Monday, October 31, 2016

Gaming Companies Retaliate Against Strike by Complaining on the Internet

We can argue semantics and who's side is "right" or "wrong" regarding the voice actor strike against several gaming developers. But this is a move that only gaming companies would do and it's kind of petty. Activision, EA, and Take-Two are looking to discredit SAG-AFTRA and it's leadership by putting up a website about it. They're complaining on the internet about something they don't like. How ironic. Or maybe it's meta?

The website is already being dismissed by SAG and they have requested for it to be removed as it's using trademarks and logos that make the site look like it's officially from SAG. Even the web address of sagaftravideogames can be very misleading.

The website offers a breakdown of the situation and what the gaming companies were willing to offer to SAG-AFTRA. They also hammered home that this affects less then 25% of voice actors working in the industry.

"A prolonged strike only benefits non-union video game producers and non-union performance interests within the video game industry. It will also discourage the unorganized majority of developers and publishers from working with SAG-AFTRA in the future."

This barb is ideal for the gaming companies (involved in the strike), as a means to get SAG to concede to their terms sooner rather then later. A number of union members may find it difficult to obtain work after this ends if there isn't a quick resolution that is amicable on both sides.

The drama continues!!

By the way, SAG-AFTRA updated their website to include a list of games that the strike affects. Some are products that have already released, while others are DLC or expansion packs to base games, such as The Sims 4.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday! Thank goodness. I don't think I could have continued with this insane week much longer. It also means that we haven't had our Weekly Link Round Up yet. So let's jump in and see the best, and wtf, news covering games.

- According to a team from the University of Nottingham, games teach kids how to smoke and drink. Just like Joe Camel tried to light it up in the 80's, games are the new way for warping children's minds into doing things that are bad for their bodies. I've covered this story almost a year ago with a similar study that focused on a smaller group of kids. This University study is similar, but with a larger pool of subjects - over 1,000. The idea that games lead to this behavior still requires a lot of testing. The amount of time a child plays a game, the lead characters and their habits, and the type of games make a difference. It's also important to point out that on the ESRB and PEGI ratings labels if a game contains alcohol and drug use. It's still the parents fault if they don't pay attention to what their children are playing.

- It's almost Halloween, which means lots of horror games! WhatCulture is attempting to lure you to play their top 10 list of favorite spooky games, but don't fall for it. Left 4 Dead 2 is not scary. Fun, but not scary.

- That video game voice actor strike is still going on. And the AFL-CIO president has called for the gaming industry reps that are the focus of the strike to go back to the table and resume talks. They're standing behind SAG on this one, especially given the 2 years both sides have tried to come to a resolution and failed. Continuing to watch and see how this develops.

- The AP has a funny headline on this one: "Court to detain Russian who played 'Pokemon Go' in church." The reason for the detainment is not because he was playing Pokémon Go. Ruslan Sokolovsky violated terms of his house arrest and it just happened to include going out and sitting in a church, playing Pokémon. He was originally cited with civil unrest and inciting religious hatred. Story content makes a big difference. No you can not be arrested for playing Go in Russia.

-  If you're one of the few people that enjoys the Olympic video games, the trend will continue through 2020 as Sega has nabbed the contract to produce the next installment. I know a lot of people pan these games, but they clearly sell if they're still on the market. /shrugs

- Finally, someone is using GTA5 to produce YouTube videos, turning the game into a children's show. With the crazy adventures from super heroes and dinosaurs, all thanks to the help of mods, GTA has been re-branded for one YouTuber. That's one way to get kids into games.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Worst Video Game Movie Director Leaving the Business!!!

Just off the presses: Uwe Boll, the German filmmaker that has made a lot of crappy video game based movies, is retiring! Time to put on those spandex pants and dance your ass off like it's 1985! Best news of the week.

Boll has been known for decades for producing and directing crappy films. Critics have used him as a benchmark of "bad" movies. He earned the nickname of 'The Raging Boll' for being aggressive against reviewers and has threatened some to join him in a boxing ring. But he's retiring not because of his piss-poor movies. It's because "the market is dead." Speaking to Toronto Metro News about his latest movie 'Rampage: President Down' he doesn't see a profit in the business anymore. He'd like to continue to make films, but the rising costs and low return are not worth the investment. 'Rampage' will be his final film, he says.

"[Y]ou don’t make any money anymore on movies because the DVD and Blu Ray market worldwide has dropped 80 per cent in the last three years. That is the real reason; I just cannot afford to make movies.”

Of course Boll isn't going down without setting himself on fire in a blaze of glory. He believes that with his retirement, people are more likely to watch his movies and see how "real" they are compared to the content coming out of Hollywood. If that spurns his comeback, I'm going to hold every one of you responsible for it. This man does not need to continue to make movies. They suck. He always falls into the same cycles of trouble with pacing, story development, character interest, and sloppy editing.

He's been bankrolling his own films since 2005 and used video games as a means to add capital.

Basically he never cared about the games. He wanted money to use those funds to produce the movies he really wanted to make. At least the man is honest about his reasons, even if he did tarnish the reputation of gaming movies.

But if you do have a soft spot for the Boll, you could always visit his restaurant Bauhaus in Vancouver. BTW, critics do enjoy the food there.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

New "Review" Trend Could Affect How Frequently You Pre-Order Games

So there's a new trend going on recently with game developers that could push you to pre-order more instead of less. Bethesda, Fallout and Dishonored, announced on their website yesterday that they are not sending out games for media reviews until 1 day prior to the product's release. They cite Doom as their test, having sold well and receive great reviews even though people were unsure about the product given how very late the company issued copies out to media. Bethesda plans to continue this for upcoming titles, such as the Skyrim Special Edition.

