Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Geek Spot 24-Hour Extra Life Marathon Is On!

Everything is not quiet on the Southern Front. I'm currently running my marathon for Extra Life! This is my 4th year, and our team is trying their best to get everyone involved.

Yesterday it was all about Mass Effect: Andromeda and some party games. Gotta love that Jack Box. Today it's Final Fantasy 14.

Extra Life unites thousands of players around the world in a 24 hour gaming marathon to support Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. Since its inception in 2008, Extra Life has raised more than $30 million for local CMN Hospitals. We raise funds to help out sick kids and it's a lot of fun to do it.

Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals® raises funds and awareness for 170 member hospitals that provide 32 million treatments each year to kids across the U.S. and Canada. Donations stay local to fund critical treatments and healthcare services, pediatric medical equipment and charitable care. Since 1983, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals has raised more than $5 billion, most of it $1 at a time through the charity’s Miracle Balloon icon. Its various fundraising partners and programs support the nonprofit’s mission to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible.

What I appreciate the most about Extra Life is that every penny of donations goes direct to Charity. Extra Life doesn't keep any of it. They are not like other middle men/groups.

This year, we really need your help. I'm only halfway to my $250 goal, and we're $700 down from our group $1k goal. Every year it becomes more challenging to get people to donate. We know most of you like to do it on Extra Life day and support your favorite big-name streamers and developers who can give away cool prizes. While it's great to see any donations, it does make it a challenge for the average "Joe's" to make a difference. We're happy being able to provide a few dollars in donations! So help us help sick kids and donate!

Check out my donation page to see some new rewards I've posted this year for your donations.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

GM Switch-up at BioWare

For those who don't know, Aaryn Flynn, the current General Manager of BioWare, will be stepping down at the end of the month to peruse other projects. Former BW alum Casey Hudson will be returning to take the position. Hudson didn't stray far from BW. He's always held an "honorary" staff member position, but spent most of his time as a creative directing consultant to Microsoft.

This change over was unexpected, and some gamers are praising the decision through Twitter. With horrible hashtags such as #MakeMassEffectGreatAgain (ugh, people...this is why we have a Cheeto in the White House. How dare you.) And comments to "Save Mass Effect." It's a bit disheartening. The backlash from Andromeda was strong, about as bad as what I remember seeing in 2012 when people complained about the ending to ME3. The project that Hudson led, no less. He got a ton of flack for that game. Funny thing is, I'm sure some of those "fans" that are praising Hudson's return are the same ones that vilified him for ME3. Connecting those dots is almost too easy.

Flynn has stated that he's leaving after contemplating making changes to his life. He's been with BioWare since he graduated college and has had an experience a number of developers would dream of. But he's still young and has plenty of life left in him. It's not a bad time to go out and see the world. It's possible that the board members of EA wanted him to step down, and this was their way of doing it graciously. Or that Flynn is being 100% genuine (based on his tone, it feels like it) and has wanted to make some changes in his life.

Whatever the reason, I'm miffed at how poorly some people are responding to the news. Flooding Flynn and Hudson's Twitter with pointless hashtags, harassing EA and BW's social media with the same thing. Even worse is that I'm seeing some people arguing with those who like Andromeda, claiming they aren't fans of the series. I feel like I'm stumbling into the 'Star Wars' Prequel arguments once more. "You can't be a fan if you like Episode I!"

Whatever your position is on Andromeda, can we stop being dicks to other gamers and to the developers? This is petty and insulting to Flynn, Casey, and the network of people that developed Mass Effect. They believed in the game and worked hard on it. You can dislike a game. You can not agree with a company's direction in their product. Everyone is entitled to have their opinions. But be CIVIL about it. Acting like a 5 year old, calling people names, and belittling other gamers and developers is beneath us. Stuff like this is why people don't want to get into certain fandoms (check out Reddit's for 'Steven Universe' if you don't believe me). Let's not be that group of people and get back to what's amazing about Mass Effect. Everyone can love the games, whether it's the first or the last, and be a fan.

