Friday, January 29, 2016

Away to PAX South I Go!

Year 2 of PAX South begins today, and I'll be returning again for more nerdy gaming coverage.

Last year PAX settled in nicely to the new event. I know a number of people will disagree with me because it didn't have a bevy of big name developers nor panels (though I argue otherwise as I felt the panel content was not only expansive, but varied), but given the history of PAX first year attempts, they did a phenomenal job. We even broke the record for highest attendance for a first year. The convention ran very smoothly. With the exception of Riot changing their panel at the Expo and not notifying PAX (thus leading to a lot of very confused gamers), I was impressed at how much PAX improved the first year experience.

This will still be another trial run for PAX. This time around there are even less big developers on the floor. Why? A few reasons:

This time of year is weird for developers. Most new products are not released, let alone announced, until closer to E3. Which is why you see a bigger push for marketing in March/April.

It also means that January and February are crunch months. Beta testings, fixing coding issues, refining last minute changes - it's a busy time for game developers that there's little time to go out and promote your game.

Whereas with indie games, they can release as they see fit. They're typically not under the same time constraints or contracts as the big devs that if they decide to release their game next week, they can. That's their call. So it's easier for them to take a weekend away from the desk to promote their new games.

But that's one thing I enjoy about PAX in general. While people focus on how many big develops go to Prime and East, they seem to forget that the other 80% of the floor is covered by indie games. PAX has a great history of promoting the unsung heroes of the gaming community. The people who work 7 days a week for years on end to put their $1.99 game out on Steam, and then dive right back to their computer to create another. PAX supports indie. And I'm glad that they do! Some of the biggest names in games in 2015 started with a booth at PAX.

So I'm really looking forward to seeing all of the new games from new developers. The floor is littered with them!

That isn't to say that I'm not a bit sad-face that Bioware won't have a presence. They typically have a standalone panel room that they dub their "base" of operations and have fun events throughout the weekend. But they appear to be skipping it this year. Which is fine, they're allowed to. It's just odd given that their big MMO studio is in Austin. You'd think they'd at least do something for us Southern-folk. Throw us a bone every now and then. Oh well.

But all is not lost! The highly anticipated X-COM 2 will be making a debut at PAX South with demos and even a tournament, where they are flying in X-COM professional gamers to duke it out with the rest of us.

Panel-wise, there is quite a bit of content for diversity in gaming, developing indie games, the rise of YouTube gaming along with the ethical questions it poses, and the usual random panels - RoosterTeeth is going to teach us long division. I'm also looking forward to the Omegathon challenges. This is one of the few times where they have listed the games beforehand, with the exception of the final round. I kind of wish I was chosen. The first game is Beautiful Katamari. I would have kicked ass at that.

Given that last year I met and spoke to Sid Meier, who is in my top 5 people I hope to meet before I die, I highly doubt any other PAX will surpass that. But I'm looking forward to what South has to offer this round. It's going to be a fun weekend and I'll report back on my findings.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pulling Another Plug on a Kickstarter Game...But Wait!

Another Kickstarter video game has bit the dust, but in an honest twist, the developers opted to pull the campaign a week into the funding because they felt they weren't doing right for the backers.

Hero's Song, a retro hard-core RPG, cancelled it's quest for $800,000 on Tuesday. While they felt they put a lot of time into developing the Kickstarter campaign, they didn't focus on the needs of the backers, nor did they have enough content available to showcase game footage. They were asking people to back their project based on promises but very little physical, or digital, evidence.

And after 7 days they were only $136,000 into their $800k goal. They would have needed to raise almost $29k a day to reach their goal before the deadline. Based on the slow start, that was probably not going to happen.

The game itself sounds interesting. It has Diablo-like point and click action and allows you to take your time with each move you make. Friendly Fire is always on, so your party members can, and will die if you mess up. They mean it when they said they wanted it to be "hard-core." But they also enlisted the help of NY Times Bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss to help create the story, which is an ever-changing dynamic world. Every time you start a new game, you get a new story. Elements of the backstory will be pervasive, but can alter with each new world you create. With the addition of online play, this sounds like a potentially winning indie game.

But don't fret! Those who backed the project or are intrigued by the design, there is hope. Investors have stepped in to help with additional funding to ensure that the game is completed in time (they are shooting for October of this year with a $20 price tag).

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Life is Strange Scholarship

How about a more happy-feels post today?

DONTNOD, the developers behind Life is Strange has announced a $10,000 scholarship contest for US and Canada, dubbing it the Everyday Heroes Fund. For those age 18 and older who are currently in or looking to attend an art school, you can submit a photo of yourself or someone you know who is a hero in your life. The fact that it's art school specific does put a smile on my face. There are so very few art scholarships out there and it is damn near impossible to get a hold of one. College and University fees keep rising ever year, so anything to help with the costs is nothing short of a miracle for kids today.

There are of course runner-up prizes including signed copies of the special edition of the game. To note, the scholarship must be used for schooling purposes only. So don't expect to buy a new computer with it. But what a heck of an opportunity for students and fans of the game. It's another way to promote the arts and help bolster the community. Yea!

Contibute to WhatCulture?

I have given flack to WhatCulture in the past because their articles are ridiculous. Very rarely are they worth the time it takes to read them and they are cluttered with lists to try and get people to click on more pages. They don't provide the content that elevates video game dialogue. Not to say that creating Top 10 lists are bad. I've made a few over the years. Sprinkling them in on occasion isn't a bad thing, and can help prompt some interesting discussions/debates. But to only focus on lists isn't the type of gaming content that the community needs. If we expect for our hobby, our passions to move forward, gaming sites need to do the same.

Why am I talking about WhatCulture? Well yesterday they sent out a call to action to add more contributors to their website. It's a paying gig of .40 pounds for every 1,000 views your article collects. The current exchange rate puts that at .57 cents USD. While they state that top articles can click tens of thousands of views, that's only $5.70. Not exactly a money-making opportunity here.

I do want to encourage those who are looking to break into writing about games to consider the offer. As crazy as that may sound. It allows for your work to be on a public space and to obtain more feedback so you can improve and add this to a resume. But I also want to encourage you to not fall into the trap of making Top 10 lists. Or Top 20. Or Top 18. Or Top 7.

Those articles are too easy.

You can make a quick $.57 off them, but they won't provide the content or diversify your writing portfolio enough to be noticed by more credible gaming sites. And really, if your Top 10 article never hits 1,000 views, then you've wasted your time on a crap product.

The crazy thing is that WhatCulture does have non-list articles. Weird, right? They sadly don't get as many hits because the website pushes the lists to the fore-front to prompt for more clicks.

But this could be an opportunity for yourself and the gaming community to try and class up the place a bit. I doubt that the lists will go away, but throwing in some thought-provoking articles is what the gaming circle could use right now.

Hell, even I'm considering applying, knowing full well that I may not make a penny. And that's okay. It's about improving my work and getting more people to think about video games with a critical mind.

Even though I don't agree with how WhatCulture handles providing "gaming news" there are a number of people that do, and will jump on the opportunity. For those who are list-happy, at least consider throwing the community a bone and put out a thoughtful article once in a while, hm?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Pinkification" Isn't The Answer to Encourage Women in STEM

Girls and women in STEM careers. It's been a topic of issue over the past few years as these fields attempt to attract more of the XX chromosomes in. Why is this a problem? Even though over 57% of the work-force is female, and in 2012 57% of undergraduate degrees were held by women, less then 18% held any type of computer science, engineering, or math degrees in 2013. It contributes to gender inequality within those fields while limiting the potential for new, innovative ideas by having the jobs so deeply rooted in gender segregation. The next new infamous app, social media program, or video game may come from the mind of a woman. But we're bullied from a young age to not like math, science, or technology. We're discouraged from attempting to bridge that divide.