But Bethesda is not alone. A number of gaming companies, big and small, are doing the same thing. 2K Games for it's fall releases of Mafia III and Civilization VI didn't provide the media with anything until less then 24 hours before the game was on store shelves. EA has been testing it this year with their smaller titles, and so has Ubisoft. Media site Kotaku has been tracking the trend and it could put a new burden on gamers as well as game reviewers.

Though YouTubers and Twitch streamers with huge followings seem to be exempt from this shift. A number of companies are putting their marketing dollars into those outlets over traditional media platforms as more people tune into the Markplier and PewDiePie for their gaming content. YouTuber Grohlvana received a copy of Skyrim's new version a month before launch to make videos and promote the game. The rest of the media was out of the loop until the day before. And it makes sense from the developer/publisher perspective. Why give a game to a media outlet that may pan it when you can give it to a fan who will be thrilled to have it early and will talk it up without any encouragement?

And games being release early to the media will sometimes be at a disadvantage. In a number of cases these days, games offer day one patches and extensive online systems that can't be fairly judged. It doesn't allow the game to get a full, comprehensive play when media outlets try to rush the review before the game's release. This is also why you're seeing more news sits like Polygon and IGN having "pre-reviews" and "provisional reviews" with the intent to add to the content later after the game's release. Does this work for all games? Of course not. It should be a game by game basis, but it's easy to understand why devs/publishers are holding back on releasing games to the media.

Of course there are negatives to attribute to this change as well. Eventually gamers are going to have less resources to count on when it comes to finding information about a game. Review embargoes (where publishers ban media outlets from releasing reviews until a specific date) already make it a little difficult for gamers to determine if a product is worth their money - wherein they either pre-order the game before reviews or wait until after the reviews are released. Because of the pre-order culture around games, more often then not people choose the former option. To have a ban on sending early copies to media outlets now puts the customer in a more precarious position. Do they pre-order? Do they wait? Do they spend extra money to get into betas (See Battlefield 1) so they can test the game before buying it?

It also means that more media outlets are now going to bum rush reviews to get them out on release dates. Overlooked game content, limited multiplayer access, and brief game sessions are going to curtail good, responsible reviewers. All in the sake of having that "day 1" upload to the media site they work for. And maybe that's good for the developer? It means that reviewers are going to gloss over mistakes and create generic reviews that may spur more sales. But it's also a downfall for reviewers that care about the quality of their work. They will not have the time to sit and reflect on a game in order to meet deadlines. Three weeks to review a product compared to three hours is a big difference. Big. Mega. Huge, in fact.

In an age where reviewers and more gamers are working against the pre-order culture, game companies are fighting back with more provisions to entice people to still pre-order. It's going to be a rough few years ahead of us.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How the AT&T/Time Warner Deal Affects Gamers

This blog isn't always just about video games. We have to take some time to talk about other media news that can potentially affect our gaming habits. Such as the AT&T/Time Warner deal that will put AT&T as the largest media company on the planet - arguably. And it's a big deal.

Over the weekend, AT&T threw down an offer to buy up Time Warner at $85.4 billion. First distinction we should make here is that this isn't for Time Warner Cable. That sector spun off a few years back to prevent Time Warner from becoming a monopoly. This would be for Time Warner's creative assets. That means Warner Brother's studios, WB Interactive (which produces video games such as DC Universe, The Lord of the Rings series, and The Witcher), HBO, CNN - all of the content channels would be under the AT&T umbrella. AT&T would be both a content producer and a distributor through their mobile and land-line platforms.

That's a big, freekin' deal.

It could potentially make some of that content exclusive to just AT&T. HBO's more lax system at accessing it's shows, even if you don't have cable, could go away. No more HBO Go and you may have to have AT&T cable or mobile to watch Game of Thrones. Lord help us if AT&T decides to release their own game system. Any future Witcher or Lord of the Rings games would be locked in to their console, and their console alone. This can become a huge problem for competition. If Comcast wants the rights to air HBO shows, they may have to pay additional fees to AT&T above the normal premium. Comcast can then pass the increased price to their customers, or forgo HBO all-together.

As gamers, they could limit our access to their library by requiring data plans for WB mobile games. Or if the turn-around profit they expect to receive isn't as fast as they would like, could shut down WB Interactive entirely.

On the other hand, if AT&T doesn't turn into a total dick about it, they could open up more communication channels for people to access content and not limit availability.

But before all this happens, the deal has to be approved by regulators. Anti-trust experts believe that as long as AT&T follows a similar structure as Comcast did when they acquired NBCUniversal in 2011, everything should go through without much trouble. AT&T would have to agree to several conditions and ensure their deal doesn't harm their competition.

It may not mean anything now, but it's something we should all be aware of as media consumers. Whether it's film, television, gaming, or the internet, if AT&T's deal is accepted, we could be changing our media habits to fit with their vision.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Game Voice Actors Want Better Transparency

As contract negotiations continue between SAG-AFTRA and a multitude of gaming companies, more stories are cropping up from voice actors regarding the working conditions. Did you know that some voice actors are not told what they are working on? That's the claim by Keythe Farley, who has been in the voice acting business since the 1990's on Nickelodeon. Gamers, you may know him as Thane from the Mass Effect series and the voice director for all of the God of War games. He's also the voice of the big-bad Kellogg from Fallout 4. Given his years in the industry and the top companies he's worked for, he's got a solid reputation to back up his claim.

