Friday, December 30, 2016

The Art of the "Cheat" in Video Games

What is considered cheating in a video game?

We know that creating mods for MMO's and MOBA's that give you extra stats, better HP/MP, or access to digital currency will get you banned. Exploits such as these create an unstable environment for everyone that goes against the mechanics of the game. If one person has an advantage from cheating, it affects all gamers who play.

But what about mods for Falllout 4 that soup up your battle suit to do extra damage on the field? Or giving you unlimited arrows in Skyrim so you don't have to waste time crafting them? These are single player games where one can easily log hundreds of hours to get to the end. You don't interact with other people so, is it really cheating if you jump into the developers console are give your character 500 gold pieces? Or tack on a mod that speeds up your crafting?

That's what Kotaku is asking today and the answers are kind of surprising. People have been jumping in to the topic with some interesting questions and their perspective of cheating in video games. Does reading a game guide count? Or what about kiting a boss for an hour instead of fighting it head on? That second one is very much within the mechanics of the game, but it's not the most noble approach. Is it still cheating?

As a whole, the gaming community seems fairly open to mods. We wouldn't have hundreds of websites devoted to them, or Steam. The platform of Steam thrives on gaming modification. Most mods are cosmetic, taking the original coding of the game and fine-tuning it with character designs and clothing options that don't make us feel like we're digital hobos. I'm looking at you, Final Fantasy 14 starter gear.

For me, I'm not as opposed to it as I once was before. I'm an adult with a full time job and a full time crafting business. It's difficult to sit down and play games like I could years ago. So downloading a mod that may enhance my battle stats so I can get through a game a bit faster? It doesn't bother me. However, I do this very rarely. When I do mod, it's cosmetic. I can only stare at the Inquisitor PJ's for so long before I start hating it (btw, thank you BioWare for expanding their wardrobe). Funny enough, if you google "Inquisitor PJ's" the first 5 rows of images are all mods.

If I feel the need to cheat in a game like The Sims, I do it through the developer console. Codes that are already built into the game to add extra lives, more money, or removing plot barriers to you can create buildings that don't conform to logic and gravity. And since those are built into the game, I don't really see that as cheating either. The developers left them in there for us to use, so why not take advantage of it? It doesn't take away from the fun of the game and allows me to openly explore more areas that I wouldn't have had access to otherwise.

I would argue the same thing with kiting bosses or utilizing the environment to get a leg up on your enemies. If the game was designed so that a monster wasn't allowed to climb a mountain, then you are, you bet your ass I'm going to go up that mountain and take pot-shots until the enemy dies. Is that cheating? It's built into the game, so I say no. You're using your brain to stay within the logical limits of the game to achieve your goal. Is that any different in GTA when you can create barriers for cops by using NPC vehicles, in order to get away?

I also don't believe that looking up game guides is cheating, to an extent. Anything that would walk you through a story does cross my line, because I want to be surprised by what's coming next. But general content such as "the NPC you need is in X location" is immensely helpful in games where markers are either unclear or unavailable. I don't see an issue with the latter.

Right now I'm playing through Dragon Age: Origins. This is my 6th attempt at the game. I can't stand the battle system. No matter which of the three jobs I play, it annoys me. It's clunky. It's inefficient. Mages are TOO squishy and battle mechanics for companions are dreadfully inaccurate. I have attempted to beat this game 5 times, but always gave up when I arrive at, or as I'm about to leave Lothering, the first town in the game. I ended up going to the Dragon Age wiki to read the story. It's a good concept! I like the dynamics of the unusual team. Morrigan gets a thumbs up from me and so does Shale. I watched a few cutscenes on YouTube and found appreciation for the game.

Recently I decided to try again, but I knew in order to make it past my stopping point, I had to do something about the battles. Either suck it up and deal with them every time or mod.

The mod won. I'm currently using two versions: one is a ring that gives my characters 5000% increase to all stats making enemies die in one hit and I'm not longer a squishy Mage/Rogue. The other is cosmetic armor that also happens to give me a 1000% stat boost. For fights where I do want a little challenge against bosses, I will swap the ring for the armor. I fully admit to my cheating ways on this one, but I'm doing it for the story. I'm not playing Dragon Age: Origins for it's robust action. I want to get to the story and listen to the banter of my party members. Using the mods are not harming anyone. If anything, they allow me to enjoy the game more because I'm no longer fumbling with the mechanics. I can like the game and the story for what it is.

So how do you feel about cheating in a video game? What do you quantify as cheating?

Thanks to my friend Jeremi for sharing this post from Kotaku. It's a good one.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Nintendo's Power Over Supply/Demand Still Reigns

As gamers none of us are surprised that Nintendo's release of the NES Classic this holiday season, a mini-Nintendo system with 30 games to play, would be in short supply. It's part of the companies' MO to have limited supply and create a high demand for their product. And for only $59.99, compared to the hundreds a person would have to drop to get the original system and games, it's a great price. So of course people clamored over it, for the nostalgia, and stores had few available to sell.

Again, we knew this would happen. The Nintendo Wii took 2 years of being on the market before supply caught up to demand. And for 2 Winter holiday cycles people had to clamor to get a hold of the popular item. The Amiibo's? Who could forget those. The recent iteration from Nintendo moving to the toy market in 2014 send fans into a Beanie Baby frenzy to collect all of them. Many of the Amiibo's were limited editions or had a select production limit. If a store had one they were out of stock within the hour. Somehow I snagged the unicorn that is Samus, the uncommon Link, and the rare Rosalina/Luma without effort. Go fig.

Even when I was a child, I remember the fervor over the release of the Nintendo 64. My parents spent months locating the system so it would be in our hands Christmas morning.

Peeps, this is what Nintendo does. Whether it's being underhanded or smart business, they create demand over their products by producing a small supply. When people hear about Nintendo products being sold out, they want to know more and feel an urge to have it so they can be part of that "exclusive" club of Nintendo owners. The demand on the NES Classic is proof that this practice is not going to go away. It's worked for decades with Nintendo (I wouldn't be surprised if they did this back when they made playing cards and Baseball cards).

The concept also benefits Nintendo in a different way by lowering their expectations and not having to handle backlash over defective or "lame" products. The Wii-U was released with the belief that it would bring in high sales. That backfired and the system never fully reached it potential before Nintendo moved on to their next brainchild. (It probably didn't help that Nintendo never classified what the Wii-U was until years after release. Is it a peripheral? Is it a system? Is it a controller? What the heck is it?)

So dig in your heels for the long haul if you want the NES Classic, or go for a scalper price on eBay. How can this practice change? Simple. Don't buy into the hype. Keep your wallets closed and eventually manufacturers will realize that clamping down on supply isn't beneficial. It can be that simple. Consumers hold the power. I'm not saying it's the fastest route, but it is the one that will garner the strongest impact.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Or Maybe The Year of Lootboxes

GamesBeat Decides, a podcast from The Verge, also reviewed some of the top gaming trends in 2016 and gave the unofficial trophy to Lootboxes. Yep. Those digital packets of content that give you weapons, stickers, paint sprays, coins, and new clothes for your computer generated avatar. With the increase of popularity for FPS and online gaming this year, looking at you Overwatch, the lootbox was the go-to for must-have loot. Sometimes you earn them by leveling up or completing daily tasks. Or you can outright buy them for a chance to win that Mei skin you always wanted.

