Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Man named James Paul Gee

The more time I spend  reading and thinking about James Paul Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, the more I realize how games aren't just some form of entertainment. Just like how movies and films can be used for entertainment, they can be used for educational purposes. I'll take a few paragraphs specifically talking about a few ideas that he describes in the earlier parts of the book and what I think of them.

One of the first things he discusses is this idea of literacy. Now the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of literacy is reading. This was actually last year. However, now I have evolved the definition of this word to something much more. If I had to define it with my own words it would be the following: being able to comprehend, understand, and manipulate a certain medium. In this case, Gee discusses what it means to be digitally literate and most importantly what it means to be literate in video games.

However, being literate is only one thing. There is an idea that coincides with being literate and it's called semiotic domains. As Gee puts it, "any set of practices that recruits one or more modalities... to communicate distinctive types of meanings." What does this have to do withe literacy though? A great example that Gee uses is a description of a play in basketball. Now any person can read the series of words that make up sentences which in turn make up the description of the play. If the person can read it but not comprehend what is being said then that person is not literate in basketball and doesn't fit into the semiotic domain. To put it simply a semiotic domain is a domain where there are shared ideas, traits, and beliefs. Basketball is the semiotic domain and being literate in it is a trait.

How does this relate to video game, myself, and others? I'll describe how I fit into all of this first. In order for me to be a video game critic I must belong to a semiotic domain called video games. Furthermore I must also belong to a domain called video game critic. If I do not fit into either of these groups then I am not qualified to be a critic. Why is it so important? In order for me to even start critiquing and analyzing games I must completely literate in the medium. I have to understand what is going on in the game, how it works, why it works, and be able to understand the game on a fundamental level. If I don't understand this and am able to comprehend it at an abstract level then I have no right to critique any game. Why? Because there is no way for me to tell what mechanic/systems are good and bad. By educating myself and being literate in the video game domain I become an expert in the field.

This also applies to other people as well. People need to be more literate in video games. If not we will all just buy crappy games or buy games without questioning what's good or bad. By being critics, gamers have a better chance at making the gaming industry a better place. The domain of games used to belong just to the nerds and such but now it's not. The audience has grown. In response, people should be more literate too.

Now because I'm an aspiring journalist/critic there is one more step that I must take above normal gamers. I mentioned earlier that I must belong to another domain called game critic. Well, in this game critic domain  I must be literate in reading reviews and understanding how to write reviews. In addition I must understand how to pitch ideas for features, communicate with other critics, etc. Now I would go in detail but even I'm not literate enough to describe more about this domain.

Anyway, I've learned that this book is amazing. It has so much to offer me in terms of video games but beyond that too. My career path involves video games and I want to keep reading this book and hopefully I'll be enriched by it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Issue of Endings

I didn't really want to get into discussing the ending of Mass Effect 3. Honestly, the reason behind it was due to my inability to express my feelings on the matter. I loved Mass Effect 3 and it was an excellent game up until the ending. Honestly, I sat down and thought for a while. Do I dislike the ending? Was the ending bad? Did it seem bad because the rest of the game was so awesome? I had a lot of thoughts jumbling through my head and it was very confusing. One thing I knew for certain about the ending though. I was disappointed. 

However, it seems "endings are becoming a hot topic as of late. Why? Well, we sort of have 3 cases, in 3 months, where endings have become somewhat... arguable. What constitutes as an ending in a video game? Do players have the right to complain about it? Should developers change endings? And so on and so forth. The 3 games I'm specifically talking about are Mass Effect 3, Final Fantasy XIII-2, and Asura's Wrath. 

Before I make any cases or bring up any questions, I would like for everyone to consider the idea of an ending. I find ending to be a conclusion to something. Endings are obviously associated with stories. If there is a beginning of a story, then there is an ending that will come, eventually. What constitutes an ending? I think it's a conclusion that the author original envisions or intended for said medium. Medium being games, books, or movies. If it is not that then I would say that it's not an ending. I understand that in game development a lot of things change. This means that the story can undergo many changes. 

Now I would like to address the people that complained about the ending of Mass Effect 3. Those that want the ending changed have shown no respect to Bioware at all. I say this firmly because if the company has produced a story, you should respect it. By players demanding it to be changed, they are in turn desecrating the work of art, the vision, and creative talent of Bioware. What can be more disrespectful than going up to a painting and saying, "This sucks. I want it changed!" I would be offended if this was said to me about any of my work. I won't get into the nitty gritty details about entitlement, art, or the controversy about the ending anymore. I will say that the ending of Mass Effect 3 was fairly conclusive.

Moving on, Final Fantasy XIII-2. This was another game that disappointed me with the ending. In fact, it was because the game didn't really have an ending. It was just a "to be continued." Now I know that cliffhangers in games are a sign of "to be continued" but Square-Enix had the guts to write it out. Man... Now I mentioned earlier that a conclusion is what the designer originally intended/envisioned. If that "to be continued" was a part of it then I respect that. However, I really felt that the game's story wasn't conclusive at all. Heck, I feel like not even the main plot art was wrapped up. Instead if felt like things were just getting started. Come on! Should games have a conclusive-like ending? No. However, I feel like if you do give players an ending like XIII-2, they'll be highly unresponsive and perhaps even be extremely upset. 

I can go on and on about XIII-2's ending but perhaps I'll save that for another time. I want to get into this advertisement that Capcom released a while back for Asura's Wrath. It's a DLC advertisement that said "true conclusion to Asura's Wrath." What? Now I haven't played Asura's Wrath for myself, but from what I've heard, the ending to the game is fairly conclusive. In fact it was a good ending and everything was wrapped up from what I hear. Then what the heck does this true conclusion mean? If the original game had a true ending... wait... I'm so confused....

Does this mean that the ending to the original shipped product wasn't the actual ending but made to feel like an ending; and the original ending was actually cut to be shipped as DLC? Wow. I'm just making an assumption here but if this is actually the mindset behind this game, then I can't possibly begin to describe my disgust and anger. 

Take for example a book. Let's say that you bought Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. The book ended right when Harry defeats Voldemort. That's a fairly conclusive ending. Sure it doesn't wrap everything up but the conflict is resolved and that's it. Imagine the outrage if J.K. Rowling said a month later, "Surprise! The true ending with what happens after Voldemort's defeat comes out in a week! This is the true conclusion!" I'm pretty sure you would be fairly upset. In fact I have a friend who's a big fan of Harry Potter and I wouldn't be surprised if he went up to Rowling and slapped her in the face. Regardless, this is a poor way to treat your customers.

