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Category Archives: Gaming

Mother’s Day has been cancelled…

So many times those words you see in the title are my unique way of describing a thought.  Sometimes in articles, they have no other meaning then a hook to appetite the mind to read further.  Sometimes they have a deeper meaning and bring the article back to that point.  However, rarely do I ever make a point to highlight it in my articles like I’m about to.

Mother’s Day has been cancelled, news at the 11 PM broadcast….

When tragedy strikes like it did on Friday, I have a policy of doing my best to avoid news.  It is not out of hatred, ignorance or not wanting to know but simply the point that has been so clearly made to me before.  Anytime a tragedy happens, what unfolds can best be described as a formulaic, scripted drama.  First, you see the scrambling, then the info starts trickling with misinformation, corrections, interviews and on and on it goes.

Not so long ago I had a conversation about the show Undercover Boss with my wife.  I am willing to give anything a shot, I had seen the British version of the show (I am a big fan of British TV) and in a few episodes, I had become tired with the formula.  What I had “learned” from the show was that every Boss in every job had to deal with the “exact” same set of employees.  And “unbelievably” by the end of the show everything was settled in the time format allotted.  It was “Reality” TV at its best.  Two episodes made me see the formula and I gave up on the show.  As some know, the show exists on American shores and my wife started watching it.  I tried my best but just could not watch the show.  It was too formulaic.  I remember that first watching of the US Version, my mind was putting together the book ends of all the people on the show.  It was sort of a game could I guess the future?  I turned out right on all but one and told me Wife I just cannot watch something like that.

What really bugged me and made me shrug about the show was how much it wanted to mix reality with something very real for a cheap reward.  I completely understand that television is scripted to draw you in, but I believe there is a line any show can cross.  When a show takes reality and mixes it with real life, while trying to hide the fact just rubs me the wrong way.  While I am sure someone out there is about to say that describes most Reality TV.  While I agree, I found Undercover Boss throwing away its fake “reality” to make sure the climax of the final act of the show would work better.  As long as the viewer felt good about the Boss, no matter how we got there was all that mattered.

Think about that for a moment: Reality did not matter when it came to a “Reality” show.

Friday the tweets started flowing (Yes, I use Twitter.)  The first one popped up, it was pointing out how two networks had already blamed video games.  More tweets came in, and I finally gave in I tuned in and had to hear the “amazingness” for myself.  Within a few moments I was reminded why I usually do not pay attention, the formula was in full affect.  Journalists who pride themselves on facts were stuck with no facts, starting playing Mad Libs with a tragedy.  Moreover, on full display was what I can only describe as, IHOTM (Ignorance in the Heat of the Moment.)  One of the first questions, and amazing how it can be I might add, was why?  Of course, our crack reporters were on the job, getting answers.  According to them, it started with Reality TV and Video Games.  Then it spread to everything but, conveniently, their own field of work.

They were Undercover Bosssing the tragedy.

That is the News networks, journalists, were taking the tragedy and forgoing the reality to make sure they were satisfying anything but reality.  The news was constructing a formulaic “reality” show.  Again in front of me was playing out the very thing I despised in Undercover Boss, and it was about to enter other areas of my life.

The news reports were quick to put a name to the killer, or so they thought.  However, for some in our society, this was enough to pounce.

twilight moms

Quickly a mob attacked a video game and deemed it the ultimate killer of all those children.

A Facebook pile-on began. “There is a connection between violent games and senseless violence in real life,” wrote Facebook user Becky Laird Gluff. Another user, Melanie Bowers, said, “Ban this game and the people who created such sickness.” And Catherine Barowski Plummer even wrote, “I am sure none of these precious children had this game on their Santa list… God help protect us from all the evil our society promotes.”
http://kotaku.com/5968683/mob-blames-mass-effect-for-school-shooting-is-embarrassingly-wrong/ 

masseffect mob

And that was not the end of the craziness.  A gamer by the name of Antwand Pearman wanted to do something, he wanted to send a message and asked other gamers to join him in an online ceasefire.  He wanted to do something to allow the gaming community to show its respect to the tragedy.  A gaming moment of silence for the victims.

“When I thought of this cease fire I saw it as a means for gamers to come together and show their love and support the families. The one thing we can’t get in this world is peace. War will always rage on but in the virtual world we have an opportunity to be better. This isn’t something for the media it’s for the families and us.

“So what if people stop playing shooters for a day? It will be forgotten the next day. The point is that in that silence you’ll have time to listen to something you haven’t heard in a long time. Something you have been too busy to hear. Too social to notice and that’s…your Heart.”
http://kotaku.com/5969100/video-games-and-the-sandy-hook-shooting-two-very-different-reactions

This is not the first time people in the game community have shown they are human.  The guys at Penny Arcade started Child’s Play to give back to the community.  It was also to combat the negative image people perceive around video games.

Child’s Play seeks to improve the lives of children in hospitals around the world through the kindness and generosity of the video game industry and the power of play. When gamers give back, it makes a difference!
– http://www.childsplaycharity.org/

So what response did the ceasefire bring out of people?