China has even introduced a new law regarding the practice of selling lootboxes. It will go into effect starting March 1, 2017, and require game developers to provide more accurate statistics on what is included in each box - in some cases they need to outright say "this is what you are getting."

The thing with lootboxes is that the contents are random. Much like a grab bag where you don't know what's inside until you pay and open it up. The digital items you receive will vary, with voice taunts, sprays, and player icons appearing more often then weapons and skins. Typically the boxes are set up in a tiered system where you can get a 1-10% chance on the rare items, with 50-70% on the common drops.

The folly of this system is that lootboxes can be addictive. If you really want that Mei skin, you're going to work hard to get one. Even if it requires you to reach level 50. Or you are going to spend the money for it. And with the boxes ranging from $2.99 to $29.99, that's a lot of extra cash going back to the publisher. This isn't restricted for online FPS games. Assassin's Creed has utilized this system in it's recent games, as well as mobile products like Pokémon Go. You can get a variety of tools and items by dropping a few dollars on the mystery crate.

Lootboxes are everywhere. And gamers are now accustomed to it. Maybe this was their year to shine.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Year of Streaming Games

This year will probably be best known among gamers as the year of streaming. 2016 was a boon to gamers, and non-gamers, in how their content was consumed. When CBS announces that they are adding the NFL to their streaming app so you can watch games on the go, that's a big deal. Streaming is the thing, so is it any surprise that some people are dumping their TV sets and opting to watch their content online?

The Verge writer James Vincent followed through on such an experiment over the past few months, focusing on YouTube channels with gaming content. I don't know if he'll swear off TV forever, but he seems to be enjoying life no longer wired to a cable box and a set schedule (even in the land of DVR, if you don't watch something as it's released you will easily hit spoilers through social media). Since the days of Red vs. Blue and Keyboard Cat, internet videos have evolved into their own form of entertainment. RoosterTeeth and Penny Arcade have evolved into multi-media empires that focus on digital content for consumption. They now produce full-length movies and television series across multiple genres (animated, talk shows, podcasts, etc.) And it's good content! They all contain the production quality one would expect of a hit TV series or a nightly variety show similar to The Late Show. Is it a wonder that more people are switching online?

Video games have really blossomed this year in streaming content and original programming. I find myself watching less television and moving more to the digital realm. Maybe it's for the better. TV has been a vapid wasteland for me. Aside from Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, nothing excites me when I turn on the television. I may give up on it entirely, order HBO Go, and be done with it. But with YouTube, Twitch, and PlayStation, there is something new, creative, and enlightening about the experience. I'm curious to see what 2017 will bring from old and new YouTubers.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Video Game Movies Still Not Meeting the Mark

Assassin's Creed is not doing well in the box office. Released a few days ago on December 21, it's first weekend intake was only $11.2 million dollars. For a movie with a proposed $125-$150 million budget, that hurts. And once again the video game movie curse continues! Here's my surprise face. Do you see it? It's one of contempt and nonplussed exuberance.

It's still holding a 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and the reviews haven't been much better since my story posted last week. While some user reviews are favorable, there seems to be a general dislike for the story. Even if you have played AssCreed, it can be difficult to follow through the past lives of Michael Fassbender's character. Common comments are that the action scenes and the visuals are great, but the story loses the flow the movie needs. I would concur with this sentiment. It is a pretty film to watch, even with it's grit and bloom, but the story is weak and convoluted.

AssCreed will be another movie in the books that video games are not meant to be Hollywood films. It probably didn't help that it released a week after Star Wars: Rogue One, which is still sweeping up loads of profits. But! this is just domestic holdings. AssCreed could still do very well overseas in other larger markets like China and pull off a Warcraft turnaround to make a profit.

So what's next for game movies? Who knows! I have a feeling that there will be another Warcraft film but it may not be made in the U.S. To cut the budget and really hype up the Chinese audience, I could easily see the sequel being made in China. It's just good business sense at that point. Future films won't be far behind. Costs are increasing here and there's a favorable market overseas - so give them what they want.

So no, AssCreed was not the golden unicorn people were hoping for to break the video game movie curse. We'll keep waiting for the next game to try again. Maybe another round of Super Mario Bros?

Friday, December 23, 2016

Nier: Automata Demo Will Rock Your World

If you've been reading this blog for a while, or heck even for a few months, you know I have a thing about pre-orders. In that I don't like them. It's a system that started with good intentions but is now being exploited by businesses to generate profit before a game is released. Thus resulting in the chain of mediocre to sub-par content on the market.

Except when it comes to NieR: Automata. I am fully on board with this game, whatever the outcome and accept any shortfalls that occur by pre-ordering. Automata is the second game in the NieR family. A collaboration between it's owner Platinum Games and Square Enix. It appears to be set after the first game, though the story and content has been well guarded by the developers. The little bit that we do know has come to light with yesterday's release of the demo on the PlayStation 4. And even that is pretty low-key. You play as an android called 2b, and you work with companions along the way to stop other machines that are causing destruction to the world. If you've played the first NieR game, then you know the ride you are in for. The emotional roller coaster of feels that you want to jump off of, but you can't. Platinum Games wanted to make Automata feel like a proper game in the NieR family with better game play.

But let's talk about that demo.

That. Demo. Wow.

If I had to put any type of association to Automata, it's the offspring of Ninja Gaiden and Bayonetta (a Platinum Games title as well). But this isn't the blood, hack and slash porn that you would expect of such a mash-up. Automata has refined their battle mechanics into something that is quite fluid. I mentioned this a few times yesterday during my playthrough just how clean the controls felt. Except the auto-target system. It's linked to the L2 button while "fire" is R1. It didn't work for me and I found myself fumbling and using my mini-bot's special skill more often then intended. I've already made a note to rebind that key when the full game is released.

The camera is exquisite. Unless you are confined (such as top-down or in a flat plane), the camera is incredibly agreeable with allowing you to see 360 degrees around your character. Smoothly. The landscape renders quite lovely no matter how many enemies pounce on you.

I think what impressed me the most is how the game changes with the landscape. You are not always allowed to roam freely. As you move through walkways, up smoke-stacks, and into penned areas, the camera changes. Going from open world to a 2D platformer was intriguing and required you to rethink about how you should tackle enemies when you don't have a "left" or "right" to deal with. Top down was just as much of a challenge, taking away my dexterity when it came to jumping away from attacks. But it didn't feel like these changes to the cameras were gimmicky. They were fluid. That was the surprising part. You see games like this and it's always a weird quirk people don't always agree with. I don't know how they did it, but Automata made it work.

