By Jamaal Ryan

Just this past Monday, Twin Galaxies – an organization originally focused on recognizing all round video game achievement – has launched Twin Galaxies Live, a 24/7 online television broadcast that will provide original programming such talk shows (ala, informational segments, live tournament streaming, and other industry events. All will be streamed on their main website via Twitch while incorporating Skype TX to have fans chime in (think Rev 3’s late Address the Sess).

This is exciting news as video game television style broadcasting has had its ups and downs, mainly with the rise and fall of G4 from when the network was packed with shows such as the aforementioned, Cinematech, X-Play, and Icons, and then bloated with awful content such as Cops and Cheaters.

With the disintegration of the network, it substantiated arguments that claimed dedicated broadcasted programming to video games was impossible; that there wasn’t enough occurring in the game’s industry to sustain such a network. This is a challenge that Twin Galaxies Live faces. In addition, Twin Galaxies will need to enforce proactive – or effectively reactive – moderating since the program allows fans to appear live on air via Skype. A few shit heads are bound to slip through, but Twin Galaxies will need to have swift solutions at the ready for homophobes, racists, sexists, and all other forms of assholes.

Nonetheless, I’m on board with this evolutionary development in video game content. And have already pinned Twin Galaxies Live on my home page. You can begin tuning into their programming right now. 

By Jamaal Ryan

Nintendo inadvertently created quite the disruption last year when they announced that they were bowing out of doing a traditional E3 press conference. Instead of sinking millions of dollars into a bombastic press conference that would have surely gone to waste as it would have stood up against the Xbox One and Playstation 4’s coming out party, Nintendo decided to settle for their choir-preaching Nintendo Direct and, to make up for that approach’s lack in wider audience appeal, partnered up with Best Buy by demoing their games in over 100 locations throughout the US and Canada, bringing E3 directly to the consumer.

It turned out to be an incredibly cost effective way in pushing their game announcements to both core and less enthused audiences. While gaming enthusiasts knew to tune into Nintendo’s E3 Direct, at least hundreds of thousands had the opportunity to come within spitting distance of these unreleased titles (I myself didn’t get a chance to get hands on with Nintendo’s E3 announced games because the organization at the Best Buy that I went to was terrible).

Cost effective, but not successful. Evidenced by the Wii U’s catastrophic sales forecasts drops, Nintendo’s “guerrilla” E3 strategy didn’t work, while likely Microsoft and clearly Sony had tremendous success last year with Microsoft’s Titanfall exclusive and Sony’s wildly popular sucker punch to the Xbox One’s $499 price tag with their announced price at $399.

That inherently resulted in Nintendo’s dramatic shift in business approach with Iwata announcing plans to invest more R&D into the much criticized Wii U Gamepad, a very nebulous “Quality of Life” initiative, and a new focus on mobile development (which I have a strange feeling that this also includes their “QoL” initiative as mobile platforms don’t necessarily count as wearable devices).

So what about this year’s E3? Super Smash Bros. is instantly going to draw more attention than all of their titles from last year combined. Smash is Nintendo’s most popular franchise among the hardcore crowd (not to be mistaken with Mario Kart as their most popular franchise across the core and casual demographics). It lends itself perfectly to Best Buy demos, drawing crowds of spectators and fans alike to test out their new fighter.

But even with Smash’s popularity – along with information on Wii U’s next Zelda title and other unannounced projects – Nintendo’s announcements at E3 could fall into the expected trajectory for the company. Almost none of Iwata’s paradigm shifting plans would have crystalized into a presentable form by E3, which means that we may not see “new Nintendo” in 6-7 weeks. These ideas may not begin to come to light until Directs nearing towards the latter half of the year and 2015.

But the best answer is that I don’t know what to expect from Nintendo this year. Nintendo has pleasantly surprised us and disappointed us countless times over the years at E3. As far as I can see, this year is the Wii U’s best chance in increasing its sales, and we already know that this comes in the forms of Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. But what of the games that we don’t know about? Will this year’s Zelda announcement be enough? Does Nintendo have more gold-mine first party titles up their sleeves? Is strong third party support even worth considering? Just a little over a month to go. 


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

I had the privilege to speak to Rami Ismail from Vlambeer, and Akash Thakkar sound designer on Hyper Light Drifter; but at this year’s PAX East, I most looked forward to speaking with Will O’Neill, the creative mind behind Actual Sunlight.

I asked Will about his game, an interactive narrative that’s an autobiographical projection of his struggles with depression, and whether or not he felt as if creating this game helped him with his depressive symptoms. 

“No, it actually didn’t,” he said.

That response taught me two things: 1. Never base your interview with a developer off of expected answers, and 2. Telling one’s story might not serve the purpose that you expect.

