Converting the Mainstream

I’ve been thinking about audiences and demographics lately. The Wii U is launching in a few weeks and if there’s one thread I’ve noticed running through the various podcasts I listen to it’s “who is going to buy that thing?” Of course there’s the obvious answer—Nintendo faithful. Those folks will buy any system with a new Mario or Zelda game on it, but the brand loyalists will always turn out for new products from their favorite thing maker (see: Apple).

The mainstream cultural success the Wii saw isn’t something you can easily duplicate. Ask Rovio. Ask Groupon. Ask Ty. It’s tough. Nintendo will certainly sell enough units to justify its existence, that’s not what I’m questioning.

I’m questioning the audience needed. I don’t know the economics of researching, developing and selling a system, so I’m not sure of the ratio of mainstream/niche adoption required to call a system successful. I’m sure it’s still heavily weighted on the mainstream side, and it will be for years to come. And that leads me to my next question.

Who is the mainstream?

I’m an excruciatingly nerdy 28-year-old white male. I love video games and art and writing. I despise CSI, Two and Half Men, Fox News and The Big Bang Theory. I listen to chip tunes while I work. I thought the Doctor’s romance with Rose Tyler was weird. I’ve loved Spider-Man as long as I can remember. For some reason I keep up to date on what new phones are coming out despite only buying a new one once every two years. I think io9 and Lifehacker are the best Gawker Media blogs. I love Regina Spektor. I am not mainstream.

I would bet if you made a quick list of some of the things you are in to (and some of the things you are not), you wouldn’t define yourself as mainstream either. The entertainment world is fracturing, chasing specificity. I rarely turn on my TV and cruise the 500+ channels DIRECTV pumps into my house. If I’m going to turn on the TV, it’s because I already know what I’m going to watch. I know what I like, where to find it, and who’s making it. That’s probably not mainstream behavior.

Kickstarter has shown us that sometimes a niche product can thrive if it finds and caters to a vocal audience. But that’s not always the case. While the success of Fox News and shows like Two and a Half Men have shown us that mainstream audiences don’t care for thoroughly researched news or smartly written shows. Which is why it’s easy to think of fans of those things as uninformed, culturally stunted dullards, but that’s snobby and elitist, also untrue.

We all have our obsessions (I think I’ve made it clear how much I love Call Me Maybe), and some of them are dumb, like Sean Hannity’s show, but that doesn’t make you dumb for liking them. That being said, I think capturing everyone’s attention with anything other than a sporting event is only going to get more difficult as technology and the Internet become more ubiquitous. Ten years from now, a third of Two and Half Men’s viewers might be considered a mainstream success.

Until our entertainment landscape fractures into a zillion tiny pieces, and the cost of the technology used to make consumer electronic products and high production-value shows drops to bargain basement levels, companies like Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and Apple have to play to the mainstream. They can foot the bill.

We can do our part by excusing some of the mainstreamness from our favorite products. Thing making ain’t free, and sometimes our thing makers have to throw the mainstreamers a bone. For every five witty one-liners in Borderlands 2, there’s at least two groan inducing “jokes” that feel like they were manufactured and stuck in there for the “I laugh at Charlie Sheen’s awful and lazy sexual innuendos” mainstream people (that goes for just about every AAA video game or somewhat geeky blockbuster movie).

We excuse those things in hopes that they’ll convert some mainstreamers. Turn them in to full-on enthusiasts. The more enthusiasts we have, the healthier our hobby becomes, and the fewer groan-inducing gags we’ll endure.

The conversion test

The big question mark is hovering over the current casual mainstream Wii owners—there are tens of millions of them. There’s never been a video game console as successful as the Wii. Grandparents and soccer moms don’t buy Playstation 3s. But I’m not sure they buy fancy new tech upgrades either.

The Wii U is going to be a great conversion test. Can they bring some of the many mainstream Wii owners into the enthusiast space? The Wii U is confusingly similar to its predecessor. It’s got a dumb, samey name (you would have thought they learned from the 3DS, which should have been called Gameboy 3D or something), and it uses some, but not all, of the original Wii’s peripherals.

Look at this hilarious video Game Informer put up this week. Yeah, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Nintendo.

Can Nintendo pull it off? Or are Sony and Microsoft’s all-in-one entertainment box strategies better conversion tools? I like video games, and I like when other people like the things I like. So I hope the Wii U can convince some of those casual Wii owners to take a deeper look at this gaming thing. Let’s fracture that mainstream just a bit more and pump some more life and longevity into our hobby.