Flynn, thank you for your dedication to the team and we are going to miss you. Your influence at BW will last for a lifetime and we can't wait to see what you do next.

Hudson, welcome back. We know this is a coming home party for you. Your work continues to be an inspiration to the company and we are eager for you to continue your legacy.

Gamers, stop being dicks.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

DMCA Claims Questioned for 'River City Ransom Underground'

DMCA takedowns are occurring on Steam for games developed by Conatus Creative, a small developer based in Canada. What's all the hubbub? Well a composer, Alex Mauer, claims that Conatus is using her music without proper compensation. River City Ransom Underground was removed from Steam and Conatus is currently working with their copyright department to get it back up.

This all started in December of 2016, after Mauer began issuing copyright claims on any and all YouTube videos that featured Starr Mazer DSP, developed by Imagos. At the time, Mauer was facing an arrest for theft. From December until March 2017, Mauer issued thousands of claims, causing gaming videos to be removed from multiple YouTube channels, and even shutting down some channels temporarily while Google sorted through the mass of requests. For those who don't know, anytime you are hit with a DMCA claim, YouTube can restrict your channel and any advertising content. If you make any profit from ad revenue, that claim can affect your income until the sanctions are lifted.

In both cases, it's believed that Mauer worked for these companies as a contractor - temporary positions. Even as a contractor, when you work for any business, any creative property that you produce for them becomes theirs. They don't need written permission to utilize your work when you made the content for them. It would be the same as a temp worker for Coke coming up with a new slogan, fulfilling his contract, Coke using it, and then the temp worker asking for additional money. Well, no. That's not how it works. You made that ad FOR the company that you worked for. You signed away your rights to any further compensation. The company owns it. You move on.

Now if Mauer didn't get paid fully for the work based on what was contracted with Conatus and Imagos, then of course the companies should pony up for the rest of the paycheck. But to ask for additional money outside of what was agreed upon because you feel you deserve more - well there are much better ways to approach it then to issue DMCA claims and destroy reputations. As the story continues to emerge, we'll post updates. Right now there is conflicting information on who's side of the story is right. But the bottom line speaks for itself: If Mauer did get paid what was written in the contract, she has no case. If not, the companies need to pay off the rest of her contract and be done with it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Photos of New Atari Console!

Atari has recently released photos of their latest console in development, and it's a throw-back to the late 70's. Announced last month that the company is making a return to the market, the new system is a weird morph between the old and the new. Though smaller and much easier to stack with other consoles, the system will be available in the classic black paneling and wood-grain. It'll also be out in a black-red combo instead of the wood, and a glass option as well. Oh yes kids. The original Atari did have a glass panel. That's how 70's it was.

Currently named the Ataribox, the system will feature 4 USB slots, and HDMI connector, and an SD card reader. They do plan on re-releasing some classic games and feature modern gaming content. The specifics of what's inside the Ataribox have not been released yet, And we're still waiting on a list of games. Some obvious ones will be Pac-Man, Pitfall, and Space Invaders.

With the hype for all things "retro," this would be a good filler-console while Nintendo mucks about with their mini systems. Can't get that SNES Mini or N64 Mini (oh come on, it's probably going to happen at this rate)? No problem! The Ataribox is here to save the day with games that are just as fun to play with the family. For it to play both old and new games, I'm curious to find out what hardware will be powering it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

Woohoo! The weekend is here and not a moment too late. Glad to see the drawn out work days come to an end before another round starts up next week. Which means it's another Weekly Link Round Up! Let's take a look at some of the best, worst, and wierdest gaming news on the internet:

- For those of you that scoff at Magikarp Jump, I present to you an enlightening article on Paste Magazine about a gamer, who got back into the hobby with this simple app. Sometimes it takes next to nothing to move the Earth and back. All you need is a little bit of Magikarp in your life.

- WhatCulture's list that caught my attention this week is all about 8 Popular Video Games That Fell Apart After Incredible Openings. I still think they need to hire a new title writer - these keep getting longer! I was with the list until their top spot was Metal Gear Solid 2 and wondered if these were the ramblings of a fanboy who was mad about Raiden (dude, he's pretty important to the story AND he's a badass in MGS4 - get over it already). But it was nice to see Bioshock: Infinite on the list. It's a game that looks great, but the plot and stand-by tropes make it a bore to slug through. So hey, someone else gets it! I'll take that as a win.

