Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on September 5, 2013
“Hey, you went to the GameStop Expo? Did you get a copy of Madden 25? Some guy said that VIP badge-holders got Madden 25. He came in today to trade it in.”
“Uh, yes. No. We’re press. Same bag, different stuff inside.” I opened the drawstring bag-cum-backpack thing, revealing its contents. “Our bags were mostly publisher knickknacks and information about– hey, there’s a Skylander in there!”
Last weekend, video game retailer GameStop held its second public convention, a sort of baby Electronic Entertainment Expo bolted onto the company’s conference for store managers. While GameStop’s employee-only conferences are a yearly function (I attended one in 2007 as a developer, demoing Universe at War for Petroglyph/Sega), someone at corporate must’ve realized that, since publishers were already setting up extravagant booths to woo GameStop staff into supporting their titles, costs could be recouped by extending the show by a day and opening it to the public.
After a successful start in San Antonio, Texas (a quick flight from the company’s Dallas/Fort Worth HQ), 2013’s Expo was held here in Las Vegas at the Sands Convention Center. For a city known as a convention destination, we have surprisingly few shows related to the video game industry (and none open to the general public), so I’m hoping this year was successful enough that GameStop decides to stick around.
But whatever, that’s all background. Let’s talk about video game stuff!
While little breaking news was expected to come out of the expo (the press room reflected that, I think the most journalists we ever saw in the room at one time was four), the conference was one of the first opportunities for the public to actually handle the controllers of and play both Microsoft’s Xbox One (November, $499) and Sony’s Playstation 4 (November 15, $399) consoles. If the line extending out of the conference area and well into the hallways was any indication, the chance to touch new hardware is a powerful draw.
Microsoft and Sony, situated on opposite ends of the convention like boys and girls at a grade school dance, each operated expansive booths, beckoning the audience to come and play their games and to nevermind the menace on the other side of the hall. Between the two was a small sea of game publishers and a surprisingly large number of headphone manufacturers, none of which I’ll be covering as I’ve only got so much space to work with this week.
So how do the new consoles feel?
The Xbox One. After an early public relations stumble over how the company would be managing internet connectivity and the use of pre-owned games, Microsoft’s marketing engine appears to be back on track with the Xbox One, and a good number were on display and playable at the company’s booth. The consoles, positioned around a full size statue of the protagonist of the upcoming Ryse: Son of Rome, were hidden behind plexiglass, gamepads resting on stands during brief moments of inactivity. In the hands, the controller feels like a slightly more robust version of the widely-praised Xbox 360 controller, albeit with a much improved directional pad and a lighter overall feel. Full size arcade-style fighting sticks by Mad Catz were demonstrated, set to be released alongside Microsoft’s revival of the fighting game Killer Instinct.
The still capable and newly slimmed-down Xbox 360 was also on display, and may end up a solid alternative for new console buyers not looking to drop five hundred bucks on a gaming machine.
The Playstation 4. Okay, I’ll admit that I’ve never been a fan of the ubiquitous DualShock series of controllers featured on Sony consoles since the original Playstation. With the PS4, that’s changed. The controller may retain the name, but the new redesign has made it a pleasure to grasp and the controller fits perfectly in the hand. The twin analog sticks, perilously close together in previous iterations, are now spaced further apart (tested particularly well with the upcoming Octodad: Deadliest Catch), and the directional pad is just as well-built as ever. Unfortunately, none of the games I demoed offered an opportunity to use the capacitive touch pad.
Speaking of games, my favorite from the Sony booth was NOT a Playstation 4 launch title. Tearaway, a Playstation Vita game developed by Little Big Planet’s Media Molecule, will be one of the first AAA games to properly make use of the Vita’s touch controls without feeling like the result of a developer checking off boxes on a features bullet point list. Additionally, much like the Little Big Planet series, Tearaway is absolutely full of charm and clever design, and I expect it to be a system seller.
Oh, one little piece of news from the show: in a display of competitive love from both Sony and Microsoft, GameStop store managers (all 6,500 of ‘em) will each be receiving a free Playstation 4 and Xbox One, along with a handful of games for each, just in time for the holidays. I’m still waiting for the tech columnist console giveaway announcement, and I’ll let you all know the moment that comes through.Filed under propaganda, video games | Comment (0)
Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on August 22, 2013
In March of 2007, just days before a scheduled teaching workshop at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, developer and writer Kathy Sierra withdrew from the session. A prominent blogger and speaker, Sierra’s sudden cancellation came as the result of a flurry of online abuse, including death threats and images of a violent and sexual nature. These attacks prompted her to quit publishing online entirely.
