Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Case Against Remakes, Reboots, and Reimaginings

Yesterday, we talked about The Case For Remakes, Reboots, and Reimaginings. Today, it's the opposite. We're going to dive in why remakes are bad. Not just for film, but for any and all art mediums. I will try my best to stay objective...but I make no promises that I will. I am strongly against remakes and feel they take away new, creative content in favor of "what works." As such, we're seeing less of an impact on today's films, television, and video games - rehashing the same formula to produce the same thing over and over again while holding back the medium.

Settle in, folks. This is going to be a long one.

I should start off by saying that this current trend is all Disney's fault. Okay not just Disney. Tim Burton had a heavy hand in it too when he decided to 'reimagine' 'Planet of the Apes.' To his credit, the look of the remake is much improved from the original. If you remove all of the dialogue, it'd make for a unique silent film. Unfortunately the story does not live up to the visuals. It's bland, lifeless, and downright illogical.

The movie sold audiences well enough to make $362 million dollars over a $100 million budget. And with that, reboots were anew once more! It didn't matter that most critics disliked the film, or that a number of people will rate is as one of the worst in the 'Planet of the Apes' saga. Burton had a hit and studios followed suit to buy up and respin the rights to other classic movies. Such as King Kong and Total Recall. Movies that already had a legacy in their own right, were now being bundled up and packaged for the new century of movie-goers.

The legacy of reboots is not a new phenomenon. Did you know there are 3 versions of Ben-Hur? The original was released in 1925. The one most people will remember is from 1959, adopted from the novel of the hero and the first movie. And then there was the horrible 2016 remake of the 1959 version; with effects so bad that Video Brinquedo's work seems Oscar-worthy by comparison. So yeah, reboots are not a new thing. But it is more prevalent now then ever before. It's incredibly difficult to find original content in movies, television, or theaters these days. A quick Wikipeadia, IMDB, or movie poster check and you'll find so many are adaptations, remakes, or reboots of content that already exists.

The problem with utilizing something that already exists is that it limits ones ability to be creative. You're confining yourself to this one world/universe and must write within it. You have to keep the same quality of the original characters, locations, and motives. Say you want to reboot Dumbo, which is totally happening by the way, and you decide that the new twist is that the elephant is going to turn into a human boy! Well, you can't do that. Because that's going to rile up audiences and you destroy the message of the original story. You have to reign in your creative needs to ensure the content you create for Dumbo fits in that universe.

It's difficult to find a balance between creativity and maintaining the integrity of a pre-existing story. The few that have managed to do this are well versed in the art.

But most fail.

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Alice in Wonderland (pick a reboot). SimCity (2013). Final Fight: Steetwise,The Bionic Woman. Knight Rider (which is getting a second reboot). I could keep going.

For every Tomb Raider, we get a dozen Footloose reboots.

This is part of my biggest arguments against reboots: creativity. You can lose a lot of it when you are tied down to one story. This is why we have a near shot-for-shot remake of Disney's live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. Or a literal shot-for-shot remake of Psycho from 1998. While Maleficent wasn't a great movie, passable at best, at least it was a remake that attempted to be different and provide a new perspective to the Sleeping Beauty tale. With Beauty and the Beast, I was so underwhelmed by the results. It felt like I was watching a near exact copy of the animated version, but with less flare, more glitter glue, and abuse of auto-tuning! Nothing about it captured my attention. The little changes that were made detracted from the film instead of enhancing it. Belle's introduction at the beginning, and the ending song...excuse my bluntness but what the hell happened here?

Aside from the extreme auto-tuning (why couldn't we dub over Emma Watson's voice?), what bugged me so much about these two moments is that their iconic status was wiped away. When Belle is first introduced in the animated film, she's the only one wearing a brightly colored outfit (a blue dress). The rest of the villagers were in more muted tones and blended in with each other. According to the animators, the blue dress on Belle was to help the audience find her among the large crowd scenes so that she wouldn't fade into the background. And it was to help signify her uniqueness. She is considered the "odd woman" in the town. She reads. She writes. She wants to learn and not be like the rest of the woman in her village (get married, have lots of babies, tend the home, etc.). To emphasize her individuality, she wears colors that defy the norm. This is again replicated in the ending scene of the animated movie. The Beast and Belle are dancing in their blue tailcoat and gold ballgown, while the onlookers are in muted tones of browns and yellows. Again to draw the viewers attention to the primary couple and emphasize their individuality.

The live-action version didn't do this.

Belle as Emma Watson got a blue-ish sort of dress that is a mesh of textures and patterns. It's not a bad design in the grand scheme of things. The problem is the villagers. Everyone stands out! They all have their own unique outfits, colors, designs, and charm. So as Belle traverses the town, she gets lost in the crowd. At one point there is a wide shot of the town square, with it bustling of activity as everyone sings. I had to pause the movie, get someone in the house to come over and do a 'Where's Waldo' activity to try and find Belle. She was hidden among the sea of color.

The remake stripped Belle of her unique identity by forcing her to blend in with the rest of the town. And this happens again in the ending scene with the dance. The Beast gets his blue tailcoat, albeit a different one with a lighter shade. Belle is in a white dress with some faded roses randomly placed across the garment. Everyone else in the scene is also dressed in white and creme. So guess what? Once again Belle fades away and if it weren't for the Beast, we'd be playing 'Where's Waldo' again. (Also, what does that say about the message of the movie? That to find yourself and conform you need a man to guide you? WTF Disney?)

This is what happens when you restrict your creativity to the limits of a pre-existing narrative. You change wardrobes and you end up altering the personality of characters!

And unfortunately this is the trend that we're likely to see for years. Reboots still sell while more original content continues to fall into the cracks of the floorboard. New ideas, different perspectives are being left behind. I'd argue that because our attention is so focused on reimaginings, we're holding back art. We're not allowing it to grow naturally when we force the same stories and characters on people adnauseum. How many times can we reboot Spiderman? We've had 3 versions in 15 years! These movies are getting funded and profiting by telling the same story over and over. We know what happens to Peter Parker and his Aunt and Uncle. We know about Mary Jane. We don't need to see another version for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th time. The same thing with Batman. I love Batman; easily my favorite of all of the comic book heroes. But for the love of all that's holy why do we have to flashback to his parents death in every single iteration of his story? All of the comics, the Tim Burton movies, the various animated shows, the Gotham TV show, the Christopher Nolan movies, Batman vs. Superman movie...and it'll probably happen again in the upcoming Justice League film. Even those who haven't seen a Batman product know about his parents getting killed, with the iconic drop of the pearl beads from his mother's necklace. We Don't Need To See This Any More. Stop Wasting Money On This Scene and Give Us Something NEW.

The art of entertainment is regressing as we continue to hold onto these reboots. Much like video game box art and movie posters copy/pasting themselves, remakes are preventing us from achieving art enlightenment!

Why so many of the reboots these days? Part of it is Hollywood and investors wanting to see a profit. While it's becoming cheaper to buy and use equipment to make films, labor is not. Producers don't want to invest in a film that has the potential to flop. The best way to eliminate that risk is to create something that is sure to resonate with audiences. We're living in the prime-time of nostalgia. Everything old is new once more. So it's not surprising that art is mimicking this trend to ensure it's survival. Why spend the money on a unique story that could backfire, when one could spend the funds on a reboot that is likely to see a profit.

The other part of the reboot trend is due to the audience. Instead of seeking out or demanding new content, we're content with seeing the same things repeatedly. It could be because of nostalgia. Some people may like the flurry of reboots. Or it could be that we simply don't care. It's hard to pin point the exact reason on why we're content, en mass, with the same deluge of entertainment being reprocessed.

