How a video game helped save my sanity

One year ago, I quit drinking.When I quit, life became thorny and unfun. Playing Civilization 5 helped me get through a rough patch. --- I had been a big drinker for the past 30 years. It was hard for me to say goodbye to something that had given me so much pleasure. But it was definitely time to move on. I was kinda losing it. Drinking was my escape from life, and it was a fine one. When it was gone, the biggest problem was finding some new bolt-hole. Civilization 5 filled that role. I am writing here about how it filled the role, but I am not sure I understand it myself. A few lost hours in a dive bar While I was drinking, I managed to maintain a pretty good semblance of functionality. I have a wonderful family,  a nice job and some rewarding creative side-projects. Drinking was...

The New Nintendo 3DS is everything fun, exhausting, about Nintendo's strategy

Nintendo has announced a "new" 3DS system coming to Japan later this year, to be released in other regions in 2015.The changes are interesting, and include another analog stick above the face buttons, two extra shoulder buttons, some speed improvements that are said to help make the menus and downloading a bit zippier, and the 3D effect should be enhanced. Xenoblade Chronicles is coming to the new system, and it will only work on the upgraded 3DS. If that becomes a trend we're in for some scary times. Retailers are going to have a hard time explaining that there is a system called the 3DS that plays this subset of 3DS games, but not all the 3DS games. Customers will glaze over before they get to the part where if they want to play every 3DS game they'll need to buy the latest model,...

Kingdom Hearts brought my family together when we needed it most

When I was five, my mother brought the Gerber baby home from the hospital. At least that's what I thought — Raymond looked like the baby on the Gerber baby food jars when he was tiny.He was born with achondroplasia, a form of Dwarfism that curved his back and made it difficult for him to walk. Doctors told my parents he wouldn't live past the age of 10. I didn't know this at the time. I did know that my mother cried a lot whenever she would play with or feed him. My siblings and I really didn't know what to do with each other. Then, during the super-boring summer of 2002, our mother bought us a copy of Kingdom Hearts. Full house My parents would spend days at a time in Maryland with Ray, traveling back and forth from his team of specialist doctors for the next four years. When Ray...

An awful week to care about video games

What an awful week for the culture that surrounds and influences video games. Last week, a game designer's personal life was exposed to the internet, and used to justify physical threats to both the developer and her colleagues. The designer was one of many people targeted in an orchestrated harassment effort directed at game developers. On Friday, harassers hacked game designer Phil Fish's Twitter account and website. Fish, at least briefly, contemplated selling his company and leaving the industry altogether. On Sunday, a fake bomb threat from a hacker group diverted the flight of Sony Online Entertainment president John Smedley. That day, the same hacker group claimed responsibility for shutting down Sony's PlayStation Network. According to an official earnings forecast, an...

I had to become someone else to discover who I loved

I told a story about my experiences with Fallout: New Vegas and how the game helped me explore and come to terms with my bisexuality at PAX Prime. The experience was greatly facilitated through the participatory nature of video games. The active decision-making process in games narrative influences our self-perception. This dynamic not only puts the power of video games above other forms of art and entertainment, it also opens up new realms in terms of personal evolution while prompting a new question: is it possible that video games are the most persuasive medium in entertainment? Exploring yourself by becoming someone else Figuring out sexual preference is an easy task for many people. As human beings we take social cues from our surroundings and as we feel the comfort and...

Amazon and Twitch are the competitors YouTube needs

It's been a hell of a summer for Twitch.Reports that the game streaming giant was being bought by Google first surfaced back in May. By the end of last month, many were considering it a done deal. Then, out of nowhere, rumors hit this week that the Google deal had fallen through and Amazon, of all places, would actually be acquiring Twitch. Those initial reports were quickly confirmed via an official announcement. I'm sure it's been as tumultuous a roller coaster ride inside Twitch as it appears from the outside. But the good news is this: With the Amazon buyout, all of us got the best possible outcome. [image via @Julia_CaSsian] The Google problem Before I get into why I think Amazon is going to make for a great partner with Twitch, let me explain why I was so cynical...

In loving memory of video games

I'm working from my parents' home this week in the suburbs of Kansas City. The space is familiar, even though I haven't lived here for a decade. I find a bowl of grapes for a snack in the fridge. I taste the vanilla candles if I inhale. And if I look anywhere for more than a moment, I spot — hidden beneath a couch, tucked inside a drawer or concealed behind the hangers — a video game. I find a dusty stack of Game Boy cartridges on my old headboard; my Game Boy Color, painted by younger me in acrylic paint, iS under the guest bed, the buttons still sticky; a collection of "rare" PlayStation games sits in the entertainment center; there is a pile of now-defunct game magazines on the corner table. My sock drawer is full of socks that no longer fit, but beneath them is an instruction...

Gaming and parenting don't always mix, so I play with the devil

“You should join us for Hearthstone,” my friend said last night. The baby in my arms, the one who refuses to sleep and just wants to be walked around the house, disagreed. Hearthstone is actually a game that's very parent-friendly. The matches are relatively short, and the ability to play on a tablet means you can take the game with you while rocking someone to sleep. You’re given a relatively long amount of time to take your turns, which means someone getting up to get a drink of water or to use the bathroom in the middle of the night won’t ruin the game. Keep in mind that children have the bad habit of sometimes waking up suddenly, only to vomit all over themselves. It's a thing. With five kids there’s around a five percent chance that it’s going to happen on any given night, give...

