House of Duty: Frank Underwood Gives You A Call

Ladies and gentlemen….take a gander:

This little gem greeted me this morning as I logged into check how things have been going.

Everyone knows my feelings about Call of Duty. I think the series is excessive, repetitive and just a money-milking cash cow for Activision.

But…

Not everyone knows my feelings…

About Kevin…freakin’…Spacey.

Man-crush.

Spacey is one of my favourite actors and I am pretty excited that they’ve gotten him into a game, even if it is Call of Duty. I suppose only Activision would have the kind of muscle and charm needed to snag someone of his caliber. The fact that he seems to be an exact copy of his character from House of Cards even heightens the appeal.

Despite the explosion exhaustion I tend to feel with CoD, I have to say that their last two or three games have seemed to focus on the notion that the citizenry of any nation doesn’t want the lofty promises that the concept of democracy offers. The grandiose voice-over Spacey gives as the trailer plays follows a similar line to previous titles, that well, here the USA is trying to police the world and maybe the world doesn’t need policing. This is a debate that raged in the majority of my classes at university, particularly because I started my degree courses a month before the 9-11 attacks. So much of humanity’s horrific periods can be attributed to people/nations wanting to “fix” other people/nations. The slave trade, the spread of Christianity, ethnic cleansing in Serbia, Middle East wars based on bringing “democracy” to the world at large…unfortunately, some of these things aren’t broken…so how much longer are certain nations going to continue to try and “fix” them, thus making a pile of enemies along the way?

I’m not saying that Activision’s gone all Bioware on us, with “The More You Know” messages littered throughout their game. But wouldn’t that be nice?

Still though guys! KEVIN SPACEY! Will you be getting CoD: Advanced Warfare?

XBox One Announced, Rejoice!

My people…the next generation XBox has come forth, and tomorrow shall dawn a brighter day, for it is grand and it is…black! Behold: XBox One.

Better Than A Little Black Dress.

Better Than A Little Black Dress.

For anyone raising an eyebrow at the enthusiastic announcement of the pretty basic name, the logic behind the simplistic moniker became glaringly clear as the fast-paced presentation went on. And fast-paced it was. We literally blitzed through this event, which had a significantly more upbeat tempo than Sony’s early-2013 event announcing the PlayStation 4. XBox One is aiming to be just that: your one-stop shop for gaming, social connectivity, and audio-visual entertainment. I could hardly live-tweet as fast as they kept throwing stuff at us, and I know that this is due to the fact that Microsoft is holding back the bulk of its “OMG WOW” factors for E3. And since that’s going to be a tweetin’ bloggin’ extravaganza, I’ll try to keep this post short, focusing on the points that both excited and depressed me:

THRILLS

The Future Is Now: Voice Control

When Yusef Mehdi, Senior VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business line, said “XBox On” and the screen behind him came to life, I could but utter one word: Finally. Sometimes I stare at my Kinect in disgust because I can’t just turn on my XBox with a simple voice command. I know it’s not Kinect’s fault, but I have issues with misplaced frustration. XBox One aims to alleviate the stress I direct at Kinect by making it possible to turn the console on with just an utterance of “XBox On.” Laziness Level: Expert.

Fifteen Exclusives, Eight New IPs

I don’t even have to go into how great this is, especially with the promise of eight new franchises delivered for XBox One. I’m particularly excited about Remedy’s preview of Quantum Break. Fresh new content is the injection the industry needs, and after the usual suspects being rolled out at Sony’s press-con, I’m happy XBox has locked up some original product for their next-gen offering.

A scene from Remedy's Quantum Break.

A scene from Remedy’s Quantum Break.

Live-Action Halo Series With Steven Spielberg

The only two words that matter in that headline are Steven and Spielberg. I was kind of confused as to Nancy Tellum’s presence, but started to piece it together when she introduced 343 Industries’ Bonnie Ross. Anyone who followed the Halo 4 hype juggernaut watched at least one episode of the web series ‘Forward Unto Dawn.’ I appreciated the way that the story of FUD wove into the actual Halo 4 plot, and so I thought they might be announcing another web series to prep us for an upcoming Halo title. I did not even contemplate the possibility of a live-action series, much less think about the involvement of someone like Steven Spielberg. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what they can create. Forward Unto Dawn was really the best marketing tool I’d seen a game employ in a long time, and the Halo universe stretches beyond just the games, as Ross correctly stated at the beginning of her presentation. Now if only BioWare and EA would take note for Mass Effect…

EA: FIFA, NBA, Madden and…UFC

Far be it for me to say that UFC has no place among the likes of FIFA, Madden and the NBA, but I say, bravo to EA for diversifying their offering. To even be marketed alongside those three heavy-hitters is an accomplishment, and I’m looking forward to seeing the real star of those games, the new EA Sports Ignite engine, shine through on the new XBox One hardware.

