Friday, August 31, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's Friday, Friday, F-R-I-D-A-Y! Which means nothing to me, but it is time for another weekly link round up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet. Here's what we've found:

- China's leader Xi Jinping stated yesterday that too many children in China needed glasses and the cause for bad eyesight was video games. The day ended with billions being wiped from the stock market for predominant gaming companies. The Ministry of Education has issued new rules to limit the number of games approved by the media regulators, add more physical activity to children's lives, and reduce the amount of time they play video games. Because Chinese regulators, in general, have power over every aspect of their citizens lives, people will listen and follow. Thus the tumble in stocks. While some of the issues "might" by the fault of children not giving their eyes time to rest, one does not gain nearsightedness because of video games. Genetics plays a big factor.

- Continuing news in China, within the past 2 weeks the government has been cracking down hard on bitcoin and cryptocurrency to the point of being an almost ban, but not quite yet. Regulators begun blocking websites that focus on cryptocurrency, or imposing heavy regulations on them, such as WeChat. Search engines like Baidu are blocking any terms for cryptocurrency. Why the sudden surge in blocking? No announcement has been made, but it's likely that the government feels threatened by the growth of cryptocurrency - no ways to track or trace owners and thus it's not something the government can regulate.

- Oh hey...more news from China! It's one of those days. SquareEnix have signed a letter of intent to enter into a "strategic alliance" with Tencent Holdings. Details on the agreement are unknown, but the overarching plan is that both companies will create new games and license existing properties to other countries. Tencent has similar dealings with Riot Games, Activision/Blizzard, and Ubisoft.

- With Amazon Prime's amazing pre-order discount gone, where are gamers to go for their cheap new games? Well the options are very limited if IGN's article is anything to go by. You've got Amazon's new program for $10 Prime credit that you can only use on some merchandise and it's only available after the game ships. There's BestBuy's updated rewards program for $10 off a future purchase. And then GameStop with discounts on used games. IGN. Why did you bother to write this? There are no pre-order benefits here! Lame.

- The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) will start issuing warnings for in-game purchases. The icon of a hand holding a credit card will act as a signal to customers that the game contains microtransactions. With the rise of concern over loot boxes, it's good to see that one regulator is trying to give customers a heads-up.

- Fandom has a very click-baity article on the 5 ways PAC-MAN has influenced modern video games. It's silly, but also light reading. So if you need a break from the doom and gloom of the day, here you go!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Nintendo Continuing Take-down on Fan Gaming Community

Nintendo is going legal happy and sending out more cease and desist notifications. This time it's for 'Pokémon Essentials,' an RPG creation tool for people to make their own variations of Pokémon games. The kit has been available since 2007, and now a decade later it's no more. What's even more surprising is that Nintendo also went after the 'Essentials' Wiki. It too has been removed and now the cumulative history and knowledge of the tool is gone.

'Pokémon Essentials' has been the major kit behind most fan-made Pokémon games. Voluntary Twitch, Pokémon Uranium, couldn't have made the game without 'Essentials.' And the game was downloaded over a million times before Nintendo stepped in. Fan games are always a questionable minefield, and most companies seem to be okay with letting them go as long as the creators don't profit from them.

Nintendo seems to have other plans as they continue to pursue more legal action against creators to maintain copyright. From their perspective, it makes sense. They don't want bad representations of their brand out there for consumption. They want to control it. It's no different than what George Lucas did with the 'Star Wars' property when the licensing for video games went crazy. As such, he created LucasArts to bring everything back into the fold for quality assurance. But on the other side of the argument, fans are feeling attacked for showing how much they love Nintendo's products. They want to celebrate Nintendo and their achievements. Instead they are threatened with lawsuits. Even if the fans make no money from their endeavors, Nintendo sees a problem with it.

At this point, how far will be too far for Nintendo? Will they start policing costumes/cosplay? Original fan art designs? Forum avatars? Will they claim that they invented the pixel so you can't have any references to 8/16/32 bit art? Only Nintendo knows, and it smells like trouble for the rest of us.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

With Discount Gone, Amazon Is Adding More Pre-Orders

Now that Amazon Prime 20% off pre-order deal is forever gone for members, what shall we do to get our discounted new game fix?

Well Amazon is already pushing new pre-orders onto their site that have either never materialized, or were originally up and then removed months ago for unknown reasons. Such as Spider-Man, as Kotaku discovered. The web-sligning game has had high praise and interest since it's E3 2018 showing, but was not on Amazon for long. Why it was pulled? Who knows for certain. Either Amazon or Sony made the call. But that pre-order deal could have been disruptive to Amazon's bottom line if enough people purchased it.

Miraculously, the game is back up for sale and, oh look! No more 20% off deal.

