Archive for January, 2013
This article of admission is making its rounds this afternoon, so I’ll grab the lightning while it’s hot, or whatever…
The tl;dr version of is that if you saw a recent rumor about a possible Xbox/Surface mash-up called the “X-Surface”, then you’ve been had. Some dude lays out how he pulled a fast one on several “news” sites, and then watched “in horror” as the story spread like blood in the water. Naturally, my first reaction was “if he’s admitting to faking it…are we sure he’s not faking this?” But that’s merely the smoke and mirrors segment of the greater show, which is what this trick exposed.
Copy and paste “journalism” is on display, as the perpetrator claims that his original story, presented in a series of identical emails to several blogs, started showing up in what he called a “Chinese Whisper” format, which I guess means that the story appears intact on several websites, with only the most anemic of modifications. But really, there’s only so many ways you can report that “the car hit the old woman”, right?
This guy’s conceit is that he was
like most other gamers…sick of seeing endless rumours and speculation citing “anonymous sources” or “insiders” with no evidence, no proof, no guarantee that they’ve been fact-checked or can be relied on.
Well, I guess so, but then again, who cares? For one, if I have a news story, I can’t possibly account for every single blog out there when sending out a press release. At some point, there will be a cut-off, and anyone below that line will only have other sources above that line to feed from. Really, then, do those sources below the line matter? To some, yes, because it’s possible in this day and age that not everyone knows about or uses the same sources. One man’s wannabe website is another man’s primary source.
Second, although I take my gaming lifestyle seriously, I cannot recall any single point in my life where a rumor or contrived news story on a gaming blog wrecked my life, or even made it better. If I believe that the X-Surface is a real thing, so what? We’re not speculating as to whether or not there are hostages involved or a terrorist plot. Instead, I can talk about this with my friends, and we can wonder and marvel and brainstorm and speculate about how such a thing could be done, and what it would be used for, how much it would cost…basically, the exact same things that a research team would be doing in thinking up an actual X-Surface device. The only difference is nothing: our discussion yields no product, and this hoax yields no product. But one jackass gets to proclaim to have hoodwinked the masses and feel good about himself in the process, and the rest of us have a great water cooler discussion. I think that’s a win-win.
I think the only people who really care about this are this guy, because he must be rolling in self-esteem right now, and people who will jump on any chance to debate whether or not gaming blogs are “journalism”, which I hope is far fewer people than I’m sure it is, because the only good thing to come out of this was the last line of this dude’s self-congratulatory post:
TL;DR – Until Microsoft/Sony announce something: don’t believe even the most reputable gaming sites.
And that ladies and gentlemen, is the take home message. This guy shouldn’t need to pull this stunt for us to realize this, but just as my post isn’t going to cause a tectonic shift in anything, reading about, dreaming about, and discussing rumors, real or imagined, isn’t the worst sin that’s be committed in the world.
I don’t know if it’s been said outright, or if it’s only perception, but I feel that it’s at least understood that when it comes to consoles, it’s Microsoft versus Sony, and then there’s Nintendo. The Wii and the WiiU are “ands” to the Xbox “or” PlayStation debate, should anyone feel money burning a hole in their pocket, and has time enough to multitask multiple consoles.
The playing field of competition notwithstanding — talking about feature-by-feature competition here — it’s the fact that Nintendo does not, or will not, or cannot compete with the other two that is it’s own worst problem.
The purpose of competition (at least back when it was true) is to force competitors to make better products at lower prices. It could be argued that neither MS nor Sony was interested in lower prices, but they target the same — *ahem* — hardcore market, which means that we did see a jockeying for position when all other elements were equal. If you’re buying Call of Duty: Duty Harder, do you get it for Xbox or PlayStation? Minutiae like pixel density and other fanboy saber-rattling aside, there are more concrete reasons for picking one over the other, which means that both MS and Sony need to ensure that they make their offerings (the game edition, and the on-console experience) better than the other guy’s.
