Monday, November 30, 2015

Talking About The Video Game Talk

Ian Bogost is at it again with another book about video games, with a less then iconic title: How to Talk About Videogames. At least you know what you'll be getting into before you start reading.

As The Geek Spot has been covering all forms of reviews on this blog, and how the face of the criticism world is changing, Bogost is throwing his hat in to show just how much this realm of gaming is evolving and it may not necessarily be for the better. What makes the review of Bogost's latest book interesting to talk about is how much history he focuses on. And through history of how Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man got their names actually helps us in discussing video games. In doing so, it opens up questions on if we should include video games in conversations about feminism, masculinity, religion, social issues, and the like. I mean, we have to if we expect for the medium to move forward, right?

And like any Bogost book, expect big words (bring out that thesaurus), unexpected game play (Gone Home is the focus of attention in one chapter), and no answers to the big questions. It's all for us to figure out how we talk about video games.

I would argue that the the long-form version of game reviews are not dead. It all depends on the writer. Kotaku, The New York Times, and Gamasutra have a staff of excellent writers. Whether you like them or complain about their work, they are some of the few that have developed a prose that resonates with readers. They give you the facts, the fluff, and personal opinions without devaluing your time as a reader. That last part is the trick to long posts. People don't want to feel like their time was wasted. And for a lot of game reviewers, time is money. Well...for everyone time is money. The point being that something quick and is able to churn out the same hits as a longer post is more efficient in the long run. Studies are continually showing that for the number of people who stick around and read your post, there are just as many tuning out. Why have an article that drudges on forever about video games when you can click to see a Call of Duty review in 140 characters or less.

We're in an odd time for game discussion. I think it would be wrong to dismiss the slap and dash reviews or sites like Metacritic, as they all hold a place in our gaming world. But they are not the end-all-be-all of gaming knowledge. Branch out and read the longer stories. Become more well informed. And maybe you'll see why talking about the origin of Pac-Man means something.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Changing Face of Game Reviews

As the state of video game reviews changes, The Guardian is also jumping on board with clarifying just how tricky it is to review products these days. In the process, they also clear up some misconceptions. Game reviews may look the same for most sites and magazines, but the process has evolved as more content has become digital. In an age of bittorrents and pirating, game developers no longer mail out discs, and have special play-in events for reviewers so the staff can monitor everything.

And as a number of us know by now, most games are now released incomplete or with bugs. This is to build up on DLC later and to patch out problems as the majority of consumers now have some form of a broadband internet connection. It's easier on the developer's bottom line to sell a game with bugs, then to withhold it until it's in working order. And with faster internet speeds, it's not a hamper for most consumers.

This is also why I appreciate Kotaku and The Guardian's new approach to games. They review products in their home as any customer would. They can see the highs and lows of internet speeds, play with other gamers instead of game reviewers in a controlled environment, and experience the DLC as it happens. They don't post Day One reviews unless devs will allow them to test the games in this way.

But the article The Guardian posted isn't just about how game developers have changed with the digital times, it's also about how the readers have changed as well. Now that feedback is instantaneous, fanboys and fangirls are quick to comment on reviews. Critical reviews, as in reviews that dive deep into the game and provide both positive and negative responses, can be met with overwhelming hate by fans. Reviewers are met with ire, called foul names, or sometimes told they are misinformed or lacking in information. The last point is ironic because if a post or review is too long, people won't read it, so reviewers have to keep it short enough for people to digest, but long enough to contain the main points. And then readers complain that the reviewers don't know the product. Well...if it was any longer you'd stop reading. So there you go!

We live in an odd time for video games.

Cosplay Runway 103

Another "How-To" post!

I've been asked by several people across my social media for tips covering cosplay runway. This is a competition aspect of cosplay and can be a make or break moment for many people. You get to show off your costume for the rest of the convention, and potentially win a prize from the panel of judges for all of your hard work.

Here's the thing: a lot of people don't understand or don't know how important the runway portion of a cosplay contest is. It's more then walking across the stage and letting other people see your costume. It's about taking that final step into transforming yourself into the character for those 30-60 seconds. Cosplay is Costume Play - Playing the part and turning into that character for those moments you are out in front of the crowd. That's what really defines a cosplayer from costumers.

And it hurts me every time when I go to a cosplay contest and I see people take the stage and immediately rush off. No performance. No standing for photos. Just a blur across the raised floor.

A bit about my history - the only thing I haven't done in terms of cosplay contests is MC one. I have been in many contests as a contestant, as a judge, as a staffer, as an audience member, as a journalist, and as a manager. I've also been teaching a panel on Cosplay Runway over the past few years, so I hope my knowledge will help those who are interested in joining contests in the future, as well as the veterans (because everyone could learn something new, or could benefit from a refresher course).

1 - Practice. Practice. Practice.

And just when you think you have practiced enough, practice some more. And then a little bit more after that. You want to rehearse what you are doing on stage for a few reasons: To help you get into character. To help you with stage freight. And to easily transform into the character.

Practicing will give you a better idea about who your character is. How he or she moves. What they think. How they pose. How they react. It's a lot like acting, even as you walk across a stage. And the more you do it, the better you get at it. Think of it like learning to play the piano for the first time. You probably sucked at it, right? But as you continued to play over time you got better. Walking and posing on a stage is the same principle. So practice, practice, practice.

As far as the stage fright goes, I understand where you're coming from. It can be nerve wracking going up on a stage with hundreds, if not thousands, of people watching you. You might be afraid that you'll forget how to act like the character and quickly rush across the stage. This is where practicing comes in handy. The more you practice, the more you remember. You'll get to a point where you can do the moves from muscle memory without having to think about it - which is ideal if you have stage fright or any type of nerves. Your body will follow the routine that you've been practicing.

2 - Practice in your cosplay.

Just when you think you're ready to go and get up on that stage, you take your first few steps in the runway walk you've been practicing, and then CRACK. Your prop breaks. Or your shoe heel falls off. Or your seam rips. Or a button pops, just as you're moving to turn into your first pose.

But it seemed so great! The walk was perfect at home, so why is my costume not working now?

