Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Pac-Man Founder Passes

The name Masaya Nakamura may not ring a bell to many of you. But for a number of the veterans, he's influence on the gaming industry is well known. Nakamura is the creator of Pac-Man. For over six decades, Nakamura managed to turn a small entertainment company into the legacy of arcade games under Namco. He passed away on January 22 at the age of 91.

Nakamura originally started his company to produce and maintain mechanical horses and small rides for children. In the 1970's, they shifted their focus to coin operated arcade machines. We all know the story of Pac-Man cropping onto the scene in 1980 and becoming the most popular arcade game of all time. Some estimates believe the game has been played over 10 billion times. This spawned into home versions of the game that continue today. I'm sure there are dozens of Pac-Man apps to accompany the legacy.

It's a legacy of gaming that will be difficult, if not impossible, to beat. Thank you Mister Nakamura for helping push forward the gaming craze.

Monday, January 30, 2017

PAX South 2017: The Paxening

Another year. Another PAX South. The newest convention on the block for the PAX franchise just wrapped up it's third year, and I think it's probably one of their smoothest running shows that I've experienced in years. It's clear from this round that South is going to make it's name as the indie developer expo. Big teams and AAA titles are not common on the South show floor as of yet; maybe this will grow over time. But talking with the larger groups, we know that November-February are rough times to step away from work to hold a booth and show off your company's wares. Spring releases begin in March and products have to be as bug-free as possible to reach those deadlines. Soon after follows PAX East, which has become the preview event to E3 where all of the new titles are announced in June. South is an odd time, which makes it a perfect opportunity for indies to step in and steal the show.

Honestly? I'm okay with that. PAX East is currently the strong-hold winner for AAA titles. West is big on tabletop as well as larger developers. If South becomes the beacon for smaller and indie titles, that would be cool. They make up the bulk of content on today's market and provide unique experiences that are pushing the gaming medium forward. I'm all for PAX South becoming their spotlight moment.

This was also the first year that I attended a lot of panels. I wish there were more developer panels and less "fan panels" but as a whole I felt more involved in this PAX South then I had in years prior. Last year I didn't attend a single panel. So this was a vast improvement. Even the streaming panels about how to start your own YouTube/Twitch channel were informative. They gave great insight and provided the business perspective of how to manage a streaming lifestyle. 10/10 would go again.

Having been to PAX West, I did find a lot of repeat booths that I skipped. Earthfall, the non-Left4Dead clone with aliens, was showing off their game again. The Capcom booth had a spot-on recreation of their Resident Evil VII house and VR set-up. Truthfully, there wasn't anything captivating about the repeat offenders. But I understand why they did it. For Capcom, RE7 just released a few days prior and if they can sell a few more copies at PAX, why not do it? Earthfall is still relatively new on gamers minds and most in the South don't go to PAX West. It's a good opportunity for a mid-sized company to put their demo out there for people to play.

So this year it was a big focus on indie games.

And Nintendo. Cause Switch.

We didn't get in to play The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The line was always the first one capped (duh) and took hours to work through. It wasn't worth the effort for only 8 stations set up with a 20 minute demo (really Nintendo?). However, I will say that they did have one of the best booth designs. Half of the booth was dedicated to the Switch. The other half was "Switch in Reality." I.E. you could see how the Switch's portability can work in your life. They had a mini Mario café to sit at a booth and play, as well as a Nintendo airplane with goombas and mushrooms on the paneling, so you could play the Switch while you are flying in the air. It was a cute idea and a nice way to see the system in action.

The controllers on the side of the system are super tiny. Like, way too tiny. Tiny for my hands and I'm a chick with small hands. Using them sideways like a WiiMote made it worse! I would never use these controllers away from the Switch system itself. I'd rather they stay attached and use the external gamepad - which looks like a Gamecube but feels like a PS3 controller. The system itself is nice. It's portable to an extent. You would need a case for it, and it won't fit in most purses. But it's fairly light and intuitive. That's the key thing here. Even for the non-initiated Nintendo players around me, they felt like they understood the system once it was in their hands. The display, the control scheme, the interface, it all made sense. That's what will make the Switch stand out from others.

Another big change is the convention center itself. The East wing of the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center finally finished construction and it looks so nice! They tore down the other side to rebuild, but at least we have this new area to play with. Much larger Expo floor, new panel rooms, and more areas to rest (which is always important at PAX). South did a great job of utilizing the space to it's potential and allowed for more involvement with the PAX Arena and Tabletop areas. It felt bigger then East, and that's a big convention center.

My gripes with the event are fairly minimal. Sineage still sucks. First day there I had to do a weapon's check for my prop, but none of the signs pointed me in a general direction on where to go for it. We had to ask a police officer, and he sent us in the wrong direction. The map on the app didn't help either as the station wasn't set up on Day 1. So...yea! There also needs to be a clear distinction on floor 3 being a split area. There are 2 sections of floor 3 and they are not connected to each other. Hopefully that's a future construction that will be remedied, but for now it sucks. The map needs to clarify that.