- Gamasutra has posted an article from a community member covering the 3 Ways Video Games are Impacted by Branding. I'm commenting on it in an attempt to get you all to avoid clicking the link. I was hoping for something insightful, but the list is everything that every gamer already knows. Branding for games comes down to 3 points: Mascots, Franchises, and Studios. That's it. Branding in these 3 areas helps support games. Slap this article with a "no duh" sticker and let's move on.

- With the 'Castlevania' animated TV show hitting Netflix, Movie Pilot looks at 8 Video Games that should be TV series. Some of the options are goofy, like Crash Bandicoot and Pikmin. Cute, but I don't think of either game as kid-friendly enough to warrant a television show. Spyro the Dragon would have a better shot. They also list Heavy Rain and Max Payne. Now those are stories that would be worth watching and expanding on. Their content is made for episodic tales, even with the short playtime of Heavy Rain. It could open up some new story-telling for television. Though I'm not on board with Grand Theft Auto as a show. Removing the gaming aspect from it takes away the fun.

- China may be cracking down again on gaming. After Tencent Holdings change to play time for their product Honor of Kings, which I reported on last week, many feel that it's still not enough to help curb "gaming addiction." The People's Daily and Xinhua News sent a call to action to all game developers to come up with new ways to limit children's play time. The government is already planning on new regulations to help reign in the industry, specifically Tencent Holdings after recent stories of children stealing money from others in school, in order to pay for digital assets in Honor of Kings. Far be it from me to tell someone how to raise their child, but maybe teach him/her the difference between right and wrong - and how wrong it is to steal? These stories are causing major impact to the growing Chinese industry, and new regulations could hamper developments.

- On the flipside, Global Harbour, the largest mall in China has installed gaming booths called "Husband Hatches." The idea being that men have a place to sit and not be bored while their wives shop. I can hear your eye-rolling all the way from here, but it's kinda funny that this is a country that seems so intent on regulations, and yet happy to have gaming booths if it "keeps the men happy."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

'Candy Crush' Game Show Lacking Fun

If you live in the U.S., you have seen or heard the myriad of promotions for the 'Candy Crush' game show. CBS Television's newest attempt to try and attract a younger audience to their ranks. Outside of comedy hits like 'The Big Bang Theory,' CBS skews towards an aging demographic. Which is not bad, but it does limit advertising opportunities. The opportunity to seize on the Candy Crush craze may be a little bit too late. The game is still featured in top 10 download lists, but it's popularity has been dropping over the past two years as new games appear. The 'Candy Crush' game show would have been a good tie-in 3 years ago. Even with Mario Lopez as the host! But this Sunday's showing of the first episode was met with a shrug and an eyeroll by this viewer. Here's the quick review:

First, poor Mario Lopez. He seems like a good man. He tries so hard and puts effort into every venture. But when you see the list of things he's hosted, acted in, or announced for, you have to feel bad for the guy. So few of those options take off! Lopez needs a talent agent to find him better material. He knows his stuff, but the gigs he lands are meh, at best. So it's not surprising to see less then okay reviews already out for the show.

The first show introduced us to the game board, how to play, and the predictable set-up. Two teams compete on an oversized touch-screen, for best out of 3 matches of 'Candy Crush.' The idea being that if you trade out a smart phone for a saleable wall and cooky personalities, you've got yourself a game. While future shows will bring in the general public, this episode was former cast members of 'Big Brother' and 'Survivor,' also CBS shows. 'Big Brother' was the lead in to 'Candy Crush' to help boost viewers. But unless you are an avid follower of those shows, you wouldn't care what happened to these contestants. There's no vested interest beyond "oh it's that guy from that reality show, I think."