2018 has been an odd year for pre-order offers on Amazon. A number of big title games have been missing or did not appear until the last minute. I ran into this issue with Wolfenstein II, where the game wasn't up for pre-order until 2 weeks before it's scheduled release. But you could reserve it at WalMart, Target, and GameStop months in advance. Highly anticipated games like Red Dead Redemption II and Days Gone still remain missing on the website - at least their physical versions. The 20% discount only applied to hard copies of the game; not digital. Even Battlefield V has been absent, with only a digital code offered. I was hoping to at least reserve Dragon Quest Builders 2, but alas. It was not meant to be as Amazon still does not have the game listed.

When retailers make a decision to end a program, it's a months-long process and decision-making. The fact that a number of pre-order titles did not appear on Amazon until recently is no surprise. If the company has been working to discontinue the 20% off offer, they would use it to their advantage and offer less content. Once the discount is gone, throw the games up for reservation.

Video game analyst Mat Piscatella predicted that we'll see a lot of games become available for pre-order on August 29th. There will be no surprise here if that's the case in the coming weeks.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting

Yeah. We have to talk about it. As much as I try to keep this blog a space where you can take a break from reality, even in it's most heated moments, there are some events I can not overlook.

Yesterday in Jacksonville, Florida, a gunman opened fire at Jacksonville Landing (a shopping pavilion) during a Madden 19 tournament. The suspect has been identified by police as 24 year old David Katz of Baltimore, Maryland, who had been attending as a player and won the tournament in the past. Two people were killed in the shooting, and 11 injured (9 with gun shot wounds). The gunman is believed to have killed himself and was found dead on the scene. What made this all the more real for so many gamers is that this event was live-streamed. The shooting happened on camera for thousands to watch. This event was a regional qualifier where the winner would go to Las Vegas for the finals.

Whatever the gunman's motive was, we may never know. But in the coming days, weeks, and months, we'll once again hear the same rhetoric: "Video games are violent." "Thoughts and prayers to the victims." "This isn't about guns, this is about video games."

Gamers, we know that what happened at Chicago Pizza and Sports Grille is not reflective of who we are. That type of violence is not us. Also, making callous jokes about DLC and micro-transactions when people died  is not representative of who we are. Stop it.

We, as a country, can no longer ignore that we have a serious epidemic on our hands. As of yesterday there have been 234 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2018. We are on day 239. That is almost 1 mass shooting every, single, day. Most first and second world countries haven't experienced a single one this year. These are not countries with radical ideologies. They are countries with citizens that are not much different from us: they enjoy playing video games, going to the movies, talking about 'Game of Thrones' and 'Star Wars', go to work, and want to create a better life for themselves and their community. They also understand how deadly guns are and have enacted laws to ensure they are used safely and kept in the right hands.

We can't ignore this issue any longer. All of our safe havens and places of entertainment have been harmed. We need to act and make change happen in our politics, in our policies, and in our community. I'm not saying this will be easy and it will take a long time, but I'm sick of the violence. I'm sick of always having to be on my guard to go to work. I'm sick of reading this news of more gun deaths every day. I'm sick of what the future will hold for the next generations. We need to leave the world a better place for them.

This is no longer a question about video games being violent and causing aggressive behavior. Games are not responsible for someone pulling the trigger on a gun.

- Note: I understand that gun ownership is a contentious issue in the U.S. While I'm a strong believer that we should have stricter laws, no sales of automatic weapons, and harsher criteria for owning a weapon (ideally Japan or Sweeden's laws), I'm not against someone owning a weapon. But there has to be a responsible way of doing it. What we have on the books now is not it.

Please do not leave sexist, racist, or insulting remarks on this post. They will be deleted. Debate and discourse is fine, as long as you present your arguments in a thoughtful, rational manner.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Yep. It's that time again. A time where we can share the world of video games in a bite-sized chunk that is easy to digest. It's the Weekly Link Round Up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet. Here's what we have in store today:

- It shouldn't be a surprise that Nintendo dominated sales charts in July. What's more surprising is that the top game was a small-time JRPG and games that have been out for nearly a year. New releases like Mario Tennis Aces barely cracked the top 10. While not necessarily the signal that the tastes of gamers are changing, it is important to note that the gaming audience is diverse and wants lots of things. It's okay to add something new to the line-up and get good results from it.

- As the struggle with China's video game board continues, Bloomberg takes a look inside Tencent and how the company has profited over the years by bringing popular video games overseas. For being one of the world's largest markets for gamers, it is one of the strictest. And even Tencent is not immune from the gaze of regulators. How does this company stay on top?

- Amazon's game studio is ready to start touting a release: The Grand Tour Game. Meant as a tie in to their original TV series, The Grand Tour Game will be an episodic release that coincides with the show. Players will be able to reenact content from season 3, with weekly updates as the show progresses. The game was officially announced at GamesCon this week with a playable demo for journalists. A release date has not been set yet.

- Reminder about Amazon Prime Benefits: The video game 20% off pre-order will go away August 28. Pre-order your games now while you can. Yes I hate that I'm advocating pre-ordering games. Yes I still don't like to pre-order. But it's better to order now and get that discount than to wait later and pay full price. You can always cancel if you decide the game isn't for you. Plus you are not charged until the item ships!