I for one am tired of it. Tired of seeing them. Tired of hearing about them. And stopped paying for them ages ago. Video games have been on the cusp of the reboot phase, thankfully. But as we inch closer to the episodic release of Final Fantasy VII, don't think that other companies won't follow suit. Soon we'll have a reboot of Conkers Bad Fur Day, and no one wants that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Case For Remakes, Reboots, and Reimaginings

Last night I decided to watch the live-action 'Disney's Beauty and the Beast' on Netflix while I was going to bed for some background noise to sleep to. Why this? I have no idea. I was in the mood to punish myself, apparently. 5 minutes and 23 seconds in I was instantly rolling my eyes at the blatant, ridiculous, overbearing use of auto-tune on the main actress Emma Watson. I remember it being bad, but not this bad. While the auto-tuning is the most annoying feature of the film, it's not the only thing that makes this a bad remake: it's a bad remake for being a near copy/paste of the animated feature. It does everything wrong with a "reimagining" while pandering to audiences to ensure it was a success.

Aside: If you want to watch this thing that's called a "movie," you have to search for it starting with 'Disney' as the search term. Otherwise it won't appear. How's that for annoying? Thanks Disney! 

This had me thinking about other forms of media that take the remake route. Music, Television, Theater - that have not been immune to the craze. Some have resulted in some amazing renditions of the original art. Some flopped...horribly. Video games have largely been out of the remake/reboot cycle, instead focusing on re-releasing original content with graphical upgrades a few new bells and whistles. But it's still a creature knocking on our door and one day, we'll be flooded with a sea of rebooted games.

So, I decided to spend the next 2 posts talking about why reboots are good, and why reboots are bad. My personal position strongly points towards the "please God/Buddha/Cthulhu, no more reboots." But there are some remakes that have held merit, and elevated the art to a new level. Music is a prime example of this where some of the most iconic songs of the last 30 years are remakes of previously released work. 'I Will Always (Love You)' by Whitney Houston from 'The Bodyguard' is a remake from Dolly Parton's original tune. But for every good remake, there are a dozen bad ones.

Today, we're going to talk about the case for remakes and how that affects video games. Starting off with the positive side knowing full-well the negative is going to take some time for me to type and edit.

Good video game remakes have happened and have received either high critical praise or positive fan reaction. SquareEnix has been at the helm of some of the best reboots over the past 5 years, manly Tomb Raider and Hitman. By no means were they dying franchises, but they did take the old formulas and twisted them into new, genre defining games. Hitman's episodic content made me a believer that this type of system could work for future projects. Could, not should (Final Fantasy VII, we're looking at you.)

Even re-releases like the recent Crash Bandicoot, that have updated the graphics and added new levels, isn't a bad thing. It's providing a brand new generation the opportunity to experience the games of our youth while capturing the uniqueness of the original game. Crash was a game that defined the PlayStation brand and provided a new view into the platforming genre. Tomb Raider showcased that dynamic landscapes and control schemes for action-adventures is possible if you are willing to explore. Hitman took the tired concepts of "stealth" gaming and made them entertaining. The open world dynamics and interactive elements created a more livable landscape for the game.

When done well, or even marginally good, reboots can work.

From a film perspective, let's take a look at 'Maleficent.' On first glance, you're probably thinking this isn't a reboot. But it really is. It's the story of 'Sleeping Beauty' told from a new perspective. You follow Princess Aurora from her cursed birth, while she's growing up, and through her transition into becoming a queen. It does take some creative detours along the way that don't line up with the original story. As the title of the movie implies, this is a movie from Maleficent's eyes.

You see her hand in Aurora's story; manipulating it to her desires and out of love (big plot point in the movie that I won't spoil if you haven't seen it). Is it a great movie? Not really. The action is clunky. The casting could be better suited for Aurora, the Prince, and some of the side characters. The story is convoluted at points, and the plot twists are not as intriguing as they could be. But what the movie does succeed at is showing that a reimagining is possible if you're willing to take risks. Shifting the viewpoint to the villain and creating a plot line that allows her to blossom as the main character allowed this movie to become more then just another footnote in failed Hollywood history.

A good reboot is one that takes the original idea and expands upon it by providing an additional narrative, a new viewpoint, or an alternative universe from what we know. 'Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass', as subpar as the film is, was a good variation of original story. Instead of a traditional re-telling of the books/movies/plays, this was Alice as an adult returning to Wonderland but having forgotten everything that happened to her as a child. These variations of the story are welcomed. It tugs on the audiences nostalgia string, while allowing us to explore new possibilities in the worlds we love.

Reboots can provide a safe space for experimenting new concepts without the threat of losing it all. It's difficult to front money for a new creative project when one does not know the outcome. For studios, they want to ensure that they see a return on their investment. So producers, writers, directors, musicians, play rights - they turn to existing properties and reimagine them for the 21st century. It allows the creative team the opportunity to explore new ideas while helping reassure investors will see a profit. Everything old is becoming new again - people still want nostalgia and are willing to pay for it. We can't deny that this is still a very strong trend that will continue as Disney pumps out more live-action movies (Dumbo, Aladdin, Mulan). Even the reboot of Steven King's 'IT' has not only crushed box office records for the horror genre, it's had the third highest opening all year!

When done well, a reboot can add to the universe of the world we once knew. Maybe that's worth exploring a bit further and allowing artists to put their spin on old stories.

But when a reboot is done poorly, oh man. It's bad. Super. Bad. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on The Case Against Remakes, Reboots, and Reimaginings.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

From Bikes, to Trains, to Video Games it's the Biggest Toy Store There Is

If you're a child of the 80's, 90's, and even the early 2000's, you all know the magic that is Toys 'R' Us. For many, this was our introduction into video games. They were once a staple of the gaming industry as the leader of sales, until game-only retailers such as GameStop and EBGames hit the market. Even then, Toys 'R' Us held the #2 spot for years. I remember when the Nintendo 64 was released. My family and I waited outside of our local Toys R' Us the morning of, so we could be one of the first to see the console and play Super Mario 64, while my dad snuck away to purchase the system for us to have that Christmas. The game "station" set up in the isle was a flurry of color with Mario cut-outs all around the display. And it was the first time Mario talked in a game! So a number of his catchphrases were recorded and playing back through the cut-outs. Even before video games, Toys 'R' Us has always had this magical quality to it. It was one of the few bigger retailers of toys, with isles set up to look more like a Party City and less like a Macy's. There were rows and rows of nothing but toys, bikes, trains, and so much more. It has always been heaven for kids.

The announcement of the retailer filing for bankruptcy has been a long time coming. The brick-and-mortar stores have been dwindling over the years with the rise of internet sales. Toys 'R' Us always struggled to find footing with the online market. Coupled with vendors changing their sales tactics, put more pressure on the brand to pay back their loans faster then they could sell the products. $5 billion in debt later, and here we are. It doesn't make the story any less depressing.

So what happened to our gaming haven? GameRevolution posted a piece that the blame lies mostly with video games. The company's previous CEO, Gerald Storch, has noted that part of the decline in sales has been due to the shift of video games - not as much innovation, easier online/direct download access, has eliminated the need to visit retailers. That hurt the company's bottom line and they quickly fell from being a #2 video game retailer to now having 1% of the market. But it's not just this, or the shift to online buying that has caused sales to slump, Storch continued. "It's not that the internet is taking away our business, which is a popular story."

