to develop a story, a script, dialogue, hell even basic screenwriting credentials. Writing for a video game is HARD. Why? Because you have to contend with an entire team of people who want to edit every word you have written. The story that is created for a game ends up being a mesh of multiple writers who developed each character. There are major plot points, and you have to flesh them out. Sometimes a studio will give you an entire script and ask you to re-write it. Or vice-versa, you finish a script and you have to re-write it. It's brutal. Take a lot of writing courses. Get a few degrees (no really, this helps because every school has a different writing style, I've found). And never stop writing. It's constant learning, and changing. An idea that worked yesterday may not be valid tomorrow.

While I love the idea of Assassin's Creed having dragons and monsters, and I so would have played it over whatever the heck was up with Unity, it's that type of thinking that could potentially destroy a game. In the world of AssCreed, there are no dragons. It wouldn't make sense. While we would LOVE to see it, the writers know that, that doesn't make the best story. They have spent decades training for this. They know what makes a better story then the average gamer. Trust them on that, okay?

Give the article a read. It provides some great insight by multiple game developers on what the business is really like.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

We Did Not Go Back In Time

In honor of Back to the Future Day, today being the point in time that Doc Brown, Marty McFly, and Jennifer Parker travel to the future in Part 2, I've decided to revisit my first year of posting. More specifically, October of 2010. Yes dear blog readers, I've been here for over 5 years. Still talking about video games. Still conversing on geeky things. You'd think I would be tired of it all by now, but when it's a hobby and a passion, it's impossible to run out of stuff to talk about.

Time to take a skip down memory lane!

Even in 2010 I was reporting on gaming conventions such as BlizzCon where it was basically all about Diablo III and not much else. I was even writing about new gaming companies that started, such as Trion - it probably helps to note that my brother works there so anytime he's involved, I like to support him. He's my bro. That's what I do.

And does anyone remember The Jungle? I sure do. It was a very clunky looking hand-held system devised by Panasonic. It was going to focus solely on MMO's, because everyone wants to play an MMO on the go, and run off of Linux. It was enough to make gamers around the world go "wait, what?" Panasonic. A company known for quality electronics was about to make a really stupid business move. Luckily someone wised up and cancelled the project a few months later. But that could have been a thing!

In 2010, as I began my journey into blogging, I was already working on thought provoking, critical pieces. This original article by Tim Rogers is still something I think about when I look for quality writing.

And per tradition, gaming pumpkins. Because gaming pumpkins. I'm still waffling between painting a Creeper pumpkin or doing a 5 Nights at Freddy's carving. We'll see what happens...

Happy October 21, 2015 everyone!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fantasy Sports Fallout Now Approaching Video Games

For Fantasy Football Fans, you've probably been keeping up with the news with the Nevada Gaming Control Board and their crackdown on betting with fantasy sports. Football being one of the largest, websites such as DraftKings and FanDuel are currently under federal investigation for illegal practices with their employees. The skinny of the whole situation: employees using their knowledge of customer bets have been creating dummy accounts, and counter-betting (essentially) to win money. And they have the programs ready to create thousands of bets in a second on their sites, as well as competitor fantasy sports sites. When FanDuel is advertising that people can win millions off of one game, that's a lot of money we're talking about.

The Nevada Gaming Control Board has been doing their own investigation into these practices and it's put the sites in a bind. They require these sites to maintain a license for running a pay-to-play system. A number of the sites are now removing Nevada customers from their playlist. Basically if you live in Nevada, you can no longer place bets on DraftKings or FanDuel.

To stem the tide of the fallout, video game websites like Vulcan are doing the same. Vulcan let's you bet on local, national, and international video game tournaments with DoA, League of Legends, and the like. With Nevada cracking down, they don't want to be involved in the mess and are leaving Nevada customers to their own devices. Better safe then sorry.

This only applies to Nevada customers. Depending on how the federal investigation goes, it could expand and put a major hit against fantasy betting, real and digital.

Dallas Comic Con: Or Why I Won't Return

I'll need to start this off with a note that this is an opinion piece. The opinions expressed are mine and mine alone and do not represent CosPod. And I say that because I was Press for the event over the weekend, and it's important that the two be separated. I gave a fair and honest review with CosPod, and I will be giving a more honest and more fair review here. This is my opinions as a DCC fan and once attendee.

FanExpo Present: A Dallas Comic Con Production of Fan Days!

That's the unofficial title of this article. I don't know what DCC is calling itself anymore. It's so confusing! Initially Dallas Comic Con held one event that grew to three throughout the year. February: Fan Days. May: Dallas Comic Con. October: Sci-Fi Expo. Each one had a theme. Fan Days was the free-for-all, all topics covered. DCC was more comic focused. Sci-Fi Expo was more sci-fi-centric. It made sense.

DCC was purchased by FanExpo, an event group based in Canada, early last year. Since then, it's been going through quite a number of changes, including the name. Which is why we're having trouble figuring out what to call this event. The e-mail I received for press had DCC, Fan Days, and FanExpo all listed as titles. The website swaps between FanExpo and DCC. So there's really no way to know what the heck this exactly is, other then it's some form of a comic book convention in October in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

Some of the biggest changes have been nabbing bigger named guests and securing larger venues. While the February and October shows still maintain the smaller location in Irving, the "big show" in May has moved to one of the largest convention centers in DFW. And it was sorely needed. When you have William Shatner and Nathan Fillion on the same billing, you need the bigger space. Badly.

