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Monday, September 30, 2013

By Jamaal Ryan

Sorry for the late post folks. Between moving and watching Breaking Bad's series finale (could have been better), I missed the week's updates by a day.

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 9/23/13 to 9/27/13. This past week has had some interesting news about gaming and parenthood. Below is a feature about one mother's decision to purchase GTA V for her 13 year old son, and what other gamer parent's perspectives are one violent video games for their children.

Note: My review on GTA V could come as early as next week's updates, however it'll be without GTA Online's coverage which is set to launch tomorrow.

Kinect's justifications was also one of TGS's weirdest games (9/23)

This past Tokyo Game Show was large in part another celebration of the Playstation brand in many ways, from the Vita TV to the many titles announced for its platforms. However one of the show’s standout games wasn’t only an Xbox One exclusive, but a Kinect title: D4.
Much like some of the known-by-name games seen at the show, D4 came back with a return showcasing, following its brief announcement at E3 earlier this year. We now know more about the Kinect powered title from the minds that brought you one of the worst/oddly brilliant titles current gen, depending on how you look at it.
D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, stars David (I’m sure the name was dee-liberate), a detective who solves crimes with his ability to access the past by touching mementos. Certain actions will have David imitate your gestures such as touching your temple to activate his Vision ability which draws your attention to certain objects, and splashing water in his face to replenish his usage of it. Fight scenes warrant quick simple gestures such as those seen all the way back at E3 like broad arm swipes.
D4 doesn't hold back from Swery's strange imagination either with fights on a plane involving using mannequin limbs to play combat baseball, and strange women dressing and acting like bunny rabbits. It’s a bizarre game of Sweryian proportions, and it probably wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for Xbox Ones coming packed with a Kinect in every box.
Kudos to Microsoft for sticking to their guns and not spinning another 180 by pulling the sensor out of the SKU after taking away the Kinect requirement for system operation. Kinect is a valuable part of the Xbox One platform, not only because the operating system considers it, but it incentivizes developers to incorporate its functionality. The original Kinect was a success on 360, churning up some exclusive software, but those publishers took a big risk – in light of an assumed generous payment from Microsoft – because not every system would ever have a Kinect companion.
But as part of the Xbox One’s platform, developers can take the unit into consideration; we’ve already heard of some developers thinking of incorporating them into their controller primary games such as Battlefield 4. Granted, this is a present day advantage; who’s to say that the console itself won’t ship on its own in the future?
D4 isn’t Kinect only as it’s also compatible with the regular controller. But even though Swery and his team are odd fellas, if a Japanese developer is looking to lead their software with Kinect on Xbox One, it’s a hopeful sign that future publishers and developers (a special mention for independent developers with Microsoft’s indie change of heart) will come up with more creative titles for the Xbox platform.
A game about a runaway slave and her baby (9/24)
The level opens with a mother holding her crying baby as she pulls it close to her chest, whispering that familiar “Shh Shh Shh Shh…” in a motherly tone trying to softly quiet her child. You have to admire her maternal resolve as she’s a runaway slave.
Isaura, we’ll call her, presses forward into the rainy forest with baby in arms in standard 2D platform affair until she faces her first obstacle. Think Limbo-like encounters as she must solve small puzzles in order to continue her escape. She must free her hands to clear the path, so she puts her baby down on the ground. The lack of warmth from its mother’s arms upsets the child, and then starts to cry. Isaura clears the way and picks up the one thing that has motivated her to embark on this venture and continues on.
Thralled, an iOS side scrolling puzzle, began as a student project from the University of Southern California’s Interactive Media & Games Division by Miguel Oliveira and now his small team. It tells a specific story within the era of slavery in Portuguese Brazil in the 1700s.
It’s a profoundly important project, willing to create an period experience around one of the world’s most controversial subjects that also happens to be several hundred years old; though it must not be forgotten that modern day slavery is alive and well with well over 20 million slaves today.
As gamers and game developers alike get older, we begin to see titles thematically discuss the idea about parenthood. Popular games such as The Walking Dead Season One and The Last of Us to smaller and more direct titles such as That Dragon, Cancer live outside of game mechanics and ignite that aching sense of protection.
"Who can understand slavery if you have not been through that kind of an experience? But everyone can understand the bond between a mother and her child and so that is the link between us and the slavery experience," Olivera says. Thralled very much has that relatable potential.
Last month I had the experience of watching Fruitvale Station (spoilers through till the end of the next paragraph), and the moment when Oscar Grant was shot in the back drove a double edged parental sword into our hearts. With blood dripping from his lips, he repeated, “I have a daughter! I have a daughter!” Fast forward to the scene at the hospital where his mother had the heart breaking moment of seeing her son’s corpse on the table and her chest caved in, everyone understood her pain.
My girlfriend and I were the only two Black people in the theater, and yet Oscar’s dying thoughts of leaving behind a fatherless daughter and his mother mourning his death struck everyone else to tears.
Though slavery, particularly Black slaves, is engraved in the history of those from African Decent, a story about a mother trying to save her child is universal. Thralled is completely funded but still needs staffing to complete the development, and it has my best wishes for its App Store release.
Sources: KotakuPolygon
Nope, Fuck You. You're banned from playing video games (9/25)
The mother of Jeffery Ehlers reports that her seventeen year old son was screaming obscenities at his television who was losing to a particular Playstation 3 video game. She goes on in adding that she asked him to stop, and threatened that she’ll take the console away from him. After his alleged refusal, she unplugged the system (She must have played GTA V and after seeing Michael smash his son’s TV, thought that this was a good idea… violent video games elicits bad parenting).
Expectedly, yet unfortunately, her statements report that Jeffery loses his temper, shoving her, throwing objects and slamming doors. After being arrested and taken to the Racine County court in Wisconsin to be charged with disorderly conduct, the judge issues an order. Jeffery’s punishment: possible 90 days in jail if convicted, and he will be banned from playing video games.
There are so many questions to ask here:
Was this Jeffery’s first outburst, or has he demonstrated temper tantrums in the past?
Likely not. A young man that age may have started showing signs of troubles controlling his anger before he hit puberty.
If this was a repeated incident, had the mother thought of addressing the issue by seeking professional intervention?
Depends. Children respond differently to different styles of intervention which is based on different factors. Most therapeutic treatments for teenagers are non-consensual, meaning that the parent requested therapy, not the child. Also, a child’s social skills can influence their response to therapy. If they’re not very verbal, then a face-to-face interaction might not have been the best course of action. Some respond better to therapy while taking walks or with low stimulating activities.
Has Jeffery only lost his temper playing video games?
I’m willing to bet not. Anger doesn’t just generate around a specific activity. The mother may notice it more when he’s playing video games simply because it’s the only arena where he’s competitive, or she may have a biased fixation to the point that she’s much more aware of his behavior playing video games than other activities.
