Friday, August 26, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

Another week. Another series of gaming stories heading your way on the Weekly Link Round Up! Here's what we've got today:

- Being a game designer in the 80's and 90's was tough. Sega artists are happy to explain to Video Game Densetsu, reposted on Quartz in detail, how in the early days, artists had to draw every pixel. No. Literally. They had to draw out each pixel using an oversized light pen. The photos of the early digital imaging software are astounding. It required less mouse clicks and more pen.

- The Ringer asks the question we all would like to know, in some subset of our mind: How long are video games? The problem with virtually all games today is that very few have a set time, or a distinctive end. No Man's Sky allows you to play as long as you like. There is no story to follow. And those games with stories are sometimes so full of side-quests that it could take you months to stop playing; see Fallout 4. Knowing the limits to a game could help further development of new, dynamic content down the line. Because every game has a ticking clock on it.

- Speaking of No Man's Sky, the game's user base has seen a dramatic drop since it's release. Some estimates are up to 90%, with an 81% decline in sales in the UK. Reasons for this vary from the poor PC launch and the number of bugs associated with it, lack of features promised at launch, or that most people bought the game at release. Now having to get back to reality after playing it for so long. A Reddit post has spawned a website full of the missing contents in No Man's Sky. The game may not have a future at this rate.

- Tabletop gamers are already immersed in this, but for you console gamers you may have seen more of your favorite digital titles get the board game treatment. The rise of tabletop is once again upon us, and MCV looks into the growing trend.

- Aside: Did you know there was a new ToeJam and Earl game being developed by Adult Swim? That one was a surprise to me! There's a trailer up, and the title is set to release early next year on PC and console.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Real Weapons and Video Games?

Video games and gun ranges. Probably not two things you would expect to come together outside of a digital realm. Machine Guns Vegas has designed a firing station that utilizes gaming technology to provide "virtual" experiences using real weapons.

Using video screens and lasers to track ammo, you can play a game with a live weapon. A specialty designed soft box catches the ammo so they don't travel far, and won't damage you, or the equipment. The lasers track the trajectory of the bullet and the game reacts. It's not a true virtual reality experience since you don't wear any fancy headgear and you're not placed in a digital realm. You're playing Call of Duty with a real firearm.

Why should this be on your radar? The company has designed over 750 scenarios and most are for law enforcement and military use. It gives officials an opportunity to train on gun use, and safety, in more applicable situations. Most gun ranges have static targets that are oversized and not representative of the multitude of human bodies. If they are moving targets, it's typically left and right, or back and forth. They don't dodge, duck, or weave behind boxes and walls. By utilizing games, law enforcement can train for real-world scenarios. The quality of their gunman-ship improves.

Company founder Genghis Cohen commented that Nevada has one of the most lenient concealed handgun laws in the country. "[Y]ou can get a concealed carry permit and then pass the shooting test and it’s the first time many people have ever shot a gun. The standards are so low for getting permits." Texas is not all that different. I know a number of people who have never shot a gun before, but they own one. It's just that easy to buy a deadly object. Go fig.

Having these types of training simulations for consumers, law, and military can potentially improve safety standards across the board. Currently the system is only available in Nevada, or if you have a lot of money and want to punk down $100 grand for a basic set-up in your home. It'll be interesting to see if this concept grows over the years, and how much it'll affect future gun ranges, if at all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Happy 25th Super Nintendo!

Okay. Faux pas on my part. Yesterday it was the 25th anniversary of the Super Nintendo, for it's North American release. The console that gave a new generation of gamers a chance to experience the joys of the NES all over again. Releasing on August 23, 1991, the second system from Nintendo had a lot to live up to. The previous console exceeded expectations on family home entertainment that many wondered how Nintendo could top it, and keep gaming a lively activity. In terms of sales, it exceeded all other consoles at the time, and was one of the founding systems for the "console wars." The SNES also solidified the type of content Nintendo wanted to make available. They weren't trying to be like Sega and the Genesis. Nintendo wanted to do what only Nintendo could do. With it came an era of notoriously strict policies that required developers to jump through hoops to get their game on the SNES. Which means all games had to be approved by Nintendo's panel before release, as few to no bugs as possible, and all content must be family friendly. This is why there is the PG version of Mortal Kombat on the SNES.

