PS4 Adds Console Wide Button Remapping

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

The screen at the top of this story doesn’t look like much. It’s a simple interface that allows you to swap any one button on the Dual Shock 4 for any other button. It’s a screen that makes gaming a much better place.

“Console wide button remapping is a huge deal for physically impaired gamers. One of the most commonly requested accessibility adaptation AbleGamers receives is for custom controller’s that move buttons to more comfortable positions,” Steve Spohn, COO of the AbleGamers charity; told Polygon.

“If you have limited movement in one arm, only one functioning hand, or even limited digit movement, button positioning is everything. And even more so if you have a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy where you fatigue more easily depending on what buttons you need to press.”

The push for full customization in button mapping has been going on for years, and some companies are better than others when it comes to offering the feature. What Sony has done is make the conversation obsolete by offering the option at the console level. This is a huge deal for many gamers.

The New Normal

Another tremendously powerful post from Mackenzie Craven:

So here is a snapshot of my post-cancer life, my new normal. I’m back at work full time, squeezing my 40 hours in any way I can with at least 1 of the aforementioned appointments each day. I’m getting mapped for radiation today – once those daily appointments start, my calendar is going to fill up even more. My free time mainly consists of getting my stretching time in to improve the mobility in my arm, but I do try and work out when I can (now that I can). And other than that, I’m just… trying my best to remember how to enjoy life, and to remember what normal even is. It isn’t easy. Some days all I want is for people to acknowledge I’m still recovering from this whole nightmare and cut me some slack, yet other days I swear I will scream If I get another sympathetic face and a “how are you feeling?”  I don’t even want to THINK about cancer one moment… then suddenly it is the only thing on my mind. I’m laughing, I’m crying. I’m a survivor; I’m a victim. I’m fine! I’m not fine. I’m… a contradiction. Every day I put on my best normal face and fool the world around me that I’m doing as well as I’m leading on, yet every day I get frustrated that the world thinks I’m back to normal. I don’t have hair, eyelashes or full range of motion in my arms – but I also don’t have cancer. Baby steps.

One Tool to Rule Them All

An important read about Tim Sweeney and Epic Games covering Unreal Engine, it’s use in interactive experiences from cinema to video games, the potential of VR and AR, and the state of free-to-play.

Chris Plante, The Verge:

When asked if Unreal Engine 4 will span the next 10 years, Sweeney says that it’s for the foreseeable future, that Unreal Engine will get to “the promised land,” a vision of the future Sweeney’s hinted at earlier in the day during his speech at the Game Developers Conference. “This is the word I was afraid to use earlier. This is the convergence of all these forms of media.”

Technologists, media theorists, and game designers spoke of the convergence ad nauseam in the 1990s, when film and video games came together in a garbage fire of media that could neither be called a good game nor a good film. In the 2000s, the convergence was replaced with the notion of transmedia, with entertainment spread across different mediums, connected through a shared universe or narrative. However Sweeney believes the convergence is making a comeback, that the graphics world is seeing humans and technology meeting at a unified point. Sweeney sees photorealistic 3D objects and lighting and virtual reality attracting game designers, sure, but also industrial designers, architects, and film makers to engines like Unreal Engine 4.

In this future, or present if you ask Sweeney, lessons learned from one field, say an architect designing a virtual building, can be applied to games or film, and likewise. Sweeney believes the potential application of the engine across all fields increases exponentially as information is shared.

All of this raises the question: does Epic Games identify purely as a games company? “We’re realizing now that Unreal Engine 4 is a common language between all these common fields.” Sweeney doesn’t see the industries as all that different. More interesting than Sweeney’s prediction of field-sharing information and experience is the speculation of the fields in some ways merging together. For their most recent demo, Epic Games partnered with Weta to create a VR demonstration featuring the dragon Smaug from the The Hobbit.

The separation between game and experience and art is becoming more defined. Under the guise of this piece, interactive experiences such as Journey and Dear Esther feel like the blossoms of Tim Sweeney’s greater vision, most recently demonstrated with Smaug.

Update: I failed to mention the main reason why this important. Not only does the diversity of Unreal Engine 4 practical uses help clarify the categories of computer generated media, there’s this:

… this year, Unreal Engine 4 is free — the company asks for a 5 percent royalty for any commercial product made with the engine that makes more than $3,000 a quarter.