Better Hardware, Better Kinect…Better You

One of my gripes, and that of many others, regarding Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcement was the complete and utter lack of hardware present. The only tangible item available was the controller, which was nicely innovative in its own right, but not enough to really sate the blood-thirsty masses. Then yesterday, Sony does what any good marketing department would do, and “blindsides” Microsoft’s event today with a sneak peek of their console…which really just amounted to a strobe-light effect while various bits of it flashed across the screen. I put blindsides in quotation marks because it seemed as though Microsoft (and anyone with a brain, really) had anticipated Sony’s sucker punch, as all through their event today, every presenter seemed to walk with an added spring in their step, as if to say “We got this, ya’ll.”

The XBox One is sleek and, for lack of  a better word, sexy. I really hate using that word and I dislike when marketing professionals use it, but there really is no other word I could use to describe the console, the new controller and the new Kinect unit. The improvements made to the Kinect, which were necessary considering the level of multitasking the XBox One boasts, are a blessing. Also: Skype group calling. Thank you.

CHILLS

Live TV, ESPN Sports connectivity

Of course, any launch event has one or two moments where you cringe a bit and shake your head, as if to say “why would you wear that to a cocktail reception?” I only had two of these moments with the XBox One launch; this is one of them. The industry had already speculated that this console, much like Sony’s PS4, would focus on the entertainment factor as being more integral to the device’s abilities than the gaming factor. I wasn’t surprised to see Microsoft bust out the live TV functionality, and the ESPN Sports connectivity possibilities. The integration of fantasy play had my US friends chomping at the bit.

But for myself, and those gamers who do not live in North America, all that you heard from us was a collective groan. While my brother-from-another-mother in Brooklyn is enjoying switching between a Skype call with me and a live NFL match on his XBox One, I’ll be once again lamenting the fact that European XBox Live subscribers pay the same amount of money as North American subscribers for maybe 30% of the functionality that our American and Canadian counterparts receive. I understand completely the reasoning behind the lack of TV content, and truthfully, Pathe Thuis (movie-streaming service from the theater chain here) is now available on XBox 360, but there is still plenty that we do not have access to, while still paying the same price.

No Price Point

Okay, so I’m nitpicking. But I was really hoping to have a ballpark figure around which to build my plan to give up food, social interaction and possibly electricity. Twitter blew up when they didn’t mention a release date and I really have to say, this argument is getting old. We should all know by now how “the game” is played. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a release date before E3, unless of course your name is Nintendo. So let’s stop that little bit of nitpicking. A price point, however, is something I think you should be able to hint at…simply to give everyone a chance to prepare their wallets for the Special Victims Unit case its about to become.

THE BOTTOM LINE

XBox One’s spec-sheet reads like this:

– an 8-core CPU.

– 8 GB of RAM.

– 500 GB hard drive.

– USB 3.0.

– Blu-ray drive (Finally! Am I right?).

– Integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi (also finally).

– Thousands more servers to handle online play, and dedicated DVR capabilities for game-capture.

– A new 1080p Kinect camera that detects the slightest movement of your wrist, as well as your heartbeat. Hopefully if you overdo it on Nike Training With Kinect, it will also call 911 for you.

– After the event, Microsoft confirmed that XBox One was NOT going to feature always-online DRM, and everywhere, gamers and retailers sighed in collective relief.

Throughout the entire event, a die-hard PlayStation fan friend of mine kept freaking out as they threw out feature after feature. We followed it live with other gamer friends on Facebook; my notifications are now broken. People didn’t even care that the only games really shown were Forza Motorsport, Quantum Break and the world premiere of Call of Duty: Ghosts. The sheer power of the machine outshone whatever actual gameplay may have debuted. It’s safe to say that this event succeeded where Sony’s faltered: the previously non-XBox fans are frothing at the mouth.

E3 is going to be a hell of a lot more interesting this year, my friends.

Goodies: Sploder.com

This is going to be a short post, since it’s really late here and I’m currently battling an addiction to BioShock Infinite. Plus, ‘Goodies’ posts are usually just meant to quickly highlight and describe some new nerd-gasm inducing site or item I’ve come across in my daily adventurous trawls through the depths of the Internet.

