Tag Archives: gaming

Mariothon

Mariothon

A Mario Kart running app.


Recently, Jane McGonigal’s “Reality Is Broken” has encouraged me to spend a lot of time pondering what it would be like to be a game designer; constantly considering the artful blend of psychology and technology and its impact on the entertainment, fitness and education industries.

“ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: wanted to break 6 mins in a mile time trial on the track; ran 5:45 and had more in the tank. ” – Christian Spicer, @spicer

#GeeksinSneaks

While on a jog with the gamified Nike+ Running app, I contemplated this hashtag. Aside from the Geeks in Sneaks meet up group and loads of gamified fitness apps (Wii Fit; Zombies, Run; Kinect Sports Rivals, etc.), I wondered if something more could be done to encourage those identified with the geek community to promote fitness regimes.

Initially, I had the lofty idea of organizing a crowd-funded #GeeksinSneaks race (5K, 10K, half/full marathon) full of cosplay, video game prizes and exclusive comics and geek apparel/memorabilia. If this idea were to draw a big enough crowd, its scale would limit the event to happening at fixed times in fixed areas. It may not be enough to encourage constant activity.

Then I thought about the Nike+ Running app. I am able to use this app on my own time. Day or night, weekday or weekend. While I appreciate the app’s gamification elements, they have now worn off to some degree; however, they were enough to get a jogging regime to stick. I now use the app simply as a fitness tracker. I wondered, “is there another way make running a gamified experience and broadcast it to a massive audience?”

Then it hit me.

Nintendo has repeatedly stated that they have a renewed focus on the smartphone ecosystem and health. They also plan to release Mario Kart 8, a beloved franchise, on May 30th. While real-life Mario Kart already exists, I was unable to find Mario Kart adapted into a running game. What if Nintendo were to release a gamified smartphone running app with the mechanics of Mario Kart built in. Lets call it “Mariothon.”

Mariothon

In Mariothon, players are able to set up a race with up to say four runners. Each player is required to where headphones with an attached button-mic to hear in game alerts and trigger events. At certain distances, players are awarded items (simulating Mario Kart’s mystery boxes) that they can use at their leisure by clicking the button on their headphones.

For example, at a quarter mile, a runner earns a lightning bolt. Once used, an in-game alert informs all other runners in the game to walk until the effect wears off. Another variation might add time to the paces of the competing runners. A banana peel might be used as a surprise attack when another runner crosses a certain geo-fence. Blue shells would have a direct impact on the leader, forcing them to stop dead in their tracks or pausing their “distance ran” meter. First to a specific distance wins!

Obviously, not every run will users want to incorporate the game element. In the event of solo runs, the app could serve as a simple run tracker with many of the same achievements offered in the Nike+ Running app. Cross-brand incentives could also award solo runs. Besting a 7-minute-mile or completing a 10K could unlock characters or tracks in Mario Kart or other console-based Nintendo games. (similar to Hearthstone’s unlockable WoW mount)

As a non-developer, I have no idea if linking players and dropping geo-fenced items is a possibility. I also understand that the initial development of this app would certainly be a huge undertaking. While this would join the many gamified fitness apps on the market, the Nintendo and Mario Kart branding may be enough for it to stick with a larger audience.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Is this something that would interest you? Does this already exist? Has fitness gamification worked for you? If so, what fitness apps are you utilizing and how are they helping?

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Image source The Augusta Chronicle


Originally published on TheStarrList.com

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Humanity in Hearthstone

Humanity in Hearthstone

How Blizzard is changing the diversity game.


 It is an understatement to say that diversity in gaming has become a hot topic as of late. Themes of sexuality, racial prominence, and gender depiction are now a hotbed for passionate discussion across developer, journalist, and player communities.

From 2012 to 2013, the number of games showcased at E3 featuring a playable female protagonist rose from 2% to 6%. Reluctance to include the theme of sexuality is being countered more frequently by games such as Gone HomeThe Last of Us, and Mass Effect. This is clear evidence that players are yearning for character dynamic and identity in their games. Video games are a medium that exudes immersion more than any other, and in turn becomes the perfect platform for sympathetic and relatable storytelling.

On April 16, 2014, Blizzard Entertainment released their latest foray Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft to the iPad. As a free-to-play (F2P) digital collectible card game (CCG) built by a AAA developer that prides itself on the promise of polish with a highly reputable back-catalog, it is an extremely inviting and sure to be incredibly popular download. From testing with a PC/Mac open-bata to trickling the iOS version out to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada prior to world-wide launch, Blizzard was sure this game would be a massive hit.

