Friday, June 21, 2013

A Pregnant Pause in the Blog Sprint

Man, I take a week off and quite a lot of things happen. We had CliffyB proving he's the popped collar of the gaming industry, E3, more dismal Xbox One news followed by a surprise reversal, a couple of interesting new Kickstarter projects, and Free RPG Day this past week. Now, since I'm a little behind, I'm going to try to cover all these things briefly in one post, so I won't forget to mention them.

On the running Xbox One debacle, there's some mixed news. Specifically, on the questions of DRM, Xbox had been looking more and more arrogant and defensive. Enter E3 and Angry Joe, from the Angry Joe Show.

If you check out Angry Joe's (remarkably diplomatic with a low cuss-count) interview with Larry Hryb (Xbox's Major Nelson), you get a real good view of the sarcastic, patronizing, and disrespectful way Xbox is handling the concerns of consumers:

"Xbox One is the future. Do you want to come with me to the future?"

"I'm not a lawyer--are you a lawyer?"

"You're not on the development team, are you?"

And so forth in response to Joe's questions on the key concerns of the Xbox One's DRM policies. It's really worrisome, and the fact that convivial Major Nelson is shilling so hard for Xbox that he becomes this abrasive makes it all the more shocking to me. I mean, Angry Joe may be known for curse-filled rants and ripping apart bad games, but I think he's a teddy bear overall, and he's surprisingly forgiving of a lot of video games and their companies (I really think he drank Bioware's Kool-Aid on the Mass Effect 3 "extended ending"), and his interviews are really polite and respectful. Even when he's asking hard questions like he did of Major Nelson. Plus, Joe hasn't even gotten around to the really big implications of the Xbox plan. They are:

1) Microsoft's goal is to price control the console game market through trust-like activity between Xbox and game publishers. If Microsoft can make consumers swallow their DRM pill and anti-ownership assault on consumers, then age will be the only practical factor in determining the cost of a game. As it is, when a AAA game tanks, second-hand retailers get a surplus of returns that drive down not only the cost of used games but the new products as well. If they can cut out that consumer-based check on game quality, then Microsoft and Developers could form a closed loop for pricing their games so that you'd never be able to find a good deal for a game, no matter how bad it is. Heck, if price control wasn't the point of this policy, it'd be pretty silly of Microsoft to invest in developing their own re-vamped digital distribution system when they could've saved a lot of money by porting other services like Desura or Steam to their box. But by keeping it all in their hands, they control the prices of their games, and the only reason to lower prices would be to stay competitive with Sony and Nintendo. Maybe.

2) The daily check-in policy, while trumped up as an anti-piracy measure, is almost certainly a method to farm customer usage information. Let's just think about this for a second--there are a lot of ways to accomplish what Xbox claims to be trying to do: combat piracy through online verification. A daily online check-in is not necessary. Most simply, you could make it where installing a game from the disc itself requires an online handshake that flags that game as the 'active' version of the game, and deactivate any other installs from that game CD. So why have the daily online policy? To upload a cache of your Xbox's activity. Now, I'm not talking about some conspiracy theory where Xbox is interested in stealing your identity or anything, but the Xbox's TV and game-playing activity for millions of users would be tremendously valuable marketing demographics they could easily sell to advertisers, publishers, whoever. And don't bet the farm that Xbox would ever pass those new profits on to consumers through cheaper prices.


Then the heavens lifted and Microsoft's collective voice boomed from their emerald fortress: they would reverse their DRM and online policies, including their region lock, apparently. First of all, let that be a lesson to all you corporate apologists out there: us entitled raging nerds can make a difference. Maybe. Personally, I think it's just as likely that Microsoft backed down through a combination of investor pressure and the dire predictions of lawyers that they were going to get caught with their briefs down.