I owe my career to Halo 2

"How'd you get into that?"This is the first question people ask when I tell them I’m in video production. My default response has become to explain that it was just a hobby, and then it turned into something serious. I don’t tell people the truth until I’ve known them a while. A video game got me started. I’m not embarrassed that love for a video game has turned into a career. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s more the fact that people seemed to have a hard time understanding that playing a video game could lead into something substantial. "OK, but you must have gone to school for this, right?" That’s the second question. Nope. My only production experience before my first production job was three years of editing footage that I had captured from Halo 2. Learning by doing On...

Want to pitch your indie game? Learn from the guy who's directing Star Wars VIII

You have, at best, a few minutes to grab someone's attention with your game. The press is deluged with pitches for coverage, with links to Kickstarters and pleas to review or preview this or that game. If you're trying to get your game noticed you have to realize that you're up against a few dozen other games on a daily basis, and that's at the best of times. The one lesson I tell every developer when I discuss how to try to break through is to make sure you can describe your game, and explain what it doesn't differently or better, in a few sentences. How a successful film director does it This lesson came through loud and clear when I watched the video director and writer Rian Johnson created to sells studios on his idea for the science fiction film Looper. Johnson has also been...

Swing Copters, clones and the dismal failure of the 'open' app store

This morning I went to install Swing Copters, Dong Nguyen's latest iOS game, and the follow-up to Flappy Bird. I put the words "swing copters" into the search field on my iPhone, and the first hit was Tube Revenge - Swing Copters.This is how quickly individuals and companies now jump on games they want to clone. The idea is to get their version of the game out as soon as possible, and then try to piggyback on the success of the "real" game. They just need to backwards engineer something that looks a tiny bit like it, get the name close, and then release their product. If enough people are confused, the revenue from ads or even in-app purchases apparently makes it worth it. It's worse on other platforms. Hey @GooglePlay, you are a part of the problem. pic.twitter.com/VPPtCQM4nh —...

Demos are dead, long live demos

A game demo is marketing. It's meant to get you to buy the game. The point of a demo is not to allow you to try the game. It's not meant to give you a taste of the whole experience. It's meant to sell you the game. It's a carefully culled slice of the game designed to leave you with a very specific impression of the game, one that may or may not match up with reality. That's the problem with demos, whether they're something you play at home or something the press plays at a show like E3. They should not, but not always are, a representative piece of the game to give you a sense of the whole thing. The industry calls that sort of video or playable section a "vertical slice," a piece of the game that gives you a taste of what it is and what it's offering. It slices through all the layers...

Want to save time and money? Stop buying games at launch

“I have a confession to make,” a co-worker said in hushed tones yesterday. “I have never played a Diablo game.” The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 editions of Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition have just been released for $60. For that price you get the full version of Diablo 3, a bunch of social features, the Reaper of Souls expansion, and visuals that are much improved from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version. I’m happy to report that it’s the best version of the game so far, as I spend my evenings wrecking shit with my Demon Hunter. It goes further than that, though. The original PC version was a bit of a mess. It needed to be online to work, the real-money auction house was a controversial choice, and the loot was overwhelming. Every aspect of these flaws has been addressed in the...

1080p will come to Xbox One games, but at a cost

Games displayed at 1080p, while running at a smooth 60 frames-per-second, has become part of the marketing for many new games.It's a magical bullet point on a list of features that proves that your game is next-generation, and there are groups of players online who sneer at anything that can't quite hit that goal. Diablo 3 on the Xbox One, for instance, couldn't quite get there. The original response was to drop the resolution down to 900p and keep the frame rate. A smooth game, many would argue, is worth sacrificing a few lines of resolution. The problem is that this solution created a PR problem for Microsoft, a company that is scared of consumers seeing the Xbox One as a less-powerful console compared to the PlayStation 4. "That's what we demoed and were showing around E3 time. And...

The police aren't an army: the problem with Battlefield Hardline

Electronics Arts thinks it can bring Battlefield's military gunplay home. It's not that easy.Battlefield Hardline moves the Battlefield series from international battlegrounds to a realistic domestic setting: As tricked out police, the player in Hardline uses heavy weaponry, armor and vehicles to kill criminals in Los Angeles. Despite the move, the series' fetishization of military weaponry, gear and lethal combat remains. Cops and soldiers are not the same thing. They serve different purposes. Soldiers often serve in war zones, in direct conflict with our nation's enemies. The police serve in our cities, protecting and policing our nation's civilians. And so Hardline is an uncomfortable role play within a role play: the player pretending to be a cop pretending to be a soldier. At...

Silent Hills 'pants soiling' scares won't measure up to P.T.

Warning: this piece contains spoilers for P.T. and Eraserhead.It took 90 minutes for my friends and I to finish the playable teaser for the upcoming Silent Hills. There's no combat, no mechanics outside of walking around and looking at things, and the entire experience takes place in one environment. It's a self-contained "game" that only needs a single hallway to scare the shit out of you. How did this collection of mundane elements become so much scarier than most full-length horror games? Turning the familiar on its head You walk through a messy, but more-or less mundane looking house in the opening moments of P.T. It's well-lit, there are familiar-looking family photos and boring framed art. This could be one of any number of houses you've visited in your life. Things start to...
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