More importantly, though, is the time frame. Come Christmastime, both MS and Sony want to sell more consoles, and since they’re marketing to the same audience, they need to keep neck-and-neck so that the other guy’s offerings aren’t more attractive than theirs.
And then there’s Nintendo. They move at their own speed and, consequently, that’s bad for the Nintendo gamers. More so than Xbox and PS combined, Nintendo is associated with iconic characters and experiences. They have a relatively enormous stable of brands that always come up when they announce a new platform. Do we get a new Mario? A new Zelda? A new Metroid? A new Pokemon? Out of all of the launches that Nintendo has done in recent memory (Wii, WiiU, DS, 3DS, etc.), how many have launched with a representative title from that list? Historically, how long has it been post-launch until we actually saw a representative title from the list? The Nintendo Core seems to always be disappointed at platform announcements because they never seem to get the support of the core brands that they had been hoping for. It seems to me (and no doubt, others) that if a Nintendo platform were to launch with a Zelda game, it would blow the doors of previous sales, but that never happens.
Just today, the Nintendo Direct address from Satoru Iwata (whom I am convinced is the prototype for the idea of the Mii) really offered one disappointing bomb after another. There will be no new Wii U releases in January or February. However, there will be two Zelda games! But one will be an HD upgrade to Wind Waker, and the other…? Well, I got the impression that they hadn’t even started work on it. The whole presentation was a horrible let-down. I’m just glad I didn’t buy a Wii U, or I’d probably be smashing it to pieces in frustration when I got home tonight.
By catering to their own demographic, marching to their own drummer, and not competing with Microsoft or Sony, Nintendo is free to develop what they like. But they also have absolutely no pressure to deliver, and can either hint or outright mention a project that may be years in delivery. Many Nintendo fans will be content with “when it’s done”, because getting something is better than getting nothing, but the frequency with which we get iterations in a franchise means we swing from Ocarina of Time to Wind Waker to Twilight Princess: three different takes on a single franchise that seem to all be experiments to see what works, and whose lessons are promptly tossed out the window to make way for the next experiment.
I’m sure this is a lot of impotent teeth-gnashing, but it’s partly stemming from a desire to see Nintendo do better than they are doing. Sure, the DS/3DS is still destroying the Vita, it’s next best competitor, but it’s not hard to win a game when no one really bothers to play. I love the idea of the Wii U, but I’m not at all compelled by the lineup. The next Monster Hunter, with it’s Wii U/3DS cross-platform-ness is the absolute perfect synergy that Nintendo’s lineup demands, but will we see more examples like this? And when it’s core franchises are either light-years away, or even unmentioned, where’t the buzz supposed to come from? The gimmick of the Wii U is right up there with the gimmick of the Wii. We all fell for it, but it faded, and now there are probably more Wii systems gathering dust than there are Xboxes or PlayStations in the same state.
I’ve recently been getting an inordinate amount of spam that’s slipping through the spam filter. For the next few little while, I’m going to turn on comment moderation, just so I can maintain SOME level of decorum around here until I can figure out how to get these scumbags back under control.
If you post a comment and don’t see it immediately, rest assured I’m getting emails on all comments, and I will let you through (assuming you’re not spamming). I’m not interested in the additional work of censoring discussion, and it’s counterproductive to what I like to accomplish around here.
Thanks for reading, and for your understanding during these dark times.
They call it…transmedia…or something like that. Defiance is both a TV show set to air in April, and a MMO from Trion, also set to launch in April. The conceit is that there will be intermingling between the two; you’ll see something happen on the show, and you might hear of it, or see it’s repercussions, in the game…and vice versa.
That’s potentially heavy stuff. I don’t watch a lot of TV — right now, it’s Downton Abbey and Continuum, in a weird juxtaposition – but when SyFy puts it’s mind to it, it makes some good series (Eureka, Battlestar Galactica, Warehouse 13). I’ve seen previews and behind the scenes shorts on the show which looked good, and found that Rockne S. O’Bannon (Farscape) is producing, and is scored by Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica)! Sadly, sci fi has been hit or miss these days. Remember Terra Nova? I wish I didn’t. But Defiance is produced and is airing on a channel that claims to be devoted to science fiction — Terrsharktoanchulacuda notwithstanding.
