Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Road to E3: Denouements and Foreshadowings


‘Twas the night before Christmas…

With such a high-profile E3 this year – a return to glories past, without other international game conventions overshadowing it – all three of the console manufacturers have remained incredibly, almost unprecedentedly tight-lipped. Each hopes to “win” the show by having the biggest amount of game announcements, trailer debuts, and hands-on demos of the widest and most diverse pantheon of titles, and each has learned (some, like Nintendo, painfully so) that to ensure that each reveal holds the maximum amount of impact, the utmost of secrecy must be maintained right up until the time the curtains go up.

But the games industry is large and raucous; keeping anything quiet for long is something of a miracle (save for Blizzard, who can keep the likes of Starcraft II top-secret for years at a stretch) – and, sure enough, even with as momentous an E3 as is before us, there are more than a few loose lips willing to sink their fair share of battleships. Let’s just hope that they don’t fully derail all of the magic tricks each of the Big Three has up its sleeves.

Forthwith, a short litany:

Microsoft: the “transformative” announcement to be had at its press conference tomorrow will be a 3D motion-sensitive camera, which it acquired from 3DV Systems, a technology startup, last February. The software giant hopes that such a (supposedly) mainstream-friendly controller will be more than enough to take Nintendo directly on.

Nintendo: sequels, sequels, sequels are, indeed, what the big N will unleash to satiate its ravenous hardcore audience – and its newfound casual following, as well. Both Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Wii Fit Plus (complete with online play!) will bow on Tuesday, and will apparently be followed by even more core-franchise-friendly debuts.

Sony: in what is the most blatant and irrefutable leak of them all, Sony’s would-be dramatic unveiling of the PSP Go has been undermined by an online video journal’s premature posting – replete with the announcement that Grant Turismo Portable, which has been promised for the past four years but never delivered upon, and another Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops (which just might end up being the heavily teased project that Kojima-san is next working on).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Road to E3: The Fallout of Falling Relevance


At last year’s E3, Sony had the best press conference of the three console manufacturers – in hardcore geek parlance, it “won” the show. While a positive notch on the belt for the beleaguered company, it actually had less to do with the cards it dealt during the media briefing – announcing MAG, unveiling God of War III in trailer form, blowing out Resistance 2 – and more to do with the fact that it simply didn’t flounder at the podium as much as Microsoft, who devoted nearly the entire show to previously announced titles that were due to ship just a few months later, or waste the opportunity as did Nintendo, who focused exclusively on mainstream press back-scratching.

Such a turn of events simply underscores what a microcosm the Electronic Entertainment Expo can truly be. While Sony was dominating within the walls of the Los Angeles Convention Center, it was being trounced in the global videogame marketplace; the Xbox 360 outsold the PlayStation 3 by a factor of almost two-to-one in 2008, while the Wii did so at a rate of roughly three-to-one. The PlayStation Portable, the console veteran’s first handheld, is still struggling to find an audience beyond the esoteric tech fetishists, despite Sony’s recent efforts at assembling (finally) a robust game lineup and the fact that the portable system has been on the market for over four years. And adding insult to injury, Sony posted its first loss in the fourteen-year existence of the PlayStation platform, and it was a doozie: a whopping $1.1 billion, attributable to the high price tag of all PS systems (the PSP and PS3 hit store shelves at the ludicrous price points of $249 and $599, respectively, while the PS2, released in October of 2000, was dropped to $99 just two months ago) as well, of course, to the still-sour economy.

Clearly, the former industry giant is in desperate need of a turnaround, a resurrection from the dustbin of gaming irrelevance – what Nintendo has managed to pull off within the past five years. And since it cannot do so by simply closing the book on the current generation and starting afresh with new hardware designed around new gameplay directions, as the big N has done, it is left with only one option: renovating what it already has. Nothing short of a revamping of the PlayStation brand is in order.

There is no better opportunity to do so than at E3, particularly in a year that looks to have a banner show. While Nintendo promises to get back in touch with its hardcore fanbase and Microsoft sets out to “reinvent” home entertainment for the casual crowd, Sony needs to convince both demographics to give its dead-last systems a go. Taking a number (yet again) from Nintendo’s playbook, Sony is following a surefire path to turn heads and get its largely ignored machines back on the radar scope of consumers of all stripes: redesigns. Pictures have been floating around the internet for the past several weeks of the PSP Go, a sleeker, thinner portable that drops the disc drive (goodbye, useless UMDs!) and adds both a built-in hard drive and touch screen for direct competition against the dominating DS and the quickly-expanding iPhone. Rumors have been circulating, meanwhile, around the PS three, Sony’s obligatory redesign of its console, resulting in a significantly smaller and quieter version of the PS3 that would also, incidentally, provide the perfect occasion for a price drop (although there might be some reason to doubt the validity of this report: Sony has officially denied that the supposedly leaked pictures of the new model are legitimate; both the PS one and PS two, meanwhile, were released later in their respective systems’ lifespans).

But even if both machines do, indeed, end up getting makeovers, it still doesn’t address the fundamental problem plaguing the current iterations: just who, exactly, is the intended userbase? Sony marketed the original PlayStation to diehard gamers, but only the hardest of the hardcore could afford any console priced at a whopping $600 – and still find it difficult to do so with one at the PS3’s current price of $400, particularly in a tanking economy. And although the company originally attempted to angle its current system as a bargain-priced multimedia unit – when the initial standalone Blu-ray DVD players hit store shelves at $1,199, half that for a model that could also play PSX, PS2, and PS3 games was, indeed, a steal – that, too, has been stripped from it: now BR players are half the price of the PS3, retailing at a paltry $199. Even worse, the breadth and depth of the system’s software library – what made the PS2 in particular such a phenomenal success the world over – is nowhere near that of the Xbox 360, let alone that of its predecessor. Thanks to Microsoft releasing first and PS3 sales remaining persistently and consistently sluggish since launch, more and more developers are bringing their titles over to the 360 – even their exclusive ones, the titles that gamers from all walks of life would buy a PlayStation specifically for: Capcom’s Devil May Cry 4, Take-two’s Grand Theft Auto IV, Square Enix’s upcoming Final Fantasy XIII (and, if rumors are to be trusted, Konami’s forthcoming Metal Gear Solid 5).