The other day, during a lull at work, I came across Sploder, a site that allows you to create your own game and publish it online for netizens to play and rate. Talk about the ultimate nerd-out! I registered once I got home and started making myself a platformer, the first level of which (yes, you can add and delete levels to your game) is below:

I call it "Slash Buddy." Lack of sleep = Low Creativity.

I call it “Slash Buddy.” Lack of sleep = Low Creativity.

As you can see from the image, you can add various environment objects and enemies. Those little black squares are vampire bats. Vampire bats, you guys. The interface is easy to understand and even simpler to use, and you can select from platformers, retro arcade, puzzle or classic shooters. You get a basic setup and then it’s all up to your imagination. I found it a neat way to shout out to that old arcade game nostalgia while at the same time prodding young minds to develop a vested interest in game design. If tools like this had been available back in my young mischief days, I would probably be a game designer today. True story.

There’s no rush to complete your game and you can add and remove levels as you wish. In between level design, you can enter into a pretty neat test environment to see if your game functions as you imagine it would. I had quite some fun trying to kill that bastard vampire bat, who flies around dodging every swing you make with your sword. Moving from the test to the design environment is smooth and seamless, just adding to the already impressive interface that Sploder offers. There are resources available for parents and kids alike, which is awesome because it’s one more link in this whole “Teach Kids Code” mantra that Zuckerberg & Co are pushing these days. More importantly, however, is the social aspect of the site. Users can friend-request one another, sharing knowledge, ideas and their proudly built games, and this all puts some extra fuel in the tank for the future of the game industry. Baby steps, ya’ll. Baby step[s.

So go on, give Sploder a try. Publish a game and I’ll check it out, and drop you a review here on What The Frag.

Next week: Microsoft’s May 21 event. Are you guys ready for this? Really ready? Because it’s gonna revolutionize the way we do gaming. Hehe. Until next time, stay classy.

Festival of Games, Or: The Day I Met JP Vaughan

Kia Ora!

You may wonder why that greeting. Well, I know it’s been a while since I posted, but I have good reason (beyond the usual, like work and general life). I took a day off to volunteer at NLGD’s Festival of Games, held this year at De Overkant in Amsterdam. FoG is a matchmaking event for executives, companies, and the heart and soul of the industry, the talent (developers, freelancers, designers, etc) to have the opportunity to mingle with one another in a fun but professional setting. I thought the concept was pretty neat, sort of like speed-dating for gaming and gaming-related companies and potential employees. Most impressive for me was the presence of Ilja Linnemeijer, a Partner at Pricewaterhouse Coopers in their Dutch Technology sector with a specialization in the Video Gaming Industry. How awesome is it that this is how far we’ve come? A decade or two ago, any one of the Big Four might have sneered at the thought of paying active attention to the gaming industry. Now they’ve got partners speaking at conferences and annual reports on the state of the sector. Gotta love what money does to attract attention.

I bet Ben Franklin was a Peggle fan.

I bet Ben Franklin was an RTS fan.

 

I was a volunteer for the talent section, so I was handing out badges and disseminating information with those attending for either the job-hunt potential or as an invited guest for an exhibitor, speaker or exhibitor. It was a pretty crazy rush of people once the doors opened at 9 AM, which was to be expected. Having woken up at 5 AM, I braced myself and managed to survive until about 12 PM, when the flow turned to more of a trickle and we were able to take our breaks, get some lunch and check out the festival. Since I had not been able to take the following day (today) off to attend the last few conferences (since my badge granted me access), I took advantage of my break by inhaling a sandwich and heading out to mingle. Now, earlier in the day I’d retweeted RocketRainbow Studio’s tweet about heading into Festival of Games. An awesome Kiwi (aka someone from New Zealand for the uninitiated) named Lucy Morris replied to both of us saying it would be cool to link up with another indie. Now, I’m no developer; I’m more marketing/writing, and I stated that, anticipating the usual brush-off that I’ve received from the gaming industry. To my (happy) surprise, they wanted to meet regardless. We exchanged a few more tweets, trying to figure out where we all were, and towards the end of my break, I posted up at the Guerrilla Games booth, told them where I was and waited.

The first to approach me was Lucy, who I discovered was a Kiwi as soon as she started to speak. We chatted a bit about the festival and how she had come over from Germany to Amsterdam to attend. We bonded over the waning creativity in the AAA segment of the gaming industry, the lack of female developers present at FoG, and the fact that both our dads had discouraged our interest in gaming at an early age, but that we both had never shaken the passion. And then, behind us someone goes “Melissa?” and my brain flickered, like in that moment when you think you know someone but you can’t quite place them. The newcomer introduced himself as JP Vaughan and then the light-bulb went off: PopCap! Plants vs Zombies! Peggle!