While it didn't provide a whole lot of story or context aside from, kill the bad machines and "what the hell is with the black box?" this demo was everything I needed from NieR. Just a taste of what to expect without overwhelming the palette. I can't wait until March of 2017.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

Starting early this week, as there are a bevy of interesting articles on the net this round. Less silly and more thought-provoking.  This usually does not happen in December. It's a sea of "Top 10 Games of the Year" lists with a hidden golden nugget or two. But today proved to be an exceptional day to share the gaming news of the internet. Here's what you can catch up on:

- eSports wants more women involved. But we all know that's a big hurdle to overcome given the current climate. Publishers like Bandai Namco Entertainment want to foster a healthier community so that all genders can get into eSports. Read that as: more people = more revenue. They are creating more female only and male/female tournaments to bring in fresh faces. It's baby steps to try and overcome decades-worth of gender disparity in the gaming world. This New York Times article gives healthy insight into the growing realm of eSports for women.

- GQ Magazine interviewed Michael Fassbender (the lead in the AssCreed movie) and the actor knows how much is on the line for this production. It's not just another big budget Winter movie.

"I'm aware [sic] because every single article that's ever written about us asks, 'Will Assassin's Creed be the first successful video game-to-movie?'"

Fassbender, who is not a gamer, opened up on how he interprets the AssCreed franchise and his growing roll in developing, and promoting the film.

- Game Developer Brianna Wu is planning to run for U.S. Congress in 2018. That's the rumor, and while it's not officially confirmed, her Twitter and Facebook feeds pretty much solidify it with the images she's posted. If Wu sounds familiar, look up anything involving GamerGate and you'll find her name all over the place. She's been one of the primary targets of the anti-women in gaming movement (sorry kids, you all can say it's really about news reporting and video games, but we all know better), and speaks out against harassment in the gaming world. She's ready for the Democratic party to take a new direction, and will bring in cyberharassment and revenge porn legal experts onto her team.

“The reason I decided to run is simple: [D]rump[f] is, terrifyingly, now in the White House. I can’t sit by making pleasant video game distractions for the next four years while the constitution is under assault.”

- People are freaking out that Overwatch's Tracer character is gay. For reasons that make no sense to the sane part of the world. Blizzard/Activision has been releasing digital comics to provide more backstory to their legendary heroes. This month's Christmas theme shows Tracer giving a gift to her girlfriend. Though some people may dislike it, some of us really don't care and just want you to deliver the payload. Or you can be like this guy and theorize that all gay people can teleport. Can someone verify this?

- Chris Suellentrop, former editor of The New York Times Op-Ed wrote a piece about Super Mario Run. It's not a game he and his family will play because of gender politics. This article will raise a few eyebrows and probably result in some face palming, but take a few minutes to read it before you jump to conclusions. I'm a Mario fan as well as the next gamer. I get that the tried-and-true trope of saving the princess in the castle is worn out. Mario could use an update to his story, but is it as bad as Suellentrop makes it out to be? Does Mario have a lack of representation of other genders in it's media? Do they pigeonhole content too often? I think that might be a bit of a stretch given how inclusive the Nintendo brand is. When they develop their characters and stories it's not about putting in a "female option" to garner more attention. They create characters that have showcase some importance to the story. Otherwise, why have them at all? Food for thought today with this article.

Tabletop games brought Star Wars back from the dead! If you did a double take at that statement, you are not alone. I grew up with Star Wars. I was born after the original movies were released, but we owned the lazerdisc (heh, lazer) and VHS versions. We would watch the trilogy every Thanksgiving and Christmas on television. I went to the opening of the three Prequels and will still watch all 6 movies on TBS whenever they pop on for the weekend. But I was also a fan of the Expanded Universe and became more involved in it in the 90's through books and the graphic novels. While I thought that Star Wars was always on the conscious of the public, in the late 80's the movies were nearing the end of their lifecycle.

After 1983, no other content was being produced for the film franchise. The toys were seeing a drop in sales as kids began to grow up and newer fads appeared (damn you Cabbage Patch Kids). Yet in 1987 a group of people cobbled together the story notes from George Lucas for other parts of the Star Wars galaxy and created a tabletop game that became the origin for the Expanded Universe. This is a long article and best for a lunchtime read-there's your warning.

- Finally, the NieR demo is out today. The second I get home I will be downloading and streaming it from my PS4...assuming it'll let me and there are no network issues. I don't think I've been this excited for a new release since, ever? The first NieR title was full of physical and emotional turmoil. There were times where I wondered why I subjected myself to the game, and remember how incredible the story was that it was worth it. I hope NieR: Automata does the same.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Hey Commenters. Be Kind. Rewind.

I'm a little peeved today. Logged in to the blog to see 3 "lovely" comments full of crude, derogatory or sexually charged content that required my attention. That being Report - Ban - Delete. I typically don't give these comments any further review beyond those actions. My time is more valuable then to waste it on internet trolls who want to harass me.

However lately it's been much more pervasive. Sadly I'm accustomed to seeing 1-2 posts every few weeks that require me to report, ban, and delete. Last week I had 15 in one day. Fifteen. That's a lot for someone with a low online social presence. With 30k monthly hits here, 15 would be overkill as well.

Why did this start up all of a sudden? I don't know. The content was across multiple platforms, including my social media profiles as well as here. I'm speculating on this, but my only guess is that someone must have been bored, saw something I posted and went on a spree because they didn't a) agree with my comments, b) hate that I'm a girl talking about video games, or c) both a and b. I don't know - there's no way to link the comments and all I can do is hope that the piss-poor harassment reporting systems do their job.

Here's the deal people: I'm not deleting comments where people are disagreeing with my posts. I've had quite a few discussions through the commenting system with others. I like talking things out! I know my opinions are not the end-all, be-all. There are plenty of points of views out there and I want to hear what others think/believe, including disagreements.

But what I won't tolerate are people straight up harassing me, my family, my friends, using offensive language (and I worked at GameStop customer service, so if you can offend me you have crossed a line that only Satan would have created), sexual language, or anything of the sort, then yes. Your comment will be removed without hesitation.

TLDR: I like comments on this blog. This is your friendly reminder to not be a dick. Be civil and I'll be happy to start a dialogue with you.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

No Surprise - Assassin's Creed Movie Not Favored by Critics

With a lowly 19% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it's going to take a lot of effort and way more marketing for the movie to pull people into the theaters. Maybe it was the Kanye West (gay fish) song that they used in the first trailer? It could have turned people off.

But in the history of video game movies, critics blasting AssCreed should not be a surprise. They are destined to be disliked by the movie elite. Game movies are there to excit the younger audiences and rake in the cash. Maybe AssCreed will do that and not bat an eyelash at the critical response. 'Warcraft' did just that and succeed overseas.

What hurts to read is that the movie cost $150 million to make. How? In this realm where people know video game movies are a gamble, why would you spend so much? The 'Deadpool' movie is a prime example on how a studio film with a lower-budget can work. You don't have to spend $100 million for a great movie to happen. And AssCreed could have learned from this if the reviews are any indication. I haven't seen the film yet. I want to out of curiosity. The reviews for it read like all the other video game movies: lots of action and little substance. An all-star cast does not make for a great movie. The story is where it counts.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up!'s been a while since The Geek Spot hosted a Round Up of gaming news. My bad. It's been a rough month, to cap off a very craptacular year. But let's not waste anymore time. You are here for the best, worst, and silliest news on the internet. So let's go!