You’ve got to be kidding. They are putting down their “virtual bullets”!!!! Is everyone clueless here or do liberals only despise guns because of agenda pushing but find kids killing people in video games for entertainment acceptable. The producer of this mass crap has the nerve to say violent video games doesn’t generate killers – yet the mass killer of our babies played violent games. You can’t condemn guns without condemning this stuff which caters to sick individuals who crave killing for entertainment or worse, preys on the minds of the mentally ill until killing becomes reality.
– moutainlover39

“””I’m confused, growing up we’ve all been told to show love and support in anyway we know how.”””—- Because it isn’t actual support. It does nothing but make the person partaking in the event feel better about themselves. Yes, call me a cynic but putting crosses beside roads where people die or having a ceasefire in a video game or praying for the deceased does absolutely nothing for the deceased. The time to honor someone is while they’re alive. Once a person is dead the grieving need real support not nonsense that amounts to nothing more than platitudes and lip service.
– MegaProscrastination

http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/online-gamer-cease-fire-scheduled-friday-honor-newtown/comments?type=story&id=18001886

Sigh, I guess the message was not clear enough…

NOTE:  Let that second comment sink in for a moment from MegaProcrastination

Before I hit the note of the crescendo…

Some may wonder why I am focusing on one aspect of the shootings and that is the subject of video games.

It is a valid criticism, I am taking the time to write an article on a multi-faceted tragedy about one aspect.  Some might say it is callous to concentrate on the subject of gaming when something bigger has happened.  To say I am desensitized to violence, to only care about the attack on something I have a passion about.

My only answer can be human nature.  It is a part of our nature to defend that which we care about.   As some who know me, I am trying to forge a career in game design.  So for me it is more personal then for others.  In addition, I cannot sit idly by and let people add the fuel of ignorance to the conversation.   Yes, this is selfish on my part.  I would only ponder would you sit by if people attacked your profession with ignorance.

And this isn’t to say valid criticism isn’t valid (see what I did there?)  However, it is the ignorance that is bothersome.

Which leads me to this:

Sorry I’m about to flip some tables…

Game design is all the constant questioning of decisions.  It’s the pursuit of an elusive perfection that can never be obtained.  Every design choice made will be questioned, and it is not for the faint hearted.  As with many creative fields, not only will you scrutinize every decision you make, but other people are more than ready to off their own opinions.  Moreover, those design decisions are made for many reasons.  However, one thing I can tell you is that there is not one collective force driving those decisions and questions.

That is not to say that some make games that are aimed at purely violence and carnage.  However, to simply focus on .000000000001% of the industries output is ludicrous and sadly way over the lines of ignorance but pure stupidity.  I almost want to say that ignoring is the best way to confront it but it is not.

Gaming encompasses so many different thoughts and emotions that saying the industry is about carnage and violence ignores the fact that there is more than one type of game genre.  This is as good as saying TV shows are only sitcoms, while ignoring drama, soap operas and sports.  Moreover, even worse is the attack of those that make the games.

I know some of the people who make the games that people say are killing trainers.  To say that there only goal in life is create games that teach children to kill is an even more pure form of stupidity.  A stupidity has no brain behind it, because the logic to get there is beyond reproach.

For some reason, there is this thought that games can only be for children or youth.  Moreover, those same people spouting this belief will merrily go onto point out how they cannot wait for their favorite adult movie or latest book that is about subject matter that is taboo.  Instead, they point the finger at something they do not care about.

They seem to forget the one finger pointing, three pointing back rule.

LET ME MAKE THIS CLEAR: All forms of entertainment share the same similarities, characteristics.  It the form of the vessel and medium that changes.  Books, Music, Games, TV, Movies all have subject matter which encompasses different ages, genre and thoughts.

It sometimes make me wonder why people who read books ever move on from Green Eggs and Ham or why Dora the Explorer is not a prime time staple for TV viewing.

LET MAKE THIS CLEAR ALSO: Gaming is not mandatory nor the only form of entertainment.

Again, it has not to say valid criticism isn’t valid.  To bring up the question of game violence is a valid criticism.  However, to attack an industry, a group of individuals and imply they never have thought through this question is ignorance.  It conjures up images of a group meeting in the secret of the night, diabolically trying to figure out ways to destroy the innocence of childhood.

Am I supposed to swallow that sewage-filled cup with a smile on my face?

It is as if gamers and game designers are not real people or somehow not human:

I opened a chapbook in front of her, and she touched its pages, and then she took the magazine from me and shut it and kind of massaged its cover with her thumb. Then she dropped the magazine into the folds of the bed and reached for my hand, and she took my hand and squeezed it.

And squeezed it again. And then I cried, and she squeezed my hand another time, and I looked up and right into her eyes, which were wet and meaningful and so clear, and her face was obscured by the breathing mask but her eyebrows were furrowed the way they always are when I cry, and I apologized to her for hurting her and for being so sad, and I looked down again at our clasped hands, and then I folded myself in half and cried into both our hands.

And then I pitched forward off the chair and onto my knees and I cried into her bedsheets and kissed her hand, because there was that mask forcing air into her and there was too little of her face to kiss.
http://www.unwinnable.com/2012/11/29/allow-natural-death/

One final point, as this always bears repeating when the subject of violence and gaming comes up:

WARNING [NSFW] LANGUAGE

It’s been cancelled… FOREVER

When it came to this article I wanted someway to convey how seeing, hearing and reading the criticism on gaming stuck me.  I wanted to make it crystal clear how these statements sound to me.  I wanted to convey a thought that would spell it out in layman’s terms that would make sense to the general public.  How me as a gamer and game designer saw the criticism of video games during tragedy .