Achievement Unlocked: You Left The Mainstream

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The girl in the forest

A friend of mine had a daughter a few months ago and asked me to draw a picture of her walking through an enchanted forest. I finally got the chance to make it happen this week. Here's how it turned out:​​

​Below you'll find an animated GIF I made of the different stages. First the sketch, then the lines, then flat colors, then the first rendering pass, and then the final pass. Between the first and final rendering pass I softened, and in some cases eliminated, the black lines​ (replacing them with another color). I also added another layer of trees in the back, brought in some more texture and cranked up that enchanted light.

This pic was a lot of fun to draw. I feel like it's been too long since I just lost myself in a picture. Instead of playing Borderlands 2 or finally watching The Avengers (which I bought, so I have no excuse now), I found myself wanting to work on this image instead. That creative pull is undeniable. It was just what I needed to fill the lull after finishing my second novel. Now, back to Borderlands 2!​

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What are the things you can't let slide?

​I posted a blog earlier in the week about some fun Rougelike games, hoping people would discuss the games and recommend others. But the conversation quickly veered off course, focusing not on the games, but the word I used to define them. Sticklers!

I can’t blame them though. I’ve been known to stickle here and there (not sure if that sounds dirty, is ‘stickle’ an entry in urban dictionary for anything?). I feel like the anonymity of the Internet makes it easier for sticklers to thrive. In the real world, nitpicking semantics is a quick way to lose friends. But sometimes you gotta let the geek flag fly. You just have to say something.

Everyone is geeky about something. Everyone knows way too much about a subject and feels the need to correct others when they make an incorrect statement. Here are some of mine:

I could care less

You couldn’t care less. Everyone says this wrong. It’s not “could” care less. That would be like saying, “I love this cake so much! My heart overflows with such rich love for its moist tastiness; I could care less.”

See? When you say, “I couldn’t care less about pie,” one might argue that you don’t care for pie at all. You’re already at the bottom of your care levels. This one is mistaken so often that when I see it in movies and TV, it’s hard to tell if the writers slipped up, or intentionally left it in to fit the character. I hope it’s the latter.

I prefer Droids to iPhones

This one really gets under my skin. No, it’s not the comparison that bothers me, it’s the way marketing has confused the general public into equating a branding scheme with actual software.

Droid is a brand name used by Verizon to sell Android phones from a variety of phone manufacturers, such as Motorola, HTC and Samsung. They seem to use the Droid branding at random, as not all of their phones have it. Interestingly, they actually license the word ‘Droid’ from its trademark owner, Lucasarts. You know, Droids, the ones you were looking for.

Android is an operating system made by Google, just like iOS is an operating system made by Apple, and Windows is an operating system made by Microsoft. Android runs on phones and tablets, including many that have the Droid branding. So while every Droid is an Android phone, not every Android phone is a Droid. Just like not every Windows PC is a Dell.

If you have an Android phone on any network other than Verizon, you do not have a Droid.

They didn’t need to remake that Spider-Man movie

Well, they sort of did. I loved it, but that’s not the point here. The point is that Sony Pictures has the film rights for Spider-Man. They got it from Marvel back in 1999, before Marvel was in the movie making biz. According to the contract with Marvel, if Sony Pictures goes too long without making a Spider-Man movie (not sure how many years are stipulated in the contract), the license reverts back to Marvel, or Marvel will have an option to buy back the rights. Since the first three Spider-Man movies brought in boatloads of money for Sony, they decided to make another one. Did they need the new one to be a reboot instead of a continuation? No, but hey, why not? A reboot could reinvigorate an aging cash cow. Worked for Batman.

Marvel has since tried to regain film rights to the heroes they sold off. They got The Incredible Hulk back from Universal after Ang Lee’s 2003 movie, but 20th Century Fox still has the Fantastic Four and X-Men, which includes Wolverine—a character they areapparently not done butchering.

Another fun fact: Sony worked with Disney (who bought Marvel in 2009) for merchandising support for the Amazing Spider-Man. Which is why you can go into a Disney store and see toys with the Amazing Spider-Man costume redesign, alongside wholly owned Disney/Marvel properties like the Avengers.

