Press Start Gaming opens in Las Vegas

January 12th, 2014

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on December 19, 2013

It’s early evening at Press Start Gaming Center, and business partners Andy Reanrungroch and Bryant Dietz are at ease as they enjoy the slow period of the day, the hour or two after the younger players go home but before the nighttime walk-ins and organized gamers begin filling seats. The LAN Center has only been open a month, and everything still bears the squeaky clean shine of recent unpacking. A board advertising a December 21st grand opening tournament (grand prize: the console of your choice) greets guests as they enter, while PS4s, Xbox Ones, and monitors sit in a cluster of octagonal tables. A pool and foosball table share space with the BYOC (bring your own console) area, where a handful of gamers are already playing Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on a Nintendo Wii U and several 3DSes. I make a note to bring in my own 3DS from the car before leaving; Streetpasses are Nintendo gold, man.

Sitting at barstools along the counter (alas, this is a non-drinking facility), Andy, Bryant, and I chat backstory, video games, and Las Vegas.

What’s the story behind Press Start Gaming Center? How did it come to be?

The idea for PSG started six years ago as a place geared as a video game lounge – rather than your traditional LAN – built around community, culture and atmosphere where everyone feels welcome. There is a lack of things to do for young people here in Vegas so the concept was to socialize the gaming experience by having a wide open floor plan for spectating and hanging out alongside gameplay. Basically the idea of PSG was to be an alternative to the movie theatre, pool hall and go-carts for younger casual gamers, while providing state of the art tech and internet speeds more hardcore gamers could appreciate as well.

We thought the timing was right with the release of two brand new consoles so we pulled our heads together and here we are.

So what’s the hardware setup? What led you to choose console-based gameplay over a more traditional (for LAN centers) PC outfit?

PSG has 15 Xbox Ones and 15 PS4’s with all current titles available to play. All the systems are hooked up to BenQ official MLG gaming monitors ready to LAN and play online. The large tables were custom built with gaming in mind. Our larger monitors seat two for sports games and fighting games, while the smaller monitors on the octagon tables are made for first person shooters and solo play. One octagon table is wide open for BYOC or BYOPC for now. Soon we will get into the realm of adding PCs but for now, with these next gen consoles being so fresh we thought it would be best to pull our resources together and concentrate on that for the wow factor effect we want to have on our new customers.

How do you handle Xbox Live and PSN accounts? Can players use their own logins, or does each machine have it’s own account?

Each system has its own PSG account so anyone can play online, but if a customer has their own account it’s very simple to sign in and play under that and delete it when they are done. There is an option to keep asking for password as well. We have a few regular customers that like to keep their accounts on our system but no one can access it. The nice thing too now is everything is cloud based, so if someone plays Call Of Duty for example, their achievements move with the account and data is not stored on PSG consoles.

Do Microsoft or Sony make any concessions for the LAN owner, allowing for bulk purchases or account management?

We are too new and small for Microsoft and Sony. We paid full price for all the systems, although Sony was a little more helpful through their business department and allowed us to preorder all our systems at once. With Microsoft we had to create different email accounts and purchase Xbox Ones on separate transactions which was a hassle, but it all worked out in the end. Game publishers have not been any help either. We pay full retail for the games most of the time, with some small help from a local business that saved us a couple bucks on each game, but every little bit helps and we are appreciative.

Now that you’ve been open for a few weeks, how has the response been?

The response so far has been amazing and we are truly grateful for our customers. They have been very supportive by taking flyers, offering shwag, making signs for us and coming back again and again with new friends. I hope they all realize how much this helps as we try to really get our name out in the community and establish ourselves as a successful business. The FGC [fighting game community] has been very supportive as well. We host Wednesday night casuals that have been drawing 30-60 people every week. When we see them having a good time here it really puts a smile on our faces.

What’re the most popular games so far? Between the Xbox One and PS4, is either a clear preference among players?

Call of Duty Ghosts, Battlefield 4 and Killer Instinct have been the most popular games with customers so far, with FIFA close behind. There has also been a good following for Lego Marvel and Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U. System favorites has been a tossup. You have your diehard PlayStation fans and Xbox fans, then everyone in the middle that wants to check out both systems.

Many cities have robust gaming communities, most often represented in the fighting game tournament scene but extending out to other genres as well. What is the Las Vegas gaming community like?

From our short time in business, it seems like the Las Vegas gaming community in general is disbanded. There seems to be small niche groups that have LAN parties but there doesn’t seem to be a sense of community and the response we have gotten is because there’s no central place to go.

Yeah, especially for the under 21 crowd. How do you see PSG changing that?