Some booths covered up entrances to bathrooms and made it difficult to circumvent them. There was a noticeable accident on Saturday in the Expo hall that probably could have been avoided if restrooms were easier to get to. I'll just leave it at that.

PAX XP. While I like the concept of having the game within the game at the expo, it's still a 2-4 hour trek with a ton of walking involved and long lines to be had. The "winnings" at the end were a small medal for the first 15 to turn it in, or a carabiner with the PAX logo. For that much time involved, something more substantial should have been given.

Having two entry-points into the convention is confusing and hectic. The area should be limited to one entry-point only at 8am (when the doors open) until 10:30 (30 minutes after the expo floor opens) to ensure better line control, and less people rushing/running. Safety first! It's fine at 10:30 when more people make their way to the convention, but not to start with.

Too many dead-zones of activity. There were panel rooms that stretched to the far end of the second floor, but a lot of the content from previous years such as group gaming areas and food stands were missing entirely. It felt empty and lifeless for parts of PAX, and that's very un-PAXlike. I'd like them to bring more of those gaming arcades and group games back to the floor for everyone to join in.

Will I go back again? Probably. The trip is way cheaper then any other PAX event, and I like indie games. It's still very relaxing compared to the frantic pace of the other PAX's. And I enjoy talking to developers one on one. You don't get to do that often with the bigger names, but Jim and Janie, mom and pop teams are the people you want to talk to. You get a better since of their passion for their creation, and it's infectious.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

It's an early edition of the Round Up, as PAX South is around the corner and wireless coverage is piss-poor in a convention center full of 50 thousand other nerds all trying to use their cell phones at the same time. So The Geek Spot may be quiet until next week. Enjoy some of the best, and weirdest gaming news on the internet this week:

- Since punching Nazi's is being debated in the news, Paste Magazine is happy to share with people 10 video games that let you do just that! No real world consequences, and you get to feel good doing it!

- There's going to be an Apocalypse Now video game. For reasons I can't comprehend, Francis Ford Coppola has decided that now is the best time for the world to see the legendary movie turn into a video game. Players will take on the role of Captain Willard, on a secret mission to assassinate renegade Colonel Kurtz. Unlike the movie, you can make alternate decisions throughout the game that deviate from the original story. Here's the catch: it's currently not being funded by any major developer. Instead it's going indie and asking for Kickstarter donations. Coppola, I appreciate your cinematic genius but I don't know if this is going to fly. Gamers have been leery of crowd funding as of late so this may not reach it's goal. Or maybe it will and it will surprise us, who knows! It just feels like an odd time for Apoc Now.

- A paper published by Iowa State University gets to the heart of the matter with video games: the ESRB rating system. The system works if you use it.

That's it. That is pretty much the summary of the entire paper. So parents! Watch those ratings when you buy games for your kids. (How this got grant money, I'll never know.)

-  Internet culture group Rooster Teeth has announced a new gaming studio bearing their name and already has a game in the works Battlesloths 2025: The Great Pizza Wars. The studio developed a one-off game for their web series RWBY, which ended up being immensely popular and they went full tilt to creating games. The multi-genre Rooster Teeth hopes that their new studio will bridge the game between indie developers and the gaming community at large.

- The IGDA is already forming a resistance to the repeal of the ACA (the Affordable Care Act) stating that developers having access to medical care is essential for art. Why? Because it's hard to make art when you are sick all the time and don't have the energy to do it. The ACA allowed 25 million Americans to receive insurance when they would not have been able to - either because it was too expensive or companies couldn't reimburse the cost differences. For independent developers, this was a relief that they could obtain access to the same medical care as others without worry about the bills. The repealing of the ACA is putting that safety into jeopardy, and with no back-up plan put forth by Republicans, it's going to be a tough time for a lot of people.

- Finally, enjoy a game glitch that causes a character to "dance" to Michael Jackson's 'Billy Jean.' Because news!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Voice Actors Still Without A Resolution

Friendly reminder: the SAG-AFTRA strike with video game voice actors is still going on. It's currently the second-longest strike for SAG, now at 96 days and counting with no end in sight. Residuals is still the key issue that is being brought to the table as SAG leaders and several prominent game studios work out a resolution.

As mentioned in a previous blog post, gamers won't see an immediate change to their games. Games that were in production after February of 2015 will be affected by the strike. Which means 2-3 years down the road with the next Call of Duty game, you might hear a lot of new, independent voices and not Nolan North in everything.

But the strike goes on. The gaming companies involved are not willing to negotiate beyond their initial response of a pay increase. No residuals.

