Category Archives: games

Diversity in Games (and Other Media)

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Nothing like a sinus infection & viral bronchitis combo to slow your week, topped off with busting up your phone! At I can say that I am on the mend; as for the phone, that remains to be seen.

Since the Daily Post doesn’t have this week’s photo challenge up yet, here’s a topic that crossed my mind again recently and does on occasion when I’m writing or designing, or just reading about games and media in general: diversity. I’ll be talking mostly about games here, but a lot of this applies to other media like movies, TV, comics, and so forth, so expect some crisscrossing of that line.

It’s no big secret or shock that most game protagonists are the default white male. Most designers are white men, and historically their target demographic has been white males. It still baffles me that some people react some strongly against this “status quo” being changed or challenged, but that’s a different topic altogether. I understand why this is the default–the old adage of “write what you know” is a powerful and natural direction to take when writing. It’s easiest to imagine yourself as the protagonist of a story. If you were to take a look at all my writing and roleplaying characters over the years, you’d find that most of them were female, white, with red or brown hair. This, and likewise the default white casts or male white protagonists of TV shows, movies and games did not stick out to me as odd for a long time.  Read the rest of this entry

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Kickstarter Sells Out

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I’ve blogged a lot about Kickstarter, from the Kickstarter we ran at Phoenix Online for Cognition, to my submission for a Kickstarter panel at PAX East, to the incredible ride that was the Double Fine Kickstarter, the one that changed everything. I’ve overall found Kickstarter to be a fantastic thing, a great way for independent, creative projects to get their start, to get support, to make things happen for people & groups who otherwise might not be able to pursue these projects.

Which is why the Penny Arcade Kickstart to remove ads from their site pisses me right the hell off. Read the rest of this entry

Thursday Tropes: After the End

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I love a good post-apocalyptic story. Hell, I even enjoy ones that aren’t that good, because just the hint of one will perk my ears. And given the proclivity of this kind of setting lately, it’s safe to say I’m not the only one. Just

It’s Ellen Page in the post-apocalyptic future! (Actually, the resemblance is a coincidence, but I’m sure she’d have something quirky to say if it were her.)

yesterday I came across some trailers for an upcoming game, The Last of Uswhere a version of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus that can create a zombie ant, has jumped to humans and created zombies and lead to the collapse of civilization as we know it. I know so very little about the gameplay, the plot, anything, but I know it looks gorgeous and I’m suddenly we’ve got a PS3 and I’ll be able to play it! I’ve also written before about another such setting I ate up (a coincidentally interesting choice of words on my part) when I wrote about Feed by Mira Grant, which features fantastic world-building. The third book and final book in that trilogy, Blackout, releases later this month and I can’t wait to read it.

When reading up on TLOU the other day, a few things occured me. One, this was a perfect topic for my next Thursday Tropes post! Two, I clearly have an itch to write my own post-apocalyptic story, so I should work on that at some point. And three, why are we obsessed with post-apocalyptic stories? I’ve come to at least one conclusion: it’s real-life fanfiction crossed with cautionary tale. Read the rest of this entry

Thursday Tropes: The Love Triangle

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The Love Triangle.  Because we all know that love and relationships are only complicated when a potential second suitor comes along, and apart from that, it’s all rainbows and good times and everyone gets along.

Waaaait a second.

Why hook up with the still living when you can have the undead popsicle, amirite?

My beef with the love triangle is how overused it’s become. Now, do love triangles happen in real life? Of course they do. And do they keep fiction interesting? They certainly can. But it’s become a staple, it often seems, rather than a useful tool among many others in the writer’s toolbox. I get the impression that a lot of them are added in because that’s what people are told will sell books (or other media), rather than it being in there because it helps the story and develops naturally.