Last month, after a slight modification to the stats of three rifles in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, John Vonderhaar, the game’s Design Director, received an incredible number of angry replies from outraged players, documented by Andy Kelly on gamerfury.tumblr.com, threatening everything from his death to the rape of his family.
Phil Fish, developer of Fez and known to many via Indie Game: The Movie and his outspoken attitude, posted the following message in July after a verbal altercation on Twitter:
“FEZ II is cancelled.
i am done.
i take the money and i run.
this is as much as i can stomach.
this is isn’t the result of any one thing, but the end of a long, bloody campaign.
The post had over 1800 responses, the majority abusive.
Anita Sarkeesian, shortly after launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund her video series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, found herself bombarded with misogynist and hateful messages, threats of rape, and crudely Photoshopped images of herself. She responded by documenting and sharing the abuse on her site, resulting in significant press coverage and a surge of support for her campaign.
This week, Jim Jannard, the founder of RED Digital Cinema and a frequent participant on enthusiast discussion forums, stepped down from his public role and announced that he’d no longer be posting online, stating “I have to say… they have gotten to me. I don’t need this. I don’t deserve this. Life is short and I am tired.”
The above examples are from my own industry, but there are plenty more out there if you look around.
Hell, the local online and tech community is no stranger to harassment – pick nearly any popular Review-Journal or Las Vegas Sun article and skim through the comments, the level of vitriol and anger within, often targeting the journalist, can be staggering. The Save the Huntridge campaign discussion group, managed by well-intentioned volunteers with no personal stakes in the project (save the restoration of a ill-used venue), was besieged and nearly derailed early on by acrimonious attackers, and don’t get me started about the abuse flung towards anyone who might have a finger in the Downtown Project pool.
Spewing anonymous bile isn’t a new thing, as anyone with access to a CB radio can attest, but the online audience is greater than any before. Every one of us, at one time or another, ends up a target. We brush it off, hit the block button and move on, the grief only a temporary encounter in our streams of neutral and (hopefully) positive engagements.
But some folks, through sheer will or happenstance, become known. Maybe they’ve designed a favorite game, written interesting words, or spoken at a conference. Maybe they’re a passionate local, investing themselves in the community. Maybe they’re just a kid on the sad end of a viral video or unfortunate photograph.
Suddenly, as if passing though a nebulous fame threshold, they become fair game and the abuse directed their way skyrockets. Some, like Anita Sarkeesian and John Vonderhaar, are thick skinned and ignore it or use it to their advantage. Others, like Kathy Sierra, Jim Jannard, or even the acerbic Phil Fish, are affected personally and deeply by the malice directed their way. Sometimes they recoil and cautiously return, and sometimes we lose them forever.
It’s one thing to play with sarcasm, to confront or criticize ideas and ideologies, but the moment those words devolve from criticism into personal attacks and denigration, discourse is over, and someone is hurt.
We’re all people, folks, even on the Internet. For Fuck’s sake, be good to each other.Filed under propaganda | Comment (0)
Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on August 8, 2013
I stood before the cabinet, tapping buttons, idly moving the grimy joystick from side to side, frowning at the faded artwork and cigarette-burned control panel. The cabinet had spent time outdoors, maybe in a shed, with water damage along the bottom and busted up corners. The weathered back door sat off to the side, revealing a rat’s nest of wire (along with what might have been an actual rat’s nest) and dust-covered main boards. I slid in a quarter. A loose connection somewhere echoed noisily in the speakers as the game’s theme began to play, misaligned text on the screen inviting me to have a go. The machine was a mess, but it worked.
“Will ya take three hundred?”
This week! Bring an old arcade game to life for fun and
In the summer of 2008, I restored TRON. I’d been a fan of the game and franchise since I was young, and one of my earliest gaming memories was wandering into the Disneyland Starcade as a child and seeing a row of brand new TRON arcade machines lined up along a wall, each one topped with a second monitor so that spectators could watch from the crowd. The game itself was attractive (four different games, all in one machine!) but what really captured me was the electronic music and the soft neon glow of the artwork, panels, and joystick. I was in awe.
Who knew that roughly 25 years later I’d have one sitting in my garage. It was in rough shape, sure, but it was TRON, and I was going to make it new again. I began the teardown in earnest, stripping down the cabinet while scouring forums and manuals, learning just enough to continue as I moved from task to task. And as I worked, I realized, this was a hell of a lot of fun.