At the news of Hearthstone for iPad’s launch, I was extremely excited to see what the buzz was about. After rave reviews across the industry, I could not wait to invest in this new Blizzard title that seemed perfectly suited for the tablet platform. Upon launching the game, I assumed I would be given the opportunity to select/create a character and possibly build a deck. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Ultimately, Hearthstone does not include a single protagonist. From Orcs to Elves, Druids to Barbarians, players are eventually offered the chance to unlock a collection of Heroes to chose from. Many veteran CCG players will understand this at the onset. What they may not realize is that they will be forced to begin their Hearthstone experience in a tutorial as Human Mage, Jaina Proudmoore. A female.

This tutorial consists of six ‘missions,’ each introducing details about the game’s mechanics and subtleties. Each ‘mission’ sets the protagonist Jaina against an eccentric opponent, throwing out comical comments that unfold their caricature against a backdrop of the colorful and cartoony tones of the Warcraft universe. Jaina faces her six opponents in the following order:

Six males versus one female. This alone is a powerful statement that will likely slip into the unconscious if not willingly observed.

Sex aside, characters banter back and forth throughout matches. Each foe’s optimistic attitude is met with Jaina’s cautious yet powerful tone. The addition of voice-acting helps build a bond between player and protagonist. Like reading through Katniss Everdeen’s struggles in The Hunger Games, it is nearly impossible not to build a trusting connection with Jaina, rooting for her to defeat each of the tutorial’s quirky baddies.

The initial tutorial took me roughly one hour to complete. Once finished, I felt an attachment to Jaina. Not only had we defeated six opposing (male) Heroes without fail together, we had conquered the powerhouse that is Illidan Stormrage even though the game told us we couldn’t. (A comical, clever and original design choice)

While Jaina and I must spend more time together in order to unlock additional playable Heroes and decks, I am not racing to change protagonists. This tutorial has certainly bonded me to Jaina and is likely to do the same for most players: young and old, male and female.

As subtle and simple as it may appear, Blizzard has made a bold move as a AAA developer in building a tutorial showcasing a powerful female protagonist against six male rivals. Forcing hardcore veterans and casual novices to learn from, protect, and assist a female protagonist in what has the potential to become the largest cross-platform game is a great leap for the cause of diversity in gaming; however, the job is far from done.

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Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is currently available for PC, Mac and iPad.


Originally published on TheStarrList.com

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Juxtaposition in Video Game Commercials

Textbook Tarantino or tired trope?

I recently re-entered the world of BioShock’s Rapture by means of BioShock: Infinite’s Burial At Sea DLC. As I moved about the underwater city, full of the Gatsby-esque architectural stylings of Frank Lloyd Wright, I heard familiar sounds from the 20s-40s cascade through the setting.

At first, these genuinely warm pieces lulled me into a comfort juxtaposed against what eventually becomes a dark and grotesque atmosphere. Though, after roughly an hour, the presence of the pieces became more noticeable than they had seemed in my first play-through of the original BioShock. I pawned this off to the Billie Holiday Pandora station I’ve practically had on loop since that original play-through.

However, I began to wonder if the use of happy/soothing/serene/moving music juxtaposed against aggressive and bleak circumstances may be overstaying it’s welcome. Just as quickly as I had decided to push this notion out of my mind, I heard news of the new Wolfenstein: The New Order trailer making use of Martha and The Vandellas hit “Nowhere to Run.” While the song my not be strewn throughout the entirety of the trailer, it made me wonder if my initial inkling was correct.

I have decided to compile a list of many video game commercials that take advantage of this marketing approach, starting with Super Smash Bros. in 1999. This is likely nowhere near a complete list, merely an example of a marketing technique that is becoming less and less subtle.

Is this approach still effective or tired?