Testing your walk in your costumes will help you determine your limitations. Are you able to stand this way - move this way - lift your arms - squat - sit - etc? You may have full range of motion with your normal every day clothes, but throw your cosplay armor on it and you'll find that most of your actions are now limited.

So be sure to practice your runway while in your costume. And if you find any problems, you can fix them at home well before you get to the convention.

3 - The 3-10 rule.

Three poses. Ten seconds each. Most conventions have a 30-45 second rule for stage time when it comes to walk ons, and request that you provide 2-3 different poses so that people have time to look at your costume while you're standing still. And it's always better to provide one more pose, then one less.

So 30 seconds. You break that down, that's roughly 10 seconds for each pose.

You might be thinking "but wait. What about the time it takes to walk across the stage? Wouldn't that eat into posing time." You are correct! But there's a funny thing that everyone does when they are on stage. We all get some form of nerves, even those who have been doing this for years. We always seem to count faster in our heads then the real time. Ten seconds can become two in our heads.

And 30 seconds is a LONG TIME. No really. It is. Pull up a timer on your phone and start walking for 30 seconds. See how far you get and be amazed at time! Science!

This is what I tell people: When you pose, count to 10 in your head using the One-Mississippi method. Phonetically say Mississippi. By the time you get through Mississippi, a second has passed (versus saying One by itself). As you practice this, it'll start to feel more natural as you move and pose. You'll be surprised at how much you can accomplish in 30 seconds of stage time.

4 - Take it slow.

Whether it's posing, stage fighting, or walking, keep it slow. The audience can not see you or your wonderful costume if your arms are flying all over the place.

A good rule of thumb is to think of the audience like a photographer. What is the best way for a photographer to capture an image of you? When you're standing still. What is not an ideal image? When you're moving around because the camera can't capture a steady image of you.

What a photo camera sees is exactly what the audience and judges see when you walk and pose across the stage. If you walk too fast, move your body too much, or don't stay in one place for long, you become a blur and no one will have seen your costume.

So breathe. Use that One-Mississippi counting method before you move. And let people SEE your costume! That's why you're there, right? Show it off!

5 - Walk like you mean it.

I would argue that this step is what takes an average competitor to the next level. It's one thing to pose like the character. It's another to completely immerse yourself in and walk like the character.

There's a big difference in how you walk normally versus how your character would walk. Let's take Zangeiff from Street Fighter for example. He doesn't walk with his hands by his sides, head down, and shuffling his feet. He holds his head up high! His arms move with his body, shoulders pressing forward with each step, and he lurches his whole body as he walks with one heavy foot at a time. There's power behind his walk to match his muscled body, and you should do the same with your cosplay. Watch how your character moves and how their swagger affects their body's behavior.

For those who have lighthearted characters that twirl/spin, do this while you walk! It's distracting when you're trying to pose and all you're doing is spinning (not to mention it makes it impossible to see your costume). But walking? Totally fine. It gives charm to your character this way.

6 - Be a Muppet.

I usually title this rule "Go Big or Go Home" but my friends Alpacosplay and Yummy Gamorah helped inspire me to rename this.

When you're on a stage, you have to entertain the audience, not just the judges sitting 20 feet in front of you. You'll be in a room full of people. Maybe it's 500 or maybe it's 5,000. No matter what the size, there will always be people sitting in the back who will have a difficult time seeing you. Because of this, you have to make your gestures grand. You want to have everyone in that room watching you - seeing you. And they can't if you make small movements with your hands or feet. You have to go Big and Bold.

This includes your facial expressions as well. A sigh is fine, but you can't be reserved with those moments. You need to make it very obvious that your are sighing. Let out a huge puff of air, slouch, and cross your arms over your chest. Be as exasperated as possible!

Look to musical theater and stage as examples. These are actors that have to perform to a live audience, not to a camera. Subtle movements will not be noticed by the audience. As such, they have to emphasize their bodies motions to ensure everyone can see them. It may look silly on your end, but when you're sitting in the audience, it looks quite natural.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gaming Past Stopping Progression

It's a new week and Turkey Day is almost upon us. While a number of the nerds I know will be busy with family, or watching the annual MST3K Turkey Marathon, Thanksgiving is also the time where a number of us are nostalgic. It reminds us of years past when we were children, and the excitement of Christmas looming around the corner. Will we get that N64 this year or the Sega Game Gear? It's a great time to break out the old systems and play some retro games.

But Mark Hill from The Atlantic says that nostalgia is ruining video games.

Now before us old gamers raise our voices in anger, and not our fists because we all probably have Nintendo elbow, let's give Hill a moment to back up his claim.

Hill's argument centers around the concept of nostalgia as a marketing tool. A number of PR and marketing groups utilize the sense of the past to help spur sales with a musician or a band's "Final Tour" (see Black Sabbath and Motley Crue). "This is your last chance to see this band, so go now" and "This is the best they have been since their debut!" It spurs people into action and gives them that moment to relive a time earlier in their life where things seemed simpler, happier.

With video games we relive this almost constantly because it's a medium with high immersion. How a gamer experiences a game is different from how someone watches a movie. While the emotional events are there, gamers are more likely to connect to the characters in the game, and creates more sentimental attachments. Which is why nostalgia factors hit an all-time high during the holidays - that's when most of us as kids got our games. (Why else do you think the Star Wars movie is releasing in December?)

Along this line of thinking, Hill argues that this sense of logging for the past is not allowing game developers to move forward with the medium. And I think he's right about this, to an extent. We're so focused on sequels, prequels, and reviving franchises that new games are having a tough time seeing the light of day. Even products like Life Is Strange, that are very forward thinking, also utilize nostalgia with the characters by giving the user the ability to mess with the timeline - going back to events and tweaking them to your advantage. I'm still not fully on board with Hill's analysis here, but the rest of his story has merit.

We're entering a weird age of gaming. For those of us who want change, there are just as many who want things to stay the same. Most of the content at E3 this year focused on sequels and re-releases. How many people went nuts over the FF7 remake? Very few companies provided new content, and if they did, they were overshadowed by sequels, sequels, and more sequels. And for good reason - people are buying up the past. Enough of us with disposable incomes are constantly asking developers to revamp old games, re-release them, or provide upgrades. We're willing to pay for all of it. The Shenmue Kickstarter is a perfect example of this. Heck I look at all of the Kickstarter projects that I've funded over the years (and there are only 4, mind you). All have been based off of old TV shows looking for a new season, or a second book.

