Friday, June 23, 2017

Atari Making a New Console

https://www.ataribox.com/

And along came Atari again?
Talk about a shocker.

Remember Atari? That one video game company that used to be so bold as to make their own consoles as late as the 1990's? Remember the Atari Jaguar? Remember the Atari 7800, 5200 and the classic 2600? For those of you who have only experienced the latest generations of gaming, you probably wouldn't know much about the history that is tied in with this company. Atari played much more of a pivotal role in the Gaming Industry than what you think. Before there was Nintendo and Sega battling it out, and long before Sony and Microsoft started flexing their muscles, there was Atari.

Everyone knows exactly how badly things turned out for Atari in the 1980's and will immediately point at E.T., by far one of the worst video games in history. Cartridges of the E.T. game were sent out to a random landfill dump in New Mexico and were dishonorably buried. Of  course, just a few years ago those same cartridges would be dug up again by some random people. Imagine that!

Now let's get to the shocker. Atari is actually making a new video game console in 2017.

Let that sink in. Atari is actually making a new video game console in 2017. Gotta repeat that.
 

The good old days of gaming... Atari's back?
Now what exactly this is turning out to be remains unclear in most aspects, but with this new console called the "Ataribox" (I'm sure Microsoft won't be happy about the play-on words from the Xbox), chances are gamers will be receiving some sort of valuable content in the near future. Is the Ataribox just Atari's own attempt of making something like the NES Classic Edition, which did help Nintendo's bottom line for some time? Or is the Ataribox indeed a legitimate attempt of Atari trying to get back into the "Console Wars" and re-establishing its name in the gaming world? Whatever the case, the initial buzz generated by just a short <30 second video has got people talking.

Some reactions to this short video have been "What in the world is Atari thinking?" and "Are they crazy?" but other reactions have been "Oh wow! This I gotta see!" and "I'm curious to see how this turns out!" 

My thoughts? Color me VERY intrigued because this is exactly one of the things that I have been pointing at when it comes to providing a spark for the Video Game Industry. Let's be honest for a minute. As much as we've enjoyed the Nintendo Vs. Sony. Vs. Microsoft Console Wars for 3 generations now, it has become apparent that this 3-way battle is becoming a bit boring and played out. It seems to me that all 3 companies are starting to rest on their laurels in one sense, and perhaps even going through the motions of "We're the only 3 console-making companies in town and that's how it's gonna be!"

If --and I put emphasis on if-- Atari plays their cards right with the Ataribox, then the Console Wars will be successfully refreshed!


I think that thought alone should make anyone feel optimistic about this idea. The Ataribox came completely out of nowhere. To my knowledge there were really no hints of Atari actually doing something like this. Heck, in the beginning of the 2010's Atari filed for bankruptcy, and now here they are, having enough money to do something like this? How does this happen?

If news like this doesn't excite gamers like you, then I don't know what else to tell you other than to stay tuned for more news on the Ataribox. If I pick up on anything else juicy on the Ataribox you'll be sure to get it here on this blog!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sly Cooper TV Series is in Production

Yes, this is finally happening!
https://evonews.com/entertainment/2017/jun/15/sly-cooper-tv-series-is-in-the-works/
http://www.animationmagazine.net/tv/technicolor-sony-team-on-cg-sly-cooper-series/
http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2017-06-14-playstation-and-technicolor-working-on-sly-cooper-tv-series

Being a Sly Cooper fan, I simply had this feeling that something like this was going to happen at some point. It was made official this week that a digitally animated TV series featuring the Master Thief himself Sly Cooper, as well as his friends who make up the Cooper Gang, and other interesting characters such as Inspector Carmelita Fox, is in the works. If you follow the above links after clicking on them, you will realize that there is indeed plenty of corporate support behind this project.

Now for those of you wondering, yes, the Sly Cooper movie has been put on hold, mainly due to the fact that the Ratchet & Clank movie didn't do so well in theaters. I mean, we can't confirm that that was the actual reason why the Sly Cooper movie has been delayed for now, but we can only speculate on that.

