Handhelds Are Retro Gaming Consoles

Friday, September 23, 2011 at 9:00 am
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I can't say I'm in love with my 3DS. Not the way that I was enamored with my DS. I've told you before that weird games made me love the Nintendo DS. But I don't think that's what motivates the average game consumer. I may love bizarro stuff like Elite Beat Agents and Phoenix Wright, but that stuff is a hard sell to Joe GameBoy.

If you want to see what really appeals to the public you only have to look at the list of best-selling Nintendo DS games to see what they really want -- the want to play old school games. New Super Mario Brothers moved over 26 million units. Scroll down and you'll see a butt-load of Pokemon games filling out the top ten. I'm starting to think that handhelds were their best when they were delivering the kinds of experiences we used to have on classic consoles like the NES and Super NES.

Once handhelds moved past the days of the 16-bit consoles they started to lose their way.
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You Should Play Jeff Minter's Games

Friday, September 16, 2011 at 9:00 am
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I kissed a goat and I liked it. 

While everybody else I know has been playing Halfbrick's Jetpack Joyride (cool game, but murder on my eyes) I've been absorbed by Jeff Minter's GoatUp. It's a simple platformer with a goofy conceit. You're a goat named Patience hopping from level to level mowing through grass and hooking up with amorous billies. It's the best iOS platformer on the subject of animal husbandry. 

If you complain about games being all about Space Marines and sexism you should support weirdos like Jeff Minter. If you're all about gameplay (whatever that is) you should play Jeff Minter's games. And if you're a fan of psychedelia (who isn't?) I'm telling you: go play some games with the Llamasoft label on them. Here's why.
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Gamers Are Fetishists

Friday, September 9, 2011 at 9:00 am
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I'll admit that my mind was blown when I learned that Quentin Tarantino has a foot fetish. But if you go back through his filmography you'll see that the guy does, clearly have a thing for feet. And once you're aware of the downward angle of his camera you can't stop seeing it. I always knew that the guy was a dork for old, sleazy movies, but I feel like I know a little too much about the guy. 

That's because nowadays we equate fetishism with perversity, but the roots of the word are about perceiving power in objects or things. A religious idol is a fetish object. In the days when more and more parts of our lives are digital it is easy to fetishize the physical. Gamers, I think, have a bit of a head start. Because the videogames we play have long been about making our imaginations phyiscal -- by embodying and creating the ideals and fantasies we carry around with us. I mean just look at the characters in a Final Fantasy game and tell me that gamers aren't serious fetishists. 

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Videogames Are Awesome Because We're All Going To Die

Friday, September 2, 2011 at 9:00 am
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Last weekend I got way too close to a wild rattlesnake. My wife was participating in a thing called a mud run -- which is when a bunch of crazy people get together and race through huge, dirty pits of murky water in what will eventually be 100-plus degree desert weather. I love and support my wife in all the nutty things she undertakes so that morning I found myself in the high desert of San Bernardino county traipsing through the rocks in the shadow of a hill called, and I shit you not, "Dead Man's Point."

Being a good husband I was worried for my wife and found myself thoughtlessly stumbling through the brush to intercept her and wish her well as she came running around a bend. That's when my friend Tyler yelled, "rattlesnake!" I turned to look and found him pointing in my direction. That's not cool. By then the deadly fucker, a good four or five feet long with tail a-twitch, was headed for the rocks. Of course I didn't come anywhere near dying. But that's about as close as I care to get. 

That's how I roll. I try to steer clear of deadly serpents. We're all going to die someday. And when that last electron in our brains dissipates that will be it. We'll be gone forever. Some people skydive, mud run or Fight Club to help remind themselves that they're alive. That's one way to deal with mortality. A lot of us chill on the Internet, listen to music, play videogames and smoke weed to help us forget that we're going to die. Whatever works, right?
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How Minecraft Can Help Hollywood Make Better Movies

Friday, August 26, 2011 at 9:00 am
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Common wisdom is that movies based on video games stink. There are more than a few reasons why its tough to turn an interactive piece of software into a two-hour film narrative. But the biggest reason is that half of the stories in video games are knock-offs of stories better told in other mediums. More than half are cribbing from James Cameron's Aliens and the rest are riffing on The Lord of the Rings. Rehashes are rarely as thrilling or assured as the original.

 Its okay that game plots are derivative of movies, because games let you be a space marine and a ring-bearer. Games trump originality with immersion. That's not to say that games aren't fertile ground for adaptation for TV and movies. It's just that Hollywood has been looking in the wrong place all this time. They've been going for the big names -- the properties that everybody knows like Halo and Super Mario Brothers. But those kind of big-budget undertakings are always doomed to disappoint. Instead Hollywood should put a dozen script monkeys in front of the obscure genre of role-playing games called roguelikes (think Minecraft, Nethack and Dwarf Fortress) and let the games write the plots for them.