Super Smash Bros. (1999)

Song: The Turtles – Happy Together
iTunes | Amazon MP3

Black (2005)
Song: Giuseppe Verdi – La Traviata: Noi Siamo Zingarelle
iTunes | Amazon MP3

Gears of War (2006)
Song: Gary Jules – Mad World (feat. Michael Andrews)
iTunes | Amazon MP3

BioShock (2007)
Song: Bobby Darin – Beyond the Sea
iTunes | Amazon Mp3

Dante’s Inferno (2010)
Song: Bill Withers – Ain’t No Sunshine
iTunes | Amazon MP3

Playstation 4: Perfect Day (2013)
Song: Lou Reed – Perfect Day
iTunes | Amazon Mp3

Titanfall: Life is Better With a Titan (2014)
Song: Robbie Williams & Jonathan Wilkes – Me and My Shadow
iTunes | Amazon Mp3

PS4: Sharing Means Caring (Destiny) (2014)
Song: Josh Daughtery – Sharing Means Caring

PS4: Sharing Means Caring (Watch Dogs) (2014)
Song: Josh Daughtery – Sharing Means Caring

Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014)
Song (Original): Martha and The Vandellas – Nowhere to Run
iTunes | Amazon Mp3

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UPDATE: Thanks to Bob Mackey of Retronauts for the “Sharing Means Caring” recommendations.


 

Originally published on TheStarrList.com

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Save developers and you will save your soul

  • 130 layoffs, Nintendo (Eurogamer, 6/6/14)
  • 37 layoffs, Harmonix (Polygon, 5/29/14)
  • 20% of staff across development and marketing, Trendy Entertainment (GamesIndustry International, 5/21/14)
  • 16 layoffs, Rare (IGN, 5/19/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, PopCap (Polygon, 3/13/14)
  • 700 layoffs, Disney Interactive (Joystiq, 3/6/14)
  • 27 layoffs, Eidos (Joystiq, 3/4/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, Sony Santa Monica (Joystiq, 2/27/14)
  • 70 layoffs, Irrational Games (Joystiq, 2/18/14)
  • 12 layoffs, Eutechnyx (Joystiq, 2/18/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, Ghost Games (Joystiq, 2/1/14)
  • [undisclosed] layoffs, EA Salt Lake (Joystiq, 1/30/14)
  • 3423+ industry layoffs from 1/7/13 – 10/29/13 (GameJobWatch.com)

In a discussion on IGN’s Game Scoop!. the Daemon Hatfield, Greg Miller, Justin Davis, and Brian Altano discussed the Sony Santa Monica layoffs and the ongoing (and seemingly permanent) “ramp up / layoff” structure of AAA studios. During this discussion, the panel made comments around the need for the video game industry to unionize and operate in similar fashion to the film industry:

Daemon Hatfield: “I wonder if the video game industry should be more like the movie industry. You have a crew that works on a movie and when the movie is done, they go on to their next project. They are not full-time employees.”

Greg MIller: “Do you think as far as unionizing?”

DH, Justin Davis, and Brian Altano confirm and agree.

DH: “You have a director that runs a movie, he brings on his crew, they make the game…”

JD: “You assemble a “dream team” for each project. A director has certain DPs and other key positions [and] likes to collaborate with the same people over and over. Presumably all of those people that are one step down also have people they like and they bring their whole crew with them. You get the one guy and then you get his crew.”

GM: “I guess that kind of already happens right?”

BA: “Sort of.”

JD: “It happens a little bit but the issue is that it disrupts people’s insurance and things like that. If there was a union, the equivalent of a SAG card or something, you could just move from project to project. In my opinion (and I haven’t done a tremendous amount of reach on this), but on the surface it seems like something that would be healthy for this business.”

While, many devs may benefit from negotiated salaries, working conditions, hours, and insurance coverage, further research into unions does not seem to offer a terrible amount of protection from layoffs. Nor does it appear that the film industry works this way.

According to Lawyers.com, how a union benefits an employee during a layoff is largely dependent on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). In short, layoffs of union employees are usually handled on a measure of seniority. The source also goes on to mention the benefits of The Worker Adjustment & Retraining Notification Act (WARN):

Generally, WARN requires employers with 100 or more workers to give you 60 days’ advance notice of some closings and “mass layoffs.” A closing can mean the shut-down of a plant or facility. “Mass layoff” has very specific meanings, but basically it means that a substantial number of workers are being laid off for more than six months. –Lawyers.com

Systems such as WARN would appear to be very valuable for developers in the wake of the seemingly immediate purge of Irrational and Sony Santa Monica employees.

There is a looming fear that if the industry continues at this pace, great artists, programmers, engineers, writers, and the like will be swayed away from from the games industry, potentially diminishing the quality of games released. There is no doubt in my mind that the allure of working on a video game will continue to attract skilled creatives; however, lengthy tenure is sure to wane.

Some will argue that AAA isn’t for everyone and indie development is on the rise. While I agree, many of the skills possessed by indie devs were likely gained from experience at larger studios.