So, what am I trying to get at with all these supposed issues of endings? Well... I want to say two things. The more outcry, the more complaints, and the more ridiculous things we hear from people the better. Sort of. It's good because it means people care about video games. Sure there's the obvious bad but I'm trying to be optimistic for once. It seems like gamers really aren't a small audience anymore. At least I don't think so. Second thing I want to point out is that the issue of endings might get worse. We're starting to see how DLC is heading down the wrong path and if we see issues of endings coinciding with DLC problems we get a bigger problem. Perhaps people can patch endings in the future if they complain enough. It almost happened with ME3. Who knows... All I can say is that the games industry is getting scarier by the day. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Guild Wars 2 Closed Beta Article

If you guys were wondering why I didn't post anything for the past few days it's because I was busy with a little game called Guild Wars 2! For full details on my article please check out RPGSite or the link below! Also, I will add a link to a podcast where I and a few people from NeoGAF discuss the Beta. Thank you!

RPGSite: Guild Wars 2 Beta Impressions

Guild Wars 2 Podcast

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ninja Gaiden 3 Review

            Have you ever taken a bite out of a jelly-filled donut only to find out that there wasn’t anything inside it? Well, even if you haven’t, Ninja Gaiden 3 is essentially just that. From videos and screens, Ninja Gaiden 3 appears to be an awesome game. That is until you actually try it and realize that it’s an empty game with nothing fulfilling about it. Ninja Gaiden 3 is not a good addition to the series nor is it a good game.

            Ever since Itagaki left Team Ninja in 2008, fans wondered where the Ninja Gaiden series would go. With Yosuke Hayashi directing Ninja Gaiden 3, the series would seem ready to move forward. Unfortunately, this is hardly the case.

            The story is fairly straightforward and sticks with simplicity much like its predecessors. A terrorist group attacks London demanding Ryu make an appearance. Of course this is all a trap. Ryu is afflicted with a curse and the Dragon Blade disappears. From there on, he has to find out what the terrorists are scheming with questionable allies.

The face of a killer. Well, what you can see of it.

            The plot progresses fine with minimal amount of cutscenes to keep the fast-pace, that’s in tradition to the series, going. The plot twists and the obvious betrayals are here and while it’s not bad, it’s not something that’s great either. The conflicts that Ryu has to handle are executed extremely poorly. While he has to save the world by going against the terrorists, he has to deal with the curse that is plaguing him. It’s a constant juggle between what is the bigger problem (external or internal) and ruins the experience.

            On the flip side, Ninja Gaiden 3’s protagonist is portrayed better. From the get-go you realize that Ryu is a much more talkative person this time around. With Troy Baker leading the helm, you get a masculine voice from him and it definitely fits. Unlike the previous games, Ninja Gaiden 3 attempts to make Ryu a much more human character, for better or worse. While you attempt to see a more compassionate side to Ryu, his ruthless side suffers for it. Other characters are extremely shallow and hardly developed. They’re simply there to fulfill certain roles for plot progression.

            While the story is average with its ups and downs, the combat is an entirely different case. Gone are long traditions of the series such as collectibles, karma, currency, alternate weapons, ninpo, and upgrading. In fact, everything that the series has been known for has been either stripped down or removed entirely making it a barebones game.

It's a bloodbath... of terrible.

Ryu has a single main-weapon to use throughout the entire game – the sword – with a bow and shuriken to round out his arsenal. In addition to his physical armaments Ryu can also utilize Ninpo. However, unlike prior installments he only has one Ninpo move which eliminates all the enemies on screen and refilling a bit of your health.

Ryu can create combos using the quick and strong attacks to kill enemies but the entire process is watered down. Due to cinematic finishes, your enemies will fall before you even get to finish your combo. The cinematic finishes also makes it so killing enemies are less about your skills making each kill a worthless experience. In addition, they are so fast that it’s difficult to even tell what is going on making combat more hectic than it should be. It’s all flash and no substance. Rather than doing cool things yourself the game makes you believe you’re doing all the cool things.

If that wasn’t enough Ninja Gaiden 3 further complicates things by bombarding you with countless number of enemies. Instead of challenging and smart enemies to go against like in the previous games, Ninja Gaiden 3 opts for quantity. The sheer number of enemies that are thrown at you makes it difficult to successfully pull off combos, or sometimes even survive. If you die it feels cheap.

Isn't black bad for the desert?...

Diversity is a key problem in the game. The lack of enemy types makes each encounter monotonous and boring. Every fight is the same with nothing mixing it up and therefore making the entire journey to the end worthless. In fact, by the end of the game it all seems entirely unfulfilling.

Boss encounters are a trademark for the series. It challenged you toyou’re your wits, put you skills to the test, and allowed for quick reactions. That’s all gone. If you analyze the movements and patterns of all the major bosses, they are all essentially the same. The massive ones just charge at you like idiots and can be cut down by dashing and attacking. In fact you can win against any boss using this cheap tactic making the so-called boss encounters just another tedious obstacle in your path. There’s no worthwhile reward.

            However, the most painful gameplay aspect of Ninja Gaiden 3 is traversing through the terrain. There are locations where you have to scale walls or climb across a crevice using a rope. By alternating between the left and right trigger buttons you make your way to your destination but this breaks up the pace of the game. Not only this but it’s frustrating when the environment or enemies work against you. It’s not a matter of difficulty, rather why it’s in the game in the first place. 
            Another aspect of making travel painful is the slow-motion segments. While Ryu will be running through jungles, hallways, deserts and what not, there will be times when he suddenly stops to a slow walk to communicate. Ryu is able to run and talk at the same time in certain sections of the game so why does he walk and talk? It just doesn’t make any sense. To add to the trouble, Ryu’s cursed arm sometimes paralyzes him halting the entire pace of the game. These glaring moments, while done to emphasize Ryu’s pain, is nothing but a mere hindrance.

Not if you shower yourself in red! 

            In addition to the story mode that pans out around seven hours, there’s the multiplayer mode. The two modes are Ninja Trails and Clan Battles. Ninja Trails is a horde-mode where you and a friend can kill waves of enemies. It’s fun due to a friend joining in and helping you through the dozens of enemies that you’ll plow through. Just knowing that you have company makes the experience all the worthwhile.

Clan Battle is a competitive team deathmatch mode where two groups of four ninjas face off until either side wins. It’s an interesting idea and works rather well. There isn’t nearly as much chaos as one would think and the reward of having to go against other humans is an interesting twist. The combat is virtually the same as single player with the addition of other Ninpo skills and customizable gear. Oddly, there’s more customization and fun to be had with multiplayer than there is in the single player.

Ninja Gaiden 3 sticks with the same graphics as Ninja Gaiden 2 but it’s not a bad choice. Everything still looks great. Textures are crisp, the colors are fine, and the character models look refined. To top it all off the game runs at a solid 60 fps with little to no slowdowns. There are no technical hiccups and the game definitely benefits from it. If anything is unfortunate about the game is that it doesn’t try to push the capabilities of the hardware more.

The audio fits the fast paced style with metal music playing in background. It’s a solid track and nothing feels out of place. The voice acting is great and nothing feels overdone. Each character portrays emotion well, particularly Ryu.