More importantly, however, look at Larry Hryb's comments, quoted above, just one week before the whole company reversed course. Granted he's a paid cheer-leader for Microsoft, but that kind of arrogance behind the project doesn't just go away. The certainty that these draconian measures are the "future of gaming" doesn't just go away. And the dishonest implication that this would be a difficult policy to reverse hints at a more insidious truth: if Microsoft decides that it's worth it, after the bad PR dies down and the first few waves of Xbox Ones have been purchased, to try to quietly reinstitute these or similar measures on a captive audience, they'll try. The way they're pulling back their vaunted Family Sharing Plan--which was generating some excited buzz--smacks of a bargaining chip to give customers when the other shoe drops.

And if you need anymore reason to retroactively hate Microsoft for what they almost did or might try to do again, here's some chaw in your maw: Cliff Bleszinski, the popped collar of the gaming industry, jumped in to defend Microsoft's plan to prune-squeeze gamers. CliffyB, as the wannabe Situation is known, is the creative "mind" behind the Gears of War franchise, and he recently stepped down from Epic Games to basically not shut up about his stupid cult-of-the-game-developer ideals. Now that Microsoft has about-faced despite his eloquent erroneous defense of their plans, he's sounding off that these developments will be bad for the industry and the consumer, predicting: "More studios WILL close and you'll see more PC and mobile games" Dun-dun-DUN!!! Wow, Cliffy, thanks for that realization, and thanks for trying to pin long-standing consumer patterns on consumers' reactions from last week. Cliff Bleszinski: don't be that guy. Also, don't be on the same issue as him. And if you're in the same region as him, check out the real estate market elsewhere.




Kickstart: Fanciful Bloodsport, Musical Mystics, & Frigid Freaks

Fairytale Games

What it is: Fairytale Games is a character-based card game of survival, exploration, and battles to the death. Set in a world run by the evil trinity of the Dark Queen, the Queen of Hearts, and the Snow Queen, the three tyrants secure their rule by persecuting any upstarts, especially those associated with the Enchanted Forest. Their method of persecution? A public bloodsport set in the wilderness of their kingdoms, pitting all sorts of classic fairytale figures like the Beast, Red Riding Hood, Alice, Pinocchio and 36 more in a Hunger Games sort of scenario.

Why it's exciting: The game promises to be a unique take on a lot of familiar figures, turning Pinocchio, for instance, into a tortured sort of Frankenstein's monster, and making the damsels into hardened survivalists that would make the originators of these violent fairytales proud (because most of the original fairytales are way more violent than Disney's sterilized versions). The mechanics involve laying out cards in a freely expanding grid as you explore the world, recruiting or killing off other survivors, finishing quests, and gaining items. And since it promises to support 1 to 10 players it is a rare game indeed that both features solo play and stabbing up to 9 buddies in the back in the course of one game. Very fun. They're nearly funded, and the stretch goals will potentially unlock a huge number of extra cards for backers--including a zombie version, or miniatures at the very highest stretch goal. I'm not a huge card gamer, but this set looks more like a dynamic battle game than a shuffle-fest, so I'm already in on it.



Anthymn

What it is: Anthymn is a typical Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Game (MMORPG), where players take on the roles of heroes in a fantasy land in the midst of turmoil. Except all the players are mages in this game. And all magic is tied to music. So spells are actually uniquely composed tunes, and battles are actually special effects duels of music and fire. Players choose a faction based not only on gameplay style, but on musical play style--picking from classical, electronic, tribal, or other styles that have a specific look, culture, and magical power associated with them.

Why it's exciting: This Kickstarter campaign is not looking healthy. With less than two weeks to go, they are at less than $30,000 of their $600,000 goal. Which is a real shame, as this game shows a lot more imagination and guile than almost any other game being crowdfunded right now--they promise a rich, dynamic, player-created soundscape where players trade and teach others their battle-songs, and the core mechanics of the game sound like they will educate people on the basics of musical theory. Even if you aren't going to back this project, you should really consider spreading the word so they have good exposure and support should the worst happen. But seriously, back this. Where else can you be this frakkin' cool playing a trumpet? (Four years of band camp will tell you: nowhere--unless you count that football game where you finished half-time with the Braveheart speech and a trumpet blast)





Frozen State

What it is: Take a bunch of Russians in a necessarily wintry setting, add in some critters from John Carpenter's The Thing, throw in a global apocalypse and old school Fallout-style gameplay, and you have Frozen State, the best thing to come out of Moscow since Sean Connery. Created by Snow Arc, the computer game features an older style of RPG campaign, where you pick one of three preset characters and run them through an RPG where you battle the elements in addition to hostile survivors and things-with-too-many-mouths/limbs/bumpy-bits. The game will involve a non-linear campaign where seeking out resources and loot in devastated Siberia is a constant lure.