How does a developer benefit by leaving a voice actor in the dark? Money and ensuring game content isn't leaked to the public. The former is more true then the latter. You would think that voice actors, talking for a living, would be more apt to gab about their project, but they're not. If you sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) you'd be surprised how little people are willing to talk, less they be sued. People can keep a secret if their livelihood is on the line.

What do developers gain by keeping voice actors out of the loop on the project? The actor's agents can negotiate for better pay if they know the game is a sequel to a successful title. If it's a new IP from a known publisher, there is still a chance at higher pay if you are a well known actor, but it's going to be lower then working on the sequel to Call of Duty. CoD is guaranteed sales where as a new IP is not. Actors may take the lower pay for a new IP, knowing that it's a job and the developer may not see a return. But if it's CoD, they are going to ask for more money. The developer can afford the paychecks.

It also works against the actor not knowing the subject matter as it could impede their performance. They have to go off the words of the voice director and make assumptions about the action around them. Some voice actors don't get the luxury of digging into the full script and really connecting to their character. They have to hope for the best and that they gave the director what was needed.

It's more drama to add to the pile that is this strike.

Friday, October 21, 2016

AFTRA is on Strike for Voice Actors

So that voice actors strike that seemed like it would happen last year, quieted down, and then sped up this week has finally come to fruition. As of 12:01AM this morning, Pacific time, SAG-AFTRA has gone on strike against prominent video game companies. The deal proposed yesterday by the legal team for the gaming companies was not accepted by the group.

"On Thursday, the union refused to accept the other side’s proposal, describing the current compensation structure as a 'freeloader model.' "

The compensation was to increase pay by 9% immediately, versus 3% every year for 3 years, and an additional $950 for voice actors that needed to return for additional sessions outside of their contract. They also promised to look into safety concerns for motion capture, but didn't promise anything beyond that. Needless to say, the guild didn't appreciate the lack of care.

In all fairness, the way voice actors and motion capture actors are treated is very much a freeloader system. They are paid minimal for their work and reap none of the benefits if a game is successful. SAG-AFTRA is looking to not only improve working conditions, but ensure their actors are properly paid for the work they do, during and after the game's release. Voice actors are the one weird area where some get residuals and others do not. If you lend your voice to a movie, television show, or a video game, more often then not you don't see any more money after your recording sessions. Which is backwards when you think about it. A number of actors that you see on the screen will see residuals for decades after their show has finished production. Voice actors? Nada. Advertising is the one safety net for voice actors. It's all about the residuals there.

The TLDR version of it all is that voice actors have an outdated contract that needs to be modernized to fit with today's expectations that allow them to work in a safe environment and stay healthy.

Gaming companies claim that they can't maintain the same standards as Hollywood's contract with SAG. They need some more flexibility due to the development time it takes to create a game. The residuals that actors would receive could impact the team and the company.

It's a tricky situation to maneuver through right now. My personal opinion is that yes, actors should be properly compensated for their time. And they should be allowed to take vocal rests since they do a lot more strenuous work that could damage their voice over time. There needs to be a better standard for actors without harming the studio. When that deal will be reached? Only time will tell.

For those concerned about their games, this is only affecting products that were in production after February of 2015 and to the actors employed who are affiliated with SAG-AFTRA. The last deal ended in late 2014, and actors have been working under the defunct contract since then. Currently only 25% of the voice acting community is a member of SAG.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nintendo Project NX Now "Switch"

Nintendo has announced the name of it's new portable console and showcased a little bit of what we can expect in the near future from the company. It has also, once again, proved that in the new millennium, Nintendo still sucks at naming things.

"Switch"? Really? That's the best you can do? After Wii and Wii-U you all need to consider hiring a product consultant.

The company is sticking to it's guns on making gaming for everyone, family and friends, while being easily accessible. Taking their success and lessons from the Wii-U and 3DS, they have packaged this to be an all-inclusive system that can plug, play, and go wherever you need it to. And with an actual controller that us console gamers like with all of the buttons. Not that weird pad, thing. As you can see in the image, there is a tablet involved that can be removed from the system, and comes with additional controllers so you can play it however you like. Like the Wii-Mote, the controllers can be adjusted to fit both hands, or you can one-hand it.

You can watch the video of the preview direct from their YouTube channel.

Weekly Link Round Up

What a busy week so far, and lots of random gaming tidbits on the net. So let's have the Weekly Link Round Up to sort out this mess:

- If you're an online gamer, MMO or otherwise, several games are hosting Halloween events for rare collectables or in-game items. A lot of people have freaked out over Overwatch and their smattering of costumes, but don't forget about League of Legends (teased in the article and not listed in the details, wtf?) and Final Fantasy XIV.

- Other then having a horrible article title, (The scariest game of 2016 won't come out until 2017? Well that means it's not the scariest game of 2016) this Inverse article is a friendly reminder that everyone should play the Outlast 2 demo. I won't spoil the details, but it's a good mixture of the scares that you see in the first game along with new fantasy, trippy alternate-realm moments that will freak you out. This is on par with Resident Evil 7 demo good.

- The legal team for the gaming companies in the SAG-AFTRA/voice actors affair, have offered a deal of a 9% pay increase to start as soon as the new contract is ratified. This is more then the 3% every year for 3 years that SAG-AFTRA had asked for, since it would start now rather then accrue over time. Both parties still need to hash out details over the working conditions and providing basic needs, such as stunt coordinators during motion capture sessions, but if they agree, the strike will not happen and the new contract can go into effect as early as December 1st.