- iTech Post gets the "fail" award for the day in their article listing 'Star Wars' games that deserve a sequel! The problem is 2/3 of the titles listed already received a sequel. Knights of the Old Republic and The Force Unleashed both produced second games that were successful. hell iTech? Did you not do your research?

- Kotaku would like to remind us that 2016 wasn't THAT bad - at least for video games. A lot of good content did come out this year to take our minds away from reality. Even games that we never expected to see, like Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian. Even Hitman's crazy episodic release schedule worked! That was a surprise I was not expecting and I am eager for Season 2.

- GAME, a leading video game retailer based in the UK, is looking to change the customer experience in their stores to boost sales. While the market is still more profitable then movies and television, sales have been slipping over the years as more consumers move online to digital downloads. GameStop is buying up small digital publishers and ThinkGeek to develop their own content and nerd-ware. GAME is turning some of their stores into "belong" centers (weird, I know) with gaming arenas. Hosting tournaments, parties, and gaming nights seems more like the type of stores gamers want.

- Google has released their list of the most searched terms of 2016. Pokémon Go and were ranked 4th and 5th in overall searches across the globe as two of the most popular games of the year. For games by themselves it shouldn't be a surprise that Overwatch and Warcraft made the list.

- Random website! Segment News has a list of the top 10 video game romances. The list itself is not bad. They have a number of platonic relationships, such as Master Chief and Cortana in the Halo series. But sometimes the best character moments are about a loving bond that doesn't have to include sex (Bioware, we're looking at you).

- Twitch has announced a new segment to their streaming brand: IRL. This sounds like a weird April Fool's joke, but it's not. IRL is a new content category that is similar to a vlog, allowing users to stream whatever they want. Their thoughts, opinions, feeling, everyday life, you name it. There are content restrictions, such as no nudity or pornographic content, but it's the next step to making Twitch the ultimate streaming platform for everything. This also includes Mobile Broadcasting, which means you can now stream live from PAX if you wanted to. Guess what I'll be doing at PAX South this year?

- Last minute gift idea for the game coders in your life! Humble Bundle has a new book collection out for you to purchase, worth nearly $500 (college textbook money, woo!) for everything you ever wanted to know about coding for games. 16 books for $15 and the money will go to the National Video Game Museum, Girls Who Code, and Maker Ed.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mario's First Mobile Game

Super Mario Run, Nintendo's second mobile app is out today on iOS devices with an early 2017 release for Android users. There has been stock market buzz for the title since it's the first official mobile"game" released by the company. Stocks closed lower then expected yesterday, but many believe it's due to cautious optimism.

Unlike most mobile games that you will find on today's market, Super Mario Run commands a premium fee to unlock the full game: $9.99. You can download it and play for free up to a point. The rest requires you to buy it. It's a gamble. Most mobile games now work on a freemium model where the initial product is free and you can purchase in-game content. But unlike freemium games, Nintendo is banking on the nostalgia of Mario to get people to buy the product. We've seen how popular the mini-Nintendo, released this holiday season, has been. You will be lucky to find that on store shelves. Nintendo projects that the game will net $71 million in profit in the first month. And that the game will have a 20-25% purchase rate by March of 2017. Those are lofty goals.

Reviews for the app are under the radar and the product may not have been available for others until today, so expect a spike in metacritic data soon. But the app looks just like a Mario game. Clean design. Smooth animations. Classic music. It's everything Mario in a cell phone. Just don't expect the original Mario to come to a phone near you. Miyamoto has already put down that rumor (and we shouldn't be surprised - Mario has evolved quite well with each Nintendo system).

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

'Savior' - The First Indie Game from Cuba

You know who's gotten the shaft this year on gaming news coverage? Cuba. A lot of things happened for the island nation this year, from the first air travel to/from the U.S. in decades to the death of Fidel Castro. The relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is trying to get back on track as the country improves. That includes video games.

Cuba's first independent video game Savior is seeking crowdfunding to hit a 2018 release date. It's noteworthy because games in Cuba are all controlled by the government. Creation, manufacturing, marketing (if there is any to be had) are in government hands. These games typically fail because the games are not created to entertain. They are propaganda pieces. But over the past decade games like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda have made their way into the country and have inspired a new generation to create their own games.

Savior will be a challenge for Josuhe Pagliery, developer of the project. He will be pushing the barriers of the political influence in the gaming climate, entrepreneurship, and the artistry of Cuban games. Savior is the story of a young boy who wakes up to find that his world has collapsed. He has to travel through several lands and defeat monsters to rebuild it. The game has an ethereal, dream-like quality to it. Dark, but lit with contrasting, vibrant colors with a lovely hand-drawn essence. If the game succeeds, even if it matches the dollar amount put into funding, it could open the world of game design to more Cubans. We'll have to wait and see how it fares.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Drug Use Down Due to Games?

Like anime and cosplay, the increase in video game use by teens may be the reason why overall drug rates have dropped in recent years. A survey released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has been conducting this yearly with students across the US since 1975, found that overall drug use is down again this year. Teens that do use drugs are more likely to use marijuana over e-cigs and tobacco products. But Nora Volkow, the institute's director, believes that one of the causes is the rise in video games. While there is no proof of this claim and research would be required, as stated by Volkow in an interview, it's not an unfounded connection to make. Volkow believes that the reality of games becoming more immersive could be a reason that teens are likely to pick up a controller instead of a pipe.

Global revenues for games jump up over 9% every year. The market is larger then Hollywood and the music industry. While the average age of a gamer is 31, most teens remark that they spend several hours a week playing games. Instead of using that time to do drugs, they game. It's a different,  expensive, time consuming addiction. $59.99 game that could range from 15 to 50 hours, on a $399 console. Ouch.

So parents, don't worry about your kids doing drugs and buy them a game! It's a better option.

Monday, December 12, 2016

PewDiePie Stunt Should Open Eyes for YouTube's Rules

Before we begin, let's take a moment to mourn the awkward turn of gaming journalism. Never in my life did I ever expect that my little gaming blog, like so many gaming news sources out there, would spend time talking about a YouTube personality. The growth of YouTube and platforms like Twitch have created a new era for gaming, for good or ill. It's changing the way games are reviewed, played, and presented to consumers.

There was a kerfuffle over the weekend with YouTube celebrity PewDiePie (PDP), who is known for gaming walkthroughs, silly videos, and has his own YouTube Red series. PDP made a bold claim that he was going to delete his channel once he reached 50 million subscribers. Which sounded insane and seemed like a stunt, given that he is the highest paid personality on YouTube and makes a living off his videos.

Needless to say it's Monday morning, he has over 50 million subscribers, and his main channel is still up. He even made a video of "deleting his channel" and the news sites reporting on it. The channel he deleted was called 'Jack Septiceye2' due to low performance and claims that YouTube is promoting click-baity content over original programming. Knowing that this was all a joke, it's hard to tell if there is any truth to his concerns. Because even though his "channel deletion" video was meant to string along viewers, there is a real concern from YouTubers that Google's changes to rules and ad revenue could hurt them. It's been pretty clean over the years that YouTube is favoring channels that are signing up for subscriptions and promoting advertisements. Independent artists or videos that are too short/long for YouTube's tastes tend to fall into the oblivion and are rarely promoted to the main page. It's a battle I've been fighting for years with CosPod - wanting to keep the channel free from advertising while trying to increase viewers.

