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Can Nintendo Survive?

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 - by Stephen Green

Game-Over-super-mario-bros-5429546-1280-1024

Ouch:

Nintendo Co. (7974) President Satoru Iwata said the maker of video-game machines is considering a new business model after forecasting a surprise 25 billion-yen ($240 million) annual loss because of tepid demand for the Wii U.

“We are thinking about a new business structure,” Iwata said at a press conference yesterday in Osaka, Japan. “Given the expansion of smart devices, we are naturally studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business. It’s not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone.”

Iwata has to stop thinking about a new business structure, and get moving on one before it’s too late.

Nintendo proved with the original Wii that it has the ability to conceive and execute on new ways of playing games, of interacting with beloved characters. The failed Wii-U (you can no longer claim it’s “merely struggling”) was the sad result of Nintendo pursuing a spaghetti-against-the-wall tactic against Sony and Microsoft’s technological advantages. And Wii, for all its strengths, never moved enough games off of store shelves to generate the cash Nintendo needed if it was to ever catch up in the specs race.

But Nintendo can (I think) still execute on software and they have a stable of franchises which is the envy of the gaming world. All they need to do is to produce engaging games for the platforms people actually still buy. Yes, I know the DS handheld is still doing OK, but handhelds will turn out to be another hardware race Nintendo will lose, this time to phones produced by Apple and Samsung.

Nintendo had an amazing heyday as a hardware developer, but that day is done.

And I hate to say I told you so, but I did — way back in October of 2011, before the Wii U had even been released.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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I Only See 3 Obstacles to Sony’s Plan to Revitalize their Waning Video Game Console

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Stephen Green

PSNow

PlayStation Now looks very well thought out:

•Both rental and subscription plans will be available

•PS4, PS3, Vita, and 2014 Sony Bravia TVs will be supported initially, expanding to other platforms in the future

•PS3 games will be supported at launch, with nothing to announce regarding older, back catalog (that is, PS2, PS1) games yet

•Games will stream at 720p resolution

•Games can be saved in the cloud, letting you pick up your saved game on another device later

•Multiplayer is supported between players using PlayStation Now, as well as the ability to play against people who are playing using a disc

Easy to get to, available on any Sony platform, the ability to play across platforms — what’s not for a Sony devotee to love?

There’s been a lot of talk that the game console as we know it might be dying. Casual gamers are happy with iOS and Android, hardcore gamers build their own Windows (or even Steam) rigs, leaving a smaller and smaller fraction of the market to consoles like Xbox and PlayStation and Nintendo. (Nintendo might already be on the way out as a console maker. We’ll see.)

But even if the console age is waning, PlayStation Now might very well inject fresh life into it. I only see three real obstacles.

• The price. Unannounced.

• Broadband speed. 5mps “recommended,” but more is always better.

• Vita has yet to take off as a mobile gaming platform the way Android and iOS have.

Pricing is easy. If you don’t have enough buyers or renters, lower the price. There’s nothing really to be done by Sony about broadband speeds, but they can safely assume that eventually the situation will improve. And Vita… jeeze, just make it a cross-platform app already and let people rent and play games on the mobile device of their choice.

Sony’s problem is that sometimes they’re a hardware company like Samsung, making Android phones. Sometimes they’re a platform company like Apple, with PlayStation consoles. And now they’re kinda-sorta acting like a software company with PS Now.

Those are three different skill sets, and it’s difficult to master any one of them.

That aside, PS Now looks impressive on paper and I can’t wait to see it in action.
*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Hackers Take Down Major Gaming Servers As They Hunt Down Pro-Gamer

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard
YouTube Preview Image

[LANGUAGE WARNING]

James Varga, a 25-year-old professional gamer who goes by the screenname of PhantomLOrd, had quite an interesting day on Monday. What started out as a normal day (normal for a pro-gamer) would take a sudden turn into a dramatic cat-and-mouse game with the Derp hacker group and end with police and pizza delivery men swarming his L.A. area home.

James “PhantomL0rd” Varga gets paid to play video games — and apparently he’s quite good at them, including League of Legends, one of the most popular games on the internet. He often plays on Twitch.tv, a streaming service that allows gamers to share their experience live with others. According to Varga, he was achieving an unusually high score in League of Legends (LoL) on Monday when the server went down. He switched to another game with the same result. And then another. Eventually he figured out that the Derp hacking group was following him from game to game and not only knocking him off the sites, but also shutting down the games for all other players worldwide.

David Birti, a computer science student a Cedarville University, explained what happened:

Derp is a hacking collective that started out taking down small private game servers, but has recently moved on to much bigger targets. Starting on Monday, they claim to have taken down League of Legends and EVE Online (the two most-played games in the world), along with EA.com, Club Penguin, KCNA (a North Korean news agency), World of Tanks, Guild Wars 2, a private high school’s website, Runescape, and a Westboro Baptist Church site; all of this was done “for the lulz” (just for fun).

They accomplished this using a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS), which can take down servers for short periods of time by flooding them with nonsense traffic. This is usually accomplished with a botnet, which is a group of normal computers that are under the attacker’s control (usually via a virus). Since there are so many computers contributing to the flood, blocking all of them is infeasible. The larger a target is, the larger a botnet needs to be to take it down. And judging from the high-profile targets they’ve taken out, their botnet is undoubtedly very large.

