Monday, September 26, 2016

Making War Games Fun

It's the plight of any developer focused on military games. How do you make a historical event fun? War in particular, since it's known for being...unfun. Shooting Nazi zombies in Call of Duty is one thing. Watching a comrade die from a land mine is another. Aleksander Grøndal, senior producer at DICE, half of the team behind Battlefield 1, spoke with Motherboard to help key in on the aspects of what makes the military genre interesting enough for people to continue to play.

"We’re not trying to create a documentary about that era. We’re trying to make a game, it’s supposed to be fun first so, of course, we’re going to take some creative liberties where we can."

That sums up just about every war-related game on the market. Fun is the key component with any video game. Without it, you lose the audience and they are less likely to invest time and money into your brand.

For those who seem shocked by the quote from Grøndal, don't be. Every Battlefield, Call of Duty, and Brother in Arms has taken extensive liberty from historical accuracy for the sake of creative fun. Even non-war games like Civilization exist on the knowledge that history can be fudged a little bit to create an entertaining product. Even for World War I, which is always considered a difficult subject to tackle. 40 million casualties, with one battle costing the lives of 2,000 soldiers daily for over 300 days. The ancient form of war with sabers, bright uniforms, and decorum were changed with WWI.

To give the team the credit where it's due, they did take the time to research and study the events of WWI. Obviously there were a lot of things taken out because it was a grizzly war. Grøndal wanted to focus on the youthful exuberance, the excitement of the action, and some of the hope the soldiers brought to the front lines. This includes weapons that were conceptualized during WWI but were never produced. Battlefield 1 takes that step to make them a virtual reality. You'll find with the game that there's more of a focus on the latter half of the war, when mechanized weapons came into play. WWI started on horseback and ended with tanks.

I know that calling war "fun" is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. War is painful. Exhausting. And deplorable. It shouldn't be showcased as exciting or adventurous when killing another living creature is involved. Which is why games try to soften it with zombie modes, unrealistic weapons, and futuristic settings where robots are involved. What's your take on this? Is Battlefield going in the right direction for the sensitive nature of WWI?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

It's been a long time coming...the Weekly Link Round Up! A concoction of the best, worst, and silliest gaming news on the internet. Here's what we've got this week:

- The Washington Post would like to remind you that video games are bad. Even the good ones! Amazing games could be bad for America! If that statement confuses you, well it confused me too. According to a new economic study by the University of Chicago and University of Rochester, more younger men are not going to work to stay home and play games because it provides an instant satisfaction/reward that one doesn't get at a 9 to 5 job. But it's not just the cell phone games - it's the cool Triple A titles that men want to play and that's what keeps them hooked!

I really don't know how to respond to the article. It sounds like a legitimate study, but the conclusions drawn seem silly? I don't think it's an issue of men wanting to stay at home and play games all day in their parent's home because they want to. The lack of jobs for 16-32 year olds has dropped drastically over the past decade and it's incredibly difficult to find work. Every adult, male and female, knows that you need money to live in this world. And staying at home gaming is not a way to make money. The research claims that the decision to stay at home is unconscious, but I'd say they need to review the information. The article doesn't touch on the state of the current job market at all, and that should be factored into the conclusions.

- By the way, apparently video games are better the second time you play them. That's according to a TechSpot opinion piece. While replay value could be argued, games like Mass Effect can achieve more enjoyment by having every-changing plot points. Where as Final Fantasy and God of War III, one time through is plenty.

- Business Insider takes a quick peak into the world of gaming for deaf gamers. In that subtitles, and sometimes the lack of them, are still an issue in 2016. Twitch channel Deaf Gamers TV have taken developers to task about the poor quality of subtitles. In many cases, subtitles will sit on top of in-game text (such as posters), or the content doesn't match the dialogue being spoken. It's one thing if it were live television where people are typing the closed-caption as it happens. For a game, not having proper subtitles is silly. I use subtitles all the time since action games can sometimes cover up dialogue with ambient noises that you miss story points. RPG's as well, but mostly because they can be so in-depth that you need that text to keep up with the plot. Better quality subtitles in games: wee need them.