And then there’s the game, which I can say nothing about because of a silly NDA. It’s a pay once, play forever model, though, so no subscription which is something I heartily endorse. I had a lot of fun during the past weekend, and have decided to temper my future participation, lest I burn out like I did…with RIFT.
The real interest is that this is looking to be an avalanche of Defiance. It’s more than just lunchboxes and action figures (which may or may not happen, I dunno) because it’s something that’s ongoing (the game) while you wait for the next installment (the show). You never really have to leave the world of Defiance if you don’t want to (and that’s a question that will be answered once the game and show launch).
Will we be suffocated by Defiance, or will we be addicted? In keeping with the theme…tune in next time!
The Gaming Internet is filled with examples of players behaving badly, whether it’s gamers shouting at others, hurling insults, slurs, misogynistic comments, or excessive trash talking, or giving into temper tantrums resulting in team abandonment or even team sabotage as a way express a player’s displeasure at how the game is progressing. The game doesn’t even need to be competitive for this to happen, as anyone who’s run an excessive number of dungeons or raids with random folk can attest to.
Naturally, the more competitive the game or scenario, the higher the probability for bad behavior, which is why League of Legends operator Riot Games has instigated a unique “tribunal” system which allows the players to receive anonymous incident reports, and to suggest action. Should a player receive in excessive number of complaints, however, Riot reserves the right to ban the player for a period of time of their choosing. Surprisingly, this ban-hammer has been used not only against house-bound Summoners, but also against “pro” gamers.
Banning a player is strictly in the wheelhouse of the operator, but some people don’t agree that the operator should be allowed to “censor” their player base to the point of banning them from accessing the product that they have probably spent money on. In the case of pro-gamers, their high-profile participation has certainly done good things for the game itself in providing free advertising to those who watch the many live streams of eSports games. In essence, banning any loyal and paying customer is like biting the hand that feeds the game.
The end user license agreement is something we all know about, but which few people read. Whether or not it’s legally binding is a question for more specialized minds than mine, but I do believe that it’s been used in a few court cases that have favored the service operator. League of Legends EULA has an entire section devoted to “Code of Conduct” (Section 5), which specifically spells out the legal jargon on what Riot will not tolerate. This includes harassing, stalking, or threatening other players, and also and specifically:
Transmitting or communicating any content which, in the sole and exclusive discretion of Riot Games, is deemed offensive, including, but not limited to, language that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, sexually explicit, or racially, ethnically, or otherwise objectionable; (Emphasis mine)
There is also a separate ”Summoner’s Code” which is a plain-language version of how to be a “good player” or, if you prefer, how not to get on Riot’s bad side.
Opponents of Riot’s “free-wheeling ban-hammer” claim that this is the Internet. People behave badly all over the place, and LoL is one of the few venues that takes such an extreme stance on player behavior, to the point where they’re an anomaly and not a rule. They’re not going to change people’s behavior, and they shouldn’t be the arbiters of how people behave when people behave like this all the time in other corners of the net. If they’re feeling particularly combatitive, they’ll throw in complaints of “censorship” for good measure. But you know what? Riot is correct in their stance and in their actions.
Regardless of whether or not the EULA is legally defensible, it spells out, up front, what Riot expects of the players, and what will happen if the players violate the terms of the EULA. You didn’t read the EULA when you installed the game? Irrelevant, from the operator’s point of view. Although these license agreements may be underhanded by some (companies know we don’t read them, and try and sneak stuff in there all the time), ignorance is no excuse for violating them. Much has been made of LoLs Summoner Code, their tribunal, and now, high profile consequences of violating the rules that the game operator has laid down. Just as we cannot exploit bugs in a game without the possibility of being banned (which is covered in their EULAs, by the way), outright anti-social behavior that exceeds the allowable threshold for what the operator reserves as their right to define, is an acceptable reason for a ban.