What is the history of the relationship between Jeffery and his mother?
As one who has a complicated relationship with my own mother, I can empathize with Jeff on his frustration in dealing with his mother. Parents can be triggers, igniting a “sore spot” that sets our emotions off. We may be tolerable when our boss or teacher tells us that we’ve lost privilege of something, but the minute our guardian says it, it triggers a reaction in response based on past experiences and our knee jerk expectations.
How long is Jeffery banned from video games for?
This is a valid question. Reports stated that the judge ordered the banning, but is it weeks, months, years?
Can a judge actually ban someone from playing video games?
I’m a licensed social worker, not someone with a degree in law or criminal justice; but I’m willing to bet the answer is no. Video games is a form of media, just like movies, films, music and books. Can someone be banned from reading, watching a flick or a show, or listening certain albums based on unruly behavior? It doesn’t make sense. Especially given the fact that Jeffery is 17, meaning that he is of legal age (legal is a harsh word) to consume M rated games.
In addition, video games aren’t a substance or a proven source of psychological damage; it doesn’t cause explicit harm to players. Having said that, it would make sense if there were stipulations that required him to never touch alcohol, but being banned from playing video games seems a bit too extreme to say the least (note: I have not read if it was a court order. Not sure if there’s a difference between a judge saying that he is banned, or being issued an explicit court order).
The criminal justice system in this country...
...isn’t perfect by any means. I see it with my clients in psychiatric hospitals and out in the community; one of the worst recent examples was the Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh who sentenced former Billings Senior High School teacher Stacey Rambold to 30 days in prison after raping a 14 year old girl who later killed herself.
The judgment calls by these “judges” are troubling, seemingly rooted in biases and personal beliefs. Jeffery Ehlers needs help, but this Wisconsin judge might need a new profession.
Source: WISN 12 News
VIA: Kotaku
WTF Knee Jerk: Valve's Steam Controller (9/27)
First, shut up about Half-Life 3. It ain’t happenin’
Valve has had a series of announcements this past week including their Steam OS and their hardware partnerships. But they left a visually tangible (I’ll pretend that’s an adjective) and easily conceptual reveal for last, the Steam Controller. The owl jokes are warranted, it’s a strange looking piece of hardware. Concave clickable track pads, clickable touch screen in the center, which is boxed in by your formerly traditional ABXY now manning its four corners.
After looking at the concept design and the actual photos, I immediately picked up a 360 controller, regarded as the most ergonomic controller of all time, and pictured it in my hands. The pads, while missing the firm resistance of traditional analog sticks, could be a vast improvement for precision over our tilting “thumb-chairs”. The size of the bowl looks to cradle thumb movement enough while offering potentially more sensitivity for – and I hate to be a traditionalist – genres like shooters.
The mapped out ABXY doesn’t seem like a bad idea either. We’ll have to reteach ourselves, sure, but they’re within enough reach from the thumb pads to avoid odd contortions. The touch screen that sits at the center of the 4 buttons can be serviceable, giving a larger surface than the DualShock 4’s touch pad with visual feedback.
My only issue, and rather large one, is the absence of a D pad. We can immediately think of equipment management that can be pulled from the D Pad to the touch screen. But even that within itself requires longer travel than what I’m comfortable with. But more crucially is the exclusion of 2D style games which are always better with a D Pad. Looking at the Steam Controller, there doesn’t seem to be any comfortable way of playing these types of games.
That was my knee jerk reaction, happening well before the “haptic feedback” and “resonant actuators” jargon sinks in. Valve’s partnerships, OS, and even this controller interest me, however it’s the hardware itself that raises the other brow. Xi3, maker of the allegedly former Steam supporting Piston announced at CES 2013, is set to make announcements this upcoming week week. Who knows if Valve and Xi3 have reunited again, but I’m just looking for a console style PC in which I swap out cards like they’re SNES cartridges.
A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
This woman bought GTA V for her 13 year old son
Originally reported on September 26th 2013
If there’s one game that has ever deserved a hard M, that’s most certainly GTA V. Endless killings of innocent bystanders, prostitution, drugs, and some deeply disturbing content, it doesn’t get more “For 17 and older” than this. But one woman, after some long thought, decided that this will be her 13 year old son’s first violent video game.
Wendy Williams, host of the Wendy Williams show, proudly admits to buying GTA V for her 13 year old son. Part of her justification can be troubling to some, as she concerns herself with “Little Kev” looking like a freak and a weirdo for not having the cool game (though she completes her point by adding that she’s taking responsibility in keeping an eye and the activities that her son and his friends engage in). Her point was well criticized as another co-host on the panel calls her out for jeopardizing the parenting values of other children who are present in her house playing GTA V. But despite her wanting her kid to be cool and enabling other kids to go home and complain to their parents, “But Kev’s mom got him GTA V!”, Wendy is well aware of the content in this game, and invests their trust as his parents in knowing him enough that they believe he can handle this very mature game.
GiantBomb’s Vinny Caravella was asked if he will expose his son to children’s games or mature games, considering that their content will be more realistic than today’s games, if he’s ready for mature games. The question answered itself, but Vinny’s answer was concrete yet profound. He simply answered, “Then he plays those games.” He elaborates the importance of making a judgment call based on the child’s individual personality. And while he doesn’t belittle the ESRB age appropriation, he points out that maturity of the child is what matters.
Yup, she's ready.
Father of four boys, Colin Campbell – formerly of IGN who now writes for Polygon – wrote his own advice in being a video game parent. His first rule presented a stark difference between parents like Wendy who know exactly what they’re buying their children, and those that just don’t care. As much as we gamers are informed consumers for ourselves, those who are parents should be just as informed of the games they’re allowing their children to play.
About two months ago, I came across a video of a gentleman who responded to accusations of games eliciting violent behavior in children. As a hopeful father in the future, this (non-verbatim) quote will lead how I will raise my children around video games: “I don’t believe games makes kids violent. I do, however, think it’s important to be able to teach kids the difference between video game consequences and real life consequences. Sit down with them and ensure that they understand that this game action isn’t okay in real world society.”
As a former youth counselor for teenagers in a group home, I allowed my kids to play violent games. I often used exposure to video games – even violent ones – as a preventable measure from excessive behavior. Looking at today’s children, it's important to know that they are exposed to far more mature content, both in media and in real life, than many of us were when we were children (for those of us in our twenties and older). They’ve told me stories that I could never imagine myself in when I was their age. Playing Halo or Gears of War changes nothing in their lives. My job was to reinforce good behavior and reprimand bad behavior; violent video games were hardly an influence to these raped, homeless, neglected and battered victims.
You all know what I’m going to say. Monitor your children, study their behavior, make choices based on their ability to separate their super ego from their video game id. Wendy seemed comfortable with it, Vinny looks forward to it, and Colin practices it with his four children. Anytime I hear a parent blame video games for their child’s violent behavior, I ask, “What’s your excuse?”


