Posts Tagged ‘ Gaming ’

NYT Gives a Fair Article a Bad Tweet

This past week, Nellie Bowles wrote an article published by the New York Times titled “All We Want to Do Is Watch Each Other Play Video Games” but the publication’s Twitter account ran with the tweet:

“America’s 150 million gamers want to gather. They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller. They want the lighting to be cool, the snacks to be Hot Pockets, and they want a full bar because they aren’t teenagers anymore.”

As one might expect, gamers began mocking the tweet and, by extension, the article itself. Yet there’s a problem with a lot of the responses I saw: They didn’t read the article. If they had, they might have found that Bowles writes a rather positive description of gaming and its future as a centerpiece of American culture. The article goes so far as to comment on Hollywood’s decline during gaming, streaming, and esports’ continued rise. The article’s message is fairly clear: Gaming is no longer a hobby just for kids and teens and is growing exponentially. Not only is it not going anywhere, but it’s going to become even more of a standard staple in entertainment and may even be the savior of some struggling industries.

Let’s evaluate the article itself:

The headline, “All We Want to Do Is Watch Each Other Play Video Games,” is referring to the meteoric rise and record setting shift witnessed with YouTube and Twitch. No gamer can deny that the old new media – gaming magazines/now gaming sites – has been upended by YouTube reviewers/critics and Let’s Players with streaming on Twitch an even newer factor.

Ninja’s 635,000 consecutive views playing Fortnite with Drake made headlines. Streaming and esports are, essentially, watching others play video games and it’s appeal has proven massive. This is noted further with the sub-headline: “Gamers are the new stars. Esports arenas are the new movie theaters.”

If there was any doubt on the direction this was going, the first sentence should set the stage: “Video games are beginning their takeover of the real world.”

The article describes how malls, movie theaters, stores, parking garages, and more locations are converting to esports arenas and content farms are popping up to generate content with the same level of management as a major studio production.

Football teams are celebrating wins with dances from Fornite, which the article notes has racked up 129 million hours viewed on Twitch in under a year. That calculates out to 2.48 million hours a week. If Fortnite was a weekly television show, that might translate to 2.48 million viewers per week. That’s half of what The Simpsons pulls in. Yet that’s not a valid 1:1 comparison. In February alone, Bowles notes that Fortnite received 2.4 billion views on YouTube.  Billion, with a B.

After establishing all this, the article states a very real fact that ESPN broadcasters were adamantly against just 3 years ago: “Esports are, finally, just like any other sport.”

eSports Saving America! (‘s malls)

 

As the online presence is growing more dominant on the streaming and review side, physical space is being taken up by esports arenas and gaming bars. However, here’s where that tweet quote comes in and even within the article where opinions may diverge.

“Those 150 million gamers in America want to gather. They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller. They want the lighting to be cool, the snacks to be Hot Pockets, and they want a full bar because they are not teenagers anymore.”

Commenters are correct – not all gamers are alike and the huge growth of eSports turn outs doesn’t mean all gamers want to squeeze into a room to watch others play games. Some don’t even want to be in a crowded place to play games together.

But I don’t think that’s really the full intent of the article and I think we, as gamers, should be a little more tempered in our reaction. “They want to sit next to each other, elbow to elbow, controller to controller” isn’t necessarily a literal statement. Nobody literally wants to sit with elbows touching and there’s no logical scenario that controllers would be. It’s more of a gaming iteration of “stand shoulder to shoulder.”

Considering the past number of years have primarily had journalists depicting gamers as anti-social goblins living in shadowy rooms despising human contact, I really think it’s reasonable to accept a claim that gamers are, in fact, normal people who want to gather with friends and enjoy a shared hobby. As the article notes, it’s a natural extension of the already sociable aspect of gaming as we chat on headsets while playing even when we’re not together in the same room.

Breaking down this contentious paragraph, simply think of it as such:

150 million gamers aren’t antisocial, they enjoy interacting with fellow gamers.
There’s a demand for public venues where the hobby can be enjoyed alongside fellow gamers.
They want these venues to have a comfortable atmosphere, not the dark basement stereotype.
The average gamer isn’t a kid anymore.

A Live Example

The article then shifts to describing a new esports arena in Oakland and its pre-opening party. 4000 people inside, a line stretched around the block right in the middle of a tourism hot spot. That’s a good turn out by any stretch and the fact that a game related venue is approved for a major tourism traffic area is more important than the gamers present.