- If you're worried about AI's beating us at video games, don't worry. The bots at the DotA championship lost 2-0 in a best of 3 contest. Go flesh-meats!

- Speaking of AI, NVidia is using AI to help produce better gaming hardware. On Monday the company announced a new video gaming chip with the latest 'ray tracing' technology thanks to AI. The chip updates how light bounces around an environment to feel more realistic. It's meant to product more accurate reflections and shadows like one would see in reality. And AI's are helping to make it happen!

- And hey, here's another tie-in to the last story! GamesCon is this week with loads of content being dropped by developers. The large gaming event has seen the announcement of release dates, new games, and even a potential August 2019 date for Shenmue 3. What games are you looking forward to thanks to GamesCon?

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Paramount Greenlights 'Monument Valley' Movie

Paramount Pictures has gained the films rights to the mobile game Monument Valley, with plans to produce it into a movie directed by Patrick Osborne. Thankfully, Osborne is an animator (and Academy Award winning one at that) and knows a thing or two about story-telling. Monument Valley was a success in 2014, earning it's developer Ustwo nearly $6 million in the first year of release. It was even featured in an episode of Netflix's 'House of Cards.'

The problem is, this is an odd game to choose to transform into a film given it's aesthetic and premise. It certainly won't attract the same attention as Angry Birds or Tomb Raider. Monument Valley is a puzzle game, where you play as princess Ida as you manipulate the world to jump through mazes and optical illusions to reach the next level. On the one hand, that leaves the story very open for liberal interpretation by Paramount. On the other, it's like taking Tetris and cramming a story into the cartridge. The fit is weird and does not leave a lot of room for error. Osborne and Paramount need to capture the narrative precisely if they expect to see a profit from this.

In speaking with Deadline, Osborne commented "Monument Valley is a one of a kind experience, at once small in its meditative, simple gameplay, as well as enormous in its sense of history[.]" And he's right. Monument Valley is a one of a kind experience that will be difficult to replicate into a film that will mix both live-action and animation. Given the legacy of gaming movies, maybe it's best to have low expectations on this project.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Video Games: Psychological Boost

Here's a thought: what if one's obsession with video games is not about their addictive qualities, but obtaining unmet psychological needs in the real world?

That's the premise behind an article written by Andrew Kinch, found of GameAware, and Nir Eyal, a businessman turned blogger who looks at the psychological aspects of consumerism. Kids are not only drawn to video games for it's bright sounds and colors. It helps them feel fulfilled on a mental and emotional level.

The article states that kids are looking for 3 key things in their life: competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The same can be applied to adults. We wanted to achieve mastery and growth over an activity, freedom from control, and be able to believe that what we are doing has an impact. There are very few outlets in reality that allow us to tackle all three. Video games, however, allow us to save the kingdom, learn tricky jumping moves, and stop the bad guy. Games are more in-tune with our psychological needs than what reality has to offer.

Are there children and adults with more obsessive gaming compulsions that border on the destructive? Of course. But for the vast majority, video games offer a chance to fulfill our mental and emotional needs in a way the real world can't. There is nothing wrong with that.

The article continues with suggestions for parents on how to foster a healthier attitude on games: give your children some freedom both in games and outside of games. Let them choose what to eat, or what time to play or do work. Parents also need to be involved in the games and allow their children to become tutors - giving them a sense of satisfaction knowing that they are teaching their parents. And it's important to be vulnerable and show weaknesses. It's okay to tell your child that you are not doing well at a game, but that you want to do better - the life lesson of failure is one so often overlooked and needs to be instilled in children early on to ensure a healthier attitude later in life.

It's nice to see a psychological perspective about video games that doesn't bash the medium.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Amazon Updates Prime Benefits for Gamers - It's Not Good

If you are an Amazon/Twitch Prime member, check your e-mails. Amazon is changing some of the perks for gamers. Unfortunately...

The current system for Amazon Prime customers allowed customers to pre-order games, or purchase new games within the first 7 days of release, at a 20% discount from the retail price. It was a good incentive to get gamers onto Amazon, and that perk transitioned to the Twitch Prime membership after Amazon purchased the streaming company.

The new change to begin August 28 will now give customers a $10 Amazon Credit to use on select pre-order titles. No longer will the 20% off be a blanket rule. The $10 credit will be applied to a customer's account within 35 days after the pre-order is released and/or delivered. The credit is only valid for 60 days. Use it or lose it. I think a resounding "lame" is in order.

This change is in line with other discontinuing discount programs, such as Best Buy. It's not surprising that Amazon is updating their offerings, but it is disheartening that it is such an extreme change from what it once was.

So, gamers. Pre-order before August 28 to get that 20% discount before it's gone.