- To balance out the thoughtful article, here's another one from Business Insider with a list of 9 games that deserve remakes. Why am I linking this? Golden Eye 007 for the N64 was listed. It received a remake for the Nintendo Wii a few years ago, which was not mentioned in the article. Whoops.

- The Women In Games International and the Girl Scouts of America are reaffirming their relationship to provide more STEM activities to their groups by partnering with Sony Santa Monica. The new venture will include a crash-course workshop for Girl Scouts in game design. Wish they had this stuff when I was a kid!

- Apparently Vivendi is trying to take over Ubisoft. Yeah. I was surprised to read that headline as well. Ubisoft has been around for 30 years, but has been kind of quiet lately as they fend off a buyout from Vivendi. You'd think it'd be as simple as "no, we don't want to be owned by you," but it's not. When multiple people own shares of your company, you have to try and win over the majority of the shareholders to ensure the buyout doesn't happen. It's stupidly complicated. CEO Yves Guillemot talks about the implications of the buyout to GameSpot, and what it would mean to their creative teams, as well as the bottom line for gamers.

The YouTube Gaming app had a quick update this week to improve the chat experience by making it streamlined. Instead of weird sideways scrolling, the chat bar is in a drop-down menu that allows you to tap and type. YouTube is steadily improving their gaming channels to try and take on the Twitch crowd.

- And finally, we knew this would happen: virtual reality roller coasters! Six Flags in Vallejo, California unveiled a new coaster called 'Rage of the Gargoyles.' You do get to ride the coaster, while a VR unit plays an animated sequence in front of your eyes. So it's not you standing in a square, thinking you're on a roller coaster. VR. It's a thing!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Extra Life Day Signal Boost!

Extra-Life is coming up. For those who don't know, I've been participating over the past 2 years to help raise money for the Children's Miracle Network. CMN provides assistance to families of sick kids who are unable to afford the insane medical expenses, and donates funds to researching cures.

What brings me back to Extra-Life every year is that the organization doesn't keep a single cent of their donations. They give everything to CMN. I've been a donator for years to streamers and various groups, and jumped onto the gaming bandwagon to help give back in new ways. It's been a fun experience, made more-so by having a team.

This isn't a blog post asking for donations to my team in particular. But a general post to remind everyone the importance of giving and how much your life has improved through the magic of gaming. Remember that first Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukah, birthday where you opened up the big box and saw that gaming system you've always wanted? You thanked your parents or Santa and played to your hearts content for years, loving that system through it all.

For a number of kids in the Children's Miracle Network, they don't have those memories. They spend a lot of their time in and out of hospitals, their parents making enough to put food on the table and being grateful that they can see one more sunrise.

Extra-Life is a chance for us, as gamers, to come together, stop being dicks to each other, and help out kids who are missing out on the joy of being kids. We give them a day of hope and healing through our donations, whether it's time or money.

November 5th is the day, but you don't have to wait to donate. You can do it today! And don't forget about the little guys! A lot of solo streamers and small teams make up the bulk of Extra-Life. We may not get the big money like Rooster Teeth or Nintendo, but we have just as much heart as the rest of them. If they don't get your donation, they may not return next year - even a dollar makes a huge difference.

I'll be playing on November 5th and 6th in 12 hour sessions along with my teammates, with an October date as well for game-day. We'll have a team game, most likely Jack Box games and attempting to web cam 'Million Dollars But...' so it'll be a fun event. We encourage everyone to join in, have some fun, and give a little money to the kids.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Unusual and Fun Events for the Upcoming TwitchCon

Can we talk about some of the funny events happening at TwitchCon this year? Taking place in San Diego, From September 30 through October 2, it's the second year for the convention. A time to showcase all the wonderful things that make Twitch, twitchy. They have recently issued a press release on some of their expo hall offerings, and it's worth taking a moment to bask in their greatness.

