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Why video games can make for great comics (and vice versa)

Unlike the uneasy relationship between movies and video games, comics seem to know how to deliver creative, expansive takes on the fiction made for game consoles.Earlier this month at New York Comic Con, fans had a chance to check out a plethora of video game-inspired comics and comic-inspired video games from The Walking Dead to Mass Effect to Marvels' many creations. While video games rely on cutting edge technology to deliver their virtual environments, comics fall back on the most ancient of art forms, but the people who work in both mediums say each have their own unique strengths and even some similarities. "The process of building game story outlines for comics is a lot like building a story in video games," said Halo franchise development director Frank O'Connor. Even the end...
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Why the Red Cross cares how video games treat war crimes

War has laws; why can't war games reflect them?It's a simple question that the International Committee of the Red Cross has been weighing for nearly two years. Under the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross is mandated to protect the victims of international and internal armed conflict. During the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva in 2011, a committee discussed whether the Geneva and Hague conventions should be applied to the fictional recreation of war in video games. In other words, they wanted video war games to better reflect the realities of modern combat. Last summer, the International Review of the Red Cross published an article that more deeply examined the issue. The takeaway was that video games are an important method for disseminating...
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The cult of the cookie clicker: When is a game not a game?

There's a growing obsession online with cookies, imaginary chocolate chip cookies.In early August, avant-garde game developer Orteil put his latest prototype online: Cookie Clicker. In the free game, players have to click on a cookie to produce a cookie. Those cookies can, in turn, be used to increase cookie production through the purchase of virtual grandmas, farms, time machines and the like. There is no goal in the game beyond producing cookies at an ever increasing rate. My game, for instance, currently produces a smidge more than 28 billion cookies a second. What makes this particular web-based game so intriguing is that once a player purchases the first in-game item the game can play itself, producing cookies with no interaction. Despite the fact that Cookie Clicker only...
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International conference examines, hopes to combat in-game hate speech

This week a group of game makers, game players and academics are gathering in Budapest to discuss and work towards solving the growing problem of hate speech within video gaming communities.The GameOver Hate conference hopes to help establish recommendations for the development of better online gaming communities in an effort to fix what the organizers say are becoming "toxic and dangerous environments" where "sexist, racism, general bigotry and abuse may flourish without control." The week-long international conference was organized by the Centre for Intercultural Dialogue and Integration and the Youth Department of the Council of Europe as part of a larger, years-long international campaign against online hate speech. The gathering is the brainchild of Martin Fischer and David...
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Dan Houser on Grand Theft Auto 5's relevancy and future

The last big Grand Theft Auto arrived to universal acclaim, becoming one of the highest rated video games in history. It was a console-defining title, an interactive sandbox of cultural satire that, according to the New York Times, set a new standard for what is possible in interactive arts.But a lot has changed since 2008. Grand Theft Auto 5 lands months away from the launch of new, paradigm-shifting consoles, squarely into an evolved gaming landscape that now includes massive mobile hits, a thriving indie game scene and a singular Goliath in the Call of Duty franchise. I sat down with Rockstar Games co-founder Dan Houser at his New York offices recently to ask him how he thinks the beloved series fits into this new Hollywood of video games. Is, I wanted to know, Grand Theft Auto...
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Wind Waker HD and the pursuit of perfection

The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's most important series, so it's no wonder that the company has three in the works right now, all helmed by the same man: Eiji Aonuma.Aonuma is busy at work on an as yet to be named new Wii U game as well as The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for the 3DS. But it is the remake of 2003's The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker that seems to have most of Aonuma's attention right now. He worries that remastering the game for an HD system, going in to tinker with the way it plays, looks and feels, could be akin to George Lucas remastering and re-releasing his classic Star Wars titles in 1997, a move that wasn't very well received. "That's something I'm very concerned about, I'm always thinking about," he told Polygon in a recent interview. "With W...
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Death threats don't just scare away developers, they also stop important conversations

It hasn't metastasized yet. But there is a malignant growth eating away at the video game industry.Angry, petty, self-entitled gamers, a small but disproportionately noisy group, are slowly trying to take over the conversation in the world of video games. This minority of gamers so viciously attack game makers, often threatening to kill them, kill their children, financially ruin their lives, that some game developers have decided to leave the industry while other future developers are weighing whether to enter it at all. The real impact this has on real people is terrible, but so is the secondary impact this form of harassment has on the industry. This cyberharassment doesn't just tear down developers, it also derails the important conversations that should be happening between game...
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Getting out of the way of independent developers could be Xbox One's biggest innovation

Last week, months after botching the reveal of its new console, Microsoft accidentally announced what could be the Xbox One's most important feature.Within a year of launching the console, the company promises, every Xbox One can become a tool for creating games, allowing any game player to become a game maker. While the details, important details like how the money made is divvied up and how much it will cost to publish a game, aren't set to be revealed until late August, the news seems to signal a sea change in the platform holder's philosophy. The policy hints at the notion that Microsoft no longer wants to be a gatekeeper, because that approach simply doesn't scale. And that a company with an arguably contentious relationship with independent developers, wants to make things easier....
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Time is gaming's biggest cost; here's one solution