And as a game developer, it's difficult to throw money at a project that's new and has no track record. Why should we spend 100 million on A game when B game sold so well and can guarantee us a return on investment? Given the consumer trend to buy sequels, developers are more likely to support winning franchises, not new games. Which is why we looked at Blizzard in awe when they initially announced Overwatch, a completely new title that takes a big step outside of the decades of World of Warcraft and Diablo games development. To throw so much funding at a new game is very risky.

On the plus, this has given rise to the indie scene. We're watching new, smaller developers grow and create exciting content that you can't find in mainstream media. It's exciting to be a part of that community and support new content. And I doubt that this dichotomy, established developers producing franchises while indie devs work on new games, is going to change any time soon. With that we're going to see the same ol' thing, the same stories, the same characters, and the same tropes.

I'm torn.

I enjoy retro games. I like the nostalgia because yes, it does bring me back to my childhood when things were simpler. I'm fully aware that I'm being marketed to in that manner, and that it does affect my purchasing decisions. Picking up a Mario game once in a while is fine. But it does make me yearn for new games. I want to see BioWare throw out a brand new, stand alone title, to kick off a new wave of Western RPG's. Or if Ubisoft would put down Assassin's Creed and create a new open-world, action title.

I want to see more businesses like Rockstar. Sure they have their go-to franchise of Grand Theft Auto, but they also have not been afraid to push out new products and test the waters with games like Bully, and L.A. Noire. Games that have a very high caliber of production, and they were willing to take a risk on them. We can have it both ways. But we gotta take the risks, and most big companies are not willing to make that bet.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Business of Reporting Gaming News

I was a little surprised to see this story pop up on my feed today: Kotaku talking about being blacklisted by game developer Bethesda, the peeps that made Fallout 4. The game that is consuming the lives and time of nearly every gamer on the globe. But how does a news service as big as Kotaku manage to get on the blacklist? A site that big with more visitors then the average gaming source would be an ideal marketing place for any developer. So why shut them out?

Both Bethesda and Ubisoft have removed Kotaku from their marketing and PR lists. Any new games for early reviews are out of their hands, and typically requests for comments are left unanswered, though Kotaku does put forth the effort and asks every time knowing there won't be a response. Neither company has out-right said they have been blacklisted. In the case of Ubisoft it's less contact with Kotaku, but still providing some of the bigger games that need to be marketed - but there has been a noticeable absence in communication.

The truth is that since December of 2014, both companies have nearly gone radio silent on Kotaku when they broke news about Fallout 4 and Assassin's Creed Victory (now Syndicate) before the companies. You probably remember those times very well because they were the talk of the internet. Bethesda and Ubisoft never commented on the reality of these games, and of course we found out later in PR releases from the studios that the products were coming.

While some people within those companies still talk to Kotaku, it's always done on the D and the L. Sources are not named so people don't lose their jobs, as PR and Marketing departments attempt to control how information is released from the developer. Which is their jobs. Media outlets are blacklisted all the time. We rarely, if ever, hear about it.

What prompted the article were questions from Kotaku's readers. They wondered why Kotaku didn't cover Fallout 4 with a review on the game's release date, like so many other gaming outlets. Or why some of the die-hard AssCreed writers on staff were not involved in the reviews until months later after the release of Unity and Syndicate. It's because the developers don't want to play ball with Kotaku.

Kotaku serves their readers, and posting content that was leaked was enough to be blacklisted. While it sucks, and some may agree with the publishers on this one, I applaud Kotaku for sticking to their guns. They write their content for the people who read, not to gain favor with developers. They are honest with their reviews and will say when something sucks, but much more eloquently then I can at this moment. To quote one of the comments in the article, "[i]f you're pissing people off with your journalism, then you're doing your job." And pissing people off means getting a reaction from your readers, from the person, people, group, or event you're publishing about - ranging from joy to sorrow.

And now you know why the biggest game news source on the planet is not friendly with Bethesda and Ubisoft. Kotaku leaked new game news before the publishers could announce them, and that made them unhappy. So Kotaku can't play their games while the blacklist is maintained. It could change in the future but after that article posting, it may be a long while.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Terrorists Are Probably Not Using Video Games for Communication

Let the scare tactics begin! CBS has a wonderfully bad story about terrorism. Specially how they may be using video games to communicate with each other, undetected. Gasp! And instead of asking a national security, or a terrorist expert, hell even a sociologist, CBS turned to CNET Senior Editor Jeff Bakalar.

Bakalar has no history of working with the government or with any group that studies the habits of terrorists. He has a Bachelor of Arts, has worked on a few tv sets and independent films, and works at CNET as a podcaster and vidoegrapher. I'm thinking the line of logic regarding "terrorists use games to communicate" came from an episode of NCIS or CSI.

By the way, CBS owns CNET. Clearly they went a long way to try and find an expert on the subject matter.

Having typed all of that, it's not implausible to imagine that people are using messaging systems in video games and on consoles to harm others physically. We would be silly to think otherwise. But to assume that's the only option is a bit far-fetched given the system restrictions globally, the cost of the content plus additional fees/upkeep, and chat logs are recorded through a number of gaming companies - which you may not know about. How else do you think Microsoft bans people if they don't have a record of the chat log to confirm their actions?

Bakalar references the PlayStation 4 in the story, and that some apps on the console can make it easy for people to communicate without being in a game. Which is true. But it's not like we're talking about CIA level of encryption here (as Bakalar points out, but with NASA for some odd reason). It's fairly easy for someone to break into those chats and review logs, from a hacker's perspective. There's little challenge to it.

CBS ran with the PS4 and started throwing down sales stats and how monitoring everyone's information is not practical for Sony. Why they don't throw in Microsoft or Nintendo is beyond me. They felt like picking on Sony today. But! Because there are so many PS4 units out there, it's easy for someone to "fly under the radar."

But it's not, as mentioned earlier. While 30 million units sold seems like a lot and may be impossible to track, I can assure you that Sony has information about every, single, console all the time. Why? Because you have to have an internet connection in order to talk to another person. The moment you go online, they have your name, address, and credit card info attached to the serial number of that system. They know when you are and are not active. To think otherwise is naive. And this isn't meant to be a Big Brother scare tactic. It's just the plain ol' truth.