There will be the usual fray of competitors in the TwitchArena, a mainstay with larger gaming expos these days, and an eSports lounge for viewing events. Those should be expected. But no! What I want to talk about is the Bob Ross Paint-Along!

After the success of the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross on Twitch, it has turned into a staple on the site. Every week you can watch an episode of Mr. Ross painting. It invokes a lot of happy feelings. And clouds. So many clouds. Now you too can paint with Bob Ross at TwitchCon! The Bob Ross Company, as Mr. Ross is no longer with us, will host a live Paint-Along at the convention. For $99 you will receive a painting kit, canvas, and can sit in on the event to paint with an expert in the Bob Ross method of artworking. There's enough paint provided that will last you several canvas pieces. For those who can't attend TwitchCon, you can watch it all through Twitch as it happens.

New this year is Amazon's Unboxing event. The heck is that suppose to mean? Amazon now owns a few small game companies and they have been developing new mobile content and they want to show it off. You can see their first big title release, Breakaway, at TwitchCon.

Also on the schedule is Inclusivity City. Partnering with AnyKey, it's an area that gives attendees a chance to connect with Twitch organizations that are helping to improve the quality of Twitch and make it a welcoming place. Groups such as 'I Need Diverse Games' and 'Hack Harassment' will be on hand to talk about their efforts. They will also host a Smash Bros. Tournament presented by the Smash Sisters.

But seriously. We're in it for the painting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Metal Gear: Survive Demo Backlash

Konami is putting it all out there for Metal Gear: Survive and showcased 15 minutes of game play at the Tokyo Game Show. Things may not be looking good among their target audience; at half a million views, it's 1,300 Likes is paltry compared to the 21k dislikes currently brewing on the video. The knee-jerk reaction may be that gamers are still showing their dislike for Konami and how they treated Kojima and his team over the past year. Or is the game demo that bad?

Though I did not like the first game trailer, I'm willing to sacrifice some of my sanity to watch the demo and provide an honest review of the content and try to reign in my Kojima-fangirl nature.

The focus of the Survive demo is to showcase the co-op feature, stealth, and defense tactics you need to use to progress through the missions. What we know so far is that the game takes place in the same general time-frame as Metal Gear Solid 5. A rift in time opens and send your character and others into various alternate realities. You have to work with other gamers to meet the course objectives (I'm assuming the point is to try and escape the new reality you're in to get back to the old one?) while avoiding zombie-like creatures and other humans.

The stealth portion of Survive is similar to MGS5. Hiding and sneaking gives you tactical advantages. While it does take longer then the run and gun method, you can use objects like grenades to distract zombies before you move in for the kill. You can pick up various objects such as baskets and flowers to add to your inventory. The first few minutes of the demo is more of a sneaky, zombie-killing Minecraft gathering mission then Metal Gear Solid. If you take damage, you can use the items you have found to heal yourself, otherwise your character will limp along and be a distraction. Otherwise, it's similar to any other MGS game with the stealth. Lying on the ground makes you magically invisible and enemies can't see you.

The defense portion is just like any FPS game where you have to hold your position and keep your zone clear of enemies. This section of game play is very straight forward where stealth is moot. You can create traps, build retaining walls, and create paths to direct your enemies to their demise. Items that you pick up around your base can be used to build new weapons, such as turrets. Otherwise, you get the point; shoot to kill, shoot to live. It's no different then playing Left 4 Dead after you hit the final buzzer at the end of a level, and a horde of zombies come after you. You have to live long enough to beat the game timer and you're done. Other then slightly nicer graphics, there isn't anything impressive here.

As I was watching the game play, it occurred to me that Survive looks too much like MGS5 with a different wrapper. It's a number of the same assets, mechanics, environment, and designs that it could easily be an expansive DLC campaign of multiplayer to MGS5 and it would be okay. Like the zombie-add on to Call of Duty, it's a superfluous piece that people would buy for the lulz. Survive as a stand-alone that borrows heavily from the MGS5 content pool feels like a slap to the face for consumers.