For those who are in it for the Twitch benefits, that's changing too! Subscribers will start seeing advertisements on channels starting October 15th. Anyone with an Amazon Prime account was able to watch Twitch streams without ads as one of the perks. Amazon essentially footed the bill for all Prime users to have a Twitch Turbo account. But now if you want to watch Twitch without ads, you need to get a yearly subscription to Twitch Turbo before September 14. Yes, that does include Prime members. You need to pay an additional $8.99 a month for Turbo. For channels that you have given you free subscription too, you can still watch those ad free. Here's the catch: If you have an annual subscription to Amazon Prime you shouldn't see changes. This will only affect the monthly subs. Hopefully that is still the case when the update happens.

Amazon is getting a lot of flak from gamers over these updates. Our last spot of hope and discounts is being removed. It's not going to be pretty.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Yes, gamers! It is that time once more where we search through the tubes of the internet to provide the Weekly Link Round Up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet. Here's what we've found:

- If you're interested in how StreamLabs was formed, the website that allows users to easily set up Twitch content for tips, chat logs, and what-not, Money Magazine spoke with CEO Ali Moiz to get the details. The conversation even touches on how StreamLabs makes money, since the service is mostly free!

- Tying in with an earlier story this week for Monster Hunter: World, China's video game regulators have reportedly not been approving licenses for several months. Only a small number of games have trickled through the system while the government branch works through restructuring. Tencent Holdings has shed nearly $160 billion in market value due to this announcement. That is way too much money. Other game developers such as Nexon and Capcom have seen slight stock drops due to the freeze. Games that are waiting in the system will be there indeterminately. Games that have been pulled from shelves to be checked again, will have an even longer wait ahead.

- Random factoid: In 35 years, Nintendo has sold over 725 million consoles. Yes, that does include handheld consoles like the Game Boy and Nintendo DS variants. That's a lot of plastic!

- If you thought Ash from the 'Evil Dead' series would be done forever, you are wrong. After Starz cancelled the series, many fans thought Bruce Campbell would hang up the mantle. But he's turning his love of all things Ash to the gaming world. An Evil Dead game is in the works with Campbell voicing the beloved Ash Williams. Details about the game are spotty. There is no word on the developer, publisher, or a potential release date. But we'll be happy to have Ash back with his boomstick!

- More from the loot box controversy: Australian researchers are calling for stricter regulations, citing that the boxes are a form of gambling. In that the flash and allure of the boxes is similar to a poker machine - which could cause one to overspend while being influenced by the game. Calls to the government was in the early stages to review current laws. If any country is going to start heavily regulating loot boxes, other than China, it'll be Australia.

- What does it mean to buy a video game today? That's what this Kotaku article tackles. Unlike a dining experience or going to the movie, video games are a much more fluid, and divisive product. What should one expect when buying a game? What should be the grounds for returning it? Can one ever be satisfied with an evolving product? This is your "thinking" article for the week.

Have a wonderful weekend, gamers!

Image: Freshly Tech

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

'Ninja' Won't Stream With Women, And Why That's a Problem

I don’t play with female gamers."

Top Fortnite streamer Tyler 'Ninja' Blevins spoke with Polygon about his choice to not play with female gamers, and it has set off a flurry of responses. Blevins' decision to stream alone or only with male gamers has to do with respect for his wife, and to ensure no rumors are started between him and other women. He's open about his relationship with his wife Jessica “Jghosty” Blevins, also a streamer and his manager. He doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize their marriage.

Given how quick people are to assume anything and everything these days, he has a fair point about caution. If he chats with a female gamer and someone thinks they are flirting, a user needs to only clip the Twitch stream, upload it to YouTube, and it becomes click-bait fodder. "#1 Fortnite Streamer Cheating on Wife!" The click first, ask questions later format is getting the better of us.

As upstanding as Blevins' concerns may be, it points to a larger problem with gaming and the streaming community: alienation of women. There are very few women and POC at the top of the streaming charts for Twitch, YouTube, and Mixer. The headliners are white men. Seeing someone who doesn't fit the white and male archetype is an anomaly, when it shouldn't be.

Women face a harsher up-hill battle with finding a voice on gaming streaming sites. More often than not we're called Twitch Thots; women exploiting their looks to get paid for views, thus not being "real gamers." We are not given the same level of respect or credibility as our male counterparts. We're harassed more often by viewers and have to wade through a literal minefield with our relationship info - once it's out there, women are hounded for their single/partner/marriage status. While my friends and family know of my relationship, I keep that content off Twitch. Which makes it much more difficult for people to find a connection with me. Thus lower views, lower results, lower turnouts, and lower revenue. It's also one of the major reasons I very rarely use a web cam. The first comment I receive 99% of the time when that web cam turns on is "Wow! You look pretty! What's your number?" or "Show your boobs!"


