Zynga Fights Back, Says EA Copied Games

Zynga Fights Back, Says EA Copied Games

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In early August Electronic Arts filed a lawsuit against social gaming giant Zynga for its new Facebook game The Ville.

“The copying was so comprehensive that the two games are, to an uninitiated observer, largely indistinguishable,” said Lucy Bradshaw, general manager of Maxis (the EA subsidiary that produces all Sims games).

Zynga finally responded to the claim Friday, by accusing EA of copying Activision’s Little Computer People when it created The Sims to begin with. It also accused EA of copying Zynga.

“Zynga’s YoVille, released in 2008, three years before The Sims Social, was the first commercially viable life simulation game on Facebook, “ Zynga says in court papers filed Friday. “YoVille allowed players to: customize a virtual avatar by selecting its skin color, facial features, hair color, hair style, and clothing; decorate and arrange furniture within a virtual home; work a virtual job; and socialize with other players by visiting them and sending them virtual gifts. “

Zynga adds, “In other words, it was Activision — not EA — that first developed the ideas found in The Sims Social, and it was Zynga — not EA — that first brought the concept to Facebook.”

In a CNN interview in 2000, Sim’s creator Will Wright acknowledged playing Little Computer People, and receiving “valuable feedback” on the game from its creator Rich Gold.

Zynga claims that EA actualy copied it when it started making social games for Facebook, noting that EA’s SimCity Social was launched a year and a half after Zynga’s CityVille.

“A side-by-side comparison of Zynga’s CityVille and EA’s SimCity Social shows that EA draws heavily on elements found in Zynga’s CityVille game. In fact, in promoting its game, EA explicitly played on Zynga’s popular CityVille: ‘More City, Less Ville.’”

EA’s lawsuit against Zynga regarding The Ville isn’t the first time the company has been accused of copying games. The company often releases games that are exceptionally similar to other popular games on the market. FarmVille, for instance, was released after a similar game, Farm Town, took Facebook by storm.

The company acknowledged that tradition in Friday’s court filing.

“Zynga did not achieve its success in the social gaming sphere by launching games that users don’t want to play. It achieved its success by innovating in popular genres, a tradition it has continued with The Ville.”

What do you think? Is EA or Zynga in the right? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

George Takei Beats Grumpy Cat for Internet Culture Prize at Shorty Awards

George Takei Beats Grumpy Cat for Internet Culture Prize at Shorty Awards

Web sensation George Takei, the 75-year-old actor and author who first shot into fame as Hikaru Sulu in the Star Trek TV series in the 1960s, accepted a prize Monday night for Distinguished Achievement in Internet Culture at the 5th Shorty Awards.

The annual ceremony honors the best social media users and Internet celebrities.

Takei began to reinvent himself through social media in March 2011, when he launched his now hugely popular Facebook page. His 3.8 million followers react in droves to his daily postings, which include memes and photos that often latch onto current events.

“Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool,” Takei said in a recorded speech.

“Thank you for this award; it’s just as cool as having an asteroid named after me.”

His online presence extends to Twitter and his recently launched Tumblr. Aside from entertaining fans, he has also leveraged the platforms to help people in need.

Takei used Twitter to raise money for disaster relief efforts in Japan following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011. And on Tumblr in 2012, he brought attention to an Indiegogo fundraising campaign to help victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York City.

Other winners included Jimmy Kimmel for Lifetime Achievement, TextsFromHillary.com for Tumblr of the Year, Bravo’s Andy Cohen for Best Social Media Manager and @SarcasticRover for Best NonHuman.

Here are some video highlights from Monday’s Shorty Awards:

Jimmy Kimmel Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

NASA’s Curiosity Rover Tweets With With Seth Green

Wolf Blitzer Exposes Early Poll Results

The Wanted and Dog Benson Accepts Award

Felicia Day Gets Perks From Twitter Followers

Some brands that took home a Shorty were Pepsi for Best Fortune 500 Brand on Social Media, TED Conferences for Best YouTube Channel, National Geographic for Best Overall Brand Presence on Instagram, Old Spice Muscle Music for Best Viral Campaign, The CW for Best Use of Twitter in a Campaign, VH1 for Best Location-Based Marketing, and Watch What Happens Live for Best Integration of Social Media on Live TV (see full winners list below).

Watch the Entire Shorty Awards Here

Web and TV personality Felicia Day hosted the Shorty Awards, which featured presenters Coco Rocha, Chris Hardwick, Hannibal Buress, Carrie Keagan, James Urbaniak, Miss Teen USA Logan West and Kristian Nairn.