Yes this was a stunt, but maybe we could look beyond that and talk about how YouTube's system is making it difficult, if not impossible, for new artists to become established? Promoting advertising revenue over creativity could turn into the downfall for the platform - leaving the door wide open for Twitch to take over.

Friday, December 09, 2016

New "Loot Box" Law in China

If you live in China, expect to get more info about your Loot Boxes. The Cultural and Broadcasting Bureau in China has recently passed a law to go into effect starting March 1, 2017 regarding how Loot Box information and content is revealed to consumers. The new law came about as a means to curb the increase in online gambling and reduce complaints from customers feeling "duped" by the random lottery boxes in video games.

There are five parts to the law, but the summary is pretty straight forward: games have to disclose either the content in every Loot Box/Grab Bag or list what consumers could receive in percentages (10% for Rare Items, 25% for Normal Items, etc.). The more details the Loot Boxes can provide, the better. And it will require the games to maintain a database of real names, addresses, and phone numbers of all purchases and digital currency trades so if Chinese authorities open up an investigation against a user, they can have easy access to the information without having to jump through hoops. The last part sounds intimidating, but it's not too bad. All trade content can remain confidential. Mostly it's "use your real name" when making a purchase and it saves authorities time from having to figure out who "B008W@nk3r" is in the real world if they need to pursue a gambling case.

The law doesn't state specifically if this will apply to only games designed in China, or all games that are available in the country. 3 months to develop new content just for China is not a lot of time and if it's meant to apply to international developers as well, there may be a few servers and games going quiet until they get their content up to code. Given how prominent China is to the entertainment market, developers are going to play as long as it continues to net them sales.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

2016 Games to Play

The theme with today's news centers around the Best Games of 2016 (don't listen to the Paste Magazine article. No Man's Sky made their Number 7, so you know it's all click bait.) I wish I could contribute to this pile, but I can't. There are too many games out there that to limit the scope feels like it would be doing a disservice to the rest. And there are still a few games that I have played released this year that I haven't finished yet (due to time and/or life restrictions). Such as Dragon Quest Builders. I had fun with it and I still load it up from time to time to work on my sand castle. Yes I'm making a giant sand castle. No you can't have the code until it's completed. But I haven't completed the main story so I can't give it a full, and fair assessment. Same with Dishonored 2. I'm enjoying the change-up in the action and the dynamic landscapes, but it takes a lot of time to play through each stage. I can't pick it up and put it down in an hour. It remains incomplete. Not to mention most of these lists only focus on AAA, big gaming developers. The indie crowd on Steam, XBox Live, and PSN are typically overlooked for the $59.99 Call of Duty titles.

I don't know what the best games of 2016 are. The market is saturated and no one has played all of them. Instead, I want to throw out a few suggestions for 2016 titles to consider and add to your gaming list. Titles that inspire, that shake, that confuse, and are fun for the sake of fun. Here's my list of 2016 Games to Play:

- Firewatch. It's Team Fortress visuals taken up a notch with a hauntingly engaging story that ebbs on the line of dark humor. You play as Henry, a man trying to escape his past in Wyoming while becoming the new watch guard for a forest. Strange events turn up and it's up to you to find out what's going on. The story transforms from this simple premise into a detailed look at his relationship with the radio operator Delilah, who guides you on your adventure. This title is difficult to put down. From the moment you set out on your own, you want to finish the story. The open-world adventure narrative takes a huge step forward with Firewatch.

- The Witness. If you enjoyed Myst as a kid, you have to get this game. Inspired by the game within a game dynamic, The Witness is a puzzle fiend's dream. You wake up on an island by yourself. There are no animals or music to guide you. You have to figure out who or what you are, what happened, and how to leave the island. But of course as you move forward you will find that it's not as simple as solve this puzzle to leave. There is so much more to the story with each task you complete. The visuals are beautiful. Jonathan Blow (Braid) opted to step away from a graphic intensive experience and stripped the landscape down to geometric patterns and colors. Surprisingly this creates a more immersive experience. What I enjoy the most about this game is that the landscape is often used for the puzzles. I don't mean "move rock here to solve." You have to change your camera angles, walk your character into tight corners, and look around until you see tree branches take shape and form a the next puzzle. It looks cooler then I'm making it sound, but it's worth the purchase. Promise.

- Genital Jousting. Warning: Adults Only on this title, because it involves manly parts and jiggly physics. The point of the game is to be a random party title that will produce fits of laughter. You and your friends pick a "character" and you have to prod each other to gain the most points. I have no idea how else to phrase this game without it going into R-rated territory. The graphics are clean for a small title and it's easy for anyone to pick up and play. Great use of saturated colors. What else is there to say but you get to enjoy being a "dick" for 10 minutes...It's not a great game, but it's entertaining as hell.

- Inside. From the crew that gave us Limbo, Inside is a dystopian game where you play as a young boy trying to flee from the terror that is turning people into husks (zombie-like creatures but have the ability to listen and follow to their master's orders). It's 2D platforming done right. Lots of puzzles (all relatively easy) and problem-solving skills that take full advantage of the landscape. The visuals are also quite dynamic for being a black, white, and grey game. No spoilers for the ending, but you will want to settle in for the 4-5 hours to finish. It's trippy.

- DOOM. Bloodbath of yesteryear rendered in today's technology with a kick ass soundtrack. It's a modern Doom expertly crafted.

- Battleborn. I wish more people would have given this game a shot. Sadly the delayed release placed it too closely to Overwatch and it was buried by Blizzard. From Gearbox Software (Borderlands), this game is an online FPS incorporating MOBA elements with more of a co-op feel. You and a team complete map objectives to level up and unlock the story of the game. Unlike Overwatch there are very active story elements throughout the game play. Initially slated with 25 heroes (which has expanded since then) each one has their own history that is ingrained in the universe of Battleborn. That, to me, is the most charming part of this game - being able to see everyone's story and finding that emotional attachment to them. It's not only running and gunning. And I would argue more strategy is involved in completing objectives. Unlike unlocking the golden gun, every time you start a match you move back to Level 1. It's up to the skills of the team to designate how people level up and spend their abilities.

- Clustertruck. This is Mirror's Edge on trucks with all the parkour one would want. Clustertruck is straight foward: get to the finish line without dying. Using your leaping abilities you will jump across trucks as they move to get to the end. As you move forward, levels ratchet up and include more obstacles, fewer trucks, and sometimes require you to leap hundreds of feet below to catch the next vehicle. How you jump and how fast you reach the end nets you points that you can spend on special abilities. What keeps me coming back to this game is that it is constantly being updated. For the small one-time fee, you will see this game evolve. The developers always look at user feedback and change the levels, add more content, and provide new experiences. And there is never one right way to the finish line! Each element and truck has their own AI; aka lots of chaos. The stripped down visuals add to the game by lulling you into a false sense of security that you're going to reach the goal.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Fall's Games are Overcrowding the Holiday Line-Up

There are a ton of games on the market this season. And I don't mean one or two more. I said a ton and I mean a ton. From October to December of 2016 expect to see 50-70 more games on the market compared to last year. And I'm not including the VR games or indie/Steam titles. These are games from medium to large developers that have some form of A to AAA status. With so much content available, it can be a challenge for gamers to slog through it all. How can they play everything? It's not possible, even if your job is to review games for a living.

