Friday, September 28, 2018

Jeopardy Round Up

Today is suppose to be the Weekly Link Round Up, but I think this clip from Jeopardy is the winner of all things "the internet." It will make you smile. It will make you chuckle. It will give you hope that yes, video games do indeed have a future in game shows. For even after we are all long gone from this world, we will still remember that a contestant on Jeopardy once thought Morrowind was part of the Dragon Age franchise.

On Wednesday night's episode, the remaining category was devoted to video games. Which the contestants dutifully avoided until they had no other questions to answer. And it goes downhill. Badly. Only 1 question was answered correctly. Contestants had no where to hide. This was the last category and the game could not continue until every question was addressed. This isn't the first time Jeopardy imported video game questions on the board. Even Angry Birds made it in as a Final Jeopardy question during a past episode.

It's also a wonderful lesson to those who want to be on any game show that your knowledge of random facts will be put to the test. So study hard, and get out of your comfort zone. You never know when you'll be quizzed on video games or have to describe what the fox says.

Regardless of what's going on in the world right now, games, this should help you smile. Happy Friday.


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Sony Entertaining Cross-Platform Game Play

Sony is changing their rules and will begin testing cross-platform game play with XBox and Nintendo. Announcing the news yesterday, President and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment John Kodera wrote that the company is going to expand into cross-platform content starting with a beta of Fortnite.

"This represents a major policy change for SIE, and we are now in the planning process across the organisation to support this change. We will update the community once we have more details to share, including more specifics regarding the beta timeframe, and what this means for other titles going forward[,]" the post reads.

Why the beta test instead of rolling this out to all games? I think Sony is still a bit sensitive after the past hacks, that they want to take it slow instead of diving in and not being able to address issues quickly. Honestly, that's fine. At least Sony recognizes that the way we game has changed, and so have people. We're still loyal to your console brand, but we want to play with our non-PlayStation friends too. As long as they allow that to happen, we'll keep buying your products.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Also Not Surprising: Telltale Hit with Class-Action Lawsuit

While former employees of Telltale work to regroup and find new jobs, one person took it upon themselves to file a lawsuit against the business. The reason? They are stating that Telltale violated federal and California state's WARN laws. Vernie Roberts, credited with IT work at the studio dating back to 2016, submitted the lawsuit on behalf of himself and his fellow co-workers. The lawsuit is holding Telltale accountable for a minimum of 60 days of pay for severance for every employee.

The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act stipulates that most businesses with 100 full-time employees must notify everyone 60 days in advance of any mass layoffs. Or any layoff for companies of 500 people or more. "Mass" would mean 50 or more within a 30 day period, or 1/3rd of the company's workforce. California's law lowers that threshold to 75 employees, both full and part time. Both laws require a 60 day notice. If a company does not provide a minimum of 60 days of notice, they are to be receive hefty fines - which must be distributed to employees as back pay and benefits for every day the company violated the law.

Robert's lawsuit stats that 275 people were laid off at Telltale and given no warning nor severance. The plaintiffs are requesting a jury trial. GameDaily.biz reports that Telltale may be able to dismiss the claims from the federal law, but will have a difficult time defending California's law.

So why is this particular incident standing out more than say, EA closing down a studio? For one, while studio closures are sudden to us as the general public, employees with the business likely have known about it for months. That's part of the lovely Non-Disclosure Agreement employees sign when they walk into their office for the first time. As the company cleans up their affairs, employees are expected to keep everything under wraps until a formal announcement is made - or face the consequences of lawsuits. If other developers and publishers had done mass layoffs on the level of Telltale without following the law, we would have had this fallout much sooner.

This all comes at the heels of Telltale's announcement on Monday that they are planning to work with outside development teams to finish off The Walking Dead: The Final Season episodes 3 and 4. A notice that has put an uneasy feeling in the guts of gamers. Some want to continue supporting the game. Others would rather Telltale pay their employees. Or support the game if the funds go to the laid off employees. Who knows where Telltale will stand on this after the lawsuit comes to a close.

Moral of the story: Always pay your employees. Always follow employment laws. And don't try to swing in and act like saviors after you lay off your staff by dangling a game in front of customers.


Update: Before I could click the "publish" button on this article, Polygon has reported that The Walking Dead: The Final Season has been pulled from digital storefronts such as Steam and PlayStation. A note on the GOG page states that Telltale specifically requested that sales be stopped. Telltale has yet to issue a statement regarding this change.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Weekly Money Saver for Your Pre-Order Fix

With the ending of Amazon Prime and Best Buy's pre-order programs, gamers are feeling the pinch. Will another retailer come in and save the day?