- If you don't mind the tiny font, there is a nice comprehensive history of computer games on the Escapist, dating way back to the 1940's. Because yes; computers and games are that old.

- WhatCulture has cobbled together a list of the greatest multiplayer games of the decade. Of course the obvious ones will be on there, such as Call of Duty: Black Ops. But The Last of Us? Whatever drug is being passed around that office needs to be stopped, because TLoU is not a good multiplayer game. It's a hodge-podge of CoD being paraded around as a zombie shooter. It's awful. You get TLoU for the single-player story. Their list editors need to start paying attention to what's being posted.

- Here's your friendly reminder that Change.org petitions are all pomp and no circumstances. Within hours of the announcement of Red Dead Redemption 2 by Rockstar Games (I said I wasn't going to talk about it until they confirmed a name), someone had already posted a petition to get the game onto PC. Red Dead Redemption was console only and some PC users felt slighted by it. Change.org petitions don't do squat. They're a place where people can make their concerns known about a topic, but if no one takes any action, they are moot. And more often then not, it's lip-service to the petition maker as confirmation that other people agree with their views.

Change.org does not send the signatures to anyone. There are no letters mailed out. It's a website that holds almost no value. EA Games did not change the Sim City always-online requirement because of the petition. Millions of their fan base inundated them with the request daily through their forums and customer service center, that it took well over a year for them to drop the "feature." Even then, if you ask anyone today most will see the new Sim City and think that you have to be online to play. Ultimately it's up to the developers and publishers on what to do with a game. If you want to enact change, make your concerns heard directly to them, not a random petition website. And DON'T BUY THE GAME. Seriously dudes (and dudettes). Your wallet is a powerful tool.

- Sci-Fi Addicts has an amusing article about EA Games and why the company loves to ruin our favorite sci-fi games. Funny. Other then the fact that it's a gaming fan ranting about a large company focused on profits, let's bring some reality into that writer's concerns: In all genuine honesty, I don't think anyone at EA is sitting at a big board room table and going "Hey! Let's make Star Wars: Battlefront and take out all the things fans like, but promote it like they are all in there." The choices they make as a team are what they feel is in the best interest for the product. The developers wanted to change up the style and create an online experience that would emphasize the evolution of gamers today. Yes, the end-goal is profit, but the people that work on those teams want the game to be good. They don't like to hear the negative feedback and putdowns. That can cost them their job. While I may not be the holy bastion of EA, at least give the team some credit. They are trying to do what they think is best.

- And finally, what week would not be complete without a listing of the 10 worse superhero games? Enjoy the fruits of gaming greatness with some of the best failures.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Candy Crush - The TV Game Show?

In a world where we can have an Angry Birds movie, it only seems fitting that we have a Candy Crush television show. Right? Confirmed earlier this week. Lionsgate TV and the game developer King Ltd. are producing a game show centered around Candy Crush. The game that's kind of like Bejeweled (one of the founding "match" video games) but with candy. According to the press release, the game will pit "teams of two people us[ing] their wits and physical agility to compete on enormous, interactive game boards featuring next generation technology to conquer Candy Crush and be crowned the champion."

Matt Kunitz, the producer behind Wipeout, will head the project. The history of puzzle/trivia games turned TV shows is pretty limited. In 2001 ABC aired 6 episodes of You Don't Know Jack, with Paul Reubens hosting. It was entertaining, but it missed out on some of the charm of the video game. So this is uncharted territority for Lionsgate and the production team. Just how does one make Candy Crush into a game show? It would have to be more then two people playing the game side by side, trying to score the most points. And the "physical" aspect is equal as confusing. Are people going to go through life-sized versions of Candy Crush levels? We'll have to wait and see what insanity comes together for this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Top YouTuber Going to UK Court for Gambling

If there is one thing to take away from this blog post today it should be this. Just because you want to gamble on video games doesn't always make it okay.

Two men are currently on trial in the UK for allegedly promoting an unlawful lottery and gambling ring and operating a website that allowed people to place bets on FIFA 17 games with real currency. Craig Douglas, known as Nepenthez on YouTube with over a million subscribers, and Dylan Rigby are accused of these actions under the country's Gambling Act. It's a messy situation since other websites allow for gambling on video games with in-game currency and items and those are okay (though this may change as in-game items transfer into real money). Douglas and Rigby were doing a lottery and gambling, and have been accused of allowing children under the age of 18 to participate. FIFA gambling is different in-of itself, as the BBC reports. People can use third party websites to take their FIFA coins, the in-game currency, transfer it to the websites to bet, and receive any wins back to their account. The coins can then be sold to other websites for a monetary value. It's like World of Warcraft gold farming, but with a sports game. Except! gambling is involved.

Both men have pleaded not guilty and the trial is set to take place in early February. This is the first time a video game gambling case is being taken up by the UK and the results could set a precedence across Europe. It's estimated that the gaming gambling market is worth over 4 billion pounds. Until then, the in-game content for FIFA will continue on. EA isn't at fault on this one, for once. People are exploiting the system for additional gains.