Mischievous

It’s pronounced the way it is spelled: “Miss-cha-vus” not “Miss-chee-vee-us.” For it to be pronounced the wrong way, it would need to be spelled “Mishchievious.” But it’s not spelled that way. So say it right!

I’m boycotting all EA games

When someone says online that they’re boycotting all EA, or Activision or Ubisoft games, what do they mean? Those three companies are publishers. Though they do own a number of in-house developers, they also do quite a bit of contract work with independent developers. If you were to boycott all EA games, you’d also have to boycott any game from their partners program, like Rock Band, BulletStorm, Shank and others. Also, there are a ton of studios within EA, so why boycott every game? The people that make Mass Effect aren’t the same people that make The Sims, despite both games having the same logo on the box.

Those are just a few that irk me, and I guess they reflect my writing and geeky background. What are some of the things you just can’t let slide? Do you hate when someone confuses a gun clip with a magazine? Annoyed when a person calls a bag of processed potato chips “all natural”? Does it rile you up to see someone treat every brand of shoe the same? Sound off below, maybe we can all help each other annoy each other…less.

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The Last Minute Decision

​I finished Mark of the Ninja last week and I think it might be the best stealth game ever made. It’s wonderful. But this isn’t going to be a review of that game, check metacritic for that—you don’t need another person to tell you how fluidly it controls, how good it looks and how fun it is to play.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the one thing I didn’t love: the end. The story in Mark of Ninja takes a backseat to the excellent gameplay. It’s a thin plot that really just serves as a way to get you from one level to the next. But it’s still mildly interesting, and comes together in the last level with some neat visual tricks.

And then there’s a choice.

The last screen of the game forces you to make a choice that could profoundly affect the world they created for the game, not to mention any potential Mark of the Ninja sequel. I remember getting to the screen and thinking, “Ugh…this again.”

Mark of the Ninja isn’t the first directed narrative game (a term I’m using to define a game story that was set by the developers and does not change based on player choice) to end with a player-controlled decision. That doesn’t make it any less dumb though.

What’s the point of having a fully directed narrative for 99 percent of a game? It doesn’t make any sense to drop it at the one-yard line. Go all the way, as in Portal 2, or make it all based on player-choice, as in The Walking Dead. Don’t try both, that’s some having and eating stuff if you ask me. I get it, player choice suits the medium, but if it hasn’t been present in the narrative for the majority of the game, why introduce it in the end?

Bastion did it too. That was another downloadable game with near perfect gameplay and stunning visuals. Unlike Mark of the Ninja, the story in Bastion was front and center, unraveling its secrets as you played, through the use of fantastic voiceover narration. The very last mission in Bastion asks you to make two choices that impact the end, despite the fact that until that point, you don’t make a single story-affecting decision.

I know endings are hard to write (right Mass Effect 3 team?). You’ve built characters and a world and asked the player (or in my case, the reader) to invest hours of their lives with them. To wrap all that up in a single conclusion that will satisfy everyone is a daunting task. But it’s still your task as the storyteller.

When I play a game that pops up with a single choice at the end of the story, it doesn’t make me feel like an empowered player in the world. It makes me feel like the developers were too scared to pull the trigger on one ending, so they decided to offer two, or maybe more. It robs the story of its impact and closure. Mark of the Ninja alludes to a possible ending the moment it starts. They build tension about the inevitable with some clever visuals and neat story twists…and then they toss that tension out the window and let you choose.​

Games are great because they can have directed narratives and player choice. Bastion and Mark of the Ninja are all about choice in gameplay. How you spec your character, tackle each combat scenario and navigate a level are up to you—Uncharted 3 they are not. We don’t need to choose how the story ends all the time. We made small choices every second of the game. How do I defeat this guy? Should I go up or down? Should I upgrade this item or the other one? You gave us the keys to the gameplay mechanics—awesome, choice is fun! Now tell us a story, and stand by it.

This is a nitpicky thing, I know, and it doesn’t really affect my feelings on Mark of the Ninja. This was just a jumping off point for a conversation about that late game narrative decision. I think it undermines the tension and hurts the story, not just in this game, but in just about any game that does it. Either ending of Mark of the Ninja would be better without the presence of the choice of the other.