The only target user left over is the aforementioned tech fetishist, the electronics-obsessed uber-chic geek who has to go out and buy a flat-screen TV or iPhone or, yes, BR-DVD player right on day one. While he and his buddies are undoubtedly loyal to the tech gurus that constitute Sony, they are a profoundly limited bunch – certainly not enough to form the fundamental or, even, entire basis for a handheld or console system’s success. That they comprise the PS3’s major install base is reflected in the machine’s perennially low sales (although things are starting to look up in the Land of the Rising Sun, as more and more average Japanese discard their Wiis and return to the PlayStation dynasty); if they continue to remain Sony’s biggest type of consumer, then the PS3 and PSP, redesigns or no, will be the last hardware the electronics giant makes before being forced to transform into a software-only company, as Sega did eight years ago.

So how to revamp? Clearly identify the core user, then cater to his needs. If it’s the hardcore gamer (which it had better be; what kind of casual gamer would drop four hundred bucks on a system that only has stymied and half-hearted motion control?), ease the bar of entry; $299 for the PlayStation 3 is both fair and needed. An expansion of budget software, which Sony just announced at least year’s E3, is also a big requisite – a development the company has already overseen, days before its press conference. And a huge slew of must-have titles, something which the system wasn’t able to pull off until a year-and-a-half into its lifespan, must not only be maintained, it must also be constantly, aggressively advertised. Here, again, Sony is one step ahead: by releasing both Killzone 2 and Infamous in the first half of this year, it’s already got a leg up on its two competitors’ 2009 lineups and heads into E3 with a good deal of momentum.

It’s just that first point that still stands in the way – and will continue to, if industry insiders are at all correct in their analysis. Even if history repeats itself and Sony manages to walk out of the LACC with its head held high and a victory crown clutched firmly in its hand, it still has to face an outside world both daunting and bleak.

Extinction typically looks that way to the endangered species.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Classics



Graphic Classics

Comics for decades were comfortably accepted as written or intended for children, and any step out of that was considered abnormal if exciting and good. The market for comics therefore was young, and anyone older reading and buying comics was considered, young minded if not less than bright. Over the years as the medium of comics grew more efforts were made to make comics more mature as both the art standards and story standards improved.

The maturation of the comics world came at the same time that the world of youth matured, in response to the US involvement in Vietnam. That era found people of all ages becoming more divided in values, between young and old, liberal, left, conservative and right, and Democrat and Republican. The Civil Rights Movement added a degree and layers of turmoil to the cultural stew, rightly, and all of the world seemed to turn upside down. Comics grew up slowly, with small steps, but by the time of the middle 1980s and Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns comic books reached a plateau of mature content, that has not returned to former levels. This meant something, along with the shedding of Comic Code Values and self censorship, the comic book industry would begin to shed young readers, as it focused more and more upon the comic book buyer with money to buy weekly comics, ... the 18-28 year old males. Over time as the market became more and more specialized in content and sales efforts, so too did the readership becoming smaller and more hardcore. In recent years this trend has become extreme, with the sales being more aimed at an elite audience and the buyers being fewer in number.

Children can find comic books in stores now, but rather than being able to pick up anything they have to use considerable parental help, or comic shop guidance to finding the grail of their quest. Thanks to my efforts with my son he has a collection larger than my own, but, not too many parents have time for that. Well I have the solution for that. GRAPHIC CLASSICS. They put literature in the form of comics, allowing adults to read great even maturely aimed stories, and kids to be able to read these great works that due to the medium are perhaps easier to digest, that cause their own interest in both comics and literature to grow. I really cannot see a better tool for getting kids into books, and getting adults into comics.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Popular Culture Mediums depictions across different country's youth and young adults



Americans won the Pacific war by dropping two Atomic bombs. American hegemony over the world did not last long, but the near worship of the bomb as the savior and defender lingered long.



Japan was defeated in the end of the Pacific war by use of two Atomic bombs. Seeing their world being destroyed without the ability to stop the destruction, the Atom bomb was a weapon of devastation and horrible consequence, poured out by a conquering army. When the conquering nation later occupied their nation, a cult of victimization grew, as the only nation to be attacked by the holder of the power of the Atom.

Do not presume here that I am aiming my view at the morality of use of nuclear power. I am no expert. However by looking at how popular culture mediums, particularly, comics, film and animated films, between the cultures shows immediately that one country sees the Atom as being Godlike power to be used by a hero, and, the other, that the destruction caused by nuclear weapons is devastating and irresponsible and completely without response.

The existence of cross country values is very interesting to me, for it shows what is important, and how our own cultural views become skewed by our experience.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Kitty Wigs! Why Not?


Cats are simply amazing creatures. Even the most "run of the mill" house cat has some mystique behind it. Every cat owner, at some point, will find themselves staring in disbelief thinking, "How did you get up there?" or "How did you that that?" or "What happened?" This is simply the joy of being a cat owner. And of course we all know the word "owner" is used loosely. As you’re really just the person who pays the bills, buys the food, and scoops the poop. Regardless of your situation, you’ll no doubt agree that your kitty is a blessing (even if it scratches the couch, vomits in your shoes, and occasionally takes a crap in the bathtub!).


The past few years have found people using Fluffy not only as a pet, but also as a medium for artwork – albeit of the hilarious photographic variety. Unless you’ve spent some time living under a rock, you’ve heard of two popular websites: http://www.stuffonmycat.com and http://www.icanhascheezburger.com. Both websites encourage you to snap funny, but safe, pictures of your kitty. Stuff On My Cat offers a variety of photos in which people have stacked strange things on their cats – usually leading to a good chuckle. I Can Has Cheezburger on the other hand offers a way to add funny captions to photos of cats already doing crazy things. This gives you the chance to speculate on exactly what Fluffy was thinking as he flew head first into the wall, chasing the flashlight. They've even branched out into other things like "LOLDogs" and http://www.engrishfunny.com/. All these websites offer at least a couple minutes of real entertainment and CONTSANTLY updated content means you’ll want to come back. Both are clever business opportunities with rewarding results.