Monday, October 17, 2016

SAG - Interactive Voice Actors Still Plan to Strike

I know a load of gaming sites today are speculating on RockStar Game's teaser trailer drop and the change of their Twitter logo to red and black - indicating another Red Dead game? Here's the thing: RockStar sucks at telling us what we want to know. When they are good and ready, they will tell us the name of the product and if we're really lucky, we might be given a sentence of the story! Until then, I ignore any and all speculation. It's too much of a gamble to believe in another media's words should RockStar drop the news about a new title and premise entirely.

So no. Today's post will have nothing to do with Rockstar.

Instead, let's cover a story I posted two weeks ago that has managed to be revived seemingly out of nowhere today. SAG-AFTRA hasn't found a resolution with game developers at all, and plans to strike on October 21st if there are no agreements between the parties involved. The voice actor strike from last year is still alive, and could affect games that have been in production after February 17, 2015. Announced yesterday, the voice actors would strike against WB Interactive, Activision, EA, Take 2, Disney, and several others for better working conditions and pay. Voice actors, in general, get kind of a screw job on compensation. Unless you happen to land a national campaign with an advertising firm ("Got Milk?"), pay for a voice actor is typically on an hourly basis and generally less then what most theater performers make.

You could argue that because they are not on a stage performing in front of a live audience, they don't have to make more. But voice actors are performing. They have to in order to get the sounds of the animated characters to come to life. It's sometimes more difficult to act in a booth instead of in front of another person, as you have to imagine and react to the lines as if another person is there. Video games and anime actors can attest to the vocal conditions being more rigorous then traditional film. Yelling, shouting, gurgly death noises are part of the task - repetitive use of the vocal cords to obtain these sounds can cause damage over time.

The current state of voice acting contracts is limited. It shouldn't be a surprise that many game developers take advantage of it and overwork actors. Not to mention if the game sells well, the actors never see a cut of the profit. They are only paid for their time in the booth. Contract standards have not kept up with the times and do need to be reviewed.

Barnes & Thornburg LLP representing the gaming industry in this situation wrote a response late last night stating that the SAG's actions are presumptuous and will only hurt their members. The gaming industry currently employs roughly 25% of those in the union. They believe that the SAG's information is out of date regarding working conditions, and their contract negotiations have been asking for unreasonable requests. There are plans for both parties to meet throughout the week to avoid a strike. The legal team for the gaming industry is assuring gamers that most content will still be in production and released. The strike won't affect as many games as you might think, as a number of voice actors signed their contracts with a "no strike" clause that would override SAG's actions.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Extra Life Streaming Tomorrow!! (Oct 15)

Guess what today is? More Extra Life pimping.

My team, Dynamic Action Squad Team (DAS Team!) will be starting our streaming session tomorrow, October 15! We'll have a game day on November 5th, which is Extra Life day, but we want to spread out the streaming love and showcase our zany antics over the next few weekends. Our team goal was $500, and we're hoping to hit $1,000 again this year, like last time. My goal is $200, and I'm almost at the halfway point and could use your help!

Here's the deal with charities, in general. Yes there are larger groups that will be able to donate, but the bulk of the money doesn't come from them but from the smaller teams and single players that can drum up $1,000. Those little donations add up fast and help contribute to the 8 million raised in 2015. That's amazing. Our team was geared towards Seattle's Children where no large streamer names were attached to, and we raised over $300k for them. That's the power of the smaller groups.

So if you're thinking about donating, consider the little guys. Or if you've got a dollar to spare, donate to DAS Team! Every single dollar helps, and we don't keep a penny of it. It all goes direct to the Children's Miracle Network.

Catch out my stream tomorrow on Twitch with a box opening and subsequent game session of Dragon Quest: Builders. Played the demo at PAX West before it was released on PSN and I knew I wanted it. This is my first non-MMO pre-order in years. Hopefully it won't disappoint! I'll be updating the Extra Life page today for group goals and donation incentives. Want me to go on a Slime killing rampage in Dragon Quest? Find out tomorrow!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Things Devs Learn from Gaming Expos

 Showcasing a game, whether it's video or tabletop, is an overwhelming experience. Designing and creating a booth that highlights the fun of your product. Promoting it before, during, and after the event. And interacting with gamers, journalists, and other developers. It's an experience that can be exhausting as well as enlightening. Vice interviewed several developers at Birmingham's EGX in September to gain a better perspective on what's in this for gaming studios - other then marketing their games.

Having attended dozens of gaming expos and events over the years, the most common thing I hear from staff is that the large scale crowds give them a chance to see how well their games play. Are people able to pick up the controls without needing to read the menus for 10 minutes? Can people complete level objectives without an insane amount of difficulty? Are there any bugs or glitches that would inhibit the gamers? Or do they find new glitches entirely that they QA team didn't run into?

I remember when Capcom brought Street Fighter V to the floor at PAX and used linked systems for people to play together. And it failed. Badly. Techs were at the stations constantly trying to get the connections to work. You'd think that would have been a good sign that they should have been better prepared for the servers at launch. But that's the beauty of gaming expos. Better to have the game crash on the show floor then to bust at launch. It also gives developers a chance to see how gamers play, and if they should make changes. Overcooked, a quirky team-puzzle game by Phil Duncan and
Ghost Town Games, presented them with a challenge of changing the games rules. At their first showing of the game, there was an odd glitch that allowed a person to trash the fire extinguisher which is the only means of stopping a kitchen from burning down. Duncan considered leaving that in, and letting the gamers learn from their mistake.

