August 2011

Why Veteran Game Dev Talent Is Going Independent

The indie developer market is expanding with veterans that have fled their big name publishers. Here's why.

Last month, I wrote in Gamehead about the video game industry's move toward cannibalizing itself the same way the music and film industries have in previous decades. Huge publishers, like EA, Activision, and Capcom buy up creative independent development talent, only to plug them into the productivity and profit meters and effectively exorcize the spirit of creativity that made them unique in the first place. This is the bane of creative industries largely run by big business, constraining innovation to the trends and content that are likely to sell, but ultimately just being "good enough to ship."

Razer Blade Revolutionizes PC Gaming

New gaming notebook features secondary touchscreen, adjustable LCD buttons

 

New technology suggests more and more strongly that the old standard of computing, the desktop tower, might be headed towards the door. These boxes of computing power were once the only affordable way to connect from home. Now, portable computing is seeing an exponential spike in use. Netbooks are by far the cheapest personal computers, while pricier tablets make you look like you're from the future. Kids heading off to college (and even high school) now need a laptop as much as they need textbooks--if not more. It seems the final harbor for the tower is the hardcore PC gamer realm--and even it's now threatened by new advances in portable gaming technology. 

"The Guild" Comic Books

Felicia Day's hit Web series The Guild is a thoroughly modern project and it has been highly influential in the entertainment world. It brought the Whedon family to the Internet, which resulted in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, among other things. It's one of the first Web-exclusive scripted series to receive major sponsorship and now it's a multimedia franchise, generating popular Youtube videos, DVDs and, most recently, comic books. The Guild comics are very clearly extra content for fans of the Web series, but they're much more than just fodder for completists. Day, who takes writing duties for the books, uses the space to further expound on the nature of online gaming, both its positives and negatives. The Guild has always had a dark undertone but it rightly leans more heavily on its silly sitcom elements. The comics go in the other direction. There are glimmers of silliness, but on the whole it's more of a drama about troubled people seeking solace and finding self-destruction in a pervasive virtual world.

Video Games A Platform for Civil Rights Movement?

BioWare Developer Manveer Heir fights for greater diversity in video games.

    

Has anyone noticed that BioWare's RPG franchises, Dragon Age and Mass Effect, are very socially liberal video games? You can be virtually any human race, either sex, and the in-game lifestyle choices you can make are virtually unlimited. it works well in both of those franchises as well since BioWare places such an emphasis on the cultural and racial interplay within the games' story lines. Well, this is at least in part due to one of BioWare's main developers, Manveer Heir, who creates games for the successful studio during the day, and fights the good fight for greater social awareness and diversity in video games by night.

North Korean Secret Agents Raising Millions for Regime by Gold Farming MMO's

Kim Jong-Il has employed some pretty shady tactics to fund is bankrupt nation, and now he's added gold farming to the list.

    

In April I wrote about a new World Bank study that had shown the practice of "gold farming" as a $3 billion dollar a year industry and growing, particularly in Asia. It looks as if Kim Jong-Il, leader-for-life of the tiny rogue state of North Korea, has decided to take a piece of that pie. His country has been languishing for years now from embargoes and sanctions that prohibit trade from almost every other nation in the world. The country has very little economy to speak of, produces nothing, and there have been reports for several years now that its people are starving behind its militarily protected borders. However, that doesn't stop North Korean agents from slipping out into South Korea and China....to play video games.

     Gold farming, as it's referred to, is the practice of opening accounts in Massively Multiplayer Online games, amassing tons of in-game wealth and maxing out character levels, and then turning around and selling the now-beefy accounts to other gamers for real money. It's illegal, but it's actually a common practice by individuals from the U.S. to China...just never government-sanctioned.

Prince of Persia and the Revival of Lost Gameplay Styles

While I was doing some research for my column Catching Up over at TV World, I came across an obscure Aeon Flux fan-made game called Aeon Flux Episodes. Interesting in its own right though sadly never to be finished according to its creator, the game is a throwback to the classic platforming style pioneered by Broderbund back in 1989 with the original Prince of Persia. Though PoP is now old enough to order a beer in the United States, I still consider it an essential for anyone who wants to truly understand and appreciate video games. For its time, it was a graphical masterpiece and the majority of its content is innovation. It's a glorious, engrossing and challenging experience that's the perfect mix of action, reflexes, puzzle-solving and lateral thinking. Few games have managed to be such works of interactive art. What's more, Prince of Persia influenced an entire subgenre of games, from the gritty classic Blackthorne to the graphical wonder that is Flashback to, most notably, the all-time star of the style, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. But by the time Abe's saw a sequel, 3D was starting to take over gaming and the PoP-style puzzle platformer disappeared. But we may be on the cusp of a resurgence.