The thing is, this is really not about what’s in the EULA. This is as much a business decision as it is a punishment for those who break the rules. Taking away the toys of those who behave badly is an ancient parental practice for kids who misbehave. In this case, kids who misbehave cost Riot potential customers. I’ve played LoL, but always with friends, and against the AI because I decided that I would not willfully put myself in the potential situation where I’d be on the receiving end of someone else’s blackened version of “sportsmanship”. It’s not a guarantee that’d I’d run into someone who makes me regret my decision, but so long as the chance is there, I wouldn’t want to willfully ruin my own enjoyment, and so I have only dabbled in the game. Riot won’t get any money out of me because of the potential toxic environment, so it’s in their interest as a company that needs to earn money to pay the bills that keep the game up and running and their employees fed and clothed to ensure that their game is as accessible as possible for the widest audience possible.
And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. Competition is not carte blanche to be a douchebag, and it’s not in Riot’s interest to allow a few players to drive a potential client base away. It doesn’t belong to those with “thick skins”, except in their own point of view that only those who can “take it” are entitled to play. The game belongs to Riot, and it’s not a gift to people who don’t know how to behave. I wish more companies took the approach that Riot has taken with their tribunal system, but I wish even more that people would stop using bad behavior to mark territory that clearly isn’t theirs to claim.
I am not a game developer, although I have tried to develop games. In Ye Olden Tymes (the 1980′s), I used to write programs in BASIC on the Commodore 64, including games. Since becoming a developer of Non Game Things, I’ve turned my spare attention to XNA and, more recently, Unity. In between, I’ve tried some of the off-the-shelf game design packages that claim to allow you to make great games with as little sweat as possible.
Thing is, sweat is a necessary evil because unless you have a Team, or are stupidly gifted to the point of freakishness, you will have a very demarcated division between developers and designers. Developers make things work; designers make things look good. The kicker is that anyone can be a developer. I mean, look at me! I have no formal training, am entirely self-taught, and I currently work as a full time, in-house web and application developer. So anyone can learn to develop, but design is another matter entirely. It’s art. It’s recognizing and replicating proportions, understanding how what your eye sees isn’t what it really sees, but you have to understand it as your eye thinks it sees…see? Splines, vertices, textures, meshes, UV…I have a better time trying to decipher tax codes than I do in trying to wrap my head around 3D modeling and all that it entails. Even when UI understand the book-stuff, actually doing the thing is another matter entirely.
So with that rambling pre-amble out of the way, I want to talk about Axis Game Factory.
This is a project in the throes of it’s own Kickstarter. Don’t let that dissuade you. The project is moving along, and I know this because the fine folks at Heavy Water have opened their builds to anyone who backs the project, not just those at the nose-bleed tiers. I’ve been playing around with it, and I’m enjoying it so far (inasmuch as I can, being that it’s a very early stage in development and is lacking a lot of usability features and polish).
What does it do? Well, it’s one of those off-the-shelf game builders I mentioned in the intro. Using assets from a warehouse, you throw down art, arrange it just so, set some parameters, and press play. No seriously. That’s what you do, which makes it’s stupidly easy to make a side-scroller or a platformer, or an action/adventure game. You can share your creation with other players, or collaborate with friends and compatriots to build and link zones, making a huge game world (so say the Kickstarter pitch materials). And just recently, Heavy Water announced a partnership with Exit Games to bring Photon Server support for multiplayer games. I’ve tried Photon, and I like it a lot, so this is some pretty swanky news.
But queuing the Sara McLachlan music, the KS campaign isn’t doing so hot right now (theoretical projections only, and not for gambling purposes), and I’m at a loss for why, so I’m going to chalk it up to a lack of exposure. Kickstarter, as we all know, can be a dumping ground, and finding meaningful projects can be difficult. AGF, I think, is one of those projects that is unfairly buried because it is moving along nicely — I’ve got the app on my desktop to prove it! — and could really use the boost in visibility.