This isn't occasional harassment. This is every time I stream from Twitch. It's annoying. Twitch won't ban these people, and male streamers continue to perpetuate the myth of Twitch Thots. Blevins' deciding to not stream with women further exacerbates the notion that female gamers are not worth our time. "Men can't be friends with women. Men only want sex. Women don't know about games. Blah. Blah. Blah." We know these statements are not true. However, this is message sent across the gaming sphere when big-time streamers like Blevins decides that he doesn't want to work with women.

Noble intentions can have disastrous consequences if there is a long-standing problem in the community. Prove that you're an honorable human being and stream with all types of gamers, regardless of gender or skin color. Show your fans that yes, you can have a successful marriage while working with women and men! What a novel concept...that most of the world handles every day at their job/school/home.

In the end, it is Blevins' decision on who he streams with. But it is as important for us to realize that there is a problem with diversity and inclusion in gaming. Blevins commentary further proves it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bethesda to Sony: We Want Cross-Platform or No 'Legends'

Bethesda might be the first in a long line of developers that is issuing a hard stance on it's future games: Sony needs to allow for cross-platform play, or some of their games won't go to the PlayStation 4. This is according to Pete Hines, Bethesda's senior vice president of global marketing and communications. Talking with GameInformer about the upcoming release of The Elder Scrolls: Legends for consoles, Hines was committed to ensuring that the game be available on all systems, but that cross-play is required. That's one aspect of the game they will not budge on.

"It is our intention in order for the game to come out, it has to be those things on any system. We cannot have a game that works one way across everywhere else except for on this one thing. The way the game works right now on Apple, Google, Steam, and, it doesn't matter where you buy your stuff, if you play it on another platform that stuff is there. It doesn't matter what platform you play on, you play against everyone else who is playing at that moment. There's no 'Oh, it's easier to control, or it has a better framerate on this system.' It's a strategy card game. It doesn't matter."

And the bottom line is Hines is right. There is no reason why a card game like Legends or Hearthstone can't be cross-platform when the content is able to work on a phone. There are no framerate updates. There are no graphical improvements. It's the same game regardless of what you play on.

However, cross-platform is a big deal. In the past year Microsoft has been more willing to work with PC's and Nintendo to allow gamers to play together, regardless of the system they play on. XBox One fans can hang out with the PC friends or their Nintendo Switch pals while playing Fortnite. Sony is the reluctant party for a multitude of reasons: loss of revenue by people not buying a PS4/games and not signing up for online services, giving access to other developers and consoles makers to their coding/systems, opens potential for more hacking incidents; to name a few of the concerns.

Sony isn't the only bad party here. While many gamers are dog piling on them, keep in mind that Sony does offer cross-play for a number of games with PC users, and has been for well over 16 years with Final Fantasy XI. Sony was one of the first companies to allow for cross-platform play with the PS2 and PS3. Microsoft and Nintendo are the hold outs for MMO's and other games that have a PC/Sony connection for the same reasons: revenue, coding, hacking, internal policies, etc.

The bottom line is that the lack of cohesive cross-play among all gaming systems (phone, tablet, console, computer) is the fault of everyone in the industry. This isn't Sony's fault.

But we are all very aware that the way we game has changed. Twitch and YouTube have promoted an "always-available" style for gamers, and we want content to be at the tips of our fingers. We want to play on our PC's, take that same game data to consoles, and then share screenshots with friends/family on our phones. Cross-play is a necessity in today's gaming world. All of the console makers need to realize this and act on it if they wish to survive the next cycle.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Latest Monster Hunter Pulled from China Days After Release

Monster Hunter: World, one of the biggest titles this year, was pulled from Chinese shelves after the government received "numerous" complaints about the game. Details on what those complaints were are currently unknown. Neither the government nor Tencent Holdings, the distribution company, are talking.

After a month of rigorous testing, Monster Hunter: World was released in China via Tencent's 'WeGame' platform. The site is a Chinese-language mix-use format, allowing streaming, support tools for gamers and developers, and sales of PC games. The site was launched last September and has become China's biggest PC game distributor. Monster Hunter passed the checks and was allowed to be sold. But the complaints from consumers forced WeGame to remove the product from sale.

Servers are up, but that too could change soon. Those who have purchased the game are entitled to a refund upon request, and have until August 20 to request it. Those who wish to keep the game will get a small credit from WeGame at 30 yuan ($4 USD). While this setback shouldn't affect Tencent's bottom line, it is a blow to gamers in China. Without any details, there's no way to know if Monster Hunter will be back on the market at all. It's in the hands of China's 'The State Administration of Radio and Television' to determine if the game should be further edited for content.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's the Weekly Link Round Up, and thank goodness! The world has somehow survived another week, so we can use it to talk about video games even more. Huzzah. The Weekly Link Round Up is a collection of some of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet...this week. Here's what we've found:

- We know Germany has a strict ban on anything Nazi related. And for a very good reason. Well, something unexpected has happened. The Entertainment Software Control (known as the USK) in Germany announced that it may now allow swastikas and certain "[s]ymbols of anti-constitutional organizations" in select video games - depending upon the game's age rating. Games rated T or lower will most likely still require the imagery and symbols to be banned. But this is a pretty bold move by Germany to allow for less censorship. This only applies to video games and other media are still expected to abide by the country's laws. Games like Wolfenstein could potentially not have to go through severe edits in order to be available for sale in Germany. This could have longstanding ramifications, both good and bad.