“I like these dark themes.” Will discussed how both Actual Sunlight and his new title that he’s working on, which he was reluctant to share any details on, are both very dark in tone. And while he enjoys telling these types of stories, he claimed that this is more of a means in communicating with the player rather than helping him cope with his depression.

Originally, I saw these expressions as ways to process and cope with trauma. Victims of sexual assault and other forms of violence that are candid and give talks on their experiences don’t only do so to inspire others, but the act in sharing their stories themselves is therapeutic.

Creators experience something different from inspirational talkers in that their practiced art form allows for different interpretations and inspires the viewer/player/listener in unique and often unintended ways. Mattie Brice, critic and game developer, originally created Mainichi to illustrate her experience as a transgender individual. Ryan Green, creator of That Dragon, Cancer, strives to create a safe place for the players so that he can share his story. Matt Gilgenbach led the design on Neverending Nightmares to educate players on his ODC and depression.

But I’m arrogant. As a counselor, I’m of two minds: No one knows what’s helpful other than the individual, and yet, “The patient is always wrong” (a quote from the HBO show In Treatment). Back in high school, my 11th grade English teacher gave us an insightful realization, “Giving to charity is a selfish act.” The term selfish isn’t a bad thing, as he ultimately went on to say that every human act is an action based on selfish intent. What he meant was that the gesture of giving to others was a way to make ourselves feel better, and seeing others being helped makes us feel better. I can tell you that as a social worker, I’m in this field for myself first because I like to see others recover as underprivileged individuals.

To the point, I truly believe that developers create this material as a form of expression to help themselves cope. Even just hearing, “Your game made me understand my depression better,” or “You game made me feel that I wasn’t alone as a transgender,” I can imagine is a marvelous thing to hear that’ll ultimately benefit the creator.

So why do developers create these types of games? To help themselves by helping others.

Sorry Will. 


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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

After not hearing from a video game publisher for a long time, one of the last things that you’d want to hear from them is that they’ve partnered up with a gambling game development company. And yet that’s the story about Atari, who has partnered up with Pariplay, as they’re agreeing to bring their classic franchises to Pariplay’s platforms.

To be featured in the gambling company’s iLottery and iGaming platforms, players will be able to find Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Pong, and Tempest on Pariplay’s mobile and social formats. At this time, Pariplay’s games consist of slots, scratch-offs, bingo, and other expected (and I’ll use their phrase) fixed-odds style genres. And while it is currently unknown what form these classic Atari brands will take under Pariplay, one could guess that their gambling iterations won’t just be Centipede skinned virtual slots; perhaps something a little more “pay-to-win” like with a chance of some sort of monetary kickback?

This is more than just a shit stain on gaming’s humble classics; to be fair, we’ve seen classic gaming brands find their way into casinos. But it raises a concern with me that these games will take a “fix-odds” format, and perhaps present themselves as more appealing to addicted gamblers. Maybe they could even attract an untapped type of gambler by tricking them into thinking that their skills as a gamer will give them an edge on these classic skill based games where in reality, Pariplay’s systems are specifically engineered – just as all other gambling systems – to generate rewards by chance.

Could this be the future that Ryan Black, lawyer at Mc Millan LLP in Vancouver Canada, warned us about when he said about gambling companies? “It just shows that they recognize where the money is. They recognize ‘look at what these video game companies are doing, we want a piece of that as well.’”

Who knows? But I feel more creeped out by this than Notch felt about the Facebook & Oculus acquisition. 

By Jamaal Ryan

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending PAX East in Boston. Sure there were panels to attend and games to play, but a particular conversation with a history teacher gifted me with a new perspective on video games and education.

The teacher and I conversed about how video games can be implemented in the classroom. I mentioned how I’ve read about games like Portal and Minecraft can teach math, science, and communication. The educator explained how he’s used games like Papers, Please and his own methods of using Portal in the classroom. Being that Papers, Please is drawn from historical fiction, he didn’t so much try to teach concrete history with it as much as he was looking to have his students learn about the socioeconomic systems of governments.

His prime example with Papers, Please was when an immigrant pleaded not to let the individual behind them through because they were a sex trafficker. After examining the alleged trafficker, one of the students denied his acceptance based on the plea of the previous immigrant even though all of his checks were cleared. Later on, the student was penalized for the denial because there was nothing on record that justified turning him away which resulted in a decrease in pay, directly affecting their ability to provide for their family.

