Monthly Archives: January 2013

JPS had a good eight year run. I got to work with some amazing people on some amazing projects. I’ve had some of the most magical times of my life, fulfilling several life-long dreams. I’ve gotten to know Disney fans and Disney cast members, gotten hands on with Disney’s history, walked where Walt walked… “Magical” really is the only word.

 

-Warren Spector in his farewell note at the closing of Junction Point

A moment in time…

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A little more Zelda knowledge never hurt anyone…

 

-Seriously, don’t you feel a little smarter now?

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A Fight Worth Having?

There have been a lot of things to write on in the last couple of weeks; THQ’s closing and requisite sell-off, the Ni-No Kuni Special Edition mishandling, and even Sony saying that they will let Microsoft make the first move when it comes to announcing their next-gen slate.  Yet, the one that has seemingly resonated across all forms of media is the continued debate on violent games.  It has been well publicized that Vice President Biden met with the leaders of the industry, and that there is now a bill in Congress that is set to study the effects of violent media (including video games) on children. This is all well and good and, in fact, can probably benefit all in the industry, but the question still remains, “Is this the right answer?”

The video game industry has already been through some of this before.  The California law that went to the Supreme Court was shot down, with the Court stating that video games were protected under the first amendment as free speech.  Going even further back; the creation of the ESRB was a result of pressure from Congress for similar reasons.  This is the same old song and dance that has gone around before, yet it seems that this time there is a much more solid push for “something” to be done now.

The industry is not alone in this.  Both Hollywood and the comics industry have gone through similar proceedings.  Hollywood’s torrid history led them to the Motion Picture Production Code, and forebear to the modern MPAA; and comics had the Comics Code Authority; though by 2011, all the major publishers had abandoned it. Media, it seems, always has to fight for its first amendment rights.  Nonetheless, neither movies nor comics are regulated by the government.  Both are self regulated by non-biased agencies, and neither of them are seemingly, “on the hook,” in this current debate.  People seem to understand what a rated R movie is, and comics and their readers have grown up to know Spider-man is for kids and Kick-Ass is not. So why are video games held to a different standard?

As with most problems in the world, ignorance is the answer.  When you hear the phrase, “video game,” most people instantly think of children, Tetris, and other harmless cliches.  The fact is, like all art forms, the medium has grown up.  Not all “games” are for kids anymore.  There are whole genres out there that didn’t exist twenty years ago, and all are expressing something worth saying. It’s art, and not all art is for the young.

This has come to clash with most parental conceptions of their child’s hobby.  There have been many times I have been at the local game store and just heard a parent brush off the clerk as he (or she) tried to explain how Grand Theft Auto might not be for their eight year old, only to be told something along the lines of, “they see that stuff everywhere.”  My personal favorite was when someone was buying Far Cry 3 and the clerk told the parent that there was, “intense violence, nudity, and a graphic sex scene,” and the parent responded with, “is there language?” The clerk was taken aback, especially when the parent said that all that would be fine, as long as there was no swearing in the game.  Occasionally you see the parent of some child actually not buying the game once they find out what is in it, but generally speaking parents have no idea what their child is playing, and just don’t care because it is simply that, “a game.”

In so many of the tragic stories we hear where video games are blamed, you hear the same sound byte from the parents, “I didn’t know what they were playing or that it would affect them…”  Why are games being attacked when it seems that those buying them have no idea what they are doing?  We don’t need new legislation on violent games, we need new ways to educate the modern parent on what video games are now; and get them invested in what their kids are playing.  Legislation would not solve the problem; and one could argue, wouldn’t change a thing.  [Parents would still buy the M rated games for the kids, and the games would still be blamed]  Yet, if we go after the root of the issue; and look at the parental involvement, greater change has the chance the take place.

The most difficult part in all of this is the fact you can’t legislate or control parents.  They will do what they always do, and how much they involve themselves in their child’s life is their own choice.  That’s what makes going after the video game industry so appealing; it’s the easy answer.  If you can’t change behaviors, just stop the product.  It’s similar to an alcoholic trying to shut down the liquor industry; its not actually solving the problem and confronting the real issue. Yet that is where we seem to find ourselves now.