And a number of people see that this is, indeed, an issue. Shutting out over half of the population that can provide innovation is not smart. Ever. So a number of companies and STEM programs in schools have been looking to attract women by "thinking pink." Using one stereotype to combat another: that girls and women like pink, so if you throw pink colors on everything, women will gravitate towards it.

That's the topic of discussion today. An opinion piece appeared on Mashable, by long-time contributor Katie Dupere tackling this subject. And she does provide the view-points of both sides of the fence, which should be commended. Opinion articles typically ramble on about one perspective and ignore the fact that some people may feel differently.

Programs such as Black Girls Code and 100 Girls of Code use pink to help draw in the attention of the female persuasion to garner interest in computer programming. And for them, it works. They like to use pink to show that the atmosphere can be friendly and inviting. Pink, for them, isn't negative. There are a number of girls and women who are ultra-feminine (and I don't mean that in a bad way) and want to see their computers doused in pink, whites, and reds. They want the curly font.

For others, such as the team behind Girls Who Code, they see pink as an identifier that traps girls in one area. While the intention is good, Emily Reid, the curriculum director, feels that the "pink" aspect turns into the assumption that girls won't like coding at all until we throw pink on it. That STEM jobs need "pink and princesses" to lure them in. And that's not the reality. There are a number of women who like coding, but don't realize that it's called that. Coding is a way to solve a problem - sometimes it's for social good or to resolve an issue that they care about. In that framework, coding can be more appealing to women.

The use of "pink" is putting a band-aid on a deep-rooted problem: girls are dissuaded from anything STEM related early on in life, therefore they don't want to pursue careers in those fields.

From my own personal experience, I was dissuaded from being involved in any Advance Placement (AP) classes for math and science. Not by my family, but by the school itself. I've been berated by principles, teachers, and others my age for wanting to go into "boys" classes. Girls don't study math.  I remember very clearly having a meeting with the vice principle in the 8th grade, along with my mom, and he refused to accept my request for AP math and science. "She's from private school. She's going to fail in all of the math and science classes. Let's just make this easy for her." And he went and signed me up for all of the standard courses, including Home Ec because "those are important life-skills for girls." That meeting stuck with me and altered my entire perception on what I was capable of accomplishing.

My mom was livid. We had to petition the school board to allow admittance. By then they could only accept the Algebra class as the others had filled up by the time I got permission.

The worse of all of this was that no one defended me. My parents couldn't be with me at the school at all times. The vice principle was never reprimanded for his actions. He would berate me in the hallway along with other girls taking AP courses in view of the entire school. And in turn they heard his words. I can't imagine how many girls were scared into thinking that they can't do math and science because damn...who would want to be embarrassed like that in front of everyone? Just for wanting to take a math class!

I look back at this today and realize how jacked up my perceptions of STEM are because of that school. That moment seared into my brain for the rest of my life and I felt so ashamed of taking any type of AP courses that were math, science, or technology related for the rest of my life. I was too afraid to speak up and believed that they were right because that's how I was taught to behave - they were the authority figures therefore I needed to listen to them.

This shiz happened. And it still happens to girls every day. 

Irony: I went into the film/tv field of studies which is also a very male dominated landscape. But by then I had a better understanding of how stupid gender identity is. Whenever someone said "you can't do that, you're a girl" I would prove them wrong. But it pisses me off to think of what I could have been. What I could have learned. What I could have achieved if I was given some ounce of encouragement within the school setting to go after a STEM career. Sure I did tech support and I'm a whiz at building computers, but never enough to want to make a living from it. It's a hobby at best.

And I can say with 100% certainty that making everything pink would not have altered my viewpoint. I never liked the color. Blue is more of my style. Looks better against my skin-tone.

News flash, world: Not Every Female Likes Pink.

Just like not every male likes blue. Shocking. I know.

I'm all for the mission statement behind Girls Who Code. It's not about making gender distinctions, but supporting girls who are interested in STEM. "You want to know how they made Candy Crush? Alright then. Let's get started!" It's as simple as that. There's no reason to put gender stereotypes to try and combat a gender stereotype. It's all about how you approach girls and women into seeing coding as more then numbers.

Hopefully you can see where this spills over into the video game field. A number of areas in game development focus on programming, coding, and crafting digital pieces. Jobs that are categorized as "male" in an industry that is typically viewed as for men only; from the gamers to the game designers.

We should be doing more to encourage girls, women, people of color, everyone, to explore STEM. The future is going to be based on technology and science. Innovation is going to come from STEM in the years to come. It shouldn't be an exclusive club for men only.

I want to add that this article isn't about trying to get more women into STEM for the sake of "we need more women." It's about inclusion and diversity for innovation. More innovation occurs when there are more people involved. Not less.

A big thank you to my friend Desireé for sharing this article.

Monday, January 25, 2016

NDA Is Not The Enemy

On Friday, one of the lead writers for BioWare left the company after 17 years of creating memorable, and sometimes other-wordly, characters. David Gaider's announcement was unexpected, and comes off the heels of Chris Wynn, who was the senior developer for the next Mass Effect game, leaving just a month ago. Gaider's tweets have been vague on why he left, and he spoke with Polygon that the resolution was amicable. He didn't say what he would be doing next or where his work will take him, but that it'll be mentioned soon enough.

Why am I talking about this? While perusing Facebook this morning, I found a comment from a page I follow and it made me think about how just don't understand.

NDA, or non-disclosure agreements, exist outside the realm of video games as well. We just happen to be very aware of them in the gaming culture since it permeates so many aspects of the industry. If the team making the game isn't signing one, we as consumers are when we opt into a beta. But NDA's don't exist simply to keep content from being spoiled. They are there to ensure the safety of the brand over the course of their life-cycle as people enter and leave the company.

Wal-Mart has one.

Target has one.

Even your local bakery that you like to get your morning donuts and coffee from probably has an NDA to keep workers from sharing the recipe on the creme-filled confections you adore so much.

NDA's are meant to cover your ass and the company. That's part of the agreement employees enter into in order to work for said business. I'm not saying it's always right, because sometimes it does bar you from discussing publicly why you were fired or why you left, but at the core, they are meant for your best interest. Just imagine the legal ramifications of what would happen if Gaider decided to spout a bunch of Andromeda secrets this late into the development cycle. Or talked about BioWare's employee training program. Or maybe how they offer free meals as a perk. I'm taking a giant stab in the dark on the last two points, but some of these features may help make BioWare stand out as a great place to work by comparison to other game developers. That's something they don't want their competitors to know - otherwise Ubisoft, EA, or Microsoft could snatch up the talent by making counter-offers of "Hey, does BioWare have a gaming lounge that you can play in all the time? Screw free food. Gaming lounge!"

And something like an employee training program can be copyrighted. I know. I've been involved in a few. Most suck. Some are okay. But good programs are the ones you never hear about because they keep them within the business and don't want their competitors to have access to them.

If that content was released to the public by a former employee, it can cause damage to the company. Not to mention the legal nightmare that would ensue for the employee giving away trade secrets.

Just to be clear, NDA's are not meant to hide a company's evil deeds. If a business is breaking the law, they can't cover it up with an NDA. The law supersedes the NDA in those situations.

Businesses are within their right to create, use, and issue NDA's as they see fit. When I worked for GameStop, I had a 5 year ban on being able to discuss anything involving the company's business practices once I left. And being in my position, I had a ton of knowledge about what happened behind the scenes at the corporate level. Bad customer stories were allowed to be shared as long as the employee followed GameStop's policies and I didn't mention customer names or any data that would allow one to easily locate said customer.