Honestly my biggest thing if I were a voice actor is being kept out of the dark as to what game I'm working on. If it's Assassin's Creed, that gives me a better idea of what I'm working towards. I could be more motivated to provide a better performance versus "you're a woman who's a secret assassin and you're trying to blend in after taking down a target." While descriptive, it's still fairly vague and could easily be transplanted into multiple games (Mass Effect, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, The Sims-because this could be a legitimate job option in the game). Knowing the context and framework helps. And if your game designers have to sign NDA's to prevent leaks, voice actors can do the same. Think of how many people are still surprised by 'The Simpsons', 'South Park', and 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' with every new episode.

Unless there is a resolution soon, both sides are sticking to their positions and not budging. This will be a long strike.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Video Games and Consoles May Cost More Soon

Tiny hands, orange tan man (hey, if he's going to mock people and not apologize for it, then he is fair game) started off his regime in the U.S. to get the country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It's very "Brexit"-esque because he's a stupid, stupid thing. He's not worthy of being called a human because humans at least show SOME form of compassion for their fellow men and women.

Politics aside, this can have some lasting effects for gamers. The TPP is comprised of a group of 12 nations that border the Pacific Ocean that make up 40% of the world's economy. The pact was to help boost international relations by cutting taxes and tariffs while fostering economic growth to countries in need (Vietnam, Brunei, etc.). Taxes we would have paid on imported items from Malaysia or Japan were reduced or removed entirely so that our country could benefit from the overseas trade.

With the request out there to remove us from TPP, we could see trade taxes and tariffs rise anywhere from 5% to 10%. And it's likely that this will go across the board for all goods being imported into the U.S. While some people believe that it will help make more jobs accessible in the US, it will also raise the price on...everything. Producing goods in the US is not cheap. We have minimum wage laws, OSHA, and legalities that drive up the cost of goods and services. That's one of the reasons why companies have outsourced overseas where laws are different, goods are cheaper, and they can be imported to the U.S. at a fraction of the cost. 98% of clothing sold in the U.S. is made in another country - that's why your $5 shirt at Wal-Mart is $5. If a tariff is imposed on imported goods at a higher rate, we're all going to have to pay for it.

Since one of our trade partners is Japan, that means we could see additional taxes on Nintendo and Sony products made overseas (Nintendo Switch, anyone? 10% of $299 is an additional $29.90 to the cost before you add in state and local taxes). A spokesman for the ESA is looking into the issue but don't have any information to provide at this time concerning how the industry will handle it. Because virtually every game uses some form of foreign work, whether it's graphics, design, building, or making the physical discs.

I smell a trade war.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Violent Video Game Paper Retracted

A flawed "research" paper covering video game violence that was published by Ohio State University has been retracted. Titled 'Boom, Headshot!?,' (what a stylish name...) and published in 2012, from the get-go a number of outside research and peer review groups took issue with the paper. 'Headshot!?' claimed that through video games, one could improve their marksmanship accuracy with a gun, thus leading to more real world violence.

We've heard claims like this before, but the way the paper presented the information did not match up with logical means of disseminating that information from test subjects. AKA: The facts didn't match the paper. There was also a potential conflict of interest as the person heading the study, Professor Brad Bushman, has a history of writing negatively about video games. While that's not enough to get a paper retracted, it does cause one to start ask questions.

Patrick Markey, psychology professor at Villanova University and Malte Elson, a behavioral psychology postdoc at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany began questioning the results when Markey noticed some statistical inconsistencies. They found that the data used was skewed to fit the narrative of the paper. This has been an ongoing review since the paper was first published. Even though there was an edited version released last year, it still held a number of incorrect facts and statistics.

Why is this an issue? People could have been using this paper for years for their own research; citing it as a source while dispensing misinformation. Tailoring research and academic studies to fit your point of view goes against the nature of scholastic studies. It's important to be mindful to not believe everything you read, and to question - but academic papers are still a sacred ground that should not be trifled with. Only write the truth.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Today...


Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality.

Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Gaming news has simmered down this week. Possibly due to the evil that is lurking around the corner from the aftermath of the US elections. But that doesn't stop some weird articles from cropping up. Here's some of the best, and worst gaming news on the internet for the Weekly Link Round Up:

- Researchers at Penn State say that there are plenty of advertising opportunities in video games for companies to take advantage of. Seriously. This is a real story. A story where someone okayed the used of federal grant money to pay researchers to come up with this conclusion. Frank Dardis, an associate professor, compared advergames to general games and found that players responded more positively to the advergames designed around a specific product. Advergames would be the 7Up Spot game from the 90's, or the KFC flash games you can play online right now. I don't know how this qualifies as newsworthy, but there you go. A researcher got paid money to study this. I'm in the wrong job market.

- Nintendo is jumping onto the subscription market and the Switch will be the first system that requires you to pay in order to play online. Lame. Now in all fairness, Nintendo isn't known for their grand online services. Playing with others is rare, and few games in the Nintendo lineup support this feature. Surely the next Mario Kart and Animal Crossing will have an online mode, but it's not the end of the world if you opt out of the subscription. You can still access the eShop, add friends, and share screenshots to social media platforms. Pricing plans have not been announced yet, and the online subscription will be free to US, Canada, and Mexico at the system's launch through Fall of 2017.