When I attended last year, the "new owner" changes weren't completely in effect. I saw many of the same staff members, and a lot of the usual hi-jinks ensued. But over the year it has changed. The con that I loved, and allowed me to nerd out more often then naught, has altered into this lifeless version of itself.

Walking around this weekend, I couldn't stop wondering where all the people were. There were no lines at 9:30 am to get into the convention hall. None. On a Saturday. Which is always the busiest day of this event. By noon, it was still fairly empty. There was plenty of walking space. And that doesn't happen in this particular convention center. Usually about that time of day the escalators break down and people have to go in small groups up the stairs. The vendor's room is packed and you need to squeeze by people to make it through. The lines for autographs and photos are jammed, and snaking around the little space that exists on the third floor.

But this was not the case. It was quiet. And creepy.

By the time I left, which was early in the afternoon (I had a foot injury and it was screaming at me to go), half of the cars in the parking lot that arrived early in the day were already gone. Just as many people were leaving as they were coming in. I snapped a photo of the scene outside that seemed very poignant about the lack of people in the area (see end of article). It was disturbing.

And I think a lot of it has to do with how very stagnant FanExpo is with their programming. There was only one panel room. One. If you didn't like what was being featured that day, then you're out of luck. In my case I was there for the cosplayers. Fortunately they had their own panel, but someone in the press booth was on a power trip and would not allow me to bring in any form of recording equipment or tripod (which is funny because I counted 10 tripods the next day and no one said a word. Hmm...). So I couldn't video the panel. Other then, that's it. I had no interest in the guests attending this year. Which knocks out roughly 3-6 hours in a day of line waiting. The vendor room all had content I've seen before, or that I can get cheaper online.

Unless you were there to see Y celebrity or to trade in old comics, there was nothing to do at DCC.

It. Was. Boring.

I'm amazed I lasted as long as I did. If I had been a paying attendee ($75 for a weekend pass), I would have been very unhappy that I spent all that money for nothing. By the time I left some more people started to trickle in about 2-3 hours after me. Mostly friends. And it seems like they had an okay time. I'm glad that they did. But I think there's just a general "ho-hum" vibe about the entire experience. You spent $75 on a few hours of hanging out with your friends, when a night out eating pizza and bowling would have been a better use of those funds (not to mention much cheaper!) and you'd get a better experience.

Staff members seem to agree. A number of them are calling this their last show since FanExpo is taking DCC into a different direction. When you have to beg and plead with the parent company for content, there's something wrong with the system. While it may work for their audience in Canada, it's loosing the Texas charm that we love about our conventions.

On the plus it was nice to have a bit more walking space since it wasn't crowded, as usual. And they finally opened up the food "court" area on the second floor so you can purchase meals inside (for a really stupidly high price - $10 for a hamburger? Wow). Granted you can't get back inside once you go to the dining area outdoors. You have to walk downstairs, back through the front around the building, and then start the arduous climb back up. But it was another food option that had been closed off for years.

The higher ticket prices did not make up for the fewer crowds, less activities (seriously, DCC should have multiple panels going on at a time. Why not have one of the FaceOff competitors come in and do a demo?) and extra food vendors.

It was all dull and boring. Maybe the peak hours are now 3-6pm on Saturday and nothing more.

With the big event in May now landing on the same dates as A-Kon, I didn't even have to think twice about it. I'm not going to FanExpo. And after this weekend, I get the feeling we're going to see a lot more comic book and sci-fi fans showing up to A-Kon instead.

But I won't be returning. If this is the type of blandness we can expect from FanExpo in the future, it's not worth my time or money to even consider it. My funds will go elsewhere.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Is It Sarcasm or Is It Just a Misinformed Geek?

Tech Radar posted an article about how video games are becoming mainstream. "Isn't it just the worst thing ever?" the title reads.

Initially I thought this was a satire piece. It reads like a very long-winded sarcastic remark. "[T]he INDIGNITY" the ZOMG's, How dare they make gaming a mainstream commodity! We should do something about this! Rabble, rabble, rabble!

As I checked the writer's history, I'm thinking this may not be satire. I don't know. This is one aspect about the internet that I really don't like: you can't judge a person's tone of voice. Sarcasm is an art form of it's own. I love it. Part of my humor involves sarcasm. And it's about the timing and inflection. "Nice weather we're having," when it's raining outside and using your normal tone doesn't make an impact like "Nice weather we're having," where you really emphasize 'Nice' and 'having' in a droll voice. Which is why I've grown accustomed to putting either a smiley face at the end of posts that use extreme sarcasm or a note so people know I'm joking.

Darn internet taking away all of our fun!

So I'm going to approach the Tech Radar article both ways: as a real opinion piece, and as satire.

Real Opinion Piece: You have to be kidding, right? Going mainstream does not spell the end of the world. It's a natural progression of the art form - in order to gain acceptance you have to push boundaries, and that includes appealing to a broader audience. The argument of people playing on our lawns is getting old. And tiring. So what if there are new people coming into our fandom? That's great! It doesn't matter where people come from. They like the same thing that you do. Super cool!

Our culture is changing and the outcasts of the world are now gaining some level of acceptance. I would have loved to have had this in middle school and high school. To have other girls interested in Star Wars and video games? That would have been heaven.

And really, if you don't let in new blood, our fandoms are going to die out. Simple as that. Just like the sci-fi and comic book fans of yesteryear, it didn't stop mainstream from pushing that content to the forefront of popularity. So nerds and geeks, get over it. Our fandom isn't dying. And bringing in new people isn't the end. We'll have longevity as the video game realm grows. Supply and demand, man. Look it up.