Throughout the DDOS attacks Varga made several attempts to contact Derp representatives through online chat rooms. At one point Varga said, “The whole server is depending on us winning this game.” Reddit documented the entire drama, including screenshots of the chats. At one point Varga’s personal information was posted on the gaming sites — called DOXing — and pizzas started to arrive at his house.

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Study: Violent Video Games Are Good for You

Friday, December 13th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

SHOOTEMUP

Really:

While one widely held view maintains playing video games is intellectually lazy, such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception, according to several studies reviewed in the article. This is particularly true for shooter video games that are often violent, the authors said. A 2013 meta-analysis found that playing shooter video games improved a player’s capacity to think about objects in three dimensions just as well as academic courses to enhance these same skills, according to the study. This enhanced thinking was not found with playing other types of video games, such as puzzles or role-playing games.

I haven’t played Halo in ages, but maybe it’s time to teach the seven-year-old of the awesomeness of the Master Chief.

******

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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21st Century Gnostics Keeping Us Safe, One Gnome at a Time

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 - by Ed Driscoll

Yet another attempt by our 1930s-era cargo cult administration to go Barack to the Future, as spotted by Richard Epstein at the Hoover Institute:

This past week in Washington DC, the President made a speech about the state of the economy and about his determination to reform it. But much as things change, so they remain the same. A great deal of what he said there was reminiscent of a major address he gave two years ago on economic policy before a friendly audience in Osawatomie, Kansas. The President there talked with dizzying rapidity about the lost greatness of America’s past, and his plans to restore that greatness in the future. It’s worth revisiting some of the basic themes of his speech since they obviously continue to inform his policy decisions today.

As is common in speeches that romanticize history to advocate change, Obama’s address contained an unforgivable level of jingoistic nationalism: He claimed, “It was here in America that the most productive workers, the most innovative companies turned out the best products on Earth…. Today, we’re still home to the world’s most productive workers. We’re still home to the world’s most innovative companies.”

No one, not even the United States, can be that good. In fact, our present national status will only become worse if we do not understand that the American position has eroded from its glory days, in part because of the very policies that the President champions as the solution to our issues. But where to begin? The President manages to pack so many economic and historical falsehoods into his speech that it is nearly impossible to take them all on at the same time.

“A rehash of failed progressive policies will not return the United States to greatness,” and while I was tempted to quote that last sentence and snark, “talk about breaking news from 2009,” the reason why the cycle won’t be broken anytime soon is that it’s not policy — it’s religion. Or as Derek Hunter writes at Townhall, “In Government We Trust” is most assuredly “The Progressive Religion:”

What has happened is Democrats’ previously uncheckable lies are now fully checkable. It’s real now. You can’t keep your doctor or insurance, no matter how much you like them. And this hurts in the wallet – a lot. Now that we know this does not qualify as a practical solution, certainly not to health care anyway, Democrats –with all the credibility of a used-Pinto salesman – now embrace “morality” as the reason to embrace Obamacare.

In a column reeking of desperation on par with a kid hoping for a unicorn under his Christmas tree, the Washington Post’s Ryan Cooper complied a list of reasons “Why millennials will come around on Obamacare.” Aside from a desperate lack of understanding of health policy and how people work, the second reason Cooper lists stands out. He writes, “Going without health insurance is morally wrong.”

I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.

This pathetic attempt to manipulate the unthinking into an overwhelming sense of guilt that forces them to capitulate may work on those with fewer IQ points than fingers, but it won’t work on those with a third-grade education.

Cooper explains, “The only way insurance can work for everyone is if everyone is in the system so risk can be pooled. This one doesn’t carry much weight yet, since the system isn’t even operating. But as time passes, this will become an important norm — and for young people, the norm has outsized importance (older people already have a reason to get coverage; they get sick more easily). Getting insurance will be part of living in a decent society where everyone chips in when they can afford it, and free-riding is frowned upon — and over time, young people will come to see this as part of being a responsible citizen.”

Those 108 words are an incredibly inefficient way of rephrasing “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

Cooper’s appeal wouldn’t be noteworthy were it a lone cactus in the desert, but it’s not.

Also this week the buffoonish Ed Schultz, MSNBC’s angry Fred Flintstone clone, mused about how God would feel about Obamacare. “I’ll tell you what I think God thinks of the Affordable Care Act. It’s a big amen!”

Not to be outdone in the office pool of idiocy, Charlie Brown’s illegitimate child, Chris Matthews, had an offering on this theme. Matthews temporarily snapped out of his loving gaze while interviewing the president Thursday and put the cherry on top of one of this planet’s worst displays of sycophantism to utter what was supposed to be a question: “You know, Mr. President, your — your remarks the other day on economic justice to me, as a Roman Catholic, was so resonant with what the Holy Father, Francis, has been saying. Talk about that common Judeo-Christian or, even further, Muslim background to the belief we have a social responsibility, a moral responsibility to look out for people who haven’t made it in this country.”

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Gamers, NSA Has Been Spying On You and Your Magical, Virtual Gun-Toting Friends

Monday, December 9th, 2013 - by Bryan Preston
Griefer

The NSA: Gaming for America.

More Edward Snowden documents have come out, and as usual, they paint a picture of a government that is simply spying on everyone, everywhere, all the time.

Stories carried Monday by The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica said U.S. and U.K. spies have spent years trawling online games for terrorists or informants. The stories, based on documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, offer an unusual take on America’s world-spanning surveillance campaign, suggesting that even the fantasy worlds popular with children, teens, and escapists of all ages aren’t beyond the attention of the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ.