- Dan Trachtenber, the director of '10 Cloverfield Lane,' wants to make a video game. He loves games. That's it. That's the news. Thought it would be cool to share.

- Final Fantasy XV is getting a load of updates as of late, along with new DLC that will change the game's story. Though most people that I've talked to who have played the game are not willing to spend another 50-60 hours of their life replaying the entire thing for that on section of story-line. But hey! You can soon take selfies. I guess that's cool? Would have been nice if they released a fully, finished game instead of tweaking and adding content after. They had 10 years to do it.

- Earlier this week Gabe Newell, the king of Valve, held a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything). While a number of questions were about a non-existant Half-Life 3, there may have been a hint or two dropped about a new Left 4 Dead game? Honestly, I don't know. The man is very secretive about the company's work, that until they have a press release to officially announce it, it's difficult to guess. But if you have time on your hands, feel free to read through his AMA. Fun questions were asked, including new hardware for Steam and Valve is developing VR games specifically for the platform. Cool.

- Finally, The King of Fighters fans can rejoice. Another game is coming out...for mobile! Yea? The King of Fighters: World is said to be the first mobile MMORPG that focuses on fighting. An MMORPFG. It will be released this year starting in China. No word yet on it's other international dates, but it's a start. I'm curious on it being an MMO in a mobile format - a fighting game no less!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Red Cross Suing Indie Developer

Hey kids! Did you know that you can't use the red cross symbol in a video game? It's true. Unlike a number of iconic images like Rosie the Riveter that are available to the public for use, the red cross is not. The image to denote help and a place of sanctuary is owned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the symbol is protected by the Geneva Conventions.

Why are we talking about this? Well the developers behind the indie game Prison Architect (Sim City but in a prison), received a letter just before Christmas from the British Red Cross that they were breaking the law by using that symbol. At first they thought it was a joke, but realized soon after that it was a pretty big deal. But the confusing thing was that very few game developers in the past have been targeted for the same infraction.

The red cross symbol on health packs is common in every game. Doom, Halo, you name it. You can't Google Image the red cross without stumbling upon a game version. For a symbol that shouldn't be commercialized, the ICRC is doing a poor job of reminding people about it. At the very least, they are picking and choosing at random, and affecting mostly independent developers not the big guys. Even more confusing is that in Prison Architect the crosses only use up 5 pixels. They are very tiny and don't take up the same space as a Doom health pack.

Right now it's unknown what the developers will do to resolve this. They don't seem to be acquiescing to changing the red cross in the game, but they don't want to pursue legal action either. In this mess, they have brought up a very valid point that the ICRC is spending money in a way that some people may not appreciate; using it to sue game developers instead of taking those donations and helping people. It doesn't help that several offices under the Red Cross have come under fire for donation fraud and misuse of funds over the past year.

Tough nut to crack. What do you all think? Should the ICRC drop their cases and allow games to continue using the symbol (which has always represented health, help, and safety - the same things the ICRC's symbol stands for) or do they have a fair claim on copyright? Thus they would have to go after all game developers - not just the indie crowd.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Blizzard and Cheating

Blizzard is taking the cheating concerns for Overwatch to the next level, by suing a company called Bossland (which has created hacking software that Blizzard claims infringes on their copyright) and banning over 10,000 Korean accounts for "nuking." Bossland and Blizzard have been butting heads for years, as the company pushes out cheats for World of Warcraft and Diablo all the time. However their last bought was settled out of court and the case was dropped, so Bossland isn't too concerned about Blizzard's new threat. But Blizzard claims that the new hack from Bossland is costing the company tens of millions of dollars. One of the hacks is an overlay to the UI that includes cool-down timers of your teammates and the enemies so that you can better prepare yourself for the next attack wave.

The tricky thing is that Bossland is based in Germany, and any lawsuit brought up in the US will most likely not be applicable to German law. This is where Blizzard has lost in the past. While they can ask to have the German version of the cheat changed, they generally can't for the US. Digital laws are fun and incredibly complex. Unless Blizzard can bridge the gap to find a law that would affect their overseas sales, they may lose out on this lawsuit too.

As for the "nuking" situation, that's people being extra dumb on top of dumb thinking that they wouldn't be caught. "Nuking" is when you DDoS specific targets, say your opposing team in an Overwatch match, making the game so laggy it is virtually unplayable. You either end up quitting or losing the game within minutes without having the chance to play. Thus improving the other teams ranking/skills. Unlike the first issue of cheats, this is down right insidious and is illegal in some countries. Intentionally overloading one's network to cause them to crash - yep. Doesn't sound very legal to me. Blizzard commented briefly on why the accounts were banned, and endeavors to keep the cheating situation under control as the game surges on.

It's nice to know that Blizzard is taking cheat concerns seriously. Guess all those reports from players are being looked at after all!