Satire Piece: This is funny if it's satire. It's almost like a "looking into the mind of a 30 year old while male geek." They took our fandom, oh no! We must hate everyone who isn't like us!

I really hope this is a sarcastic article. I do hope...so very, very much. Else, geeks we have a ways to go to counteract this backwards arse thinking.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Respect the Vacation Days!

Personal life post ahead. Feel free to disregard. It's something I needed to get off my chest today.

Preachy post! Here’s the TLDR version: Don’t let people bully you into thinking you don’t deserve vacation time. You’ve earned it. Use it.

Long version:

I got my vacation notification today and I was surprised at how little I’m receiving. I don’t earn a single day until I’ve worked here for a year, and even then, I can’t use a day until July (a year and 2 months after I began the job). I’m only receiving 5 days. And those 5 days have to stretch until July of 2017.

I love this job a lot. A whole lot. It’s the first time I have enjoyed waking up and going to work. And I can’t imagine a nicer group of people to work with. But this vacation calculation blows. I don’t know how they came up with this insanity. I think it’s meant to curb people from the stores from accepting the job and then immediately taking vacation. But to only give 5 days as a starter makes no sense. Why not 2 weeks, like it’s listed in the new employee manual?

My boss is going through the same thing. She started a few days into January this year and will only receive 7 days. She’s been working her ass off. She deserves her 2 weeks.

So I’ll be taking quite a few unpaid days to attend weddings and conventions that I’ve been committed to over the next year. While I’m not concerned about my boss giving me grief for the time off (it’s only 7 days in total; just 2 will be paid- have to save up the other 3 for 2017), I know I’ll hear it from somewhere in the office. I’ve dealt with it before. Someone is going to try and guilt trip me into not taking vacations.

“Don’t you care about the company? Don’t you care about your job? This place can’t run without you.”

Well…yeah it can. I had 2 days off earlier this year for personal reason and things were still going when I came back. I finished all of my tasks and prepared for the extra work the following week. Things ran smoothly. I can care about the company, do a good job, and still take vacation. It’s not the end of the world.

Why am I talking about this? A few years back when I was younger, naive, and thought I would have a long career with the business. I worked for a company that was all about the guilt trip for vacation and sick days. You get one guess on which company I’m talking about, and yes I have mentioned it before. They sell video games.

Some bosses there were perfect at making you feel like the world would cease to exist if you weren’t in the office. For three years I never took a single vacation day. I earned 2 weeks at the beginning of each year, but they never carry over. Use them or lose them. And for 3 years I dropped 6 weeks of vacation because I was constantly told the same rhetoric that if you take vacation time, you put your job and the company in jeopardy.

I believed it.

And in turn it made me really sick. I worked for so long and so hard I was constantly stressed out. I was developing headaches almost daily. I had trouble sleeping (more so then usual). Even when I contracted a really bad stomach virus that ate some of my intestinal lining, I still showed up. I still worked. I was threatened with being written up if I took a sick day. So I never took one.
A few things happened during my third year that changed my attitude.

The first was a nightmare of an ice storm. In Texas when anything water based falls from the sky the state shuts down. The roads, the maintenance crew, and the drivers do not know how to handle snow and ice. And this was a legit ice storm. There was 4 inches of solid ice on the streets around my home, and anywhere from 6-8 in my driveway (because it’s on a slope). Roads were blocked off by police and fire. It was unsafe for anyone to be out.

Work still required me to be there even though the rest of the office was closed. Not our department! I got up 5 hours before I needed to be at work (about 3 am) and started de-icing as best as I could. One perk of having lived in up North, I know things about snow and ice. Shocking!

After about 3 hours, I was able to get my car out of the driveway and slowly made my way to the first intersection. I should note that there is only one way out of my neighborhood. And it’s that road. Over a bridge. With a lake that occasional floods over said bridge. That day it was closed off by police barricades. I called the neighborhood office complex and they were informed that all roads were going to be closed until 11am, and they will monitor the situation. With no way around, I called my boss. Surprisingly he was up at that hour, and proceeded to berate me about how it was my responsibility to get to work on time. I explained to him that the roads were closed. There were police barricades up. I have no way to getting there until they take them down. Even then, I still had 20 miles of highway driving, which would likely take me a long time. I’ll get there when I get there.

Not good enough. I remember my boss saying “Well, can’t you just move or drive around them?”

“…what?”

“Drive around them! I’m sure it’ll be fine. You don’t want to get written up for being late.”

I cracked at that point. I’ve only slept for an hour. I was stressed. I was exhausted from no sleep and picking away at ice all morning. I’m freezing. There are police barricades up meaning it’s not safe to drive. At all. Unless the company is willing to pay the ticket I will receive for messing with police property, as well as all of my legal fees from the ensuing ticket, then sure. I’ll move the barricades. And I want this in written form, signed by the CEO, to verify that the company will cover all of my court costs and the ticket for breaking the law.

No sir. I will not disobey the law just to get to work. Customers will have to deal with the fact that we had a huge ice storm and most of us cannot leave out homes to get to work. It’s not safe.
I even sent him a photo of the barricade blocking the entire street and sidewalk (meaning I’d have to drive on someone’s lawn to bypass them). He said well, okay. Just get in when you can, but we’ll have to talk about this. It’s not acceptable to be late to work.

Yeah. Whatever. At that point, I was so pissed I didn’t care. I’m not going to get ‘failure to comply with police instructions’ on my life record for the sake of work.

By the time the barricades went down it was well into the afternoon. I still went in. Finished up my shift and stayed late to cover a few hours for the people who couldn’t leave their homes at all. My boss never made it in. It was too dangerous to drive, he said. Yeah, f you. It’s clearly safe enough for your employees but not for you.