However, cat humor has one more unexplored frontier. There is one more concept yet undeveloped. Two words for you, my feline loving friends: Kitty Wigs. We’re not making poor Fluffy into a wig… that would just be wrong. We’re talking about making a wig FOR your kitty. I know what you’re saying… "My cat isn’t balding though!" However, the makers of Kitty Wigs (at www.kittywigs.com) point out that a wig for your kitty will provide hours of quality time for both you and the cat! Your custom made kitty wig even comes in a cute tin for safe keeping! Multiple colors and styles are available for the discerning kitty (or crazed kitty "owner"). Your kitty will look ready to hit the dance clubs in Electric Blue! Or for a more refined look, the Silver Fox will make the boy cats say "Ooh-La-La!" Just be sure your Kitty Wig is stored in it’s tin during down times – we don’t want Fluffy getting a hold of it!


Funny approach aside, this is a very unique idea. I applaud the two women who founded this product and website. They came up with a new product that people WILL spend money on! We've all seen the weird cat furniture (my kitties don't need Ikea!) and goofy toys that you play with more then the cats! But wigs? That's just plain different. Though I doubt they’ll be quitting their day jobs anytime soon. With a price tag like $50.00 a pop, it’s a pretty expensive "cat toy" that really isn’t even a "cat toy." In addition, I’d like a show of hands as to how many people have cats that would actually LET them strap a wig to their head… I thought as much. However, as stated before, there’s something to be said for good old fashioned American ingenuity. If there are stores dedicated to clothes for dogs… then for felines I say, "Let them have wigs!"

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Road to E3: Interludes and Examinations


Just as both Microsoft and Nintendo have promised to bring a game-changing show to this year’s expo, E3 itself promises to be a game-changer.

The Electronic Entertainment Exposition began life in the distant year of 1995, the year that Sony launched the first PlayStation and rode its success to world domination. Until then, the various companies that constituted the still-fledgling videogame industry attended the then-semi-annual Consumer Electronics Show, a tradeshow devoted to electronic gadgets of all sorts and stripes. Despite – or perhaps because of – the videogame sector’s huge presence within CES, it was still treated as a second-class citizen, culminating in it quite literally being forced to ride at the back of the bus: when the Hilton Convention Center in Las Vegas couldn’t contain all of the exhibitors’ booths one year, the tradeshow’s organizers moved all of the gaming companies to a large pavilion outside. This pavilion consisted of a large tent, located right in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. One Nintendo executive would later describe the incident as a “windstorm” in which “nothing was level.”

It proved to be, in many ways, the final straw. The industry had already been forced to band together and start to organize itself the year before, when Congress launched a series of hearings into the “soaring” levels of violence that videogames were starting to devolve to (a charge principally leveled at the cross-platform Mortal Kombat and the Sega CD-exclusive Night Trap). The result was the creation of the Interactive Digital Software Association, the industry’s first trade organization (which would evolve nine years later into the Entertainment Software Association), and the implementation of a series of ratings, which still stand to this day; the following year, in response to another crucible of external pressure, the IDSA spearheaded the charge to create a tradeshow devoted solely to interactive media.

Despite a number of companies’ unwillingness to disengage from the safe ground that was the Consumer Electronics Show and to charge headlong into the Electronic Entertainment Expo’s uncharted waters – Nintendo particularly (and predictably) was loathe to leave a barn in which it was the king of the roost – that first year’s E3 was an unqualified success, immediately starting a tradition of bombshell announcements from the console manufacturers (Sony delivered the PSX’s price point – a source of major concern at the time, given the exorbitant price Sega had affixed its latest console with – while Sega made the most bizarre announcement in videogame history to date: the Saturn had clandestinely shipped the night before and was already waiting for eager consumers on select stores’ shelves [oddly, those consumers never seemed to arrive]) and big game reveals from the third-party publishers (such as Namco’s Tekken and Ridge Racer). The other accruements that the show would ultimately be known for were also quickly introduced and, in the coming years, would continue to increase in sophistication and expense: large and ornate booths (some multiple stories), laser and light shows, booming sound systems and choreographed dance routines, and, of course, the ubiquitous booth babe.

By 2006, just past the expo’s ten-year anniversary, E3 had cemented its status as the most influential event in the global videogame industry – and had become a thriving business unto itself in the process. Attendance had swollen to over 400 exhibitors and 60,000 attendees. Floor space within the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center – which covers some 540,000 square feet – cost exhibitors a hefty $12 million to rent. The biggest booths, most usually those of the three console manufacturers, carried price tags of tens of millions of dollars to construct, staff, and market. Direct spending in the city of Los Angeles – those moneys paid to hotels, bars, and, most especially, taxi cabs – tallied some $20 million each year, sometimes reaching twice that level.

If those figures seem even slightly bloated, they seemed even more so to the gaming companies themselves. Many publishers – most notably Sony and Microsoft, two-thirds of the console triumvirate – balked at the huge expense the show incurred each and every year, arguing that the dividends did not meet out the investment. The costs of throwing big, lavish parties for journalists and other attendees, combined with the more prosaic but still unwieldy travel expenses of airfare, food, and hotel stays, rivaled the budgets of most of their titles in development; developers, meanwhile, rallied against dividing up their resources and team members between a playable E3 demo and the game proper, both of which require a great deal of time and polish. And both argued that the expo had become more of a financial burden than a marketing boon – with so many distractions in the form of celebrity appearances and dance club-esque edifices and so much competition in the form of an ever-expanding roster of games, it became “increasingly difficult to get [the] message out,” as the ESA itself once officially commented – which was the point of the tradeshow in the first place. The general sentiment was that something had to be done.

The ESA responded by drastically downsizing and restructuring E3. The 2007 show ditched the Los Angeles Convention Center and instead set up shop in a series of conference rooms within a small handful of hotels spread throughout Santa Monica. The smaller venue dictated a smaller audience, of course, and the open policy of allowing all “qualified” videogame personnel (GameStop employees and fansite webmasters were just as prevalent as journalists and industry insiders, if not more so) was lifted, replaced by an invite-only crowd of some 5,000 attendees. The traditional show date of May was pushed back to July, a concession to publisher and developer woes over prepping fourth-quarter titles for a showing in the second quarter of the year. Even the name of the tradeshow was changed to reflect the seriousness of the transformation: gone was the Electronic Entertainment Expo; the E3 Media and Business Summit had arrived.