Mark of the Ninja really is the best stealth game I’ve ever played—the gameplay loop is the equivalent of a page turner, you just can’t put it down. Only, unlike a page turner, you’ll walk away with one of two endings. Then you’ll reload it and see the other one. Which is another issue with the late game choice. Most gamers aren’t going to just leave it at the ending they chose, they’re going to see them both if there’s only two—I saw all four in Deus Ex: HR and got an achievement for doing so. I’m not suggesting developers fork the story, they did that in The Witcher 2 and I can’t imagine how much work that took (or what it’s like working on art and story assets for months knowing some people will never see them). I’m suggesting they finish it, one way, and let it be.

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The Roguelike Renaissance

If you’re a gaming enthusiast, you may have heard the term Roguelike thrown around in the past few months. That’s because the genre (if it can be called that) is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. What’s a Roguelike? It’s a generic term used to loosely define games with characteristics similar to the game Rogue. It’s sort of like how every first person shooter was referred to as a Doom clone in the early days of that genre.

Rogue was a dungeon-crawling adventure game with randomly generated monsters, loot and maps. It was released around 1980. The goal was to get to the bottom of the dungeon in one go—fighting monsters and collecting loot on the way. If you died, you lost everything and had to start over again.

According to Wikipedia, the characteristics that make a Roguelike so much like Rogue includes: level randomization, permanent death, turn-based movement and dungeon crawls. Just as the industry eventually left “Doom clone” behind, I can see it doing the same with Roguelike. Most games carrying that label have ditched the turn-based movement (though a few are keeping it alive), and the dungeons have been replaced with more diverse environments.

Indeed, the only characteristics that tie the games below together are permadeath and randomization. Most of them exist within different genres—twin stick shooter, action, strategy, adventure, etc.

BUT THAT DOESN’T SOUND FUN.

I imagine a boxed copy of Binding of Isaac with the pull quotes, “Totally random!” and “death is permanent!” on the front would give most buyers pause. Which is why I think most Roguelikes live just outside the spotlight, thriving on download services like Steam. They’re fun games, but you kind of need to experience them first. Box quotes can’t do them justice.

Playing a Roguelike is sort of like playing a sport. You understand the rules and the tools at your disposal, but the way the game will play out is going to be different every time. You can know all there is to know about how to play basketball, but you’ll never have an identical game.

A good Roguelike has a special blend of random luck, a hard set of understandable rules, and enough wiggle room in the gameplay mechanics to let skilled players succeed, even when they’re unlucky. In other words, they’re still fun, even if you’ve been dealt a bad hand.

The random element combined with permanent death ramps up the intensity too. You tend to be a little more careful when you know one wrong move could undo all your hard work. On the other hand, the sting of dying isn’t as harsh when you know that your next play-through could be even better. It’s like gambling without the potential for crippling debt!

I’M ON BOARD. WHERE DO I START?

The Rougelike genre is growing and expanding. Developers are using permanent death and randomization as foundations to build interesting experiences across genres. Here are a few, wildly different games, that each offer the same Roguelike fix.

THE BINDING OF ISAAC

A twin stick shooter with a crazy Biblically influenced story and grotesque imagery. This came out right around the time my son was born. I remember doing runs at 2 in the morning, rocking the baby in his basinet with my foot, half delirious from lack of sleep. Good times.

DUNGEONS OF DREDMOR

The most Rogue-like Rougelike in the list. Dredmor has you crawling through a dungeon one square at a time taking on enemies in turn-based combat.

SPELUNKY

A platformer with extreme randomization. From what I’ve seen this one can be punishingly difficult. It’s free on PC (with a cool pixel art style) and $15 on Xbox Live.

FTL

Command a starship crew as you explore the galaxy, on the run from the rebels. Move crew members, divert power from your engine to your shields, upgrade your weapons system, and more. It’s like all the exciting scenarios in Star Trek one after the other.

TOKYO JUNGLE

This mega weird Japanese game has you playing as a variety of animals in post-apocalypse Tokyo. Keep your hunger and energy levels high as you mark your territory, seek out mates and avoid predators. It’s on the edges of being a Roguelike, so it’s a good place to start for newbies.

A BAZILLION PHONE GAMES

You know those endless running games popularized by Canabalt? They’ve started bringing in some Roguelike features. They already had the permadeath and randomization, now many of them have loot too (which is, unfortunately, often gated behind micro-transactions). Agent Dash, Jetpack Joyride andTemple Run are great representations of the endless running genre with Roguelike characteristics.