The Super Nintendo was a system that conformed to, and broke all expectations that consumers had about video games. It made gaming a viable market for entertainment to rival movies and television. While still providing the type of family entertainment that parents could rely on.

It also became the starting point to a number of beloved franchises that we see today on the Wii-U and 3DS. And who can ignore the awesome galore that is SNES games? 4 of my top 5 favorite cartridge games are from the SNES. The system was a great mix of fun, challenge, and in-depth stories that you couldn't get on other consoles. It was a system that continued to improve over the years without the internet and updates. I'm still amazed to this day that the same system that brought us Super Mario Kart is the same one that created Donkey Kong Country. The same computer chips. The same sound board. Two very different, and entertaining, games.

Since we're in full on-nostalgia mode, take some time this week to pay respect to your elders and enjoy an SNES game or two. Nintendo continues to add more to their store for 3DS and Wii-U downloads. I'll probably take my system out of the box and play a few rounds of Super Metroid and Chrono Trigger.

Happy NA 25, Super Nintendo! Thanks for paving the way!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Lows of Gaming Journalism in Mainstream Media

It can be a rough business writing about video games in mainstream journalism. Kotaku Australia spoke to a number of people regarding their perception of the world with newspapers, magazines, and television newscasts. And! how the viewpoints of others cloud their work.

Mark Serrels wrote the piece on anonymity, so a number of the sources appear as "one person said." Which makes it difficult to determine if what was posted is the truth. However, given the responses provided, it feels pretty accurate to how mainstream media views games and gamers.

The adage of "if it bleeds, it leads" is no different when it comes to gaming. If there is a story with a lifestyle hook, or angle that catches someone's attention who isn't a gamer, it's more likely to be published. Such as any claims that video games cause violence in youth, or a mass murderer was also a big fan of Call of Duty. Those stories will take precedence over a routine update to the PS4. On the same front, tech journalists are less likely to post stories about games then those in other departments. The people that we WANT to talk about games are usually the ones who don't because the resources made available to them are third party. It's an AP source or some other that gets the initial content, and the questions they ask do not contain the information that tech journalists want. So the story gets passed on to the next person, and it turns into the sensationalists content that we commonly see.

Traffic is king. Clicks are the monarchy. And ad revenue is the overlord. Whatever it takes to get people onto your website, mainstream media will do it.

Which makes journalism that much more difficult when you are being dictated what stories to follow-up on, instead of providing the news as it happens. That also means that news directors are telling reporters to follow gaming stories without having a clue what they are about.

The release of Pokémon Go is a fine example. Publications pounced on the story because the game was so popular. But if you look at the content within them, they were pretty barren. They rarely talked about the game play or the specifics to the game. It was glossary overviews of "everyone is playing it" and that it's a social phenomenon. No details. No meat. Just fluff. It's a constantly struggle with gaming journalists to provide quality content while working for a large paper.

Thankfully we have outlets like Kotaku and Gamasutra to provide gaming journalism in multiple formats that we don't have to subject ourselves to major publication outlets. However, it doesn't change the perspective of gaming to the masses. Only gamers see the real content, while the majority of the public gets the fluffy version. Will it change? Maybe. But not anytime soon. Not until editors see the value of well-written stories.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Fans to NBC: Fix Your Olympic Coverage. Also, Mario!

I'm going to use today's post to talk about the Rio Olympics. So that you all don't feel like you have to suffer through paragraphs of my prattling, I'll start with the gaming tie-in. Part of the closing ceremonies includes a presentation by the next host country; passing the "baton" to the future games. Tokyo, Japan is hosting the 2020 Olympics and they came out in style. Offering a bevy of visual candy for gamers, Nintendo teamed up with the delegation to bring Mario to Rio. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared on the stage from a green warp pipe, decked out in Mario gear after the video presentation. It was everything that we needed it to be. With the games taking place in Tokyo, it's going to be high tech and nerdy all the way.

It's also going to be a more anticipated Olympics in terms of structure and decorum. Rio has had nothing but trouble over the past year with cleaning up their waterways (which was still not completed in time), the Zika virus outbreak, government and economic instability, and a high crime rate. Rio was everything the IOC wanted to avoid. But somehow they were able to cobble together an effective games. Enough to keep people from not seeing the problems around Rio and now the country will have to deal with the clean-up. A number of residences were demolished to make room for new stadiums, that will probably remain unused after the Olympics. They will have to deal with the monetary fall-out, the mounting debt, and the low return from ticket sales.