When this smaller, more “intimate” E3 failed to have the desired effect – both the exhibitors and the specialty press lambasted its decentralized nature and numerous logistical problems, while industry analysts and gaming enthusiasts bemoaned its inability to generate any kind of excitement – the ESA immediately backpedaled, attempting a type of amalgam between the old and new shows. 2008’s expo returned to the LACC but was still held in July and continued to adhere to stripped-down guidelines (booths were allotted a maximum space of only 20-feet-by-20-feet, and the number of attendees was still clamped at only several thousand). This small injection of old E3 was not enough, however, and most in the industry set their sights on other international shows – such as the Leipzig Games Convention in Germany and the Tokyo Game Show in Japan (formerly a regional-only event) – to occupy the strategic space that the Electronic Entertainment Expo once held. Rather than rebranding the expo and giving it a laser-like focus on disseminating industry news, the ESA inadvertently sapped it of all relevance along with all of the glitz – the result of wildly lurching from one extreme to another.

E3’s star was so far in declension that the gaming world was genuinely surprised when the Entertainment Software Association announced that it was still going to hold another show in 2009. Developments since then, however, have given many in the industry hope that both the organization and its expo are once again back on the right track: with the cap on attendance levels and booth sizes lifted; both Microsoft and Nintendo – after holding extremely weak press conferences last year – promising to have their best, most games-packed show in years; Leipzig being essentially cancelled, forcing companies to once again reserve all of their announcements for one show only; and the elongated title of E3 Business and Media Summit being chopped back to plain old E3 once more, the spotlight is yet again on the expo as the preeminent event in the videogame industry, the very epicenter of all things interactive media.

Whether this third iteration of E3 in as many years will be a progressive step forward or another horrible stagger backwards will be seen in only two weeks.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nothing to Fear but Fear itself?



They say, (whoever it is they are), that popular culture mediums reflect, and do not themselves create. The hype over the film Natural Born Killers inspiring murders that didn’t happen, did reflect a tendency to attach consequence to art, when in fact, art reflects consequence. But even then, Oliver Stone suggested that the genesis of the story came not from art but a reflection of society. But his model of killers becoming famous and celebrity was more outrageous, than accurate. The true genesis of his story is very clearly a case of a then conservative culture becoming spellbound at the horror of an event. When a car accident, extra bloody, occurs, we look. We don’t want to, but we do. It is not a guilty pleasure, it is a sense of horror that makes us look. We don’t believe the reality we see, so we stare. IT IS FEAR.

But, it is true that when something odd happens, or change is present, we seek to understand what it is, through creative mediums. Disaster, catastrophe, rebellion, and war all present the creative mediums with opportunities to consider what MIGHT happen if... and usually the underlaying cause is fear.

When Bill Clinton was President of the US, we saw gun sales and fear go up on the side of the right and off right. When George W. Bush was President of the US America caused gun sales and fear on the side of the left (in Latin America) and fear in most of the rest of the world. With President Obama in office gun sales have grown, and fear of both an impending financial disaster and the ongoing Global Warming and catastrophic implications of that cause responses in people, out of fear, and desire to know more.

Ayn Rand’s creative work in general and in particular her work ATLAS SHRUGGED has been seeing a mass response in the time since Obama took office. Are the core values of America being challenged? Well, fear of that perhaps. But beyond that, Libertarian (Ayn Rand would approve of Libertarianism, mostly) values are being reflected in the move, in America from party politics to value politics. When the Republican party lost in 2008 most were awestruck by the depth of it. But what has risen in its place, and by much of the left if not party Democrats, is a dismissal of party, and party platforms. And this will change politics at its core, because while Republicans talked a good game on anti abortion values, the real holders of those values are people who are not in line with much of core Republican views.

Global warming might not be what various critics from either side of the debate say it is, or is caused by, but it is happening. Environmental catastrophism is going to ring truer than ever in the coming years, to the point where there will not be a debate. An alarmist film such as Soylent Green from the 60s and 70s could not have happened with such power in the 80s to the present, just because the fear in the culture of it happening was at the back burner.

A world wide outbreak of disease, plague has been a fear of humans since we’ve been aware of our world around us. In the world that sees AIDS in Africa killing huge numbers, fears of Swine Flu, SARS, Bird Flu, Ebola, and more, just how freaking prescient was Mary Shelley to have perceived the LAST MAN to be one due to disease world wide? Very.

And now that Iran just test fired a missile, and has been considered close to being within 2 - 3 years of a nuclear weapon, should it develop one, how much must nuclear apocalypse be upon the minds of people, fear of that is enormous, if not as great as during the Cold War.

Fear causes people to look, out of a desire to know.

E3 Has Lost Its Mystique




Maybe I’m a bad nerd. I’ve always thought myself to be a loyal video gamer. But I really couldn’t care less about E3 anymore. It wasn’t always that way… I remember actually looking forward to E3 when I was younger. There used to be SO much to look forward to every year. But after disappointment upon disappointment and LOADS of hyped up crap, E3 isn’t even worth it for me anymore. Who’s got the time for previews and sneak peeks that won’t amount to anything short of the "$5.00 Bin"? Who’s got the money to keep up with the hype anymore? With systems that you can EASILY drop $400 - $500 upon purchase, we’re not talking casual gaming anymore… we’re talking investments. Let’s face it brothers and sisters, the gaming industry is worse then Hollywood anymore!


Anyone remember the game Red Ninja, End of Honor? I know… one from the vaults. When E3 highlighted this game, my buddies and I all went, "Whoa… now that looks cool!" Who wouldn’t want to run around as some sexy ninja chick, killing evil enemy ninjas with razor wire and sheer cunning? We waited and waited for the game to be released and hit Electronics Boutique (now GameStop of course) when the big day finally came around. We eagerly waited to check out, reading the game’s box over and over again. The second the clerk handed us the receipt, we shot out the door and practically ran the two blocks back to my house. When we tore through the plastic and threw the game in, we expected an evening of exciting gaming with a kick butt ninja chick (…with short skirt and nice rack for the heterosexuals in the crowd).What we got was about two hours of shock and disbelief. E3 had promised a kick ass ninja game, with cool perspectives, neat weaponry, and new ways to kill said enemy ninjas. It was none of these things. The game was TOTALLY bugged out, the camera was impossible to control, and the enemy ninjas appeared to have x-ray vision. Quite the opposite of what we had been led to believe. The game was promptly panned by most critics and it can now be found in the $5.00 bin at most GameStops.