Some would argue that Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls are Roguelikes, but I’m not sure I would. The environments are the opposite of random (in fact, memorizing them is the key to succeeding), and while you can permanently die, there are ways to recover your loot and progress.

I would like to see Roguelikes enter the third person action genre. Maybe a brawler like God of War with random environments and enemies? Or what about a shooter? Imagine a game with diverse gun loot like Borderlands mixed with the fast-paced randomness of Binding of Isaac.

Roguelikes aren’t for everyone. They’re more “gamey” than most video games. There’s usually not much of a directed narrative, and the permadeath ensures that you’ll have little to show for your time (some Roguelikes do have achievements that measure your progress and reward you with new starting benefits, like a new character, or a permanent starting stat boost). But you’ll build your own stories from your experiences, and you’ll have a good time doing it. If you haven’t tried a Roguelike, check out one of the games mentioned above, they’re cheap, easy to get into, and hard to put down.

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The Swing Feature

My older brother isn’t what I’d call a gamer. He has an Xbox, but it’s primarily his NBA 2K and Netflix machine. That’s cool, dude plays enough NBA 2K each year to get his moneys worth from Microsoft’s machine (he’s not adverse to playing other stuff, he’s gone through the entire Assassin’s Creed series, it’s just not as big a hobby for him as it is for me). He’s also super nerdy about shoes.

He’s into shoes, particularly sneakers, like I’m into video games. The way I can talk about textures and appreciate animation and sound design and all that stuff? He can do that with shoes. Did you know there are things you can slip into your Nike’s that keep the toe box from creasing? Did you know what a toe box is?

So when I sent him a link to a story detailing the new build your own sneaker feature in NBA2K13 and how you’ll be able to export that design to Nike’s website and have it made, he replied with this:

Single handedly swung the purchase of this game for me. Thanks. On a similar note, I wonder what a game would need to include to elicit the same response for you?

Good question! I’m not sure of the answer. I follow video games so closely that I generally know what I’m going to buy. Games don’t sneak up on me often. Here are some recent or soon-to-be purchases and what sold me on them:

-Knowing Gary Whitta was involved with The Walking Dead, and hearing the GiantBomb crew rave about the first episode persuaded me to pick up the season pass on Steam, despite having zero familiarity with the source material. I've only played the first episode so far, but it was fantastic.

-I wrote about my fantasy malaise when Kingdoms of Amalur came out, but a low price of $15 over the Labor Day weekend convinced me to pick it up. The bland fantasy story isn’t all that appealing, but the cool combat and class blending system are.

-As a lifelong Spider-Man fan, that new close-up camera angle (which makes for some dynamic-looking traversal) and Batman: Arkham City inspired combat system sold me on the Amazing Spider-Man (to be fair, I’m borrowing it from my brother. But after playing it, I’d gladly buy a sequel if Activision will actually let a studio iterate on a Spider-Man game to clean up those now-trademark rough edges).

-That slick audio and visual feedback that could help evolve the entire stealth genre is what sold me on Mark of the Ninja. It’s on my to-buy list.

None of those are really equal to my brother’s “OMG SOLD!” moment. But that makes sense, I follow games so closely that I came across that story and sent it to him, and I don’t even like sports! I’m now at a stage in my life where I have to be very choosy about the games I play—I just don’t have the time to get to them all. So I look for those cool features, those things that are different, something that will elicit an “I HAVE to try that” response.

What about you? What's a "swing feature" that made you buy a game?

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How to make a webcomic in Photoshop

I've been tossing around the idea of doing a Photoshop tutorial for a while. I finally put one together this weekend for your viewing pleasure. I've never done one of these before, so sorry if I ramble a bit. I finished the picture before doing the tutorial so I could jump ahead like a cooking segment on a talk show. Still, it's not easy to explain stuff and draw at the same time.

How to make a webcomic in Photoshop from Austin Light on Vimeo.

I hope you get something from it. Like I said in the video, there are a half dozen ways to do everything in Photoshop. Some ways are definitley better than mine, but this is how I do it. I had to put this on Vimeo and not my YouTube channel because YouTube wouldn't let me put up a 39 minute video. If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, leave them on my website or @reply me on twitter. Enjoy!

Here's the finished image from the tutorial video:

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Three Ways to Save the Vita and Why Sony Won't Do Them

The Vita isn’t doing great. I wouldn’t call it a failure, but it’s not exactly flying off the shelves. Sony could fix that, but in typical Sony fashion, they’re going about it the wrong way. Here are three things they could do to turn things around, but definitely won’t.