Probably not. In the meantime Target has a promotion good through 9/29 that will help those feeling their wallets being squeezed dry. Fall and winter will have quite a few AAA games coming out, and even the average gamer can't afford all of those products. While Target's offer won't affect pre-order games, it does give you a nice discount on titles already out on the shelves.

The wording is a bit funky, but in essence the Target promotion is similar to Amazon Prime. Pre-order a video game through the Target website and receive 30% Off on a title that's out now. You have to buy the game and the pre-order in the same transaction, so no. You can't save that 30% off for a future order. And you have to purchase from Target directly. Any affiliates on the Target store will not qualify - make sure that your game is discounted in the shopping cart before proceeding.

30% off is still $18 in savings for a full priced game. It's more than what Amazon is offering. If you're looking at  giving Spider-Man a shot, this would be worth investigating further.

Yes. I'm still against pre-orders. But I also understand that gamers need their fix. So here is my contribution. Don't go too crazy.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Story of Telltale Games is Not Surprising

The big news of the weekend is something I'm sure many of you are aware of. Telltale Games announced on Friday that they had laid off most of their employees and will be closing the studio in the near future. A team of 25 people will stay to finish up obligations to the board of directors and their partners.

Telltale has been a studio to watch since their breakaway hit with The Walking Dead series. Their follow-ups Tales from the Borderlands, The Wolf Among Us, and Game of Thrones kept gamers invested. But even prior to their success with franchise games, the studio was known for their narrative-driven content. It's surprising that a company with a backing from Microsoft & Mojang to make a Minecraft story mode has fallen so quickly. CEO Pete Hawley issued a statement that “[Telltale] released some of our best content this year and received a tremendous amount of positive feedback, but ultimately, that did not translate to sales."

There have been signs that Telltale was in deep trouble since late 2017, when the company laid off 25% of it's workforce. At the time, the CEO remarked that it was necessary for the business to move into a different direction, and that a new IP was on the way for 2019. The company has a history of churn and burn tactics with employment, which has lead to a toxic work environment. Management at the top was more focused on deadlines, budgets, and making money while ignoring the well-being of those producing the products. Because the Telltale business model centered on episodic releases, more employees were hired to work rotating shifts. The small studio ballooned from 100 employees to over 300; sometimes working 20 hour days on outdated technology. "Token gestures" of food and booze to help with overtime were bandages to the problem at hand (tip to management in every business: offering "pizza" after working a 20 hour day is not going to make an employee feel better - they're tired and they want to go home). While we will probably never know the full details of what was happening with the financials, it was clear that inside the company things were unraveling as the work continued to flow in.

Over 250 people were laid off without any prior warning nor promised severance pay. Any contractors will not eligible for unemployment benefits. There is an unconfirmed story that the studio was hiring new employees as recent as a week ago, with one person moving across the country for a position. The #telltalejobs hashtag has been trending on Twitter as former employees scramble to find new work. Narrative Designer Emily Grace Buck tweeted that employees were paid through the work-day Friday and will receive nothing more.

As of now, the developer is still planning to release a portion of their last season for The Walking Dead. However the last 2 episodes are an unknown. The Netflix Minecraft: Story Mode series is still a go.

The unfortunate thing is that this situation happens all too often in the game business. Employees are laid off en masse without any warning or assistance while they look for new jobs. There is no union to support workers in the game industry. They're pushed to the breaking point, spend months in "crunch" mode with little to no overtime pay, in general they have lower salaries in high-cost of living areas (it's a highly competitive market), and let go with barely a nod of "thank you for your service to the company." If this were any other business in the country, people would have been boycotting their goods/services for how they treat their employees years ago.

This system needs to change - protections need to be put in place to help employees and provide transparency. And we shouldn't rely on a hashtag to ensure people find work so they can continue to pay bills.

Best of luck to the former staff of Telltale with finding a new home that will respect you and your work.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Yea Friday! Or yea, end of the work/school week for some of us! Time for another Weekly Link Round Up! A smattering of the best, worst, and sometimes weirdest gaming news we can find on the internet. Here's what we've found:

- The biggest news of the day is that China has blocked Twitch and it's been removed from the Chinese Apple store. A spokesman for Twitch confirmed the block this morning, but was unable to comment further. The app was the 3rd most popular, and became a big hit last month when Twitch broadcasted the Asian Games for eSports competitions - something that nearly all broadcast stations in China had avoided. People flocked to the app to see their teams play. Without details, it's difficult to know why China made this decision. What we can be certain of is that the country has been cracking down a lot lately on video games and digital media. Twitch is another casualty.