Complete List of Shorty Awards Winners

  • Activism: AgainstSuicide (@AgainstSuicide)

  • Actor: Misha Collins (@MishaCollins)

  • Actress (tie): Tara Strong (@TaraStrong); Selena Gomez (@SelenaGomez)

  • Animated GIF of the Year: Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg: Kiss Me in Paris – Source: Ann Street Studio

  • Apps: Twitter (@Twitter)

  • Author: John Green (@RealJohnGreen)

  • Band: One Direction (@OneDirection)

  • BNCollege Award: WVU Mountaineers (@WestVirginiaU)

  • Brazil: Dilma Bolada (@Dilmabr)

  • Canada: MattG124 (@MattG124)

  • Celebrity: Justin Bieber (@JustinBieber)

  • CelebrityFashion (tie): Sophia Abrahao (@SophiaAbrahao); Selena Gomez (@SelenaGomez)

  • Charity: Random Acts (@TheRandomActOrg)

  • Comedian: Rafinha Bastos (@RafinhaBastos)

  • FakeAccount: Prince Charles (@Charles_HRH)

  • Fansite: Sherlockology (@Sherlockology) and 1D Updates (@1Dneews)

  • Food (tie): Rosanna Pansino (@RosannaPansino); The Kitchenista (@MissAngelaDavis)

  • Foursquare Mayor of the Year: Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity)

  • Gaming (tie): Monark (@RandonsPlays); PieDiePew (@PewDiePie)

  • GIF Maker (tie): T. Kyle MacMahon (@TKyleMac); Ryan Broderick (@RyanPBroderick)

  • Government: NASA (@NASA)

  • Ireland (tie): Niall Horan (@NiallOfficial); BriBry (@BriBryOnTour)

  • Journalist Award: Tim Pool (@Timcast)

  • Museum: Emily Graslie (@Ehmee)

  • Music (tie): Demetria Lovato (@DDLovato); aoi (@Official_aoi)

  • NonHuman: SarcasticRover (@SarcasticRover)

  • Photography (tie): Mike Lerner (@MikeTakesStills); Jenna Pope (@BatmanWI)

  • Quora Answer of the Year: Kenyatta Leal

  • Real-Time Photo of the Year: Hurricane Sandy – Benjamin Lowy

  • Science (tie): Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield); AsapSCIENCE (@AsapSCIENCE)

  • Singer: Greyson Chance (@GreysonChance)

  • WebShow: Bravest Warriors (@BravestWarriors)

  • SocialFitness Award: Cassey Ho (@Blogilates)

  • SportsTeam: Pittsburgh Steelers (@Steelers)

  • KeepGoodGoing Award: Kathy Zucker (@KathyZucker)

  • Parenting: Carlos Pena (@CarlosPenaSr)

  • SmallBusiness Award: Jawbreaking (@ShopJawbreaking)

  • Tumblr of the Year: Texts from Hillary

  • TVShow: Pretty Little Liars (@ABCFpll)

  • UK: Charlie McDonnell (@coollike)

  • VideoBlogger: PC Siqueira (@pecesiqueira)

  • YouTubeStar: Cauê Moura (@CaueMoura)

Complete List of Industry Award Winners

  • Best Use of Social Media for News: CNN Worldwide – Election 2012: CNN Worldwide Won the Social Media Battle

  • Best Overall Brand Presence on Instagram: National Geographic – In the Field with National Geographic

  • Best Viral Campaign: Old Spice – Old Spice Muscle Music

  • Best Branded YouTube Channel: TED – TED Conferences LLC

  • Best Use of Video in a Social Media Campaign: Maybelline – TopChicret – Announcing Charlotte Free as New Face of #1 Cosmetic Brand in the World

  • Best Overall Brand Presence on Twitter: Comedy Central – @TheDailyShow

  • Best Overall Brand Presence on Tumblr: Comedy Central – The Daily Show Election Center on Tumblr

  • Best Use of Social Media for Auto Industry: Dodge – Dodge Dart Registry

  • Best Use of Animated GIFs: Wilson Sporting Goods Co. – Where Football is Born

  • Best Use of Social Media In Real Life (IRL): Temple University – “Temple Made” Campaign

  • Best Social Media Agency – Large (over 100): 360i

  • Best Overall Brand Presence on Facebook: Maybelline – New York Digital Strategy 2012

  • Best Use of Social Media for Customer Service: SquareTrade, Inc

  • Best Use of Game Mechanics (Gamification) in a Social Media Campaign: USA Network – Suits Recruits

  • Best Use of Facebook Advertising: Chengdu Municipal Government and Chengdu Panda Base – PandaQuest: Be the Next Chengdu Pambassador

  • Best Use of a Mobile App in a Campaign: Turner Entertainment Networks – CONAN Sync App – it’s techno-magic

  • Best Overall Brand Presence on Pinterest: Birchbox

  • Best Use of Social Media for Financial Services: Citi – Citi’s Connect: Professional Women’s Network on LinkedIn

  • Best Use of Social Media for a Consumer Brand: Food Lion – Food Lion’s Operation Grocery Drop

  • Best Use of Twitter in a Campaign: The CW – Live Twitter Feed in a Magazine

  • Best Use of Facebook in a Campaign: Chengdu Municipal Government and Chengdu Panda Base – PandaQuest: Be the Next Chengdu Pambassador

  • Best Use of Social Media for Fashion: Banana Republic – Banana Republic In Flight Fashion Show

  • Best Use of Social Media for Sports: Nike – Nike #maketherules

  • Best Fortune 500 Brand on Social Media: Pepsi – Pepsi: Live For Now

  • Best Location-Based Marketing: VH1 – Save The Music Foursquare Partnership

  • Best Use of a Hashtag on Twitter: Nike – CountonKobe

  • Best Social Media Campaign for Film: Universal Pictures – Ted

  • Best Social Media Manager Award: Bravo – Andy Cohen for WWHL

  • Best Use of a Promoted Tweet, Promoted Trend, or Promoted Account: Maker’s Mark – #CocktailParty2012