Friday, January 13, 2017

All The "Switch" Updates!

I think you already knew that today's post would be all about the Nintendo Switch. The conference held at Nintendo's office in New York was live streamed last night, highlighting some of the key features with the new system. And yes, it is a system. Not a non-peripheral, non-system.

First off, who at Nintendo thought it would be a good idea to hold the conference at 11 PM Eastern/8 PM Western time? Some of us on the East Coast and Central time zones have to work in the morning.

The big news is that the Switch (yet another dumb name in the line-up of poorly named Nintendo products) will be available a lot sooner then we expected. Releasing March 3, 2017 at $299USD (280 Euro and 480 AU), the game line-up for the system will be big almost instantly. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will also be available on 3/3. The critical hit I Am Setsuna will also be available, as well as Just Dance 2017.

The controllers, called Joy-Con (really Nintendo?) will be your markers for playing the system on it's own or connected to a television. Each Switch will come with 2 Joy-Con controllers. To use the system on it's own, you just lift it and remove the controllers. To connect it to a TV, attached the controllers to the Joy-Con Grip. From there the controllers can be removed for 2 people to use. A replacement controller will cost $50 USD while a pair will end up at $80. The controllers contain NFC sensors to read Amiibo data, so those suckers will not be going away anytime soon, a screen capture button for sharing game content online, motion IR camera, and HD rumble packs.

Nintendo also announced a new Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2, to rousing cheers. Odyssey is currently being viewed as an open-world sand box game, which is very unusual for Mario. It looks to be a #D platformer along the lines of Galaxy. The trailer wasn't very specific about the game content, other then showing Mario jumping around in a variety of landscapes. The game is expected to launch later this year.

But Nintendo doesn't want gamers to feel like this will be a Mario/Zelda/RPG only system. Bethesda and EA have already announced that Skyrim and FIFA titles will be appearing on the Switch. Though I am rolling my eyes about Skyrim. At this point they need to let it go, realize that PC modders are doing the game better, and move on to the next title. Still, that other developers are acknowledging the potential behind the Switch is a good sign.

What's next for Nintendo? They are going on a tour to select cities in the US, Canada, and Germany to show off the Switch. The first 2 days in each city are closed for the press, but the third day will be open to the public. One of the biggest showings will be at PAX South later this month, where it will be on the scene for 3 full days. I will be camping out that booth, come hell or high water. Sorry friends! But really not sorry.

For a recap of the presentation, Engadget has a good 12 minute mash-up of the highlights.

Aside: Of course pre-orders are sold out almost everywhere in the US. Nintendo is doing their dick move once more to undercut supply to drive up demand. There is a possibility that they are releasing waves of pre-orders, so keep an eye out on Amazon, Walmart, and other big name stores for more reservations.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

More Mass Effect Updates as Andromeda Release Date Nears

Mass Effect: Andromeda is getting a flood of attention as of late, now that Bioware has announced a release date and their development team has been tackling more questions about the game through their social media profiles. The team has been quiet through most of development, so any news before the game's release is news worth taking.

Right now the biggest hubbub is multiplayer. It hasn't been discussed in detail other then, Andromeda will have it. Given how mixed the reaction was to Mass Effect 3, which incorporated multiplayer into the main story by requiring you to play it and build up your army's strength against the Reapers. This was pre-patch, mind you. If you didn't play multiplayer, you couldn't obtain the best possible ending for the game. That's been changed and multiplayer is no longer a requirement, but for quite a while that tag team between single and multi damaged the gaming experience.

Recently the team has announced that the multiplayer system will be better incorporated into the main story, but will have no effect on the single player experience. You don't have to play multiplayer if you don't want to. Multiplayer will have it's own story content that will weave into the Andromeda experience, but you playing it won't affect the outcome of your single player campaign. A number of fans are probably expressing their relief on that news. They listened to your feedback, kids. Rejoice!

Even better - no season pass DLC. There aren't details on if the game will have DLC (it will, it's an EA brand now. EA loves their DLC) or if they are opting to release it for free for consumers (again, EA, so probably not). Details to be released eventually...but it's a start as we anxiously await the next chapter.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Return of Starcade?

Does anyone remember the TV game show Starcade? Probably not. It was the 80's after all. But Shout!Factory recently acquired the rights to it and wants to help bring the series back. Shout!Factory is a small media publisher that helps keep the spirits of classic TV shows and movies alive, such as Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventures. They sell DVD and BluRay box sets of the old stuff, and showcase them in movie theaters on occasion too.

So what's up with Starcade?

It's a show where 2 people compete against each other in arcade games for prizes. The show lasted for 3 seasons with 130 episodes in total. The pilot episode even features Alex Trebek! It also gave first glimpses at future hit games like Star Wars and Wacko! Given the current appeal for eSPorts, Starcade could be rebooting itself at the right time.