This news of Technicolor Animation Productions teaming up with Sony Interactive Entertainment to produce a Sly Cooper TV series can possibly be fantastic news considering that these teams take the series in the right direction. There is a lot of untapped potential in a series like Sly Cooper that goes well beyond just video games. I mentioned the movie that was just put on hold, but there's also plenty of marketable variety that goes with a thieving raccoon who acts as a modern day Robin Hood.

There are many ways to go with this. You can have your breakout animated hit that falls in line with shows of the past like Transformers and Gundam Wing, but then there is always the danger of taking an animated series down a path where fans really didn't want it going through, such as Teen Titans Go! (a pretty much failed attempt of non-stop humor spin-off of Teen Titans).

It amazes me that certain video game franchises like Mario, Sonic and Donkey Kong are pretty much allowed to have their own animated series of adventures right off the bat, but then it takes quite a while for production companies to see the value in franchises like Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper.

By all means the Sly Cooper franchise has been quiet since 2013 when Sly 4: Thieves In Time was released for the PS3, so it was time to finally bring up Sly again in some capacity. From what I hear at E3, Sony's presentations did not hit any sort of home runs with the crowd, which is concerning. Sony pretty much showed the same things that they showed in the 2016 E3 event, and there weren't any real big surprises. Some gamers were hoping for some surprises such as a possible announcement about Sly Cooper. Unfortunately that just didn't happen at the 2017 E3.

I am initially optimistic about where the Sly Cooper series is being taken with this animated TV series. I am hoping for good things to come out of this project, and I sincerely hope that whatever the producers of the show end up doing that they will end up justifying the hype. As long as Sly and others remain themselves and as long as the storylines in the episodes are interesting enough and aren't non-stop cheap humor marathons, then I don't see why this show can't succeed with teenagers and young children, the targeted audience.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Blue Shell... Really?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFfga8-3SZI

This item will make you cry in Mario Kart!
The Blue Shell... The item that crushes the dreams of the player who's in 1st place in Mario Kart. This item is an obvious representation of the "equalizer" item where the player who is in dead last place will be given another chance of catching up with the rest of the pack. This item will make sure that the player in 1st place will not have a lead so huge that no one can cut into. In fact, isn't that really the core purpose of the Blue Shell? To make things that were initially "blah" turn into "Whoa! What the heck just happened?"

When discussing game mechanics, this would always have to be an honorable mention because of how quirky it really is. When you think about typical racing games, i.e. normal racing games where no random items are collected and unleashed, it's highly likely that if you have a big lead you are going to hang onto that lead unless you royally screw up and allow other players to get back in the race. This is rarely ever the case with Mario Kart games because let's face it, these games are flat our weird with how their races play out. Mario Kart is simply NOT a normal racing game by any means. There is always something weird happening in these races, and most of the time the core of this weirdness happens to involve the Blue Shell.

What makes the Blue Shell such an interesting item in Mario Kart? Is it simply because it acts as an equalizer item? I don't think this is the only reason because it also happens to be that kind of item that takes everyone by shock. The Shock Factor that comes with the Blue Shell is nearly unmatched in any racing game because once the Blue Shell is played it almost always changes the outcome of a Mario Kart race. Unless the 1st place player who gets hit by it is experienced enough to get past such adversity and still win, there's a good chance that we'll be seeing someone else win the race.

As the above video describes, however, it is actually possible to avoid getting hit by the Blue Shell while in 1st place. There are only a certain few items that are capable of negating the effects of the Blue Shell, and if you don't have these items then you're pretty much in deep doo-doo. 

I have some history with this item because I have played some Mario Kart games, and let me tell you that I have been at the receiving end of these Blue Shell hits as well as being the guy who dishes out the Blue Shell to the 1st place racer. So how do I feel about the Blue Shell? I'm okay with this item existing. I don't see any general problems with it because it does add to the fun of Mario Kart. It is one of the most creative ways Nintendo has used the element of the "equalizer", and I think it fits right in with the craziness that we have come to know Mario Kart games by.