But why AGF and not something else new, or more established? Remember in my intro, how I went on and on about how I’m a developer and not a designer? That wasn’t just my usual busy-talk; It was to set the stage for explaining that AGF is focusing heavily on getting assets into the hands of AGF users. Hit up any hobbyist game developer forum, and there will be loads of developers, but only a few designers, and those designers are literally the belles of the ball. Must be nice. But they can’t handle all the requests, and even if they could, not all hobbyists could afford to “rent a designer”. Heavy Water is providing asset packs for purchase that can be used in AGF to create a soup-to-nuts vidja game. Hell, you don’t even need to know how to develop to produce something this time around! Sure, Unity Proper has an asset store, but with the assets provided by Heavy Water, you get consistency, ensuring that your product has a uniform aesthetic that you can’t get by cobbling together assets from different artists.
If you’ve got a hankerin’ to make some kind of game, or better yet, if you have children (or are an educator, because they’ve got a deal for you!), and want to get them on the path towards creating, consider getting involved with Axis Game Factory‘s funding campaign.
(In an attempt to ward off troll-bait, I am not affiliated with Heavy Water or Axis Game Factory. As a backer, I do have a stake in seeing the project receive it’s funding though, though, so I’m pimping this of my own volition. End of line.)
There have been three major venues for video game playing in the history of video game playing: the arcade, the home, and in your pants…pocket. Your smartphone. So…mobile. The popular science fiction trend goes that computer hardware begins big (UNIVAC) and ends up teeny-tiny (nanobots in your bloodstream) which insinuates that as technology progresses through time, the ability to process numbers becomes easier to do in increasingly smaller packages. Frames get smaller; power gets bigger.
Seemingly intent to kick this trajectory in the nuts, recent history has unveiled to us three (that we know of) new *ahem* home consoles for gaming enthusiasts. These new devices aren’t more powerful than the XBOX 360 or the PlayStation 3, and can’t even hold a candle to PC gaming power. Instead, they’re sporting Android as an operating system, and have more in common with those “36 Games In What Looks Like An Old School Atari 2600 Joystick!” devices you see in the clearance aisle at Wal-Mart than they do with the current crop of home consoles.
First, there was Ouya, which is a small box running Android Jelly Bean. It went from “I doubt it” to “holy hell it’s real!” pretty quickly when developers actually got their kits and started working with it. Then came the Gamestick, which looks like some hipster-rendered art house minimalist gamepad all-in-one system, also running Android Jelly Bean. Today, we hear that Nvidia wants in on this ultra-mini console “revolution” with it’s Shield, sporting not just an “OS in the gamepad”, but a built-in screen, which I assume gives the device it’s name. Guess what? It runs Android Jelly Bean!
Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I like the march of time to improve on my gaming experiences, not set the industry back a decade or two. This whole initiative to put Android on everything strikes me as a tad bit silly. The gaming sector isn’t immune to the Bubble Effect, and I think we’re in one now. The social gaming bubble as deflated, if not outright burst, leaving mobile as the latest basket into which companies are putting their eggs. Developing for a smartphone market makes sense because it’s a new frontier, and because everyone has one. What these consoles are looking to do is to marry the zeitgeist of mobile development with a corner of the industry that primarily mobile developers traditionally had no chance of cracking: the living room. With the cost of developing for Big Console being whatever it is, coupled with the crappy consideration the gatekeepers give to indie and small developers, the Ouya, Gamestick, and Shield seem like homeruns: it’s spit in the eye of the corporate giants who have dominated the console space for so long.
But who really cares? Now, that’s kind of broad; I can think of some ways in which I care, but stepping back, what’s the market for these things? PC gamers? The Shield has a Tegra 4 chip (which PC gamers will swoon over), and there’s claims that it’ll (eventually) allow you to stream your Steam Big Picture session from your PC to your TV or the built in screen. OnLive 2.0, I suppose. But really, I don’t think PC gamers will give up their titanic rigs for clown cars like these. How about console gamers? Just to let you know, I’m laughing my ass of right now at the thought, even though you can’t see or hear me, so let’s leave it at that. How about your mother? The one who bought an iPhone because everyone at her Pilates class had one, or Android because you browbeat her into it (even though she doesn’t know a widget from her elbow)? Those kinds of people don’t buy their smartphones for the apps; they buy phones which happen to run apps.