Why it's exciting: I really like the wintry setting, and the fact that survival will be a central element is cool. They're talking about making a meaningful day/night cycle where going out at night is dangerous due to weather and the creatures drawn out by darkness, which sounds atmospheric and crunchy. I haven't pulled the trigger on this one yet, though, as its funding is in British Pounds, and I've yet to back a pounds-based project. But with all the cool goodies they've got and the fact they're shooting for a Windows/Mac/Linux release, this might be the time to do it.



Free RPG Day

Last Saturday was Free RPG Day 2013. An annual observance since 2007, it's a chance for RPG publishers and retailers to team up to give players free demos, supplements, and teasers of their games in an effort to spread awareness of their games and promote the hobby in general. This year Pathfinder, Battletech, Star Wars, Cosmic Patrol, and more all got their free on at your Friendly Local Game Shop (FLGS). Make sure to keep an eye out for freebies next year, and support your FLGS. It's a great way to browse other systems and maybe add a few new games to your hit-list.




So what have I been doing while all this stuff was going down?

Getting daddied up.

Again.

Once more my irresistible procrastinator genes have so infected my offspring that my son cruised past his due date. So once more we got to schedule our son's birthday, essentially, by going in to the hospital to get induced. Man, you do not sleep well once your pregnant wife gets to her due date. Throughout the later stages of the pregnancy you start to look at her like a damp, full grocery bag--any sudden movement could tear out her bottom and wreck a whole lot of perishables. But once you hit that final week to deadline and go past it, things take on new severity. Like when Sylvester the Cat drinks the nitroglycerine in the old 1940s cartoon, every movement is sudden death. Needless to say, it's hard to sleep in that kind of environment. (And adding a second boy under 3 years old to our household probably won't help!)

video

Then, the next day, you go through a weirdly calm morning of getting things ready, shipping the kid off to the grandparents, and then try to have a nice brunch before going in to the hospital for the scheduled horror show. Few things in life are quite so unpleasant as trying to eat with a woman who's pregnant with a child other than their first. Something about that first birth and the 20 or so hospital staff touring her monstrous hoo-hah gives a woman the impression that everyone wants to hear about what's going on with their sensitives forever. For at least one year per kid, everything is mucous, membranes, and fluids, and any time you try to gracefully bow out of the all-access experience, you're instead rewarded with an eye and earful of something you'd rather believe was only the province of R-rated movies. There is no escape.

The build up is kind of mesmerizingly complex, but also tediously long, and you don't really feel like much of what's happening relates to what's about to occur. The little lady is thrown into a flattering hospital ensemble, hooked up to machines, and set on display in the middle of a sci-fi creche. It's like the Disney Alien Encounter, except the lights are on, nothing is sanitary, and the grotesque monstrosity in the middle of the room is the one doing most of the screaming.

And the main event--whew. First, there's a whole lot of doctors and nurses taking the Livingston tour of your baby's den, and then when he comes out, you're suddenly surprised that your huge wife was able to hold, feed, and pass the little Roswell alien. It's like Mary Poppins' hand-bag, except when it starts, everything improbable is going in, and then when something comes out it's totally different--though no less improbable.

So that's been my week. That, and spending the past week fending my two year-old away from the fascinating newborn. On the hospital ride home, he calmly tried to convince us that the new addition would be more comfortable back in mom's belly. But since she nixed that plan, he's stuck with a little brother. Poor guy.


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