If you look around you will notice that the Blue Shell has become a meme of sorts on the internet. Whenever someone pulls out in front with a big lead in anything, whether that be racing or any other event, you'll notice someone busting out a Blue Shell meme just for laughs. That's when you know you've made an iconic item. Just ask Stephen and Mal Georg on the StephenPlays YouTube channel about their thoughts on the Blue Shell item!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Edutainment Games: What They Need



https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/educational-video-games-just-never-got-things-right

Educational entertainment? Edutainment? Games that are meant to teach players some valuable lessons?

If you're not used to this side of gaming, then don't worry. Many gamers haven't had good experiences on this side of gaming anyway. You can lump in "Serious Games" as part of this package, but let's try to focus on games that relate to what was written about in the above link. The picture I put up above is a title screen of a Math Blaster game. Have any of my blog readers played a Math Blaster game when they were young? Do you guys remember what that gaming experience was like? Perhaps when you look back on that experience, you probably won't have fond memories of them. Not because the makers of the Math Blaster games didn't try to make the experience fulfilling, but rather the games themselves just came across as looking dull.

That is what the article in the above link is hinting at. The author of the linked article states that educational video games, Math Blaster and other games of its ilk, just never got things right. The author does go on to state that there's a special nickname for games that fit the Math Blaster mold, and that would be "chocolate-covered broccoli". Now I've never had broccoli dipped in chocolate, but I can only imagine that the taste of that wouldn't be so good! Yuck!

The attempts of establishing the medium of Edutainment were all innocent in the late 1980's and 1990's because certain companies wanted to touch base with children who were starting to get used to playing all the hip and cool video games of those times. The NES, SNES and Sega Genesis were video game royalty in this time period, and as children were getting hooked into playing for hours, other companies were trying to get creative in helping these same children succeed in the classroom at school.

Chocolate-covered broccoli was coined by the author of the book Utopian Entrepreneur, Brenda Laurel in the year 2001. She believes that the Edutainment genre poorly tried to make the entertainment part of these gaming experiences mean something to the player. While the educational part had enough bulk to it, the entertainment part was obviously lacking. Therefore there wasn't enough of a balance between the two that could actually keep players (children at school) interested long-term.



By all means, even the big name video game companies themselves are not exempt from this. Remember what Nintendo did around this same time period? Remember Mario's Time Machine? Mario Is Missing? Mario Paint? Only 1 of these 3 games have managed to maintain a respectable reputation, and that would be Mario Paint as you can listen to pretty decent (and even awesome) beats that remind you of pop culture themes on YouTube.

Mario's Time Machine and Mario Is Missing! were both duds, however. I mean they were REAL duds! In one game as Mario you were pitted with the task of basically being Marty McFly, repairing the Space-Time Continuum by retrieving objects (apples) once you traveled to certain time periods, and all the while supposedly learning some stuff about world history. In Mario Is Missing! you played as only Luigi, and with occasional help from Yoshi, Toad and some Koopas, you would try your best to locate just where Mario was as you would be given geography lessons. Both of these games I just described are considered cringe-worthy to this day.

It's funny that I'm posting this at a time when children are out of school and enjoying their Summer vacation, but hey, anything newsworthy for video game content is great!

If you attempt to make a game in the Edutainment genre, then it's wise to make sure that there's a significant balance between the two categories of education and entertainment. If one category suffers, then the other category won't be able to make up for the lost quality. It really is that simple. If I give you the educational lesson but fail to entertain you, the game will be boring. If I entertain you by leaps and bounds but fail to educate you, then you will not want to focus on what the educational points actually were. Balance is the key, blog readers!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Sega Issue: Suggestions and Miscommunication

https://www.forbes.com/sites/donaldwoodjr/2017/05/02/justin-roberts-ignored-attempts-to-help-wwe-is-sign-of-bigger-problem/#33656ac039c9

https://www.forbes.com/sites/olliebarder/2017/05/19/sega-of-japan-unveils-its-amazing-sega-branding-but-it-needs-awesome-new-games-to-back-that-up/#540da2351a40 

These 2 above links don't necessarily belong in the same blog post, do they? Well, I kindly suggest to think again about that because I am going to dedicate this blog post by comparing these 2 linked articles, and I will draw the conclusion (my opinion only) that these 2 stories actually mirror each other in some way.