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Sunday, September 22, 2013

By Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 9/9/13 to 9/12/13. Below is a special feature about my experience as a first time Diablo player.

First Three Hours of GTA V Spoiler Free (9/17/)

Well, that was the longest install I've ever had to sit through.
Being that Rockstar games are so infrequent, I’m certain that I’m not the only one who initially feels that navigating characters controls like someone walking for the first time after being in a coma for a month. Needless to say,  it took me a while for me to get used to GTA V's unconventional controls; the weighty pick up, the momentum shift in changing directions, these are very different mechanics, those in which are less noticeable over time but never forgotten.
It took me half the time to pick up on the tighter driving. Lighter vehicles control better than others as they have a tighter grip to the road than heftier models. However some cars allowed me to spill all over the road more than others; the mere stark difference was unusual, but perhaps vehicle customization might justify that.
I'd have to say, the first mission didn't do the game any favors in terms of visuals. The vibrancy we’ve seen in screenshots and trailers were missing to be replaced by a bland color scheme and poor lighting. This could easily been explained by the weather conditions and the linear nature of the mission, but it just felt strange.
It was when I entered Los Santos when I was in awe.
Big city. Bright lights. Driving towards the outskirts of Vinewood toward rolling hills dotted with shrubbery all emphasized with the game's insane lighting made my jaw drop. The level of scope in GTA V is astounding, and the level of minute detail is equally impressive. Of everything I saw, Lamar's flip flops lifting off the pavement to the souls of his feet instead of being glued to it displayed the level of care Rockstar put into their animations.
When not in the action, the only thing that pulled me out of my constant gaze of the city was Rockstar’s quintessential dialogue. The banter between Franklin and Lamar quickly reminded me of the Friday movies, the feel good neighborhood films for us Black folks. It brought back that San Andreas feel, only more believable and much smarter.
My first money shot moment was pulled off in a spectacular fashion as the game just manages to succeed keeping you in control while everything around you goes to shit. If this is signs of what's to come, the game will allow you to trigger cinematic camera angles to get a look at the action up close while prompting you what to do in enough time to keep everything moving.
My last mission presented the gun play in full force. It's Max Payne 3 in GTA V's body. The cover system is properly magnetic and much more reliable. And while the soft aim is still there, the camera acceleration is much smoother, allowing you to kill with confidence. I didn't do so well admittingly, but I can't wait to get into more firefights to test my body count skills.
I didn't get much done in the three hours (2:40 if you discount the download time) because of the pedestrian distractions that kept pulling me every which way. Cruising jamming to Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre, or enjoying a shamelessly racist cartoon and later listening to upended political propaganda, GTA V lives outside of you whether you experience it or not, and I can’t wait to see just how much blood is pumping through this city.
I do have an issue with character switching. It’s quick and instantaneous when each are just meters of one another, but across the city, it take full seconds to switch from one to the other. I’m not sure if it’s my system or disc, but I’ll be very unhappy if this interrupts any missions.
I can’t say much for the game thus far. In this massive game, I’ve yet to meet all the characters, and with the exception of the money shot moment, this installment has been baseline errand boy GTA. But I’m confident that’s gonna change within the next hour or two as I’ve seemed to come across the moment that bring these three together in doing what we know them to do.
Look forward to my review in October.

