Monthly Archives: March 2014

Is Walmart’s Video Game Trade-in a Game Changer?

Last week Walmart joined the used video game business by offering gift cards for old games.  Since there are already several other major players in the biz, especially GameStop, it’s not exactly a game-changer although it’s a wiser move than Microsoft trying to strip gamers’ inalienable right to sell their own property.

It’s great that there’s another place to sell used games, but it’s not the disruption that we need and will ultimately come.  Console games are still a physical object and over-priced.  Ultimately, gamers are gamers, which means, they just want to play games.  Gamers are not traders looking to get the best cash for their used products.  Actually, it’s done out of necessity because games are so darn expensive.  If we buy a game for sixty bucks, and we get thirty in return, it’s not a good investment.  Even if it had a million hours of replayability, I would rather pay twenty dollars than a net thirty plus having to pay shipping or pick up at a store.

Brick and mortars are disappearing.  Blockbuster, Barnes and Noble, etc.  The reason that physical games still exist is because no one has disrupted the biz yet.  But it’ll come.  So Walmart’s “new” venture needs to be a get-cash-quick scheme,  because it’ll be a short-lived one.

blockbuster

Enemy Front Gameplay Trailer – Blasting Nazis Never Gets Old

Enemy Front is a blast from the past. The trailer’s out this week and the FPS reminds me of the first Medal of Honor game on PlayStation fifteen years ago. There are different moves like holding an enemy soldier hostage, but the play is essentially the same as other WW2 FPSs that have come before.

The main selling point is the open-ended levels, but the trailer doesn’t convey this feature very well. Like the first Ghost Recon, there’s a map, and different ways to accomplish the objective. But watching the trailer makes me think it’s just a linear shooter. In one scene, the protagonist, Robert Hawkins, shoots a tire on a truck, which rolls down a hill and explodes in a ball of fire. Things like that are compulsory tasks. Even if you don’t have to do it to finish the mission, you will do it because it probably makes the job easier. It’s also too cool to pass up.

It’s also cool to have a rear-kicking war correspondent do the dirty work. I’m sure journalists and photojournalists have wanted to jump into the fray once in a while. Some, like Kevin Carter, suffered from depression when witnessing, but not assisting, helpless victims. So it’s awesome to see a correspondent mow down Nazis.

Video Game Consoles are Terminally Ill – so let’s put them out of their misery

Disruption is as common in Silicon Valley as screenplays are in L.A.  You can’t walk into a coffee house without hearing how some new thing will change the landscape of some old thing.  In downtown Mountain View, there are hideously ugly bikes waiting to be rented with your credit card because apparently walking and driving and riding your own bike all need to be disrupted.  Disruptors are disrupting the disruptors.  Everyone’s doing it.  So it’s surprising that no one in the Valley has disrupted the most ridiculously flawed industry of all: the video game console biz.

Disrupting the short commute.  Anyone think about using different colors?

Disrupting the short commute. Anyone think about using different colors?

New gen is well underway.  Anticipated new titles are released or lined up.  And the debate continues: PS4 or Xbox One….  Both Sony and Microsoft have thrown millions into developing the consoles.  Both lose money on consoles only to profit from game sales.  It’s an old outdated model.

And here’s the reality: gamers do not want to buy a console.   Gamers want to play games.  Gamers do now want a fancy entertainment system that streams movies and recognizes their faces when they walk into a room.  Gamers want to play games.

And gamers want to play good games.  It doesn’t matter if it’s Xbox or PS4 exclusive.  Gamers just want to play the best game out there without some conglomerate forcing them to make a choice.  And yet, consoles keep getting more expensive and snazzier but they continue to be restrictive.

At the end of the day, Americans only care about two things: freedom and money.  The console system takes away both.  So the question is, why haven’t someone disrupted the system yet?

Sony’s Betamax was a better quality tape, but VHS won the battle because of price and availability.  JVC licensed the VHS technology to any manufacturer that wanted it, and so the competition drove the prices down.  Sony also placed an artificial cap on recording time, which handed VHS another edge.  Lower prices, licensing and less restrictions led to wider acceptance.  You can say VHS won because it was more American – cost efficient and less restrictive.  And if anything will truly disrupt the console system, it has to be that.

So what are the leading candidates for disruption?

Ouya’s got the heart, but it’s still a console with exclusive titles.

ouya_white

Samsung’s Smart TV gaming is an interesting idea, but you need to buy the Smart TV.

And then there’s Amazon.  The best part about the Amazon controller “leak” was what wasn’t revealed.  No console.  Will there be a console?  I really hope not.  Will it be some cloud-based streaming device like Chromecast?  That might be a step in the right direction.

Consoles are sick.  The printer-toner model does not work for gaming anymore.  It’s a lucrative market and technology is too big for these boxes that try to contain.  I do not need to buy a fancy expensive DVD player that can only play a certain number of exclusive titles.  I want a cheap device from a manufacturer of my choice that can play all the titles I want.

All Gamers – hardcore and casual – want to play games.  That’s it.  Simple.  Someone, please disrupt!