I've been a really good egg about the GameStop stuff. And as much as I despise working for them, I get it. They have a business model that other gaming retailers have not been able to replicate, and they don't want that creative content to be out there for people to exploit and put them out of business. While yes, there are some things that I think GameStop needs to improve to ensure a better lifestyle for their employees, less turnover rate, and happier customers, they are not doing anything illegally. Technically. They just do things half-assed or have crap services for their employees. They don't take care of their people - in turn their people don't take care of the business. But I didn't break the NDA. I knew it was to keep myself safe just as much as GameStop.

I'm also of the belief that if one leaves their job, it's their decision. Don't harp on them for more details. That's a private matter. Leave it alone. I guess this is just one long blog post about business is business. When you're an adult with a job like this, it's what you've got to do. Don't hate on the gaming companies that follow this practice.

Wherever Gaider goes from here, he has a historical legacy of RPG's that follow him. Best of luck to him on his journey!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Going Indie - The Ups and Downs of Big Game Development

Gingear Studio is up and running.

And most of you probably don't know who or what that is, or if it's even worth caring about.

The reason it's being mentioned on The Geek Spot is from an insightful article written by Maxime Beaudoin, former Ubisoft employee and software architect behind Assassin's Creed: Syndicate. That sounds like a dream job to a lot of us - maybe not working at Ubisoft but the chance to have your name attached to a big game like AssCreed. You're not only shaping the future of a game franchise, but you'll be part of the legacy that is AssCreed. That's kind of cool when you think about it.

But one day Beaudoin decided it was enough. He left his ideal job to start an indie game company with his girlfriend. So why would someone leave such a lush position at a big developer? That was a pretty bold move - it's not as though he failed at Ubisoft. His team did help develop Syndicate, a very thoughtful and necessary step forward from the disaster that was Unity. His position was secured. He had great benefits and a nice paycheck. Why leave it all?

While Beaudoin couldn't give too many specifics due to legal and contractual obligations, his story is very telling. It's something that many game employees can understand and admire the courage of those who decide to set off on their own.

"On my last day at Ubisoft, while I was saying goodbye to my colleagues, nobody asked why I was leaving to work on my own games. Even people who barely knew me had a pretty good idea. A lot of them were actually envious, although they worked on Syndicate too, realizing one of their own dreams. I’m sure that many professional game developers might have a clue about why I made this move."

What made our brave programmer want to try the indie game scene happened when he worked on 2 very small team projects at Ubisoft, that ended up being cancelled. They came up with the game concept, characters, levels, and had to do everything within their group of 4-6 people. If they didn't have a level designer, someone learned how to program and made it happen. For Beaudoin, that was when he was the happiest at Ubisoft. And when those games were cancelled, even after the strong reception from the rest of the staff members (60+ people), he felt the sting. There's a joy to being involved in every aspect of a project. Taking that personal ownership and putting it out there for the world to experience. There's nothing else like it. And as he rose up in the command chain, he was finding himself having less and less impact on the games he was involved in - more of the "I approved this" instead of "I made this level" type of management. Because that's how businesses work.

Going indie gives Beaudoin a chance to get back to that stage where he was on a small team and had his hands in every pot. He can work creative, technical, designs, scripts, and everything in between. It's not about specialization and feeling disconnected from the project.

If you have a few minutes to spare today, I strongly encourage you to read his blog post. It gives some great insight into the big gaming dev world that you may not be aware of.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Highs and Lows of Crowdfunding

Patreon has been gaining steam as an alternate means of crowdfunding for gaming companies. Instead of a one-time payment to a project you wish to see developed, artists, developers, and the like are asking for monthly donations to keep their work going. In return you can get exclusives such as in-game content, unique artist drawings that no one else will have access to, and the like. The downside is that it's a monthly, re-occuring donation. You always have the option to stop or to change the amount, but it prompts artists to constantly promote and bide for your attention so you don't stop making those payments.

It has it's hits and misses. More artists are using this system as a means of complimenting income. Some do it to ensure that their art receives attention. And sometimes it's just a special "thank you" to those who continue to support and share their work by offering bonus art pieces that can't be seen elsewhere.

Mobile games have been using Patreon in hopes of keeping constant funding when in-game purchases dip or may not even exist. Kotaku looked at TouchArcade, a mobile gaming outlet and review site, as one case on why this method of funding may not be the best way to go. In June of 2015 they asked the public for help with their cash flow and a number of fans, and other mobile developers, joined Patreon to help them keep their lights on. They ask for a monthly donation of $10,000 in total, and while they have never reached that goal, they have managed to stay in the $9 grand range to keep things running. TouchArcade is one of the few that doesn't spam you with advertisements, which tend to make up the bulk of income for a number of mobile developers.

But over the past few months they have seen a dip in their Patreon responses, particularly after another mobile developer that was providing them with $1 grand, backed out. FDG Entertainment released a mobile game called Venture Kid. It only received a 3.5/5 on TouchArcade's scale. The next day, FDG announced it was removing their Patreon donation, claiming that it was to ensure better transparency between the developer and the review site. Honestly it reads like they were butt-hurt about a not-so-perfect review and they retaliated.

It is a blow for the site, to say the least. But TouchArcade has stated that they aren't going anywhere anytime soon. If Patreon doesn't pan out for future funding, they do have investments and backers elsewhere to help keep the site running. That doesn't detract the fact that this dip was a blow to them. It should also serve as a warning. While the idea of crowdfunding sounds great, not every idea works, and not everyone is willing to donate. Always have a plan on who will invest in you - that's going to be more ideal in the long run.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

Here's how my week has been: "It's 36 degrees outside. Why do we have the AC on?"

So I've been huddled in my office wearing my fancy N7 jacket all day. Feel free to give me funny looks co-workers. You all are wearing your winter gear indoors too, and we're all cold. If I'm going to be cold, I'm going to be comfortable. In my geek gear. Deal with it.

Today seems like a wonderful day for a Weekly Link Round Up. Let's count it out:

- Another Tropes vs. Women video has finally released, and Sarkeesian has finally provided some clarity on the long delays between production. Since the Kickstarter campaign ended nearly 3 years ago, only a handful of videos have released. Sarkeesian has become a public speaker and advocate against cyber bullying, which has caused her to have a heavily increased work-schedule at making appearances globally. Tropes became her life-work and she burnt out on it. It's as simple as that. You pack on the daily harassment she still receives online, it's a lot to handle. Her plan is to wrap up the Tropes project this year and produce shorter videos in the 5 to 10 minute range, versus 30+ minutes. 8 episodes are planned for this year, which is much more then what we've seen in the past, but at smaller time chunks. I don't know if this is a good or bad thing yet, but it's clear that Sarkeesian wants to move on from the project, while still providing it with it's appropriate conclusion.

- RedBubble, the art portal and marketplace, is launching a video game fan art initiative. They have teamed up with independent game developers to promote fan art, by creating pages devoted to those specific devs for people to create and sell nerdy products. It's a way for fans to show their love for a game in a space that will promote it...and then sell it on a t-shirt. I didn't say it wasn't free from profiteering.

- GameRadar has a list of the most "coveted" gaming rumors that are completely fake. Such as being able to revive Aeris/Aerith in Final Fantasy VII. That one still makes my cackle. I didn't want her back. But she didn't provide the entertainment that I had come to expect from a Final Fantasy teammate. Or how about the stupid ice key from Banjo-Kazooie? There's a hack to actually access the key, since you can't in the game, and you'll find out it does diddly and squat. Neat.

- KillScreen looks at the legal issues that can occur with historical figures in video games. It's a tricky subject because games are fantasy narratives unless they are specifically designed for educational purposes to correctly project an accurate account of a historical event. Which is why courts typically tend to side with game developers - it's a story. Not the real thing. Artistic license! But some of today's political figures and celebrities are aware of this and have standing proprietary rights on their image that they can not be used in games without direct consent from the individual - or from their family's estate after their death. The fun of legalities and why you don't see many games about Donald Trump...well not legal ones anyway.