Or you have games like InnerSpace that look almost complete. Picture-perfect and nearly ready. And then you have a gamer like me come in, ignore all of the stage objectives, and try to break things. Not intentionally, of course! I was so enraptured by how lovely the control mechanics were and the ease of flying around, I was more interested in cruising. In the process, I found some new bugs, crashed into things that shouldn't have been possible, and asked where I live because they could use me on their QA team.

But I think the most valuable thing developers see at gaming expos is the initial impressions of gamers before they touch a controller. Visuals, music, art-style, dialogue - all of these capture our attention first and foremost. Getting that reaction helps steer developers into the right direction for future content.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Freddy's Real Life Haunted House!

If you're looking for Halloween thrills this gaming season outside of your home, and you happen to be in, or are visiting Las Vegas, Nevada, look no further then the Fright Dome at the hotel Circus Circus. This year's newest attraction is Five Nights at Freddy's. Running now through October 31st, the set-up is in the style of the first game. The owner of Fright Dome, Jason Egan, teamed up with game creator Scott Cawthon to design this new feature.

For it's 14th year on the Vegas strip, Fright Dome is looking to attract a younger audience. Nothing says "Happy Halloween" like being stalked by animatronic bears. You can view a portion of the attraction yourself, but it looks very much like Freddy's as you see it in the game. Sadly, this isn't a full recreation of the game. You don't get to relive the Five Nights experience by acting as the security guard and stopping baddies from jumping you in the booth. Instead, you are exploring the pizza parlor with a security guard on a guided tour. It's a room-by-room situation like every haunted house. But hey, if you're want something different in your scares this year, why not give it a chance?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

Happy Tuesday! It's an early edition of the Weekly Link Round Up for two reasons: 1, lots of funny lists have cropped up overnight that I have to share them. And 2, all of my attention is focused on Dragon Quest Builders. The joys of having a gamer mindset. So, let's get started!

- Gamers are poised to be the next generation of leaders, according to an article in the Huffington Post. Admittedly, this reads like a sponsored post. It's written by the Anthony Hughes, the founder of a company called Tech Elevator. And at the end of the article there's a link to his company's website to take an aptitude test for coding skills. But there isn't a warning that it's sponsored content so...question? I'm not sure, but! there is good content in the piece that's worth a look. The mindset of a gamer has evolved over the years. As games have become more challenging, visually and technically, we spend more time analyzing them. A number of today's top tech executives started out playing games and learning how to code them. It shouldn't be a surprise that we'll move forward in the board room soon enough.

- Business Insider has created a list of 12 of the best PlayStation 2 video games. Because they could. It's not an anniversary. While most of the gaming critics would probably agree with the list, God of War II was much better then the first, I'm sure there will be gamers that cry foul. 

- GamingBolt has the 15 greatest button-mashing gaming moments. Ever. Some of them involve Metal Gear Solid, which I will admit should be on the list a few times. But then they throw in "every fighting game where you don't know the combos" and all list credibility goes out the window. Also, Doom? Really? That's the best you can come up with? This is a list fail.

- BoingBoing would like to remind you that video game eyes are creepy. That is all.

- WhatCulture looks at 10 horrible levels that haunt good video games. Levels that are so bad, they make you wonder what the designers were thinking. They list the dream sequence in Max Payne, which I think is a good level concept, and riding on the train tacks in GTA: San Andreas. Okay that quest was a mess of bad gaming physics. 

- I haven't seen the new HBO show 'Westworld' but I'm already sick of hearing and reading about it with the gaming comparisons. But for those interested, here's a list on Gamerant for 7 gaming theme parks that are more dangerous then the HBO show. Whispering Oaks Amusement Park (Left 4 Dead 2) wins as far as I'm concerned. That pace is a mess to work through.

- Interested in knowing which games are popular for streamers in each country? YouTube has you covered with a comprehensive listing of games by region that have the most streamed/viewed content. This does exclude Minecraft and Grand Theft Auto V which transcend all cultural barriers. I'm a bit disappointed in the US. Madden NFL? Really? That's the best we could do? Lame.

- Finally iTech Post gives a list of 3 reasons why non-gamers will become gamers after playing The Last of Us. Yes, it's a great game. But it is not one for the faint of heart, and definitely not one that non-gamers should play without some experience. The Last of Us does not baby-step their controls, action, or game play. It's action-horror that can be quite in-depth and if you don't have experience playing those types of games, the quality of the story will not matter. I've seen puzzle and RPG players give up on it for it's difficulty. Great game, but not meant for everyone. Go read the wiki page on it instead.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Allure of Five Nights at Freddy's

The next installment of the franchise, Sister Location, is out now and you can enjoy it on Steam with a 15% discount until October 14th. In a classic Scott Cawthon (the designer behind Five Nights) switch-aroo, the game was reported to be delayed on the 6th. On the 7th, it was released. He's been known to release his games at odd times and without pomp and circumstance to get genuine reactions from gamers. Sister Location is a spin-off of the series and it's Cawthorn's most ambitious project yet. From the opening scenes you can tell that he spent a lot of time developing this game. It looks much more polished then the previous games.

The gamers of the net went bonkers over the release. YouTube videos of live games and walkthroughs were published within hours. People have been pouring over the audio files to figure out the backstory to Sister Location and how it relates to the rest of the Five Nights universe - even so far as to where it is physically settled in the game world.

Five Nights is a thing. Whether you are on board or not, get use to it. It was optioned as a film in 2015, and could easily be a box office winner with it's uniquely unassuming format. What makes it so enjoyable?