We want to help put Las Vegas on the map. As people learn about PSG we will host more and more tournaments and events for all groups and hope this puts fire in the hearts of Las Vegas gamers to step up their competitive spirits. We would like these Las Vegas gamers to call PSG home and we’re excited about the possibility of sponsoring Vegas teams for national events, but it’s way too early. We are just dreaming about that at this point.

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Press Start Gaming Center
4840 S Fort Apache Rd, Suite 100
Las Vegas, Nevada 89147
http://psglv.com/

Molyjam Deux: The Results

July 25th, 2013

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.

Full story, after the jump »

Molyjam Deux: You Thought You Molyneux

July 24th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on June 27, 2013

lasvegas_molyjam

In April of 2012, well over a thousand game developers, both new and accomplished, gathered in groups around the world and began to hammer away at their keyboards.

Over the course of a single 48 hour weekend, several hundred video games were created, demoed, and submitted online for anyone to play.

Next weekend, beginning on the evening of July 5th, we’re doing it again.

This week: the game jam column!

By the time the Internet at large had caught on to what he was doing, Adam Capone had been tweeting under the guise of @PeterMolydeux for well over a year. Via the Twitter account, a parody of the sometimes brilliant and often bombastic game designer Peter Molyneux (creator of Populus, Black & White, Fable, and more), Capone would post surreal and fanciful game concepts, ideas that, like their target of inspiration but cranked up to 11, often straddled the line between potential and absurdity.

@PeterMolydeux: You are a Pigeon who must go around the city trying to persuade business men not to jump off buildings by retrieving items from their home.

@PeterMolydeux: 3D adventure game where you have amnesia and wake up in a gigantic museum where every room is devoted to a year of your life

@PeterMolydeux: What if you could plant seeds that grow into cover systems?

Molydeux’s tweets were mostly an amusement to a growing cadre of readers – sometimes light jabs at Molyneux and the game industry, sometimes enjoyable thought experiments. And then on March 13, 2012, Anna Kipnis, a programmer at game studio Double Fine, posted the following:

@doubleanna: has there already been an indie game jam where each team picks an idea from @petermolydeux and goes for it? it needs to happen.

Almost immediately, wheels began to turn. Anna was joined by industry vets Chris Remo, Patrick Klepek, and Brandon Sheffield, and the four of them conspired to make the concept a reality. Soon, others from around the world (myself included) jumped onboard to organize local events. Venues were secured, a website was built, and word began to spread. The game jam was going to happen.

Oh, right. Game jam.
Full story, after the jump »

Crowd-sourcing a Resurrection

June 27th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on June 12, 2013

Joey Vanas, Michael Corthwaite, Rehan Coudhry and a team of dedicated volunteers want to save the Huntridge.

If you’ve spent more than a handful of years living in Vegas, you’ve heard this story before and can skip straight to the interview bits below. If you’re new in town, let me toss out some Google searches to get you caught up on the last couple decades of history: Friends of the Huntridge, Save the Huntridge, and Mizrachi Huntridge. I’ll wait while you look things up.

There, now you should be up to speed.

This week: the crowdfunding column!

I spoke with David Anderson, coordinator for the newly-launched Save The Historic Huntridge Theater indiegogo campaign, about the project’s methods, goals, and how the team is taking to crowdfunding and the Internet to get the Huntridge revival off the ground.

Funding the first stage of a historic building restoration is a novel use of crowdsourcing. What led the team to go down this route versus more traditional funding methods?

A few reasons. Covenants restricting the Huntridge from being torn down are set to expire soon, and it’s very important to get this off the ground before that happens. Joey, Michael, and Rehan are not rich people, and they exhausted their own financial resources putting down the first deposit on the property. Crowdfunding the second deposit both enables the project to move forward while showing potential investors (who would be required to foot the remainder of the restoration costs) that there is in fact massive community support to see the Huntridge revived and back in operation.

Why indiegogo over Kickstarter, local startup openfi.re, or other crowdsourcing options?

Kickstarter was a no-go because it expressly forbids raising money to buy real estate, given its “short term artistic project” focus. That restriction wasn’t the only one in their guidelines that disallowed us, but it was the obvious one. Openfire, a site I founded, is unfortunately too early in its development to support a project of this size, otherwise, the model we’d developed for openfire would have been perfect for this kind of multi-stage, long-term, socially-valuable project. Indiegogo, with its solid history and less restrictive terms, ended up being a solid fit for the Huntridge campaign.

How were the pledge levels determined? What percentage of the final indiegogo tally will go towards fulfilling pledge rewards?