Contestants are strapped into harnesses and compete head to head for 3 rounds of 'Candy Crush.' Thankfully, this aspect of the game is still in line with the mobile app. You touch the screen to swap candies around to make chains of 3 or more, and complete the puzzles within a set time limit, or capture the highest score. There are mini-games in between that offer you bonus items you can use to help you with your touch-screen antics, such as extra-long pointer sticks or a ladder to scale the wall. The game will probably change in future episodes when it's not 'pseudo-reality celebrity' driven.

Lopez does a good job of keeping the contestants and the audience entertained. He's a showman and he knows it. This was the one bright spot for the game, as everything else felt lackluster. The set design was bland, and clearly only focused on the giant touch-screen wall and nothing else. The scenery does not invoke a 'Candy Crush' vibe. It's more of a 'The Price Is Right' rip-off. Because the focus is on the big screen, you have to rely on the talent of Lopez and the natural banter of the contestants to hold the show. Lopez does his best, but the contestants resulted in a lot of eye-rolling on my end. Their actions felt forced; the dialogue stiffed. Other then flailing on the big board, the show was flat. This is another generic game show, trying to capitalize on a fad that's dying out, and half-assing the results.

CBS first attempt at attracting the casual gamer audience was a miss.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Fight For Net Neutrality

Today is a day of action to stand with #NetNeutrality.

In under 5 days, the FCC will no longer accept comments on the "Restoring Internet Freedom" referendum. The new FCC chair wants to dismantle Title II rules of the Communications Act. Title II provides the legal foundation for Internet Service Providers (ISP's) like Verizon and AT&T. It prevents ISP's from intentionally throttling internet connections when you download or upload content. Or charging websites extra to ensure that they are seen "first" for consumers, and pass the billing to users. Or charging websites to make sure they are not blocked from the ISP. Basically, it's a legal precedence to prevent ISP's from abusing their control over the internet and preventing people from accessing any online content.

That is what is at stake. If Title II rules are removed for ISP's, they will have free reign to command the internet as they see fit. Now companies like Verizon have said they don't plan on charging customers and websites extra to be seen, but without Title II, all we have is their word. There is nothing written in a legally binding manner to support this. It's an empty promise.

The argument for removing Title II is that it will help ISP's expand, claiming that they will provide better service to their consumers. Instead of a "fast lane" there will be a "faster lane" for those who pay more. 'Last Week Tonight' with John Oliver has a series of episodes covering this. While the shows does favor Net Neutrality, it does provide the views of the opposing side. It's important to know and understand both positions before moving forward.

What could happen if ISP's no longer have to follow Title II?

AT&T could block some of your favorite websites to prevent you from accessing them. Amazon. eBay. Twitter. Steam. Twitch. Your local gaming store. Your blog. All of it could be put behind an additional paywall that requires you to "upgrade" your internet services so you can get to that content. Not that we in the U.S. don't already pay a lot for access to the net, with some of the highest pricing schemes and lowest download/upload speeds globally.

Or, ISP's could double dip. Blocking content from consumers so the customers have to pay more, and blocking companies unless the business pay the ISP the "privilege" of being seen on their services.

My favorite is the traffic throttling. Yep. Without Title II, your ISP no longer has to guarantee that you'll be that 100 MB upload/download. If you pay for 100 and only get 2, oh well! You can't do anything about it. Your online gaming and Netflix streaming will come to a grinding halt. Unless you pay more, of course.

The internet came to be as a means of providing digital communication and exchange of ideas freely, without the limitations of mail, faxes, and phones. The original creators (not Al Gore) have never attempted to profit from the venture. They were scientists providing a digital revolution to the world without asking for anything in return. They wanted a platform that was open - and that's how the internet should remain. Not behind paywalls that only the extremely wealthy are able to afford.

Without the internet, we wouldn't have the creative spark of YouTube. Which helped build a new generation of entertainment and re-formed cable television into the amazing mecha of quality that we see today.

Without the internet, we wouldn't have the connections to people half a world away like we do today. Being able to talk to other people in real time, without the delays of phones and faxes.

Without the internet, we wouldn't have the mecha of Wikipedia - a source of knowledge, understanding, and reasoning. A digital encyclopedia that provides more content then any book could handle.