The original show creators James Caruso and Mavis E. Arthur are on board. There's no word about format, filming, or if it'll be on TV at all. It could be another part of the Shout!Factory streaming lineup. Welcome to the future kids, where games are taking over!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Steam Hits Highest User Rate

As more options for buying games digitally have appeared over the years, Steam is still king of bit mountain. The lord of the internet tubes. The scion of pixel entertainment.

On January 7th they reigned in over 14 million concurrent users. That means 14 million people were on Steam at the same time. What were those people doing? They could be playing a game, chatting with friends, browsing the store (the Winter Sale was present during this time), running updates, or letting Steam sit in the background while they had their computers running. It doesn't matter. 14 million is a lot of people to be using a service at the same time.

At it's peak time, nearly 1 million were playing Defense of the Ancients 2 (DoTA), and 675 thousand people were playing Counter Strike: Global Offensive. In total Steam has over 125 million people signed up to it's platform (this statistic is outdated, from February of 2015 and needs a refresher). The PlayStation Network has over 100 million, while XBox Live still falls behind at under 50 million (those fees, man). But to have that many people using your system concurrently is unheard of. The growth of digital gaming is there, and those companies who are not on board are sure to see a hit in their sales soon enough.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Why Isn't There a Film History Museum?

Over the past week I've had a painful reminder at how little Hollywood gives a damn about their history.

In the early days of film, it was considered a passing fad. People paid a nickel to watch a few minutes of a moving image with a simple story line, enamored by the technology. The demand was so high by the public that small production studios popped up to turn out short films in droves. High demand, high turnover meant lots of films were tossed out after they were done. Very few people saw movies as a long term investment. Which is why so many movies from the past remain lost, and an industry has risen to try and find those pieces of art for a new generation to appreciate.

You would think after the early boom of the medium and knowing  how poorly they treated early films, costumes, and posters, they would have wizened up and taken more steps to protect their past.

You'd be surprised at how wrong that is! Try searching for a film history museum that is outside of a preservation society or the Library of Congress and you're likely to come up with 2 results: The Smithsonian American History Museum and The Hollywood Museum. Both offer small collections of digital and physical memorabilia of films. Listed as "popular culture" and mixed in with music, what's available is fairly limited. Dorthy's Ruby Slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz' are the most memorable. At the Smithsonian, you can find a couple of costumes, props, and posters of films that would appear in a Top 100 listing by a critic. The Hollywood Museum has more oddities, such as a dress from the Jodi Foster version of 'The King and I' and the bike from 'PeeWee's Big Adventure.' All of these are important pieces of film history, but with only two museums in the U.S. that pay homage to the content from the movie sets, it's depressing to think about how much has been lost in the century of film.

Why does Hollywood shirk it's duty in preserving their history? I honestly have no idea. There isn't an emphasis from anyone in the industry to try and keep props, costumes, scripts, and marketing materials. The people who have made the most impact in preservation are fans and those who make a living doing it. And then there's the fabulous Debbie Reynolds, an actress, singer, dancer, and a fan who spent decades saving Hollywood's history in the hopes of opening up a museum.

Is there a market in preservation of the movie content? Absolutely! While there are notable examples of infamous costumes and props, there are dozens of articles showcasing the growing interest in film memorabilia. Christie's Auction House of New York, one of the the top places for any and all auction interests, has a film section and rotates in costume and prop sales on a monthly basis.

If it's a question of "would people want to see movie set content" that can also be answered with a simple "yes." The traveling 'Star Wars' costuming exhibit from 2014-2016 brought in record attendance numbers to the host museums. 'Game of Thrones' also showcased a world-wide costume exhibit in select countries, and it too made the museums popular once more. And those ruby slippers from 'The Wizard of Oz' that I mentioned earlier? It's still the most visited piece at the Smithsonian.

People love the movies. There's an awe to seeing the costumes of your favorite characters up close, or to look at the details of the weapon used in 'Aliens' and be amazed at how that prop comes to life on the big screen.

But there's also an importance in keeping this history preserved. These are all pieces of art that are being lost to time. Would someone throw away Michelangelo's 'David' after it's served it's purpose? Of course not. Paintings, sculptures, and garments from historical figures are preserved for the future to enjoy and relish in the beauty of the art. Why not the same of movies and television costumes and props? You can't seriously look at the 'Game of Thrones' costumes are be amazed at their beauty and attention to detail. You don't have to like the show to appreciate the art.

So why doesn't Hollywood, or movie and television studios take the steps to preserve this content? It's not an issue of money, profit, or interest. There is no answer and it's frustrating. 

That's my gripe for the day. Hollywood, stop destroying your past and get onto it with a film museum. #DoItForDebbieReynolds

Friday, January 06, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

New Year! New Round Up!

Okay so that Round Up is not as new. It's still a mish-mash of the best, worst, and silliest gaming stories of the internet for the week. But it's new content every time. That's new enough for us, right?