1. DROP PRICES

The Vita hardware and software need to be cheaper. I think a $50 slash in the price of hardware would work. Sell it at $199, where it can compete with Google’s Nexus 7 (because let’s be honest, Sony wants this to be more than just a gaming machine), and bundle in one of those expensive proprietary memory cards. Right now, buying a Vita, a memory card and a game will cost about $350. There’s a long list of gadgets that you could get with that same amount of money or less, most of which can play games that look as good as what the Vita offers.

Software needs to come down from $50 to $20. It doesn’t matter if the games offer console quality experiences. People are not conditioned to pay that much for a mobile game. That’s console game pricing. If I’m going to spend that much on a game, it’s going to be one I can play on my big TV.

Now they don’t have to slash prices to iOS app store lows, just bring them down to something more reasonable. Make the Vita a PSN game machine. Stuff it full of $10 to $20 downloadable games. If we’ve learned anything this generation of consoles, it’s that downloadable games can be some of the best, most memorable experiences, even if they’re short or not as graphically impressive. We’ve also learned that for many people, good enough is good enough when it comes to mobile games. I’d honestly buy this, before buying this (I know that's a link to the 3DS game. Seems it didn't even come out on Vita). It’s cheaper, satisfies my Spidey addiction, and works on my current devices.

SONY WON’T DO IT BECAUSE:

They can’t afford to take the hit on the hardware, not right now. Sony is not as strong as they used to be, and eating that cost is too risky. They’re being conservative with their cash and it shows. Cross Buy games? More apps? Those are relatively easy things to do that could result in more users, which would then result in more third party support (something they desperately need). The Cross Buy thing is cool, but it’s not a system seller. It’s a nice perk to those already invested in the Sony ecosystem. I can play many of the same Steam games on my laptop and my more-powerful desktop. It’s a nice perk, but it doesn’t make me play games on my laptop more.

Slashing prices on hardware and software makes sense, but only if they have the funds to support it. They don’t. Sony’s doing what they can to add value while keeping profit margins high.

2. INTEGRATE GOOGLE PLAY

This would be a game changer. Sony’s already got a line of Android phones. Instead of trying to push their half-assed PS certification appto their non-gaming devices, why not try to bring Google’s superior play store in? The Vita already has all the features needed for smartphone games to work. I’d even settle for a curated Google Play experience, like Amazon’s app store. If the Vita could play the games I have on my smart phone and offer physical controls, it would jump to the top of my must-have gadget list (FYI - the Nexus 7 works with an Xbox 360 controller). This would also help with game pricing. Mix in some “big budget” $20 Vita games with all those cheap $.99 phone games and you’ve got a compelling and diverse ecosystem.

SONY WON’T DO IT BECAUSE:

So many reasons. Admitting that their current store and pricing strategy is no good will never happen—those old Japanese companies have a lot of pride in their legacy experiences, even if they’re crap now. Technically, it might not be possible, and developing a way to make it happen could cost a lot of money. Also Sony is crazy about preventing piracy. The Android market has all kinds of emulators and piracy-friendly apps and modder-friendly tools.

3. FOCUS ON THE NEW

Has anyone played Cool Boarders recently? It didn’t age well, and it looks like crap. That’s the case with most PSone games. I appreciate Sony’s willingness to go back to the well, but the water’s not as pure as Nintendo’s. Many PSone and early PS2 games can’t stand the test of time. So many advances have been made in 3D game design, that it’s difficult to play those old games as anything other than a curiosity-fueled experiment or a nostalgia trip.

Give us Crash Bandicoot and the God of War games, give us PSP classics like Patapon and Wipeout, but leave Jet Moto where it is. Trotting those jagged old games out and pricing them at $5 to $10 isn’t a huge selling point. They’re old and gross. Give the people newgames at that price point, that will move systems.

SONY WON’T DO IT BECAUSE:

It’s easy money and a nice bullet point for a press conference. The original Playstation came out in America in 1995. That’s SEVENTEEN years ago. That coveted 18 to 24 demographic every game company seems to aim for? They were kids, toddlers even, during the PSone days. I like to revisit the classics from time to time, but never to the point that I wish I could have them with me at all times. I want new games. Why would I buy a Vita, with all its high-tech hardware, to play 17-year-old games?