- A Quartzy article is saying Fortnite is so popular, that it's killing all other types of games! The problem is, the article never addresses how Fortnite and other battle royalle games are actually destroying other genres. Instead, the focus is on how popular the game has been with streamers and audiences. That's it. We already knew this info. But Fornite being a trend right now does not mean that other game genres are magically disappearing. Hearthstone, FIFA, Overwatch, League of Legends, Counter-Strike are all still very popular games with growing fanbases. Are they Fortnite popular? Maybe Overwatch. But that doesn't mean their type of format is going away anytime soon. Fail article is fail.

- Google's DeepMind AI has been steadily chugging away these past years and is finally developing "retro" style video games that have potential. The AI is given levels from several games to review their construction, and how the mechanics of the game work. Then it creates it's own version after developing the rules. New titles such as Killer Bounce and Death Walls, which take on a Breakout style of gaming - using a block to bounce around the screen and destroy the landscape in order to reach the end point. The games designed by the AI are meant to use mechanics that will feel familiar to players, but not outright copies of other titles.

- ScreenRant has a list of 9 last minute changes that hurt games, and 11 changes that saved them! That's a list of 20, if you're keeping count. How does ScreenRant know that these were "last minute" changes? It's difficult to say. Some of the games mentioned are based on original story drafts that were never meant to be taken as the game canon - these are designs that were altered before the game began production. Some are assumptions. Because "last minute" does not exist in game development. Any major changes to character, plot, locations can take months, if not years, to update. So any alterations would have had been planned out well in advance. On the list of "saves" there's keeping Axel alive in Kingdom Hearts II (really?), cell shading to Borderlands (okay...but...I know people who work at Gearbox. This style was ALWAYS intended for the game), and changing the tone of Conker's Bad Fur Day. Most of the "hurts" are related to the Metal Gear Solid franchise. Another list of fail for all to enjoy!

- VICE asked their readers to send in stories on how they found love in video games. The article does start out kind of condescending and almost questioning why or how people could find love online (it's 2018. Time to grow up), but the stories provided are endearing and worth the read. If you need to feel a restoration of faith in humanity, here you go!

- YouTube is updating it's gaming hub once more, before killing off their gaming app. The app will be removed from stores March of 2019, with more emphasis on the hub. If you are on the hub, you'll see more personalized selections of games and YouTube channels to watch, live games, and new videos from your subscriptions. They are also adding a "highlight" section to promote upcoming streamers that produce video game content.

- The BBC is getting back into video games, with a revamped licensing model that they hope will spur continued success. Their past attempts with titles from 'Doctor Who' in the 80's did not fare as well as they had hoped, so the BBC knew to back off from gaming. Now with so many people more tuned in to games than television, they are trying again. They have seen success from mobile games with 'Who' and 'Top Gear.' They also own the rights to the 'LEGO Dimensions' series and 'Forza,' so you know they're reaping some nice rewards from those properties. As long as the BBC is modest about which products they license, and who they give them too (I don't think any of us want an Ubisoft 'Doctor Who', they can have a comfortable future with gaming.

- Capcom is in a bit of trouble after the company released the theme song for Dante in Devil May Cry 5. The song is performed by Suicide Silence. However, Capcom missed the memo that last year, the front man for the band was accused of emotionally and sexually manipulating a teenager - allegations that he doesn't seem to deny! So! Now they have a song for Dante that, well for one it's not a good song and does not represent the character of the game style at all, and was created by a sexual predator. Capcom spoke with Kotaku about the situation. They are planning to remove the song from all promotions, and will see if it's possible to remove it from the game entirely (resources pending). While some of you all may cry foul, that a person's past and his acknowledgment to do better shouldn't inhibit them from working. But listen to the song and tell me that's something Dante would want? It's bad. For the sake of Dante, Capcom can do better.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

LA Times Expanding to Target Video Games

As billionaires begin scooping up newspapers to help turn them into a profit once more, the new owner of the Los Angeles Times is looking to video games as a means of engaging people with the news. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong purchased the LA Times for an undisclosed amount, but is already hard at work revamping and updating the publication. His company NantWorks recently invested in Daybreak Game Company (H1Z1), where mobile versions of Daybreak games are likely to come soon with this new cash infusion. But what does that mean for the newspaper?