- If you are looking for some weekly entertainment, Games Done Quickly is starting their charity run this Sunday, January 8th. This years proceeds will go to Doctors Without Borders and Prevent Cancer Foundation. The line-up is going to include quite a few Mario games and some knock-off sequels like Donkey Kong 5. I had a blast watching this last year and picked up some great tips for Super Mario RPG, so I'm sure it'll be just as fun.

- Razer has confirmed at CES a new tool called Project Ariana. The device allows you to project your computer monitor or television to encompass the entire room you are in, and allow you to immerse yourself into video games. With a 155-degree fish eye lens, Ariana can detect furniture and any obstructions so that the images will conform around the items. While shiny, Razer didn't provide any details about the image quality other then you can plug it into a 4k projector. A 4k projector is moot once you spread out the image beyond it's scaling capabilities; just fyi.

- Also from Razer is Project Valerie (lulz). A laptop with 2 fold out screens on top of it's standard monitor, and packed with the Razer Blade Pro internal gear. A super powerful mobile PC with an over the top screen? Each of the displays is a 4k monitor and it supports NVidia's View, offering 180 degrees of visuals. It's crazy. It's asinine because you know people would break off those screens all the time. Or it would be so happy to counteract the breaking, that it wouldn't work as a laptop. At least it looks pretty?

- The nominees for the 2017 Game Developer Awards have been announced. Don't be surprised if you see a lot of Blizzard and Overwatch but do revel in That Dragon Cancer and Firewatch receiving a few nominations. All of them are great games, but it's good to see the indies starting to work their way into the AAA club.

- I like this article for the headline: An Article to Help You Become A Video Game Pro. It has nothing to do with becoming a pro gamer. It is so ridiculously click-baity without any ads to tack on, that it's kind of funny for how sad it is. "Get[sic] your hands on the hottest cheat codes" and then not provide any details on how to do that. Really, just go read it for a laugh and to shake your head at it. It's just a sad, sad article.

- Capcom is kicking it up with their Resident Evil 7 promotions and offering a full, interactive haunted house in London! The event will take place January 20 through the 23 at a venue in London's East End. It replicates the house that you can visit in the demo, and has some people, props, and creepy sounds that will look very familiar. With the exception of the really bad canned scream at the end of the promo video, it appears to be quite promising! I wish I could see it in person.

- Singer Ariana Grande is going to be in a Final Fantasy game and will have a song tied in to it. She's popular in Japan. The rest of the world seems confused on why she's being included given that she has been "vocal" about not playing games or even liking them. Thanks SquareEnix for pandering to her fans to try and boost sales. /sarcasm  I really don't have much to say about this article, other then I dislike it when developers feel they have to pander to sell a product. If you're going to put in the time, and money, to get a "famous" person into your product, get someone who CARES about your product.

- Finally, if you are an Overwatch player, you are probably fully aware of the Mei glitch in Antarctica map. Blizzard is currently testing a fix for it, and they are going to be aggressively pursuing players who abuse the glitch. A fix is on the way and it's not worth being banned if you get caught.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

NVidia Stepping Up on Cloud Gaming and Streaming - Sort Of

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is kicking up this week with tech companies showing off the gadgets they hope will sell in 2017. NVidia stopped in to hold a conference talking about their latest hardware and software upgrades, including a new feature on GeForce Experience to allow for streaming games to Facebook.

This shouldn't be a surprise at this point that Facebook is desperately trying to take away business from rivals like YouTube and Twitch. In early 2016, Facebook began changing up their algorithms to put more emphasis on videos, and added in more live-streaming options for users. The change in the coding means users who post more videos directly to Facebook or stream from the platform will achieve better search rankings compared to other posts. Then in August, Activision/Blizzard struck a deal with Facebook to allow Overwatch and StarCraft II to be streamed on the social media platform first with a simple mouse click. While Blizzard has stated they are going to expand streaming services, they have yet to make any further announcements.

The GeForce add-on is not really breaking any ground, however. You can currently stream from the program with your NVidia graphics card direct to YouTube and Twitch. However the program is considered a B to C grade level since it eats up processing power to utilize their streaming services. Most streamers opt for another program, like Open Broadcast Software or XSplit. Tacking on Facebook for streaming feels like a gimmick that won't win streamers over.

But Facebook is trying! They see the power of video and want to capitalize on it. Until Facebook can lure away streamers from Twitch and Youtube, on the level of PewDiePie, I don't foresee people flocking to Facebook for their streaming content. Yet.

Other takeaways from NVidia: a $25 monthly cloud based streaming service will be available in March. GeForce Now allows gamers to play some of today's graphic heavy games on any computer, including MAC's, for 20 hours. It's unknown which game developers are on board with this plan and how easy it will be for users. The content would have to be held in a series of high power PC's to play the content for a user to be able to play off their 2009 desktop. Nice in theory, but difficult to ascertain the make-up until we see it live.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Iran Bans Mobile Game 'Clash of Clans'

Video game bans are always an amusing subject on The Geek Spot. From the absurd to the impractical reasons, at this point banning games and consoles is a time-honored tradition. If you have an M-rated game, you are sure to find that your product will not be allowed in at least one country.