- NASA's satellite data is helping make video games more hyper-realistic. ASTER (the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer) has helped NASA map out topography on Earth in a level of detail we have never seen before. Gaming companies like EA have been able to take advantage of this knowledge to create base layers of terrain before adding their creative flair. It's a cool way for science, technology, and entertainment to merge together.

- We knew this day was coming soon - Discord started selling video games yesterday on it's platform. The gaming chat system has exploded over the past 2 years, with over 150 million users. The beta is live for paid memberships to get free games, and a traditional digital store front for non-subscribers. But, there is a catch. The beta is only available in Canada to a random selection of 50,000 customers. Those selected will see an upgrade to Discord Nitro, and the beta is only available for PC, Windows users. Their aim is to take a nick out of the digital gaming sales market that is dominated by platforms like Steam. Even if it's a small sliver, it would be a huge profit boost for Discord.

- Kotaku has an article on why video game characters never remove their clothes. I can explain why BioWare does it really quickly - did you know that the number of pixels in Kaidan Alenko's (Mass Effect 3) chest is the same amount as an entire body for other characters? It was such a resource suck that it couldn't be replicated. That's why we don't have naked Garrus. Sorry peeps.

But really, the activity of removing clothes is a challenge to animate because of the technology. Clothes are grafted onto the characters as if it were their own skin to provide better animation. You basically get 2 sets of a character - the nude model and the clothed model. Transitioning from one to the other is something the programs don't know how to compute. Yet. That's the summary, but it's still funny to see an article about it.

- NBC News looks at how the quality of video games are overpowering the industry - short stories with strong content are taking out the big names who provide flashy visuals and not much else. While AAA titles reign supreme, many of the best games from the past few years that come to mind are titles like Cuphead, Gone Home, Her Story, That Dragon: Cancer, and Papers: Please. Sure there's Assassin's Creed: Origins, but fewer people talk about that game than Cuphead. Even the recently released Octopath Traveler (independently developed and published by SquareEnix) sold out fast and has been difficult to keep stocked - people didn't expect a game with simple graphics to sell well. Shiny images don't always sell a game.

- A happy 10 years to Giant Bomb, the gaming website that was one of the earliest to adopt full-playthroughs of games and provide YouTube-like content before YouTube was a "thing." Variety has a good write-up about the history of the website, and the founders vision.

- Facebook is going further into gaming development with AR games that work with their Messenger chat app. The games are meant to be social and require 2 people or more to play to make use of the camera features. There are some simple shooting spaceship games, Don't Stare which is exactly what you think it is, as well as fun backgrounds and camera filters. It's a new way for Messenger to be more engaging to it's users.

- Finally, the best list we could find this week because it is weird: The 5 best Video Game Currencies. Yep. It's as silly as you think it is. Of course Fallout and Super Mario Bros. is listed. It would have been a crime to not have them included.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

EmuParadise Shifting Focus Away from Emulators

We need emulators to preserve video game's history.

The one thing that this industry has been abysmal at is keeping clean, workable copies of video games past their shelf life. It's part of the reason why we have a used video game market that was worth over $2.3 billion in 2014. Finding that one copy of Mother in working condition for your region coded-console could cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. While the NES Mini and SNES Mini have brought back some games to the market, there are only a select few locked into those systems. You can't take that content and play it on the Nintendo Switch. They are still neglecting the thousands of games produced for those consoles.

Another issue is that the vast majority of developers and console makers won't let people see their coding/game building practices. It's a magical secret we are not meant to be privy to. Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Ubisoft, EA, Activision - these developers are not going to willingly give up their game coding. It's "their" property and if they opt to not share, that's their call. In doing so, they are destroying their history by not willing to preserve it. Yes, Assassin's Creed: Unity was an awful mess of a game. But it deserves to be preserved as a tool for the future to learn from. The argument is that people will copy and sell the games once they have access to the code, leading to a rise in piracy. However a number of studies in recent years have concluded that piracy has little to no effect on the developer's sales. It's a blip on the radar.

Emulators allow us that chance to keep our video game history alive and prominent.

Which is why I was disheartened to read this morning that one of the most well-known of the group, EmuParadise will no longer share emulators in the wake of Nintendo's decision to sue and In a public announcement posted yesterday, EmuParadise will keep their 18 years of history available for viewing, but they will not be accessible for downloading. The site is moving forward with promoting all things retro games with a yet-to-be-determined framework of content.