Virtual universes like “World of Warcraft” can be massively popular, drawing in millions of players who log months’ worth of real-world time competing with other players for online glory, virtual treasure, and magical loot. At its height, “World of Warcraft” boasted some 12 million paying subscribers, more than the population of Greece. Other virtual worlds, like Linden Labs’ “Second Life” or the various games hosted by Microsoft’s Xbox _ home to the popular science fiction-themed shoot-em-up “Halo” _ host millions more.

Spy agencies have long worried that such games serve as a good cover for terrorists or other evildoers who could use in-game messaging systems to swap information. In one of the documents cited Monday by media outlets, the NSA warned that the games could give intelligence targets a place to “hide in plain sight.”

So the suspiciously good 13-year-old who owns you at “League of Legends” isn’t the worst you have to worry about online? That sexy elven warrior you’ve been questing with isn’t just probably a guy. It may be a spy.

The companies involved swear that they had no knowledge that G-Men were all up in their online games. Microsoft says it’s going to see about locking the government out of X-Box Live.

I’m for NSA doing its thing when and where it’s warranted, but is there a single documented case of terrorists meeting up in “Second Life” to plot attacks? Or WoW or any other game space? And what kind of “virtual weapons training” can one really conduct in “Halo” or “Star Wars: The Old Republic?” One? Anywhere?

*****

Cross-posted from PJ Tatler

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The 5 Most Tasteless Hanukkah Gifts for 2013

Monday, November 25th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

thanksgivukkah

With all the ugly Christmas sweaters going around, we Jews need to catch up with the trend of bad-taste giving. Sure, you could go for a Menurkey in honor of Thanksgivukkah, or one of the other memorably odd menorah choices, but in the era of heightened European anti-Semitism, Putin’s Syrian intervention, and negotiations with Iran these simple, silly pleasures seem rather passe. Trendy tacky giving requires matching the spirit of the season as well as cultural vogue. With that in mind, I present to you the Top 5 most timely, tacky, and totally tasteless Hanukkah gifts for 2013.

5. Papers, Please

papersplease

Great for those American kids who still have the privilege of checking “Decline to Respond” next to questions about racial and ethnic identification, Papers Please is a video game that’s sure to please the tech geek on your list this holiday season. This cheap downloadable PC game’s pixelated animation will hark back to the days of Oregon Trail sans the Donner Party madness. In Papers Please the evil is clean-cut; no need to rape a street whore and throw her out of the car for extra points. As the bureaucrat you simply refuse entry to those in need.

Kindness is the killer in this game, a “dystopian document thriller” about the evils of government paperwork. The perfect training ground for a nation of future bureaucrats, Papers Please is a testimony to Stalin’s axiom, ”Bureaucracy is the price we pay for impartiality.” Perfect for the little Schindler in your life.

4. Nationalist Simulator – Defend Ukraine

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A Ukranian website whose servers are located in Berlin has cultivated a Twitter following among Russian-speakers who love playing Nationalist Simulator – Defend Ukraine. This is the perfect gift for that friend with Eastern European proclivities who just can’t stomach Russians, gays, Americans, and, of course, Jews.

“The objective of the game is to shoot the rainbow flags, Russian flags, American flags, red balls and Jews, who are represented by orange circles adorned with yarmulkes and sidelocks.” Perfect for the self-loathing among us, Russian-speaking Twitter user Denis Goldman (ethnic/religious persuasion unidentified) asked, “God, why had no one come up with this amazing game?”

Given the implied hatred of Russians, I’m guessing the picture of Putin riding a bear implodes if you can get past all those pesky Jews, gays, and Yankees.

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Xbox One… Step Short

Friday, November 22nd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

Xbox-One

I thought Xbox One was the right product marketed correctly. Sony has enjoyed more of a lock on the hardcore gamer audience, even if the PS3 was harder on developers. PS4 looks to have corrected that slight, while keeping the marketing focus (and product specs) on the gamers. Xbox was from the first generation meant to be more of a living room device. To that end the hardware, especially comparing the 360 to the PS3, was made easier for developers to work with. Taking things further with this third generation, the “One” in “Xbox One” is supposed to mean it’s the one device you have to plug into your television. It even offers HDMI In so that the console can act as the go-between with your TV and cable box.

But it all depends on execution, and that’s where things aren’t looking so great at launch time:

After about a week of using these voice commands every chance I could, I found them to be adequate but far from perfect. As evidenced by the above video, the voice commands were accurate about 80 to 90 percent of the time, depending on the command, the clarity of the voice, and the location of the speaker. The one significant exception to this rate was the “Xbox on” voice function, which only registered about 25 to 50 percent of the time when the system was in Instant-On mode. The system didn’t do much worse than normal at picking up commands through crosstalk, occasional stutters, and mumbling, but it occasionally refused to acknowledge slow, deliberate commands.

The 10 to 20 percent of commands that the system either ignored or misinterpreted was right on the line between “annoying but usable” and “frustratingly broken” to me. Having to repeat yourself once every eight or nine times is annoying, sure, but scrolling through a cluttered menu just to find the settings screen is arguably more annoying than saying “Xbox go to settings” even if you have to do it twice.