Ninja Gaiden 3 has questionable design choices and fundamental problems that ruin the experience. Removing mechanics makes the combat devoid of any personality resulting in a bad aftertaste. To add to the problems, the difficulty of the game has been rewritten for quantity rather than the quality of enemies. One has to wonder if this is the result of poor direction or attempting to appeal to a wider audience. Regardless, Ninja Gaiden 3 appears to be something awesome but it’s not. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fate/Zero Blu-Ray Box 1 Review

I understand that I’m supposed to use this for my gaming related writings but I wanted to really write a review for my new gift that my awesome brother bought for me. In my mailbox yesterday I receieved the Fate/Zero Blu-Ray Box 1 and I freaking exploded from its pure awesomenss. Anyway, enough gushing, here’s the review. I will resume my gaming related stuff tomorrow.

Pictures will be added tomorrow.

Fate Zero Blu-Ray Box 1 Review/Information

            Television-aired anime pales in comparison the theatrical release. It’s odd then that Fate/Zero has the quality of a theatrical anime over 25 episodes. Fate/Zero Blu-Ray Box 1 is the first 13 episodes of the series and the remaining 12 will air in April. Until then, fans have to gush over the reruns on television or buy this extremely expensive boxset. Decking out at around $400, this thing is one expensive piece of merchandise. Only the hardcore of the hardcore is going to shell out for it.

            The box housing all of the discs and the book detailing the series is extremely well made. The cloth-like feeling is present no matter where you touch the box, even on the boxart. Speaking of the boxart, the awesome picture of the Servants in Zero makes for a wonderful cover. On the other side of the box is half of a summoning glyph that’s seen in the series. It’s carved with a silver finish and really gives it that glamorous look.

            Inside the box a hefty foldout containing the Blu-ray discs, another fold out with the soundtrack and drama CD, and lastly the material book. The foldout containing the Blu-ray discs feels really smooth. It doesn’t have that glossy rough surface and opts for the similar material that the boxset uses. On the outside of the foldout contains the Command Seals of the Masters in Zero. On the inside are the discs with one Servant on each. If you remove the disc, the foldout reveals an ancient artistic drawing of the Servant. It’s awesome and it indicates to me that they took the extra effort to make the packaging feel that much more worth it.

            Each disc has three episodes with the exception of the first disc only having one totaling 13 episodes. The quality of the episodes is amazing. The visuals are a particular standout if you have a large television as the crisp colors come to life. It’s hardly believable that the production value that went into the art of Zero is for a television series. There are English subtitles making it a very nice product. While there are some errors, typos, and the like it doesn’t ruin the experience. There also extra deleted scenes that were not included when Zero was broadcasted giving buyers that extra incentive. Overall, the entire viewing experience is pleasant and stunning.

Unfortunately, the extra videos are not subbed. It’s really odd that the package is supposed to be import friendly yet there are materials in the boxset that remain completely untranslated.

            In addition to the Blu-ray disc is the foldout including the soundtrack and drama CD. The soundtrack includes almost all the songs in the first 13 episodes of the series and is absolutely fantastic. Whether it be haunting songs or exhilarating battle anthems, the soundtrack has a good variety of mixes. It’s sad then that the drama CD is left completely in Japanese with no English translation to supplement it. Much like the extra videos, it’s disappointing.

            Lastly, the material book contains interviews with the various staff members that worked on Zero. It adds a lot of depth to the series and gives great insight on the hard work they put into making such a quality series. It details their trials and hardships as well as what they enjoyed working on. When watching with this information in mind, it gives greater appreciation for their effort into making Zero such an awesome series and show. While it’s all in Japanese, if you buy it from Rightstuf, there is a translation booklet that accompanies it. Translating almost everything with minimal errors, it’s a great supplementary tool.

            Overall, Fate/Zero Blu-ray Box 1 is amazing. However, it’s just that. If you’re looking for if the product is worth the price then this probably isn’t for you. For $400 it’s quite the price and if you’re questioning whether you’ll get the bang for your buck then you might as well not consider it. Perhaps they will release a cheaper budget set in DVD. Still the product is great and if it crossed your mind that you really want to buy it regardless of the price, go get it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Refunds could be bad. Really bad...

            Have you refunded your copy of Mass Effect 3 at Amazon? No? Good; don’t do it. Earlier today people found out that they could refund their copy of Mass Effect 3, regardless of the system, if they didn’t have a pleasant time with it. It isn’t new that people could refund games that they weren’t happy with. In fact, it’s been around for quite a while. However, this got me thinking. What if there was a sudden surge of people who wanted refunds for a game at Amazon?

            I think that refunds are a great system for stores. In fact there are times when a product disappointed me so much that I absolutely had to return it. Unfortunately, I can see scenarios where people abuse refunding products for their own personal benefit or gain. In this particular instance if you didn’t like Mass Effect 3 then you can just return it. There’s no real downside – other than the fact that you might only get a partial refund.

            I’m afraid of refunds for games disappearing entirely. If tens or hundreds of thousands of people refund their copy of Mass Effect 3, Amazon just might have to reevaluate how their refunds work. It might cause a series of events where gamers just no longer have the ability to get a refund on absolutely atrocious games. I’m not saying that this could happen, however, the possibility is there.

            Follow through my hypothetical thought process a bit. Say 100 thousand gamers asked for a refund on Mass Effect 3 and they got it. While I don’t know the profit that Amazon earns with each copy sold, for this case let’s not worry about that. Each copy is essentially $60. If 100 thousand copies are refunded then that’s $6 million dollars. That’s a lot of money. Of course, this isn’t profit lost but the number might be in the millions still. If this is the case then Amazon will surely go over how refunding works.

            There is another result that may come about from refunding Mass Effect 3. If the refunding story gets notice then people will abuse the system. Games will be refunded more often because they’re “bad.” Now, there are some terrible games out there, almost downright broken. However, there are good games and I’m afraid people will ask for a refund because they just say it’s “bad.” What happens if this is the case?  Games that are not great or excellent will essentially cease to exist and developers will disappear as well.

            Now, I know that’s quite a claim and allow me to explain myself. This generation saw a lot of game studios shut down. This is the result of low sales, low review scores and low customer reception. Creating games is a very difficult and costs a lot of money. If a studio doesn’t do a good job at making an good game, there is a high possibility that it will close. While there was a large library of bad games to average games last generation, that’s not so much the case with this one. Publishers don’t want to take the risk so we often don’t see bad or average games. Well, at least not as frequent as last generation.

            What does this all mean though? Essentially, the frequency of refunds might indirectly affect developers and publishers. If Amazon gets a certain number refunds of a game then this might signal that the studio that created the game is not doing a good job. Now, I’m fine with this if the game is bad. It becomes a problem though if we start seeing fewer average or good games.  This can come about when such games are refunded under the notion of it being bad. People can lie and say a game is bad when it’s clearly not. This kind of lying and refund abuse can absolutely destroy companies that didn’t deserve it at all.