The Co-founder is cited as saying he had to speak at four community meetings to convince the community it would like having the arena present. That means it took effort to get gaming in this location, to have it be present in the community. It also means it was successful. For all the complaints that gamers voice about how politicians, business executives, and everyone calling shots don’t get it, here you have a community that was convinced it was just as beneficial as a grocery store (the cited alternative that was initially desired). That’s a big deal.

Regarding that poorly chosen tweet, some also complained that it suggested gamers were stunted to associate “I’m grown up” exclusively with “I can drink alcohol.” That’s not accurate either, as the article notes the Oakland eSports arena faced challenges with getting a liquor license as the misconception was present that teenagers were the majority demographic when in actuality is cited with 25 being the average age. It’s a fact that most adults want alcoholic beverages as an option in public venues where they congregate.

The article has quotes from gamers in attendance, appreciating a larger venue than the typical back room in a gaming store or commenting on the layout. What caught my interest was that Bowles interviewed 77 year old designer Herb Press who may offer the most positive comment in the article:

”This is an audience involved in this particular time in the computer age, but I’m amazed how critical they are,” he said. “They do have serious concepts and tastes. I heard one come out of the bathroom and say it looked cool in there.”

Actual importance of bathroom ambiance aside, it’s worthwhile to note that it’s a tangible realization that gamers have “serious concepts and tastes” in a major publication like the New York Times. That’s a far cry from the Dorito gremlins we’re frequently written to be in clickbait articles. It suggests that despite the best efforts of certain groups, gaming is growing too big and all-encompassing as a cultural past time to be ignore and dismissed as nonsense that the kids do.

Dorito Gremlin

Even if we still find this amusingly valid in our hearts.

E-Celeb Dread

The next portion of the article is where the real concern should settle. Discussing eSports organizations and the industry that’s growing. As Bowles writes, “Their job is to be cool gamers.” The very notion sounds less like a gamer growing popular for their natural personality and connecting with an audience and more like manufactured gaming celebrities akin to the latest pop idol churned out by American Idol year after year.

It’s noted there are numerous growing eSports teams (perfectly reasonable) and content mills (possibly concerning). That’s where we’re getting into the idea of manufactured gaming. When gaming it about churning out content to mine for something that might go viral, that’s not really gaming so much as it’s trying to find something that will become popular and presenting it for the sole purpose of increasing popularity so that popularity can be translated to followers & subscribers to generate more revenue for corporations that are funding the celebrity in question.

However, it’s noted many have broken away from the entertainment company they were partnered with to pursue their own media companies. That ironically brings them full circle – back to where a content creator on YouTube has replaced the big media conglomerations and has more reach. If gaming can hope to stave off the typical corporate corruption that seems to seep into everything, an ongoing system of direct connection between creators and fans is the way to do it.

Hollywood vs Gaming

Bowles wraps up the article discussing the decline of movie going. Talking to a former Capital Records president who has turned to gamer management (again, think manufactured e-celebs), he says the future is in eSports and gaming, which he believes will surpass movies as an entertainment industry and he acknowledges that a lot of people his age still think gamers must be ‘nerds in their basement’ and says that puts the entertainment industry behind the curve, or “asleep at the switch.”

This entire article is example after example that gaming is, if not THE future of entertainment, at least a major part of it. It’s a shame that so many gamers won’t realize this article is actually in support of their hobby, proclaiming its prominence in the future of culture, based entirely on a poorly chosen tweet.

That’s not entirely at the gamers’ feet, either. They’ve gotten so used to clickbait and disparaging headlines that they do what any gamer would – they don’t play. They don’t click the article, they don’t give the publication click-money. They do what they can to deny the “enemy” points on the board. And while the context of that paragraph in the article isn’t entirely bad by my interpretation, it’s still oddly out of place in the context of the article as a whole.

After all, there’s no mention of Hot Pockets at a single esports arena, gamer bar, or gaming center in the article, nor requested by anyone interviewed, so why suggest gamers want the snacks to be Hot Pockets? That runs contrary to the paragraph’s depiction of gamers as having serious concepts and tastes as well as contrary to the push that the average gamer is an adult, not a teen or kid.

Besides, tendies are the superior choice these days, anyway. At least give a gamer some nugs.

Growing Up Gaming – PS2 & GameCube

We now reach a milestone in my gaming experience as I entered a new phase of my life. The majority of my experiences with both GameCube and Playstation 2 is set at college where I had both consoles and continued to play EverQuest. I spent the first two years of college going to a 2 year (or junior or community) college and saved money by continuing to live with my parents. I don’t have any stark memories of these consoles during these 2 years as I still spent most of my time on the PC.