Mentioned earlier, the Comics Code was created to monitor the comics industry for years, after the book Seduction of the Innocent was written, condemning the medium to destroying the minds and hearts of young ones.  At the time, people were scared of the influence this blossoming art form was having on the young, so instead of taking on responsibility the Code did it for them.  It forced comics to redefine all that they were and what they could show and offer in their pages.  Succinctly, it is the reason that the modern superhero exists.  Crime, horror, and other types of stories could no longer be written, so the all american superhero was created to fill the void.  It wasn’t until the publishers abandoned it many years later that creativity was able to spring up again, and we see stories like Fables, Hellboy, Fatale, and many more be born.  We lost years of amazing stories because of the backlash of fear mongering and uneducated individuals.  To be blunt, we cannot let this happen again.

Games like The Walking Dead, Spec-Ops, LA Noire all have a place in this world.  Games can tell a story, teach a lesson, give a message, and be emotionally moving; and should be allowed to do so.  I would hate to live in a world where all we had was Mario and Tetris; yet that is a distinct possibility of where this legislation could lead us; albeit in a worse case scenario.  We have come so far and live in such an amazing time to see all this change and growth happen around us.  We should not sit idly by and let the first amendment be forgotten by a generation that does not understand the medium they wish to monitor.

Colin Moriarty of IGN has gone on the record saying that he wants this fight to happen; for there to be a first amendment showdown. I believe he is right.  The sooner we can put all of this behind us, the sooner we can get back to the art of making great games, and new experiences.  Let them come; torches ablaze, seeking the monster; and in turn, let’s show them that the monster doesn’t exist.  It’s education we need, not legislation; and we’ll all be better off if we can agree on that.

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“If you’re interested in innovation and believe that games could be more than shooters, then you realize that sequels kill creativity and innovation…We don’t give people what they expect. We want to give them something they want without knowing they want it.”

-David Cage of Quantic Dream

He May Have a Point…

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The December NPDs are Here…

…and they aren’t painting that pretty of a picture.  It seems that sales were down 22% from last year; and that for the whole year the industry made 13.26 billion; down from the 17 last year.

 

As always Black Ops II made a strong showing at the top spot, followed by Madden. What is more interesting is that Halo 4 took third, and only launched on one system. That’s got to look good for the future of 343 Studios going forward and make their Microsoft overlords quite happy.

 

Here’s the full article from GamesIndustry; breaking down everything bit by bit…

 

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-01-10-call-of-duty-dominates-an-awful-2012-for-us-retail

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They’re both about Time Travel…

So, it’s not actually video game related; but it’s still quite a bit of fun.

 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dmK3AQ2Yozk%5D
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“All you’re focusing on right now is gun control…What about the violence in our video games? You and I both have children. We don’t allow those games into our house. We’ve made that decision because we think it desensitizes our children to the real effects of violence.”

Gov. Christie of NJ on the violent games debate

Speaking of Shots Being Fired

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Journeying with the Dead…

Small Spoilers for Multiple Games – You Have Been Warned

 

If you had told me a year ago that the two games that would stick in my mind, as the best of the year, would be downloadable titles, I don’t think I would have believed you.  The year was stacked with blockbusters determined to get our attention; Mass Effect 3, Halo 4, Borderlands 2, and Assassin’s Creed 3.  Any one of those games had the potential to be the  “Game of the Year.”  Each had their own hype train rolling behind them, and the gaming public ate it up.  We were so excited to see how Shepherd’s story would end, how Master Chief would confront this new threat, or how many new guns we could find on Pandora.  They were known quantities.  We knew that we would love all of these, the question was simply, “how much?”

 

flow

 

thatgamecompany had made some amazing games before Journey had ever came out.  Both flow and Flower were unique experiences but neither had set the world on fire. flow was a game about evolution, and Flower was a beautiful silent narrative about nature versus industry.  Similar to the creatures in flow, you could tell that thatgamecompany was going somewhere with their projects; that they too, were evolving.  Jenova Chen, as lead designer, had set a precedent with their first two titles; that they were trying to create emotional experiences unlike anything that had come before.  They were lofty words, yet with their third project, Journey, that dream was realized.

 

journey

 

Journey was simply that, a journey.  You play the part of a traveler; but you are not alone.  The game pairs you up with another player as soon as you start the game.  There is no loading screen, no matchmaking menu; you simply just see them in the distance, and there they are.  There is no mic support; the only communication you have is through the in-game “chirps” that have the secondary purpose of restoring the other player’s power.  It is through this mostly silent relationship that the game’s more emotional moments occur.  Nothing is more terrifying than losing your partner in the middle of level; as you call out to him/her, and realizing that you are completely alone again.  There is a legitimate feeling of loss, or maybe anger, as you may have been left behind by a more pragmatic player.  This is all elevated by the amazing soundtrack, that ebbs and flows with the action, or lack thereof, on the screen. The game is a metaphor; yet the narrative is created by the player.  What happened to you on your journey will not be what happened in mine.  You might have had multiple travel partners, while I made it through with just one.  Your emotional response will be completely different than mine based on how you played through your experience.  When you finally reach the ending; after about three hours or so of play, you have experienced a whole spectrum of emotion, and probably a tear or two.