The other concern I have is the lack of story. Even with the spin-off games, with the exception of the pachinko machines, MGS is all about convoluted stories with so much exposition it would cause Voltaire to spin in his grave. The demo focused on the game play without giving us context. Why do we care about this team of soldiers? What is their purpose? Why are they killing zombie-like creatures with red stones on their bodies? Why are the dead bodies floating in the air and going through a portal? Why can I make a bow out of flowers? The lack of context for character motivation makes the demo a bear to sit though. I found my interest in the team waning with each passing minute because I didn't care what happened to them.

If you are brave enough, start watching and come to your own conclusion. The demo itself isn't bad. The comments on some users are pro-Kojima, but others have valid points regarding the odd game play. It's trying to invoke MGS feelings with the stealth game play without trying to be like MGS. Survive is trying to set itself as a different FPS and it may cause trouble down the line for Konami if they can't get their fan-base on board with the concept.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Suing 100 Steam Users Results in Removal of Games

Digital Homicide Studio (DH) is trying really hard for that golden poo award for worst company in America.

Over the weekend Steam pulled the entire DH collection of games after a court order requested Steam to turn over the contact information of 100 users. In a quick statement to Kotaku they commented that ""Valve has stopped doing business with Digital Homicide for being hostile to Steam customers."

Since DH now has a history of suing people for defamation, I'm going to make the blanket "please don't sue me" statement before continuing on. Partly in satire, but also to appeal to their good will that they won't bankrupt a student who cares about games. So, here we go.

Please don't sue me.

I am going to do my best to write this article with an objective point of view while presenting the facts. I do utilize humor and sarcasm to get the message across, and it's meant to be taken as such. It's not intended to do harm. Rather, it's a lighthearted way to provide news to the readers.

By the way, please don't sue me too. I still have $45k in student loans to pay off and don't make a penny off this blog. You're better off going after more important game reviewers who may have a higher salary then myself. Maybe. I'm not entirely sure about that since writers are not paid well, in general. So yep. No sue. Thanks!

Back to the story:

DH's co-founder James Oliver Romine Jr., filed a motion against 100 Steam users for defamation after they posted poor reviews. Romine Jr. claims that the users have harassed him for up to 21 months and have amassed over 200k postings on Steam, YouTube, and Reddit. The dollar amount is $18 million for personal injury. The Judge for the case has issued a subpoena to Valve to reveal the identities of the Steam users to the court so they can move the case forward. Steam/Valve has the right to challenge the request to protect their users - at this time they haven't commented further about what they plan to do. But as a preventative measure, they have removed all of DH's game catalogue to ensure no other users become involved, and to protect themselves from any potential slander.

Romaine Jr. has responded to Valve's decision through DH's website and that he's seeking legal representation for the breach of contract with the removal of the games from the Steam library.

This isn't the first time DH has used legalities for defamation suits. Earlier this year they filed a lawsuit against game critic Jim Sterling for a poor review of The Slaughtering Grounds. DH requested a take-down of the review and $10 million for damages. It was later increased to $15 million.

As both cases remain in pending status, it asks the question of when is it too much and too far for a developer? Do they have the right to fight back against poor reviews? Movies, television shows, theater productions, and books all face the same dilemma. But reviews are part of the gig. They give insight for those who may not have the vast knowledge of the writer, or to help with the purchase decision. You're going to have poor reviews. It doesn't matter how magnificent your product is, there will be some people who don't like it. And that's okay! No product is perfect. I think DH needs to review their stance on responding to critics and take into consideration how their answers will affect their business in the long run. I understand that those games are their lively-hood. They spent a lot of time and love making them. But with the good comes the bad. I'm not saying that harassment should be tolerated, but look at the cause behind it. Is deleting every negative review on Steam and filing lawsuits an appropriate way to respond to your customers? Probably not.