Inner fan girl probably looked like this.

Inner fan girl probably looked like this.

 

I forced my inner fan-girl back into the room she was trying to claw out of and shook the man’s hand. We talked about his move to The Hague and what his plans were now for RocketRainbow Studio, which he’s co-founded here in The Netherlands. Anybody who followed the closure of PopCap Dublin last year knows that the majority of us learned about it from Vaughan’s twitter account. As a fan of Plants vs Zombies and Peggle, I had read his interviews on the development of the latter game, so meeting him in the flesh was pretty cool. I had a short break so I had to say goodbye relatively, but we linked up via social media, so hopefully in the future, I can look forward to a drink somewhere in The Hague. The most awesome thing about Festival of Games was the dominant indie vibe it carried throughout the day. You could feel the impact that Torchlight, PopCap’s efforts and Telltale’s The Walking Dead have had on an industry that, as I’ve discussed before and as Lucy and I chatted about, is suffering from a tragic lack of imagination. It was thrilling to feel the energy of those gathered, whether they were speakers, exhibitors, or just visionary devs looking for someone to give them a shot. By the time the last few exhibitors left at 5:30 (I’m looking at you, Guerrilla Games), I was exhausted but satisfied and, even though it may sound corny, pretty hopeful. And that’s my story of the day I met JP Vaughan.

I’ve got a lot of tasks swamping me for the next couple weeks, but considering Microsoft’s announcement of an XBox event on May 21, I’m going to set aside some time to post about that. It takes place at 10 AM, and so I will still be at the office but that’s what headphones were invented for! Until next time, stay frosty.

World War Z’s Book & Movie: A Tale of Two Zombies

This post is somewhat of a departure from the norm, but it still involves a game, so enjoy anyway!

I’m going to be frank with you: I often contemplate what I would do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. I try to map out the steps I would take from time of discovery to setting up a permanent outpost that is both defendable and sustainable. The Netherlands doesn’t have many high-ground spots but it does have rural areas that are sparsely populated and land that is ready for farming, since this country loves its agriculture. Add to that the plentiful livestock and well, you can set yourself up pretty well in this country. I know who the members of my Zombie Survival Group (ZSG) are and their respective skill-sets. This is all done in semi-jest, of course. I say semi because the world is crazy and weirder things have happened than the dead walking the Earth. As an avid reader, I consumed Max Brooks’ works of art (The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z) in record time because they, especially WWZ, offered a view on the zombie apocalypse that the movies did not. The regression of humanity in the face on unspeakable challenges and immeasurable horror often ranks lowest on the totem pole for Hollywood as they prefer to focus on the blood and gore with gleeful abandon. And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, this is a forgivable oversight because a movie is but two hours long and thus does not allow for extended storytelling….or does it??

I know what you’re thinking: “But MelChan, you said that games offered the perfect medium to tell the stories that movies can’t! What gives?”

I still stand by that original statement, because it is true; a game allows for hours of interactive entertainment. A movie grants you your two hours of engagement (three if we’re talking LOTR stats here), and then you’re left to your own devices. But what about the concept of a movie expanding the reach of a book that expands on a genre that was near-perfectly covered in one of the biggest games (in terms of impact) of 2012?

When I first learned that World War Z was being made into a film, I experienced a range of emotions in about 30 seconds: excitement, apprehension, realization and then dread. Why dread, you ask? Because I felt that they would butcher what is the most detailed, thought-provoking account of a fictional apocalypse ever. It answered all of the questions that films like Dawn of the Dead leave open, questions that are only partially answered by the comic/TV/game of The Walking Dead. It explored the response to such an atrocity on a global scale, highlighting existing political and cultural tensions that could go either way in an apocalyptic scenario. The section discussing how the virus found its way to countries outside of China via the organ transplant black market was brilliant, and honestly, I hadn’t even thought of it as a potential infection point because my mind was too concentrated on the tried and true method of biting. The book’s structure gave Hollywood the opportunity to produce an engaging and maybe even worrying documentary-style film that would be told using the interviews with flashbacks of what the interviewee remembers. Moral regression, political machinations, country secrecy, the failure of military might and the greatest monster of all: our own human nature. When the announcement trailer began making the rounds online, it was clear to anyone watching that they took Dawn of the Dead and combined it with the rage virus from 28 Days Later to create what looks like a CGI fest of sprinting, leaping and bounding zombies.

Zombie Jenga Tower.

Zombie Jenga Tower.