            There are a lot of assumptions that I made and therefore there’s little ground for what I’m trying to say. Still, the possibility of refunding being misused is there. Now this argument only uses Amazon. I understand that Amazon is only one seller and there’s no way that it could start all of what I described above. However, there is the possibility that it could start a chain of reactions where the gaming industry could be changed altogether because multiple sellers are affected by refunds.

            Mass Effect 3 is the example I used for how refunding games could be bad. I only talked about the bad so let me tell you some good news. Earlier, I mentioned that refunds could affect developers and publishers. Refunds are a form of feedback. If a game is being refunded a lot, distributors can make a call complaining or just not buy more prints of the game. This leads to companies rethinking on what they’re doing right and wrong. Perhaps they can even change for the better. While it’s not an excellent way, it is a way for Amazon, and perhaps other distributors, to communicate the likability of the product.

            Refunds are awesome! I love refunds, though I hardly use it. It’s a great crutch if I’m running low on money or if I’m just flat out not happy. However, I can’t help but feel that there are those that will corrupt something that is meant to satisfy consumers everywhere. Hopefully I’m wrong and this will never come to pass. Until then, gamers should be aware of how refunding can change the face of the industry. 

DLC Series Part Three: Day-What DLC?


This is the last article discussing downloadable content, and hopefully the last time I’ll ever have to write it. Most likely as more ridiculous DLC distribution methods come out, I’ll have more stuff to write. Regardless, today I want to take a look at day-one DLC. I thinks it’s become a hot topic especially when you take a look the recently released Mass Effect 3’s From Ashes.

Day-one DLC is hard to analyze and describe. Unless you have prior knowledge of how games are developed, it’s a little tough to grasp how day-one DLC works. While I know that From Ashes is not how all day-one DLC works, I will use this as my focus to analyze the ethics and controversy regarding this topic. I will also add in my own preferences as a consumer and the perspective of why developers/publishers use day-one DLC.

            Day-one DLC is something that was uncommon a few years ago. In fact, it’s only recently that the idea has gotten a lot of attention. Developers work on a game for a long period of time, normally two years or so. During this time they try to get everything that they can into the game. However, the process has changed where DLC is built concurrently with the main game. This means that the additional content can be ready as early as the launch of the game.

            This raises an important question. Should everything that’s developed and completed before the game goes to print be included in the product? Perhaps I should elaborate more in lieu of locked content on the disc. Should players receive everything that is burned on the disc in addition to whatever content was finished during the development of the main game? I think these questions cause a bit of a ruckus.

            Entitlement has become sort of an odd word as of late. When gamers hear it, the world just explodes for some reason. The argument boils down to: are we entitled to everything [insert DLC controversy here]? Some gamers believe that they are while others believe that they should just accept whatever the publishers give us. Personally I believe that entitlement is an odd way of looking at things.

People think that everything developed before the game’s launch should be ours instead of DLC because that’s how it was done in the past. Those who have this notion in mind are living in the past. As games become a bigger industry, money matters more and it will turn more business-like. On the other side, gamers who accept that ideas like day-one DLC is the future support the interests of businessman, whether it be intentional or not. I’m not on either side. I think that if developers want to develop extra content while working on the main game then that’s fine. As long as they don’t take out what they originally intended in the main game, that’s awesome since it allows me to extend my joy of playing the game.

However, I believe gamers that accept the notion of day-one DLC should think a bit more. If they’re so readily to accept any business practice that depletes are spending money for the developer’s/publisher’s benefit, then it screws them over. Gamers should be more open minded. Questioning isn’t bad. In fact it’s way of showing love for the industry. You can spend your money intelligently and support developers while at the same time enjoying the time you have with games yourself. It’s a wonderful system that I think gamers should do more.

So with the issue of entitlement addressed, it brings up another question: is day-one DLC innately bad? No. If there is additional content at launch day that can enhance my experience then it’s cool. It means I don’t have to wait for the content to come out later if I’m done with the game. This doesn’t mean I finish games in one day of course. The issue comes then, can day-one DLC be bad? Most definitely. This is my personal opinion, and there are gamers that agree with me so I’m not alone on this. Day-one DLC is bad if it is removed from the main game in order to earn more money. Take for example Assassin’s Creed. The game had no DLC. Imagine if during the development process they decided to remove a memory segment altogether to release it as day-one DLC.

The issue is then, were the majority of day-one DLC previously in the main game? This is what is hard to determine since gamers can’t be present in the development process of games that have day-one content. Having said that, it’s undeniable that this could happen in the future or is happening now! Personally, if a portion of the game is removed and sold to me in that manner then I would be highly offended. In fact, I would question if it were an ethical business practice.

Like I said earlier, there is no way of knowing if developers are doing this to get more money out of gamers. Now, in respect to Mass Effect 3, many gamers felt that From Ashes was removed from the main game and sold as DLC for a bigger profit. Bioware’s Casey Hudson tweeted “[Mass Effect 3] content creators completed the game in January & moved onto ‘From Ashes’” implying that development of the DLC was not done at the same time of the main game.

Before I go on further I should explain what is actually in From Ashes. The $10 DLC included a squadmade Javik and a few missions on Eden Prime. The actual missions are fairly short and can be completed in an hour or so. However, the length is not actually the key point. SPOILER OF DLC BEGINS HERE! Javik is actually a Prothean who serves an important role in the world of Mass Effect. Because of his importance and how he works in the main game, many believe that he was cut. SPOILER ENDS HERE! Now, if you didn’t read the spoiler I want you to take this out of it. The DLC plays an important story role for Mass Effect 3. If it’s so important then why is it DLC? That’s the question that everyone is asking. Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to that question and only Bioware knows.

*The following is an aside and not part of the actual article*
Now perhaps we should take a different take on day-one DLC. What if Bioware actually had From Ashes ready on day one but released it a week or two later? This would give the impression that the content wasn’t ready at launch and would create an illusion of not money pinching. Honestly, I would be fine with this and if companies want to really take money from gamers without causing a problem, this would’ve been the best way.
*Aside ends here*

Moving on, if the development of From Ashes was done after the game had gone gold, meaning it was being printed, then what is the deal with this unlock I’m hearing about? Perhaps one of the boldest, if not most stupid thing, a company can do is brazenly lie to its customers. A portion of From Ashes is actually on the disc of Mass Effect 3. “Wait, what? How can this be? I thought From Ashes was developed after the game went gold. Huh?” My thoughts exactly. Not only did Bioware lie about the development of DLC but they could’ve compromised how they develop games as a whole. Who knows if Bioware actually removed content from the game then to sell it as DLC. No one does and that’s the scary thing. Gamers will have to live with the fact that developers can pull these kinds of stunts and get away with it.

