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Right in Front of Your Face

Elitism still is the big divide. It’s the biggest obstacle facing games today. Elitism is the belief that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views are the only ones that matter.

We are that elite.

Many of my friends resented when Nintendo positioned itself as a beacon to attract non-gamers (including some of my non-gamer friends, interestingly enough). Now, after piling them with shovelware for years, we see our dusted Wiis and state “The Wii Is Dead” in a dismissive tone that implies “See, we were right all along. You shouldn’t have abandoned us. We are the ones that get it, not them”.

Because (OMG!) gaming is art. And we are (obviously) the only ones who can see it.
Some pieces of art are difficult to understand or appreciate. That’s why the elite is the elite; and have Bach playing on the background as they discuss the peasant situation. The thing is that while there is only schooling and experience in the way of turning the Average Joe into H. E. Pennypacker, for gaming there is also the issue of skill. How can grandpa even start to appreciate games when just comprehending the controls is bound to take more spasmodic accidents than his patience and time could afford?

Yes, folks, this is my Omnitopic entry!

No matter how unapproachable a book or a movie may be, one can always get through it. The same is not true for gaming, as the skills it requires are primarily related to manual dexterity – which is not a trivial thing to acquire. It’s mostly an aptitude after all. Gaming is built on progression and not matter whether this progression if linear or open ended, the plot is not. One cannot skip to world 8-8 if one cannot even pass world 1-1 (and the first warp zone is hidden in the world 1-2, mind you). This is troublesome. It’s like buying a movie without knowing how to read it.

I find this unfair, especially now games are maturing into a narrative driven medium. Read the rest of this entry

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Kinect Makes Super Cool Guy Eat His Own Hat

Mr. Wrong

Image via Wikipedia

So, do you remember this?

Well, according to VGChartz, Microsoft’s Kinect did in fact eventually reach the milestone of 4 million units sold worldwide (2.6 million units in the Americas) in the week that ended on Dec. 11. Of units sold, 40% of them bundled with a Xbox 360 console, which indicates that there actually was an expansion of the console’s user base. The PlayStation Move, which didn’t get all the marketing support the Kinect did, has sold just over 900 thousand units so far.

So yeah, I was wrong. Colin Sebastian was right.

Shit. I hate being wrong.

However, I still don’t believe Kinect’s success has enough legs for the long run, since the arguments presented in that article (you know, the 5 reasons why once up, you can’t come back down) are all still valid.

Now leave me alone while I enjoy my grudge for not having my MBA funded by Lazard Capital Markets.

But hey! On the other hand, I’m not unemployed anymore. I got an actual paid job! But what a beautiful coincidence!

Microsoft Muses Over Target Advertising Possibilities With the Kinect

Shepard, you’ve recently been dead. Don’t you deserve the quality and distinction of the traditional Asari burial robe?

We all probably laughed at the well-written advertising jips in Mass Effect 2, but the technology to make specifically targeted advertising/marketing already exists. It might even be in your living room already. On the subject of compiling data on Xbox Live customers, Dennis Durkin, Microsoft’s corporate vice president, posed the following (and make note, this is all hypothetical and not actually happening…but it’s still interesting to think about),

Kinect actually brings a really interesting opportunity as it relates to (customer data), because obviously with Kinect when you stand in front of it, it has face recognition, voice recognition. We can cater what content gets presented to you based on who you are. So your wife, in the future, may get a different set of content choices than you because we have a smart device that knows that your preferences are different than hers.

And over time, that will help us be more targeted about what content choices we present. What advertising we present. How we get better feedback and data. About how many people are in a room when an advertisement is shown. How many people are in a room when a game is being played.

The rest of the quote can be found here, if you’re interested. 

Kinect is Always Watching. Waiting.

This should come to no surprise to anyone in the wake of the Patriot Act–what is privacy? Insurance companies can look at your social network pictures and deny you coverage for, say, depression, because you have photos that seem to suggest you’re having “fun.” Plenty of places sell or acquire your information for marketing purposes, and then catalog it for other people to see on sites like Spokeo. Hell, even if you’re safe about your online information, you’re still being watched while you play games–developers like Bioware, for example, “watch” you play your games from afar (but if you want to secure your tinfoil hat a little better, you can disable them from doing so in the option menus of their games, I believe). Lionhead probably does too, judging from their choice to get rid of menus because of how most people did not use them (or something like that).