And yes. He did write me up. I went to HR and after a lovely 20 minute discussion (during my lunch because heaven forbid I handle work business during my working hours) they removed it from my record. When almost the entire building was closed, including the warehouse, because of the weather, me being late due to police barricades is well within reason for an excused clock-in delay.

The second time was when I got sick. Very sick. On top of digestive issues, I had one of the worse sore throats of my life. I’m surprised it wasn’t Strep or Bronchitis. I still tried to go to work but my mom forced me to stay home. I couldn’t talk. I could barely breathe. It was that bad. So she called in for me. Someone had to, I couldn’t speak! And I work a job that required me to be on phones. My boss kept telling her that I needed to be there. It was important! The department can’t run without me!

My mom laid into him. Hard core. I can’t remember the last time I heard her shout at someone, but holy crap. This was well worth being so sick. She berated him for his horrible attitude, for not caring about his employees, and for not giving me the time off I deserve for all of my hard work. The result: 2 days off to get my voice back and no write-ups.

It finally culminated in finding out that I was never going to advance within the company. I got into a starter department with hopes that I could move onto marketing, and branch out to the business that handles all of their in-store TV spots (since I have an RTF degree). And no matter how many times I tried to get out of the department, I kept getting turned down. I finally asked my boss (different one, I’ve had 4 bosses at one point for the same dept) what I was doing wrong.

Nothing. I wasn’t doing a damn thing wrong. I was too good to move to another dept, because it would cripple their numbers.

Seriously? I’m being held back from advancing because I’m too good at my job? Shouldn’t good work be rewarded with a chance to move forward with the company?

That’s the day I requested all of my vacation time, and told my boss that no guilt tripping. I’ve worked hard for 3 years. Never took a single day off and this place made me so sick that I HAD to take sick days. Something I’ve never done in my life, and now I have a chronic illness because of it. I’ve earned my vacation. I’m taking it. You can’t stop me. And if you do, I’m reporting it to HR.
Through that company I’ve learned how to be jaded. How to hate life. How to hate myself. How to hate people. How to distrust all authority figures outside of police, fire, and some medical. I’ve learned that no matter how many hours you work, how little time off you take, it doesn’t matter. You’re still just a peon. The work will be done whether you’re there or not.

On the positive, I learned the value of enjoying life. You can’t live to work. It’s not healthy, mentally or physically. And you can’t work to live. You have to find a balance between working and living.

There is not a damn thing wrong with enjoying life outside of work.

There is nothing wrong with taking vacation and seeing the world.

There is nothing wrong with allowing yourself to unplug from your job.

And I hate that it took my working at a sh*tty company to have that epiphany.

You are more than your job.

Go out there. Live life. Enjoy it! And you can still be great at work, doing well with the company, and earning your keep. But don’t let anyone, and I do mean anyone, bully you into thinking you can never have a day off. It’s not healthy. It’s a path that leads to self-destruction.

You have earned your time off. Use it. The company will still be there when you return. You’ll still have a job (and if someone ever threatens to fire you for taking vacation that you have earned, there are lots of city and national work services that you can file official complaints with – that’s usually enough to get the company to back off their threat). And the work will be handled.

Learn from my mistake.

I’m putting in my time off knowing that most of those days are unpaid. But you know what? I need those breaks. Without them, I’ll be going crazy by July, and will set myself up for more sickness and mental anguish that I refuse to repeat ever again.

YouTube Gaming Testing "Sponsor" Fee for Channels

YouTube gamers be wary. Google announced on Thursday that the free service will now start charging channels a $3.99 sponsorship fee, as a means of generating revenue. If you think that's silly, it's one of the few ways YouTube may be able to bring in a profit. The website keeps booming, with a 20% increase in views yearly since 2010 and 1 billion unique visits monthly. Even though they have the Google Ad's program, it's not creating the type of profit that would be in line with 1 billion people visiting a website. While YouTube's revenue isn't known publicly, analysts state it's not where it could be.

The sponsorship will mimic Twitch's $4.99 monthly fee. Those channels that sign up will get additional benefits such as live chats between content producers and viewers, a digital badge noting you're a subscriber, and that's it. I know. Big whoop, right?

I mentioned Twitch because YouTube is testing this program with YouTube Gaming. PewDiePie, Rooster Teeth, Game Grumps - all of these channels will now be expected to use the monthly subscription and they will be required based on their subscriber numbers. If they have multiple channels, each one has to subscribe (such as the case with Rooster Teeth). Sponsors won't be able to avoid the advertisements that run during videos.

YouTube also released a "fan funding" program that basically allows users to donate the channels right there without having to be redirected to a website or PayPal. And like PayPal, they will take a cut out of every donation.

Right now response from the gaming channels has been quiet. I think a number of them are still trying to process the information and see if this is worth the investment. For the smaller ones with less then 10,000 subscribers, you're probably not going to be required to go with the subscription. For the big guys, yep. $3.99 doesn't seem like a lot in the long run. It's more of an inconvenience fee that something that was once free is now costing money. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but we'll see what happens.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Halloween Costumes Are Still Lack-Luster

This week I was a guest on the podcast Trade Paper Hacks for their Halloween episode of super hero costumes, comic book mayhem, and to promote my podcast, CosPod. It was a lot of fun and I always get a kick out of hanging with the TPH crew.

The obvious thing that came up in the conversation, when it comes to Halloween costumes, was the issue of body image and the "sexy" factor. Why is there this need to dress "sexy" for Halloween when you're a woman?