For families and children, there's been a visible shift in how they play. It's no longer about physical toys, instead it's cell phones and tablets. Kids wanted to play Candy Crush and Angry Birds, mobile video games that were only available on certain devices. By the time parents paid for the items to play the games, they didn't have much left to spend on blocks, trains, and bikes.

There was also a noticeable price difference in products between Toys 'R' Us and the discount, big box retailers: Walmart, Sam's Club, and Target. The same bicycle at Toys 'R' Us would be anywhere from $45-$100 cheaper at other retailers. Most of the toys could be found at a better price else-where. Unfortunately Toys 'R' Us wasn't able to provide products at a better value during the rise of Walmart. Because of this, more customers moved their purchases to other retailers.

Online shopping helped further the fuel for discounts - not the primary reason but a reason. I do remember back around 2009/2010 when Toys 'R' Us was trying to find a place online, I went to the site to reserve a game. Just to see if the process was any easier or cheaper then GameStop. Amazon Prime wasn't available at the time. The site was very cumbersome. It took too long to load. Games were not always labeled in their right category. If you spelled out the game title in the search bar, it would pull up no results unless you typed it exactly as Toys 'R' Us had it in their system (that included dashes, commas, and apostrophes). Sometimes the items wouldn't save to your shopping cart - or if you had items that were available now and others as pre-order, you had to place separate orders for each product. I think shipping was an insane amount too, $12 or $15 for 1 game. Half an hour later, I gave up and waited until the game was out to buy it in store.

The bottom line is that Toys 'R' Us hasn't aged with the current generation. They stuck to a formula that use to work for them; creating an empire of 1,600 stores. However, when children and parents began shifting their play/toy habits, Toys 'R' Us didn't follow. And that is whats hurting them right now.

Toys 'R' Us and it's affiliated brands such as Babies 'R' Us and FAO Schwarz will continue running business as usual during this holiday season - where they make most of their money.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Free the Mario Nip!

If you're wondering why you're seeing posts online regarding Mario's nipples,you can thank the Japanese video game rating board.

Super Mario Odyssey, the next in the line of Mario titles, will be the first game to receive the CERO (Computer Entertainment Rating Organization) B ranking. CERO is the Japanese equivalent of the ESRB. Until now, the franchise has always achieved A, which is suitable for all ages. B is for 12 and up. According to wikipedia, B ranks will be assigned for games that "Contain[s] some content parents may not like for children under the age of 12. May contain mild sexual content, some violence, mild horror content or infrequent use of profanity."

What could possibly be in a Mario game that would be the equivalent of an E10+ or T?

People have speculated that shirtless Mario for swimming areas, exposing his digital nipples, is the reason for the rating. But everything else is classic Mario. The jumps. The turtle shells. The abuse of Goombas. For comparison, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild also received a CERO B. Maybe this is a new trend for Nintendo games? Or it could be the CERO trying to curtail any potential parental concerns.

Super Mario Odyssey will be releasing late October - then we'll see what the fuss is about.

Friday, September 15, 2017

'Overwatch' Developer to Gamers - Don't Be a Dick

If you're an Overwatch fan and wondering why updates have been slow, game director Jeff Kaplan says it's the troll's fault. In a video update titled "Play Nice, Play Fair," Kaplan talks extensively about how Blizzard is responding to the toxicity of the game. As a woman, I'm all too familiar with the negative content we see in first-person shooters and competitive gaming. The few people I do play with on Overwatch always ask why I don't go to public chat or use a headset. Because by speaking I open myself up to a litany of harassment; in turn the game is no longer fun. I don't play to be harassed.

If you're playing outside of a team or competitive, Overwatch can be troll-heaven. It's at a point now where it's difficult to bring in new players and expect them to stick around when people either A) know how to play and have played for a while, or B) are toxic and will insult anyone and everyone in their path. That's not the kind of environment Kaplan and Blizzard wants to introduce people into.

Since the games launch in 2016, 480 thousand accounts have had action taken against them, with over 300 thousand from reports by other players. Reporting tools that were only available on PC are now on the XBox One and PS4 version of the game. It's a start and Kaplan acknowledges that they have a long way to go.

But it's also the gamers that need to take responsibility for their own actions. Blizzard, and other developers, can't stop everyone and there's no fool-proof system in place to stop harassment and trolls. "There is not going to be a moment where we have a magic patch in Overwatch that makes bad behaviour go away," Kaplan stated. "But it is a continual process that we are very dedicated to fixing and improving."

Blizzard doesn't plan to add "naughty pools" that some other games do. If you're bad and you're breaking the rules, they don't want you in the game. At all. "Overwatch should be an inclusive game space."

It's not the bad behavior that people have been focusing on, but Kaplan's comments that the toxicity is diverting resources from updating the game. Instead of making new maps and patches, they have to focus on how to stop people from being dicks to one another, and remove those who cause trouble.

So if you want more Overwatch updates, play nice!

Aside - the game is free to try out this weekend on PC. You need a Battle.Net account (which is free) to join.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

AI Built to Develop Video Games

It's bad enough that Google is trying to make an AI that will kick our behinds in Starcraft, now some researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology want AI's to develop their own games!

The Institute's communications officer Joshua Preston explained that the AI will develop a game's engine after watching a few minutes of gameplay. The technology is being created to help designers speed up the process of making a game, while allowing them to easily experiment with new content without it hampering their bottom line. During a recent test, the AI watched 2 minutes of someone playing Super Mario Bros. and then recreated the content by studying the frames, and predicting future elements. By letting the AI study the frames, the researchers conclude that the AI is able to provide more accurate gaming models.

Right now the AI does showcase limitations. It's able to work when action happens on the screen and it is able to interpret it. Anything happening off-screen, actions or events, are difficult for the AI to render.

Of course the inevitable questions were asked: would the AI put people out of work? Not likely. The researchers are looking at this AI as an aide, not a job replacement. It's not able to replicate stories or character development. And Quality Assurance people are needed to provide a better grasp on how people will play the game. An AI might be able to test a game, but they are basing their decisions off of math. A human player is less likely to think about the angle of a jump. So devs, don't freak out yet.

Although at this rate with the advancement of AI, I wouldn't be surprised if 'The Terminator' or 'The Matrix' type scenarios become a reality. Just saying!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

We're doing another early edition of the Weekly Link Round Up because there are a lot of articles gracing my feed this morning. They must be shared, for the good of the gaming universe. Here's what we've got today:

- Did you know yesterday was National Video Game Day? Yeah I didn't either until late last night, when I happened to be on Twitter. Well Kotaku decided to look further into this "holiday" and find out the truth behind it. In that it's another made-up, ancillary day being used to push for sales. If no one knows about a holiday, does it really exist?

- Forbes speaks with former marketing runner Cathy Beaupain, now president of Dermstore(owned by Target) about how to manage your ecommerce business to run like a video game. It's that 'gamification' thing again. The interview reads like an intro to business class one would take at a community college. A number of Beaupain's tips include A/B testing of your website, which most people know to do to ensure they get customers to buy more. She also talks about focusing on the customer experience and using data to determine what they want. Again, you learn that in Business 101. Click-bait article is click-bait.

- Polygon takes a look at how difficult it can be for adults who game for the first time. While a number of us grew up playing consoles, our parents and elders may not have. I know for my dad, he's very much a PC guy. If we handed him a controller to a PS4 or XBox One, he wouldn't be anywhere near as efficient. There's a steep learning curve to get older gamers into the groove. Our brains are not absorbing as much information as our youth. We have different physical obstacles to overcome. And terms/phrases kids may be use to using in a game have no meaning outside of it. Adults have to learn these things too, in order to stay up to date with the game. This article is an interesting view at the other side of the bell-curve with gamers.