Reviewer Kyle Orland later says, “It would be nice if the system overall was a bit more forgiving or smarter about how it interprets voice commands as well.” Considering Microsoft has been pushing “natural language” use for years and years, it’s difficult to understand why they can’t make anything nearly as good as Apple’s Siri or Google Now. Another complaint is that it took two hours to transfer one particular game from Blu-Ray disc to the hard drive — and that’s a mandatory process. Apparently you can’t play directly from the removable media with these new-generation consoles. But if you’re going to require players to do that, you must absolutely make it as quick and as painless as possible.

Sony is going to make gamers (and developers) happy with PS4. Microsoft will almost certainly have more than enough high-quality, Xbox-exclusive titles to make the One a success, too. But if they’re going to conquer the whole living room, they’ll have to do better than this.

****

cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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Game-Changer: The Next Generation of Gaming

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

square-enix-agnis-philosophy-e3-2012-next-gen-tech-demo

I’m not quite ready to part ways with my Xbox 360. The box has been an integral part of my living room, towed through eight residences in as many years. In that time, it has grown, developed, and matured much as I have. Years of updates, upgrades, and expansions have turned it into an entirely different machine than the one I first purchased.

Comparing a launch title like Perfect Dark Zero to this year’s stunning Grand Theft Auto V makes it hard to believe that each belongs to the same generation of hardware. The leaps and bounds that developers have been able to take with the console over its eight year lifespan have kept the experience fresh.

Perhaps that is why so few people are seriously considering a next generation console purchase this holiday season. From IGN:

In a limited poll surveying 1,297 people, 64% of respondents stated they would not buy new video game hardware this holiday season, according to Reuters. This includes, of course, next-generation consoles such as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, as well as Nintendo’s upcoming 2DS or Valve’s recently revealed Steam Machines.

The minor interest in next-gen gaming points to something else emphasized in the poll: The games respondents most desire are non-exclusive, third-party sequels that, in many cases, will release on current hardware. Call of Duty: Ghosts Assassin’s Creed 4, Madden NFL 25, Battlefield 4 topped the interest list, alongside GTA 5.

Games drive the market more than hardware. Indeed, thinking back on my early adoption of the Xbox 360, it provided very little value at first. When a new generation of hardware launches, the first wave of games typically fumble while developers explore what the new hardware can do. Dead Rising, an early zombie-slaying title for the Xbox 360, was little more than a tech demo for how many unique characters could be rendered on-screen. The gameplay, in retrospect, seems pretty terrible.

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5 Ways Grand Theft Auto V Makes You Feel Like a Criminal

Friday, September 27th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Described by one prominent reviewer as “one of the very best video games ever made,” Grand Theft Auto V delivers in unexpected and satisfying ways.

Developer Rockstar Games could have gotten away with simply recycling Grand Theft Auto IV, the previous iteration released during the same console generation. People would have bought their new game even if it were just more of the same. Certainly, many other developers crank out sequel after sequel with little to no functional improvements year after year. And gamers lap it up. However, Rockstar has never been satisfied merely meeting expectations. They seek to defy them, and defy them they have.

Grand Theft Auto V achieves what its predecessors strove toward, convincingly immersing the player in the experience of being a criminal. Though law-breaking and havoc have always fueled the Grand Theft Auto experience, the games have typically felt more like amusement parks than actual worlds. Each mission played like a specific ride which you got on, enjoyed, and then got off in search of the next one. Though Rockstar made valiant attempts to create a sense of persistent identity in an immersive world, the overall game mechanics never really came together to fully suspend disbelief.

By contrast, logging into Grand Theft Auto V feels like waking up to another life, that of a professional criminal confronting a world of persistent challenges while negotiating meaningful relationships. A storyline which switches the player between three main characters keeps the experience fresh. Just as you get into a rhythm as one character, the story calls you to take the reins of another, and each has their own unique misadventures to get into.

Personally, I love bounty hunting as the psychopathic Trevor Phillips. The bounties come as text messages with a mug shot of the bail jumper and an aerial shot of the terrain where they were last seen. Tracking them involves searching the landscape for the right area, then searching that area for the target before apprehending them. The experience delivers a refreshing departure from the typical go-here-and-shoot-this mission, requiring the player to show initiative, patience, and strategy.

Aside from the scope and diversity of its gameplay, Grand Theft Auto V immerses the player by effectively conveying the sense that crime is, well, crime. Here are 5 ways Grand Theft Auto V makes you feel like a criminal.

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FIFA 14: First Look

Thursday, September 26th, 2013 - by Bryan Preston

FIFA-14-FIFA

The latest installment of EA Sports’ globally popular soccer simulator, FIFA 14, hit the streets Tuesday. While it won’t shatter sales records in the way that Grand Theft Auto V has, FIFA 14 should maintain its place among the best-selling games worldwide for the simple reasons that soccer is the world’s most popular sport, and Electronic Arts is among the most massive game developers around. The new installment’s predecessor, FIFA 13, managed to be the highest-selling game of 2013 at the time of its launch. So FIFA 14 should be big. Does it deserve to be?

The Good

I had the chance to kick FIFA 14 for a couple hours on its debut day. The graphics are gorgeous, but not groundbreaking. The fact is, the FIFA franchise has looked great for years, and as the hardware that drives it — in my case, a PS3 — hasn’t changed in years, neither will the look of the game. The players’ faces do look a bit closer to their real-life counterparts than in previous versions. The crowds in the stands do come alive a bit more realistically than before. The grass looks like grass and the stadium color palettes appear to have been pushed toward more realism — they seem a bit more muted, as if the paints even in the spectacular Emirates Stadium in London have faded a bit. Playing during rain produces nice splashes off the grass. Overall the game looks fantastic, while not looking massively different from the previous version.