  • Best Use of Social Media for Retail or E-Commerce: Chobani – Nothing But Good, One Fan at a Time

  • Best Social Media Agency – Small (1 -20): neoco

  • Best Social Media Agency – Mid-Sized (21 – 100) (three-way tie): Deep Focus; Suite Spot – JetBlue Getaways Presents, “Get Away With It!”; Carrot Creative

  • Best Celebrity Campaign on Social Media: Intel – David Blaine’s ELECTRIFIED

  • Best Social Media Presence of a CEO: Deep Focus – Ian Schafer

  • Best Use of Social Media for Television: Beam Inc. – Skinnygirl Cocktails #WinningTheOscars

  • Best Use of Social Media for Television: ABC Family – Pretty Little Liars #TheBetrAyal campaign

  • Best Integration of Social Media with Live Television: Fox News Digital – Fox News Election Night 2012

  • Best Integration of Social Media with Live Television: Bravo – Play Live on Watch What Happens Live

  • Best Use of Social Media for Video Games: neoco / 2K – Borderlands 2: A Work Of Art

  • Best Use of Social Media for the London 2012 Olympics: Nike – Nike Greatness

  • Best Use of Social Media For Music: Intel and MTV Iggy – Intel Presents The Music Experiment Powered By MTV Iggy

  • Best Use of Social Media For Music: Spotify and OMD – Music Apps Hack Weekend

Image via David Livingston/Getty Images

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/04/09/george-takei-shorty-awards-winners/

Warning: 'Backwards Compatibility' Hoax Will Brick Your Xbox One

Warning: ‘Backwards Compatibility’ Hoax Will Brick Your Xbox One

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A six-step guide on online forum 4chan promises to unlock backward compatibility on the Xbox One, but Microsoft warns it’s a hoax that will break the new gaming console.

The graphic, which closely resembles Microsoft‘s marketing materials, surfaced over the weekend and instructed gamers on how to turn their consoles into developer mode, which would allow Xbox One owners to play Xbox 360 games. The offer may sound tempting, since the One isn’t backward compatible and can’t play any of the hundreds of Xbox 360 games, but Microsoft spokesman Larry Hryb cautioned users on Twitter not to try it.

Microsoft developer 343 Industries explains in a blog post why this hoax will damage the console: All Xbox Ones have the potential to be used as developer consoles, but Microsoft has not set up that functionality for regular users yet, so enabling it on a consumer console will cause the Xbox One to enter an endless startup loop.

Several sites, including the BBC, pin 4chan as the originator of the hoax, though the original post has been deleted from its forums. The original instructions can still be found online.

Image: Mashable, Chelsea Stark

BONUS: 7 Best Headphones for Gaming

OUYA: Fun for Hackers, But Not Ready for Retail

OUYA: Fun for Hackers, But Not Ready for Retail

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The $99 OUYA game console hit store shelves Tuesday, months after a mega-successful Kickstarter that got backers and developers excited about open-source game production. The OUYA team said they have learned tremendously from developer feedback and improved the console prior to retail launch. But is the hackable Android console ready for mass market?

Maybe, depending on the audience. While the OUYA demonstrates versatility when plied with a little elbow grease from the user, it may not be a plug-and-play system for everyone. In this review, I spent a lot of time with the retail boxed OUYA, after having played with the Kickstarter backer unit, which the OUYA team referred to as “preview mode.”

What does $99 get you? Here’s the full teardown.

The Console

The OUYA is amazing for its size and portability alone, and the console’s short stature is a surprise to everyone who encounters it. The team even had to add extra weight to improve its physical stability.

The HDMI port, USB port, micro-USB port and Ethernet provide everything you’ll need, though its singular USB port means you’ll want to invest in a USB hub.

The console is easy enough to set up until you turn it on; I was waylaid for almost an hour by a day-one system update that failed to download until the seventh try. You must also enter a credit card number before reaching the main menu, though the console promises it won’t make any charges without obvious cues.

The Controller

The OUYA controller combines many different ideas, some of which work better than others. First of all, the consumer version made significant improvements to the Kickstarter model, which suffered from sticky, loud triggers, lag and front plates that didn’t quite fit on correctly.

The OUYA controller has very distinctive, wide handles, which I found to be an interesting yet divisive design choice among those who picked it up. If your hands don’t fit comfortably around the handles, you’ll find yourself fighting against the controller to reach every button.

The controller includes a touchpad at its center, which I found pretty useless. It’s rarely incorporated into gameplay, and is very oversensitive when browsing menus. The triggers and D-pad still feel strange and inaccurate, although they are improved from the previous version. The analog sticks feel solid and are easy to use.

The strangest part of the controller is the fact you must remove the two side faceplates to get to the battery compartments — there is one in each side. While the lack of battery hinge makes the controller smoother, it’s a weird placement, and I found they weren’t always easy to snap back on.

The Menus

The OUYA menu system is simple, and nicely designed with great typography. On the home screen, you’re greeted with “Play,” the home of your game library; “Discover,” the OUYA’s game store; “Make,” the section to test game builds and sideload software; and “Manage”, the OUYA’s system settings.