- WhatCulture has a list of the 20 Most Underappreciated Games of the Decade. Before I opened the article, I made a guess on some titles that they may have on their list: Mad Max, No Man's Sky, and Watch Dogs. Turns out, I was almost right! They listed Watch Dogs 2 instead. Sadly WhatCulture, your definition of "underappreciated" is very skewed. They list games from Metal Gear Solid to No Man's Sky to try and seem hip, but it backfires. Many of the games listed were hits with fans and critics. Others were flops because they were bad games that didn't properly represent what they were trying to portray (Mad Max). This list needs to go back to the drawing board.

- Sky, a new game from the developers of Journey, was unveiled yesterday during Apple's event that also announced the new, stupidly expensive, iPhone. Initially it was mentioned that the game would only be available on Apple TV. Most gamers would never see it. But thankfully they clarified that it'll be released on Apple products first and then to other platforms. You can watch the interview about the game here.

- Nintendo is going to release more of the NES Classic console in the summer 2018. After the overwhelming response and sales, it was strange that Nintendo killed the program so quickly after release. Probably to drum up more interest, thus more future sales. For those who couldn't get their hands on the system earlier, don't worry. You'll have another shot.

- The creators of the web comic Cyanide & Happiness are jumping into the video game business. Their new action-adventure Kickstarter is only a few days old, has already achieved it's goal, and they are at work with their next product. I'm curious to see how this all forms. The game is taking a South Park: Stick of Truth approach by having the environment more interactive in a side-scrolling format. They did a great job with the card game, so we'll see what happens with the video game!

- Bleeding Cool News looks back at an 80's TV classic: Starcade. Very recently, with ShoutFactory, Twitch held a marathon, airing all of the classic episodes. Kids would play head to head in arcade games like Pac-Man for a chance to win prizes, including their own arcade cabinet. It's been rumored that the show is making a comeback, but with no set dates or hosts to confirm if this is really happening. Check out the interview with the show's creators to learn more about this 80's icon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Tale of PewDiePie's Antics Continues

This kid can't seem to stay out of trouble.

PewDiePie (Felix Kjellberg) is causing more waves on the internet for something he probably thinks is pretty innocuous. Over the weekend, the YouTuber streamed himself playing a game by developer Compo Santo. While doing so, he dropped the N-word. Arguably, he spoke it a bit too casually. He followed it up with "I don't mean that in a bad way." Again, too casual and nonchalant.

Needless to say, people took notice and are quickly firing back at the personality. He's not a stranger to this type of controversy after stirring up the internet and Disney earlier this year with his anti-Semitic "jokes."

Even with that stunt, he's still on YouTube. He's still making money. People are still watching him. He may not have Disney or YouTube Red backing him up, but Kjellberg is a defining force in the creative content community.

Which is why the surprising turn in the saga of PewDiePie come from Campo Santo, the developer of titles such as Firewatch. They have filed DMCA's takedown requests against the YouTuber for anything that holds their name or content. Campo Santo co-founder Sean Vanaman tweeted on Sunday "I am sick of this child getting more and more chances to make money off of what we make." He also acknowledges that as his game was streamed, the company was potentially making money from ad revenue and copyright regulations with YouTube; thus, in a way, they were complicit with Kjellberg's activities. Vanaman doesn't want Firewatch or other Campo Santo products to be affiliated with this type of hate.

Now there's a bigger question of if Campo Santo's request will ultimately win and what this will mean for other YouTubers? That's difficult to say. Some of Kjellberg's videos have been taken down temporarily while YouTube reviews the request. Campo Santo is only focusing on PewDiePie and not other streamers. But if the developer wins, could this open the door for more companies to do the same? YouTube is already downtrending with creators as rules become harsher for uploads and ad revenue. Many are moving to other platforms like Twitch to air content.

This could also be just a rally call against Kjellberg and nothing more. Vanaman has called on other developers to file requests against PewDiePie and stop supporting his work. It's not the first time the YouTuber has been in trouble, and it won't be his last. It's difficult to say what the outcome will be until it happens.

Kjellberg has responded just a few minutes ago regarding his actions. He did not address the take-down notices from Campo Santo. The video apology seems genuine.  He was "in the moment" of playing the game and fed on the words that he's heard others used while playing. But he doesn't blame them for his actions. Kjellberg admits that he screwed up and needs to learn from his mistakes. However, we've heard similar messages before. Given all that's happened to him this year, he should have wizened up already. It's difficult to tell if his apology has weight. And we won't know until time passes.

As a gamer and lover of swear words, I've been "in the moment." But I have never felt the urge to say the N-word. Or any type of racial, religious, or gender-related slurs. The most I'll drop is the f-bomb and move on. You can be involved in an activity so much that you may throw out a few swear words. It happens whether it's a video game or knitting. But when you use racial slurs, that's not a product of the game. That's something you've learned and use often enough to be part of your vocabulary. And that's the problem here.

Whether you like Kjellberg or not, he is a major force on YouTube. Millions watch his videos daily. He's become a popular figure for kids and teenagers. The majority of his viewers are under age. Which means PewDiePie is a figure some look up to. When you have that type of influence, it's important to be aware of what one says and does. Kjellberg's words hold weight and can affect an entire generation. That's important to keep in mind.

Monday, September 11, 2017

'Dad of Light' Exceeds Expectations

'Dad of Light'. Originally titled 'Daddy of Light' and changed by Netflix for some reason - probably to reduce confusion between this show and their 'Deathnote' movie, whose lead character is named Light. What is 'Dad of Light'? Well it's probably best summed up as a glorified mini-series to help promote Final Fantasy XIV in the most dramatic way possible. And it is adorable.

Based on a true story, 'Dad of Light' was produced in Japan by Netflix and aired earlier this year. It recently hit the international scene with 8 episodes, roughly 22-25 minutes a piece. The drama is about a young man (Akio) and his father (Hirotaro), bonding over Final Fantasy XIV, but in a very complicated, Japanese television way. Akio feels like he can never talk to his father. A few flashbacks showcase how Akio and his father never seemed to get along - they live in a space where they tolerate one another. When Hirotaro suddenly quits his job and retires, Akio wants to find out why. Instead of doing the normal thing and asking, because Akio is afraid he won't get any answer, he gives his father a PS4 and a copy of FF14 as a gift. The goal being to get him to play, befriend him in the game, and learn more about his dad. Project: Dad of Light!

Yeah, it's a silly premise. Along the way we learn about Akio's life, what Final Fantasy means to him, and how reality mimics his FF14 persona.

I watched the series over the weekend, and I was surprised that a good chunk of the story takes place IN the game. The production staff utilized FF14 to produce machinima sequences to showcase the dialogue and action in the game itself. Instead of it being solely on Akio and his internal monologue, you can see the characters in-game interacting with each other. It's a refreshing take on the father/son bonding story. Is the machinima perfect? Not always. FF14 does have it's limitations, and some of the camera angles are awkward - my guess is this was filmed prior to some of the recent patches that give more cinematic options. But for what the production team had, it's very well made.

'Dad of Light' is also very much like a Japanese half-hour drama. If you've never seen one before, then prepare yourself for a different form of television that you won't see here in the U.S. Subtly is not a word often associated with Japanese media. Even serious stories take a light-handed approach. Actors actions, dialogues, and expressions tend to be exaggerated. You'll find that there's still slapstick and self-deprecating humor to liven up the content. This type of comedy balances well with 'Dad of Light' when the series progresses and they touch on more of the heavy issues. No spoilers! But you may be boarding the feels train after watching this.