Still, it’s worth noting that if you’re planning on purchasing the Kinect, Microsoft can watch you. Some samples of the Terms of Service, courtesy of LazyGamer:

  • (Microsoft) expressly authorize and consent to us accessing or disclosing information about you, including the content of your communications, in order to: (a) comply with the law or respond to lawful requests or legal process; (b) protect the rights or property of Microsoft, our partners, or our customers, including the enforcement of our agreements or policies governing your use of the Service; or (c) act on a good faith belief that such access or disclosure is necessary to protect the personal safety of Microsoft employees, customers, or the public.
  • You should not expect any level of privacy concerning your use of the live communication features (for example, voice chat, video and communications in live-hosted gameplay sessions) offered through the Service.
This should pose no problem to people who follow the law/have nothing to hide, but it’s still starling on principle, no? Then again I wouldn’t be surprised if similar ToS are already in effect of voice/video communications.

Why the XBL Price Hike Isn’t Actually THAT Bad

Microsoft has announced a price increase for Xbox live effective November 1st, bringing the pricepoint established in 2002 from a snug 50 dollars up to 60. As you might’ve guessed, the reception hasn’t been all positive around the web. Why increase the pricepoint now, what is is justifying it? With resentment, people ask why they should be forced to pay more money for “useless” features such as Facebook and ESPN–why should anyone pay for something which they might not even use?

I’m not here to tell you that these concerns are wrong, because they are valid. Really. It’s your money that’s on the line, and you want to get the most out of your dollar.

At the same time some criticism floating around right now is illogical, there’s little basis for some of it. Ignoring that only shmucks pay full price for XBL–there’s always slick dealin’ going on in the web–let’s think about what the pricepoint really translates to.

Sixty dollars.

That’s five dollars a month. Yeah, seriously. Five dollars for a fast and robust online service.

Yes, you might not use all the features–but couldn’t you say that beforehand, too? How many people do you know that used all of the XBL features? Do you? This is an issue, now?

Let’s also not forget that the pricepoint was established in 2002: that was almost a decade ago. If we take a look at inflation, 50 dollars in 2002 is the equivalent of about 60 dollars in 2010. You’re not actually paying more for it, you’re technically paying the same price.

We also know that there are some incoming improvements, like better voicechat, that our money will probably go toward. It’s cynical to think that the pricepoint is the result of purely, evil/greedy corporate honchos which are simply looking to squeeze more dollars out of their consumers. If this was the case, why would they have waited this long to increase the price? It would have happened sooner.

Now, the real issue is, does XBL offer any actual value to you period? That much, I will concede is arguable. Different people have different needs and expectations. And some people, like PSN/etc users can and will be satisfied with a service that  may not be amazing, but is still good enough. But there’s also clearly a userbase that is willing to pay a little for what they consider to be a better quality of service. Both are valid viewpoints.

And, jointly, the real issue is exactly that: there are different needs and expectations which the current pricing plans for XBL does not satiate. Some players will only use the online component of their games, and some people who will only use Netflix, and just about everything else inbetween. Ideally there would be different packages which offer different components of the current XBL package. This doesn’t exist currently, but the concerns surrounding this price hike have clearly illustrated that perhaps it should.

And that, folks, is the subject of a post onto itself.

What does MS Think About Mass Effect 2 Porting to PS3?

When a flagship franchise jumps the boat, you’d better bet that Microsoft has something to say about it.

“The original Mass Effect is absolutely an Xbox 360 exclusive, making Xbox 360 the only place to get the full Mass Effect experience,”, said a  representative to IGN. Moreover, “With both Mass Effect titles launching first on Xbox 360 combined with the wealth of available paid downloadable content on Xbox Live today, Xbox 360 remains the best place to experience the Mass Effect franchise.”

So, fans hoping that the first title will also make its way to the PS3–sorry to burst your bubble, ’cause Microsoft says that ain’t happening. It should be noted, however, that Bioware has stated, that no matter what system you play Dragon Age 2 on, your choices from 1 will port over. This means they must have some sort of cloud which can hold that information, probably on the Bioware network: can we expect the same treatment for the PS3 version of Mass Effect? They have the technology to make it happen! Such a feature would allow PS3 players to get a better Mass Effect experience–then again, such a feature would also erase the one up that Microsoft has on the franchise.

What remains to be seen, however, is wether or not the representative means that the DLC that the 360 has is also exclusive? Or is this a ‘timed exclusive’ deal? Hell, will the Cerberus Network even make its way onto PSN?

We’ll know soon enough!

Aphelion: Graves of Earth Review


Games on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Indie service are incredibly difficult to review. Reviews are all about comparisons, in the end; I could tell you I had fun, but what does that mean to you? You want to know if game A is better than game B.

Microsoft’s XNA games are difficult because we don’t know what to compare them to. Because yes, they are monetized DLC, so they are naturally compared to other DLC releases, but in terms of general quality are more easily compared to flash games and mods for larger works. To true indie games As in, there’s some strong quality here, but a lot of it is buried under inexperience and low production values.