It's hard to pinpoint any one feature that makes Five Nights stand out. The jump scares are not original, but they are dynamic. You don't expect them; they tend to occur at the least likely times thus providing more impact. Because of this, gamers spend time worrying about the jump scares that never happen. And there are fake jump scares as well, making you think you have lost the game, only to have you continue on and confront the fear.

The story is fairly straight forward: you play as a night guard watching over the possessed pizza entertainment center, and you have to stop the animatronic baddies before they get you. It's not complicated. But it does make the game feel more real that the game can easily set his/herself in the guard's position.

The graphics are on-par for indie games. Not pixilated. Not really stylized. It'd a dummed down version of BioShock. And frankly, that's what makes it so intriguing. You get the idea of realism while knowing it's a game. Heightens the senses and the scares.

The puzzles are a mixture of challenging and obnoxious. Often times you think you have solved a problem, and it ends up with a "game over" screen. There are multiple endings, different paths for monsters to take, all based on your choices - it keeps the game high up on the replay factor.

It's funny to watch other people play it. Five Nights was made for the YouTube generation. It made Markiplier a house-hold name among gamers. Watching people freak out over the scares, while they panic about shutting down air vents to trap monsters, it's fun. The game delivers on our need for entertainment in short bursts (the games can be completed in a few hours).

Whatever the reason may be, Five Nights is here to stay. I did have a chance to play Sister Location for a little bit, and it is a different game. Much more intense in the fear factor. This round, there is a guide that helps you with the game mechanics for the first few nights. The graphics are polished and it looks like a creepier game from the get-go. The audio is crisp and has some fantastic voice acting. And the puzzles are just as challenging as one would expect. Even if you haven't played Five Nights, I'd recommend giving this one a shot to see what the chatter is all about. Or at least surf to YouTube and watch one of the many videos of the gameplay.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up Part 2!

Congratulations readers! You get a double dose of gaming news today! Let's see what's on the market:

- Gears of War has been announced as the next movie in the line of games turned film franchises that Hollywood hopes to make big. I thin I unintentionally predicted it. Big budget action film with aliens. There you go. Done.

- For all you 30-somethings who are not quite on board with the Power Rangers movie reboot, fear not. Bandai is releasing a new game for the PS4 and XBox One early next year. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: Mega Battle will focus on the original team of rangers and the first 2 seasons of the series, in this side-scrolling action-adventure title. It's similar in style to the original Sega game, but different plot line. My body is ready!

- There's a lot of things we can learn from the history of No Man's Sky. It's also a lesson about not giving in to the "hype" as The Boston Globe points out. I'd also like to add that it's further proof that pre-orders are madness to the industry. Just saying. The whole situation with No Man's Sky is a mess. That's the bottom line. But maybe this will be a turning point for a few gamers to realize that they don't need to pre-order every game based on hype. Let reviewers have a chance to do their job and make your decisions from there.

- If you live near Ball State University, an adult, and would like to game, there's a new club on the campus called Rated M. Their goal is to expand the world of gaming to all and discuss them in an academic setting. Recently started with an all-Zombie mashup to honor October, it sounds like the type of gaming meet-ups I would like to see more often. It's not just playing the games, but talking about them in a manner that befits them.

- The Death of the Gamer. If you're looking for some academic content online, this is probably your best bet today. The Forbes piece focuses on Ian Bogost's book 'How to do Things with Videogames.' As I've mentioned in this blog before, Bogost is tough to read through. Get the thesaurus handy. But the article does pose a good question that we should address: to become gamers of the new era do we need to end the term 'gamer'?

- Finally, the best news all week: Ubisoft has finally confirmed that Beyond Good and Evil 2 is in production! The quirky 2003 game has been a die-hard fan favorite for years, and the re-release in 2011 brought in a wide audience clamoring for more. Michel Ancel, one of the designers behind Rayman, will be leading the project. Details are very limited other then a release art-piece, but at this point that's okay! It's a confirmed game! Yea!

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

It's October! Woo! Though it's still 90 degrees outside in Texas, the smell of Fall is in the air. And of course Halloween. My favorite time of the year! Let's celebrate early with a Weekly Link Round Up.

- Epic Stream has created a list of 8 video game urban legends that will probably (not) scare you, but they are interesting to read. I didn't know about Herobrine, the Minecraft ghost that is said to be the embodiment of Notch's brother. Turned out to be untrue, but a nifty note none-the-less.

- No Man's Sky biggest subreddit was unexpectedly shut down yesterday, and 150,000 users complained vehemently to have the board up and running again by the evening. The reason for the closure? The moderator was getting tired of the vitriol and the lack of thoughtful discussion about the game. Surprising to see so many people are still into the Reddit threads when so few are playing the game these days.

- New-comer company Playfusion is attempting to make a mark on the play-figure community (think Skylanders and the now-defunct Disney: Infinity) with a Kickstarter for the game Lightseekers. The game boasts a connective element between video games, table-top, card-games, mobile, AR, comics, and figurines. And the game will be completely free! Just the game though. The rest of that stuff will require money. It's a hearty step-forward for the type of gameplay, but wow. That's a lot to absorb. This could either win or flop, depending on how the company rolls out the content.

- Speaking of rolling out, Pokémon Go is still a thing. While the user base is down from it's initial release, Niantic is moving forward with updates, with trading and battling other players on the way (so it's actually more like a Pokémon game and not a shell of one). The company still makes $2 million a day on Go. Niantic recently announced that it will be easier to catch rare monsters based on the medals you've been awarded. So if you have caught a lot of fire-type monsters in the past, you have a better chance of obtaining a Charmander when it appears. While they didn't mention if more Pokémon will appear in the game, it does add some meat to the arbitrary, delayed, catching system.