It also means that the "conclusion" to the story is not really an ending. Some things are resolved but there are number of open-ended threads with Akio's work life that never get addressed. Again, this is common in Japanese media. It's up to you to determine what happens next. The last episode is a solo piece with a brief recap of the first 7 episodes, before diving into it's own narrative. The story centers around a Lalafell that helped Akio and Hirotaro form their friendship. She talks about meeting her husband in the game, and the guild wants to throw them a wedding to make up for their lack of a real-world one.

The moments that stand out to me are in the earlier episodes when Hirotaro is learning how to play the game. It reminded me a lot of when my dad began playing MMO's. Knocking on my door and asking simple questions like "is it okay to talk to other people?" and "how do I buy this armor?" Things that most of us veterans would take for granted. Watching Hirotaro struggle and adjust to the game was very much how I experienced it with my dad. Plus one to the production on giving an accurate visual.

And for those of us who play MMO's, we know that it's more then just a game. It's a lifestyle. It allows us to see that there is still good in this world - that people are willing to help others without asking for a thing in return. That there is kindness, generosity, and honor among us. It's a chance to kick back and ignore the real world for an hour or two and experience a world bigger then ourselves. 'Dad of Light' reinforces this message quite well.

If you're a fan of the game, you'll probably become a bigger fan after watching this show. If you enjoy MMO's, give this series a shot and laugh at the gaming n00b moments. Enjoy Japanese dramas? You'll like this one. The later episodes will hit you in the gut. Curious but never seen a Japanese show or don't play MMO's? Be prepared for an experience.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Ubisoft Raising the Bar with Unusual Difficultly Slider

The more I read about the changes Ubisoft has been making to South Park: The Fractured But Whole, the more I'm okay with them having pushed back the release date. At this point the game should have been in our hands in the first quarter of 2016. But given Ubisoft's tendency to push games out for cash grabs, this is a nice change of pace for the developer. So we've been patiently waiting for the game to come to life. Small video clips trickled out from time to time. It was at PAX West last year with another video, and everything looked great on screen.

In the recent months, Ubisoft has been steadily putting out more information about the game. The latest announcement yesterday is one of the most interesting, and very South Park-like, features we've ever seen.

Like most games on today's market, there is a difficultly slider. You can play the game on easy or hard mode, and variations in-between. But here's the kicker: the difficultly level changes your character's skin tone. Eurogamer was given an early copy of the game to review and show off the character customization. You've got the standard stuff. Facial hair. Make-up. But watch the video around the 5:40 mark. When you get to the difficulty screen you'll notice that the easy settings will turn your character Caucasian. As you move up on the scale, your skin will change to darker shades, eventually to Black/African American. During the process, Eric Cartman will explain the sliding scale of difficultly: "Don't worry, this doesn't affect combat. Just every other aspect of your whole life."

The difficulty level will also affect how a character receives money and how other PC's talk to him/her. 


Later on when you select your gender, you'll go into a counseling session with Mr. Mackey. If you pick a non-male character (female, cisgender, or transgender), it'll update your Stick of Truth backstory and make your new character canon. The tone and approach of this is just as intriguing as the difficulty slider. I know this isn't the first game to introduce multi-gender characters, but from a big-box studio like Ubisoft, this is an amazing step forward.

So yes. The internet is flipping out about this newest feature. And most of the reactions have been positive. There will be the few naysayers who want to be a white character on the hardest setting, but the social commentary is appropriate for this game. It's part of the South Park ideology to tackle these type of issues head on and not give a flying flip about the response. It's also very much in line with the superhero/comic book saga, which The Fractured But Whole is focusing on. POC superheroes are few, and usually badly stereotyped. Being a POC hero in South Park could mirror the journey of a POC hero in a comic book - a difficult trek to reach the top, or even just to be noticed!

I'm anxious to see what else this game has in store for us. This feels like a game that I will be streaming a lot of, and holding discussions on.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

We're throwing it down early this week.'s been a long one, hasn't it? Not Monday though. That flew by fast. But the past 2 days have dragged on. Let's lighten up the place with a round up: a collection of the best, worst, and silliest video game articles on the internet.

- The Guardian has created a list of the 27 Funniest Video Games of All Time. Unfortunately most of the games on this list were made in the last 10 years. There are a few exceptions such as Worms, but even Grand Theft Auto makes an appearance for reasons I can't comprehend. What about Curse of Monkey Island? That's a great game and it's funny! Some of the games listed are fine, but the writer needs to play more pre-1996 content.

- Jason Schreier of Kotaku notoriety has a new book out: 'Blood, Sweat, and Pixels.' A collection of stories on how some of today's biggest named games were released to the public - and how some E3 darlings faded into oblivion. I'm waiting on the publisher to send me a copy, but you can get a quick glimpse through this interview with GQ Magazine. In it, Schreier talks not only about his book but the issue of "crunch time."

- Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the director for the 'Metal Gear Solid' movie that may get off the ground (eventually), chatted with GameSpot on what Hollywood is overlooking with video games. Some of it, he sights, is the lack of investment in the product. He uses superhero movies as an example. There was a big gap of time after the original 'Superman' movies where heroes in capes and tights did not grace the screen. Comic book fans turned directors/producers helped create the current wave. Video games need that same level of dedication before we hit on a movie that people love. See 'Ace Attorney' as an example.

- GamerPros thinks that mainstream games are too easy. Um...have you changed the difficulty setting to Hard or Insanity? Give that a shot and you'll change your mind. Next article!

- WhatCulture! Good to have you back! The site that ranks EVERYTHING has a list the 9 Best Nintendo Spin-offs. Unfortunately Dr. Mario is only at number 8. There are also a lot of Pokémon games mentioned. Nothing wrong with the franchise, but I think it's not giving Mario enough credit. Super Mario RPG could be classified as one, Paper Mario and Mario Tennis have been widely received by fans and newcomers. So this list has to be rigged. We need to see the ballot box on this one.

- Finally, apparently there's talks of an 'Animal Farm' video game, with approval from the writer, George Orwell, estate. It's bad enough that there's a 'Lord of the Flies' remake potentially being floated around. But an 'Animal Farm' game? Do we really need this? Or maybe we do given today's volatile social and political climate. I don't know. I'll stick with 'Babe' for my fill on talking animals.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

School-Based Games Do Exist - That's Not The Issue

The Guardian decided to tackle a very important question, that no one has asked: why don't more video games take place in a school setting?

As far as Triple A titles and big-time developers, the only one that comes to mind immediately is Bully from Rockstar. That doesn't mean other games ignore schooling entirely. Persona 5, White Day: A Labyrinth Named School, even Star Trek: Starfleet Academy could be designated as a school simulator of sorts. And let's not forget the myriad of dating simulators that frequent the digital campuses of high schools and colleges.

So what's with this weird question that The Guardian asked that no one really has asked before? According to the writer, Keith Stuart, "[c]hildren have a need to place their lives in context, and to experience and experiment with the boundaries put in front of them[.]" And that's very true. Part of developing as a functioning adult is to understand and explore the world around us. Video games give us the opportunity to do this with fictional landscapes, but help improve our spatial awareness and problem solving skills. And in many ways it could be a great tool for building one's mental self: confidence, trust, responsibility, etc.

But would a game set in a school help promote this, or inhibit it?