Without the internet, we wouldn't have cat memes.

If nothing about this post affects you today, at least think of the cat memes. Learn more and let your voice be heard at Battle for the Net.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Prime Day Deals That Really Exist

Today is Prime Day, an artificial sale date created by Amazon to get you to spend more money on things you probably don't need. Since it's inception in 2015, the past 2 years have been full of less then stellar deals. Unless you're looking for 55 gallons of lube. Still, Amazon has cleaned up with record sale numbers for the event. While there are some decent deals today on Amazon branded products, there will be the silly stuff mixed in between that makes you wonder 1: why does Amazon have it? and 2: who would buy it?

We're going to look at some of the best and wierdest deals you can find on Prime Day. Okay so it's really 2 good gaming console deals and the rest are silly, but hey! It's Prime Day:

- PS4 Slim 500 Gig, down $70 from it's original retail price. And it comes with Uncharted 4. If you don't have the console yet, that's not a bad price to consider buying it up now.

- XBox One S, save $128. It includes the system, an extra controller, a charging station, and 3 games.

- A Log Rack, 43% off MSRP! Okay this popped up in the Video Game category and I don't know why. I'm not sure what a log rack and gamers have in common, but it was too weird to not post.

- How about $1.97 off a spiral notebook? It's ho-hum savings when you think about it. You could get cheaper if you walked into a Walmart right now.

- A Unicorn Ballpoint Pen at 43% off. I did not know this was a thing. How is this a thing? You have to split it in half to use it, and that seems kind of wrong.

- Lion Brand Yarn - Tutti Frutti. It's not the sale that amuses me, but the 1-2 month delivery time! When it finally arrives, your need for the colorful yarn will be no more!

- Garden in a Can at 20% off. Because nothing says "I am a hipster gardener trying to look white-trash" then growing oregano out of a designer-ready tin can.

- 48% off a 7 pack of silicone "wedding" rings for men. Why 7? Well one for every day of the week, because obviously you are manly and have to work out daily to require such a thing!

- How about 30% off a 36-Can Mega Pack of Play Doh? Enough fun for the whole family, and your neighbors, and their extended families, and your co-workers!

- Fish Food in bulk seems to be a big sale item for Prime Day. And, not joking, if you search Fish Food under the Prime Day settings, these BBQ non-stick mats pop up.

Happy Shopping!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Video Games Probably Not the Reason You Don't Have a Job

Let's talk about that study recently released talking about men and video games. Specifically, the study suggests that the decrease of young men in the labor market is due to good video games. The study published to the National Bureau of Economic Research is getting a lot of air time. You can view the original paper here which uses pre-existing government statistics on the state of the economy.

While games may be a factor in why fewer young men are working, they are not the primary reason. And that's the main aspect that the study largely ignores - focusing more on leisurely activities and not on market trends that caused a spike in unemployment, low job growth, and increased income inequality.

Ask anyone who attempted to find a job between 2006 to, well, now, can tell you that the market has changed since the housing bubble burst. It was teetering in 2006 and went into a tailspin in 2009-2010. This caused a big chain reaction: suppliers for building were shutting down. People were losing their jobs. Insurance companies were laying off people due to the low home-owner rate. Retailers closed down as fewer people were willing to spend money. More young adults were opting to stay home to save money, some opting for community college or skipping college entirely. While the market was going down, costs were rising. This wasn't just the US. Globally there were repercussions.

A lot of stuff went down in the past decade and we're still recovering from it. I myself scaled back on a number of my life plans so I could ensure financial stability should another disaster strike again. Those of us in the 21-35 range have fewer credit cards - we saw our family struggle with debt during the recession and we did not want to repeat it.

Video games were an inexpensive luxury at a time when options were expensive. Theater ticket prices and music were going up. Spending $100 for 2 hours at the movie for a family of 4 seems like a waste when you can spend $39-$59 on a video game that will entertain for months. They provided fun and comfort while the world crumbled around us. But holding young men back from getting work? Let's take a look at some stats!