- WhatCulture is back with 8 TV show suggestions that should be made into video games. I'm not posting thins because the list is good. It's pretty bad. They list 'Archer,' 'Black Sails,' and 'The Wire' as options. All good shows. And all would make for terrible video games. Who the hell would play 'The Wire' as a video game? The concept of that show does not work at all with gaming immersion. Go home WhatCulture. You're drunk again.

- The website Unseen64 has compiled a list of over 200 video games that you will never play in a book, available now. The book covers games that never made it past the concept phase, to those that were cancelled near completion, and gives you a look inside the crazy world of development. I remember seeing art for Animal Wars. It was meant to be World War: I with animals, created by the team behind Rogue Squadron. I may have to get this book and lament on all of the games we will never see.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Semi-Voice Acting Strike Resolution...Sort-Of

Remember that voice actor strike that was suppose to happen last year to improve working conditions and pay? It didn't fizzle out. But it didn't boost as much acclaim as they were hoping for. While most actors didn't strike, SAG-AFTRA was working to draw up a new contract for voice actors to help ease some of their vocal troubles. This new contract has been approved by SAG, but it's up to the game developers on whether or not they accept it, which will be a studio by studio basis. Developers are not required to accept the contract, and actors can work under the developer's own terms.

Basically, it's a fancy piece of paper with rules that are not required to be followed. Good job SAG!

Oh, and this only applies to smaller, independent gaming studios. There's that caveat too.

The new "low budget" gaming agreement will allow studios to hire actors affiliated with SAG without it hitting them in the wallet. It also allows actors to set limits on their vocal abilities. Difficult vocal sessions, such as screaming or yelling, will be reduced to 2 hours and actors will be paid double for such work. If the game sells more then 500,000 units, actors will be expected to receive residuals above their normal pay rate.

Again, this is all dependent upon the developer. If they opt to not follow this new contract, they can make that choice. There are no penalties for working voice actors beyond their ability, and no residuals required.

For those thinking this isn't going to cut it, SAG does have a plan B and intends to petition with OSHA to make vocal stress a workplace safety issue. In which case, people would have to be compensated for extended use of their vocal cords. That includes all of you who work customer service phone jobs. I'm all for this plan! I could use some back pay from GameStop for the years of talking on the phone while sick and destroying my voice.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

NCAA Ruling Updated - Right to Publicity Debate Continues

The NCAA case is still rolling, now with the 9th court circuit of appeals overturning portions of the last ruling - thus leaving college-based sports video games in perpetual limbo. In the initial judgement, EA and the NCAA were required to pay out athletes in the case for using their likeness and marketing video games without properly compensating them. The max to be paid out to each person was $5,000, and up to $15,000 for the main plaintiffs in the case. The result ended with NCAA breaking their contract with EA and no more college-based video games have been produced since. In the appeals case that followed, the court ruled that the initial judgment of antitrust must stand, but removed the penalty from the NCAA. EA Games settled outside of court so they could be removed from the cast. The NCAA no longer has to pay, and will probably try to collect from the people they have paid out already.

It's an ongoing battle to determine right of likeness in media. By using a figure that looks like you, are you entitled to compensation? The right to publicity or character likeness is the talk déjour. Historical figures are typically considered exempt if they do something that changes the world beyond their collective group of family and friends. U.S. Presidents, dictators, Julius Caesar: living or dead these people would qualify in that exemption so long as the content being produced by the media is in line to historical accuracy. If President Obama is in a movie about Seal Team 7 and they are recreating the events as they happen, he wouldn't be entitled to compensation. But if he ends up on the moon and becomes the key figure to stopping an alien invasion, then Hollywood better pony up some money to use his image.

For the rest of the world, our image is our livelihood. People respond to us based on our appearance, our actions, and our verbal cues. If a game company were to take that image of ourselves and place it into a game, that is a violation of our rights to compensation. I'm not saying that we should go through every game and try to point out the billions of NPC's that may or may not look like us. With 6 billion people in the world, there's going to be an NPC or two that will share a digital image of us. But in something like NCAA games where EA was clearly using the players height, weight, skin tones, hairstyle, and jersey numbers, it's obvious that they were trying to showcase real people without having to pay for them. That's the difference.

We'll see where this case turns next. Until then, don't expect NCAA or college games to return anytime soon.

Monday, October 03, 2016

How Big is Too Big?

Video games are becoming grander, more technically challenging, and expensive. Not necessarily bolder for the Triple A crowd. Like Hollywood, the big developers only want to bet on products that will net them a profit. Which means sequels and reboots. Tried and true games that sold well in the past that can guarantee sales for future titles from the same franchise.

But can a game be too big that it prevents a project from succeeding? Spend your evening with Motherboard, as their editor Emanuel Maiburg went to the studios developing Gears of War 4 looked into the struggles the 300+ team and managers have with ensuring a successful game.

Gears 4 is being helmed by The Coalition. The original director Cliff Bleszinski is out of the picture. No more an Epic Games title. And they were okay with handing the reigns off to someone else. As mentioned in the multi-article feature, the game was just too big. They knew it needed more hands and more money. It may seem fun to create such a big title, but the people involve work just as hard as any independent developer.

This is a fantastic series of articles and I highly recommend them for your daily read. It gives a human element to the Triple A devs that we rarely see.