Because Tokyo is a city with decades of a solid infrastructure behind it, including a green environment, virtually no crime, and high standard of living, not only would it be able to efficiently run the games, any new venues built will have long-standing use. It's not a "one and done" scenario in Japan. Many of the venues from the 1998 Winter games are still utilized for training and competitions.

My problem with the Rio Olympics this year isn't so much the mounting troubles of the cities - though that should be addressed immediately if Brazil expects the populous to back them on future projects. Rather, it's the poor coverage of NBC. The network secured a multi-Olympic, billion dollar deal years ago and will have coverage through 203. This is the first Olympics where NBC offered online streaming of most events as they happened, but it did require that you have a cable subscription. Their prime-time content was focused on the bigger events and, as always, just the US team.

This year in particular, we were smacked upside the head with an onslaught of advertisements and "player background" stories. It was too much and I found myself tuning out regularly. Which sucks because of all the things I look forward to, it's the Olympics. I love the concept behind them, and that for 2 weeks we can all stop being dicks to each other and have fun.

Between the severe tape delays of events, the altering of event times to coincide with NBC's prime-time coverage, and the horrible commentary, the Olympics became difficult to watch. Yes, I just linked to a FOX News article because it gives a decent overview of all the problems with NBC's content. Last night's closing ceremonies, I ended up turning off the television after 15 minutes. The first 7 minutes were nothing but commentary from the NBC anchors. You couldn't hear any of the event music or proceedings. After commercials, it was more of the same and I gave up. It was too much talking about so many random things, and not enough silence to ENJOY the ceremony.

NBC has claimed in the past that they are attempting to attract more female viewers by showcasing athlete's "journey" stories. That women are more likely to tune in to learn more about the history of the competitors and not the events themselves. That may have been the case a few decades ago, but the content from NBC in the 2000 games was not as pervasive on these journeys as they were at Rio. If anything, there were a hindrance from letting the audience watch and appreciate the events in their entirety. I never watched for the athlete stories. I watch to see the games.

So why is this an issue? Well the US is the only country that covers the Olympics in such a manner. Every other country showcases as many of the events as possible, unedited, in real time. All of them. AND! You don't have to have special cable privileges. Anyone with a tv antenna or an internet connection can view.

It doesn't matter if their country is playing a match in Volleyball or not. They still show the event. Sure they may take a few extra minutes to highlight their team's events when they are on the court/field/floor, but they don't make that the focus, followed by 20 minutes of "journey" stories and another 10 minutes of commercials.

Sadly, due to licensing issues, you can't see the other broadcasts in the US without bypassing a few laws. Or if you have a cable subscription. The BBC's coverage of football (soccer) matches was fantastic by comparison to ours. NBC did have 2 channels dedicated to other sports to air in real time, and that was soccer and basketball. Thankfully. Their USA and NBC Sports channel affiliates only covered some of the events, in brief spurts, much like the prime-time broadcast.

Overall: it was a crappy Olympics to watch. The joy of the games was lost by NBC over-reporting on athlete stories that no one cared about, and not giving us full coverage of all of the events. The return of golf and rugby didn't make it to the video coverage. Did you know that we won Gold and Silver in Judo? Kayla Harrison won her second Gold, after receiving the first for the US ever in the 2012 Olympics. Not only is she the first to receive Gold for the US in the event, she's the first to receive back to back Gold. But you probably didn't know, because why would NBC care to cover it?

Hopefully NBC will learn from the feedback, which was surmounting this year after the hashtag #nbcfail appeared on Twitter and Facebook feeds. Tokyo coverage has to be better. We are going to the epicenter of all things technology. If NBC can't get on board with that, then there is no hope that the coverage will change.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

For some reason Blogger didn't post yesterday's blog session in a timely manner. While I try to figure out what's up, it seems like a good time for a Weekly Round Up to make an appearance! Here's what's on the menu today:

- MedicalXpress, because you know you can trust them when one emphasizes the X in express to make it extreme, wants you know that with over 98% of Australian households having some form of a video game, it can affect morality in children. A paper released by Macquarie University looks at the reality of video games, and challenges the notions that they are full of amoral choices. Games like Mass Effect and Grand Theft Auto give players a chance to make decisions that can be positive. More study is needed in this area, the paper notes, but it's not all doom and gloom for gamers in Australia.

