Friday, June 23, 2017

Atari Making a New Console

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!

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?

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

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!