Of recent love triangle fame is, of course, the Twilight series. Which is funny since this is a triangle that isn’t a triangle. Yes, I read them, and yes, I’ve seen the movies. Yes, I think it’s awful. It’s like a train wreck, I can’t look away! Plus the unintentional hilarity is fantastic. But I digress. This now hugely famous love triangle isn’t one because at really no point does Bella ever seriously consider Jacob. Briefly in New Moon, when it looks like Edward’s gone forever, but hot damn, she literally jumps on a plane to fly halfway across the world the second she learns that’s still an option! Jacob, buddy, that should’ve been your first enormous clue that she was just not that into you.

But thanks to this series, love triangles have taken on new life as a given in YA, it feels like, becoming cliche, boring, and overused in the process. Read the rest of this entry

Causalities of the Kickstarter Revolution?

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An article from Kotaku talks about Double Fine’s Kickstarter (which ended at over $3 million), and now the new already-over-$1 million Kickstarter to make Wasteland 2 happen (a sequel to a 1980’s RPG), may already be changing the business. The rumor is that Obsidian, who floated some ideas about possibly going to Kickstarter with some ideas of their own, may have lost a deal with Microsoft because of it.

Per the article, it’s all speculation — meaning, this may entirely not be the case. But the idea is an intriguing one, isn’t it? That a publisher may have pulled their backing for the mere possibility of a studio saying “Screw it, we don’t need you guys”? Gets you a little fired up inside, doesn’t it?

I love the idea that it might be true. I love what it represents, even if it’s not fact, in the end. Because the little guy has a voice and has power. But then, I’ve already gone on about that. Still — it’s an exciting time to be coming into the industry.

Now or Never

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A week ago Friday (meaning, two Fridays ago, if I said that right) , I was laid off from my day job. Hold the ‘I’m sorry’s until the end, though. It’s actually rather a good thing.

It’s no secret I’ve also been work on and for Phoenix Online Studios, as both a designer and the PR Director. Though we’re working on our first commercial game right now, this work is so far unpaid. And in my case, until the lay off, it was also only part-time. No easy thing, and it made for long days, but it’s doing what I love and working towards making it my career. The news that I was going to be attending the Game Developers Conference (GDC) with some other team members in March came in just a week or so before I was laid off. My pass was purchased, my plane ticket was bought, and my time off request was submitted.

Then I was laid off, and it could not have come at a better time.

Usually that would sound a little crazy, but here’s the thing: I’ve always done my best to be practical. I’ve been safe, I’ve made thought-out decisions, I’ve tried to put myself in a good position for my present and future. But at the same time, I’m not a person who can put aside my passion for practicality. I was an English major in college, with a last minute added-on Philosophy minor. I’ve worked temp jobs and low-paying fulltime jobs, which while they were enough to pay my rent, go out a bit, and enjoy life, have not left me rolling in spare cash for the future. Savings have been hard to build up and hold onto. I’m not a frivolous spender, but nor am I a penny-pincher. I can’t buy into the idea of not enjoying life now in order to save for someday. I know it’s a good practical move, I know there’s nothing wrong and plenty right with saving for the future, but I know I’d be miserable if I weren’t enjoying myself now. In my heart, I’ve always been a dreamer and I’ve always wanted to follow those. I’ve done my best to balance the impracticality of crazy dreams with the practicality of a secure lifestyle based in facts, numbers, and realism — I even blogged about it!

Let's do this.

Maybe it was always going to come to a point where the center could not hold. My plan has long been to transition into working for Phoenix fulltime at some point, but maybe that point was never going to be fluid and risk-free. And you know? It shouldn’t be, either. This is, finally, for me, now or never. This is as safe as this risk can get — now I can focus my efforts on making sure this game is as good as it can be, and sells as well as it possibly can. Thanks to having a wonderful group of people supporting and surrounding me, I’m able to do this, and to them I am immensely and eternally grateful for that. But even without that, I’ve reached the point where I would take that leap right now regardless. I have to.

When I was in high school, I always told myself “I’ll be damned if I don’t follow my dreams.” So here I am. It’s now or never.

24 Hours, $1 Million: This Changes Everything

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Yesterday something amazing happened.