The thing is that for 99.99% of us, they don't give a rats butt about what we're saying and doing unless we violate the Terms of Service for the console. It is such a tiny, tiny, tiny, almost invisible fraction of people who use games for nefarious reasons, with intent to harm long before they considered going through a video game to find victims. (Which I still contest is silly. A PS4 will still set you back a few hundred dollars, more in certain countries since it's restricted in sales in some locations. And with the XBox One and PS4 you have to pay a monthly fee for online services. Plus if you use an MMO, there's another monthly fee for that. When all is said and done, your initial start-up costs are $750 minimum, before factoring in your cable company's bill. Why go through all of that time and wasted money when an online chat program-there are thousands of free programs and encrypting the data can be done by one person, a few bucks to get someone to do it for you-or a burner phone-$20 phones at WalMart-could do the same thing at a fraction of the price?)

What concerns me, and many others I hope, is this fear mongering. In the wake of more terrorist attacks that people will lay blame on anything that may be the cause. And calling out video games as a potential "hot bed" for terrorist communication will dump more hate onto gamers. We're ostracized enough. Do we really need this type of light on our community?

I'm sure Bakalar had good intent behind his comments. He wants to help out and let people know that there are other ways for the "bad guys" to talk to each other.

What resulted is a CBS fear speech against gamers.

This is also another fine example of not to believe everything you read on the internet. Fact check. Make sure the story you have consumed is legitimate, because it's very easy for people to post fake articles that it's becoming the norm (which really sucks, btw). This CBS story does not use any other sources. No links to national security reports that indicate that video games may be used for terrorists communications. No corroborating stories or evidence to back up their claims. They didn't even link Bakalar correctly. Instead of going to his CNET profile, it goes to the PS4 product page on CNET (which makes me wonder if this is a PS4 ad instead, albeit a bad one). The only reason the CBS story is gaining traction is because it's CBS; a reliable news outlet. That's it!

Always check the stories and back up your claims, kids.

Until then, keep gaming. The terrorists don't care about your gaming score, and Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo were already watching you. Get over it and game on.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Reviewer Reviews Review Embargos

The Review Embargo. For those who don't know what this is, it's an agreement made by a publisher of a video game and potential reviewers that help promote the product. An embargo means that people can not post reviews of a game until a specific date. Typically this is a week or two before release, or the day of. Very rarely do we see it happen after a game's release. And in some situations the publisher may ask that reviewers now talk about certain aspects of the game to keep out spoilers for potential customers.

It's difficult to find reviewers who agree with each other on the thought process behind embargos. Some are for it. Others are against it. And as Sophie Kruse notes in an article for The Post, it can be tricky to figure out one's own feelings.

As we found out with Assassin's Creed:Unity, an embargo can reflect the concerns of the publisher. By having a lock-down on reviews until after the game's release, it showed that Ubisoft did not have as much confidence in their product. Clearly an issue given the amount of glitches in the game, that they had every right to be worried.

Embargo's also allow for fairer journalism. By this I mean there isn't a rush to be the "first" to publish a story on a new game. You can take as long as you'd like before the deadline to dive in and craft a review that is worthy of your, and your readers, time. It's not about "I got this done first" and half-arse a review on the latest game. Instead you give readers a quality overview of the product that enables readers to be more informed about their purchasing decisions. Why? Because of that timeline for posting, you don't have the rush to be first. Everyone else must abide to the same guidelines as you.

On the other side, as a gamer who wants to spend money on the latest Triple A title, we can get screwed over by this system. Where there's an emphasis on pre-orders and an all-quiet on reviews, it makes us wonder if the product is up to snuff. Embargo's mean we don't always get the content we want to read about. We may not know that the publisher turned down the difficulty, because the magazine has signed a contract to not mention it. So the review leaves out tidbits of info that could sway our purchase decision. And then we go out, buy the game, and find out on our own that the content is lacking what was initially promised. As a gamer, you're not getting the full information due to the embargo. Only bits and pieces that the publisher deems worthy of sharing with the public.

It truly is a double-edged sword. For the good things embargo's can give to journalism and gamers, there are equally as many bad things.

How do you feel about review embargos?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up The Star Wars Edition

Star Wars: Battlefront is out today, and while I won't be supporting or purchasing the game anytime soon (maybe when it's in the bargain bin at WalMart and comes with all DLC's bundled together), this seems like the perfect time to fill this blog with more Star Wars stuff.

Because it's Star Wars and I can. Consider this the Weekly Link Round-Up: The Star Wars Edition.

- Forbes is still adamant that buying Battlefront is a waste of your money. And the writer, Jason Evangelho, seems like the ideal candidate for Battlefront's assault. He's been buying up the Disney Infinity toys left and right that have all of the Star Wars characters. He's been reading the new books, watching the movies, doing everything Star Wars. He was pumped for the 10 hours of unrestricted access EA had for Battlefront this past weekend. And then he saw the truth: "[t]hat sobering truth is that there simply isn’t enough content or variety here to justify a $60 purchase." Somehow I'm not surprised...

- But if you're still insistent on getting the game and did not pre-order, you can find some good deals on it! Dell is offering a $25 gift card with purchase, for example.

- And just to confirm, EA is holding 4 game modes specifically for the DLC's. Gee. Thanks guys. (Insert sarcastic face here.)

- Looking for something more retro? Check out this 1983 Atari game, Star Wars: Jedi Arena. And other classics that feature Darth Vader in all of his glory. Because a Star Wars game is only as cool as it's villain. Does anyone remember Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi? I thought it was a good game at one point, and then I would stop playing after 15 minutes and go back to Street Fighter.

- Not to be forgotten, DigitalSpy has a list of 5 really bad Star Wars games, and one honorable mention. Yes Kinect Star Wars is a bad game in it's core feature with the lightsabers. The dancing portion was just tacky...but was about as good as any Dance Central title.