Friday, September 16, 2016

New Steam Review Policy Affecting Indie Developers

Steam's game review policy is changing. Announcing the new rules earlier this week, a number of developers from crowdfunding projects, as well as Steam staples are showing some concern.

There are new filtering options which allow people to sort reviews by language, review type, and purchase source - a long needed feature on Steam. But the important thing to focus on is that the review scores are going to change. Developers who give out free Steam keys in exchange for a review will not longer have that review score counted (positive or negative). This also means that if you gift someone with a Steam key, their review won't apply to the score either. Which also means if you buy a Humble Bundle with a Steam key, that review won't count! Basically, if you yourself did not buy the game directly on steam with your own money, your review will not apply to the game's review score.

In Steam's defense, this system was created to help curb fake reviews. People being given a free game to post a positive response is unfair to consumers. So, I get it. I really do, Steam. Having said that, it's also going to screw over developers under Steam's Greenlight and any crowdfunding projects since now they can't have any review scores count. Reviews from backers are no longer contributing to the games. They are now hidden under a new filter. And not making those reviews available at first glance it could affect future sales and performance of indie games. Rock Paper Shotgun spoke with a few developers about their concerns. While some understand Steam's need to have a transparent, less abusive review systems, others feel it's targeting too many legitimate reviews. Backers and Humble Bundle supporters have earned the right to review games as well. Steam is going to have to find a way to address the concerns.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Ethics of Gaming Emulators

Inspired by Kotaku Australia's video podcast, let's talk about the ethics behind emulators. A number of gamers use them to run ROM's of old video games that are no longer in production. Whole websites are dedicated to arcade, Nintendo, and Sega games. Until the recent advent of digital gaming making classic titles like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog accessible to modern consoles, ROM's and emulators were one of two ways of playing retro games. That or spending a lot of free time, and money, locating the original system, cables, controllers, and game - all in working condition. Emulators were a faster, and cheaper way to go.

Emulators allow a host computer to run like a guest computer. It's typically used to run programs that are out of date. With a number of emulators for games, they are designed to offer more controller flexibility. You have the option to play Star Fox with a PS4 controller and not be limited to your keyboard.

But is all of this really legal? Creating an emulator and ROM for an older video game might infringe on copyright and trade agreements, so would code writers be in violation of the law? Technically no. Pretty much all emulators available for gaming systems are free. There are donation buttons, but there is no payment required to download and use. This isn't a GameStop enterprise where they are taking used games and reselling them. The content is free. And according to a 1992 court ruling of Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. v. Nintendo of America, Inc. (The Game Genie case), as long as the user has obtained a copy of the systems BIOS legally, they can modify it as they see fit. This is why you haven't seen Nintendo go after emulator sites like they have with and YouTube.

For the end-user, that's a giant abyss of "we don't know." Technically you are safe to play emulators for free. They're not considered kosher by some developers as they don't make any money from it. And while it's still illegal to distribute game code, many ROM's are created with a unique source code that replicates the original data but! it's not the same. Therefore bypassing that tricky little rule. Yea!

But is it right for gamers to play the ROM's if they don't own a copy of the game? That's up to you to decide. For every ROM on my system, I have a physical copy of the game. I play them on my computer so I can stream them. Having to stream from my Super Nintendo is a butt and requires a ton of time, and equipment, that I don't want to invest in for temporary video streams. An emulator is a faster, inexpensive alternative. My argument is that I have a physical copy; I've paid my money to the publisher, so I have the right to download a ROM version of it to play my own way. Some people don't agree with me, and that's okay. And there are others who will download any ROM never owning a physical copy of the game. Legally, they can do it. And most ROM's are for games that have been out of production for years - some are in the realm of decades. The publishers are not producing the games, so shouldn't it be okay to run an emulator? Now if this were an emulator for the XBox One and you are uploading the latest Battlefield for people to play, then yes. That's an issue. The game is set to release soon and will be in production for several years. That is taking money out of the publisher's pocket. But for games that are no longer on the market, well what's the harm in the ROM?