As I detailed previously, I was deeply into EverQuest, so a lot of my time was spent on that. I also played a fair bit of Diablo, but the bulk of my time was EverQuest with a little still spent on Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II. My console time started up again the latter half of my college career when I went to a university. I lived in a technically on campus apartment complex with four small bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a living area with kitchen.

I was fortunate enough to share the apartment with three guys I knew from high school. One hooked up his Dreamcast in the living room and I provided the GameCube as these two were designed with four player hook ups. The Playstation 2 was in my bedroom. I remember two of the first games I got for PS2 were Dark Cloud and Ephemeral Fantasia. I didn’t get too far in Dark Cloud and although I really enjoyed Ephemeral Fantasia, I never finished it. I didn’t like the ticking clock mechanic for Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, but found it acceptable here for some reason.

The coolest part of Ephemeral Fantasia was, like Ocarina of Time, playing music. It was more challenging than the ocarina music and I seem to recall there was a free form option as well, but I may be wrong on that.

I had to use an online guide to get pointed in the right direction at times, but the game was fun. It is probably the one PS2 game I would most like to revisit and play through fully that I didn’t complete in the past. Even though it wasn’t reviewed terribly favorably, and is probably fairly average at best, I enjoyed it.

The next memorable game I’d note would be the first Spider-Man game based on the Sam Raimi film. The game itself was a decent game, and I played through it on normal, then on the harder difficulty and had a lot of fun… until a level chasing Green Goblin through the city. Oh the profanities that came from my room were of great entertainment to my roommates (one of whom equally entertained us with the same playing Dreamcast fighting games).

Spider-Man 2, however, was leaps and bounds above the first with the first open world New York City and actual web swinging physics. If there was no building for a web to theoretically attach to, you could shoot a web in the direction. Combined with button combinations to pull off acrobatics while web swinging, the game was fun to just swing around the city being the wall crawler. Speed was based on releasing your web at the right time, you dived off buildings rather than just jumped off, there was a lot of intricacies put into web swinging. Honestly, after they simplified web swinging in the next game, I don’t feel any have matched the feel of it since this one.

Of course I picked up Final Fantasy X, the first fully voice acted Final Fantasy game. I remember particularly liking the Sphere Grid leveling progression system and I never really felt the voice acting was terrible. Looking back, even Tidus’ horrid laugh doesn’t bother me too much. I feel in the context of the scene, it’s supposed to be cringeworthy and awkward. It’s a forced laugh, that’s the whole point of that scene. Nothing’s funny, nothing amusing has happened, he’s forcing a laugh for Yuna’s sake. But that’s just me, I suppose! To Zanarkand is also one of my favorite pieces of music from Final Fantasy as a series.

While people were getting their violence kicks in Grand Theft Auto games, I opted to be violent on The Punisher instead. Not the best game ever made, but still fairly solid and it had the over the top “execution” kills if you had an enemy at the right place when they were almost finished off.

Over on the GameCube, there are a few games I particularly enjoyed, but possibly not the first one would venture to guess. First and foremost is probably Hunter: The Reckoning. Based on the tabletop RPG by White Wolf, the video game was a four player isometric game akin to Diablo and with the four of us in the apartment, it was a lot of fun. We played through it a few times and I believe we beat it as a group on the hardest difficulty. An amusing memory was being surrounded by enemies everywhere and telling our friend playing the biker character to use the cleave ability to which he yelled back “What’s a cleave?!”

Similar to Hunter: The Reckoning, a one of the roommates and I played the GameCube Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Hours upon hours were sunk into that game, playing late into the night, much to our roomate’s chagrin. Put away the torhces and pitchforks, though, as the same friend and I also played Baldur’s Gate on PC (though we never finished it….we got so close to the end and never knew it).

Continuing the trend of these isometric RPGs, X-Men Legends and X-Men Legends II were a huge draw for the same friend that joined me on Baldur’s Gate. Playing as the X-Men and actually building a team that you could play off each other with combos was great. While Marvel: Ultimate Alliance came in the next generation, I’d love to see a new X-Men Legends game.

Similarly, there’s Champions of Norrath, a game set in EverQuest’s world of Norrath. While the game made absolutely no geographical sense for those who knew the world from the MMO, it was fun enough to play. With Daybreak Games shuttering EverQuest Next, I’d honestly love to see a new single player EverQuest game set in Norrath akin to the Champions titles or more like Dragon Age, The Witcher Series, Kingdoms of Amalur, or in an Elder Scrolls style.

I loyally continued with the Star Fox franchise as well, picking up both Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault. Surprising enough, I think I actually enjoyed Adventures more. I would have liked Krystal to have been a more active partner in the story rather than trapped in a crystal (har har), but having enjoyed Ocarina of Time, I liked Legend of Star Fox: Adventures in Time well enough as the game basically blended Zelda concepts and put Fox McCloud in place as the protagonist.