- If live-action gaming is more of your speed, Disneyland has unveiled their "Star Wars Season of the Force" attraction. A launch bay was built to include memorabilia from the upcoming Episode VII and past movies, as well as video interviews of cast and crew. There is also a recreation of the Mos Eisley Cantina with possible working holo chess board, question mark as this awaits confirmation. It sounds like a big kid's museum.

- Did you know that former Obama Administration official Cass Sunstein is writing a Star Wars book? It'll be released on May the 4th in 2016 and will focus on a bunch of Star Wars things. What are those things? Well the press release simply says "history, politics, and fatherhood." So...up to your imagination on what, who, and where Sunstein is referring to.

- Finally The Telegraph charts the history of Star Wars video games. There were some highs, some lows, and some weird things in between. For those who don't know, when gaming was starting to become popular in the 1980's, the licensing to Star Wars was a free for all. Anyone could make a game as long as they paid Lucasfilm. And a lot of really bad Star Wars games were released because of it. Papa George disliked that crappy products were being put out in the name of Star Wars. Lucasarts was created and the licensing was wrangled in. That's when we got some really great Star Wars games. While I greatly dislike the fact that Disney closed Lucasarts and has been giving the licensing out a little bit more freely (which is weird because it's Disney), there is a progression to Star Wars game history that shouldn't be overlooked.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fallout 4 Nearly Broke the Internet of Porn?

When I saw this cross my Facebook feed a few days ago, I did a lot of digging to confirm that the story was true before I considered posting it. And apparently, it is.

Pornography internet kingpin PornHub saw a 10% decrease in their web traffic the day Fallout 4 was released. I'd link the stats, but there's a good chance I'd be in major trouble at work. View at your own discretion via this Forbes article.

Now some of you may think that the connection is pretty vague. Maybe other events were going on Tuesday that kept people away from PornHub.

Few reasons on why this is an interesting, and yet amusing story. PornHub's web numbers can be measured in the millions. So when there's a dip in traffic, it's very noticeable. Over the past few years they have been monitoring their stats, handing out surveys to their customers, and have a good idea on the peak "gaming" hours when sit traffic is a bit lower then normal. On a normal day, it's not noticeable. On Fallout 4 day, it was 10%. And the biggest hits in the site's traffic were during peak "gaming" hours.

Something else to note is the Fallout 4 leak a few months back. Remember some of those YouTube videos of the game that Bethseda had removed? There was a video on PornHub that they didn't pursue. Why, I'm not sure. But the website was able to maintain steady traffic for gamers and non-gamers alike due to the leak, and potentially helped boost Fallout 4 sales. Thus! More people were playing it and not on PornHub.

It's still funny to think about. Fallout 4 affected a porn site for one day.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

Another busy week in the realm of video games. Mostly due to the gamer madness surrounding Fallout 4. Did you know you can buy your dog a doghouse and he uses it? It's cute.

So here's a list of the highs and lows of gaming news this week!

- When Conan O'Brian made his return to late night television through TBS, not too long into his tenure he began a series with one of his producers, who is a huge gamer, called 'Clueless Gamer.' For 5 minutes we watched Conan bumble his way through the latest hit game and make witty remarks. And over the years, it has been a marketing power proved worthy. Developers saw sale spikes and now you'll find that some of the popular games on the show today were paid spots. Check out the full article on Kotaku.

- This year we had a really big ruling in copyright laws that affected video games that you probably didn't know about. Gamasutra is here to save the day with a summary of the facts that could affect future developers. Or game preservation, a hot button issue with the ESA.

- I think we can all agree that the Steam controller is pretty silly looking. Does one really need all of those buttons? DigitalSpy has compiled a list of 8 controllers that are just as bad, or worse. Just remember, we got lucky with the XBox design. It was must worse in the development phase.

- WhatCulture is back with a list of 10 DLC's that didn't steal your money. I took that to mean DLC for games that gave you content worth your money. Because that are some DLC's that are notoriously bad, by only providing an extra outfit for your character or a weapon or two. On the list you'll find Skyrim, Civilization V, and Bioshock 2. I'd like to argue that the Borderlands 2: Tiny Tina's Assault needs to be ranked higher. That was a TON of content for a very small price. You got a DnD game within a game. You can't beat that quality!

- Extra Special for Friday the 13th: The Friday the 13th video game has been successfully funded via Kickstarter! The concept and the look seems a bit campy, but it sits well with the style of the movies.

- Cards games are invading video games. I don't know why that's new...because it's not. Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories, anyone? Well you'll see cards in all sorts of forms these days, from random mini-games to being incorporated in building your character's stats. Meh. I'm not phased by it. Just another attempt at redesigning the game play.

- New game glitches are becoming commonplace. So here's a list of entertaining Fallout 4 glitches!

- Game of War, the mobile game that has been an issue with feminists and middle schoolers for showing too much of Kate Upton, having no female players, and advertising that is irrelevant to the game, now has a new spokesperson. Grammy winning singer Mariah Carey. In full cleavage bustyness, wearing an outfit that, once again, leaves nothing to the imagination and makes women look like a piece of meat. Good going developers. 1 step forward. 5 steps back.

- Last but not least, Nintendo announced new characters to the Smash Bros. line-up, one of them being a female Link. A real female Link. Not a genderbend. Interesting design and kind of classy. I'm hoping this isn't an iteration of the "Mister Man"/"Misses Man" trope, but a Link that holds her own.

Stay classy, gamers!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Texas: Officially Home to the National Videogame Museum

The National Videogame Museum (which seems to put video and game into one word instead of two) is nearing completion at it's new, permanent residence. Maybe. I mentioned it last year that the VGM was looking for another temporary home. It began in 2009 as a roaming exhibit and a boost from Kickstarter helped it maintain it's state to state tour throughout the U.S.

Frisco Texas (which is soon to be home to the Dallas Cowboys training facility - a big ass deal here, and new offices of Gearbox Software), has been attracting lots of businesses and families as of late, and a different kind of museum would be right up it's alley. With donations from locals such as Randy Pitchford (Gearbox main man) and the city itself, the museum will still share the Frisco Discovery Center, along with the Sci-Tech Discovery Center, Black Box Theatre, and Art Gallery. But the staff  are doing their best to ensure a full-fledged experience even with space limitations.