His second example was an observation on how students played Portal. After assessing a range of students from different academic performance levels, he concluded that the lower performing students excelled at Portal far better than the higher performing students did. He theorized that the lower performing students approached levels in a trial and error fashion – an approach that isn’t appropriate for conventional academia – while the higher performing students were slow to success because they carefully observed each puzzle before solving. He added that the trial and error approach, which he pointed out is more aligned with real world problem solving – allows the students to reach the solutions faster that those who carefully assessed.

After dinner, I intended to speak to him about an idea for an experiment that I’ve been kicking around for almost a year. In graduate school, I remember being painfully bored in my Research in Social Work class. Looking at the professor with pen and paper was a quick way to put me to sleep. I then began playing Jetpack Joyride on my iPod Touch. With Jetpack Joyride’s low bar requirements of input and attention, I was able to stimulate my mind to the point that I was capable of paying closer attention to the professor. I was even taking better notes than my classmate that sat next to me (who actually was looking at my notebook for any notes that he missed). I relate this closest to students that doodle in class but are still able to pay attention.

My idea was to test a group of students on their proficiency in taking notes by conventional means. Then take the students who performed poorly and provide them with a game that had a low engagement requirement, and test then again to see if their attention was rated better.

I’ll be the first to admit that regardless of the results of such an experiment, handing some students a devise to play games on and not others is a sure way to allow the classroom to devolve into anarchy, but it can reveal yet another way games can be helpful in the classroom. The educator also told me about a panel that he attended at this year’s PAX that discussed how games can be effective in educating students in the classroom from teaching history through the Oregon Trail to having students design a game based on the civil rights movement.

Games are becoming a larger part of children’s lives, so it’s becoming ever more practical that more educators join the medium and incorporate them into the classroom. 


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Sunday, April 13, 2014

By Ryan Michael Williams

You know the tricky thing about buying video games now is the pricing. When a triple-A title comes out the expected retail price is always there. However with the new smaller indie titles the prices move up and down on the slider. Buying a game at the price of a t-shirt or even the cup of an overpriced coffee cup seems fun. Until you run into Strike Suit Zero, which was not worth its indie price point of $14.99. Sure let’s not argue worth in a dollar amount, because every gamers pockets are different. I only mention price point because we are starting to see the trend in lower price point also means lower quality.

As well as the pricing we see the quality slid down the meter with SSZ on PS4. The visual quality of the game is standard, you won’t get any amazing eye candy from this unless you count stationary space vista backgrounds. The controls are cumbersome just for the sake of not adopting other games control schemes. I hold Zone of The Enders spherical control and movements in high regard, and SSZ would have been interesting if they chose to mimic that aspect of movement.

In the environments of the game we cannot really get a feel for scale. In games like this I am so let down that scale is overlooked. If I am a space ship/mecha landing on a space port I would appreciate some sense of overwhelming scale. I know we cannot have everything we want from the games we buy, but what is the point of space exploration if you are not going to consider interiors, lunar landings, and ratios of the world around you.

The story, I guarantee that anyone who has beaten this game cannot tell you one name of a character, planet, or bad guy. Mindless shooter in space might as well play asteroids.  The opening sequence just makes you want to press fast forward so quickly. Default opening, default generic tutorial mission only opens up to an even more default cliché space ship shooter. Oh but wait it transforms into a human-esque ship for absolutely no reason. In the first person view you do not even get an alternate scheme to differentiate the two modes.  No fancy hologram overlays all you get is a dry obstruction to the nonsense going on outside the cockpit.

Buyer beware with this games price point. I know Born Ready was faced with the floods and all, but the only reason you should buy this game is if you feel responsible for flooding their study. Strike Suit Zero is what a sober Englishmen imagines what a Gundam anime would feel like.  Sorry but I prefer my Englishmen drunk of their ass, if they are going to create anything worthy of my attention. 
By Jamaal Ryan

The last year has encapsulated a series of some of the biggest transitions in my life. I graduated from Kean University with a Masters in Social Work. I began writing on this blog. I acquired my license to practice social work in the state of New Jersey. I got a job in my field. I moved in with my then girlfriend; now I’m engaged.

This is my adulthood.

Just at the end of last year, I dog sat a chihuahua named Moni, my first experience ever looking after an animal. I placed her bed in my room as I played Assassins Creed IV, periodically tucked her in to help protect her from the brutal cold winter we had, petted her and gave her attention when she begged for it, and fed and walked her as any pet owner should. It was a relatively basic task with minimal sacrifice of my free time playing and writing about video games.

That won’t be the case once I become a father.