MOTHER’S DAY HAS BEEN CANCELED

See using the same logic that I saw this past weekend, that is the best way I can put it.  Seeing as the shooter had a loving mother, it must be her fault and seeing as she is the only mother in the whole universe they must all be like her.  So the only solution to a tragedy like this is to cancel Mother’s Day.

and in other news pigs are flying…

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Posted by on December 19, 2012 in Gaming

 

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Games for the Weekend: Bang!

It is that time of the moment, my Games for the Weekend!  This week I have a real crowd pleaser and quickly become a party favorite in my house.  I only discovered this game at a friend’s behest for me to check out the game.  This weekend’s game is the spaghetti western know as Bang!

Bang… bang bang!

 

Bang! is a card game that recreates the feel of being in wild west shootout.  It is you versus the other players in a shootout.  However, there is one problem; no one knows who each other is.  Well you know who the Sheriff is but that is little consolidation for the Sheriff when he does not know who his deputy is.  Bang is as much a card game as it is a deduction game, one where you have to figure out who is who, with each person’s role dictating what they will do in the game.

Overview
Bang! is card game where players take the one of five possible roles, each with their own goals.  The Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaws and the Renegade.  The Sheriff must kill the Outlaws and Renegade.  The Deputy needs to protect the Sheriff and help him kill the Outlaws and Renegade.  The Outlaws want the Sheriff dead and does not care who gets in their way.  The Renegade wants everyone dead so he can become the new Sheriff.  Players utilize their card hand to bring their individual goal to fruition.

 

The goal of the game is to achieve your role’s motive.

Gameplay
To begin players are given a role in the game, the number of Outlaws and Deputies change depending on the number of players.  However, rest assured there will be at least one Sheriff, Outlaws and one Renegade in every game.  Players are then dealt a Character card, the Character cards tell the player who they are and what special abilities they have for the game.  These special abilities allow the player to either bend the rules or modify them with new rules that only they can use.

After the roles and characters are handed out, the Sheriff introduces his role as the Sheriff and tells everyone what Character he is and what special ability he has.  Going clockwise everyone else introduces what Character he or she is and the special ability they have for the game.  The Character cards also tell the player how many Bullets they receive for the game; Bullets are life in the game.  The Sheriff gets one extra Bullet just for the pleasure of being the Sheriff.

Players then receive cards in relation to their life, if they have 4 Bullets they receive 4 cards.  The number of Bullets a player has is the number of cards they may have left over in their hand at the end of their turn.  On a players turn they will draw two cards and then play as many cards as they can in their hand.  The only caveat to this is that they may only play one of each type of card, unless they have a special ability on their Character that allows them to modify that ability.  For example, Will the Kid Character card allows that player to play as many Bang cards as he/she has.

The main way to attack the players is with the Bang card.  It should be noted at this point that the game has a distance mechanic.  That is players can only shoot other players who are within their shooting distance.  Shooting distance is how many seats away from you the player you want to shoot is from you.  This distance is shown by your gun you have in play.  It should be noted at this time also that cards come in two different color borders.  Blue border cards are equipable cards that stay with your character, for example weapons.  Green bordered cards have an immediate effect like a Bang card.  When a player plays a Bang card they play the card on the person they are shooting.  At this point, the player being shot at may played a Missed card to avoid taking a hit or they must lost a life and remove a Bullet.

Some examples of other cards with instant effects are Beer, the card allows a player to regain one Bullet (Life.)  There is a Duel card that allows you to stare down another player in a duel, first person who cannot produce a Bang card will lose one Bullet.  Players can also place other players in Jail!  Then there is the dreaded Dynamite card which will be passed from player to player to see who it blows up on, resulting in a loss of 3 Bullets to the player.

When a player loses their last Bullet they are dead and now must reveal their role and discard their remaining cards.  The game continues until either the Sheriff is killed or all the Outlaws and Renegade are killed.

 

I Shot the Sheriff
Bang! is a great party game that really gets people into the theme of the game.  One of the best parts of the game is introducing your Character to everyone; this one little simple aspect of the game manages to put people in the feeling of a western.  In addition, it never gets old in a game of Bang! to scream BANG, every time a Bang card is played.  Little touches like that really make you feel like you are in a western staring down the bad guys.  Not to mention it’s fun to yell Bang! from time to time.

Bang! is a great party game, also a great opening game to get a great night of gaming going.  And it really works as a fun family game, although I will warn you that the younger ones will have a tough time keeping their roles a secret, still the game is fun nonetheless.

The other aspect I really love about the game is the deduction aspect of the game.  It is very satisfying to make assumptions, play on those assumptions and find you were right.  It also is devastating to find out you as the Sheriff have killed your Deputy leaving yourself along to fight the Outlaws and Renegade.

The only drawback I could point to is the amount of players you need to play.  Getting 4 players together can be a drawback to some people.