Included in the VGM will be a retro 80's arcade, the world's largest Pong simulator, console timeline, rare artifacts like the Sega Neptune, and a replica of Randy Pitchford's office. See donations above.

Our mission is fairly straightforward and simple: To preserve the history of the videogame industry by archiving not only the physical artifacts, but also the information and stories behind its creation.

The VGM wants their doors to open by the end of December of this year. Ticket prices are already up: $12 for Adults and $10 for Children. If it does open up in December I'll make the trek out there and experience it first-hand.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

As If Abrams Isn't Busy Enough, He's Making a Video Game Too!

Cinema darling J.J. Abrams is teaming up with game developer ChAIR to create a new IP. You know what that means? Lens flares. Lots of lens flares.

ChAIR is probably best know for Infinity Blade and Shadow Complex. Titles are are geared towards the "adventure" genre but with fun twists, such as platforming. The game is called Spyjinx. While information about the title is very limited, we do know that J.J. is going to be very much involved in the game along with his production company. And you can sign up for a future beta right now. Not that we know what the game is about other then spys, but look! Beta! Open to whoever wants to sign up right now!

The game will be powered by the Unreal 4 Engine. It's a mixture of action, dynamic world-building, and RPG elements all set in the world of espionage. I's in the title. Spy. Jinx. Get it?

Needless to say, J.J. has been super busy in the nerdy world lately. With the latest Star Wars movie coming out in December, and still in final edits, this is another pet project coming to fruition. Abrams hopes that the collaboration with ChAIR will allow their brand of story-telling to mesh well with the game developers style of design.

Estimated release date is set for 2016 on PC. Hopefully more information will be made public before then. I know Abrams likes to keep things quiet until a few months before release, but he'll have to make some concessions with this game if he expects it to sell. Gamers are impatient when it comes to waiting on news.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

#ForceForDaniel and the Spirit of the Internet

For all of the vitriol and vile actions of those on the internet, sometimes it can be a great way for people to come together and do something good.

#ForceForDaniel swept the internet as tens of thousands rallied together to help Daniel Fleetwood. For the past 2 years he has been dealing with a rare cancer, spindle cell sarcoma, which developed into other severe health issues. In September he was given 2 months to live by his doctors and had already been moved into hospice care. It was certain that he wouldn't make it to the end of the year. His wife initially reached out to the internet to try and find press passes to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As press, they would be able to see the film early for reviews and give Daniel a chance to watch the movie before his death.

Friends and family spurred the hashtag along with the Star Wars community at large to seek out Disney and Lucasfilm to grant Daniel his final wish. Even the legends themselves Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher jumped into the action to help out the fan. Disney came through and were able to secure a screening of the uncut version of the film at Daniel's home.

This morning we woke up to the news that Daniel had passed away, just 5 days after his wish was granted. He was able to see the film before his passing.

A number of you are probably reading this and wondering why it's a big deal. A fan got to see a movie before it was released. What makes it special?

To me it's proof that there is still good in this world. That people can use their influence, their compassion, and their charity to do the right thing. That the internet is not this evil place where people spew lies and create chaos - that it can be used as a tool for great things (as intended).

And what you won't see after the media has died down will be the lifetime of memories Daniel's family will have because of this gracious gift. There will be times where they remember Daniel when he was sick and feeling his worse, but remembering the kindness and generosity of people globally to help him achieve his final wish will always overshadow those dark moments. They'll remember his smiles, his laughter, his cheers, his reactions to seeing The Force Awakens. You can't put a value on memories like that.

It reminds me a lot of the charity Kidd's Kids. It's one of the only other organizations I'll support outside of Extra Life. Every year they take roughly 50 chronically and terminally ill children and their families for a week vacation to Disney World - all expenses paid. Again, I know it sounds silly but you have to look at it from the families' perspective. When you have a sick child, your life turns around. They become your only focus. On their medical bills (which are astronomical in the U.S. for even a freekin' X-Ray). On their needs. On their daily activities. Something as simple as getting ready for school in the morning may not be possible due to that child's health. And it's affects the entire family. If there are brothers and sisters they too experience the struggles of having a family member with health problems.

For many of these families they never get a vacation. A number of Kidd's Kids recipients have echoed the same response over the years: This is our first vacation, ever. And Disney is one of those places where every kid should experience it. There's a wonder to the magical kingdom that can not be described. They also have one of the best ratings when it comes to taking care of customers who have health issues or are disabled. So they're trustworthy.

It's those memories that last a lifetime to the family. No matter where they are in the future, what they do, where they go; they will always have that vacation to reflect on and think of happier times.

I was last at Disney when I was 10 years old. I'm in my 30's it's been a while. And I still remember the trip. I still smile when I think about meeting Pluto and my brother constantly trying to pull on his tail when we tried to get a picture with him. I still hate Space Mountain but was determined to ride it because that's what you do at Disney! And I remember the parade at night, and seeing new colors for the first time. Like a giant Crayola Crayon box was dumped on top of the floats. And it's something that my parents remember. Our whole family does. No matter what life may throw at us, we have our time at Disney in our hearts.

That's what these kids and their families experience. That's what Daniel and his family were able to enjoy before his passing. You can't beat memories that will last a lifetime.

So while you ponder if all of this press for one man was worth it, think about your life. Think about the things that you have, and be grateful. Be humble. There are so many out there less fortunate then you. I've been very fortunate and have worked my butt off to get to where I am today. But I know there are others who are not. I had good health (had being the operative word) and I want to do what I can to help out those who weren't as fortunate with genetics in that regard (not in physical appearance, mind you). Which is why I give to Extra Life and run the marathon. Every kid deserves a chance to be a kid. I had a good childhood. It's time to give back and let someone else have one too.

Godspeed Daniel. May the Force be with you and your family.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Call of Duty Gore Porn for the Ages!

I had a good topic in plan for today's posting, but I have to take a detour in the greatness that is this article title: 'Call of Duty: Black Ops III' Is Lame Military Porn. Now I haven't played the latest CoD and I don't plan on it. I gave up on Call of Duty years ago. It's become too repetitive, too anti-climatic, too obvious in it's content, and lifeless. Having a yearly release cycle will do that to a franchise. It's not bringing the punch and wow the first few games had. Innovation is not the forefront of CoD's empire any more.