MGSV Excites Me from Tokyo Game Show (9/19)

Much like the genre that it inspires, Metal Gear Solid V snuck up on us at its official debut at the beginning of Microsoft’s E3 2013 press conference, then hardly to be heard from again. The most attention that it has gotten since then was the studio’s controversial statements of making Quiet more “exotic” and “sexy” (I’ll leave that one alone since I’ve written enough about gender issues in video games).
Stealth games have historically walked the narrow path of pass or fail; and within the last ten years, games like Splinter Cell have grown to give players more direct methods of engagement options, and others such as Thief, Dues Ex: Human Revolution and Dishonored have gifted players a respectable amount of volume allowing more flexible ranges of approach.
Metal Gear Solid V arguably inflates that space to a scale that wows us almost just as much as what many of us are experiencing now in GTA V. Not only is there an incredible amount of real estate to cover in each area, but the level design and the environment looks to give us a near infinite amount of stealth options such as hanging off the side of a horse, and using night time and weather conditions to our advantage.
Now I must admit, in isolation, the Tokyo Game Show demo wasn’t all that exciting in and of itself to look at. But there were some neat tricks that show how Kojima Productions is paying attention to the genre at large and implementing new gameplay options in their own right. Much like games such as Splinter Cell and Far Cry 3, enemies can be marked and tracked throughout the environment. There are also several occasions where enemies are seen through walls which draws a heavy comparison to games like the Batman Arkham titles.
There also seems to be more of an empowering reaction to being spotted by enemies when up close. It looked as if limp bodies can be thrown for an instant KO which is hilariously overpowered in its own right. This action was done when time slowed after an enemy was alerted; it's an interesting design similar to games that lend a short window to silence the enemy (oddly enough, the modern Goldeneye reboot comes to mind) before others become aware of your location.
It was a raw demo from start to finish of how one can infiltrate and enemy base from any angle and any approach that would indeed be far more exciting to play than to watch. But when keeping in mind again the environmental tools and adaptations along with the traversal freedom, Metal Gear Solid V could set a standard in modern stealth action games.

Is there a history of violent video games and gun violence? (9/20)

And so it continues. Another horrible tragedy in the form of a mass shooting, and another perpetrator who just happened to play video games. From Columbine to Norway to Sandy Hook to the most recent tragedy in DC involving 12 killed at a naval base, the media and video game naysayers point the finger at mature rated games as the cause and even the influence. Some might go as far as to say that games are the problem, not guns.
It’s an absurdly narrow hypothesis, especially considering that gun violence – and in this case, mass shootings – have been an active deadly part of American society for decades. Know the term “Going Postal”? It originated from the series of mass shootings that happened to take place at US Postal Offices beginning in 1986 at Edmond Oklahoma where 15 were killed including Patrick Sherrill, the shooter, who turned the gun on himself.
Though many unofficial trackings date mass shootings back to the early 80’s, a decade where the term “violent video games” was hardly conceived, the oldest known mass shooting marks all the way back to 1764, where it’s horrifyingly coincidental that it was also a shooting where the fatally wounded were students and a teacher.
Television wasn’t even invented yet, let alone video games.
Take away the video games, and what are you left with? Nearly 250 years work of historical mass shootings, and 225 years’ worth if you discount shootings that have happened between this past Monday and the year 1990, the beginning of an era where violent shooters have developed since Wolfenstein 3D.
Centuries ago, the blame might have been on possessions of some kind. Decades ago, mass shootings might have been scapegoated by music and television; now we’re up to video games.
I just hope I grow old enough to see where the tides shift next.