Game makers expect a lot from the people who play their games. Certainly more so than most other forms of mainstream entertainment.When you go to a movie you're not expected to know how to operate anything other than the seat, and perhaps a pair of 3D glasses. Conceptualizing the deeper meanings aside, when reading a book, the most you need to be good at is turning a page. But to fully realize and enjoy a video game, players are expected to have a base level of expertise maneuvering in virtual environments with a confusion of buttons and thumbsticks. Players are also often expected to have some understanding of the genre itself and its visual vocabulary. Shooters mean moving with one thumbstick and aiming with another, while shooting to kill and dodging in coming fire, all in...
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Curing the country of gun violence requires research into video games too

Gun violence is so pervasive, so deadly an issue in America that it should be treated and researched as a contagious disease, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.And that's why video games needs to be part of the research that goes into curing this bullet-fueled epidemic. Video games have become so deeply ingrained in modern society, that ignoring their impact would be akin to ignoring the effects of movies, of music or of the daily news on society. And all of those forms of media play an important role in any complete, holistic approach to solving the problem of American gun violence. In tackling this disease — which has injured or killed 105,000 people in 2010 alone — the CDC is setting out to identify the epidemiologic triangle of gun...
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The Ouya is a hot mess, and that's why I love it

The Ouya is inexplicably small for a video game console, so small that the stiff HDMI cable it comes with threatens to unbalance the nondescript cube when plugged into your TV.That size, owing to the rapidly shrinking mobile technology that powers smartphones as well as the Ouya, isn't the only thing unbalanced. The diminutive console brings the self-publishing marketplaces familiar to iPhone and Android users to the television, in a move that could either disrupt the traditional game publishing model or be an amusing sideshow to it. For all its ambitions, the Ouya is a hot mess. The user interface needs work, the controller feels cheap and, more seriously, has input delay issues that makes some games feel like you're controlling them with an echo, everything slightly out of sync. But...
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The Console Wars are back, gamers should rejoice

Each year the video game industry gathers into the packed halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center to make its best sales pitch to the world.The Electronic Entertainment Expo is a week's worth of executive sniping and news, parties and celebrity, and of course video games. The artists and executives for Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony struggle to rise above the din of explosive trailers and bombastic speech. The fervor surrounding this year's dual launch of the next PlayStation and Xbox only made things worse, churning carefully planned press conferences into indistinguishable white noise. With one very clear exception. Standing on a stage set up in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena last Monday, Sony Computer Entertainment of America CEO Jack Tretton ignited an uproar of applause...
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Electronic Arts re-examines game making as the next generation looms

Game makers are most honest when they're talking about the previous version of a gaming console. With the next, next-generation of consoles within striking distance, clarity comes to the decisions that drove the games made for the retiring consoles.For Electronic Arts, that clarity helped them see that their last-gen problems were driven by a cacophony of game engines, a mess of tools that hindered more than it helped the creation of new ideas. "The last transition, we didn't do a great job as a company managing our tech base," Frank Gibeau told Polygon. "What we ended up with was a proliferation of engines, such that at the peak of the last cycle, this cycle, we had something like 20 different development environments for our game teams to be working in. "Sometimes you just don't...
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Privacy concerns threaten to overshadow Microsoft's new console

The Xbox One brings with it a required peripheral packed with microphones and cameras that can monitor a person's every movement and word spoken and could be used to track not just what a person plays, watches and listens to, but exactly how they do so.During last month's unveiling of the Xbox One on Microsoft's Redmond campus, developers showed off how the Kinect can track eye movement to monitor how attentive a player is, use "blush technology" to monitor a player's heart rate, see movements in the dark and even extrapolate a person's mood by watching their face closely. What Microsoft officials didn't detail, and continue to decline to talk about, is exactly how that data will be used and if any of it will leave a player's home to either be processed by Microsoft's cloud service or...
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From Xbox One to Xbox None: The risks of an internet-required gaming console

Microsoft's next console brings with it one very important requirement: An internet connection.If you can't get online, or don't want to, the Xbox One becomes useless. Microsoft is making a bet that its next console can survive, perhaps even thrive, off of the purchases of those typically plugged-in early adopters and that internet proliferation, which currently hasn't spread to about a quarter of the developed world, will steadily encompass all of those who might have an interest in gaming. It's not a bad bet, but it does send a bad message to those unwilling or unable to get online: Tough luck. Unveiled last week during a day-long event on Microsoft's campus, the Xbox One seems to be a lot of things: A device where you can watch movies or live TV, listen to music, browse the...
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Adventures with Facebook's take on Plants Vs. Zombies

Video game Plants Vs. Zombies, master of smartphones, tablets and computers, makes a leap to Facebook this week with an intriguing twist on the game's winning formula.In Plants vs. Zombies Adventures, players will still protect their home from an army of cartoonish zombies with defensive plants, but now they'll also take to the road, traveling in a beat-up RV to zombie hot spots where they'll have to defend their home on wheels from zombies that can attack from any direction. And those defensive plants now have to be grown ahead of time. The game brings with it ten new zombie types, 11 new plants, and most importantly, a personalized neighborhood that players will work to customize, expand, and, yes, defend from roving bands on zombies. Where the original Plants Vs. Zombies had the...
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