Aphelion is both different and the same. There are fascinating ideas here, many of which are executed with great focus and effect. On the other hand, these successes are occasionally mired in problems, in amateur mistakes and in the fact that the game itself is only an episodic release.

If you’re looking for a bullet point score, the thing I could say is when I finished it, I wanted to play it again.
Read the rest of this entry

Alan Wake Sequel Unofficially Confirmed, DLC Details

IGN has an interesting article on the future of Alan Wake, which you can read here. In it, we learn a bevy of new things.

First, you should know that the upcoming DLC ‘The Signal’ is about one or two hours in length. For those of you who do not have the DLC voucher, frankly, 7 bucks is too much to pay for that much money, no? The Signal takes place directly after the end of Alan Wake, and Alan is “alone, he’s lost and he’s going a little bit crazy. We’re kind of messing with his dark and twisted subconscious mind.” This would explain why we see Barry in the screenshots for The Signal–so no, he’s not actually there. “He’s Wake’s imaginary friend…and Barry’s even more sarcastic and more comical than before because it’s coming through Wake’s subconscious mind. So it gets even funnier. I think these two pieces, it’s the funniest stuff Barry has done…it’s just hilarious.” Which is to say that Barry continues to perform his role as…Barry.

The Writer, the second piece of DLC that everyone will have to pay for, is promised to change things up a bit. Well, not just a bit, apparently things get a very kooky,  Remedy says that they went “a little bit crazy with the game mechanics and with the fiction as well.” Those of you who have played Max Payne should be familiar with this approach–remember the nightmare-like sequences?

Remedy also states that instead of working on a third DLC pack, that they’d much rather be working on ‘Season 2’ of Alan Wake. Remedy would like to confirm a sequel officially “relatively soon.” Continuing to speak hypothetically on a possible sequel, Remedy gives us this food for thought: “Max Payne 1 took us also five years to make. Max Payne 2 took us 18 months. I think we’d be looking at something of a similar cycle.” They also go on record to say that unless the attach rate for the DLC packs is very high, they won’t be looking into making more DLC.

Remedy is optimistic that the sequel will happen, “I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t continue with Microsoft and why we wouldn’t renew the IP…we definitely want a sequel of course.”

The Friday Post: Time to Do the Ham Song!

Hit it, Bachelor Bob Bachelor!

Now that that’s out of the way, I bet you want some ham. Not just ham, but bacon, chicken smothered in cheese, and a nice, vibrant wine, perhaps from Spain.

How was your week, gentle reader? I bet it had a certain amount of E3 involved. I know mine did. We posted a hell of a lot of things about E3 and all the wonders contained within, and around the net, other folks did, too. We’ve collected and collated some of them here, for your viewing pleasure on this Friday, different from other Fridays in some ways, but the same in other, more important ways ways.

Though Jesus, go get some bacon. You look like you could eat a whole pig, uncooked. And we’ve only got links, most of them about video games:
-Let’s see, who posted what. Patricia made every post ever. One a complicated bit of cultural analysis on making your own characters, which had nothing to do with E3, and then one on HUDs, which was, in fact, E3 related. And a third of many about accessibility and technology, to go along with about a million other posts on every video game ever. She makes the rest of us look lazy, and for good reason. I’m awfully lazy, at least.
-Fern unlocked an achievement by reviewing a game we’d already posted a review of. Entirely at odds with our first review, too. His bloggerscore is happy, though. He also posted about soccer, because he is of Brazil, and everyone there must care about Brazil. Except, you know, him.
-Graham responded to the upcoming swell of 2-D platformers with a post about them! A good thing, this revival, and he seems to agree, so long as Nintendo keeps up its magic.
Read the rest of this entry

5 Steps to Not Having Your E3 Press Conference Suck

It’s been less than half an hour since the Microsoft Press Conference and I’ve gotta say, I barely watched any of it.

Instead, I cleaned up the place, as the previous weekend had amalgamated a pile of video game cases, papers, books, all kinds of stuff strewn around. All the while listening to the press conference as guy after guy after guy after guy got up on stage to introduce a new game trailer…woo-ee. Some of the guys looked terrible, some of them were awful speakers, but mostly it was just confusing and unnecessary, trying to build hype for games that don’t do anything totally groundbreaking and jaw-dropping.

Then it was time for project Kinect, which was all fine and dandy but there was no spectacle and the delivery was very anti-climactic, such that I could walk around the living room cleaning while listening to the conference and understand what was going on.

For the other conferences to come, and maybe your own in the future, here are Nightmare Mode’s guideline rules on conference no-no’s.

Read the rest of this entry