I generally want to support a company like Sega. I really do. It's not my intention to come up here on my gaming blog and downgrade what Sega does. It's up to the blog reader to decide where I'm going with what I'm implying. I've been very vocal about how I feel Sega has poorly handled their flagship game franchise Sonic the Hedgehog, and if you look deep enough you will know that there is plenty of evidence that supports this feeling of mine. I'm not the only one who feels this way about Sega.

Now Link #1 describes what one former employee of WWE (professional wrestling) felt about his time there. This guy was a ring announcer who would genuinely pick up on what wrestling fans were feeling at the time, and he would try his best to pitch suggestions to the Creative Team of WWE in hopes of getting them to see what the fans were seeing in the wrestling product. Of course, as it turned out for this guy, he was ignored 99% of the time. This article goes on to explain why issues such as this represent a sign of a bigger problem for the WWE as a whole.

Now if you're a pro wrestling fan and you've seen the ups and downs of the term "sports entertainment", you would know where I would be going with this. The WWE is clearly nowhere near the level of relevance it once was when it comes to mainstream appeal. Remember the late 1990's and early 2000's when so many people, who weren't even huge wrestling fans, would be buzzing about something that happened on WWE programming? A big part of the WWE's main problem is a combination of the following;
  • The WWE has become too commercialized and politically correct over the last 10 years.
  • The "creativity" in the WWE's Creative Team is non-existent at this point.
  • The WWE is trying too hard to appeal to everyone while pleasing hardly anyone.
  • The WWE is abusing its advantage as a possible monopoly on the wrestling business.
Keep an imaginary tab on this part as we now go to Link #2.



Link #2 describes the latest marketing strategy that Sega is attempting to implement, as in rebranding itself as "Amazing", and according to recent reports it's likely that "Sega Forever" is actually a real thing on the internet, which is basically an updated version of the old Sega Channel. The article notes that the President of Sega went on record to say that gaming quality is important. The article ultimately draws the conclusion that Sega needs to have a solid lineup of awesome games if it wants to back up its "Amazing" new brand claim.

I find it funny in one sense that the President of Sega said that gaming quality is important because it leads me to wonder how often, if at all, he keeps track of what's going on with franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog. If he doesn't keep good track of Sonic's recent history, then he must allow Sonic Team to have more free reign with the franchise than what we were led on to believe.

Gaming quality is important. That's a claim made by a company official. Will that claim become a reality? Will gaming quality continue to go up for Sega? We don't know that for sure. Many gamers who are still burnt out from what happened to the Phantasy Star Online franchise may beg to differ with this claim, especially the PSO fans located in North America.

Do Sega and Sonic Team listen to their fans?

That's a hard question to answer simply because there are many layers of this issue that you need cut through first.


Are fan requests sometimes misguided?

All fan bases, no matter what video game franchise they devote their time to, are going to have their fair share of bad apples, so to speak. It's bound to happen. The Sonic Fan Base gets a bad wrap in this case. There are so many things going on with the Sonic Fan Base right now that it really gets hard for anyone to keep track of. Perhaps that's where some of the confusion begins when we go back to the first question above.

Do Sega and Sonic Team listen to their fans? Which parts of the Sonic Fan Base? Hearing a lot of noise from so many different parts of the Sonic Fan Base? Why do you think that is? Ever since Sonic 2006 and the disaster that it was, Sega and Sonic Team have been going through a slippery slope of sorts trying to figure out just what were the core problems of Sonic 2006.