- Insider Monkey takes a look at the 11 most expensive virtual items in video games. Ignore the images - I don't know why cosplayers were used to represent digital items and for the incorrect games, no less. But something to keep in mind is that this is a combo of real world dollars and digital currency in the games for the products in question. While the Party Hat in Runescape might be listed at $1,680, most likely it was only traded for game currency. The pricing is based on the current exchange rate on what the $1,680 could net someone in the game world. Please keep that in mind. I highly doubt someone dropped $8 grand on a necklace in Diabloe 3 (which has no name in the to see the source on that).

- Gameranx created a video for easy viewing, sort-of, on the 10 sillies lawsuits people concocted against game companies. Some involved hacking, others...a tattoo? Yeah. It's weird. I didn't know a number of these existed and it's still weird to see. People will sue for just about anything these days.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

New Minecraft for Schools this Summer

Microsoft has announced that they will launch a Minecraft: Education Edition to work as an expanded version of the current Minecraftedu Program. For those who don't know, Minecraft has really evolved over the years to become a cornerstone of teaching with video games in and out of the classroom setting. It's been utilized by the United Nations since 2014, in conjunction with Games for Change, to help poverty stricken countries or areas hit by natural disasters to rebuild by using Minecraft to create a new city structure as a planning tool. Minecraftedu was created for teachers, by teachers as a way to help kids in the classroom. Not only does it teach them about spatial awareness and creating buildings, but it encourages group discussions, leadership and team building, and in-depth problem solving skills that can be applied to the real world.

The Education Edition is not a new game but will add new features to the current version that educators and schools are using. It will also host lesson plans and open up the community portal for more feedback. The features that stand out to me are the enhanced multiplayer, which allows up to 40 people to play on one world. Right now there's a server limit, usually about 8 to 12 people before it gets super laggy and crashes. But this expanded user limit will allow more legitimate classroom sizes (because really, what school only has class sizes of 8 or less people?) to experience Minecraft learning at the same time. There will be custom logins and avatars so every student can develop their own character instead of the default avatars - more personalization typically leads to more engagement.

World imports, exports, and sharing! Now teachers and students will be able to create their own worlds from scratch, save them, and share them to other Minecraftedu users. A great way to build lesson plans and grow from the success of others - why reinvent the wheel when someone else has already made one?

It's a big step forward in bringing video games into the classroom. The Education Edition will release this summer with a $5 price tag to schools, museums, and learning facilities.

Monday, January 18, 2016

When an MMO Ends...

Over the years I have reported on the comings and goings of MMO's. It's a vast world of gaming content out there, and just like your first DS, you eventually stop playing it along with everyone else. Nintendo decides to stop supporting the system and no longer develops new content. It becomes a part of your treasure trove, or a doorstop, or it is sold to a pawn shop/garage sale/becomes trash.

But there are times where you want to pick up that old DS and remember the good times. The chunky unit in your hands with the slow wi-fi response times, but it holds some of your favorite memories of Pokemon and Mario Kart with your friends. We get that nostalgic feel to return to the games and consoles we love. If you're a collector, then no problem. You can fulfill that need fairly easily. For the rest of us, that can be a challenge. Once a system is out of your life, it can be difficult to reclaim it. Even as the number of second hand game sellers grow, once the console is out of production, it's gone. Emulators are at least an alternative for a number of pre-CD games. Not all legal, of course, but it's an option.

With an MMO it's different. Like a console it has a limited life-cycle. If you're fortunate enough, you can get a few years of play time in before the developer cuts the servers. Games like World of Warcraft in terms of lifespan are very rare. For every time you see a company attempt to advertise the next "WoW Killer" you can roll you eyes and assure your panda self that no one is going to take down WoW. The average time an MMO is active seems to hover around the 2 year mark. Some last longer, some do not. But they all contain our memories of happiness and frustration.

Like a game console, once you have decided to end your time and turn it off, there's no going back once the game servers shut down. You can't return to the character you've created so long ago. There is no going back when it all ends.

This post is a reflection on MMO's of the past who have left us, but also what the future of MMO's has to hold, and how do we as gamers move on from the worlds that have been taken away from us.

I never thought of myself as an MMO gamer until I was well into Final Fantasy XI. My time frame varies on this's been either 5 or 7 years of game time. I need to check my bank statements on that to be sure. But to date it's been one of the only MMO's to capture my attention. To this day I still feel a pang of emptiness knowing that I left the game to make room for more time in my adult life to do adult things. I made a lot of real world friends in that game, some I would consider family. Hell I met my boyfriend in FF11, and we're still together. I can't imagine having a better partner in life. He tanks and causes me heart attacks while I heal his ass. It's a good system.

FFXI is also an example of an MMO that can outlive the rest of the field because it's built on a solid foundation of story-telling, immersion, and interactive dynamics that require you to be involved with the people in the world. I keep trying to get into WoW but I can't. I get bored in a month. Every time. With The Old Republic, while it has fantastic stories for the job quests, there is little push to have you actively involved in communicating with other people in the game. You don't have to do a single quest with another living person. Ever. And that lack of human contact makes for a dull experience outside of the story. Even as the game has improved over the years (even the freebe version is still very versatile and allows you access to full story content) and allowed for more customization, it still misses out on the human element.

Even though I no longer play, opting to call it quits after the Wings of the Goddess expansion pack (and the ending still makes me teary eyed - you can not call yourself human if you don't have feels after that), a part of me was still felt the punch when SquareEnix announced that the recent FF11 expansion and update will be it's last. No more new content. No more updates. This is it. They did not announce any server closures. Enough people still play and pay for the game that it isn't necessary, but typically the last expansion call is a signal that the end will come soon.

And that's depressing. I adore my female Elvaan. I managed to pick the race, gender, face, and hair type that is still the rarest of all character players across all servers. I was a special so many ways. I picked Red Mage, arguably the most difficult job to play at the time (it's probably a cake-walk now with all of the changes to the game) for any race. And every job after (Puppetmaster, Black Mage, Dancer, Bard) was specifically designed to make my life a living hell. I liked the challenge, but that should have been a lesson for me to not choose the damage/tank race in the future.

Nuts to that. I'm an elf in FF14 as well. White Mage at that...go me!

I can't imagine how I'm going to feel with the FF11 servers finally go dark. I'm considering paying for a month to log back in and watch the game end, however and whenever that may be.

Seeing it happen with World of Warcraft when they made the huge change to the story line was an interesting experience. Initially there wasn't much happening in the starter cities. You still had your safe zone to level up until you can play with the big kids. Venture outside and the world exploded. Literally. I'm still in awe that Blizzard got away with this and managed to keep their subscriber numbers high.

Spectacular and fanciful endings do happen with MMO's, and they are a special treat to the long time subscribers. When Galaxies went dark, they took all of the years of data of Republic vs. Empire and gave each server a tribute to the side that "won," along with celebrations in cantinas and open dialogues with developers and players. It made those last days special for everyone involved before the final firework was set off and the servers were closed. Though Sony Online Entertainment did something a bit different, only turning off the log-in screen for gamers. If you were still online when that happened, you could keep playing until you left the game. So a number of gamers were in for the long-haul to see how long they could last before their computers gave up. Within 2 weeks, the game was empty.