A Week in Gaming Special Feature:
I've Lost My Diablo Virginity
Originally reported September 16th 2013
Diablo is a game about getting new shit thrown at you all the time. Having not played any game in the series before it, and only getting a chance to experience it on 360, I finally got the “Diablo Hook”.
Diablo is surprisingly more of a demanding action RPG than I expected it to be. Enemies’ patterns mimic that of more conventional action titles with hazardous obstacles and broadcasted attacks as you're made capable with incredibly responsive controls that enable you to trigger and cancel attacks instantly. As a Monk class, I heavily rely on Tempest Rush which is designed as both a defensive and offensive maneuver. I can deal damage and inflict effects on my foes, but at the same time (in my opinion) it’s primarily useful for getting out of a jam since it cuts directly through enemies.
This isn’t the makings of a typical RPG, this rooted in action game mechanics.
Those who’ve played Diablo for years will process this as if it’s second nature, but from an outside-looking-in perspective, this might have been beyond the expectations of those who’ve never played Diablo.
One take away that I can honestly say has changed my perspective in RPGs in the future is rooted in Diablo’s basic combat. I’ve always felt more comfortable with the basic Warrior/Barbarian classes as a way to avoid managing magic and low defense. And though the Monk isn’t particularly a departure from that play style, being that Spirit is recharged by basic attacks – and not like other archaic RPGs where it’s based off of potions of some kind – it incentivizes me to try new classes and perhaps do the same in future RPGs from here on forth.
Loot and leveling up are what defines the Diablo experience for me as I’m sure it does for veteran players. The gear that I’ve obtained while playing Diablo has been extremely empowering. Early in my campaign, I augmented my Monk with armor that has health regenerative features. That, combined with the Mantra of Healing meant that my health kept fighting to stay full… and was winning. Now as I’m currently grinding, I’ve shifted to prioritizing gear that empower extra experience, making that climb to the next level even faster than it normally is.
Discovering that I can sit down for a small reasonable amount of time and see the next level kept me glued to my seat. I was ecstatic to see how Diablo 3 rewards you with something new every single time you level up. Not all the abilities are game changers; many of them I’ve skipped to continue my adherence to my play style, but just knowing that something new was around every corner turned 30 minutes into hours.
As I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of a multiplayer match; that alone makes Diablo 3 the most user friendly co-op game I’ve ever played. This, along with the basic principle of consistently rewarding the player, is where I can now see where the term for Borderlands “Diablo with guns” came from.
Better with friends.
The story in Diablo is secondary… hell, even third-dary. I crushed the hellish Diablo within minutes and jumped right back into multiplayer to see how far and how powerful I can push my Monk to be. The loot is better. The experience gain is faster. The battles are tougher. All three aspects of multiplayer to me feels cradled by how adamantly it is designed to keep players together. Borderlands 2 beat for beat, drew inspiration from Diablo’s multiplayer format, but one of the key features it missed was loot exclusivity. I hated it when a gun with a purple beacon shot out of a corpse only to see some asshole sprint by and pick it up, or worse yet, make an entire pile of loot vanish in one fell swoop. With the exception of when a fellow player gives up his gear, that never happens in Diablo 3. In addition, I equally value being able to teleport back and forth from a hub village, and by interacting with any one of the fellow players’ banners, jump right back into the fray. Blizzard clearly wanted to make the player experience as barrier free and progression heavy as possible. And for me, it succeeds in every conceivable way.
For me, Diablo 3 came out at an inopportune time.  The two weeks that I spent with it wasn’t enough with GTA V shipping tomorrow. But with several classes, several difficulties, endless loot, and addictive design, after experiencing it for the first time, Diablo 3 has my respect for one of the most definitive RPGs in the video game spectrum.


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Sunday, September 15, 2013

By: Jamaal Ryan

Let’s take a looking at a week in gaming from 9/9/13 to 9/12/13. Below is a special feature expanding on a piece written on Kotaku last week by Whitney Hill about her perspective as a woman in the game development community.