Soon-Shiong believes that video games can be used to combat "fake news" and create renewed interest in the news among the younger generation. In general our shift in how we obtain news has changed. Newspapers were once the reliable source, but as technology has evolved, so have we. Instead we look to the internet and social media for content - which has also created a market of b.s. "news" that we apparently have trouble sniffing out from the real deal. Soon-Shiong wants the LA Times to reach out to potential readers on other platforms, like video games.

“The most evolved engagement engine is video gaming, Fortnite . . . the Millennials, across Twitch, interconnect and communicate,” said Soon-Shiong. “We could take an engine like this and find a way to enhance a different form of social network, and games add an element of storytelling,” he said.

The Washington Post has started their test into Twitch with a news channel. It's not surprising that others will follow. Newspapers are becoming new media platforms and transforming their image to accommodate today's tastes. This could work in the short term, but in the long run it's difficult to say what will happen. The news, in general, has been a valuable resource in helping us understand what is going on beyond the comfort of our home. It keeps us accurately informed at a time when we need to be critical of our politics and the like. And the news can not stray from this. We don't need more multi-media companies trying to push messaging and branding to us. We need the facts. If the LA Times can't deliver on this, then the move to "modernize" will have failed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Yep. Sony Is Releasing Their Own Mini System

Nintendo was the trend setter, and now all others will follow. Sony has unveiled their mini PlayStation console for a December launch. Just in time for the holidays, of course! And before you ask, yes. Final Fantasy VII will be one of the games featured.

Unlike the PS One, the PlayStation Classic will look like the original system at 45% of the original size. 20 games will be included such as Jumping Flash, Ridge Racer Type 4, Tekken 3, and Wild Arms. Additional games will be announced at a later time. The console will include an HDMI cable, USB cable, and 2 controllers. The games will be in their original format. And the selection of the December 3rd date is no coincidence - this was when the original console was released in Japan.

The system does not come with an AC adapter, which can be purchased separately. Instead it's like a cell phone battery and uses the USB port as the source of power.

The PlayStation Classic is staying true to it's original style, even including a disc eject button. Though the system lacks an actual disc reader. Instead, the button will swap games pre-loaded in the library. Even the controllers maintain their same look and feel.

Hopefully Sony has learned from Nintendo and will have enough stock available to meet with demand.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Global Gambling Commission Signs Agreement to Review Loot Boxes

Loot box concerns continue to mount as the globally, gambling regulators are coming together to assess the growth of in-game, random luck purchases. On Monday, 16 regulators (15 from Europe and 1 from Washington state) have signed an agreement to work together and research the impact of loot boxes - do these in-game incentives constituent as gambling?

We've discussed the issue of loot boxes multiple times on this blog. As more games attempt to tackle microtransactions, we can expect to see more governments trying to tackle the problem. Loot boxes are more than receiving shiny objects that can sometimes give you a boost in a game. More often than not you end up paying some form of real-world money to buy the boxes, or to buy game tokens to use on the boxes, to receive the content - which is randomly selected. There are no guarantees on what is in the box. And you may end up dumping tens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars to get the 1 item you really want. From the flashy graphics and animations to the quirky sound effects, loot boxes are designed to entice people to buy them.

In some games, you need those rare items in order to advance. Assassin's Creed: Unity was notorious for this, with sizeable portions of the game locked behind paywall treasure chests. Middle-Earth: Shadow of War wouldn't allow you to progress without spending in-game funds on loot boxes (which has recently been dropped after much pushback from gamers). Star Wars: Battlefront II received huge backlash against their loot box program, which gave advantages to gamers willing to pay for boxes in multiplayer. EA opted to not release the game with the questionable system, scrapping it entirely in 2018.

Governments and gaming oversight committees have been watching. China requires all video games released to have information about what is contained in loot boxes. The ESRB and PEGI now have labels on games indicating if there are microtransactions. Belgium is striking back at several gaming companies, asking for changes to their loot box system or removal of the content entirely before the games are allowed to return to be sold.

This new agreement could potentially yield more decisive action against game developers and publishers to provide content that doesn't scream "gambling." While some may still argue that loot boxes are not gambling nor addictive, one can not deny the attractive appeal of opening up a card pack in Hearthstone, with random odds that provide no guarantee that you'll "win" what you want.

Monday, September 17, 2018

South Korea Developing Bill To Combat Digital Sexual Hassment

According to the Soeul newspaper Naver, the South Korean National Assembly’s Gender Equality and Family Committee is formulating a bill that will make sexual harassment in video games a punishable offense. Earlier this year the committee made cheating or using hacks in online games illegal. So why the sudden focus on sexual harassment?