If you are looking to pick up the game, I recommend Thought Hammer (and no I’m not getting commission.)  Alternatively, you can peruse Google Shopping.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2012 in Board Games, Gaming

 

Tags: ,

The Same Never Changes

“If the media had given the Progress Party a fair chance without demonizing them before an election, then I wouldn’t have carried out the attacks,” Breivik told defense attorney Vibeke Hein Baera.
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2012/0420/Norway-killer-Breivik-Voices-in-my-head-told-me-Don-t-do-this

The 33-year-old said he practised his shot using a “holographic aiming device” on the war simulation game, which he said is used by armies around the world for training.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/apr/19/anders-breivik-call-of-duty

Again for the second time this week an article on CNN has caused me to want to put my head through a wall.  This is conclusive proof that news does cause violence!  Okay I’m being sarcastic, but in the many year of my life I’ve seen this topic come up too many times.  Let’s just go to what the article says:

Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.
http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/23/health/living-well/demise-of-guys/index.html

Fair Warning: I am not going to deal with Porn, because Porn was invented yesterday.

When I was growing up my Dad did a number of things, one was eating an orange.  Another was to watch nightly news at 6 pm on the dot, he enjoyed reading books and he liked to smoke a lot.  Also growing up I was always exposed to some family member at a reunion or wedding getting drunk.

Now sitting here typing this as an adult I must confess the harshest of truths!  I do not do any of the above.  One could argue that it is because of what I saw growing up I chose not to do those things.  For one I am not one who likes to do what I think is the norm.  This is not because it is the cool, rebellious thing to do but because I am a person who likes to taste and try many things.   For example, as a board gamer, I try to play anything and everything put before me.  If you tried to pin me down to saying what my favorite game is, it would have be dependent on the season of my life.

My life is a contradiction of what these studies say.  I should be a smoker, watch nightly news and probably drink.  I would venture it was probably because of over-exposure that caused me not to want any part of those activities.  For one I never liked when my Dad would start to cough from his body trying to expel the smoke from his lungs.  Thinking your Dad was going to keel over and die at a young age is never a fun experience.  Also seeing a person at a wedding get his head split open because he was drunk probably helped my teetotalism.  Even when I finally was able to try drinking, I did and never found it to my liking.  And I’m not talking about that get drunk trial period, I’m talking drinking one beer.  It’s just not my thing.

And because of these stances I don’t think I’m abnormal in the choices I made, or it makes me superior to others that chose different routes in life.  But maybe it does make me superior and maybe I should go on a crusade to rid the world of the evils of drinking!  That’s the ticket I’ll go on a crusade telling the world that drinking causes violence and….

Someone: Kevin!

Me: Yes.

Someone: Stop It!

Me: okay

One of the things that is disheartening, reading these articles and studies is how much it seems the same flawed, common sense, facts are treated as filthy lies.  One of the reason I feel like banging my head is because in over a decade of reading these studies and conclusions, even after proven wrong, they still persist with their claim that they have some miraculous way to ensure children will not become violent.  It is like those studies that said playing Classical Music will make your child become smarter.  It was flawed because truth be told (boy do I hate that cliché) there is no one set path to a child becoming anything.

Well actually there is, control.

Over a decade ago, I remember watching a programs on TV about MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) and how it needed to be stopped because it was too violent.  What was interesting was how some things were glossed over, while critics wanted to say MMA was nothing but the Roman Coliseum come true in modern day society, Boxing was given the free pass.  It was interesting to see that MMA had rules to keep people from being beat senseless, while Boxing was the opposite.  It was also pointed out that people who opposed MMA and tried to get it outlawed were big supporters of Boxing.  A simple truth came to me that day, question everything.

I am not going to sit here and argue that all children should be exposed to hours of violent media.  I could do my own studies and prove this a good thing.    I once joked many moons ago, that I could do a study proving teaching a two year old how to use a shotgun would benefit society.  I have since learned I could.  A good study will lead to more questions, because there are no easy answers to life.  In addition, we as humans need to fail and learn from mistakes to grow.  When I read studies that say just remove this one thing and all will be better, I get scared because answers are never that easy, because these studies and conclusions tend to gloss over a lot data to get to their answer.

Moreover, questions that arise are never answered, or key information is left out.  Such was the case with the people who said video games caused Breivik to kill.  Sure he played Call of Duty and trained on it, so naturally we can conclude that there are millions of killers in waiting because of this epidemic, right?  Because a game that is played by millions means that there is an army being trained right now.  I actually don’t know if this is a bad thing, because glossing over which of the many Call of Duty game (this a multi-game franchise) one can’t tell which plot he was training for.  Was he training to stop Hitler, or was he training to stop some mad man who wanted to start nuclear war?  Is this a bad thing?

On the other hand, can we deal with the reality that Breivik had to use a device to turn the game into a true simulator?  Probably not because that would defeat the purpose of these studies, that there are many factors that come into play when real life violence happens.  Breivik also wrote a manifesto, he also read book, do we need laws to prevent the dangers of reading and writing?  Do we need to go on crusades to stop the “future” violence that can occur.

I think Penn & Teller summed up the real issues with this kind of thinking:

WARNING: This has some language

There is one last take away from these kinds of articles; Fear.  I have to say that I do not believe all the people who do these studies are “evil” and trying to manipulate people.  Yes there are some who do, but I believe most of the time these studies are a quest to find answers to problems in society.  However, an undercurrent in most of these studies is fear.  That is what is not understood must be the problem, or simple put we judge the front of the book too quickly.

This is no different then what people do when they play sports.  You know the stories of sports players who will not wash their hat because they’ve just won 20 games in a row.  Somehow that hat is the reason for the wins, so if the hat changes therefore the team will lose.  I see this done so many times in these studies, the new factors are treated as the cause of the problem and then the root is never looked at.  Just like the player who doesn’t wash his hat never looks at the reason for the wins, the raw talent of the players assembled, so do these studies gloss over root causes to get the quick and easy answer.