EA says it has upgraded the game’s engine to make matches play more realistically, with better ball physics and more intelligent player movement.

I haven’t noticed much in the physics area during gameplay, which were already good on previous versions. The improved physics have been apparent in the game’s many shooting, passing and ball control tutorials though. I did notice improved player ball control during action — a good dribbler in real life is also a good dribbler in the game, but if you insist on sprinting while dribbling, chances are the ball will get a bit too far ahead of your player and you’ll end up losing possession.

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This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Grand Theft Auto

Saturday, September 21st, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

GTA-V-big

“I am not as good of a person because I play that game,” I confessed to a colleague earlier this week in reference to Grand Theft Auto V, the latest iteration of the boundary-pushing franchise which moral crusaders love to hate. Its release served as one of two recent events which prompted me to reevaluate the effect of media upon minds young and old.

The other event involved my four-year-old son, whose development has taken off over a summer at home with his mother on maternity leave. The previous year left us concerned, as he was slow to talk, reluctant to engage with other children, and prone to tantrums which defied our efforts at discipline. He now rattles on as if his life depended on it, communicating with increasing creativity and sophistication. That affords us a wider window into his developing mind which has revealed just how impressionable he — and presumably all children — can be.

The influence which media can have upon my son proved dramatic this week after he watched Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. A cartoon spin-off of the classic PBS series Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, the new show chronicles the adventures of preschooler Daniel Tiger in the world of Make-Believe. Utilizing techniques which have become standard operating procedure in children’s programming, such as speaking directly to children through the camera and soliciting response, the show takes kids on a tour of new experiences like going to school or visiting the doctor.

Understand that my son has always been terrified of the doctor’s office. A dual ear infection which occurred earlier this year was torturous for all of us. My son has required reassurance to get him into a drug store, let alone a clinic. So imagine my surprise when, after journeying through the magic of television to the doctor’s office with Daniel Tiger, my son was suddenly eager to submit to an exam. He’s been stomping around enthusiastically all week, talking about sitting in the waiting room, reading books until the doctor comes, and getting to listen to his own heart.

Daniel Tiger did in twenty-one minutes what his mother and I could not accomplish in four years. That’s the power of media.

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Impotent Rage: The Liberal Superhero

Friday, September 20th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

Warning: Mature content. This video and its audio track are NOT safe for work, and most certainly not suitable for children. Grand Theft Auto V came out for video game consoles earlier this week and pushes boundaries in every conceivable way – creatively, technically, and satirically. The franchise has always served as a send up [...]

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Disney Can’t Please Everyone All the Time

Thursday, August 29th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Toontown Online

Disney’s reach extends out far beyond what most people think of – theme parks, movies, television, merchandising. For years, the company has hosted dozens of online games, which have expanded into apps for smart phones and tablets as mobile devices have grown in popularity. One game in particular has created a stir – not because of content or new technology, but because Disney is shutting it down.

Disney announced last week that it is closing down the decade-old Toontown Online video game on September 19.

Toontown, in which members form teams to fight evil robots, will close on Sept. 19, according to a website announcement. The $9.95-a-month game, which Disney called the first massively multiplayer online title for kids and families, made its debut in June 2003. Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Disney Fairies Pixie Hollow will also close.

“We are shifting our development focus toward other online and mobile play experiences, such as Club Penguin and a growing selection of Disney Mobile apps,” the Burbank, California-based company said in an e-mailed statement.

The changes leave the $7.95-a-month Club Penguin as the only so-called virtual world operated by Disney. The site, acquired in 2007, is the largest of its kind, according to the company, which is asking players to move there.

One Toontown Online user simply won’t stand for it. Sara Luchsinger of Wisconsin has written CNN and formed an online petition to save the game.

Luchsinger says she joined in 2005 when her 10-year-old goddaughter encouraged her to join. She’s been hooked ever since, and even joined a group for adult users. Although the game is family-oriented, she says there is lots to appeal for all ages and she appreciated the ‘sense of community’ the game provided. When she heard about the game’s closing, she decided to campaign for it to stay open. Luchsinger said she doesn’t plan on setting up new digs at Club Penguin.

‘There is nothing out there similar, so I am not sure what, if anything, I will do at this point,’ she said. ‘I have a feeling that the mobile world in which we live in is evolving so quickly that if a game will continue to live on, it has to be played in a mobile format. Toontown isn’t available for tablets or mobile phones, so I believe that the company is making the decision based on profits and platforms.’

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What Zelda Teaches Us About Privacy

Thursday, August 1st, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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The first game I played in the Elder Scrolls series was Oblivion for the Xbox 360. Its in-game legal system, among many other features, blew me away. In most video games, you can loot any area you can access. In Elder Scrolls, trespassing where you do not belong or stealing something or killing an innocent attracts the long arm of the law. Villagers report your crime to town guards, who pursue you until you pay a bounty, spend time in jail, or fall under their sword.

That element of realism puts into perspective how much bad behavior goes tolerated in other games. Playing any game in The Legend of Zelda series provides ample opportunity to trespass, ransack, and thieve to your heart’s content. Some games have even made a joke of the trend by scripting a non-player character who objects to an intrusion. Then there’s the parody above with close to six million views on YouTube, leveraging for laughs the wanton destruction and looting committed by a “hero.”