The difference between a 30 minute after-school show ('Saved by the Bell') and a 30 hour game...well I just spelled it out for you. It's the time! I couldn't imagine going to school for 7-10 hours a day (depending on your activities, yes it can be a 10 hour day), coming home, having to handle another 5-7 hours of homework, and try to find time to relax by playing a video game that takes place in a school. Not with how intense today's schools are in the U.S. There's an increased pressure now then ever to get the best grades and fight for the slim pickings of scholarships that are available. School is stressful. It was bad enough when I went - and I was going through middle school and high school at the turning point of education: Columbine and 9/11. And no, that's not meant to be taken lightly. I remember what school was like before those events, and I remember how drastically it changed after. Today's academics are so much more intense and scrutinized that kids are under an immense amount of pressure to always be at their best.

So no. If I were a kid today I would certainly not play a video game that took place in a school. I'd be stressed out by school enough daily that I wouldn't want it to enter my gaming hobby as well. Somehow I get the feeling a number of kids, and adults, would agree with me.

And again, it's not like games are avoiding the subject entirely. There are plenty of games with a school setting if you're willing to think outside of the big developers like EA and Activision. There are choices.

What The Guardian article misses is that kids don't want to spend another 20-50 hours playing a game inside a school setting when 40-80 hours a week are already devoted to schooling. It'd be the same as a working adult going home to play a job simulator that replicates their day-to-day activities. It's not inspiring. It's much more beneficial to kids and adults to play games that help stoke the fires of imagination. We gain more out of these crazy fantasy settings then by restricting ourselves to school/job simulations.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Game Writers Award Announced for Nebula

Video game writers! This year it's your year. After decades of hard work and dedication, the Nebula Awards is finally letting games have a place in their lexicon.

The Nebula Awards is one of the highest honors for science fiction and fantasy writers. Starting in 1966 through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), nominations and winners are selected by those who belong to the guild. While initially a main-stain for written, published works, in the mid-70's it included film and television. It's surprising that it took this long for video games to be included, given how prevalent sci-fi and fantasy are in the gaming landscape. And of those who have accepted video games so openly, it's been the sci-fi/fantasy fans.

SFWA president Cat Rambo stated that the organization began accepting video game writers as members this year, and started a new category for Best Game Writing for the 2018 awards. Any game released in 2017 will be eligible.

But it's been a long process. Rambo stated that they've attempted three times prior over the past few years to get a gaming category into the Nebula Awards, but conflicts arose. Details were not provided, but it may have to do with conflicts of interest with the Writers Guild of America, which game writers can be a member of but their works may not be eligible for awards with published book groups. It's hard to say the reasons why, but that's the first one that comes to mind.

Best of luck to our gaming heroes next year with the awards!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

How Important are Female Protagonists in Video Games?

Quantic Foundry, a consulting practices that focuses on analyzing games and gamers, created a survey to find out the not-so-direct answer.

Over the past few years, there has been a significant push-back from gamers to create more dynamic protagonists that are beyond the "single white male" trope that we've become accustomed to. We now have an annual review of E3 presentations, and their lack of inclusion of multiple character types in their "hero" wheel. The demographic for gamers has always been diverse. The average age for a gamer is around 35, not 18. But it's also been stuck with the notion that only young-adults, white men make up the majority of the audience. As such, games tend to skew their content to that demographic.

With more diverse individuals getting into gaming, how important is the protagonist when it comes to shaping the experience of the content? Do gamers respond differently to who is the hero based on their gender?

Quantic Foundry used survey data from 1,266 gamers ranging from casual to hardcore, and found that most men still don't care about female leading ladies. Across the board for women, casual, core, and hardcore all found that a female protagonist is extremely important. And as a hardcore female gamer, I agree. It's difficult to project ones-self into the world of the game when your only option is male. It also becomes a challenge to feel involved in the environment and the game discussions when your gender is not represented to some degree. Much like race or religion, when you see it absent or grossly misinterpreted in a game, you feel less compelled to be active in the narrative.

It also makes the story kind of dull when it's the same ol "hero" over and over again. The white middle-aged, single man with a scruff beard of 5 o'clock shadow, has been done. We've seen it so many times we don't find that story unique in any way. Because it's been done!

The games that have stood out this year have been because of their leading heroes and anti-heroes. Nier: Automata, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Gravity Rush 2, Little Nightmares are some of the leading games of 2017, for a banner year of stellar content. And none feature a white straight middle-aged male protagonist. They are women, people of color, and non-gendered creatures. This isn't to say that the stories in these games are more interesting due to gender and skin-tone. Rather, it opens up a wealth of opportunities to tell NEW stories.

Sadly, the survey also shows that the men who participated, in large, don't think that a female protagonist option is important at all. Casual gamers rank it at a 38% on the non-importance, which is the highest for that category. Hardcore gamers rank it at 32%, which ties with the "somewhat important" category - which is an interesting twist that I wasn't expecting. Core gamers also rank "somewhat important" as their highest at 28%. While the survey doesn't state race, I wonder if that plays a role in how some of these stats work out. I was expecting to see more hardcore male gamers rank "female protagonist options" in the not important at all. Instead it's an even split between not important and somewhat important.

Without the extra data, it's all speculation. But it'd be interesting to dive into and see if there's correlation between POC males and inclusion of more female characters in games.

I'm still arguing that we need more diversity in video games. Not as a woman, but as someone who gives a crap about the future of games. It's getting dull seeing the same stories told again and again. Let's add something new to the mix!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What Video Games Would Make It To The Olympics?

No shock here: The Olympic Committee will most likely not allow violent video games to be part of the games in the near future. This includes Overwatch and League of Legends where the actual blood violence is minimum to non-existant, but does show people and creatures attacking one another. Announced a few months ago, eSports will make it's debut in the 2022 Asian Games, and possibly the 2024 main games. The International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has already made it clear that any video games that showcase violence will not be included.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post, Bach commented that he would prefer the games be centered on existing sports such as football (soccer for us U.S. peeps) and hockey. Because there's no friendly competition then seeing men and women knock the hell out of their opponents on the football field.

"We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn't match with video games, which are about violence, explosions, and killing,” said Bach. “And there were have to draw a clear line."

Now understandably, the landscape of the Olympics does promote non-violence. Counter-Strike would be instantly off the table and that should be expected. The problem is so many of today's video games contain some form of violence, cartoonish or other. And that includes the video games devoted to real world sports. The only exception I can think of is MLB. Knocking into people is a rare site and I don't think I've seen it happen in one of those games. Even basketball you have checking and can knock into opponents - which some may view as violent.

So where is the line to be drawn? What video games would be acceptable outside of the Mario and Sonic Olympic tie-in?

What games would you like to see at the Olympics that could fit the committee's vision?

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

New Twist in Retracted "Violent Video Game" Study

Kids and future academics. Remember to always verify your work and don't fudge your papers to tweak them in your favor. That's not how it works.

In January I posted on a study about violent video games that was retracted from Ohio State University, after 2 outside researches verified that the paper was flawed. "Boom: Headshot" claimed that one's marksmanship with a gun could improve by playing a video game. It concluded that video games promote real world violence because of this. The study utilized 151 college-aged students and asked them about their thoughts on guns as well as their knowledge of them. They were then given three games to play (Resident Evil 4, Wii Play, and Super Mario Galaxy) where some controllers were swapped out for guns. Because you use a gun in Super Mario Galaxy at one point...sure.

After playing the games, the students were handed an airsoft and asked to fire 16 bullets at a target. The subjects were given proper instruction on how to use the firearm. The "study" concluded that those who used the gun controller were more likely to have better headshots with the airsoft. However the reviews done outside of the paper have showed that the "improved" measure of headshots was almost negligible. There was no difference in accuracy between the standard controller players, and the gun controller players.