The OUYA store has been dramatically redesigned since its Kickstarter release, and games are simply organized into playlists. These playlists are organized by topics like “Trending,” “OUYA Exclusive” or “On the Couch” for multiplayer gaming. The store also features lists curated by publications or OUYA developers, and seeing people’s personal recommendations is a great way to find content.

Clicking into a game brings up big, bright screenshots, another recent change, as well as a description. Players can also “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” games, though I think it could use a five-star rating system for more nuanced reviews.

One of my huge gripes was the OUYA’s game installation process — a two-step relic of Android — along with multiple simultaneous game downloads usually failing. Both of these issues have been fixed, and games are also now easy to update from your Play menu. I’d love to see a way to organize games in your library as well, especially since everything is free to try.

Image courtesy Matt Thorson

The Games

The OUYA launched with about 170 games on the system, with more on the way, CEO Julie Uhrman told me. The main problem is that there is a wild mix of quality. The ability for anyone to publish on the OUYA is the console’s best and worst feature. And while games have to make it out of the system’s “sandbox” to receive wider promotion in the store, that doesn’t always guarantee quality. I want indie developers to get experience, and opening the platform is a beautiful sounding idea, but you need a few stakeholder games to get people in the door.

There are a couple gems on OUYA, like TowerFall, a four-player fighting game that has creative mechanics and snappy controls. There are also some well-down ports, like Organ Trail, a zombie-infested RPG, or trivia franchise You Don’t Know Jack, which allows players to join via their smartphones.

But for every great game, there were several that lacked any sort of polish — unique ideas hampered by half-baked control schemes, wonky game physics or garish graphics. It’s a good thing every OUYA game must be free-to-try, because I might be mad if I paid for some of these undercooked games. If you are taking the time to experiment and try new things, you’ll be more intrigued by the prospect of testing each game, but consumers uninitiated with the quirky indie scene may be turned off by what they get in the OUYA store.

There are also several emulators available in the OUYA store, which open the legally murky waters of ROMs. Android owners have long been able to play ROMs on their phones, so it’s no surprise that emulators have popped up in the OUYA store so quickly. While the emulators don’t come with any software, it took maybe 20 minutes for me to find some N64 ROMs online, put them on a USB stick, and configure the control schemes to my liking before I was playing Super Mario 64. (Technically, this is legal because I own a hard copy of the game.) If you just want to use the console as an emulation box and plug in your own USB controllers, that would be worth the $99 price tag. There’s also Bluetooth compatibility, which means PlayStation DualShock 3 and 4 controllers are easy to sync.

Other Software

The cool parts of OUYA can be unlocked with a little diligence, just like with the ROMs and emulators. Media management software like XBMC and Plex are available to install, and because the OUYA has been in the wild since as early as last December for some developers, someone has already done the hard work with installation guides.

The fact the system can work with any USB device without much fuss means you can use a mouse and keyboard for easier navigation when you want to go deeper with software. I’m sure in the next few months even more unique homebrew solutions will pop up for the OUYA, similar to the awesome community surrounding Raspberry Pi.

What concerns me about this scenario is that when OUYAs are sold in traditional stores like Best Buy and Target, less informed consumers may pick it up as a cheaper alternative to an Xbox 360 and expect the same level of quality. When I asked Julie Uhrman about that, she said that’s when the OUYA will turn on the “marketing machine through online channels,” but will that be the first place those buyers go to look for information?

It’s also true that the OUYA team has been slow to respond to issues raised by Kickstarter backers, arguably the console’s core audience. Many still haven’t received OUYAs despite promises they’d get them before the console launched to the public.

This is a key time for OUYA, and if it secures a stronger lineup of games and smooths out some hardware glitches, it may be ready for the mainstream. Right now, it’s stuck in limbo as a fun toy for hackers or those who want to explore indie games.

Photos via Mashable, Nina Frazier

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/26/ouya-review/

'Doodle Jump' Leaps to Xbox Kinect

‘Doodle Jump’ Leaps to Xbox Kinect

Infinite-jumping iOS game Doodle Jump will appear on Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade for Xbox 360 Friday, utilizing the Kinect motion controller to build on the ideas from the original game.

The original Doodle Jump is a huge mobile success. Originally released in the early days of the App Store, the game was ported to nearly every mobile platform, including Android, Windows Phone, Nokia Symbian, Blackberry and iPad. It has sold more than 100 million copies to date.

In the original mobile game, players led a hopping, green, four-legged creature called the Doodler vertically through a series of infinite platforms, trying to achieve the highest score possible. The Kinect version brings back the popular Doodler, but Doodle Jump for Kinect has three worlds with 10 levels each, and adds the unique spin of boss battles to the end of each world. Those familiar with the mobile title will also see other new obstacles, like cannon turrets to dodge.

Developer Lima Sky added several unique motion controls to the game. Players must hop from right to left to control the Doodler, point their arms to shoot his snout’s projectiles at enemies, flap their arms to fly and clap to activate special explosive power-ups. You can see some examples of the gameplay in the trailer above, which was released Friday.

Doodle Jump for Kinect is out now in the Xbox Live Arcade for 400 Microsoft Points or $5.

Image courtesy of Lima Sky

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/28/doodle-jump-kinect/

'Quest for Glory' Creators to Kickstart New Adventure Game

‘Quest for Glory’ Creators to Kickstart New Adventure Game

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Quest for Glory III

In 1989, husband and wife game designers Corey and Lori Cole set out to shake up a genre. Mixing the best of tabletop role-playing with the era’s influential narrative-driven adventures, the duo created Quest for Glory, a decade-spanning PC game franchise released by Sierra On-Line that endeared a legion of loyal fans.