They were determined by the team’s estimates as to what would entice the widest possible cross-section of people to happily contribute to the campaign. Note that contributions are not donations, as they are not tax deductible, and we want our contributors to feel that they are receiving direct value from the money they’ve granted the campaign.

Most of the rewards have lower hard immediate costs, since many of the big ones are dependent on a successful reopening, and many of the smaller ones are being donated by local artists or businesses. It’s impossible to say for sure without knowing which perks will end up being the most popular, but I’d guess that our fulfillment costs for this campaign in particular will run an exceptionally low percentage, probably <5%, preserving a great majority of the funding for the project itself. The outpouring of offers for in-kind contributions of time and services as we've spun this thing up has been incredible. One of the perks offered is what the campaign is calling a Speak Up! vote. How will Speak Up work, and what do the votes mean?

Our goal is to allow for the maximum possible level of local input on shows and programming once the Huntridge reopens. We want the community funders to have a voice in its direction, and to feel invested and excited to continue to support the Huntridge once it’s up and running.

We’re currently working with local development studios who’ve offered to help us design a platform to facilitate Speak Up and community input, and will reveal more about the system as it progresses and goes online.

The Huntridge was a fixture in Las Vegas for many decades before it fell into disrepair. Right now, we’re focusing primarily on securing the Huntridge to ensure that it will remain standing to serve the community in the decades ahead.

Interested in supporting the Huntridge Theater revival? Visit thehuntridge.com, pick your favorite perks, and throw ‘em a few bucks. I’ll buy you a drink on opening night.

Downtown Parking Gets An Upgrade

June 27th, 2013

Originally published in Las Vegas Citylife on May 29, 2013

Parking downtown! Calamity!

Where are we gonna put our cars once the Odgen’s own guest lot is stuffed to the gills with borrowed Teslas, sitting in waiting while their drivers awkwardly nurse microbrews as they plop up and down on the seesaw behind Park on Fremont, talking pivots and disruption and burn rate?

Were it not for the Good Doctor’s makeshift parking lot over on 6th Street soaking up overflow, folks might be forced to walk over a quarter mile, or God forbid, park on 7th Street. Who knows what hell will break loose once that misused patch of dirt is fenced off!

Oh, did you hear that we’re getting new parking meters downtown?

This week: The Parking Column!

downtownmeterremoval

The whole “let’s modernize the old school parking meters downtown because who still has change these days since the homeless took over the intersections” debate has been floating around for some time now, but in February of this year the Las Vegas City Council finally approved an initial $1.45 million contract that will allow industry kings Parkeon to install 233 Strada Rapide meters (painted Magic Blue) throughout the neighborhood. As a single Strada can manage multiple spaces, 1,216 traditional meters will be removed in the process.

In a gracious boon from on high, 125 of the existing metered spaces downtown will become entirely free.

Once all of the old meters are ripped out of the sidewalk, where do they go? Is there a parking meter graveyard out in the desert somewhere, or are they simply broken down and recycled? Give a crafty individual a thousand of those things, a blowtorch, and a button of peyote and I’ll bet you’d end up with one hell of a Burning Man project.

The Strada meters are actually kinda slick. Each unit (at $5,695 a pop) incorporates a display, credit card reader, and a 3G cellular modem, all powered by a solar cell and battery setup that allows for placement anywhere, regardless of current infrastructure. 158 of the meters will have a small grayscale LCD screen, while the remaining 75 (at an additional $1200 each) will feature full color 7 inch displays and an extended alpha-numeric keyboard.

Now that the deals have been inked, both the city and Parkeon are moving ahead at full steam and installation of the new hardware is set to begin next month.

But wait, that’s not even the neat part.

Last year, Parkeon partnered up with ParkMe, a data broker specializing in comprehensive real-time parking availability and pricing. As a result of this partnership, the moment a parking space governed by a Parkeon meter is freed up, ParkMe knows.

Founded in 2007 and flush from a round of funding earlier this year, ParkMe (formerly Parking in Motion) has been slowly building up a massive parking database, using it to feed both analytic data to parking providers (like say, the City of Las Vegas) and live parking information to the users of its online service. The ParkMe database currently features over 25,000 locations in more than 500 cities.

Via ParkMe’s service, users can look up a destination and view rates, parking locations and garages, and even the availability of individual spaces, so we’ll always know whether that one particular sweet spot on 6th Street is taken or not.

Once the initial install and testing phase is complete, the city will roll out additional functionality allowing users to pay for and refill a meter directly from the ParkMe app.

If you’d like to try ParkMe before the new meters roll out (most of the downtown garages are already listed), the free service is currently offered as both an iOS and Android app, and online at parkme.com.

Oh yeah, and the new Strada meters? They’ll still take coins, too, if that’s your thing.