Are on board with PS VIta TV? (9/9)
It’s amazing how much of a domestic device the Playstation Vita has grown to become. From a simple high definition handheld to one that will stream our Playstation 4 titles off of the same Wi-Fi signal as the console to just as announced this week, having a unit compatible with our television where we can play games on the big screen; the Playstation Vita is every bit a handheld on the go as it is a handheld on the couch.
But how relevant is the PS Vita TV to the mass market?
The standard PS4/Vita stream remote play, said to be compatible with every PS4 title, is a niche in and of itself. While it’s neat to walk away from our console and continue the game elsewhere, say in your back yard or like the Wii U, free up the television for a housemate, many respond to this saying, “Why would I want to play my PS4 games on a 5” inch screen as opposed to a 50”?” It solves a problem that many of us have conditioned ourselves to work around. It’s more of a neat perk than an answer to our prayers.
Playing handheld games on our televisions is nothing new. Nintendo released a device for the Gamecube that attached right under the console with a GBA slot that allowed us to play GBA games on the big screen; one that I used to play Golden Sun many years ago. Apple TV addresses with the same idea in which users can connect their Apple device to a TV and stream the content to it, be that videos or games bought from the App Store. Both are/were fine devices, however neither really took the place as an additional living room game box.
Vita TV is the next generation of this idea packed with USB 2.0 support, HDMI out, and an Ethernet jack. And with console like titles on the system, each can take full advantage of the screen. But how many of these games will we get a chance to use with this device? For gamers like me, I have a very specific preference of playing games on my television. I would rather play a game like Motorstorm RC on my Vita rather than my television because of its small scale. A game like Uncharted Golden Abyss or Killzone: Mercenary would more suited for my tastes, except there’s one problem… at this time, neither game is compatible with Vita TV.
This could easily be a result of the fact that the aforementioned games use Vita specific control features, and Vita TV at this time will support the Dualshock 3. There are plenty games that will be supported on Vita TV, including Earth Defense Force 3, Final Fantasy X/X-2, and Marvel vs. Capcom 3; and up to 1,300 games will be supported along with PSP and PSone games as well. The future of this device can see patched games to be compatible with the Dualshock (hopefully not at the expense of having Vita games taking full advantage of the system's features) and one could hope that the Vita handheld itself will communicate with it in some way.
Vita TV will also boast another remote play feature where much like how PS4 games can be streamed to the Vita handheld, the Vita TV can stream games to another television off of the same Wi Fi signal. Again, neat feature, however how many of us does this really make a difference for? The PS4/Vita handheld stream is a reasonable stretch as you can enjoy your PS4 titles outside, on the toilet, watching the plumber fix your leaking supply lines, or babysitting your nieces and nephews in your crib.
Proponents of this feature will say, "Hey, if so-and-so wants to watch TV, then you can take your games to another TV, or even have up to four people play off of the same system." Let me stop you there. Besides the fact that we don't know how well the streaming will be, what of those who live by themselves? What of those who (logically) already have a second television dedicated to games? And who the fuck is gonna be streaming on four televisions off of the same PS4? Yes it's cool, yes it offers options, but is it necessary within the parameters of experiencing video games? Not even close.
Outside of games, the Vita TV will have media features such as Hulu and likely Netflix along with all the obligatory services. So if you're one of the few that doesn't have a computer, smartphone, smart television, tablet, gaming handheld, games console, or a stream box of some kind, well this is for you... if you live in Japan or can wait until Vita TV is announced State side. 
So will we find ourselves domesticating our Vita games and playing them on the big screen or our PS4s on different screens, or will we experience our Vita library natively on our portable device, play our PS4 games on... a PS4 and stream TV shows and movies off of it? Certainly they’ll be audiences with both, but it’s a matter of how many will be on board.
The Exclusion of Women from GTA V (9/10)
We seem to be in a sensitive time when discussing women in video games. Anita Sarkeesian completed her three part Women vs. Tropes in Video Games series, feminists had words for The Last of Us’ depiction of women, Call of Duty: Ghosts announced female playable soldiers in their multiplayer reveal, and readers as well as one PC Gamer editor was in shock and disgust of a scene in a demo for Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number. Today on the Guardian, Dan Houser made a few points to explain their decision as to why they excluded women protagonists in GTA V.
Point One: “The concept of being masculine was key to the story”
While there’s nothing wrong with centering a game on masculinity as movies like The Expendables wouldn’t necessarily be regarded as sexist, it’s easy to criticize the long running series – over a decade – for not having female protagonists, especially in a game where there are three. Many have reasonable stances to slam the series’ for their depiction of women, although it’s had their share of strong female characters. None the less, with a game that prides itself with social commentary from race to socioeconomic status, to religion, to politics that plants little diamonds in the ruff of societal ill, it’ll be nice to see how Rockstar could have written a female lead in these cities with many vices.
Point Two: “…allows us to create nuanced stories, not a set of archetypes.”
This reinforces the point for its adherence to maintaining a masculine tone. It’s respectable that this is a game about three different characters that compliment and complete one another when together and expose their weaknesses when they’re apart, both in story and in gameplay. It makes more sense both in narrative scope and in gameplay.
While I don’t terribly align with the phrase, “a game about masculinity”, for reasons that are perhaps outside of their own, I can settle. I have faith in Rockstar’s writers, however I can’t help but easily imagine an offensive shoehorn depiction for a woman just for the sake of having one. Any which of the following could sit uneasily with players: “The only woman on the team who’s a lesbian that may have some special ability that is ‘feminine’ like healing or be a means of distraction”. These are extreme examples, but writing a female lead in the world of GTA that’s filled with outlandish stereotypes could be tricky.
However having a married woman whose specialty is with guns and acts as a reflection of the city’s reactions to her as a female would be interesting.
Point Three: “We liked the idea of a protagonist retiring with a family, and how awful that would be… yada yada yada.”
Here’s where I completely change my tone. The context of the story is irrelevant. Like movies such as The Expendables (not a fan I might add), writers have the right to tell whatever story they wish to choose, and how they see its elements fit together in their narrative. Would it have been nice to write a story of a retiring female mobster? Yes. But so would have been a story of a mother escorting a young boy across the United States fighting off looters and infected humans, yet we got Ellie and Joel in The Last of Us.
We can have a discussion about how storytellers need to inject more diversity within their characters in games; but regardless the fact, a good story is a good story, good writing is good writing, and interesting characters can be all White or all Black or all women.
If Rockstar wants to tell a story about
…a man who’s retired from the criminal life, a thug who’s looking to move out the hood, or a crazed lunatic living in the outskirts of a major city, then so be it. As long as it’s conducive to the story and not to the target audience that’s more likely to buy games if a male (or three) is on the cover.
A difficult approach is to appreciate creators for the work that they’ve done whilst challenging them explore writing a female leads into the story in the future and make them relevant and organic to the story instead of having it just because it would be nice to pander to a certain demographic. It would be more insulting to depict a character that reinforces tropes and stereotypes than write a better one that excludes other diverse groups.
All in all, we can all agree that the industry should be moving towards a diverse representation when necessary.
Game that makes you feel good about eating Chipotle (9/13)
I willingly wish to remain ignorant to the food prep wizardry that goes on behind the farms, factories and/or plants that Chipotle gets their food products from, but if their game is any indication, The Scarecrow iOS title and short film exemplifies the chain restaurant’s proposed principle of naturally farmed food.
Developed by Moonbot Studios, The Scarecrow, a game about the titular farm prop completing a variety of tasks built within  a series of mini games, follows the lanky hard worker at Crow Foods, a plant that prides itself on 100% all-natural food. In the Disney-esque short film, we follow the scarecrow going through the motions, working the food factory and – for the sake of the film’s message – pumping food right out to consumers with a guilty shot capturing their initial digestion.
Visibly fatigued of his monotonous life style, as the scarecrow peers behind the factory’s “All-Natural” sign, we discover their true processing procedures, pumping chickens full of chemicals, and then later, a warehoused extraction from labeled cows.
Consciousness begins to take over on his train ride home as he passes by the actual farms which are commanded by towering mechanical crows beaming god-knows-what into the crops. The slender figure reaches home as he’s greeted by a fresh pepper grown on the plant before him. Then it becomes time to change his ways as he spends an afternoon preparing fresh meals, shamelessly resulting into that Chipotle basket we all know and love.
Regardless in what Chipotle’s practices are, they certainly got their message across: a game, and an adorable short film, about the awareness of organic foods.
Check out their short film below; and while you’re at it, enjoy Fiona Apple’s remake of Pure Imagination.