Want a better example? Two words: Project Ego. This was the code name for the first Fable game. Holy Hell-ish hype, Batman! Before you start mail bombing my apartment, hear me out. This game got SOOO much coverage that it was near impossible to have missed it. You can age in game? You can marry women *AND* men? At the same time? COMPLETE open ended game play? Do whatever you want? Now cue the flashy ads and commercials. And what did gamers get when the game was delivered? Features that didn’t end up living up to how they’d been advertised… a game with no real ending… and a main character who townspeople called "Chicken Chaser" (WTF??). Yes… I know… they re-released the game with more content and even released a sequel that is doing well. But rewind and ask yourself: was that first game worth the hype? Did you buy the game straight out when it was released? Would you have gotten your money’s worth if they hadn’t released more content? Oh wait… that content wasn’t free… you had to BUY the freaking game all over again… Game, set, match methinks.


These are merely two examples of the biggest E3 tradition: HYPE. The second biggest tradition being, of course, back patting. More examples, you say? Too Human, Daikatana, and Duke Nukem Forever! It doesn’t matter how pretty your presentation is, and how many flashing lights you get… some of us still see what’s really happening. You can’t fool me anymore! OOOOHHH! Look! Kameo is finally coming out! KISS MY BOOTY! How about you spend a little bit more money on a team of people who really can make a video game, and a little less time on half naked women, cheesy booths have been done already, and flashy presentations?


My point, if you hadn’t gotten it yet, is that E3 has lost a lot of its mystique. They still make interesting announcements from time to time… and 1 or 2 sneak peeks that actually look promising. But otherwise, it’s not worth getting excited over like it used to be. Years of disappointments on top of systems and games that cost way too much make E3 less and less entertaining every year. Why spend the time? Why not just wait for the user reviews to decide on a game? At least then you get the opinion of someone NOT getting paid by the company who made the shlock! In the end, E3 is just one big sham, and I for one refuse to be dragged in anymore than I already have!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

An E3 Aside: Metal Gears A-churnin'


There are few videogame designers as well-known and -loved as Kojima Hideo, the director, writer, producer, and all-around daddy of the Metal Gear series. And when he teases the reveal of the next project he’s working on, the entire industry the globe over sits up and takes notice.

This is particularly true given the current state of his career. With the Metal Gear Solid sub-series now complete (much like the Star Wars saga, the MG games are broken up into two distinct, but still continuous, components: two Metal Gear titles and four Metal Gear Solids [which are, similarly, divided into two sub-pieces – the first three forming a trilogy, each featuring a different protagonist set against an overlapping and expanding thematic structure, and the fourth constituting an epilogue, returning control to the main character of Solid Snake and tying up all loose ends and thematic motifs]), Kojima is, for the first time in eleven years, free to go wherever his heart may take him. Whether he remains in the franchise that has brought him so much acclaim, sets his sights on an old love long lost (many older gamers have long clamored for a return to any one of the series that Kojima has helmed at one point or another over the past twenty years, whether it be the Sega CD’s cult-classic Snatcher or, more recently, the PlayStation 2’s Zone of the Enders duology), or ventures out to truly new ground – he has said, during MGS4’s long development cycle, that he would be delighted to do something with Nintendo’s innovative Wii system – is entirely unknown and, of course, furnishes most of the interest that his newly erected teaser website arouses.

It turns out that all of the mystique may just end up being an overplayed (and just slightly superfluous) bit of marketing on Konami’s part. At the recent Game Developers’ Conference, held in March, Kojima gave a keynote speech touching upon his long career. At the end, he not-so-subtly announced that a new Metal Gear Solid title was, indeed, in the works by showing a slide of the infamous character Raiden, the protagonist of Metal Gear Solid 2 who was initially (and quite unjustifiably) subjected to much fanboy ridicule and chagrin. (After a substantial cameo in the last game – which featured a major overhaul for the character, progressing him from a flustered, emotionally confused novice to a Neo-esque, emotionally ravaged badass – many in the oft-referenced fan community have more than warmed up to the cyborg ninja.) The final nail in the coffin comes in the form of an unintentional secret message: IGN opened up the new teaser site’s source code and found many a reference to “next” and “Metal Gear” – all of which, of course, doesn’t mention the giant number five that periodically flashes in the background of the webpage.

How exactly the MG saga can persist after the last game in the franchise has been released is an easy explanation: Metal Gear Solid 4 was only the final yarn for both Solid Snake and Kojima himself, who has fully, after ten years of half-hearted attempts and muddled press releases, given up the directorial reigns (indeed, the previous entry was only co-directed by the star designer; it’s widely presumed that his partner, Murata Shuyo, will head the next). Knowing that his game series revolving around a walking, nuclear-equipped battle tank has been such a consistent cash cow for Konami over the years, however, Kojima was careful to point out from the earliest days of MGS4’s development that it was a certainty that his brainchild would continue without him, in some form or another.

And this is where, despite Konami’s best efforts at manufactured intrigue, the true drama surrounding Kojima’s announcement resides – just what form MGS5 will take. The most intriguing possibility lies within a simple question: of the three scenarios delineated above – Kojima sticking with Metal Gear, Kojima revisiting a past (non-MGS) property, Kojima developing for the Wii – what if he followed two instead of just one of them? More to the point, what if Metal Gear Solid 5 was a Wii-exclusive, utilizing Nintendo’s new Wii Motion Plus peripheral to allow gamers one-to-one control over Raiden’s deadly katana? The move is a highly unlikely one, especially considering both Sony’s ten-year monopoly of all new MGS titles and the series’ overriding emphasis on ever-more-fully-realized environments and character animations (the Wii, sadly, offers nothing of this kind). Furthermore, Nintendo’s newest console isn’t known for its traditional, hardcore games – despite Nintendo’s supposed efforts to combat this perception at next month’s E3 – making such an announcement more bewildering than exciting to many diehard enthusiasts.

Still, it would justify Konami’s heavy-handed marketing attempts, and it would give Kojima a new mission statement as he takes the backseat of videogame development in the form of producer (and, just possibly – and hopefully – as writer). It would also make this E3 truly one to remember, something which the three console manufacturers seem to have taken as a holy enterprise.