The best humor rests upon truth. A live recreation of Link smashing pots in a random house makes us laugh because we recognize its absurdity. You can’t just barge into someone’s home and start trashing and looting.

… unless you’re the government.

There is  a strange tendency in our political culture to wring hands over imagined violations of perceived privacy while tolerating routine violations of actual privacy. We see this while juxtaposing reaction to recent state laws toughening restrictions on abortion and the lack of sustained concern over the IRS and NSA scandals. Tell a women she can’t kill her unborn child, and you supposedly violate her privacy. But feel free to tax her political speech and search her phone records.

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Will Justice Outlast the Trayvon Martin Hysteria?

Thursday, July 25th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Outlast may be the scariest video game ever produced. IGN’s Marty Sliva passed along anecdotes last March:

Before my demo, the team at Red Barrels, which is comprised of ex-Ubisoft designers who worked on Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, told me about some of the crazy things they’d seen the brave attendees of PAX East do while playing their game. Some bolted out mid-demo, others stumbled out unhealthily pale, and one guy almost destroyed the entire booth in a fit of panic.

The game pares down the survival horror genre to a single visceral action. No other option exists in Outlast. If you see something intent upon harm, you have but one choice. Run!

The game takes place in a freakish asylum which you enter for reasons unknown. Once inside, a haunting atmosphere manifests. Lights start to flicker and die. Shadows begin to move. Voices dance at the edge of earshot. And the only way to reliably see what lies ahead is through a power-hungry night vision camera that’s always on the verge of dying. Needless to say, you soon discover that you’re neither alone nor at the top of the food chain.

I thought of Outlast after considering last week’s remarks by President Obama which he offered in response to the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Predictably, the president chose to amplify the narrative that the black community was somehow owed a conviction. The threat to liberty posed by our nation’s highest executive suggesting that a criminal case ought to be decided not on the facts, but to satisfy a subjective sense of racial justice, cannot be overstated. However, what specifically reminded me of Outlast was the president’s call to examine “stand your ground” statutes to determine whether they “may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case rather than diffuse potential altercations.”

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Will Virtual Reality Make Privacy Obsolete?

Thursday, July 18th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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As a child, I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up. My dad worked for a major airline as a mechanic and I spent a fair amount of time in and around aircraft as a result.

Dad was also a big computer nerd who always had the latest and greatest personal computer in the house. Those two interests combined in the form of flight simulators. The first I can recall was Chuck Yeager’s Advanced Flight Simulator on the Commodore 64, a program which used simple geometry and rows of lights on the ground as reference points to indicate that you were moving. Later came Microsoft Flight Simulator in its various and progressive forms, raising the bar of realism and fidelity with each new version.

Having recently built a new computing rig, I have a renewed interest in flight simulation after many years away from it. I’m currently deliberating between the purchase of Microsoft Flight Simulator X, the most recent yet dated entry in that franchise, or the more contemporary X-Plane 10.

One of the truly amazing selling points of the latter is its immersive recreation of the entire planet. X-Plane 10 utilizes terrain and scenery auto-generation built atop data obtained from OpenStreetMap to simulate your town – and every other one on Earth – with amazing fidelity. In one video demonstrating the technology, the lead developer boasts that the road system proves adequately detailed to serve as a driving simulator. Indeed, YouTube videos showing a virtual drive down X-Plane 10’s streets prove reminiscent of any given trip through any given suburb, complete with picket fences and SUVs.

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Star Wars: The Market Strikes Back

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson
swtor

Can’t we all just get along?

Not too long ago, on a server far, far away, I marveled at the cooperation between sworn enemies. Pitted against each other on the frozen planet of Ilum, Jedi and Sith extended each other a civil courtesy, working together toward mutual benefit.

This unlikely truce occurred in the massively multiplayer online game Star Wars: The Old Republic. Set thousands of years before the films, the game welcomes players to create characters loyal to either the Jedi-guided Galactic Republic or the evil Sith Empire. Players spend hours progressing their characters to a level cap beyond which the focus of gameplay shifts to large scale cooperative operations and player-versus-player combat between the two factions.

The developers designed Ilum as a stage for the latter, an open world player-versus-player environment where Republic and Empire funnel into close proximity. The design presumes that members of the opposing factions will attack each other on sight, simply because they can. However, that commonly does not happen. Jedi and Sith often leave each other alone, going about their respective business.

The planet hosted a recent in-game event including a kind of capture-the-flag scenario where players from both factions were tasked with collecting orbs and depositing them in a central goal zone. The act of depositing took three and a half seconds and could be interrupted by enemy players. A successful deposit triggered a minute long lockout of the goal zone. The developers’ intention was to encourage a contest over the goal zone, where players vied for the chance to deposit their orbs.

Instead, an understanding soon developed between enemy players. All soon realized that it was easier to cooperate and take turns depositing the orbs than to fight over the goal zone. So it came to pass that Jedi, Sith, troopers, smugglers, bounty hunters, and Imperial agents could be seen waiting patiently in single-file for the chance to complete their individual missions.

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Man of Steel the Video Game?