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“YOU STOLE MY GAME, FOX!”

Knowing the history of the game, even setting it in Star Fox universe, I’ll agree I’d have preferred Krystal to be the protagonist, perhaps rescuing the Star Fox team after being forced to land on Dinosaur Planet after a battle or the like. Star Fox Assault, on the other hand, seemed like a less than superb attempt to recapture Star Fox 64’s polish, but the dog fights never felt as hectic as they did on N64. The graphics were certainly a nice step up from N64, though.

gfs_53333_1_9

As always, Slippy. As always.

I had been thrilled with Resident Evil 2 through Code Veronica, so when the original was remade on GameCube, I picked it up. I believe I may have played only part of Playstation’s version and after finishing GameCube, I went back to play it again fully. I also enjoyed Resident Evil 0. Does anyone ever wonder what happened to Billy after all these years? In the same vein as Resident Evil, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was a great game as well.

Another game I can’t recall which I played first, spanning both consoles, is Metal Gear Solid. I don’t recall if I played the original on Playstation or if I went back to play it after Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes on GameCube. Meanwhile, Playstation 2 had Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty and later Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, all of which I played as they released and thoroughly enjoyed. Well, maybe less so on Metal Gear Solid 2. Sorry, Raiden, but I’m not a fan of yours.

raiden_naked-article_image

I don’t remember all the details, but I was a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer prior to college, so I did pick up the game “Chaos Bleeds” on GameCube to play. Though I don’t remember much of the game, I remember I did like it overall both in story and gameplay. I seem to remember the combat wasn’t too bad.

Lastly for these consoles, I’d note The Lord of the Rings movie tie ins, The Two Towers and Return of the King, the latter of which improved greatly over the former. For some reason, I played Two Towers on PS2 and Return of the King on GameCube, but I don’t think there’s much difference between the two to really warrant suggesting one system over the other. A bit of a smaller scale Dynasty Warriors combat with RPG character progression, the games followed the general story and were fun to play.

A few honorable mentions would probably be Okami on PS2, Enter the Matrix on GameCube (I liked it at the time), Star Wars: Rogue Leader & Rebel Strike in the Rogue Squadron series on GameCube while Jedi Starfighter was on PS2, Onimusha series on PS2, True Crime: Street of LA on PS2, and Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone on PS2 (why Wizards of the Coast hasn’t done a full Drizzt or Elminster game is beyond me).

I played Smash Bros. Melee a little, but we overall preferred the original on N64 more than the GameCube version in the apartment. I never did play Twilight Princess, though I’ve since picked it up and hope to eventually, though I’ll likely play the HD version on Wii U.

Moving on from college, though made for Playstation 2 it was brought to PC, where I played it. That game would be Final Fantasy XI. I had stopped playing EverQuest by this point and a friend of mine was excited for the Final Fantasy MMO finally coming to America. Three of us signed up and started it, but I didn’t last nearly as long as others did.

The Vana’diel March is still one of the most memorable pieces for me.

There were a few problems from the start, such as randomized server placement making us delete and recreate characters until luck put us on the same server. The only other option was a ridiculously cost prohibitive friend invite pass to bring another player to your server. I want to say it was 100,000 if not 1 million gil, which might have been reasonable for the Japanese players who had a year of economy going, but American players were started on the same servers with no gil and an economy already rife with inflation.

I fell behind my friends as they played up to 12 hours a day for a couple weeks when they were between jobs and eventually found myself spending more time shouting “Looking for group” to find a party than actually playing the game. Thus ended my stint in Final Fantasy XI. Now that the PS2 servers are down and I presume the PC servers will follow one day, it would be nice to see Square Enix create a single player version to keep the game alive in some form for the future. Perhaps the mobile edition they’ve mentioned is their intent to do so in a different format.

The last game I played on PS2 was Final Fantasy XII. I enjoyed it to some extent, but wasn’t a fan of the MMO grind in a single player game, perhaps partially because of my distaste for grinding after Final Fantasy XI. Still, I had every intention of continuing to play the game through to completion, but when the Playstation 3 came out, I sold my PS2 when I got a first gen PS3. The problem was the PS3 wanted to pump Final Fantasy XII through in 1080p and the game looked more pixelated and messy than a Playstation 1 game. As such, I’m eagerly looking forward to another chance with this title with the forthcoming HD remake.

Final Fantasy: Star Wars on Ivalice

That’s all for my trip down memory lane with the Playstation 2 and GameCube. I’d estimate there are only three posts left in this series and the next one will bring us right back to the world of MMOs with the one that changed the landscape forever: World of Warcraft.