It would have been so easy to say Columbine happened because two people played a violent video game and watched a violent movie.  However, to get to that point you have to gloss the research they did to construct bombs, learn how to fire guns.  In addition, you have to gloss over the journals they wrote and then the therapy the killers got for their depression.  Moreover, when you think about it why were these things glossed over: Why wasn’t writing the problem?  Why wasn’t reading the problem?  Why wasn’t the drugs prescribed the problem?  And finally why wasn’t the Psychologists the problem?

Could it be that it’s easy to blame things that we don’t personally like and have no care if they go away.

Nah, how ludicrous for me thinking such a thing…

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2012 in Gaming

 

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I’m old…

I am a gamer, as some who know me personally.  However, more so over the past few years I have found myself in the analog (board) world of gaming, versus digital (video) games.  Also being an aspiring designer in the analog world of gaming, I tend to spend my free gaming time playing analog games.  In addition, it is a funny thing but as a game designer, you feel you never get to play games anymore.  Outside as a regular gamer, if you got the design urge you clamor to be on the inside developing, and then when you get there you find your time slipping towards development.  Other things get in the way as one gets older (house, kids, etc.) and if you are smart you find ways to combine the two such as playing games with the kids (and not telling your wife the game console is really for you and not the kids (shhh).)

😉

One thing I find that has suffered the most is that of reading gaming sites and news.  Sure from time to time I do, but since a lot of my inspiration for game ideas actually comes from real life and day to day news, I tend to find my casual reading slipping away from gaming related journalism.  Years ago I read, and read (and read) every piece of gaming related print media I could get my hands on.  If I could not play it all I was certainly going to read about it all.  When Nintendo Power did not satisfy, there was GamePro, then EGM.  Not only was I in a good position being born when I was in terms of digital gaming, I had the privilege of watching the journalistic side of the industry grow up.  I also had the side benefit of building up a timeline of history from all the reading I did.

However, with all that excitement as I grew up, certain realities started to creep in to my view.  One was the understanding that these gaming magazines had their biases.  I still remember the day, as a young boy that I finally realized that Nintendo Power was not out for gaming as much as it was for a certain company.  I noticed the tell-tale signs from that point on that certain things were amiss with my favorite magazines, as games that advertised seemed to get the most press.  As I got more freedom with money and age, along with the advent of the Internet, I shed these magazines in favor of my mobility and new source of abundant game information choices.  I found that as I got older and engaged the world community of the online, that people saw the same things I did.  It was sort of that underlying hidden “we don’t talk about those things” between gamers.

The tradeoff I accepted during this whole period was the information in pictures.  Since digital gaming was a visual medium, the pictures could make up for what was not talked about.  Moreover, as is the custom with slight wrong doings, solutions were found for the problems.  Review agitating (collection) sites like MetaCritic sprung up and gave a more balanced picture of how good games were.  The underlying issue of bias was there, but since it was an unspoken truth it didn’t matter.  It wasn’t until a little event known as Gerstmann-Gate hit.

Jeff Gerstmann was an editor for Gamespot and on that fateful day in 2007, Gamespot was decked out with ads for the newest Eidos game, Lynch & Kane.  He gave the game a very low score, which led to his firing.  What was not talked about suddenly became a spoken truth with this concrete proof.  It was not so much vindication of a thought going back to my teenage years, but more a surprise that a well hidden thought in public would emerge from it’s shadows.  A great summary of the event is found here.

And the world moved on…

This week I was caught off guard by the launch of Diablo 3.  No, I was not taken back by the game launch itself, but the fact that within hours of release there was a number of problems.  Now at this point I could be writing about a number of things, including how sad the state of affairs in modern gaming is when it comes to things like DRM (Digital Rights Management) or how Blizzard took a hit on its PR front with the miscalculation for server capacity on launch day.  Something else caught my eye.

I don’t blame gamers for being angry that their $60 doesn’t get them a working product out of the box, especially when they were told and advertised by every single website and their cousin that the product would work as advertised. I don’t blame gamers for being savvy enough to find outlets to express this rage, it certainly beats being spoon-fed patronizing notions that the publisher is always right; video games are just a luxury; consumers should never be outraged at faulty products, or demanding quality equates to being a whiny, entitled brat.
http://www.cinemablend.com/games/Diablo-3-Launch-Fiasco-Proves-Video-Game-Journalism-Fails-42624.html

It was amazing to see where we are now from reading that article.  See what has changed is, well nothing.  If anything some journalists in gaming have taken their a more incredulous approach to criticism to games they cover.  If anything was surprising to me was that some gamers out there didn’t get the memo about Gerstmann-Gate and that unwritten rule of journalism.  Bias will, and always has existed.  I understand that as a part of the game you need advertising to pay the bills.  And that advertising will come into conflict with truth in journalism.  As much as a critic wants to be honest, fair and truthful when you have an ad of the movie sitting next to the glowing 4 star review, you as the reader have to take it with a grain of salt.  Moreover, I thought this would go without saying.

But to my surprise, I guess it does need to be said.

