News

Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency at Northeastern University

Posted in News by on Nov 6th, 2013 3:51 PM

Anita Sarkeesian was launched into the limelight 18 months ago when her Kickstarter project, Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, drew as much vitriol as it did funding. Derided by insecure gamers who saw her critical analysis of feminism in video games as an attack on a traditionally masculine stronghold, Sarkeesian also attracted nearly 7,000 supporters who backed her modest $6,000 goal to the tune of $158,922, or 2,648%.

Despite impersonations, rumor-mongering, DDoS attacks, and threats against her life, Sarkeesian has persevered. Her Feminist Frequency blog has released the first three in her Tropes video series, providing gamers the framework and vocabulary with which to think critically about their favorite medium while still enjoying it.

Sarkeesian doesn't limit herself to video presentations. As a backer of her Kickstarter project, I received this update from her last week:

Over the course of the last year, I've been invited to speak about the representations of women in gaming at colleges, universities and conferences, to provide commentary to mainstream media outlets and have been given the opportunity to speak to game designers about how we can make gaming better. While all of this does take up some of my time, I think that connecting directly with new audiences, people and developers has become an essential aspect of this project.

One of those engagements was last night at Northeastern University in Boston, for which I joined Monica Castillo of the Cinema Fix podcast and Bob Chipman of Escapist Magazine's Escape to the Movies with MovieBob to attend.

Sarkeesian's presentation began with slides exemplifying the harassment she's received and the unbelievable lengths to which her detractors will go to quiet her, soliciting uncomfortable chuckles from the audience. She then played a segment from one of her videos and outlined her ongoing research, which will be demonstrated in her future videos, the next of which is "Ms. Male Character". Such work is necessary in an industry where nearly half of gamers are female, yet only 6% of playable characters are — and even then, often in a sexualized manner, adorned with revealing outfits or subjected to offensive behavior even in-game, be it from other players or the game's own antagonists.

After Sarkeesian's presentation, handwritten questions were accepted from the audience on index cards, allowing the moderators to filter some of the more aggressive or loaded questions — an unfortunate necessity for Sarkeesian, who can't even allow comments on her YouTube channel without exposing herself to assault. After the formal presentation, audience members were welcome to approach her and ask brief questions, pose for a photo — or, for one fan, ask her to autograph his 3DS.

Confessing that "I'm always hungry after my speeches,", Sarkeesian then recruited my troupe for a trip to the nearby Uno Chicago Grill for dinner, where she further reflected on the positive and negative responses to her work. She pointed out that even those critics who vehemently disagree with her are sometimes using her own vocabulary to do so, prompting them to think critically about games in a way they wouldn't've before.

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Xbox One Tour: Road to Launch

Posted in News by on Sep 22nd, 2013 10:34 AM

This past week, Microsoft's Larry Hryb, aka Major Nelson, launched the Xbox One Tour: Road to Launch, with stops at the Microsoft Stores in Burlington and Boston's Prudential Center. With him were playable Xbox One units the public was invited to play. I scoped out the Burlington stop on Thursday and snapped a few photos.

The event ran 7:30–9 PM EDT. By the time I got there at 7:20 PM, the line to get into the store was already about a hundred people long, with more queuing rapidly. Hryb, sporting a Price is Right-style jacket, was shaking hands, signing Xbox 360 faceplates, and posing for photographs. When the store finally opened, there were enough Xbox One stations that the line progressed quickly, then halted while the first wave goggled over the new machine. I'm unsure what the maximum playtime was.

I chose not to get my hands on the Xbox One that evening — I already have my Xbox One preordered and don't need to be sold on it. But the staff of the store, which had opened just that day, did allow me to skip the line for the purpose of taking photos of the console. Enjoy!

Highlights from BostonFIG 2013

Posted in News by on Sep 16th, 2013 12:49 PM

Robin HunickeDespite being the second annual event, this past weekend's Boston Festival of Indie Games, or BostonFIG, bore little resemblance to its 2012 debut. Gone were the crowded classrooms in which a few dozen developers and a few thousand curious gamers were crammed; now the developers had an entire sports arena in which to entertain 5,000 attendees, with parallel tracks of speakers, lightning talks, and concerts spread across the MIT campus.

If anything, BostonFIG was too much of a good thing: it'd be generous to say I saw half the games on the show floor. That's still more than the budding developers participating in the day-long Game Jam, who were sequestered in their own building. Between the 60+ complete or near-complete games on display and the half-dozen Game Jams written in just six hours to the theme of "equality" BostonFIG 2013 offered an embarrassment of riches.