I have never been a developer, part of union, or involved in the film industry. I would appreciate any and all correction of the above information from those with experience.

Should video game developers unionize? Does the film industry actually work in this manner? Does a union offer more protection from layoffs than mentioned above? What is your solution to the state of video game development? Are things fine the way they are?

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Launching Operation Supply Drop

Launching Operation Supply Drop
Polygon

What helps soldiers? Food? Toiletries? Video Games?

Machuga knows a guy, his Stryker driver in Iraq, who didn’t make the transition. He got out of the military in 2005, then spent the next five years trying to reintegrate and failing. He reenlisted, got sent to Afghanistan.

“Anybody who’s been out of the military has that point in their life where they’re kind of floating,” Machiga says. “They’re just like, they’re not happy with civilian life, because there’s nothing like the military out there. You find yourself driving past enlistment stations and thinking, ‘I should just stop by. I’m not actually going to do it. I’m just going to go inside and see what’s going on.’ And he fell into that trap.”

Machuga wanted to send his buddy something to help him pass the time, so he put together a care package of video games. With help from Activision’s Dan Amrich, he scraped together a set of Guitar Hero and DJ Hero games and shipped them out as a standard 20x20x20, under 70-pound care package, plenty to keep a soldier occupied. His driver loved it. And it got the other soldiers talking.

“Suddenly a dozen guys from his unit start going, ‘Hey, this is great, we could use some love too!’ I was like, ‘Oh shit, what have I started?'” says Machuga. “So I started packing up what was left and sent that as well. That’s what snowballed the whole thing.”

– Russ PItts, Polygon

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StarCraft 2 player receives the sport’s first US athlete visa

StarCraft 2 player receives the sport’s first US athlete visa
Polygon

Professional StarCraft 2 player from South Korea Kim “ViOLet” Dong Hwan recently became the first person from the eSport to obtain a P-1A visa from the American government, his representatives at Cyber Solutions Agency announced.

– Tracey Lien, Polygon

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If you love games, you should refuse to be called a gamer

If you love games, you should refuse to be called a gamer
NewStatesman

A delightfully provocative read about the idea of gaming as a community. I will also recommend that you swing by GamesAndLearning.org and play through Gone Home:

Video games are the most profitable medium in the entertainment industry. In the early 1990s Nintendo generated more annual profits than all of the American film studios combined. But despite its size, the medium’s audience is often referred to as a homogenous group. Players and commentators talk of the ‘gaming community’, as if the cross-cultural, socially diverse mass of humans who play video games is somehow uniform in gender, race, age and class. The idiocy of the term is only too clear when applied to other media such as literature (the ‘reading community’?), music (the ‘listening community’?) or film (the ‘observing community’?).

– Simon Parkin, NewStatesman

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Second gaming ceasefire held for Sandy Hook but skepticism remains

Second gaming ceasefire held for Sandy Hook but skepticism remains
Polygon

Shooter “ceasefire” sincerity stimulates sticky situation

The event has also drawn criticism. One of the key issues raised during last year’s event was the way in which a “ceasefire” inadvertently created a connection between violent video games and violent actions in the real world. With the media, politicians and various lobbies frequently making that connection on their own, it was seen as fuel for an already problematic image of video games.

According to technology and entertainment writer Daniel Nye Griffiths, whose work has appeared in Forbes and Wired UK, while he doesn’t doubt that the ceasefire is coming from a sincere place, such an event is tricky for multiple reasons.

– Tracey Lien, Polygon

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You could help real-world farmers by playing Cropland Capture

You could help real-world farmers by playing Cropland Capture
Polygon

Crowd-source gaming initiative to find better cropland

Cropland Capture, a game hosted on the Geo-Wiki Project’s website, tasks players with identifying cropland from Google Earth images. Players get points for identifying land and could win an Amazon Kindle, a Samsung Galaxy S4 and more through the game’s ongoing tournament. According to a recent tweet from the game’s official Twitter account, players have combed more than 300,000 square kilometers of land.”

– Dave Tach, Polygon

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PS4 Sells Over 2.1 Million Units Globally

PS4 Sells Over 2.1 Million Units Globally
IGN

PS4 sells gangbusters.

Speaking about the global 2.1 million figure, House said, “It’s an impressive and record-setting accomplishment for our company and for our industry, and we couldn’t have done it without you. I want to personally thank PlayStation fans, both old and new, for your vote of confidence.”

– Luke Karmali, IGN

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