VIA: Polygon
A Week In Gaming Special Feature:
Idiosyncratic Reactions to Women in Game Development
Originally reported on September 11th 2013

I’m confident that many of us are aware to the overt sexism that goes on in the games industry. The jokes, the harassment, the puzzled look follow by, “You play video games?” It’s present, it’s unfortunately consistent, and thankfully, there have been raised voices against it.
But in the nature of prejudice, there are different stages of “recovery”. Much like racism and somewhat with homophobia, we’ve moved passed the blatant “queer” and segregation of yesteryears. Now, we’re in a period of off colored Black or “Muslim” jokes and mumbling “Look at that gay guy over there”; all circumstances knowing that a shameless calling out is a quick way to get your ass kicked. With an employer hiring a woman, they may try to cover themselves by saying, “you’d better be able to take a joke.”
This is the period of recovery in which the developers Hills describes in her piece. For us men in business environments, how many times have we caught ourselves reaching to hug a woman or kiss her on the cheek rather than issue the same response we give other men with an innate extension of our arms for a handshake?  I know I have, but this may be perceived as viewing women as unequal colleagues and business partners.
As a social worker, I work around plenty of women, though after working at Homedepot for 5 years, unless a woman is in a very clear managerial position, it’s, “Hey new girl” or “Hey, young lady”. As Hills described, there seems to be this level of discrepancy between women in their twenties and women over 40. Male developers can walk in fresh out of college and earn a high level of collaborative respect within months. But the presumed “cuteness” and “sex appeal” of a woman in their twenties will keep her just as eye candy until she stops being “sexy” any more and that’s no longer a distraction from her raw talents.
Women try to fit into these environments. They try so hard. We men have all hung around the woman (or that girl in high school) who hates chicks, would rather be around men, and makes more off colored jokes about herself than you would feel comfortable to. Ever take the time to think that she’s doing her best just to fit in? Doing her best to free you from feeling like walking on eggshells around her, further highlighting that she’s a woman?
Even the little things add up: the “nice” gift sitting on the table, the dark women’s bathroom since they’re the only woman working there, the late nights feeling more alone and unsafe.
Very few of us work in the games industry while the rest of us wish we would, but all of us work with women. So take a step back and shaker her hand, try looking directly at her and compliment her work instead of her physical features, don’t be the creepy guy that positions yourself awkwardly over her, “How you doin’?” And if you’re in a supervisory position, give her a chance, she might impress you.
Let’s move past this stage of recovery and build idiosyncratic gender equilibrium
And to the women out there, thank you for all your hard work; it’s deeply appreciated.
Source: Kotaku