The response has been strongly condemning Nintendo for forcing rom sites to remove libraries, or to shut down entirely. These weren't websites that were promoting stealing - everything was free and the majority of games haven't been available in retail for decades. These were websites dedicated to preserving video game's past. A past that other media/art forms (television, film, painting, theater, comic books) have been through and are still dealing with the ramifications. Film, for example, has had so much of it's early history lost because people didn't care about preservation. Films were shown in a theater until interest declined and then thrown out. Studios didn't keep original copies once the product's shelf-life ended. We are missing tens of thousands of movies and shorts from 1890-1919 because of this. And it's strange that video games, being of the digital age, are falling victim to this same destruction due to the industry's lack of care. Our technology-driven society is quickly erasing our past.

What's going to happen next? It's difficult to say. But hopefully more people speak up in support of emulators. More developers are willing to preserve their games for the future. More emulating sites are willing to stand up against the big names in the name of history. It'll take the collective support of gamers to make this happen.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

IGN Writer Removed After Copying Game Review

An IGN writer will take to heart a valuable lesson about plagiarism, after being fired for copying a video review of Dead Cells.

Reviews for the game began to release yesterday along with IGN's look at the title. Most of them have been positive for developer Motion Twin. "Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, metroidvania inspired, action-platformer" according to the Steam description. It's been in early access for a year and has been lauded for it's challenging game play. 

On July 24th, a YouTube channel titled Boomstick Gaming released a review of Dead Cells. The 4 minute review gave praise to the game's union of exploration and combat. When IGN released their video review, Boomstick Gaming noticed a number of similarities that matched their review. A new video was posted comparing their review to IGN's. Boomstick noted that not only were certain phrases and buzzwords utilized, the tone and structure of the videos were nearly identical. 

The video posted by IGN was removed and the following note was left in it's place: "As a group of writers and creators who value our own work and that of others in our field, the editorial staff of IGN takes plagiarism very seriously. In light of concerns that have been raised about our Dead Cells review, we’ve removed it for the time being and are investigating."

By late Tuesday, IGN issued a statement and fired the writer. Boomstick Gaming did reach out to IGN, but it is unknown if there has been any communication between the two. While IGN's statement and actions were swift, you know there are going to be people asking for more oversight on future reviews. How IGN will handle future reviews has yet to be determined.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Fallout: 76 Beta Details

The Fallout: 76 beta is coming in October with much anticipation and concern from fans about the first "online only" game in the Fallout franchise. More importantly, the beta will supposedly be the full game and your save data will carry over! That's according to the beta's recently published FAQ.

"Our current plan for the B.E.T.A. is it will be the full game and all your progress is saved for launch. We hope you join us!"

With this being a beta, there is always the chance that this will change. But it's a huge boon for players who want an early jump on the game. A game focused on online play means that users who start early will have the best advantage in ruling the wasteland. Which will make it more difficult for newer players to start, if they get stuck on a server with unhelpful people.

There are still a number of questions out there about the game itself. Can you make a "friends only" server? Is your home/base able to be protected when you're offline? Is there a "peaceful" mode? Do you have to always be online? Can you do a solo game? Hopefully these will be addressed at QuakeCon this weekend, where a Fallout: 76 panel is scheduled.

To access the beta, you need to pre-order the game. Only a select number of retailers are involved, so check the site before plopping down money on the game. I'm still ambivalent about pre-orders and will wait out QuakeCon to see if more details emerge.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up


What a week.

A fair warning, posts may be sporadic over the coming weeks as the day job takes over my limited free time. I'm impressed that I was able to sneak in a post for today. But we can at least celebrate that it's Friday with a Weekly Link Round Up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet this week:

- Fortnite has become so popular that people are hiring "tutors" to help their kids become better. From $20 to $50 an hour, your child can be taught by a gaming professional to help them improve in matches. Why? A myriad of reasons. One is the pressure to always be "the best." As someone who had always been expected to make A's in every school subject and nothing less, I understand this quite well. Another reason is to let kids enjoy the game the way it was meant to be - i.e. not die in the first few seconds of the game. And for some parents it's a way for them to bond with their kids, by also taking lessons from the tutor. Whatever the reason, Fortnite's continued interest is growing into new fields of business!

- Elon Musk wants to put video games in Tesla's. In a series of tweets earlier this week, Musk urged developers to apply to Tesla for a chance to work with the latest, greatest, and strangest projects. Whatever your opinion is on Musk, at least he's willing to throw ideas out there and see which ones will stick.

- Could video games be used to help improve a city's infrastructure? That's the question posed in an open piece on the Clarion Ledger (part of USA Today). Similar to prize machines that you'll see at family restaurants or theme parks, people will pay a flat rate and try to win a ticket/prize that's worth less than the dollar value. The fees from the machine will be split between the retailer housing the unit and the state - which then goes towards funding infrastructure repair. Why do this method? Because people don't like paying taxes. And this would be a roundabout way to get assistance to fix roads and bridges without taxing.

- It's almost US football season! Which means getting professionals to do dumb things with football video games. So watch 3 players from the Kansas City Chiefs as they try to play Electronic Football.