It shouldn't be a surprise that this season's titles are not fairing as well as expected on the market. I actually forgot that another Call of Duty game was released (but that was my bad - they ALWAYS release a game every Fall). There are too many big titles pushed this season that it's overwhelming for the staunch gamers like myself. And it would also explain why Titanfall 2 was being advertised frequently on The Game Awards. The odd one out this time is Assassin's Creed, opting to break their yearly cycle to develop a finished product that will be ready for next year. And that was a good call by Ubisoft. They don't have to worry about slogging it with the rest of the games for your money.

With Battlefield 1, Dishonored 2, Watch Dogs 2 (I'm still surprised that this got such a fast turn-around on release given how middle of the road players were with the first game), Gears of War 4, FIFA 17, Forza all out on the table, there were plenty of products for gamers to choose from. But we can't forget about the E3 titles and long-awaited games. Final Fantasy XV, The Last Guardian, ReCore, Civilization VI, Batman: Return to Arkham, The Witness: it's been a very heavy gaming season. A number of these titles could easily take 25-50 hours to complete the main story before you consider replay value with DLC and online matches.

And there are a string of games released earlier this year, and Grand Theft Auto V, that are still hitting the charts. Overwatch is still a hit title and has not slowed down, doubling it's user base in October. While GTA5 manages to keep it's users up to date with it's ever-evolving GTA Online. They added in 'Tron' lightcycles recently. It is awesome.

We could discuss about the quality of the games, or people waiting to buy them when prices drop. Maybe there's a growing backlash against pre-orders (finally). Or maybe after the folly of No Man's Sky consumers are withholding their money until game reviews are made public.

It could be all of these things and more. But let's not overlook the obvious: there are too many  games on the market and we don't have time to play them all. Pick and play at your own accord. Don't let the hype trains sweep you away. You are not going to be able to play all of this season's games before December 31st and that's okay. You can wait a few months and enjoy the game at your own pace. The marketing teams and the publishers should start looking at how they space out games if they don't want another repeat this season.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Glitch Galore and Still a Good Game?

If you haven't noticed, I am not playing Final Fantasy XV. I initially pre-ordered as a copy to add to my FF collection. I followed the development in 2006 when it was first announced as the sequel to Final Fantasy XIII (then called 13-2 before it morphed into Serah's story). Which then turned into it's own game that would be linked to the FF13 world. And then it became it's own entity.

It took 10 years to develop. In that time Final Fantasy XIV was built. Twice. SquareEnix (SE) bought Eidos Interactive and made quite a few Tomb Raider and Hitman games. They have released 223 games from the time 13-2 was announced until 15 was on store shelves.

By any account, 10 years is an insane amount of time to work on a game. The Last Guardian, for all it's setbacks, took 7 years.

In all this time, I can admit as a Final Fantasy fan that I wasn't happy with the direction of 15. I always found the titles to be empowering to all genders. Characters were diverse, included all manners of people, shapes, sizes, colors, and beliefs. And somehow they all managed to work together, overcome their diverse backgrounds, and save the world. When 15 announced that it was going to be an all-male cast, I instantly became disheartened. Final Fantasy is a franchise known for developing strong women in a creative field that typically casts them aside as eye-candy. They were as over the top as Terra or as down to earth as Rosa. Or as energetic and childish as Selphie and Eiko. It was something I always appreciated about the franchise. Even if I didn't connect with the lead characters, someone would. It also didn't help when SE announced that they would only add a playable female character as DLC if enough people asked for it. Meaning the option to play a female character can only be obtained by lots of begging, waiting, and paying more money for it. Thanks SE. Thanks a lot. With the introduction of Cindy, the female version of Cid, in short shorts, a bikini top, and excessive cleavage, I was done with FF15.

I cancelled the pre-order and I'll wait until the game is in the $5 bargain bin. It will still be in brand new condition, never opened. Why add it to my collection at full price when I can wait on the sales? I'm not going to play it anytime soon.

As I've been reading reviews for the game, again I find myself even more dissatisfied with the outcome. A number of outlets are giving the game a positive score in spite of it's glitches, story set-backs, and winding side-quests that produce little to no reward. There are piles and piles of images, videos, and articles covering the glitches. Some of them do break the game and cause players to lose hours of progress. But that's okay, it's still a good game? This is on the level of Assassin's Creed: Unity glitches. Twitter and Facebook feeds are littered with images and GIF's of FF15 glitches. We all remember giving Ubisoft a hard time for it, so why is SquareEnix not given the same treatment? Ten years to develop a game. A Final Fantasy game. With it comes the expectation that you provide a product to the public that is as clean as possible. The only thing gamers joke about with FF titles are translation issues ("Spoony Bard"). Glitches are non-existent to the 99% of the people who play the games. So when you have an FF title release that is covering social media walls with images of glitches, that is not good. I'm still surprised that reviewers are giving the game high scores given the game-breaking glitches. As a reviewer, if I ran into a glitch that caused me to lose 2-5 hours of my progress (because no auto-save and no insta save when you feel like it, wha? we still use save points?) that would be deduction in score. No hesitation. With ten years of development, you could have resolved this.

I'm perturbed by this. The game reviews have been a mixed bag of results, but they still provide high scores with the glitches and the mish-mash story? Maybe it's to save their butts from being blacklisted from future products. I don't know. This isn't Goat Simulator, a game that was built with the intent on glitching and creating as many weird issues as possible. This is a AAA studio.

A part of me is glad now that I couldn't get tickets into the FF15 demo at PAX West. Even when entering the Expo floor before 10 am, the line was capped every day from the get-go. The demo was 45 minutes long making it impossible to shuffle more then 200 people a day through the booth (which was a rip-off given that it's a 50-80 thousand person event). But I went through their "Warp Drive" experience and got to see some people playing the game as I stood in line. It was a lot of running around in the desert. Pass.

To give the game some credit, it looks pretty. I've read from a few reviews that the character development is well thought out, but the story lacks the narrative needed to be a Final Fantasy title. Part of the problem being that they squish 2 stories into one and switch the battle system after you buff up your character - it all gets stripped away and you have to start again. Talk about a grind-fest.

I'm not against Final Fantasy trying new things. Every iteration does something different. FF7 made the PlayStation a success and it's neo-Tokyo, post-apocalypse style was a far cry from the castles of FF4. And FF10 created a new era for gaming, voice acting, and player interaction by provide a new world of fantasy that wasn't old or new but a weird mesh of something between. FF15 is a bold direction. They tried for something new and some people like it. That's great. But maybe the focus on making the game look so shiny did it a disservice? They learned that was a problem with FF14. Now that player reviews are starting to surface, it's further solidifying my decision to not play this game.

