Month: June 2015

The Changing Face of Video Games

My girlfriend and I are both gamers.  She’s actually a bigger gamer than me, but. . .

While we argue a lot over who is the player one in the relationship (I let her win when we play Mario, because I prefer Luigi), we play a lot of co-op.  One of our favorite on-the-couch experiences has been the Gears of War series.

This is what we look like:

me Stella

And this is what our avatars looked like in the first game:

GOW 01 - Marcus Fenix GOW 01 - Dominic Santiago

And in part two:

GOW 02 - Marcus Fenix GOW 02 - Dominic Santiago

Things got a little bit more interest in the third part, switching characters through the process:

GOW 03 - Marcus Fenix GOW 01 - Dominic SantiagoGOW 03 - Cole Train GOW 03 - BairdGOW 03 - Anya Stroud

Recently, we’ve gotten a peak at the major protagonists of Gears of War 4.

Here’s what they look like:

GOW 04 - player one GOW 04 - player 2

Okay.  For those of you that have short term memory loss, here’s my girlfriend and me again:

me Stella

Why, that’s us!

My sister is not exactly a hardcore gamer, but she loves to kill hordes of Lambent and Locusts with her boyfriend.  Games have gotten a wider and wider appeal since 2006, when the first Gears came out.

It should be noted that the history of gaming once reflected a wide appeal.  When Pong, Pac-Man, and Atari were invading living rooms, everyone was learning to play games.  Not long afterward, the market collapsed and developers had to focus on a more hardcore (and younger) audience in order to bring back the medium.

E3 2015 was my fourth show.  My first was 10 years ago, and I can tell you first hand that the demographics of those who fill the halls has drastically changed.  I remember that 2005 was the year when Game Informer Magazine erroneously identified all the women at the show as either “booth babe,” “pr rep,” or “long suffering girlfriend.”  Even at that time, I knew they came off as braying jackasses with their brilliant assessment, but the majority of the attendees were male.  We were big, awkward males with guts and receding hairlines.

We’ve heard a lot of big, awkward males with guts and receding hairlines decry the “co-opting” of their hobby, accusing cos-players of being fake model-wannabes, calling female gaming journalists liars, and suggesting the hipsters and jocks are stealing their culture.  It’s gamer gentrification, and the hardcore gamers have doubted the authenticity and have worried about the future of their passion.

I know a ton of cos-players, had Jessica Nigri in a music video, and have networked with costumers the world over. While I have expressed concern about when costuming goes from art to commerce, I can tell you that these people don’t work their fingers bloody sewing costumes just to sell prints.

As to female gaming journalists, I can personally attest to the incredible knowledge of those I have personally met, and I have never stopped being impressed by Olivia Munn.

Finally, many hardcore gamers were once mistreated by people that look like those who now loudly announce they are huge “nerds.”  It can be difficult for gamers to set aside the humiliation they suffered because they had the courage to celebrate games, fantasy, cartoons, etc during those tender years.  But those things were always awesome, and you were simply smart enough to know that before they did.  It’s sort of an “I told you so” situation.

The halls of E3 in 2015 more accurately reflected what the world as a whole looks like.  Sure, guys that look like me are still the biggest slice of the pie chart, but that part is getting smaller.  That’s a good thing.  I saw all kinds of people.  I saw guys that actually look like Marcus and Dom from Gears of War.  I came across a seven and a half foot tall NBA player and about ten steps later was passed by Verne Troyer on his scooter.  I saw more pretty blond girls than they have on Fox News, and no, they weren’t anyone’s “long-suffering” girlfriends.  They were geeking out over the same stuff I was.  There were people from a hundred and nine different countries this year, and more people than ever were watching the show from even more corners of the globe than that online.

It is clear that developers are taking notice.  This was not only a great year for games, this was an incredible year for the female protagonist in these games.  With Horizon, Tomb Raider, and even just the cover of Beyond Earth, women are popping up on the gaming landscape.  And one big reason is that there are more women building these worlds than ever before!

The face of gaming is changing.  All the world’s a gamer, and this is not the end of anyone’s passion.

Mobile Developers Advised To Stop Developing Mobile Games at Samsung’s E3 Mobile Mixer

Last night at Samsung’s Mobile Mixer, we were encouraged to think, drink, and connect with mobile developers.  The place was packed, the food was gone before it made it to the buffet, and there was one drink ticket per guest.  Not much to inspire an E3 weary mob to either drink or connect, but there certainly was a lot to think about.

On a panel discussing the troubling future of premium games in a market all but taken over by freemium models (and perhaps the next trend: the promotional tie in, like Fallout Shelter, which managed to knock Candy Crush off its throne in just a few hours after the announcement and release).  The message to premium developers was clear.  And dire.

“We have to stop racing to the bottom.”

“I don’t see any current trend saving premium games.”

“If your game is $20, how do you prove to consumers that it is twenty times better than a one dollar game?”

Those were the words of a panel, which included Andreas Hofman (Senior Director of Samsung Developer Connection), Jason Chien (Founder and CEO of Bit Toys Inc), Stan Liu (Founder and President of Atomic Bullfrog), and Lorne Lanning (Co-Founder and President of Oddworld Inhabitants).  But the most damning words came from Mike Rose of tinyBUILD Games.

When asked to give advice to mobile game developers, Mike replied, “Don’t make mobile games.  Make them for PC and consoles AND mobile devices.”  He then handed off the microphone, laughing and shaking his head at his own snark.

I overheard him telling someone, “Well, I won’t be invited to too many more of these.”  I approached him to get his card and to congratulate him on his candor and courage.  He told me, “I just wanted to shake him up.  He used to be my boss,” indicating the moderator, Chris James, the Managing Director of Steel Media.