After the recording, I felt like my responses probably came off as slut-shaming. Co-host Alex had asked me what I thought were the two trends for Super Hero costumes this year. I answered jokingly if it was a trick question, because the obvious response is sexy and slutty. Why? Because those are the only options for women! So I'd like to first say that my words were in no way meant to slut-shame. I don't care if you want to wear the panty and bra costume. That's your call. Your body. You do what you want. I have never, and will never, disrespect someone for their costume decisions.

What I'm calling attention to are the lack of options for women's costumes. You get Sexy Witch 1, Sexy Witch 2, and Sexy Witch 3. That's it. Some stores may carry Sexy With 4, or Sexy Ninja Turtle. The options are sexy and slutty. That's not a choice.

Ladies! Do you want to be Captain America? Okay. Here's the women's version of the costume. Does being a bad guy better suit your fancy? One Sexy Riddler coming up! How about Princess Leia from Episode 4? Possibly one of the easiest costumes for party stores to create and market. Leia is beautiful in that dress. You don't have to mess with the iconic look. Whelp party stores did anyway. Here's "sexy" Episode 4 Leia, and this one is tame compared to what I found on the interwebs.

Over and over again women are subjected to the same line of costumes. If it's not "Sexy" this, it's "Slutty" that. And that really freekin' sucks. Where are the other options? Where is the non-sexy variety?

In all fairness to party stores, some non-intentionally sexed up costumes have been arriving; slowly but surely. Game of Thrones licensed costumes have full dresses that are semi-accurate to the show. So does The Walking Dead and Adventure Time. And this year several retailers began to introduce more casual Halloween costumes such as hoodies, sun dresses, and shirts. There's a set for A Nightmare Before Christmas that could be passable for daily geek wear. The Sally dress is a little short for my taste, but it comes to just above the knee. Even still this is leaps and bounds better then what has been offered in the past. I'm not saying the quality is great but it's a start. And to see an Ezio (Assassin's Creed) costume in store is mind blowing. Right up there next to Minecraft on the cool scale.

But those additional options are too few and far between. Not when I walk into a store and the first thing I see are rows of fishnets, booty shorts, plunging necklines, push up bras, and butt busting skirts. If I want to be a Stormtrooper, that should be an option. Not "sexy." Not "slutty." I want the exact same Stormtrooper outfits that you give men. Girls should not be excluded either. It's disparaging to see how different a character costume can look between boys and girls. Take the Ninja Turtles. They are a big costume this year. I've seen party stores devote entire aisles to the franchise. Boys are given one piece suits with turtle shell backpacks, a prop weapon, ninja mask, and sneakers. Girls have frilly tutus in various shades of green, a leotard, heeled shoes, and not all have the masks. They don't even get the turtle shell! And that sucks. Why can't girls and women be given the same options as men? And please don't use the "because you're girls" defense. It's stupid. It's trite. Having boobs does not mean I don't qualify to have a real costume. The other argument I hate is "because they don't want it." How do you know? Party stores have never offered the option to girls and women. How do you know what we want when you don't even give us the choice?

It sadly reminds me too much of how Halloween stores were when I was a kid. My options as a little girl were a princess or a princess. Or...a princess. Disney licensing on costumes wasn't fully-formed yet, so it was some variation of a generic princess costume. The boys got all of these cool things: Star Wars with lightsabers, Army fatigues, Police Officers, Firemen, Ninjas. You could be anything if you're a boy. You can only be a princess if you're a girl.

The year that they had Universal Monsters with the Bride of Frankenstein for kids I was stoked! Finally! A costume I could get on board with. And sadly the only thing I remember, other then loving that costume, were the weird looks I got from everyone who wasn't my family. I even remember some of the party store employees saying I would look stupid. I should be a princess. "Don't you want to be pretty?" Dude. The Bride of Frankenstein is pretty. Look at those glorious cheekbones, and that hair! But it didn't end with them. People around the neighborhood would comment on my not dressing like a princess. I'm glad I was oblivious to it all back then.

This girl did NOT want to be a princess. She wanted to be the bad ass queen, thank you very much. Or in this case, the bride of a monster.

And that's the thing: I never really had any options before then. It was princess, princess, or princess. After that year with Bride of Frankenstein, which ended up being removed later - but all of the boy "monster" costumes stuck around, my mom and I would make my costumes from then on. I was Cleopatra, Athena, Emily Dickinson - my no princess theme stuck. Outside of Frankenstein, the options for girls still defaulted to a princess.

So when I go to party stores now to look at Halloween decorations (that's really the only reason I go - I can't stand the costumes) it hurts to see how little things have changed. Princess has transformed into "sexy" for adult women. While there are more "sexy" characters available, it still comes down to the same concept. Girls - Princess. Women - Sexy. Our ONE Female Stormtrooper character from the new Star Wars movie, who is wearing REAL ARMOR, Captain Phasma, was originally labeled for boys and men only. It's a unisex costume, but it still doesn't absolve the error that it was set to be available only to those with a dick between their legs. The official Disney costumes have been adjusted on their site, but a number of party stores still carry the boys/men packaging. Guess where you won't find a Phasma costume? In the girls or women section.

Back to square one! It's Sexy Riddler. Sexy Robin. Sexy Witch. A number of us would rather be an accurate portrayal of Riddler, Robin, or a Witch. Probably not French Fries. I don't know why "Sexy French Fries" is a costume. It confuses me.

Being a "sexy" character is not a choice when it's the only option presented to us.