But what I did see, I enjoyed immensely, beginning with a thoughtful, inspiring keynote speech by Journey's brilliant designer, Robin Hunicke of Funomena. The creator of the game that proved not everyone on the Internet is a jerk encouraged budding developers to start with a feeling, and then create a game that is an expression of, and consistent with, that feeling. Indies may be best suited to do so, given their size, as I wondered how that notion would scale to larger teams, when different developers have conflicting feelings; even Hunicke admitted that working with other people is chaotic, since people by their nature accept sensory input, add feelings, and respond unpredictably.

Fortunately, Journey tends to evoke positive feelings and senses, as demonstrated by the Videri String Quartet, which opened Hunicke's keynote with an original arrangement of her game's score. The musicians and developer had never met, and each was more than a bit emotional over the other's work.

IMG_3983

If you missed BostonFIG, you'll eventually be able to get your hands on all the event had to offer. The talks were recorded and I expect will be published to the BostonFIG website, and the games will be released when they're done. I picked ten games off the show floor to profile on Computerworld.com; please read that blog for gameplay videos and more. My photos of BostonFIG are available below.

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How to upgrade the Xbox 360 hard drive & transfer saved data

Posted in News by on Sep 6th, 2013 1:05 PM

When I got my Xbox 360 in December 2008, the included 60 GB hard drive seemed like plenty of space. As long as I deleted any demos I was done with, I always had room for whatever games and saved data I wanted.

Then Microsoft started giving its Xbox Live Gold members two free retail games a month. These games are often several gigabytes each, bursting my hard drive at the seams. Although I knew I could "purchase" the game without downloading it, making it available for later retrieval, I barely had room to download even one game I'd so queued. It was time for an upgrade.

Having the Xbox 360 Premium or Pro model, I couldn't replace its inbuilt storage with any of the many drives available for the Slim model. I bought a third-party 250 GB drive for $50 off Amazon.com and a first-party transfer cable with CD for $9.49. Swapping the hardware was easy, and transferring the data took about an hour.

For anyone unfamiliar with the process, I recorded a tutorial for upgrading your Xbox 360's hard drive:

The old hard drive and transfer cable, both having served their purpose, were bundled and put on eBay, where they sold for a Buy It Now price of $30.

PS4 vs Xbox One: Which console to preorder?

Posted in News by on Sep 5th, 2013 11:17 AM

The Sony PlayStation 4 is releasing on Friday, November 15, 2013, with an MSRP of $399. The Microsoft Xbox One will follow a week later on November 22 for $499. Which one should I get? Watch my latest YouTube video to find out!

Yes, it's true: I've preordered each console twice. GameStop had already stopped taking preorders, and though I prefer not to give my business to Wal-Mart, they were the only ones still taking preorders, starting August 24. I got there when they opened and found no line, though one person eventually showed up behind me and said that Target was also taking deposits. I called that store and found their preorders began on August 25. Their location is closer, so I got the consoles there, too.

Still want a PlayStation 4? As far as I know, you're out of luck — but you can get the Xbox One directly from the Microsoft Store. This special "Day One" edition includes "a commemorative controller, Xbox One chat headset, an exclusive achievement, and special-edition packaging". Hmm… maybe I should get a third?

Honestly, neither console excites me, especially when I consider how many of the current generation of games I've left unplayed — I could continue gaming for years without buying any new consoles. But the opportunities to shoot unboxing videos are rare, so I'll be taking a few days off from work this November to keep my YouTube channel updated. Please subscribe to see what's inside the box!

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EarthBound releases on Wii U eShop

Posted in News by on Jul 18th, 2013 5:27 PM

Earlier this year, I delved into the history of the EarthBound franchise and the failed efforts to convince Nintendo to bring the first and third games in the series to the North American market. Many fans have toiled for years without acknowledgement from Nintendo. Instead, they taunt us by holding back the JRPGs we've longed for these past two decades.

But perhaps those pleas did not fall on deaf ears after all. Today on YouTube, Nintendo announced that Mother 2, released for the Super NES as EarthBound in 1995 and not seen since, is now available on the Wii U eShop.

The game is $9.99, and the Player's Guide that came with the original SNES release is available for free online.