Whether this was a personal troll of a buddy or a serious statement to a struggling niche, the message was clear.  Premium mobile games will only succeed if the content is truly great.

To Exclusive Or Not To Exclusive; Sony and Nintendo

sony nintendo

Perhaps it’s because I just streamed both Sony and Nintendo in a row that the contrast is so apparant.  I meant to blog separately about each, but my thoughts are thematically appropriate for a single entry.  Whereas more than three quarters of Sony’s briefing was a showcase for cross-platform titles, Nintendo was basically one hundred percent games that are all their own.

Instead of focusing on expriences only available on the Playstation 4, Sony’s strategy was to give the anticipated giants a reason to be played first on their system, whether by early access to the game, features, or a beta.

Meanwhile, Nintendo’s digital presentation showed off the mind of games they are best known for.  Ones involving their proprietary IPs.  Mario, Link, Samus, Starfox, and the Animal Crossing anthropomorphics.  They canvased their popular Amiibos and trickled in games from the handheld, a market that Microsoft and Sony have basically given to phones and tablets.

There were parts of Nintendo’s conference that were so niche and so unique to the Japanese company that they they didn’t even bother to have them dubbed or translated into English.  This is a common thing for Nintendo, and while I respect that they happily march to their own drum, I also find these portions of their message alienating.  Still, I am very excited about their upcoming work, especially Mario Maker.

While breaking some big news (like the remake of Final Fantasy 7), Sony only showed three big games that will only be available on the PS4.  Horizon, Last Guardian, and Uncharted 4.  It should be noted that all of these games look great, but the majority of the ninety minutes could have been the sequel to Microsoft’s ninety.

Overall, whatever your preference of system, the message is clear: The games are coming, exclusive or no.

Microsoft Claims: “This is the greatest line up of games in XBox history!”

microsoftAfter playing a bit of Forza and Frogger on the twisited roads of Southern California I arrive in a corner of LA that is marked by retired space shuttles and Olympic parks.  This is where Microsoft will lay out their line up for gamers tuned in to E3.  The region is like much of Los Angeles.  There is a stark contrast drawn out by the mortar lain university of hopeful scholarship and the tent towns on the sidewalks and under bridges.

E3 press conferences can be like that too. Because they are trying to be all things to the widest target possible, the final product can sometimes be a mish mash of awesome and dull. Laat year, Microsoft showed off the hardware but didn’t bring the games. This year we were told that this was the best line up of games in XBox history.

With five exclusive titles (Halo 5, Fable Legends, Forza 6, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Gears 4), blockbuster cross platformers (Fallout 4, Tom Clancy’s The Division, and Recore), promising indies (my favorites: Beyond Eyes, Gigantic, and Cuphead), and classics being made available (backwards compatability and Rare Collection), it does seem like it is time to upgrade from the 360.

Of course, my previous post addressed Fallout 4, and soon we will go deeper into some of the other titles. So let’s just take a moment on the overall impression this year’s Microsoft briefing left me with.

Instead of feeling like I was being shown too many core games or too many casual games or too much about hardware advancements, it seemes like there really is some of all of that coming. The show felt long and a bit tedious, but it never labored too heavily in any one area. If anything, there were some things I felt could have been expanded longer, but they were left short to fit in yet another title or squeeze in yet another feature.

One thing I definitely think could have been given more time was the Holo Lens. Minecraft looks amazing rising up from a table top. The interactive virtual imagery is the future gamers have only been able to imagine up until now. It’s the Holodeck and Legos meshed into one, and I worry if he gets his little hands on this advancement, my nephew will never bathe or sleep again. But I wanted to see more. What are the practical applications for Oculus Rift on other games. Here is where only casual gameplay was represented when we definitely wanted to go deeper and mine some more material.

You know, to craft a stone cottage or something.

Overall, I think Microsoft hit the mark and achieved their goal. It is hard to argue this isn’t the time to upgrade, isn’t the greatest line up in their history.

Did Bethesda Kick Off E3 Or Win It?

Despite stated intentions, Bethesda may just very well have set the world on fire with their presentation, which was held at the Dolby Theater and was streamed for all last night.

The new installment of the seminal video game museum inductee, Doom, showed great promise with its stunning selection of weaponry, melee attacks, finishers, and graphic, graphic, graphic violence.  A sequel to 2012 Game of the Year winner, Dishonored, revealed a new protagonist option from the fairer sex, and we were given a look at the upcoming events for newly launched MMORPG Elder Scrolls Online.  However, it was clear that the excitement in the room, which was also palpable in my own living room, was surrounding a game that takes on the premise that war never changes.

Since the mid 1990s, a time dominated by Final Fantasy 7 and Half-Life, the Fallout series has been at the top of my list for favorite franchises.  The horror, humor, and detail of the wasteland has drawn me in with characters and stories I could feel I could own.  From the first installment, there were elements of the game I couldn’t believe could exist in an interactive experience, and when the third came out seven years ago, I was again blown away.

Even as a devoted fan, I had a wishlist of things I wanted to see in the fourth game.  I had already played three and New Vegas, had siphoned years into those titles, and I needed to be shown that this Boston excursion would be fresh, inventive, and emotionally compelling enough to justify investing even more of my life into it.  Afterall, it was the wonder that came with exploring these strange new worlds that made me fall in love with the series, and if I couldn’t get that again, it wouldn’t be Fallout to me.  It’s the same reason I could never get into Tactics or the truly awful Brotherhood of Steel.

With in depth weapon and armor customization, house and town building tools, a story grounded in pre-war era life, a totally new feel to the world and characters, and even a real world Pip Boy I can use to further my game, my checklist was crossed off, exceeded, and set ablaze.  With Fallout 4, will have a virtual world that I’ve helped build with the developers that will be worth fighting for.  And I will only have to wait until November 10th to do it.

vault boy