With The Matrix: Online they went into kooky territory and gave their users an experience they would never forget. The game managed to last roughly 4 years before the studio behind the product put an end to the dwindling gamers. But instead of a celebration, it was an apocalypse. Another "glitch" in the Matrix occurs and player characters (PC) were sent scrambling to survive. People were randomly given weapons that caused instant death to other PC's. Characters were not allowed to respawn. Your PC's death became permanent. Any remaining players might have stumbled upon an in-game electrical storm that would twist and contort your character, followed by horrific screams and then silence. With a modem beep later your character is dead and the machines have won. It's weird. It's creepy. It's symbolic and oddly appropriate for The Matrix.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you have games that just abruptly end without a proper conclusion for your years of hard work. City of Heroes and City of Villains is one such case. The developer did announce that the games would be ending months beforehand, but it was an odd situation. The studio behind the series closed suddenly. The website was up and down constantly. The forums were deleted. It was as if the company were wiping the slate clean and removing all history of CoH. An anomaly to be certain as CoH was still turning a decent profit. While fans rallied to try and get a proper ending for their game, with the studio closed, it wasn't going to happen. The game servers were shut down without a second glance.

All Points Bulletin did a similar thing, probably one of the shortest MMO's in history. Within 3 months the game went under. It was a good concept. A really good one. But it needed a ton of polishing and refinement. The studio was under too much pressure by EA to release it sooner rather then later ('d think EA would have learned their lesson and not do the same thing to The Old Republic). There were a lot of glitches, a lot of game play issues, lack of proper player balancing, and too much repetition with quests. It could have been a great GTA Online before there was a GTA Online. But anyone who was a fan was not going to get a happy ending. Since APB's end, there's been discussion about reviving the game a number of times, but all too no avail.

As MMO's come and go, so do the players. Even in long-running games, you can find spots in the world that are empty. It has a weird, calming effect. But there is still love for those games that players want to see a conclusion to their years spent leveling up their characters. That is first and foremost what I believe gamers want most: a resolution. You can't cut off the MMO servers and not expect a backlash. The only exception to this would be The Old Republic only because once the primary story ends for your character there's little else to do - though I appreciate Bioware trying to add new content that requires player interaction. At least that's my argument. I find myself bored after the job story. Even with the few gamers still playing your title, there are the former players like us who feel slighted when you don't provide a proper ending. And you can pull a Matrix if you want to. We will still accept that as a conclusion versus shutting down the servers on a time/date and calling it quits. It also assures you potential customers for any future games you may develop. Hint, hint.

For us gamers, it can be a challenge to move on when an MMO ends. I don't even want to think about what will happen to the WoW fans when that monster comes to it's conclusion. With a number of us, it's a matter of simply telling ourselves that enough is enough. We stop playing. When we are there as the game ends, that can be a rough transition. We are seeing one phase of our life literally stopping and we have to continue living after that. It can be tough. What seems to work best for my cohorts was picking up another game, a new hobby, or sometimes taking a break from gaming for a few months entirely while they reflect. It can be an emotionally jarring experience. You invest so much of your time into this character, made new friends, and participated in a unique experience . You have memories that will last a life-time. So it can be a challenge to overcome that emptiness when the MMO ends. Find someone to talk to about it. It's not silly and it's not childish, I promise you. Think of it like an athlete who has known baseball all his/her life and can no longer play one day due to life circumstances. They are not brushed off for their feelings about the game, and neither are you.

I haven't been through an "end game" moment with an MMO. I've quit before that's happened, but I can understand and respect the feelings of gamers who are involved. Which is why I don't dismiss it when someone shows remorse or is upset that their game world has been taken away from them. It's okay to have those feelings. You will find a way to continue. That I can promise you.

For the future of MMO's it's difficult to say where exactly that will lead. I like the premise of games like Defiance that integrate multiple forms of media to create a story. Even though the show was recently cancelled, the game will live on and continue to explore the post-apocalyptic landscape of San Fransisco after an alien invasion.

And yet traditional MMO's can still prove to be a power-hours. Final Fantasy XIV is a shining example of everything wrong and then made right about MMO's. If developers take their time they can create a product that will last well beyond its shelf-life.

I see the upcoming MMO's as a testament to the endurance of the genre. Between RPG's, MOBA's and everything in between, MMO's are not dying out. They will be here to stay. The interaction between players and depths of story-telling set the top tier games from the rest. That aspect of MMO's will never die.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Weekly Link Round-Up

It's been a rough week. While they may not have been known in the gaming world, among geek circles the passing of David Bowie (musician, and Goblin King!) and Alan Rickman (old farts like me remember him as Hans from 'Die Hard', you youngin's will know him as Professor Snape from 'Harry Potter') has hit us hard. Both were very unexpected. Both were diagnosed with cancer and we were unaware of. To the outside world, everything was gravy. Bowie released a new album and music video just last Friday before his death. It's a lot to absorb over the course of a week. May their families find peace during this hard time.

The Geek Spot will trudge onward with our Weekly Link Round-Up of gaming news from the depths of the internet. Here's what we got for today's selection:

- Fortune Magazine released the numbers on which games were the biggest sellers in 2015. But that's not really all that important. You can probably guess the first 5 without having to spare more then half a brain cell. If your answers included Call of Duty, Madden, and GTA5 PC, then you would be correct. What is interesting is that sales of physical games at traditional brick and mortar stores are flat. Even though sales of the PS4 and XBox One were the strongest to date over the past month, it didn't help with physical sales of games and accessories. That's typically not a good sign, as it indicates trouble with growth and potential decline over the upcoming years. More then likely people are going digital with their purchases. Which is fine, however the industry still hasn't set a standard for tracking those purchases so...good luck getting those numbers!

- Want to learn the meaning of life? Then play a video game! The Guardian has compiled a list of 10 video games that bring this question to the forefront. They mention the Civilization series which is...weird. That's more tactical then philosophical, but okay. The Sims is also listed so take the list however you see fit.

- Forbes has an article regarding a study that will tell you exactly how video games can boost learning. Hopefully the direct link will work for you - their new Welcome page requesting you to turn off all ad-blockers is quite annoying. I don't even have an ad-blocker on this machine and it still takes 3 to 4 cycles before I can get to the article. Ugh. Anyway, how did this new study determine that games improve learning? By turning a general quiz into a Wheel of Fortune type game and had children attempt to play it. Yeah. That's a definitive result right there. Super scientific. Sarcasm aside, who do I need to talk to to get useless grants? I want to study silly stuff like this and get paid for it!

- Kickstarter had a busy year with video games, raising over $46 million dollars in 2015. Tabletop over $88 million. That's a lot of money. With games like Shenmue and Bloodstained, it's no surprise that crowdfunding has turned into the new alternative to seeking out major developer investments. It's also cool to see the indies get a chance to make their visions come to life.

- In an interesting turn, Activision/Blizzard has brought in the producer of 'The H8tful Eight,' Stacey Sher, to help manage their new film division. The studio was formed last year and has been steadily gaining people to fill up the roster. They have been looking to turn Hollywood on their heads with gaming movies that can prove their worth to an industry that half-asses them. Sher is a frequent collaborator with Quentin Tarantino, so this will be quite the endeavor for the veteran producer.

- A French law was recently withdrawn that attempted to block games labeled as "sexist" from receiving any type of government funding. While the bill was attempting to put it's heart in the right place, it definitely infringes on creativity, speech, and a few other things that I would imagine the people of France would not be okay with. The language is quite vague with no criteria on what would be a "sexist" game. It could be argued that all Assassin's Creed games are sexist. Should that ban Ubisoft from any subsidies?

- Vivendi sold the rest of it's stakes in Activision/Blizzard, roughly 5.7% of the company. The results? $1.1 billion in profit. That's a lot of money for the few shares they still held. As to why the company sold off the rest of it's shares, it's unknown. Representatives have not commented outside of wanting to invest in more telecommunications, and bought up shares in Ubisoft and Gameloft last year. It may just be a simple numbers game. Activision's stock has been at an all time high over the past few months, and it may have been an ideal moment for Vivendi to sell. It's also proof of Activision's current powerhaul in the gaming world. They are the company to beat in numbers and sales.