The game's SNES incarnation saw only 140,000 units sold in North America, where the console had an installed user base of 23.35 million units. By contrast, the Wii U has sold only 3.45 million units as of March 31. Proportionately, Nintendo should expect to sell only 20,685 units of the virtual EarthBound — but that doesn't take into account the legacy the game has achieved in the intervening 18 years; few games of that vintage have inspired such followings as seen at Starmen.net. The game commands eBay prices of $150 – $1000, making the $10 eShop pricetag a steal.

I've always believed in voting with my dollars, so I'm going to buy this game immediately — not only because it's a great game to add to any gamer's collection, but because I want to show Nintendo that I'll buy Mother 3 when and if they finally release that, too.

Congratulations and thanks to Reid Young, Clyde Mandelin, and all the community leaders and fans who have asked for this release for so long! Perhaps there is hope to see the franchise's two previously unreleased titles eventually make their way to our shores.

Can I play the Wii U without the GamePad?

Posted in News by on Jul 15th, 2013 12:00 PM

Eight months after posting my Wii U Frequently Asked Questions video, I continue to respond to YouTube comments asking how the Wii U works. Here are a few standalone blog posts that address some common questions.

Can I use the Wii U without the GamePad controller?

For whatever reason, some gamers want to play the Wii U without its trademark input device. But the two products are not sold separately, and you cannot set up the Wii U without the GamePad.

Once the console is configured, how restricted you are to the GamePad depends on the game or service you are using. New Super Mario Bros. U is pretty flexible, allowing you to use whatever controller you like. If you want to use the GamePad for a one-player game, it'll even stream the audio and video to the GamePad, so you can turn off the television.

New Super Mario Bros. U supported controllers

But navigating the Nintendo eShop without a GamePad is prohibited, as warned by this screenshot:

Nintedo eShop supported controllers

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Can I use the GamePad without the Wii U?

Posted in News by on Jul 15th, 2013 12:00 PM

Eight months after posting my Wii U Frequently Asked Questions video, I continue to respond to YouTube comments asking how the Wii U works. Here are a few standalone blog posts that address some common questions.

Can I use the GamePad without the Wii U? Is the GamePad portable? Can I play it in the car?

The GamePad is not a portable game system like the Nintendo 3DS or Sony Vita. It does not have a media slot with which you can input games, saved data, CDs, movies, or cartridges. All media the GamePad displays is streamed from the Wii U console, which must be within 40–60 feet. If you try to use the GamePad without the Wii U, you will get this error message:

GamePad without Wii U

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Can I play the Wii U without a television?

Posted in News by on Jul 15th, 2013 12:00 PM

Eight months after posting my Wii U Frequently Asked Questions video, I continue to respond to YouTube comments asking how the Wii U works. Here are a few standalone blog posts that address some common questions.

Can I play the Wii U without a television?

As previously discussed, the GamePad is not a portable gaming system; it needs to be near the Wii U. But there are plenty of games you can play on your GamePad without needing a television. In fact, this was one of the features that Nintendo hyped prior to the console's launch. It's called "Off-TV Play" and is demonstrated in this commercial video:

However, not all games support this feature. Review Wikipedia's List of Off-TV Play-compatible games. Launch title New Super Mario Bros. U is such a game:

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At long last, an Eternal Darkness sequel

Posted in News by on May 20th, 2013 12:04 PM

Some games not only stand the test of time; they actually get better with age. Such was the case with Eternal Darkness, released for the Nintendo GameCube in 2002. When I reviewed Eternal Darkness upon its release, I gave it 9.0 — a high score, and the fifth best GameCube game I ever rated. But my ratings are often assigned after only 3–6 hours of gameplay, and I could not tell at the time of publication that, whereas I would play each of those five GameCube games to completion, Eternal Darkness is the only one I would play through a second time — then a third, and a fourth. It is a wonderful game with an intricate story, a dozen unique, playable characters, and an innovative Insanity Meter. Some critics say that the game would not have fared as well on the PlayStation 2, where it would've had stiffer competition in the survival horror genre. But we'll never know for sure how this game from Silicon Knights would've performed on other systems. All we do know is that, unlike Resident Evil or Silent Hill, the franchise has lain dormant since its release, leaving us only with a short fanfilm and the hope for more chapters in the book of Eternal Darkness.