And it's nice to see that other reviewers are agreeing with me. Finally. I do find it very validating to see the PS4 version on MetaCritic is getting panned by gamers.

The writer for The Daily Beast mentions, the quality for Call of Duty has waxed and waned over the years. Some of you may not know this, but CoD is worked on by 2 different teams in order to maintain the yearly release cycle - Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Over the years, CoD has upped up the gore level, even giving you the option at the front if you want to play the more "bloody" version or to tone it down. So um...more gore equals a better game, surely.

And hey! You can finally play a female lead! That's progressive, right? Well if you read the reviews, it's really not. There's a lot of awkwardness with how the player character is addressed, and in some situations the character can still be referred to as "him" not "her." The developers claim that this is because the military has become a genderless organization, but if that's the case, why bother using "him" as a pronoun at all? There's an obvious lack of emotional connection between the PC and the NPC's in the game space. As such, there's little remorse for when you lose a character, other then wondering if a robot ripping off their arms was really necessary.

Again I want to make it clear that I haven't played CoD:BO3. I'm going to be biased in my opinion as I've been basing my perception off of reviews (I don't have time to play everything, sorry!). But there is a clear theme in these reviews, professional and gamer, that Activision may want to start listening to. Yes the game has sold well, but at this point if you put it on the shelf people are going to buy it. That's the unfortunate aspect of the business at this point - people still haven't quite figured out that change can happen based on where you spend your money. Your wallet holds a lot of power. But maybe, just maybe, if enough people are dissatisfied with the product, next years CoD sales may drop off. Everyone has a right to a good game, and rehashing the same content with more gore is not the way to go.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Gaming for Charity - Extra Life's Big Day on November 7th!

Extra Life Day is tomorrow!

Last year I joined in on the gaming marathon and had a lot of fun helping raise funds for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. This year I have joined up with team Dynamic Action Squad Team to pool our funds to go to Seattle Children's Hospital.

Here's the down and low on Extra Life and why I support it.

I'm cautious with my money. Very cautious. Unfortunately there are a number of charities out there that either don't fully donate their funds to the cause they are raising money for, or not at all. And this time of year, it's very easy for people to get swept up into the season by giving to those in need. There's nothing wrong with donating money, food, clothing, etc. to those who could use it. The problem is some charities don't properly distribute the money. Susan G. Komen is a not-so wonderful example of this. While all of us "go pink" for October, you'll find that most donations sent to Komen are for operating costs (it's a pretty big business now) and breast cancer awareness programs. I think we can all agree at this point that we're all fully aware of breast cancer. How about we shift those funds to researching a cure, like your advertising promises, hm?

What inspired me to get involved with Extra Life was my brother. He joined up through his company, Trion Worlds, and really dug into the meaning behind the organization. Extra Life was created in 2008 to help a young girl with cancer. A handful of gamers were inspired by her story and determination that they wanted to donate to her family to help with the rising cost of medical bills, but didn't have the funds to do so. They created a 24-hour gaming marathon and were able to get people to donate as they play. And it grew from there! Since partnering up with Children's Miracle Network (CMN), the charity has raised over $14 million dollars.

And Extra Life does not keep a single penny of it. It all goes direct to CMN and they are one of the few groups that is transparent about their accounting books. Funding goes to support children's hospitals around the U.S. to improve equipment, research, and give a better quality of life to the patients they serve. And it's cool that you can pick your CMN hospital of choice. Last year I went with Children's Medical in Dallas, a place we've been to on several occasions for my brother, and it was some of the best care we had ever received at a hospital.

As someone who is not a child-friendly person, I find Extra Life to be one of those charities that is worthy of my time and money. I've been very fortunate to have a healthy childhood. I can't say it's worked out so well as an adult, but stuff happens. I'm grateful for my life and what I have. There are so many kids out there who are not as lucky, and spend years in hospitals for illnesses and diseases that have no cure. I wouldn't feel right not donating my time and money to them to help find cures, or at least put a smile on their face for a day with the comforts of home.

If you're looking for a charity to support this season, or have a dollar you want to donate, consider Extra Life this year.

I'll be streaming all day Saturday (hopefully lasting 24 hours, but if I need to break it up, I'll be on again on Sunday). Be sure to check me out on Twitch.

And because it falls on N7 Day, I'll be playing all things BioWare, starting the day off with Mass Effect (still debating between a speed run on ME2 or Citadel DLC on ME3) followed by Operation: Bang Dorian on Dragon Age: Inquisition. Because the only way I can get through Inquisition without pursuing Cullen is to make a male character and go after the handsome mage.

In the evening, my team and I will go into full on silly mode as we play a group game of Drawful, Fibbage, and Cards Against Humanity.

Join me on my stream to watch live. Or join our team! Invites are open to anyone interested in participating.

#ForTheKids  #N7Day

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Weekly Link Round-Up

There's so much news on the internet today, a round-up is necessary!

- GameFAQ's is celebrating 20 years of ASCII art! And now I feel extra old today. The website began as a means of collecting gaming knowledge and walkthroughs, and has since grown to include screenshots, videos, forums, and the like. While some of the web traffic has died off in favor of YouTube playthroughs, it's still a treasure trove of content. You'll find games dating all the way back to the Atari 2600 still listed. They are celebrating by running their annual "Best Game Ever" contest a little bit earlier then usual. Congrats GameGAQ's. Here's to another 20 years!

- Video game romances. They typically work in your favor. It's rare to see a romance fail, unless your character parts ways in-between sequels. So Kotaku writer Nathan Grayson took it upon himself to explore The Witcher 3 and Undertale and relate his experiences with crushed romances. I like this idea of the games become more "human" from an emotional standpoint. Because life doesn't always work in favor. You don't always get the guy or the girl. They may fall in or out of love with you. I'd be interested in seeing more video games explore this route. Except BioWare. You can't do that to me when you make such amazing characters that I want to love them all.

- IGN has created a list of the greatest 4 player games. I'm not surprised to see GTA Online on this list, after they finally released the heists missions. But don't expect games from the 90's. This list is much more geared towards today's generation of gamers.