- And just when you thought YouTube Gamers couldn't get any bigger, PewDiePie is getting his own TV show. Revelmode will be a digital premium channel to be launched with the help of Disney-owned Maker Studios, and will have a staple of YouTube stars as part of the channel lineup. It may sound strange, but a few up and coming actors have been making the leap from YouTube to Television. Most recently in the eyes of the public is Rachel Bloom, a YouTube star who now acts on the CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and won a Golden Globe for her performance. Given the popularity of gaming stars on YouTube, it doesn't seem so crazy, does it?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Amazon Woos Gamers With 20% Off Deal

As Amazon attempts to capitalize on the video game market, on Tuesday they announced an offer that will be exclusive to Prime members. 20% Off Pre-Orders and New Video Games.

Here are the sticky details, since that's where the conflicts love to live:

Yes, this offer is only available to Prime Members. If you are currently one, congrats! You're already in the program. Go save! If you are not, there's a 30 day free trial and it's $99 a year after that.

The discount applies only to physical copy pre-orders and during the first 2 weeks of a new game's release. By that point it's no longer considered "new." And yes, you read that correctly. It's the physical disc only. No digital versions will be allowed for this deal. However, it does extend to those Limited Editions that developers love to push out for pre-orders. Just think, you could have gotten 20% off that Fallout 4 Pitboy. But it does not extend to consoles or other gaming bundles, so any XBox One or PS4 bundles next holiday season will not be on the list.

Prime Members will also receive release date delivery guaranteed. Instead of having to wait that extra day or two with the 2-day shipping, you'll get the game on the day of release. Instead of waiting at the store, your game will be at your home when you're done with work/school for the day.

There is also a limit of 1 per customer. So no pre-ordering a bunch of Limited Editions and trying to resell them. It's not happening.

But as a whole, this is one heck of a deal that Amazon is sporting to try and lure more gamers to their services. I'm still a sucker for physical games. I like the look and feel of the actual disc in my hand. Not to mention, the pretty artwork of the boxes and game manuals, even if they are dying out.

There is no mention on if this is a limited time offer. Amazon always reserves the right to change their Prime benefits, but there is no end date tacked onto this deal. This is part of their line-up to all Prime members. Take advantage of it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

New Japanese Geek Cafe for Women

By now, oh faithful readers, you know that I'm all about equality in gaming, not singling out genders, sexual orientation, religions, and all that. But even I have to admit that this café in Japan is a stellar idea and I want to visit it.

The Ataraxia Cafe, located on Osaka, is strictly aimed towards female geek customers. No boys allowed. It's the first of it's kind in Japan, with a ban on "regular people and men." If you're not a geek, you can not enter. If you're a dude, you can not enter. I'm not sure what their stance is on transgender, but I'm sure they would be open to that, as long as you can speak geek.

They have created a space for women to enjoy their nerdy hobbies, watch anime, work on costumes (there's a crafting section in the back!), read manga, or play video games. The cafe offers free wi-fi (which is near impossible to find in Japan), sewing machines, mannequins, and other essentials to female customers who want to get their geek on.

How they weed out the geek from the non-geek? I have no idea. You do have to be a member, at the cost of 5,000 Yen per year. I have a feeling that the sign-up form requires you to answer some questions (which could easily be Googled) along with proof that you're a woman. I guess a license is in order for that? Maybe a birth certificate? I don't know. I'm more curious about how one proves their geekyness. I've always held the stance that you don't have to show your geek card to like a fandom. It doesn't matter how long you've been into an anime, a comic, or a movie. You like it and you like to talk about it? Cool. You're a geek. So I'm not on board with this cafe being a "geek" only place and having to prove that you are one to be a member.

But, I appreciate places such as this opening up as a spot for women to meet others who share the same interests. Even in the digital age, it's still difficult to meet peers who like your hobbies. Gaming, anime, and comic books in particular are very male dominated in the West, and women are harassed daily if they show an ounce of interest in these fields. I would relish the chance at having a cafe, or a Starbucks, or a social hangout that was female only. I know that I'm not the only woman who appreciates the art of GTA. And a social space such as the Ataraxia Cafe is as good of a place as any to make new friends.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

User Banned on Epic Game Beta for Name on "Terror" Watch List

If you have traveled by plane at all over the past 10 years, then you are most likely fully aware of the wonderful "No Fly" list that is suppose to weed out potential terrorists and other bad guys from access to a plane as a passenger. For nefarious reasons, of course. But it has become a farce turned headache over the years as a number of people are added to the list for reasons unknown to them. Even having a similar sounding name to someone who is legitimately on the list can bar people from flying. An 18-month old as pulled from a flight, along with her mother, for being on the list. As well as famous people and senators getting constantly interrogated during security check.

It's a fun system we have, with the intent to keep us safe. So it should be no surprise that we see this happening in video games as well.

A man named Muhammad Zakir Khan wanted to sign up for Epic Games new MOBA-inspired title Paragon. The screen shot looks nifty and not MOBA-ish. But when he tried to register his name, he was greeted with a message that his account would be blocked as his name matched on the "Specially Designated Nationals" list.

I can honestly say, as someone who tries to keep up with political news and staying involved in the government and their updates, I have no flipping clue on what the "Specially Designated Nationals" list is. After a quick Google search, you'll find that it's a list housed by the Treasury Department that can mark individuals or groups as potential terror threats for having business ties to suspects. It can bar access to any U.S. assets. That's really crappy when you think about it. If the Treasury Department wrongly lists you and businesses act on it, you can be locked out of your life.

Which is what happened to Khan, albeit on a smaller scale since it was limited to a video game beta signup.

Epic Games responded via co-founder Tim Sweeney and they were able to fix the issue quickly. But it raises the question on why Epic is using the list in the first place to weed out potential bad guys? It's a video game. So...why?

I've dabbled on the subject recently that terrorists are most likely not using video games as a means of communication. And we shouldn't be surprised that gaming companies are tracking us. They know our habits, purchase history (why else would they keep making Call of Duty every year), and who we're talking to. We would be naive to think otherwise. But this mysterious list has some of us wondering if gaming companies are taking that data and sharing it with the government.

And now I'm starting to sound like one of those super Conservative, Big Brother, fear-mongering websites. Ugh.

Look. I understand that having some government oversight is needed. As humans we can not function on our own without an authority figure. We'd have blown up this planet centuries ago with the chaos our sad little minds can create. And I understand that these lists are extra security checks are intended for our protection. Every little bit helps, right? So we play our part and spend more time in the security line at the airport, and have to have our drivers licenses scrutinized at every gas station when we stop to pick up a Diet Coke. I get it.

But what the heck would game companies be feeding to the U.S. government about our gaming habits? I think this is a case where we need more transparency. I'm fairly studious about those user agreements and don't remember seeing a mention on user data being transmitted to the government or any legal institutions, unless its a situation deemed necessary (i.e. you committed a crime and police need info to find you). Epic. Game companies everywhere. What are you feeding to the government and why?

Monday, January 11, 2016

"Let's Play" Trademark?

So...Sony is attempting to trademark the term "Let's Play" for unknown reasons. They filed the paperwork just a few months ago in October, and the status was last updated at the end of December. It was found out by uses on NeoGaf this week through random searches and filings. Because that is what one does with their free time.

But let's take a step back and think about this for a moment. Sony is trying to trademark a term that has been used on the internet for some time, with it's recent iteration acting as a reference to videos of people playing games. It's as simple as that, really. It's become a phenomenon over the years, producing personalities such as Pew-Die-Pie and Markiplier. RoosterTeeth currently holds the name on YouTube, along with millions of subscribers. I have my own series of Let's Play content in both video and blog format. It's not a product that has one definition or tangible means.