The games were notable for their rich mythology and humorous story lines. Three character classes allowed players to approach puzzles and plot points from different angles — the kind of replayability we take for granted in today’s RPGs.

But by the release of Quest for Glory V in 1998, Sierra was plagued by corporate troubles, and the sun was setting on the point-and-click adventure genre it had created. The franchise concluded, and the Coles, for all intents and purposes, fell off the radar of mainstream gaming.

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But Corey and Lori never stopped thinking about the world of aspiring heroes.

“We’ve had this online site called School for Heroes that we’ve been doing for six or seven years,” Corey tells Mashable. “It’s literally a school designed to take the tropes of role-playing heroes and put them [in the real world]. What would a wizard do if he was in Los Angeles or New York today?”

“It really was more about encouraging people to think about what they could do in real life,” says Lori. “It only used the tropes of being a wizard as a metaphor, because it was really about self-actualization.”

“We had been getting letters from fans saying, ‘If you want to do a new game, say the word and I’ll open up my checkbook and write you a $1,000 check right now.'”

Participants were assigned a class based on a Meyers-Briggs type personality test and given challenges that would develop real-life skills. The site boasted around 3,000 users at its peak — half of them active, according to Corey.

“We originally designed the site as both a school and a game, but ended up turning it into a pure school,” says Corey. And of course, it didn’t pay the bills. Corey worked with publishers on other franchises and online bridge and poker products. Lori works as a freelance photographer. But all the while, they were getting emails.

“We had been getting letters from fans saying, ‘If you want to do a new game, say the word and I’ll open up my checkbook and write you a $1,000 check right now,'” says Corey. “And what’s happened is a lot of the people who were kids and teenagers when the Quest for Glory series came out are now in their 30s and making a good living, and they’re saying, ‘You know, we love your games, and it’s a shame that you’re not fitting into the industry in a way that allows you to make them. We’d like to support it.'”

Quest for Glory III

In July, the Coles started thinking seriously about these offers. “We kind of said, ‘OK, it sounds nice, but can we really get enough people to support it?'” Enter Kickstarter — the engine driving today’s indie gaming Renaissance. The Coles embarked on some homework.

“The thing that fascinated me is, after all these years, there are still several sites for Quest for Glory that are still running with active communities,” says Lori. “We wanted to really tap into those people to become evangelists — like, you know, Apple evangelists — and help us reach other people who enjoy the game. Basically, let them know that, yeah, this is not quite Quest of Glory, but it’s going to be just as much fun.”

“Kickstarter is a way of bringing people together in one place,” Corey explains. “It’s a way of publicizing it: Yes we’re doing an indie project and you can be a part of it.”

“From the minute we let out the news that we were interested in doing it, we started to hear from all these fans who wanted to help,” Lori says. “And so we got in contact with several companies and they said, we’re really ready to help you.”

Hero U

Jumping off from the School for Heroes concept, the new project — tentatively titled Hero U — will be a fully realized, five-part game with a fresh outlook on narrative adventure.

“It has threads from the Quest for Glory universe, but it’s a very different game,” says Lori. “It won’t look anything like it.”

A notable difference will be named protagonists, each with plenty of exposition — a departure from the malleable “generic hero” of Quest. “In each game, you’ll take on the role of a particular wannabe hero who’s attending the university and is in there for different reasons. You have a real story line, and we can do a lot more detailed writing because we know who you are,” Corey explains. “Our first game is about a rogue, Shawn O’Conner — a character who has a backstory that we know a lot about, but the player will gradually discover during the course of the game. He’s kind of an unwilling first-year student at Hero U.”

“It has threads from the Quest for Glory universe, but it’s a very different game. It won’t look anything like it.”

“As a player, your character doesn’t know everything that’s going on, either,” Lori adds. “It’s solving a mystery that involves your own personal path and things that are going on in the school. It’s like a miniseries on television. You start out with the rogue character, but the next game will be the wizard character, and the life of the wizard character will interact with what happened in the events of the rogue story, too. I call it the Downton Abbey of gaming.”

“Graphically, it’s going to be quite different from Quest for Glory,” says Corey. “The role-playing type adventure will actually be on a 2-D tiled map, [where players can] explore the catacombs and the school itself. It’s a top-down look. You will be doing all of the crucial role-playing type things, like fighting monsters, but our [game] is very tightly scripted, so there’s a purpose any time you go down to those catacombs. Things you’re looking for, things you want to discover, sometimes specific monsters you want to defeat — all these things advance the story line.”

Quest for Glory II

The Coles plan to launch the Hero U Kickstarter on Oct. 19, but fans can contribute more than just money. Like many recent indie projects we’ve seen, development will be social.

“We’re going to have a website devoted to all the people contributing to it — they’ll be our beta testers,” says Lori. “We’ll bounce ideas off of them and really use fans as part of the thing, because really, this game was not one we intended to make two months ago.”