Korea’s Video Game College: Ten Reasons Why It’s Great for the World!

Studying video gaming in college will make the world a better place.  Here’s how.

Koreans are top-notch gamers, and soon it will be even more difficult to beat them.  Starting next year, Chung-Ang University will accept eSports applicants who will then be eligible to apply to the school’s Department of Sport Science, which is already home to non-eSports like bowling.  To clarify, this isn’t game design or development.  It’s going to college to play video games.  The U.S. already recognizes Korean gamers as athletes when it comes to visa sponsorship, and the top gamers in Korea make millions, so it’s not a surprise for a school to offer the program.  It’s good for a school trying to get an edge on anything, and it’s good for gamers, obviously.

But it’s also a great thing for a lot of other people.  Here are ten reasons why:

10) KOREAN DRAMA

At some point, there will be a Korean drama about video gaming students.  If it’s anything like Dream High, it’ll be awesome!  And the world will be a better place.

dream_high

9) HAPPIER WIVES

Gaming students will get really good with their hands, which will make them better husbands to their wives.  Happy wife, happy life.  Happy life, happy world!

8) CURE FOR CANCER?

Before eSports program: parents tell kids to study, but the kids secretly play video games.

Now: parents tell kids to play games, the kids secretly study…math, medicine, science…they discover the cure for cancer and the world becomes a better place.

7) BETTER FAMILIES

Chung-Ang graduates become fathers.  Father plays Starcraft in the bedroom.  The kids play it in the living room.  Annihilating the Zerg together: that’s quality father-child bonding, more interaction than most Korean fathers have with their kids.

6) MORE RESPECT

More professional gamers will mean more Xbox penetration, which means Bill Gates might think about taking his hand out of his pocket next time he shakes K-president’s hand.

bill_gates

5) MORE HEROES

Watch out North Korea!  Every student will learn to drive tanks, fight like Rambo, kill zombies, and free slaves like those in your labor camps.

abe_the_hero

Hire Abe to save North Korea!

4) BETTER KIMCHI

It will end the kimchi crisis!  (Not sure exactly how, but it will!)

A BOY TASTES TRADITIONAL SOUTH KOREAN KIMCHI IN SEOUL

3) COOLER TEACHERS

There will be teachers who actually start a class by saying, “Stay a while, and listen!”

Diablo's Old Man: "Stay a while, and listen."

Diablo’s Old Man: “Stay a while, and listen.”

2) IN-LAW RELATIONS

One less thing for Korean in-laws to complain about.

So, you're playing games again....

So, you’re playing games again….

1) PEACE!

One day, video gaming will unite the peninsula.  Just you wait and see!

unified_korea

Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty Gameplay Trailer — Help Abe get them hot Mudokon Babes

How do you create a likable hero?  You take an average Joe, or Abe, and you make him go-lucky, a bit goofy, with big eyes and no shirt.  Then you give him a worthy cause.  In Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, the remake of the 1997 classic, Abe’s Oddysee, the cause is freeing fellow Mudokons from slavery.  What happens if he fails?  They become lunch meat, literally.  Now, that’s a worthy cause.  If Abe saves 50 Mudokons, then he lives the rest of his life in happiness and fame.  If he doesn’t, even one fewer than 50, then he gets William Wallace dead.  To be precise, he gets shredded into pulp.  But hey, those 49 Mudokons he saved are free!

The remake by Oddworld Inhabitants offers “new visual effects, refined gameplay and explosive new sound design”.  It’s still a side-scroller but is 2.5D to give Abe a bit more perspective.  Most of the levels are the same as the original.  So is it a useless remake like Van Sant’s Psycho or Lee’s Old Boy?

It really doesn’t matter.  What matters is that Abe is a hero, and possibly a martyr.  And it is your job to free them 50 Mudokons and get him the love and fame and all the hot Mudokon babes he deserves!

Metrico Trailer – Need a couple shots of whiskey

Metrico is a game I don’t want to know much about until I play it.  I know it’s a game about infographics, which is solid marketing considering the large “niche” community.  It reacts to the environment: how you hold the PS Vita, how much light, and so on.  The trailer shows a ‘60s-trippy scene of a guy running with surreal images and stats popping up behind him. Like that psychedelic space warp scene in 2001 — pass the pipe, man. Reminds me of Dali or Picasso in the landscapes and weirdness.

So it looks cool, but how does it play?

The trailer doesn’t reveal much.  And I’ll resist spoiling the fun and researching it.  I hope that there are infographics created from my surroundings.  I’m standing at a bus stop in the cold.  It shows an infographic of cold days in the spot where I am standing.  More like an app than a game?  Okay, well, it then creates puzzles based on that infographic.  Or mazes of stats to navigate through.  Not for everyone, but Vita-worthy.

Looking forward to its release this Spring.