Moni needed love and care. But she didn’t cry. She didn’t vomit. She didn’t turn into a shit monster. She didn’t throw temper tantrums. She didn’t ask me a million questions thinking that I knew everything in the world. She didn’t ask me to help her with her homework. She didn’t make me think of creative ways to make her birthdays and holidays special. She didn’t make me feel as if I failed her as a parent. She didn’t scream “I HATE YOU!” She didn’t make me rearrange my schedule so that I could attend an after school event to watch her. She didn’t make me worry every time she went out. She didn’t become troublesome to the point that my (future) wife and I had to brainstorm parental decisions. She didn’t make me proud. And she wasn’t the most important thing to me.

Parenthood doesn’t sound like adopting additional responsibilities, it sounds like a completely different lifestyle. At 25, I have a very tight and dedicated lifestyle. I work. I go to the gym. I come home and spend time with my fiancée. I read up on what’s new with the game’s industry, and if I find something interesting, I’ll write about it. Then I take some time to play. That’s quite a bit to pack between 6am and 11pm, and thinking of factoring the responsibility of parenthood is daunting.

Ben Kuchera, Opinions Editor over a Polygon, wrote an excellent piece discussing his perspective on parenthood and the value of free time. I figured I’d pay close attention to what he has to say since this mother fucker has FIVE KIDS.

As a gamer that owns all major platforms, I like to consume as many titles as I possibly can. Having four to six hour game sessions on the weekends accelerates that process. Infamous Second Son? Sure. Mercenary Kings? Yup. Outlast? Why not, I have time. But I imagine parenthood changes this. The lifestyle hardly leaves much room for sinking into your comfortable gaming chair for hours and hours on end. You have to prioritize. And long winded multiplayer matches when the baby starts crying? Forget about it.

But Ben echoes the words that my social work professor strongly advised us to do, take care of ourselves. But more specifically, allow time for gaming. Gaming to us is a much more meaningful pass time than simply coming home to binge watch television. It preserves our identity, it’s therapeutic, and it massages our mental capacity so that we can address equally and, in the case of parenthood, more important matters fully (or better) prepared. Strangely enough, planning time for and actually playing video games ideally becomes more important as a parent.

I personally struggle with – yet very much look forward to – the notion of becoming a parent because I’d have to budget the currency that I highly value the most, time. I’m still young, and my fiancée and I aren’t nearly financially stable enough to afford caring for a child. Until then, I’ll periodically ponder what it’s like having two passions in my life. 


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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

Adam Sessler is perhaps the sole “father figure” in the game’s industry, particularly to those in their 20’s. Most known for his work in hosting X-Play on G4 (formally known as G4 TechTV before G4’s merge with the tech channel) Adam was the sage of game’s knowledge to young viewers such as myself and also years to come. After an alleged falling out with G4, Adam was no longer employed there and he soon later announced heading up Revision3 as Editor-in-Chief.

Today, Adam Sessler has announced that he is departing from Revision3 and from being a camera personality:

After some incredible achievements over the last year and a half, I am announcing my departure from Rev3 Games and Discovery Digital Networks.  Sixteen years in front of the camera covering the videogame industry has brought me to a point where I am ready and desiring to explore new opportunities.  While I would never say no to doing one more review, interview or opinion piece, the time feels right to explore new avenues inside of gaming that help further the medium.  The audience, my wonderful and talented co-workers and the last year at Rev3 Games will forever be appreciated for what was accomplished.  There never is a right time to part ways with something that has become as natural as breathing, but things do end and now feels right.

It’s rather strange hearing this. The closest comparison I can parallel this to is hearing that an actor from your childhood television show has died. Far too over dramatic yes, as Adam will very much be around; he just won’t be that dominant figure in front of a camera.

It appears that Adam is new the president of TheoryHead, Inc, which, according to Adam’s Twitter profile, is a “consultancy for entertainment and media".

Seems like a nice fit for the Sess, being that he’s been the most well-known face in game’s media.

As you sign off Adam, we’ll miss you. 


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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

By Jamaal Ryan

The game's industry has too much fun on April Fools' Day. I will painfully admit that after the Titanfall Optimus Prime trailer, I sifted through the XBL store before it dawned on me, "Oh, you sons of bitches."

It seems that EA had a little too much fun with the annual prank day with Tweets taking cheap shots at the Wii U:

"Good news, we have finally fixed and optimized our 'netcode'. Uses quantum entanglement for Zero Latency connections. Exclusively on #WiiU."
"Frostbite will power #HalfLife 3, coming out summer 2014! #WiiU exclusive."

"Frostbite now runs on the #WiiU since it is the most powerful Gen4 platform, our renderer is now optomized for Mario and Zelda."
These joke Tweets weren't even cleaver as they were mean, rubbing salt in the wound that is the lack of Frostbite 3 support on Nintendo's console.
I'd like to think that this is some sort of release after dodging being voted as the worst company in America.