 

samandmax

 

Similarly, Telltale games wasn’t completely unknown before this year.  They were singly responsible for saving the “point and click” or “adventure” genre from complete extinction.  They brought back classic franchises like Sam and Max and Monkey Island, and had created new experiences based on the likes of Wallace and Gromit, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park.  All of these had varying levels of success, and in some cases failure, but they were on the map for their solid puzzles and lighthearted humor.  When it was announced that they would be adapting The Walking Deadit was met with a sense of trepidation.  Nothing in their back catalog could suggest that they could handle the serious and dark subject material; let alone in the confines of an adventure game.  Nonetheless, when episode one launched those concerns were put to rest.

 

walking dead

 

The Walking Dead created an amazing narrative experience that was guided by the player while still telling a cohesive story.  Revolving around the tale of Lee Everett, the game explored the darkness of humanity at the end of the world.  Yes, there were the occasional puzzle segment that adventure games were known for; yet The Walking Dead chose to focus more on the character interactions and player reactions to intense situations.  The natural tension of those moments were amped up by the addition of a timer to most situations; giving the player only a small amount of time to make key decisions; more that occasionally resulting in another character’s death.  It gave gravitas to every decision; made you think on your feet, and more importantly, reminded you that there was no “right” choice.  The world of The Walking Dead is a terrible place, full of terrible people; and even when you are trying to do your best that doesn’t mean that you will get anything remotely resembling a “happy ending.”  Though the endgame is the same; how you got there, the people you lost, and the choices you made will be different than mine.  Did a character die in your game; did you pull the trigger; did you take the supplies?  All of these add up and create the emotional resonance needed to reach through the screen and into the player’s heart.  The crux of that emotional connection is in the character Clementine.  A  small girl you meet at the beginning of episode one; what you do to protect her and the relationship that grows between her and Lee is the main reason The Walking Dead  has become the success that it is.  You know that your game has reached incredible heights when the hashtag #forclementine becomes one of the biggest trending tags on twitter.  The game found its way into the hearts of many, and all because of this little girl.

 

It would almost be a crime to compare the two games.  They are in different genres, are trying to do different things, but the question is asked, like it is every year; “If you’re to recommend one game this year, what would it be?”  I’ve poured over it that thought the last couple of weeks, talking with colleagues, friends, and looking through other critics’ thoughts; yet in the end just went with my gut.

 

Journey

 

journey 2

 

For as much as I loved The Walking Dead Journey stole my heart.  The music, the moment to moment emotional roller-coaster, and the pure joy felt at the end of the game is unrivaled.  That is not to say that The Walking Dead is not to be played; quite the contrary.  It, too, takes you through a well crafted series of highs and lows; that elicited reactions from me that I had never experienced in any game before.  Yet, it struggles from the occasional technical issue and a weak final act. Nonetheless, you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn’t at least play both.

 

And so, unexpectedly, two smaller games usurped the big budget blockbusters and became the two games that players and the industry are talking about.  The Spike VGAs named The Walking Dead their Game of the Year, while IGN gave it to Journey. Both games are incredibly worthy of the accolades they are receiving across the board, and it is amazing to be living in a time when you can see an art form maturing.  Looking back, this could be a turning point for the games industry.  Only time will tell if that is to be true; but this could be signs of things to come; and that would not be a bad thing.

 

Other Fantastic Games This Year: XCOM, Dishonored, FTL, Hotline Miami, and yes, Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3, and Halo 4

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GameStopped

Well it seems that Gamestop had an interesting holiday this year; against their own expectations.  First, they release that this is the first holiday since 2005 that their holiday sale’s didn’t increase. This was then followed by their stock dropping at the hint of a Sony patent that might lock out the used game market.  Easily not the best way to end the fiscal year; but considering the company still made $2.88 Billion, I don’t think they can complain too much…

 

GamesIndustry Articles

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-01-08-gamestop-holiday-sales-slip-4-6-percent

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-01-04-sony-patent-speculation-leads-to-gamestop-share-drop

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