Never Alone

A tale of a girl and a fox

I’ve been meaning to play Never Alone for a while now. I had it saved on Steam, and I’m not a Steam user, nor am I a PC Gamer, to be honest. It interested me, though, to have a game that’s intended to present a story of a native Iñupiaq people and bring a little bit of their culture to a larger world. With it being on sale, I picked it up on PS4 this past weekend. My regret is that I didn’t play it sooner.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past year about diversity in video games. In my opinion, games like Never Alone are an example of how games can grow and expand into new areas to share experiences with people across cultures. I’d describe the game as a fairly simple platform puzzle game that focuses more on sharing with the player than challenging them. It was a short, enjoyable game, that can be played alone by swapping between the arctic fox and the girl or co-op with each player controlling one or the other.

Graphics
I really enjoyed the gameplay graphics. There was a nice blend of slick modern capability with stylization of some characters such as the Owlman or the Manslayer while Nuna and her arctic fox have an almost Pixar quality to them.

While often simple, the backgrounds are quite smooth and a pleasure to look at. Unless you’re being chased by a polar bear.

Upper One Games did a good job with the view of the screen as well. There’s a slight blur around the edges and corners at times, setting a mood of looking through the blizzard that Nuna and the fox are braving in their adventure.

Between levels, the story is told using cut scenes employing an artistic style drawn from traditional scrimshaw. Some won’t care for this, but I particularly liked it.

Controls
The controls can be a bit frustrating, particularly with the bola, but otherwise I didn’t have much trouble with the game. Jumping was responsive and I only found myself moving wrong when I got impatient. Honestly, impatience is your biggest enemy in this game. There are only certain times that urgency is needed and something is chasing you. Most of my deaths were caused by me trying to rush and not waiting to observe the patterns of spirits or the movements of ice. Much like the lessons taught to children in Alaska, ignoring the natural world around you can have dire consequences. Slow down, observe, and then act appropriately and you will avoid a lot of frustrations during your adventure through a blizzard in Alaska.

Music
I can’t say too much about the soundtrack for Never Alone. It was pleasant enough, but not memorable or striking to me. I would have enjoyed if Upper One Games had incorporated more traditional music into it and explored that more. There is a video on the importance of the drum in the culture, but not too much.

I will note, though, that I found the yaps and grumbles of the fox quite adorable.

Difficulty
The game isn’t hard, really. If you die, you start pretty much right where you went wrong and can try again infinitely until you finish. There aren’t many enemies and you only have to defeat one while the others are about finding ways out of the predicament you find yourself in. The game isn’t long either, taking only about 3 hours to complete with all extra items found, which open videos about the Iñupiaq.

Conclusion
The lack of challenge isn’t a detriment in this case; not for me, at least. Never Alone is more about telling a story and giving you insight into the culture and history of an entire people. In that respect, it’s a fine game. I enjoyed the puzzles, particularly where you had to scramble up walls and leap off of them as the fox in order to open a path for the girl, Nuna. However, I found myself enjoying the story quite a bit and any gameplay was largely driven by an interest to hear the entire tale.

There is even a moment where something happens that sort of made my heart sink. When a simple 3-hour game with a little narrative and no real dialog from the protagonist can have an emotional effect, even if only a slight one, I would say that’s a success. Then again, I may also be a big softie at this point.

Narrated in the Iñupiaq language with English subtitles, there was a certain feel of authenticity (it should, they worked with members of the Iñupiaq, one of whom narrates) and interweaving the videos into the game added some depth to it. Hearing actual stories from native Alaskans about their grandfather’s pet arctic fox or a brother’s pet polar bear were really interesting. I recommend watching the videos as you find them during the playthrough rather than waiting until you’re done.

Never Alone, or, Kisima Inŋitchuŋa (“I am not alone”), is a video game telling a story in an interactive method of traditional Iñupiaq storytelling. As players learn, these stories were often told to teach lessons to children about the world and about their people’s history and culture. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from Never Alone as well. Video games can help us view other cultures and their stories as well, and even better understand their history. If one is to play the game and take their time, one may also learn a lesson of patience and enjoying some simplicity, even in a video game amidst our current level of graphics and AAA titles.

I look forward to more games similar to Never Alone from Upper One Games and if they were able to make an ongoing career from short games like this that let us look at other cultures and stories from around the world, I think I’d be willing to play every one of them.

If you have the chance and can get this at a price that seems reasonable, I do recommend giving it a try.

Then again, considering the name of the site, I may also have a soft spot for games featuring foxes.

I want one.