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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Reviewed by: Jamaal Ryan
It’s very difficult to get the super human sandbox sub-genre right. Games like inFamous and the original Crackdown nailed it with central thematic game design, while others such as Prototype stumbled with a lack of focus. This is what makes Saints Row IV so interesting. Departing from its conventional yet outlandish roots, Volition seeks to out-do The Third, which stands as one of the best sandbox games of this generation. Super speed, super jump, and a whole host of super powers, Saints Row IV aims sky high… literally, but not without occasionally forgetting what made the third installment such a fantastic game and what this sequel set out to do in the first place.
Saints IV begins to develop an existence in spite itself almost from the very beginning. Soon after stopping a nuclear threat, planting your ass in that seat in the oval office, then getting abducted by aliens and thrown into a Matrix-a-fied version of Steelport, you gain the abilities to trample directly through traffic at high speeds, and leap over buildings in a single bound. This effectively amputates the need of vehicles immediately, and later on more gameplay options ahead.
This begins to highlight Saints IV’s biggest problem. It serves you an entire pizza dish’s worth of content and gameplay options that’s often dwarfed by its bolstering super powers. Some can be ignored while others have to be suffered through the main story line.
A great example is that from very early on in the game, you’ll spend so much time booking it on foot, and shortly thereafter, gliding in the air, that whenever you’re forced to hop behind the wheel, it feels like a chore rather than a thrill no matter how fast or how cool the vehicle is. Given the opportunity, I went out of my way to avoid jumping in a car. There are certain side missions ask you to deliver a vehicle over to any one of the selected garage locations throughout Steelport. Wait, you want me to DRIVE there? Fuck that shit. I’m just gonna use my telekinesis powers and carry it on over.
I’m not gonna steal it, just gonna toss it over a bridge.
The more powers you get, the less interested you are in entire categories of upgrades. You can easily get away with divorcing yourself away from vehicles entirely, and fellow Saints have little use next to your super human abilities.
It’s difficult to blame Saints IV for being different, especially in an industry where samey sequels are so scrutinized. But what added to The Third’s value were the bevy of upgrade options available – many in which aren’t as relevant here. And acquiring and piloting certain vehicles was rewarding and gave a great change of pace in the last game, however now you'll entertain yourself more playing catch with them. Super powers are much appreciated, but not entirely at the expense of the inadvertenly relinquished enjoyment of what it’s like to be human.
Saints IV’s pacing is jarring thanks to uneven mission design. The main storyline takes you to reconstructed fabrications of your homies’ imaginations. Your powers are often taken away forcing you to engage in competent to downright boring sequences. Shooting down choppers and blowing up enemy vehicles with a rocket launcher? Yes please. Mowing down wave, after wave, after wave of foot soldiers? No thanks. It isn’t until the end that your powers take center stage, but narrative linarites are no match for player agency freedom.
Well… at least the main story has bro-mance.
Got that? Good. Now here’s what makes Saints IV still a hell of a lot of fun.
Your time is better spent satisfying your crew’s deranged and often impulsive desires, letting the main story take a back seat as side missions give you the widest degrees of freedom to use your powers to the fullest (with the exception of awful hacking mini games). Not only do they lead you to activities that allow you to fuck with the city in various ways, they also reward you with valuable weapons and power upgrades which encourage you to return to the city and demo your new acquisitions.
Saints IV is at its best when you’re busy enacting crowd control. Using telekinesis to launch vehicles across city blocks or running around using said items as destructive wrecking balls, earthquake stomping your enemies into oblivion or using an anti-gravity version to shoot them down while they’re suspended in midair, all these fuel your addiction to cause ceaseless destruction that never gets old.
With just a simple wave of my hand…
A good chunk of the enjoyment in Saints games are the arbitrary activities, and Saints IV has brought back some of your favorites. Mayhem is the best platform to display the extent of your powers, and leaping 50 stories in the air and then watching your body descend and flail into traffic makes the new Insurance Fraud the best Crash Mode the Burnout franchise has never had.
My new favorite is the telekinesis based Prof. Genki’s Mind over Murder (M.O.M.) where you rush to different locations around a section of the city launching humans, vehicles, Genki and other mascot heads into the appropriate rings. Other new additions warp you to a Tron-ified alternate digital space through rifts where specific powers are put to the test. These side missions are designed around your special powers and challenge them enough to be far more than enjoyable.
Despite the level of destructibility available at your fingertips, weapons are still very relevant in Saints IV.  Favorites are bound to be the Abduction Gun which lifts targets into the sky, never to be seen again, the Dubstep Gun that emits sick devastating beats in undulating waves of dub-step, and the Inflato-Ray that can magnify enemies to hilarious proportions before they explode. My path of carnage relied heavily on the space phenomenon firing Black Hole Launcher, and the Disintergrator which erases enemies out of existence. Yes, I like to leave little evidence indicating I was even there. Both gave me the excitement of a “win button” feel without actually guaranteeing it. And that’s a testament to how well balanced and highly aggressive the AI can be.
Combat and control is exceptional as always in Saints IV. You’re combative success is only as good as how well your fingers can react to the action on screen. Momentous animations have no interference here. I performed at my best when holding a car in mid air with my telekinesis while gunning down foes at the same time. The action can clutter, mostly by your hand, and even slow the framerate at times, but it never compromises your engagement in battle.
Movement never lets you down, even with Saints IV’s wide range of mobility. Need to escape fisticuffs with angered citizens? Leap or sprint out of harm’s way. Miss a platform scaling one of the extra-terrestrial towers? Glide, vertical wall run, and super jump until you reach the top. The controls also make your time spent collecting data clusters to purchase new power upgrades as seamless and enjoyable as possible, bringing back that purposeful Crackdown orb hunt pass-time feel.
My city.
The Saints Row franchise – particularly The Third and the game here in question – bask in their crude humor. Saints IV becomes quite comfortable and self-aware, seeking to out-parody video game and pop-culture parodies. Forced vulgarity in lines such as “I think I broke my dick bone” fall flat, and modern day references like “I’m the one who knocks” feels a little late to the game (mostly thanks to Borderlands 2). But its heavy handed Mass Effect (particularly the Mass Effect 3 elbow jab made me drop my controller in laughter), Star Fox and other game references I hesitate to spoil range from quick deliveries to entire sequences. All are well appreciated and do a fine job in living up to the reputation Volition has tried so hard to maintain.
The Bottom Line
Saints IV isn’t as good as The Third. While leaping from building to building and gliding across bridge wide rivers cutting through Steeport, you’ll pass over sports cars and will spot the occasional air craft that will give you fond memories of the joy rides you have once had before if you’ve played the previous installment. As a stand-alone game, the new abilities are still awesome, employing another level of city interactivity and destruction, both being the reason why Saints IV is still a good game. But the main storyline doesn’t properly facilitate your new powers, often taking them away for ludicrous narrative reasons. Saints Row IV is better served as a traversable and interactive plaything rather than a consistent package, staying true – no matter the cost – to a definitive sandbox title.
+ Still funny as hell with the occasional flat jokes
+ Super powers and an entire city to mess with
+ Side missions that make you appreciate super powers
- Main missions that often don’t care for super powers
- Much of what the game has to offer becomes obsolete