From 2006 to 2009, the U.S. unemployment rate went from 4.4% to 10%. In general, young adults experience the highest rate of unemployment among all age groups. When you have an unemployment rate jump up to 10%, if you were 21-35 your chances of landing a job were drastically reduced. You were now fighting for a fast food position alongside the 35-65 group who were recently laid off and have more experience. Having a college degree was no longer a guarantee that you'd land a job. Even today the degree is more expensive then what it's worth for a number of U.S. employers.

Since 2010, the employment rate for young adults has increased to 66.2%, from 61.3% during the recession. Why? Because more jobs are available. It really is as simple as that. Our unemployment rate is steadily dropping back down to that 4.4% marker, and that can only happen when more jobs are on the market. Video games haven't gone down in quality or content. They are better and more time intensive, if anything. But without jobs to go after, the unemployment rate and focus on playing games will increase.

So let's slow down, look at the stats, and focus on the issues affecting young men with today's job market. We can blame video games, but it's hiding the reality of the social and economic issues the country is facing. Unless you are intentionally ignoring all life responsibilities to play video games, there's more at work then "leisurely activities" taking up your free time.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Weekly Link Round Up

We made it through another week! Huzzah! And it's been a weird one. But that's okay. In very random news, I was able to secure BlizzCon passes, so I'll be able to live report from one of the biggest developer conventions in the world, all for you to absorb. I hope they have stuff for Diablo. While I bounce in my seat in anticipation over the next 4 months, let's head into the Weekly Link Round Up.

- The Escapist feels there is still a chance that video game movies could be Hollywood hits, so they have a list of 8 games that need to be movies. While the rest of us balk at the idea, it would be nice if movies got on board and produced something great, like 'Ace Attorney' and not another 'Resident Evil.' The list includes Dino Crisis and Soul Reaver, and some others such as The Last of Us which has already been optioned as a movie. The problem is, once again, people are focusing on movies that they want to see and not about what stories would work for the medium. Dino Crisis is a fun game, but it would not make for a good movie. The plot, the evolution of the characters and the dinosaurs would turn off viewers. The game works as a game. No more.

- WhatCultue (hi again) has a list of 8 "shocking" video game Plot twists that we all saw coming. It's a funny list premise, I'll give them that. Games where we guessed the ending or the special twist after the first cutscene? Alright, WhatCulture. Bring it on. What made your list?

There's Batman: Arkham Knight where you know that Batman is not Bruce Wayne - and frankly that was not really a spoiler at all. It's in the first 10 seconds of the game and all of the products sold months before it's release. Then there's Metroid: The Other M where you find out who Mother Brain is without having to guess. It's all spelled out for you early on. That's not a twist when the game tells you what to expect...okay Until Dawn is on the list. It's pretty easy to figure out early in the game who the real killer is, but it's also hidden enough that it requires brain power to make the assumption. The rest of the list is subpar, but at least they tried with Until Dawn.

- Kotaku provides an insightful article into something we all have experienced before: choking in an online video game. You're on a winning/kill streak. You're unstoppable. No one can touch you. And then someone points out that you're still alive. Or you get that voice in your head that says "hey...you haven't screwed up yet!" Inevitably you start failing. Your buddies have cursed you. Damn them!

- Pokémon Go has been out for a year. Can you believe that? This time last year I was in a park with friends, sweating my butt off in 105 degree heat, trying to catch these digital monsters. I still play. I don't spend money or play as often, but when I'm in a new city or killing time waiting for someone, I'll pop open the app. The game is still well-received and a step forward in the augmented reality market. Time Magazine's article is just one footnote on the anniversary, as it looks back at the game's successes.

- Ubisoft Toronto is trying to jump into the wonky market of toys for games with Starlink: Battle for Atlas. The toys allow you to build and customize your own ship, which is then docked and uploaded to the game for you to play. The ability to physically alter the ship is a nice touch for gamers, and a great learning tool for kids. This new IP not only looks cool, the ship parts are kind of nifty too. Hopefully this is a game that makes the rounds at expos. It'd be interesting to see how it works up close, and what the downtime is for transferring your ship to the game.