We only have a few more hours to find out.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The GLBT Community & The X-Men

As a gay comic book nerd, you would think I would be fixated on the men of the X-Men world, right? Cyclops is a cutie when you get past his visor. And Colossus has those rippling biceps (metal or not…). Even Nightcrawler has some appeal. I mean, come on now, who hasn’t wondered about that tail of his? Alas, as hot as the X-Men are, it’s X-Women that draw in quite a few members of the gay community. There’s something about a woman who can kick butt and look fabulous at the same time. Fabulous being a relative term of course… because these days seeing Dazzler run around in metallic silver spandex body suit and roller skates isn’t quite fabulous.


On a serious note though, the gay community is drawn to these characters for various reasons. Some of us find ourselves in awe of the sheer power that some of the X-Women wield. Storm can turn a hurricane on and off in the blink of an eye. In the years after the Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean Grey was a paragon of power, able to do anything her imagination could muster. However, others are drawn to the strength of character that many of the X-Women have. Pyslocke has been through Hell and back in her life, and has persevered (through losing her original body to her constantly changing powers). Jubliee remains depowered after the hugely chronicled events of M-Day. However, she dons a set of super powered gauntlets and continues to fight the "good" fight despite her loss. And even then, some are drawn to characters who embody that grey area of morality. Emma Frost, once known as The White Queen, has been known to do what must be done regardless of its effects on others. And for a telepath of her caliber, this makes her pretty dangerous.


The X-Women have evolved quite a bit since the comic’s inception in 1963 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. The starting line up for the X-Men included only one women – Jean Grey, known as Marvel Girl and later as Phoenix. Readers saw Jean grow in power over years, until the Dark Phoenix Saga in 1976 which culminated in Jean having the powers of a God, then committing suicide for the sake of the universe. That’s a heavy load for anyone to bear, let alone a young woman in love. In 1975 Len Wein and X-Men vet Dave Cockrum introduced us to Storm. Ororo Monroe started her tenure with the X-Men in the background, part of a large team who didn’t get to stand out very often. Nearly 34 years later, we see Storm as one of the most important members of the X-Men, having lead MULTIPLE teams over years, recruited several key members and helped battle some of the X-Men’s most savage villains time and time again. Storm even has the distinction of being the first female African American to be in a position of power in the comic book community. In a time when race was an issue Storm, as a comic book character, broke down those boundaries.


We are able to so closely identify with some of the X-Women, that it’s almost eerie sometimes. Kitty Pryde joined the X-Men in 1980 when she was 13 years old. She had the same problems that all teenagers have: her parents’ relationship was falling apart, tons of homework to deal with, boys that love her one day and not the next, fighting super powered creatures that seek to destroy the earth and trying to balance all that with being a full time X-Man. Okay… so not exactly like all of us, but still pretty similar. As readers, we watched Kitty struggle with juggling her school, her friends and still prove to Professor X that she can remain a member of the team. Then we saw her relationship with Colossus end, and some of us even shed a tear. Some of us grew up right along side Kitty over the years. We see her today as a strong, vital member of the Marvel universe, having crossed over from The X-Men to other teams.


As gay men, a lot of us tend to more closely identify with women. And as mutants, these X-Women have a secret that they can’t share with the world freely. They are disliked by the fellow man simply because of who they are. We can identify with that… those feelings are tangible to many of us. So when we see these women fighting for their lives, their friends’ lives and for the world’s safety, it almost feels like there’s a little piece of us out there with them. When they take a hit, lose a loved one or leave the lime light, we grieve with them. Like any good book, the ladies of the X-Men almost feel like extended family members at times. So here’s to another 41 years of fabulous, butt kicking women (provided that Dazzler’s silver spandex bodysuit never comes back)!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Racist popular culture... even OK by some

RED SKIN. RED SKIN?

Would a team named the San Francisco Slanted Eyes be ok?
How about the The New York Negro? Or Brooklyn Black Skins?
How about the Kansas City Kikes? Harrington Honkies?

Why is the name REDSKINS ok and not racist?

Because the overall majority of the culture doesn't care about the feelings of the Native People.

Sports is entertainment, Entertainment is part of culture, popular culture.

And yet, racism is ok there.

Hmmmm... discuss this amongst yourselves while I go get a dictionary...

Redskins Not considered racist?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Road to E3: Rising Actions and Uphill Battles


“I’m gonna be up on stage presenting, something that [Nintendo] fans ought to love” – Cammie Dunaway, Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Nintendo of America

Nintendo’s in trouble.

Its press conferences from the past two years have been high on (well deserved) self-congratulatory victory but low on actual content. (Having a system sell out for some twenty-four months consecutively – a first for the North American videogame market – is, indeed, reason to celebrate, especially for a company that has been all-but-doomed to extinction for the past several years.) Games like Wii Sports Resort, Animal Crossing: City Folk, and Wii Music, each overwhelmingly skewed to the burgeoning casual gaming audience, were highlighted at E3 ’08 at the exclusion of literally everything else. It was fortuitous that Super Smash Bros. Brawl was released just a few months before the big show – it was Nintendo’s only acknowledgement to the other major demographic that slavishly supports its systems: the diehard Nintendo fans, the ones who have been playing the likes of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda continuously since 1985.

In this way, last year’s media briefing ended up being part emblematic and part prophetic.
While Wii Music and the latest iteration of Animal Crossing bowed to critical chagrin and less-than-Wii Sports fanfare (but still robust sales) among the general audience, Brawl ended up being the only Nintendo-published title devoted to the hardcore gamer for the entire calendar year. Microsoft and Sony, meanwhile, had a slew of high-caliber titles, among them Dead Space, Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, and, most intriguing of all, LittleBigPlanet. Compounding the problem: the past two months have not only seen the PlayStation 3 outselling the Wii in Japan – a mostly symbolic but also highly trend-setting market – but it has been outselling it by a wide margin.

It’s ironic and very illustrative of the big N’s current status. The console manufacturer that single-handedly resurrected the North American videogame industry while simultaneously ushering in the modern age of gaming was, not to step on Leo DiCaprio’s toes, the king of the world for one long decade. It dominated every territorial market across the globe, selling millions of units and amassing a fortune of billions, making the likes of Mario and Link and Pokemon household names the world over. It all came crashing to a close, however, when impetuous upstart Sony threw its hat in the ring, instantly becoming the market leader and helping to usher the industry towards an older, more multimedia-hungry audience. For the next ten years, the so-called Reign of Sony, Nintendo became an ever-more-distant second- and third-place (once Microsoft entered the console race) contender. By the fall of 2004, on the eve of the PlayStation Portable’s launch and just one short year from the Xbox 360’s, Nintendo looked to be the latest casualty in the console wars.