I'm not looking for nostalgic Final Fantasy. However, I do want a good game. FF can deliver it. 15 is most likely not it.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Keeping Retro "Fresh" for the Future

So many people are clamoring over the big news coming out of the Sony PlayStation Experience this weekend. Lots of sequels, game re-releases, and VR. If you want the summary, best to look it up on Kotaku. They have the best overview and stories so far.

Today I'd like to talk about our gaming history, and how difficult it is to preserve the titles of yester-year. Games produced before digital downloads can only be found on cartridges and CD's. Original prints of some early titles no longer exist due to poor storage and no back-ups. Like the early era of movies, a lot of companies felt that games would be a fad so they didn't save originals or copies of their products. Once the items was out of stock and the print run was done, the game files were disposed to make room for more content. This is partly why it's so difficult to find early Atari and Calicovision games: they no longer exist in a format that is easy to disseminate. You have to hope you can find the cartridge.

But it's not just the games that were released. There are thousands of games that never made it to store shelves that are just as much in need of preservation as anything else. Why? Because they tell the story of the creative process. They give insight into the development cycle that few get to experience. And they provide knowledge, content, sometimes new technologies that future games will utilize.

While sites like the Internet Archive are trying to keep digital versions of games from falling to the hands of time, it doesn't help the physical versions. Also, developers. People like to keep their secretes in the gaming world. Developers are going to be the biggest obstacle to overcome to preserving older or unreleased titles. They don't want people to have the codes, to have the originals, to have anything. And that sucks.

What are so ways to keep your floppy discs, cd's, and cartridges in good condition? Store everything in cold, dry, and dark places. No moisture. No sun. Both are the enemy to video games. Try to avoid cardboard boxes for storage, as they deteriorate over time, and look into Rubbermaid bins and tubs. If you play these games still, store them outside of their original boxes. Opening and closing some of those original NES, SNES, and N64 boxes does cause wear and tear along the edges. Only open those boxes if absolutely necessary.

But the best thing you can do is talk about retro games. Get people interested in learning more about your favorite titles to help preserve their history.

Friday, December 02, 2016

The Game Awards 2016: No Better or Worse Than Last Year

Let's talk about The Game Awards. In it's third year, #thegameawards is still trying to improve upon it's success from the previous attempts. With Geoff Knightly's promise to gamers to try and provide more game play and trailers that are rendered in game, after the folly of the No Man's Sky hype, he sort of delivered.

The Game Awards this year started with honoring Hideo Kojima. After last year's win for Metal Gear Solid 5, Konami barred Kojima from attending the event to accept the award. The hate for Konami was swift. So everyone knew that if they could make it happen, he would return for 2016 to get his award. Kojima's speech was short and sweet, and he dropped a new teaser trailer for Death Stranding. All you need to know is winking Reedus-fetus. It is trippy and glorious.

The rest of the show was fairly bland. There were moments where you felt that The Game Awards was really achieving something ideal for an award show. Such as the speech from the creator of That Dragon, Cancer, winning for 'Games for Impact.' It was heartfelt, emotional, and full of love of video games. And then they would go to a music segment from some B-rated rap group that made me think that this was the Spike TV Game Awards show all over again. The in-show advertisements were horrible. Schick Razor Hydrobot? Playing a game of himself? What? I understand having sponsors to put on the awards but did you have to have in-show advertising? There were commercial breaks. You could have put the ad spots there. Not during the show.

It was equally as bad for the 'Assassin's Creed' movie. They showed off 2 scenes, but they were so poorly edited (choppy transitions that appeared to cut out whole swaths of the sequences) it did not entice me to want to see the film. It had the opposite effect. I am HOPING that is not the edit of the final version. No one will be able to sit through it.

If you catch a recap of the 'experience', the only things worth watching are the Death Stranding and Mass Effect: Andromeda trailers, the DOOM music performance (by the band that created the music), Nolan North's acceptance speech for Best Performance, and the speech for That Dragon, Cancer. The rest of the show is too much like Spike TV that it will melt your brain cells.

The show was okay. Tolerable. At least it was only 2 hours and 15 minutes long. It could use more video game music (stop with the rap that no one cares about), and no in-show advertising. You don't see the other award shows put a Schick Razor Hydrobot on the stage to dance around.

By the way, the final "World Premiere" word count was 15. The Game Awards has thrown my drinking game into disarray! I'll have to edit it for next round.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Game Awards 2016

The Game Awards is going live! I am once again live tweeting it, and I already have a poll up asking how many times you all think the words "World Premiere" will be dropped. Enjoy!

Is Now the Time for the Game Industry to Unionize?

That's the opinion of the day from Katherina Cross, a PhD student in sociology, via a Gamasutra article. With the SAG-AFTRA strike still going, it's raising some questions about the industry as a whole. It's not as though we are unaware of how unnerving some of the working conditions can be for developers. The crunch times of 60-80 hour weeks, without any additional compensation. The low pay and hostile environment from overzealous managers. Fanboys and fangirls don't help much in the self-esteem department either as social media has taken over and made developers an easy target for their ire. Any little info that you post about a game that they don't agree with, you can expect a snide, hateful, sometimes violent comment in return.

"But they do it for the love of the game! They do it for art!"

That's true, and why you are seeing more independent games on the market and at gaming events. Developers are tired of that 'work, work, work, hate yourself, hate your life,' mindset. So they move to a smaller, start-up developer or create their own game. It is a big leap and doesn't lead to financial security, but being sane is much more important then bringing home an acceptable paycheck. 

And right now there is no oversight on how gaming employees are treated. Which is nuts. For all the industry has done to regulate itself on a rating system so it didn't turn into a government-run program, they did a piss-poor job of taking care of their employees. How is it that studios in the states are able to get away without paying for overtime, covering certain benefits, or can allow for stress-enducing work conditions? (Since I don't know the employment/employee legal rulings in other countries, and it can easily vary from country to country or even province to province within a country, I'll be focusing on the U.S.)

It all depends on the state and the law. Technically, as a country, there is no overarching law requiring overtime pay. Recently the Overtime Pay mandate that was issued by President Obama, which would have been a relief to 10's of millions of workers who earn $35 grand a year or less, is currently being held up in court. Because politics. Depending on the state, the government either requires you to provide some type of compensation or none at all. That's an easy one for developers to work around. If the state requires it, they can pay you less. And after all these years, many newcomers now assume that overtime and crunch time are just part of the job as a developer. The industry has made it a mandatory expectation.

Benefits? Well it's simple there too. Prior to the Universal Healthcare Act (UHA), most employers were not required to provide any form of health care, life insurance, or "perks" to their employees. There are exceptions to this with certain industries such as construction and oil - sectors with unions that have fought for the safety of their employees. Even with the UHA, only companies with employees of 50 or more are required to get insurance. Smaller to mid-sized developers can easily stay under 50 hires to avoid the extra expense here.