What do you think? Where do you stand on the debate?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Twitch And The Ever-Expanding World of Streaming

Twitch wants to be the go-to for all streaming content. That's what co-founder Emmett Shear spoke on at the TechCrunch Disrupt SF. Even before it was purchased by Amazon, Twitch was making waves online as the premiere site for streaming video games, more than any other video site out there. Though that billion dollar purchase from Amazon does help sweeten the pot just a bit...

The Amazon deal has allowed the company to grow and take on new aspects of the streaming world that they couldn't dive into before. Such as the "Twitch Creative" market where streamers of all art backgrounds are asked to showcase the making of their content live, and online. It's become a great source for digital artists and cosplayers. There's a demand by the non-gamer side for more live streamed content. Who knows! In a few years you could be going to Twitch for dinner recipes or homework help from a certified math teacher. Twitch has been experimenting with programming such as 'The Joy of Painting.' The interest is there. It's a matter of how to develop it properly without Twitch falling flat on their face.

Shear admits that the strategy has yet to be determined. It's in the works and will constantly change with the streaming audience, but it's there. And if they can find the perfect system for it, Twitch could easily overtake YouTube on original content. It would only a matter of time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Weekly Link Round Up

Yesterday was National Video Games Day! I celebrated by playing a lot of Pokémon Y with my shiny new 3DS. Because, why not? Caught a Pikachu in my first hour of game play. I consider that a win.

A bevy of news sites and gaming resources celebrated with articles from all walks of gaming life; from informative to silly. Here's a collage of all the news from yesterday in a bite-sized chunk for your reading pleasure:

- Riot has been around for 10 years and they've only released one game. That's Blizzard level of production, when you get down to it, but they are still popular with 100 million users monthly captured playing League of Legends. The founders sat down with the LA Times to talk about how the studio was created.

- Who's ready for a list? It's a helping of the 6 most controversial games, ever! As reported by one guy on We Got This Covered. Take a huge bag of salt with you if you dive into this list. It'll cause you to roll your eyes.

- Want to get into gaming but you're not a gamer? Forbes created a list of 9 games just for you. Here's the thing, a lot of these games are non-traditional. They are not platformers, RPG's, or first person shooters that make up most of the landscape. They list games like Life is Strange and Papers, Please as games to play for newbies. I'm not sure if this is a good way to go. Yes, they are great games. Thought provoking and definitive of the unique content that games can offer. But after you play them, what's a newbie to do? Picking up Call of Duty is not going to feel like second nature, but rather an insult to the person when they know better content is out there.

Actually. Scratch that. Good call Forbes. More Life is Strange. Less Call of Duty.

- Cloud Gaming! It's kind of a thing? But not the revolutionary transformation some were hoping for. We know the cloud for storing our saved game files when stupid happens and we have to format our PC's, or accidentally delete game files off our consoles. Tech company LiquidSky wants to try and make cloud gaming work, again. With the cloud, it can offer more resources to gamers and developers at faster speeds then a computer, and with less worry about storage space. Everything is handled digitally, so content can be produced, and viewed, with ease. The problem has been getting both sides on board. Developers will only move to the platform if users are there. And users will only go if there's good content from developers. Read up on the Time's article for more info.

- "Digital forensics meets cultural preservation" as scientists work on restoring old video games. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has been working on maintaining a library of games, boxes, and manuals - some that have never been released to the public. This is a must read article!

- Since yesterday was National Video Game Day, we need to remember our roots with the history of Pac-Man. Upload has a mega-extensive look back at how Pac-Man came to be, his transformation of gaming culture, and his influences today including VR. Yep. Pac-Man VR is a thing.

- Finally Rob Pardo, whom you may know as one of the founding fore-fathers of World of Warcraft, has just secured $25 million from investors to create Bonfire Studios. A few people from Blizzard are following him to the new studio, and they are hiring. It's unsure what market the studio is going to target, but all eyes will be on it to see how it will fare against Activision-Blizzard.