Kim Su-min, a secretary of the National Assembly Women's and Family Committee whom spoke about the bill, called out video games for chat systems where harassment is "rampet." Overwatch was named specifically, most likely due to it's popularity. And yeah, one of the reasons I rarely play it or bother with voice chat is the numerous amount of sexist comments I receive for existing as a different gender. The currently laws in South Korea offer some protections within the work place, but little else. With the growth of the digital age, few laws are in place globally that provide support to harassment or assault victims when the crime is committed online.

The bill to be introduced will include language that a person can be punished "who has committed sexual harassment that causes humiliation or disgust to the other person due to sexual intercourse or sexual demands outside the workplace, including information and communication networks."

If the bill passes, South Korea would be one of the first countries to provide legislation for harassment in digital spaces. Since game developers haven't done much to help protect their customers, it looks like the law has to get involved.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Friday is here! Which means it's another Weekly Link Round Up! A collection of the best, worst, and weirdest gaming news on the internet this week - all in a nice, bite-sized chunk for you to consume. Let's see what's on the menu:

- Mashable has a list of the top 10 most date-able video game men. Yeah. I groaned too. But wait until you see this list - it's terrabad! It starts out #10 with The Prince from The Prince of Persia series, and immediately he's labeled as a pompous douchebag. So yeah. Mashable is choosing some real winners here for us ladies and gents! Even Kratos from God of War is on the list, and this editor must not have played any of the games to realize how dumb of a suggestion that is. Kratos is doomed to forever lose the people that he loves. The whole point of the first 3 games was to get revenge against the gods for killing his wife and daughter! Who the heck wants to get attached to that mess? No thanks. This easily ranks as one of the worst "top 10 lists" of the week.

- Engadget takes a look in inside THQ Nordic. A developer known for taking old gaming properties and re-invigorating them for the new era. They currently hold over 200 licenses, including Curt Shilling's financially-woeful MMO Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. THQ Nordic has been holding onto the license for a while, and there are murmurs that the company may re-release the MMO with lots of upgrades. It's interesting to see how a company takes an unexpected business model (buying old games, revamping them, and re-releasing them) and make a profit from it.

- Spider-Man fans, you're probably not going to like what CNet writer Mark Serrels has to say about the game. In his commentary about the game, he writes that Spider-Man is the same game we've played before. And when you get down to the nuts and bolts of it, what about Spider-Man is different from it's predecessors or other games on the market today? Frankly, not a lot. It has an open world, a show-horned in leveling up system, skill trees, and crafting. Serrels remarks that Spider-Man is an atypical Sony game. While I haven't had a chance to play this yet, watching a few review videos, I can see how one can come to this conclusion.

- PhD student Matthew Guzdial and associate professor Mark Riedl at the Georgia Institute Technology have created an algorithm that produces video games by "feeding it" videos of human players going through gaming levels. It would then take this information and produce it's own level of a game. While this advancement in technology is cool, and still needs a lot of work, I don't think we have to worry about the robots taking over. The human elements of emotional touches, such as character development and story telling, will always be needed in a game.

- According to a study by the Electronic Entertainment Design and Research, 67% of Americans play video games on at least 1 device. While the study only focused on responses from 5,000 people, that's still a much larger sample size than most groups. Roughly 90% play on their smartphones or a tablet, in conjunction with other devices. PC took the second spot. More proof that it's not just kids that play video games.

- Can video games teach children empathy? A new study says yes! A team created by lead researcher and professor of psychology and psychiatry at UW-Madison, Richard Davidson, developed a video game called Crystals of Kaydor. The game requires the player to communicate with aliens on another planet to help them, but there is no common vocal language. Instead, players need to determine how the aliens are responding based on their facial reactions. Is the alien happy, sad, angry? How do we react to it with our in-game decisions? The results overall have been positive, and that the message to take away is that games don't disrupt empathy - they help imbue it based on the messaging.