Bioware’s tried to excuse themselves by saying “in order to seamlessly integrate Javik to the core campaign, certain framework elements and character models needed to be put on the disc.” If this was the case then why not just say that instead of just lying? Were they thinking that we would never find out? This is the problem. Because we don’t know developers think they can get away with it.

It’s not just Bioware either though. There is the possibility that other games that have day-one DLC might be doing the same exact same thing. Now it comes back full circle. Is this kind of practice okay? Most definitely not. I understand why developers do this. Making games and selling them is a business. They are trying to make money in the most efficient profitable way possible. However, what this means is that you’re possibly sacrificing the quality of your game, the loyalty of your customers, and the ethics of your practice. I believe these are important attributes that make a successful developer and as a result, I’m disheartened when I see companies like Bioware utilizing cheap tactics such as From Ashes.

Day-one DLC is a mixed bag and a lot of people who are knowledgeable about the controversy around From Ashes might feel a bit burned. I sure am. Still, the people who do feel this way should take a moment to sit down and think. What does DLC mean to me as a gamer and more importantly, what does day-one DLC mean? Should I question how it works or sit idly as developers pinch more money from me? Often times, people just buy a product without thinking. I’m guilty of this too. However, as an avid gamer and a lover of the industry, I’d hate for something like From Ashes to happen again. Do I want day-one DLC? Of course, and you should too, as long as it’s done right. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Console Wars: Let’s forget the Past

            This will be a three-part series where I analyze the state of consoles and the so-called console wars. In this first part we’ll be looking at the initial launch of the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii and how it has fared until now. The second part will cover this year and what’s possibly in store for the future. In the last part of this series we’ll go beyond and look at the next generation.

            The Xbox 360, the first console of this generation, launched in November 2005, a time that doesn’t feel too long ago, and was a hit. In fact, I remember when people on Gamespot were clamoring because they couldn’t pick up a box from the initial shipment. I somehow secured one before the end of the year and boy was it a pleasant surprise. My original Xbox had died the year before and I didn’t know what to do with my games. Luckily the system was backwards compatible with most of my games, including Halo 2, so I was well-pleased.

Despite the hardware being such a hit the launch line-up was a bit lackluster. Sports and racing games made up virtually half of the launch titles and the remaining games weren’t so hot. However, they were definitely unique and delivered that HD experience the previous generation couldn’t before. Despite some hardware defects that cropped up months after the launch, the system was a beast and set some groundbreaking features that players nowadays can’t live without.  Xbox Live was even more integrated into the Xbox 360 and gave the system life through the downloading of demos, themes, and pictures. The “Blade” dashboard actually gave reason for people to not just use the system for games since they could use it for videos, music, and more. The Xbox 360 wasn’t just a next-gen gaming console; it redefined the entertainment space and essentially molded it to where the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are at today.

The Original Xbox 360

            If I didn’t know better, and I didn’t at the time, I was thinking that the Xbox 360 was going to win this generation. Now, I have to spend hours and hours thinking about which console is better and to many people it’s actually a simple question. Why? It’s mostly because people judge consoles on personal criteria. However, to the hardcore gamers and professional analysts, it’s anything but a simple question. So, what are the criteria that I’m going to use? I will judge the consoles for software, innovation, and service. These criteria might sound strange but it really isn’t. I mentioned earlier that the Xbox 360 was the first console launched. The Xbox 360 set the standard and the foundation for what the gaming hardware would eventually develop into and honestly represents the best guideline for what makes a great console. Now this doesn’t mean straight up that the Xbox 360 is the best console. Instead the Xbox 360 had ideas that it was shooting for and therefore outlines best criteria for defining the best console.

            Having said all that, let’s move to the primary competition to the Xbox 360, which is the PlayStation 3. Sony’s PlayStation 3, launched in November 2006, is a technical beast. It’s so much stronger than the Xbox 360, many thought its sheer power would bulldoze right through Microsoft’s console. However, this thought couldn’t be farther from the truth. If you thought the Xbox 360 launch titles were lackluster, the PlayStation 3’s line-up was even worse; not only that but it was a smaller library than what the 360 had. Now if the games were better then this wouldn’t really matter that much. However, the games weren’t better with the exception of perhaps Resistance. Despite lacking the software, the system showed off its power assuring its fans that the system was indeed the stronger console. The PS3 had an integrated dashboard much like the 360 but was not as robust. The Cross Media Bar(XMB) offered a slick UI but wasn’t as easy to use. Multiple icons that lead to more menus and more menus made navigating a lot more difficult than it should’ve been, plus the numerous bugs or glitches that plagued the system software made it worse. Of course, this was all fixed by the time Sony released the PS3’s redesign. Still, while the XMB hasn’t changed much since its launch, it has received numerous changes and updates making the experience much more streamlined. 

Cross Media Bar. Ain't it purty?

Moving away from the system software, just like the Xbox 360, the PS3 needed a dedicated online system. Unfortunately, the PS3’s online capability wasn’t great. The PlayStation Network didn’t allow for a personal gamer profile that could be easily shared, there was no achievement system, nor was there cross-game chat support. These are only few of the features that Xbox Live implemented. Sony had to play catch-up to Microsoft and even in the present, Xbox Live remains to be the better online service, even if you are paying $60 for it. The great thing about PSN was the subscription fee, which was none. It allowed for gamers to get straight into the online action and really pushed the PS3 forward. Other online offerings outside of PSN include Netflix and Hulu Plus which allows the PS3 to be more than a console. More than a dozen times I use my PS3 to watch movies off of Netflix. It’s a real handy system to have and definitely offers more than you think it does.

Games are all here! While the PS3 took it really slow in delivering excellent exclusive software, when they came it was great. Titles like Uncharted, God of War, and Heavy Rain really developed powerful experiences. Most of this has to do with the graphics. The detail of each individual objects in these games are phenomenal and most likely cannot be replicated on the 360. This isn’t to say that graphics win games; that’s certainly not the case. However, the graphics did enhance the experience and delivered a much more compelling game. The gameplay of Uncharted stands as one of the best in the industry offering great setpiece moments and tight shooting controls. God of War is regarded as one of the best action games this generation giving players all the power of an angry dethroned god. The games PlayStation 3 boasts about are certainly no weaklings; these are hard-hitting contenders that give the 360 games a run for their money.

The left is the older model. The right is the slimmer new model. 

Overall, I would have to say the PlayStation 3 is an excellent console in almost every regard. Currently, the system has worked out almost every problem that hindered it in the past and progressed to a fine piece of machine. The games are there, the services it offers are great, and the innovation to change from a gaming machine to an entertainment one is wise. Like I mentioned before, many of the problems that the PS3 faced were only in the beginning and once the boat left the harbor it seemed like it was a pretty smooth ride.