The following summer, I tackled a pinball machine. Then a Neo-Geo cabinet. Then a Missile Command. Up next, pending time and workspace: a pair of mid 1980’s era Japanese arcade cabinets, short and squat and built like washing machines.
Look, you’ve read this far, you’ve gotta be at least a little bit driven by nostalgia, right? Is there an arcade game in your past that you remember fondly? Ever considered yourself the tinkering sort? Buy an old arcade cabinet. Park your car in the driveway for a couple months and dedicate the garage space to a restoration project. These things are only getting older, and it’s going to be up to the collectors and restorers to ensure they stick around.
Let me help you get started.
First off, be patient. So you’ve decided that yes, you’re going to try this. Awesome, but don’t just buy the first machine that pops up on Craigslist. Pricing for arcade games is all over the place, and unless you’re looking at an incredibly rare machine, don’t pay over a couple hundred dollars for a game that you plan to overhaul.
Don’t do this to make money. With the cost of parts and the time involved, the last thing you should expect to do is restore a game and sell it for profit.
Once you’ve got the machine, label everything. If you’re undertaking a ground-up restoration, the first thing you’ll want to do is take the cabinet apart. Don’t assume that you’ll remember anything about how it goes back together, because chances are you won’t. Have plenty of painter’s tape (label those pieces!), baggies, and Sharpies on hand. Take photographs. Start by photographing the cabinet and internals before removing a single screw, just to have a reference point. Photograph all plugs, connectors, and anything else that comes apart.
Tools-wise, you can pretty much dismantle a cabinet with a couple of screwdrivers and a socket set. A wire crimper and multimeter will be handy when you’re putting everything back together. If you are repainting, Citristrip is your friend. Invest in a decent sander, and paint with oil-based paints. If you need to repair damaged corners or other parts of the cabinet, use Bondo, it’ll outlast wood filler.
Take advantage of the community! Plenty of online discussion boards are out there. Some of the best for the budding restorer include the arcade-museum.com forums and the Build Your Own Arcade Controls community at forum.arcadecontrols.com. Both will lead you to useful background information, discussions, and even sources for cabinet parts and reproduction artwork.
Above all, don’t be intimidated. With all the available resources online, restoring an arcade cabinet is like building a model; you’ll find walkthroughs and guides for almost everything. The pleasure of restoration is that it forces you to learn a little bit about a lot of skills: a little bit of woodworking, a little bit of painting, a little bit of electronics. Dive in, have fun, and send me photos when you’re done.Filed under propaganda | Comment (0)
Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on July 25, 2013
On July 9th, just days before the start of the world’s largest fighting game tournament, a call came down from Nintendo, stating that the organizers did not have broadcast rights to stream Super Smash Bros Melee, a recent tournament addition as a result of a fan-funded charity drive. While thousands of attendees spectate at the event itself, most viewers, including the majority of those who’d donated to see Super Smash Bros Melee join the mix, would watch the matches from home via live online video that in previous years had surpassed over a hundred thousand concurrent viewers.
The announcement added to the pre-show chaos as organizers struggled to reschedule events, removing Super Smash Bros Melee from the streaming lineup and shifting start times of others in order to fill the gap. Enthusiast sites caught on to the news immediately, and players and fans went ballistic, further cementing the view of a doddering and out of touch Nintendo of America.
Less than three hours after the announcement, Nintendo, responding to the sudden and intense negative pressure, rescinded their decision. The original schedule and lineup returned, and everyone involved breathed a sigh of relief. The streams were safe and the game was on.
This week’s column: Evolution Championship Series!
“Ooh, the RJ!” she beams, impressed by the business cards we’d just handed her.
“Kind of. Citylife, actually. Same parent company.”
“Oh. Well, here you go.”
It’s Friday, day one of the Evolution Championship Series (known as Evo), and Bally’s Las Vegas is already humming with players in Evo t-shirts lugging about personalized arcade-style joysticks, readying for upcoming matches, discussing strategy and brackets and contenders.
Press badges in hand, we walk through the crowded entry hall and into the half-full Indie Game Dev panel, where four successful independent developers are discussing the process of creating, funding, and marketing their titles in front of a small crowd of eager video game enthusiasts and a handful of established industry folk.