But let's talk about the day to day environment as well. Hostility and fear can rule the roost if you have a manager that only wants their way and nothing less. The input for code monkeys and artists is typically non-existent with mid-sized to larger developers. The director has a "vision" and your job is to execute it even if you don't agree with it, or think it's not possible. Doesn't matter. Vision or you're out and there are plenty of other budding coders that will take your place and easily fall in line. And if you do try to argue with management, it's easy to be singled out and ostracized by the rest of the team. It sounds silly but this happens all the time. Not just in the gaming industry but every type of business. There are a number of articles outlining these issues and we have reached the point where everyone assumes it's okay. That's "just how it is." (Look: Here's a story from 1999 and the conditions have not improved!)

Why do people subject themselves to these conditions? It's the fantasy that they are making art, doing what they love, and will have a chance to move forward and BE the manager in future games.

That usually doesn't happen.

So, union. Can the gaming industry make it happen? Now might be the best and worst time. Political climate aside, the industry is so stuck in it's proverbial rut that it will be a challenge for most to consider creating a union. As mentioned before, people assume that this type of behavior is part of the norm. 80 hour work weeks without extra pay. The added stress and pressure of finishing a game on a set date. The harassment of co-workers for not "being a team player." No health care or safety regulations.

I think it would be prudent for the industry to consider a union. The non-managers and managers alike need to look at protections and making their environment a place that is worth investing in. How that will happen, I have no idea. It's a huge hurdle to overcome to get enough people invested into building a union. Strikes and unions against large industries always come with a mix bad of results, and a lot of lost jobs. But if SAG-AFTRA is any indication, we could look at a strike from within the studios themselves for not providing better working conditions to the code monkeys.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rovio Developing New Gaming App

Rovio, the gaming developers behind the hit mobile app Angry Birds have announced a new company called Hatch Entertainment, with the intent to develop a mobile gaming service similar to Spotify. Looking for a "fresh beginning," Vesa Jutila (formerly of Rovio, now head of content at Hatch) wants Hatch to be a place where gamers can play, share, and watch your favorite content. Hatch has been in development for a while, but as the project grew into a new scope, Rovio felt that it needed to be spun off into it's own entity. It will be a subscription based service and starting early next year they will hand out invite only testers on Android. From the way they make the app sound, it's going to be a mix of Twitch, Facebook, and Spotify. Just merging all the platforms into one easily digestible format. The app will be free to download and use, but will have ads. The subscription service will remove the ads.

What's interesting is that somehow you can play the game from your phone, and Hatch says it'll be big mobile titles. Ubisoft Mobile is listed as a developer that has signed on. Hatch will allow other gamers to watch as you play, comment, share, and the streamer can invite others to join in and play as well.

Unlike console and PC games, mobile games are typically a solitary experience. There are a few games that allow you to have online interaction with others, but they don't include chat rooms or any means of communication that don't involve you playing the game. This could be the app that starts a new wave of game types for mobiles.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Gaming Art of the Book

In an era where print media is becoming obsolete, books are on the rise once more with their crafty antics. I know that sentence seems like an irony, and it totally is. But what's helped in sell books has been not the traditional market of content. It's not just 'Harry Potter' that has been driving sales. The boon of the adult coloring book genre and coffee-table pieces are the reason people are buying physical books these days. Sure you can draw on a tablet, but it's not the same as whipping out a box of crayons and color pencils and going to town.

As for the coffee table books, these are no longer limited to the 'Time Magazine Photos of the Year' collage. Now they include cosplay photographs and gaming memorabilia. Who would have thought 'Art of Atari' would be a need-to-have gift? The collection of gaming books, compiled on Destructoid, you can pick up this year are quite a sight. And these are books that you can't simply read on a tablet or eReader. They only work in their physical form. The easy answer for this is that everyone has slightly different screen resolution so the true look of photos and advertisements is never realized on a digital format. But on print, you see the artist's final work in all of it's glory.

'Legends of Localization Book 2: EarthBound' is a wonderful example of this. The book is over 400 pages long so it's not a traditional coffee-table book. But the shot by shot comparison between EarthBound and Mother 2 is so vast, that the book wouldn't work in a digital format. It looks beautiful when you can crack open the binding and flip the pages.

My favorite are the art books. If you have the money to plop down, get into the BioWare and Star Wars art books. It is page after page of environment and character designs, from concept to completion. All of them will make your eyes go wide with wonder. Sometimes it's costume porn (holy crap I'm so happy I got this book before it went out of print) and other times it's jaw-dropping landscapes. It's inspiring to see people create these worlds, cities, towns, and people out of thin air. And having them captured in a book makes it all the more rewarding to flip through.

So go forth and get them gaming books! One day manuals and strategy guides will become a collector's items. Just wait.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Can 'No Man's Sky' Ever Be The Game We Were Promised?

I don't think anyone but the developers, Hello Games, can answer that question. But it's something that a number of gamers are hoping for. The team announced an upcoming patch, which was confirmed by Sony, and that they are still dedicated to bringing the full game to life. The patch went live yesterday morning, much sooner then expected. The PC patch will arrive at a later date. Known as the "Foundation Update" it provides more items and options to players on building their home base on the planet of their choosing, and adds two new modes of gameplay: survival and creative. The patch is said to be the "foundation" for things to come. Har har.

This is the first big content patch that has been released for the game (the September patch was to mostly fix bugs and save files) and includes a number of features that were originally toted by Hello Games, but weren't available during No Man's Sky launch. But will this lure gamers back in?

While the content looks interesting, those who have already tuned out the game are long gone and have moved on to other prospects. They may return, but it will take time. Those still playing, are in it for the long haul.

No Man's Sky reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy XIV. When FF14 was released, it was bad. Real bad. I remember getting into the beta for that game and hoping that we were only seeing a small fraction of what was to come. Sadly, the beta offered everything for the game that was available. The leveling system was more damage focused - so healers were left in the dust and hard to find. The main story was locked behind leveling and required you to achieve goals that were absurd before you could move forward. You had to reach level 20 on a combat job to start the main story. It was annoyingly frustrating. And while the game was trying to help the gamers that couldn't log in daily with resting XP and bonuses, the gamers that were on daily got no perks. Everyone had to grind for XP. Everyone had to share mobs and gathering nodes. These are just a few issues, but it was a right mess. About the only good quality the game had was that it looked pretty. It blew WoW out of the water with the visuals.

FF14 knew it was in trouble when their subscription base dropped off after the first month. SquareEnix built it up to be the next great MMO and it fell flat on it's butt. They brought in a new team and redeveloped the game from the ground up. Some of the original concepts of the game are still there, but with a new, functioning system. They allowed those still playing to keep going for free, test the new content, listened to player feedback, and provide the Final Fantasy experience that was worthy of the title. It took me 2 years to return but I went back to the MMO and it's leaps and bounds better then ever.

No Man's Sky is going through the same transition. The game won't see a rush of people returning with this latest patch. Or with the next. Or several patches after that. It's going to take time, patience, and understanding that they hurt their user base. Now they have to rebuild trust and deliver the game that was promised.

Will that happen? It's up to Hello Games to figure that out.