- Finally, The Weather Channel is going extra high-tech as of late, providing simulated projection models of weather damage using immersive "mixed-reality" technology. The virtual visualizations allow reporters to show how high water levels can be for a flood, or how hurricane winds will tear down trees. The models are created by the Future Group which uses the Unreal Engine. While some may cry out that this is all fake, The Weather Channel does not ever state that these images or videos are real. They make it very clear throughout the reporting that everything the viewer is seeing is a simulation of what they are predicting will happen in a storm. It's also very obvious by the renderings that it's computer graphics and not the real deal. So, chill out folks. The Weather Channel is trying something new and give people an idea about the severity of weather - something we shouldn't play around with. It's kind of cool how they are taking a different spin on technology to provide helpful information to the public.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dance Animations in Dragon Quest XI Have Me Hooked

In a year where I had hoped to provide more game reviews, the universe deemed it necessary to keep me grounded in reality and handle life situations. While I still feel like I have a good grasp on the news and issues within the gaming community, I feel very far behind on playing games. I still have Hyrule Warriors for the Wii-U in it's original packaging. That's how bad my backlog is right now.

Yet the lure of Dragon Quest XI could not keep me away. While everyone else in the US is swinging from buildings with Spider-Man, I've been hunting down metal slimes and watching ridiculous dance animations. I've been running around the world and exploring towns, mystified at how much detail they were able to put into this game. For art by legendary character designer Akira Toriyama, the look of the game doesn't detract from it's natural beauty. This feels like a very natural progression in the Dragon Quest style without feeling cartoon-y. While some have been pondering Easter Eggs, I'm trapezing the landscape for mini medals and trying to figure out where I can see my stash in the menu! (I finally figured it out after an evening of level grinding - it's the same screen where you can see how much gold you have.) And while you might be dismayed that Peter Parker is, once again, losing his uncle, I'm laughing at the ridiculous dialogue and silly sincerity of the companions Erik and Veronica (the dialogue is more engaging than I remember from other versions).

And this is only 10 hours into the game! I've barely scratched the surface, knowing full well that I can sink 100+ hours into this title.

While the hype and positive reviews for DQ11 have been soaring, we all know that the majority of gamers are all about Spider-Man right now. At least DQ11 has the #2 spot in sales. Maybe it'll convince SquareEnix to continue with localization of past and future DQ games.

But I understand the hesitation to want to try DQ. It's a big game. It's a very traditional Japanese RPG. It has the number 11 in it, so it may scare away some who think that they need to play the other games in order to understand what's going on (hint: It's like Final Fantasy. The numbers don't matter). It looks like Dragon Ball but doesn't play like Dragon Ball. The formula for the games is tried and true.

On the surface it might seem like another Dragon Quest game with a shinier package...that you can flip over to reveal the original, way better, box art (SquareEnix, we know you're trying to appeal to Western audiences, but we are wise to your tactics). There are a number of staples in DQ11 that you'll quickly recognize if you've played any of the other games. But there are also quite a lot of new changes: Open world design - no random battles (this is the first main-title game to offer this, remakes for the 3DS have moved to the no random battle model) - new job abilities and "ultimate" powers - interactive and destructible environments (the sound of the pumpkins when you stomp on them is hilarious) - more save points (one of my biggest pet peeves has been resolved) - and a sprint button (my second pet peeve). As Tim Rogers of Kotaku has remarked about this franchise, it's a series that provides comfort. It's a bed time story that you tell your kids before tucking them into bed at night. It gives you a sense of relief and wonder after a long day. There's a simplicity on the surface to it that makes it elegant. A well-polished game with incredibly complex algorithms that make up the Pep Powers and the array of games in the casino (Pep Powers is the "Limit Break" for DQ11. How a character achieves it is a randomly generated number/system that has yet to be fully understood).

Dragon Quest XI is a game that I know I can play and it will have my smiling. It's good for picking up before bed and toddling around for an hour while feeling the full immersion (seriously developers - thank you for adding more save points). Dragon Quest is comfort food that continues to tweak it's formula, making the game more delicious. Yes, games do need to evolve beyond the a-typical straight, white, male lead that must save the princess. But there is also nothing wrong with sticking to what works. Mario has done it for decades. So has Dragon Quest. The difference is that both of these franchises have made small changes to keep their content engaging. Like dance animations. Okay, it's more than the dance animations. I still like the little touch to the dances and the idle stances.

This is a game where you know what you expect. But this is one of the best in the franchise. I can't wait for the weekend so I can get back to playing.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

About That Spider-Man Proposal...

If you were on any part of the internet this weekend that had an involvement with video games, you probably heard, or read, a story about a marriage proposal with a "sad" ending in the latest Spider-Man video game. In May of 2018, Tyler Schultz sent a tweet to Insomniac Games asking for help with a proposal. He wanted to do something in the game to ask the question and Insomniac was happy to help. When the game released, scrawled across a theater marquee were the words 'Maddie, will you marry me?' As gamers attempted to figure out what this hidden gem was suppose to mean, Schultz posted a YouTube video (which has since been deleted) about the situation, calling this the "world's saddest Easter Egg ever." The developer offered to remove the content from the game after the video was released. Schultz instead requested that the text be changed as a memorial to his grandmother, who bought him his first Spider-Man comic book.