Or you can be a mobile game like Clash of Clans and get banned in Iran. Their government is concerned that the game would promote conflict among tribal groups in the country. There is also concern that teenagers are becoming addicted to the game it's disrupting home life, however there is no tangible evidence to back up this claim. Clash of Clans is a freemium, MMO strategy game where you build a town and an army. From there you can create alliances to strengthen your numbers, or conquer other clans.

When the game was released in Iran, it made up 64% of the mobile game market. Big numbers, for sure. With it's popularity, the government looked closer at the content and felt that the product had to be restricted. It is currently only accessible through VPN's, and they are requiring the developer to make changes before allowing it back on their market. According to Iran's Deputy Attorney General, most on the committee were in favor of banning the game.

This isn't the first time Iran has banned a game. It's well-known that the region is sensitive to outside media that enters their country. Even Pokémon Go was banned, with concern that the game would cause people to enter religious sanctums or unwanted areas. Games like FIFA have an underground market, at it's lowest selling for $99USD. It's an area that few developers want to deal with because of all of the laws that the Iranian government imposes on media.

The developer, Supercell, has not responded to the ban, yet. The details on what Iran is asking Supercell to change are also unknown. More then likely Supercell will either make no tweaks to the game to make it acceptable to Iran's laws, or not do a thing. Released in 2012, Clash of Clans is still ranked as one of the top 5 games to download and brings in $500,000 USD daily. This was after Iran banned the game. I think they'll be fine with not pursuing that market.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Geek Spot 2016 Year in Review

It's Over! 2016 is done! Fina-to! Finished! It's vamoosed! Gone, gone, gone! Yea!

Now we have 2017 to deal with, which could arguably be way worse then what 2016 brought on us.

But let's not get into the heavy content just yet. It's only day 3 of the new year, and we should revel in the fact that 2016 is no more. At least until January 7th. By then a full week has passed and all bets are off.

As part of the tradition of The Geek Spot, one of the first posts of the new year is a review of the content posted last year. Using the information provided by Blogger as well as a stat counter, it's fun to see which people are visiting this blog, how often, and what topics catch your interest. And sometimes it's funny. Here are the results of another year of The Geek Spot:

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

All Points Bulletin (APB) knocked Banjo Kazooie out of the top 5! I mentioned APB twice this year, focusing on what happens to MMO's after their worlds shut down, and life after java. The rest of the search terms are par for the course. Porn always manages to make it into the search list, though there is no pornographic content on this site. So do violent video games and my one panel overview of using anime in a classroom setting. Oh and Ubisoft, because they are just as much fun to pick on as EA.

Referral Sites: All the Googles! This year the numbers of readers increased by nearly 15,000 (HOW?) and they all came from the Google. The Geek Spot's internal search engine took second place with Google UK in third.

Browser: Chrome is still king at 39%, and Firefox is right behind at 28%. Some of you are still rocking IE old-school at 21%, and there are a few Safari lovers at 5%. My guess is that Safari = mobile, because there are only so many Apple computers out there, and it's not the go-to-system for games. Sadly the PSP has dropped off the radar.

Country: The USA is still on the top for 2016 readers, making up over 58% of the audience, at least a 20% increase from last year. The remaining 4, Germany, France, Russia, and the UK are constantly swapping seats with each other every year. Russia came in second with France not far behind, only 10k difference in numbers.

Most Viewed Posts: This one is fun to review. With only looking at readership numbers from 2016, this section typically includes older posts.

The Feminist Stance on Bayonetta - 13,949. I think at this point we can assume this will always be a staple on the Top 5 most viewed posts every year. Heck, this was mentioned in an academic article so there will always be people linking to it, and/or reading.

Academic Anime - Anime in the Classroom - 10,888. Also another constant on the most viewed posts. And "word porn." Lulz.

Fallout 4 Nearly Broke the Internet of Porn - 9,999. First off, who was that one person who did not click on this article to give it an even 10k? How dare you. Second, porn! It seems like anytime porn is mentioned on this site, people will click on it. Does not matter how incredibly tame the article is. Keyword Porn = click. If I wasn't so darn honorable, every post here would have a porn keyword.

What Can We Learn From Bad Games? - 8,950. According to this readership, a lot can be learned from bad games! I wasn't expecting this to be such a hot article, but thanks for surprising me.

PAX West 2016 - The Review! - 7,249. This is a pretty straight forward article chronicling my adventures at PAX West. It was my largest convention of the year, and as a first time attendee I did my best to soak up the excitement. I guess it translated well, since over 7,200 of you read the article. While I won't be returning this next year, I do have SDCC on the docket as well as BlizzCon. So maybe there will be an equally as great post to make up for the lack of PAX?


Let's make 2017 not suck. Get out there. Be active. Make a difference in  your community. And don't forget to wash your hands.