Thursday, June 27th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Sometimes, the lack of a product proves more noteworthy than the presence of one. To date, we have seen no video game tie-in to the recently released Man of Steel. Given the infamous history of subpar Superman titles, gamers welcome the omission. However, past developers’ inability to capture the experience of being Superman does not preclude modern developers from taking a fresh look at the challenge.

For inspiration, they should look to the Man of Steel’s DC Comics compatriot, the Dark Knight. The experience of being Batman was nailed by Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum. Playing that game and its even more successful follow-up Arkham City leaves the impression that the developers cared immensely about the character and his world. Rather than start with the goal of making a Batman video game, which had been done many times before, they set the bar much higher and sought to convey the experience of being Batman.

No doubt, the development process on Arkham Asylum began with a list of questions. What does it feel like to be Batman? How does he interact with his world? What are his limitations, and how does he overcome them? The answers then informed the game’s mechanics. Batman uses fear against those who would prey on the fearful. That means stealth, surprise, evasion. Batman depends upon his physical prowess and high-tech gadgetry to gain the upper hand in the face of superior numbers. That calls for a deep fighting mechanic and appropriate weaponry. Thus Arkham Asylum was built as a playground tailored to the character.

The challenge of producing a Superman game as successful as the Arkham franchise is accommodating that character’s immense power. When asking what it feels like to be Superman, how he interacts with his world, and what his limitations are, the answers prove much more intimidating. Batman remains mortal, bound by the finite strength and ability of a human being. Rocksteady can therefore confine him to an island, or entrap him within the walls of a city district, without it seeming like an unreasonable limitation. Superman, on the other hand, never met a wall he couldn’t bust through. Imposing limitations in the way video games typically do, with natural barriers, invisible walls, or some other contrivance, just doesn’t work with the Man of Steel. Ultimately, by limiting him, you take away from what makes him Superman.

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Market > Microsoft: Unpopular Xbox One Features Abandoned

Thursday, June 20th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Microsoft recently announced a dramatic reversal of its plan to change the way we play games on the next generation of hardware. While the plan had promise, its benefits were too esoteric for most gamers to grasp and were so poorly marketed that 95% of respondents to an Amazon consumer poll indicated their favor of Sony’s competing Playstation 4. The episode has emerged as an instructive testament to the power of the market.

Certainly, brand loyalty exists among gamers. Limited budgets require most of us to choose one console in a given generation. Even if you have the money to spend, it can be hard to justify cluttering a room with multiple consoles and a jumble of controllers unless you happen to be single with no children. Gamers want to believe that they have chosen wisely, and thus root for their chosen brand to succeed. Nevertheless, that loyalty runs thin during the transition from one generation of hardware to another.

The Xbox 360 has provided the highest value of any console I have owned, changing dramatically over its lifecycle to become the central entertainment platform in my household. If our television is on, so is our 360. Whether watching YouTube clips with my wife, streaming children’s programing for my sons over Netflix, or sneaking in some Battlefield 3 when no one else is around, I do it all on Microsoft’s console. Since first waiting overnight in the freezing December cold to buy the gadget in 2005, I have accumulated a diverse library of games, both on disc and digitally via Xbox Live Arcade.

Despite all that, despite being a happy and thoroughly satisfied Xbox 360 owner, I must confess to taking a serious look at the Playstation 4 after this month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Even considering a brand switch reflects poorly upon Microsoft. Switching to Sony at this point means abandoning an established online presence, scrapping my current friends list, abandoning exclusive franchises in midstream, and kissing my achievements and gamerscore goodbye. All things being equal, remaining with Microsoft would be a no-brainer for that reason alone. Alas, coming out of E3, things were not equal.

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How Xbox One Could Be Xbox Won

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 - by Stephen Green

New XBOX ONEWired has an excellent writeup of the new Xbox One. It was just revealed to the public yesterday, but Peter Rubin got to spend some quality time with one over the last few weeks — the lucky bastard. It’s an impressive piece of hardware, like any new console should be. But here’s what I think makes it a winner:

When the 360 launched, smartphones hadn’t yet trickled out of the corporate world; Netflix was strictly a DVD delivery service; the “cloud” was something that got in the way of a suntan. (Hell, in 2005, people suntanned.) And a big part of the 360’s longevity was Microsoft’s ability not only to develop games but also to forge partnerships that took advantage of these new staples of online life. So as those deals proliferated, so did the things the Xbox 360 could do. People played Halo 3 on their Xbox, but they also watched Netflix. They bought Kinect sensors for controller-free experiences, but they also burned through seasons of Deadwood on HBO Go and caught sports highlights on an ESPN app. But all of this new functionality was built on patches and firmware updates. The 360 simply wasn’t constructed that way, so when the Xbox One was greenlit in the fall of 2011, “the decision wasn’t, ‘We need a gamebox,’” Whitten says. “It was, ‘We need a living-room experience.’” Built that way from the ground up.

This is Microsoft playing at the absolute top of its game (no pun intended). They’ve leveraged everything they’ve learned about gaming, consoles, services, and streaming, and worked them together into a single system. To call the Xbox One a mere “console” is to undersell what it is and what it does. This is an entertainment system-in-a-box, all for a few hundred dollars.

How was Microsoft able to do this, when they’ve pretty much flubbed every single other consumer device they’ve tried to build in the last few years? How did the company that build the ill-fated Zune with its infamous “Squirt” feature manage to get something so spectacularly right?