Then the DS released, making the hardcore gamers who had moved on to Sony and Microsoft’s consoles give the industry stalwart a second look and causing the all-important – and all-lucrative – casual gamers to come out in droves to pick up the unique handheld. That momentum, of course, only increased two years later, once the Wii shipped, and the rest, as they say, is history: a phenomenal comeback worthy of the third act of a Rocky movie, casting Sony aside, thwarting Microsoft in its tireless efforts at taking the top spot, and reclaiming its place as world leader. In an entirely unexpected turn of events, Nintendo has not only found popularity once again, it’s also found relevance.

But relevance to whom? As the casual and non-gaming audience continues to constitute a bigger and bigger slice of the big N’s pie, the publisher has devoted more and more of its resources to the quickly expanding segment. Even the hallowed ground that was E3, gamers’ version of moksha, Jerusalem, and Eden all rolled into one, was invaded by the presence of the infidel casual gamers, transforming 2007’s press conference into a mainstream-friendly shrine to Wii Fit. There is absolutely no question that the conversion paid off – and paid off handsomely; Wii Fit, released in May of ’08, became the best-selling game that month and one of the top ten best-selling titles overall from last year. Much more impressively, it managed to outsell the likes of Grand Theft Auto IV, an industry legend and one of the most hardcore of hardcore experiences to be had in this generation (or any other, for that matter). Not bad, considering that the game sells at $90 a pop.

But it does beg a question, one incessantly nagging the specialized press and the gaming faithful since the advent of the Wii: which of its two demographics is Nintendo going to continue to court at the expense of the other? It’s clear that the company, despite all of its talk of a multi-segment market, is incapable of supporting both simultaneously and equally – as evidenced by its last two E3 showings. And while it has publicly apologized for its lackluster showing last year (despite the unequivocal success it found in both mainstream media and amongst the mainstream populace) and has promised a better, more “about the games” outing for next month, whether this truly indicates a shift in focus to a multi-polar world or is simply a temporary valentine to its dedicated fans is unknown. Another unknown quandary lies in just how much Sony and, much more likely, Microsoft will continue to ape Nintendo’s strategies for courting, cultivating, and exploiting the casual consumer – and just how badly they want to steal the already-harvested ones away from the protective umbrella of the Wii.

There is, of course, a corollary question, one that doesn’t seem to be even formulated by the highly isolated gaming press, let alone dwelt upon much: what if the “dilution” of the hardcore gaming market is actually its expansion? Any new market originates as a pocket phenomenon and develops into an insular ghetto that feeds only a specialized (and typically self-serving) few before blossoming into a true movement, servicing and finding relevance among the masses. It is an evolutionary pattern seen in cultural elements as diverse as the science fiction genre and the worldwide web, and it just may be sprouting – finally – in the neophyte art form known as videogames. Although such moments of massive and fundamental transition are always treated by the “hardcore” faithful like how mourners view a funeral dirge, they are the only alternative to a far more dismal outcome: extinction (something which seems to slowly be choking out the comic book industry).

Whether the evolution of the market or a fluke, and whether hardcore gamers will continue to be the holders of their chosen art form’s keys or are merely rendered a minority in an ever-expanding chorus of voices, gamers – traditional and casual, hardcore and non-gamer alike – will have to contend with a far more pressing and depressing prospect: Cammie Dunaway’s return as the emcee of Nintendo’s 2009 Media and Press Briefing.

No matter which way one slices it, Nintendo’s in trouble.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

WorryWoos!



IT IS TIME TO PRAISE SOMEONE FOR A WORK THAT IS WONDERFUL

I had the great fortune to receive a product in the mail from WorryWoos, a maker of plush animals and story books. I do not have a child the age who’d be into this but, I certainly would have had one 6 years ago... The toy line is perfect for children, the plush animals personify a worry, and the story will help comfort them. The more I see in this world with people in pain, children in crisis from circumstances and bad parents, I worry. This is a product that deserves credit on my different levels, it is fine quality, it is tender and sweet, it is fun, it is pretty.

Now, we could spend time worrying over kids, and thinking is this going to solve all the problems I allude towards, but the answer is obviously not. But if someone is in pain, and you can alleviate that pain, isn’t that a good thing? I say it is.

This product is perfect for kids, and I give it my whole hearted thumbs up, well as much as my arthritic thumbs can point upward.

CHILDREN ATTACK MONSTERS: WORRYWOOS.COM BEGINS MONTHLY CONTEST

(May 1,2009- Jersey City, New Jersey,) Worry Woos.com announced today that beginning May 1, 2009 there will be a new monthly contest at www.worrywoos.com. Participants are asked to send in their artistic rendition of their own WorryWoo monster for monthly entry into a drawing for one WorryWoo book and plush doll of their choosing! While yes this contest is intended for children, the young of heart are welcome as well. All submissions should be sent via email to andi@worrywoos.com or by USPS mail to WorryWoos.com, P.O. Box 273, Jersey City NJ 07302. The first winner will be announced June 1, 2009 and all participants artwork will be posted on the website regularly.

Andi Green, WorryWoos Creator explains, “So many people are having such a tough time and kids are like little walking sponges. They take all the stress and fear in regardless of age and they simply don’t know how to handle it. This is our little way of helping everyone vent! And seriously, what could be better then making monsters?” The existing worry woo monsters can be see in the product section of the www.worrywoos.com.

To sign up for the WorryWoos mailing list at this address.

For more information on the product line, visit WORRY WOOS. For terms on carrying the WorryWoos product line email andi@worrywoos.com.