The Nintendo Wii launched the same year as the PlayStation 3 and in fact they were one week apart from each other. Now, one would think that the launches being so close together would eat each others’ sales numbers but surprisingly it didn’t. Maybe it was the fact that it was Christmas season had something to do with it. Regardless, both systems sold quite well, though one did much better than the other. I remember lining up on November 18, 2006 at 11:05 p.m. in front of my local Super Target. It was freaking freezing, and mind you it was Texas. I was number 40 something in line and there were double the people behind me. It was a long line and a long night. For everyone in line that bought the Wii, they would say it was worth it. In fact, anyone who actually managed to get a Wii that year was lucky considering how well the system sold. Every single time a store would receive a shipment of the Wii, it would quickly sell out resulting in a massive Wii shortage for many months. Even though the sales were ridiculous, and even in retrospect it’s still ridiculous, I don’t think it’s a testament of an excellent console using my criteria.

The Nintendo Wii is a little harder to describe in terms of the criteria partially because it’s so different from the 360 and PS3. I mainly say this because while the 360 and PS3 greatly innovated by not being just a gaming machine, the Wii pretty much stayed… a gaming machine. I will say from the get-go that the Wii will be last and a failure in terms of the criteria that I am using, however, it’s only in that. In terms of success, profit, and other criterion the Wii is a much better console. However, why is the Wii last? The software isn’t there. There are first-party games that come out for the Wii but those are the only games that tend to be good. Sure there are the exceptional few such as Xenoblade but it’s rare that a developer creates an excellent game for the Wii and as a result, the overall library of great games for the Wii is bad. Normally I would say that quality of games far outweigh the quantity but in this case, it doesn’t really apply since there are just too few excellent games.

The Nintendo Revolution begins

In terms of service, the Wii absolutely fails. If I had to be blunt I would have to say that the Wii U will fail if Nintendo doesn’t change how they serve its audience. This mostly has to do with Nintendo’s online service and entertainment offerings. The Wii Shop Channel is an absolute mess to navigate and as a result makes it frustrating to even consider buying anything off of their store. Not only this but the diversity of content that is offered by the Nintendo is unacceptable. Being able to buy videos, demos, music, podcasts, and so much more is the standard on both the PS3 and 360 yet the Wii is nowhere near that. Sure the Wii now has Netflix and Hulu Plus but they have a long way to go in order to have a robust online system.

In terms of innovation, it’s a given that the Wii would pass with flying colors. In fact, this is one aspect of the Wii that the 360 and the PS3 will never achieve as great a success. Nintendo had a brilliant idea, implemented it, and succeeded in making it work. However, just making it work isn’t good enough, they went above and beyond proved to the world that gaming wasn’t just for a niche audience. The innovation that the Wii showed through its controller and the Motion Plus unveiled a new type of gaming. While the Kinect and Move are excellent devices, it doesn’t quite accomplish the feats that Nintendo did. I would be doing a disservice to Nintendo if I didn’t praise their designers for creating such an ingenious piece of hardware and make it a hit. Sure, the software and service isn’t really there, and perhaps this will be fixed with the Wii U, but Nintendo succeeded in what they set out to achieve: bringing games to everyone. 

The power of innovation

I described briefly what the Xbox 360 accomplished but let’s take a better look at it. In terms of software and trying to really push gamers into the HD era, the 360 succeeded. Games such as Halo 3 and Gears of War really broke into the industry saying that “HD is the next big thing.” Not only this but the games offered gameplay that had no real equal. Exclusives on the 360 appeared to be better and even the multiplatform games ran smoother on the 360 compared to its PS3 counterpart. It was hard for a lot of PS3 owners to swallow their pride and admit that the 360 is much more suitable for games. Every year, Xbox 360 exclusives or multiplatform games that ran better on the 360 would be nominated for Game of the Year on many sites. While the start of the 360 was great, recently, it seems as though Microsoft is abandoning the 360. A lack of exclusives compared to the PS3 is putting the 360 in a bit of a troubling state. This doesn’t mean that the 360 is not a great console; people just have more incentive to buy the PS3. In addition, the gap between the multiplatform games have been growing smaller as the 360 and PS3 versions are almost identical now.

It’s hard to ignore the impact the 360 had in terms of service. Microsoft tried real hard in convincing people that the 360 was more than a gaming system, rather it was an all-in-one entertainment system. With the 360 you can watch movies, play games, listen to music, buy new content, and more. It was revolutionary since this was only possible on the computer. It’s hard to ignore how the 360 acts as a primary media hub in homes. This was all possible due to Xbox Live. While you can only initially play games online and download arcade games in the previous console, the 360 allowed for something much more. Stream videos, rent movies, watch sports, download games, download music, and etc. Because of how feature-filled it was, Sony had to play catch-up for years in order to get up to Xbox Live’s standard. I can go on and on about how amazing Xbox Live is, despite having to pay a subscription, but it would be redundant.

Early adopters of the system should remember this. Aw... The Blade.

In terms of innovation, the 360 only did so in the service front. Adding features like Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, Skype, Facebook, expansive robust online capabilities using Xbox live, and more are only a few of the things. The Xbox 360 evolved and innovated itself constantly so that it can be distinguished from the PS3. However, Sony realized the success that the 360 was having due to its innovation and also pursued the same goal with their “It only does Everything” campaign. It’s hard to deny the impact that the Xbox 360 had in the gaming industry and the entertainment industry as a whole. It’s widely regarded as a piece of hardware that can literally do everything. Of course, that would be an exaggeration but it’s not too far from it.

The Xbox 360 is great piece of hardware and really delivers on all fronts. Sure there are a couple of tweaks that can be made in order to further enhance the experience such as making the Kinect more worthwhile, doing away with the Xbox Live subscription, and releasing more exclusives. However, even with these faults it’s hard to overlook what great leaps the 360 took in order to advance this current generation.

This was back then. On the original Xbox. Wow...

After analyzing each console with the criteria I laid out earlier, it can become a little difficult to judge which of the three console is the best, though the term best is subjective. Software, innovation, and service can be an exclusive category but if you look at it a bit closer, they are all interconnected somehow. Great service can lead to better software, innovating can be through software and service, and software can be innovative or deliver something new. It’s not through the mutual exclusivity that this criteria works but through the interconnectivity. Because they are all connected it’s an excellent indication of which console is superior. At the same time it makes it harder to judge.

In terms of software it’s hard to indicate which console is better. Due to the sheer amount of quality games for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, these will be the main contenders for this category. While the Xbox 360 led for a long time in delivering excellent software, recently the PlayStation 3 has caught up with their own brand of games. However, if I had to choose I would have to give it to the Xbox 360. Oddly, it wasn’t the exclusive games that decided this category but rather the multiplatform. Both sides have great exclusives and appear to be equal to me. Since I couldn’t judge using that, I had to move on to the multiplatform. Most of the games run much better on the 360 and as a result the PS3 loses. Unless there’s an incentive for the PS3 version of the game I usually end up buying it for the 360.