While the game itself will not be multiplayer or social, the Coles hope to engender a vibrant forum during development and after release. “One of our plans is to really build the website into a community. I can’t talk too much about what we’re doing with it, but it will basically track what you’re doing in the game — if you choose to sign up for that feature — and it will allow people to talk about their experiences. It will be the players interacting, as opposed to their characters.”

With the plan in place, the Coles have teamed up with Australian indie developer Brawsome. Andrew Goulding will take the lead on programming. The Kickstarter goal is lofty, but achievable.

“It’s like a miniseries on television. I call it the Downton Abbey of gaming.”

“At this point, we’re going to try and go for $400,000,” says Corey. “I’m doing some budget exercises right now. We know we can make the game at $450,000, but we’re trying to see if we can do it for $400,000.”

The amount of funding will have a substantial impact on the breadth of the game and its social community, Corey explains. “If we barely make [the original] goal, then we’ll be struggling to even get a game out, but we’ll do it.”

Crowdfunding a game is a project in itself. “We’re working really hard on the Kickstarter,” says Lori. “It’s a really delicate balance.” They’re still sorting out the perks contributors will receive for their investments.

“We want to make sure by the time we go into it, we have all the pieces in place and everything is ready,” says Corey. Still, despite their measured planning, it’s clear the Coles are excited. “We’re really looking forward to building this thing.”

Images courtesy of GameFAQs.com and Hero U.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/17/hero-u/

The Video Game Propaganda Wars

The Video Game Propaganda Wars

Gaming

A popular video game begins with a small, tactical team of highly trained commandos on a delicate mission behind enemy lines. Two nuclear scientists have been kidnapped and are being held in a hostile country governed by a cabal of crazed military maniacs. To prevent Armageddon, the commandos — chiseled, professional and patriotic — must blow away hordes of faceless and murderous opponents, brutes as skilled in combat as they are devoted to their extreme ideology. The game is short — only eight levels — so play it through, and you’ll feel proud to belong to the greatest nation on earth.

Which is, of course, Iran.

The PC game, Special Operation 85, came out in 2007 and is virtually indistinguishable from any American-made, war-themed first person shooter. The only difference is that instead of being named Huxley or McCullin, your character is Bahram Nasseri, Iran’s top agent, and his enemies — portrayed with the same silly relish reserved almost exclusively for Bond villains — are nefarious Americans and Israelis. The game sold tens of thousands of copies, a tremendous achievement in a country where technology is not frequently accessible and copyright laws are not frequently obeyed.

The game’s success was encouraging. That same year, the Islamic Republic inaugurated the government-sponsored Iran National Foundation of Computer Game, which has proven to be instrumental in commissioning, financing or otherwise supporting scores of games designed to promote the regime’s values at home and abroad. There’s Breaking the Siege of Abadan, which recreates one of the bloodiest battles of the Iran-Iraq War, or, for the more timid, Sara’s New Life, in which a young woman must “protect her morality” from carnal temptations. “The government,” as Vit Sisler — the world’s foremost researcher of the topic — put it in a recent talk at New York University, “believes in games.”

It isn’t hard to see why. From an authoritarian regime’s standpoint, video games serve two complementary purposes: They appeal to the young — about 70% of Iran’s population is under 30 — much more intuitively than other forms of official communications; and they involve not just passive consumption of information but interactive, pulse-quickening engagement. Teaching kids about the great war with the neighbors to the west is one thing; making them relive it by gleefully slaying virtual Iraqis is another.

But while Iranians are one target of the new initiative — the government has reportedly funded 140 games to date — Westerners are another. To hear Fars, the semi-official Iranian news agency, tell it, a state of Iranian gaming domination is upon us. “Secretary of the Supreme Council of Cultural Revolution Mokhber Dezfouli,” read one recent statement, “said Iran’s wide stride in designing and developing cultural products, specially computer and video games, for domestic and international markets has worried the west.” Evidence of this worrying does not exist. Iran regularly dispatches its representatives to international game expos around the world — although never to ones held in the United States — and has yet to find any major market for its virtual exports.

While the scope of Iran’s commitment to video games is exceptional, other regimes in the Middle East — as well as terrorist organizations — have followed its lead. Hezbollah, the Lebanese terrorist group, released Special Force in 2003, claiming it had sold 100,000 copies of the game. And the Chinese army produced Glorious Mission, more or less a remake of the popular, U.S. Army–produced America’s Army, but with Americans as the villains.

Both of these efforts failed, and for the same reason. Video games make for excellent educational tools when it comes to some skills — tackling math, say, or learning how to play the piano — but as a conduit for ideology, they are problematic. Belief, like every other product of the human heart, is riddled with ambiguity and nuance. Games, even the best ones, have no room for such uncertainties. They depend on a rigid and algorithmic progression. Couple that with an overt attempt at indoctrination, and you get the crudest sort of propaganda, the kind that appeals to none but the already convinced.

All of this, of course, is not to say that games are incapable of stirring up complex feelings. But to overcome the repetitive, fast-paced, and frequently desensitizing nature of gameplay, they must present not only particularly compelling plotlines, but also the sort of emotional engagement that feels inherent to the game itself. Tetris, to name but one famous example, does that very well; to see those lines rushing down is to feel a jolt of existential anxiety, of time running out, of death looming large. Producing such raw and mercurial emotions is hard enough; harnessing them in the service of ideas and beliefs is nearly impossible. Yet that’s just what one Syrian game designer managed to do.