Nintendo’s got a much larger, richer library, and they don’t parade around the press circuit every time a classic NES, SNES or GBA library is available for download on a new system. Go to the 3DS eshop. There are a ton of classic games from a bunch of different systems just sitting there, ready for download. Nintendo knows some type of backwards compatibility is expected these days. It’s barely even worth mentioning anymore. Unless you’re Sony. Then the world should know about how you can finally play gems like Battle Arena Toshinden on the go.

What’s the takeaway? Sony should bring new, affordable games to a cheaper system with a better ecosystem. What they will do instead is continue to bring $50 games to their too-expensive system while trumpeting their back catalog of old titles. Good work Sony.

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The Dust Dissonance

Flipping through the comments on the GiantBomb Quick Look of Dust: An Elysian Tail I found a common thread: People hate furries. People really, really hate furries. What’s a furry? They’re cartoon animal characters with human characteristics. They’re different from regular anthropomorphised animals (think Disney’s Jungle Book or Lion King), in that they generally look more human than animal. They usually retain only the face, feet and tail of the animal--the rest is very human-like:

Furries can also be defined by the characters around them. Disney’s Robin Hood cartoon has a furry-like protagonist, but the supporting characters are tamer, anthropomorphised animals that stick closer to reality (like the rooster or the rabbits and turtles). Same goes for games like Sly Cooper. Sly is furry-ish, but the supporting characters and enemies have more in common with the animals that inspire them than humans. If everyone in Sly Cooper’s world looked like him--basically human except for the face, feet and tail--it could have been a big turn off.

So why all the furry hate? Because the dark over-sexualized corner of the furry art style is too hard to ignore. It’s so disturbing, that earnest non-sexualized art in that style is difficult to appreciate. Personally I feel that the mere existence of that human-bodied, animal-faced art-porn--nestled so deep in the uncanny valley--is enough to make me nervous looking at anything that seems like it could be related. Guilty by association if you will. But that’s not the only negative connotation the art style of Dust has to battle. Many people have pointed out that it looks “deviantarty.”

For those that don’t know, Deviantart.com is like Facebook for artists. Tons of well-known artists use it and it’s a great way to share and peruse art. Unfortunately there’s a huge amount of bad furry art on there. Maybe it’s an easy art style to start off with, or maybe furry enthusiasts just aren’t that great at drawing. Whatever it is, most of the furry art on deviantart has a strong amateur vibe. A “I’m 13 and jungle cats and boobs are awesome, so putting them together would be extra awesome” kind of vibe. Many deviantart furry character designs lack personality, all sharing the same general traits, save for different coloring or hair styles.

I also think some people don’t like it because it reminds them of the immaturity they left behind. What artist (or kid) didn’t go through the anthropomorphic jungle cat phase? I grew up with Thundercats, Ninja Turtles, Street Sharks, Biker Mice from Mars and more. I doodled my fair share of muscled man-beasts. But I eventually grew out of those things. I still love some TMNT (this looks fantastic for example), but in terms of what inspires me as an artist, that stuff doesn’t do it for me anymore. I think a lot of people feel the same way. You liked anthropomorphic animals as a kid, but you’re not a kid anymore. So when something like Dust comes along, and it wants to tell a mature story and it asks you to take it seriously with its art style that appeals to 13-year-old you, it’s hard to get around that dissonance. Also, if you’re like me, you’re afraid one of those cartoon foxes is going to have some furry cleavage, and it’s going to make you feel a little gross.

Despite all that, the furry art style in Dust isn’t a deal breaker for me. I hope it’s not for others either. I played the demo of Dust and thoroughly enjoyed it. This is one of those book cover judgement cases (as in, you shouldn’t do it). I might not be a huge fan of the art style, but I appreciate the consistency, the coloring and the superb animation. The major players are all anime-style furry characters, which means they have that bland we-all-look-the-same-except-for-our-eye-color-and-hair-spikes feel (that prevailing genericness is what bums me out about anime in general). The creature and environment designs on the other hand are inspired, varied and interesting.

Even if you can’t stomach the art, you should still give it a go. The combat is tight, responsive and flashy. The zippy pace and ease of use reminded me a lot of Shank 2’s combat. It’s juggle-heavy combo-focused design makes every fight fun.