Innovation is a hard thing to judge and this category boiled down to the Wii and the 360. The Wii is an obvious one and the PS3, while it did have some original ideas, played catch-up to the 360 half of the time. Many of the entertainment features we enjoy on the PS3 are due to the 360. It’s a bit disappointing to me because I really wanted the 360 to win but the Wii wins this category. This is mainly due to how the Wii really innovated the gaming space. Motion gaming was thought to be stupid but them Nintendo really proved to gamers that it was viable. Not only this but it also managed to bring in the average person to play games. The 360 achieved so many things to make this generation a wonderful experience but gameplay trumps all and the Wii nailed it.

The sleeker new Xbox 360. How does it compare to its competition?

The last and final criterion was service. The Wii is automatically out for obvious reasons I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, the PS3 also loses due to the number of services that the 360 offers. It goes so much more than just Xbox Live. ESPN, Netflix, Skype, Hulu, Facebook, and more. It’s all there and while it may not be the most convenient way to use those services, the fact that Microsoft is trying to make the 360 and all-encompassing service machine is admirable. However, this doesn’t mean that the services offered on the PS3 are bad. They’re not. In fact, Sony has come a long way since its initial launch but in comparison to the 360, it loses.

The PlayStation 3 has come a long way since its inception. However, it’s because the Xbox 360 has trailblazed forward that the PS3 has a road to follow and personally speaking, I don’t think the PS3 would be where it’s at today had the 360 not been released at all. Both systems are great and offer a variety of entertainment. I have both systems hooked up to my TV and I interchange between the two because I prefer sometimes one over the other. It saddens me to say that the Xbox 360 is the better console, but only by a small margin. The Wii doesn’t even compete to the 360 and PS3 but that’s only because this criteria doesn’t work for it. Still, the Wii changed how the 360 and PS3 view casual gamers and their respective companies went on to tap that audience. So, for now at least, the 360 will be the best console up to this point. Check back next time for the second part of this series discussing the future of the console wars for this generation. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Busy-ness and beyond

If you didn't know, there are a lot of gaming related things that were going on in my life so far. I've been trying to catch up on my backlog so I can review them. At the same time I was at SXSW and I've been trying to find time to write my remaining 2 articles on it but haven't been able to get to it. Thirdly, I have a couple of games coming up in a few days/weeks that I need to play and review. Lastly, I was busy with my work at The Gaming Vault, which you should check out. Starting Monday, everything should go back to normal. Normal as in the following:I will have 4 articles/blog posts a week. The remaining 3 days will be my rest/edit days.

For this weekend, there will be one blog post which will be a super long editorial about console wars. Look forward to it!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Analyzing Narratives: Voice Acting L.A. Noire

            Often times, myself included, people don’t think about voice acting as a major component in a narrative. We think about the emotions that the voice actors put into scenes or perhaps we think about how they make up the audio component of a game. However, rarely do we think, “Wow. That voice acting really added depth to the narrative.” Sure, we might make this point if the voice acting is really good, but it’s not a common train of thought.
            In many ways, we don’t think about how voice acting really impacts the story beyond the quality of it. By quality it either means: it’s good or it’s bad. So how does it impact the story? Through emotion, representation, and dialogue. Emotion is obviously the portrayal of human emotions and how it affects the story. Representation is how voice acting is presented in terms of the setting. Dialogue is how the conversation goes beyond the written script to capture players. Dialogue and emotion are closely linked but it can be differentiated and I’ll explain that later. In this segment of Analyzing Narratives, I’ll explain voice acting using L.A. Noire.

            Now, I remember a time when voice acting didn’t even exist. We did have sound effects or short “voice” clips in certain SNES titles like Super Mario World, but never full-blown voice acting. The following generation it became more prominent; I remember playing Halo and it was a cinematic experience due to its voice acting. Of course, the quality of the voice acting wasn’t so great and as a result it directly affected the portrayal of emotions.

Cole Phelps, a man of initiative. And voice.
            L.A. Noire is a bit of a marvel in terms of voice acting and this might have to do with the narrative genre that the game belongs to. Regardless, the portrayal of emotion in L.A. Noire is unparalleled. This is obviously attributed to the skills of the actors but what does this mean for the narrative? Emotions carry a lot of value especially due to its ability to heighten a situation.

            Take for example an interrogation scene. Cole Phelps, a local detective, interrogates Edgar Kalou, a suspect, using his wits. Kalou at first remains quite calm and composed but as soon as Phelps gets closer to solving the case his emotions take over. He starts to use a louder tone to exemplify anger and begins to talk faster as he reveals his sense of insecurity. These types of portrayls might exist in other games but only a handful does it better than L.A. Noire.

            The emotions go beyond just heightening a situation; emotions build a subtle bond with the character. You may not realize it but perhaps you enjoy certain characters in video games because of certain traits. Have you ever considered that their voice might be one of them? There are dozens of characters I like and I wouldn’t like half of them as much as I would if their voice acting wasn’t amazing. This essentially goes into the territory of likability. Games add a layer of depth to narratives and in this case likability of characters. In L.A. Noire, I found myself disliking Roy Earle, your partner as you work in Vice. Even if voice acting didn’t exist in the game, I would still hate Roy’s guts. However, voice acting made me hate him that much more. The way he portrays his arrogant and pompous attitude. The emotion, or lack thereof, when talking about people’s sufferings. It all comes together well and creates a sense of “this guy is an ass; I don’t like him.” It’s a testament to voice acting when I can hate a character just because of the emotions that are portrayed.

            I mentioned earlier that representation was based on setting. L.A. Noire is an excellent example due to the time period not being the present. The game is set in 1947. People have different dialects, the diction of the general populace isn’t strong, plus their lingo is different from ours today. In order for the setting to be believable and realistic, the voice acting in L.A. Noire really has to knock it out of the park. Thankfully it does.

That emotion!

            From the get go Phelps talks like an ordinary citizen for the time period, at least to me. Now I know I have never lived in the 1940s but the game’s voice acting comes across in a believable fashion. You see, by attempting and successfully recreating the accent, diction, lingo, and more, L.A. Noire captures the 1940s perfectly. Another instance is James Donnelly who is Phelps’ superior. His analogies of divine punishment are a fine example of illustrating the 1940s. It’s a period right after World War II and Donnelly mentions Phelps’ work at “sending the heathens back to the hell they came from.” Coincidentally enough, this is actually how some Americans referred to the enemies fought in World War II. It just goes to show how voice acting can really immerse the player into the world and make the narrative that much more enticing.

            Now here comes the idea of dialogue. This can get very confusing as it dabbles in both the territory of emotion and representation. To put it simply, dialogue is the conversations that people have to create an enticing connection. In its most basic form it is the script that the voice actor uses but acted out. L.A. Noire is very great with its writing and enhances the narrative since the lines make each character distinct.