Although he recently fled his native Damascus for the safety of Hong Kong, Radwan Kasmiya had always been an astute observer of the gaming scene in the Arab and Islamic world. And what he saw didn’t please him: Most games, he noticed, did little more than, to quote Vit Sisler, reverse “the polarities of the narrative and iconographical stereotypes … by substituting the Arab Muslim hero for the American soldier.” And Kasmiya wanted to do something different. The result was a series of games that not only convey a significant amount of historical information — history, unlike theology, is easier to reduce into bite-sized, game-ready bits — but also a rare emotional impact.

Play Under Siege, for example, a game focusing on five Palestinians and their reactions to the Israeli occupation, and it soon becomes evident that any attempt at picking up a gun and joining the violent resistance is doomed to have you killed. Non-violent efforts are equally futile and just as deadly. This makes for a disturbing game-play experience: Unable to experience the cathartic moment of victory at the end of most video games, anyone playing Under Siege is forced not only to think about the desperation of the Palestinian situation but to feel a tiny fraction of it, too.

And while Kasmiya’s work appeals to the heart, other agit-prop designers have focused on cool rationality. An independent Italian game called Riot, for example, is a tactically minded interactive manual for activists set on clashing with the police. Allowing players to assume the role of both the boys in blue and the anarchists in black, it is a highly effective tool for playing out potential confrontational scenarios. Very little of the traditional titillation of video games is on offer here; the game is little more than a whiteboard for an uprising.

Of course, in terms of production values and popularity alike, both of these games pale in comparison to the blockbusters that dominate the industry, but they have gained a greater following than the polished, big-budget titles produced by China, Iran, or Hezbollah. What separates effective and ineffective propaganda games, after all, isn’t the producer — whether a government or dissident — but the production: whether the story is conventionally told or delivered as a revolutionary alternative to the mainstream.

This debate is nothing new: The Soviet filmmakers working in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution were equally divided between experimentalism and realism. And as the propaganda-game genre continues to grow—the North Koreans, never ones to miss out on a good opportunity for brainwashing, released their own terrible game earlier this year—we’re likely to see more contenders in both categories. And if film history is anything to go by, then straight-forward, big-budget, uncomplicated games are likely to outsell over anything demanding a greater intellectual and emotional investment. But today, almost a century after it was made, we still revere the ground-breaking Battleship Potemkin, even as we’ve forgotten nearly all of the Soviets’ realist propaganda schlock. It’s likely we’ll judge Under Siege and Riot just as kindly, even if some of us disagree with their political messages. After all, in video games, like in revolutions, relentless innovation and challenging conventions are what keep the cause alive.

Liel Leibovitz is an assistant professor of digital media at NYU and a senior writer for Tablet Magazine.

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Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/21/video-game-propaganda/

‘Splatoon’ Brightens Up Nintendo’s Wii U Lineup With Multi-Player Madness

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Nintendo’s latest project invites players to dive head first into paint. Splatoon, a brand new franchise from the publisher, takes competitive gaming and turns into a brightly colored mess.

Nintendo unveiled Splatoon for the Wii U, a completely new property, at this year’s E3 convention. While we only saw a vertical slice of the game, it showed a lot of potential and promise.

Splatoon’s one playable mode puts two teams of four players against each other. Each player inhabits a squid-kid hybrid armed with a gun that shoots neon-colored ink in thick globs. The object was to cover the battlefield — a field with different levels of terrain and a team base at each end — with more ink than the opposing team.

Of course you can’t just spray and hope for the best. Splatoon’s strategy elements stem from the character’s ability to hop into “squid mode,” where they can surf through their own color ink undetected, as well as refill their ink ammo when it runs out. Diving into the ink is an easy way to sneak up on the opposing team, and quickly dodge their shots at you. You also swim faster than you run through your own ink — not your enemy’s — meaning it was a faster way to get to the action. Getting hit with your enemy’s ink sends you back to the spawn point at the back of your base.

Splatoon utilizes the Wii U GamePad controller for most of its novel tricks. The controller’s gyroscopic sensor is how you aim, a promise that seemed gimmicky but quickly became intuitive after a couple rounds of play. It also displays a map of the battlefield, covered in swaths of ink, so you can quickly see which team is in the lead. The best feature by far is the map that shows your teammates’ location, and clicking them launches your character to join wherever they are. This could be dangerous though, if you drop yourself right into a heated battle on contested ground.

Splatoon offered enough flexibility for a variety of play styles. If you wanted to run-and-gun, barreling straight into enemy territory, that was fine, but you can also lay a stealthy ink path and swim in undetected.

The game isn’t going to come out until next year, and there are still plenty of questions Nintendo wouldn’t address about its features this early. Since the Wii U GamePad is the main controller, and only one of those can currently be paired with a Wii U, most of the play would take place online. While some of the Wii U’s titles, like Mario Kart 8, feature online play, this is a bold departure for Nintendo for a mostly-online, non-local game. The company was mum on whether local modes would be possible, with many players gathered around one TV.

Overall, it’s exciting to see Nintendo unveil a new IP that looks a little out of their comfort zone. We can’t to dive back into Splatoon’s colorful, fast-paced gameplay when its out in 2015.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/06/12/wii-u-splatoon-e3/

Nintendo Just Unveiled a Slew of New Games

Nintendo Just Unveiled a Slew of New Games

Nintendo revealed its new games for the Wii U and 3DS handheld on Tuesday, forgoing the traditional E3 press conference in favor a online-only stream.