- Speaking of Australia, some Americans living in the country were asked what they like and dislike about it. Top likes: the awesome healthcare at little to not costs. The dislikes: Games are expensive.

- Kill Screen has a thoughtful opinion piece about the invisible women of video games. How playing as a female character, allows female gamers to subvert the environment to their advantage. Quick, and in-depth read!

- The upcoming XBox One S will be able to support 4k gaming. However! Games won't play in 4k. Confusing, right? The system will come with HDR support and you need a TV that is HDR ready in order to see the 4k content, even if your screen can already receive 4k broadcasts. That's the jist of it, but still crummy for XBox gamers who want that sweet 4k action.

-  Job Stauffer, head of creative communications at Telltale Games, is urging the industry to redefine gaming genres. His points center around the growth of the medium allowing for more diverse, in-depth story telling that a game can't be just one genre. It can be multiple things all at once, and limiting the genre tags is a disservice to the games. You'll get no arguments from me on that one. It's a point I bring up consistantly in my gaming and anime panels.

- Not enough Overwatch talk on The Geek Spot? Well GameSpot sat down with assistant game director Aaron Keller at Gamescon to talk about the future of the game.

- Finally, if you need some evening entertainment, the annual Pokémon World Championships kicks off today, and will have a live Twitch feed tonight. Gamers from over 30 countries will be in the card tournament with over $500 grand in cash and scholarship prizes. Oh to be a kid again...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Gaming Press Conferences

Peter Moore doesn't think that gaming press conferences have a future. That's the word according to the EA mogul while at Gamescon this week. This year a number of larger companies, such as Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft either held low-key events or were out of the scene entirely. While Gamescon is at an odd time of year, just 2 months after E3, and is settled in Germany, it poses a challenge to developers. Many of us know that the release schedule for games typically goes Japan/NA first (sometimes Japan then NA), and Europe second several months later. The timeline for releases is more spread out, so announcing content and new games becomes moot when the audience will have to wait longer to get their hands on the product.

But! The big shift with these events is to go online. This year's E3 had a big push of streaming coverage of conferences. The intimate nature of the press seeing content first is no longer a thing. Even Nintendo said no to such a session at E3 and gave the content all online to gamers.

Is this a surprise?

The flash of the stage shows, while sometimes fun, has been dwindling. We're not as impressed as we use to be. We just want the games and we want them now. And when the majority of your sales is to gamers, not the press, you would be wise to market to them. That's what Moore is getting at. What do you think? Is Mr. Moore correct?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Konami Announces 'Metal Gear Survival' - MGS Without Kojima

Konami is going for broke, announcing a new Metal Gear Solid title at Gamescon 2016. Metal Gear Survive will be a four player, stealth co-op game sent in the MGS universe set directly after the events of the last game. Survive will focus on the military groups from the 5th game, as they are sucked into a worm hole that throws them into an alternate universe where they are forced to battle zombies.

Before you start defending this odd story-choice, keep in mind that Kojima is no longer with Konami. I don't know if he's even a consultant on future MGS titles. The blood between the two figures has been so volatile that I wouldn't be surprised if Kojima accepted his losses with MGS and left to have a clean slate. It's also unclear if any of the past MGS team members are working on Survive.

This sounds like a cluster f*ck waiting to happen.

Like someone said "hey, that Call of Duty game with the zombie mode sold well. Let's do that with Metal Gear but talk about time warps." And everyone was on board with it!

The trailer is not helping quell concerns. The imagery used looks and feels more like a first person shooter, and we don't see any of the co-op, stealth elements that the press release refers to. There are also glimpses of Big Boss, but it's unknown if other characters from the franchise will make an appearance. It also appears that scavenging might be an aspect of the game play. New weapons and tactics will be introduced, including a bow and arrow. Because stealth? Survive will use the FOX engine designed for MGS5.

Konami will have more details will be released after the convention, and the game has a pending 2017 release date.

Guys. I'm scared. If this is what MGS looks like with Kojima, I don't want it. Maybe this will be the swan song for Metal Gear and Konami can focus on mobile games.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Do You Really Want To Be A Creative Writer for Games?

I'm saving up my data plan so I can blog while I'm at PAX West (formly PAX Prime) this year. The schedule was released and it's full of developer panels from Ubisoft, SquareEnix, and Blizzard. I can't wait to share!

