Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Red Cross Suing Indie Developer

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Blizzard and Cheating

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 13, 2017

All The "Switch" Updates!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

More Mass Effect Updates as Andromeda Release Date Nears

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Return of Starcade?

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

So what's up with Starcade?

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

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

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Steam Hits Highest User Rate

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

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

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

Monday, January 09, 2017

Why Isn't There a Film History Museum?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 06, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

New Year! New Round Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, January 05, 2017

NVidia Stepping Up on Cloud Gaming and Streaming - Sort Of

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Iran Bans Mobile Game 'Clash of Clans'

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

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

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

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

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