There is a section of the gaming community for those on the outside would look at as fanatical, these gamers we call “fanboys.”  Fanboys will latch on to a company or developer and defend them with all their might.  What surprised me, or I should say felt weird, was that there was now fanboys of the sites and journalists themselves.  It was weird in a way because normally these sites will bear the brunt of the fanboys of companies they like.  I guess it really is a vicious circle that I forgot about, or my mind told me to forget, but it certainly is perplexing.

Years ago I entered my adult years with wonderment.  And then this weird thought hit me when I turned 21 – Why don’t my parents go to the movies anymore?

Now I understand.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2012 in Gaming

 

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Games for the Weekend: Small World

Now for my other gaming article of the week in my 2 for 1 gaming special of the week.  For this Games for the Weekend I wanted to look at what I consider a masterpiece of modern board gaming.  This is one of those special games that does almost everything right.  There are a few flaws to the game, but the package as a whole is a bundle of fun contained in a colorful box that screams to “play me.”

obligatory: It’s a SMALL WORLD after all!

Small World is a fantasy war game unlike other war games.  You are going to conquer lands of your opponents but also the ones your already own.  Think Risk with no dice, and a tiny playing field to work with.  Moreover, unlike most war games you are not going to play this game as one faction.  One of the beauties of the Small World is the fact that it has an immense replay value just from the base set alone.  To get to know all the races and powers is going to require a number of game plays, not to mention getting all the combinations to the table.

Yes Small World has a number of expansions (not covered here) and a sequel: Small World Underground (again not covered here.)

Overview
Small World is a war game set on a very small board consisting of a number of territories.  One of the ingenious things about Small World is how there are two boards that are double sided.  These boards accommodate a different number of players (2 through 5.)  This is done to keep conflicts on the board high.  By the second round of game, you will be forced to conquer already conquered lands and by that point, you will be in constant war.

The game consists of a 14 Races and 20 Powers that modify the races.  Then there is the Reinforcement Die and Victory Coins (kept hidden during gameplay.)  There are also Race specific playing pieces (Lairs, Fortresses, etc.) but they only come out when needed.  There is also a summary sheet for each player that explains the Races and Power modifiers.

The goal of the game is to accumulate the most points in Victory Coins by game’s end.

NOTE: If Carl does happen to read this, I made a mistake when we played but in retrospect, since I found out now it is not a mistake 😉  Capiche?

Gameplay
To begin players are given 8 points in Victory Coins, and the Races and Powers are shuffled.  5 Races and Powers are laid out in a vertical row for players to choose from.

Lost Tribes (remnants of older civilizations) are placed on the board, along with the Mountains.  And the game is ready to be played.  The game is also round limited, depending on the number of players playing the game.

On the player’s first turn, they will have to pick a race to conduct combat.  If the race they pick is down the row from the Race pile the players will have to pay one Victory Coin for the privilege of using them, to each race above them.  Then Race and Power combos are slid up, and the player gets the tokens for his chosen Race to go forth and conquer.  If you choose a Race with Victory Coins on them you get those Victory Coins.

To conquer a land is very simple the cost is 2 plus whatever token is in the land.  For example to conquer a land with a Mountain on it would require 3 Race tokens.  That is 2 Race Tokens for the land and 1 for the Mountain..  Another rule to keep in mind is that a new race entering the game can only start conquering from the outskirts of the board, unless their Race or Power allows them to attack from anywhere.  Players may keep conquering lands as long as they have Race tokens left.

Races and Powers may have modifiers or bonuses that change the rules of the game for you while in charge of that particular Race.  For example, the race Humans gives you a bonus Victory Coin for each Farmland you occupy at the end of your turn.  Or the Merchant Power will give you an extra Victory Coin for any region you occupy at the end of your turn.

There is one final thing to combat: The Reinforcement Die.  Player’s will eventually run out of Race tokens to use to conquer lands, but that doesn’t mean you are not out of options.  Player’s may try to conquer a land with less Race tokens required using the Reinforcement Die.  The only rule is you must you use at least 1 Race token and the land you are conquering does not exceed a Race token requirement of 3 or more.  That is a player cannot use 1 Race token to conquer a land that requires 4 Race tokens to conquer.  Player’s simple choose the land you want to conquer and roll the Reinforcement Die.  Add the Reinforcement Die to your Race tokens and see if the player succeeded.

To end your conquering ways player’s will redeploy their Race tokens.  This is moving Race tokens from any land a player occupies to another.  Then the player will collect an equal number of Victory Coins value to the number of lands they occupy.

Now in subsequent turns the players’s will find themselves with no ability for further conquer the board.  This is when the player can choose to place their Race in decline.  When going into decline the player will turn all Race tokens from active to decline leaving 1 on each land unless their Race tells them otherwise.  They also turn over the Race banner and power they own.  This is the only thing a player can do on their turn that goes into decline.  They still collect Victory Coins as normal.  On the next turn, the player may choose a new Race to conquer the world.  In addition, subsequent rounds the player still collects for their lands conquered by this now declined Race.  There is one caveat, the player may only have 1 Race in decline.  Once they have sent a second Race into decline they remove all of their previously declined Race tokens.

The game plays until the last round, which upon completion players will add up the values of their Victory Coins and the person with the most wins the game.

 

Final Say
I call this game a modern masterpiece, not lightly mind you, because of how the game as a whole works mechanically and plays.  The game has a very small learning curve.  The mechanics and the way they work are very simple and not random.  That is unlike Risk, which is dependent on dice rolling; you can develop strategies during your down time in between turns.  The game also has tremendous replay value.  The sheer fact that there is a greater number of Powers then Races ensures you will have to play a number of games before you see all the Powers reach the table, but also the combinations is immense.