In the meantime, let's have a real talk about writing for video games. David Gaider has spent nearly 20 years at BioWare and has brought us story wonders such as Baldur's Gate II and KOTOR. He recently posted a lengthy blog on explaining the ins and outs on what it's truly like to be a game writer.

"The story is not everything in a video game," he writes. "Maybe this causes you to clutch your pearls in shock, but it’s true. A game writer has to bow to the requirements of gameplay and level design, as well as to the limitations of both technology and the schedule. Just because I can imagine the story taking a turn into a giant castle doesn’t mean the art team wants to build said giant castle."

Gaider gives a fresh perspective on what writing can really be like. Unlike books or novels where you are the lone soldier, creating the story on your own terms, with video games it's all about collaboration. You're trying to fit the plot line to the vision of the director, producers, and graphic teams. Something that may sound incredibly grand for the story may not fit within the design of the world. Gaider gives a very detailed overview on what to expect if you truly want a creative writing career in video games. And there is an emphasis on "truly" because you may find through this path that you'd rather be a level designer, or focus on character dialogue - a different branch of the writing process that is equally as important (and offers more job stability) as story development.

I also love the tips that he gives in the post: practice and keep it simple. The KISS policy (Keep It Simple, Stupid) works wonders. A noise of commitment or a character action can speak so much louder then a line of dialogue. And his top thing to not do: Don't Send In Fan Fiction. No one cares and it doesn't showcase your unique talents as a writer. It's about being creative and not copy/pasting what's been done before.

Definitely worth a read for today.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Responding to "Kiddy" Video Games

Quick updates before we get to today's post. Consider this a mini Weekly Link Round Up, for stories that need to be talked about.

- Final Fantasy XV has been delayed! Originally set to launch on September 30th, after a 10 year development period, an announcement was made at GamesCon followed by a video posted to the game's YouTube channel. Now being pushed to the end of November, SquareEnix states that it's to help refine the game. Instead of pushing out a day one patch, like so many are opt to do, they want to make the game as clean as possible right out of the box. I gave up on FF15 years ago, so I'm snickering about this in my corner while everyone wallows in the news.

- The team behind No Man's Sky has been fielding questions over the weekend regarding an XBox One version and game stability issues. Right now if you want to play the game, get the PS4 version. The PC one seems to be riddled with bugs and errors that Hello Games can't quite figure out. Turning down the game's settings to Low seems to help, but it's a short term solution that butchers the look of the game. Expect more patches soon.

 On to the main post!

After reading this piece on TechnoBuffalo about "kiddy" video games, I started to think about if this notion of games being for kids will ever change? Comic books and animations, even the most adult of them, are still thought of as "just for kids." Or perverts if you watch anime, because everything from Japan is hentai. I say that last sentence with so much sarcasm that my eyes have rolled out of my head and onto the table.

The stereotypes of entertainment are difficult to overcome. For the 100 plus years comic books have been in our hands, a number of people still feel that they are only meant for the young. Even though 'The Avengers' may make hundred's of millions of dollars at the box office, and people will camp out for San Diego Comic Con passes, they're not considered adult entertainment.

But the stigma not impossible to shake off. Film and theater are the best examples, and longstanding. Both began as simple means of entertainment to help entrance the masses for a quick buck. Shows and film reels were made to be quick, and enticed those who wanted to escape into a fantasy realm for just a few moments. Typically they appealed to lower and middle class families because they were relatively cheap. You would never see someone of wealth attending a film. They were thought to be passing fads. Over time as technology improved and people found importance in the mediums, the mindset surrounding them has changed. Now they are considered "high" art, with the exception of Michael Bay movies.

So what can video games do to overcome this "kiddy" mindset? The best thing is to keep plugging away. Challenge the notion that games are only for kids. Keep creating dynamic content such as Limbo and Flower. Showcase all the crazy things that one can build in Minecraft that keep it a constant boon for both children and adults. And don't fall into the arguments when others make fun of you for playing games. Point out the games that are meant for all ages, not just the M rated content, and go back to enjoying Pokemon Go. Mario is just as fun for kids as it is adults. Playing Call of Duty isn't required as an adult.

Being an "adult" doesn't mean giving up the things you did as a kid, or only sticking to PC and M games. Plenty of people still play sports, ride bikes, and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Gaming is no different. Don't get sucked into the teasing and game on!