Commercial product: a product that can make money (i.e. video games, VR/AR experiences, movies, TV shows, YouTube shorts, amateur animations, etc.).

Monument Valley, post-House of Cards

Michael Martin, IGN:

Main character Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is seen playing and describing the game in the fifth episode of the hit Netflix series. As a result, the game has soared into the top 10 top paid apps on iTunes, where it currently resides at number five and is number three in the paid games category on the Google Play store. The game did not rank in the top 25 on either app store before appearing on the show.

Speaking at GDC 2015, ustwo lead designer Ken Wong said the show’s producers reached out to the developer about the game appearing in House of Cards at no cost to the studio, according to IB Times.

“They called us up and they said, ‘Can we use your game?’ and we said ‘Yes,’” Wong said.

Be more Disney, less Vegas

IGN’s Seth G.Macy reporting from PAX East:


“Any item that affects game play,” he told the audience, can be acquired “through grinding.” He compared his ideal F2P model to Disneyland, saying that when a person visits the park, they have the choice to spend money as they see fit once inside, but they can still enjoy and experience all the park has to offer. He contrasted that with Vegas, where the push to spend to increase enjoyment is non-stop.

“Be more Disney, less Vegas,” he said. Bleszinski also said that Boss Key is watching and taking note of the people on the forums and on reddit who are offering suggestions and participating in the community, hinting that they will be rewarded for their participation.

This seems like a very misguided comparison. Bleszinski seemed to skip the part where you pay to enter Disneyland. Get the most out of a $99 single park ticket means a Disneyland guest will spend anywhere from 11 to 16 hours in the park. Guests can bring food and drink into the park, but the realistic chances of anyone bringing in three meals plus snacks sounds overly ambitious. Needless to say, food will be purchased. And if a guest has gotten by without spending a dime inside of Disneyland, they still paid to enter. This is no where near a free-to-play model.

21 Percent Delta

Polygon’s Charlie Hall reporting from GDC 2015:

Rosalind Wiseman and Ashly Burch collaborated to create their survey in the spring of 2014. Wiseman, herself a teacher, educator and author, was able to deliver the survey to 1,583 students aged 11 to 18 over the course of the year. The results, the authors say, are enough to turn the games industry’s understanding of gender issues on its head.

The most compelling data point for game developers is the fact that girls in high school are far more likely to prefer to play female characters than boys of the same age are likely to prefer to play male characters.

Only 39 percent of high-school aged boys surveyed preferred to play as male characters, while 60 percent of high-school aged girls preferred to play as female characters.

That 21 percent delta, the authors say, is more than enough reason for game developers to rethink who their main characters should be going forward.

“We as developers,” Burch said, “understandably … are afraid of our games not selling.

“It’s terrifying to imagine that your game’s not going to sell. But it could be that we are falsely attributing the success of past games to things that don’t actually matter to the kids that are playing them.”

Since hearing Rosalind Wiseman on The One You Feed podcast, I’ve been an avid fan of her and Ashly Burch’s work. In case you missed it, their GDC 2014 talk on The Connection Between Boys’ Social Status, Gaming and Conflict is worth the watch.

See also: My recent breakdown of protagonist gender and video game genre from the games announced or highlighted at E3 2014.

E3 2014: Genre/Gender Breakdown

Continuing my research of video game genre and protagonist/main character gender, here is the collected data from E3 2014. The sample list of 152 video games was sourced from IGN’s Games at E3 2014, platform data mapped to a quantifiable “TRUE”/”FALSE” list, genre lists collected from both IGN and Wikipedia (limited to primary genre), and the main character gender researched to the best of my ability.

Elaborating on the gender categories:

“Multi” being either:
a) multiple characters to select from (ie. Mario Kart 8 / Killer Instinct receive 1 count for “multi” although there are several characters to select from)
b) customizable gender
c) large customizable party

“n/a” being a:
a) gender ambiguous character
b) God-view game
c) first-person with no direct gender association

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Some key points:

  • My data can be found here. (Numbers online)
  • Sample size = 152 games
  • 13 exclusively female protagonists/main characters vs. 47 exclusively male protagonists
  • Female protagonist by year
    • 2012: 2%
    • 2013: 6%
    • 2014: 9%

Additional reference:

Re Netflix-Zelda: What is Game of Thrones without George R. R. Martin?