Halloween is not about pleasing the male gaze. It's about transforming yourself into something or someone that you can't be for the other 364 days out of the year. Give us that opportunity to show that "Yes, we DO want better, non-sexy, costumes," and we'll buy them! I can promise you that. For the women that still want to dress sexy, knock yourself out. There will always be a market for those costumes, and that's fine! I'm not telling you to stop doing it. But we shouldn't force ourselves into accepting "sexy" as our only option.

Weekly Link Round-Up

It's time for the Weekly Link Round-Up, where we share the best, the worse, and silliest gaming news on the web. This week brings us some thoughtful pieces about race in video games, retro comebacks, and Top 10 Lists that will cause some head scratching.

- Smaller news stations are fun to poke at; whether it's for their terrible reporting or bad spelling. Consuls? Seriously? I didn't know video games had government sanction to live in foreign countries to promote the citizens interest. The story itself from News 22 in Massachusetts is nothing to pay attention to. Old video games are "new" again. Your Atari may be worth hundreds of dollars! We all know that's not true, but news stations keep trying to pull this trick every few months.

- Kotaku dives in to the issues with portraying "black" in video games, calling up an excerpt from an upcoming book 'The State of Play' to release later this month. I saw the cover and Ian Bogost wrote an essay for it. Not buying it...for now. My brain is thesaurus-ed out from work. There are only so many ways to use the word "color" before it loses it's meaning. Personal academic preferences aside, this is a really interesting piece focused on hair. Yeah. Hair. In video games. Black hair to be exact. The styles we're use to seeing on television is a hair texture that is not accurate to the everyday person with said hair type. It's the same for pretty much every culture. I can honestly say my hair is no where near the quality or type to live up to Hollywood expectations. But that's the problem, isn't it? People expect us to have that hair type, so we shove ourselves into salons, buy expensive shampoos and styling kits, to get that hair. And video games are not helping.

I know it sounds weird, but this really is a good article to read. Worth a book purchase...just not yet. Bogost I really can't handle a thesaurus outside of work right now.

- The Guardian lists the 30 Worst Video Games of All Time! At least according to their writers. They did throw in a Shamalama joke so maybe this list isn't all bad? And reading through it, The Guardian may have a legit list. This is only the first half, with the second being posted tomorrow. The games range from 50 Cent: Bulletproof, to Hotel Mario, and BMX XXX. All games that are terrible and make you wonder why money was wasted on such frivolous endeavors. Probably to make a quick buck.

- Not to be outdone, Paste Magazine has a list of the 7 Strangest Gizmos in Sci-Fi Video Games. No surprise that Fallout and Portal make an appearance. I don't quite get the choice for Saints Row. The teddy bear gun in Fallout is much stranger then a weapon that sends out bad sound waves.

- Video game Crossfire, which is one of the largest MMO's in the world (even outpacing League of Legends and WoW), is teaming up with Original Films to make a movie adaptation of the game. Original Films is responsible for the Fast and the Furious series. This is the first Korean game to be licensed by Hollywood. There are no details about story, cast, or a release date, but to have such a big title in the hands of Hollywood could either help or hurt the video game to movie adaptations. Well at this point anything would help.

- Back to WhatCulture and the 15 Scariest Games of the Decade (so far). So we know this isn't going to be a steller list, and some random games will get thrown in. How is DanganRonpa "scary"? Do the Japanese antics make it something to fear? But what I do want to point out is that scary games are making a comeback. With the rise of Steam and independent games such as Slenderman and the 5 Nights at Freddy's series, horror games are carving a niche once again, and we're starting to see some quality work that we don't typically receive from Triple A titles. The fact that we can have a list of 15 horror games from the past 5 years is remarkable. And there are plenty more that were not listed! There is hope that horror is coming back into style, and I'm looking forward to it.

- Speaking of horror games, a Friday the 13th game is currently looking for crowdfunding help. The premise is very much like Slenderman active mode, where one person takes the role of Jason while the other players are camp counselors. Your goal as Jason is to kill all of the other players. If you're a counselor, you have to live through the night. The game is as cheesy as the classic movie, with characters ranging from "The Girl Next Door" to "The Jock." But that's what we enjoy about Jason. The developers are looking for $700k and half of the project has been funded so far. I don't know if it's something I'm willing to back, given the recent uproar over developers not providing games after funding, but if it does make it, I'd be willing to buy it on Steam.

- And finally, if the Mad Max video game left something to be desired, how about the 8-Bit Fury Road? It's a side-scrolling where you run away from the War Boys, drive cars, blow up stuff, and drive back to blow up more stuff. In 8-Bit form. It's the game Mad Max could have been, and way more fun.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

How Video Games Helped 68 Kids Through Cancer

In other video game health news, a recent study published by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has concluded that video games can help improve mental health in cancer survivors. Studying 68 patients who were cancer free for one year or more, between the ages of 8 and 16, found that they were able to obtain cognitive development on the level of some medications after 30-45 minutes of playing games.

Cancer is an ugly thing to go through, and it's become more prominent in our culture. Some of the treatments, such as chemotherapy, can have a wide array of permanent effects - such as loss of vision, deadening the nerves in your fingers and toes, and memory loss. A number of children experience mental development issues (cognitive reasoning, spacial reasoning, memory, etc.) as a result of cancer treatments. There are some medications on the market, but they're considered low priority in terms of "need" and can be insanely expensive.

Alternate treatments such as video games, could be a big boost for many families looking to help their child get back to being a kid.

The gaming sessions were not just any video games. Of course not. Hopefully these parents would be against their child playing Grand Theft Auto. While the study doesn't list which games the children played, they all handled some form of verbal and visual-spatial exercises. As children improved, they were given more difficult games that involved multi-tasking and managing. Given that the results are on par with medications, this opens up a brand new world of therapy for cancer survivors.