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Video Games Are Better Than Sports

Friday, August 19, 2011 at 9:09 am
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Ever wonder what's going through the minds of people who just don't get video games? The world is full of them, with their folded arms and silent judgments. They're girlfriends who hate the wedge that the Xbox 360 seems to drive into their relationships. They're boneheaded politicians who try to legislate video games out of existence. And they're old folks who just don't get it. I have a decent idea of how all their brains work because I have a similar, poorly informed, mostly emotional prejudice. I hate sports.

I think they're boring. I hate how they're so ubiquitous. And I can't help but think less of people who are into them. When I find out that someone I like or admire is into sports I'm immediately disappointed. They may not know it, but once that cat is out of the bag they have to put in extra work to rise in my estimation. 

Disliking sports is like being The Grinch Who Hated Weekdays -- you're in the minority and there's always some big Super Bowl match on television to annoy you. Of course I think that video games are vastly superior to sports. In a perfect world people who like sports would be relegated to their parent's basements and gamers would drink, eat and watch StarCraft II matches in every neighborhood pub. Video games are better than sports. And here's why.


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The DRM Problem Is Worse Than You Think

Friday, August 12, 2011 at 9:00 am
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The gaming community has been incredibly vigilant when it comes to calling publishers out on DRM. When Ubisoft tried to shackle their games with DRM that requires an always-on Internet connection fans, journalists and consumer's rights advocates raised a furor. In January several of the company's PC games were patched so that you could play the games offline. The move was a major victory for gamers who like to unplug the Ethernet cable from the back of the computer before they play games.

But that was only the first victory in an ongoing battle. Recently Blizzard had the audacity to host all Diablo III gameplay on servers, forcing solo gamers plug those pesky cables back in. That says nothing for gamers who had hoped to play Diablo III on airplanes. Sadly, Blizzard doesn't look like it is going to change its mind when it comes to the draconian DRM they've concocted for their latest game. And speaking of "draconian" you're really going to flip when you hear the insane, new DRM scheme Electronic Arts is rumored to be cooking up for Dragon Age 3

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How To Freak Out About A Video Game

Friday, August 5, 2011 at 9:00 am
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Not too long ago I used this column to suggest that gamers try looking at video game reviews in a new light. Turns out my column "How To Read A Video Game Review" struck a bit of a chord with certain open-minded folks. I continue to see the story shared and re-shared on Twitter, which is really encouraging. 

So to try to quash any goodwill I've earned with the more sensible gamers among us I'd like to offer an antidote to that column -- a step-by-step guide for going absolutely ape-shit over a bit of video game news. Lets say you're a Diablo fan and you're really ticked off about the zillion things they're doing wrong with that game. I'm going to lay out some tips to help make sure that you're flipping your lid to the best of your abilities. 

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Video Games Are Making Us Jerks

Friday, July 29, 2011 at 9:00 am
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The question around games always seems to focus on violence. Can playing super-gory games like Gears of War or Call of Duty turn a normal, law-abiding citizen into a kill-crazy maniac? The answer, obviously, is no. Or else we'd be living in a world full of mass murderers. But that doesn't mean that videogames can't help re-enforce more subtle behaviors -- like being a selfish, inconsiderate jerk.

That's pretty much how we all behave when we're playing games. We rifle through strangers' houses in search of loot, we kill innocent chickens and we wreck cars just for kicks. Most everything we do in videogames is for our own betterment, with litter concern for the feelings of others. We may be saving the world, but why do we have to be such jerks about it?

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It Isn't Easy To Play World of Warcraft Casually

Friday, July 22, 2011 at 9:13 am
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Every week I get an email from my sister. The subject line invariably says something like "Sunday Warcraft." The body is usually a terse confirmation of our scheduled play date. "Our next game night is set for the 24th," she says in the latest email. "Don't be any higher than 82, and try to be at least 81." The note goes out to five people: me, my brother-in-law and a pair of my sister's colleagues. 

We're not raiders. Until this month more than a few of us had never run a dungeon on the "Heroic' difficulty. Most serious World of Warcraft players would call us casual players. And yet we've all logged hundreds of hours playing. It's a bummer that we've got to spend so much time planning to play, but that's the reality of modern gaming. So many of us don't have all the time in the world to play. And when we do carve out our precious time to go online we don't want to do it with strangers. I'm not sure what Blizzard has in mind for their new MMO, but I hope their new ground-up online role-playing game isn't such a hassle to play with friends.

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