The only drawback I could say is the number of rounds.  I have found the number of rounds to be satisfactory, but others could want a longer game.  However, as far as game negatives go, this is pretty low on my list.

I cannot recommend this enough to anyone who loves games.

If you are looking to pick up the game, I recommend Thought Hammer (and no I’m not getting commission.)  Alternatively, you can peruse Google Shopping.

And here’s to hoping another month won’t go by before I get to the next Gaming for the Weekend.

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Board Games, Gaming

 

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Are You Ready for a JAM!

I am finally getting to write a gaming centric article again.  However, not one article but two this week!  Look for a Games for the Weekend tomorrow.  I have decided to give some of you on the outside a peak into an event (s,) I like to partake in within the game community.  These event(s) are called game jams, in a nutshell take a bunch of people given them a topic and unleash them for a time period to see what kind of game they make.  Normally the time period is 48 hours and that means you have to devote all your time to game development, sleeping rarely happens on a jam.

There are a number of jams, but I will go over the two most well know – Global Game Jam and Ludum Dare.

Global Game Jam is a yearly event happening at the end of January every year, started in 2009.  This event is open to everyone, not including game programmers, artists or designers.  The event starts with an introduction and then keynotes speaker(s) for the beginning of the event.

Then everyone is given the theme for the year, now the brainstorming begins!  After which everyone splits up into teams and the jam begins!  One of the unique things about Global Game Jam is the inclusion of analogue (board) games, starting last year.  In addition, this event is truly open to anyone.  My first event in 2010 included a few people who had no game making experience.  They ended up researching and lending some thoughts to the games they worked on.

As for the theme for the events, 2010 was Extinction.  Now 2012 was completely different, instead of a word a picture was substituted:

This meant we had to research the object to get a grasp on what the theme was.  Once we figured out it was the Ouroboros we were on our way.

Ludum Dare is a similar but a digital event only.  That is only those who make video games need apply.  This event has been running since 2002, multiple times a year and there have been 23 events.  Ludum Dare is unique in that participates can vote on the theme for the events.  Ludum Dare is also a competition and jam.  That is those who want can compete on the event weekend, trying to make the best-voted game versus the more relaxed jam version of the event.

Not only are there some national jams but also some local events like the Philly Game Jam.  Now this event has a registration fee and is a competition.  This year they are opening up the jam to analogue games for the first time in the form of a 24 hour jam, instead of the normal 48 hour version.

My personal experience, as stated before, is with the Global Game Jam.  I have participated in two so far and actually have seen two of the games (LangGuini and Twisted Tails) I worked on published, with a third in development.  Global Game Jam was also the impetus for me to start a venture in game development with my own studio.  It was a great time to interact and meet new people who have the same passion for gaming as you do.

I would offer to anyone who has an interest in how games are made to come out to the Global Game Jam and try it out.  Even though the game jams can be stressful at times, they are some of the most fun events I have ever attended.  They push your creative skills to their limits and cause you to make focused decisions and scope for game design.  If you ever had inkling to try out game design, or do it in your spare time you should try out these events for the fun of it.  You will not be disappointed.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Gaming

 

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This again…

Excuse me while I go bang my head against my desk.

Ah much better, hold on one second while I bang it again.

Ooh yeah that feels better, you may be asking why the violence?

/sarcasm/ Well that’s because I play games… /sarcasm/

Here we are in the year two thousand and twelve and we are debate a two-decade-old argument.  An argument that has roots going far back, but alas here we are again.

“Just as we warn smokers of the health consequences of tobacco, we should warn parents — and children — about the growing scientific evidence demonstrating a relationship between violent video games and violent behavior,” Wolf said. “As a parent and grandparent, I think it is important people know everything they can about the extremely violent nature of some of these games.”
http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/house/216903-house-members-call-for-new-warning-labels-on-most-video-games

I am not going to pull out the “don’t we have anything better to do” card, but doesn’t our government have better things to spend our time on?

More than a decade ago, I had found myself involved in this argument for the first time.  It started with PTC (The Parents Television Council) and their McCarthy witch-hunts to end violence of all forms.  It continued with the outrage over Grand Theft Auto and then sort of fizzled out.  From time to time, I would read about the continuing escapades of bills that were to tax “violent” video games, for the sake of the children mind you.  Remember that little problem I have with “For the…,” oh well moving on now.  I thought with nearly the cost of two million dollars to the California taxpayer, some politician would start to understand how ridiculous the cause is.  And that isn’t to say that the cause of keeping inappropriate materials from children isn’t a noble cause, but should it be the cause of people who don’t have understanding of the subject matter they are talking about.  Especially when those that want to protect children from video games never seem to approach the industry.  I understand that the industry will resist change to what makes money, but if you never approach the beast you want to slay, how can you make informed decisions, and craft laws.  Moreover, let me again point out, politicians crafting laws that do not cost taxpayers of your state almost two million dollars.