About Worry Woos.com:

The Worry Woo Monsters, a series by Andi Green, was first seen in a New York City art exhibition in 2001. Originally called The Monsters in My Head, Green wanted to create characters with a story that each embodied an emotion. From loneliness to confusion, she began tackling complicated feelings and transformed them into quirky, loveable characters. Her message of “embrace your emotions” received such a positive response, she was asked by many if she ever considered turning her single art pieces into storybooks. In 2002 she began to expand her concept, but it wasn’t until 2007 that she decided to publish and produce her new collection. The Worry Woos have won multiple awards and can be found in toy stores, specialty gift stores, and museum stores nationwide including the renowned MOMA gift shop.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Road to E3: Preludes and Transformations


Transformative. That’s how Microsoft is describing its E3 press conference, slated for June 1st, the day before the Electronic Entertainment Exposition officially kicks off. The console manufacturer will “completely transform how people think about home entertainment,” or so its press release says.

These are, of course, bold words, and just how, exactly, the big MS plans on fulfilling them is completely unknown – though there are certainly quite a few hypotheses out there. Some point to a likely growing focus on the casual gaming audience, a hitherto untapped – unknown, even – market until Nintendo cultivated and captured it with the one-two combo of the DS (released in November 2004) and the Wii (November 2006). If true, then expect Microsoft’s briefing to be full of the kind of announcements it made last year: a sleeker interface intended to be more (casual) user friendly; the ability for gamers to make Avatars of themselves and use them in online games; and NetFlix compatibility, allowing movies to be streamed on the Xbox 360 from your computer. Others have speculated that a motion controller, supposedly long under development, will finally be unveiled, constituting the company’s last, best hope at penetrating the Wii’s large install base (although this is just as strong a rumor for Sony’s E3 presence, as well, so take it for what it’s worth). But a very strong contingent of fanboys holds the most interesting, as well the most obvious and unlikely, guess: the latest evolution of home entertainment will turn out to be Microsoft announcing its next system.

There are definite reasons to believe this will be so. Console generations, stretching all the way back to the first modern one, in 1985, have always occurred in alternating lengths: either four or six years. Since the previous generation, the 128-bit epoch, lasted six years, the Xbox 720 – or whatever it will be called – launching this fall, when the 360 turns four, will be right on schedule. A number of publishers and developers, chief among them Blizzard, the creators of the harder-than-hardcore World of Warcraft, have publicly acknowledged that Microsoft has already begun discussing the next-gen Xbox with them. And with the market’s sudden, dramatic, and completely unforeseen shift to the land of casual gaming, there is no better way for Microsoft to capitalize on the industry-wide trend than to create a system that fully embraces motion or other alternative methods of play control from the ground up; releasing peripherals, especially those that are required to play a slew of new titles, well into a console’s life cycle has never historically been profitable (just ask Sega about its ill-fated Sega CD and 32x add-ons for the Genesis, two blunders that alienated the core of its audience and ultimately caused the company to close its doors on the hardware business for good).

Why this won't turn out to be true resides in two basic facts. First and foremost, and to put it as simply as possible, Microsoft hasn’t sold enough units of the 360 to justify the huge amounts of R&D it has sunk into it. Traditionally – the point that console generations are hugely cyclic phenomena should be sinking in right about now – systems bow at $299, sell to a far wider, but still quasi-hardcore, audience at $199, and blow off the doors to all and sundry at $99. This is precisely the pattern followed by the Sony PlayStation (September 1995), the PlayStation 2 (October 2000), and the first Xbox (November 2001). (Nintendo doesn’t count in this analysis, as all of its systems, starting with 1985’s NES, shipped at $199.) The 360 was the first major console to release at a $299-plus price point – and at $399, the word plus certainly is apropos. Even worse, it established a more-expensive-than-is-warranted benchmark that the other two manufacturers were only too eager to pounce on: the Wii cost – and still costs -- $250, while Sony slapped the ridiculous price tag of $599 on its newest machine. With all three companies extremely hesitant to slash their prices – Microsoft has been chopping only $50 a year off of its MSRP – the Xbox 360 has yet to hit its sales peak, and, furthermore, it won’t be on schedule to do so until 2013.

And if that isn't a grim enough picture, then the state of the economy certainly will make it so. Although the gaming industry hasn’t taken nearly as much of a beating as other sectors in the business world, it has, without a doubt, been affected, as the rash of closed studios can attest to – Free Radical and Factor 5 being two of the bigger names on the list. MS itself has even recently said the world’s current fiscal woes would suggest that it should squeeze every drop possible of out its current system, as no one will probably be eager to drop another four to five hundred dollars on a new spate of machines anytime soon. Indeed, this may prove to be a highly convenient reason to stretch out the current generation as long as possible for both of its competitors: Nintendo is literally making money hand-over-fist with every Wii sold (and it sells a lot every month in every global territory); Sony has been making the case for a ten-year console lifespan since before the PS3 shipped two-and-a-half years ago, citing the exorbitant cost of developing both the Cell processor and the Blu-ray format. And there’s something in it for Microsoft, as well – it can take the next few years to position itself as a valid, go-to choice for all the hordes of casual gamers being enticed into the industry by the DS and Wii. By the time the Xbox 720, PlayStation 4, and Wii Too are ready to inundate the world stage, Bill Gate’s company just might have a shot at nabbing the crown away from Nintendo.

In other, more grandiose words, the company will have transformed itself.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Young Turks! Funny and in touch


If you haven't located them over on YouTube or on the 'net already, I strongly suggest that you take a peek at The Young Turks when you have a chance. TYT is a progressive talkshow, which broadcasts streaming on the web. They also have much of the show broken up into segments (generally five minutes or more) over on YouTube, so you can get a hint of what they are before sitting through an entire broadcast.

I discovered the site during the election last year and have been hooked since.

Cenk Uygur is the host of The Young Turks, and you may have seen him show up on MSNBC a few times commenting on politics. He's a very, funny guy, but you have to see him unedited to really get a feel for the show. His trademark, "Of course!!" really has to be heard, with the full eye-rolling and hand gestures. Also, be forwarned that the the broadcast (both on YouTube and on their site) is for adults. If you have trouble with those seven words the late, George Carlin made famous, you might not want to tune in at work (at least, not without headphones).

I really recommend that you give the show a chance and I don't think you'll be disappointed. Unless you're one of those right-wing types Cenk & Company go after everyday!

Oh, and while the lovely, Ana Kasparian is Cenk's frequent co-host, the Turks certainly enjoy showing us super-models and other lovely ladies without much apparel. Some screen shots and video might not be "workplace friendly" as they say. :-)