"While medication and therapist-led interventions have shown some benefit for select survivors, online training marks a significant advance by giving survivors convenient access to an effective intervention.”

Researchers are now looking into starting these training programs during cancer treatment to help stem the potential for memory loss. They are also looking at the long-term effects of these training sessions. While they can't guarantee that your child will do better in math and reading, it has been a noticeable boost to the kids in this study.

Yea science and video games!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

EA's $50 DLC Bundle for Battlefront and Why It's a Bad Thing

EA has made me an unhappy fan once again. This time with Star Wars. How dare they!

The Star Wars: Battlefront open beta has ended after a day extension. Many gamers and bloggers are typing up their review of the new title as we await for the release date a month away. In the midst of the day long extension, EA announced that they would have a $50 season pass for Battelfront. It does not bode well for gamers.

The season pass will give up to 4 DLC, which will contain some form of new content, at about a $14 in savings compared to buying the DLC separately. The current news hitting reputable sites and forums is that the DLC will range from weapons and characters to game modes. Yeah. Certain game modes may not be available with the base game and will require you to buy DLC in order to play.

So before I hear the cry's from fanboys and girls about why this is normal practice, just hear me out. I'm fully aware that games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and even Borderlands have done the same thing. It's becoming a common practice with games today to offer additional content after the main story ends. Here's the problem with doing this to Battlefront: there is no single player campaign.

Announced earlier this year, a number of us seemed to be okay with having Battlefront as a multiplayer experience. It's something new for first person shooters (i.e. no solo campaign), and you can still play against NPC's solo in Survival Mode. But the game was designed to be played with multiple people. You can't really avoid that.

Because the content is all multi-player, in order to progress your character (I'm assuming you get a default character - the beta didn't allow you to choose and you got thrown onto Rebels or Empire) you have to be up to date with the content. And if game modes are not made available with the base game, as news sources are reporting, you're screwed.

You have paid $59.99, or $79.99, or $129.99 depending upon the version you selected, for a game that is incomplete.

While EA did away with a pre-order bonus for the game, if you buy the DLC you get a 2 week head start on Battlefront and an in-game emote. So, thanks for that. Massive eye rolling is ensuing. Doesn't matter. This post isn't about the non-but totally now exists pre-order bonus.

EA is essentially telling gamers that if you want the "full" Battlefront experience, it's $100 minimum. You have to buy the game AND the DLC. You won't get all of the content up front. You won't get all of the game modes. You won't get all of the maps. A map or two that you have to buy? Okay. Still not happy about that, but okay. Knowing that it's going to be multiple maps and potentially game modes, not cool. I realize that EA has neither confirmed nor denied that this is the situation, but it's hard to ignore the news when it's coming from Kotaku and Forbes. Removing a single player campaign should have been a sign to EA that said "hey, we should probably just give them all the maps up front to balance out the fact that we took away a huge chunk of content."

Essentially, Battlefront is an incomplete game.

I can understand having DLC for smaller things, such as a weapon cache or maybe alternate clothing options for your character (they did showcase customization as an option, but it was locked for beta. Maybe DLC clothing?). With Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel, DLC provided new characters and additional story-modes but they didn't affect the main game. You didn't have to buy these optional pieces to enjoy the story. The primary game was chock full of content that anything else was a nice extra. Did you need to buy Tiny Tina's Dungeon to get to the end boss? Nope. There was still 100+ hours of content to run through before DLC's, and even then I'm sure we didn't experience everything the game had to offer.

But when your entire game is based on an "online only" premise, you have to give people access to the game modes and maps. This isn't Call of Duty where there's a single player campaign which is, for all intent and purpose, the core of the product. If your game is meant to be online multiplayer, you have to give people access to play the content. Simple as that. Adding in DLC of maps and game modes that would prevent people from playing is ridiculous.

My other big concern is the online only aspect. Many issues can crop up that can prevent you from playing a game you paid for. You could have trouble with your internet connection, or if there's a driver error (which Origin kept insisting that my Intel drivers were out of date, even though they were updated to the latest version 2 weeks prior), the game servers are down, the matches are full, or you get booted by jerks in the game. Think of every potential problem with having an online only game, and imagine how that would affect your play time if you were relegated to the whims of EA and other gamers. It's not a pretty picture, is it?

I wanted to like Battlefront. I wanted to give this new system of play a chance. I wasn't a fan of the super-simplistic menus, but I could see the draw for those new to the franchise. The graphics were clean, even at low system settings. The sounds were inviting and engaging - they enhanced the feel of the Star Wars universe. The battle at Hoth was as epic as I imagined it to be. Balancing issues aside, the challenge was worth it when you saw the final AT-AT fall.

But now knowing that I'm going to be forced to buy DLC to get all available game modes and maps for an online only product, nope. I'm out. Can't do it.

If EA wants to clarify what exactly gamers are getting from Battlefront, go for it. I'd like to see their response to the concerns. For me, this is a no go. Not buying. Maybe when it's on sale for $20 with all DLC.

Thanks once again EA for ruining a good thing.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Twitter Excluding Video Games?

Forbes managed to catch onto an issue with Twitter's newest feature that might be confusing to a number of us. "Moments," which released last week, is a way to highlight important events trending on Twitter without you having to comb through the endless sea that are Tweets. Twitter compiles text, audio, video, and images to create "Moments" for categories of interest, such as Entertainment.

What they seemed to have forgotten to include is video games.