- SNK Playmore, the company that went from video games to pachinko machines, is now going back to video games. SNK was initially bought out by a company that created pachinko machines, and then filed bankruptcy in 2001 to be acquired by Playmore. Changes to the pachinko market have forced the company to look at it's assets, and realize that video games is where they should be. With their semi-strong IP background, expect another SNK fighter to release in the future.

- The ESA has released a new study regarding the political interests of gamers. We care about a lot of issues, and with so many people into gaming these days, we make up a decent size of the voting population. Disparaging comments about the gamer stereotypes within the article aside, we are a very diverse and passionate group of people. Our political affiliations along parties varies (interesting to see the percentage who consider themselves Conservative, but also Democrats). The economy, unemployment, and education are big topics of interest to us. Mostly because our group seems to have the least amount of access to all three. Interesting read. Thanks ESA!

- Have you ever been curious about how the game Solitaire started? No not the physical card game. I mean the digital iteration that came installed with every copy of Windows. TechSpot takes a look back at one of the first video games that absorbed the computer masses. And yes. There are still companies who remove the game or have it blocked to prevent people from playing it.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Game For Your Rent

As the streaming craze continues to grow, others are looking to new business opportunities outside of the conventional ad revenue. Such as Stream House in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Simon Kubiak wants to create a home for gamers, a place where they can live rent free...sort-of. You have to play video games a few hours a day to cover the costs.

But gaming for your rent doesn't sound too bad. Kubiak wants to turn this into a profit by having 3 gamers streaming daily (if not 24/7 if you break up the schedule to have a morning, afternoon, and evening person). They pay for their stay by gaming, and Kubiak keeps the revenue from ad sales and donations.

Since this is just the beginning, Kubiak has made it clear that the gamers are not going to be paid. If this turns into a hit, then they will start receiving a salary. So don't jump in unless you have a job to cover your personal expenses and bills. And as any streamer can tell you, it's not about what you play or even how you play it. Personality makes up the bulk of entertainment. If you're not engaging, people won't watch.

Attempting to look into the details, such as if furniture would be provided, gaming gear, internet service, etc., the website is very bare bones. There's of the 3 bedroom, 2 car garage home, and requests to watch the streams. But that's about it. No notes about if you can keep a normal 8-5 job, go to school, vacations, what utilities are covered, etc. Buyer beware. The red flags are going off.

Tell us what you think. Good business idea or just another joe-shmoe trying to make a quick buck?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Activision Buying Candy Crush Developer

You know it's big news when NBC (at large) reports on it. Activision Blizzard is buying mobile game developer King Digital Entertainment for $5.9 Billion. That's B for billion, and that is a LOT of money. Barely a year ago Minecraft developer Mojang was purchased for $2.5 Billion. This sale of King Digital is over twice that amount.

So who is King Digital, you may ask. Well if you ever played Candy Crush then you have seen their logo during the game boot-up sequence. The company was founded in 2003 and currently headquarters in Ireland. They are the largest developer of games for Facebook, and currently take up one of the longest running slots of "hit" games for mobile. Candy Crush still supports tens of millions of users, globally. King Digital is also one of the few non-Eastern developers involved in KakaoTalk, a popular chat and gaming app in South Korea.

With this purchase, Activision's mobile portfolio will have jumped by leaps and bounds. And when you think about it, as more developers move towards digital products and mobile gaming, having a company with strong ties to Facebook and mobile apps is a good way to go. As it stands no changes will be made to the executive line-up. The plan is to consider King Digital much like Blizzard. They will run and act as a separate entity, but they have to get approval from their new boss. Any pre-existing titles announced for development will not be stopped. There aren't any big, noteworthy changes to comment on at this time. The deal will be finalized in the Spring and it's pretty much Activision adding more content to their portfolio. That's all. Still, big sale. That's a lot of money.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Warren Spector - Today's Video Games Are Not Really Games

PAX Australia had their annual shindig this past weekend (wow, there were a ton of conventions during Halloween...what was up with that?) and Dues Ex figurehead Warren Spector was the keynote speaker on opening day. And he came out with guns blazing, in the theoretical, pen and paper sense. His speech focused on how games today are not focusing on the art of gaming, and creating elaborate movie-like stories while removing immersion. His target was on some of today's popular games, Triple A titles and indie alike. Let the fireworks begin!

Spector believes that a number of video games are not embracing the uniqueness of games. For all of the flash and shiny graphics, the player's experience and participation fall to the wayside. And this is something I can agree with. It's rare to find a game that doesn't push you from plot point A to B. The Order 1886 comes to mind. A game with a lot of pizzazz, but a story that you can complete in less then 8 hours. It's a good story. Very gripping with a charm of it's own. But it plays out more like a mini-series you would see on HBO and not as a video game.

While Spector doesn't think the games he called out are bad, he feels they are at a lower level of game play compared to other products. He has a tiered system, low, medium, and high expression. Get ready to hold onto your britches. You're probably not going to like what he ranked as low.

Uncharted, Spector argues, is a low expression game because it is very limiting on how you interact with the game world. There is limited ability to express yourself as a gamer because the path is linear. Spector admits that the story is great, but it's not a player story. It's not your story as the plot line is pre-determined.

Medium expression games are along the lines of Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead. Games that create an illusion. They give the sense of player driven content, but does it really? These are very much in the vain of a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book, where multiple scripts are developed and mashed together. You have some say in where you want to story to go, but they are still pre-determined. You are still forced to make a choice and limit yourself to those actions. You can't go outside the confines of the story.

So what is a high expression game? Fallout, Dishonored, and Dues Ex (of course). Games that give players full freedom to explore the worlds and create their own stories. You could easily argue that Minecraft falls into this category since it's an open world scenario. You do what you want to do. Want to fight bad guys? Go for it. Want to build a house? Punch some wood and get stacking. The limitations are in your imagination. Now in the case of the games Spector mentioned, there are stories to follow and cues to hit to keep the content moving forward. But they also allow gamers to freely explore the world and choose what they want to do, or how to approach a mission. Doing so alters the world. Now I don't think these are perfect examples, since they obviously also have pre-scripted content that needs to happen, and set plot lines. But they are not as restrictive as The Walking Dead.

What do you all think? Is Spector on point in his description, or is it gaming dev ire for too many "movie-like" games on the market?