Finally, that hope is being realized. Dennis Dyack and the rest of Eternal Darkness's creators have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $1.35 million $750,000 with which to fund the development and publication of Shadow of the Eternals, a spiritual successor to Eternal Darkness. Here's the pitch:

The solicitation was followed shortly by an effective ninety-second teaser trailer:

Don't like being teased? Then engorge yourself on nine minutes of gameplay:

Several featured characters and settings appear lifted right from the original game, suggesting Shadow of the Eternals isn't just "inspired by" Eternal Darkness but shares many assets and design features, much as Perfect Dark did with Goldeneye. With so much overlap between the art and talent of the two games, why wouldn't people rushing to give this project their money?

Apparently, the reason is Kotaku. In October 2012, Andrew McMillen posted an article examining X-Men: Destiny, a Silicon Knights game that received largely negative reviews and ultimately lost a lawsuit from Epic Games. It's the latest black mark against Dyack and Silicon Knights, as outlined in this comment by Kotaku reader LostToys:

Dyack has been toxic to the industry and has never been willing to admit his mistakes. He blamed the quality of Too Human on Epic; blamed the bad reviews on Too Human on reviewers who just didn't get how "innovative" his game was; blamed Activision for not giving them enough time to work on X-Men. Dude needs to start taking responsibility for his own shortcomings.

Realizing these accusations could not be ignored, Dyack, at the urging of Shadow of the Eternals developer Precursor Games, has offered a 33-minute video response to the Kotaku article:

I have played neither of Silicon Knights' two most recent releases, those being X-Men: Destiny and Too Human. But I did play their two immediately previous titles, Eternal Darkness and Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, both excellent games for GameCube. Unfortunately, these are not the games on which the industry is pinning Dyack's reputation.

The memory of the video game industry can be short, as I witnessed when reading the comments on my interview with John Romero: viewers lambasted him for failures such as Daikatana, overlooking his overwhelmingly positive contributions to the industry such as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, and Quake (and Dangerous Dave!). Ditto with Richard Garriott, who may not have had a winner with MMORPG Tabula Rasa but who created the entire Ultima franchise, for which he earned my Kickstarter pledge for a spiritual successor.

I am an ardent supporter of Kickstarter projects that show talent, vision, and good faith. Dennis Dyack and Precursor Games have earned my pledge, and I am hopeful others will help this project become a reality.

Battling the game backlog

Posted in News by on Apr 2nd, 2013 5:54 PM

In January, former Gamebits contributor and now big-time indie game developer Robert Boyd posed a solution to his gaming backlog:

For each new game purchased, three games from my existing library must be completed. No exceptions, no matter how tempting or cheap a particular sale may be.

Boyd isn't the only gamer drowning in software. When gaming is one's primary hobby, it can be easy to acquire media faster than one consumes it: there are so many good games, and only so many hours in the day! But for those of us for whom gaming is only an occasional pastime, a wealth of options can still be challenge. Even though I buy and play less now than I used to, I'm still buying more than I play. A new contributing factor to this dilemma is the move to digital distribution. Whereas retail games sit on the shelf, serving as a visual reminder to be played, downloadable games can be easily lost in the virtual shuffle.

Although I'm not ready to take Boyd's approach to this feast, I did think it important to catalog the games on my "to play" list before I forget I own them. Here's that short list of games, all for Xbox 360:

  • Alan Wake
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum
  • Breath of Death VII
  • Cthulu Saves the World
  • Half-Minute Hero
  • Hard Corps: Uprising
  • Outland
  • Scott Pilgrim
  • Silent Hill: Downpour
  • The Walking Dead

Two of the games are Zeboyd RPGs whose battle systems I never got my head around. Another, Scott Pilgrim, is a good party game that I need some additional players for. Hard Corps is a spiritual successor to Contra that I found too easy once some additional in-game armaments were purchased; I need to lay off those options. And Outland needs only the final boss vanquished — I made it that far before giving up.

Not on this list are games I don't own but want to: Deadlight, and Mark of the Ninja. I will likely buy them not as soon as I finish some of the above games, but rather, as soon as I have some Microsoft Points to burn.

Where will the time for all this gaming come from? Good question. I'm a master of diversifying my commitments, having collected paychecks from six different companies in the last three months, only one of which is my full-time job. Of the five supporting gigs, one runs only through the academic year, suggesting that the summer might present some time for gaming. (Too bad — I play Silent Hill games only after the sun goes down.) At that time, gaming may take its place, not as a hobby but as a professional commitment. I like to be productive, which means engaging in activities which produce something to show for that investment in time. If Let's Play videos for my YouTube channel count, then I'll be screencasting my way through titles that others have played through years ago.

What games are on your backlog, and when will you get to them?