I suppose the ubergeek culture will dive right into these, spouting off how “hackable” they are, and they’ll fawn over the dawn of Android as a “major player” in a space that’s new to it. They’ll probably sell a lot of them. But Nintendo sold a lot of Wii consoles, and I could ask for a show of hands as to how many people are still in love with theirs, but I think that would essentially prove my point too well.
I don’t know where to start with this one, so I’ll start it here: If I had access to firearms when I was a teenager, I may have very well have killed someone. It’s possible, but not certain, and in hindsight, very unlikely. It doesn’t have a single thing to do with gun ownership (except for the lack thereof) and I’m not interested in turning this post into a gun control debate. Since this is a blog about video games, I will say that, growing up in the 1980′s, video games were absolutely not a factor then, being all 8- and 16-bit, and I don’t believe that they’re a factor now.
Things are getting out of hand, which I think we can all agree on. Nothing can eclipse a tragedy like what happened in Newtown, but at the risk of sounding callous, it’s only a matter of time before the name Sandy Hook joins a list of other schools where shootings and death have occurred which are now shamefully out of sight, and out of mind. After we’ve stopped talking about the specifics, what we’re left with are “lessons” about the psychology of the event, both concerning the shooter, and also of the population at large.
That’s why we have stories like this one, from Southington, CT. It seems that the town thinks they have an answer on how to curb violent behavior that might lead to future shootings, and stop me if you’ve heard this one: collect violent video games, movies, and music…and burn them. I don’t think I need to elaborate on this idea any further, because it screams for itself.
Look, folks. Stop searching for answers outside of the instigator. It’s impossible to get answers, as if having answers would reverse the tragedy somehow, but I can tell you from experience that sometimes people find themselves in a place where things aren’t straightforward. I’m sure that all young adults feel this way from time to time, even those who seem to have money and friends and everything going their way, but there are those who can’t pick themselves up because everything keeps kicking them down. Maybe they’re trying hard, or maybe they’re incapable of trying, or maybe they’re just giving up because they can’t seem to get ahead of what plagues them no matter what they do. It might be genetics, or chemical from birth. It could be circumstance, like a never ending series of personal natural disasters. It’s easy to say “suck it up”, but sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, it’s damn near impossible.
Still, it’s not an excuse for going off the rails. Never ever ever. But no one plans on getting lost. Sometimes on your way to a destination on the horizon, you take a wrong turn and find yourself in a bad part of town. You lose your wits, you freak out, and you’ll plow through buildings and bus-stops and fire hydrants just to find a way out so you can get away. Logic and consequence goes out the window if doing so helps to break the cycle.
I’m not a psychologist, as I’ve pointed out before. I so know what it’s like to be so goddamn angry, not at anything in particular, but at every single goddamn thing that exists, all the time, and for no good reason except for the feeling of being buried beneath a mountain of adversity with no exit in sight. Some people can experience this and miraculously come out OK. Some people don’t have the iron will necessary to survive, and they break, and then we all end up paying the price.
Blaming media, or even guns, isn’t going to make us sleep better at night, content that we’ve got watchful eyes on the vehicles that enable kids to wreak so much destruction. There will always be those kids who are quiet, solitary, even good students and dutiful sons and daughters, but who are grinding their pencils into their notebooks in rage that has no single, definable source. Those people need help, and while we’re looking to remove scapegoat influences from the hands of those more well adjusted, these kids are flying under the radar because they don’t make a fuss, and they don’t get into trouble because they do keep to themselves and sit alone and fantasize about how everything would be better if they could just wipe the slate clean, once and for all. We need to stop begging for answers, and start focusing on the solutions of mental health.