As writer Paul Tessi began to review "Moments" to discuss in an article, he realized very quickly that games were lacking a presence. And it wasn't like this past week was dead on gaming news. Rock Band 4 was released, and their Austin launch party was trending pretty much all Tuesday evening. League of Legends had one of it's biggest matches of the year and was streaming live. The Star Wars: Battlefront beta was out on Thursday and kept hitting Twitter throughout the weekend. It was busy last week, and gaming was not affluent enough to be on Twitter's "Moments?"

To be fair, Twitter has been taken over by television lately with actors and crew members live tweeting during the show to keep fans engaged. But most of the content released last week were set photos. It wasn't necessarily connecting to fans directly - not at the level of Rock Band 4. There weren't even news articles or links to watch the show. Just a few pictures. A tweet or two and that's it.

Another issue that Tessi pointed out is that "Moments" is lacking in updates. Since released 10/7 only 20 stories have been added to the Entertainment category, and most are past their daily expiration date. If this feature is truly meant to be a "Twitter Summary" it's not doing a good job at summing up the events of the day/week.

By limiting the audience and only focusing on specific Tweets, this is looking more like paid advertising on the part of TV studios, less about Twitter showcasing "Moments." It's not giving an accurate view of Twitter activity, we can say that much. Maybe in the upcoming weeks it'll grow as Twitter adjusts their algorithms. Let's hope so. We gamers are much more active then a cast member on The Vampire Diaries.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Star Wars Battlefront Beta. Everything You Need To Know.

The beta went live yesterday and after a 30 minute download and install (it's 10 gigs on PC with a 100MB fiberoptic connection during prime-time. I'm surprised it wasn't slower) I was in the game and playing to my hearts content.

The basic details can be found on EA's website. And it is live for all next-gen platforms and PC. So if you have an XBox One or PS4 (8gb download), you can play too!

The beta is open to everyone. So unlike other gimics that require you to pre-order the game (you get access to a level if you pre-order a week earlier then everyone else...woo), you don't have to get any stupid codes. It's an open beta. And they mean OPEN. Battlefront is going to be a big game. A lot of people have been waiting for years to have another title in the franchise. And that means it's going to be very busy on release date. The best way to stress test the servers is to have the beta open. No exclusions, outside of non PC, XBox One, and PS4 owners.

Some of the modes currently available for play are Survival Mode on Tatooine, Drop Zone, and Walker Assault which recreates the first battle sequence from Empire Strikes Back on Hoth.

What I noticed with this game, which was developed by DICE (Battlefield) is that while many of the mechanics of Battlefield are present, Battlefront still feels like the Star Wars game that it should be. You get the lazers and the blasters. The recoil is minimal, as one would expect with a space gun. There is no reload, which is a nice feature. Instead your blaster can overheat and there is a cool down time when this happens.

There is an unlock system called Star Cards that allow you to add more power to your character. You can equip 3 cards max, and they range from thermal detonators, ion weapons (great against mechs and AT-ST), to jump packs. BTW, the jump pack is not like super wall jump mode. It just gives you a little extra boost to your jump. It's not impressive.

So of course I tested out the Walker Assault. I'd be crazy not too. For players who are not use to Battlefront you have to pace yourself. You can't start firing at the Walkers and expect to win. It's the fastest way to death. The match is a 20/20 versus with the Empire needing to capture points on the map to move the Walker's forward, while the Rebels defend. As you can imagine, there's a big advantage to the Empire. And you can control the AT-AT's by using powerups found around the map. The Rebels can only damage the Walkers through bombing strikes by A-Wings. Defending the base is difficult. There's limited power-ups for Rebels and it's a lot of standing your ground. There isn't as much maneuverability as I would have liked. If you're on the Empire side, you have a big advantage of an open field and not much close-quarters combat. Plus the AT-AT's. Those things will crush Rebel's in an instant. I don't know where the balance in this map is, but you need a very experienced team on the Rebel side to have a chance at winning.

Drop Zone is like King of the Hill. Pods will drop from the sky and you need to secure them. Each one you collect will give you a power up. It wasn't anything special, and it was very easy to create choke-holds along the maps to prevent the opposing team from obtaining any pods.

Survival Mode is like the Left 4 Dead version but with Star Wars. You are pitted against 15 waves of the enemy and you have to outlast them all. You do have a set number of lives, so if you die, you have the chance to keep going until all lives are lost. Power-ups are given each round to produce temporary Star Cards. This is the one time I found the jump pack useful because it can cushion any accidental falls (there is fall damage) to reduce damage and possibly save you from death.

Clearly the king of these matches is the Walker Assault. It's a must try for everyone.

You can also play as Luke Skywalker and Vader in the beta. That's kind of cool. Be all Jedi-like.

Playing this on PC, I'd recommend hooking up a controller. It does make the FPS portion of controls much easier to handle. When you get into the strategy mode of single player, the keyboard may be better. Otherwise, go for controller. It also helps you get a better feel for the recoil on the blasters so you can correct your aim with more precision with a tiny tap of the thumbstick.

The beta is set to end on October 12, so you only have a few days to spam the servers. EA has already decided to expand the number of PC servers to compensate for the increased use (that they will surely see during launch next month).

Any stats from the beta will not carry over to launch. We're still looking for details regarding the beta client, if it must be uninstalled for the game's release, or if it can be combined with the final install.

And currently there isn't an easy way to report bugs through the beta. You have to go through EA's site and fill out a form on their Contact Us page, which they may or may not read. It's EA. They don't have the best customer service or response rate.

So! There you go! Have fun killing some Rebels.