The mere promise of an old school adventure game — the genre I love and work in, and the one that has been called “dead” uncountable times since it lost golden child status in the late 90’s — was launched on Kickstarter, and in under 24 hours, it raised $1 million.

To give you perspective on that, I offer not only Kickstarter’s blog post recounting the groundbreaking 24 hours, but my own breakdown of the facts:

Double Fine Adventures: actual overnight millionaires

  • The Kickstarter campaign, brought us by Double Fine Adventures, had a goal of $400,000. This in and of itself is almost four times the total amount of money raised by ANY video game project on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter we ran for Phoenix Online raised a little over $34,000, and is the 8th most funded video game project there right now (9th, once Double Fine’s campaign closes).
  • They reached that amount in 8 hours.
  • The highest amount ever raised, when this began, was $942,578 by the TikTok project, an iPod nano-compatible watch.
  • Yesterday, this total was surpassed by Elevation Dock, an iPhone dock, which was just finishing it’s run. This project also, yesterday, became the first project on Kickstarter to ever break $1 million.
  • Within hours, Double Fine also breaks $1 million.
  • Currently, Double Fine stands at over $1.3 million, is already the most successful Kickstarter ever, and may very well break $2 million before it’s done, since it has until March 13th. It also now holds the records for fastest growth and most backers.

There are a slew of obvious reasons why this is ridiculously amazing. The speed at which this happened, the incredible goal it has hit and continues to hit, the reach it has, all speak for themselves. What’s important to me about this? Four words.

Maniac Mansion: How do I get out of the dungeon? I still don't know!

Old. School. Adventure. Game.

This is the genre that, as the Double Fine video points out, publishers will laugh at. Dismiss as bound to fail. We got so few adventure games for so long because of this attitude. Great series’ died out ungraceful deaths because of this. And while the genre has seen a resurgence in recent years, it hasn’t been big like it once was, either. So the fact that an independent developer said they want to make one and within 24 hours raised $ 1 million and broke records left and right doing it is frakkin’ off the charts fantastic!

Some due background on Double Fine: the studio has produced some amazing and very popular games (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend), and the two big names working there and attached to this are Tim Schafer (Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango) and Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion). Their achievements back in the hey-day of adventure gaming were and are beloved classics and games loved almost universally by the fans. Monkey Island is the only adventure game franchise to see a successful and well-received commercial revival (from Telltale Games). So their reputations and achievements have a lot to do with this success; but hot damn if they didn’t also execute a well-oiled PR campaign to get this thing going.

The Secret of Monkey Island brought us the best and truest thing about pirates yet: Insult Sword Fighting.

Still, it’s just plain not possible for even a fantastic PR campaign to the media to account for this. Yes, there were posts and tweets from Kotaku. Joystiq, Gamasutra and more as this thing got on its legs and launched. But the thing that made this work, made it happen so fast, so well, so overwhelmingly above and beyond?

Fan word of mouth and social media.

Is it any surprise? Social media has shown how it’s changed the world already. Political protests, uprisings, petitions, news, bullying, emergency responses — good and bad (often depending on where you stand), social media has changed how the world works. It’s the next step in the evolving way in which communication directly affects how the world grows and changes. One voice, on its own, may not be heard by many. But when one voice becomes thousands in a matter of minutes, when one voice can be heard and amplified by peers, one voice is suddenly deafening. One voice becomes many, and many can change what happens. One change becomes many and…you get the idea. The point is, one voice has power, and that is undeniable.

This seems like just one game. It’ll be fun, it’s a great story of triumph, the little guy won, huzzah. And it is that, but that’s not all it is. It’s a moment we can point to. Where it became clear that things were different, that things can be different. On the gaming business side of this moment, this development, this is something that won’t and can’t be ignored, not by the wannabes, not by the independent developers, and not by the publishers. Will the industry change over night? No. But the relationship is changing, and those of us who only had one voice know we’re being heard. What’s more, everyone else hears it now, too — and everyone knows it.