Doom be thy name with an order of Grand Theft Auto

Let’s go back to where it started for a moment.  One of the main problems I always had with politicians and their attempts to regulate the video game industry, was simply the lack of research on their part.  The games that really spearheaded the ESRB (Electronic Software Ratings Board) and the ratings you see on games now, was Doom and Mortal Kombat.  Take Doom for a second, the plot is you in the role of a marine on mars.  A scientific experiment opens up a gateway to Hell and posses everyone but you.  You alone are now in the position of taking on the armies of Hell to save the day.  So first point, the basis of Doom is formed around a concept that could never possibly happen.   Take then into consideration that this is a one of thousands, if not millions, scenario that would, again be impossible.  This is the stuff of fiction and sci-fi.  The next, that has to be made, is the granddaddy of MDK (Murder Death Killer) simulators Doom, did not even allow you to aim your gun.  This was a FPS (First Person Shooter,) which normally includes shooting weapons, at the time of Doom the ability for mouse aiming was not yet thought of, nor implemented.  So in Doom you used a keyboard to fire your gun, to kill an enemy on the second floor looking down at you, you would aim your gun directly under them and hit them.  That’s right the great MDK simulator taught you if you aimed a pistol at the ground in the direction of your prey, they would get hit.  I can only hope you see where I might have some problems with the MDK simulator conclusion.

Mortal Kombat has similar issues, from freezing people with magic to Babalities.  But let’s jump to Grand Theft Auto 3.  One of the main issues I had with Grand Theft Auto, was those complaining about the game never seemed to have a problem professing a love for The Godfather movie series.  Alternatively, the lack of seeing the connection between the two is surprising.  It is one thing to become outraged about a game for violence and adult situations, but to gloss over what the game was homage to, borderlines on blind rage.  In addition, never once brought up was that you could do good things in the game, like become a police officer and fight crime, or be a firefighter and fight fires.  I will admit this game heavily tilts towards performing heinous acts, but those who would not even tell the whole story of a game based on complete player freedom showed their true agenda.  I wonder if people had said this is the Godfather movie of video games, how it would have changed the argument.

It’s the parents…

I will hammer this one hard because of personal experience.  Not only do I have children, but also I take personal steps when it comes to gaming.  I am current with technology and the game industry but let that not make you think I do not face issues of my own.  I cannot know all of the games out there; I have to do research also.  Now I will admit to the advantage of knowing the language of games, I know what RTS (Real Time Strategy) means, but not taking two seconds to find out what a term means is inexcusable in this day and age.

Almost a decade ago, while waiting in line at a game store to checkout I ran into a parent contemplating buying Grand Theft Auto 3 for his twelve-year-old son.  I explained to him all the bad things the game contained because I personally felt the game was not for twelve-year olds.  I told him of the rape, the murder, the law breaking.  He asked a few more questions and we had a pleasant conversation but at the end of the day he still bought the game.  This was a parent, not knowing before but now well informed who still made that decision for his child.  He even asked me questions about the game rating on the package and I explained that to him.  When I later went to work at a game store I had many more of these type of conversations, both good and bad, but normally parents would make the same decisions.  At the store I worked at, the staff made it a rule not to sell M rated titles to children this led to a parent yelling at me and another clerk over interrupting their shopping experience.

I have to say that I have always been a supporter of ID requirements for M rated games, but the implementation is always going to be the problem.  Then there is the problem of parents who will not care, or even become outraged over having to be with their children to purchase games.  The other problem is content that is objectionable to one parent is not objectionable to another.  There are parents who find shooting of any kind detestable would ban Space Invaders, so a game with a rating is still going to be a guideline.  The parents in question must do their homework for their own children.  As history has shown me, everyone is offended by something.  Therefore, who should make the decisions that something is good and bad for children?

As a game designer, I know intimately the decisions that go into game design and presentation choices.  For myself, my business is that of family and designing games that are morally and socially responsible.  It is a hard and narrow road to travel.  In my first published game, I ran into the problem of cultural prejudice.  I had designed a family card based around being a farmer and penning pigs.  The pigs were cute and all given simple names and personalities.  My artist was given some liberties to design pigs, in going through her art I found the Italian pig family.  The decision was to cut them from the game for obvious reasons.

One thing that has to be kept in mind, games is not simply for children, not have they ever been.  Just as movies are made for different audiences, so are games.  Is it fair to say that games can only be made for children?  Would you want to live in a world where “Mary had a little lamb” was the only song you could hear on the radio all day long?  I know it is simplistic to say what I just said, but then why do we keep coming back to the need to warn children of mature games, when there is labeling already.  Then where do we draw the line, if we have to protect children from game content shouldn’t this also extend to all forms of entertainment?

Also I understand fully the argument that if parents will not police their children there may be a need for the law to do that.  But is that the case here?  Then how far does it go?  Again, do we have to apply the same thought to all forms of entertainment, and what is done when it affects those that are arguing for these laws?  It is also a question of the cost of living in a free society.  Maybe it is obvious, but the cost of a free society is one of being continually offended.  I understand a law to stop people yelling “Fire!” in a crowded building, but does that apply to entertainment choices that are not mandatory to life?

Been here, done that before…

I will say what surprises me most is the fact that we have not moved on from the find blame in one thing movement.  Also surprising is the fact that technophobia, hasn’t taken up the “___ is evil and responsible for all of societies ills” mantel which video games inherited from took over from music, begotten from Dungeons and Dragons and on and on and on.

If we did not need laws before, do we need them now?

Best question yet; When does this insanity end?

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2012 in Gaming

 

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