Some highlights:

  • The Legend of Zelda is coming to Wii U.

  • After almost a decade of hiatus, Star Fox is coming back with a new title for the Wii U.

  • You can play as anyone you want in the next Super Smash Bros. Nintendo is making Miis, its customizable human avatars, playable characters in the upcoming entry to its fighting game series.

What did you think of Nintendo’s E3 announcements? Let us know in the comments below.

'Halo 4' Heralds a Dark New Chapter for Master Chief

‘Halo 4’ Heralds a Dark New Chapter for Master Chief

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Master Chief from Halo 4

343 Industries had a big job. It had to take Microsoft’s flagship Xbox franchise, which has sold 43 million copies across all games, and put its own stamp on it. Their developers had to keep fans happy, but also stay ahead of other great shooters. The studio had to prove to critics it could carry the mantle passed on from Halo‘s previous developer, Bungie.

Thankfully, Halo 4 is just that good.

Halo 4 is a tight, competent shooter, but it doesn’t rest easily on its laurels. The game and its developers put in so much effort to prove Halo wasn’t just Bungie’s domain. Halo 4 pushes the envelope in both its presentation and content without losing anything important to the franchise.

New Adventures, Old Chief

343i has said that its biggest investment in making Halo 4 its own was creating a more immersive story. Players first saw glimpses of this deeper story in Forward Unto Dawn, the live-action miniseries shown exclusively on YouTube that cost Microsoft $10 million to make. It gives you glimpses of young cadet Thomas Lasky, in a UNSC military academy, about 15 years before you see him Halo 4.


Halo 4 starts four years after the end of Halo 3. Master Chief and Cortana have been floating in the ship Forward Unto Dawn, both suspended until they are found or needed. The world has continued without them, and the passage of time isn’t always kind.

The biggest story changes players will immediately notice is that the stoic Master Chief has gotten a little more chatty. It might be jarring to players who are attached to the silent protagonist, whose lack of personality was purposeful in previous games. Chief’s role has moved from quiet killing machine to integral plot point, especially with the degradation of his AI counterpart, Cortana.

Cortana’s dialogue traditionally led Halo‘s narrative, but in the fourth installment, she develops signs of “rampancy” — a terminal state for AI constructs that makes her prone to outbursts and poor decision making. She will eventually “think herself to death” if a cure isn’t found. Chief’s concern and care when these moments happen is almost tender; their bond is clearly the deepest and most important to the story, and will be to players who have followed the series.

Master Chief’s age and purpose also come into focus here. His design, his humanity and his usefulness to the UNSC are often questioned. It becomes a thought-provoking point, and many game moments strive to point out his duality as hardware and flesh. It’s a darker trilogy that Master Chief has woken up in (Halo 4 is the first of three new games), and 343 doesn’t let the player forget it.


If that isn’t enough to digest, you are stranded on an unknown planet fighting both the Covenant, an enemy familiar to every Halo player, and new adversaries known as the Prometheans. If killing Grunts and Elites feels like second nature, players will be excited by the challenge the Prometheans can bring in battle. Enemies can teleport and even heal, and airborne aliens offer shield protection to the ground troops. Also, the weapons they drop are some of the most fun to use in the game, and have extra flair with creative reload animations.

The Halo universe has deep lore, more of it found in the nine novels than the games themselves. Casual players may find some of the cutscene references a little obscure, and may end up running to Wikipedia for backstory. This isn’t a complete weakness, but it’s worth noting in terms of accessibility to new fans or those who have only dabbled in Halo. Hardcore fans will get the most reward, but this story will hopefully inspire new players to dig deeper into the Halo universe.

There is so much more to the story of Halo 4, but we’ve tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. A new foe and an ancient artifact are just some of the surprises in store for players.

If it Ain’t Broke…

If you’re likely to cry, “Hey, there is too much story in my Halos!”, don’t worry. One of the things Halo has always excelled at is combat. Thankfully, picking up the controller feels just like spending time with an old friend. The weapons perform the same as previous games, and the new ones add enough pizazz to keep combat fresh.

The mission objectives keep the game exciting. There are plenty of times you have to fight through waves of enemies, but they are often bookends to fun vehicle sequences in a variety of Halo‘s coolest rides. Nothing ever drags on for too long, which can be a common problem for many shooters.

The beautiful game setting also adds so much to your battles. One of the most enjoyable moments I experienced was fighting a wave of Covenant in a cave, and as I pushed forward, I was greeted with beautiful shafts of sunlight that looked almost real. Despite the aging Xbox 360 hardware, the game looks great. This makes it a bigger shame that Microsoft has stopped porting the Halo series to PC, because newer hardware would probably dazzle even more. Hopefully Halo 5 will coincide with the release of Microsoft’s next generation console, whenever that is.

It’s a good thing 343 had so much to prove, because it really stepped up to the plate for Halo 4. Old fans can trust the developers to handle their beloved series, and hopefully use its polish to bring new people into the fold.

Did you pick up Halo 4 at midnight? Let us know what you think of the game so far in the comments.

More Halo 4 Screenshots