Since the retraction, it appears that Ohio State has taken the issue one step further. They have revoked the doctoral degree of Jodi Whitaker, a co-author of the paper. The other co-author and lead of the paper, Brad Bushman, was initially cleared of any wrong-doing. The original study notes and results are no longer available, so Bushman's theory is currently under review and being replicated to determine if additional action should be taken in light of recent events.

TLDR: Be sure to always check your work. Don't let your inherit bias take over the study. And read the results as they are. You're less likely to lose your career that way.

Monday, August 28, 2017

QuakeCon 2017 - Mini Review

This weekend I finally attended QuakeCon. In the umpteen years that I've lived in Texas, I've never been. The timing wasn't quite right. But this year I had an eager brother who wanted to check it out. Plus, it's free admission. You can't beat that for a convention. So we made the trek to Grapevine, the new location for QuakeCon this year, and set out on our exploration.

QuakeCon was first held in 1996, and has become one of the largest LAN events in the country. It originally began as a "finals" location for tournaments with id Software products: Doom, Quake, etc. It has grown to become a gaming mecha for a weekend, where people bring in their custom-built PC's and game it out 24/4.

To bring in your PC and game you do have to pay a fee, but it offers you access to the event and a chance to enter tournaments for an assortment of prizes. BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer) is half of the focus of QuakeCon these days. Attendees are allowed to roam this area and check out the units. And we saw some stellar set-ups and custom cases. We found one gent with the bat signal. The freekin' bat signal! Another created Bastion from Overwatch. There was also the Citadel from Half-Life. It was a lot of fun seeing these cases and talking to the owners about their modding process.

The other half is all about the finals. Quake Champions, the newest game, was the primary focus. The stage set-up was probably one of the nicest I've seen for an open seating of that style. Much fancier then anything Twitch has thrown down for a gaming event.

The rest of the convention, well that's where it's a bit of a hit or miss. There were 2 vendors: The QuakeCon vendor for a small selection of Fallout, Dishonored, and QuakeCon merchandise. And Filthy Casual, which I'm not a fan of. So that was a bust. There were AMD and Alienware "buses" that offered PC experiences but if you've been to any gaming event you know exactly what those are about. There were also 2 indie games to try out, a mini-Twitch booth to pick up buttons, a 1 Up and Extra Life booth to get people signed up, and a free-swag stage sponsored by Ventrilo. All that's left were the id Software/Bethesda booths with another VR set-up (seriously guys it's been 2 years, are you done yet?) and public demos of the upcoming Dishonored 2 DLC and Wolfenstein 2.

Most of the events were pretty boring to be honest. You could show up at noon, walk around for an hour, and see everything. The panels were dull and had little to nothing to do with QuakeCon. If they were developer-centric panels about future content or the making of id Software, that would have been preferable over the cosplay content. And I'm saying this as a cosplayer, I was unsure of why there were so many cosplay panels. QuakeCon isn't a big cosplay event. It's meant for LAN parties and gaming tournaments. Have you ever tried to enter one of those in a costume? You'll overheat fast and it's so uncomfortable that it's not worth the hassle. I did see a cosplayer here and there, including an Overwatch one, but nothing crazy. Most people were in causal clothes with a geeky shirt or pin on. I saw at least 2 people in Fallout jumpsuits that were bought from a costume store, and a Team Fortress cosplayer, but that's the jist of it. If you were in cosplay, there wasn't much to do or many places to walk. The expo hall also had little to no light, relying on computer monitors and the main stage to act as a beacon. So you couldn't take many photos anyway.

There was a cosplay contest...that was occurring at the same time as one of the final matches on the main stage. We didn't stick around long enough to see it. We were done by 4pm after trying to make the time stretch out. But hopefully it was well attended and there were enough Bethesda costumes that entered. Yes, it was a Bethesda only costume contest. Sorry Overwatch fans.

Another big glaring issue was the lack of signs. And I mean everywhere. When you walk into the hotel/resort, unless you came through the convention garage (which was full by Saturday morning) you wouldn't know where to go. You had to look for the convention signs around the hotel and eventually stumble upon it.

There were some Quake logos in lights at one intersection and 1 or 2 signs to the expo hall and panels, but none for tabletop. The third floor for panels and the blooddrive was absent of signs unless you walked all the way down one of the many long halls to turn a corner and boom! There are the panels! All 3 of them empty! Wow!

Yeah it was bad.

Even IN the expo hall there was a distinct lack of signs. The Corsair booth was trying to direct people to the other end of the area for sales, but didn't know that they were part of the QuakeCon merch booth. They were telling people it was a solo stand near the stage. They probably lost potential revenue from that.

It was a lot of walking to see a lot of nothing. Unless you sat for one of the finals, which we didn't, there wasn't anything thrilling to see. You could have watched it all on Twitch and had a better experience - because then you weren't spending $20 on food and parking and you could be in your PJ's. Or your underwear. Whichever floats your boat; I am not here to judge your fashion sense.

The only highlight I came away from the convention with was getting to play Wolfenstein 2. That was super fun. There were some minor glitches that I spotted and the controls were interesting to tackle when your character is in a wheelchair, but the action was great. The puzzles within the scenario were smart without feeling cumbersome. And you get to shoot digital Nazis. What's not to enjoy about that? I want this game.

I've been told by friends that years prior it was better. The BYOC section was much larger, there are more booths, and more panels to sit in on. It also helps if you join in on BYOC and make a weekend of it. This probably wasn't a good year for me to attend as the convention had to move unexpectedly to a new spot and work with what they have. Maybe next year will be better - as long as they keep the passes free, people will show up. But they really need to get on the ball with signage and panels. Offer content related to id Software and Bethesda. Get the devs out there to talk about their work and more people will be willing to stop in.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Cosplay Tips - Juding and Prepping for Cosplay Contests

Welcome to another installment of Cosplay Tips, FAQ's, and Q&A's visa-vie, me! With the fan convention season in full-blown panic mode, I've received a number of messages asking about cosplay contests. It's probably in relation to my recent stint at AnimeFest where I was a guest judge for their Saturday events.

Most people see only one side of the contest; and that's the event itself in it's final form. Watching the cosplayers walking and posing across the stage. The skits in their full flurry of activity. It's fun stuff! But so much goes on behind the scenes to make that show happen. From staff, to stage crew, tech, PR, MC, you name it. It's a big production that requires multiple hands with months of preparation - sometimes years depending on the convention.

Few people have judged a contest, and it can be a daunting task. I've addressed general content for cosplay contests before, wanted to go into more detail about the judging process and how to better prep yourself. Hopefully this insight through my experience will help provide some clarity into how difficult it is to be a cosplay contest judge.

**Please note that the information I am sharing is from my experience, and mine alone. I've been a judge at multiple contests over the years that have utilized various rules and formats. I am not giving away any trade secrets; so have no fear, convention admins.**

- What do judges look for in winners? The entire package. They want to see top quality craftsmanship; well executed make-up, wig styling, props, and sewing. Cosplay has evolved dramatically over the last 3-5 years. It's not about being an expert in one field. You need to have multiple aspects incorporated into costume to make it stand out. You need props AND armor AND sewing. Or sewing AND wigs AND armor. All of them must be done well. The quality of work and ease of access to more materials have been a boon to the cosplay landscape. It's also made it much more difficult to judge contests. You have to become a literal jack of all trades, while mastering new abilities - because that's what everyone is doing! You can't rely on only your sewing or your armor to ensure victory.