What makes the trademark unusual is that Sony is attempting to hold claim to an entertainment medium. Let's Play isn't one particular style of video, commentary, or use. It's taking a concept that was created by a community and attempting to place ownership on it. Which is even more difficult given that the history of Let's Play content began with forums and pre-YouTube days where people would comment on screenshots and have group playthroughs of games while recalling their events via text. With the medium encompassing so many different types of content, it's not something that can easily be nailed down and trademarked. It's no different then saying "I came up with the written word, therefore all forms of writing belong to me."

Which sounds utterly ridiculous now that I've typed it out. Essentially, that's what Sony wants to do. They want to trademark a community concept that is ambiguous and constantly evolving as it ages.

It very well could be that this is purely for marketing purposes and to utilize the phrase in an advertisement. Maybe Sony does not intend to pursue a full trademark and impose it upon Let's Play content. But the trademark filing also states "streaming of video games via global and local computer networks." Typically for an ad, they wouldn't need to provide such details of what the service is for. Merely that they want to use it and not get into trouble.

Maybe it's re-branding of the PS4 or for a new handheld system? Or maybe Sony really is trying to trademark the phrase and claim ownership on a community-created medium. Several news outlets are waiting to hear a response from Sony to clarify the trademark request.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Weekly Link Round-Up

Take in a deep breath. Open up your senses. Do you smell that? That oddly sweet and yet pungent order in the air? It's another Weekly Round-Up! Let's see what gaming news the internet cooked up this time.

- Someone on 3DM, a Chinese hacking forum, made the claim that breaking into video games is going to no longer be possible in as little as 2 years. And that sent the internet buzzing. Good source It's not as though they are wrong, but getting comments from the companies that have designed the anti-hacking software and firmware would have been more reliable. The recent Denuvo release, which is used in games like Just Cause 3, works as an anti-tamper detection system. In order to break into the game, you have to break into Denuvo first, which is a challenge unto it's own with it's encryption system constantly changing. Eventually content is going to be difficult to crack as technology moves forward. We all knew this would happen soon enough.

- WhatCulture! It's a new year and you're already hitting us heavy with the gaming lists. Glad to have you around to keep us entertained with your ramblings. This time they have a list of the 12 more replayable games of 2015. Now when I think of replayable games, I don't typically go after RPG epics as they take forever to run through. Once is usually enough to hold me down for half a year before I feel the need to pick it up again. So having Witcher 3, MGS5, and Fallout 4 on the list is insane. Most of us just finished up Fallout. We really don't have the time to play it again. Even if the mods are cool.

- Critical Distance has a Video Game Blogger of the Year. I did not know this. Inverse spoke with the 2015 selection, Gita Jackson - editor at Paste, about the honor and what writing means to her. It also dives into the issue of game criticism and diversity. Really great read. Oh, and there's no actual award for Blogger of the Year. No cash prize. Nada. But recognition by your peers is always worth more then a trophy.

- As we move ever closer to VR becoming a gaming staple, Post Bulletin looks at how games will change in 2016 to accommodate the growth. Not only do we have the Oculus Rift and the Sony version of VR to release this year, but Nintendo's first mobile game will be out soon. And the growth of the indie scene will really spark creative, out of the box, thinking. There's a lot to look forward to with gaming this year.

- Roblox will be released on XBox One on January 28th, completely free! For those who don't know, Roblox is the new indie creative gaming tool dejour. RPG Maker for the new age. You can create levels and combat designs from scratch using the pre-generated content from the tool. It's mostly blocky looking - an elevated Minecraft if you will, but it has produced some compelling content. The XBox One version looks really clean and easy to use. And the tool will come bundled with 15 games developed through Roblox. Download it while you can!

- Psychonauts 2 has passed their 3.3 million funding goal. The power of geeks wallets continues to shine.

Personal Note: I'm looking for games to start my "Let's Play" series next month. Start commenting on popular game titles that you'd like to see me play. I'll be picking games that are well known but I have not played (because there are too many to get through them all).

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Oculus Rift Release Date and Gaming Prices

Okay Oculus fans. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this week, the VR headset is being showcased to the "public." I use the term "public" loosely since CES tends to be gear more towards retailers, industry experts, and those lucky enough to get a pass into the show. I wish I were one of those people...

But! The Oculus Rift is making a big showing on it's nifty features, and they are already taking pre-orders with an expected shipping date of June this year. Some outlets are stating that those who were in the crowdfunding phase will receive theirs as early as March 28th.

If you want to pre-order, here's the link. The system costs $599 and will include the VR headset, sensor, remote, cables, and XBox One controller, and two games: Eve: Valkyrie and Lucky's Tale. If you are lucky enough to be at CES this week you can test out one of the systems and experience the cool insanity that is VR.

Oculus has also announced a general pricing system for games released with the system. The "Premium" games like Eve will be in the $60 range. So really, it's not any more expensive then a current gen console (PS4, XBoxOne) game. Staff for Oculus on the floor at CES have noted that there will be different levels of games that won't be as flashy as Eve, therefore they will be available at lower price points. These can range from free to anything below $60. Needless to say, simply doing a port of Call of Duty to Oculus isn't going to net it another $60. It might be half that price (as the game was not developed for VR).

We're getting our hands on Oculus Rift much sooner then expected! And the gameplay looks pretty clean for VR. Get ready to have that Dramamine on standby. I anticipate a lot of motion sickness for gamers.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Is the Next AssCreed Breaking Yearly Release Cycle?

Ubisoft may have finally gotten the memo that a yearly release cycle for some of their biggest titles is not always a good thing. Fresh off the technical disaster that was AssCreed Unity and the tepid success of Syndicate, sources close to Ubisoft have stated that the company is going to take a break from releasing AssCreed this Fall and will instead have a new version of the game ready for 2017.

Let the cries from fanboys commence. But remember! A delay in a game's release means they will be able to fix some of the bugs. Not all, but some. When EA opted to give a year break to Need for Speed, it allowed the development team more time to polish the final product and provide a game that not only looked refined, but included new content that we hadn't seen in years prior due to the yearly release schedule.

And frankly, it makes sense for AssCreed at this point to take a break. We've had a release every Fall every year since 2007. That's 9 console games, and does not include any spin-off's, handheld off-shots, mobile, etc. Quite a lot of AssCreed games. While some of you may enjoy it, it has led to fatigue with the series, not to mention the litany of internet memes for the past 2 years of misses and screw ups. While Syndicate was a good step from the fallout of Unity, it didn't pull in the numbers that Ubisoft wanted. Sources say that Ubisoft has been planning a 2017 delay on a future title after the Unity debacle.

There is still a call from Kotaku and other news outlets to Ubisoft to confirm the rumor. Right now the sources are based off of a few posts on an internet forum and inside contacts, but there hasn't been an official confirmation direct from the company.

The other big hoopla is that the new AssCreed, code named Empire, will be set in ancient Egypt - possibly Greece as well. Now that...that I may play. I'm a sucker for history. But AssCreed is probably not going to be very accurate about it. Damn.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Lucas Responds to Episode 7 Release

I'm glad to know that it's not just me. I'm not alone in the pit of despair in determining personal feelings for Star Wars Episode VII. Since the film's release, as more professional reviewers and audience responses are posted, the Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scores has been steadily dropping on the film. Metacritic users score it a 6.9 out of 10. Still a good score for a film, but not as high as the initial 9's and 10's being issued prior to December 18th. And what I've been seeing from the updated reviews echo my concerns: there is nothing in Ep 7 that propels the Star Wars universe forward. It feels like a modernization of the original trilogy- a fan fiction of what J.J. Abrams and Disney execs liked about Episode 4 through 6, and popped it into one movie.

And George Lucas, creator of the universe that we fangasm over, agrees. Appearing on the Charlie Rose show last week, he gave his input on the new film (having to provide a follow-up clarification on a statement; which is a rare thing for this man) and the direction of the upcoming Episodes.