While Evo has always been about fighting games and a passionate community of players, 2012 saw the introduction of the Indie Showcase, a small section of the conference hall set aside to showcase standouts from the independent game development scene. Divekick, one of the seven featured 2012 Showcase titles, was popular enough last year to warrant its own streamed tournament this time around (alongside fan favorite Skullgirls), and the 2013 Indie Showcase, organized by Capy Games’ Nathan Vella (Critter Crunch, Sword and Sworcery), was awarded a larger and more prominent space (and more games) among the vendor and publisher booths of the exhibit area, providing a temporary oasis from the intensity of battle on glowing screens peppered throughout the hall.
Organized by brothers Tom and Tony Cannon via Usenet in 1996, the Battle by the Bay (also known as B3) was a 64-competitor Street Fighter II tournament held at Golfland in Sunnyvale, California. The largest such gathering of fighting game players at the time, the turnout and popularity of B3 led to successive tournaments around the country, and in 2002, with the addition of co-founders Seth Killian and Joey Cuellar, the tournament was reborn as Evolution.
As Evolution grew in size and prestige, players from around the globe were drawn to the event, and publishers and sponsors began to take notice, leading to an even more spectacular presentation and the recognition of international fighting game stars such as Japan’s Daigo Umehara and the United States’ Justin Wong.
Three years later, having outgrown the college ballrooms and arcades of past years, Evo relocated to Las Vegas, Nevada, where the tournament continues to be held.
It’s Sunday night and we’re watching the Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 finals, clutching smuggled beers and cheering at the massive projection screens above with the rest of the audience as Justin Wong and Angelic, nebulous hunched figures in the distance from our seats near the back of the hall, duke it out in the X-Men’s Danger Room.
To the unfamiliar eye, Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is chaos, super kinetic boxing with more colors and less sweat and grimacing, flashes and beams and movement everywhere as Marvel comic heroes and classic video game characters leap in and out of play, throwing punches and projectiles. It’s hypnotic, and one can’t help but be drawn in by the fervor of the crowd.
While I’m partial to Angelic’s underdog rise and his fielding of Shuma-Gorath, a Cthulhu-like space octopus from the Marvel universe and a rare sight in top levels of play, Justin Wong’s game is on key and he wins the set 3-1, sending Angelic to third place and securing his own spot in the Grand Finals.
Evo 2013 shattered previous records, hosting 3538 competitors and over 30,000 matches over its three day span. 1.7 million viewers tuned in to the online streams over the course of the weekend, and Super Smash Bro Melee, the Nintendo game that came close to being removed from Evo entirely, drew in an astounding 134,000 concurrent viewers, even more than Super Street Fighter 4 AE, the headliner of the tournament.
If it’s been years since you last placed a quarter on the marquee of a Street Fighter II arcade cabinet, if you’ve never seen a fighting game match with commentary, or if this is all new to you and you simply want to see what the kids are doing these days, head over to evo.shoryuken.com and watch a highlight match or two. And remember, unlike many pro-level tournaments, Evo is open, meaning that anyone can sign up and compete. It’s never too late to pick up a joystick and start playing.Filed under propaganda | Comment (0)
Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on July 10, 2013
Game jams are exhausting. Forty-eight hours of concentration, problem solving, design, and compromise, followed by an hour or two of tension and high anxiety as the developers attempt to bundle everything into a single working cohesive piece to demo. If a team is lucky, development aligns enough with the initial game plan that the full-day work sessions are punctuated by sleep. Some of the teams aren’t so lucky, powering through on willpower, caffeine, and the demands of a deadline. Game jams are amazing.
This week: Molyjam wrap up!
Okay, first a brief recap. Molyjam is an annual game jam where current and aspiring game developers gather and create video games over the course of a single weekend, all themed in a loving mix of homage and parody of renowned designer Peter Molyneux. This year, the stated rule was that all game concepts were to be based on actual Molyneux quotes, pulled freely and without context from over two decades of interviews and presentations.
(For the less brief recap, read my previous column.)
On the evening of July 5th, a dozen game developers in Las Vegas gathered together at SHFL Entertainment’s interactive office, formed teams, came up with concepts, and hunkered down to work alongside hundreds more from around the world, all simultaneously creating games for Molyjam.
Two days later, over 250 titles by nearly 800 developers had been submitted to the Molyjam website. While the majority of the games are playable by anyone on a standard Mac or Windows computer, some teams chose more niche platforms (the Oculus Rift VR headset was especially popular this year), and one programmer even designed and wrote a game for the Atari 2600.
For some participants, just the act of completing something mostly playable in two days is enough. Others will continue to hone and polish their projects over the coming weeks, so if you come across a submission you especially enjoy, be sure to let developers know, and keep an eye on them for future announcements.art, gamedev, las vegas | Comment (0)