What you probably remember about the original story was Schultz response to the Easter Egg. According to Schultz, his girlfriend broke up with him 3-4 weeks prior to the game's release to date his brother. Schultz was the jilted boyfriend who wanted to do a special proposal for the woman he loved.

Here's the problem with this situation: in all of the commotion to get Schultz's story and a response from Insomniac Games, none of these publications reached out to speak with the ex-girlfriend. There are always 2 sides to every story in a relationship. Cutting out the former girlfriend's perspective is not only callous, it's bad reporting. You need everyone's perspective to be able to provide a decent article. This is journalism 101 material here. Unfortunately, many gaming publications have overlooked this vital component. It wasn't until a Houston Press reporter stepped in and noticed the lack of representation from the ex-girlfriend's side. People were quick to blast her in the comments after the original Kotaku article was posted (which has since been majorly edited to reflect the other side of the story) without knowing her perspective.

Writer Jef Rouner spent a few minutes on Facebook to find the former girlfriend and was able to talk to her. Madison Gamble gave her story, stated she wasn't contacted by any other news outlets to present her side, and the Houston Press was able to publish a complete narrative to the Spider-Man game saga. In the Houston Press article, Gamble stated that she and Schultz were having issues over the past year. She tried to make it work and stuck with the relationship as long as she could, but in the end it wasn't meant to be. She did get close to Schultz's half-brother after the relationship ended, but they never dated nor did she call off the relationship because of the half-brother. In fact, Gamble doesn't care for video games. She sat with Schultz through his gaming sessions because she wanted to express her support for his hobby. Showing support is something that a lot of adults do when they care about someone - this is what people do in all forms of relationships. The impact of the marriage proposal wouldn't have been as important for Gamble because her life does not revolve around video games.

You'll notice that a number of articles about the "world's saddest Easter Egg" have now been updated to reflect the findings of the Houston Press. Some have gone so far as to change their headline. Unfortunately it's too late. Gamble will continue to be the butt of jokes for this Easter Egg. She'll be pummeled in comments on the original stories. The publications won't make any public announcements about corrections, nor will people seek out updates.

It's important as journalists, regardless of our area of expertise, that we do our job right the first time. Find all of the facts. Do the research. Get all sides of the story. Present an informed and accurate narrative. Don't make assumptions. Don't skip important steps. Verify, re-verify, and verify once more all of the sources to ensure the statements are authentic. Being a video game reporter does not negate the journalistic oath. In a time where the news is constantly questioned, we need to prove to everyone that we take our jobs seriously - that we will always provide the right information.

An extra 20 minutes of work and the Kotaku article would have been fully fleshed out. Instead, it's another example of poor journalism with a dose of sexism.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Yep. Someone 'Had' to Bring Uwe Boll Back

If you thought that the world of movies and video games was done with Uwe Boll, well he's not done with us. Boll returns with a documentary by Prairie Coast Films titled 'F*** You All: The Uwe Boll Story.' Charming title, which has been censored for this blog.

The trailer was published 2 days ago and doesn't have the ground breaking number of views that the production team had hoped for. The film is currently touring the independent festival circuit, but it will most likely get a release to DVD/YouTube by next year. The focus of the documentary is a look behind the lens at the "most hated man in Hollywood," according to the movie's tagline. In it, viewers will see Boll in all of his horrible glory. Yelling on set. Belittling crew members and actors. And telling the interviewer that he gives no f's about what other people say or think.

This is why his movies suck.

Boll has never put forth effort into his films to try and capture anything beyond over-the-top, nonsensical violence. Story, character development, editing, pacing - no big deal. Throw in a bunch of dumb, unappealing, tasteless action and you've got a Boll movie! The problem with Boll's work is that it's very clear he does not care about the sources for his movies. Bloodrayne, the focus was on bland gore and the most awkward sex scene you'll ever witness on screen - the only connection the movie had to the game was 1 or 2 characters carrying the same name. The rest of the plot had no involvement with the game. The same can be said for FarCry and the rest of his knock-off movies. He also used the questionable German laws to get around licensing and copyright issues to make these movies without fear of being sued by the game developers. If Boll cared, there would have been effort made. And with effort we can find redeeming qualities about his movies. There is nothing positive to say about Boll's work.