As you can probably tell, if you look close enough at what's being released, it's clear that Sonic Team have been playing it safe with the Main Series of Sonic games, going on this experimental phase where they put out gameplay features in hopes that it will lure in the right kind of audience. The longer they experiment, supposedly according to them, the better they believe they'll get in fixing the core problems of Sonic the Hedgehog, both the character and the games.

Soon I will dedicate another blog post to the Sonic game that is going to be released later this year, Sonic Forces. This game will be yet another example of what is hindering true improvement for the Sonic franchise as a whole. Even though Forces will be sure to sell well on the market when it hits, what is the core purpose behind this game's main selling points? Did Sonic Team listen to their fans well enough?

Remember that imaginary tab on Link #1? Bring that tab back out and let's try to break this all down together.

Commercialization and political correctness has impacted so many things in society in recent years, and while I won't go into specifics about this, let me just say this. When you try to restrict a creative endeavor so much to the point where you basically demand that endeavor to fit a narrative that suits your liking, problems are guaranteed to arise.

While creativity is still something that exists in Sega and Sonic Team, it has become clear that their use of creativity has become completely misplaced. The creativity that Sonic Team implements in their Main Series Sonic games leaves a lot to be desired. There have been many accounts of gamers who claim that Sonic Team could afford to push the envelope a little bit more, and it shouldn't hinge on whatever the "professional" video game critics over at IGN, Game Informer, GameSpot, etc. say or believe.

Sonic Team is clearly trying too hard to appeal to everyone in the Gaming Industry while they end up pleasing hardly anyone. Sonic Team has stretched themselves out so much throughout the history of Sonic games that it has become impossible to "unite" the Sonic Fan Base under a single game that they can all enjoy together. Especially with how they promote a game as "something that will revolutionize the Main Series", the game ends up doing almost the exact opposite of that; creating more problems and putting band-aids on existing problems rather than addressing them head on.

In the grand scheme of things, looking at the Sonic Main Series, as a character Sonic the Hedgehog has a monopoly when it comes to playable character priorities. His name is on the games, of course, but that alone shouldn't be the reason why he should be made the only important character of the series. Sonic has a monopoly on his friends, characters who supposedly support his heroic cause. Maybe we should now call it a "duopoly" because Modern Sonic seems to share top playable character priority with Classic Sonic these days. However, that just doesn't solve the core problems of the Main Series.




One sign of the Sonic Fan Base being fragmented beyond recognition today? In the Main Series it has been over 10 years (we're counting 11 years now) since characters like Miles "Tails" Prower, Knuckles the Echidna, Amy Rose, Shadow the Hedgehog and others have been optional playable characters. Does that at all give you pause as to what is really going on with the Sonic games?

What is the conclusion that I personally draw from this?

Playing it safe forever isn't going to work for Sonic Team. While I personally have no problems with Sonic Forces as a whole, and think that it's going to sell well because of its features and gimmicks, when we step back and look at its core, that's what it only provides. Features and gimmicks just for the sake of being features and gimmicks.

Ultimately you can't address a problem head on by taking millions of baby steps and constantly dancing around the problem. That's not how a normally functioning business operates. Sacrificing the long-term solution in favor of getting that short-term fix does more damage to your brand than it provides any benefit. If you know what a problem is, you just fix it. You find what works and don't second guess yourself.

What I see in the actions of Sega and Sonic Team is a ton of second, third and fourth guessing when it comes to deciding on what Sonic the Hedgehog should be as a character and as a series. The result? A Fan Base scattered into 20+ different parts where they all file complaints about different issues, and a company that doesn't even realize that they created this mess to begin with.

It may be unusual to compare Sega to WWE, but it's a crazy enough comparison to appropriately use.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Arms and Splatoon 2 Direct Thoughts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JDWlRJ-wmiA

A recent Nintendo Direct was held to show off a couple of new releases that are coming to the Switch console, and I have to say that both of the games that were shown in this Direct have my attention. For a variety of reasons I appreciate creativity when I see it, and I definitely see it in these two games.