- Failure matters, even in video games. It's how we learn, how we grow, and how we overcome challenges. This Kotaku piece explores the different ways that video games make failing an important aspect of the design.

- Finally, June sales numbers are out and the NES Mini took the top slot on console sales. Once again proving that everything old is new again! This is why they are rebooting Alf. We can't escape it. This is our future.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

So Long GameFly Streaming

One of the first popular streaming services for gamers will be shutting down September 1st and sticking to a mailing-only format, according to a report from Variety. Accounts will not be charged after August 31st, unless gamers continue with the disc-based rentals. This is a big step back for GameFly as it tries to find it's footing in today's landscape against vendors like Steam, and the consoles makers that offer direct streaming access.

Founded in 2002, GameFly has always been an oddity that's been intriguing. Starting with a mailing format, users paid a subscription to receive a set number of games each month to try out before returning. Like Netflix, you could keep the games as long as you like...just make sure to return them! The company expanded by purchasing Shacknews in 2009 and MobyGames in 2011, and early this year EA said they acquired the company's cloud technology and gaming assets.

Given the timing of EA's new streaming services announced at E3, it seems likely that the two are connected. Though GameFly is stating that the decision to stop streaming was made before EA purchased the tech.

Gamers will still have a load of choices to utilize for streaming games directly to their consoles, PC's, or phones. But GameFly will go back to it's roots this round.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

We Want to Buy Cool Geek Stuff - Stop Putting Up Barriers SE

If there is one thing that gamers, and nerds in general, want these days is stuff that's related to our thing of interest. Action figures. Lore books. Plushies. Keychains. Lanyards. Pins. T-shirts. The occasional piece of jewelry. If it's got a keyblade (Kingdom Hearts) on it, we're likely to buy it. The success of retailers like Think Geek and Sanshee are proof that the geek crowd goes beyond the comic books and video games when it comes to spending money.

How SquareEnix merchandising is able to stay in business in US, Europe, and most of Asia is beyond my comprehension. I think the merging of their video game store with the collectables helped keep them afloat. This isn't a post meant to bash on SE's ho-hum offerings for non-Japanese customers. Sort of. Seriously, look at the stark differences between the Japanese and the North American/European sites. Japan has a load of various items, while NA/EU has a handful of statues and jewelry. No gamer will dump $200 on jewelry before shipping is applied. For NA that can go as high as $40, and up to $80 for EU. Madness.

The gaming business needs to start expanding their horizons and realize that there is a market to their products outside of games. We will buy your stuff if you make it accessible to customers.

Some developers get this, such as Activision/Blizzard and Bethesda. They know that their fans want more beyond the games. Gamers are growing up and we want to showcase the love of out fandom in different ways. Apparel, fun collectables and pins are how we share our identities. It's how we connect to other gamers. A t-shirt from Blizzard is a great way to strike up a conversation with another fan (this happened to me at a recent event!)

What annoys me is that the offerings on the types of merchandise through SquareEnix haven't changed since the online store's creation in the late 90's/early 00's. I remember reading about the new store through an ad in a gaming magazine and I wanted to check it out. I've been a fan of SqaureEnix for years and would love to have some fun merchandise from them. I was also in my teen years and didn't have much money from my job. So I was disappointed to scroll through the site and only see jewelry priced at $129 or more. Shipping back then was over $50. They instantly lost me as a customer.

Every few years I will stumble back to the site to see if they've added anything new. Sadly, not much has changed. While there are more "collectable" figures on the site, you can get most of them for a fraction of the cost on Amazon or at a convention. The bulk of the content is still jewelry. Because that's what teenagers and young adults want (#sarcasm).

Think Geek helped GameStop rake in $260 million in sales last quarter, roughly 22% of the company's earnings. And that's not in jewelry. That's t-shirts, plushies, keychains, POP's, and hundreds of other types of items that appeal to the geek market. All at reasonable prices: the percentage of people who are willing to invest in jewelry are small compared to an impulse purchase of a $25 plushie. My BioWare collection of plushies from Sanshee are proof.

Game developers. We want to buy your games, but we also want to buy merchandising that's affiliated with said games. Please, make them available to everyone. You have fans around the world. There shouldn't be regional barriers between the types of products. We should all have the same access to the cool stuff. We're willing to buy it.

Aside: This all swirled in my head after seeing someone post a cute video with a Namazu plushie from FF14. I made a comment that this was going to be a camped item at FanFest, only to be informed that SE did a limited edition run and will no longer make these. SE...why? You have 10 million people subscribed to FF14 and you only made a handful of these plushies that people rushed to buy. Wouldn't it make sense to keep producing them so you can make more money?

I've also resigned myself to the fact that I'll never see licensed Dragon Quest merchandise in the states. Everything is in Japan and it sucks if you are a fan not living there. Your options for gear are almost none.

I will never understand how Nintendo and SE haven't gone out of business with this type of mindset.