            Because Donnelly is such a great example let’s take another look at him. One of his first lines in the game is “God’s mill may grind slowly but it grinds finely son!” It’s a brilliant line that quickly characterizes Donnelly. He loves religious analogies and is a devout believer of justice. Not only this but he calls Phelps “boyo” with an accent. If you connect the dots you realize that Donnelly is foreign, most likely Irish. The actor’s impressive depiction of a foreigner in combination with his choice of analogies creates a distinct characterization of Donnelly.

Songs were fantastic back then. At least that's what I heard...

            My final example would be Roy Earle. Earle is a smartass, a cynic, and also arrogant jerk. His high status as a detective in the local police station doesn’t help either. Despite knowing all of this, it’s the voice acting that best portrays him in this fashion. Some of his lines show that he hardly has any respect. One instance he describes a crime scene to Phelps as “a real shithole for a first date.” Another time he calls a dead person a “German junkie whore.” The portrayal of these conversations between Earle and the citizens of L.A. are what helps to bring the characters to life.  Once again, it all impacts the narrative of the game and makes it stronger.

            Voice acting isn’t critical to narratives in video games. In fact, I would say it’s more of an enhancer. Still, because we are offered such quality work, as exemplified in L.A. Noire, players get to enjoy a cohesive and immersive narrative experience. It would be sad to not acknowledge the role that voice acting has in narratives. Hopefully, it’s a more recognized attribute rather than something that just exists in games.

Due to restrictions I cannot post audio clips to further enhance this post. Sorry! I have images though!

Monday, March 12, 2012

SXSW: Journalists Discuss the Future of Gaming

            SXSW’s first panel of the day didn’t go so smoothly with technical difficulties constantly messing up the event. Microphones erratically changed volumes and the projector wasn’t working at first. Still, the insight that the journalists had despite the technicalities was interesting to say the least.

            The turn of the generation brought on new forms of gameplay. To start it off Morgan Webb from X-Play voiced that core gamers just aren’t interested in motion gaming. She believed that it’s not possible to have a real gaming experience from motion control and gamers are just lazy.

            On the other hand, Matt Buchanan from Buzzfeed believed that it’s due to an invasion of space. Core gamers are afraid that the hardcore games are under attack by a more intuitive control form. In addition, video games no longer appeal to a small audience rather it’s now drawing in the public, or casual gamers. Gaming was not an exclusive domain anymore. To add to this, Jamin Warren from Kill Screen pointed out that casuals outnumber the core audience and that’s a factor in the rejection of motion controls.

            The Verge’s Ross Miller chimed in on why he thought motion gaming is not readily accepted. He noticed that motion controls were going crazy. Instead of making a transition from the standard control method to slowly integrating motion features, developers are making large leaps. This essentially segregates gamers since they’re not used to it. An example he used is Mass Effect 3’s voice control system. This system was a subtle change therefore players were more open to the idea. Webb disagreed citing that it feels really stupid to talk to the television.

            N’Gai Croal from Hit Detection gave a short anecdote about adopting new pieces of technology. Croal noted that Siri is an excellent example because it doesn’t always work. There’s a level of imprecision and for hardcore gamers that’s hard for them to accept. With physical controls they can move precisely the way they want without errors but there are levels of imprecision that will be in motion controls. However, Buchanan made a point that the first 10 years of controls were terrible and it took a while before they got better.

            Changing the topic, Warren cited that there is an emotional response when players use motion controls. Using scientific studies as an example, he made a point that creating body gestures are emotional experiences. Agreeing with this statement Croal made a point in how Rock Band is a great example. While it’s not motion control, the alternative form of gaming or perhaps different inputs give varying emotional outputs.

            Branching off of different forms of input, Webb pointed out that too much information received from those inputs can be bad.  Croal, however, disagreed arguing that there is a lot of information that Left 4 Dead uses in order to deliver a unique experience. The AI director in the game calculates various sets of data so the encounters with the zombies are fresh. In addition, Miller expressed his idea of social networking to deliver a personalized experience. To further add to the discussion Buchanan used Eternal Darkness as an example. There is an insanity meter in the game and it manipulated experiences delivering a compelling emotional experience.

            With the kinks of the projector worked out, Matt Buchanan proceeded to show a PowerPoint presentation about controllers. There are three types: dumb, smart, and natural. Dumb controls are the physical controllers that we hold in our hands such as the PlayStation’s DualShock. He argues that while it’s specialized, ergonomic, and familiar to gamers it suffers from limited input and the potential to be complex. Buchanan also believed that these controllers will eventually die out with the exception of niche devices.

            On the other hand, smart controllers track motion and location. Sensor based controllers like the PlayStation Move and Wiimote fit under this category. Adding new dimensions of gameplay with the benefits of a traditional controller are what makes smart controllers great, however, people still haven’t figured out the best way to use motion controls and as a result it suffers for it. Additionally, it also suffers from the same limits of a dumb controller.

            Lastly, Buchanan discussed natural controllers.  Natural controls are divided into touch, gesture, and speech. The Kinect fits into the gesture and speech while the iPod fits into the former. Essentially natural controllers offer a variety of new gameplay experiences, become accessible, and possess more innovative potential. However, it’s not always suited for traditional gaming such as dumb controllers.

            Shifting topics entirely, Miller presented a PowerPoint called Evolving Playground. It essentially argued that the platform is a canvas for the designers, like an artist. It questions how players interact with a game and vice versa. Miller believed that platforms are barriers for players and developers. They create exclusive domains and it becomes obsolete in the end because everyone will eventually have the same set of features.

Cloud is one of those features. Miller believed that the future will integrate Cloud like onLive is doing right now. Personalization is another as previous gameplay experiences can build a better and more personalized one in the future. Lastly, information will be key for the future. The ability to have motion feedback, augmented real-time data, and data tracking will help to develop games better. All of these features will essentially exist across all platforms therefore making multiplatform pointless.

The last presentation of the panel was from Warren discussing the role of games in education. He noted that a school in Manhattan called Quest to Learn uses video games to teach students. By creating an environment where children develop systems based thinking, they have an opportunity to approach academics in a unique way. Currently, standard schools teach the usual subjects, after that you graduate and get a job. However, this school allows for critical thinking that’s unlike any other because in order to move on in a game, the player must learn its lessons.

Warren made the point that video games are not readily accepted by society and it’s hard to teach using video games. This is due to society’s lack of digital literacy. Because not everyone is literate in video games and in technology, society doesn’t treat it as a part of culture. Warren argued that it is in fact part of culture and everyone should be literate in video games.

In conclusion, Warrant believed video games can end up in two different places in the future. In the first, society will reject video games as a part of culture. On the other hand, they can be embraced by society and develop as a more accepted form of media.

Let’s hear your comments. What do you think of motion controllers? Were the journalists right on the dot or do you disagree? How about education and gaming? Would they go hand in hand or would it fail? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

Credit for the first 2 photos to Nicole Raney