Arms and Splatoon 2 are the games I'm talking about, and while some gamers will have their reservations, I believe that these games are going to do just fine selling enough copies on the market. I believe Nintendo has 2 surefire winners in the Video Game Market with these games. When it comes to Arms, yes, it's an unproven commodity. We don't really know what to expect with Arms because no one has been able to play a game even remotely similar to Arms before, but from what I saw in the intro trailer here in Direct, I wouldn't be surprised if this game became a smash hit. (pardon the fighting genre pun)

When I think of Arms right now, I'm thinking about a mixture of the following; Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, Street Fighter and that old Nintendo 64 game BattleTanx. For those of you who played BattleTanx before, you would know why I made that comparison. There are "explosive" elements to Arms considering what the characters will have to use in their arsenal. The Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots comparison is obvious because of the stretching punches and the namesake of the game's title. The fighting environment of Arms gives me the vibe of a Street Fighter game. Combine all that together and you get a good overall vibe.

We were briefly shown Splatoon 2, but even with the little that we got from this game's intro trailer, it's obvious that gamers are going to flock to this game and play the heck out of it. The original Splatoon had immense replay value because of the online multiplayer feature, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if Splatoon 2's online multiplayer gets the same kind of traction, if not better traction. There are new maps to play in Splatoon 2 (or maybe Spla2oon?), and there are new features in customizing your character. If you happen to like Splatoon's Story Mode, which honestly I don't really care about, then you will get a new wrinkle or two in that part of the Splatoon experience too.

If there's one thing about Nintendo games that I have always come to respect would be their marketing strategies. How they get their products out there for the demo reveal is most of the time enough to convince gamers to buy the games, and the reason for this is because these trailer videos, such as the ones I just mentioned, have a way of luring you into what they're trying to sell. Over the last few decades Nintendo has obviously gotten good in this department.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Game Ideas: To Share or Not To Share?


Perhaps this can be used as a continuation of the blog post I just made on the subject of sharing game ideas, which can be seen in this link. (http://gamingjournalistgazette.blogspot.com/2017/05/ideas-and-execution-in-game-development.html) The topic here describes how there can be negative effects to sharing your game ideas, and that there's a possibility that you, the idea guy, won't be able to follow through with the idea you just pitched.

As the author of the article at the very top link describes, there are drawbacks to willingly sharing whatever is on your mind as a game dev. If you freely share an idea, it gives off a vibe of you actually intending to act on said idea. People who listen to your ideas, whether brilliant or ridiculous, are going to assume that one day you're going to carry out on what you pitch, and some of them will really expect you to make some progress on this front.

Inadvertently, sharing ideas becomes a "de-motivator" of sorts for the game dev. Once you put something out there for other people to wonder about, something tends to go the other way, as in you won't do what you say, even if you wanted to. That's basically what I got out of the article above. It is a legitimate enough warning for people who don't know exactly what they're getting themselves into when it comes to the game dev process. The author here does make some valid points.

Most notably the main part of the author's article I strongly agree with would be this basic message; don't just be so willing to share your game-related ideas. If you do that you will accidentally put pressure on yourself to actually do something regarding those ideas. If you do that you're basically letting out a secret that should or should not have gotten out in the first place. You can give out hints about what you're thinking of doing, but don't go the whole 9 yards and spell everything out about your ideas.

I guess we can slip in the term "Poker Face" when it comes to this topic because that's one of the first things that popped into my mind when I read this article. Sometimes you gotta put on your best Poker Face when discussing something that might relate to a bold new idea you may have for game development. Keeping things close to the vest is a safe play, but it can also be the smartest play you can make. It may not be what you want to do because you are so eager to discuss everything you're doing with other people, but it may be the thing you need to do, for your own sake.

I believe everyone is different when it comes to distributing and sharing game ideas. Not all of us will have the same result as the author when it comes to tossing out ideas for others to listen to. I wouldn't expect the same result to keep occurring, in my opinion. However, the tone of the above article is basically this; please be careful if you want to make sure that you will actually do what you say. Take precautionary measures.