While it isn't mentioned if this is Boll's attempt to return to movies, the trailer was enough cringe to make me concerned about giving this man a platform at all. That type of behavior on and off the set is abhorrent and should not be celebrated. Given the limited views on the trailer and unfavorable comments, this documentary looks like it'll be doomed. Boll is not the most hated in Hollywood. He's a bad filmmaker with a horrible personality. Other than mucking up video game movies for decades, most people in Hollywood probably don't know who he is. How can you hate someone you don't know exists?

Monday, September 10, 2018

Nintendo and Cloud Saves - They Still Don't Get It

As much as Nintendo is trying to catch up to the 21st century with technological innovations such as online game play, there are still a few areas where it's lacking in self-awareness. Take cloud saves, for example. PC, PlayStation, and XBox have been on top of this since it became available. Gamers around the world have been able to safely store their game data on remote servers, knowing the content is safe in case something happens to their consoles.

Nintendo doesn't share the same sentiment.

Game Informer discovered that the upcoming Pokémon games for the Switch and re-releases for Dark Souls will be lacking in a cloud save feature. While a number of games on the Switch do offer this option, some don't like NBA2K 19, FIFA19, and Splatoon 2. Nintendo responded to the concern with the usual flair of tone-deaf:

"The vast majority of Nintendo Switch games will support Save Data Cloud backup. However, in certain games this feature would make it possible to, for example, regain items that had been traded to other players, or revert to a higher online multiplayer ranking that had been lost. To ensure fair play, Save Data Cloud backup may not be enabled for such games. To ensure that Save Data Cloud backups cannot be used to unfairly affect online multiplayer rankings, the feature will not be enabled in Splatoon 2."

In essence, it's a security concern and to ensure that ranked games like FIFA are not tampered with. Because people haven't been doing that with Splatoon before. Players have been able to edit their local saves with ease before going online to play matches. Cloud saves help eliminate the modification and ensure a more even playing field. It would be no different with an MMO - you need cloud saves, otherwise people can go into the DAT files and give their character epic gear before they logged on.

One day Nintendo will catch up with it's peers, only to be out of sync again when Sony and Microsoft stay up to date.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Quick Geek Spot Update

Because the universe, or karma, or whomever has decided to really hate on me this year, I managed to burn my hand this morning. 3 hours later and it still stings. As such, I will be skipping a few posts over the coming days while my hand heals. I'm only typing with one hand in the meantime, and I do not have the patience for it. Hopefully we'll be back to a normal schedule next week.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Chicken Distributor Getting Into Gaming Business

Video games are so popular right now, even a chicken supplier wants to get in on the market! Hong Kong-based company Leyou has created the publishing label Athlon Games. They've recently scored a deal with Amazon to develop a AAA title for an upcoming 'Lord of the Rings' project. Amazon is currently developing a TV series and the video game will tie into it.

Anthlon has not stated which parts of the game they will create, but they are working with another developer for the project. The press release describes the game as a new experience with cooperative elements and the story taking place long before the events that we knew in Middle-earth.

This isn't the first time Leyou has dived into games. They purchased Digital Extremes (Warframe), and Splash Damage, while previously investing millions into Call of Duty and Halo. It's mostly funny that a chicken-based company would be so heavily interested in video games. The times are changing!

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

IOC President Certain Video Games Won't Be At Olympics Until "Violence" Is Removed

Speaking with the Associated Press, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach isn't sure if or when eSports will be included in future Olympic games. In the Saturday interview, he made his conditions for gaming clear - no violence what-so-ever. Which means games like Overwatch and DotA II with huge followings are not likely to ever be included in the Olympics, in spite of their low violent rating compared to other first person shooters/tactical games.

“We cannot have in the Olympic program a game which is promoting violence or discrimination. [T]hey, from our point of view, are contradictory to the Olympic values and cannot therefore be accepted.”

Ironic given the violent nature of a number of sports already in the games, such as wrestling, judo, hockey, and the winter biathlon where one skis with a gun to shoot at targets.

The IOC has been considering video games ever since a July forum. eSports is being held for the first time as a demonstration sport in the Asian Games this year. But it will take quite a bit of convincing with Bach before eSports can transition into the Olympics. While it might pave the way for card games like Hearthstone, there isn't as much attraction to the title as Overwatch, with it's first year in eSports proving to be a big success. The IOC will need to find a balance between their concern for "violence" and the competitive spirit.