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Putting the War into the ‘War on Terror’

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

Our grandfathers ran around as children playing cowboys and Indians. Our fathers played cops and robbers. In the digital age, we have video-game iterations of the same dichotomy like Counter-Strike, a classic and frequently remade title featuring frantic objective-based gunplay between terrorists and the counterforces employed to stop them.

A mainstay of masculine entertainment, the terrorist stands in place of the generic black-hatted villain of yesteryear, all but tying damsels to railroad tracks. As antagonists go, terrorists come readymade, requiring little to no explanation for their menace. They hail from somewhere exotic, believe something bizarre, and destroy as a means to their chosen end. Often, we don’t even care what fuels their violence so long as we get to shoot back. As I think back on terrorist films I’ve watched multiple times, like True Lies or Air Force One, I couldn’t tell you exactly why the bad guys were bad or what they hoped to accomplish. It didn’t really matter. They were there to rally our hate and earn a satisfying death at the hands of our hero.

For a moment, the reality of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent “War on Terror” paused all of that. Suddenly, terrorists weren’t to be taken lightly as make-believe villains. What fueled their violence became a matter of grave consequence. No matter our political perspective, how we thought of terrorists changed dramatically.

For the Left, certainly during the Bush years, the terrorist became the pitiable personification of American imperialism, the sins of a nation come home to roost. For the neoconservative faction of the Right, as institutionalized by the Bush administration and its supporting organizations, the terrorist became the next advent of the Evil Empire, a virulent boogeyman lurking around every corner much like the Cold War spy before him.

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The Gospel from Planet X: Why Aliens Ignite the Imagination

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 - by Walter Hudson

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Editor’s Note:

Check out Walter’s previous articles in this ongoing series Thursday mornings exploring video games, cultural villains, and American values at PJ Lifestyle. From May 2: “Beating Back the Nazi “Sickness,” and last week: “What Zombies Teach Us About Human Nature.” And also see Walter’s A Reason For Faith series, reprinted last week here. In these four articles Walter begins to formalize his task of synthesizing the Judeo-Christian tradition with Ayn Rand’s Objectivism and Tea Party activism.    -  DMS

In one of the most vivid dreams I can recall, I witnessed the landing of a plainly alien spaceship. It came lucidly, dancing on the edge of wakefulness, informed by enough of my rousing consciousness that it felt particularly real. I remember the feeling that my feet were glued to the ground, that I couldn’t move if I wanted to, not on account of some external force, but due to an overwhelming sense of awe and anticipation. The one thought dominating my mind: everything is about to change.

Though it was only a dream, I retain the memory as vividly as though it were of an actual experience and believe I will respond similarly if ever confronted by a true interplanetary delegation. Something about that kind of moment, when the veil lifts upon an existential mystery, produces an irresistible thrill. Perhaps that tops the list of reasons why our popular culture remains ever fascinated by the prospect of extraterrestrial life.

Aliens have become such a prolific device in our entertainment that we sometimes take them for granted. Like a modern deus ex machina, aliens can be relied upon to suspend disbelief in an otherwise inconceivable scenario. (How does Superman fly? Simple, he’s an alien!) Extraterrestrials rank alongside Nazis, zombies, and generic terrorists as the most common villains found in video games. Unlike those others, however, aliens may also be allies. Nothing inherent to extraterrestrial life demands it be villainous. Beings from other worlds often act as mirrors for examining the human condition, when not merely lurking among shadow and neon strobe.

It’s probably no coincidence that the advent of ufology, which is an actual word in the dictionary meaning the study of unidentified flying objects, coincides with the initial proliferation of aviation and the early years of the space age. We began to look up into the sky right about the time we realized there was nothing left to find over the horizon. In times past, when the known world was still defined by the flickering edge of torchlight, we imagined unspeakable monsters much closer to home. Spirits, ghosts, goblins, ghouls, fairies, vampires — all were the alien invaders and abductors of their time. As we have come to dismiss them as infeasible and childish, our imagination turns to the stars, where the realm of possibility remains seemingly infinite.

Certainly, we can see how aliens have stepped in to fill the role of menacing ghoul. Ridley Scott’s original Alien was essentially a horror film, a science-fiction creature feature. While the execution was masterful, the formula proved well-established and has been revisited ever since.

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More Bad News for Wii U Owners

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 - by Stephen Green

I’m pretty sure they’re already on the endangered species list, but this news won’t help replenish their numbers:

After mentioning on Twitter that the newly announced Star Wars games from DICE and Visceral will be running on DICE’s powerful Frostbite 3 engine, Andersson responded to a reader concern that this will mean the games will not be available for the Wii U.

“[Frostbite 3] has never been running on WiiU,” Andersson tweeted. “We did some tests with not too promising results with [Frostbite 2] & chose not to go down that path.”

This statement follows a Eurogamer interview from March’s Game Developers Conference in which DICE’s Patrick Bach admitted DICE “could probably make a Wii U game in theory” but said the company is not currently interested in devoting “development time” to the system. “To make the most out of the Wii U, that’s a different game because of the different peripherals. We want to utilize all the power of each console… It’s about ‘where do you put your focus?’ And the Wii U is not a part of our focus right now.”

So it’s not just a question of focus but a question of performance.

“Underpowered” was cute for the original Wii, which Nintendo was able to sell at a profit from the very first unit. But the company’s ambitions were much bigger for the Wii U — which doesn’t appear to be up to the task.

*****

Cross-posted from Vodkapundit

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