I try to play a game in a genre or style I’m not familiar with every few months. I do the same with books. You never know what you might be missing. It’s how I found out I love the Fight Night boxing games despite not liking sports. Or that Advance Wars on the Gameboy Advance was kind of awesome. It’s how The Life of Pi became my favorite book. I suggest you do the same with Dust. Even if the art turns you off, you might find a fun game underneath.

I loved Shank for its art style and combat. Dust has the same type of combat but adds some much needed depth with an RPG-type leveling system and non-linear environments. As an artist working on an indie game, I really can’t get over how slick the animation is, and how it never interferes with the fast-paced combat. I also can’t get over the fact that this game was made largely by just one dude.

So give it a go. From what I’ve seen, the furry art is on the cheesy side of the spectrum, not the creepy sexualized side. Games are great because you don’t always have to like the way they look to enjoy the way they play. Case in point: I don’t like the Arkham City Batman design. I think he’s over muscled and his ears are too long and pointy. But that wasn’t enough to deter me from a fantastic game, because even if he looked kind of dorky in his suit, he still looked awesome busting up criminals. The same goes for Dust. Give it a try.

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Assessing the Situation

I started this Portal picture a while ago, but didn’t post the finished product until this weekend. I’ve been preoccupied with some fairly huge life changes the past couple months. I think things will start settling down as we work our way toward fall. I should be returning to my three-post-a-week schedule soon. If you'd like more frequent updates from me, you can follow me on Twitter.

I’m thinking about doing a new art challenge in September or October. Probably not something as big as the doodle-a-day project from last August. Maybe a picture a weekend, each one a different theme or style? We’ll see. I’ll noodle around on the specifics some more. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Moving on: My son is almost 11 months old now. He likes to do stuff like this:

Those are my DVDs and most of my games. As I was cleaning them up the other day while he was napping (throwing DVDs is exhausting for a baby), I started wondering why I had them all. I’ve never been a collector of anything. I hold on to games for three reasons:

  • I really love it and I’ll play it again (just played some Uncharted 2 yesterday)
  • I enjoyed my time with it, and I might purchase some DLC for the game in the future (like Borderlands, Arkham City or Rock Band 3)
  • It’s got some hook in me--sentimental value, part of a series, a landmark moment in gaming, etc. (Prince of Persia, Mass Effect, LA Noire, and so on)

My collection includes stuff like Portal 2, Resident Evil 4 (the Wii version), Mass Effect 1-3, Saints Row 3, and of course Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (aka modern gaming perfection). If a game doesn’t fit into one of the categories above, I’m fine with renting it, buying it and then selling it back to Gamestop, or waiting for a Steam sale.

I have a PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, 3DS, PSP and gaming PC. If I didn’t have those rules, I’d have way too many games sitting around.

So what about my DVDs? I haven’t purchased a DVD in years. I’ve bought a few Blu-Rays, but only to complete sets, like Harry Potter or Twilight (for my wife). Am I going to watch Pretty Woman again? What about Fun With Dick and Jane? No and no. The majority of my collection is stuff I know I’ll never watch again. Why would I rewatch the first five seasons of Scrubs when I’m behind on the current season of Breaking Bad?

There are a few keepers. I have the Blu-Ray collection of Life--the proper version, narrated by David Attenborough. That’s something I’ll keep for my son. Same goes for the Harry Potter movies and all the Pixar and classic Disney stuff I have. Then there are movies like Elf and Love Actually that we watch every year sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I think all that makes up maybe 15 percent of my collection. Aside from a few sentimental outliers--O Brother Where Art Thou? and Spider-Man 2--I could do without the rest.

So how do I get rid of them? Should I just donate them to Goodwill? Should I go through the trouble of getting a media hard drive and ripping them first? DVDs are so cheap these days that I’m not sure ripping Pirates of the Caribbean and Saving Silverman is worth my time. I feel like most of the movies I own are movies that would appear on TBS on a Sunday afternoon or on Netflix or Amazon Instant anyway. In other words, if I really want to get to Dumb and Dumber again, it’s not going to be hard, or expensive.

A hard drive doesn’t take up near as much space as 30 DVDs. Maybe I’ll rip them and just keep them as teaching tools for my son. He started putting some of them back in the drawers the other day. The next step is teaching him not to step on, chew on, or throw anything in a DVD-like case. If anyone has a good media solution, please let me know. Thanks!

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