The fact that they’ve decided to replicate the same tired formula as all other beat-the-clock apocalyptic movies is so utterly disappointing, it reminds me of Bioware not just going with the flow in light of the Shepard Indoctrination theory. I mean, it’s RIGHT THERE for the taking…just take it! The terror factor behind the zombie has always been that despite being slow-moving, they are also a flesh-eating and non-feeling entity that will react to sound for as long as it takes it to find and consume the originator of said sound. Multiply their numbers and you have a wave of constantly gnawing and gnashing teeth that is hard to overcome, and that’s not even considering the fact that a head-shot is not an easy thing to  make, let alone consecutive head-shots. I don’t know when we started moving towards this zombie-sprinter singularity, but it detracts from the terror factor.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if they’d opted for the storytelling scenario rather than what promises to be the blood and gore selection on the buffet line of Possibilities?  It would have been the perfect fleshing out of a genre that has suffered from a severe lack of imagination and exploration, because any fool knows that the war is not just with the zombies but with everyone, alive or (un)dead. I read World War Z around the same time that I started playing The Walking Dead, and I came to treat the book as something of a supplement to the game, which was already engrossing in its own right. You see, books were my first love. Before I had my first gaming experience, books were what I used to feed and bolster my imagination, and I still try to read at least two books a month. So when I got World War Z and The Walking Dead at relatively the same time, I considered it divine intervention and used the book to expand, in my mind, on the themes and concepts raised in the game. It helps to be able to question what your own humanity would allow you to do in a situation like that of the Canadian survivors who end up trading their radio for a pot of soup with some questionable meat (read: human)?

I don’t doubt that World War Z will perform well at the box office, and I will probably still head out to see it (but only because with my Pathe card, I don’t have to pay for it). This doesn’t ease the disappointment of the opportunity the directors and Max Brooks himself had to really wow the world with a story that explores not just the constant appetite of the zombies, but the barbarism that the living are willing to embrace to ensure survival at any cost. It almost makes me hope that in the future, there’ll just be a YouTube series that portrays the stories in the book as the majority of its fans envisioned it, a la Mortal Kombat: Legacy.

Until next time.

I will hopefully get my hands on Bioshock: Infinite so I can give my take on that long-awaited title. It will be my first full Bioshock experience; truth be told, my heart couldn’t handle the first one. Happy Easter to everyone, enjoy the holidays!

Goodies: Geek-Wear

Warning: This post is not exactly gaming-related, but this is my blog so bleh to you. Also, it’s really short, but I don’t care because I am stunned…absolutely STUNNED…

That I JUST discovered this site.

No, really.

What was I doing that made me miss this site and all its awesomeness? If it wasn’t for Google freakin’ Plus, I would never have found it.

I’m talking about Geek-Wear.

Iron Man's bracelet, you guys. For real.

Millennium Falcon cuff links, you guys. For real.

 

I don’t squeal over fashion or accessories too often, so trust me when I say that this is a big deal. Like, BayBooms big. I was browsing through a new community I wanted to join on G+ and found a link to Geek Wear in one of the posts. Naturally, I went into full-fledged shadow-ninja-stalker mode and looked up whatever I could on the only two people listed in the ‘About’ section, Chanchal Bhatia and Tony Kochhar. Kochhar founded Lightspeed Group, an interactive media agency with a focus on applications for mobile platforms. Chanchal Bhatia used to work at J.P. Morgan as an analyst, and then went on to co-found TLG, working on FrigginLaser.com and now Geek Wear, which gives me hope that there is a way to escape the finance industry and make your passion your source of income as well.

Basically the site points you in the right direction of all things geek, from accessories to actual gadgetry, all of which vary in the theme and genre they represent but still solidly geeky. And I love it. I want to hug this site and roll around in a meadow with it while it tries to put Millennium Falcon cuff links on my shirt. You can view the product and its specifications on Geek Wear’s site, and then click on over to the actual purchase site (so far, the main one seems to be Amazon). Some might say there’s no need for this site, since you can just search the web yourself, but really, why? That’s like saying that there’s no need for a newspaper, aggregating all the important stuff and shoving it in your face each morning. I spend 90% of my time online, both for work and personal purposes, but even I was unaware that there was a Millennium Falcon Silicone Tray for making your own chocolate Falcons!

The point is, you might think that a website that points you in the right direction of where to buy the most random stuff ever (to some people at least) is not a needed or particularly great thing. But anyone who has ever tried hunting for just the right gift for the geek they love will be ever so thankful. So get on over and enjoy.

And FYI my birthday is in September and if you couldn’t tell, I am a Star Wars fan.