"They wanted to do a retro movie. I don't like that. Every movie I work very hard to make them completely different, with different planets, with different spaceships, make it new."

Lucas continued by commenting that he had created story lines for Episode 7-9, but they were scrapped by Disney in favor of appealing to the older crowd that was likely to bring in more money. Which means retro! It's kind of a thing, particularly with marketing. While the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney allowed Lucas to retain a position as a high ranking shareholder and a creative consultant to future projects, Disney ultimately has the final say in what happens.

They didn't want Lucas to be involved.

While some of you may think that it's a great thing because you didn't like the Prequels, I would argue that the lack of his voice (as the father of the galaxy) stifled the creativity of Episode 7. We saw a re-imagining of Episode 4; not a new story.

If you think about it, Hollywood films have been doing this for decades. It's become more apparent lately as fewer original ideas are produced. It's a lot of rehashing of older films, making books and graphic novels into movies and tv series, and so on. When you look at the top grossing films of 2015, the only movie that could be considered a unique idea of the top 10 is Inside Out. I could only pick out 1 other movies in the top 50 (Home, a Dreamworks animated film), that could be classified as a new idea or non-remake. Everything else is either a reboot, remake, sequel, or some amalgamation of all of the above. And it works. People clearly still buy tickets for older products that have a fresh coat of paint. It's something that Lucas did not want to do with the Prequels, and still won't do with new properties/titles that he invests in.

Can you blame him? I'm tired of it as much as the next film critic. I want new content.

Love or hate Mr. Lucas, he makes some valid points about the state of Hollywood and commercialism. The industry is being held back to pursue profits. Eventually audiences are going to get tired of the same thing and want new ideas. By then we'll be so far removed from creativity that we won't have content to give. Scary.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Expectations for The Geek Spot - The 2016 Edition

Welcome to the new year, where we get one extra day in February (thanks Leap Year). It seems like 2015 sped by, so hopefully time will slow down a bit and I can get some additional gaming in. Properly. I don't want to spend a year finishing 1 game.

So what can you expect from The Geek Spot in 2016?

First off, I'd like to include more Let's Play's with first time game runs. And with streaming becoming more accessible, I want to try and have a weekly play session of games to work in conjunction with this blog. I enjoyed it on my Act I play through of Dragon Age II and I want to continue it. My personal schedule in January is a bit rough, so this probably won't begin until February, at the earliest. But I had fun with the chat room banter on Twitch and seeing the follow-up comments to the postings. I need to do this more.

And the goal will still be to play games that I've never played before. A first look for me, and probably a 500th look for you, where you can watch and enjoy my gaming ways. Because that's part of the fun of playing a game for the first time: failing hard core and joking about it.

I also want to continue to provide thought-provoking pieces about the gaming world (industry, fandom, and everything in between). I felt that I stepped up my own writing game in 2015, and I want to keep the momentum going. They may not always be the most popular topics, but I feel they are a part of this blog that sets it a part from other gaming sites. I want to provide new, unique content here. Along with the silly gaming stories, and poking fun at WhatCulture lists. It's a requirement now.

My other goal is to get you, the readers, more involved. I know you're there. I can see the stats with a quick mouse-click. But engagement with a blog is part of the enjoyment of sitting and reading my musings. So tell me what I can do to encourage you all to comment more often (that's within legal and ethical reasons). I am curious to know and want to talk to you all more!

Following up on that statement, if there is anything that you'd like to see more of on The Geek Spot, tell me. I'm happy to add in new content, change up the format from time to time, and explore other areas of gaming. This blog started out as an experiment and has really grown over the years. It's no longer just my journey, but yours as well. Your input is just as important.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Geek Spot 2015 Year in Review

Since 2012 I have been reviewing the stats of this blog to find the stories that kept you all interested, and what weird search terms you all have been using. And it's fun to see who my readers are. I don't tailor my future blog posts based on your reading needs, but I do find it fun to study why people seem more drawn to certain topics over others.

Also the funny search terms. Because "porn" (and yes that is a work-safe link; it's my 2013 review) was a big deal for 2 years and then magically dropped off the radar last year. It was amusing. So let's see what kept you occupied on The Geek Spot in 2015.

Top Searched Terms: violent video games, anime classroom, ubisoft, porn game, banjo kazooie

Porn has made a come-back! Though it's not number 1, it did make the top 5 of most searched terms. Thanks for keeping that stereotype alive, nerds.

Most of the terms I'm not surprised by. A lot of my stories this year have involved Ubisoft and violent video game discussions. But Banjo Kazooie? How did that...what even? I have one post about Banjo mentioned in an article about YouTube and Nintendo restricting videos from February, but that's it. I guess I need to add more classic Nintendo stuff on here? I don't know what it means!

Referral Sites: No surprise here: it's still Google. But there's been a big jump in Google UK, inching out the #2 spot from The Geek Spot's internal search engine. Bravo to that.

Browser: Chrome is still taking the lead with 33% of readers using this browser. Firefox moved up to 29% with Internet Explorer going down a rank to third with 23%. The mobile stats have gone up, which I'm glad to see! We're at 9% now, when were just at 1 last year. Even better, some people are viewing this blog from their PSP! That's damn cool. :D

Country: The U.S. reclaimed the number 1 spot after the Ukraine took the lead in 2014. Coming in second, France. Followed by Germany, the U.K., Russia, and Canada. I'm picking up a lot of European countries. And hello to the 15 page views from New Zealand! You're on the list this year.

Most Viewed Posts: This one is my favorite. The top 5 most viewed posts for 2015. Let's see those 2015 numbers...

Academic Anime - Anime in the Classroom - 16,480 hits. Woah. A post I wrote in 2011 (and also contains the word porn as a potential search term...hah!) got 16k unique hits this year. The power of anime and education.

The Feminist Stance on Bayonetta - 8,465 hits. This is a repeat offender on the list, taking the top spot since I wrote the piece in 2013. 2015 is the year that it got knocked back to number 2. Since it's been featured in not one, but two academic journals, it's still a hot topic on people's minds. (To note: I'm only including the visits from this year. Any past years for older articles are not included in these numbers. Altogether, 'The Feminist Stance on Bayonetta' has gained over 21,675 hits since it was first published.)

Five Nights Picked Up for Film Potential - 7,200 hits. Now this was surprising, given that it was a simple article. Five Nights at Freddy's got a licensing deal with Warner Bros. for a movie. Even with the growing trend of Hollywood getting rights for games, this is one that I agreed with. Five Nights has a lot of potential to make a great scary story because the basics elements are easy to manipulate and build off of. I didn't realize that this would be an article of such great interest.

Can We Stop Hating on the Prequels? - 5,339 hits. This will go hand in hand with number 5 on the list. I wasn't expecting so many people to read this article. It was me, being a fan, getting mad at other fans who felt that people weren't "fanly" enough because their introduction to Star Wars was different from their own. And I totally pulled a SquareEnix pre-order on that wording. Let me simplify it: don't be a dick. Everyone is a fan. While I didn't receive comments on the article, the re-posts through my Facebook Fan Page and Tumblr were staggering. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one with these opinions, rattling them off for the sake of getting them out of my system. And then people surprise me with their agreement. It makes the world not feel like such a big, empty place. That a number of fanboys and fangirls agree with this - it's just the loud minority that stir up all the trouble.

'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Review - 5,276 hits. I've only had this piece up for 2 weeks, and it garnered 5 thousand hits. That still floors me. And I guess people agreed with my thoughts? I don't know. Usually if someone posts a review that people dislike, there are a load of comments. This one, not so much. Maybe I'm not the only one who is still feeling loss on how to react to the latest Star Wars escapade?

That's it for 2015. Here's to 2016 and the crazy gaming stories that will emerge from the depths of the internet.