Gauntlet 2014 Trailer – the game that brought gamers together returns

Gauntlet is another GenX classic brought back to life.  The trailer is out for Arrowhead Studios’s dungeon crawl, which is out on Steam this year, and it doesn’t look all that different from the original, which is a good thing.  Better graphics, of course, but the same four characters (Warrior, Wizard, Elf and my fave, Valkyrie) dishing pain to skeletons and zombies.  It’s got procedural maps, too, which is always a good thing.

The best part about this game was that it was multiplayer.  I made a lot of friends playing this game back in the 80s.  And not only the arcade, but the DOS version.  There were many Saturdays spent crowded at the keyboard hacking away.  Ah, the memories, and nostalgia will sell some I’m sure.  Can’t wait to hit them dungeons again!

Among the Sleep Gameplay Trailer – the Open World of a Child’s Mind, or an Attic of Cliches?

You’re a two-year-old in Among the Sleep, a new game by Krillbite Studios from Norway.  The new gameplay trailer is out ahead of the game’s release later in 2014 on Windows, OSX, and Linux.  It’s disappointing that the entirety of the 83-second trailer is spent in an attic.  The child wanders about touching things like normal toddlers do, hears some noise, hides in a vent and sees a shadow pass by.  A cliché in any horror medium.

Of course, the selling point of the game is that it’s played in a child’s POV.  There’s a teddy bear that helps you and mysterious creatures and places, which are products of the young-en’s mind.  One could get Freudian about it, I suppose.  Or like Citizen Kane, we yearn to return to that period of innocence, simplicity and security.  But in Among the Sleep, there are none of those.  It’s about fear, complex puzzles, and danger.  This trailer needed to show more of that.

There’s an excitement about a new game like this.  The trailer didn’t exactly squelch it, but now I’m wondering if the developers will focus on the cheap scare of a shattering bottle or shadow-play rather than the vast imagination and curiosity of a child.

This War of Mine Trailer – A Video Game that has to be made?

Video games are first and foremost a form of entertainment. That is, it’s a way to suspend reality, entertain the mind, and escape for a while. Like movies or novels, games can sometimes be more than that, but usually they’re not. We play Call of Duty not because we want to replicate the experience of killing other human beings, but because it is entertaining to beat the other player in a game. At the core, shooting another soldier in CoD is no different than taking an opponent’s rook in chess. Likewise, in Grand Theft Auto, it’s about accomplishing an objective – winning – more than enjoying the thrill of stealing a car.

So, how should we view a game like This War of Mine?

The trailer is one of the best I’ve seen. From the shelter of a building, we see a terrifying street battle taking place. As the camera tracks right, we see the soldiers charging and firing at the unseen foe. A grenade explodes killing one of them. Another is hit by small arms fire. The camera continues into the dark, and into a room, and into the unseen misery of war. A woman clutches a man, his arm covered in blood. Another man sits holding his head in despair. And a small boy stands watching, perhaps not fully comprehending yet, but knowing something is wrong. He’ll have nightmares. He’ll have this scar for the rest of his life.

this_war_of_mine_feature

This War of Mine is a game about wartime survival. The focus is on the civilians, not the combatants. The objective is to survive by scavenging supplies, dodging snipers and maintaining a safe hideout. So then, that becomes the King you have to checkmate. Keep the provisions stocked, keep out the unwanted from your shelter, and don’t become collateral damage. Will this game ultimately be more than that? I really hope so.

this_war_of_mine_02

A lot of what is described about this game reminds me of the siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. Civilians were sniper targets. There were constant bombardments. Food and water ran low. All the trees were cut down for firewood. There were countless stories that needed to be told that weren’t.

My grandmother was also a victim of war. She lost her brothers in the Korean War. She was terrified of both the South and North Korean soldiers who occupied Seoul at different times during the conflict. She told me a few stories, though none in too much detail. There were people rounded up, placed in a truck and driven away to be shot in a field. Neighbors accused each other of being a capitalist or a communist or both. More than anything else, she remembered the need for food. My father, at age 4, didn’t know what hunger was and so all he could say to my grandmother was that his stomach hurt. Lack of food dominated any other concern when they weren’t in the crossfire.

Most war memoirs focus on the fighters. Civilians’ stories do surface, but there are too many stories that go untold.

I hope This War of Mine is more than just entertainment. I hope it does recreate some of the misery of non-combatants in war and not simply make a game out of it. And if so, this game will be a game that truly needed to be made.

Destiny Sharing Commercial – will it share some of my Titanfall time?

What is Destiny?  Better question is what isn’t Destiny?  It’s an RPG FPS MMO.  The developer, Bungie (of Halo fame) is calling it a “shared-world shooter.”  It’s also got speeder bikes like the ones from Return of the Jedi.  And character art that reminds me of Robotech, especially The New Generation, which also had a similar aliens-in-the-backyard premise.  The FPS looks a lot like Halo.  A 30-second Playstation share “commercial” is out and my brain is still repeating, “Titanfall, Titanfall, Titanfall….”

But what is fascinating is the “alive” factor.  It creates a dynamic environment where the unexpected can happen.  Not sure exactly what that means.  Procedural?  We’ll see in September.

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