 Judges also want to see an amazing stage performance. Part of the cosplay experience is the "play" aspect. We want you to transform yourself into the character you are dressed up as. That means walking, posing, and talking (if it's allowed on stage) like the character. You have limited time on that stage to dazzle everyone, and judges respond well to cosplayers that put in the extra effort to be the character. In many cases, the deciding factor between those who get awards and those who don't all rest on the stage performance.

A third aspect that we review is how much you, or you team, push yourself to try something new. There's something to be said for ambition. We like cosplayers that move out of their comfort zone to learn different techniques. That's how you grow as an artist - by perfecting what you know and jumping in to try new things. Boldness in craft can be rewarded if it's done well.

- What shouldn't I do in a judging room? Please don't act like the character you are cosplaying. Leave the performance for the stage. When in the judging room, we are there to check your craftsmanship, and that alone. When you try to act or talk like the character, it can be distracting. It takes away from your work and judges will have less opportunity to learn about how you made your costume.

Don't focus on the negative parts of your costume. Think of pre-judging like an interview. Would you say in an interview "Oh, I'm always late"? Of course not. The same applies to your costume. If parts are unfinished or a piece broke, don't draw the judge's attention to those areas. Protip: The judges can already see if something is not right with your costume. Fit, hem, "battle damage" you name it. We know. Make your presentation about the things you love with your costume. When you are excited about your cosplay, the judges become excited too. We want to learn why and how you made your costume, not about the faults.

Try not to ramble. This one there is leeway on. We know that being in pre-judging can be nerve-wracking and rambling can happen when you have nerves/adrenaline coursing through your body. We get it. But do your best to focus your talk on only your cosplay. While it's great to hear that you love your cat, we don't really need to know about his eating habits.

- How can I make my cosplay better? Loaded question with a vague answer: lots of ways. It depends on you and your crafting skills. But if you're looking for personal constructive feedback, message me. I'm always happy to help!

As for general tips to improving your cosplay:

1. Avoid glue at all costs on anything fabric related. Hot glue in particular. Glue looks and feels low-key. And it doesn't hold as strong of a bond as sewing...unless it's E6000, in which case why are you doing that to your fabric?!? In some parts of the world, glue can very literally heat up and melt off, leaving you with a sticky mess. Just don't do it. There are plenty of ways to attach armor to your body that don't require glue!

2. Use fabric paint on fabrics. Do not use acrylics or oil-based paints. Fabric paint is designed specifically to work with fabric to keep the material soft. Acrylics make the fabric look and feel heavy, and it's prone to cracking/chipping.

3. Try to keep stitching on hems as straight as possible. If you have to go on the slowest speed setting with your sewing machine. Everything looks better when your hems are even!

4. Prime your thermoplastics. Even if you think you don't need to, do it anyway. Smooth worbla, wonderflex, and thibra always look better then the cookie dough texture. You can always dirty them up later with paints.

- How should I present my costume in pre-judging? There are a lot of ways to do it, but I personally do the head-to-toe method. I start with my wig/headpiece and work my way down. It's easier for me to focus on my speech to the judges when I have a consistent starting point. There isn't one right way to start. You can start with your props, your armor, you light pieces, whatever you wish! I also find that even with big/busy costumes, judges will still look at your face first. Since their attention is already on my face, why not start there?

I would recommend practicing your speech before pre-judging. It's easy to be in the moment and forget important aspects of your costume. So start reciting your speech over, and over, and over again to the point where you hate it. That way if you are anxious/nervous, you'll go into auto-pilot on your speech.

It's always good to practice!

- Do hand-sewn costumes do better in contests? Nope. Hand-sewn doesn't hold the same weight like it use to because there is mass access to good, affordable sewing machines. You can find Brother machines on Amazon right now for $99, that come with 8-12 stitch settings. More then enough for your sewing needs.

Cosplay is like any hobby and requires you to invest in your resources. A sewing machine, dremmel, heat gun, etc.: getting the basic tools can be done for under $150! You don't need to break your budget. Because of this, the notion of hand-sewing being "superior" has fallen to the wayside. Most stuff that can be hand-sewn, can be done today with a cheap sewing machine.

Now there are exceptions to the rule such as beading, embroidery, and intricate lace-work or applique. Those machines are still incredibly expensive and not easily accessible to the general public. Embroidery units are coming down in price, but not as much as one would hope. And if your embroidery includes heavy beading, then no machine for you.

All is not lost! Hand-sewing can be impressive if the stitches are so clean that one can't tell if it's hand-sewn or machine-sewn. That's when you'll get a nod on craftsmanship.

- Do judge's play favorites with friends or anime/game/movies that they like?

Ahhhhh, the big question. This one comes up a lot in contest discussions, but it's very rare to have merit behind it.

I've only been accused of this once in my cosplay judging life, and it was at my very first appointment. Someone claimed that all of the judges at this particular event, were showing favoritism with some of the contestants because we knew them personally. The funny thing is that all 3 of us were from out of town - 2-3 states away! For the other judges, it was their first time attending a convention in that state, let alone that event. I only knew one other person there: my boyfriend who was my handler that day - not in cosplay. I had no clue who any of the contestants were. None of us did! It was about as un-favoritism friendly as possible! It still makes me chuckle.

I'd like to add that in all my years, I've never run into a situation where I felt a judge was being unprofessional. There is a general understanding in the cosplay community that being a judge is an important responsibility. We take up that mantle with honor and want to do our best for cosplayers as well as the convention.

Which means we don't show favoritism. We don't give awards to friends or colleagues unless they earned it. The reality is it's much more difficult to win an award if your friend is a judge. And I know a lot of judges will agree with me on that. Why? Because they know your talent. They know what you are capable of. They know your strengths and weaknesses. When they see you present a costume that isn't up to your typical standards, they will know.

The same applies to costumes that we see from our favorite franchises. I'm always thrilled to see a Final Fantasy cosplayer walk up. However, because I'm such a fan, I'm aware of little details in outfits. I know when a belt is the wrong color or if a cosplay is missing an accessory. Most judges are not easily swayed by their inherit fanboy/fangirl nature. We do our best to be as objective as possible. We are measuring the cosplayers on their ability and craftsmanship. Not on whether or not they picked a costume from our favorite series.

And as a judge, if you find yourself in a situation where a friend is competing and you are unsure if you can be objective, notify staff. The cosplay staff is just as much involved in judging as the judges to ensure everything is fair and balanced as much as possible. They will find a way to help! You may be allowed to step out of the room and not take part in that pre-judging, or your scores may not weigh as heavily.

- Do I need a portfolio? It's not always required, but it is highly encouraged. What I like about portfolios is that it's a great way to quickly flip through your costume progress without it taking up your entire presentation. Judges can see additional details of your work that you may not have time to speak about. Some contests do require a portfolio, but a number do not. Still, it's good to have to hand over to the judges. If you're curious about how to make one, enjoy this tutorial.

- If I follow these guidelines, will I win? Nope! Judges are judging costumes based on the rules that have been provided by the convention. They are also comparing your costume to the overall craft quality of the other contestants. There is no guarantee "win" at any contest. All you can do is your best, act your butt off, and impress the judges with your skill. It's up to them to determine if your work will earn an award.

Additional Resources:

Acting Out! Cosplay Runway by TifaIA Cosplay
How to Cosplay Runway by TifaIA Cosplay
Posing and Walk-ons and Skits, Oh My! by SEC-C Cosplay
Follow Me Through a Cosplay Contest by Atelier Heidi
Tips to Make Your Cosplay Skit Great by Ardella Cosplay

Photo credits:  CosPod: The Cosplay Podcast