The Wall Street Journal:

The video streaming service is in the early stages of developing a live action series based on “Zelda,” about an ordinary boy named Link who must rescue a princess named Zelda and save a fantasy world called Hyrule, said a person familiar with the matter. As it seeks writers to work on the show, Netflix is describing it as Game of Thrones for a family audience, this person said.

As it is still seeking a writer to work on the series, Netflix has a long road to travel before a “Legend of Zelda” series actually becomes a reality. It’s also possible that Netflix or Nintendo will kill the project before it gets off the ground.

Considering Netflix’s vision without a writer, I’d say this has a very long road to travel.

Provisional Reviews on Polygon

Arthur Gies:

Whatever factors were preventing publishers and developers from setting their games loose upon consumers in an unfinished state have become less pressing, apparently. I’m not actually interested in calling any particular publisher or platform holder out here, as I don’t think I have enough fingers to point at them all. The point is, simply, that it’s becoming harder and harder to know, even on release day, if a game will function on day one, two, three or indefinitely.

I don’t think this is going away. In fact, for the time being, I am absolutely positive it won’t. It will be some time before publishers get the hint that this isn’t ok, where they move beyond lip service about “making it right” and actually start doing the right thing and delaying games that aren’t in a state fit to be sold. I don’t know what it will take for this to happen. I don’t know what the final straw will be for consumers to push back.

That said, I think there’s more we can do to serve our audience and offer some modicum of caution and warning about games we have reservations about.

Like clocks and cars, video games are two-fold: wondrous products made functional by mechanical innards. Video games are at once magical experiences full of narrative, music, design, and animations; at the same time highly mechanical, dynamic pieces of software full of the nuts and bolts of computer science.

Playing a video game is an individual, singular experience. As Griffin McElroy has stated before, “games by their very nature are interactive, meaning… your experience playing the game is going to be different.” Therefore, the critique of a video game’s artistry (design, narrative, visuals, music, etc.) should hold little weight to an individual. Where a video game’s critique should be heavily considered is it’s functionality. If a manufacturer isn’t going to hold up their end of the consumer protection bargain (or be legally held accountable), the duty must fall on the media outlets to inform the public of faulty products and bad business, even better if the outlets can forewarn.

I am excited by this stance from Polygon. Video games are artistic illusions that only work if they are fully functional. If the undying mechanics are broken, the illusion is broken, too.

Fun v. Experience

Justin McElroy on the Dying Light episode of Polygon’s Quality Control podcast, edited for clarity:

I think in our profession, our desire is to have an experience and then be able to move on to the next one. There is a pressure on us to be comprehensive in our knowledge and awareness of the medium. So, for a game that can reveal everything it has to say in three or four hours, there’s a real attraction because we can have the entire experience and move on to the next thing.

I think that people who are playing games for fun maybe don’t have the same sort of voracious compulsion to get to the end, which I would separate from rushing through a game. I think it’s more of a desire to have had the full experience and then be able to move on to the next thing.

This describes exactly the reason I play video games now. Unlike McElroy, I am not expected to have comprehensive knowledge and awareness of the medium, but for the sake of my blog and personal interests, I try to. I certainly love writing about video games and the industry at large, but actually playing video games has become more about connecting with the zeitgeist rather than enjoying and immersing myself in the experience.

In my gaming heyday, I could pour countless hours into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Starcraft, and Heroes of Might & Magic III simply for pleasure and to perfect my strategies. I played Star Fox 64 over and over just for fun. I spent an obscene amount of time playing Final Fantasy X just to be swept away. Today, there are plenty of video games I enjoy (see my reviews of Monument Valley and Rocksmith 2014), but it has been a long while since one has repeatedly beckoned to me to spend hours playing for fun. Instead, I find myself dipping into a game for a few hours to understand it on a mechanical, design, and experience level just to be part of the conversation. Hell, I spent $60 on Super Smash Bros. for Wii U only to tap out after 2 hours. (Queue Nani McElroy.)